Posts tagged revival's symphony book
The eyes of creation are upon us for our next move.

Land hits the headlines again, this time around the size of housing and the limited room some people find themselves with. It seems to follow on from the findings where,

    •    70% of the UK land is Agriculture, and held by 0.28% of the population.
    •    20% of the land is Waste (including mountains, rivers).
    •    5% of the land is Business, and
    •    5% is Domestic which houses 90% of the population. 

The topic of a ’space to live’ is an important one, and it was something that came up often during my research of Quaker Capitalism. Against the flow of building trends, business practice, distribution of finance and economic guidelines, a number of Quaker communities decided to buck the trend. Within a short space of time during the Industrial Revolution, they presented to the country a different way of doing business. From  employee services to health care, from social responsibility to community development, they put in practice an ethical and holistic model of living. This was over century before the emergence of the political funding buzz word of ‘social enterprise’ that we have today.

With our benefit of hindsight, it is easy to critique some of their practices. Suggesting maybe a less paternal approach, something that might have prevented the problems they ran into in later years. Specifically, the disempowerment of individuals and sustainability of services. But within all these faults, their impact radically, and positively, transformed business practice and living standards for many people within inner city life.

One of their radical models was around housing. Within a trend of uniform, terraced and ill-equipped accommodation, they developed an anarchic approach to architecture. In partnership with artists, they developed housing that carried individuality alongside living conditions that valued the people who were going to reside within the buildings.They recognised that what you designed spoke a lot about your own priorities and how you valued your fellow human being. Approach to space, living standards, profit first or humanity first. All these aspects, and more, revealed the secrets of the human heart.

It was a gamble that didn’t make financial sense in many ways. Increased costing, increased construction times, increased land allocation for each living space. But, within all the uncertainty there was a realisation that housing and engagement with land was a contributing element towards the fulfilment of life.

Their experiments and models paid off. Within a generation they proved to local and national government that a different approach to housing could effect the health, education and work ethics of individuals. The flip side, their proof and later abdication of responsibility to government structures, eventually led to a  profit first approach and ideology that missed the driving force of those experiments.

One driving force was the lifestyle guidelines that those Quaker communities fashioned during a time of persecution and opposition after the English Civil War. Finding themselves with limited options to survive within the economic system of the day, they developed alternative structures. An underground movement that imagined a new way of living. They articulated their hopes and dreams into practical examples, that gathered pace over time. And as persecution lessened as the years passed by, they emerged into the open with an alternative economy that was built upon an ethical framework of prophetic imagination and compassion for one another. All of this encased within an environment of honesty. A culture where truth and vulnerability reigned over spin and self interest.

Sadly, that bedrock soon disappeared as success led to governmental adoption. Finance requirements, vested interests and political goals replaced some of the key aspects of that alternative movement. But, its legacy remains today with some of our garden cities and employee services.

It is this legacy that leads me back to the article about housing.

“ The average floor space for a dwelling in the UK as a whole is currently 85 sq metres, whilst new-builds average only 76 sq metres – putting Britain at the bottom of a league table of 15 countries including Ireland, Portugal and Italy. “ 

“… the Home Builders Federation said market forces, most particularly the price of land, dictated the cost and size of new homes. “

Something needs to change - and that change needs an alternative language to the one we currently use. Imagination framed around terminology of a system that benefits just a select few will only prove to be a glass ceiling. Something that gives an illusion of change, yet continually prevents us from really stretching towards something new. 

Alternatives are needed. Alternatives are present now. Yet to speak of them and to act them out, then challengingly, they demand an imagination that doesn’t make sense to our current ways of doing things. 

Exciting opportunities? Fearful opportunities? Unwanted opportunities? 

The eyes of creation are upon us for our next move.



A recent episode of BBC Panorama highlighted another dimension of the housing debate.

2 Sessions: Quaker Capitalism and Is Revival A Myth?

One of the beautiful things I find about engaging in history is summed up by the writer Christopher Hill:

There are few activities more cooperative than the writing of history. The author puts his name brashly on the title page and the reviewers rightly attack him for his errors and misinterpretations; but none knows better than he how much his whole enterprise depends on the proceeding labours of others.

(The World Turned Upside Down: radical ideas during the English Revolution)

It is this 'continual co-operation of learning' that I am mindful of as I put the finishing touches to two dialogue spaces that I am hosting next month. 

