Class war critique of emerging church?

Wee Beautiful Pict has started blogging again, which is great – he’s been away too long.  Here he lets fly with a long post with more than a hint of class war frustration at emerging church missiology, with (IMHO) more than a bit of rightness in what he says.

There does appear to be an institutionalised, elite based approach to church generally, and I dont like it much either. My one wobble on his rant though – I was brought up for quite a few years on a council estate, and I live on one now – but I cant really pretend to be working class.

Check out his music too.


just making my position clear on a couple of issues

For anyone who is interested enough to read the posts on this blog, and is wondering where I am coming from on some of this stuff, particularly the stuff to do with economics and Christianity, I just want to set my stall out.

I am a committed follower of Jesus, I prefer this to the name ‘Christian’ as although I do follow Christian tradition, I have found Christian has come to mean much more than good old Jesus following.

In theological terms I find myself falling into no particular camp, I have sympathies with liberals in some way, with conservative evangelicals in others.  I strongly resonate with Anabaptism, I love the model of Saint Francis of Assisi.  I fit some of the mould of a ‘pomo – emergent’ type, but am part of the charismatic, evangelical free church model.  A while ago I took a test and came out as strongly emergent post modern, and more Catholic than charismatic evangelical, even though I almost certainly a protestant, oh and I also quite like the Orthodox church.

I am politically leftist – I am not a Marxist as such, but I do believe in redistribution, communality, and voluntary simplicity in a world where many are dying for want of a few quid.  I am probably more accurately described as an anarchist.  This is for a number of reasons, one of the main ones is that from my studies of politics the state is defined (by Weber) as having the monopoly on legitimate violence.  I dont agree that there is such a thing as legitimate violence, and so I cant support the state in that role.  That said, I do pay my taxes (or would if my income was high enough), and I intend to abide by the laws of the land in whichever country I am in.

I am living a life full of compromise, unable to meet many of my own aspirations, and constantly aware that my lifestyle doesnt fully match my beliefs.

I change my mind, often.  But generally the three points above remain constant.  My understanding of what it means to follow Jesus is that we are to live sacrificially, in the world but not of it, to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

On this blog my posts are often streams of conciousness, thoughts spewed out unedited and imperfect, and designed to stimulate thought and debate, not to have the last word.  I know I’m not a good blogger, nor even always a regular one, but I blog because I like to write, and to think out loud, and I like to interact in this kind of discussion with others.

I hope if I’m anything, I’m sincere, but I know that even in that I fail quite a bit.  I hope also that my primary motivation in all things is love, although I know in that too I am a repeat offender.

an economy of injustice?

Andrew (TSK) Jones posts today another interesting article on the issue of money.

In a longish post he makes the clear point that most people who study for Christian ministry do so at a cost, often of many thousands of pounds/dollars, leaving them with a large debt to clear on graduation.

In order to sustain themselves, and pay off their debt they move into paid ministry, in established churches of one sort or another, instead of taking part in the vibrant and exciting underground church movement, meeting in small groups, often in homes or rented spaces.

The problem of course goes further than that, all of us in ‘full time’ ministry have to wrestle with how to fund our work.  Some find funding through church support, where a congregation(s) donate money to them on a monthly basis, others win individual patrons who support their work in a financial way.  Some find part time work, whether that be a supermarket or some kind of freelance work.  Benefits too play a part, the government is kind enough to support those who choose to work in voluntary positions with charities through the tax credit system.

Some people, who manage to get their hands on a wadge of capital enter into arenas like property (real estate) or similar, living off the income from rented houses and so on.

But the question is, how many of these paths are a) sustainable, and b) justifiable?

The traditional model of church or individual patronage is being squeezed, and fewer full time workers are managing to make ends meet through this channel.   More individuals are having to look elsewhere to find a sustainable path for their personal income.

Part time jobs are a suitable solution for some, although often they interfere with other work, and people end up doing full time ‘ministry jobs’ in time they should be spending resting or reflecting, because the rest of their time is taken up stacking shelves.

However the other solution, that of entering the capitalist system and plunging into property or other investments is fraught with difficulty.  I wont go all the way down the line on this now, but suffice it to say that this is a part of a very inquitous economic system which unfortunately enslaves many.  I dont see how we can in all conscience take part in this – we need to ask the question, ‘in what way are we distinguishable from the rest of the world here?’

So where are we left?  First point to make is that as followers of Jesus we need to learn to live differently from the world.  I see no justification for any of us to be driving bmw’s – seriously, how can we justify that?

It may be that if we need a car, we have to settle for something which rattles a bit, and looks a bit crap.  Our car wont win any beauty contests, but it works and gets us all over the country, our flat isnt the beautiful farm house we secretly covet, but its a suitable place for us to live.  We need to learn this lesson, that we are to live differently from others, not just the same as them.

