Saturday, September 22, 2018

built for change workshop

I tried a new approach to teaching today. I was asked to provide a keynote address in Northern Presbytery as they began a more regional approach to leadership training. I had my book Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration but wanted to move beyond talking head and instead offer  an interactive, engaging workshop task.

As everyone arrived, they received a handout, a summary of my notes. Each handout also had a different coloured sticky note (one of 6 different colours). As I spoke, in introducing the Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration  material, I linked the (6) different colours to the six images of leadership Paul offers in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4.

  • Servant – light yellow
  • Garden – green/blue
  • Build – red
  • Resource manage – pink
  • Fool –dark blue
  • Parent – bright yellow

The workshop task involved dividing the room into three around three church change projects.
A – If you wanted to care for creation in your local community …
B – If you wanted to engage your wider community through social media …
C – If you wanted to diversify your Church Council – younger or more culturally diverse …

Unknown-10

Each person was asked to speak to their selected change project through the standpoint of the colour of their sticky note

  • Servant – light yellow
  • Garden – green/blue
  • Build – red
  • Resource manage – pink
  • Fool –dark blue
  • Parent – bright yellow

Tasks:
1. Think of ways that Paul’s image/the colour of your sticky note is needed in this change project.
2. Think of what would happen to the project if Paul’s image/the colour of your sticky note was not part of this change project.
3. If you finish, see if there is an actual church change project in the group you could brainstorm

There wasn’t time to debrief the groups. But watching the groups, I was struck by how quickly mutual patterns of leadership emerged, with groups looking around going “OK, which colour is next.” And so quickly, every person was drawn into the change project, rather than privileged voices.  Listening into the groups, I heard comments like “oh wow, I can see how all these 6 work together”.

A workshop exercise worth developing.  Invite me :)

Posted by steve at 05:01 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

burning bushes in cultures and contexts

It’s been a real privilege to spend a week with the Church of Scotland, speaking at various events on innovation and mission. My thanks to Doug Gay, Trinity College and the Panel for Review and Reform, who generously made the time possible and did the hard work of promoting, organising and hosting. Over four days, I did 5 different events, the shortest 90 minutes, the longest three hours, all with a different focus.

Some events were open to the public and provided a chance in general to work with questions of innovation and mission. Some were focused on senior leadership of national and Presbytery bodies, or those working in theological formation. These gave a chance to compare stories and in the richness of different contexts, gain insight.

burningbush As a way of helping locate myself, and as a way to emphasis how cultures and context create space for innovation, I began each session both with a greeting (mihi) in Maori and showed some images of the burning bush in Aoteoroa New Zealand – and the role of Maori culture, Pacific migration and alternative worship. In the burning vine that is Te Aka Puaho, in the frangipani flowers added to the stained glass window of St Johns Papapatoetoe, in the pumice rocks soaked with methylated spirits that then then burn blue, there are important mission insights, about how diverse cultures hear faith differently.

Posted by steve at 12:37 AM

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Call for papers: CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTS IN ASIA

A project I’ve been involved with as part of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership for last 2 years – now stepping it up

CALL FOR PAPERS: CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTS IN ASIA

A Symposium
September 28-29, 2018
University of Otago, Dunedin

Art is an essential dialogue partner for Christian faith. From earliest times, art has given expression to Christian faith. It is a means of contextual theological expression and enriches understandings of doctrine and practice. Art has also served to offer critique of Christian faith.  
  
The Christianity and Cultures in Asia Network calls for papers that reflect on art and Christian faith in Asian cultures. Themes could include:
 
• How has art in Asia expressed, interpreted and challenged Christian faith?
• How might Christian doctrines be uniquely expressed through Asian art and Asian art forms?
• Can art from Asia shed light on the complex and continually contested relationship between art and faith, including interpretation, authority, hermeneutics and performance? 
• How might art in Asia give new insight into biblical texts?

Art is interpreted broadly, including architecture, music, literature, painting, visual media, sculpture, dance, and calligraphy.  Presentations that include art are particularly welcomed. This symposium follows the successful symposium on the movie Silence held in March 2017. All abstracts will be blind peer reviewed. 
 
