Sunday, August 30, 2009

eli and samuel: from sunday school to (another) male text of terror

Just back from an (excellent) weekend away with Opawa men. The theme was “We’ll be in the shed” and the focus was being male today. Alongside lots of relaxing, eating, relating, we gathered around themes of being Christian and being male. Everyone was invited to bring something from their shed and in the midst of our uniqueness and passion we honoured the life of Christ.

This morning I led a lectio divina engagement with 1 Samuel 3. We read the text slowly three times. The second time half the room were invited to hear the text as a young boy and to wonder what it would have been like to be Samuel in the story. The third time the other half the room were invited to hear the text as an older man and to wonder what it would have been like to be Eli in the story.

Slowly, reading the text closely, the romantic Sunday school layers many of us had of this text were peeled back. It began a frank and robust discussion of Eli, a prophet of God, who is judged for his parenting. What sort of God would do that? Was this fair? As Eli aged, did he in fact grow further away from God?

These are not abstract questions, for many of us are parents. Having children has changed us. How much guilt do each of us carry over our parenting? How will we cope when our parenting dreams are met by the free will choices of our children?

In that sense, the Eli/Samuel text became a “text of terror” for us as males. (I borrow the term from Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality in which he (with a nod to Phyllis Trible’s work on Bible Texts of Terror Paper (Overtures to Biblical Theology) for women) explores Bible texts that challenge men – Abraham’s relationship with his sons, David’s relationship with his sons, Jesus masculinity – and what it means to be male today.) I love it when the Bible gets under our skin. It did that today, holding a mirror to our parenting and our aging.

It helped us face our fears – of growing old, growing bitter, growing passive in our relationship with God. Oddly, in the midst of these questions, there was a growing sense of companionship. I realised I was less alone. I was among those who have gone before me, and others who are coming behind me. Together, there was a shared pain, a shared strength and a growing commitment.

Further links
For more on male spirituality see. For fathers day worship resources see here, for fathers day worship and communion go here. For fathers day preaching resources see here.

Posted by steve at 09:54 PM

Friday, August 28, 2009

an apologetic for evil

Following on from my recent post, a narrative theology concerning evil, I have been pondering whether Christians need to explain evil.

Much ink has been spilt on whether, if there is a God, did this God create evil? And if there is Satan, can we say the devil made me do it?

But we live post-Auschwitz. Is the task to philosophise? Or to weep?

I remember once being part of volunteer training event. The phone rang, with news of a suicide. The room went silent, sickened by the pain seeping into the room. The person taking the phone call shouted to me across the room “What would the Christian God say?” All the room, many non-Christian, looked at me, awaiting my reply.

I still think it an absurd question. The Christian God would visit and would weep and would rage and say My God, why have you forsaken us. It would not philosophise.

And in the months to come? Would it then philosophise? Or would it still not visit and weep and rage and say My God, why have you forsaken us?

Or am I just ducking hard issues?

It’s been a tough week for Opawa Baptist. Can’t say more here. Perhaps later. So this post is not a theory.

Posted by steve at 05:54 PM

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

a narrative approach to a theology of evil

Lots of stories are happy stories. Yet we live in a dark world. Babies get hurt. People grieve. Relationships break. This raises the question as to the presence of evil. Are there bad forces, outside humans, that contribute to human pain and destruction? If so, how should their presence shape human behaviour? Here’s a short story, a dark story, that I wrote for our Grow evening service, trying to get my head around evil and being human. I’m not sure if it works, or if I like it, so I’ll post it here.

The advertising catches your eye. The Bible Horror puppet show. Human puppets performing avant garde interactive theatre.

Intrigued you purchase your ticket, score your ice cream and settle in.

The scenes unfold. The early acts intrigue. Moments of awe-inspiring creativity and star-studded destiny are interspersed with hints of a darker human horror, of cold campfire stories of incest, forced rape, planned assassination.

Intrigued at first intermission, you contrast and compare the puppet costuming in the crowded foyer.

The Job act makes for even more disturbed viewing. A son of God storms the stage and stalks the earth. Cast as accuser, waving divinely sanctioned permission slips, he plots evil. Women are stabbed and flesh of sheep and settler is burnt. Amid the smoke and in a climactic moment of horror, a destructive tornado whips sand into a frenzy, killing family and friends gathered for a family feast.

Appalled, sickened by the violence, you stumble through the second intermission. Only to realise, with a sickening stomach, that the horror has just begun. Appalled, you watch the final Revelation scene unfold.

A dark star crashes.

An abyss opens and smoke billows. Locusts emerge, chasing screaming humans across the stage. Scenes of torture ensure, humans writhing, screaming for mercy.

Toes curled in horror, chilled by the seemingly random violence, you suddenly feel a breath on your shoulder. Hair standing on end, deeply unsettled, you feel a presence settling beside you.

“Don’t worry,” the voice breathes. “I own the theatre.”

You turn, appalled by the seeming callous indifference of a threatre owner to the escalating scenes of horror.

