Category Archives: Punk Theology

A Year…..

Sunday morning service,

Sunday lunchtime train,

Sunday afternoon discussion

Sunday evening statement.

And my awkward explanation of why.

This was the beginning of Occupy.

 

Heading North to the Monument

Another prayer tent at another occupation

And a visit to the Turner Prize

Hope being expressed across the globe.

Another awkward yet hopeful post or two

near the beginning of Occupy.

 

A time for sober reconsideration

And a hit of reality

Middle class, single mother

Returns to “her real life”

And types another awkward post

as she stops camping with Occupy.

 

Camp she’s left gets attacked

By the right wing thugs

And discussions occur

About whether to carry on.

Her response another awkward post or two

about the continuation of Occupy.

 

Theology in a public space

Was one lens of interpretation

About the camp back in London

And faith engagement around the world.

Cue another awkward blog post  and then onetwo more

about this thing called Occupy.

 

In December Time Magazine

Named “The Protester” person of the year.

Analysis starts to get darker

But still too shiny and full of hope?

In this very awkward post

about the protests of Occupy.

 

A New Year

And The Monument is cleared

The voice of disillusionment chimes

With respect for E and RR, etc

In this post about the end

of the camp in Newcastle linked to Occupy.

 

January moves into February

And Occupy LSX

Is cleared from outside St. Pauls

By court order.

I sort of blog with a post of back links

about Occupy.

 

Almost 8 months on from that post

And they are in London again

Remembering and Celebrating

Keeping alive the Spirit.

And this is another crap post

full of back links about Occupy.

 

Time to stop….think…..reflect

Would I do it again?

Were they right?

Was it worth it?

What does this writer,

just another average blogger,

think about Occupy?

 

Answer….

The country and the world are arguably getting even more f***ed by the day. Karl wrote an excellent blog post yesterday discussing some of what’s happening and why the ideas being pursued are wrong. Institutional politics might be argued to still be failing us but is engaging with that more the only real way to change anything? I don’t know anymore….

The church (in both institutional and wider sense) are still focusing on dealing with the impacts rather than questioning how we change the systems of power and the structural inequality they create. On an institutional level there are spotlights being targeted, as this Church Times article  on the Occupy anniversary explains, but we’re still too busy arguing about things like gay marriage to give a damn about changing what really needs to be altered….in part one thinks because it would pose difficult questions for the institutions themselves as investors, landlords and the like and us as individuals who like our lives as they are.

Occupy was good for starting conversation but did it ultimately just raise expectations and then leave them screwed up on the ground like pieces of discarded cardboard? Is it we the Occupiers who are to blame? Should many of us been willing to sacrifice more? But could we have sacrificed more? I had to work, I had to bring up Third Party…..personal excuses which echo the many realities of life people faced.

Is an alternative actually possible?

Honest answer is one year on I’m not sure. That said I refuse to give up….if I do what faith do I really have? Why do I go to church and profess faith in a risen Christ if I can’t hold onto hope of a better, more just future? Why do I pray “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” if I’m not prepared to hope and work for change?

I don’t think that it means a neo-Marxist or anarchist vision of the future, but I do believe many of those involved in such groups have a glimpse of what might/ should be in terms of seeing the possibility of a world where social justice is a reality. They perhaps have more of an idea of what it means to try and live that line in the Lords prayer than many who would hold on to it and profess it regularly. That’s one reason why however little good I think it will do I’m intending to go on the TUC’s  A Future That Works demonstration next weekend.

So where do I/we go from here? Not sure…..not at all sure. Continue to try and pray and work it out one day/ one week at a time I guess. And probably alot more awkward blog posts along the way. If nothing else having something to look back on after Occupy – reminding me what happened when, and what I had to say about it at the time, has been useful for me.

TAZ and Other Cartoons

Sometime last year we  got, momentarily, into the “Pirate Debate”. The words flowing back and forth across cyberspace eminated from a Greenbelt session and subsequent set of posts from Kester Brewin. Well now it’s contextualised into his latest book “Other: Loving Self, God and Neighbour in a World of Fractures.

I picked the book up at Buckfast Abbey’s bookshop last weekend and started getting over excited as I flicked through. This was a theologian engaging with TAZ theory. Now before I go any further it appears events in the blogesphere have over taken me and Jonny B and Kester have been debating this stuff. For reasons which will become clear later in this post I am going to enter that debate but not until next week.

On one hand the book over all is a bit of a let down. Parts one and two read way too much like either a undergrad lit review or a Guardianista justifying themselves through what they’d read elsewhere. However, part three onwards got far more engaging. Mind you TAZ theory is like that, you either get excited by it or think it’s pretentious bollocks. Me I remember exactly where I was when I first came across it. It was Spring 2000 and I was sitting in some comfy chairs in a classroom in Barking, coming towards the end of my course in Political Activism and Social Movements, when we got the handout. Anyway cutting the reminicing and getting back to Brewin, in the book he was relating this every so often to Greenbelt and so bringing GB together with TAZ I was hooked on the second half of the book.

