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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!

consuming spiritual experiences...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I really enjoyed being at the Mind Body Spirit Northern Festival over the weekend. I spent much of my time talking to people about their spiritual experiences and searching, praying for people and explaining how we continue this tradition because we believe that Jesus the healer lives on and is with us by his Spirit, and (a new experience for me) giving readings from the Jesus Deck (a contextually appropriate form of applied Bible reading really!)

I think what struck me about the whole experience is how genuinely open people are to engage with 'the divine' and look beyond themselves in order to better know themselves. It's not stretching the point to say that I found a greater sense of openness to 'God' at this festival than I often find in many churches. In fact, people are so open that they are prepared to try all sorts of things and pay quite large amounts of money in the process (though we charged nothing at Dekhomai). I met and prayed with one young man who had already been to the Reiki healers and had his Aura read (at the modest cost of £25). It was the latter experience that was now concerning him as the 'reading' was not very positive. As we talked and prayed he expressed how he had felt a weight lifting from him - maybe a genuine activity of God.

I guess my overall reflection on the experience (and I'm sure it's overly simplistic) is that festivals such as this are in many ways an indictment on the Church, rather than an external expression of 'evil' competing with the Church. Many people I met had been raised through church or had some church experience in their background. For a whole range of reasons they were now continuing their spiritual journey detached from the Church. These people largely responded positively to Dekhomia because Jesus remained central to their spirituality, even though they had openly rejected the Church.

Which all raised a series of questions for me... what led these people to give up on the Church in their spiritual exploration? (I may have some handles on this one though!) More importantly, how do we (is it even possible to) enable people to freely journey in their own spiritual exploration within church communities, even if their present understanding is, in places, at odds with orthodox Christian doctrine and theology? Can we provide the space for such a journey centred on Jesus which will, potentially at least, negate the need that many feel to plough so much of their hard-earned money into Mind Body Spirit festivals? I'm reminded of an elderly lady who was a member of the first church I was a minister at who was greatly loved by everyone in the church and seen as a pillar of the church community. She had a strong belief in reincarnation... was it right that the church still counted her as 'one of us'?! Right or wrong (I'm not really into dogmatics) at least she was able to develop her relationship with Jesus alongside others who would challenge and encourage, rather than being cast into the void at the mercy of the multitude of confusing and contradicting messages.

But I say 'is it even possible to' because maybe consumerism has seduced our lives so fully that even spirituality and the search for God has been made an essentially individually 'purchased' thing. Many people I met over the weekend had 'consumed' several spiritual experiences through what was on offer at the festival and were still floating around, with little or no anchor points, looking for the next experience to 'buy'. If this is the case, then surely the Church has been complicit to some extent in this individualising of faith and spirituality, and must now find ways of being both contextually rooted (speaking the right language) and yet also counter cultural if we are to stem the tide and help people to (re)discover Jesus. I guess in some small way this is what Dekhomai and the stand at the festival was and is trying to do.

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:51 AM


Hi Malcolm. Appreciate your post and incorporated a small section of it (with due credit to you) in something I'm working on.

With regards your last paragraph, I don't think it's a case of "either / or". I think your third to last paragraph captures the tension well - Jesus @ the center (i.e. we are a Christian community) but there's is within that a willingness to recognise the possibility of others being on a journey toward Jesus (which of course we resource etc) but that their journey, at any particular, point may not (yet) "tick" all the 'boxes' with regards to "orthodoxy."

Solid at the center - open at the edges...

commented by Anonymous Paul Fromont, 10:41 PM  

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