Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Scholars worship too
It has been an extremely productive year for me in terms of writing. I have just completed my seventh piece of work which, considering my day job as a Principal, and when placed alongside regular monthly film reviews, makes for an extremely productive year.
At church on Sunday, the phrase “scholars” lept out at me. The Magi, scholars from the East, come to worship. There was a sense that scholarship was welcome around the Christmas child. Thanks Jesus.
What I submitted today was a journal article to M/C Journal, a fully blind peer-reviewed journal for media and culture. It is my first publication attempt in relation to my fresh expressions: ten years old research project.
Here is the title and abstract.
The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh expressions
Philip Vanini’s theorising of authenticity as original and sincere helps parse the complexity of contemporary religious innovation. Ethnographic research into new expressions of church (“alternative worship”) showed that authenticity was a generative word, a discourse deployed in these communities to justify innovation. Sarah Thornton’s research into club cultures similarly demonstrated an entwining of marginal self-location with a privileging of authenticity. Such acts of self-location, so essential for innovation and identity, were complexified when appropriated by the mainstream (“Fresh expressions” of church). The generative energy therein became focused not around originality but in maintaining the sincerities of existing institutional life.
The seven pieces for 2014 are as follows (four have already been published, which leaves three moving at various rates of speed with editors, which is quite standard).
Two peer-reviewed journal articles
“The Congregation in a Pluralist Society: Rereading Newbigin for Missional Churches Today,” Pacifica: Australasian Theological Studies, 27(2), (2014), 1-24, (co-authored with D. Cronshaw).
“The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh expressions.” (Under review, M/C Journal)
Three peer-reviewed book chapters
“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2: TRANS- , Going Across, Above, and Beyond with U2, edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books. (Published).
“Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning,” Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead, edited by In Les Ball and J. Harrison, Morning Star, 2014, 171-184. (Published)
“Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by plot, plant by plant,” for “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods”: a flagship publication of Urban Seed’s new Urban Studies Centre. (Under review).
Two “Other public research outputs”
(In other words they might be important but not in the eyes of the University “peer review” machine.)
Colouring outside the lines (Mediacom).
“Carrying Cuth,” for Farewelling Our Fathers. (It is a “Men’s Studies” take on how men of my generation (40 and up) process the death of our dad’s. (under review).
Now to enter the Sabbath re-creation offered by the entry of the Christ-child into our world
Friday, October 31, 2014
The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions
There is a Cultures of Authenticity Symposium in Adelaide, 28 November, 2014. Here’s the brief
Authenticity pervades contemporary culture. This symposium provides a unique opportunity to investigate the significance of authenticity in regards to self, culture and society across key areas of social life from ethics, spirituality, work and intimacy to new media, tourism, health and environment.
The invite is to scholars to submit papers assessing the role of authenticity in late-modern life and its real-world applications and consequences. Full papers will be published in the journal M/C. It seemed a good opportunity to take my research on fresh expressions into a wider conversation, so last night I submitted an abstract:
The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions
This paper will explore the formational potential of authenticity in late-modern cultures, with particular attention to unintended consequent complexities as authenticity is appropriated by contemporary religious innovations.
Recently within Western Protestantism a range of new approaches to church and worship has developed. Ethnographic research into these religious communities (called “alternative worship”) shows that authenticity was a generative word, used by these community to define themselves as marginal and thus to justify innovation.
However these acts of self-location, so essential for innovation and identity, were complexified when appropriated by the mainstream. This occurred first as mainstream religious communities sought to implement selected liturgical innovations generated by these “alternative worship” groups. Secondly, an organisation structure (called Fresh Expressions) was formed by appropriating the innovation. However the generative energy was not around marginality but rather on the renewal of existing institutional life.
These complexities can be theorised using the work of Sarah Thornton (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital (Music Culture)). Her research into culture cultures in the United Kingdom also noted a creative interplay between innovation and authenticity, first in generating innovation and subsequently, complexified as what was marginal gained success in mainstream musical cultures.
