Friday, July 22, 2011

writing as displacement in author Graham Swift

I harbour this dream of being a writer. Not a factual writer, but a fictional one. Perhaps it’s why a blog – a wannabe :). Anyhow, beside my bed since Christmas has been Graham Swift, Making an Elephant: Writing from Within. Swift is a UK author, Booker prize winner (1996). Two of his books have become films (Last Orders and Waterland).

This book, Making an Elephant, is a collection of various pieces he has written, many of which explore the art of writing. Below are some quotes that stood out. And which, when put together over some 400 odd pages, suggest a recurring theme. Whether for me, the reader, or in him, the writer, who knows.

[S]he suffers greatly, but she still grows. It’s the price of the ticket, isn’t it? The displacement ticket. Displacement engenders a great deal of suffering, a great deal of confusion, a great deal of soul-searching. (139, 140)

Unlike Vaculik, Klima did not disdain manual work. Rather, he took the view that doing other, temporary jobs could be valuable for a writer; and he told a story which was a perfect explosion of the Western ‘myth’. A famous Czech author is seen cleaning the streets by a friend of his at the American embassy. The American goes into a fit out of outrage at how the authorities humiliate the country’s best minds. But the writer is doing the job voluntarily: it is research for a book. (166)

a belief in the local as the route to the universal, combined with a belief that in the local (including those seemingly familiar localities, ourselves) the strange and the dislocated are never far away. (294)

we are all, at one and the same time, inhabitants of place and of placelessness, creatures of tenure, attachment and of no fixed abode …all writers … would recognize that mental dislocation is part and parcel of what they do. (311)

Posted by steve at 08:35 AM

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Creating safe spaces for leadership development: Missional masters

This evening a Masters of ministry (missional) intensive begins, with folk from inter-state and rural South Australia gathering for 3 days of learning.

The point of the Masters of Mission (missional) is to encourage action reflection research – for folk to be able to treat their context, their ministry placement, as the primary place for reflection on mission and ministry. This means a thesis that is more of a journal, a record of what has been implemented (action), and the learnings (individual, community, theology, missiology) that have resulted, which in turn has lead to more action, and more learning. And so the spiral between action and reflection continues over the 3-4 year period. Academic rigour is essential, but it need not be abstracted, impersonal, detached research.

Around the thesis is built a cohort experience (6 times a year) – for collegiality – along with, over the period of the Masters, a range of readings and intensive experiences.

This includes a leadership intensive and in particular the use of a 360 tool. As students engage in the Masters of ministry (missional), we want them to have a clear picture of themselves as leaders. Most leaders both overestimate and underestimate themselves. Our perceptions get skewed by ego, insecurity and the muddle around the word “leadership.”

To facilitate the 360 tool, we have worked with an independent resource, Sandy Jones, who has a consultancy in this area.

It has required a considerable amount of pre-work, in which the participant nominates 15-20 people who see them in action – in meetings, in peer relationships, in ministry – and are invited to reflect back what they see. This data is compiled and is provided, anonymously, to the participant. At the start of the intensive, each participant is linked with a coach, with whom they meet three times over the time. Once to make sure they are hearing the data correctly (most of us focus on the negative), a second time to start to devise a growth plan that builds on the strengths and faces the weaknesses, a third time to ensure the plan is realistic and achievable. That relationship will continue over a 12 month period as the plan is implemented.

It is a first time. But we hope that rather than teach an intensive about leadership, that instead folk in ministry get an accurate picture of who they are in context, and a chance to be strategic about their growth in mission and ministry. Which in turn sharpens their thesis, their action in a context.

For a Masters in Missional Leadership brochure.

And then more specifically, the shape of 2011 – Year One

Further posts:
For some thought pieces on the underlying methodologies of the Masters of Ministry (missional), see (here and here and here and here).

Posted by steve at 10:26 AM

Friday, June 10, 2011

can there be good without God? some personal debate reflections

I have posted a few days ago my response in the Flinders debate – can there be good without God? I am still reflecting on some of the questions generated for me by the debate, which have kept me thinking and to which I want to pick up.

In the meantime, here are some general reflections.

1. The limitations of a debate. I find it difficult to simultaneously listen carefully and generate a response. So the temptation was to become flippant or search for a cheap soundbite to fill the air. Perhaps I’m a male (only do 1 thing at at time!) but it seems to me that the arguments of another deserve better and while a debate allows you to face the argument, I remain ambivalent about it’s potential to enable real dialogue.

