I still might not have found what im looking for, but finding might be in the searching

Bear with me (non U2 fans) , but now im post 40, i can quote U2 lyrics…

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

“The process for faiths search for understanding- seeing, hearing, engaging and reflecting upon,’ what we have seen and heard’ through reading is itself a matter of high drama’ (Vanhoozer, 2005, p19)

This one of three aspects of thinking of Theology as a Drama, is explained by Kevin Vanhoozer, in effect he is saying  that there is drama in the search for faith – in the search for God and understanding. On one hand it is the least of the three aspects of theology as a drama that i focus on in most of my previous writings on Theodrama. But in reality- it might be one of the more profound. God is in the search. Less the destination. Finding is in the searching. Trying to find something, but not know if we found it is something we’ve all experienced. Participating in the search might be enough.

Often we are told in Christian culture that – ‘when we seek we find’  and this is a paraphrase from Jesus own words in Matthew 7- ‘keep on asking and you will receive what you will ask for, keep on seeking and you will find’  Note however that this is about a continual searching, a continual looking. Its almost as this is about our very nature to be seekers, searchers and curious (something implied in the creation of nations in Acts 17; 27) . We find in the process of being those who are curious, being those who participate in the searching. Not what we might find. God is less in the answer of the prayer, than the prayer itself. Yet the temptation is to think that God is in the destination of what is found, rather than in the finding.

Participating in God’s overall drama – The Theodrama – is about the ongoing search – the ongoing curiosity – and because it is a drama – and not the predictability of the maths that underpinned much of early philosophy- or the predictability of science and rationality – the search is a drama in itself.   Is Aslan good? – yes – but he isnt tame – said Lucy. Predicting the prowling Aslan, is only possible because of the signs, the winter starts to melt away. The Drama takes a new twist when Aslan is on the move.

The ongoing search is a drama in itself. It is fraught with danger and distraction all the time, we may have access (because of the cross) but it is still a drama to attune to God, still a drama to participate in the search after God – still a drama because God herself might not be as predictable or predicted. To search after God, to seek, may just be to participate in the drama, Gods drama itself, what we find might not be what were looking for. Some are still not finding what they look for.

Because, finding is in the searching.

Will the good man find the lost sheep – when he leaves the 99? who knows.

Will the woman find the coin, even when the others are in the tin? it might have been stolen.

These are metaphors Jesus uses for the Kingdom of God – maybe the kingdom is found in the searching itself. Not the finding. That trauma of having lost something and knowing it.

So, whilst the overall Drama of Gods redemption is taking place towards the fifth and final act of the ‘Return of the King’ – in this in between time of the emergence of the church since the ascension – we are left to search for God in the midst, and respond to prompts, signs and symbols, a search that is dramatic in itself.

Even if we ‘know’ the truth – it still has to be found, and re-found and re-lived again and again. It is an ongoing drama, an ongoing search, of shaping character and gaining knowledge, and faith barely exists outside knowledge. There is struggle and drama in the reading – how many distractions are there instead of reading the bible – or even tempting – just to hear our own voice in the scripture – and its specific or worldwide context or interpretation. Drama is a collective search – it is mysterious and artistic – and it is performative – it is in what we do – acting with God in the search for God.

Thanks to Richard Passmore, for his post here: http://www.sundaypapers.org.uk/?p=3623 and those on the subsequent facebook discussion, for helping to stimulate some of these thoughts.

References, On Theodrama

Vanhoozer, K , 2005, The drama of Doctrine, p19 

(and if you’re new to ‘Theodrama’, there are many others in the links on the tab to the right)

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Maintaining Young Peoples Joyful Curiosity

*boring start of blog alert….I dont listen to alot of Radio 4, although because my car arial is a bit rubbish and Radio 5 is a bit crackly I have started listening to it a bit more and today I was heading to the local supermarket and heard about 3 minutes of a discussion on education. What they said resonated alot with some of the other stuff I have listened to or writte about recently, especially if an of you have watched any of Ken Robinsons TED talks. What they said was that ‘the education system has been reduced to what can be measured by testing, and testing then shapes what the education system is all about’. Of course its easy for a discussion on Radio 4 to sound like this. What they also went on to say was that because of this, there is ‘no Joy in the discovery anymore’  the joy of discovering stuff, of learning, of find out the whys, hows and whens of things has been reduced to a test, and made meaningful out of a test.

Ken Robinson would go further and say that this shape of education reduced the validity of other forms of intelligence outside of an academic one.  Some of you may know Gardners 9 forms of intelligence, where the academic/information type is only one, more is explained here: http://fundersandfounders.com/9-types-of-intelligence/. 

