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.
This is probably one of my favorite quotes about Flow and its possible application to mission.
Action and awareness are merged.
I have been pursuing a growing missional spirituality for a number of years and I think there is weak understanding of incarnational youth work. I would want to argue that relational ministry (that is simply about spending time with young people, without intentionality and development) is the misinterpretation of incarnational ministry and often used as an excuse for lazy youth work. Youth ministry Christiology is too often explored from a ecclessiological paradigm rather than a kingdom theology, which can reinforce a lazy relational approach, that ultimately is about getting young people into church, rather than a kingdom/incarnational approach that is about journey, change and new ways of being and seeing the world and ourselves. My experience of G-d moving is within a relational/community aspect and happens in a fundamentally incarnational context, where the curtain is torn, the now and not yet kingdom is the reality of the every day. I would want to argue that we need to embrace this incarnatonal paradigm and seek to operate in it where Action and Awareness are merged. So we can be open to what G-d is doing in us, around us, with us and others beyond our current frameworks.
Flow was term we developed around God and Skating a few years ago. Check out the stories here
It is also used by Csikszentmihalyi in sport and he identifies several characteristics that I think are pertinent to emerging theology and mission. So over the next few posts I hope to take each characteristic and unpack a few thoughts in the light of the journey Flow has taken me on in the last few years.
There are clear goals every step of the way. Knowing what you are trying to achieve gives your actions a sense of purpose and meaning.
We use the word coined the word intentionality back in 2004 and it is used a lot around mission now to hold the desire to aim for something in what we do. However we are values informed rather than being goal centred and act out of sense of purpose and meaning. In StreetSpace we have nine stages that help us measure where we are and where we need to go, but it is about small steps that are rooted and linked to the culture/group we are in.
A lot of what I see around emerging church is great about it responds to the community needs but can still lack intentionality. Critical questions about why are we here and what are seeking to achieve are key and need to asked in a balanced way. But these questions need to be within a context of kingdom hope (which is values informed, and relational), and recognizing the need to become more powerless rather than a business driven ethos.
Holding the tension between setting goals and triple listening (to yourself, to your community, to God) is key.
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.
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.
it was great to have people around last weekend, to see the young people who had come up through the project, linking with the professional people who help form the management committee, volunteers, their children and partners. building new forms of church isn’t rocket science, it is being real, open and relational.
People had space to be themselves, drawing away from the main group to chat, or smoke, or play. People had time to mingle over food and argue over which pudding was best, or education policy.
Here were a group of people journeying together from different startpoints towards christ. Helping to build kingdom (but not all understanding that sort of wording), and called together for a purpose. The practice of an open sobnoristic community meeting together around food, or if you want to get theological about it “a banqueting table”.
Last night we had our first Meals and Meetings with the new younger group. 21 people including leaders and we chatted about the focus, ownership etc.
Finding Flow (the word that last group used for God) just happened but I have been thinking about how to connect with the new group, what word they may use and spirituality for a while. After meeting with Jon in Oxford he sparked the idea about finding the words that were important to them. So I gave everyone a speech bubble card, with the questions, what word is most important to you? and what word best describes your life?. Everyone completed one of the questions and then themed the answers into groups. The themes included Food (we were at the local curry house), Vishnu, Riding, and Adventure.
Coming away I set myself the task of writing a contextualised skateresque parable on one or more of the themes to use next month with the group. So here is my offering so far…..
Charlie was a biker who loved riding, and even when she had started out on a scooter loved the adventure of riding close to the edge and pushing new tricks. She was quickly developing a reputation as an excellent rider, so in order to make the most of her growing profile she decided to set up a shop locally and online brand of clothes and equipment. Her technical skills grew and meant she could design new pedals and peripheral equipment that really enhanced riding and made the whole experience better. She even invented new alloys, that could be used in frames that were lighter and stronger than anything anyone had discovered before. She made sure that everyone working for her got a fair wage and only used ethical suppliers were possible. Charlie was quickly raking it in and the money didn’t corrupt her, she gave a portion to those who needed it and kept up her ethical stance.
The thing she loved about having money was still rooted in adventure, only now she could travel to loads of places around the country and abroad. She flew around the world and rode in well know places, that were distant dreams to many. On returning from her travels she paid attention to business and things continued to grow, but she was never quite satisfied and always longed for something else.
At about the same time a man was traveling the around the area, who also had a growing reputation but not as a skater or biker, but as a Sufi – someone who was spiritually enlightened, and at peace with themselves. People who had heard his stories or spent time with him, said he had healed the sick, and helped the poor and although he too was poor was he was rich in a different way. The group that traveled around with him were known as “the adventurers”, as the Sufi set them challenges, and was always asking questions. As a group they never knew where they were going next or what they were going to have to eat the next day, but something always turned up, and anyway what better way to keep the adventure real. Even though Charlie had been on many adventures, and always pushed her riding to the next level, she always felt something was missing. Seeking out the Sufi she went to him, explained how she loved the adventure and how she had tried to live an ethical life, and asked “what must I do to join the adventurers and journey with you?”
