Sunday, January 25, 2015
five year work anniversary
Linkedin congratulated me a few days ago on my work anniversary. Which led to a lovely comment from Aaron Chalmers, Head of School of Ministry, Theology and Culture at Tabor, Adelaide.
“Congrats and well done Steve! You have really made a positive contribution to ministry / theological training here in Adelaide.”
It was five years since I walked in the door at Uniting College. I perched in a temporary office for six months while a colleague prepared for sabbatical. I was given four courses to teach, which I realised after about a month was actually a full years work in the space of six months. It was in a different culture, which I had underestimated in thinking about the transition. In my first class I followed the rules I’d been told, regarding no food in class, which led to a candidate, telling me that while the place had rules, no lecturer had ever enforced that them! The upshot was a negotiation by which they drank their precious cup of coffee just outside the classroom with the door open so they could hear the lecture!
But God was good and the College was in such an exploring, outward space. There was so much room to innovate – the Missional masters, the pioneering stream within the newly worked BMin, the development of mission-shaped ministry, both in Adelaide and nationally through Australia. There were some post-graduate students with really interesting questions they wanted to explore.
A work anniversary in which I’m deeply thankful.
Friday, January 23, 2015
The use of Psalm 23 in the TV series Lost
(This is part of a lecture I gave in Bible and Popular culture, in which I explore reception history, the way Bible texts are re-presented in different cultural forms over time).
Lost ran over six years (series). In this episode from the second series, titled “The Twenty Third Psalm,” we are introduced to the back story of a character, Mr Eko. It involves his past in Nigeria and a number of times and ways in which he “walks through the valley of the shadow of death.” First, as he acts to save (be a shepherd for) his younger brother from Nigerian guerillas, later as he seeks to use his brother, now grown, and a Catholic priest (a shepherd) to export drugs.
The episode is laced with religious imagery. Both Eko and Charlie carry religious symbolism. Eko has a piece of wood which he has called his “Jesus stick” which is marked with Scripture. Charlie carrys a Virgin Mary statue which is filled with heroin.
So in plot and character, the episode is an intriguing example of reception history, of the search for salvation in the very dark places of human experience. Karl Jacobson, argues that “in the various musical and theatrical encounters with Ps 23, an interpretive and pedagogical force that wrestles the psalm out of any flat or smooth reading and presses it into the service of disbelieving faith, seeking trust.” This is what is happening in Lost. The words on a page are given contemporary relevance.
The episode ends with Charlie and Eko the saying of Psalm 23. Eko is the leader, yet is joined, falteringly by Charlie. Both men have difficult relationships with their brothers, tied together by drugs. Bringing them together allows them to face their failures, to experience “their souls restored.”
When we engage in reception history, is it possible that the pop culture readings might in fact read insight back into the text. We see this in this episode, which starts with a discussion of two brothers – Aaron and Moses. They are brothers in the Exodus story.
As the episode proceeds, we see more brothers. The difficult relationships experienced by Charlie and Eko invite us to consider the relationship between Aaron and Moses, to pull it “out of any flat or smooth reading.” In what ways might the Biblical characters have wrestled with each other?
The ending, as Psalm 23 is said together by Eko and Charlie, involves inter-cutting of scenes with other characters from Lost. The actions and interplay are each an acting out of the Psalm, not as per the Bible but in the contemporary world created in Lost.
The fish, given on the beach, is an offer of peace between people previously estranged. (a table before me, in the presence of my enemies). Lost is a mysterious island, a place of valleys of death. Yet perhaps, if these people act toward each other in forgiving and ennobling ways, is might indeed be a place of “goodness and mercy.” Heaven (the house of the Lord) is as real as these people might want to make it.
By paying attention to plot and character, this Lost epiosode does indeed provide “an interpretive and pedagogical force that wrestles the psalm out of any flat or smooth reading.”
Karl Jacobson, “Through the Pistol Smoke Dimly: Psalm 23 in Contemporary Film and Song,” http://sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=796
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Mission and Community Service Intensive
A course I’m developing this year … Mission and Community Service Intensive
Explore the promise, possibilities and tensions in the relationship between mission, church and social service agencies in contemporary Australia. Can there be a place for Christian faith and historic identities in the contemporary funding climate? Must faith and spirituality live in contradiction? Are words and deeds mutually exclusive? How might professionalism, power and the prophetic be negotiated?
The course will utilise a practical theology model, seeking a critical, theological reflection on lived experience. This will involve a case study approach, through which questions are identified, and a dialogue created with current research.
