Finding New

How do we live in the new and stay in the new, and reflect without being pulled back?
One of our first problems is that of language, in that we have to use it to reflect and talk through what is happening, but this language is always laden with assumptions and meaning that may not reflect the newness, or express well what we mean.
A second is ourselves. Even the most radical people I know need to pin some things down and have a sense that in doing so it prepares the ground to move forward.
perhaps it is only in loosing ourselves and our language in serving others and following the missio dei can we hope find the safety of continual renewal

Incarnation and Disruptive experiences

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.

The Dragons don’t frighten me anymore

We have been playing with the metaphor Here be dragons as a way to describe what we are up to and where we are with Church on the edge. On old maps there is that space simply described as Here be dragons. We are committed to going to a new place with young people and have been off the map for a while now.
We simply do not buy into the language of whos in and whos out, dualism, etc, We recognise the curtain has been torn, the kingdom is now and not yet, the earth and everything it is the lords, follow missio dei and refuse to see mission as a bridge into church but simply collapse the bridge.

We described our approach to being and growing church in this new land to a young person and here is what Sam (18yrs) came up with what do you think? (click it to enlarge)

StreetSpace going to a new place with young people

We build on the idea that we tack (like a ship sailing into the wind) with young people on a journey to become fully human and in the process we discover what it means to be fully human and what it is to be/grow church. In the process I think I have learnt that actually the dragons aren’t that scarey anyway.

Illustration without definition

I came across this quote about Spirituality (hoping I have spelled the surname correctly) the other day which I loved.

Spirituality defies definition but demands illustration -Phil Daughtry

I have been musing for a while on two encounters we have had on the streets, which I think illustrates the type of discipleship that is emerging around StreetSpace locally. Our approach is quite in line with what Pete has been on about in Stop teaching the Ethics of Jesus. A kind of discipleship that demands illustration but defies definition. It is seems our desire for an unfolding habitus (see here) and hope for a Sobornostic community (see here) is beginning to be animated by the two following engagements with young people.
“I am want to help at the community day as StreetSpace is the type of community I want my son to grow up in” A young dad who is becoming a young leader in the project.
“We need a community house” Two young leaders describing their future hopes for the project. A place to be that is way beyond a drop.
We had never mentioned the idea of a house to the group or the idea that we were trying to build community. Whilst the statements in isolation don’t express the unfolding habitus emerging when they are set into the context and ongoing journey I think we have an illustration where the ethics of Jesus are emerging in a conext where we stopped teaching them a long time ago.

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.

Benign Indifference and missional youth work

Mayo, Collins and Nash’s book the Faith of Generation Y is good stuff, but the concept of Benign Indifference never sat to well with my experience and I could never quite put my finger on why. In the light of the two recent posts about there not being an In and asking the wrong questions, I wanted to revisit it.
I rarely ask questions about faith, and once a conversation is sparked rarely experience the benign indifference. I wonder if this is because I am asking different questions, and that I ask within the context of a robust relationship that allows me to probe answers and not let young people off with easy outs. For example Flow came about by asking “What does it feel like when you skate?” and taking the risk to say “I think that maybe God”. This did not locate God or Spirituality with something outside of the young persons experience but within, and this opened a journey. I never presume to have the truth or tell young people what truth is, rather create an environment for dialogue and discussion. I think StreetSpaces resistance to an eccelesiocentric (church centred) approach to mission, helps us find the questions that are rooted in the lives of young people rather than an implicit or unconsciously church led questions or experiences. It has always been this way for me 20 years I used to ask young people in detached in the summer to be quiet for two minutes and then tell me what colour was their silence was. Recently I have used the word “church” to help locate some my questions within a christian tradition, eg whilst at the skate park asking could this be church?
Central to our approach is an embedded (non dualist) notion that G-d is as present on the streets as anywhere and that of going on a journey to discover with young people who G-d is, what is church, what is belief. What has been interesting is we have robust conversation, even young people taking steps of Faith to come on a journey although are without any notions of imaginary boundaries or lines to cross, and we have “fruit” in terms of a changed landscape, improved communities, turning away from crime, better relationships, but we rarely have benign indifference except perhaps when we ask the wrong questions.

Put your wetsuit on

It is not often I write out of a sense of frustration, and accordingly I have held off this post for a while. However I have growing sense that the majority of the missional conversation is still paddling in the shallow end and asking the wrong questions.

Norman Iverson blogged about a sense of a lack of real change around Fresh Expressions and church. It is interesting to see an insider raise some the same questions those on the edge have had for a number of years about the FE Movement, perhaps it is time to review those questions. My comment on the post was “The unwillingness to embrace death (of ideas, orthodox Ecclesiology , power) will mean a lack of interest on real change, so the sense of cognitive dissonance that things that FE bring will be embraced instead. But like the institution I fear they too are not really interested in real change.”
Another place of paddling in Fresh Expressions and the emerging church conversation is around the idea of relevance. As if we listened to the community we would discover how to become a relevant expression of church. But we will never really hear the community whilst we are so rooted in our current models of church and orthodox Ecclesiology . An example was a recent post Is your church too cool. My comment again was rooted in the need to practice a completely new way of being and engaging with the question. “Church can never be relevant in our understanding of the word whilst it remains rooted in a concept of gathering outside of the wider community for a supposed experience of worship. Articles like this are asking the wrong questions”
It is easy to fall into the trap of meeting with other christians and thinking we are doing something new, doing something differently. However this, gathering in an exclusive way (i think we often kid ourselves that we are more open than we are) outside of a wider community is part of the gravitational pull that produces the sense of cogitative dissonance that means a lack of real change and keeps us in the shallow end. It is rooted in our false history that we can suggests we can get closer to G-d through a worship service. There is a brilliant article here exposing this myth and its problems.

I am part of a number of emerging (note not gathered and most of which have christians as a minority) communities, and more and more I am convinced that we need to loose any ideas of coming together for a time of prayer, a time of worship, or a church service. They all simply produce a sense of security that stops us finding out what it really means to love and serve. That is not say we give up meeting together but we meet head on the myth that god is present in the gathering more than anywhere else and work out what it means to put our wetsuits on and ask better questions and swim deeply with G-d.

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.