Wednesday, April 30, 2014

year of the student

It is a new term this week at Uniting College, so to help focus the team, I placed a visual reminder on all the doors down the corridor.

Titled Year of the student, with a picture of 6 different shoes, it is a reminder of work we did as a team at a beginning of year retreat. Last year was effectively a Year of Compliance for us as a team, with multiple government registration processes. We passed all with flying colours, but the danger was we remained in an administrative mindset.

So I suggested that this 2014 year we make the Year of the Student. One of our team found multiple pictures of shoes. We each chose a pair and invited ourselves to imagine being a student. A case study, of arriving late to a first class, helped ground us in our “student” shoes. A bit of feedback from first time students kept us honest. From there, we brainstormed what we could do to focus on student experience. It was a great exercise.

So with a new term, it was time to remind us all of what we dreamed at the start of the year. And to prepare us for some evaluation at our team meeting on Thursday.

Posted by steve at 02:40 PM

Monday, April 28, 2014

taglines. learn! lead! live! Why not learn! serve! live!?

A few weeks ago I presented a paper at the Beyond Education conference. The topic I was asked to address was theological education in leadership formation. I argued that the words leadership and theological education were not either/or alternatives. Instead, I used the work of Mieke Bal to argue for a hermeneutical approach to change, one that expected both theological education and leadership, one that made sense of our pluralistic and post-Christian context. I sought to relate all this to the Uniting College tagline – learn! lead! live!

I was pretty pleased with my paper and thought the use of hermeneutics and cultural theorist would be well received. Alas, my presentation attracted a fair bit of academic pushback. The main focus was a strong negative reaction to the L-word – leadership. One questioner put it well. What does Jesus offer the word “lead”? Surely the only Christian way to express your tagline is learn! serve! live!, not learn! lead! live!, for that is what Jesus came to do.

I’ve continued to ponder the question.

Surely there’s more to Jesus than service? Jesus announced a Kingdom, enacting in both word and deed a new set of values; Jesus gathered a community; Jesus challenged political powers; Jesus longed to gather the lost like a mother hen gathers chicks; Jesus held the cup of suffering .. the list goes on. Yes to service, but yes also to vision casting, to community building, to prophetic and pastoral skills.

And then there’s Christian history. Banks and Ledbetter, in their excellent book, Reviewing Leadership: A Christian Evaluation of Current Approaches note how important the L-word in history has been. For the Apostle Paul, leadership resembles family life. In the Benedictine tradition, the leader is the abbot. In the Reformed tradition, the leader challenges static ways. In the Quaker tradition, the leader listens. In the Pentecostal tradition leadership is being empowered by the Spirit. Again, we see a much richer contribution from Christianity to leadership than simply serving.

Yes, Jesus did come to serve. But the fact remains that Jesus, and that Christianity, have a lot more to offer the word lead than a simple serve. And that’s one reason why we at Uniting College have learn! lead! live! as our tagline – because we want the fullness of Jesus ministry and the depth of the Christian tradition to inhabit, shape and form what we learn and live in response to the “lead” word.

Posted by steve at 11:34 PM

Thursday, April 17, 2014

why God matters Easter camp

I’m off to Robe for Easter weekend, to speak at an Easter youth camp. I work with adults most of the time, so I’ve particularly enjoyed the invitation, over the last few weeks to be thinking about Why God Matters at Easter from a youth perspective.

After much toing and froing, I’m using the events of Easter as a frame –

  • Why God matters Easter Thursday?
  • Why God matters Easter Friday?
  • Why God matters Easter Sunday?
  • Why God matters Easter Monday?

It will enable me to pick up different dimensions of God – in suffering, in love, in life, in mission. I will be using a range of pop culture resources, including REM, Massive Attack and the movie Vantage Point. I’ll also be using some tactile engagement. We’re going to make our own cups of suffering. Plus I’ve got my colouring Holy Week creative project I’ve been working on all week to show them.

I’m excited and nervous. In the move from Pastor to Principal, I’ve really missed talking about Jesus at Easter and I’ve loved going back through my archives, thinking about what might connect in this context. Equally, I have a fairly demanding job, so my body would love a break. Will that happen on Easter Camp at Robe I wonder? Finally, am I too old and old-fashioned to connect with young people?

