Monday, May 31, 2010

creationary: Elijah and widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. (For more on what is a creationary go here).

When I read the narrative of Elijah and widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:8-16 I think of sticks and big jars.

Bring sticks. The widow is out collecting sticks when she meets the prophet Elijah, who invites her to practice generosity – to a stranger. And it’s in a time of drought, which is certainly the experience of many churches in the West in general! So the story has a lot to offer in terms of giving – a people in drought are called to be generous with the little they have. So invite people to bring a stick – any type, any sort – simply to create curiousity. And then as a response invite them to bring their sticks as a way of saying yes, I am willing, no matter what the season to practice generosity.

Big jars. In the story, the widow only has a little flour and oil. Which makes me wonder what we all already have, even it it seems a little, that we can offer to God. Using a variant of appreciative inquiry, there could be space, in groups, as part of worship, to reflect on what people think their community has already – our gifts – to talk about, write them down, share together. Perhaps even actually have a few big jars. The feedback from the groups could be attached on this. The offerings could be collected in these (allowing reflection on both individual and communal) gifts being given.

It could all make for a great communion: the twigs around the communion table, the pots on the table, affirming God’s generosity and provision, despite our sense of lack.

There’s also a gospel/culture moment in this story that intrigues me. It’s to do with geographic location. The widow comes from Sidon. So does Jezebel, the champion of Baal, the local god of fertility. So there is a pairing of Jezebel and the widow, both woman, both from the same home town. I like it a lot that Elijah finds life – food and sustenance and gracious hospitality – in the midst of another’s belief system. I’m not sure what to do with that, but given that we live in a pluralistic context of many faiths, that’s worth pondering. Perhaps some phrases in the collect or the benediction: may we find generosity, in the cultures of another.

So that’s my first creationary: a creative mind wandering around a lectionary text (1 Kings 17:8-16), the narrative of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, seeking to make connections in regard to communal worship.

Posted by steve at 01:28 PM

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pentecost season book review: Holy Spirit. Contemporary and Classic Readings

For too long the Spirit in Christian thought has been stereotyped, ignored as the forgotten person of the Trinity, left to the Charismatics and Pentecostals. With the church celebrating Pentecost last week, it is surely a season for us all to be reading around the third person of the Trinity. A book like The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings is well worth investing in. (Make sure you order the paperback edition, because the hardcover price is simply ridiculous).  The book gathers readings from across the centuries – 20th century, Syriac, Early Greek, Latin, Orthodox, Mystical. While there are a range of texts of the Spirit, this book does a superb job of gathering a rich range of material from diverse cultures and contexts.

A feature of the readings is their genre – while some are theology texts, others are sermons, or songs, or art works, or descriptions of liturgy. As such it reminds us of how much theological work can be done by the church – in our Pentecost sermons, in the songs we sing about the Spirit, in the art we promote, in the words we say at communion and baptism.

Each reading has a helpful introduction by the editor, theologian Eugene Rogers. (I’ve noted before here and here his excellent After The Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology From Resources Outside The Modern West). Rogers’ introductions are worth the price of the book alone, drawing attention to nuance, layer and complexity.

One gripe is the lack of readings from the contemporary Pentecostal or charismatic world. There is now quite enough material to have provided such a section. Is the absence yet another indication that the problem the church has with the Spirit is not just historic, but still contemporary?

Posted by steve at 03:24 PM

Friday, May 28, 2010

What is a creationary?

A creationary is a space to be creative with the lectionary. It is not a sermon. Rather it is what happens when a restless mind reads the Biblical text. It is the linkages that could be made between the text and various bits of the worship service, questions that could be explored, tactile ways to engage people around the text, songs and videos, poetry, spirituality2go ideas that begin to form.  The creationary is a space to be creative with the lectionary.

The creationary is a regular feature I want to keep to the foreground both in my life and in the life of this blog-site.