QUAKER CAPITALISM: a creative solution or capitalism in masquerade?

A revolution took place by Quaker families during the late 18th and 19th century that radically challenged the business world. Described as ‘Quaker Capitalism’, there was a new business language alongside codes of practice and company structures that addressed social injustices within the UK and beyond. For example: town planning, land reform, agriculture processes, saving plans, health clubs, and holiday entitlement. Through creative means founded upon historic principles, those families successfully maintained a balance between financial growth and active responsibility for the world they lived in. Yet over time, many of those businesses and daring ideas resembled oppressive, selfish structures that they once fought hard to move away from.

With renewed focus towards social enterprise, corporate responsibility and the recent changes to government investment within 'the state', there seems to be many opportunities for a Christian voice of action. But the history of ‘Quaker Capitalism’ with all its success and failure, invites us to take a breath: to critique the presented path, and prophetically image another way. 

IS REVIVAL A MYTH? challenging our assumptions and expanding our inventory of ideas

Myth – ‘a wildly held but false belief’ (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2010).

There are many definitions of revival: the well-known stories that are filtered through our opinions and interpretations, reflecting personal journeys, political bias and theological preferences. The dominant revival tale is biased towards a dramatic divine moment, a location and heroic figure (usually male and evangelical). But this focus can ignore hidden and intricate storylines.

For example, activism during the early 18th century Methodist revival demonstrated political resistance and moral duty. It was a movement that minimised bloodshed (when compared to the French Revolution taking place at the same time), through its community infrastructure. Their focus on governmental critique, organisation of community protests, school programs for the poor and work clubs for the unemployed, amongst many other examples, presents another possible description to this revival narrative - a 'Methodist Revolution'. This storyline is not unique and leads us to ask the liberating question: “is our understanding of revival a myth?”


Stained His Study Walls With A Praying Breath

I have a fascination with the life of the 17th century poet, writer and theologian Richard Baxter. Born in 1615, his childhood education was mixed with the atmosphere of political and faith-led debate. His family regularly held meetings for people that wanted to explore ideologies concerning justice and the expression of belief. Years before the English Civil War and the rise of Oliver Cromwell, Baxter was already being exposed to the varied arguments that were brewing across the land.

During the war, Baxter became the curate for Kidderminster. His passionate preaching described as

'a dying man to dying men'.

The division he noticed during the conflict, as both sides used increasingly aggressive tactics under the name of God to win their argument, provoked him into seeking ways of tackling intolerance. It was a decision that carried deep consequences.

Not only did he upset some around Cromwell as he delivered a sermon to the ‘Protector’, highlighting that his role was nothing more than the king in masquerade, but he also found himself marginalised when the monarchy was restored a few years later. Continued debates raged in the country, as opposing religious factions each blamed the other for causing a utopia to be lost before it was truly gained. As the established church attempted to find ways of safeguarding positions post the return of King Charles 2nd, (due to some of their involvement in the removal of his father), an idea was implemented that only furthered division within the faith.

The Clarendon Code demanded that the Book of the Common Prayer was to be compulsory. It also required all to swear an oath of allegiance to the king, made it unlawful for people to gather for worship that was not state authorised, and restricted non-conformist ministers from preaching or teaching in schools. Baxter fought vehemently to change the code, but failed, and his attempt of bridging the gap between different expressions of the faith became more difficult as the code was enforced.

The years that followed saw persecution, oppression, confiscation of his books and possessions, criminal charges for writing a paraphrase of the New Testament, and imprisonment for holding a Conventicle (unofficial worship meeting). Through it all he remained steadfast in his pursuit of encouraging people to walk in unity. The passing of the Toleration Act in 1689 gave him a couple of peaceful years before his death in 1691. On a winter’s day in December 1691, he was buried in the sight of established clergymen, dissenters and non-conformists. These opposing groups had battled in recent years, yet on that funeral day they gathered together around the grave of a man who had worked tirelessly to persuade them to stand side by side.

There are many things that could be said of Baxter (some are covered in Revival’s Symphony), but three things shine bright for me today. The first is Baxter’s response to friend during his final days of life. His friend reminded him of the impact his writings had upon the country. Baxter simply replied

"I was a pen in God’s hand, and what praise is due a pen?"

The second is a description that the chaplain E.M.Bounds gave of Baxter (Bounds a man who lived through the same challenges during the American Civil War). He spoke of Baxter as a man who

"stained his study walls with a praying breath". 

