Sunday, July 31, 2011

The ship song project: marking an Australian spiritual space

Just released, a song in honour of one of Australia’s spiritual spaces. It is a love song, dedicated to the Sydney Opera House, based around the song by Nick Cave. In my Reading Cultures/Sociology for Ministry class, I have explored the Sydney Opera House as one of Australia’s spiritual spaces (called “cultural cathedral” here) – (along with Melbourne Cricket Ground, Uluru and Anzac memorials). (Here is what we did in the class this year and for the “video” explanation, go here)) Up till now, I’ve used a video clip of an architect describing the significance of the Opera House, but this seems much more emotionally and culturally connective.

(I love the way this video starts with a Kiwi (Neil Finn), followed by an indigenous voice (Kev Carmody, (updated) plus another Kiwi, Maori Teddy Tahu Rhodes). A hopeful sign perhaps, of an Australian identity that begins with voices other than Anglo?)

Posted by steve at 08:50 PM

garden church anyone?

Fabulous morning. Sun shining. Dirt in fingers. Trees planted in hope of different environmental futures. Conversations about sustainability and spirituality, about human things like rugby and migration. Advice given about mission action projects (guerrilla gardening in Seacliff). Contact details shared with a fellow spiritual seeker. Food and hospitality enjoyed. Kingdom coming on earth.

No, not a church programme or building, but joining something that is – tree planting with a local urban community garden collective.

For related:
Composting as a spiritual practice
Diggers club as model for a fresh expression
Ministerial leader as gardener
Grow your own – Great movie on garden spirituality

Posted by steve at 04:59 PM

Friday, July 29, 2011

This is my body: what elements are essential in indigenous aboriginal communion?

I am on a research quest:

What are the elements used in indigenous aboriginal (Australian) communion? Is it bread made from wheat based flour? Or does it involve any indigenous food products? And what was the theology – specifically the initial theology – that shapes the elements?

When I asked the ACD librarian, she looked suitably intrigued and impressed. And then said she needed some time to think, and suggested I come back on Tuesday.

Why my question? Well, I am working on a paper for a conference in early 2012, “Story Weaving: Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology

A number of thinkers have suggested that the eucharist is a key resource for living both Christianly and humanly in a post-colonial world. These include William Cavanaugh in Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire and Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Challenges in Contemporary Theology). The argument is that the colonial notions of global and local, universal and particular, are fundamentally disrupted in the eucharist. A similar, but even more tightly focused argument has been offered by John McDowell, in his exploration of the Narrative of Institution in 1 Corinthians 11 (“Feastings in God at Midnight: Theology and the Globalised Present,” Pacifica 23 (October 1010)).

This argument, that the eucharist is a key resource for a post-colonial world, stands in striking contrast to an example by Susan Dworkin in The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist’s Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest. She notes that when the Catholic church arrived (colonised) South America, they brought the belief that in Christianity, wheat flour rather than the (indigenous) corn flour could be used to bake communion wafers. In other words, in practice, the eucharist becomes complicit in processes of colonisation, rather than a key resource in resisting globalisation.

What is intriguing is that Dworkin’s next paragraph, however, provide an example of a way in which colonisation can be deconstructed. She describes how in order to provide such colonial bread, wheat needed to be imported. It was grown around local churches. It self-seeded. Through natural processes of selection, the wheat that survived developed genes more uniquely adapted to local environments.

In the late 20th century, scientists realised that such wheat might have enormous potential in safe guarding food production. They began to search through isolated churches in Mexico, seeking genetic material, plants that had adapted and evolved. In other words, what was originally imported wheat was now highly prized indigenous wheat.

This raises a fascinating set of questions, not only around ecclesiology, eucharist and the Narrative of Institution, but around the very elements. What should constitute the very body of Christ? How is it’s composition, complicit in, or resistant to, processes of colonisation?

Hence my research question in the library this morning. Here in Australia, what communion elements did indigenous Aboriginal cultures employ? And was the underlying theology a colonial imposition? And how does this disrupt, or endorse, the work of Cavanaugh and McDowell? And how might the resultant practices, even if unintentional, contribute toward something that might in fact be a unique emerging indigenous gift for a hungry world?

So, I’d be grateful if any readers, especially Australian readers, might suggest any research leads. Because indigenous Aboriginal culture is wide and varied. And because both I and my librarian suspect that the search will be less that straightforward, but mighty, mighty interesting.

Posted by steve at 01:06 PM

Thursday, July 28, 2011

a new reformation: the rort that is academic (biblical) publishing

I just got notice from an academic (Biblical) publishing house. A new book. Price $90.

What a rort.

What happened to the Reformation? Remember the people who died for the belief that the Bible belonged not to an exclusive elite, but to the whole people of God, who insisted that translation be in the vernacular, who fought for lay interpretation.

500 years later, we still have an elite, sustained by the academic publishing market, fused with the research academic. Here’s how it works.

Academics do research. They need to publish their research, so they write. What they write is quite elite, so only a few people read it. So not many books sell. So the price is expensive.

