Saturday, February 27, 2010

lectio lenten offerings: men and the Easter story

When you leave a church, you always wonder what will emerge, especially in the interim space while the search for new leaders takes shape.

So a great delight to get an email last nite from friends at Opawa Baptist, with news of a new initiative, a group for men, using lectio divino, with a particular focus on men and the Easter story. A sort of baptist approach to Lent!

The three guys organising it all have their own story: one baptised the last Sunday I was at Opawa, one blossoming in his creative writing, abilities, another recent to Opawa. So great to see some men coming together to simply making space to sit around the Bible. Classy visuals, which include some personally crafted opening and closing prayers.

Great stuff. Wish I was there!

Posted by steve at 03:53 PM

Friday, February 26, 2010

one day while talking

So we sat. She was Aboriginal and waiting for a meeting. We’d met a few times in the last month and so this was a chance to be relational.

So we sat. And we talked. About life and change. About cultures and crossing. About relationships and pain. It was such a hopeful, empowering conversation and I came away with two gifts, two words: replacement and process.

When you lose something, you need to have it replaced. So what needs to be replaced in the lives of so many people, particularly Aboriginal men, who have lost so much? We can’t go back. We don’t want to stay stuck in a moment. So how can we replace what’s lost?

And process. It takes time to replace something. Just like becoming a Christian. Sure you say the words, but discipleship is a life long journey. And so the replacement needs to be a process. Saying sorry is a start. A very important start. But only as part of a process.

Posted by steve at 08:44 AM

Thursday, February 25, 2010

images of church in society: Why we need salt not exodus

Exodus is a powerful and repeated Biblical motif. For Israel, and for many oppressed people’s through time, it has defined a profound liberation from bondage and a life of service in response to a God who led through perils to a new land.

But spatially, Exodus relies on a “going out.” The people are to leave behind what is bad.

Contrast the metaphor of exodus with the metaphor of salt and leaven, which work only by staying within. Salt needs meat, leaven needs dough and so the metaphor acts spatially, in a startlingly different way than Exodus. Rather than leave in order to become God’s community, we become God’s community from within, by digging in and staying put, by infiltration, rather than by separation and removal.

Marianne Sawicki suggests that this metaphor, of salt and leaven, was actually the dominant metaphor for the very early church.

“Jesus’ first followers knew that there was no escape, no place to get away from the civil war and personal evils confronting them. They had to figure out how to live in a landscape compromised by colonial oppressions. They would seek and find God’s kingdom precisely in the midst of that.” (Marianne Sawicki, Crossing Galilee: Architectures of Contact in the Occupied Land of Jesus, 155)

She describes this as a “stealth operation” that looks for the Kingdom of God in the midst of (Roman) oppression. “It presumes that imperial structures will remain intact so that they can be infiltrated. This is a resistance that exploits the empire; it does not defeat, neutralize, kill, or escape from its host.” (162) She draws both on the parables and on the missionary text that is Luke 10, in which the disciples “indigenize themselves by attaching to the family that employs them.” (163)

This is a pattern of cultural immersion. It’s deliberate.

It’s also a pattern of cultural resistance. Salt not only preserves, it also corrodes. In other words using the metaphor of salt and leaven to understand ourselves as the church, allows “the gospel to be both corrosive and preservative like salt … to be infectious, expansive and profane like leaven.” (155) As a metaphor it still encourages the church as a contrast community, refusing to bless the culture.

Sawicki suggests that perhaps the church today – globalized, enmeshed in consumerism – might find the salt and leaven metaphor a most useful stance in relation to our world:

The kingdom of God is not free-standing. It has to be sought in the middle of something else … [it] can take the form of small-scale refusals to comply with the alleged inevitability of the pomps and glamours of middle-class life … the commuting lifestyle; so-called “life insurance” and retirement funds; careerism; the “soccer mom” syndrome and the overscheduling of adolescent activities; fast food; fashionable clothing … (174, 175)

It strikes me as a fantastically practical, deeply Biblical way for Christians to see ourselves in the world today.

