a really positive review of the pioneer gift in last week's church times which was very encouraging describing the book as having a deep wisdom throughout seeking to hold together inherited patterns of church practice with innovation
a really positive review of the pioneer gift in last week's church times which was very encouraging describing the book as having a deep wisdom throughout seeking to hold together inherited patterns of church practice with innovation
i was very excited this week when mission on the road to emmaus came through the post. it's a book exploring the idea of prophetic dialogue in mission through a range of themes such as migration, identity, ecclesiology, creation... i think it's a fabulous book (having proof read an advance copy). it's edited by the amazing cathy ross and stephen bevans.
i have a chapter in it exploring prophetic dialogue and contemporary culture. i feel both excited and privileged to be in a book with people in missiology who i look up to and have learned so much from. it feels slightly odd to reflect on network theory and a massive attack concert but it's all an arena for mission! i think this is a very fresh mission text and find the notion of prophetic dialogue opens up mission themes in interesting ways.
the current situation of the wealthy elite in our country and indeed even more so in our world is disgusting and something has got to change. at times i have felt physically sick when i have read of the behaviour of the rich in the wake of the 2008 crash in their own sector and their attitude to the poor. i fear if it is not legislated to change by governments in countries like the uk and usa then it is like a pressure cooker that is going to explode at some point.
today oxfam have published a report wealth: having it all and wanting more. this really is saying the same as their october report even it up: time to end extreme inequality, the statistics are mind boggling. the richest 1% own half of the global wealth. their share keeps increasing in the wake of continued governmental belief and practice in deregulation. supposedly deregulation leads to creativity and fredom for enterprise. but it's stark glaringly obvious that deregulation has created a culture of greed and self interest.
we owe it to ourselves to get informed about this. i don't know if it's just me but it seems like there is a rising anger and awareness. even though it's extremely difficult to fuly grasp the workings of (the god of) the market i have recently been helped to understand it by a few things...
supercrash - a graphic novel by darryl cunningham. this is a book yes in pictures that i wholeheartedly recommend.
capital by piketty - last year an economist who did some counting that caught bthe world's attention as it highlighted how inequality was rising but hugely problematic. it's rather a large book sadly so here's a four paragraph summary!
the new economics foundation are an amazing think tank - follow their work. think tanks have been extremely important for the rise of neoliberal capitalism. so it's a relief to find one or two who are doing the thinking on economics out of a different imagination. this paper is very important because it makes the case that inequality does not lead to flourishing in the economy. it's obvious it doesn't lead to flourishing in life as a whole!!!
ann pettifor's work is genuinely brilliant, a prophet i would say - she now works for another think tank - policy research in macro economics (PRIME) - keep an eye on their work.
the book to get your blood boiling but also highlighting so many shocking things about our society in relation to power, money, politics and privilege is the establishment by owen jones - totally brilliant. i can't recommend it enough. i have two chapters to go and will review it then.
i also try and read most things george monbiot writes as he seems to have a pretty good sense of things.
there are also growing numbers of documentaries of the superrich on their yachts and islands and castles and palaces and private estates living in their own bubble. honestly sometimes it's like watching a james bond villain - epstein and his island for example - just hideous. is it going to get to the stage where they build their own armies to defend their stuff from the rest of the world???!!! that seems to be the way it's heading.
what can be done? a lot actually! it's not hard to work out that you don't have to run society this way. we need to manage the financial sector to address it's immoral greed and that needs international as well as national involvement. it also requires separating the vested interests of the rich from government - it's all too cosy cosy. we need jobs for all and invest that way including reducing inequality. we need fair taxation that hugely shifts inequality and invests taxes in arts, education, welfare. simple! who in politics has the courage to do it? oxfam and others all have theior own take but essentially it's in this kind of direction. i don't hear a lot from the main parties. they seem afraid. who is going to rise up and have the courage to make a better society?
i appreciate that this blog is currently something of a slow burn, such is my busy life! but a massive thank you to those of you who still patiently hop onto the flow whether via a feed, twitter, facebook or the occasional digital drop in. i hope as you look back on 2014 you have some consoling thoughts and find hope for the year ahead even if it is against the odds.
