Thursday, December 03, 2009

Supermarket vs High Street...

First roll from Olympus Trip 35_ 24hrs

I've been on a journey of late... one that involved me rejecting my spiritual identity then coming to realise that I could be "me" within my tradition. Let me explain.

I have been dissatisfied within the Salvation Army for a good while now... I have seen dear friends with whom I have shared the fringes and... possibly more significantly... the frustration that fringe-dwelling within the Salvation Army brings... become incapacitated by their frustration or decide to leave to feed elsewhere.

I know this frustration first hand. The sense of "not being part"... of being an "outlier" and an "outsider" because I do not participate in the traditional channels of participation. I get frustrated at the "ego music" and... well... the Prophet Amos puts it far more succinctly::
"I can't stand your religious meetings. I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want.
Amos 5:21 (the Message)

The things I want to be part of are not a priority... people will readily attend a practice but will shy away from a time of prayer and meditation, for example.

This frustration nearly got the better of me... but I came to a realisation that I shouldn't expect everything under one roof... and, as such, I came to accept what I am part of as being imperfect and lacking... and still wonderful.

I saw church with an expectation that comes from being used to shopping at a supermarket - I expected everything under the one roof... available at as little cost to me as possible.

I expected praise and worship... bible teaching, discussion and study... justice opportunities... participation and accountability... community and comradeship... under the one roof and I have experienced the frustration that comes from not getting this within the physical and metaphorical "four walls" of my church.

Phrases like "I'm just not getting fed" would come up in conversation... or I would be quick to judge those who didn't participate in the alternative options that I would present or be present at.

All because I expected everything to be under the one roof.

I recently came to the realisation that this "supermarket" approach to church may work for some people but it doesn't work for me. Its not my way... certainly not anymore.

I see my spiritual journey as being more of a trip down a "high street"... foraging (as Paul Thomson speaks of) for the things I need to grow in strength and wisdom.

Just as you would seek the specialists for the products they supply on the high street... the butcher for meat... the green grocer for vegetables and fruit... the newspaper shop for your newspapers and magazines... the record shop for your aural treats... I see a number of different spaces, places & people as the "specialists" I seek out.

Take this last week as an example of what I mean...

271109_ 001_ Laura

Last Friday lunchtime... I spent an hour with Laura Mitchell... sharing with her and seeking to inspire her in her role as Youth Worker at the Bellshill Salvation Army.

271109_ 002_ Jonny #1 (331/365)

Later on that evening... I had the privilege to join with about 30 or so others to share in an Alex-made curry and a time of sharing with Johnny Baker, the inspirational blogger, at his "Blah/Blether".

271109_ 003_ Emmsy

Afterwards, I grabbed a coffee with my pal Emmsy... and digested what we had heard from Johnny. We also discussed her recent trip to Chicago for a conference.

Strathclyde Park

On Saturday morning... I went for a walk around Strathclyde Park with my dear friend George Connor... where we talked, listened and shared our lives.

I then chilled with my family... before attending the festival of music presented by the Peterborough Salvation Army Band. I'm not a big brass band music fan but I did enjoy this experience... albeit... half the fun was the running commentary that I provided on Twitter.

The best bit of having the Band up is the Army tradition of "billets" where you open up your house to 1 or 2 visitors for an overnight. Olly and I had the privilege of hosting Paul Ward and Andy Scott... who were top blokes. We had a fab time of fellowship over a great feast of food, thanks to Olly.

Paul Ward playing "Samba de Amigo" #2

In the morning... we all shared in uplifting worship with the Peterborough Band... before sharing in fun & games with our billets between meetings.

The sky tonight

In the evening... after the second of the two meetings at Bellshill... I was meant to go into Glasgow with Stewart Cutler to attend the Holy City gathering at Renfield St Stephen's. Its an alternative worship gathering that Stewart suggested we attend. A number of my tweeps and emerging peeps attend it... and I was looking forward to meeting them and participating in something different. Unfortunately, Stewart had the "Barry White's"... so I couldn't make it.

That said... it wasn't unfortunate for me to spend time with Olly & the we'ans... partaking of the leftovers from Olly's awesome hospitality.

Tonight (334/365)

On the Monday evening... I was again privileged to meet up with likeminded "emerging" folks in the soon-to-be-no-more Starbucks in Borders. I was a fun night of discussion with a wide variety of people... I got to speak to Billy, Neil, Charlie, Ben & Sally. It was an uplifting, inspirational and entertaining time.

First roll from Olympus Trip 35_ Innes & Paul

Fast forward to Tuesday lunchtime... where I got the chance to engage with Innes Johnson & Paul Thomson... over some noodles in Wagamama. I find Paul to be a very engaging character... a truly alternate & prophetic voice... and appreciate Innes as a valuable "true" friend.

Had a braw catchup with @stewartcutler... meaningful chat in between watching the vultures in Borders. Tx

Then yesterday I met up with a feeling-better Stewart for a time of chat and the bouncing of ideas. We then met up again on Skype later in the evening... where we held a three-way call with my other dear friend and co-host of the Something Beautiful podcast, JD Blundell.