This suggests that authenticity plays a complex role in identity formation in a branded world.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Offspring: fresh expressions New Zealand Presbyterian style
Alongside my keynote sessions to the New Zealand Presbyterian Church General Assembly, over the weekend, addressing the theme – Hospitality as mission: Your place or mine?, I also provided input into Offspring. This was a stream that ran in the mornings alongside the Assembly. Over three mornings, three different Presbyterian fresh expressions told their story. My role was to add some global and historical depth. I told stories of the church in history and around the world. I organised these around three themes
- crossing cultures, with a particular focus on the Gladzor Gospels from the church in Armenia (The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated (Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum)
- mission and the gospel, with a particular focus on the Celtic church (drawing on part of a chapter from my Sustainability and fresh expressions book chapter)
- what is church, with a particular focus on UK Fresh expressions
At the end of the sessions, the Offspring stream were asked to provide a communique back to the Assembly. This was a grace-filled moment, as the church at the centre opened themselves to hear from the churches on the edge.
Here are the notes that I took, as the stream prepared to share
1-What have we been doing as an Offspring stream? Telling stories, centring in prayer, inspiring each other, connecting, creating community and belonging, challenging each other, global and local stories, clarifying what fresh expressions are, being encouraged by hearing others, eating and drinking, dreaming.
2-There have been opportunities for us to be – Encouraged and affirmed to keep going, thinking and imagination stretched, courageous in responding to what God is telling us to do. We have realised that resources for mission are there in the community not only the church and that significant leadership for mission resides outside Ordained ministers.
3-Challenge for the church – There were many, but these were summarised into one statement
Lest we forget: We are re-forming. God is re-forming us for a new season
It was incredibly rich to offer my stories, while sitting and listening to New Zealand pioneers tell their stories. God is doing some wonderful things among the Presbyterian church.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Evaluation of innovation training: celebrating an ethics milestone
As I landed back in Adelaide, my phone lit up with the news that Ethics approval has been granted to begin the Evaluation of innovation training research project.
The Uniting College of Leadership and Theology has a vision of developing effective leaders for a healthy, missional church. This project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of our training practises, by providing regular and accountable processes of evaluation and feedback.
In 2011, College initiated new programs, focused on training leaders for church and ministry, with particular emphasis on developing innovative and adaptive practises appropriate for the leader’s context.
1. Equipping lay leadership, through the Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) course (in interdenominational collaboration locally)
2. Training pioneer leaders on a path to ordination, through Bachelor of Ministry (Practice stream) (Pioneer leaders are involved in establishing new churches, ministries and other initiatives, appropriate to the context in which they are placed)
3. Offering professional development of congregational (church) ministers, through the Master of Ministry (Missional stream).
The latter two training programmes are unique nationally. (The mission shaped ministry course is an international, interdenominational initiative also undertaken in other states, in partnership with MSM UK)
This project will evaluate the effectiveness of these training options in building the innovative capacities of church, pioneer and lay leaders.
A suite of questions, developed in 2010 by the Uniting College and National Church Life Survey (NCLS) Research will be asked of students. These questions were designed to test the innovative capacities of church leaders. Benchmark data from the 2011 NCLS will be compared with student data gathered longitudinally.
Data will be compared: beginning students with church leaders nationally (2011 NCLS data), cohort of students over time, and individual students over time.
This research will enable us to assess whether current training is increasing the innovative capacities of students. Aware that this evaluation process may provide information of value to other training providers, ethics approval is sought so findings can be published. Journal articles and other publications on pedagogy/teaching and learning will be prepared and published; focusing on ways training is and can be effective in increasing the innovative capacities of students learning about Christian ministry and mission.
This has been a project I’ve been part of developing for nearly four years, trying to lay a sound research design, in order to build a research base around what we are doing at Uniting College. First was finding the funding, then partnering with NCLS to develop the instrument. Second was finding the funding to design the research and complete ethics approval. Now, finally, we can begin collecting the data.
My personality type finds great significance in the fact that approval was granted the day I return from a two week overseas stint. It suggests a clear focus for the next season of my ministry at College – research on innovation.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
fresh expressions through sociology of religion lens
I found out yesterday that The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) is meeting in Adelaide in 2014. I do have quite a bit on my plate this weekend (including travelling overseas).
But I have been keen for a while to examine my fresh expressions sustainability data using a sociological lens, and in particular to engage with the rich material emerging from the UK. So a quick glance through my book shelves and I have offered the following abstract for consideration.
TITLE: A sociological parsing of everyday religious innovation: An analysis of first expressions
In 2001, qualitative research was conducted of ten new forms of church emerging in the United Kingdom. In 2004, the Church of England adopted an extensive theological apparatus, including the nomenclature of Fresh Expressions, to define, then manage, these emerging innovations.
