Sunday, August 10, 2014
Church on the World’s Turf: faith in hard places
How do Christians engage with their world?
Paul Bramadat decided to answer the question by researching a student group on a Canadian campus. For a year, he participated in the InterVarsity club at McMaster University. He interviewed people and attended small groups. He even went with them on a month long mission to Lithuania. All the time, as he attempted to understand them, they attempted to convert him.
The result is The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series). It’s a sensitive and thoughtful reflection.
He argues that evangelicals are creative and innovative. They employ a complex set of responses. They create a fortress in order to maintain an identity. At the same time, they create bridges in order to be true to their understandings. Key to this is the student group itself – it creates a space in which this creative innovation can be encouraged, in which identity can be nurtured and connections can be established.
“By focusing on evangelicals’ creativity in the face of the perceived hegemony of the secular ethos, not only do we gain a more nuanced view of the resistance of marginalized groups but we also begin to see these Christians as the multidimenensional and imaginative people they are. At the very least, an emphasis on evangelicals’ enthusiastic and creative responses to perceived marginalization might help us understand why evangelical church and parachurch groups show no sign of disintegration and are almost the only sector of contemporary North American Christianity sustaining and even increasing its membership.” (Paul Bramadat, The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series), 147)
Bramadat makes this argument has he explores attitudes to women, approaches to faith sharing, the understandings of the spiritual. It is a fascinating study, the first in-depth ethnographic study of a Christian campus group Bramadat was aware of (at the time of publication in 2000). It shows the richness possible when ethnography is used in research, the creativity of faith responses to the world around and the possibilities for religious groups to nurture robust relationships with their world.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
‘Urban Life Together’ Conference
A great initiative in Melbourne, with a call for papers for an ‘Urban Life Together’ Conference, 17-18 October, 2014. It hopes to bring together Christian activists, thinkers, leaders and practitioners to interact around urban mission.
Input is invited from practitioners, leaders, activists, researchers and students to explore themes or relate issues or case studies. Either a 30 minute paper, or a 10 minute presentation. I’m keen to encourage this, so in a somewhat playful mode, have offered two presentations.
Presentation one – Fresh or failed? Sustainable practices in new forms of church
Perhaps, the biggest challenge is not starting but sustaining for new forms of church. This presentation will tell the story of new forms of church ten years on, based on longitudinal research in Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom.
It will identify three sustainable practices – ember theology, shifting from key leaders to key values and building catholicity. Biblically, it will dialogue with Epaphroditus and the Philippian church, outlining five layers of sustainability. Finally, it will consider the impact of climate change, first sociological, in recent sociology of religion trends and second denominational, in the advent of Fresh Expressions as a movement.
Presentation two – Gardening with Soul
This presentation will explore two movies to suggest insights for urban mission.
Gardening with Soul (2013) tells the story of New Zealander Gardener of the Year, Loyola Galvin, honoured for her work in turning the lawn of Our Ladies of Compassion, Wellington, into Common Ground, a community garden for local apartment dwellers. Grow your Own (2007) explores the impact of Asian migrants on a well-established British allotment.
Together, these movies offer insights into urban mission, including the priority of place, soil as sacrament and the stranger’s gift. These insights will be tested against the reality of inner-city Australian community gardens in central Adelaide and Kings Cross, Sydney.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska: a brief book review
Holiday reading began with Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. Set in Papua New Guinea, it follows a set of characters first in the lead up to independence and second, in the twentyfirst century.
Modjeska is known for weaving fact with fiction and this beautifully written reflection is not exception. The Mountain emerges from her own story, a period of time in Papua New Guinea in the early 1970s and a recent return to develop an art-collective. It circles stories within stories, applying the eye of an artist to the complexity of interactions across times and cultures.
The mountain, from which the book is named, is an isolated site of undiscovered beauty. It becomes known to us first through the gaze of the anthropologists, as English-born Leonard and his wife, Dutch-born Rika visit. Second to post-colonial scrutiny, as Jericho, caught between cultures returns to find himself.
In between these personal journeys swirl a rich ripple of contemporary issues, including environmental battles, the impact of development and the search for identity.
As I read, I became aware of theological undercurrents. Whether intentional or not, the book offers a number of intriguing insights into the Christian understanding of Incarnation. Christianity claims the Word made flesh and this gains particular resonance in The Mountain, as the gift of a child becomes redemptive both for individuals and for a tribe, as it seeks to navigate between ways old and new.
