Character and Mode…..

Taff has moved the conversation on via his post here. He is helpful is distinguishing between the Character (eg incarnational relational, etc) and what I would call the Mode (eg youth work, youth ministry) but he calls approach. He suggests that we can indeed drop the Mode/Approach wording and focus on the Character. There is a lot to be said for this distinction between Mode and Character and certainly it is helpful as often the Character is present in lots of other Modes eg Community work, Childrens work.

I do not disagree that we do need a lot more work on the Character aspect generally across all areas of human liberation, and growing a flourishing community. So the Character is very important, BUT for me (Taff disagrees) the Character and Mode are often two sides the same coin and particularly in the case of Youth work . The way in which you approach the Mode could easily undermine the Character, the method and the message must match. The nature and context of working with young people who are in transition, growing, and changing, makes the connection of the Mode and Character vital.

However Taffs the separation of the concepts has been really helpful and I think I will play more the notions of Unfolding habitas as core to the character and how this ends up I am yet to work out.

From the Street and towards a new term

For some time I have thinking we need a new term to describe what a particular set of christian practitioners called Relational Youth Work, and I have in part been exploring this in Still Meeting Them Where Theyre At. The current thread of conversation has reinforced this. Taff’s start point about the term being redundant and Allans comments made me think again about this. Nick desire to return “street theology” also bring us towards this.

Relational youth work began in a context of practitioners largely working with young people on the edge of society, and grew to become a way of engaging more generally with those outside of church as we know it, and perhaps now as Allan suggests it is recognised that it is an anathema to not see youth work as relational. However as the strands have converged, the context has become more post christian, and the language of church is shifting, some of the informing values have evolved and some have been lost.

I spent a lot my early days talking about Incarnational Youth Work, as a metaphor that was beyond both simple contextualisation and moving into a particular area. It encompassed for me something I couldn’t articulate about my wholeness being wrapped up in the shalom of the community, the ongoing journey, the restoring of creation, and the powerlessness I feel much of the time and need to be reminded of if I am going to see the kingdom to continue to emerge. However this term is particularly christian and potentially dualistic which is something I am keen to avoid as it could undervalue places where the kingdom is emerging with young people unintentionally.

Over the past few years, I have been building on ideas around Inculturation, Transitology of Sobornost as all of these have the sense that we ourselves and our emancipation is wrapped up with other. I particularly like the notion of reciprocal approaches to youth work and mission, that together we see something new emerge. So this leaves a conundrum of which term to use, Reciprocal Youth Work, Emerging Youth Work, but probably the term that encompasses most of where I am coming from (but might mean the least to those outside) is Sobornostic Youth Work, where we journey with young people towards wholeness for all of society, creation, ourselves and others, to unfold a new way of living and being. This bring us full circle to Nicks previous post as sobornost is what I learnt from the street.

Love the Absolute

I have had a good twitter exchange with Becca and Jo around Empowerment and Theology and Sarah added some interesting thoughts. However I remain unsure of their approach to absolutes. Sarah has some good thoughts around Aristotle but I think Plontius may be more helpful who introduced the idea of virtues as the only absolute.

Perhaps we should think of Love as the Absolute, rather than notions of God or about God as absolute, as surely these are always inadequate and fall short of G-d who is always beyond, and transcends our ideas. Instead when we think of Love as the absolute we are always uncovering and discovering G-d.

The Unfolding Missionary Apologetic – Sobornost

Co-producing New Forms of Christian Community in contemporary culture
Alan Richardson suggests “All Christian doctrine arises from Christian experience”, in many ways this statement validates the praxis approach to mission and ecclesiology (church). It also gives space for developing doctrine and possibly theology in and out of the current context or experience. As people follow the Missio-Dei in today’s context, their mindset and theological paradigms are challenged. As people go deeper into the post modern, post christendom context they recognise the need to find fresh approaches, but often lack a theological framework to develop this. When presented with alternative frameworks that are both theologically rooted and practice (story) driven, new ways of interpreting their already dawning experiences can be developed. A conceptual framework emerging from the practice of StreetSpace and Church on the Edge and subsequent theological reflection, is the notion of seeing Church as both the being and doing, recognising that church and mission are synonymous, and as you engage in mission you are being church with the people around you (whether they believe or not).

