Wednesday, April 06, 2011

When Fresh expressions suddenly made me claustrophobic

It’s Lent. A time to focus on Christ and what it means to live as Christ followers. So I’ve started to tuck into Rooted in Jesus Christ: Towards a Radical Ecclesiology. Daniel is a younger leader, born in Spain, studied in United States, now back in Europe working with migrants. It’s a rich and fertile bed for theological reflection.

A few pages in he discusses the place of martyrs for theology.

“In recent decades, liberation theology has become a theology of martyrdom. A number of bishops (the best known being Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Bishop Enrique Angelelli in Argentina, and Bishop Juan Gerardi in Guatemala), various priests and nuns (including the six Jesuits of the Universidad Centro-americano Jose Simeon Canas in San Salvador), and thousands of catechists and members of base communities have been killed for their commitment to the gospel of liberation. These martyrs offer a witness to the meaning and implications of following Christ in a violent world, Their testimony is much needed to overcome the effects of a cultural context that emphasises comfort and tends to forget the anonymous victims of injustice.” (4)

Why martyrs only four pages into a book on Jesus today? Well he is arguing that these martyrs, not just one, but many, are one of the four key permanent contributions of liberation theology to the ongoing task of theological reflection. That you can’t think and act on Jesus without a struggle that is radical, so radical it might even be life-giving.

Suddenly some of the fresh expressions talk I’ve been part of began to feel claustrophobic. I couldn’t think of many martyrs, although I can think of hours spent arguing about American authors, or the use or otherwise of pop culture, or candles, in worship.

Recently I reflected that mission is a 3D triangle. It needs to include

  • words, the talking of the Jesus story
  • deeds, the practical helps of listening well, of offering mercy, of seeking justice
  • prayer, whether in monastic patterns of faithful prayer, or of worship performed in representation of a hurting world, or in “power evangelism” in which the sick are prayed for
  • societal rebuilding in which Christians join with Nehemiah in rebuilding broken walls, follow Daniel who gave himself to just administration, echo Dueteronomy and seek to build cities of refuge

Fresh expressions claims to be about mission. But it runs the danger of becoming a church-centric, worship-focused program.

The feelings of claustrophobia lifted as I read on. Daniel offers a few critiques of liberation theology. One is that the use of praxis was too narrow. Praxis is not only political – it is also about ordinary, daily life, the real practices and lives of the people, “the whole reality as it really is, not as we would like it to be.” (7) In Australia this might not be matyrdom, but it is the way we eat, it is the way we shop, it is how we culture-make.

This offers a generative moment for fresh expressions. Daniel continues;

“there is a significant ecclesial role in the cause of people’s liberation … we need to strengthen Christian identity – including spirituality, liturgical life, and a factual sense of belonging.” (10)

In other words, Fresh expressions is vital as it encourages a ecclesial role that is contextual for First-world cultures. Fresh expressions remains essential as it seeks to nourish Christian identity in ways that make sense for 21st century disciples.

Fresh expressions is claustrophobic if the goal is fresh expressions. It is full of potential if the hope is cultural transformation in an alignment with God’s inbreaking Kingdom.

But what of where I started? What is the place of martyrs in Fresh expressions? Perhaps in the reminder of a life of love lived freely and radically, the invitation to love our enemies, not as an option for mature Christians who have their act together, but as a core of discipleship.

A radical Lenten following of Jesus?

Posted by steve at 11:49 AM