a while back i posted a tale of two bookshops in which purchased four books at the ICA bookshop. i have enthused about two of them so far - feral (my book of the year i think and george monbiot is the person i would most like to be put in charge of running the country), and exploring everything.
well the third of the four is radical imagination. i bought this because i can't resist anything about imagination - one of the most underrated and undervalued aspects of what it is to be human. but i didn't read the small print - it turns out it's a book about social research amongst activist movements. but i ended up loving it and learning a load. there is a web site related to it that aims to study, broadcast and celebrate the intelligence, passion and creativity of social movements. of course the church is a social movement (though of course it is curiously part of the establishment in places too!). this book has lots to say to those of us interested in the transformation of society especially seeking to imagine a different kind of society and world that does not have to be the way it is now, and as part of that those of us seeking to effect change in and through following in the way of jesus christ (one heck of an activist!).
the single idea that has stuck with me the most and anyone who knows me well will have been subjected to it over a meal conversation or a work discussion is prefigurative research. what the authors mean by this is to design the present on the basis of an imagined future that is not already here. in their case they are based in universities and don't like the way the academic world is configured so they imagine how the university might be and design research on the basis of that - i.e. it prefigures it rather than settling for the current status quo. brilliant eh?
so on the first day of the year what kind of world, society, economy, neighbourhood, community, business, or church do you imagine might be possible? and how can you live in the present in a way that flows from that radical imagination? i feel challenged about the training of pioneers i lead at cms - have we done enough imaginative work of what is possible out of which to design our training? we do love imagination but i am stirred up to do some more. i am sick the culture of greed in the wider powers that be and the systematic grinding down of the poor and it seems to me that here more than anywhere we need this radical kind of approach.
i also like the positive and yet honest way that haven and khasnabish talk about social movements. it's interesting to overlay this with whatever networks or movements yoiu have been or are part of such as transition towns, emerging church, pioineering mission or whatever. here's a few notes and quotes i jotted down for myself when i read it...
Take social movements seriously as fecund ecologies ripe with possibility
Movements can be alternative spaces of social reproduction, places where individuals and communities can re-create themselves and find support for doing so.
Social movements are driven by and co-create the radical imagination: shared landscapes of possibility and contestation that confront and contradict the reigning imaginaries of capital and power.... It is not something individuals have but is something networks, groups, movements do. It emerges from and guides collective doing...
Hope is important to balance struggle - fun, joy, celebration, acceptance, humour...
it reminded me just how important communities are in which conversation is happening about the world and change. three things i do that this has helped me continue to value are meet with friends over a meal most weeks one evening to linger at the table, talk, share life, dream and pray; a couple of times a year through the team i work with host a 24 hour dreaming space in which we go away and take on a theme or idea and explore it; and connect/network with others who share similar vision and passion around transformation. this is all part i guess of building infrastructures of dissent as they are described on the web site (i love that phrase - reminds me of the great mission thinker john taylor's notion of cells of dissent).
the book is also a reminder of how valuable research is. they see research as part of how movements are carried forward and propose the idea of a solidarity research strategy that opens up a commions for the imagination through community and participation. so their research involves facilitating focus groups, hosting events, and even a radical imagination festival. one of the issues for activists and i suspect a lot of us in many walks of life is that you get bogged down in the day to day task. one thing research does is pull people together to reflect and talk about what is going on with others. it opens time and spaces in a cycle of imagination, strategy and tactics. the kinds of questions researchers facilitate conversation about are
i have changed politics to pioneering in the questions above to see how it crosses over into mission. i should have said that the project is grounded in the particular - in hamilton canada - so it's not just an abstract set of ideas. it really is involved in a movement for change.
so go prefigure! hopeful new year :)
harry has a book of his poetry out which looks amazing and well... very harry like!
he has even set up a web site where you can go and order copies and it's not yet too late to order for christmas.
