Wednesday, December 31, 2008

cartoon theology over a stimulating lunch

Had a most stimulating lunch with Paul Windsor, who flew down from Auckland for the day to discuss his potential D. Min dissertation. He’s making some fascinating linkages between the Engels scale, contemporary communication, the parables, church billboards and cartoons.

“fill the billboard space outside the church with self-deprecating, subversive imagery that constitutes a public confessional for our ‘unChristian’ behaviour and creates discussion in church and community”

And he’s looking for cartoonist’s to interview about how their creativity works, how they read culture and frame their responses. So, blog readers, who are the cartoonists you admire for their ability to read contemporary culture subversively, humorously, tongue well placed in cheek?

Posted by steve at 05:53 PM

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

summer worship: sustainable rather than attractional or missional

Often Kiwi churches die after Christmas. I was reflecting on the inherent lack of logic in this: we make a big effort for Christmas, then all head off on holiday. If Christmas visitors were genuinely seeking God, then we provide precious few resources once our Christmas benediction concludes. This could run the danger of being attractionable, yet could also be a shout-out for sustainable and the need to offer ongoing spiritual resourcing. Equally, people are tired and need holidays. So again this becomes a shout-out for sustainable, for finding patterns that map seasonal life with authenticity.

Sometimes I wonder if both attractional and missional are simply middle-class. They suit people with some get up and go, some energy, some ability to resource themselves, whether coming or going. Yet ministry occurs among people with real and present needs. Like the person who asked us to meet her parents after the Christmas service, and calmly announced. “Oh, you’ll be the first Christians they’ve ever met.” There are levels of support required here that are above and beyond a “see you after we’ve all holidayed.”

So this year we’re trying the “Summer Delight” series. Visually, the church is decorated with jandals/thongs (“Soulmates” from our local service station) and people are encouraged to come in sun hats, shorts and jandals. We start the service with a cup of tea/coffee, and end the service with a bring-your-own picnic. All low-key, but lots of chances to relax and catchup. Input wise, we are opening up themes like pilgrimage, faith outdoors, spiritual friendship. All this is part of deeper challenge, for Kiwis to throw of the imperialism that is the Church year, shaped by Northern Hemisphere seasonal patterns, in which advent candles work best in winter dark, Easter lilies really do bloom in spring and Pentecost can be outdoors. I mean, what would a Church year look like if Jesus had been born in Southern summer heat?

Posted by steve at 03:35 PM

Friday, December 26, 2008

merry Christmas

it just keeps on raining
veiled tears for the virgin’s birth

… They sold me a dream of Christmas, they sold me a silent night, they sold me a fairy story
but I believe in the Israelite.

nice! may this Christmas serve to sustain your belief in the Israelite,

Posted by steve at 06:21 PM

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

save. does it need a cross? do you need to spell it to know it?

Here is what I’ve just written as the sermonette for our family Christmas eve service. Back in theological college I had to write an essay – what does the Incarnation (birth and life of Jesus) have to do with the Atonement (death of Jesus)? What follows is an attempt to explore that at a kids level – to ask – what does Matthew 1:21 – Jesus will save his people – mean at Christmas and for the 33 years BEFORE the cross.

So Christmas is about God being a baby. All babies have a name and this one was named Jesus. Means – save. Because he will save people from their sins.

Save at Easter. But also save at Christmas.

Save at Christmas, because in the baby, in the manger, in the Incarnation, all the life of the universe, the one who made oceans and singing birds, who invented rough and tumble and carved the valleys …. all of that creating life was placed inside one human person.

Until Jesus at Christmas, we could turn to God and go “can’t save, can’t save. You’re in heaven, God and it’s easy up there. Come down here and try to be a human. Come down here and try to be a Christian to my sister. Come down here and have to forgive the people who pick on me at school. Can’t save. Can’t save.”