9-types-of-intelligence-infographic

That was the slightly long winded way of reflecting on the how youth ministry might maintain the Joy of curiosity for young people. In a way it has a luxury to be able to do this, because it is doesnt have the restrictions of formal education, tests, exams and the policies that shape them.

So, when it comes to helping children and young people be formed in their faith, what is that has been done that causes the vast majority of young people even in churches, to think that faith is boring.

It has been said that over stimulation to visual screens has caused a detrimental effect on young peoples ability to be creative and constructive. What if the same might be said within some methods of youth ministry, which have over stimulation, games and activities, but then the ‘God’ bit is the ‘boring’ bit, because it feels like a school bit.

The question then is, How might we enable children and young people to rediscover the joy of discovery, when it comes to learning about faith. And, might a broader understanding of intelligences help?

But the first thing. Ive got to admit, even before starting academic study 13 years ago, i loved learning, and developing deeper thoughts of faith through reading theology, such as Tozer, Jim Packer, David Watson and Philip Yancey, and other books by Wimber, Yaconelli and Max Lucado. Maybe i was a faith geek, regardless I had an apetite to learn more, and deepen an understanding of faith, which catapulted onwards ever since starting my BA in youthwork and theology in 2004. Some people might say that none of this is necessary. That young people just need a simple faith. A simple faith might not always be able to respond to difficult questions. There are only so many helpful verses that are included on fridge magnets.

Because I am a Theology learning geek, it is difficult for me to suggest how otherwise to help young people discover the joy of discovery in their faith outside of reading and reflecting on those whose faith and stories may have inspired them. And this may work for some young people, give them access to the popular theology books that you yourself have been inspired by, like Rob Bell, or Yancey, Tom wright or Tozer. It seems daft, but what about raising their game..

This is where the multiple intelligencies help. It is easy to find the resources to help young people explore academic learning in regard to the faith, but how might they explore using other aspects of intelligence? How might their joy of discovery be active, peformative, emotional or social experiences, or even those that help them connect with the outside natural world. Even if ‘multiple intelligencies’ is of dubious science, helping a young persons journey of discovering faith be of variety can only be a good thing. Not all of the young people in your group are naturally information intelligent, some are socially or interpersonally intelligent and so it is worth reflecting on holistic spiritual discovery, and enabling a joy of discovery to be longer lasting.

Theres a possibility that the problem is broader. We might be asking young people to find a joy of learning and discovering the faith, in a broader culture of where we ourselves have grown tired or bored of the learning aspect of church itself. (usually the sermon)  And valuing ongoing learning is almost dumbed down in churches when the activity of church is emphasised.  If we have a culture or even concept of faith that ‘becoming a christian is it’ and ongoing learning isnt a requirement, then there is no joy in onging discovery, because the Jesus of the fridge magnet is all that is required.

In the recent research in 1400 churches in the USA, (a copy of it is here:  http://wp.me/p2Az40-NP     )  They discovered that it wasnt games, fun, camps, or residentials that kept young people in church. It was that faith was meaningful and challenging. It tackled the deep stuff, mysteries and complexity. And by doing so it gave seriousness to the capacity of young people to be learners, explorers and capable of handling theology. Here is what it said :

During the Growing Young project’s interviews, 40 percent of young people specifically mentioned “challenge” when they talked about why their church is so effective with their age group. They appreciate challenging teaching in their churches, even when it makes them feel uncomfortable and invites them to make changes based on scriptural principals.

40 percent of young people specifically mention wanting to be challenged by their church. Tweet that

Contrary to popular thinking that young people today want it easy, many told us they love their churches because their churches inspire them to act. This inspiration flows from leaders who model authenticity and humility and extend the challenge of following Jesus not from a place of superiority or power, but out of an invitation to pursue the way of Jesus together.

We dont have an example of How Jesus kept the disciples interested for 18 years in his ‘church’ . We know that he kept a faithful following along with him for at least 3 years, even though suffering was pending. Discipleship was about discovery, imitation and performing. It was about learning, questions, mysteries and complexities. And it took place in the backdrop of a society that there was oppression and roman rule. Jesus didnt make things easy for them. Maybe there is a lesson there.

As I was reflecting further on the Joy of discovery, I came across this from Richard Rohr:

We’ve turned faith into certitude when, in fact, this Trinitarian mystery is whispering quite the opposite: we have to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality. In this space, God gives us a spirit of questing, a desire for understanding; it seems to me it’s only this ongoing search for understanding that will create compassionate and wise people. (Richard Rohr) 

What might it mean in youth ministry to create compassionate and wise young people, who fit their lives around the requests of God to love, show mercy and justice. If young people have been given a Godly spirit of questioning ( Acts 17:27) then it might be only right that in youth ministry we create spaces open for that quest.  We are born curious, how might that curiosity remain joyful and ongoing in exploring faith and discipleship.