Right I will basically explain TAZ theory here. It is the idea that spaces can temporarily be taken over and changed as acts of resistance. Think Guerilla Gardening or Reclaim the Streets as examples. Well in this book Brewin seeks to argue that it might be a useful concept to engage in when we are looking at church and/ or worship. Me I think he’s sort of right and sort of wrong. As I indicated for anybody who is interested in this I will be doing a sensible critique of Brewin’s conclusions on this next week, possibly over a couple of posts because I think it is too complex to do justice to in this post.

If you think you’re interested in what Brewin is saying and want some complementary secular easy read books to help you develop your own thinking on this type of area further I would recommend the following. They go beyond TAZ but all fit into the whole DIY culture, social movement theory bracket.

DIY: the rise of lo-fi culture by Amy Spencer 

The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age by Pekka Himanen

The Pirate’s Dilemma by Matt Mason

Practically anything by George McKay, but particularly DIY Culture: party and protest in nineties Britain

Local Preaching and Fresh Expressions

Ichthus is the Leaders of Worship and Preachers Trust  journal  which drops into my letter box every so often. The current copy has an interesting article by Peter Pillinger which explores the role of local preachers within Fresh Expressions and how they might be trained.

His argument is that Faith and Worship, the training programme for local preachers, isn’t appropriate for working with Fresh Expressions. Yet, he argues that there is a real place for local preachers within these forms of church and they will need to be trained.

The article is interesting and makes some good points suggesting that The Mission-Shaped Ministry course  might be more useful. This is a course which is based around the training of lay people for the development of fresh expressions.

All very well, but there are questions to be raised from the article. Before I get stuck in, for anybody who might not be a regular reader and so more than familiar with my views, I better state I am committed to Fresh Expressions of church, but also to traditional forms. Basically I am a mixed-economy cheerleader.

Firstly: We live in a mixed economy situation. There are many “younger” leaders who are emerging, (basically my age and younger), who are certain to be involved in either lay or ordained ministry during a period of even more interesting change then we have so far seen. They will need to be able to bridge both “traditional” forms of church and “new forms” / “fresh expressions”. They will need to be there to minister God’s word and God’s love in whatever church(es) we end up with in about 20-25 years time when alot of the current church have, to put it bluntly, died and passed on to glory. We are being grown in “traditional” churches but need to be prepared to experience and lead worship in a very different place in coming years. Yet at the same time we also need to be prepared to lead worship in the churches we have now. We need to be prepared to nourish and encourage those churches who faithfully soldier on. Therefore, we need to be trained up in the skills to not only transmit the message to the fresh, emerging or future church but also to the current faithful traditional church. We need, I would argue a mix of Faith and Worship and Mission-Shaped Ministry training.

Secondly, in the article Peter Pillinger says “It is best if such people [local preacehers] are part of the fresh expression from the beginning, part of the new Christian community not ‘bought in’ later“. I agree that people should not be parachuted into Fresh Expressions, but equally I believe that this part of the article ignores the way new leaders have been nurtured and grown through Fresh Expressions. If one reads any basic text about a Fresh Expression, emergent community or similar, (and I recognise there are differences),  such as the story of Holy Joes, or Michael Vollands Through the Pilgrim Door something that ends up coming out is the way God has ended up calling people from it formal ministry. Therefore, you don’t need to have the local preachers in at the beginning, they are likely to be grown from the inside. Yet, in the early stages and in supporting the community and building bridges with the wider church I think local preachers could have a cruical place. They have the ability to support the pioneer leaders and make their journey a little less lonely.

So what’s the answer how do we do this? Well, I would like to suggest that one way might be through to set up specific training, not just for young leaders but for “bridging leaders”. By that I mean there could be some kind of training set up specifically to help those who feel comfortable moving between different forms of church to have the skills and knowledge to negotiate our way between the two, as required, in the future.

Finally, I want to suggest that those of us just starting on the journey need to wake up, smell the coffee and take responsibility. I’ve just found out that the recommendation is I go “on trial” and I am enthusiastic about the training. Yet, I totally believe that the church I will be serving, (hopefully if I complete this training), will be very different in twenty years to the one I know now. In all the churches I know there is a predominance of people aged 50 and over, (with many well into retirement age). We cannot and must not ignore the facts, and mortality is a fact that cannot be desputed. Therefore, the church will face even more of a crunch in the next couple of decades than it has already seen. If those of us under 40 are stepping up to respond to God’s call now we are stepping up to commit ourselves to be preachers and worship leaders during that period of change. We need to take this seriously, but equally the church needs to take that seriously and we need to be trained up now how to respond to those challenges.

