Friday, August 06, 2010

your place or mine? hospitality as mission

I’ve been asked to offer some input to a gathering of church leaders in Tasmania in a few weeks (August 20-22). The title they’ve given me is this: Your place or mine: hospitality as mission. I said yes because I think it names a fascinating tension and one that has been nagging at me in recent days.

Back in April I was pondering mission in relation to the Zaccheus story in Luke 19. I was struck by how Jesus does mission at Zaccheus place, at his table, inside his home. Which, when I thought about it, was the dominant way the Gospel stories portray Jesus. He doesn’t give hospitality. He receives hospitality.

The exception is the Waiting Father/Prodigal Son in Luke 15, which has often used to frame mission and encourage the church to open it’s arms in embrace. Yet note the context in which the story is told – Jesus accepting hospitality, not giving it. Fascinating stuff.

I took this insight to my bookshelf and went through all my books on hospitality. Wonderful books on the banquet of God and the embrace of God at the Eucharist. But sure enough, almost all are about hospitality at our place. We are the host and they focus on how we give hospitality.

Which can so easily become occupied with mission as people coming to us, our turf, our churches, our terms, our worship, our welcome, our websites.

Which leaves a wonderful tension: How to integrate hospitality with the pattern of Jesus? What does hospitality in Western culture mean at their place, not mine! Any insights welcome as I begin my preparation.

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM

Friday, April 16, 2010

re-framing the prodigal in regard to fresh expressions and established church

Ben Edson has re-written the parable of the Prodigal son/Waiting Father/Faithful son/absent prodigal daughter (choose your title with care, because each character opens up a different interpretive lens).

There was a mother who had two sons. The youngest one said to his mother, mother thanks for the years that you’ve looked after me, thanks for all that you’ve give me, but I think that you’ve got it wrong. I’m going to take all that I have inherited from you and go off to country foreign to you and experiment.

After being away for sometime the younger son started to recognise that he had been foolish and needed the love and support of the mother. He decided to go home back to the mother. He would say to her: I am sorry that I left you, your resources are so diverse, I miss you and I want to be part of your family.

The first part is here. The conclusion, offering 3 alternative endings

  • the institutional church’s slow grinding to death of innovation
  • the arrogance of fresh expressions
  • an embrace between margin and centre

is here. It’s a wonderful example of re-framing and re-creating, and a fascinating use of Scripture.

Initially I loved it, the creativity, the multiplicity of endings. But now I’m not at all sure. When I have the words to name my unease, I’ll try to complete this post by explaining why … (more…)

Posted by steve at 11:27 AM

Friday, March 12, 2010

creativity, spirituality and mental health (and the prodigal son)

What is the place of spirituality and creativity in making mental illness more manageable and aiding recovery? Should God-stuff be allowed in the treatment?

That is the question asked by academic and clinician, Kelley Raab Mayo in her new book, Creativity, Spirituality, and Mental Health: Exploring Connections.

As one specific example, she notes how hope is considered essential for healing from mental illness. She then considers imagination, and how it can be fostered by story and then uses the Prodigal Son as a case study. It offers hope, of a different future. It also hopes in the way it allows identification with different characters – those who feel cut off can identify with the younger son, those who grieve lost relationships can identify with the father, those who feel treated unfairly by life can identify with the elder brother. Thus the story reduces a sense of aloneness and offers meaning.

Whlle she sounds a note of caution –

“An approach centred on human depravity and an authoritarian God can take away personal agency rather than promote it. In contrast, a perspective centred on the loving, forgiving divine nature … is wholesome, healing, and entertains a hopeful future. Fostering hope is a core feature of any spiritual intervention.” (79)

– her conclusion is an overwhelming yes. That while drugs and therapy have a place, so do the resources of church attendance, prayer, meditation, dreams and working with sacred texts and these need to be facilitated in our work with those suffering mental illness.

“cultivating a rapprochment between psychiatry and spirituality is essential, I believe, to the future of treatment for mental illness.” (143)

This will include listening, encouraging healthy spirituality and challenging unhealthy spirituality. In so doing, we are taking seriously people as integrated whole and this is a key challenge facing both the church and the current medical profession.

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

pass the peace in God’s world as acts of prodigal fathering

I fumbled the benediction in chapel today. Life’s a bit full at the moment, so I was bound to fumble something at some point and life’s like that.

The Biblical text was the prodigal son and around that Jonny Baker and I framed call to worship, an imaginative engagement with the text, some stations to allow reflection, confession, intercession and communion.

I was aware that there was no “passing of the peace” and aware that this has been a feature of various Uniting College chapel service’s I’ve been a part of. I’d been teaching just before chapel, looking at New Testament images of church. Which include the new creation and salt, as an image for a church deeply immersed in the world.

So it seemed to me in light of that impulse, that passing the peace could thus be an act of benediction, an invitation to mission as Christ’s reconciling people, offering the embrace of the father as an act of prodigal fathering.

So I decided in the midst of the service to conclude with a benediction, “Go, Pass the peace, in God’s world.”

So I invited people to face the door. But all that came out was the word “peace.” I waited for more. So did those gathered. I knew I had more to say, but my brain had simply stopped working. And so we all exited, knowing that something had not quite been completed.

Life’s like that sometimes.

So I simply note it here for completeness, for humour and as a theological and liturgical question:
What are the implications of making the passing of the peace the benediction, rather than an act in worship and after confession?

Posted by steve at 01:22 PM