Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jesus deck lectionary: spirituality of “wise men” as theology of family

I am using the Jesus Deck as my current lectionary. Every day I deal myself a card. Before Easter, it was Mark, as I ran through the drama that is Holy week. After Easter, Christians celebrate resurrection. A season of surprise. So the whole deck gets shuffled and dealt randomly. After Pentecost, I will use colour. I will keep dealing cards until I find some green. Growth. The colour attributed to the Spirit in Rublevs Icon. That will become my lectionary.

Today the Jesus deck dealt me Matthew 2. The text on the top reads “We have seen his star.” The text running along the bottom reads “Astrologers.” It’s a reference to the magi of Matthew 2:1-12.

It is interesting to engage this story outside Christmas. Although of course, given travel time, the story would have started months before.

Perhaps on a day in April.

A day like today.

Looking at this Jesus deck card, I am struck by how God uses hobbies – took the everyday passions of these “magi” and crafted through that a way to seek and search. So often spirituality is removed from the ordinary, and yet here is God inviting our hobbies and vocations, our passions and interests into a pursuit of divine. (Hence my Dictionary of Everyday Spirituality series).

Thinking of ordinary, I began to wonder if these magi had families. If so, what the star would have meant for their spiritual search.

You see, family is the perennial problem faced by all travellers. To take the kids and grandparents. Or to leave them behind.

The horns of a dilemna. To go alone. Or to drag in the innocent with you on an unknown search?

Either way, stay or come, relationships are being torn, domestic life reshaped. It’s a tough gig, seeing a star.

Which took me back to the Biblical text surrounding this particular Jesus deck card. Families in pain surround the magi narrative.

Jesus being wrapt in swaddling cloth and rocked to Egypt. That’s migration – forced to find shelter in a new language; look for work as your potential workmates comment on your accent; missing home; family not seeing the first Jesus smile, the first Jesus step. It’s a tough gig, carrying a star.

And let’s not talk about the screams that rent Israel. The nightmares of mothers screaming for their babies, dead at Herod’s knife. Families in pain surrounds this Jesus.

So what happens when we engage the story of the magi outside Christmas. We are invited to seek a star, to find God amid our ordinary. But as we peer at the spiritual search we ponder. Is it one of glamourous adventure? Or deep pain? Or both?

Time for a hug of those I love.

Posted by steve at 03:16 PM

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Fresh expressions as church at Advent birth

I’ve been working hard over the last few weeks on an article for the Anvil journal, titled Evaluating Birth narratives: A Missiological Conversation with Fresh Expressions. It’s the write up of what I presented in September in Durham in which I interview UK alternative worship leaders and communities about how they began, and then reflect on implications for being church/ecclesiology.

In trying to make sense of what I was writing on Friday, I made the following graphic, based on the Orans Icon.

And here is a section of the paper, which I post because we are now in Advent.

The most likely place to find a birthing ecclesiology should be with regard to Incarnation. Indeed, for Williams, in Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin “[i]magining Mary in words and pictures has always been one of the most powerful ways of imagining the Church, and so of imagining ourselves freshly.” This is based on a theological meditation on Orthodox icons, specifically The Hodegetria, The Eleous and The Orans.

With regard to the Orans Icon, Mary stands facing us, hands extended in prayer. For Williams, “Here is Christ praying in Mary. Mary becomes, as the Church becomes, a ‘sign’ in virtue of the action of Christ within her … There is plenty here for us to think about in relation to the Church’s life.” Given that “the art of making icons is often termed “writing” rather than “painting”, such an Icon offers what could be termed a birthing ecclesiology, in which the body of Christ is linked with the Body of Christ, most specifically in the pre-natal life of Christ. (here)

Williams’ ecclesiology is formed in the invitation to consider Mary; hands open to God, with eyes open to the world. “If Mary is indeed the image of the true Church … [it is a church] … Hands open to God, eyes open to the world; and within, the hidden energy that soaks the Church with divine action, divine love.” Further, “[t]he church is the humanity Christ has made possible; its real history is the history of particular persons realizing by the Spirit’s gift the new potential for human nature once it has been touched by divine agency, divine freedom, in Christ.” This provides a way to evaluate Fresh Expressions.

With a (birthing) Mary as an image, so can (the birthing) of Fresh Expressions be evaluated by considering how it imitates the posture of Mary, hands open to God, eyes open to the world, a gift of new potential.

Posted by steve at 07:58 AM

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the emerging church and the wilderness of God (old post but good post)

Back in 2004, I wrote a post titled – the emerging church and the wilderness of God. I was doing some sermon prep today and it seemed oddly appropriate, both for the sermon, for the emerging church in 2010 and for my current state of being. So I’m reposting it, for posterity’s sake ….

Christianity emerges from a wilderness spirituality;
John the Baptist, camel haired and with locust wings in mouth, emerges from the desert;
Jesus in preparation for ministry, walks into the wilderness;
Israel finds God in the desert, where in the wilderness Moses is called and a nation is shaped.
The rough places and tough spaces become the place of encounter with God.

So what is the place of a wilderness spirituality in the emerging church? A book like The Shape of Things to Come takes growth – in the early church, in China – as the benchmark. A history of vitality becomes the shaping spirituality. When the emerging church emerges from the evangelical church in the US, a history of vitality is the shaping spirituality.

So what of a wilderness spirituality? Where is the encountering of God in the rough and tough? How does the emerging church embrace the wilderness, rather than the myths and shadows of vitality.

Is it time for the emerging church to find new partners in its spirituality? Is it time to stop dreaming of early church glory and embrace God in the rough?

