Reflections following the Catholic & Sacramental Anglican Consultation in Melbourne

I really enjoyed the consultation day today with senior clergy from around the Diocese exploring the development of emerging and fresh expressions of church.  It seemed to me to be an issue of encouragement and vision, given how this tradition has much to offer the more post-secular elements centred on spiritual tourism.  So we discussed what is going on in context with spiritual tourism, a Trinitarian Ecclesiology and Missiology, and models of church such as New Monasticism as a form that can live this out.  

But, as usual, the issue remains about how to focus on being and doing post-Christendom activities in a church and structure that still is very Christendom.  I was really impressed by Bishop Stephen of the Eastern Region, who is seeking to give real encouragement for experimentation, and helping sacramental Anglicans to explore a post-Christendom form of mission and ministry centred on apostolic creative activity.

I hope today catalyses activity and collaborative ministry amongst this very capable constituency.  But it requires risk taking and experimentation.

Off on the 3rd book & speaking tour

Well, its been a while since I have done this, but I am now looking forward to going back to Australia and New Zealand.  This will be probably the most complex and challenging speaking tour I have done yet.  Most will be exploring the challenge of new ways of being church for various denominations, and some exploring specifically alternative worship, forms of emerging church and my new focus, new monasticism.  So it does tie into my books, just the most varied groups of people I will have worked with yet.  

These trips always help me to go deeper with the subjects that we explore together, and hope this year will help me in my writing of a new book on new monasticism I am writing for Paraclete Press, which is a real privilege.  

So I will keep blogging here what I am up to, do check out the speaking tab if you are interested in attending elements of the tour, or to see what I am up to.  So goodbye Blighty until April…

Phenomenology, Theology, Liberation & New Forms of Church

Liberationalist Poster

Liberationalist PosterJust before you think I have been smoking something rather illegal by pursuing such a grand title, I want to start by saying I have had a period of enforced isolation following an operation, so I have been reading and reflecting on a number of things. So I want to paint a picture that connects these big titles above, and No, I am now off the codeine pain relief, so I am now feeling more coherent.

Some in the whole Emerging & Fresh Expressions scene are quite anti-theologial, which has always troubled me, partly because it can then predispose people to make the same mistakes as some of those who have come before us in their thinking and praxis. It is always better to be informed, even if you fundamentally disagree… At the same time, I want to challenge some of the particularly academic theological institution, who look down on phenomenology and its related discipline of Pastoral Theology. Some see these two areas as weak cousins to their more illustrious and more academic relatives. I think this is fundamentally false and elitist and plainly wrong if this has any centredness around the life and activity of Jesus Christ which challenged such power related perspectives in his time.

So here goes … Phenomenology is an important perspective and discipline that has arisen out of philosophical thinking and in the social sciences, that now in a post-modern context, helps us to reframe and understand things drawing on human experience. “Phenomenology” comes from the Greek words phainómenon, meaning “that which appears,” and lógos, meaning “study.” Experience-led thinking was clearly very important to Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church. I encountered much of this in the research I did in my book “Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church”.

Theology – is important to an understanding of God – “Theology” meaning the study of God. In the Christian spiritual tradition, Theology & Phenomenology are intrinsically linked. Theology arises out of experience, but importantly out of communities in praxis not just on bright-spark charismatic individuals who work things out for themselves. Praxis here – is the idea of right action – about the discipline of exploring questions arising out of experience that connect to the humanities to then dialogue between these various insights (note dialogue is inherently about talking in community) to then work out what right action may be in response to the question. So this is a discipline in living, of right living (orthopraxis), not just of right thinking (orthodoxy) – which I argue has been a curse in the church which does a lot of thinking but not much action when and where it matters!! But, there is a danger in a cuture that sometimes feels being post-society, where no one ever seems to think about responsibility for others and everything is centred on individual rights. As Jonathan Clark has said in his book ‘the republic of heaven’:

If theology arises out of experience, is there any stopping point before we reach theologies that are constructed by each of us individually? If not, is there such a thing as the Church at all – what do we have in common? It’s a possible extreme case of what Catholics have always accused Protestants of – allowing the theology of private opinion to take precedence over the Church’s tradition.

