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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.