Wednesday, March 30, 2011

mission made practical

This is a practical mission story. As a Taylor family, we were all pretty upset about the Feb 22 Christchurch earthquake.

In our feelings of sadness, one of the family had an idea. What about having a casuals day at school? What about asking if the whole school could swap uniforms for casual clothes, complete with a gold coin donation to help with earthquake relief in Christchurch?

A feeling. That needed a bit of courage. First an email to the school leadership – explaining the idea and making the request.

Then more courage. Because of the request – would you explain your idea to the class and seek to win their support?

And then the response, permission for the school to have a casuals day. With money raised going to Christchurch. And all the kids forming a sign on the playing fields – CHRISTCHURCH.

Which happened last week.

A feeling of sadness. Made practical with courage. A child providing caring and practical leadership in mission.

For more in mission made practical in a quakezone, go here.

Posted by steve at 08:29 PM

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Give us this day our daily bread: a just theology of food? part 2

Last week I began to sketch a just theology of food. I offered a short quiz:

  1. True or false: Wealthy suburbs are more likely to have fast-food outlets than poor ones.
  2. True or false: Healthy food is more expensive than fast food.
  3. True or false: 77% of Australians eat together as a family five times a week
  4. True or false: In Australia, more women are head chefs that men
  5. True or false: On a daily basis, women spend more than twice as long as men on food preparation and clean up.
  6. True or false: The biggest global killer is a disease called New World syndrome

(Answers, for those interested are at the bottom of this post).

My contention is this – that when Christians pray Give us this day our daily bread, we must pay attention to think about who cooks, who cleans, who eats what, and with who.

In the class I offered two resources. First, a story from Rebecca Huntley’s (Eating Between the Lines, of a community centre in Melbourne, which holds lunches that aim to bring postwar migrants together with newly arrived refugees. They share food, swap recipes and pass on tips about where to find spices. They also share stories, experiences of the joy and dislocation of migration. So simple – eating together.

The second is the book by John Koenig, Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation I keep mentioning this book, simply because people whom I mention it to keep coming back telling me how helpful it has been in their growth in mission. Koenig argues that

“we have seriously undervalued our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission … to realize this potential, we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, must have our eyes opened by the transforming presence of Christ at our tables.”

He provides a checklist on what it means for meals to become mission:

  • This is serving graciously with human contact. Koenig cites the example of one the busiest church food kitchen in New York, in which each volunteer is expected to find ways to encourage eye contact and genuine conversation.
  • This is setting tables, serving food, eating in patterns and places that speak of God’s abundance and creativity.
  • This is encouraging role reversals by finding ways for all, helper and hungry, to contribute through a diversity of gifts.
  • This is committing to a long-term, intentional project, a willingness to eat together a lot, because in that eating good things will happen.

Give us this day our daily bread is an invitation for all those who pray that prayer to consider what and how they eat. And it opens to door to a whole new way of being in mission – around tables, among strangers, with justice, generosity and humanity. Such is a just theology of food in the Kingdom of God.


Posted by steve at 11:23 AM

Monday, March 28, 2011

taking work home: a basket of books

It turned out to be both a stimulating, yet slightly sad weekend. I was due to preach at a local church on Sunday evening. The working week – Monday to Friday – were pretty demanding, and I got very little preparation done.

So by Friday afternoon I had a choice. I could pull an old one out of the hat. After 15 years I do have a few sermons hanging around on the hard drive!

But. But.

I find it really hard to do something I’ve done before. First, because I’m by nature creative. What has been done is now a moment in history. I change. The world changes. Second, the longer I hang in Uniting Church circles, the more I realise just how diverse this church is. As a communicator, you search for connection points. And what connects in one context – young adults in urban Adelaide, won’t connect with families in a seaside suburb and won’t connect with a gathering of leaders from the more justice orientated wing of the church. (My last 3 speaking things).

