Thursday, April 18, 2019

craftivist research: coding round 1

So I am coding.  As introduced earlier this week, I have 1100 individual tweets; 22 pages of data.  These have been printed on A3 sheets, leaving me with margins to scrawl notes as I go.

Unknown-12 Over 3 afternoons this week, when I need a break from writing on the First Expressions book project, I have laid out the highlighters – orange, yellow, green, pink.  I have added the pens – red and black – and a pencil.  Potentially 7 different categories. 

I have then simply read each tweet, word by word, looking for themes.  When I think there is a theme I write it down on a blank A3 sheet of paper. Then whenever I see that theme in the data, I use that colour highlighter.  For example, pink is warm comments – words like lovely.  I mindmap related words. Cute is similar to lovely, as is beautiful, so I add that to the related words and in pink I underline lovely/cute/beautiful whenever they appear.

This is a first read. I’m trying to get a feel for the data, to notice trends and seek patterns.  There will be themes that will need to be merged, or themes that will probably appear on a subsequent read. I realise that my data set is corrupted. the hashtag Xmasangel has pulled in other data. This is fine, I can cull the database before I read again.

As I go, I make notes of impressions. This will need to be verified, by numbers, by assembling quotes. But I am getting a feel for the data.

There will be a second read and perhaps a third round. I have the data as a master, so will photocopy off another A3 sheet and using the codes I already have, I will start again from the top and read through.

This is intuitive. I am wanting to be able to stand in front of a group of peers and be able to say – these are the main themes in this data – and here is the evidence to explain and support these main themes.

My initial impressions – in no particular order – are as follows,

  •  the overwhelming sense of joy and positivity generated by Christmas Angels. In the 1,100 tweets, there is only one that might be read as negative. The word “lovely” and “thanks” were dominant
  • the place-based nature of this community engagement. Invariably tweets named locations. These could be towns, streets, park benches, homes, train stations etc. There is a strong sense of connection with place being evoked by the angels. The angelic goodwill is not being heard in Bethlehem but in local communities and closes, streets and high streets shops, in contemporary England.
  • the layers of participation, both for senders and receivers. Senders source materials, make, tag, box, commission, deliver and tweet. Receivers find, carry, display, home and tweet. Indeed it could be argued that there is a making of angels as senders and a making of homes as receivers. Making is an essential part of this mission and in making, connections are deepened and meaning is being made.
  • the way the project built connections, particularly within households and between church and community.

These four themes are articulated in one tweet: “What a lovely idea. Daughter found this for me now taking pride of place on tree.”  There is the positivity of response (“lovely”), the place-based nature  (on tree), the layers of making (participation by the receiver of finding, homing, tweeting) and the building of connections (between daughter and parent).

I’m in a really happy place doing this. I love being curious about the world, in particular about mission and how fresh expressions of mission are received. I’m also curious about the domestic and gendered, the place of making in knowing, what is and is not communicated in craft and tactility.

And a reminder: of the craftivism Christmas angels research project (full outline here).

Background: I am interested in fresh expressions of Christian witness. One recent fresh expression I’ve become aware of is Christmas angels. It is a form of How to Be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest, in which angels are knitted and gifted among communities. I spoke on craftivism at the Transitional Cathedral last year as part of their Prophets in the Cathedral series. I am interested in how these angels are received (to read my conference abstract – Craftivism as a missiology of making – go here). It is one thing to ask people why they get involved in a fresh expression project like this. But how do those who find an angel make meaning?

To address this question presented some research challenges. I live in another country, it is not currently Christmas and I don’t want to look like a stalker, chasing people who find Christmas angels to ask for an interview. Helen Kara’s Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide has been a great resource, encouraging me to think creatively about research.

Research method: To address this question, I am experimenting with analysing social media. Each angel was sent out with a hashtag #Xmasangels. This meant that people who received the angels could interact and in ways that are in the public domain. This provides a way to analyse recipent response – How people responded to the angels? What meanings did they make? With help from a colleague, I have extracted over 1,1000 #Xmasangel hashtag tweets. I am now conducting thematic analysis. This will be brought into dialogue with the literature, particularly a theology of making and the place of domesticity and craft in contemporary cultures.

