An Idea! (part I)

I’d like to start by apologising for my absence from this blog site. This is due to a whole load of issues culminating in a very busy period at college. Thankfully that season has gone and I head into a winding down for the Christmas break.
During my short break from writing there have been a lot of reflections buzzing around my head that, in some way, connect together and I’ve been struggling (without the blog to help) to connect them up. Yesterday, however, I had a moment where several hunches collided together and I started to travel on journey of creativity… and creativity sits at the heart of the idea.

Before I begin the story I want to add a preface: This is still incomplete and, as usual, would be open to engagement from you, the reader.

Where do I begin?

I have two starting points for the same proposal; one is from the initial spark of the idea, the other is from the point where all the little hunches have come together into this idea…or I could go from the middle and allow everything to network onto that… that’s three… I’ll choose the third!

Ian Mobsby, the ordained leader of the Moot community (see ‘Sacramental Theatre (part IV)‘ post), visited our college on Tuesday to speak on New Monasticism and how those researching this form of missional church is connecting with ‘unchurched’ people in this hybrid context of pre-modern, modern and post-secular culture. What do all those terms mean? Unchurched defines those who have never had any contact with church. Pre modern describes those aspects of culture that pre-date the printing press, e.g. the sense of self and purpose often expressed via a faith in a deity or deities, a lack of emphasis on the individual preferring the understanding of communal. Modern are those aspects of culture that have come in after the invention of the printing press, e.g. scientific objectivity, the need or desire for evidence to prove arguments, a disregard of that which cannot be quantified or set. Mike King defines post-secular as

• a renewed interest in the spiritual life
• a relaxation off the secular suspicion towards spiritual questions
• a recognition that secular rights and freedoms of expression are a prerequisite to the renewal of spiritual enquiry
• a spiritual and intellectual pluralism, East and West
• a cherishing of the best in all spiritual traditions, East and West, while recognising the repression sometimes inflicted on individuals or societies in the name of ‘religion’

Mobsby sub categorised the ‘unchurched’ category into groups of differing spiritual awareness all of which are, in some way, being connected with by the church through different relationships. One, however, has been overlooked; ‘displacement deniers’.

This category is for those in our society who deny their need for spirituality or God and displaces that hunger with activity. This describes, to greater and lesser extents, the majority of people I come in contact with. Are artists in this category? I’d say “generally no”. Artists, as I have said before, are spiritual people, aware of that aspect of their life but I have begun to notice that ‘artists’ although aware of their spirituality can also be sub categorised into two parts; ‘engagers’ and ‘deniers’. That seems to be saying that artists are like everyone else and they are! What a surprise!!! But to say all artists are spiritual does not fully describe the group, in fact by dividing this group in this way I begin to see that the grouping ‘artist’ is unclear and complex…

Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham Cathedral, came to speak at college a couple of weeks ago on the topic of ‘Laments in the Psalms’ but focussed on the themes of remembrance, memory and exile. I’ll start with the theme of exile. I’ve been interested in this idea for some time now, since reading ‘Exiles’ by Michael Frost and hearing Rob Bell preach on the first chapters of Ezekiel (which have had a big impact on my call to ministry!) Frost argues that the church finds itself in exile; a group in an alien culture like Israel in Babylon. Some could argue that, in this multi-cultural, facetted, predominantly secular society of the UK, most people could describe themselves as exiles. Sadgrove discussed his observations of Rememberance Day; an act of collective remembering, a time when we deliberately reflect on the past. This day, Sadgrove observed, has become increasingly popular in recent years and he could not explain why. I’d like to suggest that it is this has something to do with the sense of exile most people, both inside and outside the church, connect with…

What is exile? I’d define exile as a place or mindset of unsettledness, a place where you do not feel ‘at home’. It is also a place where we are forced to look and reflect on where we have come from, home. To think about what ‘home’ means to us. Exile is, Sadgrove said, ‘fertile ground’. There is something in this place of exile that causes creative growth and powerful transformation. Biblically, also, exile has always been a place where God has moved. We think of the wilderness in Egypt, Babylon, post-exilic Jerusalem for Israel. It is in these places (particularly the latter) where ‘God turns up’. Let me take Ezekiel as an example. His home, both spiritual and physical, is destroyed and he is dragged out from there. He is forced, in Babylon, to reflect on his home. It is while he is reflecting, remembering, that God comes in a powerful vision and Ezekiel falls face down and worships…

In the group that I’m a part of for placement, we’ve been discussing the topic of ‘home’. We’ve been telling stories of ‘home’ and common themes have been appearing; family, comfort and shared history. This final idea has struck me as important.

Sadgrove spoke on the idea of ‘nostalgia’ and defined it as ‘an aching for home’ which is an interesting definition compared with the accepted understanding as ‘a yearning for the past, often idealised.’ Is there something in that comparison between ‘home’ and ‘the idealised past’?

As the group has discussed ‘home’ and shared history there will inevitably be a glossing of the facts, an idealising, an interpretation of the past. Rowan Williams, in his book ‘Why Study the Past?’, suggests that the past can never be seen objectively, historians cannot remain aloof from the telling of history. One member of the group said they’d been present at a lecture on memory and heard the suggestion that the act of remembering occurs when the brain recalls a sensation, previously experienced and then attempts to paint the individual sensations that made up that experience, i.e. the visual, the audible, the tangible, etc. Memory is a complex thing and research is still being done on how the brain ‘remembers’ but what most psychologists do agree on is that the act of remembering a specific episode is deeply interrelated to the act of future episodic construction in the brain (see ‘Using Imagination to Understand the Neural Basis of Episodic Memory’ article)…

We currently have five major questions; how does the church begin to connect with ‘displacement deniers’? who are ‘artists’? how is the act of remembrance connected with creativity? Why does God seem to turn up in the time of exile?

I’ll pause there so you can gather your thoughts.

I’d usually publish the next part tomorrow but I’ve published the two parts together so, if you are up for it, you can continue to read today and not lose your flow of thoughts and ideas.