Sunday, December 01, 2013

a haunted culture

The presence of Christianity continues to haunt our culture. Like above, in this 2013 poster advertising an Adelaide film festival. Or the lingering presence of “ritual” in very small type (Rewarding the ritual) in this October 2013 advertisement, fused with some fascinating reflection on male identity. Playful, irreverent, but still present.

Or this piece of theology, in a local coffee shop in June 2013, in which God is entwined with a creation narrative and mission. Once again, playful, irreverent, but still present.

Mieke Bal, the Dutch cultural theorist suggests three ways to understand these ongoing traces within western society.

  • Christianity is present, making it impossible to think about cultural analysis without acknowledging the theological underpinning of the western world (and so the visual rifting of red-robed religious beings).
  • Christianity is a cultural structure, informing the cultural imaginary whether people believe or not (and so words like ritual and worship remain)
  • Christianity is just one of the structures, it is not the only cultural structure, nor the only religious structure that underpins who we are or have come to be (and so the work that people do with “God” will vary).

I’m reading and thinking about this in a more focused way, given I’m part of teaching a topic, Bible and culture, on the Flinders University campus this summer. The course is inviting us to explain the ongoing appropriation of Christian imagery in contemporary culture, the religious presence on film posters, the Bible references in movies as bizarre as Pulp Fiction, the fascination with church in the David Bowie Next day video.

A course for which we will need some accessories – prizes for the person who finds the most pop cultural references to Psalm 137 or O come, O come Emmanuel – prizes like Pulp Fiction Ezekiel reference Tshirts, buddy Jesus fridge magnets and God is a DJ henna tattoos.

Posted by steve at 10:46 PM

Friday, August 09, 2013

Plant ahead: a spirituality of pea seeds

Today, a first sign of life. A check of the vegetable garden and the peas are up. I love growing peas. They emerge so strong and vigorous.

As I stood by the garden, it seemed deeply spiritual. I’d almost forgotten these fragile green signs of life. The last few weeks have been intensely demanding.

But that’s the way with seeds. There’s a spirituality that allows you to be other absorbed, be distracted, concentrate elsewhere. And all the time, things are germinating, softening, beginning to sprout.

A few months ago I did this at work. I planted some seeds. A lunch meeting, an email, a request for a conversation, a letter suggesting a possibility.

This week they sprouted. Still not strong enough to say more. But visible. A spirituality of planting. Plant ahead and wait, trustingly, hopefully, gratefully.

Posted by steve at 07:02 PM

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Faith as snorkelling

I went snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef this week. (As you do when you live in Australia!) It struck me that snorkelling does have some interesting connections to faith.

It takes a degree of trust, that a thin tube will provide oxygen, that a rogue wave won’t drown you. Related, it assumes immersion, that the only way to snorkel is to snorkel. You can theorise all you want, but at some point you have to immerse yourself in trust. Same with faith, it is a whole bodied immersion in trust.

It can make all sorts of logical sense. The guidebook explains, the guides have gone before, it is reasonable to rely on air through a tube. But despite Scripture, tradition, reason, experience is essential.

That trust is a process. Their is the first brief head plunge with your whole world consumed by survival. Am I breathing? After a while you realise you have energy to look, see, explore. Same with faith, a process by which more and more is opened up.

The result is this realisation you live at the same time in two worlds. Head up, in the pitch and roll and slap of ocean waves. Or immersed in the quiet underwater of a world of exquisite beauty and wonder.

Snorkelling and faith.

Posted by steve at 12:38 PM

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Pocket lamp worship: creationary

This week I led worship with Jonny Baker’s Pioneers at CMS on Tuesday, then at the mission shaped ministry board meeting on Wednesday. Both involved pocket lamp worship.

I wanted to use what was around me, and the pocket lamp was a Christmas gift and being in the Northern Hemisphere winter, connected with all the dark/light experiences I was processing. The pocket lamp opens and shuts. So it allowed a range of tactile, participative interaction. Here is what I did.

Call to worship – the making of Ovo, at the Amsterdam Light Festival (I’ve blogged about that here).

Praise – Light from God is a gift. So the invitation to take a light, turn it on, and give it to another person. So we can only be given light. Be thankful for gift.

Confession – We all at times turn off the light we’ve been given. So as an act of confession, close your light and recall, silently, the times you’ve turned off the light.

Word – The lectionary text was Isaiah 6:1-8. It of course, has words of absolution. And words of mission.

Petition – So before we are sent, if you’re anything like me, you feel inadequate. So, exchange the light with the person beside you. Hold, and be held, in silent prayer for each other.

Intercession – I had placed newspaper around the roome. People were invited to place their light on an area of the world they wanted to pray for. But before that, a reminder of being sent, as the kiss of God into dark places.

It seemed to work well both places. Didn’t take long to put together, which suited my sabbatical writing commitments fine. It took about 15 to 20 minutes, and with more time it would have been helpful for folk to unpack the connections they made between text, actions and pocket lamp. I like it when worship emerges from the ordinary and everyday.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading L is for Lamps – pocket lamps).

