SteveCollins Belonging

steve collins on belonging

these office events are as much divisive as uniting. you find you have little in common with people you have a good working relationship with. but you also discover [are given 😉 ] new alliances. a small group of us found a different trajectory through the weekend, in the city as well as the clubs. that saturday evening was an object lesson in belonging. i was ill at ease, as always, in the bar full of people getting drunk, and dancing to cheesy music. i watched the football to avoid socialising. i wondered why i felt threatened and antagonised by the pleasures of my friends. i was glad just to get out of there. minutes later, walking down the stairs of the old theatre towards the smoke and boom of the dancefloor, i was intensely happy and relaxed. i have the roadmap for these places in my head. “this is my church. this is where i heal my hurts.” and the people who think me constrained, prim even, because i won’t get drunk with them, never see the four hours of madness on the dancefloor.

alt.worship on the edge

<– back to the one true autobahn

i stole these words from my friend Mark, who had to go all the way to europe to think of them:

Alt.worship doesn’t, in this model, include groups that meet only to satisfy their members, or churches that attempt to overwrite statement above on pages that are already full of descriptions of what church should look like. It is the willingness, and ability, to start with a clean sheet of paper and began to shape the values and principles that are important to following Christ in the emerging culture that is the mark of truly alternative churches. It is these churches we need to see more of in New Zealand. Whether or not they subscribe to liquid, portfolio, seeker friendly, transitioned, networked, new paradigm, cafŽ, alternative, or some other church model is not important. Nor does it matter in what country or continent the church is located. I believe the future lies in the ability of groups to hang out and on the edge of chaos. To surf this edge for the Kingdom of God.

–> move on to god in the margins
–> or my own equally intellectual postmodern adventure

god in the margins

<– back to alt.worship on the edge

my friend Mike went to listen to his friend Elizabeth speak, and she got him thinking about the margins:

Elizabeth delivered the first of her Burns lectures. It was superb, I thought. She started with recounting the story of Nazi Germany, and its twin movements to expand into surrounding territory and to exterminate all dissent internally. Noting this was a Christian country, she then raised the question of whether this drive for totalising power was not something that has constantly accompanied Christianity. The main point of her lecture was that God must become more marginal – not in the sense of being less important, but in being permanently displaced to the margins of life. She spoke of ‘unauthorised places of divinity’ – God turning up in the broken places, not as an exception, but as a norm. I liked it a lot – a pretty damning critique of the church, but recognising something buried in the Christ-tradition which still provides hope. She was wonderfully synthetic, bringing together a lot of diverse theological and historical strands.

my own utopian dream

is for everyone to think of themselves as their own minority, all working to protect the next most marginalised…

–> move on to the car in the field
–> or a cynical thing i said one dark day

Contemplative Consumption

<– back to the light at the end of the tunnel

Contemplation and quiet V. Consumption and community

I find myself travelling two somewhat incompatible roads. one path is the way of long meals and late-night talking, cafes and rituals and relationships. the other is the way of consuming less, eating less, saying less, and living more in the moment. I had a few close shaves with monks along the journey – alan in oxford was helped through his first terrible year by a benedictine named bernard; lucinda lives just over the hill from a trappist monastery (and i read some of henri nouen’s book about the year he spent in one); the nuns speeding down the narrow croatian streets on their bicycles, veils streaming behind them – and the public parking spaces where there was no park for the disabled, but there was one for the priest; and various other close encounters, at greenbelt, in verona, in paris… anyway, i’m wondering how those who commit themselves to contemplative consumption move their relationships along. it’s one of my big questions since staying with so many people in so many countries, and being on the receiving end of so much good hospitality.

–> on to andrew’s barefoot manifesto
or Stephen King’s concept of the Creative Sleep

Andrew Lorien oct 01

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

<– back to a true story
or a parable

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

at the end of 1999, just before the year 2000 when everything went wrong, Cathy wrote these words for The Prodigal Project, about church as we knew it:

I have noticed that some people have moved their churches into cafés. I have noticed that some people have hacked out the pews and brought in little tables and chairs. I have noticed that the leader may remain seated when he speaks, and the musicians may have cups of coffee next to their guitars. I have noticed that sometimes we change the way our church looks, but I wonder if we have changed the way the church actually is. Have we changed the way we are being church together or just the way we sit together?

What are some of the base premises on which our worshipping communities are built? What do we value? What informs the look that a passing participant might see/find?

