Sunday, November 30, 2008

a hard day and a harder week

The week past has not been one I’d want to repeat. Immensely challenging, one of my loneliest in leadership. I’ve had excellent friends and a wonderfully supportive Board, but am still tasked with carrying some cans.

I’m not sure about posting what follows or not, but given the ability of humans to second guess and insinuate, the need for facts is important, so I am placing the following two statements on my blog and also on the church website. Statements – updated – (from Fairhalls and church were available for a period, then taken down.)

And below this is the accompanying verbal announcement that I made to the church today:

The Fairhall family want to take up a 9 week interim pastoral position (December/January) with Oamaru Baptist Church, effective Sunday 30 November. This means Craig is unable to fulfill his responsibilities here at Opawa and therefore Craig has chosen to resign. We regret this situation and how it has evolved.

Given the short notice, we are asking Craig and the family if they would be willing to return for an evening in February 2009. We want to acknowledge to them that what has happened is not ideal and to thank them for their ministry among us.

The Board realise this might raise questions and a range of emotions. To help us process this Steve and various Board members will be available, informally
after service today, 30 November, West Wing, 15 minutes after morning service
after service next Sunday, December 1, West Wing, 15 minutes after morning service
Tuesday evening, December 9, church auditorium, 7-8 pm

Now, please, before you hurry away, pause and pray for all those impacted by this – Fairhalls and Opawa, myself and Oamaru, church staff and God’s Kingdom. There is so much life around Opawa at the moment – people finding faith and significant wider community transformation – and nothing should steal away from that.

Posted by steve at 09:28 PM

Thursday, November 27, 2008

amos yong’s theology and disability chapter 3

Chapter 3 – Medicalizing Down Syndrome. Disability in the World of Modern Science, pp. 45-77.
At first this chapter is surprising, for it is rare to find medical history in a theology book. Yet it is consistent with Yong’s methodology and theology; his quest to be interdisciplinary and his belief that the Spirit is at work in the world, in unity and diversity (and hence in a plurality of disciplines).

This chapter provides a broader framework around Yong’s Chapter two. Just as attitudes to disability have shifted throughout church history, so they also have through medical history. “My claim, however, is that social and theoretical perspective have not remained static, and there have been substantial shifts in how intellectual disability has been conceived, examined, discussed, and engaged.” (47)

Modernity privileges science, medicine and technology and these have framed the way Down Syndrome has been conceived. Yong divides modernity into three periods: one of institutionalization, one of sociomedical control and another of independent living.

Technology is now a threat to the existence of those conceived with Down Syndrome. Development of IQ test. During 1930s-1960s, 50,000 people were sterilised in US, based on having a lower IQ and concern that they would reproduce their kind. In Nazi Germany, 2 million “defective” people were sterilised and more than 275,000 mentally and physically disabled were exterminated.

Jerome Lejeune, in 1959, discovered the chromosomal mutation from which Down Syndrome is derived. The development of prenatal testing has contributed to the fact that since 1989, 70-90% of Down Syndrome fetuses are aborted.

Does this allow them to avoid suffering? Yet is suffering caused by their impairments, or by the social prejudices and lack of support provided by society? What about the narratives of parents who find themselves transformed by the experience of parenting a mentally retarded child? What should decide the value of human life anyhow, instrumental or intrinsic worth?

At turn of 21st century, it is estimated there are 5 million people with Down Syndrome worldwide. With further technological advances now comes a whole new set of questions regarding schooling, marriage, parenting, aging.

“[W]e cannot but observe in the most forceful of terms the injustice perpetrated against people with intellectual disabilities over the last 150-plus year, much of it with the backing of the medical establishment.” (76) “The modern Enlightenment was anything but kind to those who did not measure up to the alleged standards of universal reason.” (77)

Where you aware of this “darker” side of modernity and medicalisation? How might churches care for couples and families who have a pregnancy diagnosed with Down?

Posted by steve at 07:58 PM

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

stray missional thoughts

community development is like velcro, creating lots of relationships to help things stick

our task is not to offer answers, but to be honest about our shared ache – that our kids grow up whole, that our grandchildren have a planet, that our lives might find a work/life balance – and our commitment to go on a journey with fellow travellers in search of healing.

