last update on the kickstarter - we have reached our stretch target - so grateful to everyone. the design is now finished bar a view tweaks. you can get a sneak preview on the latest update from jon here. the kickstarter finishes on sunday - do pre-order if you haven't and the offers inspire a friend and network catalyst are better than you'll get after the kickstarter!
two hours after sending last week's kickstarter update we had reached the target. wahoo! thank you so much to all of you who have backed the project. it still has two weeks to run and we hope to reach our stretch target so we print 2000 copies so if you are still pondering do go and pre-order copies of pioneer practice. the two offers of 'inspire a friend' and 'network catalyst' are deals that won't be available after the kickstarter.
the project has steamed ahead since the last update. jon has done an incredible amount of design work. having now laid out and designed the pages with stories and articles he is now working back through and begun to add photographs. have a read of the kickstarter update if you want to see a few more spreads.
i thought this is a good point to tell you about GETsidetracked. the idea ironically came out of a series i was doing on creativity in january. one of the themes explored was that often people come up with ideas when they get knocked off course or provoked in some way and find themselves sidetracked. so if you want to be creative being sidetracked is a good thing. the name GETsidetracked fell out of that process. what amuses me no end is that if you look up books around it they are titles like 'How to stay focused and not get sidetracked!' and to be honest at work i am quite often in meetings about focus.
lo and behold a new idea was born and we have set up a new partnership between jon birch, myself and joel baker. GETsidetracked will be a platform on which we can publish any projects we have that sidetrack us! it is in itself a side project. pioneer practice will be our first release. so after the kickstarter you will be able to order copies or point other people to GETsidetracked.co . at the moment there is just a holding page with a fun image from joel.
one week in and the pioneer practice kickstarter is nearly there. it's going to happen! thank you to everyone who has backed it, pre-ordered, and cheered us on. watching the kickstarter total ticking over turns out to be a new kind of addiction.
it's also been a really fun week for us as jon has got cracking with the design. every day he has done several spreads and sent them over to me to look through and edit and send back and day by day it's coming to life. we are loving it so far! to give you a flavour of what to expect here's a few spreads
the rewards of inspire a friend and network catalyst have proved popular and rightly so because they are a good deal that won't be available after the kickstarter. if you are one of the no doubt hundreds who thought to themselves 'o yes i like the sound of that must back it' but hasn't yet then go for it - now is the time.
i have been working on pioneer practice for a year and am self publishing it. i have set up a kickstarter which runs until easter to raise the money through pre-sales and other rewards for the cost of printing and design. please have a look and i'd love you to back it. it's a full colour book meets magazine - one of those chunky coffee table ones. and i am working with friend jon birch who is doing the design. thank you in advance!
proost is still going strong i am pleased to say hosted as it is now by space to breathe. there are two recent books that are available as free downloads or you can buy as printed books
the first is a collection of liturgies collated by heather cracknell for fresh expression called opening the doors. mark berry, ruth wells, tim watson and dorothy woods are the contributors so i am sure it is good. i gave printed copies to a couple of people at christmas.
the second is the long promised return? by tim watson, a set of poems and prayers written in the latest lockdown. i have just downloaded it.
i also noticed future present is currently in the free downloads section so if you have never got yourself a copy of that it's definitely worth getting hold of.
i got a copy in the post of missio dei in a digital age edited by jonas kurlberg and peter phillips. i attended a conference back in april 2019 on the theme and presented a paper there which i called mission: an adventure of the (digital) imagination. all those have been worked up into this volume. at the time no one knew that reflecting on mission in relation to digital communication and connection and community would be such a big thing come 2020.
in my chapter i explore how the currency of mission is imagination in relation to culture. the wisdom gleaned from intercultural work is a great resource to reflect on in relation to digital spaces. in a section called imagination, seeing and inventiveness i look at examples from winson green and nomad podcast. my chapter is also a dialogue or riff on pete ward's liquid ecclesiology. love to know what you think if you read it!
