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Miracle Ascension, Media Attention, Kingdom Contention.

July 7, 2019
IMG_0079
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why do you stand there
looking up
at the highest office of the land
hoping to see
the kingdom of God
in the Prime Minister’s command?
.
that one man
– though the way of the cross
he may profess –
alas
an impediment
Be his high rank
And the political bank
bars his kingdom access
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why do you stand there
looking up
at your champion in sport
hoping to hear
the gospel of Christ
in uncensored report?
.
that one man
-though pious practice
he may claim
alas
a disqualifier
be His sponsored celebrity name
his solicited soul
sold to another
for the sum of his silent fame
*
do you seek the kingdom of God?
plunge you hands in the dirt
feel the decaying loam
scatter the seed
on rock, path or weed
sniff the old lump of dough
left in the bread bowl foam
squint at the residue
in the bottom of the pot
squat down on the floor
by the infants cot
dive into the waves
search the sunken wrecks
tis grains and traces
and grit and flecks
Not on the surface in the sun
But in the dark depths swirl
The rare true treasure
The precious pearl
.
.
look down
within
beneath
close upon the earth
where in small things
of no regard
the reign of God
is given birth
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the lesson we need

July 4, 2019

paper bark people

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They say

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Jesus
That you came among humans
To teach us
How to live
By your word and ways
How to heal
How to serve
How eat another’s shared fish and bread
How to drink deep from another’s jar
How to cross the borders
And touch the unclean
How to sleep in the maelstrom
 and how to stay awake for a friend
who is struggling to survive  the night
.
How to speak to a  sinner
How to silence a scammer
How to confront corruption
How to be washed and oiled and kissed
scandalised
betrayed
.
.
I guess that this they say of you
Is all in every measure true
.
.
But surely
You came to teach us how to die
.
.
How to bleed out
How to despair of hope
How to let our godforsaken soul
crack the skies above us
How to give up all spirit
To say ‘I’m done, all out, it’s finished.’
.
.
To lie limp
Breathless pulseless mindless
Pure corpse
The rot slowly beginning
How to be buried
In a garden grave
A compost heap
of worm tempting
blood and bone
.
How to properly die
You show us how to die
How to give our very souls over to eternity
How to apply ourselves without reserve
to the process of death
To the deepest humbling
.
We who had been told that death was terrible
a cruel oppressor
an authority
a judge
a sentence
an unnegotiable end
.
We need you to teach us how to die
How to make friends with death
To be reconciled
With this great enemy
So we may be friends unafraid
with all our lesser foes and fears
.
To fall and die as a seed
To break utterly apart
With death and joy
.
.
Great teacher
bring us this lesson
how to die
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Segregation vs Sensitivity: an alternative approach to recognising and acknowledging age diversity in faith formation.

June 20, 2019
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Driving from Melbourne to Stanwell Tops last week to join theLeaders to Go conference, the clutch pedal on the Barina snapped of while driving on the highway just out of Gundagai. The clutch is an essential mechanism for transitions. Every learner driver understands that different gears are necessary for various conditions of speed and gradient, and the art of engaging the clutch and gears for the transitions is a sensitive art. Most of our faithing lives are journeys of adjustment and require sensitivity in finding alignment to travel forwards safely with others.
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I had one presentation to make at the conference.
In a three way debate  I was tasked with advocating for ‘Age-segregated faith formation’ against Tammy Tolman proposing intergenerational faith contexts and Christina Embree defending Parents families and households as the primary discipleship contexts.
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Those who have been following along at home keeping up with the waves and fashions and slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in what Phyllis Tickle calls the postchristendom “garage sale” , will realise that of these three ideas, Age-segregated or Age-specific programs have declined in favour against the rising enthusiasm for intergenerational faith formation contexts  – both focused in reengaging the family/household and  in restructuring  broader faith community.
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So in the midst of this cohort of cutting edge and long-haul leaders of leaders in Children and Families ministries of many flavours and forms arguing for age-segregated programs was definitely the underdog position.
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Added to this, I work for an organisation called ‘Intergen’ and am widely known not only for riding the intergenerational faith bus, but driving it, refuelling it, and spending a fair amount of time with my head under the bonnet fixing and fine tuning it.
The last conference I spoke at in the UK  I was invited to create my own topic and I ripped out a rabid theological defense of intergenerational faith communities on the most imperative terms: ‘Because God’. 
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So in many ways this was a bit of a set up. Friends and colleagues were waiting to see if I would perjure myself in delivering ‘devil’s advocate’ arguments I don’t buy into in my own practice.
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Within me though, this was a welcome challenge of imagination.
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Studying theology brings great gifts – many precious pearls are gained in diving deep down into the waves of history, as one feels the changing pressures through the bathys, the flow and forces of cross currents, the changing creature culture, the dimming of light from above and the biofluorescence held within.*
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To study theology leaves us soaked and breathless at the immensity of our scriptures, our traditions, our heresies, our controversies, our corruptions and crusades,  our symbols and sacraments, our spiritual discipline and practices, our cultural appropriations through the years.

