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Hope is this

May 24, 2020

IMG_1772Hope

is not a rescue rope

by which we cling to expectations

or hang on to past promises

not for binding us to worn out wishes

or tying us to presumptuous predictions

*

Hope

is not a telescope

through which to gaze with longing wonder and fascination

at what might be

beyond what is

vainly romancing  burning gas and old spent dust-balls of fire

as if jewels or pearls

straining to inspect only what can be seen

one-eyed by hand-ground lenses

and artificially enlarged pin pricks cast on a shroud of dark dreams

away from the obvious day

overlooking the present reality under the common sun

*

Hope

is not a soap

a slippery solution for scrubbing up the face of the future

instead of tackling the truth of the blood on our hands

and dirt under our fingernails here today

*

Hope

is not a way to cope

Hope

is not a chuff of dope

Hope

is not a facile trope

*

Hope is letting  go of the rope

looking down

landing hard

feeling the thud of solid ground

sensing through the soles of your feet

and the seat of your soul

that this moment

whatever it is –

tangled or loose

or common or too close for comfort

or bloody or bad

or anxious or abandoned

or barely endurable or swallowed despair or vomited disgust

or vacant silence or soaring song –

 

whatever it is –

it is as sacred a moment of meaning

that matters as much

as any that have been

and as any that are to come.

Hope is the minute by minute gift

whatever has been long lost

that whatever has gone missing

whatever will never arrive

hope values this – this – this very present moment

 

hope calls – this!

this must not be missed.

this

matters

too.

 

 

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Education and Covid 19: Fighting learning-FOMO and other Viruses in the virtual classroom.

May 20, 2020
educationArt prompts in the theology classroom for engaging various modes of mind, critical sensitivities to time (usebydatetags) and multivocality (earbuds) and the necessity of embodiment.
Some of the discourse around students and the process of lockdown/reopening of schools has been astoundingly ill informed, pedagogically naive, mind-numbingly superficial, and of course, politically opportunistic. Narratives of schooling and students and shoulds have been fuelled from many sources, from the shallows of morning TV to the heights of the Prime Minister’s office.
For example, we have heard the notion of children becoming ‘behind’ in their education – as if there is an objective pace of educational acquisition measured by some cosmic clock that is ticking away; and as if we hit the pause button on the growth and formation of our children every time they leave a classroom, or their attention is not structured by an external prompt.
Also the notion that schools are mostly communities of children, obscuring the intergenerational ecology that it takes to sustain a learning environment.
The idea that children are not impacted by the large shifts of system and process it has taken to move to remote online learning, and the adjustment issues that are ahead when schools return again.
And then this: the idea that ‘curriculum content’ is a fixed neutral inert body of ‘stuff’ for kids to ‘get’ or ‘not get’ as the case may be. Teachers everywhere understand that curriculum is a dialogue between ideas and existence and functions and endeavours and skills.
So what is curriculum in the time of Covid-19?
Jamilah Pitts here in ‘Teaching as activism, Teaching as care’ raises some worthy examples of how the curriculum can respond to the experiences of students.
Her framework at heart is one of activism. She is, like many teachers, in her profession because she believes how we learn to think in community and form each other as developing growing beings in the world is a powerful way to make a difference. Standing with placards outside parliament is not necessarily futile…but education, a collective, interactive and formative process is at it’s best a deep empowerment for justice-making and responsibility.
The emergence of Greta Thunberg and the school strikes for climate demonstrates the intersection of education and activism as an imperative young people feel: highlighting both the potential of the ethically educated student, as well as prophesying the generational breakdown that can occur where education is emptied of its justice-bearing beauty.
I love these couple of examples Pitts gives of covid19 curriculum redux:
“Teachers can allow students to apply critical lenses, such as critical race theory and Marxist theory, to the reading of news articles to allow students to think more deeply about who is being most affected and why. Students could consider the types of stories that are being published. What voices and communities are being represented? Which communities and voices are not?”
“Students in science courses can study viruses, yes, if this is not traumatic for them, but students could also begin to understand the links between public health and racism by looking at the rates of death and infection in marginalized communities.”
What other ways do we hope our children’s education will address the questions and realities of the Global pandemic, the current and ongoing context of their learning?
What other ways do we hope out children’s education addresses the questions and realities of Global warming? never-ceded Sovereignty? the 70million globally displaced population? other ideas?
I’ve done a good stint of my teaching in State, Private and Community schools – the kind with bells and classrooms and libraries and desks and sports equipment and yard duty.
But in the last two decades I done a lot more of my teaching in other kinds of learning communities. Parent groups, early childhood spaces, theological colleges, academic conferences (do they count as learning?) music groups, theatre productions, reading circles, play adventures, outdoor holiday communities, intergenerational faith gatherings.
As I write this, my to-do list for this week includes shaping the content for a local Messy Church Lego Masters zoom gathering and marking assessments for undergrad and grad students in my theology course.
Wherever we are investigating our reality, forming our responses to the world, building our skills for tending to the cosmos and its creatures, sharpening our questions and critical faculties,  developing our intellectual architecture, testing our hypotheses, our learning can be flattened into paper thin labels to stick on people and places and processes, or can be embodied, enlivened, engaging activism and care, shaped by justice-seeking.
The  significant outcomes of education – early childhood, primary, secondary, higher ed, alternative, homeschooling, informal, even theological –  are the society we become.
It is a long game.
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sunday awakening

