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.

Transitology and emerging theology

As a practitioner and activist I have been fascinated by the idea of change for a long time, change on so many levels, and in so many ways. How individuals change, how communities change, how culture changes, how education changes, how young people change, how theology changes, how church changes and list goes on and on…..

For some time I have been questioning the depth of change, challenge and if any real transition was happening in emerging church thinking and theology, if we were on a road less traveled and willing to encounter G-d that can only be found in glimpses as we deny the false god we know. Often finding a sense of newness in some of Pete Rollins writing and in agreement with Kester Brewins post that there has been a sense of retreating. However I am unsure if this is conscious or circumstantial as the institutions catch up.

Kesters postthe backlash begins and the comments has prompted me to finally get around to this post.

At a basic level Transitology (derived from political science and initially examining change in latin america) identifies 4 elements to the change process. 1, structural factors are inadequate by themselves need actors to help make change, 2 change happens at times uncertainty, 3 Actors are assumed self interested, 4, Property rights of the wealthy need to be challenged.

I want to borrow from Transitology to say a few things about the change or lack of it, and current processes in the emerging theology debates.
1, The structures (and here I mainly mean the institutions and denominations) recognised the need for change and could not make the shift happen by themselves. They needed and still need actors on the edge of and preferably (in my mind) outside themselves to help make change happen.
2, The uncertainty and backdrop of the cultural shift to post (hyper) modernity is obvious, and the challenges it wrought both in terms of thinking and theological processes and in terms of subscription to institutions, commitment etc provided the climate of uncertainty needed for next shift, or as Phylis Tickle suggests the great emergence.

But it is the next two arenas of Transitology where I think we can draw some hope from and maybe build a bit of a platform to stop the retreat.
3, I think the backlash Kester mentions, comes from, and is coming from, a number of fields. Initial emergence was quite egalitarian, and practice driven by actors, working out what to do on the ground in the shifting context they found themselves. This flew in the face of self interest and created a platform for voices from the margin to be seen and heard. As the movement matured the voices shifted from the group to the individual, (which is needed as Actors play a key role), but in doing so could easily be seen as being less rooted in communities and practice or self interested. This will make it easy for people from outside emerging theology circles that are too lazy to get to know the actors to criticise them as self interested or unaccountable, as at a surface level they see people removed from their communities (or systems) and not practice orientated. I assume (like my own experience on the edge) that Kester with Vaux, and Pete with Ikon forged a depth of relationship created in the years of practice and risky experimentation that still remains. However, it may be helpful (particularly for the likes of me) to be given some pointers on grounding some of the thinking into our practice, and where actors are not involved directly anymore, to be dialoging with practitioners who are seeking to flesh out the christ they are speaking of on the ground, and to make these faltering attempts, and relationships public alongside the theological discourse. One of my greatest fears is that our key actors will be unfairly criticised from within (one field that the backlash may come from), and in doing so the movement will not embody the openess and acceptance, robustness and questioning that much of the emerging church is known for, and is certainly one of the changes worth protecting. This links to my final point, I do think the voices of the wealthy need to be challenged and this is two fold. There needs to be a challenge to the intellectually wealthy to root theological ideas on the ground. Secondly the growth of fresh expressions could be viewed as the wealthy institutions colonialising the grass roots, and in so (hopefully not intentionally) suppressing the voice of the actors and those on the edge who were and still are, key to helping make change happen. This may be the another field where the backlash comes from, but it will be disguised in many colors, as the tentacles of the wealthy and powerful are legion.

Was Peter telling porkies?

The other day we were looking at Luke 18 with a group of young people and it was questioned if Peter was telling a lie about how much he had given up as after Jesus had died he returned to his boats and fishing, and this source of income and resource was still available to him.

The other week with a group of young people we were looking at Like 18 18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

In other versions it states how the rich young man went away sad, and we wondered if Jesus were actually aimed at Peter rather than the ruler as he was not around to hear the words about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Was it that Jesus saw through Peters words and was encouraging him towards fully giving everything up? A part of the journey for someone human, who like us is on a path that leads to a more committed sense of discipleship, a stage in his development as a follower?

You say syncretism, I say inculturation or What’s wrong with a bit of syncretism?

I have been thinking a lot about holding the tension between culture, bible and tradition which has moved into thinking about what it is to be swept up with missio dei, and what this may look like for our structures and approaches/ theology.

I still think and still feel we are a long way off the mark in emerging church circles as we are worried about slipping into syncretism, and the gravitational pull of orthodoxy. Perhaps our orthodoxy is as much a myth as the myth that we can know the unknowable G-d.
I think the separation of sacred and secular is rooted in our need to box God in, to define what is God and what is not.

