Thursday, March 28, 2013
Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series: a “down under” perspective
Today I took a break from the Sustainability in fresh expressions book project. I’ve written about 26,000 words, plus transcribed 10 hour long interviews in the last month, and I’m a bit knackered. Lacking sustainability! Plus there were a number of pressing tasks on my academic “must-do” list.
- some lyrical editing (out) of a co-authored paper, with colleague Liz Boase, on Public lament, a conversation between Biblical lament and live concert performances by U2 and Paul Kelly, in order to meet 10% copyright fair use
- complete two book reviews for International Journal of Practical Theology on the initial volumes in the Eerdmans Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series: Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography (the latter which will be a must read in my Theology of Ministry Practice Masters class next semester, two wonderful chapters on reading baptisms at a worship service and reading ministry metaphors used by street pastors working with the homeless)
- provide an abstract for the Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Studies (ANZATS) Christians in Communities – Christians as Communities conference in Auckland in July.
It was good, in the midst of a major book writing project, to pause and actually get something done. For those interested here is my conference paper abstract for the Christians in Communities – Christians as Communities conference (more…)
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Gender matters: in church structures
Today I’ve been writing (Sustainability and fresh expressions book project) on the history of mission in Great Britain. What has the God of mission been up to in the past? How might that help us analyse the current and dream of a future?
More specifically, I’ve been writing about the voluntary missionary society, a significant and important gift, from Great Britain, to the world. William Carey, often called the father of modern mission, in his hugely influential An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means, argued not only for mission, but also for a new structure for mission. Drawing from the world of commerce, the trading company and the way it, through seeking shareholders, created participation and enabled action, Carey wondered:
Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers and private persons, were to form themselves into a society, and make a number of rules respecting the regulation of the plan, and the persons who are to be employed as missionaries, the means of defraying the expense, etc etc
Missiologist Andrew Walls considers this of huge significance, a revolutionary re-structuring of the church in light of mission. He also notes a number of outcomes, including gender matters, the way it allowed women’s giftedness. Walls argues that voluntary societies
assisting [the church's] declericalization, giving new scope for women’s energies and gifts and adding an international dimension which hardly any of the churches, growing as they did within a national framework, had any means of expressing. After the age of the voluntary society, the Western Church could never be the same again. Andrew Walls, ”Missionary societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church.”
Often church structures impede women, as so eloquently attested in Maggi Dawn’s recent book. But sometimes (albiet probably unintentionally), they allow the body of Christ to experience “new scope for women’s energies and gifts.” In other words, to more fully be the body.
Yeah for church restructuring!
Friday, March 08, 2013
a three-peat publication day
Three things I’ve written, for three totally different sources, all arrived today, all in final published form.
- “Starting Old: A re-resurrection,” an article in Australian Leadership 5, 5 (February/March 2013), 15-17. (Subscription to e-version of available here)
- “U2,” Don’t Stop Believin’: Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-hur to Zombies, a short entry in a publication edited by Craig Detweiler, Robert K. Johnston and Barry Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 125-127.
- “Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” a chapter in Interfaces: Baptists and Others, edited by David Bebbington and Martin Sutherland, Paternoster, 2013, 292-307. (Available here)
I will try and blog more on each over the next week. But in brief “Starting Old: A re-resurrection,” was a commissioned piece on what I’d learned about change and leadership after 6 years spent in renewing an established church. “Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” offers a theology of gospel and culture for the emerging church. “U2″ is a short piece for a dictionary of popular culture.
When you’re in the midst of writing, having something arrive all finished is a great motivation. But having three things is, well, almost intoxicating.
But also sobering. It makes real the length and detours of the writing process. One of the pieces began life as part of a chapter in my PhD in 2004, was delivered at a conference in 2009 and submitted that same year. That’s a long incubation.
Enough distraction. Back to the writing Steve Taylor.
