Friday, August 28, 2015
missional theology of sacraments and the church
Thesis 1 – The sacraments are about the Spirit, not the church. This initial move establishes God as the rightful author and agent of sacramental theology.
Thesis 2 – The Spirit can fall on who and whatever it wants. This is consistent with the Biblical data, in which God keeps surprising. We see this in the ministry of Jesus, most particularly the encounter with the Syro-phonecian woman. Interestingly, this has links with sacramental theology, in the reference to crumbs from the table. We see this also in Peter’s encounter in Acts. Again, I note that this also has links with sacramental theology, in the invitation to eat.
Thesis 3 – The role of the church is thus not to define sacramentality, but to discern sacramentality. The church remains essential to a sacramental theology, not as a definer and defender of boundaries, but as an ongoing discerner. David Ford, in Self and Salvation: Being Transformed notes that the Eucharist is “true to itself only by becoming freshly embodied in different contexts.” This is a way of understanding “rightly ordered”, as an invitation to authentic embodiment.
Thesis 4 – This requires a rich and complex set of tools. We see this move (struggle even) toward discernment, in both the narratives mentioned above, as Jesus affirms the great faith of the Syro-phonecian woman and Peter discerns freshly the work of God. Both of this moves require a process of reflection – in community, by grace, with coherence to the interweaving of experience and tradition. The role of missional theological education necessitates developing skills in these processes. It is this that will enable sacramental practice to emerge from those gathered in community gardens, around skate parks and amid the tables of messy church. The result will be that indeed, in bread, wine and water, Christ will feed the church.
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
innovation in teaching ANZATS paper
I presented my paper on innovation in teaching today at ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Over the last 4 weeks I have written about 7,000 words of what is now a complete first draft of a journal article. So the task for today was to try and communicate the argument and main structure in the 25 minute time limit – of around 2,500 words.
I began by rifting of a prayer offered as the conference began:
Let us pray that students in theological education may be equipped for ministry and for life. We pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy
Let us pray that all teachers may be creative in facilitating student learning. We pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy
My research engages with these prayers. How do students perceive our “theological education”? What is the impact on students of our “creative facilitating student learning”?
There were a good number present and the questions were helpful.
- What incentives did I build in to ensure students undertook pre-reading?
- What were the workload implications, not just this year but in years to come?
- Tell us about the class size and age profile? Does a larger class change the possibilities?
- Was anything lost as a result of the processes?
These were expected questions. They focus more on the how. How do you teach in the flipped classroom? My paper focused mainly on the why and what? Why would you and what are the results? But the how questions are important, pertinent and natural for the audience – educators. The task now is to take the complete draft and seek a journal article. My sense is that the argument is sound, but that I need a bit more depth around the referencing and some sentence smashing – working paragraphs and words to ensure clarity.
But first, I need to complete a complete 6,000 word draft by 1 September for the Ecclesiology and ethnography conference, on activist research.
Monday, June 15, 2015
facilitators, braiders, accomplished fellows: students as teachers
Here is another section of my ANZATS Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context paper.
To summarise, results from student surveys suggest that the learning shifts implemented in the Theology of Jesus class resulted in a significant shift in student experience, from an anticipation of content, to considered reflection on the process of how learning happens.
Haythornthwaite and Andrews note the diverse ways students participate in class to enhance learning (E-learning Theory and Practice, 2011, 171). They draw on work by Preston 2008 and his description of a number of roles occupied by students in an on-line community (Preston, C .J. (2008) Braided Learning: An emerging process observed in e-communities of practice. International Journal of Web Based Communities, 4 (2): 220-43). Three roles are described. E-facilitators help shape the argument, provide interim summaries and influence the trajectory of the discussion. Braiders reinterpret the online debate in different styles. Accomplished fellows take initiatives that invite participants to explore a subject in more depth.
This provides a way to theorise the description of learning provided by one student in an assignment.
I will be also exploring Christology in light of my [cultural] identity, which was inspired by the presentations of Aboriginal minister Auntie Denise Champion and Fijian minister Eseta Meneilly from week ten and twelve respectively …. This stemmed from the group activity, where the group I was in was asked to discuss liberationist action. In this exercise, I was asked by one of my classmates to connect liberation theology to my culture.” (Student Reading reflection.)
Using the theoretical categories above, my student was being invited to become an accomplished fellow, to explore Christology in light of their culture. The exploration begins because of the introduction into the class of two other accomplished fellows (Aboriginal minister Auntie Denise Champion and Fijian minister Eseta Meneilly). The impetus is the result of group activity, in which a classmate acts as both a facilitator, influencing the discussion and a braider, re-interpreting lecture material during a group discussion and inviting a different style, in this case of application. Thus students are becoming teachers, occupying a diverse set of roles, significantly shaping each others’ learning.
In making this argument, I am applying on-line categories to what is a face to face group conversation. It raises an interesting question. Have these types of interactions always occurred in class, but remain unrecognised in face to face interactions because lecturers are not present in group discussion? Are these roles only becoming visible now because they can be captured, whether by analysing online forums as Preston does, or in my research here? Or is this visibility further evidence of the development of students as not only learners, but teachers in community?
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Trinity worship, breath prayers and researching Lonergan
I led chapel today and had the sense that it worked brilliantly, offering a space that for many, provided a deep sense of connection with God. It connected with a range of senses, including seeing (contemplating the icon), touching (choosing a symbol of vocation), hearing (each others breathing), tasting (the communion elements). Let me explain.
After referencing Pentecost Sunday and inviting a call to worship, I introduced the icon, “Holy Theologian Bernard Lonergan in the Mystery of the Eternal Processions of the Most Blessed Trinity,” painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols.
I gave folk a few minutes in silence to consider it.
I then offered some explanation. I introduced a quote from Fred Crowe’s biography of Lonergan.
. . . in the welter of words that with other theologians it was his vocation to utter, Lonergan never lost [the insight] that theology can be done, must be done, that when it is done, we are confronted with mystery and bow our heads in adoration. Fred Crowe
I noted that I have been reading Bernard Lonergan as part of my missiology research in recent weeks. I described how research involves lots of reading and how as part of my research, I had discovered the icon. Which I have pinned to my desk. And how it then provided another dimension to my research, inviting prayer along with my reading.
I noted a few features of the icon. It references a painting by Lawren Harris, with Canadian landscape in the background. The light around the pine trees expresses a sense of God’s encounter with Lonergan’s vocation.
On the floor of the chapel I had placed books, pens, pads, name tag holders, white board markers, Bibles. I noted how in the icon, Lonergan was bent down in front of a book, a symbol of his vocation. I invited folk to pick up something from the floor that expressed their current vocation – as student, as lecturer, as administrator. Once collected, I invited folk to return to their seat and lay it down at their feet, much like Lonergan had. I then invited us, as Lonergan was, to look up, expectantly, attentively.
Suddenly each of us were engaging with the icon not just as something visual that we were looking at, but as something we were physically participating with. Our bodies were becoming more deeply connected.
I noted how in the icon, the Spirit spoke as Lonergan looked up. So what one word might the Spirit be wanting to speak to us, as we looked up from our vocations? Which meant that we all as a group had now moved into a time of lectio divina. We had move from sermon to prayer, from explanation to worship.
I maintained this space by introducing a series of breath prayers. We breathed in strength, freedom, hope and love; and breathed out exhaustion, self-doubt, distrust and hate. That sense of looking up, expectantly, attentively, was maintained through the in and out of our breathing. There was by now a palpable sense of God in the air as together, looking up from our individual and diverse vocations, we continued to connect with God.
A seque into communion then occurred, by inviting folk to place their symbol on the communion table. Our vocations were recentered by bread and wine. We continued to breath together as we encountered grace in the sacraments.
There were many people expressing thanks at the end, for the richness and depth, for the dignity given to the practice of theology, for the space to breathe in God. In just over 20 minutes, we had worshipped, prayed, participated in the sacraments, in a way that connected our ordinary and everyday vocations with Divine presence.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Divine tracker: a reflection on Psalm 23
On Sunday I attended church at Port Augusta Congress. It was the conclusion of Walking on Country and it was good to end in worship with indigenous sisters and borthers. At the start of the service, the congregation was informed that I would be preaching. This was news to me, but I had been part of a discussion of the Lectionary text on the 4 hour drive from the Gammon Ranges (Adnyamathanha country) to Port Augusta, so I had been doing some processing.
What I wanted to do was
- expose the cultural lens we bring to Scripture (New Zealand sheep stories)
- name what we had heard as part of Walking on Country (the pastoralists)
- make sure that indigenous cultures had the “last word” (the story of Great Uncle Alf and the link to God the tracker)
Here is (my recollection) of what I said.
