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.


Posted by steve at 07:50 PM

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I journal religiously twice

I journal religiously twice. Religiously because it is a paired set of spiritual practices, that keep me in grounded, reflective and in community.

I journal religiously once, publicly, on this blog. It is a place to collect what I’m reading and doing. It’s been a discipline for over 11 years now. I began because I wanted to connect beyond Sunday with my congregation and to explore this new way of being human that is a digital world. It helps me reflect on ministry. I regularly think about stopping but then a helpful comment opens up a new insight and I realise the gift that is communication in community.

I journal religiously a second time, my own handwritten journal. It’s been a discipline from when I began formally training for ministry. I never think about stopping, for handwriting grounds me, connects me. I need to save insights, to record my pain, to jot down the spiritual insight of a moment walking or reading.

Over time, I’ve introduced new practices. Every Saturday I try and collect the achievements of a work week in a few simple dot points. This is essential, for my current work is overwhelming and relentless and I need to remind myself of progress. Or I use Celtic knots to untangle the complexity of an issue. Sometimes these notes can be worked up for public consumption, an insight becomes a sermon, a section allows me to capture a moment.

I handwrite much more than I used to and it’s such a precious space. The increase in handwriting has been a fascinating byproduct of the job. I think it’s because I need to find myself in the rush of a 7 meeting day.

I began to reflect on journalling because one of my handwritten journals is coming to an end. I’m always sad. I’m losing a familar friend and I hate the starting of something new, those first fresh pages speak of no life lived. I often leave the first page blank. A space for God to be God. And a way of beginning, of saying I’ve simply started.

This finished journal will be filed, along with others. As I come to year’s end or to an annual performance review, I will pull out my journal and read through the year. I will begin to catch patterns I’d not seen before. It helps give shape to my becoming, to the work of God in the hard places of life.

I journal religiously twice, a paired set of spiritual practices. But what is really interesting is that I have written this here – digitally – not there – in the handwritten journal.

Posted by steve at 07:10 AM

Sunday, August 04, 2013

a dynamic formation for ministry

Digital artist, Luca Agnani, takes Van Gogh’s paintings and brings them to digital life. He uses a mix of digital light and shadowing plus 3-d mapping, to provide a whole new way of viewing life.

It reminds me that life is dynamic rather than static.  It is easy to think of life, of faith, of theology, of Scripture, as a snapshot, a moment frozen in time.  The reality is that life is always about movement – the child running to the father, the sea a fluid wave movement, the streets full of people on the move.

Tomorrow, I am introducing a change to the candidate formation process at Uniting College. We will begin an exploration of practices, framed around a missional spirituality, and enhanced by storytelling – “the stories that you swap with other travellers” – about how these practices take shape in our lives.

So we’ve spent a lot of time as a team thinking about why we might do this.

Ministry formation could never prepare me for every situation I would find in life. Nor should it. Life is simply too fluid, too dynamic, to evolving, to ever make that possible.

Christian faith is dynamic – the practice of being sent, of prayer, of unforced rythyms of grace – are never static, but are always moving, shaped by those who walk toward us and away from us, those we welcome and those we let go, our experiences as we approach Scripture. Practices are our friends in this dynamic of life.

For those interested, the thirteen Van Gogh paintings are:

1. Fishing Boats on the Beach
2. Langlois Bridge at Arles, The
3. Farmhouse in Provence
4. White House at Night, The
5. Still Life
6. Evening The Watch (after Millet)
7. View of Saintes-Maries
8. Bedroom
9. Factories at Asnieres Seen
10. White House at Night, The
11. Restaurant
12. First Steps (after Millet)
13. Self-Portrait

Posted by steve at 02:58 PM

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Feed my sheep: Jesus deck reading

It is post-resurrection and as a spiritual discipline, I’m reading each day from the Jesus Deck. The focus is the gospel of John, and each card reads a text using the lens of the Resurrection. (Mark uses the Passion, Matthew the birth, Luke the life).

Here is the card I turned over today, John 10.

As I sat with the card, the word that seemed to come to my consciousness was warmth. From so many different places – the fire which Jesus has lit, the arm around Peter (imagine that, the arm of Jesus around your shoulder), the orangish colour of the sand of the beach, the disciples watching, all close and warm.