The voice continues. “In this theatre, the ending belongs you to me.”

Eyes widening in disbelief, you suddenly see movement. The puppet show has a puppetter. Dimly lit, high in the scaffolds, joker-like, a figure huddles over his puppets – the locusts and random tornados – skillfully manipulative, seemingly intent on wreaking destruction.

The voice continues, quiet, careful. “It’s interactive theatre. The actors can all make choices. So can the audiences.”

Puzzled, you turn. “So if you don’t like anything, just yell. Some call the yells prayer. Others describe them as acts of repentance or moments of protest. Still others hear them as howls of lament and protest or describe strength found in bread broken and the chant “My God, My God, why have you forsaken us.””

“Whatever the name, however the actions, this is interactive theatre. Actors and audience can always change this play, force the joker to move. That’s the rules in the Bible horror picture show.”

The voice fades as the final curtain fall begins.

A note of explanation (ie. Biblical shaping). (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:44 PM

Sunday, August 23, 2009

digital faith conference

Steve Garner asked me to mention this ….

DIGITAL FAITH: Exploring the contours of faith in our digital world

How do the Christian faith and the Internet impact upon each other? What place might the Bible have in our digital world? Come and join us as our panel of expert speakers engage with these topics and others relating to issues of faith in the digital world.

Mark Brown, CEO, Bible Society New Zealand
Founder Anglican Cathedral in Second Life.

Stephen Garner, Lecturer in Theology and Popular Culture,
School of Theology, University of Auckland.

Heidi Campbell, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Communication, Texas A&M University
Author of Exploring Religious Community Online.

Tim Bulkeley, Lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College
Developer of the Amos Hypertext Commentary & podBible projects.

Saturday 5 September 2009, 9am-12pm. OGGB4 Lecture Theatre, Level 0, Owen G Glenn Building, 12 Grafton Road, The University of Auckland. Please REGISTER your attendance by Wednesday 2 September with theologyadmin AT auckland DOT ac DOT nz

Posted by steve at 10:27 PM

Saturday, August 22, 2009

global style lovely review

There is a lovely review of my Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (Emergent Ys) book just appeared on

Titled: Written in New Zealand, published in US and quite useful also in Latin America it reads as follows: How does Taylor’s book translate into a Latin American situation? I would answer rhetorically: Was it not really written with churches in São Paulo in mind? To start with, the problems are the very same: churches, small and large, which, ignoring the obvious cultural changes, use the same communication and teaching methods of almost a century ago. This condition is perpetuated by pastors who seem not to live in the Age of Information. Therefore, also here in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking America, the churches need to become missional in a postmodern way, responding with creative and flexible structures and movements to the culture of change. Not only the principles, but also the practical ideas presented by Steve Taylor in The Out of Bounds Church? apply perfectly to urban Latin America. They are relevant for São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Montevideo, etc. We can see ourselves in the Kiwi book. Contextual differences play a lesser role than our share in postmodern culture. Then, dear Steve, “waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa” (Maori proverb: “Let us keep close together, not far apart”).

Finishing with a Maori proverb. Now that’s classy aye!

Posted by steve at 10:13 PM

emerging disciples resources: a work in progress

Thanks to those who attended my Emerging disciples workshop in Auckland yesterday. A number of you stayed after to ask specific questions about resources, and I referred you to my blog. Since there’s a lot of stuff here, I will try and draw it together (over the next few days and in between hockey and church). ie this blog post a work in progress (more…)

Posted by steve at 02:02 PM

Friday, August 21, 2009

a personal challenge for Steve the church minister

“Pastoral ministry always comes back to you, the minister. This is the bummer of being a minister. It’s also why it’s a great job. A huge personal growth challenge which you get with very few other jobs.”

Nigel Wright, Baptist leader, Thursday, August 19.

Posted by steve at 10:47 AM

Thursday, August 20, 2009

emerging disciples

I’m off to Auckland this evening to speak at the 21st Century Challenges to the Gospel conference, organised by Laidlaw College. Here is a PDF of my 2 page handout.

They gave me the topic of “emerging church” but I asked for it to be changed to “emerging disciples.”

Partly because I’m sick of talking about “church”, but mostly it’s where I am at the moment in terms of ministry at Opawa. We have good numbers of searchers among us, particularly from our local community, and so our season is a “discipling” season, with particular emphasis on two groups (using John Drane’s Do Christians Know How to Be Spiritual? typology) – spiritual searchers and the poorer.

Updated: for notes go here.

Posted by steve at 10:15 AM

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jesus as mother prayers

Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children
– Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:7

Truly Lord, you are a mother
for both they who are in labour
and they who are brought forth
are accepted by you.
– Anselm of Canterbury

Suck not so much the wounds as the breasts of the Crucified.
He will be your mother and you will be his son.
– Bernard of Clairvaux

But our true Mother Jesus, he alone bears us for joy and for endless life,
blessed may he be. So he carries us within him in love and travail
– Julian of Norwich

From Giving Birth: Reclaiming Biblical Metaphor for Pastoral Practice. Part of my research, for a workshop I’m leading on Friday in Auckland on “Emerging disciples”, with a sub-section addressing the theme of discipleship as midwiving.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

in a tangle over membership

Sunday morning service included the welcoming of 6 new members at church. This included a family of 5 from the Philipines and made for an exciting service.

