Traditionally the church celebrates the feast of Epiphany today (6 January) - you might know today also as 12th night (or the time to take the decorations down!). The feast celebrates "the 'shining forth' or revelation of God to mankind in human form, in the person of Jesus..." and includes the birth of Jesus and the visit of the wise men/magi (and indeed all of Jesus childhood in the Eastern tradition)... it is a time to reflect and remember on how Godhead has/is/will shone/shine forth and how we as his church can be light this coming year as well as a good old feast (isn't it cool that these church calendar things weren't just remembered with a church service but a full on party!!)...
Epiphany of course has another meaning which is the feeling of a "sudden realisation or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something", not necessarily seeing the full picture but "new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper or numinous foundational frame of reference".
In bringing these 2 epiphanies together I have been reflecting on my own hope for me as part of the emerging church, the dream of how this little part of the church can shine forth and be light to the world as it is it is indwelt with the light and love of God. What follows is 6 pairs (or 12) reflections/hints/feelings/hunches of the marks of light that I/we hope to be about this year - and then please do let me know your thoughts/views/hopes.
Generosity and grace
I have the opportunity to model generosity, whether it is in expressing a generous orthodoxy or in being communities where people can belong before they believe. We have another year of being able to practice this discipline both on-line and in real life and it is one where I am always so grateful for people who model it to me.
I am feeling called to be generous particularly to two groups:
firstly the critics of the emerging church and indeed of the church as a whole (to whom we all look the same), I think there is much to learn from this critique and opportunities to open up dialogue rather than close down doors.
secondly, I feel called to be generous with is those other emerging/new church groups who I may not feel comfortable with, e.g. Godmen. In fact I see parallels in that I am now stepping into the shoes of my critics, maybe therefore I should reserve making pronouncements until I have talked with these people, attended their meetings, had an opportunity to see how they are growing/impacting the lives of the people who attend - in short everything that I would like to see critics of the emerging church do.
I am inspired by the generosity of God and the calling of his people not to hoard his blessings and gifts but to actively use them to help make this wold a better place.
Not least as we as christians have a powerful message of God's grace, his forgiveness/love rather than the experience of karma/pay back/revenge/getting what we deserve. In a world which insists in getting even before getting on, in laws that determine that there is equal reaction to every action we can be communities that model something radically, powerfully, world changingly good...
Participating in a community of the immediacy and the mediation of God
As I seek to follow Jesus I am not doing so alone. I am part of a local faith community which in turn is part of something bigger again the collective faith communities around the world and even more bigger in the commune of the saints, living and dead who have gone before. I therefore need to open and humble before God in doing new things in old ways or the old things in in new ways.
It is easy to write off the past history of the church and say that what is happening now is how it should be, or is getting back to how it was originally but to do so something that says more about me and what I like than a historical valid comment on Christ's church. Whilst the church is continually reformed and being reformed it means that there is always the temptation to polarise, to pick the now or sometime in the church past as the ideal. I think I need to move above that line and ask what is the will of God, how am I showing/expressing the ancient themes of mercy, love, grace, justice, humility, right living - am I prepared to join Christ as both king and as suffering servant, sharing in both his reflected glory but also is pain, hurt and dying to self in reaching out in love to our hurting world?
Missional and mere christianity
I know the emerging church talks a lot about being missional but I wonder if I still see it in terms of my living my life to my preference on the one hand so hanging out with people like me or trying to make my faith community the one of choice [cos we're so right?].
I guess the challenge I feel about being missional is to value faith communities and see it as not wanting to be a competitor - mission should not be my church wins at the expense of your church, but how as the body of Christ in an area can we work together. Recognition that between our different traditions we have more in common that divides us and that we have something to rally around, being hope, love, light, action in a world.
In that sense I think it is something communal and not just about something that is about who I like to hang out with. Yes being missional is cultural/contextual but it is something formed/breathed by the creator/spirit/Word - our faith is not just about souls but about the resurrection of the physical body and therefore being missional also involves as concern/care about the material world and material beings that inhabit it...
