Friday, October 09, 2020

Healing amid crisis: an analysis of theologies of healing in public prayer

The Association of Practical Theology in Oceania (APTO) Conference is online in 2020 – December 3 to 5. I couldn’t afford to go normally but virtual is whole other story. The theme is Encountering God: Practical Theology and the Mission to Heal. After a conversation or three with fellow researcher Lynne Taylor, thinking about our praying in trauma research, we’ve submitted the following abstact:

Healing amid crisis: an analysis of theologies of healing in public prayer as local churches respond in gathered worship to tragedy and trauma

Christian practices embody and reflect lived theologies. The gathered worship service is theory- and theology-laden, offering insight into Christian understandings of how God is engaged in human history and what human response could and should be. Investigating how Christians pray corporately is thus a potentially fruitful way to explore underlying theologies.

This paper draws on empirical research to investigate how local churches pray in response to trauma and tragedy. Online surveys were conducted in November 2015 (following coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris) and March 2019 (following the Christchurch mosque shootings).

The paper is part of a larger project, that seeks to examine how in the midst of trauma, churches might pray. Previous analysis has examined the empirical data in dialogue with Storm Swain’s understanding of God as earth-maker (creating/holding); pain-bearer (suffering); and life-giver (transforming) (in Trauma and Transformation at Ground Zero: A Pastoral Theology); and with Samuel Well’s typologies of God’s presence (Incarnational Mission: Being with the World).

This paper analyses the data paying particular attention to healing. What images of healing are evident? Who are envisaged as agents of healing? What is the telos, the imagined shape of a healed world? As one example, a church invited prayer by placing native grasses on the altar. This suggests several theologies of healing, including remembering, with one grass for every victim murdered, and hospitality, recognizing those who died not as “other” but as lives planted in indigenous soil.

The implications for those who pray in trauma and tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the theological work possible through the practices of Christian public prayer.

It will give us the opportunity/push/invitation to look again at the local church in action and to take in a new direction research shared at ANZATS 2019 and about to have published in Stimulus, the New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice

“Praying for Christchurch: First Impressions of how local churches responded in gathered worship to the mosque shooting,” Stimulus: the New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice (co-authored with Lynne Taylor), (accepted for publication) 2020.

Posted by steve at 10:05 PM

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Fatima: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 155 plus films later, here is the review for October 2020.

Fatima
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Fatima is a movie for the faithful. Directed by Marco Pontecorvo, it tells the story of ten-year-old Lúcia (Stephanie Gil) and her two young cousins, Jacinta (Alejandra Howard) and Francisco (Jorge Lamelas). They report a visitation from Mary, the mother of God. She promises to return monthly, with words of comfort and prediction. Children can be impressionable. Would you believe a child?

In devout Portugal, news of future visits from Mary, attract the masses. Month by month, the crowds gather. Some 70,000 are present for what was the final reported visitation on October 13, 1917. What happened is known as “The Miracle of the Sun.” Lúcia asks Mary for a miracle. Many in the crowd reported seeing the sun spin three times. Each rotation lasted three or four minutes, casting rainbow coloured light across those gathered. Others in the crowd saw nothing. Who would you believe?

In a country racked by war, the voice of suffering is ever-present. Some 12,000 Portuguese troops died during World War I, while civilian deaths due to famine and flu exceeded 220,000. The mother who prayed the rosary for her son to be safe becomes the one who yells in grief as Lucia walks past her door. When Mary speaks of world peace to a child, would you believe?

The voice of religion is heard through the village priest, Father Ferreira (Joaquim de Almeida). During the first decades of the twentieth century, a secularising government placed the church under intense pressure. Clergy were imprisoned, seminaries closed and religious orders suppressed. If there is a time for every activity under the sun, then when is the time for keeping a low profile and when is the time to believe a child? In a number of touching scenes, the potential of saying the rosary to generate peaceful protest is clearly visible.

The voice of the sceptic is heard through Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel). The year is 1989, and in the name of research, the academic professor visits the now elderly Lucia. Why do divine apparitions always conform to the iconography of the culture in which they appear? Why would stigmata appear on the palms of the hands when it is now known that Roman crucifixion involved the binding of the wrists? These visits are a skilful piece of plot development. Over several scenes, the events of 1917 are given room to breathe. As the present interrogates the past, the space for intellectual doubt is held. In the face of secular scepticism, would you believe a child?

