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.

The polyphonic text

I am not musical but woke up thinking about polyphonics and following on from the last post I was reflecting on how we seek harmony in the gospel texts rather than embrace a more polyphonic approach. Indeed even if you google the definition of harmony In the OED it cites the gospels as an example of parallel narratives that combine into a continuous narrative text.

Wikipedia describes “In particular, polyphony consists of two or more simultaneous lines of independent melody, as opposed to a musical texture with just one voice, monophony, or a texture with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords, which is called homophony.”

We tend to read the gospel stories and are drawn towards harmony, and I wonder how much of this is due to the type of cultural conditioning I mentioned in the previous post. What is the gospel if our desire for a harmonious approach is a conditioned response? What if we resisted harmony and embraced a polyphonic read of scripture? Let’s take for example the Christmas story, with four different accounts, with different empathises. When did you ever hear a polyphonic read of the Christmas story where the Mark frames the story with Jesus as an adult, and the focus on shalom, a political challenge to Ceaser and a challenge to the very notions of power. Matthew uses geneology to connect to the tradition and the Hebrews to firmly locate Jesus in that narrative, he struggles drop the dream of empire, but writes a gospel challenging the religious order and embracing the religiously excluded. Lukes story is different with the focus on the marginalised, and reimagining the story challenging the economic order, embracing the economically excluded. Then in John the word becomes flesh, moves into the neighbourhood and collapses 100s of years of Hellenistic thought. They all push for different narratives, and in doing so collapse notions of harmony, but instead offer texture, hope and a deeper polyphonic landscape, where those who have ears to hear, eyes to see, can hear and see the Christ entering into thier culture, and challenging that culture like no one before. Something that is all too easily lost in the search for harmony. I’m all for holding in tension the different narratives, but we need people who are captured by the political challenge of Mark, sold out on reworking power, people who embrace a new economic vision of Luke, and the religious order challengers of Matthew. People who push these texts to their extreme, live out and champion thier calling, not because they follow Matthew or Paul, but because they are captured by Jesus’ radical message and are confident and comfortable playing their part in the polyphonic story. This is why the metaphor of polyphony works, because it isn’t about setting up walls between the different emapathies but releasing people to be free to sing with all thier soul and when I see people living that in fullness I can see its beauty even if it’s not my for me, and so crosses my cultural boundaries at a heart level. I wonder then if this might move us beyond the divisiveness that has resulted from all trying to sing from the same hymn sheet and instead see the church starting to make a noise worth hearing.

FXS role in traversing the fantasy

In his Facebook podcast “how to get clients and extract their wealth” Pete Rollins playfully unpacks the idea of Transference, where an idea/construct that is key to you gets played out with one of your heroes or a guru or a leader, or I would add, even an institution. Transference works on the basis that we think this guru, this institution, has the answer to the secret, we follow them as we think they know the answer. He goes onto borrow from Lacan where the role of a therapist is to help you be freed from transference, and the disempowerment that it brings then traverses the fantasy that you have built up. He applies this to his work around Pyrotheology (see the divine magician).

I wonder if FXs have an uncovering role and empowering role, not to pull back the curtain for people but to them the tools, strength or even frustration to pull back the curtain for themselves. Too often the church unknowingly or knowingly projects that it has all the answers, like the myth of the wizard of Oz. This mythology of answers taps into people’s deep rooted desire and fantasy that someone else knows the answer. Whereas in reality for faith to be real we need to “know ourselves” that knowing ourselves is both about seeing that we have built up a fantasy that someone else has the answer, and recognising that we must do the hard work and pull back the curtain for ourselves. Otherwise what sort of faith are we peddling. This collapses the notion that church is the destination (noun), where people could allow themselves to be anethesised recipiants with the illusion that church has the all the answers and instead locates it firmly back in process(verb) the unfolding kingdom that is now and not yet, where the curtain is torn and we are coproducers in the process.

Who left who, Learning from Pigs and Dragons

In the last post on the Prodigal I posted about the postures we may need when emergents return. One of the things I want to tease out here is did the prodigal leave or perhaps more accurately, who left who.

Im a big fan of stories and parables, particularly in how they stretch. I am left wondering if the parables work, as Jesus did as the still point in a turning world, but as Elliott says that’s where the dance is. So I am starting to see the parables maybe acting as a pivot point reconnecting Israel as a blessing to nations and Peters vision.

