Thursday, July 31, 2014

Weekend OUT 15th to 17th August Site Pics

Dining Hall for Music/Board games/Discussion alongside Meals
Covered Verandah outside Dining Area
Dorm Room
Main Gathering Hall
Hall side on
Front of Hall long view
AV box is back of Hall but this is a Dance Party Desk at front side
Front of Dance Party Desk
'Lounge' with Lounges in other half [full of schools today
Family Room
'Classroom' Gathering Space
Potential Outdoor Movie site
Another Dorm
Outdoor space
Electricity for outdoor Movie
Volleyball Net
Double sided sports wall
Part of the Ropes Course
Ropes Course
Flying Fox Platform

Front Gate

Monday, July 28, 2014

PHOTO of the Week: "Beach Holiday"

   This signed print is a Reg Mombassa special via the Sydney Morning Herald collection!! It's a present a surprise and it's brilliant!! I love Reg's theology and artwork and the no crap way he approaches his work!! I was disappointed Mambo stood between us and an NCYC volunteers t-shirt featuring one of Reg's works in 2003... all good but for Dare Jennings nervousness about where the image would end up... It was going to be a gift for organisers!!
   So, this poster will be framed and up on the wall in a week or so [somewhere] and it depicts 'Australian Jesus' taking a break and enjoying an idyll holiday north of Sydney 'somewhere.' I'm very grateful for the gift!!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

PHOTO of the Week: Andrew Johns and the Newcastle Knights

   This is a picture of some Andrew Johns memorabilia from the excellent climate controlled cabinets and Newcastle Museum!! The t-shirt is a 1997 Newcastle Knights Grand Final t-shirt. It reflects an amazing Grand Final victory for the Knights against Manly at a critical time in the Rugby League war between the game and News Ltd!!
   It also speaks volumes for the Knights, Newcastle people and the kind of spirit that saw huge crowds turn out this week for the #RISEFORALEX round to raise money for Alex McKinnon in the wake of his serious neck injury earlier in the year...
   The team spirit and the place of the Knights in Newcastle's sense of identity haven't been enough o see Wayne Bennett win a comp with this team [as I predicted at the outset] BUT there have been some positives around resourcing, home grown players etc...

Monday, July 21, 2014

'A Bus Called Heaven' Merewether 20.7.14

Here's what we experienced at Merewether UCA on Sunday morning... drawing from the Parables in Matthew and Luke and using the story "A Bus called Heaven" by award winner Bob Graham

“Abandoned. The bus appeared one morning from a sea of traffic –
right outside Stella’s house, where no bus should be.
Tired, old and sick, it had a hand painted sign on it, held down with packing tape.
The sign said, “Heaven”

I’m Rob Hanks,
the Uniting Church Youth Ministry Development Worker in the Hunter…
Visiting with you today!! And offering a total experiment in what we will do together!!

Welcome to worship this morning as we explore this story,
A story about ‘Heaven’…
Not so much heaven after our lives are over, but ‘Heaven’ here and now…
Call it, a world living the way God hopes we would live…
Call it, a community of people sharing God’s love,
Call it, an old bus that appeared on the street one morning and what happened to it
How it became a hub for community, for intergenerational activity,
a space for relationship and celebration…

TODAY in worship we are talking about ‘the Kingdom’… neatly explored in…
SONG “About the Kingdom” + percussion NCYC RED mp3
Written by David Evans from New Lambton Uniting

PRAYER ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ 4min 14 Newtown clip
Prayer Activity writing words, ideas, pictures on the cut out clothes, clipping them to the clothesline
While soundtrack plays… [clothesline, clips, black textas and paper clipart]

The Bus is found and explored

READING #1 Luke 17: 20-21 NRSV or The Message

The Bus is cleaned and decorated

READING #2 Matthew 13: 31-33 NRSV or The Message

SONG “This Little Light of Mine” adapted lyrics + percussion

VIDEO ‘Worlds Fastest Indian’ clip 2min 20
I tossed up between this and Holy Moly "Mustard Seed" video
It would have been better without either...
I chose it to take the adults present, elsewhere in the story, it was a distraction...