Outcomes? Action-reflection on mission action, research-informed teaching (at KCML and as I am invited by churches to talk about fresh expressions of mission), presentation of data at academic conferences, writing for industry (Candour, Spanz) and an academic journal, possible engagement with Christmas angel organisors.

Posted by steve at 05:31 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2019

craftivism research: recipient responses

I’m around the halfway mark of the sabbatical. After 6 weeks, I’ve completed some major tasks

  • 10,000 word journal article on mission submitted
  • 6,000 word journal article on life-long learning submitted
  • article to SPANZ completed
  • article to Candour after Christchurch mosque murders on Spirit in trauma completed
  • Sydney Learning and Teaching conference presentation completed (feedback here)

Plus I have completed around 22,000 new words on the First Expressions book project. I’m around 7,000 words ahead of schedule and I’m moving into the editing stage. So I need to adjust the shape of my sabbatical.

It’s time for a more playful task alongside the editing tasks and as a way of celebrating after the completing tasks. I will continue to write on the First Expressions book project in the morning but I’m picking up a more creative project in the afternoons.

Background: I am interested in fresh expressions of Christian witness. One recent fresh expression I’ve become aware of is Christmas angels. It is a form of How to Be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest, in which angels are knitted and gifted among communities. I spoke on craftivism at the Transitional Cathedral last year as part of their Prophets in the Cathedral series. I am interested in how these angels are received (to read my conference abstract – Craftivism as a missiology of making – go here). It is one thing to ask people why they get involved in a fresh expression project like this. But how do those who find an angel make meaning?

To address this question presented some research challenges. I live in another country, it is not currently Christmas and I don’t want to look like a stalker, chasing people who find Christmas angels to ask for an interview. Helen Kara’s Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide has been a great resource, encouraging me to think creatively about research.

Research method: To address this question, I am experimenting with analysing social media. Each angel was sent out with a hashtag #Xmasangels. This meant that people who received the angels could interact and in ways that are in the public domain. This provides a way to analyse recipent response – How people responded to the angels? What meanings did they make? With help from a colleague, I have extracted over 1,1000 #Xmasangel hashtag tweets. I am now conducting thematic analysis. This is fancy words for printing them out – all 22 pages – on A3 sheets of paper, finding highlighters and coloured pens and reading every tweet, looking for themes.

Unknown-10

Research methodology: As another part of the research, I am also learning to knit. I figure that it is one thing to engage #Xmasangels intellectually. It is quite another to engage by actually making Christmas angels. So I have started to learn to knit. I am keeping a diary of my experiences. It is fascinating to be learning to craft as I am researching craft – a tactile embodying of research. (For those who keep watch on how KCML staff spend their time, rest assured I am knitting after hours and not in work hours).

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What will be the outcomes? I think knowing how people respond to mission is important in guiding future mission action. It is the basis of practical theology and action-reflection modes of learning. I hope to include the results as I teach on mission at KCML and as I continue to be invited by churches to talk about fresh expressions of mission. I hope to present the data to at least one, ideally two academic conferences, as part of reflecting on mission. I hope to write up the results, so that those who don’t hear me talk can still engage with the data. This will include Candour, Spanz and an academic journal. I will also send the results to the Christmas angel organisors. They might want to engage with me and I’m happy to do that. I hope to learn to knit. Above all, I hope to continue to be curious about the world around me and especially fresh expressions of Christian witness.

Over the next few days, I will share my initial impressions of the first read (fancy word for colour coding with highlighters) of the data. While is it very early days, I am already struck by some fascinating recipient responses.

Posted by steve at 04:26 PM | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Religious liberty and the curious case of Israel Folau

I write a column for Zadok, an Australian print publication, every quarter. It is a print based publication which they let me share on my blog, to resource more widely and generally. After recent events, my column for Winter 2018, seems strangely relevant.