With this in mind we can immediately cut our costs, a cheap rented flat is less of a burden than a massive mortgage.  Sharing costs with others too can make a difference – living in community is the classic example, lets not take things as our own property, but be ready to share them with one another – this is as much a challenge to me as anyone else, but its a central part of this different economy.

More and more I think we are being called to look again at what work we engage ourselves in, most of us have things we can do which will benefit others, and will allow us to earn a bit of money in a sustainable way. I reckon that wont work for everyone, but for many of us it will – perhaps we need to think less about how important we are (cos our ministry will fail if we arent there 12 hours a day) and change our work patterns to incorporate what you might call manual work of one sort or another.  That manual work might be at a computer, or it might be on a farm, but it does all of us good to be involved in work outside of a ‘ministry’ situation in one way or another.

Pete Rollins – Irony and Fetishism

A really well crafted piece of writing from the excellent Pete Rollins this morning explores the concepts of irony and fetishism as strategies to avoid change – to avoid confronting the real issues of our lives.

I sometimes agree with the stuff that Rollins writes, sometimes disagree, sometimes just get confused, but whichever way it goes, his writing is always stimulating and challenging.

This particular article immediately makes me consider how much our fellowship gatherings are fetishes, ways of avoiding dealing with or confronting the lifestyle changes we need to take on.  We can use these church meetings (to use an uncharacteristicly electrical metaphor) as insulation against change rather than the conductor of it.

The article is well worth a read and meditation – and along the way provides one of the clearest explanations of irony I’ve seen, which Alanis Morisette could have done with reading.

new monasticism – the problem of children

An interesting discussion has been taking place about the question of race in the context of New Monasticism, over at God’s politics, the Sojourners hangout.  While I dont personally feel the effects of that in particular, I definitely recognise the difficulties faced by one particular blogger, who talks about the enormous decision of ‘relocating to the abandoned places of empire‘ when children are involved.

We’ve just taken the decision to put our kids into a school which is in a disadvantaged area, this is not the sort of school that others of our class/background/educational attainment would normally choose to put their children in.

Have I done right by my kids in putting them in this school?  I have lots of reasons why I think I have, but the proof will be in the pudding, what if this negatively affects their life chances?  What if they are badly bullied?  What if their educational outcomes are lower because they went to this school?

Am I irresponsible in doing this?  Some people think so.  I hope I am not, I hope I am actually doing the best thing for my children and others – but it does concern me.  Fortunately Kel and I are clued up enough to be able to deal with any educational issues that crop up, and in fact having been to the school and talked to the head, I’m pretty confident that there wont be a problem.  Similarly bullying can take place in any school and I have no reason to think it will happen here.  But this all goes against the conventional wisdom, and what if the conventional wisdom is right?

I dont want to give the impression that I’m overly worried about this, as I say I’m confident we can deal with any potential problems anyhow, but this is something that anyone who is in this position has to take seriously and deal with if they have children – regardless of race.

No big names II

Mark Berry, whose blog is a constant source of information, inpiration and encouragement blogs about his own frustration with Christian events which cost a fortune, and serve to ‘keep the customer satisfied’, as Simon and Garfunkel would have said.

I really think there is milage in this guys, lets be honest the prices of conferences such as Spring Harvest and the many Christian festivals that litter the summer are verging on scandalous.  We can do better.

Much better.

incarnation, redemption and intentional community

These three words are key to a lot of what we do, and what we intend to to do here in Grimsby.

It’s difficult for many people to understand why we moved here – for some even more difficult to comprehend why we actively want to live on an estate which is known in this already deprived area, for being particularly deprived.

But the truth is, we want to see God made flesh in this place, we want to see the people and places downtrodden and abandoned by the world, labelled as useless and hopeless by society, redeemed.  We want to see community developed in a fractured society.

We aren’t thick enough to think we are the answer to all the problems, we aren’t arrogant enough to consider ourselves better than others at bringing about change, we aren’t naive enough to think that no community exists here already.

What we are is ready to lay down what the world has to offer, to serve others and do as St David suggested ‘the small things’ which can make the world a better place for those enduring their own private hells.  And we can introduce to those who havent heard the good news, something that can change every part of their lives.

So if you’re up for it, please pray that we can get a house on the Nunsthorpe estate, if that is not where God wants us, then we arent so stubborn that we will try and force it.  We’re just following what we believe him to be saying, and that’s all.

I’m currently trying to talk someone into letting us have a vandalised flat rent free if we do it up for them – you never know – ‘sounds crazy but it might just work…’

I went to see the local school with the girls today, it seemed great.  There’s a new head teacher, eager to make his mark I’m sure, by improving the school and raising the standards – the girls both loved it, and begged me to let them go there – it’s not down to me though, we’re waiting on the LEA to decide.

If we do move on to the estate, it will be the first step in what we think will be a new episode for us, one characterised by some of the marks of new monasticism, and built around many of the principles of cross cultural mission which we’ve been schooled in over the last few years.

And there will be a lot of gardening to do when I get my allotment going!