REFLECTION and DECORATION lead in to activity/unpack the Scripture parables
Unpacking the parables, the K of H in the here and now
Decorating the BUS as Heaven now and God’s values
Textas on corflute/frame

   Burt Munro had a crazy dream of attempting the land speed record with an ‘Indian’ motorcycle on the Salt Flats in the United States.

   For me Heaven here and now is what happens when a community with a shared story, get behind some kind of action to change and even those who most thought Burt was crazy, got behind him. They saw and respected the way Burt was so convinced of the possibilities.

-        So it is with those who left their day to day lives to follow Jesus
-        So it is with those who heard Jesus stories
-        That hope says if you have the belief of a small seed you might be able to grow a huge tree for shade and to create a community space
[or if some scholars are right, some annoying mustard shrubs whose values and way of life give hope to everyone around them] a bit more like an old broken down bus
-        This K of H is looking for the work of God’s Spirit, hidden like yeast in bread making… that’s either the unseen action or the problem of yeast

-        A world lived how God would hope is like something of great value to the one who needs to hear about it, knows it or sees it, the most…
-        AND it’s about offering love, not judgement, grace, not condemning
-        It’s also the crazy idea that this all comes best from the very edges of the community
-        Like the RATZ painting the bus, like the strange variety of people who found a ‘place’ on the Bus called Heaven

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a community of the people of God who know their need for connection, who seek to share the love and who try to recognise the dangerous and liberating memory and presence of Jesus, when they see it in the most unlikely people and places…

What is Heaven Like

Reading #3 Matthew 13: 44 - 50   NRSV or The Message

Prayers for People/Prayers for the World
Using photos and people’s own thoughts… in groups

The story unfolds

SONG + OFFERING TIS 473 ‘Community of Christ’

Sending Out

The clipart paper clothes prayers and the decorated bus were left behind to feature in the hall space next Tuesday at Merewether's 'Community Meal' where anyone is welcome to volunteer in set up, cooking, serving, meal time conversation & washing up or pack up!! Tuesdays from 6pm!!

READING #1 Luke 17: 20-21 NRSV or The Message
20 Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Matthew 13 NRSV or the Message
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

The Parable of the Yeast
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with[d] three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13 NRSV or The Message
Three Parables
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Monday, July 14, 2014

PHOTO of the Week: 'Wanderers 90th Year Lunch'

   This awful 'selfie' is on the occasion of Wanderers Rugby Club 90th Year LUNCH at 'The Newcastle Club' last Friday!! Friends will know I am no fan of the jacket and tie rule and always find a way to be 'on the edge of the dress code.' In this case the ill fitting jacket and black jeans were a small private triumph over 'style' vs 'substance.'
   In my vocation I strongly consider 'dressing up' to be a barrier to new people and a sign that maybe on some level you do need to be 'good enough' to join in... I'm not telling anybody else what to do or not do, I just know who I am 'standing with' on that issue!!
   It's a Wanderers tie I've had now for maybe 20 years.... and at the lunch I was added to a table of Club legends who mostly played in the lead up to and the golden era of the mid 1960s for the club. One attendee was 91yrs old and still enjoying the camaraderie and sense of occasion!!
   University academic and club stalwart Bernie Curran spoke brilliantly at the lunch. He spoke of character and characters and the value and place of club rugby in our sport!! He gave a wrap to just about every legend he played with or against but within his general theme... and was appropriately aware of our current efforts to build 'the best country rugby club in NSW' based at No2 Sportsground in Parry St, Newcastle... the home of rugby!!
   So, I talked of Grand Finals, characters, stories, knees and great times shared with 'real' blokes I've known... in a club that always knew I was a bit different and did some job that was a little unclear but has likewise embraced my volunteering as a 'Player Welfare [Wellbeing] Officer' this year... helping House Captains get that system rolling and helping make 'Tall Tales' away game story sharing happen.
   I can't always quite articulate how much I love this game and how much I enjoy being in and around this Club. It's not very blokey to speak of it... and yet that does happen on such occasions!! I have always loved sport and was not too bad at cricket [outdoor and in] or hockey, but found my niche in rugby union as player/coach... The teacher/encourager in me was always going to end up coaching, albeit lower grades due to the rest of life busyness... It's no accident that after two years at University Club, then switching to Wanderers as one group of mates retired and another group took up the game... I enjoyed it partly because of our success!! I've been involved with Wanderers now since 1983 [with a short and longer break] and still feel 'at home' there...
   My next goal is to learn what we can from our set up year with this program and come back better for it in 2015!! Alongside that, I hope to lose 32kgs [again] at least so I am able to run around the paddock at training and help out more effectively!! No I am not buying or borrowing any boots. Bilateral patella tendon ruptures make that a definite NO!!
   Anyhow, the lunch was great with 'braised beef cheek', cold beverages and conversation... while others kicked on until 7 or 8pm and beyond I cut out at 5pm to go home and rest before a full day at No2 on Saturday watching all sides take University apart!! Gotta love those Uni break holidays!!  OK, off to the Pool I go!!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

