Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the soundscapes of everyday life

I went to see Across the Universe today. It’s not a great movie. It has some decidedly wierd bits and it struggles to decide whether it should be driven by the songs or by the plot.

But it is a fascinating movie to watch in terms of missional church and cultural change research. It takes near 30 Beatles songs and places them in the context of the lives and loves of young adults facing the 60s, growing up in the aftermath of World War 2, facing Vietnam and race riots. In so doing, the songs become a soundscape of their lives and their context. The movie suggests an entire generation shaped by Hey Jude and Strawberry Fields. In other words, a pop cultural worldview rather than an intellectual worldview.

Such a possibility is what made Tom Beaudoin’s Virtual Faith, so fascinating, for he proposed a generation formed by pop culture. It is a similar trajectory to that proposed by Michel de Certeau in his The Practice of Everyday Life who argued that in order to understand cultural change, we must live at the level of everyday life, listening to the microtransformations being made by ordinary people. It is a project given tangible shape in Sardar’s The A to Z of Postmodern Times, in which he suggests a grammar for our decade based on reading lifestyle magazines. What these books do academically, the movie Across the Universe does visually and musically.

In my missional coaching classes I talk about micro-climates, meso-climates and macro-climates. That we need to listen to the micro-stories of our streets, the meso-stories of our suburb and city, and the macro-stories of our globalised world. What Across the Universe does so well is combine these three so well; the micro-stories of Jude, the meso-stories of Liverpool life, the macro-stories of Vietnam.

A few months ago, Al Roxburgh watched Atonement movie and asked what it means to form leaders in a culture losing memory. He quoted Goethe, “He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living hand to mouth.”

Across the Universe raises another possibility; that “She who cannot draw on three decades of popular culture is living hand to mouth.” I left the cinema humming Hey Jude.

Hey, Jude, don’t be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better

Practically, we need to, in response to the incarnation, let our pop cultural world get under our skin. To sit with the everyday narratives, whether micro-, meso- or macro-. To refuse to pay it cool, as a starting point for our missiology.

Posted by steve at 06:30 PM

Monday, April 28, 2008

finding community voice part 2

In my last post, I celebrated helping a community find their own voice around Scripture. The upside is this genuine sense of a group of people gathered under a text and the realisation that the Spirit is the teacher and we are all learners.

The downside is when people bring their own agenda into the room. We all bring our previous experiences and learnings into a room and when used well, these can enhance a community voice. But they need to be placed carefully alongside the discipline of becoming genuine listeners, to a Bible text and to each other and to the Spirit.

Often when I do speaking around, and move into processes of helping a community find voice, I strike people who are not in fact listening to Bible and to each other, but are in fact using (abusing even), the space I have gifted the group, to bring their agenda’s into a room. My gut tells me that an audience participant is in fact doing this. And the coffee conversations often confirm this, as the agenda is named.

And so, as the one leading the process, I simply have to move the session on, because the disciplines have been broken and the “moment” lost.

And this is disappointing, and frankly immature. I too have lots of agendas and could spout on my hobby horses for hours. Indeed, I have been asked to speak to this group because of my charism. And yet I chose to spend my time seeking to elevate the Biblical text within a community. And so it is sad to see these moments highjacked.

In other words, this is a task best done in community and repeated over time, so that the disciplines grow. And it is a discipline that those with agenda and passion and existing knowledge find hardest. In other words, clergy!!

Posted by steve at 12:43 PM

Sunday, April 27, 2008

finding our community voice

Churches breed passivity. Over years, congregations have newsletters thrust into hands, visions spoken over their lives and the Bible dictated to them. It’s a lazy form of Christianity that breeds passive consumers.

Over the last few weeks, it has felt like Opawa has finally found it’s voice. Twice in the last 2 weeks, in the middle of sermon, I have invited congregational engagement, and been delighted by the depth of engagement and interaction.

Today we were exploring Acts 8:26-40 and I invited one third of the congregation to be the Ethiopian, another to be Philip, another third to be angel/Spirit/Lord. What began as a simply Bible reading suddenly developed into a vigorous chaired engagement back and forth between each of these groups.

It’s taken 4.3 years of encouragement and risk taking and perseverance, as people have got used to being asked to think, have realised that they can learn for themselves and that we are richer as we work together on the text.

Posted by steve at 11:21 PM

Sunday, April 20, 2008

where was God in the Mangatepopo River tragedy?

Church services today gave time for people to process the Mangatepopo River tragedy. One of our artists offered a painting, titled “What becomes of the brokenhearted?” People were invited to write a one word response on a bandaid and place it on the artpiece, and/or to sign a card. Sermonically, I wrestled with the topic of Where was God in the Mangatepopo River tragedy? I got lots, and lots, of grateful comments. So I place my thoughts here, in case others find it useful.

