len on August 26th, 2017

A year ago, as I finished the first draft of Broken Futures, I wrote in the acknowledgements: “Yesterday I stood in a new doorway – one I created with a hammer and a crow-bar. I first had to expose the ancient plaster and lathe on the interior wall of our 100 year old home, and then the work began. It was messy. My right hand was beginning to ache. I was occasionally choking on dust, and it was irritating my eyes. After an hour of work I had created a path that will be used by a generation I will never know.”

Oddly, I now find myself building a new door. It’s not for the same doorway — but it feels like there is more to it than the door. As in the first case the doorway seemed to be linked to a process, so the door feels timely. But in what way, I don’t yet know. Perhaps when the opportunity appears, I’ll recognize the connection.

Meanwhile, the course I’m overseeing at Tyndale is moving along nicely. I have eight students in a cohort exploring models of spiritual formation. The class is very diverse in their interests, and so their approach to the maps they are exploring is similarly diverse. Fun stuff!

I’ve been reading an old Philip Yancey book on prayer, as well as finishing John Walton’s latest, “The Lost World of the Conquest.” This is his third in the series, and the first, on Genesis, was enlightening.

Last night we ventured out to the annual rib-fest. This event is well attended, very smoky, and always includes a band stand where the bass is cranked so loud that eventually your brain shuts down and the music becomes just noise. Not sure why this approach is still popular with the greying crowd. I can take it for about a half hour and then it becomes too painful. Otherwise a great event and with the streets closed to traffic it’s a nice event in the old Port Arthur core.

len on August 21st, 2017

Geography is simply a visible form of theology. (Levenson, 1985. 116)

How do we get to know our cities? How do we identify the spirit of a place? What theological and social frameworks will contribute to our understanding? We have begun to sketch these above, but our theological frames are likely to be diverse, shaped by the contexts and traditions which shape us, and so the complexity of our analysis becomes uniquely dialogical and contextual.

We can reflect on a particular place in terms of what we may call the spiritual geography, extending the theological task into an exploration of how context impacts faith. We use the word “context” to describe a particular environment, including but not limited to the physical dimensions. We include the historical, economic, social and cultural factors. Not only does context impact belief but also it provides a window (perhaps, an “imaginary”) through which one may relate to God. Moreover, the rise of virtual and networked space complicates context. The authors of Networked Theology remind us that “geography becomes irrelevant as time-space barriers dissolve.” (Campbell and Garner, 2016. 58)

When we extend the theological task to discern the spiritual geography of a place, we add another factor to the story: the interweave of attitudes and environment, postures and politics, and the ways this interweave calls to the spirit or denigrates it. These things are commonly felt as intangibles, and are difficult to identify and articulate. Theology is a reflective task because it asks questions and makes statements it cannot understand. It’s the nature of the craft. But our work helps us evaluate the human environment at levels that are more than merely phenomenological. It contributes to the richness of a spiritual vocabulary rooted in the rough and tumble of life, “sails and ships and ceiling wax.” It is not just holy places which inspire us, but places which inspire us become holy: they transform our human journey into a pilgrimage.

Linda Mercadante warns that discerning the spirit of a place could be reduced to a vague delineation of how a place is or is not conducive to human flourishing. She offers two safeguards to this tendency. First, the awareness that God is continually trying to reach us, to break through our defenses, and to offer divine grace. Second, as Calvin stressed, that God accommodates to our condition. “Our particularity creates the need for God to come to us in ways we can understand, and … God has the consummate ability to do this.” (Mercadante, 2004. 62)

The most fundamental way God has met us is in the Incarnation. The Incarnation combined the human and divine, matter and spirit, and was preeminently a phenomenon of spatiality. Jesus was placed, a first century Jew meeting us in place and time. This may cue us to some important questions relative to our urban contexts. The physical space of our humanity is not just flesh and blood, but also steel and glass. Our bodies do not interact socially apart from physical places. And in the nature of culture itself, our bodies participate in both a natural environment and cultural artifacts, so that the city is more than mere container, as place is more than space. The city is us.

And this means that the city remains both graced and fallen. We avoid reducing our discussion of the city to polarities, and are assisted by the social critiques of writers like Zizek, Bauman, and Chomsky. So when Rob Crosby-Shearer notes of Victoria that there are “shadows in paradise,” we know similar realities in our own cities. When Cory Seibel describes the darker “frontier” realities of Edmonton he notes that these are “acute manifestations of phenomena that occur across the life of the city.” That cues us to the way that Zizek addresses social symptoms. He uses the word “irruption,” which moves beyond the external psychological sign of an inner disturbance. (Zizek, 1989)

For Zizek, a Symptom can work within a culture to expose an unfulfilled drive, the unspoken void around which that culture has been formed. “An image, an explosion of media activity surrounding an event, a popular movie, a flurry of publishing can expose something hidden and unspoken that drives a culture’s meaning system.” (Hesiak, 2007) What we see and hear on the surface may be compensations for what the culture itself lacks at its core. Exposing these kinds of Zizekian Symptoms in our cities opens them up for change and transformation.

For Zizek, cultural symbolic orders exist to legitimize something; as such they are ideologies. These meaning systems mask an absence which no one wants to face. So every cultural system is prone to “irruptions of the Real” which reflect back to its participants what is hidden within the ongoing system of meaning. Thus the homeless populations amidst capitalist societies reveal the immanent logic of the politic of capitalism. Capitalist ideology may say that its goal is to rid humanity of all poverty, but Zizek would suggest that the homeless person reveals the true drive behind capitalism, the way it plays upon the fear of poverty and the fear that we all might become homeless if we don’t work harder. Global capitalism is a force that impacts the soul of every large Western city, and its Symptoms are available to any observer.

