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  • Anvil Trust is the centrepoint and legal foundation of a movement whose purpose is to articulate, advocate and advance an understanding and activism based on a Jesus-centred all-inclusive vision of shalom, through Workshop learning, Peacemeal community and Jesus-Shalom podcasts.

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  • Workshop is the learning sphere of Anvil Trust.  Creating safe yet brave spaces to explore a spirituality that inspires understanding, formation and activism from a Jesus-centred shalom. Value-focused, inclusive and empowering, it offers resources, courses and live video conversations.

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  • Peacemeal is the community-building sphere of Anvil Trust. Inspired by the ‘table-fellowship’ of Jesus every meal can become a portal for nurturing relationship, developing community, spiritual encounter and radical social change. We are a catalyst to reveal and inspire radical table possibilities.

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Jesus-Shalom

Peace, spirituality, values, and activism
from a Jesus perspective

Christian renovation and reconstruction

I ended the last post with some questions. What if we were to think of Christianity as a kind of blueprint for home building? What if—extending the metaphor—we were to think of our broader cultural shifts in identity and community as changes in the neighbourhood, or the constituency, or the climate for those homes? And if these changes are happening, what kind of Christian blueprint do we envision? Can we imagine something more than “spec” building or familiar “renovation”?

Here’s a first gesture toward answering these questions in a Jesus-shalom way.

Given shifts in what home owners are looking for, or the kind of neigbours they wish to have, or the kinds of shelter they need—given these shifts, one can imagine at least three different ways to reconsider the Christianity “blueprint” for these homes.

To begin, one can keep the basic presumptions of what make for a good home (size and shape, number and type of rooms), but then make changes in appearance and style—changing the exterior surface or the interior features. To follow the metaphor, then, would be to imagine a form of Christianity that retains confessional orthodoxy (creedal doctrine, for example), presumes traditional markers of identity (binary gender, for example), and presupposes familiar elements of community (ideological conformity, for example). But there would be changes in how these are communicated and advocated. The rooms inside the home would remain unchanged, but the furniture would be rearranged, the paint changed, the decorations altered. Let’s call this redecorating.

A second option would be to alter the blueprint a little bit, while retaining the structural assumptions that go into the blueprint. Maybe some rooms are redesigned, some new windows and doors are installed (to allow better light), some transitional spaces for moving from out to in are added. But the rectangular shape, triangular roof, presumed set of rooms, all stay in place. Following the metaphor, this would be a Christianity that explores alternative accounts of settled theological formulas. For example, non-violent accounts of divine agency or atonement are developed within a settled creedal orthodoxy. Or advocacy of social justice activism is added to an evangelical sense of “kingdom” and “good news.” Let’s call this renovating.

A third option, finally, would be to call into question the structural assumptions themselves. Why do we need a rectangular building? Why does it need to have discreet rooms? Why does there have to be a clear inside and outside? Can we imagine a home—and design blueprint drafts for it—that retain some of the general functionality a home requires, but without the assumptions about shape and space in traditional home building? Here the metaphor perhaps points to a kind of “post-orthodoxy,” or “post-church,” or “post-religious” way of thinking about—a re-construction—of Christian faith. Let’s call this reconstruction.

Jesus-shalom is Jesus-centred, with a focus on the Jesus who is given to us in scripture, a scriptural narrative that includes an array of accounts of creation and creaturehood, peoplehood and place—even Jesus himself! But we also have a second focus—our shalom reading of the scriptures. And taken together, these two poles of our being, thinking, and acting leave us “fiercely ambivalent” between options 2 and 3 above. That is to say, we see value on both sides—renovation and reconstruction—and refuse to take a position that resolves the tension between them.

On the one side, we are happy to be in conversation with those Christians who are largely comfortable within the structural patterns of inherited Christianity (doctrinally creedal; communally ecclesial; behaviourally traditional), but wish to expand or deepen these forms of Christian faith in a more world-embracing, shalom-oriented direction. This is a version of renovation.

