Imperialistic thinking masquerading as missional engagement

Pete Ward has an essay here on the nature of celebrity in culture and missiological implications. There are some interesting points raised and I value several of the observations and critic of celebrity as an entity. However when it comes to exploring the missional nature it is again theologically/missionally conservative, and IMHO falls far short of genuine missional application. His section on Beyond Functional Equivalence is well written but is rooted in a quasi imperialistic approach to missional engagement masquerading as a radical movement. Pete suggests we must “take this capital into account” and whilst he recognises the “contested meanings” around celebrity provide a fruitful area for engagement it is very much on re-interpretative terms rather than from any position of powerlessness or that our doctrines could be wrong and need re-interpreting through genuine dialogue with the people shaped by the culture.
I am not arguing all culture is good, but equally neither is all doctrine. I simply want to hold the culture with the reverence it is due and as an equal partner with the bible and tradition in the “contested” space that non imperialistic mission should inhabit.

I hope the book that is due to follow the article will address some of these issues, but I wonder if there is an inherent imperialism or notion that we have our doctrines right, rooted in the theological or publishing culture that would never let a book like this get written. As underlying any text would be the need for an heretical imperative as that is part of what enables real dialogue in the contested space of missional engagement.

Missionary Imagination 2 – The place of awareness

NB This may not make much sense as words are problematic.

Often people talk about awareness in mission, the need to be open to what God is doing, and this is critical. However this a part of the process, and we need to discover a place of awareness. Without sounding too much like an old duffer, when I was younger, practicing the spiritual disciplines of silence, different prayer forms and awareness exercises was a key in helping me tune into what G-D what doing on the streets. Like any muscle it needed training and exercise. However the process became too important and I found my self looking for acts of kindness, giving or love etc and it was spotting these that tuned me into the recognition that we were in a thin place, where heaven and earth seemed closer. More recently I have found I needed to practice inhabiting the thin place in the whole of life, slowly I have begun to learn to tune into seeing Jesus in both the act and the person. It is like the difference from being aware you are walking on thin ice and so watching for every step, to simply being in tune with the ice that you walk on so you spend less time watching your step but feel the environment with all your senses.
Last week on visiting some of the great projects around, we went walkabout. On encountering a group one guy the workers knew was homeless, so they checked to see how he was doing. As they chatted over the income support forms another in the group reached across and gave the guy a chocolate bar. He wasn’t sharing a piece because he was eating a bar himself, but simply a response, a seemingly random act. The guy was homeless simply said thanks stuck it in his pocket for later and continued to work on the forms.
I felt christ in the workers, both young people, the sacred space and the well know chocolate bar but I knew we were in a thin place the moment I parked the car and hour or so before the encounter.

Developing missional imagination 1

So if we have thought about some of the blocks how do we develop the missional imagination. Most people realise the need to do something different as they recognise that what they have been doing doesn’t cut it anymore or their faith is maturing towards or beyond owned faith. Often there is a deconstruction process – where the ambiguity of faith is presented and the gray areas expanded, this then enables us, when we start to deconstruct enables the move from certainty towards mystery. As we recognise and encounter the mystery at the heart of faith we find a freedom to re-imagine our faith, encounter G-D rather than the God we have created in our own image, and this gives us space and inner permission to experiment.

Start the journey:
– Trust your questions
– Leave church as you know it
– Find silence
– Read Scripture from below
– Find fellow travelers
– Reject the God you know as that can’t be G-D
– Be Still but Still moving
– Spend more time at the beach or in woods
– Experiment with your own creativity, eg painting, sculpture

Implications of being Missional

Our front garden has been a veg plot for several seasons now. If I spend time there I meet the neighours, and passers by. This is part of a deliberate choice, to provide opportunities to connect with those around me. The garden, our parties, sunday lunches are all have personal implications of being missional or seeking to live a missional life. I use the word missional over mission here in a simular to Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk do in their introduction to The missional leader – equiping your church to reach a changed world.

“God is about a big purpose in and for the whole of creation. The church has been called into life to be both the means of this mission and a foretaste of where God is is inviting all creation to go. Just as its Lord is a mission-shaped God, so the community of God’s people exists, not for themselves but for the sake of the work. Mission is therefore not a program or project some people in the Church do from time to time (as in “mission trip”, “mission budget” and so on); the church’s very nature is to be God’s missionary people. We use the word missional to mark this big difference. Mission is not about a project or a budget or a one-off event somewhere; its not even about a sending missionaries. A missional church is a community of God’s people who live into the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God’s missionary people living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ.”

As outer personal impliations these parties, gardens lunches etc are fine, on another level there are other personal implications – for tuffty, clive and smiler my children (12, 10 and 1 yrs old and not their real names) – They don’t get to go to sunday school or learn about about Christ in traditional ways, which at times I think is great and at times causes a mild panic. They get used to various people in the house, going away for random chaotic weekends with random chaotic young people, they put up with us stopping to chat to people in the street, and they get used to living on a lower income than we could have as a family. They find themselves in conversations around the nature of church that may be beyond their understanding. Whilst there are some real benefits – at times they could see it as a pretty raw deal.

When we use the word missional in this way it also has to have organisational implications on how we do church or how we run the organistion and structural implications on what is church. Firstly how do we maintain a missional impetus and dna in our organisational structures? What started me thinking about this was the number of agencies that call themselves mission agencies but don’t employ people who aren’t christians or who when running mssion trips only allow people people of a certain level of faith to go along. How do we as a missional group use the whole of who we are and what we do in a missional way. By using volunteers who have no faith aligence or of other faiths, we create opportunities to connect, to learn, to dialogue. I am not saying we shouldn’t be discerning about who we work alongside, or that we should hide our faith afflilations from those who may be ale help us but don’t share our worldview but that we should value others in a way the doesn’t exclude and ask ourselves serious questions about what it is to be mssional in our organisational structures and the way we do things. This leads in turn to structural issues. Structually how do we position ourselves to be missional? Can we work inside systems and processes and what are the implications of change coming from the edge. How can emerging churches that use the word missional to describe themselves maintain bounded set approaches.

I wonder how many agencies that define themselves as missional or mission centred could meet the definition of being missional when applied to their organisational or structural make up.