Pioneering Transparent Ops and Real Relationships

One of the issues I have struggled with most since moving from an organisation that has always been outside the institution and committed to the liminal spaces, to within the structures of the church, is staying true to the calling I think I have. It is very easy to tone stuff down for political expediency and so loose that sense of who I really am. Im fully aware I need to take care about the HOW of what I say what to whom, and I have always done that in no matter what role I am (good adult to adult honest and real dialogue in pretty short supply in the church), but Im not sure I should ever change the WHAT. Real Relationships for me is a two way thing, I can’t be in a real relationship with those I am serving in the institution if I am not being honest about the what of who I am and the what of what Im doing. I remember saying to students (usually in the first week or so) when I used to teach mission and theology that I wanted to be really up front and I saw part of my role as about corrupting them with the christ who would spend time on the margins with young people outside the church. Likewise with Transparent Operations I needed to be clear and open about what the third space fresh expressions were. That they were deliberately playful, pushing boundaries, pathfinding projects, about their failings and successes. I can be great at putting a positive spin on stuff but more often than not be too brutally honest about stuff so people end up thinking Im grumpy or negative. But my own self awareness has to be key to Transparent Ops and Real Relationships if we want to see increased impact and capacity and enable others to catch the vision.

Inclusion delusion

“A delusion is a false, unshakeable idea or belief, which is out of keeping with the patient’s educational, cultural and social background; it is held with extraordinary conviction and subjective certainty” (Sims A (2003) Symptoms in the Mind: An Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology.3rd Edition)

There has been some really quite horrid stuff flying around the web in response to Vicky Beechings book Undivided. The level of vitriol sometimes explicit and sometimes couched in religious terms was disconcerting even for someone like me who knows just how difficult Christians can be when you challenge certain orthodoxies. So much so that the only word that came to mind was “deluded”. This is not a word I use lightly but to see the Christian story and particularly details (around practices, what is and what isn’t kosher) as so fixed, so unnuanced, so unchangable, is out so out of keeping with the “educational, cultural and social background” of the Christian narrative that it seems delusional is the only word available.
It is only by using the word delusional can I make any sense of some of the cheap shots (about her replacing one stage for another or she could never have been a Christian) that have been thrown Vickys way. The trajectory of Christian story is rooted in love, it starts in a garden and heads to a city, it moves in an ever unfolding redemptive arc, it didn’t start with Jesus, but he exemplified it, and it certainly didn’t stop with Jesus whose words to love our enemies call us to continue in those footsteps through the ages and continue beyond the now as what love really is, becomes uncovered. When you deny the humanity of one person, struggling, wrestling, seeking and sense making you step outside that arc, and you loose something in yourself.

Trying capture the pioneer dna

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.

Does G-d exist outside relationships?

Every now and then someone reports on if young people are interested in God, or spirituality, or something of that ilk. Good reports like Buried Treasure, in depth stuff like Faith of Generation Y, and recently a small scale research piece called No questions asked.

One of the questions I always come back to in this sort of research is where is relationship within the context of the research, and what role does relationship play in asking these sort of questions? I often test out the questions used with young people I have an ongoing connection with, and without fail get into great discussions around faith, spirituality and life. Often for obvious research reasons, the research is conducted outside of the context of ongoing relational youth work. So whilst I could argue about research paradigms and the role of researchers, the question I really want to ask is; does God exist outside of the context of relationship?

I am always fascinated by the communal nature of the trinity, the relational and incarnational aspect of God. It also seems from reading the various documents that more often than not when relationship is excluded as a variable, the god talk doesnt happen, but when included it does. What is going on here? Is it as simple as people need to feel comfortable or known to talk, or is it more?

It’s natural that young people don’t talk about about God in a vacuum, as for most people the natural evidence is that God doesn’t exist. So is it supernatural that people do talk about God in the context of ongoing relationship? Is God being made more manifest in those conversations? Are miracles occurring in the lives of young people, as despite the natural everyday evidence that God isn’t real, they want to talk?

Does G-d exist outside the context of relationship?

Every now and then someone reports on if young people are interested in God, or spirituality, or something of that ilk. Good reports like Buried Treasure, in depth stuff like Faith of Generation Y, and recently a small scale research piece called No questions asked.

