The one about…Prodigal Collective!

Prodigal Collective; it’s happening, right now, intrigued?! I am!!

For those of you who have followed my ramblings in recent months you’ll know that over the summer we as family experimented with church. We talked and laughed and listened and drew pictures and built duplo and ran around with no clothes on (that was just the 2 year old) all in an attempt to try to be church, to try to understand a little more about church. Since then the routine of school and the “normal” demands of life have taken over but Sid and I have continued to journey deeper into the idea of church. We have written a vision; an idea; a framework for what we think it could be, because we think church, if that is indeed the right word for it, more than ever is needed in the world. “Church” offers something to humanity that we as human beings crave, it offers a ‘way of being’ in the world, a way of making sense of what is, and a source of hope for what could be. It is a place where conversation can begin but shouldn’t end because we don’t claim to have all the answers.

Out of this Prodigal Collective is emerging!

Prodigal a Collective is a movement; tribe; community which seeks to connect people to themselves, others and the Divine.
We are prodigal by name and prodigal by nature. We believe there is an extravagant, generous, abundant, benevolent universe which is totally for humanity. Therefore, we desire to be an extravagantly reckless people who love who they are and extend that love to others.
We are inspired by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and believe His story speaks of what it is to be human.
In light of all this, we at Prodigal, are attempting to create a space where meaning can be given to that which we know to be true but can’t always voice, a space where ideas of who we really are and who the Divine might be, can find expression. We want that space to be a place where we celebrate life in all its fullness, where we stand with each other and our communities through the good and the bad and where we acknowledge the gift that it is to be alive.

We recognise that’s a way of describing “church” but we also know that it’s very theoretical, more of an ideology than an actual phenomenon. So we began to play around with what it might look like in reality and we came up with a few more words, which strangely (or not) when put together create a kind of energy that begins to gather speed, a momentum that draws others in with ideas and words and pictures and stories because this whole thing is about giving meaning to something so much bigger than anything we’ve ever experienced.

connect with others, meet up, chat, hang out, integrate, laugh, talk, listen, cry, get together, understand, learn, forgive, connect with ourselves, stop, listen, see, wait, cry, pause, laugh, draw, write, paint, think, be.
god, the divine, the source of life, the universe, the infinite, the ground of being, force, spirit, mystery, wonder, soul, something more, something beyond, something deeper, meaning, story, experience, life.
life, food, possessions, stuff, time, energy, be there, walk, run, have coffee, include, cook a meal, give a gift, cut the grass, do the shopping, walk the dog, feed the cat, grab a pint, together.

In practice we’ll set up school/sports/community chaplaincy, we’ll offer care to the members of our community at times of loneliness, isolation or loss. We’ll look for ways to bring families together, to celebrate life, there’ll be tots groups, parenting courses and other activities. We’ll gather together over food, music, and film, we’ll learn together, express gratitude, be encouraged and experience that ‘something more’ we can’t always define! Prodigal will share, as much as we can, as often as we can! We still don’t know where this expression will find it’s place in the world but it is definitely growing. We have a Facebook page called ‘Prodigal Collective’ and our very own YouTube channel called, erm, ‘Prodigal Collective’… we’re in the process of creating a website (we’re not sure what that’ll be called…just kidding!) We’re inviting you to join the adventure alongside us, to help us write the story that is ‘Prodigal’. At this point that means checking out our pages, offering feedback and suggestions, getting word out and looking for ways to ‘be Prodigal’ in this awesome world in which we live. So good!

The one about…celebration!

There’s something so quintessentially English about a village show and the annual event in our village is no exception. The whole community is represented with vegetables grown, pictures drawn, stories written, paper planes thrown, beer brewed, cakes baked, photos taken, fruit picked, wine fermented, flowers arranged, tea poured and paintings erm…painted(?!?)… it’s a celebration of creativity as members of the community bring their entries and place them on display! I guess there’s some element of competition and comparison as all the entries are judged and rosettes and trophies are awarded but it’s all in good humour as the scope of creativity within the village is realised! It’s quite humbling!

