Wednesday, June 30, 2010

eyes wide open: a visual of out of bounds church

I was bored last night. I should have been marking, but I was looking begging for a distraction. I found it by plugging various bits of my writing into wordle. Very sad I know.

Now again tonight I should be marking. Again I’m looking begging for a distraction. So why not blog the result. Even sadder I know.

Here’s chapter 3 of my Out of Bounds Church?

And here’s my sermon, a chapter, in Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement

And here’s my chapter on Spirit with popular culture, in The Spirit of Truth: Reading Scripture and Constructing Theology With the Holy Spirit

I like Wordle. But now I have run out of distractions ….

Posted by steve at 08:50 PM

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

when home is a pain: church being in exile?

“I yearn for home” is a line by Pádraig Ó Tuama from the Ikon Dubh album. Hearing it today is a reminder of pain, of the profound disorientation that’s taken place in my understanding of home, caused by the move from New Zealand to Australia. Home used to be a place of comfort, of acceptance, of belonging, found among my previous Opawa church community with creative, intelligent, relational companions, found seated at our South Island holiday home, with those broad vistas to lake and mountains.

But by coming to Australia, the Taylor family has been forced away from home. We believe it’s the call of God, asking us to leave home.  So now the concept of home is simply a pain, a reminder both of isolation and distance, and of obedience. And part of me fights against ever wanting to call this Australian land home!

I think, intuitively this is actually really helpful. You see, isn’t there a danger of home being domesticated around what is familiar and comfortable. I was struck by this when reading Luke 19:1-10 recently, and realising that Jesus does mission not in his home, but in the home of Zacchues. Incarnational mission in this text was not about being comfortable, but about being in someone else’s home, seated at another’s table. It’s meant to be uncomfortable and alien.

Pádraig Ó Tuama has another song, Maranatha, in which he sings “I found my home in Babylon.” (more…)

Posted by steve at 05:26 PM

Saturday, June 26, 2010

the rabbit holes of research: how I prepare an academic paper for presentation

For the last few days I’ve been, like Alice, falling down the proverbial rabbit hole. Not, for me, the wonderland of mad hatters and Cheshire cats, but the wonderland that is research.

It began on Wednesday. Half way through having to move my office, complete with books, filing cabinets and notes, a random conversation with a fellow lecturer brought me to a halt.

I am due to give a paper at the Centenary celebrations of the Melbourne College of Divinity in a few weeks. (more here). The conference theme is The future of religion. It’s a fairly important conference, so they demand all presenters submit their papers prior. I thought it was due Monday 2 weeks away. Standing in my colleagues office, I realised my mistake. My 12 days to write had suddenly become 5 days.

And so begins the wonderland that is research.

A possibility. As an academic, I get a regular stream of emails advertising conferences. Most get deleted, but some look a possibility – location, time, theme – seem to mesh.

A possibility. If you want to deliver a paper, you are requested to submit a proposal, a few hundred words outlining what you might speak out. This is when you begin the fall into wonderland. Because the conference is months away, you have no idea what you will actually say. You expect you will have time to do some research. So you lob in a proposal, your potential argument. It needs to sound good, even though you have not yet actually done the research to be sure.

A poke around. And so you seek to clarify a research question. It needs to be original, but respect your discipline. I consider it the spiritual practise of honouring the saints, those who have gone before. And so you take your question and poke around a few books, and a few things click and you get excited and you send in the proposal.

The process. And then you get engulfed again by the daily demands – lecturing, marking, meetings. At some point you wriggle free (to be honest most of my marking is actually still in a pile somewhere in my half-moved office!) and you begin to research. For me, this involves following the white rabbit. To quote, Alberto Manguel.

I like discovering places haphazardly .. I have not attempted .. a systematic method .. I was curiousity.

I am not systematic. (Is anyone?) I have an idea, I go to the library and I start reading and wrestling.

Today there are 20 books on my floor – for this project some Bible commentaries of the book of Judges, Aboriginal mission history, scholarly articles on how people read. You have to keep your eye on the time – the “Monday 5 days away.” So you can’t read everything. Instead you are looking for data to build your argument – quotes, insights – and connection with the discipline – key scholars, history of the argument.

