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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

thank you for the music...

Friday, June 30, 2006

Fascinating discussion about worship and singing praise 'here' - thanks Laura for getting it going!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 4:31 PM | link | 0 comments |

creative participation...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Yesterday I was having a really interesting email conversation with Laura from Sanctus 1 (who often blogs 'here') about gathered worship in the emerging church (EC). As with all of these impromptu discussions, it would have been great if we'd been having it in the blogosphere so that others could have joined in! It's not really possible (or necessarily desirable) to rehearse the discussion here (short of simply posting all the emails) but maybe I could pick up on one strand of it, and that's the tension (perceived or otherwise) between creativity and the need for some level of familiarity.

At Dream in Liverpool City we have an open invitation for any member of the community to 'lead' the worship the next time we meet. This is done sometimes by individuals or by people working together, but the strength of it is seen in the variety of 'styles' of worship reflecting the characters of the different people bringing the worship. It also enables an active participation of the members of the community that goes beyond simply joining in with what's been prepared by someone else. One of the most memorable Dream services for me was one that I would never have come up with myself! We entered a room scattered with 'stations' of different coloured beads and were invited by Nicola (who was leading the service) to make a prayer bracelet out of the beads by following a set of instructions that outlined a meaning for each of the different beads. It was a service in which I prayed more than in any other, and which allowed for a great freedom whilst also giving gentle direction. I've still got the bracelet and the explanations sheets and use them in my own prayers from time to time.

Of course, such an invitation carries a level of risk - the risk that the worship one week may not be very good (by one's own always-perfect standards that is!), or that it may be too heavily 'led', or too controversial or too evangelical or too... However, it's a risk that's well worth taking, not least because it ensures that the same individual or group of individuals are not always tasked with leading, but more because it genuinely opens up a whole world of creativity.

The thing that unites these differing expressions as 'Dream' is the core values that we have identified as a community. In this, permission is given for creativity and fresh approaches to gathered worship whilst we uphold the 'familiar' in the values underpinning it all. So, for example, in any service there will always be a focus on engaging with Christ, always be a high level of participation, always be an invitation to explore at a personal level, etc. I guess this approach has prevented Dream from slipping into a comfortable formulaic approach to worship (yes, this is possible with altworship too) whilst maintaining a fair degree of 'I know what Dream is (and is not)' - i.e. the familiar. On being too formulaic, I still remember a seminar discussion at Greenbelt a few years ago, about AltWorship, when someone unwittingly described a service they'’d been to as "“not traditional alternative worship!"” Laughter broke out at this comment but there was a slightly uncomfortable edge to the laughter.

Lord, spare us from creating and getting stuck in 'traditional alternative worship'’!


Surely, the adventure of gathered worship is to be found in the creative energy of a community and in genuine faith exploration in that community, not in discovering a formula that becomes the diktat.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:43 AM | link | 1 comments |

the great questioner...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Here's a great quote from the Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr, writing in the latest issue of Third Way magazine...

"Jesus is asked 183 questions directly in the four Gospels. He only answered three of them forthrightly. The others he either ignored, kept silent about, asked a question in return, changed the subject, told a story or gave an audio/visual aid to make his point, told them it was the wrong question, revealed their insincerity or hypocrisy, made the exactly opposite point, or redirected the question elsewhere!

Check it out for yourself. He himself asks 307 questions, which would seem to set a pattern for imitation. Considering this, it is really rather amazing that the church became an official answering machine and a very self assured program for 'sin management'.

Many, if not most, of Jesus' teaching would never pass contemporary orthodoxy tests in either the Roman Office or the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of his statements are so open to misinterpretation that should he teach today, he would probably be called a 'relativist' in almost all areas except one: his insistence upon the goodness and reliability of God. That was his only consistent absolute."

Third Way, Summer 2006, Vol 29 No 6, page 27
Thanks to Ben for directing me to the article.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 1:02 PM | link | 3 comments |

travel notes for a rescued people

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Dream network has been asked again to lead a service at this year's Greenbelt Festival, and last night members of 'Dream in Liverpool City', 'Dream in Haydock' and 'Day-Dream' met together to begin to put it together. Planning worship by committee can be a long, even drawn-out, process, but it can also be incredibly creative and inspiring - a powerful act of worship in and of itself. Last night was the latter!

We started by reminding ourselves of Greenbelt's overall theme this year - 'redemption songs', before 'mind-mapping' (I think that's the correct way of putting it) our ideas and thoughts. We had some great discussions around the following areas...
  1. the act of remembering being important to the faith journey; but remembering is not just about calling to mind past events, it's about reminding ourselves of our identity and our future. So often we're trapped by our past, but in the act of redemption we have been released to live in the 'now' and hope for the 'to come'. Faith is a struggle at times, which is why the act of remembering who we are, who we belong to and where we are journeying toward is so important.
  2. the sense of being strangers both in 'the world' as followers of Jesus, but also often in the church too. One member spoke of only feeling genuinely 'at home' and 'normal' at Greenbelt, and feeling increasingly disconnected from the church. This led us into a discussion about our journey with Christ as part of 'a people' rather than simply being one individual in a group of individuals. We follow in the footsteps of the Israel of the Old Testament as an 'exiled people' who know we've been rescued and are on our way home. We are in the process of 'becoming'.
  3. the journey of faith being dynamic and engaging rather than static and defined, but with a clear direction, director and end point. The concept of journey is important in Dream, with a high value placed on giving people the space and freedom to make their own journey. Alongside this we place a high value on our journey being Christ-centred and focussed.
  4. the place of appropriate (not triumphalistic) celebration of the above.
Through all this we came up with a working title for the service... Travel Notes for a Rescued People, which kind of holds together all of the strands and opens up great possibilities in terms of stations as 'travel notes'!

