Missional spirituality and finding your tribe

For many pioneers it’s lonely, hard and the gift of not fitting is the gift that you often want to give back. Many people I know are questioning where they fit and how to connect. As old systems die and new ideas emerge those with the gift of not fitting can connect and in most cases this creates a resilient movement for system change. (System change theory)

Over the past few decades we have seen this in church, the old system and institution is in its death throws, pioneers connections made us think that the new system can emerge from these connections. We saw some possibilities emerge with things like mission shaped church and FX that encouraged us to think it maybe just around the corner. Social media and networks helped many of those early emerging church pioneers find each other and in doing so we started to find our tribe. Many of the tribe were also already in the institution and the possibility of change led others to connect.

However many people I know with a deep sense of missional spirituality that emerged from practice on the ground are wondering if this is still their tribe and sensing something is not quite right.

I think two things are happening. Firstly because the church is such a strongly double wrapped paradigm it is much harder for those connectioned individuals to get the change needed to help the new system emerge. As the church embraced those from the edge that double wrapped paradigm bought control and sanitised the re-wilding. I’ve written elsewhere for example that FX gave the institution the ability to control the emerging church.
Secondly the rise of social media meant that the network grew fast and this caused it to be noticed. So then as institution got involved often with good intentions it meant in that growth the network accelerated but it also dissipated which created perfect conditions for the double wrapped paradigm of systems and hierarchy to pull back from real change.

But I think the good news is that the missional spirituality embedded within pioneers always pulls us back to wild practice and hope of change, and this is why so many are struggling to find our tribe within this new set up. But perhaps we need to think differently about systems change in the institution and our place in it because the institution has still not admitted to itself honestly where it’s at.

So instead of looking for a particular tribe and networking for change we need to recover and lean into our missional spirituality that bought us this far and recognise that there is a deep ecosystem at work that finds a way across tribal boundaries, and beyond institutional systems and connects. This will mean for some staying connected with institution and edge, for others leaving the institution again, but let’s foster that underground ecosystem that nurtures and sustains and that you only find as you embed yourself in your community and find others doing the same.

Play and Dissent In complex systems

On the 8th Feb we are having a taster day for the certificate in pioneer mission that will be starting in September as part of the Northern Pioneer Centre. The day the Pastoral Statement landed I was planning a session for the taster event on the stories pioneers find themselves in and using Arbuckles notions of dissent and lament. Particularly how pioneers led by Jesus find themselves so often on the edge and how they need to value the experiences of seeing the beloved manifested in those places as resource for hope and a call to dissent. “There can be no constructive change at all, even in church, unless there is some form of dissent. By dissent I mean simply the proposing of alternatives, and a system that is not continuously examining alternatives is not likely to evolve creatively.”
Arbuckle Refounding the Church
I guess this is where the church (as denominations) often gets caught, as it fails to understand system complexity. This system complexity helps make spaces that try to examine, try to propose alternatives, and even try’s to listen (E.g. shared conversations) but is placed within an institution (and fixed false orthodoxy paradigm rooted in the enlightenment) that favours reductionism that can never compete with the complexities of following the way of love in the person Jesus. So dissent really matters, because orthodoxy that exists in a vacuum is not truth, and the Jesus way demonstrates orthopraxis that love is a way of dissent toward shalom.

At the same time my FB memory popped up with “ Whisper, somewhere beyond usefulness is a land where play reigns.” For May 29-31st we are following the Taster day with a Pioneer Fiesta(all ages welcome). In the heart of the Lakes there will be camping (with the opportunity to come early if you want a holiday) or book a B&B, and join in the stories, food and play. We are playing with different voices animating Mark 4 going to the other side of the lake. The word animating is used deliberately as there will be playful experiments including a messy take, an outdoors take, an artists take, an entrepreneurs take, a priests take, an inclusive take etc all around Mark 4. We are also Literally taking a paddle steamer to the other side of the lake and having a band and party on board. If you want to find out more email godforallevents@carlislediocese.org.uk.

