Living in the village

I met with one of the world’s forerunners concerning mysticism last week. Krüger is the author of Along Edges, Sounding Unsound, Metatheism, and Signposts to Silence. They’re seriously good books and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They are also incredibly challenging, so consider yourself forewarned.

While speaking to Krüger, he dropped a number of gems. One of them relates to the usual tension between (1) trying to establish something (like plant a church) and (2) withdrawing to live as a hermit (like the hermits and ascetics). Yet there is another option that isn’t often explored, which is that of (3) living in the village.

It is important to recognize that Christianity is first and foremost institutional. It is concerned with planting churches, maintaining churches and growing churches. And, to roughly quote some leaders I know, “Everything begins and ends in the church and it is all about the church, so we must make planting churches what we do.” But as soon as you gain an understanding of world(view)s you can’t unsee the problem with making the ekklesia as the people synonymous with a geopolitical nation or institution. Instead you will see how the doing church paradigm preferentially reads history and how that reading is not supported by the relational presence of God. This is, however, a discussion for another time. What’s relevant is that the mystic-to-be is often caught in the power dynamics of the institutional church as a participant-protestor. And here the pressure is on to join the institution of the church to either plant churches or serve in churches to maintain and grow them. And many are caught up with the conjunction between the church and the ekklesia as well as the ekklesia and the relational presence of God. It becomes incredibly hard to find the right language and therewith the right way foreword. The other problem with this is that as the mystic and mystic-to-be wrestles with the disjunction between the ekklesia, the relational presence of God and the institution of the church that they are often cast in the role of an enemy of the church tying to break churches down. They are often accused of not planting churches and therewith their concerns about the institutional church are often invalidated. This is often coupled with those who run institutional churches fighting with them. However, the opposite is true. The mystic and mystic-to-be is often an exemplar of what “doing the stuff” is about. They have often been on the ground with the people as one walking with God. They often stand before others as people who have first stood before God. And therewith they are people who hold a nuanced and subtle critique of the institutional church as people who have come to know God not through the institution but in Person.

It is here that (3) living in the village comes in. The mystic and mystic-to-be can live in and among those who are in the church as well as those who are not. And therewith they can practice the presence of God and enter deeply into living and loving with themselves, others, the cosmos and God. In doing so they can serve and mediate between people groups without having to make the politics of the denominational or commercial expressions of the institutional church. It is here that institutional disavowal is a priority. For the kingdom of God or reign of God is only and ever personal. It is all about the Person that God is and not the business of doing religion and running businesses or nations in the name of God. It is not geopolitical as in establishing a kingdom or nation nor is it an institution like a temple or denomination or a business like churches are today. Sure God draws near and withdraws, but this is to people wherever they are. It is not to validate one institution or political group over another as is evident from the life-cycle of renewals.

Furthermore, option (3) living in the village is even more important in a postsecular society. The mystic and mystic-to-be is not looking to leave one religion and choose another. They are not trading religions and religious institutions. Instead they are transitioning from the-idea-of God, however in-/accurate that may be, and the relational presence of God. They are living in the village among atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc. as people who have inherited their faith along with their ethnicity and nationality. Here institutional disavowal applies equally to each of these religions as well as their corresponding ethnicities and nationalities. Instead of leaving their religion to choose another they are instead leaving all religions and their associated nations, denominations and not-for-profit businesses.

Sure those committed to the institutional church may not understand this but they can ask questions and come to understand. And they may feel like the mystic and mystic-to-be stands against them. And they may in a secondary sense, as in not standing for the institution and nationalization of faith. But what they are primarily doing is standing for and with God, people and the cosmos. To move forward such institutional disavowal is important and therewith a rejection of the power structures and commercialization of religion, spirituality and mysticism.

The notion of (3) living in the village perhaps needs a little clarification. In our day and age the village is both local and global. It is local in the sense of our face-to-face relationships. Here are the immediate relational connections incorporating those that are shallow and perhaps limited to working together and those that are deeper and involving playing together and the sharing of the meaning of our lives. Yet our relationships also include the global and far-reaching network enabled by technology and mutual interests. Here our relationships are as real though not face-to-face and as meaningful though mediated by video and voice technologies. In each case there are people we resonate with and in the sharing of life find opportunity for deeper connections and the mutual enrichment. It is a glocal (global and local) community where people share their lives and contribute to each other. It is here that the ekklesia meets not for the purpose of establishing hierarchies and systems and services but for the singular most valuable reason – mutual relationship. Those committed to the institution church struggle with this the most. They fail to see how people “meet together” and can’t measure it in any other manner than attendance to and membership of the institutional church. Yet the ekklesia transcends religion and its institutional expression as nationalism, denominations and businesses. It is something natural, mutually supportive and enriching that does not need an agenda or purpose. It is relationship for no reason or purpose, and therewith and therein finds and expresses the greatest purpose and fulfillment. Those who don’t get will fail to appreciate the complex simplicity of embracing the love of self, others, the cosmos and God while those who “get it” cannot pursue any other course.