Religious liberty and the curious case of Israel Folau
Steve Taylor

John Bunyan, Sarah* a Biblical studies scholar and Israel Folau meet in an English pub. Folau is carrying a folder. Marked secret, it contains back line moves for the upcoming rugby international at Twickenham. Bunyan is carrying an early draft of Pilgrim’s Progress, what will become one of the most significant works of religious English literature. Sarah is carrying a well-thumbed Greek New Testament and an article by Tuiloma Lina Samu, entitled ‘Dear Israel Folau – your unchristian comments hurt young, vulnerable Pasifika’.

Over a drink, lemonade for all, they share news.

John Bunyan shares his fate. He is about to be imprisoned for his religious beliefs, for preaching without permission from the established church.

Folau nods at the suggestion of religious persecution. He is also in trouble for expressing belief. It began with a post on social media a few days earlier about gay people being hell-bound unless they repent. Folau has an employer. That employer has corporate sponsors and they have called for inclusion. How does diversity and tolerance mesh with right to speak?

Does the Bible have an answer? Folau wonders.

Sarah opens her Bible and begins to share her research, which is analysing religious liberty in Biblical times. She points to Abraham, who recognises the divine names (El Elyon) used by indigenous people (Gen 14:18-20) and builds altars among already existing sacred trees (Gen 12:6-7; 13:18). Abrahams’ faith could live and yet recognise the liberty of other already existing beliefs. Then there is the book of Esther, in which God is never mentioned and yet faith is maintained by courageous individuals, including Esther, willing to marry a non-believer. So Christianity grows from people of faith living in diverse worlds.

The story of Esther and the mention of Haman’s gallows cast a shadow over Bunyan. Bunyan begins to name the friends he has lost, burnt at the stake. Their stories are told in the only book Bunyan will take with him to prison, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. As a dissenter, Bunyan knows he will be denied a church burial. It is a future shame his family will bear, for when Bunyan, along with other well-known dissenting authors, like Daniel Defoe and William Blake, is buried outside the City of London, he is forever excluded from the embrace of the established church and civil society.

Folau shakes his head in disbelief. How does his social media experience compare with Bunyan’s eventual twelve years of imprisonment? Folau confesses he hasn’t read Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. ‘But’, he grins, ‘I have heard Blake’s Jerusalem, ringing around Twickenham’ – a song silenced when Australia beat England at Twickenham in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Bunyan, a rugby fanatic, feels the pain of what would be a 33-13 loss.

Sarah has a biblical question for Folau. In 1 Corinthians 6, a range of sins is mentioned. Why post about one sin, that of being gay, and not about theft or greed? What does Folau think of conservative New Testament scholars, like Gordon Fee and Ben Witherington, who stress that Paul is talking about behaviour, not orientation? And why focus on sin, when the verses that follow are about grace? 1 Corinthians 6 is a text marinated in grace and the joy of relationships restored. How can the grace of 1 Corinthians be communicated on social media? Sarah wonders.

Bunyan also has a question for Folau. He quotes Colossians 4:5: ‘Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders’. The letters of Paul and the New Testament are about the ‘constraints of context’ and the ‘amazing feat of ingenuity, improvisation, survival and creative living’ (Gorringe and Rowland). The early Church lived faith in situations in which their faith was a minority report and their beliefs were practised in everyday life rather than through seeking to change public law.

Folau picks up the newspaper and points out the headline: ‘Dear Israel Folau – your unchristian comments hurt young, vulnerable Pasifika’. He is aware of the high rates of suicide among Pacific Island youth, often linked to struggles over sexuality. Yet he still wants to be authentic, to share his faith.

Bunyan nods. Those are the very reasons he wrote Pilgrims Progress. To communicate his faith, he created a story. He jumped into an imaginary future, in which dissent does matter. It remains a vital Christian practice and an essential part of the flourishing of free societies. But the practice in Pilgrim’s Progress is focused internally, on the way that Pilgrim walked his journey. ‘Change yourself, and let your actions change the world’, Bunyan advises.

‘Closing time’, comes the call from behind the counter.

Last rounds make for last words. Sarah and John offer to pray for Folau: ‘God make your face shine upon your servant. Creator God, give words creative and wise toward all outsiders. Bless him and your church with the ingenuity to improvise in Australia today’.

‘And may England win’, Bunyan giggles.

