Peace Pagoda

The PointRecently I’ve been challenged about the use of an inappropriate image for a Christian project. What follows are my reflections on whether or not using the image was wise or appropriate.

When setting up a new project recently (Hope MK) and putting together the website, I selected a number of images which unmistakeably represented Milton Keynes. These each featured iconic scenes or landmarks from across the city: Xscape building, the Point, the central railway station, road signs, inside the shopping centre, the Stadium:MK (home to MK Dons).

However, one of the images caused a bit of a stir: the Peace Pagoda at Willen. I had selected this as the main image which was to feature on our earliest promotional material.

When our first ‘teaser’ cards were handed out at one youth group they asked why we were using a Buddhist Temple to promote a Christian event. An interesting question. We had a brief discussion within the core planning team and didn’t see a huge problem with it. Then a few weeks later we received an email in relation to the project which, whilst otherwise supportive, made it clear that they didn’t agree with the use of the Peace Pagoda image as it ‘portrays the wrong image for a Christian event’. At a later meeting we discovered that another individual had reservations about the image, and had initially dismissed being involved in the project as they assumed (based on the image) that it was an ‘inter-faith’ project.

All this led to lots of discussion and a great deal of reflection.

Initially the ‘problem’ image was chosen without much thought to the fact that the Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist monument. It was selected because it is one of the most iconic MK landmarks, with a beautiful sunrise which I felt inspires awe towards the Creator God & signifies the coming Hope (light of the world). It was that simple. A little naive perhaps – but as a lifelong resident of MK, to me the Peace Pagoda is simply a landmark and has no strong religious connection.

I had almost dismissed the earliest comments on the basis that the pagoda is not a Buddhist Temple (as had been stated) but just a monument. As I thought about the issue further, I also did a little research and realised that the pagoda is symbolically significant in relation to the Hope MK initiative too: being the first Peace Pagoda in the Western world, it was ground-breaking and a powerful unifying symbol (both things we aspire to for Hope MK). Of further significance is the fact that behind the pagoda is the ‘one world tree’ which is covered in prayers and messages of hope – a symbol of people’s faith and hope for a better world.

Xscape MK Central

After plenty of reflection & discussion, I decided that personally I don’t have an issue with the use of the image. The fact that it’s a Buddhist monument doesn’t cause me any alarm. A Peace Pagoda is a monument designed to inspire all races, colours & creeds towards peace – that seems to me to be something that Jesus, Prince of Peace, encouraged and indeed prayed for (John 17).

The creator of the pagoda was committed to non-violence & reconciliation – a man of peace. He campaigns against nuclear weapons, for world peace and social and moral justice in the world. He sounds to me like the kind of man who is working towards Kingdom goals without even knowing the King. In Mark 9 Jesus said ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (v38-41). Admittedly Jesus wasn’t specifically referring to a Buddhist monument – but I think it is applicable in this situation. We’re hoping to work in partnership with some non-Christian organisations in order to serve the city. On other projects, I’m happy to be associated with people & organisations who don’t share my faith, but believe we can work together towards a common goal.

There’s one final Biblical precedent which came to mind as I’ve been reflecting on this issue, and which more directly relates. In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul uses a secular statue to communicate the Gospel. Paul refers to a statue which has been dedicated to ‘the unknown god’. He had no fear of affording the statue power or credibility by using it/referring to it. He seems absolutely convinced of the sovereignty of God, and instead uses the statue to point the ‘locals’ to the God that he knows instead.

But whilst I didn’t have a problem with the use of the image, we still had to discuss and resolve the issue of the misunderstandings the image had caused about Hope MK. As a result we decided to stop using the image (once pre-printed materials had been used).

Stadium MKOn a slightly flippant note, I suggested that if we rule out the peace pagoda on the grounds that it doesn’t give the right impression to use a non-Christian religious symbol to represent/promote a Christian event, we should probably also stop using the Stadium:MK image (on the grounds that football is practised as a religion by many), the Xscape image as it is a shrine to Capitalism , and the image of The Point as it is home to a bingo hall.

What do you think?

Disappointing GCSE Results

Today is a big day – a day which fills young people across the country with fear and dread. It is GCSE results day.

Today, especially, I’m reminded that I got poor GCSE results – the worst in my family:

  • C – Maths Level II
  • C – Environmental Science
  • C – Physical Science
  • D – Design
  • D – English
  • E – Drama
  • E – Integrated Humanities
  • G – German
  • U* – English Literature (*but that’s another story for another time!)

But today, I’m also reminded that since then I’ve worked hard and those grades are just a distant memory. Here’s the story of how a boy from a single parent family on a council estate responded to his disappointing GCSE results.

