Thursday, July 14, 2016
spirituality of eating: a lectio vocatio
I led a two day retreat for Wellington Ministers this week. The brief was fairly broad: to speak on something they’d not heard from me before. I decided to focus on “Give us this day our daily bread” and explore the spirituality of eating and the implications for ministry and mission.
Each session involved a five step cycle, which I called “lectio vocatio” – listening to God and each other – amid a shared vocation as ministers.
- Stories: reflective questions that invited story sharing
- Bible stories – read firstly for ordinary eating
- Bible stories – read secondly for theological purposes
- Ministry stories
- Application: Given the spirituality of “eating” in this Biblical story, what are the implications for ministry and mission?
I was rifting off lumia domestica, an art exhibition by Willie Williams, and how he takes ordinary things (culled from Oxfam shops across the world), and makes reflective, beautiful things. So in the ordinary of eating, there is beauty, which makes us go “wow.”
A first session revolved around Abraham’s hospitality in Genesis 18, to consider call
- Where are the places in which you have met strangers?
- What are the practices of hospitality you have experienced?
People had been invited to bring some cloth meaningful to them. These were laid on the table, as a way of making ourselves present in the circle of God’s love (in which our call to ministry begins). The diversity and colour was a rich reminder of particularity and uniqueness in ministry.
A second session focused on the widow of Zarepath in 1 Kings 17, to consider justice, community development and climate change
- Who are the “widows” in our community?
- What are their sticks and flour?
People had been invited to bring a tin can. We reflected on where the “daily bread” we eat comes from and what we knew about the production and people. This became intercession, as we placed our tin cans prayerfully.
A third session focused on Rahab in Joshua 2, to consider formation in mission and our willingness to work with what God is doing in unexpected places
- Where have you experienced shelter (food and a roof) in the lands of another?
- When have you unexpectedly heard affirmations of faith?
In ending, we cleared the table. As each person reclaimed their cloth and tin can, they shared an action they would like to engage, as a result of engaging together. The table was emptying, yet there was a renewed intentionality toward our ordinary tables of mission and ministry to which we were returning, grounded in a depth of contemplating (lectio) our vocations in ministry together.
I very much enjoy this type of teaching. The theme provided a different way to reflect on ministry and mission. The movement between silence, Scripture, story and discussion felt empowering, yet provocative. The chance to build something over a number of days opened up every deeper layers of conversation.
Key books in my preparation were: John Koenig, Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation and Rebecca Huntley, Eating Between the Lines and Anne Richards, Sense Making Faith: Body, Spirit, Journey.
Monday, July 04, 2016
Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under ANZATS Forum
“Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under.”
Tuesday, 5 July, ANZATS, 4-5:30 pm
Welcome to the Fieldwork in theology forum. This forum focuses on the place of qualitative research in theology. The intention is to share fieldwork notes, the realities encountered in using qualitative research in theology.
Why? The use of empirical methods in theological research is a growing trend in theology. Each year since 2012, there has been an annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham, UK. In 2012, Eerdmans launched two books: Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography edited by Chris Scharen and Pete Ward. (I have reviewed these in the International Journal of Practical Theology and United Church Studies.) There have been sessions on Ecclesiology and Ethnography at AAR since 2012. In 2014, a new journal was launched – Ecclesial Practices journal, edited by Pete Ward, Paul Fiddes, Henk de Roest.
So journal, books, conferences in UK and US all point to a growing trend in theology.
Downunder, the most internationally recognised writing from Australia comes from Catholic theologian, Neil Ormerod. He wrote a chapter for The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church. At 684 pages, edited by Gerard Mannion and Lewis Mudge, The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church is one of the most impressive global summaries of contemporary ecclesiology.
Ormerod’s chapter was titled “Ecclesiology and the Social Sciences”. He wrote of a “major divide in ecclesiology, between those who study … an idealist Platonic form in some noetic heaven, and those who study it more as a realist Aristotelian form, grounded in the empirical data of historical ecclesial communities.” The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church, Routledge: London and New York, 2008, 639-654.
