Thoughts on Liberation Theology Conference 2019; feeling theologically home

I wonder whether you have ever had the feeling of feeling theologically home?  Not being around people where theres a grating or an edge, or where its about justifying a ministry, an outcome, or even, where theology is best left for others, and only a proof reading of scripture is done.

Today I felt theologically home.

I have felt it before, and regular readers of this blog will know that I have felt this amongst the pioneer youth workers of FYT, at our national gatherings. But this was the first time i have felt this in a non youthwork related conference space. Big time.

A few notes on the outline of today, a beginning in which prayers where held an equally participated in the yurt, inside Sunderland Minster (yurts also feature at FYT, maybe theres a theme), a time of reflection and sharing. This was followed by a session by Symon Hill on the infleunce of the military in society and thinking this through theologically. A fascinating conversation.

Then Sue Richardson used liberation theology to facilitate a collective interpretation of the symbols and metaphor of the clay pot, in both the Old and new testament, the process of bringing experience to the text, and developing interpretation and trusting in God in the space to prompt and provoke was just amazing, with a number of threads of questions, inspiration moments.

After an amazing lunch, vegetarian soups, quiches and fruit

The afternoon session included a discussion from Church action on Poverty about developing church on the margins, and how this is about learning, reflection, being with, and time to share practices across the room. It feels as though this conversation is repeated often, usually emerging from all those who have sought to adhere to youth and community values, of participation and empowerment, democracy,inclusion and justice. The challenge will be how this has any traction, even collectively across so many organisations into culture shift of the church.

Following this we heard from 2 protagonists who took part in, and were arrested at the XR protests in London recently, and the daughter of one who took part in and led climate change protests in their local school.  Much of the incidents, but a stark reminder that there are causes worth being arrested for, and that it is a privilege to be able to choose to be arrested.

I left before the final Taize worship, but before this there was chance to collectively reflect on the day. The most inspiring was from a young person who passionately exclaimed that we should have the courage to do something.

Definitely with so many thoughts around my head as i drove home, so much to process, but an enduring feeling like this was was space that did provoke and challenge, that did bring people together doing some amazing things, whether protesting, whether working in communities, whether studying for ordination, whether working for charities, a deep richness of perspective, a deep and broad awareness of experience. It wasn’t that it wasn’t provoking, or challenging, but it was as if the process, and the essence behind it could be trusted. It was as if the common good, the goodness of the world is at stake and faith is the mechanism, indeed the story and drama that we participate in with others to try and make this happen. Today was about learning and reflecting on our collective lines for this.

Often a conference is rescued by its networking. Liberation conference 2019 didnt need to, there was depth in the talks, depth in the room, and yet, the breaks yielded some fascinating conversations, my introvert self didn’t pursue many, but those whom i did were of real interest, in which there was deep theological conversation, on theory, on practice, space in not too long to share and be part of a community and movement. A space to feel theologically home. When so often spiritual homelessness is felt, especially in the big get togethers. Maybe that’s it, maybe i find home in the small get togethers of reflective creative practitioners. With people for whom theological reflection is core to action, core to faith, probably no wonder i felt at home. Home in which there wasn’t an unease, and a space in which there was risk taking, invitations to genuinely participate, learning, value and reflection. Theological and theoretical homelessness might not be a bad thing, in the process of change and renewal, but always feeling like in those spaces and putting on a face can be significantly tiring. Its good to know whether theologically and spiritually, theoretically and in practice its possible to feel like the slippers are on, as is the fire and it feels home. Homelessness can be stressful, and tiring.

And as for some of the detail of the sessions, far too many to share here, subjects I hadn’t considered, subjects i seem to know only so well, and the inspiration of those who have acted. Just a brilliant, inspiring, hopeful, energising day.

Thanks to Chris Howson, for Ray Leonard who organised and promoted this, and for all the participants, new friends and community.

Can church be developed and defined from its action?

Regular readers will know that this is something that i have teased at this quite a a while ago, amongst a variety of other pieces. I just thought it might be good to give it a rethink. I’m realising more and more that the broader church had a habit of wanting to redefine and re- strategise it purpose, often adopting marketing and business methodologies, or hankering after a new testament church model, that appeared in a bygone context, or develop a version of its nature (ecclesiology) so aloof from reality. One example being church as a holy separate people or a bride.. metaphors so alien, and not reflect the often reality of the present, the broken and the infiltrated by culture, yes sin, that church often is.

The danger too, that a kind of aspirational ecclesiology doesn’t nothing but frustrate and point out the inherent current frustration and failings, rather than acknowledge the good of what currently church is or does.

Nicholas Healy makes an interesting point, in that thinking about the church theologically, in the grand narrative, the theodrama, causes church to consider its present in light of both past and future. To recognise its role now, its link to past and the remembering of, but also how its future it’s to be, in dramatic terms rehearsed and to be looked forward to. Signposts and markers. Grief and hope. Past and future.. in the present.

And so, as a collective church, we are not as business leaders would have us do, try and imagine a blank page.. because. The church is part of an already bigger story. It’s a participant in something with already guidelines, it has a direction and a history, a director and a principle actor, a guiding spirit in the action. So it is no fresh start, but an imagining of authentic purpose that fits the task of participation in something, that a church has agency and will in, and is similarly guided and prompted.

Simply put, Nicholas Healy writes that a church in its participation in Gods Theodramatic missional story is one that is both practical and prophetic.

Whilst this might be most relevant if the temptation to separate the churchs mission from its ministry, the closer reality is that both mission and ministry occur within the same theodrama, and therefore ministry reflects the same practical a prophetic emphasis. For.. isn’t prayer both, and might praise and worship?

