Tuesday, March 31, 2015
a forgotten fragrance: a strugglers reading of Mary and Martha story
Confession time. My supervisor is always inviting me to reflect on my work life balance. He notes that I’m a loyal person with a strong work ethic. I like doing things well. But while this makes me a great person to employ, it can perhaps at times, come at the expense of family and personal time.
Given my supervisors (wise) words, I find myself this week struggling as I read the story of Mary and Martha in John 12. Here’s why.
The story begins well enough. There is a party being thrown in Jesus honour.
At this party, we read that Martha serves (12:2).
In the next verse, we read that Mary anoints (12:3). She takes a pound of perfume and annoints Jesus feet. “The whole house is filled with perfume.” (12:3)
It is at this moment that I begin to struggle. Why does the Bible name one fragrance, but not another? The fragrance of the perfume is named. But what about the scent of the banquet? What about the service of Martha, her slaving over a hot stove?
Both Martha and Mary provide sacrificial acts. Why does one make Gospel news, gain attention, while another seems to slip by, unnoticed?
One response is that the act of anointing is symbolic. This suggestion has three layers. First, the breaking of the bottle of perfume is a first scent in the events of Easter Friday, in which the body of Jesus is broken for the world. Second, the anointing is a first scent in the events of Easter Sunday, in which women will seek to anoint the risen body of Jesus. Third, the annointing is a first scent in the unfolding mission of God, in which the Gospel is proclaimed.
But isn’t Martha’s act of service equally symbolic? Doesn’t it also have these same three layers. First, the events of Easter Thursday in which Jesus will serve the community. Second the events post-Resurrection when Jesus will serve a breakfast banquet for some hungry disciples. Third, the essential nature of service in the unfolding mission of God?
This is why I struggle with the Mary and Martha story. While two women are serving, one act of service seems privileged. Both acts are full of symbolism, both carry the scent of Jesus death, resurrection and the unfolding mission of the church.
Perhaps I struggle because of where I read the text from. Hence my initial confession. Perhaps at times I need to be a bit more “wasteful”, to simply stop serving in order to make a grand gesture of worship.
Perhaps I also struggle because I’m conflating too quickly this story in John with the story in Luke. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha serves, while Mary listens at the feet of Jesus. Martha needs help with her serving and so, pointing at Mary, asks Jesus for help. Jesus responds that it is better to sit than to serve. And at that moment, I wonder who Jesus really expects will do the work. Is this an equal opportunities kitchen, where after extended sitting, all three will do the housework?
Today I will continue to ponder the story of Mary and Martha in John 12. I will look for moments when I can pause and offer an extravagant act of love. But I will also look for the “Martha’s”, those who serve quietly in unnoticed ways. I want to pause and thank them for their participation in Christ’s death, resurrection and mission.
Friday, March 27, 2015
developing a bottom up vision statement
On Tuesday, I was in a group in which the purpose question was asked: “What is the purpose of your organisation?” The whole question of why an organisation exists is crucial. It provides clarity. It allows you to say yes to things and no to things. It provides motivation.
At our team meeting on Thursday, I decided to take the story from Tuesday, tell it and ask the question of the team. “What is the purpose of our organisation?” In our case, we’re a theological college. We are in a re-building team phase, with at least four folk new in the last few months. So the question would not only provide clarity, guidance and motivation. It would also help with team building and re-building.
In order to resource the conversation, I used the Signposts resource.
It involves a whole range of pictures, printed on card, with a few phrases. It’s visual and tactile. I spread them around the room and invited the team out of their seat and to each find a card that they felt answered the question – What is the purpose of a theological College? Returning to our seats, we each shared our cards.
I then offered two options. (We normally set aside 30 minutes in our team meeting for devotion and community time,). One option was to share with each other a moment recently when we had seen our card in action. This took the ideal of why we exist and located it in our life as a group. It allowed for encouragement.
The other option was that everyone was asked to leave their cards on the table. And if folk wanted, they could try and find a sentence that wove together all of the cards. This was a far harder option and I wasn’t sure if there would be any takers, let alone any success.
