bushveld labyrinth

July 4, 2008

Well, we finished our labyrinth, and walked it for the first time yesterday afternoon. It was kind of cool to see how different people go there on their own today to walk the labyrinth. One girl doing her daily Bible study while in the middle. In the coming week we will be introducing some of the school kids to the labyrinth, will see how this go down for Afrikaans Reformed youth.

A while into building the labyrinth we realised we are building on a rubish dump. So we cleaned up a rubish dump to make place for the labyrinth. Maybe this is something of what we are trying to do as followers of Jesus. To clean out the rubish in the world in order to create places where people can find peace, harmony, and connect with transcendence.

Read the rest of the entry to see some photo’s of what we did and how the labyrinth look…

Read the rest of this entry »

Dialogue in Preaching

June 2, 2008

In the Reformed tradition we talk about the dialogical nature of the liturgy. God speak, the congregation speak, and the preacher speak, sometimes on behalf of the congregation, sometimes on behalf of God. In practice, only the preacher speak, doing a monologue, and the congregation sometimes get a chance so say what the preacher want them to say.

I don’t have a problem with high-liturgy services, and especially like participatory liturgical expressions more and more. So what I’m writing is not really about liturgy, but only about the act of preaching. Preaching, more than any other part of our church tradition, has been only monologue. We attempt to bring in some dialogue into our informal church service, but usually it’s only the kids who take part. Now, it’s an amazing way to make the kids part of the service, but it’s actually just an add-on, and not really a dialogue starting.

Dialogue is not an easy thing. I’ve had many thoughts in this in the past (see posts on the round-table church here or here), but more and more I realize that the utopian ideal of having 57 people coming together in a round table conversation and everyone sharing an equal amount is just that, utopian. More than that, I don’t neccesarily think that the “postmodern” which we like to talk about neccesarily want to always say something, sometimes listening is OK. I’m learning this more and more from friends who I consider natural experts on a postmodern worldview.

But still I get this very uncomfortable feeling when doing another monologue, another sermon. Yes, good things happen, I sometimes get good feedback, and yes, sometimes (as one of the people on our church council said the other night) people actually do what we preachers say. But for me it’s personal, I simply can’t get this nagging feeling that I don’t like doing a monologue out of my system.

Last night Tiaan visited, and myself, Tiaan, and my flatmate again started talking about various possibilities or having some kind of discussion (we don’t really like the idea of starting churches currently) going between 20/30-something people. This resulted in this group being created. So again I started thinking about my monologue discomfort.

Suddenly I had this revelation, not yet sure whether it was one of foolishness or wisdom, or maybe the logical result of past experiences. Abvout two weeks ago by collegue and friend, Roelf, came in to visit us at our 17-20 year old youth discussion group. We were talking about what our task is on earth, and in a very natural way, myself and Roelf started discussing this. The group of young people listened to our discussion, and when Roelf left we continued the conversation.

Maybe this would be a good preaching style. Never having one person preach alone. Always use two or more, and let them have a dialogue which can serve as base for large-group conversations if you’d like. These two people would plan there sermon together, but not as a little drama, simply talking about the issue at hand, maybe putting some ideas on paper which they would consider important. By asking each other questions, and responding to each other, and adding to each other, they would introduce a topic in a conversation style, a style I think I’ll be much more comfortable with than the monologue we are used to.

Have anyone tried this? Could this work for preaching?

Another idea I had a few weeks ago, and which would hopefulle be used somewhere next term, is to get some people together for coffee before a sermon. Talk about the topic, explain the idea, formulate some questions, and at the end make a 5 minute video conversation where some of these questions and thoughts are talked through in dialogue. Then use this as a started in church.

MBTI and spirituality

April 3, 2008

Graeme Codringtonposted a nice summary on MBTI (Meyers-Briggs) and spiritual development (part1, part2). I have a kind of love-hate relationship with personality tests, I love them, because they can help give greater self-understanding and self-acceptance. Knowing who you are, and that it is normal, and different from some others, so that you don’t attempt to make yourself someone you are not. I hate them when people try to change who they are because some test have said that they are supposed to be different from they natural way they express themselves, but any good psychologist will tell you that this is not the idea.

According to MBTI I am an ENTP. And the descriptions I’ve seen of this, is shockingly accurate! I’ve read some stuff on creativity, and yip, ENTP was me, and on personality profiles, ENTP was who I am. I once tested INTP (after I once broke up with Maryke), and all my friends who read the description knew that something must be seriously wrong. I was mentored by a guy who is busy with his Doctorate, working on MBTI profiles in the liturgy; he really helped me understand these kind of stuff better.

