Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Neil Cole Seminars

From all accounts this should be fantastic. Go and let me know how it is ... I have to work. :-(

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Embracing both Transcendence and Immanence

It seems today is just one of those days where I keep coming across explanations for things I've felt but not ever really understood.

On a section in Emerging Churches about transcendence (God is beyond human experience and understanding, transcending the physical universe) and immanence (God actively participate in creation) Gibbs and Bolger say the following ...
Secular modernity pushed religious practice to two extremes. Whereas in pre-modernity God was both transcendent and immanent, in modernity, God could be either transcendent or immanent but not both. In this regard, both conservatives and liberals are equally modern: Conservatives stress the transcendence of God, and liberals stress God's immanence. In modern conservative churches, it follows that God is experienced outside material reality.
Gibbs and Bolger go on to say that Emerging Churches try to embrace both the transcendence and immanence of God. I've grown up in a conservative evangelical context and all this rings pretty true to me. Deep down I know that these elements of God's character need to be brought together and balanced, but that hasn't been my experience so far, it's always been weighted towards a God who is beyond human experience and understanding. Now that I understand why the influences that have caused me to experience God the way I have, the challenge is to not throw the baby out with the bath water, I need to know and follow God as he is participating in creation while continuing to recognise and worship him as beyond me.

Protestantism and Print Culture

Something else from Gibbs and Bolger's book that I'd never thought about before ...
The Protestant church itself was a contextualisation into print culture, a new form of church created for those who built their worlds around the printed page.

With the invention of the photograph in the mid-nineteenth century, the seeds of the print era's demise were planted. Since that time, the visual and aural aspects of culture, including radio, TV, motion pictures, and the computer, have had a more significant place. These forms of media were warmly received, much to the dismay of the elite literary culture. The modern church, born in a literary age, has had trouble making a shift from a print to an image-based culture.

Protestant church forms were created by a literary age that no longer exists. It is hard to imagine what their particular traditions would look like without a literary, modern emphasis. The Protestant church has sided with elite print culture historically, and now there exists a great disconnect between those in the culture who venerate print culture and everyone else. The elitism that is so prevalent in the church has created a chasm between the church and popular culture.
I guess one of the things that bothers me a bit is whether there are going to be cultural shifts that we will find ourselves fighting against. And if our culture is changing so fast do we already need to be on the look out for things that we have become so precious about that we can't let go of for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I find it really helpful to think about the context the established church was formed in. It gives me insight into why it does the things it does. It helps me make sense of those things that happen that really don't seem at all logical or in any way smart. I think it helps me be more generous and loving towards it.

The danger of the secular realm.

More thinking about the sacred/secular idea.

Gibbs and Bolger write

The creation of the secular realm during the period of modernity led people in the West to seek control over their world. When they perceived that they were in control and not God, they organised and systematised all reality.
When I read this memories came flooding back of a tension that once occurred within me. For years I struggled to deal with the elements of my life where "God couldn't go", spaces I enjoyed being in (particularly rave culture) that I didn't think God could deal with 'cos he was only in the sacred spaces. During this time mission didn't make much sense, given that there was such vast elements of life that God didn't inhabit. Only when I started to grapple with the fact that God was the creator and redeemer of all things, grasped concepts like his omnipresence and watched Jesus go into all the 'wrong' places did I realise something was seriously messed up with my perspective.

It seems a little crazy to me that the church just swallowed this element of modernity and (as Gibbs and Bolger put it) became the chaplain for society. No wonder there are so many people who see their faith as a private thing, not to be taken into the public realm or who think that faith has nothing to say about politics or business or any of these other 'secular spaces'. The harder we work to live as though every element of life is impacted by the kingdom of God the better.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Sacred and Secular?

I've never been able to work out why some things are considered sacred and others secular. There never seems to be decent theological reasons why elements of life are regarded as one or the other, it always appears that someone has just decided for us and that has never sat right with me.

So often when I read about postmodernism I feel like the writer is explaining something about me that I've never articulated, this was another of those times. In Emerging Churches, Gibbs and Bolger write about how modernism introduced the sacred/secular split and now postmodernism is trying to pull it back together, they call it Sacralization (being an aussie I'm tempted to change that z to an s - it just looks so wrong!). And so again it appears I've found a word to describe the process that I and many of my fellow journeyers engage in regularly. Taking things which are secular (out in the "non-Christian" space) and using them to engage with God or redeem something. It happens mostly without thinking because it doesn't make sense that if God created the whole world there are things that aren't able to be used by Him or elements of life that are more sacred than others.