But thinking of Mission for one moment.

There could be a temptation to separate the prophetic activities from those that ard practical, when it is more realistic to consider both along a sliding scale or graph, where some activities might have higher or lower of each.

A solely practical activity might show love, but no voice to challenge the status quo..

Yet a solely prophetic activity might create change but lose touch with being loving and listening to those for who are affected, taking away agency from those in suffering. Potentially.

So there are scales. And I wonder too whether many actions by churches are implicitly more prophetic than they realise. But maybe not explicit in this.

Something prophetic need not necessarily be politically directly prophetic, but theres a difference between treating a young person as merely a token or consumer of an activity, than being a contributor and having choice within it, therefore a prophetic act in a society or even church culture that might not regard young people highly in terms of participation. The same might be for recipients of food, of freebies and handouts. Yes, all practical. But might prophetic action increase, for the individual, within community and also in the broader political structure also.

There may well be default lobbyists (prophetical) and default helpers and responders (practical).

But i am thinking that it may well be in the intersection of both where the church might find it’s true identith and purpose, theologically, socially and missionary, as it fcussed on having an identity orientated around its ongoing action, rather than an ideal, and keep on a cerebral study of redefinition. Rather, build an church from the place of its action.

References.

Nicholas Healy, 2000, The church, world and Christian life

Vanhoozer, Kevin, 2005 The drama of doctrine, 2012, Faith speaking and understanding.

Avery Dulles, Models of the church.

Praying the drama

A few thoughts on the above

One of the books that I have loved reading recently has been ‘The Sacred Enneagram’ by Christopher L Heurtz, and whilst I would have been sceptical a few years ago about many of the Myers-briggs/Enneagram type psychological things, reading it, after a few others on the Enneagram, at a time in my life in which I have been open to receive learning, reflection and awareness of myself, has been particularly meaningful.

What i like, especially, has been the link in the book that is made with developing Spiritual practices that align with personality ‘type’ and why these are important. One such one that I am beginning to use, and like is the centering prayer, which is described in the book, near the end.

In it you are encouraged to sit, to rest and bring to attention a picture, an image of God, a sacred symbol, and bring God into the room, the place and use the image as a way of realising God in present, and active in the moment.

It is usually at moments like this when my mind often goes blank.  Sick of usual metaphors like boats, waves, rivers, doors… so i shut off.. minds heads to practical, mind heads elsewhere, heart goes off in a huff, denied.

But what if i started to use the metaphor of play, of drama, of perfomance to centre my prayer. What if i use what i already know and focus my attention on God as loving director, and player of the play? What if i bring all that into my prayers, and not leave it on the academic bookshelf, what if Gods play is active and contemplative, if the drama was here all along?

So, resting in the play, centering my attention on the drama, i have began to write, and pray and reflect and attend contemplatively into the action, over the course of a few days I have been able to write what you see above.

There are parts to be played, verses to be written and dramas to be called to – for the play is ongoing.

In the Drama of your youth Ministry, does God have a speaking part?

Have a think about this for a moment…. Where is God speaking to you through your youthwork practice?

Might it be easy before, or after, but what about through and in midst of it all?

This post will look at how God speaks, Biblically, divine action and then what it might mean for God to speak through our practices of youth ministry. For those who have a memory for these things, this is the post that i was about to write a few weeks ago, after writing this one in which i started the conversation on conversation, speaking and their lack of mention in youth ministry writing. So this is a long awaited part 2…

Image result for god speaking

So, Starting with God speaking. How does this happen?

It might be too extreme to say that God only acts through communication, as Vanhoozer suggests in Faith, Speaking and Understanding (2014) but it is as equally fair to say that the Biblical God does an awful lot of speaking to his created humans, whether that is directly – to Adam, Eve, to Noah, to Abraham, about leaving his home, and crucially in a lengthy dialogue over the destination of Sodom (Genesis 18) . God who speaks to Moses, to Eli, Samuel and David, through Angels who pass on his messages, and ultimately in the communicative act of sending Jesus into the world, to communicate God in person, speaking, acting and communicating God in this one location. And where Jesus does more that speak, he communicates through action, non action, miracle, question, parable and behaviour. ¹

but looking at google, and images, it looks as if God only speaks through sunsets,

silence and reflection and prayer. But God in the bible seems much more practical and conversation than that…

So does God continue to speak?

And if so, where, when and how might God be speaking through your youthwork practice? and who to?

Is God saying something when the ‘numbers are down?’ or up? Is God saying something through the disturbance by a young person? is God saying something when the group reacts to a local poverty issue? is God saying something when people leave? Is God speaking through the young people themselves?

For so long the model of youthwork has been the key. Having the right motivated by faith – might be considered theological practice (Ward, 1997) , but God is no Model, or strategy or even process. God is first of all community and second of all communicative. But models of community might be overstepping the mark, trying to emulate being like God by a community orientated approach and we could get tied up in circles trying to make a practice model itself on community for the sake of a theological perspective. But we could be accused of trying our best, or too hard to find the right model, instead of being open and creating opportunities for God to speak in the present in what is going on in the youth work practice.

Image result for youthwork model

Of course it may be particularly important to ask where God has spoken in the past, how God speaks and what it might be that God is likely to say, and with that maybe comes developing a kind of biblical intuition into the way (s) of the speaking God. The God who provokes his own people that theyre not worshipping properly, the God who welcomes children, the God who has high ideals, the God who guides through the wilderness and who sets people free – the God who speaks to his people through it all, what might that God be saying to you?

