Monday, November 16, 2015

Flags as lament: Brooke Fraser for Paris, Beirut, Kenya and violence

Brooke Fraser’s song “Flags” (from the 2010 Flags) album) became a place of thoughtful healing over the weekend. Certainly the weekend brought news that was “plenty of trouble, from which we’re all reeling.” The suggestion, to “listen,” to news of lives flapping empty (“our lives blow about, Like flags on the land)”.

There is something disturbing, challenging even, in the line “My enemy and I are one and the same.” The reminder that Jihadists are humans, who have mothers and brothers, and they will awake today to grieve a dead son. What will they be feeling? And to wonder what drives a human, a person born vulnerable like me, to such extreme acts.

And then her turning to Scripture; with the verses that reference the Beautitudes. In these verses (pun intended) is a place to feel – “to mourn, to weep.” In these verses is faith, not in triumph but in reversal; for the innocents who have fallen and the monsters who have stood; “I know the last shall me first.”

Which gives me a place to act: To listen, to feel, to retain the will to faith. Thanks Brooke.

Come, tell me your trouble
I’m not your answer
But I’m a listening ear

Reality has left you reeling
All facts and no feeling
No faith and all fear

I don’t know why a good man will fall
While a wicked one stands
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land

Who’s at fault is not important
Good intentions lie dormant
And we’re all to blame

While apathy acts like an ally
My enemy and I are one and the same

I don’t know why the innocents fall
While the monsters still stand
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land

I don’t know why our words are so proud
Yet their promise so thin
And our lives blow about
Like flags in the wind

Oh oh oh oh

You who mourn will be comforted
You who hunger will hunger no more
All the last shall be first
Of this I am sure

You who weep now will laugh again
All you lonely, be lonely no more
Yes, the last will be first
Of this I’m sure

I don’t know why the innocents fall
While the monsters stand
I don’t know why the little ones thirst
But I know the last shall be first
I know the last shall be first
I know the last shall be first

For more of my writing on lament and popular culture, see U2 and lament for Pike River; which became a book chapter in Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, when I worked with a colleague, Liz Boase, to explore Paul Kelly’s concert response to the Black Saturday bushfires and U2′s response to the Pike River mining tragedy.

Posted by steve at 06:22 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

living bread stations

I was asked to lead worship twice this week. Monday was with our Certificate in Bible and Leadership ESL course, which has 7 cultures present. Wednesday was with our regular College chapel. I wanted to link them both, so I sought to mirror the worship.

bread I also wanted to engage with weeks lectionary texts, with the focus on living bread. I had this creative spark, to actually write on bread. Some cocktail rolls, slightly overcooked, worked well. This then allowed different activities at different stations, people writing different things on the rolls. They became living, shaped by our prayer and our memory. These were then collected up at the end from each station as part of closing the worship, so our living bread coming together. Even better, the bread from Monday’s worship was added into Wednesday’s worship. In so doing, both communities are reminded they are part of a bigger story, the many diverse ways that College is engaged in teaching and growing people.

living bread

The full order of service is as follows: (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:31 PM

Sunday, April 12, 2015

picnic rugs, being church and mission planning

I’ve been sitting for the last few days with Faith Ringgold’s art. Titled Church Picnic Story Quilt, 1988, it is tie-dyed and printed fabrics; acrylic on cotton canvas. It tells the often bittersweet history of daily life in Black America from a personal and feminist perspective, combining traditions of storytelling and quilt-making in her painted “story quilts.” Because of copyright, I’ll simply provide a link.

It is a visual resource suggested by Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, the fabulous visual lectionary resource. It is suggested to accompany the lectionary reading – Acts 4:32-37.

It strikes me as a helpful way to think about being church on mission. The quilt is about a church picnic, of Freedom Baptist Church. It’s outdoors and that’s always a more public space for a church. The picnic involves various families on rugs. They’ve got their food spread out on the rugs and I like to think that’s a gesture of sharing. Each rug, and each of the dishes on the rugs, is distinctive and I like to think that each family is bringing something unique, a food that they especially enjoy and especially enjoy preparing. There are children running around and I like to think they are acting as ice-breakers, providing a way to ease into relationships and create connections across rugs.

It got me thinking about appreciative enquiry, (Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change) and how it emerges so easily from this art image.

- What is your dish? In other words, what are the unique gifts of your community you would like to share? What efforts would you make to ensure you give time to offering that unique dishes?

- What are the public spaces in which you need to spread your rug? In other words, where, outside your building, and in what community, are you spreading your rug? What do you value about that space?