I left school at 15 (due to an August birthday) with those grades and not much else. I got a job which paid a poor wage, but included a day-release College course for three years. At the end of those three years I could add to my CV:

  • RSA: Level II Diploma in Information Technology
  • City & Guilds: Coding & Programming in BASIC
  • City & Guilds: Application Programming in Pascal

After my College course my pay was increased and I was given a company car. I gained a wealth of experience in the areas of business, computing, and life skills. I took every opportunity presented to me, plus a few which I made for myself, and was eventually offered a job by a company I’d been working in partnership (these days that’s called ‘head hunting’). I accepted the new job, even though it would challenge & stretch me and my skills, and it did! The focus of my role changed from hardware repairs to software development & support (building on my college qualifications).

My next job (third) presented a wealth of further opportunities for learning & development which I grabbed with both hands and made the most of. The experience I had received up to that point (not what I learned at school) meant that I was able to do the job. When I resigned from that job I was able to say with thanks and honesty that the only reason I had the experience to get my next job (fourth) was due to what I’d learned with them.

My next job (fourth) was my dream job & came with a dream salary increase. As a contemporary philosopher has said recently: ‘it’s not about the money, money, money…‘; but actually it is a little bit about the money. It definitely helps when the money increases from ‘can just about afford to keep your flat & car’ to ‘let’s upgrade to a sporty car and still have spare cash at the end of the month’!

At the end of that job another adventure began, which involved even more hard work, and allowed me to add a further qualification to my CV:

  • BA (Hons) in Youth & Community Work & Applied Theology (2:1 – so close to a first that it still hurts!)

I’m now enrolled at the University of Oxford to continue my studies. If you’d told me all this when I opened the envelope which contained my GCSE results, I would have laughed in your face. Whatever the reasons for those poor GCSE results (and there are many!) they have never held me back. It’s been hard work along the way – but it has been so worth it.

So whatever joy or disappointment you received in your results envelope today, please remember that they are nothing but a stepping stone at the start of what can be an amazing journey – are you prepared to continue the hard work?

11 year old atheists

The following is a reflection by Sam DonahueChildren’s Ministry Adviser for Diocese of London (and co-Editor of the soon-to-be-released ChildrensWork Magazine) reproduced from their latest Children’s Ministry Newsletter with permission (full credit below):

I was reading a book by James Fowler on how faith develops in children and within it he comments on the something they noticed during their research interviews; a group of eleven year olds who had rejected the idea of God. On the face of it this seems an odd stage in life to expect to find this group, odder still when you consider that they came from faith communities, so what was happening to cause this effect?

Fowler’s theory was that at this stage children are beginning to sort stories into those which should be retained as truth and those that are made up and the God ends up sitting on the rejects bench together with the tooth fairy and Father Christmas. They are all dismissed as things that they liked the idea of as children but have rejected now they realise are not true. It’s easy to see what happened to Mr Claus and his fairy friend but why did God suffer the same fate?

For Fowler the explanation is simple; the God the children were taught about doesn’t exist and by eleven they were old enough to work that out. They had been taught about a God who solves all their problems, stops bad things happening, answers all their prayers and arrives at the last minute to save the day if the situation gets really hopeless. To be fair they are right, that God doesn’t exist. Brilliantly Fowler leaves it at this and doesn’t offer any solutions! So I think I will try and think of some as this is all rather depressing right now!

  1. Be real about your experience of being a Christian. It’s not a matter of everything being lovely all the time and we should resist the urge to try and ‘protect children’ from this. Life is messy and things go wrong and we learn that God is there with us through all of this not just the good bits. So don’t be afraid to tell stories, either Bible stories or stories from you own life where things go wrong.
  2. Don’t spin the Bible. I’ve said before that the Bible doesn’t need us to ‘spin it’ so that children only see the highlights package. The stories of the Bible are supposed to be a resource to help and support us through good times and bad. It we only give children the good bits the Bible fails them when they need it most as there is no resource for the bad times.
  3. If it looks like a fairy story it probably is a fairy story. In our efforts to make the Bible more accessible to children we often lose the grit and reality of the stories and make them feel more like fluffy fairy stories and less like things that actually happened. Next time you look at the story of the Exodus why not get a map out and show the children the journey or use some pictures from the Holy Land to illustrate where Jesus was when he was telling his stories. Doing this helps to imbed the stories in the real world and not the fantasy world.
  4. Beware miracles. I’m not sure how I feel about this but there is a school of thought that says that if we major on miracles understand them to be about magic and then they fall into the fairy tale trap. It is suggested that a more healthy emphasis would be on the motivation for the miracle than the miracle it’s self. For example, rather than concentrating on Jesus’ power to heal focus instead on Jesus’ compassion towards the sick.

