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
- 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.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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)
This project will evaluate the effectiveness of these training options in building the innovative capacities of church, pioneer and lay leaders.
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.
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.
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
• 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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).
Sunday, September 21, 2014
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.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Ode to the feline flirt at Hagia Sophia
Kneaded Turkish pride,
East mets West
in consumer dance
Blue Mosque blue bred
Serene in Allah’s will
History, marginal minority worn with pride
Scented, scraps from tourists,
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
colours of creation
I believe in the Kingdom Come,
Then all the colours will bleed into one
It’s a line from U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking. It’s in stark contrast to some of what I observed today, and have been experiencing over recent months.
Today, the Spice Market in Istanbul. Such richness of colour in the world of spice, so linked to taste, in the food we eat.
In June, in Sydney, an art installation in the main foyer. It included a fan, gently blowing, that allowed the colours to move, touched by the wind. So soon after Pentecost, it seemed a wonderful expression of Pentecost, the wind of God’s Spirit that does not bring uniformity. Instead, as each heard in their own language, it brings individuality, affirms culture, encourages diversity, insists on contextualisation.
Over Christmas, a bead shop in Christchurch. Again, such richness of colour. This time, so linked to play, the creative act that is bead making. So close to Christmas, an expression of the act of creation, in which God lavishes not mono-cultures, but the enormous diversity of creation.
Me things, U2 that you’ve got you’re theology wrong. The colours of the Kingdom are not bleeding into one, but into the rainbow of God’s purposes.
We live in such a rich world. Bring on the colours of creation in all the tables of humanity
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
alt.worship in Istanbul
This is the most gorgeous space for alt.worship.
The Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul. Built by a Roman Emperor (Justinian), to store water in 532 AD, they have been opened to tourists in recent years.
It was dark, being underground, which immediately invited a different experience. It was lit, each pillar, creating a rich mood. There was water, being an underground cistern, which gave the light another surface to reflect with. There was music, a soft, ethereal, looped recording, which opened up a even richer space. There was history, something retrieved from the past and offered into contemporary culture. It was a reminder of the beauty and potential of space.
Not all alt.worship can find such spaces.
But that awareness of environments, the interplay of senses and the retrieval of history – those are all key elements in alt.worship. The best exploration of this is Doug Gay, Remixing The Church: Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology. His work on unbundling and retrieval provide an excellent analysis of the rich and complex interactions possible when faith is thrown forward because it is located in the past.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
out of office: Istanbul and Israel
I’m on the road for the next few weeks.
I’m speaking in Jerusalem, at the Uniting Church National Ministers Conference. Prior to that, I’m taking a few days to recover from jet lag. This will be Istanbul, where Europe meets Asia, tasting an immense history.
I have thought very little about it, given the intensity of the last few weeks.
But it is probably the perk of my year, so when I get there, I am sure I will enjoy it.
I will be travelling with my partner, who for some reason, felt she really needed to join with me on this particular trip. That is one thing I have very much been looking forward to!
Saturday, September 13, 2014
fresh expressions through sociology of religion lens
I found out yesterday that The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) is meeting in Adelaide in 2014. I do have quite a bit on my plate this weekend (including travelling overseas).
But I have been keen for a while to examine my fresh expressions sustainability data using a sociological lens, and in particular to engage with the rich material emerging from the UK. So a quick glance through my book shelves and I have offered the following abstract for consideration.
TITLE: A sociological parsing of everyday religious innovation: An analysis of first expressions
In 2001, qualitative research was conducted of ten new forms of church emerging in the United Kingdom. In 2004, the Church of England adopted an extensive theological apparatus, including the nomenclature of Fresh Expressions, to define, then manage, these emerging innovations.
In 2012, as part of a longitudinal project, further research was conducted, first, into the development of these individual innovations and second into the interplay between institutional intent (Fresh Expressions) and local communities (fresh expressions). This paper seeks to analyse these interactions using a number of sociological lens.
Firstly, innovative entrepreneurialism, a concept Warner deploys to investigate contemporary religious life (Secularization and Its Discontents, 2010). It will be argued that this lens has limited potential. It provides a mechanism to understand the institutional impulses of Fresh Expressions. It describes outputs from these local (fresh expression) communities. However, it makes little sense of themes emerging from the interview data, regarding the interplay between everyday faith and life.
Second, generational. Many of the local innovations researched emerged among University educated young adults. Research into the trajectories of young adult religious belief (Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith, 2013) certainly offers a more nuanced understanding of fresh expressions as located within a wider sociological ecology. However, this lens offers few conceptual tools to map the interplay between local innovation and ecclesial institution.
Third, belief as cultural performance. Abby Day argues for varieties of belief, as evolving over time, especially when tied to sets of sustaining relationships (Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World, 2011). This provides a helpful way to understand Fresh Expressions, as a cultural performance responding to changing social ecologies. It also makes sense of some of themes emerging from local fresh expressions. However, the fact that a number of the fresh expressions had, by 2012, ceased, suggests an additional category, that of belief enacted in funeral performance.