You were made to choose…

Psychological determinism is something I feel the need to resist.

You might have guessed that from posts like this one, in which I react to the seeping snake oil that is personality testing. One of the reasons that I react against all this kind of stuff is the fact that it would tell us that we can not change- that our die was cast in the DNA we grew from and therefore we should just conform to our stereotype.

I do not concur because I do not think the science can support such narrow determinism. Also I stand as a person in much need of change. I am not the best that I can be. I am not the finished article. At age 47 the broken bits of me still need mending and the sinful bits of me need forgiving more than ever. I no longer have the excuse of immaturity.

This short TED talk says some interesting and hopeful things about the continuing possibilities of change;

Does the internet make everything superficial- even revolution?


I have been thinking a lot about revolution- not the violent bloody guillotine kind, more the Jesus kind- the explosion of light in the middle of our thinking that means that living the old way seem ridiculous.

I worry that it is too late for me and for my generation. We lost our passion, our ideology, our religion. It was already being poisoned by toxic consumption when the wars in the Gulf killed it dead. What replaces this for most of us is that most pernicious anti-doctrine called cynicism. Those of us in whom some old light survives are tired and so easily distracted by trivia, sport, shiny product.

The gap between hope and aspiration is a dreadful one. We hoped for a world that was not being eaten away piece by piece by the rich North at the expense of the poor South. We hoped for societies who are learning to find harmony, community, justice, compassion. We hoped to break free from the cycles of materialism that corrupt and commodotise the lives of rich and poor (although particularly the rich.) We hoped for so much more than plastic life with built in obsolescence.

Instead we accommodate. We compromise our compromises. We watch TV. Our lives slip by with advert breaks. In an age of total communication I often find myself with three screens flicking three different sets of information at me at once. I outsourced my humanity into cyberspace; I live only on screen now.

Most of us know this to be true, and so we find ourselves on an instinctive search for something with meaning; mountaintop experiences, adrenaline rushes, screaming rock concerts. But because of the internet, because we are tired, distracted and outsourced, most of the time we look for meaning via our screens. Like the one you are reading this through right now.

And there is meaning/truth/beauty out there. Facebook is full of it- all those video clips, quotations, posters that get posted and re-posted millions of times. Clips like this one;

Don’t get me wrong- this is lovely. It might even contribute to making shifts in people minds towards grace. But at the same time do we really think that these kinds of formats can bridge the gap between hope and aspiration that I mentioned above?

You may also point me towards the way that savvy campaigning organisations have used social media platforms to get their messages across- flashmobs, direct protesting, bombarding of websites, on line petitions etc.

But if we are honest, as soon as we hit ‘share’ on most of these posts, we kind of think that our job is done right? As soon as I have written something full of faux-pathos on this blog I feel like I have liberated a captive or two, fed some hungry child or restored their sight.

But nothing has changed. Not really.

There was a great interview with Uruguayan President José Mujica in The Guardian today. He is an old revolutionary Marxist, friend of Che Guevara, who is now the leader of perhaps the most progressive country in South America. This is from the article;

“I’m just sick of the way things are. We’re in an age in which we can’t live without accepting the logic of the market,” he said. “Contemporary politics is all about short-term pragmatism. We have abandoned religion and philosophy … What we have left is the automatisation of doing what the market tells us.”

The president lives within his means and promotes the use of renewable energy and recycling in his government’s policies. At the United Nations’ Rio+20 conference on sustainable development last year, he railed against the “blind obsession” to achieve growth through greater consumption. But, with Uruguay’s economy ticking along at a growth rate of more than 3%, Mujica – somewhat grudgingly, it seems – accepts he must deliver material expansion. “I’m president. I’m fighting for more work and more investment because people ask for more and more,” he said. “I am trying to expand consumption but to diminish unnecessary consumption … I’m opposed to waste – of energy, or resources, or time. We need to build things that last. That’s an ideal, but it may not be realistic because we live in an age of accumulation.”

Asked for a solution to this contradiction, the president admits he doesn’t have the answers, but the former Marxist said the search for a solution must be political. “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction,” he said. “But we think as people and countries, not as a species.”

