Monday, April 22, 2024

Out of the Box stories and Psalm 23 in worship

Out of the Box uses story and play for personal and community wellbeing. The telling of stories creates relational spaces to breathe, trust, listen, feel, wonder, play and love. There are 49 wisdom stories, that include Bible stories, along with life, nature, history and art.

OutoftheBox stories can be used in a range of settings, including schools, care homes, workplaces, community groups, families, therapeutic settings, chaplaincy, spiritual accompaniment and faith communities.

I experimented and used the Out of the Box Psalm 23 story in a congregational setting this week. I’ve used Godly play before but this was the first time with OutoftheBox. It was also the first time for the congregation, who are small in number and mostly elderly. But warm in spirit and usually up for things being a bit different. I was delighted with the feedback. Three commments stand out

  • People said they liked that the objects made the story real
  • People said that they liked that it allowed them to be childlike
  • People engaged, particularly around what it meant to have enemies shown love and mercy

Delivery wise, because the lectionary reading was Psalm 23, I had chosen to be rostered on for the Old Testament reading. I said I was going to use OutoftheBox and briefly introduced it as a way of sharing story.

The church has solid wooden pews, so I brought along a camping table and placed it in the centre of aisle. That ensured the story could be told at eye height. There was a delightful shuffle of people in their seats as I brought out the first object and people moved so they could see.

Because it was new, and I wasn’t sure how if or how long people would share for around the wondering questions, I also had a short sermon, based on the John 10:11-18 reading. It worked really well because I began by talking about how we can play with the objects in OutoftheBox and that the Gospel reading was playing also with Psalm 23, placing Jesus as the shepherd etc. Given we had just experienced that – as we had moved the enemy sheep during the OutoftheBox – it seemed to create lots of connections.

Then during the prayers for others, I invited people to select an object from OutoftheBox. I had three from the Psalm 23 story – leaves, water, shadows.  We began the prayers for others by holding the object and praying for ourselves or others who might need rest, restoration and comfort. It provided an avenue for further engagement and working with the feelings surfaced by the story.

Posted by steve at 04:04 PM

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.

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Conversations at the tables

I’m speaking today at Conversations at the table.

It’s a unique invite. They want me to talk actually at tables, around food, between courses. Not as the make them laugh after dinner speaker, but to engage their senses in God’s mission of justice, community building and story telling.

I’ll be taking along John Koenig, Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation. And a range of practical exercises shaped for me by Sense Making Faith. And some video clips – from Ratatouille and The Kings Speech. And some art. And some table mats, to get them thinking about what church would look like if it was conversations at tables. And praying – that between mouthfuls, God speaks.

Posted by steve at 10:45 AM

Friday, December 28, 2012

Multi- sensory storytelling

“Passionate people wanted to produce something new”

I went today to the recently opened Historium in Bruges. A wonderfully creative way to access history, that has some challenges for Christian communication and shows the enormous potential of storytelling.

It began with a question, what was it like in the Middle Ages?

The question was answered by multisensory storytelling. They took a red robe, a green parrot and the girl model from a van Eyk painting, Madonna with Canon, to create a narrative, told in audio and through video screens cunning placed around a set, spread over 7 rooms). Each set involved senses, simulating fog, snow, local produce. Animation was used, both to ensure historical accuracy, in the backdrops, costumes, hats, jewellery, but also to enhance the storytelling. The 7 sets/rooms allowed a focus on a wide range of life, customs to guilds, public baths to harbour, created from miniatures and art of the time. The goal is an emotional insight. In other words, not just information. But neither just entertainment. But a use of senses to help people make a connection, and thus to bring the past into the present.

After the experience comes the information, a room full of displays to browse. Imagine if church history or Biblical studies were taught in this way!

It is important to note also the place of collaboration – film makers, musicians, historians, business people all working in partnership.

