Wonders Unnoticed

There’s been a lot written about seeing. On the face of it the act of seeing seems quite straight forward, but the state of mind that allows us to actually notice what’s in front of us is the point of interest.

There is a discipline called Contemplative Photography which draws on the idea that we can see either conceptually or perceptually.  The conceptual mind sees categories of things and is preoccupied with ideas, while the perceptual way of seeing is to register what is actually present.

This photo (above) of leaves in the local wood is one that I took while not intentionally looking to take a photograph but waiting for an image to fine me.  Those are special moments when you are surprised by something you hadn’t expected to see.  I noticed the layers of colour receding towards the blue. This was not an image of a tree, or leaves, or sky but of something else.

The challenge is to suspend our preconceived ideas about what we are going to see, what we want to see, or any kind of  thing that has a label.  It is often the case that we look for what we believe will  make a good photo and in doing so we miss the real scene.

This is a superbly important idea especially wnen it is applied to how we see the world more generally.  Is it possible to suspend our conditioned way of looking at things? Imagine if the filters can be removed and we begin to see wonders unnoticed?

When does geography become a story?

I love maps and am finding renewed value in studying the topography of our local communties. Where we live can have a big infulence on our personal identity and life chances. We grow up in a locality and become branded, as it were, by those associations.

Me, I was born in Baildon in Bradford and had family members around Shipley and Eccleshill. Even across those releatively nearby communities the experience of living in tightly defined localities can have a profound incluence on who we end up being and how we see the world.

As part of my work I’m getting together some data about community assets in particular areas so we can support partnership working ideas. When we see the layers of data laid out as geographic landscapes we can begin to see stories otherwise untold. Why are areas of povert so cleary defined, why are more children suffering in particular areas, where are the gaps in social provision?

There’s this impressive tool from the Church Urban Fund which enables you to look up places by postcode and get often shocking insights – e.g. Holbeck in Leeds.

Visit the Church Urban Fund poverty tool

You may have seen this already, but take a look at the Church of England parishes map overlaid with Index of Multiple Deprivation data.

Visit the CofE parishes map

I would encourage you to explore this data and see how you feel about the geography of wealth and poverty and what in means for you where you are.

Dynamic Partneships

Heading off to Manchester for a couple of days to meet with members of the national Social Responsibility Network. SRN is a peer support network for Christian social responsibility practitioners, and many of them work as diocesan officers as I do. They will be passionate about the communities they serve and the positive contribution churches can make.

Conferences are great places to meet with people who share a common interest. Conversations over dinner or at the bar can be genuine turning points – an idea shared or a new partnership formed. Great ideas and initiatives are rarely formed out of the heads of a single person or organisation. It is the juxtaposition of diverse insights, analysis and creative thought that provides the space for ideas to germinate.

A problem in many commercial organisations led by ambitious individuals is that the ownership of ideas is critical to business and personal success. The act of forming partnerships becomes not a social engagement, or organic in any way, but a business contract requiring the protection of any intellectual property! Any idea pursued will be tested against the unique brand positioning of the host organisation. This is not necessarily a recipe for transformational ideas, though it may serve novelty very well.

The Church of England, like it or loathe it, is a diverse organisation where division and conflict are inevitable. The range of world views and practical experience is astonishing and the freedom individuals to say want they think is notable if not scary.

As the church becomes more connected and engines for social and intellectual engagement are tuned, there will be the potential for some amazing and transformational relationships. What it will require of us is to suspend our personal viewpoints, ambitions and schemes and open ourselves up to the thinking of others.

My hope for this conferences is not necessarily to find new ideas I can take home in a conference goody bag, but to find new relationships and connections. It is the generous sharing of ideas, dynamic partnerships and intelligent configuration of resources that will lead to success.

Everyone needs a place …

Everyone needs a place to think. For me it us usually walking on the moor or in the woods. At other times we need to interact with those around us, in which case the office in Leeds is a good place.

However, doing admin and getting it done there’s no better place that here.  I don’t like doing admin so the fewer distractions the better.  Having nearly finished it I am rewarding myself with a sandwich on the sofa looking at my desk in the office at home.

Bread Church

This is an image I like. In took it at St Augustine’s in Bradford as The Bread Church was setting up. This is a small congregation made up of local people some of whom don’t have any other connection with the church. There I met Ann Challenger who led the group and has since died. Ann was like a mother figure to the group and each week would oversee the making of bread and the shared meal.