Posted by steve at 09:57 AM

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

reviewing Chasing Francis

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale is the fictional story of a supposedly successful mega church pastor who goes through a public meltdown. Sent to Europe for a holiday, he finds himself both fascinated and challenged by the life of Francis of Assisi. He finds a fresh vision both for his faith and for the church.

What makes the book interesting is the way it uses a historic figure, (Francis of Assisi), to shape a vision for the church. This places it in sharp contrast to books in the missional project like The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church or Forgotten Ways, The: Reactivating the Missional Church, which look to the New Testament church for missional DNA.

(Another great example of the way a historic figure can shape contemporary emerging mission is the way Safe Space in Telford have drawn on Saint Brendan. Mark Berry is an excellent poetical missiologist. No book (yet), but their journey in worship is here).

The book is nicely written. The characters are a bit “high-culture” but that probably represents the context of the author, who ministers in Greenwich, Conneticut and

The study guide at the back is one of the more helpful I have come across, providing not just questions, but a helpful and stimulating array of quotes from a range of books, and thus providing some significant intellectual framing for this fictional account.

One disappointment is the way that the book affirmed Fancis’s commitment to reform the church from within, yet wrapped the plot resolution around church planting rather than church transition.

Overall, a stimulating read and a useful addition to one’s bookshelf.

Helpful quotes:
“The deeper I plunged into the heart of Francis, the more courage I found to dive into my own. The more I saw his love for the church and the world, the more I was inspired to follow his lead.” (92)

“The world is so hungry for God that God could only come as a piece of bread. We so long for joy that God even risked coming into the world in the form of intoxication, that risky thing called wine.” (96, quoting Gandhi)

“I was struck by the simple elegance of Francis’s strategy of ministry – simply read the gospel texts and live the life you find on its pages. What a concept. I wondered what Francis would say if he were the main speaker at a church-growth conference. Would anyone take him seriously.” (100)

“The church is realizing that there is an awareness of God sleeping in the basement of the postmodern imagination and they have to awaken it. The arts can do this … When the front door of the intellect is shut, the back door of the imagination is open.” (110)

“Francis taught me that if we spent less time worrying about how to share our faith with someone on an airplane and more time thinking about how to live radically generously lives, more people would start taking our message seriously.” (195)

Posted by steve at 11:22 PM

Sunday, November 23, 2008

creatives at work: open home open year

(For theological/liturgical rationale go here)

As part of our open home, open year service, I asked 3 of our creatives to paint throughout the service. Each one took one side of our “building the Kingdom house” which had been covered with white paper in preparation. As the powerpoint rolled, as testimonies were shared (story after story of community impact), as 2 sermonettes were preached, as prayer was uttered and worship given, they expressed visually what they were hearing.

After the service they then stepped back and looked at each other’s work. This is what they saw:

The best moment was during the last song, when Sam, 2 years old, ran inside the house, turned to face one of the artists, and waved. Boy and artist just grinned at each other. That’s what God’s doing through us at Opawa – creating places of colour and safety in which generations engage. It’s such a privilege to be part of it.

Posted by steve at 11:43 PM

Friday, November 21, 2008

looking forward, looking back

This Sunday morning is our annual Open Home Open Year service. We will look back at the year past and celebrate what God has been up to. We will ask the question, “How has grace been at work amongst us?” A team of artists will paint our “Building the Kingdom” house, as ministry leaders share. (Following the service, those who’ve booked for Guess who’s coming to lunch can continue to reflect on the year past with their mystery guests/hosts).

(Also, if you have any photos of things the church has been up to in the past 12 months (December 2007 – November 2008), please email these through by Saturday at 3.30pm so they can be included in a presentation looking back at the year past.)

As a church, we start our year in February. Refreshed by a summer break and inspired by our church annual meeting, we choose one Bible text, which might shape our year and our vision.

This year it was the book of Philemon and the phrase “Building the Kingdom.” Philemon is a tiny book buried in the back of the New Testament. It is the story of a broken relationship, a slave in dispute with his master. The slave runs from conflict, only to encounter the unexpected and life changing grace of God. The slave is transformed. He realises he needs to face his past. The letter of Philemon offers us a gracious, practical, relational, honest Christianity, in the real struggles of our life.

