Friday, June 29, 2012

a day of regrets: C’est la vie

My sabbatical ended today.

I packed up my research, books and keyboard. I put away my highlighters, filed my reading notes and returned my office chair to Uniting College. I cleaned the whiteboard, wiping off my big picture progress, the word count on the five chapters I’ve been working on.

I’ve done lots.
– around 45,000 words of the book project – sustainability and the emerging church
– two research funding bids, one of 5,500 words, another of 1,500 words
– a short article on “Deacons, pioneering and the mission of God”
– a quick trip to Sydney to look at a way of training leaders
– coffee with a range of stimulating folk

But I end with regret.

Regret because I’ve loved the space, the more relaxed pace, the chance to say no to a whole range of speaking things, to have weekends off.

Regret because returning to work and a number of corridor conversations and emails was a reminder of some of the complexities and difficulties that lie in wait.

Regret because I reckon I’m about 3 weeks away from finishing the book project. And while the sabbatical was meant to be 3 months, there’s been over 3 weeks of work that has dragged me back. Work I was prepared to do, work that, now done, will make the next 6 months so much easier.

But if I’d said no, would the book be finished?

C’est la vie. Such is life. A day to wipe the whiteboard clean and prepare for the next stage in the journey of life.

Posted by steve at 11:42 PM

Thursday, June 28, 2012

a question (1) of Principal

As an incoming Principal, I have plenty of questions.

Sometimes a question helps one listen. Sometimes a question reveals most about the questioner, which in search of transparency, is no bad thing. Sometimes a question confirms an intuition. Sometimes a question simply reveals what the next question should be.

I’ve started a list of these questions. Here is the one I’m currently asking

– What is the most important thing a Principal needs to be for the sake of their denominational system?

All responses welcome. Because


you got it ….

Sometimes a response helps one listen. Sometimes a response reveals most about the answerer, which in search of transparency, is no bad thing. Sometimes a response confirms an intuition. Sometimes a response simply reveals what the next question should be.

Posted by steve at 05:34 PM

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

leadership formation as DIY knitting socks

Peregrinate. A verb, meaning to travel. As a verb, the word can be used either as transitive or intransitive. (To be used in the intransitive, requires a direct object.)

Peregrinate is a distinctive pattern in Celtic spirituality, in which individuals could undertake “peregrinatio pro Christo,” – leaving home, all that was familiar, out of love for a direct object – pro Christo – Jesus.

While some peregrini sought personal spiritual fulfillment, many were about mission. These include Brendan, Patrick, Columba and Columbanus, who during their peregrini spoke peace and saw new forms of church formed in new areas.

It is also a DIY brand of sock.

You buy not the sock, but the pattern. Hence DIY – using wool, following a pattern, but emerging out of your own craft.

Is that what theological colleges are about? They are about a journey. They link with historic patterns of Christian spirituality. They encourage travel, both in lifelong spiritual growth, and in lifelong exploration of mission. They offer not a ready made model, a “this-is-the-way-walk-you-in-it,” but rather a DIY experience, some patterns, some wool, lots of guidance and encouragement, both from those expert in knitting and those learning to knit, a community shaped by peregrinatio pro Christo,” out of love for a direct object – Jesus.

Posted by steve at 11:59 AM

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

new Director of Missiology and Post-graduate Co-ordinator

Here is the latest Mission Matters newsletter from the Missiology stream at Uniting College. Highlights include some resources, upcoming courses and some ways the Missiology stream is serving the church. But the main feature is the announcement of the next Director of Missiology at Uniting College, along with an extended interview with her.

Rosemary Dewerse has a call to form leaders, with a particular passion for developing leaders who will be attentive to context.

“Jesus Christ modeled a faith that was biblically and critically engaged, practical, creative, contextually relevant and transformational. I count it a privilege to encourage, nurture and seek to empower others to do likewise.”

She has a PhD in leadership formation with a focus on intercultural (across cultures and generations) ministry. She has 12 years teaching experience, in three different cultures (Maori, Central Asian, New Zealand). She defines herself as ecumenical, expressed an empathy with, and appreciation of, the Basis of Union, and made an unreserved commitment to the training of Uniting church ministers.

The Joint Nominating Committee were blown away by the calibre of people who applied and are very excited about the gifts and charisms Rosemary will bring among the College and church in South Australia.

Posted by steve at 10:31 AM

Monday, June 25, 2012

nature’s baptism

Overnight it had rained. Truth be told, overweek it has rained here in Adelaide, making the ground sodden and the trees laden with rain.

As I left the house, I noticed a flash of red and green. Our front yard is currently host to a pair of parrots, outrageous in their bright red crest, raucous in their squawks of delight as they place chase with each other from tree to tree.

