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.

Dysfunctional faith

My reflex response to a social media post ;-(

Today I responded reflexively and harshly to a post by one of my FaceBook friends. I have sent an apology and asked to delete my response (and may in fact do that myself anyway). I know they’d simply reposted this as a nicety from within a Christian world(view) to suddenly experience me barreling in like a bull on a china shop (Adam Savage’s experiment aside). Yet it is something I want to explore a bit further as this kind of post is symptomatic of the paradigm I’m critiquing and urging others to reflect on.

Many Christians are raised to believe in a God they don’t experience where the evidence for God, to themselves and others, becomes their belief in God despite all evidence and simple logic to the contrary. And this is considered faith!? And though this God proves both silent and absent it is further believed that such behavior, such a proving of faith, such a ridiculous and dysfunctional hide and seek, is faith? Here it is often quoted that “faith is the evidence of the unseen” as though an address in a book may be quoted with enough authority to override Jesus’ clear example of what a relationship with God looks like.

Let’s consider a rebuttal and I’m going to stoop low with recourse to the same textual legalism:

Continue reading “Dysfunctional faith”

Our faith a rich heritage of Church Leavers

There is much concern among ministry professionals that people are leaving the Church and, if the stats are to be trusted, fewer than ever later return to the Church. For those who link the Ekklesia to the Church the membership and attendance of churches is linked. Here a link is maintained between ones relationship to God and the Church. And where there is a break between ones relationship with the Church there is an assumed break in ones relationship to God. This same logic carries over to dissatisfaction, frustration, hurt, disappointment, boredom, considerations of irrelevance, etc. If you feel any of those about the Church then you must be feeling those about God. And the remedy as provided by the Church is find another church for it is only in the receipt of the Word of God as Message and Eucharist in and through the Church that you are considered to be meeting with and receiving God.

There is, however, a rich heritage of church leavers going back to the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) back in the 3rd Century who withdrew from society and church to draw near to God. Over the centuries it is clear that church leavers have contributed enormously to others through seeking and finding God. And many, whether consider St Patrick (4th or 5th Century; think Celtic spirituality and its impact) or St Ignatius (1491-1556; think Contemplative Spirituality and its impact), went about searching for God as the very One who set them on their journey to begin with. Their spirituality is linked to that of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers). For them the relational presence of God was the key and their society and the Church both in desperate need of reform. Later individuals such as John Wesley (1703-1791) and Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) may not have left the Church and the link between the Church and society enabled them to make the Church their primary mission field but neither Methodism nor Presbyterianism are known for what they are known for. These later individuals also sought God as one who had already found them and set them upon their journey. What we must take from them is that, having first been found by God and later having found God, they looked to see others come to know God. Where did they find people most in need of God? Well within their churches. Continue reading “Our faith a rich heritage of Church Leavers”

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”

Why do I have this blog?

Having just rebooted my blog I have to pose the question, “Why do I have this blog?” Over the seasons my blogs mixed my personal and professional thinking with what’s interested and concerned me together with my hobbies and interests. In particular, this blog was reflective but created trajectories rather than went somewhere. This left the blog without coherence, which may have been ok except that it’s never sat right with me. Continue reading “Why do I have this blog?”