Ormerod develops this further in his 2005 paper for the Theological Studies journal. He notes that “attempts to engage with the social sciences have not been prominent among ecclesiologists.” (815) For Ormerod, this is a theological problem: “underlying these difficulties lies one of the most profound theological mysteries, that of the interrelationship of grace and nature.” (818)
Ormerod’s downunder perspective gives us some definition. Fieldwork in theology is about a focus on ecclesiology not as idealized, but as grounded in the lived experience of historical ecclesial communities. The use of social sciences to clarify the shape of this lived experience of historical ecclesial communities. The belief that qualitative research is theological: faith seeking understanding at the intersection of grace and nature.
How and Who? In order to explore Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under, I have brought together a panel of four folk
- Darren Cronshaw
- Lynne Taylor
- Kevin Ward
- Steve Taylor
All have undertaken fieldwork in theology, using qualitative research in pursuing theological questions.
I have asked them each to share for around 10 minutes:
- First, a summary of their fieldwork in theology research
- Second, their most vivid experience of using qualitative research in theology.
- Third, the most complex issue generated by your use of fieldwork in theology.
The aim is not to present research results as such. Rather it is to explore methods, methodologies and theologies – the issues arising as fieldwork research is undertaken in theology. We will do this by using our discussion time not to ask specific questions of each paper, but rather construct a mind map, asking what are issues generated by the use of empirical research in theology.
My hope is that this helps us focus on the realities of research and perhaps set a future research agenda.
Saturday, July 02, 2016
Wanangha nai: a post-colonial indigenous atonement theology
I’m crossing the ditch this week. First stop is Melbourne, where I am part of ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Second stop is holidays (more on that later).
In Melbourne at ANZATS I’m doing a number of things. These include leading a Forum that I have initiated: Fieldwork in Theology: learnings down-under.
“Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under”
This forum will focus on the place of qualitative research in theology. The use of empirical methods in theological research is a growing trend, as evident in the new Ecclesial Practices journal, the annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham, UK and sessions at AAR since 2012. This forum will provide space to share fieldwork notes, including experiences of using qualitative research in theology, issues generated by the use of empirical research in theology and ways to network.”
This involves a panel of four (Dr Cronshaw, Dr Taylor, Lynne Taylor, Dr Ward). Each will address the question: first, their most vivid experience of using qualitative research in theology; second the most complex issue generated by their use of fieldwork in theology. The aim is to allow discussion of the issues arising as fieldwork research is undertaken in theology, in order to engage the topic focus: the place of qualitative research in theology.
Third, I am presenting a conference paper. It emerges from my experiences on Walking on Country last year and ongoing conversation, digitally and by long-distance telephone call, with Denise Champion.
Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Here is the introduction …
Wanangha nai. Which means in Adnyamathanha, Where am I going? In this paper, where I am going is to share the story of Great Uncle Alf, honoured by the South Australian Police in 2004, who, I will argue embodies atonement: a knowledge of “this place” so deep that the lost are found and returned to home and community.
To do that I need to provide a methodology, which I do through James McClendon’s notion of biography as theology: that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology).
And a Biblical conversation, which I do in conversation with Kenneth Bailey, who argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament).
Wanangha nai: Where am I going in post-colonial missiology?
First, Missio Dei – God is active in the world. Hence in cultures there are God-bearers, in whom God is Incarnate. Not fully. But enough that God is revealed and cultures and communities are dignified as God-bearers.
Second, paying attention to “ordinary readers.” Gerard West, in the context of South Africa, argued that it was well past time for the academy to read Scripture not by educating the non-scholarly to read the Bible like the academy (Reading Other-wise: Socially Engaged Biblical Scholars Reading with Their Local Communities). Rather by nurturing communities of “intuitive and critical interpreters …[who].. come to the biblical texts from different perspectives that are equally valid.” I will explore what that means among an indigenous community in South Australia.
