In the last post I wrote about the story Finding Adventure, and I have been thinking about how do we avoid any sense dualism between the Spiritual and practical side of the work with young people in growing church. This has been a key part of the project and we have been quite good at equally valuing the both sides. BUT this is exactly problem as we have to talk about both sides – It is really hard because our language inhibits us and we slip between the two or alternate rather than blending holistically. Due to the structure of language and our western conditioning as soon as we use a word like prayer or spiritual we are drawn to an ephemeral/woolly/other type of image in our minds and away from the rootedness expressed in the new testament and particularly (Hatip to Mark P) Romans 12 v1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Even here it feels ephemeral/Wooly/Other but it is actually incredibly rooted in the waking, eating, walking and talking of everyday. So anyway I needed to do some more work on the story following (thanks for the feedback) and have tried to be less dualist in this version… what do you think?
Charlie was a BMXer who loved riding, and even when she had started out on a scooter loved the adventure of riding close to the edge and pushing new tricks. She was quickly developing a reputation as an excellent rider, so in order to make the most of her growing profile she decided to set up a shop locally and online brand of clothes and equipment. Her technical skills grew and meant she could design new pedals and peripheral equipment that really enhanced riding and made the whole experience better. She even invested in new technology such as new alloys, that could be used in frames and was soon making frames that were lighter and stronger than anything else on the market. She made sure that everyone working for her got a fair wage and only used ethical suppliers were possible. Charlie was quickly raking it in and the money didn’t corrupt her, she gave a portion to those who needed it and kept up always tried her best to be honest in business.
The thing she loved about having money was still rooted in adventure, only now she could travel to loads of places around the country and abroad. She flew around the world and rode in well know places, that were distant dreams to many. On returning from her travels she paid attention to business and things continued to grow, but she was never quite satisfied and always longed for something else.
At about the same time a man was traveling the around the area, who also had a growing reputation. People weren’t quite sure what to call him, he wasn’t a skater or biker, some people called him the Well digger, as once helped people find some water and dig a well, some people called him the Builder for similar reasons, others called him Sufi – someone who was spiritually enlightened, and at peace with themselves, to others he was the Teller, the problem was he never fitted into any one box. People who had heard his stories or spent time with him, never could sum him up in one word or label him this or that. They said he had healed the sick, and helped the poor, built houses and you never knew what what was going to happen next, and although he too was poor was he was rich in a different way. The group that traveled around with him were known as “the adventurers”, as they were set them challenges, and always asked questions that made them think or act in a different way. As a group they never knew where they were going next or what they were going to have to eat the next day, but something always turned up, and anyway what better way to keep the adventure real. Even though Charlie had been on many adventures, and always pushed her riding to the next level, she always felt something was missing. Something needed to change she told herself and so went to find this man that couldn’t be put in a box. Finding him, she was not the type to be shy, so explained how she loved the adventure and how she had tried to live an ethical life, and asked “what must I do to join the adventurers and journey with you?”
The Man replied “go and sell all your possessions, your business, your bikes and inventions and give the money to the poor, then come and join us?” Charlie went away disappointed.
In the light of Apple 7 happening tmw and Jonny and Kesters posts that have been swilling around in the back of mind for a while, I thought I would stick my nose in here as I cant be in London.
The notion of TAZ (temporary autonoumus zone – in a regime of power people find gaps in the maps away from the authorities to create something short lived, temporary, that dissolves before the authorities can latch on to it and it dissolves to re-emerge elsewhere. the rave scene, festivals, flash mobs and so might be examples.) is appealing and TAZ fits quite well to describe our community experiences of Flow. It has been hard for me to reconcile the idea of temporary church but instinctively the temporary nature has felt okay and that was before I found the TAZ phrase or had chance to reflect on Jonny and Kesters musings.