Yet strangely, how often might we stop and reflect on where God is speaking through our practices – What is God saying to you about the young people you met last night on the streets – what might God be provoking you with what they say? what story is the parable of tonights youth work, this afternoons mentoring session, or this mornings classroom activity. As reflective practitioners, and theological reflective practitioners, God might be trying to speak to us more that we might think.

Discovering the divine action of God and our relationship to the divine action of God in human practices is one of the key questions that Andrew Root wrestles with in ‘The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry’ , his wrestling continues in ‘Faith Formation’ . However, thinking through the divine action of God, is a topic barely considered in UK youth ministry, at least not the books I have seen. It makes something of an appearance in practical theology, but even then the relationship between human action and theology is the most common, not necessarily what is means that God as communicative agency is the theological perspective overall. So – where might God be speaking through your youthwork practices? – and how might we be open to God speaking through our own actions, and there being ongoing participation in the divine acts of God, on our part too.

So, lets ask the question more often – where is God continuing to speak in and through your actions, in and through the actions of others and in and through the interactions between others in your youthwork practice?

If we take the metaphor of the theatre as one that is plausible, then we might act along with Jesus incarnate on the stage, performing an improvised drama with the script, trinity, church and eschatology as guide, and be in response the similarly ongoing prompting and directing by God². We do not act alone, God acts and prompts in this way in the present. Through our ministry and in it, speaking and directing, and going ahead to prepare the stage for the drama of our obedience.

It is only one metaphor, but in a way it encapsulates how were are both free to act and responsive to act, obedience and yet attempting to participate in something larger than ourselves. And where God is in the ongoing, the present, not just a model to copy, or an ideal to aspire – but a character in the ongoing drama that is prompting in the very midst.

The Bible depicts the living God, the Holy Author acting as an agent in our midst (Vanhoozer, 2014, p481)

Where does God continue to speak in youth ministry? In your ministry with young people? From the midst, from the action, and in the action itself. God as the Holy Author prompts and directs the drama towards redemptive purposes, edging and nudging along. Its our job to be open to hearing, improvise and take up the challenges of those nudges.

For Andrew Root, Ministry or being ministered to is one key aspect of participating in divine action (Faith Formation, 2017, p201), I might suggest that divine action is in the communication of God and his divine action is in communication, and yes, we do communicate the Love of God through the acts of ministry and being ministered too – but it is also about hearing God in the midst and responding in the moment to the prompts to act in a loving way, strategic ministry might not be as loving as the in the moment prompt to take a risk and do the most loving, caring compassionate thing in that moment, despite the risks to reputation. It might be seen as ministry, but if God acts in the present, then it is present obedience and in the moment love, generosity, mercy, forgiveness, hope that might be the moment where God is also at work. And that might be when we see God at work through young people as they do these things. Additionally,

Where might God be speaking in your youth ministry? – Might be where young people are being prompted by God to be ministers…

References

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation, 2017

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Remythologising Theology, 2012

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2014

Vander Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2016

Ward, Pete, Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997 (others propose models too, Doug Fields, Steve Griffiths, Richard Passmore)

¹For a detailed look at the communicative agency of God, from a Biblical perspective – do engage with Kevin Vanhoozers, Remythologising Theology (2014)

²Vander Lugt (2014) suggests that there are a number of factors, these included, that human actors use to be guided in their performance, though ultimately there is much improvisation.

Should churches view young people as ministers?

What shall we do with young people when they grow out of messy church?

How do we integrate young people into the life of the church?

We do really great childrens work, but youths..?

These are three of the most common questions that I hear on a regular basis from church leaders and congregations in regard to a church working with young people.

I wouldnt say from the outset that there is a magic answer to solve all of these particular questions. however I do think that there is a game to be raised when it comes to thinking about how churches think of young people, which may be a start.youth[1]

There has been notable advances in recent times at churches starting to use terms like ‘learning from children and young people’ rather than ‘teaching them’ and these are creditable. A shift to more child and young person centered education methods (though espoused in the 1960’s in Sunday school unions¹) have put specific young people at the forefront of curriculum design, rather than external programmes, again, all positive. So how young people are regarded in churches is a big deal. As you may know I have written before on the different attitudes that are had in regard to young people, from them ‘not being ready’, to being ‘aliens’, ‘scary’ or too precious and wrapped up in cotton wool – all of these attitudes are featured in this post : young people as saints of the present, not church of the future . In this post, I reflected further on young people being seen as theologians and using some of the themes within adolescent development, think about how their theological reflection changes. More often than not implicit messages like ‘you’re not ready’ or ‘you dont know enough’ are put as barriers to young peoples perception, and many of these are projections, fears and attempts to maintain control.

But, if youth ministry, is all about Ministry – why not conceive the idea, or permeate the concept, that young people have a Ministry and this is what the church is to enable to develop and flourish?

When I say ‘ministry’ , i don’t mean that they get to be underpaid, undervalued and be lumped with a whole load of initiatives and administration for little thanks…what I  mean, what if young people were thought of, not as followers, disciples or ‘a group’ – but as Ministers of the gospel? But i do mean called, and prompted and hear the voice of God in the midst towards acts of ministry.

Would churches, sunday schools, messy churches and youth fellowships be transformed if their primary task was to discover and enable the ministry of young people to occur – rather that be bent on programmes, learning, containment, safety and entertainment? 

What if each young person has a ministry to give to the local church, to the local community that needs awakening, acknowledging, and then using to its full potential? 

I hazard a guess at yes. What if, as I suggested in my previous post. Youth Ministry was about the ministry of young people – and not the ministry of adults teaching at young people?

