Tuesday, September 14, 2010

made it

heathrow express has free wifi, so while I roll to Paddington a brief post to say I made it; with good flights, including two 5 hour blocks of sleep. 24 hours is a long way and it’s nice to be back in England.

now to find my way to Spurgeons College …

Posted by steve at 11:30 PM

Monday, September 13, 2010

UK September 2010 trip

Here’s my UK itinerary – it’s a nice mix of my interests – theology in contemporary culture, fresh expressions and missional leadership at a congregational level. (Graphic courtesy of a fiddle with this DIY “ancient comic” site :) and with a nod to Brendan the Navigator)

WEDNESDAY: Spurgeons College, D.Min and M. Theol students, presenting some of my work around theology in contemporary culture.

Session 1: “A Pneumatology for an Everyday Theology?” An exploration of what it might mean to name the Spirit as active in the world, with specific reference to popular culture.

Session 2: “Reading “pop-wise”: An example of ‘reading’ popular culture, using animated TV cartoons.

Session 3: Preaching in a changing culture – lessons from U2?

FRIDAY: head to Durham to present on Evaluating Birth narratives:a missiological conversation with fresh expressions

Abstract: This paper will explore the “birthing narratives” of a number of United Kingdom fresh expressions, specifically five alternative worship communities. It will bring this into conversation with the notion of “fresh expressions of church” to explore whether the very term “fresh expressions of church” is in fact missiologically problematic. Resources for this exploration will include the “resurrection” ecclesiology suggested by Archbishop Rowan Williams in Mission-shaped Church, interpreted in light of the pictures of Christian witness embedded in the New Testament narratives.

SATURDAY: “Dry bones live! Mission and leadership in times of change”?’ a conversation at St Johns, Durham on mission and change

TUESDAY: catching the big plane back. At least it goes faster than the boat!

Posted by steve at 04:57 PM

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Are we dinosaurs? church and mission today

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak to the South Australian Heads of Churches. My topic: Are we dinosaurs? A brave question for a group to ask itself.

A bit of research and I discovered that the first dinosaur bone “appeared” in 1787, an enormous thigh bone poking out of a New Jersey Creek. It was sent to leading American scientist, Dr Caspar Wistar, who paid it little attention. It was stored and eventually, got lost. (For more on the “finding of dinosaurs”, see Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

It’s weird thinking about dinosaur bones always being there, yet only somewhat recently, to have been “discovered”! Which then got me thinking about what “bones” might church’s, and church leaders, we leaving? And what might people make of our “bones” if they stumbled across our remains in the future?

Like the communion table. Hey, how weird, a table with no chairs. Hmmm. Looks like a separate type of species called eucharistosaurus.

Or the baptismal font. How wierd is that, some people used to keep a bird bath inside! Did that have “bird” doors? Or was it some wealthy playpen, in which the entire building is simply a birdcage, walls and roof in which the doves (Biblical reference intended) are encased!

On a more serious note, as part of my talk I offered a survey of some of the responses to being labelled “dinosaurs. (more…)

Posted by steve at 04:48 PM

Saturday, September 11, 2010

free iPad’s the future of theological education?

TRADITIONAL textbooks will be put on the endangered list next year as the University of Adelaide’s Faculty of Science becomes the first tertiary institution to embrace a new approach to online learning.

The pilot initiative involves all first-year undergraduate science students next year receiving a free Apple iPad to use with online curriculum, eliminating up to $1000 in annual textbook costs within three years.

The Faculty of Sciences’ executive dean, Professor Bob Hill, said “We will be the first university in Australia to teach in this innovative way. Our teaching material will be more accessible, more relevant and more frequently updated, providing the flexible learning environment that students are looking for.”

“But it’s a difficult process to make this transition. This is because our lectures have in the past been written around textbooks. Our future process will provide the latest information online and our staff will be integral in writing this content. However, face-to-face learning will remain an important part of teaching.”

Professor Hill says providing each new first-year student with an iPad as part of their core learning tools will transform their educational experience on campus.

