Networking The lone Nuts or plotting our own downfall

So one of the things I explored in this post was the role the institution might play in helping those on the edge network in order to build a level of resilience that stops said institution crushing the emerging change taking place.

I think that the early days of the emerging church people networked well, but as things developed people got busier and stuff got harder. The energy levels needed to organise and stay on the edge were immense, so most people seemed to invest in there own networks. It was great to have Steve Collins stay for a few days and get some his take on those early networks and conversations, how people wrestled with theology and practice in private email groups, before the ubiquitous Facebook. It seemed clear that in early days the networks did help some people survive and probably build enough momentum and longevity, for things like Fresh Expressions, VFx, CMS pioneers etc to start that were more centralised. Yet many of us have reservations about the direction that some of these more centralised movements are taking, some of the colonialising approaches, and some of the roots in organisational anxiety.

So how can we support and network the lone nuts recognising in doing so that organised religion might be plotting its own downfall. Which I think is key part of the christian story unless a seed falls….

Perhaps there are few places that might resource drawing the lone nuts together, for example there are first followers now within the institution (thinking of pioneers into some of the institutional networks I have encountered like Tina Hoggitt, Paul Bradbury, Nigel Pimlott, Ian Bell, Ian Mosby, Mark Berry Janet Sutton webb) or there are a few places left like Greenbelt that could develop something. One of the things that has shifted is that there are different voices and voices in different places. As ever youth work seems to be at at the forefront of R&D for church, so we need those voices but there are also several networks on the edge of organised church, like VFX, CMS, Incarnate. At the last national FX thing I was at, Andy Freeman talked FX about being a Network of networks, but Im not if this is what they had in mind or even maybe there is a role for Nick to develop if the CofE is serious about setting Gods people free.

Jesus’ words need to change

I found myself saying this twice in the last few days, that maybe we need to add to the words of Jesus as Christians don’t half have some funny ideas about what it means to love you neighbour. Its amazing that such a simple instruction from Jesus to “love our neighbour” can get corrupted. Some how we have managed to take something so simple and qualify it, say we are loving people when being judgemental. Maybe because Christians can be so stupid we need to add to the word.

Love you neighbour so that when you leave they feel they have been loved.

Change the script

Some time ago (6 years) I posted THIS, as I was riffing on how change happens, borrowing from Transitology and emerging theology. I concluded that post with “the growth of fresh expressions could be viewed as the wealthy institutions colonialising the grass roots, and so (not intentionally) suppressing the voice of the actors and those on the edge who were and still are, key to helping make change happen.”

So I wanted to revisit that post now I’m in my new role. I am particularly interested in how Tranisitology interfaces with the double loop of change. (Watch THIS 8 minute video if you are familiar)

To recap Transitology (derived from political science and initially examining change in latin america) identifies 4 elements to the change process. 1, structural factors are inadequate by themselves, they need actors to help make change, 2 change happens at times uncertainty, 3 Actors are assumed self interested, 4, Property rights of the wealthy need to be challenged.
The institutional system of the church have travelled over the top of the first loop, it has gone beyond its peak. The emerging church and voices from the edge offered alternatives but the dominant system either crushed them intentionally, or unwittingly enticed the edges and in the process the distinctiveness of their voice lost.

So taking each of the 4 elements above let’s explore how alternative change or the new loop might be fostered:
1, The structures (and here I mainly mean the institutions and denominations) recognise the need for change and that they cannot not make the shift happen by themselves. They needed and still need actors on the edge of and preferably (in my mind) outside themselves to help make change happen. So their new role in change could be support and proactively help these groups network and form community so that the new voices are resilient enough to foster the new change loop. This is something we are hopefully working on up here.

2, The uncertainty and backdrop of the cultural shift to post (hyper) modernity is obvious, and the challenges it wrought both in terms of thinking and theological processes have seen some great stuff happen at the edge as the old walls are called to dust. So churches systems need to embrace the possibilities that uncertainty offers as a gift not a threat, and find ways to embed this into how they function, develop flexible structures that ebb and flow, develop information flow that shares ideas and models from across the network in an open source way thus helping people on the ground navigate the great emergence we are seeing.

3, Initial emergence was quite egalitarian, and practice driven by actors, working out what to do on the ground in the shifting context they found themselves. This flew in the face of self interest and created a platform for voices from the margin to be seen and heard. As the movement matured the voices shifted from the group to the individual, (which is needed as Actors play a key role), and more recently either into roles of public theology or marginalised. Perhaps the next phase is for the dominant system to rediscover, apologise and embrace the dissenting voices in real dialogue. I also think the individual voices need to resdiscover the communitas present in the early years.

So whilst the growth of fresh expressions could be viewed as the wealthy institutions colonialising the grass roots, and in so suppressing the voice of the actors and those on the edge, perhaps releasing resources without strings, targets, outcomes, and crucially not from a sense of institutional anxiety about the future (which there is quite a lot of in the CoE) might be a way ahead. Particularly if those resources are used to foster, resource and support the three areas mentioned above.

