Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Henry Lawson Fringe act as biographical theology
James McClendon wrote the fabulous Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology. He took four lives – Dag Hammarskjold, Martin Luther King, Jr, Clarence Jordan, and Charles Ives – and used them to consider church doctrine: how theology is illuminated and improvised throughout their lives.
On Saturday, I went to the Adelaide Fringe Festival show – Henry Lawson goes to Princeton – and saw a modern day version of McClendon’s biographical theology.
Ian Coats, one of our adjunct Faculty, completed his PhD at Princeton. He’s also a musician. He’s taken Henry Lawson, Australian storyteller and poet and put his work to music. Supported by a hard working band – violin, drums, double bass, mandolin – over an evening, it was a wonderfully rich musical event.
But alongside the music was the narrative. The songs were carefully arranged by Ian to tell the story of Lawson’s life. It was at this point that the biographical theology emerged, as Lawson’s life was plumbed for wisdom. While Lawson ended his life an alcoholic, other possible pathways were explored – mysticism, friendship, nostalgia, political engagement.
This gave hope. It was authentic, vulnerable and rich.
It also offered choices – how then will we live? And at this point, it became a superb example of biographical theology, of exploring a live listening for wisdom for living. Not through books, but through song.
Well done Ian Coats. Check it out – there are still two more shows, Sunday March 2 and Saturday March 8.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
After rain: art and a spirituality of encounter
Over the long weekend, hoping to escape work, I picked up William Trevor, After Rain: Stories. Trevor has been called the finest living writer of short stories. He writes with a goal – to “illuminate aspects of the human condition.” I might have read After Rain: Stories wanting to escape work, but spirituality is etched through many of the stories.
The most fascinating is titled After Rain. A young woman, nursing a heart broken by a love affair returns to a childhood holiday spot. With rain falling, she shelters in a church and is captivated by an artist’s rendering of The Annunciation.
She has not been in this church before, neither during her present visit nor in the past. Her parents didn’t bother much with churches.
Harriet becomes absorbed by the painting, by the colours, by the details she hasn’t noticed at first glance. It leads to change.
The rain has stopped when Harriet leaves the church, the air is fresher. Too slick and glib, to use her love affairs to restore her faith in love: that thought is there mysteriously. She has cheated in her love affairs: that comes from nowhere too. Harriet stands a moment longer, alone on the steps of the church, bewildered by this personal revelation, aware instinctively of its truth.
So, an uncertainty toward faith, but a move toward experience, toward truth, toward a changed experience in her world. It’s a turning point in the narrative, from which flows a healing, a restoration, a willingness to face life anew.
And a final sentence, in which the encounter with Annunciation is recalled: “the angel comes mysteriously also.” I took After Rain: Stories to escape from work. I found a faith, formed through art, expressed through words, appreciated in mystery.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
I journal religiously twice
I journal religiously twice. Religiously because it is a paired set of spiritual practices, that keep me in grounded, reflective and in community.
I journal religiously once, publicly, on this blog. It is a place to collect what I’m reading and doing. It’s been a discipline for over 11 years now. I began because I wanted to connect beyond Sunday with my congregation and to explore this new way of being human that is a digital world. It helps me reflect on ministry. I regularly think about stopping but then a helpful comment opens up a new insight and I realise the gift that is communication in community.
I journal religiously a second time, my own handwritten journal. It’s been a discipline from when I began formally training for ministry. I never think about stopping, for handwriting grounds me, connects me. I need to save insights, to record my pain, to jot down the spiritual insight of a moment walking or reading.
Over time, I’ve introduced new practices. Every Saturday I try and collect the achievements of a work week in a few simple dot points. This is essential, for my current work is overwhelming and relentless and I need to remind myself of progress. Or I use Celtic knots to untangle the complexity of an issue. Sometimes these notes can be worked up for public consumption, an insight becomes a sermon, a section allows me to capture a moment.
I handwrite much more than I used to and it’s such a precious space. The increase in handwriting has been a fascinating byproduct of the job. I think it’s because I need to find myself in the rush of a 7 meeting day.
I began to reflect on journalling because one of my handwritten journals is coming to an end. I’m always sad. I’m losing a familar friend and I hate the starting of something new, those first fresh pages speak of no life lived. I often leave the first page blank. A space for God to be God. And a way of beginning, of saying I’ve simply started.
This finished journal will be filed, along with others. As I come to year’s end or to an annual performance review, I will pull out my journal and read through the year. I will begin to catch patterns I’d not seen before. It helps give shape to my becoming, to the work of God in the hard places of life.
I journal religiously twice, a paired set of spiritual practices. But what is really interesting is that I have written this here – digitally – not there – in the handwritten journal.
