Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

I’m delivering the NZ PRESBYTERIAN RESEARCH NETWORK Winter Lecture Thursday, 16 June 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

Who else, beside historians, should visit archives? In the first part of this talk Steve Taylor will share some examples of how he has used archives in indigenous study, children’s talks, practical theology and missiology. The logic behind Parihaka ploughs, explosive lectures, building plans for A-frame churches and archival accounts of hitching lifts on passing boats demonstrate the value of archival research across a wide variety of ministerial and scholarly disciplines.

lecture

The second part of the talk will offer a frame by which to integrate these disparate archival examples into being church today. Micro-histories draw on a range of diverse research tools, including observation, interview, survey and archival research, to provide insight. What then, are the possibilities and limits when archives are understand as resourcing and illuminating micro-ecclesiologies? How might micro-ecclesiologies as a “theology of the unique” enrich the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic?

NZ PRESBYTERIAN RESEARCH NETWORK
Winter Lecture, Thursday, 16 June 2016
5.30 to 6.45pm, Knox Centre

Posted by steve at 03:46 PM

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sandpits. Why some papers write quicker than others.

I had an interesting experience over the last 48 hours. Back in October, I submitted two conference paper proposals (250 word abstracts) to International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) Korea conference. Both were accepted.

One was based on a film, Silence, which was at that time pegged for release in November, 2015. My proposal read as follows:

Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) is a historical novel that offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil.

The book is currently being made into a movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.

This paper will examine three missiological approaches.

First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism.

Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action.

Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.

Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.

Following acceptance of abstracts, IAMS then required 2000 word papers to be submitted by the end of May, 2016. By the end of May, Silence the movie had not been released! I had already written one paper for IAMS. So I wrote to the conference organisors, advising I was unable to provide a second paper, on Silence, due to the film not as yet having been released. They replied, indicating how keen they were to have the paper. They suggested I complete a draft, based on the book, which I could change if and when the movie appeared. They also offered a 12 day extension, to Sunday 12 June.

I had two other talks to give between the end of May and the 12th of June, both of which required significant preparation. I relayed this to IAMS. However, flying back on Saturday having completed the two presentations, I realised I had 90 minutes in the air. Often being locked in a plane can be highly productive. So I decided I’d spend the time writing and see what happened.

90 minutes later, as the plane began to descend and the call came to turn off all electronic devices, I did a word count. 1750 words!

Wow. Another few hours the next evening, and I found myself with a complete draft. An edit from a competent, understanding academic colleague this morning, and I have just sent a 2,000 word paper, written in the space of 6 hours, over a 48 hour period.

Some papers write quicker than others. Why?

Location – as I said above, I often find myself highly productive when airborne at 30,000 feet. It means no email, office interruptions or phone calls. In addition, looking down provides a different sort of perspective. This becomes a gift, which becomes productive.

Limitation – Given the unavailability of the film, the conference organisers had suggested I provide a draft. This did something mentally. Instead of looking forward, wondering what else I needed to read, and in this case, what else I needed watch, I found myself looking back. What did I already have that I could make use of? Locked in a metal tube, with no new books to distract me, all I had was previous scraps of writing and my head. Searching my hard drive, I found a theoretical frame that I had used in a 2008 conference presentation on female Christ figures in film and realised it could be helpfully used. I remembered I had written in 2010 a film review, in my role as Touchstone film reviewer, that dealt with similar themes. Both opened up some helpful theorisation. Suddenly I had the basis for two sections. The initial work I had done in preparing the abstract became a useful third section. Limitation got me looking within.

Clarity of task – Hemingway said write drunk, edit sober. The argument is that we use different parts of our brain to create than we do to correct. We need to play, and then, separately, to evaluate. We should never do these two tasks together. On Saturday, when I began to write, it was playful. “What the heck,” I thought as the plane took off, “I have 90 minutes, so let’s see what happens.” I doubted I would come up with anything, so there was certainly a risk free environment.

Surprised by my output on Saturday, I decided to have a second play on Sunday. “What the heck, I have a few evening hours free, I wonder if I can land this, write a complete draft before 10 pm tonight?” If I did, I could then sleep on it (sleep-in Monday actually), and then turn from play to edit, reading critically what I had playfully produced.

Sandpits – In a recent post on writing (from binge to snack: why Parking 60 has changed my writing life), I reflected on the difference between binge writing and snack writing. I talked about how the discipline of sixty minutes a day had enhanced my writing.