Posted by steve at 02:27 PM

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How are you finding things? strange ways in fastforward

I feel like I’m watching a movie,
that I’m really enjoying.
But it’s stuck on fastforward.
It’s also a foreign language feature.
Thankfully most scenes have subtitles
but every now and again I feel just like this …

cartoon hat tip

Posted by steve at 08:37 AM

Monday, February 22, 2010

Archbishop Rowan Williams on fresh expressions of church, ministry, sacraments

There is a fascinating podcast of Archbishop Rowan Williams being interviewed about fresh expressions, especially in light of the Synod report just out regarding fresh expressions. (Hat tip Jonny and originating from a collective in Nottingham called Nomad (who seem to have a knack of interviewing some interesting people, including Tom Wright, Greg Boyd and others)).

I’m teaching a class on Church, Ministry, Sacraments in the first semester and might just use the podcast in my first lecture. Here’s is my summary of the Archbishop:

Church is people encountering Jesus, with others, in a life changing way. This happens through the baptism and communion (sacraments). This has also happened in the past, and thus we have the tradition of the church. The task of ministry includes the gift of discernment – of seeing God giving gifts to the church, both in contemporary culture and historically in the tradition – and of learning how to use these gifts – God’s gifts to the church – creatively and well. Key challenges for fresh expressions of church include giving time to listen, to appreciate the words rubbed smooth by generations that can carry us when we find life thin. Key challenges for existing churches are to appreciate new forms as real stuff, and not just an eccentric fringe.

Note how similar the ecclesiology (understanding of church) is to what the Archbishop wrote in 2004, in the Foreword to Mission-shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions of Church in a Changing Context

‘church’ is what happens when people encounter the Risen Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining and deepening that encounter in their encounter with each other (vii)

I wonder what would happen if all Vicars pinned that wee definition to their Prayer Book?

Posted by steve at 10:40 AM

It’s my party

Saturday was my birthday and the day was framed around a cheese and wine trail. Blessed Cheese is a local identity, producing great food, focused around local cheeses. Which they also make available in a hamper, and partner with a list of wineries who provide a wine to match the cheese.

So over about five hours, we worked our way through cheeses, seated at various local McLarenvale wineries. Slow eating. Slow driving the countryside, such a newly different landscape, with scattered gums and gaunt hills.

Cheese tasting is not necessarily the greatest thing for the kids. It is my party … but we provided for them the Birthday Boredom Buster Bag. Each got a book to read, plus a letter writing kit. So they spent time writing letters home, reading and asking the perennial question: “You having a good time Dad?”

The final stop was Samuels George, which has previously been a moment of spiritual encounter. Once again, we were late, but they were open. The wine dogs were out, just the right level of friendliness for two kids. Who also got a tour of the wine making lab. Superb views (photo from a previous visit, Oct 08):

A great day, having a good time. Cheers to life.

Posted by steve at 08:23 AM

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Avatar film review

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone, which is the New Zealand Methodist magazine. Here is my review for February, on the movie Avatar. (Many more reviews, back to 2005, are here.)

“Avatar” is a blockbuster, set to sink “Titanic” as one of the highest earnings movies of all time. James Cameron, who directed “Titanic” and multiple editions of “Terminator”, is, well, back! (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:20 PM

Friday, February 19, 2010

purchased: philosophers fingerpuppets, now wanted: theologians fingerpuppets

These little people are being ordered today:

the philosophers fingerpuppets, care of my Ministry Enhancement Allowance, in preparation for some upcoming input.

At Spirit of Wonder: imagining a church immersed in culture (part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival, more info here), I am providing two blocks of input. One is on imagination, leadership and culture, the other on the Spirit, the Bible and culture.

In a moment of mad randomness with Craig yesterday, I was talking about how imagination has a history and the need for us to find our story within that history. Craig, totally lateral thinker that he is, mentioned a shop that sold philosophers fingerpuppets. Nietzsche, Plato and Kant. Who all had things to say about imagination! Who all deserve to make an appearance at the Spirit of Wonder!

