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.

Danger of CofE Emerging /Fresh Expressions of Church of becoming second class forms of church

It is five years now since the Fresh Expressions initaitve brought some good news to those who were involved in or started emerging/fresh expressions of church within the Church of England.  Many good things have happened:

1. Church Commissioners found money for start up monies for communities for 3 years distributed to Dioceses.
2. Discernment & training for non-ordained and ordained pioneers.
3. Change in church law to allow for full recognition of new forms of church as ‘Bishop Mission Orders’.

This is all good, but I have a distinct impression that in many Diocese, there is not a commitment to see our Emerging/Fresh Expressions of Church as equal to traditional or inherited forms of church.  Regarding financial resources, it seems that most Diocese are prioritising maintaining the traditional with very little commitment to funding new forms.  There are exceptions, like the Bishop of Reading, who is seeking to convert 1 in 10 of his stipended posts into an Ordained Pioneer post.  This is unfortunately too rare. Instead, I pick up an increasing cynicism about Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, which saddens me.

Some of this is partly due to the branding and commodification that some of the Fresh Expressions promotional material has generated, it does feel a little too glossy at times. Such things can feel like a fad.  And clearly there is not enough theological writing and engagement with Anglican understandings of Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church and contextual mission.  BUT, there are some very good projects, and it is hard to see projects like my own in Moot, Maybe and hOME facing real financial difficulties in sustaining what we are doing.

I completely understand that all denominations and Dioceses are facing huge difficulties financially, but a church that does not invest in mission and the future rather than maintaining the status quo, faces a real crisis.

I am hoping some how we find a way through this financial difficulty for Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church that enable us to have sufficient financial resources to make our communities sustainable.

Emerging Church attention needed to governance

Thinking about the Emerging Church and governance, I have been reflecting on how many groups have deconstructed things theologically and socio-culturally – but many have not deconstructed governance or power structures.  This may be one of the reasons who there is not a 50:50 representation of women in Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church.

One of the challenges facing the Emerging Church is how to do governance so that its structure is light and not oppressive, but encourages accountabiility in the spirit of egaliterianism.

There is an inherent danger of not having accountability structures, that things default to power being held by young charismatic people usually white men.  These forms of community and church then can end up running under the logic and ideology of the charismatic person, which is not too healthy for enabling a community with a number of voices.

Also, when a project of community say they have no structure you have to ask yourself is that true?  To be able to do services and activities some form of organisation is needed, its just not visible.  So there does need to be openness about visible governance structures. One group I really like on this, is Sanctus 1, which seeks to balance gender in their governance structures, which appears to work really well. Here there is a balance between community and individuals who serve the community with particular roles.

It seems to me, that if you do not have explictly visible governance and accountability structures, then something not so healthy may fill the gap, or something like the very thing we criticise many ‘inherited churches’ as being. This is particualrly a challenge for those groups who think of themselves as post-church or not being ‘community’.

So the challenge to us all in new forms of church and community is to balance ideology with community and structures that are light but visible and accountable.

Emerging Church Conversation

I have been reflecting a while, why the emerging church sees its international ‘connectivity’ as a ‘conversation’.  It is an approach to relatedness that has much criticism.  However today, I can see how this concept again relates to a Trinitarian informed connectiveness.  Some will know from my two books, that I have hypothesised that there is a deep Trinitarian ecclesiology that lies at the heart of much of what is called the Emerging Church.

This idea about Trinitarian identity and connectivity through conversation came through reading some work by Jane Williams entitled ‘The Fellowship of the Three, Understanding the Trinity Today’.

Christians know, in their heart of hearts, that the doctrine of the Trinity has something to say about how they should live together.  We know that that is our weakest point.  Best not to think too much about it.  But if we really believe that this is the God in whose image we are made, and that our ultimate goal is to participate in this divine life, then it cannot be optional to our life together now.

Some parts of our Christian lives seem more naturally to lend themselves to experiencing the Trinity.  For example, there are times, however few and far between, when our personal prayer does suddenly seem to be taken over by the Holy Spirit praying in us and, for just a moment, we can become aware that we are joining in the conversation that happens constantly all around us, the conversation between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Most of the time, we cannot hear it or feel it, but it is there.
(Jane Williams, The Fellowship of the Three: exploring the Trinity, (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2008), 18.

Well it strikes me that there is a deep connection between these ideas of conversation as the togetherness of the Trinity, and the togetherness of the Emerging Church.  It implicitly implies equality, participation, attention to listening, respect, inclusion and love.

