in a previous post there are lots of african names for god in the invocation. i stumbled across a new one today - the great trickster! i was following a trail in a footnote that mentioned an article called tricksters in the bible by carole fontaine which of course caught my attention. if you know me, you'll know i love the trickster myths and character. anyway i managed to track it down to an episcopal church magazine called witness in 1998. wonderfully it is online in an archive here. the article is by carole fontaine who i don't know much about but like immediately! i have taken the liberty of lifting out that article so you can take a look here but i found the whole magazine pretty interesting with articles by the likes of walter wink.
"When the power-brokers simply will not listen, when the center forgets the margin — well then, a trick may be in order."
it's the beginning of term. a new year is always both crazy busy but hugely energising. at cms in oxford we have around 100 pioneers doing some training with us at undergrad, post grad and doctoral levels. it's such a joy and privilege meeting them and encouraging them in who they are, their sense of vocation, their learning and practice. i teach a couple of modules at undergrad level. one is an introduction to practical theology and reflective practice. we had the first day of that yesterday where amongst other things we discussed theology as a quest, as faith seeking understanding, as conversation about god, as something for everyone and not justan elite educated crew, as something lived, as something contextual and local and intercultural, as something global and not just western and so on. one of the ideas we came back to was theological homelessness (scroll through this edition of anvil and you'll find an article by me and cathy ross on it).
as you would expect, for every module there is a reading list. one of the books on that is theology brewed in an african pot by agbonkhianmeghe e orogbator and an essay option is 'what does theology look like brewed in the pot of your community?' which i think is a fun title (i am not so sure students think it's fun writing essays mind!). i have always loved learning from other cultures and contexts and putting my western learned sense of things in conversation with that - it's a gift cms has given me. it's such a relief to find that wesrern theology (ies?) are a local theology rather than universal and will be enriched in conversation with other theologies. i'll never forget john mbiti sharing names of god he had collected from his travels in africa and he had over 300 names. orabator has various prayers and liturgies in the book, one of which is inspired by john mbiti. it's called an african invocation of divine names and i found it online here and am taking the liberty of posting it below (largely because i have learned over the years of blogging that links eventually don't work!). what does theology look like brewed in the pot of your community i wonder?
Consoler and comforter providing salvation,
Grandfather who alone is the great one,
Watcher of everything who is not surprised by anything,
Piler of rocks into towering mountains,
Divider of night and day,
Response: We praise You!
Sun too bright for our gaze,
Eye of the sun,
Drummer of life,
Owner of our head,
Large and deep pot,
My feathered one,
Mother of people,
Response: Bless us!
Great nursing mother,
Great personal guardian spirit,
Unsurpassed great spirit,
Great source of being,
Great mantle which covers us,
Great leopard with its own forest,
Great healer of eternal life,
Greatest of friends,
Great spider, the all-wise one,
Response: Enlighten us!
Controller of destiny in the universe,
All-powerful, never defeated,
Father of laughter,
King without blemish,
Possessor of whiteness,
Whiteness without patterns,
Caller-forth of the branching trees,
Unique great one to whom one can take petitions and requests for counsel,
Response: Hear us!
The first who always existed and will never die,
The only one bull in the world,
The one who sees both the inside and the outside,
The one we meet everywhere,
The one who is in all ages, everywhere and at all times,
The one who turns things upside down,
The one who has power to destroy completely,
The one who makes the sun set,
The one who gave everything on this earth and can take everything away,
Response: Guide us!
Axe that fears no thistle,
Hoe that fears no soil,
Ram of majestic sinews and majestic carriage,
Hero who never flees before the enemy,
Big boundless hut,
Victor over death,
Response: Protect us!