So, according to Graeme, this is what I ENTP will look like with regards to spiritual disciplines:

Creative, resourceful, and intellectually quick. Good at a broad range of things. Enjoy debating issues, and may be into “one-up-manship”. They get very excited about new ideas and projects, but may neglect the more routine aspects of life. Generally outspoken and assertive. They enjoy people and are stimulating company. Excellent ability to understand concepts and apply logic to find solutions.

Study, Service, Celebration

  • You need freedom from structures – disciplines are least helpful for you.
  • Prayer is much more of your whole day than a specific event.
  • Dream big dreams for God – you can change the world, if you try something really huge for God!
  • You might want to try liturgies and written prayers that you read, but be careful of an overly “religious” life.
  • Have spiritual conversations with others.
  • Try serving other people.

Yes, and this is me. I remember the feelings of guilt in my 2nd year of university because I simply couldn’t get a structured prayer life together. Until I realised that prayer is part of my whole day, and I simply can’t seem to sit still for a “prayer-hour” or something similar. Maybe I should try serving though…

What’s your MBTI profile? Does the description Graeme gave fit you? Can you learn something about spiritual disciplines from them?

Once a month we have a “youth service”, although mostly attended by high-school kids, more and more I attempt to do it in a why to be more of an “alternative service”, with discussions, image-rich, and participation if possible. Not easy though. Last night we discussed the meaning of the cross and the fact that God could die. I used Acts 8, the story of the Eunuch, and worked with the idea that the text which is mentioned that he read, almost seem like he must have thought that this text apply to himself (read the story, and for a moment think what this poor castrated man must have thought when reading this text, and then see his question about the text). The message was that God can identify with our suffering, cause he know what suffering is himself, since he died on the cross (think Moltmann – crucified God).

I started with a discussion on the hand of some images. First was the word “Jesus”, and everybody just said what got into their heads. From there on different images of Jesus was shown. Of interest what how we were tought to not see the literal parts of Jesus playing with the lambs, but rather the metaphorical, how ancient art had absolutely no meaning to young people (which obviously ask the question what the ancients would have thought of our images), how we mainly see the divine in images, and not the human.

And then, as part of the series, I showed a picture of the face of Christ while lying on his back on the cross, with a hammer and nail in the foreground just before the nail is entering his hand. The reactions? “Fear” and “pain” were most dominant, with a few similar words, and then, after about 15 seconds, the reactions changed… “peace” and “fearlessness” then suddenly dominated the discussion. It was beautifully illustrated, I couldn’t have planned this to happen… so sad how we are indoctrinated about the meaning of the cross, in such a way that we miss the meaning of the cross. We miss the fact that it was a man which hung on the cross, it was really bad, really not what he wanted, really because he angered the authorities in such a way that they felt it fit to crucify him.

The first reactions I think was closer to what we ought to see when thinking of Jesus on the cross, the second what we were taught along with the idea that the cross what Jesus’ big plan.

The first bring us to a God that understand what rejection mean, what pain mean, to a God that has experienced this. The second to a God that in his divine might went to the cross triumphantly, which might have been in love, and which I can be thankful for, but cannot identify with necessarily. Maybe the two isn’t incompatible, but oh well, this was the thoughts from last night.

the importance of children

February 25, 2008

funny, I can’t seem to get onto the WordPress site, luckily the WordPress Mobile site is still working.

I had a lecturer in my first year at university who said something that really stuck. I guess that’s the dream of any teacher, to say something that would actually be remembered. Well, Prof Malan Nel (a contributor to Four views of Youth Ministry with his inclusive congregational approach) actually had some success with me, it would seem. He made the remark once that: “When we take children out of the church service, it is the adults that will loose out, not the children”. I’ve been thinking about this a lot these past few days.

First I thought about it on Sunday, when I started the sermon by asking some questions concerning the image that this congregation present to outsiders. There was a dead silence, the worst fear of a pastor asking questions in church, and the one reason why I will maybe stop asking questions in church. And then a little boy from a children’s home nearby put up his hand, and started by saying that when people come into our church, they see the TV (the projector screen:-)). The conversation was largely children, and much of it one could say didn’t really touch upon the depth of the issue, but it did open things up so that adults and teenagers can participate as well. And this I have seen happening time and again. If we take the children out of our service, into a separate children’s service, then our adults will loose out (and I will have a much more difficult task preaching).

Then on Friday I went to see the University of Pretoria’s Children’s Theatre production. It was presented by the second year class of last year, now starting their third year. I mailed the person administrating it, asking for two tickets, one for me, one for Maryke. When I got there, they had an adult and a child ticket, instead of two student tickets. When I said that I actually want two student tickets, the girl helping us replied with “wow!”, and I guess with good reason.

