// scattered

Soul in the cityIf you’re still fortunate enough to get a summer holiday that lasts longer than about fourteen days (as i currently am, although probably for the last time ever), then you’ll doubtless know the experience of dissipation that accompanies the end of term – when your community separates and heads off back to the rest of the country, and you return home to a place that doesn’t entirely feel like home anymore. It’s a strange state of affairs, one that reminds you that what constitutes ‘home’ is frequently people rather than place, and that only serves to highlight just how dislocated you are apart from the community that you end up being a part of.

I’m regularly startled by how much of the Bible is written into that same context of dislocation, too. Has it ever struck you as strange that so much of New Testament literature is made up of letters? Without Paul’s separation from his community and his desire to support and encourage them, we’d simply be missing a large part of our theology. And yes, i know, he was divinely-inspired, but that doesn’t change that fact that Paul wrote with a reason and a specific context, rather than having his hand guided by some invisible force, and his letters are personal as well as sacred. They’re ways of keeping in touch…

We may be scattered for a less lasting or painful reason than the early church was, but we are scattered nonetheless, and it would be a shame if we stopped talking, thinking and supporting each other just because of that. In the advent of facebook, skype, twitter, the Blackberry and photo messaging, it is easier than it has ever been to update people on the books that you’re reading or the situations that you find yourself in, and there’s scope in that for our discussions to continue. Working in Betel a couple of weeks ago, for example, it was fascinating to note how our conversations kept coming back to worship, even when we started off talking about something entirely different; we would start by talking about themes of justice or glory or pop music or whatever and without noticing, we’d start talking worship all over again. Out of those conversations you end up realising that worship is something central to our being, but you need to be around others to see it; in our relationships this is revealed as something we think about and instinctively perform, even if in some cases we worship the wrong objects. These discussions are not simply theoretical, though; they’re followed through in the weeks afterwards, in our changed perspectives, and it’s the easiest that’s it’s ever been to carry that discussion on, even across continents or time-zones. This conversation isn’t over, it’s only just beginning…

And that’s exciting, by any standards. The prospect of worship leaders and theologicans discussing and debating alongside students and worshippers and professionals, people who are passionate about justice or youth or mission, and all suddenly learning to talk… The end result of those conversations, that could be something that could equip and challenge the church in the years to come. I’m not saying that a new canon of Scripture is necessary, not at all – those letters of Paul and John and Peter are the word of God, and He’s a God who’s big enough to make sure that His word reaches the world in the right form. They’ve stood this long for a reason. But this is the time to work out how to live this stuff out; not in isolation, but in conversation.

A week or so before my term ended i attended a conference at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford called ‘In Christ Alone’, aimed at ‘uniting worship and theology’. It was an excellent day, but it also served to demonstrate just how scattered we were even within that room; when Louie Giglio asked which individuals in the church owned Mac computers, pretty much the entirety of St. Aldate’s church, sitting in one block, put their hands up in unison (myself included).

There were maybe 10 other hands that went up across the room.

It may be that it’s easiest to stick together with the people who are most like us, who think most like us and have been through similar experiences, but learning to talk across those invisible lines, starting to discuss this stuff in a reasonably non-threatening manner (even if that’s via computers), that’s a good start, at least.

We are not alone, even if it feels like it, and the distance between us may simply mean that we need to send a text with our thoughts or mail a book through the post rather than our normal channels of communication. But, at the risk of sounding like an advert for a mobile phone, let’s keep talking.

It’s better that way.

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    • Claire Millican
    • July 9th, 2009

    I am reading about calmness and meditative quiet times and not having to manically organise all free time in order to make the best use of it but just having some free time to sit and have a cup of tea and see what happens

      • Claire Millican
      • July 9th, 2009

      that did not fit into a twitter @you

    • Tom
    • July 9th, 2009

    Cheers Claire. I might try that; i do love sitting in a coffee shop with pen and bible in hand and just letting stuff develop from there…

    I’m reading about “glory”, not really helped by the miniscule theology section in Newcastle library, charting the interplay between glory and worship and the development of the concept of God’s glory from Old to New Testament. For fun, mostly.

    Any suggestions?

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