You gotta love tools when they work well. This past year I learned the use of a good reciprocating saw, and a large die set for threading 3/4" steel pipe. Today I’m marveling at the convenience of a 1 GB memory card that pops out of my digital camera and into a slot in my laptop. I’ve taken two dozen shots as well as two short movies, and this afternoon I also recorded the talks of Bob Roxburgh, Andrew Jones and Peter Askew. Alan is somewhat ill, probably bronchitis, so his participation is going to be a challenge these next days.
No matter who speaks. The dynamic of a gathering like this, which is more about discernment than about action, has less to do with who is speaking than with what God is doing. There is an amazing congruence in the stories being told, the feelings expressed, the stories and experiences shared. It’s encouraging to be among people who have been on the same journey. The names are different, the details vary, but the signposts along the road are strikingly familiar.
Not that there isn’t diversity — we have a two generational gathering, both professional ministers and lay, people in church, out of church, and in simple structures and a wide range of educational, denominational and theological backgrounds. We have our own hopes and fears. But in all that diversity, there is a desire to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. What is God doing in our culture in our time? What must be our response? What is the way forward from here?
One question that came up toward the end of the sharing of stories this afternoon was whether a missional order roots a community or a network. At least, that’s the question I was hearing. I don’t see them opposed, and certainly the experience of Peter Askew, visiting with us here from the Northumbria community, would not support any opposition. For Peter a missional order helps root and center him within the community he pastors, as well as within his larger fellowship (Anglican). But it remains a voluntary and secondary commitment. Perhaps a missional order is the ethos of a network, and the places where an entire community forms around the order are the nodes. Those concrete expressions of the life root and strengthen and resource the larger network. A missional order will transcend denominational boundaries as well as geographical ones. (John Gilmore, of UNOH, a missional order working among the poor, is also with us from Australia).
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It’s a lovely day here. After mist and rain the afternoon the sun is shining as I type here in my room. It’s now 5:20 PM and I have forty minutes of free time before supper. I leave you with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
‘…the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this…’
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Last night before the session I had an interesting conversation with a brother from Pennsylvania. We had come a bit late so we were relegated to the outer circle. The room is a decent size and the long tables are arranged in a square, but I think there are forty plus people here so not everyone can squeeze around the center.
David and I got chatting about process. David acknowledged the importance of discussion, but also confessed his impatience and desire for action. I realized that I was feeling very different. I know that its easy to move in comfortable circles in conversation. Conversation can be an excuse for not choosing, not moving, not making commitments. But this isn’t that.
What I observe here is a team of people coming with an agenda, but surrendering that agenda to the group. In a sense, they lay it on the table and ask for discernment. They themselves submit to a larger process, in the awareness and conviction that “God’s future is among God’s people.” This requires a certain humility and a certain vulnerability: qualities at the heart of the gospel. Any hermeneutic which is not in some sense communal will only end in reinforcing the dynamics of individualism. The only alternative we have is to cast our lot with God’s people, confident that God Himself will lead us. We choose interdependence.
It’s a beautiful thing to observe in action.
I’m not saying this will work with every group in every place at every time. I’m not saying there is no time for leaders to boldly step forth with the Word God has given: though even then I believe that “the spirit of prophets is subject to prophets.” But in particular in a time like this, in this place we find ourselves, with so much that is unknown, we need one another. We need the wisdom of the Body. We need “the other.” Alan observed that the social understanding of the Trinity, in their diversity and mutuality, is less a reminder of our need for community and belonging than our need for the other, a reminder to welcome the stranger. The Luke 10 passage we have been dwelling into every morning is all about hospitality. Perhaps in this moment it’s more important to recognize the Trinity as founding God’s mission, “The Great Invitation,” the dynamic of sending, than it is to recognize the social dynamic, which after all might just found a great conversation which has no ending..
As Henri Nouwen once wrote, hospitality is not a part of the gospel: hospitality IS the gospel.