Informality, intimacy, realness, safeness, the genuine, the low-tech, the casual… the lives revealed and lived together. Food, drink, conversations. Coffee, cake, yarning. Tears, laughter, jokes, hugs, applause. Self expression: ideas, images, sounds, voices, movement. Grace – what can it mean? What are the implications of saying that all are welcome?

In the context of meal, of friends and wine and dreams, let us wipe the slate clean of our presuppositions and begin to ask some basic questions about the gathering of the people.


It’s about asking questions, without presupposing the answers. Asking basic questions. Stripping back, rather than building up or adding on. Reflecting on what we have done in the past. Considering what we find meaningful now.

Not just asking – Do we need to make any changes to the physical environment of the church? but, “Do we want to meet in the church building? Would another venue be more appropriate? Where? and Why?”


“How do we become a community, create a gathering, which is safe, real, intimate, authentic? How do we recognize our own pasts, our current issues and needs, the culture all around us, and where God is already at work in our lives?”

since 2000, after all the hospitals and prisons and breakdowns, we’ve found ourselves a saying: “If it’s not as good as dinner, I’m not interested.”
so, after all the years of trying to integrate a meal into our church gathering, we’ve given up and made meals our church. after redesigning our churches so they were more like cafes, we’ve realised that the cafe can be our church. after running ourselves ragged trying to loosen the controls of the prayer book and the old liturgies, we’ve abandoned ourselves to the chaos of true community.
it’s a big commitment, cooking three courses a couple of times a week – but still easier than organising a whole service and setting up all those chairs, and at the end you know the spirit was with you. it’s hard to get any work done if you’re prepared to drop anything, day or night, to spend a couple of hours hanging out in a cafe – but we know more about each other’s lives than we ever learnt over cups of tea on sunday night.

and it’s good, it’s very good.

we still help host an event, an exhibition, a jamm, here or there (eight o’clock sharp and free for all among them, and they’re founded on the same understandings of love and grace, and the hope that christ will commune with any two or three who gather in his name.
but we’ve discovered that the old rhetoric – all christians are saints, all believers are priests, every meal can be the eucharist, miracles happen every day – makes even more sense on the outside. all ARE welcome. we ARE forgiven, as we have forgiven others. we DO go in peace.
informality, food, coffee, tears, laughter – all the things we longed for, with the integrity we struggled to find.
it’s safe, real, intimate, authentic, and best of all, sustainable. Because it’s not an institution, there’s nothing to protect except each other; there’s nothing to lose except the morning; there’s no commitment except to be friends with whoever needs a friend.

i could go on and on.

Andrew Lorien June 03

thanks to Garth Watson for asking
–> move on to the pain of knowing
or my epicurean dilemma

the trouble with the cathedral

<– back to god on the margin

-----Original Message-----
 From: Andrew
 Sent: Thursday, 15 March 2001 11:31
 Subject: the trouble with the cathedral

i keep getting in trouble for wanting to burn down the dilapidated cathedral on the hill. pyromaniac that i am, i tend to think the quickest and safest way to get rid of it would be to get everyone up there one saturday night and torch the place. but i’ve finally realised why that’s a bad idea – because people still hang around in there, although bits of the plaster keep knocking them on the head, and there is a very real danger that one of the walls will come down and kill everyone. there are even a few people still swinging around the vaulted ceiling trying to plug the holes, and promoting new floors and better lighting as a way to revive it’s former glory. either they don’t see the irreparable structural damage, or they think that if enough people stood around inside they’d be able to hold the walls up. i know people who want to build a new one. get down to the quarry and the steelworks, cut some brand new stone, and start building on the next hill. but i don’t think a smaller, shinier copy of the old cathedral, in an inferior location, is worth having. if there’s going to be a new thing, i think it’s got to be on the old foundations. and if the only way to build on the old foundations is to wait for the old building to fall down (or be torn down by those inside it), then we’ll have to wait. so if we can’t build a new place, and we can’t burn down the old one, what will we do while we wait for it to collapse? we need some temporary accomodation. somewhere close to the old cathedral so that people can travel between the two. somewhere transitional, where people who need them can install a few fittings pillaged from the old place, but nothing’s too permanant. somewhere to grieve the desecration of the old cathedral, even prepare a funeral ritual for it, and to begin to consider the shape of the new.



Major Christian denomination for sale to highest bidder.

Great location in respectable suburb with quiet neighbours.

Many original Gothic features, enhanced by extensive renovations mid-century. Lots of work for the handyman, heaps of potential for modernisation and improvement.

