Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Being a birthing Church: litany in times of change

God in stories of change was the devotional theme for our winter block course. Where is God in change? Who are humans in change? How then might we respond, as humans, as interns? Every morning we gathered around these questions, with interns being invited to engage a set of Scriptures

1 Thessalonians 2:6b-12
Genesis 18:1-14 (Sarah)
Genesis 16: 1-14 (Hagar)
Genesis 18:1-14 (Abraham)
1 Samuel 1:1-20 (Hannah)
Luke 1:39-45 (Elizabeth)
Luke 1:39-45 (Mary)

A key resource in the choice of Scriptures was Margaret Hammer, Giving Birth: Reclaiming the Biblical Metaphor for Pastoral Practice. It explores ministry through the lens of birthing narratives in the Christian tradition and offers a rich set of resources.

pregnant-1435168-1279x964 The link between change and birthing made sense first, of the fact that a third of our interns are experiencing changes with birth. A very healthy happening! Second, the call to be the people of God in this season, of which change is normal.

After devotions ended today, I wrote a Litany (a series of petitions, usually recited with call and response in a recurring formula). I wanted to capture key themes gifted to us by each intern in their devotion and provide some sort of thread to bind the days together.

In Paul, Silas, Timothy
The nursing mother cares
The father encourages
ALL: We might suffer (as church)
Yet the mission gives birth

In three strangers
The door of hope opens
As Abraham looks up
ALL: We might laugh (with Sarah)
Yet the barren give birth

In domestic discord
God sees:
Speaks, protects
ALL: We might despair (with Hagar)
Yet the vulnerable give birth

In Eli’s challenge
Amid despairing prayer
And heartfelt honesty
ALL: We might weep (with Hannah)
Yet the faithful give birth

In adolescent haste
Christ dwells
Spirit fills
ALL: We might hurry (with Mary)
Yet young and old give birth

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM | Comments (2)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Being a guest, hosting a host: KCML in Wellington

It is always fun when you find yourself as guest hosting a host. It was a joy on Tuesday night for KCML to host the Wellington Forum of Central Presbytery. The place was packed. Extra chairs were needed with locals suggesting it was the largest ever gathering of the Wellington Forum.

When we as KCML began planning to move our winter blockcourse from Dunedin to Wellington, one of our hopes was that we would find ways to connect locally, both with place and with the Presbytery.

When we emailed the Presbytery, we discovered that the Wellington Forum, which meets every few months, was meeting on the Tuesday of our arrival. Great timing.

After a number of conversations, the Forum kindly agreed to meet at Silverstream Retreat, where KCML is staying. We agree to share a meal, for those able to come at 6 pm. Which meant that as newly arrived guest, I got to welcome Presbytery members to dinner.

prebsbytery

It was great to look around and see a room with interns at every table, eating with Presbytery members from across the Wellington region.

When the Forum began officially after dinner, KMCL was given 40 minutes. First, we invited two of our interns to share about their experience as interns. Second, we launched two hot off the press KCML resources. KCML is committed to resourcing the local church and in the last month, we have released a CD and a book.

Songs-For-The-Saints-Songbook-DIGITAL-COVER-page-001-1-600x600

Songs for the saints is a musical resource for small churches by Malcolm Gordon. Built for Change is my new book, which reflects – practically, theologically – on innovation and change. I had hoped to have actual copies. However stocks are already low in Australia. Good news for the book on one side of the Tasman, bad news for it on this side. I mocked up a copy, which meant that both resources could be physically blessed by Kevin Ward, Senior Lecturer at KCML.

book

Third, the KCML strategic plan was shared, followed by questions. The plan was recently endorsed by Council of Assembly and this was the first time it was shared publicly. It was great to talk about Presbytery partnerships, New Mission Seedlings, National Learning Diploma and to sense the interest and enthusiasm from those present. “Can I have a copy of your powerpoint for my church?” was a great question to be asked.

All in all, a great evening for KCML and for our interns, as together we experienced being Presbyterian, being part of the wider church.

Posted by steve at 03:36 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, June 20, 2016

KCML in Wellington: Winter 2016 blockcourse

KCML is in Wellington for the 9 days of our Winter 2016 blockcourse. This is new territory for us. It is the first time a KCML blockcourse has been held outside Dunedin (apart from occasional visits to Auckland and Ohope). We are staying in Silverstream, a retreat centre in the Hutt Valley.

