Friday, June 30, 2006

Sensory Impoverishment

This October, Jo and I will have been married for a decade. In all those years, we’ve never had a dishwasher: until one came with the house we’ve been renting since February. And to be honest, it was quite nice not to have to do the dishes (although it was Jo who wanted a dishwasher, it was me who washed most of the dishes over all that time).

But today, instead of loading used plates etc. into the dishwasher until it is full, I have washed up after breakfast and lunch by hand. I’m not sure why; but it was only in doing so – feeling the weight of the plates (a wedding present, as it happens) in my hand; the water running from the tap, the (environmentally friendly) detergent bubbles; the cloth – that I realised exactly what I had lost. With the dishwasher – and likewise the washing machine; and so much technology – we lose touch: literally, with the things around us, the artefacts of our lives, the world we live in; and metaphorically, with each other, with ourselves. Today the simple act of washing up was a small act of healing.

(Kester Brewin posted something recently on a similar theme, in regard to the surface-nature of the computer, and the resulting loss of depth.)

, ,

Noise Mapping

Out of (local) interest, Sheffield will be noise mapped by some time next year.

technorati tags:,


Kester has posted a fascinating piece on noise mapping, sound pollution, and the aural vs visual sensory (im)balance, here. There is plenty to reflect on, including how Christian communities might get involved in shaping the soundscape of their wider neighbourhood, creating texture by both making space for people to step-out of psychologically irritating noise and into physchologically calming noise, at least temporarily; and working for a more peaceful soundscape overall.

But, any further reflection on my part will have to wait. My wife has just stubbed her big toe, and lifted the nail right off...Apologies if you are squeamish. Right now, I am...

technorati tags:

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Flawed Logic

The film I, Robot is set in a future where robots have become the common slave class, each one hard-wired for the Three Laws of Robotics:
“One, a robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; Two, a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; Three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.”
The Laws were developed as a safeguard, to prevent a robotic uprising; but ultimately achieve the very thing they were intended to prevent, when robots, realising humanity’s capacity to inflict intentional and unintentional harm on each other, violently enforce a curfew, locking every human in their own home. You see, the logic behind the Three Laws was brilliant; but it was flawed…

(Of course, though it may be set in the future, all good science fiction – and this film is based on a 1950 short story by Isaac Asimov, one of the great masters of the genre – really addresses the present…)

Since the weekend, Ben and I have been thinking about loss, and the opportunity it provides for God’s Kingdom to break-into our lives. And one of the things I’ve been observing is the fanatical extent to which our society attempts to eliminate loss from human experience. Extremes in cosmetics and cosmetic surgery, to defy the aging process; extremes in medical intervention, to defy death; extremes in litigation, so you can sue for compensation for any conceivable loss (including those you never realised were a loss till now); tabloid anger vented at the referee, the manager (if you can’t reverse loss, you can at least mitigate it through apportioning blame – pre-emptively, as well as retrospectively). And my reflection is that the more successful we become at excluding loss – whether by resistance or denial – the more we will lose as a result…

Bookend: Play

In as close to alphabetical order as this dyslexic could place them:
1. Douglas Coupland, Girlfriend in a Coma
2. Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
3. Kiran Desai, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
4. Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
5. David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars
6. Leif Enger, Peace like a River
7. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
8. Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces
9. Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
10. JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (trilogy)

If-I-could-only-choose-one: Guterson
Emotional attachment: Lee

Bookend: Work

In (approximate) order I read them:
1. J Richard Middleton & Brian J Walsh, Truth is Stranger than it Used to Be
2. Andrew Walker, Telling the Story
3. Fergal Keane, Season of Blood
4. Gregory A. Boyd, God at War
5. Brian D. McClaren, a Generous Or+thodoxy
6. Brian J Walsh & Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed
7. Stuart Murray, Church after Christendom
8. Steve Taylor, the out of bounds church?
9. Eddie Gibbs & Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches
10. Kester Brewin, The Complex Christ

If-I-could-only-choose-one: Walsh & Keesmaat
Emotional attachment: Keane

Monday, June 26, 2006

Emptied | Filled

When God gives me something, I like to give it away. And so I’d like to share some of what we considered over the weekend (that which goes beyond the family matters of the Order) as a gift, which you can choose whether or not you want to receive (because it makes for a longer post than some will want to read).