Deceased estate, must be sold.

inspect Sundays, 9-10am


–> move on to the parable of the car in the field
or read something by Steve Collins

Andrew’s parable of a local church

<– back to Andrew’s personal history of Plunge
or the parable of the car

There once lived a people who needed a secure city in which to live, where they could grow and flourish and not be killed by wild animals. They asked their king for protection, and he promised them security for as long as they remained under his roof. He gave them lots of things, but every night he sent his men to steal the things back. And when from time to time the wild animals crept into the city and attacked the people, the king sent advisors to give advice, and he sent promises of help and improved security, but he never actually did anything. So the day came when the people had to decide whether to stay under the king’s protection or to take their chances in the desert, and some of the people said “let us stay here, because the king has promised to help, and he sometimes gives us things, and in the city there are laws which require the gates be locked at night and the walls be kept in repair, which we can appeal to if we are threatened”, but others of the people said “but the help the king promises never comes, and the things he gives he steals back again, and we cannot appeal to his laws because he doesn’t abide by them himself.”

next, the mongrel dog of the church
or, an arrangement the emerging churches might want to employ

i get regular complaints about this page, more than any other thing i’ve written, but always second hand. this story is an allegory i wrote long ago about a situation which is no more. if you feel like i’m throwing rocks at you now, you’re wrong. if you feel like i’m throwing rocks at a part of your history, well i probably am. please email me personally if you have any questions.

5Q4 Garth -> Andrew

What’s all this then?

There’s a meme spreading through the blogging community called 5Q4. Someone (garth) asks someone else (andrew) five questions. These questions are asked on the first persons site/blog, and the questionee answers on their own site. Then the questionee (andrew) asks questions to five more people, and the idea (and the links) spread.

I think something has been lost in the translation, and it should probably be four people, or why wouldn’t it be called 5Q5? but doesn’t ever seem to have had any content, and these are the rules i got, and that’s the explanation you’re getting.

Garth has asked me five questions i have finally answered them. if you want me to ask you five questions, add a comment to the bottom of this page

Q1: Can you describe your church/gathering/community. From what I remember you were not attached to the local denominational church. What are the values, the goals and practice?

A: We have a saying: “If it’s not as good as dinner, i’m not interested”. My gathering is the dinner table, my community is, well, my community. That puts a lot of weight on the quality of your meals, your environment, your friends, your conversation. But as long as we can keep our table honest, open, and generous, i won’t have to worry about the politics that come with organised community every again. The last three churches I attached myself to were emerging / alternate / fresh / new / cafe style churches (depending on what sort of christian books you read). They were all very significant to me, and two of them i dreamed would last forever, but a deep community is a fragile community, and they don’t last forever. The longer i live, the simpler my values and goals become – to love, to be generous, to show hospitality, to make things better if i can, or at least not to make things worse. I don’t need any more money, I have some good friends (that’s a quote from you, Garth), and so I try to spend my days, as much as possible, communing with my friends. Which looks a lot like art, music, long meals, and quite a bit of walking.

Q2: You have a written a book with an accompanying CD which I know nothing about apart from the blurb on your page. I was going to ask “What do you see as the biggest challenge for the church, and are they/we attempting to address it?” but rather can you give us an insight into the “Prodigal Project” which I assume covers this question?

A: I like your second question much better than your first one. Thanks. The Prodigal Project is a book which comes with a CD-ROM (i built the CD, and did a lot of support for the book, but i didn’t actually write any words). We like to think of it as the return of the illustrated manuscript. It is a portrait, a dream, and a manifesto, of the movement known as “alternative worship” which grew up during the 90’s in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. We spent a year collecting stories, photos, images, artworks, songs, and movies from worship services in all three countries, and Mike, Mark and Cathy wrote of their theology, their hope, and their experiences as instigators of such communities. I still believe that we are in transitional times, that postmodernism will turn out to be presomethingelse, and that the experimental communities on the fringes of the mainstream church will eventually find a path to a way of being church for another century. But if it isn’t as good as dinner, I don’t think i’ll bother.

Q3: An ideal summer getaway for you would be spent where and why?

A: Well, when i get those phone calls from India offering me a special discount on a luxury resort somewhere, i ask them why i would want to stay at a luxury resort when i would have a much better time visiting a friend. Summer, eh? It’s about time i went to see my friend Tony in Cairns. Tony is one of my oldest friends, and i visited him about five years in a row, but i’ve skipped a few years now. He’s bought a boat since i was last there. and got a girl. i think it’s time. probably not high summer, but late in our spring, just before the wet season kicks in…

Q4: What one message would you want readers of your site to leave with?