To help us focus on the theme, a house was built and placed at the front. Each week it has stood before us, asking us to examine our priorities. How are we, as a church, building the Kingdom in living a gracious, practical, relational, honest Christianity?

To also help focus on the theme, each person was given a house to take home. It was smaller and made of card. They were invited to make the house and to examine ourselves, as individuals, in our homes and workplaces, building the Kingdom in living a gracious, practical, relational, honest Christianity?

Kiwi’s tend to lose December in a blur of Christmas shopping, end of year functions at school and work. So come late November, as a church we pause and reflect on the year past. This is our task today in this Open home, open year service. How has the the book of Philemon and the phrase “Building the Kingdom” shaped and challenged our life this year? How has grace been at work among us?

Posted by steve at 12:55 PM

Thursday, November 20, 2008

amos yong’s theology and disability chapter 2

Chapter Two – The Blind, the Deaf, and the Lame. Biblical and Historical Trajectories.
Yong considers how “disability” has been portrayed in the Bible and in church history. “The reader should be warned that some of what follows may be discouraging and even depressing, especially when read by a person with disability looking for biblical edification.” (21). Notions of God healing in reality communicate that people with disabilities are in some way lesser in God’s Kingdom. Disability is linked to evil spirits in some New Testament texts (eg Mark 1:32-34), while other texts hint that disability is linked to personal sin (John 5:14). “Clearly, then, “disability” in the New Testament funtions rhetorically to call attention to negative realities such as sin, evil spirits, spiritual degeneration, and moral reprobation.” (27).

While a number of Christian saints were disabled, including Margaret of Castello (1287-1320) and Teresa de Cartenga (born 1415-1420), the Reformation period offers a bleak picture of the church’s attitudes toward disability. Luther suggested a 12 year old mentally retarded boy be drowned because he was deemed demon possessed. When John Locke, Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1690) chose to define human beings on basis of rationality, he noted that those unable to think rationally were thus less than human. For Locke, this justified infanticide of the disabled.

Yong then summarises what he considers to be a theology of disability present in the church today.
1 – disabilities are ordained or permitted by God
2 – people who are disabled are encouraged to trust God
3 – church is to meet these people’s needs.
Yong is not convinced that such a theology is robust enough. He is on a mission, to redeem what he considers a poor and simplistic reading of the Bible, along with poorly applied theologies through history.

Until you read this chapter, what theological answers would you have given to the topic of human disability? Have you considered before the underlying messages given to the differently-abled by an intellectual and logical approach to Christianity?

Posted by steve at 04:54 PM

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

some days are better than others

I’m tired of missional church. Too inward a conversation. Isn’t it richer to live a missional life in God’s missional world. Or too broad?

I wrote near 3,000 words today, working on the sabbatical book project. My task was exploring the book of Ruth in terms of mission, change and leadership. Part of my hope is to shift the word missional away from it’s current pairing with the word church, and instead to pair it with lived life. Hence narratives like the book of Ruth, in which missional is not formed around church but around God at work in the life experiences of poor migrants and wealthier business people.

3,000 words is probably my best day’s writing ever, so I’m stoked.

With hindsight, four things helped the writing and one did not. What did help was:
– an emergency pastoral visit, which as I processed it in a cafe afterward, suddenly released a flow of words and got me over the initial writing block
– preaching on Ruth as a peacemaker at Grow with peace a few weeks ago, and the act of preaching forces one to clarify one’s thoughts
– doing a staff/student colloquim at Parkin-Wesley a month ago, on the topic of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz as a missional leader, and the resulting discussion, which was all grist for the mill
– my research assistant, who did a fantastic job working up the Ruth text in preparation for the above colloquim

And what did not help?
– getting up early! I set the alarm for an early rise. But I simply stared at the screen for over an hour, until taking the kids to school and the pastoral appointment kickstarted some writing.

So, today I thank God for the practices of ministry – for pastoral moments, preaching experiences, teaching times.