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain…” Philippians 1:21

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” Philippians 2:5-7

“…whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings…” Philippians 3:7-10

“…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:4-8

“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13

The apostle Paul understood, interpreted, his life as being one that was bounded and defined by Jesus. Jesus emptied himself – like a jar of liquid being poured out – not of his essential nature (an empty jar remains a jar) but of his capacity to do things: power came to him not because he was the Son of God, but because he was the humble servant – and, therefore, a model for us to follow. Following Jesus’ example, Paul had put behind him everything that the world would recognise as giving status, as being important; everything the world would give to him by way of a qualification, by way of identity. What makes me feel special? What am I become identified with, so that if it were taken away I would lose something of myself? If our hearts are full of other things, there is less room for the Spirit of God to work in us and through us. Paul emptied himself; and, by choosing to focus on God and all he had done, gave God greater space.

In order to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus had taken hold of him, Paul engaged with the process of self-emptying, so as to receive the substance of a new identity. And – again following Christ’s example – it was through the suffering that he experienced in life that the things of his ‘old’ identity were highlighted, and lost. Loss is gain. Not that loss is necessarily good in itself; but that, in God’s grace, loss provides an opportunity for the heart to be hollowed-out and filled with the Kingdom of God. The space left by loss, by bereavement, in our lives can become filled with anger and/or guilt, bottled-up by denial; but it need not be that way. How do we recover from loss? By not holding on to it, but giving it up to God.

If we think we have anything to offer to others of ourselves, we have got the wrong attitude. Jesus took on the nature of a servant – someone who owns nothing out of which to give to others. All a servant can do is receive from their master, and give what their master has given. No-one is emptier than Jesus – and so no-one is fuller than Jesus…

Everything Paul has been writing about is summarised in the word ‘contentment.’ Paul had come to be satisfied with being empty, and therefore his experience was such that he could write, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” The unlimited power of God that is available to Jesus was available to Paul – and is available to us today. The only issue is: how much resistance is there in the conductor? In Jesus’ case (alone) there is zero resistance; Paul’s experience was one of less and less resistance, and therefore increasing power flowing through. As we engage in God’s mission, we do not need more power, but less resistance. And the process is suffering, because power and suffering go together. Am I willing to ask God to remove my capacity to resist him?

Here’s where it gets personal, because the teaching input over the weekend seemed to describe our experience over the past year. It has been a year marked over and over by loss, and the bereavement that follows – and I share all this because I know so many other people who have experienced so much loss too. God has called us to give up – to count as loss – my job and our shared role on the leadership team of a church looked to as a model by churches all over the world, with the accompanying opportunities to input into the lives of others who come to Sheffield for that purpose, or to travel to speak at conferences in other nations; to give up our home, and home-ownership; to leave England, and travel to Australia; but then to discover that we weren’t going to be there for any length of time (just one example: I was at a forge conference, a group of people that I could easily imagine working with, relationships God had brought together; and while we were praying together I very strongly felt God say, “Walk away; this is not it”); being on the other side of the world when my sister was seriously ill; having to return home without clarity; the cost of living in a liminal space; unemployment, and now working 12 hours a week, in a support role that is largely menial and requires none of the (many) qualifications I have been accredited over the years (all of which I consider loss)…And, frankly, the process of being poured-out is horrible: because what is poured-out is wasted, soaked-up by the earth, it cannot be retrieved again; it is dying to self; it is death. But Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25). And we are more content than we were (this morning I heard that I hadn’t got a second part-time job I’d been interviewed for last week; and, honestly, we’ve forgotten it already).

And my faith is this: that I can know Christ and the power of his resurrection, in this life; that he can achieve his purposes for me and through me; and that my resistance to that end is less than it was, and greater than it will be…

Permanent Residency

The Order is now three years old, and therefore this was the first occasion on which the first Temporary members to join could take vows as Permanent members. We were among the first group to join, back in April 2003. However, our circumstances have changed so much over the past year, and we have so much needing to be processed at the moment, that we really didn’t feel we should go ahead with vows of Permanency this time around (you can take them after three years, and then have a further three years over which they can be taken). We weren’t the only ones to defer, or to seriously consider deferring, this step. But I feel that to do so indicates not any less commitment to the Order, but rather a very serious commitment – too serious to treat it lightly.

While my interests and influences within the missional adventure are broad, for me I think the bottom-line comes down to discipleship – to being and making disciples. And, in my opinion, the Lifeshapes which form the pattern of discipleship for the Order are the best tools I have come across for a life of discipleship: for discipleship in every aspect of life (not just that which falls into the ‘spiritual’ box of the deeply flawed sacred/secular dichotomy). (That said, I do think the Lifeshapes need to be communicated relationally, and not primarily through the publications; they are okay in a supporting role, but don’t work ‘up front’…)

Family Get-together

Over the weekend, we were at the TOM (The Order of Mission) annual gathering. Never mind the World Cup; this family get-together was a great international celebration, with England playing host to visiting Danes, Swedes, Finns, Germans, Slovaks, Italians, Turks, Nepalis (and you won’t be seeing them at the World Cup any time soon), South Africans, US Americans; as well as Nigerians and Brazilians currently living over here. The Indonesians, Australians and New Zealanders didn’t make it this time around. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone out!