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This invitation to argue for a faith practice that has come into being in the past two centuries and fallen out of vogue in the past two decades was set to the roar of the whole theological ocean in my ears, the taste of historical salt on my tongue and the smash of the waves of culture on the cliffs at my feet.
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Superficial dismissals of the recent issues of age-segregation were easy to review:
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Family life has changed and middle class  children already spend  too much of the week in age-ability structured activities and not enough time with their own families, let alone with broader companies of diverse humans.
The ‘learning’ agenda of age-specific religious education programs reduces the humanness of children and adults to educational role players.
Evicting children from the weekly gathering for worship disconnects then from the practices of faith of the whole community, and trains them to leave.
‘Segregation’ itself is a pejorative term in the late-modernity western democratic philosophical lexicon, associated with recidivist leadership and morally bankrupt culture.
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These arguments and many more have been well rehearsed in popular ministry blogs and conferences, drawing from anecdotal material. Further, the depth and longitudinal research of religious sociologists such as the giant of the field, John Roberto and the steady, prolific Holly Catterton Allen map the robust life-long faith of those who stay connected to other generations. The stories and the statistics stack up well.
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Nevertheless, most of this material is phenomenological. And I wondered if there was something we were missing theologically in all of the attention given to intergenerational and household faith formation?
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I wondered too, if we were neglecting something missiological. I’m thinking of those who live in households where faith is not celebrated or connected to a larger community. What of them?
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My charge was to argue positively for age-segregated discipleship.
There were a few things in my favour: while Tammy Tolman presented a sweeping cache of biblical examples of the people of God  in the Hebrew Bible celebrating festivals and coming together to renew their covenant with the Lord as a whole intergenerational community, these were the ‘highlights’ of the year – large seasonal events and celebrations.
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Discipleship though, is to  ‘walk in the footsteps of faith’ (Romans 4:12) and in the working subsistence agricultural communities of the ancient near east, children were gathered in cohorts to learn and contribute tasks along side an older family member as mentor. Ages were managed.
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This wasn’t strictly age-segregation, but then neither is the practice most churches have with their 5 year olds. Looking with fresh eyes into an early years room on a sunday we see a group of 4 and 5 year olds, a few adults; maybe one (the leader) is 50 and another few are in their late 30s (parent supporters) and a young teenager also helps set up, and assist the children with activities and builds a warm rapport with the children.
This then, under the heading of ‘age segregated’ or ‘age appropriate’ group is in fact a little cosmos of intergenerationality – potentially, and many who are part of these groups will witness to this, a garden of faith reciprocity as everyone in the room is strengthened in faith and delight in the life of God.
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Considering this constellation of relationships, I found myself articulating a new way of describing this: in place of Age specific, or Age Segregated – I called this Age-sensitivity.
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As I delivered my argument to my peers and colleagues in the midst of the debate, I introduced this new term: ‘Age-Sensitive’ discipleship. 
In the  debating melodrama of the moment it drew a collective ‘Oooohhhh!!’
At least in my own practice, I think this term is a game-changer, and I hope it takes off and sparks more thinking and  creative re-evaluations.