As they landed, their weight caused branches, laden with rain, to shake vigorously. Water cascaded, sheets of white, unleashed from a branch of green, by these playful red crested visitors. A full immersion indeed.

In the Scriptures, so often birds are linked with the Spirit’s visit. Have I just participated in nature’s baptism – appreciated again her noise, colour and water? Heard afresh “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”? Been invited anew to creation’s plays?

Posted by steve at 12:19 PM

Friday, June 22, 2012

big day, big night

“Take care and tread gently and carefully” – words this week from my supervisor.

Today – tonight actually – I’m commissioned as Principal of Uniting College, at the opening gathering of the Presbytery and Synod of South Australia. I start officially on 1 July and tonight marks the time when the church sets me aside for this role. I will be asked to reaffirm my faith in Jesus and to commit myself anew to the mission of the church. In turn, the church will be asked to commit itself to prayerful support. It feels significant personally.

Today is also the 35th anniversary of the formation of the Uniting Church. A coincidence I’m sure! But it does provide a way to reflect on a question I’m often asked – how I, as a Baptist from New Zealand, end up leading a Uniting Church College.

It’s a great question, one that was explored fairly thoroughly in my interview processes, both in first coming to the College as Director of Missiology in 2010, and then as Principal.

In the interviews, from my perspective, I reflected on the man from Macedonia, in Acts 16:9, who invites Paul to come on over, to work amongst them in mission. It was my sense that God might be calling me also to “come on over the ditch”, to work in mission. For Paul and for the Macedonians, this was going to mean a journey of working out how to do that in a way that might honour the past, yet fully serve the present, as part of embracing God’s good future. So also for me, it felt like a call to serve, for a period of time to journey among a different culture and group.

From the Uniting church end, I wonder if their perspective might best be captured in the video below, produced to celebrate today, June 22nd, the 35th anniversary of the Uniting church

For Alistair McRae – “Lets demonstrate in the life of the church what God intends for the whole world.” For Ken Sumner – “I think that’s the mission of the church, to bring about reconciliation.”

What a wonderful ethos to celebrate.

So I can’t speak for the Uniting Church, but perhaps tonight, in some small way in my commissioning, there is again that affirmation of hospitality and inclusiveness, these Uniting values of reconciliation in mission, so central to the formation of the Uniting Church and it’s ongoing vision and values.

Posted by steve at 10:51 AM

Thursday, June 21, 2012

gender and new forms of church

The last few days of sabbatical I’ve been finalising a complete draft of a chapter on gender and the emerging church. It now stands at 12,400 words and some 115 footnotes. It is the result of 47 survey forms of emerging church participants, in which comparisons have then been made regarding male and female perceptions. That data has been brought into conversation with three books that focus on women and faith development. Which has raised the question of how women around Jesus were fed, fostered and freed in mission. Here are two concluding excepts.

One way to read Luke 8:1-3 is to suggest that in this text, men are constructed as public speakers, while women are constructed as carers and homemakers. Such a reading would reinforce, to use the quote by John Drane, “bastions of male leadership.” (Mission-shaped Questions: Defining Issues for Today’s Church). As a consequence, emerging churches will be led by men, within which women will find a place of service domestically.

However Bauckham (Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels) argues that such a reading is simply incorrect. “It is therefore quite mistaken to suppose that the women are here assigned, within the community of Jesus’ disciples, the kind of gender-specific roles that women played in the ordinary family situation.” “Schottroff (Lydia’s Impatient Sisters: A Feminist Social History of Early Christianity) exposes the patriarchal bias of the scholarly tradition that gives the words διηκονουν∀ and διηκονειν different meanings in texts about women and texts about men: leadership functions when men are in question, cooking and serving at table when women (and slaves) are concerned.” Rather than prescribing gender roles, Bauckham argues that in Luke 8:1-3, the women are being portrayed as offering a way of following in relation to possessions. “Thus the true male counterpart to the women’s “service,” as described in Luke 8:3, is not preaching or leadership but the abandonment of home and family … Both the men and the women among Jesus’ disciples behave in a significantly countercultural way with regard to material resources.” Thus around Jesus, both genders are called to a journey of radical discipleship, of counter-cultural behaviour in regard to material cultures.

Which has then led to this conclusion.

Fifth, in the story of Jesus, we find a gendered community in which males and females are invited into a whole bodied following, a radical community of equals, in which mission as justice-making, apostolic witness and community building occur in ways that are never gender exclusive. Gender matters, as both men and women are fed, fostered and freed into mission. This becomes a strong challenge to any community positioning itself as a bastion of “male leadership” , as actually being a betrayal of the community of practice established by Jesus.

It’s been a lot of work, but a very rich experience to write and reflect. I will now have a quiet coffee in celebration, before turning to another chapter, on sustainability among new forms of church.