At the moment I know I am called to be on the inside edge of this system and my commitment to the bride of Christ keeps me hanging there. At times I find playing with words is one of the few ways I can cope when the institution gets too much so here is an offering Of hopeful playful dissent.

Love is judged unworthy and tears of sadness grow.
Acidic edicts, camouflaged in priesty garments,
close doors to grace filled embraces.
Love sits outside with the masses
Bewildered at processes so reduced so disconnected
and so this holy water from different wells will flow.

Is this evangelism?

So last week I met a stranger on the train. We soon got chatting and she manages several shopping malls around the UK, which led to a discussion around my role as I keep an eye on innovation in the High street as I think there are some good lessons for the church to learn as the culture and shape on the high street changes. We discussed how culture shifts and my role as Fresh Expressions is often about listening to communities and people and growing church from there. We discussed how innovation happens in businesses and her role in revamping shopping centres. We talked about imagination gaps, indigenous spirituality and being on the edge of the inside of organisations. We talked about the emerging role of social enterprises in the church and the great work they do. She was choosing some blinds on line for her house and fell onto a site that gave away 10% of their profits to charity and so found some from that shop. We discussed the social enterprise my daughter bought her wedding dress from and she had two (long story) to donate. So bear in mid the title of this post was Is this evangelism? Maybe but we are only half way through the conversation and I wouldn’t have minded if it had been my time to leave the train them as I would have been pretty chuffed to have had such a life giving conversation. So was it evangelism?

But like I said the conversation didn’t end with blinds. We discussed issues around inclusion and co-creating community, and the role of people of peace getting involved. We talked through how we grow community on our different settings at home and at work. We had a long chat around hospices and building places of joy, not brushing the real issues of life (and death) under the carpet and how we have sanitised how we connect as humans. We shared examples of how we are building community in our own spaces and the conversation moved onto discuss cafe churches. After unpacking cafe church for a while the conversation moved onto death cafes, and what she might do in the spaces she runs and manages. We finished with her committing to finding a few spaces to pilot a few death cafes and if needed to find a couple of community groups or churches to help and then as we were pulling into the station her leaving me her details in case I ever needed space in a shopping mall to start a Fresh Expression.

So was this evangelism? if she goes out (as planned) and starts a couple of death cafes does that count? Maybe she will be known in her business as the strange lady who starts death cafes, and wasn’t the something about being known by the fruit we produce…..

I was also well evangelised as I certainly wouldn’t mind working in her type of job…

Pioneering Transparent Ops and Real Relationships

One of the issues I have struggled with most since moving from an organisation that has always been outside the institution and committed to the liminal spaces, to within the structures of the church, is staying true to the calling I think I have. It is very easy to tone stuff down for political expediency and so loose that sense of who I really am. Im fully aware I need to take care about the HOW of what I say what to whom, and I have always done that in no matter what role I am (good adult to adult honest and real dialogue in pretty short supply in the church), but Im not sure I should ever change the WHAT. Real Relationships for me is a two way thing, I can’t be in a real relationship with those I am serving in the institution if I am not being honest about the what of who I am and the what of what Im doing. I remember saying to students (usually in the first week or so) when I used to teach mission and theology that I wanted to be really up front and I saw part of my role as about corrupting them with the christ who would spend time on the margins with young people outside the church. Likewise with Transparent Operations I needed to be clear and open about what the third space fresh expressions were. That they were deliberately playful, pushing boundaries, pathfinding projects, about their failings and successes. I can be great at putting a positive spin on stuff but more often than not be too brutally honest about stuff so people end up thinking Im grumpy or negative. But my own self awareness has to be key to Transparent Ops and Real Relationships if we want to see increased impact and capacity and enable others to catch the vision.