So that’s the creative spark that suddenly clicked the first session. Yes!

Which only leaves the second session – theologians fingerpuppets – like Moses and the tabernacle makers, like Deborah and Hannah, like Mary and the 70/2 anonymous in Luke 10, like Peter – who all also deserve to make an appearance at Spirit of Wonder, because they all have a lot to say about imagination and a church immersed in culture.

Posted by steve at 08:42 AM

Thursday, February 18, 2010

the state of play: Australian film

Eric Repphun, who graduated last year with a PhD in religious studies and film (a project which I was involved in supervising), is currently writing on Australian film, specifically Balibo, Van Diemens Land and The Proposition (here). He is arguing for a growing genre of film in which he sees Australia film seeking to engage it’s past. He writes:

These two very different films hammer home something that has been increasingly clear in the past few years: Australia, as a nation, is attempting through the cinema to shed the shackles of its national ghosts, or at least bring these spectres into the full, harsh light of day. This is more than simple katharsis, it seems, bridging over into some more elemental; expiation maybe, even exorcism. Australia – or at least Australian art, as the Australian government seems to be committed to continuing its long history of criminal behaviour – is engaged in a collective exorcism. This is true, I suppose, of only those people who make these films or the people who choose to see them instead of Transformers. Perhaps this needs a further clarification, as this exorcism is largely confined to the ghosts of Australia’s European past. The long plight of the Aboriginal peoples is still largely consigned to the darkness, or is subject to well-meaning but ultimately hollow official attempts at apology. Something like Philip Noyce’s film Rabbit-Proof Fence, for all its striving nobility, simply doesn’t pack the emotional punch and the raw sense of wrongness that characterises the film-as-exorcism.

Seeing as I’m doing a paper on Sociology of Ministry in a few weeks, I’d be interested in how Australian’s respond to what Eric names and claims, as I am sure would Eric.

Posted by steve at 12:48 PM

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

it’s all a blur really: the Taylor’s 4 weeks on

The Taylor family have been in Adelaide, Australia four weeks as of yesterday. I have been using twitter and facebook to post a variety of personal news of the short, sharp variety. But in honour of the blur that has been the last four weeks, here’s a overview.

One – It’s amazing how when you migrate, things interlock – You can’t transfer money until you have a local bank account. You can’t buy a car without local money. You can’t look for a house (easily) without a car to get you around open homes. You can’t rent without a rental record, which is difficult to have when you own your own home in New Zealand … and so the interlocking bits roll on.

Two – Adelaide as a city is caught between beach on one side, hills on the other. It means the city is squished long and skinny. A downside is transport. An upside is that there are lots of suburbs by the sea, which increases supply and reduces price. It’s probably the only city in the world we’ll be able to afford to live close to the sea ….

The upshot (blurred) is that, thankfully we have a car (Ford Fiesta). And we’ve found a place to rent in Seacliff, about three minutes walk from the beach. Ironically the street name is Kauri, which is, yes, a New Zealand native.

Our belongings were freed from customs the day we took possession, and we have so loved re-finding our stuff and starting to unpack. The girls seem to be settling well at school, each in their uniquely personal way. My new office is almost fully functional (not enough room for all my books and course notes though!) and my courses are slowly starting to take shape.

I found to my surprise when I arrived that not only was I Director of Missiology, but was also the Postgraduate Co-ordinator, and so I’ve been enjoying getting my head around the Masters of Ministry programme, which is highly focused on practical theological ministry reflection and has huge creative possibilities. I’ve also scratched out two conference paper proposals, one titled “The art of gentle space-making: responding to a de/colonizing God” and another “When non-priests pray: A conversation between Sarah Coakley and Bono Vox.” All fun.

My vegetable garden is proving very profitable – basil, rocket, spinach, parsley on demand. Lettuce, peas and broccoli coming on well.