A Bit more Punk Theology Explained

The other day I unpacked Punk Theology a bit ,talking about some principles involved in it. Quick note here that Punk Theology is seperate to the Theology of Punk which was blogged at Never Mind the Bibles. I am not seeking to disect punk and look at the theology and practice flowing from it, rather in working out how my own journey, (and that of others I know who aren’t emerging church but are something), I want give a name to a type of grassroots thing which has been happening and isn’t emerging but is something. Emerging Church and all that is has obviously impacted the mix, but this is something different. This relates to the practice of those who have consciously struggled with church, ethics and modern life and have built their own ways of staying in and staying sane. As Tall Skinny Kiwi has said over the last decade emerging has become accepted within the mainstream and so it is obviously part of the mix, but as I say I think there is a distinction to be made between Punk Theology and emerging church.

Here are a few of the things that I think make Punk Theology distinctly different to emerging type stuff. Firstly emerging church has been intentionally missional and has been pioneered, largely, by professionals within the church who want to find ways of reaching those outside the church. Reading through the appendix of Gibbs and Bolgers Emerging Churches one can see this. Gibbs ANd BolgerThe pioneers of emerging church groups were generally staff members for youth ministry organisations or young priests newly out of vicar factory and often either professionally or as a hobby involved in the creative arts, (particularly musicians or visual artists). Punk Theology comes from “the grassroots” and is more to do with individuals, normally within or temporarily out of churches who want to live a lifestyle which helps to connect others and reflects Jesus at work in our messed up lives, but is not involved with things like church planting so much. We are more likely to be found getting involved in either community activities within our churches or networks outside of the church which may or maynot involve those who would regard themselves as Christians and may or maynot be electronic or physical, or often a mix of the two. Profession wise we are likely to be disproportionately found working in the public sector in careers like teaching, nursing or social work.

We are likely to get involved in odd acts of connecting with people and “mission” type stuff by thinking and acting outside the box in our everyday lives, subverting “the Christian subculture” and sometimes using it to our and our friends advantage, (note not for gain but to help others or bring about change to benefit people like us). We also look out for each other and contribute to helping each other when we can, whether you are Christian or not. Example of what I’m talking about here is from about a decade ago in my life now was when a group of us were going to Spring Harvest, we had a non-Christian friend with a few “issues” who needed a holiday and so we used our discounts, (most of us were students or on benefit at the time), to bring him along…not to try and get him converted to anything necessarily – it was clear he wasn’t expected to go to anything and could just veg if he wanted, more because we knew he needed a holiday and we thought mixing with a bunch of Christians for a week over meals and stuff would be a good thing.

Whilst the emerging church has often appeared to often skip the last 200 years in their searching for a historical model to reinterpret with Punk Theology we embrace the social history of that period.In our struggles with the church, and wrestling about fitting in, (particularly as many of us found ourselves moving out of the evangelical sub-culture but weren’t specifically post-evangelical), we have not rejected modernity. Rather we have used modern Christian thinkers to help us and connect us with the more sacremental traditions. Yes Celtic stuff, the desert fathers and mothers and things like that have been an influence but equally through the work of Henri Nouwen, Dorothy Day and other 20th century figures we were able to break out of our sub-culture and particularly gain an affection for the work of the Catholic Church. Punk Theology, therefore, is not afraid to name 20th century Christians as heroes. Equally it is not afraid to acknowledge the positive aspects of late 19th Century Victorian religion. Whilst the repressive Victorian religion is trashed Punk Theology seeks to acknowledge and learn from the radical faith which many Christians, particularly first wave feminists were displaying at the time. Punk Theology has and does involve searching around for books, for anything that might be useful and give inspiration. Biographies and autobiographies have been key to this.

We have not been city based. Look around the history of the emerging church and you’ll find out that most initiatives have been city based. We were often, but by no means exclusively, living in small commuter towns or rural communities where we were on a limb. Punk Theology involves living it out on our own, connecting with others online or through social events or meetings. Greenbelt wasn’t / isn’t our church; it’s the place we get to meet face to face with alot of friends who’ve kept us sane and shared our ideas.