Posted by steve at 08:45 PM

Monday, November 17, 2008

amos yong’s theology and down syndrome chapter one

One of the upsides of blogging is I get sent lots of books to review. One of the downsides of blogging is that, since this is a hobby, I rarely get a chance to put together a complete book review. Which leaves me gazing guilty at an ever-growing pile of unread books.

So I’m taking inspiration from Scot McKnight, who rather than provide complete reviews, blogs books chapter by chapter. It feels more manageable, like one mouthful at a time, rather than a completely digested banquet. Let’s try and see. I’m starting with Amos Yong’s Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity. Not a book I was sent, but a book I picked up earlier this year, to help my ongoing processing and resourcing at a pastoral level, as I seem to find myself increasingly processing some mission questions raised by areas of disability. How to work alongside a medical system committed to abortion as their response to the diagnosis of Downs? How to help people who hear voices explore sensing God through through their ears? How does the church partner with those depressed by grief?

Chapter One – Introduction. Narrating and Imagining Down Syndrome and Disability.
Amos narrates his life experience, a rising academic star from a Pentecostal family, growing up with a brother with Down Syndrome. He explores the methodological issues and what it means to conduct God-talk in this diverse field. He is encouraged to proceed by the current growth of inter-disciplinary research, which might give his theological insights a voice. He explores the issue of who can speak for the disabled. How might the disabled have voice and can he, a trained theologian, speak on Mark (his brother’s) behalf? Yong hopes that this book contributes to advocacy, because “theologians are advocates of a peculiar sort: representing God to the world on the one hand, and the world to God on the other.” (10)

He draws on the Acts 2 narrative. If the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:7) means people hear in their own langauge, then what does this mean for the differently abled? His starting point is that “the pneumatalogical imagination empowers Christian witness to establish a more peaceful and just society for all people, especially those with disabilities.” (14).

What are your experiences of God among the differently abled? Do you agree that Acts 2 does encourage the church to work with God’s Spirit so that all people can encounter God within their own timeframes?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

writing today

working on a chapter for an edited book. my piece is on the relationship between Spirit of God and popular culture:

The geography of the text in Luke 9:52 is also doing theological work. While the journey to Jerusalem takes ten chapters, all of which are strikingly sparse in geographic detail, the journey begins going into a Samaritan village. Shillington notes that the “place ‘between Samaria and Galilee’ is hard to find on the map. It looks like ‘no-one’s land’, a place for outcasts or expendables.” Thus, geographically and theologically, the mission of Jesus in the move toward Jerusalem begins in this ‘no-one’s land.’ This has relevance given that for theology, popular culture and everyday life have long been considered a theological extra at best, an outcast at worst.

Posted by steve at 12:11 PM

Friday, November 14, 2008

Abel Tasman or spirituality of space and place

The shell picture at the top of this page/blog is an image Mike Crudge (fellow pilgrim at Graceway and Baptist pastor) created from one of his photographs taken on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track in the South Island of New Zealand. Mike has recently published a book on this walking track comprising of a photographic journey from start to finish showing the best bits of the track. He’s a bit of a fanatic, having walked the track every summer since 1997, and taking different friends with him each year (a testimony to his pursuit of a local spirituality of space and place).

The Abel Tasman is a favourite for our family – a place walked on our honeymoon, then kayaked with friends some years ago. Last summer we took the kids and kayaked with them on day trips into this beautiful part of New Zealand, what many Kiwi’s, along with many, many tourists, call “the best bit of New Zealand.”

If you’ve done the Abel Tasman you’ll find this book reminds you of the good times, if you haven’t yet been there this book should make you book your ticket and secure your track pass.

The book comes from his love of the National Park and of photography. As far as Mike knows it’s the first book of its type: a pictorial book on a bit of New Zealand, printed in New Zealand, on paper made from sustainable forests and recycled material, so it’s a book with a conscience (it carries the Forest Stewardship Council certification logo meaning each step of the process from the planting of the tree to printing the book hasn’t oppressed people or the environment).

It’s a small (240mm x 170mm), soft cover, 50 page, full colour book selling for NZ$17 and can be posted anywhere in the world when bought from Mike’s website here:

Posted by steve at 12:22 PM

Thursday, November 13, 2008

face to face: a mask too far?