April 27, 2020

IMG_1754

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not really my thing

April 20, 2020

Confession, straight up. I did a sermon.

Sermons are not really my thing. Despite my life long love of the Bible, and intense immersion in Biblical Studies for more than 15 years now, sermons are the last thing I am interested in creating or consuming.

To be frank, they offend me as a human being. I know this is a minority opinion. It’s ok.

I understand the pro-sermon popularity and arguments  is still winning the day and will continue to do so.

But to me, they seem like the the very wrong thing to do with a sacred text: to have one person create a monologue of interpretation and reflection, and deliver it in a social context in which no one else participates in co-creation, critique or response.

A former colleague at the Baptist Union of Victoria, himself a pastor with decades of  sermonising, though also a great deal of poetry writing and banjo playing, used to call me the ‘Monologue Slayer’, because of my outspoken advocacy for the vast plethora of alternative ways I think we might better spend our gathered time in opening the Bible together.

I took ‘Monologue Slayer’ as a compliment and honour – it was indeed how it was given.

But  churches like sermons, and often I have been known to provide what is quaintly termed ‘pulpit supply’ in times when regular providers are missing in action. The pastor is suddenly ill; it’s holidays and the minister needs a break; a community is between permanent pastors and needs some polyfilla; it’s the week of  international women’s day and the pastor suddenly gets pangs of guilt at the lack of female representation in the pulpit.

On these occasions i have been know to deliver something in the ‘sermon slot’.

But i am not a preacher. I am fundamentally wired to teach. And sermons don’t teach.

Teaching – first of all works through love, through relationship, in an open frame. It is not only other directed – preaching can be this – but other dependent.  You can preach with no one paying attention. But teaching depends on a collaboration with others. Teaching and Learning is the work of teachers and students, an exchange.

Of course most pastors love their listeners, are in relationship with their listeners. And the best sermons connect those realities of love and relationship with the content of the text. But for the most part this is expressed in a monologue, independent of response or reply, often with no right of reply, or at least delayed and decontextualised reply.

Preaching is posting a letter – often brilliantly crafted and perhaps a precious gift – in the slot. Teaching is taking the lid off a box and creating something together.

I won’t pretend there haven’t been times when I have longed for a letter from someone. But I’d always rather have face to face or side by side conversation, interaction.

When asked to preach, i can’t bring myself to write a letter. I open a box. I know it confronts and confuses some congregations, and sometimes, it does seem to delight and engage as well. But I resist the form of preaching as much as possible.

But here we are, five weeks into covid-19 prohibitions on public gatherings for worship, and the church, mostly, has moved itself from the platform and pulpit onto the online platform. With not too much tweaking. The question of ‘how shall we take our sermons online’ has generated quite a bit of discussion. The question of  ‘Are sermons the things that people need’ has enjoyed almost no inspection. I understand why: in times of instability and threat, creating familiar spaces and continuity with past practice as much as possible provides reassurance and comfort.

And reassurance and comfort have been the strong trading stock of the church since the 1950s.

In a moment of discombobulation last week, I accepted an invitation to a zoom meeting for the worship planning team that i had previously quite intentionally not put my hand up for. And then, was further caught off guard in the meeting.

This is the impact of the crisis showing up in me. I’ve been caught in transition – housing, employment, legal process, relationship…I’m mid air between two trapeze swings. I feel caught stranded on the side of the road, petrol tank empty; that my life is a void. And i have time to say yes to things. This is an illusion.

So I somehow agreed to provide the sermon for this week.

Our community is streaming a series of prerecorded segments at ‘church time’ on Sunday mornings, through churchonline, which enables synchronous viewing and a live chat during the content. It has been enthusiastically embraced.