So there is something buzzing away in the back of head about the need to collapse much of our approach as it feels dualist. We have made great progress in missional thinking and understanding recognizing the missio dei etc – if God is working, sovereign, we ask what is God already doing, so we can get in on this (rather than the older approach which was thinking it is our mission or we are the carriers of God or God is not present/at work) but this question, what is god doing is still rooted in identifying a particular thing God is doing (which in itself supposes there are things that God is not in control of or doing) and thus enables us to focus on this known/discerned aspect of God rather than simply being cast adrift with the missio dei with G-d in G-d’s world.

This raises the question of ‘other’ what is it, does it exist, or is there other but that is a whole other kettle of fish which i cant get my head around.

If syncretism is about the attempt to reconcile contrary beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought wasn’t this what happened with introduction of christ and the emerging christology. So since Christ split the curtain shouldn’t we be a bit more about what Robert Schreiter sees as inculturation “the dynamic relation between the Christian message and culture or cultures; an insertion of the Christian life into a culture; an ongoing process of reciprocal and critical insertion and assimilation between them” which seems to differ little for me from syncretism. Perhaps i am being naive about the semantics.

The wedding banquet from below

Just looked at this parable with a group and started with the question where is God in the parable?

If see God as with the poor and marginalised he is in the highways and byways. Using this as the startpoint you don’t have the option of seeing the king as god or the son as Jesus and could see the parable as a critique of organized religion or power.

The king is keen to make alliances with the rich farmers and businessmen so invites them to the party to impress them, they are obviously powerful as they have the opportunity and means to kill the servants the king first sent, and the king needs to subdue these people after they killed the servants by the use of force with armies not just a couple of people.

Then in order to not be seen as a loser the king needs to have some people come to the party so invites (coerces?) poorer people to attend. Tradition at the time suggests the grooms father provides the right clothes for the party guests but one person refuses to wear the clothes from the manipulative, politically savvy, violent and coercive monarch. one person refuses to play the game by the rules of the powerful and is cast out into the darkness with the outcasts.

Here we see Jesus as someone not willing to go along with the power plays of the day, someone who stands up for justice, who reads the motives of the powerful and stands outside of those systems. The kingdom is heaven is about putting other people first, standing up for righteousness, speaking out for the voiceless and living in a way that is radically different to established ways of the world.

1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. 13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Imperialistic thinking masquerading as missional engagement

Pete Ward has an essay here on the nature of celebrity in culture and missiological implications. There are some interesting points raised and I value several of the observations and critic of celebrity as an entity. However when it comes to exploring the missional nature it is again theologically/missionally conservative, and IMHO falls far short of genuine missional application. His section on Beyond Functional Equivalence is well written but is rooted in a quasi imperialistic approach to missional engagement masquerading as a radical movement. Pete suggests we must “take this capital into account” and whilst he recognises the “contested meanings” around celebrity provide a fruitful area for engagement it is very much on re-interpretative terms rather than from any position of powerlessness or that our doctrines could be wrong and need re-interpreting through genuine dialogue with the people shaped by the culture.
I am not arguing all culture is good, but equally neither is all doctrine. I simply want to hold the culture with the reverence it is due and as an equal partner with the bible and tradition in the “contested” space that non imperialistic mission should inhabit.

I hope the book that is due to follow the article will address some of these issues, but I wonder if there is an inherent imperialism or notion that we have our doctrines right, rooted in the theological or publishing culture that would never let a book like this get written. As underlying any text would be the need for an heretical imperative as that is part of what enables real dialogue in the contested space of missional engagement.

Missionary Imagination 2 – The place of awareness

NB This may not make much sense as words are problematic.

Often people talk about awareness in mission, the need to be open to what God is doing, and this is critical. However this a part of the process, and we need to discover a place of awareness. Without sounding too much like an old duffer, when I was younger, practicing the spiritual disciplines of silence, different prayer forms and awareness exercises was a key in helping me tune into what G-D what doing on the streets. Like any muscle it needed training and exercise. However the process became too important and I found my self looking for acts of kindness, giving or love etc and it was spotting these that tuned me into the recognition that we were in a thin place, where heaven and earth seemed closer. More recently I have found I needed to practice inhabiting the thin place in the whole of life, slowly I have begun to learn to tune into seeing Jesus in both the act and the person. It is like the difference from being aware you are walking on thin ice and so watching for every step, to simply being in tune with the ice that you walk on so you spend less time watching your step but feel the environment with all your senses.
Last week on visiting some of the great projects around, we went walkabout. On encountering a group one guy the workers knew was homeless, so they checked to see how he was doing. As they chatted over the income support forms another in the group reached across and gave the guy a chocolate bar. He wasn’t sharing a piece because he was eating a bar himself, but simply a response, a seemingly random act. The guy was homeless simply said thanks stuck it in his pocket for later and continued to work on the forms.
I felt christ in the workers, both young people, the sacred space and the well know chocolate bar but I knew we were in a thin place the moment I parked the car and hour or so before the encounter.