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48 minutes | 4 days ago
Shalom activist Shawn Sanford Beck (part 1)
This the first of a two-part conversation with Shawn Sanford Beck, Christian Animist and Green priest. In the second half we’ll turn to those latter self-designations, exploring what they might mean for us. In this, the first half, Shawn shares some of his life story that led up to his current commitments. After his self-introduction […]
61 minutes | 12 days ago
Isabel’s faith journey (so far)…
This is my first conversation with Isabel, who is on a “faith journey,” exploring questions of spirituality and activism, and drawn to our Jesus-centred, world-embracing, shalom-orientation. Isabel is a communications professional, born and raised in Roman Catholic Spain, but now living in the UK. Her main interests are spirituality and feminism, along with rights and rituals, food and fellowship. After introducing herself in general, we talk (5:15-13:15) about the religious and spiritual aspects of her background and upbringing in Spain, where there was not a lot of talk of religion at home, though it was culturally pervasive, a sort of mix of conservative/traditional Spanish and family culture at home, school, and church, but with openness (at home) to kids exploring the world, even if risk of losing connection to faith. We then turn (13:15-32:30) to questions, reservations, and oppositions she had, keeping her from confirmation. This centered on restrictive and fear-based nature of Christianity in general, along with matters of gender and hierarchy. She took this with her into various university experiences, still on the periphery of the church, and found a “space” slightly more open to question and challenge. This was also a time to explore other forms of “spirituality” (yoga and Ayerveda, Suffism and Buddhist meditation). She found that she was rejecting something for something else that felt a bit like cultural appropriation, at one point perceiving a connection between sanskrit prayers and “Our Father”, and eventually stopping all spiritual exploration for a year or two. At this point 32:30-36:00 we have some back-and-forth about the nature of spirituality, faith, and identity, noting (among other things) noting the difference between “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” faith. We then (36:00- ) hear about her move to London for a masters degree, where she had an inclination to visit a Catholic church (specifically Jesuit), perhaps because she was home-sick. This was perhaps the first time she found a version of Catholic church that wasn’t culturally indistinguishable and had non-traditional elements (like an LGBTQ group). Around 41:00 (until 47:00) we turn to the question of values (feminism; LGBTQ; inclusion and justice) and how she came to the ones she currently holds. From there (47:00) we come to her connection with Noel our work (through a work colleague) in the form of Workshop and its ethos. And we finish (55:30) with her current questions and curiosities.
55 minutes | 19 days ago
Contemporary requirements for shalom well-being and justice
In this episode, Tim offers what Noel calls a contemporary midrash–an expansive commentary on Noel’s biblical account of the absolute shalom requirements of well-being, justice, and integration. After noting (1:00) their different ways of engagement (Noel moves from the biblical scriptures to the contemporary world; Tim tends to move the other way around)–and the difference between noticing (perceiving, sensing, intuiting) and naming (using language to describe)–Tim explores (3:20) different ways of describing the various dimensions of our life experience–physical, emotional and intellectual, spiritual–which is true of us as individuals, but also in our relationship with one another and even with the other-than-human world. It is important, however, that these (7:50) be seen as aspects or dimensions of an inseparable whole, both within human persons, but also among human relationships, and even in our relationships with the more-than-human world. At 10:00 Tim explores different ways to “map” well-being, justice, and integrity, on the one hand, with physical, social, and spiritual. This includes a sense of wellness that is more than physical–it includes emotional and intellectual and spiritual well-being–as contemporary wellness culture suggests. Noel responds (12:30-14:50), before Tim turns to the importance of intuition and impression in our faith journeys (14:50-16:15), even though that often leaves us at odds with our faith community (16:40-18:00). Noel agrees and amplifies this (18:00-21:00) with some analogies from parenting. At that point (21:05) we turn to “justice” and “judgment” as a relational process and how that might be related to traditional Protestant notions of justification is a kind of forensic (court-like) declaration, apart from any process. While this is not central to our account, we consider positive elements of “forensic” elements of justice and justification, both in the sense of data gathering (a scientific sense of “forensic”) and formal declaration (as in a courtroom sense of “forensic”). The analogy of marriage comes into play (27:30). (Tim’s conversation with Aglaia Barraclough (episodes 7 and 8; March 7, 2021) explores some of this more fully.) This is part of our desire to support faith journeys of “renovation” as well as “reconstruction” (see Tim’s blog on this). After the break, we turn (31:51) to the midrash-like contemporary account of justice as sufficiency, equity, solidarity. And each of these must apply (34:20) to each of the dimensions of human life (physical, emotional/intellectual, spiritual). In his affirmative response, Noel wonders