Part of the okayness is because we often fail to notice in our selfish search for belonging that people belong in different ways (see Myers work), so in forming community we need to accept (although we may challenge) this selfishness and recognise that relationship is beyond the confines of a time and space because it is so core to G-D. So whilst Flow might represent a TAZ, it is in it’s connection with the DNA of relationship (G-D) that these relationships supersede the physical/time limits, I can easily imagine a young person looking me up in a few years to chat, or out of need and this has often been part of my experience as 20 yr plus youth worker.
Embracing the temporary possibility of teh Flow group has also been a key in my missional thinking, leading me to seek out ways that will enable individuals to connect or be reminded of Flow that can last beyond the TAZ. In the past I called this corrupting worldviews with Christ and it is the very everyday possibilities of this, that give TAZ a kind of permanence beyond the getting together. If church exists to be missional then TAZ could be a key part of the future landscape, and whilst people may come together in TAZ type contexts because of what is going on at specific time (or out of selfishness), if it is to be an authentic expression of church (and begin a move beyond selfishness) it needs to maintain that attitude and action (see here) in its development. For us we are now experimenting with Harmony as a new engagement with the younger group coming through, whilst the older Flow group is transitioning on/moving away.
One of Jonny’s key issues was linking to Bauman and how individualism wins out over community, and can the temporary be anything like as effective as the continuity of long term engagement. Myself, I am left wondering if we ever can change community in that broad way (or even if that is our role) but by maintaining presence and through a series of TAZ adventures, enable a new type of community to emerge that is self defining as it goes. I can see this at a local level but here is also where I think it connects into Apple 7’s question. TAZ will only ever remain flash in the pan as the institution is so crippled by either looking back to tradition, or in a broader way will engage beyond its mode- to quote Aquinus (pretty out of context) for the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower. The struggle is to look to the other for definition, and in the other find G-D anew.
Back from Greenbelt and as ever there was a great range of music, art and talks. However at the festival and on coming away I couldn’t help feeling it was all rather theologically conservative. After posting this on FB I thought I needed to think out loud a bit more about this to help me understand my feelings, so apologies if this becomes a stream of consciousness rather than a coherent post.
23 years of attending and I am hearing the same (great) speakers that inspired me when I was 17 to give up life plans and change tack. The content remains great, but culture, and I have shifted but not sure the theological content has. This obviously begs the question of should it shift and for many new people coming and hearing this stuff for the first of third time I know John Smith or Dave Andrews thoughts could turn their world upside down towards a kingdom reorientation. So what has changed or needs to be said. The love and acting out of compassion and justice remains, those values are timeless, but in the cultural shifts that have taken place over the past 20 years how do we rethink the missiology that needs to accompany the missio dei in those acts of love and justice, so we can go with God effectively.
The theme of looking sideways raised my expectations about Greenbelt this year, but the sideways looks I heard were safe glances back to tradition (although playing with this) Richard Rohr, glance back mediation (although with hat tip to worship as a whole of life experience) Laurence Freeman. Don’t get me wrong it was all good stuff but it was all stuff that was been part of my missional thinking 15 years ago.
Missionally it felt quite milky, the questions I wanted to ask were, who is genuinely taking a sideways look at the world, how do we do this and here the stories about the missional journey that starts when we do. When I was chatting with Andy Turner about this he was asked who do we need to get and I am afraid I was at a bit of loss. I certainly missed Pete Rollins. The themes that came to mind however different stuff I would like to hear or talk about would be:
Living with the corner stone and the stumbling block, going with Christ beyond the christ we know in mission
The role of Powerlessness in mission and going with G-D in this.
How the when we join up Greenbelt christian thinking and start to try and live it, it takes us beyond, Yet when one section rises in popularity (currently meditation and new monastic forms) due the consumerist culture and deep rooted individualism and selfishness it takes us away from Christ and detracts from the deeper theological work that is needed in our lives and communities.
How do we deny Jesus in order to look sideways and discover G-D in our neighborhood and can we begin that dangerous journey with the tentative courage that comes from a community like Greenbelt behind us?
