Thursday, June 13, 2013

missional readings of Scripture: widow of Zarephath

The missional conversation expects us to read the Bible with missional eyes. That means we pay attention to the edges. We read texts asking – who are the marginal people, what are the marginal places? That then allows us to focus on encounters – the interactions between edges and centres, outsiders and insiders, powerless and powerful.

Take for example, 1 Kings 17, the story of the encounter of the widow of Zarephath with Elijah.

There is a geographic edge. As a consequence of the drought, Elijah heads to Sidon: 1 Kings 17:7-8: “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.”

Sidon is a town mentioned in the previous chapter: 1 Kings 16:30: “Ahab …. married Jezebel daughter of [the] king of [Sidonians] and began to serve Baal and worship him.” So Elijah, God’s agent, heads to Sidon. To the place where Jezebel, the Kings wife was born, to the place where Baal worship is strong and thriving. This is a fascinating response to encountering a diverse belief system. You go to it.

Second, the people on the edge. Elijah finds a woman gathering sticks. To quote from a Bible commentary: There were many widows in [Elijah’s] Isreal and the surrounding areas because of war and famine. Traditional family and village systems of support for widows had broken down since the king … had started buying up the land and corrupting village leaders. Prices for oil were high because they were chief export crops. This widow could not afford them anymore.

They talk in the news media about needing to find the human interest story. Well here in 1 Kings is the human interest story. YHWH, the God of the Old Testament, has a human interest in widows.

Third, the interaction. Having gone to the edge, in place and person, we can now consider this story from the viewpoint of the widow. From this perspective, she is a most extraordinary example of hospitality and faith. She offers her last to a stranger. She says yes to a prophet, no matter how illogical. This is discovered in the “Baal” worshipping town. A redeeming God will always be found in the places the centre considers unlikely!

Finally, this text offers an insight regarding community empowerment. I am fascinated by the way that Elijah doesn’t give her a handout. Instead he empowers her. Invites her to simply give what she’s got. One book noted that “The key [to 1 Kings 17] is that [Elijah] does not do the miracle for [the widow] [Instead he] enables her to do it for herself.” Here’s a way to work with the poor, in ways that do not leave them victims, but invited to use what they have got – the twigs they can collect, their flour and oil.

This is a missional reading. The people of God are encouraged to journey to the places complicit with economic oppression. In this places, they are to concentrate of human interest. They are invited to look for God’s prior activity in those places, to seek those who already have the capacity for extraordinary faith.

Posted by steve at 09:01 AM

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

missiology and salt-making

I’ve been slowly plowing my way through Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. (One of the upsides of Kindle – it was going free a few months ago. It’s one of the things I love about e-readers, the way I’ve started reading things I never normally would, simply because books are now paper-less). At 486 pages, it’s taken a few months. (One of the downsides of Kindle – there are no visual clues for how big a book is!)

It takes that everyday household – salt – and explores it through history, it’s role as currency, as instigator or wars, in shaping empires and inspiring revolutions. It’s a fascinating walk through human cultures, as seen through something we all take for granted. I couldn’t help reading it with a missiology eye. (For more on a missiology of salt, see here, insights from Marianne Sawicki’s Crossing Galilee: Architectures of Contact in the Occupied Land of Jesus).

The importance of social action

Soon after that, a cleric named de la Marche distributed potatoes to poor parishioners and was nicknamed d’eskop ar patatez, the potato bishop.

Imagine being known, honoured even, as the “potato bishop.” Yes to mission as social action, as care for the poor.

The importance of listening

At the time of the American invention of the jar, a western missionary, one Father Imbert, had gone to China to study the ancient wells of Sichuan. He reported on more than 1,000 ancient wells drilled to great depths and brine lifted in long bamboo buckets. He also observed that the Chinese had elaborate techniques for recovering broken drill shafts. In the West, such obstructions were often the cause of a well being abandoned.

Here is the missionary as learner, as researcher, as culture explorer. In so doing, we are reminded of the creativity of Chinese culture.

The colonising impact of cultures

Unlike the French and the Spanish, English settlers and their American descendants tended to bring salt with them rather than find it where they went.

Might there be something in English/American cultures that prefers to impart rather than contextualise, import rather than nourish what is? Yet in contrast, in the midst of a recipe, the following made me think.

silphium root [a rare plant from Libya much loved and consequently pushed to extinction by the Romans]

Yet here is a Roman culture that is responsible for not nourishing what is local. We often hear Western industrialised cultures blamed for environmental damage, yet here is an early culture killing a plant species.

The contemporary cultural shift

The book finishes with our contemporary world. It describes the rise of monopolies, the two global multinationals that now dominate world salt production. Yet it notes a shift, first in young people moving back to traditional salt-making areas to farm their own salt and second, in consumer demand.

Unlike with the big companies, here the future is quality, not quantity. They command high prices for their salt because it is a product that is handmade and traditional in a world increasingly hungry for a sense of artisans.

It all resonated for me with John Drane’s, After McDonaldization: Mission, Ministry, and Christian Discipleship in an Age of Uncertainty

Uniformity was a remarkable innovation in its day, but it was so successful that today consumers seem to be excited by any salt that is different.