A: Gee, i don’t think there is an answer to that. Nope. Some people write songs and play them in pubs or at parties, some people draw pictures and show them or give them to friends, i write computer code and put it on the internet. It’s my art form really, to be taken at face value. you might learn something about me, you might discover dark secrets i have carried from my past, you might read something that has inspired me or play with one of the animations i have been inspired to create. If there is a message, it’s like the letter a friend of mine got from his five year old daughter while he was on holidays – “dear daddy, please read my letter, love from tahn”

Q5: I was interested to read that you are a customs officer who has a degree in philosopy and in your spare time re-builds computers and has fluency in several programming languages. Can you think of a philosopher that has been influenced the way you think and why?

…………Which reminds me of a great joke I heard early last year

Descartes walks into a McDonalds and orders a Hamburger. The cashier asks, “Would you like fries with that?”To which Descartes replies, “No, I think not,” and POOF! ………He disappears!

A: Ah yes, and on the same day the dalai llama walked into a different hamburger shop and said “make me one with everything.”

a philosopher.David Dockrill. he was a professor at uni. a beautiful man. i founded a fan club, “the dr dave groupies”, which peaked at four members. he taught me that you can’t philosophise sitting down (that is, if you don’t do something you probably don’t really believe what you’ve said). that profound words are best spoken softly. that the totalitarianism of youth (you get a lot of it in philosophy 101) should be treated with respect, and can mature into wisdom. that old friends are valuable and that you can keep a good idea brewing for a long time. if you want a famous philosopher, it could be Emmanuel Levinas. i think his ideas have changed my life more than any other ideas which haven’t come from someone i actually know.

The end.

If anyone actually stumbles on this page and wants me to ask them some questions, i’ll post them here.

DEED OF SETTLEMENT between The Church and The Emerging Church

<– back to the parable of the car in the field



The conglomeration of churches of the mainstream variety of several and various locations in the State of Certainty (“The Church”)


The communities of alternative worship, small fire, new worship, cafe style church, fringe, edge, and fresh worship, liquid church of several and various locations in the State of Confusion (hereafter collectively referred to as “The Emerging Church”)


  1. The Church stands possessed of a large number of assets including, but not limited to, spiritual gifts, (cults of) personalities, real property, intellectual property and incorporeal property.
  2. The Emerging Church are experimental fringe communities formed as a result of or in opposition to the Church.
  3. The Emerging Church as a direct descendant of the Church and in consideration of the generally very hard time through which they are put by the Church from time to time, asserts a right of inheritance over the estate of The Church.
  4. The Church and the Emerging Church have been in dispute as to the distribution of assets between the Church and the Emerging Church.
  5. The Church and the Emerging Church have reached agreement as to the distribution of the assets of the Church as composed from time to time and wheresoever situate and desire to reduce that agreement to writing.


  1. The Church shall grant the Emerging Church control over all the assets, properties (both real and corporeal), finances, and traditions wheresover situate, including (but not limited to) the right to sell your buildings, monuments and organs and to spend the money on technology and any other thing appropriately adaptable to the uses of the Emerging Church (“Toys”).
  2. The Church will retain title of said assets as trustees and on trust for the Emerging Church.
  3. The Church shall not act in any way to prejudice the assets of the Emerging Church.
  4. The Church shall retain its position as arbiter of morality and values but only for those within the Church. Nothing in relation to morality or values shall be binding on the Emerging Church.
  5. The Church will respect the position of the Emerging Church as experimental fringe communities until such time as you abdicate.
  6. As the last of your incumbent office holders is deceased, we will assume power of attorney over your aformentioned assets.
  7. From that time, We will be known to all and in all correspondence as “the church”
  8. We will inhabit the structures, both real and political, which you have left.


Signed, Sealed and Delivered by the said #

in accordance with #

In the presence of _____________________(Signature of Witness) _____________________. _____________________ (Name of Witness) ___________________


–> next, the mongrel dog of the church

the mongrel of the church

<– back to the parable of the car in the field

Alternative worship groups are the mongrel dog of the established church. It’s a nice looking animal, and it promises to grow up into something good, but if it starts to look a bit dangerous, or someone thinks it might hurt the kids, they’ll have no hesitation in shooting it.