2. It is hard to debate when you feel you are being caricatured. For example – when the multiple ways the church has understood atonement is reduced to “God kills his son”; when slavery in the Bible is equated to slavery in Africa; when the 39 books of the Old Testament, so diverse in genre and context, sacred to three religions, are reduced to “the angry God of the Old Testament.” But then perhaps I did the same to them – for example in my paragraph

“Do unto others alongside the “Darwinian” survival of the fittest of a Daniel Dennett. “Love your enemies” alongside Fran De Waal’s animal “empathy”. ”Greater love has no-one” alongside Sam Harris objective moral “wellbeing”

ie reducing three authors to a soundbite. Hence my 3rd point…

3. Are some ideas better engaged on paper than on a platform. For me, one of the most helpful resources in thinking through good and God was Miroslav Volf. His book Exclusion & Embrace is a reflection on justice, from a man who grew up in the Balkans, including the experience of torture. It is a close and critical read of leaders in modern and post-modern intellectual debate. Yet when I returned to it in preparation, I found it almost impossible to reduce to a few minutes. I might not be skilled enough. Or is that some discussion is simply better on paper than on a platform?

4. About 80 attended the debate. At the end, someone mentioned that their neighbour was one of 2000 attending a local pyschic fare that same weekend. An irony perhaps, a smallish crowd at a University arguing ideas, while many more in our culture are very comfortable with the idea that there is more to life than facts and intellectual debate?

Posted by steve at 10:55 AM

Friday, May 20, 2011

being human: a poem

I am atoms
shared dirt and detritus
shaped to male, emotions

my atoms open, offered to

Jesus atoms
shared, shaped to male, emotions
orb round Orbit

Posted by steve at 10:26 AM

Thursday, March 04, 2010

blokes in church? growing petrol heads and art lovers

A really thoughtful post on blokes and church here, from Dr Richard Beck here. The whole piece is fascinating, using Mark Driscoll’s views on masculinity as a starting point for the suggestion that we have an educated/uneducated split that creates deep fissures in our church communities.

The educated [men] teach, preach, and have the public leadership roles. The uneducated [men] are marginalized. Worse, if you are an uneducated male, you are force-fed those feminine metaphors. Educated males, being chickified, don’t mind or even notice the feminine metaphors. But Joe Six Pack notices the metaphors. All this creates a disjoint in the church. Two groups of males who find each other alien and weird.

Which is further clarified here.

people tend to focus on four big issues when it comes to church life: Gender, socioeconomic status, race, and sexual orientation. But I think one of the most pernicious fissures is the education issue. This problem is particularly acute in Christian churches as Christianity has been, from its earliest days, unapologeticly cerebral and intellectual.

He names something that is pretty real and was certainly my experience at Opawa, the challenge to form men spiritually, whether petrol head or art lover. And why I found the Opawa men’s camp last year so moving, the way that the repeated use of lecto divina (of which this is an outcome), inviting men to use their diverse hobbies, their relationships and life experience, their “caves”, as ways into sharing faith and life.  People were asked to bring something from their shed, which equalised and normalised everyone, from petrol head to art lover. And that became the starting point “going to your favorite spot in your “shed”” for engaging the Biblical text. Which is such a long way from cerebral and intellectual.

The most helpful book I’ve found in framing this for me is Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality (Book. Educated. Yep, I see the educated irony.) I love the way it explores Biblical texts as they relate to males

  • Abraham struggling to connect with his son from his first “marriage”;
  • David, and whether can we let him enjoy a deep male friendship with Jonathan without it becoming homosexualised in innuendo;
  • David who hides behind his work desk when his family comes crashing in

The author (and friend), Phil Culbertson, comes back to Jesus, who he explores from the angle of a person who enjoys deep male friendships, with working class fishermen and with budding intellectuals and poets (like John).

“Jesus appears to have modeled a style of male-male friendship that was committed, intimate, honest, open and even dependent … But there is no record that Jesus and his male followers did “men’s things” together. They did not go hunting together … nor did they share off-color jokes. They did not compete with each other … Christians can recognize the new Adam in Jesus insofar as he was willing to cherish his own human nature, in all its vulnerability, and yet to turn his face bravely toward an unknown future in which he and the world that he knew would be very different.” (105, 106).

It’s such a missionary challenge and we desperately need some working-class missional churches working in and around these issues.

Posted by steve at 09:20 AM

Thursday, January 07, 2010

farewell drinks

For our non-Opawa friends, we’ll be having a few farewell drinks at Fox and Ferrett, Westfields Riccarton from 5 pm, Sunday, 17th January.

(Opawa Baptist are farewelling us from Saturday 16th, 6 pm onwards.)

Posted by steve at 05:22 PM

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Preaching benedictions (2 Corinthians 13:14) or theology in a hard place

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my pastoral experience of finding myself locked, temporarily and unexpectedly, in a psychiatric hospital ward.

