My journey  0

I want to be a grace guerilla
no longer a chameleon of karma
the time has come to stand out from the crowd.
I want to give forgiveness a fighting chance of freeing me
I want to live in love
and live it out loud.

(from Humanifesto by Gerard Kelly.1 The full poem is available here)

 

For several years I have been on a journey of exploration and discovery. It has been a journey from a settled and stable life of faith within a traditional, mainstream Christian denomination towards a less settled and stable, yet more personal and profound, life of discipleship.

annapurna-242482_640This pilgrimage has been prompted by a growing sense that the forms and expressions of faith that I had grown up with no longer ‘fit’ with the world in which I am living. It is widely recognised that our culture is undergoing a fundamental change. This has been described as a shift from modernity to postmodernity and from Christendom to post-Christendom.

It is not just society that has been changing. I have been changing with it and I now resonate with many aspects of postmodernism. I am uncomfortable when people claim to know absolute truth and with the apparent abuse of power that often accompanies this claim. Truth, it seems, is much more personal and profound than these people claim. I am also uncomfortable with attempts to impose certain patterns of belief or behaviour on others. I feel that people should have freedom to choose what to believe and how to behave. I am uncomfortable when churches appear to be focussed on regaining their own status at the heart of society. It feels more appropriate that the church should be working at the margins. These are confusing feelings, seemingly at odds with key aspects of the faith I was once comfortable with.

As I have changed over time and come to resonate with many aspects of the emerging culture I have been forced on this journey. The best metaphor I have found to describe the journey has been the Old Testament experience of exile.2 I have gone through, or perhaps continue to go through, the three stages of the exile experience. The first stage is shock and denial, when it seemed inconceivable that the expression of faith that I had inherited could be questioned or be in any way inadequate in the face of a changing world. The second stage is anger and depression, which I personally experienced most as minister of a congregation. I was working hard, doing my best and trying to be faithful, as were many other people, yet I was ‘feeling a hunger and readiness for something more, something beyond what we have thought before about ourselves and our programs’.3 The third stage is acceptance and integration, in which I have accepted that I must explore what discipleship means and how it is to be lived out in a new way.

It was during the period of the Old Testament exile that the synagogue emerged within the Jewish faith. This was a radically new expression of faith developed by people in a new cultural context. Yet, it was not a denial of what had gone before, and even though it was radically different there was also real continuity. It feels that I, and the many others who are on a similar journey, face a similar task of forging an appropriate expression of faith for our time.

This is a risky and confusing journey. It is a personal journey, yet it is a journey that must be undertaken with others. It is a journey which requires both practical expression and thoughtful reflection. I am very grateful for all the companions on this journey who are exploring creative practical expressions of faith. I have found that writing helps me to reflect and to think, which is why I have started this blog. But thoughtful reflection is also best done in community where others can correct, comment and expand on ideas. So it is my hope that this blog generates comments and discussion, and in some way is a help to us in our journey.

 

1G. Kelly, Spoken Worship: Living Words for Personal and Public Prayer (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009).

2See Peter McDowell, At Home in Exile: The Journey Toward A New Paradigm (Belfast: Contemporary Christianity, 2012). Available at http://www.contemporarychristianity.net/website/product/at-home-in-exile-the-journey-toward-a-new-paradigm-e-book-version/

3George Hunsberger, ‘The Changing Face of Ministry: Christian Leadership for the Twenty-First Century’, A Theological Journal of Western Theological Seminary 44, no. 3 (Spring 1991): 224–45.

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