Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Church and the starfish and the spider

Cut off the leg of a spider and the leg dies. Cut off it's head and the whole spider dies. Starfish are different. You chop one leg off, the leg scuttles off and becomes another starfish. Organisations tend to be either centralised like spiders or decentralised like starfish. So which is the church? 

I've just re-read 'The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations' by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. I cannot remember where I first heard of this book, but it intrigued me the first time and re-reading it made me think deeper.

The authors compare and contrast centralised (spider) organisations like the US government and record companies with decentralised (starfish) organisations like the Apache tribe and Kazaa. 

In a battle between a centralised organisation and a decentralised one, history shows us that the decentralised one will always win. In fact, historically, attacking a decentralised one makes it stronger. Which is why killing Osama bin Laden was not the answer to stopping terrorism from al Qaeda. The 'war on terror' was doomed to failure from the day it started.

The attributes of a centralised/spider organisation are characterised by having a person in charge, some sort of headquarters, a clear division of roles, with some or all people funded by the organisation. An attack on headquarters or even a single unit can or will significantly impact the organisation.

A decentralised/starfish organisation is structured differently. A starfish has five legs, and the authors contend that decentralised organisations have five attributes:  The first is what they call, autonomous 'circles' -- with the circles also being leaderless. The members are part of a community with a core ideology spelt out by one or more catalysts. They are part of one or more pre-existing networks with one or more champions nudging it along. In a sense they are pure chaos flowing in a common direction.

The first part of their definition is broadly similar to Katzenbach and Smith's description of teams in their book 'Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High Performance Organisation'. The concept of leaderless structure might seem counter-intuitive but if the group has a high sense of ideology or faith then observably they outperform 'working groups' which have individual accountability every time.

Re-reading the book I was immediately struck by how the early church was appeared to be a decentralised/starfish type organisation. It was one of the reasons why it was unstoppable against the might of the Roman Empire. But isn't there a person in charge? Isn't Jesus the 'boss'?

It is true that Jesus is head of the church, but in a completely different way from the human head of an organization. God is accessible to all people everywhere simultaneously. Attacking or destroying one circle in the church by throwing them to the lions may eliminate one circle, but the organisation continued and grew stronger. Killing a catalyst or champion like St Paul will not impact the overall organization as did, for instance, the death of Hitler to the Third Reich.

The authors used the example of the ongoing battle between the Apache native Americans and the US government, which continued into the first quarter of the 20th century, as an example of how strong a leaderless/decentralised organisation can be. The question they then asked was how the US beat the Apache. They answer is simple and somewhat terrifying: They empowered and personally benefited the champions/catalysts in the Apache tribal groups. Then infighting resulted in loss of interest in anything other than self-interest.

Why it's concerning is that is reminiscent of what happened to the church. From my reading the early church elders were catalysts and champions rather than leaders. By that I mean they encouraged rather than dictated what should happen. When Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD and property taken from Christians returned it was the start of institutionalising Christianity. 

Two thousand years later and we have a whole hierarchy structure in different confessions and denominations, frequently resembling the anatomy of a large multi-national conglomerate. Pastors have changed from gifts or a 'living' to a salary. Leaders speak for the whole body. Negative publicity affects the whole church. Even the 'circles' (churches or fellowship groups) tend to be hierarchical with a leadership, a regular location and time and an agenda.

In a discussion with Rick Dugan, a friend who pastors a church in Cyprus, he said:
Rick Dugan
Every expression of church is institutionalized. Once we have a meeting place, a meeting time, a leader, and some type of structure we have an institution. The scale of institution may differ, but the essence is still the same.
We end up designing our corporate [church] life primarily to convince people to come. This makes it very, very difficult for a local congregation to be disciplined in doing those things that produce mature, fruitful followers of Jesus. Attracting and discipling are often competing agendas.

My contention is that this is because the church has changed from starfish to spider, from decentralised to hierarchical. 