Compiled from John Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion (London: Heinemann, 1975); Robert E. Hood, Must God Remain Greek? Afro Cultures and God-Talk (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990); Joseph Healey and Donald Sybertz, Towards an African Narrative Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1996), and other sources.Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator - Theology Brewed in an African Pot
i am adding this as a worship trick - yes i'll be getting those going again sporadically.
i have been pondering the various social media worlds over the last couple of decades and how i have interfaced with it.
at one stage there were a number of bloggers around the world and it was very energising to engage via conversation that took place in the comments of various blogs. it was easy to keep up because there weren't that many! prior to that, the conversation had taken place via email discussion forums.
then with the arrival of facebook i was eventually persuaded to join (in a bar in austin). at one level that seemed a lot more democratic - lots of people got involved and it suited lighter touch posts. the thing i never liked about it was that it didn't archive anything so if there was an important conversation it was hard to go back to.
twitter had its evangelists and the same thing happened - i was persuaded to join. i kept the blog going but found the conversation had moved to multiple places and people were less likely to visit a blog so you needed to repost everything or work out what to post where. that was fine and i rationalised it by saying you need to go where people are. it felt at times like there were flows you needed to spot and jump on.
i am a photographer so instagram was appealing to post photos and i have enjoyed that space although i was late to that, though i have still kept my flckr account going where i really post my photos.
whatsapp has also become a useful tool and a hungry monster all in one!
the challenge is that it all gets a bit exhausting to feed the various socials. that is compounded by having various pioneer spaces to communicate in with cms and trying to puzzle out what should go where. inevitably the blog got less attention over time. the second challenge is that the companies running the socials are horrible. we all kind of knew that but it has become more and more obvious. the number of ads, the way the socials have fuel fake news and take zero responsibility beyond making as much money as they can and so on. so there is a sort of widespread disillusionment but a reluctance to bail. i have no idea what that means.
but i have been reflecting that i am really glad i have kept this blog going against the odds, hanging in there as a landing page and an archive of sorts of the last twenty years or so. it's a funny mix -i have always fused things in my own life with mission, culture, pioneering, photography rather than having a disciplined sharp focus. and i have decided that i am going to go back to posting more on the blog - that will include short things, links to something (that might have gone on twitter), and longer reflections. i hope to up my game by posting most days or at least a few times a week. i will link things across to twitter and where appropriate post in facebook but mainly it will link back. i am not expecting a resurgence of conversation in comments on the blog or anything and a lot of people can't be bothered with an extra click. but i am going to give attention to the blog and less to other spaces. i suspect instagram may be the one i hang out in a bit more as i do love images and quite a few photographers post there.
this is just me thinking out loud and describing what has already happened - i go to twitter and facebook less - once every few days. i'll keep doing that though perhaps that will wane too - i am kind of over them.
it's a new season of grace. in november grace will be 30 years old. put nov 11 in your diary if you'd like to join us for that celebration. but the next two we are looking at the theme of grace itself. sept you are invited to bring something - a poem, song, prayer, photo or whatever. see you there.
i went to greenbelt festival this weekend. it was celebrating 50 years (or fifty festivals or both?). i have been to over 40 so it's been a very consistent part of the landscape of my life ever since my village youth group leaders took us in 1981. i have been shaped by it and am so grateful it exists. t's been a joy to be part of, to make friends there, to be challenged, uplifted, contribute to the programme in multiple different ways.
the image above is a lino print by sarah kirby that is in the book fifty: a festival lexicon. we helped crowdfund it - it is a beautiful book with 50 vignettes by different authors (i assumed it was fifty but i think it may be 52) around words that capture the spirit of greenbelt - like home, festival, portal... i was thinking what word i would pick if i were asked (and not wanting to pick one used). i landed on 'sign'. for me greenbelt is a sign of hope in a world that seems to have lost its way, a sign that another world is possible it's also a sign of what the church can or could be be at its best, a prophetic sign. the book was available at the fetsival but i don;t know how you get hold of it now - i am reading a section or two a day, i imagine we'll use it to reflect on life together round the meal table with friends. look out for it.