I wonder if this is where the experience of the de-churched becomes redemptive gift. Those who have entered the wilderness and have learnt to find God in the raw might have spiritual gifts to offer.

Wilderness God
Hidden in the deep valley
Obscured by rocky outcrop

This Advent
May we be found in Your wilderness.

(for the comments, which added some rich layers go here)

Posted by steve at 10:35 AM

Friday, October 01, 2010

pioneer leaders as attending to birth narratives (thanks Rowan Williams)

A few days later, I wrote a post reflecting on the need for pioneer training not as technique and structure, but as a way of deepening spiritual and emotional intelligence. I read the following quote this morning:

“And the sense Christ makes is not in his masterly reorganization of the world, his provision of explanations and programmes, but in his comprehensive loving, forgiving attention to the world that has somehow brought him to birth.” (Rowan Williams in the brilliant Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin).

This fits with my presentation at the Evaluating Fresh Expressions Research Consultation, including the image that I used during the presentation, of fresh expressions emerging from the Orans icon.

Christ is wanting to be made real in the world. As Mary says yes, so to we are invited to say yes, to be part of bringing to birth fresh expressions of the body of Christ.

This is not steady as she Sunday goes leadership. This is why I major on listening and discerning in my leadership courses. In the 21st century, new forms of church are being brought to birth and we are invited to pay attention to what is being brought to birth, to recognise the contours of Christ. This is leadership that seeks to be both spiritually and emotionally intelligent.

Posted by steve at 11:16 AM

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

an advent blessing: some great u2 theology

Following posts on Advent creative prayers stations and Advent creative spirituality2go home prayer activities, here’s an Advent blessing I’m pondering.

It’s not mine. It’s from Bono. At the end of City of Blinding lights, live streamed on the internet from Los Angeles, he ad libbed a new ending:

Blessings, not just for the ones who kneel
Luckily, luckily
We don’t believe in luck.
Grace abounds.
Grace abounds.

Seems to me to be great theology and particularly suitable for Advent. It was so easy for Israel to think they were the centre of God’s world. And so easy for the church and Christians to think today they are the centre of God’s world. But as we are reminded in Psalm 67: 1-2
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us,
that your ways may be known on earth, 
your salvation among all nations.

God’s face shines most fully both on Jesus, and in Jesus. A message not just for the lucky ones, but for all upon whom God’s grace abounds.

Posted by steve at 05:03 PM

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

advent blessings as spirituality to go

Following on from some excellent feedback on some advent creative prayer stations, here are four more, that could easily be home-based, during the week Advent activities. Again they sync with our Advent 2009 theme of blessings.

ADVENT ONE: Choose white candle. Mark 24 notches in it. On a piece of paper, or in your journal, write the names of 24 people or places you want God to bless this Advent. Burn one segment a day.

ADVENT TWO:Each day this week, take a can of food out of your pantry. Read the labels. Consider who made it. What will Christmas be like for them? This Advent, what might it mean for you to join with Christians who pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

ADVENT THREE: Make a list of your enemies. It might be someone who has hurt you and it still gets to you. It might be someone in the Christian community you disagree with, or a political opponent or someone you feel ripped you off. Place their names carefully in a blessing bowl, as you do imagining that you are letting them go by placing them in God’s hands.

ADVENT FOUR: Take some time to consider joy this week. Start by finding some bubbles. (If you don’t know, ask a child). Use the bubbles to pray. What words describe their shape, their colour, their flight? Blow these prayers on yourself. Blow them on the places you sleep and eat. Blow them on your pets. Be bold and blow them down your street.

Posted by steve at 03:23 PM

Sunday, November 29, 2009

advent blessings creative prayer stations

Updated: based on the interest in this post, I’ve added another post with four more creative advent ideas, this time more do at home, type stations.

We kicked off Advent at Opawa today. Someone noted how much work is involved. “Too right,” is my response. It’s like adding a tablecloth, some flowers and mood music to an everyday meal. It draws attention to the church seasons and gives distinctive shape to the church year. It’s an essential spiritual practice to the Christmas consumerist frenzy.

This year we are tracing Incarnational themes through four church blessings/benedictions. The hope is also to add some content to what we hear regularly as church services end, plus ensure a real God focus as I conclude my ministry at Opawa.

Alongside the first Advent banner (which looks stunning against the black background curtains), three “blessing” stations were presented. Physically, they are marked with black wooden stands, draped in cloth. They will be with us for the weeks of Advent, with the “blessing” texts changed each week.

Scriptural prayer: (Spark from here) Consider the words from Numbers 6:24-27. What strikes you? What questions would you like to ask the writer? In the white space, around the words, write or draw your comments and questions.

Intercession bowl: Write or draw the names of people and places you want to see blessed this Christmas. Place them in the bowl.

Fridge magnet prayers: (Spark from here) The Bible is written in Hebrew and Greek. As words are translated, they take on different shades of meaning. This provides an opportunity for prayer and reflection. First, consider words of similar meaning.

(spread on table — lord/protector/saviour/redeemer/provider/the/and/you/us/his/her/with/in/be/bless/benedict/kiss/impart/watch/guard/keep/strengthen/sustain/protect/shine/glow/highlight/enlighten/illuminate/magnify/reflect/gracious/kind/merciful/give favour/hug/lift up/hold/extend/face/peace/shalom/tranquility/whole of life)

Second, arrange the words into your prayer of blessing. When you are satisfied with your work, write your prayer in the Advent journal. Please note that by writing out your prayer, we are asking your permission to display it publicly, perhaps on the church website or projected at a service or in an outside art installation.

So here are three of the “fridge magnet” blessings. (more…)

Posted by steve at 05:31 PM