Mujica and his wife chat fondly about meetings with Che Guevara, and the president guesses he is probably the last leader in power to have met Mao Zedong, but he has mixed feelings about the recent revolts and protests in Brazil, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere. “The world will always need revolution. That doesn’t mean shooting and violence. A revolution is when you change your thinking. Confucianism and Christianity were both revolutionary,” he said.

But he is cynical about demonstrations organised by social networks that quickly dissolve before they have a capacity to build anything lasting. “The protesters will probably finish up working for multinationals and dying of modern diseases. I hope that I am wrong about that.”

The revolution does not need tanks to break down it’s barricades- those who want it to fail only need to sit back and watch it become tired, distracted, outsourced.

I hope I am wrong too. I suppose that the very presence of leaders like Mujica gives us hope, even if he is 78.

I hope that there are still people who have the courage to act as well as to observe quirky three minute clips on Youtube.

Rapture rescue…

Interesting stuff.

Naomi Klein contrasts different responses to global crisis, and specifically uses this term- ‘Rapture rescue’-  a kind of global economic secular event through which some get saved, and others get left behind.

We see this perhaps in the response to terrorism- there is in the West a longing for some kind of second coming to sweep aside the evil and leave us safe in our holy escape pods. Some used to believe that war would achieve this.

Or perhaps capitalism itself could be seen in this way- there are those who believe- who live well and play to the rules of the holy market, and the unfaithful. Some of these can be rescued- but only by becoming like us.

Then there is climate change, which Klein talks about a lot here. Those who still deny the science seem bound up in a defensive wall of self interest. The crisis is external doubt, and the possibility of a threat to a way of life.

The ‘Rapture’ image hit me hard, as it makes a lot of sense- religion is both the engine of our underlying assumptions about the world, and also the means through which we justify and apply a kind of sacred redemption to our actions and lifestyles.

This being true, how might our faith still be an engine, but rather an engine for grace- for us, our neighbours and our environment? How might this  lead us to work for change NOW, not to wall ourselves away from the unfaithful, the undeserving, the already-lost?

Well I liked the simplicity of what Klein said, here-

“If we want the transformation, we can’t wait for it to happen in some massive jolt, we have to plan for it and model it…”

“Only a crisis, actual or perceived produces real change, and when that change occurs this depends on the ideas that are lying around. That is our function, to keep ideas alive until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

We Christians are carriers of perhaps the best ideas- contained within the life of Jesus. Our function is to keep these stories alive, and to try to live them out in our context.

Well our context is changing…

On line networking- in case you thought not much had changed…

I have blogged before about my own mixed relationship to internet, and my feeling that on-line social networking is useful, but limited, as a method of human interaction. ( Here and here for example)

Technology continues to develop though, and who knows what is to come that may yet be more nuanced and more human?

However, I remain convinced that our call as Christians is to display beautiful community- a kind that is open, accepting and dynamic. It requires vulnerability, loyalty, commitment and a willingness to forgive, and to learn how to love, despite our constant tendency to hurt and wound and defend.

It may be possible to experience some aspects of this through on-line networking. Indeed, I think I have experienced this in part- but only in part. Online stuff can easily become a male theological ego-bashing debate, or an opportunity to find ascendancy and significance- I wonder whether the celebrity bloggers have taken over the centre stage from the guitar playing worship leaders in our ‘heros of the emerging church’ hall of fame?

But the internet, and the pace of change it is bringing to our WHOLE LIFE- this is undeniable. In case you need any further convincing, here is a clip that Christine Sine posted on her  blog here-

Looking for hope and learning to live it…

Following on from my rather negative piece, reflecting on my reaction to Rollins’ book, I have been doing some more thinking about the process of change…

Deconstructing the institution of Church (particularly evangelical church) has been perhaps the primary preoccupation of the debate that has been described as ‘emerging church’. For me, this was absolutely necessary- and part of the inevitable process of change. However, it may be necessary, but it can never be sufficient for the formation of a movement- let along a movement of the living, recreating God…

What has been nagging at me (and many others) is this simple question- what next?

