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


  1. I have a little “souvenir” from Opawa Baptist here, placed in a bowl in my living room. It’s a beautiful one: a mother with child and little lamb in her arms…I wrote something on the back when I needed a piece of paper in a hurry: “Thankfulness equals fruitfulness. In everything give thanks.”…So, thanks for this image of peace and rest in the middle of a dark forest.

    Comment by Ingrid — July 21, 2010 @ 9:11 am

  2. thanks for sharing that Ingrid, really appreciated


    Comment by steve — July 21, 2010 @ 10:12 am

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