What Fatima lacked was the voice of development. In a poignant moment, Lucia believes Mary is telling her to learn to read. An illiterate ten-year-old, tending sheep rather than attending school, suggests a peasant economy. Is organised religion a force for progress? Or is it the opiate of the people, suppressing women and children in patriarchy and poverty?

Fatima rewards but slowly. Over time, you realise you are looking at life through the eyes of a child. If you were that child, would you believe?

Posted by steve at 08:36 PM

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

crafting of call in the knitted theologies-of-ordination series

Last year, during my sabbatical as part of my research into craftivism and knitted angels, I learnt to knit. It is one thing to research intellectually. It is quite another to research by actually making. It certainly locates me as a dependant learner, feeling helpless and needing instruction.

With the sabbatical ended and the journal article submitted (“When ‘#xmasangels’ tweet: a Reception Study of Craftivism as Christian Witness,” Ecclesial Practices 7 (2) 2020, (co-authored with Shannon Taylor)), I kept knitting. Another scarf, then a babies cardigan, then some fingerless gloves from re-found op shop wool.

With a week of holiday recently, I found myself knitting dishcloths. During the week, I was sitting with the emotions of my resignation as Principal of KCML. The sadness at the ending of my relationship with ordination formation, mixed with the release from a demanding role which was at such odds with the understandings by which I had been called. As I knitted, I found myself thinking back over a decade of teaching and leading in the forming of ministers, beginning in the Uniting Church in Australia, followed by the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa.

In the Uniting Church, when deacons are ordained, they are given a gift of a towel (along with a Bible, water, bread and wine), to indicate the diaconal call to a ministry of service.

A group of people, representing those amongst whom the minister will serve, comes forward. They bring a Bible, and water, bread and wine, along with a bowl and towel. Other symbols related to the field of service may also be brought.

One of them says: We are the people of God. We bring the holy Bible, and water, and bread and wine as signs of the ministry to which you were ordained.

Another says: We are the people of God. We bring the symbols of our common life and service.

The minister takes the Bible, opens it and places it on the lectern or pulpit; takes the jug and pours water into the font; and takes the bread and wine and places them on the communion table. S/he then takes the bowl and towel and any other symbol/s and places them in front of the communion table.

As I knitted, I realised that dishclothes offered a similar symbol. I was “hand-making” a symbol of service, that embodied the call to mission and ministry.

So began the knitted theologies of ordination series! Dishclothes, each of which speak to theologies of call to mission and ministry.

First, co-mission.

dishcloth2

Knitted dishcloths as a symbol of ordination as a service of Christ; the colours an affirmation of the creative humanity upon which the Spirit of Christ falls and by which service to Christ is made/woven into the church in mission. Three colours to demonstrate the three strands of word (teach), sacrament (baptise) and discipling (make disciples) by which the co-mission (with other disciples) of Jesus (Go into all the world) is fulfilled (working with the wonderful work by Paul Avis, A Ministry Shaped by Mission).

Second, formation.

ordination3

A symbol of service. Handmade because every act of service in ministry and mission is handmade – is “truth through personality.” In the making of this dishcloth a blemish was discovered – a strand so thin the wool needed to be broken. Despite this blemish, the knitting continued. Such is the call of God, weaving human brokenness into a tapestry of love. Indeed as I knit, it becomes clear who this gift is for.

Third, ending.

ordination3

Casting off is required for completion. Repetitive stitches, knit two then pull one over. So close, yet more care is required. My stubby little fingers struggling to pull one stitch over another. A theology of ending – repetition, patience, trying not to rush, little human fingers requiring kindness. Ending a ministry of service is unique work.

As I keep knitting, I hope to add to this series …

Posted by steve at 10:28 AM

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Nurturing faith online: praxis connecting theory

Some work for my 4th and final Nurturing faith online Community of Practice. After 6 months of action experiments, I’m giving feedback to each participant – bringing their experiment into conversation with theory. What from our praxis confirms? What challenges?