It was a weekend of celebration for our family at the end of August as we also had the delight of attending my brothers wedding. The intimate gathering of family and close friends participated in a moment of genuine beauty as my brother and his bride made their vows and exchanged rings, all with their two year old daughter swinging from their hands. It was as if my nieces innocent playful engagement brought a kind of spontaneous energy to the ceremony and enabled everyone to really relax and simply be present too. That moment was a celebration of love and of family, which continued throughout the day and into the night!

Celebration is woven into the fabric of our humanity. We see it across the world as ‘holidays’ are celebrated, anniversaries remembered, rituals performed, and festivals and feast days are observed; every culture creating its own, often unique, ways to celebrate. The Jewish culture is no different. The biblical texts reference seven Jewish festivals;

Beginning in the spring, the seven Jewish feasts are Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The Jewish feasts are closely related to Israel’s spring and fall harvests and agricultural seasons. They were to remind the Israelites each year of God’s ongoing protection and provision.

These celebrations were regular reminders for the Jews of who they were, where they’d come from, and some argue, a pointer to where they were going.

Celebration offers a way of remembering, of acknowledging all that is and has been, a way of giving thanks and of showing gratitude. Celebration invites others in, it places us within a larger story, gives us a history, as well as setting a path for the future. In the biblical text celebration is often commanded, as if the people needed permission or reminding:

“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”

Sometimes celebration is spontaneous but there are also times when we celebrate through ritual or because it’s the right thing to do. There are even times when we have to choose to celebrate despite our feelings, not because of them. All celebrations have their place because there’s something about finding ourselves in a bigger story that seems important to our own story. The root of the word celebration grounds it in community, a ritual or a rite ‘frequented in great numbers’. Celebration is never in isolation.

This idea of a bigger narrative, something which helps to make sense of our world might be why so many people return to church, or temple or perform some element of ritual to mark the important occasions in life. I chatted to a friend who said he felt hypocritical having a wedding in church because he didn’t regularly attend. While I kind of understand what he was saying, there is something about love and marriage that, for so many people, commands reverence and respect, and inspires a desire to honour that love within a bigger story. If church offers a sense of history, of connection to something bigger; something other or to a something or someone that holds their love, then that’s not hypocrisy, that’s a genuine search for meaning. It’s the same with celebrating the gift of a child, there’s something humbling about placing new life within the bigger story of family and human history, maybe eternal history, it’s also something to do with gratitude and wonder, an expression of thankfulness to ‘something other’ that requires celebration.

So, for many a new season begins, as children return to school, as students leave for university or as new apprenticeships or jobs are started, as summer is left behind, this new season invites celebration. For some it’s tinged with sadness or fear, for others excitement and anticipation… but there is cause for celebration as we remember what’s been, are grateful for what is and look to all that’s ahead. As we journey onwards, let’s not be afraid to celebrate, whether it’s the more solemn celebration of a life gone but lived or an energy injected celebration of another year on planet earth or simply the joyful recognition of a brand new day (a little like the cockerel in the Peter Rabbit film), let’s look to create our own moments of celebration and in doing so find ourselves part of a story so much bigger than just our own.

The one about…what we forgot!

There are reminders all around us of a truth we’ve forgotten, the truth that the very essence of who we are is good. The truth that the centre of our being is holy, right and beautiful. Autumn brings these reminders to us in such generous proportions as the air freshens and the trees shout of the faithfulness of the universe! The conkers are starting to fall and I feel a strange kind of awe, I watch the children as they find creative ways of breaking the unopened outer cases to reveal the shiny, smooth conker inside! It’s a reminder of the beauty that creation holds, a reminder that there’s goodness within all that’s created, no matter how spiky the outer appearance!