- Who, in your community, are the children, the people that create connections? What efforts could you put into nourishing those strengths?

I would suggest that with about 30 minutes in groups working on these questions, a church would have found some rich material for their mission planning. They would have established their strengths, the strengths of their context and how they might go about connecting their strengths with the strengths of their community.

Such is the gift of an art piece of a picnic rig and some well chosen questions.

Posted by steve at 10:43 PM

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The use of Godly play and colour in entering Easter week

At chapel this week, I wanted to offer participants a way to enter Easter week. Our staff and students come from a wide range of churches, and it’s important those places provide the story of Easter Friday and Sunday.

So how to point folk toward Easter, without preemptively telling the story?

So I dragged two resources out of my creativity box.

First, my Holy week in colour resource. I made this last year, for an Easter youth camp. It involves a colour for each day of the week. It provides a useful memory aid to get folk into the story.


  • Green on Palm Sunday, to remember those who waved palms and celebrated Jesus entering a city.
  • Red on Monday, because on Monday (in Mark’s gospel), Jesus got angry, red-faced, in the temple.
  • Brown on Tuesday, to recall Jesus words that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it can not produce many seeds.
  • Lavender on Wednesday, to remember perfume, and the extravagant, expensive love of an unnamed woman, who poured what was possibly her family hierloom onto Jesus head.
  • Blue on Thursday, to express the feelings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, a soul deeply distressed, troubled, overwhelmed.
  • Black on Friday, for on this day God died.
  • Grey on Saturday, for on this day all of creation mourned.
  • Gold leaf, etched with rainbow colours on the Sunday, for on this day life to the full in the here and now was re-defined.
  • As a result, on Monday, I have cut two pathways of response into my board, for on Monday, the events of this week leave us with some choices. How then will we live, in light of the events of this week.

Second, a sort of Godly play experience that I wrote for an all-age service a few years ago.  It involves a symbol for each day of the week. The symbols are placed around the building and people invited to find and bring them.

Third, I wove communion into the worship. By the time people had brought bread and wine, by the time I had told the story of Easter Thursday eve, it just seemed so natural to celebrate together.

For those interested, here is my full script. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:24 PM

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

a forgotten fragrance: a strugglers reading of Mary and Martha story

Confession time. My supervisor is always inviting me to reflect on my work life balance. He notes that I’m a loyal person with a strong work ethic. I like doing things well. But while this makes me a great person to employ, it can perhaps at times, come at the expense of family and personal time.

Given my supervisors (wise) words, I find myself this week struggling as I read the story of Mary and Martha in John 12. Here’s why.

The story begins well enough. There is a party being thrown in Jesus honour.

At this party, we read that Martha serves (12:2).

In the next verse, we read that Mary anoints (12:3). She takes a pound of perfume and annoints Jesus feet. “The whole house is filled with perfume.” (12:3)

It is at this moment that I begin to struggle. Why does the Bible name one fragrance, but not another? The fragrance of the perfume is named. But what about the scent of the banquet? What about the service of Martha, her slaving over a hot stove?

Both Martha and Mary provide sacrificial acts. Why does one make Gospel news, gain attention, while another seems to slip by, unnoticed?

One response is that the act of anointing is symbolic. This suggestion has three layers. First, the breaking of the bottle of perfume is a first scent in the events of Easter Friday, in which the body of Jesus is broken for the world. Second, the anointing is a first scent in the events of Easter Sunday, in which women will seek to anoint the risen body of Jesus. Third, the annointing is a first scent in the unfolding mission of God, in which the Gospel is proclaimed.

But isn’t Martha’s act of service equally symbolic? Doesn’t it also have these same three layers. First, the events of Easter Thursday in which Jesus will serve the community. Second the events post-Resurrection when Jesus will serve a breakfast banquet for some hungry disciples. Third, the essential nature of service in the unfolding mission of God?

This is why I struggle with the Mary and Martha story. While two women are serving, one act of service seems privileged. Both acts are full of symbolism, both carry the scent of Jesus death, resurrection and the unfolding mission of the church.

Perhaps I struggle because of where I read the text from. Hence my initial confession. Perhaps at times I need to be a bit more “wasteful”, to simply stop serving in order to make a grand gesture of worship.

Perhaps I also struggle because I’m conflating too quickly this story in John with the story in Luke. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha serves, while Mary listens at the feet of Jesus. Martha needs help with her serving and so, pointing at Mary, asks Jesus for help. Jesus responds that it is better to sit than to serve. And at that moment, I wonder who Jesus really expects will do the work. Is this an equal opportunities kitchen, where after extended sitting, all three will do the housework?

Today I will continue to ponder the story of Mary and Martha in John 12. I will look for moments when I can pause and offer an extravagant act of love. But I will also look for the “Martha’s”, those who serve quietly in unnoticed ways. I want to pause and thank them for their participation in Christ’s death, resurrection and mission.

Posted by steve at 10:07 AM

Thursday, March 12, 2015

minding the gap in team formation

Minding the gap can build teams and form cultures. Let me tell you what happened, then unpack the learnings.

It began yesterday during chapel. The reader of the Gospel reading missed some words. Instead of

For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

the reader initially offered us

For God so loved the world

that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Realising the gap, the reader quickly, and appropriately, corrected themselves.

The missing words got me thinking. Those 8 words. What would it mean if they were not just missing, but actually absent. What type of faith would we have if those words were not in the Bible? What type of life might be lived, if there really was no “that he gave his one and only Son”?

To put it another way. Christ-centred is one of the core values of Uniting College. So, if we as a College had no Christ, would it make any tangible difference to life, to our teaching and the way we treat each other?

I decided to make this the focus of our team devotions today. It would offer a continuity with what was a great chapel. It would allow us to explore a core value. In addition, we also have four folk new to our team in the last 3 months. So this conversation might enable them to be drawn more deeply into our team culture.

So I began the devotion, by pointing out the gap. I’d produced the words, the complete verse and the verse with the words missing, on a sheet of paper for folk to hold and handle. In pairs I invited them to reflect on what happened if those words went missing and on whether faith would be different. Each pair fed back, ensuring a shared voice across the team. And then together as a whole group, I asked if the presence of Jesus does in any way affect our workplace.

The conversation was excellent, animated and intense. A newcomer observed that the missing 8 words spoke of love. And her experience of our workplace was of nurture. Which could only come from love. So yes, Jesus obviously was important. Another noted that these words were an invitation, not an imposition. So our commitment to Christ could be done in way in which faith need not be forced. Others noted they had no interest in teaching leadership without Christ and that without Jesus, homiletics was simply motivational speaking. Which they were not in the least interested in teaching. So yes, Jesus was important.

So what did I learn about team formation?

  • First, that the most effective teaching tool can be a question. In this case “do those missing words matter?”
  • Second, that observation can open up significant learning.  In this case one simple observation – of 8 missing words; followed by the question -  resulted in an excellent collaborative discussion.
  • Third, that those new to a team, as they find their voice, can add important richness and perspective to a team discussion.
  • Fourth, that team culture is never static. It requires constant work. Tonight, the Uniting College team culture is richer than it was this morning. Because I minded the gap.
Posted by steve at 09:09 PM

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

lectio decorio (reading the skin)

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

Lectio divina (divine reading) is a practice by which Scripture is read slowly, seeking for God’s voice. Today I invited the community at worship at Uniting College to enter into lectio decorio (reading the skin). (Decorio is latin for skin).

The spark was the lectionary text – John 2:13-22, when Jesus cleanses the temple. Searching google, I found the work of Amanda Galloway. As a way to connect with women in India, a system of Biblical story telling has been developed. It uses the traditional henna process to symbolize biblical stories (I’ve blogged about henna and Biblical storytelling before). Henna, a temporary artwork drawn on hands and other parts of the body, is a popular beauty technique in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As the story is told, the images are drawn onto the hand and arm.


I didn’t have the time (chapel is 20 minutes, including communion), nor the materials (henna), to literally use henna. But I loved the way the Amanda Galloway’s design told the story, and told it onto skin. It seeemed to also connect with the Biblical text, which was all about whips and overturned tables and thus a story about skin in the game of justice.

So, after reading the lectionary text, I introduced the design. I noted how it is used. I then invited folk to trace the design onto their skin. Not with henna, but by using their finger, while I read the text (slowly enough to give time for the tracing).

And so skin touched skin, as the Bible story was heard and traced (decorio).

I then repeated the process, inviting folk to trace to design on their other hand. Given that folk most likely initially chose their dominant hand, it felt deeply gospel to trace the design again, this time using a weaker finger. This also created links between the two contexts – us in the first week of the semester, with all the new learning that a semester involves, women in India, unable to read, but still opening themselves to learning.

I then moved into the six minute communion. And suddenly the passing of the peace had new meaning. It was another moment of lectio decorio, reading the skin, as the gospel story traced on my hand touched the gospel story traced on the hand on another.

I’m still to unpack with those gathered what the experience meant for them.

But for me, the invitation three times to hear a Gospel story, the deeper sense of connection as that gospel was traced on my skin, the sharing of a practice from another cultural context as an expression of solidarity in learning – felt very embodied.

So there we are, lectio decorio (reading the skin).

Posted by steve at 09:42 PM

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Worth coming for the creative resources alone

“It’s worth coming for the creative resources alone,” said a happy punter as they tucked the order of worship into their bag. Yesterday we kicked off at Uniting College another year of Leadership Formation Days.

These aim to build community among individuals on the journey to ordination. So yesterday in small groups and with the aid of colour chips of paint, relationships were built.

They invite reflection on the practice of ministry. So yesterday input on Pauline spirituality and adaptive leadership in resource poor congregations. A rich, deep study of how Paul’s spirituality of ministry connected with the work of Heifetz (Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading), and provided richness for ministers in aging congregations.

They provide prayer and worship – in ways that are “worth coming for the creative resources alone.” So yesterday praise, for the generations before who had formed us, and intercession, for the generations we are involved in forming.


Names written on yellow and orange post-it notes, placed around the edge of the communion table. On which some godly play around the lectionary text was done, the giving of the 10 commandments. On which the communion elements, bread and wine were shared.


They share stories, in order to build our ability to work with the living documents that are the lives of people. So yesterday, two stories of the journey to ministry and the journey in ministry. A few tears, as redemption was enfleshed.

Posted by steve at 07:42 AM

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Lost Thing Liturgy

I preached at chapel yesterday. I used Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, an Academy Award winning animated film, as part of the sermon. I found the original soundtrack on Itunes and the song titles sparked a way to create resonance between Word and Sacrament.

Here is the Lost thing communion liturgy

(Music: The search – 1:00)

The Lord is here.
God’s Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to offer thanks and praise.

It is right indeed, ever-living God,
to give you thanks and praise through Christ your only Son.
Without you our hearts are restless
We are lost
Until we find our home in you

Therefore with all the found at home in you,
With animals and atoms, angels and archangels,
we proclaim your great and glorious name,
for ever praising you and saying:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

(Music: Feeding – 1:16)

On the night before he died , your Son, Jesus Christ, took bread;
when he had given you thanks, he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said:
Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this to remember me.

After supper he took the cup; when he had given you thanks,
he gave it to them and said:
Drink this, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins;
do this as often as you drink it, to remember my mission to lost things

Therefore loving God, recalling your great goodness to us in Christ,
you who came to seek and save the lost
you who told stories of lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons,
you who gathered lost disciples,
by lakes and wayside tax collectors

We celebrate our foundness in this bread of life
and this cup of salvation.

With thanksgiving and hope we say:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come in glory.

Send your Holy Spirit, that these gifts of bread and wine
may be to us the body and blood of Christ,
and that we, filled with the Spirit’s grace and power,
may be renewed for the mission of your kingdom.

The gifts of God, for the lost of God, Amen.

(Music: Utopia – 3:11)

The music that shaped this liturgy was titled Search, Feeding, Utopia. And so we thank you God that you have searched for us, that you have fed us and for your offer as utopia in the communion we share in this time, this place, this community. And we say together The Lords Prayer …

Posted by steve at 07:20 AM

Friday, September 26, 2014

mission orandi, mission credendi

Today was the third day of the National Ministers Conference in Jerusalem. A programme re-shuffle meant that I had the luck of doing the last session of the day, starting at 4 pm. After a 7:30 am departure from the hotel for the second day in a row, it was going to be a tough, tough session. So during the afternoon tea break, I re-jigged the session. It needed some group activity, and importantly, an activity that might be meaningful.

The session theme was titled – Walking in their space, gifts of strangers. To explore the theme, we began with Eric, a story of the gifts given by a stranger. We then looked at the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8, in which mission agents, in the meeting of strangers, receive gifts.

I noted that this theme, of “strangers/outsiders” being agents of blessing, appears in other places in the Biblical text. For example
• Rahab – Matthew 1:5
• Ruth – Matthew 1:5
• Magi – Matthew 2:11
• Roman centurion – Matthew 8:10 – “no one in Israel have I found such faith”
• Luke 4:26-27- Widow of Zarephath and Namaan the Syrian
• Samaritan woman – John 4:27-30
• Eunuch – Acts 8:26-38
• Roman centurion – Acts 10:1-2

I shared how in preaching on the Syrophonecian woman recently, I was struck by Jesus commendation of her, as having “great faith.” So I entered the story by trying to discern, liturgically, what of her faith was evident in the Biblical text, in words and deeds and by writing an affirmation of faith. I found it a very moving experience, to realise the richness of her Christology at that moment.

