Tuesday, 25 March 2008

you have heard it said

- I am conscious of the irony here, essentially I am saying “you have heard it said that you have heard it said.. but I tell you” Meh, either way, let me know if there is any currency in this train of though.. I find the 'you have heard it said, but I tell you...' model of preaching teaches people to be suspicious. It also engenders reactive rather than proactive models of church.

- The church is a body, a living entity, that can be damaged. No matter what the cessationists are saying across the road, no matter what the charismentalists have going on on a Sunday night, no matter how old fashioned the church you grew up in was.. The church includes them, they are part of a bride.. I think we depersonalise 'church' and the 'old church' and the 'emergent church', 'the vineyard church' and perhaps my having transitioned variously, I have names and faces in many camps, and so should we all (not all transition, I learn from my mistakes, but we should all have names and faces).. If you establish your church in reaction against another church on grounds less than the centrality of Christ, the seeds of disunity are sown. Paul thanks God constantly for the people of Rome, because of their faith.. Rom1:8.. I don't know whether this necessarily extends to 'under-preached issues' issues, and if it applies to doughnuts, I think the question bears more on the nature of a blog and whether it is the foundation of a divisive church and the substance of its preaching rather than honest questions in search of eventual unity.

- Iconoclastic is a word I've just learnt, although I'm not entirely I know what it means, so i'll plough on ad use it until someone corrects me, I think its is an idol smashing mentality initially, although it works out into a reactionary negating of all that has come before..

- So on that, some questions.

- Are people in the emergent church happy? Who blogs? Is blogging life in its fullness? Why is it overwhelmingly men on here? How do you disagree well online? Is my online unblemished self capable of receiving grace? Do I need Jesus to give me a new identity if I can get a new one each time I start a new blog? Is online community true community? Why did Jesus come to earth in an age before the internet? Is off-line Christianity more or less iconoclastic, more or less fractured, more or less fruitful? ~conscious of the substantial overlap in participation of the two, the question is more of time and resources committed and the proportional fruitfulness etc..

cartoon - http://xkcd.com/386/

the kingdom on holiday

Seeking first the kingdom on holiday:
- Where are you going? What are you doing there?To what end or purpose are you travelling? With whom are you going? For whom are you going? Spending whose money? To escape what? To gain rest in what, through what? To boast in what when you get back? ... What ultimately refreshes? How far does one have to travel to get that? What does a check-list of global destinations you've photographed yourself in front of do to advance mercy, justice and peace in the world? .. and will there be tourism in the new heaven and new earth?

- So I'm off to Wales. I think, rather like 'Your God is Too Small', 'Purpose Driven Life' is a book I should read, as it is a phrase I use, and the association may be misconstrued if the book is not indeed about what my use of 'purpose driven' would have it be about.. So, without being legalistic I am again convicted of a lack of intentionality in my life. I want to want this holiday to be purpose driven family time, purpose driven rest, purpose driven reading etc..

- Along with hand-washing dishes, holidaying in Britain is a notion of frugal discipleship for which I am indebted to my parents in establishing me in. (Prov 22:6) Issues of flying and whether or not the world is warming up are secondary to obedience and humility etc which are facets of that purpose towards which we are driven.. Is your honeymoon destination the most god-glorifying destination you can choose?

god in my

God in my... God in my thinking, God in my sleeping, God in my education, God in the car I choose not to buy, God in the nuances, God in my life speed, God in my cooking, God in my view of a good life, God in my timidity, God in my blogging, God in my house, God in who I eat with, God in the unclean, God in my urgency, God in my patience, God in my self-image, God in my indecision, God in my family, God in my hoping, God as my hope, God in my fasting, God in my temptation, God in my spending, God as my truth, God in my risk, God in my expectations for 133, God in my expectations for Nottingham, God in my intentionality, God in whether I move house, God in whether I move house again, God on my holidays, God in the face of everyone I meet, God in my life or death, God in my shaming, God in my joy always, God in my being fully present, God in my next right thing, God in my pride and pretension, God in the fear, God in my gods, God in my anger, God in my 'whose money and time is it anyways', God in my determination, God through my speaking, God as my comfort, God in my failure, God in my unbelief, God in my self-justifying, God in my plodding through a passive Christianity, God in who I would die for, God in this last term of 133. Yeah yeah?

romans so far


Things I have learnt from JP so far.

- 'I the God of Romans 9 will be heralded, not just analysed and explained.'
- The big question in life is not 'who am I?' but 'whose am I?'
- Second-handers. A notion from IMRand, those people who spend their lives trying to please others.. vs there is only one person we need to please.

- The God-centred-ness of God is good news. Do we long for God's Glory?

- 'Grace is an undeserved power and enablement freely given for ministry'
- If you take your love affair with democracy into your relationship with God you will destroy Christianity.

- We can issue a call for conversion, only God can issue a converting call.

- Rom1:7 'Beloved of God' – re James' thoughts on poor teaching on Love.. JP draws out excellently the love God has for his chosen: “If [John3:16] is the extent of your understanding of God's love, you are not a christian..(!) ..a testament to the lightness of contemporary teaching on love” What bearing does that have on the doughnut situation? (Doughnuts it seems are now going to feature in all Phil's thinking on love) So the Rom1:7 Love that we should feed on, that should strengthen us is is the Ex11, Ex36, Jer31, Jer32:40, Luke22:20, Rom8:35,37

- “We exist to share a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples”

- Don't be invisible Christians, don't look to create invisible Christians.

- Rom1:14 I am a debtor to Greeks barbarians etc (KJV) – JP draws out brilliantly the nature of this obligation, that we have received a gift of grace in such a way that our debt is not so much to God as it is to all the peoples.. If you don't give grace away in your life, if you don't spend yourself to share the gift God gave you, what you are saying is that you deserve it and they don't, that you earnt it somehow.. and that nullifies grace. Do we think of the cynics and anti's as people we owe grace to?

- Then two weeks, ideas about unity (unity being my current itch) Rom1:8-15 be a thankful people. Paul thanks God for people, the faith he thanks God for is not a depersonalised bag of 'faith'. Then Rom1:16 as more we understand grace, the more we are obliged to minister grace to each other, being conduits of grace is a mutual/body thing, Paul desires a body in Rome, not just individual professions of faith.

- Rom1:16 – “You will be shamed, but you do not need to be ashamed.” And this by despising the shame, via the joy set before you (Heb12:2) What things currently cover our shame, cushion the potential shaming as a result of the gospel: comfortable church? Etc.. You can tweak the gospel so it doesn't bring shame..

so porn..

The general thesis of this meandering post is that porn is not *the* problem and porn is not the *problem*. I am sceptical of the both the motives and effectiveness of preaching on it so.. Antonio, rightly, has badgered me to get this online, as I've been sitting on it for a while, I have assumed through this post that porn is wrong, and so in fact I deal with none of the issues of that conversation, leaving them perhaps for another post..

I hope this post is non-judgemental, I don't post it as someone who has it all worked out, my questions around these issues are genuine. This could so easily be construed as the selfsame shameless controversialism I would accuse some preachers of.. Perhaps.. I do want to open up a conversation that draws out answers to questions on the nature of sin and how structurally and theologically etc it might be addressed, I have thought to go through this whole post and inflect every sentence to a question? but didn't think it would help. The whole post is born out of the conversation, (if indeed it is) why is porn such a problem, to which these are only ventured answers in a train of thought.

- -

Porn in preaching, from one pulpit or another in the smattering of podcasts I dip in to, seems weekly more and more the fashionable sin to reference. The curiosity of this move has come up a couple of times in 133 conversation.. Essentially I would want to question the apparent orthodox hierarchy of sins that are referenced and railed against from the pulpits, the sex and drink duo appear as the scratched record whipped out for the applicationing sermon conclusion to congregations in this slim demographic of Christian teens to 20somethings I find myself in. What motive is there for preaching those sins, rather than any others?

