On the 8th Feb we are having a taster day for the certificate in pioneer mission that will be starting in September as part of the Northern Pioneer Centre. The day the Pastoral Statement landed I was planning a session for the taster event on the stories pioneers find themselves in and using Arbuckles notions of dissent and lament. Particularly how pioneers led by Jesus find themselves so often on the edge and how they need to value the experiences of seeing the beloved manifested in those places as resource for hope and a call to dissent. “There can be no constructive change at all, even in church, unless there is some form of dissent. By dissent I mean simply the proposing of alternatives, and a system that is not continuously examining alternatives is not likely to evolve creatively.”
Arbuckle Refounding the Church
I guess this is where the church (as denominations) often gets caught, as it fails to understand system complexity. This system complexity helps make spaces that try to examine, try to propose alternatives, and even try’s to listen (E.g. shared conversations) but is placed within an institution (and fixed false orthodoxy paradigm rooted in the enlightenment) that favours reductionism that can never compete with the complexities of following the way of love in the person Jesus. So dissent really matters, because orthodoxy that exists in a vacuum is not truth, and the Jesus way demonstrates orthopraxis that love is a way of dissent toward shalom.
At the same time my FB memory popped up with “ Whisper, somewhere beyond usefulness is a land where play reigns.” For May 29-31st we are following the Taster day with a Pioneer Fiesta(all ages welcome). In the heart of the Lakes there will be camping (with the opportunity to come early if you want a holiday) or book a B&B, and join in the stories, food and play. We are playing with different voices animating Mark 4 going to the other side of the lake. The word animating is used deliberately as there will be playful experiments including a messy take, an outdoors take, an artists take, an entrepreneurs take, a priests take, an inclusive take etc all around Mark 4. We are also Literally taking a paddle steamer to the other side of the lake and having a band and party on board. If you want to find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the moment I know I am called to be on the inside edge of this system and my commitment to the bride of Christ keeps me hanging there. At times I find playing with words is one of the few ways I can cope when the institution gets too much so here is an offering Of hopeful playful dissent.
Love is judged unworthy and tears of sadness grow.
Acidic edicts, camouflaged in priesty garments,
close doors to grace filled embraces.
Love sits outside with the masses
Bewildered at processes so reduced so disconnected
and so this holy water from different wells will flow.
So last week I met a stranger on the train. We soon got chatting and she manages several shopping malls around the UK, which led to a discussion around my role as I keep an eye on innovation in the High street as I think there are some good lessons for the church to learn as the culture and shape on the high street changes. We discussed how culture shifts and my role as Fresh Expressions is often about listening to communities and people and growing church from there. We discussed how innovation happens in businesses and her role in revamping shopping centres. We talked about imagination gaps, indigenous spirituality and being on the edge of the inside of organisations. We talked about the emerging role of social enterprises in the church and the great work they do. She was choosing some blinds on line for her house and fell onto a site that gave away 10% of their profits to charity and so found some from that shop. We discussed the social enterprise my daughter bought her wedding dress from and she had two (long story) to donate. So bear in mid the title of this post was Is this evangelism? Maybe but we are only half way through the conversation and I wouldn’t have minded if it had been my time to leave the train them as I would have been pretty chuffed to have had such a life giving conversation. So was it evangelism?
But like I said the conversation didn’t end with blinds. We discussed issues around inclusion and co-creating community, and the role of people of peace getting involved. We talked through how we grow community on our different settings at home and at work. We had a long chat around hospices and building places of joy, not brushing the real issues of life (and death) under the carpet and how we have sanitised how we connect as humans. We shared examples of how we are building community in our own spaces and the conversation moved onto discuss cafe churches. After unpacking cafe church for a while the conversation moved onto death cafes, and what she might do in the spaces she runs and manages. We finished with her committing to finding a few spaces to pilot a few death cafes and if needed to find a couple of community groups or churches to help and then as we were pulling into the station her leaving me her details in case I ever needed space in a shopping mall to start a Fresh Expression.
So was this evangelism? if she goes out (as planned) and starts a couple of death cafes does that count? Maybe she will be known in her business as the strange lady who starts death cafes, and wasn’t the something about being known by the fruit we produce…..