* While there are many fine female Biblical studies postgraduate students who have studied at London Bible College, Sarah is a fictional figure. As is this encounter.
________________

The following items have been a resource:
Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: Socio-rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1995, 166.

Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1987, 244.

Tim Gorringe and Christopher Rowland, ‘Practical Theology and the Common Good – Why the Bible is Essential,’ Practical Theology 9:2, 101-114.

Curtis Freeman, Undomesticated Dissent: Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity, 2017.

Posted by steve at 09:26 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Feedback: unbounding theological education in the context of ministerial vocations

Friday I co-presented a research paper at the Sydney College of Divinity Learning and Teaching Theology Conference.

Graduate formation and life-long learning in the context of ministerial vocations

Proposal: That the theological college should partner with local church communities, unbounding learning to offer it in “communities of practice.”

The presentation went well. The technology worked and the tag-presenting with Rosemary Dewerse went smoothly.  We ran out of summary handouts (here Graduate formation handout.) which is always a good sign.  The questions from conference participants were very helpful.

Directly after the paper

  • Can you give some examples of what it might look like to unbound theological education? (We had, so pointed to the two stories we had shared)
  • What is the real issue? If the real issue is a crisis of faith in churches, then what role should theological education be expected to play?
  • How would we assess our ‘graduate outcomes’? What type of processes could we use to ensure that unbounding theological education is forming people? (We pointed to the ways we are seeking to assess New Mission Seedlings over a 7 year period)

In further conversation over meals and coffee

  • Do we have a business model? Have other theology providers tried what you are doing and can you learn from them?
  • Being devils advocate – if you move theology toward the local church, might that dilute the quality of the education? What could be done to avoid the educational experience being “lowest common denominator ” shaped by a person who has not read or studied?
  • We used a practical theology model as proposed by Mark Lau Branson.  What we happen if we used the model by Richard Osmer in Practical Theology: An Introduction? Osmer suggests four stages:  describe – history – normative – strategic.  In our presentation, we shared three stories to outline what this might look like, but it might be that using ‘strategic planning’ frameworks would be valuable if we had a governance board wanting to take a next step, wanting to unbound theological education more broadly across the church.

Excellent questions, showing good engagement and helping us clarify work done and still needed.

We had arrived at the conference with a 2,000 word verbal presentation based on an already drafted 6,000 word journal article – in our back pocket, possibly ready to submit depending on feedback.

Our sense is that the above questions helpfully extend our work. They are important, yet they are practical – a strategic plan, assessment matrix, quality control, viable business plan.  Rosemary and I discussed a next set of steps which involve

  • submit the article we have drafted, pretty much as is
  • develop the material further, with two purposes – a chapter for the conference book and a strategic plan presentation (if a governance group is interested).  Development would include a different practical theology model (swapping Mark Lau Branson for Richard Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction) in order to weave the interface between theological reflection and a strategic plan that covers operations and education.
  • These are two distinct pieces of work: drawing from the same data but are responding to the more practical interests of conference attendees, which are different from the journal article we are targetting.

So, all in all all, very useful exercise – forcing us to clarify two years of work, giving us generative feedback on next steps. Our thanks to Thornton Blair, who made it possible.

Posted by steve at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Graduate formation and life-long learning in the context of ministerial vocations

I’m in Sydney Thursday till Monday, co-presenting a research paper at the Sydney College of Divinity Learning & Teaching Theology Conference. I’m co-presenting with Rosemary Dewerse, on the results of the Thornton Blair Research Project. The project has already produced a range of outputs

  • the Living Library,
  • a Resourcing Ministers Day,
  • 2 project reports,
  • workshops in five Presbyteries
  • presentations to KCML Advisory Board and Leadership sub-committtee
  • two reports in SPANZ
  • one journal article in Australian Journal of Mission Studies
  • In addition, the Be Wise courses are under development.

It really has been an astonishingly productive piece of work (and could yet yield so much more fruit).

Alongside all this church facing output, the research might also be useful to other theological colleges wrestling with theological education in changing times. So in a spirit of sharing, Rosemary and I offered to present at the 2019 Learning & Teaching Theology Conference:

Graduate formation and life-long learning in the context of ministerial vocations

Proposal: That the theological college should partner with local church communities, unbounding learning to offer it in “communities of practice.”