The other day JW gave us the 1 in 3 christian men porn addiction statistic, as I sit there pewed between Jon and Alex, thinking if not me, then statistically one of them.. This notion and my presumption of its falsity (?falsity vs fallacy anyone) distracted me for the rest of the service. Dwelling at first on the largely semantic notion of what is 'porn' and what constitutes 'addiction' and who were the polled 'christians'; as today most everything is porn, or pornographied; that and we are an addicted generation, defined by our consumerism and escapism (and religious nominalism? perhaps less so, although the statistic might well be American (via Rich Nathan?)) For example, towards these definitions, one might derive such a statistic if one asserted that my fascination with artfashiondesign mags is influenced, in part, by that significant element within them which is sexualised. And from this, addiction could be extrapolated based on the frequency, motivation in reading and also the degree to which my readership informs my identity.. And equally to 'Friends', that argument could be made tenuously..

But beyond these semantic questions, I was distracted by the motive for his mentioning this statistic in the first place, and as an example of a trend in sermons, it is less the spurious statistic itself but rather the frequency and manner in which these statistics and shallow treatments are raised in sermons. While the frequency with which porn or 'those websites' are referenced to summon 'the' sin of our age, reflects the scale of the 'problem' at least as those preaching perceive it, I would question if perhaps the way it is addressed reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem.

The nature of the porn problem: a problem or a symptom?
I would say symptom although I don't feel qualified to comment on the psychology of addiction: porn or sex, but rather in so far as I have and as often as I have done the porn thing it has rarely been about the sex, in and of itself, rather it was the manifestation of the outworking of deeper issues, as with most all sins. For me, an ambiguous introduction to sexuality preceded my on off flirtations even addiction to all manner of porns between ages 11 and 18, and now as even the temptation has essentially waned, I believe the underlying and primary issues still remain. Essentially I would site the porn thing as a symptom an unsatisfied need for connection but further (and this is in no way to deny my own full responsibility for my own sin) I would site porn as the outworking of social context and theological understanding, issues which I believe the church has a crucial role in ?sanctifying:

1 A symptom of the problem of community - lack thereof.
I was fed a gospel steeped in individualism that essentially considers community as an optional extra. This is conveyed explicitly in the doctrine which concerns your salvation, your holiness, your prayer, your relationship with Jesus, and implicitly, by a christianity that for me was strung between summer camps, essentially left to my own devices in term time. Mine is one story among many who struggle to walk in holiness in the absence of church and in the inadequacy of the para-church to fill that gap. This is a situation, I would presume, applies to Sunday christians, lone-ranger christians, and mediated online christians everywhere.. Such 1 in 3 statistics in part reflect where we are reaping the cost of the adoption of our era's individualism by the church. This is the undoing of the three cord rope, and the neglect of the person-shaped hole.

I am not advocating 'accountability groups' or churchianity, nor idolising the saving power of some institution with a name, and certainly not 'religion' which bullies and coerces people into holiness, but within the models adopted, big churches, small groups etc, but if and where the sited statistics are true, what gap has left the church body so susceptible to moral collapse in the face of the pornographication of society? I would venture that where people's concept of church is based only on the paradigm of Sunday meeting church, a congregation misses the deep relational and pragmatic basis of a defence in the face of an assault from porn-on-tap internet.

Lauren Winner in 'Real Sex' writes about community, through the lens of sex as an example of an issue best dealt with in that context. There is the problem that we have atomised our christian lives, to a detached suburban Christianity, we have made community optional; but also where we have community, we don't do sex in community, my experience of christian fellowship and community until recently had all and more of the taboos surrounding sex. So in cases such as these the problem is church not being church, not being naked and unashamed, not being transparent.

2 A symptom of deficient theology.
Bad theology, an inadequate understanding of sin, its doctrine and implications. This sin thing was refreshed for me, as I did the Environment sermon survey, as and where the environment and sins related to stewardship lean on a system of causes and effects, it brought in to more clear focus, the immediate gravity of sin here and now, and then in eternity. Sin, and perhaps it needs to be The-Message-ified, into some more pointed contemporary translation to conveys that it really does mess everything up. And if I say we play it down, I mean not just the sense of not speaking it in our evangelism.. I don't speak it in my head, and grapple with it, its much more comfortable when its abstract and out there somewhere. Basically for me this and a host of issues changed when my concept of sin moved beyond a ticklist of naughtinesses:
- a. If sin is taught as naughty things that annoy a man in the sky, or as things which exclude you from some holy huddle, or things which make you feel bad.. such teaching will never be sufficient to keep one from the draw of porn.
- b. Rather, if we write sin as selfishness, your will and desires put ahead of God and those of others, as that which breaks down relationships here and now and in eternity and that which actively destroys.
- c. These things that are preached as sin are things that will mess you up, mind body and soul, Steve Nicholson describes long term porn addicts he had encountered, and actually weeps on the recording. http://www.evanstonvineyard.org/podcasts/sermons.cfm Listen to it now. ..and the whole series.
- d. And then - I never gave thought to there being another team on the pitch before these last charismatic couple of years – the notion of a spiritual battle, was painted as some way off, an abstract allegory to describe a struggle with temptation, along with Susie Sugar and the Plaque Police describing a metaphorical battle for clean teeth in your mouth. Childish. Rich Nathan is brilliant in his series on spiritual warfare from last summer starting: What is Temptation all About. Preach and equip for spiritual battle, if indeed this is one. 'Equip', yes with the bible and preaching, but equip, train, practice, discipline. When discussessing the emergent in terms of monasticism, (eg http://www.crcc.org/converse/1967.ram) monasticism as a lifestyle of training in a spiritual sense, as you might for a musical instrument. Are we afraid to practice our religion? As Daniel 1-2 practice our peculiarity? I'm in favour of a return to liturgy and ritual, as far as neither them become an ism.. Anyone?
http://jasonclark.ws/2008/01/03/recovery-of-liturgy-ritual-in-the-emerging-church-2

Is a deficient view of sin complicit in the trivialisation of porn culture, the objectification of women, the conflation of lust and love.. all/any of those?

The flip side of this is equally we have not (I keep saying 'we' as if somehow my own experience of church can so seamlessly be globally extrapolated.. I offer these generalisations conscious of the leap..) I had not had a view of holiness presented to me that was compelling. Christ calls an army of radicals, biblical wisdom is not merely a manual to do life well, it is a manifesto or call to arms for those who would love as Christ loved this broken world. So what is was missing for me us them, in this gap between 'salvation' and death, is a framework in which sin is not an add on and virtue is not an add on.

I find such a meta-narrative, or call it what you will, expanded brilliantly in John Eldredge's NPC 2007 on a gospel story in 7 stages. - http://www.zondervan.com/podcastI In this namedropathon also check out Donald Miller's 'Story' which helpfully continued the theme of God as the writer of stories. http://www.marshill.org/teaching/ ~Week 459 .. And then putting flesh and blood compellingly on living in that story in community, Shane Claiborne http://www.thesimpleway.org/shane/ and the new monastic bits and pieces.. even for all those in the blogosphere who disagree with his and the emergent's theology.. (This is a tangent, porn may be rife in the simple living camp, I don't know..) But suffice to say, my understanding has more clarity, immediacy and need for a saviour, if I consider it framed in these ~biblical and current stories of radicals in spiritual battle, where sin is real and virtue is real and a picture of eternity is painted into which ripples are cast.

But probably, above and beyond all of these, we struggle more than we ought with sin, because our God is too small. Another book I should really read before referencing. But I'll plough on.

A criticism of the emergent church et al is that they are much happier with a incarnational Jesus, buddy Jesus than the massive Father God of the universe God (?ref for this). I find this preached in John Piper, the bigness of God.. Who writes the following regarding preaching God's unapproachable holiness, would this notion of preaching God apply equally into the area of sexual brokenness under which porn falls..:

“About five years ago during our January prayer week, I decided to preach on the holiness of God from Isaiah 6. And I resolved on the first Sunday of the year to take the first four verses of that chapter and unfold the vision of God's holiness.

So I preached on the holiness of God and did my best to display the majesty and glory of such an unapproachably holy God. I gave not one word of application to the lives of our people. Little did I know that in the week prior to this message one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being abused. It was incredibly devastating. There was police involvement - Social workers, Psychiatrists, Doctors. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under that message.

