Of crisis and kairos…

One of the most striking things about the “Fresh Expressions” conference thus far, in my experience of it, has been the way that most presentations have begun.  Crudely caricatured, most have started with something like this:

“The church is in crisis and we have to do something, so what we’re doing is …”

Please forgive me, dear presenters, if this sounds harsh, but it’s what I’m hearing.  On many levels, I agree with your analysis and warmly endorse what you’re doing about it.

But the question it keeps raising for me is one that I’ve been thinking about for a while now, to do with our theology of crisis.

What follows is not a well-developed and systematic attempt to articulate such a theology.  It’s not even well researched.  For now, it’s a series of thoughts strung together as I try to process what I’m hearing…

As I say, I have found challenging many of the opening statements.  I came hoping to hear “Hey look! We’re in the midst of a time full of rich opportunity to reconnect with the world around us and live the faith of Jesus with our neighbours”.  I’ve heard hints of this, but more often I’ve heard something suggesting that the main game is saving the church through doing things differently.

Much as I love the church, I think this is too narrow and limiting a starting point.

I firmly believe that in this moment of history we need to be more about looking at what the creative, dynamic and life-giving spirit of G.O.D. is up to in the world, and getting stuck in!  This may include ‘church’ more or less as we’ve known it, or it may not.

In either case the institution of ‘church’ is not the right starting point, important as it is.

The starting point is the spirit of .G.O.D.

For me, this is where the theology of crisis becomes really important, because it gives us the opportunity to change the conversation, and thus the culture.  (A whole mob of UCA people in Hobart are reading Anthony Robinson’s book, “Changing the Conversation” at present and I’m really looking forward to hearing how this has impacted on thoughts and ideas for moving forward there).

Changing the conversation changes the perception and opens us up to a whole range of possibilities, and I think that a deeper theology of crisis is vital in this enterprise.

I could be wrong here, but I understand that in the Greek the word we translate as ‘crisis’ has multiple senses, (a bit like the way that the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ means much more than its one word English translation ‘peace’).  The Greek sense of ‘crisis’ includes ‘threat’ but also ‘opportunity’, and for me this is very important.

It makes sense from a psychological point of view.  In my sessions with psychologists over the years, reframing the story and creating new behaviours have been very important in dealing with anxiety and depression.  Narrative therapy talks of the ‘dominant story’ which shapes the way we think about our life and situation, and thus the way we approach the joys and challenges of life.  In my own situation, the dominant story of myself as a person who has to deal with depression sometimes in the midst of a wonderfully blessed life, is much more helpful than the dominant story “I have depression”.  Perversely, there are moments when depression also makes me more acutely aware of living fully: it’s not all bad!

It seems to me that there’s some value in the church engaging in some ‘narrative therapy’ as we think about where we are in this rapidly changing culture and society.

Where do we start, when we tell our story?  What are our dominant stories?  Equally importantly, what are our dominant practices, which both reflect and shape our stories?

If the crisis we face today is named only as threat, then I think we will approach it differently than if it is named as opportunity.  Indeed, we will do everything in our power to get beyond the crisis, and then breathe a huge sigh of relief when we believe that crisis has been ‘averted’, whatever that might mean!

But what if we are called to live in the time of crisis for a while?  After all, it’s happened before; some wilderness stories come to mind…

So too, does the following statement from Martin Buber, which has inspired me for many years:

“The kingdom of God is the kingdom of danger and risk;

of eternal beginning and eternal becoming, of open spirit and deep realisation:

the kingdom of holy insecurity”.


This says something pretty important about crisis.  It says that crisis is the way things are!

It has always been thus, not just since the ‘glory days’ of the 1950s or 60s or whenever.  It also says, as does a wide variety of biblical and other stories; that in crisis we encounter again the transforming presence of the spirit of G.O.D.!

Perhaps, when we put it like that, crisis is not quite such an issue.

Perhaps it’s a place where we can be a more acutely aware and alive to the reality of G.O.D.’s dynamic and life-giving spirit at work in the world, and to the opportunities for being part of that where we are.

Perhaps it’s a word of encouragement that the future of the church doesn’t depend entirely on individuals, and encouragement to attend to faithful community, without worrying too much whether or not that is ‘church’.

Perhaps, above all, it’s a reminder that we do have the resources we need to live within the time of crisis.

Walter Brueggemann addresses this in an article called “The liturgy of abundance and the myth of scarcity”.  This talks about, among other things, the stories of ‘feeding the 5000 +women and children’, and the understanding that one of the biggest challenges we face in life is the fear that there is not enough to go around, whether it be food, money, love or whatever, even enough of G.O.D.  Brueggemann points us to the need to believe in and to practise abundance (thus ‘the liturgy’).  This is not a trite suggestion, he is aware of how difficult it can be.  He also points to the countercultural nature of what he is suggesting; in fact, this is part of why he sees it as important.

This, he says, is something that should be reflected in the attitudes of Christians to life and blessing, based on the infinite capacity for grace, hope and love that is at the heart of the G.O.D. story pointed to by, and in, Jesus.

So perhaps another message from this story might be the challenge to ask again:

Where do we start, when we tell our story?  What are our dominant stories?  Equally importantly, what are our dominant practices, which both reflect and shape our stories?

As we do so, the other word in my title comes into play: ‘kairos’, one of the ways in which the Greeks spoke (and may still do so) of ‘time’.  It carries the sense of ‘timeliness’ or the ‘right time’.

I believe we are in exciting times, as well as challenging ones ~ I don’t want to talk of ‘interesting times’, because that calls to mind the old Chinese curse, and I think blessing is a much better place to start.

Just as we are no good at being anyone other than who we are, neither are we able to be faithful in any other time.  This is our time of crisis and our opportunity to enter into the life and presence of the spirit of G.O.D. among and around us.

With shaky voice and tentative steps, I say “Bring it on!”


3 thoughts on “Of crisis and kairos…

  1. I think I’m with you here Rod. To what was Jesus referring when he spoke about ‘church’ in Matthew 16:18? I suspect he didn’t mean the institution/s we know, love (?) and are part of. Yet preserving the institution always seems to creep to the top of the agenda. Our hope for the future must be in the fact that it is his church not ours!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly, Rod. As did the person next to me in the office. Rather than working on our respective exegeses, we talked about the role that ‘Sunday morning’ is likely to have in the future. My friend suspects it won’t exist. I would like to see some sort of large gatherings continue, as I believe God wants to speak to us as individuals, as groups, and as whole communities (continuing up in scale to ‘as all of creation’). But we both agreed that it probably won’t be, and in it’s current form shouldn’t be, the center of being Christian.

    I think you would be really enjoying the conversations we’ve been having around Robinson’s book. One of the topics in the chapter I just read, “A New Heart,” was about evangelism, noting a failed attempt in the 80s at getting experts to go out and ‘evangelise’ the ‘unchurched’. Robinson argues that one of the main reasons it failed is that evangelism doesn’t start ‘to them’ but ‘with us’. If we do evangelism among ourselves, by which Robinson means ‘good news’ not ‘convert the unchurched’, then we will have something to share with people, rather than a chair for them to sit in.

    The fact that that was just one of Robinson’s four points in that chapter probably tells you that we’re finding plenty to talk about.

    I look forward to hearing more about things like that ‘playhouse church’ when you get back.

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