Wednesday, July 31, 2013

how to pass theology

I kicked off Introduction to Christian Thought, a Semester 2 class today. Rather than the usual lecture mode, I suggested a more interactive, communal journey, in which I functioned not as the dispenser of knowledge, but as a guide in the communal doing of theology.

I offered them the following proposal:

  • all content is online or in the library (alone we will read)
  • theology is best done in community (together we will talk, laugh, disagree, grow over what we read)
  • we will do theology not hear theology (together we will work on what concerns us and our world)

Or practically, in terms of our time (3 hours a week), a format as follows:

  • 30 min catch up/ theological ‘show and tell’ from the week.
  • 60 min ‘Doing Theology’ in-class project in small groups, with answer recorded on Moodle ‘wikispace’ for further interaction.
  • coffee break
  • 60 min Q&A based on the Moodle site readings/activities/resources. Students are expected to come to class having read the readings and study notes. The tutorial questions provided online will be used.

There was lots of energy at the end of the first week, so we’ll see how it goes. And how much reading gets done!

Posted by steve at 06:48 PM

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Leadership Formation as mission-shaped practices

This is a sign of some of our recent work at College – we’re shifting our formation day processes for candidates to focus around the practices of mission-shaped leadership. Here’s the email that went out yesterday to candidates and those in a Period of Discernment.

Our next Leadership Formation Day is August 5, 9:30 am – 3:30 pm. We will begin in S1.

As it is the start of a new semester, we will return to the vision for Uniting College. When Andrew Dutney introduced the new name of the College to Synod in 2009, he did it by reflecting on his experiences of backpacking around Europe. He described the backpacking habit of tearing out the chapter that related to the particular city you were in at the time. 

“It shocked me when I first saw it ….  I soon saw the good sense in what was going on. Why carry around 500 bound pages on the whole of Western Europe all day when you really only need the 20 pages on Antwerp? … It’s just extra weight on your shoulders.  In any case, the memories of the sights and experiences of a Belgian port city are carried more effectively in the stories that you swap with other travellers on the next train than in a few printed pages.”

Which he linked to the dominant image of Christian life in the Uniting Church of pilgrimage (full talk is here).

As a Uniting College team, we’ve sensed its time for another chapter in the pilgrimage of Leadership Formation Days. Prior to 2010, we met weekly on a Wednesday afternoon for chapel, community and colloquium input.

The chapter could be titled: Weekly and Wednesdays.

In the last few years we’ve met monthly on a Monday, all day. We’ve kept chapel and community and extended the colloquium input, with a range of topics – Spiritual gifts, Preamble, Conflict etc.

The chapter title could be titled: Monthly and topical.

As a team, we’ve discerned another chapter. On August 5, we will introduce this chapter. We will focus on 10 practices essential for mission-shaped spirituality. And ask each other what they mean for us as life-long learners and effective leaders in mission today. And swap stories as pilgrims on the way. (And we’ll keep chapel and community).

Perhaps with hindsight this chapter will be titled: Monthly and mission-shaped.

Posted by steve at 08:23 AM

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why the Leap of faith is a myth

Where do great ideas come from? Research indicates it never comes a golden bullet, an inspired leap of faith. Vera John-Steiner interviewed over 70 living creative geniuses. She also analyzed the notebooks of 50 dead ones (including Tolstoy, Einstein, etc.) to look at their work habits.

She even planned to title her book “The Leap” because it would be about those giant flashes of inspiration that led to breakthrough ideas.

But she was completely wrong.

Eureka! moments turned out to be a myth.

There was no inspiration moment where a fully formed answer arrived.

Strokes of genius happened over time.

A great idea comes into the world by drips and drabs, false starts, and rough sketches. (From here)

Instead, creative inspiration involves writing down ideas as early as possible, keeping everything, giving things time and being willing to wrestle with ideas and search for clarity. And the refusal to expect that inspiration will deliver a finished product.

Perhaps the only golden bullet is buying a notebook/keeping a blog ie finding some place to store your work product.

Posted by steve at 10:10 AM

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Conversations at the table

I’m part of this event – Conversations at the table – August 24, 25.

Evangelism – what if everyone was sitting around the same table?