(more here)

Posted by steve at 09:46 PM

icons as theological treats

Some theologies use words, a hard, exact and careful reflection regarding the best words to use to articulate limited human perceptions of God. In contrast, icons use pictures, not words. This is not a creatively free-flowing task, but a careful task, aiming to faithfully pass on Christian thought.

I’ve found myself tremendously enriched in recent days by two of Rowan Williams books: Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin is a theology of the Incarnation, while The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ, offers a theology of Resurrection. Both utilise Orthodox icons as their starting points. I love this explanation of icons:

the art of making icons is often termed “writing” rather than “painting”; an icon presents the figures and events of the Bible and church history in paint rather than ink.

Icons for me do three things extraordinarily well. They help me think theologically. They help me think visually and in colour. They remind me that theology is about relationship with God.

It’s been a joy to sit with these two books on that explore icon’s theologically by Rowan and realise just how deep these three wells can go. With Rowan’s gifts, the theological depth is extraordinary. The invitation to prayer and contemplation is artful. They have been such a helpful gift for me in the last month or so, reading until a sentence or two captures me, and then using that for prayer and God-focus during the day.

Posted by steve at 07:16 PM

Thursday, September 09, 2010

tricky theology question from a 10 year old

A delightfully agile 10 year old threw me this question last week.

How do you know that God is the most powerful one? What if there was someone more powerful, but they have been keeping that hidden?

I’d be grateful for any insights, ponderings and musings from you, my intelligent readers.

Posted by steve at 04:22 PM

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

So what was the shape of your ministry today?

Was the question as I walked in the door. It’s been a rich day. So pour yourself (and me) a drink and let’s talk.

1. I presented my findings in review of a fresh expression. It’s been a fascinating experiment – an attempt to build an online community. I was invited to be the “missiologist-in-residence” as it were, which was an enormous privilege. There is not much written on this, so it has been such fun linking fresh expressions thinking with online website tools. I ended up writing about 2,500 words. So it has the makings of an article at some point.

2. I got to talk to someone about their “restless” heart and to discuss their journey toward ministry. A potential pioneer leader IMHO.

3. I got to help align a student research masters with a supervisor. It’s sort of a form of discipleship. Someone wants to do some thinking, some serious thinking, about what it means for them to love God and neighbour. And I get to help them align some people in ways that will maximise that learning. Huge privilege.

4. I got to meet with one of my PhD students. She’s just beginning a fascinating journey, wanting to explore how to help marginal voices, particularly speakers of English as a second language, do theology without imposing Western ideas on them. Stimulating.

5. I got to write up some of my own research. Again fascinating – to listen to some recorded interviews with pioneer leaders (of the alt.worship variety) and attempt to reflect on their stories missiologically. I’m developing a hunch and here it is: that “fresh expressions of church” is fundamentally an unhelpful phrase in a mission sense. I’m still working on my logic to support this hunch. But I am loving the reading, reflecting, probing.

Cheers. Thanks for listening.

Posted by steve at 05:50 PM

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

creationary: lost coins, lost sheep

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

With the lectionary text for Sunday being Luke 15:1-10 or Luke 15:1-32, here are some resources I’ve used previously, buried in my blog archives, that might be useful.

First, here is a missional pondering on Luke 15, in which I tease out some of the potentially unhelpful mission and ministry images that might be at play.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t she leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until she finds it? And when she finds it, she joyfully sits down. Then she calls the friends and neighbors of the lost sheep together. And as this moment, as a new missional congregation is planted, the shepherd and existing congregation burst out ‘Rejoice; the lost sheep is found.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Second, a gender in ministry reflection emerging from the lost coin parable on Jesus as the good woman. Here’s an excerpt:

Luke 15:1-7 presents Jesus as like a good shepherd, searching for a lost sheep. Luke 15:8-10 presents Jesus as like a good woman, searching for a lost coin. The church has been very happy to tell me about the first, Jesus as good shepherd. But why has the church been strangely silent about the second, Jesus as a good woman? As Kenneth Bailey, Finding the Lost, notes, Jesus is remarkable for the way he affirms both women and men as “full and equal participants in the kingdom of God.” Surely this pairing has something to say about women in ministry.

Third, some potential worship stations.

