Sunday, December 13, 2009

growing congregational capacity to engage the Bible

For those wrestling with how to deepen congregational capacity around the Bible, and who learn from others adventures, here’s what I did this morning. The Bible text was available in three formats:
- a postcard sized card, professionally printed (one of series of four “blessings”)
- as a powerpoint slide
- as a 10 metre high banner in the church (one of a set of four).

Four times during the sermon I invited a minute’s silence. Each time, I invited the congregation to read the text for themselves (whether by postcard, banner or powerpoint) and engage a different set of questions:

  • first – What word or phrase strikes us? What questions does it raise?
  • second – What life experiences does it connect with?
  • third – How does this part fit with the rest of the Bible book?
  • fourth – What other Bible verses, or Bible stories, does this bring to mind?

When appropriate (all except third time) I asked for congregational feedback, and then shared some our my thoughts, emerging from my research, reading, commentary digging during the week. I pointed out at the end that this is a model for how any of us can read the Bible – it honours the text, our life experience, literary genre and the flow of God’s big story.

I’ve blogged before (here, here, here and here) about the weakness of “one voice is the expert” and of “sharing as pooling of ignorance.” It seems to me that approaches as detailed above honour both the reservoir of knowledge that exists about original context, the diversity of life experience we all bring, the wisdom of the community and the need for all of us, publicly and privately, to be doing the hard yards of listening to God around Scripture.

Specifically what I did offered a
a) guided space for people to engage Bible for themselves
b) conversational interaction, hearing each other in community
c) shared input, from the commentaries, my life, and the history of church
d) a clear process which can then be taken and applied in other contexts.

It’s still a little bit head-based for my liking. But this is 10:30 am. After six years at Opawa, we have a variety of congregations that offer a huge range of ways to connect with God. You can art at Sidedoor, smell and feel at Soak, discuss at espresso, hymn sing, culturally connect at Grow. Bottom-line, some people still find it most helpful to sit and think with their heads. So we need “sitting and thinking” places, like 10:30 Sunday morning!

Posted by steve at 04:32 PM

Friday, December 11, 2009

the spirit, worship, leadership. but outside the gathered?

Some random thoughts have been churning through my head. They are a mix of pastoral encounters with people in hard places, who no longer feel able to pray. And the ongoing tension of being a pastoral leader in today’s post-Christendom context, when the gathered expect my feeding, but the mission task keeps itching. And engaging (through study and reading this week) Romans 8:26, in which the Spirit prays for us.

And wondering if this prayer is embodied, takes shape in the habits of the praying community and the praying leader. As in Anunication, baptism, transfiguration, resurrection, pentecost, the Spirit finds concrete shape in human things, so does this prayer of the Spirit take shape in the prayers of the saints?

And all of this stimulated by watching U2 live in Raleigh. (Yes, yet another U2 reference on this blog. Sorry for being stuck in a moment. This time will pass!).  Third song in is Mysterious ways. At the end, Bono invokes the Spirit. (See a clip here).

He literally names the one who moves us as the Spirit (3:45 “Spirit teach me, reach me), and then shifts from singular to plural (is the “we” the band or the crowd?), inviting that Spirit to come and be present (3:55 “we move with it”). And the lighting switches from being band-centric, to mirror-ball, with white light moving over the crowd (4:08). A magic moment, as for the first time the crowd are lit. 

And the part of me that is not dancing and enjoying, but is paying attention wonders if this is coincidence, or if I am hearing Bono right, and seeing the light correct. Is the Spirit being invoked to be present at a rock concert, to play not just over a band member, but over all those gathered? If so, is this part of Romans 8:26, in which the Spirit is praying for the aches and pains of the gathered thousands, through the words and invitation of a singer, and underlined by a lighting director?

And if so, how to make sense  – theological, liturgical, congregational – of that moment, and other moments, when the Spirit is invoked beyond the gathered church?

Many will have never make this connection I have made. Does this matter? Is this “prayer” still “for” them? Many of them will not consider themselves “Amen-ers” ready to say yes to the work of the Spirit in them. Does this matter? How is this “prayer” still “for” them? But many will go on in the concert to pray and to enact justice on behalf of the One campaign. So is this then their participation in an activity of the Spirit?