So was Greenbelt Conservative? – not really because the social gospel shone through the justice and love discussions.
Was greenbelt policitally conservative? – you certainly cant give that label.
Was Greenbelt missionally conservative? – ABSOLUTELY.
Where do we go from here? – Haven’t a clue except we need the artists and activists (theologians who may not have that label but can articulate their thinking) who can genuinely help us take a sideways look at the world and see the Kingdom within!
In one of my early jobs on an estate I sat down with the priest and we discussed the nature of liturgy and how it comes from a people in context in response to the sacred. It is by the people for the people. TSK in his (tongue in cheek)armchair theologian post got me thinking how like liturgy, theology has drifted from the people. I so look forward to seeing what TSK has say because of the reality of the people he meets and I hope he finds a signal again soon.
In discussing the idea of being missional with a friend recently I ranted how when we deny non believers the chance to argue, shape, change and challenge our activities we deny the presence of G-d in them and this is no way to start a missionary journey.
Closed sets are the bane of my life I cannot stand the religious assemblies, but want (with Amos) justice, that affirms Christ in the other, and so changes and transform me and the world around. A liturgy or theology that thinks it has arrived, or is right – can only be death, because we are not static and it denies the living reality of the trans-formative G-d. We need to return and enable liturgy that is of the people, and their faulting, authentic, real, half baked, chaotic response to the sacred in the context of humanity, a context that must be inclusive as we discover the sacred in one another. So heres to the armchair theologians that try to rework their mindsets in the public arena of the blogosphere, but to the pyjama wearing, or ivory tower closed setters – do try to get out more!
To think about mission without considering the changing nature of commitment in post modernity would be naive and for some time the changing nature of commitment has been buzzing around my head. what does it mean to commit or be committed to Christ? Is it that the old has gone and the new means we are instantly changed. Pete talks about denying the resurrection every time we walk past a homeless person or fail to to feed the hungry as part of his insurrection tour. I have been exploring the notion of commitment with a few young people (happy midi narrative) and others and the more I discuss it the more I am taken with idea that the process needs rethinking. If we are on a journey then maybe as Tuffty says it is about finding some values and committing to try and work to what these mean for you. I think he was hinting that it doesn’t start with a statement but is a life long process.
Often we see our role as helping young people learn values, but in that process our purposed dominance so easiliy comes to the fore and in doing we either either undermine the values we are seeking to communicate or we undervalue the depth of values by reducing them to words. Perhaps our role is recognise the lack of values and real commitment in our own lives and as we journey with young people recognise that we will encounter situations and circumstances where values can be encountered. Because when we pass the hungry with a young person and choose not to deny the resurrection and meet with that person, we encounter christ. Likewise when we walk past – will we have the humanity to discuss with the young person our disbelief in the resurrection.
The implication for mission is on the one hand huge – as if the nature of commitment has shifted we need to shift how we do evangelism. But if you are into emerging missional thinking the implication is to ensure you are as consistent in the going to the new place that you may set out with and continue this open journey with the young people to reframe and rediscover the resurrection in every encounter, and see today that Christ is doing a new thing.
In mission terms we often talk about the missionary imagination happening in terms of a balance between a culture, tradition and bible triangle. Often people talk of using tradition and ritual as a place to root discipleship or as a resource for creativity. With the emerging post christendom context and the gravitation pull of tradition, I think we need to explore the balance in a new way and give it a different sort of prominence in the mission task.
In church on the edge, the tradition balance comes not from a replication of ritual but using traditional language a resource to locate the work in a christian tradition. As we talk about Flow and often when reworking bible passages talk about Jesus as a sufi or wise man and it would be easy to completely miss the christian underpinning. However using words like church connects with the echo of the memory that gen y still hold, or gives an opportunity to locate the project in the christian story but also importantly enables us to balance out the gravitation pulls that can come with the usual way of approaching the triangle. Then as communities of faith become more important ritual can be revisited but in a way that does without the purposed dominance that many people ascribe them, and rather genuinely allows for a reciprocal re-working that values the culture, tradition, bible balance.
