Tuesday, July 20, 2010

wind of Spirit blows on and on and on: valuing takeaways

Tim Keel just dropped me a line to share a lovely story of the gracious, caring, unpredictable Spirit. He describes being part of a worship experience I lead in Pasadena, back in 2005. (I blogged about it back here.) The story then blows on, taking shape some 5 years later. Tim writes …

I returned to my office to clean it out. That involved box a lot of things up. But I also took the opportunity to go through old files to see what I wanted to keep and what could be thrown away. Going through old conference files, I found this postcard. Because of the impression Steve’s prayer made on me at the time of the conference, I wrote it out on the back of the postcard … To randomly find a postcard from a place I would soon being leaving for…I can’t adequately describe how powerful it was to read and then pray that prayer at a time when everything in my life felt like it was being blown apart.

It’s a lovely, encouraging, inspiring story. What strikes me is the importance of things that make worship tangible. I talk about this in my book, The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change.

Walter Brueggemann describes the task of mission in a postmodern world as one of funding, of providing the bits and pieces out of which a new world can be imagined. The emergent church needs to see itself as “funding” tourists, providing a deep and wide enough passage to enable postmodern people to navigate their way to God.

Sourcing tourism through the provision of spiritual products can be a key mission task of the emerging church. This builds on some of the current worshipping practices of the emerging church. It invites a move beyond gathered worship to consider how the church can be missionary, offering its spirituality resources as spiritual product to a spiritually hungry world, without expecting the crossing of a threshold of a church door. Let me give a few practical examples.

Most tourists buy souvenirs. When I talk of souvenirs, I am not thinking of kitsch. I’m thinking of photographs, personal mementos, shopping bags and those soaps, shampoos, and sugar packets from hotel rooms. These are souvenirs. When the tourist returns home, the handling of these takeaway souvenirs rekindles memories. The emerging church is asking itself what kind of physical souvenirs we can send home with those who journey with us.

For the last few years, churches like Graceway and Cityside have used art as part of the Advent experience in the Sundays leading up to Christmas. Each Sunday, a different piece of art was introduced and reflected upon. The art pieces were printed on postcards and distributed. Attendees could take them home as a spiritual memento for the week and perhaps return to the reflections of Sunday’s experience. They served as spiritual takeaway, a souvenir to hang on the fridge door.
At this juncture, the souvenirs become missionary. Everyone remotely connected with the church can be sent a pack of four postcards. The church as tour guide is now offering spirituality to people both gathered and scattered. The e-mails and letters of gratitude flow in.

When churches start adding physical souvenirs, people have access to spiritual resources without having to open a church door. A theological stake has been driven into the ground. The church has recognized that people are at different places in their spiritual journeys. The church is loving people enough to go into the “highways and byways,” trusting the wind of the Spirit to do its work in people’s lives.

Five years on from when I wrote that, my thinking still holds. Our worship needs tangible shape. I don’t see a separation between the wind of the Spirit and the practicality of a takeway. Rather, drawing on Eugune Rogers, After The Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology From Resources Outside The Modern West: “To think about the Spirit it will not do to think ‘spiritually’: to think about the Spirit you have to think materially.” (56). And if you want to drift further back in time, then here is a scrap from a Pentecost sermon by Gregory of Nazianzen: “[I]f [the Spirit] takes possession of a shepherd, He makes him a Psalmist, subduing evil spirits by his song, and proclaims him KIng; if He possesses a goatherd and a scraper of sycamore fruit, He makes him a Prophet [Amos 7:14] …. If He takes possession of Fishermen, He makes them catch the whole world…. If of Publicans, He… makes them merchants of souls.”

This wind of the Spirit blows on the material world, and essential to our engaging the Spirit is our working with God’s creation. Like postcards.