The group was in the process of changing its name to One Table and although the group was not made up of regular worshippers necessarily, this was a group living in a way inspired by the faith of its leader. These everyday activities – making bread, setting the table, eating together – are rituals which can help connect people into the meaning and values of the Christian faith in a way that some church formats struggle.

It was deeply moved by Ann’s little church and the conversations that went on over bread and soup.

Living differently

We live in an apparently divided and competitive world. Our leaders are vulnerable human beings within a prevailing culture which separates the winners from the losers, the strong from the weak.

We build our towers as high as we can. We build so that we can impress our neighbours not in order to serve them; upwards not outwards.

The world economy is one in which we compete to influence what people think, feel and believe. It is a tough and often brutal economy of ideas.

The important trading routes are no longer international shipping lanes but the optic fibres and satellites uploading and downloading ideas; each trying to corner the market.

God has given us a different reality. It is not a product that can be bought or sold, not a lifestyle choice or the next big idea. You can’t buy shares in the God’s reality. God’s reality is the world made as he/she intended. And it is here, if we look for it. Surprisingly nearby.

God’s world is one in which we are able to live together, share ideas and work towards communities without fear, free from poverty and injustice; where all people are valued for who they are and have a place at the table. It is not a divided world and doesn’t separate the winners from the losers.

This world is the real world because God came to make it real.

Jesus was and is a real person who engages with people at a personal and intimate level. He is the everyday messiah. He is divine and yet takes an interest in people as they go about their daily lives without favouritism. He brings hope to the worst of us. The early church with its examples of hospitality and community living has endured and is important to us now.

How can we choose God’s vision in the everydayness of our lives? What does it mean to model God’s reality in the way we live and work together? Is it enough to trade ideas and win arguments – or do we first need to quietly and modestly become the idea? Living differently.

Hope on the Edge – Prayer Our City

Wellsprings Together Bradford and Welfare Reform Impact Bradford are local organisation (or which I’m a part) help inspire and coordinate poverty responses among the faith groups. Twice a year they put on an event called Hope on the Edge at Bradford Cathedral which aims to bring together those working to alleviate poverty and transform communities.

On Sunday May the 7th our gathering this time will focus on HOPE for our Bradford Episcopal Area. Representatives of churches, groups and organisations from across the district are invited for a time of creative reflection and prayer.

You will be able to engage with a range of varied prayer styles – explore stillness; reflect through art and music; pray corporately, urgently and creatively.  Listen to Stories of Hope emerging in Bradford – seeds that indicate the new potential in times of adversity and disappointment.

Join us for an evening of creative prayer in Bradford Cathedral on Sunday May 7th from 7.00 pm to 8.30 pm.

Just turn up or let us know you’re coming on this link

More info info@wellspringstogetherbradford.org.uk


What makes a flourishing city?

Went to an inspiring evening at Bradford Cathedral last night bringing together a wide representation of people representing the City. Flourishing City asked what it takes for a city to flourish. There were some very influential people there including senior management from the council, church leaders, faith groups and activists. Here are my notes.

Jerry Lepine the dean was great. I have to applaud his enthusiasm for the subject of ‘city’ and the welcome he gave. He introduced the evening by saying the cathedral belongs to the City – “it is your cathedral” he said.

We are not about just delivering big shiny boxes, we must step back and allow the next generation to come through endlessly curious, telling stories and connecting people.  [Kersten England]

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Digital Mental Health Checker

The government estimates that one in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental disorder (whatever is meant by that), and that the cost will be £105 billion to the economy. Shockingly 75 per cent of problems will start in young people starting by the age of 18. But is this just about numbers?


A distressing number of young people are on the edge of their emotional capacity, and indeed there have been three tragedies among teenagers which have come to my attention in the last few weeks. I can’t begin to imagine how we cope with that.

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In Search of Welcome

Here’s a little piece about welcome from Charles E. Rice.  In it he talks about everyone’s search for welcome as a search for ‘home’.

Even better, he says, is giving welcome. When we offer our fellow pilgrims welcome we find “the welcome we ran home to on cold or lonely nights”, it is “portable, elusive and holy”. 

Charles seems to be pointing to the kind of welcome that brings the eternal concept of home into the ordinary experiences we share.

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