Yet so often we don’t see the goodness, and sadly much of Christian teaching suggests we’re not good enough, that we failed before we even began, it’s the doctrine of original sin; it haunts us and inhibits our ability to be fully alive. Even if we don’t subscribe to a religion, or that strand of one, there is a whisper around us that we are not enough; not successful/thin/wealthy/fit/popular/clever/________ enough! This belief, whatever angle it is approached from, is damaging.

It has damaged our relationship with the divine. God is seen by many as a wrathful figure who needs appeasing. There are even hymn lyrics to that effect! The death of Jesus becomes about changing the mind of God about humanity rather than the ultimate act of love that changed the mind of humanity about God!*

It’s not only our understanding of the divine that has been skewed; the idea that we are sinful from birth, or that we are not good enough, has implications for our relationship with others from a personal to an international level. If we submit to the doctrine of original sin or the lies of ‘not enough’ then we don’t trust the fundamental goodness of the other instead we fear, judge and often hate simply because we can’t see deep enough to see the truth.

The teaching of original sin and the lies of not enough also damage our relationship with ourselves, we begin to really believe we’re not good and to compensate we fill our lives with things that makes us feel better about ourselves, anything that holds meaning, even if the meaning isn’t rooted in truth. We try to prove to ourselves, others, even a higher being, that who we are, what we have and what we’ve achieved is acceptable. I talked with a friend who told me of an elderly lady, who on her death bed did not feel ‘good enough’ for what was coming next, which suggested she’d never discovered the truth about herself; that she is good.

What if the Jesus story is a reminder of the truth that we are good? What if the teaching of Jesus is, at it’s very heart a call back to our true self? What if Jesus speaks of a different way because the way we so often choose isn’t good for us, isn’t the way of the soul? What if religion, at it’s very essence, is about reminding us of this truth? What if religion is about creating ways for us to step aside from the lies we’ve come to believe and actually connect with who we really are. Sid found this quote:

The root, ‘re ligio’ (latin) rebinding re-ligamenting is not doing its job if it only reminds you of your distance, your unworthiness, your sinfulness, and your inadequacy before God’s greatness.

re = again
ligare = connect

What if our understanding of Jesus; of church or of our religion, has the ability to reconnect us with the truth about ourselves? What if the Jesus story offers us the truth about all we have ever been, all we are and all we can be. Truth that says “we are enough”. A truth that has been forgotten but a truth that calls to us in the most unlikely of places.

There’s a Jennifer Lopez song called ‘Feel the Light’, used in the movie “Home”…

Feel the light
Shining in the dark of night
Remember what we forgot
I know it’s a long shot
But we’re bringing it all back
We’re bringing it all back
Feel the light
Shining like the stars tonight
Remember what we forgot
I know it’s a long shot
But we’re bringing i
t all back

There’s something so deep, so mysterious to remembering ‘what we forgot’. There is a light that shines into our story, even in the darkest of moments, that reminds us of who we are, that brings it all back and allows us the opportunity to re-imagine religion, reconnect with ourselves, and restore a right understanding of the divine. There’s a call to return home. There is also something about a reclamation of orginal goodness that could change our world!

*A Richard Rohr quote and then lots of thoughts inspired by J.P.Newell’s book ‘Christ of the Celts’- worth a read!

The one about…church (part 5 – it’s definitely headed somewhere!)

We continued our exploration into church this week, as a family…all nine of us sat around the dining table (I think it was possibly the sight of chocolate mini eggs that did it but hey, whatever works!!)

We’ve been on quite a journey, beginning with the concept of church as community but realising that community exists in many guises and we can tap into it in spheres other than church. So it was suggested that church was perhaps a community where we encountered God; but when we probed more deeply into that we discovered that actually we encountered God in all sorts of places, activities and experiences. So we wondered if church was more the place where the stories were shared and the encounters encouraged! The question then became “for what purpose?” Why do we need to share stories and be encouraged?

As family we talked about the beginnings of church and “the Way” of Jesus, about living a lifestyle that in some way honoured the teachings of Jesus but an awkward kind of silence fell as we tried to understand what that looked like…”well, being kind I think” said one and “love, that must have something to do with it” mused another?! Well it’s a start!!!