SR-Jan-2012-005-640x265

The possibility emerged after discussions with the Synod of Otago and Southland, during meetings in February and again in March. This included conversation about the geographic location of intern block courses. The Synod noted their commitment to theological education both locally and nationally and hence the logic of block courses being held both locally and nationally.

The pragmatics emerged in April. With the 3rd All Black v Wales test in Dunedin in June, weekend accommodation was becoming both difficult to find and expensive.

The Presbytery connections emerged in May. The response from local churches has been fantastic. There are rumours of homebaking arriving on Tuesday. We are hosting the Presbytery on Tuesday evening. They will hear from interns and we will launch two new resources – one book and one CD – we at KCML have published in the last month. We will make site visits, to a local innovation site as we reflect on “the Church is led by Christ to do new things” (Ordination and the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, D-4) and to the Assembly Office, as part of building our patterns and connections with the wider church.

Being first time there will undoubtedly be some glitches. All part of “the task of initiating creative trends in the Church’s witness” (Ordination and the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, D-4)!

Posted by steve at 02:21 PM | Comments (1)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Urban farming

In this small thing is all of creation! God made it, God cares for it, God loves it. (A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich)

-1

Plant this movie: the International Urban Farming Documentary was on at the Rialto this Sunday morning. It was an inspirational watch. A few scenes moved me to tears, in particular the vision for culture change possible in decaying urban environments.

Movies like this make sense of my first degree, Bachelor of Horticulture, my love for gardens and some of my research and writing into community gardens – like Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant

(Abstract):

Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhood. This paper considers gardens in Scripture, start, middle and end. It researches the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens. The story of each is brought into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1–12 and 1 Cor 3:6–9. The insights from this dialogue between Scripture and two urban garden case studies is then enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is a documentary about an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden. Both point to the power and potential of a seasonal spirituality. Throughout this paper, beginning and end, is also woven experience—mine—into the place and potential of gardens in mission and ministry. The argument from Scripture, case study, film and experience is that gardens invite us and our neighbours to become good, plot by plot and plant by plant.

Posted by steve at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, June 17, 2016

KCML strategic plan “enthusiastically endorsed”

On Saturday, I was in Auckland presenting the KCML strategic plan to Council of Assembly. It is something I have been working away on for the first 8 months of the job, through team retreats, listening and engaging across the church, seeking feedback on drafts from key stakeholders and testing pieces in a range of contexts. I presented to Council of Assembly for around 20 minutes, then took questions for a further hour.

While this is much more now to do in terms of communication, the Council of Assembly report out today is some indication of our direction as KCML. Key phrases worth underlining include:

adaptability to change
training for lay people
innovative training outside traditional congregation contexts
enthusiastically endorsed

The Leadership Sub-committee report was one of the highlights of this Council meeting. Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (KCML) principal, the Rev Dr Steve Taylor was welcomed to the meeting. Steve made a presentation on the KCML strategic plan. He outlined the key factors KCML believed it needed to concentrate on, and the consultation process engaged in so far. He noted that we live in a changing world, that the Church is changing and that KCML also needs to foster adaptability to change.

Steve explained the five core areas of KCML’s strategic focus, and elaborated on presbytery partnerships, new mission seedlings, a national learning diploma, post-graduate mission and ministry practice. He indicated that KCML aimed to provide Presbyterian-centred, life-long learning. It was recognised that the specific cultural contexts of Te Aka Puaho, Pacific Island and Asian congregations would be included within the strategic planning. The plan identified training for lay people as particularly important for the future of Presbyterianism. There was discussion about how the Council could best resource, within the Church’s strategic goals, support of KCML’s programmes. The Council enthusiastically endorsed the KCML strategic plan and agreed that KCML would work with the Leadership Sub-committee, Resource Sub-committee and others to investigate options for funding and implementing its strategic plan.

Council endorsed a proposal from Rev Diane Gilliam-Weeks, convener of the Leadership Sub-committee, that LSC, Press Go and KCML appoint a task group to work strategically together to develop and have oversight of local learning entities for innovative training outside traditional congregation contexts. This would provide the ability to oversee the range of partnerships and ensure the learnings/benefits from these local learning entities are effectively communicated to the rest of the Church for the benefit of God’s mission.

Posted by steve at 03:29 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The potential of micro-ecclesiologies: Or Who else, beside historians, should visit archives?

