Sunday, 27 January 2008

note to pete: cu, fusion, 247, india

ah yes, these public/private blog/conversations are funny, indeed before the internet an unprecedented way of talking to an audience of one plus anyone.

i've just come to the end of a semester here, with its associated hand-ins, and in this weekend break, though we have already been set stuff to be getting on with, but while deadlines loom less imminently, i am brewing a summary of various christian environmental sermon series i have been surveying- sutton/boise/coventryvineyards/staldatesoxford/marshill..

it would perhaps be clarifying if i gave a faithful narrative of all my dealings with (mr wickham, ehem) cu and fusion and 24/7..

the set up here is different from oxbridge, central meeting being the main emphasis, followed up by groups in hall "9.20 groups", (after ?book chapter 9 verse 20). in first year halls i was - and christians do not believe in coincidence - put in a block of 13 students in which there were 4.5 (one changed uni in the second term) fired up christians, at a time when christians are estimated at 2% of studentdom. we were all sporadically involved in the cripps hall 9.20, whose attendance was usually no more than 10. the group, I feel, was unsure what exactly it was there for and i think more fruitfully for us four, jon, james, alex and myself met on wednesday mornings forman-time, prayer before breakfast.

the cu here runs its friday evening meeting "equip" (a name changethat was contentiously coined at some point in my first year amidstcuriously public conversation on facebook:!)
we are a big cu ~350 with usually 200+ on a friday evening, we get in the big names, the vaughn robertses and so on. the cu also puts on apologetic lectures by the same friday evening speaker at the lunchtime, of which i have attended emm, one. the cu runs the pure course, a course on christian sexuality written by uccf, and once a year puts on a mission week. beyond this there are prayer meetings and international student work - globe cafe at a local church.

a good quick summary of fusion and their loveyouruni scheme is here:

it was not until second year that i really found fusion, fusion in nottingham mostly coming out of trent vineyard where its student small groups are affiliated to fusion. however i joined a regular smallgroup with real live adults and locals in, but i began an interactionwith the fusion lot and their resources and things. i went to the fusion national weekend in oxford last year and this year. i find their vision compelling, as the groups are dynamic and accountable, honest and flexible. theirs is a model that seems just less 'religious', and also one that is based in churches and so more grounded. following 24/7 (which i will put in a paragraph about momentarily) i have drawn closer to the fusioners here, as we set up a permanent prayer room and meet together weekly to pray as part of that. fusion are more open to the spirit and the charismatic game. more 'emergent' compared to the cu's more conservative orthodoxy. jason clark, who's blog and pod i would recommend highly is the leader of a vineyard church in south london, that has wrestled with emergent issues and his sympathy and critique of the thinking at the heart of fusion etc is insightful.

-the cu's 'big meeting' emphasis could be seen as set in a modernist paradigm, idolatrous, and anathema to the open passages for conversation in postmodern culture where a distrust of such frames of front speaker, proclaimed truth and big organisation is rife. big meetings run up against all the problems that 'big church' struggles with, failings that the 'emergent church' has documented at length. big meetings proliferate nominalism, promote and a show-put-on /goods-and-services consumer model, big meetings lose you in a crowd, and effect a hierarchical model which moves responsibility from the every disciple to the anointed few.

there's a tension here, and i would err on the side of the fusion model, if mostly for the damage i see the cu doing with its sledgehammer approach to unity, doctrine, and tradition.

i, like you, love the cu. james, who i'm now living with, is the president and we see eye to eye on most things, he is someone who i have the greatest respect for and when i see the rigorously biblical and accountable way they go about discipleship training in his church up here, i sometimes think the young churches lose something significant in their reaction against old/conservative church. the cu loves jesus, and the cu does make disciples for christ, and the cu does well to maintain a consensus over central parts of christian doctrine, the cross etc. if and when i discuss the shortcomings of the cu it is mostly for the model they adopt, it is to say that there is more, more love, more unity, more of the spirit, and that the messy but beautiful power of that spirit is stifled by trying to put it into a box along with other tick box doctrines.

a couple of things, the cu here in first year sent out an emaillisting all the organisations it did *not* work with which saddened me, and it included fusion, whose db is indistinguishable from the uccf one.