Christianity sells well

This has been a tough week with tensions high between an art student critiquing Christianity as a commercialized religion and those accusing the poor lad of Satanism. Somewhere in between sanity was lost and atheists gained another self-professed atheist. (Well done Team A! And what the f*ck Team C?) But before we accept the term atheist with a capital “A” let’s see where the lad is in ten-years or twenty-years or forty-years time. I suspect there’s going to be an interesting journey where the question of God is settled with utter certainty only to return repeatedly and for the critique to burn ever deeper in their heart and mind. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds! But the ‘subject’ of the artwork was Christianity and its commercialization. So let’s get back to that for one more post here.

One of the movements that released a clear statement is the Vineyard Movement in South Africa. And after releasing their statement, I responded as follows:

It is, however, “the ‘subject’ of the artwork that demands our objective and discerning critique” and not the artwork or student.

Tim Victor

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On satanism …

Yup, not for the faint of heart 😉

There’s been a recent hoo-ha around an art exhibition. A parent posted this video and a local pastor and colleague of mine protested and asked for email responses to the school. So, here’s a blog post. Be warned that it requires some adult-ing in reading and response. So here it is 16-SNVLM. Proceed with you ‘big boy panties’ on.

Recently a matric art pupil in SA exhibited their artwork as part of their practical. The material is, no doubt, of a sensitive nature to those religious. This is partly due to the presentation of God and Jesus as clowns and demonic imagery. The symbolism is clearly evocative and loaded.

The response of Christians is, however, problematic in considering the artwork somehow magical evidencing the continued superstitious thinking of Christians. Wow a teenager as demonologist and the most powerful of all, capable of summoning the big bad wolf itself and of bringing down a school superstitiously dedicated to God. Ok, so fix it. Find and sprinkle some holy water, chant some Latin, I believe Catholic is best, and put up an artwork whether Catholic with Jesus on a cross or Protestant without. Done. Sorted. Back to normal. Christian spells are powerful stuff. So counter artwork with artwork and everything should be fine. But no, here, somehow, the student is capable of enabling a real Satan to somehow curse or inhabit the school and being it to ruin. Powerful fiction indeed. It’s as though Faust has not been read for the absurdity of believing in can exercise such control over essentially unruly cretins with artwork, albeit of an earlier historical kind.

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“After” the Vineyard

On listening to the Podcast Beyond the Pale Episode 100, I really resonated with David Hayward’s insight:

“The bus (the Vineyard) is going in the following direction and if you want to go there, hop on; but if you don’t, get off. Because this is the bus (the Vineyard) and its going in this particular direction and if you don’t like it, then you don’t belong.”

David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

As someone who has had this very conversation with a board member of the Vineyard Movement in my own country, I resonate on so many levels. And you know what, I never returned to the bus in 2016 and instead only to the relationship with the bus. It has been in recognition that the bus is going in the wrong direction. It was of immense relief to step off that bus back in 2006 and of equal relief not getting back on it in 2016 when returning to my calling. I can happily acknowledge that whoever is driving is the one responsible. I’ve had enough conversations with the retiring leaders around this with my Dissertation as excuse and acknowledge there to be too little respect and relationship between the next generation of leaders and myself for us to move forward together. I‘ve made enough noise about the bus going in the wrong direction, enough to have crossed the “invisible line” a number of times. I’ve met them half-way between making too much noise for them to be happy and too little noise for me. But, again, its their bus. And their bus is all about the church not as the Ekklesia but as the institutional Church. In some senses the success and tragedy of the movement is in the hands of phenomenal people like the Mitchels, Mumfords and Strouts. Here Protestantism has been Renewed and also Settled. Here they have innovated on Protestantism only to never have escaped the gravity well of Institutionalism. It is they who hold the Vineyard in tension between the vibrancy of a movement and death of institutionalism. And when they pass, who is going to hold this in tension? There is a deeper problem that’s not yet resolved. And without it being resolved, “it’s all about the church” (cf. AVC Conference 2018, SA).