One of the sad truths is that for many in their churches, many adults, they have pottered along in churches for such a long time and not realise or have their own ministry recognised, because it hasnt fit with the norm. Only the other day someone in a church suggested to me that they felt passionate about litter, and the environment, and they aged post retirement had discovered a real new passion for this, but I wonder even if it was suggested how ‘ the environment’ might become a church’s overall mandate – for some it does and there are eco churches – but my point is that for many even in churches their ministry goes unnoticed and they are put onto rotas, leadership and organisation.The trouble is is then to ask questions about how young people might be ministers is to do so possibly in cultures where what determines ministry is already set.

So lets open it up a bit.

Starting with Andrew Root. For, though I have on many occasions in previous blogs talked about developing young people as ‘performers of the Gospel’ within churches and communities, it is Andrew Root, in Faith Formation who put forward, for me, the concept of young people as Ministers. In Faith Formation, one of the main thrusts of of Root is to ask ;what is faith? and ‘how is faith formed’ and though not always specifically related to young people, he highlights the issues created in practices of MTD youth Ministry stating that faith it seems has been more about an addition to life, rather that , as he suggests, a deduction within life. A Calling out of the material towards the sacrificial. a discovery of the ‘in christ’ of Faith- and what that might mean to be active in the same faith of Christ. stating:

We become like God by sharing in Gods energy, which we do by joining God action and being ministers²

For young people, what might faith formation look like if it was about joining in with God’s actions and being Ministers?  Its a challenging question. I think. For so long we’ve thought of what weve done as youth ministers to be the ministry, and not think so much about how our ministry might be to harness the ministry of young people. If i was to be critical of Andrew Root, it might be that the view of Ministry that he espouses is somewhat limited, albeit probably confined to the ‘application’ section of the book. I may also want to suggest that Theodrama provides a better platform and structure to some of his arguments about divine action, but thats for another piece (or a previous one somewhere in the archives). But back to young people as Ministers.

Developing this further, if Young people are to be regarded as Ministers in churches – this becomes a question about ‘what ministry is’ and also what is the church and how is ministry part of it? All too big questions for this piece. Anthony Thiselton in Hermemeneutics of Doctrine’ brings together a number of perspectives of church, ministry and mission, and ministry and the church relate to each other. But an eccesiology question and ministry question do go hand in hand. What if the church’s main purpose as Thistelton writes (based upon Moltman, Pannenburg and Robinson)  is that the church is 1. moving towards the eschaton (ie in act 4 of a 5 part drama) , it exists to fulfil Gods reign in the kingdom and secondly the church exists for itself and its own sake, more that Christ came to save himself, It exists to participate in Gods Mission to the world³. There is clearly a Theodrammatic view of the church coming through, and this also helps. Nicholas Healy (4) urges a view of the church that sees itself as being within the Theodrama (act 4 towards act 5) , and cultivates that the church in its nature (and thus its ministry) is to be both Practical and Prophetic, being present in the moment, recognising the past and the future, being practical to humanity in Gods world, and also prophetic to care for it and challenge the idolotors and narcissists who seek to destroy it.

Image result for Ministry

Now, in a way this is not about burdening young people with all of this responsibility. However, the responsibility is our shoulders to facilitate young people as ministers within the church and within the world. There is a larger role than what Andy Root suggest for young people, faith formation might not just be ministry in the church, a ministry of sacrament, of generosity and gratitude – though all are important, but in thinking about the role of the church in the ongoing Theodrama of the world – the grander story that we are all participants of – then our task might be to discover how young people are being called and challenged by God into being ministers in the world in which the church plays its part, participating in mission- and thats mission in the grand sense, not just evangelism, which is one part. I have suggest that developing young people as ‘performers’ of the gospel is something that is required as part of faith formation before, and this only adds weight to thinking about young people as ministers, developing action discipleship might be the first paradigm shift we have to do, the second is to be looking for the ways in which the ministry of each young person is being revealed to us through their actions, communication and behaviour – and if this isnt being realised, then maybe our approaches have been deficient.

How might we keep young people in our churches? well, if psychologists (5) and a recent survey that I conducted indicates, its is community, challenge and autonomy that young people, and ourselves crave in situations – then supporting young people through faith formation through a enabling their ministry in the world might be the way of doing this. Entertained young people are not staying in churches – only those whose ministry is harnessed, so we need to harness the ministry of young people in the church and the world from as early an age as possible. If we have worked with young people and their families through messy church for 2 years, then we should know by now or at least be able to identify aspects of that young person, their qualities, passions, beliefs and spirituality to help us help them to find a place in the church and world where they can do ministry? cant we?

It will also help if they can be ‘included’ in practices of ministry – until they choose to reject them. And yes i do mean communion. As ministers children and young people need to be part of the ministry. Theyre not too young to be used by God – are they?

Let help young people be divine actors of Gods performance in the world- and see what happens then?

Might churches and Ministry be transformed if young people were regarded as ministers?

And i dont just mean the ones with ‘leadership’ potential, I mean all. I mean the example in which a young person didnt want to participate in an activity, but found real purpose in helping in the kitchen instead, the young person who wanted to raise money for charity, or the young person who wanted to use their generosity to be on the welcome team, or the young people who use the resources of the church to develop social action (something Kenda Creasy Dean is recommending) , the young people who protest against development or the reduction in green spaces, is this not prophetic?

What if young people were regarded as Ministers in the church- what kind of transformation might this cause?

And what kind of role, skills and abilities might we need to be, those in leadership in churches, to facilitate young people as ministers?  And yes that might be following Gods calling and prompting to pick up litter. To be vulnerable in the task of divine action.