It wasn't until I read it today in this book that I realised how big a shift this is for the established church, it just seems so natural and normal to me to try and make all things sacred again, to reject the modernist dualism.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

From a Sunday meeting to community formation

I've been too tired and busy to post lately (lame I know) but I've been reading all these great bits and pieces in Church Next and Emerging Churches. I felt that I had to share this quote from Emerging Churches as it manages to put a few words around the sense I've been picking up at Loam and with other churching planting buddies that pulls away from a church-meeting focus and towards a forming community focus.

In Christendom, the Sunday meeting was the center of corporate spiritual expression for the community. In a post-Christiandom context, a church-meeting focus ceases to be indigenous to the culture or necessary to be faithful to the gospel. Instead, the practice of community formation itself is more central than the church meeting. Thus, an emerging church community seeks the kingdom in all realms as it serves as a way of life for its people.
For me a quote like this makes sense of comments I hear and feel like making myself such as 'I want a faith that is everyday, connected to real life.' It legitimises them through a recognition that the church-meeting focus is no longer 'indigenous to the culture' or 'necessary to be faithful to the gospel'. I have to say I feel a great sense of encouragement and relief at this.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Am I postmodern when it comes to truth?

More quotes from Gibbs (you should probably just read the book!).
In a pervasive atmosphere of cynicism, postmodernists look for the motives behind truth claims.

Postmodernists have abandoned the illusive search for truth - or, more accurately, they have redefined truth in terms of consensus and 'whatever works for you'. They reject propositional certainty as the ploy of the powerful, who exert their influence by disempowering those who hold to a divergent view. Rather, they claim that we should celebrate diversity, and the regard ambiguity as providing fertile soil for continuing creativity. There is no 'metanarrative', no grand story to inspire a people, no explanation of everything, no meaning or purpose to life awaiting discovery at either the cosmic or the personal level.
Usually when people are describing the shift to a post modern world I feel like I could do the talk. Not because I'm being an arrogant prick but because I feel like they are describing me. (In truth I couldn't do the talk at all, but they are articulating things I seem to inherently know and understand.)

These quotes interested me though, some of the things Gibbs talks about I resonate with and others I don't. I find myself looking for the motives behind claims for truth, but I don't buy into the 'whatever works for you' idea, personally I think it is a sellout. I've seen propositional certainty abused so much that I often reject it without thinking and look around for those people who are being marginalised to see what they have to say. I like the idea of celebrating diversity and using the space to hear new thoughts and dream new ones, but I certainly believe in a metanarrative, the grand story that inspires me and helps me answer some of the big questions.

It'd be nice to say that I've critiqued the post modern view on truth with the gospel and taken these positions, but I haven't, I've just sort of found myself here. I wonder where I need to be critiqued?

We don't seem to know when to just wait a little

Another great quote from Gibbs tonight.
Our technical knowledge has advanced far beyond our wisdom to know when to refrain from applying what we know in humble recognition of the limitations of our knowledge. We lack the moral courage to restrain our compulsive urges to do what we know how to do with reckless disregard for the human and environmental consequences.
I love technology just as much as the next guy, in truth probably more, but I love this quote. I feel the urge to just rush in and do things when I finally have the ability to and sometimes it gets the better of me. (In fact I can't count the amount of times I've stuffed things up 'cos I was a bit keen and didn't wait until I had thought it all through, at these times I wish I was more like my brother-in-law who takes his time and makes well measured decisions before acting.) However we have to get control of ourselves, will we ever learn to think through the repercussions before we act? Will we always be so proud of our achievement that we don't stop to think about the possible consequences if it isn't as we think? Haven't we learnt that we don't know everything and that just because something looks like it works doesn't mean that we should do it?

I guess the first step is for me to learn it and seek to practice it as much as possible.

Maybe this is why evangelicalism has always felt a little forced ...

I've been doing some reading for uni (as you do after midnight when you have to be at work by 8:30 the next morning ...) and couldn't sleep without jotting a few things down.

