Tuesday, 7 July 2015

What do we do NOW? (Part 1 - Rediscovering Ordinary Time)

I'm grateful to my friend Richard Passmore for getting me blogging again. Not that he did so intentionally, but his own recent post has proved to be the final straw to break the camel's back - or perhaps the last drop of water to make the flood to break the dam, to use an image from my last post, back before Christmas last year.

So much has 'happened'. So much that has made me angry, and tongue-tied, and in need of the verbal equivalent of immodium, and paralysed, and frantic with activity, and immersed in books, and immersed with family, friends and neighbours, and so much more, and so much less. I have been particularly aware that a blog like this is as much a place to say the wrong thing, as to occasionally manage to say the right thing. And so, here, for quite a while, I have said nothing.

But I can't hold it in any longer. I need to 'write it out', which is partly to say I need to 'think it out' in my writing, and in the company of those who occasionally, kindly, read what I write and respond thoughtfully, generously and passionately. I want anything but to short-circuit the hard work of 'working through' the complex and difficult stuff (as sometimes the temptation to angry rants can do) - but to plunge into the 'working through' with friends, travelling-companions and co-conspirators.

One of the problems with my blog is that it's ended up being a curious mix of faith (theological and practical), community, politics - and probably more. I'm never quite sure who I'm writing for - apart from me. So when I'm starting again, where do I start?

There is no easy beginning. We have to start in the middle, with its anxieties and more-or-less-concealed 'back stories', assumptions and presumptions. We have to be willing to start from 'here', and to go on the journey, see where it leads. So if you're up for coming with me, here goes (again)...

Let's start with a bit of faith, and with Richard's blog post:

"what if there is something about the way we think about God ... [s]ome flaw in our thinking, our narrative, our approach that means G-d can only ever be glimpsed in passing… an approach so rooted it not only limits us to fleeting moments but by its outworking it means that very few others are able to catch these moments and so start to embrace the presence that is always all around us.
I wonder if we have too narrow a view of the sacraments. Is there space for a kind of sacramental missiology, where we can take an apophatic view of the sacraments? Where by not talking about or practicing the sacrament of communion but by sharing a meal within the context of an ongoing relationship where community is fostered, people are real, that g-d is fleshed and blooded amongst us, but by naming it and calling it out as community or special, it would slip through our fingers like sand"

I think Richard's put his finger on something important here. We could call it the idolatry of 'growth', or of the 'new' - or even just the need for something to be 'happening'.

The scales are beginning to fall from our eyes - perhaps - as we see the damage such idolatry has done, and continues to do, to our planet (as 'endless growth' means faster and faster degradation of the earth's resources), to our economy (and those who supposedly benefit from the imaginary 'trickle down' but in fact suffer most from the endless quest for 'economic growth'), and to ourselves (as we are imprisoned in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with what we have and interminable desire to consume more, ever beyond our reach). Pope Francis, in his radical, challenging encyclical Laudato Si, has expressed this as clearly and powerfully as anyone.

But it seems that in the Christian church, we find it hard to let go of our addiction to 'the new', to the idolatry of 'growth', the illusory miracle of constant 'happenings'. Strategies for growing, and growing younger, abound. 'Transformation' is what we are ever on the lookout for. And we find ourselves impatient with 'ordinary time' (liturgically, that long, green stretch of the year between Pentecost in May and All Saints in November where nothing special happens) - keen, desperate perhaps, to move on, to 'making a difference' again, welcoming in the newest of new births, anticipating fresh resurrections.

And if the 'we' sounds too broad, a little accusatory, let me be honest. I do. I am. I am impatient with 'ordinary time', a little scared of the idea of 'nothing happening'.

But I desperately need it. We desperately need it. And by 'we' I mean the good old Church of England, and much wider, the good-and-broken world. We need to wean ourselves off our addiction, which is not ultimately divine, but entangled in the dysfunctional, destructive desires of neoliberal capitalism. The system needs us to desire growth, newness, eternal youth, constant 'happenings'. And we resist it only by slowly, patiently, boringly learning to inhabit an alternative space where the rules of the system, the needs of the system, don't apply. A space where with boring regularity we attempt to be honest (with ourselves, with others) about our limitations, our flawedness and failures, our frustrated and frustrating desires. A space where we patiently build friendships that can withstand and enable such honesty with grace and humour. A space where we can grow older - not younger - and, ultimately, die. A space where we can begin to learn 'nothing happening' is really OK.

And that space, I suggest, turns out to be where we learn to dwell with the divine, in the everyday. It's where we slowly 'come to our senses' and wake up from the drugged stupour of the system that has permeated even the Christian church (we shouldn't be surprised, it's a history that goes right back to Constantine, if not further). And in that insight alone, I reckon Russell Brand is on to something very important. But that's for another post...

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