I’m hoping (numbers willing) to teach a course in 2013 (starting April) on the place, potential and possibility of senses in mission and ministry, working with a local artist and local storyteller. What I saw today may well become a contemporary case study.

For a video of the making –

Historium: The Making Of from Historium Brugge on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 07:38 AM

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Aha, there’s a storyteller: Daniel Lanois, Brandon Flowers and a ministry of imagination

Daniel Lanois is a record producer and musician. His CV includes working with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Brian Eno and U2. Quite a list! Three of the albums he produced have gone on to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Quite an achievement! Soul Mining: A Musical Life is his autobiography. Part poetry, part techhead, part philosophy it’s an intriguing and stimulating window into art and the artist – as it is glimpsed in the recording and music industry.

Here is his reflection on deciding to work with Brandon Flowers (formerly with The Killers) on his 2010 solo album, Flamingo.

I can hear Brandon’s influences, and that’s okay by me; we all got into this because we fell in love with already existing works. The part of me that looks for the original turns a blind eye to the influences and a good eye to the imagination of this young man. Aha, he’s a storyteller. There is it is, the never-ending frontier – storytelling. Life experience lives beyond the medium. (208)

It’s a lovely insight into how different generations might work together, Lanois born in 1951, Flowers born 1981. It’s a fascinating insight into the music industry and the valuing of originality. It’s a reminder for those of us who work in the religious and spiritual world, that yes we need to have our influences, our traditions and our authors. But lets not lose our good eye for imagination and the valuing of life experience.

Isn’t that the biggest challenge for teaching and for ministry formation – to cultivate imagination in the midst of the sifting of life experience?

Posted by steve at 02:50 PM

Thursday, February 17, 2011

the richness of our shrinking world

The internet has some downsides. But it also has some amazing upsides.

I am currently working on some distance material, around the theme of Jesus Christ today. The aim is a course to help lay folk as they prepare to exercise their gifts, including in leading worship and preaching. Being a course by distance, the challenge is not to prepare pages and pages of words, but to encourage a range of ways to engage.

On Tuesday night I was working on the section on Jesus Christ in history. I came across the Theologians Trading Cards, on the disseminary website. Could people arrange the theologians in various categories – geography, time, Christology from above/below? Could people play variants of snap or top trumps with their friends? A way to engage Jesus Christ in history in which the cards create interaction and question. A query email to the site owner and overnight there was email reply in regards to the Creative commons license.

On Wednesday I was working on another section. I love the story in pages 3-4 of Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement about the impact of Christ on a person’s actions/witness. (The whole book is an excellent resource, which I found helpful a few Easter’s ago in framing my preaching input over a Thursday, Friday, Sunday). A story opens up different ways of engaging. What is more, the story could then be used as an exercise, inviting folk to work out how the sources of theology – Scripture, tradition, experience, reason – are all there and are all at play.

The story in McKnight’s book mentioned the title of a song. I googled the title, but could find no song with exactly that title. So I decided to email the author with my query. He replied with the contact details of the actual person who tells the story.

Another email to her. And a reply, including some more detail, which will make the story even more helpful.

In less than 48 hours, three conversations with three people on the other side of the world. Our shrinking world can certainly be full of richness.

Oh, for those wondering what the song is (more…)

Posted by steve at 07:45 AM

Friday, September 24, 2010

storytelling: including some quotes from Coupland’s Generation A

I’m off to the annual Network of Biblical Storytellers Conference. This is one area where Australia is way ahead of New Zealand, in having a network and a gathering around the sheer imaginative and relational possibilities created by story. It’s the 10th anniversary, and the first time in Adelaide, thanks in large part to the energy and creativity of Uniting College student Sarah Agnew.

I’ve got my storytellers hat.

Found in an opportunity shop back in the 1990s. At the time, I was doing theological training and planting a community of faith. And my peers in training, well, sorted gave me lip for wearing it! “Who do you think you are Taylor.” I’ve kept it, and kept it and kept it. Always knowing it’s moment might arrive.