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In the week following the conference Christina Embree re-blogged an old piece from 2016, altering only one term; replacing ‘Age-Appropriate’ with ‘Age-Sensitive’.
Hat tip to Christina for being an early adopter!
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Words matter. And this was more than just a point scoring semantic twist. In riding  the currents of historical theology, revisiting scripture  and exploring the way age has been co-opted, or precluded, or  subjugated, or elevated, or ignored in the theological tides this  idea, this phrase gained buoyancy.
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Age-sensitivity bids us pay close attention to one another’s diverse humanity. Not for the sake of segregation and judgement, but to listen to the multiple voices of the Spirit of our ages.
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Age-sensitive discipleship is a necessary counterbalance to our predilections towards asymmetrical power. Intergenerational communities need to regularly exercise age-sensitive rubrics and practices in order to avoid degenerating into a conforming pragmatism of  ‘one size fits all’.  Households and families are wrought with their own hierarchies of power, and so spaces in which there is sensitivity and attention paid to specific ages, the particularity of experience of being a 7 year old, or a 13 year old, or a 2 year old, or an 86 year old, is an important guard against power injustices and presumptions. Age-attentiveness or age-sensitivity is for all of us.
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In the wake of almost a century of constructivist developmentalism arising from the seminal work of Piaget, our age-sensitivity must avoid the traps of being commandeered as an instrument of normativity, of judgement and division, of expectations and limitation for behaviour or progress or ability or cognition. Our worst mistakes arise form assuming we know. Especially assuming we know about another human being’s experience of the cosmos.
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Age-sensitivity must lead us to paying radical attention to one another, to one another as aged and ageing beings, as part of our whole humanness. 
To avoid acknowledging our age-diversity, is to risk allowing the dominant groups to set the standards. We have learned this at great cost in elisions of cultural-diversity (“We’re all Aussies”) and gender-diversity (“man up”; “you run like a girl”) ability-diversity, neuro-diversity, economic diversity. Where we fail to pay attention to difference we obscure reality. The truth calls to us.
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In the great panic of the church against post-modern philosophy, it has become a commonplace to warn against the danger that postmodernism affirms a relativism among individual claims of perception, replacing a monolithic and stable ‘Truth’.
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I think there is a greater danger in resisting naming and affirming the differences and distinctives of all the lives in our midst. This must be done not through clumsy batch labelling. But through genuine sensitive attention to the micro-stories each person shares of themselves,  as they identify themselves as an age, a person.
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In the best intergenerational faith communities – and I know a good fair few that are wonderful  – and robust and real households of faith – and I know a good fair few of these too – strong attention is paid to difference and commonality, divergence and sharing, distinctives and connection. Age sensitivity is an essential communal skill worthy of practice and cultivation, not disregard and disdain.
The truth of one another calls to us.
Let those with ears listen sensitively.
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*This metaphor of the ‘ocean of theology’ is thoroughly investigated in the work of Nathan Hunter. See the Allegory p 111-112 developed as a tool for interviewing participants in his study of spirituality and depth.
https://repository.divinity.edu.au/843/1/2011Th_Hunter%2CN_Making_Theology_Accessible.pdf
Read more of Phyllis Tickle here:
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Black Dog