"Impossible Belief"

Impossible Belief by Michael Toy

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
From "Through the Looking Glass", by Lewis Carroll

Once upon your own time there was
Believing in singing elephants and flying furniture.
It was something to be cultivated and cherished
Then you pass through the magical barrier into adulthood
And you get all the secret knowledge and the special handshake
On that day, you no longer believe impossible things
The elephants become silent
The furniture is for sitting on

The ability to see fairies in the woods
Or to fly with power granted by a blanket tied around your neck
Doesn't really come up in midterms,
Or have a section in the standard format resume
One day the wardrobe just has coats in it

Which doesn't mean we don't have dreams
We have many many dreams,
But they are made out of the stuff around us
Dreams of love, or wealth, or even selfless sacrifice
All concerning actual molecules

What if we are the same people
When we are six, and when we are thirty six?
I mean, what if none of that mystical
"You are an adult everything is different" stuff
Actually happened, even though it was supposed to?
What if the ability to believe the impossible
Actually never went away either?

For example, we did a pretty good job
When we tried out the idea
That we could stop believing like children
By just deciding to do it

After having wounded and been wounded
Many many times
Any kind of belief in love
Seems as crazy as belief in leprechauns
Yet i still believe

Maybe we can't help but believe impossible things
And just need to tell better stories
So we can believe a better impossible

Than "grownups don't do that anymore"


Monday, July 07, 2014

'Foundations' Days 2 and 3 UCA Continuing Education

  Last week I enjoyed engaging in Days 2 & and and 3 of 'Foundations' at North Parramatta. It was a way of offering continuing education for those engaged in ministry and mission with children, youth & young adults in the UCA across NSW/ACT. Days 2 & 3 focused on youth & young adults with strong input from Rowan Lewis from Melbourne, where he teaches at Whitley College and has been a Youth & and Young Adult Ministry Worker.
What I enjoyed about the two days could be summarised in two points:
[1] Re-engaging in the way of thinking about these ministries that shaped my early learning in the 1980s and has not lost relevance, but isn't how everyone thinks or acts about this stuff. Rowan brought an up to date sharpness and great stories and insights into what difference this lens makes.
[2] The chance to have input, space to reflect, opportunity to do group work and a decent Veal Schnitzel as part of 'the ride.'
   I'm always fascinated that when a program is choc full of input, people want space to unpack and reflect, but when it's offered... too many don't use it... anyhow it works for me and could only have been improved by a real onsite cafe space for iced coffee and some 'open source' time for deliberate 'brain picking' and conversation that happened for me in existing breaks... 