I began to reflect on the places, things, people that warm me. On Tuesday, I return to my office as Principal. I reflected that this team was warmth for me, their diverse gifts, the relationships I have with each one of them, the time I’ve spent with each of them in 1-1 listening, the friendliness and respect we share.

These are God’s gifts for me. These people provide guidance, renewal and company.

I find being Principal a tough, demanding job. This card gives me another perspective on the role. Yes, I am called to feed sheep, yet I do that with and through God’s warmth.

Posted by steve at 02:39 PM

Monday, June 18, 2012

Men talk more: more than a guy thing part 4

Men tend to talk more. And in doing so, they tend to silence women. Men tend to talk in certain ways. And in doing so, they tend to silence women.

“Studies of classroom behaviour suggest that men and women exhibit different manners in their speaking, and that (western European) men’s style is the valued pattern. Men are more likely to use: highly assertive speech, impersonal and abstract examples, and competitive or adversarial interchanges … This style and ethos are not only favored, but they tend to be perceived to be more intelligent and authoritative behaviors.” (Carol Hess, Caretakers of Our Common House: Women’s Development in Communities of Faith 106)

In contrast, women’s speech patterns tend to use a more tentative tone. Rather than seek adverserial assertion they are more likely to make encouraging or supportive comments, wanting to draw out the contributions of others.

What to do if you want more equal conversation, if you want to be part of an Acts 2 church, in which you hear “your daughters prophesy”?

  1. Listen more carefully for tentative talk and as you hear it, take care to publicly affirm it.
  2. Create ways for people to share not only through abstract ideas but also with personal storytelling.
  3. Be very aware of gender exclusive language. It might not silence you, but it could well be silencing others.
  4. Encourage collaborative explorations as opposed to individual or competitive interaction.

(This continues my reading around gender, leadership and faith development (here, here and here).)

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

Friday, May 04, 2012

faith development: more than a guy thing part 2

Yesterday I raised some questions about the place of gender in faith development. I noted the work of Nichola Slee, Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes. Her work emerges from interviews with 30 women, which resulted in some 1500 pages of transcribed interviews. She then read these narratives alongside a number of conversation partners – faith development theory and women’s spirituality.

She suggests these women develop through a three part process,

  • of alienation
  • of awakenings
  • of relationality

She then makes four broad applications, to those in formal theological education, to those involved in any educational or pastoral care context in church life, to women’s networks and groupings.

First, to ground practice in women’s experience. She suggests making a priority of more inductive and experiential approaches to education. She also suggesting bringing to greater visibility women’s lives. (A simple check list I used in this regard, when I used to preach regularly, was check my sermon illustrations and quotes to make sure I had gender balance, as many women examples as men).

Second, create relational and conversational spaces, for “women’s spirituality was profoundly relational in nature, rooted in a strong sense of connection to others, to the wider world and to God as the source of relational power.” (Slee, 173) Slee suggests we look at our environments, ways to create circles not rows, and processes by which everyone speaks no less than once and no more than twice.

Third, foregrounding of imagination, given “the remarkable linguistic and metaphoric creativity of women as they seek to give expression to their struggles to achieve authentic selfhood, relationships with others, and connectedness to ultimate reality.” (Slee, 175). She notes historically how much of women’s theology was embedded in poetry, hymnody, craft forms and popular piety. So we need to find ways to weave this into our “reading” and our talking.

“Yet educators need to go beyond the use of such artistic resources to the active encouragement of learners to engage in artistry as a way of exploring and discerning truth.” (Slee, 177)

Practically, this can include Ignation practices, working with the texts of Biblical women, seeking to recreate their lives “between the lines of patriarchal texts.” (177)

Fourth, of accompanying into silence and paradox. Faith development involves times when we find ourselves in places which have no words. “They require the creation of spaces for waiting, for silence, for apparent nothingness.” (Slee, 178) Helpful resources here can include Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil.

Slee is aware that these suggestions are not new. But from her experience of (British) theological institutions, there is room for growth.

Posted by steve at 11:57 AM

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

stations of the rainforest as spirituality for tree huggers

Really interesting video, linking environmental themes with Stations of the Cross. The 14 Stations of the cross are woven around the death of rainforest. Interesting that they have included a 15th Station (yes Clifford and Johnson, indeed the Cross is not enough!) which looks out how we can live sustainably, environmentally, in lifegiving ways.