I delivered the Presbyterian Research Centre Network winter lecture tonight. It was my 4th talk, on my 4th different topic, in my 4th city, in the last 8 days. Tonight was a chance to try out something I’ve been thinking about for a while, to run a “research query” on the possibilities of what I defined as “micro-ecclesiologies” for practical theology.

archives1

Here’s my conclusion

In the first half of this talk, I embarked on an “inquisitive and chaotic … [journey] guided by … curiousity.” (quoting Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading). I described visits to the Presbyterian Research Centre, Alexander Turnbull, Hocken and Auckland Research Centre. I described their taonga – the richness possible from lectures on explosions, Parihaka ploughs and historic photos – and the value for childrens’ workers, Biblical scholars, those interested in indigenous use of Scripture, peace activists and those desiring to locate any local church within an ecology.

In the second half of the paper, I defined and described micro-histories. I coined a term which I think is unique – micro-ecclesiologies – and then examined it in light of the Creedal affirmation of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. I argued that “micro-ecclesiologies” allow us to understand the church as particular (one), participating in God’s life of justice (holy), partnering (catholic) and pioneering (apostolic) – 4 P’s in a Presbyterian context, complete with engagement with the theology of the Presbyterian Book of Order.

In other words, while there is a physical, there need be no intellectual gap between KMCL (or the Department of Theology) and Presbyterian Research Archives. Such are the partnerships offered through the study of micro-ecclesiologies.

I really appreciated the opportunity. It was great to hole up in the library this morning and have a few hours of solitude to pursue a “research query” and see where it went.

Definition of query: A query is an inquiry into the database … [It] is used to extract data from the database in a readable format according to the user’s request. (Definition from here).

booksresearch Some of the books I had not picked up for quite a few years – Miroslav Volf After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity since my PhD; Graham Ward Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice since 2007 – and it felt like I was meeting old friends again. It was wonderful to then be able to test the “research query” with a group of thinking people at the lecture and sense the energy in the room. The result is a 5,100 word paper, pulled together yesterday afternoon and this morning, half of which is new words, taking forward some thinking I’ve wanted to do in relation to practical theology and ecclesiology and ethnography. It could well be either a journal article or the draft of a methodology section for a book project. We will see. For today, it was simply wonderful to be able to think, with friends both old (the books) and new (the Presbyterian Research Network).

Posted by steve at 08:08 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

I’m delivering the NZ PRESBYTERIAN RESEARCH NETWORK Winter Lecture Thursday, 16 June 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

Who else, beside historians, should visit archives? In the first part of this talk Steve Taylor will share some examples of how he has used archives in indigenous study, children’s talks, practical theology and missiology. The logic behind Parihaka ploughs, explosive lectures, building plans for A-frame churches and archival accounts of hitching lifts on passing boats demonstrate the value of archival research across a wide variety of ministerial and scholarly disciplines.

lecture

The second part of the talk will offer a frame by which to integrate these disparate archival examples into being church today. Micro-histories draw on a range of diverse research tools, including observation, interview, survey and archival research, to provide insight. What then, are the possibilities and limits when archives are understand as resourcing and illuminating micro-ecclesiologies? How might micro-ecclesiologies as a “theology of the unique” enrich the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic?

NZ PRESBYTERIAN RESEARCH NETWORK
Winter Lecture, Thursday, 16 June 2016
5.30 to 6.45pm, Knox Centre

Posted by steve at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sandpits. Why some papers write quicker than others.

I had an interesting experience over the last 48 hours. Back in October, I submitted two conference paper proposals (250 word abstracts) to International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) Korea conference. Both were accepted.

One was based on a film, Silence, which was at that time pegged for release in November, 2015. My proposal read as follows:

Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) is a historical novel that offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil.

The book is currently being made into a movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.

This paper will examine three missiological approaches.

First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism.

Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action.

Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.

Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.

Following acceptance of abstracts, IAMS then required 2000 word papers to be submitted by the end of May, 2016. By the end of May, Silence the movie had not been released! I had already written one paper for IAMS. So I wrote to the conference organisors, advising I was unable to provide a second paper, on Silence, due to the film not as yet having been released. They replied, indicating how keen they were to have the paper. They suggested I complete a draft, based on the book, which I could change if and when the movie appeared. They also offered a 12 day extension, to Sunday 12 June.