He then goes on to say: Part of an answer to this criticism may rest in the concept of praxis … Liberation theologies therefore depend not on an individual experience but on that of a group, within the social and economic context in which it is placed. Theology happens, moreover, in the interaction of the community with its context: it’s not something restricted to books and lecture theatres. So when a group of oppressed people concretely refuse to accept their oppression, theology is happening. For those people, new truths about God are being enunciated as much through action as through their reflection [and thinking].

I think Jonathan Clark is spot on here. I want to argue that many emerging & fresh expressions of church are trying to seek forms of spiritual community with this phenomenological, communitarian, participation and liberationist focus, (where this liberationist focus is usually articulated in the form of economic, social and ecological justice) in the face of the force and perceived oppression of the global market, unrestrained forms of global capitalism, obscene forms of individualism, the return of a dominant class system and new forms of under classes, poverty and increased deprivation. This I think is particularly true at the moment in the global credit crunch, which was driven by capitalist greed. The language of liberation and justice is increasingly being used.

What worries me a little about some new post-church initiatives is that they are often very individualistic with a dominant monolithic ideology, which starts by saying everything that was before is wrong and now we have got it right, (I don’t believe any faith can be monolithic if it is centred on collective experience). Often, where there is a leader who is very charismatic, and a powerful arbiter. These initiatives have a lot of energy, but often have very little to do with community, praxis and liberation. The little books I have written, particularly the last, “the becoming of G-d” I hope is an articulation of what the Moot Community has been exploring for the last six years. I hope it is not about my thinking, more an articulation of the insights and thinking of a community founded on shared phenomenological activity and a theology arising out of experience of God. Contrary to the language coming from some, I don’t think we need ‘revival’ or a ‘continuation of the reformation’ or a new expression of church to ‘finish off the reformation that the church did not complete in modernity’. These somewhat hard and radical voices seek to build a contextual church, by seeking purity out of plurality of thought by the language of ‘opposition’ and ‘competition’. I think this thinking is bankrupt in our now post-Christendom context. We don’t need a continutation of reformed theology for postmodern times, we need to find an authentic expression of the Christian faith centred on liberation not competition.

So increasingly, the focus of new forms of church, (from my perspective), needs to be that they can be experienced as life giving, enabling, loving, caring and places of belonging and liberation. It is not about being ‘Cool’ or the next new ideology to consume, or about having the best technologically driven alternative worship. The world has had quite its fill of ‘Cool’ people and new ideologies that have not brought lasting change. We need forms of community that dream big dreams centred on the values of the Kingdom of God. I hope Moot grows into this type of profound places of humanity, where the Christian faith can be experienced as a liberating event that enables people to find their common humanity, in a world that is driven by power, competition and consumption. So liberation has to be a key focus to emerging & fresh expressions of church, if they are stand any chance of reflecting the values of the Kingdom of God Christ exposed through the ancient world, and which we are called to love and act on now.

So to conclude, rather than being anti-theological, I hope Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church increasingly seek to reframe theology to make it life giving, and that this will therefore need to draw on a Kingdom perspective, centred on liberation and experience, where we have a high view of seeking shared solutions and a communal phenomenology. Where we seek not to ‘win’ so that others ‘lose’ but as liberation theologies say, we seek to change the goal posts, to reframe things, to have no losers where all call share in the good things in life, where we have rights and responsibilities for all. If we hold this perspective, then our Society may look differently on the life and work of Christ, because after all, was this not what he was about?

New book: Ancient Faith Future Mission – fresh expressions of the sacramental traditions

I am really pleased that this new book that I helped to organise, has come together. Its content includes chapters by Rowan Williams, Abbot Stuart Burns, Brian McLaren, Karen Ward, Phyllis Tickle, Sue Wallace, Ian Adams and others on the whole area of developing sacramental emerging & fresh expressions of church. You can preorder it now from Amazon or Canterbury Press.

I am hoping this book will help people reimagine ways of exploring sacramentality in new ways of being church.  The book includes the address of Rowan Williams and the reflection of Abbot Stuart Burns at the recent Fresh Expressions of Church Pilgrimage to Coventry Cathedral on the 8th December 2008.  So this will be a good read, promise!