The place of contextualisation. The potential for artisan church.

Posted by steve at 10:16 AM

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

God in Libya

I’m really enjoying reading Thomas C Oden’s Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition. The book began with an invitation for Oden to address the Da’wa Islamic University in 2008.

Like any decent academic, he began to do some research. And discovered that buried beneath the sand was a vital Christian presence in Libya. For example, in the 190s AD, Libyan’s were at the heart of Christianity – a pope (Victor the African), a leading theologian (Tertullian), and a key diplomat (Synesius).

Or in this summary statement (pages 84-85):

  1. An African was present on the road to the crucifixion.
  2. Africans were present in the Cyreniac synagogue in Jerusalem.
  3. Africans were present in the first missionary journey north toward Antioch predating Paul
  4. An African … was present in the first missionary journey south toward Ethiopia.
  5. Africans were present in the debates leading to the major decision about circumcision for Gentile believers.
  6. Africans were present in the growth of the first international church in Antioch.
  7. Africans were present in the preparation and ordination of Paul to be apostle.
  8. Africans were present in Rome before the arrival of either Peter or Paul.

The implications are important: that Christianity is NOT Western. A common caricature – heard in phrases like “Trinity is a Greek concept” or “Jesus was a white person.” Faith has been multi-cultural, growing in diversity in diverse cultures.

Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition is a nice partner to Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died which I read back in 2008 and have summarised here and here.

Posted by steve at 06:33 PM

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reading Scriptures missiologically

Chris Wright has an essay Truth with a Mission: Reading the Scriptures Missiologically, currently free for download here. It is a really good, concise introduction to the idea of the Bible as a missional book. It starts with the concept that mission is something we do, because the Bible tells us so. Wright argues that this is not because of a few favourite key texts, but because the whole Bible is itself a “missional” phenomenon. He suggests that

  • the very Bible is a product of God’s mission
  • evangelicals have been good at reading the Old Testament in light of Jesus, but poor at reading the Old Testament in light of mission
  • God with a mission; humanity with a mission; Israel with a mission; Jesus with a mission
  • a critique of Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission; because of his failure to find mission in the Old Testament, because his understanding of mission, as boundary crossing, is simply too narrow
  • so a look at the missiological implications of Old Testament themes of monotheism, election, ethics, eschatology.

This is a really helpful introduction to Wright. At 15 pages, it is much more accessible than his 580 page The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative; or his The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, which my missional Masters students have worked through this year.

(Hat tip via here)

Posted by steve at 10:21 AM

Thursday, June 23, 2011

a crash course in fleeing Western captivity. part 1 culture

According to Wilbert Shenk (“Recasting Theology of Mission. Impulses from the Non-Western World”, in Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity).

Western theology has pursued an inward-focused, intellectual, and pastoral agenda rather than outward-looking evangelistic and missional agenda … As Western theology moved into the university and was professionalized, it became increasingly detached from ecclesial reality and cultural context. (117, 8).

Ouch.

This means that all talk about being Christian, about church, about mission, in the West, runs the risk of being corrupted by the scripts of Western theology, of being overly inward, intellectual and detached.

For Shenk, the way forward is to learn from the global (non-Western) church. He suggests wisdom from the global church has come in four areas -culture, Spirit, Jesus and church.

Let’s start with the first. With regard to culture, we need to learn skills to look for God in culture. Shenk  draws on the work of Andrew Walls (“The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture” Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity).

Christianity Today has called Andrew Walls “the most important person you don’t know.” Walls argues that while mission needs to hold in tension both the Indigenizing principle (God starts where we are at) and the Pilgrim principle (God invites us to change), that mission must begin with the first, with indigenization, with starting where people are.

  • Indigenizing – only way we can understand Christ is “in our own language” – in our context, our culture, our concepts. In other words, God starts despite our prejudices, suspicions, our hostilities.
  • Pilgrim – God takes us in order to transform us. That faith will put us out of step with culture and invites us to link with our past, with the church through history, with another’s sets of ideas, concepts, assumptions.

For discussion.

1. What would it mean in your community if you started with “indigenizing”?

2. What examples of “pilgrim” have you seen in your own experience?

Posted by steve at 09:16 PM

Saturday, July 24, 2010

FOSMT (free and open source missiology textbooks)

Helpful post here by AKMA on steps to an open source theology. He is discussing the Old Testament, but so very easy to apply to missiology. In sum

  • First, work out an overall structure and uniform presentation.
  • Second, find authors to write initial chapters to flesh out the structure
  • Third, edit chapters for uniformity and place on web.
  • Four, arrange a PoD publisher to sell papercopy
  • Five, encourage uploading of alternate points of view.