Plus I had a few thoughts rattling around in my head. And a hunch – that my “few thoughts” might actually serve at least four purposes – the Sunday sermon, a keynote address in May, a theology conference paper I’m kicking around for August. Plus I reckon the “few thoughts” are actually pushing mission and ministry in some pretty unique areas, this is a potential book.

And it would be helpful to start the process by test driving the thoughts with and among the people of God. This is my theology of ministry – that our thinking emerges from among God’s people cf cooked up solo in an academic office.

Hence the photo – the basket of books – mostly commentaries to be precise, plus a few books on the psychology of the New Testament. Which led to a weekend reading and reflecting. Which I enjoy – creating something connective that relates to the mission of God is a life-giving. But also demanding. And not much fun for the rest of the Taylor family.

Now in saying this, I realise that at this moment I am just like many (all?) lay folk in the church. They too work during the week, often in demanding jobs. And so their involvement upfront on Sunday is fitted around evenings and weekends and involves a cost to their leisure and their families time.

I don’t know how to process all these tensions. I’m simply marking it here as a note to self. And as a reminder that I find myself back to work on a Monday feeling like I need a weekend! (But also with confirmation that “my few thoughts” do actually connect in public and seem to offer a fresh and challenging way of connecting with God’s mission.)

Posted by steve at 10:31 AM

Saturday, March 26, 2011

colour my feelings: how the feelings of Jesus shape the mission of God

Updated: This post continues to grow. The relationship between feelings, colour and the mission of God are being developed further at a talk I am giving, May 13, Friday evening, at Grow and Go 2011.

What colour is

  • sorrow?
  • crying?
  • radical love?
  • anger?
  • compassion?

According to Matthew Elliott

“The theologies of the New Testament, as we have seen, do not do a good job in incorporating emotion into their framework. As it is in secular ethics, in New Testament ethics and theology emotion is often belittled, trivialized or ignored.” (Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament 256).

According to adolescent psychologists, Haviland-Jones, Gebelt and Stapley

“We usually think of learning how not to be emotional rather than whether or not emotions are being refined and transformed to mature forms.”

In the last month my home town of Christchurch has been trashed by an earthquake, while Japan has gone radioactive and Libya has become a warzone. In response, I’ve been reading the Gospels, looking for the feelings of Jesus, wondering what I might learn from God who experienced sorrow, crying, radical love, anger, compassion.

And I’ve become more and more intrigued by how the feelings of Jesus shaped his mission, and the implications for how the 21st century church needs to feel, think and act.

Faithful feelings: how the feelings of Jesus shape the mission of God.

Which I will be preaching on tomorrow, Sunday March 27, 6 pm at Adelaide West Uniting. And exploring in more depth a keynote address at Grow and Go weekend, May 13-15, at Uniting College.

Hence my question, what colour is

  • sorrow?
  • crying?
  • radical love?
  • anger?
  • compassion?
Posted by steve at 05:23 PM

Friday, March 25, 2011

Give us this day our daily bread: a just theology of food?

(Click here for the food and equality quiz)

Last night the Reading cultures/Sociology for ministry class I teach talked about food. And the fact that, to quote Rebecca Huntley, “food is rich in meaning … eating habits can be a useful means of describing social distinctions.” (Eating Between the Lines, page 175). In other words, the very ordinary things of what we eat and what we cook – reflect “the various strains of inequality in Australia – between men and women, rich and poor, host and migrant, indigenous and non-indigenous, country and city.” (Eating Between the Lines, page 175-6)

We started with a quiz, some statements about food and eating habits in Australia, drawn from her book, Eating Between the Lines.

What’s this got to do with being Christian? Well it this a faith that in the Eucharist, places the eating of bread and wine at the centre of life. And a faith that prays “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Not “my” daily bread, but “our” daily bread.

In other words, it should want to act when being on a low income makes it harder to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”; when being time poor makes it hard to pray “Give us this day our daily bread – healthily”; when living in remote indigenous communities makes it almost impossible to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”

In my next post I’ll post the research data that lies behind the quiz and point to the resources we then discussed in class. In the meantime, take the food and equality quiz (click here for the food and equality quiz)

Posted by steve at 10:09 AM

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

can mission be embedded into the worship DNA? a 2nd proposal

This is a further post on the topic: can mission be embedded into the worship DNA? a proposal.