it's the kind of book you can dive in where you like and where your interests lie - i found it a really interesting read and think my takeaway was katherine schmidt's down to earth suggestion that "most Christians should be in digital spaces as themselves witnessing to God's mercy through relationships".
that's me done for a while on books i have contributed to (apart from the one i am working on right now of course!)
following up on yesterday's post, another really wonderful book of reflections, prayers and liturgies is seeds of hope. this is produced by amos trust, a charity focused on human rights, justice and solidarity. it's in a similar space to liturgies from below organised into sections such as solidarity, protest, planet. i got it for christmas and am reading it through it daily. i am going to make that and liturgies from below the two books i use to pray and reflect during lent this year. it's also only £10. there is something really good about organisations/movements like amos trust articulating their spirituality. it began as a series of daily reflections in lockdown but it's great they have turned it into a book.
this book is simply brilliant. you have to get it! one of our students put me on to it last week and i ordered it straight away and it does not disappoint. if you want to get a feel for it and indeed access lots of the liturgies for free head to reimagingworship.com . these are liturgies in the context of empire written from its margins in places of oppression, poverty, injustice. it's a project of the council of world mission.
i write and curate liturgies and love that in grace the community i am part of that is part of what we do rather than just take worship off some centralised shelf. as i have reflected on why that is impotant i have come over the years to think of liturgy as world making. we live in a world and indeed church that is run on particular logics and imaginaries. where do we find spaces where the world gets unmade and remade? where dominant narratives get subverted and resisted? one place is the arts. but another should be the church. this collection is most definitely world making. as sudipta singh says in the preface
the book is an invitation to resist the temptation to be co-opted by the empire and to find the nerve to come out of the empire creating counter imperial alternatives
honestly this book is so refreshing. so much worship and liturgy can frankly be vacuous. this is anything but.
i submitted my communion prayer on jesus and the powers and it has been accepted on the web site which i am pretty chuffed about too. it feels an honour to contribute to such a project.
one thing that is intriguing is that there are two covers and subtitles - one is praying with people at the ends of the world and the other is prayers in defiance of empire. i love both but the one that arrived for me has the former - does that mean that the uk and usa can't cope with the second title? i have no idea...
thank you to claudio carvalhaes who is the artful curator of this collection and project.
i always mean to blog about brilliant books i read. i add them to a list of ideas for blog posts but it seems to take an age to get onto that with everything else there is to do! but i finally have written a review of anna ruddick's wonderful book reimagining mission from urban places on what she calls missional pastoral care for the latest edition of anvil journal. you have to download the whole thing to get to book reviews so i am posting the review here.
Reimagining Mission From Urban Places by Anna Ruddick
Anna Ruddick was part of the Eden network who, motivated by their faith, moved into urban estates to share the gospel. It was a movement of young adults whose energy and motivation grew out of evangelical festivals and parachurch organisations. Over several years Anna pursued practical theology research to reflect on that movement and mission practice through a blend of ethnographic research, interviews and doing practical theology. Practical theology is paying attention through the research to the lived experience and putting that in conversation with scripture and resources of theology and other disciplines to discern what God is doing or where God is at work. Through that process she develops a framework for mission she names ‘missional pastoral care’ which is intentional missional living shared by seven elements - being among people who are different, living locally, being available, taking practical action, log term commitment, consistency and love. The interviews are with members of the teams and those they got to know.
At the core of her work is the exploration of the gap between the rhetoric of mission that she went with from the evangelical community that sent the teams with its accompanying expectations of what results might look like, and the reality of what actually happened on the ground. All sorts of good things took place which led to flourishing and genuine transformation but those that went on mission found that both mission and their evangelicalism were changed in the process.