I had two other talks to give between the end of May and the 12th of June, both of which required significant preparation. I relayed this to IAMS. However, flying back on Saturday having completed the two presentations, I realised I had 90 minutes in the air. Often being locked in a plane can be highly productive. So I decided I’d spend the time writing and see what happened.

90 minutes later, as the plane began to descend and the call came to turn off all electronic devices, I did a word count. 1750 words!

Wow. Another few hours the next evening, and I found myself with a complete draft. An edit from a competent, understanding academic colleague this morning, and I have just sent a 2,000 word paper, written in the space of 6 hours, over a 48 hour period.

Some papers write quicker than others. Why?

Location – as I said above, I often find myself highly productive when airborne at 30,000 feet. It means no email, office interruptions or phone calls. In addition, looking down provides a different sort of perspective. This becomes a gift, which becomes productive.

Limitation – Given the unavailability of the film, the conference organisers had suggested I provide a draft. This did something mentally. Instead of looking forward, wondering what else I needed to read, and in this case, what else I needed watch, I found myself looking back. What did I already have that I could make use of? Locked in a metal tube, with no new books to distract me, all I had was previous scraps of writing and my head. Searching my hard drive, I found a theoretical frame that I had used in a 2008 conference presentation on female Christ figures in film and realised it could be helpfully used. I remembered I had written in 2010 a film review, in my role as Touchstone film reviewer, that dealt with similar themes. Both opened up some helpful theorisation. Suddenly I had the basis for two sections. The initial work I had done in preparing the abstract became a useful third section. Limitation got me looking within.

Clarity of task – Hemingway said write drunk, edit sober. The argument is that we use different parts of our brain to create than we do to correct. We need to play, and then, separately, to evaluate. We should never do these two tasks together. On Saturday, when I began to write, it was playful. “What the heck,” I thought as the plane took off, “I have 90 minutes, so let’s see what happens.” I doubted I would come up with anything, so there was certainly a risk free environment.

Surprised by my output on Saturday, I decided to have a second play on Sunday. “What the heck, I have a few evening hours free, I wonder if I can land this, write a complete draft before 10 pm tonight?” If I did, I could then sleep on it (sleep-in Monday actually), and then turn from play to edit, reading critically what I had playfully produced.

Sandpits – In a recent post on writing (from binge to snack: why Parking 60 has changed my writing life), I reflected on the difference between binge writing and snack writing. I talked about how the discipline of sixty minutes a day had enhanced my writing.

Reflecting on this past weekend, I did not feel like I was either snacking or binging. I wrote for two sessions, one 90 minutes, then other 150. Then it was an edit, once on the screen in response to feedback, the second on paper as a final edit.

sandpit A more helpful image for what I have experienced would be neither snacking, nor binging but sandpitting. Sandpits are places to play. Play happens because of structure – the physical structure of a bounded space, the social structure of watching parents. In the sandpit, results and outcomes are not the issue. Play is.

Location and limitation and clarity of task had produced a sandpit. A “no-outcomes-expected, have-a-go, draw-together-what-you-already-know” play. My play was further supported by that helpful colleague, able to offer quick, objective, time-bound advice. They knew I had time pressures and were able to feedback within those realities.

What I have written will undoubtedly need more work, including wider reading and a reconsideration when (if) the film appears. But I now have words. And some satisfaction, at producing a 2,000 word conference paper in 48 hour period. And respect for the possibilities and potential of being placed in a sandpit!

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Woven Together: Christianity and the Pacific

I’m in Wellington Thursday and Friday at Woven Together, a conference on Christianity and the Pacific, run by School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University. The range of papers and presenters looks absolutely fascinating, a rich mix of thinkers and activists. I also spy a few old friends also offering papers, whom I’ve not seen since I left New Zealand in 2009, so that will be an added, extra, relational bonus.

It is the sort of place Knox Centre should be. I’ve teamed with a Presbyterian colleague and we are presenting a paper titled The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre. It has been for a great opportunity to get into the Presbyterian Research Centre Archives and learn more about the denomination I’m now part of. It has also been part of returning to my story, given my birth in the Pacific, in Papua New Guinea and my father pioneering an indigenous theological College. As I’ve researched, I’ve had a few flashbacks :). And it was very meaningful to do the bulk of the writing on Monday morning, when the saint of the day in the lectionary was a Melanesian brother, Ini Kopuria. It felt like he was watching :)

inikopuria

Here’s our conclusion to The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre:

