Trying to think about life and how God makes it full

Liminality and Communitas

Last weekend, I spent a wonderful day with my friends of Fellowship Afloat Charitable Trust (FACT). These are the crew who taught me to sail, and over the seven years I’ve known them, have become an important part of my life. The reason I spent the day with them, was that they were having their annual Away Day and they wanted me to have some input into their development as an organisation.

There are three main groups that make up FACT on a day like that: the Trustees, the Staff, and the Year Volunteer Staff. So I needed to ensure that I was engaging with all three groups throughout my session. But that was really good, as it actually gave the impetus for what I wanted to do, and what I thought was going to be a helpful way for them to engage with what they’re actually doing.

I drew heavily on material from Alan Hirsch’s new book, ‘The Forgotten Ways’; in particular, the chapter on ‘Communitas, not Community’. Here’s a quote from Alan’s book that I think is a good summary of what liminality and communitas is about:

‘…maturity and self-actualisation require movement and risk, and that adventure is actually good for the soul. They all teach that a deep form of togetherness and love is found when we emabark on a common mission of discovery, when we encounter danger together and have to find each other in the process in order to survive. We find all these elements in the way Jesus formed his disciples as together they embarked on a journey that took them away from their homes, family, and securities (be they social or religious) and set out on an adventure that involved liminality, risk, action-reflection learning, communitas, and spiritual discovery. On the way their fears of inadequacy and lack of provision faded, only to be replaced by a courageous faith that went on to change the world forever.’ (pp.240/1)

I wanted the FACT crew to engage with the concepts of Liminality and Communitas as I think that’s what they’re intuitively doing as an integral part of who they are and how they operate. But I didn’t think that they had the concepts or the language to articulate effectively that that was what they were doing. Once you’re tasted Liminality and Communitas in how you live and operate, nothing else comes close to really living. I’ve experienced it myself in the work I’ve done in NZ, Australia, and in London’s East End. But as a curate I’m struggling, as curate life is too safe.

Below, I’ve put the notes that I used for the day, including the resources, in case you wanted to have look.

Continue reading


January 27, 2007 Posted by | communitas, culture, god, jesus, liminality, mission, religion | 4 Comments

“In Him Alone: The Tension between Trust in God and the use of one’s Talents”.

There is a saying that has traditionally been attributed to Ignatius, “Pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depends on you.” But apparently, there is nothing in his writings that supports that idea. However, there is a saying in his writings that could have given rise to it, but its just the opposite. It says, “Pray as if everything depended on you, and work as though everything depends on God.”

When you think about it, the latter saying is the better one. It calls us to prayer precisely because what we do matters, and whatever we do we want it to be what God wants us to do. So, we need to spend time in prayer, giving God the opportunity to form our will to his. And if we work as though everything depends on God, then if he wants to stop something we’re involved in then we don’t have to agonise over it and be distraught (the agony and distress coming as a result of our ego and pride being affected).

Some time ago, I was involved in the development of a potentially exciting form of a ‘fresh expression’ of church in a local high street. We prayed and worked hard for it, and of course, it was dependent upon external funding for it to be able to proceed. But all along, I had the attitude that, “If we don’t get the funding for it then it can’t happen as we had envisaged it, and I’ll take it that God doesn’t want it to go ahead that way. That’s fine, I won’t be heartbroken, embarrassed, or dismayed.”

It connects with the idea of ‘indifference’, or as I would like to call it, ‘holy indifference’. That’s about freely and completely letting something go when its plain that it must be let go. It’s also about sitting light to things in life so that the freedom to love is not constrained by the love of things, be they possessions, work, projects, etc.

Ignatius said that if his religious order were dissolved, it would take him 15 minutes of prayer to be at peace.

The trap that is always before us is that we can invest so much of who we are in what we do that our identity and value as a human being becomes directly tied to what we do.