In 2012, as part of a longitudinal project, further research was conducted, first, into the development of these individual innovations and second into the interplay between institutional intent (Fresh Expressions) and local communities (fresh expressions). This paper seeks to analyse these interactions using a number of sociological lens.
Firstly, innovative entrepreneurialism, a concept Warner deploys to investigate contemporary religious life (Secularization and Its Discontents, 2010). It will be argued that this lens has limited potential. It provides a mechanism to understand the institutional impulses of Fresh Expressions. It describes outputs from these local (fresh expression) communities. However, it makes little sense of themes emerging from the interview data, regarding the interplay between everyday faith and life.
Second, generational. Many of the local innovations researched emerged among University educated young adults. Research into the trajectories of young adult religious belief (Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith, 2013) certainly offers a more nuanced understanding of fresh expressions as located within a wider sociological ecology. However, this lens offers few conceptual tools to map the interplay between local innovation and ecclesial institution.
Third, belief as cultural performance. Abby Day argues for varieties of belief, as evolving over time, especially when tied to sets of sustaining relationships (Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World, 2011). This provides a helpful way to understand Fresh Expressions, as a cultural performance responding to changing social ecologies. It also makes sense of some of themes emerging from local fresh expressions. However, the fact that a number of the fresh expressions had, by 2012, ceased, suggests an additional category, that of belief enacted in funeral performance.
Friday, May 16, 2014
pioneering mission in Australia: Caroline Chisholm
The saint for today in the Revised Common Lectionary is Caroline Chisholm. Her story is strongly shaped by Australia. In other words, the eyes of the world today will reflect on what is an Australian mission story.
Caroline was born in England. Raised evangelical, she was an adult convert to Catholicism, about the time she met her husband, a sea captain. Coming to Australia on holiday, Caroline was disturbed by the poverty she saw among migrants in Sydney. Meeting each ship as it arrived, she sought to find work and shelter for new migrants.
While initially focused on these acts of mercy, she soon became a tireless advocate for justice. Her life was shaped by lobbying. She was constantly seeking to speak to politicians, seeking reform. She collected migrant stories (Comfort for the Poor! Meat three times a day! Voluntary information from the people of New South Wales, 1847). She shared these stories, both in Australia and also back in England, where she continued to advocate and lobby for reform.
After two years of being ignored, she decided to act without government help. She sought financial backing in order to provide loans to migrants, which was accompanied by support as they settled in Australia, thus making more likely repayment. The loans were provided at rates far cheaper than existing banks and in order to subvert the injustice she saw from landed interests.
Charles Dickens gave her support, including mentioning her work in his writings.
She organised ships and changed onboard systems – with the doctor, not the captain, apportioning rations. Presumably such changes were shaped by the stories she heard as she had listened to migrant experiences.
In 1852, her political advocacy saw the Passenger Act, in which the British Government legislated to improve shipping conditions for passengers (boat people), seeking a new start.
Despite being one of the most well-known woman in England (her portrait hung in the Royal Academy exhibition in 1852), she scorned material reward and status and returned to Australia.
Caroline Chisholm – one story of mission in Australia. As it says in Exodus 3:7, she saw misery, she heard the cry of the oppressed, in this case migrants. In response to listening, she mixed mercy, justice and innovation. She pioneered new expressions of care and worked tirelessly to shape public opinion.
In 2014, with Australia still facing the arrival of many migrants her life is perhaps a source of inspiration and challenge.
For more on Caroline Chisholm see Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Together toward life: when The Shaping of Things to Come is much more bleak
The Australian Association of Mission Studies tri-annual conference is in Adelaide in October 2014. With Anthony Gittens the guest speaker, it promises to be a rich mission feast. The theme is Margins, Mission and Diversity and the conference will also acknowledge the tragic death of Ross Langmead.
Here is my proposed paper in which I try to connect the conference theme with my research on sustainability and fresh expressions:
Together toward life: when The Shaping of Things to Come is much more bleak.
The 2013 Commission on World Mission and Evangelism statement on mission encourages the local church in Spirited experimentation, (Local Congregations: New Initiatives). This could be argued to be a discernment of the Spirit’s activity on the margins of the church, for the sake of the world.