One of the questions I always come back to in this sort of research is where is relationship within the context of the research, and what role does relationship play in asking these sort of questions? I often test out the questions used with young people I have an ongoing connection with, and without fail get into great discussions around faith, spirituality and life. Often for obvious research reasons, the research is conducted outside of the context of ongoing relational youth work. So whilst I could argue about research paradigms and the role of researchers, the question I really want to ask is; does God exist outside of the context of relationship?

I am always fascinated by the communal nature of the trinity, the relational and incarnational aspect of God. It also seems from reading the various documents that more often than not when relationship is excluded as a variable, the god talk doesnt happen, but when included it does. What is going on here? Is it as simple as people need to feel comfortable or known to talk, or is it more?

It’s natural that young people don’t talk about about God in a vacuum, as for most people the natural evidence is that God doesn’t exist. So is it supernatural that people do talk about God in the context of ongoing relationship? Is God being made more manifest in those conversations? Are miracles occurring in the lives of young people, as despite the natural everyday evidence that God isn’t real, they want to talk?

Midwifery, FXs and Punk

My job title is Fresh Expressions Enabler and recently someone compared my role to a midwife. In many ways it makes sense as a description helping people prepare and respond to what is emerging, sometimes FX are planned and sometimes they are surprise.
However as I reflected on midwifes in the bible I was drawn to Exodus 1 and the role the Hebrew midwife played. They were told to kill the Hebrew boys and when challenged why this had not happened they responded, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
As Fresh Expressions have become more main stream they have become more defined, and it is great that roles like mine have emerged but with them come certain targets and ways of doing things. The gospel seed is vigorous and grows when it is nurtured, and yet recently I spoke to someone exploring pioneer ordination and she had had two projects killed before they could mature as they didn’t “fit” the church way of doing stuff. So often things seems to grow vigoursly, organically and in directions that we might not expect, so we need to make sure our imagined targets don’t get in the way.

What I have been trying to do in Cumbria is rather than having to be hands on and deliver loads of FXs, has been to encourage a (you might say promiscuous) culture, where people feel they have the freedom to experiment. Its not quite anarchy but it is punk, developing leading edge projects, with a bit of crazy energy. Punk only lasted a few months and it was never going to the dominant music of the 20th century. But the energy broke the system of music culture that had been around, and suddenly everyone thought anyone could give it a go. This was the culture changer, and if FXs are going to have any real long term impact, it will be in helping the church move from a culture of authority to participation, freeing people to pick up whats in front of them and give it a go.

Is the gospel always culturally contained?

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.

FXs older brother

I’ve always been intrigued not so much by the older brothers jealousy but by what was happening in the economics of the story. The prodigal had taken a third of the family income blown it, is welcomed back as a son, so when the father dies will he get a third of the two thirds left. Or perhaps if he did offer something new to the family on his return, and was the family eventually better off.

Either way if the father re-embraced the son, and full rights restored in the here and now. I wonder if the institutions ever really hear and value the contribution from the edge or if an older brother mentality gets in the way. If Fresh Expressions are the emerging churchs gift does the way FXs have been sanitised by the the insistution, made a little safer, less edgy, show the embrace of the older brother rather than father. The desire to protect what is already there and play it safe. So perhaps this is where we need the wisdom of the lost sheep and the emerging church had no problem leaving the 99 to go after the one. I’m sure the father would have run after the son given the chance, not so sure about the older brother and Perhaps this is why we are also leaving some of the most creative voices outside. So if the institution is serious about resisting an older brother mentality perhaps take a look at THIS

Who left who, Learning from Pigs and Dragons

In the last post on the Prodigal I posted about the postures we may need when emergents return. One of the things I want to tease out here is did the prodigal leave or perhaps more accurately, who left who.

Im a big fan of stories and parables, particularly in how they stretch. I am left wondering if the parables work, as Jesus did as the still point in a turning world, but as Elliott says that’s where the dance is. So I am starting to see the parables maybe acting as a pivot point reconnecting Israel as a blessing to nations and Peters vision.