Until Jesus at Christmas, in the baby, when all the creating life is placed inside a human life. And now a human can save. Can save. Paul calls this a new Adam. Because when all the life of the universe is placed inside the baby Jesus, God can save and a human can be redeemed.

The second save at Christmas happens when the baby grows. Which means we get to see what “salvation” actually looks like. Not as an idea. Not as a set of rules. Not as a word. But inside a person.
We get to see salvation in a baby, with marconium and through sleepless nites,
as a toddler, teething and trying to talk
as a 3-4 year old, learning to play nicely with friends
at school, learning to sit still, to read and write and listen to a teacher,
as a teenager, with pimples and hormones

That’s the second save, that because of Christmas, we get to see salvation and see it grow. See what it looks like inside a person.

Which means that salvation is never only for adults. If it was good enough for Jesus, to live “saved” as a toddler and as a teen, then it’s good enough for all of us, no matter our size.

Sometimes adults look at children and go – “oh, grow up.”

Sometimes children look at adults and go – “oh, this is for big people.”

But if this Jesus was sent to save, and if the saving started as a baby, not as an adult, then saving is for for any age, for big people and for little people.

And so you have a nappy. A clean nappy. They go on a baby. And in response, to carols, readings, story, you are invited come and to place it on the manger. We’re going to sing Silent nite. You are invited to come and lay your nappy on the manger. You might want to pray:

Thankyou Jesus for wanting to save. For wanting to save me, for wanting to save my family, for wanting to save my world.

Or please. Please, Spirit of Jesus, enter into my life and help me grow as a person saved, whether toddler, teen or adult, Amen.

So what do you think? What does the life of Christ mean for our understandings of salvation? Can you talk about salvation from Christmas? Or should one always bring in Easter?

Posted by steve at 09:55 PM

and God giggled

A Christmas story. I’m not sure it’s got anything directly to do with Christmas, but it’s a great story.

A few weeks ago our 11 year old suggested that this year the Taylor family not buy a pine Christmas tree. Instead, we dig out and put up the old plastic one that lives in the garage. And that the money we save, we give to people in need.

This provoked a good deal of family discussion and weighing of priorities and deciding who we’d give the saved money to.

That was a week ago. Yesterday, the kids were off with grandparents and Lynne and I were driving down the road. As we drove past the local Anglican church, we see a sign “Free. Please take me” attached to a Christmas tree.

And we look at each other. And giggle in disbelief. And stop and take the tree home. And a real life pine tree now sits in our lounge room.

Not sure it’s got anything directly to do with Christmas, but it’s a great story to be part of. Our kids have just been part of giving, only to see God give back.

Posted by steve at 12:07 PM

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas caring with

… pastoral worship. Once again the Blue Christmas service became a space and a place on which to sit with all that can make a person blue come Christmas. Never an easy service to curate and one that always comes with lots of tears and hugs. (It’s quite disturbing to start with a welcome and a “hello, my name is Steve…” and have people reach for a tissue :)) But amongst the glitter and relentlessly upbeat carols, it’s becoming a significant and important part of Opawa’s Christmas ministry.

… cake. In what is becoming an Opawa tradition, we make a Christmas cake together at our December communion service. Then the Sunday before Christmas, pieces are wrapped up and the names and addresses of our elderly, unable to be with us at Christmas, are noted. People are asked to take a piece, and sometime before Christmas, drop it into rest homes around Christchurch, with Opawa love. This is not just the staff team caring, but the staff team providing concrete ways for Opawa to be caring, for people to connect with people, younger to connect with older. One piece is even been driven 3 hours, to be given to the Fairhalls, along with our prayers for them this Christmas.

Posted by steve at 09:34 AM

Saturday, December 20, 2008

an encouragement

From a visitor a few Sunday morning’s ago, someone whom I respect immensely: I so enjoyed coming to Opawa. Rich liturgy. Real involvement of congregation. Thought provoking, stimulating messages. Quiet peace. Warmth. Laughter. Reality! It was like having an excellent meal at a very good restaurant!

