After years of christendom and being the centre of so many things I often wonder if we have forgotten the death/redemption narrative cycle and fail to link this to our eccelesiology. We have become happy with the temporary, but when you set this within the context of faith journey, the paradox is that traveling is constant. So this means we are very relaxed when what others may see as fresh church emerging to fade and die. For example the Flow church approach lasted for a season was helpful and had fixed points where the community would come together intentionally to explore a story, serve the wider community or connect with g-d through Tai-flow. Unless a seed falls….
There are lots of issues around how we use the bible with young people. Particularly in my work which is predominantly with young people from a non book cultural context. This does not mean that the young people cannot read, but either choose not to, or engage written text in a very different way. Most written text is very linear, it is a series of words building on one another, and the layout of the bible is much the same. We approach the bible as products of our own culture, and for me and most people involved in mission I know that means we can cope with the linear context.
We have captured and caged the text but releasing it is about more than contextualization. Good contextualistion is not the startpoint. The startpoint is about recognizing the life and breath in the story and not allowing our bias and approach to the text and truth to come before the value and worth of the community we serve and how they may free the caged bird for us and themselves. (check this out for an example).
Good contextualisation can help move from linear to a patterned culturally relevant telling of the story, but it must not over step its remit and enter into explanation. Instead we need to let the story speak for itself and hearers to become participants and step towards inculturalation. This means we need to let go of our bias, and allow the caged bird to sing to liberate us all.
If we fail to recognise the connection between people and place we will miss something. So as well as taking cues from the space we need to be mindful of how young people interact with the space. In our case it was this mindfulness that led me to ask a young person how he felt when he skated and opened up the whole Flow conversation and subsequent church of flow.
People often ask me how do you know what to say, how do you perceive the way forward missionally in a group or context? The truth is I dont really know, it just happens. It is rooted in developing a missional spirituality and calling the walls to dust in our own lives is definitely an important contribution to developing a missional spirituality. We need to loosen ourselves from the binary dualist way we are conditioned; for example a move beyond a prayer time towards a more all embracing spiritually that takes seriously they call to pray constantly. There is also something about the recognition that newness has to happen elsewhere, so we need to be in the spaces (conceptually and physically) that can give birth to this, and an important step for me in this was a move away from traditional expressions of church. When we call these walls to dust in ourselves, we are far more able (recognising our own blindness) to feel our way forward with the young people we serve and stuff seems to just happen with a lot of mistakes, bumps and scrapes along the way.
If (People+Place) x Relationship = Space then we need to develop a synergised response to the Place and the People. This is more than simply a redevelopment exercise of a place, it is about a recognition of the interconnection of people and place. It is more about nuances rather than grand plans (although these maybe a part), so I think in terms of taking cues from the space. Taking a cue is the term taken from drama, and in Here be Dragons we explore the idea of youth work and theodrama. James picks up a connection with this theme and the hide and seek G-d HERE
Lugi suggests “Mission is a relational and improvisational process in which each actor(s) respond to the questions and personalities of the guests” I would want to push this to include the improvisation and change of the place. Like any theater space there is a certain amount of fixed space, but by responding to the questions of the space and running with cues it gives you, the physical space takes on personality. Our work at the skate park started with the cue of redeveloping the skating area, it expanded to include a shift (improvisation) in games area next door, playing with the green space around it, and providing extra lights and power to set a stage for future developments. As the space was opened up and young people and the wider audience (the community) were consulted on pathways and changes. It the end what was created, although a fixed space, has the feelings of stage, that can be interacted with and in. It provides a place from which we can look for other cues from the young people as we seek to improvise with young people and discover the hide and seek G-d.
Today I am posting as part of the Blog Action Day with over 1300 other bloggers around the world, adding my voice to the 1000s of organistions that campaign and work daily for a more just world. As a youth worker I am all too aware of the injustice that young people in the UK have faced in the past few years. They have been on the receiving end of worst of the cuts in services, politicians have openly spoken how they have been more penalized as they don’t affect the vote enough, and the support structures that many of the most vulnerable young people in society rely on have been eroded.
In 2011 I first started blogging about the cuts (here) in response to what I was seeing I shaved half my beard. What hit me was that as I wore this half beard around town, out in public was how few people noticed. This is still the issue for young people, the public still seem unaware how badly this generation has been affected by the cuts.