When Abraham was called as the father of Israel, he agreed to go with what he had, which probably wasn’t that much in terms of material wealth or in terms of knowledge of where he was going. As Jonny Baker brilliantly put he is commended in Hebrews for basically saying “I don’t know where Im going but whos up for coming with me!” In the light of what we said about the prodigal picking up ideas and wisdom from the culture that hosted him, did Abram do the same. Did he go through some rites of passage in his 70 and 80s? Was there a link between the journey of Abram and the destination of becoming Abraham, that one couldn’t happen without the other? And importantly wasn’t being blessed by Melchizedek all about the inclusiveness and presence of God in the culture (ie Abraham was told he would be the blessing to the nations but some dude turns up to bless him, and shares bread and wine with him)?

The trajectory of Israel being a blessing to other cultures is wrapped up in Abram being embraced by and embracing the gift from other cultures, and this more universal embracing shows us something about who and how God is revealed.

In the story of the prodigal the pigs weren’t unclean in the culture that the prodigal had entered. In my world it’s about the journey off the map to the spot marked here be dragons. Pigs were only unclean in his old land. He had crossed so many boundaries, and yet they were artificial boundaries that had been put up by law makers. So much so that God has to emphasise the point to Peter later on by giving him vision on the roof, and instructing him not to call unclean what God has called clean. Perhaps the embrace at the end is as much repentance on the fathers side as on the sons. The tearing of the curtain broke these boundaries ushered in the kingdom which was always the trajectory of Isreal. In killing the fatted calf, (the Christ) and eating together a new world without boundaries is created, the old walls are called to dust, the father and the son are Called to repentance and a new place.

so maybe it’s less about leaving and returning and more about a pivot around which shalom is formed as all things are made new, relationships restored and boundaries pulled down. Don’t forget the prodigal is part of a trio of stories and lost coin doesn’t have to shout “help” it simply sits there and waits to be found.

When emergents return

It seems several people from the emerging church are taking roles on the inside edge of the institution, some are embraced and others hesitantly recieved. So with a Hat tip to the wonderful Simon Succliffe for the spark and Johnny Sertin for the brief brainstorming session, This is going to be a couple of posts maybe even a mini series of posts putting an emerging spin on the prodigal. I’m going to be pretty playful with the text so don’t expect some sort of textual exegesis.

Firstly I don’t think those of us that left the insistutional church are prodigals in the sense of backsliders or any of those traditional interpretations, many of us left as part of a faithful search and found faith reinvigorated, and a depth of encounter with the Christ of today of the here and now, rather than yesterday or tomorrow.

So the leaving is part of the return. What if the prodigal leaving is part of a rite of passage and wether it is planned as in a formal rite, eg the boy who goes out to face the challenges in the wild and comes back when they are ready, or culturally normative eg an Amish young person on rumspringa, or for the middle class heading to uni. Perhaps in the prodigal it was more an unplanned rite of passage and like many people a series of encounters take place that help you grow up. So when it says “he came to his senses” was this the move from the youth, a coming of age, a recognition of adulthood. This raises the question what had he encountered, and how was his new sense of personhood going to be a gift and service to the community. NB I think this question of what he was able to offer still stands if you don’t think he had in anyway been involved in a rite of passage.

Coming to his senses and like a Masai warrior having walked through his exile here was a young man with gifts and talents and a different spirit, someone who had known the highs and lows, real hardship and starvation. There’s also a lovely hint in Luke that perhaps the father was open to this. The son had prepared three stances for his return, an acknowledgement of sin, a lack of worthiness, and a willingness to be treated as a servant. Yet the father only let him blurt out the first two before the re-embrace. So Once the party was over how did he re-inhabit the space he was given. Having been away to distant land had he picked up new farming techniques, was his renewed spirit of humility and way of being a gift, was he able to simply see things from a different perspective and offer these ideas to the family. As a son he was able to bring in these ideas whereas as a servant he might not.

So what stances do we need to take now. When and how we offer the new learning that has emerged from the emerging church experiences and what postures should we take. I think because the leaving is part of the returning I want to encourage those of on the inside of the edge to be themselves. This was the key advice my referees gave the bishop when I applied for the post, that I needed space and they would get the best out of me if they let me be me.

In the next post I’m going to riff on the importance of the son crossing boundaries.