Posted by steve at 06:05 AM

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

the place of balaams asses (ie Christian kitsch) in theology

In relation to my previous post, Kinda commented “I recognized this immediately, as will every other 10 yr old girl in America, as Lisa Frank with a little Jesus photoshopping.”

That’s exactly why I put it up!

I’ve been reading Betty Spackman, A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch. As an artist, she set out to critique these poor relations of ecclesiastical art, only to find herself torn between being deeply moved and outraged by their sentimental appeal.

It is 440 pages, of souvenirs, fakes, crafts, tracts, relics. Her conclusion is that if God can speak through Balaam’s ass, he can “certainly communicate through even the humblest art.” Yes – even a photoshop of a child’s book.

She goes on, “which rather nullifies the arguments of taste and craftsmanship when it comes to Christian outreach. However, this doesn’t mean we should be content with making mediocre art. Also, we should always keep in mind that in truth it is people, not plastic nightclubs, Christians, not kitsch, that are called be lights to the world.” (A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch, page 21)

This has important mission implications, for these are dialogue points for conversation.

It’s why I, as a theologian, research on popular music (like U2) and TV animated cartoons (like Bro’town). Because I might just get to be challenged by Balaam’s ass and the insights via 10 year old girls.

Posted by steve at 12:03 PM

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

An Australian migrant theology?

In Robe (where I spent the weekend) when you enter West Beach, you are invited to beware of migrants. Specifically, migrant birds.

What sort of migrant theology might emerge from this type of posture?

It would expect migrants to arrive exhausted, recognising they have travelled far, they have seen much, they need lots of space to “conserve their energy.”

It would expect migrants to “rest and feed”, to find resources to renew them, to prepare them for the next stage of their journey.

It would offer them space, be willing to change direction and “walk and drive below the high tide mark.”

A pattern that has been happening for thousands of years before any white fella arrived, a pattern in which the land of Australia has sought to serve, renew and restore migrants.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading M is for migrants).

Posted by steve at 09:47 PM

Monday, February 06, 2012

transition pack: an everyday spiritual resource

Moving house isn’t easy. There’s the hard work of moving, the disruption of routines and patterns, the things that are misplaced. But it’s also fun, a chance to change a room, to explore new places, to find new things.

We’re in the process of moving, which involves not just a move, but a lot of work to get the new location liveable.

To help our kids in the move, on Saturday we gave them both a “transition pack.” It was a brown paper bag, with the name on the outside. And inside was some things that might make the move more fun.

  • their very own paint brush, to be part of painting their own room,
  • their very own paint roller, brand new for their room
  • colour charts for the choosing of colours
  • flowers seeds for their patch of flower garden
  • vegetable seeds for their patch of vegetable garden
  • a creative project idea.

It was a fun moment, which helped them to thing about some of the enjoyable parts of moving. And it was interesting to note how the “transition packs” got immediately packed in the car, and taken over to be put into use.

A simple idea, but one that seemed helpful.

(For more examples of “transition packs” and their use in church ministry, see here.)

Posted by steve at 07:29 AM

Sunday, February 05, 2012

the project is prayer: a renovation spirituality

Two weeks ago, we took possession of a project. It is a real mission – every room but the bathroom and laundry needs work. Some rooms had holes in the walls, others had no ceiling.

It has meant an enormous amount of effort, removing previous occupiers animal odours, pulling up carpets, gibbing, plastering, building. We have a deadline in which to be out of our current place, and ideally would like to have at least a few rooms we can sleep in, and store our stuff in.

Today, tiredly, I faced another day of “house work” and wondered what God was up to in all this?

And as I waited, I reflected on the idea that work is prayer. I have some things that greatly concern me, and I realised that the house was connected to these concerns. In other words, every minute I work on the house I am actually responding to the things that concern me. This means that “house work” is literally prayer.

Now the danger is that I think my work will help. And thus prayer simply becomes me trying to resolve the things that concern me.

Yet I began to wonder if there is a deeper way to appreciate the hard work? If work is prayer, then every scrape of sandpaper, every swing of a hammer, is an embodiement of “Give us this day our daily bread”/God resolve these concerns I bring to you.

I left for work with a different, more prayerful, angle on which to find God in the days activities.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading R is for renovation).

Posted by steve at 08:47 AM

Monday, January 02, 2012

U=undercoat. working for change as a new years resolution

I’m exhausted, tired and slightly sun burnt after a day spent scrapping paint off our old wooden holiday house. It’s essential, perhaps the most important part of a much needed outdoor paint job. While choosing paint colours is exciting, it’s the hard work of preparation that makes it possible, that ensures the change of colour is longer lasting.

Like change.

New Year’s Resolutions are easy. But it’s only made possible, sustainable, durable, by the hard work of scrapping, sanding and priming.

As I think about the leadership challenges I am about to face in this new season, it was good to spend the first day of this new year scrapping and undercoating. Work became prayer, the invitation to commit myself to the spiritual practice of undercoating, the hard work of preparation – listening well, respecting the past, investing in relationships, being attentive spiritually, over-communicating, making experiments risks, building the rhythms of grace.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading U is for undercoating).