I wonder how many advisers to us pastors today would have said, Piper, can't you see your people are hurting? Can't you come down out of your ivory tower of theology and get practical? Don't you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?

Several months later the sad details began to come out. And the husband came to me one Sunday after a service and took me aside, and said, "John, these have been the hardest months of our lives. You know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God's holiness that you gave me the first week of January has been the rock we could stand on."
http://www.lamplighterpublishing.com/blog/2008/02/edwards-and-holiness-of-god.html


3 A symptom of this, which is really about that.
I am presently blessed to be meaningfully and accountably engaged with others earnestly seeking God, and now, compared to, say, the point I left Oundle, I have a deeper and broader understanding of theology, the bible and church, and particularly with regards to sex within those areas of thought etc, however, there still remains thirdly the need to connect. The Evanston series starts with this, and Rob Bell's Sex God, brilliantly draws out links and overlap between sexuality and spirituality. I'd say brilliantly, I should get my noted copy back and flesh this point out a bit, in a later post perhaps..

Essentially I think we should place our understanding of sexuality within this framework of integrated spirituality. We are sexual beings, our sexuality is a language, a force, an understanding of how we connect, and it goes beyond being something that we do, it goes some way deeper and points to something else, something other, beyond the simple in-out of Clockwork Orange. (And in this sense, I may contracdictmyself later by arguing that sexual sin should not be beaten up on as 'the' sin.. but there is something powerful in sexuality.)

An understanding of the whole person thing and an integrated better allows us to understand Christianity not as a religion but as man brought fully alive to by fully human. What then is the angle that should be taken on sexual sin?

Ben Witherington III reviews, summarises, applauds and critiques Sex God on his excellent blog: http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/03/rob-bells-sexgod-book-first-rate-read.html

'This being about that thing' then derives that the porn thing may not be about porn, which you may say is obvious. What then should be preached against, and how then should deal with the root?

Should we make porn 'the' problem, 'the' example, 'the' sin..
Where the previous paragraphs have considered, given the manner in which porn is referenced, whether porn is a problem - as opposed to a symptom. If we now ask whether it is 'the' problem/symptom, we are questioning its place in a hierarchy of sins, and the foundations for such a hierarchy. Possibly here I am broadening the conversation to consider a full gamut sex stuff, but even within that typically porn pips even pre-marital to the post.

The motives for choosing these sins might be:
-- they cause most damage, to character and relationships, lead most to further sins, and are the most deep rooted.
-- are most widespread, affecting the most people, most often.
-- are most appropriately dealt with in the context of Sunday speaking.
-- are those which people most forget about and so require most frequent reminding.
-- cynically they could be for an element of the risqué, to seize the attention of listeners, to appear culturally edgy,
-- or even to most effectively convict in a superficial way for the pleasure of those Christians who enjoy their self-pity.

Some discussions of porn in church come close to the line equating evangelical masculinity to struggling with porn. Pastors who assume that the male congregants are struggling with porn unless they have sought help.. Such defeatism begets or at least contributes to the problem. Just as the kid constantly accused of stealing money is as well to steal it anyways. Maybe I wish I was addicted to porn, for the way it is presented or just to be able to give my struggle a name.

“go and sin no more..” if we read this not as Jesus laying another burden on this well woman's shoulders, but that it is him speaking to her the freedom to no longer have to sin any more, does this have implications of our treatment of porn?

When we isolate sex into a course: The Pure Course for example, does this have the effect of detaching sex from our common life together in Christ? I don't think this post answers any of my questions.. Why a sex course, and not a money course? Rather as those churches that might decline to marry a co-habiting couple, yet not those who do not tithe etc..
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2211943235
http://phil-blogs.blogspot.com/2007/11/questions-for-stop-pure.html


What might we preach on instead, what other sins etc?
More helpful for me have been those which have questioned what else you do on the internet, besides pornography, those have challenged me, I spend too much time on facebook. How much is too much? Most any time spent on facebook is too much.. If you are going to preach on porn, preach equally on positive sexuality, make sex an open part of doing life together as it were. If not porn, lust and sex, I would venture so much more critical are greed, pride and apathy, these coming out of a unbelief, bad theology, and Christian individualism. Otherwise, preach on the Glory of God. Preach on the Cross. Preach on the imperative of community.

But anyways to conclude this, if the statistics are correct (52% xn men and 20% xn women) . this does not to me reflect a lack of beating up on porn, a lack of porn-Sundays.. etc.

I would venture that unless we know beyond knowing, unless we know deep in our being, who we are in Christ, who we already are, and unless proactive structures are in place of loving accepting and redeeming community we have missed the point and will lose the battle.

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20070605/27799_Porn_Addiction_Flooding_Culture,_Church.htm
http://xxxchurch.com/

Also check out: http://www.figleafforum.com/ :-)

cambridge


Unity as the heart cry of a generation, was something confirmed to me at Cambridge. Another bunch of students longing for a defragmented body of Christ, humbling themselves and living out those prayers that God would heal their land.. I and they would love to see one church to emerge out of this tangle, not 'one' particular group with a name and a slogan, not the polemic, iconoclastic new church beloved of emergents, but an agreeing to disagree humble unity under one head. Rom15:5-6

It was an awesome weekend all in all down in sunny Cambridge, there was one moment which will stay with me particularly, when Tom was retelling the Last Battle and I could see out through the college room sash windows, past the budding magnolia, to the dying sunset throwing glorious red over the relief of the carving of the classically moulded front across the still evening courtyard in Cats.. Perhaps there is something mildly saccharine in such a recounting.. It would be for want of my ability to convey with suitable literary subtly the quiet beauty of story time with Tom, and the immortal feeling that sat about tea and cake, we could have been in any century.. This and the Last Battle, which I have not heard for ten years or so, CSLewis tells our story, further up and further in, the hope we all have for that existence to be more fully human etc..

Among my new acquaintances is Nic, who like Phil Wilson, has a boy's name, likes John Piper and his podcast and has a godliness which is apparent and compelling, these may be connected..

Godly masculinity prayers over the weekend, and not for myself, although I and we all could do with more of it. I then regretted it, for want of a way of expressing it better, or at least non-judgementally, perhaps the notion of masculinity needs to be preached into our vocabulary.. (Jim a post for your under-preached issues?)

Good chats about nature and numbness, hell and the suburbs. Are these conversations the germs of a seed of structural urban change in our generation? Without vision the people perish..?Prov 29:18 ..A believeable vision for an alternative to atomised existence in suburbia that deals with the problem not cosmetically but at the root. Anyone?

All in all God has been putting a steady stream of people, Fi, Nic, Tom, Karen, James, JP, to point me towards a biblical christianity, that is to say a bible drenched christianity.. Just heard Jerry Root speaking on bethinking recounting a time in seminary when he questioned why his tutor was quite so happy that day.. he had just that morning finished reading through his bible in devotions for the 200th time. There we go.

Unity humility prayer and that. x

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

doughtnuts


Jim Jams.. I would say, “Ah doughnuts.. you and I have too much time on our hands.” But we don't. When we stand before God, tonight perhaps, and he demands of us, how did you spend those precious hours I gifted to you, when you were in the heart of emerging student culture, in deep community, with people who don't truly know life or love on your doorstep, in your house.. How did you spend it. Bickering and bitching about doughnuts? Is this the plank in our eye. Are we simply not captivated by Christ.. !! - http://jasonclark.ws/2006/01/27/is_ranting_chri/

I'll blog this one out, inconclusively perhaps.. I am increasingly convicted of a need to curb my cynicism, and to post a lot more love joy and peace. pray. for. me.

“Handing out a doughnut with a casual “because God loves you” is profoundly ungodly.”
Steady on. On a scale of one to ungodly, this one surely is some way down the list..

"Have we taken the word love, interpreted it through the paradigm of our world experience and applied it to God?"
Yes we have a limited experience of love, yes we interpret, and by these interpretations we begin to understand God.. Perhaps if they were to assert, God is the doughnut giving God. Or that doughnuts were the substance and limit of the Love which is God, one might assume this.