Hosted at The Village Well (Aldgate Church of Christ)

A partnership between Blackwood and Aldgate Churches of Christ, we’ve invited Mick Duncan and Steve Taylor to lead the conversation over 2 days reframing our understanding of what evangelism is and means for us as Christians in suburban Adelaide.

Hosted by Anthony Risson (Minister Aldgate Church of Christ and Mark Riessen (Coordinator of Mission & Community Engagement Churches of Christ SA/NT). Other conversation partners include Mark Butler (RAAF chaplain), Jeff May hospital (chaplain), Joanna Hubbard (MarionLife), Leigh Cunningham (MFS firefighter).

For more see here.

Posted by steve at 10:39 PM

Saturday, July 27, 2013

seeing formation: a theology of colour

Can we see formation?

In the Jesus Deck, the card for John 20:16 invites us to see the colours of formation. The risen Jesus appears to Mary. This, for Mary, is a life-changing moment. An encounter, a discovery, a recognition. It is a culmination of a number of years of discipleship, of questioning, following, pondering.

And this is visible. You hear it in her words “Master.”

But you also see it, in the Jesus Deck card, in the colours of the face of Mary. You see, around Jesus is a wheel of colour – hues of pinks, oranges, yellows. What is intriguing is that these same colours are in the face of Mary – she reflects, in hues of pinks, oranges, yellows, the colours of the Risen Jesus. This is deeply theological, a way of seeing the likeness of Christ.

But not Mary. Mary can’t see this. She can feel it. She can verbalise it. But we all know it is impossible to see our own faces. So only the viewer, the other, the outsider, can see the life change, can wonder at the colour.

This suggests a profoundly communal approach to formation. Mary needs us to see. Mary is blessed when we name back to her these colours, tell her what we are seeing. Alone we are limited. Together, all the senses are able to be appreciated.

This connects for me in two ways. First, personally, what are the colours currently in my face? Looking at the card, it struck me that I’ve worked too hard this week. Which directly effects the colours in my face. My being out of balance, my lack of formation, physically, becomes apparent. When I’m rested, when I’m relaxed, when I’ve laughed with friends, that shows – in colour, in my face. That’s interesting to ponder.

(Use of Skype for Formation Panels at Uniting College, to enable connection with remote candidates)

Second, this week at Uniting College has included formation panels. For our ministerial candidates, three times a year, for what amounts to a six year period, they meet with same panel of experienced ministers (for more here) Contemplating John 20:16, looking at the Jesus Deck, I realised that these processes are actually about seeing colour. The candidate can feel the impact of training for ministry. The candidate might verbalise this impact. But they can’t see it. It is the gift of the panel, however humanly, however falteringly, to try to name the colours back to the candidate. This is gift, to have what is happening in you and for you discerned and described.

This is deeply communal approach to formation. To reframe Martin Buber, this is not only the “I” of growth, or even the “I” to “I” of a person with a supervisor or mentor. It is an “I” to “we” encounter, a three way partnership between the Risen Jesus of John 20:16, the individual and some members of the body of Christ.

Third (thanks Lynne), this is missional. Anyone can look at the face of another, or in this case the face of Mary. Those inside and outside the community. The encounter with Christ is not only for Mary, not only for formation, it is part of the work of Christ made visible in our world.

Reframing Lindbeck, through time Christianity has developed a grammar for how the colours are described, named, affirmed. This introduces another layer of embodiment. The body in history has this grammar. Saints before (saints current, other candidates in formation, those in the formation panel, Christians and ministers in general) are also colour carriers. This is another dimension of mirroring. Mary can hear her colours described, Mary can also see colours in the lives of others.

(I realise as I write that this is all grist for the mill in preparation for my September presentation in Sydney – Living libraries: Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning)

For more on colours and formation see -
Last year I reflected on the colours of formation – to ask what colours are the processes of formation and the use of a colour wheel to capture the organic changes through life.

Posted by steve at 11:30 AM

Friday, July 26, 2013

God talk is everywhere

God-talk. It’s everywhere. Now even in my local cafe.

Posted by steve at 05:41 PM

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Let theory and practice kiss

The separation of theory from practice, the academy from the pulpit is, IMHO, a curse of modernity. Historically theology emerged from the church, from bishops, often in sermons. It grew out of the practice of ministry.