The third, it’s the story of two people the following century who both pursued their callings for transforming society through the Gospel message, yet found disagreement with each other in so many ways. John Wesley and George Whitefield had an erratic partnership that sometimes meant silence between each other for long periods of time. Yet no matter the distance or disagreement in theology, they walked a path of unity and respect that contributed to a diverse revolution within both the UK and USA. There are many suggestions of how they did it, particularly through such heated disagreements, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they both spoke with deep affection concerning the writings of the same author. An author by the name of Richard Baxter.

The Wounds Of Society And The Land

In September, 1905, George Cadbury (the famous philanthropist) delivered an address before the Trade Union Congress at Hanley. As a successful businessman he had been an ardent supporter of the trade union movement, both with his time and financial means. His belief in the importance that the voice of all workers should be heard and the equal rights of pay, gender and opportunity should be built into all business practice, led him to not shy away from the critique of many issues and polices of the day. And one of his favourite themes was land distribution.

…and on this occasion he took as his theme the rating of land values and the recovery of the land for the use of the people. He showed how the evils of society sprang from the divorce of the people from healthy contact with and interest in the soil, and how the land had been filched from the community and its burdens transferred to industry; touched on the Jewish law of the Jubilee; showed how beneficent would have been the operation of such a law upon the development of this country, and asserted that the wounds of society would never be healed until the rights of the people in the soil were re-established.

It was an address that was reprinted into flyers, and 3 million copies were distributed to the business and political community. His dream of Jubilee and the redistribution of land were not fully realised, but he never ceased from showing the nation, and the world, an alternative economy to the one that was accepted as ‘the norm’. In this case, Bournville and the business practice of Cadburys

(you can read more about Quaker Capitalism in Revival’s Symphony).

The issue of landownership and its relationship with the wounds of society is an interesting one, and seems a very relevant theme today as the graph below highlights.

  • 70% of the UK land is Agriculture, held by 0.28% of the population.
  • 20% of the land is Waste (including mountains, rivers).
  • 5% of the land is Business, and
  • 5% is Domestic which houses 90% of the population.

The voice of George Cadbury continues to echo throughout our land.


(New Statesman: 19/09/12: How We Pay For Our Richest Landowners)

Broken pilgrim

He was a man who wouldn’t let anyone off the hook. A rocker on the outside but a broken pilgrim within.

This was how I described Larry Norman, a character that I wrote about in the book Revival’s Symphony. This controversial musician is not your typical figure that plays a part within the revival narrative, but when placed within the radical Jesus Movement of the 60’s and 70’s that devoted their service to the un-compromised message of the One True Rebel, his lyrics start to take on a different form.

Rolling Stones are millionaires, flower children pallbearers, Beatles said ‘All you need is love’, and then they broke up. Jimi took an overdose, Janis followed so close, the whole music scene and all the bands are pretty comatose. This time last year, people didn’t wanna hear. They looked at Jesus from afar, this year he’s a ‘superstar.’

… your money says in God we trust, but it’s against the law to pray in school. You say we beat the Russians to the moon and I say you starved your children to do it. You say all men are equal, all men are brothers, then why are the rich more equal than others. Don’t ask me for the answer, I’ve only got one. That a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son. 

The cries of justice from a broken heart sound different to opinionated and arrogant howls. The frailty of Larry’s own life was plain for him and his fellow travellers to see, yet his devotion to God continually addressed the personal contradictions. His boldness to declare the truth to a world that preferred a lie meant that some shunned or rejected his message, but he continued to travel that path of honesty until his death in 2008.

He truly was a rocker on the outside and a broken pilgrim within.


They Saw The Sky As A Jewelled Tent

During one of their famous debating walks around Oxford, J.R. Tolkien challenged his walking colleagues, one of them being C.S. Lewis, to see beyond the confines of definition. 

You look at trees, he said, and call them ‘trees’, and probably you do not think twice about the word. You call a star a ‘star’, and think nothing more of it. But you must remember that these words, ‘tree’, ‘star’, were (in their original forms) names given to these objects by people with very different views from yours. 

