Today I had the privilege to sit with 20 or so pioneers from across Cumbria. It struck me as I did the summing up at the end what a amazing array of experience was in the room. I was probably the only person who knew what everyone else was doing in their own context, and that in itself was humbling. We opened the day, thinking about the good stuff happening in our areas wether they were seeds of ideas just planted, seedlings needing nurture and just showing a few leaves, or flowers in full bloom. Then we thought through What shape were you as a pioneer. Following that the honesty people bought to the challenges was great. We put post its on hurdles and invited people share whilst holding a talking stick, from the outset we said we weren’t here to fix stuff, and it was amazing to stand in silence alongside our fellow pioneers as people shared their pain. Some breathing and mindfulness, and lecto divina, before I wrapped with strange fruit. I blew my budget on exotic fruit that people didn’t recognise so it was great to bless each individual with a peice of strange fruit and encourage them to stay away from the Granny Smith mentality and to mention briefly the array of work, those working in charity shops, changing their houses for homeless, doing church on the hills, or in community gardens, or in schools, on the estate. Reshaping family stuff in village churches, Messy stuff, and alternative stuff, faith stuff, and food based stuff, a bunch of people getting stuck into their communities with the stuff of life. THANKYOU
How do we capture the pioneer dna to learn without crushing? Here’s my attempt for a local gathering based on something I did a while back anyone else got any ideas, about how the glean the wisdom without loosing the nuance?
I am experimenting with a new type of pioneer gathering called Cmpfire to replace the old Cumbria Pioneer Network. The first one will take place in Xxxx and I would love if you come and join us 9.30 – 12.30 with breakfast and plenty of coffee provided.
If you’re wondering why you are getting this email, its because I reckon the work you do and how you think about it is pretty pioneering and takes us a bit beyond the traditional ideas of Fresh Expressions and church, so it would be great if you can join us. Its not an exclusive gathering but we recognise that often it is helpful to meet with people where you don’t need to justify what you do, who you are and why it doesn’t fit the norm and we are only inviting a handful of people for this first one.
The aim is to create a space to hear stories, reflect and be, a bit like a chat around a campfire that goes late into the evening on a starry night where we can wrestle with what the pioneer DNA is really about.
Cmpfires are about getting practitioners together in a room with a couple of people with a bit of theological nouse and an artist who will somehow record and interpret the event. We will use an artist to capture the conversation as its not a training event, and we are not trying to fix anything. We don’t want to loose the nuance, the metaphor, the life and breadth of the pioneer charism and hope the artist will capture this better than notes. So you don’t need to do any prep just turn up and be yourself!
Xxx is doing the catering, so the food will be excellent, and I am planning the gathering with Annie Grey (Hospital chaplain) and Caroline Kennady (Uni and school chaplain), both of whom are doing some excellent innovative stuff. We will be joined by Jane Dudman who specialises in art and sound, so she will capture the gathering in various ways and we will make this available down the line.
Instinctively I think we need to find a new (and rediscover some of the old) ways of being Christian, particularly if we are going to help people connect in the dance. I was talking about this on Facebook and a good friend asked me what I meant. My reply was it was at all levels sociologically, functionally, eccesiologically, culturally etc.
I don’t think we realise just how masked, how clouded and how hidden the message of love has become behind the layers poor behaviour, intolerance, judgment, harshness, unkindness, exclusivity, insistution, and general ineptitude.
The task of the Christian in every generation, in every culture, in every situation is to love. It is to start at the beginning with the words of Jesus and accept that no matter how hard they are they cannot be changed. To love our neighbour, to love our enemy, to forgive 70 x 7, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile calls us to find ways beyond judgement, unkindness, intolerance. I love the way Stephen Backhouse talks in the latest Nomad podcast states how when it comes to just war (and many other issues) we simply have to put Jesus in the “no column”. We might have great reasons, sociological, cultural, intellengence, for just war but you just can’t get beyond that Jesus says love your enemy.
The reality is that Jesus is the still point in the turning world, and his words take us far beyond just war. So we have to find ways to be honest with our selves and our neighbors about this reality but equally honest how we fail to live up to those ideals, how we come up with systems of thinking and ways of operating that help us function, acknowledge that whilst these might go someways towards love be honest that in many ways that are pale imitations of the words of Jesus. Honest that our walls are more about protecting us from the words of Christ that actually call us beyond. That our safety and security is still found in the paypacket, rather than like the birds of air somewhere else.
Perhaps when i can be that honest with myself, g-d and my neighbours i start to work out what this Jesus is really all about and call those walls to dust.
As a sophisticated society we can construct many arguments against God, and apologetics can deconstruct some of these, and so we can go on round and round. Likewise people of faith can construct many arguments and others can deconstruct. The sophistication of humanity means either side this can construct seeming meaningful arguments for science and theology through logic and reason, and yet it is the development of science, philosophy and science that a over many years begins to pull the rug out.
I am a huge fan of CS Lewis but Maybe like Lewis moved away from apologetics into fiction and art, Do we need to let the theologian and scientist fade to help us earth lives of love?
Following on from THIS post I have a lot of conversation about both/and. I always seem to be in meetings, in classrooms, in churches, where when we are talking about change, doing things differently we kind of reach a polite “yes but it’s both/and”. If it’s about the focus of the work pushing out into riskier mission initiatives, Both/and is used so as it’s not at the expense of other. Wether it was when I was in YFC or in local situations, people used the both/and approach, perhaps as an excuse to keep pet projects going, maintain a level of status quo or just avoid upsetting people, it’s a phrase that always seems to pop up, and I’m not sure Jesus was a both/and kind of guy.
