Tag Archives: directing

Chapter 40: drink apportionment


”Everyone has his proper gift from God, one this, another thus” (1 Cor. 7:7)”

How do we welcome whilst teaching?

Last week we reflected on sharing and how, if we looked at our points of excess, be it food, money, whatever, then this seemingly impossible task of fairly distributing resources may become easier. This week, we read the same principle is to be taken with drink as it did with food and monks should consume in moderation. St. Benedict points out his awareness that in some religious orders, alcohol is forbidden but for his community (in Italy!) wine was a cultural drink; it’s like telling Russians they can’t drink vodka!

What we see here is not a blanket refusal for all things that are potentially harmful but a reliance on common sense. The Church, throughout history, has struggled with controlling its members’ destructive behaviours and have erred, at times, into overly strict control of all to help the few. We can think of the Puritans who saw some dangers in excessive frivolity, which on rare occasions led to sexual immorality; their response was to cut all frivolity and fun from everyone to protect against potential sexual immorality.

Discipline is difficult to police: one can be too heavy handed or not directive enough. Some people struggle with substance abuse, while others find certain situations difficult to control their anger. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking the way to help is to have a tight control on what is permitted and what is not. In order that some do not feel picked out the ‘ban’ becomes generalised and anti-productive for those who can remain disciplined in the specific situations. The church then becomes a place where there’s a lot of ‘you can’t’s and we spend more time policing the rules rather than worship and prayer.

In our current cultural climate, however, I see the opposite danger being played out. In response to a Victorian, over-bearing, clear cut, black/white mentality when it comes to moral righteousness; there is a lasez-faire approach to ethics and morality. In our desire to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘welcoming’ we reject any ‘barriers’ or demands put upon people who come through our door. We struggle to set behavioural rules out of fear we will be seen as judgemental or moralistic. We look at our fore-bearers and see a strictness and we want to set ourselves apart from them.

The problem with this approach is that we have missed out on a third way of managing temptation and behaviours. St. Benedict never shies away from enforcing expectations and demanding everything from the monks in his community but these ‘rules’ are focussed on principles and character rather than on practicalities. Leadership and spiritual guidance is less about dictating the pragmatic things we can and can’t do, policies and guidelines which must be followed to the letter and more about the general climate in which virtues are nourished.

If we take alcohol as an example. There are some who struggle to drink alcohol in moderation. The causes for this differ from one person to another and so it is hard to produce specific guidelines that all will find helpful all of the time. If, however, you see guidelines more about establishing a direction for transformation of character rather than prescribing detailed pragmatic actions then they can protect all people whilst enabling flexibility within it. Instead of saying, for example,

No one is to drink alcohol because it could, for some, lead to temptation to excessive drunkenness and violent behaviour.

We could write,

We want to encourage one another to be reliant on God and to be aware of His direction of us at each moment. Alcohol, when drunk excessively, hinders us from being obedient to God’s call. Therefore, alcohol must be drunk with care and consideration. If another is deemed to be drinking excessively, those in authority are to care for them by removing the temptation from them. It maybe appropriate, after the effects of the alcohol has worn off, for the leaders to discuss the reasons for their drunkenness to see if there is a way in which they can be encouraged to remain sober for the Lord.

The skill St. Benedict shows in his Rule is to have a clear endpoint in sight: the final judgement. Everyone in his community signs up to being transformed and changed, each day into the likeness of Christ. To be a part of the community is to commit to the hard work of discipleship which asks us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Drunkenness and excessive behaviour in any context is a distraction from prayer and character formation and therefore is enforced not by specifics but under the general encouragement to a life of discipleship.

In order to develop a distinctive culture of discipleship a community needs to be clear as to their priorities. These are not pragmatic step by step things; it is about the ultimate end goal. The Church has this set out in Jesus Christ. The vision for each congregation is the same: to seek God in our whole life, to intentionally invite the Holy Spirit to transform us from our old selves, into new creation, through obedience to prayer, study, dialogue and worship and to live as part of God’s distinctive Kingdom in the world. All pragmatic decisions and policies must encourage each disciple to participate in this work and that will require one thing for one member and another thing for the next but the direction is the same.

There are many who are taking down the Church’s specific demands placed on people’s behaviours to encourage them to become part of the Church or to at least see the Church as relevant and in line with the culture we live in but in doing so have thrown the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater. We have misunderstood the heart of the rules and guidelines. We have rejected the teaching wholesale and we have ignored Jesus who demands everything. Jesus asks those who would follow him to leave their livelihoods, families, their safety and security; in fact he asks us to die to ‘self’ in order to be his disciples. He does not ask this of everyone but for those who he calls to ministry. There is a difference between the expectation and attitude Jesus has to the crowd and the expectations he has on his disciples and he is clear on the distinction.

Are you a member of the crowd or a disciple?

A disciple is expected to work, to change, to learn to live obediently to the challenge of the life of Christ but the reward is great. The crowd only sees a glimpse of the Kingdom but remain enslaved to the world until they make their own commitment to discipleship.

As a theatre director I directed actors, not by telling them precisely where to stand and how to speak but rather by keeping my eyes fixed on the principles by which we agreed to work and the character the actor was trying to perform. There were some general things which were fixed and to move away from them, even slightly, would be a distraction. Within this framework the actors were more free to play and discover. It is a paradox that artists appreciate more than others; if you want to be more creative, put up more guidelines. A musician returns to the scales for this reason, the painter primes the canvas, the actor studies the character/play. Discipline and obedience are key to developing as an artist and the same is true of disciples.


We can all agree that we need to create the right climate for discipleship to take place but there is a difference of approaches as to how to achieve it. For some it is about setting the right pragmatic actions. They work on each step and encourage people to achieve one after the other in an order. As each step of change is difficult to take people get caught up in the mechanics of those single step and our sights are reduced to a few manageable steps ahead. When difficultly strikes it is hard to discern what to do next and the choices as to which step to take in order to move forward becomes a complex and cloudy.

The alternative is to to set the momentum and the direction of the journey. You don’t need to know each step in advance but you know the trajectory. This means your head is up and some steps are made without even thinking about it. There is a momentum which drives people on. There will be times when you go off course but at different moments there will be a leader who raises everyone’s head to fix their eyes on the horizon not yet reached.

This frees the community of the Church from setting specific mundane requirements on its people and frees them to discern for themselves, within the framework of the community ethos, what they need to do in order to reach the goal. It is not about strict micromanagement nor is it the liberal, distanced observation of others; this is about dialogue and encouragement to journey the costly path of discipleship whose aim is to encounter God and to know His divine will for our lives.

Heavenly Father, whose will is perfect freedom. Your son challenged the Pharisees who lived at the law in action but were far from you in their heart. Your son also challenged those who were enslaved by their own desires who led them first in one direction and then in another. Your son, our way, our truth and our life, ha been set as the pioneer and perfecter of the faith and we commit our lives to following him, to being shaped by him.