If you are a practitioner or pioneer in a context like this this book will be invaluable. The approach makes so much sense. And it’s a relief because there is an honesty about the reality of what mission is like perhaps summed up in one of the chapter titles “If it’s messy, slow and complicated you’re probably doing something right.”. Through her interviews and reflections on them Anna pays attention to how lives change in slow and messy ways. The changes are real and blend shifts in perspective and meaning making alongside or within an environment that loves and affirms people for who they are over the long term. It’s an approach that chimes well with Sam Wells discussion of being with rather than fixing people. And I really liked the way the whole was framed with mission as what God is doing in the world which we join in with.
However it is not just a book for practitioners. Anna’s discussion over two chapters of what good news is and of evangelicals’ tribe and identity and how it could respond to the mission challenges and context we are in is so good and so important. I fear it may not get the audience it deserves because it’s tucked in what looks like a book for practitioners. She writes as an insider to the tribe which is important to say so it’s written in a tone of careful consideration and appeal to that community. She unpacks the evangelical mission narrative and says that there is a mismatch between that and the realities of mission engagement on the ground. This arises because there is a rejection of context. She then develops an alternative mission narrative which I found compelling framed as it is with the discovery that God is present and at work in the world with people in the community who are made in God’s image. She then unpacks evangelical identity and where it has come from and suggests it could evolve in four ways - firstly revisiting epistemology in response to our time and place (rather the time and place from which it arose); secondly relaxing a concern for protecting evangelical identity and aligning with the incoming kingdom of God in the world; thirdly good-newsness in mission impulse and passionate piety; and lastly a bigger story reframing the doctrinal priorities of evangelical theology. There is not space to elaborate on these here but I really commend that section of the book and hope it gets picked up for wider conversation. There has always been a strain of evangelicalism with which that would all resonate - CMS at its best has been in that flow in my opinion. There were a couple of points where Anna’s writing reminded me of John Taylor’s writing for example.
Lastly just to state the obvious, this is a UK book on mission. This is significant because it chimes with the UK context really well in ways that say American books on mission (of which there are many more) simply don’t. It is gritty and missiologically brilliant. It’s also a very welcome counter voice to the results driven approach that seems to be dominating for example the Church of England’s investment in mission through the Church Commissioners monies. I think Anna is a wonderful practical theologian and this is exactly the sort of thinking that the church needs right now.
i am delighted to say that a new edition of the go between god by john taylor is out this weekend. it is a magnificent book on the holy spirit in mission. this is john taylor's best known book and scm have decided to re-issue it in the wake of imagining mission drawing attention to his work.
i have written the foreword to this edition which i was so happy to be asked to do. i confess i have never written a foreword before and found it quite a daunting thing to write for such a beautiful book. i hope i have done it justice but in the end who remembers a foreword anyway so i think i can relax - the task is to point to the book itself! do have a read if you have not come across it. here's one short excerpt from my foreword which highlights taylor's thinking about little congregations being a forerunner to fresh expressions perhaps?
In an extraordinary passage that foresees the fresh expressions movement, Taylor goes on to suggest that expressions of church should be as close to the life of people as possible. The ideal shape of church is that which provides the least possible withdrawal of Christians from life in the world. He envisages little congregations that are small enough for mutual awareness and large enough to embody the kingdom in their fellowship. These should not be seen collectively as a halfway house to draw people back into proper church or as an interim structure ‒ they are church. It is also the perfect place to share bread and wine round a coffee table without religiosity, the normal way the majority of Christians can make communion central to their lives. And with a sense of urgency he says he is not talking about twenty years’ time, but now. The Spirit is on the move at the growing edges, and the church should recognize it and make it easy for people by taking away red tape. Too many people view these little congregations as peripheral or subnormal, he says. He imagines the parish like a cathedral or a minster, gathering the varied smaller units so they are not too ingrown. But for him small is normative if the church is to respond to the life of the Spirit in the world. It is a truly remarkable chapter both in its imagining of what has come to pass and of the way the church has continued to struggle with the ‘sin of rigidity’, and we are fifty years on.