In an ideal world, worship moves as a spiral between gathered and scattered, scattered and gathered.

I imagine two circles. Some worship I experience is simply gathered – you go round and round in a circle with no evidence that life outside Sunday, outside the church building exists. Some worship I experience as simply scattered – the call to live in the world, as individual salt and light, with no connection to the people of God gathered. What I suggest is that the two circles – gathered and scattered – overlap, with a continuous flow.

Whether you start with gathered, and then are sent into the world to be the hands and feet of Jesus, or whether you find yourself the hands and feet of Jesus and return to share those stories with the community of God, the hope is a rhythm in which the people of God gather to scatter, scatter to gather.

In my first proposal I sketched a way that over time, over a month, a community might structure itself to embody this flow between gathered and scattered.

In this second proposal, I suggest a way this could happen weekly. This is based on deciding that the places we are salt and light are the primary places in which we are Christian. In other words, to be Christian is to be scattered.

Then, when we gather, we want the stories of us being in scattered in mission, of us being the hands and feet of Jesus, to shape our gathered worship.

The suggestion is that we use the standard pattern of worship

  • Call to worship
  • Thanksgiving
  • Confession
  • Word – hearing
  • Word – engaging
  • Communion
  • Prayers for the world
  • Benediction

and invite the focus to be on the community sharing stories that are arising from our scatteredness. In other words – what have we seen that makes us thankful? what have we experienced that sends us to confession? what in our scattered context makes the Word alive among us? what from the newspapers is causing us to pray?

When people gather, worship moves through this regular pattern. People simply share the stories. This could be impromptu, or it could be decided prior, or it could be a mix of both. Some sort of shared words could be used to nest individual stories in the work of the worshipping community. For example, after each thanks story is shared, then everyone together says – Thanks be to God. Or words from the Lectionary Psalm are read together after stories for confession have been shared.

It will probably mean less of a need for a worship leader as song leader (although songs could still be sung) and more of a need for worship leader as curator – a person to welcome, enact the call to worship, offer the benedict, who make sure enviroment works, and to link, where necessary between the segments. (Mark Pierson’s The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader has more on worship leader as curator.)

This second proposal is using the established gathered worship liturgy of the church, but is making the focus of gathered worship the stories from the scattered lives-in-mission. It is refusing to let worship be about gathering, nor letting scattering have no communal resourcing. Rather it is “lightening” existing gathered worship by orientating it around the stories of the people of God in life.

Posted by steve at 11:39 AM

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is the effects of sin like stepping in dog sh*t?

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading S is for sh*t).

Ok, I know it’s a bit graphic but I wondered today if sometimes sin is like stepping in dog sh*t.

You can clean it off, but the effects, like the smell seem to linger.

Or more sadly, you step in it. But over time, you seem to grow used to the smell. Others notice and sniff. But it’s on your shoe and so it remains hard to detect. It’s in the room, it changes the atmosphere, but it’s hard to get rid of.

And sometimes pastoral ministry is about dealing with the smell. Perhaps actually sitting with someone long enough to find it and name it clearly. Sometimes actually finding the water and scrubbing it off. Sometimes helping them find a new set of shoes.

(Anyone still keen on being in pastoral ministry?)

Not pleasant, but a quiet sense of achievement at days end.

Posted by steve at 05:08 PM

Sunday, March 20, 2011

can mission be embedded into the worship DNA? a proposal

Updated: For a second proposal, see can mission be embedded into the worship DNA? a 2nd proposal.

Updated: to be clear, I’d not for a moment suggesting this for a whole existing congregation. Best way to kill an idea is to expect everyone to agree! With this, I’m wanting to suggest an experiment, to invite a number of folk to try for a set period of time and then to sit back and reflect on the implications.

Here is the logic of some current thinking.