And while it is right and proper that we should develop our skills and knowledge in the work we are given to do, we must keep alive the tension that comes from responding to God’s call to trust him with all of our life. The sin is found in trusting ourselves to ourselves or our work or anything other than primarily trusting ourselves to God. It’s sinful because we miss the mark by not allowing God to form us into fully human beings in the ways that he wants to.

Lord, please help me to keep aware of that tension and allow you always to have your way in my life. Amen.

January 25, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, culture, emerging church, god, Ignatius, mission, religion, wisdom | 2 Comments

The Valley, Part 1: Mark 9:14-29


As soon as they came down from the mountain where they had experienced a supernatural and deeply powerful time with God, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, a big crowd having an argument greets the disciples. Their own friends and fellow disciples were among the crowd, and it could be that the Scribes had started the arguments.

What a bummer it must have been for Jesus and the three disciples to experience that scene after the Transfiguration scene they had just been part of on the top of the mountain. Being for a time, separate with God, doesn’t stop the rest of the world from going about its ‘business as usual’.

The scripture passage focuses on a father whose son is possessed by a spirit that constantly injures him. It seems that Jesus’ disciples had tried unsuccessfully to cast the spirit out. So, the father brings the boy to Jesus, who succeeds in casting the spirit out.

It’s interesting to note Jesus’ own feelings of frustration with the situation in verse 19. Immediately after his own mountaintop experience, he is faced with the raw mess, pain, and faithlessness of the people he had come to give his life for. It’s much nicer living on the mountaintop than in the valley. And even the Son of God felt that. There is so much more in this passage that could be looked at, but I think it’s the contrast between mountain and valley that’s important to be mindful of today.

January 24, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, religion | Leave a comment

UK Wedding Show at ExCeL

wdg1.JPGOn the 28th January, I’ll be one of the Diocese of Chelmsford’s representatives at the UK Wedding Show, being held at the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in the London Docklands area.

The Bishop asked me to be part of the team, and I was pleased to accept. I’ve never been to a wedding show before, so it will be an ‘interesting’ experience. Such a loaded word that, ‘interesting’, don’t you think? But I do like doing weddings, and apparently people really like what I do with their weddings, so I’m looking forward to being there.

One of the big things for me as someone responsible for marrying people is to ensure that we go through a fairly thorough period of marriage preparation. What that means in practice, is that I meet with every couple for about 3 x 1.5hrs sessions of discussion around a whole range of issues that will be encountered in their new life together. It usually raises some things that the couple either haven’t thought of, or simply haven’t confronted together. Mostly, that’s a positive experience for them, but occasionally it does bring up some fairly serious issues that are quite uncomfortable at the time. But better to recognise and confront them early (and with the help of a third party), rather than later. Most couples find the pre-marriage preparation really beneficial and actually enjoyable, even though most of them are quite nervous about it at the beginning. And it means that we get to know each other, so that we all feel a whole more comfortable with each other on the big day. It moves the whole thing beyond me merely providing a ‘service’, to something that has some meaningful relationship behind it.

My own marriage preparation lasted about 10 minutes I think, and I have virtually no memory of it. I certainly didn’t want to perpetuate that bad practice when I was in a position to do something about it.

My slot is in the afternoon of the 28th, and there will be 3 of us on the stand: 2 clergy (male and female) and a communications officer.

Let me know if you’re coming, and then come and say hello on the day.

January 22, 2007 Posted by | culture, ExCeL, god, mission, religion, weddings | Leave a comment

The 5 Ps of Blogging Protocol

Another great bit of advice here from Andrew Jones, on how to behave in the blogosphere.

It’s worth having a look through the comments too.

Related: 15 Tips for Blogging.

January 19, 2007 Posted by | blogging, culture, wisdom | Leave a comment

13 things about chocolate and children


Many people are aware of the Fair Trade movement and how its involved in chocolate production and sales. But something I was not aware of was the alarming fact that people trafficking is often a part of chocolate production.

Check this out. Nearly half the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa grown in the Cote D’Ivoire, in Africa. 12,000 children have been trafficked into cocoa farms in Cote D’Ivoire. When we buy chocolate we are being forced to be oppressors ourselves as we have no guarantee that the chocolate we eat is “traffik free” (as quoted on the Stop the Traffik website).