Sheep station – with a metal fencing and gate, and the invitation to

Look: at the fence and the gates.

Act: by sitting inside the sheep pen.

Reflect: How would you feel if you were ninety-nine? Pray for us at Opawa, and for what your feelings mean for the future of the church.

Art station – an invitation to

Look: at the art image, Woman Sweeping, by Jean Vuillard; which portrays God as an ordinary house-keeper in everyday life.

Reflect: on the following poem
I was passionate,
filled with longing,
I searched
far and wide
But the day
that the Truthful One
found me,
I was at home.
by Lal Ded

Coin station: – with a whole lot of coins scattered around

Act: by holding a coin. On one side of the coin is a name of a child in our community. Pray that they will be found.

The other side of the coin is blank. It might be your name. What does it mean for you to know that God, like the woman, searching is for you? It might be someone you know. You might want to pray for them by writing their name (permanent marker supplied).

Whatever you do, take the coin with you into your week.

For more go here.

Finally, for those who need a bit of a light relief, here is the true story of what happened one Sunday in worship (ending with a reflection on leadership). Like all good Kiwi stories, it started with a sheep. (more…)

Posted by steve at 03:22 PM

Sunday, September 05, 2010

being church in an earthquake zone

Given that only a few months ago, I was pastoring in Christchurch, my thoughts in the last 24 hours have revolved around wondered what I’d do if I was pastoring, being church in the midst of such destruction.

My current thoughts (and I’m at distance, so might be way of beam) revolve around creating some sort of communal drop-in point for at least the next 7 days. Open the foyer from 9 am-3 pm. Provide hot soup. Set up some breadmakers and get a lovely warm, home smell into the place. Since schools are being closed, set up an area for kids to play, with a range of games. My hunch is that people will want ways to be together, to share, laugh, cry. So tables with food allow that to happen naturally.

Some people might want a more focused listening ear, so I’d set up some “sharing couches” and have some designated “listeners” who would simply be there to listen. I’d tell them to keep an ear out for those who might need more focused help, 50+ after shocks and counting might led to trauma for some.

I’d set up a range of prayer stations, that would allow people to engage with God. Words are hard to find in the midst of shock, so I’d focus on simple, tactile ways to pray.

“Oh help” station – with candles and sand trays to lit in memory of things that are lost, broken, damaged, missing. Simply helping people name the grief and the shock.

“Whew, that was close” station – post-it notes or clothes line prayers (string and some pegs), in which people could give thanks for what they still have – life, food, neighbours, friends, a professional Civil Defence … and so on. Simply helping people pay attention to moments of grace.

“Seeking beauty” station – a sort of craft table, in which people could make something of beauty. For some this would be facile. For others, it’s a part of being human and it can be a way of helping people focus beyond themselves. I’d make it communal and expect that lots of healing chat would happen.

“Where is God” station – a thinking station. Often at times like this God’s name get’s used in some pretty naive ways. Quietly ignored for years while the good times roll, yet suddenly named in the midst of devastation. In all sorts of ways – judgement for sin or suddenly micro-manager of the world. At this station, I’d probably put up some prayers prayed by those who throughout history have experienced tragedy. Perhaps blow them up big ie A2 size, with pens, and expect people to engage in response. Some examples might be Psalms of lament of which there is a huge range. Without checking them all for suitability:

  • some Community Psalms of lament include 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129; while
  • some Individual Psalms of lament include 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52*, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142. Yes, heaps, because unexpected tragedy and pain is part of being human.
  • here is a sermon I preached, using one particular Psalm (69), after the Mangatepopo River tragedy plus some words and liturgical ideas we used at the time
  • a pile of other prayers in disaster are here (textweek.com),

I’m not sure whether I’d have a station in relation to giving aid – whether practical or financial. My hunch is that at least for the first few days, the most important thing is simply space to pray and most of all, ways to naturally be together, eat together, laugh together.  But again, I’m miles away, so might be really out of touch.

Posted by steve at 02:46 PM

Saturday, September 04, 2010

my home’s a state of emergency

Update 2: candle lit today in prayer. It’s really hard to be so far from home on days like today.

