Wednesday, October 22, 2014

singing a new song

The lectionary Psalm for the day has twice, in the last six days, begun with the words “Sing a new song.” I used it to begin our team meeting community time last week. What new things are we seeing, that we need to “sing” in thanks to God? It opened up a rich and celebrative conversation.

Reading the words again today, it struck me that singing has different dimensions. It can be aural, the audible lifting of voice. The singing can be recorded and thus the the audible lifting of voice can be shared. The singing can also be written down as sheet music, and thus others can perform the new song for themselves. In so doing, the performance can then change, as new harmonies are added, as different speeds or mixes are incorporated. Each are ways to “sing a new song,” each allow different layers of reach, influence and release.

I used this notion of “singing a new song” to reflect back over what God has been doing in and around me in recent weeks.

First, the “singing” of the indigenous womens’ Christology project. This was aural in class last week. But through strategic use of funding, there is the hope it can be recorded. The hope is that in “singing” this indigenous song, that different contexts are freed to sing their own unique harmonies, to find confidence in their own “performance” of Jesus.

Second, the “singing” of the urban gardens presentation I did at the Urban Life together conference. This was sung on Saturday, to a group of conference participants. The conference hopes to produce a book, and so my aural “song” might well end up “recorded.” (If I can find the time).

In the meantime, some of what I said was “recorded” in bits on my website. It’s one of the reasons I blog – to sing a new song, and in a different “recorded” way than book based “recording.” During the conference, a stray conversation with another conference participant offered another “mix.” Again, I recorded this by blogging it, linking community development, missiology and urban development. In turn, it attracted some wonderful comments, which linked with flipped learning and it helped me make connections to another “mix”.

Aural, recorded, performed: the many ways that we can sing a new song.

Posted by steve at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

If you’re not typing you’re not visual: Elearning practice and culture

It was meant to be a writing morning, but instead I slipped into the back of a lecture theatre at University of South Australia to hear Carolyn Haythornwaite address the topic Elearning practice and culture From experiment to mainstream. Director of the School of Library, archival and information services, University British Colombia, she argued that e-learning is a paradigm shift in practice of learning.

She talked about the way that technical changes are driving the social. The result is a society that is more participative and collective, which is bringing unavoidable pressures to bear on University classrooms. She had a lovely phrase

“a balance found in motion not stillness.” (Nardi and ODay, 1999).

She argued that for many years the lecture and the classroom have been a still place, an unchanging place, in which academics have clung for security. But with what is happening in society, the classroom is now in motion!

Not that this is easy. She described the exhaustion for teachers because we are now in “perpetual beta” and of continuously having to learn, both in regard to technology and in regard to how learners are learning.

She talked about two types of online engagement – crowd sourced or community based. Both have different ways of connecting. One tends to offer interaction that is many, small, simple. The other is complex, diverse, connected. Which type of community will e-teachers seek to create?

She had some cool visualisations. Pictures that showed that blended learning classes tend to develop weekly rhythms, the different network channels (chat, discussion boards, email) develop different types of student engagement, that the group rhythm over an entire course changes.

She had some encouragements as I reflected on our journey into blended learning as a Uniting College.

  • The need to have the IT group within the teaching department rather than separate (which we have done at Uniting College)
  • Forget perfection. Build it as you go. You never should have your e-learning space all packaged at start. Rather you should grow it organically as you go.
  • You get used to it. That after a few years of “perpetual beta” change, you suddenly realise you are an e-teacher.

She asked some fresh questions:

  • How to orientate students in the social skills needed to learn online in community?
  • How to understand the multiple roles of the e-teacher – as social presence but also teaching presence and also cognitive presence?
  • How to understand the potential of students to themselves become teachers in e-learning spaces? (Efacilitator, braider, accomplished fellows, learner-leaders).

So, not a writing day, but a rich and thought provoking chance to reflect on all the blended learning changes occurring at Uniting College.

Posted by steve at 12:16 AM

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guerilla grafting as sign of new heaven, new earth?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2

So is this – guerilla grafting- a sign? Or simply acts of vandalism by a romantic few?