There are some personal reasons for this. As a pastor for the last 14 years, I enjoyed (most of the time), the Sunday rhythm of regular engagement with the Biblical text in preparation for worship. The week started with reading the text and there was a creativity about that process. Alas, in the strange ways of God, I’m still in ministry, but no longer (currently) in congregational ministry. So the disciplines have begun to change. Yet in preparing for a recent Ascension service at College chapel, I realised how much I am nourished and find creativity when I engage with the text. I wonder if I can keep in that creative space, even if there is no Sunday outline.

In addition, this blog still gets lots of visits from people looking for creative worship ideas. A 2004 Pentecost worship experience got a lot of hits last week.

And there are lots of creative worship treats buried in the archives of this blog, years of ministry, which readers might appreciate.

For example, in regard to Trinity Sunday:

  • a worship idea here
  • a kids talk on Rublevs icon here
  • some Trinitarian art reflections here
  • a Trinity tryptch takeaway idea here.

All on this blog, all potentially useful.

Hence the creationary is a space to be creative with the lectionary.  I’m adding a new category, and as a category that runs across the top of the blog. And every Monday I am going to seek to craft some time to read the lectionary texts for the Sunday coming, and to blog some of my thoughts. It might be a list of links as above. It might be some fresh ideas and sparks. If I’ve worked on a certain lectionary text before, I will try and engage with another of the suggested readings for the Sunday coming. I won’t promise to do this every week, but I think it will be pattern that will be good for my ongoing spiritual nourishment. And perhaps in the mercy of God, it might spark more creativity in you my readers.

Posted by steve at 03:30 PM

What is church? seed cathedral as contemporary ecclesiology

Over the week I had an email, inviting me to speak on the topic of “What is Church?’ to a rural grouping of churches.

Over the week, I’ve also been thinking about an invite to speak at CityChurch 2010, the first ever gathering of city centre Uniting church leaders, to explore what it means for them to be church in the context of the centre of the city.

Over the week I discovered the Seed Cathedral (via the creative blog of Michael Volland). It is the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010. Expecting over 70 million visitors, the theme is “Better City, Better Life.” The design had three aims, including providing a significant public open space in which visitors can relax. The Seed Cathedral is 20-metres high, made from 60,000 transparent 7.5-metre long optical strands. Each of the 60,000 rods has a seed embedded within its tip. The seeds are taken from the Millennium Seedbank, at the Royal Botanical Gardens. (For more go here)

Fantastic! Amazing to see such imagination, outside the church, in such a public space.

What is church? Well, working from the Seed Cathedral it includes
– a place to honour the past (seeds/tradition) as a source of future life (seeds grow, tradition contextualises)
– a spacious place to invite reflection on living better
– an invitation to consider transcendence

This all links for me with my use of the children’s story book, Bodge plants a seed, including at the recent Queensland Synod (my talk is here). Leaders treating people as seeds, nurturing their growth, seeking the unfolding of their unique charism.

Posted by steve at 11:08 AM

Thursday, May 27, 2010

u2 360 downunder early in 2011

I think when he could no longer walk, that he needed to go to the doctor. The Edge here.

In a move akin to Lazarus, within days of Bono having emergency back surgery, rumours are circulating of a downunder U2 360 tour early in 2011.  This is according to U2Chile. To quote

Live Nation has contacted concert promoters on several continents and has blocked out the following as a possible itinerary:

Early February: Japan and South Korea (Asia)
Late February: Australia and New Zealand (Oceania)
March: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru (South America)
April-May: Mexico, USA, Canada (North America)

Having already been financially stung by a U2 postponement, I’m happy to simply being praying Walk on.

Posted by steve at 04:17 PM

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

developing change leaders book review – Ch 4 A Values Dialogue for Change Leaders

A book review of Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs, Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development. Chapter one here. Chapter two is here. Chapter three is here.

The chapter starts by marshalling a wide range of evidence for the importance of values in change leadership. “The management focus for the first part of the twenty-first century will be the management of meaning through the demonstration of values in management behaviour.” (62) The authors urge that selection of change agents include values, as well as experience and competencies.

