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.
How do we capture the pioneer dna to learn without crushing? Here’s my attempt for a local gathering based on something I did a while back anyone else got any ideas, about how the glean the wisdom without loosing the nuance?
I am experimenting with a new type of pioneer gathering called Cmpfire to replace the old Cumbria Pioneer Network. The first one will take place in Xxxx and I would love if you come and join us 9.30 – 12.30 with breakfast and plenty of coffee provided.
If you’re wondering why you are getting this email, its because I reckon the work you do and how you think about it is pretty pioneering and takes us a bit beyond the traditional ideas of Fresh Expressions and church, so it would be great if you can join us. Its not an exclusive gathering but we recognise that often it is helpful to meet with people where you don’t need to justify what you do, who you are and why it doesn’t fit the norm and we are only inviting a handful of people for this first one.
The aim is to create a space to hear stories, reflect and be, a bit like a chat around a campfire that goes late into the evening on a starry night where we can wrestle with what the pioneer DNA is really about.
Cmpfires are about getting practitioners together in a room with a couple of people with a bit of theological nouse and an artist who will somehow record and interpret the event. We will use an artist to capture the conversation as its not a training event, and we are not trying to fix anything. We don’t want to loose the nuance, the metaphor, the life and breadth of the pioneer charism and hope the artist will capture this better than notes. So you don’t need to do any prep just turn up and be yourself!
Xxx is doing the catering, so the food will be excellent, and I am planning the gathering with Annie Grey (Hospital chaplain) and Caroline Kennady (Uni and school chaplain), both of whom are doing some excellent innovative stuff. We will be joined by Jane Dudman who specialises in art and sound, so she will capture the gathering in various ways and we will make this available down the line.
In the previous post I suggested we needed to find a new way of being christian at all levels sociologically, functionally, eccesiologically, culturally etc. Today I am in a reflective mood as it has just been made public that John Wheatley is the new community leader with Frontier Youth Trust. I love John and having worked alongside him for several years am delighted he has taken on this new role. But more than that I love the way the FYT board, Team and John went about re-examining what kind of leadership was needed. I love that the board have been courageous enough to listen to the team and to move away from the traditional CEO type role, and start the journey towards a new way of being.
When the legend that is Dave Wiles, the enigma that is Andy Turner and I interviewed John it was clear John was a gifted young man, I think we even said that one day he would lead FYT. And fast forward 6 years John continues to inspire me as Im pretty confident that if it had been a standard CEO role in FYT he wouldn’t have applied for the role.
I think theres two really important lessons we can learn from this. Firstly there is deep level of vulnerabilty shown on all sides. The organisation/board of FYT is open and vulnerable, it knows the risk of moving away from traditional organisational processes, and equally recognises that as people caught up in the dance of the relational trinity and a desire to see shalom we are called to be something else. Likewise the journey of the team showed amazing vulnerability, jobs were on the line, change was afoot, and livelihoods at stake. Finally there was massive individual vulnerability, Debbie Garden (interim CEO) and John did an amazing job of helping both sides navigate this process, and I think that the open handed grace that Debbie always demonstrates cannot be underestimated, she’s a gem. I love it, and I love that in an age of institutional anxiety, there are still organisations and individuals that demonstrate the way of the vulnerable christ and are finding ways to root this in how they operate.
Secondly is was really hard for me to leave FYT, and whilst many organisations go on about giving over leadership to younger generations its never going to happen unless people like me in their 30s embrace, nurture and release younger leaders, and recognise in that they can go further, faster, deeper and eclipse us, and know that like Richard Rohr success can teach us very little, consequentially making sure we are hand over before its too late. So again I think the second lesson whilst still rooted in vulnerability to individual leaders and to leadership groups is pretty obvious GET OUT OF THE BLOODY WAY!
Instinctively I think we need to find a new (and rediscover some of the old) ways of being Christian, particularly if we are going to help people connect in the dance. I was talking about this on Facebook and a good friend asked me what I meant. My reply was it was at all levels sociologically, functionally, eccesiologically, culturally etc.
I don’t think we realise just how masked, how clouded and how hidden the message of love has become behind the layers poor behaviour, intolerance, judgment, harshness, unkindness, exclusivity, insistution, and general ineptitude.
The task of the Christian in every generation, in every culture, in every situation is to love. It is to start at the beginning with the words of Jesus and accept that no matter how hard they are they cannot be changed. To love our neighbour, to love our enemy, to forgive 70 x 7, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile calls us to find ways beyond judgement, unkindness, intolerance. I love the way Stephen Backhouse talks in the latest Nomad podcast states how when it comes to just war (and many other issues) we simply have to put Jesus in the “no column”. We might have great reasons, sociological, cultural, intellengence, for just war but you just can’t get beyond that Jesus says love your enemy.
The reality is that Jesus is the still point in the turning world, and his words take us far beyond just war. So we have to find ways to be honest with our selves and our neighbors about this reality but equally honest how we fail to live up to those ideals, how we come up with systems of thinking and ways of operating that help us function, acknowledge that whilst these might go someways towards love be honest that in many ways that are pale imitations of the words of Jesus. Honest that our walls are more about protecting us from the words of Christ that actually call us beyond. That our safety and security is still found in the paypacket, rather than like the birds of air somewhere else.
Perhaps when i can be that honest with myself, g-d and my neighbours i start to work out what this Jesus is really all about and call those walls to dust.