So, Stop the Traffik are suggesting there are 13 things you can do about it. That’s a whole list of things that aren’t difficult, not particularly time consuming, and not even dangerous. You might think that buying a bar of chocolate, or not buying one, is not doing much about 12,000 kids living thousands of miles away. But if you’ve thought about the decision you make, and then join a growing movement of people who are also thinking about the choices they make with a view to changing trade through the power of consumer spending, the time will come when a groundswell of changing opinion will begin to impact the cocoa market. Witness the success of the Fair Trade movement, the ever growing concern over global environmental issues, and the Make Poverty History campaign.

Each of those 12,000 kids are made in God’s image and deserve the respect their human-ness demands. Our choices with chocolate form part of our responsibility to God’s image in those kids. And the thing with us in western economies is, we are response-able.

January 16, 2007 Posted by | culture, fair trade, people trafficking | 3 Comments

Martin Luther King Jr. Day today

mlk.jpeg Bishop ‘Woodie’ White pens his ‘birthday letter’ to Dr King about the progress of racial equality in the United States. Now retired and serving as bishop-in-residence at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, White was the first top staff executive of the denomination’s racial equality monitoring agency, the Commission on Religion and Race. And you can hear Dr. King’s definition of ‘greatness’ by clicking here.

The 2007 letter from Bishop White reads as follows:

Dear Martin:

My greatest temptation in writing this year is to not mention the burden of my heart: the war in which our nation is engaged. I am certain if you were here, your voice would be heard, as the prophets of old.

This leads me to consider how profoundly your voice is missed. There have been so many occasions when I have longed for your voice. Yours was unique. You spoke with such passion, clarity and moral authority. You had the ability to change hearts as well as actions.

We seem to be at a curious juncture in America in the area of race. On the one hand, systemic and institutional racism are giving way to a more racially inclusive society. On the other, individual daily acts of prejudice and racism can still be encountered routinely.
Continue reading

January 15, 2007 Posted by | culture, god, mission, MLK | 2 Comments

Loyal Radicals practising Benevolent Subversion

Great tip from Jonny Baker that points to a very interesting article by Bob Hopkins about the subject of this post’s title. It resonates with me, and reminds me of the post I did recently back on the old blog called, ‘Reflections on Institutionalised Religion’. I think that according to Bob Hopkins, I’m what you might call a ‘loyal radical’, as I sit on a variety of Diocesan bodies, including Bishops Council. The reason I sit on these bodies is so that I might be able to bring some kind of change from the inside, defend and encourage ‘iffy’ ventures on the edges of the Diocese, and try to get the Diocese to see its role as resourcing those ventures rather than stifle them. In other words, I want to help the Diocese create a ‘culture of possibility’ rather than see problems with new, adventurous stuff that just might be of the Spirit.

Here are some excerpts from Bob’s article:

“…we have been blessed with a whole generation of leaders at the grass roots who have been passionate about mission and change, but who have been totally committed to the inherited church they belong to and have worked for change from within. The term that came to my mind to describe these folk was “Loyal Radicals”. As I came up with this summary descriptive phrase, it seemed to take on a particular ring of significance.”

” Now mission innovation in historic denominations has two main challenges to address. Not only must it respond to the needs of the dramatically changed and diverse mission context. It must also engage with the inherited structural anatomy that would either limit the release of the mission energy and resources or cramp the ownership and incorporation of the developing church. So perhaps we could combine two other words that are unusual bedfellows and describe this as “benevolent subversion”.

How do you feel about this stuff?

January 12, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, culture, emerging church, god, mission, religion | 1 Comment

Merton on ‘The old and the new.’

merton2.jpegThomas Merton’s thoughts below, made just after I was born, remind me of the cry of Jesus’s heart as he taught them how to pray: “Your kingdom come (now), your will be done (now) ON EARTH, as it is in heaven.” It’s a cry for eternity to be made real right now – heaven on earth, in fact.