Come, Lord Jesus

Chapter 31: the cellarer


He will take care of everything, but will do all under the abbot’s orders.

How then shall we live?

I have been a public critic of the isolated, CEO-styled leadership within the church for many years. Even when a leader ‘builds a team’ around them it can remain under their power and responsibility; no decision of any importance is made without them knowing of it. It seems sensible enough: if the buck ends with you, you’d want to be aware of the risks. A church can be a large ship and, therefore, needs decisive and visionary captains to steer it through decisions and strategies. This cannot be done through committee as disagreement costs time and and can divert the ship off course to their ultimate goal. With this understanding of ministry the pyramid structure of leadership is the most efficient and effective.

What if that wasn’t the aim of Christian ministry? What if the church wasn’t meant to have a five year plan because it had an eternal plan? What if the plan was not to have a militaristic styled strategy of ‘take-over’ the world because the plan was to simply live as if this world was of no threat in the light of the resurrection? What if the church was meant to be a gathering of people who were committed to living more like Jesus together and establishing a Kingdom which played by completely different rules to that of the world in which they find themselves?

In this sort of community there is no need for a head because the direction is not one person’s possession which he/she allows others to be a part of but the direction is set by a Spirit which is discerned collectively and owned collectively. In this model the community is like a family. What kind of family sits down and discusses their five year plan? Would they choose, at a family gathering, which of them is going to ‘lead’ the family? Is a father more important than a mother, one sibling more important than another? The one who cooks, are they deemed more responsible than the one who washes up?

In the Rule of St. Benedict, the role of the abbot is clearly a ‘leader’. I’ve read many articles, theses and books that use the role of the abbot in a monastery as a model for spiritual leadership and I’d agree with most of them but what is interesting is the role of cellarer; are they a leader or not? if a leader then a lesser one than abbot? The cellarer is under the authority of the abbot, for sure; it clearly says that but what kind of authority does the abbot wield over the cellarer? A humble oversight of the spiritual health of each and every monk. The role of the abbot is to ensure that, on the Day of Judgement, the monks can stand before God pure and holy in his sight. The spiritual health of the monks will be the measure of the abbot’s faithfulness to Christ. It is a heavy responsibility. The abbot is a teacher of the faith,

he should show them by deeds, more than by words, what is good and holy.

The abbot is an overseer and is entrusted with the task of ensuring the ethos and character of the community is that of Christ. He is not to be the decider of action; that is left to others. Although there is a complex relationship between character and action there is a distinction between the two. Whether our actions drive our character or the other way round it is clear that character is ‘being’ and action is ‘doing’.

I saw this this week and it made me smile!

In this understanding the abbot is the overseer of the community’s ‘being’ but it is the role of someone else to oversee the community’s ‘doing’. In St. Benedict’s understanding the ‘doing’/action must come from the ‘being’/character but it is not his role to decide what that ‘doing’/action is. The abbot establishes a partnership with others. This partnership is entered into by humble servants who are focussed on the weight of their respective roles. They must not be mistaken that their role is the highest but rather the lowest being always aware of the fallen nature of humanity and the insurmountable, unending task that lays before them; how to be the Body of Christ in the world.

The monastic call has always developed in times and places when the church is asking one question,

How then shall we live?

In the dust clouds of the falling worldly empires and structure, godly men and women have fled to the edge lands and asked this question. This question has led these gathered survivors first to silent mourning,confession, repentance and prayer; in this they strip themselves of the ways in which they were caught up in the dying empire and dismantle the inner constructions of the empires within themselves. After this confession and repentance they begin, slowly, to live out the basics of faith; to live simply, not to complicate things or move quickly. At each step they ask this one question. How do they discern what is right and wrong? by asking ‘Does it look like Jesus?’

Looking like Jesus is a character issue – pure and simple.

In order to answer, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’you must first ask ‘What Is Jesus Like?’; it is easier to decide what to do if you know what it is you want to be.

How easy it is to say,

Just be like Jesus.

But we all have a different understanding of who Jesus is… This is where the community becomes the most important factor: The Spirit of God points to Jesus and leads the people of God to know Christ and Christ crucified. It is the Spirit that tells us “Jesus Christ is Lord”. The Spirit moves in the Body of Christ not in one part of it. The Spirit is the life blood of the Body and flows to each part giving vitality and movement/action.

Wisdom and discernment takes time for us fallen humans but we are nowhere without it. We are like all other empires and worldly groups doing lots and being nothing. St. Paul has this advice to a Christian community,

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

Do nothing,” says Paul, “from a place of ‘electioneering’ or when you are focussed on your office, nor empty pride, but, from a place of knowing of what you are made and to what you can quickly return to, lead others to be superior to yourself.” It is interesting that what is translated here in NRSV as ‘regard’ is the greek word ‘hegeomai’ which means ‘to lead’. Don’t move until you have the character and the Spirit directs you.

In the theatre an actor is given a character, then they are given a space in which to perform and to play, then they move and are shaped by the director. It’s a beautifully creative and surprising activity of playing and moulding. The same is true of the spiritual work of faith; we need to get to know the character, through reading the script. Then we attempt small movements and vocal trials all the while looking to the director for guidance and encouragement. In an ensemble model of theatre practice the director is not the dictator but a fellow artist; their role is to observe and ask questions. In the spiritual work the director is the Holy Spirit who prompts, challenges and encourages us to become more and more truthful portrayers of the character of Christ.


Parish ministry is set up so the minister is the management and the spiritual director although they are different tasks and roles. As the leader with sole responsibility you are called upon to not only have oversight of the spiritual wellbeing of your community, vast and varied as that is, but also to make decisions as to what sermon series to do, organising events, setting up for services, making sure the rotas get done, managing PCCs with all the bureaucracy and business.

Imagine what could be achieved if the day to day running of a parish was established as a different role to the role of spiritual guide? I wonder what that might look like. Imagine if that was the expectation.

What I mean is, what if ‘leadership’ roles was more like St. Paul’s use of it in Philippians 2 as the raising up others and not drawing attention to the office. That discipleship was the desired office to have and the model of ministry was structured round the development of discipleship.

Heavenly Father, you call us all into your kingdom to be transformed into the character of Christ. help us by your Spirit to be formed daily into his likeness. May our actions reveal his character and may his character inform our actions that all of our being will reveal him to the world, for your glory!

Come, Lord Jesus

Chapter 9: how many psalms are to be said in the Night Office


…As the singer starts the Gloria, everyone will stand at once and all will bow their heads in honour of the Holy Trinity.

What’s so special about ordained ministry?

The fact that St. Benedict decides to give more than one chapter to this particular Divine Office seems to highlight an important point. I feel, having sat with it for a week in prayer, the point it makes is the cost of this particular monastic calling. If the Divine Office of Matins starts at midnight and the next Office (Lauds) is at daybreak then the question of when sleep happens is very pertinent.

