Postcolonial Evangelical

I live and work in a corner of America where people live life to the fullest. Everywhere you go, people are doing something healthy. It’s enough to make a person ill. There are joggers, yoga devotees, cyclists, roller-bladers, swimmers, surfers, triathlete iron men and women, and my personal favorite ‘cross-fit’ work-out masochists – a local fitness organization that encourages its members to stagger down the sidewalk with unreasonably heavy weights, stopping every few minutes to do 300 crunches just so show passers-by that they can. I admire them all immensely, so much so that recently I joined a local sports league soccer team on a Thursday evening, which thankfully has people almost as frighteningly out of shape as me, so I blend in well. Where I grew up – once rated as the most statistically average town in England – the outdoors was something to complain about when you met another person in the rain/snow/grey/’far too hot’ weather. Here in San Diego, the outdoors is a place to find yourself, to revel in the worship of the god of self-improvement.

You would think that in such an environment, a movement that has had a two thousand year head-start in promoting the good and abundant life would do very well. Apart from anything else, it’s a message with staying power. What’s more, its brand is global, with a nifty logo that is so easy to remember that most preschoolers can make one with a couple of sticks and a piece of string. According to the Hartford Institute, there are approximately 335,000 Christian congregations in America. By contrast, there are are only a measly 23,000 Subway fast-food restaurants in the country. Yet, as is now a well-worn path of pessimistic projection, the Church is on the slide in this part of the world. People would rather be jogging instead.
In truth, I can hardly blame them. If I was given the choice between a sun-drenched Sunday morning gentle work-out alongside the Pacific coastline, or sitting inside for an hour or more listening to someone tell me how much we all need to be generous so that St. Swithin’s can repair the roof (‘What for?’, you want to ask, ‘It never rains here’) then I think I would be putting on those jogging shoes. It’s a bit of a tepid stereotype, I know, but it serves to illustrate a point: if there is isn’t something transformational, life-giving, abundant about what communities of faith coalesce around, then the St. Swithin’s of this world had better just give up the ghost now and save us all a lot of
What I believe the Church needs today is a boost of evangelicalism. The Church needs to remember that it is the trustee of extraordinarily good news. It needs to recall in a deep place that it is charged to be light and life in the world. The vocation of the Church is to proclaim an abundant kingdom that seeks nothing less than the transformation of reality as we know it. The Church is to be the voice in the world that refuses to allow death to have the final word, and that dismantles the facade of a consumer society that has worked hard to persuade us that people are valuable as much as they are of economic worth.Yes, the Church needs to declare to the world the love of Jesus Christ, but not via a neo-imperialism, but as postcolonial evangelicals. Jesus was a postcolonial evangelical. Paul was a postcolonial evangelical. The author or the Book of Revelation was a postcolonial evangelical. All of them were, and the myriad of witnesses who came after them have been because they took the world seriously, in its lostness and in its capacity to be set free and made new.So, bring it on Crossfit, we’ve got 2000 years on the clock and a world of abundance to share. Now ain’t that good news?

Taking the Holy with you

Every Tuesday evening, a small group gathers in the side chapel of St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, in Pacific Beach, San Diego. In a beach community, such as ours, there is a diversity of people, some of whom enjoy the endless summer and the surf, others who love the bar scene, yet with them is a community of people who hunger. Before our Tuesday evening gathering in the chapel, those who are hungry in our community, share a meal. Sometimes there are as few as forty people there, other times as many as one hundred. It is a generous kind of space for community that gets formed each Tuesday night, with cooks preparing a meal in our own parish kitchen, and guests sitting at tables as we pray together for God’s Kingdom to come in own Pacific Beach and into the lives of all those who long for His hope and healing.

Thus it is, through prayer, that one hunger gives way to another: the hunger for authentic community. From what has been shared with me, one of the most debilitating challenges of living on the street, or in your car or truck at some quiet parking lot somewhere, is the invisibility you have to bear. Most people simply don’t see you. There is a sense, in the words of Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian liberation theologian, that this invisibility in the eyes of much of the local population is tantamount to becoming, in the eyes of society, a ‘non-person’. For Gutierrez, the non-person is the human being and child of God who stands at the street corner, shuffling along the sidewalk day after day, who sleeps under bridges and in bushes, who searches the trash for something, anything to eat.