The learning will occur in three phases:
- Phase one – Sharing case studies. Four evenings, February 9-12, 7-9 pm.
- Phase two – Reflecting. Participants will isolate a question emerging from a case study and undertake wider research.
- Phase three – Workshop days. Participants will present their case study, sharing with one another, insights that have emerged as they have read and thought more widely, May 15-16, 9am-4:30pm (tbc)
Course facilitators will include Dr Steve Taylor, Rev Peter McDonald and Joanna Hubbard (tbc). Case studies presenters will include Dr Bruce Grindlay, Dr Ian Bedford (more to be confirmed). Options for enrolment include professional development, audit and credit.
Enrol at Student Services
P: 08 8416 8400
E: college dot divinity at flinders dot edu dot au
Venue: Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Mission and agencies in community service
A course I’m putting together for Semester 1, 2015.
This programme will explore the promise, possibilities and tensions in the relationship between mission, church and social service agencies in contemporary Australia.
Can there be a place for Christian faith and historic identities in the contemporary funding climate? Must faith and spirituality live in contradiction? Are words and deeds mutually exclusive? How might professionalism, power and the prophetic be negotiated?
The course will utilise a practical theology model, seeking a critical, theological reflection on lived experience. This will involve a case study approach, through which questions are identified, and a dialogue created with current research.
The learning will occur in three phrases
Phase one – Sharing case studies. Four evenings, February 9-12, 7-9 pm. (Venue: Pilgrim Uniting Church, Flinders Street, Adelaide.)
Phase two – Reflecting. Participants will isolate a question emerging from a case study and undertake wider research.
Phase three – Workshop days. Participants will re-present their case study, sharing with each other the insights that have emerged as they have read and thought more widely, May 15-16, 9 am-4:30 pm (tbc)
Course facilitators will include Dr Steve Taylor and Rev Peter McDonald. Case studies presenters will include Dr Bruce Grindlay, Dr Ian Bedford (more tbc). Options for enrolment (through Adelaide College of Divinity) include professional development, audit and credit.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Doctor of ministry – the hard, hard yards
A few days ago we celebrated the graduation of Bruce Grindlay as a Doctor of Ministry at Adelaide College of Divinity.
The days since have been a reminder of the hard, hard yards that go into these post-graduate research projects. Another of my Doctor of Ministry students, Gary Stuckey is on the final straight in his project. He is exploring the spiritual search, and has undertaken an action research project, launching what (in my opinion) is a fresh expression of new monasticism. (Gary, being a careful scholar, has much critical comment to make about that word “new monasticism.”) A few weeks ago, he dropped in a complete final draft of his manuscript. It is such a significant moment for a student, a complete draft.
Which then requires hours of my careful attention as supervisor. Two hours on Thursday evening, ten hours on Saturday, four hours today. Reading, editing, checking, suggesting.
The post-graduate student is paused until the supervisor is done. They have spent months producing a final draft. And now they wait. Will it be acceptable? How much more work will be required? All the time, the completion clock is ticking. These projects have a time frame.
Today, I gave Gary the manuscript back. Now the work shifts back to him. He has to sift my comments, read my handwritten scrawl, weigh up my suggestions against his levels of energy, what he wants to say. It is his thesis, not mine.
And all the time, the completion clock is ticking. These are the hard, hard yards, that make a graduation so much sweeter.
Saturday, December 06, 2014
Bible and Popular Culture Summer school Intensive
Do you want to explore the ways the Bible and culture come into dialogue and mutually interpret each other? I’m team teaching as part of Bible and Popular Culture Intensive. It will be a rich summer learning experience.
Enrol now for the Bible and Popular Culture Intensive, to be held at Flinders University in January 2015.
Sunday, November 09, 2014
teaching the “flipped” open table of Jesus
My Semester 2, Jesus Christ topic, came to an end this week. It ended as it began, with food. Every week for 13 weeks, soup has been offered. For two of the classes, the entire lesson was done around food. One week, as we talked about the open table of Jesus and the final week, as we reflected on our experiences together. In doing so, a very different dynamic has emerged among us. We have become community, shared being human, laughed, shared soup recipes.
The dynamic around soup had reinforced another change in class – a change in teaching methodology. I introduced flipped learning. Class readings and lecture notes were placed online and students were invited (expected) to come to class prepared to engage in activities together.