For those keen, here is our two page handout – Graduate formation handout.

The trip to Sydney has been funded by the Thornton Blair Research Fund – which exists to encourage social science research in Christian education for ministerial formation – and we are both so grateful to that Fund for the vision and enthusiasm they have had for this project.

In preparing the talk over the last three weeks, Rosemary and I have ended up also writing a 6000 word journal article, which we hope to submit following feedback at the conference. One of the aims of my sabbatical leave is to complete some writing projects and as part of that, it has been great to spend some time reflecting on the Thornton Blair research, seeking to capture the learnings in words. It is important that as KCML seeks to respond to changing times, it does that based on deep listening and careful research – and the 230 Presbyterians that contributed to the Thornton Blair Research are certainly well worth listening to.

Posted by steve at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Praying in crisis: an empirical study of how local churches respond in gathered worship to local and international tragedy and trauma

After the Christchurch mosque attacks, there were many, many ways that people responded. One of them was to research, as part of action-reflection capacity building. So (the remarkable) Lynne Taylor and I initiated the following.

tear on cheek

Email to Presbyterian and Baptist Churched — Research for an investigation on how churches responded to the Christchurch mosque terror attacks

The research explores how churches responded in their worship services to the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch. How do churches talk about tragic events? What do they do in response to such events in their worship services? For example, what and how do they pray? What resources do those leading the services draw on in deciding how to respond?

In doing so, the research explores best practice in this area of church pastoral ministry. It provides insight on church practice, as a resource for training of future leaders in theological reflection, congregational leading and worship leading and to assist with professional development of ministers and worship leaders.

All ministers and worship leaders are invited to participate. Depending on your responses, the questionnaire should take 5-10 minutes to complete.

It is a followup to work we did in November 2015 – Praying after Paris – which resulted in a presentation to Presbyterian ministers and another to chaplains at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand conference.

Using the same questions, but with new data from a differently tragic situation – will provide further action-reflection insights. Hence a joint paper proposal submitted last week for ANZATS 2019.

Praying in crisis: an empirical study of how local churches respond in gathered worship to local and international tragedy and trauma

Christian practices embody and reflect lived practical theologies. The gathered worship service is theory- and theology-laden, offering insight into Christian understandings of how God is engaged in human history and what human response could and should be. Investigating how Christians pray corporately is thus a potentially fruitful way to explore underlying theologies.

This paper draws on empirical research to investigate how local churches pray in response to trauma and tragedy.  Online surveys were conducted in November 2015 (following coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, along with bombings in Beirut and Baghdad) and in March 2019 (following the shootings at the Christchurch mosques). In the midst of trauma, how had churches prayed? Pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations (Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ and Baptist Churches of NZ) were invited via email to participate in both phases of the research. General invitations to participate were also posted on social media.

In this paper, we consider the resources used by local churches and the theologies evident in their worship responses.  The data will be read through the lens of Storm Swain’s understanding of God as earth-maker (holding); pain-bearer (suffering); and life-giver (transforming). How might these theologies interpret the data? Are different understandings of God present when events are local in contrast to events that are global?  What of human responses to trauma of earth-making/holding; pain-bearing/suffering; and life-giving/transforming? The implications for those who pray in trauma and tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the theological work possible through the practices of Christian public prayer.

Posted by steve at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, April 01, 2019

Craftivism as a missiology of making

A conference proposal I have just submitted for the ANZATS 2019 conference in Auckland. It seeks to take forward the presentation I gave at the Transitional Cathedral last year (a summary of which was included in Cathedral Extra here).

craft-unsplash

Where #christmasangels tread: Craftivism as a missiology of making

Craft-ivism combines craft and activism. Craft-ivists utilise needlework, including yarn-bombing, cross-stitch and pink pussy hats, in collective acts of protest and solidarity (Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch). This paper considers craft-ivism as a contemporary form of mission, with a focus on Christmas angels. In the UK in 2014, some 2,870 Christmas angels were knitted and left in public places, with a message of Christian love. By 2016, this had risen to 45,930.