Such are the thoughts that wriggle through my head at the moment.

Posted by steve at 12:14 PM

Thursday, December 10, 2009

bono: third way’s icon of the month

I’ve been beating my head for the last few weeks around a couple of sentences in a chapter I’m writing: struggling to know how to express what I consider messianic pretentiousness in Bono’s claim in this Youtube video that songs can change the world.

So it was a relief to find Bono’s messianic pretentiousness captured by no less a luminary than Bruce Springsteen, who

observed, when inducting U2 into the rock and roll hall of fame that ‘every good … front man knows that before James Brown there was Jesus’. And Bono, as the Boss suggests, seems to know this better than most.

A quote as part of the December edition of Third way magazine, who have named Bono as their icon of the month. (They do an icon a month and it’s a fantastic resource for cultural studies, which I drew on for my Gospel in post-Christian class earlier this year with every student reflecting on the use and abuses of such things as – Nike, football pitch, play station, widescreen TV – in our world today.)

Which needs to be placed alongside John Drane’s incisive little book Celebrity Culture. John argues that today’s celebrity culture offers a fantastic opportunity for the gospel. Specifically

  • that our fascination with celebrities reminds us that for many humans, truth is embodied and experienced as relational and personal
  • that we no longer expect our celebrities to be completely perfect. Indeed, that their pain as they struggle to be a person of value is good news, for it portrays a form of honest discipleship that is deeply Biblical.
  • the contemporary human fascination with the warts and all of life, including the spiritual search, asks questions about how authentically open are most Christians in their spiritual search

And for a wonderful exposition of this theology of “celebrity culture”, see the Drane’s post on the death of celebrity Jane Goodie.

So thanks Bono, for even if your songs can’t change a world, nevertheless, in your stubbled way, you help me stumble toward my being formed in the way of Christ.

Posted by steve at 04:36 PM

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Dark Victory: a window onto real Australia?

while sick, I read Dark Victory.

John Howard (then Prime Minister of Australia) said of the people rescued by the Tampa and sent for processing to Nauru, “We have always stood ready to take our fair share’. In the end, New Zealand took 186. Australia took one.” (page 289)

This book investigates recent Australian political history, most particular August 23-November 10, 2001. It begins with the Tampa incident, in which a boatload of refugees, seeking refugee status in Australia, were rescued by a passing cargo ship, the Tampa and then refused entry into Australia. It documents the politics, including the way John Howard and his Labour Liberal party fought, and won, an election, by merging a post 9/11 fear of terrorism with the arrival of Afghan and Iraqi people seeking refuge in Australia. It describes the military role, including towing boats back to Indonesia and the death and trauma that resulted. (The net impact was the forcing of 2390 boat people away from Australia, at a cool cost of about $500 million).

In doing so it suggests a profound racism lies at the heart of Australia, what one commentator called “dog whistle” politics, pitching a message to one group of voters that other groups do not hear. It raises some disturbing questions about the lack of hospitality in Australia, and the privileging of (white) colour.

The book is compelling written (I read it in a day, while sick), mixing personal narratives with the complex machinations of government affairs, military chains of command and media response. It is surprisingly free of editorialising, choosing instead to simply lay out the facts.

From a missiological perspective, it is interesting to see the church portrayed as prophetic in it’s critique of the government, sounding a clear call on behalf of the poor and dispossessed. This however, was what I call church “powerful” – leaders and thinkers. It left me wondering what on earth was happened at the local congregational level. What were pastors in rural churches preaching (or not preaching), during this period. (That would make a fascinating research project).

It is easy to feel a bit smug, reading this as a New Zealander, hearing our name mentioned as a country willing to make space. The cynical part of me wonders what would happen if we weren’t protected by the great red land, and if boat people were arriving on our shores? Is their “dog whistle” politics at work when Brash talks of Kiwi not iwi, or Winston Peters wants New Zealand land for New Zealand owners?

Posted by steve at 01:42 PM

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas Journey floats in Santa Parade

The Christmas journey is up in Latimer Square, Christchurch, again this year. About 1,000 bales of hay are used to create a labyrinth, in which various stations reflecting on peace are staged. Latimer Square is a major thoroughfare in the central city, and a redlight area at night, so it’s a neat place to offer Christian spiritual practice.