Reflecting on this past weekend, I did not feel like I was either snacking or binging. I wrote for two sessions, one 90 minutes, then other 150. Then it was an edit, once on the screen in response to feedback, the second on paper as a final edit.

sandpit A more helpful image for what I have experienced would be neither snacking, nor binging but sandpitting. Sandpits are places to play. Play happens because of structure – the physical structure of a bounded space, the social structure of watching parents. In the sandpit, results and outcomes are not the issue. Play is.

Location and limitation and clarity of task had produced a sandpit. A “no-outcomes-expected, have-a-go, draw-together-what-you-already-know” play. My play was further supported by that helpful colleague, able to offer quick, objective, time-bound advice. They knew I had time pressures and were able to feedback within those realities.

What I have written will undoubtedly need more work, including wider reading and a reconsideration when (if) the film appears. But I now have words. And some satisfaction, at producing a 2,000 word conference paper in 48 hour period. And respect for the possibilities and potential of being placed in a sandpit!

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Woven Together: Christianity and the Pacific

I’m in Wellington Thursday and Friday at Woven Together, a conference on Christianity and the Pacific, run by School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University. The range of papers and presenters looks absolutely fascinating, a rich mix of thinkers and activists. I also spy a few old friends also offering papers, whom I’ve not seen since I left New Zealand in 2009, so that will be an added, extra, relational bonus.

It is the sort of place Knox Centre should be. I’ve teamed with a Presbyterian colleague and we are presenting a paper titled The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre. It has been for a great opportunity to get into the Presbyterian Research Centre Archives and learn more about the denomination I’m now part of. It has also been part of returning to my story, given my birth in the Pacific, in Papua New Guinea and my father pioneering an indigenous theological College. As I’ve researched, I’ve had a few flashbacks :). And it was very meaningful to do the bulk of the writing on Monday morning, when the saint of the day in the lectionary was a Melanesian brother, Ini Kopuria. It felt like he was watching :)

inikopuria

Here’s our conclusion to The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre:

In conclusion, we have outlined how theological education in Vanuatu was driven, from the beginning, by a vision for local agency. The aims – for equality and contextualisation in 1895 – and self-help in 1977 were extraordinary. Theological education played a key role in developing leadership that contributed significantly to Vanuatu’s independence. However, since the 1960’s, theological education in the Pacific has been complexified, by changing modes of theological education, shifting dynamics with partner agencies and the fragility of Pacific economics. Talua is neither historic nor recent. Is the Ni-Van desire for local agency unrealistic in today’s globalised world? Or, might the birth of digital technologies provide ways for Colleges to remain local, affirm their distinctives, yet share resources with other indigenous theological providers? In other words, using the words with which we began: Can “Theological Education … [be] not foreign, [nor] imposed.”

For those interested, here is out handout: woven together paperhandout

Posted by steve at 08:55 PM

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Jungle Book: theologies of creation and redemption

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for June 2016.

The Jungle Book
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Jungle Book is an unexpected surprise. What shaped as a well-worn tale for children is brought to stunning life by Disney’s dollars, digital animation and director, Jon Favreau.

There are two stars that make The Jungle Book shine. The first is technology. Bringing the stories from The Jungle Book to animated cinematic life is nothing new. It has been tried before, first, by Zoltan Korda in 1942, second in the Soviet Union in 1967 (celebrated with an accompanying postage stamp) and third as Japanese anime in 1989. What allows this latest visual telling to shine is technology. Shot entirely in a warehouse in Los Angeles, the film uses the latest in motion-capture filmmaking. The result is a human actor sustaining believable conversations with realistic-looking wolves, bears, panthers, orangutans and tigers. It is an act of human creativity simply wonderful to behold.

The second is Neel Sethi as Mowgli, the boy raised by jungle wolves. Sethi is the only visible human actor in the film. It is an extraordinary feat for a child of twelve years, let alone one that has never acted before, to sustain for 106 minutes, such an engrossing mix of courage and play.

The Jungle Book can be appreciated as a moral tale. Themes like stick together and never give up have been used by the Cub Scouts to encourage and mentor young people.

The Jungle Book can be read as political commentary. Shere Khan rules by terror, using random acts of violence to impose a fear-based fundamentalism: man-cub becomes a man, and man is forbidden.

The Jungle Book can be engaged as theology. The most overt reference comes through the peace rock. Shere Khan’s fundamentalism lives in tension with a deeper law of the jungle. When drought occurs and waters dry, a giant river rock is revealed. It is the peace rock. When that rock appears, all animals can visit the waterhole to drink in peace. It provides a way to understand the Christian Gospel. When the time of Messiah comes, a peace rock is revealed. When the three crosses of Golgotha appear, all of creation, animals and humans, can drink in peace from the waters of life.

