“A delusion is a false, unshakeable idea or belief, which is out of keeping with the patient’s educational, cultural and social background; it is held with extraordinary conviction and subjective certainty” (Sims A (2003) Symptoms in the Mind: An Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology.3rd Edition)
There has been some really quite horrid stuff flying around the web in response to Vicky Beechings book Undivided. The level of vitriol sometimes explicit and sometimes couched in religious terms was disconcerting even for someone like me who knows just how difficult Christians can be when you challenge certain orthodoxies. So much so that the only word that came to mind was “deluded”. This is not a word I use lightly but to see the Christian story and particularly details (around practices, what is and what isn’t kosher) as so fixed, so unnuanced, so unchangable, is out so out of keeping with the “educational, cultural and social background” of the Christian narrative that it seems delusional is the only word available.
It is only by using the word delusional can I make any sense of some of the cheap shots (about her replacing one stage for another or she could never have been a Christian) that have been thrown Vickys way. The trajectory of Christian story is rooted in love, it starts in a garden and heads to a city, it moves in an ever unfolding redemptive arc, it didn’t start with Jesus, but he exemplified it, and it certainly didn’t stop with Jesus whose words to love our enemies call us to continue in those footsteps through the ages and continue beyond the now as what love really is, becomes uncovered. When you deny the humanity of one person, struggling, wrestling, seeking and sense making you step outside that arc, and you loose something in yourself.
Why were we captivated by the kids in the cave in Thailand but not the 1000s who die crossing the Med – is it the smaller number, that they were a footie team, we’ve been caving but not fled a warzone, or its simply a good story and we are lying to ourselves that we care?
Im impotent with compassion fatigue
i tend to turn off the news
I feel I need to do more, do differently, and sometimes I do and often I don’t. Each time a see a lifejacket wether on the news or canoeing in the lake, I see a Syrian child.
I squash the images to survive, I glimpse moments of joy and hold my daughter close, and each time pray I wrestle.
This is a kind of follow on post from the royal wedding. Millions of people would have seen Curry preach that sermon. However a quick trawl of you tube for the wedding sermon shows the three top hits of the whole 13 minute sermon were that CBS had 620k (split across two videos) BBC had 900k views. Then a few days ago Chris Pratt did the above speech which so far has 1.9m views on the MTV you tube site alone.
So there are some sound bite and length things, context driven things and audience issues, but a few observations. As a piece of public speaking it for me it captured the balance of fun and points well, it was challenging in an inductive way, provoking more questions of the post christian audience than it provided answers.
As I was reflecting on Pratts talk a Church Times article also popped in my news feed which suggested that even brilliant sermons like Currys would fail to draw in a significant number and I don’t think Chris Pratts style would either. Culture has shifted, if there is still a place for public speaking, thats now the podium (public square) rather than the pulpit.
I know the arguments for the pulpit is that people need teaching, but the evidence is that learning is most effective when not upfront, talk driven. Perhaps the argument is exhortation, but isn’t this more effective if people shared what they had done that week and encouraged one another, built in accountability and wrestled with their own discipleship. We have to accept that the culture has shifted and stop hanging onto the pulpit like some sort of holy cow.
When I grew up in the late 70s and early 80’s people friends had written off God because of science, I felt like people had written faith off and weren’t even seeking truth other than through technology and the sciences. The known and concrete was what my friends were after, growing up in family vaguely connected to church I knew what they meant, and so we didn’t really give faith much serious thought till 86. But I remember we knocked stuff around before that at school, probably a fledgling gen x’ers wondering but disillusioned. I certainly remember that having faith conversations with my peers was non existent or difficult, until the 90s when the disillusioned wonderers wanted to wonder even more and hyper modernity really kicked in as institutions became more distrusted, including the institution of science, and people recognised that perhaps there were more mysterious things that couldn’t be explained easily and everyting could be questioned and deconstructed.
Now I feel I am back full circle where it’s much harder talking about faith once again, not because people aren’t seeking but because the truths they have uncovered so far about about love and life, (perhaps encountering the God who is love beyond the walls of church) don’t match up with the judgemental insistution they perceive the church to be. Recently I was trying to find a venue for this, and people were very hesitant to be involved in something perceived to be by organised religion, saying work for the church for problematic even when you see how much this event is telling a very different story.
There are times when words fail me so if anyone gets what I am trying to say let me know.
when i really embrace the Christ and his words I find myself caught in the paradox of a deep faith that is unshakable and enables me to play on the edge, I become confident that there is one G-d, so seekers will find, and where space is created G-d shows up. Paradoxically this unshakabilty makes me question a number of fronts, could I do more, should I do differently, and knowing the Christ that broke through the curtain, tore it two, should I do at all. And wether I am caught in the doing or being, or even when I am caught between the two I love that Christ always shows up, because Jesus has come and gone, returned and never left.
