Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Incarnational Peregrini

It was good to have Mark Berry over in Sheffield again yesterday evening. He was at the Sheffield blah, talking about pilgrimage. Thanks for taking the time to come over!

It seems to me that the idea of pilgrimage has fallen out of favour among evangelicals: that it is frowned upon for being either too Catholic or ‘baptised paganism’ [= syncretism = sub-Christian; as opposed to = ‘redeemed, or transformed, culture’…]. Instead, in very recent times, we’ve embraced ‘going on retreat,’ though even that sits uneasily with evangelical activism. One could also argue that pilgrimage was re-invented, at an earlier point, as attending annual Christian conferences. But I say ‘fallen out of favour’ because when I were a lad – which is not too very long ago – one of the Approved Books of evangelicalism was John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, so the idea of pilgrimage, at least as metaphor for spiritual life as journey, is not entirely alien. Within pilgrimage, both literal and metaphorical (and in contrast to retreats, or conferences), the journey is at least as important as the arrival, if not more so.

Anyway, Mark shared some thoughts on pilgrimage, as historical activity (both within and far wider than Christianity), in contemporary form, and as metaphor for life. And it was good.

The thing that struck me most was that he talked both about peregrini and about incarnational Christianity. Whereas there is the expression of pilgrimage which is to make a journey to a particular site (e.g. Stonehenge; Mecca; Lourdes; Walsingham) or along a particular route (e.g. the way to Santiago de Compostella; Canterbury), there is also that tradition where pilgrims set out from home, not knowing where they would end up, or if they would ever see their home again (e.g. the Celtic monks who set sail across the Atlantic, those who survived reaching, among other places, Newfoundland). These ‘peregrini’ literally belonged no-where. In contrast, the idea of incarnational Christianity as it is frequently discussed at present tends to focus on being grounded in a particular culture: focuses more on the fact that Jesus was embedded as a first-century Jew, than on his having no-where to lay his head.

So the question that Mark’s thoughts provoked for me was, how can we be – paradoxically – incarnational peregrini? What does it mean to be grounded within early C21st western culture, while at the same time not having a place to settle? How does being incarnational peregrini help us to be ‘in the world, but not of the world’?

The answer that came to me as I walked home, and talking with Jo when I got there, was that being incarnational peregrini means choosing to embrace the culture in which God has placed us, while choosing to reject the trappings of security that culture places its hope in (those things that put distance between us and poverty, or disease – that make us ‘of the world, but not in it’). For us personally as a family, that is the life we have lived since we sold our house and I left a secure job back in 2005, and we flew to Australia for three months, not knowing what lay beyond, but knowing who lay beyond, and coming to know that that was enough for us. (I’m not saying that home ownership or stable jobs are wrong per se; but while all Christians are called to be incarnational, perhaps we’re not all called to be peregrini.)

Anyway, thanks again to Mark for provoking our thinking, and to the blah crew for hosting the event – it was great to catch up with so many of you.

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  1. I'd love to get more examples/thoughts of what u refer to as:

    "choosing to reject the trappings of security that culture places its hope in (those things that put distance between us and poverty, or disease – that make us ‘of the world, but not in it’)."

    I feel God is calling us as a family to this but I'm not sure what it looks like!
    How do we take away the distnace between us and poverty???


    P.S Your blog posts are v thougtful and wise - Thank you for sharing your reflections...
    ...when's the book out??!!!

  2. Phil,

    Apologies for not replying sooner - I've been away on holiday, and at my Bishops' Advisory Panel, and not been online.

    You'll have to wait a little longer for a response to your questions, while I think, but I wanted to acknowledge your having asked them :-)

    Thanks for your encouraging words re the random reflections I post here. As for the book, you never know...but I wouldn't expect one any time soon ;-)

  3. Okay, here are some examples...

    We're told we need to get on the property ladder, because property is a good investment. Unless, of course, it is situated on a flood plain...Renting, on the other hand, is seen as throwing your money away, because it goes to someone else (the landlord) and gives you nothing at the end (mortgage payments go to someone else, but you get a return). And I hear this argument within the church as much as outside of the church.

    Now, I'm not saying owning a home is wrong. But it might be that God calls us off the property ladder - certainly, that's what we felt he called us to. It might be that renting is a different sort of investment, an investment in the here-and-now of where you are, rather than in some future return.

    From the moment it is built, a house deteriorates. Stocks and shares go down, as well as up. Booming economies crash. We can hope in medical advances, but eventually we will die. I read recently that only 8% of the world's population has a car, so, do we need one? Perhaps, in the culture God has placed us in, we do - but do we even stop to ask the question, or do we simply assume a need?

    I'm not saying, don't steward what God has given you. I'm not saying be an aesthetic monk. But it is always worth asking, are we storing up treasures on earth, or in heaven?

    All we can do is be obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. God calls each of us to lay certain things down, and to take certain things up (including our cross). But the specifics will vary from person to person (that's why it is your cross, not anyone elses).