Tuesday, March 31, 2015

logos and google

'The Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other'.

Attributed to Karl Barth, this is the classic cliche about the need for preachers to remain connected to both the Word and the World, the Text and the Context, as they prepare and deliver sermons. Earlier this month in Amman, I heard Dr Yohanna Katanacho (Bethlehem Bible College) refresh the Barthian quotation, as he described his own approach to preaching:

'Using Logos helps me understand the text; using Google helps me understand the context'.
[NB: I am assuming that 'Logos' refers here to a Bible software package.]

These statements align with the Stottian quotation which I hear most frequently as I travel: the call for 'double listening'. We need to be listening to the Word and listening to the World on the way to relating the one to the other in the sermon - and in life itself. I've been reflecting again on how much this principle has been woven into the fabric of who I am and how I function in ministry.

As a young pastor, in my twenties, there was a bus company that moved us around in the lower South Island of New Zealand. It was called H & H. I remember articulating the 'H & H' that moved me in ministry: hermeneutics and homiletics. Interpreting the Bible. Preaching the Bible.

As a young lecturer in my thirties, I found myself teaching H & H. I was like a little boy in a licorice shop. As my thirties gained momentum I was asked to develop a course from scratch called The Gospel in a Post-Christian Society. WOW - those were the days... With H & H - and now GPCS - filling my waking hours, 'double listening' had embedded itself into my vocation. Text and Context. Word and World. Not surprisingly, my developing doctoral studies had a similar flavour as I wrestled with 'the parable in the postmodern'.

Into my forties and a 'jack of all trades' teaching career (at BCNZ/Laidlaw College I had taught in every department and at every academic level) was traded-in for a single, specific focus: homiletics, or preaching. As I lived in this area a model for teaching the subject took shape. At its core was a commitment to double listening - or, more accurately, quadruple (?!) listening - as we listened our way around the four corners of a room, engaging with text, listener, world and self - with the text having the strongest voice as these conversations morphed their way into a sermon. [NB: One ongoing incarnation of this 'four corners' approach is the impressive Kiwimade Preaching website where contributing articles are collected in these four corners.]

Now in my fifties and involved in a preacher training ministry with a global reach, the Barthian cliche continues to have its manifestations, sometimes in surprising places. My suitcase, for example. This morning I looked in there and noticed the two books, on a blue towel, selected for reading on this trip. Almost intuitively by now, this selection pulls me into double-listening. I really like it like that...

Well, that is a slice of one person's story into a life of 'double listening'.

What does your own story sound like?
Because we all need to be doing it, in every vocation.

nice chatting


Saturday, March 21, 2015


Earlier this month I enjoyed my first trip to the Arab world. After meetings in Amman (Jordan), I travelled to Lebanon to spend a few days with my colleague and friend, Riad, at his home in the Bekaa Valley (that flat bit above the central ridge in the map below).

Lebanon is a small country, taking two hours to drive its width and five hours its length. Before the troubles began Riad could drive to Damascus for an afternoon with his in-laws and be back home again the same evening. It has a similar population to New Zealand (4 million), although increased now by almost 50% with refugees from Syria (possibly as many as 2 million). It is a courageous and compassionate commitment, given that the influx of Palestinian refugees a few decades ago created the context which wrecked the country with 17 years of civil war.

Simply put, the country is beautiful. I saw beautiful places - and beautiful people.

Here is Byblos, with the longest continually populated community anywhere in the world. The ruins in the picture suggest that people lived here 8000 years ago - and pretty much every year since.

The ruins of Byblos are impressive - but so, too, are the restorations of Beirut. I couldn't get enough of the downtown buildings, marveling at the mastery involved in taking buildings back to their former glory, after being rubbilised by prolonged civil war (sometimes even with church as neighbour to mosque - see below). It is kinda like a picture of creation-fall-redemption...!

Then there is the first century Roman temple in Niha.

And what about that Bekaa Valley, with the view from Riad's upstairs' verandah?

The snowy slopes of Mt Hermon were a special thrill for me (here, the view at breakfast).

... and then a closer view, up on the Syrian border.

And how can a visit to Lebanon not sight a cedar?! Here is a relatively young one, at 1400 years of age (they go up to 3500 years of age!).

When it comes to the people, beautiful people, it is hard to go past a visit to the basement of an unfinished Baptist church, schooling 300 Syrian refugee children. Gorgeous kids. We walk into this classroom and the children stand up and recite the Lord's Prayer - 'your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven ... deliver us from evil ... forgive us, as we forgive others ...'. Yes, Lord, may it be so.

Last year, the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon, issued an 'Urgent Appeal' to the wider, global evangelical community. The current situation verges on 'being bona fide genocide' ... (they warn of) 'the annihilation of Christian presence in the Middle East' ... 'we must work together to heal the wounds and to preserve what is left of the Christian community in these lands'. They call for partnership, with that word solidarity featuring prominently at beginning and end. And so I leave Lebanon with a heart full of longings - that innumerable Christians in the wider world will give up their small and silly ambitions and get lost in something bigger than themselves - and that God will hold his church in Lebanon-Syria, keep his people, and lead them onwards and upwards...

nice chatting


PS: for another post sparked by Syria - see the messiah above syria.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

a female leadership quality?!

It is a headline that catches the eye, isn't it?
Why women make better CEOs in the 21st century.

It is Sunday morning. I am browsing The Sunday Telegraph at Heathrow. It is International Women's Day and the paper is making a bit of a splash with an eye-catching headline. I've always found women preachers to be reluctant to say that there is a distinctive voice which they offer to preaching. Could the same be said of women leadership styles?

Not according to this article. Out with masculine command-and-control styles and in with 'feminine' collaboration-and-listening ones. Less kings and macho-heroes - and more orchestrators. According to Simon Sinek, what we need are 'more leaders with female qualities such as empathy and humanity. Aggression and self-interest are the qualities of bad leadership.'

Hmmm...  I am tempted to leave my response with Sir Ian Richardson, from yesteryear's House of Cards: 'you might think that - I could not possibly comment'.  But I won't. I suspect a stronger case can be made for a distinctive voice (and style) in the field of leadership than it can be made for preaching. While there are times when I have seen this to be the case - I still can't help feeling a little sorry for the male leader who has empathy and humanity!

The online article omits a box embedded in the print version of the article. Five Keys to Good Leadership. They are so good, I quote them in full here (partly because I do not want to lose them):
1 Good leadership is about communicating a vision of something that does not exist yet. Hitting revenue targets is not a vision. The worst combination is a leader who keeps a tight grip while offering no vision.
2 Once you have defined that vision, you need to articulate it. Employees are increasingly questioning why they work for a company. So CEOs have to convince others to get on board, leading sideways rather than just downwards. Instead of vision, many CEOs prefer to use the word 'purpose'.
3 Surround yourself with people who are better than you, [ie appoint your weakness] developing and building that talent. Nurturing talent is like being a parent, in that you take pride when your executives achieve independence.
4 Avoid being pushed into instant decisions. Think about what you are doing. Too many CEOs are pushed around by social media. Don't let yourself be bullied by a fickle public.
5 Walk the walk. You need to embody qualities such as collaboration, encouragement, and listening rather than just pay lip-service to them You need to be an exemplary role model.
Intuitively, this seems to hit that proverbial nail on its equally proverbial head - although they missed the opportunity to speak of how #1 can be done through collaboration and listening. In my experience, 'the vision thing' is one area that still receives the controlling, macho, directive, 'downwards' treatment ... but maybe that is just my feminine side speaking:).

nice chatting