And writing. Because the goal is not reading, but writing, organising your data in a way that is honest and comprehensible. It’s exhilirating. It’s agonising. You have to keep your eye on the conference theme and your initial abstract. Some flexibility is expected. Too much and I am potentially becoming rude to my audience and the expectations already created.

The presentation. This is the goal. Speaking should be different from writing. This is how the academy works. You submit your ideas to your peers (at conferences and in research journals). Just like artists look at the art of others and mechanics comment on another’s work, so your ideas are offered to the guild.

The probing. Following your paper comes the question time. And the comments in the corridor. And the coffees after. The questions. The testing for logical consistency. The linking with another book, author, idea. This is really why you present. In your paper, you have placed your clay on the potters wheel. It needs to be wet, so that it can be moulded by the community of your peers.

The publication. A conference invites the spoken word. It allows you to test ideas and fly kites. It gets you started. Generally you speak for about 20-30 minutes and take questions for 10-15. So a conference paper is around 2,000 to 3,000 words. And it only reaches those who are present. So the hope is that the conference paper becomes a publication. That usually means expansion (you need to write about 5,000 words) and clarification (picking up).

But that’s another whole story/post. For now, for today, my focus is simply Monday.

Posted by steve at 06:51 PM

Friday, June 25, 2010

fascinating resource for postmodern preaching: Blackwell Bible commentaries

In doing some research this week – indigenous responses to colonisation; how colonised people’s use the book of the coloniser (the Bible ) – I stumbled across a fascinating resource – the Blackwell Bible Commentaries.

To quote from the commentary on the book of Judges, these books focus on “what a text, especially a sacred text, can mean and what it can do, what it has meant and what it has done, in the many contexts in which it operates.”

In other words, while most commentaries focus on the Bible text, this commentary series explores how people have interpreted the Biblical text, from the church fathers through to current popular culture. It dips into literature, art, politics, comics, hymns and official church statements. It’s classically post-modern in focusing on reader-response, but it’s fascinating. It’s even got pictures! How cool is that in a Biblical commentary.

So in my research I am looking at the Samson story in Judges 14 and in particular how a Maori leader (Te Whiti O Rongomai of Parihaka) used that text to encourage non-violent resistance. Turning to Judges Through the Centuries I read how the text was interpreted over the last 2,000 years.

Which serves to underline how radical and innovative was the theological work of Te Whiti – some 100 years ahead of other Biblical interpreters of that text. There are commentaries on John, Revelation and Judges, Psalms, Exodus, with another 20 or so in process.

Posted by steve at 09:30 AM

Thursday, June 24, 2010

developing change leaders book review – Ch 6 The evolution of a change leader

A book review of Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs, Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development. Chapter one here. Chapter two is here. Chapter three is here. Chapter four is here. Chapter five is here.

Becoming an effective change leader takes time and requires change in the leader themselves. It begins with reflective practise. While authoritarian command type leaders are most appealing in a crisis (page 121), the most appropriate skills are those of questioning and reflection.

Research on change leaders show they hardly ever grow by formal development. Rather, they grow through things like watching leaders, affirmation of their own ability in the midst of conflict, first-hand experiences of the mis/use of power, leadership opportunities and facilitated reflection on their lived experience. This comes best through coaching. This should also include coaching others, due to the giving of compassion becoming a personal healing agency.

The book then summarises 10 dynamic capabilities for change leaders as follows:

1 – Develop decision making – specifically the ability to wait and see, keep an open mind and be comfortable with contradictions. Central to this is the ability to inquire, to accept that you are not the expert and that someone in your team may have a better insight.

2 – Access capability from across the team

3 – Become a co-creator of a learning culture

4 – Combine future-sensemaking with strategic thinking – digging deeper, reading widely, in a desire to appreciate the system and not just the events.