Theory – identity – digital media can be used by people to articulate and work out their religious identities and visions

Praxis – this Community of Practice has involved 4 regulars, 3 others, along with several others who committed to watch a later recording. Meeting online 4 times over 6 months, this Community of Practice brought people together from three countries. While none live in physical proximity, they have found common ground online. This common ground is shaped by a religious vision, a curiosity about nurturing faith online.

Participation was an act of agency. Each person focused on an experiment in trying to make sense of a rapid change. Hence they Community of Practice was an active participation in the out working of a religious identity.

Hence the articulation of vision was in word and deed. Rather than be overwhelmed by COVID, the undertaking of experiments demonstrated dynamic, flexible and adaptive actions. Risks were taken and new things emerged

  • karaoke for playful shared ecumenical worship
  • short courses that invited people outdoors to pay attention to their surroundings and listen more deeply to silence and space
  • listening through surveys that opened up realities of God online
  • experiments in community that showed the reality of fluid identity formation
  • experiments in participation that bore witness to the possibility of relating and connecting

Online has made visible the work that people are willing to do – in their own time – to express and explore their identities online. This is an active, creative, playful vision of nurturing faith online.

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Radioactive: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 150 plus films later, here is the review for September 2020.

Radioactive
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Radioactive is the illuminating story of human brilliance. Brilliance shines from the science of Madame Curie (Rosamund Pike). Living in Paris, she became in 1903 the first woman to win a Nobel prize, for discovering radioactivity. The first ever woman appointed to as professor at the University of Paris, in 1911, she became the first (and only) woman to win a second Nobel prize, for the discovery of polonium and radium.

Radioactive illuminates not only her brilliance but equally her humanity. Born Maria Salomea Skłodowska, she lost her mother aged ten to tuberculosis and her husband, Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), in a tragic accident. Born Polish, she experienced sexism and xenophobia, at times cruelly scapegoated by the populist press in France.

Radioactive draws from the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss (Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout) and is directed by Iranian-born French woman Marjane Satrapi. Perhaps it is the gift of a migrant, to tenderly illuminate the corrosive impact of causal racism and a xenophobic public.

Before directing, Satrapi had gained critical acclaim for her autobiographical novels Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Indeed, a feature of Radioactive is the attention paid to the visual in storytelling. While sequences like the woman aflame in the second meeting between Maria and Pierre add meaning, other visual sequences offer an overworked hyperrealism that distracts from the unfolding drama.

The ethics of making are central to any dramatic telling of radiation. Science has a human side, and in a final sequence, Maria walks through humanity’s future. She enters a future room in which she glimpses the radioactivity she discovers making good, in the cure of cancer. She then enters rooms in which radiation is making bad, killing tens of thousands at Hiroshima, causing hundreds of thousands to be evacuated at Chernobyl. These ending sequences invite a theological reflection on the ethics of making.

For Christianity, making is never neutral. Things, as well as humans, can always be converted. In Isaiah 2:4, swords can be beaten into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks. Such is the vision of God, as military hardware is redeemed into agricultural assistance.

A similar vision occurs in Deuteronomy 19:1-13. Handmade axe heads can kill. Things made for good – to cut wood – can make for bad – a neighbour unintentionally killed. In response, God’s people are instructed to make again. The love of God converts an eye for an eye into the making of cities of sanctuary. Things made are never neutral. Yet a city well made can transform the corrosive impact of scapegoating.

Such ancient visions have inspired contemporary makers. Recently in Sweden, Andreas Vural turned the metal from seized illegal guns into sets of wireless headphones. The Megatons to Megawatts Program dismantled nuclear weapons, making them into civilian electric power stations. Over twenty years, as much as ten per cent of the electricity produced in the United States was generated from the equivalent of 20,008 made in Russia nuclear warheads. Makers can transform. It is a vision in which human brilliance is dignified and each of us are capable of making, whether for good or bad.

Posted by steve at 11:22 AM

Friday, September 04, 2020

transition time: future unknown

It was announced officially this week that I’ve resigned as Principal of KCML.

It’s been a really difficult decision, which I’ve wrestled with deeply with my supervisor and with my family. I love the intern and teaching parts of the role and the KCML team are fantastic.