May 27, 2019

cc10015

I met a young boy
yesterday
at church
eight years old

he carried around
a stuffed animal
a comfort toy
it was a black dog

and I asked him
if it had a name
and he said
‘Black Dog’

He brings
his Black Dog
to church
just like me
just like you
and he takes it
home again too

this young prophet
holds our truth
under his arm:
the black dog
goes to church

imagine us all
sitting there
listening to the gospel
standing to sing
black dogs by our sides
monkeys on our backs
gremlins in our heads

When we shake hands
and share The Peace
should we also bend down
and pat the Black Dog?

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The hidden labours

April 13, 2019

IMG_2276
the hidden labours

Anxiety
Anger
Accountability
Prayer
Patience
Love
Learning
Letting go
Grace
Grit
Grief
Forbearance
Forgiveness

Holding tenaciously to sanity
Telling hard truths to self
Resisting easy evils
Pursuing and puzzling the way through to justice

Rewiring the circuits of care and compassion in the cold cold dark when the fuse has blown

Restringing the heart’s guitar when the nickel is worn and untuneable and so silence holds out against songs for a long bitter hour

Stripping back and sanding the gathering table in the basement –  it takes weeks before a meal can be hosted again

Slow small point by point stitching of scraps of warmth and hope into a new blanket – perhaps ready by winter?

These are the invisible tasks
unseen exhaustions
subterranean toils
worthy labours
for which there are no awards
or grades or applause
or polls or honourable mentions

The soul is a sweat shop
dingy dusty
pittance pay
no job security
survival
or yet living
liminal

moment to moment
hand to mouth
earth to breath
rib to flesh

Oh grubby hands of God
knuckle gnarled
stubby thumbed
invisibly
making ever-loved
forms of life
apprentice me
to your
covert craft

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wilderness

March 16, 2019

Desert

let us go out into the wilderness
let us sit in dust
in raw heat
and hunger
let our faces be tears and sweat
and lick the threat of thirst
and wipe our brow with a stone sponge
blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.
let us leave all that we have built up
let us leave behind the cathedral sacristry
where we raped our children
let us leave behind the place of prayer
where we slaughtered the peaceful
how can we see God there
through the semen and the blood?
We forsook God
as have forsaken love
so we are godforsaken
blessed are the poor in spirit; they shall see God
let us abandon our plots
and our plowshare weapons
let us eat grasshoppers and grubs
scratched and scorched and scarred
let us go into the wilderness
far into the wilderness
deep into the wilderness
wilderness of God
let us hold our heads in the dizzy confusion
of moral and mental dehydration
knowing only that we do not know
that we are not the clever controllers of the cosmos
that we do not understand
let us be assailed by the epiphany of our
epic epistemological failures
blessed are the meek
let us shed our single right and left wing
pretense at futile flying
ever in self-bound vulture circles
let us crouch in dust
buttocks to the ground
til our bones grind
our muscles give us hell
and no position is sitting well
let us buy out of our stocks and shares in solutions
let us dry out from our intoxication with violence
let us cry out the floods of tears it will take
to know ourselves maybe human again
let us try out the truth of this:
all humanity is equal in vulnerability
cursed are weaponised
blessed are those who mourn
vulnerability
equality
humanity
humility
oh god. oh god. oh god.
have we any humanity left in your eyes?
can we ever be your people?
send us out into the wilderness
until we are weary and wrought
wasting away and wanting
then. then. then…
haste the day that we become utterly desperate for peace
are we there yet? no.
blessed are the peacemakers
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who is important?

March 2, 2019
IMG_1676 (1)so much attention
in all this week
still given to the the strong
and not to the meek
 
in all this so-called
justice hour
so much centred
on the célébrité notoire
 
have we listened as much to the testimonies
of the royal commission years?
sat and watched the men and women
exhume their childhoods in tears
 
bodies
minds
beings
humanity
invaded
disrupted
misused
abandoned
who has given time to understand?
 
we would rather join the band
and bloody vengeance demand
be satisfied with one guilty soul
sent screaming into hell’s black hole
 
than see the terrible truth
that here in paradise
how ‘freedom’ makes
the powerful bold
 
and liberty is
a commodity
bartered
traded, sold
 
ill afforded
out of reach
by those who lack
position
property
networks
citizenship
ingroup
status
representation
power of speech
 
Oh God
abused God
humiliated
dehumanised God
what dare we pray?
the story thats told is “we locked one away!!!”
 
and all that has changed
is now churches are spurred
too look at the least
long seen and not heard
still mute and managed,
not heard and scant seen
our children our subclasses
– you know who I mean
 
persons judged of lesser intellect, belonging,
unwelcome abilities
now viewed
through the lens
of legal liabilities
*