Sunday, August 04, 2013
a dynamic formation for ministry
Digital artist, Luca Agnani, takes Van Gogh’s paintings and brings them to digital life. He uses a mix of digital light and shadowing plus 3-d mapping, to provide a whole new way of viewing life.
It reminds me that life is dynamic rather than static. It is easy to think of life, of faith, of theology, of Scripture, as a snapshot, a moment frozen in time. The reality is that life is always about movement – the child running to the father, the sea a fluid wave movement, the streets full of people on the move.
Tomorrow, I am introducing a change to the candidate formation process at Uniting College. We will begin an exploration of practices, framed around a missional spirituality, and enhanced by storytelling – “the stories that you swap with other travellers” – about how these practices take shape in our lives.
So we’ve spent a lot of time as a team thinking about why we might do this.
Ministry formation could never prepare me for every situation I would find in life. Nor should it. Life is simply too fluid, too dynamic, to evolving, to ever make that possible.
Christian faith is dynamic – the practice of being sent, of prayer, of unforced rythyms of grace – are never static, but are always moving, shaped by those who walk toward us and away from us, those we welcome and those we let go, our experiences as we approach Scripture. Practices are our friends in this dynamic of life.
For those interested, the thirteen Van Gogh paintings are:
1. Fishing Boats on the Beach
2. Langlois Bridge at Arles, The
3. Farmhouse in Provence
4. White House at Night, The
5. Still Life
6. Evening The Watch (after Millet)
7. View of Saintes-Maries
9. Factories at Asnieres Seen
10. White House at Night, The
12. First Steps (after Millet)
Friday, July 26, 2013
God talk is everywhere
God-talk. It’s everywhere. Now even in my local cafe.
Thursday, February 07, 2013
sense making faith: an invitation to play
I’m playing at the edges in Adelaide after Easter. I’m using the senses to offer a journey of exploration, over 10 weeks. Start with experiences of God through sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and in light of those experiences, what might it mean for church, discipleship and mission.
People engage faith and mission in many ways. Some begin with the head. Others begin with the stories. All are valid. This is about beginning with the body.
A downloadable PDF is here – Sense Making Faith web.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Faith in the midst of violence: the La Faruk Madonna
In a side room at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, is placed the La Faruk Madonna. At first glance, it looks your standard religious fare, three paintings, an angel either side of a Madonna.
But the story behind the paintings is extraordinary, for they are painted on old flour bags in the middle of World War 2. The artist, Giuseppe Baldan, was by a prisoner of war. Hence the backdrop behind the angels and the Madonna is a prisoner of war camp, including the prison fence, the Sudanese desert, a washing line and the huts that held prisoners.
The story is that Italian prisoners of war, captured by the British in North Africa, sought permission in the camp to build a chapel. A chapel needs decoration and so the La Faruk Madonna was painted, an aid for prayer, a source of hope.
As the war ended, the paintings were saved from the camp and were given to the British commander for safe keeping. It was a mark of respect for the humane way he had treated the prisoners and honoured the art.
It is both comforting and disturbing. Comforting in the creativity of humans, even in bleak times. Disturbing in that here were British and Italians worshipping the same God, yet finding ways to kill each other. What did the British think as they saw the angels being painted and as they watched the prisoners turn up for worship week by week, as they heard the prayers to “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
A New Years spirituality – Amsterdam Festival of Lights
The Amstersdam Festival of Lights has been an unexpected treat. For those travelling from a Southern Hemisphere, having darkness fall from 4 pm onwards takes some adjustment. The up side is the chance to play with light.
For the last few years, Amsterdam has maximised this climatic advantage with a Festival of Lights, inviting artists to mount installations in key locations.
Ovo is one installation. In the shape of an egg, it thus suggests new birth. With over 700 lights, each individually able to respond to changes in light, temperature and fog, it proves itself flexible and adaptable. New birth is not a one size fits all, but a uniquely beautiful response to changing environments.
Seeing it today, on the first day of a new year, it became a prayer, for new life in a new year, for beauty that responds to the uniqueness of my changing environment, our changing world.
A time lapse video of the making is here, with the Ovo in full colour, from about 2.11 on.
Sunday, October 07, 2012
seeking holy ground article
I was asked a few weeks ago to contribute an article to Journey, the Uniting Church of Queensland monthly newspaper. It’s become the front page headline for the October edition – titled Seeking Holy Ground. For those interested, it is here, or below … (more…)
Thursday, August 23, 2012
taking the sense making faith challenge
I was most pleased with how the Magarey lectures whole Bible, whole people, whole mission series of retreat reflections ended. I concluded by pointed out how the whole time had been a risk. They had trusted me and they I had trusted them. Together we had trusted God and it had been rich.