Today I had the privilege to sit with 20 or so pioneers from across Cumbria. It struck me as I did the summing up at the end what a amazing array of experience was in the room. I was probably the only person who knew what everyone else was doing in their own context, and that in itself was humbling. We opened the day, thinking about the good stuff happening in our areas wether they were seeds of ideas just planted, seedlings needing nurture and just showing a few leaves, or flowers in full bloom. Then we thought through What shape were you as a pioneer. Following that the honesty people bought to the challenges was great. We put post its on hurdles and invited people share whilst holding a talking stick, from the outset we said we weren’t here to fix stuff, and it was amazing to stand in silence alongside our fellow pioneers as people shared their pain. Some breathing and mindfulness, and lecto divina, before I wrapped with strange fruit. I blew my budget on exotic fruit that people didn’t recognise so it was great to bless each individual with a peice of strange fruit and encourage them to stay away from the Granny Smith mentality and to mention briefly the array of work, those working in charity shops, changing their houses for homeless, doing church on the hills, or in community gardens, or in schools, on the estate. Reshaping family stuff in village churches, Messy stuff, and alternative stuff, faith stuff, and food based stuff, a bunch of people getting stuck into their communities with the stuff of life. THANKYOU
I’ve been reflecting on the paradoxes in faith, like, it’s better to give than receive, to loose life to find it, wisdom through foolishness, strength in weaknesses and so on. I’m wondering about their role in evangelism and mission, not about telling people the whats of the paradoxes like you need to loose your life in order to find it, but more about how paradox should function in mission. In discipleship we start with a banking approach giving people the basics of what we think they need to know, and I think this might be contrary to how the paradoxes function. Why don’t say to someone forget everything you think you know and I have nothing to teach you, other than I am weak, I have only foolishness to offer…
When we fail to operate out of the paradoxes, we disempower and we perpetuate the myths of organised religion, we operate from positions of power, and we compromise the opportunity for indigenous faith to be nurtured and supported.
My post on the royal wedding sermon prompted a fairly mixed response with many of my friends experiencing similar negative or not bothered responses. However what was really interesting for me from the comments process was how wedded the church is to particular methods, approaches and systems. It could be argued that preaching is one of the minor cultural texts that make up the wider church culture, and regardless of denomination the circuit of culture (representation, identity, production, consumption and regulation) has created a vague but impenitrible culture. If culture eats strategy for breakfast, strategy is just the muffin on the side when it comes to what church culture can consume.
For example we know loads about learning styles, effective communication methods, that are taught up and down the country in theological colleges, by mission training agencies, but never quite get through. When was the last time you heard a sermon in under 8 minutes, let alone the evidence that talks are one of the least effective learning contexts. You put that sort of argument up and church culture says but preaching is for this or that, church culture doesn’t just eat strategy its eats wisdom, knowledge and evidenced practice. This applies way beyond the preaching context, we know the church isn’t the building, we can rarely talk about it as people. The evidence of effective mission is all around relationships, but we keep propping up buildings. The research on effective use of films in communication (let alone on how jesus used parables) suggests we avoid purposed dominance, and instead create space for people to wrestle their own conclusions and applicability, but we don’t, because we are more products of the culture than we think. Don’t even let me get started on how we do discipleship or train leaders, people sitting in rows, how we open or close meetings, prayer, singing or…
There’s no doubt Rev Micheal Curry preached a blinder at the royal wedding. Quickly Twitter and my social media echo chamber was buzzing with how brilliant it was, friends were explaining how it showed that preaching wasn’t dead. Now I’m not a fan of the royals but I caught the talk, but I wasn’t convinced that the body language of the congregation suggested they were as taken with the sermon as my echo chamber was. Don’t get me wrong it was one of the best things I have ever heard from a pulpit, and I am a huge fan of Michael Curry and blogged about him a few times, but I asked a few people outside my echo chamber and to be honest they weren’t that bothered, some thought it went on too long, others couldn’t remember the key point.
So let’s not carried away with the idea that preaching is a lost art and if only we did it well it would work.
It was good to do a lecture this week on Ministry and the Institution and revisit the notion of ‘Habitus‘ and particularly Bourdieu who sees us as part of and not just influenced by our sociological settings (family, geography, race etc) ie also influencers. Not rocket science I know, but I wonder how conscious we are of the potential interplay, and how controlled we allow ourselves to be due to how we were located and raised in any particular setting. This was why I used it the lecture as my experience is there is plenty of space to play and unfold a new habitus in the institution, but not everyone does. Indeed it is part of what we called to do as christians, so even when there are authority figures that seek to constrain, we can challenge or as Bob Marley might sing “emancipate yourself from mental slavery”.
One of the sociological (maybe philosophical) issues we need to unpack in this mini series is the notion of “other, and othering”. “Othering” is a term that not only encompasses the many expressions of prejudice on the basis of group identities, but we argue that it provides a clarifying frame that reveals a set of common processes and conditions that propagate group-based inequality and marginality.” Powell and Menendian. So whilst this a huge issue in society at large, and particularly in relation to groups, I would suggest it is rooted in the individual.
Othering is an issue for people generally (and perhaps particularly for people of faith) because we are not always that honest about the stories we tell ourselves. We talk a lot about wholeness and integration in faith terms (not just christian faith), notions of power, set apart, chosen, even redeemed buy into ideas that there is other, perhaps going right back to the garden, where instead of seeing ourselves as rooted, from and connected to the soil, creation and one another, we read the text to see ourselves as other. This lack of connectedness could be at the root of our othering so I think one way forward is recognise that we in ourselves are other. Lets be honest, if the me I think myself to be, and the me you think I am, and the me I actually am, ever met I doubt they would recognise each other. So lets co-create the new habitus, that recognises we can be influencers in how that unfolds, and our start point is not that we have the answer and everyone else is other.