So I offered the group an interactive exercise. In groups, take a Bible text. Ask each other what gifts do the outsiders/strangers bring? Have a go at trying to express this gift using liturgical forms eg affirmation of faith, lament, prayers for others?

Why? Practically, it would keep people engaged. It would allow us to be faithful to our call, to prayer the input of the day back to God. At a more subtle level, it would be an example of “mission in reverse.” It would let the voices of those “outside” the community of faith form and shape our worship. In so doing, it might actually inter-weave mission and worship; worship and mission. In other words, a sort of reframing of the historic church affirmation, the rule of prayer is the rule of belief; lex orandi, lex credendi. If we pray our mission, we might end up believing (and acting) our mission.

The result was astonishing. Energy levels went right up. Within 30 minutes, the groups had written 8 short liturgies. Intriguingly, with no orchestration, they spanned an order of service (without the preaching).
• Call to worship
• Prayer of praise
• Collect of illumination
• Confession
• Litany
• Prayers for others
• Word of mission
• Collect of blessing

And so to end the session we worshipped. Each group offered their liturgy. As worship. Which enfolded our day and helped us move through. An example of mission orandi, mission credendi? Time will tell.

Posted by steve at 01:47 AM

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

alt.worship in Istanbul

This is the most gorgeous space for alt.worship.

cisterns Istanbul

The Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul. Built by a Roman Emperor (Justinian), to store water in 532 AD, they have been opened to tourists in recent years.

It was dark, being underground, which immediately invited a different experience. It was lit, each pillar, creating a rich mood. There was water, being an underground cistern, which gave the light another surface to reflect with. There was music, a soft, ethereal, looped recording, which opened up a even richer space. There was history, something retrieved from the past and offered into contemporary culture. It was a reminder of the beauty and potential of space.

Not all alt.worship can find such spaces.

But that awareness of environments, the interplay of senses and the retrieval of history – those are all key elements in alt.worship. The best exploration of this is Doug Gay, Remixing The Church: Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology. His work on unbundling and retrieval provide an excellent analysis of the rich and complex interactions possible when faith is thrown forward because it is located in the past.

Posted by steve at 04:40 AM

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

QR codes in worship

This image of a temporary tattoo QR code printed on a person (from here) got me thinking about embodiment and worship.

QR codes

I love that sense of mystery, of not knowing, yet of being aware of information on offer. It got me thinking about worship. For example, here is the lectionary reading for Sunday. (Built from here)

QR Code

Imagine that on the front of the newsletter as people came in.

Or imagine printing various stations on people. Here is a call to worship, again linked to the lectionary text.

Welcome to worship

And to have people scattered around your auditorium, as “worship leaders.” Finding these people and using your cell phone to find out the next step in your worship journey.

Posted by steve at 07:55 PM

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Affirmations from the outside

On Sunday I preached Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus encounter with the Syro-Phonecian woman. I was struck by her understanding of Jesus, her articulation of faith.

Sometimes in worship we draw on affirmations of faith, spoken statements about what we understand of Christ. These often come from those inside the church. Yet here in Matthew 15, Jesus declares the Syro-Phonecian woman has “great faith.” (15:28)

So what is the Affirmation of faith not from the “inside” but from the “outside”, from one outside the church?

I believe in God the compassionate (have mercy, my daughter is suffering – v. 22)
in whom is mercy

I believe in Jesus the healer and helper (help me – v. 25)
from a royal line (Lord, Son of David – v. 22)
the radical boundary crosser (stepping across boundaries from your culture to my culture)

I believe in a Spirit, generous
in calling me from past to present (moving beyond the pain of the past, your ancestor’s history with Canaanite).

Now isn’t that a faith worth affirming, an outsider Creed worth bringing into our midst?

Posted by steve at 07:13 PM

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lost Dogs Breathe Deep

Classic song. Great rift, great lyrics, such a lovely interplay of all people invited into God’s presence.

Michael Treston introduced me to Lost Dogs. It was 1996 and we were planting Graceway.

Michael and Maureen arrived from Thames, to train at Carey Baptist College for pastoral ministry. A welder from Redcar in England and a Maori woman from Thames, they added some much needed reality to our community.

Posted by steve at 11:04 PM