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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Giver film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for October 2014, of The Giver. This one is extra special, given I got to write it with my teenage daughter.

The Giver
A film review by K and S Taylor

“Out of great suffering came a solution; Communities.”

The Giver was a book and is now a movie. It might yet be a secular Christmas story. It begins with 18-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), surrounded by best friends, Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan). Together they are assigned lifelong tasks by the Elders of their Community.

For Jonas, he is to become the Receiver of Memory. Sent to the Community’s edge, he encounters a mysterious old man (Jeff Bridges), called The Giver. Jonas finds himself the recipient of the memories of what life used to be like before the Community.

The memories Jonas receives include both the best and worst of times, each laced with colour and feeling. Snow and sled offer hope and freedom, a life truly alive. Yet war and death suggest the human ability to create conflict and inflict pain.

The Giver forces us to consider the world we live within. How does a community deal with the worst of their history? How could a community take the best from the past and allow that to shape the choices their children will make?

Intriguingly, this movie set in the future begins in black and white. Colour is used to develop both plot and character. Through the memories The Giver gives, Jonas experiences reds, yellows and greens. With each memory, these colours increase. Gradually Jonas realises he can see beyond what is, and into what could be.

The Giver began life as a book for teenagers by popular author Lois Lowry. Adapted for the big screen by Michael Mitnick and directed by Australian born, Philip Noyce, the acting is excellent. These include standout performances from Jeff Bridges, as The Giver, Meryl Streep as Chief Elder and Brenton Thwaites as Jonas. Mitnick’s adaptation provides a more definitive ending and introduces the thoughtprovoking final scene.

Jonas’s first received memory has involved sliding down a mountain on a sled, surrounded by soft snow. In the final scene, this memory becomes his present reality. As Jonas slides down the hills, he is surrounded by the sounds of a family singing Silent Night. Together, his first received memory and this present reality perfectly completes the plot. A silent night is over, as Jonas and his people enter into a new dawn, one filled with colour and emotion, song and memory.

Jonas’s journey acts as a trigger, releasing all the memories back into his Community. He has grown from Receiver into Giver. Through his suffering comes the solution, a new community, one of unique personalities, emotions, colour and life.

In this scene Jonas is carrying a young child. When linked with the sounds of Silent Night drifting through the snow, this triggers in the viewer a biblical memory. Could this be interpreted as a Christmas story, with a new calm merging from beyond the edge?

Silent Night, Holy Night.
All is calm, All is bright.

Kayli Taylor is a high school student, and an excessive doodler, procrastinator, budding gypsy and musician. She enjoys travelling, Autumn and good books.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 08:00 PM

Friday, October 10, 2014

can you help us tell our story in clear, compelling and contemporary ways?

During the week, I was copied into an email, from a person interstate (and from another Denomination). It noted that “Uniting College is one of the most cutting edge colleges in Australia.” It is a huge compliment and a wonderful encouragement. (For those interested in some of our story, here is what I shared at the 5th birthday “naming change” celebrations).

Due to a number of changes, we need a pretty special person to help us tell this “cutting edge” story. The changes include increasing the funding (from 0.4 to 0.6), making the role permanent (it was fixed term) and increasing the amount of money we budget for promotion. So, do you know someone who can help us tell a story – God’s story actually – of a divine invitation to go on a journey?

Marketing Officer
Uniting College exists to develop life-long disciples and effective leaders for a healthy, missional church, who are passionate, Christ-centred, highly skilled and mission-orientated practitioners. We offer a range of ways to learn and grow as a person and as a leader: through accredited course providers’ Adelaide College of Divinity and Flinders University and also through non-accredited courses for the Uniting Church.

An opportunity exists for the position of Marketing Officer. This position is a critical part of a committed team working within this tertiary education environment.

The Marketing Officer reporting to the Principal of Uniting College for Leadership & Theology, will work closely with the College faculty and staff, the Executive Officer and staff of Adelaide College of Divinity and the staff of the Communications team.