A more disturbing theme involves theologies of creation. The Jungle Book reads like a modern day Psalm 8, chilling devoid of grace. Psalm 8 is written in two stanzas. One celebrates creation. Another celebrates human creativity. The Jungle Book has a similar beginning, celebrating creation as benign and beautiful. Swiftly, fear is introduced, the peace rock in tension with Shere Khan’s reign of terror.

The chill deepens when humans creativity is introduced. Humans have the creative, technological skills to make “the red flower” of fire. Such acts provide warmth yet wreak destruction. The entire plot is driven by this human use, and misuse, of one the four elements of creation. It is fire that enables The Jungle Book’s final enacting of justice. It is a chilling theology of creation, a portrayal of human creativity shorn of grace and compassion.

Posted by steve at 06:28 PM

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Mission possible: becoming intercultural by becoming children

I spoke this week at Mission Possible, an event organised by Asian Ministry of the PCANZ. Held at Henderson Korean Presbyterian Church, it was a privilege to be part of an event at which their were more non-Western speakers than Western. In response to the theme of Mission Possible, I offered 2 stories, one picture, one proverb and one application to KCML (Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership).

First, let me begin with a story of mission impossible. In 1987, I went to Hong Kong. For 1 month I served with YWAM (Youth with a mission), then for another month I worked with drug addicts. I lived on the outskirts of Hong Kong, with ten Cantonese men recovering drug addicts and an American. We worshipped, worked and studied together.

One day the American left for a day off. I was left, the only English speaker, with a group of 10 Cantonese speaking men. About midday, I heard yelling and stepping outside, realised the yelling – all in Cantonese – was directed at me. I spoke very little Cantonese. The person yelling at me spoke no English. I had no idea what he’s saying. I just stood there. Seeking any clues as to what was going on. Wondering when it would stop.

It was a moment when I became aware of the importance of bridge builders. Those who speak two languages and can stand between two cultures, who can help with communication and understanding, who provide different ways to look.

Tonight I honour our organiser, Kyoung, who is such a bridge builder among us. What a gift you are. Mission is impossible without bridge builders.

packedpicnicbasket Second, a story of mission possible. I have brought with me a picnic basket (well I did in the airplane in my suitcase, but forgot it in coming here! so please use your imagination). I used this (imaginary picnic basket) at the KCML graduation last year, at which David Kim (my interpreter tonight) graduated. Another bridge builder. The Bible text was Matthew 15, Jesus feeding the 4000. To help me enter the Bible story, I imagined a picnic. I even brought my own picnic basket.

We are the PCANZ, so I also asked Nathan Pedro, Moderator of the Pacific Island Synod, to bring a picnic basket. He brought a large mat, a huge fish and some taro. I asked Kyoung to bring a picnic basket. He brought a beautifully wrapped small box. So different than my picnic basket or that of the Pacific Island Synod. This is my second story. Mission possible begins when we celebrate our differences and embrace our diversity.

Third, I offer a picture, an art image. It is by Faith Ringgold, an Afro-American artist, of a church picnic. Each family has brought their own food. The picture asks a question. Once you sit on the mat, with your distinct and diverse picnic basket, how do you move? How do you get up off your mat and engage the mat of another?

In the picture, the answer is children. It is children who run to the Korean mat and taste the kimchi. Then run to the Pacific mat and enjoy the raw fish in coconut cream. So when we think about mission possible we need to ask: Who are our children? Who will run between the mats of the different cultures in the PCANZ. We need to value them. We need to encourage them. Let them go. Let them explore. Let them bring back richness.

Fourth, I share a Maori proverb – Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou ka ora te manuwhiri. with your food basket and my food basket, the guest will have enough. We live in super diversity. In this city, mission is only possible when the church has bridge builders; celebrates diversity and has children.

Fifthly, this is our challenge as KCML. We as a core staff are a monoculture. We are all pakeha. All male. It is not enough for us to sit on our mat. It is not enough to rely on bridge builders, like Kyoung, or Don Ikitoelagi from the Pacific Island Synod.

We as KCML staff need to become children. We need to step out and move to the mats of other cultures and approaches to life. And so to challenge and grow ourselves, we are developing a KCML intercultural code of practice. These are the behaviours we need, in order to be children. There are 15 behaviours. Like

  • We will find theologians in the heart language of our students.
  • We will be open to different modes of assessment that suit cultures student.
  • We will take study leave in non-Western cultures.

We will give this KCML Intercultural Code of Practice to our students and place it on our website. We do this to hold us to account.