As a cultural backdrop to this we will explore the philosopher Bourdieu who builds on earlier ideas of Habitus – cultures way of behaving and norms making society possible, which we are socialised into. Bourdieu suggests that habitus was more than this and that through our participation we contribute to the unfolding “habitus” i.e. it is a two way dialogical or iterative process. Taking Bourdieu’s concept with the findings from Reconnected we can draw two tentative points. Firstly, due to the power of the established paradigm of church, even in the light of the unfolding experiences of practitioners, little has changed in the dominance of established church paradigms. Secondly, that even though much has been said to people that church and mission should be more closely linked, the language and practices used in the mainstream reinforce a divide. What COTE managed to do by coupling the challenge to the established orthodoxy of what is church to it’s own unfolding story, was create a space for a participative habitus in the sense of Bourdieu. So whilst it is argued that “the task of rebuilding Christian theology in a more authentic fashion requires a critique of the points at which tradition has misrepresented the spirit of the gospel; and then a reconstruction of theology according to emancipatory principles”. It can equally be argued that when these emancipatory principles are told, or the traditions misrepresentation critiqued, that it must be accompanied by a liberatory story that enables people to imagine and root a new approach.

Emerging church practitioners rarely have difficulties in relating to people, but the overarching paradigm of church remains problematic. It is steeped in notions of power and will struggle to liberate itself from within, at the same time presenting a barrier to outsiders. However when we collapse the idea of mission as a way into church, realigning alongside the intentional idea of being and growing church, and approach church with the powerlessness of Christ where everyone can belong and the curtain has been torn, something genuinely new begins to emerge. As this missionary apologetic unfolds and is shaped by all present, something is co-produced to which everyone belongs and is not held by boundaries but by relationship and values. There is a christian tradition that encompasses this and it is the concept of ??????????: translated as Sobornost, meaning a spiritual community of many jointly living people. Originally a philosophical term, it was used by Nikolai Lossky and other 20th century Russian thinkers to refer to a middle way of co-operation between several opposing ideas.6 This was based on Hegel’s “dialetic triad”—thesis, antithesis, synthesis—and Lossky defined sobornost as “the combination of freedom and unity of many persons on the basis of their common love for the same absolute values.” Rowan Williams discusses the term a number of times in his study of Eastern Orthodox theologians. In relation to the the emerging church Sobornost offers a third way and a helpful theological backdrop to the notion of an unfolding habitus or a co-producing approach to ecclesiology and community.

A central part of the emerging church following the mission dei is that the journey at times be with non-believers (who may have opposing ideas, antithesis), but whose voice, culture and context help us emancipate the church from what is has become and unfold a new of being as we journey together towards a life in all its fullness, that sobornost affirms. As Williams expounds building on Bulgakov “the church is essentially the fellowship of the Spirit, held together by the ontological bond of God’s love,……. the rest is a matter of conditioned historical decisions and polices.” Whilst it is often the antitheistic/genuine reciprocal nature of having unbelievers influencing the dialogue about what church is that people often struggle with, Sobornost hints at a Christian tradition where genuine reciprocal mission is located and the emancipation can begin.