whether some of these dimensions would have been present in the life of an every-day person in the Hebrew scriptures, even though it didn’t explicitly make it into the writings. At 39:40-41:50, Tim and Noel acknowledge and reflect on how these reflections come from a place of middle-class privilege and wonders how this might shape his accounts of shalom and justice. The final section (beginning at 42:00) turns to the meaning of “spiritual” and “spiritual integrity.” We explore ways of naming and indicating this “spiritual,” and why it’s important to not lose this in a context of “neo-liberal” culture which tends to reduce humanity to autonomous and unencumbered selves. This naming (45:00) of “something more” always employs resources from scripture and tradition, experience and culture, nature and our environment. And this effort, according to Noel (47:30), is better than meeting this “more” with silence and looking the other way. In this episode, I offer what Noel calls a contemporary midrash–an expansive commentary–on Noel’s biblical account of the absolute shalom requirements of well-being, justice, and integration. Among other things, the conversation touches on themes of justice (and justification), the necessity for justice to include sufficiency, equity, and solidarity, and how we name and indicate the “transcendent” dimensions and context of our lives. Image by Heidelbergerin from Pixabay
79 minutes | a month ago
The Shalom Activism of Alexandra Ellish
My conversation with Alexandra (Alex) Ellish begins with her early childhood in South Africa, including enjoyable experience in Presbyterian church, with a relaxed faith home environment. When she moved to the UK at 15 she found no Presbyterian church in Kent, so made her way into the Baptist church, encountered Anabaptism. [0-5:58] We also talk about her call to ministry, outside the church, motivated by the teachings of Jesus, even as the church didn’t recognize women as ministers. [5:58-12:30] Along with this, Alex shares her experiences and intuitions about poverty and privilege, especially around race, as a white person, from South Africa, and how we might come to a sense of positive identity and engagement in and with a social and community formation. [12:30-22:50] We then turn to her explicit call to ministry, connection to Baptist ministry throughout Europe, and through that, Urban Expression, an organization that seeks to plant churches on the margins (mostly in urban contexts). [22:50-32:45] This flows into a discussion of “peace,” “pacifism,” “peace-making”, “shalom”, all-things reconciled as the work of God/Jesus [32:45-39:00], what what peace-making shalom work might look like in a local church and its community, perhaps focusing on “community organizer,” as sort of Baptist “parish priest”, with a geographical sense of calling. [39:00-48:50] This touches on what we, in Jesus-shalom, call renovation (within church) and reconstruction (outside church). Check out our recent blog post on this. Alex then shares a bit about how she talks about Jesus, both within and outside of the church in her context, touching on how Jesus might be encountered and trusted as a wise guide for life, as a starting point (or rather than) lord and king. [48:50-60:23] And we conclude with conversation around questions and challenges with regard to shalom values, including some conversation about the recent book “Being Interrupted”. [60:23-75:10]Photo by v2osk on Unsplash
66 minutes | a month ago
Shalom Requirements: well-being, justice, integration
Well-being and justice are important contemporary themes. How do they relate to shalom? How do they connect with Jesus? Is there a spiritual element included? These are some of the themes we explore in this episode on the 3 absolute shalom requirements, the three things which must be present for shalom to be realized. Maybe our best episode yet! Along the way we bring to the surface the material, physical, and tangible element of the biblical account of shalom, as well as explore some alternative accounts of judgment (and being judgmental!). After Noel introduces his three “absolute shalom requirements,” (0:55) we backtrack a little bit to talk values and their importance for Noel’s way of engaging theologically and spiritually. Values, for him, are “the treasure of reality,” and preferable to talk of “virtues”. The latter have more of a “street level” understanding and are less susceptible to archaic and gendered connotations. From there Noel pivots (5:40) to showing that talk of values, while still including some idealism, is also very practical and pragmatic. Indeed, the three shalom requirements can serve as a kind of ruler or measuring stick for the presence of shalom. At the same time, these three are intertwined “facets.” There’s a nice nice Claus Westermann quote (from his chapter in The Meaning of Peace) at 7:20). Finally, the practicality of shalom and its requirements extends beyond human beings to the whole creation. (8:30) At 9:20 we turn to the first requirement: well-being. This is the most frequent biblical understanding of shalom; it’s overwhelmingly focused on physical and material well-being, a matter of food and water, clothing and shelter, health and safety. The Hebrew word “tov” (10:10) points in this direction, with the idea of goodness, goodness for, things being as they need to be. Again, a particular and practical sense of “goodness,” extending across every aspect and element of creation, one that calls into question “all forms of utility.” (14:00) Another way to get at some of this is to speak of “enough” and “sufficiency” of those things that are necessary for living and living well. At 15:05 Noel addresses how Jesus’ life, teaching, and