On the other hand, we also wish to be in conversation with those who wish for a kind of Christianity that is transformed by a shalom orientation, one that moves beyond inherited doctrine, community, and behaviour, toward ways of believing, belonging, and behaving that don’t “fit” within the blueprint of traditional Christian houses. This is a version of reconstruction.

For those that prefer the first option—a kind of “sprucing up” traditional Christian faith—we are more than happy for you to listen in on our explorations, joining in as you feel called. We might even be able to offer a thought or two to enrich your work.

But for those that are drawn to renovation or reconstruction, time to pick up your hammers and join us at the building site.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

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tracy witham
tracy witham(@tracy-witham)
2 months ago

Hi Tim, I love the metaphors of renovation and reconstruction, and also of blueprint from the previous post. To me the most basic question for the church in thinking through these metaphors is What kind of housing is most needed? Running with that question yields an immediate realization: many persons in our wealthy, capitalistic societies are, ironically, homeless or made functionally poor by the outsized cost of housing. The burden of the cost is especially high for young persons trying to launch in life–as seen in the high numbers of college graduates who live with their parents. (This is an off-hand comment, so I apologize for not having researched the actual numbers…) It seems to me that the Church suffers from the same problem as homeless people and young persons living with their parents: As so many persons cannot afford housing, so they cannot afford church–if by that we mean something else they will feel guilty about not being able to pay for… And then there is environmental cost too… And if we move toward a service-based model of “payment, then the evident value of that “payment” is even more crucial than when money is exchanged… A week ago I drove by a row of beautiful little cabin/yurt/tiny-home style structures lined up for use as cabin rentals in a resort area. I found myself thinking that it would be great if something small enough to be affordable for (many more) young persons, yet beautiful and sound enough to be desirable and worth investing in were available to those in our societies who cannot afford to launch in life. To me “beautiful” is foremost, because that connects to an attractive vision both literally and metaphorically. So, how can we make a beautiful vision of life both affordable and worth investing in is one of the questions that your wonderful metaphors prompted for me. Of course, there are many more. The “worth investing in” side of the question prompts connections to what the prophetic side of the Church’s “essence” is and how that gives us a blueprint that we can build from that will last, and not be a reaction to fads…… Read more »

tracy witham
tracy witham(@tracy-witham)
2 months ago
Reply to  Tim

Great question. What a person can pay and what a person will pay are different questions, but they are intwined, and the pearl of great price parable actually fuses the two questions, so you are clearly correct, in a biblical context, to ask whether it is the will, rather than the price that is the greater factor. It seems to me that we need to settle two background questions before we answer. What is faith in a Christian context? And how is it relevant, if at all, to young persons’ view of church? Here I am going to hazard a seemingly obvious answer to the first question that I will be happy to be corrected on, if the apparent truth does not hold up to scholarship… Belief in Jesus as “the Son of God” in First Century Palestine would be contrasted with Caesar Augustus, aka “the son of god.” The clear contrast, biblically (which is a separate question than historically), is between might and love as the manifestation of God/god. If THAT is the context that informs belief, then many young people implicitly demonstrate faith through their commitment to justice, welfare, and full rights and privileges for all persons. So, perhaps many young people do see social justice as “a pearl of great price” in the biblical sense, and we should honor that, if the sense of belief for 1st Century Christians had more in common with the beliefs of 21st Century youth than their parents–of which I am one–whose Christian beliefs were formed more in line with Augustus than Jesus. My answer, then, is that I think young people would be willing to pay the price for the “house” if prior generations had not conflated belief in Jesus and Caesar, practically speaking. I even think the Church could frame something like Thomas’ “Five Ways” for faith in Jesus that would have traction in our century… C. S. Lewis. Wm. James, Paul Tillich, and many others have interesting positions on the nexus of faith and virtue that would be valuable to reintroduce to the world. So, again, you ask a great question, and I am sorry that I am not… Read more »

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