if you read my tale of two books shops post, the second of my four books that i purchased at the ICA is i admit a little more obscure than rewilding and you may think what on earth inpsired you to buy that?! it is explore everything: place hacking the city by bradley garrett. in it he describes joining urban explorers who hack the city by which i mean that they find ways into adandoned buildings, sewers, skyscrapers, disused underground stations. the study itself is an ethnography - i.e. the author joins a group to particpate and observe their culture to research and document it. this is a brilliant way of getting inisde a culture and it doesn't take long before he is utterly compelled by it. a lot of this hacking is illegal so what grabbed me about the book? here's a few things...
i love the word/metaphor of hacking. i appreciate it has a lot of negative connotations especially since the phone scandal. but the original definition of a hack is a solution to a specific computing problem. this quickly got extended to life hacks - creative solutions to problems in everyday life usually exploring the limits of what is possible. but it is particularly the spirit in which it is done that is interesting - there is a sort of ethos or ethic of sharing, openness, and decentralisation. rather than a world where i do my thing to gain competitive advantage and keep it from you, hacking assumes that information should be shared in an open source fashion so that somone else can access it, take it apart to its component pieces and reassemble to make something new and better or repurposed which is then shared with the wider community to make the world a better place. this it seems to me is a fantastic metaphor for mission or theology or the church - making available liturgies and theology and canons to be creatively played with to come up with new and fresh takes on things rather than as boundaries to be defended and kept pure. but in the book hacking is really about viewing a very different city to the one on offer, finding a different map and route through, levering open cracks in its surface to slip through. it reminds me of the work by french philospoher michel de certeau in his masterpiece the practice of everyday life where he contrasts the strategies in place within a system with the tactics that 'readers' or 'poachers' use to make do, to create an alternative route which makes a different meaning to the one imposed in the strategies.
secondly i love the spirit of adventure in the book. i think the author feels alive and discovers a sense of wonder in the world and the city - he says that the one thing urban explorers all share is "the desire to find adventure in everyday life. this is the central foundation of place hacking". now this may just be the rush of adrenaline but i think it's a bit more. a friend and pioneer student at cms, steve, suggests that the gospel can be understood as a call to adventure and he is exploring that - i think he'll like this book. garrett has this lovely word for moments when everything is right and comes together, of epiphany, of "when the seen and unseen, the possible and impossible, the self and community fuse" - the meld! what a great word - i know i have experienced the meld in silence when i have felt at one with the world, at home in my own skin, in god, at peace. the place hacker is trying to get back a sense of what they have lost - a sense of self, place and community. in this sense it is a sort of spirituality i think. it's also a challenge to the way things are, finding cracks in the world, in the staus quo to squeeze open and to disturb notions of property and ownership - which if any of you are familiar with theories of trickster who is a mythological character who remakes the world through mischief is one his or her ruses. in a world where the commons has been almost totally eroded we need people doing this in my view. one way urban explorers describe this is edgework which again is a rather lovely phrase - i recognise this in pioneers who find the edges, the margins the cracks and dwell there in forgotten spaces with forgotten people.
thirdly i love the photography - wow! i don't think urban exploration began as that but the book is full of amazing photos taken in these spaces in the city. here's one from a crane on top of the shard before it was finished!
it's a wonderful ethnography, a brilliant exmple of getting inside another culture to learn its language and codes as a participant observer. for students of mission it might not be the most obvious story of crossing cultures but is worth a read for that as well.
if you read my tale of two book shops one of the books i bought was feral by george monbiot which is subtitled rewilding the land, sea and human life. it’s my favourite book of the year by quite some way. (i’d actually like george monbiot to run the country - he’s one of the few journalists who seems to talk sense around the economy, politics, and the planet but that’s based on his writings in the guardian.)
i had not come across the term rewilding but instantly like it. the word originally (it’s only 3 years old in dictionary terms) meant putting captive animals in to the wild, then expanded to mean the reintroduction of animal and plant species into the natural world, into habitats from which they have been removed. i remember my excitement in seeing an osprey in scotland for example. but like any good metaphor it’s laced with ambiguity and possibility. so george monbiot pushes it in a couple of directions - one is that he is not interested in returning to a former state, rather to create the space for the complex ecosystems to be able to thrive and flourish alongside modern life. and secondly to see the rewilding of human life through re-involvment in nature - we need rewilding because we have become so cut off from the wonder of the world we inhabit. if you google it you'll see how much is going on to rewild europe for example.