But I was amazed, within 15 minutes, the group reported back they had a sentence. Within 30 minutes, with the help of one question (What is our purpose?) and a set of visuals, we had developed, from the bottom up, with the input of every voice in the team, a rough vision statement.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
engaging innovation in cultural change
As a Uniting College, we have a number of innovation projects that this year are moving from dream to reality.
We have a Certificate in Bible and Leadership for English as a Second Language. This began as a dream at the start of last year. Funding was obtained and by the middle of the year, a person appointed. After research and networking, at the start of this year they offered a trial topic. Seven students, from six different nationalities have begun.
We have a Big Year Out, designed to grow young adults in ministry and mission. Last year it was touch and go, with four students and a lot of learning. This year we have seven students and a much clearer idea of where we are going.
We have a Diploma of Ministry, with a specialisation in chaplaincy. This began back as a spark late in 2012 and since then we’ve offered an annual topic in the Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy. This year we’re about to graduate our first student, who has completed the entire course by distance, from New South Wales. It’s a great story of an innovation becoming a reality.
Together, these programmes are changing the shape of our student cohort. It is younger, more multi-cultural with a greater breadth in conversation, vocation and passion.
Each of these areas are led by a dedicated and gifted leader. They are part-time, so there is a risk of a sense of isolation from the wider Uniting College team. So as part of our team retreat this year, I designed a process that would help the team connect with these parts of our life.
Here’s what I suggested. That each of these dedicated and gifted leaders share, for around 25-30 minutes each. First, in 10 minutes, the individual share with the team
- 3 challenges they face in implementing their role in 2015
- 2 things they most need from the team
- 1 question they don’t currently know the answer too
Second, in 15 minutes the team respond to the one question. Whether in groups or as a whole group, we as a team offer our good minds in working with the challenges these innovations face. My hope was that as a result of this process, we as a team would be better informed, that individuals would feel heard and supported and that from the brainstorming some constructive ideas might emerge.
The process worked well. The energy in the room went right up. The discussion was deep, rich and engaging.
But the next day, something unexpected happened. We were discussing our team values and someone piped up. “We need to add take risk and celebrate failure. You see, we’ve got all these innovations happening and one way to support them is to be willing to risk and learn in our journey together.” And around the room, the team nodded.
It was a lovely moment to watch. I don’t know many theological colleges that have risk and fail in their team values. One of my goals in becoming Principal was to increase the innovative capacity of the organisation and here it was emerging so spontaneously and naturally, from the team, not me. Engaging innovation was resulting in cultural change. Simply by creating processes to listen and reflect.
Friday, March 20, 2015
activist researchers and community up research as fresh words and deeds
One of the benefits of being at Uniting College is our connection with Flinders University. This includes their extensive professional development workshops. So yesterday, on a beautiful autumn morning, I found myself learning about models for successful post-graduate supervision. I currently am involved in supervising 9 postgraduate students- 5 PHD students, 3 DMin, 1 MMin – so it was a morning bound to benefit not only myself, but a number of gifted, competent and hard-working colleagues in ministry.
During the morning, the presenter noted that only 15% of those who gain PhD’s in the United States find academic work. This is partly because of a shrinking job market and growth in PhD candidates. But it is also, according to research, because people study for many reasons. These include those who have no desire for an academic job. Instead, they research because they want to impact a group they are working with, or bring change to wider society.
A word began to rattle around in my head “activist researchers” – those who study in the hope of wider change.
It made sense of my own PhD journey. I was planting a new form of church and it was attracting considerable critique. So the PhD was a change to think deeply about what I was doing. I deliberately wanted to expose my musings to rigorous processes of thought, both for my sake, for the sake of those who were joining this experiment in mission and for the sake of the church in society today. Academic work (at that time) was the last thing on my mind. (Ironic now I realise :))
Now I’m not saying that those who find academic work are not activists! (I’d like to argue I’m an activist academic, but that’s for another post). I’m simply noting that this is a very different motivation from say those who study to get a good job, or to become a lecturer.
It also makes sense of the students I supervise. Everyone of them has a question that has bugged them. They turn to post-graduate study in order to have a sustained period of in-depth reflection. The reward is personal and societal. They want to be better practitioners in their field, they want to be part of making a difference. They also are “activist researchers.”