But I'm seeing change, more change than before in my lifetime and possible more than for many centuries. Almost every month I meet a new person who is no longer a regular attender at a hierarchical or structured church but is interacting with other followers of Jesus in an organic or relational way. One of them I met recently used to be a pastor himself.

Does this mean they have rejected the remainder of the church as the rest of the church seems to think? In my experience this is completely the opposite. They are comfortably in fellowship with structural church, but are seeking fresh expressions of the Body of Christ in an informal rather than formal way. They are using church as a verb rather than a noun. Where do you go to church? Wayne Jacobsen is one of the catalysts in what I'm calling the fresh expressions movement and answers that question:
Wayne & Sara Jacobsen
I have never liked this question, even when I was able to answer it with a specific organization. I know what it means culturally, but it is based on a false premise--that church is something you can go to as in a specific event, location or organized group. I think Jesus looks at the church quite differently. He didn't talk about it as a place to go to, but a way of living in relationship to him and to other followers of his.

Asking me where I go to church is like asking me where I go to Jacobsen. How do I answer that? I am a Jacobsen and where I go a Jacobsen is. 'Church' is that kind of word. It doesn't identify a location or an institution. It describes a people and how they relate to each other. If we lose sight of that, our understanding of the church will be distorted and we'll miss out on much of its joy. [
Why I Don't Go To Church Anymore!]

I was in Beirut last week and was churching with a couple of other followers of Jesus - sharing, learning and encouraging each of us in our journey of faith. There was no leader, no structure, no set time or place. It was organic, relational and family.

Almost continually I am finding the Lord bringing more and more relationships together and some becoming deeper and deeper based not upon what we do together on a Sunday or any other specific time during the week, but upon the depth and the freshness of this expression of the Body of Christ.

Does this mean the rest of the church is wrong and needs to change? Some sort of 'house church'? I would say 'No', you are totally misunderstanding me.

Wayne Jacobsen again:
I think following a model for 'church' is a step away from being the church. If we're going in relationship to God and looking for ways to share that with others, it is not so difficult a thing to do. And God has an infinite variety of ways to do it among his people. I've seen so many different ways for people to share God's life together, that trying to force it into a one-size-fits-all package really is impossible. [House Church]

These fresh expressions are working themselves out in so many varied and disparate ways. In the West, in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia... all over the world we're seeing autonomous new expressions of the church grow up.

Some people are worried about the theology of these new 'circles' and clusters of circles. Rightly so. I have seen some very syncretistic groups. However, Bishop Alan Wilson also reviewed the book and warns us:
Alan Wilson
There's a hilarious tale in the book about some beefy Aussies who charged off down the beach in their tiny speedos to go deal with the starfish on the reef. When they got the machetes out they had 300 starfish, and by the end of the day they had 3,000. That's the power of starfish, and to tap it you have to be a radically decentralised network, but strongly held.

So there are other groups charging round trying to cut off these syncretistic groups. Which is proving about as ineffective as the war on terror. My concern when I hear about many of these activities it that they appear to believe God is dead. By that I mean, since God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, doesn't He have the capability of doing something about it if it's really a problem?

In their charging around attempting to chop off limbs that are not really part of the Body of Christ they appear to also chop off some of those that are. And I'm not too worried about that either since in true starfish fashion I'm seeing them regrow and the overall body strengthened. The fear that I do have is for the spider parts of the body of Christ which don't have that resilience.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hyper-Connectivity and Future Identities

The last decade has seen the transition from connectivity to hyper-connectivity with respect to the Internet. Now our phones and other mobile devices allow us to be permanently connected. They bleep when a new email comes in, an ebay item we're following changes status, when Facebook or Twitter updates or when someone connects via LinkedIn. We turn them off when we fly... nor not if you are taking a flight with Internet access. My wife was thankful when the latest version of iOS allowed me to turn off alerts overnight!