In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to be children. This is how disciples enter God’s Kingdom. This Code of Practice is what Mission Possible means for us. It calls us off our picnic mats to engage the rich diversity of other cultures.

Thankyou

Posted by steve at 10:26 AM

Monday, May 30, 2016

God’s work in a homeless world

durham I’ve just submitted a paper proposal for the Durham Conference on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, September 2016. If accepted, and if the funding comes through, it will work beautifully with my BERA conference presentation, in Leeds a few days later.

This paper has been composting for over a year. It began as a research memo in May, 2015, when I hit a research brickwall in a book project on sustainability and fresh expressions. I needed a theological lens, other than numbers, by which to discern innovation.

It was clarified by email conversation with Paul Fiddes, who helped me name my research question. It was sharpened by a lecture in February, working with KCML interns. The result is the following paper. And, with thinking clarified, shaped and sharpened, I can return to the book project! Here is the abstract.

God’s work in a homeless world: the Christian practice of discernment in conversation with Irenaeus

Missio Dei understands God as the primary agent of mission. The affirmation, however, generates questions regarding how to discern Divine work in the world. This paper undertakes an exercise in practical theology, testing the practicalities of the Christian practice of discernment. The argument is that a Christology of giving and receiving, evident in a pastoral encounter with a homeless person, redraws Irenaeus’ theology of recapitulation.

The starting point is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s notion of Christ taking “form among us today and here” (Ethics, 2009). Paul Fiddes uses this starting point in clarifying the nature of empirical research in theology (Seeing the World and Knowing Godxt, 2013; Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, 2012). The possibilities of Christ taking “form today” as a Christian practice of discernment are tested in three steps.

As a first step, a set of questions is developed by which the specific shape of Christ’s form might be discerned. Three possibilities are introduced, drawing on Trinitarian presence in three Biblical narratives, the theology of creation in the Old Testament wisdom literature and the Divine processions of mission. Each is consistent with the Christological and Trinitarian impulses inherent in Bonhoeffer, yet provides a different lens in the practice of discernment. Drawing from Trinitarian narratives, do we see signs of creating, reconciling or the making of all things new? Drawing from wisdom literature, what can be blessed because it contributes to human flourishing? Drawing from the processions of mission, where do we see relationships of extravagant giving and receiving?

Second, the three discernment questions are tested against a moment of lived reality, a pastoral encounter between a street chaplain and a homeless person. The encounter is documented by Henk de Roest (Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, 2012). While the use here of an existing empirical data set might be new in practical theology, it is consistent with Five Ways of Doing Qualitative Analysis (2011) in which researchers analyse the same data using diverse methodologies. This paper tests the usefulness of such an approach in practical theology. The three discernment questions, when applied to this pastoral encounter, enrich understandings of God’s work in a homeless world. The shape by which Christ takes “form among us today” is clarified, particularly with regard to the agency of God in human giving and receiving.

Third, Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation is redrawn in light of the mutual giving and receiving discerned in the pastoral encounter. The argument is that recapitulation needs not only to articulate Christ receiving in maturation, but also in ministry. The pastoral encounter enriches our understanding of the nature of Incarnation and the self-limits of revelation inherent when God’s work in the world occurs as a communicative act of giving and receiving.

Practical theology is thus a Christian practice in which acts of discernment, in conversation with empirical data and historical theology, deepen understanding of reciprocity in the nature of God. The empirical is essential for theology, while theology is essential for Christian practice.

Posted by steve at 09:59 AM

Sunday, May 29, 2016

reading color purple and the ministry of Lydia

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. Acts 16:13-14.

Lydia, dealer in purple. In the The Brilliant History of Color in Art, purple in the Roman empire is a “fashion phenomenon … Rome adored this color with a passion we cannot imagine today” (The Brilliant History of Color in Art, 28). Purple was made from shellfish. They needed to be soaked in liquid, ground together, thus releasing the enzymes that resulted in the colour purple.

200px-Haustellum_brandaris_000 Lydia lived in Philippi, a city situated near head of Aegean Sea. In other words, in a city able to produce its own colour purple, using shellfish from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. However, rotting shellfish stink. It is near impossible to leave with the smells made by rotting shellfish, which led to them being placed on the outskirts of towns and cities. This is evident in Tyre, where if you visit today, you can see, outside the town, downwind, the vats in which the color purple was manufactured (The Brilliant History of Color in Art, 29).

This provides another way to read Acts 16. The traditional reading is that Lydia was a God-fearer and hung out with the Jews, who had no synagogue, and thus met by the river on the outskirts of the city.