The church I serve, the Uniting Church, makes specific mention in it’s founding documents of scholarship. Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union acknowledges that God gives to the church “faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture.” What is interesting is how these scholars (and presumably their research?) is placed in this paragraph within an activist framework. “The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr.” In other words, the Uniting Church does not conceive of the stand alone scholar (or the stand alone theological college). Instead, it envisages partnerships among evangelists, scholars, prophets and martyrs. (Funny how we have theological colleges for scholars, but not colleges for evangelists, prophets and martyrs).
And the horizons, in the Basis of Union, for all these charisms is activist – “It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.” The task of scholars and research is, in partnership with other parts of the body, to be a pilgrim people on mission.
This then suggests some interesting implications for research methodologies. How do scholars work on partnership with these wider gifts? How does the thinking and writing serve these missional horizons?
At this point I’d turn to the Community Up framework provided by Linda Smith. In Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, she notes that the “term research is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism.” (4) She advocates that we stop thinking about research from the perspective of the researcher, and instead consider those researched. This involves “community up” research, in which the research practices are forms of critical pedagogy. They transform the world. (5) Researchers “map concrete performances that lead to positive social transformations. They embody ways of resisting the process of colonization.” (12)
So this is activist research. It does not need itself to activate. But it does need to uncover the performances that will benefit the community. Which sounds to me like “fresh words and deeds.” And made me glad of the activist researchers that I know and work with.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Authenticity in Religious Innovation: “Alternative Worship” and “Fresh Expressions”
My journal article – The Complexity of Authenticity in Religious Innovation: “Alternative Worship” and Its Appropriation as “Fresh Expressions” – has now been published in Media and Culture. Because it’s not only a publication that is peer reviewed, but also online, it is available for free – here.
In the article, I begin with an introduction to three thinkers who analyse the place of authenticity in contemporary culture. They are Charles Taylor (The Ethics of Authenticity), Philip Vanini (in Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture) and Sarah Thornton (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital).
I then explore the rise of alternative worship and Fresh Expressions under three heading:
- Generation of Authenticity-as-Originality
- Mainstream Appropriation
- Consequent Complexification
This generates what I think is the guts of my argument -
Both “alternative worship” and Fresh Expressions are religious innovations. But Fresh Expressions defined itself in a way that conflated the space. It meant that the boundary marking so essential to “alternative worship” was lost. Some gained from this. Others struggled with a loss of imaginative and cultural creativity, a softening of authenticity-as-originality.
More importantly, the discourse around Fresh Expressions also introduced authenticity-as-sincerity as a value that could be used to contest authenticity-as-originality. Whether intended or not, this also challenged the ethic of authenticity already created by these “alternative worship” communities. Their authenticity-as-originality was already a practicing of an ethic of authenticity. They were already sharing a “horizon of significance” with humanity, entering into “dialogical relations with others” that were a contemporary expression of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic (Taylor The Ethics of Authenticity, 52, 48) …. The value of authenticity has been found to exist in a complex relationship with the ethics of authenticity within one domain of contemporary religious innovation.
A colleague who read it last night called the article “brilliant.” A practitioner responded that it made sense of a ministry context they were part of. So that’s very encouraging.
I’ve blogged about some more of the journey to publication here. But in essence, during Presbytery and Synod last year, I pulled together a paper proposal from a part of my PhD thesis that I’d always wanted to develop further. The abstract was accepted, which forced me to write a 1500 word paper for TASA (The Australian Sociological Australian). The feedback was very positive and that gave me enough momentum to turn the spoken words into written words. The peer reviewers used words like “insightful … well-researched … innovative … an original use of Charles Taylor’s” and it was accepted with minor editorial comments.
It is the first publication resulting from my fresh expressions 10 years on research project and I hope becomes a spring board to complete the book (just write Steve). Or in the words of one peer-reviewer – “I get the impression that this is part of a wider study, and, if so, it is one that I look forward to reading.”
Monday, March 16, 2015
Tweeting Charles Taylor missionally: discussion questions
This semester, I’m Reading Charles Taylor missionally. Taylor’s work has been called “the most the academic event of the decade.” (here). He’s one of the most insightful cultural thinkers of our time and so I’ve offered a learning party – a invitation to read Taylor in community and to consider what it thus means to speak of church, mission and faith in a secular age?
