Saturday, December 24, 2011

unresolved & displaced

How is it possible to celebrate when conflict remains unresolved, or you're dealing with a sense of feeling displaced?

Christmas is no doubt typified by overlooking differences, and bringing family together, but what if conflict is so sharp it feels hypocritical to "carry on" without seeking swift resolution? ... or if there are circumstances beyond your control where you're not where you intended to be - not among family in the way you hoped?  Unresolved and Displaced.

In reflecting on this through a couple of realities I'm facing this Christmas, the scenario began to sound strangely familiar -  it was into the picture of unresolved conflict among the people of Israel (indeed the whole of Creation), and into the family unit of a young couple displaced from their home where "God with us" entered.

My hope this Christmas is that the Christ will again enter into unresolved conflict and displacement, and, as He is capable of doing, brings healing and transformation in a way I never expected.

Come to think of it, a long gaze into the unassuming eyes of God the Son can again bring perspective in the context of feeling unresolved and displaced.

That's not a bad cause for celebration!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Bible as a Screenplay - 5


Now, here's where we can run into some trouble with this concept. Not because it doesn't have merit, but if we don't take the time to undo our typical understanding of editing we walk a dodgy line.

There are people who love editors, and people who hate them. I'm no politician, but I would hazard a guess that political leaders have found themselves at the mercy of news editors on more than one occasion. In the realm of news reporting there is certainly a stereotype of editors being the key players in "not letting the facts get in the way of a good story". A clever editor can make anyone seem like they're saying the opposite of what they've actually said in context.

If this is our only understanding of an editor, and we call ourselves editors in God's story, then we're in big trouble. (And, ironically, we add ourselves to a long list of heretics who have done the same thing throughout history).

However, if we pick up a more credible picture of the place of someone who edits the shoot of a great film, then we might find ourselves in a more inviting space. A space where we have all of the work of the shoot at our fingertips, the screenplay in front of us, and the Director over our shoulder coaching us in the best way to tell, and retell, this story to the people of our time.

Editing is more than just cutting bits out to suit our agenda. The edit is an integral process in the telling of a great story - finding the best way, under the supervision of the Director, to engage our culture with the story before us. If this is editing in it's pure form, then we need to freely step into this role and tell God's story.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Bible as a Screenplay - 4


The actual shoot is a complex and pressured environment, but if done well can be an excellent example of a team working together to see a dream of come to fruition.

A good shoot assumes that a whole host of things have come together - mostly initiated by the director.

(There's a lot more to directing a film than what I first thought. My impression of the director just being the one who sat down on set and told everyone else what to do has pretty much been blown out of the water.)

Without the vision of the director, there is no film. The quality of how this story is told is dependent on the director's dream for the project, and there is a specific progression of events that take place for that dream to be realized. Here is some of that progression:

1. PRE-PRODUCTION ... Script selection - it is the director's responsibility to firstly identify a script that is going to work - there is much to be lost if the script that is chosen is a dog... Script wash - once a good script has been chosen, the director then needs to read, read, read it until it becomes a part of who they are, they understand the characters and what motivates them, how the flow of the story will work, and how it can be broken down into a story board, then shot lists in conjunction with the cinematographer. Alongside of this comes things like story boarding and shot listing, casting, location selection, wardrobe, music, etc. ... and all of this is pre-production

2. PRODUCTION ... Here the director needs to ensure that the story is told well, the right shots are taken to tell it, and to coach the actors according to how the story needs to be told as he's envisioned it. The shoot is where all the elements of pre-production should align, and all the elements for the next part of this process are gathered... That being:

3. POST-PRODUCTION... We'll get to this in the next post :)

In the meantime, consider the story of all creation, and how the One who has written the screenplay is not only the main character in this story, but is the director as well - He's done all the pre-production, ensuring that all the elements align for "the shoot"- the production. God's story comes to life as the players deliver their parts on set, trusting themselves to the Director's vision for how this story will look.

Sure, it might be argued that the characters in the Bible, and indeed the characters in this story today (us!), aren't just actors in front of a camera, but real people living real lives ... But nevertheless, the picture of God as our producer/writer/director is a helpful one.

So, where do we fit in this analogy? Could it be that we are the editors?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Bible as a Screenplay - 3


My perception of a screenplay is that it isn't worth much, unless it's really good ... And even then the final film may not look like anything like the original script once the director, actors and editor have all gotten to it.

I'm no movie producer, but I imagine the average producer's desk will have a high level of screenplay traffic. Everyone thinks they're an awesome writer, and that their idea is what will change the world, or make lots of cash at the box office. And so the producer faces the unenviable task of finding the one masterpiece amidst the drivel, or at least one that a great director can work from.

That's my stereotypical perception of a screenplay - it's usually not worth much.

This changes, of course, if the producer is an outstanding writer/director. Then the screenplay takes on a whole different priority. In this scenario, the one who writes the story brings the creative genius to visualize and direct it, and the capacity to see the project to completion.