"Have we thus not allowed God to interpret his own word?"
What does that mean? For the author to interpret his own word, is a hermeneutical loop. It is not so much the word we are concerned with, nor even the quotable verses describing love is patient etc, as we are concerned for the substance which it represents, which has been demonstrated in history objectively uniquely perfectly in Christ, in his LIFE and death and resurrection?

“If we truly want to share God’s love with people then we should tell them how God loves.”
This is the conservative sound bite, the emphasis on the preach, and I hold preaching in higher and higher esteem as I drift back into Piper. But lets not abstractise or intellectualise the love of God. Cor13v1 you can quote the whole bible at them, but if you have not love.. if there is not love, demonstrably active in you... How are we splitting doing love, from speaking of love. I'm baffled, I presume we are discussing Trent as the purveyors of this doughnut gospel, and within my experience of what passes for doctrine there, doughnuts are not preached as the limit and substance of God's love.

How does God love? God loves through creation, God loves through provision, God loves through Christ, God loves through people.. God loves us as children, cherished and precious, the apple of his eye, all of that. Christ's death is the clearest, most vivid, picture of God's love, the climax of a divinely orchestrated plan. This is the point that must be told of, BUT it is surely not the only way God loves?

Love is God's being, Love is done, Love is given, Love is received.. God is in Trinity that he might be Love, Lover and Loved. Christ became man, he did life on earth, he did love on earth he showed and taught us how do living. He died for our sin. That we too might do dying to ourselves and be raised in him. These are all things done, more than heard and assented to.
(Also note: people need to hear the specific story of Jesus, the 'gospel' message and by hearing that believe and by believing in him truly have life and a saving relationship with the father... this is not to the exclusion of that, I am defending people's right to give out doughnuts and tell people God loves them as a legitimate form of christian service in a hurting world)
..He *does* love

There is a God. He loves people. We love because he loved first. People don't know God loves them, or they deny it.. They need to know God loves them. To 'know'.. two great passages Eph 3v19 “and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” surpasses knowledge! what does that even mean? Then in Phil1v9 is “and it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” Rob Bell drew out of this in his current series on Philippians, that the knowledge in play here is epignosis (?sp) which is not knowledge about, but knowledge gained from participation, knowledge through experience, from having lived it, not so much by having studied all the books on it.. That whole sermon Rob Bell pushes really really knowing that we might really tell and really do.
...the world needs to know love

We live in a visual culture, and there is a need for visual metaphors that speak of God's character but even further than that Art and Soul, (Brand and Chaplin 2001) and The Creative Gift (Rookmaaker 1981) I just finished reading both speak of the need for for art, images, art without justification, art simply to be beautiful, without agenda. In a culture that has forgotten what it means to share its stuff. This is prophetic performance art..

“love” as a word and concept..
Love.. this is a word relating to a concept and within this culture, that is post-christian, formerly 'christian' notions take on entirely other connotations. So words come in and out of meaning, sometimes they may need to be retired, sometimes refreshed. Language enables. In cross cultural mission, languages exist without words for grace, or sin, and so need to be invented.. id' appeal here to anyone who knows how this happens is done, as we need it in this culture. Jesus speaks in pictures in part for this reason. Perhaps this word needs to be re-worked into our vocabulary.. one which in a fatherless generation.. in so broken a generation needs to be started wherever we can. Love is patient, love is kind, love is ..there is a place for random acts of kindness, which begin to paint a picture for our generation of what the dying sacrificial love looks like (this may or may not apply to doughnuts).

I object to the notion that to give out doughnuts, and to give out doughnuts because god loves them is wrong. Wrong in and of itself? By virtue of the jammyness of the doughnuts and the jauntiness of the 'because god loves you'? No, I believe however that the conditions motivations and resources exercised in giving away doughnuts might be called into question. You might rightly say that doughnuts are not needs.. and would be probably right.

“People are going to love you for a doughnut, people are going to persecute you for telling them the gospel, the Bible assures us of that.”
As if we are to go out of our way to seek persecution..? Here I would question not so much the doughnuts and whether they speak of love, but the approach that lead to this rather than some more dangerous demonstration of love, more costly or sacrificial love.

(Although you could say that the people here giving out doughnut ARE being persecuted by your good, well-intentioned self..)

The sort of persecution I would expect would be from doughnut manufacturers, where, when the kingdom of heaven breaks in, and not just a couple of people are sharing their doughnuts, but everyone is making and sharing the doughnuts they have, at such a scale that it turns the economic systems, which make the doughnut manufacturers rich, upside down. Then you get persecution, then you challenge prevailing world assumptions.. This message is a gospel, this message is good news to the poor and the doughnutless.

Matthew 5:10-12 : "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness...

- There is the problem with models of evangelism that they are a model. You can attack any model, simply for being a model, because a 'model' is not spirit led and compassion driven, its dry.. you. give. out. doughnuts. If a model becomes a rote.. a formula.. then legalism and cheap grace set in.
- There is also the notion of going without “a purse or bag or sandals” into evangelism, when Jesus send out the 72, and here there would be an element of trying to buy favour with people in order to evangelise.. but are these people trying to 'evangelise' or even mention Jesus, this purpose may fit better into the framework of community building, or simply loving your neighbour.. lunchbars on the other hand.. ;)
- The passage in Luke 10 then continues.. “and do not greet anyone on the road.” What does that mean?
- Also (Some time ago I had a link for this, via a Jason Clark post, but I've lost it..meh) It contended that giving doughnuts to shoppers was not giving to the needy and was infact proliferating a glutted culture of excess..

To be honest I don't know where I stand on the doughnuts issue.. Certainly IF talking about Jesus is actively discouraged, one would wonder what the enterprise was built upon.. We have to pick our battles, and these people love Jesus. I would say that I have a father that comes running down the drive to put a ring(-doughnut ;) ) on my finger, who loves me with a reckless, foolish love, not for anything I have done, not for anything I have earned. A doughnut is a picture of that, a glimpse of that undeserved gift of grace and my hope is that there will be doughnuts in heaven..

Monday, 10 March 2008

st barnabas church, dulwich

Ironically, as this essay is intended as an 'article', it translates poorly to a blog standing on its own. This essay is a quote-athon of german names and so on and in a stop-start fashion stutters through some of my thoughts on contemporary church building applied to St Barnabas, Dulwich, viewed through the lens of 'Building Ideas' and the requirements to use the critical approaches outlined in the book.

The church is pleasant enough and yet bemusing, and very much a child of its age (if thats the phrase i'm looking for..) socially and theologically.

The Church of St Barnabas, Dulwich
1996 - HOK Architects

1 – View of Church from the Road – Philip Jackson 2008

In the early morning of Monday, 7th December 1992, St Barnabas Church, Dulwich was set alight in an act of arson. It burnt for several hours, and by 6.30am when the fire was put out, very little was left of the 1905 red brick and sandstone church by W H Wood, once famous for its locally crafted wood-carved panels and stained glass. The church was considered to be “truly at the heart of the Dulwich community, not only physically but spiritually and socially” It had been insured for £3 million and so was posed the complex question of building a replacement, on an socially and emotionally loaded site. Such a blank slate opportunity has many precedents of demolished churches replaced with “evangelical sheds”, and Richard Cattley, responsible for commissioning the project, expressed concern over contemporary churches, whose emphasis on economy produced an effect more akin to “supermarkets, office blocks or prisons” rather than “inspirational and [possessed of] a numinous quality” that he was later to specify in the project brief. Clearly this is a building the conception of which was explicitly grounded in a certain philosophical system, this essay will consider appropriate interpretations of the proceeding design by Larry Malcic of HOK, London.

2 – W H Wood’s original church in flames, 7th December 1992 -St Barnabas Church 1997
3 – Remain structure, after the fire – St Barnabas Church 1997
The carefully worded design brief expressed the following: “...the new building should look and feel like a church. The main worship area should be inspirational and should possess a numinous quality which would give meaning to the space that was created...The church should be a welcoming place with which the community could identify, which would play a full part in everyday life; inviting people to come inside and explore faith. A place of belonging, outreach and nurture; significantly and visibly a place of worship; a land mark and a visible sign of Christian witness. A sacred place, of beauty, serenity and colour.”