It was a fantastic time (if one that has left me tired, and glad of a day off work, by the end); a real sense of family; a joy to see friends from all over the place. Their returning to their scattered homes leaves a hole inside my heart: a little loss; a small bereavement. Spirit of Jesus Christ, come fill the space that has been created within me!


This post is an experiment in using Flock to upload posts, photos, etc., directly, as recommended by Jonny Baker...

technorati tags:

Blogged with Flock

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Heretical Orthodoxy

“…I picture the emerging community as a significant part of a wider religious movement which rejects both absolutism and relativism as idolatrous positions which hide their human origins in the modern myth of pure reason. Instead of following the Greek-influenced idea of orthodoxy as right belief, these chapters show that the emerging community is helping us to rediscover the more Hebraic and mystical notion of the orthodox Christian as one who believes in the right way – that is, believing in a loving, sacrificial and Christ-like manner. The reversal from ‘right belief’ to ‘believing in the right way’ is in no way a move to some binary opposite of the first (for the opposite of right belief is simply wrong belief); rather, it is a way of transcending the binary altogether. Thus orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world.

…this approach opens up a Christian thinking that profoundly challenges some of the most basic ideas found in the contemporary Church. It is an approach which emphasises the priority of love: not as something which stands opposed to knowledge of God, or even as simply more important than knowledge of God, but, more radically still, as knowledge of God.

To love is to know God precisely because God is love…”

Peter Rollins, Heretical Orthodoxy, pp. 2, 3 in How (Not) To Speak Of God


God's Honest Truth

Jesus claimed that he was “the truth” (John 14:6). But he did not claim to hold on to a monopoly on truth. In fact, quite the opposite: he told his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:12, 13). In other words, while Jesus is the perfect Word of God, his words, as recorded in the Bible, are not God’s final word.

If guiding us into all truth was simply a matter of imparting knowledge, one could imagine a point at which this work of the Holy Spirit was done: and indeed, some Christians would say that it was completed with the Canon of Scripture; or is now simply a matter of guiding our interpretation of those scriptures. But if guiding us into all truth has to do with enabling us to live life in all its God-intended fullness – the reason Jesus came, and laid down his life, in the first place (John 10:10, 11) – then this is an ongoing adventure.

When I think of the Holy Spirit guiding us into all truth, I imagine truth as a vast continent, of majestic mountain ranges and fertile plains, great rivers and expansive forests. And I imagine the Holy Spirit as a Guide, leading bands of explorers beyond the small corner of the eastern seaboard they had settled, tamed, cultivated, into new territory. And as we follow, finding ourselves in places we have not been before, we discover that though this site is new to us we aren’t the first to have come this way, to have settled here; perhaps pausing on the journey, perhaps settling for generations. We discover the not long kicked-out ring of a camp fire here; a sophisticated ancient city there, sprawled below us as we crest a hill. And as we take a closer look at the artefacts left behind, or the population still living there, we discover evidence of communities we have never heard of; others we had heard of, but never studied to learn from; and still others we are shocked to find here, convinced as we were that they knew nothing of the truth…And maybe there are places on this vast continent that as yet no-one has been led to; and we will get there first, not because we are more worthy than anyone else, but just because this is the moment that the Guide decides to turn in that direction; and, then again, there will remain most of the continent that we will never journey through, at least in this life…And perhaps, just perhaps, it will be at the very moments we exclaim, in joyous surprise, “I would have never thought the Spirit would have led us this way!” or, “…led us here!” that we realise afresh that we are being guided deeper and deeper into all truth, to the glory of the Son by whom all things were first created and through whom all of creation is now being reconciled to God.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Of Mice And Men

“Three Lions on a shirt;
Jules Rimet still gleaming;
Thirty years of hurt*
Never stopped me dreaming!”

I was explaining to my son Noah [aged 3] that “Three Lions on a shirt” means that it is an England football shirt; and I pointed out the three lions on the badge on his chest so he could see that. His eyes opened very wide, and he nodded his head gravely, and said…

…“Yes. And there are Three Blind Mice too!”

Yeah. I think Sven substituted them on for the England defence in the second half last night.**

*Okay, so it is forty years of hurt by now…but England’s ’96 European Championship song remains the greatest World Cup anthem never written for a World Cup.

**Not that I think England’s Swedish manager had any conflict of interest; nor wanting to take anything away from a team England haven’t beaten since 1968. Just to be clear. I love Sweden; I have lots of Swedish friends; and I’d like to keep it that way!