I guess for our story, as we try to work out how to be church and are in the privileged, scary yet exciting position of finding a church to lead, the thoughts we’re exploring are huge. We recognise that there are elements of existing church that just don’t connect anymore. Some churches have lost sight of the revolutionary, upside down, counter cultural teachings of Jesus…so the idea of being a church that really explores what it means to be human while experiencing the divine is actually interesting! A church that encourages lives to be radically different to the way of the world because it knows that what the world offers is not enough and it doesn’t last; a church that looks for something that holds those bigger questions about who we are and why we’re here and offers a forum for talking that through! That’s where I think this conversation about church is headed!

There is, alongside all of this, an awareness that church through the centuries has included elements of prayer, song, sacrament and teaching in a variety of expressions! Maybe there’s something about humanity trying to express a connection to that ‘thing that is outside of themselves’ that requires more than the limited language we have. There’s something about connection to the divine that goes beyond our regular human expression of ourselves. When we express our souls we often find words are inadequate and that music, art, even ritual are a more faithful articulation.

There also seems to be something about how humanity functions within groups or systems, something about how we as humans create structure and ritual no matter what culture or tribe we’re part of. Maybe as a way of associating meaning and purpose to who we are and what we’re doing!

I’d been thinking about this blog all week and we drove home after visiting friends in Dartford, we sat in traffic waiting to enter the Blackwall Tunnel and spotted this sign:

“Traditions are important in neighbourhoods so let’s invent some”

Traditions like the village show, the school fete or the scarecrow festival…(I imagine you’ve lived places with their own community tradition). Tradition exists in neighbourhood and in family too. Most families invent rhythm, tradition and even ritual; structures that allow mornings, meal times and bed time to flow; traditions that enable the celebrations of Christmas or birthdays or other ‘holidays’, as well as rituals that mark significant life events.

Sporting groups also create fascinating ritual that we just take for granted! I observed Dover Athletic fans arriving to watch a game, dressed in scarves and tops associated to their team. They enter the ground, take their seat(most likely in the same seat as the previous game!) snd observe the players carrying out their own pre-match routine. The same routine each game of lining up, shaking hands, tossing a coin. The match kicks off, there are songs sung, chants that echo around the ground; at half time the obligatory pie is purchased and the second half is enjoyed (or not – depending on the teams performance!!). Together they encourage each other as they worship their sporting heroes! The whole experience is full of rhythm, ritual and tradition.

It seems that most groups and communities create systems that provide structure, comfort and security. Church seems to be no different.

However, there has to be a purpose to those routines and rituals. Something more than just comfort and security! There’s something about making a difference for good in the world; about making connections beyond ourselves and our immediate friends and family. Those rituals need to extend into care for others; those we don’t know or understand, as well as those who our lifestyles inadvertently impact through the every day choices we make. As we realise who we are actually in relationship with we discover a greater care and responsibility for our neighbourhood, our towns and ultimately the planet. As we explore this we learn what love really looks like as well as who and what that love impacts!

Within all of these thoughts is a challenge to grow, shape or simply be church…to invite others to join in and together find the expressions and conversations that allow those involved to be fully alive. You could give your whole life for that!

The one about…soul! (Or church:part 4!!)

When was the last time you watched a movie that stirred something deep within you? Or listened to music so hauntingly beautiful that it spoke to you of something more? Or read a book, unable to put it down because it seemed to be telling your story? Have you ever found yourself lost in a piece of art, a photo or a painting or a sculpture or graffiti? Or maybe you’ve sat and stared at the ocean and simply known that it’s all going to be ok, whatever it is!?

How do you describe those moments where you lose yourself, yet find yourself in something beautiful? What language do you use to give that the meaning and honour it deserves? Sometimes we say it made ‘our heart sing’, other times we might talk about how it ‘just made sense’ or we ‘just knew’. It seems like sometimes it’s head, sometimes it’s heart, sometimes it’s both. Yet there are times when it’s something far deeper, far richer and far more a part of us than either head or heart! What is that? What language do we use to give that meaning?