Time well tell 🙂

Posted by steve at 12:42 PM

Monday, April 14, 2014

colouring Holy Week

This week I’m colouring Holy Week. I’ve found a bit of board in the garage, which I’ve cut and prepared with a gesso wash.

And then I painted blocks of colour, adding layers to deepen intensity.

Then I applied gold leaf, in celebration of resurrection life.

These colours are not necessarily traditional church colours. But they help me, and perhaps others with visual learning preferences, step through the events of this week. I’m doing this for myself. I’m also doing this to help me prepare for Easter Camp in Robe, at which I’m speaking to young people from the rural South East of South Australia.

The colours of Holy Week make sense for me as follows:

Green on Palm Sunday, to remember those who waved palms and celebrated Jesus entering a city. Red on Monday, because on Monday (in Mark’s gospel), Jesus got angry, red-faced, and trashed the money changers in the temple. Brown on Tuesday, to recall Jesus words that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it can not produce many seeds. Lavender on Wednesday, to remember perfume, and the extravagant, expensive love of an unnamed woman, who poured what was possibly her family hierloom onto Jesus head. Blue on Thursday, to express the feelings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, a soul deeply distressed, troubled, overwhelmed. Black on Friday, for on this day God died. Grey on Saturday, for on this day all of creation mourned. Gold leaf, etched with rainbow colours on the Sunday, for on this day life to the full in the here and now was re-defined.

As a result, on Monday, I have cut two pathways of response into my board, for on Monday, the events of this week leave us with some choices. How then will we live, in light of the events of this week.

Posted by steve at 01:10 PM

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sketches from a Nameless land

Shaun Tan’s Sketches from a Nameless Land: The Art of the Arrival arrived today. (I’ve blogged previously about Shaun Tan – about the richness of seeing The Arrival performed as music, about the missiology of hospitality I see in Eric (which I’ve used often in groups reflecting on mission).)

As with all Shaun Tan products, Sketches from a Nameless Land: The Art of the Arrival is beautiful – hard cover, great attention to detail. Shaun is a cartoonist and Sketches from a Nameless Land: The Art of the Arrival explores his craft – his inspiration, his sketches, the processes by which his amazing The Arrival was made.

I’m nevertheless fascinated by the sketchbooks of other artists. I love seeing the origins of ideas, the connections with real-life experiences, the myriad choices and problems – and the reminder of what attracts us to art and fiction in the first place, its ‘made-ness.’

I often talk in lectures about “showing your working” and I love trying to work out how others in my field – missiology and pop culture – originate ideas, connect with life and unpack their work. So it’s great to now be able to do that with Sketches from a Nameless Land: The Art of the Arrival. I love the creativity, the depth of reflection, the whisper of imagination.

Posted by steve at 12:22 AM

Monday, April 07, 2014

Calabashes, Wild Ox, U2, Virgins and Trauma

Flinders University produces a glossy publication to highlight research outputs within Humanities Faculty. It is produced by the Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities, which unites humanities-based researchers engaged in creative and reflective investigations of culture and thought. The Department of Theology (which is Uniting College) has a one page write up in their latest publication, under the title “Calabashes, Wild Ox, U2, Virgins and Trauma.”

These words don’t usually occur together and make little sense when grouped. But as an overview of research within the Department of Theology in 2013, they are a great indication of the breadth of our focus and interests … Research in Theology is diverse and wide-ranging.

Posted by steve at 11:17 PM

Sunday, April 06, 2014

learning leadership from my garden

Last night we ate ratatouille. The onions were sweated over a low heat for 45 minutes. The herbs were added, including basil, garlic and Italian parsley all fresh from the garden. Over time, the vegetables, pepper, eggplant, courgette, tomato were added. Finally, cheese and bread crumbs mixed together.

The eggplant was grown from seed (heirloom from Diggers Club) in the garden and in the growing, I’ve been challenged about leadership. I planted the seeds back in October and to be honest, they struggled. Only a few germinated. Those that did grew very, very slowly. It was a constant battle to protect them from snails. They were rapidly overtaken by broccoli. When we left for holiday in mid-December, only two plants remained, about 2 cm high.