5 – Develop ‘total’ leadership – including authenticity, integrity and experimentation, at all levels of a person’s life

6 – Develop competency to work in diverse cultures

7 – Develop 1-1 coaching skills – eg micro-skills of building rapport, active listening, attention, sensitivity.

8 – Develop 1-many skills – eg micro-skills of dialogue, facilitation, process consulting, because leadership is about responding to real lived relationships.

9 – Emotional intelligence including self-awareness, emotional resilience, sensitivity, influence, intuition and conscientiousness.

10- Dialogue on performance.

The next 2 chapters set out to explore how to develop these capabilities. In the meantime, take some time to reflect on a change leader you admire. In what ways were these capacities in evidence?

Posted by steve at 06:14 PM

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

stories, stories everywhere: 2010 storytelling conference

The 10th National Biblical Storytelling Gathering is happening on 24 – 26 September 2010, and for the first time ever, in South Australia. The gatherings have a reputation of being times of rich community, vibrant creativity; full of inspirational, renewal and fun.

I am one of the speakers and my task is to reflect on the place of storytelling as it relates to ministry in communities of faith. I will tell some gospel stories reimagined, and discuss the processes by which they emerged.

Each year participants are also invited to take part in an Epic Telling – a longer story is broken into smaller portions that each person prepares and then tells in order. It is a remarkable way to tell and to hear the biblical stories and this year will focus of the gospel of Matthew.

Workshops will also build up skills in telling the biblical story, including using different media and Godly Play; reflect on story and healing; explore story and music, story and worship and how to help people to shape and tell their own stories.

So, who among your communities tells the biblical story and would appreciate the opportunity to gather with others who tell the story, the opportunity to build up their skills? Who among your communities is passionate about the role that story plays in the wholeness of our humanity? Pass on to them the registration form … application form

Posted by steve at 04:02 AM

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

haunted hope

A poem that give might give some expression to my current stage of being. Or it might not.

is there
while i am here

becomes then

and i am here

memories seep
to faded deeds

coloniser to migrant
tongued tied, in
church, old,
thriving to dying

grief to grow

time ticks
to new hopes

Posted by steve at 05:28 PM

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fresh expressions formalised in South Australia: updated

Exciting weekend here in South Australia, with the Uniting Church Synod (council of all Uniting churches in South Australia), voting to accept a number of resolutions including the following:

  • develop Fresh Expressions and Church Plants throughout South Australia
  • develop a network/community of Pioneer Ministers
  • ask the Uniting College (of which I am a part) to take the lead in developing training for Pioneer Ministry, both for lay people and for those wanting to live out their ordination as Pioneer Ministers

(Updated: full resolutions here)

So there we are – a church denomination making Fresh expressions a priority, and formally charging it’s training arm to train pioneer leaders.

It dovetails beautifully with the fact that as a Uniting College staff, we’ve been putting in hours of work in the last few months into developing a unique pathway by which to train pioneer leaders. This will be as part of our new B.Min degree programme. If our application is successful it will mean we are offering two training paths. One path will be a more conventional mission and ministry degree.

The other path will also offer a B.Min degree, but with a focus on innovation and pioneering. It will offer learning by doing, in situ in a fresh expression, observational intensives so people can broaden their vision and practice of ministry, expect mentoring – both individual and in community – along with integration through study in areas of leadership, mission, Bible and Christian discipleship.  So if you sense God calling you to train as a fresh expressions pioneer leader, we at Uniting College just may be able to help you.

All quite exciting.

Posted by steve at 08:36 PM

Friday, June 18, 2010

new forms of church: eco-festivals

In my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change book, I suggested a variety of emerging church forms:

  • Art collectives
  • Postmodern monasteries
  • Weekly participative communities
  • Festival spirituality

Some were dreams, needing legs. So it was wonderful to see this …

an ecofestival
(hat tip Michael)

St Johns, Durham, 11am-5 pm, in the church grounds, with locally sourced food, live music, a range of activities for all ages including stalls with info about renewable energy, where cyclists can have their bike serviced, learn more about Durham Wildlife Trust, buy Fairtrade, take part in craft activities. The afternoon will end with beer and hymns. There’s even public intercession (a balloon release with prizes, with the balloons carrying messages of how visitors would like the world to be in years to come)!