For those who like the highlights, I point out that we are not the first people to face grief. I worked through Psalm 69. Where is God?
– in the love of the community
– in honesty
– in those who honestly examine their own lives
– in the gift of free will
– in our willingness to take action

And I conclude that God acts not by stopping suffering … but by stepping into our suffering.


Posted by steve at 11:59 PM

Saturday, April 19, 2008

labelling emerging and emergent

Tony Jones, head of USEmergent, has expressed concern about those who draw lines between emerging and emergent. To which I made the following comment:

Frankly, I think it’s cheeky that you [Tony Jones] can co-edit a book, titled “Emergent Manifesto”, written by Americans only, and now tell us that there is no difference between the terms [emergent and emerging].

Last year I was asked to blog review the Emergent Manifesto of Hope and expressed my disappointment that it was basically an American Manifesto of Hope. Doug Paggitt commented on my blog: “Hey Steve, we have worked hard to keep the Emergent convervation from the US about the US – As you know the other expressions in other countries come under the name Amahoro. So when we in the US are speaking of the Emergent US we are not supposing to speak for the entire world, and ave worked hard to not do so.”

So it take from that comment that Doug is wanting to draw lines around Emergent. US gets one organisation called Emergent, rest of world is lumped in Amahoro.

Or perhaps it’s more to do with Doug wanting to draw authorial lines around the book brand?

If Emergent wants to speak for the world, then they have a lot of work to do, and it doesn’t start by saying “oh, we’re all really the same aren’t we!”

Posted by steve at 11:18 PM

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sunday services as New Zealand mourns

This week has been an incredibly sad week for all New Zealanders. We have been saddened by the loss of 7 lives at the Mangatepopo River. This includes Tony McClean, son of one of our Baptist pastor’s, John and Jeanette McClean. We have been saddened and angered by the discovery of the body of teenager Marie Davis here in Christchurch.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” 1 Corinthians 11:26

Our Sunday morning service will allow time for us to pray together in the light of the events of this week. We will explore the question that must be on many lips – “where is God?” by using the Psalms of the Bible. We will have two large cards, for any who want to sign, and to send to John and Jeanette McClean and to Elim Christian School.

On Sunday evening, when more of our teenagers are present, we will allow time to pray together for the family of Marie Davis. Similarly, we will have a large card for any who want to sign, and to send to her family.

Steve Taylor, for Opawa Pastoral team

Posted by steve at 03:31 PM

Thursday, April 17, 2008

beyond bands and beyond stations

I’ve been thinking about worship this week. I’m feeling stuck in a loop that goes like this:

Most contemporary church worship I experience simply invites me to sing songs. Up the band comes, away they play and down I sit. I’m tired of this limited vista.

Most alt.worship I experience invites me into stations. Out comes the art, in comes the creativity and down I sit. I’m tired of the individuality of it all. Me in my small experience.

At least when you sing, it’s corporate. At least when you sing, it invites you out of your head and into your intuition and emotion.

So here’s the question that’s bugging me: what are ways that we might connect with God that are corporate and non-rational, that are NOT sung worship?

Updated: Here’s the current list … please add more in comments


Posted by steve at 12:09 AM

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Taking the con out of conversion 2

During our 2nd sermon on Biblical pictures of witness I showed a table (download), placing Acts 2, Acts 14 and Acts 17 side by side. It produced excellent discussion, as people noted
– how one size does not fit all;
– how in Acts 14 and Acts 17, not a single Bible verse is quoted, in contrast to Acts 2;
– how evangelistic success is far from universal;
– the ability to improvise.

I concluded with some stories about ways I’d seen announcing the good news publicly in New Zealand today. A number were taken from my blog post here from a few weeks ago and a big thanks to those in my blogging community who commented – you added a huge amount of richness and freshness to the sermon.

The open invite follow-up discussion group meets again this Wednesday in the church foyer to simply read the Bible texts, and apply them prayerfully to our life. There is already talk of keeping the group going after the series finishes, which was my big dream – the formation of an evangelism action team!

Posted by steve at 09:46 AM

Sunday, April 13, 2008

lost sheep and good shepherds and luke 15: missional revised version

Updated: I thought this was a really thoughtful post that would get some good comment going about our images of mission and the place of the Bible. The silence is deafening. Oh well!

In preparing to speak at the Sharpening the Middle yesterday (my 3rd full day of speaking in 8, and I am stuffed), I began to wonder if Luke 15:3-7 is actually a profoundly unhelpful text for the missional church.

