Saturday, June 12, 2010

long weekend relaxing

It’s a long weekend holiday here in Australia (a week later than in New Zealand). So we’re away enjoying being a family in the Clare Valley. On the “to do” as tourist list include the following:

Posted by steve at 03:17 PM

Friday, June 11, 2010

a brilliant ending: teaching sociology for ministry

I am still buzzing at the presentations of students in my Sociology for Ministry class. They had done so much work! Outstanding in their creativity and their attention to both sociology and theology. One group presented an idea of opening a Sudanese cafe as a way of welcoming migrants on the fringe of an existing church. Another suggested a video making competition as a way to work alongside unemployed working class youth. Another suggested a multi-purpose spirituality centre in a new build community and even built their own website. Their presentations each took over 45 minutes each, carefully attending to context, articulating clear theologies of ministry, emerging from grounded research of existing communities and existing ministries.

Sociology for ministry is a compulsory introductory level paper in the degree. The aim is to explore at the interface between society and ministry in the Australian context, developing skills so students could research their communities and reflect about the implications for ministry.

Not being a local, and only having been in the country a few weeks, a foreigner teaching Sociology for (Australian) ministry could have been a disaster. What do I know about Australia?

Equally, not being a local, teaching Sociology for (Australian) ministry could have been an advantage. Rather than show my knowledge, could I show them the research tools I am using to try and understand my new local context? So each week I used a different type of sociology tool – poetry, songs, movies, demographics, fiction novels, sacred places, history – to cover a range of topics including family, work, leisure, religion, plurality, spirituality, globalisation, IT cultures.

In order to facilitate shared learning, I decided to set a group learning assignment. (For more on creating class learning communities see here.) Each group got given a prepared case study, a real local community. Each case study noted some community strengths and some community challenges. The task was – as Sociology for Ministry consultants – to present to a church leadership team (me) some ways forward that were faithful to both the sociological context and had a clearly articulated theology of ministry. While all of us – lecturer and students – were a bit nervous, the results exceeded all of our expectations.

If this is the future of Australian ministry, there are some real possibilities brewing. It was also an endorsement of the essential formational nature of papers on contextual ministry, of group learning processes and the potential of case studies to bring energy and grounded focus into a class.

Posted by steve at 09:51 AM

Thursday, June 10, 2010

transforming space into place: great example of culture making

The video below is a fascinating example of culture making. “It is not enough to condemn culture. Nor is it sufficient merely to critique culture or to copy culture. Most of the time, we just consume culture. But the only way to change culture is to create culture.” So says Andy Crouch, in relation to his great book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling

So here’s a fascinating example of culture making, emerging from a vision for community among the city suburbs. In the words of Simon Holt: “A spirituality of the neighbourhood is one that embraces its most immediate context as a place of God’s presence and rich with sacred possibilities.” (God next door, 100)

(Hat tip Len via Dwight)

(For more on culture making as it applies to church go here and workplace mission, go here).

Posted by steve at 07:45 PM

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

resourcing missional church

I concluded my missional church leadership class yesterday with the following ….

MISSIONAL COMMUNITY…SIMPLE from jeff maguire on Vimeo.

It’s from the website saying it simply, (hat tip Bosco Peters), who have the goal of tackling “new topics, concepts, or ideas that need to be explained simply.”

The class chewed their pens for a minute or two. And then came the money question: How did Jesus resource the 70/72 to be missional community? Great integration, the student taking the video clip to theology, in particular the missional theology embedded in Luke 10:1-12, Jesus sending disciples out in missional community. (Sermon on Luke 10:1-12 here if you want some more framing).

It is simply too good a question to answer immediately. Sure I’ve got some ideas, and some practical examples from 6 years at Opawa. But some questions need to sit. So instead I suggested it become our homework question. 200 word responses over the next 10 days please and I’ll collate them for next time we meet.

Want to be part of the fun? Got some cyber ideas for my class? 200 word maximum in the comments please: How did Jesus resource the 70/72 to be missional community

Posted by steve at 08:19 PM

creationary: Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. (For more on what is a creationary go here; for other Creationary resources, go here).

The Gospel lectionary text looks too familiar: Luke 7:36-50 – so use perfume in various ways ….

So what about another Old Testament text. I’ve been really stimulated by the missional church and social justice themes around last weeks Biblical text.  This story continues the pattern in 1 Kings, of grounding social and cultural change in the stories of ordinary people – widows last week. Ordinary landowners this week. So let’s have another play with that.

When I read this text, the story of Naboth’s vineyard, I think of old maps.

