Sunday, May 13, 2012

A mighty totara tree has fallen: death of Walter Wink

Kua hinga he totara i te wao nui a Tane. A totara has fallen in the forest of Tane.
A totara is a huge tree that grows for hundreds of years. For one of them to fall is a great tragedy. This proverb is said when someone of importance passes away. The Totara is a native tree of New Zealand. (Ref here)

Sad news overnight, with the death of Walter Wink. His trilogy on the powers – Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament; Unmasking the Powers; Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination – was hugely helpful to me while training for ministry.

I had come from a charismatic background and was struggling with the intellectualism of theological training. Wink helped me find a way to integrate my charismatic roots with an intelligent justice and to pursue a spirituality that was neither all head, nor all heart, but an integration of mind, body, spirit.

No ivory tower this man and his writings. His was a deeply rigorous scholarship, yet remaining attentive to the world beyond what is seen and constantly engaged with a real world of violence.

It helped to open me to the work of Te Whiti, at Parihaka, and to appreciate his spirituality of non-violence (for more on what I’ve written, see here and here.

It also began to shape much of my thinking about change and leadership. Before Wink, I had often seen change as individual – one person holding back an idea. After Wink, I began to appreciate change as an organisational and systemic, that you need to introduce practices that destabilise a system, and nourish the conversations that then occur around the resultant anxiety. That conversion is not simply a reference to an individual, but can be to a group, a church, a community, a movement, a society.

It gives a neglected dimension to the work of the Spirit. Not a Spirit as privatised and individualised. But a Spirit in the world, the Spirit of surprise who redeems groups and institutions, who offers to each generation gifts new and fresh, not for their sake but for the sake of mission as radical justice-making.

Last year I was back reading Wink again – Transforming Bible Study – in research for conference paper on sensegesis.

Walter Wink is more abrupt, arguing that historical Biblical criticism is bankrupt, incapable of interpreting the Scriptures in ways “that the past becomes alive and illumines our present with new possibilities for personal and social transformation.”

Walter Wink. Thankyou.

Posted by steve at 12:32 PM

Saturday, May 12, 2012

2 great mission shaped ministry video resources

Following the success of mission shaped ministry Adelaide in 2011, a creative and hardworking team are beavering away, working on a course for the 2nd half of this (2012) year.

Venue: City Soul (13 Hutt St Adelaide). This facility offers a casual cafe set up which will ensure a communal, creative and interactive environment.

Cost: $400. This includes 11 evenings of input plus 2 weekend gatherings.

Credit: The course can be taken for credit in the Adelaide College of Divinity Bachelor of Ministry degree. Enquiries to Steve Taylor.

- 4 Thursday evenings, July 26 to August 23, gathering from 7:00pm, input from 7:30-9:15 pm.
- Weekend Retreat 1, West Lakes Resort, Friday Night and Saturday, 31 August and 1 September.
- 3 Thursday evenings, September 6 to 20
- 3 week pause between Sept 20 to Oct 18 is given as a chance to put legs on some of the content in your local community
- 3 Thursday evenings, October 18 to November 1
- Weekend Retreat 2, Old Adelaide Inn, Friday Night and Saturday, 9 & 10 November

This includes a number of great video clips. Like this, a short 1 minute long video clip – single shot, creative use of an object, short script.

Which really nicely compliments another excellent 7 minute long video, with course participants from last year sharing what they valued about the course.

It’s a joy to see this type of creativity at work. Go mission shaped ministry Adelaide 2012.

Posted by steve at 02:44 PM

Friday, May 11, 2012

“Finding Faith” and the serendipities of study leave

An odd set of serendipities yesterday.

I arrived home to find Richard Flory and Donald Miller’s Finding Faith: The Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation waiting for me. John Drane had recommended it to me, in light of some of my recent posts about faith and gender. On that recommendation, I ordered the book and it was waiting for me as I arrived home from work.

A quick flick through a book recommended by a colleague, and I find myself (The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change) being summarised over half of page 35.

[Taylor's] is a journey that is both descriptive of what other churches are doing, taking full advantage of both digital and live networks of innovative church leaders, and prescriptive in what churches can do to better minister within the emerging postmodern framework.