We’re still looking for a church home, but have given ourselves till Easter to simply enjoy looking and exploring, sampling the diversity that is the Uniting church of South Australia.

Posted by steve at 09:17 PM

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

cultivating imaginative leaders

All this talk of fresh expressions and pioneer leaders, and of wood fired emerging pizza church, raises the ongoing, nagging question for me, of how we cultivate imaginative leaders?

Here’s what I think is a perceptive diagnosis:

“We are not trained to engage. We are trained to duplicate. We are often not able to read stories and allow them to ignite our local imaginations. Instead we try to mine stories for timeless principles that can be readily applied.” (Keel, Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos, Baker, 2007, 80)

It names something really important: the lack of capacity for imagination, the way that current modes of thinking work against the imaginative.

I think that like many things, leadership is both caught and taught, art and science. It is intuitive yet can be studied. It is a gift, yet can be honed.

Which still leaves the page bare, the canvas blank. How do we cultivate imaginative leaders? How do we help leaders discern the Spirit’s uniquely creative work in their own unique context.

The talk of pioneer leaders worries me.

I worry that it emerges out of pragmatism, out of decline. If so, we are more than likely to import pragmatism into pioneer training.

I worry that we might create a separate class of person, rather than simply name a charism that is perhaps not fully appreciated in our current contexts.

I worry that we might end up leaving mission to the pioneers and not to the mixed economy “ministers of the word.”

I worry that we will simply bolt a few more courses onto what is potentially a broken way of thinking, that has, and is, training people to “timeless principles.”

Posted by steve at 10:24 AM

Sunday, February 14, 2010

wood fired pizza worship

I was making pizza on Saturday afternoon. Homemade tomato pesto, mixed with finely cut basil and baby spinach leaves (from the newly planted “only-been-in-the-country-3-weeks-garden” of course!), topped with local sundried tomato and lots of cheese. Very simply, very yummy. (Picture does not represent the reality).

And I thought again about pizza church. Not just pizza as in, oh, we are funky because we eat pizza after worship. Which would be yummy enough.

But more like that sense of making a pizza out of what’s in the fridge. And how what’s in our fridge is simply a reflection of our lives. So why can’t that be the central image for being a worshipping community?

I mean, what it would be like for church to set up a woodfired pizza outside. Bases supplied. And the invitation for worship to be about bringing toppings from what’s in your fridge.

You could have a thanks pizza and a confession pizza and an intercession pizza.

And as each pizza is served, there’s time for a toast. And those who want can name, either by ingredient or by spoken words, what they might be bringing – their praise and their confession and their intercession. And so the pizzas are the worshipping work of the people, what’s in our lives, brought to community, shaped by the liturgical pattern of traditional worship – praise, confession, prayer.

This might not be a normal way for people to experience church, but it would be easy to run an experiment, try it for a few months, simply by working your way through say the gospel of Luke. Lots of food moments there, and so the preaching/teaching moment would involve serving the 2 fish and 5 loaves pizza, the eucharist pizza, and so on through the Gospel of Luke, using table fellowship as the metaphor. In other words, the Scriptures are embodied in the “Bible pizza”, offered to those who gather.

A simply over the top idea and I returned to the much simpler task, of calling the Taylor tribe for homemade pizza. And together we gave thanks – for a few of our favorite things – weekends and each other and the promise of a new life.

Posted by steve at 02:00 PM

Friday, February 12, 2010

summarising Mission Shaped Church: 6 years in

Just out in Great Britian is a report researching the impact of Mission-shaped Church in England. You can download it here. At 40 pages (including appendices), it’s thorough, clear, erudite. A great piece of work.

Here’s some quotes that caught my eye, with some commentary from myself, stranded in no-mans land between Baptist and Uniting world’s.