This diverse and challenging position will have a key responsibility for assisting the Uniting College and the ACD to tell their stories in clear, compelling, contemporary and relational ways. This will include;
• The ongoing development of the Uniting College and ACD brands
• Coordinating market research as to how the Colleges are viewed by current and future clients
• Providing professional advice on marketing strategies and methodologies
• Developing marketing and communication plans
• Strategies to increase awareness of the learning and spiritual growth opportunities provided by ACD and Uniting College in local, national and international communities
• Developing high quality written and digital communications
• Managing social and online media communications
• Proven ability to undertake successful promotional campaigns

It is essential the successful applicant will have relevant experience and/or qualifications in marketing, promotions and communications. Similar experience within an academic institution in the VET or Higher Education sector is well regarded. Understanding and experience of theology or theological education will be a significant advantage.

Further details are outlined in the Position Description & Person Specification which is available on our website http://sa.uca.org.au/uc-positions-vacant/ . Enquiries can be made to Manager, Human Resources on 08-82364278 or humanresources@sa.uca.org.au. Please forward applications addressing the selection criteria of the Position Description & Person Specification to humanresources@sa.uca.org.au by no later than 4pm, October 13, 2014.

Posted by steve at 08:55 AM

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Offspring: fresh expressions New Zealand Presbyterian style

Alongside my keynote sessions to the New Zealand Presbyterian Church General Assembly, over the weekend, addressing the theme – Hospitality as mission: Your place or mine?, I also provided input into Offspring. This was a stream that ran in the mornings alongside the Assembly. Over three mornings, three different Presbyterian fresh expressions told their story. My role was to add some global and historical depth. I told stories of the church in history and around the world. I organised these around three themes

- crossing cultures, with a particular focus on the Gladzor Gospels from the church in Armenia (The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated (Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum)
- mission and the gospel, with a particular focus on the Celtic church (drawing on part of a chapter from my Sustainability and fresh expressions book chapter)
- what is church, with a particular focus on UK Fresh expressions

At the end of the sessions, the Offspring stream were asked to provide a communique back to the Assembly. This was a grace-filled moment, as the church at the centre opened themselves to hear from the churches on the edge.

Here are the notes that I took, as the stream prepared to share

1-What have we been doing as an Offspring stream? Telling stories, centring in prayer, inspiring each other, connecting, creating community and belonging, challenging each other, global and local stories, clarifying what fresh expressions are, being encouraged by hearing others, eating and drinking, dreaming.

2-There have been opportunities for us to be – Encouraged and affirmed to keep going, thinking and imagination stretched, courageous in responding to what God is telling us to do. We have realised that resources for mission are there in the community not only the church and that significant leadership for mission resides outside Ordained ministers.

3-Challenge for the church – There were many, but these were summarised into one statement

Lest we forget: We are re-forming. God is re-forming us for a new season

It was incredibly rich to offer my stories, while sitting and listening to New Zealand pioneers tell their stories. God is doing some wonderful things among the Presbyterian church.

Posted by steve at 12:39 PM

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Uniting College team news

There have been a number of team changes occurring at Uniting College in recent times.

First, a warm welcome to Kathryn Pearson, who has began her 12 month position as Principal’s PA. She is stepping into a role with Eloise Scherer taking 12 months maternity leave.

Second, at the most recent Standing Committee, Sean Gilbert’s placement as Ministry Formation Co-ordinator was adjusted from 0.7 to 0.8. This is because Sean has agreed to teach Introduction to Formation for Ministry on a permanent basis. This is a core first year topic that syncs really well with Sean’s existing responsibilities in SFE and Integrative Ministry Practice.

Third, we are now commencing a search for a 0.4 Lecturer in Pastoral Care. The hope is that this person will teach a rotating suite of upper-level pastoral topics. This will increase our Continuing Education offerings for ministers in placement. It might also be strategic as we think about what it means to train people for ministry that includes with agencies and in social work.

Fourth, Tanya Wittwer has been appointed as the new Post-Graduate Coordinator. Tanya is currently an adjunct lecturer with us, teaching Synoptics. She is also currently employed at School of Population Health, University of Adelaide, both as a Lecturer and as a Post Graduate Coordinator. As Post Graduate Coordinator she has refocused and refreshed their course work Masters and initiated two research degrees. She brings ministry experiences including as Hospital Chaplain, lay ministry at St Stephens Lutheran, Youth worker at Magill Uniting Church, Joint Churches Domestic Violence Coordinator. She has also lectured widely n Old and New Testament, Preaching, Pastoral Care, Narrative Therapy and Public Health. Her students describe her as passionate and enthusiastic. She has an MDiv (Wartburg) and a PhD (homiletics). She has successfully supervised at post-graduate level and has a track record of publication, in both academic and non-academic settings. Her recent research is in homiletics and pastoral formation. Tanya plans to start with us late November, then take four weeks holiday over Christmas and New Year, before starting mid-January 2015. This will allow overlap with Rosemary Dewerse, as she prepares to leave the team.

Can I note, with some degree of satisfaction, that this is the fourth appointment in 2014 that has been secured in a way that allows an overlap between the person leaving and the person coming. This greatly enhances the continuity among us as a Uniting College team, for which I’ve worked hard, and for which I’m grateful.

Posted by steve at 11:19 AM

Monday, October 06, 2014

mission practices in Shaun Tan’s Lost thing

The invite to speak at the Presbyterian Assembly has provided an opportunity to work up some new material on mission and leadership. I’ve been percolating for a while on the wonderful, Academy award winning animation of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing. I’ve used it three times at the National Ministers Conference on fresh words and deeds, and today was a chance to shape a significant thought piece.

Structurally, I offered four practices
- going
- discerning
- nourishing wonder
- letting go

These were woven into conversation with a number of other voices. First, the Zacchaues text (Luke 19). Second, Susan Hope’s Mission-Shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission. Third, The Lost Thing.

I was really pleased with how it shaped up. It seemed to provide an imaginative, practical grounding to my three sessions. And perhaps the first test of a journal article – on the missional insights that flow from the imagination of Shaun Tan.

Posted by steve at 04:38 PM

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Presbyterian bound

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.

Posted by steve at 11:13 PM

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.)

Posted by steve at 10:00 PM

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Evaluation of innovation training: celebrating an ethics milestone

As I landed back in Adelaide, my phone lit up with the news that Ethics approval has been granted to begin the Evaluation of innovation training research project.

What?
The Uniting College of Leadership and Theology has a vision of developing effective leaders for a healthy, missional church. This project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of our training practises, by providing regular and accountable processes of evaluation and feedback.

Who?
In 2011, College initiated new programs, focused on training leaders for church and ministry, with particular emphasis on developing innovative and adaptive practises appropriate for the leader’s context.
1. Equipping lay leadership, through the Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) course (in interdenominational collaboration locally)
2. Training pioneer leaders on a path to ordination, through Bachelor of Ministry (Practice stream) (Pioneer leaders are involved in establishing new churches, ministries and other initiatives, appropriate to the context in which they are placed)
3. Offering professional development of congregational (church) ministers, through the Master of Ministry (Missional stream).

The latter two training programmes are unique nationally. (The mission shaped ministry course is an international, interdenominational initiative also undertaken in other states, in partnership with MSM UK)

Why?
This project will evaluate the effectiveness of these training options in building the innovative capacities of church, pioneer and lay leaders.

How?
A suite of questions, developed in 2010 by the Uniting College and National Church Life Survey (NCLS) Research will be asked of students. These questions were designed to test the innovative capacities of church leaders. Benchmark data from the 2011 NCLS will be compared with student data gathered longitudinally.

Data will be compared: beginning students with church leaders nationally (2011 NCLS data), cohort of students over time, and individual students over time.

This research will enable us to assess whether current training is increasing the innovative capacities of students. Aware that this evaluation process may provide information of value to other training providers, ethics approval is sought so findings can be published. Journal articles and other publications on pedagogy/teaching and learning will be prepared and published; focusing on ways training is and can be effective in increasing the innovative capacities of students learning about Christian ministry and mission.

This has been a project I’ve been part of developing for nearly four years, trying to lay a sound research design, in order to build a research base around what we are doing at Uniting College. First was finding the funding, then partnering with NCLS to develop the instrument. Second was finding the funding to design the research and complete ethics approval. Now, finally, we can begin collecting the data.