The Sufi replied “go and sell all your possessions, your business, your bikes and inventions and give the money to the poor, then come and join us?” Charlie went away disappointed.
Any thoughts for improvement…. we don’t interpret the parables for the young people allow their interpretations to emerge through discussion.
In the light of Apple 7 happening tmw and Jonny and Kesters posts that have been swilling around in the back of mind for a while, I thought I would stick my nose in here as I cant be in London.
The notion of TAZ (temporary autonoumus zone – in a regime of power people find gaps in the maps away from the authorities to create something short lived, temporary, that dissolves before the authorities can latch on to it and it dissolves to re-emerge elsewhere. the rave scene, festivals, flash mobs and so might be examples.) is appealing and TAZ fits quite well to describe our community experiences of Flow. It has been hard for me to reconcile the idea of temporary church but instinctively the temporary nature has felt okay and that was before I found the TAZ phrase or had chance to reflect on Jonny and Kesters musings.
Part of the okayness is because we often fail to notice in our selfish search for belonging that people belong in different ways (see Myers work), so in forming community we need to accept (although we may challenge) this selfishness and recognise that relationship is beyond the confines of a time and space because it is so core to G-D. So whilst Flow might represent a TAZ, it is in it’s connection with the DNA of relationship (G-D) that these relationships supersede the physical/time limits, I can easily imagine a young person looking me up in a few years to chat, or out of need and this has often been part of my experience as 20 yr plus youth worker.
Embracing the temporary possibility of teh Flow group has also been a key in my missional thinking, leading me to seek out ways that will enable individuals to connect or be reminded of Flow that can last beyond the TAZ. In the past I called this corrupting worldviews with Christ and it is the very everyday possibilities of this, that give TAZ a kind of permanence beyond the getting together. If church exists to be missional then TAZ could be a key part of the future landscape, and whilst people may come together in TAZ type contexts because of what is going on at specific time (or out of selfishness), if it is to be an authentic expression of church (and begin a move beyond selfishness) it needs to maintain that attitude and action (see here) in its development. For us we are now experimenting with Harmony as a new engagement with the younger group coming through, whilst the older Flow group is transitioning on/moving away.
One of Jonny’s key issues was linking to Bauman and how individualism wins out over community, and can the temporary be anything like as effective as the continuity of long term engagement. Myself, I am left wondering if we ever can change community in that broad way (or even if that is our role) but by maintaining presence and through a series of TAZ adventures, enable a new type of community to emerge that is self defining as it goes. I can see this at a local level but here is also where I think it connects into Apple 7’s question. TAZ will only ever remain flash in the pan as the institution is so crippled by either looking back to tradition, or in a broader way will engage beyond its mode- to quote Aquinus (pretty out of context) for the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower. The struggle is to look to the other for definition, and in the other find G-D anew.
Rob has picked up on an article by Stephen Bevans I read while ago and have been meaning to blog.
The article gives a good backdrop to the pressure that we have to move Flow from a pneumatology to christology. To quote a line form the paper “Mission in obedience to the transcending immanence of God’s Spirit can avoid the danger of what William R. Burrows calls the over-objectification of the Christ-event, that is, preaching the gospel as if one controlled its message, or as if that message could be exhaustively expressed in objective, rational categories.”
I have always found this to be a difficult issue to address and ask myself how much of the desire to introduce Christ stems from my own conditioning rather than following the presence of christ that is in Flow and present through the trinity. Perhaps I am beginning to think the unthinkable as Bevans suggests below in his conclusion
“To think deeply about the Holy Spirit,” writes John V. Taylor, is a bewildering, tearing exercise, for whatever he touches he turns inside out” (Taylor 1972: 179). The Spirit is the Spirit as God turned inside out; the Spirit given to Jesus turned him inside out and opened him up to the vision of God’s reign among women and men; the Spirit lavished through Jesus turns his disciples inside out as they include unthinkable people and go to unthinkable places. Thinking missiologically about the Holy Spirit can turn the church inside out, and perhaps make it more responsive to where God is really leading it in today’s world.
In mission terms we often talk about the missionary imagination happening in terms of a balance between a culture, tradition and bible triangle. Often people talk of using tradition and ritual as a place to root discipleship or as a resource for creativity. With the emerging post christendom context and the gravitation pull of tradition, I think we need to explore the balance in a new way and give it a different sort of prominence in the mission task.
In church on the edge, the tradition balance comes not from a replication of ritual but using traditional language a resource to locate the work in a christian tradition. As we talk about Flow and often when reworking bible passages talk about Jesus as a sufi or wise man and it would be easy to completely miss the christian underpinning. However using words like church connects with the echo of the memory that gen y still hold, or gives an opportunity to locate the project in the christian story but also importantly enables us to balance out the gravitation pulls that can come with the usual way of approaching the triangle. Then as communities of faith become more important ritual can be revisited but in a way that does without the purposed dominance that many people ascribe them, and rather genuinely allows for a reciprocal re-working that values the culture, tradition, bible balance.