A disconcerting mysticism

Often we think of prayer, meditation, contemplation and mysticism as stages or levels, a movement beyond petition, words, to space and connectivity. But they usually all have in common a withdrawal to a space or time to practice, a coming away to give yourself time to pray, meditate etc. This way of being, of taking time out has been an important part of my journey. Equally an important part has been a journey against separateness (dualism) in thinking about worship, mission, prayer.

The last few months I have found I needed less and less to withdraw, and felt more and more oneness. Even in moments of being alone, I am not seeking to practice prayer, or mediate, but simply experiencing A deeper connectedness, a constantacy, and not so much a tap or a well but more a “nowness” (which I think is Augustine) that is both full and empty, now and not yet, a future present state. This nowness is staying with me, there has been a shift from the struggle of being still and still moving to released and relaxed reality.

Its a great place, and something I really value as it seems a good shift beyond dualism. But to be honest it’s a bit disconcerting. Anyone else experiencing a shift in their inner life?

Retelling the Good Samaritan and FX

Have you ever noticed who is asking the question in the story of the Good Samaritan? It made me think about the insititional church again, as in my new role with Fresh Expressions I have been using this oldie but goodie suggesting that perhaps we have put an imaginary lid on church.

Perhaps a bit of a rewrite of the opening of the Godd Samaritan may help you spot who is asking Jesus who is my neighbour…
A teacher, someone who helps make and interpret the rules, a culture setter, a guardian of truth asks Jesus “who is my neighbour?” Jesus replies “imagine YOU are walking down a road and are attacked, mugged, robbed and left for dead at the side….

If we flip the focus from the Samaritain maybe renaming the story could be retitled “The laws that bit back”. We see the teacher who had unpacked the rules, hurt at the side of the road. those walking past him at his greatest point of need were simply following the advice he had given and the culture that had formed around this. What was meant to be life affirming had become corrupt and eats itself.
What do you think maybe a call for Fresh Expressions to not only act differently but ask some critical questions about what is said, the way we structure belief, and the cultures being formed?

The deep magic at the edge

There is a deep magic happening on the edges of mission and church as we know it. It’s rooted, it’s moving from host to guest, power is being unveiled, relationship uncovered, dichotomies collapsed, and the walls are being called to dust. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about a good place start is here with Al Barrett or Cathy and John Wheatley

Local voices are being heard, new voices discovered and a new kind of leadership is emerging. It’s very local, and very connected. There’s maturer voices and younger dissenters, and I have admit I’m a little jealous. I’m loving my role of the last two years, but moving from the edge to the edge of the circle, has been a challenge. It’s made me ask questions of identity, revisit and wrestle again with who I am called to be. I am encouraged by encounters with people in simular roles, and by those coming through and holding the space at the edge of circle, but I miss the varied space of the margin.

One of the joys of my current role is the encouragement and space I have been given to be myself. It’s been great to bring in the thoughts and ways of being I have inhabited for the last 20 or so years and see people surprised by what seem natural.

As I reflected on what I want to say in this new iteration of Sunday Papers, I hope to keep spotting the deep magic underway on the edge and wrestle with what that means for me and the context I work in. Inevitably I expect I will drift but I hope I will live up a little to the challenge Nouwen offers.

“…I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.” Nouwen

The Supplement

I am currently revamping the blog, archiving most the old stuff and thinking about the new focus. I hope to make it a bit more focussed on being on the edge of the inside but as ever it’s all about what’s bubbling from the ground up. I think there is bit more to unpack in the walls to dust, and I also want explore how we Earth the learning from the margins into my current practice so there’s two new categories around this.

Hope to start posting in the new year or maybe sooner if I get sorted.

Losing the gospel people are trying to save

I have been struck recently by the number of calls for more “telling” of gospel. There has been a much higher level of criticism that we have lost the art of telling, often it has been generalist aimed at organisations perceived to be more concerned with a social gospel. Sometimes it has been personal, but usually both a bit misguided and I often think spoken from a lack of confidence in the gospel itself, in the past it was about replacing the hard work of loving your neighbour with a trite message that was spoken from a distance. Sometimes that distance was the pulpit and sometimes that distance was maintained even in the one to one conversation when proximity is not the issue.
It is very easy to replace the gospel with a pale imitation that disconnects words and actions. Recently I think it has been more nuanced and the gospel has been replaced by actions or franchised models of action that play on Christians insecurities that we need to “tell” people more explicitly why we are doing this or that project, and these models suggest they are joining back up the circle of the spoken and the social gospel. BUT they miss the point and Too often these models are a masquerade of proximity, a false notion that confuses being physically nearer people through meeting a need, when in reality there is no real relationship. It is a confidence trick built on sand, where people think they’re joining up the social and spoken gospel, but because it’s rooted in fear or anxiety, it can be just as trite as a message spoken from a pulpit in decades gone past. Yet perhaps even more worrying is that like any good confidence trick, neither the actor nor the recipient know they have been scammed until it’s too late or perhaps they ever know.