It comes from the Columban Missionaries of Britian, and has an accompanying written resource. (I’d place this alongside my experience of 7 words, 7 sites: an indigenous Tenebrae Service from earlier this year.)

Of course, it’s a video. Which leaves me pondering what an embodied Stations of the Forest would look like – actual nature based walks around Adelaide.

It also links for me with some of what I was exploring last year – outdoor stations as fresh expressions and how God’s second book, the book of creation, might be a regular part of Christian expression. Especially in climates as conducive to being outdoors as Australian ones. Especially if followed by hospitality and community afterward.

Posted by steve at 08:57 PM

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lent: it demands much more than a topcoat

What, after all, is the painter? And what is the plasterer? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each their task. One hammers, another plasters, yet another sands, while yet another undercoats. Until finally one paints. So neither the one who sands nor the one who paints is anything. They have one purpose, for only God makes it grow. For we are all God’s co-workers. The Renovators translation of 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.

Yesterday the family room got it’s topcoat. It was a wonderful moment, to sit with a glass of wine, surrounded by a few tired painters, and admire the spotless ceiling and “crushed marble” walls. In a few hours, we gained a room.

But it had taken weeks. The ceiling needed to be lined. The walls needed to be gibbed and mountains of plaster applied to hide the inevitable irregularities created by extending an older house. It all needed sanding, hours and hours of creating of white, fine dust. Which had to be swept off the floors repeatedly. Followed by undercoats, then ceiling top coats, before finally the application of the top coat colour. What took hours was based on weeks of work.

Sitting looking at the walls, nursing a satisfied glow, I must confess to a moment of anger.

It’s Lent. We live in an instant society and in this instant society, it’s easy to get seduced by an instant spirituality, the offer of a quick and shiny topcoat.

The danger is that we are just applying a quick top coat to the rot in our lives, in our relationships, in our society. We live in a deeply troubled world, one that demands we look deeply, reflect slowly and take considered action.

Lent is the invitation to so much more than a topcoat.

Posted by steve at 01:56 PM

Monday, January 30, 2012

being earthed, as a spiritual practice of being permanent

Today I planted a chilli plant at our new house/project. It suddenly felt quite profound and I realised, as I pushed the soil down deep, that it was the first time I’ve handled Adelaide dirt in a gardening sort of way.

From the first week that team Taylor, arrived in Adelaide, I’ve been gardening. It began with finding some plastic pots on the side of road. We then brought soil and started growing lettuces.

Since then, the plastic pot garden has grown. I’ve now got around a metre square of large pots, and have enjoyed lettuce, tomato, silver beet, onion, pepper, carrot, peas plus a range of herbs like parsley, basil, chives, oregano, sage.

But a plastic pot has, well, plastic, between it and earth. More, you can move a plastic pot. Somehow, it feels less permanent, less earthed.

Today, as I worked the soil, I realised that I won’t be taking this chilli with me. It’s here to stay. It’s part of a spirituality of being permanent. I’m not sure what this means, but it was interesting, and deeply spiritual, to work the Adelaide soil today.

Posted by steve at 07:10 PM

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

data, data everywhere: an emerging picture of an emerging church 10 years on

Babies become toddlers, toddlers head off to school, children become teenagers, teenagers become young adults, who ponder the dilemna of getting a hair cut and a real job.

Ten years ago I did some research on a toddler. More specifically, a group of people, Cityside Baptist Church. With a great tagline – Cityside: thinking allowed; thinking aloud allowed – they were exploring the shape of faith in contemporary culture. They graciously let me join their worship, then survey and interview them (individually and communally.) The research ended up being a major part of my PhD and sparked some ideas which became a book (Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change).

Ten years later you begin to wonder what happened to that toddler. Has time been kind? How has it survived being a teenager?

Again, graciously, they let me return. Again, to join their worship, then survey and interview them (individually and communally). (I think it’s a world first, a (longitudinal) study of an emerging church over time.)

Today I’ve been wading through some of the data. This includes 47 completed survey forms, with 22 questions, that explore the shape of their spirituality. The same questions as I asked 10 years, ago, so this allows some fascinating comparisons, to a time before 9/11 and iPhone’s and fears of global warming. There’s so much information, so much really interesting things to probe and ponder.

Ten years ago, this piece of the data alone became two chapters of 20,000 plus words. So after one day of analysis there are no clear trends.