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On “On breaking with the church”

Spoiler alert: This is a rant! There is a time to call a spade a spade and it is here. I simply have to get this off my chest and, perhaps, it will resonate with more than the handful it deeply offends.

The article “On breaking with the faith” has been celebrated by many committed to the institutional church and a colleague in particular. What’s more is that in the immediate follow up “On keeping the faith” the author adds nothing. It’s the same old expected and “right thing to say”. And, curiously, is nothing different to what those de-converting and deconstructing and encouraging others to do the same are themselves doing.

But what irks me with an article, authors and colleagues like this is that they choose to fail to engage meaningfully with those deconstructionists who are not only de-converting themselves but also helping others to do so. It is an article so self/church-centered that it cannot engage with, listen to or dialogue with those it sees as “wandering off the path of faith for the arid wilderness of unbelief.” At the heart there is a false contrast between authentic faith as institutional Christianity and those deconstructing from such institutional commitments as leading themselves and others into “new beliefs”. At the root the problem I have with the article and my colleagues high admiration thereof is that it relies on the politics of agreement to fly under the radar as a prime example of the continuing failure of institutionalized Christians to listen to, dialogue with, understand and mutually respect those de-converting and deconstructing. People are not leaving Christianity for another faith but instead leaving a faith that is far off track that it believes it is what Christianity “is”. They’re leaving a faith that has gone astray and remains as arrogant as ever in refusing not only to acknowledge the concerns but in arguing that it remains the Catholic and Orthodox faith albeit as Evangelical Protestantism.

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This year I skipped the conference …

In 2017 I returned to making the problem of God my professional focus and therewith transitioned from a ten-year break doing whatever my hands found to do. Before that break my primary work was with people on the same trajectory, albeit with different faith commitments, wrestling with the problem of God. Some were people starving for an authentic relationship with God within the church on their way out. They were tired and frustrated and many were abused and exploited by the church. And they would experience God draw near in Person and find some refuge in other churches and home groups. But I mostly spent my time with those who had long deconverted from Christianity and were now wrestling with what to do and make of their belief that “God is not” now that they had experienced God. And by “experienced God” I mean they had experienced God draw near in Person to speak directly and immediately to them and even bring healing to some.

I thoroughly enjoyed all sessions including courses, seminars, cuppas and gatherings with people. But part of the process was transitioning people over from the work I was doing to the regularity of church attendance. Both kinds of people, those finding God as Christians and those finding God as the long deconverted, experienced a strong discrepancy between wanting to further develop a relationship with God and the expectations and demands of the church that people not only do church but make church synonymous with worshipping and hearing from God. They were in church to pursue a relationship with God and rejected for being questioning and self-educating and for actually expecting to be meeting with God in and through church. But they were disappointed. It took from six months to a year for people to come back to me and not that “church is not about God”. And not only were they right but I agreed with them. Their tragedy was devastating for me. I’d see people literally transformed and renewed by experiencing God leaving as emaciated and frustrated as they were before that. But few supporting were willing to explore this and everyone beloved the answer was to plant yet another church.

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E ≠ C & C ⊬ E

In the past year I’ve mindfully responded to Christian leaders who argue for church as synonymous with knowing and relating to God and for church leavers as somehow needing to make their way back to the church in order to make their way back to God. I’ve questioned their assumptions regarding church leavers and opposed them making the formal and institutional expression labeled church as synonymous with the church itself and with knowing God. Yet while Christian leaders do note that their life’s work amounts to temporary refuges amidst the broader formal church they are either unable or unwilling to accept that such exceptions simply aren’t enough to redeem the broader church or the paradigm behind it. Clearly the “doing church paradigm” is so strong that it defines the faith for them and in turn they define the faith of others in relation to it. And though they can recognize the difference between good or healthy and bad or unhealthy churches that they can’t recognize such churches as expressions of a highly problematic paradigm they have bought into and continue not only being guided by but also which they bolster, reinforce and promote. They are then complicit in perpetuating an extremely concerning “doing church paradigm”.

The power of paradigms is that you don’t see them while seeing everything through them. They are invisible yet guide our thinking and behaving. And because they’re invisible we don’t work with our paradigms while all your work is guided by them. Paradigms are unconscious and deeply rooted within us. And Church leaders are locked into a “doing church paradigm” and, in turn, lock others into this paradigm by doing church and making it central in every way. Continue reading “E ≠ C & C ⊬ E”