Such a (marginal) call is not new to Australia. The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church (2003, first edition) is considered a seminal Australian text in missiology. In chapter two, titled “Hope of Post-Christendom”, Frost and Hirsch present six stories of new initiatives in mission.
Investigation ten years reveals that three of these “hopes” are now closed (two incurring significant financial loss, a third misrepresented).
Such levels of failure in experimentation are consistent with data emerging from New Zealand and United Kingdom. Of the five communities described in Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West (Gospel and Cultures) (1998) none now survive. In the United Kingdom, of twelve communities researched by the author in 2001, only five now survive.
If new forms of church are the shaping of things to come, how might we respond missiologically to such data? Three responses will be explored. First, Biblically, in the mission of Epaphroditus in the letter to Philippians. Second, historically, how The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died understands the rise and fall of Christianity. Third, theologically, how a hermeneutic of surprise, emerging from Romans 8:15 (The Message) and the Pixar movie Up, values adventure over sustainability.
Friday, January 17, 2014
fresh expressions impact in UK
Overnight, research was released on the impact of fresh expressions in the UK. The research was designed to move from anecdote to systematic data and involved surveying 10 Dioceses in England. The results are so encouraging, with over 500 fresh expressions planted, numbering over 20,000 people, of whom 40% have no previous church background and 35% are people who used to belong to church. I hope to reflect more on the data in the coming days, but in the meantime, here is the summary (click to enlarge).
The timing is great, because here in Adelaide, through Uniting College, there are a number of training and resourcing opportunities in this area for those in Australia wanting to know more.
Stories of mission – Monday, 20 January, from 7:30 pm, at City Soul, Ben Edson is sharing his fresh expressions story, of pioneering ministry, among young adults, in city centre Manchester (more here).
Pioneering workshop – Tuesday 21 January, from 9:30 am, at Uniting College, a day to gather around pioneer training stories and reflect on what we’re learning for selection, training, placement (more here).
Pioneer training – a week long intensive with Dave Male and local stories, March 17-21, at Uniting College
Evangelism, conversion and the mission of God – a week long intensive with John and Olive Drane, March 31-April 4, at Uniting College, sharing place of faith sharing today.
All of these are chances for us in Australia to contextualise, grow and learn.
Monday, November 25, 2013
seeking birth in death: a new way of discerning fresh expressions
I’m currently reading The Faith Lives of Women and Girls. Qualitative Research Perspectives. Edited by Nichola Slee, Fran Porter and Anne Phillips, recently published by Ashgate, it offers 19 chapters of original research on key aspects of women’s and girl’s faith lives. It uses a range of approaches – ethnographic, oral history, action research, interview studies, case studies – to help explore faith from a feminist perspective.
I’ve got stuck on the chapter by Jennifer Hurd, “The Relevance of a Theology of Natality for a Theology of Death and Dying and Pastoral Care: Some Initial Reflections,” (Chapter 17, 195-205). Hurd is a minister, aware from her experiences in recent years that there are changes in attitudes and practices within church and society concerning death and dying. She sets out to research the pastoral and theological relationships between birth and death.
As a theoretical frame, she uses the work by Grace Jantzen on natality, who has argued that the predominant choice of western civilization from Graeco-Roman times to the postmodern age has been characterized by violence and death. Jantzen calls this “necrophilia.” The result has been destructiveness, fascination with other worlds to the detriment of this one, and an antipathy toward the body and sexuality.
Jantzen suggests an alternative, which she terms “natality,” one characterized by beauty, creativity, new beginnings, flourishing and love of life. Her focus is the potential to make new beginnings, evident in new birth. But not only about birth. All beginnings that are becomings that make for creativity, life, health and wholeness.
Hence the Christmas Carol, Angels from the realms of glory
Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar:
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen his natal star:
Hurd then interviews people experiencing death and dying and argues that in these narratives is the presence of natality. She draws out four threads from Jantzen – embodiment, engenderment, relationality, hopefulness.
So why am I stuck?
- First, I read Jantzen in my PhD and it has been helpful to my current writing to re-find her.
- Second, with my dad dying, I’ve recently been through the valley of the shadow of death.
- Third, I’m concerned about gender and leadership development.
- Fourth, I’m fascinating by how change does, or does not happen. Hurd comments how “often, feminist theology has responded to the necrophilia of patriarchal church and society by declining to address death.” (Hurd, 199).
