Biting the hand that feeds...


I became aware of this book, "Evaluating Fresh Expressions", for two reasons.

Firstly Pete Rollins, when I was with him at Calvin College in January told me he had written a chapter for it, 'Biting the hand that feeds'. He mentioned the chapter after reading something I had written anti-instutionalism.

Then Dave Male at Ridley, Cambridge asked me to look at the chapter by Martyn Percy, 'Old Tricks for New Dogs: A critique of fresh expression', before I teach there this friday, 6th march.

I'll get back to Martyn Percy, once I have been to Ridley on friday, and maybe review the book more here. Meantime it's the chapter by Pete, that I want to refer to here, and some of the stuff I had written that related to it.

So Pete's chapter. Even though the subtitle of the chapter, looks like an apology for how emerging groups, have 'bitten the hand that feeds them', the chapter is not that at all really.

It's explicitly about how Pete sees the anglican system in providing space for fresh expressions, has led to objective systemic and institutional violence with the people involved (see bottom page 74). In short Pete concludes that groups lining up to be fresh expressions need to be careful lest the system perverts the very thing they are trying to be (page 84). So I infer from the title, and then this outline, that if you want to be a fresh expression, do it outside the system, and don't expect the system to fund you, because it comes with violent strings attached.

There are so may levels to respond to the chapter, one would be a critique of how Pete understand power, and structure and the philosophy that has informed that, and whether it is valid. For her I want to look at a different system that is far more violent than the one with in the Anglican church.

Whilst systems do mitigate against changes in practice, the violence Pete sees as objective to the system, is also for me, about how often those in 'revolution', might be caught in the consumer abstraction of change, that is no real change at all. There is a much more violent system in place outside the church.

I have suggested here previously, how consumer culture takes our dreams and desire for alternatives, change and revolution and disembowels them from any real and lasting concrete action. Heath and Potter (in the book Rebel Sell) provide one of the most compelling descriptions of this phenomenon, combining philosophical analysis of consumer culture with a review of popular culture.

They unearth the popular notion that being ‘authentic’ means being countercultural, that is the need to be alternative and unpopular. This most often translates into the language of revolution, of trying to opt out of the system, to ‘jam’ the prevailing culture. In practice consumerism co-opts us owing to its nature as material to repackage and sell.

In terms of church, this translates into our reading books on missional church, attending missional events, leaving existing churches to be revolutionary, and at the end of the day, we ‘consumer’ mission, rather than do the dirty handed work of bringing about a concrete church and mission. We are captured by the process of consuming – we consume the idea of our blueprint idealised churches and ultimately do nothing in terms of real missions. Or maybe blame the institutional church for not funding our dreams, or for corrupting them.

The idea of the 'trickster' as rebel, able to subvert the nature of church, is seen to be captive to the process of consumption. The rebel is not a rebel at all, but is rather complicit and pandering to the agenda of consumerism. St Augustine’s warned of the danger of loving love itself, of how the direction of our affections can become about escape into simulacra in place of real things, such that we might see how the love of revolution, the anticipation and excitement in being ‘rebellious’ panders to the titillation of consumer agency while resulting in no real revolution at all.

The trickster who seeks to subvert the church, to draw attention to the failings of the church, can end up as absurd as the man in a story from Immanuel Kant’s lectures on anthropology who, on seeing a child fall into water and start to drown, complains that there is no one taking action to save the child.

A well-known emerging-church blogger, wrote an autobiographical piece on why he had left his church. He described how the members of the church drove in their cars past the poor, the homeless and drug addicts, on their way to spending their money on producing worship events, having bypassed the needs around them. It was enough for him, showing how the people of his church had failed to engage with the poor, to justify the leaving of his church.

I did wonder why the author was unable to point out that he himself had not stopped, or whether he had tried to minister and invite the other members of his community to serve the poor with him. Perhaps then something amazing and truly revolutionary could have taken place.

Or maybe it wasn't the system that stopped real change, it was the system of consumer culture that was far more objectively violent and perverting.