I hate being a projection of people’s past. If you’ve got a problem with pastors then that stinks. But why dump that on me?

I was talking yesterday with a group and the blessing in Numbers 6:26 came up – May the LORD turn his face toward you, and we talked about what it might mean to really be face to face with someone.

And when you place a “mask” on me, constructed by your previous experiences of religion, then surely that makes it hard to have open and honest communication, simply because you are not actually talking to me face to face, but to a projection of what has been? Or is that too hard an ask, and in fact all our human encounters are coloured by our past, and we’re all putting masks on each other?

Posted by steve at 05:14 PM

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

God at the races? you bet!

I went to the races yesterday, specifically, the New Zealand Cup, our nation’s most prestigious racing day.

1. I was struck, moving to Christchurch in 2004, at the buzz around the New Zealand Cup. What was going on? What excited people? What did it say about our society, including our local Canterbury society?
2. I teach a course that includes skills in listening to the everyday narratives of people, groups, communities and culture. One way to listen is to participate and observe people on festivals and public events. That includes the New Zealand Cup.
3. Being on sabbatical gives me time to do research, including attending a community festival, like the New Zealand Cup, with the hope of writing a paper on the everyday narratives of Kiwi’s at such events.
4. I found another Christian also interested in being a listener and learner and so felt some echo of Luke 10:1-12, in which Jesus sends out the disciples in 2’s.
5. I am good at inviting visitors to my church place, even though this is often an unfamiliar place for the people I invite. So it is good for me to reverse the roles, and to find myself in an unfamiliar world, to feel out of my depth and unsure of myself.

So I went to the races yesterday. I saw some things that moved me, including the celebration of fashion and colour and style. This seemed to echo the affirmation of God in Genesis 1 that creation is indeed good. I saw some things that disturbed me, including the vulnerable situations that young female drinkers place themselves in. This seemed to echo the reality of Genesis 3, in which God’s creation is vandalised. I saw some things that surprised me, including the singing of the national anthem and the huge crowds, despite being in the middle of a global credit crisis. I have much to think about, including what it means to speak of God’s redemption given the disparities of wealth in our society. How does a Christian respond to the vast amounts of money spent at a racetrack placed bang, smack in the middle of Addington, one of the poorer suburbs in our city?

I must also note that my presence seemed to greatly surprised some people, especially the couple who nearly fell off their seat when I told them I was a church minister. It seems that there are some places those called to be Christ-lights in the world are not meant to darken.

Posted by steve at 08:47 PM

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

ethics of gardening

“You should only be allowed to vote in New Zealand when you’ve planted a kauri.” Listener

I spent the weekend in the garden. Gardening is one of the ways I re-create. The existing beds now have corn, lettuce and spinach in them. The hanging baskets have been replanted, this year mixing flowers, tumbling tomatoes and parsley to provide both colour and food. That was Saturday. On Monday, inspired by a visit to one of the “parishioners”, last Easter, (that’s another blogpost in itself), we began turning lawn into more vegetable garden.

The Warehouse were selling kitset raised bed gardens. $99 for all the materials to cover a 1 metre square. All you need to do is sink a few screws.

I then went and priced the actual wood at the local hardware story (Mitre 10). $88 for wood to cover a 2 metre square area.

So I came home pondering the ethics. Cheaper at Mitre 10, but it relies on me having the skills and capacities to cut the wood and bang in a few nails. But not everyone has those skills. So where does that leave the Warehouse.

As a Christian, it seems to me that gardening is something that should be encouraged. Good for body and soul and a more sustainable way to live. At Opawa we give out vegetable plants as part of our Spring Clean community mission day, and have done a 3 week series on Grow through Gardening, looking at gardens in the Bible and the spirituality of gardening. So I want to applaud any initiatives to encourage people into gardening. And a ready to go kit-set garden is a great place if you don’t know how to build your own.

But $99 for less, compared to $88 for more? If you don’t have the skills, is the Warehouse making money out of you? Or is is still performing a public good that should be applauded?

Posted by steve at 09:17 AM