The Christianity and Cultures in Asia Network is a partnership between the Theology Programme at the University of Otago, the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, and the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College, Dunedin. The Symposium will encourage use of two substantial collections of print resources held by the Presbyterian Research Centre, the Rita Mayne England collection on Christianity in Asia, and the Chrysalis Seed collection on Christianity and the Arts.
 
Please submit paper proposals not exceeding 500 words by July 2nd 2018.
Presentations will be 30mins in duration followed by discussion.

Proposals should be submitted to: murray.rae@otago.ac.nz

Posted by steve at 07:21 PM

Thursday, March 22, 2018

preaching to a burgled church

Last weekend I was preaching at a local church. I arrived in the morning to the news that the church auditorium had been burgled overnight. The sound system and data projector were gone. With the Police on the way to dust for fingerprints, there was no way the auditorium could be used.

broken-window-1501606 (not an actual picture of the actual burglary)

The church had a hall and with 15 minutes to go, I suddenly not only had a whole group of strangers to meet and greet for the first time. I also had a church service to re-jig. My preparation had included a number of creative moments that relied on the now absent sound system and data projector:

  • the use of three art images to illuminate the Lectionary text, to be shown via the data projector
  • a digital file of a song for during the offering
  • a digital file of a song for the end of the service
  • a responsive contemporary Immigrants Creed

In addition, there was a hall to set up, along with the range of emotions that would be present. Which meant some rapid mental reshuffling and some interesting learnings.

First, at the beginning, the value of humour and a settling prayer.  As we began, I introduced myself, noted the burglary and that as a result, this would be a service I would never forget. So could we pause and in this new and unsettling space, take a moment to gather ourselves.  I then named some of the emotions running through me and invited God to be present. Doing this provided some instant connection and a sense of solidarity.

Second, at the end, as a key leader in the church stood to thank me for the worship and sermon, the comment was made “It is good to be reminded we don’t need a building in order to worship.”   In other words, the enforced shift provided an experience in which the shared realisation could emerge – that worship does not rely on bricks and mortar.

Third, thank goodness for hymn books. Yes, all the words for sung worship had been carefully loaded ready for data projection and these could no longer be used. But a stack of hymn books meant that we soon had something to sing. More importantly, everyone had something to hold, something familiar. This gave a sense of comfort. It also meant that the absence of the digital songs I had planned for the offering and the end of the service could be quietly dropped.

Fourth, the enforced shift made it easy to implement immediate change.  I was suddenly no longer the visiting speaker but the leader in an unfamiliar space. “How do you want the chairs?” was the first question. “Ah, circle please” I said, not sure if this was allowed. But in a new space, with no tradition, the churches were quickly arranged in a lovely relational, intimate arc. They say you need to build relationship in order to implement change. Well not in a burglary. So never waste a good crisis. Use it to enact different patterns of connecting.

Fifth, the value of being up close.  When it came time for the worship by considering three art images that illuminated the lectionary text, I announced that because of plan B – B for burglary, I would show three art images by walking around with my laptop.  I asked that a hymn be played quietly, and invited people waiting for the images to enjoy the music.  As I walked among the chairs, I noticed people leaning forward to look at my laptop. There was body movement, in a different way than if the images had been on a big screen. There was also often spontaneous comments, like “that’s the best one” or “is that a baby?”  When I mentioned the art images later in my sermon, I included these spontaneous comments, pointing to people and saying “you were right, it was a baby.”  Being up close invited a different type of bodily engagement in the act of seeing and contemplating, along with a set of interactions between myself and those present. All of this enhanced the sense of connection.

There was certainly truth in my observation that this would be a service I would never forget. It was a great morning. The burglary enabled a very different sort of worship experience, one which might in fact be remarkably useful for a church needing to continue to change.

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM

Monday, February 05, 2018

Lent-inar

(part of a work project I’m playing with)

snapshots

During Lent 2018, KCML is offering (free) web-inars. Weekly, two of the contributors to Snapshots in Mission will be interviewed via online video conferencing.

  • What sparked their writing?
  • What piece of music speaks to their article? What are the implications, for church, ministry and mission?