In a chapter called 'From living in the past to engaging with the present' Gibbs in Church Next says the following

Modernity is an understanding of the world through autonomous human rationality. Evangelicalism arose with that context, which meant that it had to confront the challenges of humanism and rationalism. In so doing it was itself influenced, more than it realised, by the modernism it combated. In response to the questionable assumptions and reductionist explanations of Darwinian evolutionists and Freudian psychologists, Christian apologists had to employ the tools of their opponents in order to engage in meaningful debate. In so doing they became unwittingly subverted by the assumptions they made in debating with their opponents. Christian apologists argued for the reliability of biblical texts based on their consistency and inerrancy defined in terms of modern 'scientific' criteria.

There was no place for revelation; such was the confidence in the self evident, universal truths available to all through unaided reason. There was little place for the 'mystery' of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For it was beyond the powers of human reason to reconcile a holy God with sinful humankind. That message could be known only through God's revelation in Jesus Christ and through the proclamation of those who had encountered the truth and linked their personal stories with God's salvation story.

The separation of life into public and private spheres and its compartmentalisation into specialised areas resulted in the marginalisation of religious faith from society and its reduction to a privatised matter for like-minded individuals to pursue without imposing their views on the public sphere. Religious faith becomes relativised, helpful as a resource for coping with the crises of life, but having no legitimacy in claiming public truth.
Obviously there is a lot there, but what this little section pointed out to me was perhaps why I'd often felt that evangelicalism was a little forced for me. The challenges Gibbs mentions in the first paragraph that evangelicalism had to combat and was also influenced by are not things I have really come up against. The necessity to have things bedded down that was so crucial for Christian apologists in this time is not something I face and I've always felt a little uncomfortable about the fact that evangelicals are often trying to get it all sorted out before they act (that might be a little harsh, but it has been the majority of my experience).

I've also been concerned about the lack of space for revelation, the lack of room for the mystery of the gospel, not understanding why there was a pull away from these things. I have much to explore in this area. I wouldn't say my understanding of the place of scripture is well formed, at the moment I am still simply standing on the shoulders of those who discipled me. I really need to get down and have a look for myself, but I am pretty convinced (from experience) that God is speaking today and that we are to listen, any belief that denies this doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

The final section rings so true it's scary. The frequency with which I have encountered public/private issue is greatly concerning, but Gibbs explanation makes sense of the desire within me and my peers to bring these things back together. To have an everyday faith where there is no distinction, to have a faith that won't stand for 'getting an A in orthodoxy and an F in orthopraxy' (that's something Brain McLaren said during his recent visit.), to see faith much more than a coping mechanism, but a framework for all of life.

Not that I care much for names but I've always been under the evangelical banner. I think now I would consider myself post-evangelical even though I have so much in common theologically with progressive evangelicals (whatever that means!). These common threads among evangelicalism are things I respond very negatively towards and are keen to shift from.

Monday, March 6, 2006

How do we nurture and encourage one another without just becoming all the same?

The other week at Loam we were having a chat about how it's all going to work and someone asked this question.

How do we nurture and encourage one another without just becoming all the same?

A big part of our discussions so far have been around enjoying and celebrating the diversity of our group, not having to become all the same to follow Jesus. So I guess it's natural for a tension to arise when we start talking about how we are going to seek to grow together. There seems to be the idea that different people grow in different ways and if we are seeking to grow together we will all just end up becoming the same.

I'm not sure I agree with that premise. As we seek to grow together I think our diversity will enrich us and challenge us, but I can't see us becoming all the same by seeking to nurture and be accountable to one another.

Am I missing something? What are the dangers that we will all become the same? How and why does that happen in churches? How can we guard against it?

How do you disciple a core of radical missionaries while maintaining an open accessible community?

I've been thinking about this question a lot lately. It seems to me to be a major challenge for people wanting to have missional communities. I'll try and explain the question a bit more before I attempt a solution.

Missional communities attempt to be outward focussed, open, inclusive and generally welcoming if people want to join them for worship/community/etc. (Obviously some missional communities go a lot further than this and take the idea of the incarnation really seriously and take church to the people rather than expect them to come to 'church', but that's not the issue here.) Now it's great for missional communities to have this as a goal, but it raises a problem when you try and put it in to practice.

If you have your gatherings open, inclusive, welcoming, non-jargonised (I think I just made up a word), culturally appropriate, etc, then how are the people at the core of the community (the radical disciples of Jesus who are trying to make this thing happen) being nurtured, discipled and kept accountable? I'm sure these people will benefit from the open gatherings, but they are also going to need a space where they can be loved, stretched, asked the hard questions and have the bar raised for them.