I consider all of these events as being key to my spiritual journey - I shared fellowship with a number of fellow journeymen and women... I worshipped... I learned... I was inspired... and the key thing is the majority of this was not "under the roof" of my community of faith.

I am a better person for all the people I have in my life and the experiences I have had that shape me. My community of faith is key to this - I realise this... but it is not the entirety of my experience or of my understanding.

The only person who is responsible for my spiritual diet is... me. Yes, my community of faith and my gaggle of friends have some degree of responsibility for my welfare and wellbeing... that is the point of community... but, at the end of the day, I am the only one who can determine what I feed on... and I am the only one who can make me feed, if that makes sense?

The realisation that I can not get everything I need from my community of faith... is the first step in ensuring my spiritual health. The next is to realise that all that I have described can and does come under the huge, encompassing umbrella that is what I understand to be my broader community.

Instead of getting upset because of my community of faith doesn't do (x) or (y)... I will seek out those who do. I do not have the sense of companionship & fellowship within that I do outwith... but that doesn't mean I need to leave. I have all the ingredients for a healthy spiritual meal... its just that some elements require work... require me to forage... to seek them out... to make an effort... to pay a greater cost to obtain them.

To this end, I have come to a peace and acceptance of my current state of being and identity... I am a "loyal radical" to use a phrase Johnny Baker used... I am someone who understands the traditions of the Salvation Army and is conversant with it's expressions... but is happier existing at the edges... in the fringes... as an outlier.

Instead of seeking somewhere new... I accept the imperfection of my lot in the knowledge that only God is perfect and that anything that involves man will be flawed... and will do my bit to show an alternative to those in the core... at the edges... and everywhere inbetween. I believe this is where God has called me to be.

Afterall... today's radical and avant-garde is tomorrow's mainstream.

Thank you to everyone who has journeyed with me in this... especially my folks, my we'ans and my dearest Olly whose patience and hospitality inspires me daily.

I am back.


Anonymous said...

I think you've raised a ton of great points there, the one that stands out for me is the expectation that we have sometimes that we should find what we're looking for in 1 single church building or community.

Like you, I find I have to go to various places to make up the pieces of my spiritual toolbox. I go to my regular traditional church for the preaching. I go to external events for worship. I go to housegroups for fellowship and coffee shop meet ups for theological debate and to be challenged.

I use the web, music, books etc for other exploration and so the story goes on.

I've been challenged recently with the idea of blessings without the sacrifice - your mention of making an effort and paying greater costs resonates for me just now, I'm realising daily that we need to work at this. That it doesn't come as easily as we might expect.

Lurch Kimded said...

brilliant stuff mate, and certainly gives me alot to think about in my situation as well... many thanks

theWeir said...

"I am back"

And in some style.

'bout time too... welcome back.

Anonymous said...

Great post, my friend, with lots of points to digest there. Although I know I told you that I enjoy the small town I live in and its distance from everything, the fact that you have such a spiritual 'smorgasbord' to choose from kind of makes me a little jealous. Having said that, though, we have tried to create an alternative space in what we are doing at 'Hope', although it is still in its infancy.

I totally understand that 'not being part of' thing that you talk about. I really find it hard to sit through a traditional type meeting now and get that 'not being part of' feeling anytime I have to attend officers councils or gatherings of any kind. Fortunately our distance from the main centres means that we are not often expected to attend such things, which is a blessing of sorts.

Thanks for all you share. It truly is an encouragement and challenge to me.

Anonymous said...

Such a challenging post - it's a privilege to view your life and situations as a window through your blog - you are an encouragement and inspiration to many and if you were anything else otherwise, where would we all be without your comments, perspectives etc etc.

Thanks for your honesty and integrity as a brother in Christ - challenges me very much as one in leadership with my wife to wonder how my flock really feel and what they must contribute to the Kingdom - you've opened your heart in order to open my eyes!

Looking forward to what God is doing and on!

God Bless, Matthew (Peterhead).

Theresa Seeber said...

Wow. That was a really beautiful post! I find that I, too, have to go out of my way sometimes to find the ingredients to my spiritual diet that will be most whole, most healthy for me. I am glad to know I am not alone in this. And I wonder, if I were to chronicle a week in my life with photos, what that would look like. I know it would show many, many pictures of my cute kids doing funny things. I imagine it would involve pics of my husband looking at me like I am a space alien, which I actually have photos of because he often seems to see me in this way LOL. Unfortunately, the photos would not include many other people. I love my family, so very much, and they are primary to me. Yet I have this deep need for more. Well, I get more on the computer, through the social networks that have connected me to people like you. I guess there would be pictures of my pc.... LOL

Unknown said...

I repeat the sentiments of the comments previous...
As frequently happens - you have said something in your blog which resonates with me more deeply than I would like - so thanks - again :)

when I 1st read this post I couldn't think of anything (coherent) to say.
But today (after a noticed sudden online interest in an old post of mine) I was reminded of this & think it sums up in part what you were saying & what I needed reminding:

This prayer is, apparently from a Franciscan Benediction:

"May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain in to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done."

Prayers & Blessings Thomas

Alex xxx


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