Wednesday, August 20, 2014

open table learning

This week in Theology of Jesus class, it was the fourth week and the theme was open tables: Jesus eating patterns. I decided that we should not only study this, we should experience it.

opentable

I moved the class from the classroom into the student common area. The tables were pulled into a circle. Tablecloths were laid. The soup, which I have been providing prior to each evening class, to help build community, was eaten at what would be our study table. Tonight it was Santa Fe Sweet potato, with charred pepper.

The newly added student wifi meant that I could still teach this blended, with folk from distance connecting live with the class through digital technologies.

Cook books were scattered around and we began with mindfulness, becoming thankful for a good meal that we each found in a cook book.

During the class, I asked what connections were they making between our experience of open table and the class readings and lecture material. Here are some of the reflections

  • is there more interaction and chatter around tables (here and Jesus) time? what does this do for how we understand how Jesus communicated
  • This is more informal. There’s our food and books everywhere. Does this show us a different, more conversational Jesus – more involved in the to and fro. Willing to be interrupted.
  • You see a different person around tables. You see what they’re living. More vulnerable
  • Around table, I ‘m getting to know other students more. Does this say something about discipleship, that following Jesus is with others, getting to know others more
  • Jesus must have been adaptable. He is comfortable in different spaces – socially apt.
  • How often do we have in our homes people we don’t know? How often we eat alone?
  • Jesus is radical and counter-cultural. The boundaries are blurred, yet there is still a sense of order.

Some fascinating learning here, about who Jesus is and how Jesus enacts the Kingdom.

Posted by steve at 10:09 PM

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Affirmations from the outside

On Sunday I preached Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus encounter with the Syro-Phonecian woman. I was struck by her understanding of Jesus, her articulation of faith.

Sometimes in worship we draw on affirmations of faith, spoken statements about what we understand of Christ. These often come from those inside the church. Yet here in Matthew 15, Jesus declares the Syro-Phonecian woman has “great faith.” (15:28)

So what is the Affirmation of faith not from the “inside” but from the “outside”, from one outside the church?

I believe in God the compassionate (have mercy, my daughter is suffering – v. 22)
in whom is mercy

I believe in Jesus the healer and helper (help me – v. 25)
from a royal line (Lord, Son of David – v. 22)
the radical boundary crosser (stepping across boundaries from your culture to my culture)

I believe in a Spirit, generous
in calling me from past to present (moving beyond the pain of the past, your ancestor’s history with Canaanite).

Now isn’t that a faith worth affirming, an outsider Creed worth bringing into our midst?

Posted by steve at 07:13 PM

Sunday, August 17, 2014

bowing to a buddhist monk: a meditation on the Syro-phonecian woman

Here is the sermon I preached this morning at Blackwood Churches of Christ. The lectionary text was Matthew 15:22-28, the story of Jesus encounter with the Syro-phonecian woman. The reading helped me explore a set of circumstances a few weeks ago, in which I found myself bowing to a Buddhist monk. In other words, how do we encounter people of different beliefs and opinions?

……. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:11 PM

Friday, August 15, 2014

teaching Jesus: go global

Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

Today I am teaching on Jesus and history. I will not start with the Christological controversies of the early church. I will not talk about how the Creeds came. Instead, we will turn to global history. We will visit the church in Russia, in El Salvador, in South Africa, in India and in England. We will ask how these communities might help us understand Jesus.

In England we will sit with the prayer of Anselm, A SONG OF CHRIST’S GOODNESS

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying,
we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.

Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us.

In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.

I only have two hours. By going global-early-church, rather than by going standard-early church, my students will not fully engage what is standard, Creedal church history on Jesus. Am I diminishing theology, short-changing students? Or am I being faithful to theology, affirming the church world-wide? Whatever happens, I take shelter God, who gathers us to protect.

Posted by steve at 11:42 AM

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How to read better: 4 general tips to reading better

A resource I gave to a class, trying to help them think not only about what they are reading, but how they are reading. It also allowed me to introduce some foundation tools in theology.

1. Start at the end
You never start a book/chapter/excerpt at the beginning. You always go to the end. First, that is where the conclusion is and that gives you the big picture. Second, since most people start at the beginning and often don’t quite have time to finish, you can more easily stand out from the crowd.