For the full story, go here

Posted by steve at 10:42 PM

Monday, May 14, 2012

A theology for the ‘wild things’

I want to place two “life moments” side by side, in order to help me reflect on the place of a theology of ‘wild things.’

During the last few months, I’ve been part of a religious group exploring the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience. The list is such a positive, life-affirming list and the resources have been challenging and helpful.

During the last week, Maurice Sendak, the writer of “Where the wild things” died. In memory, on the spur of the moment, on Saturday evening, we invited friends to mark his passing by watching the movie, “Where the wild things are.”

We missed it when it came out. It seemed an appropriate way to mark a man who had such an interesting ethos to ponder — “I like interesting people and kids are really interesting people.” And who wrote a book about a child and the ‘wild things’ that include fear, anger, grief. “Wild things” which Max, needed to learn how to live with, yet also “wild things” that made him a “really interesting” kid.

Which got me thinking about a theology in the ‘wild things.’ How, when, where, do communities of faith ponder not only the “fruits of the Spirit”, but the deeper emotions that make us human: anger, sorrow, denial, betrayal?

What about sermon series on these?

I mean, they were all felt, or experienced by Jesus. (See for example, some of my thinking/feeling from last year on the feelings of Jesus. And here). So Christianly, we should have plenty of resources. Often the emotions are tucked into Holy Week. (And part of what makes it so exhausting.) Watching “Where the Wild Things” are made me wonder if we need other places, beside Holy Week, in which to explore these emotions theologically?

Posted by steve at 07:07 PM

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The durability of church in a culture of change

1 – I got an iPad a few weeks ago. In order to transfer files between my Mac and the IPad, I joined Iwork. Only to get an email saying the Iwork I joined was a beta programme, was going to cease soon. So if I wanted to retain the files, I’d need to download them.

2 – Swinton and Mowat, in their wonderfully helpful Practical Theology and Qualitative Research Methods mention an important computer programme for analysing qualitative data. A search of the web indicates the programme is no more. Probably brought out by a competitor.

3 – According to an article today in Advertiser, over 50% of restuarants in Australia have closed since 2007. To quote

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show only 51.7 per cent of accommodation and food services businesses survived the full four years from June 2007 to June 2011.

In sum, we live in a culture of overwhelming change. Which seems to say something interesting about church – where week by week, year by year – worship and mission continue. I go to lots of conferences that express concern about the health of the church. And missiologically, I’m not convinced that durability is the main aim.

Yet the fact remains, that when placed alongside changes in technology, computer software and restuarants, church remains a remarkably durable body.

Posted by steve at 11:22 PM

Friday, March 09, 2012

inking the stations of the cross

This takes the Stations of the Cross to a whole new level:

A pastor of a Montrose-area church recently challenged members of his congregation to live out their faith in an atypical way by getting tattoos that represent different Stations of the Cross, images of Christ’s journey from condemnation to resurrection. (Full story here)

Tattoing the stations of the cross on one’s person! (Lots of pictures here)

The church’s artist-in-residence, Scott Erickson, designed 10 distinct Stations of the Cross tattoos and as part of Lent, the church were challenged to chose one of the tattoos (all the designs are here). “The tendency we have as Christians is to skip past Jesus’ suffering. Not only do tattoos come with a bit of suffering, they are also an art form that has not fully been embraced.” (here) More than 50 folk decided to participate.

Here’s a radio station interview with the Pastor, Chris Seay.

Posted by steve at 08:42 PM

Friday, July 29, 2011

This is my body: what elements are essential in indigenous aboriginal communion?

I am on a research quest:

What are the elements used in indigenous aboriginal (Australian) communion? Is it bread made from wheat based flour? Or does it involve any indigenous food products? And what was the theology – specifically the initial theology – that shapes the elements?

When I asked the ACD librarian, she looked suitably intrigued and impressed. And then said she needed some time to think, and suggested I come back on Tuesday.