In conclusion, we have outlined how theological education in Vanuatu was driven, from the beginning, by a vision for local agency. The aims – for equality and contextualisation in 1895 – and self-help in 1977 were extraordinary. Theological education played a key role in developing leadership that contributed significantly to Vanuatu’s independence. However, since the 1960’s, theological education in the Pacific has been complexified, by changing modes of theological education, shifting dynamics with partner agencies and the fragility of Pacific economics. Talua is neither historic nor recent. Is the Ni-Van desire for local agency unrealistic in today’s globalised world? Or, might the birth of digital technologies provide ways for Colleges to remain local, affirm their distinctives, yet share resources with other indigenous theological providers? In other words, using the words with which we began: Can “Theological Education … [be] not foreign, [nor] imposed.”

For those interested, here is out handout: woven together paperhandout

Posted by steve at 08:55 PM

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Jungle Book: theologies of creation and redemption

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for June 2016.

The Jungle Book
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Jungle Book is an unexpected surprise. What shaped as a well-worn tale for children is brought to stunning life by Disney’s dollars, digital animation and director, Jon Favreau.

There are two stars that make The Jungle Book shine. The first is technology. Bringing the stories from The Jungle Book to animated cinematic life is nothing new. It has been tried before, first, by Zoltan Korda in 1942, second in the Soviet Union in 1967 (celebrated with an accompanying postage stamp) and third as Japanese anime in 1989. What allows this latest visual telling to shine is technology. Shot entirely in a warehouse in Los Angeles, the film uses the latest in motion-capture filmmaking. The result is a human actor sustaining believable conversations with realistic-looking wolves, bears, panthers, orangutans and tigers. It is an act of human creativity simply wonderful to behold.

The second is Neel Sethi as Mowgli, the boy raised by jungle wolves. Sethi is the only visible human actor in the film. It is an extraordinary feat for a child of twelve years, let alone one that has never acted before, to sustain for 106 minutes, such an engrossing mix of courage and play.

The Jungle Book can be appreciated as a moral tale. Themes like stick together and never give up have been used by the Cub Scouts to encourage and mentor young people.

The Jungle Book can be read as political commentary. Shere Khan rules by terror, using random acts of violence to impose a fear-based fundamentalism: man-cub becomes a man, and man is forbidden.

The Jungle Book can be engaged as theology. The most overt reference comes through the peace rock. Shere Khan’s fundamentalism lives in tension with a deeper law of the jungle. When drought occurs and waters dry, a giant river rock is revealed. It is the peace rock. When that rock appears, all animals can visit the waterhole to drink in peace. It provides a way to understand the Christian Gospel. When the time of Messiah comes, a peace rock is revealed. When the three crosses of Golgotha appear, all of creation, animals and humans, can drink in peace from the waters of life.

A more disturbing theme involves theologies of creation. The Jungle Book reads like a modern day Psalm 8, chilling devoid of grace. Psalm 8 is written in two stanzas. One celebrates creation. Another celebrates human creativity. The Jungle Book has a similar beginning, celebrating creation as benign and beautiful. Swiftly, fear is introduced, the peace rock in tension with Shere Khan’s reign of terror.

The chill deepens when humans creativity is introduced. Humans have the creative, technological skills to make “the red flower” of fire. Such acts provide warmth yet wreak destruction. The entire plot is driven by this human use, and misuse, of one the four elements of creation. It is fire that enables The Jungle Book’s final enacting of justice. It is a chilling theology of creation, a portrayal of human creativity shorn of grace and compassion.

Posted by steve at 06:28 PM

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Mission possible: becoming intercultural by becoming children

I spoke this week at Mission Possible, an event organised by Asian Ministry of the PCANZ. Held at Henderson Korean Presbyterian Church, it was a privilege to be part of an event at which their were more non-Western speakers than Western. In response to the theme of Mission Possible, I offered 2 stories, one picture, one proverb and one application to KCML (Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership).

First, let me begin with a story of mission impossible. In 1987, I went to Hong Kong. For 1 month I served with YWAM (Youth with a mission), then for another month I worked with drug addicts. I lived on the outskirts of Hong Kong, with ten Cantonese men recovering drug addicts and an American. We worshipped, worked and studied together.

One day the American left for a day off. I was left, the only English speaker, with a group of 10 Cantonese speaking men. About midday, I heard yelling and stepping outside, realised the yelling – all in Cantonese – was directed at me. I spoke very little Cantonese. The person yelling at me spoke no English. I had no idea what he’s saying. I just stood there. Seeking any clues as to what was going on. Wondering when it would stop.