When I returned to work, two plants remained, but still only 2 cm high. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed. One month and no sign of progress. However, at least they were alive. Much else in the garden, ravaged by a run of 42 degree days, had wilted.

I removed what was large and competing (the broccoli) and began to water. Slowly the two eggplants grew. First flowers appeared.

Now, the fruit hangs heavy and black, a gorgeous sheen amid the green. The first fruits were delicious last night and we face the prospect of more ratatouille, along with eggplant dips, in the weeks ahead.

I’ve reflected on leadership as I’ve tended to these eggplants over the summer. It would’ve been easy to buy seedlings, but there is something deeply satisfying about planting from seed. It would’ve been easy to give up in the face of little growth, but I’ve realised the value of patience and persistence. As I’ve watered, I’ve pondered those with whom I’m relationally connected. I’ve wondered what it will mean for them to keep growing, and how I might participate in that. This has begun prayer and introspection.

I’ve needed to remove the broccoli. That was really difficult. It was large and impressive. But it was actually harming the growth of another. I’ve begun to inspect my own life, wondering what habits and attitudes are in fact choking the life of something else. I’ve begun to realise that the loss of a key person, a key leader, as essential part of the team, might in fact be an opportunity for another person to begin to fruit – differently, uniquely. Which has provided a different perspective on the current movement within the team at Uniting College.

Last week I spoke on theological education in leadership formation. It was an academic paper, that drew forth a range of academic challenges.

Perhaps I should have just told them about my eggplant. That theological education in leadership formation means planting, watering, removing, enjoying. That it also means

  • tending to God’s 3 gardens – through Creation in Eden, by Resurrection at the empty tomb, by Eschatology in Revelation 21
  • the spirituality of composting (here)
  • the spirituality of gardening (here and here)
  • the ecclesiology of garden church –  (here and practically here)
  • about an outdoor faith indoors (here)
  • a funny story that emerged because we as a church gave out vege plants at our annual Spring Clean community contact day
  • the ethics of gardening leadership ie about why I’m a vegetarian (here) and how  little actually land you need to feed a family of 3 (here)

And as I spoke, I could have passed around some home made eggplant dip.

Posted by steve at 12:40 PM

Thursday, April 03, 2014

a yarn in the making

This is a most fascinating invitation, noticed in our local bookshop. Pre-loved jerseys are wanted – to document, disassemble and remodel. The expectation is that each has a story. So a mix of craft and story.

It made me dream of being part of a faith community like this – a place in which stories of what is precious is told, in which acts of telling and acts of creating are valued, in which the future is shaped from what is offered, to enter into a church, and church year, which was a “yarn” in the making.

It also reminded me of John Drane’s metaphor for the church, in his wonderful chapter, “Looking for Maturity in the emerging church,” in Mission-shaped Questions: Defining Issues for Today’s Church (Explorations)

The image of weaving the cloth is a powerful metaphor for today’s church. So much of what we have inherited is like a comfortable sweater that is now unraveling around the edges. We can do one of two things with that sort of sweater: either we patch it up, to try and make it last a bit longer, or we pull at the loose ends to see what happens, with a view to taking the wool, washing it, and knitting it into a garment that will be fit for a new generation. No-one could possibly deny that the unraveling is happening. It is the creative spirits of the emerging church who are acting with missional intentionality to imagine, and then to create, unfamiliar shapes and patterns of faithful discipleship that are both old and new (Matthew 13: 52).

Posted by steve at 06:17 PM

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

resourcing Lent

I was asked to lead devotions for a group yesterday. Being Lent, I took 3 images from the week that was in Si Smith’s wonderful 40 series and printed them on paper.

I provided a brief introduction, of the author, of the imaginative exercise of wondering what Jesus might have done for 40 days in the wilderness and how these were resourcing my life this Lent. I then invited the group in pairs, to take an image each.

What strikes you? What Biblical passages come to mind as you look at each picture?

Share with the wider group?

If these pictures were prayer, what would it be? We’re busy people, so please keep it simple. Either thanks for … or please…

The interaction was rich, the insights important, the prayer apt, heartfelt and richly participative.

Posted by steve at 08:38 AM