I was also well evangelised as I certainly wouldn’t mind working in her type of job…
Back in July I attended a HUI with CMS exploring creative theological education. Part of the outcome was thinking about ecosystems and giraffes because of this story and that actually there is always more space than we think to dance and play within the systems we are in.
you can link to the poem above here
Last year I wrote this article for Anvil the journal of theology and mission.
It was interesting at Greenbelt to connect with Traidcraft who are exploring Halocracy which has been a key process in shaping the work i am currently doing and in the resounding side of things with StreetSpace. Heres the process I am currently using
So I collaborated on a new book that the wonderful Andy Freeman has pulled together Festival – A Tribute to the Art of Celebration, Theres 10 or so contributors and published by Proost as part of a social enterprise to support mental health well being at festivals. According to Andy apparently Ive written a ‘beautiful and prosaic to celebration in all its forms – relationships, snow days, childbirth and indeed festivals – the amazing nature of tears and communal nature of joy’
Its really reflection on the years I spent with Streetspace and in Chard, and it has been great to play with a different sort of writing for me. I think it’s a lovely little book do check it out if you get chance and pick one up to support the amazing work Andy is doing through Space to breathe
We had a great Mountain Pilgrims gathering last weekend. Thanks to Rob for leading. We went to Creiff where the Victorians had build a castle folly. Part of the reason for the folly was to create windows to frame the view, to tame and order the wild landscapes of Cumbria. We then slogged up the hill and used Claude Glasses. Where you stand with your back to the view and use a mirror to look behind you and again frame and tame the view. Unpacking this alongside 1 Cor 13v12 (we see through a glass/ a mirror dimly) it was easy to make the connections with how we seek to tame/box and confine G-d.
I love my current role (new job title Director of Mission Innovation and Fresh Expressions) in Cumbria and the ambition of the churches captured by the vision of God for All. But is wasn’t until a couple of days later that I joined the dots with a reflection we had with Johnny Sertin and how the God for All vision is a challenge where many are still operating within what Lamin Saneh calls the regulatory impulse. In this all our common worship, common prayer and, where mission, is shaped by this impulse to ‘fit’ good news into the existing forms we have inherited. God for All is moving from “temple” to kingdom. Our challenge is not to be subservient to historical time or even eschatological time in the guise of holding up tradition or passive towards the future but to embrace the G-d who has torn the curtain of the temple, and invites us no longer to stand with our backs towards her only seeing through a mirror dimly but to face the wonder, the opportunity, to know and be known, so that we move forward with the God who is for All in faith, hope and love.
Ok maybe it’s because I’m not feeling great with man flu, but I’m screaming inside as I read the peice “why does it matter if young people do theology” As it seems such a good question but so misses the point because it is rooted in an old paradigm perspective that flys in the face of all the good stuff that millennials are offering that the article cites earlier. It demonstrates the antithesis of what being woke is.
I agree “this is where theology comes in. Theology matters because it redirects our worship. It realigns it. It always has. It offers new perspectives on the age old questions of ‘who am I? What am I here for? What’s the meaning of life?’, which are being asked in new ways by a generation who live in a constant state of tension and flux.” But the authors quick jump to the idea that theology is about communications and translation “for and to a generation longing for answers” is swift and telling, and spectacularly misses the heartbeat of millennials. It fails to see how rooted in power that approach is and how that the approach of theology as something worked out behind closed doors, and done too/presented to people is, flys in the face of the millennial culture. Whilst the approach may tap into the authenticity narrative that millennials are searching for, it does so in a rather inauthentic way that most millennials will see through. Now I have to admit im not a millennial, and yes the list of topics in the theology slam are all good, but for the “me too” generation a theology that explains/translates doesn’t matter. A theology that doesn’t include “other” in the conversation, or an assumption that theology is done by Christians doesn’t matter. What does matter is theology that is cocreated with the woke generation, regardless of where they are on their journey of faith, a community theology around a bigger table where everyone has a seat is what matters to them because they graciously already know we need them more than they need us.