It was a moment when I became aware of the importance of bridge builders. Those who speak two languages and can stand between two cultures, who can help with communication and understanding, who provide different ways to look.

Tonight I honour our organiser, Kyoung, who is such a bridge builder among us. What a gift you are. Mission is impossible without bridge builders.

packedpicnicbasket Second, a story of mission possible. I have brought with me a picnic basket (well I did in the airplane in my suitcase, but forgot it in coming here! so please use your imagination). I used this (imaginary picnic basket) at the KCML graduation last year, at which David Kim (my interpreter tonight) graduated. Another bridge builder. The Bible text was Matthew 15, Jesus feeding the 4000. To help me enter the Bible story, I imagined a picnic. I even brought my own picnic basket.

We are the PCANZ, so I also asked Nathan Pedro, Moderator of the Pacific Island Synod, to bring a picnic basket. He brought a large mat, a huge fish and some taro. I asked Kyoung to bring a picnic basket. He brought a beautifully wrapped small box. So different than my picnic basket or that of the Pacific Island Synod. This is my second story. Mission possible begins when we celebrate our differences and embrace our diversity.

Third, I offer a picture, an art image. It is by Faith Ringgold, an Afro-American artist, of a church picnic. Each family has brought their own food. The picture asks a question. Once you sit on the mat, with your distinct and diverse picnic basket, how do you move? How do you get up off your mat and engage the mat of another?

In the picture, the answer is children. It is children who run to the Korean mat and taste the kimchi. Then run to the Pacific mat and enjoy the raw fish in coconut cream. So when we think about mission possible we need to ask: Who are our children? Who will run between the mats of the different cultures in the PCANZ. We need to value them. We need to encourage them. Let them go. Let them explore. Let them bring back richness.

Fourth, I share a Maori proverb – Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou ka ora te manuwhiri. with your food basket and my food basket, the guest will have enough. We live in super diversity. In this city, mission is only possible when the church has bridge builders; celebrates diversity and has children.

Fifthly, this is our challenge as KCML. We as a core staff are a monoculture. We are all pakeha. All male. It is not enough for us to sit on our mat. It is not enough to rely on bridge builders, like Kyoung, or Don Ikitoelagi from the Pacific Island Synod.

We as KCML staff need to become children. We need to step out and move to the mats of other cultures and approaches to life. And so to challenge and grow ourselves, we are developing a KCML intercultural code of practice. These are the behaviours we need, in order to be children. There are 15 behaviours. Like

  • We will find theologians in the heart language of our students.
  • We will be open to different modes of assessment that suit cultures student.
  • We will take study leave in non-Western cultures.

We will give this KCML Intercultural Code of Practice to our students and place it on our website. We do this to hold us to account.

In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to be children. This is how disciples enter God’s Kingdom. This Code of Practice is what Mission Possible means for us. It calls us off our picnic mats to engage the rich diversity of other cultures.

Thankyou

Posted by steve at 10:26 AM

Monday, May 30, 2016

God’s work in a homeless world

durham I’ve just submitted a paper proposal for the Durham Conference on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, September 2016. If accepted, and if the funding comes through, it will work beautifully with my BERA conference presentation, in Leeds a few days later.

This paper has been composting for over a year. It began as a research memo in May, 2015, when I hit a research brickwall in a book project on sustainability and fresh expressions. I needed a theological lens, other than numbers, by which to discern innovation.

It was clarified by email conversation with Paul Fiddes, who helped me name my research question. It was sharpened by a lecture in February, working with KCML interns. The result is the following paper. And, with thinking clarified, shaped and sharpened, I can return to the book project! Here is the abstract.

God’s work in a homeless world: the Christian practice of discernment in conversation with Irenaeus

Missio Dei understands God as the primary agent of mission. The affirmation, however, generates questions regarding how to discern Divine work in the world. This paper undertakes an exercise in practical theology, testing the practicalities of the Christian practice of discernment. The argument is that a Christology of giving and receiving, evident in a pastoral encounter with a homeless person, redraws Irenaeus’ theology of recapitulation.

The starting point is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s notion of Christ taking “form among us today and here” (Ethics, 2009). Paul Fiddes uses this starting point in clarifying the nature of empirical research in theology (Seeing the World and Knowing Godxt, 2013; Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, 2012). The possibilities of Christ taking “form today” as a Christian practice of discernment are tested in three steps.