Yet other’s in the academic guild have to read what their peers write. So academic libraries still have to buy these books no matter how expensive. Which means a guaranteed market. And ensures little competitive pressure to make a book more accessible.

I know this happens in all academic disciplines. I know that “pure” research (cf applied research) is important. I know that there is an academic speak which is is an important shorthand (see my post – Can I swap your pliers for my Economic Trinity?)

But when books are priced at $90, the world of biblical scholarship has priced itself as an elitist occupation, affordable to a few, inaccessible to the many. Anyone for a new reformation?

Posted by steve at 04:56 PM

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

real hospitality: their place not ours

I blogged this back in April. I stumbled across it again last night and thought it was rather good. So at the risk of self-promotion, and in honour of the mission-shaped ministry course, which is starting tonight (40 folk registered, woop woop), I’m putting it up again.

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? What happens if the Christ is not saying “welcome home” inside our buildings?

(Cartoon from asboJesus).

So 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 01:08 PM

Monday, July 25, 2011

mother of God icon: one coat turns it to crap

This is my second icon- Mary, mother of God. (My first, a pioneer icon, is here). I’ve been working on it for about 3 months. A lot of evenings, a lot of weekends. It’s been relaxing and enjoying.

I chose it because of the way Jesus is snuggled into Mary. I love the intimacy and humanity of that moment. As I painted, it felt more and more like the arm of Mary was making a gesture of embrace, inviting me to join the intimacy, to appreciate the humanity and warmth.

Over the weekend I applied the gold halo and finished the final etching. Which meant it was done and so last nite I applied a coat of clear varnish to help protect it.

I don’t know what happened, but it turned to crap. The gold halo is now all tarnished brown, rather than gold and shiny. The varnish has formed bubbles and looks all pock marked. The final finishing coat, after months of work. Sorry mother of God, but you look how I feel. Crap!

Posted by steve at 10:25 PM

smelling the Bible: parables of mustard seed, yeast, treasure, pearl, net

On Sunday I was guest preaching. The lectionary texts were the parables of mustard seed, yeast, treasure, pearl and net in Matthew 13. As part of the sermon, I decided to explore a more multi-sensory approach to the Bible and deliberately tried to engage the senses, especially the sense of smell. (For more on smelling the Bible, see here). For those interested in how the senses might be engaged in a sermon (more…)

Posted by steve at 05:12 PM

Sunday, July 24, 2011

the outsider: creationary storytelling Matthew 13 parable of treasure

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

The man arrived by shiny 4 wheel drive. An outsider, branded by his clean lines and secretive ways. Disappearing at dawn. Returning at dusk. Avoiding campfire conversation.

A month later he gives in. Finds the local country pub and sadly shares his story.

“I’m from NASA. Your land, these outback ranges, is reputed to be the site of a unique mineral deposit, with rocks essential to our space programme. Which means I’ve had a top secret mission.”

Slowly he pulls a rock out of his pocket. “I’m looking for these. From dawn to dusk. Searching your outback.”

Wearily his head leans onto the bar counter. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”

The bar owner peers hard. Bends down. Pulls a bucket out from under the counter and empties the contents over the bar. Identical stones run everywhere.

“Sometimes you simply need to ask, rather than look,” he grins.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.” (Matthew 13:44). (Based on a true story heard over coffee today.)

Posted by steve at 04:26 PM

Friday, July 22, 2011

creationary: Mattthew 13 parable of mustard seed

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

For those working on the parable of the mustard seed for Sunday, there are some great pictures – “smallness of the tree” here; birds in a mustard tree here. Regarding permissions, the website does say (generously) that the “photos and text are in the public domain. No other author may copyright them”

For me, I’ll be using Matthew 13:52 – new and old – as the integrative theme.

I will be giving
– some of the people, as they come in, a google map of their local community
– the rest of the people, as they come in, a picture of the church

I’ll also as people come in, give them an envelope in which there is a mustard seed, some yeast, a pearl, and some treasure. I’ll also have a net hanging up the front of the church.

So I will offer some “Jewish context info” for each parable and then pause and ask folk, using verse 52 – what smells old, what smells new. So interaction together about the way the parable is actually working.

And then I’ll finish by asking those with a map of the community what the parables mean to the community, and those with a church picture, what the parables mean to folk in the church. This will allow some communal discussion of the application, plus is also consistent with the Matthew 13 text, in that two of the parables (mustard seed and yeast) are delivered to the wide crowd, while two (treasure and pearl) are given to the disciples.

I will probably conclude with the Paul Kelly song, from Big things little things grow.

Posted by steve at 01:04 PM

writing as displacement in author Graham Swift

I harbour this dream of being a writer. Not a factual writer, but a fictional one. Perhaps it’s why a blog – a wannabe :). Anyhow, beside my bed since Christmas has been Graham Swift, Making an Elephant: Writing from Within. Swift is a UK author, Booker prize winner (1996). Two of his books have become films (Last Orders and Waterland).

This book, Making an Elephant, is a collection of various pieces he has written, many of which explore the art of writing. Below are some quotes that stood out. And which, when put together over some 400 odd pages, suggest a recurring theme. Whether for me, the reader, or in him, the writer, who knows.