One of the great opportunities of not being in a church building, and prerecording content is that I could choose different contexts for recording my monologue. Somehow moving locations helps me hold the sense of the words of the message being in conversation with others. Social distancing precluding actual human interaction in opening the bible, I feel my words take the concrete locations as interlocutors. I lift the lid on the box and the ground and trees and towers and columns and stairs and flames and moonlight join me, shaping how the text meets and measures and modifies my thoughts.

The Collingwood high-rise flats and town hall. The back stairs of a mezzanine loft, sitting on the floor of my room with a makeshift backdrop of scarves sticky taped to the wall, and the driveway late at night (because i lost a bit of the footage recorded elsewhere, and didn’t want to disturb the household recording inside.)

Preaching is a word/message/meaning  in place in time. Watching sermons after the event are anachronistic and disjunct. Teaching is word/message/meaning in relationship. This too suffers when extracted from context.

So, for the anachronistically curious, here is the sermon footage. Rough doesn’t even begin to hold the aesthetics I have chosen. Unpolished is a guard against it being the kind of thing that can be taken too seriously. Here I am, with the lid off the box, and rummaging around, wondering who’s up for making something. That’s my thing.

The text is John 20:19-29

 

*Perhaps you are thinking ‘How can she be a monologue slayer, when she writes long blog monologues?’ Hypocrite.  How indeed.     It is because this is not a monologue to present to the world, but my own inner process of taking the lid off the box of my life and having a conversation between my many selves around what we find here together. That any one reads or listens is equal parts irrelevant and surprising.

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Going to church differently

April 4, 2020

1 CorWhen, or if, we open the writings of the New Testament, and we step inside the door and sit on the floor with the ancient brothers and sisters, we can find ourselves going to church in a very different way.

Different to pulling into the carpark, taking a notice sheet and sitting on a pew.

Different to  pouring a coffee, clicking on the zoom link and adjusting the camera view.

We can go to church through humble imagination. It just takes a little work and adventure.

IMG_0491

,

As we read (preferably out loud and slowly) the writings of the New Testament we hear people in community accosted by wonder and confronting transformation, gripping stories, soaking in a society of desperate injustice.

We hear the grunts of older men – the gurgles of babies – the direct speech of children – the eye-rolling sighs of women – the accents of urban and rural and enslaved and captured and imported tongues.

We see the gesticulating jazz hands of the flamboyant traveller – the stiffness of the over-beaten slave – the tears of the grieving mother, not yet reached her sixteenth birthday – the quiet tiredness of some – restless pacing of others – and  welts and pus and infection and scars and growths and callouses and deformities and pocks and shakes and limps and twitches and coughs and retches.

There they are, in life together and pull together the many threads of meaning that lead to this one idea – being in Christ.

There is a lot of spitballing in these texts. Listening carefully you can hear voices reaching for ways to speak of things their deep spirits know but which words sometimes fail. They move from image to image, metaphor to metaphor, cliche to cliche, quote to quote trying to say the things.

It can sound like an argument, it can sound like an epic adventure, it can sound like a meditation, it can sound like a prayer, a lament, a political rant.

All of this, and I’m still sitting in a dusty corner on the floor in chapter 1 of First Corinthians.

This bunch knows no denominational assembly or diocese;  there are no non-ordained christians.

All the children are called saints. All the saints are called children.

Orthodoxy is blowing in the wind, yet to be caught in the sails of Constantine’s fleets on the way to docking in the harbours of the councils of conflict and conformity.

For now, the game is on!!!

Have you heard this? Have you thought of it this way? Yeah, but what if… Look who’s here!  Think about this… You did what!!??? Shut up – you talk too much. Why?! Pass the bread. Are you kidding? What does she think about this? Then let’s sing. I can’t believe he just said that out loud. Wow!!! But what about…? Time for prayer. More wine over here!!

This is not anarchy, nor chaos. But it is dynamic and alive.

They are as vulnerable to the cults of celebrity speakers as any of us. As seduced by a relatable leadership figure who promises a bit of hope and order in uncertainty and combines political positioning with the posture of prayer. As susceptible to the stirrings of revolution and the yearnings for being left alone to live in peace. As open to a hopeful  new idea, as closed to difficult changes. As compelled by their embodied and ensouled humanity to love and be loved.

And here in the words of the New Testament, back through layers of interpretation, translation, editing, curating, collating, copying, combining,  scribing, saying, speculating, sensing…back across a mammoth expanse of cultural and social distancing, we can join their spirit seeking rituals and lives.