Oh, the three books on gender and faith development were

Posted by steve at 09:26 AM

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Finding words for worship

I’ve been asked to provide a call to worship at the Church Synod on Friday evening. My general rule of thumb is to work with what’s engaging me. Last week I posted this,

Pukehinahina Cross, St Georges Anglican Gate Pa. Used with permission.

Which, with a bit of research, over the weekend I have shaped into the following Call to worship –

Leader: The cross,
offering reconciliation, making enemies friends,
All: May we, reconciled and reconciling, feel again Your call to mercy

Leader: The greenstone,
an item of treasure and value in Maori culture
All: May we, Your treasures in earthen clay, hear afresh Your call to value each other

Leader: The fishhook, carved in reference to Jesus invitation,
Come follow me: I will make you fishers of people
All: May we, Your fisher folk, experience anew Your call to mission

Leader: The fishhook, a pattern commonly carved in Maori culture
a symbol for a journey, speaking of the need for shared courage, wise leadership and safety in troubled times
All: May we, Your pilgrim people, find together new courage, wise leadership and surprising joy,

Leader: In our shared journey, Shaped always by this cross of Christ. Amen

Posted by steve at 01:19 PM

Monday, June 18, 2012

Men talk more: more than a guy thing part 4

Men tend to talk more. And in doing so, they tend to silence women. Men tend to talk in certain ways. And in doing so, they tend to silence women.

“Studies of classroom behaviour suggest that men and women exhibit different manners in their speaking, and that (western European) men’s style is the valued pattern. Men are more likely to use: highly assertive speech, impersonal and abstract examples, and competitive or adversarial interchanges … This style and ethos are not only favored, but they tend to be perceived to be more intelligent and authoritative behaviors.” (Carol Hess, Caretakers of Our Common House: Women’s Development in Communities of Faith 106)

In contrast, women’s speech patterns tend to use a more tentative tone. Rather than seek adverserial assertion they are more likely to make encouraging or supportive comments, wanting to draw out the contributions of others.

What to do if you want more equal conversation, if you want to be part of an Acts 2 church, in which you hear “your daughters prophesy”?

  1. Listen more carefully for tentative talk and as you hear it, take care to publicly affirm it.
  2. Create ways for people to share not only through abstract ideas but also with personal storytelling.
  3. Be very aware of gender exclusive language. It might not silence you, but it could well be silencing others.
  4. Encourage collaborative explorations as opposed to individual or competitive interaction.

(This continues my reading around gender, leadership and faith development (here, here and here).)

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

living in cultures of change

Spotlight, a leading national craft and curtain shop, sells raffia. This simple fact is important for local indigenous expression.

Yesterday Team Taylor enjoyed the annual open day at the Warriparinga Living Kaurna Cultural centre. We enjoyed the live music, watched the kids play a traditional game, kicking around a possum skin (yep, possum) and joined the local basket weavers.

As we chatted we learned that traditionally basket used reeds and grasses. However such things disappear in modern industrial cities. Either the practice of basket weaving dies. Or else the cultural adapts.

Hence the importance of raffia from Spotlight.

It reminded me of a conversation a few weeks ago. I was wine tasting and some older folk were chatting beside about the impact of technology. Will our children be able to read and write, in an age of screens and e-readers? They were concerned about cultural death.

I pointed out that my children are reading more widely and broadly as a result of the purchase of Kindle’s. To which they shrugged, sighed and said “I guess you’ve got to just so with the times.”

The resignation in their voices, the words they use, were very similar to what I hear in church circles. It suddenly occurred to me that

One, responding to change is not just an issue for the church, but for all cultures. It is a shared human challenge.

Two, that avoidance or assimilation, fighting or acceptance, are two very limited responses.

Three, that Christians who think about culture-making, about a variety of practices by which to live in change, that the adaptive resources from within indigenous cultures, are a helpful resource for living in change – not just for the church, but for all humans in modern society.

Posted by steve at 08:50 AM

Friday, June 15, 2012

blue view from my balcony

I’ve spent the last two days in Sydney, enjoying time “on the balcony.” It’s a phrase from Ron Heifitz, who argues that if life is a dance, we need time to get far enough above the fray to see the key patterns, to gain perspective on conflict, to nurture relationships, to find sanctuary and recover a sense of purpose.

My supervisor for this “Principal” phase I’m about the enter into suggested I join him “on the balcony”, to look at the view, to talk leadership and team and capacity building, to reflect on how I might transition and begin.

It’s been fabulous. (The photo is of the Three Sisters, in Blue Mountains, and yes, there is the shadows of me and my supervisor!)