he describes canoeing at sea, exploring forests, the wonders of diversity and being able to walk and be lost in natural environments for whole days - it reminded me of the experience of silence in places. it’s also very well researched and packed with idea and examples of how this should and could and is being done. it’s an extremely interesting and educational book. there is so much new information on what enables flourishing and it is very counter to a lot of preservation practices. it is a book of imagination, ecological imagination. as a christian my hope for the future is for the healing of all things, the renewal of the earth. some of the things described in the book are visibly the renewal of the earth! so for example there are projects in wales (if you are in wales you need to read the extraordinary chapter on greening the desert - isaiah 35’s vision is imagined for the cambrian mountains) and scotland to fence out deer and sheep both of whom are a disaster for the land in their own way or certainly in too great numbers and begin to regrow forests and create trophic diversity. these projects are only 20 years in but the transformations taking place are remarkable. i found it amazing that one of the people monbiot meets sees what he is doing as a 250 year vision.
one of the processes that is undertaken is to drill into the earth and take out a core and to see what pollens are in the soil in different times. what is barren in places was once more like rainforest. europe was home to wolves, bears, rhinos and elephants even. there is no reason why it can’t live again in this way as these projects and others in europe and america are showing. but what monbiot and these others have in abundance is the ability to dream and imagine that other wonder filled, wild worlds are possible. cultures suffer from shifting baseline syndrome which is to say that we all perceive that the ecosytems of our childhood are what’s normal but that may be a state of depletion - we need the imagination to shift the baseline. i love this idea... monbiot has a fantastic table of creatures and their suitability for reintroduction on a scale of 1-10 including pelicans, grey whales, beavers, boar, wolves. before you write this off this is deadly serious and such experiments are taking place very successfully elsewhere. he has a whole chapter on the wolf and how predators high up the food chain can create a very positive impact.
flourishing requires diversity not moncultures. sadly a capitalistic society like ours tends to see advantage in one thing and then promote that...
The drive towards monoculture causes a dewilding, of both places and people. It strips the earth of the diversity of life and natural structure to which human beings are drawn. It creates a dull world, a flat world, a wirld lacking in colour and variety, which enhances ecological boredom, narrows the scope of our lives, limits the range of our engagement with nature, pushes us towards a monoculture of the spirit. I doubt that anyone wants this to happen to the land that surrounds them except those - a small number - who make money this way.
this got me thinking about how easily it sounds like a description of theologies and church which tend towards monocultures of the spirit rather than opening up the riches of diversity. people like their stream, their denomination, their theology, their truth, their take, their worship, their taste and drift towards defending it - yet floursihing of the spirit takes place through the riches of diversity - the church needs rewilding along with the natural world, children and human life.
i could go on but that probably gives you a flavour. monbiot’s story is so compelling because it is also a personal testimony of a recovery of a sense of adventure, wonder and excitement in his own life through his own explorations. he recovers ecological hope.
By seeking the pockets of land and water that might inspire and guide an attempt to revive the natural world I had revived my own life.
a couple of months back i had a meeting in westminster and dropped in to church house bookshop as i often do if i'm nearby to see what was cooking in the world of theology and faith. i managed to come out without buying anything which is always an achievement in any bookshop to be honest...
i had a meeting in london that evening and as i sometimes do i went to the institute for contemporary arts which has a great space to sit in its cafe and wifi - the kind of place you can sit for a while and nobody seems to mind. in the entrance is the ica bookshop. i was much less successful in my attempt to not buy books. i came out with four! what struck me about his arts bookshop was the focus of the books. i was so struck by it that i started jotting down titles. i won't bore you with the details but they were on themes like the economy, the future, the planet, identity, culture, the environment, gender and sexuality, how to live in ways that might lead to flourishing (and of course art)... in other words they seemed to focus on how to live in a way that might change the world. this seemed osmething of a contrast with the previous bookshop whose titles were more focused on a church agenda. this is probably grossly unfair and it's not meant to be negative about that bookshop (after all my book was one of the ones on display!!!). rather it was a reminder that artists are exploring and asking questions that are so close to seeing different possibilities for living life. it was also a remider that if you want your imagination sparked you need to get outside of your own area (one of the whacks of roger von oech i believe). and perhaps it was a reminder that in terms of discussion about theology and mission the conversations going on in the wider culture are where we should be hanging out and conversing anyway. i have read two and a half of the books so far and will try and post a review or two (i am also reading a few theology and mission books which i always have on the go so the point of this post really isn't to be negative about those)...