Inclusion delusion

“A delusion is a false, unshakeable idea or belief, which is out of keeping with the patient’s educational, cultural and social background; it is held with extraordinary conviction and subjective certainty” (Sims A (2003) Symptoms in the Mind: An Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology.3rd Edition)

There has been some really quite horrid stuff flying around the web in response to Vicky Beechings book Undivided. The level of vitriol sometimes explicit and sometimes couched in religious terms was disconcerting even for someone like me who knows just how difficult Christians can be when you challenge certain orthodoxies. So much so that the only word that came to mind was “deluded”. This is not a word I use lightly but to see the Christian story and particularly details (around practices, what is and what isn’t kosher) as so fixed, so unnuanced, so unchangable, is out so out of keeping with the “educational, cultural and social background” of the Christian narrative that it seems delusional is the only word available.
It is only by using the word delusional can I make any sense of some of the cheap shots (about her replacing one stage for another or she could never have been a Christian) that have been thrown Vickys way. The trajectory of Christian story is rooted in love, it starts in a garden and heads to a city, it moves in an ever unfolding redemptive arc, it didn’t start with Jesus, but he exemplified it, and it certainly didn’t stop with Jesus whose words to love our enemies call us to continue in those footsteps through the ages and continue beyond the now as what love really is, becomes uncovered. When you deny the humanity of one person, struggling, wrestling, seeking and sense making you step outside that arc, and you loose something in yourself.

Trying capture the pioneer dna

How do we capture the pioneer dna to learn without crushing? Here’s my attempt for a local gathering based on something I did a while back anyone else got any ideas, about how the glean the wisdom without loosing the nuance?

I am experimenting with a new type of pioneer gathering called Cmpfire to replace the old Cumbria Pioneer Network. The first one will take place in Xxxx and I would love if you come and join us 9.30 – 12.30 with breakfast and plenty of coffee provided.

If you’re wondering why you are getting this email, its because I reckon the work you do and how you think about it is pretty pioneering and takes us a bit beyond the traditional ideas of Fresh Expressions and church, so it would be great if you can join us. Its not an exclusive gathering but we recognise that often it is helpful to meet with people where you don’t need to justify what you do, who you are and why it doesn’t fit the norm and we are only inviting a handful of people for this first one.

The aim is to create a space to hear stories, reflect and be, a bit like a chat around a campfire that goes late into the evening on a starry night where we can wrestle with what the pioneer DNA is really about.

Cmpfires are about getting practitioners together in a room with a couple of people with a bit of theological nouse and an artist who will somehow record and interpret the event. We will use an artist to capture the conversation as its not a training event, and we are not trying to fix anything. We don’t want to loose the nuance, the metaphor, the life and breadth of the pioneer charism and hope the artist will capture this better than notes. So you don’t need to do any prep just turn up and be yourself!

Xxx is doing the catering, so the food will be excellent, and I am planning the gathering with Annie Grey (Hospital chaplain) and Caroline Kennady (Uni and school chaplain), both of whom are doing some excellent innovative stuff. We will be joined by Jane Dudman who specialises in art and sound, so she will capture the gathering in various ways and we will make this available down the line.

Does G-d exist outside relationships?

Every now and then someone reports on if young people are interested in God, or spirituality, or something of that ilk. Good reports like Buried Treasure, in depth stuff like Faith of Generation Y, and recently a small scale research piece called No questions asked.

One of the questions I always come back to in this sort of research is where is relationship within the context of the research, and what role does relationship play in asking these sort of questions? I often test out the questions used with young people I have an ongoing connection with, and without fail get into great discussions around faith, spirituality and life. Often for obvious research reasons, the research is conducted outside of the context of ongoing relational youth work. So whilst I could argue about research paradigms and the role of researchers, the question I really want to ask is; does God exist outside of the context of relationship?

I am always fascinated by the communal nature of the trinity, the relational and incarnational aspect of God. It also seems from reading the various documents that more often than not when relationship is excluded as a variable, the god talk doesnt happen, but when included it does. What is going on here? Is it as simple as people need to feel comfortable or known to talk, or is it more?

It’s natural that young people don’t talk about about God in a vacuum, as for most people the natural evidence is that God doesn’t exist. So is it supernatural that people do talk about God in the context of ongoing relationship? Is God being made more manifest in those conversations? Are miracles occurring in the lives of young people, as despite the natural everyday evidence that God isn’t real, they want to talk?

Does G-d exist outside the context of relationship?