I have been reflecting around the issue of Flow and christology recently. Jonny pointed me to this great article “God inside out – towards a mission theology of the Holy Spirit”. It challenges the adage that the father sends the son – the Father and son send the spirit – and the trinity sends the church and unpacks the centrality of the spirit.
The article started me thinking about the Trinity as an echo. For a while now I have had the vague idea of church being an echo of the trinity of coming from God and continuing in the unfolding revelation of God. (if the spirit sends the church what does this say about the divine nature of the church).
The reduction of G-d to the trinity is problematic and avoids the transcendent nature of G-d beyond our understandings (not mention the other characteristics of God within the biblical narrative that do not readily fit the Father Son Spirit image).
G-d echos through the creation, all our images and encounters are echos of G-d that we are swept up with (missio dei) and join the echo of G-d towards the fulfillment of creation. The power of the echo can transcend the blocks of institutions and break beyond the walls of our imaginings, it calls us forward, beyond and out of what we know, to be more and less (at times) of what we are, towards unity as the bride of christ.
Years ago when Off the Beaten track was first published I did a training session, and described a street based communion (coke and crisps style) and asked participants – Is this church? Oli was present and has been thinking and working on his eccelesiological position in response to the question. He has published an interesting short read exploring the need for orthodoxy around the issue of eccelesiology and communion that is well worth the read and download. Find it here.
I really like the fence model he proposes and it presents a good challenge, but before I post my responses i would be interested to hear others views.
I cant make it to LICC where there is conversation on discipleship coming up. But Jason asked for few of my thoughts on the subject particlaurly around the shortfall between missional youth work and church i.e. Missional youth work hits a dead end if there isn’t a trully mission shaped community to feed young people into.
My main thought was that actually this is to avoid the real issue that a genuinely missional work would always seek to grow that community from the community it is serving. Whilst to an extent we are in an in between time (as christendom dies) the language of discipleship (into a mission shaped community) or even the notion that this is part of the answer reinforces a dualist divide that should not be present. If we do embrace a kingdom missional theology then we are already that community the moment we meet those young people. The way most seem to the use the word Discipleship reinforces this kind of dualism, as it usually refers to some sort of post decision idea. However if we are not about bounded sets and Christ centred (see Dave Andrews) and decision is more a willingness to journey together then the community can be formed and shaped together and then discipleship is far more reciprocal and I would argue real. I guess a key question in this would be; what are we (myself and the yp) being discipled towards? The old paradigm would put of primary the importance of orthodoxy where the missional community would be orthopraxis. In our experiences with the yp we see evidence of the fruit of the spirit and orthopraxis but none would call themselves Christians.
Further to the previous post I have been thinking about how we live within the story we find ourselves in (embody that story) rather than to keep stepping outside (objectify the story) which returns us to the old dualistic thinking and need of reconciliation. A few thougts that have emerged so far are about how it links with the idea of tacking and james point about feeling rather than thinking. There is also something around choice. i have been reading the shack
and when Mack first encounters the trinity and trys to get his head around it there are a couple of interesting thoughts/illustrations. A bird is built to fly but if it chooses to limit itself to walking it still pocesses the ability to fly and is no less a bird. This is discussed in relation to Jesus being man and G-d. A few days ago I used the phrase swimming in the ether of god, as how we could operate in this more embodied way, it is about recognising and choosing to accept that we have moved beyond the sacred/secular divide and embraced the reality of kingdom being now and not yet, and to see this and be this as our startpoint. Perhaps it is about us choosing not to accept the limitations of our humanity but instead to live in a new way of being that is connected (even though at times it may seem at a distance) to God and her redemptive and redeeming creation and swim in that ether.