An interesting serendipity.

What was even more interesting was that during the day I had been reading Tony Jones The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement (perhaps more on that soon). And I had been appreciating his use – without realising it was the book I had ordered – of Richard Flory and Donald Millers Finding Faith.  Another interesting serendipity – to hold a book that I’d just been reading about, wondering about – during the day.

Such are the moments that make up my study leave. (Yes, I probably need a life!)

Flory and Miller propose that we can understand the contemporary post-boomer spiritual quest under four headings

  • innovators – those who represent an evolving approach to religious faith and practice. (BTW that’s where my book is placed). Their focus is on building community and engaging with culture.
  • appropriators – those who seek relevance by appropriating, or imitating, from surrounding culture, ultimately forming “a particular from of pop-Christianity that is primarily orientated toward an individual spiritual experience.” (14)
  • resisters – those who resist incursions of the culture into what they see as historic Christianity.
  • reclaimers – those seeking to renew their experience of Christianity through ancient forms of Christianity. “These are converts, either from other nonliturgical forms of Christianity or from nonexistent or lapsed faith communities.” (15)

Flory and Miller use a “snowballing” sampling plan, following leads, networks and recommendations from those they initially contact. The result is 10 physical site visits and 100 individual interviews.

They conclude the book with a chapter looking toward the future. They argue that religious groups that practice an embodied imagination, and that organise organically, from the grass-roots, are more likely to have a future.They affirm the role of the

“organic theologian … [who] understands the importance and role of popular culture in the shaping of ideas and the communication of values” (190)

They conclude that while Appropriators have a greater natural audience (and thus a greater surface appearance of success), Innovators have the most potential for nourishing the contemporary spiritual search.

As long as they can survive the threat of routinisation.

Posted by steve at 10:47 AM

Thursday, May 10, 2012

the haiku theology of Rowan Williams

For a while last year, I tried a spiritual practice, of making a 1 sentence prayer from my first waking experiences. It was an attempt to pay attention to God in the everyday, to (try and) keep me centred in simple places. Well, I am a babe, compared these six haiku offered by Archbishop Rowan Williams.

A million arrows, I
the target, where the lines meet
and are knotted

Inside, hollowness; what is
comes to me as a blow, but not
a wound

Not only servicing the lungs, the air
is woven, full
of needles

The first task: to find
a frontier. I am not,
after all, everything.

The strip of red flesh
lies still, absorbs, silent; speaks
to all the body

Each door from the room says,
this is not all. Your hands will find
in the dark

The six haiku are in Sense Making Faith. Body Spirit Journey (which I’ve reviewed here). The following explanation is provided.

“To guide our thoughts and ideas we asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, if he would offer us a creative meditation for each of the chapters on the senses. He has responded by sending us six haiku. A haiku is a poem, based on an ancient Japanese tradition of poetry, which is set out in 17 syllables in the space of three lines. The economy of each poem means that each word has layers of meaning and asks the reader to engage deeply and imaginatively with the world it invokes.”

It is one type of charism to write dense theology crowded with footnotes. It takes a rare gift to pen theology in 17 syllables. My favourites are the last three, the way the senses push us into new spaces, new encounters, new experiences.

Posted by steve at 01:10 PM

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

spiritual direction, mission and what the heck then is church?

Natalie Weaver, a 25-year-old musician who lives in Roxbury, does not go to church. But every three weeks or so, she visits a white vinyl-sided building on Dorchester Avenue, a former convent, to meet with her spiritual director.

Fascinating article in Boston Globe, looking at rise in popularity of spiritual direction. It notes

  • a rise in the numbers of spiritual directors, from 400 in one organisation in 1990, to 6,000 today
  • the popularity among young adults, including those with “little religious background [who] find themselves undergoing a spiritual awakening and do not know where to turn.”

Why the popularity? The article suggests it could be the increase in coaching relationships in general in our culture. It could also be the way direction is freed from organisational claims – “no pressure to join a group, make a weekly offertory pledge, or endorse a specific creed.”