[S]he suffers greatly, but she still grows. It’s the price of the ticket, isn’t it? The displacement ticket. Displacement engenders a great deal of suffering, a great deal of confusion, a great deal of soul-searching. (139, 140)

Unlike Vaculik, Klima did not disdain manual work. Rather, he took the view that doing other, temporary jobs could be valuable for a writer; and he told a story which was a perfect explosion of the Western ‘myth’. A famous Czech author is seen cleaning the streets by a friend of his at the American embassy. The American goes into a fit out of outrage at how the authorities humiliate the country’s best minds. But the writer is doing the job voluntarily: it is research for a book. (166)

a belief in the local as the route to the universal, combined with a belief that in the local (including those seemingly familiar localities, ourselves) the strange and the dislocated are never far away. (294)

we are all, at one and the same time, inhabitants of place and of placelessness, creatures of tenure, attachment and of no fixed abode …all writers … would recognize that mental dislocation is part and parcel of what they do. (311)

Posted by steve at 08:35 AM

Thursday, July 21, 2011

msm adelaide update 1

The start of the first ever mission-shaped ministry course in Adelaide is only a week away (starting Wednesday 27 July) and the working team met for a final planning meeting yesterday.

There are some real encouragements.

  • Enrolments currently stand at 45 29.
  • We will have a group from Kangaroo Island part of through the use of (touch wood) Skype technology
  • We have a teaching team that includes at least 15 people, ensuring a genuine team feel
  • We  have four hardworking hosts, from four denominations, that will also ensure a genuinely ecumenical feel.

It is amazing that only 8 months ago, November 2010, was the first meeting of a group from around Australia to simply canvas the possibility of working together. And now, it’s about to start. (If you want more of this history, go here)

I left reflecting on what it means to be a pioneer. I was thanked for being willing to be the first speaker on the first night. But for me, it’s a privilege. I’m energised by that sense of uncertainty and unknown.

I (as a pioneer) am needed.

Yet I know that once a thing starts, I find it much more difficult to pay attention and keep focused. While others are energised by having a pattern and a template, which they can refine and improve.

They too are needed.

As it says in the Basis of Union, “The Uniting Church … acknowledges with thanksgiving that the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service.”

Posted by steve at 11:25 AM

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

would folk in ministry value this?

Our Master/Doctor of Ministry includes Guided Reading units, in which folk explore an individual learning project. For example, in Semester one, folk were exploring hospitality practices in Lent, images of God for folk who are differently abled, resources for people in depression, being church today and how to train people in Christian education.

Yet this exploration remains read only by them, their supervisor and perhaps an examiner. It is essentially unavailable to the wider public.

So what about a “Research Output Strategy”? This would involve anyone who has done a Guided Reading writing their research up as a 800-1,000 word newspaper article. This would be critiqued at our post-graduate colloquim (Program Seminar) and would serve as that person’s regular contribution to the group.

Over a year, these could be collected and perhaps published as a “Ministry Practice Journal”. It could be augmented by summaries (or interviews) of examined theses from the year. The aim would not be to write journal articles per se, as students can pursue this anyhow. Rather the aim would be to make research accessible and to resource ministers and leaders in their practice of ministry, to expose them to what we are reading and thinking. Available as an e-publication.

In essence, not as heavy as an academic journal nor as light as a blog, but short articles that consider ministry practice in light of current reading. Would this be a useful resource for those in ministry?

Posted by steve at 05:00 PM

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry Potter as a Christ figure

I went to watch the final Harry Potter film last week. I’ve not read any of the books, but my kids had suggested I watch all the films in preparation for this grand cinematic finale. (For my review of Deathly Hallows part 1, with a focus on character, go here).

The theological part of my brain came away thinking about Harry Potter as a Christ figure. Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film , divides Jesus films into two categories.

First is films which tell the gospel story of the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth (eg King of Kings, Godspell, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Gospel according to Saint Matthew). Obviously that does not apply to Harry Potter.

Second are movies which on the surface are simply telling a story, but offer deeper links and parallels to Christ. Baugh calls this the arena of analogy; “They are not unlike the parables of Jesus which, when “read” on a literal level, remain brief narratives of human experience, but when interpreted metaphorically, fairly explode with theological and christological significance.”

Baugh suggests 11 elements by which to assess whether or not the characters in these movies function as Christ figures:

  • mysterious origins
  • conflict with authority
  • performing of wonders
  • attracting a group of followers
  • becoming a scapegoat
  • withdrawing to a deserted place
  • acting as a suffering servant
  • showing a commitment to justice
  • entering passion
  • reaching out to the repentant thief and
  • a metaphorical resurrection.

Baugh asserts that, since “the filmic Christ-figure does not always reflect the totality of the Christ-event”, the eleven elements are descriptive and generative rather than exhaustive.

So let’s place the 11 alongside Harry Potter (after the fold line cos of spoilers) (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:13 PM


winery entry,
earth rich,
sun low, view to afar,
hope, promise, now potential

(This is part 3 in the Wine Door series. Others are here and here)

Posted by steve at 09:22 AM