2. Think in pencil or red pen
As you read, always be recording your own work. This is what you are going to get credit for in an assignment/conversation. You want to be ticking what you agree, underling a reference you might want to chase further, noting a question you have, writing a connection you make.

When you come to write or to talk in a group, you don’t want to be scrambling through pages going “now where is it?” You want to quickly find your own work and say, “Well on page x where it says, I made me think of (last week’s lecture, something I read last week”

3. Write a summary in your own words
The best way to see if you can remember something is to use your own words. Try, in a few sentences to catch the major outline of the work. This also then stands you in great stead when you come to your assignments, because you can then turn them into a summary in your own words.

4. Know your tools
Every reading will probably have something you don’t fully understand or can’t quite recall. To help you read, you need to be able to understand words that are new or you’ve forgotten. It can also be helpful to place the reading in context or to read some actual words of original authors.

When it comes to theology, here are four tools I find helpful:

 

Posted by steve at 10:08 PM

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Church on the World’s Turf: faith in hard places

How do Christians engage with their world?

Paul Bramadat decided to answer the question by researching a student group on a Canadian campus. For a year, he participated in the InterVarsity club at McMaster University. He interviewed people and attended small groups. He even went with them on a month long mission to Lithuania. All the time, as he attempted to understand them, they attempted to convert him.

The result is The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series). It’s a sensitive and thoughtful reflection.

He argues that evangelicals are creative and innovative. They employ a complex set of responses. They create a fortress in order to maintain an identity. At the same time, they create bridges in order to be true to their understandings. Key to this is the student group itself – it creates a space in which this creative innovation can be encouraged, in which identity can be nurtured and connections can be established.

“By focusing on evangelicals’ creativity in the face of the perceived hegemony of the secular ethos, not only do we gain a more nuanced view of the resistance of marginalized groups but we also begin to see these Christians as the multidimenensional and imaginative people they are. At the very least, an emphasis on evangelicals’ enthusiastic and creative responses to perceived marginalization might help us understand why evangelical church and parachurch groups show no sign of disintegration and are almost the only sector of contemporary North American Christianity sustaining and even increasing its membership.” (Paul Bramadat, The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series), 147)

Bramadat makes this argument has he explores attitudes to women, approaches to faith sharing, the understandings of the spiritual. It is a fascinating study, the first in-depth ethnographic study of a Christian campus group Bramadat was aware of (at the time of publication in 2000). It shows the richness possible when ethnography is used in research, the creativity of faith responses to the world around and the possibilities for religious groups to nurture robust relationships with their world.

Posted by steve at 06:44 PM

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Congregation in a Pluralist Society: Rereading Newbigin for Missional Churches Today

News this week that Pacifica, a leading theology journal in Australasia and the West Pacific Basin, will publish “The Congregation in a Pluralist Society: Rereading Newbigin for Missional Churches Today,” a joint article by Darren Cronshaw and myself, in which we offer a conversation between the reality of church life and the work of Lesslie Newbigin.

Abstract
Lesslie Newbigin sought to engage the gospel with Western culture. A rereading of Newbigin’s work offers insights for mission and communicating the gospel in the twenty-first century Western world, including the need to grapple with religious pluralism. For Newbigin, ‘[T]he only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it’. How plausible is the Newbigin thesis? Can congregations today believe and live the gospel, especially in a pluralistic context? This article is an appeal for attentiveness to the place and priority of the congregation, for the sake of mission in our pluralist society. It is grounded in the experience of two congregational case studies, which opens up conversation with Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Methodologically, it applies Neil Ormerod’s understanding of ecclesiology as grounded in ‘historical ecclesial communities’ to test both the groundedness and plausibility of Newbigin’s congregational hermeneutic.

It has been accepted for immediate publication in Pacifica (volume 27 number 2), which is one of Australia’s leading theological journals. It’s great to be writing about mission and church in that sort of context and to be have been able to provide a body of writing which results in congregational studies being considered a legitimate source in theological enquiry.

Posted by steve at 07:42 PM

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

even better than good news: a reflection on being out of my depth

This week at chapel I led the community. With the lectionary text being the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), I began to reflect on being out of my depth

Last year in the Semester break, we as a family had a mid-winter Cairns holiday. The highlight would the Great Barrier Reef and for months we had pumped up the kids – how exciting it would be to swim in the ocean, see the fish and relax in the sun.

The day arrived and the weather was lumpy. It’s about two hours by boat to get out from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. One of Team Taylor doesn’t do waves well and breakfast duely disappeared.