Credit: Sam Donoghue is the Children’s Ministry Adviser of the Diocese of London. You can read more from him here.

Sign up to receive the Diocese of London Children’s Ministry Newsletter by email.

Holiness

“Holiness is consecrated closeness to God. Holiness is in essence obeying God, living to God and for God, imitating God, keeping His law, taking His side against sin, doing righteousness, performing good works, following Christ’s teaching and example, worshipping God in the Spirit, loving and serving God and men out of reverence for Christ. In relation to God, holiness takes the form of a single-minded passion to please by love and loyalty, devotion and praise. In relation to sin, it takes the form of a resistance movement, a discipline of not gratifying the desires of the flesh, but of putting to death the deeds of the body. Holiness is, in a word, God-taught, Spirit-wrought Christ-likeness, the sum and substance of committed discipleship, the demonstration of faith working by love, the responsive outflow in righteousness of supernatural life from the hearts of those who are born again.” J. I. Packer

In All Comes From Here*

Last Saturday the second Youthwork Summit took place in Manchester. I attended along with about about 750 other youth workers/ministers, paid & volunteer, full & part time, along with 20+ speakers, the Rend Collective Experiment, Mark Yaconelli, and the amazing team who put the event together and served us on the day. It will take a while to properly reflect on and process all that was said, all that happened, and the conversations which took place. I met some amazing people – some I’ve been chatting with on Twitter for some time and felt I knew them, but met them in person at #yws11, others I met for the first time.

I spent Friday with 150 other youth workers/ministers on a Retreat day led by Mark Yaconelli – that too will take a great deal of processing and putting into practice what was learned.

At the end of the conference we shared the following powerful liturgy which written during the day by one of the attendees, and is shared here with permission:

It all comes from here*

From an extraordinary God,
capable of ALL things.
From His unfailing love
for ALL that we are.

From a purpose and calling
that He placed on our lives.
From a passion and desire
to change young lives.

We give our time, our energy,
We share our ideas, our lives,
We offer our teaching, our advice.

But we give, we share, we offer
Because we do not love alone,
but with the help of God’s heart.
Because we do not stand alone,
but with the strength of God’s Spirit.
Because we do not fight alone,
but with the power of God’s will.

From a God who loves
all which He has created,
From a God who guides
all who seek His face,
From a God who welcomes
all who come in His name.

It all comes from here*

[written by Julia King (@xjewelzx) // used with thanks…]

Ten Commandments Rewritten

Just seen this version of the 10 Commandments, rewritten for kids:

  1. Put God First: God is number one, everything else comes second.
  2. Nothing else is more important than God
  3. Don’t say ‘God’ when you don’t mean it
  4. Have a restful day – chillaxing every week
  5. Respect. Treat adults how you would like to be treated.
  6. Don’t hurt anybody
  7. Stick together/look after your friends
  8. Don’t take from anyone without permission
  9. Always tell the truth. Don’t lie
  10. Don’t want something others have got.

There’s another version posted there too.

Retreat Day

Last week as part of my end of term activities I took part in a retreat day at the Carmelite Priory at Boars Hill in Oxfordshire.  The day was led by Ian Adams, one of the CYM Chaplains, who used the story of Elizabeth, Zechariah and Mary to introduce us to some meditative practices.  I arrived early to avoid the traffic and was able to enjoy the sun as it rose over the crisp, frosty fields.  I rarely travel without my camera so was able to capture a few shots before everyone else arrived.

Boars Hill Sunrise

The day was divided into three sessions, each providing space for reflection and time to listen for God.  During one session I felt inspired to draw (something I never do, and have no talent for) and was moved to reflect on what I’d drawn.  A new experience for me, but one which I greatly appreciated and will continue to ponder the notes I made.

We divided into two groups for the final session and were encouraged to use Mary and Zechariah’s example and write either a magnificat or a benedictus based on our context/experiences/feelings.  Here’s what we produced in our group:

Thank you God that everything is upside down;
that you don’t see things the way the world sees them.
You accept this generation, though others reject it;
others want to put them down, but you desire to raise them up.

Where the world leaves young people empty, only you can satisfy.
Through your love there is so much more.

As you draw them near to you we see them longing to be valued and eager to serve;
to accept others in the way that you’ve accepted them.

We see your hope rising through this generation.
Thank you for the momentum which flows from and is sustained by your Spirit.

Amen

It proved to be a really valuable time of reflection and refreshing – much needed preparation for the two mad weeks which have followed.