Last week I decided to stay up and do prays starting at midnight. I did the Evening Prayer from Common Worship with all the Canticles and lectionary readings and psalms. I was finished at 12.35pm but I didn’t spend that long in intercessory prayer. To be truthful I was rushing the office. My meditation on the Psalms was minimal at best and the readings weren’t going in. This is all forgivable, I told myself, but what was interesting was that what I was asking myself to do was small in comparison to what is required of the Office of Matins in the Rule of St. Benedict.

If you just read the amount of Psalms alone it’s enough to make your head swim (and I love the Psalms!) This is clearly a long Office and is intended to be a real ‘vigil’. As monks you were being asked to, after a day of work and prayer to stay and watch with the Lord, like the disciples in Gethsemane. Before Matins some monks would have to have had a short nap in order to give full attention to the Office because I don’t think an abbot would be too pleased with snoring during an Antiphon!

This week, as part of the Northumbria Community’s set daily reflections, have been using quotes that have shaped the community’s narrative and identity. On March 2nd they quote Thomas Merton,

The monk is not defined by his task, his usefulness. In a certain sense he is supposed to be ‘useless’ because his mission is not to do this or that job but to be a man of God. (Thomas Merton, ‘Contemplation in a World of Action’ (New York: Doubleday, 1971) p.27)

A monk, unlike others called into ministry (lay and ordained), is to be dedicated to the work of prayer and watching. Increasingly I feel, within the conversation of ‘leadership’, that the forms of leadership of the laity and the clergy are so synonymous that it is hard, with any integrity, to distinguish the two unless we embrace a more monastic view of ordained leadership. This distinction would then release the model of leadership currently being proposed as ‘ordained ministry’ into the realm of the laity (as it already is in many instances) focussing on the life of ordained ministers to be the necessary centres of sacraments, prayer and watching.

This is not necessarily a passive, background ministry, although that may be one form it takes. Rather it allows for a spiritual leadership of a community distinguished from the functional, administrative and management that ties down many rectors, vicars, priests. To be the centre of sacraments is a more holistic ministry than the purely functional presidency of the Eucharistic life of the parish but extends to the ministry of reconciliation, bridging and being the focus of connection with a tradition both historically and globally. The ordained ministry, in all three forms (deacon, priest and bishop) would then be allowed to be a more spiritual oversight and guides to a community giving equal worth and value in the lay ministry of leadership akin to a Prior in the monastery compared with the abbot.

The work of keeping vigil is an important one but one that cannot be done by the same people who also have the pressures and strains of keeping and maintaining the practical work of a community going. The two must be connected and serve one another and so the organic image of the Body of Christ comes into focus.

In the missional community I am a part of, Burning Fences, there are many exercising leadership amongst us. What’s exciting about the group is the freedom for any member to take responsibility and direct us. There are clearly those who do this more naturally than others but there’s also those who do this leading in a more quiet way. As I reflect on my role within this particular community I am excited that I am free to be a priest amongst them; ordained in the Church of England to be that focus of tradition, a story-keeper of the Christian faith. This means that I can participate in discernment as to the direction we should take but not more so than anyone else. I bring a unique and important voice to discussions, yes, I speak on behalf of the Christian faith, with all the responsibilities that brings. I watch, with God, those who drift and dwell around the edges and try and warn against falling into an abyss that will hurt or harm. I am not the centre of power, however; far from it. Others make decisions. I am their to ensure the story continues to ring true in character and is connected into the larger story of God through Jesus Christ. If one decides to venture down a particular path and I have spoken warning, then I fall into silence and pray. I will, with God, walk down that path to search for them if they become lost and hold them until they come back to safety of His loving presence.


This chapter in the Rule of St. Benedict challenges me on my vows as a priest,

With their Bishop and fellow ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation. They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord. (The Ordination of Priests, Common Worship: Ordination Services, The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England: The Prayer Book as Proposed in 1928; The Alternative Service Book 1980; both of which are copyright © The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England)

I do not see in my vows the terms of management, secular leadership, etc. which is pushed through some areas of the Church. Why not release this to the laity and encourage and empower them to do this and for those called to ordained ministry to be those who oversee the spiritual aspects of the worshipping community? I’m sure there is funding issues and logistical issues in relation to manpower and deployment but I feel there is conversation to be had on that.

The call into ordained ministry really centred on this watchman role, the one who is willing to keep a vigil for the Kingdom of God. I feel my priesthood is about being the person who watches a community, guards the vulnerable on the fringes and ensures they are reconciled to Christ as the centre. I am in a community to pull the community around Christ as the centre and to focus our mission into the work of the Church Universal through the Word and Sacraments.

Lord, make me useless in the eyes of others and strengthen me in my task of prayer, reconciliation and watching. Give me the heart to keep Your story being told through the lives of all who you put in my charge and may I lead them by my discipleship into Your loving presence each day.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Chapter 3: the counsel of the brothers


Whenever an important matter is to be undertaken in the monastery the abbot should call the entire community together…

How do we decide?

Nothing epitomizes parochial ministry like a P.C.C. (Parish Church Council). This infamous meeting is understood to be the centre of bureaucracy, pedantry and all the negative associations with institutionalized dogma which stifles creativity and growth. Although this is a common perception (sometimes through experience) I see great importance about these spaces of discernment and discussion. P.C.C.s, like Synods and other organisational meetings, can be places of collaborative ruling and creative dreaming but it relies on how you operate the vehicle.

I write this reflection after our first P.C.C. meeting of 2014. The meeting was good and productive thanks, in large part to how we have begun to shift the priorities and the character of the P.C.C. as a governing body for the congregation. Generally P.C.C.s settle into a natural place of being the red tape, officiators of all actions; if anything wants to be done, the P.C.C. need to know about it, do the risk assessments and fund it. The ideas, in this understanding, come from outside and those inside have the power to clear them or destroy them! We have begun to encourage times of creative thinking of ideas making. We now begin meetings with active engagement with Scripture through lectio divina which warms up the responsive and listening part of our brains, then there is a stimulus/problem presented and some ideas shared. After this is usually a time of sharing, challenging and reshaping. The character of this early discussion is open and fluid. It is deliberately not done behind tables with papers and pens but a conversational, non-committal approach which encourages free thinking and playful ideas.

If you re-imagine what a P.C.C. is for then it’s possible for the meetings to become a place of creative idea-making and the ‘business’/organisational activities can be done in the same way. It’s all about raising the expectations and awareness of what creativity is.

The times when these types of meetings become frustrating and tedious are when people see themselves and the P.C.C. as a ‘governing body’ as the safety net. There are people who stick so much to the letter of the law that they fail to appreciate the character of the law. This has been happening throughout history. If you see the law as restrictive then you become restrictive. If you see the law as constructive you become constructive. It is easy to fall into being ‘efficient’ and spending the time in recording and assessment rather than overseeing experiments and being creatively involved in protecting fledging projects and ideas. Why was that law written? What is the ultimate priority of this organisation? How can this law encourage that priority?