We were connected to the Internet very early on in it's development and brought our kids up to not reveal personal data online. So although my name is shown on my account in Facebook, my 27 year old son still uses an alias.

We talk about online identity, but the change to online identity is only the last step in an evolving journey of identity over centuries. I think this can be seen in four basic strides. I believe we are in transition right now from the third (Authentic) to the fourth (Synthetic).

Pragmatic => Romantic => Authentic => Synthetic

Online and offline identity are linked. Way, way back many centuries ago, our identity was linked to our trade or profession. These often evolved into our surnames in the UK: Butcher, Smith, Wright or Taylor being examples of this:
...a (more) relevant starting point is Sennett (1977). He argued that in more ancient times identity is almost entirely ascribed. A person was born to a class, occupation and role. If a butcher went on the street inappropriately dressed for that role, he should be publically reprimanded. This changed with the enlightenment and new genres such as theatre. When people appreciated that a person could act out identity as a theatrical performance, the contrast was with an identity assumed to be authentic or real. A trajectory leads from this all the way to a 1960’s search for a purely personal identity found deep within. Online possibilities exacerbate this fear that we are losing real or authentic identity.[1]
Thus the pragmatic identity ascribed by trade, profession or position in society evolved into the romantic identity played out as an actor. People could mimimic an identity by dressing or behaving as they wished. This showed to in a fluidity of western culture where transition between classes and roles was acceptable.
Media today is all about authenticity -- and largely dominated by participatory media and consumers, who see right through advertising and marketing hyperbole and shut it out. Participating in these media is the only way to gain a "true" understanding of how and which work, and which don’t. Clients are demanding that their PR counsel and support teams are in the conversation, and that they themselves use the media where their content is being created and distributed.
Take, for example, the use of social media for online business networking or lead generation. As the saying goes, 'it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks'. The old dog in this instance -- baby boomers -- use traditional, in-person offline meetings as their primary source of building their business networks, while the younger generations are building their own brands and businesses more quickly, and reaching a much wider audience by leveraging new digital tools like LinkedIn and Twitter to run full-on campaigns.[2]

The son of of a friend of ours is a teenager with his own business buying and selling pallets. His clients find him via the Internet. You'd never guess his age from his telephone etiquette with clients. While being driven by his mum when a business call comes in he tells everyone in the car to be quiet and changes voice to his 'business voice'. He has synthesised an entity without anyone having any idea of the reality. Of course the pallets are very real!

Future identity? Yes, future identity.

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The everlasting journey...

The journey without end...

We started the journey because of the very nature of our Father; He loves to create
[1] and and He loves to love[2]. So I AM became we are[3]. 

An early traveller on the journey became a friend of our Father[4] and was promised a blessing in order that he too might be a blessing to others[5]. However, some people are more interested in being blessed than being a blessing. This is certainly not the destination.

During the journey some of us were introduced to the Teacher[6] and decided to follow Him[7]. Being blessed[8] and being a blessing is part of following the Teacher[9]. In following we became transformed into apprentices[10], learning from Him and being trained in His ways[11]. This is not the destination.

Later on the journey we will again be transformed[12]. Our aged, worn out shells will be discarded, but we will continue on the journey. This will still not be the destination.

Further on the journey our Father will look at what direction we have been travelling[13]. Are we headed towards receiving blessings or giving blessings[14]? For those who are merely interested in receiving their journey is over and they are no more[15]. But for the others this is not the destination.

Continuing on the journey our Father throws a party so we can enjoy time with Him[16]. Some think this is the destination. But the journey goes on forever[17]; we are travelling an eternal and enjoyable journey with our loving Father.

On Facebook there has been discussion about neo-Reformed, Arminian, Prosperity and various other Gospels... about whether Hell really exists or not... and the whole debate about who is 'saved' or who is 'in' and who is 'out'. This seemed to me to be missing the point. There is no destination.

So I wrote this short summary of the way I see Scripture talking about our lives. It's not about different ways to God. There is only one way, but focussing on the destination seems to be not what God is calling us to!