Why my question? Well, I am working on a paper for a conference in early 2012, “Story Weaving: Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology

A number of thinkers have suggested that the eucharist is a key resource for living both Christianly and humanly in a post-colonial world. These include William Cavanaugh in Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire and Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Challenges in Contemporary Theology). The argument is that the colonial notions of global and local, universal and particular, are fundamentally disrupted in the eucharist. A similar, but even more tightly focused argument has been offered by John McDowell, in his exploration of the Narrative of Institution in 1 Corinthians 11 (“Feastings in God at Midnight: Theology and the Globalised Present,” Pacifica 23 (October 1010)).

This argument, that the eucharist is a key resource for a post-colonial world, stands in striking contrast to an example by Susan Dworkin in The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist’s Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest. She notes that when the Catholic church arrived (colonised) South America, they brought the belief that in Christianity, wheat flour rather than the (indigenous) corn flour could be used to bake communion wafers. In other words, in practice, the eucharist becomes complicit in processes of colonisation, rather than a key resource in resisting globalisation.

What is intriguing is that Dworkin’s next paragraph, however, provide an example of a way in which colonisation can be deconstructed. She describes how in order to provide such colonial bread, wheat needed to be imported. It was grown around local churches. It self-seeded. Through natural processes of selection, the wheat that survived developed genes more uniquely adapted to local environments.

In the late 20th century, scientists realised that such wheat might have enormous potential in safe guarding food production. They began to search through isolated churches in Mexico, seeking genetic material, plants that had adapted and evolved. In other words, what was originally imported wheat was now highly prized indigenous wheat.

This raises a fascinating set of questions, not only around ecclesiology, eucharist and the Narrative of Institution, but around the very elements. What should constitute the very body of Christ? How is it’s composition, complicit in, or resistant to, processes of colonisation?

Hence my research question in the library this morning. Here in Australia, what communion elements did indigenous Aboriginal cultures employ? And was the underlying theology a colonial imposition? And how does this disrupt, or endorse, the work of Cavanaugh and McDowell? And how might the resultant practices, even if unintentional, contribute toward something that might in fact be a unique emerging indigenous gift for a hungry world?

So, I’d be grateful if any readers, especially Australian readers, might suggest any research leads. Because indigenous Aboriginal culture is wide and varied. And because both I and my librarian suspect that the search will be less that straightforward, but mighty, mighty interesting.

Posted by steve at 01:06 PM

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Well: a project in which reading groups enhance mental health

the “pilot found participants felt more relaxed and confident after attending the groups. Those working with dementia patients found their ability to recall and communicate had improved, while people with depression were invigorated by the social contact.” (Between the lines, Suzy Freeman-Greene, March 14, 2011

Fascinating article in The Age on the use of books in working with folk who have mental health challenges. It’s called bibliotherapy and involves the use of literature in a healing way.

It made a number of links for me. First, to a book I mentioned last year (creativity, spirituality and mental health), research on the power of spirituality and Biblical storytelling in enhancing mental health. Second, our recent Masters of Ministry class, in which a participant led us in an exploration of the relationship between depression and St John of the Cross’s Dark night of the Soul. Again this link between spirituality, words well chosen and mental health.

The article provides some practical pointers
- choosing the right texts is crucial, stories that allow reflection on life experiences
- the tone is gentle, not confronting.
- the need to create a safe group.
- part of the plan is to help people unpick difficult feelings and just sit with them.

For more on spirituality and mental health:
Downs Syndrome at Christmas here; chapter by chapter reviews of Amos Yong’s Theology and disability, go here; resources for rituals in all life here; rituals in the dark places here, another resource called Sense making faith (here).

Posted by steve at 11:45 AM

Monday, January 17, 2011

When I am in doubt: a poem by Glenn Colquhoun

Looking for some summer reading, I re-dipped into Glen Colquhoun’s Playing God. Glenn is a doctor by day and a poet by night. He writes as a Pakeha (New Zealand born of Anglo-descent), but with a close relationship to Maori culture. He has written a number of books of both poetry and of children’s stories.

