The title above is a phrase coined by the guru of pioneers, Jonny Baker. I reflect on it often as it speaks of the phases of pioneering for me:
a) dreaming / imagining how life would be, living in the Shalom spoken of in the scriptures and seen embodied in Christ.
b) seeing, naming, acknowledging the injustice / discrimination/ despair / alienation in our own locale where this Shalom is not yet seen
c) creating space within ourselves, through prayer, waiting and pondering before God
d) hearing / seeing a spark of the future, the as yet unseen, that will begin to address the longing with an action or series of actions,
Some phases of this take place alone and other phases are done together in community with others. Some of it feels like the early, secret weeks of pregnancy – nurturing, gestating, feeling very odd indeed, inhabited by strangeness in one’s body, mind and soul. Then flashes and snatches are added to it, Things seen in your local newspaper, prayers somebody prays for you, something said in one of the Minor Prophets, conversations at a bus stop, glimpses through the window of an art gallery; skin beginning to come on the bones.
All of this is very Advent-y work – waiting, waiting for the Messiah to emerge, to show himself in the dreams and imaginings of people who will work together to build a scaffold for the Kingdom to emerge. Doubt and strangeness characterise this phase for me – am I going mad? Is this something or is it to be discarded? When will this thing appear? Lord, speak for your servant is listening!! I always resonate with Mary so much during these phases.
The strangeness of the waiting then gives way to the doing. Many meetings take place, the work of chopping up the strange ethereal dream into do-able, deliverable chunks of work to bring it into being. This may involve grant application, trying to share the vision in ways that are understandable and sound credible, (even though in your heart you are amazed that people can’t see and accept the weird etherealness of it as part of its charm and soul!!) Gathering people with good skill sets and imagination, establishing safeguarding policies and risk assessments will all come into play. It’s possible to feel more like a CEO than a daydreamer or prophet at this stage – Nehemiah will be a good role model.
Then, it gets up and running. You have been a dreamer who did. Once the new thing is born however, like a child of any age, it requires constant feeding and love. You will likely have to change from being as much of a daydreamer to a sustainer, a parent, an activist. There will be chairs to move, fundraising to do, liturgy to write, bishops to wrangle with if you’re in the COfE, stakeholders to build partnerships with…
And at some point, you may realise you’ve become and activist who does, and who doesn’t stop and blow bubbles anymore. Maybe you don’t get time to people watch or chat to a stranger in a cafe very often, instead glued to catching up emails as you wait for your colleagues to arrive. And while you may rejoice with Christ every day for the new people you are blessed to encounter, to journey with, to see Christ within, you may not be very tuned in to the minutiae of their journey home. You may miss the clues, the snatches of light, the flash of the kingfisher over the water that you were so desperately watching and waiting for earlier in the process. You may ‘not have time’.
At a certain point in the development of a new thing, it becomes an established thing. And you may wake up one day and realise that you’ve gone from being a dreamer who does, to an activist who does. And there is no dreaming taking place, little focused noticing of the tiny things anymore. But these are the lifeflow of the Spirit, crucial for showing where she is going, breadcrumbs on the path that we are seeking to spot before the birds peck them up. There is no time at which we can stop being people who pay attention to the tiny and seemingly insignificant. Pete Ward speaks in his new book Introducing Practical Theology (Baker Academic, 2017) of practical theology as the practice of noticing, attending to the present in our context and where we might encounter God there. (p41) He speaks of practical theology as a “deep and enduring spiritual practice,” (p34) which I love. It is a practice that we must attend to. Observation is the first stage in reflection, and pioneering cannot flourish without these two together.
I recommend the rediscovery of Advent, the strangeness of Mary’s experience, and the waiting, watching, strange process as a time of reflection around the dreaming / watching / activism cycle. If, like me, you realise you miss the time to dream and ponder that happens once something becomes more solid, the awkwardness and intensity of the new dawning, then maybe it’s time to build some more wandering / wondering / pondering time into your schedule in the new year. Happy Advent 🙂