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.
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.
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.
On listening to the Podcast Beyond the PaleEpisode 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).
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.
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.
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”→
I’ve been writing about the institutional model of church and understand both Catholicism and Protestantism to hold to this model, gathering people to worship and then respectively the Eucharist and Message. Yet the church is not an institution but rather an organism consisting of the people who are the Ekklesia. Nevertheless, despite the reality of the Ekklesia as the people the practice of the Christian faith as Catholics and Protestants has long centered what it means to be a practicing Christian on attending a meeting held in a building, by ordained staff or clergy with approved volunteers, and makes attendance and membership synonymous with a saving faith.
When deconstructing church many analogously refer to the Church as an organism rather than as an institution. This enables a critique of organizations and institutions which take on the label of “church” and demand membership from believers but which are in fact only Christian flavored and inspired institutions whose essence is a legal incorporation as not-for-profit businesses and public-benefit-organizations. This distinction enables us to critique Church without rejecting the Ekklesia as a body of people headed by the risen Lord who remains relationally connected with His people, leads them in His ongoing mission, and unites them in Himself as a cross-cultural people. We therefore speak of the people as the Ekklesia and the institution as the Church. Where the essence of the Church is legal the essence of the Ekklesia is personal.