I was discussing this in the car with a couple of friends the other day: If you think about tenses, past, present and future, our relationship or walk with God is not like that, it is a sort of present continuous based also on past. We see time as a linear progression. God doesn't. It's like trying to describe a sphere to someone who only understands two dimensions. To them a sphere is a dot that becomes a circle that becomes a dot as it passes through the two dimensions. God sees and lives outside and inside time simultaneously. We see time as past, present and future. He sees it as a whole.

Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, September 16, 2013

Who would Jesus bomb?

For some years young people have been wearing bracelets with the letters WWJD printed, embroidered or otherwise etched. It stands for 'What would Jesus do?' and the aim was to encourage them to think before acting, and then to do so in the way Jesus would.

Syria is a really complex situation. Almost a conundrum. What would Jesus do?
I remember 16 years ago visiting the central mosque in Damascus. Having taken our shoes off as we entered the guide showed us the font. The font exists because prior to being a mosque it was a Christian church.

The tallest minaret is the Minaret of Jesus. Islamic belief holds that Jesus will descend from heaven before the Day of Judgement as part of the final battle with the Antichrist.. According to local tradition, he will reach earth via the Minaret of Jesus, hence its name.

One wonders what will Jesus do.
We were also shown the shrine. It was a shrine to Saint George, 'You know Saint George, in the Bible,' our guide explained, 'who killed a dragon.'

For those that know the mosque, you'll realise the shrine is actually to John the Baptist, not Saint George! I find that sort of inaccuracy interesting. Is it a lie, is it incompetence?

What would Jesus do?

It was an interesting tour, seeing the call to prayer sung around a microphone and then amplified to rather tinny speakers at the top of the minaret. We stayed and watched the Muslims prostrating themselves in prayer, before leaving and walking through the central souk and visiting 'Straight Street' where Saint Paul was brought after his blinding experience on the road.

The episode is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles:
He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
I'm sure Straight Street doesn't look anything like it did when Saint Paul was led there.

I remember eight years ago, taking a two day mini-cruise with my wife and friends to Syria where we docked at Latakia, which is the centre of the wine growing district of Syria. Yes, you did read that right - although Syria is nominally a Muslim country they do grow grapes and make pretty fair wine from them.

Syria has a very mixed population - there is simultaneously both a religious and ethnic split. Religiously the largest group is Sunni Muslim (60%) and then Alawites (12%) and Christians (10%) and a mixture of other religious groups make up the remainder. President Bashar al-Assad's family is Alawite and Alawites dominate the government and hold key military positions. And that is nominally the start of the conflict, rule by a minority over the majority.

When thinking about the problems and pondering What would Jesus do? a friend of mine posted on Facebook a provocative question Who would Jesus bomb? (You can read some interesting background stuff on Carl Medearis' blog) He's American, and obviously they are one of the protagonists in what has brought the simmering conflict to the forefront of everyone's news. This also coincided with the remembrance of the September 11 attacks, which precipitated George Bush's War on Terror, technically ended by Barack Obama.

At this stage usually figures get banded about: 3,000 killed on 11 September 2001. Also in 2001 a further 15,980 Americans were murdered… by other Americans, of which more than 11,000 were killed with guns. Then it goes on 2,500,000 killed in wars justified by the attack, 110,000 killed in Syria uprising... so we're back to Syria again... and 1,500 killed in Syria by chemical weapons. Suddenly Syria is in the news, even though it's less than half the number killed on 11 September 2001 when two planes hit the World Trade Center.

What would Jesus do? Does Jesus count the numbers of dead and weigh up depending on how many die? When He wept over Jerusalem was He counting the numbers?
...the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:43-44)
What would His response be? Would He summon up the heavenly F111s and bomb the attackers? Who would Jesus bomb?

Jesus won the battle with Satan not by power, not by might, but by love. We tend to forget that. And that is what Satan wants us to do. Because in a power conflict, we're back in his game not our Father's.

