Thursday, 27 January 2011

Do Be Do Be Do Be Do

I come from a fairly ordinary background, one where I was raised and nurtured within a Christian context. I go under the label of 'Cradle Christian'. This means that I have, frankly, been robbed of that moment where I gave my life to Jesus. It was though, kinda, given before I was born (cf Ps 139). Anyhoo ...

When people stand up and start to talk energetically about 'mission', I notice several things.

1. That person seems always to be a man in his fifties with considerable alopecia, round rimmed spectacles, a broad smiley face with very straight white teeth and a strange taste in clerical shirts. 

2. I start to follow the Reggie Perrin line of imagining a scene unfold before me - but this scene is one where imps  chase butterflies with nets, like dementers on a spring morning. The sound of birdsong is overplayed by a less attractive soundtrack that seems to me to be a litany of "Gotcha Gotcha".

3. Lots of verbs, matched by equal numbers of gesticular actions. 

4. Me glazing over, having passed through a state of mild temper. 

I have a heart for mission. I love Christ, and I love the church. I love the community of Christ, and I love the community of the church. I want people to choose Christ as the way the truth and the life. That is where my heart is. But I have always become annoyed in lectures about mission, and I am trying to understand why. 

The main issue for me, I think, is contained in point 3 above. Mission in the classical evangelical sense seems to be an almost all consuming 'Do' thing. It requires plans, actions, models, pasta, chasing, testimony giving, and a whole array of other pieces of 'doing' (except when it involves sacraments, but that is for another post). Mission seems to be a very busy thing to do, very tiring - if these paradigms of mission are regarded as correct. 

Priests are called to 'Be'. As someone said to me today, priests are mission in the person (or words that effect), or put another way - by just 'being', they represent a viable model of mission in themselves. I do not disregard the other mission models, of course. I of all people have much to learn from them, but when they come across to me, a professional Christian, as ecclesial stalking - then I wonder if tweaks are needed. Think of a candle. A candle, by its very nature, is a creature of 'being'. It can 'do' very little except 'be' itself. Yet it casts it light on all who see it, its warmth and hope to. A candle is not designed or built to set other candles alight around it. 

Of course, a candle cannot meet Christ's mandate to go in the world, but I wonder if the mission movements today overlook passivity and stillness, inertia and 'being' to their peril. When I read about the many millions of people who have attended this course or that and then notice that church attendance figures are largely static, I wonder where the missing link in the chain is. I don't have an answer, but I just wonder if it is not to be found in 'being' (and letting God have a part to play, not just us .... ?)


  1. Oh dear. I think you've just caused me to fall off the wagon and revert to my inner evangelical. Please, not this old chestnut again.
    "Priests are called to 'be'", rolled out as though it is the eleventh commandment and that failure to understand it is a sure sign of aberrant behaviour (ie. being an evangelical).
    David, I have my ordination charge on the noticeboard over my desk and I don't see anything about "being" on there. In fact, if I carry out all the functions the Bishop has charged me with, it involves quite a lot of "doing".
    The "priests are called to be not do" line is not a statement of fact. It's an opinion, one which reflects a particular understanding of ministry within a particular strand of the church.

    I'm just off to lie down for a bit. I ought to say that I do recognise the value in what you're saying, it's just the way the argument is presented I have a problem with. I think a blog post is called for...

  2. and on this I agree - though my point is simply that there is not enough being. Being involves listening to God surely, and seeing what he wants - not just busy busy busy.

    If, for the record, I have made it sound like we just lie back and let people come to us, then I mis-represent my own views. I too, work hard for 'mission'

    I like the idea of the 11th Command though! At the college where I was trained, and often by evangelicals, the notion of 'stop and be before getting on and do' was much advocated!

    You inner evangelical you lol! Thanks for the challenge though - it is welcome!

  3. Just looked

    'Priests are call to be ... ' (various people), line 1.

    They do some stuff , line 2

    'They are to be ...' (various more people), line 4

    ...and so on. Semantics maybe, but 'being' is about embodying, not being the operative, isnt it?

  4. The thing is, the what we are is revealed in what (and how) we do. So yes, we embody certain things, but to the extent that we do certain stuff a certain way. I am a human becoming.

  5. I have a dream, one I've had for a long time. If I ever get a job I'm going to place a big notice outside my new church that simply reads:

    We do not know the answers.
    Please come on in and help us find them!

    I am calling this "Reverse Mission," and I claim full copyright of the concept. I will be writing a series of books on the subject and arranging seminars and conferences throughout the land. Hopefully, I will be so busy talking about this initiative that I won't actually have time to put it into practice. I am sure that my Lambeth Degree is already being drawn up.

  6. Sorry to be writing this so many days after your post - it took me until today to find the quote I'd written down ages ago!

    Your Do Be Do Be Do Be Do heading reminded me of a quote from the Revd Nicholas Holtman in the Church Times a while ago [actually other people have quoted it rather differently at times, but this is his version]

    "When I was training for ordination, I had a conversion. Some grafiti in a Cambridge lavatory read:
    To be is to do - Descartes
    To do is to be - Sartre
    Do be do be do - Sinatra
    There and then I decided for Sinatra. For me, doing and being are irrevocably entwined."

  7. I wonder if focusing on being will lead to more effective doing; if we win people--and impact our micro world-- more by the integrity and content of characters than by any amazing thing we do.
    And how restful being is, compared to doing!!



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