On Wednesday, we focus on Taylor’s, The Ethics of Authenticity.
I chose to start here first because it’s short. At 120 pages, it is a much more achievable place to start than the 900 pages of Taylor’s, A Secular Age. Second, he was challenged to express himself as clearly as he could, so that makes The Ethics of Authenticity a good place to start.
Today I emailed the class with some preparation: my (current) list of questions I’ll be using to start discussion.
- Can you think of a story from your experience that illustrates one of the three malaises of society described by Taylor in chapter 1.
- Can you each please bring one quote (printed on a separate sheet of paper) that you really liked.
- “Each of us has an original way of being human.” (page 28; page 61). Discuss.
- What is one question from the book you would most like to ask the group to explain to you.
- I have a friend who last year had a go at tweeting (160 characters max), a summary of every book of the Bible. It was a great exercise in summarising. So together, we will work on Wednesday on a twitter summary (160 characters) of each chapter. So bring a draft prepared. I hope we’ll actually enjoy this enough that we’ll decide we’ll actually tweet them.
I do hope that this last question will not only be fun, but will also develop student skills in summary. And it might well yield some terrific tweets on my twitter feed come Wednesday!
Thursday, March 12, 2015
minding the gap in team formation
Minding the gap can build teams and form cultures. Let me tell you what happened, then unpack the learnings.
It began yesterday during chapel. The reader of the Gospel reading missed some words. Instead of
For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
the reader initially offered us
For God so loved the world
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Realising the gap, the reader quickly, and appropriately, corrected themselves.
The missing words got me thinking. Those 8 words. What would it mean if they were not just missing, but actually absent. What type of faith would we have if those words were not in the Bible? What type of life might be lived, if there really was no “that he gave his one and only Son”?
To put it another way. Christ-centred is one of the core values of Uniting College. So, if we as a College had no Christ, would it make any tangible difference to life, to our teaching and the way we treat each other?
I decided to make this the focus of our team devotions today. It would offer a continuity with what was a great chapel. It would allow us to explore a core value. In addition, we also have four folk new to our team in the last 3 months. So this conversation might enable them to be drawn more deeply into our team culture.
So I began the devotion, by pointing out the gap. I’d produced the words, the complete verse and the verse with the words missing, on a sheet of paper for folk to hold and handle. In pairs I invited them to reflect on what happened if those words went missing and on whether faith would be different. Each pair fed back, ensuring a shared voice across the team. And then together as a whole group, I asked if the presence of Jesus does in any way affect our workplace.
The conversation was excellent, animated and intense. A newcomer observed that the missing 8 words spoke of love. And her experience of our workplace was of nurture. Which could only come from love. So yes, Jesus obviously was important. Another noted that these words were an invitation, not an imposition. So our commitment to Christ could be done in way in which faith need not be forced. Others noted they had no interest in teaching leadership without Christ and that without Jesus, homiletics was simply motivational speaking. Which they were not in the least interested in teaching. So yes, Jesus was important.
So what did I learn about team formation?
- First, that the most effective teaching tool can be a question. In this case “do those missing words matter?”
- Second, that observation can open up significant learning. In this case one simple observation – of 8 missing words; followed by the question - resulted in an excellent collaborative discussion.
- Third, that those new to a team, as they find their voice, can add important richness and perspective to a team discussion.
- Fourth, that team culture is never static. It requires constant work. Tonight, the Uniting College team culture is richer than it was this morning. Because I minded the gap.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction Book review
“[H]ow remarkably easy it is for middle-class white Americans to be pacifist, since for many it need involve little beyond talking correctly.” So observes Healy, Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction (93) as he reads the version of Christianity being offered by Stanley Hauerwas.
Nicholas Healy is interested in what he calls the concrete church. What actually happens in churches and how can that enhance our theological study and method? In order to help him think through what he is doing, he engages with the prolific pen of Stanley Hauerwas. On the surface, both might seem friendly. They both care about the church, about the realities of being Christian in contemporary life.
But Healy’s Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction, in fact becomes a rigorous, sustained, yet respectful critique of theological project emerging from the prolific pen of Stanley Hauerwas. It’s worth reading for that reason alone, as an example of how to listen carefully and engage deeply with those with whom you find yourself disagreeing.
