Monday, 24 October 2016

Chaotic beginnings

Acts 6:1
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

Gird your loins...
Wake up and smell the coffee..
Suck it up...
... and other euphemisms come to mind to describe how we might respond to the next stage of our journey on Path of Renewal.

"When you stand before people and tell them that in order to accomplish a mission, they have to change, adapt, give up something for the greater good, work with those they don’t like or compromise on something they care about, they get mad . They get really mad. Mostly, they get mad at you , and this is exactly the sign that transformation is beginning to happen.(Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains)

I'm reading Canoeing the Mountains alongside re-reading Ed Friedman's Failure of Nerve - which is providing a very helpful focus for the next stage of our journey on Path of Renewal.
Listening deeply to both God and our communities, asking the right kind of questions, hearing the stories, both ancient and modern and, through those practices, discerning God's invitation to join in mission takes us into unfamiliar territory. It takes us out of our comfort zones and forces us to confront hard choices. And, in particular, although we might have known support when we were "saying the right things", encouraging folk to consider their focus and purpose alongside God, it's a whole other matter when it's time to move from talking mission to living mission. Often, our role in that part of the process, aside from exemplifying change is to provide a non-anxious presence when accompanying others through change - confronting the outward and the inward effects of transition - and to do this effectively while processing our own inner journey because mission is not a solo pursuit but a journey we make alongside others. It's also about holding our nerve when it seems that folk no longer like us, something that none of us find easy. It is indeed cold comfort to know that this signals the beginning of the transformation of which we dream.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

To what are we called?

Reading Tod Bolsinger's "Canoeing the Mountains", I was arrested by the question: "To what are we called?" Reflecting on that question takes us a long way along the road to discovery of a way forward in being church today.
I know that that might seem like a really obvious and basic question - but I wonder how often we revisit the source and purpose of our calling?
In the midst of huge cultural shifts that take us into sometimes hostile terrain, reflecting on our purpose in our context gives us, not just an inkling of how we might navigate or negotiate a way through, but also the resolve that arises from fully comprehending why we want to do so.
The Falkirk Wheel is an amazing feat of engineering, built to link the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals. It saves boaters having to navigate a series of locks. Indeed, the 19th Century locks, 11 locks, navigating a 35m incline, had been demolished and the land reclaimed and given over to a housing development after years of disuse. When engineers and waterway enthusiasts wanted to link the canals again, in effect linking Glasgow and Edinburgh by canal, their practical solution, based on 21st century engineering, also created a Scottish landmark and tourist attraction. But at the heart of those spin offs is a very practical solution to recovering a navigable waterway, the initial and driving purpose of the endeavour.
In the last few years, the Church of Scotland affirmed its commitment to "Providing the ordinances of religion in every part of Scotland" a tenet that once meant there would be church buildings in communities large and small, the length and breadth of the land. That commitment has often been mistaken as our "raisond'ĂȘtre". And so, our focus, particularly under stress, defaults to the preservation and conservation of buildings, signs of the church's presence in communities, and the maintenance of systems and structures that support that.
But is our purpose to provide the ordinances of religion, or is it to be involved in the Mission of God? These are, of course, not mutually exclusive but what if the mission God calls on us to be engaged in reduces our capacity to fulfil ordinances or maintain buildings? What if, today, amidst the vastly changed landscape in which we find ourselves we have to leave our buildings and "the ordinances of religion" in order to be alongside those  with whom God calls us to be?
How do we resource and equip those whose calling is to leave the building alongside those whose faithfulness and gifting is in maintenance? And how do we ensure that, in stress, we do not seek comfort in what we have always done and in what we know?
New structures, imaginative permission giving, prayer and blessing are just a few of the terrains to be negotiated as we work out how to be church today, involved in the Mission of God. Finding our 21st century purpose with the trappings of earlier foci is no easy feat. All the more vital that our purpose is secure and found in the Mission of God in the world where we are called to serve today.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The dance of love

John 1:9-10
The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn't even notice.
This week, as I was pondering God as a dance partner in mission, I'm grateful to colleagues who pointed me to the Perichoresis - the dance of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That set me off on a whole new image fest- Rather than the sedate ballroom style dance, like that portrayed in Jack Vettriano's 'Dance me to the end of love', my imagination whirled off to a Ceilidh - and I imagined a Strip the Willow or an Eightsome Reel or even a Progressive Canadian Barn Dance with God in the midst of the action. The sound track accompanying my sedate waltz with God,  played by a tux wearing pianist, morphed into a jig with crazy Scottish snaps in the music and fiddle bows flying over strings in a blur. 
Mission imagined at a slow, dignified pace became Mission in the melee - Perhaps a much more realistic image of partnering God in mission.
I'm not sure who it was who said: "Show me your gods and I will show you your people" but a God of the ceilidh is perhaps a more arresting image than the God of the ballroom. And now I am picturing God weaving in and out of the reel or sedately joining in a two step to a melancholy air. God, who takes time to learn the basic steps but who is comfortable with improvisations, often instigating a change of pace. But, above all, God who continues to invite us all into the action, to risk looking foolish alongside God, taking two steps forward and one step back, to dare to make it up as we go along, experimenting and learning from failure, all the while dancing in the dance of the Trinity of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who call us to be partners in mission in God's world 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Changing the Narrative

Matthew 11:7-9
Jesus Praises John the Baptist
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

These wonderful sculptures - The Kelpies -  attract lots of visitors who can enjoy, as well as a tour recounting their engineering, lovely walks around the Forth and Clyde Canal. They have enhanced a beautiful area of the Scottish countryside and encouraged many visitors to explore and enjoy that beauty.
But Kelpies were scary characters in Scottish mythology and folk tales - malevolent water horses who lured the innocent to watery deaths! The creation of this wonderful tourist attraction has somewhat redeemed the Kelpies!
It has long been acknowledged that often prophecies can be self fulfilling. If we are pessimistic about something for long enough, our pessimism is often rewarded! Expecting the worst, we often fail to notice when our expectations are confounded.
Of course we cannot merely wish good news into being. But, expecting a good outcome opens us up to the possibility of seeing the positive things that are around us.
When the disciples of John the Baptist went to find out if Jesus was the promised Messiah, Jesus asked them "What do you see?"
The work of renewal in the church involves changing the narrative. Operating, not out of a place of fear fuelled by stories of decline and death but from a position of belief in the transforming mission of God that is ongoing in the world. Renewal involves telling a different story- one of excitement and risk and faith and of a God who loves and invites us into mission today. We cannot wish renewal into being but we can be involved in changing the narrative by sharing the stories of love and faith against the odds that are all around us today, seeking out the places we see God at work and working alongside God in the places we inhabit, transforming the darkness,bringing good news stories to life.
It's time to change the narrative.