–> even harsher, andrew’s parable of a local church
–> or, an arrangement the emerging churches might want to employ

enlightenment – how long?

a young monk was making a pilgrimage to see the buddha.

along the way, he met a man who was meditating, hoping to reach enlightenment.  he was sitting in the lotus position, in the hot sun, far from shade or water, on top of an ants nest.  when the monk greeted him the man said “when you see the buddha ask him how long before i will find enlightenment.”  the monk promised to do so, and continued on his way.

some time later he found another man, also hoping for enlightenment.  he was dancing around, laughing and singing, hopping and leaping.  he danced along after the monk and said “can you ask the buddha a question for me?  can you ask him how long before i will be enlightened.”  the monk promised.

after his audience with the buddha, the monk returned a different way, and so he met the man on the ants nest first.  “what did the buddha tell you?” he asked.  the monk pointed at a scrawny little shrub nearby, and said “for each leaf on this bush, one more lifetime of meditation until you are enlightened.”  the man was crushed by this news, and went back to his meditation angry and disappointed.

when he came across the dancing man, he pointed at a huge fig tree growing beside the river, and told him, “i have spoken with the buddha, and he says that as many thousand leaves as there are on the largest fig tree, that is how many lifetimes you must pray before you will be enlightened.”

“is that all???”, said the dancing man, “yippeee!” and he started dancing even more wildly.

and at that moment, he was enlightened.


And Judas asked,
“who do you think has received more: the charity which received from the poor woman who gave all she had, or the charity which received from the rich man who gave a small but regular tithe?”

alt. worship anonymous

From the foreword to the Big Book, page xviii
[i have replaced all references to ‘alcoholics’ or ‘A.A.’ with references to ‘worshippers’ and ‘alt.worship’.
i think i would prefer to use ‘sinners’ and ‘church’, but for the sake of this narrow context i’m leaving it this way]

Our Society then entered a fearsome and exciting adolescent period. The test that it faced was this: Could these large numbers of erstwhile erratic worshippers successfully meet and work together? Would there be quarrels over membership, leadership, and money? Would there be strivings for power and prestige? Would there be schisms which would split Alt.Worship apart? Soon Alt.Worship was beset by these very problems on every side and in every group. But out of this frightening and at first disrupting experience the conviction grew that Alt.Worshippers had to hang together or die separately. We had to unify our Fellowship or pass off the scene.

As we discovered the principles by which the individual worshipper could live, so we had to evolve principles by which the Alt.Worship groups and Alt.Worship as a whole could survive and function effectively. It was thought that no worshipper man or woman could be excluded from our Society; that our leaders might serve but never govern; that each group was to be autonomous and there was to be no professional class of therapy. There were to be no fees or dues; our expenses were to be met by our own voluntary contributions. There was to be the least possible organization, even in our service centers. Our public relations were to be based upon attraction rather than promotion. It was decided that all members ought to be anonymous at the level of press, radio, TV and films. And in no circumstances should we give endorsements, make alliances, or enter public controversies.

the grief

<– back to the parable of the autobahn
or my own disturbingly true story

The Grief, The Loss

…but in the meantime, i’ve been thinking about grief.

the grief of those who didn’t go to their church one sunday, or the one after, or the one after, and soon discovered that noone rang them up, and noone asked them why. what do they do? noone on the inside cares, noone on the outside understands why it matters.
the grief of the old people who have faithfully supported the church they were born into, only to find that when they most need it, there is noone to return that support – and they cannot even be buried in the place they have worshipped, since it’s been boarded up. how do they grieve the loss of the community of their youthful dreams?
and closest to home, the grief of those who have entertained dreams, but who have been rudely awakened – often by those same older, tireder people, who have not the energy to value or even understand the hopes which threaten to pull the rug out from under them, and start sanding the floors.

Maybe if everyone can come to terms with their loss, they can move on a bit and be friends again. and they can all relax their grip on the empty shell of the communities which were, and something new can be born. and once again there might be singing in the streets and laughing in the cafes.

i’ve had some other thoughts about the loss of Knowing, and the liminal (edgy) nature of the post-modern, which i’m convinced is also the pre-Dark age. i think we have to finish burning the modern before we will see what will come from it’s ashes. and a nod to something m scott peck said about the age of Anxiety — having discovered in the 17th century that theology (the Age of Faith) didn’t have all the answers, and in the 20th that science (the Age of Reason) didn’t either, we find ourselves in the Age of Anxiety, struggling with the loss of Knowing. [i’ve just found that he was quoting Auden, who’s alright too]

Andrew Lorien June 01

thanks to Mark Strom for asking

–> move on to what i believe about the truth
or the mourning of the first day