A letter to friends on the journey

I have been wrestling with the disconnect between what I am reading and my feelings. On facebook a friend suggested that a letter might be a helpful medium. The letters Bonhoeffer, King, Luther etc were wonderful alternatives to books and academic discourse. The wonderful Kim Hartshorne recently wrote to me following yesterdays blogpost, picking up where my words failed me, so with her permission I have adapted her email with my own stuttering thoughts as a letter to my friends on the journey.

Dear Friends

I know a lot of the time I make very little sense, struggle to communicate the depth and instinctual feelings I have about the shifts in thinking, theology and mission that are going on around me. Every step I take I feel the road rising to meet me and I am sorry, I am not an artist or a poet, so I cannot convey these tentative footsteps. The language I have and the ability of my hands fail me, so I revert to nonsensical metaphors and for the last 10 years have been talking about the church/community as the fourth part of the trinity and more recently questioning the missio dei approach.

The G-d of the street, who is with the poor and the outcast, and broken like me, has released me from worrying too much about how others view me, but I am still captive to many thought processes and my own selfish need for salvation. I apologise where I have been to quick to judge and transferred the pain I see in those around me to others, often to those who are simply trying to understand. Calling the walls to dust has been a powerful process to help me reflect and wrestle with the questions that have been building for years, and I am grateful to the poet who coined the phrase.

The foundational issues that the walls are built on, is that so much of our thinking and practice is binary, and so it fails to embrace the gospel oneness. Missio dei is still a binary way of thinking of God and human action in the world. It sees it as gods domain to be in charge and us to hunt out the scent and follow. The separation between us and G-d that the gospel expelled still remains in missio-dei and many of our ecclesiological and theological concepts.

We need to develop a different approach without the binary constructs that simply end up replacing walls that the gospel broke down. So lets return to Genesis, at creation, where humans are given a privileged place of co-creator. We are given the responsibility to create, extend, make, do justice, in the way God does. He shares his power with us and sends us out as his multipliers. The words used for ‘image’ as in man made in Gods image are ‘tselem’ and ‘demut’ in the Hebrew and mean gods, mini-me’s, like the little gods that were idols to the nations around, they looked like the bigger god they represented. We are Chips off the old block, and in you my friends I see so much my Fathers likeness. To name those likenesses here would mean I would never finish this letter, but I am privileged to journey beside so many mini-christs.

The garden of Eden, the temple and the ark of the covenant were all microcosms, experiments as to how God and his mini-gods would share living and ruling together, encompassing worship, law, justice, eating, money. They were about holistic living, working together, having access to one another. No walls. Drawing others who were outside into this well ordered creative life. At Christ’s coming, the disciples were the microcosm, the model society, having access to god found in Christ and seeing what the good life would look like in that era. They tried to rebuild the walls all the time, keeping out women or children or the sick, but he continued to model to them in his person what it looks like to make choices humanly and be one of gods mini-me’s.

Our calling as humans to include others, do justice, create and extend the kingdom, is a calling to be human which is a call to one of gods mini me’s. Yes we draw on the tradition & scripture patterns and metaphors where we can, and keep in tune with the flow of the spirit. But we are going into new territory and following the internal compass of god inside us, so as humans, we must stop waiting for the word of the external god, and grow into the sense of personhood and agency the gospel ushered in. Too often I am modelling a crippling weakness to my human identity and godly being. I have tested it and realised I have enough anchoring and experience to draw on and god is not going to tell me what to do. I have to decide and act. I have the power in me to call the walls to dust – and to recognise that in others. Humanity has no walls – all of us have god mapped in us. In some of us that has been marred by damage and abuse but it can be restored and recovered by love and acceptance and the accordance of dignity to the sacredness of humanity.

God in this era is coming in on our coat tails, not the other way around, as we empty out and see in Christ the one who utterly inhabited his limited humanity. Take care my friends and learn to walk with yourself, and embrace the liberation that comes with a life without walls. Let us see the liberation for ourselves, those around us, academia, and the emancipation of the gospel and god who we have help captive for so long.

yours with as much faith as I can muster


A conversation between a youth worker, theologian, artist and poet

I started a twitter conversation last night and I wanted to try and capture it here. I kicked it off with….