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The picture above is filled with great people. Most of you will recognize Brother Maynard at the right. Next to him is Rick Meigs of The Blind Beggar. To his left is Jay Akkermann of the Northwest Nazarene University. Next to Jay is Brad Sargent. I have a feeling Brad has a blog but I can’t recal where it’s located. Brad is a brilliant brother with a strong interest in culture. Next to Brad waving his arms wildly is wild man Mike. Mike, like myself, is a Regent grad. He’s a history buff and his family has just entered a new transition. Back by the window between Brad and Jay is Rob Robinson. “EpicRob” is involved with simple churches in Portland, partnering with Daniel Steigerwald who has recently brought his family there from Europe. So much of the experience and power of a gathering like this is found in the shared journey and shared purpose, shared passion, faith and courage of men and women like this.
On Wednesday afternoon around 2:30 Andrew Jones began an interview with Pete Askew on the relationship between missional community and missional orders. Pete essentially told the story of the Northumbria community, as well as its relationship to the larger Church in England and worldwide. In the process of that telling some things became clearer, and a few things more murky.
At the end of that interview the conversation was expanded to the larger gathering. One question that formed in my mind was asked in a different way by Richard. I can’t remember the way he phrased it, but my question was essentially the relationship of a missional order or rule to the community itself. Northumbria amounts to a church within the church, yet they speak of their order as a community. What I heard in Pete’s answer was this: we use the language of community within our group because we are significantly related to one another. But in relation to the larger church, we are an order.
What interests me about that perspective is just that: it is perspectival. A good analogy is light: under some conditions it is a particle, but under others it’s a wave. It depends on the observer. Or, it depends on the question you ask. But light remains light, and its function doesn’t change. Perhaps a missional order will at times appear to the observer as just that: a rule, a guide, something that provides cohesion and empowers a people and a purpose. Perhaps at other times it will look more like a community all its own..
As I blog tonight at 5:30 we stand as a group on the edge of something new for us. There are many unknowns, many questions unresolved. Some of those questions are not resolvable from where we stand. That’s the nature of commitment, that only as we indwell something do we really know it. The observer has to dive in before she knows water. There is a sense of weakness and vulnerability in all this. The process will move beyond the safety threshold of some. But vulnerability and emptiness frame the incarnation and are the door to learning. I believe we’ll move ahead tonight and tomorrow and see the birth of a missional order.
Post Seabeck I
Much of the journey of my blogging these past six or seven years has been an attempt to discover an interpretive community that is both deeper and wider than the communities I have experienced, a community that is discerning of the times, and responding creatively to the voice of the Spirit. At the same time I was lookiing for roots - something larger than an individual community, more enduring, and built around shared purpose.
At some level I was intuitively responding to a call, and simultaneously to a need I saw around me. It has been evident that old foundations are crumbling, and the maps we hold no longer describe the territory.
Many of us have felt so alone, and intuited our need for company. It is so difficult to move in new directions alone; perhaps impossible, because we are a people and called to show forth together a new way of living. Elisabeth Fiorenza wrote, “If we dream alone, it remains merely a dream. If many dream together, then it is the beginning of a new reality…”
Moreover, if we fail to move together in community, we risk reinforcing the individualist and fragmentiing ethos, which only makes us weaker. But we have often looked in vain for support in our own localities. The level of enculturation, and sometimes of fear, often precludes the ability to consider new perspective.
Thank God, the Internet and new networks have supplied us with community we lacked. Our foggy vision has begun to clear. Those things we intuit become concrete as we share our stories and our seeing. We become like the VLA (Very Large Array) in New Mexico. The huge mirrors combine their individual light gathering capacity to increase resolution: collectively they see more and see further than individually they could ever reach.
So as a new concensus emerges, we find ourselves both shaping.. and being shaped by.. new perspective. At some point we find ourselves being asked for a new level of commitment. As we understand faithfulness in new ways, we have to discover, and commit to, new practices.
In some ways this little story is another take on Seabeck. How do we form networks of support that can add depth and perspective to the places we live? What kind of networks do we need? What kind of practices form us and sustain us? How do we build bridges across geography, across denominational labels, and across history and culture? What new obedience is required of us? Is a missional order one faithful response to the need of the moment?
Many of us believe that the answer is “yes.” Others are on this same journey and need to join the conversation, in order to become learners and explorers along with us. We need to add mirrors and add capacity by adding more voices and more eyes. We continue to need the humility to live with “beginner’s mind.”