Given that many Christmas angels included a twitter hashtag, technology can be utilised to access empirical data (Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide) regarding the experiences of those who received this particular form of Christian witness. This paper will examine 1,100 “#christmasangel” tweets. Content analysis will provide insights regarding how recipients make sense of this fresh expression of Christian witness, while geographic mapping suggests that Christmas angels have taken flight all over Great Britain.

Christine Dutton argues that acts of making are spiritual practices that can be formative in the making of new forms of Christian community. This suggests that practices of craft-ivism can be read theologically. Hence, a Christology of making will be developed, reading Proverbs 22:2 “the Lord is the maker” in dialogue with David Kelsey’s theological anthropology (Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set)). God is revealed as practicing delight (crafting), wonder (making) and perseverance (a discipline known to all crafters and makers). Hence, acts of craftivism are both a participation in the being and acting of God as maker and a spiritual means of connecting with the world. Missiology is invited to ‘make’ a domestic turn, by participating in practices of making.

(Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash)

Posted by steve at 11:31 AM

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The week day church as a hermeneutic of the gospel: an action research project integrating faith and work in a local church

A book chapter proposal for a proposed special journal edition on ‘Mission, Faith, Work and Economics.’ I wasn’t expecting to write this on sabbatical, but last week I found 900 words of notes and resources from a workshop I led last year.

The week day church as a hermeneutic of the gospel: an action research project integrating faith and work in a local church

A distinctive feature of Christian spirituality is the commitment to sacralise the secular. Martin Luther asserted that “household chores are more to be valued than all the works of monks and nuns” (Christian History: An Introduction, 2013, 169). John Paul II argued that the church must “form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God” (Laborem Excercens, 1981, 24). So how does a local church help participants integrate their faith and work?

This chapter will outline an action research project, that of my own participation in leading one local church in the integration of faith and work. Intentional actions wil be described, along with documentary analysis of liturgical innovation.

Three areas of ecclesial life will be examined. First, liturgy, including sermons, creative Eucharist, monthly work-place pastoral prayers and engagement with a secular festival (Labour Day). Second, small group practices of discernment and action-reflection. Third, mission structures, in the form of annual commissioning days and the development of mission collectives to encourage integration of faith and work.

The data will be examined in light of Lesslie Newbigin’s claim that the re-missioning of Western cultures requires the congregation to be a hermeneutic of the gospel, “men and women who believe it and live by it” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989, 227). Newbigin develops this hermeneutic in six domains: of praise, truth, neighbourhood, engagement in public life, mutuality and hope (227-233). These domains provide a theoretical, and missiological, framework through which to examine the liturgy, group life and mission structures of a particular faith community.

The argument is that action-research in local church can sacralise the secular as it provides contextual resources that invigorate mission as faith-ful work witness.

Posted by steve at 09:38 PM

Monday, March 04, 2019

structuring outside study leave

When the Presbyterian Church formed KCML in 2006, the goals for the College included research. KCML is to be responsive to trends and training needs and to foster and facilitate high quality research into these needs and trends. It makes sense, in a time of rapid change, to create capacity for action-reflection on ministry and mission. Such reflection, especially if it is to be high quality, takes time and so to embody the tasks assigned by the church, KCML Faculty are allocated outside study leave, 15 weeks every 3 years.

I was due October 2018, but delayed mine – what with other Faculty already on study leave and to ensure teaching over Spring and Summer block courses. However as of today, I have 13 weeks to engage in high quality research. Over the last few weekends, I’ve been setting up an office at home, making a writing space, printing the various chapter drafts to date and bringing home books I might need.

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Given a need and a trend within the church involves new forms of church, the focus of much of my research will be on sustainability and innovation. In order to make sure the research is accessible to the church, I have signed a book contract with SCM Press. The provisional title is First Expressions: emerging movements in mission and the contracted publisher is SCM. It will bring my action over 25 years – planting a fresh expression, leading a church that planted fresh expressions, developing a “have-a-go” pioneering qualification at UCLT, developing New Mission Seedlings here at KCML, into conversation with theory on mission and innovation. In order to keep it give it a wider “action” frame than my own experiences, it will draw on my longitudinal research on new forms of church ten years on in the United Kingdom. I’m particularly interested in what we learn from those who try/play/experiment and how we theorise the tension between durability in cultures of continuity and fail fast in cultures of discontinuity.