 

References

¹Thompson, Naomi, Church and Young People since 1900, 2018

²Andrew Root, Faith Formation, p176, 2017

³Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 2007, p 486

(4) Healy, Nicholas, Church, the world and the christian life. 2000

(5) (Deci & Ryan), Taken from Jocelyn Bryan, Being Human, 2016

 

LGBT and the Christian Story (Part 2) – Might drama make for a better evangelical story?

A few weeks ago I penned a piece that began with Peter Oulds assertion that ‘Evangelicals need a better story’  in regard to how situations of LGBT are dealt with, and the piece ended with my own story of growing up evangelical, and the predominant silence on the issue, a silence which meant that as a young person I had no way of assessing the few perspectives floating around that were predominately negative, and where the churches were represented as being guilty of committing spiritual abuse against individuals. If you want to read that piece it is here: ‘On LGBT and growing up Evangelical- the Silence’

This is the follow up, and tries to respond to Peters original question. One key motivation for me in regard to this piece, is that I was in conversation with a young person recently, and in asking them about ‘difficult issues that they face’ they said ‘well i have my spiritual beliefs over here, and my personal ones here, I go the Pride march locally as I want to support it and am for it, but its as if i have to hide being a christian, or keep my spiritual beliefs separate’. I paraphrase a little. But isnt it a shame that this was how a young person in a local church, growing up evangelical, dealt with what they saw were a divergence of beliefs and values? A better story for them would bring coherence. And i realise coherence isnt everything. But it might help young people growing up evangelical today. Amongst other things.

So, If there needs to be a better Evangelical story ;  Might that story need to be a bigger one? If the only evangelical story in town is to denigrate those who stand with pride marches as having a cartoon faith, and creating an either/or argument, then Peter is desperately right. The tone of the debate continues to sound nasty, and it is evangelicals playing the doom drums.

Where the conversations have been about Vicky Beechings book ‘Undivided’ which is getting alot of positive and dismissive comments.

But if I am brutally honest, when the battle lines are drawn in this debate both lived experience and good humanity become sidelined to bit part players in the great theological conversation. The lived experience, personal ministry and horrific experiences of oppression in the church do have to be wrestled with, are valid, dont mishear me.

If the lines are drawn as ‘lived experience’ vs ‘what the bible says’ then the rut might be stuck in for a while. The tools in what seems a battle have barely move on since i was a teenager. To be evangelical is to still believe in the Bible, yet no evangelical believes in the whole bible anyway, all is culturally appropriated. Thats still not, quite the point.

Yes it has taken 1000 words of preamble, and so this might be the first of a number of posts, but in terms of a framework for using the Bible, and also exploring inclusion, acceptance and participation in the faith – does a Theodrammatic framework help?

Of course, in thinking like this, we have to ask whether we want to find a way that accepting a theological premise that offers acceptance and inclusion with the LGBT community is what we want – if this isnt what is wanted, then no premise will have any affect anyway – because the heels are already dug in and no fancy 2000 word blog is going to change that. But if you humour me a little, and want to work with me to think about a better evangelical story, then read on…

How the Bible is used – is a question that doesnt as often get asked as ‘what does the Bible say’ , neither ‘what is the role of the Bible’ in this or any debate- and this may well be where thinking about Theodrama might also be helpful, in not just providing us with a better story, but also a way of understanding how the bible is to be used.

And one key aspect at stake is the use of the Bible, which, according to the critical piece above is phrased as having no need for interpretation, for only a literal one will do. How the text of the Bible is used is undoubtedly an issue. An issue that isnt picked up on by Ian Paul in this piece, but he does helpful highlight the potential factionary nature of the debates.

but moving on…

Can there be an evangelical story that is the different one that Peter Ould is trying to find?

I am wanting to believe there is.

I wonder whether the limitations described by Peter in his piece on ‘The Christian story’ are also related to the notion that ‘Story’ itself has limitations as a descriptor, its something I have talked about before here in this piece: ‘Does a 3 way Drama help?’ and I suggested that the limited nature of story is that it restricts the participative nature of God in the current story of humanity. It can feel as though what is described is as if the separate story of man and God only connects at certain points. And I am not sure thats Biblically or theologically accurate.

I wonder whether Theodrama helps to create a better story? Where it is not Story, but Drama that is the descriptor, and metaphor that is used to describe the Christian narrative, mission, expectation and purpose.

There will be references to Theodrama at the bottom of this piece, if you want to read further, but for the content of this piece I will try and keep things as fairly simple as possible. Thats if you’re not lost already, please try and bear with me on this.

In thinking about Drama, Balthasars original descriptions evoked Shakespeare (all the worlds a stage) and also Greek Philosophy, in which theatrical language was used to describe the human condition and place in the world. What Balthasar did with it, in 5 volumes was to suggest that the field of Theatre was both underused and devalued by the church, and that it had much to offer that had been sidelined. In particular Balthasar focussed on the nature of the relationships that occur between the script, the author, the playwright, the director, the audience and also the actors on the stage. Principally describing that the actor has both the freedom to perform on the stage, with knowledge of previous performances, the written script, (thats been tailored from the original piece of literature), their relationship with the author, relationship with the director – and also that their performance is being realised on a stage in front of the audience. I think we can get this in terms of a metaphor for the Christian life, in which the human responds in freedom to the author, director, audience, fellow performers and tries to act in a way that brings the audience closer in awareness to the script. (Wells 2004, p49, and Von Balthasar, Theodrammatic 1, The Prolegamma). Shannon Craigo Snell (amongst others) have alligned the various aspects of a theatrical performance to that of the Christian drama, with, the world being the stage, God the director/producer, and performer, and humans/christians as also actors on the worlds stage.