I’m grateful to the church for discerning that I had skills in leadership and innovation that might be expressed through the role of Principal, KCML.

I’ve got nothing to go to at this time, but trust my passion and experience in contemporary mission and leadership can continue to be of use in equipping church leaders for today’s world.

“Rev Dr Steve Taylor has announced his resignation as Principal of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, effective from 31 January 2021.

For the past five years, Steve has utilised his experience and skill as a minister, theological educator, innovator and academic to help in the formation of our Church’s ministers and leaders. We thank Steve for sharing his passion for contemporary mission and leadership across the Church, and by doing so, encouraging us all to join God in God’s mission… Ngā mihi nui ki a koe.

I know you will take the opportunity over the coming months to let him know how much his support and leadership has meant.

We wish Steve continued success as he explores new opportunities, and as he continues to serve God’s Church and grow leaders in mission. There will be a gathering to farewell Steve, date to be advised.”

Posted by steve at 12:00 PM

Monday, August 31, 2020

The High Note: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 150 plus films later, here is the review for August 2020.

The High Note
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Everyone’s a star in our town, It’s just your light gets dimmer.”
lyrics from California (There Is No End To Love) (There Is No End to Love) by U2

Advertised as a romantic comedy, The High Note offered a light-hearted post-Lockdown return to the cinema. The slow drift toward another manufactured Hollywood Sunset Strip ending is surprisingly dimmed by the arrival of ancient, Biblical wisdom.

The High Note is a 2020 American comedy-drama film directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Flora Greeson. Set in California, life is a backdrop of palms, pools, and parties, in which everyone is filled with dreams, scripts, and songs.

Like so many Hollywood dreams, The High Note begins in a music studio. By night, Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson), is making music. By day, she is a personal assistant to Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross).

Boasting twelve Grammy’s, Grace Davis embodies diva, with fabulous clothes, private jets, and extravagant parties. But the light of every star in Tinseltown is always slowly fading. This sets up a career tension. Does Grace make another album of new music? Or does she sink into Vegas, a star slowly drawing down on her fading celebrity?

David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) provides character contrast. A young singer, playing community halls, he meets Maggie Sherwoode over an organic orange at the corner store. This sets up another set of tensions. Can there be an ending apart from young love? In Hollywood, armed with a laptop, everyone is a producer. Can personal assistant become a producer of David’s music? As a result, boundaries blur. The tensions around romance and career soon become ethical.

High notes are amplified by low notes. Contrast comes dramatically with an unexpected plot twist, needed to set up the Hollywood ending, as stars new and old fuse in the grand finale.

Contrast comes quietly in the form of a text message. Maggie and David are messing about while Katie (Zoë Chao), Maggie’s flatmate and loyal friend, is at work. A theatre nurse, Katie sends an image of an open heart. Everything is meaningless, responds Maggie, showing the picture of the open heart to David. In the middle of a budding romance and California dreaming, do you laugh? Do you return to messing about with your boyfriend? Or do quietly ponder the meaning of life?

“Everything is meaningless” is a line of poetry from Ecclesiastes 1:2. The writer, likely King Solomon, has sampled the high notes of life. In Ecclesiastes chapter 2, the pleasures are listed: urban landscaping, wealth acquisition, and sexual choice. In other words, plenty of palms and parties under the Jerusalem stars! Yet as Ecclesiastes concludes:

For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (12:14)

Whether scriptwriter Flora Greeson is aware of the Biblical allusion or no, the intrusion certainly changes the mood. Every star, whether rising or falling, has a heart. Every human, famous or forgotten, is vulnerable. Every action, whether unethical or wise, will be judged. One image accompanied by three words insert Biblical wisdom into The High Note’s dreams of starlit glamour.

Posted by steve at 08:05 PM

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Soul work: two blessings and the eXPERIENCE tour

U2CON 2020 CALL FOR PRESENTATIONS
Heartland: U2’s Looking For American Soul
An International Virtual U2 Conference For Scholars And Fans
October 18 – 24, 2020

Some thoughts about making change, U2, appreciative inquiry and the beatitudes have been floating around my head for a while. With a week’s holiday, and a commitment to only do fun and creative things, today I submitted a conference proposal for the International Virtual U2 Conference.

