Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Womadelaide: reviewing a slice of heaven

On Sunday my youngest and I experienced Womad. In so doing, I encountered a part of Australia I’ve not yet seen – an Australia deeply respectful of indigenous voices, curious about migrant cultures, eager to experience the unfamiliar and celebrate diversity.

“I thought I’d died and gone to music heaven.” That was Tim Finn’s comment on Womad and at times it did feel like heaven – a world set apart, that for a period of time emitted ways of being human that were deeply spiritual, deeply appealing – generations together, loads of kids, enjoying engaging with adults; participative creativity, the sheer enjoyment of humans being at play.

In my Missional church leadership teaching, I suggest that one of the ways to listen to the world around us is through observation of festivals. Large scale events can tell us something about the wider narratives of our culture.

The narratives of Womad include an affirmations of being human, celebration of creativity and culture, respect for diversity and care for earth. To quote another Kiwi musician, “a slice of heaven.”


  • Yabu band, indigenous voices singing of the importance of heritage, history and relationships.
  • Lying on the Botanic Garden grass, gazing at tall trees, head to head with my youngest, listening to Archie Roach.  “The trees are smiling,” the youngest announced.
  • Les Gumes, installation storytelling. Random groups stepping into a world made alternative by the skillful change of space and the power of storytelling. Hard to explain, wonderful to experience.
  • Leigh Warren and dancers, an hour of contemporary dance, supported by live guitar, voice and didgeridoo.
  • Afrocelt Soundsystem. Over 15 years ago I stumbled upon their music in the leftover bin of a music shop. (Remember those – that historic artifact called music shops!) I loved the drum and bass loops, overlaid with Irish pipes and African beats. Seeing them live was simply superb.

So what did the youngest Taylor think at the end? Next year, she announced, we are all going. And for all four days!

Posted by steve at 10:06 AM

Thursday, November 18, 2010

a public theology: mission, leadership and reconciliation

It was no ordinary “theology” class. First, we were outside. Second, we had smoke from an open fire drifting across our seats. Third, the venue was Colebrook Blackwood Reconciliation Park.

In 1952, the Uniting Aboriginal Mission opened up a home for Aborginal children. It became part of the sad saga that is the stolen generation, in which state and mission colluded in removing Aboriginal children from their homes. The home closed in 1973, but the memories linger and lives remain damaged.

In 1994, a community group began to meet. Stories were told. Relationships formed. Education began. A memorial was created. The group continues today.

I teach a course on Missional Leadership, in which participants at the beginning of the course choose a “table.” It can be inside or outside the church. At this table they have to relate and listen. They have two major projects during the class. The first is to name what they are hearing as they listen. The second is to envision a mission action project, what might happen in response to their listening and in light of an appropriate Kingdom imagination. The hope is that through this process they develop as change agent leaders, for the sake of the world.

With the year ending, it seemed appropriate to meet not in a lecture room, but at a “table.” One of the class had chosen Colebrook Blackwood Reconciliation Park, because they are part of the community group.

And so no ordinary “theology” class began. Outside. Smoke drifting across. Cradling cups of tea. And a fantastic conversation – about what is mission, about the place of truth-telling, with stories of healing, about public theology as local action, about mission today as sitting with the mission mistakes of the past, of an appreciation of mission-as-reconciliation, which is central to the Uniting Church Basis of Union. About Luke 10:1-12 and how it continues to live in everyday practice.

It is amazing how far a group can travel in a year. It is so richly accessible when theology emerges in and around local practice and not simply from text books.

Posted by steve at 08:17 AM

Monday, July 26, 2010

a new semester postgraduate focus

A new semester starts here at Uniting College today. The focus for me this Semester is the post-graduate area and it’s so nice to be building on foundations, rather than heading into unknown and uncharted terrain.

First is the continuation of Program seminars. I’ve blogged about these before, noting with excitement how these build collegiality and are constantly developing people’s ability to reflect theologically on current ministry practice. We’ve got new students and a really rich denominational environment – Salvation Army, Anglican, Lutheran, Churches of Christ, Catholic, Uniting – at play.

Second is the continuation of Missional Church Leadership. Students are at the half-way stage of the course. That means that today we are gathering around presentations of their listening in their unique contexts. As they present, I am working with the class developing their capacities to engage in processes of discernment. This is not theory, but requires stepping into real, living mission contexts and together exploring what God might be up to.

Third, the icing on the cake, is the post-graduate distance course I’m co-teaching for Otago University. It’s a “foreigner”, on my own time as it were. The topic is contemporary preaching and I am looking forward to co-teaching with Lynne Baab. The students have set up their own blogs and with the wonders of modern technology, I in Adelaide, will be engaging with Kiwi students throughout Aotearoa. It’s nice to realise that I might have left New Zealand, but in the grace of God, I can continue to be involved in my home!

Posted by steve at 06:47 AM

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

saying thanks: turning practices into missional life

This is a most excellent example of helping a community give thanks. It is a church wall at Church of the Trinity Uniting, Goodwood. People are being given (paper) flowers and invited to give thanks.

Over weeks the wall is growing, an emerging symphony of colour. Over weeks what people write seems to be deepening. Over the weeks, people are commenting they are finding themselves becoming more and more intentional about looking for reasons to be thankful in their daily lives. Good stuff. (The pastor, very wisely IMHO, is photographing the wall each week, planning to make it into a movie, to play at years end.)

This became an excellent learning moment in our Missional Church Leadership class (3rd gathering of 10). We were looking at ways to listen and I was talking about appreciative inquiry, the simple practice of saying thanks, as a window into where God’s Spirit might be active. And how the simple act of naming ie saying thanks, gives people an opportunity to further participate.

And at that moment, the photo got passed around and we admired the colour and the effective, yet creative way, of helping people worship.

What intrigues me is how this simple, yet intentional, worship practice might actually be part of the church’s ongoing intentional mission life.

For example: Why not take a note of the recurring themes. Then invite all those who gave thanks over a year to a gathering. Share with them the themes. Get people in groups around questions like what surprises you? Then ask them to think about ways the community could further develop this theme ie be yet more thankful. Perhaps they are thankful for family. Get them to brainstorm ideas, ways they could focus their energy on families. Record the findings and ask if any people want to part of giving their dreams legs.

Start a second year with a second wall. See what happens as you gather people intentionally around what they have identified as important and significant.

Such, I would suggest, is the task of missional leadership:
1. Invite people into missional practices
2. Mirror back to people what is emerging as the practices are lived.
3. Gather conversations about next steps: how then shall we live?
4. Record the findings and return to 1.

It was a great class! (Even without the learning that emerged as another student talked about farm gates. But that’s for another post.)

Posted by steve at 04:54 PM