Adventures in Online Cross Cultural Teaching Part 3
I love teaching about the power of narrative. The stories of Scripture have always been my portal of choice into the deepest truths of our faith. One of my favorite theologians said, “What Jesus did was as authoritative and as much revelation of God as what he said and taught. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, the act of healing became a text by which a true theology of the Sabbath was revealed.” Neuroscience is confirming narrative’s power to evoke empathy and identification and allow us to take new perspectives. This podcast ( https://www.npr.org/transcripts/795977814) illuminates the concept of narrative transportation, whereby our minds really do enter a different realm and mode when we are swept away into the world of the story. We relate to the dilemmas even of characters we may not like much. That imaginative immersion is fostered by vivid scene painting, leaning into the tensest moments in the plot, and lively dialogue.
Even more than teaching on the concept of narrative, I love empowering students to excel as storytellers. A few of them walk in already conceiving of themselves as natural storytellers, but many surprise themselves with their ability to be creative in response to some of the tasks I hand them. One such challenge I give is to bring a fresh and lively retelling of a story from Scripture, from the perspective of a minor character—and not necessarily a human! In previous courses, I have enjoyed hearing one of the lost coins narrate her journey from stuck deep in the recesses of the bedsheets to found and treasured by her ‘lady,’ and I relished hearing a stone in a creek-bed describe the day it was pulled out and engaged to knock out Goliath.
My students in Malaysia rose to the occasion like champs. Karen became Aaron’s rod, recounting her many adventures in Egypt and the wilderness. Sheela spoke as Peter. She deftly sliced open the dejected moment when energy and hope was flagging in the upper room, shortly before the Holy Spirit came, then she walked us through his transformation to passionate preacher at Pentecost. Janice became Judas’ coin purse, and narrated with poignancy the moment she listened to her owner scoffing at the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, and had a sense her master’s heart was headed to a dark place. A few of them added creative backgrounds on Zoom—Janice spoke with this one:
 Anderson, Ray, The Shape of Practical Theology, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001, p. 13.
Later, in other speeches, we worked with the more deductive skills of teaching an aspect of Christian doctrine, persuading listeners to act towards justice and mercy in our communities, and bringing a word of wisdom and care into the challenges listeners are facing in the pandemic. But we all agreed that the storytelling challenge was our favorite!
If you would like to sharpen your own skills as a storyteller, these are some of my favorite resources:
Buster, Bobette, Do Story: How to Tell Your Story so the World Listens https://www.amazon.com/Do-Story-story-world-listens-ebook/dp/B00CT3JW6E
MacKenzie, Alice, Making a Scene in the Pulpit https://www.amazon.com/Making-Scene-Pulpit-Preaching-Listeners/dp/0664261566
McKee, Robert: Story https://www.amazon.com/Story-Structure-Substance-Principles-Screenwriting-ebook/dp/B0042FZVOY
Willobee, Sondra, The Write Stuff https://www.amazon.com/Write-Stuff-Crafting-Sermons-Convince/dp/0664232817/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+write+stuff+preaching&qid=1598146573&s=books&sr=1-1
Wright, John, Telling God’s Story https://www.amazon.com/Story-Structure-Substance-Principles-Screenwriting-ebook/dp/B0042FZVOY
Adventures in Online Cross Cultural Teaching Part 2
I thoroughly enjoyed the Filipino preaching students I taught this summer through the Asian Theological Seminary. A few of them were as eloquent as any students I have ever heard preach. All of them were sharp observers of their own cultures (plural because one student was Cambodian, and one Filipino was pastoring a church in Japan—one of the benefits of the Zoom classroom). They were also astute in their appreciation and critique of preaching in the Philippines, and they related the Scriptures to their contexts in striking ways.
At the end of our second session, after I had lectured on the purposes of the sermon as it has been conceived by the church through the centuries, I asked them to name some characteristics of preaching in the Philippines. Renz said, “Our preaching is halo halo--and we love it like that.” They all smiled in agreement, but this professor needed some translation! Halo halo, it turns out, is a favorite Filipino dessert made of a mixture of colorful flavors of ice cream, various fruits, and other toppings. It looks like the above appetizing image.
This was Renz’s way of saying that sermons in the Philippines can seem to meander a bit, moving in and out of story and more didactic modes, but as a whole the various elements form something delicious and a pleasure to hear.