Paper proposal: Soul work: two blessings and the eXPERIENCE tour

“American Soul,” from U2’s Songs of Experience album, begins with a spoken word segment by Kendrick Lamar. The words flip the blessing genre of the Beatitudes, critiquing the “arrogant” and “filthy rich.” As Bono explained, “There’s a righteous anger that is hard to argue with.” Played live, every American concert goer was urged to stand up and look around, for “refugees like you and me.”

“American Soul” was replaced by “New Year’s Day” on the European leg of the eXPERIENCE tour. The change is canny performance, given the emotional connections between the song and the Polish Solidarity movement. The switch is also smart marketing, given U2 then released “Europa Ep”, with two new versions of “New Year’s Day.”

However, the change also offers another type of soul work. This becomes evident as the eXPERIENCE tour performances of “New Year’s Day” in various European cities are analysed. The song begins with Bono offering a spoken word blessing. Berlin is blessed for the winemakers and the wine drinkers, Belfast for soul music and Milan for the “Santa Maria delle Grazie where you can join in the Last Supper.” These particularities are followed by a general blessing, for all who are part of the “blue above the Europe we share.”

Bono’s blessings share similarities with appreciative inquiry, a collaborative, strengths-based approach to change (Cooperrider and Srivastva, 1987). Each blessing shares particular memories, offers cultural hope and invites conversation about a shared future. In response to Brexit and asylum seekers braving the Mediterranean sea, Bono has crafted a unique blessing for each city and every soul.

Hence the two legs of the eXPERIENCE tour offer two types of blessing, one of righteous anger, the other of appreciative inquiry. Both invite consideration of the experience of soul work in the making of cultural change.

Posted by steve at 09:44 PM

Friday, August 14, 2020

Bubble course participant survey

“80% of respondents indicated they had made changes, with many expressing confidence to try new things, particularly online.”

During Level 3 in Aotearoa, KCML offered Bubble courses to provide input for leaders, elders, ministers and whole people of God. They were offered as timely, conversational, engaging, thought-provoking. Their usefulness was affirmed with a request to offer one particular Bubble course – Building Community and Increasing Participation Online to church leaders in Australia.

Bubble Courses2

As part of action-reflection Bubble course participants were invited to provide feedback. While there are many ways to gain feedback, for example analysing chat interactions), as survey provides an opportunity for more considered evaluation.

11 questions were asked,
• Which Bubble course did you do? (tick box 3 options)
• How did you hear about the Bubble courses?
• Demographics – Role in church
• What about the Bubble Course you attended would you like to affirm?
• What about the Bubble Course you attended would you like to see improved?
• What about doing a Bubble course online enhanced your learning?
• What about doing a Bubble course online diminished your learning?
• Have you done anything differently as a result? (if yes, what)
• Are there any special thanks you would like to share (anonymously)?
• Would you be interested in another Bubble topic at another time?
• What future topics would interest you?

Here is a summary, which I provided a few weeks ago to one of our governance groups and publicly to the church last week on the KCML website:

Executive summary

KCML ran 6 Bubble courses during lockdown, covering preaching, change, and building an online community. Each course attracted between 30 to 45 participants. Of the potential 90 participants, 20 responded to a request for feedback. These were de-identified, collated, and organised thematically. What follows is a summary of over 4 pages of comments.

Those who provided feedback occupied a range of leadership roles, primarily ordained but including paid workers and laypeople. The average age of those who responded was 59 years old. Some 75% were women. The best mode of advertising was through Presbytery mailouts, with KCML channels (apart from the Principal’s personal Facebook) having no impact.

The courses were overwhelming received as positive. They were experienced as significant in decreasing isolation and providing a strong sense of connectivity and inclusion. Specific comments noted the sense of being valued and being able to learn alongside other recognised leaders in the church.

The courses were experienced as professional and of high quality. Particular strengths of the Bubble courses appreciated by participants included the fact that KCML had a go in the first place, the interactive nature of the courses and the quality of the resourcing. Some spoke of being willing to pay.

Within a week of completion of the Bubble courses, 80% of respondents indicated they had made changes, with many expressing confidence to try new things, particularly online. There is a sense that as they saw risk-taking in the offering of the Bubble courses, they felt empowered to take risks. This encouragement to take risks is worth further reflection in terms of how leadership is experienced within church organisations.