And then there are the stories. I’m telling about ten in total. Some are Kiwi historical stories. Others are Kiwi ministry stories. Three are different angles on gospel stories. Two are brand new, one written in Durham, another in Tasmania. All are original to me, bar one. It’s been such fun preparing for this conference, digging around my hard drive, placing stories side by side, seeing how they move and talk to each other.

By a coincidence (?), on the way back in the plane, I read Douglas Coupland’s latest, Generation A: A Novel. Which unknown by me until after I brought it, is all about stories.

In some ways, Generation A returns us to Coupland’s first work, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, in which he wrote; “We know this is why the three of us left our lives behind us and came to the desert – to tell stories and to make our own lives worthwhile tales in the process.” (8) In Generation A, once again Coupland narrates a story in which (sort of), a younger generation are leaving their lives behind and in isolation, being invited to tell stories. A fascinating theme to return to nearly 20 years later, and in a book with the same title “Generations.”

Here are some quotes from Generation A: A Novel:

“a story – something that makes some sense of events you know have meaning.” (2)

“I do not want anecdotes from your life, Zack. I want stories. Stories you invent. Stories that have no other goal in life than to be stories.” (187)

“The brain uses stories to organize its perceptions of the world.” (195)

“Stories come from a part of you that only gets visited rarely – sometimes never at all. I think most people spend so much time trying to convince themselves that their lives are stories that they actual story-creating part of their brains hardens and dies.” (201)

“Instead of inventing and telling stories, I’m going to make my life a more interesting story.” (211)

If I wasn’t telling stories, I’d be looping these behind me on powerpoint over the weekend.

Posted by steve at 09:36 PM

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

stories stories everywhere. mission and discipleship in Mark’s gospel

Today (UK Monday) has been a fun workday, preparing for the Network of Biblical Storytellers Conference annual conference, in Adelaide, this weekend coming. I’m down to do 3 keynote sessions, plus a workshop on storytelling in general. I’ve been looking back through the range of stories that sit on my laptop and framing them around three questions

  • What makes a good story?
  • Where do stories come from?
  • Where do stories take us?

My goal is to tackle these questions entirely by telling stories. It’s been so much fun. Stories allow one to be less linear and less structured. It’s been fascinating to lay different stories alongside each other and start to see how they talk to each other.

My thinking was that I would probably be in a more creative place before flying back on to Australia tomorrow.  So today was spent testing this theory. The big challenge today was writing a whole new story. The guts of my keynote sessions are stories emerging from the gospel of Mark. I had two already, which I wrote last year. At the time I had the creative germ of an idea for a third in the trilogy. So this conference was a chance to capture that creative germ.

I am fascinated by the fact that the world of Jesus was pretty small and his discipleship outside the 12 disciples seemed so haphazard.  So what might happen if a healed leper (Mark 2) had a chance meeting with the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5). Would the recognise the same Jesus in each other’s stories? Would they respect the potentially diverse discipleship path of each other?

Posted by steve at 01:52 AM

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

rolling our story with God’s story: Biblical story cubes

Storycubes has got all sorts of church and worship possibilities. The instructions are simple:

Roll the Cubes. Begin with ‘Once upon a time’ and tell a story that links together all 9 face-up images and spark your imagination.

The possibilities are endless.

  • throw them and invite people to weave some of the symbols into their story.
  • throw them and invite people to weave some of the symbols into a Biblical story.
  • Play a what happened next, using the symbols to storytell an Acts 29, or a Mark 17 ie the chapters after the chapters that are written.
  • You could make your own cube, for example an angel for the gospel of Matthew, lion for Mark, the ox for Luke, the eagle for John. Then throw the gospel cube plus the nine and invite people to think of, and then share, a story from the gospel that uses that symbol.
  • Or your own cube that has an angel, a mountaintop, a forest. Use these to invite personal/group sharing – a mountain top moment ie when you were at your best, a dark forest moment ie when you were at your most scared, an angel moment ie when something happened you couldn’t explain.