we just heard that imagining mission has been selected one of the top ten books of 2020 for mission studies, intercultural studies and world christianity by international bulletin of missionary research. a few smart alecs have asked me whether there are more than ten books published in a year in that area - i think there are! we're pretty chuffed about it - it means something in our small world at least. i can't actually link to the article because it's on a password protected journal. post writing a book is a weird journey of banging on about yourself - sorry if you have had enough of me mentioning john taylor and the book! one of his books is being reissued at the end of the month for which i have written the foreword so i am afraid there will be more to come!!!
i enjoyed playing around with quotes from john taylor in imagining mission with john taylor, the book i wrote last year with cathy ross, and combining them with my photos. we posted a number of those last year with some short reflections. and i have posted the whole set as a photo album which you are welcome to use.
i like physical objects and thought a card set would be fun. i can imagine using it in teaching about mission or as a personal prompt for ideas or reflection. i have printed with moo cards before which worked fine for a business card type thing but they work out expensive to make sets. after some investigating i found a company who produced decks of cards for games or educational tools and ordered some. when i asked in some of the posts we wrote whether anyone would like a set i began to collect names of people who said they wanted some. all that to say 128 card sets arrived last week. they have printed really well and been posted out to people who wanted a set this weekend. they went much quicker than expected and the whole lot have gone! (if anyone else wants one i could add your name to a list and do another run but it's really only worth it if i do a run of 100 or so...).
i am adding this as a worship trick as i have shown the sequence of images a few times with a music track and they have gone down well. i think i first did that at the book launch along to calle f by mala. thank you to out of the box cards for letting me use their site to manage the orders! and thanks to everyone who joined in this spontaneous side project. hope you like the cards!
i loved this anthony gormley exhibition event horizon of figures around the hayward gallery in london back in 2007 which is where the photo is from. this phrase probably seems more evident now but when john taylor was writing it was probably a newer idea because mission was something that happened overseas. i have pretty much oriented what i do around this idea for the last 30 or so years!
cathy chose this quote to post this week and this is what she says about it
We are learning that the missionary frontier is on our doorstep – literally. Another apt John Taylor saying! At the beginning of lockdown I met daily with my neighbours in our physically distanced meet-up over coffee. We now meet weekly and sometimes more often. We have discussed so many things and shared a lot together. It has been a real gift to get to know one another so deeply. It has been a wake-up call for me to find connection and friendship in the neighbourhood. And it has taken a pandemic to get us there. I think we are waking up to much during this pandemic which is unmasking powers, fragilities and false gods. The missionary frontier is always on our doorstep. What is yours?
imagining mission is for sale here and there is a chapter in it in which we explore mission.
i have become more and more fascinated by processes of creativity and imagination. when we sent in the first draft of imagining mission we had some push back from the editor asking for some examples of how what we were describing played out. i actually like it when editors push back and think they should do so more to be honest. but i think we felt that wasn't the kind of book we were trying to write or at least some examples might limit the possibility of how peoples own thinking was provoked. but what it did lead to was us thinking that quite often church leaders feel pressure to be creative but don't necessarily know how to do that if they are not used to it or are not in environments where it is encouraged. so the change we did make was to write a section at the end of each chapter on exercising creativity taking a particular idea and then giving some exercises. i really love those parts and think they work as a standalone too.
as a sort of follow up to that and to celebrate the book i am running a series of free webinars in january just imagine one evening a week for an hour. in those i will have three different guests each time and we'll pick a theme for exercising creativity and play with it. go here to find out more and sign up. there are 500 places i think so hopefully room for everybody! now i need to think what do in the sessions!