In order to encourage this, I provided two learning moments. First, a discussion around what type of individual behaviours would enhance our class learning as a group? This generated an informal set of expectations among us. Second, an introduction to how people learn. I offered Bloom’s taxonomy and suggested that the traditional lecture tended to keep class time focused on knowledge and comprehension (bottom half of the circle). However if reading was done prior, this would mean our class time together could be used to focus on analysis, synthesis and evaluation (top half of the circle). In order to help this, every class offered a choice of activities. Students could choose to check their comprehension, or to work with classmates in an activity of their choosing – analysis, synthesis or evaluation.
The result has been a vastly different learning environment. The class has been pushed in new ways and I’ve learnt a lot as a teacher.
To help us process the semester as we gathered the final time, I suggested reflection around three colours. Green, a moment of growth that had occurred in the class. Red, an emotion we wanted to express. White, any thing else we wanted to share.
It had been an extraordinary class. Alongside the flipped learning, we’ve also had to process tragedy. During the semester, a student in the class unexpectedly died. Healthy one week, fully participating, fully engaged. Then during the week, they suffered an out of the blue heart attack.
So the class has had to process this sudden gap. In some ways the soup and flipped learning have made the gap larger. We’d become more human, known each other in ways more vulnerable and real. Twenty heads facing a talking head lecturer would not have formed these levels of community. Equally, have formed community, we experienced greater pain. But because we were a community, we drew strength from each other, found a group ready to listen and pray.
Such is the “flipped” and open table of Jesus. More engaged. Perhaps even more painful. Yet more vulnerable, more supportive, more human, more prayerful.
Friday, October 24, 2014
the teaching challenge: theology
I wrote this recently, in response to a Flinders University request to explain why I teach, and how this applies in how I teach theology. (It is a few paragraphs by way of contextual introduction in what was a 5,500 word paper about evidence-based research I’m doing into the impact of flipped learning on the student experience).
Theology students are more likely to be part-time and mature in age. This presents a range of challenges including managing significant diversity within the classroom and working with a range of anxieties as mature age students return to study.
Theology is often closely tied with personally held beliefs. Some students are studying for a vocational role in their religious communities, while others study for interest. This presents some unique learning challenges. Students are being invited to engage critically with beliefs that at times they, or the communities to which they belong, are highly invested in.
In response, I seek to be a learner-centred educator. I believe that each student comes with a unique finger print and deserves space and processes to connect their existing life experience with the subject matter. People learn best when safe space is created, so a classroom of respect and appreciation of diversity is essential. Thinking aloud must be allowed.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
I fly tomorrow to New Zealand for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand Assembly. Apparently last year I was “an inspiring and well received speaker at the Press Go gathering in Wellington in October (2013).” So I was asked back for further involvement with the Church.
I have two roles. First, I’m the keynote speaker at the Assembly. Around their business meetings, I’m speaking three times for around 45 minutes on the theme Hospitality – Your place or mine. I will look at three Biblical texts (Luke 10, Luke 14, Luke 19), weaving in stories of mission and various interaction.
Second, I’m storytelling at Offspring. Offspring is a resourcing stream that runs alongside the business sessions. It’s a brilliant innovation, seeking to allow the church to gather not only around business but also around ministry. I’m be telling some global mission stories, that might help illuminate three local mission stories that are being told.
I phoned the worship leader, Malcolm Gordon, on Wednesday, to confirm a few things. I was astounded to be told that Malcolm has worked with a group of artists and creatives around the Biblical texts I’d said I’d be using. Poets have paraphrased the Biblical texts. Songwriters have written three original songs, one for each Biblical text. Artists have created art pieces, that will hang in the foyer during Assembly. All this creativity will be bound together in a booklet, to be given to folk at the end.
How about that in terms of engaging creatively with Biblical texts in mission?
It made me glad I didn’t change Biblical texts when I began some more detailed preparation last week!
I really enjoyed my time with the Presbyterian church this time last year, so hoping for a similar joy again.
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
interactive engagement trumps content delivery: research
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about teaching and learning. It began when I re-worked a recent presentation and instead designed a set of interaction exercises. Most loved it, one resisted it.
Friday I head for New Zealand to deliver three keynote addresses. Expecting an audience of around 500, I was warned today that people will be expecting speakers not engagers. So to expect some resistance.
I follow on twitter a number of education lecturers in the UK and US. It’s a great way of keeping up to date with new research and thinking. An article on research in interactive engagement in University classes caught my eye today.
They researched an engineering class of 158 students by dividing the class into three.
A self-assessment group completed homework, involving ten self-assessment activities uploaded online. These included challenging narrative and multiple-choice questions that required them to create, explain, and carry out calculations. Immediate feedback was provided, reinforced by lecturer feedback during class.
A collaborative learning group participated in discussions to gain a broad understanding of the activity and to learn from one another. This involved a cycle of 10 minutes lecture, followed by students being given five minutes to solve a problem and receive feedback from the instructor. This group did not receive any homework.
A control group received traditional instruction, with content provided through a PowerPoint presentation plus homework.
The results showed that interactive engagement (self-assessment and collaborative learning) improved students academic performance. Engaging in such activities was found to encourage students’ participation, because the activities stimulate their critical thinking, demand interactions with other students, and lead to more deep learning.
They conclude this presents the following challenges for teachers and students:
“Instructors must meet the challenge of designing activities that will inspire students’ inquisitiveness, develop their sense of capability, and give them opportunities to share their ideas with other students through group discussions. They also should ensure that students have enough time to spend on the tasks. Equally, students need to play their part by improving their level of self-efficacy and self-regulation.”
So there’s an encouragement: Less time working on my powerpoint and more time in designing interactional activities. Accompanied by the need for participants to play their part!
(The full article, by Malefyane Tlhoaele, Adriaan Hofman, Koos Winnips & Yta Beetsma (2014) The impact of interactive engagement methods on students’ academic achievement, Higher Education Research & Development, 33:5, 1020-1034, is available here.)
Monday, September 29, 2014
the weighted coin: inward
Over the last week, in between speaking of Fresh Words and Deeds to a group of ministers in Jerusalem, I’ve been marking assignments.
They are the consequence of my teaching a week long intensive in Sydney in July, titled Mission, evangelism and apologetics. In being invited to teach, it has provided me with a very lifegiving opportunity to think again about how the local church might be effective in mission.
In preparation, I designed the following assessment.
You are to prepare a set of four Lenten studies on mission for your home church. Each study must engage at least one biblical text and the introduction to World Council of Churches statement re mission and evangelism.
Four reasons. First, I wanted students to show me how their understanding of mission might be grounded in the local church.
Second, most of them will lead churches that offer a discipleship opportunity in Lent. So it would be an assessment likely to be directly useful in ministry.
Third, I wanted to expose the students to the best of contemporary missiology. In 2013, the World Council of Churches agreed to a new statement – Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. It is the first statement produced by the WCC since 1982. In the last thirty two years, a lot has changes in the world, and a lot of fresh thinking on mission has emerged.
Fourth, reading the statement, I was surprised with how radical, challenging, theologically and Biblical it was. It is affirming of fresh expressions and surprisingly forthright regarding verbal proclamation of faith. For example regarding fresh expressions ;
“Today’s changed world calls for local congregations to take new initiatives. For example, in the secularizing global north, new forms of contextual mission, such as “new monasticism”, “emerging church”, and “fresh expressions”, have re-defined and re-vitalized churches. (72)
And regarding evangelism:
Evangelism”, while not excluding the different dimensions of mission, focuses on explicit and intentional articulation of the gospel, including “the invitation to personal conversion to a new life in Christ and to discipleship (85).
Overall the assignments were of a pleasing quality. All located four Bible texts and engaged them from a missional perspective. All identified a clear local context and all worked constructively with the WCC document. A pleasing number offered multi-sensory approaches, including film clips, indigenous cultural references, community walks and grounding stories.
One of the students made a comment that fascinating me, and tied in directly with an interactive session I did in Jerusalem. They commented that they had always seen Lent as set aside to look inward. So could they do something in Lent that invited people to look outward.
It was for me a reminder of the current imagination of the church in general, the gravitational pull of Sunday services and gathered worship. It feels to me like the church has a weighted coin. Everytime we toss it up, it lands “inward.”
Mission and worship are two sides of the same coin, but we need proactive strategies and courageous intentionality to restore a pendulum balance. Hopefully, assignments like this – Lenten studies on mission are – a step in a more missional direction.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
out of office: Istanbul and Israel
I’m on the road for the next few weeks.
I’m speaking in Jerusalem, at the Uniting Church National Ministers Conference. Prior to that, I’m taking a few days to recover from jet lag. This will be Istanbul, where Europe meets Asia, tasting an immense history.
I have thought very little about it, given the intensity of the last few weeks.
But it is probably the perk of my year, so when I get there, I am sure I will enjoy it.
I will be travelling with my partner, who for some reason, felt she really needed to join with me on this particular trip. That is one thing I have very much been looking forward to!
Friday, September 12, 2014
a college of passion
Twice this week I’ve been told that a Uniting College lecture is full of passion.
First, a visitor. A successful local business person, dropping in to see “what happens”? And at half-time, looking the lecturer in the eye and thanking them for their passion.
