I’ve really enjoyed the following conversation with Jonny Baker. There’s always a richness of thought and practice in conversations with Jonny. I’m often convicted by his deep commitment to doing, while at the same time recognizing that I’m just not that entrepreneurial.. I value too Jonny’s commitment to the Church of England, although I can’t make that same commitment (but perhaps I should) to the Anglican equivalent here in NZ, which for me is moribund and lifeless, working hard to bolster a version of what it means to be Anglican, and completely neglecting the edge, creativity, and imagination. But, perhaps, that’s the point I get most clearly from Jonny. We shouldn’t wait for the institution and we’re right to expect little. The better way is just to begin and to see where the wind of the Spirit blows.
Anyway, I’m rambling. Lots to reflect on as a result of listening to a highly stimulating conversation, which you’ll find via the link below this “blurb”:
“…Ever felt awkward and uncomfortable in Church, like you just don’t fit in? Well, according to Jonny Bakerthat feeling could be the gift of pioneering.
Jonny was pioneering before pioneering was a thing. Most notably he founded the alternative worship community Grace, and more recently he’s pioneered a training course for pioneers. So if you’re dreaming that things could be different, then check out the interview, Jonny might just be the person you’ve been hoping to stumble across…”
Listen to the podcast here. Note - the actual interview starts approx. 7 mins in.
Over the last week I've been reflecting on the importance of mercy; especially over the last couple of days. I'm always on the lookout too for reflections on the Prodigal Son. Well, both areas of interest came together in the latest issue (Nov. 2015) of Kete Korero - the newsletter produced by the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton (NZ). (Click to enlarge)
T oday a few thoughts on Freud and the unconscious from Mark Vernon:
Useful in this regard is “…John Bowlby’s attachment theory: how we experience love and holding in our earliest years, which we cannot consciously remember, influences how we experience love and being held as adults…
… Yes, there are significant differences between God and the unconscious. Freud’s unconscious often feels a dark, oppressive place — although his erstwhile disciple, Carl Jung, realised that the unconscious has an expansive and liberating energy, too. God is not the unconscious. Yet studying the unconscious helps the imagination to open to the divine mystery.
FINALLY, the unconscious can assist in understanding pastoral aspects of spirituality…”
Mark concludes with this valuable insight:
“…The founder of psychoanalysis is not often thought of as a friend of religion. But read him more closely: his curiosity concerning the dynamics of the human soul produces reasons for confidence in, as well as the development of, the insights of generations of people of faith.”
This morning a thought-provoking quote from Jonathan Sacks:
“…One of the classic roles of religion has been to preserve a space – physical and metaphysical – immune to the pressures of the market. When we stand before God we do so regardless of what we earn, what we own, what we buy, what we can afford. We do so as beings of ultimate, non-transactional value, here because someone – some force at the heart of being – called us into existence and summoned us to be a blessing. The power of the great world religions is that they are not mere philosophical systems, abstract truths strung together in strictly logical configurations. They are embodied truths, made vividly real in lives, homes, congregations, rituals, narratives, songs and prayers – in covenantal communities whose power is precisely that they are not subject to economic forces. They value people for what they are; they value actions for the ideals that brought them forth; they preserve relationships by endowing them with the charisma of eternity made real in the here-and-now…”
“…Alan Roxburgh is a senior consultant for The Missional Network, an organization that ‘work[s] with church systems, local leaders and congregations wrestling with how they engage the challenges and opportunities of being God’s people on mission in their local contexts.’ Roxburgh’s latest offering, Structured For Mission: Renewing the Culture of the Church, echoes Wilson-Hargrove’s call for institutions to pay attention to the periphery and its particular places. In a reality in which denominations and churches are haemorrhaging money and members, and in which church influence in society is increasingly marginal, the anxiety and hand-wringing escalate as quickly as the numbers dwindle. What are denominations for anymore? What does an institution have to say to a society that increasingly seeks to de-institutionalize itself, particularly where religious preference is concerned? What kind of future exists for long- established churches whose members no longer live in the neighborhood but drive in from the suburbs? And what is to be done about the morass of distrust, siloing and infighting in which so many churches and denominations are embroiled? As these questions suggest, the book’s primary audience is established denominations, primarily those with European roots and thus a significant hegemony hangover.
A common assumption, Roxburgh asserts, is that the problems denominations face, such as those listed above, are largely due to inadequate organizational structures. Thus, if a struggling denomination is likened to a building in disrepair, the questions often center around whether to remodel, renovate or condemn. The problem with this approach is that structures are not merely external window dressing. ‘Structures embody our deeply held stories,’ he writes. They are manifestations of what he calls legitimating narratives: ‘overarching stor[ies that] provide a group (a small unit or a whole society) with a way to express its underlying values, beliefs and commitments about who they are and how life is to be lived’ (32). Without attention to these legitimating narratives, remodeling, renovation or condemnation of the building will not really address the problem. Rather, the narratives themselves need to be named and revisited. In times of massive, rapid change like ours, it is naïve and possibly reckless to assume too quickly that one knows what alternate structures need to be in place of the existing ones. Real soul-searching and discernment is needed, and the first half of the book is dedicated to exploring these concepts, drawing on the work of historian Niall Ferguson, sociologist-philosopher Pierre Bourdieu and theologian Graham Ward. The second half explores ways to ‘reframe our imagination’ and consider how denominations and churches can begin to restructure in ways that are attentive and adaptive to their liminal space…”
~ Review is by Gavin Dluehosh. You’ll find the complete review here (PDF).