The brief reflects the belief in architecture as a means of communication, as well as the more practical functions of providing shelter over usable space. Expressed is a desire to communicate to those within, engendering community, establishing a richer experience of dwelling, and affirming a particular world-view, but also to dialogue beyond the church even to proselytize. An ambitious notion, given the plurality of possible interpretations of any built form and the contemporary relativism of architectural language, but even more so given the post-modern suspicion of imposed meaning, and the implied power agenda.

The hope, it would seem, is that the designer would adequately assess the substance of the community and their faith and generate form in such a language as those beyond the church would comprehend. Umberto Eco has argued for the impossibility of an interpretation being controlled by the designer and advises design for “variable primary functions and open secondary functions” In so far as the meaning hoped for is one of community and faith, these essentially secondary functions will be connoted if and only if there is engagement by the users.
This tension is highlighted by Malcic to some extent in his discussion of the former tower as “a hollow symbol” as it had been designed for bells which were never installed. Despite this understanding of the role of the user's engagement in grounding the language of any symbolism, much of the design falsely assumes a more universal consensus of meanings, simplistically but arguably successfully the use of gabling may suggest a welcoming domesticity, however on more subtle and overtly theological metaphors the presupposition that in post-Christian Britain the communication of meaning in symbols such as Malcic's use of light to denote Christ is to deny the illiteracy of much of the population to such specific language or to suppose that there are symbolic absolutes, a limitation of Levi-Strauss' interpretation of mythic archetypes.

4 – Glass Spire from below – Philip Jackson 2008
Malcic proposed that “the spire... [would point] heavenwards, symbolising the divinity of God...at night when the building was artificially lit from the inside it would provide a glowing symbol of the light of Christ for the whole neighbourhood.” - a notion which Edwin Heathcote disparages as a tired cliché of contemporary church building: “More than with any other building type, architects approaching a church design become obsessed with light...light has become the most powerful resource of architects often unfamiliar with the rituals and formal language of the contemporary church. Light is uncontroversial, unlike say art or even form...It appeals to atheists as much, if not more than to Christians ...as if light itself was able to express everything an architect is not able to believe: the other, the beyond.” This is the tension evident throughout the building, of a now marginalised, essentially ecclesiastic language being adopted successfully to the extent that it serves its own community, but less so in the intention that it be married to modern construction and so communicate those values beyond its own community. This hope for objective meanings is implied again in the brief when the 'feel of a church' is stipulated, based on their belief such a feel is self-evident.

Clare Stevens in her narrative account of the design and building process recalls the desire within the Church to replace the destroyed building with a “dramatic architectural and aesthetic statement”, but more than that, they were looking for a “wow factor” This is another contending motive that accounts for the language used in the design and is among contemporary churches in the Northern Europe Protestant tradition curiously idiosyncratic at a time when their rigorous, harsh modernism was eschewing the sacred in the ordinary. Heathcote positively notes the influence of this brand of minimalism and the 'ordinary' beyond the ecclesiastic and attributes its rise to the counterbalancing of self-conscious architectural icons. This difference may account in part for the comments by Luke Hughes and others that that St Barnabas's feels much like an American church Malcic has expressed as a primary concern, a desire to “retain the simplicity of the building which he felt would give it the necessary presence and would prevent it from becoming dated. He firmly resisted pressure to make the design more elaborate.” This simplicity is pursued for its drama and “wow factor”, and given the emphasis on visibility in the brief could reasonably be attributed to a pursuit of that end.

I would argue that, in interpreting this architecture as a semiotic device, this emphasis on the dramatic image, communicates at least a tension with the desire also to communicate 'community' and to be a place of 'nurture'. Not simply for the bombastic way the building goes about it, but inherent in the pursuit of image is an undoing of Christopher Alexander's christianised notion of wholeness. That which is being communicated in the pursuit of the 'wow image' shares, in its motives, much in common with the machine aesthetic, and the shock value of projects such as the Pompidou Centre. But also in the practice of that movement frequently, as in the Villa Savoye, style has been pursued over engineering substance. To this end Malcic's aversion of ornament is complicit with the culture that has followed in the wake of Adolf Loos', "The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects" This functionalism was the outworking of a mechanistic world-view predicated in a sub-Christian Cartesian Dualism that would divide Man from the Other, nature and the transcendent. The pursuit of the functional aesthetic in the hope to prevent the church 'becoming dated' has historically been a flawed pursuit, but furthermore, a church that pursues un-dated-ness may do so at the expense of never belonging to a time, a place or a people.

5 – View to Spire – Philip Jackson 2008

6 – Red Brick Piers – Philip Jackson 2008

This tension with the placeless implications of so functionalist an agenda is offset by adopting local red brick to reflect local landmarks with which it shares some vistas, including the nearby Alleyn's School; and in a desire to be sympathetic, possibly in the knowledge of the radical and alien form that the design represented, the presentation of the design went to some pains to emphasise its roots in history and place. The rectangular piers would “make reference to the basilican structure of many early Christian buildings” but also to South London's Gilbert Scott brick edifices of Battersea and Bankside Powerstations and the Salvation Army Training College in Camberwell. In being reconciled to a locality, and historical context the church declares an intention to belong, but the cosmetic nature of the connection belies an impatience and economy that suggest an extrinsic motivation for the decision. Where the church does engage the locality profoundly is in it continued commitment to local music and art including the retention of organ music, which I will address when I consider the church more phenomenologically, but that as a message, the organ as an active element, a source of creative engagement of the user, gives substance to the symbol. As an avenue for local craft in its construction it speaks of a commitment to the arts, in a costly, sacrificial way. However, this is not by virtue of its design so much as its inclusion at all, and so not so much a symbol as the substance itself.

7 – Organ and Glass at the West End – St Barnabas Church 1997


8 – Reclaimed Wood Cross – Philip Jackson 2008

There is also within this building a message of commemoration, this building now stands on the ground of a much treasured church, lost to an act of recklessness, Stevens recalls that, “For some the shock and pain was an intensely personal and private feeling. Others found the need to express more publicly...their sorrow and anger at the loss of the building which meant so much to them and to the community.” The inclusion in the design of a 15ft suspended cross, formed out of salvaged roof timbers, still burnt at the edges speaks of this desire to remember. JB Jackson writes in the Necessity for Ruins of the “traditional monuments” which in his view put people in mind of some obligation they have incurred...[and] that the potency of such explicitly commemorative monuments lies not in their generalised “aesthetic quality” but in the pointed challenges and demands that they issue: in their power “to recall something specific.. to remind us of obligations, religious and political.” Such monuments, he says do not in the end, please and console people; instead, they alert people to what they should do and how they should act.” which he contrasts with “modern or vernacular monuments,” which simply try “to explain” The inclusion within the design of existing elements from the former church: the baptism font, the exposed but now internal wall to the church centre, the re-formed roof timbers as hanging cross, all serve as testimony to formative history in a time and place. Commenting on the inclusion of architectural features from the the old church in the memorial garden Stevens asserts, “This was an important element in the sense of spiritual and literal pilgrimage and continuity from one era to another which would be inherent in much of the building's symbolism.” In linking the preservation of these architectural wounds to a sense of spiritual formation of future generations suggests not only Jackson's modern monument that explains, but something of the traditional monument which convicts, and has a sense of moral obligation. As with post-war projects, Coventry Cathedral or Berlin's Jewish museum, the sense of loss and anger provokes a radical, loud built response in the spirit of a call to moral change.

