May 202010

I’ve been catching up on some reading recently (I’ve not long finished The Mystery of Christ by Robert Farrar Capon and Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell) and currently working my way through The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. When I’m not banging on about Emerging Church, one of my soapboxes is the need for Christians (especially Christian leaders) to be the ‘prophetic voice’ within society – pointing out its failings and pointing to a better way. This is at the heart of Brueggemann’s book and I came across a passage worth quoting:

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. Thus I suggest that prophetic ministry has to do not primarily with addressing specific public crises but with addressing, in season and out of season, the dominant crisis that is enduring and resilient, of having our alternative vocation co-opted and domesticated.

The italics are Brueggemann’s and state the hypothesis for  the book. The extract, I believe, succinctly states the mission and problem for the church. The church needs to be counter-cultural. And that doesn’t mean that it decries culture, rather it should always be asking if this is the ‘best’ we can achieve. And by ‘best’, I would suggest that that means being more ‘Christ-like’; being fully human and fully spiritual creatures, living life in its fullest measure without fear of discrimination, oppression and injustice.

But the extract also highlights the biggest danger the church faces – becoming ‘co-opted and domesticated’. (The phrase, “Aslan is not a tame lion” has just sprung to mind). My biggest fear of Emerging Church is that the Christian distinctives get subsumed by a desire to be ‘relevant’ – faith and worship are co-opted to suit a context, rather than that happening the other way round. Domestication comes when the church is no longer proactive but reactive and is ‘used’ to provide social services or a place where religious-types can go on a Sunday morning. Or perhaps domestication has come through the church becoming a useful branch of Historic Scotland responsible for the upkeep of a bunch of old buildings. I’m sure there are many ways in which we have become ‘co-opted and domesticated’.

How easy is it though to rediscover our revolutionary voice?

Nov 052009

I am leading the intercessory prayers on Sunday. It’s Remembrance Sunday of course and that makes intercession all the more pointed and necessary. It also adds to the pressure to make them specifically relevant and appropriate. For some inspiration on form and words, I was looking through Walter Brueggemann’s book “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth”. Some words from the preface, echoed on the flyleaf, struck me as being particularly apposite:

… prayer is characteristically a dangerous act, and dangerous rhetoric is required to match the intent of the act. It is an awesome matter to voice one’s life before God and our lives should therefore be awesomely uttered.

It’s a powerful reminder of what prayer is. As Brueggemann says later, prayer is not a “grocery list” we approach God with; it is a coming before the Almighty God with a petition to intervene. Is that what we really want? Would we really want God to act? Can we be sure we would like what He did? The warning, “Never wake a sleeping dragon, ” has, for some reason, popped into my head. I can’t help but feel that it is somewhat irreverent and peculiarly appropriate at one and the same time.

So, in Remembrance day prayers, when we are conscious of the weight of expectation to acknowledge the sacrifice made by so many, how do we find the dangerous words that speak prophetically against violence as a means to achieving an end? How do we tread the line between complicity and condemnation? And, above all, how do we pray to God in a way that isn’t a ‘shopping list’ but contains a very real expectation of intercession?

It’s a dangerous business, prayer.