Posted by steve at 08:33 PM

Friday, December 19, 2008

peace labyrinth 2008 latimer square

This is where a lot of Opawa’s energy goes in the weeks leading up to Christmas


The peace labyrinth opened in Latimer Square, Christchurch, at 7 pm tonite, and is open 24 hours a day until Christmas eve. 900 hay bales, set out in a labyrinth, invites a peaceful, healthy walk in an inner-city park. 8 stations allow reflection on peace – including the home, workplace, with oneself, with the environment, among the poor. Brain child of Pete and Joyce Majendie. Lighting this year included advice from Bruce Ramos, U2 lighting director, who, along with family flew over from Melbourne for the weekend. He’s also shooting a video of the installation.

Tonite I watched a cop walk in, then walk out and say “I just realised I could try a Christmas service this year.” If you’re in Christchurch, check it out. More pics from 2007 here, promotional video here, interactive installation website here

Posted by steve at 10:01 PM

Thursday, December 18, 2008

U2 academic conference: New York and me



My paper proposal – Sampling and reframing: the evolving live concert performances of “Bullet the blue sky” – for the U2 Academic conference has been accepted. My plan is to use work by Walter Brueggemann and the metaphor of DJing (as developed in my Out of Bounds Church? book). With near 100 applications, I wasn’t holding my breath, but New York, May 13-15, 2009, here I come.

It was a cold and wet December day
When we touched the ground at JFK
New York, like a Christmas tree
Tonight this city belongs to me
Lyrics from Angel of Harlem, by U2

PS. Given the state of the New Zealand dollar, international airline tickets are a bit steep, so if there was anyone in New York or nearby, or on a stopover like Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco, wanting to pay for some (international!) input either side of May 13-15 on topics like: emerging church beyond US, missional church in established church settings, the Bible in contemporary cultures, creativity in mission and worship, theologies of popular culture. I could also do a paper preview! and explore the implications of U2 for mission and worship!

I can wear a variety of hats – academic PhD, or writer, or senior pastor, or emerging church planter – whatever – then drop me a line steve at emergentkiwi dot co dot nz.

Posted by steve at 03:20 PM

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

online segregation

Challenging article in Sojourners about the Digital Divide – how people link to people like them, and how that harms ministry among the poorer.

So what can we do about online segregation? It’s actually very simple compared to segregation in the physical world. It is very easy to put links on your MySpace profile, blog, or Web site to ministries such as Christian,, the Salvation Army, and Rescue Missions. Each link not only refers people to those sites, but it also boosts their popularity in search engines. It may not seem like much, but it quickly adds up.

This is not yet happening enough in the Christian community. In fact, secular commercial companies such as MySpace have driven much more traffic to our Web sites than Christian sites have, because these companies realize the value of corporate philanthropy.

Posted by steve at 09:38 AM

thinking Christmas

Helpful post on Christmas, church, mission and the Simpsons. The evangelical church as Comic Book Guy.

“Imagine Christmas as being like a giant bookstore, with a range of books; some serious, some populist, some trashy, some noble. Every book is a “Christmas” book though, of course, not every book is equal. People are browsing and choosing, talking and comparing. It’s an active and buzzing place – most people are not sure why they are there, but they are trying to make sense of it and trying to have a little fun. Do we really want to be hanging out in the comics section, chugging a slurpy and passing judgement on the people who “don’t get it?”

Which sits beautifully alongside yesterday’s Lectionary reading; Daniel 5:11, in which Daniel is described as “chief of the fortune-tellers, magicians, wizards and astrologers.” Most Christians would run a mile from that sort of ministry and would love to condemn those in such a ministry. Yet Daniel was able to honour God in the midst of a hot bed of alternative spiritualities.

Last Advent, I was preaching in our evening service. I got up and started reading the horoscopes from the local newspaper. You could hear a pin drop, and lots of uncomfortable feet shuffling! Generally, people like me at Opawa, but this was really pushing things. And then I started talking about the wise men, who followed their horoscopes to Jesus.