The role of overseer can often be caricatured as the ‘sensible’ one and hindering new initiatives,

Someone needs to be sensible. It’s a nice idea but you don’t appreciate how much work that will take.

This view that some people are the ‘ideas people’ and others are ‘the practical ones’ is divisive in communal discernment and creativity. It is true that we can naturally favour one role than the other but the really creative people I know have spent the time to learn the practical implications of their ideas. Equally, some of the most practical people I know birth great ideas from necessity and pragmatism. P.C.C.s can often name themselves as ‘pragmatic’ when they are the places where ideas should be shared and fostered; weaving the creativity in with the ‘rules’ is the best way.

When I was directing theatre it was a basic premise that artists need a framework within which to play. The canvas or page needs an edge and a performance piece needs a start and direction. The early part of rehearsals was about discovering the edges of this particular piece; what resources do we have? What are we bringing at this time? What do we not want to explore? Once you’ve played with the boundaries and established some framework you are free to be creative. That framework may change as necessity dictates but it needs to be established in order to know. I saw my role, as the director, as being the story keeper, the person who held and reminded the rest of the framework; not to be restrictive and dictatorial but to challenge and push the creativity. It’s too easy just to say an idea in a vacuum what makes it transformative is it impacting reality.

St. Benedict continues to portray the abbot, for me, as this story keeper.

The abbot himself must do everything according to the Rule and fearing God…

He doesn’t just demand the abbot to stick to the rules but invites creative discernment by bringing all the voices, ‘creative’ (if we can genuinely say that some are not creative) and the practical. Meetings are places where problems are solved in community. Wisdom finds flesh and reveals itself in reality.

The one major issues with P.C.C.s and Synods are the kind of people they attract in the current climate are people who, generally like to enforce the law. There’s something about the way in which they are presented and worked out that brings the Pharisee out in all of us. The rules/law is static, written on stone tablets and has supremacy over everything rather than a life-giving framework that encourages creativity and freedom.

Consider the vote for the outworking of women bishops legislation in 2012. It came down to the people in the room with their experience and desires. Outside of that room there were people who had an opinion and who cared about the judgement but the balance of power was all off.

St. Benedict is clear: gather everyone’s view, given and received in humility gained by the starting, collective principle that we are all under obedience. The abbot then decides, again with ‘consideration and justice’.

How can we protect ourselves from a dictator abbot?

You can’t. That’s why the selection of the abbot and his character is so important. That’s why he too must be under obedience to God and to be under the Rule. That’s why the monks must pray for him and he must remember that his primary calling is to present the monks under his charge as blameless before God.

Ultimately what I hear being proposed here in this chapter of the Rule is a conversation where each member is other-focused.

Individual desires have no place in the monastery.

Decisions are made in an open, non-threatening environment where all feel free to offer and add to the collective discernment. From experience it is in the space where decisions have already been made and there’s no real conversation to be had that people close down and act violently, passively or actively. In any governing body all attempts should made to communicate that there is real space to contribute and impact ones environment and reality. Those in privilege positions of power must be freed from the lie of oppression and become transparent to their intentions and desires. In this forum people are free to dream and hear the truth of God and His vision of the world He has created.


I wonder what a P.C.C. would be like if it was run under the principles of Open Space Technology (or something similar). What difference would it make to present principles rather than ‘laws’? If those principles were agreed upon by all members and that the role of the chair of the P.C.C. was to seek creative, collective solutions to questions that were discovered within the narrative of those principles?

Almighty God, creator and judge of all that is true, guide all those in authority and positions of decision making. Bless and protect all who work towards justice and peace in places of debate and public governance. May the character of Your Son, Jesus Christ, be their model and guide as they seek to be transformed into His likeness.

Come, Lord Jesus.

The Future Doesn’t Exist/ Everybody’s Free

WARNING: This post is more sporadic, disjointed and ultimately more passionate than most of my posts. Hang in there and invest in the proposal…please… oh and comment, suggest books, ask questions. Now, more than ever, I need your help!

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. (Jer 29:11)

Over the last year I’ve become more and more convinced that God is more interested in the present than He is in the future. I often sum up the idea by proclaiming the un-nuanced version; “I don’t believe in the future.” I don’t exist in the future, which is a healthy psychological position, and therefore I don’t participate in the activity of believing in that realm. I also don’t have trust in the future, I don’t have faith in this thing we call ‘future’. As well as both of these opinions I also don’t believe the future exists, i.e., It has not been created yet, it is not a static place or thing that we can in anyway grasp. The future is not reality. In most Churches the use of language about future is not fully explored.

What is ‘the future’?

The future is a designated time after this moment. We can call anything that may happen after now as ‘the future’. Its existence is considered inevitable due to the laws of time (tomorrow will happen after today). The inevitability of its existence doesn’t mean it exists currently, indeed the definition rejects any possibility of the future existing in the present for if it did it would be the present…

If we live in the belief that the future is a reality then we live within that belief system. For example:

Say someone believes that in the future they will be a doctor that belief impacts their present. They then believe that that future is inevitable and so the present moment and the decisions taken are changed in order to prepare for that reality. When that reality doesn’t arrive there’s a tear in their inner belief system. They had built a false reality around an imagined future and believed and trusted it would happen.

Trying to define the concept is difficult but I want us to rely on our simplistic understanding of ‘the future’ so we don’t have to enter into the physics of the future. We all feel at some time, divorced of the scientific thoughts, the sense of time just washing over us. Each moment has gone in a flicker of an eye and we enter into the next moment or it pushes onto us. Here is where I’d like to stop and ask a question.

Can we step into ‘the future’? or, do we step into ‘the future’?

You may ask what’s the difference between entering into the future or the future stepping into us? I believe it’s all in the interpretation. If you see yourself stepping into the future then there’s an implicit understanding that the future is a place/reality in which you can step into; it has become more concrete then just a mere concept. The onus is on you to make a decision as to whether you go or not. You have some element of control. We all know, however, that we will be in that moment whether we choose to or not. The future will become the present and the present moment will become the past. So the heavy concoction of sensing some control of time and its frightening inevitability makes us want to know the future before it happens. “If I am being forced to step into a room I want to at least know what’s in it.”

If, however, you see the future as coming at you like a freight train or a gentle stream then there is no control over it, implicit or explicit; all you have to do is stand there and deal with what comes. It is this idea that has been deeply liberating for me.

The passage from Jeremiah which we started with implies God is a puppet master of the cosmic order. The confusion happens when we acknowledge we also believe in free-will. What is free-will if God, ultimately will get His own way. That’s not true freedom, that’s manipulative! So how do we marry these two opposing views?