Fantastic. Outside the church, resourcing body, mind and soul. All age friendly.

This from the 2008 church Annual report:

A final mention must go to the Neville’s Cross ’08 EcoFestival. This was an ambitious
undertaking on the part of St John’s to conceive, plan and bring to fruition a large-scale
community festival. The event was entirely planned by church members and took place in and
around the church buildings. A variety of events, activities, stalls, games, music, debate, advice
and so on was on offer, all relating to the themes of Trade Justice and Climate Change (which had
grown out of a parish away-weekend 10 months earlier). On the day we were blessed with
splendid weather alongside the dedicated enthusiasm of all involved, and it was a delight to see the
whole church precinct alive with people of all ages throughout the day.

It all sounds grand, but it emerged so simply. Chew over an idea. Commit to give it legs in a way that involves a variety of gifts. Take a deep breath and have a go!

Posted by steve at 02:36 PM

Thursday, June 17, 2010

leading from your strengths. gift or curse?

What if you are really good at something. You have a passion for it and over time you invest in it. You develop skills and you become good at it.

Really good.

But over time you begin to wonder if there are some potential downsides to your gift.

Some people tell you they could never do what you do. That your gift leaves them feeling somehow inadequate and so they close down.

Still others begin to place you on a pedestal.  In your presence they become less forthcoming with their opinions.

Still others ask what happens when you leave, with the assumption that somehow you are invaluable, that things should continue with, or without you.

Such reactions, observed as I watch people respond to creative people, leave me wondering. What do gifted people do with their strengths? Should Da Vinci have used his gifts less? Or differently? How much of how a creative person is perceived and processed is their responsibility? What is involved in the shift from creative individuals to creative communities?

Posted by steve at 03:55 PM

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

faith outback: planting rural fresh expressions

The feature story in the Australian Outback magazine (June 2010) is titled Faith:Belief in the bush. It’s pretty hefty – 22 pages – and explores how people have coped with the adversity of recent drought. There’s an appeal to a faith rooted in land and that is sensitive to indigenous issues. And all as the lead article in a commercial magazine. Secular Australia? Really?

There’s some challenges to theology.

For rural Australia to succeed and grow we need people who are prepared to take risks and try different approaches. Faith can be a huge driver for change. Equally it can be a form of avoidance. There are some who put all their faith in God or industry leaders to fix the problems. Having faith in yourself, your family and your community means accepting that you are accountable. Cheryl Philips.

There’s a nice nod to fresh expressions – rural style – including the rise of lay ministry, discussion groups and home churches.

For rural people, having their lives enriched spiritually through their relationships with others is where it’s at. If that leads to going to church, then that’s an added benefit. The church now wants to be a legitimate working part of the community. Ross Neville, Uniting church rural consultant.

A few weekends ago I taught at a lay training event called Grow and Go. My topic was Mission-shaped community. To break up the monotony of Steve Taylor talking for 8 hours, each person was given an overhead projector acetate. Each acetate had the following headings:

  • A new insight:
  • A new idea and/or resource:
  • An inspirational story:

And I spread a whole lot of resources around the table – short articles, booklets, a few computers with websites to browse. The group had 30 minutes to browse, read and fill in the acetate if they found a new insight, idea or story. And then we had a great reporting back session – various ones sharing with the group a resource they had discovered. The most popular resource were those I dug out on rural ministry. Like the Grove Books – a veritable treasure trove – for example some of these.  Rural ministry in Australia dying? Really?

Posted by steve at 08:38 PM

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


dying minute

Kiwi’s score,

battlers to the very end,

and take their first ever World Cup point!

Posted by steve at 11:06 PM

developing change leaders book review – Ch 5 Building a Change Leadership Culture

A book review of Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs, Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development. Chapter one here. Chapter two is here. Chapter three is here. Chapter four is here.