Andy Raine at Northumbria writes,
Rule then is a means whereby, under God, we take responsibility for the pattern of our spiritual lives. It is a ‘measure’ rather than a ‘law’. The word ‘rule’ has bad connotations for many, implying restrictions, limitations and legalistic attitudes. But a Rule is essentially about freedom. It helps us to stay centred, bringing perspective and clarity to the way of life to which God has called us. The word derives from the Latin ‘regula’ which means ‘rhythm, regularity of pattern, a recognisable standard’ for the conduct of life. Esther De Waal has pointed out that ‘ regula’ ‘is a feminine noun which carried gentle connotations’ rather than the harsh negatives that we often associate with the phrase ‘rules and regulations’ today. We do not want to be legalistic. A Rule is an orderly way of existence but we embrace it as a way of life not as keeping a list of rules. It is a means to an end – and the end is that we might seek God with authenticity and live more effectively for Him.
Being bound to a Rule of life could be very restricting, but it is a voluntary and purposeful restriction. It excludes other possibilities in order to be focused on what is chosen. There are new and demanding priorities, but there is also much joy.
Post Seabeck II
I wish I had time to gather all the links of those blogging post Seabeck.. but I’m swamped with work and I’m tired. So I’ll just note Bro Maynard’s series and then offer another reflection.
Bro Maynard blogged today on “shalom” with reference to missional engagement and living in exile..
But seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its shalom you will find your shalom.
It’s a long post and worth reading. The day before he blogged on the importance of memory for exiles. He quotes Brueggemann again:
[T]he quest for meaning as it has been interpreted is not first on our agenda, precisely because it is rootlessness and not meaninglessness which characterizes the current crisis. There are no meanings apart from roots. And such rootage is a primary concern of Israel and a central promise of God to his people. This sense of place is a primary concern of this God who refused a house and sojourned with his people (2 Sam 7:5-6) and of the crucified one who “has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).
THAT is a significant insight. And I’m as interested in the place of its location as much as its significance. Notice where these insights come from: the first - old - testament. I’m intrigued by that location. Brueggemann’s insights grow out of a place that many of us would have thought would have little value for our current crisis: little value for reflection or reimagining the way forward. And that is precisely the quandary we find ourselves in. In these days we have little use for anything that is dated, and our sights are set firmly on the future. But we have no working maps. We have no working maps because we are uprooted from the soil that birthed us. Until we know who we are we cannot know the way forward. The themes that should root our reflection are land, promise, exile, covenant, shalom: themes that have a particular history and are rooted in a particular place among a peculiar people. They are themes that are storied - themes with which we can reconnect . Maynard quotes again:
Whereas a pursuit of space may be a flight from history, a yearning for a place is a decision to enter history with an identifiable people in an identifiable pilgrimage. Humanness, as biblical faith promises it, will be found in belonging to and referring to that locus in which the peculiar historicity of a community has been expressed and to which recourse is made for purposes of orientation, assurance, and empowerment. The land for which Israel yearns and which it remembers is never unclaimed space but is always a place with Yahweh, a place well filled with memories of life with him and promise from him and vows to him.
It is in the first testament that we discover our identity as the people of Yahweh - we too are pilgrims and wanderers. As God’s people and in that story we partner with God in His mission of redemption. We stumble along, we forget who we are, but then we remember that Yahweh offers a hope and a future, and that is what we offer to other wanderers. We offer shalom: peace - by entering the story of God’s mighty acts. That story is our story. God has entered history to give us a home: and not us alone, but many others. To paraphrase, "we go to prepare a place for them."
I have a book on my desk waiting to be read that I wish I could open this week. The title is Artists, Citizens, Philosophers: Seeking the Peace of the City by Duane K. Friesen. But the book I was digging in this weekend is Signs of Emergence by Kester Brewin. In chapter I Kester is also using Brueggemann, primarily Hopeful Imagination. He writes,
“Only through the practice of memory will new possibility emerge. Without some form of memory, this sentence you are reading would make no sense… Without memory we become imprisoned in an absolute present, unaware of the direction we have come from, and therefore what direction we are heading in. Without memory there can be no momentum, no discernible passage of time, and therefore no movement or velocity…
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© 2005-2008 Len Hjalmarson. Last Updated in January, 2008