I wrote, last year, on God as the Divine Director and cited both Joseph Myers and T.J. Gorringe. The two posts (Divine Director (part I) and Divine Director (part II) posts) talk about the subject from a leadership perspective. Today I’d like to see it from a more general perspective.

What does God want me to do? What are His plans for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me?

I’ve had so many conversations with people who are desperately trying to figure out what to do with their lives (one of those people was me!) There are so many options and choices to make; work, relationships, houses, money, religion, etc. We all have to make the ‘right’ choice and God is interested in the choices we make because the choices we make define who we are and our priorities. But what if we state that the future doesn’t exist yet and that any choice we make in the present directly impacts the creation of the future?

We create the future.

Take improvisation in drama. As an actor you stand on stage and, in order to create a narrative, you have to make a decision, you have to impact the story. This is deeply frightening as you stare into the emptiness of the next moment. You don’t know what is going to happen and the more you remain silent and frozen the larger that abyss becomes. There’s great wisdom in the slightly frustrated director’s command, “Do anything.”

The truth is it doesn’t matter what you do in that moment, what matters is how you do it. The question we must ask when making decisions in the present is not “Is this what God wants?” but “Is this in line with the character of Christ?”

So what are God’s ‘plans’? In this passage the word for ‘plans’ can be translated as ‘thoughts’. In the Hebrew Bible it is translated as ‘For I know the thoughts I am having for you…” “I know what I think of you.” It is more about the character of the person rather than their action.

What if following Jesus isn’t about asking What Would Jesus Do but rather How Would Jesus Be then the choices we make are important not because of the actual decisions but whether they’re made in line with the character of Jesus. God requires us to live this moment in the character of Jesus. Do not live in the future for it doesn’t exist yet, live in this moment. ‘Do not worry about tomorrow…’ The future will happen and when it does, if you live like Jesus, then all will be well. If you make a decision, God will bless it if you make it whilst being faithful to the character of Christ.

As a director, in improvisation, I don’t care what actor’s say or do as long as they do so with consistency of character. Jesus, likewise, criticizes religious hypocrisy a lot because their actions are not in line with their belief. They maybe making good decisions in line with the law but not in line with the character of God.

Do I marry this person or not? It doesn’t matter. What matters is how you marry them and consequentially fulfill those promises that matter. Or how you separate. Faithfully follow God’s commands; ‘Love God and love your neighbour.’

What do I do for a living? It doesn’t matter. What matters is how you live as whatever you become. Faithfully follow God’s commands; ‘Love God and love your neighbour.”

Does God know the future? Yes. He knows everyone’s decisions and the consequences of everyone’s action colliding together. Can He fully control the future? No because He has given His people free-will.

I hope you can begin to see why I’m struggling to write this book! So many ideas and implications it’s hard to contain them all. I guess I want everyone to know this; Do not worry about what you will do or what you will say. Life is not about which path you walk  but the way you walk it. Jesus is ‘the way’ not path so walk like Him. The future will arrive inevitability and will ask you to make choices but you cannot predict what those choices are so concern yourself with making decisions now in this moment.

We’ve not been able to get into the subject of prophecy, eschatology, discernment. At the end of the day (it gets dark!) God wants us to share responsibility for our decisions, He wants you to choose. He can’t control what you choose but He can advise and give you strength how to choose.

I will finish on some lyrics from Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen)’:

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday… Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Deadly Theatre Deadly Worship?

I’m aware I haven’t written about theatre for a long time so I want to unpick some thoughts I’m currently wrestling with as I continue the long process of writing the book ‘God of the Gods’.

My placement this year has been focused on being in a ‘creative’ community and seeing what one might look like. (You can follow the placement through the ‘Theatre Church’ stream by searching this site.) My reflections have concentrated on the capitalist mentality that flows through both the process of theatre and our understanding of Christian community. I have written extensively on this theory but thought I might share aspects of it as it relates to thoughts on theatre from the man himself, Peter Brook.

The act of creating a piece of theatre should be a journey of discovery for all involved. The current economic climate, however, forces the focus away from the search for discovery to a mechanical, predictable process aimed at achieving the highest income for the lowest cost.

A producer, who holds the finances, in order to increase that potential investment, funds a startup productions in the hope of building both a portfolio, artistic clout and financial capital to further that aim. In order to gain the most income they need to produce a sellable product, something popular and so they invite ‘creative’ directors and/or writers to invent a concept or write a script that will meet those criteria. These ‘creatives’ are therefore conditioned to develop concepts or write scripts to pitch to a producer who decides whether it will make a return on their investment. Theatre is, therefore, often driven by the marketability of the product rather than the necessity of the expression itself. The creative act is done by a solo agent and is completed before the pitch is made in order that a clear ‘vision’ is communicated to the financier. The process to construct the product must be planned carefully in order that it is the most successful (success being both how well it embodies the original concept and the amount of people who consume it.) Auditions are held to get the right people for the right job/role. Actors are tested and interviewed to see who has the right skills to undertake the role in the shortest period of time. Rehearsals are characteristically one sided. Directors ensure that the actors are doing what needs to be done to create the product as the director/writer see it. The actors ask for clarification and performing the role as prescribed and not participating in a journey of discovery; they’re cogs in a machine.

Peter Brook notes,

…a theatre where a play for economic reasons rehearses for no more than three weeks is crippled at the outset. Time is not the be-all and end-all; it is not impossible to get an astonishing result in three weeks…But this is rare… No experimenting can take place, and no real artistic risks are possible. (Peter Brook, The Empty Space)

‘Deadly Theatre’, as Brook calls it, is one that lacks life. This, he suggests, is not as easily discerned as you might expect. For something dead can be dressed up to look alive like the lifeless puppet manipulated to imitate life. Can our Churches experiment? Can they, what theatre practitioners call, ‘play’? Can they take real ‘artistic’ risk? I’d argue ‘no’. If every Sunday, or what ever day the community worships, is a ‘performance’ to lure in seekers then there is no space for risk. If something ‘fails’ then it will impact potential clients. If we can begin to call the seeker-friendly service a performance then our ‘rehearsal time’ is one week! Brook continues,

The artistic consequences are severe. Broadway is not a jungle, it is a machine into which a great many parts snugly interlock. Yet each of these parts is brutalized; it has been deformed to fit and function smoothly… In such conditions there is rarely the quiet and security in which anyone may dare expose himself. I mean the true un spectacular intimacy that long work and true confidence in other people brings about – in Broadway, a crude gesture of self-exposure is easy to come by, but this has nothing to do with the subtle, sensitive interrelation between people confidently working together. (Peter Brook, The Empty Space)

This kind of theatre is like a disease spreading through our culture. The big West-End musicals are all veneer with no substance of necessary expressions of human beings. Audiences are fooled into thinking that the more jolly, colorful and expensive the design the more ‘theatrical’ it is. No one questions this shallow performance style which has seeped into classic works such as Shakespeare making words that have so much potential life become boring. We have all become accustomed to it and so no longer crave the pure, life giving theatrical art.