Tuesday nights at St. Andrew’s are a first attempt to offer a space for community beyond invisibility, and from the hunger that is fed at the dinner tables of our parish hall, another hunger – for love, for forgiveness, for life – is tentatively met as some of those guests gather with some of our congregation members around the Eucharistic table. As we gather to share another meal, this time of bread and wine, we share our insights and stories as we hear the gospel declared amongst us, and it is  here, as we orient ourselves to God’s presence with us at the Communion table, and within and between one another, that the holy breaks in. Stories of being lost, being found, of hurting and of healing, of hunger that takes so many different forms, are shared and in that sharing a little of each of us is moved closer the other. It is what church growth writers call transformation, and it is what biblical theologians call holy ground: God’s communion with us, emerging between the cracks of fragile relationships as we make just that little bit more room for one another. And thus, another, Third Space is formed, a holy Third Space. It was my inclination within that Third Space last Tuesday night to offer an invitation to those who had gathered around the Communion table to take the holy with them: take it out into the community beyond, like the Gerasene Demoniac in Mark 5:1-20, back to the community that at times leaves them for dead, and declare that there is life to be shared amongst us. God’s holiness in our time and place is no pillar of fire, it is broken shafts of light, which if enough care is taken to notice, pierce the gloom of invisibility.

Football, Religion Pure and Spotless

Albert Camus is famed to have said, ‘All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football’, famed that is in the world of football. I know this from a reliable and reputable source,, which every year sells around 5000 t-shirts in fetching green of Camus’ maxim emblazoned across the chest. Reliable or not, the saying is of course true. Football – and to be clear here, I am talking about the global sport played with a roundish ball, not the American game played by men in tights wearing body armor – is religion, pure and spotless. I am a devotee and every year I am burned by an inevitable turn of events.
I am a Spurs fan. I have been a Spurs fan for the past 31 years. Through the course of those 31 years, Tottenham Hotspur have played something like 1250 league games and have won around 40% of those games, which means that as a fan, almost two out of every three games ends in disappointment. After 31 years it would seem reasonable that a person would give up hope based on such a poor rate of return. However, to think that football was a matter of wins or losses would be to miss the point. Football is not truly about the goal, it is about the pass – or at least that is what every Spurs fan has been telling themselves for the past three decades or so. Socrates, not the Greek philosopher but the Brazilian football star of 1980’s fame, said, ‘Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy’. Or as the stadium that Spurs play at, White Hart Lane, has in giant letters, ‘The game is about glory’.
The annual predicament that Spurs fans like myself find themselves in is of course the very same or worse predicament that the vast majority of football fans experience. Of course, only one team can win the league and only a few teams ever do. If sports fans watched their teams play because they expected them to win then the vast majority of the billions of people on the planet who enjoy watching sport would be sad, most to all of the time. It is always possible that this is the case and that this explains why our world is such a mess. Alternatively, it may be that there is something definitively human about dreaming of glory. Indeed, there is something uniquely powerful about collective hope. It has fueled revolutions, enabled war-besieged peoples to survive the most deathly of circumstances, and caused normally reasonable men and women to paint their faces, and scream strange and disturbing slogans at one another alongside several thousand other normally reasonable people.
Fanaticism has gotten a bad rap in recent years. To be fanatical is to be in our contemporary news cycle a religious zealot, bent on wreaking havoc and destruction upon unsuspecting bystanders. It has become the byword of a global web of terror and return. Yet, the etymology of ‘fanatic’ is festus, the feast at a temple inspired by God. We are made for fervor. We are made for passion. We are made to care deeply about things. If only footballers were priests, there would be singing in ‘dem pews. ‘Glory, glory hallelujah, the Spurs go marching on’. 😉

Ever heard the one about the man who was swallowed by a hippo?

Sometimes calamity needs to slap us right in the face for us to realize how precious the ordinariness of everyday life is. I have seen it time and again in the contexts of people’s lives who have had opportunity to reflect on their lot from a hospital bed, or at the edge of a crisis in their life. And I have witnessed the testimony of many recovering alcoholics who gather around our communion table on a Tuesday night as they describe how they met their maker at the very moment that they stared down the abyss and contemplated falling all the way down. It is as if we need the sudden jolt of serious illness, or of the life-threatening consequences that addictions can cost us, or some other fundamental grief to see that all of life is pure grace.

Yet, what I have also been witness to is the cultural tendency that is prevalent in our society that discourages people from staying too long at that precipice. We can find ourselves urging people to ‘move on’, not to dwell too long on that which is lost or that which is the source of our grief and pain. It strikes me that the Church’s liturgical calendar perhaps unwittingly shares such a tendency. With all of the preparation that the season of Lent leads us through, when Holy Week finally arrives we stay with the barrenness of the crucifixion and Good Friday only for a day before on the eve of Easter we are beckoned to celebrate the risen Lord.

What might it be like, though, if we decided to linger? What might it be like if we chose to embrace the dark night of the soul? There is a danger here, that perhaps it might be too much to bear, too dangerous, even, for us to stay in the midst of our grief and loss.

There was a man recently on the BBC who had no option but to linger, quite literally in the jaws of death, for around three minutes head first and waste deep in a hippo’s mouth. Paul Templer worked as a tour guide on the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe, when one of his party was knocked into the river by a hippo. He went to rescue the man and as he was reaching down the hippo rose out of the water and attempted to swallow him whole. Speaking of the attack ( Paul describes struggling to save his life as the hippo dragged him under the water and turned him, crushing his abdomen and decimating his left arm. Miraculously, he managed to wrestle free and now is a motivational speaker and author of the book, ‘What’s left of me. How I lost a fight with a rogue hippo and won my life’. Those three and a half minutes of agony and terror changed his life forever. In a Pauline kind of why, he died in order to be raised up, yet the difference is that he did not choose to die, it came to him. He has, though, chosen to stay around the jaws of his death and build a new life from the vantage of the edge of life and death.Does it really take a hippo to snatch us out of our reverie? Probably not, but the rhythms of consumer culture are numbing by design. We are over-stimulated at a perpetually superficial level, continuously distracted from an awareness of the deep well of the waters of life that move within us all. As these last days of the season of Easter draw to a close our intentional remembrance of the risenness of God, let us not lose sight of the cross and the death that sets us free from ourselves.

Why we need the Olympics

It took very little time in the end. In fact, it was probably rather easy to do. One gunman and a crowded Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and before anyone could absorb what was happening to them six lives were lost, including a police officer and the gunman himself.

We live in an era when life is taken so cheaply. You can buy a weapon at K-Mart just before you get your milk and newspaper, get into your car, and inflict terrible pain at will.

Part of that pain for the Sikh community of Oak Creek this week is not truly knowing why such an atrocious act of violence was carried out in the first place. Of course, many have pointed to the attacks on Sikhs that took place following 9/11 and the links that the Wisconsin killer may have had to far-right groups. All of this is worth examining carefully, yet what is equally worth our care and attention is the kind of questions that rise to the surface when tragedy like this strikes.

In many ways, the Sikh community, as a community of faith, holds to a very American kind of tradition, namely a certain celebration of difference and a deep respect for the myriad of paths that lead to the divine. At times, quite frankly, for those who look at America from the outside, such a celebration of difference is hard to see. Yet, deep in its DNA, this is a country that is founded and has been formed as a nation that seeks to celebrate the breadth not the narrowness of humankind.

As with the life of an individual, there are times when the life of a nation needs reminding of its true nature. America is an internationalist idea. It was the world’s first true global village, the land that would re-imagine for the peoples of the world what it might be to live in freedom.

It is this need for us to remember this vocation to have room for difference, which is indeed the vocation of any community, that convinces me that what is currently taking place in London is a timely reminder of that internationalist dream. In short, we need the Olympics. We need to remind ourselves, most especially those of us who are caught in a narrow-minded, myopic view of the human family, that we are part of something bigger. The Olympics, for all of its show, is still one of the best chances that we have of expressing on a global scale the simple human doctrine that we are better together than apart, better learning from the breadth that the human family embodies than living in naval-gazing isolation. We need the Olympics to remind ourselves that we need each other, as indeed the Danny Boyle spectacular at the opening ceremony sought to communicate.

So often, the debate that follows terrible incidents of gun violence focuses on what some people want to take away – guns – and what others want to retain the freedom to bear. Perhaps America is due another kind of debate that is concerned less with what might or might not be taken away, but with what might be added. Multiculturalism, pronounced dead by German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, last October, is not a politician’s mandate but an endeavor that we all need to play a part in. Let us teach our children about the wide palate of American and global society. Let us teach one another about what makes us distinct from one another as well as what makes us the same. And let us marvel at the breadth of God’s creation and the boundless capacity that we each inhabit to birth mystery into the world.

So, yes, we do need the Olympics, and we do need reminding of the better angels of our nature, not just for the sake of those who died in Oak Creek last Sunday but for the sake of all of us who are left to carry the torch.

What we carry in our bags

What do we carry in our bags?
As a parent of young children the question of what I carry in my bags, both the skills and gifts that I bring to the mysterious and ever-elusive craft of parenting, and the baggage that my own parents and family of origin passed on to me, is very much on my mind. This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and we have invited our parish and preschool families to come and celebrate Moms together. Anticipating this event has got me thinking about what it means to be a parent, and what it might mean to be a mother.
As a parent, the last thing that I want to do is to allow my ‘baggage’ to adversely impact my kids. To clean up the language of the infamous Philip Larkin poem,
They mess you up your mum and dad
 they may not mean to but they do
 they fill you with the faults they had
 and add some extra just for you‘.
It goes without saying that Larkin was not the most cheery fellow, but his point is valid – be part of the solution, not the problem. Half of being part of the solution is dealing with our adult stuff – the leftovers from our own childhoods – before we unwittingly inflict it on our own children. However, the other half of being part of the solution is to offer all that is good, and loving, and joyful, and wise, and I would say all that is of God to our sons and daughters, our grandchildren, nephews and nieces.
This is where I believe the Church has a wonderful calling to be a spring of life and hope for families and individual mothers and fathers and all those who care for children. John, writing in his New Testament epistle, writes that ‘whatever is born of God conquers the world’. From the surface of things, this looks a lot like a very modern view of human development. Our consumer culture would have us believe that we can be exceptional individuals if only we dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to that goal, if only we work hard enough. And isn’t this just exactly what modern society encourages us to think about our children: that they will be world-beaters, that they will be exceptional. Nobody is prepared for where the vast majority of us end up: mediocrity! I don’t say that to put anyone down, I say it to raise up that this is not a life where everyone will go to the moon, yet this is a life where everyone, without exception, can be transformed by the love of God. In Christ, we come to see that our exceptional nature is not that we are somehow better than others around us but that we are uniquely called and uniquely known as God’s own first love, each of us and all of us.
We hear more of this transforming love in the Gospel of John, where he encourages us to abide in the love of God, in the love that is God.Abiding in the love of another is a very maternal image to me and there is a sense that Christ’s love for us is something like seeing our growth as human beings in the ‘womb’ of God, the safe sanctuary of nurture and growth that feeds us all that we need to become who we truly are and then finally delivers us to new birth. Christ’s love is where we are to abide because that is where and how the new creation is birthed. The Church is both the living body of Christ through which new life is born yet also it is the midwife of that newness.
So, I do encourage you to come to church on Sunday and celebrate mothers and all those who care for children, not to receive yet another set of ’12 excellent steps to successful parenting’, but to receive the good news that in Christ we find a love that brings us home to our true selves, the self that is at last freed from its baggage with its hurts and failures, a love that sets us at liberty to love others, most especially the children who long to know that they are born of light and belong to a divine Love that will never let them go.

What’s a Life Worth

$16 million. That is the estimated cost of the funeral tomorrow of Margaret Thatcher, the late British Prime Minister. It will not be a full state funeral, the British Government says, but to all appearances, the difference between what will transpire tomorrow morning and a full state funeral is really just a matter of semantics. The current establishment of British politics wants to give Margaret Thatcher a grand send-off and that is what she will get. The Guardian newspaper has estimated what $16 million can buy you in Britain: 322 nurses, 272 secondary school teachers, 320 fire officers, 7,042 average householder’s annual gas and electric bills, and most telling of all, 11,111 public health funerals, free funerals for people whose relatives cannot afford to pay for their loved one’s funeral (
All of this raises the question: what is a life worth? Crossing the Atlantic, the reaction around the world to the terrible events in Boston has offered a hard reminder that the awful terror that has been visited upon the victims, bystanders, and close ones of those involved at all in Monday’s bombings is something that people in some parts of the world experience on a daily basis. Listening to a BBC World Service news broadcast of ‘World Have Your Say’ today, some of the callers from the Arab and Persian BBC World Servicedesks reflected on the event on America’s east coast. The words they used were ‘indifference’ and ‘apathy’ to describe the responses that they saw their local populations have as news of the bombing spread.
To those whose lives are somehow intertwined with the tragedy in Boston, such a response seems heartless and indeed indifference felt in response to any death is a tragedy within itself. Yet for those who now have lived with the daily bombings in Syria for over two years, the loss of life seems mercifully small and the devastation to everyday life minimal. Such a perspective begs more questions. Is it any more tragic to see hundreds of people die around you than it is to see a handful? And who is to say that the life of one British politician is millions of time more valuable to humanity than anyone else?
Of course, as a global community we can agree that all life is profoundly valuable, yet it is when we can place that valuation within the context that it properly belongs that we are able to get a sense of why. Societies place value on human beings by various contingent means: consumer spending, defense of the state, positive impact on the lives of others, social capital. However, a theological view of human value is not contingent on anything other than it is a life
whose source is God. Human life is of infinite value because it is a gift of God. Nothing can diminish it or augment it. Its value simply is. Of course our affinities to those who die, in tragic circumstances or not, will impact how we mourn and remember them, yet we should be wary of a world that has become so saturated with indiscriminate killing that one community can mourn while another is indifferent. Today Damascus is indifferent to Boston. Tomorrow it will be the other way around.
It is when we can say as a species that we are all Bostonian now, we are all Syrian now, we are all Iranian now, we are all American now, that we will have begun the long journey to a recognition that it is in our common life that our best hope of lasting peace on Earth lies. Until that epiphany, may God bring comfort to all those who mourn near and far.

Becoming the Word Made Flesh

As holy week approaches, a recurring question of this time in the Church’s year comes to me: why do people come to church services around Easter? Perhaps it is a sense of duty, of something that should be done, like paying taxes or walking the dog. Or maybe there is a family member to be satisfied, a cultural heritage of religiosity that demands that to be true to one’s family of origin one must ‘do the religious thing’ before heading off to an Easter Sunday brunch. I have also wondered though if there is more going on in people’s sudden appearance at this time of year and that it has something to do with our need to remember.
The Church’s liturgy is resplendent with memory. The ancient tales of antiquity’s nomadic and oppressed people of God, the anamnesis of the broken body and bread of Jesus, the signs and symbols of the ‘something more’ of God that permeates our world yet whose life in us we are sometimes dull to realizing, all of them are on display through the course of an hour and half’s worship. Yet the enduring problem of such other-worldly acts, both for people who come to experience them weekly and for those whose experience of them is intermittent, is that the act is mistaken for the reality that is being remembered. We come to worship in the context of community not to complete something, a duty or a cultural behavior, but to start something entirely different altogether. We come to worship to remember what it is to be human, to remember what it is to long for the deep things of God that hitherto in our busy and distracted and indeed self-satisfying lives have gone unnoticed.
The life of the worshiping Church is where we come to remember in order to re-member our life with the world’s life. To be immersed in the ancient song and ritual of the temple is to offer us the opening to be re-oriented to our true vocation: to be salt and light for the world. To hear the words of millennia-old scripture and witness the vibrancy of people who gather to proclaim a good word to the world is to prepare ourselves to become Word made flesh. For it is our fleshliness that counts in the end. Our capacity to become divine in the world for which God became flesh in order to be reconciled to is our best hope for the world to see God for itself.
When we set out, prepared in advance by our liturgical labor together, to meet the world as it is in all of its holiness and utter profanity, we make our way on the road to Galilee, the place of the nations, the place where worldly things are. When the divine life in us shows up in our homes, in our family relationships, in our workplace tensions and hopes, on our street corners and in our shopping malls, in our prisons and our schools, in our gated communities and our housing projects, the Word becomes flesh all over again. Hope is spoken to an amnesic world, and the God of glory may come in to heal and redeem his people. And so, as the week we call holy beckons us to sit in the sanctuary and enter into again the silence of a slaughtered God, our hope is set on what this unnerving demonstration of true power – the power of a love that gives itself away for us – will do to us as our flesh shall also see God.

Pope Francis, remember Jenny

Two weeks ago, a woman who had become known to our church community through the course of the past several months suddenly passed away on the sidewalk in front of our church building. Her name was Jenny. Jenny was a particularly private person and at the time of her death we didn’t even know her name, let alone much about her life. We did know her, though, for her gentleness of spirit  and her smile. She was one of so many who make their dwelling on the streets of our city and one of the number who make their way to our particular community of faith.

For our church, Jenny’s passing has only deepened our resolve to reach out in friendship and service to those most in need, at times right there on our doorstep. Yet her death has also opened up a more mutual space of relationship and identity for us. A couple of days after Jenny died, family members from across the country began to get in touch. We were able to gather with them for an evening’s service of memorial in the side chapel that Jenny had sometimes known as her church home. The family members who came joined us around the communion table as we were reminded in that simple meal of bread and wine how our difference is subverted by the Spirit who binds all humanity into one.

