Monday, April 11, 2011

A Uniting Church, an emerging church? updated with more resources

Here is the introduction:

In May, I was privileged to participate, as the Norman and Mary Miller Lecturer, in the 28th gathering of the Queensland Synod. The opening worship was a highlight, a moving expression of the richness and diversity of The Uniting Church in Australia today.

The worship began with an indigenous cleansing ceremony, a welcome to country and the entry of diverse Uniting Church congregations. All were in traditional dress, singing and dancing as an expression of their unique culture. Each of the four Bible readings was given in a different language, while the Prayers of the people were enriched by the use of a conch shell. The communion table, in the shape of a boomerang, was draped in rich fabrics, in the colours of the rainbow and decorated with baskets of local produce. Celebration of communion included the Great Thanksgiving as a prayer of call and response that originated in Kenya. The prayer for the Bread originated in the Church of South India, the Gloria was a sung response using a chant from the Taize community in France while other words from Augustine of Hippo were also utilised.

It was a rich and splendid liturgical feast. At the risk of being facetious, but in order to make a point that is both obvious, yet important, let me make the following observation: that the worship bore little relationship to the early church.

Let me explain.

Here is the conclusion:

The emerging church invites a global, missional theology. It is not a Western manifestation, a product of books in the USA or fresh expressions in the United Kingdom.

Rather, it is a response to the impulse of the Spirit, at Pentecost, throughout church history and across the expanse of global culture.

This is the conclusion to an article I wrote last year. I try to argue that the best way to appreciate the emerging church is by placing it within global mission. I explore a Uniting church communion, and 20th century developments in both church and global mission history.

Titled “A Uniting Church, an emerging church?” it was published in Cross Purposes, a journal to encourage and support theological dialogue. If you want to read the full article, it has just become available online here, by scrolling down to page 3.

Updated: Jonny Baker found my article “delightful” and in email conversation we began discussing the books that are shaping our thinking in terms of seeing church in the context of God’s global mission. Here is what we noted

Kirsteen Kim, Joining in with the Spirit (who we’ve got booked to teach an intensive here in Adelaide on Spirit and mission in July 2012).

Bevans and Schroder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today

Chris Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative

Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture

Dana Roberts, Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion

David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission

Gerard Arbuckle, Refounding the Church: Dissent for Leadership

Stanley Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission

Since this Uniting Church, an emerging church? article, I have developed my thinking further. This is due to appear in an article titled Evaluating Birth narratives: A Missiological Conversation with Fresh Expressions, due out any time soon with Anvil. Here’s part of the conclusion:

Third, in reflecting on my own attempts to communicate Fresh Expressions to church leaders in Australasia, something happens when the conversation is started with an ecclesiology of “birth narratives”, rather than with the marks of the church. Telling the stories of Brendan the Navigator or of Alexandre de Rhodes pioneer leadership in Vietnam in the 1600s, offers an ecclesiology that values pioneering, risk, and that cannot avoid the constant interplay between faith and culture. Missiology becomes entwined with ecclesiology.

Does this mean that Fresh Expressions might be better served by employing the phrase “Fresh Expressions of mission”, rather than “Fresh Expressions of church”? A number of benefits might occur. Firstly, in honouring the global work of the Missio Dei. Secondly, in avoiding of the Western imaginary that is evoked in the word “church.” Thirdly, in the production of a set of ecclesiological criteria – potential, pioneering, risky, engaged with culture – that are more missiologically generative for the growth and development, which includes evaluation, of Fresh Expressions?

Fourth, a birthing ecclesiolgy might more directly link ecclesiology with the narratives of the birth of the church that arose after the Resurrection. One schema is provided by Stanley Skreslet, who offers five New Testament images of mission, linked with mission history. The images are those of announcing good news, sharing Christ with friends, interpreting the gospel; shepherding; building and planting.

One example provided by Skreslet is the Gladzor Gospels, in which the woman at the Well is portrayed as sharing with her neighbours, one of whom wears a Mongolian hat. And so a global mission history offers evaluative criteria that include whether Fresh Expressions expect to exist in mission only for their own cultural sub-group, or whether they are have eyes open to a world with multi-cultural neighbours.

