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.
Living with meaning, finding our purpose, knowing where we are heading, discovering the meaning of life or even thinking that this possible are all important parts of what it is to be human. For christians meaning making is established as we reflect on the story we find ourselves in and our perceptions and understandings of God.
In teaching culture society and mission this month I have been stuck by how the process of meaning making and identity formation has been destabilised due to the growth of post modernity and its inherent deconstuction, and relativisation of truth.
At one level this is very helpful, and something to be embraced by people of faith, but the trap post modernity then lays before us is that of hyper-criticism. Reconstruction cant begin because everything must be questioned, analysed and criticed. There is no solid ground on which to build. So where do we go in terms of missiology. How do we begin to build mission in a meaning
The startpoint (i think) is to find the common ground left between the postmodern culture and our deconstucted christian understanding. (bit like a venn diagram) BUT what is there, what if anything can still be meaningful or solid.
So far I see three meaningful intersections:
– Story: fairytale and myth still remain in the postmodern, and perhaps have more power to get through as although they criticed by the fact thay are couched in terms of being just that story and not a truth claiming perspective, they are engaged rather than over looked. Can we communiate our story as a fairytale, and allow the story to do the work.
– Glocal: The global and local nature of current culture should not be underestimated and bears many resemablences the trancendant and immenent nature of God. This contradictory view of God has much to offer, as again the truth lies in its seemingly untruthfullness.
– Loss of self builds Relationship: relativity remains as central tool in the process of deconstruction, which can only be really done from your relative position which inself opens up the possibility that there are many perspectives. So when we dialogue based on loosing ourself through the process we open the way for meaningful dialogue.
The three ways discussed have the in common the contradictions post modernity and christianity has within themselves. The irony is the only solid ground is one that formed in this way.
Finding God in the wait of advent, admist the chaos of the commerical christmas is a particular task. I came across the Augustinian notion of God in memory a few weeks back and and been reflecting on this for a while. Paula Fredrikson writes on Augustines take on God and Memory that “memory is nesscessary not simply for recollection, but also for cognition and persception. It is through the exercise of his or her memory that the individual – time bound, imperfect, mortal – is enabled to know and to recogize both him/herself and most especially Truth….. Put simply memory is the site of our illumination. Memory is our bridge to the world outside ourselves, to ourselves, and to God.”
In the wait of advent even in my most disciplined moments christmas memories (time bound, imperfect, mortal) creep in. To borrow from the traditional christain language I wonder if this is the devil invading the space I seek to encounter God. So is the spiritual task in the wait of advent to exercise the memory of Truth, and exorcise the memory of the time bound, imperfect, and mortal, redeeming these memories and preparing us to experience the renewal that the new birth of christ brings.