Creativity Design Thinking Emerging Church Emerging Scotland God, Faith & Church St Ninian's Theology United Reformed Church

Why, How, What…

Why? How?  What?

Why do we do the things we do in the way we do them?

I wonder what the most important part of the question is?  Is it the things that we do?  Is it the way that we do them?  Or is it the why?

For me the ‘why’ is the most important part but it’s also the part that I fear we think about least.

I have this picture on my whiteboard to remind me.

As a church, both in the local and the larger scale, we are known for what we do and how we do it.  So, at St Ninian’s when I ask about who we are the answers might be ‘friendly’ or ‘hospitable’ or ‘welcoming’.  The how and the what of that look like weekly coffee mornings and the Guild and the Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade and hosting the Hope Cafe and the Folk Club.  As far as worship goes we have a pretty standard hymn/prayer service with a sermon in the middle, and morning prayers on Monday and Thursday and Night Church through the darker winter months.

Those are good things.  They are our ‘doing’ church.

But what do they say about ‘why’ we do or are church?

Making a case for  being ‘friendly’, ‘hospitable’ and ‘welcoming’ is pretty easy.  Loving you neighbour surely involves putting the kettle on.  But friendly to whom?  Hospitable to whom?  Welcoming to whom?  Do we just put the kettle on for people we know?  Do we bake just for our friends?

We’ve actually been talking about our ‘Why’ at St Ninian’s for a year now.  We started the day I started.  That’s what all the questions are about.  That’s what all the ‘so, you think this is about this… but what if it is about that…?’ has been for.  To help us think about what we believe and about why we believe it.  A safe space to be free to think and question and doubt and change our minds and play with new ideas and keep some of them and throw other ones away.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at the 10 Commandments.  I’ve suggested that they might be our high level strategic plan because they tell us how we should relate to God, how we should relate to each other and what it means to be fully ourselves.  These 10 words from God create a space for all of us to be free.  

All of us.

Not just some of us.

All of us…

Free from fear.  Free from violence.  Free from worry.

I wonder if creating that kind of space is our ‘why’?

And if it is our ‘why’ then surely that pushes us out beyond what we do now to bring that freedom to more and more people.

The next question is ‘how’?  How do we know who we are dealing with?  How do we make contact and build relationships?  How do we choose our priorities?  How will we work?  Will we do things for people or should we do things with people?

And only then, once we have worked out our ‘why’ and our ‘how’ do we think about the ‘what’.  

What will we do?  What will we need?  What will it look like and smell like and taste like and sound like and feel like?

Change The World Church of Scotland Creativity Design Thinking Emerging Church Emerging Scotland God, Faith & Church Society Theology United Reformed Church worship

Missing Generations (part 7)

What’s missing today is a high-quality discourse on rethinking the design and evolution of the entire system from scratch.

The quality of the results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which the people in the system operate.

(Otto Scharmer)

Since writing the first batch of posts on Missing Generations I’ve been lucky enough to be part of two events and several conversations which have expanded my thinking on some of the topics I raised.  I think those events and conversations have at least begun to produce a quality of awareness…


The Church is perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving. (Alan Hirsch)

Those were the opening words of Alan Hirsch at a recent conference, The Shaping of Things To Come… in Scotland.  He and Michael Frost were talking through some of the thoughts from the book of the same name (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church) and Hirsch was basically saying that our focus on pastor/ teacher leads to a focus on an intellectual style of engagement.  We have pretty much ignored other forms of ministry like apostle, prophet and evangelist.  That means we skew our thinking in one direction and that has led to the church we have today.

That analysis would certainly explain our present forms of worship and even our liking of austere buildings.  We could trace that back to the reformation and tie it to the Enlightenment but it also chimes with a second conversation I was part of with Brian McLaren.  The link below is Brian’s podcast at a recent conference and he was saying the same thing at the event I was at.

Brian McLaren at children,youth and a new kind of Christianity

His assertion is that we are telling the wrong story, or at least telling the story in the wrong way.  That stems from even further back than the reformation and Brian blames those pesky Greco-Romans and their philosophy.  He says that the story we tell is transposed onto Plato’s ‘Cave’.

greek philosophy diagram

So our version is:

christianity diagram

McLaren’s assertion is that our story is something very different.  Our story begins with the Exile.  That cycle of exile, rediscovering a relationship with God, returning and forgetting again.  Genesis is the prequel and the sequel is Isaiah and his vision of the kingdom which leads us to Jesus and the incarnation.