In recent centuries, theology has tended to shift into the university. It has been linked with words like ivory tower. It has tried to pretend in the importance of objectivity, that there is so neutral place by which an overview can be gained. It needs to be research active, supported by academic publishing. And so a dangerous set of either/ors have been set in play. Theory has been opposed to practice, academy to church, lecturers to ministers .. and so the story goes/

At Uniting College, one of our 5 strategic signposts is to promote scholarly and practical excellence in our living, teaching and writing. Is an attempt to get beyond the either/ors that divide us. We value both.

A conversation with a colleague yesterday resulted in the following advertisement being made:

Calling OT Preachers – Liz Boase would love to hear from ministers who regularly use the Old Testament in preaching and worship and would be interested in contributing to her Interpreting the Old Testament unit. Classes start Wednesday evenings in late July. If you have sermons and prayers or would like to find out more, please contact liz.boase at flinders dot edu dot au. This is an opportunity to help students make links between classroom and church.

A class, in which those who use the Bible regularly, are placed in conversation with students and with a PhD qualified. Which would be richer for student, for “practitioner” and for lecturer.

A moment, it seems to me, when theory and practice begin to kiss.

Posted by steve at 03:03 PM

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

from spark to worship: praying the Psalms with roses on world map

Yesterday I blogged, grateful for the sparks of inspiration from a Sunday browse through Ikea. I understand creativity as a we

Today I found myself on chapel, which involves around 20 minutes of prayer. It is in the semester break here at College, so it tends to be staff, a smaller group. So here is how the spark became worship.

To give some Scriptural spine, I checked the lectionary readings and selected the Psalm (Psalm 85) for the week, which I printed so folk could read.

I was thinking about how people might want to name their prayers. I’d noticed a few days ago a stray rose still in the garden, so grabbed that on the way to work. To keep it fresh, I took it in a plastic container. Opening the lid during the morning, I was struck by the scent and realised that might be a helpful sense to engage.

With my 20 minutes I welcomed people and invited us to stand around the world map/table. We read the Psalm, verse by verse around the group, which gave voice to our prayer. I handed the rose around the group and as I hoped, people caught the scent and with a word of surprise, discovered it’s joy together.

I noted that at the heart of Christian faith is the Easter story, in which brokenness and vulnerability are so essential. I invited us to pray by handing the rose, again, around the group. We would each break of a petal and place it on the world map, naming what were praying for. We would keep doing this until the rose ran out of petals.

This happened, naturally, beautifully, for around 15 minutes. We concluded by reading again the Psalm, again around the group. And a final picture, to “capture” our prayer.

A spark – a world map. Which became worship – prayers for the world and each other. Which involved the hearing of Scripture, the smell of the rose, the touch of a petal, the visual engagement with the world and each other. And this deep sense of being in the presence of God, tender with each other and God’s world.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, praying the Psalms). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 06:53 PM

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ikea worship treats

I love wandering Ikea. (I’ve blogged about this before – Confessions: the place of Ikea in worship and teaching). I invariably, as I wander Ikea, come away with a few ideas for worship, inspired by the fusion of good design with customer sensitivity all fused with the DIY ethic

Here are yesterdays offerings after a Sunday shop:

First, a world map table. It is hard to see, because overhead lighting is reflected in the glass. But it is a world map, etched in a glass table. This has got all sorts of possibilities. For example communion table, with elements placed “for the world.” Or a prayer station, in which people post prayers for the world on the table. Or with a bit of experimentation, it might well be that some pens might be able to write on glass and be washed off. So people could write their prayers on the table.

Second, pop up stations. These are advertised in the children’s section. They are made of cardboard, so can be decorated in all sorts of way. Aesthetically, they would make a great set of stations, all identical, yet all able to be named differently.

Posted by steve at 12:26 AM

Saturday, July 20, 2013

defining church, community, theology, formation and College

Just an advertisement for a car company. And yet –
if a picture says a 1,000 words, then this is a powerful visual question –
what type of church, community, theology, formation and College do we want to be part of?

And if so, how then should we act, what should we practice, what should we affirm?

Posted by steve at 08:27 PM

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Henna art as Christian storytelling

This is lovely – the use of henna in telling the Biblical story.