On a heavier note, they did not shy away from bringing in the sorrows of their nation, relating themes in Scripture to those struggles. For example, to illustrate the vulnerability of the disciples on the sea in the storm, a student shared about the vulnerability felt by Overseas Filipino Workers, particularly women, who often find themselves at the mercy of cruel and abusive employers in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere. In 2019 there were 2.2 million Filipinos working abroad, as this report shows:
Another student, in a powerful sermon on Psalm 88 and the practice of lament, related it to the Filipino practice of tampo, a Filipino word which roughly translates to sulking, withdrawing, and pouting. He then made this excellent point:
“The language of Tampo or sulking, which is present in laments, is reserved for those who we share a close relationship with. We don't sulk against the mailman, we do Tampo to the people who are close to our hearts.” He went on to say that the psalms of lament show us prayerful engagement with God through the honest articulation of our struggles.
At one point or another they all spoke poignantly of the toll the Coronavirus and the nation’s strict quarantine is having on their economy. One student was recovering from it, and one had many ill family members. They regularly commented that the course itself was good for them, both as it allowed them to see partners in ministry they had not seen in person in physical classrooms for a long time, and because it stretched them to proclaim the goodness of God into painful circumstances. It was a privilege to teach this gifted group of emerging preachers (yes, all men—not typical for the seminary, just how enrollment happened this summer for some reason), and an education for me, as well. Now to find some halo halo here in Los Angeles—it does indeed look delicious!
Adventures in Online Cross Cultural Teaching Part 1
If you teach or lead groups of people, whether children or adults, in classrooms, corporate, non-profit, or congregational settings, you have probably felt like you have been playing ping pong with your best hand tied behind your back for the past few months. We who teach are grieving the transformative moments that can happen in the shared space of a physical classroom. In those spaces, we work hard to cultivate not only ‘aha’ moments within individuals’ minds and hearts, but gracious learning communities which spur each other on to growth. I have been reflecting on how we can still forge community and catalyze transformative learning experiences even when seemingly reduced to tiles. I offer my zany experiments in hopes they may encourage you and that you might be able to transfer the essence of an idea here, if not necessarily the specifics, to the good work you are doing this fall.
As a professor of preaching and communication I am particularly keen to build a sense of safety and freedom to experiment. It is a vulnerable act to get up in front of a group and speak about what matters. One on hand, the public speaking act is less frightening when one is merely speaking into one’s screen while seated. I saw no trembling hands and heard no quavering voices in my summer courses. But I knew that by the third session of the Effective Communication for Ministry course I taught to students in Malaysia and Singapore, they would be asked to share a Word of Witness, testifying to how God met them in a challenging season, and inviting us to trust the God who met them. This is a risky assignment, and I need them to trust each other for it to succeed. How to build that sense of community? This summer, I put my money on outrageous silliness.
First, I briefly introduced a classic model for a persuasive speech: Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. Many of you know this basic flow from Need to Satisfaction (or Problem to Solution), moving to Visualization (painting a vivid picture of the good that will come if hearers adopt your proposal/purchase your product), culminating in a call to Action. I told them they would be selling items to each other, inviting them to pretend they had somehow come into a large supply of these items and were genuinely convinced they would transform the lives of their fellow students. I tucked in the element of Testimony since it is so central to my understanding of powerful persuasive speech. Monroe’s sequence begins with getting attention, but I figured I had that covered with the items themselves! I called the name of a student, showed him or her a slide, gave a whopping 15 seconds to figure out what problem this item could solve, and then asked them to sell us the item for a minimum of two minutes. These were my favorites:
I will add that I modeled the vulnerability inherent in this exercise by going first. I invited them to pick a number, and then I bravely sold that item--I believe I got a tacky tiara. Then it was their turn. I had no idea how this would go—would this silliness transfer across cultures? Would they rise to the occasion or pack it in?
To my relief, what ensued was utter hilarity. The students bravely embraced the challenge, convincing us that our lives were on the brink of destruction because we lacked chicken tutus or squirrel finger extensions. They painted glorious scenarios of the better futures we would enjoy if we bought an under-the-desk hammock or a napping hat-- NOW! We laughed uproariously, deepening connection and affection between us in the process. Laughter was a gorgeous gift, an injection of lightness and grace into a somber season.
How can you inject laughter into a team meeting, class session, or congregational gathering this week?
What other practices might serve to build joyful collaboration among the teams, online classrooms, or congregations you lead or participate in, this fall?
Rich and Lisa Lamb