…..Feeling a big disconnect between the practice I am engaged in and most of current theological thinking I am reading :(?0 replies 0 retweets 2 favorites ?

where’s the disconnect?

Richard Passmore ?it feels like the practice is ahead of the literature and but still drawing on old paradigm literature orthodoxies? – too much synthesis rather than new conceptual frameworks practice feels beyond Hegels dialectic approach?????

simon sutcliffe
I get you. I keep coming across folk looking for something new/different but no-one quite knows where it’s coming from.?

Richard Passmore maybe need more action research approach that has a freedom beyond the current academic rigour so doesn’t get pulled back?

simon sutcliffe ? so where do we look? I’ve tended in the last few years to head towards Po-Mo philosophy. But still not satisfactory.? or a theology that is not church sponsored nor flows from the corridors of academia.??

Richard Passmore to the poor, excluded, the community and each other?
simon sutcliffe What would be such a theologies purpose and why would it be written/painted/sculpted …??

Richard Passmore for the emancipation of the thinkers held captive by academia;) towards fullness of life for humanity?

simon sutcliffe agree with emancipation – free me!! 😉 Have u read Revolution by Brand? He could be our new Cyrus??!!?

Richard Passmore no but on my Christmas list. I think the occupy approach has a lot to teach us??

simon sutcliffe completely agree – raises the question ‘what makes it THEOLOGY?’ But that’s a Q I’d like to attempt to answer.
Tim Watson ?@BeatLiturgist I want to favourite this whole thread!?

Ric Stott ?@RicStott yep, me too. Really important and invigorating questions here, thank you???

Richard Passmore ? I think yP have taught me that in community g-d is manifested and theology is embodied rather than discussed- theocardiology??

simon sutcliffe ? we should organise a symposium kinda thing.

Richard Passmore it is nice to be in the warm after cold wet detached ywrk just wish we were all in pub somewhere?- May 26th -30th StreetSpace is hosting our annual gathering we could do campfire symposiums?

simon sutcliffe I still can’t escape from theology as a communicative act. So it can be manifest and embodied but it is also per formative.??

Richard Passmore but isn’t that part of the issue why is embodied theocardiology not a commutative act ??

simon sutcliffe ?It can b but then it also has 2 have a space 4 hermeneutics/interpretation so theology recovers a need 4 others & alterity?

Richard Passmore it is formative both to me and the YP but the liberation that comes with it takes us beyond traditional formative norms?. Maybe not because the interpretation is language bound and hermeneutics too rooted to academia which why liberation is missed?

simon sutcliffe ? the theology u & the YP do is a gift to us all, but we can do nothing with the gift till it is given/performed 4 all 2 c??

Richard Passmore ? Thankyou & humbled but that’s the power of the story and weakness of definition it dies if disconnected from local/practice 1/2?

simon sutcliffe not necessarily language but definitely a public expression. And a corporate response.?

Richard Passmore 2/2 which is why we need the artists and poets like @RicStott and @BeatLiturgist?

simon sutcliffe ? completely agree. Which is why I don’t think it’s theology per se. But it’s performance.?

Richard Passmore ? maybe somewhere inbetween a constructive iconology?

simon sutcliffe ? exactly – so theology as a public act encapsulates our human condition of Otherness ?

Tim Watson ?@BeatLiturgist and the artists and poets need to hear and see the workings of the front line. The embodied gifts.?

Tim Watson This is the most exciting thread. Campfires are go.?

simon sutcliffe (Re Constructive Iconology) -that would be well worth exploring I’m looking at the idea of theology as irony where u create a new vocabulary b’cos the vocabulary they inherit is bankrupt 4 the current context. V Po-Mo. But it creates space for const. Iconology??

Richard Passmore yes yes yes I have played with theology as disinformation so g-d can be found!!!!! Love it?

simon sutcliffe ? we need that campfire!?

simon sutcliffe I’ll bring some wood! (And a few bottles).?

Richard Passmore (re constructive iconology) ?which in part how I ended up with this pic.twitter.com/VScCmkSi3m??

Ric Stott ?@RicStott ?I don’t have much to add to all this via twitter but I do really want to paint some pictures!???