After 9 months immersed in Aotearoa New Zealand and the role at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, I am really looking forward to stepping off the dance floor/crossing the ditch, to see friends, to say hello to Melbourne and to pick up some research threads that remain important to me and my mission journey while in Australia.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
In this small thing is all of creation! God made it, God cares for it, God loves it. (A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich)
Plant this movie: the International Urban Farming Documentary was on at the Rialto this Sunday morning. It was an inspirational watch. A few scenes moved me to tears, in particular the vision for culture change possible in decaying urban environments.
Movies like this make sense of my first degree, Bachelor of Horticulture, my love for gardens and some of my research and writing into community gardens – like Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant
Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhood. This paper considers gardens in Scripture, start, middle and end. It researches the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens. The story of each is brought into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1–12 and 1 Cor 3:6–9. The insights from this dialogue between Scripture and two urban garden case studies is then enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is a documentary about an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden. Both point to the power and potential of a seasonal spirituality. Throughout this paper, beginning and end, is also woven experience—mine—into the place and potential of gardens in mission and ministry. The argument from Scripture, case study, film and experience is that gardens invite us and our neighbours to become good, plot by plot and plant by plant.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Gurrumul and Paul Kelly – Amazing Grace
It seems a fitting song for today, for Holy Week, for all those caught in the shadow of human exploitation and violence.
There is an alternative narrative, a way of being across cultures, a way of seeing even through (Gurrumul’s) darkened eyes, a way of embracing hope despite the religious violence of imposed colonisation.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
My abstract for ANZATS 2016. The theme is atonement, which opens some space to reflect on indigenous Christology and develop a sermon I delivered at Port Augusta Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister last year.
Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Steve Taylor and Denise Champion
James McClendon (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology) has argued that biography can remake theology. This methodology is applied to an indigenous Australian, to argue that a post-colonial atonement theology emerges in the biographical telling.
Warrianha (Alfred Ryan) was an Adnyamathanha man, born in the Flinders Ranges. He was honoured in 2004 for his contribution over many years in the Coonawarra area as a Police tracker, renowned for his ability to find people. This provides a way to read Psalm 23, in which the Lord is the shepherd who, like an indigenous animal tracker, finds those lost in the valley of death. This suggests atonement as the experience of being found and returned to home and community.
This reading of Psalm 23 is strengthened by the work of Kenneth Bailey (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), who listened to indigenous peoples in the Middle East. Bailey argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices.
This provides another category by which to engage Indigenous Australian stories. Biography as theology, as in the life of Warrianha, is a different type of story in contrast to indigenous dreaming stories. Further, it is the story of working across cultures, among the Buandig nation, rather than among his Adnyamathanha people. McClendon’s conviction is that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution. Warrianha’s life offers potential for those doing theology in a post-colonial age, as a place-specific indigenous Christology that crosses nations.
Note: It is hoped that the presentation at ANZATS will be done in partnership with Warrianha’s great niece, Rev Denise Champion, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister, Port Augusta, South Australia.
Tuesday, February 09, 2016
complete not finished
I completed the Built for Change manuscript on Saturday. At 58,000 words and 11 chapters, it is a project I’m very pleased with. It is practical, filled with stories of change. It is probing, using Scripture, tradition and reason to respond to a range of important questions about fresh expressions innovation. Is Jesus an innovator built for change? How to understand the old in light of the new? How might we connect modern insights into leadership with the Biblical tradition? It is personal, an in-depth look at how I lead myself in innovative processes.
It has been very helpful in the transition from Principal Uniting College to Principal Knox College. At the same time, it has been demanding to write a book in what is essentially a 6 month period and I am very glad to have it behind me. Somehow completing it on Waitangi Day felt symbolic, another important step in the process of leaving Australia and earthing myself back in the richness of Aotearoa New Zealand. It is the last of the 27 pieces I wrote in Australia. I can stop “writing back reflectively” and start to think seriously about what it means to “write now” in this next season of my life.
It is complete, but not finished. It now moves into the hands of editors, who work with me on making the book a better book. The publishing company (Mediacom) have a reputation for moving rapidly, so it could well be out by the middle of the year.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Last Cab to Darwin: a theological meditation on outback place
Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for September 2015, of Australian film, Last Cab to Darwin.
