In this months moot podcast, there is a remarkable recording of the wisdom of Jean Vanier, one of the most important new monastic inspired activists in the world. To listen to it, click here
Category Archives: Politics
Well its now a new year, and I am now well on the way to completing the manuscript for my next book exploring New Monasticism, which I am writing for Paraclete to be submitted by the end of February 2010.
Writing this book has really helped me think quite deeply about this important model of church, and I have enjoyed interviewing a number of people including a Benedictine Abbot, a Franciscan Friar and a number of new monastics including Shane Claiborne, Mark Berry, Ian Adams and others.
I have also written a chapter in a book exploring spirituality in the city, which is a multi-authored book which I think is being published by Continuum. In this chapter I explore the increasing phenomena of post secular spiritual tourism, and in particularly that evidenced by the many flower shrines you see where people have died. It names something very important symbolically. So I hope that contribution assists people to explore the subject.
I am also pleased to let people know, that I am involved in three other books. All three are all multi-authored books in the Ancient Faith Future Mission series published with Canterbury Press. These will cover Fresh Expressions and New Monasticism, the Kingdom of God and Small Missional Communities.
So I seem to have become involved in a number writing projects!
Last Wednesday, Jon Oliver, (author and training Ordinand for Pioneer Ministry on placement with Moot) led our Quest Evening, designed to explore biblical texts and open them up as Stanley Hauerwas says to ‘an interpretative community’. Well we looked at John 4:1-42 and the Samaritan Woman at the well.
This text is always challenging and beautiful. It expresses the mission of God to blur boundaries of the sacred in the secular, challenging cultural taboos, and gives us a palpable foretaste of the Kingdom of God.
I love it that God seeks out the excluded and the lost, those that are hated within their own cultures. Why it gives me a hope that someone like me can be acceptable to God with all my faults, insecurities and complexities. But this time there was more. The Woman, was exposed to the reality of the Trinity. Christ is present as the Redeemer. Then in verse 23, But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. Beautifully Jesus finishes off the Samaritans question about the Messiah as coming with the words ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you’.
So in this encounter, the Woman experiences Jesus as the Redeemer, empowered by the Holy Spirit, in the worship of the Father. It doesn’t get more Trinitarian than that, with a woman he was not supposed to speak to, and with a people the Jews despises as unclean. So what does Jesus do – he goes into mission mode, loving them into understanding, and then stays with them for two days – something a Jew was banned from doing. I love it. This is the radicalness of Christ and the New Testament. A radical love that seeks to restore all things into restored relationships. This is the context of real mission, and it inspires me to keep going when I feel so inadequate and crap so much of the time, in a dysfunctional church and a broken world. It is the hope of this Jesus that keeps me alive, in this Missio Dei of the Holy Trinity, and the love of the God Human Jesus, that my life has meaning and purpose. Without this God, I don’t know where I would be….
Just 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?
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.
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.