They suggest a diversity of values are at work and offer some categories (77-81) by which a leader can assess their organisation and how their individual values might mesh with that of their organisation. (Anyone like to locate their church, and their leadership training, in relation to the grid?)

  • Clan. Family type organisation, (often seen in Japanese companies). Key word is collaboration. Values commitment, communication, development. Leader type = facilitator, mentor, team builder.
  • Hierarchy. Key word is control. Values coordinator, monitor, organizer. Leader type = efficiency, timeliness, consistency.
  • Market. Key word is compete. Values hard-driver, competitor, producer. Leader type = market-share, goal achievement, profitability.
  • Adhocracy. Key word is create. Values innovation, transformation, agility. Leader type = entreprenuer, innovator, visionary.

And the implications for change leaders? “leaders have to learn to communicate purpose and direction with a whole culture made up of different personal values, concentrating on shaping informal organizational life (emphasis mine). We might call this ‘strategy by the coffee machine’, consisting of dialogue about what we are told we should be doing, what are leaders are actually doing and how we feel about joining them to make change happen.” (82) “Effective change leaders must continually check what their heart, head and hands communicate.” (83)

Posted by steve at 05:18 PM

Monday, May 24, 2010

clarity in communication. a hyperlinked missional church comic book

This is what I long for …

The trick in either comics or animation is to embody your ideas rather than sugarcoat them; to make plain, through images, the patterns and concepts you see clearly in your head, secure in the knowledge that even the most byzantine, advanced, jargon-laced topic probably rests on a few fat visual metaphors almost anyone can grok with a little explanation.

Via cartoonist Scott McCloud. (Who wrote the most awesome Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, a comic book about how to understand comics.)

I’d love to write a missional church theology book as a comic book in order to present “a few fat visual metaphors.” But I know I can’t draw. But … I suspect that the discipline of trying would probably make my words a whole lot crisper. So maybe I could use pictures as part of the concept design?

While I’m waffling about books, I’d love to write a book which was not only a comic, but could also be hyperlinked. So that I could be talking about say a missional practice and the reader could choose whether they flipped to the theology, or the Scriptural resources, or the history of how the practice emerged, or the story of how it played out at Opawa, or the change processes that lay behind the idea.

Books are so linear.

All this by way of saying that when this semester ends, which is in only 14 days, my semester from hell is over, 75% of my entire year’s teaching being squeezed into the first half of the year, and I get a chance to write … 🙂

Posted by steve at 10:30 PM

Sunday, May 23, 2010

where does the hope come from? words of mission in mission

Today is a transition day – flying from Maroochydore to Bathurst via Sydney; from Queensland Synod lecture to working for with New South Wales ELM centre (lay ministry training); from one-off talk to two days of rolling conversation around the theme of transformers.

Last night I talked with the Queensland Synod about a word of mission. (Update: summary and even audio are here).

It’s a (neglected?) part of Uniting church worship and I used it as a framework to explore my ministry experience with Opawa Baptist. What were the words of mission in our change process? What did we do in actual ministry practice as a result of those words of mission? What were the leadership understandings that helped our journey?

So I looked at

  • the Pentecost story and the word of mission in Acts 2:6 people hearing “in their own language and how that helped shape our multi-congregational model.
  • and the Parable of the sower (I used a children’s book, Bodge plants a seed, by friend Simon Smith as a encouragement to lead by nuturing green shoots
  • and the story of Mary and Elizabeth, as a word of mission to Elizabeth’s to speak words of courage and life to the new things of God in our midst and for the church to be open to the unexpected innovation from Mary’s

And I reflected on the leadership understandings

At times as I spoke I felt that my attempt to weave the word of mission and the ministry practice and the leadership lessons were too ambitious for an hour lecture on a Saturday evening after a long day. I wished I could have been clearer, but alas, it is too late once one is speaking! And my powerpoints were not good enough. However, there was good group interaction and some thoughtful questions and some fascinating after-ward conversations.

May God’s peace rest upon the Queensland synod.

Posted by steve at 11:35 AM

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lament? Or Joy? Multi-cultural worship and Psalm 126 in an indigenous voice

Tonight was the opening of the Uniting Church Queensland Synod. It happens every 18 months and Queensland being a big place, people drive for hours, so it’s quite a big deal.

The night was fabulous – worship rich in respect for indigenous people and multiple cultures. Visually astute, well choreographed, musically diverse and tasteful. Check out the communion table, shaped as a boomerang, draped in the flags of those who participated.

As with pretty much all Uniting worship I attend, the Bible was read. Tonight, being special, included four readings – Psalm, another Old Testament reading, Epistle and a Gospel. (It’s interesting, by the way, to compare Uniting Bible reading practises to New Zealand Baptist Bible reading practises, both at local church level and at a Baptist Assembly level!)

The Psalm that was read was Psalm 126.

 1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of we were like men who dreamed.
 2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
 3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
 4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.
 5 Those who sow in tears 
 will reap with songs of joy.
 6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, 
will return with songs of joy, 
carrying sheaves with him.

But it was read by a local Aboriginal man. So read it again, imagining hearing the voice of an indigenous Australian.

I’ve always heard this Psalm as a Psalm of joy, of praise for Gods’ provision.

Tonight it became to feel more and more like a psalm of lament. It seems to me that very few Indigenous people in Australia can claim their fortunes are restored and they have joy in the land. A Psalm of lament?

Or a Psalm of intercession? What might it mean for a Uniting church, of predominantly Anglo-Australian’s, to actually hear an Aboriginal man read this Psalm? Might it not call us to ongoing pray and proactive protest, that indeed fortunes will be restored and songs of joy?

Posted by steve at 09:48 PM

working from here

working on a film review of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and

writing topic outlines for our the re-accreditation of the Bachelor of Ministry … papers like Spirit and the World; Gift of Forgiveness; Missional leadership A and B; Mission then, mission new; Living the Biblical text in a postmodern context …

finding it hard to concentrate with a view like this …

Posted by steve at 02:48 PM

Thursday, May 20, 2010

on speaking amid changing temperatures

Australia has great variations in temperature. Currently in Maroochydore there is an overnight low of 16 and a forecast high of 24, while in Bathurst there was an overnight low of 3 and a forecast high of 12.

This is important because I am packing for both places, first for Maroochydore, to speak to the Queensland synod, and then to Ballarat Bathurst, to speak at the Transformers conference, as part of the New South Wales synod.

It will be the 5th time in a month that I have spoken outside the Uniting College lecturing context.

  • 3 days on mission, discipling, leadership at tertiary level in Sydney
  • half a day on mission that’s out of the valley to youth leaders
  • 2 days on mission-shaped community to lay folk from around South Australia
  • and a hour lecture on mission to lay and ordained folk in Queensland
  • followed by a 90 minute lecture, followed by 2 smaller facilitated workshops to ministry practioners in Sydney

To be honest, it is sort of doing my head in. Part of it is simply performance anxiety. When I was at high school, I used to skip school when it came time for the speech contests. I hated public speaking. So there’s a fair degree of anxiety flowing through me today.

Part of it is that each is different – in time and audience. Each has a slight variation in theme. Each has different issues they’d like to address and different expectations of how I might engage. The temperature is different in each room. I have a lot of things in what I call my speaking bag, different stories and paradigms and ways I have approached things. Different ways to stimulate people and gain interaction. I find it hard to pull out the same thing and just do it. Yet it has worked once and it would save me the time in trying to know what to pull out, how to start and to connect.

Part of it is my creative, restless personality, I like to keep working at things, playing with new ideas. So I simply can’t do the “canned” presentation.

I’m not sure why I am writing this, but it’s my blog and writing can clarify ….

Posted by steve at 09:08 AM

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spirituality in contemporary Australian women’s fiction

Part of my current life task is to listen to Australia. In that context, an unexpected treasure is Rewriting God. Spirituality in contemporary Australian women’s fiction..  She laments that fact that “apart from Veronica Brady, there are no female religious writers who have addressed Australian spirituality in any depth.” (86) The book then addresses the question of whether contemporary Australian women fiction writers – Thea Astley, Elizabeth Jolley, Barbara Hanrahan – are addressing God questions.  In doing so, it finds a spirituality very different from that espoused by male theologians. For instance

  • God is a verb, rather than a noun. There is a focus on the active agency of love, healing and friendship rather than debates of gender.
  • Scant attention is being paid to the solitary and distant place, like the desert, outback or the wilderness.

“Women find it possible to access the divine wherever they are, in their houses and gardens, in the company of friends and family, or in the act of creation … The way to God is through joy, creativity, and loving kindness: ‘salvation’ is communal not individual.” (278, 9)

  • A recurring behaviour is a concern for other people. In this sense, the hermetic journey to the outback is seen as self-absorbed.
  • Acceptance of self, of humanity, of frailness, is the first step towards God. This is in contrast to a negation of self.  “[S]ervice to others is therefore rendered not as a penance but out of compassion and willingness to share onself and thus be enriched.” (279)

Love to hear feedback from the locals, about the claims of another local. In the meantime, I want to go back and re-read a younger Australian writer, Charlotte Wood, and her book The Submerged Cathedral. I seem to recall a woman who does go “outback”:

She builds a garden, creatively using Australian plants to transform the hollowed hull of the monastery. It’s ceaseless and heart-breakingly hard work. But in the process of contextualisation, of clearing Australian clay, she finds love, meaning and redemption.

Posted by steve at 11:45 AM

Sunday, May 16, 2010

word of mission: a forgotten Uniting church treasure?

Over the weekend I discovered (thanks to Stephen Burns, who was a wonderful breath of fresh air in my attempts to understand the practice of mainline worship) what I think is a forgotten Uniting church treasure. In Uniting in Worship 2, the official book that guides Uniting worship, is a pattern for worship. The pattern is four-fold:

  • Gathering – including welcome and prayers of praise and confession
  • Word – including Scripture reading, preaching and prayers for others
  • Table – communion
  • Sending

The final section – Sending – is divided into a song, a benediction and this thing called “Word of mission.” This “Word of mission”, according to the book, could be a verse of Scripture, a sentence or a brief charge to the people.

I’ve never heard this, in all the Uniting services I’ve been part of. I wonder why I’ve not heard it. I wonder if it is just me, or if it’s fallen out of favour in general across the denomination. I wonder if it’s neglect says something about Uniting church life.

But what a gift, a moment when the people of God pause and prepare themselves for service in God’s world. It has all sorts of creative possibilities
– sharing in 2’s
– photos of the community which one is going to
– sounds of the world outside the church walls
– a litany of the places God is calling us to
– summing up the all that has gone before in the service in light of mission
– being recorded/journalled and then reflected on by leaders in terms of what God is saying in mission

Indeed, a forgotten treasure.

Posted by steve at 07:52 PM

Saturday, May 15, 2010

a pentecost journal

Here’s an idea … why not every church start a Pentecost journal. This would be read every year at Pentecost. Then, after a time of silence for reflection, updates to the journal would be invited. People would name how the Spirit has been active among them in the year gone. These would be typed up, and added to the journal.

Which would be read again next year.

This would honour the Spirit as alive today, honour the Spirit as alive in history, appreciate the Spirit as diverse and creative in the life of the community, develop skills of discernment and just be plain interesting.

It is an idea that has some echoes to the Advent journals I initiated at Opawa. It emerged in my Grow and go Mission-shaped community class today. We were talking about innovation (one of the 9 National Church Life Survey indicators of a healthy church) and to make this practical, the class were introduced to a number of ways to practise creative brainstorming. In the process, as groups laughed and talked, a number of random linkages were made …

Posted by steve at 10:41 PM