There will be time for Q and A, using video conferencing technology. Thursday’s (February 22; March 1, 8, 15, 2018, 4:30-5:15 pm). Attend one. Attend them all. Learn how to link to the Lent-inar by emailing rosemary@knoxcentre.ac.nz

Posted by steve at 09:11 AM

Sunday, November 12, 2017

the colour of spirituality in the craft of academic writing

Examen is a spiritual practice. It involves prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence. It tends to involve words, in the form of questions, that seek

In the last few years, I have found myself adapting the practise of examen. Instead of words, I use colour. I call this visual examen in which colour is used in seeking to detect God’s presence. This involves 4 colours
- yellow – where is surprise?
- blue – where is wonder?
- grey – what brings clarity?
- green – what brings growth?
To begin I use colour pencils and scribble the four colours on a blank page. I then reflect on a particular event, looking for surprise, wonder, clarity and growth. (For the story of how these questions developed and how they shape my regular work, see my book Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration).

Unknown-7

This week, for the first time, I found myself using visual examen. Not on an event or a day, but on a project, spread over months. I undertook a visual examen of my academic writing. On Monday, I heard I’d had an article accepted for publication. On Wednesday, I submitted another academic article to another journal.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 11.19.29 PM

Two such significant events in the space of a few days got me thinking. Could the presence of the divine be detected in the craft of academic writing? Could a journal article, a project spread over months, be a spiritual exercise?

There was certainly the need for clarity/grey. This came in the careful choice of words. It also came in the need to choose keywords and hone a 150 word abstract out of an 8,000 word text. The seeking of clarity was also evident in the task of footnoting and creating a bibliography.

There was certainly growth/green. This came in the commitment to original research which is at the heart of every journal article. It came in the synthesis of the literature and the creation of an argument that would sustain results, discussion and conclusion. For both articles, on Monday and Wednesday, I ended the writing sensing that I had grown, in my understandings, through the requirement to turn vague thoughts into words, link them into sentences and finally turn out paragraphs on a page.

There was certainly surprise/yellow. This came in the curiousity that creates a research question and begins the process that will eventually result in an article. It comes through the way that research is at times a haphazard, unexpected, dropping down a rabbit hole, a la Alice in Wonderland, into a whole new world. It also comes in the structuring of the argument, the use of topic sentences to create a flow, the use of introduction, anecdote and example to create and maintain interest.

But what of wonder/blue? Pondering this colour took the most work. But in both articles, I eventually located wonder. For the Monday article, it was the grace of finding of insight in the indigenous culture of another. For the Wednesday article, it was the delight in weaving an Orthodox icon with the theological insights of Rowan Williams, The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ.

I have, over the last few years, used visual examen to lead myself. The four colours have shaped my working leadership, allowing me to pursue a daily workplace spirituality. It was a rich exercise this week to use the same four colours to reflect on a project over time and a particular task, that of writing an academic article. The four colours breathed life into what is a demanding and extended process. It suggests that academic writing is so much more than an intellectual exercise. It is also a spiritual pursuit, in which my soul is invited to clarify and create, in the finding of wonder and surprise.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM

Sunday, September 17, 2017

genealogy of desert: the Word of mission in Exodus 3

Consuming Word
bush crackles
as livid presence in living present
red-rimmed
is unconsumed

by
naming Word

this is my beloved
particular, storied, watching
Moses, stolen son
bush tracking
indigenous songlines
singing ancient

sounds

Here I am
desert rock wanderer,
in silent desert, I scream
raised, stranger in a strange land
hearing Word

from
Ancestor Word
I am, God of past pleasure
woven through time
sperm of covenant
tracking grace bearing of desert woman
Hagar, Rebekah, Zipporah, Mary

stands
in time
this place of hearing
makes holy
through calling, responding
Word


Theotokos of the Unburnt Bush: more here

Posted by steve at 05:39 PM

Monday, August 28, 2017

the dangers of heavy in weight research

I have been wondering recently if different types of research carry different weight. In July, I was presenting two papers at two different conferences. One was on indigenous responses to Empire. Titled Converting empire: theologies of church and state in the encounter between British and Maori, it involved some pretty sad reading about the impact of the Great War of 1864 on Maori. A second paper was on Christian theology and sexual violence. Titled Sexual violence in the line of David: The possibilities and limits of recapitulation, it involved some equally sad reading on the impact of sexual violence.