Last Cab to Darwin
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor
Last Cab to Darwin is a visual introduction to contemporary Australian stereotypes. Indigenous men drink and fight. White fella Australians drink and fumble emotionally. English women tourists are blondes willing to sleep around.
Death strides into the midst of these caricatures. Rex (Michael Caton), a taxi driver from Broken Hill, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. With three months to live and afraid of hospitals, he hears of Dr Farmer (Jacki Weaver), advocating in the Northern Territory of Australia for the right to euthanise.
Last Cab to Darwin is based on a true story, including the gaps in Australian law between Territory, State and Federal parliaments. It offers the potential to dwell in complexity. The reality is that the road trip genre becomes an excuse to speed past rich cultural complexity.
Driving his cab to find Dr Farmer, Rex encounters Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), who proceeds to fight and drink his way with Rex toward Darwin. Their narrative journey is broken by a set of clichés, including watches that stop, feral cats hung from outback trees and Tilly’s salvation through sport, if he can beat the bottle. Speeding toward yet another stereotypical scene (Darwin sunsets), Tilly has a one night stand with English barmaid, Julie (Emma Hamilton), who wraps herself into their journey. These images, of indigenous men, white fella Australians and blonde English women tourists simplify the complexity that could ennoble Australia today.
I refer to the lens through which the outback is viewed. The desert landscape depicted in Last Cab to Darwin is simply a dusty red backdrop through which visitors pass, collecting experiences on a road to somewhere. There is no sense of another story, of “anhangha idla ngukanandhakai,” the indigenous (Adnyamathanha) understanding of living in memory.
This understanding of outback is beautifully depicted in the recently published Yarta Wandatha. It is a rarity, a theology book with colour photographs of outback landscape. Unlike Last Cab to Darwin, these scenes are never backdrop on a trip to somewhere. Rather, each is story, around which memory is wrapped. Interpreted in Yarta Wandatha by indigenous woman Denise Champion in creative dialogue with the Christian story, we find the unfolding of a very different outback story.
Last Cab to Darwin introduces two indigenous women. Polly (Ningali Lawford) is Rex’s neighbor, having an affair they are both scared to make public. Sally (Leah Purcell) is Tilly’s wife. The movie provides stereotypical similarities of these indigenous woman. Both are abandoned by their menfolk. Both approach conflict by shouting angrily at those they love.
Such is the simplicity of stereotype. In contrast, when Denise Champion tells the story of Awi-irtanha, the Rain Bird, we encounter a more complex story, in which indigenous resources, considered in light of Jesus, avoid the ugly consequences of unresolved conflict.
Watching Last Cab to Darwin I kept waiting for the road trip to engage these stories on the road between Broken Hill and Darwin. The only hint is when Tilly locates Sally’s mob as fighters against colonial invasion. Once again, 40,000 years of rich and storied memory is lost, replaced by the stereotypes of recent arrival.
Rev Dr Steve Taylor is becoming of Knox College for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan, 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Wanted: Director of Missiology
This was my old job – with a nice twist – church engagement! The last two applicants have been Kiwi’s. Third time ….?
Director of Missiology
Uniting College and Mission Resourcing South Australia together partner in mission. We are seeking a lecturer and leader to develop missiology within the life of both the Uniting Church in South Australia and the College. This will involve forming leaders, educating in its best and broadest sense and fieldwork participation in applied missiology projects. Tasks will include:
1. Developing the Uniting College missiology stream at under-graduate, post-graduate and VET level
2. Lecturing in areas of missiology, contextual mission and innovation
3. Providing research leadership in missiology, including supervision at post-graduate level and connecting research with community stakeholders
4. Working strategically with Mission Resourcing to support and develop mission projects among congregations, communities, regions and networks
5. Strengthen pioneering and fresh expressions as contextual mission
6. Participate in the life of the College, including the formation of leaders in mission
The successful applicant will have a unique skill set that should include experience in education and formation, leadership skills in mission, community mission experience, post-graduate qualifications and an ability to innovate within the faith and polity expressed in the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church in Australia.
