Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cities, Centrality and Doughnutization

More on Harvie Conn's Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City and the People of God  (Leicester, Inter-Varsity, 2001).


Chapter 11, The City as Centre 

This is an excellent chapter and hits on a key point I think.
Integral to the city as a center of power is its capacity for centralization and integration, for connecting. Power carries both a centripetal and a centrifugal force, drawing regions and systems into its orbit. ‘The big story of the city is bigger than the city itself’ (W. Flanagan 1993:83). (p. 205)
Conn cites biblical examples such as Tyre (2 Chron 8:18). The Hebrew banoth (‘its surrounding settlements,’ NIV) is often used with the name of a city (Num 21:25, 32; 32:42; Josh 15:45, 47; 17:16; Judg 1:27; 11:26).

The geographical signs of centralization are obvious: cities expand their borders past political and physical boundaries. An example of this is the urban sprawl of the US. 

In last few decades of 20th century new spatial and social changes reshaped this sprawl: older suburbs began to connect with each other eliminating the need to connect with the city leaving behind a centre of social and economic (often racial) deprivation and creating ‘edge cities’ along the growth corridors of highway and interstate’ (p. 207); what might be called the 'doughnutization' of the city. Malls spring up along these corridors and become substitute shopping areas.

Edge cities are privatopias where black and Hispanic minorities are more likely to be found employed as service workers than as residents. (p. 208)
The edge city is “a multimodal rather than a monocentric metropolitan region” (p. 208). Here Conn cites the Stockholm solution (p. 209) which is to create satellite communities in radiating lines around the city.

In the developing world the outer rim of the city takes on a very different character. The outer rim of the doughnut becomes squatter settlements – e.g. Rio and Lima with the poorest occupying ever marginal land on steep slopes (p. 212).

This all leads to urban-rural integration such that, even in Africa where urbanization is slowest, rural areas are becoming ‘peri-urbanized’ (p. 217).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Not So Secret

Review of Graham Orr's Not So Secret: Being Contemporary Agents for Mission.

Graham Orr worked for a number of years in Japan with OMF before moving to Northern Ireland where he now trains church members and missionaries in evangelism.

Orr has gone through the experience of returning to his country of birth to find that it has changed hugely from the place it was when he had left. This book is the result of his reflections on that changed reality and the place of the disciple of Christ within it. His central thesis is, “God has chosen each of us to be not-so-secret agents in his mission to the world” (p. 14).

Orr’s style is conversational and indirect, perhaps a product of his immersion in Japanese culture with its deeply face-saving, indirect communicational approach. You will not find an up-front list of topics dealt with point by point. Rather, Not So Secret deals with topics by walking around them and observing them from different angles. So it took me a while to catch where the book was going.

In each of the ten chapters Orr tackles one aspect of what it means to be a ‘not-so-secret agent’, especially in the UK, today. To do so he shares stories of his own ministry in Tokyo. These stories give insights into the difficulties of sharing the gospel with a people who are not familiar with the Bible – the situation in which Orr now finds himself back home. And Orr looks to the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels for biblical guidance on those themes.

As you would hope from a person with long term intercultural experience Orr is deeply sensitive to personal and cultural issues: 

[E]verybody has a lifetime of experience before I meet them, and most of that experience is foreign and inaccessible to me. So I have had to learn to stop, look and listen. I need to watch and observe. As I think and pray and love and wait, I remind myself that I know nothing about another person’s uniqueness, except what they explain and show to me. And so much more of that needs to happen before anything I can blurt out about Jesus will be meaningful to them.

But this is not just for fulltime missionaries or gospel workers. Orr is at pains to help even the youngest and most inexperienced Christian realize their potential as witnesses of Jesus in their place of work or study or home. 

For me, the shine was taken off the book just a little by two things: firstly, a discombobulating sense that I had from time to time, that Orr had just switched from writing about his life in Japan to his new life in Northern Ireland or vice versa; and secondly, the strange advice to “try placing a bet at a bookmaker’s” (p. 121).

This book, then, will most likely appeal to students and especially new believers, who want to share their faith with their acquaintances but need some help along the way. It is personable, humane, wise (for the most part), and spiritual.

Orr, Graham. Not So Secret: Being Contemporary Agents for Mission. Nottingham: InterVarsity, 2012, 160 pages, paperback, £8.99.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Message to Rock Guitarist Pete Townshend

Dear Pete,

If you happen, somehow, to read this blog post, this is for you. I heard you the other week on the radio, talking to John Wilson about your performance at the closing ceremony of the Olympics. You said this: 

... what was extraordinary was being in the stadium and knowing, having a sense, a real sense that what was going on in the stadium was what I’ve always believed was the great moment for me in rock, was when we realized that when we gather in large numbers and we lose ourselves in the crowd we’re going onto a higher plane. It’s brief, but it’s one of the reasons why there are 450 music festivals a year in the UK alone. Now if you get that even for a moment it’s a fabulous feeling.

I am sorry I didn’t see the ceremony. But I am glad I heard you on the radio. I am moved by your openness about the experience you shared with all those people in that stadium. There is something about being human, isn’t there, that is not there when we are alone; something in our nature that cries out for the gathering. Even an introvert like me needs that. A great devotee recounted to his followers a vision he had one day. This is what he saw:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’

The vision of this fantastic multitude is similar to the music festivals you talk about. But not completely. You lose yourself in the gathering but they find themselves, or rather are found and led to streams of living water by the Lamb, who is also the shepherd.

Also your experience was just for a moment but in his vision the devotee is then told that ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night’. Never ending conscious bliss!

I don’t know where you live but if you are ever in Bridgend for the weekend I would like to take you to a gathering that is a kind of warm up for the big event in the vision. If not I am sure I can find one near you.