The ancestors give us Leonard. We give you to Leonard. And now you return. Ancestor gift. The child who left us, who we called Jericho, has returned, the man who can make a great noise, blow down the walls. Jericho, the name from the ancestor story of Leonard.
This makes The Mountain both fun and an illuminating insight into the complexity of crossing cultures.
Monday, May 26, 2014
Jesus and the religions
I’m teaching Theology of Jesus in Semester 2, both weekly in Adelaide and by intensive at New Life Uniting Church, on the Gold Coast, in November. Plus I am teaching on Mission as an intensive in Sydney in July.
So today I was doing some preparation, which included reading Bob Robinson, Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World. It is a brilliant conceived book. It asks how Christians should approach other faiths by exploring how Jesus engaged other faiths.
It begins with three Gospel stories – Jesus and the Roman Centurion, Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman, Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. Doing theology, bringing together themes from the three encounters it argues that their are implications for how contemporary people engage plurality.
- Be open to surprise, in the same way Jesus was surprised by the faith of the Roman Centurion, the Syrophonecian and the Samaritan woman.
- Affirm what surprises you, again in the same way Jesus affirmed the faith of the Roman Centurion, the Syrophonecian and the Samaritan woman.
- In particular, look for faith and humility. This includes the role not only of faith, but of the content of that faith. In all three examples, their “faith appears to include more than heart-felt hope or desperate concern.” (Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World, 116). And so by implication, “Might examples of faith, humility, and insight, wherever they are found in the contemporary world, be affirmed by disciples today – even when they contrast less than favorable with their own.” (Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World, 117-8).
- The exclusion of vengeance. For example, Jesus response to the Roman Centurion is a moment of love of enemy. Moving to other Gospel stories, one might note the rain falls on the just and the unjust, or the banquet parables which include, rather than exclude.
What is even more intriguing is an initial chapter in which Christ becomes an exegete. The focus is Luke 4:16-30, and how Jesus engages Scripture. Robinson concludes that there are fresh readings, new performances of Scripture as Biblical texts are encountered in the power of the Spirit. This opens up an exemplary Christology, in which the church reads for direction in how to live its life of witness in the world.
All of which makes for a rich teaching resource.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Please, tend the green zones
I was asked to be the opening, after dinner speaker at the National Presbytery Ministers conference here in South Australia. With folk arriving from all over the country, tired, carrying heavy workloads, it was a difficult assignment. I decided to offer two stories.
My first story was my experience of an Adelaide Fringe Festival show, Henry Lawson goes to Princeton. I built on my blog review and after further conversation with the artist – Ian Coats, suggested that the show was a God at the fringe moment, a rich example 21st century mission – how will we live, told contextually, told publicly, with an invitation to consider God.
I also told a 2nd story. Since Presbytery ministers have significant church leadership responsibility, I told them about my research into Rowan Williams and how he provided leadership, first as Bishop, second as Archbishop, in Fresh Expressions. Based on my research (hauling out a draft chapter from the book project), I suggested that Rowan had
- a clear theology – grounded in the life of the church;
- intentional practices – to spend time on the fringe
- a change strategy – tell stories of how the green zone changes him.
In between I offered Al Roxburgh lifecycles of an organisation as a frame by which to reflect on the two stories.
The Three Zone Model … visualizes the organizational cultures congregations and denominations form at various periods in their lives. It represents a dynamic of continuous change in organizational culture relative to the external environment. Church systems living in the discontinuous change now characterize Western societies will be continually shifting through these zones
After two stories and one frame, I made one request: Please, as leaders, tend the green zones.
So much of the life in Uniting Church congregations is red. So much of our Synod whole church life is blue. Please don’t get stuck there. Please go looking for the green. Please bring those stories, in my case Henry Lawson at the Adelaide Fringe, into conversation with the centre.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
a tale of two churches
I was teaching on church today in my Introduction to Christian Thought class. I have been thinking a lot recently about the vision of church and the reality of church. So I pulled together a tale of two churches. I took the vision, the ideal, four Biblical images of church as explored in Paul Minear, Images of Church in New Testament. That is one tale of church.