The main suggestions from respondents for improvement included requests for longer sessions. More time would allow for more interaction and reflection. The breakout room experience was variable. Some found them very helpful, others not. It was clear that good moderation would be beneficial, for example through appointing a “moderator”.

There was overwhelming (100%) support for more Bubble Courses. While this is only from those who responded (20 of the 90), it is still very encouraging. The reasons for wanting more Bubble Courses included the valuing of accessibility, along with the positive experiences of being individually resourced and being more connected to the wider church. The most requested topics include pastoral care, public theology, mission and innovation, worship and mental health.

Posted by steve at 03:07 PM

Friday, July 31, 2020

playing with faith formation with Port Phillip East Presbytery

Screen Shot 2020-07-30 at 9.18.23 PM

I was hosted “online” by the Port Phillip East Presbytery today, talking about
…. connection, interaction, contemplation, and engaging spiritual practices beyond Sunday worship.
… what leaders are trying and discovering about ways to form disciples in a dispersed community
… ministry as play, about creativity and risk and about how the Spirit takes us in new directions.

It is one of the extraordinary gifts of this time of “distancing”, that while it locks us down, it also opens us up. And so I get to “speak” in Melbourne without leaving my home, and to engage with some wonderful colleagues I used to minister with in Australia. The video is on the Port Phillip Presbytery East facebook site.

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It was interesting using two online platforms, Zoom to host a conversation and show the visuals and Facebook live to stream the conversation and enable access and comments. There was a bit of “breathe” holding and risk-taking as we experimented with an online lectio – reading, silence, participation through chat – but it seemed to engage participants. Certainly with 165 comments on the Facebook live feed during the 90 minutes, their was plenty of good interaction with the content.

The time broke into 5 sections

  1. what faith formation and faith practices (or spiritual or discipleship practices) mean
  2. what theological resources shape faith formation and faith practices
  3. how people have been experimenting with online faith formation in recent weeks
  4. the underlying pedagogies that shape my online teaching and learning and recent experimenting
  5. my use of improvisation, play and experimentation in relation to mission and leadership. Why is important to play during a pandemic? Is this normal or abnormal for the church?

I sought to offer theology, reflection and practical examples. Much of my thinking is in a chapter I have submitted for an edited book with Heidi Campbell, which is currently sitting with a publisher. My chapter is titled Lockdown ecclesiologies: the limits and possibilities of enforced online first expressions. I argue that enforced online first expressions are an invitation to appreciate ourselves as child-like, making visible the kingdom as we learn a new (internet) language.

The books I mentioned in order of appearance:

Avis, Paul. (2005). A Ministry Shaped by Mission. T & T Clark, 2005,
Rogers, E. (2009). The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Wiley-Blackwell
McCulloch, G. (2019). Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, Vintage
Taylor, S. (2005). The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change, Zondervan.
Taylor, S. (2016). Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, Mediacom.
Taylor, S. (2019). First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, SCM
Taylor, S. (2020). communities of practice as action-reflection tools.
Smart, J. (2020, April 28). Survey report: online facilitation and virtual meetings.

Books unmentioned but important for my thinking:
Gauntlett, D. (2018). Making is Connecting: The social power of creativity, from craft and knitting to digital everything (2nd edn.), Polity
Matapo, J. (2020). The vā that binds: a Pasifika education story during Covid-19
McNeil, J. (2020). Lurking: How a Person Became a User, MCD, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

My thanks to Craig Mitchell for the invite, Port Phillip East Presbytery for the hosting and Duncan Macleod for the technology and conversation on the day.

Posted by steve at 07:10 PM

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

learning by doing: The art of gaining feedback

At the heart of action is reflection. Reflection is generated by feedback. We can gain feedback in at least 7 ways. Each has advantages and disadvantages. With feedback, we honour the other. From feedback, we begin to learn.

thought-catalog-RdmLSJR-tq8-unsplash

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

1 – Formative participant feedback; informally

Formative because this feedback is generated during a process. We watch body language. We attend to the pauses. We analyse the words being used – the depth of feeling, the type of verbs. We mirror what we hear and ask clarifying questions.