What was so helpful about the input?
   First, the use of a sociological and contextual lens to understand the world of 'youth' and emerging adults in terms of the confusing and/or lost aspects of what make that life stage 'clear' and offer young people a community. For me, it connected with Eckersley's work about how the task of a society in relation to it's youth is to provide meaning & identity, belonging and a moral and ethical framework or [faith shaping] in my way of applying his analysis. Eckersley claimed in the 1990s we were practising a form of cultural abuse in our inability to provide this... The same has been true of the church's inability to cope with the end of Christendom, instead seeing adults interpret that the way they shaped faith and learnt about what it means to be a Christian is how it's always been done and was still relevant despite massive social shifts...
   A key feature of our society here in Oz today is the blurry lines around the relatively recent life stage of 'youth.' The stretching of this life stage from earlier puberty, working families, the technological age and the pace of life through to continuing education, part time work, changing social attitudes and values, later marriage and child rearing, brings challenges.
   Introduced to or reminded of an array of writers work on 'faith shaping' we spent most time exploring the kind of understanding brought by the likes of John Westahoff. Like others, Westahoff's way of understanding faith shaping can fit with ages and stages but can be equally true at any age and describes discipleship as we encounter life's questions over and over.
   Rowan also used the analogy of a box and it's it's content to explore how many people spend a lot of time focused on the content of 'what we believe' and little or no time reflecting on the container, the box in which faith is explored... no analogy bears close examination but it was helpful to the extent that it advocated for a balance between 'what' we believe and 'how'...
   Many times I've written about this and acknowledged that so many people 'just don't get it' or interpret the conversation as downplaying the importance of 'what' we believe or an argument for 'liberalism.' Some indeed with an inability to 'hear' and instead offering a vitriolic 'bullhorn.'
   I find a close focus on educational or learning theories helpful but distracting at this point. Suffice to say we know there's more than the 'jug and mug' method of sharing faith.

Faith shaping in contemporary Aussie society:
A 21st C post post modern, secularised, post Christian, multi-cultural, multi-faith, progressive, society built from invaded land steeped in indigenous culture & society. A place where the world has never been smaller through culture & fashion, technology and media... and much more... a society that in some ways celebrates, idealises and worships 'youth' and where adulthood has in some ways become something to be avoided... all of which forms an interplay [not according to 'Australia All Over' with Macca on ABC radio Sunday mornings, but that's another blog post entirely].

My take today on Westahoff's ['Will Our Children Have Faith' 1976] work to describe our reality is....
   Westahoff saw faith development as like the rings of a tree [I think a spiral is a more helpful way of seeing it at different ages and stages today] in the sesnse that each stage builds on or flows from what has been the experience before, taking it into account.
[1] 'Experienced Faith'
   This is faith as we experience it through the community, the values and the things held as significant for those we encounter and who nurture our faith. It's true we are moulded, impressed upon, influenced and shaped by our experience of the faith and how it's held by those we know. 
   It's important to affirm that this 'is' faith and is not just about mimicking the behaviour and culture of others but is an opportunity to express your faith by participation and to 'know' the love of God and who God invites us to be, through our understanding of God's story and it's place in our story.
How important are authentic relationships?
How important is it that our words and actions reflect what we say we believe?

[2] 'Belonging Faith' what Westahoff calls 'Affiliative'
Taking on and exhibiting the values and beliefs of the faith community and/or those doing the nurturing in that community. There may or may not be formal recognition like membership or confirmation or it may simply be understood that you 'belong.' It's about identity being shaped by the values and ethos and a person joining in the practices and perspectives of the community you are connected with or seek belonging within. This is faith involving 'choice.'
What practices will promote and shape good 'belonging' faith?
How can a community of faith develop clear, diverse and accessible ways of expressing 'belonging'?
How can 'testing' faith be affirmed?

[3] 'Searching Faith' sometimes known as Questioning
In the frameworks we went on to discuss this it became known as 'the red zone' in our conversation.
Faith shaping is about awareness of what commonly held beliefs you are relating to or seek to 'own' for yourself. It's about questioning, wondering, testing. The group's interpretations are up for grabs, life throws up challenges, knowledge questions Biblical interpretations and 'tools' are needed to give a person space to explore, to reaffirm, to expand and indeed to hold to values and practices of a community with a renewed richness through testing.
How can a community of faith affirm searches?
What does sit look like to walk alongside people challenging strongly held communal beliefs?
How can people hear and a community hear this as 'faith shaping' not destruction or 'backsliding'?
How can someone be included who comes into the sphere of a community of faith through these faith shaping tasks? e.g. into a youth group, through a missional connection or at University as three examples

[4] 'Owned Faith'
Faith finding expression as 'owned' when someone takes on the beliefs, practices and commitment of a way of seeing God, relating to Jesus and seeking to follow as we are called... taking responsibility for any and all stages of your faith. People will have a framework, a set of beliefs and values and a way of living out what they believe in response to God... just like other stages but 'owned'.

