Monday, February 28, 2011

creationary: God in change, Matthew 6, parable of sower

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

I led a service (worship and preaching) on Sunday at my local faith community. The request was to focus on all generations, starting with children and to do it in a way that enabled people to sit around tables and have time to eat breakfast together. A fun request, which made for a very hectic weekend, but did give me enjoyment in putting some pieces together.

The starting point was two Biblical texts, the lectionary reading for the day, which included Matthew 6:25-34. Which seemed in my head to link with the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13:1-9. Plus I had been sitting during the week with a poem from The Essence of Julian: A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love. Plus I’d had a dream while on holiday about being in a shop full of bric a brac and taking a phone call, which demanded I provide an order of service at that very moment. As I surveyed the shop I saw seeds, soil, sun shelters, plant markers and so the service emerged in and around those tactile objects.

For those looking for examples of interactive, multi-sensory, all-age worship, here is what I did: (more…)

Posted by steve at 04:17 PM

Saturday, February 26, 2011

earthquake damage in the church I used to pastor

Cracks in the main walls, cracks in the road, sand everywhere inside the church and out!

Posted by steve at 02:18 PM

Friday, February 25, 2011

prayer to a mothering Jesus: updated

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was the outstanding Christian theologian of the eleventh century. I’m not sure that he ever lived through an earthquake, but he certainly lived in a world subject to the whims of nature. Here’s one of his prayers, A Song of Christ’s Goodness, that I find moving, both in light of the earthquake in Christchurch and in light of my own struggle to live as a child of God.

Jesus, as a mother you gather your children to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us,
in your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.

Read it listening to Sinead O’Connor’s This is to Mother You. (From her Gospel Oak CD which was produced in June 1997). (This still leaves the theodicy question – what type of mothering was happening during the quake. But that’s a matter for another time!)

Posted by steve at 08:19 AM

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

a dark night settles over my home town

My home town of Christchurch was hit by a major earthquake today. At least 65 114 145 people are dead. The number is expected to rise, with more than 100 people still trapped in buildings as night falls. The quake struck at lunchtime, with the central city packed with lunchers, workers and shoppers. Numbers of buildings, weakened by the major earthquake last year, have collapsed (here’s a picture of what remains of the central Baptist church).

The damage this time is much more severe that the September 2010 earthquake. As darkness settles, over half the city remains without power. More than a 1000 people are estimated to be homeless.

It’s been an awful day for us here in Australia, watching the news, trying to contact family, hoping that silence was nothing more sinister than a sign of lost power.

But at least we eventually heard the news that those we know and love are safe. Shattered, scared, but safe. For some in Christchurch, no matter how many times the phone rings, it will remain answered.

Posted by steve at 08:11 PM

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bono on justice, mercy, faith and narcissism

U2 are currently touring South Africa. It brings their work on behalf of Africa into particular focus, especially when they face the media in Africa. A few days ago, Bono was interviewed by Redi Tlabi on Talk Radio 702 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The interview ran for about 35 mins. It is a wide-ranging interview that covers music, marriage, justice, mercy, faith and narcissism.

There are some great quotes (transcribed by me, but I’d suggest if you want to use the quotes, then do check the sound recording for yourself):

On justice vs charity:

When it comes to One and Data, people see us as bleeding hearts. We do have hearts, but we’re very tough minded people. Justice matters, not charity. These are monies owed by the poorest to the richest. The grand children are held to ransom.

On the fight for justice:

The World Bank just put out figures that African leaders who qualified for debt cancellation. Between 2005 and 2011, there are an extra 44 million children going to school as a result of debt cancellation. These are World Bank figures.

On his relationship with Africa:

Africa seemed a long way away for a boy growing up in Dublin. Our music has always been influenced by social justice. It was while working in Africa that you start to think about the structural issues of poverty. We raised 200 million (in Bandaid) and then we realised Africa spends that much on debt repayment a month.

On himself:

I am definitely capable of narcissism. I’m a rock star.

On whether aid to Africa positions them as victims:

We all needed aid. Ireland did. Germany did. Get over it. We are thinking what are the obstacles in the way of justice, equality and freedom.

On whether Bono is religious:

I’m a believer. I have a deep faith but I am deeply suspicious of people who talk about their faith all the time. It is utterly a part of my life. I try to read the Scriptures.