when you publish a book it's quite common to invite respected writers and thinkers to read a copy and make a comment. it's weird pushing a book as it feels like showing off or something! but i am going to be very unenglish and say this. stephen bevans made a comment that is on the back of the book. he is one of my heroes and i am happy to say has become a good friend. his writing and thinking in contextual theology and mission is amazing. this is what he said about the book
This is one of the most significant books I have ever read. Cathy and Jonny have tapped into a source that can revolutionise our understanding of church, and the mission that calls church forth. Tylor's creativity and imagination and Cathy and Jonny's as well can stir up the creativity and imagination that is latent in us all to leap over the wall. [Stephen Bevans]
when i read that i thought i could retire as i probably can't top it - so kind!
the good news for those of you who expressed interest in the cards of quotes is that i have now ordered decks of cards. they will be delivered to me in early january and i'll be in touch as to how you can get them. there will be a few extras if you missed out but essentially it is a limited edition - i am quite excited about it! this is the top of the box. i have made a slide set of the cards on flickr which anyone is welcome to use - if you do please mention john taylor as the quotes are his and ideally the book that they are from - imagining mission. thanks!
this is a photo i took years ago in the wonderful city of melbourne. it's always amused me that when i have shown it half the people assume jesus christ is a stencil artist and the other half that he is cleaning the place up! looks like a stencil artist to me i have to say...
john taylor calls him the great disturber which i think is hard to argue with. i was speaking at st mary's church last weekend on a couple of stories of social distancing in luke's gospel of healing a leper and a paralysed man. one of the things i was reflecting on was how jesus messed with the dirt boundaries of what is clean and unclean, sacred and profane, who is in and who is out to reconfigure the world as an order of embrace. the religious powers certainly found this pretty disturbing. as we head into advent i thought an image of jesus as the great disturber would be fitting.
these quotes are from john taylor in the book cathy ross and i have written imagining mission. if i am allowed to admit in in very unenglish fashion i am delighted with how it turned out.
i have mentioned before that i am going to get some cards made up of these images and quotes. well i have finally worked out how to do that and they will be a set of 30 cards in a box - like large playing cards. it will work out at around 6 pounds a box. i have about 80 people who have said they want a set - it will be a limited run for those signed up. so if you are interested and have not let me know it's not too late as i have not yet placed the order. just leave me a message. if you have let me know i haven't forgotten.
cathy reflects on another of john taylor's phrases in imagining mission
I think we have all learned that enough is enough and that we need to develop a theology of enough. We are learning that we need to respect the planet and not to be so consumerist and extravagant. In 1972, nearly fifty years ago, Taylor wrote "our Western way of life is marked by excess whichever aspect of our situation one looks at – our consumption of food and our accumulation of goods, our wage claims and price rises, our waste and pollution, the concentration and congestion of our cities, our destruction of living creatures and our plunder of fuels and minerals, our expenditure on armaments and the wanton disproportion of the way we use them – excess is the word that comes continually to mind. Ruthless, unbridled, unthinking excess."Perhaps we are learning to respect the planet, to live more simply so that others may simply live and to take delight and joy in simple pleasures.
john taylor did not mince his words when it came to church. and he was directing his thoughts to the church of england. i was reminded of this last week when someone who is not anglican described on twitter their experience of being othered and told 'you don't understand' when entering an anglican debate. it's a church of england problem in my view that you don't get in independent and non conformist churches in the same way. maybe it's the state religion thing? but it's way too easy for the church to come across as pompous, lording it over, superior. definitely still some mucking in to be done!
you can order imagining mission here #ImaginingMission
the last issue of anvil journal faultlines in mission: reflections on race and colonialism is so interesting, so good and so challenging. i really do encourage you to have a read of it. i wrote a couple of book reviews for it. as the reviews come at the end i am not sure how many people make it that far! so i thought i'd pull out my book review of james cone's the cross and the lynching tree' and add it to the blog so here it is...