My final thought comes again from Jesus. His words...
He opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-48)

This post is part of a synchroblog (syncronised blog) in which various people write about the same general theme from different points of view, and thus help one to see the bigger picture. Follow the links below to see the other posts. More links may be added later, as more people add their contributions. If you are participating in the synchroblog, please copy the links below and paste them to the end of our own post.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Corporate Worship

'Worship' maybe one of the most contentious and divisive aspects of Christianity. From the Greek Orthodox worship which has low participation from the worshipers through a structured 'hymn-sandwich' through a 'said service' with no music at all to the jamboree of music from the Charismatics.

So let's start with a definition...
Definition of worship from the Oxford English Dictionary:


  • 1 [mass noun] the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity:worship of the Mother Goddessancestor worship
  • religious rites or ceremonies, constituting a formal expression of reverence for a deity:the church was opened for public worship
  • great admiration or devotion shown towards a person or principle:the worship of celebrity and wealth
  • archaic honour given to someone in recognition of their merit.
  • 2 [as title] (His/Your Worship) chiefly British used in addressing or referring to an important or high-ranking person, especially a magistrate or mayor:we were soon joined by His Worship the Mayor

verb worships, worshippingworshippedUS also worshipsworshipingworshiped) [with object]
    show reverence and adoration for (a deity):

the Maya built jungle pyramids to worship their gods

  • [no object] take part in a religious ceremony:the family worshipped at Trinity Church
  • feel great admiration or devotion for:she adores her sons and they worship her
  • Personal and Corporate Worship

    Demonstrably there are two uses of the word, firstly in some sort of corporate or collective sense and secondly in an individual or private sense. Whereas many aspects of our lives, indeed possibly all of our lives, can be defined as worship in the sense of expressing great admiration or devotion towards God, it is the sense of a formal expression of reverence towards a deity that often causes the wide differences of practice.

    Music styles

    Frequently at the core to this difference is music, and especially corporate singing. Indeed for many from the Evangelical tradition the word 'worship' has become a synonym  for singing. This is all well and good if you either enjoy singing or find that singing helps you to express reverence and adoration for God. If not, then you will struggle.

    Music itself is something that can divide: From classical to techno-beat the gulf is as wide as the ocean. Take Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition'; as a piano duet it left me cold, as an orchestral piece I was totally turned off, but when the progressive rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer turned it into album I found it captivating, though the other rock version by Tangerine Dream less so. So when someone suggests that maybe I would 'happily sit and listen to a rendition of Handel's Messiah', I'm afraid nothing could be further from the truth.

    Having said that, years ago as a sound editor for the BBC I spent the morning editing the Easter Day service for Radio Four and the afternoon a classical recital for Radio Three. The music for the Easter Day service was very poor, and had it not been a programme for the Religious Programmes Department it would have been rejected. I found myself cringing and feeling embarrassed to admit to being a Christian throughout the morning. Conversely, although I am not a fan of classical music, and can admit to falling asleep in an Ashkenazy recital I was recording; something in the music of the afternoon allowed me to worship our Father.

    Worship and Creativity

    For me, worship, creativity and excellence are inextricably linked: A piece of art, be it music, painting or cinematography that is not striving for excellence is making a statement to God that He doesn't matter. When God created the world, He stood back and looked at His handiwork and said 'It's good'. The Radio Four service was not good, the Radio Three recital was. One helped me to worship, the other hindered.

    But right now I am thinking particularly about corporate or collective worship. And here I have a problem. I struggle in so many gatherings of followers of Jesus that singing takes an undue place in the meeting. There is only one reference in Scripture to Jesus singing... though of course Scripture doesn't record every activity of our Lord but it does record singing and music taking a lot of time in both the Old and New Testaments.