Resonnance and disconitunity – Reflections on Wright and Cron GB12

There was some great stuff at GB this year, and I didn’t get to very much of it. Two I did were Tom Wright and Ian Cron, both were excellent but in two very different ways. Ian spoke about his memoir and much of his personal story resonated with my own, (not that my father was in the CIA). His personable style and content meshed well with my own experiences of my father, and offered cracks where the light of his story could penetrate the darkness of my own. Tom on the other hand was simply excellent on the content as he outlined 4 typologies present in the gospels to hold in tension as we explore the wholeness of Jesus. However in some ways his strength of being so clear about each type although excellently delivered, well structured,etc seemed discontinuous with my own experience. As a Gen X and post modern product the idea of holding these types in tension is second nature to me and most of my contemporaries, with a level of theological literacy. So I came away wondering what was the agenda?

the permanent revolution

just finished Hirsh and Catchim “The Permanent Revolution – Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church” and have to say it is a really good read. It is very accessible, and is peppered with a good range of examples, honest personal experiences, and diagram/charts. As a trainer, educator, writer and practitioner there is lots of really useful stuff for all disciplines I find myself moving between. I can many of the diagrams making their way into my presentations, as they are succinct and accessible.

The book draws on a range of theological, biblical, cultural and organisational texts to explore the APEST (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher), and in particular the Apostle role in the missional shift we are in and the challenges presenting the current church. There are a good range of challenges to the thinking and practical ways to apply the concepts used.

I really like the interaction between organistional theory and how they explore the state of the current church in the introductions and later the use of systems and movement theory which has some important stuff to stay to the emerging project.

On the downside much of the stuff I had come across before, I first came across Fractal theory in the early 90s and have been using it ever since, the work around imagination will be familiar to people who know Brueggemann, the contextualistion / missio dei work is rooted in Bosch and earlier writers, you can see John V Taylor peppered through the book, as are BEC’s rooted in liberation theology where many of the current ideas around missional communities come from. However to have it all in one place and set against the current context so well is excellent. I would also have liked to have seen more challenges and deeper exploration around issues of inculturalation, particularly the reciprocal nature of mission and how this impacts the role of the apostle and problems this raises as they seek to move forward in the current in-between time.

Overall a good book that I have already recommended to my students on the Church and Mission modules and one that I will keep coming back to.

Incarnation and Disruptive experiences

Last week in after reflecting on Petes interview and our practice around TAZ (check out Kester), Flow and our approaches around being and growing church, that collapse the idea of the idea of mission as a bridge into church I tweeted

“The process of being and growing church should be a disruptive experience that is a series of encounters with the other”

I have been thinking for a while how we are so fixed in our own paradigms that we often take an approach and deceive ourselves that we are using it as intended. A classic example is Messy Church – where people so often use it as an outreach tool into ‘proper’ church. They think they are doing something different but when pushed will not leave established services to free up time to invest in being and growing church in the Messy context.
It is interesting to look at incarnational youth work and how this spawned notions of relational youth ministry – much of which was simply a tool like youth alpha or a youth club to get young people into ‘proper’ church. As such when Pete suggests there does have to be an IN he is right.
However when we think around incarnational youth work to be and grow church (and to help us discover what the church and gospel actually are as we encounter others) there is no in. In order to make this a reality this needs to embrace both the relational nature of the incarnation and the disruptive. This is not a new to my thinking Here I wrote that faith is about the redemptive processes that consistently ruptures our worldview (inc our faith paradigm) and is a series of revolutionary moves that form and shape a new (at the time) but growing (in hindsight) understanding of God.

At the moment I am very hopeful of the work going on around the openness to genuine change both around the missionary encounter with other (Ian Adams posted a series of quotes from Christianity Rediscovered that got people talking) and to changes in the liturgical space Pete mentions that Ikon experimented with. The challenge to not allow the gravitational pull to suck us back remains, and we need to counter this by asking mission/kingdom shaped questions rather than church shaped ones.

A great interview

I really like Pete Rollins stuff but at times it can be hard to get. Here is a great interview edited down with some of the key stuff I have gleaned from him in a really articulate and understandable presentation. Recently I have been speaking of church as the majority know it is redundant and Pete really nails this as he discusses worship and idols. It is 25 mins so grab a cuppa and a pen to take notes.