So why not continue this pattern of risk together? In preparation I had identified 5 “sense” projects (gathered from Sense Making Faith Body Spirit Journey). I had typed them up, photocopied them and cut them into separate cards. I walked around the room, inviting folk to take one.
Here was the risk. That rather than me give them some options that they might or might not to when they got back home, that they would commit to do whatever sense project was on the card they chose.
And the next time they gather, to be accountable by telling the stories of what happened.
And then I played the scene from Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, when Lucy steps through the wardrobe into another world. It’s a wonderful 2 minutes of taking a risk, to discover a whole new world. A wonderful invitation, a great ending.
Here were the 5 sense challenges. Dare you to take close your eyes, place your finger on the screen and just do whatever one your finger is closest to ….. (more…)
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
the Pentecost practice of small growth
In February, I gave the three favourite women in my life flowers. Not cut, but living. Each plant was different. One was given an indoor orchid, another a outdoor flowering native shrub, another an outdoor native tree.
The period around Valentines Day in Adelaide is hot. It’s summer and things are dry. It meant that a gift of the day also demanded ongoing care. Each morning I could be found, hose in hand, watering the outdoor natives.
Moving into March, I became quite concerned about one. The soil was dry, the sun hot and significant die-back had appeared.
Yesterday, warming down after my morning run, I was delighted to see new growth, the first fragile signs of life taking root.
And to notice that the indoor orchid was preparing to flower again, a beautiful white and lavender about to emerge.
This week we celebrate Pentecost and move into a season in which we pay particular attention to the work of the Spirit. For me, the miracle of the Spirit, and the task of paying attention, is captured in the fragile new life I see in my garden.
For a while in my late teens, I linked Pentecost with great signs and wonders. I’d leave church looking for the miraculous, the dramatic, the extra-ordinary.
In doing so, I would walk right past what was small, the fragile in my garden, the miracle that is any growth, any sign of life, especially in a hot and barren climate. But the Kingdom that is God’s at times seems to pay more attention to the humble, the small, the insignificant. As Jesus welcomes children, as he avoids the crowds seeking miracles, it becomes a reminder that in God’s economy, all growth is worth celebrating, any new leaf worth paying attention to.
This for me, is the Pentecost practice of small growth.
(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading P is for Pentecost).
Sunday, May 06, 2012
Sense making faith: taste
Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.
This is superb. The power of the mouth, the potential of taste. That sense of intimacy, the way the mouth functions as useful, a barrier, sensual.
It would be fabulous loop for use during communion. Or for use during the “taste” session when teaching Sense Making faith.
Thursday, May 03, 2012
faith development: has to be more than a guy thing
Today I am working on a section of faith development. I began to reach mentally for my usual starting point, Peter. The journeyer – in the Gospels invited as follower (Luke 5); named as denier; commissioned as feeder (John 21). In Acts, the preacher, whom God’s Spirit calls out of the box. In Galatians, challenged for the ease by which he slips back into racist patterns.
But on the book shelf is another book on faith development, Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes, by Nichola Slee. Who suggests that our notions of faith development can reflect a male bias.
Here is her summary of the usual model of faith development, that provided by James Fowler.
“where Fowler describes faith development in primarily cognitive terms, [alternative] models describe a broader, more holistic process of development shaped by affect, imagination and relationship as well as by cognitive structures. Where Fowler describes the process of development in terms of linear, sequential and irreversible stages towards a highest level of faith, these [alternative] models offer a more fluid and varied account of transition which, whilst demonstrating certain common patterns, can accommodate movement in different directions and can allow for regression as well as the anticipation of prospective growth. Above all, where Fowler asserts that faith development is uniform across diverse contexts, feminists insist that women’s religious development is shaped profoundly by the cultural context of patriarchy which is antitethetical to women’s full personhood and spirituality.” (Slee, 40)
Two of my most helpful resources – Slee’s, Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes and Bauckham’s, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels. What have been yours? What resources are you using to ensure your understanding of faith formation is not overly rational, overly “guy”-centric?
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
icons as spiritual practise
Last year, as a thank you gift for their ministry here in Adelaide, I gave John and Olive Drane an icon I had “written.” They now want to use it as a resource, both in worship and in a class they are running on worship later this year. So they asked if I might shoot a “homemade” video, reflecting on the spirituality of icons.
I thought I’d also place it on the blog, in case any of my readers are interested – why do I “write” icons? what is a “pioneer” icon? how do icon’s work as theology and for spirituality? how to craft an icon?
A short personal reflection on the icon as spiritual practise.
Two most helpful books in getting me started as an icon “writer”:
And for those who can’t access the video, here are my notes in preparation to speak (more…)