Friday, 22 October 2010

It's God's Mission

It's stating the obvious - but we do need to remember that mission belongs to God. It is not the church's mission. It is God's initiative. "Mission-shaped parish" quotes David Bosch - "It's not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a church in the world." "Mission-shaped parish" also suggests "God's mission is the chisel that shapes the church" (p. xi). I hope so!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Sycamore Theology

In Luke 19 Zacchaeus is transformed, and this has no small effect on his life. In Jesus’ words, today salvation has come to this house. And he further explains: The Son of Man has come to seek out and to save what is lost. We need to permit the story the opportunity to make its full and radical impact. We do an injustice to it if we just talk about the wonder of the conversion without bringing out the radical implications of that transformation. This story starts with a wealthy tax collector. At the end of the story, which takes just a few hours at most, he ends up with virtually nothing. This is about revolution with revolutionary implications. This is about the cry for justice. This is about the need for transformation, and that need has not gone away. We need to retell this story which goes against the grain of prevailing values today, as it did then, and I guess we just need to hope that people do still climb trees.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Yes We Can!

The context in which we live, and the context for our mission and evangelism, is a context in which people struggle with questions. It’s a context in which people often feel defeated. The politicians, of course, make their attempt to offer a positive spin and to explain how that relates to their particular policies. Recently I was reading the autumn newsletter of Cambridgeshire Chaplaincy to People at Work which has a picture of Barack Obama on the front with the words, and the message, emerging ‘yes we can’. The text attributes the coining of that phrase to Obama. Actually, I thought Bob the Builder had it first – but never mind. That’s the spin. Similarly David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is about all that can be achieved. The Big Society website uses the words of Gandhi: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Well, I’ll buy that. But then I read on: “The Big Society Network is an organisation being set up by frustrated citizens for frustrated citizens to help everyone achieve change in their local area. ....Our aim is not only to create the largest co-operative or mutual in Britain, but to create a mutual that is Britain. Every citizen can be a shareholder, contribute, receive help and rewards.” It sounds great, but. But .... in the context of the promised massive cuts, and the rest of it, I wonder. But maybe I should give them more of a chance because I, too, want to offer a positive spin – only my spin is God’s spin.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Mangrove Theology

When I was in New Zealand in the summer of last year, amongst the people I met, and stayed with, were Dave and Bev Mullan. Dave is a retired Methodist minister. His big thing is local leadership, or what he calls local shared ministry, but he has also done some thinking around what he calls mangrove theology. Depending on where we have been, I guess we will have seen mangroves in different places, but I always particularly think of sailing between the mangroves in particular bits of Panama. Anyhow, Dave writes, and this is an extended quote, but he says it better than I could: “On one side of the mangroves below our home there is the sea. Even on the calmest days it is always moving, alive. At different times it is restless, threatening, challenging; but always beautiful, seemingly never-ending, infinite. On the other side of the mangroves is the land. By comparison it seems thoroughly immovable, resilient and clearly finite. It seems as if it has been there for ever. Yet the land is very vulnerable to the effects of the sea. Erosion can change the land beyond recognition, damaging its contours, stealing its contents and converting earth and clay into the sand and mud of the beaches. In this process the sea can drag great trees to their death and can overwhelm the land in its powerful action. But where there are mangroves there is a protective barrier that keeps land and sea apart. .. The mangroves, by their role of separation, help to define both land and sea. In a sense, the mangrove community’s capacity to keep these two elements apart is what defines the mangroves themselves: they are, by their very nature, separators. Mangrove communities remind us of the church which itself is a zone of separation. It is placed along a dividing line between the everyday and the eternal. One of its most essential purposes is to find and keep a place that enables it to separate – and thus define – the everyday and the eternal. It treads a tightrope from which it may easily fall off to one side or the other but when it does that it ceases to exercise its most central role.” We sometimes talk about thin places - Iona, Holy Island, TaizĂ©. How can we make the church much more "thin"? Mullan explores this by developing the mangrove theology concept a little further as he reflects on the cleansing element of the mangroves. “One of the primary roles of the mangroves is to cleanse run-off from the land. Mud and debris arising from storms and heavy rain are often absorbed .... Instead of polluting the ocean environment they contribute to the growth and strength of the mangroves themselves. ... Part of the role of the church is to be able to absorb some of the painful effects of human dysfunctioning; it offers itself as a haven in which the hurt and the weak may be comforted and protected and “takes on” some of their burden. It creates an environment in which the effects of evil may be tempered and even redeemed.” Yes, and so how can we move into that role?

Friday, 8 October 2010

Christ the Calypsonian

George Mulrain, currently President of the Methodist Church of the Caribbean, talks about Christ the Calypsonian. Like calypso music itself, George originally comes from Trinidad and the concept emerges from his recognition of how calypso songs provide commentary on society in a way that illuminates and critiques culture and daily life. Calypso originally evolved as a way of spreading news around Trinidad. It pushed the boundaries of free speech as it was used to speak out on any and every topic. A Calypso Christ, suggests George Mulrain, can provide a fresh and relevant new image of Jesus that speaks to the realities of life.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Economy of Abundance

Ann Morisy, writing in “Foundations for Mission”, part of the preparatory work for the Edinburgh 2010 conference talks about the need to have confidence in what she calls the “economy of abundance” in order for mission to do its transforming work. She recognises that we have tended to be committed to the “economy of scarcity” – and that has been to the extent that we find it hard to believe that there is also a reliable economy of abundance. But how can we work this out in an authentic way – because we surely don’t want to go a prosperity gospel route that tells us that God will look after us, and hard luck, everybody else? And, of course, all these things need careful defining, for us to be pointing in the right direction. Ann Morisy suggests that this looking for how mission authentically transforms things will brings us to Jesus. Jesus shows us how to live. Jesus points to the right kind of abundance and she suggests that Jesus lived his life in a very distinctive way and identifies six particular contributing elements. First, we see Jesus eschewing power. Jesus was aware of how easily he could have sought power and, on occasion, the disciples tried to push him in that direction. But he made a point of resisting the world’s kind of power. Secondly, we see Jesus being willing to risk being overwhelmed. He didn’t always choose the safe option. In fact, far from it. Often he lived dangerously. He was willing to take risks. Then, thirdly, we see Jesus subverting the status quo. He wasn’t one to accept things because it was always done that way. Even clearly established religious practices could be subject to his challenge. Just because everybody else took something for granted didn’t mean that Jesus would support that perspective. Fourthly, Jesus engaged in wide what we might call ‘fraternal relations’. Jesus refused to conform to the social and cultural taboos of his days. He was not willing to restrict his circle to those who would be seen as fitting in. He looked beyond his immediate groupings and was ready to offer God’s love to all and sundry. Fifthly we see Jesus avoiding ‘tit for tat’ behaviour. This seems so obviously a part of our Christian ethos and yet an area where it is so difficult to emulate Jesus’ example. We live a culture of revenge. We want to get our own back. Walking second miles or offering other cheeks is so alien. But so often we see Jesus avoiding escalating differences when we would be left trying to get our own back. We would want to have the last word. And yet it is not that Jesus allows folk to walk all over him. He knows when to stand his ground. And then, sixthly, we see Jesus investing in the most unlikely. Look at the twelve disciples. That is the obvious place to start here. Is that the kind of group you would choose if you wanted to entrust them with a world-changing mission. Probably not. Indeed, Jesus often went for folk whom others had written off. An economy of abundance is about making a difference – and these six characteristics point to how that might happen in a surprising, yet powerful, way. We are called to follow Christ. We are called to follow Christ’s way. Here are some big challenges as to how that might effectively happen.