their model of mission week is an expensive model that is largely not connecting with students, it is adding to the cacophony of religious noise on campus, its tone is often judgemental, and its message tends towards a say-a-prayer-to-get-to-heaven-when-you-die. i would say its not working, but when i say this it is not judgementally, i am not leading crowds to christ, and i don't know that fusion is either, but the cu is aggressively going through the motions of 'evangelism' uncritically, if god up and left tomorrow, i'm sure we could keep running cu events for quite some time, it is a risk averse model, a secessionist model, a lowest common denominator model, and for all that an expensive model that may even be missing central parts of what it is to be christian, to be in community and to lead others into a walk with christ. i offer all this with a humility that may not be conveyed in writing, as i am as limited and confused as the next, these are my observations thati'm grateful you let me process it out loud as it were.

over christmas 2006 i read red moon rising, and felt strongly that we should do this as a student thing in nottingham, for unity between churchs in the cu and for the establishing of a culture of prayer. i visited a 247 house in london that was running while i was doing some work down there over christmas, its just an amazing thing going on there. so anyways, toing and froing, i cleared my room and we ran one there for a week in february and god was so in it, people just appeared and helped set up and things, it was weird.
the vision was that with a cu of 3-400 students if each of us prayed for an hour a month we could pray without ceasing forever, like the moravians of redmoonrising. obviously i wasn't about to move out of my room indefinitely, but i wanted to set in place the idea of a potential culture of continual prayer. having been fairly regular at the monday morning cu prayer, it had been clear that prayer was not a priority for more than a dozen of the cu-ers..

the cu got on board and it was so encouraging, and given the change in stance of the cu - being told later that emily, now a student worker at vineyard, had proposed a 247 for the cu a few years ago when she was a student and had been put down in no uncertain theological terms.. admittedly i hadn't gone through the cu exec and i was just ploughing on with a 247 in my room if i had to fill all 168 hours by myself.

i did get this a bit later, indirectly from a friend of a friend's father's church:

"Take for example the practice, which the Christian Union at my son's university [nottingham] did the other month- of having a rota of 24hours of prayer. It was arranged that for every hour some student would be praying. And so a student put on his alarm clock to wake himup at 2.30 am, so he could go to a specially designated prayer room to pray- except he didn't really pray, he was far to sleepy. But it looked good. And 3am! Surely God will warm to that type of devotion?Why should we think that God would be more impressed to hear sleepyhalf formed prayers at three o clock in the morning rather than alert meaningful prayers at 3 o clock in the afternoon? By the way, this also meant that many of the students were too tired to study the following day- which is hardly a good witness. To be frank that is Christian paganism."

I don't know what you make of that, there is some validity in arguing against praying at silly o'clock but I get uncomfortable engaging this argument. It suddenly becomes personal and quickly questions the entire belief system, even the salvation of the other which seems entirely contrary to the unifying efforts of the enterprise in the first place. I did say in jest after hearing this that Jesus, far from having to study the next day, was up all night in the garden, before he was 'hardly a good witness' before the whole of history on the cross.

one could well come back at the accusations with all the great things going on in the 247 movement, the biblical imperatives to pray and continually, and further a sociocultura/theological observation regarding the demise of organised ritual and rhythm and the church's damaging assimilation of that, and the potential for remedial work by even trivial things like praying continually in this way. i'm cautious to be confrontive in this way, for better or worse.

in all, i feel i am siding with a a view of christianity that says the kingdom is in breaking (dallas willard/derek morphew), that creation *is* important, that everything is spiritual (rob bell), weare engaged as agents of redemption, etc. brian mclaren, and the vineyard scheme of things.. I really want to grasp what a view of the christian life as a whole-person thing entails. i think my environmental thinking is the catalyst or lens for all my other theological pondering, if god is burning all this up... given that i don't think he is... what do we do between being 'saved' and the timewe die?

i'm conscious that those various authors have been used to condone liberal, and certainly non-db, views of christ, truth, salvation, heaven etc. but i'm trying to look beyond what seem on the blogs to be petty political sniping at these people, and try to see what is true in what they are questioning about the contemporary church, and how i can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. perhaps my eventual environmental blog post will have more clarity.. meh.

india - i am unfortunately also the best man at a friends wedding.July 26 and various stag etc arrangements for the wedding before that date. you leave at the end of term then I couldn't quite make out from your blurb, after 3weeks after the beginning of july what happens? I would love to come with you to india, but i don't want to go out to india for anything less than three weeks. 13th june - 11th july is a possibility, 27th july - 21st august is a possibility.. your trip sounds amazing, i would love love love to join you out there, could you bullet point me the key dates :-)

all the very best in christ, phil.x

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