But this was a family highlight and we keep the kids pumped up. How exciting it would be to swim in the ocean, see the fish and relax in the sun. We arrived and set anchor and duely jumped overboard.

Within about 30 seconds I panicked. I got hit by a wave. I got pushed by the current. My snorkelling face mask got filled with water. I lost contact with my kids. The safety officer on the boat starts whistling at me to stay within the safety area. We’re miles out to sea and the waves are slapping and we’re swimming in deep water and there’s no bottom for miles.

I panic.

Apparently I’m in good company. Bill Bryson in his book on Australia, (In a Sunburned Country) writes of numerous tourists, often men, who step confidently off a boat on the Great Barrier Reef, only to experience significant fear once they’re actually realise how deep they are, with no bottom for miles.

The Bible text, verse 24, say that the disciples are in deep, with no bottom for miles. The Greek is literally “stadios pollous” – many stadia – and a stadia is 100 metres and there are many stadia. Lake Galilee is 5 mile, 8 kilometres across and they are many stadia in the deep.

The disciples are in the deep because Jesus has stayed to pray. This doesn’t make sense to me, I’m not sure how Jesus plans to get across the lake if he’s sent the boat on ahead.

It’s only the second time in Matthew that Jesus is actually recorded as praying. This also doesn’t make sense to me. I would’ve thought Jesus prayer life would have been more important to Matthew.

When the disciples see Jesus, they think he’s a ghost. This also doesn’t make sense to me. He’s your boss for goodness sake and you’ve given up a lot to follow, so surely you’d recognise him.

Peter wants to join Jesus. That’s verse 28 “If it’s really you, command me to come.” This also doesn’t make sense to me. Why wouldn’t Peter stay warm and dry? So the disciples are in the deep and their fear is significant and many things about this passage simply doesn’t make sense to me.

This passage occurs in cluster of passage between chapters 13 and 17 that are doing two things. First, they’re telling us about Jesus. That’s the punch line is verse 33. Truly you are the Son of God. This shouldn’t make sense to me because this about God and by definition God won’t always make human sense. Second, these cluster of passages are telling us about us. That disciples, real dedicated, take up your cross disciples, don’t recognise Jesus. That leaders, real dedicated, take up your cross leaders, at times have little faith.

So this is the good news. That we’re in deep. With no bottom. Which often causes grown men to panic. That Jesus still comes to us. That our levels of faith and our ability to recognise Jesus doesn’t seem to matter. Because Jesus is God. Truly God.

Which is good news for people of faith. That Jesus is God and comes to us.

Which is better news for people who, like Peter, have moments of very little faith. That Jesus is God and comes to us.

Which is even better news for people, like the disciples, who struggle to recognise Jesus. That Jesus is God and comes to us.

May the words of my mouth, and the mediation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God.

Posted by steve at 06:16 PM

Monday, August 04, 2014

Gardening with soul film review: like a warm fire on a winters day

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 August 2014, of Gardening with Soul.

Gardening with Soul
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Gardening with Soul is like a warm log fire on a winter’s day. It offers comfort, evokes nostalgia, invites conversation and inspires for mission.

The movie is structured around one life and four seasons. The one life is Loyola Galvin, Catholic sister, turning ninety and thoroughly deserving of being the New Zealand 2008 Gardener of the year. As she weeds, prays, brushes her hair we hear her story of grace and grief amid a changing world. We hear of faith lived amid lost love, the practicalities of Susan Aubert’s mission and the pain visited upon the wider Catholic church by clerical sexual abuse.

Directed by Jess Feast, Gardening with Soul deservedly gained nomination in all four documentary categories at the 2013 New Zealand Film Awards. Feast excels in the art of gentle unraveling. Not religious herself, she is well able to locate a accessible warmth in the religious experience of another.

The four seasons begins with winter. Snow, surprisingly even in Wellington, gently carpets Galvin’s garden. Through, summer, spring and autumn, we follow the rhythms of the season, including the gathering of seaweed for compost, the drying of seeds for spring and the companion planting essential for pest resistance and soil health. In an age of fast food and flash in the pan garden shows, Gardening with Soul is a reminder of a different, more deeply dug, set of spiritual practices.