  • I’d get people to bring them
  • or I’d use them as background images
  • or I’d visit the local council and ask for copies of maps going back
  • or I’d interview older folk who’ve known the community for a long time about what it used to be like
  • or I’d take photos of the older houses in the neighbourhood
  • if I had lots of time, I’d be thinking about a neighbourhood history walk, perhaps as an optional exercise after church (hunt around John Davies excellent blog, archives here, new blog here)

Why old maps? Well this text is about ownership. You see, exegetically, in the culture of this day, land belonged to the family.  It gives them identity and security. They see it as a gift from God, to be kept and cherished. So this is not just a story about a vineyard, it’s a spotlight on how we view land and identity.  Can it be sold?

So I’d be inviting people to think about the gifts they have been given; starting with land, but then wider to include family tree, personality, resources, denominational history, “traces of grace” in their family story. Some sort of thanksgiving, individual and communal for that. Perhaps inviting people into groups and giving them a map  – a map of their community, a map of the “church history”, a “map” of the denominational story – and getting them to brainstorm the gifts.

And I’d be inviting the groups to hold the maps and be praying some sort of prayer – about the wisdom to handle these gifts wisely as we go into our future.

These potential acts of worship would set up some sort of engagement with the sermon, and how we as churches can partner with a God of justice and against politics of power and greed and acquisition. The danger would be that this becomes a bit abstract, so I’d be looking hard for local examples. Like if I was at Opawa, I’d be praying for Paul McMahon, church pastor, yet standing for local body elections.

Posted by steve at 10:25 AM

Sunday, June 06, 2010

climate change, justice and social welfare. In 1 Kings?

I preached at the Corner Uniting Church this morning. The lectionary text was 1 Kings 17:8-16 and the more I studied the story, of Elijah and the widow of Zaraphath, the more impressed I began. It’s an ancient story, yet suddenly seemed to start speaking to climate change, social justice and missional theology today. Let me try to explain.

First, the story starts in drought and thus addresses climate change. In 1 Kings 17:1 :Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

Here in Australia, the Prime Minister is famous for suggesting that “Climate change is the great moral challenge of our generation.” I’m not wanting to debate the politics of the statement, simply to note how climate change is linked to human values and the decisions we make about how we live our lives.

Same for Elijah: that in his country “split into two factions.” (16:21); one wanting to follow Baal – fertility god, who sends rain to mark the end of drought. Another faction wanting to follow YHWH, the Lord of creation. So drought is framed as a moral issue – live in the way of YHWH? Or the way of Baal? Climate change becomes tied to cultural values and the decisions we make about how we live our lives.

Second, it’s a story about being missional. As a consequence of the drought, Elijah heads to Sidon: 1 Kings 17:7-9: “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.”

Sidon is a town mentioned in the previous chapter: 1 Kings 16:30: “Ahab …. married Jezebel daughter of [the] king of [Sidonians] and began to serve Baal and worship him.” So to spotlight the moral issue, Elijah heads to Sidon. To the place where Jezebel, the Kings wife was born, to the place where Baal worship is strong and thriving.

Often I see Christians tempted to flee from belief systems that are different from ours. Yet here Elijah heads for Sidon.

Third, the moral issue of sticks. Elijah finds a woman gathering sticks. Which introduces a second moral issue. Climate change impacts people.

To quote from a Bible commentary: “There were many widows in [Elijah’s] Isreal and the surrounding areas because of war and famine. Traditional family and village systems of support for widows had broken down since the king … had started buying up the land and corrupting village leaders. Prices for oil were high because they were chief export crops. This widow could not afford them anymore.”

They always talk in the news media about needing to find the human interest story. Well here in 1 Kings is the human interest story. YHWH, the God of the Old Testament, has a human interest in widows. This is surely theology at it’s best, locating God and the activity of the people of God in and among the poor and dispossessed. (And it doesn’t just happen once in Kings, but repeatedly).

Fourth community empowerment. I am fascinated by the way that Elijah doesn’t give her a handout. Instead he empowers her. Invites her to simply give what she’s got.

One book (Elijah and Elisha in Socioliterary Perspective) noted: “The key [to 1 Kings 17] is that [Elijah] does not do the miracle for [the widow] [Instead he] enables her to do it for herself.”

Here’s a way to work with the poor, in ways that do not leave them victims, but invited to use what they have got – the twigs they can collect, their flour and oil.

1 Kings 17: A text in which we see a God who cares about climate change, who invites us to do mission and theology in ways that bring to the fore the human interest stories of the poor, and to work with them in ways that empower.

Or am I pushing an ancient text too hard?