1. The value of the notion of “mixed economy.”

Most of all, “inherited”, or traditional, understandings of what it means to be Christ’s church, and emerging fresh expressions of church are complementary aspects of a single, coherent ecclesiology. (1) The best of what we have inherited, and a rich outpouring of new creative thinking, are indeed combining in the name of the gospel. For that we thank God. (2)

It’s a fantastic metaphor and so helpful in terms of affirming and valuing what is, yet encouraging space for what is not yet. However, it does require careful attention, given what has happened.

There is a clear pattern emerging with many parish based initiatives appearing on the fringes of inherited churches … They are making the inherited church effective in mission by creating appropriate new church congregations shaped for mission (20) …. they are very valid forms of mission and have brought substantial growth to the church but are insufficient on their own to answer to the missionary task in the nation as a whole. (21)

There are fewer ‘free-standing’ fresh expressions, focused further from the inherited church and working more often with those who are non-churched. This is probably due to the greater levels of resourcing these fresh expressions tend to require. (21)

So the validity of my Opawa experience, planting new expressions as a multi-congregational model. Equally, the validity of what we tried to do at Graceway, planting a new form. And oh the resource issues we struggled with in that context. Oh the pain and energy loss we experienced trying to find a physical building to ground our mission.

2. The creation of a “pioneer stream” including selection, courses, context.

Regarding selection

Specific selection criteria should be established … Those involved in selection need to be adequately equipped to identify and affirm pioneers and mission entrepreneurs.

Regarding courses

[a]ll ministers, lay and ordained … should include a focus on cross-cultural evangelism, church planting and fresh expressions of church.” (6)

Regarding context

“curacy posts should be established where church planting skills, gifting and experience can be nurtured, developed and employed.” (7)

Wouldn’t it be great to see that type of systemic change, in which a church system has fresh expressions in which pioneers can be idenitified, mentored and then placed to be formed in leadership. I recall Al Roxburgh in 2007 summarising our Baptist “Sharpening the edge” new forms as “epiphenomenal.” In my words, a fluke of the Spirit. They happened, often driven by uniquely gifted people. While we must be so grateful for them, what was needed was a denominational system which was intentional about leadership development.

Applied to the Uniting context, I wonder how the categories of mixed economy leaders will play out. How might pioneers be identified, encouraged, mentored, trained, in ways that are mixed – best of the tradition, creative in the new.

3. Importance of lay pioneer training

A pattern should develop that provides training as part of a process of discernment-for-authorization, rather than training subsequent to discernment, or the removal of existing leaders for training elsewhere.” (7) “To turn the vision of a mixed economy church into a reality will take many lay pioneers who will be able and willing to plant fresh expressions as volunteers. The task is too great to rely solely on those who will be called, trained and appointed as ordained pioneers. (16)

This is a huge shift in thinking, but so necessary. At Opawa we were planting our “new forms” as teams, always looking for groupings of people. It was so encouraging to see what were essentially lay people grow in this capacity: Adrian learning to do lectio divina, the Soak team, Paul and Anne in their leading of espresso, the bridge builders like Annette, Hugh, Jenn. So lot’s of resonance with this.

4. The value of church “groupings”

Deaneries (geographic groupings of churches) have the potential to bring together a range of human and financial resources, to consider mission across parish boundaries, and to share prayer and encouragement. (5)

At the risk of being rude, this is where Baptists really struggle. We are so obsessed with local church, that we simply do not have this sort of grouped mission potential. When we gather (at Assembly or as associations), what coheres us is relationships (in contrast to sacraments or creeds). And because our relationships are voluntary, and because they are infrequent, there is little capacity for robust critical reflection and interaction, out of which shared mission can grow. And so we lack this shared synergy for mission.

Arriving in a Uniting context, I am wondering if “synod” can be exchanged for “deanery”? Or is it actually “networks”?