Recently I have been rethinking about change and my role. Now on the edge of the inside it is very easy to succumb to the both/and too easily but when the locus of activity is already centralised it can too easily maintain the status quo. I wonder if we need to resist a bit more this mentality, not out of awkwardness but as part of moving to the edge, redressing the balance. In the post Jesus didn’t sit with the marginalised the locus was relocated out of the system, which leads me to question the validity of the both/and. As mentioned in the Last post a deliberate strategy of leading edge innovation and third spaces has pulled us forward faster than I could ever have imagined. But I am still wrestling a lot with the comfort of my role, and it’s very different from the having time to hang out on the streets, so trying to find myself a new space at the edge. In a recent conversation where the both/and was used it was about changing the church and how as big ship it takes time to change direction and with people on the inside steering the rudder it will happen eventually. However I wonder if the ships already adrift if a few well placed tugs pulling from the front would be far more effective and quicker. Perhaps we need those with their hand on the rudder to let go and invest in a few tugs, these are NOT disconnected from the ship but have the distance and space to pull it in a new direction.
In mission I often talk about the need to break the gravitational pull (just search “gravitational Pull for a shed load of posts on here around that) of church, and how we need to break out if we are going to engage people more meaningfully. I was wondering where the current centre of gravity was in the church, is it dispersed, centralised or on the centre, how we shift it so it becomes a centripetal force sending people out to love and serve rather than a centrifugal force that is self serving?
Yet in many ways I’ve been asking the wrong questions. When we think about the incarnation we see a move from the centre to the edge. We see a christ figure who by his presence completely shifts the centre of gravity from the religious community to the margins. The locus of God is on the edge, it is outside the church, beyond the institution, outside the doors. Jesus didn’t sit with the marginalised because by his presence the centre of gravity shifted and the margins ceased to be the margins by the presence of the incarnated God. (HT to John Swinton)
This completely shifts how real meaning making then can happen, and calls into question the validity of the meaning making that takes place within established religious communities. It completely challenges notions of discipleship based on banking knowledge within a structure. It pulls the rug out from underneath notions of sacred and secular, and calls the walls to dust.
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.
People often say the gospel never changes, but what is this gospel that speak of? For many Christians when it comes to questions about mission and culture, at the forefront are phrases like “how do we proclaim the gospel afresh to every generation? How can we speak relevantly with watering down the message? ” I wonder if these the host of other simular questions speak more of our own anxieties and cultural conditioning than we realise.
Any reading of Acts 17 will tell you that the reality is that the “how” of ministry is shaped by the “who, when and where” of culture. But maybe the question we should be asking is “what” is ministry?
Culture is thick with meaning, and we navigate culture both as individuals, (some with greater awareness of the impact culture has on how and why make certain choices) and as society (where individuals and the circuit of culture is always operating and forming). A person is both an individual and a member of society. Because of this, any personal relationship a person makes with their deity (namely God), it is a result of the relationship the greater society in which he belongs has with that deity. Our understanding is that religious belief originates in the mind of the individual, when it is actually a product of collective thought. (I nicked that last two sentences from here as its a good spin on Durkhiem but the link is broken for the whole article).
So when we use short hand like “proclaim the gospel” or “the message” It immediately slips us into a much more culturally conditioned way of operating than we think. Over on BiblePirate.com I love what Matt has been doing with the bible text in his unauthorised versions, and his playful podcasts, In particular Eve as hero rather villain (listen here) and I wonder how much that radical read of Genesis 3 should change the way we approach issues of contextualisation, and syncretism and the what of the gospel that we speak of.
So one of the things I explored in this post was the role the institution might play in helping those on the edge network in order to build a level of resilience that stops said institution crushing the emerging change taking place.
I think that the early days of the emerging church people networked well, but as things developed people got busier and stuff got harder. The energy levels needed to organise and stay on the edge were immense, so most people seemed to invest in there own networks. It was great to have Steve Collins stay for a few days and get some his take on those early networks and conversations, how people wrestled with theology and practice in private email groups, before the ubiquitous Facebook. It seemed clear that in early days the networks did help some people survive and probably build enough momentum and longevity, for things like Fresh Expressions, VFx, CMS pioneers etc to start that were more centralised. Yet many of us have reservations about the direction that some of these more centralised movements are taking, some of the colonialising approaches, and some of the roots in organisational anxiety.
So how can we support and network the lone nuts recognising in doing so that organised religion might be plotting its own downfall. Which I think is key part of the christian story unless a seed falls….
Perhaps there are few places that might resource drawing the lone nuts together, for example there are first followers now within the institution (thinking of pioneers into some of the institutional networks I have encountered like Tina Hoggitt, Paul Bradbury, Nigel Pimlott, Ian Bell, Ian Mosby, Mark Berry Janet Sutton webb) or there are a few places left like Greenbelt that could develop something. One of the things that has shifted is that there are different voices and voices in different places. As ever youth work seems to be at at the forefront of R&D for church, so we need those voices but there are also several networks on the edge of organised church, like VFX, CMS, Incarnate. At the last national FX thing I was at, Andy Freeman talked FX about being a Network of networks, but Im not if this is what they had in mind or even maybe there is a role for Nick to develop if the CofE is serious about setting Gods people free.
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.