Playing God won the Reader Choice award at the 2003 Montana Book award and went on to become the only poetry book in New Zealand to sell platinium. The poems offer a human and compassionate account of being a caring professional. I kept making links between the caring side of being a doctor, and the caring side of being a minister, between the craft of poetry and the craft of leadership, which was occupying me back in December.

Here’s one, on the appearance of confidence and the humanity of doubt, that continues to sit with me.

When I am in doubt
I talk to surgeons.
I know they will know what to do.

They seem so sure.

Once I talked to a surgeon.
He said that when he is in doubt
He talks to priests.
Priests will know what to do.

Priests seem so sure.

Once I talked to a priest.
He said that when he is in doubt
He talks to God.
God will know what to do.

God seems so sure.

Once I talked to God.
He said that when he is in doubt
He thinks of me.
He says I will know what to do.

I seems so sure.

By Glenn Colquhoun, in Playing God

Posted by steve at 09:39 AM

Monday, December 20, 2010

commercialism at Christmas? An ancient story worth pondering

A world-denying Jew heard the call to asceticism. He thought it a part of the commandments that he must do without good food, good wine, and the company of good women and friends in general. He took no place at their festive tables; he heard no good music and did without great art. All of this he did with an eye on the promise of paradise for the renouncer.

He died. He did indeed find himself in paradise.

But three days later, they threw him out because he understood nothing of what was going on.

Posted by steve at 03:19 PM

Saturday, November 13, 2010

when do you get to old to be part of God’s mission?

I’m off to the cricket today. Not just any cricket, but to the historic Adelaide Oval. For years I’ve listened over hot Kiwi summers to the radio crackle with updates of cricket exploits from the historic Oval. New Zealand chasing down 290+ back in the 80s, Warne bullying the English more recently. Today’s the last day of England vs South Australia, warm up match for the Ashes and I sense a day of cricket relaxation calling.

It’s also the unveiling of the new Western stand (for more see here) and this was being discussed on the radio yesterday. It included mention of special seating. Best seats in the new Western stand. For who? Not for great players or for great sponsors. Rather for those who have been members for more than 50 years.

It made me reflect on how the church treats those who have been members for over 50 years? In the Kingdom, should loyalty be honoured? So much talk of the future and in doing so, what place for the past?

I preached at an older church a few weeks ago, invited to speak on mission. Many present would have been members for over 50 years. I wondered how appropriate would be my message. Then I thought of Anna and Simeon in Luke 2. Advancing in age, but still finding a place in God’s mission. Is there a time when you retire in the church from mission? What is the mission role for an 85 year old in God’s Kingdom?

Between deliveries, I will contemplate such questions today at Adelaide Oval. And if you, my blog readers, have stories of how you have seen churches invite those over the age of 75 into meaningful mission, I would love to hear them.

Posted by steve at 11:03 AM

Saturday, September 11, 2010

free iPad’s the future of theological education?

TRADITIONAL textbooks will be put on the endangered list next year as the University of Adelaide’s Faculty of Science becomes the first tertiary institution to embrace a new approach to online learning.

The pilot initiative involves all first-year undergraduate science students next year receiving a free Apple iPad to use with online curriculum, eliminating up to $1000 in annual textbook costs within three years.

The Faculty of Sciences’ executive dean, Professor Bob Hill, said “We will be the first university in Australia to teach in this innovative way. Our teaching material will be more accessible, more relevant and more frequently updated, providing the flexible learning environment that students are looking for.”

“But it’s a difficult process to make this transition. This is because our lectures have in the past been written around textbooks. Our future process will provide the latest information online and our staff will be integral in writing this content. However, face-to-face learning will remain an important part of teaching.”

Professor Hill says providing each new first-year student with an iPad as part of their core learning tools will transform their educational experience on campus.

(more here)

Posted by steve at 09:46 PM

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spirited-church structures? Friends of students, teachers, creatives?

I’ve found this image a huge source of sustenance this week.

To gaze at the bent back and study the hunched shoulders,
To note the quill, a mind hard at ink,
To be reminded of the Spirit, in the form of a dove, hovering as Companion and Inspirer,
To do some research and find the story, of a man who wanted to live his life in prayer, but was dragged into administration and structures in the service of the church.