5. Resources

a [mission growth and opportunity] fund as key to the development of fresh expressions (8) … Money alone is clearly not sufficient to establish the mixed economy, but it is an extremely pivotal factor. (19)

While this is obvious, and is the logical consequence of groupings, it is then followed by some fascinating reflection on how funding is used. Shotgun or rifle, and what happens when you pull the trigger?

a plethora of small grands … tended to fund mission that was “focussed on current patterns of ministry, rather than more cutting edge, non-parochial projects.” (18)

a few projects that were “centrally discerned” … were more cutting edge, with a network focus (18)

6. Diffusion of mission-shaped vision throughout the system

“the spread of Mission-shaped Church thinking and practice” through one day courses, six evenings, a one year course, along with books, DVD’s and websites.

the impact and effectiveness of a mission-shaped diocesan strategy is directly related to the level of ownership given to the report’s recommendations by diocesan senior staff … a direct correlation between the seniority of this member of staff and the impact of the [Mission Shaped Church] report on the diocese. (13) Their [bishops] ownership has released a wave of creativity and experimentation within the church as it strives to re-shape itself in response to the call to mission.” (22)

6. Future challenges

there is still a strong bias to a neighbourhood understanding of society over network. (5)

lack of record keeping, with many dioceses have no data base of church plants and fresh expressions.

This seems to be made worse by a lack of clarity about what is a fresh expression.

“120 according to Churchwarden returns 2006, 11 according to the Fresh Expression website, 20 according to my calculation.” (20).

Is the downside of a desire to be mixed and inclusive, the reality that because anything can be fresh, then what was inherited can simply be given a “fresh label”. New paint job solves everything! When in reality, the mission requires so much deeper work, as evidenced by the following:

Ministries among profoundly unchurched people take a long time to create recognisably Christian groups – five years may just be the beginning. Such ministries do not start with worship, but with relationships, shared activity and exploration of life’s values. (27)

All this suggests that the hard work is yet to be seen. A report reflecting on 6 years, which concludes that it takes at least 5 years to see fruit amongst the unchurched.

Hats off to the UK Anglicans and I hope the work of the Spirit in their life, as seen in this report, is an imaginative stimulus to the church family I have been part of, and to the church family I am now on loan to.

And I can’t resist it – to all those using the internet to publicly jump ship on the emerging church, enjoy reading that last quote once again!

Ministries among profoundly unchurched people take a long time to create recognisably Christian groups – five years may just be the beginning. (27)

Posted by steve at 01:08 PM

Thursday, February 11, 2010

indigenous tables and the prayerful art of gentle space-making

The phrase


gentle space-making


belongs to Sarah Coakley (from her Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Challenges in Contemporary Theology), page 35. She is wrestling with what to to with the kenosis, the word found in Philipians 2 and used to discuss the vulnerability and self-emptying of Jesus.

For Coakley, Christology is “what rightly distinguishes Christian feminism from various secular versions of it” (3) and so the question she wrestles with is how to lose one’s life in order to save it, particularly in light of feminist anxiety around themes of fragility, vulnerability, self-emptying.

In other words, if I am vulnerable, won’t I then be taken advantage of? If I’m a minority, what hope is there in the notion of losing one’s life in order to find it?

Earlier in the week I blogged about the privilege of sitting with Covenanting Committee, a group set up to maintain relationships between indigenous Aboriginal people and the Uniting Church. It seemed to me that some of the same questions and anxieties were present – how, as a minority, might we find voice, be heard, be part of change, yet in ways that are distinctly Christian?

Coakley offers a number of suggestions.

Firstly, there is her approach. She is a careful, exacting reader, looking back through history to argue that the Christian history is rich and complex. Thus various notions of kenosis have existed and when rightly understood, are not in fact demanding complaince, but a strength made perfect in weakness and in a way that does not replace one form of secular power with another form of secular power.

Second, there is her conclusion, prayer. In particular, wordless prayer. The regular habit of responding to God. This is not pietism, a withdrawal, a silencing but rather “the place of the self’s transformation and expansion into God.” (36)

If anything it builds one in the courage to give prophetic voice. (35)

It’s a fascinating place to conclude: that each and any of us, no matter how marginalised, have power: are invited into a spiritual way of living, in which space is made for the other that is not us. In so doing, we let God be God.

Posted by steve at 02:44 PM