Today Richard Rohr gives voice, better than I would, to an insight I hold to as well
“I think Carl Jung is one of the best friends of religion in the past century, yet most Christians have either ignored him or criticized him. Jung says, for example, "The main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neurosis, but instead with an approach to the numinous [Transcendent God experience]. The approach to the numinous is the real therapy, and inasmuch as you attain to numinous experience, you are released from the curse of pathology. Even the very disease takes on a numinous character!" 
This becomes Jung's major critique of Christianity. Jung felt that Christianity contributed to a discontinuity--an unbridgeable gap--between God and the soul by our overemphasis on externals and mere intellectual belief in things that never touched our inner core. Jung observed that Christianity had become dogmatized and ritualized, belonging to groups instead of any real transformation of consciousness. He believed that Christianity had some very good theology ("an almost perfect map for the soul"), but it often had a very poor psychology and anthropology. Insofar as this is true, it creates a huge disconnect even among quite good and sincere people. The message does not "grab" them; it is not compelling or empowering for their real life. Jung was deeply disillusioned by his own father and six uncles, all Swiss Reformed pastors, whom he saw as unhappy and unintegrated human beings. Jung basically said of Christianity: "It's not working in real life!"
"Ministry on the margins is rooted in scripture and tradition, in spite of the bias of many churches towards the ‘mainstream’ of respectability. The Bible makes the experience of marginality normative for the people of God." (Kenneth Leech - Doing Theology in Altab Ali Park)
I was saddened, but not surprised to hear of the death of Anglican Priest, activist, author, mystic and spiritual director (thanks to Carl McColman for bring the news to my attention – he has a nice piece on Leech here. See also McColman’s overview of True God - Thirteen Characteristics of Healthy Spirituality: Kenneth Leech's Manifesto for a Renewed Spirituality is More Relevant Than Ever).
Leech has been a real hero to me, and his books, along with those of Episcopalian William Stringfellow and Anglican Rowan Williams sit on the top tier of the Anglican section of my library.
The first book of his that I purchased was his Soul Friend: Spiritual Direction in the Modern World. This was followed by True God: An Exploration in Spiritual Theology, and True Prayer: An Introduction to Christian Spirituality.
One of the things I value is the deeply incarnational nature of his writing (a factor that can also date his writing). He earths his writing and reflections in his world; in the world; and in specific places and issues. He engages and brings the gospel into radical conversation with the everyday. His is often a profoundly marginal voice. Some might say subversive. And it’s this I particularly value. He had an incisive way of looking at reality, one that was at once challenging (even if you didn’t always agree with him), but also hopeful. You often find this in his short essays, which I always keep an eye out for in books. So, for example, his ‘The Carnality of Grace’: Sexuality, Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry in the 1990 publication Embracing the Chaos: Theological Responses to Aids edited by James Woodward. Or his Christendom Died Sometime Ago: The East London Experience in the 2008 publication The Diaconal Church: Beyond the Mould of Christendom. Or his Is Spiritual Direction Losing It’s Bearing? Published in The Tablet in May 1993 (I referenced it on this blog in 2005, but sadly it doesn’t appear to still be online).
While not easy to find, Leech’s 62-page Subversive Orthodoxy: Traditional Faith and Radical Commitment is an absolute gem. It would be nice to see it reprinted.
I can’t imagine that many readers of this blog haven’t heard of theologian NT. Wright. In some ways we might talk of “NT. Wright overkill” – so many books, so many lectures! But, in other ways many of us will be grateful for Wright and his output.
From there, I went back in time to 1978 when I managed to track down a copy of his brilliant essay The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith.
Since then I’ve read, or dipped into, every one of his books except Paul and the Faithfulness of God(pub. Nov. 2013) which, given all Wright’s previous work on the Apostle Paul, I couldn’t bring myself to buy. I saw and see it as a technical read, more aimed at the academy. I haven’t seen or read much about it that hasn’t been said by Wright elsewhere.
Richard Leonard, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Australian Province. He is the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office, a consultant to the Australian Catholic Bishop's Media Committee, and a film critic for all the major Catholic newspapers of Australia. He holds a doctorate in cinema studies. I’ve always valued his film reviews, and indeed his books, although I’ve only read his little book Where the Hell is God? (pub. Nov. 2010). His most recent publication was Why Bother Praying? (pub. 2013), but now he has a new book out, the cleverly titled: What Are We Doing on Earth for Christ’s Sake? (Feb. 2015).
He talks about his latest book here in a 25-min conversation on ABC Local Sunday Nights. If you want an example of his film reviews, try this audio recording, which includes his take on the excellent Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).