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Reflections on CNMAC11 -number four

A little while ago,a  friend sent me this video. It maps one 24 hour period of global air traffic. There is a strange, hypnotic quality to it. As you are drawn in by the strange beauty of the patterns its easy to forget about the destructive emissions and focus instead on the thousands of stories caught up behind those little glowing dots. Where is each person  going, and what is their journey all about? Are these just stages on a much longer journey, links in some kind of chain?

On Saturday at CNMAC, an idea came to me. Like the idea I wrote about several weeks ago, it had been on a journey. Before it reached the threshold of my mind this idea had travelled from Israel, to Germany, to Brooklyn, to Amsterdam, and then onto London for the day.  In CNMAC’s final session I had my eyes opened to the role of the Maggid, or storyteller, by a professional Jewish storyteller from Brooklyn now living in Amsterdam. The Maggid, unlike the more academic teachers in the synagogue, was the weaver of stories and the illuminator of truth.  People who were looking for truth dressed in the everyday clothes of real life rather than the dusty robes of academic theology, would gather at the feet of a Maggid. As a person committed with my heart and soul to storytelling as a vehicle for truth, I must learn more about this. It matters because I want to tell better stories, and it matters because I want to understand Jesus better as storyteller.

Watch this space…

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Reflections on CNMAC11 – number three

I used to say that it wasn’t worth going to a Christian conference unless you got a cooked breakfast. Not only was it a shallow thing to say – but also it clearly doesn’t apply to a day conference such as CNMAC. These days I would say it isn’t worth going to a conference unless my intellect is shocked, my creativity is sparked, or my network is expanded. CNMAC won on all three.

However, there can be no doubt that the intellectual shock element was delivered by this simple phrase:

We should remind ourselves that Christ did not come to make us Christians or to save our souls only, but that he came to redeem us that we might be human in the full sense of the word. (Hans Rookmaaker Art needs no justification, emphasis mine).

Pete Phillips then went on to expand on this, talking about the call from the Trinity as a ‘social creation’ to express our humanity through creativity. In his all too brief analysis of this ‘speculative theology’ he talked about the ongoing presence of God in human creative endeavour.

It was at this point that I left the room, metaphorically speaking. I left Pete at the front talking about the exquisite beauty of a cello recital, and wandered into a kitchen where a young single mother was making appetising food with few resources and brightening up the drab walls with her daughter’s crayoned pictures. From there I went up the garden path onto an allotment where a pensioner was rubbing the soil between finger and thumb to see if it was just right for planting. Both of them, the young mum and the pensioner, looked up at me as I passed and guffawed at the idea that every human was creative. When I muttered under my breath that we could not be fully human without expressing our creativity they looked ready to clout me.  Beating a hasty retreat back to the safer environment of the seminar, I resolved to look into this further.

Spurred on by Pete, I have just read Rookmaaker’s paper in full.  It has troubled me, stimulated me and reassured me in equal measure. Interestingly, Rookmaaker states that the best metaphor for art is neither preaching nor teaching but plumbing – for it serves its purpose without shouting about its importance. He goes on to say that ‘Plumbers who give great evangelistic talks but let the water leak are not doing their job. They are bad plumbers. It becomes clear that they do not love their neighbour’ . I wonder what my companions in the allotment and the kitchen would have thought of that?

Like Peter Phillips, and like Hans Rookmaaker before him, I believe that the creative gene is our inheritance from God. The desire to create – to make something from nothing and something better from something drab, is a priceless gift. It stirs the pool of humankind – ruffling its waters and sending off a myriad unexpected reflections. It is that same gene which fuels the pursuit of speculative theology – and long may it do so!

Image: wikimedia commons

Reflections on #CNMAC11 – number two

As Christians, we are both familiar and comfortable with the imagery of the flock. A flock is a gathering of vulnerable creatures in need of succour and protection from a shepherd. We can trace this image for God’s people way back into the Old Testament, to people like David, Ezekiel and Isaiah.

A herd is a rather different image – a group of wilful beasts controlled by its dominant members. The herd doesn’t get much of an airing in biblical imagery, and we would probably be uncomfortable with its implications of male dominance.

A swarm is a different thing altogether. A swarm may consist of thousands of members, all moving together with astonishing dexterity and beauty. You have only to watch the short video of starlings  exhibiting this kind of behaviour below to see this. For generations the swarm was a mystery to scientists – how could it move as a single unit with no obvious means of co-ordination? To try and understand it, Craig Reynolds built a computer simulation programme called  Boids in 1986. Each element in the swarm was given 3 steering behaviours: separation, alignment and cohesion. Gradually scientists began to imitate the behaviour of the swarm – though fully understanding it is a way off yet.

I mention this because when @JamesPoulter was talking at CNMAC11 about the power of social media for change, I couldn’t help thinking that this was closer to swarming behaviour than it was to flocking or herding. The swarm he was describing was united neither by creed, ethnicity nor even by a single cause – and yet they moved together. How does such a concept fit with our ideas of church, I wonder?

The more I think about it, the more I feel that individual Christians behave in different ways acording to circimstance.

In the Kingdom of God we behave as if in a flock – looking to the shepherd of our souls to nurture us and keep us from danger.

In the church – we occasionally behave as if in a herd, conceding dominance to the noisy ones, whether in official leadership or not.

In the digital church, out there in webland, I wonder whether we behave more like a swarm when the right (or wrong) issue unnerves us?

Comments welcome

Reflections on #CNMAC11 – number one

If you ever read comics as a child, you will know that speech bubbles have smooth edges, like this:

A thought bubble, on the other hand, has fuzzy edges, and looks like this: The secret, it would seem, is in the fuzzy edges.

Earlier this year, in the most popular post this blog has ever seen, I wrote about the possibility of tweeting in church, and maybe even of running a Twitterfall during a sermon. On Saturday, at the Christian New Media Conference, I got to see what that might look like. The thing is, despite my earlier post on Twitter as a speech bubble symphony, in fact this was more like an exchange of thought bubbles, with their fuzzy edges. Scrolling down the screens was everything from incisive parries with the speaker’s argument to updates on the rugby, and comment’s on the speaker’s attire! In short – we were made privy to the exchange of thought which accompanied the act of speech in the room.

When I went a little later to a seminar hosted the altogether lovely Sister Catherine Wybourne, she introduced it by assuring us that there would be no such gimmicks as the Twitterfall to be seen. In all truth, I am glad, as my Twitter thought stream would have run something like this (click for larger view) :

Such ramblings would, I fear, have interrupted the flow of what was  a profoundly spiritual and intensely practical session about Christian presence on the Web. Sister Catherine introduced the seminar with the description of its participants as ‘you and me and Christ making a third’. To add my unnconnected thoughts to the party would have been one too many.

In plenary sessions (which would equate to a church service, in many ways) the thought exchange accompanying the word exchange was enriching and enlightening. In smaller settings it was intrusive.

I wonder why?

Richard Littledale

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