Have you ever heard the phrase she put her ‘heart and soul into it?’ Or he was the ‘life and soul of the party?’ There’s soul music (Marvin Gaye…Otis Redding…Stevie Wonder) we talk of finding a soul mate, the disappointments we experience can be soul destroying and that friend we have who’s struggling to know what to do next we describe as a lost soul…some people bare their soul and we describe others as having sold their soul! All these phrases, these synonyms, they’re all attempts at describing an event or action that’s something more than we’d usually experience. When we use the word soul, even in these quirky phrases, we’re attempting to describe something that’s bigger, deeper, more meaningful than what we think we know to be true!

The soul is not often talked about, yet it’s there, hidden, not just in our language but in the very depth of who we are. So when we talk of those things that connect deeply within us; or the things that stir those feelings that have become buried under all that is life; or those interactions that spark fresh ideas of how it could be back into flame…what if we’re not talking about head or heart but soul?

What does all this have to do with church? When we talk of church being ‘the Way’ could it be that it’s the way of the soul? The teachings of Jesus which inspired the first church were teachings that connected with the hearers in a way that the rest of life didn’t. They were teachings that offered something new, more or different and inspired people to live a new or different way. Those teachings spoke to the soul! Teachings about not worrying, teachings about forgiveness. Teaching about true peace not the forced peace they lived with. Jesus taught about being blessed in times of grief, loss and misunderstanding. Jesus teachings took what people thought to be true and turned it upside down. There’s something about a way that challenges the status quo, a way that calls into question how it is and offers an alternative way that is richer, better, fuller than anything previously experienced that awakens our souls and invites us to dare to dream…to really live!

There is an invitation whispering through all of creation, an invitation to listen to the soul; to follow the path of the soul. It’s an invitation to continually discover more of who you are, to find your true self, and in doing so find a deeper understanding, connection, respect and love for others, the world and that which is outside of ourselves.

If church can be a space where that can happen…then that becomes interesting!

The one about…church (part 3)!

Our church theme this week was ‘encounter’. I’d asked the children how they encounter God…to which at least four of them enquired “what does that mean?” “Hmmmmm…encounter? Well kind of like ‘experience’ or ‘meet with’?” Trying desperately to clutch at words that they might hang some meaning off without suggesting answers. “Erm …what helps you know God’s there?” I left it at that and let them think about it for a few days!

We gathered together in our usual chaotic style, some sat round the table, two refused to leave the train track in the other room and one was there fully focused on her iPad! Our seven year old had a friend round so they decided to build “the way to church” out of duplo…again! Whatever works I guess!

And then we talked and it was awesome! Our eldest talked about needing ‘quiet time to think’ and that helped him meet with God…one of the girls said she liked to read the bible ‘because of the wisdom’ and if she didn’t understand it it she’d ask God what it meant….one of the others said she told God her feelings…another said “well I pray”…we talked about noticing how nature reveals something of Gods character, the abundance and the faithfulness of creation…Sid talked about riding his bike and the head space and freedom just to be.

As we talked we realised that everything we’d shared with each other in that moment was about solitude and space…not one of us talked about encountering God at church! Which really made me think! Why go to church?

So I left to walk the dog and as I walked through the woods I meditated…? Mused? Prayed?! Which got me thinking about the very beginnings of church!

There was something about the first church back two thousand years that believed a different way was possible. A new community was born, sometimes referred to as ‘The Way’*, inspired by the teaching of Jesus. This community, this “way” offered a radically new or different lifestyle to the dominant one around at the time…and throughout history the true church has often found itself victimised, persecuted and questioned because it was so contrary to the worldview being lived out in society.

Today should be no different, as we seek a way of love, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation; a way that delights in original goodness; a way that offers hope and life in the midst of fear and death; that “way” should create a community that is radically different to the dominant culture! If church really is offering a different way then it would make sense that we go to church to be encouraged, to find others who are wanting to live in a way that offers something more than the way the world offers…and then to share the stories of how we live that out!