In churches, regular congregations have become accustomed to the lifeless worship that is dressed up to imitate life. These imitations take on may forms depending on a particular tradition. The pentecostal inspired charismatic services need only to increase the volume and emphasize the rhythm to bring on their ‘spiritual’ highs. Watchman Nee says,

We have heard people say that…the moment they hear the sound of the organ and the voice of singing their spirits are immediately released to God’s presence. Indeed, such a thing does happen. But are they really being brought to the presence of God? Can people’s spirits be released and drawn closer to God by a little attraction such as this? Is this God’s way? (Watchman Nee, The Latent Power of the Soul)

What are we aiming for in community? In Christian community I’d suggest that we are aiming to share the fruit of the Spirit in the character of Christ to be reconciled to God and one another. In our worship, therefore, we need to be praying and living in the power of the Spirit. That Spirit will then go out from us to the others and unite us all together and bring us resurrection life; life that will not end. In theatre community I’d suggest the aim is similar. We are looking for a life that inspires each person to express themselves in a communal expression. Our self expressions can be affirmed as holding ‘truth’ by inspiring something within the whole community. Thus, that which is life to the individual participant is shared and encourages the other to experience life themselves. How do we discern whether a piece of theatre or an act of worship has ‘life-giving life’? Watchman Nee distinguishes between the life of the soul and the life-giving life of the Spirit,

“The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Cor 15:45)… The soul is alive. It has its life, therefore it enables man to do all sorts of things…The spirit, however, is able to give life to others and cause them to live… “It is the spirit,” says the Lord, ‘that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63) (Watchman Nee, The Latent Power of the Soul)

Here it is important to state, one can perform a piece of theatre with life but it stops at self expression if it does not hold life-giving life or that which brings life to the observer/ the rest of the community. We are not searching for self expression but self expression within communal expression.

Christian community should pay attention to Brook’s warnings to theatre. We must discern carefully whether our self expressions don’t stop at the self but give life to others. We must be careful that our worship is not resuscitating our dead bodies for a moment but rather giving resurrected life. We can achieve this, I’m beginning to believe, by ‘playing’ constantly, feeling comfortable with others to experiment and to reject crude self expressions and aim for the self expression within communal expression that marks life-giving life to all. Feeling comfortable with others can only be achieved if we create space for vulnerability and commitment to community as a verb and not as a noun.

Theatre Church (part IX)

I had sat in my tutors office with some fellow ‘ordained pioneer ministers’ students (OPMs) discussing how to establish a ministry ‘from scratch’. It was an interesting question in light of my tutors preparation on a sermon, preached last night, on Matthew 10. In this passage Jesus commands His disciples to go out in pairs to do the work of the Kingdom. My fellow OPMs, for their placement, were heading out as a pair to do ‘deep listening’ in an area near Durham. They were discussing the task ahead and how they, as a pair, were going to minister and be effective listeners and prophets. I sat in the room listening to their disucssions, how they were going to support each other, the importance of one playing the speaking role and one the listener, the model of Moses and Aaron and I had to ask; who was my fellow worker?

My wife is, of course, supporting me in my work but her own work means she cannot be actively present in the growth and foundational work of my placement. She will be a listening ear of my take on events but she cannot, by her absence, be as effective in listening to how God is moving. Who will be with me as I minister? Who will be the prayful partner or the active energy to balance my activity? Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs and it’s a good model but we must remember that most of the disciples will have been married, potentially with children. I am married but I don’t have a partner in ministry.

This has a knock on effect in terms of the changing shape that this community is taking.

The ideal leadership model for this placement, I believe, is a rotational leadership. Both Peter Brook, who I will be teaching tonight, and Jerzy Grotowski, who I explored on Monday, suggested a director should be a member of the ensemble and should not hold onto the power and direction of a groups discovery. This model of leadership is freeing for the whole ensemble, community or church but requires a great deal of trust and discernment. Both Brook and Grotowski, although proclaiming a collective leadership of the whole company understood the individual role and strengths of the seperate contributors. This rotational leadership doesn’t suggest that everyone, despite their lack of gifting or talent in leadership, should be forced into a position of power, but rather when someone has something to offer and a sense of leading the group into an area of exploration they will go ahead, blessed, of course, by the followers, the rest of the group.

As an individual ‘founder’ of this group I will, inevitably hold a great deal of power at the beginning. The members will look to me for direction, purpose, identity. My Christian walk, however, demands that I hand over that power quickly before, like Gollem in Lord of the Rings, it consumes me. My role as the ‘designated leader’ is not to hold power but to move the power round the group, discerning when its appropriate to weild it and when to pass it on and to whom.

Discernment is the role of the director. One person must be the discerner and watchman of the group. Jesus uses the image of the shepherd, who allows sheep to wander where the wish but to gently watch over them and go and find those that get lost. As a director who integrates themself into the ensemble, your role is to discern what is worthwhile to explore and what is not, when to step in and remind people of the direction and when to let that go. This is a balancing act and its not easy. As a leader of any group there is a call for one person to take on this task but it is important that that person handles power well. Which leads onto the necessity of a partner, an accountable persence to test the responses of this discerner. The group as a whole needs to play this role but too often people in the discerning role allow the power to speak lies and say “They don’t know all that you know. They are all walking off track and you know best.” To have someone marked out to be another discerner and to listen when one cannot and to speak when one cannot protects, in some way, the misuse of power.

Already I am struggling with the absense of another perspective on what’s being shaped and I need the eyes and ears of someone else to aid my reflections. Already I fell isolated both in my reflections and in the relationship building workshops. I’m meeting some fantastic people and all of whom are contributing to the shape of this community by their needs and interests and I don’t feel I have someone who can help me to remain faithful in the work set before me.

I could discuss the nature of accountability here and argue for the term ‘editability’ (see ‘Organic Community’ by Joseph Myers) but I don’t want to confuse the issue.

This past week I have been confirmed in the call to an apostilic mission of planting but the need for the support, not only of prayful communites and supporters but, of a partner in mission is important in all ministry. My next task is to discern who in the community gathering on Mondays will be my co-worker. I’m sure it will happen organicaly and until then I will remain patient.

Divine Director (part II)

I quoted Joseph Myers yesterday and asked whether we can begin to see God as an organic organiser rather than a master planner, but what’s the problem with seeing God as a master planner anyway? Nothing, directly, but it gets confusing, theologically, when you’re faced with instances in Scripture, such as Abraham at Sodom and Gomorrah, where God seems to change his mind and also when faced with the issue of prayer. If God’s will is going to happen why bother praying? Well, if God is a master planner then prayer begins to be seen as tapping a busy God on the shoulder saying “if you can find it in your heart to change the whole world order so I can have a parking space, that would be nice… but only if it’s in your plan…” What kind of relationship is being posed here? An authority figure demanding you do exactly as you’re told? Not really loving, is it? (Even if the plans are to prosper me and not to harm me!)

