Wednesday, May 11, 2011

laughing Jesus: essential in the post-resurrection creationary

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

Just came across an Australian art exhibition with the theme laughing Jesus. This is a piece by Lindena Robb, titled Behold the Joy of Jesus.

laughing jesus

The representations of a tortured Jesus were crowded in my mind, so the thought of painting a joyous Jesus delighted me. I was reflecting on the words: “being held” and “behold”. I noticed how we support each other by witnessing our experiences. Through witnessing, we are affirming, and also sharing the human expression of life. We are being held by those who witness our lives. We are also being held by God witnessing our lives. We behold others, as the women in this painting behold Jesus, each with her own personality and expression of delight, humour, compassion, admiration, and possibly desire.

There is a range of pieces, from a range of cultures (16). They note that images of Jesus often make suffering central and so miss a laughing, loving Jesus who is a living presence. Well worth reflection, whether in corporate gathered worship, or private reflection. I will be using them over the Grow and go weekend.

Posted by steve at 11:40 AM

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

a playful and public faith? a favourite urban mission resource

This is one of my favourite resources for mission, particularly in urban contexts.

I love the way it started with just a few folk, with a passion. And yet the way it grew. Simply by the use of social media and capturing the imagination of other groups. Not to reproduce, but to be individually them.

I love the way it spotlights an issue, without being illegal, aggressive or obnoxious. I love the words “playful” and “public.”

Why can’t more urban churches do this? Esp in warmer, outdoor Aussie climates? Plant an easter garden outside, serve coffee and give out easter eggs after Resurrection Sunday. Blow bubbles and create homemade wind chimes at Pentecost. Share a banquet table for an occasional community.

Simply take your belief and passion outdoors in ways that are “playful” and “public.”

Posted by steve at 04:26 PM

Monday, May 09, 2011

twas the day that happens annually

College Graduation, so a chance to play dressups.

Big congrats to all those who graduated. So important to celebrate folk who work so hard, face the fears, hurdle the inevitable discouragements. And to honour the support people who invest so much in time and moral support.

Posted by steve at 06:25 PM

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Jesus washes Osama’s feet

Just saw this picture, Lars Justinen from the Justinen Creative Group, who painted the above picture to use on posters advertising a conference. It was from 2007, so I’m a bit slow.

After some of my posts this week (Augustine, Bono, Revelation on Osama), does someone need to now paint a picture of Jesus preparing Osama’s body for burial, according to Muslim custom, weeping for the state of our world today?

Posted by steve at 12:21 PM

mission project updates

Part of my current role (Director of Missiology) involves teaching. So recent months have found me

  • writing a distance unit for lay folk on Jesus
  • teaching an under-graduate course on Reading cultures
  • teaching across a range of post-graduate courses. This is focused on working with church leaders in a mix of group and one-on-one research projects. Some of these are smaller – looking at how church is understood in recent changes in Catholic dioceses, hospitality Bible passages, how Christian education is being taught, researching their local community. Others are more lengthy, the effectiveness of short-term mission trips, the missional practices of pioneer leaders, the cross-cultural skills of church leaders, how migrants do theology.

Another part of my current role also involves catalysing in areas of mission. Quite a bit of this has been going on below the blog radar, so I thought it time I provided a bit of an update.

1. Mission shaped ministry Australia – In November 2010 a group of 12 leaders from four Australian States met at Uniting College to talk about partnership in mission training.  The upshot was a decision to form a national development team, to work collaboratively on contextualising the mission-shaped ministry course, which is a one year part-time course ( equipping in planting and sustaining fresh expressions of church, currently running ecumenically in over 30 centres across the UK. The core values include hospitality, prayer, ecumenical generosity, interactive learning, coaching and practitioner teachers. Followup includes ongoing coaching and learning networks and it has been hugely important in developing a mission mindset in the UK context.

Since then, via meetings and email, a Memorandum of Understanding has been developed, forming an Australian Centre to allow negotiation and licensing with UK, yet maintain freedom for local initiatives to be run by local groupings. Currently there are seven partners from 4 States and 2 Territories. (Other partners will always be welcome to join in the future.)  It has been humbling to see denominations and states decide to work together for mission.

(Two pilots are being well piloted in 2011 and if the signs are good, then processes are being worked on for other states/cities to offer courses in 2012. If anyone is interested, please contact us)

2. Mission shaped ministry Adelaide 2011 pilot – A planning group from Adelaide, involving folk from the Lutheran, Uniting and Anglican Church has been meeting to explore the first ever pilot of the mission shaped course in Australia. Go Adelaide!

The plan is to run this Wednesday evenings from mid-July to end-November, over 12 weeks, plus a weekend away to build community. The course is for leaders and members, clergy and lay people, learning side by side. It’s a great opportunity for folk in Adelaide who want to focus on either preparing to start a fresh expression of church or because they want their existing church to be more mission-shaped. More details will be rolling in forthcoming weeks.

(There is also a pilot happening in Canberra, three weekends in the second half of 2011).

3. Innovation and pioneer leader research – Uniting College has partnered with the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) to do some specific research on innovation and pioneer leaders across Australia. This has involved commissioning some research, both on how innovative are churches in Australia and also how innovative are leaders in Australia. This will be used as part of the nationwide NCLS. It will also be used by us at Uniting College.

Our Bachelor of Ministry (practice) and our Masters of Mission (missional) are focused on developing innovative leaders and we want a tool to benchmark whether that is actually happening. It will take a while for the data to emerge, but it is energising to at least be thinking about what questions might need to be asked.

Posted by steve at 12:08 AM

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Jesus today at Grow and go 2011

Grow and go is one of those joyful surprises you stumble across when you move to a new place. A weekend dedicated to learning. An invitation to the whole church across South Australia. Some shared input and worship. A whole lot of streams, so that a team can pursue different learnings.

If I was a minister, I’d use it as a key part of my leadership development. I’d ask my leaders team to commit to a retreat once a year, and a Grow and go learning experience once a year. One a chance to focus on the church, the other a chance to upskill.

It’s happening again May 13-14. The theme is God@earth: being present, real, local. There are 8 streams – on faith sharing, working with families, preaching, understanding Uniting church, pastoral care, preaching Matthew, creative worship and understanding Jesus.

I am doing a keynote address on the Friday evening. It will include stations and input exploring feelings, colour and the mission of God. I’m then doing the understanding Jesus learning stream over Saturday and Sunday, exploring more deeply how life can be shaped by Jesus as sufferer, liberator, culture-crosser, cosmic healer, reconciler.

For more details Grow and Go 2011.

Posted by steve at 04:55 PM

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Revelation’s White Horse Warrior on Obama/Osama bin Laden?

Following on from what Augustine and Bono might say to Osama bin Laden, I think for the sake of honesty, Christians must also ask what Revelation’s White Horse Warrior might say to Osama/Obama?

The Bible book of Revelation ends with the Rider on the White horse, who comes to pour out God’s wrath (Revelation 19:15). In response, the saints gleefully cheer (Rev 18:20). It is easy to claim an Old Testament God of vengeance and a New Testament God of love. Revelation refuses to allow us this luxury.

What to do with these Bible texts in Revelation? What to do with those who suffer violence in the name of Divine? Miroslav Volf, theologian at Yale and native born Croatian, puts the question this way: “Why must God say the unrelenting “no” to a world of injustive, deception and violence in such a violent way?” (Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and ReconciliationChristianity Books) 296)

Volf argues that much talk of non-violence has “the sweet aroma of a suburban ideology” (296).

“A “nice” God is a figment of liberal imagination, a projection onto the sky of the inability to give up cherished illusions about goodness, freedom, and the rationality of social actors. (298)”

Ouch! Volf argues that in reality, patient appeals to reason do not always work. Thus the texts of Revelation are, in my words, reality texts. That some people and situations will not change. They refuse to “shy away from the unpleasant and deeply tragic possibility that there might be human beings, created in the image of God, who, through the practices of evil, have immunised themselves from all attempts at their redemption.” (297)

Obama and religious fundamentalism (of any persuasion) become contemporary examples of this.

In such reality, the White Rider in Revelation functions to keep open a God who is indignant at injustice, deception and violence. This does not mean that God is schizophrenic, a wierd mix of suffering Messiah and justice-seeker. Rather it is the preserver of true and radical human freedom, that people have the choice to say no to redemption and reconcilation – whether a fundamentalist or a Christian refusing to face their sin.

These are tough things to consider. But it does provide a way to understand what Volf calls “the symbolic portrayal of the final exclusion of everything that refuses to be redeemed by God’s suffering love … not because God is too eager to pull the trigger, but because every day of patience in a world of violence means more violence and every postponement of vindication means letting insult accompany injury.” (299)

To be honest, part of this makes my blood chill.

But another part warms toward a God who cares enough about justice to engage the world in reality, in truth, in freedom whether in good or bad.

Volf has not finished. He then asks “who” – who can enact such justice? Can Obama and a group of US Seals? Volf notes that in the New Testament, the “who” is the suffering God and the White horse rider, “partners in promoting nonviolence.” (302) Humans are freed to renounce violence because of future hope in God’s passionate justice.

“the only way in which nonviolence and forgiveness will be possible in a world of violence is through displacement or transference of violence, not through its complete relinquishment.” (302)

Further posts:
see Christian Jihad or what sort of God killed the Canaanites?

Posted by steve at 12:53 PM

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

what is the aussie Christian response to this?

A crisis of grief is unfolding, a spiritual collapse so deep it cannot be held back. The acts of self-harm are not inadvertent, not mistakes, not just the ill-judged results of too much drink and drugs, not something to be solved by simply lowering the levels of intoxication. Those watching struggle for words and fear they may be watching as an entire culture, acting collectively, destroys itself.

The conclusion to an article by Nicholas Rothwell, titled “Living hard, dying young in the Kimberley” in The Australian over the weekend has just left me gob-smacked. It outlines the state of indigenous communities in Western Australian outback.

What on earth does the church do if he is even half right?

Posted by steve at 08:43 PM

Saint Augustine and Saint Bono on Osama Bin Laden?

“Let your desire for him [your enemy] be that together with you he may have eternal life: let your desire for him be that he may be your brother. And if that is what you desire in loving your enemy (that he may be your brother) when you love him, you love a brother. You love in him, not what he is, but what you would have him be.” (Augustine, Eighth Homily, in Homilies on the First Epistle of St John)

And even more clearly, “You are to love all men, even your enemies – not because they are your brothers, but in order that they may be.” (Augustine, Tenth Homily, in Homilies on the First Epistle of St John).

Thus the death of Osama is a tragedy, for in a sinful world, we are facing the fact that “Your Kingdom” has not come, that an enemy has not (yet) become a brother.

Two further things I find intriguing in these quotes. First, I would want to interpret the phrase “eternal life” through the lens of John 10:10, abundant life to the full, as both a current hope and a future reality. In other words, the (costly) call to love our enemies must start now.

Second, “not because they are your brothers” suggests a theology of difference, that the love of others does not start by expecting them to be like us. Or in the words of Charles Taylor (in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of RecognitionCultural Anthropology Books)), a politics of recognition in which the distinctiveness is appreciated rather than homogenised and unified (rather than a politics of equality).

And finally, a line from Bono, in the song Cedars of Lebanon, from the No Line on the Horizon album.

Choose your enemies carefully
Cos in time they will define you.

For further posts:
see Revelation’s White Horse Rider on Osama?

Posted by steve at 04:47 PM

Monday, May 02, 2011

leader as gardener: a minister of pastor commissioning sermon

On Saturday I was honoured to be invited to speak at a commissioning, of a friend as a family pastor (Uniting church ministry of pastor). They were expecting quite a lot of community folk, particularly younger families. So I needed to all-age friendly and to explain what was happening in understandable categories. Plus I was keen to keep it connected to the church year, and thus the Easter story.

So here’s the sermon, drawing on my faithful friend, Bodge Plants a Seed: A Retelling of the Parable of the SowerChildren's Christian Fiction Books), working with the Easter story (John 20:11-18) and some seeds. (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:42 AM

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Resurrection: today

“It’s easy to be cynical”

Posted by steve at 10:07 PM