Both papers also invited those who might listen into some difficult spaces. The treatment of indigenous peoples and sexual violence engage us body, mind and soul. Who knows who is in the room, and how they might respond, to presentations that engage heart and head.

I finished both presentations exhausted. There is always a degree of anxiety and nervous tension that goes into a presentation. There is a vulnerability in presenting work to peers. There is the inevitable imposter syndrome – the voices saying I’ve not read enough, that need to be met with the realism of “I never will.”

But this time the exhaustion seemed worse.

This was brought into sharp relief, the next day, when I began looking at a piece of contextual theology, a 63 page comic book titled How to Disappear Completely (2017). I had taken it as holiday reading, intending to enjoy it for pleasure. But within a few hours, I was enormously energised. I had sketched out 750 words. I had done an initial literature review. I found, in a 2nd hand book shop in Bristol, a Faber Gallery book on Stanley Spencer’s Resurrection paintings, which opened up a rich vein of potential comparative enquiry. I had spied a potential arts and culture journal and sent off an enquiry email. I was energised. This was fun.

Placing the two experiences of research side by side within the space of a few days was insightful. Sure it is always more fun (for me anyhow) to start something than end something. But something more was going on. I would suggest that some research is light in weight. Not light weight, but light in weight. It takes me into parts of being human that are creative. These are places of joy and life. Other research is heavy in weight. It takes me into parts of being human that are sad. These are places of pain and heartache. Both are important. I need to invest in both, to be light in weight and heavy in weight. For a time, for the time leading up to the two July conference presentations, I had become out of balance, too heavy in weight!

Unknown-2 Last week, the Stanley Spencer Resurrection paintings book arrived. It sits on my desk. I have made an addition to my research pipeline. Under conceiving new ideas and draft proposals, I have added an investigation into Resurrection today, looking at contemporary depictions

Visualising the resurrection in contemporary urban contexts

How to Disappear Completely is the latest offering from UK artist, Leeds-based, Si Smith. It is a 63 page comic that offers a sophisticated visual engagement with the Lenten journey and the city of Leeds, UK.  A commercial cartoonist by day, by night Smith expresses his faith in ways both visual and playful. Previous work includes 40, a creative imagining of Jesus in the wilderness, Stations of the Resurrection as a set of illustrations reflecting on Jesus’ resurrection today and 25 Advent Flatpack a series of paper-based figures to be assembled in the Christmas build up.
 
This research would bring How to Disappear Completely into conversation first, with the existing body of work, to chart the development of Smith’s visual work.  A key theoretical lens would the work of Scott McCloud, who in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993, 7) defines a comic as “sequential visual art” that works through techniques of “amplification through simplification.” This allows a reading of repeated visual motifs like smoke and pigeons in How to Disappear Completely as visual amplications of human ephemerality in the urban landscape.
 
Second, I would examine the way that Smith’s work can be positioned in conversation with painter, Stanley Spencer. A Spencer quote on page 2 of How to Disappear Completely offers words to introduce reflection on the nature of contemporary vocation. Spencer painted works on Christ in the Wilderness (1939-54) and Resurrection (1945-1950).  He sought to visualise resurrection as ascent, needing to be depicted in the urban streets on which he worked and walked.  How to Disappear Completely is, I would argue, a response to Spencer.  Both work as examples of imaging the resurrection in contemporary urban context.  Placed on conversation, they allow to consider a constant artistic challenge, that of visualising resurrection. They thus present contemporary attempts to visualise the resurrection not as a historical moment but an unfolding contemporary urban transformation.

After the recent heavy in weight research, I need some light in weight research. Both are important.

Posted by steve at 11:48 AM

Thursday, April 13, 2017

God the pain bearer Easter communion

IMG_4766 I was asked to lead a short Easter communion service at an Christian-based justice agency today. I have been developing a relationship with them over the last 18 months, wanting to explore how to train ministers that can connect with communities and community development. So sharing communion seemed an appropriate next step

I decided to focus on God as pain bearer. It is a phrase from a contemporary version of the Lords Prayer, it is a large part of the Easter story and it is a way of understanding the vocation of this Christian-based justice agency, as bearing the pain in the community.