What if in fact Lydia, the dealer in purple, was tending her vats full of rotting shellfish, located, for reasons of smell, outside the city? What if the beginning of Paul’s cross-cultural ministry in Greece began amid the stench of rotten shellfish?

Christologically, this would provide an interesting way to frame the mission of Paul. Purple was a restricted colour in the Roman Empire. In 48 BC, it was ruled that only Ceasar’s could wear togas died in purple. If Paul begins his ministry amongst the colour purple, is he making a statement about royalty? Not from the Emperor’s position of power, but from outside the city, amid the stench of primary production. It is consistent with the Christ he serves, who died outside the city, the enzymes of his body released in suffering. Lydia becomes, like the women carrying their spices after the Resurrection, a worker amid the stench of rot and decay.

Christologically, of these women, Mary Magdalene is the first to give voice to the life of the Resurrection Christ. She is thus known as the first apostle. Lydia, like Mary, is the first woman named when Paul carries the gospel into Greece. Is a textual echo being created? Are two women, Mary and Lydia, bound physically by their service amid the smell of death? Are they also bound spiritually by their willingness to be the first to say yes, one in Jerusalem, another in Greece, to new life in the Resurrected Christ?

Such are the possibilities created by reading the color purple in light of the ministry of Lydia in Acts 16.

Posted by steve at 06:44 PM

Saturday, May 28, 2016

from binge to snack: why Parking 60 has changed my writing life

A year ago, I attended a Thinkwell seminar, on academic writing. It was two hours that flipped my approach to writing on its head. As part of the seminar, Thinkwell talked about the contrast between binge writing and snack writing. Binge writing involves large slabs of time, often when faced by a deadline. Snack writing is regular, limited, daily.

Prior to the seminar, I had been a binge writer. I am motivated by deadlines. I told myself I needed good time to get into the headspace I needed to write. Since that time rarely came along, the binges – faced with an academic conference looming – would at times get pretty intense.

Thinkwell encouraged writing between 45 to 120 minutes a day, five days a week, first thing. Writing is writing. It is not reading or editing. It is putting words on a page. I decided to give it a go.

research

A year ago, I hung a “Shh. Research in progress” sign over my desk at home. I turned off the internet. I cleared the desk of everything but my research. I placed the photo on my cellphone as a reminder. I began to try and not make appointments before 9:30 am.

That was 29 May, 2015.

research60 This week, 26 May, 2016, I took a second photo. “Parking 60.” It captures my current work habit. I do the school run, then head for a cafe (less likely to be disturbed). I write for 60 minutes. I “park” – writing a few notes to myself about what I need to do next. I return to work and have about 15 minutes to clear immediate email, before heading for staff morning tea and into my meetings. I do that three to four times a week.

In the year in between these two photos, in my snack writing, I have written 75,000 words. This involves one book (Built for Change), three journal articles (draft, not yet submitted) and one international conference presentation.

I have continued to find small fragments of time at meet urgent deadlines at other times of the day. This is not in the 75,000 words tally, but has included eleven monthly 500 word film reviews, eight conference abstracts, two 700 word articles aimed at my industry partner and the publication of one conference proceedings.

The encouragement by Thinkwell to snack writing is based on psychological and educational research into productivity in research.

  • First, writing is hard work. It is 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration. Humans tend to do all they can to avoid hard work.
  • Second, the brain makes its best decisions when fresh. Hence the brain is more likely to remain on task, focused on the hard work of writing if you write first in your day.
  • Third, the brain subconsciously processes while you go about other tasks. Snack writing is more likely to draw on this subconscious processes. When a thought comes during the day, I make a quick note, and have something to spark when when I return the next morning.
  • Fourth, the brain remembers what you felt like as you last finished something. If you binge write, you are more likely to finish exhausted. The brain remembers this and the next time you want to write, your brain recalls how hard it was and encourages you to find an easier task. If you snack write, you are likely to stop while you are in a good flow. The brain remembers this. The next time you want to write, the brain recalls how energised you were in the midst of the flow.
  • Fifth, this is helped by “parking.” At the end of 60 minutes, I make a note of what I was about to do. I label this clearly in yellow on my Word document. I also make a note in Evernote using a tag “the next most important thing.” I update my work count, to give a sense of progress. This means when I sit to write, it is easier to pick up the task. I don’t have to work out what do, because it is already there in my to do list .

Over the year, I have noticed some changes. I tend now to think in sections. Rather than look at an entire piece of work that needs to be around 6,000 words for a journal article or 8,000 words for a book chapter, I find I am using headings to break the project up. With only an hour, I find myself focused on completing a section, rather than the entire project. I used to think I needed a sabbatical or at least a whole day to work on a book. Now I am much more comfortable in 60 minute bursts. I also tend to be better organised. I have a cloth bag in which my books for different projects live, which gets taken to the cafe. If I need a book to complete the next section, I find myself fitting the task of acquiring the book into the day, rather than needing to first find the book before I can start writing.