kate tempest was fantastic last night at the queen elizabeth hall on the southbank (which is such a great venue btw). i know i have enthused about her many times on the blog or twitter. she possesses or is perhaps possessed by a wonderful gift, the artful gift of crafting words, not just words for words sake but words that are compelled by a deeper drive or vision or calling for what is true and beautiful and just and alive and human. she is a prophet and stands in a line of prophets - those who see what others don't seem to see and who have always weighed their words and had something to say beyond cleverness or trickery or pleasure... those who are compelled to speak, entrusted with words, words of grief and hope.
she is from south london and has not lost her sense of self or roots which must be a challenge with the incredible roll she is on (mercury prize nominee, brand new ancients selling out, ted hughes award, lots of media attention right now and so on...). and she is at pains to show her thanks and humility which is refreshing.
the evening was the launch of a new book - hold your own - in which she tells a mythical tale of tiresias in an epic opening poem and then cracks open four of the tale's themes - childhood, womanhood, manhood, and blind profit. it's brilliant - you should get a copy and its all new material or at least its not in other publications of hers that i have seen. the tale of an old man who loses his eyes and yet becomes a seer, a blind prophet, is masterful.
she weaves a mix of themes of pain and brokenness and struggle and fear throughout with an appeal to truth and humanness, to come home to your real passions and live out of the gift you bring and your own call. a short review can't do justice to the gig. it was so powerful and moving and truthful. there are some poets who are prophets (and poetry as a mode of speech is surely the mother tongue of prophets) - i remember the first time i saw jean binta breeze and feeling as though empires were collapsing and new worlds emerging simply through her words. kate does this - the gods of consumption are laid bare in all their pitiful ugliness and the powerful called to account. it would be easy to assume she is fueled by christian faith as the themes responate so strongly with what christ is about but i don't think that's the case (though i am sure she would enjoy a glass of wine with him) - the false gods of religion are equally dethroned for their perpetuation of control and fear and i think christianity is thrown in with that lot in her take. but she has met the holy, the unknown god whatever name she might give to him/her and she is shining - i'd love to ask her about that some day...
i hope she does well in the mercury prize but for me kate and her voice and her poems and her words is where it's at. make sure you see her doing spoken word and not just with the band...
there were so many lines that caught my attention and i will linger with in the coming days - "wherever you are from is a holy place" is from the poem these things i know.
thanks to sally for the first review of the pioneer gift which she suggests is both innovative and important with plenty of theology. she actually goes through each chapter so if you want a map to let you see how the book flows and the themes explored it's a good place to look.
i have just realised that on my last two holidays i have read a book by ian adams. this year's was his new collection of poems - unfurling. it's delightful. it's only about 60 pages so i have probably read it about three times... ian has really found his voice i think - fusing moments of attention in the world, wisdom for the ways of the soul with a deep love and longing for the healing of all things and indeed the healer of all things. there are a lot of haiku poems - which are poems that have three lines of 5, 7, then 5 syllables. i really enjoyed these - he has an inspired retelling of the beattitudes as haikus for example. and he has a way with language that manages to be spiritual and fresh and deep without ever being overly religious or clichéd. you can see some of what ian is up to at beloved life
there's another book on my beach towel (on marloes sands in case you were wondering - one of the most amazing beaches) - it's a novel. any book cover geeks able to recognise it?!
i wrote a haiku on the beach which is pretty lame but here it is...
of gazing at the ocean
where in the city?
a running joke with pioneers at cms and indeed some others is how much i am a fan of gerald arbuckle's writing. to be honest it's all fair - i am a fan! anyway i am delighted he has contributed a chapter to the pioneer gift book. when he was over i interviewed him around the themes of dissent. grief, mourning, pioneers, and newness! the video is around 5 minutes long and is one of five from authors of chapters in the book...