So, when I think of the Bible as a screenplay, I don't so much see it as one of the many offerings that floats across a producer's desk hoping to be noticed - only to fall into the hands of a director who shows no concern for the original intent of the author, and a producer who is more than willing to sacrifice artistry on the altar of marketability and consumerism. No, this is THE screenplay that all of the industry longs to be a part of.

Written by the writer of all writers, who knows how this story should look, how it can be told ... and He has the capacity to see the project through to it's ultimate completion.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Bible as a Screenplay - 2


Recently I went to a 10 day film school - and to be honest I was out of my league with some of the folks there, but I learned heaps.

I came away feeling better equipped in the opportunity of making short films for a ministry context, but better than that, the time gave me an insight into the art of film-making and how it can serve as an excellent paradigm for spiritual formation.

The first thing to realize is that there are so many levels to this art - writing, producing, directing, cinematography, acting, audio, editing ... not to mention the myriad of roles on a film crew and then the response of the audience.

This multiple-faceted nature of film-making alone attracts me to the notion of seeing the Bible as "the screenplay of God's story", but the three key levels of this process are what's most helpful.

1. Level one - the screenplay - this answers the question, "what is the story?"

2. Level two - the shoot - this answers the question, "what can this story look like?"

3. Level three - the edit - this answers the question, "how do we best tell this story?"

There are some immediate objections that arise in my mind if the metaphor of film-making is used for the story of God, especially around our understanding of screenplay and editing. Keep reading this series and help me deal with some of these objections.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Bible as a Screenplay - 1


Bent down over the evaporative air conditioner on our rooftop, I had an epiphany. After playing with the control panel and circuit breakers for half an hour, then pretending like I knew what I was doing in taking some of the unit apart, it became so clear - I should probably look at the manual.

The manual could tell me of the air conditioner's design, the potential problems I might encounter, and the best way to efficiently keep my family cool. It is full of helpful information that any air conditioning technician will get excited about, and it was, admittedly, the one thing that brought resolve to my hot weather woes.

However, as good as the manual is, I reckon I've looked at it three times in the 5 years I've had it. Once, when it was installed so I could set up the controller right, and the other two times was when something went wrong.

You might be able to see where I'm going with this. If this is the way I treat a manual, and then I use that same picture in describing the Bible to my students, then how can I expect them to be motivated to read it outside of their "set-up" and "troubleshooting" phases?

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that if our only understanding of the Bible is that it's "the manual for life" then this might not only be unhelpful, but culturally repulsive.

So, I wonder whether a more helpful way for us to think about the Bible is as "the screenplay for God's story". I'm going to explain what I mean over the next 6 posts, and as I do, I invite you to consider whether this is a helpful way to communicate the role of the Bible to an emerging generation, and also if this is a helpful way for us to interact with the Bible ourselves.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

my proverb

"a life with no story is no life at all"

This proverb is core to what I do.

This proverb is controversial enough to spark interest.

This proverb is concrete enough to be memorable.

This proverb is true enough to be credible.

This proverb is mysterious enough to invite wonder.

This proverb is inconclusive enough to evoke a response.

This proverb can only be fulfilled in God's story.

Just some thoughts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

the gift of leadership

Once there was a chair. Well-worn, but you couldn't say it was tattered. Well-placed, but it was certainly not in the centre of things. A unique chair, but one among many in the room in which it stayed.

The chair was at the end of a long table. A table that provided space for the gift to be carefully and deliberately unwrapped. Every day it was the same gift, but every day it was, in some way, new.

And everyday the gift would be discovered by those who sat around the table... Deliberately, expectantly, hope-fully.

So much was discovered by those who unwrapped the gift - learning, deciding, breaking the gift down and passing it on.

Years went by, and the team in the room became well accustomed to the privilege of gift unwrapping and distribution - each of them finding a comfortable place to sit around the table. Each of them contributing from their unique vantage point. Each of them bringing wisdom to the table on which the gift was laid.

The gift was shared evenly, fairly distributed, and highly effective - but it was not to remain that way.

On one particular occasion a sharp disagreement arose between the unwrappers - it was felt that the one who sat in the chair at the end of the table had a better perspective on the gift than the others, words were said, and envy over position crept into the team.

One day after the gift had been delivered on the table in the usual way, those who sat in the chairs entered the room and jostled, not in anticipation for what they might discover in the gift, but in a race for the chair.

And the chair wondered out loud, "Why is it so important for you to sit here?"

"Because we want to be in leadership", came the reply.

"Funny," said the chair, "I never thought of MYSELF as leadership, I was always under the impression that leadership was WHAT WAS ON THE TABLE."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

bell's hell

I'm looking forward to gaining some further insight into what Rob Bell thinks of heaven and hell, but for now what intrigues me is the "hell" around the launch of his latest offering. No, I havn't read the book - but I probably will.

If you're not aware of the "controversy" surrounding Bell's new book "Love Wins", then you obviously havn't been on facebook, twitter, or youtube for the last week or so (an offence worthy of some congratulatory praise).