1. Faith is caught, not taught. Thus the Christianity we are offering is focused on worship, not on mission. The energy for being Christian today (what folk see, what people are paid for) is concentrated on the invitation to gather and to worship, not to scatter in God’s sending name.

2. This makes mission the extra, the stuff we do after the benediction and outside the worship service.

3. Mission is a multi-faceted way of being God’s hand and feet in the world. It includes the individual relationships we have with those beyond the community of faith. It also must include corporate acts in which the people of God together are the body of Christ.

4. We live in a time poor society. This means that some prioritisation must happen. Current Western church attendance patterns include more and more folk attending fortnightly. In other words, weekly is hard enough, let alone saying to folk – to be part of us weekly involves both gathered worship and mission.

5. Churches when they gather do some mission. This involves pray for others. It also involves giving financially. However if we are honest, most of this giving is funneled into more worship, not into mission.

6. Further, it takes levels of skills I rarely see to integrate mission into all of gathered worship – thanks, hearing the Word, confession, communion. The Uniting church worship recommends the worship includes a Word of Mission, but one is more likely to see a Kiwi than find this wonderful treasure.

So how can we embed mission into the DNA of the worshipping life of the church? Since this blog has many purposes, one of which includes trying out ideas, flying kites, here’s a suggestion, that we offer the following pattern for church.

Week one – gather together to give thanks, name sin, engage the Jesus story, hold the world before God ie gathered worship.

Week two – scatter – each is encouraged in this week to simply connect with friends and family who are not yet Christian, to pursue individual redemptive relationships.

Week three – gather – a simple gathered worship service focused around communion, storytelling of the Jesus story and prayer for relationships.

Week four – gather but only in order to do a combined mission project. People come together to plant trees, feed the homeless, advocate for justice, plan community events.

In this pattern, all the important facets of gathered worship are present, albiet monthly, rather than weekly. What is changed is that mission – both individual and corporate – is now embedded into the rhythm of the gathered communion.

I would have resisted such a pattern 10 years ago, when I use to argue vehemently for regular weekly patterns. My thinking 10 years ago was that those on the fringe, or visitors, might not be able to connect with this changing pattern. And so they might turn up to find the church “in mission”, which would be cool, but also pretty inhospitable. But 10 years ago was before we had cell phones, websites, social media. These now allow a whole range of ways for people to keep connected with the life of a community.

So what do you think? Would such a project allow the life of a church to be more aligned around the important impulses of worship and mission, gathering and sending? What might be lost?

Posted by steve at 04:42 PM

Friday, March 18, 2011

this table remakes us: a creationary communion introduction

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

We find ourselves today gathered in a circle
in a flow of love

We find in our centre a table

And a loaf of bread

And a cup

This table has remade us
changed the way we sit
changed the way we relate
as equals, in a flow of love

Explanatory note: On Wednesday at chapel, I had been asked to lead the communion part. As I entered the room, I noted that the usual seating had been rearranged. Instead of rows and a front, there was a small table, with a white tablecloth, upon which was the bread and cup. And the chairs had been placed in a circle. The change of architecture intrigued me and on the spot I thought it warranted changing (remaking) of my communion introduction. I note it here in honour of the role that space plays in our experience of worship.

Posted by steve at 10:06 AM

Thursday, March 17, 2011

visualisation: creating multiple acts of beauty

This is a website to get lost in. I admire (yearn for) the gift of making complex things simple, the beauty that comes from clarity. This is a fascinating new venture which attempts to visualise data. It involves academics and design schools from around the world.

Note the key words:
complex, interdependent
understanding proceeds action
design is about integration.
it is dynamic, based on people doing things
design enables us to negotiate a revolution
integrate and collaborate

I have no idea how this can be applied to missiology and theology, but I’d love to be part of a conversation on this.

Posted by steve at 10:19 AM

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Womadelaide: reviewing a slice of heaven

On Sunday my youngest and I experienced Womad. In so doing, I encountered a part of Australia I’ve not yet seen – an Australia deeply respectful of indigenous voices, curious about migrant cultures, eager to experience the unfamiliar and celebrate diversity.