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
From the Ground Up: U2 360 degree tour photobook
This beautiful, colour, hardcover (U2 music) edition of From the Ground Up: U2360° Tour Official Photobook, arrived recently. At 250 pages, it covers what is the largest rock tour in history, from start to end, from Bono’s first use of forks and a grapefruit to visualise a 360 stage, through to the tours’ end, 110 shows, playing to over 7 million people. It proceeds by way of interviews, with the band and those close to them.
It allows some fascinating insights on creativity, on the rate of change in technology and the inner world of U2.
“Occasionally ideas would come to [Willie] in a moment of blinding creative inspiration, but far more usually they tended to seep into his consciousness gradually, in a sort of artistic osmosis. Often ideas come about as a result of something he’d seen and liked or been temporarily fascinated with. An image or a concept might sit in his head for years until eventually it met another notion lurking in there somewhere and between them they formed a complete idea.” (131-2)
So nourishing creativity is about the space of let things seep, mixed with the deeps wells we dig for ourselves – the galleries we visit, music we listen to, books we read, children we play with.
The pace of technology
A creative, interactive highlight of the show is when all the show lights go out during Moment of Surrender, and the audience are invited to turn on their cell phones. But it made more impact as the tour progressed, simply because technology was changing.
“This cell-phone ‘star-field’ section of the set got brighter the longer the tour went on, as each generation of cell phones was released, and it became increasingly effective as a piece of stage craft.” (132-3)
The place of faith
The pre-show ritual never changed either. Each night, before they go on stage, U2 do exactly the same thing … ‘We always have half an hour before we go on stage,’ said Bono. “It’s a hard thing to describe, but we sort of pray. We tell each other how lucky we are. In that way that one shouldn’t be public about private matters of faith, where we say is secret, but it’s important. We are grateful for what our music has given us, and above all, what God has given us … This is the only time that it’s just us together, heads together, praying, and we do it every gig.” (158)
So this is what is happening when I, as a fan, am screaming for the band to arrive. They’re praying!
This then moves into a delightful story (160), of the time Paul McCartney knocked just before Live 8 in 2005 and was ignored by the band, left standing. After the waiting, the embarrassment, the apology, he was invited to join them in prayer.
Because it draws mainly on interviews, which are based on the privilege of access, these books always run the risk of becoming more like groupie books. The critical voice can get drowned out once you are let into the sound. For example, there is no mention of protestors at Glastonbury, nor little exploration of the environmental impact of the tour.
Not that insider narratives are a bad thing. First, it is an important market. I mean there are a lot of groupies! Second, viewed through the lens of ethnography (a methodology I’m currently engaged in research wise, seeking entry to the “inner” worlds of Fresh expressions and new forms of church, it is thus an helpful illustration of some of the complexities outsiders need to negotiate in seeking entry. A critic? A fan? A critical friend? Each require a complex set of negotiations, especially when the words said and written become public property.
From the Ground Up: U2360° Tour Official Photobook will cause fans to remember fondly. And for those conducting U2 research, it is a valuable “insider” resource, that, as in any research process, needs to be placed alongside a range of voices.
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.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Gender matters: Like the Wildeness of the sea, by Maggi Dawn
Gender matters. As I began to process my emerging church 10 years on data, I began to realise that gender matters – that in communities in which women led, women are more likely to grow; that in some denominations, most of the money invested in paid pioneers is invested in men; that some of the more interesting research I came across were into fresh expressions that were run by lay women.
So my sabbatical reading took a detour, into women’s faith development.
- was my data odd or does gender matter in faith development?
- Yes! In alienation, through awakenings, by relationality
- What do Lo-ruhamah in Hosea 1, Namaan’s wife’s slave girl in 2 Kings 5, the slave girl in Philippi in Acts 16, Jarius daughter in the Gospels have in common?
- do women lead differently?
It is a theme that reemerges loud and clear in Maggi Dawn’s, Like the Wildeness of the Sea. Introduced as a book about women and bishops and the Church of England, it’s actually much more. It’s a book about the ability, or otherwise, of the church to be a flourishing place for gifted people.