Mission is named as the church who sends out the shepherd. Fine so far. But it reduces mission to the responsibility of the one, paid professional. The shepherd finds the sheep, which is returned, and so the congregation rejoices. But the congregation is reduced to passivity, almost to voyeurism. Equally, the process of mission, of searching and seeking, is reduced to an event, the moment in which the lost sheep appears. Mission becomes the “altar call” moment.

So here’s my Missional revised version of Luke 15:3-7. In offering this, I am not wanting to downplay Scripture. Rather, I am wanting to invite us to consider how our imaginations are shaped by Biblical texts, and the impact of that upon our paradigms.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t she leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until she finds it? And when she finds it, she joyfully sits down. Then she calls the friends and neighbors of the lost sheep together. And as this moment, as a new missional congregation is planted, the shepherd and existing congregation burst out ‘Rejoice; the lost sheep is found.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Posted by steve at 09:03 PM

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Taking the con out of conversion

Every Wednesday in April (9, 16, 23, 30), a conversation around the place of witness and evangelism in Christian faith is happening in the church foyer. The catalyst is a sermon series titled “Biblical pictures of witness” being preached on Sunday mornings. On the Wednesday those interested gather to read the Scriptures used on Sunday, to apply and to pray.

On the first Wednesday we talked about the Samaritan woman in contrast to the huge feelings of guilt Christians carry in relation to witness. We wondered about the following guilt free statements.
1. Only do your bit. No more and no less.
2. Only witness where God is working. Witnessing anywhere else is dumb, especially in response to evangelism seminars.
3. Only share what you know. Anything else is bearing false witness.
4. Only be real. Human struggles open doors.

I love this part of ministry: creating conversations around the Bible and in relation to mission, sitting with people, listening, being honest, learning, growing.

Posted by steve at 01:12 PM

Friday, April 11, 2008

why did you go to Opawa Baptist?

He was puzzled. He was senior in our denominational leadership. He was aware of the history of Opawa Baptist, 96 years old, a fine past. He was aware of my history, emerging church planter. And so he was honest enough to ask, “why did you go to Opawa?”

And this quote from Maggi Dawn’s blog says it better than I could yesterday.

“The really interesting questions that surround the Emerging conversation have less to do with the how and why of a deliberate strategy to re-create the shape of Church, and more to do with how the concerns of Emerging are, in fact, emerging in different settings all over the place – messily, imperfectly and in unexpected places – which, in fact, is more faithful to the concept of emergence. For many Emergers, the least expected place of all to find an emerging congregation would be slap in the middle of a suburban Parish church. But that’s what is going on in quite a lot of places.

And that’s the conversations I’m glad to be part of at Opawa.

Posted by steve at 01:03 PM

Thursday, April 10, 2008

1 + 1 + 1 = ?

Fact 1: In the rush to the airport last Saturday, to catch a flight back to my home in Christchurch, my overnite bag was left in a friends car in Auckland. It included my alarm clock.

Fact 2: While waiting for the bag to be returned, I decided to use the alarm on my cell phone.

Fact 3: I received a text on my cell phone while at a gathering on Wednesday night. To avoid disturbing the gathering, I simply turned down the sound on my cell phone.

Fact 4: Needing to rise at 5:30 am today to catch a plane to Wellington to speak …


Posted by steve at 10:45 PM

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

facing the mission challenge

I think I’m in a Wellington phase of my life cycle. I am up there 2morrow at Sharpening the Middle with the Baptists. Then April 22 at the Wellington Diocese Clergy Conference. Then May 21 at the Executive Leaders conference of the Salvation Army for New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory, on the topic of New forms of church and mission.

I was working on some notes today and was reminded of the quote below, quoted George Lings. It is not easy affirming what is, providing appropriate next steps, without dumbing down the enormous implications of this quote.

Few churches
• have experience of this profoundly different shape to mission
• know how to travel out from Church in “go” or apostolic mode
• can envisage how to be fresh imaginings of church at the end of the journey

Posted by steve at 06:10 PM

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

practicing communion with storytelling

Last Sunday the sermon text had been the Emmaus Road. A number of challenges were given: to seek the Risen Jesus on the road, to practice Christian practices, to depend on the Spirit.

So on Sunday we decided to provide time for storytelling.

3, not 1, communion tables were placed up the front and chairs added to ring the tables. I read from the Emmaus text. Bread was broken and thanks offered.

I then reminded people of the sermon and placed the communion elements on all 3 tables. I invited people to participate in two ways.

They could either remain seated and be served. Or, if they wanted, they could come to front, sit at a table, share communion and tell a story, of either meeting Jesus during the week, a Christian practice they were finding life giving, or a way they were needing the Spirit. A sung item was played.

And it worked well. Appropriate numbers of people responded and some encouraging stories were told. People talked afterwards about how helpful it had been. It was a worthwhile way to practice communion with real live stories around table.

Posted by steve at 01:26 PM