“I thought I’d died and gone to music heaven.” That was Tim Finn’s comment on Womad and at times it did feel like heaven – a world set apart, that for a period of time emitted ways of being human that were deeply spiritual, deeply appealing – generations together, loads of kids, enjoying engaging with adults; participative creativity, the sheer enjoyment of humans being at play.

In my Missional church leadership teaching, I suggest that one of the ways to listen to the world around us is through observation of festivals. Large scale events can tell us something about the wider narratives of our culture.

The narratives of Womad include an affirmations of being human, celebration of creativity and culture, respect for diversity and care for earth. To quote another Kiwi musician, “a slice of heaven.”


  • Yabu band, indigenous voices singing of the importance of heritage, history and relationships.
  • Lying on the Botanic Garden grass, gazing at tall trees, head to head with my youngest, listening to Archie Roach.  “The trees are smiling,” the youngest announced.
  • Les Gumes, installation storytelling. Random groups stepping into a world made alternative by the skillful change of space and the power of storytelling. Hard to explain, wonderful to experience.
  • Leigh Warren and dancers, an hour of contemporary dance, supported by live guitar, voice and didgeridoo.
  • Afrocelt Soundsystem. Over 15 years ago I stumbled upon their music in the leftover bin of a music shop. (Remember those – that historic artifact called music shops!) I loved the drum and bass loops, overlaid with Irish pipes and African beats. Seeing them live was simply superb.

So what did the youngest Taylor think at the end? Next year, she announced, we are all going. And for all four days!

Posted by steve at 10:06 AM

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What reaches young adults? 3 free giveways

I’ve just had an essay, titled “What reaches young adults?”, published in Australian Leadership. It was a commissioned piece and the entire edition is focused around generational mission, including pieces by Fuzz Kitto and Heidi Harding.

Subscription is $68 (Australian); $78 NZ for 6 editions per year from Mediacom (go here for e-version). As author, I got a few free copies, which I thought I would offer as a freebie. I will send a copy of Australian Leadership to the first 3 people to comment on blog and provide a one paragraph biography of the person who was most influential in your young adult spiritual formation!

The article took a snapshot of a number of “young adult spirituality” moments in 2010 – from Blake Prize to Father Bob. Given that I was writing for a more mainline church context, I was particularly pleased with my concluding paragraphs.

If you have 0 young adults, then pray for them. Regularly use your prayers of intercession to pray for young adults. But choose your words carefully. Given the emerging trend of popular culture, you will need to find words to bless, rather than critique, their spiritual search.

If you have 1 young adult, then offer a traveling companion. Place this offer on the front of your weekly newsletter. Ask people in your church to become as curious as Father Bob, to ask a young adult to take you to the Blake Prize or the Big Day Out. Not to speak, but to listen. The aim is not to make Jesus relevant, but instead, to simply share, only when asked, your story of how your God-experience has daily legs.

If you have 5 young adults, ask to join them in a shared project. One example could be some shared, mutual action, a giving of legs to faith. Perhaps cleaning up a local stream. In other words, gather not around belief, nor around worship, but around mission action. (More examples can be found at the, a ministry of the Uniting church in Victoria.)

Another example could be a conversation, similar in shape to espresso, one of the young adult congregations I helped plant. It began by inviting young adults to write down their questions about life and faith. These were thrown into a bowl. Together, some guidelines by which a culture of irreverent questions might flourish were agreed and discussion began. As one voice among many, the need for faith to grow by including irreverence was encouraged.

If you have 20 or more young adults, then you have a gift. Something to be shared not just with yourself, but with the wider body of Christ. Your task includes inviting them to put legs on 1 Corinthians 12:22 “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” And how to partner with neighbouring churches who have fewer young adults than you.

Free to first 3 blog commenters to describe the person who most influenced them as a young adult!

