The Complex Christ – Introduction
This week I started a new book as I rode the métro to and from my AQM puppetry worshop. My wife bought the book a few months ago, but only when my friend Wilfred read it and told me how good it was did I decide to read it. The Complex Christ : Signs of Emergence in the Urban Church (by Kester Brewin) is EXCELLENT. So much so that I want to blog it for a while, with the intent of making you want to read it or giving you a few of the ideas that are within.
"This book is about change. More specifically, it is an attempt to resource the Chruch with some ideas about how change happens, and how these ideas might be applied to our faith. If Christianity is to remain ‘vital’, then it is, in the truest sense, ‘vital’ that we understand change:… p.1
"Unfortunately, the Church’s answer seems to have focused, perhaps unsurprisingly in our culture so obsessed with the self, on personal change as the route to its vitalization. We have been told by our leaders that ‘revival’ will come just as soon as our individual personal holiness ratings reach a certain saintly mark." "I believe that rather than focusing on our individual lives, we need to change our corporate practice." p.2
"’If the people who built the railroads in the US were actually interested in trasporting people, they would now own the airlines.’ But they don’t. The industial historians tell us that the reason for this is that once the railroad companies had completed the huge task of driving the lines across the USA, they lost their focus. Instead of continuing to pioneer ways of allowing free movement of people, they lost sight of the key end and focused internally on the one means to that end that they had made." p. 3
"There seems to be two schools of thought: changes is effected by either legislation or education…legislation is about the exercise of power; education is about the excercise of empowerment" p. 5-6
(A certain legislation) wa poor because it was a simplistic answer that did not properly consider the more complex issues involved, and this si is generally the problem with the legislative answer to transformation. It throws a wide, general net that ends up catching far more than it was designed to." p. 6
"This is the ‘complexity’ that this book is concerned with. It is not presented in contrast to simplicity rather it is about the rich and beautifully complex depths of things that can evolve when the simple fundamentals are held together and not ignored." p. 6
"It is my belief that in our cities most churches have reached a ‘local maximum’. The evolutionary processes that moulded them and nudged them certain ways towards their styles of worship and modes of being actually originated in the small country parishes of hundreds of years ago. they develped to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution and have continued to seek out higher ground, but in the new urban situation of the post-Christian West we are beginning to see that this animal is now unfit for its environment. Within the confines of the model that we have been using there is no more room for improvement; the Church cannot advance further along this branch. While individuals have been told that the answer to the question ‘How can we effect transformation?’ lies in personal holiness, the systemic faults that are actually the root of the problem have remained unchanged." p. 8-9
"…we all change and experience different phases in our beliefs, both as individuals and communities, as James Fowler has described in his book Stages of Faith: The Psycohology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Of the six he indentifies, the first two stages (INtuitive-Projective and Mythical-Literal) describe the rather childlike understanding that we may have of God. It is at Stage 3 (Synthetic-Conventional) hat many Christians and churches seem to have found a local maximum. p.9
"Fowler comments that ‘for man adults it becomes a permanent place of equilibrium’ where people fall in the trap of thinking that an further change is unnecessary." p.9
"Many Christians have moved beyond this ‘loyalist’ phase to Stage 4, to what Fowler calls the Individuative-Reflective stage, where thay begin to critique the beliefs, teachings and practices of the group. It is a loss of innocence, a realization that the truth is more complex than we thought." p.10
"Stage 4 is akin to the necessary movement down from the local maximum back into the valleys…It (the ‘dark night of the soul’)is a hard and narrow path that mystics from every creed agree is an essential part of the road to mature faith. We see it in the narrative of virtually every film: the innocent opening, the crisis that must be faced in the middle, before the ending where our protagonists are more knowing and wise." p.11
"Stage 5 (the Conjunctive stage) is a place of humility, with none of the brash arrogance of Stage 3; a place where the doubts and criticisms of the Stage 4 are not extinguished, but the self is able to hold things in tension and appreciate mystery" p.11
"Beyond stage 5, which Fowler doubts many reach before middle age, comes the ‘universalizing’ of Stage 6. this stage is how we might descibe the Gandhis, Mother Teresas, MLKings and Thomas Mertons."p.12
"One of my concerns…is that we are in danger of failing to progress through the stages; that we are stalling after the more childlike stages and being caught in a cultural and spiritual infantilism." p.12
"Fowler has paralleled the ascent up the more adult stages of faith with the movement of Western society from a pre-Enlightenment to a post-Enlightenment era." p.14
"The concern of this book is to try to show that not only is another model possible, but essential. While it is not right to force people from stage to stage, I do believe that it is vital that we strongly encourage our institutions to move on from the Stage 3 that many of them are caught at. Like Fowler, I believe that if we are to impact the post-Enlightenment cultureal consciousness then we must be modelling a conjunctive faith in a conjunctive church, for it is only in such a place that people from all stages can experience community and growth together." p.15