A position description is available from: either Steve Taylor, Principal Uniting College, 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park, SA 5032, email@example.com or Amelia Koh-Butler, Executive Officer, Mission Resourcing, 212 Pirie Street, Adelaide SA 5000, firstname.lastname@example.org
Applications close 5 pm, 8 September 2015, with interviews Wednesday September 23 and expected commencement at the beginning of Semester 1, 2016.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Creative renewal through action
I’m speaking this Friday, 6 pm, 31 July, Burnside Uniting Church. Here’s the blurb
Rev Dr Steve Taylor is a world leader in missional thinking and sadly is leaving Australia to return to New Zealand in
August(September actually) this year. We are indeed very fortunate Steve has agreed to lead our next metro Gathering teaching sessions.
Creative renewal is only possible through action. What actions lead to renewal?
I will be reflecting on leadership lessons from my years as Principal at Uniting College and offering some reflection on the Uniting church into the future. (If I can find the words. I’m still quite unclear on how I want to say what I want to say.)
Friday, July 03, 2015
Today is a second day of study leave, a few days in which I am seeking to write about, and reflect upon, my learnings in leadership from recent years of ministry.
I am in the Blue Mountains, surrounded by bush and quiet. I am staying with my supervisor, who continues his delightful ministry of naming reality, asking provocative questions, helping me circle around my worlds, both inner and outer.
The Old Testament lectionary reading for today, and in particular four phrases, proves strangely clarifying.
I will stand at my watch-post
Write the vision
Make it plain
So that a runner may read it.
Let me explore these phrases from the bottom back up to the top.
I write for a person. A runner. For individuals and teams, whether wondering, willing, or wanting, running the journey of innovate. I write that they might run sustainably, strategically. I want to offer them some signs that point to processes of innovation that have reality, integrity, creativity and a deep compassion and care for people and places.
I write with a purpose. I seek to avoid fancy words, clever theories and quick quotes from leadership heroes. Instead, with honesty and integrity, I want to make as plain as possible the real life learnings from innovation. I want to share stories that offer hope. Organisations do change. People do grow. Resources can be aligned. Access can be enhanced.
I write by choosing to stand at the watchpost. Rather than look forward, rather than theorise, I choose to look back, to particularise. In standing, I find myself slowing and as I slow, I feel once again the particular emotions, demands and experiences of leading an organisation in a complex system in a rapidly changing world. It is hard to stand. It is hard to lead. It is costly to innovate. Yet such is the place from which these words, these leadership learnings, must emerge.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Freedom to pursue not a formula to follow
This week I’ve been teaching an intensive, Mission and the church. It has been an exhausting week – intensives by their very nature are demanding. At the same time, it has been a very fulfilling week. Nearly half the class was from inter-state and it was a joy to be resourcing the church nationally. All of the class had significant ministry experience and thus it became not an exploration of theories for when people might move into ministry, but an intensely practical examination of what could be done now, in living communities. It is a privilege to opens a space and keeps alive a conversation about mission.
My intention is that the conversation is
- hopeful – in the midst of church decline and structures that stifle, to keep providing ways to subvert and maintain
- storified – if God is going ahead of us, if missio Dei is for real, then alongside theory of mission needs to be stories of God’s activity and action
- contextual – theory and stories need to be told in ways that allow people to contextually adapt and innovate, not photocopy. Never once did I hear “oh, we couldn’t do that,” which is a sure sign that contextual has been lost from a teaching context
- creative – whole church, with our whole bodies, embodying the Gospel, needs to be modelled in the course delivery. All these senses need to be engaged, not just the ears and eyes
- evidence-based – stories of God’s activity are the evidence from which we discern mission. Three of the 8 sections featured post-graduate research which was studying stories, in order to discern. So time and again we found ourselves immersed in learnings from people coming to faith, communities exploring innovation 10 years on, churches planting community ministries.
The feedback has been enormously positive.
Thank you again for a great short course on mission, and the church’s place in it. It has given me, and my congregations, much inspiration to live and work to do, and enjoy.
A final comment.
“I’ve gained a freedom to pursue, not a formula to follow.”