Here we may find voices who are both more certain of faith yet less dogmatic than we are used to. Who seem more agile in ethical and spiritual acrobatics with no safety net, but are socially bound by realities we can’t fathom. Whose theological orientations spin our compass far away from familiar christian categories, and yet centre on Christ in an almost obsessive manner.

With all their troubles, these texts hold out to us a community of theology-makers. People who are figuring it out together…as they live. There are hints in the lines that remind us that although there were leadership figures, and some had acknowledged gifts, they weren’t waiting for the next sermon, missive from the bishop, podcast from an evangelist, or pastoral letter from the moderator, or prayer guide from the office – which was never coming. 

Many churches have lost the art, or at least the confidence,  in the kind of DIY faith the New Testament texts model. Many ministers and congregations alike have grown dependent on outer structures which sustain a socially gathered community life and yet can suppress a spiritually resilient life.

As we respond to practical limitations in this time of social protocols, our spiritual realities will be exposed. Are the deficits we feel most keenly in the changes social upsets, and are our contingencies aimed at ameliorating the social needs of our religious cohort? Or are we informed and energised  by our spiritual imperatives. What are those spiritual imperatives?

This is not to dichotomise sociality and spirituality. These are not separate silos in personhood. Our sociality though is a part of our whole personhood – and our whole personhood is through and through, spiritual. Our flesh is spiritual, our mind, our senses, our energies, or intelligences, our arts: spirituality is what holds our whole. Or to use more conventional theological terms, in God we live and move and have our being. This calls us then as spiritual beings and beings in community, to attend to and address our situation in not just social terms alone but  explicitly and intentionally spiritually.

How do we do that? Do we know when we are doing that? Can we tell the difference? Do we believe in the difference? Can we express this difference?

When we go to church differently, with our ancient brothers and sisters, we step into a system of social oppression and limitations that are so unfamiliar to many of us. What can we learn from an unauthorized version of church, a marginalized church, a poor church, a socially scandalous church, politically vulnerable church, a church that considered the Risen Reality of Jesus, Human one of God,  present and cosmically ultimate. What a church to find oneself in!

St Martin in the Fields

*

Perhaps sometime in the weeks ahead – choose to go to church differently. Really differently. Open the New Testament (or the Hebrew Scriptures) and come through the door, sit on the floor and be with those who are collective theological DIY masters.
What do you discover?

 

 

 

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Natural self isolator at work

April 2, 2020
A little pre-easter caterpillar/butterfly mythbusting, The Sauders Case Moth is one of the most common caccoons seen around Melbourne, and feature of  most suburban childhoods. It has its own story of transformation, maybe not so dramatic as others, but still worth a little reflection. 
IMG_1449

Balwyn Rd, Midnight, Mar 31 2020

here’s one

who naturally knows

how to do 

what we all must do

in these times.

This little being

holding on

in one place

completely alone.

Feel her solidarity

for a moment –

her dark within dark 

her wall upon wall

she is working

in there

in her home.

the myth 

of what

is going on inside 

there is that 

she is having 

a complete

meltdown

don’t look!

it’s gross!

but in time

she will emerge

she will be

a beautiful butterfly. 

ahhh! Wondrous.

But it is not so. 

She is mid-life

transforming

but she opens her own door

she traverses the terrain

dragging her case with her. 

She retreats.

She is a hairy half-formed

work in progress

Even when her wings

are fully formed

she will emerge

a common moth

and she will not abandon

this home

her precious home. 

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Walking Miracle

March 31, 2020
there i lay
hoping
hurting
.
I’d been
put in my place
weak
beggar

IMG_1443  

.
waiting by holy waters
believing
something…
something
would happen
and you came past
first with a question
did i want
to become
whole?
.
“I have no one…”
.
But seeing
my misplaced
anthropocentric faith
you called me
.
to leave
to give up
waiting for arms that lift
mystical moving waters
bubbling spring
fluttering of angel wing
the imprisonment myth
of false faith in cures
.
you bid me
walk away
.
And as you spoke
this impossible word
of motion to me
in the moment
deciding
became strength
became whole
.
and my legs stretched
and I strode straight way
into steps that were
their own healing
Sabbath
John 5
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five stoas. In these lay many weak ones—blind, lame, and withered. One person was there who had been for thirty-eight years in weakness.        When Jesus saw them lying there and recognised that they had been there already a great time, he said to them, “Do you want to become healthy?”          The weak one answered, “Lord, I have no one to put me into the pool                   when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my own way,               someone else steps down ahead of me.”                                                                            Jesus said to them, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”                                             At once the person was made well,                                                                                      and took up their mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath.