Tuesday, January 31, 2012

God in Libya

I’m really enjoying reading Thomas C Oden’s Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition. The book began with an invitation for Oden to address the Da’wa Islamic University in 2008.

Like any decent academic, he began to do some research. And discovered that buried beneath the sand was a vital Christian presence in Libya. For example, in the 190s AD, Libyan’s were at the heart of Christianity – a pope (Victor the African), a leading theologian (Tertullian), and a key diplomat (Synesius).

Or in this summary statement (pages 84-85):

  1. An African was present on the road to the crucifixion.
  2. Africans were present in the Cyreniac synagogue in Jerusalem.
  3. Africans were present in the first missionary journey north toward Antioch predating Paul
  4. An African … was present in the first missionary journey south toward Ethiopia.
  5. Africans were present in the debates leading to the major decision about circumcision for Gentile believers.
  6. Africans were present in the growth of the first international church in Antioch.
  7. Africans were present in the preparation and ordination of Paul to be apostle.
  8. Africans were present in Rome before the arrival of either Peter or Paul.

The implications are important: that Christianity is NOT Western. A common caricature – heard in phrases like “Trinity is a Greek concept” or “Jesus was a white person.” Faith has been multi-cultural, growing in diversity in diverse cultures.

Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition is a nice partner to Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died which I read back in 2008 and have summarised here and here.

Posted by steve at 06:33 PM

Monday, January 30, 2012

being earthed, as a spiritual practice of being permanent

Today I planted a chilli plant at our new house/project. It suddenly felt quite profound and I realised, as I pushed the soil down deep, that it was the first time I’ve handled Adelaide dirt in a gardening sort of way.

From the first week that team Taylor, arrived in Adelaide, I’ve been gardening. It began with finding some plastic pots on the side of road. We then brought soil and started growing lettuces.

Since then, the plastic pot garden has grown. I’ve now got around a metre square of large pots, and have enjoyed lettuce, tomato, silver beet, onion, pepper, carrot, peas plus a range of herbs like parsley, basil, chives, oregano, sage.

But a plastic pot has, well, plastic, between it and earth. More, you can move a plastic pot. Somehow, it feels less permanent, less earthed.

Today, as I worked the soil, I realised that I won’t be taking this chilli with me. It’s here to stay. It’s part of a spirituality of being permanent. I’m not sure what this means, but it was interesting, and deeply spiritual, to work the Adelaide soil today.

Posted by steve at 07:10 PM

Sunday, January 29, 2012

being 12: a birthday car-hunt

One member of Team Taylor turned 12 today. Being a Sunday, it meant a whole day to fill with pleasure and enjoyment. We decided to try and have a treasure hunt using the car. We identified 7 fun things/favourite spots. We then created a number (3 or 4) clues for each, from hard to easy. The challenge was to use the clues to identify the spot, which we then drove to, to enjoy a treat. Once enjoyed, the next “spot”/set of clues could be requested.

It turned out to be a fun and creative way to spend some time as a family celebrating a birthday. Here’s the clues, and I will put the answers in the comments. (It mostly took about 2 clues to guess the spot, although one confounded both children). (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:08 PM

Friday, January 27, 2012

what is mission? a story of paying attention to the missing

The question is not: what is the church? but who is the church? (Natalie Watson, Introducing Feminist Ecclesiology).

What is mission? As a missiologist, I am always looking for ways to answer this question clearly. I can give you the definitions. Like this one from the Commission on Mission of the National Council of Churches in Australia.

Mission is the creating, reconciling and transforming action of God, flowing from the community of love found in the Trinity, made known to all humanity in the person of Jesus, and entrusted to the faithful action and witness of the people of God who, in the power of the Spirit, are a sign, foretaste and instrument of the reign of God.

But they tend to make some people’s eyes glaze over. So what about this for a story from a local pastor, working with an elderly congregation, as a way of defining mission?

The pastor thought a lot about who in the community was missing from the church. And how to help the church remain attentive. This generated the idea of making some life-size cardboard cuts out of people typical of their community, but missing from their congregation. In their case, a boy aged 5, a girl aged 11, a parent aged 35.

The pastor found some photos, blew them up life-size, printed them in colour, stuck them on some plywood, cut them out and built a stand. A boy 101 cm tall, a girl 132 cm tall, an adult 163 cm tall.

And then the pastor began to take these 3 figures to every leadership meeting. And when key discussions were being made, the leaders would be asked to stop and consider the impact of the decisions on those 3 cutouts, the people absent from their church.

And the pastor also took these cutouts to church. So that as they gathered, and when they prayed for others, their prayers would include those figures, the people in their community.

Which is commendable because we follow a Jesus who paid attention the missing.

(Hat tip)

What is mission? Mission is the deliberate act of paying attention to those who are missing. It does this through inviting our prayer, our time, our talent, as individuals and as a communities.

Posted by steve at 11:30 AM

Lonely planet offers free Christchurch download

Lonely Planet, the traveller’s Bible, is offering a free download of the Christchurch and Canterbury chapter (here). Obviously a lot has changed in Christchurch in recent months – including a container mall, new cafes and pubs springing up in the suburbs and editor, Errol Hunt said it would still provide visitors to New Zealand’s “fastest-changing city” with quality post-quake information.

Lonely Planet consider that Christchurch is re-emerging as one of New Zealand’s most exciting cities and given their commitment to providing “up-to-date, quality information for travellers”.

“We believe this new chapter will be able to help visitors to Christchurch in ways that the pre-quake content cannot.”

The chapter will remain available for free until the Lonely Planet’s newest New Zealand guide is released in September.

Posted by steve at 08:00 AM

Thursday, January 26, 2012

a white dove on Australia Day

As I walked outside today, Australia Day, I encountered a white dove. (Australia has over 20 types of pigeons and doves. It looked like a Pied Imperial Pigeon, but they are meant to be in the north of the country). I stopped, hoping it might come closer. Slowly it walked toward me, head cocked. It got to within a feet. I could see it’s dark eye, carefully studying me. Slowly it circled in front of me, and then slowly walked off.

It felt profound. Christianity has a long history of paying attention to animals. In Matthew 6, Jesus invites his disciples to learn from flowers and birds. Saint Cuthbert had many God encounters through animals (For more, see St. Cuthbert and the Animals’).

Today, this dove offered me trust, responding to my newness, my largeness, my stepping into their world, with an open curiousity about who I might be and how I might respond.

It spoke of how I would like people to treat, and be treated. That we would greet what is new and different with a simple curiousity, a coming closer to know more.

Yesterday, a speaker at the Storyweaving conference stated that “Australia is a country of strangers.” It is so easy when we encounter what is strange to laugh, giggle, spot the difference, seek to make them like us.

The white dove, today, on Australia Day, offered me another way of being in the world, in which we respond to what is new with a trusting curiousity.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading W is for white doves).

Posted by steve at 09:42 AM

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

the diversity of story weaving

The Story Weaving conference is one of the most diverse spaces I’ve been in. Of the 130 delegates, over 40 are indigenous. In the two days to date I’ve listened to research on indigenous theology from Canada, Samoa, Solomon Islands, India, Aotearoa New Zealand, while other streams have included work from Fiji, Philipines, Indonesia. I’ve shared meals with folk from PNG and the indigenous communities of Taiwan and built and renewed connections with various Uniting church leaders, including Congress folk from Tasmania.

The weaving metaphor has been great – we’re each unique and together, as we dialogue and engage, we find a fresh pattern. They even had folk actually weaving late this afternoon.

It’s been a really challenging time, so much stretch and stimulus. It’s a reminder of how much energy there is in the research scene in Australia and around the world. It has made me reflect on my childhood, the marginality of growing up a minority person in PNG and what it has meant to move countries in the last few years.

I’m not sure I’ve had the time to come (I’m meant to be teaching a 2 week intensive in early February), but I’m glad I have.