StreetSpace part of Frontier Youth Trust has grown rapidly to engage many of the most marginalised young people in the UK, and the lived experiences of these young people over the past few years has often been heartbreaking. However these are not my stories to tell, and so whilst the media loves a good hard luck story we refuse to play by those rules. So this leaves us in a predicament, how do we draw attention to injustices we see around us when even wondering around town with half a beard fails to raise eyebrows. So I am left with my story and simply trying to respond to the injustice in front of me as well as I can…
WOULD THE 16 YEAR OLD ME SURVIVE TODAY
I wept this morning. I cried for young people who have been have been vicitimised, marginalised and oppressed by the governments response to the recession of cutting services, I cried with the young people who will continue to be the ones who suffer most as we enter economic recovery which the government wants to promote with further cuts. The latest government proposals on young people, demonstrate a society that has lost its way, a society of selfishness, greed and power.
I wept this morning as friends responded to my post on facebook about my own situation as a NEET (not in employment, education or training) 16 year old. I left home, not willingly, not out of choice but out of necessity after my father who had been sober for 5 years started to drink again. My sister helped, the state helped, I was not stigmatized, I had time to get my head together, I had time to start to find out who I really was, out of the shadow of my father, I survived, I flourished. As I write the tears start again for the young people I met this week on the streets who do not have the same opportunity I had, I see them in my minds eye and I am simply distraught at what the future holds if current government plans continue.
Out of the shadows of my childhood, I began to explore my vocation, and pathway into youthwork. Unsurprisingly I left school with no O’levels but at 17 I was accepted to do a further education City and Guilds course in Leisure and Recreation. A course I started late because it took a while to see if I could get a grant and benefit to live and study. I moved onto to do Social Care and an A level, with a student grant and working nights in a printers and the fabulous support of my sisters family who let me live in the caravan in the garden, I began to mature and come to terms with who I was. At 19 I thought I was ready, but quickly realized I needed to go to Uni if I was going to do the youth work stuff properly, and that meant I needed more grant support. At that time automatic vocational grants (the first to go) had been cut and I remember sitting around an appeals table in County Hall in Exeter explaining my case to a panel of 15 adults, and making a simple promise to come back to the county for at least a year once graduated to help other young people.
Two years later, JNC youthwork qualification in hand, I returned to my sisters garden to live in her shed (the caravan was rusted away) and make good the promise I made in County Hall. At 21 I established my first detached youth work project in Devon, I worked part time and received housing benefit that helped make ends meet. I remember the young people I worked with 23 years ago, I remember them coming to the shed (my house) to plan how to establish a youth centre for the area, I recall the youth centre that was built on the basis of these proposals, and I still hear occasional stories from my sister about the work in the town. For those of you who know me, you will be familiar with the rest of my story, my long history with Frontier Youth Trust. My first paid post working and living on a difficult estate in the Midlands as part of YFC,(which incidentally encouraged my dad to shake my hand before I left Devon as he thought I had a proper job!) It was on this estate where I met real need first hand in my neighbors and began to learn what it means to be real community from them. Leaving to work for Worth Unlimited, with a job brief to make it work or close it down, but who now do an amazing job under a great CEO in Tim Evans in so many difficult areas across the country. Then more recently into StreetSpace who now meet over 8000 young people a month on the edge a month. I recall these stories, not to say look at me but to simply ask would the 16 year old me survive today. Asking this simple question causes the tears to return again as I know the answer would be no. Tears of gratefulness to my sister’s family and to the state without who I would not have survived. So the tears of thanks turn to a weeping that flows freely for the 1000s of young people I still hear about as youth worker, who share elements of my story, or far worse circumstances, growing up in a society that has lost its way…
To call the walls to dust we need to recognise the power issues. As a detached youth worker often when we first meet a group we say something like, “we are around every week but you don’t have to chat to us if you don’t want, you can tell us to get lost if you like” at which point some likely lad usually says ‘fuck off then” and so we immediately turn to leave” 9 times out of 10 they will say “I didn’t mean it mate, come back”
The issues around power are very embedded in our psyche and relate to approaches to truth, need, and value systems, how we semiotic fluid of culture that we all swim in and that we are drenched in a binary either or system, but relationship calls us beyond these dichotomies. So whilst kenosis is a helpful concept it is easier said than done, and that our ability to embrace kenosis is in itself a paradox.
After years of being invested in missio-dei thinking and practice around this, I really think we are being brought beyond this now quite dated concept. As mentioned it has been twenty plus years since I first started pushing into the missional language and landscape, and in doing so, my practice and thinking has changed. Going to a new place that you nor I have been before is conceptually helpful, but perhaps the standard refrain relating to missio-dei, which is to find out what God is doing in the community and get in on his act, has been holding us back. It presupposes we know God, but the God we know cannot be G-d.