9 – Baptism Font Philip Jackson 2008
10 – Worship ‘In the round’ – Philip Jackson 2008

St Barnabas's Church, Dulwich, can be understood in these conscious symbols, and explicit messages that they would hope to convey, but also, there is the implicit and unconscious symbol in a building simply by virtue of its being, and the reflection of its users dwelling as: “A construction, a Greek temple, images nothing. It simply stands in the midst of a rock-cleft valley” Heidegger expands in “The Origin of the Work of Art”, the building unconsciously betrays, as the peasants shoes, a way of life. There is a story and value system that can be read in a building, through the manner in which it reflects the movement and ritual of its users. These values that might be inferred from an evolved form, developed over many years to such a point as, like spoken language, there is a blurring of ultimate primacy – the idea that language speaks man, rather than man speaking language. To this end, although the church is a radical new form, Stevens suggests that the move to worship 'in the round' and the relationship between clergy and congregation is a taking to its logical conclusion moves in the 1980s to re-order the church for a more inclusive celebration of Eucharist. Whilst still a conscious move it is derivative of broader theological and social changes towards less hierarchical structures. The flexible seating could be attributed to moves in society away from commitment and permanence, towards what Schumacher argues is a “footlooseness” and the adoption of a model of consumption of services rendered. At a time when church attendance is surveyed at 6.3% and lower in urban areas, the language used speaks of such a marginalisation, nationally a transient congregation, Stevens even writes of the welcome area ”floored in paving flags to provide a link with the exterior courtyard and symbolising the chaos of the outside world.” As the temple in the rock-cleft valley, this building will conjure a way of life, but one here that is being undermined. Heathcote writes in his conclusion to his essay on the present and future of church architecture that, “Churches are working buildings, more than symbols or monuments, they are excluded from art because they have a function, and because they have a function they lose meaning when that function becomes debased or inhibited."

The discussion thus far has been of design language, the top-down expression of will, the messages and underlying agenda: the desire for a numinous quality set against competing drives for economy and a public voice, ultimately building as symbol. However, an understanding of the building which considers the concurrent participatory bottom-up methods employed will give a broader understanding of the degree to which it achieves “a welcoming place with which the community could identify” and “a place of belonging, outreach and nurture.” One might argue that this self-consciously iconic building fails to sympathise and, by virtue of the publicly perceived foreign American-ness, could be deemed inconducive to community, there is however, a commitment to the arts, and to the building as a vehicle for local expression.

11 – Caroline Swash Stained Glass – Philip Jackson 2008
12 – Caroline Swash – St Barnabas Church 1997

This organic vision, particularly in the stained glass which sees the involvement of local artist and congregant, Caroline Swash, achieves a creatively involved and, according to Alexander, more living structure, that is to say, imbued with more 'life': “Living structures are formed in nature by what he calls the “principle of unfolding wholeness,” which states that “in the evolution of an otherwise undisturbed system, the wholeness is progressively enhanced and intensified.” The stained glass of the large west window was not originally in Malcic's design, and has set a precedent the church is pursuing in continuing to commission work in its other windows, and so adopting something of Alexander's vision for user-engaged, progressively intensified architecture. This principle of involvement in and of itself promotes community, through united local expression, value of the individual, and through the encouraging of craftsman apprentice communities, but can also be viewed as a subscription to a politically weighted process of subverting the dominant paradigm of consumerism and its pre-eminent quest for efficiency. Ecclesiastic architecture in the 21st century lends itself to the counter-cultural or Marxist emphasis even more given its decline to a marginal, no longer the hegemonic status as social model and patron of the arts, where museums have replaced cathedrals as sites of pilgrimage in major cities. In these ways the church adopts Frampton's mode of “resistance” to an alienating global culture, through use of local material and craft skill and through bodily experience.

Stevens ascribes this culture of local arts, a central feature of the Parish's identity to St Barnabas: “Most of the physical alterations to the building were carried out by the small group known as the Monday Men. In many ways the Monday Men are the embodiment of the spirit of St Barnabas the Encourager and the inheritors of the parish's tradition of self-help that originated with the woodcarving in the old church.” This group was responsible for various crafted embellishments, as well and realising Malcic's sketch for a suspended wooden cross.
In the commissioning of furniture to be fitted with the building, whilst not local in the sense of the stained glass and embellishments, there is a concern that the building be a complete work of art of complementary constituent parts, in the vein of Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and should be enhanced by its furnishing. Luke Hughes set out to design in sympathy with the church which he found to be, “clean, quite minimalist and extremely American in style.” Hughes considered there to be an emotional significance in the design and that the by the proportions of the chunky back rail, the chairs might serve to affirm the faith of the congregants as they stood. The chairs here are a point of phenomenological intensity, by their tactile nature they lend themselves to an understanding in the light of Heidegger's hammer, they will withdraw, that is, not before informing the lens through which the architecture is interpreted.

13 – Hughes’ Furniture – Philip Jackson 2008
14 – Hughes Furnitre Design -St Barnabas Church 1997

Finally, in the stained glass there is a further reading of this building, that is provoked by Malcic's vision for the stained glass: “that it should be possible to see through the coloured panels to the world outside, particularly to the natural world of trees and sky, ... the world should not be excluded from the church, but merely distanced.” Which reflects in some way the theology underlying this brief, which seems constantly agnostic as to whether it loves the world. Having adopted an anonymous functionalism to then decorate and having set out to engage the wider community's everyday life to then seek to distance it in this manner. This escapist notion Being in community combined with a tinted view of the locality undermines an honest incarnation and taken to a logical conclusion, the distancing of the world and repainting reality potentially leads to a simulacrum whereby “the boundary between artificiality and reality will become so thin that the artificial will become the centre of moral value”.

In conclusion, St Barnabas's, Dulwich stands out from a rash of recent evangelical warehouses as a result of conscious thought regarding a commitment to place, community and the arts. It is clearly a building in tension, where economic and emotional stakeholders have suppressed a broader social and religious vision, in favour of an essentially loud functionalist structure, which is redeemed centrally by its work at participation towards an unfolding wholeness, in an ongoing project. Vindicating perhaps the lumbering cliché of Mies van der Rohe, that God is in the details.
15 – Oak slats and red brick piers in the west end – Philip Jackson 2008



Bibliography
Clare Stevens (1997) Building for the Future: The Church of St Barnabas - St Barnabas Church, London
Edwin Heathcote and Laura Moffat (2007) Contemporary Church Architecture -John Wiley & Sons, Chichester
Umberto Eco, “Function and Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture” in Gottdiener and Algapoulous (eds.) (1986) The City and the Sign -Columbia University Press, New York (quoted in Jonathan A Hale (2000) Building Ideas: An Introduction to Architectural Theory - John Wiley & Sons, Chichester)
Bernie Miller and Melony Ward (Eds.) (2002) Crime and Ornament, The Arts and Popular Culture in the Shadow of Adolf Loos, XYZ Books
JB Jackson (1980) The Necessity for Ruins -University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst (quoted in Lindsay Jones (2000) The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture: Experience, Interpretation, Comparison: Volume Two Hermeneutical Calisthenics: A Morphology of Ritual-Architectural Priorities - Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, p86)
Martin Heidegger Poetry Language Text (quoted in Mark C Taylor (1987) Altarity - University of Chicago Press, Chicago)
Jonathan A Hale (2000) Building Ideas: An Introduction to Architectural Theory -Chichester, John Wiley & Sons
EF Schumacher (1993) [1973] Small is beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered - London :Vintage
National Secular Society newsline, 2006 Sep 22 comments on the English Church Census 2005
Christopher Alexander, Nature of Order (2002) quoted in Tom McElligott An Architectural Reflection on Sandra Schneider's Philip Sheldrake’s Understanding of Christian Spirituality http://www.natureoforder.com/teachers/tomreflection.htm (retrieved Jan 14 2008)
Jennifer Cypher and Eric Higgs “Colonizing the Imagination: Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.” http://www.ethics.ubc.ca/papers/invited/cypher-higgs.html (retrieved Jan 12, 2008)
Mies van der Rohe, quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, 28 June 1959 http://architecture.about.com/library/bl-mies-quotes.htm (retrieved Jan 14 2008)

sustainable design essay

This is an essay written last semester for Environmental Sustainability. Re-reading it, it concludes weakly with a tangential Noah's ark .. but its reflects the confusion, there is alot that design can do, but ultimatelythere needs to be a change in the way we live, in the comfort we expect, in the way we relate and in the way in which we have our being.. failing that, and one should not be pessimistic, but possibly noah's ark is advisable. This was a philosophical take on essentially a practical question, would it have been too much to bring the gospel in.. the role of design is to point to christ? meh..
(This is my first post with pictures in, if you subscribe reload if that possible, this is an editted repost of an earlier first trial with only one picture)



The essence of a sustainable home is one that is sustainable: environmentally, socially and economically and yet is also enjoyable to live in and improves quality of life. Discuss the role of design and thoughtfulness in the creation of sustainable homes.