Image result for joyful curiosity

The church as interactive community theatre: creating places of conversations

“Each conversation is like a small piece of Theatre” (Wardheugh, in Smith H, 2010)

“Dialogue creates a critical attitude, it is nourished by love, humility, hope, faith and trust. When the two poles of the dialogue are thus linked by love, hope and mutual trust, they can join in a critical search for something. Only dialogue communicates” (Freire 1974, p42)

Creating the right kind of environment and spaces for conversation has been a bit of a mantra in Christian faith based youth work, when I say mantra, I mean essence of its being. So whether on the streets, in the clubs or in a minibus, creating the environment, (an environment framed by mutual love, hope and trust) and then giving space for conversation is key for the ongoing personal relationship, the space of education and the space where the possibility of these critical searches take place.

The question is – why hasnt the church used conversation as a tool more in critical discipleship and evangelism?

You know the routine, the big evangelistic event is looming, invite your friends for a meal at the local Hotel, have some benign chit chat about the food, pets or childrens tv programmes, and then everyone shuts up having conversation to listen to someone at the front, someone with a gift in evangelism, do a talk. Or talk at people. Yes they may have a ‘gift’, yes they may have been successful, and a few may respond.

What usually happens though is that the chit chat is only the warm up, and any energy in the room, any quality conversations and moments of meaning are affected and dissipated by the change in the dynamic in the space, of one person talking, and several people just listening.

Going back to the days of Alpha, maybe one of its reasons for success, was not the videos, but the group work and conversations, that built, and relationships that formed, and developed over the period of time. Yet the success of Alpha tends not to be narrated as the conversations and group work, but the material. The material is limited without the environment being created to have conversations. The problem with Alpha was that the culture of the church didnt move with the process, and expected alpha disciples to fit in into a different educational and as seen below theatrical perfomance of church

The epilogue at the end of the evangelistic social feels far too similar to the games night at the youth club with the same kind of energy sapping moment of limited participation. though times are changing.

What am i implying? well maybe what i am implying is that when it comes to mission and evangelism, relying on the slow build of many conversations, and relationships, and the complexity that these take is something alien in churches. Yet it is something that should or could be encouraged and embraced.

What would be the down side in creating regular welcoming spaces for people to do the same activity in the space of a church – be it food, or sport, or social action, and then in those regular spaces give people all the time in the space to have conversation, to essentially create community of their own accord. For church people to be posed questions by their friends in the space, to have to respond, to receive gifts and tools and actions from people from ‘outside’ because they invest in the community.

Then all become disciplers of others, all become gifted in conversation, all become witnesses. The community guided by the overarching story of the church, of redemption and hope creates the environment, and within the actors improvise, or to use the term above enact mini scenes of theatre in conversation.

“The Divine improviser thus shows himself to be both faithful to the movement of the play and creative with regard to new situations” (Vanhoozer 2005:341)

The possibility of conversations, or faith conversations, intrigue, action and reaction is only possible in the rightly created environment, if it is allowed to happen, and shaped in such a way. And for many churches, developing community in such a way has become part of their practice. It is especially true in types of group and community development work in faith based youthwork, which has developed these conversations further outside the church to find places where the environment can be created. One process of the development of group work conversations is details in ‘Here be Dragons’ above. Its not the only process, yet many relationships and conversations between people start with cold contact, develop in trust, and actions and challenge, and where possible discipleship from within the relationship. Its not only happening outside the church structures in missional youthwork, but some churches are embracing it too.

The obvious issue with exploring faith through conversations in this way is their lack of predictability, need for flexibility, the reality that people are at different places even in one larger group, and that resources, aside from the intutition, guidance and support is going to be limited, as a one resource, or size fits all approach has been negated. Yet creating space for conversation that is appropriate does take into account everyone at different places, and trusts in people and conversations to move the action forward as these spaces continue. It is as if in those conversations between friends that Jesus joins in. At other times he might be hard to find, but thats also ok, the disciples on the Emmaus road didnt recognise him either. What if small groups form from a larger one as people ask, trust and want to learn from each other. well, great, and the rest. Community disciples community. Maybe even the clergy is invisible- maybe they’re just there to help shape the action and guide the environment, to interject when appropriate.