Second, a lecturer. Inviting guests to share of their ministry. Glad, at lecture’s end, of the passion. And how it infected the students, shaped the tutorial, infected the ongoing learning of the class.
What is interesting is that passion is a core value at Uniting College. You know those vision statements, destined to sit at the bottom of a pile of papers? Well, the vision statement of Uniting College includes passion:
To develop life-long disciples and effective leaders for a healthy, missional Church, who are:
So, somehow, passion has snuck out of our vision statement, leapt of the page and seeped into how classes. How?
I asked this question at our team yesterday. What does passion mean for us? And how has it leaked into our life?
And so together we talked as a team.
- is it because we care for our students? We’re not just about our research, we’re also about the people who come to learn and grow with us
- is it because we’re shaped by suffering? That in each of us as lecturers, there has been a personal learning, a vulnerability
- it is because we’re authentic? We want to walk our talk. We want what we say about faith, about ministry, about life, to be lived in us and livable through us.
- is it because we’re sacrificial? Many of us have been paid better elsewhere. We’ve taken pay reductions to work here, because we believe in the Kingdom, believe in what we’re doing.
- is it because we’re whole-bodied? The creative act invites us to take risks, to offer ourselves in risk into our projects, our lectures, our classes.
Passion. In us. In all of us as a team. In our life. Snd so in our lectures. And please, in God’s grace, in our students.
Thursday, September 04, 2014
Learning and Teaching
Order forms for Learning and Teaching Theology – Some Ways Ahead arrived today.
The book is a companion volume to Transforming Theology. Student Experience and Transformative Learning in Undergraduate Theological Education. That book is awesome, detailed research across numerous higher educational providers of theological awards in Australia. To consolidate the research, the Sydney College of Divinity hosted a conference in 2013 to promote further scholarly thinking on the learning and teaching of theology. That conference has in turn engendered a number of essays by contemporary scholars and practitioners at the leading edge of Australian and New Zealand theological education, now gathered into this volume, which presents some contemporary thinking and innovative practices in the field and so encourages further such development within the theological community.
Book chapters include -
Nancy Ault: Assessing Integrative Learning and Readiness for Ministry. Can There be Common Ground?
Les Ball: Where Are We Going? Questioning the Future of Learning and Teaching Theology
Robert Banks: Paul as Theological Educator. His Original Legacy and Continuing Challenge
Felix Chung: Chinese Theological Education in Australia. The Way Ahead
Tim Cooper: Transformative Learning in Church History
Darren Cronshaw and Andrew Menzies: From Place to Place. A Comparative Study of 5 Models of Workplace Formation at 2 Colleges on 1 Campus
Charles de Jongh: The Contribution of Theories of Multiple Intelligences to the Promotion of Deep Learning through the Assessment of Learning
Dan Fleming and Peter Mudge: Leaving Home. A Pedagogy for Theological Education
Denise Goodwin: A Practical Approach for Teaching Foundational Theology. Inquiry–Based Learning and the Matrix of Ideas Process
James R Harrison: Paul and the Ancient Gymnasium. Research Paradigms for “Academic Citizens” of the New World
Richard Hibbert and Evelyn Hibbert: Addressing the Need for Better Integration in Theological Education. Proposals, Progress, and Possibilities from the Medical Education Model
Diane Hockridge: Making the Implicit Explicit. Exploring the Role of Learning Design in Improving Formational Learning Outcomes
Neil Holm: An Analysis of “Soul” as the Central Construct in Dirkx’s and Ruether’s Transformative Learning Theory
Murray House: Cross-cultural Mission as a Transformative Learning Experience. A Report
EA Judge: Higher Education in the Pauline Churches
Jude Long: Nungalinya College – Empowering Indigenous Christians
Kara Martin: Theology for the iGeneration
Stephen Smith and Leon O’Flynn: Responding to Complexity. Moving from Competence to Capability
Isaac Soon: Video Game Design and the Theological Classroom. Gamification as a Tool for Student-Centred Learning
Steve Taylor: Embodiment and Transformation in the Context of e-Learning
I ordered copies of Learning and Teaching Theology – Some Ways Ahead for each of the Faculty. We’ll use it at as professional development, read a chapter and discuss it together monthly as a way of helping us think about teaching and learning.
Why? It’s contemporary. It’s reflection on action. It’s a local (Australasian) resource. It’s got a chapter by me! (Embodiment and Transformation in the Context of e-Learning). It’s another way for us as lecturers in focus on Year of the Student.