    Music certainly was a way that some people used to convey praise to God. I'm sure that God enjoys some of it, yet other parts I am not so sure. As Adrian Plass put it humorously, some of the songs that people claim to have 'received from the Lord' he feels maybe He was glad to get rid of them! We don't go into the congregation and grab random people to play the piano or organ or whatever, yet everyone is expected to sing even if they cannot.

    Worship and Scripture

    But the question is, in the recorded times of singing and music in Scripture, were all singing or playing musical instruments, or were many just being there, more like Orthodox worship? We cannot tell. Much of Scripture is descriptive and some of the prescriptive are difficult. Take 1 Corinthians 14: 26-40, a passage that is prescriptive about a gathering of believers.

    26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

    29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. 

    34 Women[f] should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.[g] 

    36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.[h] 

    39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

    Everybody brings something to the gathering, music, instruction, revelations, tongues, prophecies... indeed it says we can all prophesy in turn if we like. I can just imagine how long a church service for 3,000 members would take if each person prophesied! Mostly the early churches met in houses and were small gatherings. Reading Scripture I see again and again that the context is a meal together. Often, it seems to me, we have dropped the meal and kept the liturgy. Of course, liturgy can be uplifting and worshipful as can be singing. But not necessarily for everyone.

    God is 'other' or Man in the image of God?

    What it seems to me is that the there are two different ways of looking at gatherings: One is where we are so 'other' than God the Almighty and perfect that we exist to merely glorify and 'worship' Him. This fits closely with the definition of corporate worship being 'religious rites or ceremonies, constituting a formal expression of reverence for a deity'.

    And some people really love singing to God. Years ago I was on the leadership team of the CYFA Arts Workshop and we did a lot of teaching on the meaning and place of worship in the arts. Worship = expressing the worth-ship of God we taught. One year a group of the young people came and said they were enjoying themselves, but they wanted to worship... we found out they meant they wanted to sing. For some people singing is a critical component of corporate worship. And I do not deny that this is a sizable percentage of the body of Christ. But not all.

    The other way of looking at the gathering is that we are created in His image, we are of His DNA if you like, so creativity is part of our core being and like our Father we use our creativity to enjoy Him. In the second case, being unique, our creativity will overlap with others, but by necessity our worship will be also very different. I have a friend who draws or paints during the Sunday service. When I was expressing difficulty with singing in worship my sister-in-law put it this way:
    Just because there's singing going on in worship doesn't mean you have to sing too. I often sit down and pray silently whilst listening to the music going on around me, as do others in our church. Some people there are also beginning to explore art (as in painting etc) in worship too.

    Certainly there have been times when I would concur with her, there are times when I have been lifted up to the Lord when people are singing. But this is not technically worship. Equally often I have got alienated by the singing, not merely because I cannot sing, but because the words are trite or more often than not because the sound is unpleasant, like the Easter Day service I mentioned.

    Excellence in Worship

    So where does this lead us? I heartily endorse people using music and singing to worship the Lord. A small part of it I might even find uplifting myself... though I have never been to a worship service in the style of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

    Bob Kauflin and CJ Mahaney were running down excellence as something to be almost despised at the Worship God 09 conference. They were contrasting performance with worship. But in doing so I think they are confusing two attitudes where are not mutually exclusive. I believe they were totally wrong in how they were expressing it and have completely missed the understanding that we are created in the image of God... who is a creative God and who does things well. We need to encourage all forms of creativity in worship. We need to follow the imparted DNA from our Father and strive for excellence. I'm afraid I cannot see any Scriptural evidence for sloppy worship.

    Some questions

    When I was discussing this on Facebook, a friend of mine asked:
    However...although we get to experience the joy of creativity WITH God, in whose image we are made, we are NOT God and are incapable of doing ANYTHING perfectly, and even what we consider our best may not actually even be the best we are capable of. So how does one draw the line? How good at something does someone have to be in order for what they are doing to be acceptable? To God and to other believers? Is someone whose best is really pretty bad to be denied the joy of creatively worshiping together with others?