Every now and then someone reports on if young people are interested in God, or spirituality, or something of that ilk. Good reports like Buried Treasure, in depth stuff like Faith of Generation Y, and recently a small scale research piece called No questions asked.

One of the questions I always come back to in this sort of research is where is relationship within the context of the research, and what role does relationship play in asking these sort of questions? I often test out the questions used with young people I have an ongoing connection with, and without fail get into great discussions around faith, spirituality and life. Often for obvious research reasons, the research is conducted outside of the context of ongoing relational youth work. So whilst I could argue about research paradigms and the role of researchers, the question I really want to ask is; does God exist outside of the context of relationship?

I am always fascinated by the communal nature of the trinity, the relational and incarnational aspect of God. It also seems from reading the various documents that more often than not when relationship is excluded as a variable, the god talk doesnt happen, but when included it does. What is going on here? Is it as simple as people need to feel comfortable or known to talk, or is it more?

It’s natural that young people don’t talk about about God in a vacuum, as for most people the natural evidence is that God doesn’t exist. So is it supernatural that people do talk about God in the context of ongoing relationship? Is God being made more manifest in those conversations? Are miracles occurring in the lives of young people, as despite the natural everyday evidence that God isn’t real, they want to talk?

Midwifery, FXs and Punk

My job title is Fresh Expressions Enabler and recently someone compared my role to a midwife. In many ways it makes sense as a description helping people prepare and respond to what is emerging, sometimes FX are planned and sometimes they are surprise.
However as I reflected on midwifes in the bible I was drawn to Exodus 1 and the role the Hebrew midwife played. They were told to kill the Hebrew boys and when challenged why this had not happened they responded, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
As Fresh Expressions have become more main stream they have become more defined, and it is great that roles like mine have emerged but with them come certain targets and ways of doing things. The gospel seed is vigorous and grows when it is nurtured, and yet recently I spoke to someone exploring pioneer ordination and she had had two projects killed before they could mature as they didn’t “fit” the church way of doing stuff. So often things seems to grow vigoursly, organically and in directions that we might not expect, so we need to make sure our imagined targets don’t get in the way.

What I have been trying to do in Cumbria is rather than having to be hands on and deliver loads of FXs, has been to encourage a (you might say promiscuous) culture, where people feel they have the freedom to experiment. Its not quite anarchy but it is punk, developing leading edge projects, with a bit of crazy energy. Punk only lasted a few months and it was never going to the dominant music of the 20th century. But the energy broke the system of music culture that had been around, and suddenly everyone thought anyone could give it a go. This was the culture changer, and if FXs are going to have any real long term impact, it will be in helping the church move from a culture of authority to participation, freeing people to pick up whats in front of them and give it a go.

Is the gospel always culturally contained?

People often say the gospel never changes, but what is this gospel that speak of? For many Christians when it comes to questions about mission and culture, at the forefront are phrases like “how do we proclaim the gospel afresh to every generation? How can we speak relevantly with watering down the message? ” I wonder if these the host of other simular questions speak more of our own anxieties and cultural conditioning than we realise.

Any reading of Acts 17 will tell you that the reality is that the “how” of ministry is shaped by the “who, when and where” of culture. But maybe the question we should be asking is “what” is ministry?

Culture is thick with meaning, and we navigate culture both as individuals, (some with greater awareness of the impact culture has on how and why make certain choices) and as society (where individuals and the circuit of culture is always operating and forming). A person is both an individual and a member of society. Because of this, any personal relationship a person makes with their deity (namely God), it is a result of the relationship the greater society in which he belongs has with that deity. Our understanding is that religious belief originates in the mind of the individual, when it is actually a product of collective thought. (I nicked that last two sentences from here as its a good spin on Durkhiem but the link is broken for the whole article).

So when we use short hand like “proclaim the gospel” or “the message” It immediately slips us into a much more culturally conditioned way of operating than we think. Over on BiblePirate.com I love what Matt has been doing with the bible text in his unauthorised versions, and his playful podcasts, In particular Eve as hero rather villain (listen here) and I wonder how much that radical read of Genesis 3 should change the way we approach issues of contextualisation, and syncretism and the what of the gospel that we speak of.