there are so many new things at the moment which is fun! learning to love is a remarkable collection of poetry curated by chris goan. it's been a huge undertaking and has around 100 poets and 300 poems in it. it was a simple idea of chris' a while back and we put the word out that if there were poets interested in publishing to send proost poems. well that quickly became huge. but after sifting and organising, an amazing anthology is the result. i'm so grateful to chris and everyone who has contributed. lots of the poets are publishing for the first time in print i think. it's organised around themes such as protest or the world is broken or the far horizon. if you know any anthologies i guess it's closest in spirit to the series by neil astley - staying alive, being human.
anyway it's just come out on proost. it's available in the greenbelt bookshop. poets themselves can get copies if you know them. and you can order it direct through lulu.com . as ever it's also a pdf download through proost. but i have found that this kind of book i prefer to have a physical copy in my hand. i have actually read all through it twice now.
there is a slot each morning at 9am in the leaves venue at greenbelt to kick start the day of reflections by proost poets that chris is pulling together. do drop in to that.
as well as the contributers to this collection another exciting new thing is that poet harry baker has teamed up with musician chris read to create a 4 track ep but in silence. they are going under the name flock and the ep is available on proost. this is a really beautiful blend of prayerful spoken word artistry coupled with soulful music and song. it's called but in silence. i'll add the link here when it's up... but they will also be performing each morning in the proost poets slots.
i love poets! not just because one is in the family but there is something about this mode of speech that is poignant, direct, soulful, and somehow the language of prophets. when i'd read the anthology i was so inspired by the range of voices, the freedom of speech, the ability to say stuff that needs to be said but that somehow never makes it into sermons and worship songs. there is this undercurrent of voice that needs to be heard. i particularly love the section in the book called the far horizon... anyway have a look and see what you think!
some time in the next few weeks the pioneer gift will hit the shelves which i am excited about. the book is a series of reflections on the pioneer gift. i wrote the first chapter reflecting on what pioneering is and what the nature of that gift might be. the book arose from a day we hosted at cms last autumn and the things presented were so good that we thought we should pursue publishing them. i'm happy to say that canterbury press also tought it was a good idea. on the day i video interviewed 5 of the people presenting and to celebrate the launch of the book we will be adding one a week to the cms pioneer blog and they'll be located on vimeo. first up is doug gay who has started a new remix of the church in glasgow. wisdom as ever from doug...
jenny's book equals is officially out today. she talks about it on video here.
there is a really lovely review of it here by harriet long. what i particularly liked about the review is the point she makes that this is a great book for men...
What I particularly like about the book is that it includes discussion questions, case studies and stories from both men and women about how they have tackled gender and had better conversations about it. This makes the book accessible on many levels but particularly for men, who could potentially see or fear a gender book only being about women and women’s inequality.
so men get out there and get a copy and get in the conversation. as hannah says This.Is.The.Book
jenny's book equals is due out this month. she begins a series of reflections on equality kicking off with why write a book on equality. if you go to the blog and subscribe they will be emailed to your inbox. She says...
Equality is not just a nice concept or an interesting idea; it’s foundational to women and men doing life together well. It’s the environment that enables true human flourishing, where people experience life in all its fullness and pass that on to others. I hope that Equals will spark conversations about the way we organise life and how we could do that more equitably. I hope it will challenge the stereotypes that limit and damage us and will help us to be honest about the diversity among men and among women. And above all, I hope it will get people doing things differently.
ian adams latest book running over rocks came out over the summer. i read it on holiday (our holiday started out sharing a meal with ian and gail before cycling from south to north devon so it was nice to catch up with ian as well). it's a lovely book of spiritual practices.
there are a number of reasons i like the book.