Why? It invites creativity and imagination and humanity around the weave of God in our lives and the Biblical story.

I think I might just buy one for the upcoming National Biblical Storytelling gathering here in Adelaide (Sept 24-25). It would be a fun addition to my workshop, helping people tell their story and God’s story.

Posted by steve at 06:59 AM

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

a narrative approach to a theology of evil

Lots of stories are happy stories. Yet we live in a dark world. Babies get hurt. People grieve. Relationships break. This raises the question as to the presence of evil. Are there bad forces, outside humans, that contribute to human pain and destruction? If so, how should their presence shape human behaviour? Here’s a short story, a dark story, that I wrote for our Grow evening service, trying to get my head around evil and being human. I’m not sure if it works, or if I like it, so I’ll post it here.

The advertising catches your eye. The Bible Horror puppet show. Human puppets performing avant garde interactive theatre.

Intrigued you purchase your ticket, score your ice cream and settle in.

The scenes unfold. The early acts intrigue. Moments of awe-inspiring creativity and star-studded destiny are interspersed with hints of a darker human horror, of cold campfire stories of incest, forced rape, planned assassination.

Intrigued at first intermission, you contrast and compare the puppet costuming in the crowded foyer.

The Job act makes for even more disturbed viewing. A son of God storms the stage and stalks the earth. Cast as accuser, waving divinely sanctioned permission slips, he plots evil. Women are stabbed and flesh of sheep and settler is burnt. Amid the smoke and in a climactic moment of horror, a destructive tornado whips sand into a frenzy, killing family and friends gathered for a family feast.

Appalled, sickened by the violence, you stumble through the second intermission. Only to realise, with a sickening stomach, that the horror has just begun. Appalled, you watch the final Revelation scene unfold.

A dark star crashes.

An abyss opens and smoke billows. Locusts emerge, chasing screaming humans across the stage. Scenes of torture ensure, humans writhing, screaming for mercy.

Toes curled in horror, chilled by the seemingly random violence, you suddenly feel a breath on your shoulder. Hair standing on end, deeply unsettled, you feel a presence settling beside you.

“Don’t worry,” the voice breathes. “I own the theatre.”

You turn, appalled by the seeming callous indifference of a threatre owner to the escalating scenes of horror.

The voice continues. “In this theatre, the ending belongs you to me.”

Eyes widening in disbelief, you suddenly see movement. The puppet show has a puppetter. Dimly lit, high in the scaffolds, joker-like, a figure huddles over his puppets – the locusts and random tornados – skillfully manipulative, seemingly intent on wreaking destruction.

The voice continues, quiet, careful. “It’s interactive theatre. The actors can all make choices. So can the audiences.”

Puzzled, you turn. “So if you don’t like anything, just yell. Some call the yells prayer. Others describe them as acts of repentance or moments of protest. Still others hear them as howls of lament and protest or describe strength found in bread broken and the chant “My God, My God, why have you forsaken us.””

“Whatever the name, however the actions, this is interactive theatre. Actors and audience can always change this play, force the joker to move. That’s the rules in the Bible horror picture show.”

The voice fades as the final curtain fall begins.

A note of explanation (ie. Biblical shaping). (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:44 PM

Sunday, June 21, 2009

a christian response to swine flu part 2 (creative storytelling of Mark 1:39-45)

Today, in response to Mark 1:39-45, we prayed for all healthworkers. Everyone was given at the door either a white piece of cloth or a gold piece of cloth. One – white – stood for Mother Teresa, the other – golden – stood for Princess Dianna. Both became famous for touching the sick. And the challenge for us, whether rich or poor, young or old, to be willing to touch the sick.

In a creative moment, the Bible text became a story, of Jane and her rabbit and how healing touch overcame the impact of quarantine. (Following on from last Sunday’s creative storytelling of Mark 2:1-12- Bill and Ben and their goat called raisins).