Today our Bible reading is Psalm 23:1 – “The Lord is my shepherd”.
At the start of the week, I heard these words from Scripture as a New Zealander. I come from a country with 40 million sheep and 4 million people. The shepherd stands behind the sheep. The shepherd has dogs, that bark and chase the sheep. So “The Lord is my shepherd” has a certain meaning. A God who chases me, with dogs.
On Friday and Saturday, I heard these words differently. As I visited the Northern Flinders, I heard of the arrival from overseas of pastoralists. They were shepherds. They fenced off the land. They stopped indigenous people from walking across their land. They hoarded the water holes. At times they poisoned them, to ensure water went to their sheep, not the indigenous inhabitants of the land that had been taken. On Friday and Saturday, I became ashamed to consider how these acts of shepherding might be linked to the Lord as shepherd.
On Sunday, as I was driving with Aunty Denise down to be with you here this morning, she told a story. It was about her Great Uncle Alf. He left his country here in the Flinders Ranges and settled down at Penola. He was a very skilled tracker. So skilled, he was employed by the Police to find lost people. When children got lost, it was Great Uncle Alf who time and again found them. Great Uncle Alf was so skilled, so valued, that after he died, the Police honoured him with a ceremony.
Great Uncle Alf, the tracker of lost children, gives me another way to understand “The Lord is my shepherd.” At times I am lost. I am cut off from God and far from my community. So I need God to track me. To do what seems difficult, near impossible, and find me.
So as we now move to communion, I invite us to consider together what it means to be found by God. “The Lord is my shepherd”; God is my tracker.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
On Friday I sat listening to a PhD thesis being read. I was outdoors. The sky was cloudless and I was 8 hours drive away from the Uniting College classrooms at 34 Lipsett Terrace.
I was part of Walking on Country, an experience we offer at Uniting College, in order to ensure our candidates have an immersion experience in indigenous cultures.
But this year we worked to ensure the experience could also double as Towards Reconciliation, a unit in the Bachelors programmes we offer (as part of either the Flinders Bachelor of Theology or Adelaide College of Divinity Bachelor of Ministry). Hence a PhD thesis being read in the outdoors, under blue sky, rather than in the classroom, seated around desks and screens.
The research we were hearing was work done by Tracey Spencer on the history of Christian mission in South Australia. It is brilliant work – exhaustive, incisive and original in offering a post-colonial perspective on mission today. I’ve used it in my own work on indigenous communion practices (in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions)). And it was being engaged at the exact spot were the mission was enacted. .
It struck me as an example of place-based education. The term developed in the 1990′s and is used to describe learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place.
Place-based is not context-based. Context based seeks to learn within a student’s existing work context. The focus is delivery in situ, which is meant to enhance application and integration. Place-based affirms the local, not the local of the learner, but the local around particular place.
Place-based theology meant that over the four days we visited place after place. We heard the stories. We walked the land in which the actions had happened. We discussed. We imagined we were one of the people we were hearing about, and then considered the implications for Gospel and culture, for tradition and innovation. Surrounded by reading and assessment, by being place-based, a very different education experience emerged.
As I drove home, I wonder what else in Christian theology could be place based?
Thursday, April 09, 2015
The Trinity as two processions in mission: a post-colonial proposal for evaluating ecclesial life
A precis of some reading, thinking, writing and chatting (with anyone I think might even be vaguely interested in listening).
How to evaluate the mission life of a church? Popular measures include numerical, economic (can we afford a minister and building) and romantic (the good old days). This paper will explore the measures that emerge when the Trinity is understood as one God, three Persons and two processions in mission. It will seek to develop the work of Bernard Lonergan, in conversation with Neil Ormerod. It will analyse their understandings, including paying particular attention to the understandings of Spirit and mission embedded in the Uniting Church Preamble. This provides a post-colonial voice in the development of a proposal for a post-colonial missional ecclesiology. Four markers will be identified and tested on a case study: the author’s empirical research into fresh expressions of the church ten years on.
Which I get to present, Monday, 4 May, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology Research hour, 4-5 pm.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Tweeting Charles Taylor missionally: discussion questions
This semester, I’m Reading Charles Taylor missionally. Taylor’s work has been called “the most the academic event of the decade.” (here). He’s one of the most insightful cultural thinkers of our time and so I’ve offered a learning party – a invitation to read Taylor in community and to consider what it thus means to speak of church, mission and faith in a secular age?
On Wednesday, we focus on Taylor’s, The Ethics of Authenticity.
I chose to start here first because it’s short. At 120 pages, it is a much more achievable place to start than the 900 pages of Taylor’s, A Secular Age. Second, he was challenged to express himself as clearly as he could, so that makes The Ethics of Authenticity a good place to start.
Today I emailed the class with some preparation: my (current) list of questions I’ll be using to start discussion.
- Can you think of a story from your experience that illustrates one of the three malaises of society described by Taylor in chapter 1.
- Can you each please bring one quote (printed on a separate sheet of paper) that you really liked.
- “Each of us has an original way of being human.” (page 28; page 61). Discuss.
- What is one question from the book you would most like to ask the group to explain to you.
- I have a friend who last year had a go at tweeting (160 characters max), a summary of every book of the Bible. It was a great exercise in summarising. So together, we will work on Wednesday on a twitter summary (160 characters) of each chapter. So bring a draft prepared. I hope we’ll actually enjoy this enough that we’ll decide we’ll actually tweet them.
I do hope that this last question will not only be fun, but will also develop student skills in summary. And it might well yield some terrific tweets on my twitter feed come Wednesday!
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Reading Charles Taylor missionally: learning party
What does it mean to speak of church, mission and faith in a secular age?
I am offering a reading group to engage theologically and missionally with Charles Taylor, one of the most insightful cultural thinkers of our time. We will focus on four key books
- James McEvoy, Leaving Christendom for Good: Church-World Dialogue in a Secular Age, 2014.
- James Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, 2014.
- Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 1992.
- Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2007.
The aim will be to absorb, to reflect and to consider the implications for mission and ministry.
Wednesdays, 5.15 – 6.45pm, fortnightly from Wednesday 4 March at Uniting College. Seven sessions, finishing June 10. For information, please comment or email steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu do au.
Saturday, February 07, 2015
“The missional theologian and the practical theologian must work together to make sure congregations … are prepared to address and engage their post-Christendom setting. A missional theological conception of Christian practices offers a new paradigm for understanding the church’s ministry in the world since the old role of chaplain to society is no longer viable or defensible. Through missional Christian practices all members of the congregation take up their place of responsibility, as those strategically placed and adequately equipped to witness to the reign of God. Through participation in Christian practices that are formative and performative, congregations can practice their faith and practice witness.” (Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices)
I came across this quote in preparing this week for next week’s Mission and Community Service/Diaconal intensive. Rather than do the teaching myself, I have pulled together five case studies from five very diverse contexts in which Christians exercise community service. They are
- the complexity of interface between church and agency (Peter McDonald case study 1)
- agency as a place of service (Peter McDonald case study 2)
- powerful question as a practice of community ministry (Joanna Hubbard case study)
- ministry as chaplain in Mainstreet communities (Bruce Grindlay case study)
- the processes as community ministry engages with agency (Ian Bedford case study)
It promises to be a real feast, a lovely mix of practitioners and reflection. Two of the participants bring Doctoral study of their areas to the conversation, all four bring years of practical ministry immersion.
My role will be to work with participants to do ongoing reflection, exploring the questions raised for them by the case studies. To better resource that reflection, I’ve been doing some literature searching, exploring writing in this space. (I’ve found some real gems, including Connor’s Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices, but also Rosemary Keller’s, Spirituality and Social Responsibility: Vocational Vision of Women in the United Methodist Tradition) and Gary Gunderson, Boundary Leaders).
I highlight the quote by Benjamin Connor for a number of reasons.
First, because it makes sense of our Faculty at Uniting College, and the emphasis we have put in recruitment on expertise in missiology and practical theology with a congregational and “practice” focus. So it is comforting to have that affirmed.
Second, it chimes with a 50 minute research presentation I did last week, in which I explored theology “face to face” in order to analyse ecclesial innovation. I ended up using the notion of performance, which attracted lengthy discussion from those present. Had I considered the downsides of performance? I suspect that had I used missional Christian practices that are “formative and performative” it would have been helpful for us all.
Third, it provides a theoretical framework for the work we did at Opawa Baptist when I was Minister there, in which we clarified seven missional practices, initially for Lent, but in an ongoing way for those exploring membership. In other words, joining Opawa was about the practice of mission. We worked to frame these practices missionally, which chimes with what Connor is arguing – that Christian practices can’t involve the simple use of what we practised before. Rather, in a new context, a missional context, they will need reworking in light of the missio Dei.
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.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
the power of the Preamble
In recent years, the Uniting Church in Australia has added a ‘Preamble’ to its Constitution. Emerging from discussion with indigenous folk (UAICC -Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress) it provides an account of the role of the church in Australian (settlement/invasion) and makes some declarations of the Indigenous experience of God.
For instance, here is paragraph 3:
“The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.”
Yesterday our Christology class had the second in our indigenous women’s Christology series. We had the privilege of hearing Eseta Meneilly, a Uniting Church minister from Victoria, share how she connects Christ and her culture (Fijian).
She began her lecture by noting the power of the Preamble. How when she read the Preamble, she began to wonder. If the First Peoples of this Australian land had already encountered God, then did the same apply to her Fijian people’s experience? As she pondered this question, she remembered something from her school days. Long forgotten in her journey, a piece of her cultural history.
She shared this cultural history with the class and together we began to see a deeply Incarnational movement by the Christ, to be present in a (Fijian) cultural worldview. We decided that yes, indeed, here was a “particular” insight into God’s ways.
As part of the indigenous women’s Christology project we have videod the lecture by Eseta and a researcher will work with Eseta to see if we can provide a written account. The hope is that this will be added to other indigenous Christology accounts and a student resource might emerge, that can place indigenous theologies alongside the weight of currently published Western Christologies.
But as these efforts to make more visible these rich Christologies continue, I am struck today by the power of the Preamble. I am grateful for the courage of those who dreamed it, wrote it, advocated for it. I’m intrigued by the potential of a written document to bring change, including theological and missiological change. I’m challenged by people, like Eseta, who have taken the Preamble seriously. I’m eager to hear and see what might continue to be produced in the year’s ahead.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
indigenous women’s Christologies project
The indigenous women’s Christologies project began tonight. It began with an indigenous Adnyamathanha woman, Aunty Denise, speaking at our theology class, talking about how she does Christology. It was an extraordinary performance, with an hour of what was essentially an extremely sophisticated hermeneutic, laced through with stories of how the oral stories of culture help her address “Who is Jesus for her.” So the Jesus theology class got an outstanding example of contextual theology. The evening was open to the public and it was great to have a few visitors join us, and catch a glimpse of the edges that contemporary theology at Uniting College is currently exploring.
A second evening will occur on October 22, when Eseta Meneilly will join us, offering an indigenous Fijian Christology.
Around this speaking, two further processes are at work. The talk was being recorded, for future reference. In addition a researcher was in the room, listening and recording. The aim is the production of a written and video resource study guide, which in conversation with the presenters can be used more widely – by other classes and by other theologians.
I introduced the lecture today with the following:
“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different cosmologies is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between cosmology and Christology.”
Now change three words (worldviews and cultures).
“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different [worldviews and cultures] is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between [worldviews and cultures] and Christology.”
In hearing the theology of another, their conversation between their local worldview and a Christology, it helps us begin to form and refine our “model.”
So the class are now processing three questions
- How does Aunty Denise do theology?
- Who is Jesus for Aunty Denise?
- What can I and my community learn for how we do theology?
Thursday, September 25, 2014
green theologies: ancient, creative
Water gives life. The shores of Lake Galilee are richly green, filled with fruit, treelined and in places covered with grass. On the lake shore at Tagba is the Church of Multiplication. It honours the feeding of the multitudes, the rich abundance of that miracle. What is intriguing is that on the church floor, on either side of the altar, are a set of mosiacs.
They are beautiful, and feature birds, lilies, flowers. Most are local, bird and plant life from local Galilee. The mosaics are from the 5th century and are the earliest known examples of figured pavement in Christian art in the Holy Land.
It’s an extraordinary expression of green theology. It connects the church indoors with the creation outdoors. It celebrates the local. It is a wonderful link with the miracle story, but contextualised in an honouring of the abundant gifts of land and lake.
And it’s 1500 years old. Green theology likes to position itself as modern, hip and new. The mosaic artists and the ordinary Christians of Tagba would shake their head in disbelief. Their church, their everyday worship, was ancient, ordinarily and creatively green.