    These are really good questions. I don't have all the answers. Indeed these are the questions that stress me. At one church we attended there was a tambourine player who insisted on sitting in one of the front few pews. She played her tambourine vigorously and... out of time. This was so disturbing to the pianist he couldn't play in time when she was hitting it and then the whole congregation were out of time. Someone whose best is really pretty bad can totally inhibit worship for others. What is the answer? I don't know.

    Some people answer this by saying God as our Heavenly Father looks on us like we look on our children. At 3 years old, when they do a painting or perform a song we might be thrilled that they had reached that level rather than critisising them for not being Michael Angelo or Luciano Pavarotti. Partly I think it is related to discernment, almost like the way Paul talks at the beginning of the third chapter of 1 Corinthians.

    Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.  2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

    As followers of the Messiah, we need to grow up and learn to use the gifts He has given us. That means knowing our gifts and knowing our lack of gifts. We can still enjoy attributes and even use those attributes we are not gifted in to worship God, as in a hobby. But we shouldn't mandate others have to use them; not everyone can sing!

    And what about the Fresh Expressions of church that don't have 'corporate worship' at all? They meet and fellowship together, share their lives together, study the Scriptures together... but don't sing. Indeed our small community of believers here in Cyprus feels close to a 'fresh expression' of the body of Christ.

    And what about the 'boiler rooms' - 24 hour places of prayer where one, two or small groups pray throughout the day and are linked together in a network relationship rather than corporate? I long for and wish there were one of these in Larnaca.

    Where I am on my journey

    For me, lying on the deck of a yacht in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea after dark and looking up in wonder at the stars leads me to worship. The inky blackness displaying the constellations and galaxies. I feel that here even the rocks and stones light years away from us are crying out in praise and worship of the Lord. What an amazing creative God we have who made us and all the heavens... and He longs for a relationship with each and every one of us.

    A few years ago I was TV director for a cantata on the life of Esther which is now broadcast almost every year in Cyprus as part of their Religious Programming for Easter. If I remember correctly it took about 3 weeks editing the pictures and another three weeks doing the audio. This was expressing the worth-ship of our God. Making films that express the love of our Father for us is definitely another way I find to worship.

    However, progressively over the years I have found congregational 'worship' to be alienating. I love small gatherings of believers. I enjoy fellowship with many followers of Jesus in many different places. Over the past few years I feel I have been learning more and more about the Lord and seeking Him in through the Scriptures more than in the past. I must admit to being drawn to the 'fresh expressions' and to the 'boiler rooms' as expressions of church. But they are not corporate expressions of worship. And that is where I struggle.

    Friday, September 21, 2012

    I am me or we are us

    There is a key question to which we need to address ourselves. In our 'worldview' do we think of ourselves more in terms of 'I am me' or more in terms of 'we are us'. This core difference affects everything we look at. I believe we see a definite east/west split on this. Starting with the USA, which is 'I am me' and heading eastwards there is an observable shift towards 'we are us'. Easterners are more community or tribal or corporate orientated, whereas westerners are more individualistic.

    The USA has a highly developed 'every person for themselves' culture, which they love and cherish. Illustrative of the change moving eastwards is the involvement in the shop floor of the directors of Ikea. 
    As we move to Europe, societies tend to believe they have a responsibility towards their communities for health care and so community health care (which Americans tend to call 'socialized medicine') is common. Further eastwards to the Middle East and we begin to see tribal values come to a head. Even in urban Jordan, most Jordanians will know to which tribe they belong and proudly tell you about it. Traveling right out eastwards to Japan, the corporate rules almost exclusively, with companies taking the place of communities. Japanese live and die attached to the company.

    Globalization has shrunk the world so we see on our computer or TV screens what is happening in other parts of the world in real time. However, it has not removed the cultural differences between the 'I am me' and the 'we are us'. Understanding what we see is still coloured by our worldview.