As a first step, a set of questions is developed by which the specific shape of Christ’s form might be discerned. Three possibilities are introduced, drawing on Trinitarian presence in three Biblical narratives, the theology of creation in the Old Testament wisdom literature and the Divine processions of mission. Each is consistent with the Christological and Trinitarian impulses inherent in Bonhoeffer, yet provides a different lens in the practice of discernment. Drawing from Trinitarian narratives, do we see signs of creating, reconciling or the making of all things new? Drawing from wisdom literature, what can be blessed because it contributes to human flourishing? Drawing from the processions of mission, where do we see relationships of extravagant giving and receiving?

Second, the three discernment questions are tested against a moment of lived reality, a pastoral encounter between a street chaplain and a homeless person. The encounter is documented by Henk de Roest (Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, 2012). While the use here of an existing empirical data set might be new in practical theology, it is consistent with Five Ways of Doing Qualitative Analysis (2011) in which researchers analyse the same data using diverse methodologies. This paper tests the usefulness of such an approach in practical theology. The three discernment questions, when applied to this pastoral encounter, enrich understandings of God’s work in a homeless world. The shape by which Christ takes “form among us today” is clarified, particularly with regard to the agency of God in human giving and receiving.

Third, Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation is redrawn in light of the mutual giving and receiving discerned in the pastoral encounter. The argument is that recapitulation needs not only to articulate Christ receiving in maturation, but also in ministry. The pastoral encounter enriches our understanding of the nature of Incarnation and the self-limits of revelation inherent when God’s work in the world occurs as a communicative act of giving and receiving.

Practical theology is thus a Christian practice in which acts of discernment, in conversation with empirical data and historical theology, deepen understanding of reciprocity in the nature of God. The empirical is essential for theology, while theology is essential for Christian practice.

Posted by steve at 09:59 AM

Sunday, May 29, 2016

reading color purple and the ministry of Lydia

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. Acts 16:13-14.

Lydia, dealer in purple. In the The Brilliant History of Color in Art, purple in the Roman empire is a “fashion phenomenon … Rome adored this color with a passion we cannot imagine today” (The Brilliant History of Color in Art, 28). Purple was made from shellfish. They needed to be soaked in liquid, ground together, thus releasing the enzymes that resulted in the colour purple.

200px-Haustellum_brandaris_000 Lydia lived in Philippi, a city situated near head of Aegean Sea. In other words, in a city able to produce its own colour purple, using shellfish from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. However, rotting shellfish stink. It is near impossible to leave with the smells made by rotting shellfish, which led to them being placed on the outskirts of towns and cities. This is evident in Tyre, where if you visit today, you can see, outside the town, downwind, the vats in which the color purple was manufactured (The Brilliant History of Color in Art, 29).

This provides another way to read Acts 16. The traditional reading is that Lydia was a God-fearer and hung out with the Jews, who had no synagogue, and thus met by the river on the outskirts of the city.

What if in fact Lydia, the dealer in purple, was tending her vats full of rotting shellfish, located, for reasons of smell, outside the city? What if the beginning of Paul’s cross-cultural ministry in Greece began amid the stench of rotten shellfish?

Christologically, this would provide an interesting way to frame the mission of Paul. Purple was a restricted colour in the Roman Empire. In 48 BC, it was ruled that only Ceasar’s could wear togas died in purple. If Paul begins his ministry amongst the colour purple, is he making a statement about royalty? Not from the Emperor’s position of power, but from outside the city, amid the stench of primary production. It is consistent with the Christ he serves, who died outside the city, the enzymes of his body released in suffering. Lydia becomes, like the women carrying their spices after the Resurrection, a worker amid the stench of rot and decay.

Christologically, of these women, Mary Magdalene is the first to give voice to the life of the Resurrection Christ. She is thus known as the first apostle. Lydia, like Mary, is the first woman named when Paul carries the gospel into Greece. Is a textual echo being created? Are two women, Mary and Lydia, bound physically by their service amid the smell of death? Are they also bound spiritually by their willingness to be the first to say yes, one in Jerusalem, another in Greece, to new life in the Resurrected Christ?

Such are the possibilities created by reading the color purple in light of the ministry of Lydia in Acts 16.