Gardening with Soul gained cinematic applause in New Zealand, with Simon Morris, film reviewer for Radio New Zealand, naming it one of his highlights for 2013. In 2014, it crossed the ditch to grace 30 screens across Australia, gaining four star reviews from the Herald Sun and applause from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Church goers might glimpse a number of opportunities for practical mission. First in the slow work, in which community gardens become community development. Galvin won New Zealand Gardener of the Year for her initiative in starting the Common Ground community garden scheme, turning lawn at her Home of Compassion into allotment-style gardens for apartment dwellers. In Gardening with Soul, we witness the final stages of community development, as Galvin hands over what she began to a younger generation.

Second, in the care for the dying, as Galvin returns to the memorial garden she created for stillborn children while chaplain at Hutt Hospital. We witness a practical love in which the dying are dignified.

Third, in the return visit of a now grown child, raised by the Sisters of Compassion after being left for dead at their doorstep. In this encounter, we are reminded of the gift of life given to children in the name of the Catholic church.

It is interesting to place Gardening with Soul alongside the recently written Soil and Sacrament (Free Press, 2013). Author Fred Bahnson visits four community gardens, over four seasons. Among different religious traditions (Catholic, Pentecostal, Jewish), whether growing mushrooms or roasting coffee, he finds a shared experience in which rituals of cultivation do indeed add soul. Young, male and religiously unsettled, Bahnson would find much to admire in the settled spiritual maturity of Sister Loyola Galvin.

Posted by steve at 06:21 PM

Saturday, August 02, 2014

community building through community gardens

A few Sunday’s ago I raced into a cafe, seeking a takeaway coffee. It was packed, heaving with people, buzzing with conversation. I felt enfolded by the possibility of human relationships.

Being Sunday morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on how warm, human, relational and busy this place was, compared to many churches around Australia gathering at exactly the same time.

But as I left I reflected on how narrow was this expression of community. It was a community of like minds. I was a stranger visiting this city. If I’d wanted relationship, I could never have found it by pulling up a chair at any of these tables. This was invite only, a chance to catchup with existing relationships, with already established relationships. It was building community, but only with the known and liked.

In contrast, here is a comment on the community building that can occur in community gardens.

“Coffee shops are touted as our cultural commons, but very few people in coffee shops actually interact with strangers … A communal food garden is really one of the few places in our society where you can go and meet someone outside your ethnic or class boundary.” (Fred Bahnson, Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, 247).

Bahnson goes on to describe how you build such a community. It includes having no fence. “If someone takes your broccoli or watermelons, let them … Leave the work of growing food to those who maintain a porous sense of edges and ownership.” (Soil and Sacrament, 252). He also suggests that when it comes to choosing people to invite to your community garden, the garden you are creating “is first of all for the widow who comes to the door in her negligee, the migrant worker who works three jobs and comes to the garden to unwind.” (Soil and Sacrament, 253)

This is all helpful food for thought in terms of my paper for the Urban Life Together conference in Melbourne (which BTW, Tallskinnykiwi AKA Andrew Jones) considers “fantastic.”)

Presentation two – Gardening with Soul

This presentation will explore two movies to suggest insights for urban mission. Gardening with Soul (2013) tells the story of New Zealander Gardener of the Year, Loyola Galvin, honoured for her work in turning the lawn of Our Ladies of Compassion, Wellington, into Common Ground, a community garden for local apartment dwellers. Grow your Own (2007) explores the impact of Asian migrants on a well-established British allotment.

Together, these movies offer insights into urban mission, including the priority of place, soil as sacrament and the stranger’s gift. These insights will be tested against the reality of inner-city Australian community gardens in central Adelaide and Kings Cross, Sydney.

Posted by steve at 01:50 PM

Thursday, July 31, 2014

best start to my class ever

I’m teaching an evening class this Semester. It begins at 6 and ends at 8 pm. It runs the danger that those arriving from work will be hungry and that attention levels will be flagging by the end. For those with a class prior, there’s an awkward time of waiting.

So I decided I’d offer soup. A quick email to all participants, saying that soup and bread would be available in the student common room from 5:30 pm.

We have no facilities for cooking, but who needs an oven when you have a crock pot, filled with pumpkin and simply turned to high two hours prior.