2 – Summative participant feedback; evaluation

We choose questions carefully and through survey (or chat), often at the end of a session or programme, we invite comment. This tends to be written and thus individual. What should we start? What should we stop? What should we keep?

3 – Summative group feedback; together

We create opportunity for the group to engage together. This allows for moderation, challenge, affirmation among the group. As they talk, we listen. We might record or ask someone to take notes.

I was most enlivened by; I did not realise that; We were at our best as a group when we; The most challenging part of our time together as a group was; I am thankful to God for

4 – Reflect on the spoken group work

We keep track of who speaks, paying particular attention to diversity and frequency. We reflect this back, thus shaping the experience. Who has not spoken? Are particular voices not being heard?

5 – Peer review

We invite an external colleague – friend, mentor – to watch us. It might be live. It might be a recording. We ask them to give us their feedback.

6 – Reflect on written interaction

After the event, we analyse the chat or contemplate the whiteboard. We analyse the words being used – the depth of feeling, the type of verbs. We consider the questions being asked. Where they addressed? What do they say about interest and engagement?

7 – Our own experiences

We journal a moment. In half a page, we seek in clear, simple words, to capture the experience: something that made us uncomfortable; something that felt significant; something that seemed to go well. We then turn to analyse what we have written. Now that our experience is outside us, is there a key word or phrase? Is there a 1 sentence summary?

In each of these 7 ways, we are paying attention. The feedback is returning us to the action. Contemplation is from the Latin, con – meaning with and templum – meaning temple. We are daring to believe that in the action is the Divine. God is present. This is holy ground. As we are with God, we see ourselves and others more clearly. We are open to grow. There will be thanks and confession, prayer and petition. Such is the gift of feedback.

Posted by steve at 10:03 PM

Friday, July 17, 2020

of glasshouses and sandpits: mission and innovation

I spoke on mission and innovation at Central Presbytery earlier this week. By the wonders of technology, the minimum 90 minute flight took 9 seconds as I walked downstairs and turned on zoom. I offered 10 minutes on mission. What does good mission leadership look like, using art and Biblical reflection and the excellent Stanley Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission

  • leaving the pen, leaving the existing 99 (John 10: 14-17; Luke 15:3-7)
  • the simplicity of sharing your Jesus encounter (John 4:27-30; 39-42)
  • listening, of finding out where Spirit is already at work in the lives of strangers (Acts 8: 26-31, 34, 36-38)
  • afresh in every different cultural encounter (Acts 14: 14-17)

I then offered 10 minutes on innovation, first pointing out the way that the Presbyterian Book of Order encourages innovation (8.4.1p; 9.45-48; Appendix D-4-E-vii ), then using 3 metaphors

  • enforced
  • glasshouse
  • sandpits

innovationcentral

My argument is that COVID has “enforced” innovation and opened up the church to more change than it ever imagined. However, organisations don’t need to wait for enforced, external change. They can erect glasshouses, to protect and nurture innovation. They can create sandpits, to encourage random play. These are deliberate ways to allocate resource and focus. Mission gives these innovation activities a distinct focus. They are not about novelty, but intentional participation in God’s making of all things new.

The images of glasshouses and sandpits are a development of material in my First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God and a development of Stefan Paas, Church Planting in the Secular West: Learning from the European Experience.

After the benediction, about half the folk stayed online with ongoing conversation for another 30 minutes. That was excellent for teasing out the discussion and engaging more deeply. Since then, there has been ongoing requests for more resources in relation to innovation, including resources I’ve been testing the last few years

  • systems innovation evaluation framework
  • innovation evaluation process

All in all, a graced event. All due to “enforced” innovation. As I said in my talk, 5 months ago if Central Presbytery has asked me to speak and I’d said yes, but can I do it online please, it would have been seen as out of the question. But “enforced” is bringing change.

Full notes are here.

Posted by steve at 03:13 PM

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

twenty-first-century ministry formation

One of my tasks over the last months has been to lead Faculty and interns in shifting a 9-day face to face intensive into a 10 -day online intensive. This has involved upskilling Faculty who have never before taught online and experimenting with ministry interns in new practices around online spiritual formation.