What a different church it would be if all the gifts of its women were validated, and all their energy unleashed. If no more time was wasted discussing whether or not our place in church is valid, if no more goodwill dribbled away because of the despondency that follows from a dream being deferred, what a powerhouse of transforming social and spiritual power the Church might become. If this is to happen, though, it will demand more than a compromised measure through the system that gives an impression of permission to women. (Like the Wildeness of the Sea, 75)
And then this quote, which makes obvious that this is not only about ordination, but also about workplace cultures and habits.
what I would love my colleagues in the Church of England to know is this: I achieve twice as much in a working week as I did before. Why? Simply for this reason: none of my mental energy is wasted justifying my existence, surviving bullies, fending off harassment, or anticipating sexist behaviour. I don’t have to think about whether I should speak more loudly or more softly to gain permission to be heard. I don’t have to worry about whether my clothes will be thought too feminist or too feminine, or second-guess myself all the time to work out how to gain the space and the permission to do the job I’m appointed to. I just wake up every day feeling good, go to work full of energy, work hard all day, and come home, most days of the week, still smiling.
Because gender matters. Read it and weep. And dream. Like the Wildeness of the Sea, by Maggi Dawn
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Like the Wildeness of the sea, by Maggi Dawn – book review
Like the Wildeness of the Sea, by Maggi Dawn, Dean at Yale University, is a sobering reflection on gender and the church, more specifically, on being a female leader in the Church of England.
It is divided into three sections. First, it surveys developments in the Church of England in relation to the ordination of women. It seems logically inconsistent that a church can appoint a person to lead as a priest, yet make ineligible to lead as a bishop. In seeking to find a way beyond the current impasse, Maggi points out that within the polity of the Church of England is “the process of reception” in which, when unity cannot be found, a decision can be made, as a nonbinding experiment, as a way of testing the consequences.
She draws in the narrative of Gamaliel in Acts (although it also sounds like the Ignatian discernment process applied corporately, in which a group makes a decision and explores it prayerfully before actioning). At this point I would have liked more of a history of times in the Church of England when this has been applied and the consequences. I would have liked some reflection on the guiding principles with regard to application. Is it applied in any situation of disagreement, or only in unique circumstances? To put the question hermeneutically, is the approach of Gamaliel in Acts descriptive or prescriptive?
Second, she outlines a theology of waiting, as a spiritual discipline embedded in the life and liturgy of the church. She argues persuasively that waiting includes times when God waits for us to act. She mounts a cultural critique of English ‘niceness’ and the damage done when truth and justice are smothered in platitudes. In other words, at times waiting is the most sinful response to a situation of injustice.
Third, it tells a story, of being a woman in ministry. It is a story Maggi Dawn is eminently suited to write, being one of the first woman priests to train in the Church of England. It is harrowing to read, a story of a church that has found ways to behave badly, in deeply sexist patterns, and the damage this has, and is, causing. It made me ashamed to be a male and should mean some corporate Anglican work at Colleges and denominationally on safe workplace environments. One result is the loss of enormously gifted people from the church and the reduction of the full flourishing, both of individuals and churches. The body of Christ is being harmed.
It is wonderfully written, concise and cohesive. It moves smoothly between theology, literature, spirituality and experience. The title is a case in point, elegantly referencing the books key interpretive metaphor, the struggles in the Church of England, place in Maggi’s sense of call and her current location. It is very classy writing.
In one sense the audience is very limited – English Anglicans. Yet in the particularity of the narrative is an example and a warning that makes it worthwhile reading for anyone. A warning of the damage that happens when a part of the body is not honoured. This could be an angry book and that would be reasonable. Yet there is compassion for those who have caused damage, a passion for a broadly diverse church, a theological depth and rigour and a clear prophetic call to action. (Surely qualities needed for a bishop in the Church of England today). Hence it also becomes an example of how to write, how to speak for justice and write for truth. In that regard, I will be adding it to student reading lists in the area of ministry and giving it to male ministers.
Finally, it is an intriguing example of swift and contemporary theological reflection, with the book published some three months after the 2012 synod decision. Fast work, quality work, Maggi and Dalton, Longman, Todd.