But an intuitive sense – that this community has changed. And that part of the change is a faith that is more integrated, with a greater depth, that is more willing to express Christian faith in word and deed.

Which is a pretty encouraging thing to say about anyone, whether toddler or teen.

Posted by steve at 05:36 PM

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

faith making sense?

Senses play
Bodies create
Humans diversify


Christianity. Is yours
good sense?

Posted by steve at 07:29 AM

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

spirituality of spring as a season of random magpie attacks

Parker Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, educator, and activist, called spring the season of surprise. Reflecting on his life journey, including seasons of depression and failure, he recognised his need to be both grateful for the dormancy of winter, and open to the surprise of spring.  So today I invited the students into the following:

Go for a walk.
Reflect on the outdoors.
Walk a bit slower.
Enjoy the outdoors.
Reflect on the questions:
In this period – whether spring or study or candidacy – in what ways is God surprising you?
What words (or colours) would describe your response to that surprise?
Return, to share and pray for each in our formational journey.

I met a magpie. Black and officious and strutting. I hate magpies. Especially in spring, when they get aggressive and dive bomb-ey.

Focus Steve. What is surprising you.

Oh. I grin wryily. This is. And what words (or colours) would describe my response. The orange of fear and the mud of anxiety.

Which, when I gain some distance, is actually a bit, well, over the top.

So this is becoming quite fruitful. I begin to wonder what in my life is “magpie” like? What causes emotions that are like a bit, well, over the top? I mean, a magpie attack has never hurt me. Surprised me, sure. But never hurt me. And they only swoop one season in four.

So this is now a question worth pondering. What in my life is “magpie” like? What is causing emotions that are a little bit, well, over the top? And suddenly I’m facing an invitation to take a longer view of my life. To put spring magpies in yearly perspective.

The spirituality of spring.

Posted by steve at 04:10 PM

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

cities as contested spaces and some church possibilities

Outstanding presentation by Jason Ting, from Planning SA, this morning at the Church in the City 2010 conference. Under the theme “Cities as contested spaces” he made the following points.

1 – Our cities are growing – A world milestone a few years ago, with more than 50% of world’s population in urban settlement

2 – Our cities are aging – 75% of elderly live in cities and this needs to be placed alongside a rising age dependency ratio (the number of people retired compared to the number of people working)

3 – Our cities are diversifying – (even) Adelaide is diversifying. In Australia, 85% of immigrants choose to live in cities.

4 – Our cities are becoming more expensive

5 – Our cities are sprawling – Australian cities are 3 to 4 times the size of comparable population sized cities in Holland

6- We fragment our space – He apologised for 20th century urban planning frameworks, which had separated residential from industrial from economic. This was driven by the human love affair with the car.

7 – We sanitize our space – The irony that especially the middle-class like to keep spaces clean. However graffiti and grunge for some, including youth, means edgy and exciting

8 – We commodify our space – Public spaces are often paid spaces. For example shopping centres which do not encourage seating in order to move on “non-paying” customers.

He then argued for three innovations:

  • Spatial innovation – What spatial entrepreneurship could church contribute to? Possibilities include places to sit, to cycle, to walk, spaces that are not commodified.
  • Social innovation – Possibilites mentioned included urban community farm, deck chairs in parks, pedestrian friendly footpaths (outdoor table tennis tables that I saw near Liverpool Station, London)
  • Spiritual innovation – how can churches encourage diversity in this area?
Posted by steve at 12:40 PM

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is worship? the theology of Francis Webb

And for me always the grave great peace is stronger
In flaring colours, and a laugh, and a careless singer

Two lines from “Cap and Bells” by Australian poet, Francis Webb.

I have been amid much talk of worship and church in the last two days. Talk of liturgy and order, of emotion and diverse giftedness. Sitting in the bath this morning, reading a new found friend, Francis Webb, those two lines quoted above stood out – the gift of colour, the sharing of humanity and celebration of risk.

For me that’s what worship is, a space to encourage humanity. In so doing, it makes Incarnational, possible, what 2nd century theologian Irenaues wrote:

The glory of God is man fully alive

That’s what Webb is articulating, the peace that comes amid colour, laughter, creativity. I want to find those people, those spaces, be part of forming those sorts of Christian communities here in Adelaide

Posted by steve at 08:33 AM