Posted by steve at 09:14 PM

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pentecost season book review: Holy Spirit. Contemporary and Classic Readings

For too long the Spirit in Christian thought has been stereotyped, ignored as the forgotten person of the Trinity, left to the Charismatics and Pentecostals. With the church celebrating Pentecost last week, it is surely a season for us all to be reading around the third person of the Trinity. A book like The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings is well worth investing in. (Make sure you order the paperback edition, because the hardcover price is simply ridiculous).  The book gathers readings from across the centuries – 20th century, Syriac, Early Greek, Latin, Orthodox, Mystical. While there are a range of texts of the Spirit, this book does a superb job of gathering a rich range of material from diverse cultures and contexts.

A feature of the readings is their genre – while some are theology texts, others are sermons, or songs, or art works, or descriptions of liturgy. As such it reminds us of how much theological work can be done by the church – in our Pentecost sermons, in the songs we sing about the Spirit, in the art we promote, in the words we say at communion and baptism.

Each reading has a helpful introduction by the editor, theologian Eugene Rogers. (I’ve noted before here and here his excellent After The Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology From Resources Outside The Modern West). Rogers’ introductions are worth the price of the book alone, drawing attention to nuance, layer and complexity.

One gripe is the lack of readings from the contemporary Pentecostal or charismatic world. There is now quite enough material to have provided such a section. Is the absence yet another indication that the problem the church has with the Spirit is not just historic, but still contemporary?

Posted by steve at 03:24 PM

Saturday, May 15, 2010

a pentecost journal

Here’s an idea … why not every church start a Pentecost journal. This would be read every year at Pentecost. Then, after a time of silence for reflection, updates to the journal would be invited. People would name how the Spirit has been active among them in the year gone. These would be typed up, and added to the journal.

Which would be read again next year.

This would honour the Spirit as alive today, honour the Spirit as alive in history, appreciate the Spirit as diverse and creative in the life of the community, develop skills of discernment and just be plain interesting.

It is an idea that has some echoes to the Advent journals I initiated at Opawa. It emerged in my Grow and go Mission-shaped community class today. We were talking about innovation (one of the 9 National Church Life Survey indicators of a healthy church) and to make this practical, the class were introduced to a number of ways to practise creative brainstorming. In the process, as groups laughed and talked, a number of random linkages were made …

Posted by steve at 10:41 PM

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ascension worship: the footprints of Jesus

I enjoyed how Ascension day chapel worship shaped up today. I always find it hard to put worship experiences into words, but for what it’s worth here are some of the pieces. The Biblical spark was the Ascension and in reflecting on the text I was struck by the idea of Ascension as the departing feet of Jesus. Real feet, now leaving.

That provided a working tactile image, footprints. And then the madly, obvious idea, to have footprints, and to invite people to stand in these footprints of Jesus. This was achieved prior by painting some barefeet, and then walking over 3 metre long strips of frostcloth. (The kids absolutely loved giving me a hand with this part!) When it dried, they looked great. Very simple. Very effective. One set of footprints were in colour.

The other set were in black.

This allowed multiple stations:

  • the black footprints; the Ascension as the absence of Jesus and so the invitation to stand on the (dried) footprints and pray for ourselves and for others we know who experience God as absent.
  • the colour footprints, reflecting on the impact of the footprints of Jesus, who had walked with and among the disciples. I laid, face down, beside each colour footprints, various cards from the Jesus deck (I got my deck here some years ago and it was great to get a chance to use them). So, if people chose to participate, there was a real sense of mystery about which card they would choose and thus which story of Jesus they might engage with.

The colour had another layer. I had started by offering cut up paint chips from paint charts, and the invitation for people, as they arrived, to choose a colour that symbolised their week. As part of our call to worship we shared our chips with each other. Fun, interactive, but an essential part of gathering ourselves as real people, with real stories – and of course the living “colourful” stories of Jesus continuing today.

Around this was woven the usual frame – praise, confession, Bible readings both Old Testament and New Testament, passing the peace, affirmation of faith, sermon, communion, benediction.  For those interested, I’ll place the order of service below.

For me, I had quite profound encounters at both stations. The Jesus deck card I turned up was just bang on the nail in terms of my struggle to follow Jesus at the moment. So bang on the nail it was almost spooky. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:54 PM