I get so frustrated with Christians who pray the Lord’s Prayer like this: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth. As it is in heaven.” There’s no sense of connection between the eternal aspect of heaven and what we experience here on earth – nor does there seem to be any expectation of God’s will being done NOW. I keep trying to get our congregation to pray it as I’ve shown in the top paragraph (and will continue to keep trying – some actually get it), but it seems that the old habits of saying a formal prayer have overcome the heart of engaging with the words as a cry to God for heaven to be experienced here, right now. No murder in heaven, no murder on earth. No abuse in heaven, no abuse on earth. No deceit in heaven, no deceit on earth.

This part of the Lord’s Prayer is about seeing the hope of heaven becoming a concrete reality today. The old idea of heaven being ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die’ sounds very thin when placed alongside Jesus’s idea (which is older still, but needs to be heard anew) of the fulness of heaven being called into the concrete experience of everday life so that in effect, life get lived in all its fulness (John 10:10).

“For the “old man”—everything is old—he has seen everything or thinks he has. He has lost hope in anything new. What pleases him is the “old” he clings to, fearing to lose it, but certainly not happy with it. And so he keeps himself “old” and cannot change; he is not open to any newness. His life is stagnant and futile. …
For the “new man”—everything is new. Even the old is transfigured in the Holy Spirit and is always new. There is nothing to cling to, there is nothing to be hoped for in what is already past—it is nothing.
The new man is he who can find reality where it cannot be seen by the eyes of the flesh—where it is not yet—where it comes into being the moment he sees it. And would not be (at least for him) if he did not see it.
The new man lives in a world that is always being created, and renewed. He lives in this realm of renewal and creation. He lives in life.
The old man lives without life. He lives in Death, and clings to what has died precisely because he clings to it. And yet he is crazy for change, as if struggling with the bonds of death. His struggle is miserable, and cannot be a substitute for life.
Thought of these things after [holy] communion today, when I suddenly realized that I had, and for how long, deeply lost hope of “anything new.” How foolish when in fact the newness is there all the time.” [March 18, 1959]

Thomas Merton. A Search for Solitude. Journals, Volume 3. Lawrence S. Cunningham, ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997: 268-269.

January 11, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, culture, jesus, merton, religion, wisdom | 5 Comments

Mountain-top experiences, Part 2; Luke 9:28-36

So, is that something to be aware of – that incredible times of experiencing God during prayer may be seen by others as being unbelievable?

Where was everyone else while this was happening on the mountain? We presume it was toward the end of the day, or maybe very early in the morning, as indicated by the disciples’ tiredness. Could anyone else see the light show, the supernatural cloud, and hear the Voice of God? Did God shield these events from anyone else’s prying eyes?

What does this say about eternity breaking into real time during prayer? What does it say of the nature of eternity as it connects with real time during prayer? And then, how do we respond to it?

Peter seems to want to somehow contain the experience by building huts for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Why? Was it to prolong the intensity of the experience? Why was it that Peter suggested it, and not the others? Why was it Moses and Elijah? Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt, while Elijah showed God to be God in the battle on Mount Carmel with the priests of Ba’al.

Moses met God on a mountain, Elijah proved God on the mountain. And now Jesus is proclaimed God’s own beloved Son by none other than God Himself, on a mountain.

And Jesus’ mission was also to set captives free, to point the way to God as Lord of all.

How long did that experience last? How much could the disciples take in? What did Jesus receive from the experience? Truly, it must have been an amazing time of prayer.

I wonder how much Jesus needed that experience on the mountain. Did he know what was going to happen before he got there? What is it about ‘mountain-top experiences’ that are so awesome?

I imagine it must be amazing for mountain climbers to sit at the summit and look around. Do they sense God as they sit there? I bet they marvel at the awesomeness of creation and how beautiful it is. I wonder how changed they are by the experience of the mountain-top.


I’ll bet Peter, James, and John were never able to look at a mountain again in quite the same way.

January 9, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, religion | 2 Comments