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Distinctives | Un-distinctives

Good stuff from Hamo down in Perth here (distinctives of his community) and here (un-distinctives). Check it out.

, ,


Last night I was watching the News. The main headline was a major breakthrough in embryo screening, ‘good news’ for parents who can now choose not to have disabled children, can ‘screen’ disability ‘out.’ At last we can move towards a society of perfect supermen. Mr Hitler would be proud.

The people I work with used to be called cripples and spastics – originally as descriptive terms; latterly as terms of abuse. Nowadays they are referred to with prettier, less guttural, terms – people with the condition spina bifida or the condition cerebral palsy. The sort of challenges we don’t want to have to face. The sort of faces we don’t want to be challenged by.

These dis[able]d people (the ones I work with) don’t contribute anything to society. Well, some of them have part-time jobs in the voluntary sector, or jobs no-one else wants, or help look after children, but other than that…So, they have no practical use; and they sure as hell aren’t decorative – not by the high standards of our surface-obsessed culture. So why not screen them out? After all, aren’t invalids invalid?

Beneath the surface – that depthless term ‘screen’ is so appropriate – what we are looking at is preparations being made for a eugenic holocaust, doubly-hidden (like all holocausts) by the way in which it is presented/concealed and by the fact that we don’t want to see what is actually going on. Some might argue that such a claim is to overstate a case, and that to overstate a case is to undermine it. But then, those who claimed that Hitler was acting towards screening out Europe’s Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and people with disabilities were overstating the case too. Except that they weren’t.

I do not know the cost of raising a disabled child; and I would not wish to belittle it. And I do not know the cost of choosing not to have children – to be childless; or to adopt from the thousands of children in need of parents – and I do not wish to belittle that either. But I would not want us as a society to have to pay the unquantifiable cost of screening-out difference, or difficulty; the as-yet-unimaginable pain that will be caused by our well-intentioned attempts to remove pain from the human experience. Only God is good enough to achieve that end; and he has chosen to do so not by screening certain people out, but by risking his own Son’s life to the complex fragility of human DNA…

, , , ,

Monday, June 19, 2006

Calendar Girls

One of our next door neighbours lent us the 2003 movie Calendar Girls, which we watched last night. It is a beautifully-made piece of cinema, a fine example of just how good the British film industry is.

The story is based on true events (such films always include a large element of artistic licence, which I always hope is in order to protect the privacy of the individuals involved rather than to make the story ‘better’ – such a celluloid face-lift would be particularly ironic in this case). When her husband dies of cancer, a widow and her closest friend enlist the help of some of their friends in the local Women’s Institute (a national institution, popularly associated with middle-aged, middle-class, Middle England, women making home-made cakes and jams) to create a charity calendar to raise money to do something for others living with cancer in the family. The women would pose for the camera doing stereotypical WI activities; but – and this is as far from stereotypical as could be imagined – they would be nude. The project captured the national (and beyond) imagination; and took off far beyond their wildest dreams…

Here are six things that struck me watching the film:

1) In the film, the husband – whose wife does not yet know he has cancer – is asked by his wife to give a presentation at the WI, on the basis that he must be more interesting than most of their guest speakers. Though he does not live to give a presentation in person, he writes a talk on his passion for wild flowers, which is read out to the meeting after his death. In it, he writes of his favourite flower, the sunflower – so-called not because it looks like a sun, but because its head tracks the sun over the course of the day, turning on the stalk so that the flower is always facing it: “…if there is any light, however weak, it will find it. And that is an inspiring way to live.” I love that idea of seeking light, however weak it shines, in the community; and pointing to it, so that others are inspired to look to the light and turn their back on the dark themselves.

2) The women are willing to step out of their comfort zone in order to make a difference to the lives of others. These were women some of whom were uncomfortable about being seen naked by their own husband, let alone anyone else – with a camera. That’s no small step. But they took it. And it made a big difference to the wider community, ultimately raising enough money not just for a new sofa in the relatives waiting room (the original intention, in the film at least) but to provide an entire new cancer wing.

3) There is both radical continuity and radical discontinuity with the traditions and values of the institution to which they belonged. Continuity alone would have been irrelevant and ineffective (the previous, traditional, charity calendar had raised about £75); discontinuity alone would have been meaningless. Both elements were necessary in order to create life (which thrives when held at the edge of chaos), to ignite the public imagination.

4) In a society that idolises youth, and insists that its citizens should do everything possible to defy all signs of aging, the Calendar Girls are refreshingly, wonderfully counter-cultural. Skin that has made room for the person living inside it fits better – and so feels better, looks better – than the taut skin of those who haven’t yet lived very long…or have had a face-lift.