The other, more major, issue that arises when seeing God as a master planner comes when you’re faced with the crucified God.

‘What makes God the world Ruler, said Barth, as opposed to all false gods and idols is ‘the very fact that his rule is determined and limited: self-determined and self-limited, but determined and limited none the less’. (Karl Barth, ‘Church Dogmatics II/2’) Knowledge of this self-limitation derives from the cross, for if everything were rigorously determined what could the cross be but a piece of spectacular, though indecent, theatre? On the contrary the ‘necessity’ of the cross, frequently spoken about by New Testament authors, is God’s refusal to overrule human history. If the cross is our guide, God is no determinist.’ (T.J. Gorringe, ‘God’s Theatre’)

What is seen on the cross is God’s power working through human free will. God didn’t pretend to die on the cross. He didn’t hold onto control or power in that situation rather he became weak and died in order that we could know that

‘he refuses to manipulate or control but rather wishes to woo creation to conformity with his son, as Hosea suggests.’ (Gorringe, ‘God’s Theatre’)

Yesterday I mentioned an experience Peter Brook had while directing Love’s Labour’s Lost for the RSC. Brook told of his frustration when, early on in rehearsals, actors did not perform in the expected way. I will just write Gorringe’s reflections rather than rephrase,

‘This story is a marvellous parable of God’s activity. If we do in fact learn about God, and the mode of God’s activity from Christ then it should be clear that God rejected the prompt book option from the very beginning, and has been from the start ‘in amongst the actors’. God works without script and without plan but with, to continue the metaphor, a profound understanding of theatre and the profoundest understanding of the play…Interestingly Brook remarked early on in rehearsal that there was a particular rhythm to be found and a particular actor to find it, and this demanded ‘an almost metaphysical explanation’. (David Selbourne, ‘Making of Midsummer Night’s Dream’)All the director can do is illuminate the play and demand that the actors find their own inner resources. Often Brook simply sat in front of the stage drumming out a rhythm. Something like this is what God demands of us… Against this analogy it might be objected that it conceives God as simply one agent amongst many, just as Selbourne sometimes wondered whether Brook was one actor amongst many. This would reduce God to the status of a finite being. The giveaway here is the ‘simply’. God is indeed one agent amongst many, but he is the only unique agent, just as there is only one ‘director’. ‘God’ is the Creator and Sustainer, present in the personal reality of his graciousness to all things, and interacting with, and reacting to all things.’

People often ask me, “What makes a good director?” Well the answer, for me, is someone who is willing to guide rather than dictate. Actors are creative beings and are at their most powerful when they are using their creativity. To stifle the creative is to stop them from ‘existing’ onstage. A director’s role is to encourage actors to make right decisions and to enable them to react to impulses onstage. When I’m directing I spend more time equipping actors with tools and practical guidelines as to how to react than I do telling them how exactly to walk, stand and speak. This way of directing, at times, is frustrating for the perfectionist inside me, but in the end it’s the moments when the actors come alive onstage that makes me excited about theatre. Peter Brook, as always, says it best,

‘I think one must split the word “direct” down the middle. Half of directing is, of course, being a director, which means taking charge, making decisions, saying “yes” and saying “no,” having the final say. The other half of directing is maintaining the right direction. Here, the director becomes guide, he’s at the helm, he has to have studied the maps and he has to know whether he’s heading north or south. He searches all the time, but not haphazardly. He doesn’t search for the sake of searching, but for a purpose; a man looking for gold may ask a thousand questions, but they all lead back to gold; a doctor looking for a vaccine may make endless and varied experiments, but always toward curing one disease and not another. If this sense of direction is there, everyone can play the part as fully and creatively as he is able. The director can listen to the others, yield to their suggestions, learn from them, radically modify and transform his own ideas, he can constantly change course, he can unexpectedly veer one way or another, yet the collective energies still serve a single aim. This enables the director to say “yes” and “no” and the others willingly to assent.’ (The Shifting Point)

The same is true of Christian leaders. We may know the vision or see how things could be, but we must act in the way God would act and rather encourage collaboration rather than cooperation. We must tap out a rhythm and help the actors to find and discover the role they are playing and, most importantly, we must be ready and excited about being surprised by the new and fresh things the actor unearths.

In my placement, this year, I will have the joy and pleasure to work with creative individuals and watch them create and communicate stories and truths. I have discovered a way in which my passion and love of directing is truly godly and a spiritual exercise, for as I work ‘in amongst the actors’ I find God is there to.

Divine Director (part I)

My reading over the summer has been sporadic to say the least. I constantly jump from ‘Organic Community’, ‘The Empty Space’, ‘The Shifting Point’ (another Peter Brook book), ‘The Invisible Actor’ by Yoshi Oida and now into my more theologically heavy tomes, ‘God’s Theatre’ and ‘Transforming Fate and Destiny’. Books move from the top of the pile to the bottom frequently as my interest and whims change day by day. This reading is also interrupted by revision on theatre practitioner’s theories in preparation for ‘The Workshops’ running the first couple of weeks of term. Add to this the inevitable daily activities of a wife wanting to do those household chores put aside for the holiday season and you have all the ingredients for a mental meltdown!

There has been, however, some exciting and recurring themes coming through in my research and one of which is particularly helpful for me for a couple of reasons.

For those of you who have been reading for some months now will know, I have struggled with the idea of ‘God’s will’ and how one should discern it; the theological balancing of the providence of God and free will. My evangelical background has led me towards an understanding of God as having a plan for each of our lives and has a map of how our lives should be lived. This means that listening prayer becomes really important to discern which decisions one should make in order to be aligned to His will. This discernment is not a perfect solution as you can never be totally sure you’ve heard him right (if at all!) and so confusion and doubt creep in. The pray-er justifies decisions and outcomes depending on how confident they are that it was God’s will in the first place. This is an adequate theological standpoint and I’m sure there is some truth in it. It does lead to, however, some Christians proclaiming knowledge of God’s one and only will and leading many down destructive or damaging paths. I want to clarify, I don’t think everyone claiming to hear God’s voice in a situation is leading people into destructive or damaging paths but sometimes it has happened.

I struggle when new Christians come to this teaching. Having heard a gospel of grace and cleansing of bad decisions made, they are then pressured to hear God’s will in how to live their lives now and when they make one wrong decision then it’s hard not to feel like you’re not good enough to be a Christian because you’ve messed up God’s plan again!

Joseph Myers in ‘Organic Community’ suggests;

‘A theology of God as master planner implies that God has a purpose – even one purpose – for your life and it’s your lifelong job to pursue it, identify it, and live it out. The gospel becomes, “God has a plan for your life.” God has planned the job, the life partner, the house, the child, and so on. He wants nothing more than our cooperation with his plan. A theology of God as organic order, however, allows for collaboration with him. We are privileged to participate with him in the forming of our future. He invites our ideas, our energy, our creativity, our perspective. He gives up a measure of control to facilitate relationship with us and to demonstrate his love.’