So what are the implications for mission and church? Directors see their role as an outworking of mission:

“We really see ourselves as a safe mooring, a place where people pull their ships in, in good shape or bad shape, draw down their sails, unpack their stuff, and begin to restock up for the journey out” said one.

While participants see it as discipleship:

“It has really helped me understand what I believe in when I say I believe in God.”

But is it church? Well not if church is the gathering. Spiritual direction is simply another expression of modern hyper-individualism.

But if church is in the connections, the networks, the interrelationships – that the director themselves have, that are being nourished in the activity of direction – then perhaps this is church. (Applying here the work of Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory which I’ve been reading today. Plus Dwight Friesen, Thy Kingdom Connected: What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks).

Posted by steve at 10:03 PM

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

a pioneer doctoring of ministry

Congratulations to Pat Cronin, the first ever Doctor of Ministry at Adelaide College of Divinity. A pioneer!

Pat did his thesis on adult conversion in the Catholic church and the discipleship processes that surround that. It is a fascinating study of ministry, of how the church is in mission, how it engages with people on their life journeys.

The photo is of all the work Pat did to gain the award. For a Doctor of Ministry, you don’t just write a thesis. You also undertake Program Seminars, doing theology in community, and undertake multiple Guided Readings, doing further research across the breadth of ministry. It’s a considerable stack of material, which Pat has all had bound, as a marker.

Impressive aye!

Pat’s a pioneer and it was a great celebration last night. He’s being closely followed by at least six others in our Doctor of Ministry programme. Research interests include the studying of learning communities, the practices of pioneer leaders, street chaplaincy, community gardens as a context for ministry, identity for women in ministry and ministry teams in multiple parish settings. It makes for a very rich and vibrant programme (which needs a Postgraduate Co-ordinator, applications closing 11 May, 2012).

Posted by steve at 10:42 AM

Monday, May 07, 2012

faith of girls: more than a guy thing part 3

What do Lo-ruhamah in Hosea 1, Namaan’s wife’s slave girl in 2 Kings 5, the slave girl in Philippi in Acts 16, Jarius daughter in the Gospels, have in common?

First, they are pre-pubescent girls. Second, they are agents of new theology. God is made more real, more understandable, more present, through these girls. This is so consistent with Jesus, who takes children in his arms and reminds us that keys to God’s Kingdom are found in them.

My reading in gender and faith development continues. I didn’t expect this when I began my sabbatical. But I’ve learnt there are times to chase the unexpected, to follow the rabbit holes of research. My intuition says there is something important about the emerging church and gender, so I am reading.

In response to my posts last week on faith development and gender (here and here), Andy Goodliff commented, suggesting The Faith of Girls by Anne Phillips.

It is superb.

Phillips notes how gender blind is the church, and that most theologies of childhood have been written by men. She interviews 17 young girls, seeking to understand their faith development. “In asking the girls the question: ‘Who is God for you?’ I was not asking them to engage in abstract theory or systematic theology, but to narrate or to reflect on how and where in their own experience they had encountered God.” (105)

Anne argues for a “wombing” theology as an approach to faith development. It protects and so the need for a “home space.” It enables play, in which the one being birthed is free, away from adult control, to work at their identity. It connects. Regarding church, “membership of a cohort was not enough for the girls to feel a sense of belonging. Intergenerational sharing was named as a significant feature in their attachment to the environment … Girls [interviewed] regularly spoke of the impact on their faith of older people … Most participation was initiated by adults.” (160)

The Faith of Girls is practical theology at it’s best. It shows how by starting with human experience, in this case the faith development of young girls, we find fresh insights, new imaginations emerging from the Christian tradition and the Biblical text. (To the above list of Biblical characters offered by Phillips, I’d also add Mary. Plus the unnamed children of those effected by Jesus healing ministry, for example, if the leper in Mark 1 had a daughter, or the Syro-Phronecian woman had a daughter.)

Phillips is a Baptist minister, and Co-Principal of Northern Baptist College and the book emerges from her PHD research. The Faith of Girls is currently only available in hardback, which makes it pricey. But still worth it. There is a sermon series on young girls as Biblical characters, there is rich material to discuss with those in your church responsible for faith development, there are insights for fathers and mothers, grandparents, other family into how they raise children.