So how do the magi help us learn about God? The question takes me back to my introduction, some of you were probably a bit shocked, with me reading the horoscope. Same sort of shock in Matthews’s church when they heard about magi. For a Jew, following stars was idol worship. And so by including magi, Matthew is telling us that all sorts of people can seek Jesus, and they are not always from folks we’d prefer. That Jesus is not just Savior of his Israel! But he’s the saviour of all people. A king of the Jews who will rule also Gentiles.

It was a very powerful moment, as all of us realised how quickly we dismiss what is strange and unfamiliar.

Posted by steve at 09:12 AM

Monday, December 15, 2008

summer delight

Time off in the last few weeks has focused around converting the back lawn into 5 new no-dig garden beds, including one each for the girls. Lot of work, lot of satisfaction.

Updated: plantings include lettuce, boysenberries, peas, beans, pumpkin, tomato, celery, flowers, corn, peppers, onions, red onions, basil, chives, carrots, radish, potatoes (any day)

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM

Friday, December 12, 2008

Opawa blue christmas service 08

bluechristmas1300.jpg The Press on Tuesday called Advent 2008 the season of grief, noting the death of taxi driver Abdulrahman Ikhtiari, the recent Air New Zealand crash, needless road accidents and the Elim School tragedy in April. Amid the joy of Christmas can be pain and sadness, as we remember absent friends, difficult circumstances or the death of a loved one. The Blue Christmas service will make a “blue tent” in memory of all that makes us blue. It will also use prayer, symbol, silence and a personal story of a blue Christmas, to affirm that Emmanuel God-with-us cares and loves us in our blue times.

West Wing Church foyer, Opawa Baptist, 7:30-8:30 pm, December 17th.

Posted by steve at 04:35 PM

Thursday, December 11, 2008

something done

Study leave ultimately is meant to produce outcomes! Publish or perish. All those words typed into a keyboard, are then destined to endure the red pen of an editor, the hard glare of peers and finally the cold, hard light of day, as published work. Along the way, the initial glow fades and one’s brilliance is replaced by the rigorous work of refinement and clarification. This is why I still think there is a place for book and journal writing in the internet world. Writing for blogs is fun and fast (and often inflammatory in the hope of hits), but is a different discipline from the cold, hard slow scrutiny of printed publication, with each and every word weighed and weighted.

All this to say that I have just ticked off my first concrete sabbatical outcome and the better half of the emergentkiwi partnership tells me to celebrate. I have just sent off a chapter (A pneumatology for an everyday theology: whither the anonymous Spirit in Luke 10:1-12?) for a book on the Spirit in theology today. It began life as a conference paper in August, was debated by an Adelaide theological post-grad forum in October and endured 2 edits via my noble co-researcher. A publisher has expressed interest and an editor has compiled a range of chapters. I have done my bit and the 6,600 words are now in the hands of the vagaries called “with publisher.” All I can now do is wait.

Here’s a paragraph: This leaves a question with regard to discernment. Invoking categories of the Spirit at work in “the world” leaves one open to the accusation of “how low can you go” and of being on the slippery slope toward liberalism. Brown sums it up well: “The claim is that the world is fallen, and so cannot be read properly unless it is approached from the perspective of the Christian faith and not the other way round …. For too long [the doctrine of Original Sin] has been used to yield selective negative verdicts only on what happens outside the Church.” Yet in contrast to the monolithic nature of such assertions, Luke 10:1-12 offers a plurality of categories with regard to the materiality of “the world.” The text simply refuses to “baptise” all things cultural as Christian. Instead, the Kingdom is to be named both in receptivity (“Stay there eating and drinking” (10:9, NRSV)) and in rejection (“Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you” (10:11, NRSV)). Discernment must be thus multi-faceted rather than simply the breathless adulation of “theology” in all things everyday and popular.

Posted by steve at 02:31 PM