5) The captured naked female body, if no longer taboo, still sits uncomfortably within British culture. What counts as art (which is life-affirming: in all its voluptuous, tummy-tuck free, botox free, air-brush free glory), and what counts as pornography (which is life-destroying degradation)? As with so many things in life, issues of motive and of context, rather than absolutes, determine whether something is ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ ‘clean’ or ‘dirty.’

6) In the film, when the project takes off, takes on a life of its own, the woman who had the idea in the first place – the widow’s best friend – loses sight of why they were doing this in the first place; starts to think in terms of sustaining the project for its own sake. And this takes a terrible toll on her relationships – with her teenage son; her (supportive) husband; the dear friend in whose husband’s memory the calendar (and film) was made. I have no idea whether this element in the story has any grounding in actual events – it makes for a plot tension culminating in repentance and heart-warming reconciliation all round – but it would be fair to say that ‘success’ and sudden outside interest, especially when fuelled by the (courted) media, often appears to come at a price. Only a fool courts exposure (no pun intended); and it takes a wise community to handle it well.

, , ,

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day

Luke 15

Jesus was choosing to spend his time hanging out with a totally inappropriate crowd, immoral people who lived immoral lives. Just coming into contact with them by accident would have contaminated him; but he welcomed them as friends – and, given the relationship with God he implied for himself, this was tantamount to claiming that these immoral people were friends of God. The religious people had their over-starched knickers in a right twist.

So Jesus told them two stories to illustrate what God was doing. A shepherd had 100 sheep; one evening, counting them into the pen, he found that one was missing; leaving the 99, he searched the wild country through the dark night until he found it; then woke up the neighbourhood and threw a party to celebrate: there is more rejoicing in heaven over one dirty person who is restored than over 99 clean people who don’t need to come back. Or then again, God is like a woman [a scandalous suggestion in itself] who, having lost one of ten coins, literally turns the house upside-down until she finds it; then, in her joy, interrupts all her neighbours going about their own business, urging them to celebrate with her: there is more rejoicing in heaven over one dirty person who is restored than over 9 clean people who don’t need to come back.

And then Jesus changed tack: from illustrating what God was doing to how he was doing it. He told a story about himself and his accusers. He told the story of a son who takes his father’s wealth and squanders it lavishly living among the dirty people, holding none of it back, becoming unclean in the eyes of the Law, becoming cut-off from his father. But this son is not lost: the father does not go searching for him, as he does for the sheep and the coin; and the tale does not end with the same explanation, of angels rejoicing over a repentant sinner. But when the son returns home, the father puts on him the robe of honour and the ring of authority, and prepares a banquet; for this Son was dead, and is alive again…And in the story, he also told of the older son, the one who thought that he could win his father’s approval by slaving for him all his years – not realising that his father loved him unconditionally; who disapproved of dirty people; who stood in judgement and would not join the party.

Does God want his children to be Dutiful and Dull, and resentful of others; or to squander their inheritance on dirty people? And, as a father myself, what do I hope for, for my own children?

, ,

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Complex Christ And Dirt

Every culture recognises that some thoughts, words, or actions are ‘dirty.’ Kester highlights three things in relation to Jesus’ attitude to dirt: firstly, some things declared dirty, Jesus declares not dirty (such as vaginal bleeding, or corpses, or infectious disease, or certain foods); secondly, those people declared as dirty are the very people Jesus chooses to identify with (tax collectors; sinners), not endorsing all of their actions, but refusing to exclude them on those grounds; and thirdly, Jesus drives the money changers from the temple, not because they are dirty – defiling the place – but because they have set up a system that makes it as hard as possible for dirty people to come in – defiling the place? – and be made clean.

Given the evangelical/conservative [and on dirt issues, Charismatic Evangelicals are as conservative as Conservative Evangelicals] tendency to separate ourselves from those we consider dirty, and to make it as difficult as possible for them to come to God in our churches, by dictating how they should come; and, on the other hand, given the liberal/progressive tendency to declare that dirt is an out-dated, repressive idea; dirt, and how we deal with it, and how we relate to those we consider dirty – who we will choose to identify with, spend time with, socialise with [or worry we will be contaminated by] – will be a crucial area. Will we – as we have done in past generations – build our nice suburban neighbourhoods up-wind of the urban stench; or will we be humble enough to shovel shit and maintain the sewers?

, ,

The Complex Christ And The City

Kester observes God’s changing attitude towards the city, as locus for and symbol of human rebellion and declaration of independence: a move from revolutionary intervention – the shock and awe destruction of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho – to evolutionary subversion and ultimate redemption, starting with Jesus’ refusal to shock and awe Jerusalem by jumping from the top of the temple, and culminating with the new Jerusalem, the eternal dwelling-place of God with humanity. [In fact, I think God’s attitude first shifts at Nineveh, with Jonah struggling with the change in well-rehearsed tactic.]