the first is that i think i have become more and more interested in how to live a life. that is perhaps a glaringly obvious thing to say. is there any other option? in the summer john drane was reflecting with some of our pioneer students that the old adage believe-belong-behave had been reconstructed some years back as belong-believe-behave but now the front foot is perhaps on behave-belong-believe. i can think of a thousand argumenst to have with that phrase anyway which is not the point - the point is that it reminded me that lifestyle or how to live out a life as a human, as a person, in community, following christ, that somehow makes a difference in the world is what many people are seeking after. in other words its a life that is embodied, lived, practised. i certainly am interested in a life of faith that enables me to live in a more christlike, prayerful way, paying attention to the world, god, others.
the second is that i think ian has a great way with language - he seems to talk about faith in a way that is open and welcoming and accessible and creative. i am sure he has thought hard and worked carefully on this. it's no mean feat.
the third is that the practices are really good and helpful. there are 52 in total and they are organised into sections - like earth and body, stillness and movement, possibility and so on. you can dive into any section or any practice. you could pick a practice each week of the year. i think it would make a good book for a community to go through in a season like lent. the practices are also a good mix of ancient tried and tested along with creative and fresh ideas. here's how ian describes practices in the intro
Practices are the earthy business of encountering ideas, then working out how they might take shape in us. They help us move from aspiration to reality. They work slowly over time. We shouldn't expect immediate results, but we can expect that through them the change for good that we seek will come, gradually forming something new within us.
the fourth is that ian has great wisdom. he has soaked himself in much of the understandings of those who have navigated the religious life and draws on it in a way that is accessible but has depth. the section of practices of descent is a good example.
the fifth is that ian has written a poem for each practice so there are over 50 poems which is a delightful addition.
practice takes practise - in other words this is not a book to read like i did - in a week! it's one to try out and practise. in my defence i have kept the book with my journal having read it so that i will come back to many of the practices. it reminds me a little bit of anthony de mello's book sadhana a way to god - which is a book i have come back to so many times with its spiritual exercises.
ian and gail are leading a retreat in may which looks like an absolute bargain if you would like a weekend to be introduced to some of the ideas.
a friend kim recommended an altar in the world by barbara brown taylor (which i had not heard of). i then got to hear her on the first night at greenbelt this year which was a treat. she is a lovely writer - some people who write books are really speakers who write but bbt is definitely someone with the gift of crafting written words.
i have leant the book to someone else so haven't got it in front of me to remind me of the content. but the phrase that stuck in my mind from the intro is 'x marks the spot and you are standing on it'. she suggests that often we are thinking - if i do this or hear this speaker or get that experience or go on this retreat or pray harder or whatever else you'd like to add then i will be sorted in my spiritual life (which of course is my whole life in relationship to god). but instead we need to stop looking elsewhere and notice what is in front of our eyes right now. and in paying attention we may well discover that the site we are standing on is an altar in the world, a thin place. this notion is of course very similar to the ignatian spirituality catchphrase 'finding god in all things' which i mentioned in the last review. it's a sacramental view of all of life. in many ways this kind of instinct has been the bedrock of alt worship's spirituality over the last few decades - discovering god in culture rather than in church spaces. i also think it is a very important instinct to nurture for anyone in mission or pioneering.
the book then unpacks around 10 (i can't remember the number) practices - such as pain, being with people, walking, blessing. the point about them is they are things we do anyway - the difference is in paying attention, noticing to the presence of god in front of our very eyes. i think my favourite practice was getting lost - when did you last get lost, off your beaten track i wonder?!
kim reviewed the book but i searched and couldn't find the link - i'll add it later if i find it...
in her own way barbara is qute deconstructive - she has moved out beyond churchiness (her book leaving church is also very popular) and is no doubt odd in her part of the american religious landscape, but in doing so has bumped into god everywhere. i like the notion of spirituality as waking up or having eyes opened - that seems to be what this is about. so the deconstruction ends up opening up the practice of life in wonderful ways. i have been reading some stuff on various mystics (i read the biography of theresa of avila over the summer). they often have a similar emptying out and letting go and an unknowing that leads to a deeper union with and love for christ. they are laced through with extraordinary lives of faith and prayer.