Today I worked through the intern evaluations, summarising the (de-identified) feedback on 13 areas of specific change made for this online intensive. This was the first step in order to be able to offer a report to the various governance and management bodies. As I finished the feedback, I found myself drafting some thoughts. They are very much draft, shaped as much by my ongoing reflection on the impact of COVID on the church in general (plus my recent work developing Bubble courses and Communities of Practice). As such, the words don’t belong so much in a block course governance report, but rather stand as a more general pondering about the future of ministry formation. Hence I note them here:

All new technology, whether a pen, the index of a book, a library catalogue or a learning management system, requires time to learn how best to utilise. How many of the skills that interns noted they were learning will, in fact, become essential ministry skills in the years ahead? Could it be that online learning needs to become an integral component of ministry formation? If so, then it will be essential that time is set aside for skill development. For example, sharing honestly and connecting socially in digital platforms, accessing online content and engaging in online spiritual disciplines. An education that integrates these dimensions will not only enhance the learning experience for all. It will also ensure a twenty-first-century citizen, in this case, an appropriately formed minister of the Word, able to participate in what God is up to, whether on or offline.

Posted by steve at 06:51 PM

Saturday, July 04, 2020

is that your bible – annotated bibliography

A few weeks ago, I wrote – Is that your Bible? – an opinion piece for ABC Religion and Ethics online. In about 850 words, I analysed a moment in popular culture – Donald Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Church – and reflected on what it might mean to read a sacred text.

Behind the opinion piece was a whole lot of thinking and reading. Here are 4 books I’ve found particularly significant:

First, Richard Burridge, Imitating Jesus carefully traces New Testament ethics as they focus on the person of Jesus. A final chapter examines apartheid as an ethical challenge. 75% of people in South Africa were involved in some sort of church during the Apartheid era and all sides considered they were acting “Biblically.” Burridge suggests four common approaches to reading Scripture and I used this as a framework to think through “Mary’s Bible” – using a mix of narrative and prescriptive commands in seeking to think about “law and order.”

burridge

Second, Gerard West, The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon. West examines the Bible in the continent of African and argues that Africans have “stolen” the Bible. West tells the wonderful story ascribed to Tutu.

When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land. And we got the better deal! – Desmond Tutu, The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon, page 326.

This gives agency to readers. While the long arc of justice demands ongoing reparation for anything stolen, the playful and liberative ways that Scripture can enable creativity in resistance require us to pay careful attention to who is holding the Bible. And why.

Third, The Art of Reading Scripture has a great chapter by William Stacy Johnson “Reading the Scriptures Faithfully in a Postmodern Age.” Three statements provide for me a helpful checklist:

  • Statement 1 – Our text is a collection of stories – “A collection of Scriptures that renders a congeries of stories – stories that are not always saying quite the same thing. The testimony of this passage of Scripture is juxtaposed with the “countertestimony” of that passage of Scripture, and so on” (The Art of Reading Scripture, page 114).
  • Our text is a collection of flesh and blood stories – The Bible is about real people, real action, real drama, real choices. We need to read and preach this reality. What if Jacob had not tricked Esau out of his birthright? What is Jesus had made different choices in the Garden of Gethsemane? Capturing the drama of these stories is essential
  • Our text is an unfinished text. “What is most important are not the past meanings the stories are thought to contain but the present meanings they continually provoke in the community of faith. At the heart and soul of reading the Scriptures faithfully is the constant rehearing of stories – and also of sayings, commandments, prophecies, and other materials – whose repetition helps kindle and inflame, right here, at this very moment, the “new thing” that the God who is for us in Jesus Christ is calling into being.” The Art of Reading Scripture, page 116).

Fourth, Scripture and Resistance has a range of excellent chapters on how to read the Bible in ways that resist Empire. The introduction, by Jione Havea, “Negotiating with Scripture and Resistance” spotlights the reader. The Bible does not say anything apart from the reader. Readers interpret. Readers can ignore. Readers can silence. Readers shape what Scripture says (or not). This again is relevant to Trump’s holding the Bible, inviting us to step beyond the photo op and consider how the Bible is being read.

Holding a book is easy. Reading it well is an art.

Posted by steve at 04:51 PM