Friday, January 14, 2011

President Obama’s speech

A friend wrote asking if I could comment theologically on Obama’s speech. I’m just about to head off for a camping weekend, but here are some thoughts.

Overall, the thing that strikes me is what a work of art it is. Consider some of the structural parrallelism at work.

One – He starts with hope into the future, drawing on Scripture. And he ends with hope, into the future, drawing on the life of child.

Two – Following the opening and just before the closing, is an structural parrallelism, opening and closing personalisations – the short vignettes of each person’s life, then setting up his conclusion with another personal vignette.

Three – he quotes Scripture twice, once from the New Testament, another from the Old Testament.

Four – he has an almost philosophical heart, (Tragedy demands explanations … Debate is essential in exercise of self-government … Scripture tells us there is evil.) This is set up by the intensely personal and emotional, the news he has visited the hospital. Thus he sets up the head by engaging the heart.

For me, the most outstanding feature is the way he has personalised loss. Prejudice is usually based on “they” statements – big bald generalisations. The speech is outstanding the way it lifts up ordinary, human people, and then asks us to consider how we treat every ordinary, human person we meet. (I might even use this as a case study in my July preaching and communication intensive – Living the text in a contemporary context)

He does this through a from of appreciative inquiry, in which he is looking through each person’s life for values and phrases that might sustain his argument. This is a theology of storytelling, in which he makes his argument through narrative. (Just hope his researchers got all the data right and that the “narratives” were authentic for those closest to the victims).

For those who don’t have time to listen to the whole speech (half of which is applause), here are my notes (of the more non-personal-narrative phrases) (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:40 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