So why am I stuck? Well it’s got me thinking. You see, it’s so tempting, especially in church circles to avoid the hard conversations about death and decline, and it’s fascinating to read how Hurd argues that both death and natality are threshold experiences, a shared liminal experience.
“Undoubtedly, natal elements have always been a major part of Christian theology and pastoral care.” (205).
But Hurd finds natal elements not after the death, but in death, dying and bereavement. This includes a continued relationality, “contrasting with the ‘letting go’ which is sometimes part of pastoral care in bereavement.” (205) Which for me is truly fascinating. This is not a “letting go” of declining bodies (and by extension, dying churches). This is finding a new becoming in their midst.
What I’m pondering is not a “inherited church” dies, so that “fresh expressions” live. Rather lets explore natality in all of life – in ways that offer relationality, hope, embodiment, for all.
It also means that while death is inevitable, the process will not be seen as failure, but as a pathway through which new life is possible.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
faith development of women pioneers
If I had time, if I had money …
I’d like to do a research project exploring the faith development of women pioneers in not-for profit projects, who are motivated by a specifically Christian outlook. It would conduct qualitative research into women who exercise leadership in three contexts – larger evangelical/charismatic churches, ecclesial pioneering contexts and not-for profit projects – comparing and contrast the processes by which they develop their leadership, the impact of their situatedness in context, and the implications for their faith and spiritual development.
Anyone want to join me? More importantly, anyone want to fund the data gathering?
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
resourcing mission as fresh expressions
Here is a list of some of the resources I used at Offspring, the inaugural New Zealand Presbyterian gathering around new missional ventures. The gathering over the weekend included four stories, of new missional ventures by New Zealand Presbyterian churches. I was asked to resource the conversation. I chose to do this by telling stories of mission in other times and places, and inviting participants into processes by which they could make links between what was happening in these local mission stories and ways mission has occurred in other times and places. I told stories from the UK (my recent research into fresh expressions 10 years on) and then from global mission history.
My hunch was that stories are a great way of making missiology accessible. And by offering missiology as story it might dignify and frame the local stories being told. But in case folk think storytelling is not “theological” or “well-researched,” here are some of the behind the scenes resources I drew on.
- The definition of mission
the effort to effect passage across the boundary between faith in Christ and absence
was from the introduction in Stanley Skreslet, Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and prospects of Missiology
- The two Biblical images of mission – the Kees de Koort depiction of the Acts 8 narrative and the Gladzor Gospel depiction of John 4 narrative – were from Stanley H. Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission. Another excellent way to access the Gladzor Gospels is The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated.
- The Tarore story as an expression of missio Dei in New Zealand mission was from Rosemary Dewerse, Nga Kai-rui i te Rongopai: Seven Early Maori Christians, published by Te Hui Amorangi Ki Te Manawa O Te Wheke, Rotorua, 2013.
- The work on the Parihaka story as a fresh expression of community in NZ history is shaped by Te Miringa Hohaia, Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance.
- One way to explore Brendan the Navigator is in David Adams, A Desert in the Ocean: The Spiritual Journey According to St. Brendan the Navigator. The original account of the voyage of Brendan is here.
- One way to explore the place of the ancient and historic in fresh expressions is the Sanctus: fresh expressions of church in the sacramental tradition DVD (from here).
I’m hoping to find some time to write up my reflections on the mission themes I saw emerging in these four stories of innovation in mission and New Zealand and the parallels I saw them and between Luke 10:1-12. But first, the day job!
Friday, September 20, 2013
Offspring – new missional ventures in New Zealand
Just off the phone from the conference organisers of Offspring. It is a New Zealand Presbyterian initiative, a weekend (Friday 4 – Sunday 6 October 2013) resourcing those in new missional ventures. It will involve sharing stories, learn, reflect, worship, pray together, good food and good company. They had hoped for 40, and are delighted with around 75, most of whom are either trying something, or dreaming. The aim is to share passion, ideas and imagination for the Church and build leadership.
My role is to animate the weekend with some input among four stories of new ventures in New Zealand, workshops, interaction and worship. My input might include (subject to change as the weekend proceeds)
Sustainability in fresh expressions – I will offer my UK research, on sustainability in new forms of church in the UK, and the ways in which the church inherited (Fresh Expressions) has partnered with new ventures on the edge.