There’s no going back

We had a great day at our Cumbria fresh expressions day. I loved the mix of theology, practice, experiential works hoping and prayer maybe best summed up in the Maranatha yoga workshop with explanation, movement and meditation on a bible passage.

We kicked off with a poem of Arrival Lori wrote that went with the labyrinth that the marvellous Lou at Dot The Line made, see link at bottom of this.
then I opened with this video, followed by setting the tone with group work on Jesus – Mission – Church making sure what we ended up with was informed by Jesus values and approach to people. It was great to then work through the Fx stages and give shout out to people in Cumbria already excelling at different part of the story, like Jeff and Moresby Parks crew who are so great at listening to their community. I have to admit I got shed a few little tears talking about the wonderful Haven here
The day rolled well with keynotes workshops, a brilliant sum up from Jonny Baker who I had asked to listen in for the day. Various workshops including Food Glorious Food, Outdoor FXs, is God networking, stories, rethinking buildings, child spirituality and Maranatha Yoga. There were some great conversations, and here’s a few sound bites that we gleaned.

There’s no going back

We are writing a story and each week adding a new sentence

All spaces communicate values

Heads it’s church tails its mission church and mission are two sides of the same coin

Outdoor fresh expressions benefit from:
Awe – a sense of connection with the unseen.
Space – room to sense past life’s distractions.
Metaphor – exploring aspects of God/faith through the physical.

Finally we departed sent out by Bishop Rob reading the poem in reverse and working from the centre of the labyrinth out. See the poem and image here.

A disconcerting mysticism

Often we think of prayer, meditation, contemplation and mysticism as stages or levels, a movement beyond petition, words, to space and connectivity. But they usually all have in common a withdrawal to a space or time to practice, a coming away to give yourself time to pray, meditate etc. This way of being, of taking time out has been an important part of my journey. Equally an important part has been a journey against separateness (dualism) in thinking about worship, mission, prayer.

The last few months I have found I needed less and less to withdraw, and felt more and more oneness. Even in moments of being alone, I am not seeking to practice prayer, or mediate, but simply experiencing A deeper connectedness, a constantacy, and not so much a tap or a well but more a “nowness” (which I think is Augustine) that is both full and empty, now and not yet, a future present state. This nowness is staying with me, there has been a shift from the struggle of being still and still moving to released and relaxed reality.

Its a great place, and something I really value as it seems a good shift beyond dualism. But to be honest it’s a bit disconcerting. Anyone else experiencing a shift in their inner life?

Retelling the Good Samaritan and FX

Have you ever noticed who is asking the question in the story of the Good Samaritan? It made me think about the insititional church again, as in my new role with Fresh Expressions I have been using this oldie but goodie suggesting that perhaps we have put an imaginary lid on church.

Perhaps a bit of a rewrite of the opening of the Godd Samaritan may help you spot who is asking Jesus who is my neighbour…
A teacher, someone who helps make and interpret the rules, a culture setter, a guardian of truth asks Jesus “who is my neighbour?” Jesus replies “imagine YOU are walking down a road and are attacked, mugged, robbed and left for dead at the side….

If we flip the focus from the Samaritain maybe renaming the story could be retitled “The laws that bit back”. We see the teacher who had unpacked the rules, hurt at the side of the road. those walking past him at his greatest point of need were simply following the advice he had given and the culture that had formed around this. What was meant to be life affirming had become corrupt and eats itself.
What do you think maybe a call for Fresh Expressions to not only act differently but ask some critical questions about what is said, the way we structure belief, and the cultures being formed?

The deep magic at the edge

There is a deep magic happening on the edges of mission and church as we know it. It’s rooted, it’s moving from host to guest, power is being unveiled, relationship uncovered, dichotomies collapsed, and the walls are being called to dust. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about a good place start is here with Al Barrett or Cathy and John Wheatley

Local voices are being heard, new voices discovered and a new kind of leadership is emerging. It’s very local, and very connected. There’s maturer voices and younger dissenters, and I have admit I’m a little jealous. I’m loving my role of the last two years, but moving from the edge to the edge of the circle, has been a challenge. It’s made me ask questions of identity, revisit and wrestle again with who I am called to be. I am encouraged by encounters with people in simular roles, and by those coming through and holding the space at the edge of circle, but I miss the varied space of the margin.

One of the joys of my current role is the encouragement and space I have been given to be myself. It’s been great to bring in the thoughts and ways of being I have inhabited for the last 20 or so years and see people surprised by what seem natural.

As I reflected on what I want to say in this new iteration of Sunday Papers, I hope to keep spotting the deep magic underway on the edge and wrestle with what that means for me and the context I work in. Inevitably I expect I will drift but I hope I will live up a little to the challenge Nouwen offers.

“…I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.” Nouwen