Punk Theology involves people being honest about the wounds the church has helped inflict on us and our mental health. Punk Theology has often involved saying I am on x, y or z anti-depressant and whilst the church, in the widest sense or sometimes local sense, isn’t to blame it certainly hasn’t always helped. The networking aspect has given us someone there to say “I so get where you’re coming from”. But, and this is a crucial thing, Punk Theology also involves people acknowledging we’re not victims or problems…we are people who happen to have certain health issues along side, often, challenging and rewarding careers. The fact many of us sometimes have to rely on the happy pills or whatever doesn’t stop us living full lives, but might mean we need to go and hide sometimes. It is during those hiding times many of us do our deepest searching and reading. Mental health issues aren’t just seen as something marginalising and for “the seriously mentally ill” and “nutters” with Punk Theology, they are seen as part of everyday life that lots of people suffer from quite invisibly. Being honest about our depression or mental health issues or for some of us things like our sexuality is an important part of Punk Theology because in talking about these things, appropraitely, we are dispelling the myths. Truth telling is part of Punk Theology….not to shock but to challenge the dangerous ways of steeotyping, thinking and making stuff invisible which has become dominant, particularly in churches.

I’ve gone on too much in this post I know, so will wait a while before unpacking some more of what Punk Theology is about.

Punk Theology Basics – Learning from the Role Models

Yesterday I gave a list of interesting people that I had found it useful to find out about, and who I actually think express the ideals of punk theology. They ranged from a 15th century priest to a twentieth century rock band and had a good few strong women inbetween. Between them I think their lives can be seen to express the key aspects of what I refer to as “punk theology”. I’m going to distill the key elements into what I call the “punk theology basics”.

1. Forget your status – all have equal worth in the eyes of God
Some of the list were born rich, some were born poor, and some were born inbetween. However, one way or another they all forgot their status…..although at times some did use it to their advantage, in terms of networking.

2. Allow yourself to dream and think in equal measure
Each of the people I admire allowed themselves to dream. They also engaged brains aswell as dreaming though. They dreamt of different societies quite often but they weren’t afraid to use their brains aswell.

3. Challenge authority whilst not totally rejecting it -be prepared to cherish and respect the institution whilst you are kicking at the doors or punching the walls
Each of the people I value has been prepared to challenge authority one way or another, yet with the possible exception of the Clash all have also been prepared to cherish and respect the aspects of various institutions which they don’t see as corrupted. Part of the reason why each of these people gained respect was that they neither seeked totally to reform from the inside or remain totally outside either. They engaged with “the system” whilst seeking to do something new and different.

4. Knowledge gives power and occassionally creative inspiration
If you have the capability for study use it. To effectively change things or bring in something new you need knowledge. In order to talk to those who haven’t experienced some kind of suffering or prejudice about those who have you need to know all you can about the experience and frequency of the subject together with the language used by your audience.

5. Be prepared to make mistakes and generally learn from them
With the exception of Nannie Helen Burroughs, who I haven’t been able to get hold of a whole book on yet, (my interest in her stemmed from seeing a picture in a book of a black woman standing addressing the crowds at Hyde Park in 1905 whilst attending the Baptist World Alliance conference), all of these people can be seen to have messed up at some point. The nature of their mistakes varies but all were in their own way quite human. They all had, it appears,the ability to drive those closest to them up the wall sometimes, but also to obtain respect for their stances and crazy ideas.

6. Have a group of people looking out for you
All of them appear to have had people, families or others, looking out for them.

7. Don’t let a lack of finance stop you going for it
All of them seem to have realised the dream and creative talent were more important than the reality of the situation, financially, sometimes. (Note here if anybody is in a position to give a loan towards the end of the adventure please can they get in touch). Be ready to volunteer and use your skills as payment. Work your passage/ entry if necessary.

8. Use your talents to help others
All of them, at some point, used their gifts and abilities to help others not just themselves.

9. Don’t be ambitious for the normal things
Most people are ambitious for fame, getting as much money as possible or whatever. None of the above were really ambitious in these ways. Even the Clash and Billy Bragg have sold their albums cheaper because they remembered what it was like to be skint and weren’t ambitious enough to screw their fans, although sensible enough not to want to live on toast. Yet these people all did have some kind of ambition in life. Generally, it was an ambition to help others or break down barriers.

10. Push at doors
All of the people pushed at doors, sometimes creatively. If the doors opened they were brave enough to go through. If they remained shut they, generally, went and tried another one (or found a window to climb through). The doors they pushed at were sometimes pushed via networking, sometimes through writing, sometimes through speaking, sometimes through singing, sometimes through filling in forms and sometimes through just trying something.

There may seem like a lack of God speak in the above, possibly true….not all Punk Theology comes from Christians. For the Christians in there the added aspects were:
Prayer
Studying the bible for what it actually said, not what you’ve been told it says
A willingness to work with others who did not always share your beliefs or strand of belief
A knowledge and appreciation for tradition
An openess to the Holy Spirit
Looking back at your own life and experience through the eyes of faith
Looking at the physical and emotional, aswell as spiritual, situation of others in society through the eyes of faith