If design is to effect true ‘sustainability’ it must conceive radical new expectations of human existence, the preconditions for which so fundamentally challenge present socio-cultural assumptions as to constitute a world-view change; at the heart of this change is a return to true community in place of contemporary individualism, in a move that would re-imagine the ‘home’ as an interdependent cell in the organism society; if design is to effect sustainable homes it must first, in its character of practice, become sustainable, it must explicitly challenge counter-sustainable cultural norms before then forging a positive framework of settlement to serve a new understanding of true ‘dwelling’.


There is a difficulty in any discussion of sustainability because its hackneyed terms have lost their meaning. When greenness became marketable the resulting emotive greenwash lead to a blurring of definitions in a field already fraught with uncertainty. The 1987 Brundtland Report has defined sustainable development as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This anthropocentric view of sustainability, that it is human life that is being qualitatively sustained, must be tempered by a humility that is informed by the complexity of and objective intrinsic value in nature that ‘deep positions’ on environmentalism revere. It is also assumed that the binary state of sustainability renders discussions of degrees of sustainability incoherent, but also that it is not a fixed state harmony nor end-product, but rather a process of change, just as life, that which ultimately is being sustained, is a process. ‘Sustainability’ is objective and ultimate, ‘quality of life’ is subjective, and beyond being kept alive, improvements to quality of life are concerned more with non-material things, it is crucial it be understood as this if are to avoid the misguided association of wealth with happiness.


To advocate a design solution on the credentials of its environmental sustainability to the exclusion of its economic or social sustainability is to set up a false dichotomy, a socially healthy society and a healthy natural environment are mutually dependent and it is this triple bottom line by which the viability of any design should be assessed. Nadarajah et al argue that it is culture that binds together economic, environmental and socio-cultural concerns and that culture should be viewed as a way of life and as a way of living together in dialogical coexistence, creatively adjusting to changes. This ‘culture’ engages our relationship with place, the nature of home and our very ontology and should be the pivotal point on which we interact with sustainability concerns.


Heidegger argues that “dwelling is the basic character of Being, in keeping with which mortals exist’” Dwelling as a mode of being in the world, is not only produced by, but also precedes building: “Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build.” Others have commented that the ideal home is not just a house which offers shelter, it is an emotional space, even a state of mind, and ultimately home is a place where personal and social meaning are grounded. For a complete understanding of sustainability home must reflect this more emotional and socio-cultural understanding of home on the grounds that this ‘dwelling’ is saving where “[saving] really means to set something free into its own presencing ... saving the earth does not master the earth and does not subjugate it, which is merely one step from spoliation”.


Finally, sustainable ‘design’ must consider both the discipline and product of the discipline, the interaction between profession and public, and the performance of the designed product. ‘Design’ has become an exclusive term, for purpose of this essay it will be liberated to denote both process and product of construction: social and physical, professional and amateur.

Image 01 – The ‘Hole in the Ozone’ - http://www.eduspace.esa.int
Image 02 – CO2 concentration over time – An Inconvenient Truth - http://www.climatecrisis.net
Image 03 – Variation in global temperature with global CO2 – An Inconvenient Truth - http://www.climatecrisis.net

That we are currently living unsustainably, is primarily supposed from indicators in the natural environment with respect to its ability to sustain life: the depletion of ozone, natural resources and ancient forests and the degradation of soil, water and air quality through the polluting effects of chemical treatments and waste. Sustainability will not be achieved by considering these as problems to be medicated but by diagnosing the human actions which have generated these symptoms, the negligence that permitted them and most importantly the assumptions which motivated those actions. I will argue that these motivating factors constitute materialism, a distortion in the complex relationship between the self and the natural world.


At a social level also there are indicators that we are not living or building sustainably, Clammer observes key problems inherent in much contemporary urbanism including: “the extent, speed, and intensity of world urbanisation; … rural depopulation; … pollution; land use and values; crime; …and social patterns and family instability.” These all impinge on the quality of life sustained, but furthermore this problematic urbanism demands radically more energy than gradually changing and more socially stable societies, in the case of Pruitt Igoe and similar schemes vast natural resource, material and energy is wasted in their eventual destruction, but most insidiously these social problems and the design to compensate and medicate the issues has resulted in an “urban language of separation” which in a vicious cycle proliferates individualism and exacerbates materialism. Callenbach argues that this situation can be attributed to the “rules of a market driven society” And Schumacher argues that while previous civilisations may have exhausted the resources of their local environment, if now by this market-driven consumption “we squander the capital represented by living nature around us, we threaten life itself”


Unless we understand the root of this unsustainability, we are can only expect design to make cosmetic changes to the problem. Schumacher argues that “We are suffering from a metaphysical disease, and the cure must therefore be metaphysical.” If metaphysical, the root of the problem may be less our understanding of the environment, as our understanding of the self and its place in ultimate reality. It could be argued that it is the outworking of an existential problem, manifested in the modernist project, the Cartesian dualism that sets humans apart from nature, and the individual self apart from ‘the other’ of everything beyond the self. The effect of this problem is exacerbated by contemporary design and technology which enables the literal division of the self from its supporting environment and from its consequences, this division again leads to a materialism, as the divided self seeks weight or identity in material possession, an approach which “contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.” The environmental implications of this are clear, and education and regulation should mitigate potential damage.


However, this Cartesian dualism goes much further, having set the self apart from the other, the world and the transcendent; it undermines the basis for objective morality and the basis for truths about the world to be known. Radical pluralism, deconstructivism and post-modernism have promoted a scepticism of metanarratives, including the environmental, they have sought to liberate the individual from responsibility and cast doubt on a scientific epistemology which informs climate concerns. It has been argued that the self has become narcissistic, this has implications directly in terms of increased energy use to fuel each isolated existence but more than that, if narcissism is a ‘loss of meaningful touch with objective reality’ the basis for building a sustainable future in a world that exists beyond the self is undermined.
Image 04 – Hermetically Sealed Suburban Living – Mark Gilbert – http://www.markgilbert.com
Image 05 – Suburban Sprawl, Phoenix, Arizona – Cities for a Small Planet – David Hurn, Magnum

The suburban house can be viewed as an outworking of this narcissistic worldview reflecting the individualistic worlds tailored to personal pleasure that are seen as the zenith of this age. These houses are unsustainable simply in their use of land and material, but further than that, they cement in place unsustainable social structures of separation, they speak a message that venerates consumption and they proliferate assumptions of mobile, commuting and placeless lifestyles. Nadarajah warns of the environmental implications of placelessness as “The Principle of Symbolic Universe …[which] involves recognition of the fact that we are from a physical location that is wrapped with meanings … being in a specific location, responding to the specific environmental context.” The alienation that comes in part from the dissolution of architectural language has led to apathy, distrust and footlooseness. Grounded community and concern for the specific has given way to short-term tenure and escapism.

These are the foundations of unsustainability; design, if it is to effect truly sustainable homes, must seek to address the cause, to subvert the paradigm of individualism and materialism. Design relates to the environment in its use of resources, and it directs practically its users’ interactions with their environment, but most importantly design has a voice and a public presence, it reflects, expresses and influences the worldview assumptions of its population. No house is simply an unsustainable house, but a force within a trajectory towards a more or less unsustainable future.

Image 06 –Cradle Mountain Wold Heritage Area, Australia – Simon Kenny – (Understanding Sustainable Architecture, p43)

No home exists in isolation; a house would be its most sustainable were it not built at all, a house being the bricks and mortar shell devoid of life. If the home is to play a part in sustainability, it first must be understood and engaged as a tool in and of itself, rather than endured as merely a burdensome physical form, requiring heating and cooling. The role of the home in a sustainable urban framework is a product of our understanding of the role of the family as an element in a sustainable social framework. The creation of sustainable homes will follow from sustainable dwelling, the saving home must operate at the point our conception of the family falls from sustainability. This is evidenced in the greater per person energy requirements of single person dwellings, themselves a product of less-than-sustainable social concepts of family. The creation of sustainable homes calls for an interdisciplinary effort to establish a sacred notion of family, and design must engage family and community in both the planning and constructing of home.