Connecting with SCM was a delightfully random part of last year. I had been keen to pitch them the book project but had lacked the time to polish up a proposal. However, when the editor heard I was going to be in Scotland last year, doing a bit of teaching for the Church of Scotland, he asked to connect. I said that actually, well, I had been wondering about showing them a book proposal and if I gave it a quick polish, could I send it before we met … and the rest is history. It feels so good going into a sabbatical with a specific project, with 10 distinct chapters already in draft form, with chapter summaries of each to give me focus.

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To help me write, I need structure. I also know it is not healthy for me to write all day. So I have allocated other activities to break up my days. So each day is divided into five parts.

  • create – two golden hours of writing – picking up on the research around the value of 2 golden hours
  • make – some tactile engagement with the wider world, in particular craft and the Bible
  • complete – to help motivate during a major project, there are a range of smaller, almost complete projects – rejected journal articles from last year to try in another journal, a couple of spoken lectures to turn into a publication
  • deepen – reading and research, including in the wonderful Hocken, which I find a wonderful re-creative space
  • connect – time to attend to email, rock up to random lectures, blog, administer

I’ve even made time sheets to help me keep track of progress.

Finally, there are the carrots. If I meet the mid-May deadline, I hope to have a few weeks to hikoi with Te Aka Puaho and the whanau of Wiremu Tamehana communities or perhaps go walkabout to visit Aunty Denise Champion in Port Augusta, Australia, and complete with her a joint journal article we began a few years ago.

I can adjust the schedule as I go, or if I fall behind. But it is a start, a way of enabling me to step through the gift that is the space to be responsive to trends and training needs and to foster and facilitate high quality research into these needs and trends.

Posted by steve at 01:54 PM

Friday, March 01, 2019

For this Sabbath time

light

For this Sabbath time
A stroll in life’s light
Illuminated in silence
Divine with human

In steps
Of writing
First expressions
Tracing the light in dark of community, institution, structure

A path
Hewn in love
God’s marks of mission
Tihei mauri ora
-Now read again, from bottom to top

Posted by steve at 02:24 PM

Friday, February 22, 2019

Redeeming a Past: An Ancestor Perspective

launch It is a great privilege to be part of the launch, and a contributor, to Listening to the People of the Land: Christianity, Colonisation and the Path to Redemption, edited by Susan Healy.

Susan contacted me in April 2018, asking if I could contribute some words. I had a range of deadlines looming, but I also had been doing some thinking about colonisation in light of the challenges of post-colonial literature. How do we tell stories in which the primary actors are not the colonisers? In the words of a wise kuia, Aunty Millie Te Kawa of Tūwharetoa: “Everyone talks about the famous missionary who worked among my people. But who taught the missionary the language?”

So over a number of months, with great patience from Susan, I wove together some thinking, scattered a range of different pieces I was working on. My chapter is titled: Redeeming a Past: An Ancestor Perspective

Posted by steve at 08:40 AM

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Children of the waters journal article

Children of the waters: whirlpools, waiora, baptism and missio Dei

Keywords: Missio Dei, baptism, indigenous, Māori, early Christian art, environment

Abstract: From space, the Pacific glitters in ocean blue. What might the world’s largest ocean contribute to missio Dei? A spiral methodology is used to trace connections between the baptism of Jesus, early Christian art, recent legal (Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal) research and indigenous knowing, including ocean voyaging, ancestor understandings of whirlpools, Māori water rites and oral history of river beings (taniwha).

The argument is that indigenous Oceanic (Māori) understandings of water, in conversation with baptismal narratives, present missio Dei as an immersion in God. Mission is located not in the activity of the church – and hence mission expansion as part of European colonisation – but in the being and becoming of God. Creation and redemption are interconnected and an environmental ethic is expected. Children of the waters (ngā tamariki o te Moana nui a Kiwa) listen to creation’s voice (taniwha speaking) and act for the life (waiora) of water.