By 5:30 pm, about half the class had gathered. We were sitting around a table, pushed together. Bowls were being filled, compliments were being exchanged. Introductions were being made, banter was being exchanged, the warmth of humanity was emerging. Students were meeting me as “Steve the soup maker” seated at table, rather than Steve the lecturer, standing at the front of class.

soup

By the time we entered the classroom, a culture had been created. There was a relational connection, a sense of community, that no amount of first hour class dynamics would have the hope of achieving.

It’s the first time I’ve offered food and I was for me a very significant lesson in my teaching experience.

Posted by steve at 09:21 PM

Monday, July 28, 2014

flipping Christology

“Who do you say that I am?” This is the question Jesus asks the disciples (Mark 8:27). It invites those who hear to define Jesus, to find words to describe who Christ is and what Christ might do. It is a task with which the disciples struggle. Peter initially finds the right words, but fails to fully grasp the content of those words. Thus the question becomes a hinge in Mark, as Jesus turns toward Jerusalem in order to fill right words with cross-shaped content.

But can we flip the question?

Can we, the disciples, ask Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?”

In doing so, wouldn’t we hear an answer that defines us, in which Jesus finds word to describe who we are and what we might do.

“Who, Jesus, do you think we are called to do and be?”

It would allow us to hear what it means to be fully human, made in the image of God. It would connect creation with redemption, in the full humanity of Christ. In doing so, we would hear good news, the gospel of how God images, imagines, humans to be and do.

It would sync us with how Jesus first gathers the disciples, when in John 1, Jesus names the disciples – as Cephas (1:42); as Nathanael, truly one in whom their is no deceit (1:47). Indeed, this diversity of response opens up the possibilities of a contextual response, because who I am as Cephas is named uniquely and differently from who Nathanael is, which is named uniquely for any who dare to flip the question.

I’m thinking of taking this approach to my Christology class this semester. I’m thinking of flipping the Christology question, inviting them to consider how Jesus would reply as we ask: “Who do you say that I am?”

It might make an essay question. Or a class project, as we consider what Jesus might say to the diversity of cultures that make up the contemporary Australian mission context.

Posted by steve at 11:07 PM

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Excellence in Teaching Award

News yesterday that I’ve won an Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law at Flinders University.

CITATION: For excellence, first, in teaching which is innovative in assessment design and in exploring “flipped learning” and second in scholarly activities including conference presentations and publication.

Details of the award are as follows: The Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law Awards for Excellence in Teaching are designed to reward staff for excellence in teaching within the faculty, and to encourage winners to apply for the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching later in the year and possibly the Australian Awards for University Teaching in the next year. Award winners receive a certificate of Excellence in Teaching and a prize of $3000 which may be used for such purposes as conference attendance, purchase of resources to assist in preparation and delivery of teaching and learning materials, or purchase of books, journals etc.

It involved an application (of some 4,000 words). Applicants need to reflect on their teaching in two out of five categories:

  • Approaches to teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn
  • Development of curricula and resources that reflect a command of the field
  • Approaches to assessment and feedback that foster independent learning
  • Respect and support for the development of students as individuals
  • Scholarly activities that have influenced and/or enhanced learning and teaching

I chose to reflect on the first and last categories.

Approaches to teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn – evident through innovations in assessment that have developed critical thinking, encouraged student engagement and inspired independence in learning. I presented as evidence student feedback across three topics I have taught – Reading Cultures; Church, Ministry, Sacraments and Introduction to Theology.

Scholarly activities that have influenced and/or enhanced learning and teaching – evident through leadership activities that have broad influence on the profession, in particular ways that I have encouraged the shift at Uniting College around blended learning technologies within theological teaching as a Department of Theology and also through reflective practice, seeking to conduct and publish research that reflects on excellence in teaching in blended learning.

I applied as a way of inviting myself to reflect on my teaching in general, given it is so crucial to the formation of leaders. I also wanted to benchmark the educating part of what I do and what we as as a College/Department of Theology do, against the wider University.

I’ve not given any thought to how to spend the money. I’m simply sitting with the encouragement that I’m an excellent teacher! :)

Posted by steve at 11:51 AM

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lost Dogs Breathe Deep

Classic song. Great rift, great lyrics, such a lovely interplay of all people invited into God’s presence.

Michael Treston introduced me to Lost Dogs. It was 1996 and we were planting Graceway.

Michael and Maureen arrived from Thames, to train at Carey Baptist College for pastoral ministry. A welder from Redcar in England and a Maori woman from Thames, they added some much needed reality to our community.

Posted by steve at 11:04 PM