I laid that alongside a second tale of church, the reality, the who is the church, the how did the church act, as explored in Kirsteen Kim’s survey of the church in global history, in Joining in with the Spirit: Connecting World Church and Local Mission
It generated some excellent connections, as we realised how much church changes over time and space, and how that frees us to think about fresh expressions of church today.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
resourcing mission as fresh expressions
Here is a list of some of the resources I used at Offspring, the inaugural New Zealand Presbyterian gathering around new missional ventures. The gathering over the weekend included four stories, of new missional ventures by New Zealand Presbyterian churches. I was asked to resource the conversation. I chose to do this by telling stories of mission in other times and places, and inviting participants into processes by which they could make links between what was happening in these local mission stories and ways mission has occurred in other times and places. I told stories from the UK (my recent research into fresh expressions 10 years on) and then from global mission history.
My hunch was that stories are a great way of making missiology accessible. And by offering missiology as story it might dignify and frame the local stories being told. But in case folk think storytelling is not “theological” or “well-researched,” here are some of the behind the scenes resources I drew on.
- The definition of mission
the effort to effect passage across the boundary between faith in Christ and absence
was from the introduction in Stanley Skreslet, Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and prospects of Missiology
- The two Biblical images of mission – the Kees de Koort depiction of the Acts 8 narrative and the Gladzor Gospel depiction of John 4 narrative – were from Stanley H. Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission. Another excellent way to access the Gladzor Gospels is The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated.
- The Tarore story as an expression of missio Dei in New Zealand mission was from Rosemary Dewerse, Nga Kai-rui i te Rongopai: Seven Early Maori Christians, published by Te Hui Amorangi Ki Te Manawa O Te Wheke, Rotorua, 2013.
- The work on the Parihaka story as a fresh expression of community in NZ history is shaped by Te Miringa Hohaia, Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance.
- One way to explore Brendan the Navigator is in David Adams, A Desert in the Ocean: The Spiritual Journey According to St. Brendan the Navigator. The original account of the voyage of Brendan is here.
- One way to explore the place of the ancient and historic in fresh expressions is the Sanctus: fresh expressions of church in the sacramental tradition DVD (from here).
I’m hoping to find some time to write up my reflections on the mission themes I saw emerging in these four stories of innovation in mission and New Zealand and the parallels I saw them and between Luke 10:1-12. But first, the day job!
Friday, May 03, 2013
Festival spirituality stories: Spin and Fibre Festival
I’m starting a research project, wanting to collect stories of Festival spirituality. It is an extension of a brief idea I sketched in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (emergentYS) and which I recently developed further.
Festival spirituality (working definition): an occasional period of community gathering for celebration, in which Christians intentionally participate, seeking to make the shalom of God more visible.
This Festival spirituality story – Spin and Fibre Festival comes from Frontier News, May 2013, 8-10. It relates to the 35th Bothwell International Highland Spin In and Fibre Festival, a biennial event held in Tasmania and comes from an interview with Rev Meg Evans, Patrol Minister, Midlands, Tasmania.
Held every two years, Meg is the unofficial chaplain for the festival, which was started by a group of Uniting Church women who were spinning wool to raise funds to restore the church tower. Bothwell is one of the smaller communities in the Patrol located in the Central Highlands, 70 km northwest of Hobart. It has a long history in Merino wool production and the festival remains a huge event for both local and international visitors showcasing crafts and skills associated with superfine wool.
“On the Friday, we shear a sheep for the fleece, and then we hold a ‘Blessing of the Fleece.’ The wool is given out to people to spin during the weekend. On the Sunday I hold a service in the school gym, surrounded by all this wonderful creativity. It is just a great community celebration.”
“People come and tell me how much they enjoy it. I think the fact that the Church is there speaks to people.”
Some interesting things to note
- gift – the involvement of the church begins with “Blessing”. This suggests a thankfulness. What is blessed (the Fleece) is then given away to participants
- risk – This clearly involves risk, that the gift might not be “unwrapped,” might not be utilised. Or it might be “wrapped” in a way contrary to the values of the giver.
- theology of creation – the connection to wool, as the product of local industry, as the lifeblood of what this community, this land, produces. A celebration both of the gift of wool, but also of the creative gifts that surround wool – “crafts and skills associated with superfine wool.”
- being church as spun (interwoven) presence, first in being close enough to the land to be aan initiating participant, second in being a worshipping presence through the festival, both from the initial blessing through to the service, third in the theology of Meg, “the fact that the Church is there speaks to people.” The church began this event, but was willing to give it away. The church is willing to be one of many participants, many strands, in the fibre of this event. It does not need to own it nor control it.
So this Festival spirituality is mission as chaplain, celebrating creation, with particular attention to presence, participation, gift and risk.
Questions for discussion
- I wonder what things might be worth celebrating in your community – what gifts of “creation” and “creativity” you could bless?