Today’s sermon continued our Advent blessing and is a text we often hear inside the comfortable walls of the church, as a final benediction. But what does the blessing mean in the hard places. So the sermon (script to be spoken) sought to relate the Bible text to that experience. (more…)

Posted by steve at 03:06 PM

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

plagiarism or publicity: the unravelling of Witi Ihaemara

Last week the New Zealand Listener broke the story that one of New Zealand’s best known novelists, University of Auckland lecturer, Witi Ihaemara had been caught with 16 instances of plagiarism in his latest novel, The Trowenna Sea. Reviewer Jolisa Greenwood felt a number of sentences were clunky. A quick check using the power of google, revealed word for word usage from authors as diverse as Peter Godwin, Karen Sinclair and Charles Dickens. Faced with the claims, Ihaemara acknowledged his mistake.

Today he has announced he will buy back all remaining books from bookstores. Wow. That’s a big call. He intends to go away and rework the 0.4% of the book.

Coincidentally, just yesterday he was also announced as a Laurete by the New Zealand Arts Foundation. It comes with a $50,000 prize, for him to spend as he sees fit. Perhaps on buying back copies of his book!

All in all, it’s a sad story.

If you want my future-cast,
- people who have already brought the book are now sitting on a winner. Especially if they have an autographed copy!
- book sales of the book, when it comes out re-worked and re-packaged, will now do much, much better. Nothing like a tinge of scandal to attract the discerning public.
- a number of academic articles will be written, comparing the old Witi with the new Witi, and evaluating the extent of his editing. (Hence my first point, about the value of “original Witi’s)
- Witi will be insisting his publisher provide a new line editor. And wondering if this ever wood have happened in a world pre-google.

Posted by steve at 05:10 PM

Thursday, September 03, 2009

missional cyber book club anyone?

So I sat with a pastor today. Wanting to keep thinking, in a relational way. Surrounded by post-grad options, but none really itching – too detached, not contextual enough – and with no real need for qualifications upgrade. Mostly just wanting some missional travelling companions.

Suddenly I got a spark …. how about a missional cyber book club ….

A yearly commitment, renewable annually.
At the start/end of the year, the group generates 12 books for the year ahead.
They commit to read a book a month.
They commit to take turns at being a conversation starter (generating a set of questions that helps the group talk) and a conversation keeper, someone to watch the conversation on behalf of the whole group.
They commit to provide a description of their context (replacing real-time cues).
They commit to Skype regularly, monthly, for an hour, on the book.

Simple really. Anything like this out there? Or am I a self-starter on this one? If so, I’m looking for 12 punters, willing to have a crack with me.

Posted by steve at 12:12 AM

Thursday, May 14, 2009

male spirituality at the movies

I went to see Men’s group at the movies today. Australian made, it is a slow moving, but excruciatingly honest inspection of what it’s like to be male. It is the story of 6 men, meeting weekly to talk. Over time they begin to explore the pain of their fathers, the loneliness of relationships and the bleakness of their grief. It takes time, but they realise that men can go on a journey of friendship and intimacy. Recommended viewing for all men IMHO.

I like to place alongside the movie Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality which I found hugely helpful in my thinking about male spirituality. The book explores Bible texts that challenge men – Abraham’s relationship with his sons, David’s relationship with his sons, Jesus masculinity – and what it means to be male today.

And so for years when I pastored at Graceway Baptist, every Thursday fortnightly a group of men would meet. Since so much male conversation is defined by what we do and who we cheer, the two groundrules were no agenda and no sports talk, which left the challenge of how could we as men define our relationships. That was a great experience to be part of.

Posted by steve at 12:09 AM

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

mission and missional. Why the “a” and the “l” is more than a typo

There is some useful discussion rolling on in the “What is community ministry?” post. I’ve just written a comment, which I think is worth clarifying as a separate blogpost.

It regards the difference between mission and missional. You see, missional is about mission and mission is missional but mission is not missional. Clear aye! :)

The Christian impulse for mission is for all time and all place. It emerges from a God of triune love who dwells in relationship, celebrates diversity and is unified in love.

But mission is outworked in different ways. We know this because Scripture give us diverse pictures of mission.

Ruth is the story of God’s work through the outsider; Lamentations is the story of faith in black; Daniel is a story of marketplace faith in exile; Jesus is the wandering prophet; Paul is the community builder; Revelation is the persecuted dreamer.

Or take the book of Acts. In chapter 2, mission is at work as people flock to Jerusalem interested in God and when there are spaces in society where people notice the church. But later in Acts, Paul takes this gospel on the road, is tentmaking and creating cultural connections on Mars Hill. And then he is the suffering prisoner, using his chains to proclaim faith. In each of these, the Christian impulse is mission, but the outworking is diverse.