The co-missional church is about reaching outwards to help the world we live in but it is also one that holds to the ancient creeds and traditions of the faith - where possible we should seek to build on the common ground that we share, to be focused on the mission of God and be moved by the compassion of Christ as suffering servants we reach out with/through/in him to heal this planet.
To that end I think I need to embrace deep church (or mere christianity as Lewis called it in the end) - to be positive about the church in all its forms and traditions, whether ancient, medieval, modern or post-modern. More than that I need to welcome its diversity and celebrate its different forms of which I am only one part and not a very significant one either.
Intentionally incarnational and icons
One of the challenges in being missional is the where/when/whom - I am wired in a certain way that makes me able to connect with some more than others - so where can I be intentional about being incarnational and embodying Jesus? There are some very obvious places that I forget sometimes like in my marriage, with my kids and in work and there are others that I have had the privilege of connecting on various blogs and resulting conversations... I am excited where a whole new year will take me.
I think it is also great to be able to provide the communities that we interact in not only a visible apologetic within our own lives but within the images/icons of God that we can connect them too, show them, let them experience. An icon after all is a visible image that helps people connect/worship God so I am also challenged about what I do as an individual and as a community to create icons that connect with people and let them encounter Jesus where it is through works of love/service to art/creativity. I am not talking about worshipping the icon but allowing the icon to act as a sign and a place of encounter, common ground that can become holy ground. It is good to remember that the holy spirit is active in both us and in the world and we are creatively made in God's own image - it is he who breathes life into creation and inhabits/indwells and we share the joy in providing space for him to walk through the room...
Questioning and questing
I am on a quest to seek the kingdom of God first, to live out the wish/will of God of seeing this done on earth like it is in heaven. It is an adventure and a slog, to quote dickens: "it is the best of times and it was the worst of times." I will experience suffering, hardship,pain, frustration and failure as much as we encounter joy, companionship, support, love and care. We get to see each other at our best and our worst and try to love each other in both states.
This year I am challenged in my quest to love God with my mind - to read my bible more but also to study, to explore faith thinking - a thinking faith that asks questions and seeks to find the answers to them as part of a community of God's people. It maybe that I do not find comfortable answers for all my questions but to me I would rather have a live searching wrestling faith that is chasing after God - whether it is in the thinking/inspiration of those who have gone before, those who are in the now or wrestling with questions/thoughts that are still to come - than one which accepts the script of my faith as final and fully revealed.
I think to that end I need to continue to be honest, to expose myself, to make myself transparent and open to encouragement, spurring on and critique - to explore with the wider community of faith both past and present, to listen and converse. I am inspired by enough of my past of being wrong about so much that I am no doubt going to be wrong about a lot - but that is one of the most exciting things, the fact that I know so little but am part of a faith community that is so rich in both thought and deed. So that more that just intellectual ascent I am able to apply my faith to my life, to learn and practice together as a community knowing that we need God to help make this a reality, that there is a living connection which is life empowering and transforming.
So I am looking forward to getting things wrong and learning how to apologise, how to listen more and to have a faith that allows me to do so...
Justice and judgement (of self)
One of the reasons I am on this quest and asking questions is because I want to be engaged in social/economic/environmental/political justice - whilst I am all to aware of my own focus on my morality it is often that of focusing on "private" faith and "private" sins. Indeed when I do sin it is often something about focusing it on me and my failures when sometimes it is appropriate to talk about the failure/sin of the environment I am in. That may sound like trying to get me off the hook but I think there is something in that of escaping from the focus of MY and asking wider questions about the systems that I am consciously or unconsciously apart of and the effects it has on people? Clearly there are obvious ones in terms of economic and environmental issues for instance where I can make ethical choices about my consumption which seek to make the world better but will cost me more to do so.
It is in my need to become God aware which means I should apply any judgement I make to myself first - search me oh God and show me where I am blocking out the light from someone else and help me change the systems I am in - maybe by becoming aware of them - to those of the kingdom of God.
I think it is therefore for me important to be in a confessional community that does not only confess to each other but then is involved in healing action - both internally and externally, that focuses not only on the private sins but also on those that are public and institutional within our western culture...
Your own epiphany?
Those are some of my hopes/dreams/mini epiphanies...so how about you?