On his upbringing:

My upbringing made me suspicious. Faith is a very beautiful thing but religion can be a very ugly thing. My faith has helped me in that struggle.

For the full interview as a sound file, go here.

Posted by steve at 06:00 PM

Sunday, February 20, 2011

church and mission: a highly constructive ongoing blog comment discussion

“The story of Acts is the story of a community inspired to make a continual series of creative experiments by the Pentecost Spirit.” (Joe Fison, Fire Upon the Earth, 79.)

I’m involved in one of the most satisfying and stimulating blog conversations I’ve had in quite a while – in relation to my ongoing book review of For the Parish. The conversation has become a probing exploration of church and mission as it relates to Fresh Expressions.

I know that in general blog commenting is way down compared with a few years ago. I realise that there is a blog rule of thumb that the life of a blog post lasts three days. So I wanted to simply note this ongoing conversation, thank God for the value of blogs and provide a note of appreciation for Tony Hunt and his wisdom, grace, thoughtfulness.

Posted by steve at 11:35 AM

Saturday, February 19, 2011

a history of reading: reflections for a faith linked to a book

I’ve been enjoying Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading over recent days (airflights to be precise). It’s beautifully written, captivating chapter introductions that open up a wealth of reflection on how people read, and how people have read, over time. I never knew that it wasn’t until the 3rd century that people started reading silently!

It’s an important book, given the importance of a book – the Bible – for Christianity and given that one of the gifts that mission work gave to many indigenous cultures was the ability to read and write. (Yep, there are some very real curses that mission gave, but honesty means we need to face the both the good and bad of our past.)

Here are some of the best quotes. First, a concluding comment on the complexity of reading, specifically the relationship between the book, the moment of reading that book, and how we remember that moment of reading.

A text read and remembered becomes, in that redemptive rereading, like the frozen lake in the poem I memorized so long ago – as solid as land and capable of supporting the reader’s crossing, and yet, at the same time, its only existence is the mind, as precarious and fleeting as if its letters were written on water. (65)

Second, a gem on how even in postmodern thought, not all readings need be treated as equally valid.

If, in reading, there is no such thing as “the last word”, then no authority could impose a correct reading on us. With time we realized that some readings were better than others – more informed, more lucid, more challenging, more plausible, more disturbing. (86).

I love that last word – more disturbing. It’s one of reasons I keep reading the Bible – it’s a most profoundly disturbing book, that has the ability to keep blindsiding my simple attitudes to life.

And here is one of the relationship between writer and reader.

The primordial relationship between writer and reader presents a wonderful paradox: in creating the role of the reader, the writer also decrees the writer’s death, since in order for a text to be finished the writer must withdraw, cease to exist. While the writer remains present, the text remains incomplete. Only when the writer relinquishes the text, does the text come into existence. (179)

As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of Galatians 2:20, and the fact that life only comes through death. Someone asked me last night why I had yet written a second book. Part of the answer lies in the slow process by which things need to die in me, the writer, before life becomes possible in the reader.

Posted by steve at 07:08 PM

Friday, February 18, 2011

an icon of the everyday: Mary holding the digital (to)day

I arrived at work to find this delightfully random moment …

I am in the midst of writing a course for distance. It’s all pretty chaotic, both in my head, on my desk and around my office floor. Before I left last night, I cleared my desk and placed a piece of paper on the noticeboard – a printed page of icons. Each icon signals the need for a student to read, to www, to reflect, to discuss, to do, to write, to media, to send.

Anyhow, overnight the “icon” paper had fallen. It had come to rest on my Mary icon (which I painted a number of years ago, and sits on my desk as a silent plea for me and my work).

So as I arrived today the paper icon, my workload, had randomly come to rest in Mary’s arms. Digital icon held by my ancient painted icon. A nicely random moment, an icon for my everyday, a random reminder to my cluttered head as it progresses throughout the day.

For more I’ve written on icons of Mary, prayer, mission and the church, go here

Posted by steve at 08:54 AM

Thursday, February 17, 2011

the richness of our shrinking world

The internet has some downsides. But it also has some amazing upsides.