It was Leon Festinger who termed the phrase “cognitive dissonance” as he observed that when reality clashes with our deepest convictions we would rather recalibrate reality than amend our worldview. So when we are seeking change in church circles, or with people of faith, facts and evidence can often make little difference. John Maynard Keynes said “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones”. So the question isn’t about the lack of new ideas but about HOW people and society moves forward into the new. This forward trajectory towards love and peace, is central to the christian narrative, the missio dei reconnection of church and mission, calls the church as the living text, the same spirit that called the early church calls us on to the kingdom that is now and not yet. A kingdom narrated and marked by love and grace. So the HOW remains the issue.
I want to unpack the HOW and the role cognitive dissonance plays by looking at a little twitter conversation I had with Jason Gardner who raised the question “In a dominantly secular age, surely Christianity – all religion – is seen as irrelevant. Do we fight for relevance or admit that culture clashes are inevitable as the worldviews of secularism and theism are utterly opposed?” Personally I think they are both far less opposed than we think, but both ideologies that people want to protect. The issue for theist is more about how wedded to the old we are when are part of the kingdom that is now and not yet, and called to be part of the ongoing living text. Jason response raised two really important issues, “the New Testament way is ‘live such good lives’ that people can’t argue against our way of life but Jesus was clear that the world will still hate us. Still living the story is key.” I assume he was drawing on 1 Peter in the first part “live such good Lives” and I love this text because it is so grounded, rooted in locality and space and time and a community (and hate it because it is such a high call). Whilst Jesus parts are more generalised, the “world” (root cosmos) will hate us, perhaps he is being more parabolic and what he is addressing is more about the powers (the strongman is the systems of oppression and violence, social, economic and political domination that pervade our world see Ched Myers reading of Mark) and people wedded to the accepted ways of being, those seeking to hold onto what they have, know, think. Because when I am in local grounded spaces where people are questioning the powers, the old dichotomies and binaries, I find tremendous love and grace more often than not from people who would not call themselves christians. Yet when I am spaces where christians are drawing lines of who is in and who is out, what is true and wand what isn’t, I usually find the opposite of the grace and love that is supposed to mark the kingdom.
So I wonder if Jesus is saying us being hated is too often used by people in power to prop up the status quo and not wrestle with what good looks like, and in doing so disconnects from the ongoing story of Jesus. The world hating us gets used to excuse as cognitive dissonance to prop up ways of being that end up showing very little love and reinforces old ideologies that struggle to connect with the church as the living and emerging text. As Dean chipped into the twitter conversation “creating a siege mentality leads to a culture war… which is just a clanging gong”
one of the things that was evidenced in the Utopia for realists book was how well people responded when given no strings attached money. Experiments offering homeless people a no strings gift of 3k showed amazing turn arounds, and even when given to people deemed higher risk eg struggling with addictions. It made me think about people perceive the church as having strings. I wonder how much we have corrupted love, how much we have overthought love, categorised it, conditioned it and disconnected it from grace. Sarah Savage, ‘The experience of being listened to is so close to the experience of being loved as to be indistinguishable.’ To truly listen is to love and yet even in fresh expressions where listening precedes loving and serving, and building community we easily fall into the trap of listening with an agenda, we listen to spot the opportunity, to find out how we might love and serve this community. We need to to better empty ourselves, to more fully understand grace if we are to really listen and love.
Im reading a great book Utopia for realists and it made me ponder how often people mistake me for an idealist when Im often just a realist. Theres a great chapter on why we should give everyone free money, and the evidence that no strings attached giving lifts people out of poverty in amazing ways and really strong evidence for the universal basic minimum income. Yet how often do we (and I think very often in the church) struggle with new ways of doing things even though there is often overwhelming evidence that if you doing things differently good stuff happens. We are locked into certain patterns and behaviours, ideals and constructs, that mean we ignore new possibilities even when confronted with realism (often in terms of evidence based research) about what is currently going on or with realism (often in terms of evidence based research) about how different approaches work.
Too often it is idealism that makes people write off new ideas, its just too pie in the sky, and yet too often realism is mistaken for criticism, so little headway is made there either. I think I am often caught somewhere between the two, I dream of a better world and do what I can towards it. I read research and try to use evidence, experience and the Holy Spirit to feel my way forward, so can be told Im being critical. Any ideas?