Posted by steve at 03:47 PM

Friday, June 04, 2010

resourcing baptism today: a baptist in a Uniting world

One of the peculiar parts of my current call is having to work out being Baptist in a Uniting denomination. I’ve got roots and life experience and intellectual convictions about being Baptist, but in the strange ways of God, get to express that within a Uniting context.  Which has made the last few weeks really fun, because as lecturer in a class called Church, Ministry, Sacraments, we’ve been looking at baptism.  And being Uniting – they baptise kids!  So, in order to honour the Uniting context, we’ve had some local Uniting folk in lead the class. It’s been quite rich to listen, learn, reflect.

As the topic drew to a close, I offered a few concluding comments to the class, as I’d listened to a rich range of discussion. The class seemed to find them very stimulating in terms of ministry practice, so I’ll blog them here.

Adult baptism should be normative. Please keep being profoundly disturbed by that.

As it says in the Uniting Church Basis of Union, “The Uniting Church will baptise those who confess the Christian faith, and children who are presented for baptism.” Infant baptism is NOT the only path. Where are your adults? If you don’t see them being baptised, please be disturbed.

Baptism is a means of God’s grace not the church’s grace.

It is easy to focus on who should be baptised, especially when people roll up wanting their kids baptised because their parents or grandparents had it “done.” It’s too easy for churches to start to see themselves as boundary keepers, when in reality baptism is God’s grace, never humans.

A person’s responsibility is ours to resource but never to expect.

Baptism invites a response, an ongoing walk of discipleship, an ongoing training and formation in being Christian. The church has a rich range of resources to nourish this. In the Uniting worship book alone, there are nearly 100 pages of resources: Pathways to discipleship like A rite of welcome; of calling; for all the Sunday’s in Lent. Or Reaffirmation of Baptism rituals for congregation and individual. There is no excuse for a people of the liturgical book to not be offering lots of rich resourcing.

Offer a variety of resources – both inside and outside the church.

This links with the above, but also applies to baptism itself. Birth of children is a rich time for people. Don’t just offer two options – baptism or nothing. Some people want naming ceremonies, others an excuse to gather friends to celebrate. In my ministry practice when it came to parents wanting something for their kids, I used to suggest two things

  • can I come back at the anniversary to light a candle – and thus maintain pastoral contact
  • how about start with a DIY approach to your child – I’ll provide you with resources but how about you have a first go at writing the service. This turns me from patroller of boundaries and doctrines, to ritual adviser.

As ministers and as churchs we have lots to offer – we work with words and worship, we regularly create safe spaces, we have heaps of rich symbols and ideas. Offer these as well as baptism. At Opawa we even once ran spirituality resourcing workshops in terms of birthing and parenting rituals.

Posted by steve at 07:58 AM

Thursday, June 03, 2010

filing systems and why nothing beats boxes

Today was a triumph for the Taylor filing system! Those who know me well might smirk in disbelief, but please, read on …

You see, I’m working on some research. My (draft) title has been: When Non-Priests Pray: A Conversation between Sarah Coakley and Bono on Incorporative Pneumatology and Priestly Prayer. (It’s for the upcoming Sarah Coakley conference in July). The research involves the usual Taylor mind, the restless/eclectic/lateral flitting between popular culture and Christian faith.

And as I reading the most fascinating compilation of texts on the Holy Spirit, somewhere in the recesses of my mind is a memory of 1994 and doing a University paper on Jesus Christ and that I read something that might be useful.

1994. That’s quite a few years ago. So I go to my old University notes. These have all been lovingly filed in boxes, along with all the courses I’ve taught since then. There are like 50 boxes around my office. But they are labelled and sure enough, under Christology, are my 1994 notes. A quick flick and yep, there is the exact 1994 article I’m looking for. A large shout of triumph echoes down the hallway.

And in another recess of my mind is another memory, a memory of a book I borrowed in 2004 about U2. And it might have relevance and the book is not the Adelaide library. But perhaps I might have photocopied some of that book?

So I go to my filing cabinet. And sure enough, in one of the 8 drawers, under the letter U (for U2)- is that photocopying from 2004! An even larger shout of triumph echoes down the hallway.

The filing system works. Good old cardboard boxes! Good old filing cabinets.

Now some you are still smirking. You have seen my desk. You think this is a one-off fluke. For such among you, may I remind you of another post, another reflection on why my filing system makes me a truly valuable employer.

Hurrah! For

  • cardboard boxes
  • filing cabinets
  • vertical stacks of paper on my desk
Posted by steve at 08:53 PM