there's a lot of stuff around at the moment and there was plenty at greenbelt (which i didn't get to hear much of) which is similarly deconstructive, and lays claim to some of the mystics notions of emptying out. but unlike what i read in the mystics or see in barbara brown taylor, this trajectory doesn't seem to lead towards seeing god in all things or union with christ or even a life of practised faith. the end point is emptiness - the big surprise is that god isn't there and the resurrection is reduced to living with doubt at best. my own personal experience of faith in recent years has been characterised in some ways by unknowing and i think doubt is an important part of a life of faith, but it has led me to a much deeper sense of the presence of the resurrected christ in the world and in my own life. i am much more interested in a life that's practised as suggested by the likes of james martin and barbara brown taylor (and ian adams which will be my next review).
i have lots of books that i have read that i always intend to say something about on the blog but never quite find the time. life will probably take over but before a new intake of students start i'll try and at least mention a few i have read this year...
i picked up james martin's the jesuit's guide to almost everything when i was at st beunos on silent retreat. i found bumping into the jesuits a reminder of the extraordinary freedom there is in christ. it's ironic to feel this as the assumption lots of us make is that those who commit to particular ways of life would be constrained rather than free but perhaps those of us who just choose to do what the hell we like are less free than we imagine - are we are tied to consumerism and think we're free?! the jesuits were founded by ignatius and ignatian spirituality is the term for the charism or shape or gift of what is at the heart of the way of life of the jesuits that has helped thousands of people without having to be a jesuit! remarkably this book is a new york times bestseller. i can see why because it is so clear, well written, inspiring and practical.
spirituality is a way of living in relationship with god. and in the book martin lays out four things at the heart of ignatian spirituality - finding god in all things, incarnational spirituality, contemplative action, and freedom and detachment. he is wonderfully honest about his own life. it's extremely practical and down to earth.
desire is a big theme - paying attention to your own longings as a means of discerning where god is at work in your life. prayer is conceived of as friendship with god with some very helpful ways to pray. some such as the examen, imagining a scene in the gospels, silence are well known but i found it inspiring around prayer. and discernment is a big theme.
the thing i sensed when i was in silence was that i needed to 'be me' more fully - and there is a whole section in the book on what it means to be you which strongly connects with the theme of desire.
after reading it i couldn't help thinking how closely i share these four things at the heart of ignatian spirituality and how much it is like what cms is trying to be by way of a mission community. there is so much wisdom and so much treasure in these communities. and since reading it and encountering the jesuits i have found myself on several occasions remembering the freedom and joy that comes with following christ. i think too that i am particularly drawn to spirituality of communities that are spread out in mission to live in the world rather than spiritualities (e.g. benedictine) that are for communities who live in community in the same place.
it's a surprising recommendation no doubt - it took me by surprise too...
i am very excited! yes some people don't believe that my laid back self does excitement but i am honestly (at least inside)!
the first copy of making communion, a collection of communion liturgies from grace has landed on my doorstep hot of the press. this is the latest in proost's pocket liturgy series. it is the longest yet at around 150 pages. i feel very proud of it having helped put it together.
there's a couple of reasons i particularly like this book...
the first is that grace have spent a lot of time over the years trying to work out how to be creative with communion whilst also being respectful to the tradition we are located in (church of england). so this book gave us a chance to write a summary in a 20 page introduction of how we have thought that through and worked it out. i hope and suspect this may be of interest to lots of other communities who are trying to negotiate similar challenges. if you do read it we would love some feedback and further discussion around that.
the second is that there are 24 liturgies or ways that we have celebrated communion. most have been written by members of grace. a few are from other communities and used with permission. but there are some really lovely and inspiring prayers and approaches. many are on the grace web site in the archives but it's great to pull them together in one place.
you can order a physical book through lulu who we use to self publish.
if you are a proost subscriber, then you can access the book as part of your subscription. did you know that there are now around 25 books published on proost?! i have all the pocket liturgies on an ipad so can pull them up at any time. the books alone are worth more than the cost of a subscription before you add in the movies and albums and other stuff.
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where i come across creative ideas, liturgies, movies, music tracks, service outlines or anything that strikes me, i add them as worship tricks. i started these in april 2002 when i first began blogging and they have built up over the years so that i am now on the third series. this has proved a pretty popular feature of the blog.