The book has five chapters. The first, an introduction, sets out how Healy plans to read Hauerwas. It is a methodology for theological critique, one that seeks a respectful, yet rigorous engagement. The second chapter works across 26 books written by Hauerwas, to argue that Hauerwas’s theology is church focused. The third chapter reads Hauerwas in conversation with Schlieirmacher. While at first an unlikely theological conversation partner, Healy argues that both have a turn toward the subjective and the church.
The fourth chapter reads Hauerwas in light of ecclesiology and ethnography. It argues that Hauerwas deals with ideals. The result is a set of distortions that ignore the complex and often rather messy realities of the churches’ actual existence, creates unrealistic patterns of discipleship that in fact unhinge from historic Christian understandings of salvation and grace. The fifth chapter develops in depth the impact of these theological distortions, mapping out the ways in which Hauerwas’s turn toward the ideal church is in fact deeply problematic, most particularly in relation to Scripture, authority and Christology.
I first came across Healy in my research into fresh expressions of church. I was looking for ways to develop ethnography to explore ecclesiology. (See Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography). I wanted to know whether insights from ethnographic and sociological views of the church can enhance ecclesiological method and substance. Healy becomes a helpful reading companion in my quest.
- He helps me think theologically. “Church practices therefore require us to reflect upon who God is and how God acts toward us.” (119)
- He allows me to consider the work of God missionally, with the Spirit’s activity inside and outside the church. “If our intentionality is Christian, we can bend almost any socially-sanctioned practice into a Christian practice, even if it is not such to most people.” (119)
- He reminds me that apologetics has taken a particular shape in contemporary culture, one that risks losing the value of apologetics as helping the church understand its own faith better. “Only in the modern period, when theologians seemingly lost confidence … did they mount cross-traditional arguments for our beliefs. (107)”
- He pushes me to consider not only faith practiced well, but faith practiced badly. This includes ways to allow for the differences between and within church communities, to be honest about the multiple communities and relationships humans experience and the need for a “theological understanding of failure and mediocrity” (107) as part of being honest about being church.
Saturday, March 07, 2015
Selma: a theological film review
Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for February 2015, of Selma.
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor
At the end of “Selma,” no one moved. As, the final credits rolled, those present remained seated, motionless and silent. Only as the cinema cleaner entered did people finally collect their belongings and begin to exit.
It was a fitting tribute to a moving story, powerfully told. “Selma” documents the American Civil Rights movement, in particular the period during 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr worked in the town of Selma, Alabama, to galvanise protest over the right to enrol to vote. We witness the tactics of non-violence, the hostility of Southern white response and the unfolding story, which resulted in the Voting Rights Act and the provision of Federal Government enforcement of voting fights for all minorities.
What is striking in “Selma” is how these acts of protest were shaped by a faith as political as it was domestic. In prison, pondering his decision to picket around voting rights rather than protesting poverty, King is reminded by his advisers of Scripture (Matthew 6:26-27). Needing courage, King calls a friend, seeking solace in the singing of an old Negro spiritual. Preaching in Selma, at the funeral of a protestor, King asks who murdered Jimmie Lee Jackson?
“Every white lawman who abuses the law to terrorize. Every white politician who feeds on prejudice and hatred. Every white preacher who preaches the bible and stays silent before his white congregation.”
It is a powerful reminder that in the hands of the church, Bible study has at times magnified injustice, rather than worked to further God’s dreams of justice and liberation. “Selma” is a powerful reminder of how faith is political, both for good and bad.
The movie is well made, including the clever mix of actual black and white footage of protest along with the typewritten telegraph text documenting FBI surveillance. David Oyelowo is superb as Martin Luther King, as is Carmen Eiogo as King’s wife, Coretta. However, they are shaded by the standout performance of Henry G. Sanders as Cager Lee, mourning in the morgue his murdered grandson, Jimmie Lee Jackson.
It is a predominantly male cast, with King constantly surrounded by male leaders. It is a visual reminder that following the gaining of civil rights would need to come the struggle for gender equality.
