Is this evangelism?

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…

You know I love a good party…

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

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.

New Ideas are not the problem

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”

Jesus is come, gone, returned and never left

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.

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

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.

Keep pushing out 2

There are many days I want to simply curl up. It’s takes energy to push out, to make preparations, to set sail. In the past decade or so it has been so encouraging to see the spectrum of churches wake up to breadth of the call of G-d. The gospel speakers increasingly act and the gospel socialists increasingly speak.
The motivation for these shifts can be legion, an aniexty, a new learning, a different perspective, keeping up with the Joneses, a fear of death. However I like to think it is out of genuine love as people recognise the needs around them.

In the midst of these changes it is easy to embrace the homogeneousisation and loose the distincitivness of the pioneer charism. I need to be in relationship with the wider church but I need to be me and I need you to be you. That is not to say we shouldn’t change but recognise the holiness to the process, that wrestling with who we are and what we do and how we act is a part of the Christian story we must never let go. Authentic questioning is a beautiful affirmation of life as it demonstrates we are alive. So as we grow, as we mature, give space for and embrace the difference, and those of us who seem to moving in from the edge dont stop kicking.

Does G-d exist outside relationships?

Every now and then someone reports on if young people are interested in God, or spirituality, or something of that ilk. Good reports like Buried Treasure, in depth stuff like Faith of Generation Y, and recently a small scale research piece called No questions asked.

One of the questions I always come back to in this sort of research is where is relationship within the context of the research, and what role does relationship play in asking these sort of questions? I often test out the questions used with young people I have an ongoing connection with, and without fail get into great discussions around faith, spirituality and life. Often for obvious research reasons, the research is conducted outside of the context of ongoing relational youth work. So whilst I could argue about research paradigms and the role of researchers, the question I really want to ask is; does God exist outside of the context of relationship?

I am always fascinated by the communal nature of the trinity, the relational and incarnational aspect of God. It also seems from reading the various documents that more often than not when relationship is excluded as a variable, the god talk doesnt happen, but when included it does. What is going on here? Is it as simple as people need to feel comfortable or known to talk, or is it more?

It’s natural that young people don’t talk about about God in a vacuum, as for most people the natural evidence is that God doesn’t exist. So is it supernatural that people do talk about God in the context of ongoing relationship? Is God being made more manifest in those conversations? Are miracles occurring in the lives of young people, as despite the natural everyday evidence that God isn’t real, they want to talk?

Welcome to the spacious place

Ive been thinking a lot about the intersections of place, people and relationship. I am concerned in FX we have stopped wrestling with the WHY of we do what we do, and what kind of space are we seeking to create. It can too easily become like friendship evangelism where we make friends or create places to gather but are dehumanising because they approach people as a commodity to be banked. A friend told a story of guy who became friends with someone from a local church, they did stuff together, got to know each other, their friendship grew and over time this guy shared his faith. The friend came to faith and started to get active in the church, and after a while he joined an evangelism course. The course ran a session on friendship evangelism and he recognised that this was what had happened to him and that day he left the faith. Ill blog at some point how the four values of FXs Missional, Contextual, Ecclesial and Formational help us find a different type of approach.

A while back I created a formula People + Place x Relationship = Space. I wanted to revisit this in the light of this quote I came across from Barbara Glasson below. I wanted to respond with something practical about how we reconfigure our gathering spaces, but I was drawn back to feelings of spaciousness of the community that emerged around Flow. We tend to orientate our thinking around space as the place that we control, our events, our churches our homes, when I used that formula it was around being in the places with others, encountering people building real relationship that created a space for stuff to happen that was beyond my control or a particular place, it was a space in which we all just flowed. So I am afraid I have ditched the practical and gone with the flow, and just offer a few thoughts that I hope helps you encounter the spaciousness we felt. Do let me know.

“Our church instinct tends to want to gather people in and keep them. Postmodern society tends to configure gathering in a different way. People are wary of being trapped. They need to see their exits.”

Our life together was a space made up of many different places, this spaciousness of many places gave a newly discovered opportunity to be yourself, to find a new you, and rediscover in whose likeness we are made. There were places to be and people to see, not from a rushed consumption, but from a deeper desire to be in the spaciousness that being together created. Our space that although had its similarities (safe, welcome, friendly open) was always slightly different depending on who turned up at the time, co-creation was embedded in all we did and so spaciousness abounded.

Our space was bigger than the places we met, sometimes a place came with certain boundaries, yet the formula held and the unconditional relational Flow meant even when people felt they couldn’t stay in that place due a boundary they knew thew they weren’t leaving the space, because something other flowed between and beyond us.

The space extended beyond the people, and whist people came and went they still felt part of the space, tied with loose bounds that still draw us together.

Flow was beyond exits, beyond holding, more than gathering, more than meeting it was and always will be a spacious place…

Reframing mentoring

I watched the film Meru recently. Spoiler alerts……

The story of three elite climbers attempt on Meru, which also tracks the story of the web of relationships that made the attempt possible. Part of the allure of the peak was that the lead, Conard own mentor Mugs had attempted the peak in the eightys and failed, and was killed on another mountain. The level of trust between the three climbers was something to behold. Conrad had mentored Jimmy and introduced Renan to the party when they made their first attempt. Jimmy trusted Conrads call even through he had not climbed with Renan before, and during their first attempt they were held back by a storm, ran out of food and had to turn back meters from the summit. Then before they make their second attempt Renan, suffers a massive ski accident,that in reality means he should not climb again, but where Conrad and Jimmy choose to trust Renan the youngest and least experienced of the three to make the call that he is fit enough for a second attempt. There is something really interesting in the mentoring relationships between Conner and Jimmy and Jimmy and Renan, around the autonomy that the younger climbers are given. On the final attempt on Meru it is clear that at times Conner has to lead certain sections, and whilst all have a part to play, he is still the Sesei.
How these different levels of experience and skills are played out in the final attempt is fascinating, the grace and understanding of one another, and the level of trust takes it way beyond my notions of mentoring. This is picked up at one point when Renan cannot speak due to some sort of mini stroke, and but presses up the mountain, and this is accepted by Jimmy. Spoiler..Then I love that Conrad asks Jimmy to lead the final climb and summit first.

We often talk about discipleship and mentoring in emerging church circles, there is a lot of coaching going on, and in most contexts we hope the mentee will go beyond us. Yet what I observed was in Meru was something different, the mutuality and autonomy that came from working together was fascinating. Even in organisations where mentors and mentees share space, work on projects etc it feels like the power dynamic was different. I think it was the recognition that the Sesei needed the younger climbers to make certain moves, a fitness and dynamic that made the relationship more mutual, built trust but at the same time held esteem, a calling to dust and reframing of the old model of power dynamic relationships. I’d be really interested to apply this to the FXs just haven’t got a clue where to start.