example addresses all of these same themes. And yes, while much of what he did could also be a sign to other things, it would be “dualistic” to say that the latter is the central meaning. The “genius” of Jesus (17:20) is the presence of different depths and dimensions in what he did and said. It was all part of Jesus “going about and doing good.” This has ramifications for what Jesus meant by “meekness” and its connection to “dominion” (in the opening chapter of Genesis)–Noel speaks of “dominion-meekness” as a way of connecting our role as humans as for the goodness and fullness of creation. For more, see Noel’s book “Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace.” We move toward concluding the first part of our conversation (24:30) Noel reflects a bit on the contemporary import of these biblical reflections. He offers three observations: first, “shalom” as a greeting is not merely a pleasantry but an expression of care and concern; second, shalom well-being can be considered along a continuum, from enough to abundance (he uses Perry Yoder’s book, “Shalom to make the point); and finally, none of this has anything to do with contemporary “prosperity” theology. After the break, the conversation turns to shalom as “relational justice” (31:00), beginning with things we touched on in Episode 4 (on Shalom as relationship). Justice, for Noel, is living in and working for right relationship. Central, here, is the idea of “putting right” things that are not in our relationship, an idea rooted in the Hebrew word “mishpat”. This includes a nice story from Exodus 18 (33:00). And it (like well-being) extends out from the intra-human world to the wider, inter-creational world (36:15). And throughout, judgment/justice is a concrete process more than an abstract principle or decision. (There’s a nice quote from Walter Wink [The Powers that Be] [41:35]. For more on these, see my recent conversation with Aglaia Barraclough, who works in restorative justice. The end result: shalom activist should see themselves as “angels [messengers] of judgment [restorative justice],” (44:20) which has positive connections with contemporary notions of rights, and fairness, and what is due (46:00). The third shalom requirement– “spiritual integrity”–is addressed at 47:50. This has two, intertwined dimensions: human integrity and cosmic integration. We have some back-and-forth conversation about the elusive quality of these terms “spiritual” and “integrity”–it is something that we indeed notice and name, but it is difficult to describe and capture. It’s like a “presence” and “persona.” Noel offers some biblical reflections on this at 52:00. We have some back and forth (54:45-56:35) on “harmony” and “character” and “virtue,” all as terms that try to “get at” what “integrity” in general and “spiritual integrity” in particular. We close (56:40) with some general reflections on the idea of being “clothed” with character traits, a biblical trope of some frequency, and how it connects with our broader shalom theme.
60 minutes | 2 months ago
The beginning of Matty’s faith journey (part 2)
At 0:45 Our conversation picks up with Matty’s reservations about the catholic church he was connected to. Although he felt an aesthetic resonance, he began to be turned away by abortion politics and fundraising for priestly vestments, leading to disagreement/disconnect with rest of the congregation. “Once you start picking at one thread,” the rest starts unravelling; all kept “at a distance” by the aesthetics of his personal encounter with the church. So tried a different Catholic church (4:30), where his daughter started asking questions about being a priest. That, plus some strong teaching about divorce (as he was then going through), led to a sense of alienation and lack of hope about inclusion in church–he anticipated prohibition and the communion table and the broader “limits of Catholic moral theology”. Didn’t know there are “liberal” parts of Catholic theology. At 9:00 our conversation transitions, as, from one Sunday to the next, Matty crossed the street to the Anglican church (led by a woman!). He recounts his encounter with a dynamic woman vicar in an Anglican church. It offered a space where his daughter’s question (can I be a priest?) could receive a positive answer. In addition, the church had undergone a journey from traditional orthodoxy toward more robust inclusion along the lines of gender and sexuality. Also, there was a broader lay participation (lay readers, for example), offered a “levelling” of church involvement, liturgical and otherwise. It introduced a different kind of beauty–a relational beauty, in contrast to the aesthetic beauty of the Catholic liturgy. This offered an opportunity for him to “method act” the role of Jesus in a church play! (16:00) All of this displaced his “own drama” from the centre of his life. Concurrent to this was his work in a conservative evangelical organization (18:30), an apologetics ministry (now experiencing well-publicized reckoning for improprieties of its founder). There was a contrasting form of engagement and piety and power dynamics in this organization than what he had encountered in his particular Anglican church. This was “out of step” with the direction of his faith journey outside of work. There was a kind of “intoxication” in the “certainty” he encountered there and the way it created community cohesion. Led to him going along with colleagues to a charismatic evangelical church nearby. After the interlude, we pick up (at 28:00) the conversation again with Matty’s sense of disconnection with the evangelical church he’d been invited to. This led to a quick end of his participation (delayed by their great kids’ club). Around 30:00 I “flag” the way our faith journeys are shaped by both positive and negative encounters and how they resonate with our intuitions. I touch on my own departure from evangelicalism in terms of belief and behavior and belonging, and a sense that something wasn’t working in any of these areas of life. At 35:15, Matty adds that the evangelical church was fairly homogenous. And at the same time, he was sensing that people don’t come to faith through apologetic arguments but through relationship and authenticity. But he wrestles with not defining things over-against evangelicalism. His positive experience (39:00) with Oasis church (and Steve Chalke, who married them) was helpful in this regard; it offered a style of worship and experience that was similar to charismatic, but it was radically inclusive and socially engaged–it reflected the wider community in which it was located. He recounts meeting Noel and his work at Greenbelt festival (42:30). At Greenbelt he also encountered folks who had been hurt by conservative forms of Christianity. Noel was particularly helpful in thinking differently about hell and eternal damnation. Eventually, this led to an encounter with “shalom and shalom activism”, and connection with all things. At 47:00 I comment on believing, behaving, and belonging and how those are engaged within evangelicalism. And we, in the Jesus-shalom movement, are trying to do is something different in these three areas, not only in content but also in style. We end with my question to Matty (49:00) about his key question and concerns. His answer includes a possible call to ministry; what faith looks like in his local context; and deeper engagement with scripture. References to: Peter Enns’ The Bible for Normal People podcast Christian Animism (website & Youtube channel) Oasis church Julian of Norwich (Wikipedia entry)
58 minutes | 2 months ago
The beginning of Matty’s faith journey (part 1)
With this episode we begin a once-a-month conversation with someone on a “faith journey,” whether toward renovation (within the familiar Christian “household”) or toward reconstruction (outside that familiar Christian household). Two people–Matty Fearon and Isabel Ciudad Fontecha–have agreed to share their stories in real time, as it where, beginning with their background and upbringing. My conversation with Matty begins (2:00) with his own self introduction and his background (4:15) as a Liverpool Catholic. But his parents had a complicated relationship with traditional authority and what Matty refers to as the separation of teaching and life. After a relocation with his family to Ireland (and the hotbed of European Catholicism), he remained connected to Catholic Christianity, not at church but at school. So there was some significant engagement with Christian language and practice–he was “religiously literate”–but it was largely “squeezed out” by sports and reading. That background did, however, give him a reference point for “returning” to church when his recovery required. It also gave him (8:30) a love for James Joyce and Gerard Manley Hopkins and a Jesuit “envy.” He talks a bit about his recovery from alcoholism. (10:30) This includes (around 11:00) some interesting comments on Jung and spirit/spirits (i.e., alcohol). But his learning in recovery gave him a very practical reason to re-engage with a faith perspective–to “get down on your knees” and find a power “greater than yourself” but “of your own understanding,” meaning it’s best to start “close to home” and “with what you know.” But this came after a brief engagement with “going toward the east,” (12:30) including Buddhism and Hinduism (in connection with yoga) and early gnostic Christian writers (a “realm of Christian mysticism” and “unorthodox thinking”). He then turns to “return” to the Catholic church (18:15), through an encounter with Julian of Norwich (we’ll come back to this later), but also a resonance with the Gospel of Matthew, which he read “with hunger” and receptiveness. He found emotional resonance with Jesus–his life and his stories. It left him “shaken,” undermining his “argumentative” tendencies. (21:45) Yet he didn’t know what to do, undertaking this journey on his own (22:30), and so he decided to “go to church,” where they were singing amazing grace. It felt like, in good recovery fashion, this service was made for him (24:40). After the break (26:45) the story picks up (a couple weeks later) again. He takes us back to his encounter, in rehab and on TV (!), with Julian of Norwich and how that nudged him in the direction of the church. But in some way the same things that led him to church–the need for community, women’s voices, radical reflection–were the seeds of leading him away. (34:15) There was also his friend’s practice and recommendation of prayer (37:00), as part of the recovery process of finding higher power– “praying to a word.” There are also some comments (40:45) about how this follows somewhat “evangelical” patterns in conversion. Finding his way back to the Catholic church (45:30)–after a “spiritual pub crawl”–he encountered the importance of a relational connection (with the priest, [47:45] who made space for him to learn, explore, toward first confession and first communion) attached to the “enthrall” of the vague familiarity and culture of Catholicism. (49:15) He was “in love with what was happening”. But there was also a genuine experience of confessing sin and steps of recovery (52:00) (handing over limitations/failures to god for them to be healed), leading to “feeling nothing” (until he saw a double rainbow). A very “intense” and “private” introduction back into the Catholic faith (55:30)–but no sense of community (small church and many traveled from far away).