In ‘God’s Theatre’ T.J. Gorringe dissects the main theological and philosophical thoughts on providence, walking his reader through Calvin, Augustine, Aquinas thought and many other historical heavy weights. He argues that you fall into the trap of saying human free will is always working contrary to God’s will and therefore we should cast it aside and be automatons or God works all things to good and so we can do what we like because God is going to fix everything anyway. There are other standpoints, as you can begin to discover, but I just want to give a flavour of the different and varied views. How do we balance God’s omnipotence and Scripture clearly proclaiming God having a plan for human kind and working in this world for the furtherance of the Kingdom and our innate free will?

Gorringe goes onto suggest an understanding of God’s work amongst human beings that has helped me to see more clearly how we can pick up Myers call for ‘organic order’ and see God as someone who wants collaboration rather than cooperation. Gorringe’s ideas come from none other than Peter Brook…

I was immediately interested!

He begins by retelling the story, originally told by Brook himself in ‘The Empty Space’, of one of Brook’s early directorial posts on Love’s Labour’s Lost for the RSC. I returned to ‘The Empty Space’ and read the account. Brook describes how he would have a scene mapped out before rehearsals; He knew where people should move and how and what every moment would look like. He would use cardboard figurines to move them about the stage at different moments and would have it all charted out. I was reminded, as I read this, of two things; firstly, how closely this describes my method of directing early on in my career and secondly, of this implement called ‘a director’s tray’ that was brought to my attention a week ago. This ‘tray’ marks out the stage into different areas and a director would move markers (signifying actors) around the tray like a general would in a war room. Brook, like many directors before and after him, discovered,

‘As the actors began to move I knew it was no good. These were not remotely like the cardboard figures, these large human beings thrusting themselves forward, some too fast with lively steps I had not foreseen…We had only done the first stage movement, letter A on my chart, but already everyone was wrongly placed and movement B could not follow… Was I to start again, drilling these actors so that they conformed to my notes? One inner voice prompted me to ddo so, but another pointed out that my pattern was much less interesting than this new pattern that was unfolding in front of me…I stopped, and walked away from my book, in amongst the actors, and I have never looked at a written plan since.’

I hope you can begin to see where Gorringe begins to see how God might work with human beings.

Join me tomorrow for part two of this post. Go and have a cup of tea or whatever your beverage preference is and I ask that you mull over how you see God working His plans in your life. Have you ever struggled with the idea of God having one plan for your life and that’s it? How do address life decisions? Have you ever struggled with discerning prayer?

See you tomorrow…

Riding Lights Theatre Church? (part II)

I’ve just returned from the Riding Lights Summer Theatre School which I go to each year. This week is very special for me as it is where I began my relationship with Jesus, where I met my wife, where I proposed to her, where I found a lot of my closest and dearest friends and where I feel most at home with the worship and approach to ministry. I want to talk a bit about the community of this summer school and  how it might be developed into a year long life enhancer.

There are countless testimonies, like mine, where people have arrived at summer school from a local church where they don’t feel they belong for one reason or another and feel a strong sense of ‘homecoming’. It’s difficult to put a finger on what causes this feeling to happen with so many people. Is it the shared passion for theatre? Is it the intensity at which relationships are formed? Is it the deep challenges of the week that ask each member to search the depths of their souls for truth to communicate on stage? It’s all these things and many more.

The summer school models an approach to Christian discipleship that is attempted week in week out across the country in small groups, cell groups, house groups, etc. Riding Lights Summer School, however, is unashamed to ask deep and important questions of the participants; why? There is an inherent pressure to produce a performance at the end of a week and so time passes quickly and every moment in rehearsal counts. Therefore, participants, if they are to fully engage with a performance must offer their whole selves in order to communicate truths on stage.

I had an interesting conversation with designer Sean Cavanagh, who has worked with Riding Lights for many years. He suggested that our culture is so interested in making everyone feel like they need to express themselves that people don’t give much thought to what they are expressing or even to who they are that they are expressing. Those involved in encouraging self expression may believe that everyone knows themselves but actually self knowledge should not be assumed. What this problem leads to is people believing they are expressing themselves when in fact they are merely copying someone else in the hope that they will become what they express.

Walking around the Summer School and watching people interacting with each other I saw a lot of people desperate to express themselves but unsure as to who they actually are. Summer School encourages these people to discover who they really are because the company and those working on the courses are not interested in superficiality, they actively seek truth and real people. Your story will not be shared unless it’s truthful and honest.

In the middle of the week, the young people hold a service for the wider community. There is always a slot for testimonies and this year there were three. Two of them were honest and real and powerful and one was not and you could tell which ones meant something by the impact they had on the congregation. I felt a real sense of the possibility for churches to be this honest and frank with each other; the need for unashamedly seeking truthful engagement rather than allowing people to wear the masks for long periods of time. Church should be a place where people are almost forced to take off their masks and superficialities and be released to be ‘themselves’. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it’s risky but while churches allow people the time and space to feel accepted with the masks on the more painful it will be to persuade them to take them off.

All the testimonies of people feeling they belong with Riding Lights Summer School continue on to tell of the difficulty of going back to the community where they came from having experienced the naked, raw honesty of Riding Lights Summer School. They return and soon forget the freedom and liberation felt and return to the masks that they put down. the summer school becomes a yearly chance to allow the air to get to the wounds only to return to covering it up until the next year. How could Riding Lights continue this ministry into the other 51 weeks of the year?

I’m beginning to feel that Riding Lights is an important tool for modelling church (see Riding Lights Theatre Church post). The network that they have across the country and beyond is a community of people who are passionate about telling truthful, risky and powerful stories; they are a group of people who are not satisfied with expected and safe. I know that Riding Lights Theatre Company feel they must appease the members but I think  they can be honest and bold at saying “We do not compromise the truth.”

There are people out there who are not members of Riding Lights but who have this same passion. It would be great to show them the power of honest and raw storytelling and invite them to participate in the work. The summer school is a place where Riding Lights concentrates on what it does best, drawing out truthful stories from all people and shows them their true reflection. This work is important for everyone.

The company is asking “How do we involve the members more?” I say “Do what you do best… invite them to tell stories, honest and real, to share themselves with others, unmasked and painfully raw.”, “How do we do this?”, “To ask, unashamedly direct, for people to do it. To say to each member “We want your story? Who are you? How does your story fit with ours and God’s?””

My placement this year will help me to see the power of discovering where our personal stories fit into something bigger releases and liberates people and that they are encouraged to step into reality and ask big questions of themselves. This, I hope, will feed into the powerful ministry of Riding Lights.

Their work is essential for the Kingdom of God and to consider this wealth of experience and gifting and passion to fade away is unthinkable. If the company stops I will only reinvent the wheel in the future!