To you, a tree is simply a vegetable organism, and a star simply a ball of inanimate matter moving along a mathematical course. But the first men to talk of ‘trees’ and ‘stars’ saw things very differently…. They saw the stars as living silver, bursting into flame in answer to the eternal music. They saw the sky as a jewelled tent…

The Inklings (Humphrey Carpenter)

'Revival' is a dangerous word. It carries mental and experiential baggage that can be both positive and negative, helpful and restrictive. The diversity in its definition can so easily draw lines in the sand, narrowing viewpoints upon what we assume is the correct meaning… nothing more, nothing less. And yet our history can also demonstrate that we can throw the word around upon any meeting and declare it to be a revival without critiquing what we are truly declaring to the world about the divine embrace of God's love.

With all our history, knowledge, reference links and access to information, it can create an illusion of surety - that what we see captures the very life of what is before us. Yet maybe our ‘adult’ assumptions has sometimes dulled our imagination of what we have read or yearned for; and this was a challenge I was ever mindful of when writing Revival’s Symphony.

It continually amazes me the life and wonderment that resides within the writings from historic revival characters. Beyond any neat and tidy definitions that I (and others) may have, their words carry elements of the unknown that take the reader past the confines of a man-made wardrobe that was constructed for clothes, and into a world that pays little reference to the initial wooden structure. Their descriptions of the divine embrace lay out a tapestry of heavens interaction that invites all to enter this world of revival as a trusting child with a vivid imagination.

Yes, ‘Revival’ is a dangerous word - but not because it carries our baggage of hopes, experiences and prejudices. It’s a dangerous word because it lays before us a simple option. To marvel at a box so neatly defined for us to place our new clothes within, or step inside with a trusting heart and venture beyond what we assume is proper and correct.


Laugh In The Face Of Crude Conventionalism

It wasn’t the easiest of moves, as it was surrounded by opposition, misunderstanding and financial challenges. This piece of land purchased on the 18th June 1878 held so much potential, but early work was hampered by bad weather and unforeseen struggles. By the time the first brick was laid in January 1879, the clay ground had become a sea of mud, with horses and carts struggling to transport materials to the building plots.

Some mocked because of these setbacks, gloating that this grand plan would not be finished on time. But sheer commitment, long hours and obsessive belief in the cause, led to the moment in 1880 when two brothers stood in front of their first finished cottages. It was a monumental step for the confectioners Richard and George Cadbury. These were more than just a few buildings; this was a sign that the family dream could one day be realised. 

A couple of paragraphs from a chapter in Revival’s Symphony that explores a daring dream to translate the Quaker ‘advices’ into practical help concerning living conditions and quality of life for factory workers in Birmingham.

This dream eventually became Bournville - a living model village that valued individual creativity, community investment, appreciation of nature, and the importance of rest. A visit by the New York Cosmopolitan reporter Annie Diggs, informed her readers that:

the very streets … laugh in the face of crude conventionalism. The monotony of capitalistic housing with rows of all-alike houses is prohibited. Why, it is the very joy of life among the villagers.

The men not being overworked in the factory go straight to their gardens with keen delight … spade and barrow to work their allotments after factory hours. Charming woodlands haunts, fine pavilion for entertainments, cricket fields, football grounds, fishing pools and swimming places … reading rooms with the best books, literary societies, debating clubs and institutions for serious study 

This report influenced another chocolatier by the name of Milton Hershey to invest his profits back into social investment.

Bournville became an experiment that provoked governmental response, particularly with the positive results of living standards, health care and the effective use of land. This ongoing discussion led to a number of Garden Cities / New Towns to take shape.

Whilst that journey led to mixed results, I am intrigued at one of the early ideas that shaped those explorations - that the ‘city’ should belong to its citizens in perpetuity (i.e. a fixed bond of ownership with no fixed end date). That once the cost of its development was paid back from the income raised within the location, any further profit from the value of land would flow back into the community. Decisions of investment were to be made from a local perspective, with active engagement and personal ownership. It was an idea that was eventually quashed in 1946, diverting local income back to the administration of central government. 

Regardless of our varied political stances concerning distribution of finance, the story of Garden Cities is a fascintating tale of creativity and imagination that I think we need to take heed of within these days. Where people of faith dared to face the tough challenges of injustice and sought to find practical means to not just address this issues but to eradicate them.

Sadly, the ‘present day’ informs us that these issues still remain, yet as I wrote about the influence of what some would term ‘Quaker Capitalism’ I found myself both inspired and challenge. It was a history that morphed itself into a relevant and constant reminder - that this journey within the narrative of revival is one that demands imagination within the valleys of pain.