One of Hirsch and Frost’s thoughts is that we focus too much on one particular end of the story of Jesus.  We focus on the cross, resurrection and the return.  We forget the incarnation.  We forget an amazing and hugely significant part of the story, the life of Jesus, here on Earth.

Michael Frost talked about ‘excarnation’, the opposite of ‘incarnation’.  Excarnation means stripping away flesh.  I wonder if that’s what we have done in the way that we tell the story of Jesus, or in how we behave as Christians?  It would seem that rather than being an incarnational community, a community in the flesh, we have become in many ways an excarnational community, a community of thought.

If that is true then it has some serious implications for us.  We are, again, telling the wrong story.

And that leads to us doing the wrong things.  We focus on learning rather than sharing, study rather than community and maintaining an institution rather than participating in a movement.

Hirsch asked the question: Did you get into this to run a club or build a kingdom?  Why do we spend all our energy doing the former and not the latter?

I’ve come across this video in a couple of places now.  I think part of the trap of the club is that we are stuck in a cycle of property ownership and wages.  What if money was no object?  What would you do?

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Is the Church, all wretch and no vomit?

A final thought for now:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein


Creativity Emerging Scotland Events God, Faith & Church thePROJECT worship

thePROJECT 2 Programme

thePROJECT:2, ‘In The Flesh’, Saturday 20th June, Edinburgh.

The first section of thePROJECT:2 runs 12.00 – 7.00pm @ The Lot, 4-6 Grassmarket, and St Columba By the Castle, 14 Johnston Terrace

12.00 – 4.30pm @ The Lot, 4-6 Grassmarket

12.00: Gathering, and creative activities for the young and young-at-heart, to dip in and out of (continuing from 12-4)

* The Big Knit: Bone combs, and personal possession of nits unnecessary… bring yer fingers to add yer own knit, purl and stitch action to the burgeoning tea cosy/ balaclava/ windcheater/ jersey/ sock (delete as appropriate)… a big woolie thing we’ll make together! (continuous activity)

* Gentle City Walking: Experience the urban curiosities of Embro; hear sounds you’ve never heard; see things you’d not have noticed; explore your sensations, feelings and thoughts on a magically mundane mystery tour… (continuous activity)

* Body Partying: a collaborative, additive artwork, where we’ll add pictures of bits of bodies together to create a huge picture (eventually) of thePROJECT Body! (continuous activity)

* Videovoxpopping: Smile, scowl, pull a face, crack a joke, what you feel on film. Let yer soul be captured and your opinions be articulated in cinematic style… (continuous activity)

* Kissing Booth: a chance to kiss SCOTT PAGET and selected members of thePROJECT steering group – ok, that’ll be optional – and to bend their ears with your ideas, hear what they’ve got to say. An opportunity to chat about what thePROJECT is, wasn’t and mibbe could be. (continuous activity)

* The Scratch Mary Poppins: Join PHIL WHITE in recreating what has become an incisive parable for our credit-crunch times… supercalifragalistication assured! (Rehearsals at St Columba, 1-3, performance 4.00).

12.45 – 1.45:

CoMusika with JANE BENTLEY: A corporately created, improvisational, invitational musical event where there is no audience, only players on a journey of increasing mutuality, communication, and communion, creating ‘music in the moment’. Jane will be harnessing your creative talents to make this happen.

2.00 – 2.30:

Non-Cabbage & Ambulances? with ROB MACKENZIE and ANDREW PHILIP: two of Scotland’s finest poets share their insightful, powerful and witty words. 2.45-3.45: Fischy Goings-On with, oh yes… FISCHY MUSIC: join SUZANNE ADAM, SANDY BUTLER and JED MILROY for a musical bonanza, chock-full of fun, emotions, sprituality and craziness!


The Scratch Mary Poppins – The Performance: PHIL WHITE and thePROJECT SCRATCH COMPANY (that’s all of youz!) perform the perfect parable!

12.00 – 7.00pm @ St Columba-By-the-Castle, 14 Johnston Terrace

12.00: Gathering, free tea & coffee available in Columba Hall (all day). And hinging-oot on the Terrace.

12.15 – 12.45: Welcome & Introduction

1.00 – 2.15: ‘Alternative Futures – How Art Can Capture The Imagination‘: with BEKI BATESON. Columba Hall.

1.00 – 2.15: ‘A Seed… Or A Weed?‘: with STEWART CUTLER and JULIE WILSON. Columba Sanctuary.