Another example is the exploration by Skreslet of the theme of announcing good news. Skreslet notes that a third of the book of Acts is public speeches and explores how all are uniquely contextual. And so this early church birthing narrative offers evaluative criteria including whether a Fresh Expressions is engaged in the interplay between faith and culture.

Such might be the possibilities generated by the use of the term “Fresh Expressions of mission”, rather than “Fresh Expressions of church.”

Posted by steve at 11:55 PM

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Film review of The Adjustment Bureau: a theology beyond fearful puppetry

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). Film reviews of the most common contemporary films, each with a theological perspective, (over 60) back to 2005 can be found here.

A contextual note: This review was written the weekend that a New Zealand magician, Ken Ring, was predicting that based on the moon, a major earthquake would occur again in Christchurch. Are we fearful puppets in the hands of an angry world? Or are there other ways to be human?

The Adjustment Bureau
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Adjustment Bureau (directed by George Nolfi) is adapted from a short story by Philip K Dick. Find a star like Matt Damon and the movie hints at being “Mr-Bourne-meets-Inception.” Sadly, the mix of action and animation is gloss for a turgid philosophical rumination on the relationship between free will and chance.

Life on earth is controlled by the “adjustment bureau.” They walk our streets, clasping black books complete with the chosen destiny in which humans must walk.

This includes the young and talented David Norris (Matt Damon). His life plan requires an “adjustment,” a casual spilling of coffee, in order that he miss a bus and thus arrive late for work. The “adjustment” fails and the life of Matt begins to go off plan.

Catching the bus, David meets the young and equally talented Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). Love beckons and a phone number is exchanged. Arriving at work on time, David stumbles onto the “adjustment bureau” in action, manipulating minds in order to engineer a chosen destiny.

This lengthy introduction sets up a number of plot tensions. Will David and Emily fall in love? How will David respond to his glimpse of the “adjustment bureau”? Do humans have free will?

A lengthy monologue explains “adjustment-theology.” In the beginning, a god upstairs gave humans free will. The result is a lengthy string of human disasters, from the Dark Ages to World Wars to global warming.

Hence the need for divine intervention, for “adjustments”, a bureau full of parent figures who control our lives with the task of making the world a better place.

Such “adjustment-theology” occurs in contrast to a moving scene (pun intended) in which Emily dances. As she does, the representative from the “adjustment bureau” offers David a choice. Without Elise (Emily Blunt), his chosen destiny will be President of the United States. The two men talk, caught in a world of logic and binary choice.

Meanwhile, Elise dances. This physical movement of fluid grace, her body supported by the strength of her partner, offers a different way to think about the relationship between divine and human, between destiny and free will.

The early church described God using the Greek word perichoresis. It is the root of the word choreography and was used to imagine God as a dancer, celebrating life in a mutual sharing of love and grace.

In the act of creation, rather than one chosen destiny, humans are instead invited into a dance – with each other, with God and with God’s creation. When history demonstrated that humans are better at stomping on feet than moving in response to God’s embrace, God intervened, not with an “adjustment bureau” but in Jesus, who enters creation and begins again the dance of life.

It provides a sharp contrast to the “adjustment bureau,” all men, all dressed mysteriously in dark suits.

It provides another contrast to responses to earthquakes, in which blame is apportioned to God, or humans (who have not listened to God), or the moon. Instead the dance invites us to move in grace and freedom no matter how shaken or stirred we might feel.

Posted by steve at 11:08 AM

Friday, April 08, 2011

Welcome. But who owns “home”?

Welcome Home is a Dave Dobbyn special, the first song on his 2005 Available Light. It was reputed to be written in response to a racist incident, in which a far-right group suggested Chinese migrants were not welcome in New Zealand.

The chorus is gorgeous: “Welcome home from the bottom of our hearts/from the bottom of our hearts.” It song then offers a number of important insights in regard to hospitality and welcoming the stranger.

1 – Honouring of migrant story

Tonight I am feeling for you/under the state of a strange land
You have sacrificed much to be here

These are the first words and in doing so, the song begins in a listening posture. It starts with the migrant, and desire to empathise. This leads to an honouring of the migrant journey, the recognition of sacrifice, that no matter how good it might be to move, it still means homesickness and breaking of relationship, of missing out of change, and not seeing parents grow old and children grow..

2 – Offering fresh possibilities

Out here on the edge/the empire is fading by the day/
And the world is so weary in war/maybe we’ll find that new way

This is quite profound, for it suggests that the current state of the “home” is not the best. It needs a new way. And thus the migrant is framed as a gift. With their coming, their might actually be a new way by which the old country might live, might learn, might grow.

3 – Suggesting a new practices

So welcome home, see i made a space for you now

And here the rubber hits the road. It’s one thing to say welcome. Some words.

It’s quite another whole set of realities to make a space. Space making is physical. Space making means the welcomer must move, must let themselves be disturbed in this act of space making.

Part of the difficulty is that different cultures perceive space making differently. A comment about an accent might be a joke one day, but on another day it can be perceived as a reminder of difference, an exclusive gesture.

Nevertheless it suggests that welcome is never just words. It must include the welcomer being willing to move, to deliberately enact gestures that the migrant understands as space making.

But at the root of this is the question of who owns, who defines “home.” The danger is that “home” means that relationships are always defined in binary

  • home-visitor
  • local-foreigner
  • mine-not yours

Theologically, it seems to me that Jesus left “home” in the Incarnation. Much ministry was done not at his home, in his place, but only as he experienced the “other” saying “welcome home.” – At Matthew’s house, in Zacchaues’s place, at Mary and Martha’s. But on the other hand, this was always done in Jesus home tongue, his language and his culture.

Should the church say “welcome home”? This has been the dominant ministry posture in Christendom. We are the host and we expect the world to come to us.

Then in a post-Christendom world I hear people rifting off the Prodigal Son, the church becomes the father, waiting for the culture, which has stomped off, getting ready to welcome the returning. “Welcome home.” The Luke 15 parables cluster around this theme. As I’ve written elsewhere, the lost sheep assumes the shepherd will bring the sheep home. But what would happen if the shepherd decided to make a new home, in the place where the lost sheep was?

But perhaps, if the church seeks Incarnation as a way of being, it is time for the church to become alien, migrant.  To give up saying welcome and go looking for welcome. To wonder who, if any, will make space for it? This is certainly the heart of Luke 10:1-12, in which the disciples are sent, speaking peace, to be reliant on the welcome and hospitality of another.

For further on this:
When home is a pain

Posted by steve at 11:59 AM

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

When Fresh expressions suddenly made me claustrophobic

It’s Lent. A time to focus on Christ and what it means to live as Christ followers. So I’ve started to tuck into Rooted in Jesus Christ: Towards a Radical Ecclesiology. Daniel is a younger leader, born in Spain, studied in United States, now back in Europe working with migrants. It’s a rich and fertile bed for theological reflection.

A few pages in he discusses the place of martyrs for theology.

“In recent decades, liberation theology has become a theology of martyrdom. A number of bishops (the best known being Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Bishop Enrique Angelelli in Argentina, and Bishop Juan Gerardi in Guatemala), various priests and nuns (including the six Jesuits of the Universidad Centro-americano Jose Simeon Canas in San Salvador), and thousands of catechists and members of base communities have been killed for their commitment to the gospel of liberation. These martyrs offer a witness to the meaning and implications of following Christ in a violent world, Their testimony is much needed to overcome the effects of a cultural context that emphasises comfort and tends to forget the anonymous victims of injustice.” (4)

Why martyrs only four pages into a book on Jesus today? Well he is arguing that these martyrs, not just one, but many, are one of the four key permanent contributions of liberation theology to the ongoing task of theological reflection. That you can’t think and act on Jesus without a struggle that is radical, so radical it might even be life-giving.

Suddenly some of the fresh expressions talk I’ve been part of began to feel claustrophobic. I couldn’t think of many martyrs, although I can think of hours spent arguing about American authors, or the use or otherwise of pop culture, or candles, in worship.

Recently I reflected that mission is a 3D triangle. It needs to include

  • words, the talking of the Jesus story
  • deeds, the practical helps of listening well, of offering mercy, of seeking justice
  • prayer, whether in monastic patterns of faithful prayer, or of worship performed in representation of a hurting world, or in “power evangelism” in which the sick are prayed for
  • societal rebuilding in which Christians join with Nehemiah in rebuilding broken walls, follow Daniel who gave himself to just administration, echo Dueteronomy and seek to build cities of refuge

Fresh expressions claims to be about mission. But it runs the danger of becoming a church-centric, worship-focused program.

The feelings of claustrophobia lifted as I read on. Daniel offers a few critiques of liberation theology. One is that the use of praxis was too narrow. Praxis is not only political – it is also about ordinary, daily life, the real practices and lives of the people, “the whole reality as it really is, not as we would like it to be.” (7) In Australia this might not be matyrdom, but it is the way we eat, it is the way we shop, it is how we culture-make.

This offers a generative moment for fresh expressions. Daniel continues;

“there is a significant ecclesial role in the cause of people’s liberation … we need to strengthen Christian identity – including spirituality, liturgical life, and a factual sense of belonging.” (10)

In other words, Fresh expressions is vital as it encourages a ecclesial role that is contextual for First-world cultures. Fresh expressions remains essential as it seeks to nourish Christian identity in ways that make sense for 21st century disciples.

Fresh expressions is claustrophobic if the goal is fresh expressions. It is full of potential if the hope is cultural transformation in an alignment with God’s inbreaking Kingdom.

But what of where I started? What is the place of martyrs in Fresh expressions? Perhaps in the reminder of a life of love lived freely and radically, the invitation to love our enemies, not as an option for mature Christians who have their act together, but as a core of discipleship.

A radical Lenten following of Jesus?

Posted by steve at 11:49 AM

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

creationary: In search of a round table

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

A few weeks ago I posted a communion reflection, on how the roundness of a communion table remakes us – a reflection of the physicality of the table, the importance of space and the power of the gospel to change relationships, powers and hierarchies.

Maggi Dawn has just posted a poem in a very similar vein.

In search of a round table
a poem by Charles Lathrop

Concerning the why and how and what and who of ministry,
One image keeps surfacing: A table that is round.

It will take some sawing
To be roundtabled.
Some redefining
And redesigning,
Some redoing and rebirthing
Of narrow long Churching
Can painful be
For people and tables.
It would mean no daising
And throning,
For but one king is there
And he is a foot washer,
At table no less.

And what of narrow long ministers
When they confront
A round table people,
After years of working up the table
To finally sit at its head,
Only to discover
That the table has been turned round?

They must be loved into roundness,
For God has called a People
Not “them and us”.
“them and us” are unable
to gather round; for at a round table
there are no sides
and ALL are invited
to wholeness and to food.

At one time
Our narrowing churches
Were built to resemble the Cross
But it does no good
For building to do so,
If lives do not.

Round tabling means
No preferred seating,
No first and last,
No better, and no corners
For the “least of these”.
Roundtableing means
Being with,
A part of,
Together and one.
It means room for the Spirit
And gifts
And disturbing profound peace for all.

We can no longer prepare for the past.
We will and must and are called
To be Church,
And if He calls for other than a round table
We are bound to follow.

Leaving the sawdust
And chips, designs and redesigns
Behind, in search of and in presence of
The Kingdom
That is His and not ours.

Posted by steve at 09:32 AM

Monday, April 04, 2011

can mission be embedded into the worship DNA? a worship treat

Scattered and gathered, outward and inward, sending and receiving, mission and worship – I have been pondering the relationships for the last few weeks.

  • I had a general introduction – can mission be embedded into the worship DNA – here.
  • I had a followup – a possible worship pattern – here.