IMG_4767 I began with newspapers and invited people to find a headline or picture of pain, tear it out and place it around the cross. I found a version of “Te Ariki,” sung by prisoners and recorded in a prison. The lines in Maori “Oh Lord, listen to us.  Oh Lord, look at us. This is us, your children” seemed an appropriate backdrop to our connecting with the pain of the world. You can even hear prison doors slamming in the background. (from The Inside Volume 1: Auckland Prisons. Recorded at Paremoremo and Mt Eden Prison in July 1991 by Te Ao Marama Productions).

IMG_4768 I chopped the Easter events into 4 sections (the Dramatised Bible is a great resource for this type of reading).
- the pain bearing of Easter Thursday
- the pain bearing of Easter Friday morning
- the pain bearing of Easter Friday afternoon
- the pain bearing of Easter Friday evening

This story of pain bearing does not wave a magic wand or seek quick fix. It is rather an invitation to sit with and be among. That allowed us to hear the words of communion as a “Take, eat, this is my pain bearing body broken for you.” And the epiclesis (the invoking of the Spirit upon the Eucharistic bread and wine) as a request for the Spirit to strengthen us as painbearers.

At a personal level, it has been a particularly difficult few months at work, with significant internal and external pressures. Sitting here, leading worship with people committed to justice in the community, was a reminder of call and focus. I’m happiest not as an administrator but as a creative thinker making interactive spaces. It was a privilege I was grateful for.

For those interested: here is the entire service script (more…)

Posted by steve at 01:17 PM

Friday, November 18, 2016

A graduating benediction

I was asked to offer a final benediction as the KCML November block course finished in Friday. It was a final gathering for our Year 2 graduating interns. It was a return to placements for our Year 1 interns. It was the end of a complex blockcourse, one that was ever changing and with multiple external demands for the staff team.

A benediction: Ma te hurihuru ka rere te manu. A Maori proverb that means “With feathers the bird will fly”

bird-1056389-640x480

Year twos

With Spirit’s wind under your wings
Spirit’s fire in your mouth
Spirit’s warmth in your heart

Year ones

May Jesus’ feelings guide you
Jesus’ prayer sustain you
Jesus’ compassion embrace you and your family

Staff and all of us,

In order that Creators abundance may astound us
Creators diversity enliven us
Creators power make in and through us all things new

Ma te hurihuru ka rere te manu

Posted by steve at 09:45 AM

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fiction as missiology: an indigenous Christology in Papua New Guinea

I deliver a second paper at the International Association Mission Studies, Korea on Monday. This paper is titled Fiction as missiology: a Creative “hapkas” Christology in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain.” As with my first paper, Missiological approaches to “Silence”, this takes a hobby, a holiday read of The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska and integrates it with my research interests in missiology. Again, it is an interdisciplinary exercise; reading fiction, post-colonial literature and Old Testament exegesis in order to engage indigenous people in Jesus bloodline. It is personal, a return to my story, doing theology in relation to my country of birth – Papua New Guinea.

mountainpowerpoint

It is a complicated paper, but one I’m really, really pleased with. I consider it some of my most creative yet Biblically deep reflection I’ve done, helped greatly by conversation with fellow PNG kid, Mark Brett. Whether the audience agree we will soon see.

Here’s my conclusion:

In sum, I have examined fiction from outside the West and argued for a distinct and creative Christology as one result of religious change in PNG. “Hapkas” provides a way to understand ancestor gift, fully human, fully divine and the new Adam. It is a reading that attributes primary agency to an indigenous culture and offers a transformational way to understand religious change as communal participation in the art markets of twenty-first century global capitalism. It is consistent with recent Biblical scholarship regarding the Genesis narratives in the Old Testament. This suggests that to understand conversion missiologically, requires following Jesus who is “‘good’ man true” for the particularity of all indigenous cultures.

Posted by steve at 12:43 AM

Sunday, May 29, 2016

reading color purple and the ministry of Lydia

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. Acts 16:13-14.