This interweaves with another prominent theme, faith domestic as well as political. Time and again, Selma locates us, the viewer, in the ordinary. The movie begins with Luther worried about his tie and dreaming with Coretta of being a pastor somewhere small, with a house to call their own.
It is these domestic touches – the kitchen scenes of Southern hospitality, the putting out of the rubbish, the tucking the children into bed– that drive the humanity of the narrative. They create the empathy against which the violence that was the Civil Rights movement can be projected large.
This is “Selma” and this is why no one in the movie theatre moved. Faith, powerfully presented, with hope, that the eyes of all peoples in all of life may indeed see the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He is the author of The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (Zondervan, 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
lectio decorio (reading the skin)
A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.
Lectio divina (divine reading) is a practice by which Scripture is read slowly, seeking for God’s voice. Today I invited the community at worship at Uniting College to enter into lectio decorio (reading the skin). (Decorio is latin for skin).
The spark was the lectionary text – John 2:13-22, when Jesus cleanses the temple. Searching google, I found the work of Amanda Galloway. As a way to connect with women in India, a system of Biblical story telling has been developed. It uses the traditional henna process to symbolize biblical stories (I’ve blogged about henna and Biblical storytelling before). Henna, a temporary artwork drawn on hands and other parts of the body, is a popular beauty technique in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As the story is told, the images are drawn onto the hand and arm.
I didn’t have the time (chapel is 20 minutes, including communion), nor the materials (henna), to literally use henna. But I loved the way the Amanda Galloway’s design told the story, and told it onto skin. It seeemed to also connect with the Biblical text, which was all about whips and overturned tables and thus a story about skin in the game of justice.
So, after reading the lectionary text, I introduced the design. I noted how it is used. I then invited folk to trace the design onto their skin. Not with henna, but by using their finger, while I read the text (slowly enough to give time for the tracing).
And so skin touched skin, as the Bible story was heard and traced (decorio).
I then repeated the process, inviting folk to trace to design on their other hand. Given that folk most likely initially chose their dominant hand, it felt deeply gospel to trace the design again, this time using a weaker finger. This also created links between the two contexts – us in the first week of the semester, with all the new learning that a semester involves, women in India, unable to read, but still opening themselves to learning.
I then moved into the six minute communion. And suddenly the passing of the peace had new meaning. It was another moment of lectio decorio, reading the skin, as the gospel story traced on my hand touched the gospel story traced on the hand on another.
I’m still to unpack with those gathered what the experience meant for them.
But for me, the invitation three times to hear a Gospel story, the deeper sense of connection as that gospel was traced on my skin, the sharing of a practice from another cultural context as an expression of solidarity in learning – felt very embodied.
So there we are, lectio decorio (reading the skin).
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Worth coming for the creative resources alone
“It’s worth coming for the creative resources alone,” said a happy punter as they tucked the order of worship into their bag. Yesterday we kicked off at Uniting College another year of Leadership Formation Days.
These aim to build community among individuals on the journey to ordination. So yesterday in small groups and with the aid of colour chips of paint, relationships were built.
They invite reflection on the practice of ministry. So yesterday input on Pauline spirituality and adaptive leadership in resource poor congregations. A rich, deep study of how Paul’s spirituality of ministry connected with the work of Heifetz (Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading), and provided richness for ministers in aging congregations.
They provide prayer and worship – in ways that are “worth coming for the creative resources alone.” So yesterday praise, for the generations before who had formed us, and intercession, for the generations we are involved in forming.
Names written on yellow and orange post-it notes, placed around the edge of the communion table. On which some godly play around the lectionary text was done, the giving of the 10 commandments. On which the communion elements, bread and wine were shared.
They share stories, in order to build our ability to work with the living documents that are the lives of people. So yesterday, two stories of the journey to ministry and the journey in ministry. A few tears, as redemption was enfleshed.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy
I’ve just submitted the following abstract for a theology conference later this year. It emerges from my teaching last year and my participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice during which I did research, seeking student feedback on the changes I was making – in particular implementing flipped learning and making a focus on indigenous Christologies. It’s good to take the next step, from doing research, to presenting research
Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy
One way to “revalue” the worth of the lives we teach is to examine the pedagogies we employ. Educational research reminds us that all pedagogies speak, offering a “hidden curriculum.” What are the truths expressed in the “babble of information” that originates from our teaching? Is e-learning a pandering toward “endless opportunities for self-gratification”?