From the Introduction. Urban Loft Publishing, 2017.

len on August 11th, 2017

len on August 11th, 2017

len on July 14th, 2017

“Traditionally a journey was a rhythm of three forces: time, self and space. Now the digital virus has truncated time and space. Marooned on each instant, we have forfeited the practice of patience, the attention to emergence and delight in the Eros of discovery. The self has become anxious for what the next instant might bring.

“This greed for destination obliterates the journey. The digital desire for the single instant schools the mind in false priority. Each instant proclaims its own authority and the present image demands the complete attention of the eye. There is no sense of natural sequence where an image is allowed to emerge from its background and context when the time is right, the eye is worthy and the heart is appropriate. The mechanics of electronic imaging reverse the incarnation of real encounter.

“But a great journey requires plenty of time. It should not be rushed; if it is, your life becomes a kind of abstract package tour devoid of beauty and meaning. There is such a constant whirr of movement that you never know where you are. You have no time to give yourself to the present experience. When you accumulate experiences at such a tempo, everything becomes tin. Consequently, you become ever more absent from your life and this fosters emptiness that haunts the heart.”

John O’Donohue, Beauty (27)

len on July 12th, 2017

“It is very difficult to give up certainty-these positions, beliefs, explanations define us and lie at the core of our personal identity. Certainty is a lens to interpret what’s going on and, as long as our explanations work, we feel a sense of stability and security. But in a changing world, certainty doesn’t give us stability; it actually creates more chaos. As we stay locked in our position and refuse to adapt and change, the things we hoped would stay together fall apart. It’s a traditional paradox expressed in many spiritual traditions: By holding on, we destroy what we hope to preserve; by letting go, we feel secure in accepting what is.

“The first step to becoming curious is to admit that I’m not succeeding in figuring things out alone. If my solutions don’t work as well as I’d like, if my explanations of why something happened don’t feel sufficient, I take these as signs that it’s time to begin asking others about what they see and think. I try to move past the lazy and superficial conversations where I pretend to agree with someone else rather than inquire seriously into their perspective. I try and become a conscious listener, actively listening for differences.

“There are many ways to sit and listen for the differences. Lately, I’ve been listening for what surprises me. What did I just hear that startled me? This isn’t easy-I’m accustomed to sit there nodding my head as someone voices what I agree with. But when I notice what surprises me, I’m able to see my own views more clearly, including my beliefs and assumptions.

“Noticing what surprises and disturbs me has been a very useful way to see invisible beliefs. If what you say surprises me, I must have been assuming something else was true. If what you say disturbs me, I must believe something contrary to you. My shock at your position exposes my own position. When I hear myself saying “How could anyone believe something like that?” a light comes on for me to see my own beliefs. These moments are great gifts.”

Meg Wheatley, “Partnering with Confusion and Uncertainty”

len on July 9th, 2017

“Given that people everywhere in the system are necessary to develop effective responses, a critical leadership role is to focus attention on developing the processes and relationships that support people coming together to develop solutions.” (When Complex Systems Fail)

Meg Wheatley is aware of field science. Vision is a field. Individually we see only a small bit at a time. When we come together and listen to one another we see much more broadly. Missing pieces appear. We begin to get a sense of the texture of the problem, and not merely its mechanism. We begin to see in color. While an individual lens of the hologram contains the entire image, the image does not appear in 3d until the lenses are combined.

This is a time when the fragmentation of the church works against us in ways we do not even grasp, since we are only beginning to perceive the problem. The isolation and pace of ministry, the division of ministry into classes of lay and professional — all these things work against our listening and seeing together. This failure to live out the reality of an interpretive community greatly weakens us. We need to develop processes that support interconnection beyond our comfortable boundaries. We need to reach out.. right out to the margins.. to bring in a greater diversity of voices. This is critical in our moving forward with the gospel in this culture. Read the rest of this entry »

len on July 3rd, 2017

In 2007 David Fitch offered an overview of the work that Mark Lau Branson is doing around appreciative enquiry. Alan Roxburgh likewise applauded the benefits of using”appreciative enquiry” in local congregations as part a transformation process. Alan suggested AI as a tool which enabled people to be “listened into speech.”

Mark’s book is Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change. After an afternoon reflecting on the potential of narrative therapy as a healing process, and making the further connection to memory, and hope, and salutogenesis – I was ready for some further reflection on processes of communal healing and growth.

Here’s what David wrote:

“Mark Lau Branson presented a workshop where he talked about the work of leading transformation in congregations. It described the contrast between typical church “problem solving”, (i.e. go into a church, study the problems, talk solutions and then propose a plan to implement solutions) – and Appreciative Inquiry — asking questions about where God has been at work and then stoking the imagination as to how to further participate in these ways as a body. He called the latter interpretive leadership. He said the deadest churches he had been had still been places where God had been wonderfully at work, but there were no witnesses. Read the rest of this entry »

len on June 5th, 2017

Why are there so many fewer imaginative resources dedicated to the feast of Pentecost as opposed to Christmas and Easter? My guess is that its partly that our cultural context (primarily commercial) supports the latter two, and so the church finds it simpler to engage them in response.

I also wonder if Pentecost has been so “owned” by the tribe and label that it has been Christianly politicized to an extent that the remainder of evangelicalism has avoided it. So here’s the bigger question —

How do we begin to engage in the same rich theological reflection that we dedicate to our other high days? How do we learn to live in the reality of Pentecost as thoroughly as we do in the reality of incarnation and resurrection? How do we let Pentecost form our faith and practice to the same degree?

len on June 5th, 2017