As always, I gain as much as I give in these conversations. On Thursday, as I shared some of my research of sustainability and fresh expressions (2 of the 8 chapters I’ve drafted), I found new insights emerging. It is a project I’m struggling to nail, unsure how to tell the story. As the class questions rained down upon me, I found myself making some fresh connections (and kicking myself that I’d forgot to record this section). All an important part of my own processing and clarifying.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Writing in Australia: a missiological analysis
During my time in Australia, I’ve had 26 pieces of writing published. This includes 13 book chapters; 2 peer reviewed journal articles; 3 book reviews in peer reviewed journal; 7 other pieces including 3 in Australian Leadership. It totals to over 80,000 published words in the 5 years.
(I have also completed work on a number of rejected journal articles and work on two book manuscripts in relation to sustainability of fresh expressions.)
In preparing for the Mission and the church course, I decided it would be interesting to analyse this published-in-Australia writing from a missiology perspective. It would test the frame of this course, the seven practices. It would also be a way of letting the frame test my work. Am I covering all the areas of mission or am I narrowcasting?
I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that my writing covers all seven areas. I have written most about the planting and forming of new ecclesial communities and least about evangelism. (although I do spend a lot of time talking about evangelism with certain PhD candidates!) Four of the pieces do not fit the frame and I want to think further therefore about whether the frame might need some adaption.
Prayerful discernment, listening – 3
Apologetics – 2
Evangelism – 1
Catechesis – 4
Ecclesial formation – 4
Planting, forming new ecclesial communities – 6
Incarnational mission -3
Unplaced – 4
This exercise thus becomes helpful in guiding my ongoing research. I need to pay more attention in the next phase to apologetics and evangelism. Overall, the pieces include a degree of engagement with indigenous voice, but less engagement with Pacifica cultures. Again, doing this overview of my work helps clarify for me my ongoing research.
On the course website, I have provided an annotated bibliography of this writing. Over the next few days, I will be adding a brief summary of each piece. I will also provide a second paragraph, explaining the missiological reasons why I wrote it and what were the missiological questions that I was seeking to engage with.
This resource sits alongside a standard class bibliography. That was representative of global voices. This is one voice. Most of these pieces I have written do not provide a neat overview of learning to date. Instead, they are more at the edge. They are seeking to address questions I think need to be answered in moving mission thinking forward. This includes the fact that many of my pieces involve engagement with contemporary popular culture and from these emerge conversations about various practices of mission.
The full bibliography is as follows: (more…)
Saturday, June 13, 2015
We’re all men: gender in teaching mission
Monday I begin a four day intensive, teaching on Mission and the church. Much of this week has been spent building the online site – loading up readings, video clips, extra resources, web links – that will enhance the educational experience.
Glancing at the class list yesterday, I shook my head in disbelief. The entire cohort, all 9 of the enrolled students, are male. And, if the surnames are in any way reliable, all white fella.
I can’t recall teaching an all male, white fella class. Ever. Certainly not in my experience in the Uniting Church, where one of the things I have most appreciated is the greater gender mix that is present, compared to my experience in Baptist Churches in New Zealand.
I am puzzled and disturbed. What to do?
I do have diversity built in through the readings, which include voices, male and female, and from Asia, Africa, Europe, United States, Australia and New Zealand. I do have guest presenters both male and female. I do have short spoken mission biographies to splice in at various points, of woman and indigenous. The stories of fresh expressions video clips are of women pioneers.
But that does not address the mono-cultural discussion that will inevitably result.
Cancelling the class does not seem fair on each individual who has enrolled. I suspect it is also not permissible in a higher education environment.
I don’t think I can suddenly find someone willing to give four days to participate in an intensive at such short notice. And it runs the risk of tokenism, asking one voice to speak for an entire culture or gender.
I wonder if I should, on the first morning, note the reality of our room. And then place three chairs at three points around the class. And suggest that every now and again, we pause and ask each other:
Now if a woman, or a first-nations person, or a migrant with English as a second language were present in our discussion, what might they be adding to our discussion? What might they be critiquing?
This runs the risk of transference. But at the heart of mission is a commitment to engage with the other. So three empty chairs might in fact provide an object lesson in lack.