this year my favourite music moment was dancing to the latin soul funk of sam redmore whilst being passed a hip flask of a fine single malt from a friend i bumped into there. it was joyous. bruce cockburn was a close second. i also loved hearing martin shaw's tale of an encounter with the holy maker of all things after 101 days in the woods - mesmerising stuff. the gathering of pioneers hosted by cms was a buzz as ever and it was especially lovely to meet four visitors from korea. a lot of people told me how moved they were by one of harry's poems which was clearly brilliant and high on the vulnerability stakes - sadly i missed it! we (cms britian hub team) were co-hosting the exchange which was a venue focused around social enterprise, business for good, finance and alternative economy. all the sessions were full which was great. it's all part of the healing of all things (aka mission). i stepped in for someone to host a panel for those who have broken up with church and are working out life and following the way of christ beyond gathering in that way. it was packed which tells you all you need to know and i loved chairing it.
the best parts are still the gaps - bumping into friends old and new, and family. here's me with one brother and two sisters. come along next year!
if you read my earlier post it turns out i was over confident when i said the app we are creating would be launched - it didn;t land in teh app store. we have some things to sort out so watch this space for that.
blondin is an outdoor exhibition from the photography group i am part of. it is blondin park and explores the park and things that caught our attention there or related to it. i have a couple of photos in it. it was installed today. you are probably aware that charles blondin was the french guy who walked across niagara falls on a tightrope - he lived locally at some point. so as a nod to that i photographed a local tightrope walker who uses the park. but in the photo i took i noticed the tree behind him looked very like the one used by ealing council across it's signage for parks. so i asked my friend jon birch to blend the two images together and that is now the image promoting it and on the intro board which i am really pleased with.
the exhibition will be up for brentford festival, BEAT weekends and then a few months. it's slightly strange that i am now exhibiting in ealing in two outdoor exhibitions as unlocked has never been taken down!
there will be an opening evening on sept 6 in the park by the boards at 7pm. do come along that evening to say hi if you are local and have a drink and a look at the photos. being a park and outdoors you can see it wen you like of course.
this gives you an idea of the boards in the park (this photo was taken by group member angelika berndt)
it's greenbelt's fiftieth over the bank holiday weekend - I have been to over 40 of those which is a weird thought. it's one of the most consistent things in my whole life. and my life is the better for it in so many ways. hope to see you there!
if you are there CMS are helping run the exchange venue - so come and find me there. love to catch up for a coffee or beer. we are hosting a gathering for pioneers at 6:30pm sat night so consider yourself invited.
i am personally taking part in two things - first up i have been developing an app with fellow conspirators jon and joel as our second getsidetracked project. the app will (i am 99% sure) be in the app store by greenbelt and will be called getsidetracked - i am searching on that every day expecting it to land any moment). it's a fun app on creativity designed to help spark the creative process - i'll blog about that separately once it's live. i am on a panel called tech for good in the exchange on friday at 12 noon and will be talking about the app. out of that panel we will taking an idea forward to a hackathon to be coded so that all sounds good fun.
the second is that i am on a panel on sun evening chaired by martin wroe at 7pm in treehouse called it's not me it's you and the blurb for that is as follows:
How come so many of us have broken up with church? We take part less and less often. Or not at all. It used to be part of our lives… until it wasn’t. What’s your story? Why did you call time on the institution ? Was it you? Was it ‘church’? What do you do instead? Marika Rose, Dave Tomlinson, Jonny Baker and others listen to your stories and reflect on your experience.
on the pioneer practice tour we encouraged people to share ideas they had percolating. in portsmouth catherine shared that she loved the argentine tango and found dancing was a spiritual thing too. she had an idea of a day with dancing in the cathedral in the evening but a workshop in the day. well it turns out that idea has got legs and is happening in portsmouth cathedral in a couple of weeks - the divine dance:tango at portsmouth cathedral
scottie reeve (who i visited when in new zealand) has written a lovely piece suggesting that all a church needs is a table, a kettle and a curtain. this is pitched at those starting new communities or planting churches. his point is keep it simple and suited to the size so don't burn yourself out!