This is made most clear when we consider the relationship between church and society as it it played out through the Bible. The task of the church is to reform in Dueteronomy, to protest in Mary’s song, to be counter-cultural in lifestyle in 1 Peter. This response is based on how much society listens to the church and whether society has the ear of the powers that be.

This relationship continues to be played out through history. David Bosch in Transforming Mission looks at mission over 2000 years and notes how at different times, different Scriptures became commonly used to describe the mission of the church.

It is this plurality that makes our task exciting today. What Biblical and historical pictures will most accurately encourage and challenge us in this time and place? In Christendom, when the church is at the centre, then “temple models” of being large and attractional work. But the church is no longer at the centre and so we are back to Scripture and church history, wondering what are the texts for our time.

This is what the word “missional” means. It is prophetic voice. First in flagging mission for what is essentially a Christendom church and second in pointing to cultural change – that the 2000′s are not like the 1970′s, and that the relationship of church and society has changed. Given these two factors, missional is a Biblical voice, seeking to excavate the Scriptures that will serve a post-Christendom church.

Hence: missional is about mission. And mission is missional. But mission is not missional because “missional” is the attempt to speak of “mission” today.

Have I confused or clarified myself?

Posted by steve at 10:57 AM

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday prayer for Beckenham and Opawa Baptists

Let us live in such a way
That when we die
Our love will survive
And continue to grow.
from Leunig

Posted by steve at 10:02 AM

Thursday, April 09, 2009

random links on the costs, impact and processes of creativity

the cost of ministry

Disappearing into the future. Quotes from U2 interview on Pitchfork: “We didn’t buy into the idea that good music had to be underground …. coming, never arrived … We are always thinking that this one will get it … The industry wants you to have inbuilt obsolence … the media are always looking for new and younger artists … Cool is a real constraint …. The world is more malleable than you think …. that’s an optimistic message …. our creative commune …. music is a kind of sacrament, something sacred.”

critique of aggregators and RSS feeds. Robert Thompson, the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal has slammed news aggregation sites as “parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet … Google encourages promiscuity – and shamelessly so – and therefore a significant proportion of their users don’t necessarily associate that content with the creator. ” Whenever I see my posts reproduced word for word on other websites, this is how I feel.

- Leadership as knowledge sharing – “If you want to lead with influence – share the knowledge that you have about your processes, your strategies – give away and you will gain respect and manna from those who want to learn from you, beside you and those who can influence your own knowledge pool.” Makes me wonder if it’s more important to say “this is how I think when I engage Bible + life”, rather than “this is what I think”

Posted by steve at 11:14 AM

Saturday, March 28, 2009

preaching a complex scent simply

The latest U2 album, No line on the horizon, has a song ( “Cedars of Lebanon”) that intrigues me. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album and it’s been making some odd echoes in my head over the last few days.

The song seems to be written from the point of view of a journalist in Lebanon. In the first verse we find him waking up after a late night, meeting a deadline.
Yesterday I spent asleep
Woke up in my clothes in a dirty heap
Spent the night trying to make a deadline
Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline

I’ve been wondering if the last line actually captures some of the task of communication in general, including preaching.

It’s a fact that the Bible is complicated. Multiple genre’s, from poetry to story, from apocalypse to epistle, from gospel to poetry, from proverb to parable. The literature emerges from lives spread over hundreds of years, across diverse languages (Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew) and unique cultures (nomadic, Ancient near eastern, Israelite, Greco-Roman). It’s complicated.

So to are the lives of people. Every Sunday a range of lifestories eye me up. Some are high, others low. Some are forgiven, others burdened. Some are open, others closed. All are trying to make sense of a rapidly changing world and the complications of life in a credit crunch.

Into all this complication comes the cry for simplicity, to be clear and sharp, to say one thing well. Preaching becomes “Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline”! I’m not saying this is good or bad, it simply is. Nor am I saying anything about how one goes about the preaching task – whether one exposits, or discusses, or imagines or creates. Simply that the task seems to be summarised by the juxtaposition between complicated/simple.

Come the third verse, another line jumps out at me.
This shitty world sometimes produces a rose
The scent of it lingers and then it just goes

That’s my prayer every Sunday. That in the mercy of God, my “complicated/simple headlines” might in fact be a rose, in the midst of people’s turmoil. Even better, that the rose scent would linger, beyond Sunday and into Monday and the week ahead. It might be an idea, a connection, a concept, and wouldn’t it be great if it lingered beyond the door, and wafted into the week ahead.

In writing this, I am not trying to claim anything special for my preaching, nor for the task of preaching itself. The scent might come from a pastoral prayer, or a moment of creativity, or a song well chosen, or an instrument played creatively, or a rich conversation over coffee afterward.

But the goal seems captured by that sense of “complex scent simply.” Some random connections as I’ve travelled through the week.

Posted by steve at 10:57 PM