I think it's important to affirm all as 'faith' and to know most of us will continue to work our way through this spiral as new chapters of our lives and discipleship journey unfold and as we encounter people and communities of faith where 'what we believe' and 'how we live it out' is happening!!

   To me a healthy, effective, missional community of faith informs the way we understand how faith is shaped and then seeks to live out, to encourage and to share the 'tools' for helping people do this... instead of avoiding, criticising and discouraging any task and especially 'the red zone'!!

We are encouraged in this way of understanding to at least:
- follow Jesus and call others to do likewise
- see discipleship as pilgrimage
- know faith is shaped and the tasks and 'tools' are important
- hear how beliefs interplay with our experience, community, mentors and lives
- find a balance between the content of faith and it's 'how'
- view Scripture, resources, group processes etc are resources, they are not 'faith'
- accept faith is belief's lived out in action
- recognise doubt, questioning and testing are faith shaping tasks
- take account that people's context, worldview and daily life effect the shape of their faith

I should add, this is what it is and isn't what it isn't...
A different way of having the conversation cakes from
"Blame It on the Huehuetenango" Michael Toy

"Holy Trilogy"
i'm thinking of the bible as a trilogy
the strangest and greatest trilogy ever written
this is not a literary map, inscribing insightful lines
separating the words into three connected countries.
volume one is the entire text of the bible
volume two is the entire text of the bible
so is volume three
the text does not change from volume to volume
if you want to find out what happens next
you have to change, become someone new.

i know this this sounds impossible
trust me on this, it happens.
all it takes to move from one volume to the next is the smallest seed of an idea
which will grow, roots to stalks to branches to flower
until at full fruit you are ready,
the entire work is something new

volume one, an epic journey
full of unlikely heroes
wise sayings
timely miracles
good triumphs over evil in the end
i think i read volume one a hundred times

one day i can no longer ignore this whisper,
"what about the people who were in the land before it was given away as a gift,
what about the children who didn't get the good promises?",

that works through your soul
you pick up the book again, it is no longer volume one

volume two, things don't go so well
all the heroes have flaws
evil is everywhere unchecked
a final chapter of death and doom
written as if it were love and justice
closing the book after the last page of volume two
i threw it down in disgust
swore i would never read it again

one day i recognized a constant wind in my ear
as a whispered question, asking me over and over,
"what story of my own have i ever told rightly,
or even fully understood as i told it?"

volume three, something unexpected emerges
crazy beloved people,  finally finding impossible redemption.
leaving behind them, utterances of awe and amazement
hoping it would make more sense to their children
than it did to them

i may actually be looking forward to reading volume three

Part 2
   Too often the alternative to understanding questioning and doubting as 'faith' is to see it is a loss of faith and it becomes self fulfilling when people are treated in that way. The invitation to 'follow' Jesus  will include times of wonder, question, exploration and reaffirmation where people and practices have been helpful in shaping a new faith and enabling people to integrate that into their living... It's an argument for what is often described as 'the open set' thinking about the journey to follow, rather than the bounded or closed set of 'acceptable beliefs' which seem to take less account of people's lived experience. It's not a matter of people seekin g to craft God in their own image, but a recognition that there's more to be known than we can ever know and that ways of speaking of God can be broad and diverse and still be 'following.'
   There are beliefs and ethos and values and ways of 'following' that are closer to Jesus teaching and example. This is not an argument for 'anything goes'... which is often unhelpfully used to describe the 'theology' of the Uniting Church. Don't be confused... that's an inadequate and mostly inaccurate description. Shallowness and lack of authenticity are a problem whether it's the UCA or not... where this is present people seem to have settled for the 'anything goes' idea...

   Finally, here's a great clip of what it can be like to 'return' to a community after some individual experience that completely changes you... a fine reflection of the experience!!