This paper will explore pedagogical innovation in teaching. Participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice in 2014 provided an opportunity to research student experience when teaching is approached as mobile, accessible and connective.
A core topic (Theology of Jesus Christ) was taught using e-learning technologies, including video conferencing and Moodle. Blooms taxonomy was used as a theoretical frame to negotiate the change with students and the shift in contact time from lecturer-driven content to student-centred small group activities. Changes were made to assessment, shifting participation from face to face to digital, in order to enable connectivity. Indigenous voices were introduced to enhance access.
Students completed a written survey at three points during the course. The results demonstrate that a significant shift had occcured in the class, with students moving from an appreciation of content, to a consideration of how they learn from the diversity inherent among their peers. Students felt the changes enhanced their ability to communicate effectively, appreciate collaborative learning and connect across boundaries.
Haythornthwaite and Andrews (E-learning Theory and Practice, 2011) map the diverse ways students participate in class to enhance learning. This provides a way to theorise my data, including the student who believed they could “now connect [their] own culture and Christ”; because they were asked in a group “by one of my classmates to connect liberation theology to [their] culture.”
This suggests that the pedagogies we deploy do indeed have the potential to “revalue” the worth of the lives of those we teach.
Friday, February 27, 2015
A great lunch at Uniting College yesterday as we celebrated a whole range of beginnings. There was food and conversation and great joy across the campus as we named a number of new beginnings for people, in partnerships, in presence.
New Life College – New Life Uniting is the largest Uniting Church in Australia. Located on the Gold Coast, we have been working with them on leadership development for the last few years. This has involved teaching one intensive a year on leadership from our Bachelor of Ministry suite of leadership topics. The feedback has been very positive. The partnership is now growing, with a three way commitment between New Life, Adelaide College of Divinity and Uniting College, to offer a range of not only leadership but ministry topics on the Gold Coast. Some taught by Adelaide faculty, some taught by Gold Coast folk. Yesterday Shahn Dee, who is a key administrator at the New Life College end, was down to meet folk and build relationships. It was great to welcome her and name the new beginning in her relationship.
Big Year Out 2015 – We have the numbers to form a viable learning community and so Big Year Out in 2015 is a go. That means that Danica Patselis and a bunch of young adults will be with us for the year, growing around discipleship and mission immersion experiences. It’s now the second year running for the programme, which is so important in building a presence and pattern in South Australia for young adult discipleship.
Marketing – This week we welcomed a new Marketing Officer, Nadia Boscaini. She will work 0.4 for Uniting College and 0.2 for Adelaide College of Divinity. Historically we as a College have been strong on teaching and on administration but not as strong on telling our story beyond ourselves. So Nadia arrives with drive, energy and expertise in these areas.
Principals PA – Denise Boyland is beginning as Principal’s PA Maternity on Monday. Eloise Scherer is on 12 months maternity leave. After meticulous long range plan in August and September 2014 to ensure a smooth transition, an unexpected health concern, meant that I’ve been PA-less for the last month. And a highly stressed bunny have I been! The rest of the administration team have been incredibly helpful, but I’m very relieved with the support that will now flow as Denise settles into her role.
Post-graduate beginnings – with a growing post-graduate programme, including our largest Bachelor of Theology honours cohort, a larger space has been created. It’s great to be able to have the presence of post-graduate students permanently among us, joining us for chapel, morning tea, interaction. There are desks for four, with room for more …
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Reading Charles Taylor missionally: learning party
What does it mean to speak of church, mission and faith in a secular age?
I am offering a reading group to engage theologically and missionally with Charles Taylor, one of the most insightful cultural thinkers of our time. We will focus on four key books
- James McEvoy, Leaving Christendom for Good: Church-World Dialogue in a Secular Age, 2014.
- James Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, 2014.
- Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 1992.
- Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2007.
The aim will be to absorb, to reflect and to consider the implications for mission and ministry.
Wednesdays, 5.15 – 6.45pm, fortnightly from Wednesday 4 March at Uniting College. Seven sessions, finishing June 10. For information, please comment or email steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu do au.