I have moved jobs during the year. The output is roughly similar. I wrote  around 25,000 in the four months of being Principal of Uniting College and have written 55,000 in the eight months of being Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. In the current job, I have less breakfast meetings. However, I am flying more, which provides a different set of challenges.

By claiming 60 minutes, what have I lost? My partner reckons I don’t come home from work any later. I am blogging less. (I have averaged 9 blog posts per month in the last 12 months; 12 blog posts per month in the 12 months prior). In other words, blogging was my previous “snack writing.”  I am probably a bit slower with some email. But I am also more energised. It feels great arriving to my tasks knowing I have already given good, solid, time, to something I value.

I am not sure my writing is any better, although I suspect it is. But one year on, snack writing has changed my writing life and certainly increased my output.

Posted by steve at 03:25 PM

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

local agency, local leaders, local indigeneity, local independence

archives It was an evening in the archives, exploring the files and newspaper cuttings that Presbyterian Research has of theological education in Vanuatu. The demand was preparation for The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of the relationship between Talua Ministry Training Centre and three denominations in Australia and New Zealand, a research paper I am delivering, with Phil King, at Woven Together: Christianity and Development between New Zealand and the Pacific, Victoria University, June 9-10. The result was an evening of inspiration.

Here is some of what I wrote …

What will become clear is that Christianity is a significant development actor. Theological education in Vanuatu is driven by local agency. It is shaped by a vision for equality, contextualisation and indigeneity. It provides leadership for political independence.

Local agency, local leaders
The first Ni-Van were trained overseas. Two travelled to Samoa in 1849, three to New Zealand in 1851. From a Ni-Van perspective, through the eyes of Fiama Rakau, the focus is on local agency. “Ni-Vanuatu took the initiative, to swim and ask to be taken away for training. Theological Education, then, is not foreign, neither was it imposed, but it was born out of desire and necessity.” (Fiama Rakau, From Aname to Talua. A Brief Survey of Theological Education in Vanuatu, 1)

The need for indigenous leadership lead to the first theological college, in Aname, Aneityum. The location was first, close to a significant church and second, monastic in feel. (“The idea of a monastery may still be felt and followed in the early stages of the theological development.” (Rakau, 5)

It was built on the desire for local agency. “The Presbyterian Mission was forced to give up its dependence upon the LMS teachers” (Rakau, 2). It is consistent with Forman’s pattern, which I will discuss later. The College was wholistic, aiming to “enlarge the whole life, head, heart, home and community” (Rakau 3, citing Miller Live Bk 3, 112). Students worked in gardens. This is consistent with the aims of the theological college, that students “keep in touch with man’s deeper need by practical gospel work during training” (Rakau 6, citing Tangoa Training Institution). It was free (“free as far as fees were concerned” (Rakau 3, citing Miller Live Bk 3, 113)). A central focus was teaching students to read, for the sake of local agency. “Our primary object was to teach them to read, that they might be able to read the Bible and learn the will of God … for themselves” (Rakau 3, citing Miller Live Bk 3, 113). This is empowerment, in which the ability to read enhances local agency.

Local indigeneity
In 1895, Tangoa Training Institution was established. It is intriguing to read the aims, using the lens of our conference theme: development. The vision included equality, contextualisation and indigeneity. Regarding justice, the Intellectual aims noted “The essential parity of the intellectual powers, irrespective of race or colour.” (Rakau, 6) Regarding contextualisation, “A teaching approach which has, as far as possible, assimilated the thought-forms of the native culture.” (Rakau, 6) that educated “students to the nature of the responsibility for an indigenous church.” (Rakau, 7) Regarding indigeneity, “A self-governing Vanuatu Church … The principle that the people of the land are the most effective evangelists to their own people … The inclusion of island teachers [as theological educators] as soon as possible … The gradual assumption by the Vanuatu Church of the cost of training its own teachers and pastors.” (Rakau, 7) It is an extraordinary vision for any culture, even more so given the year, 1895.

Local independence
A third institution, Aulua Training College was established in 1977. This date is important, argues Fiama Rakau, “four years before Vanuatu achieved its independence.” (Rakau, 11). The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu was instrumental in the move to independence, with clergy being released to provide national political leadership. “This was particularly felt within the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu because more pastors from that church were released to the political sector.” (Rakau, 11). This resulted in a loss of leadership in the church. This led to the establishing of Aulua Training College.