So here is the problem. How do you keep raising the bar for the core while giving others the opportunity to taste and see without being threatened or confused unnecessarily?

I have to say that I don't think I have THE answer to this question, I'm not sure there is one. If there is I'm pretty certain that I haven't nailed it, but I feel like I've got a bit of an idea about how to move in the right direction.

The shift needs to be around the place of responsibility for the discipleship of the core. In most of my experiences of church, the responsibility is talked about being with the individual but is often run by the church (the organisation that gets called the church, not the real church, if you know what I mean). Discipleship is designed to happen through the services, ministries or small group run by the church, not really to be taken up by the individual. I think that needs to change. People need to take responsibility for their own discipleship and as a result take up spiritual disciplines (I could use the word things instead of spiritual disciplines, 'cos all I'm really trying to say is take up things that will help you grow in your relationship with God, but spiritual disciplines just seems to work better) that will help them become more like Jesus.

Now that sounds like a nice idea, but to do it all on your own seems a bit unrealistic. So why not do it in pairs or triplets where you can keep each other accountable and be around for one another if things fall apart?

If people are practicing spiritual disciplines that relate to a holistic (nice little buzz word there) view of discipleship and they are being kept accountable by some peers who are equally committed to them then I think we've gone a long way towards dealing with the issue. The core is sustained by regularly engaging in a range of spiritual disciplines that will help them become more like Jesus and other members of the core are keeping them accountable to that. And the other times (when people gather for worship or a meal or some act of serving or compassion in the community or whatever) are enriched because people from the core can go along and contribute freely, focussing on others because they are not anxious about their own needs for discipleship going unmet.

Well that's all I've got in me for 2:30am, please leave comments picking apart this idea, I think it's going to be crucial for us at Loam and I have other friends who are grappling with it too.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

We've become policemen for each other rather than support.

Tonight at our Forge Cluster we spent some time talking about accountability. It was an insightful discussion as some people have been being asked the question, "How are you being kept accountable if you aren't connected to an Established Church?" We spoke about whether it was true that the established models of church had better accountability in place than emerging models. Of course there was much discussion around this issue and given the group it is not surprising that there was quite a bit of support for emerging models of accountability. But the reason I wanted to post on this issue was because of a comment by a guy in our group called Tom. He pointed out that in our attempts to keep each other accountable, it's almost as if we have lost sight of the fact that we are on the same team. That accountability should be motivated by love for each other, not about catching each other out. His point was that 'we've become policemen for each other rather than support.' This statement very sadly rings true to so much of my experience of what accountability looks like in the church today. We have to reimagine accountability, rethink it and remember that we are trying to help each other grow and become more like Christ, we aren't in competition, we are in partnership.

Never doubt in the darkness what God has told you in the light.

Tonight I was at my first Forge Cluster gathering. We had dinner at the Rev's place and he was sharing a bit of insight with us when he gave us the following pearl. 'Never doubt in the darkness what God has told you in the light'. A pretty helpful little tidbit I think.

Generally I develop pretty strong convictions, ideas and strategies tend to get knocked around in my head until I'm pretty comfortable they're right, I often have a sense that God is revealing something or leading in a particular direction. But this little pearl makes a lot of sense to me, because regardless of how convicted I am, when I find myself in dark places I naturally tend to doubt. It doesn't seem to matter how sure I was previously, when those dark places come, I start to wonder if I ever really heard from God in the first place. I know that I need to learn to trust God when He speaks and go on trusting, regardless of how I'm feeling at the time. Thanks Rev!

Friday, March 3, 2006

Lent at Loam

When we met on Wednesday we followed the church calendar by observing the beginning of Lent. I found a whole bunch of resources online (background and history, prayers, readings, reflections, etc) that we used to create a space for us to engage with the idea of this season of Lent. We prayed, read, reflected, discussed, performed the ritual of putting ashes on one another's forehead and spent some time in silence. It seemed like a good time of reflection on our humanity before God, repentance and building community with one another as we focus on Jesus. I also distributed the Henri Nouwen booklet called Renewed for Life which people seemed keen on, so hopefully that will be a helpful tool to reflect during this period of Lent. I'm looking forward to this opportunity of journeying together as we look ahead to Easter.