Lydia, dealer in purple. In the The Brilliant History of Color in Art, purple in the Roman empire is a “fashion phenomenon … Rome adored this color with a passion we cannot imagine today” (The Brilliant History of Color in Art, 28). Purple was made from shellfish. They needed to be soaked in liquid, ground together, thus releasing the enzymes that resulted in the colour purple.

200px-Haustellum_brandaris_000 Lydia lived in Philippi, a city situated near head of Aegean Sea. In other words, in a city able to produce its own colour purple, using shellfish from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. However, rotting shellfish stink. It is near impossible to leave with the smells made by rotting shellfish, which led to them being placed on the outskirts of towns and cities. This is evident in Tyre, where if you visit today, you can see, outside the town, downwind, the vats in which the color purple was manufactured (The Brilliant History of Color in Art, 29).

This provides another way to read Acts 16. The traditional reading is that Lydia was a God-fearer and hung out with the Jews, who had no synagogue, and thus met by the river on the outskirts of the city.

What if in fact Lydia, the dealer in purple, was tending her vats full of rotting shellfish, located, for reasons of smell, outside the city? What if the beginning of Paul’s cross-cultural ministry in Greece began amid the stench of rotten shellfish?

Christologically, this would provide an interesting way to frame the mission of Paul. Purple was a restricted colour in the Roman Empire. In 48 BC, it was ruled that only Ceasar’s could wear togas died in purple. If Paul begins his ministry amongst the colour purple, is he making a statement about royalty? Not from the Emperor’s position of power, but from outside the city, amid the stench of primary production. It is consistent with the Christ he serves, who died outside the city, the enzymes of his body released in suffering. Lydia becomes, like the women carrying their spices after the Resurrection, a worker amid the stench of rot and decay.

Christologically, of these women, Mary Magdalene is the first to give voice to the life of the Resurrection Christ. She is thus known as the first apostle. Lydia, like Mary, is the first woman named when Paul carries the gospel into Greece. Is a textual echo being created? Are two women, Mary and Lydia, bound physically by their service amid the smell of death? Are they also bound spiritually by their willingness to be the first to say yes, one in Jerusalem, another in Greece, to new life in the Resurrected Christ?

Such are the possibilities created by reading the color purple in light of the ministry of Lydia in Acts 16.

Posted by steve at 06:44 PM

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

is there another sermon in the room

I arrived at church on Sunday to preach. It had been a message I’d worked on faithfully part of Wednesday morning, and again Friday and Saturday evenings. I had a full script and powerpoint.

Within minutes of walking into the auditorium, I began to wonder if there was another sermon in the room. It is only the 2nd time in 22 years of ministry that this has happened. Deep breathe. What to do?

tablecloth

The trigger – On arrival, I commented to the worship leader on the visual display, including the bright red tablecloth spread for Pentecost. “Oh,” she said, “it comes from PNG.” Now, I was raised in PNG. I often share a story from PNG when talking about mission and link it to the Pentecost story in Acts 2. Was the tablecloth an invitation to offer another sermon, a story and some insights about Pentecost and mission?

The points for doing an impromptu sermon.
1. It was Pentecost Sunday. Such days are always a more pointed reminder of the need to trust the Spirit. Was the tablecloth an invitation to me to trust the Spirit in fresh ways?
2. A helpful part of my call to be Principal at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership was a comment made in the interview process – “Could you return to your story?” (for more on the impact of this on my research at the moment, see here). It was a question – posed by someone with the ability to connect two quite different parts of my presentations – in ways that offered me new eyes. My story felt held. My experience felt important. It was a moment, of care, of hope, and potentially of guidance. Seeing that table cloth from PNG, I heard again the question – “Could you return to your story?”
3. There was a sense of energy and immediacy. It would allow a very contextual engagement with that service, that Sunday.
4. The group gathering for worship was smaller in number and older in age than I had expected. A more conversational sermon was, I felt, more likely to work in that setting.

The points against doing an impromptu sermon
1. I had no idea of length. How long could a few jotted notes last? Related, as a visiting speaker, I did not want to appear lightweight or under prepared or waffly. Would it link logically? Could it be landed?
2. I had put a good amount of work into the existing sermon.
3. Going impromptu would generate a significant amount of adrenaline, which after a demanding week, needed to be considered.
4. I’ve seen a few preachers “throw away their notes” and I’ve always wondered whether it was real, or just attention seeking. So if I went impromptu, how would I want to frame it?

Four reasons for. Four reasons against. A draw.

What to do? I gave myself the worship time to further test the discernment. I had a sermon already as a backup. As the congregation sang, at the front, I was frantically making notes. I mapped out a possible opening that noted the two possible sermons and linked to the table cloth. I identified three headings that would give some structure. Each was related to the Lectionary text (Acts 2). I find myself able to make some contemporary connection for each of the points. I realised I had a conclusion, that returned to the tablecloths. The Evernote function on my cell phone was great. I cut and pasted, moving phrases around, adding more insights as the sung worship continued. A couple of comments made during the worship were further encouragement. They could be woven in, adding connectivity to the message.

As I stood to preach, it was decision time.

I decided to go with the impromptu. It was, after all Pentecost. There were a few stutter steps. There were a few moments when the logic was not as strong as I would like. But it was connective. There was energy in the room. A number of folk afterward expressed how important the message was for them. After I spoke, the worship leader shared some more about the story, sharing of reconciliation and justice, a story that would never have been told if I had not gone impromptu.

Would I do it again? Yes.

Would it matter if I had done the original? No. That also would have blessed, I am sure. (Just a different set of folk).

Oh, it lasted 18 minutes. And what I shared might actually be useful for a writing project that I need to finish …

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Could you return to your story? “hapkas” theology as personal experience

“Could you return to your story?”

It was a question asked as I finished a research presentation. I was interviewing to be Principal at KCML. The interview process began with me taking a 50 minute “mock” lecture to a group of “mock” students. It had gone well, apart from the jug of water for the lecturer, that developed a crack half way through, resulting in water gently easing under my laptop as I spoke. “As long as it is consistent for all those being interviewed” I quipped. The interview process then moved, after lunch with the interview panel, to a research presentation. Fifty minutes on some aspect of my current work, followed by 50 minutes of question and answer.

It was then that the question was posed. “Could you return to your story?” Puzzled, I asked for elaboration. “Well, you began your lecture this morning with your story, of growing up in PNG. So I’m asking what might happen if you returned in your research to your story?”

I remember being struck by the depth of listening. After nearly 3 hours of talking, here was someone with the ability to connect two quite different parts of my presentations, in ways that offered me new eyes. My story felt held. My experience felt important. Perhaps in this place, I would see myself, including my old self, in new ways. It was a moment, of care, of hope, and potentially of guidance in my research journey.

Fast forward some 13 months later. The interview in January 2015 resulted in my beginning as Principal in October 2015. I brought with me a significant piece of research, a book project on innovation and collaboration. Begun in July, it has absorbed all of my writing time in the period since.

Last week, the manuscript was sent to the editor. It will return, but in the meantime, I have some space to begin again. “What will you write?” asked my family on Sunday evening. (I have a habit of spending the first 45 minutes of every work day writing.) I sifted through a few possibilities. The next most important thing is two papers I have to present in Korea at the International Association of Mission Studies. The deadline for submission is 31 March. I chose one (the second is on how to understand Silence in mission), and got to writing.

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I looked at my desk yesterday. I am writing on Christology in Papua New Guinea. My research involves reading art gallery publications about bark cloth. I laughed. “Could you return to your story?” was the question 13 months ago.

Well, my first new writing project in this role and I have. I have found myself, by a random set of circumstances, writing on my country of birth. I am listening to ABC recordings of PNG women singing. I am exploring theology expressed in visual, rather than written ways. I am bringing my years of study of Christology and post-colonial theology and literature to bear on my own story. I am reading Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire (Bible in the Modern World). He also is born in PNG. I am beginning to imagine an academic paper presented in Korea not on powerpoint but on bark cloth.

I sense freedom, grace and integration. Such are some of the benefits when we return to our story, when the personal is woven into the academic, when deep listening enables us to see and hear ourselves in new ways.

Posted by steve at 08:42 AM