I am currently working on some distance material, around the theme of Jesus Christ today. The aim is a course to help lay folk as they prepare to exercise their gifts, including in leading worship and preaching. Being a course by distance, the challenge is not to prepare pages and pages of words, but to encourage a range of ways to engage.

On Tuesday night I was working on the section on Jesus Christ in history. I came across the Theologians Trading Cards, on the disseminary website. Could people arrange the theologians in various categories – geography, time, Christology from above/below? Could people play variants of snap or top trumps with their friends? A way to engage Jesus Christ in history in which the cards create interaction and question. A query email to the site owner and overnight there was email reply in regards to the Creative commons license.

On Wednesday I was working on another section. I love the story in pages 3-4 of Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement about the impact of Christ on a person’s actions/witness. (The whole book is an excellent resource, which I found helpful a few Easter’s ago in framing my preaching input over a Thursday, Friday, Sunday). A story opens up different ways of engaging. What is more, the story could then be used as an exercise, inviting folk to work out how the sources of theology – Scripture, tradition, experience, reason – are all there and are all at play.

The story in McKnight’s book mentioned the title of a song. I googled the title, but could find no song with exactly that title. So I decided to email the author with my query. He replied with the contact details of the actual person who tells the story.

Another email to her. And a reply, including some more detail, which will make the story even more helpful.

In less than 48 hours, three conversations with three people on the other side of the world. Our shrinking world can certainly be full of richness.

Oh, for those wondering what the song is (more…)

Posted by steve at 07:45 AM

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

To mend the world: art and theology downunder

One of my (distance) teaching colleagues, Lynne Baab, has asked me to mention the following:

To mend the world is intended as a dialogue between art and faith. The hope is to bring painters, poets, musicians, together with theologians, to explore a particular theme; can there be repair? Can there be a mending of the world, wounded as it is by war, by hatred, by exploitation and by neglect?

The theme comes from the Hebrew phrase ‘Tikkun Olam’ – to mend the world. It assumes that both art and theology can learn from one another. Speakers include William Dyrness, Professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, California. Dates are 29–30 July 2011, at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin.

For more go here.

Posted by steve at 08:35 PM

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

emerging responses to For the Parish, chapter 4 – segregation

“For the Parish”, by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank, is an extended critique of fresh expressions. Always good to listen to the critics, so I am engaging the book, chapter by chapter. The Introduction is here, Chapter one is here, Chapter two is here. Chapter 3 is here.

There is much that I applaud in this chapter (The Flight to Segregation). This includes the call for conversion to be radical, the call for reconciliation to be made present in local faith communities, the call for a faith that challenges politics and ethics. There is an even-handed and thorough discussion of the Homogenous Unit Principle (that people are more likely to find faith if they don’t have to cross cultural boundaries).

I think that Fresh expressions would do well to keep some of the quotes from this chapter for ongoing evaluation. For example

  • Bad examples of church practice need “not doom everyone to reproduce these patterns.” (80).
  • “Expressions of the Fall in late modernity are particularly nasty.” (page 84, footnote 29)
  • “There is almost no sense (in Fresh Expressions) that the Church might take a political stand against the errors and tragedies of contemporary society, not least in offering practical resistance through its forms of life.” (91)

It is easy to take the best of what you fancy and the worst of what you dislike. I’ve seen it done often in emerging/fresh expressions circles. However I suspect it’s also being done in this book. This chapter suggests that one particular facet of the parish church is that it is a “mixed economy ” (64) For Davison and Milbank, this is linked theology, linked to “a message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.” (64) Apparently, “The parishes of the inherited church are heterogenous communities.” (64)

Well, try telling that to my kids, for whom their experience of a mixed economy means continuing to do church the way another generation likes it done. Or tell that to a migrant struggling with English, for whom their experience of a mixed economy means doing church in English.

I remember once a 90 year old churchgoer telling me that the kids were being too noisy in church. Their turn (to sit quietly like the adults), would come later. For now, they should be somewhere else.

This simply assumes the church does not yet belong to “the little ones.” It’s about privilege fused with power. For Davison and Milbank, “the cultural interests of church members [in a parish] can be valued without having to structure an entire church around them.” (77)

So let’s reverse this. Imagine the “parish” offers messy worship. Or sings to drum and bass. Now imagine telling a visiting baby boomer that their cultural interests can be valued without having the drum and base music and chatter of kids needing to change! Because this is a “heterogenous” church.