What the mess of the conversations might look like is an interactive theatre – in which the script is yet to be played during the course of a gathering of the community, and yet the shared space of the food, the activity or sport is a starting block, is a commonality, and then the action between the guests and actors, (and there is sometimes limited disctiction) is a shared listening and learning one. Though the overall direction of the play is both the cue of the Spirit in the midst, and the desire for reconciliation & redemption. The contrast between the interactive theatre where all play parts in an improvised way not unlike the medieval theatre, and the current theatrical concept of the stage performing to the audience, often masked, distant and pretence, couldnt be more stark. The conventional theatre holds the audience captive, by imposing finished visions of the world and purging spectators of their tragic flaw, namely their ability to change society ( Boal 2008, p155)

At a time when the public places of conversation are being shut down, (click the link for a guardian article yesterday ) and the social poverty that this will cause, such as loneliness, mental health and less support and resilience – then its not just a faithful act to create open spaces of conversation, but a social, practical and provocative one. Mission begins with conversation, God is about conversation (more about that later) and so as churches creating places where the action of conversation happens appropriate for all ages, for specific ages or specific groups is what we need to do.

The most important thing in all human relationships is conversation, but people don’t talk anymore, they don’t sit down to talk and listen. They go to the theater, the cinema, watch television, listen to the radio, read books, but they almost never talk. If we want to change the world, we have to go back to a time when warriors would gather around a fire and tell stories.

Paulo Coelho

In the participative space of interactive community faith conversation theatre, The gloves in a sense are off, there are no lead actors and non participants, for all are on the stage as performers. The spectator is free to perform.

“The church as a theatre of the gospel, a theatre of community faith conversations is revolutionary, overturning idols and ideologies alike, as it displays the first fruits of eschatological reality” (Vanhoozer, 2005, p404) And if a church has enabled a community to be created in which all are welcome, from many faiths or none, young age or old, in which conversations are trusted and people share life, hope, stories and faith together, then as a ministry of reconciliation of redemption there is nothing less revolutionary, less politically challenging, less fruit displaying than that.

To trust in conversations, even as youthworkers, but let alone a pastor in a church with evangelism tendancies, might have to let go. The same youthworker or clergy might feel very alone or pioneering compared to their contemporaries who maintain an event based, programme based, or even pre determined group based ministry. The same youthworker or clergy might have to develop their own tool box for the trade, from community development, from liberation theology, from contemplation, or even from the metaphor of theatre. And to learn to become a different role in the space.

If the new spaces are being created that encourage faith conversations and essentially encourage curiosity, community and belonging in a church, then why might old forms of church seek to influence or discourage it if it is having a positive impact in a local situation. Where it is happening and the shoots of greenness are there, inherited church should learn from not rally against. It might represent a change in method, but that should not be threatening, in a position of decline, nothing should be discouraged. This isnt a model for an old form, its a culture shift and a new way of being. Relationships and conversations are interactive and unscripted, not a quick win. Culture needs to be created, culture needs to shift.

After all there is nothing untheological about a small group of people sharing a meal together , having conversations and Jesus being there amongst them is there. Or for people to have conversations and then for one person to suggest in the community they would like to be baptised. These didnt happen in the Bible at all did they?

So, what about trusting in conversations and creating spaces of welcoming community in churches for faith to emerge through conversations, for community discipleship to occur within friends. And who gets the same credit – Jesus, and who is active and performing on his behalf, the church. The power of God might just move between the saints and wouldnt that be an exciting prospect – rather than the pre planned scripted performance of one whom the rest watch as audience. And yes at the moment it looks nothing like sunday, or spaces that still look like a version of sunday church but bigger. Old wineskins are hard to get rid of, or abandon completely, sometimes new wine has to be poured in to stain the wood into new ways of being. But cultural shift and paradigm shift to community interactive church is required.

“The church is a local theatre, a place in which Christ comes to be present. Christ is between the saints, in the dynamic interaction that characterises loving relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit” (Vanhoozer, 2014, 176)

Oh yes, and established church learning from the conversational practice of faith based youth work in developing spaces of community. learning from youthwork practice might just catch on…and youthwork practice was only ever about facilitating conversation whether in the club or streets anyway.

References:

Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, Bloomsbury, 3rd ed 2008

Paulo Freire: Education for Critical Consciousness, Bloomsbury , 2013

Paulo Freire & Miles Horton: We make the road by Walking, Temple 1990

Richard, Lorimer Passmore, J Ballantyne, Here be Dragons; Youthwork and Mission off the Map, FYT, 2012 (see link above for more details)

Heather Smith, Engaging in Conversation in Youth work Practice (eds) Jeffs & Smith, Palgrave, 2010

Kevin Vanhoozer, , The Drama of Doctrine, WJK, 2005

Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking and Understanding, WJK, 2014