Posted by steve at 08:41 PM

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bill, Ben and their goat called raisins: Mark 2:1-12 storytelling sermon

Here is a storytelling in relation to Mark 2:1-12. (And in relation to the question I asked on Friday, about what is sin to a nine year old). The service today included a focus on a ministry reaching boys in the community. Which got me thinking about what it means for men to be followers of Jesus and how friendship and innovation (what we Kiwis call no.8 wire) might be important to how men express their faith.

Then reading Mark 2:1-12, verse 5 stood out: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” It got me thinking about being a “boy” in this story and having faith honoured by God. I’d also been reminded during the week of the Message translation of Romans 8:15-16: Christian life as adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”. Add to that a pastoral conversation with a new community mum, so scared that church folk might glare at her baby when it makes a noise. Other background resources included this description of Capernaum, typical first century housing and what boys in Jesus day might play.

From that emerged Bill and Ben and their goat called raisins, who get to see God, with straw in his hair, mud in eye, grin on face, talking, back and forth as best mates! I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together – it was quite some fun. Big hat tip to my blogging commenters, and my two Aussie storytelling friends, who offered critical comment as the thing took shape over the last few days.

Bill and Ben were probably too similar in name. And being in a sermon slot, I might have got a bit preachy at the end explaining a few textual issues. But success was the 10 year old community kid in the front row who kept getting drawn back in, the young dad who went home wanting to have his own crack at writing a Bible story and the number of men who gathered around to reflect, in essence, on being male and being Christian.


Posted by steve at 05:00 PM

Friday, June 12, 2009

what is sin to a 9 year old boy?

Updated: the finished product ended up here.

I’m working on Sunday’s sermon. As part of the morning service, we welcome one of our community ministries, to 8-12 year old community kids. Since we’re working our way through the early chapters of the gospel of Mark, the story of Jesus forgiving and healing the paralyzed man stands out as quite appropriate.

I mean, this guy had good mates, who stuck with him even when he got sick. This guy also had problem solving mates, willing to whip the lid of a roof. And I’ve started writing a story. I’ve not done storytelling as a sermon for a while. And it seems a good way to access this Bible text through the eyes of a 9 year old.

Currently I’ve got Bill and Ben and their goat called raisins. How they argue, as boys do, and fight as boys do, about the boring old synagogue and what God actualy, really looks like. How Ben got sick and Bill’s a good mate who sticks beside in. Until the day of the big adventure, when Bill and Ben suddenly realise they’ve suddenly discovered what God actually does look like – straw in hair and mud in mouth.

What I need to know is this – given Mark 2:5, when Jesus says “Son, your sins are forgiven” – what is sin to a 9 year old boy?

Posted by steve at 01:40 PM

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

shifting espresso

espresso is our Tuesday evening congregation at Opawa. No sermon or singing. Instead opening prayer and closing “creative ending”; in between a free for all conversation about questions that are making people itch.

We had our “annual evaluation” a few weeks ago, an attempt to look at our life and how we were doing. One of the real strengths of a multi-congregational model is how it empowers each congregation to shape and shift their life, as the signs of the time shape and shift. As a result we’re making some changes at espresso.

First in time. We are moving from 7:47-9:15 pm to 6:30-8 pm, in order to be more children friendly.

Second, in format. We are going to try a once a month storytelling time. We’ll place some colours in the “espresso bowl”, from which our questions are placed. We’ll pick a colour and invite people to bring a story about that colour. It’s an attempt to build community and offer new ways to approach the task of learning and growing. It is something I’ve dreamed about at Opawa since I arrived over 5 years ago and it will be fascinating to see how it shapes us.

So, Tuesday March 17: everyone to bring a favourite story of a “yellow” (ginger crunch yellow) moment – from their life or from life in general, when they felt “yellow”; when they saw “yellow.” And food for you in a sharable format, 6:30-8 pm,

Posted by steve at 09:58 PM