So what to do with church next Sunday? Establish something new for the visiting aging babyboomer. Which Davison and Milbank consider “a recipe for segregated congregations.” (65) Or continue the status quo (in which the boomers like it or lump it, because in essence this church is in fact already segregated)?

Or does not Acts 15 give us some way forward? A dominant power group lays down it’s need for assimilation, and instead sends some pioneers to encourage what is new, requesting only a willingness to grow in a shared commitment to mission and justice.

Davison and Milbank might charge that this runs the danger of being seen as choice, a bowing to consumer culture. But isn’t it surely part of the Spirit’s work in the early church? Consider these two verses from the same Bible book In 1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. Place it against 1 Corinthians 9:20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.

Do you start with mission-as-contextualisation ie 1 Corinthians 9? Or mission-as-reconciliation ie 1 Corinthians 1? If you start with either, it seems to me that you need to see them not as the endpoint, but as the start of a life-long spiral toward justice and transformation.

(I have written elsewhere about the place of social justice and the poor in Fresh Expressions)

Posted by steve at 08:00 AM

Sunday, February 13, 2011

emerging churches 10 years on: progress update

Today was another step in my research into emerging churches 10 years on. This is involving interviews, surveys and focus groups.

Today I visited Cityside Baptist in Auckland. They had very kindly offered me their “sermon slot.” So I took some time to introduce myself and my research with them 10 years ago, and then gave them some space to fill out a 22 question survey form.

The questions are grouped in three categories

  • some are taken from the national census and thus allow comparison of the congregation against their suburb, city and country
  • some are taken from the National Church Life Survey and thus allow comparison against their denomination and the church in general
  • some are uniquely related to questions about faith and culture today

At the end of the day, 47 people completed survey forms. 

What is amazing is that ten years ago when I conducted a similar survey at Cityside, guess how many people completed survey forms?

You guessed it. 47!


The next step is to start to analyse the data. The plan is to return perhaps in the middle of the year to run some focus groups – to present the survey data and invite them to help me interpret it.  Plus I am aiming to present the research more formally at an Ecclesiology and ethnography academic conference in Durham, UK, in mid-September. And then, if all goes really well, I’ll roll it together with my PhD and look for a publisher.

But for today, I thankful for Cityside and pondering with amazement the number 47.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM

Saturday, February 12, 2011

a theology for friend me? a review of social network

The Social Network
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee (in the Gospel of Mark), he saw Simon and his brother Andrew. Come, be my facebook friend, Jesus said, and you can welcome new members into my social network.  Later (in the Gospel of John) Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s facebook friends.  Such is the RFV, the Revised Facebook Version. (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:33 AM

Friday, February 11, 2011

lament: the conference in one corner, the colloquim in another

Here in Auckland I’ve been attending the theology of lament academic event. We’ve bounced between Isaiah, Maori lament, new media, rock concerts, liturgy and responses to Middle East. We’ve got folk from Scotland, England, US, Australia and New Zealand.

What I’m loving is that this event is a colloquium format, in contrast to the traditional conference. The colloquium format asked for a full paper, ideally a month prior. This gives time to read the papers prior. Come the colloquium, there is time for a brief 5-10 minute introduction of the paper, which is then followed by 20 minutes of discussion. This starts to allow significant time for interaction and cross-fertilisation. Common themes begin to emerge. Repeated questions surfaced. Motifs recur.

The input I shared in seemed to go well. Got to show a U2 and a Paul Kelly videos 🙂 I love being a serious scholar :). It produced a really rich discussion.

  • how to tease out the fusion in Biblical lament of nation and faith, with the fact that contemporary society separates sacred and secular?
  • is protest another space in which contemporary lament is occurring?
  • is the occurrence of lament outside sacred space in danger of reducing lament to a commercial transaction?
  • how important is it to ensure the space for multiple responses and postures within lament?
  • is lament a genre in terms of a form, or function in terms of common human experiences of unique episodes of human suffering?

The goal is a book, not of disparate papers pushed together under a theme, but coherent threads, links that enable the chapters to keep talking to each other.

The take home memory is of rich discussion that moved constantly between Biblical (OK Old Testament) material, human experience and pastoral practice.

Posted by steve at 01:23 PM