My personality type finds great significance in the fact that approval was granted the day I return from a two week overseas stint. It suggests a clear focus for the next season of my ministry at College – research on innovation.

Posted by steve at 11:41 PM

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.

Posted by steve at 05:30 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

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.

churchofmultiplication

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.

Posted by steve at 04:47 AM

Monday, September 22, 2014

processing – projects, significations, institutions – Palestine

Today we drove from Bethlehem to Nazareth. The day began navigating military checkpoints in order to move from our hotel through the outskirts of Jerusalem and onto the motorway north. We spent time on the mount of transfiguration, visiting the Franciscan church. At Cana, souvenir museums offered us wine. In Nazareth, we visited churches erected over potential places of institution.

Monastic movements from Europe now camped on Holy land mountains, souvenirs targeting religious tourists, churches fighting turf wars – and a line from theologian Graham Ward has helped me discern a thread.

“There is then a twofold work for those projects involved in developing transformative practices of hope: the work of generating new imaginary significations and the work of forming institutions that mark such significations.” (Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice, 2005, 146.)

It’s a tightly coiled quote. Three words help me make some sense – projects, significations, institutions.

Projects are the future. They are what we are working toward, the dreams we carry that are in the process of being grounded in lives, actions, communities. Significations are the visions, the zeal, the beliefs and values we hold dear and close. Institutions are the groups, constitutions, buildings, schools.

My experience of the Holy Land is of encountering institutions – the buildings, the tourism industry, the complex politics, the religions that fight for their pieces of turf. Each began as projects, a band of monks that arrived from Italy, an idea to make a living, a small community that planted a church. Each would point back to a signification – a set of visions, zeal, beliefs and values.

So what?
- Change involves attention to all three, to projects, significations and institutions.
- Institutions need to keep strong, clear, transparent links to their significations. Storytelling is a key here.
- Projects are the lifeblood of innovation. Wise institutions will keep funding them.
- Significations are deep and powerful. They can be life-giving. They can also be toxic. Practices of discernment are essential.

(For an application of Graham Ward to emerging church, go here).

Posted by steve at 02:14 AM

Sunday, September 21, 2014

processing Palestine

It’s been an intense few days. We landed at Tel Aviv on Thursday and have spent the last few days exploring Bethlehem, dipping our toes in the River Jordan, visiting Orthodox monasteries and walking Qumran.

In between has been the inevitable exposure to the deeply riven conflicts that shape this land. Passing police checkpoints and refugee camps, walking the Separation Wall, reading the experiences of Palestines, recorded on the wall as part of an oral museum project.

In trying to process the experiences, I’ve found “Cedars Of Lebanon” by U2 to be helpful.

First, the complexity, perhaps impossibility of understanding, “Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline.”

Second, the whiff of hope “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose. The scent of it lingers and then it just goes”

Oddly poignant, given my becoming aware of the Rose of Sharon a few months ago, only to see them for sale today near Jericho. They are a plant that remains dry and dessicated for years. It looks dead. But just add water, and wow. What is dead springs to life, flowers, seeds, then prepares for drought once again. An extraordinary symbol of hope.

Third, the one to one human reactions; “Soldier brings oranges he got out from a tank.” That every encounter between “nations” in conflict is in fact a one to one moment between humans.

Fourth, the final verse. It is pure Bono genius, so let me quote the entire verse

Choose your enemies carefully ’cause they will define you
Make them interesting ’cause in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friends

It’s brilliantly lyrically, the repetition of “c” in line one; the contrast between “beginning” and “end” in line three; the juxtaposing of “enemies” in the first line with “friends” in the last. It’s great poetry. (It’s also superb musically, the significance of this verse highlighted by the delicate edge “hammer on.”)

It’s also deeply Christian. Love your enemies is a concept unique to Christianity. It is a radical approach to conflict, a refusal to let the victor-victim narratives define those who participate. Instead, the inversion of power, the gift given to all participants, to chose how they respond, not in the best of times, but in the worst of times.

Posted by steve at 05:42 AM