It’s a love thing

It’s been a tough couple of days reading the Bishops report on Marriage and Same Sex relations after the Shared Conversations. I find myself in a strange place with many questions. Much has been written about the report already with an excellent reponse from Miranda Threlfall Holmes Here. However I want to take a different look.
Over the last 25 years or so I have actively been seeking a more inclusive welcoming open space, one that goes beyond gender, sexuality, age and race. This wasn’t something that came from reading theology, it was something something that came from encountering theology on the streets (primarily with young people). It changed my views and opinions, it forced me back to reading the bible, looking at the Christian tradition and what God was doing in the culture. This love of people drove me from orthodoxy to orthopraxis, something I see implicit and explicitly in Jesus’ ministry. It has shaped my understanding, the way I read the bible, encounter my neighbour, talk to my children and follow my vocation.
Perhaps I exist in an echo chamber but when I see my friends and coworkers around the globe loving people, I see inclusion a growing part of that process. Most of The leaders of the fresh expressions churches (and all the leaders of emerging churches) I know are open and inclusive, their creative orthopraxis is often in contradiction to the orthodoxy of the COE. They find ways to support and at times celebrate with People in same sex committed relationships, see people come to faith, and impact their communities as they grow together. AND let’s not forget this one of the fast growing Jesus movements in the west and according to recent research “Nothing else, as a whole, in the Church of England has this level of missional impact and contributes to the re-imagination of Church”
So it was with dismay that my reading of the Bishops report seemed to place orthodoxy over practice, and I heard the cries of many LGBTI friends who felt unloved, unwelcomed and betrayed. The further potential for the report to put rules before love (and I would argue it already has) with talk of teaching documents, the rehetoric that is already being spouted, and news coverage, makes love all the more important but just that little bit harder, as our neighbours once again see the church as disconnected and distant, and a place where love is neither celebrated or practiced.

The graceful heretic and Mary

I have been moved to blog after six months off by the grace filled actions of a friend. I needed record my incoherent thoughts
there are times when the grace shown by the supposed heretic shines through revealing the truth beyond. As the institution continues to oppress and try to sweep the prophetic voices from the edge further to the margins the grace filled heretic does more than speak truth to violence of being silenced. They enter into a holy space beyond the notions of right and wrong, a space that only they can create by their grace filled response, and yet the risk to oppressed and oppressor remains. When the space created is seen as a battle ground, both parties may loose, but one thing is sure the insitituon will always loose if tries weald its power. When a venier of silence is held the truth beyond becomes a flicker. The complexity of the way forward is compounded when previous words from the institution called forth hope and now their actions undermine those words, when insitituional memory trumps the truth shown by the grace filled response, a chance is lost. This Christmas as we remember Mary, whose response to the news of the Christ child was a public, subversive, political poem, let us continue to honour the radical artists and poets in our midst, that the living truth might be birthed amongst us.

Leaning in the direction of shalom

It is mistake we often make as we act, move and lean into shalom is a failure to connect this leaning into the future with the sense of trajectory that pervades the Judaeo Christian story. Truth is neither relative or absolute, it is directional. The story of shalom is the story towards completdness. It began before us and continues beyond us. It started in a garden and moves into a city. We have heard it said an eye for an eye but love your neighbour. We have heard it said love your neighbour but love you enemy. There was a separation between the sacred and secular, the world, the outer courtyard and the holy of holies. But we heard it said those walls would be called to dust and we have seen the temple curtain ripped in two. We have been embraced by Christ and embodied with the Spirit, and so we live in the now and not yet, we walk, live and lean into the future, part of the directional truth towards shalom.

The embrace of Easter Saturday

Of all the seasons and times in the christian calendar I am most taken with the wait of advent and Easter Saturday. Up at 5am this morning to watch and pray, I tried to get my head around why the wait is so key for me.

The incarnation and trinity is formative in the way I engage with the world around me, the rootedness, the relationship, the reality calls me forward to the renewal of creation, the restoration of relationships, and the recovery of my own humanity. I think this why the wait is so pertinent for me, it recognises our part in the story, it embraces the in-between time, the reality of a world that is now and not yet, and even in that not yet time, God is there. The wait reminds me of the willingness of God to be in the process with us, to descend to the depths of sheol, on Easter Saturday, and openness to take on human form at advent. A God who is never distant, but always transcendent. A God who holds our hand and is just out of reach, the one who waits for the renewal of the creation and groans with us as we walk towards it together.