An American pastor/writer/professor called Eugene Peterson wrote:

“I was now well on my way to learning that congregation (church) is a place of stories. The stories of Jesus, to be sure. But also the stories of men and women…it is never just my story; it is a community of stories. I learn my story in company with others…we’re looking for meaning to our lives. We catch a thread and we follow it, receiving the good news that God is gracious…and then we bump up against someone else’s story that we don’t even recognise as a story…”

The Pastor pg 106/107

This ‘bumping up’ against other stories, this is how we grow, how we learn, how we encourage and are encouraged. Sharing our stories of encounter, listening to stories of encounter with God, with something or someone other, inspires us to keep following The Way! To believe, as Richard Rohr writes, that “a new or different life was possible”.**

The question this all raises though is what actually is ‘the Way’? What did Jesus teach? How do we live lives that are radically different? What does this new or different life even look like?

*see the book of Acts in the bible!!

** Richard Rohr Daily Meditations May 7th 2018

The one about…church (part2)!

We held our first ‘family church’ of the summer holiday on Thursday evening. The children arrived from their various activities around the house…one with a notebook, one with a prayer card she’d found, two with a giant Lego duplo church they’d created together (together?!!!)…two of the others looked mildly spaced wondering what on earth was going on (but they often live like that!) and the other was stark naked running round the house like a loon trying hard to demolish the duplo church and doing a fairly good job of ‘demolishing’ the church we were trying to establish in that moment but hey…that’s family life right there!

It seems it’s quite an authentic beginning to church too! We all bring ourselves, just as we are, carrying the thoughts, feelings and activities of our day fresh in our minds and together we gather…and that’s the theme that rang out through all of the thoughts, comments and conversations I’ve had about church this last week; that church is community; that it’s about being together; that church “feels like family”.

Two thoughts grabbed me from these comments: firstly the idea of family…it made me smile because well, what does family feel like? I guess everyone’s experience of family is different and while we might have an idea of what family is “supposed” to feel like, experience doesn’t always match that ideal!

Family can be dysfunctional, controlling, inhibiting, maybe stifling. A place full of ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ where we feel duty bound to belong. A place where we don’t always feel like we’re good enough, where we feel judged and where we feel others disprove of the choices we make. Family can be painful.

Sound anything like church?!

However…family can also be the place where you find you’re truly known, accepted for who you are and loved unconditionally. A place of laughter and song and forgiveness, a place where you’re held; where you find you’re alike and yet unique and a place where you celebrate those truths along with the joy of simply being alive. Family can also be a place where you find your heritage, come to terms with your past, discover your true identity while, at the same time be encouraged to journey on and grow more confidently into all you’re capable of being.

Now if that was a description of church then that’s the kind of church I’d like to belong to…if that kind of community was on offer I’d be there!

Which leads to the second thought from the feedback this week. I love the idea of church being community, but what makes church different to other communities? What about the friends who meet weekly at the pub…the crowds who gather religiously to watch football or rugby…or the people who go weekly to play bingo! What about the running club or the ladies that meet at the library for the ‘knit and natter’ group? That’s community, a gathering, those people can ‘feel like family’? What is it that makes church different, that makes church, well, church?

The children reckon it has something to do with God! They think that everyone, or at least the majority of people, gather because they want to in some way connect with God as well as with others!

What if church is about an encounter with someone or something outside of ourselves; or an experience of something divine or holy; or a connection to a spiritual force; or about a space where we finding meaning for the source of our being or a space where we explore the concept of the ground of all being, or simply a space where we re-connect with the soul? It’s as if playing with the limited or maybe ‘limiting’ language we have actually helps to give more meaning to the concept of church and God. Then as we think more deeply about connecting or encountering or exploring or sharing and what or who we do that with, the actual ‘how’ and ‘where’ and ‘when’ really become quite interesting!