"Beyond the goal of showing that systemic change is vital, that a new, conjunctive way of seeing is needed, this book is also a heartfelt petition to the Church to see that the means must fit the ends: the route to change must not be throught the exercise of power, but through an exercise in empowerment. …I am going to call what Fowler calss the ‘Conjunctive Church’, the Emergent Church. It is easy to agree that we want to become conjunctive, but I believe that the science of emergence (chapter 3) offers us real hope in discovering how we might do it. The principle of emergence is all about bottom-up change." p.16
"If we have been guilty of not progressing through the stages mentioned above, it may be because the energy levels that leaders have been able to summon and focus, from the top down simply have been not high enough. It is my belief that the required energy will only be summoned when we work together, from the the bottom up, rather than leaving it all up to the solitary professionals, who end up burning out. But the journey towards this new way of channelling our energy is a daunting one, one that will require us to completely change the mode of organization that we have been using. Doubtless many will try to live in denial and claim that this energy state, this molecular arrangement, this local peak, is the place God wants us to stay, but the wisdom of history, of seers such as St. John of the Cross, of sociologists and even computer scientists all points the same way." p.17
"Can we measure up to this opportunity? Can we as the Church buck our own trends by working to change alongside other institutions, rather than 20 years behind them? I believe we can. I believe we have a unique opportunity to show how an institution that is widely acknowledged to be out of touch, is largely ignored by those it seeks to serve, and is completely detached from the blossoming interest in things spiritual, can face its fears, stop tinkering with the railroad, step down into the dark valleys and explore completely new ways of being." p.18
"We cannot know what the new Church is going to look like; if we could, we could construct it now. Our current consciousness cannot imagine itself into a new one. We must first descend into the valleys and let the evolutionary forces of our local urban situations bring a new mode of being to birth. What we are about to undertake may not make rational sense, and it is unlikely that we will be able to fully undertand what is happening, but it is vital to our painful revival. We see in the valleys there are clouds; as we move from these comfortable peaks and seek a transformed church we must trust ourselves to their unknowing." p.19
Some things to think about:
– The stages, like any linear ideology, are pretty simplistic, though helpful. Having read the book I appreciate his complexification into a cyclic phenomenon of climbing one peak so that we can climb back down and go up another, and in reading we must keep in mind that the stage theory can only be used as a tool for understanding states of mind, not as an absolute model for the “spiritual progression” of every individual.
– I think one difficulty comes when we start talking about “stage four.” I believe Curieux was started on the basis of this “stage.” One thing the book doesn’t go into and I think it was smart not to do so was: how far does the “self-reflectiveness” go? Curieux has often been challenged with respect to what it has kept and what it has let go; what do we believe is essential? This is a very nebulous area and the greatest difficulties arise when some are questioning some aspects and others are questioning other aspects. What is sacred? What must not be touched? These are difficult questions, and I don’t believe that any select group can decide for the whole, but that each must go through their own process of questioning, otherwise it simply builds another “club” centered around loyalty to a doctrine. Using the model of the 6 stages I believe that although people may have begun questioning certain aspects of their traditional heritage they may not be comfortabe with questioning the whole. I think that the model of climbing and descending mountains can happen many times within stage four. It is easy to stop at a certain point of questioning and remain there, believing that no more change is necessary.
– Brewin says that the only way to change effectively is to “let the evolutionary forces of our local urban situations bring a new mode of being to birth.” This is a tall order. There are few in the Christian world who are willing to explore the “local urban situation” to any full depth. In general we still set ourselves limits that cut us off from understanding our own similarities with the rest of the supposedly “non-christian” population, to an extent that we will never be able to relate with it. It requires an immense openness in order to go beyond the age-old view of the city as detrimental to human existance. I was highly interested in Brewin’s remark on the fact that God intends to build a “new Jerusalem” (i.e., a city) not a new eden.
It is surely an interested read that I will pursue. Thanx for the “lead on the read”.
To comment on your observations and the author’s comments, I understand universalizing, I am at a place where I understand God less and less as a unique priviledge of the Christian. I am beyond Christian even, I mean did Jesus say: “Start a religion and call it Christian”? There is one creator who is available to all, no matter who they call themselves or who they are. The language they use to comprehend this creator is irrelevant if the fundamentals, such as a worship in spirit are present in the person’s soul.
Don’t mean to be picky, Davyd, but do you think you could develop what you mean by “worship in spirit?” The words “worship” and “spirit” are so loaded…