When Abraham was called as the father of Israel, he agreed to go with what he had, which probably wasn’t that much in terms of material wealth or in terms of knowledge of where he was going. As Jonny Baker brilliantly put he is commended in Hebrews for basically saying “I don’t know where Im going but whos up for coming with me!” In the light of what we said about the prodigal picking up ideas and wisdom from the culture that hosted him, did Abram do the same. Did he go through some rites of passage in his 70 and 80s? Was there a link between the journey of Abram and the destination of becoming Abraham, that one couldn’t happen without the other? And importantly wasn’t being blessed by Melchizedek all about the inclusiveness and presence of God in the culture (ie Abraham was told he would be the blessing to the nations but some dude turns up to bless him, and shares bread and wine with him)?

The trajectory of Israel being a blessing to other cultures is wrapped up in Abram being embraced by and embracing the gift from other cultures, and this more universal embracing shows us something about who and how God is revealed.

In the story of the prodigal the pigs weren’t unclean in the culture that the prodigal had entered. In my world it’s about the journey off the map to the spot marked here be dragons. Pigs were only unclean in his old land. He had crossed so many boundaries, and yet they were artificial boundaries that had been put up by law makers. So much so that God has to emphasise the point to Peter later on by giving him vision on the roof, and instructing him not to call unclean what God has called clean. Perhaps the embrace at the end is as much repentance on the fathers side as on the sons. The tearing of the curtain broke these boundaries ushered in the kingdom which was always the trajectory of Isreal. In killing the fatted calf, (the Christ) and eating together a new world without boundaries is created, the old walls are called to dust, the father and the son are Called to repentance and a new place.

so maybe it’s less about leaving and returning and more about a pivot around which shalom is formed as all things are made new, relationships restored and boundaries pulled down. Don’t forget the prodigal is part of a trio of stories and lost coin doesn’t have to shout “help” it simply sits there and waits to be found.

When emergents return

It seems several people from the emerging church are taking roles on the inside edge of the institution, some are embraced and others hesitantly recieved. So with a Hat tip to the wonderful Simon Succliffe for the spark and Johnny Sertin for the brief brainstorming session, This is going to be a couple of posts maybe even a mini series of posts putting an emerging spin on the prodigal. I’m going to be pretty playful with the text so don’t expect some sort of textual exegesis.

Firstly I don’t think those of us that left the insistutional church are prodigals in the sense of backsliders or any of those traditional interpretations, many of us left as part of a faithful search and found faith reinvigorated, and a depth of encounter with the Christ of today of the here and now, rather than yesterday or tomorrow.

So the leaving is part of the return. What if the prodigal leaving is part of a rite of passage and wether it is planned as in a formal rite, eg the boy who goes out to face the challenges in the wild and comes back when they are ready, or culturally normative eg an Amish young person on rumspringa, or for the middle class heading to uni. Perhaps in the prodigal it was more an unplanned rite of passage and like many people a series of encounters take place that help you grow up. So when it says “he came to his senses” was this the move from the youth, a coming of age, a recognition of adulthood. This raises the question what had he encountered, and how was his new sense of personhood going to be a gift and service to the community. NB I think this question of what he was able to offer still stands if you don’t think he had in anyway been involved in a rite of passage.

Coming to his senses and like a Masai warrior having walked through his exile here was a young man with gifts and talents and a different spirit, someone who had known the highs and lows, real hardship and starvation. There’s also a lovely hint in Luke that perhaps the father was open to this. The son had prepared three stances for his return, an acknowledgement of sin, a lack of worthiness, and a willingness to be treated as a servant. Yet the father only let him blurt out the first two before the re-embrace. So Once the party was over how did he re-inhabit the space he was given. Having been away to distant land had he picked up new farming techniques, was his renewed spirit of humility and way of being a gift, was he able to simply see things from a different perspective and offer these ideas to the family. As a son he was able to bring in these ideas whereas as a servant he might not.

So what stances do we need to take now. When and how we offer the new learning that has emerged from the emerging church experiences and what postures should we take. I think because the leaving is part of the returning I want to encourage those of on the inside of the edge to be themselves. This was the key advice my referees gave the bishop when I applied for the post, that I needed space and they would get the best out of me if they let me be me.

In the next post I’m going to riff on the importance of the son crossing boundaries.

Jesus’ words need to change

I found myself saying this twice in the last few days, that maybe we need to add to the words of Jesus as Christians don’t half have some funny ideas about what it means to love you neighbour. Its amazing that such a simple instruction from Jesus to “love our neighbour” can get corrupted. Some how we have managed to take something so simple and qualify it, say we are loving people when being judgemental. Maybe because Christians can be so stupid we need to add to the word.

Love you neighbour so that when you leave they feel they have been loved.

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?