So I don’t think this is at all a co-incidence.  For more details on this Trinitarian Ecclesiology see information on my two books:

Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church (2007)  London: Moot Community Publishing.
The becoming of G-d (2008) Oxford: YTC Press.

Renewal through New Monastics

I have been thinking a lot about two quotes this week.  The first from Bonhoeffer on some words he wrote from a prison cell about how he saw a lay movement of new monastics as being a form of church for the modern world.  The second, is a quote about how those drawing on a contemplative approach to life, can be fully engaged with the complexity of the modern world to seek to bring renewal and justice:

“The renewal of the Church will come from a new type of monasticism which has only in common with the old an uncompromising allegience to the sermon on the mount.  It’s high time women and men banded together to do this.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter to his brother

“The achievement of divine simplicity implies not the annihilation of the complex world but its illumination and transfiguration, its integration in a higher unity. This will involve the appearance of a new type of saint who will take upon himself the burden of the complex world.”
Nicholas Berdyaev, Spirit and Reality, Bles, 1939, p.98

Now the words illuminating culture and transfiguring culture keep coming up.  In the West, the idea of God transfiguring culture or transfiguring anything is not really a well known concept.  But in the Eastern Church, the transfiguration is an important high note in the ministry of Jesus, where Jesus’s involvement in the world as a human, following his vocation, leads to a moment of transfguration, of change, and a moment of divine exposure and presence – an event of change and revealing…

The implications of holding these two quotes together, is the implication – that as we seek to pattern a Christian spirituality deeply involved in the world as community, then what we do, and our seeking God profoundly, seeking to life in a way modelled by christ, then our hope is that God will bring change and the presence of God, through tranfigured moments…

I need to think more about this idea of transfiguring…

BBC Radio Ulster Feature on New Monasticism

Radio Ulster

Mark McCleary of the Moot Community, who assisted  me on the last speaking tour in Vancouver and Seattle, completed this interesting little report on New Monasticism for Radio Ulster.  It includes interviews with Karen Ward, myself and other members of the Church of the Apostles Community in Seattle.

Moot and Church of the Apostles are sister Anglimergent new monastic communities

To listen to the report, click here

PlayPlay

The Re-sacralization of culture

One of the most important books I have read this year, is Barry Taylor’s “Entertainment Theology”.  This book really engages with context, exploring the developing new forms of mysticism.  I like what he says a great deal.  One of the key ideas, is the re-sacralisation of culture.  That religious symbolism has been reapprproated into culture, but where its meaning is subverted to the new world of mysticism.  Rightly Taylor states that we the church need to catch up with what is going on, and that is that the challenge to faih is not atheism and agnosticism as it was within modernity.  No, the new challenge is that people believe something else, an alternative spirituality, where religion is seen as outdated and controlling , where spirituality is perceived as the new freedom.

So the challenge then is for us to rise the challenge of seeking an alternative imagination, seeking to live and point to a God that is increasingly difficult to discern in our complex world.  The challenge is for us to seek this more artistic approach to mission, to seek God in the complexity of a world driven by new forms of mysticism.  The Emerging Church has been somewhat involved in this contextual endeavour.  The truth is, we are not quite sure where all this ls leading!!

Beyond Guilt and Shame

Over the last week, I have encountered a number of people exploring spirituality, who have used that well known mantra, “I am spiritual, not religious”.  I have had some quite profound conversations with a number of people that had relgious experience in their youth.  Words that keep appearing in these conversations are GUILT and SHAMING.  It seems that these foundational experiences often in more convervative catholic and protestant forms of church, centred on a strong narrative of guilt and shame.  One guy talked to me of his Sunday school being about filling people with fear.   In such a climate it is not surprising that people reject such forms of church as irrelevant and dehumanising.  I have been reflecting that such an approach to church devoid of love, envisioning and the power of God’s grace, is certainly not Good News, and most definately needs to be avoided.

It is therefore imperative that the emerging church be a real welcoming place, of hope, of envisionment and rest, and not attempt to control people emotionally in any form.  This must be a mission strategy in all that we do, if we are really to engage with contemporary culture, where, whether we like it or not, some of the church has retreated into fundamentalist and fanaticism, and often appears very angry to ordinary people.  We need to live another way of being church and being a follower of Christ, who are not obsessed with who is in and who is out, and about human sexuality….

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