Friday was really a bad day for me. Thursday evenings youth get-together was a total mess-up, and then I got a phone call on Friday morning saying that the piano was broken, plus, I forgot to lock three doors! So I was just down in the dumps, ready to give up youth ministry, believing that I won’t ever work as a youth pastor, bla bla bla… And with this in mind I went into the theatre. The whole theatre was full of moms with pre-school children, and the show started…

Nothing fancy really. Colorful costumes, a little decor, actors with a lot of energy, and little children absolutely LOVING the show. I don’t think I would have been able to watch the hour and a half show if I saw it on TV, I mean really, it’s really a pre-school show. But when sitting between these little kids, the show started living. Much like what happens in the absolutely brilliant movie Finding Neverland. Although I wasn’t out of my depressing mood until basically this morning, thanks to the most amazing colleagues, everything just felt so much lighter after the show. These children also help us with.

If we take our children out of our church services, our adults will lose out. If we start children’s services, the biggest problem may not be the fact that untrained people present it, but the fact that the church loses out on the presence of children in worship.

A lot can be said concerning Christians gathering on Sunday mornings (and sometimes evenings) for some form of a primary worship event. In spite of critique concerning what happens, about the so called hypocrisy of those who attend, or the comercialization of the service, fact is that still thousands attend. What is happening in this hour is for most people still their primary understanding of “church”. So on a positive note: think potensial. What is the potensial if this hour could really be done in a way that give people an idea of the kingdom of God.

This was my theme for Sunday’s service. Actually a difficult theme, concidering that I didn’t really consider Sunday mornings to be a missional activity, not in the sense of a “seeker” type of setting. Rather, I considered what happened the rest of the week, wherever members of our community went, to be the missional part of a congregation. Reading Patrick Keifert’s Welcoming the Stranger helped form my thinking on this, attempting to point the way towards something that is both worship and missional.

Sermon came from Luke 24, Jesus’ journey from with two disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Starting out on the journey, Jesus is called a “stranger” because he pretends not to know about the crisifixion that took place in Jerusalem 3 days before. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the disciples must be the strangers, since Jesus was the one who actually knew what happened, and they didn’t understand. So Jesus start explaining everything to them. I’ve many a time wondered why Jesus didn’t just pop up and say “hallo! this is me!”, rather, a softer approach is followed, and little by little they are introduced to the ideas that would change the world for ever. And then, with the breaking of the bread, they suddenly realize who is it that was journeying with them…

I think our worship gatherings is a lot like this. It is also a journey, and everyone who join on a given occasion take part in this journey. I don’t think the preacher is neccesarily the Jesus figure, rather that on this journey we become Jesus figures for each other, and in the relationship between us, Jesus appear to journey with us. The challenge of our times of worship is to be able to do what Jesus did. To journey with people, slowly introducing them to what we are doing, in such a way that they can understand this. The dream is that we can see people connect to God, to their community, and to an alternative community in our worship times.

And the end of the story of Emmaus is people connecting with an alternative community, a community which radically changed the world, by radically doing what Jesus would have. Just a thoughtin spite of all the criticism against the institutional church, recently I’ve started thinking: “What would happen if 1000 preachers in 1000 Dutch Reformed congregations of South Africa start to preach the Kingdom of God on Sundays?”. Think potensial!

Welcoming the Stranger

February 14, 2008

I’ve been reading Patrick Keifert’s Welcoming the Stranger over the past few days. I have to preach on Worship as Public Ministry on Sunday, and the themes come from a process largely influenced by Keifert, so I thought I might get some ideas. This was largely because because I found the guidelines for the theme difficult, after all this time being influenced by the emerging conversation. The broad theme is becoming a sent congregation, a missional congregation sent to the world, and in this I struggled to see that our church services is part of this, it felt a bit like the seeker movement (not a bad movement, but not quite how I would think about things).

Keifert’s book is about the myth of intimate societies, the idea that church should be intimate. This can happen either through our complex liturgies of which the outsider has no knowledge, and cannot follow, or through a family-like church service which depends on everybody taking part spontaniously. Rather he propose a service which is welcoming, but not “in-the-face” of the stranger, for example that strangers should put up their hands when they attend for the first time.

The book pose a challenge to the emerging conversation (although some might think that Keifert’s work form part of the emerging conversation) by challenging small non-growing intimate congregation, exactly what I understood form Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt’s descriptions of Solomon’s Porch. It reminds me of the seeker sensitive movement, although I believe Keifert won’t like being identified with this, although I might be wrong in my believe, I don’t know the guy at all.

But then again, within the context I currently find myself, his approach might still be a good idea. We still have many people who find their first contact with the church in church services, who come to a service to check out the church, and if we have to take them into account, I like the approach set out by Keifert.

One question I have, however, it Keifert’s use of the term “public theology” in his subtitle, since this term rarely occurs in the book, and I never found a definition of this. I guess the reason why I noticed this is because I have to write a chapter of my upcoming dissertation on what we understand when using this term, Keifert didn’t help with this.