Posted by steve at 01:11 PM

Friday, November 25, 2011

happy “international” thanksgiving

We’re not Americans. But last night was Thanksgiving and it somehow seemed important to gather some folk to be thankful with. A friend and their family for each of the kids. Some international folk known to Lynne and I.

An invitation, to bring food your whole family were thankful for. A school night, so an offer of a prompt start and the promise of a early night.

The meal began with bubbles, passed around the group, blow some bubbles. naming things were thankful for. Kiwi, Australian, Scottish accents. Folk unknown to each other, now connected by food, laughter, companionship.

It felt spiritual, in a very earthy, thankful, friendly sort of way.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading T is for thanksgiving).

Posted by steve at 09:27 PM

Thursday, November 17, 2011

the future of grace: B is for blossom

I love flowering trees.

One of my most spiritual moments was coming across a tree in blossom, in a howling Canterbury nor’wester. I was battling some major change processes at Opawa.

And I lay on the ground under this tree, with the wind cascading all these blossom around me. As they swirled on my hands, my skin, my uplifted face, I realised how much bigger, slower, differently paced, was the rhythm of God.

So today, in the midst of some ongoing personal change, I paused and snapped this pic. Of an Adelaide tree in blossom. Which became a prayer,

God in this change, help me pause, walk slower, be differently paced, in your rhythms of grace.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading B is for blossom).

Posted by steve at 06:30 AM

Friday, November 04, 2011

family faith: at Halloween/All Saints part 2

One of the members of team Taylor went “peace-treating” this Halloween. They were keen to join the fun. And be with friends. Others in the family were uneasy with the very concept of trick-or-treating – that sense of expecting a handout.

So a healthy discussion ended in “peace-treating.” They would knock on doors and speak peace to every home. (Yep echoes of Luke 10:1-10!) To practically embody peace, they took along a collection of peace quotes on paper, which they handed out. They are into peace in a big way, so this was a perfect fit with their personality. It meant that rather than get, they would give – verbal peace, the presence of peace, a peace quote.

So off they went and had a great time. It seemed a creative way of practising faith in our world today. It brought to mind some quotes by Miroslav Volf, which I used in the chapter on gospel/culture in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change.

“’Gospel’ always involves a way of living in a social environment….”

“[T]here is no single proper way for Christians to relate to a given culture as a whole. Instead, there are numerous ways of accepting, rejecting, subverting or transforming various aspects of a culture….” Miroslav Volf, “Soft Difference. Theological Reflections on the Relation between Church and Culture in 1 Peter.” Ex Auditu 10 (1994), 15-30.

(This is another entry (P=peace-treating) in dictionary of everyday spirituality. For the complete index of all entries, go here).

Posted by steve at 08:01 AM

Thursday, November 03, 2011

family faith: at Halloween/All Saints Day part 1

Tuesday was All Saints Day and Team Taylor were gathering for family dinner. The youngest had set up a lovely environment, with a central Christ candle and unlit tea lights.

After eating, we considered Halloween, followed by All Saints Day, a time to remember those who had shaped us. Five categories were suggested (written on the paper in the front of the pic) – life teachers, risk-takers, brave one, joke and joy tellers, nurturers.

Names were mentioned and candles were lit.

There was a growing sense that we were not alone, but surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Many at distance both in time and geography. But still a warm and glowing presence among us.

There was also a time to be thankful for those around the table, to remind ourselves that Team Taylor has been, and can be, saints to each other, a practical expression of Christ’s love.

Very simple, but quite quietly memorable.

(This is another entry (S=saints) in dictionary of everyday spirituality. For the complete index of all entries, go here).

Posted by steve at 09:33 AM

Saturday, August 13, 2011

the shopping trolley as spirituality for mission

It was the Spirituality for Mission topic in the mission shaped ministry course. Rather than talk about spirituality, ten stations were placed around the edges of the space (Function room at West Lakes Resort). Folk were invite to move through the stations and engage experientially this theme of spirituality for mission.

I spotted a shopping trolley and moved over to engage the station.

(More of the story to come later today) Updated: After a while I became aware that while the other stations were crowded, no-one was at mine. And the others all shared identical tablecloths and candles and instructions, while mine was just a trolley, filled with boxes.

Oh well. I held the bar and reflected on those who collect trolleys at malls. Wondered what a fresh expression for them would look like?

Pondered the fact that trolleys are so symbolic of consumerism. And how I want an expression of Christian faith that allows me to be in the world but not of it, a passionate Christ-follower and yet with what I put in my trolley, seeking a life that is simple and that eats justly.

Which I shared with the group upon our return.

Only to be gently told that the trolley was actually not one of the 10 stations. That it was only there because the worship curator had a lot to carry and when they arrived, saw the trolley and decided it looked useful for carrying things.

Oh well, it had been for me, a most significant entry into pondering a spirituality for mission today.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading S is for supermarket trolley).

Posted by steve at 09:18 AM