Mission & the Kingdom of God

One of the greatest criticisms of the mission shaped church report, is the lack of focus on the Kingdom of God. The danger, as the theologian John Hall has said, is that the Mission Shaped Church can become the Church Shaped Mission. Why? – because there is a difference between mission and maintaining an institution. A kingdom focus, is centred on people experiencing the narrative of God, of inclusion, justice, sufficiency, mercy and the focus on the poor. If the focus on institutional survival, then it becomes a narrative of economics, bums-on-seats, cost benefit analysis, buildings, keeping the show on the road.

There is a real difference. So governance, vision and focus are important if mission is to be Kingdom centred. Structures need to be light, (where light does not mean controlling or old school but participative, accountable and cost-effective). A vision that is focused on transformation or experience, that’s about people, not about institutions, and focus – the values and teachings of Christ.

in this way, we can avoid being church shaped mission and a mission shaped church.

Revealing the God-lie of the Market

I have been listening again to an excellent podcast in the ‘speaking of faith’ series, where the theologian Harvey Cox explores how those who believe in capitalism, attribute to the market, the same beliefs that some call faith.

In 1999 he publishing a widely discussed article in the Atlantic Monthly in the States which he entitled ‘the market as God’. A friend had said to him, ‘if you want to know what is going on in the real world, you should read the business pages.’ So he did read the business pages, and to his surprise he found himself in the land of deja vous. The lexicon of the Wall Street Journal, Time magazine and News Week seemed to make a striking resemblance to Genesis, the Epistle to the Romans and St Augustine’s great work, City of God. They revealed a strong sense of having a grand narrative. They analysed what was going wrong, and what was needed to happen to put things right again. A form of religion where the God was the market.

Followers of capitalism hold firm to a confidence or faith that the market will solve all things. Just leave it all to the market, and it will work things out; in the long run everything will turn out fine. They articulate a belief in Adam Smith’s belief in the market as the invisible hand, and nothing should obstruct the forces of this invisible God. Those in the business world don’t call it faith or belief – but functionally it is very close to the same thing. It has its own rituals, its own priests, its own transcendent framework. So the market becomes God, the great adjudicator for all things.

This all sounds very familiar. This is the language of my own father and his wife. To my Dad, the market is God, where the prosperity of humanity is subject to the greed, stewardship and decisions made on trading floors, in stock market halls and in banks. This is a secular God, where the wheels of divine providence are created in prices and exchange rates. There are, as we have seen recently (and to the shock of many), big floors in this religion.

Firstly, the belief is centred on fate, and the inability of people and governments to shape human justice or destiny in any form. In fact it is extremely dehumanising and oppressive, because humanity is little more than a pawn in the great wheels of the global market. The only thing to do is to face your oppression and seek to be entrepreneurial where there is no other power to contribute. This leaves people feeling extremely anxious in a consumer market, where the consumer becomes God’s representatives and at the same time an individual with no power amongst millions of other people.

Secondly, the system is dependent on growth, an endless context of demand and supply. But the truth is, we don’t live in an infinite environment, we live in a fragile world where what we take has a profound and serious affect on the social, political and environmental finite world. So a system based on infinite expansion in an finite planet is always going to lead us to trouble. No surprise then that we face environmental catastrophe, as Capitalists need to face the real world of limited and finite supply.

So in this credit crunch, many have had to face up to the fact, that this invisible God of the market, may be little more than an idol to a lie. A lie that threatens the very survival of our planet and our common humanity.

The Church has for centuries colluded with this infinite market. The protestant work ethic, after all, contributed to the creation of capitalism. So how do we live in a market economy but not of a market economy? How do we live responsibly valuing our call to stewardship of the finite resources of our world, but promote social entrepreneurialism? I for one would again raise the importance of a ‘mixed economy’. Of both non-market parts to life alongside those driven by the modified market – like, for example, the need for the nationalisation of water, electricity and gas – to decrease costs by the economies of scale, and better planning, whilst allowing a regulated market system.

So how do we do this? Well, I believe we can do this on a micro level, in the belief that bottom-up approaches will enable macro opportunities to develop. But – we need to get away from things like the National Lottery and the idea of the market as miracle working. These are fantasy, and by the way, create addiction for the poor who seek to escape poverty by a dream which statistically will never come true. No – the alternative is hard work, but one where balance can create a healthier world to live in.