As with this analogy, different methods of theatre in your mind make give this metaphor variety. If you have improvised or interactive theatre, then audience participation and improvisation is high (as is the skill of the actor to incorporate massive disruption and divergence), the more bourgeoisie theatre with clearer boundaries (except when the audience is involved in a panto scene) permeates a different image of what performance is expected. Boals descriptions of Theatre for the Oppressed are helpful here, and I have not done theatre studies. But there’s a glimpse here on how Theatre has possibilities for a metaphor, especially as interactive and improvised theatre suggests that drama as Wells suggests celebrates and embraces an open and social future in a time to be explored. Theology in the Drama engages with time in its openness. (Wells 2004, p50)

A number of people have written further, using the metaphor of theatre as a way of bringing together free will, the creator/creature relationship, the answerability of Man to God, (Balthasar), the church (Nicholas Healy, Craigo-Snell, Wesley Vander Lugt), Trinity (Balthasar/Vanhoozer) calling and salvation (Vanhoozer, Balthasar), Ethics (Samuel Wells) and maybe as importantly for the discussion about the christian story, The bible itself (Craigo-snell, Balthasar, Vanhoozer, Wells, Vander Lugt, Trevor Hart)

Imagine for a moment that the Drama is the descriptor for the Biblical narrative and not story. And so, in that dramatic imagination, think about the historic and present timeline of the Biblical action, whilst there is a bit of a small dispute (and its not worth a discussion) on how many acts there are to play in the drama, for me its easier to think of the framework as five acts of God, four that have happened, and one that is in the future. These being

  1. Creation,
  2. Covenant,
  3. Christ,
  4. Church, and
  5. The Consummation

Hopefully, this still feels evangelical. The Bible contains reference to all of these in the canonical text, and what this time line also does, as Samuel Wells describes, is that it put us is in our place  – being in act 4 of 5 – and thinking about this is below. God is at work in all 5 of the ‘acts’, they are the acts of God that permeate through the Biblical text and these key moments. Though in this description Wells described adequately the chronology of the Biblical narrative, it is laking reference to the Biblical themes, and an alternative is suggested by Vander Lugt who presents it as:

  1. Formation (creation)
  2. Deformation (Fall)
  3. Transformation emerged (Isreal)
  4. Transformation Embodied (Jesus)
  5. Transformation Empowered (church)
  6. Re-formation (new creation)

This carries with it something of the impetus of our current situation. For, as people in the ‘church’ act of the drama, our prime role is of having been empowered to witness, empowered to sustain the faith, empowered in christlikeness and empowered to cultivate and make disciples. And transformation is expansive enough to include other salvific acts such as reconciliation, ransom, adoption, victory, liberation and justification..

This post is not about a theological understanding of LGBT per se, It is meant to be a way of re thinking the Christian story, to drama, and Gods Drama (Theodrama) that might ensure that the Evangelical Christian story, does itself have a better and i hazard a though, more accurate story.

So, for the remainder of this already length piece Ill focus on the question – If there is such a thing as a 5 part Theodrama – what part in this metaphorical drama does the Bible play? And as a result, what is the Bible for, especially given that literal uses of texts (albeit subjectively used) are often weaponised in an LGBT theology-off.

Within the Theodrama, it might be that the Bible is easily determined as the script. But not so fast. For the script of the Bible rarely corresponds to current events, neither do the current actors regimentally act it out. Indeed, the whole theatrical methaphor might itself be under threat in the questioning of whether the Bible is a script or not (Vander Lugt, 2014, 92-93) Although there are many compelling reasons for suggesting the bible as the script, Vander Lugt suggests that it is better to think of the Bible as  a Transcript and a Pre-script. Vanhoozer himself deviated from his original thinking on the bible as a script between Drama of Doctrine (2005), and Faith Speaking Understanding (2014).

With the Bible as a transcript, Vander Lugt paints a picture of God (the playwright) who has a comprehensive view of the whole drama, but guides certain writers in transcribing a long series of improvised performances in interaction with his own performance. Not all is recorded, only those which are events, interactions and notes that contribute to a cohesive story (the OT), and this theme continues by the disciples who improvise with earlier performances and then interact with God playing a lead role (Jesus), and then following this the playwright includes letter from assistant directors ( peter, john, Paul)  to their companies who provide creative ways of performing  in various situations guided by the producer (Holy Spirit), and all these become adapted for future performances, and some even include how the play will end – so actors are required to reincorporate by memory what is transcribed while pre-incorporating with hope and imagination elements from the ending. (A slight rephrasing of Vander Lugt, 2014, p94)

Actors therefore have freedom to improvise within the structure provided by the playwright, protagonist and producer, with God also involved in the ongoing, immediate and present – as he is and was always (it was only written down afterwards) . Scripture may not be a script, but a transcript of what was that serves as a pre script for ongoing fitting and appropriate performances in the future.

I cannot continue this piece any further. It will get longer than the Bible itself.

What I hope that thinking of the Christian story as Theodrama does is bring expansiveness of thought to the concept of the biblical narrative, using theatrical language that has this potential, and uses terms that many people who are adept at film/theatre or music fields can understand. It might be accused of over complicating what for decades evangelicals have harped on about making faith simple. The christian religion as Max Harris describes is a religion of the stage, and not just a religion of the book (Harris, Theatre and imagination) . This is not the place to discuss what it might mean to ‘perform’ the text in an improvised way, and neither is it the place to think about passages that are used in the heat of the LGBT text warfare.

In conclusion, The Bible is a central aspect of Gods own performances by which he reveals to us the theodrama and invites us to be participants in it. The Spirit speaks to, and with ongoing performers who respond to the directions and who are capable of fitting performances. Scripture records particular performances that taken individually and collectively provide a trustworthy transcripts of the theodrama and prescripts for continued participation in the theodrama today. Simple… ?  So what does this mean for the christian story? Its a drama where transformation is the impetus and we are improvisers empowered to perform it, in the everyday of now and tomorrow.