Posted by steve at 11:16 PM

Monday, January 23, 2012

this is my body? paper update

My paper presentation today, shared with Tim Matton-Johnson, from Congress Tasmania, seemed to go OK. Having two voices was certainly nice in an afternoon session.

Some really useful questions in response, which will help to clarify and make it sharper. It’s the most developed of papers I’ve done in recent times, so it should be an easy task to make publishable – the plan as a result of the confernece is to produce both a set of DVD’s, plus a book as a result, with Palgrave publishers. So hoping for that …

for now, after a 5.45 am start, it’s goodnight …

Posted by steve at 09:45 PM

Sunday, January 22, 2012

the project has begun: broken perfume bottles anyone

Back in November we put on an offer in on a house. It is a real mess. Two rooms are unfinished – no gib on walls or roof. Most other rooms have holes in the walls. No room is finished, apart from kitchen and bathroom.

But the place has character. And the bones are sound. And the carpentry is sound. And we’ve done a do-up before. And its better than renting in that we get to put our own pictures up and paint rooms the colour we want them and have pets. And we put in an offer at a price that meant we could afford a bit of carpentry help.

Because its a do-up we’ve given ourselves a few weeks to work on it before we move in. So we took possession on Saturday and have spent the weekend ripping up carpet (the owner had cats that wee’d inside) and cleaning. Plus the first coat of paint on the first ceiling.

Plus a few surprises. The owner had not quite left. And she turns out to be the owner of 16 cats. Yep 16. Not all are yet gone.

And, most wierd of all, as we ripped plywood off the ceiling tonight (yep plywood on the ceiling!), I heard something move in the wood above me. Once, twice, three, four times. One by one, out fell 4 perfume bottles, smashing onto the floor below. Glass everywhere and fine perfume wafting through the room.

Who on earth would board perfume into their ceiling? Or a sacrament of annointing?

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

Friday, January 20, 2012

story weaving conference

I’m off on Monday morning (early), to be part of Story Weaving, an international conference on Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology. It is being hosted by Whitley College, Melbourne. They are Baptist, so I’ll be able to breathe deep that Baptist air :) Apparently the conference is over-subscribed, which is great. For me, being part of these types of conversations is an esssential partnership that needs to lie alongside fresh expressions, as a concrete expression of being a stranger, of surfing the edges and entering into the marginal spaces.

My paper, which I’m delivering on Monday afternoon, is titled:

This is my body? A post-colonial investigation of the elements used in indigenous Australian communion practices

The introduction is here. What is most fascinating is how the paper has evolved. As part of my research I got into conversation with Tim Matton-Johnsto, a Congress (indigenous) leader in Tasmania. Some email, some skype, some shuffling of drafts back and forth, some negotiation with his local elders and the result is that he will be sharing the paper with me, telling a story from his indigenous community of one of their communion practices.

There’s something very personally satisfying about a process which will mean I, as a recent migrant, am part of theologising alongside indigenous communities here in Australia, and am to co-share a paper in this type of way.

Posted by steve at 10:23 AM

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

needed: 13 mission legends for mission trading cards

Who would be your top 13 mission legends?

One of my tasks in the next month is to write a distance topic – Equipping in Culturally Appropriate Mission – to help lay leaders of local churches engage in mission. It is my experience that one very helpful way to engage people in mission is to tell stories of people past. Something happens when the story is told of Brendan the Navigator, or of Alexandre de Rhodes pioneer leadership in Vietnam in the 1600s. It provides a glimpse of a way of life that values pioneering and risk and it seems to fire people’s imaginations.

So I thought it would be fun to make up some mission trading cards to give to each student. This would involve finding a helpful cartoonist to draw a picture on the front, provide some key data on the back, along with a further written resource. It would be tactile. It would be fun. Students could play with them. Or even compare cards with each other (give everyone 12, not 13), leading to them swapping them with each other if they want.

But first, I need to identify some “mission legends.” Who are they for you? Who are the people in history who challenge and inspire the way you do mission? In an ideal world I would like 13 legends, including 3 from Australia. They would also embrace the breadth of mission – including proclaiming, discipling, serving, enacting justice and social transformation.