    There is a Chinese curse 'may you live in interesting times'. My lifetime has certainly been interesting. The latest interesting phenomena being what is called the 'Arab Spring'. In a CNN article an American Arab writes how Arab Spring nations don't yet grasp freedom of dissentIn that article the author states:

    It is hard for younger Arabs not born into freedom to understand how individual liberty works in real life.

    Note the author is talking about individual liberty, whereas for many Arabs the Arab Spring was about corporate freedom. Hence the preceding paragraph:

    Little wonder, then, that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has called for the prosecution by the U.S government of the filmmakers, and Egypt's top cleric, Mufti Ali Goma, has called on the United Nations to forbid denigration of faiths. Morsy studied in the United States and Ali Goma regularly visits the West on the interfaith circuit, yet both men don't yet grasp that religious freedom and the freedom of expression are inextricably linked in America.

    The Egyptians are thinking in terms of 'we' and the author, although himself of Middle Eastern origin, thinks in terms of 'I'. 
    Mostly westerners and many Europeans don't get the we/us. Our models of corporate bodies are very non-Eastern and often illustrate individualism rather than community. 

    I was the only non-union member of the Audio Unit for the BBC at one stage. It's kind of interesting to be the only member of a unit working when all the rest are on strike! Was I acting 'I' and them 'we'? No, I don't think so, theirs was not a concern for the corporate we, but a concern for the multiple I. When we think 'we', we are still not understanding true community.

    As followers of Jesus, part of the corporate body of Christ, how does this work for us? The early believers 'held everything in common'. For many brought up in the 20th and 21st century this smacks of communism and for some even turns the stomach. Yet it was taken seriously in the early church.

    There is the story in Scripture of the couple that tried to hide the truth about the sale price of a piece of land from the apostles and were struck dead for it. I've not heard that happening in too many churches recently!

    Middle Easterners can have a lot to teach us, from the West, about 'we'. They also have a lot to learn about freedom and responsibility. Many in the western church are totally coloured in their thinking by their experiences of corporate bodies like the unions. At the beginning the unions were struggling for freedom. In the UK the unions were started by followers of Jesus wanting to stand up for righteousness and justice. Because of the drift towards individualism it appears they have lost the community side of their identity and become beacons of self interest. 

    Freedom, whether individual or corporate, bears responsibility. The two Egyptians quoted were calling for that corporate responsibility. In giving us freedom, our Father, looks for responsibility. We often abuse it. We turn freedom into liberty. In a search for freedom from the person they saw as the oppressive dictator King of England, the US enshrined liberty as a core value in the Declaration of Independence. It has lived with that since. 

    We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    It might be interesting to note that the crafters of the Declaration of Independence did not cite Scripture, nor Christian values for these 'unalienable Rights' but that it was 'self-evident'. In other words, the argument put forward by the Founding Fathers was that it was logical to believe these are human rights and illogical to believe otherwise. It was not born out of a exegetical Bible study as Evangelicals might expect today. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, was somewhat anti-Christian, but pro-Jesus. For instance in a letter to Benjamin Rush he wrote:

    To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.

    When we confuse doctrines and teachings for the person Himself we confuse the very core of what being a follower of Jesus is about. He said 'By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another'. Loving one another is not something you can do independently or alone. It requires community. 

    Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. That is something we, who are followers of Jesus, can demonstrate to the world. Honouring one another above yourselves doesn't mean making films vilifying others, nor does it mean rallying against the films when they are made and killing people.

    I don't believe in independence, but in inter-dependence. I don't believe in liberty but freedom. That, I believe, is the Way of the Master.

    Saturday, September 8, 2012

    The short and long of it

    "Jesus was short on sermons, long on conversations; short on answers, long on questions; short on abstractions and propositions, long on stories and parables; short on telling you what to think, long on challenging you to think for yourself; short on condemning the irreligious, long on confronting the religious." - McLaren, _More Ready than you Realise_ 15