Walls to dust 15

The other day on a detached session, I found myself parked in a car chatting out through the window to some of the young people parked alongside us. The conversation was fine but stilted by the rain and consequently the windows were only half open. After the initial hellos and catch up the conversation stalled, and my colleague suggested we move on. It felt right to stay and just chill, which in end opened a conversation with one the young people we have found hardest to reach opening up and discussing volunteering with us. This young person would barely acknowledge us for the first 18 months we met, but slowly through the process of being around regularly he warmed to us, opening up, all leading to this conversation about possible volunteering.

The connection between regular faithful contact and building the platform for solid relationships cannot be underestimated. Equally this presence in a place itself will not bring the walls to dust between us and those young people who have been consistently let down by adults and systems so are wary of engagement. It will require working at the relationship, deliberately preserving (appropriately) with the young person who wont give you the time of day. (People + Place) x Relationship = Space. Yes, we needed to be in the right place, with the right people, but the relationship enabled the space to be created for a young person, excluded from school, shunned by much of the town and isolated from many traditional avenues of support, to offer his gift of service and volunteering, on a rainy detached evening.

Walls to dust 12, 13, and 14

Part of the balance and walking the road that rises to meet us is about finding the rhythm of creation and the creator, as Lewis might say the “deep magic”. The seasons help by bringing with them their own sense of timing and rhythm, mirroring the great consistent narrative current, we see through the bible and history. This current of birth, life, mistakes, redemption, and rebirth, is echoed in the seasons. Perhaps in the westernised world where food is no longer attached to seasons, and we have lost touch with the soil, we have have become too dislocated from this narrative. We live in a society that shields and sanitizes death, sees it as something to be dealt with quickly, hidden from children and disconnected from life. Christ broke the wall between life and death, and it no surprise that when Jesus sent out the 72 in Luke 10 they could proclaim the good news before the crucifixion had even happened. Sayings like ‘life goes on’ although true, are meant in way that suggests the wall between life and death is still there, rather than seeing death as a part of the great redemptive story that connects us all; living, present and resurrected, a world beyond the walls that christ already brought to dust.

As we reconnect with the seasons the reality of the great redemptive rhythm and drumbeat of (re)creation is brought to bear. The small differences in weather, in festivals, in short or longs days can help us be embraced by the consistent narrative current of God, swept up by the swell, and carried beyond the walls that divide us. We can use them practically to helps bring the type of balance I was trying to convey in the previous post, as signposts and staging for the deeper magic that lies beyond. The seasons help us connect with one another, in ways that call the walls to dust, they can become sledge hammers in our hands that help break through, or like water dripping slowly wear away resistance, so we can embrace one anothers humanity. The road that rises to meet us is this redemptive current, and the seasons play a part in alerting us to its possibilities.

Walls to dust 11

The move towards a more wholistic approach to youth work has been helpful, and thankfully most people I encounter see the breadth of the gospel,(the social, structural, personal, ecological, community etc) which brings with it, a balance to peoples approach to mission and life. However too often this has to be a conscious balance, where people think they have focused to much on one element and so try to redress it by bringing in another aspect. In StreetSpace we seek balance, but it is not an imposed balance that arises from a theoretical or theological need to make sure we encompass all the breadth of the gospel. It is balance that comes from doing what is in front of us as well as we can, and reviewing what is happening on the ground. When we move from doing life together with those around us, to being a “missionary” to young people we build a wall between us. We often talk of the need to feel our way forward rather than think our way, and in many ways this is what brings a real balance. As we walk the narrow path, the breadth of the gospel itself can become baggage that unbalances us, but by doing what is in front of us one step at time God supplies what is needed at that moment, or in the words of an old celtic prayer “the road rises to meet us”.

Walls to Dust 10

Too often we feel hemmed in by the people, structures and systems around us. These walls can be high, and seem impenetrable. To challenge the structural issues young people face and undermine their power creatively, to inspire change we need to recognise that fun and laughter (to be a trickster) for example we offer young people alternative ASBOS. When they have done something positive for the community we will get the mayor to present them with and alternative ASBO . The christian tradition is full is creative peaceful ways of standing with the marginalised, we borrow from christian peacemakers to turn up at council meetings to turn up en-masse to silently witness the discussion about issues that affect our community, sometimes wearing Hear My Voice.