One of the highlights for me of a visit to Port Douglas Markets a few weeks ago was watching the folk at work in the henna tent – the young girls checking facebook while their henna tattoo dried. Their care and interaction with each other was a joy to behold.

So it was fascinating to discover this website with designs and stories.

Henna, a temporary artwork drawn on hands and other parts of the body, is a popular beauty technique in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Christian women use henna to illustrate Bible stories and share the Gospel in a non-threatening manner. These pages describe how you can host a henna party in your home or church. Learn how to make henna and draw Bible story illustrations, and how to prepare traditional foods served in henna cultures.

I could see henna art like this also working at youth group camps as a way of building community and engaging the Christian story. I could see it working at a Synod gathering, quiet hands engagement during debates. Perhaps a mission dimension, like back at Port Douglas markets, as part of a tent in which readings from the Jesus deck were offered in a tent, along with prayer massage and henna tattooing.

Posted by steve at 08:19 AM

Friday, July 12, 2013

Biography of Leonard Cohen: holiday reading

Holiday reading has focused on Sylvie Simmons, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. It’s a comprehensive (at over 500 pages), yet elegant examination of creativity and contemporary culture.

I picked it up at Auckland Airport, suddenly aware I was on holiday with only some work reading in my bag. I’ve only got one Leonard Cohen album, a variety of artists singing his songs. He’s always seemed to me a better song writer than singer.

The book, with over 100 interviews, is an illuminating insight into a very complex man. He comes across as both incredibly selfish, yet highly disciplined all at the same time.

Here is Cohen on writing- and the relationship between creativity and perfectionism and deadlines:

It’s never come easily. I’ve never been particularly confident about the process and I was never able to exactly get what I wanted…And you keep notching your standards down…Not, is it going to be beautiful, is it going to be perfect, is it going to be immortal, Can I finish?” became the urgent question.

So one of his best known songs, Hallelujah, took five years to write, with around 80 verses in the editing process. So much for creativity as inspiration!

Consider also the reflection on the impact of his time in the monastery, including how the discipline becomes so important to the creative process:

It is a popular belief that an artist or writer needs an element of disorder, misery and improvisation in order to create…But the highly structured existence, in conjunction with his desire to forget who he was and overcome his ego, appeared to free up Leonard’s creativity.

Well worth reading!

Posted by steve at 04:49 PM

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Faith as snorkelling

I went snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef this week. (As you do when you live in Australia!) It struck me that snorkelling does have some interesting connections to faith.

It takes a degree of trust, that a thin tube will provide oxygen, that a rogue wave won’t drown you. Related, it assumes immersion, that the only way to snorkel is to snorkel. You can theorise all you want, but at some point you have to immerse yourself in trust. Same with faith, it is a whole bodied immersion in trust.

It can make all sorts of logical sense. The guidebook explains, the guides have gone before, it is reasonable to rely on air through a tube. But despite Scripture, tradition, reason, experience is essential.

That trust is a process. Their is the first brief head plunge with your whole world consumed by survival. Am I breathing? After a while you realise you have energy to look, see, explore. Same with faith, a process by which more and more is opened up.

The result is this realisation you live at the same time in two worlds. Head up, in the pitch and roll and slap of ocean waves. Or immersed in the quiet underwater of a world of exquisite beauty and wonder.

Snorkelling and faith.

Posted by steve at 12:38 PM

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Mission and leadership intensives

Two intensives begin at Uniting College tomorrow. Both provide a glimpse of our direction and focus.

On the Gold Coast, Craig Bailey, at the invitation of New Life Uniting, begins an intensive on leadership. It includes local folk from the church plus a number of folk from Adelaide, flying up to enjoy the input, and a warmer climate. So there will be real richness across Synods and States. In addition, this is one of four topics we are teaching this year in local churches, as part of our desire to build partnerships and connect with more folk and engage locally.

In Adelaide, Rosary Dewerse begins an intensive on mission, worship and leadership across cultures. This is her area of passion and chimes beautifully with the release of her book, Breaking Calabashes, which is an accessible introduction to the skills and practises essential to encounter across cultures. It is her PhD, made practical. It is such a crucial area for mission in Australia and its great to see both the book and the course.

Mission and leadership, partnering with local churches and across cultures. A snapshot of the College indeed.

Posted by steve at 09:25 PM