Posted by steve at 11:34 AM

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sense making faith: taste

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

This is superb. The power of the mouth, the potential of taste. That sense of intimacy, the way the mouth functions as useful, a barrier, sensual.

It would be fabulous loop for use during communion. Or for use during the “taste” session when teaching Sense Making faith.

Posted by steve at 10:39 PM

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The durability of church in a culture of change

1 – I got an iPad a few weeks ago. In order to transfer files between my Mac and the IPad, I joined Iwork. Only to get an email saying the Iwork I joined was a beta programme, was going to cease soon. So if I wanted to retain the files, I’d need to download them.

2 – Swinton and Mowat, in their wonderfully helpful Practical Theology and Qualitative Research Methods mention an important computer programme for analysing qualitative data. A search of the web indicates the programme is no more. Probably brought out by a competitor.

3 – According to an article today in Advertiser, over 50% of restuarants in Australia have closed since 2007. To quote

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show only 51.7 per cent of accommodation and food services businesses survived the full four years from June 2007 to June 2011.

In sum, we live in a culture of overwhelming change. Which seems to say something interesting about church – where week by week, year by year – worship and mission continue. I go to lots of conferences that express concern about the health of the church. And missiologically, I’m not convinced that durability is the main aim.

Yet the fact remains, that when placed alongside changes in technology, computer software and restuarants, church remains a remarkably durable body.

Posted by steve at 11:22 PM

Friday, May 04, 2012

faith development: more than a guy thing part 2

Yesterday I raised some questions about the place of gender in faith development. I noted the work of Nichola Slee, Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes. Her work emerges from interviews with 30 women, which resulted in some 1500 pages of transcribed interviews. She then read these narratives alongside a number of conversation partners – faith development theory and women’s spirituality.

She suggests these women develop through a three part process,

  • of alienation
  • of awakenings
  • of relationality

She then makes four broad applications, to those in formal theological education, to those involved in any educational or pastoral care context in church life, to women’s networks and groupings.

First, to ground practice in women’s experience. She suggests making a priority of more inductive and experiential approaches to education. She also suggesting bringing to greater visibility women’s lives. (A simple check list I used in this regard, when I used to preach regularly, was check my sermon illustrations and quotes to make sure I had gender balance, as many women examples as men).

Second, create relational and conversational spaces, for “women’s spirituality was profoundly relational in nature, rooted in a strong sense of connection to others, to the wider world and to God as the source of relational power.” (Slee, 173) Slee suggests we look at our environments, ways to create circles not rows, and processes by which everyone speaks no less than once and no more than twice.

Third, foregrounding of imagination, given “the remarkable linguistic and metaphoric creativity of women as they seek to give expression to their struggles to achieve authentic selfhood, relationships with others, and connectedness to ultimate reality.” (Slee, 175). She notes historically how much of women’s theology was embedded in poetry, hymnody, craft forms and popular piety. So we need to find ways to weave this into our “reading” and our talking.

“Yet educators need to go beyond the use of such artistic resources to the active encouragement of learners to engage in artistry as a way of exploring and discerning truth.” (Slee, 177)

Practically, this can include Ignation practices, working with the texts of Biblical women, seeking to recreate their lives “between the lines of patriarchal texts.” (177)

Fourth, of accompanying into silence and paradox. Faith development involves times when we find ourselves in places which have no words. “They require the creation of spaces for waiting, for silence, for apparent nothingness.” (Slee, 178) Helpful resources here can include Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil.

Slee is aware that these suggestions are not new. But from her experience of (British) theological institutions, there is room for growth.

Posted by steve at 11:57 AM

Thursday, May 03, 2012

faith development: has to be more than a guy thing

Today I am working on a section of faith development. I began to reach mentally for my usual starting point, Peter. The journeyer – in the Gospels invited as follower (Luke 5); named as denier; commissioned as feeder (John 21). In Acts, the preacher, whom God’s Spirit calls out of the box. In Galatians, challenged for the ease by which he slips back into racist patterns.

But on the book shelf is another book on faith development, Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes, by Nichola Slee. Who suggests that our notions of faith development can reflect a male bias.