Monday, February 18, 2013
The Testament of Mary: a Lenten resource
I’ve really enjoyed Colin Toibin’s, The Testament of Mary. It’s an imaginative exploration of Mary, with a strong emphasis on a mother’s bewilderment as her son seems to go willing to his death. It’s by no means “orthodox” in theology, but it raises plenty of good questions about the motives of those around Jesus, including the disciples. It certainly makes sense of the fear and helplessness that would be have been faced by a country ruled by an invading army (the Romans) and thus the profound political disturbance that was part of the mission of Jesus.
It’s a small book, easily read in an afternoon.
It’s a literary book and Toibin is a beautiful writer, with a deft insight into the darkness of being human and the pain of loss. It’s no easy feat for a writer to cross genders, and to carry off a book about a figure as important to human history as Mary is ambitious.
While I don’t agree with all the theology, it’s a book that I’d want to read in the weeks leading up to Easter, as it strips bare the pain and politics of the road to Gethsemane. It thus stands as a creative resource for Easter Friday preachers and worship leaders.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Comprehending mission – history today
Chapter one is here. Chapter two surveys recent trends in missiology with a particular focus on the Bible and mission. Chapter three looked at mission history, the evolution through time, the shifting resources that shaped how the church understood itself.
So what of today? “Scholarly interest in mission history is remarkably strong today.” (62) The shift began in the 1980s with the realisation that mission history reveals remarkable data about boundary crossing.
Increasingly, studies point to the way missionaries sought to subvert imperialism, hand in hand with the remarkable role of indigenous people in cross-cultural encounter.
“Mission history can be controversial, especially when ideological or theological convictions are put into play. Apologetics on behalf of Christian mission, as a rule, cannot be substituted for serious historiography. Strident secularism, likewise, can impede understanding by deciding for others what religious beliefs and behaviours necessarily signify.” (66)
Another focus has been women in mission. First, their stories have been told. Second the place of mission in enabled women to offer their gifts has been uncovered. Third, the role of women in developing global movements of solidarity and partnership.
A new resource for mission has emerged – photography. The digitizing of photographs offers a rich resource for reflection, for example the Internet mission photography archive website. The Dictionary of African Christian biography offers a multi-lingual online archive. These are rich new resources that ensure mission history remains full of possibility.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Comprehending mission – history (chapter 3)
Chapter three looks at history, all the way back to Luke. It argues for an evolution. Different approaches to the history of mission have been used in history. It analyses where each approach has drawn source material from.
- Luke – is a narrative of beginnings. It attempts to make sense of how identity was formed and faith grew. In doing so, it becomes idealised. (Compare Luke’s account in Acts of the Corinthian church with some of the issues Paul actually works with in his letters)
- Church – Eusebius and Bede are shaped by their institutions. More importantly, they are often shaped by particular groupings within their institutions
- Hagiography – the lives of saints. While these neglect the “warts and all” they do ensure we today are aware of of individuals in mission and the shape of everyday life in history
- Ethnography – an increasing awareness of culture and geography is evident, as the Catholic church expands into the Americas. “In part, these data are exotica, a surefire way to excite and sustain enthusiasm for the Jesuit’s work in North America within the mission’s support base … More fundamentally, one can see in this reporting an acknowledgement that mission history can no longer be written without attending to its cultural and physical context.” (55)
- Rational history – a belief that theology and history can be separated is mixed with a desire for grand, overarching, global narratives
- Critical ethnography – a focus on intensive research on a small scale, an interest in the margins, a passion for observable behaviours. Often reading occurs “against the grain”, looking for hidden themes. “Critical ethnography tends to disparage the missionary enterprise as a self-interested Western intrusion into the lives of others.” (62)
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.
Monday, November 05, 2012
arrival of author copy of Gospel after Christendom
My author’s copy of The Gospel after Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions arrived today. At 370 pages, it is an impressive summary of the global shape of the emerging, missional church, with contributions from Germany, England, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Holland, Costa Rica, Norway, Latin America, Belgium and USA.