"Many church-planters feel the pressure to become a “real church” as soon as possible. They become structure-heavy, volunteer-heavy, and bloated by brand and buzzwords before they have truly learned to be family. Their leaders are exhausted within a year because they are maintaining something built for 100, while there are only 10 of them. On these days we need to remember that, at its inception, the Church was founded in homes and houses - little rooms with not much more than a kettle and a table."
(thanks dave crampton for the tip off)
lay pioneering and thriving in mission is a new grove booklet by james butler. it's the result of reaearch in focus groups with a range of lay pioneers. it's very well done and super interesting what surfaces. it's hopeful and a reminder that pioeering arose as a result of a lay movement of the spirit in the world. he explres some of the challenges and inevitably this leads to some discussion on the relationship with local churches. for me it confirms some of my hunches and ponderings about the way church is constructed and how it simply does not work for huge numbers of people. so perpetuating the idea that if we do it better or do more of them the church will grow may well be a bit delusional. or may be one among many things that might be worth experimenting with. or at least it will work for a natural fringe only. lay pioneers are world facing and inhabiting the neighbourhood or parish differently. with a little bit of imagination it's not hard to see how wonderful that is and how it is good news and the yeast of the kingdom. anyway all that is to say have a read - grove booklets are about 8000 words usually and very accessible. i explore some of my own thoughts on reimagining church in the chapter 'leap over the wall or perish' in imagining mission with john taylor - this reminded me of that, which is still one of my favourite chapters of things i have ever written. have a read. and thank you james butler.
the latest issue of anvil journal is really wonderful - exploring the emancipation of indigenous theologies in light of the rise of world christianity (and it's free). i read it on the ferry on my phone on the way back from the netherlands last week and found i wanted to read all of it! i have so enjoyed various things related to indigenous spirituality, community, theology over the last few years - visiting maori and reading hui comes home in NZ; braiding sweet grass; first nations version of the new testament; rescuing the gospel from the cowboys by richard twiss etc... so it was a joy to be able to host some articles and conversation in the cms journal. big thanks to everyone who contributed. i also really liked the book reviews this time round - they all sound interesting. do read jay matenga's article. I thought that was particularly helpful at a time when the c of e could do well to stay in for the difficult conversations. i took some quotes from that and the editorial and put them with photos i took when i was in new zealand. see my word - indigenous
amos trust road club does an annual cycle ride. i have done about half a dozen over the last decade and jenny has done more. this year we joined a trip to the netherlands taking a ferry from harwich to the hook of holland riding to utrecht, dordrecht and surrounds. cycling there is flat which suits me fine! and there are cycle ways everywhere - it's a country set uo for cyclists. the uk has a long way to go in that regard. i have done more exercise in the last week or so than in any week for a long time. there are a few photos here in an amos road club netherlands 2023 album. cycling in a group is not very conducive to taking photos - you get left behind! so these are a bit random taken in gaps on the way.
the great glen is a fault line that runs from fort william to inverness in scotland running through three lochs and several parts of the caledonian canal. i found myself in a conversation where a friend was saying he was think of canoeing the great glen with his son (who is an outdoors instructor amongst other things). i said i would love to do that which set a ball rolling and ended up with a group of six of us in three canoes heading to scotland to canoe it. it's 60 miles or so. the photo above is from this album the great glen canoe trip which will give you a feel for what it was like.
we wild camped each day finding spots from an os map. those sites were extraordinary. we were under a goshawk nest one night, in a shelter on an island in the middle of loch oich another, by a waterfall with a natural pool, and then suspended between trees overlooking loch ness another.
i took my aerial tent which was absolutely perfect for it. it packs small and will go anywhere. i backed it as a kickstarter some years back. we cooked off the fire each night and morning - there was plenty of wood around.