Posted by steve at 06:44 PM

Saturday, May 28, 2016

from binge to snack: why Parking 60 has changed my writing life

A year ago, I attended a Thinkwell seminar, on academic writing. It was two hours that flipped my approach to writing on its head. As part of the seminar, Thinkwell talked about the contrast between binge writing and snack writing. Binge writing involves large slabs of time, often when faced by a deadline. Snack writing is regular, limited, daily.

Prior to the seminar, I had been a binge writer. I am motivated by deadlines. I told myself I needed good time to get into the headspace I needed to write. Since that time rarely came along, the binges – faced with an academic conference looming – would at times get pretty intense.

Thinkwell encouraged writing between 45 to 120 minutes a day, five days a week, first thing. Writing is writing. It is not reading or editing. It is putting words on a page. I decided to give it a go.

research

A year ago, I hung a “Shh. Research in progress” sign over my desk at home. I turned off the internet. I cleared the desk of everything but my research. I placed the photo on my cellphone as a reminder. I began to try and not make appointments before 9:30 am.

That was 29 May, 2015.

research60 This week, 26 May, 2016, I took a second photo. “Parking 60.” It captures my current work habit. I do the school run, then head for a cafe (less likely to be disturbed). I write for 60 minutes. I “park” – writing a few notes to myself about what I need to do next. I return to work and have about 15 minutes to clear immediate email, before heading for staff morning tea and into my meetings. I do that three to four times a week.

In the year in between these two photos, in my snack writing, I have written 75,000 words. This involves one book (Built for Change), three journal articles (draft, not yet submitted) and one international conference presentation.

I have continued to find small fragments of time at meet urgent deadlines at other times of the day. This is not in the 75,000 words tally, but has included eleven monthly 500 word film reviews, eight conference abstracts, two 700 word articles aimed at my industry partner and the publication of one conference proceedings.

The encouragement by Thinkwell to snack writing is based on psychological and educational research into productivity in research.

  • First, writing is hard work. It is 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration. Humans tend to do all they can to avoid hard work.
  • Second, the brain makes its best decisions when fresh. Hence the brain is more likely to remain on task, focused on the hard work of writing if you write first in your day.
  • Third, the brain subconsciously processes while you go about other tasks. Snack writing is more likely to draw on this subconscious processes. When a thought comes during the day, I make a quick note, and have something to spark when when I return the next morning.
  • Fourth, the brain remembers what you felt like as you last finished something. If you binge write, you are more likely to finish exhausted. The brain remembers this and the next time you want to write, your brain recalls how hard it was and encourages you to find an easier task. If you snack write, you are likely to stop while you are in a good flow. The brain remembers this. The next time you want to write, the brain recalls how energised you were in the midst of the flow.
  • Fifth, this is helped by “parking.” At the end of 60 minutes, I make a note of what I was about to do. I label this clearly in yellow on my Word document. I also make a note in Evernote using a tag “the next most important thing.” I update my work count, to give a sense of progress. This means when I sit to write, it is easier to pick up the task. I don’t have to work out what do, because it is already there in my to do list .

Over the year, I have noticed some changes. I tend now to think in sections. Rather than look at an entire piece of work that needs to be around 6,000 words for a journal article or 8,000 words for a book chapter, I find I am using headings to break the project up. With only an hour, I find myself focused on completing a section, rather than the entire project. I used to think I needed a sabbatical or at least a whole day to work on a book. Now I am much more comfortable in 60 minute bursts. I also tend to be better organised. I have a cloth bag in which my books for different projects live, which gets taken to the cafe. If I need a book to complete the next section, I find myself fitting the task of acquiring the book into the day, rather than needing to first find the book before I can start writing.

I have moved jobs during the year. The output is roughly similar. I wrote  around 25,000 in the four months of being Principal of Uniting College and have written 55,000 in the eight months of being Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. In the current job, I have less breakfast meetings. However, I am flying more, which provides a different set of challenges.

By claiming 60 minutes, what have I lost? My partner reckons I don’t come home from work any later. I am blogging less. (I have averaged 9 blog posts per month in the last 12 months; 12 blog posts per month in the 12 months prior). In other words, blogging was my previous “snack writing.”  I am probably a bit slower with some email. But I am also more energised. It feels great arriving to my tasks knowing I have already given good, solid, time, to something I value.

I am not sure my writing is any better, although I suspect it is. But one year on, snack writing has changed my writing life and certainly increased my output.

Posted by steve at 03:25 PM