Posted by steve at 09:39 PM

Thursday, June 14, 2012

art as public mission

The South Australian Art Gallery has gone public, in a fascinating way. They have taken 13 paintings out of the Gallery and hung them, in public, in locations around Adelaide

Art Gallery director Nick Mitzevich says once the artworks are found, people might photograph, add to or take possession of them. “The surprise [of] where people have found the work is really part of the project,” he said. “Putting the works within the public domain allows everyone to be a part of it, so the work isn’t the artwork itself, it’s the whole project and how it might play out. (More here)

I love the risk involved (what if the art got wet, stolen, disfigured?), the creation of curiousity in public spaces.

I immediately wondered what “art” the church might want to place in public? What 13 “acts of service” could be “hung” to be discovered? More liturgically, what about doing this around a church festival, say Holy week, invite artists to make a station and rather than invite folk to your church to watch it, simply hung them in public? More worship orientated, why not a church service, where your theme was “hung” around the building and children (big and little) had to play hide and seek to find the various parts?

It reminded me of bookcrossing, plus the work of Ric Stott in Sheffield, in placing clay figures outdoors during Lent. It’s all art as public mission, a way to invite curiousity, to find our story beyond church walls.

Posted by steve at 12:06 AM

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

a contextual visual for mission 2

Other visual theologies of mission here and here.

Pukehinahina Cross, St Georges Anglican Gate Pa. Used with permission.

Carved by James Tapiata for St Georges Anglican Church at Gate Pa. Used by permission. Not to be used in any form without permission from St Georges.

The greenstone Maori fish hook is entwined around the cross, to remember Christ’s mission as a fisher of people and to show the ties between two people – Maori and Pakeha. Greenstone is of immense importance in Maori culture, both spiritually and historically. Although not stated on the church website, the fish hook is likely to reference “Hei-Matau”, a common Maori carving pattern, in which fishing was simply a way of gathering food. In this context, it would symbolise prosperity, determination, leadership and good health, as well as safe journey over water.

Posted by steve at 10:00 AM

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

missiology and salt-making

I’ve been slowly plowing my way through Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. (One of the upsides of Kindle – it was going free a few months ago. It’s one of the things I love about e-readers, the way I’ve started reading things I never normally would, simply because books are now paper-less). At 486 pages, it’s taken a few months. (One of the downsides of Kindle – there are no visual clues for how big a book is!)

It takes that everyday household – salt – and explores it through history, it’s role as currency, as instigator or wars, in shaping empires and inspiring revolutions. It’s a fascinating walk through human cultures, as seen through something we all take for granted. I couldn’t help reading it with a missiology eye. (For more on a missiology of salt, see here, insights from Marianne Sawicki’s Crossing Galilee: Architectures of Contact in the Occupied Land of Jesus).

The importance of social action

Soon after that, a cleric named de la Marche distributed potatoes to poor parishioners and was nicknamed d’eskop ar patatez, the potato bishop.

Imagine being known, honoured even, as the “potato bishop.” Yes to mission as social action, as care for the poor.

The importance of listening

At the time of the American invention of the jar, a western missionary, one Father Imbert, had gone to China to study the ancient wells of Sichuan. He reported on more than 1,000 ancient wells drilled to great depths and brine lifted in long bamboo buckets. He also observed that the Chinese had elaborate techniques for recovering broken drill shafts. In the West, such obstructions were often the cause of a well being abandoned.

Here is the missionary as learner, as researcher, as culture explorer. In so doing, we are reminded of the creativity of Chinese culture.

The colonising impact of cultures

Unlike the French and the Spanish, English settlers and their American descendants tended to bring salt with them rather than find it where they went.

Might there be something in English/American cultures that prefers to impart rather than contextualise, import rather than nourish what is? Yet in contrast, in the midst of a recipe, the following made me think.

silphium root [a rare plant from Libya much loved and consequently pushed to extinction by the Romans]

Yet here is a Roman culture that is responsible for not nourishing what is local. We often hear Western industrialised cultures blamed for environmental damage, yet here is an early culture killing a plant species.

The contemporary cultural shift

The book finishes with our contemporary world. It describes the rise of monopolies, the two global multinationals that now dominate world salt production. Yet it notes a shift, first in young people moving back to traditional salt-making areas to farm their own salt and second, in consumer demand.

Unlike with the big companies, here the future is quality, not quantity. They command high prices for their salt because it is a product that is handmade and traditional in a world increasingly hungry for a sense of artisans.

It all resonated for me with John Drane’s, After McDonaldization: Mission, Ministry, and Christian Discipleship in an Age of Uncertainty

Uniformity was a remarkable innovation in its day, but it was so successful that today consumers seem to be excited by any salt that is different.

The place of contextualisation. The potential for artisan church.

Posted by steve at 10:16 AM