- I wonder how you might take risks and invite people to participate in these gifts?
- What might an authentic presence look like? Think about this both from your perspective as a church and from the perspective of visitors and locals.
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Festival spirituality, mission and ministry
I’m speaking tomorrow at the National Uniting Church Rural Ministry Conference, at Barmera, which is about 3 hours drive north of Adelaide, in the Riverlands.
My topic is festival spirituality. It’s a significant development of some ideas I sketched in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. I will begin by looking at Old Testament patterns of gathering and how it relates to worship, mission, community and interconnection. I will then do a drive by of a number of articles from Rural Theology, contemporary research on belonging and participation, along with research into current festival patterns in the UK.
Here’s my conclusion.
I have wanted to engage with two problems. First, the perception of Christianity as urban, a move which can downplay the vitality of rural ministry. Second, the perception of church as building, geographic and Vicar led.
I have deployed the Old Testament to suggest different modes of gathering, around sacred sites, on pilgrimage, in festivals, around tables. I would suggest these are more congruent with the needs of rural folk, in current patterns of belonging, in ways of participation and the existence already of festivals.
Finally, two examples have been provided, which show current examples of rural churches embracing these new/old forms. My suggestion is that these patterns are more likely to be life-giving for a rural church. Rather than a weekly habit, they provide ways to participate in the rhythm of a community, to embrace sense of place and to offer spirituality for the road trips so integral to rural life.
It should be a fun day.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Comprehending mission – chapter 4 – Theology mission, culture
Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology is a wonderful gift. It provides an overview of recent trends in missiology, allowing a person and an institution to locate their questions, their research, their reading in light of other thinkers.
Chapter one, on the who and why of the study of mission, is here. Chapter two, on trends in the Bible in regard to mission, is here. Chapter three part a looked at mission history, the evolution through time, the shifting resources that shaped how the church understood itself. Chapter three part b, on the history of mission today is here.
Chapter four – Theology, Mission, Culture
“Within the realm of missiology, culture becomes a primary conversation partner.” (69)
This includes communication across cultures, agencies of social change, the complex formation of innovation and new contextual projects. (This makes so much sense of my interests and why I find myself reading from change management to social innovation, to indigenous and popular culture.)
The chapter begins with theology, in particular current research on salvation and ecclesiology. This includes the shift to see mission as an aspect of God rather than as a function of the church. It also includes the recent search for a more developed pneumatology, the place of the Spirit of God.
A second section explores the growing importance of social sciences (again this makes sense of my methods, using ethnography and interviews, plus my interest in the ecclesiology and ethnography project). Mission played an active role in the development of ethnography and anthropology. The 1910 World Missionary Conference pleaded that sociology be included as one of five necessary subjects for all candidates in mission training. (It certainly is at Uniting College, where we teach Reading cultures/Sociology for ministry, as a core introductory topic).
“Not fully appreciated, perhaps, is the way in which sustained research on culture has served to keep missiology closely connected to everyday life, which lessens the risk that its theological concerns will be treated only in the abstract.” (95)
A third section explores gospel and culture, the quite deliberate participation in both arenas at the same time. “The doctrine of the incarnation has also been taken as an invitation to think deeply about human culture as the particular sphere within which Christian outreach necessarily takes place.” (86) There is a rich coverage of the development of research in contextualisation and intercultural theology.
“Writing about fifteen years ago, Lamin Sanneh perceived that Western theology was just about the last discipline in the modern university to show serious interest in missionary experience.” (94)
However, in recent years, writings from Timothy Gorringe Furthering Humanity: A Theology of Culture, Max Stackhouse Apologia: Contextualization, Globalization, and Mission in Theological Education and Kevin Vanhoozer To Stake a Claim: Mission and the Western Crisis of Knowledge, have drawn on missiological research.
Monday, February 04, 2013
Sustainability in mission
Sustainability in mission is not about preservation, whether of mission, pioneer or denomination.
This is certainly so if you consider the use of the word “sustainability” in other disciplines. In Ken Greenberg’s Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder he defines the term in relation to development. The term was popularised in 1983, by a United Nations body concerned about the environment. The commission asked all nations to establish sustainable development approaches. The invitation was “to take a completely new view of damaging practices we have developed.” What is needed is a “fresh vocabulary that is about synthesis and overlap. And conservation – using less in the first place, not consumption and planned obsolence.”