the main challenge as you would expect was weather. we had one night oif rain but it remained dry on the whole. but the wind seemed to vary a lot. when we set out on loch ness the wind was against us and white horses were on the water so we rafted three boats together and set off for the far southern shore. that meant the boats were stable and whilst we were bailing all the way it was exhilirating. at another point when we were on a long day down loch ness we rafted boats again and made a sail from a tarp and got blown along for a few hours.
the final day was really choppy and challenging but we made it to the end of loch ness. one boat did capsize but close to shore. i wasn't in that boat!
jon who was the most experienced and the unspoken leader of the trip was incredible. i haven't read it but have heard people talk about the book canoeing down the mountains suggesting we need flexible adaptive leadership today and is not what (church) leaders are trained for. well i saw this in action - adapting to weather and environment, making things with whatever was to hand - tarps, straps, wood, gaffer tape, rope. it actually made me want to relearn some knots and up my bushcraft skills.
john (another john) read some reflections he had written each day - in the vein of john o donahue - that gave some reflective pauses during the trip which was lovely. they were taken from this collection on his web site. he is also a wonderful photographer and took lots of photos - his album is here. i have never done anything quite like this trip and loved it!
at cms there is a library and new books are on display. one caught my eye a few weeks ago - ecclesial leadership as friendship by chloe lynch which i took home to have a look through. ever since i have been wanting to write a review and not found the time! so this isn't a review - more an enthusing.
i should say first up that it's an academic book, it's a work of practical theology that is amazingly thorough, well researched and written. it's not popular level if you know what i mean. she uses walter brueggenann's prophetic imagination (which is one of my favourite books ever and one that changed my life) as a framework for the book. this in itself is wonderful - i intuitively did something similar many years ago for an essay on my MA.
she offers a critique of leadership in the church as it is - i completely welcome that. she particularly lays into the managerial culture and language, but interestingly looks at other ways of framing leadership such as servant and suggests they fall short. incarnational mission and ministry is central for her which i love and agree with (i have returned the book by the way so can't check exactly how she puts it). she then offers leadership as friendship as a model or way of thinking through church leadership. i think it is a very original piece and i warm to the notion a lot. i read steve summer's book on friendship years ago where he explores the idea of church as a community of friends and the eucharist as a meal with friends. i loved that and it felt to me that this builds on that - she does reference steve in passing but i was surprised that link wasn't built on further. i am very drawn to ignatian spirituality and at the heart of that is the idea of friendship with god as at the heart of faith. if you put all these things together friendship becomes a really interesting way of reflecting on following in the way of christ together.
the big question i have is to do with power. is it possible to be in a leadership role and maintain friendship? it's a good aspiration. chloe does address that but i wanted more. steve summers does explore that in more depth in his book - his angle is whether friendships can work across different social strata.
evangelicals are in crisis i think when it comes to leadership and they are not alone - how many more cases of controlling, abusive leadership are going to come out? so it might seem weird to suggest friendship when it also feels like you can't trust people in leadership. but i think the problems are in large part to the way the cultures of churches are set up whether an overly clerical paradigm or an overly super hero paradigm where you don't question the leader (or whatever the big evangelical church leader paradigm might be). the problems too are to do with the heart being deceitful of course. but positing friendship as a paradigm for being a community opens up a different kind of culture. it's easier in a small community which to be honest i have always preferred and been part of. and it does open up some questions too.
at cms in theological education we try to create that sort of a culture with our team and with students and pioneers who have trained with us. i have wondered whether it is feasible to do but have often said i primarily like to think of students as friends who are fellow travellers in mission. this too is counter cultural to the expert or to notions of formation which seem to me to largely be about control and create almost parental kins of relationships between teachers and students.
anyway all that to say i wanted to mention and enthuse about the idea and the book and chloe lynch (who i don't know). being academic it's not a cheap book and sadly routledge are still not on perlego .