Update 3: one of my former teaching colleagues, Richard Neville has had his home destroyed.

Christchurch, the Taylor family home, has been hit by a major 7.1 earthquake. Biggest earthquake in New Zealand since 1931. No reports of death, but extensive building damage. Initial estimates are of $2 billion in damage. Photos here, some of which make it look like a war zone. The city is without water and sewage. Quite sad to think that of one’s own city. We’re still trying to check the state of various things, including family, friends, neighbours and property we own. Opawa Baptist pastors have been ringing through the church phone directory checking on everyone in the church. The church has suffered some interior damage, with lights broken. (Update 1: sounds like our house is OK. Still not sure about our holiday home.)

Posted by steve at 08:41 AM

Friday, September 03, 2010

a “surface” book: hipster Christianity

I don’t like doing book reviews. It takes time to read a book, sit with a book, contemplate a book. So books I get sent to review tend to find their way to my pile of good intentions.

But I’ve just got my copy of Hipster Christianity. When Church and Cool collide by Brett McCracken and it demands a different approach.

Here is a whole book dedicated to people’s outward appearances. It visits a few churches and counts the goatees and the screeens. So in honour of a book glossing over people’s surfaces, I’ll give this book a quick surface read and review.

Here is a book that judges people, and churches, based on their outward appearances! If they look hip, then they might have sold out to culture! Really. What is culture? Oh, it’s the surface appearance, what people wear and look like. Really. I couldn’t find a single reference to any meaningful cultural theorist. Sigh! Check again through the bibliography. No, hardly a writer from outside the surface of US Christianity.

As I leafed it, the Bible story that came to mind was Samuel’s anointing of David and that gorgeous refrain “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” This is a book that looks at the outward appearance.

I know I really should look more deeply at this book. But to do so would seem a betrayal of it’s essential method: that you judge a person and a church by their cover.

Posted by steve at 09:22 AM

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

little boat blown across the mighty Tasman sea

College worship today was framed around Jeremiah 18 and God the potter. We were offered a piece of play dough and invited to play as the service progressed. What was formed was laid on the communion table as an act of response, and then could be taken with us post-Benediction.

Here is my ponderings (thanks Sarah) …

… my little boat, blown by the wind of God’s Spirit. Echoes of Brendan the navigator, green the colour of this season in the church year that of growth in ordinary time. The backdrop a gift I gave myself a few years ago, that I have with me whenever I speak, as an evocation of grace and possibilities and God’s future.

Posted by steve at 05:04 PM

Are we dinosaurs? churches in Western culture

On Friday I’ve been asked to speak with the South Australian Heads of Churches.  The topic I’ve been given, for 90 minutes, is the question: Are we dinosaurs? with particular focus on the future of the church. It’s a pretty significant opportunity and my colleagues have been teasing me about the need to dig out my tie and suit!

I thought it might be helpful for the leaders if as part of the presentation (one of three parts), I sought to summarise the range of approaches being advocated. So here’s a first crack at this, in which I am playing with the dinosaur theme. What do you think? Is it a helpful framework? What approaches might I be missing?

a) Theologies of extinction

These in many ways assume that the dinosaur will die.  That is accepted and is legitimised through theological reflection.  An example might be Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. Or it might be various theologies of exile, which are suggesting that the church is moving to the margins, and so link that with various Old Testament motifs. The danger of these is (IMHO) that these are in fact assuming that the “now” is in fact not actually home.

b) Go back: good old days theologies
These encourage a looking back in time.  It might be the good old days of the 1950’s. Or it might be the early church, say pre-Constantine or in the book of Acts. It might be a moment of liturgy, for example the Radical Orthodoxy movement and the Tridentine mass. They often trade on a fairly romantic notion.

c) Climate changers and Culture-makers
These include words like “Fresh expressions” and “Missional Church.”  They point to a changing climate and encourage the church to adapt.  Often they have a missionary view of history.  One way to categorise them is in terms of theology and missiology. So much of the Emergent church conversation in the US is a call for a new theology, while much of the fresh expressions conversation is a call for a new missiology.

Posted by steve at 12:07 PM