Conceived as a drama that requires participation, Theodrama is a drama that has a transcript written and has elements, themes and examples that form a prescript for todays performances- which are to be improvised in the current context, with the actors freedom, creativity and ongoing responsiveness to, as Vanhoozer describes, the Holy Author in the midst. What does this mean for inclusion, for participation in the drama- well its then a matter of who God speaks to and calls, who is directed and prompted, its a drama of participation in the mission and kingdom that requires Christlikeness and childlike responsiveness to obedience to that call. Is gender important? or transgender important – maybe thats for part 3…

Its Theodrama – with God still speaking and acting in the very present – its more that an old old story – but a present that has ongoing participation, responsiveness, action and transformation as its directives. Its a drama yet to be performed. How do we play the next scene? Is it love that compels or judgement?

To many young people- including the friend of mine – drama might bring coherancy, and expansion, to christian beliefs that remain evangelical, in its overall framework, provide insight into how we are participating in Gods drama that is in need of attentive and fitting performances that take into account the script beforehand, as well as the current context, trinity and the theodrama itself, the drama of Gods covenantal love for the world.

 

References

Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, 3rd edition 2005

Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine 2005, Remythologing Theology 2010, Faith Speaking Understanding 2014

Shannon Craigo-Snell Command performance, rethinking performance interpretation in the context of divine discourse, modern theology, (16/4, 2000) pp 475-94

Samuel Wells, Improvisation, 2004

Wesley Vander Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014

Hans urs von Baltasar, Theodrammatique 1-5, 1980

 

Lets get Theological! On making Theology, not models & strategies first in Youth Ministry

You wont read this post. I guarantee you, no one will read this post. Even with a sneaky reference to an Olivia Newton John lyric in the title, you wont read this, because its got Theology in the title as well. I should have put sex, or masturbation, or something witty, clever or clickbaity, but no, in the spirit of honesty this piece is what it says it is. It is about theology and youth ministry, and I am aware no one will read it.

So, in that case I am going to go full on, deep and thoughtful, safe in the knowledge that it wont be read. I know this because nobody attends seminars on youth ministry and theology. Or conferences on theology and youth ministry. Very few people talk about theology when it comes to solving the problems of young people ‘leaving the church’. Instead its about practices, making practice better, trying to find a missing piece, a magic formula, a new way, or method. It can be that there isnt a conversation about theology, that doesnt only exist in place of formal theological conversation, the college. And for many others thats where it often stays.

So, because there is no grafting, searching and desire from the ‘top’ to do theology about youth ministry, there can be very little appetite from the ground to see it as being worthwhile. Its easier to drag a resource off the shelf, or do what we think works, or uptake business models like ‘develop strategies’. If you want to read the part one to this post, it is here in which i suggested that youth ministry needed to turn to performance theology, rather than business strategy. This is the long awaited, and probably grossly under-read, post that follows that one.

We have inherited a practice of trying to get things right to save and keep young people, and this puts practice and strategies first over and above theology.   Image result for theology?

Youth Ministry needs Theology first. – and that takes work.

However.

The first thing to say is that we are all theologians. Thats every volunteer, youth pastor, helper, leader involved in youth ministry in a church/faith setting. We are all theologians already, because, and this isnt the only reason, young people are reading us and our practices to glean theological insight through them. What we do is a theological act – it is being performed as youth ministry is done. Theology is transmitted in the way we operate.

So think about that for a second. Everything? yes…

In the way we talk about young people behind their backs, in the way we give responsibilities, in the way we decide, in the way we hold or give away power, in the drive to the bowling, or how we stay in the kitchen and dont get involved, in everything to do with youth ministry, every act is theological already. Our beliefs are already affecting our behaviour, but regardless of those beliefs, young people are reading us as if we’re the book. Our Theology is implied in what we do.

We are already in one extent performing it.

But that doesnt mean we get away with just acting it out. For, how do we know we’re acting out theology appropriately, or fittingly?  (its not about effectiveness, effecacy is a reductionist business term that we should ban in churches)

Thats where at least ‘thinking theologically’ about youth ministry also is important. If we’re in the ‘business’ of doing theology. The two go hand in hand. Theres also the theology within our institutions… however,

So, what do we need to thinking theologically about?

We need to think theologically about young people. Who they are in the sight of God, how they are created and loved, accepted and made in his image. And so much more besides….

We need to think theologically about discipleship. If this is the game of the church – to make disciples- then its not a bad idea to think theologically about what being a disciple is all about, and how a disciple is ‘formed’ and what a disciple does ‘performs’ .  What kind of discipleship? Action first or learning first, or both? So we need to think theologically about learning, about study, about actions (and the actions of God in our actions) Theres some stuff of discipleship in the categories section, and resources below.

We need to think theologically about Culture. About the place of the church in the culture, and what the role of young people is participating in the church in the culture – for, against, within, above or to transform it (Neibuhr) or something else – to offer an alternative, creating something new… What is Christ offering young people in discipleship? (and how might the church follow this)

We need to think theologically about Mission – and what we do and what young people do, what is Mission, What is God like if she is missional? How might young people play parts in mission, and who decides whether they can or cant?

There needs to be thought around theology of worship – what is it? Is only ‘christian’ worship worship? What worship doesnt need a band, a stage or a PA system, what worship is pleasing to God? What worship creates opportunities for young people to transform the world? Is worship a gathered experience or an emerging one, a public one or private one?