Today in chapel we trialled a very practical beginning. We began outdoors (scattered). We invited people to use their outside environment as the starting point for reflection. For 10 minutes, to wander. And in particular to consider

  • bitumen – what has been hard?
  • sky – where have we found joy?
  • windows – who, what, have we walked past?
  • grass – what of God’s breath in creation have we missed?

We gave out a card as an aid (very simple, used an apple Pages business template and just rolled text and picture in).

And then we gathered to continue in worship – to hear Scripture, to have communion, to pray for God’s world, before being benedicted back into the places of bitumen, sky, windows and grass.

I loved seeing people wander, reflecting on God in our scatteredness and then having that woven into our gathering. So there you are, some thinking about mission and worship, a possible worship pattern and now here, a practical worship treat that might encourage and inspire you to do better.

Do let me know how you improve it :)

Posted by steve at 02:49 PM

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Aha, there’s a storyteller: Daniel Lanois, Brandon Flowers and a ministry of imagination

Daniel Lanois is a record producer and musician. His CV includes working with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Brian Eno and U2. Quite a list! Three of the albums he produced have gone on to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Quite an achievement! Soul Mining: A Musical Life is his autobiography. Part poetry, part techhead, part philosophy it’s an intriguing and stimulating window into art and the artist – as it is glimpsed in the recording and music industry.

Here is his reflection on deciding to work with Brandon Flowers (formerly with The Killers) on his 2010 solo album, Flamingo.

I can hear Brandon’s influences, and that’s okay by me; we all got into this because we fell in love with already existing works. The part of me that looks for the original turns a blind eye to the influences and a good eye to the imagination of this young man. Aha, he’s a storyteller. There is it is, the never-ending frontier – storytelling. Life experience lives beyond the medium. (208)

It’s a lovely insight into how different generations might work together, Lanois born in 1951, Flowers born 1981. It’s a fascinating insight into the music industry and the valuing of originality. It’s a reminder for those of us who work in the religious and spiritual world, that yes we need to have our influences, our traditions and our authors. But lets not lose our good eye for imagination and the valuing of life experience.

Isn’t that the biggest challenge for teaching and for ministry formation – to cultivate imagination in the midst of the sifting of life experience?

Posted by steve at 02:50 PM

Friday, April 01, 2011

mission in digital frontiers: a learning day with Andrew Jones

delighted to announce this –

mission in digital frontiers: a learning day with Andrew Jones

Thursday 28 April 1:30pm – 3:00pm Pioneering lessons

Pioneering is hard work and Andrew Jones has been doing it, and seeing it, for over 20 years. This session offers some wisdom on sustainability, dealing with difficulty and building creative partnerships.  It is by invite only, by simply asking for the pioneer password. The aim is to encourage folk with a pioneering heart and is jointly hosted by Mission Resourcing Network and Uniting College.

3:45 – 5:15 pm Social media as fresh expression of mission

The digital world is a fast moving frontier. This session with explore the potential of blogs, Facebook, Twitter for congregations and communities in mission. The content will cover getting started, strategies for effective network and the shape of mission theology for a digital world. The aim of this session is to both upskill and encourage local churches to think about their use of the internet.

7-8:30 pm Social media and justice-making in God’s mission

This session will explore the relationship between social media and justice-making. Can the use of social media be an outworking of “Your Kingdom Come”? If so, how? The session will share stories from around the globe mixed with theological reflection. The aim is to explore the potential and pitfalls that face those surfing the digital frontier.

Andrew Jones aka Tall skinny Kiwi travels the world with his family in a 4×4 truck. They seek to see the world that God loves, to eat unusual food {but not too unusual} and to help change the world by telling stories, throwing parties, making friends and giving gifts. Andrew is interested in spirituality and religion as it collides with new media and the emerging culture.

Details: April 28 2011
Venue: Uniting College
Cost: $20 per session or $30 for two.

Here’s a publicity brochure, which doubles as a registration from – low res here, high res here – feel free to post in your church, email it onto your friends.

Posted by steve at 04:31 PM