Posted by steve at 02:46 PM

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Well: a project in which reading groups enhance mental health

the “pilot found participants felt more relaxed and confident after attending the groups. Those working with dementia patients found their ability to recall and communicate had improved, while people with depression were invigorated by the social contact.” (Between the lines, Suzy Freeman-Greene, March 14, 2011

Fascinating article in The Age on the use of books in working with folk who have mental health challenges. It’s called bibliotherapy and involves the use of literature in a healing way.

It made a number of links for me. First, to a book I mentioned last year (creativity, spirituality and mental health), research on the power of spirituality and Biblical storytelling in enhancing mental health. Second, our recent Masters of Ministry class, in which a participant led us in an exploration of the relationship between depression and St John of the Cross’s Dark night of the Soul. Again this link between spirituality, words well chosen and mental health.

The article provides some practical pointers
– choosing the right texts is crucial, stories that allow reflection on life experiences
– the tone is gentle, not confronting.
– the need to create a safe group.
– part of the plan is to help people unpick difficult feelings and just sit with them.

For more on spirituality and mental health:
Downs Syndrome at Christmas here; chapter by chapter reviews of Amos Yong’s Theology and disability, go here; resources for rituals in all life here; rituals in the dark places here, another resource called Sense making faith (here).

Posted by steve at 11:45 AM

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Kings Speech: a film review with a missional twist

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). Film reviews of the most common contemporary films, each with a theological perspective, (over 60) back to 2005 can be found here.

The King’s Speech. A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor
One of my biggest fears at school was the annual speech competition. I found multiple ways – pretending to be sick, skipping class – in order to avoid that moment of terror, the act of public speaking.

Nor am I alone. Studies have shown that fear of public speaking ranks with fear of dying. “The King’s Speech” speaks to these shared levels of primal human phobia.

The movie begins with a man, “Bertie” (Colin Firth). He is alone. He stands in front of a microphone. Slowly the camera pans to a waiting crowd and then zeroes in on the radio dials that signal a worldwide radio audience.

The tension of this primal moment is exacerbated with the realisation that this Bertie is no mere mortal. Instead he is born royal, inheriting the expectation of public performance and proficient patterns of speech. The movie commences to trace “Bertie’s” partnership with unorthodox Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

This personal drama is set against the backdrop of other battles concerning public speech. Will “Bertie’s” brother (Edward VIII, played by Guy Pearce), the current King of England, proclaim publicly his love for American divorcee Mrs. Simpson (played by Eve Best)? Will England speak out against Hitler’s expansionist aggression?

Directed by Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech” works on many levels. The plot skillfully weaves individual pathos and building tension. The scenes of 1930s London are artful, with Academy nominations for Costume design (Jenny Beavan), Cinematography (Danny Cohen), Production Design (Eve Stewart) and Set Decoration (Judy Farr). The acting is superb, with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter deserving their Academy Award nominations. Australasian audiences in particular will warm to the brash personality and unorthodox tactics of speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

Some critics have been less than charitable, raking “The King’s Speech” for factual errors. They suggest that “Bertie’s” stutter is exaggerated (as if the outward extent has any bearing on one’s inner embarrassment). They see as unlikely the presence of Winston Churchill and an adoring crowd outside Buckingham Palace on the day Britain declares war.

Such comments seem to misunderstand the genre, for “The King’s Speech” is docudrama rather than documentary.

Loss of voice can result from physical damage. It can also result from interior pain. Viewed at this level, “The King’s Speech” becomes a metaphor that enables corporate reflection. Can a nation lose voice? Can a church?

Viewed through this lens, “The King’s Speech” becomes a film for a church camp, followed by a discussion. What might it mean for God’s people to gain voice? If we could speak, what is the one word we might want to utter to our world? What prior patterns and previous memories are stifling our ability to speak confidently?

The King’s Speech suggests that the answer lies in a willingness to facing our pain and a commitment to persist despite discomfort. A message worth hearing, whether for a church today, or a geeky teenager so many school years ago.

Posted by steve at 12:03 PM