3 minutes | 2 months ago
An introduction to our faith journeys conversations
59 minutes | 2 months ago
Additions to the Shalom “formula”…and a bit on reflective learning
In this episode Tim responds to Noel’s 1-3-4-6 “formula” for remembering essential elements or aspects of our shalom perspective. He begins (1:00) with an account of his more “philosophical” way of reflecting, in contrast to Noel’s more “biblical” way of reflecting. Tim begins with non-religious engagement and reflection with culture, science, psychology, and sociology, on its own terms and parameters, and then goes to the biblical sources with this contemporary reflection as a kind of “catalyst” for discovering what scripture might have to say, in conversation with the contemporary situation. The goal, however, is to allow both the biblical world and the contemporary world to have their own autonomy and integrity in this conversation. He then suggests some ways to supplement Noel’s formula, by adding 5 spheres of life (for shalom engagement), and 2 broad metaphors of shalom “salvation”–salvation “from” and salvation “for”. He also wonders if there might be away to get a “7” into the formula! At 9:20 Tim offers some comments on How the 5 spheres might shape contemporary engagements, such as the acute COVID pandemic and the chronic racism pandemic. Race is not merely personal and interpersonal prejudice, but also communal and institutional privilege, and cultural and political power. We also touch on how our current racial system is tied to developments in science and colonialism. A nice passing comment (15:15-16:25) from Noel, referring to “the laboratory of the local”, the place of nurturing imagination and practice to take into larger scales and scope. At 16:25 Tim takes this sense of spheres of life into conversation with the Bible and life in the Ancient Near East, which had different ways of sorting life and different scale for engaging life. Perhaps “principalities and powers” talk, along with “covenant” sensibility, might be useful in this regard. The goal of this conversation, then, is for persons and communities to “make shalom” their own vision, in order to join in this reflection. Shalom, in this sense, is a bit of a “universal seed” planted in indigenous soil for imagination and action. In the second part (beginning at 24:35) of the conversation we look at whether the biblical material suggests a “two-ness” about shalom, especially insofar as shalom intersects with “salvation” talk. And salvation talk in the biblical has two poles, or a two-directional quality–”from and for”, “out of” and “into”; liberation/redemption and blessing/reconciliation. Noel reminds us that the root meaning of “salvation” is entering a wide-open space. In any case, shalom-salvation has a “contrastive” quality–a livable world in contrast to disorder and chaos, inequality and injustice. This is important because it addresses the nuances of scripture, but it also allows for a questioning or subversion of the contemporary way of life which is taken as obvious, unavoidable. Tim does speak, briefly, of his agreement and affirmation of the other elements in Noel’s pattern, noting different terminology. The last part of the conversation (at 36:00) turns to the kind of “reflective learning” that we hope to encourage for folks in “faith journeys.” Not merely “just doing” faith and life, but intentional reflection on the “why” and “how” of what we are doing, as we are doing it. This happens to coincide with the “learning experiences” that Workshop sought to facilitate and encourage. And such learning experiences require courage, more than comfort, testing more than accepting. And it concludes (beginning at 45:05) some how such reflective learning and learning experiences is a more “postmodern” way of engagement with faith. It suggests an approach that focuses on “attending”, on “noticing” and “naming” in our experiences (including faith experiences). This “noticing and naming” can be done in different ways; it is always “particular and perspectival”, done from a particular “angle of vision.” And this offers a way for talking with others about our various engagements–with scripture and our context–with a more contemplative (mindful) approach. Our hope is for a kind of “contemplative conversation.”
52 minutes | 2 months ago
Shalom activist, pt. 2: from shalom to restorative justice
In part two of our conversation with Aglaia Barraclough, we turn to her work in restorative justice, prompted by her engagement in Workshop and reading done there (but not before a bit of sustained work in community development projects with immigrants and refugees, many from other faith perspectives). We explore what restorative justice is and how it connects back to the shalom vision she first heard about in Workshop. Work in restorative justice, while rewarding, has its limits and challenges. In particular, it needs more “upstream” advocacy in culture and law, so that the “downstream” work of advocates can be fully funded and psychologically/socially supported. We conclude with how her current Celtic/neo-monastic spiritual practices sustain her work, often by downsizing missional expectations, along with some lingering challenges and questions (particularly those raised by the more than human world).
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