My chapter is second cab of the rack on, Emerging Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is one of 28 chapters, divided into five sections:
It also includes an Afterword by Eddie Gibbs, in whose honour is the book.
it is reassuring to know that there is increasing evidence of the survival of the church after Christendom, and that this survival arises out of rediscovery of the nature of the gospel and the reconnecting of ecclesiology and missiology … In other words, survival is dependent on spiritual renewal and a willingness to die to all that inhibits the church from embarking on its ongoing mission in a post-Christendom world. (Gospel after Christendom 361)
A feature is how every chapter includes sidebars, in which two of the contributors comments on another contributors chapter. So for example, my chapter has interaction by Darren Cronshaw from Australia and artist Troy Bronsink from USA. It also includes quotes from five of Eddie Gibbs books, I Believe in Church Growth; ChurchNext: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry; ChurchMorph: How Megatrends Are Reshaping Christian Communities; LeadershipNext: Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture; In Name Only: Tackling the Problem of Nominal Christianity. It makes for a rich set of connections.
Sunday, November 04, 2012
indigenous story for a commissioning in mission
This was the symbol presented to Rosemary Dewerse, who was commissioned as the Director of Missiology and Postgraduate Coordinator for Uniting College on Friday night at Presbytery Synod.
The book, by Patricia Grace a fine New Zealand’s Maori writer, is an illustrated picture book, which tells the story of Maraea, an elderly Maori woman living in a coastal community. Sadly, people are drifting to the cities, and the community is falling apart, leaving an aging Maraea on the clifftop, looking out to sea to welcome the birds …
Why such a gift for a commissioning in mission?
Albatross is a bird of ocean flight and acknowledges the pilgrim journey made by the Dewerse family to be among us. It also acknowledges the journeys that have shaped them to this point.
The author, Patricia Grace, is an indigenous Maori and thus has links with what has shaped, and continues to shape Rosemary.
The albatross feather, for the Maori community of Parihaka, was a sign of peace, harmony and reconciliation. Which has obvious echoes the gospel of Christ found in the mission of God’s people.
And the elderly women, in a community falling apart in the face of social change, well that surely is metaphor for the mainline church in the West, including the Uniting Church in which Rosemary is called for this season.
The inside cover was signed by staff and some students.
And for those interested, this is how I introduced Rosemary and the position. (more…)
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
the politics of Christian influence: Christianity and colonisation
James Boyce’s 1835 explores the Founding of Melbourne and in doing so, the conquest of Australia. Such books are essential reading for all those who care about mission and the witness of the church, because they allow us to reflect on the past.
Chapter 5: London 1835 includes a summary of the place of Evangelical Christianity in colonisation. “With the assistance of their …. [evangelicals] …. the British government became focused on the physical and moral welfare of indigenous people to an extent unknown before, or for the most part, since.” (37)
First, it helpfully notes that British Evangelicalism of the early 1800s should not be confused with present day American Evangelicalism.
Second, it notes the motivation. Once Slavery was abolished, indigenous welfare became a priority area of Evangelical concern. “Government control, along with support for enterprising ‘respectable’ settlers, was urgently needed to counteract the harm done to natives by lower-class European.” (38-9) This provides a contrast to the Domination narrative, which is often pinned on Christian colonisers. “The simple fact that evangelicals accepted that people had rights based on prior possession set them apart from the dominant settler discourse, which argued that the right to land arose from using it for farming.” (39)
This produced an ironic tension, that Christians supported colonisation because they saw it as “the primary means of ensuring that Aborigines were not degraded or killed by the lower order of Europeans.” (40)
Third, this advocacy on behalf of indigenous people relied on information. What happened in Melbourne and in the colonising of Australia, was that distance and lack of missionaries on the ground, meant that the Christian politicians lacked data to work for justice.
It’s a fascinating narrative about the relationship between church and society and the attempt to use politics for influence.
(New Zealand readers will want to read Chapter 7 – The Treaty, as it provides a fascinating analysis of a Treaty signing, both the politics and the processes, just a few short years before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. But that is for another post).