The result:

Bing, bang, bong, you have an open-source, free as in beer, free-to-reconfigure, free-to-supplement or even -alter (provided you give credit and don’t offer the altered version commercially without the author’s agreement) textbook. And that textbook is now useable anywhere English is read, for free. And that textbook is putting your name(s) in front of students and teachers all over the world, especially in places where they can’t necessarily afford the doorstop hardbacks that the textbook publishers love to charge so much for. And that textbook can easily be kept up-to-date. And if some agency were to fund it (and such funding needn’t even come to very much, in the world of granting — small to moderate honoraria for authors, editorial/production support, and so on), they could slap their name (or a prominent donor’s name) right there on the cover and on every title page

So I am wanting to develop for next year
a) mission-shaped course for Australasia
b) Mission then and now history and theology paper.

I wonder what these would look like FOSMT. Anyone want to partner in either step one, work out an overall structure and uniform presentation; or on step two, author a chapter; or on step three, being an editor, or on step zero – being the initial funder in order to position/brand your organisation as an innovative, missionary-focused, partnering type?

Posted by steve at 01:08 PM

Saturday, April 10, 2010

women and the emerging church. a bibliography

For a number of months I’ve been meaning to compile a list of missional and emerging church writers who are female. I’ve been prompted by a colleague who is doing a post-graduate project on women and the missional church, plus a glance over my Missional Church Leadership bibliography and the realisation that it is still overwhelmingly male. Plus stumbling across this podcast, which is me interviewing Jenny McIntosh back in 2006, on the topic of gender and the emerging church conversation.

Which prompted a brief literature search. My criteria included being recently published and with a focus on mission/evangelism/leadership. Here is the list. Who am I missing? (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:16 PM

Saturday, July 05, 2008

mary and elizabeth

I have been coaching leaders in Auckland and Hamilton over yesterday and today. We have been Dwelling in Luke 1:39-45 and have found it deeply nourishing as we reflect on leadership and mission today.

God, life-giver
like Mary and Elizabeth,
so many people know you are at work
without being told
among the ordinary and the everyday,
in the child and the unexpected.

God give us the good sense
to trust our intuition and our bodies,
the courage to act,
in haste and through disturbance

And so, God, may our we discover again that mission is joy,
and that we are
traders in hope,
witnesses,
protectors,
nurturers, for life that is both now and not yet

Posted by steve at 03:38 PM

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

has anyone used Elgg spaces?

One of my projects for this year is to seek to integrate some of my lecturing (in particular my teaching on Critical Missional Issues: Emerging Church and Missional Church Leadership), with my research.

I want to draw together in one place
:my catalogue of on-line emerging church (articles and blogposts I have collected that I think are important in the conversation)
:a database of emerging church communities (building on the emerging church postcards) and thus helping to move the conversation toward emerging church as living communites of practice.
: any class groups that work with me, both in New Zealand and overseas), in terms of researching emerging church and dialoguing around missional church texts (the missional reader project).

The aim is a collecting place for research and conversation on the emerging church. I would welcome co-creators and co-agencies.

Some one suggested Elgg spaces to me today as a Web 2.0 software tool. Anyone out there used it? Any comments?

Posted by steve at 02:42 PM

Friday, August 04, 2006

reading the missional text: 2

A process of reading the Biblical text in community, aware of context, and with missional eyes. The second text is 1 Kings 19:3-18;

A place of despair (both personal and cultural) need not be an ending. God can meet and sustain us in our despair. In fact, in our brokenness, we just might become teachable.

The need to find God in new ways: what are the skills and capacities that will sustain us into a postmodern journey?

The need to find new partners, including “pagan” partners: who are the partners that will walk with us in our missional journey?

The missional journey is counter-cultural, a movement from the edges and by the minority.

Where the “signs”; of earthquake and storm, in any way “signs” used by the idols of Elijah’s culture? What skills and discernment might be needed to unmask the idols of our culture?

For more on missional texts

Posted by steve at 05:31 PM

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Missional texts

I am working on a project: a missional reader – a set of texts – Biblical, liturgical, blog and book – that might nourish the journey of a missional learner. I am wondering about the potential of a shared set of texts, shared among missional learners in different contexts, offering a sense of communal learning on the missional journey.

Such a reader would best emerge from texts already used in community, grounded already in the local and particular. So I am currently field-testing some Biblical texts with a class. Every week for 14 weeks we are committing ourselves to dwelling in a different Biblical text (Yes, I know that the emerging church is rumoured to not take the Bible seriously:)). We will be reading the text and letting the text read us; listening to the text and listening to the text through each other. Here are some of my more poetic reflections on text 1: Genesis 28:10-19.

(more…)

Posted by steve at 02:50 PM

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

missional reader

What are the Scriptures that have shaped your emerging mission? What are the texts that have “read” you and formed who you are becoming in this postmodern culture?

books.jpg

I am working and re-working a course (Gospel in a post-Christian context, starting July). I want to invite the class to not only read texts of philosophy and theology, but to read the same Scriptures, to share the same Biblical devotional life. It’s an attempt to move beyond head knowledge, by letting our classroom learning and interaction be shaped and formed by Scripture. Sort of like a missional lectionary.

Hence my question: What are the Scriptures that have shaped your emerging mission? What are the texts that have “read” you and formed who you are becoming in this postmodern culture?

(I don’t want to “steer” the conversation, so leave your texts; and I promise I’ll put mine up in a week or so.)

Posted by steve at 04:01 PM