Again, local agency was central. The first aim was that “Aulua expresses the determination to move towards self-help” (Rakau, 12). There was a critique of “students, studying overseas, [who] become alienated from their own people” (Rakau, 12). An economic analysis was evident: “The high cost factor of providing basic training overseas” (Rakau, 12). Contextualisation is central. A training model is established which takes “place within the culture and life of the people” (Rakau, 12). Examinations were rejected in favour of “written expression, group discussion, and involvement, to assess their readiness for ministry.” (Rakau, 13).

Posted by steve at 09:59 AM

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

is there another sermon in the room

I arrived at church on Sunday to preach. It had been a message I’d worked on faithfully part of Wednesday morning, and again Friday and Saturday evenings. I had a full script and powerpoint.

Within minutes of walking into the auditorium, I began to wonder if there was another sermon in the room. It is only the 2nd time in 22 years of ministry that this has happened. Deep breathe. What to do?

tablecloth

The trigger – On arrival, I commented to the worship leader on the visual display, including the bright red tablecloth spread for Pentecost. “Oh,” she said, “it comes from PNG.” Now, I was raised in PNG. I often share a story from PNG when talking about mission and link it to the Pentecost story in Acts 2. Was the tablecloth an invitation to offer another sermon, a story and some insights about Pentecost and mission?

The points for doing an impromptu sermon.
1. It was Pentecost Sunday. Such days are always a more pointed reminder of the need to trust the Spirit. Was the tablecloth an invitation to me to trust the Spirit in fresh ways?
2. A helpful part of my call to be Principal at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership was a comment made in the interview process – “Could you return to your story?” (for more on the impact of this on my research at the moment, see here). It was a question – posed by someone with the ability to connect two quite different parts of my presentations – in ways that offered me new eyes. My story felt held. My experience felt important. It was a moment, of care, of hope, and potentially of guidance. Seeing that table cloth from PNG, I heard again the question – “Could you return to your story?”
3. There was a sense of energy and immediacy. It would allow a very contextual engagement with that service, that Sunday.
4. The group gathering for worship was smaller in number and older in age than I had expected. A more conversational sermon was, I felt, more likely to work in that setting.

The points against doing an impromptu sermon
1. I had no idea of length. How long could a few jotted notes last? Related, as a visiting speaker, I did not want to appear lightweight or under prepared or waffly. Would it link logically? Could it be landed?
2. I had put a good amount of work into the existing sermon.
3. Going impromptu would generate a significant amount of adrenaline, which after a demanding week, needed to be considered.
4. I’ve seen a few preachers “throw away their notes” and I’ve always wondered whether it was real, or just attention seeking. So if I went impromptu, how would I want to frame it?

Four reasons for. Four reasons against. A draw.

What to do? I gave myself the worship time to further test the discernment. I had a sermon already as a backup. As the congregation sang, at the front, I was frantically making notes. I mapped out a possible opening that noted the two possible sermons and linked to the table cloth. I identified three headings that would give some structure. Each was related to the Lectionary text (Acts 2). I find myself able to make some contemporary connection for each of the points. I realised I had a conclusion, that returned to the tablecloths. The Evernote function on my cell phone was great. I cut and pasted, moving phrases around, adding more insights as the sung worship continued. A couple of comments made during the worship were further encouragement. They could be woven in, adding connectivity to the message.

As I stood to preach, it was decision time.

I decided to go with the impromptu. It was, after all Pentecost. There were a few stutter steps. There were a few moments when the logic was not as strong as I would like. But it was connective. There was energy in the room. A number of folk afterward expressed how important the message was for them. After I spoke, the worship leader shared some more about the story, sharing of reconciliation and justice, a story that would never have been told if I had not gone impromptu.

Would I do it again? Yes.

Would it matter if I had done the original? No. That also would have blessed, I am sure. (Just a different set of folk).

Oh, it lasted 18 minutes. And what I shared might actually be useful for a writing project that I need to finish …

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Innovation as a body practice nourished by the Prodigal Son

innovation I spoke this morning at Central Presbytery, providing a keynote session on the topic of innovation as a body practice. It was a chance to continue to develop my thinking around being a church body built for change. With the final edits on my Built for Change book complete, each time I speak at the moment is a chance to try and take what is 53,000 written words and shape it into a spoken presentation. It is also a chance to explore the place of innovation and ministry within the Presbyterian Church, in particular their essential documents.