2.30 – 3.45: ‘Copenhagen 2009 – crucifixion of Mother Earth or resurrection of the Cosmic Christ?’: with ROSS LOVERIDGE. Columba Hall.

2.30 – 3.45: ‘Mosh Pit’ – art, faith and culture in Scotland’: with DOUG GAY & others. Columba Sanctuary.

4.00 – 5.00: ‘1o Things They Never Told Me About Jesus’: with JOHN L. BELL. Columba Hall.

5.00 – 7.00: Eating Together: bring your own food, eat together with fellow PROJECTiles.

6.00 – 7.00: ‘Between Silence & Light’: an experiental time and space for worship & reflection, with STEVE BUTLER & friends.

7.00pm – 1.00am @ The Pleasance Cabaret Bar, 60 The Pleasance

7.30: ROB MACKENZIE & ANDREW PHILIP: more worsmithery from the masters. More info (Rob)… More info (Andrew)…

8.15: JAKE TATTON: beautiful punky banshee ballistics.

9.00: WE SEE LIGHTS: quirky indie pop perfection.

10.00: IAIN ARCHER: Norn Irelan’s finest, Ivor Novello winning songer-singwriter.

12.00: Solstice marking: a short celebration of midsummer with STEVE BUTLER.

Creativity Emerging Scotland Events God, Faith & Church Music thePROJECT

thePROJECT – In The Flesh


thePROJECT:2, ‘In The Flesh’, Saturday 20th June, Edinburgh.

12.00 – 4.30pm @ The Lot, 4-6 Grassmarket

  • FISCHY MUSIC (music)/ ROB McKENZIE & ANDREW PHILIP (poetry)/ ‘Mosh Pit: Art, Culture & Faith’ (forum discussion with DOUG GAY & others)/ Videovoxpopping/ Kissing Booth/ Body Parts/ Gentle City Walks/ The Big Knit/ Scratch Mary Poppins (with PHIL WHITE).

1.00 – 7.00pm @ St Columba’s by the Castle, 14 Johnston Terrace

  • ‘Art & Justice’ (workshop with BEKI BATESON & others)/ ‘Emerging Church (workshop with STEWART CUTLER & JULIE WILSON & others)/ ‘Copenhagen 2009 – crucifixion of Mother Earth or resurrection of the Cosmic Christ’ (workshop with ROSS LOVERIDGE)/ ‘Concentric circles & words of faith’ (worship with STEVE BUTLER & friends)/ Bring-yer-own-food and eat together/ free tea & coffee

7.00pm – 1.00am @ Pleasance Cabaret Bar, 60 The Pleasance

  • ROB McKENZIE & ANDREW PHILIP (poetry)/ JAKE TATTON (punky banshee pop)/ WE SEE LIGHTS (indie quirky delights)/ IAIN ARCHER (Ivor Novello winning singer-songwriting)/ Solstice marking (liturgical action)

Tickets can be booked NOW!!!



  • 12 – 7pm only (Lot & St Columba’s): £6.50*
  • 7pm – 1am (Pleasance only): £16.50*
  • ALL DAY (Lot, St Columba’s & Pleasance): £21.50*


  • 12 – 7pm only (Lot & St Columba’s): £5.00*
  • 7pm – 1am (Pleasance only): £9.50*
  • ALL DAY (Lot, St Columba’s & Pleasance): £13.50*


  • ALL DAY Family (2 adults, 2 under-18’s): £56.00*

Don’t hing aboot! Book your ticket online now, as venue capacities are limited!

*Ticket prices above are inclusive of booking fee & credit card charges. Children under 5 free.

thePROJECT:2 In The Flesh Ticket Sales (will open in new window)

thePROJECT is an interim process of small, viral, organic events during 2009 & 2010, building to the possibility of a larger festival of arts, culture & faith (inspired by, but not exactly imitating Greenbelt and other similar events)  in 2011.

Any such any future large festival event has no clear or predetermined shape or consensus about its form, length, breadth, geography or season.  Whatever we end up, will arise from this series of small gatherings (each very different in form and content) during 2009 & 2010, and was inspired initially by the spirit of Greenbelt, but also would learn from other Scottish & European models such as Street Level, Carberry Festival, Kirchentag, Edinburgh Festival, The Mod and Celtic Connections. We’re magpies at heart!

The ‘interfaces of engagement’ will be primarily those mapped out by the likes of the above events and others:
arts – faith – theology – ecology – politics –philosophy – spirituality – justice
…or basically celebration, inspiration, irreverence, profundity, laughter, tears, questions, argument, friendship, shivers up the spine – add your own noun to the list.