To help with promotion, the Journey placed a float in the citywide Santa Parade. The sides are painted by a local community youth trust. The four towers, with Advent words are set in the four corners. The centre peace is a laminated list of names from the phone book, with Pentecost symbols, to denote the Spirit at the Anunciation.

From the rear, a grassed area is visible, on which are stuck some “stick people” (driftwood, with eyes). These are given at the start of the labyrinth and people are invited to place them at the central stable area. Over 2,500 of these stick people were given out at the Santa parade, with the hope they will bring them to the labyrinth when it opens just before Christmas.

The Christmas journey represents one of the key evolutions in “emerging church” in the last 5 years – that of large scale outdoor creative engagement. The creativity and contextuality often used to re-frame worship has now been focused on the public square, to offer spiritual practice outside the church. These types of initiative are important in keeping alive the Christmas story, in a society where the Christian story is less known. The downside is that they are extremely labour intensive and can rely on the creativity of a few. They also make problematic the relationship between individualised experience and Christian community.

Posted by steve at 01:33 PM

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Preaching benedictions (2 Corinthians 13:14) or theology in a hard place

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my pastoral experience of finding myself locked, temporarily and unexpectedly, in a psychiatric hospital ward.

Today’s sermon continued our Advent blessing and is a text we often hear inside the comfortable walls of the church, as a final benediction. But what does the blessing mean in the hard places. So the sermon (script to be spoken) sought to relate the Bible text to that experience. (more…)

Posted by steve at 03:06 PM

Friday, December 04, 2009

new church website

A few weeks ago I had a day of sick leave, looking after Lynne who had lost some wisdom teeth. Given that she decided to heal by sleeping, I had a play with the Opawa website. The old one was 5 years old, so it was well broke.

Anyhow, here is the new one …. (still not perfect, but so much better than the old one that it was worth putting up even half done).

This one has new wordpress software, which enables greater sp*m control and allows us to include video. It’s in more of a magazine style, which we hope looks more appealing and allows us to better promote our congregations (in the featured section). It’s got a nice use of headings, allowing us to showcase our mission, our place, our people, our faith, our story etc.

So what do you think? What would you like to see added – from the perspective of spiritual searcher, a Christian tourist or an Opawa-ite?

Posted by steve at 09:48 PM

first day in the new office

freshly painted
newly carpeted
clean and fresh

and in the new office, I met with people to

  • plan Opawa’s first ever local community Christmas lunch and how to offer it with dignity
  • brainstorm about the future of the Gathering, our local mission initiative birthed this year
  • collected names in order to write thankyou cards to our voluntary leaders who serve our youth and kids (currently stands at 22 volunteers, which is pretty outstanding really)

I like that. Buildings for planning mission.

With the offices done, the builders have now started on the foyer renovations and kitchen/cafe area. In a few months, meetings could well be about

  • the cafe opening to the community
  • launching the Economic Development Fund encouraging local micro-business initiatives as part of community development
  • providing food for “Learning days”, like Job Interview Skills; Gardening Skills; Sensemaking Faith; Budgeting; TradeMe; Culturemakers Reading Group; How to Read the Bible.

All very encouraging.  Despite the Taylor’s imminent departure, all around the place I see people stepping into leadership, saying yes to a new season and preparing themselves for a new year with missionality (new word I’m coining meaning mission + intentionality).

Posted by steve at 03:53 PM

Thursday, December 03, 2009

some days are better than others: reseaching U2

I’ve just emailed a UK music producer, John Reynolds. He is responsible for producing the chant by Sinead O’Connor, that begins the live performance of Bullet the Blue Sky on the U2 Go Home – Live from Slane Castle DVD. It’s a gorgeous chant: rich, evocative and moody.

Since I’m researching the evolving live performances of U2, and seeking to turn a spoken 2,500 word paper into a 6,000 word book chapter, I am intrigued:
- Is Sinead singing any particular lyrics, or is she just offering a chant, perhaps as some sort of lament?
- What Sinead might have been hoping to communicate with the chant and how she felt about the way U2 incorporated it into their live performance?
- How the production process evolved, including was it initially requested by U2 or offered by Sinead?