We're not sure yet how this will all work out in the service itself, but it should be a fun and engaging ride! If you're at Greenbelt, look out for us at midday on the Saturday, and come and be a part of it.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:54 AM | link | 0 comments |

the 'necessary' Christ?

I love it when blog discussions bring new challenges and ways of thinking (even if they're not new to everyone!) So, I just wanted to direct readers back to Steve Lancaster's comments to my 'faithful betrayals' post of last week 'here'. Steve's someone I knew and worked alongside all those years back (!) when I was a student at York University, and was then (and still is by the looks of things!) an inspiring thinker. I'm still not sure yet what my overall response is to Steve's comments, but I'm glad he's written them and am mulling them over. One thing that has definitely got me thinking is this:

"perhaps we begin to get to the heart of the nature of God's Love, the depth of Jesus' sacrifice, if we at least explore the possibility that what He did/was/is has been unnecessary.

I won't marshall a long argument here, except to point out that it is surely the essence of a Gift to be unnecessary. That's why we feel uncomfortable handing out wedding lists! Or, to argue from the nature of Love - if all things are possible, and if Love is infinitely giving, then surely there was a way around our intransigency without recourse to the death of a Son. "

I can't help thinking in response to this, however, that if 'the death of a Son' wasn't necessary then it all seems a bit macabre and so challenges my belief in a God of infinite love. If there was another way to demonstrate grace and forgiveness and to establish the redeemed people of God, then why suffer the brutality of the cross? Can't a gift be a 'necessary' expression of love and commitment?

Steve, thanks for getting the grey matter going, and 'Amen' to your closing comment...

"Now, Emerging Church, really let your imagination run riot!"

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:41 AM | link | 2 comments |

the labydome

Monday, June 19, 2006

this is a crazy idea but would be great if someone could actually build one!! To find out more, go and see Steve Collins's design 'here' and Jonny Baker's post 'here'.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 3:30 PM | link | 0 comments |

faithful betrayal...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Pete Rollins was at Blah Manchester last night, with the clever title
'Faithful Betrayals: the ir/religious nature of Christianity'. The gist of his argument, and the point I found most valuable, was to suggest that revelation, far from being something that ties up all the loose ends and clarifies belief, actually 'ruptures' our understanding of God. Through revelation we glimpse God in a new light and are overwhelmed with him, such that we realise the limits of our understanding and become open to our present frameworks being challenged, even destroyed. In a wonderfully quotable phrase, Pete argued that revelation is not the opposite of concealment but is "the encounter with the unknown God who remains unknown in the knowing."

In the discussion afterwards, Jonny helpfully raised the example of Peter's vision in Acts 10, where in the dream of unkosher food on the heavenly table-cloth (!) God literally told Peter to disobey the Word of God! Eating this 'unclean' meat was contrary to the Hebrew Scriptures and to all Peter had been raised to believe and do. In this act of revelation, Peter's religious framework was being blown apart.

The vital question in all this, though, is how do we know a genuine revelation of God when we see/hear/sense one? There is a danger in all this that faith could simply become individualistic, and that we could justify any belief and practice by claiming 'revelation'. So, is Scripture somehow a normative revelation that stands as the benchmark for future revelation? And even if it is, how can we be sure that our reading of it is correct? Far better perhaps to recognise our place in the worldwide and historic community of the faithful, and weigh revelation in relationship with others.

But Peter even stepped outside of this - he took a unilateral risk and followed the prompting of the Spirit even though it meant betraying his beliefs and his faith community. Fortunately for him, the validity of his risk-taking was affirmed when he met Cornelius and his household and witnessed the Spirit of God at work there.

All of this reminds me of a question that was asked at a panel discussion I was chairing in Liverpool City Centre a couple of years ago. The question was about 'blind spots' in our faith. Next year marks the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and Liverpool is gearing up to appropriately commemorate this as a city whose wealth was largely built on the back of this abhorrent trade. But we know that prior to this, Christians actually justified slavery using Scripture - they even thought that Scripture promoted it. As we look back 200 years later, we wonder how on earth such a reading could have been held; how could Christians have justified such barbarity?

And so the question stands for us today... How are we reading and interpreting Scripture and our faith in ways that future generations of Christians will look back on with disbelief and shame? What new revelations will God send our way that will rupture our current faith understanding, maybe even leading us to betray our previously held faith in order to remain faithful, and lead us closer to the heart of God?

update... take a look at Jonny Baker's post on the same 'here', Mark Berry 'here', Fat Roland (Sanctus 1) 'here', and Lou Davis 'here'

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:46 AM | link | 5 comments |

emerging dreams

There's a good amount of dreaming dreams for the emerging church going on at the moment. Two posts worth looking at in particular are Dan Kimball's list of several people's dreams for his church 'here', and Richard White's dream for Dream (!) 'here'.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:39 AM | link | 0 comments |

back from hols...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Just got back from a relaxing week on the Atlantic Coast of Brittany, France, with the family. Had a great time but it was too short. Next year, we're going to go for longer!!! Problem is that I've returned to over 200 emails after only a week away, so by the time I've caught up I'll need another holiday!! If I manage to surface from the emails I'll post my weekly blog entry on Tuesday as usual.
posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 12:50 PM | link | 0 comments |