  • This is a theological question- the need to examine again what assumptions and core values drive (or sometimes OBSCURE) the mission of the church.
  • It is also and organisational question- what is church- what does it look like? How is it resourced/led/networked/held accountable?
  • It is a personal question- in terms of the call to be transformed by our encounter with Jesus, but it is also a collective question, in the sense that we (the church) are the collective agents of the New Kingdom. We ought then to be the best hope for our communities, our towns, our planet. How will we seek to become this?

McLaren describes institutions (see clip below) as ‘preservers of the advances made by previous generations.’ in seeking to CHALLENGE and deconstruct, we have to accept that we are also PART of this institution- to a lesser or greater degree. There is still so much to celebrate, so much to preserve. For many, the issue is not the need to destroy (although I confess that I have longed for a few well lit fires in my time!) but rather then need to find new EMPHASIS.

Just in case this sounds too tame, too conformist for you- I should make clear that my small ‘church’ community is right outside any formal institution of church- and could be (perhaps is) regarded as dangerous and heretical by some of my more reformed colleagues. However, when we reflect on what we are, and what we do- our preoccupations, our core values, our practices- they are not new.

So what will our (perhaps pivotal) generation pass on to our successors? What values will they need to either protect, or deconstruct and reform?

What is the mission of God for this our time- the personal one, the local one, and the global one? These are the voices I look for now- the Apostolic ones…

I think this was what was behind my disapointment with Rollins’ book. It was clever, well written, well developed, full of lovely little parables, but despite this, did not connect me with a hope for the future- what might be being built, not just broken down.

I watched the following clip this morning- not because McLaren is always right, but I genuinely think that this man has an Apostolic voice. Listen friends, and let hope rise to action!

Change 2

We people of faith seem to have an interesting relationship to change.

  • We celebrate a God who makes all things new.
  • In him, we become new creations- we are born again.
  • We believe in the continual transformative power of the Spirit in our lives.
  • But God is unchanging.
  • And we regard our understanding of TRUTH to be absolute, and therefore unchanging.

We also organise our faith into religious institutions- and institutions are usually extremely change resistant. There seems to be something about the experience of faith that is threatened by the prospect of change. It is almost as if our faith, so deeply felt and yet so fragile, is protected by a scaffolding of external certainty that can not easily cope with any suggestion that individual elements may need to be re-thought, or re-examined.

However, change is a difficult process for most of us as individuals too. I can clearly remember the times of transition in my own life, and none of them were easy. Some where forced- by those life transitions that we all face. Some were made as a result of choices- either positive ones, towards something new and exciting, and/or negative ones, away from things that I have rejected.

One of those pivot point in my own life came about as I began a scary and painful exploration of the tennets of my faith. There was a negative imperative within this- my experience of faith in may new Scottish context had been fraught with difficulties. A church on self destruct mode, an encounter with American fundementalism, and a conviction that something just was not working. There was also a longing for renewal, and a faint hope that new things were possible. But the more questions I seemed to be asking, the more may own scaffolding seemed to be falling away. At one point, I did not know if my faith could survive this.

But it more than survived- I found that it exploded into something wonderful and new.

There is an interesting discussion about change in the introduction to Brian McLaren’s book ‘A new kind of Christian’ . This book has been transformative to many who have encountered it- and caused huge controversy. McLaren is a prophet to some, a demon to many. I devoured his writing like a starving man at a feast.

McLaren described a process of change that begins with disatisfaction and pain. We feel oppressed and captured by our experience- unable to move on.

This becomes funnelled into a narrow space where we begin to look forward, but have no clear idea of what might be to come.

Then the shape of possibility allows us to come out of a funnel. This can be exciting and highly motivating. We might also be very rejecting of the past.

As the new thing takes shape, it opens out into normality, and perhaps the whole thing begins again.

The Church in the west is caught somewhere in this process. Looking for hope, but resisting the unknown. How we need the Holy Spirit. And how we need pioneers who are prepared to head off into the unknown!