The issue is how to proceed and what resources are there for this. My instinct is that it is about a shift in language to help develop a new understanding and the idea of kenosis. Perhaps the challenge is to feel where people and place are condensing, and use a language that is about coming together to create space to discover G-d. If I was pushed I would say a more helpful wording is that we need co-create G-d with the community, we need the community to help us find the hide and seek God, who at the moment of capture hides, is seen through the trees, and formed as we share with one another the glimpses we see. The space to do this can only be created as people and place come together in relationship, as we empty ourselves of what is gone before and discover the self emptying G-d as christ in incarnated amongst us.
George Lings suggested at Breakout Fresh Expressions that the centre moves with the edge, and this in part a reflection on modal and sodal approaches to church and mission. I have found this language problematic for a number of year (see here) and indeed blogged once that we are simply rearrangement the chairs on the titanic. It presupposes that the paradigm (ship) we are in is basically ok, however I think the radical ecclessiology is yet to be formed and we only begin to make headway with this by creating new models of church (being and doing) that take us out of the current paradigm, and in the next post I will write about some of what we need to give up to help break out, and I have written extensively in the past on the heretical imperative that is part of this process.
Therefore with no centre and edge, in and out on the third image I suggested that perhaps a better metaphor was that of a heat map. Firstly I think we need to use metaphor much more, as it can be more expansive, less defined and helpful as we feel our way around the new paradigm. I like the heat map and particularly the image of energy condensing or gathering. A space can become dense with the energy of the go between relational g-d, the people, and the place, that in a paradoxical way creates a thin place, where the walls are dust. See (people + place) x relationship=space
The second image was a wall that had been knocked about a bit, the plaster was crumbling, it had been patched, but may not stand for too long. My words for this slide were: In StreetSpace We call the walls to dust, beyond the old notions of centre and edge, there is no longer in and out, us and them, christian and non christian, kingdom and church, sacred and secular, we journey together and We call the walls to dust.
I could go on naming the walls, and many us would have different walls we need to call to dust. After doing my talk, one of the organisers tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to leave the room with her. Immediately my own insecurities from being called to the headmasters office (and on more than one occasion being beaten as a result) as a child flooded back. Here I was a 44 year old man, following the radical Christ, going on demos, and generally getting up the nose of the institution, still panicked, by a tap on the shoulder, and thoughts I had done something wrong. This was not the organisers intention, indeed I was simply being asked to run an additional workshop, but something triggered this strange response and it is going to take me a long time to call that particular wall to dust.
To often we patch walls up, rather than rebuild from the ground up, with different materials, it is too easy to take what is already there than go to new place, source new materials, experiment with new forms of building, and judge others trying to do so.
Bart Campolo has recently been in the “christian” news questioning his faith, the role of his father and liberal theology, now Bart is a humanist chaplain. I love Martin Saunders response here to an earlier article here. I wonder if we need to move beyond this, and if both articles in some way are a response to the walls we create in our minds, between doxy and praxis, right and wrong, in and out,etc What does it matter how Bart is tagged and who is to say he has departed from Christianity, labels are for jars not people. I call those walls to dust.
Last week at Inhabit Conference I was asked to do a six minute talk inhabit handout of 20 slides with just 20 seconds per slide. I was tasked with trying to convey the StreetSpace story in the local setting. I have not blogged consistently for quite a while, So I thought I would try and discipline myself to posting a little something on each slide over the next few weeks.
The first slide was the formula – (People+Place) x Relationship = Space
The previous evening the fabulous Alan Roxburgh had spoken, on God being found in the local and much of the missio dei missiology. This was great stuff to be reminded of, but in the UK and particularly the UK youth mission context seemed pretty dated. Like many others I had been doing had been working in that sort of way for over 20 years and certainly it was embedded into our practice by the time I first wrote Meet Them Where They’re at 15 years ago. StreetSpace had been pushing the thinking for the last 8 or so years, whilst our practice in the liminal (land of dragons) space has driven our thinking far beyond these early conversations, and I hoped the slides would convey something of this.
In the first slide I wanted the formula to convey the connection between presence and place, but more than this, to give weight to the importance of relationships in the process. For me it is important to create the space for the young people to flourish and become fully human. Creating Space is an interplay of people, place and relationship. A place is somewhere you arrive, a space is somewhere to explore and grow. I used the retort We call the Walls to Dust (hat tip to Gavin Mart and Martin Dawes) as so often what we do is about removing the practical and conceptual barriers that get in the way of this flourishing. It is also why (I think) our practice seems innovative and edgy to many. As a path finder project of FYT, StreetSpace is not just exploring the How to do you DO mission differently but also the why. We are experimenting with new models both conceptually and practically of church and mission that build the kingdom and help life flourish, and the interplay of relationship is critical to this.