I like Kevin DeYoung's review of the book - particularly in that he takes Bell to task on some sourcing and historical accuracy. Amongst other things, I think he does a nice job on the need for a writer to take responsibility for what he or she is saying - if a work is seeking to shape people's understanding of theology, then the author needs to own that. As much as I enjoy wrestling with material from guys like Bell and MacLaren - disclaimers and presumptions of how opponents will respond to their gear has become tiresome.

There are two questions, though, that keep bouncing around in my mind as I follow the lengthy comment threads and newsfeeds:
  1. Why are so many so needy to so quickly find a label for someone who dares ask the same question that millions of people are asking everyday about the character of God? Is it possible that the term "heretic" or "universalist" becomes a convenient security blanket adequately covering our own discomfort with a literal hell? Maybe if we openly engaged with the questions Bell has raised we might be better equipped ourselves to speak hope into the horrible reality of a forever-separation from our Creator... rather than giving off the never-ending vibe of judgmentalism to a generation who are frankly jacked off with it.
  2. Do we know why we get so upset with the existence of a literal hell being brought into question? If our level of emotion rises because we genuinely recognise that true justice requires ultimate and undeniable consequence, then maybe that's justifiable ... but sometimes I wonder whether we over-compensate our disgust in an attempt to reassure ourselves that we're "in".
So, my hope is that the hell Bell has managed to find himself in (or orchestrate?) at the moment will not just help him sell lots of books (well, I kind of hope that), but also provide a great space for me to answer my two questions.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Every year God gives me a word that helps me understand a theme for ministry. This year the word is 'exposure'... And I've been learning a lot in the last week through this word.

I began by thinking that the meaning of exposure was that my ministry would gain further exposure in different arenas...this might be true, but it's not the entire picture.

Here's what God has showed me in the last week:

1. HE is exposing ME to the work  He is doing.
... Last week I walked into a room full of parents and students celebrating the student's graduation of VETAMORPHUS as I was going to run part of immerse with some of them, and God revealed that exposure wasn't just about my ministry being seen, but me seeing what God's doing.

2. Exposure means that the WEAK parts will be seen too.
... I shared some of my thinking on Story-formed discipleship with a bunch of Baptist youth pastors on Thursday. And they fielded some great questions... Questions that exposed the weaker and half-baked parts of my thinking - and I came out hopeful that some of what I shared was helpful, but also feeling a bit battered from being "exposed".

Both of these lessons have been exceptionally humbling and helpful.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I'm sitting at the foot of the statue of Colonel William Light. I'm discovering more of who God is.

Tonight as I walked from Light Square to this place I looked for memories of Eden as I was asked to with the students we are leading through Immerse.

I especially noticed a young guy pulling an intense jump on his bike, a woman laughing on the phone as I crossed the River Torrens, people playing Tennis at Memorial Drive.

As I sit under the memorial of the man who designed the city of Adelaide - a city permanently surrounded by parklands - I discover a God who has woven into us the capacity for play.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

between the ads

I remember the day when commercial breaks were what happened between the "real shows" (at least I was naive enough to think that!)

The ads would come on, and you could afford to tune out for a while, and wait for your sitcom, soap opera, movie, or cartoon to return - pick up the story again, and carry you into the other world of mystery, suspense, tragedy or hilarity.

Sometimes I wonder if there's ever a story of substance between the ads.

I mean, it just seems like ad "breaks" are longer ... and, to be honest, sometimes the ads are more entertaining than the shows (I guess the money of marketing attracts better writers than all the ex-cops who write law enforcement dramas?).

And then, maybe, the commercial stations have reclaimed some talented writers through strategically placing products in their shows - cos that's where the money is. And for those who couldn't manage to lure creative talent back their way, well, at least they have reality TV to pay the bills.

I know it sounds cynical, but sometimes I wonder whether our lives don't reflect the same pattern. Depth, wonder, joy, love and story become crowded out by a non-stop barrage of shallow stories, repetitive jingles and ulterior motives.

A life truly lived is substituted for the sale of the product we hope to be projecting ... we think we're living a great story, but all we're doing is selling stuff.

Seriously, is there anything actually happening between the ads?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bonhoeffer on reality

My Christmas break reading has been Bonhoeffer's biography by Metaxas ... Nearly finished 542 pages, phew!

It's been a great read on many levels... History, romance, ministry, advocacy... Not to mention theology. I found this quote particularly insightful:

"As long as Christ and the world are conceived as two realms bumping up against each other and repelling each other, we are left with only the following options. Giving up on reality as a whole, either we place ourselves in one of the two realms, wanting Christ without the world or the world without Christ--and in both cases we deceive ourselves... There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is God's reality revealed in Christ in the reality of the world. Partaking in Christ, we stand at the same time in the reality of God and in the reality of the world. The reality of Christ embraces the reality of the world in itself. The world has no reality of its own independent of God's revelation in Christ. ... The theme of two realms, which has dominated the history of the church again and again, is foreign to the New Testament." (p469)

I'm interested to hear others reflections on this, what questions it raises, etc.

Thursday, January 13, 2011