Image 07 – Hackney Homes Resident Consultation – http://www.hackneyhomes.org

The role of ‘design’: creative planning and conceptualising, constructing and finishing, self-evidently is central to producing homes that are sustainable. The role of the designer as external consultant however, and the relationship between process, product and community is more contentious. Vested interests of the building industry lie in maintaining such a divorced paradigm, which has resulted in the failure of estates like Pruitt Igoe, and less dramatically but more insidiously the speculatively developed urban sprawl of “socially homogenous, inward-looking and largely inactive dormitories.”

When speculative development fails to be sustainable it may be in part due to poor construction and lack of environmental consideration, but this would be secondary, were the developments made human from the stage of conception, were there true and accountable community, and were it to make efforts to address the self-other dualism at the heart of unsustainability. These notions have been visited by Ruskin’s in his social vision for a Primary Architecture ‘rooted in landscape and vernacular traditions, existing in perpetuity, reconciled to the accidents of its own material, and not offering to defy the fallen nature of the world and its inhabitants’ rather than an architecture ‘imported and propagandistic, superimposed by imperial requirements, pseudo-transcendentalist, merely imaginary aesthesis, existing in vacuo with a hypothesised population, undifferentiated or stereotyped’
Image 08 – Habitat for Humanity, Sweat Equity – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitat_for_Humanity_International
Image 09 – St Ann’s Allotments, Community and Participation – http://www.staa-allotments.org.uk/

It could be argued that the architect-developer led paradigm for speculative housing has propagated a concern for sustainability as product rather than process, and as image rather than effort, serving a market looking for an escapist comfort. Design must engage deeply with people and locality, design must be accountable beyond this generation, it must be more than people-friendly, it must be intrinsically human, held together by human relationships.
Architects, in this vision for the creation of sustainable homes, must no longer be ‘a profession without ethic’, and must first set their own house in order, make what sacrifice sustainability entails, and on this basis be the prophets to a new movement of environmental design.
Image 10 – Curitiba - Universidade Livre do Meio Ambiente
Image 11 – Curitiba - Universidade Livre do Meio Ambiente- http://www.greatbuildings.com
Image 12 - Curitiba - Public Transport - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curitiba
Image 13 – Curitiba – Recycling – http://picasaweb.google.com/dorriziai
Image 14 – Architecture Centre, London – http://www.newlondonarchitecture.org
Image 15 – Architecture Centre, London – http:// http://www.newlondonarchitecture.org/

Curitiba’s successful, clean and sustainable development is attributed to Lerner’s policy of citizen participation. The role played by design, is interdisciplinary and holistic as is reflected at Curitiba’s University of the Environment. To similar effect, in Cities for a Small Planet, Rogers proposes ‘Architecture Centres’, as venues for public debates and strategic plans, promoting participation and realising the untapped wealth of knowledge within the citizenry.33 This participation begins to decentralise design and obliges the design profession to cooperate, engage and serve the city beyond the client, and the world beyond the recouping of short-term investment. This way architecture is owned, place has a face and community might be united by a common purpose.

Sustainable architecture divorced of a human component, assumes the ‘role of design’ is to create a device that will remove the need for people and relies on the modernist notion of grand design as saviour which stifles community initiative. What is needed is a shift in design practice towards a bottom-up model, by design proclaiming a possible alternative value-system, and by example demonstrating that living with less is possible. The notion of education as saviour is misguided given the moral nature of the problem. We have, as a generation, unprecedented education and information at our disposal, and yet we live destructively. This is a question of morality and motivation, design that fails to demonstrate a framework that appeases the existential angst at the heart of unsustainability is mere indulgence.
If we can learn to dwell, and from there build, there are strategies and modes of emphasis that might be pursued; Susannah Hagan writes that the qualities of design proposals can typically be judged under three criteria “Symbiosis, the relationship between building and nature… Differentiation, the recognition of, and response to, the particularities of geographic and cultural place… Visibility, the symbolic and aesthetic emblems… that a building should visibly and overtly reflect its commitment to sustainability.”

Image 16 – Hollow Spruce, 1988, Richard Harris (Understanding Sustainable Architecture, p28)

Culture and design should draw us closer to nature, because a lifestyle lived in hermetically sealed spaces will beget an environmentally apathetic user, simply by virtue of ignorance as a result of the degrees of separation, but further more, architecture should draw us to nature, for its unpragmatic beauty.
Image 17 – Indigenous – Craft, Story Place - Arabic Arch (The Green Imperative, Papanek p124)
Image 18 – Indigenous – Craft, Story Place – Venetian Detailing (The Green Imperative, Papanek p124)
Image 19 – Indigenous – Craft, Story Place – North Africa Detailing (The Green Imperative, Papanek p125) Image 20 – Postmodern Pastiche – Houston Children’s Museum - http://houstonmuseumdistrict.contentactive.com/

If we must first dwell before we can build, there is a danger in advocating indigenous architecture as a function of design, pastiched, pseudo-local architecture is counterproductive in its message and construction. Design if it is to be put the service of dwelling must first meaningfully engage with the history of a place, with regard for establishing permanence, no longer planning obsolescence, no longer viewing design as disposable.

Image 21 – Temple tower at Wat Phra Si Maha Uma Devi, Bangkok - http://www.earthportals.com/
Image 22 – Church Ceiling, Madrid, http://www.pygment.com/
Image 23 – Stonehenge, http://www.windows.ucar.edu/

If our environmentalism assumes intrinsic value of nature, a philosophical question arises as to what system of values beyond us, endows nature with value. Architecture which points beyond itself to the spiritual, to a creator, contributes to a cultural discussion of the value of nature, points to a metaphysical answer to a metaphysical problem, and crucially it points beyond the self and its market-driven supposed needs.
Image 24 – Slums - http://www.spaceandculture.org/
Image 25 – Storefront home in Tijuana, Teddy Cruz, Adbusters #71, p23
Image 26 – Emerging Slum Architecture, Teddy Cruz, Adbusters #71, p23

At the micro scale of recycling bottles to the macro scale of wasteful urban arrangements, design should seek ways to parasite onto those projects dominated by human greed. The re-use and re-greening of brownfield-sites offer financial drawbacks, the role of design here must be to capitalise on existing structure literally and metaphorically, a new indigenous architecture of necessity is already being formed on the post-industrial and slum outskirts of major cities. Parasitism potentially illustrates and makes use of the systemic waste of society.

Image 27 – Venturi, Sketch Proposal for a Monument, German Ed, 1979 p184
Image 28 – World Development Movement Postcard, 2007
Image 29 – World Development Movement Postcard, 2007

Buildings speak messages, reflect worldviews, and convey values; however, in adopting an intentionally evangelistic approach to a design, there is a danger of inducing a green-fatigue. The emotional hyperbole that accompanies the fashionable eco-style, when proved shallow, will only serve to exacerbate the post-modern cynicism of this infotainment age and thereby deflect positive action. If design is to carry a message, now more than ever it must be honest and honest about the true cost. Such is a message spoken by a house which takes joy in the non-material, which wears its metaphysical assumptions on its sleeve, a house that is a home, that is permanent, that is reconciled to locality and materiality, a house that thinks and loves beyond its self.

Image 30 – Greenpeace Volunteers building a Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, May 2007, http://www.treehugger.com/
Image 31 – Greenpeace Volunteers building a Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, May 2007, http://weblog.greenpeace.org/

One might propose the sustainable home as one that fatalistically accepts the inevitable demise of environmental quality and so sets about constructing an ark, that they might sustain life beyond this. It is this root fear that begets this over-consumption, in a vicious cycle cynically exploited by marketers and politicians. Design must speak of hope; it must engage people practically in its process; and it must seek to develop a moral framework based on the objective value of life beyond the self.





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