I’m tired and so are the students and so on Wednesday we started class by reflecting on those who have gone before, who have also worked hard over bent desk, hoping that in their work, the Spirit might be more fully named.

The man is Gregory and he is saint of students, teachers and creatives. He was leader of the Catholic church from 590 until his death in 604, the first of the popes to come from a monastic background, unwillingly forced from the monastic world of prayer into public church life. (especially through his first year as pope, Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the life he used to enjoy.)

Gregory was a missional church leader – most famous for sending a mission to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons of England. From Gregory we get what we know as the Gregorian chant, a system of writing down reminders of chant melodies.

Gregory is known for his administrative system of charitable relief of the poor at Rome. His philosophy was that the wealth belonged to the poor and the church was only its steward. “I have frequently charged you … to act as my representative … to relieve the poor in their distress ….”

My boss made a comment a few weeks ago, about what he called an “old-fashioned” lecturer, the type who did not write academic papers, but who worked out and expressed his theology in the service of the church, on councils and boards and writing church polity. Easy to dismiss. But it’s another whole dimension of ministry, of hard work and bent backs and seeking to see words and structures and administration and decisions be channels for God’s blessing.

Posted by steve at 08:24 AM

Monday, November 23, 2009

an ordinary day in pastoral ministry? trapped in Psych unit

Yesterday I found myself trapped inside the Acute Psychiatric Inpatient Unit. It began as a fairly routine pastoral visit. A phone call from the day nurse, asking me to visit.

Juggled my time table and by 5:30 pm I was outside the Psych unit. It was a quiet Sunday and it took me about 10 minutes to gain entry, standing in an empty main foyer, ringing the ward number.

Admittance, with instructions: This is a secure unit. No patients can leave. Whatever you do, give nothing, anything, to those inside.

I met the person I was visiting. And spent time listening and talking. By now it was 6:20 pm. I was due to preach in 40 minutes, so made my goodbyes. Being a secure unit, the nurse showed me to the door, unlocked it, and let me through.

I walked about 5 paces. Found a second door, opening onto the main empty foyer. Which was locked. Turning to ask for help, I realised I was alone. The nurse who had let me through the first door was now gone, returning to her work station.

Strange, I thought. I gave the outside door another pull. It didn’t move. I looked for an exit button and found it. But it needed a key to turn. Probably the same key the nurse had used.

I returned the 5 paces to the door the nurse had let me through. By now, it was shut firmly behind me. I pushed it, but sure enough, it also was firmly locked. This was, after all, a secure unit.

I peered through the glass, but the corridor was empty. The walls looked soundproof. I felt foolish. I felt like banging on doors and yelling, but wasn’t sure if this was the best behaviour to exhibit in a pysch unit.

I remembered I had my cell phone. So I scanned the walls, looking for a number. None. I had phoned from the main empty reception, so returned to the exit door.

I peered through the glass into the main area. But the phone numbers were out of eyesight, around the corner. It was becoming hard not to panic. Still noone in the corridor leading back into the ward from which I had come from.

I tried the exit door again. Pushed. Pulled. Being Sunday, there were no staff in the main reception area, so it was useless banging on that door.

I breathed deeply and looked at the door closely. When I pulled hard, the door did bend. Enough to let me see that the metal glasp was down. Enough of a gap to get my fingers in. A bit of a fiddle, poke and prod and I managed to push the glasp back.

And this time gave the door a push, not a pull. It swung up. I was out, free, walking through the empty main reception. Fresh air smelt good. It was difficult not to run, not to feel guilty that I was somehow escaping.

Definitely not an ordinary day in pastoral ministry. But the experience has become a metaphor for prayer. Despite momentary panic and heightened anxiety, I could leave. Not everyone can. Some people find themselves permanently trapped, locked behind closed doors, feeling alone, entrapped.

God, be in their head
God, be with their carers, their loved ones, their doctors
God, hold their faith while they mend. In time, open their doors to life,
to the full

Posted by steve at 05:42 PM