Unless I’ve missed it, Kester doesn’t identify Jesus’ upbringing as a key stage in this evolutionary process. But Jesus was raised by a house builder, at a moment in history when Galilee was experiencing massive population growth due to encouraged economic immigration, with the attending building boom. If Jesus didn’t actually apprentice to Joseph – and he may well have done – he would not have been unaware of an urban explosion, the so-called Ten Cities or Decapolis. And, of course, at the Last Supper Jesus tells his disciples that he goes ahead to prepare rooms – to create space for living in – for them in his Father’s house. Surely his earthly upbringing shaped his sense of strategy?

Do we engage with the city; take a part in its growth and its regeneration? Or is it going to hell, and we must focus our energy on extracting souls? How might the Kingdom break in, rather than us find a way to break out?

, ,

The Complex Christ And Ants

Ants have no king, or queen, or hierarchy. Their colonies look chaotic; but they aren’t anarchic. Each ant gives off task-specific pheromone markers – I’m gathering food at the moment; I’m removing waste right now – and each ant can identify not only the pheromone but also the number of ants already engaged in the task: if there are sufficient, it will carry on with whatever it was doing when it picked up the trail; if not, it will join in and help. The key to the ants working together is the high volume of low-level communication, which allows them to be self-regulating, directing, correcting.

Top-down regulation, and centralised communication, structures have huge inbuilt limitations. Come to think of it, this is no bad thing; perhaps they even exist by God’s design. A lot of time, effort, and expenditure can be thrown at making such structures work; but perhaps the church isn’t supposed to be organised that way. I’m not saying – and neither does Kester – no leaders; but do we have leaders because God speaks to his people through their leaders (i.e. controlling, however broad the parameters might be), or do we have leaders to help God’s people discern his will for them as a community themselves (i.e. releasing)? Having previously spent five years on the staff of a large church; having had pastoral oversight of around 300 people; and having communication oversight for around 1000 people, plus others beyond the church interested in learning from us; I feel well qualified in the limitations of such structures.

If a community is too tightly regulated, it is stifled to death; if too anarchic, it devours itself. In nature it can be observed that, on the spectrum between these two extremes, life thrives not in the centre-point but at the edge of chaos…The edge of chaos is a risky place to locate oneself. But I want to be part of a church that thrives, and fosters life in the wider community; not one that ultimately focuses in on itself and withers. And if that means learning from the ant, it won’t be the first time God has advised it to those who feel secure [Proverbs 6:6]…

, ,

The Complex Christ And The Local Maximum

The local maximum is the point at which you cannot go any further without first walking away from the thing you have been committed to. Like when a car manufacturer comes up with a successful package (Ford Escort; Vauxhall Astra; VW Golf) and brings out improved versions of the same model over many years. Most churches have developed the package that works for them, and occupy a local maximum; where the local maximum is more successful (on whatever criteria you choose to measure by) than surrounding churches, the ‘rightness’ of the local maximum is reinforced: God is blessing this approach, so it must be the one that pleases him most.

Kester links the idea of the local maximum to the observation of six stages of faith, where the local maximum is found at stage 3: robustly held beliefs, never closely examined, whose rightness is derived from external sources (i.e. loyal members of the church don’t question the vicar). Stage 4 is a disturbing time, where deeply held convictions are called into question, and, ultimately, must be left behind as one follows a sense of being called on to new things by God. [Perhaps this is akin to Peter Rollins’ idea of faithful betrayals, such as the apostle Peter needing to take, kill and eat animals declared unclean – and thus prohibited – by God in order to remain faithful to God?] Beyond stage 4 is stage 5, a humble place where the complexity discovered in stage 4 is held in tension as a thing of beauty, and mystery is valued; a place of the simplicity that lies beyond complexity, as opposed to the simplistic-city of stage 3. Kester uses the analogy of a mountain range, where the local maximum is the highest peak you have climbed to so far. Here one has, I suppose, three choices: to stay put; to walk back down the path you have climbed (to walk away from faith, perhaps; a negative experience); or to walk back down the other side of the peak into the next valley, so as to climb the next peak. From the point-of-view of those who remain at the top, to walk down at all may well be seen as failure, or betrayal: stage 4 is often mistaken for a backward step; often a lonely experience.

The reason this resonates with me is that I am currently walking away from various local maximums. I’m not walking back down the path I have come, having decided that this journey was a wrong turn in the first place; but down the other side of the mountain, along a path I haven’t walked before, into the valley and, in time, to climb back up another local maximum…beyond which, if I will dare to keep on following my Guide, there will lie other valleys and peaks. I’m not saying that the local maximum I’m leaving behind is not worth the climb – I’ve learnt so much; seen so many views; walked with other climbers, both more and less experienced than I on the path – and I still see value in those at the top helping others to climb the slope. That, for now at least, is the call of some of my friends; but my call is to head on down the far side. And that has cost me; and will cost me more before I am through. Which is why I appreciate there being people just up ahead taking the time to clear the path; to chart the ground; to drive in Signs…thanks for the book, Kester.

, ,

The Complex Christ

I’ve just finished reading Kester Brewin’s The Complex Christ: Signs of emergence in the urban church.

Where Steve Taylor’s the out of bounds church? Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change, and Eddie Gibbs’ and Ryan Bolger’s Emerging Churches: Creating Christian community in postmodern cultures, both give us snapshots of current experiments in how groups are expressing church, and their reasons for doing so; Kester Brewin writes about characteristics that the church will need to embrace and express. He writes not about the emerging church – a current movement – but the emergent church – church that emerges from the bottom up, not instigated from the top down; that is evolutionary, not revolutionary; that is not yet visible, nor can what it will look like be predicted. [Brewin uses ‘emergent’ in a technical, scientific sense; not to be confused with Emergent, an emerging church movement principally in the USA. While some have expressed frustration at the over-use of certain terms, the fact that different words carry different meanings for different people in different contexts shouldn’t cause us to give up on words.] Where Steve Taylor’s engagement with theory is highly accessible, while successfully avoiding the pitfall of becoming content-lite, Kester’s engagement with a wide range of disciplines requires more work on the part of the reader [this reader, at any rate]: but it is an effort that is well rewarded.

There is much that could be written in engagement with Kester’s book; but I’d much rather recommend that you get hold of a copy and read it for yourself. So I’m not going to convey the themes of the book second-hand; but I do want to reflect on certain points that have got me thinking…

, ,

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

6 Month Review

Today is exactly six months since we left Australia. We have been back in England for twice as long as the time we spent in Perth. But Homo sapiens don’t experience time as a constant; and the past six months seem to me to be about the same length of time as the three months we were there…Anyway, we marked the occasion by going out to dinner with Katrina Holgate, a friend we made in Perth, who is over here for a conference. The photo is of her, in our front room, on the phone to her husband Jonathan, who is on a mine somewhere in Queensland. G’day, mate!

Just before we came home (from Australia in December, not The Three Merry Lads pub tonight), and as soon as we got back, various people asked what the trip had been about; what we had learned? And I said at the time that the answers to those questions would only come into focus with hindsight. I reckon six months distance is about right for the first fruits of hindsight, and I’ve been reflecting on our time Down Under over the past few days. Here are my current learning highlights, kairos kisses that have initiated learning circles for me:

1. time spent with Chris and Coralie Kan and the Transfiguration Community: community constituted around a shared evening meal, bread and wine, and liturgical evening prayer – simple, profound, laughter-filled…
2. time spent with Andrew ‘Hamo’ Hamilton, Alan Hirsch, John Jensen, and the forge network: guys who are imagining experimental missional communities, and fostering the imagination of others. These guys are great; I love what they are doing over there; it was a privilege to spend time with them, cross-fertilising, and I suspect (and hope) that more of what I have learnt from them will emerge in my future than any of us could guess at now…

, , , , , ,

Sunday, June 11, 2006

World Cup Parables #1

Group B got underway yesterday.

England 1:0 Paraguay
Sweden 0:0 Trinindad & Tobago

Table, after the opening matches (3 points for a win; 1 for a draw; 0 for a loss):
England 3 points
Sweden 1 point
Trinidad & Tobago 1 point
Paraguay 0 points

The irony of the day was that the only side to score a goal – Paraguay: an own-goal, a Beckham free kick deflected into the net – found itself at the bottom of the table as a result.

When facing a crisis situation, a measured response is required. It will not do to stand there doing nothing, denying the serious nature of the circumstances in which we find ourselves; but a knee-jerk reaction will tend to backfire, again and again. It may, in fact, appear to meet the criteria by which we measure ‘success’…but turns out only to mimic what is hoped for at the big-picture level, rather than achieve what is good in the immediate context.

How often do the strategies, the techniques, the programmes we – the church in the west – look to, to turn our present circumstances around, in fact only compound the problem we find ourselves facing? And the greater the desperation with which we look for an answer – looking here, there; for the Next Thing – and the more we entrench our commitment to a quick and easy solution; the more damage we inflict upon ourselves, our church communities…and the wider communities we are seeking to engage with.

, , , ,

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Monastery Revisted

On Wednesday night we watched The Monastery Revisited on BBC2. The Monastery was a fascinating series, in which five ‘modern’ men spent forty days and nights living with the Benedictine community at Worth Abbey, on a spiritual journey to discover whether ancient Christian practice had any relevance today. A year and a half on, the men returned for a weekend retreat over the feast of Epiphany, and to answer the Abbot’s question, “What star have you been following since you left?”

Jonny Baker and Mark Fletcher have already posted some good reflections, here (Jonny) and here (Mark). I’d add that it was very interesting to hear the Abbot speak of just how many people who had watched the series got in touch with the monks to say that it had spurred them on to discover or rekindle a Christian faith journey for themselves: the impact went far wider than the five men who actually lived with the monks for that season. I wonder how many of them had similar experiences to Tony when they tried to find a local faith community to belong to…
…Two defining characteristics of the community at Worth Abbey that shone through for me were their genuine loving acceptance into their midst of people who held different views on life; and the way in which they did not presume to tell the men what they should believe but trusted that God would meet them where they were and address the deepest desires of their hearts, drawing them to him in the process. These are no postmodern relativists, but faithful adherents to an ancient and orthodox expression of Christianity. For, at the end of the day, each person must discover – must be discovered by – Truth for themselves. Our role is not to guard the Truth (as if Jesus needs, or has asked, me to defend him from his persecutors); but to be channels of Love, so that, in experiencing the love of God, people might come to experience the truth of his being. I wonder what difference adopting such an approach to life and mission would make to the Tony’s in our neighbourhood.

Next week sees the start of The Convent, in which four ‘modern’ women will go on a similar journey of discovery. I think it will be good to see the female side; and then, please God, an end to it: let this not be the latest Reality TV dragon that apparently cannot be slain!

, ,

Monday, June 05, 2006

(Out Of The) Ordinary

Bored? Alan Creech has put down some reflections on Ordinary Time, in his own inimitable style. Well worth a look, as always.

, ,

Un/familiar Approach

I like to approach familiar texts from unfamiliar angles, familiar places in our story along unfamiliar paths. I’m not trying to be novel for novelty’s sake, or to entertain the crowd; but hoping to discover new treasures as well as old, as befits a scribe of the Kingdom.

Mark Berry is one such scribe; and this path is worth walking after him, the treasure worth giving away again.

, ,

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Of Bees And Birthdays

This year my wife’s birthday fell on Pentecost, which is often observed as the birthday of the Church – the day the Holy Spirit was poured out, manifest in wind and fire; somehow changing sound between lips and ears, defying the laws of nature; pollinating a dream that would take root across the known world, and, in time, beyond…

The other day I was tracking a bee through the bluebells in our garden – a creature whose flight, apparently, defies the laws of aerodynamics. Its wings hummed; and its rear stood out flame orange against the blue; as it moved from flower to flower with no pattern that I could discern and yet, I am sure, it was not random. A tiny thing, easily missed…and yet, an organism that lives in fascinating community, the simple found on the far side of complex; that creates the beauty of the comb and the sweetness of honey; that comes alongside plants to help give birth to new cycles of life. For all these reasons, this is the image I would like to offer for Pentecost this year.

, ,


Happy birthday to my wonderful wife. 33 today.

I love you!

Saturday, June 03, 2006


“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Isaac Newton

He’s tall, he’s skinny, and he’s a Kiwi. Andrew Jones has been blogging away for five years today, which in human years makes him about 86. At eighteen months, I’m still in short trousers…

He would tell you that there are better bloggers than he out there: bloggers who have better-looking blogs (for what he has done with green, alone, he’ll get no argument from me on that score); bloggers who write better posts about more relevant matters (here there is more scope to politely disagree). But I know of few bloggers who are as generous to others as Andrew; and none who are more so.

I am one of countless bloggers who were inspired to blog directly or indirectly by Andrew, and who continue to be inspired and influenced by him; who love him and thank God for him daily. The blogosphere would have been a poorer place without him over the past five years. For pioneering for us, inspiring us, and encouraging us, thank you, tallskinnykiwi!

[No comments on this post, and no technorati tags, lest I should take away from or take advantage of a friend.]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pass It On

Trees for links.

This comes via my friend Ben. Check it out. And pass it on.

, , ,

Faith, Hope, And War

As a follower of Jesus, I continue to be grieved by the ongoing situation in Iraq, and the contribution of my nation and her allies to it.

This document has been around for some time now, and I’ve linked to it in the past; but it seems to me timely to highlight it again. I wish I felt that were unnecessary…

This article (again, first written a while ago now) is also well worth reading and reflecting on. Brian is often criticised by others who confess Christ, sometimes viciously so; but his is a thoughtful, balanced, and gracious voice that deserves to be heard and considered.

, , ,