So when one begins to consider sustainability and fresh expressions, the focus must be on damaging practices. And the lens must fall on the entire system: denominations, training colleges, leadership both denominational, local and lay, church gatherings and the people of God in mission. The aim must be a fresh vocabulary and the seeking of synthesis.
Suddenly our guide bent down and started digging. In a few minutes, he offered us fresh water. In the middle of these desolate sand dunes, there was water. A bit further on, he showed us the piles of cockles, and the eating place of the Ngarrindjeri people, who have been the traditional custodians of these sand dunes for over 6,000 years.
I stood there astounded. Put me in that place, amid those barren sand dunes and I would die. Yet other humans have learnt to live within this environment.
I pondered the implications for spirituality.
It led to the change in my blog – to sustain-if-able – and to this study, of new forms of church ten years on.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
mission as the great learning experience of Western Christianity
Following on from my mission as a “converting” ordinance, here is related wisdom from one of the finest missiologists the world has seen, Andrew Walls. Saying the same thing, as mission as a “converting” ordinance, just applied to the whole of Christianity!
The missionary movement was the great learning experience of Western Christianity. By its very nature it brought the Christian faith, when it had become thoroughly accommodated to the life and thought of the West and the conceptual categories of western Europe, into massive interaction with totally different styles of life and thought. (Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith, 238)
This is what is happening (or needs to happen) with Fresh and emerging expressions of church. It is bringing of missionary learnings, that are distant, over their, far away, into our suburbs, networks and homes.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
a turning point in indigenous relationship
Earlier this year I was privileged to ask a question.
It began a conversation.
It led to a process.
Which I ended up in a room, watching indigenous people work on a translation of some communion words into their local language.
I described the encounter from my perspective prior, and after, here – We lift up our livers, the richness of culture crossing.
On Monday, I got the chance to read another perspective. Another person in the room has written up the encounter as a journal article and sent me the draft for comment. It is still in process, but it was fascinating to read the encounter from another perspective. Two quotes are worth documenting.
First the significance. This apparently, “it signifies a turning point in the relationship between at least a small group of Australian mainstream Christians and the local Aboriginal community. Almost 175 years after the first encounters of the local Aborigines with the missionaries, whitefella Christians had come to Aboriginal Kaurna people to ask for spiritual guidance, by translating a Christian liturgy into the Kaurna language that carries a completely different perception of life, world and faith.” That’s humbling. But also deeply disappointing, that it took 175 years.
Second, the challenge. “It will be interesting to see if, and to what extent, the students and lecturers at the Uniting Church College will engage in such an inter-religious dialogue.”
Since then, we’ve had 2 sessions of input from local indigenous folk into one of our classes. Since then, we’ve done work to make indigenous exposure a compulsory part of our Candidate formation and the first experience will be offered February 2013. Since then, we’ve continued an English as a second language pilot, exploring how to train across cultures. Since then, we’ve continued to build networks and relationships. Since then, we’ve put in a funding bid, seeking a partnership that might allow us to capture indigenous stories from key elders.
But we’ve only just begun …
Monday, November 19, 2012
Comprehending mission – the Bible (Chapter 2)
Chapter one is here. Chapter two surveys recent trends in missiology with a particular focus on the Bible and mission. It argues for three fundamentally different trends -
- faith sharing in the Bible
- Biblical norms for mission
- the Bible in mission outreach
With regard to faith sharing in the Bible, a key text is Eckhard Schnabel, Early Christian Mission who in two volumes focuses on Christianity in the first century and the reasons for expansion. A fundamental concern is to establish the reliability of the New Testament as a source of data for the mission of the church today. A number of methods are used in this regard. One is words, for example the recurring verbs (proclaiming, sending, gathering, making disciples, baptising, working). Second is narrative, exploring how plot and character are constructed. Third, social science approaches, in which the origins of Christianity are mapped against economic, ecological, political and cultural environments.
With regard to Biblical norms for mission, the search is for enduring principles. A variety of approaches are being used. Skreslet explores how missio Dei, so popular a term, is actually being used in different ways, with different understandings of mission, from the World Council of Churches through to liberation theologies pleading for shalom.
With regard to the Bible in mission outreach, Skreslet focuses on translation. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been translated into 360 languages, at least one book of the Bible exists in over 2,450 languages. This gives rises to the mission theology of translatability – that in “God’s linguistic economy, all the world’s vernaculars were equally gifted with a capacity to receive the gospel.” (37) The result is empowerment. Local cultures feel affirmed. Local languages are more likely to be preserved.