Here is her summary of the usual model of faith development, that provided by James Fowler.

“where Fowler describes faith development in primarily cognitive terms, [alternative] models describe a broader, more holistic process of development shaped by affect, imagination and relationship as well as by cognitive structures. Where Fowler describes the process of development in terms of linear, sequential and irreversible stages towards a highest level of faith, these [alternative] models offer a more fluid and varied account of transition which, whilst demonstrating certain common patterns, can accommodate movement in different directions and can allow for regression as well as the anticipation of prospective growth. Above all, where Fowler asserts that faith development is uniform across diverse contexts, feminists insist that women’s religious development is shaped profoundly by the cultural context of patriarchy which is antitethetical to women’s full personhood and spirituality.” (Slee, 40)

So rather than turn to Peter, I sat back on my chair. And began to think about women in the Bible. Like Mary. And Joanna/Junia.

Two of my most helpful resources – Slee’s, Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes and Bauckham’s, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels. What have been yours? What resources are you using to ensure your understanding of faith formation is not overly rational, overly “guy”-centric?

Posted by steve at 11:58 AM

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Visual in worship: weekly lectionary visuals

Mark Hewitt is a trained artist and a Uniting Church minister. As an artist, he’s deeply aware of the power of visual images. Tired of spending time each week looking for images for worship, he’s decided instead to stop browsing the internet and instead use the time saved to create an image himself. His goal, each week is to present that week’s lectionary text, visually.

The Vine by Mark Hewitt

Often creativity works when it becomes confined. Somehow the constraint – of resources, of time, of circumstances – results in innovation. Mark is letting the constraint of time – only having a few hours, and of the weekly lectionary text – be his seedbed for imagination.

Since the creativity is emerging from his church life, and the lectionary only rolls around once every 3 years, he wanted to make his work more widely available. He’s created a website, – Old Tractor Tin Shed – where he is posting his visuals in worship. It is on a Creative Commons copyright:

Mark A Hewitt of Panorama South Australia is the Artist and copyright holder of all visual art and photography on this site.

You are free to use these works for non commercial purposes
on the condition that Mark A Hewitt is made reference to as the artist.

Posted by steve at 12:15 PM

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

intuition and anecdotes in theology

A playful moment today. I am working this week on a chapter on emerging church practices. In trying to make sense of how to proceed, I have been enjoying a book by Max Van Manen, Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy.

The book explores how to use lived experience – ours and others – not for mere academic interest, but to be part of transformation – in us and in our spheres of influence. In the book, Van Manen seeks a method by which to be systematic and critically rigorous about lived experience. One way he suggests is by the use of anecdotes. He notes how so often in conversations, people use short stories to make a point.

Anecdotes connect us to real life. They can provide concrete demonstrations of wisdom. They provide experiential case studies. Each anecdote is unique and particular, yet often each anecdote is addressing matters of universal importance.

So I have been looking through my interview data, looking for anecdotes. Surprise, surprise, I found that in the 5 focus group interviews I did, 45 anecdotes were used. Previously I might have dismissed these as examples, difficult to make into nice little sound bites. So probably I would have walked past them.

Instead, today I have grouped these 45 anecdotes and begun to analyse them, each particular, for the emerging practices present in them.

As I have worked, I have also been thinking about the Gospels. And I began to wonder if perhaps they too are in fact a collection, artfully chosen, of anecdotes about Jesus. In John 20:30, we are told that “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.” In describing these signs to each other, the disciples used anecdotes. Which John then declares that he has selected, edited and artfully arranged so that the reader “may believe” and “by believing … may have life.” I love that sense of the Gospel writer daring to tell a universal story by gathering a particular set of particular anecdotes.

But how to connect some anecdotes from an emerging church today with these Gospels as anecdotes?

So this afternoon I spread out the Jesus Deck on the office floor. The Jesus Deck has 52 cards. In other words, 52 anecdotes from the life of Jesus! I spread out these Gospel anecdotes alongside the anecdotes from my interviews.

It is certainly not an approach I’ve used in research before. But it has begun to generate some really interesting conversations. Whether they are dead ends or not, we will see in the coming days.

Posted by steve at 05:21 PM