Fresh expressions in New Zealand history – I will share some stories from New Zealand mission history. Likely stories include the missio Dei of Tarore, the radical healing stories around the Kaiapoia Pa, the use of Scripture at Parihaka, the urban mission movements around James K Baxter. Then we might use some Australian indigenous storytelling techniques to explore what these stories might teach us for today.
What I’m hearing – an interactive session in which I reflect on the theological, ecclesiological and missional learnings in the four new missional venture stories being told at the weekend.
Where we’re going – a final session in which I’m likely to weave Brendan the Navigator, Luke 10 and the soundbites from the weekend together.
It will be great to be on home soil, albiet only for a weekend, resourcing God’s mission.
Monday, September 16, 2013
transmission of faith: by colour, via culture, in Christ
My copy of The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated arrived today. 60 colour plates, presented by the J Paul Getty Musuem to celebrate the Christian church in Armenia, featuring the Gladzor Gospels, illuminations produced by Armenian monks in around 1300.
Gorgeous in colour they describe a faith that crosses culture – from Jerusalam to the sands of Armenia, that takes root in indigenous cultures, in this case Armenian, that is fabulous in colour, calling forth a visual awareness of Christ. This is how I understand fresh expressions – faith transmitted by creativity, via culture, in Christ.
“The Gladzor manuscript is a most eloquent and very self-consciously formulated Armenian life of Christ.” p. 31
There is a strong emphasis on Christ the healer. One-sixth of the illuminations of the Gladzor Gospels focus on healing stories. This is compared for example with Giotto, who has only one panel in 38 dedicated to Christ the healer, or many other artists who focus on Christ in infancy or passion.
“This Christ is a very personal, caring savior: he is directly involved with other people, sensitive to their problems, and in touch with their even on a physical level.” p. 32
More on Christ tomorrow, as we explore the interplay between human and divine.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
fresh words and deeds: a theology of innovation
I preached in chapel today. The Gospel lectionary text was Luke 13:10-17. After the reading, I played Van Gogh Shadows by Luka Agnani and then spoke.
The video brings together two artists.
First, Vincent Van Gogh. Our entire trip through Europe during our Sabbatical was defined by Van Gogh. Our 13 year old was fascinated by the colours, the vibrancy, the subject matter, the fact he cut off his ear.
The second artist is Luka Agnani. A digital artist. Who takes Van Gogh – 13 paintings – and adds light, intensity, movement and people.
The result is that what is historic, Van Gogh paintings, is seen in fresh ways. Things we’d not noticed. People I’d not paid attention to. Insights I’d not been aware of.
Which helps me make sense of the Gospel reading. In Luke 13, the is something historic – Sabbath understanding, Torah, pattern of living. “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”
And then there is the fact that, in the actions and words of Jesus, faith is seen is fresh ways. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
Jesus takes the historic – sabbath, Torah – and adds light, intensity, movement. And above all a focus on people. “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
Which also helps me make sense of some of my current research. I’m exploring new ways of church. How does what is historic, relate to the new, the contemporary world around us?
As part of the research, I’ve been re-reading the Basis of Union. As all Principals of Uniting Colleges do! In particular wonderful phrase “fresh words and deeds.” It occurs at the end of Paragraph 11.
According to Davis McCaughey’s Commentary on the Basis of Union, you need to read paragraph 11, alongside paragraph 10.
Together. You read paragraph 10 and value of historic maps – of Scripture, of the witness of reformation fathers. You read alongside Para 11 and value the “faithful and scholarly interpreters” who serve the church by enabling it to stand “in relation to contemporary societies in ways which will help her to understand her own nature and mission.”
It’s such an interesting place to locate scholars- not in paragraph 10, with the historic, but in paragraph 11, with contemporary societies and fresh words and deeds.
So applying Paragraph 10 – we need historic maps – we need Van Gogh – we need the Old Testament, the Torah, the Law.
And applying Paragraph 11 – we need scholarly interpreters, who help us stand in relation to contemporary society.
Result is fresh words and deeds – fresh light, extra intensity, focus on people.
Which I hope is our experience – as faculty, as students – at Uniting College, as Flinders Department of Theology, as Adelaide College of Divinity.
We’re hold Paragraph 10 and 11 together. The historic – Scripture, tradition – and the new – reading the culture in mission. And the result?
May the Lord be confessed in fresh words and deeds.