Who might like it?
thePROJECT is for those interested in a deliberate exploration of the arts, culture and faith.  We hope to make it a comfortable place for insiders, outsiders and maybe especially those at the margins of the church.

thePROJECT will be primarily be adult (young and not so young), but importantly,  there will be an inclusive provision for children and families, to the extent resources allow.

Church of Scotland Creativity Emerging Scotland Events God, Faith & Church Theology

Graham Cray at the General Assembly

Bishop Graham Cray’s excellent address on Fresh Expressions to the evening session of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly is now available to watch on the Church of Scotland website.  Well worth a look, listen, copious notes and lots of thought.

Church of Scotland Emerging Scotland God, Faith & Church Society Theology worship

The Most Important Part… Missed By Most

On Monday night, after the drama, confusion and intrigue of the Overture discussion that never happened something important happened… something which is at the heart of the future of the church.

It was late in the evening when Bishop Graham Cray spoke to a disappointingly small group of people as part of the Emerging Church fringe event.

Bishop Cray is the man in charge of Fresh Expressions, the joint project between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, and he has been working in the area of pioneering ministry for years.

His first sentence was a response to a video of a great youth project at the Steeple Church in Dundee.  ‘That’s great’, he said, ‘but that’s not what I’m talking about.’

In that one sentence he summed up the concern I have with the direction of the ‘Emerging Church’ conversations and support available through the Church of Scotland.

Graham spoke of ministry across cultural boundaries, of growing churches where there are none and of a mixed economy of church.  He shed light on the how and why, shared encouragement and pointed out some pitfalls.

All that requires legislation, changes in recognition and training of the ministry needed for these new expressions and funding.

I’ve heard little this week to convince me that the Church of Scotland has a corporate awareness of this area or a grasp of where it is heading, despite the good work of the development officer for this area.

The event was webcast.  It would be great if Graham’s talk could be shared wider.

Emerging Scotland Events God, Faith & Church Society Theology

Crossed Purposes?

Tonight, for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of, I was invited to sit on a panel for a discussion of ‘The Emerging Church’ at International Christian College.  If you read yesterday’s post you’ll probably realise that i was pretty nervous about it for a number of reasons.

If you missed it, my article on Emerging Church is in the newly published OneKirk Journal (along with an interview with Scott Rennie and some amazing words written by Roddy Hamilton).

However, back to tonight.  It went pretty well I thought, despite me outing myself as never having been an ‘Evangelical’ which I guess was one of the inevitabilities of taking part.  Oh well.  Never mind.  I think my ‘outsider in terms of the evangelical church but maybe more insider in terms of emerging church’ position added a wider perspective to the debate.

I enjoyed the discussion but there were some things that I wanted to pick up on and perhaps save others having the same problems.

The first is that we always need to be pretty clear which emerging church we’re talking about.  This evening’s discussion grew out of the visit of Brian McLaren last year and the students wanted a forum to discuss some of their unanswered questions.  I saw the value of this but I’m not sure I see the point of only discussing what McLaren thinks the emerging church is, no matter how much fun that might be.

I don’t buy that McLaren is leading this emergence on his own.  I’m concerned that if we focus all of the discussion on what Brain thinks we miss the very real question about why stuff is emerging from ALL kinds of churches.  What is driving this experimentation?  What is it that people are dissatisfied with?  I think McLaren has a go at answering some of those questions, but he’s not the only voice in the discussion.

The second is that, believe it or not, this ain’t America.  The drivers for the Emerging Church in America are its particular political, social, cultural and spiritual context… none of which are the same here in Scotland, despite the very obvious homogenisation of western culture.  The evangelical context in America has a social and political dimension that is not replicated here in the UK where the ‘religious right’ doesn’t have the same influence in the political or social agenda.

I think we need to be more deliberate about finding out what’s happening here and who, if anyone, is writing about it.  That’s one of my hopes for Emerging Scotland, that people will share their stories and begin to chronicle the emerging church here in Scotland.

The third is that, even though it’s a crowd pleaser, cheap stereotypes about liberals sitting round candles isn’t an accurate representation of any of the Emerging Church.   Please don’t make fun of people who are trying honestly and earnestly to seek God’s will and to worship Him in ways that make more sense to them than whatever they have found in a denominational church setting.

So, overall, a good night I think.  It was filmed but I don’t know if or where that might appear…