(I did a similar thing last year, when I designed a distance topic on Jesus, and AKMA very kindly let me use his Theologian trading cards and the feedback has been very positive. In fact, it allowed one of the best moments of intuitive teaching I did in 2011, when, as a group of students articulated their “Jesus” questions, I was able to give each of them a different theologian trading card, saying “Oh, you should meet (x), they had a similar question to you and you might find them really helpful.”)

Posted by steve at 01:54 PM

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

and now we’re back. So hi ho, hi ho

32 days after we left for home/New Zealand/holidays, we’re back, in Australia, at home, and starting to think about the year ahead.

It promises to be a MOST interesting year. First, we move into our very own Australian “project” – a house that needs a LOT of attention! More on this in the coming days! I promise.

Second, come 1st of July, I start as Principal of Uniting College. I’m feeling pretty daunted by the title and the expectation and am intrigued by how that role will unfold over the latter half of the year.

Third, due to starting as Principal, it was decided just before Christmas that it might be wise for me to take some study leave before I begin. (I was due for study leave first semester of 2013, ie 6 months after I would have begun as Principal). So from April to June 2012, I have three months to do some writing, followed by another three months December 2012 -March 2013.

A year of new house, new job and study leave. What impact will all this have on the old stress levels I wonder? Whatever might come, it certainly promises to be an event-filled year!

So, first things first, might as well head off to work tomorrow …

Posted by steve at 08:02 PM

Monday, January 16, 2012

a prayer for the year coming

Lindisfarne Scriptorium produce A Call to Pray as a discipleship resource. It includes 13 cards, each with an artistic image, each with a prayer. They are wallet-sized, so over the summer holiday, they’ve been great to sit with at the beginning of each day. Or to place in your pocket as you go for a reflective walk.

Sunday I headed up a hill for a 2 hour walk, with the following prayer. As I walked and pondered, some questions began to emerge, which helped me as I began to pray for the year ahead.

Please God
grant us the grace
to change our hearts,
to open our minds

To ponder: What are the images of God in which you find grace?

Grant us the grace
to bless our small corner,
to encourage each other

To ponder: What is your “small corner”/refuge/sanctuary? What will bless it?

Grant us the grace
to pray for the world,
to care to much.

To ponder: How can you care too much for the world?

Grant us the grace, please Lord.

Prayer from Lindisfarne Scriptorium. Reflective questions by Steve and Kayli Taylor.

Further links:
- Photo essay of Lindisfarne here.
- Lindisfarne spiritual legacy here.
- Further discipleship resources here.

Posted by steve at 04:25 PM

Sunday, January 15, 2012

walking the art: Brick Bay Sculpture Trail

Over the weekend I loved walking the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail – 43 sculptures from some of New Zealand’s most well known sculpturers, located outdoors, among native bush and meandering lakes. The walk takes about an hour, and involves 2 km of walking. Trees and landscape is carefully used to ensure that the environment is the canvas and it allowed a wonderful mix of walking, contemplation and discovery, all in the outdoors, allowing the visits of native wood pigeons and tui. The trail is run by a Trust, with profit being made available to assist artists with costs (because large scale sculpture is expensive).

In 2009, I was part of an academic theology conference on land. Sitting on the grass, contemplating sculpture 31 – Graham Bennett’s Position fixing – I wondered what would have happened if the academic conference had occurred not an hour down the road in a sterile lecture room, but here, with regular walks through the trail.

In 2011, the conference became a book, The Gospel and the Land of Promise: Christian Approaches to the Land of the Bible. I have a chapter which I attempt a post-colonial reading of the Jacob narrative. I’m really pleased with it. But sitting beside sculpture 25 – Jim Wheeler’s Regeneration series – I wondered how much richer my chapter, and the entire book would have been if it had been theologians in dialogue with artists like Jim Wheeler and Graham Bennett.

Theology needs art. (But does art need theology?)

Posted by steve at 06:41 AM