Contained by Mirrors

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.

Listen and Love with no strings attached….

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.

Realist or Idealist

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?

Live life on the bass note not the treble

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.

Fierce contemplation for nomads

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.

Co-creating rites of passage

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.

I struggle to cope when Im honest with myself…

Earlier I tweeted…

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.

The 80’s and the teens

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.

The excellent sermon that the neighbours didn’t hear, but all my friends raved about

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.

A new way of being Christian and/or the ancient future faith (Leadership)

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!