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?
I want to be a simple soul, and live in the Jesus way….
I won’t draw lines of exclusion – because when you do Jesus is on the other side, or there with a giant eraser.
I won’t pull up the drawbridge, close the door, shut the gate – because when you do Jesus cuts the strings of security, invites the stranger in swings wide the opening.
I won’t give in to the power to perform, possess, or provide – because Jesus resisted and found the better way of love.
Ive been having some great but random conversations with the locals on spirituality in Cumbria. The fairy tradition it seems is one of the stronger indigenous spiritually connecting points, and as ever when you find the right way into a conversation people are open, listening, and inspiring. It has really made me wonder how well the church is listening to what is going on in the community and unsurprised why our touching points so often miss the mark. In Kendal a few weeks back these installations landed, (thanks to Jonny Gios for letting me nick his wonderful pictures) and as i wondered around them the amount of people chatting to friends about “how calming they were” or “wouldn’t it be great to sit and meditate here” or “feel that vibe” etc etc was surprising. Then I had to question myself why was I surprised, I must have been spending too much time in the wrong places. so it’s been great to connect with fairies, chat to the barman on the spirituality of beer, and hang around the spaces of the seekers.
I was at a FX Gathering last week and Abi Pitt from the salvation army used the phrase about paying attention to the bass notes and not the treble and I loved it. A while back I developed a presentation around the idea of Fxs and Jazz, how knowing the basics helped with improv. (not that I know anything real about jazz). What i loved about the bass notes was that so often its the treble that sticks out, that call to attention, those moments are often easy to spot. Perhaps if we pay attention to the bass notes of love, acceptance and humanity we can become more like Jesus and spot Matthew that tax collector, sitting in his booth going about his everyday business and not just Zacchaeus up in the high in the tree.
So good to hang out with people interested in the new St Kentigern school this morning exploring rediscovering the lost art of contemplation. Particularly enjoyed teasing out the difference between meditation and contemplation and this story that shared from Kahil Gilbran. Four frogs sat upon a log that lay floating on the edge of a river. Suddenly the log was caught by the current and swept slowly down the stream. The frogs were delighted and absorbed, for never before had they sailed.
At length the first frog spoke, and said, “This is indeed a most marvellous log. It moves as if alive. No such log was ever known before.”
Then the second frog spoke, and said, “Nay, my friend, the log is like other logs, and does not move. It is the river that is walking to the sea, and carries us and the log with it.”
And the third frog spoke, and said, “It is neither the log nor the river that moves. The moving is in our thinking. For without thought nothing moves.”
And the three frogs began to wrangle about what was really moving. The quarrel grew hotter and louder, but they could not agree.
Then they turned to the fourth frog, who up to this time had been listening attentively but holding his peace, and they asked his opinion.
And the fourth frog said, “Each of you is right, and none of you is wrong. The moving is in the log and the water and our thinking also.”
And the three frogs became very angry, for none of them was willing to admit that his was not the whole truth, and that the other two were not wholly wrong.
Then a strange thing happened. The three frogs got together and pushed the fourth frog off the log into the river.
I love it when worlds collide and so often something amazing happens. Core to a good experience is that both worlds enter into the conversation and work out the way forward together. Grayson Perry has done this brilliantly with the first of his rites of passage pieces on Channel Four. The way he curates the living wake is simply beautiful, for the individual involved and the community around him, it is the best example of co-creating space I have seen in a long time.
As I reflected on the programme it made me reflect on how of all the major rites, perhaps, death is the one where the church is at its best. The process of developing the funeral service is co-created between the ministers and the family, its personal, its poignant because the space is co-created, it doesn’t matter where on the faith journey the participants are, their opinions and ideas are valued and included where possible. Perhaps something similar happens at weddings.
This co-creation of space is at the heart of the emerging church for me. It is what helps it move from a position of power to service, from orthodoxy to grounded orthopraxis, and make real connections that help us all discover the g-d we don’t yet know.
One of the issues I have struggled with most since moving from an organisation that has always been outside the institution and committed to the liminal spaces, to within the structures of the church, is staying true to the calling I think I have. It is very easy to tone stuff down for political expediency and so loose that sense of who I really am. Im fully aware I need to take care about the HOW of what I say what to whom, and I have always done that in no matter what role I am (good adult to adult honest and real dialogue in pretty short supply in the church), but Im not sure I should ever change the WHAT. Real Relationships for me is a two way thing, I can’t be in a real relationship with those I am serving in the institution if I am not being honest about the what of who I am and the what of what Im doing. I remember saying to students (usually in the first week or so) when I used to teach mission and theology that I wanted to be really up front and I saw part of my role as about corrupting them with the christ who would spend time on the margins with young people outside the church. Likewise with Transparent Operations I needed to be clear and open about what the third space fresh expressions were. That they were deliberately playful, pushing boundaries, pathfinding projects, about their failings and successes. I can be great at putting a positive spin on stuff but more often than not be too brutally honest about stuff so people end up thinking Im grumpy or negative. But my own self awareness has to be key to Transparent Ops and Real Relationships if we want to see increased impact and capacity and enable others to catch the vision.
Following on from last week there are two key issues that have been part of the process. Borrowing from the theory of change I initially used in StreetSpace, Transparent Operations and Real Relationships have been key. So whilst I have a lovely but ridiculously complicated diagram about why and how transparency and relationship function to increase capacity and impact its not rocket science.
Indeed operating Transparently and fostering Real Relationships have always been key for sodal organisations but finding the right feedback loops and processes to the modal is key if we want the the modal to take care of itself. Sodal is always about journeying into the cultural and community, about going further and deeper and making sure the stories from the frontier are fed back. Its about foresting good relationships so those stories are recognised, inspire and take root in the modal so encouraging people to give stuff a go.