I’ve asked for help on the atU2 forums (yep, part of research is reading fan sites!)

Some days, research is fun! (And is also an excellent excuse to keep me away from writing, which is what I am really meant to be doing).

Posted by steve at 02:49 PM

Double Rainbow: a missiology for the least of these

I’ve been really enjoying The Double Rainbow: James K Baxter, Ngati Hau and the Jerusalem Commune by John Newton. It’s beautifully written, an important study of what is quite a unique form of emerging church, commune’s in the 1970s.

Here’s part of the introduction.

“When Maori and pakeha do these things together, the double rainbow begins to shine.” The double rainbow is Baxter’s symbol for a mutually regenerative bicultural relationship … Pakeka culture’s material dominance was accompanied by an arrogance and ethnocentrism which left it spiritually impoverished. “The Maori is indeed the elder brother and the Pakeha the younger brother. But the [younger brother] has refused to learn from the [elder brother]. He has sat sullenly among his machines and account books, and wondered why his soul was full of bitter dust.”

The book explores Baxter’s forming of the community at Jerusalem. It describes the impact of Parihaka on Baxter and how it turned him toward Maori culture. So much of Baxter’s arrival at Jerusalem has echos of Luke 10:1-12, of Baxter arriving barefoot and throwing himself on the hospitality of the local Maori.

The book moves beyond Baxter’s death, describing the emphasis on the least of the these, nga mokai, the fatherless and nga raukore, the trees who have had their leaves stripped, and the place of relationships and love in the healing of broken people and mental illness. It is a totally unique story: a Pakeha community built on Maori terms.

A lot of my creativity and reading in the last month has been around Kiwi mission themes (Parihaka, local peace stories). I’ve found it energised and humbling. And perplexing. Why, when I’m moving to Australia, am I so challenged? Isn’t it a waste? Shouldn’t I be staying, continuing to thrive in this Kiwi soil? I have no answers, simply wanting to name my confusion.

Posted by steve at 11:32 AM

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

an advent blessing: some great u2 theology

Following posts on Advent creative prayers stations and Advent creative spirituality2go home prayer activities, here’s an Advent blessing I’m pondering.

It’s not mine. It’s from Bono. At the end of City of Blinding lights, live streamed on the internet from Los Angeles, he ad libbed a new ending:

Blessings, not just for the ones who kneel
Luckily, luckily
We don’t believe in luck.
Grace abounds.
Grace abounds.

Seems to me to be great theology and particularly suitable for Advent. It was so easy for Israel to think they were the centre of God’s world. And so easy for the church and Christians to think today they are the centre of God’s world. But as we are reminded in Psalm 67: 1-2
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us,
that your ways may be known on earth, 
your salvation among all nations.

God’s face shines most fully both on Jesus, and in Jesus. A message not just for the lucky ones, but for all upon whom God’s grace abounds.

Posted by steve at 05:03 PM

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

advent blessings as spirituality to go

Following on from some excellent feedback on some advent creative prayer stations, here are four more, that could easily be home-based, during the week Advent activities. Again they sync with our Advent 2009 theme of blessings.

ADVENT ONE: Choose white candle. Mark 24 notches in it. On a piece of paper, or in your journal, write the names of 24 people or places you want God to bless this Advent. Burn one segment a day.

ADVENT TWO:Each day this week, take a can of food out of your pantry. Read the labels. Consider who made it. What will Christmas be like for them? This Advent, what might it mean for you to join with Christians who pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

ADVENT THREE: Make a list of your enemies. It might be someone who has hurt you and it still gets to you. It might be someone in the Christian community you disagree with, or a political opponent or someone you feel ripped you off. Place their names carefully in a blessing bowl, as you do imagining that you are letting them go by placing them in God’s hands.

ADVENT FOUR: Take some time to consider joy this week. Start by finding some bubbles. (If you don’t know, ask a child). Use the bubbles to pray. What words describe their shape, their colour, their flight? Blow these prayers on yourself. Blow them on the places you sleep and eat. Blow them on your pets. Be bold and blow them down your street.

Posted by steve at 03:23 PM