Before I talked, there was a short time of worship, followed by a Biblical reflection on the Prodigal Son. I was not aware of it in preparing and it was fascinating to stand to speak on my chosen topic, with that Scripture fresh in all our minds. The result was that there were two moments in my talk when what was said in the prior Biblical reflection became incredibly helpful.

First, in defining body practice. I had prepared to rift off John Swinton and Harriett Mowat (Practical Theology and Qualitative Research), and their insights on the shape of practical theology. But in reflecting on the Prodigal Son, the Bible study leader pointed to how the Prodigal Son, is given a ring, a robe and sandals. These, it was suggested, were physical symbols that would have helped the Prodigal Son understand their new identity. The statement was made:

“God’s gifts that help us see ourselves differently.”

It became an illuminating and helpful phrase. Body practices – confession, hospitality, discernment, listening to the stranger – begin with God, they are gifts. Body practices are about us; about how the church is the body of Christ. Body practices are things we do, and in that doing, we see ourselves differently. Thus they allow a theology on the road, a call to practice our way into God’s future and in doing so, expect to ourselves be changed.

Secondly, in reflecting on the Prodigal Son, the difference between shame and blessing was discussed. The Prodigal Son feels shame and as such, is likely to behave in certain ways. In contrast, as the Prodigal Son feels blessed, they are invited to behave differently.

This became a very helpful frame by which to consider how the church responds to change. What does a place of shame look like? Oh, we tried that before. Oh, I remember you from the past. Oh that wouldn’t work. What does a place of blessing look like? Welcome. Take a risk. Experience grace.

It was a rich experience to be able to work with innovation in the light of the Prodigal Son. It provided a fresh lens and opened up a rich set of conversations around people and processes in change.

Posted by steve at 01:12 PM

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Let Time Be Still

This is beautiful. ‘Let Time Be Still’ is a song by Greg Johnson, inspired by the words of poet James K Baxter. It is one of 12 songs recorded for 2000 tribute album Baxter: settings of poems by NZ songwriters. The backdrop is Jerusalem, up the Whanganui River, the centre of Baxter’s final years. The lyrics “matins making” chimes with the Catholic symbols – Mary and the crucifix – which complexified so much of Baxter’s imagination. The beat and vocals slow the tempo, echoing the lyrics, the dream of perfect moments in which time stands still.



Posted by steve at 12:10 PM

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Christianity and cultures in Asia

christianity and cultures in asia

This is one of great things about being at Knox, the chance to do missiology as a global conversation:

Christianity and cultures in Asia

SEMINAR SERIES
This series of seminars aims to encourage and promote research and publication on Christianity and cultures in Asia. It also aims to promote use of the rich resources contained in the Rita Mayne England Collection on Asian Christianity held at the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College, in the Hocken Library, and in other libraries around Dunedin.

May 26th Rev Dr John England:
Towards the Bright Pavilions: Approaches to the Study & Teaching of Asian Church Histories & Theologies.

Aug 30th Linda Zampol D’Ortia:
Jesuits in Asia in the 16th century.

Oct 13th Dr Sin Wen Lau
Title tbc

Dec 8th Rev Dr John Roxborogh:
A tale of two Seminaries: Ideas and Realities in the quest for Indigenization and Contextualisation In Theological Education in Malaysia and Singapore.

Posted by steve at 07:50 PM

Monday, May 09, 2016

Learning and development: a Salvation Army after-dinner mint

chocolate-basket-1327879-640x480 I am with the Salvation Army in Wellington this evening. I have been asked to present a keynote address at the Salvation Army’s inaugural Learning and Development Conference. It involves around 50 executive leaders from across the Army, wrestling with how they might collaboration in training. I have been asked to provide an after dinner speech, in which I, as an outside voice, address the question

Why would the Salvation Army even be doing learning and development, and what is at stake?

After some considered reflection, and rifting through quite a bit of recent speaking material around innovation and discipleship, I’ve returned to something I did in Australia in February 2015, speaking to a group of funders of the Uniting College about the future of the church. It means I will speak under three headings.

  • What is God up to?
  • What lies in a “Kingdom” kete (basket)?
  • Three stories from my own experience

Under each of these headings, I will weave three repeating threads

  • the move from centre to edge, learnt to play away from home
  • the moving from monocultural to multi-cultural, learning to lead across cultures
  • the move from face to face to digital, becoming fluent with faith formation in digital worlds.

It has been at least seven years since I was last with the Salvation Army in New Zealand and will be my first non-Presbyterian outing since I’ve returned to New Zealand. I’ve never seen myself in the after-dinner mint category – you know inspiring, funny – but despite these limitations, I’m looking forward to it.

Posted by steve at 06:11 AM