We also need to think theologically about how young people have faith; What is faith, how is it tested, how do they use it, act on it, and practice it in the every day, – where do they do faith?Related image

We need to think theologically about sex and relationships, about gender, about LGBT, about mental health, depression,  about drugs and alcohol, about education and ambition, about power, greed, globalisation, about politics, about technology, communication, about inclusion, money and fame. Because young people arent looking to us for the answers anymore, because half the time these are difficult subjects that we leave to one side. It is not and never enough to pick stuff up on these subjects off the shelf. Young people also dont want us to give one answer, and presume that culture has another answer, theyre far too clever for that. We need to know how to answer these things, and give tools for interpreting and navigating. There is no ‘one thing’ the bible says, or ‘one thing’ the world says about these things. To say this to young people would be patronising. But that doesnt mean to say we dont have responsibility to think theologically, biblically and ethically about these things to help young people share in and lead us in that exploration of learning.

What about what we do with young people? Might we stop and think about the activities and think theologically about these? About Residentials, gatherings of worship, games, gap years, funding, about festivals and the like, about group work, if everything we do implies theology, then what kind of God is being transmitted through these – what kind of church is? God of attendance and watching? God of large groups (where God is communicated as ‘always being’) God of challenge and risk, God that is ‘felt and experienced’ away from home, away from the local church – Thinking theologically about these things might mean that taking young people to an experience might create a view of God that might actually be unhealthy or even unbiblical. But then, if theology isnt important, then it doesnt matter..does it?Image result for theology?

Thinking Theologically about youth Ministry, might mean more than being motivated by the faith. Though its a good start. Working out how Faith and Beliefs motivate us in youth ministry is definitely a first step, we can spend too long busting a gut to get this bit right, and in reality, we’re never going to get this perfect (theres no such thing). What we need to do in youth ministry is live with the imperfection and the ongoing drama of it, but theologically thinking about youth ministry, given that as youth ministers, volunteers, pastors, workers and leaders, we are urged to be both theological and practical, reflecting and active. Part of the tool kit for us is Theology, our story, our church’s story, and the story we are called to live, the story which we perform and encourage others to. It shouldnt just motivate us like a bad head teacher with a stick (thinking Miss Trunchbull in ‘Matilda’) – but well at us from the deep, call us to something higher, take us (and others) to the margins, where likeness of Jesus is an ongoing task.

Theology emerges from the deep, from the margins. Theology might emerge through conversation between friends (Emmaus), might visit unexpected to give peace, might be present in space of the unlikely. We dont need to try and think theologically if what we’re doing is already good, loving, kind, faithful, generous, and working towards peace, wholeness and restoration – these marks of the kingdom need no law. But we might need to develop new theological language, reflection and resources for the road on which these travels take us. Theology from the streets, like St Francis’s ‘Sidewalk Spirituality’ or Ignatius, or other Saints of the Past. Thinking theologically about ministry might itself call us in new directions, new learning, new faith, thats where we might need to take risks, having experiences of God in the space of the margins, might cause us never to go to the gathering to find God – and thats ok. Youth Ministry is, like any ministry, an ongoing dramatic act. And in the drama, what kind of God is needed for the ongoing walk? One that Speaks and Acts – one that is present and urging, as Kevin Vanhoozer describes – is the holy author in our midst. 

Always speaking. Always giving us reference points. Always giving us things to relate to. Always prompting and provoking.

Image result for theology?

Where is the space for the Holy Author in the Midst of Youth Ministry? In every conversation – possibly, in every approach – possibly, in every action – maybe. The truth is we cant model our Youth Ministry on God – we’re not perfect enough for this. God isnt a model to be copied. God is a mystery who speaks, a creator who does as he pleases (Daniel 4:35) and is not restrained. We need to think and act and listen theologically. Its that Holy Author who will communicate and save. Its that Holy Author who is happy for an ongoing communication, whether this is ragged or poetic, praiseworthy or problematic. Its that Holy Author who is present in, with and amongst. God who might, just might not be white, distant and male – and that might change everything.

In conclusion, Theology needs to go first. Not just because we’ve tried everything else, but because thats where it should be, and not even because by doing this ‘it will work’ – no- because ministry is a risk taking endeavour not an exact science. We dont need to just ‘get on with the job’ of youth ministry, and neither is theology ‘just for the college’ and no one can avoid being theological. Putting this off does a disservice to young people, it does a disservice to ourselves. We can try and find a perfect method, strategy, model, process and practice. And that could consume us (and we can nearly always ‘do’ better) but that search is a painful one and full of frustration, comparison and frailty. Lets ditch the models, and have meaning, mystery and mission first.

Oh and some of this is only the tip of the iceberg….. directions to start, not journeys of discovery along the way hence some resources below:

References and Resources

Talking about God in Practice (2010) by Helen Cameron

Youthwork and the Mission of God (1997) by Pete Ward

What Theology for Youthwork?  by Paul Nash (Grove Booklet Y8)

Faith Formation in a secular age by Andrew Root (2017)  

When Kumbaya is not enough by Dean Borgman (1997)

Models for Youth Ministry by Steve Griffiths (2013)

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by Andrew Root (2007)

Starting Right – Thinking Theologically about Youth Ministry by Dean, Clark et al (2001) 

Remythologising Theology by Kevin Vanhoozer (2010) (more on theodrama in the categories section)

Faith Speaking Understanding by Kevin Vanhoozer (2014)

The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry by Kenda Creasy Dean/Andrew Root (2013)

Faith Generation by Nick Shepherd (2016)

Here be Dragons; Youthwork and Mission off the map by Lorimer & Richard Passmore (and me) (2013)

Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf (2007)