“we need to depersonalise and decentre the leadership concept, so that we begin to perceive leadership as a co-operative or collective enterprise.” (93-93, quoting Bate, 1994, 242).

This is a crucial chapter, providing a framework by which to develop change leaders. This chapter explores the shift from “I” to “we”; from individual change managers to “leadership culture.” It calls for a “walk the talk” in which leaders make clear the links between what they do and their underlying values. “Whilst heroes can carry the day in times of crisis, building a sustainable culture of innovation, excellence and achievement requires a collective and distributed, as opposed to individualised and hierarchical, leadership mind-set and approach.” (103)

Research into “leadership culture” is rare, with a lack of clarity about how values of individual leaders translate into action. How to influence a culture? There are many options, including directing attention to priorities, reacting to crisis, creating formal statements, telling stories, symbolic acts, design of work facilities and processes, rewards and sanctions, methods of decision-making. But which to use and when? They suggest a mix of the following (112):

  • role model the future, every day and in every way
  • foster understanding of changed expectations and their purposes
  • find and develop the ‘new way’ values, capabilities and behaviours
  • reinforce future state with formal and informal culture signals

This includes some practical steps

  • appreciate that change is complex. It must be embedded in behaviours and run across the organisation, not top-down
  • make modelling a priority
  • build in feedback loops (this is critical including “experimental, case study and real life observation of leadership” (114)
  • build team by creating an open table in which to discuss the real values of the organisation
  • creating a culture development plan
  • identifying key behaviours that have the best chance of making a difference
  • seeking out and developing change leaders and followers who represent your future

The more I read this book, the more impressed I am. The mix of research, concise summaries, diagrams and practical examples is appealing. The use of a strong values basis makes it much more likely to transfer to religious contexts. I suspect it will provide a fascinating way to discuss leadership development ie training of Christian ministers.

Posted by steve at 11:55 AM

Monday, June 14, 2010

creationary: elijah in his man cave

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. (For more on what is a creationary go here; for other Creationary resources, go here).

The OT lectionary text is 1 Kings 19. The last few weeks have made Elijah out to be a hero, so we need this reading to bring Elijah down to earth. The great prophet is oh, so human after all.

I’d invite people to list their caves, the places where they go when tired and depressed. I’d probably do this quietly ie no public response, simply describing the text, giving space for people to name their places quietly, and then to affirming that God of grace will find us in those places, just as God found Elijah. This could easily become a lectio divina meditation and could be really powerful in terms of people finding God in their caves.

I might frame this around the fabulous art piece, Elijah Visited by an Angel from the Altarpiece of the Last Supper, 1464-68 by Dirck Bouts, which has 2 Elijah’s, one being awoken by the angel, another walking into the wilderness. Which again invites people to explore whether they have two Elijah’s and how they might find themselves wrapped in God’s care for themselves, both in sleep and in flight.

I’d make a “shuffle pack” of religious practices. To generate the practices, I’d look up a book like Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, which has 62 practices, each with an introduction, Scriptural framing, discussion questions and practical examples. I’d spread selected practices, say 7, out on tables and invite people to choose one at random. And keep choosing a card until they come across a practice that is alien and strange. Better, if I had time, I’d have a few “spiritual guides” actually do the shuffling, helping guide people to find a new practice.

Why a new practice? Because in 1 Kings 18, Elijah finds God in fire and wind that brings rain, yet in 1 Kings 19, God is not in fire and wind, but in the still voice. Elijah has to learn to hear God in new ways. Such is the journey of discipleship.

And I’d invite them to practice that for the month coming. I’d also provide instructions and invite them to weblog it. (For an example of how I’ve done this previously, inviting people to discern the Kingdom, here). Why this sort of community formation? Well, it would make concrete one of the commentaries, “Prophecy cannot be carried out in a desolate desert. Rather, it must be manifest within a community, and manifest specifically among God’s people.” Abingdon Commentaries – 1 and 2 Kings So we need ways to explore spiritual practices in community, and using of blog-rings allows people to do that, yet still at a time that suits them.

Posted by steve at 12:05 PM