So, we need to reveal the invisible hand of the market God, to be little more than an impostor and an idol, that can blind people to the truth of this semi-religious lie.

surveying spirituality

I and the Moot Community have been conducting a little survey to explore what people’s perceptions of spirituality are, who reach my blog or the moot sites. So please do help us by adding your thoughts.

Rhizomes and radical love

I have been again, reflecting on the work of Barry Taylor, and his excellent book, Entertainment theology. In particular are a couple of quotes from page 32, that have hit me:

Subversive activity of loving one another, welcoming the stranger, sharing goods in common and returning good for evil… The sermon on the mount isn’t just an ideal vision of a new society.  It is a sustainable way of life for those who live by faith.

Rhizomes reflect this kingdom of God … they were trying to remember what it meant to practice works of mercy, to follow the church’s social teachings, to be God’s peculiar people in the world.

I love all of this…. a return to a more organic understanding of Christianity being about a spirituality concerned with ‘how we should love’ and less about control, or who is in and who is out.  Its focus is orthopraxis and away from the obsessions of orthodoxy.  The image of rhizomes is a great one, organic, un-controllable, invisible but emerging, these characteristics really do tally with the idea of the now but not fully here Kingdom of God.

This connects with some of my thinking around new-monasticism, this focus on radical hospitality and forms of church that arise by the spirit, a catching up with what God is already doing, is close to my heart.

The importance of Contemplation in Mission

I have just written a joint article with Ian Adams in a really exciting multi-authored book entitled ‘Ancient Faith Future Mission’ to be published by Canterbury Press after Christmas, which include pieces by Rowan Williams, Steve Croft, Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren and Karen Ward to name but a few.  In it Ian and I explore ‘New Monasticism’ as expressed in some its Emerging Church forms.

I ahve been reminded how this refound approach is dependent on forms of contemplative prayer and contemplative awareness.  Marie Macarthy wrote a seminal chapter on contemplative awareness with the title ‘A spirituality for the twenty first century’ in Blackwell’s Reader in Pastoral & Practical Theology.  This text made a deep impression on me when I read it five years ago, and has stayed with me ever since.

Not only does Contemplation offer forms of spirituality that ‘work’, which opens up the Christian tradition to spiritual tourists, it also enables Christian communities to practices ‘action-reflection’, in seeking God in contemplation, to discern the hand of God in the world, and then to follow it.  In this way prayer and contemplation are a key resource for positive action and radical hospitality in the world.  We forget at our peril the need for a deeply sustaining spiritual life, of a relational aspect to the faith.  It is no coincidence that Martin Luther King, Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Mother Theresa, and many more of the great movers and shakers spent much time in prayerful reflection to resource their mission and calling.

To be able to engage with the world, we need to be fully engaged in developing a spirituality that draws on the strengths of prayer and contemplation.

The Universe is fundamentally relational

I was reading the dissertation of a friend yesterday, and was struck how much science and religion now meet in the area of the relational.  In modernity, everything was solid and seperate, but now in postmodernity and with the outbreak of quantum mechanics, everything has become much more relational.  As my friend Steve Dancause said:

I think that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in what society values as ‘real’, with a heavy emphasis on relationality as the answer.  The philosophers used to say that ‘the real is rational’.  Now they say that ‘the real is relational’.  In fact, Deleuze has pointed out that ‘even the rational is relational’.  Modern science has shown us that particles exist not as absolute entities but as entities defined solely by their relationships to other particles.  People deeply want genuine connection and relationship to ground them and to give them life.  The shift to relational ontologies and epistemologies is interesting because the Church already has such a relational paradigm in the Trinity.  It is ultimately the Trinity that grounds us and gives us life, and the biblical narrative is a narrative that invites us into the divine community of the Trinity.

This is spot on, I could not agree more.  Steve Dancause has made the link between the Holy Trinity, Trinitarian Ecclesiology and the trend towards the relational at a depth I have not thought through before.

His dissertation and interview with me is to be on emergingchurch.info very soon.

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