On the way home my children floored me. “Dad, are we church members? We listened to what you said (by way of introduction). You talked about membership as belonging, and membership as participation. So we can be members. Right?”

As baptists, we have a number of rites of “theological” passage: membership, baptism and communion. Historically, they are not generally reserved for children. But looking at my kids, I’m suddenly not actually saw why not. If my kids participate and feel they belong, why can’t they be members?

Help me with theology of children and faith development folks.

For more on membership:

Posted by steve at 11:53 PM

living the Bible in adelaide

I am down to teach a 4 day intensive Living the Bible, Sept 28 to Oct 1, at Tabor College, Adelaide (scroll down). It’s probably my signature course, exploring how to use the Bible from both a theological and missiological perspective, with heaps of case studies of what that actually looks like.

Enrolments are slow and Tabor are wondering about whether to cancel – which would be a pain, and have some cost, because tickets are already booked. So if any Aussie/Adelaide punters were contemplating it, can you please contact Graham Buxton (gbuxton at adelaide dot tabor dot edu dot au) ASAP.

Posted by steve at 10:14 PM

Sunday, August 16, 2009

u2 downunder

“Part of the tour will finish in Australia and another part of the tour will finish in South America, where people could use a nice concert pavilion in a park, which has an ability to take 200 tonnes of kit hanging under it,” Mark Fisher [stage designer said).

The article talks about how U2 want to see their innovative “claw” concert stage used as a local park concert venue, as their tour ends.

So on behalf of U2, this blog is taking nominations for parks downunder. Please leave your reasons in the comments section.

Posted by steve at 09:37 AM

Friday, August 14, 2009

mission collective: living (night 2) reflections

Our second round of mission collectives has just kicked off. I’m just back from the living collective. (Creating meets tomorrow evening, then Loving gathers over Sunday lunch). The aim is to affirm the diversity of our life, gather in a conversational manner (4 times a year) around mission. Tonight I’ve been sitting in a shop, the workplace, of one of our congregation, collecting around the challenge of being salt and light with neighbours and in our workplaces.

In my bag is a blank card, with the words: Live your faith. Share your life, and a verse that encourages us to start by sharing life with people. It’s proved such an eye opener, a reminder of the need to be fully human, real, vulnerable with people.

During the evening P. shared how the off the map interviews we showed last time had inspired him to do an “off the map” interview with their neighbours, and the value and insight experienced in simply listening to the spiritual search of another. M. shared how God has changed her and her friends notice that, so she simply tells them it happened at Opawa and they come along. A. called me over to share that the “grandparenting” role I suggested he try two years ago is still going with one of our young adults. S. asked if I remembered the first time she came to church and how rude she felt she was and how my response lowered her defensives and now she’s an “apprentice” Christian.

I drove home, my heart singing. It’s been a tough week for me, people in my ear about this and that. But its nights like this that make it all worthwhile – honest people caring enough about mission to gather tired bodies and the stories of lives changed and changing.

Posted by steve at 10:50 PM

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

stuff that’s making me weep

This makes me weep. It makes me want to hug my children, scream in anger and change my buying habits.

It’s also, intellectually, a superb example of culture-making, of poetic and ethical imagination amid the practices of everyday life. Let me explain. I’ve been talking a bit recently about culture making, drawing from the superb book by Andy Crouch , Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, to remind us that in response to cultural change, any and all of us can be culture-makers. Rather than condemn, critique, copy or consume, in echoes of Genesis 2, humans can be culture-makers.

I also want to add a number of nuances to this notion of culture-making. First, to add in Richard Kearney’s The Wake of Imagination in which he argues for imagination as both poetic and ethical. The first, poetic, relates to our commitment to create, as God’s image-bearers. The second, ethical, invites us to create in ways that focus on the other, on the least, on the marginalised, aware of the absent voices.

Second, Michel de Certeau’s, The Practice of Everyday Life and his insistence that culture-making occurs in the midst of the ordinary and everday.

So for me this Radiohead video brings these strands together. Consider that it arises from a pop-culture world which is now our globe’s ordinary and everyday. It is also set among the everyday activities of getting dressed for school, an activity which ‘000’s of Western kids, like my kids, do each day. Further, it is an act of both poetic and ethical imagination, a video clip that forces us to think about who makes our shoes, and how they spend their every day. Third, as a piece of music and as a video, it is an act of culture-making, refusing to condemn, critique, copy or consume, but creatively addressing an issue in our world today. In so doing, it offers us a challenge: as a result of that video, what will we do? Consume? or act?

For more on Radiohead videos.

Posted by steve at 03:15 PM