Still meeting them where theyre at – bible

I have been thinking about a rewrite of Meet them where theyre at and in the process reflecting on, what does it mean to meet people where they’re at with the bible. A lot of my work over the past few years has been around powerless mission, and process eccelesiology, so if we are to embrace the fact that our liberation is wrapped with those around us and particularly the marginalised, then how we approach the bible will be a factor.

Our consumer shaped language and modernist culture has driven a guidebook, approach to the bible. But the answers we have come up with in the past through systematic theology and critical textual analysis are pretty redundant. This is not to say what has been offered in terms of understanding the context and time of writing has not been valuable. However 99% is rooted in a language house and culture that has (probably unknowingly) never really balanced the bible, culture, and tradition paradigm. The desire to drive down into the text for a correct answer, or definition of for example church will never reach a real conclusion, and the idea that if we get this right that we can then develop strategies for mission or programmes that will see growth is a modernist consumer driven myth. The closest I have come to definition of church is that it is a mystery and as such you cannot separate out being and growing, mission and eccelesia so we will never arrive at a full definition but the journey and destination are inexplicably linked, and we need to embrace this uncertainty more fully.

As I was thinking about this subject during the week I tweeted –

The bible is not a map showing the way around a new land but a seed that will only grow and nourish the pilgrim as they interact with the skills and knowledge of locals, who challenge the pilgrim again to let the seed die that a new plant may grow and see fresh bread made.

I was deliberate with the word bread, as my experience has been one of seeing Jesus revealed as I journey with others outside traditional christian community gatherings, both in the day to day journey and as I grapple with the text. Coupled with an experience of having Jesus hidden from me and others by well meaning theologians and ministers who have sought to offer an answer (which stems more from their consumerist cultural paradigm) rather than being prepared to embrace the way of christ with its uncertainity, adventures and challenges.

Space for newness

Following up on the last post and subsequent comments here and Pete’s post around radicals and conservatives and Kester’s on Newness I wanted to explore some issues around creating a space for newness.
I would be with James that very little new has emerged in the last few years and Petes post seeking definition on the terms highlighted for me that finding newness within our current context was highly problematic, due to the strength of the christian cultural context we find ourselves in. As I commented I am unsure if radical theology can emerge in such a context and as such maybe defining terms such as radical and conservative is a red herring as it reinforces the place of this cultural context, and thus hinders new voices from emerging. How many teenagers or children, people not coming from a faith tradition would want to part of that discussion?
Community organising suggests all action is in the reaction, and I wonder if this one of the things that has shifted. In the early experimental days there was plenty for people to react to, as people in community developed new forms of connection through the Alt worship ect it created an experience that people could react to, discuss and dialogue. As such there was far more equity, and I remember great conversations with children and young people or faith or none that I took to Greenbelt events, and their comments greatly informed my ecclesiology.

(I recognise the irony of continuing to write in the light of what I have said so far but want to pursue another reason about creating space for reason.)

Bourdieu who builds on an earlier ideas of Habitus – cultures way of behaving and norms making society possible, which we are socialised into. Bourdieu suggests that habitus was more than this and that through our participation we contribute to the unfolding “habitus” i.e. it is a two way dialogical or iterative process. Is part of our problem is that as we have moved from experience/activity to dialogue and discussion that not a wide enough people demographic are participating to allow something new to unfold. More than this as I explored in Reconnected that if as Elaine Graham argues “the task of rebuilding Christian theology in a more authentic fashion requires a critique of the points at which tradition has misrepresented the spirit of the gospel; and then a reconstruction of theology according to emancipatory principles”. It can equally be argued that when these emancipatory principles are told, or the tradition critiqued, that it must be accompanied by the liberatory story, and voices of those outside that initially gave rise to the need for change, if it is to have any hope of getting through the layers of misrepresentation that have accumulated over the years.
I think there is model for this- the russian concept of Sobornost, “Spiritual community of many jointly living people” or one that is rooted in practice, action, dialogue and community but that is for another post.