On June 3 2020 Chance the Rapper tweeted “Jesus was lynched”. This tweet was liked 62 000 times. He then proceeded to follow it up with some quotes from an article entitled the Cross and the Lynching Tree, which is the title of James Cone’s book from 2011. The article was by Steve Holloway and was a review of the book prompted by Cone’s death. I don’t think Chance the Rapper had read James Cone’s book but I suspect that probably it was the highest profile comment in pop culture about it. I hope it got some new readers as a result. Being America of course the comments were suitably polarised and ridiculous. One accused him of blasphemy saying Jesus wasn’t lynched he was crucified which was kind of missing the point! The reason I mention this as a way into a review is that I think my own education about racism and injustice has been in some significant part through black music - soul, reggae, hip hop, Afrobeat to name a few genres. Artists feel the culture and somehow find ways to articulate something of the pain, grief and mood of the times and where appropriate call forth a different vision, a different possibility. In this regard art and prophecy are close friends. The most helpful response for me personally after George Floyd’s death aside from Al Sharpton’s magnificent eulogy was actually Gilles Petersen’s selection of music and comments and guests on BBC6Music in the two weeks after. I found it a lot more helpful than what i heard in churches - in fact it struck me how few hymns or contemporary songs there are that really spoke into that moment in any concrete or grounded way.
Chapter 4 of James Cone’s book is about literary artists and the connections they made between the crucifixion and the lynching tree. For me it was the most moving chapter of the book and I followed it up by finding some of the pieces online which also led to finding illustrations of the black Christ identifying with the suffering of those lynched. What is particularly striking about that chapter is that it comes in the wake of a discussion about the absence of the connection between the cross and the lynching tree in the theologies of the best white theologians of the day and the pulpits in white churches. Cone devotes a chapter to Niebuhr and goes to great lengths to reflect on this absence in Niebuhr’s work because he was probably America’s most influential theologian, commented on social issues and Cone was very influenced by him following in his footsteps at Union Theological Seminary in New York. As Cone says, it is extraordinary that this connection was not made. He contrasts that with a moving chapter on Martin Luther King who makes those connections and whose life was one shaped by the way of the cross. I don’t know why I say that is a moving chapter because every chapter I mention I will say is moving! A case in point is the chapter on black women’s experience of suffering, their part in activism and black womanist theological perspectives. I was reminded by that of Billie Holliday’s rendition of Strange Fruit which I listened to several times as a result of the book (Nina Simone’s is powerful too).
The book opened my eyes to how prevalent lynching was. I knew about it but the scale and horror of the experience was really brought home to me by Cone’s book. Between 1880 to 1940 white Christians lynched 5000 black men and women. These lynchings drew huge crowds and families came out to watch. Photos of the event were turned into postcards that you could buy. Cone references an exhibition that shocked America by touring these postcards - I found some of the images online. It is so hard to believe and fathom the reality of that black experience in America and that white Christians did it - I found it important for me to look at it and try and see it as best I could without averting my gaze.
James Come is brutally honest about his own struggle - white supremacy tears faith to pieces he says. If God loves black people why do they suffer? And yet the heart of the gospel is struggle for freedom and liberation from oppression. The cross is an empowering sign for those who suffer because of God’s loving solidarity with them. It’s also where the powers and principalities are overcome. And it has to be related to our social reality rather than abstracted. So Cone is right to say that Jesus was a lynchee and make that connection. And he says that every time a white mob lynched a black person they lynched Jesus all over again. “The lynching tree is the cross in America”. At the same time he laments that many white theologians theology of atonement (which they are very defended about) fails to name or recognise white supremacy as America’s great sin. It is in danger of being sentimental abstract false piety.
In the conclusion he quotes from James Baldwin who says he is proud of the spiritual force and beauty of black people in America. Why? Because “It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck”. I was in pieces at that point.
I love liberation theologies but it was actually as a result of twitter that I read it. It wasn’t Chance’s tweet but Bishop Emma Ineson said she was going to read it. At that point I was so upset about George Floyd’s murder and wondering what on earth i could or should do that I ordered the book and thought I’ll at least read that and try and get a bit better educated. It really has done that in a powerful way.