Within the little time that has passed since these events, another church’s doorstep has become the focus of some attention as the Roman Catholic Church announced that it has a new pontiff, Francis. Pope Francis is known to be a man who has chosen to live into a simpler expression of his vocation, electing when he was formerly the Archbishop of Buenos Aires not to live in his episcopal palace but in a simple apartment, cooking his own food and travelling to work by bus. Francis is also known as a champion for social justice and of the poor and has denounced the “demonic effects of the imperialism of money.”My request to the new Bishop of Rome is simply this: Pope Francis, remember Jenny. There has been so much focus in my own Episcopal tradition on civil rights issues from an internal church perspective – the rights of women and of openly gay men and women to be in positions of church leadership – that the struggle for life free from oppression and degradation beyond the institutions of the Church has fallen away from the forefront of our focus. The Church of Rome has also been beset with internal struggles, from the alleged corruption at the Vatican Bank to the institutional failures surrounding a myriad of abuse scandals. My hope for Pope Francis is that he may remember his vocation to remember the poor and help all Christians re-discover forms of living that embrace simplicity and justice in the same movement.

For me, the question of how we retain the memory of Jenny’s life and loss is to ask how we are to be the Church in the liminal space between street and sanctuary. In the night, Jenny would straddle that edge between the street and the sanctuary, sleeping under the eaves of our church entrance. In the day, she died on a small strip of grass with that sanctuary space as most likely her last image of life on Earth. The between-space, that for us marks a death, is now the place where we are called to find the Lord of life. As we seek him there, may we dare to hope that by pitching the tent beyond the church walls something might be changed, starting with ourselves.

Ashes, Art and Making the Connection

So, I did it again. Ashes in small bowl, purple stole, black clerical shirt, down to the boardwalk. Placing my heels on the first grains of the sand of the Pacific, I stand. I wait. This goes on for a while.

As I stand, I notice the range of responses that passers-by have. The most common reaction is the non-reaction. Most people walk by, say nothing, don’t look my way at all. After all, this is Pacific Beach, and people do weird things all the time, so much so that you can stand out here if you aren’t making a scene of yourself.

The second category of passer-by is the ‘sniggerer’. Some sneak a sideways look, others nudge one another and grin. This group often contains a sub-group of ‘double-takers’, just to ensure that what their brain is telling them they have just seen is actually what they have just seen.

So, I stand there, and wonder to myself, ‘is this street theology?’ an embodied evangelism minus the soapbox and loud haler? As I ponder the nature of what exactly I am up to, I notice the third category of passer-by: the one who stops. They are few, it must be said, but their diversity of responses is fascinating.

‘You getting many customers?’ one man asks. He’s one of those who stop to ask a question. Another asks what the ashes stand for, another why Ash Wednesday is today and not another day. My favorite of this group of question-askers is the elderly Italian woman on a bike who comes abruptly to a halt to ask,


‘Episcopal’, comes the reply, and she rides on, arguing with her husband in Italian.

With all of this are the family dynamics that get revealed as people choose to engage the religious-looking person a little out of place at the beach. One woman brings her mother to be ‘ashed’, another commands his wife to have their children have ashes imposed – ‘they have to do it!’ – despite the mother’s protest (they end up moving on, with only the dad receiving ashes). ‘This is church’, he retorts, prophetically.

Lots to to think about in the course of an hour. Nice weather too. But what was it all for? Was it art, as the young man who asked to take my picture on his i-Phone, ‘It’s pure art, man, and you don’t know it’. Is that the life of the Church in today’s society, a relic of an art form, a beach walk show? Or is it about being recognized, ‘being visible’ as churches like to say? As I made my way back to the church at the end of my time on the boardwalk, a young man in shirt and tie says to me as he passes, ‘People treat you differently when you’re all dressed up’. Is that it? Is this about being treated to a different kind of conversation than normal? Do church symbol and ritual action allow us to speak to one another in different ways than we might otherwise?

Perhaps the Church in our world is all of the above: a spectacle, something to ignore, something to joke about, a space to ask questions, a space for family and other relationships to get played out within a narrative of the divine-human relationship, a vehicle for symbol and art, a way for us to have a different kind of conversation with one another. In the end, the Jehovah’s Witness who cycled by and stopped for a chat had it down to one concise insight: ‘people think that we are trying to convert everyone, we just want them to make a connection to God’. This is the age of connections after all, the networked age. Maybe I should come down here more often.