Posted by steve at 05:04 PM

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Decolonising the (theological) curriculum through place- based pedagogies

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After teaching Theological Reflection on Saturday – on place-based methodologies – I spent some time reflecting on the experience. It was shaping up to be a hot afternoon, so in the morning I worked up a new activity, inviting the class to walk the local botanical gardens in order to break up a 3.5 hour lecture slot. It began out of compassion, but as I reflected, there were some interesting learnings happening. A potential reflective-practice journal article abstract began to take shape

Decolonising the (theological) curriculum through place- based pedagogies

A Theology of Place from :redux on Vimeo.

How to teach place-based theologies to those who might feel shallow-rooted? My practice-based research sought to investigate place-based teaching in the context of theological education among those being formed for the vocation of ordained ministry. I sought to decolonise the curriculum, introducing indigenous theologians, who document the way that identity is formed through  generations of relationships connected to place.  Richard Twist (Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way) emphasises the need to do theology in relation to a primal sense of connection to birth place, Denise Champion (Yarta Wandatha) examines the interplay between land and people, while Maori approaches to pepeha develop identity in relation to landmarks like mountains and river. 

The challenge was that the cohort was not indigenous. As migrants, or descendants of migrants, experiences of a sense of relationship to place can be limited.  In addition, the class was experiencing dislocation, gathered from various national locations into a context not familiar to participants.

The space between indigenous knowing and migrant experience was presented as an opportunity. The writing of Alifeti Ngahe (Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight) was instructive, providing vocational examples of how he migrated into new communities and developed place-based theologies.  Students were invited to locate themselves as “other” and in that epistemic rupture (Rosemary Dewerse, Breaking Calabashes) find a posture of investigative curiosity.  The class was sent in groups to examine statues in a local Botanical Park. They were provided with a short history of various monuments and instructed to see if they could do what Alifeti had done, make theological connections with place. 

Each group reported a range of insights. Work was then done as a cohort to shape the insights into prayers of approach for use in the context of vocational ministry. The liturgical movements of thanksgiving, confession and lament provide room to examine a range of important movements in the journey of decolonisation. This enriched the place-based reflection and provided vocational application.  

The argument is that practice-based pedagogies inform the practise of place-based ministries. Outdoor experiences, paying attention to local monuments, naming epistemic rupture and listening to indigenous theologians provide important resources in place-based teaching.    

Posted by steve at 10:33 AM

Sunday, February 03, 2019

theological reflection as integrating the journey’s of life

An introduction to theological reflection. A 3 hour class to begin a learning community, orientate interns and introduce assessment. In preparing the class, I had 7 different definitions of theological reflection. I decided to lie these down the hallway leading into the lecture space.

walkingin1

This meant that we began the class not in the room, but in the hallway. I introduced myself and noted that we would all be bringing our stories, our life experiences, our learning to date, into the class. The task of theological reflection was to work with our lived reality. As interns, we were preparing for ministry and that meant that all those we ministered to would also be bringing their stories, their life experiences, their learning to date, into our churches.

walkingin2

I invited the interns to walk slowly down the hallway, to take their time and engage each definition. In a few minutes, we would choose the one we liked the most and the one we disliked the most. This generated good discussion. People signed their names to various definitions, owning their understandings of theological reflection that they brought into the room.

But the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is a diverse church culturally. It has a covenant relationship with the Maori Synod, Te Aka Puaho. So out of respect for that relationship, I showed a 4 minute video clip, an introduction to the tukutuku panels that adorn the front of Whakatane Maori Presbyterian Church. We glimpsed a very different approach to theological reflection, one expressed through art, that worked with tradition and culture in new and different ways.

And so I invited the class to return to where we began. To walk back out of the classroom and into the hallway. To slowly walk back in, past each of the definitions of theological reflection. And to ask themselves

which definition of theological reflection best sums up this example of indigenous theological reflection?

The students returned with very different definitions. One definition that initially was disliked the most was suddenly liked the most. A definition that made no sense suddenly was clear. It was an illuminating moment as we realised afresh that what we bring – culturally – shapes our theological reflection

An excellent beginning to theological reflection.

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM