Wednesday, July 31, 2019

practically practicing kindness in times of scarcity

I was asked to provide some spiritual input into a gathering of denominational Ministry Educators last week. KCML was invited to be present given a warm appreciation for the knowledge and insight we are currently providing in areas of mission and innovation. The input I offered was at the end, as folk began to travel to the airport and homeward.

I begin with an ending. When I finish, I will offer thankyou cards as a takeway. They will be here on the table.

I’ve been on Outside Study leave for three months earlier this year. I had some aims. I wanted to finish a book on mission and innovation for SCM press. I wanted to present research on life-long learning at a teaching and learning conference and complete a journal article in mission crossing cultures and spend time in indigenous contexts and I wanted to walk daily.

Alongside planned outputs, I also wanted to be open to surprise, the unexpected encounters. I found this in a book by Janet Martin Soskice called the The Kindness of God: Metaphor, Gender, and Religious Language. Through a set of unexpected research moments, I find myself reading, then re-reading, about the kindness of God. It was an image that stuck with me.

  • How does God relate to me? In what ways do I value and experience God as kind?
  • How do I relate to others? What does it mean for me to extend kindness?

In the Hebrew, the word for kindness is hesed. It’s a mix of God as faithful and god ask kindness. It appears in the book of Ruth, in 1:8, “May the Lord deal kindly with you.”

What is interesting is that Ruth 1 is all about scarcity.

  • physical scarcity – times of famine and the absence of food
  • cultural scarcity – moving from Israel to Moab means a crossing cultures into new language and new patterns
  • relational scarcity – moving to another community, then losing husbands means a scarcity of relationships
  • generational scarcity – losing husbands means, in that culture, the end of that family line, the line of Elimilech.

And in the middle of scarcity, there is this understanding of God as kind.

Times of scarcity can produce  other responses. There can be competition for limited resources, a hoarding of what is precious, grief at the loss of what was, fear of having no future.

Yet in Ruth 1, God is kind. This shapes how we might relate to God – as kind – and how we might relate to others – with kindness.

We live in a time of scarcity. There is physical scarcity, as the Presbyterian church declines. There is cultural scarcity as new migrants and new cultures appear in our communities. There is generational scarcity, as we see our children and youth leave our churches.  It is easy to respond by competing, by hoarding, by being afraid.

Yet in times of scarcity, God is kind and this shapes how I relate to God and how I relate to others.

kindness

So in the last few months, I’ve wondered what practically it means for me – in this time and place of scarcity – to be kind? For me, it has involved hand-written thankyou cards. It is so rare to receive a letter these days. It is so easy in the church to be critical and impatient. So I have started to send random hand-written thankyou cards – to people I see in action, to people at a distance, or in a committee that I work in – in which I use words to express kindness for what they do.

As we leave, as we return to contexts of scarcity, you might want to join me. Take a card. As you sit on airplane, why not write a handwritten thankyou card. Express in actions that Hebrew word hesed and the ways of the God of Ruth – a God of kindness.

Photo by Sandrachile on Unsplash

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 140 plus films later, here is the review for June 2019

Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Merata Mita, Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāi Te Rangi, was a pioneering Māori filmmaker, the first Maori woman to solely write and direct a dramatic feature film. Her work included documentaries like Bastion Point: Day 507 (1980) and Patu! (1983), feature films like Mauri (1988) and music video Waka, for hip-hop artist Che Fu.

Merata became internationally respected as an indigenous film maker, teaching documentary film making at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa and recognized by the Sundance Film Festival’s Native Film Initiative.

Heperi Mita, Merata’s youngest son, born long after Bastion Point: Day 507 and Patu!, surprised by Merata’s sudden death aged 68, sets out to discover his mother. He begins by turning to the film archives at Ngā Taonga, spooling through the abundance of Merata’s film and television appearances. Having watched the past, Heperi then cleverly splices in the present, interviewing his siblings to gain their human story on his mothers cinematic past. Thus Merata becomes a film about a film, in which a film maker and her family is filmed by her family.

Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen is an uncovering of Merata’s work: located in her experience, of being Maori, raised in rural Maketu, a woman, a victim of domestic violence, a solo mother raising four children in urban Auckland. It is equally an affirmation of culture. For Merata, as Maori film maker, she is working in continuity with the carvings crafted by her grandfather for the wharenui. Both carving and film are image and story through which life speaks.

Decolonisation is related to the search for justice. Decolonisation pays attention not to individual acts of protest, but to the processes of liberation by which indigenous communities are freed from the colonial imposition of imperialism, patriarchy and racism. Decolonisation sounds academic but it is as simple as a Maori woman finding her voice, as tough as Merata turning a camera on the reality of Police brutality during the 1981 Springbook Tour.

Merata is a profoundly theological film, an indigenous meditation on resurrection. The first words we hear are theological, Heperi’s announcement that “A resurrection is taking place. Our hearts and spirit respond as the past lives again. She shows me things as I hear her again.”

At one level, it introduces Heperi’s spooling through the archives.

At another level, it affirms that the past brings revelation, ushering in a search for justice in which a whole person transformation is possible.

At times Merata felt a bit like Jesus in the garden, calling Mary Magdalene to declare to the disciples that they are now part of a new family, gathered around ‘my God and your God’ (John 20.17). These five words spoken by Mary Magdalene are an echo of the words spoken by Ruth, a migrant woman, to Naomi, a solo mother, as together they seek to find a community in which they can be fed amid the poverty of a famine.

In these five words, the resurrection becomes a call to decolonise. All those who respond to ‘my God and your God’ are finding a community in which women have voice and the poor are given daily bread. Which leaves the church – having heard ‘my God and your God’ – with the question: what might we need to decolonise?

Posted by steve at 09:45 AM

Friday, March 01, 2019

For this Sabbath time

light

For this Sabbath time
A stroll in life’s light
Illuminated in silence
Divine with human

In steps
Of writing
First expressions
Tracing the light in dark of community, institution, structure

A path
Hewn in love
God’s marks of mission
Tihei mauri ora
-Now read again, from bottom to top

Posted by steve at 02:24 PM

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Craftivism in (Transitional) Cathedral Extra

In September last year, I was asked to speak at the Transitional (Anglican) Cathedral in Christchurch. It was a 30 minute talk as part of Prophets in the Cathedral, a combined event run by the Diocesan Education Office and the Cathedral. I was delighted to be asked and I really enjoyed putting something new together. I wanted to look a fresh expressions of mission and in ways that a Cathedral congregation might find new possibilities and in ways consistent with their Anglican understandings of mission.

To my delight, the Dean was so enthusiastic about what I said that he that he emailed afterward asking if a summary of my talk could be used in the Cathedral Extra, the quarterly magazine, which goes to supporters all over Christchurch. It was quite an integrating (weaving) experience for me to knit (pun intended) reading and ideas together from various places in the last 5 years.

What I wrote appeared late in November. I got the back page and all!

craftivism

 

Craft-ivism is as simple as the joining of two words: Craft + activism. It is a form of activism, centred on domestic craft (Greer, Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch, 2008). It tends to utilise needlework, including yarn-bombing and cross-stitch and value collective empowerment and creative expression. It has been linked with elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism and solidarity.

For those who like practical examples, it is the knitting of Christmas angels. In the UK, in 2014, some 2870 Christmas angels were knitted and left in public places, with a message of Christian love. By 2016, this had risen to 45,930 (http://www.christmasangel.net). Domestic craft had become a way of spreading good news in public places.

In 2008 four women in a small Methodist Church in the middle of a housing estate near Liverpool, met to knit prayer shawls for the bereaved and those in hospital. Then they moved to blankets for the local women’s refuge, followed by hats for shoebox appeals overseas. Everything they knitted, they would lay hands and pray for those who would receive the finished items. Three years later, by 2011, that initial group of four women had grown to sixty, meeting weekly to knit and pray, many with no previous church connection. Many of these women were calling Knit Natter their church. The story of Knit and Natter is a fresh expression is analysed by Christine Dutton in Ecclesial Practices 1(1), 31 – 50).

These are contemporary stories. Yet craft-ivism is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. In Acts 9, Dorcas crafts clothes for widows, an activity that mirrors the diaconal activity of Acts 6. Her craft-ivism builds a community of widow’s who have found a strong, clear and articulate voice, able to show a visiting Peter what the Gospel looks like in their community.

The Anglican church has five faces of mission and there are elements of all five faces in the work of Dorcas:

  • in nurture and teaching of people – and nurture is what Tabitha is offering to the widows; while teaching is there in the sharing of craft across generations
  • in loving service – and the robes and clothes offered to widows are a wonderful example of practical ministry
  • in proclaiming the gospel – demonstrating Christian community to Peter
  • in transforming society – given that in New Testament times, widows were poor and lacked protection, yet finding in Tabitha an advocate
  • in caring for creation – seen in the role of upcycling as garments are fashioned and re-fashioned

This example from the New Testament suggests that craft-ivism is rooted in Christian history.

Turning, to the Old Testament, God is a craft-ivist in Proverbs 22:2; “the Lord is the maker.” Drawing on the Old Testament wisdom literature, theologians like Paul Fiddes (Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context)and David Kelsey (Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set)), argue that to be fully human involves being like God

  • practicing delight (crafting)
  • practicing wonder (making)
  • practicing perseverance (a discipline known to all crafters and makers)

Craft-ivism is thus a human participation with God the maker.  What is significant about Proverbs 22 is that God’s craft-ivism is then located in the context of justice and mutuality.  We see this in verse 9 – “Those who are generous are blessed; for they share their bread with the poor.” Hence Proverbs 22 provides a way to think Christianly about prophetic craft-ivism.

Posted by steve at 09:49 PM

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Bird prayers: contextual Spirit at Pentecost

IMG_6535

I was asked to do a workshop at the NZ Association of Religious Education Teachers and School Chaplains (NZARETSC).  The theme was On the Thermals of Grace, so given the theme, I offered Bird prayers – a workshop which reflected on the theology of the Spirit by looking at bird images in the Bible and then pondering NZ birds in order to invite folk to write contemporary-Kiwi-Spirit-as-bird-prayers.

A creative spark was the New Zealand bank notes, which each feature a different indigenous New Zealand bird.

$5 – Hoiho (yellow eyed penguin)
$10 – Whio (Blue duck)
$20 – Kārearea (NZ Falcon)
$50 – Kōkako (Blue wattled crow)
$100 – Mohua (Yellowhead)

So I printed off some different bank notes and put different notes/birds on seats.

IMG_6537

This meant that when folk arrived and chose a seat, they were choosing a bird, which they were then invited to use in writing a prayer at the end of the workshop. I wove in some Rupert of Duetz (in The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings), who weaves Spirit in creation, with Spirit in baptism and Spirit in mission. Plus the missiology of Kirsteen Kim, The Holy Spirit in the World: A Global Conversation who provides a person of colour critique of the Christian use of the dove, as promoting a whiteness which diminishes pneumatology.

the use of the dove alone is distinctly unhelpful in communicating the reality of the Spirit of God … The dove is very white … and does not do justice to all the dimensions of the Holy Spirit or to the nature of reconciliation that the Spirit brings … we have captured the dove of freedom and power and caged it.” (Kirsteen Kim, The Holy Spirit in the World: A Global Conversation. 180).

And so we turned to the birds of New Zealand:

Whakarongo! Whakarongo! Whakarongo!
ki te tangi a te manu e karanga nei

Listen, Listen, Listen
To the cry of the bird calling – chant by Eruera Stirling, in Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds by Anne Salmond

The result was some beautiful prayers, richly located in New Zealand experience. A fun workshop. Thanks for asking me NZARETSC. For those interested, my workshop resources are here: On the thermals of grace bird prayers workshop notes

Posted by steve at 12:49 PM

Monday, May 14, 2018

Can those fines: graced redemption in a modern space

An email a few weeks ago from the University library. With winter approaching, it was an invitation to bring an item for a food bank. In exchange, a library fine forgiven.

· If you pop into one of the University Libraries in Dunedin AND
· Bring an item fit for human consumption for the Dunedin Student Associations’ food banks
· We will waive your fines (up to $30).

can those fines I pondered the grace. A call to participate in making the world a better place. In exchange, redemption, as my shame (a library fine), was redeemed.

A lesson for all those who seek to communicate. The easy way is to point the finger, to name the blame. Such is the cry of fundamentalism.

The sliding way is to ignore the sin. “Don’t judge me” is the cry of tolerance. Yet, as London Grammar remind us, truth is a beautiful thing.

“Miles and miles on my own
Walk with shame, I follow on

You’ll be on your knees and struggle under the weight
Oh, the truth would be a beautiful thing
Oh, the truth is a beautiful thing” (Truth Is A Beautiful Thing)

Hence the intriguing way is to invite me to participate anew in mission, in ways that name my shame, all the while immersing it in grace.

“Can those fines” did that. It was graced redemption in a modern space, a lesson in speaking the gospel.

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

a daily sabbath: urgent, important, necessary and restore

The last 15 days have been very intense here at KCML. A Pre-intern block course of 6 days to bring our incoming interns up to speed was immediately followed by a Summer block course of 9 days. In addition, KCML:Dunedin hosted a variety of public events, including our inaugural lecture and winetasting, a creation care workshop and a Christian education event resourcing children and youth workers. All told, we’ve resourced over 130 people over the Summer blockcourse, engaging all sorts of ministers, leaders and lay folk from the wider church. It’s been great.

I woke this morning aware that in the intensity, a good number of tasks have been left undone. “This is a really busy spell, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” has been a necessary, and valid, response. The result is a building inbox of necessary and urgent tasks. Equally, 15 intense days mean I’m personally tired and drained. Yes, I will take time off to relax. But this tempts me into a binary: days working either on relaxing or on the necessary and urgent.

In recent days, I have also been pondering the creation story of Genesis 1. At the end of six days work, God enters a sabbath rest. Hurrah for weekends. Yet equally, during every day of work, God is also pausing, to name things as good. Every bit of hard work is enjoyed not in hindsight, while relaxing, but also in the moment. In other words, in Genesis 1, a sabbath pattern is both daily and weekly.

Pondering this, I found myself drawing a quadrant with four parts – urgent, important, necessary and restore.

IMG_4513

This gives me a way to structure my day. Daily, I will seek to spend time in each of these four quadrants. For every urgent task, I will also undertake a necessary task. For every necessary task, I will undertake a restoration task. As I gain energy from some restoration, I will invest that in an important task. And so on, around the quadrant: a daily sabbath pattern.

I have run off copies of the quadrant on the photocopier. As I finished work today, I used a copy and reflected my way around the quadrant.

  • Important and I noted the sending of an email about work needed for a meeting next Wednesday.
  • Urgent and I had supplied some words to a colleague needed them for an event on Friday.
  • Necessary and I noted thankyou letters written to three folk involved in our blockcourse.
  • Restore and I recalled lunch outdoors in the sunshine and an end of work drink with the team.

Tomorrow when I arrive, another day will await me. I will write out my to-do list, making sure there are tasks in  each of the four quadrants. In so doing, I will be entering a daily sabbath pattern.

Posted by steve at 08:54 PM

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

visual examen: colour in prayer

We finish each day of our internship intensives with a daily examen.

Examen – defined as a prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and grow in understanding how God is present.

Mixed with a morning devotion and a lunchtime intercession, it provides a three-stranded pattern of prayer that weaves through our block course intensives. The danger is that examens become essentially word based – more words at the end of a day full of words in a classroom.

So today, in order to engage our eyes and our sense of touch, I offered a visual examen. I cut up red, green and yellow card into different shapes and grouped them on plates. I walked around the room, offering first red, then green, then yellow. As people chose a colour, I asked them questions to reflect on their day.

  • Red – a strong emotion (how did you feel? who was there? what was said before and after? where was God)
  • Green – a moment of growth (a learning? an insight? a challenge? a connection?). Give thanks to God for these gifts.
  • Yellow – a joy (a moment in relationship? a joke from a colleague? Give thanks to God for these gifts.

I then read a Scripture – Philippians 3:8, 10. “More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. I want to know Christ[a] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” It was a reminder of the importance of surrender into the shape of Christ, an invitation to release.

I located one of the icons I have written during my time in Australia (here’s a video of me talking about icons as spiritual practise) and placed it flat, as a sort of plate. I then invited people to place their colours on the icon, as a way of releasing our day to God, returning the gift we’d been given and surrendering ourselves to being in Christ.

unknown-2

Posted by steve at 07:50 PM

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Abstract acceptance. Delighted to be presenting with my partner, Lynne Taylor, at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand: Telling Our Stories conference, December 2-3. It will be a public outing from empirical research we did into how local churches respond in worship to global events.

tear on cheek

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Steve Taylor and Lynne Taylor

Chaplains often find themselves as a Christian presence in the midst of crisis. This can present a particular set of challenges regarding how to speak of the nature of God and humanity in tragedy. How to think of faith in the midst of unexpected suffering? What resources might Christian ministry draw upon?

One common resource is that of prayer. Given lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of praying is the rule of believing) such prayers – or lack thereof – can be examined as the articulation of a living practical theology.

In the week following Sunday, 15 November, 2015, empirical research was conducted into how local churches pray. An invitation to participate in an online survey was sent to pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Baptist Churches of New Zealand. An invitation to participate was also posted on social media. The date was significant because on Friday, 13 November, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. At the same time, a number of other tragedies occurred, including bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.

Over 150 survey responses were received. In the midst of global tragedy, how had the church prayed? What might be learnt from these moments of lex orandi, lex credendi? This paper will address these questions. It will outline the resources used and the theologies at work. Particular attention will be paid to the curating of “word-less space”, given the widespread use of non-verbal elements in the data. The implications for those who pray in tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the ministry of chaplaincy.

Posted by steve at 04:00 PM

Monday, November 16, 2015

Flags as lament: Brooke Fraser for Paris, Beirut, Kenya and violence

Brooke Fraser’s song “Flags” (from the 2010 Flags) album) became a place of thoughtful healing over the weekend. Certainly the weekend brought news that was “plenty of trouble, from which we’re all reeling.” The suggestion, to “listen,” to news of lives flapping empty (“our lives blow about, Like flags on the land)”.

There is something disturbing, challenging even, in the line “My enemy and I are one and the same.” The reminder that Jihadists are humans, who have mothers and brothers, and they will awake today to grieve a dead son. What will they be feeling? And to wonder what drives a human, a person born vulnerable like me, to such extreme acts.

And then her turning to Scripture; with the verses that reference the Beautitudes. In these verses (pun intended) is a place to feel – “to mourn, to weep.” In these verses is faith, not in triumph but in reversal; for the innocents who have fallen and the monsters who have stood; “I know the last shall me first.”

Which gives me a place to act: To listen, to feel, to retain the will to faith. Thanks Brooke.

Come, tell me your trouble
I’m not your answer
But I’m a listening ear

Reality has left you reeling
All facts and no feeling
No faith and all fear

I don’t know why a good man will fall
While a wicked one stands
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land

Who’s at fault is not important
Good intentions lie dormant
And we’re all to blame

While apathy acts like an ally
My enemy and I are one and the same

I don’t know why the innocents fall
While the monsters still stand
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land

I don’t know why our words are so proud
Yet their promise so thin
And our lives blow about
Like flags in the wind

Oh oh oh oh

You who mourn will be comforted
You who hunger will hunger no more
All the last shall be first
Of this I am sure

You who weep now will laugh again
All you lonely, be lonely no more
Yes, the last will be first
Of this I’m sure

I don’t know why the innocents fall
While the monsters stand
I don’t know why the little ones thirst
But I know the last shall be first
I know the last shall be first
I know the last shall be first

For more of my writing on lament and popular culture, see U2 and lament for Pike River; which became a book chapter in Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, when I worked with a colleague, Liz Boase, to explore Paul Kelly’s concert response to the Black Saturday bushfires and U2′s response to the Pike River mining tragedy.

Posted by steve at 06:22 AM

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

feel the seasons change

I’ve been loving the winter flowers in my garden. When we brought the house three years ago, one of the first things I did was plant a large part of the front lawn in natives. Practically, it saved on lawn mowing. Spiritually, it was a way of earthing, of grounding faith in this land, this place.

native plants flowering

This winter, many of the natives have flowered for the first time. There’s something immensely rewarding about seeing something that you planted three years ago flower for the first time.

It’s also a reminder of the upside down spirituality that is so intrinsic to the Southern part of Australia. Here native plants tend to flower in winter, not in summer. It’s the logical response to summer heat and winter rain. It makes what is normally the bleakest season visually into the opposite.

What is also worth pondering is how small native flowers tend to be. These are not flamboyant bursts of colour, but tiny points of beauty. There is an understatedness about these expressions of life. They don’t jump into your vision. Rather they require you to notice, as a deliberate action. In a world of instant gratification and in your face marketing, that’s certainly an upside down approach to spirituality.

Posted by steve at 09:50 AM

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

the potential of deconstruction: Emerging churches grow people

This is not how you do research! I was at a professional development course on Tuesday, upskilling in the area of writing for publication. The lunch exercise was to find a journal we might be interested in publishing in. The venue, a modern secular University, had few journals in the area of missiology and theology. So I pulled out a journal on sociology of religion. Flipping it open, I found an article researching spiritual growth in the emerging church. This is not how you do research. But it is a great resource.

Sally K. Gallagher and Chelsea Newton, “Defining Spiritual Growth: Congregations, Community, and Connectedness,” Sociology of Religion 2009, 70:3 232-261.

This is a fascinating piece of research. Gallagher and Newton note the claim that religion is good for people. Sociologists like Christian Smith, Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture, (2003) have explored how religion is a spiritual capital. It provides relational networks. It offers meaning through the opportunity to volunteer. It provides frames by which to interpret experiences.

What has not been researched is how the notion of spiritual growth can be good. Nor whether spiritual growth looks different in different types of churches.

Gallagher and Newton researched four congregations in NorthWest Pacific, one of which is an emerging church (the other three are conservative Protestant, mainline Protestant and Eastern Orthodox). Their focus is ordinary people in these congregations, whom they interview in order to understand how they define, articulate and experience spiritual growth. The congregational focus is consistent with the desire to explore the social nature of spiritual growth.

Every congregation shared a similar understanding of spiritual growth as a process. Yet each of the groups expressed ideas around spiritual growth that were consistent with the theological tradition in which they operate. Mainline Presbyterian emphasised tolerance and respect for a diversity of beliefs, conservative Presbyterian focused on bible teaching, participation in church and an identity distinct from the surrounding culture, Eastern Orthodox on practices that connect with ancient traditions in order to love and care for others.

They describe the emerging church as based on “authentic relationship, dialogue, community.” (253) Core messages include an emphasis on deep and authentic relationships and a culturally connected faith that “resonates with a generation that deeply values diversity and authenticity” (257). Growth happens through processes that include worship services that use diverse elements like arts, science, nature, a range of service opportunities and adult education offering theology and film, medieval spirituality, Hebrew and spiritual formation outdoors. “Individuals in this group placed somewhat less emphasis on what happens Sunday morning as a source of spiritual growth than people in other congregations.” (253)

“At the Urban Village emerging church, a consensus around spiritual growth centred on relationships with God, family, and friends within the church and broader community. Authenticity in each of these areas was both a means of spiritual growth and an end in itself. To be mature in this congregation was to cultivate deep and meaningful relationships with trusted others in much the same way as in a personal and authentic relationship with God.” (258)

They note that while the emerging church emphasised “the deconstruction of tradition in order to reclaim a more authentic faith – we heard the echo and rephrasing of historically traditional themes that find expression within well-established Christian traditions.” (260)

In sum, emerging churches are distinctive. The emphasis on authenticity of relationship with people and the surrounding culture produces a distinctive approach to spiritual growth. What is intriguing is that the deconstructive element is actually working to enhance connections, albeit rewired, to different aspects of the Christian tradition. What is also instructive is that the processes of spiritual growth are more de-centred from the Sunday gathering (in contrast to other groups). “One other facet of spiritual growth that was central … was the place of the physical world in facilitating spiritual growth …. part of its broader mission to include teaching and activities that focus both on global as well as local social concerns.” (254)

Posted by steve at 10:34 PM

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

a forgotten fragrance: a strugglers reading of Mary and Martha story

Confession time. My supervisor is always inviting me to reflect on my work life balance. He notes that I’m a loyal person with a strong work ethic. I like doing things well. But while this makes me a great person to employ, it can perhaps at times, come at the expense of family and personal time.

Given my supervisors (wise) words, I find myself this week struggling as I read the story of Mary and Martha in John 12. Here’s why.

The story begins well enough. There is a party being thrown in Jesus honour.

At this party, we read that Martha serves (12:2).

In the next verse, we read that Mary anoints (12:3). She takes a pound of perfume and annoints Jesus feet. “The whole house is filled with perfume.” (12:3)

It is at this moment that I begin to struggle. Why does the Bible name one fragrance, but not another? The fragrance of the perfume is named. But what about the scent of the banquet? What about the service of Martha, her slaving over a hot stove?

Both Martha and Mary provide sacrificial acts. Why does one make Gospel news, gain attention, while another seems to slip by, unnoticed?

One response is that the act of anointing is symbolic. This suggestion has three layers. First, the breaking of the bottle of perfume is a first scent in the events of Easter Friday, in which the body of Jesus is broken for the world. Second, the anointing is a first scent in the events of Easter Sunday, in which women will seek to anoint the risen body of Jesus. Third, the annointing is a first scent in the unfolding mission of God, in which the Gospel is proclaimed.

But isn’t Martha’s act of service equally symbolic? Doesn’t it also have these same three layers. First, the events of Easter Thursday in which Jesus will serve the community. Second the events post-Resurrection when Jesus will serve a breakfast banquet for some hungry disciples. Third, the essential nature of service in the unfolding mission of God?

This is why I struggle with the Mary and Martha story. While two women are serving, one act of service seems privileged. Both acts are full of symbolism, both carry the scent of Jesus death, resurrection and the unfolding mission of the church.

Perhaps I struggle because of where I read the text from. Hence my initial confession. Perhaps at times I need to be a bit more “wasteful”, to simply stop serving in order to make a grand gesture of worship.

Perhaps I also struggle because I’m conflating too quickly this story in John with the story in Luke. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha serves, while Mary listens at the feet of Jesus. Martha needs help with her serving and so, pointing at Mary, asks Jesus for help. Jesus responds that it is better to sit than to serve. And at that moment, I wonder who Jesus really expects will do the work. Is this an equal opportunities kitchen, where after extended sitting, all three will do the housework?

Today I will continue to ponder the story of Mary and Martha in John 12. I will look for moments when I can pause and offer an extravagant act of love. But I will also look for the “Martha’s”, those who serve quietly in unnoticed ways. I want to pause and thank them for their participation in Christ’s death, resurrection and mission.

Posted by steve at 10:07 AM

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

life to the full: Boyhood and wellbeing

Over the weekend, I watched Boyhood, the coming of age movie by Richard Linklater. It’s outstanding, following Mason from age five to eighteen. Through his eyes we experience broken marriages, domestic violence, bullying and various male rites of passage deemed essential to contemporary Western cultural life. We face the pain and potential of becoming adult.

Over the weekend, I noted that a school in Western Australia were advertising a new position – Director for the Centre for Boys’ Health and Well-being. It is a new role, to inform the school and wider community through guest speakers, research and publication of best practice and next practice related to the health and well-being of boys of school age. It builds on the Centre for Ethics and the Centre for Pedagogy.

It seems to me to be a new way of the church (in this case it is an Anglican school) doing public theology. Here is a group talking wellbeing (which can be framed as John 10:1 – life to the full).

I loved the meshing of input, research and communicate. I love that it’s research linked closely to actual communities, in this case to school and parents. I love that it’s such a practical response to Boyhood.

Posted by steve at 07:13 PM