Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I had a dream

I awake early last week, aware that I had a dream.

I had been given a guitar, well-worn, well-loved, well-strummed. Not mine, but a gift to tend and care.

As you do, I began to tune it, tightening the strings. Satisfied with the results, I laid it aside and went to make a cup of tea.

Returning to play the newly tuned guitar, I was saddened to see that half the strings were broken. They had not survived the tightening.

Which left me pondering. Should I have tightened the strings more slowly? Might they then not have broken?

But then again, might it be better for the guitar to have new strings anyway? The sound will be cleaner, truer.

Although, then again, new strings are also tricky. They are known for their ability to easily slip out of tune and thus require constant ongoing care and attention.

“I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Genesis 41.15

Posted by steve at 11:13 PM

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

requesting permissions

I had a lovely, surprising and very encouraging email on Friday – a request for permission to publish one of my blog posts in a church resource called Seasons of Spirit – a lectionary-based resource created in community with congregations representing different denominations from Canada, the USA, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

The post is here – titled Theology needs art, my floor talk earlier this year to launch the Adelaide College of Divinity bi-annual art exhibition. Seasons of Spirit want to use it as a general article for Pentecost 2, 2013.

It’s wonderful to be part of a world in which spoken words in one context (a floor talk), can through the use of the internet, become a resource for another context. It’s also a reassurance that blogging does have a communicative purpose. People other than my mum do read it!!

Posted by steve at 08:33 PM

Sunday, July 08, 2012

bread making in theological Colleges? a question (3) of Principal

This continues my “As an incoming Principal, I have plenty of questions” series – questions that I ponder as I begin a new role as Principal at Uniting College. (First question, with some responses is here and here).

Here is the third question I’m asking

What might bread making add to formation? What might happen if folk – staff and students together – gathered to knead and pray “Give us this day our daily bread” on a regular basis? How might it shape how Church, Ministry, Sacraments is taught, how New Testament is studied, how ethics is considered? How practical is such an idea?

All responses welcome. Because


you got it ….

Sometimes a question, followed by a response helps one listen. Sometimes a question, followed by a response confirms an intuition. Sometimes a question, followed by a response simply reveals what the next question should be.

Posted by steve at 07:43 PM

Friday, July 06, 2012

end of week one: a full team

One of the key challenges over the last few months has been re-building the team at Uniting College. We’ve had three appointments to make:

  • in April needing to replace a Ministry Practice Coordinator (the previous person felt God calling them to plant a multi-cultural church);
  • in June needing to replace a Director of Missiology (the previous person felt God calling them to become Principal) – announcement here
  • now needing to find a 0.5 Principal’s PA (the previous person felt God calling them to serve the next President of the Uniting Church in Australia).

This week, the last of the appointments was clarified. On Tuesday we offered the role of Principal’s PA to Eloise Scherer.  Eloise and I worked together last year on the first Adelaide msm course. She is a key leader in the South Australian Youth Camp Out (SAYCO) team and has a deep faith and passion for justice and God’s kingdom.  Work wise, she is currently Regional Coordinator (Rural SA Business) for a bank, with key roles including Executive Assistant and administrator to a staff of 20, organising regular conferences and providing training materials. I’m really looking forward to working with someone I’ve worked with before, and to what she will bring in terms of Christian passion and administrative and organisational skills among us.

So that’s a full team! Very exciting. Very satisfying. We are now:

Craig Bailey, Director of Leadership
Dr Vicky Balabanski, Co-Director of Biblical Studies (New Testament)
Dr Liz Boase, Co-Director of Biblical Studies (Old Testament)
Dr Rosemary Dewerse, Director of Missiology, Post-graduate Co-ordinator
Linda Driver, Administrative Officer
Rev Jo Fulton, Distance Education Coordinator
Rev Sean Gilbert, Ministry Practice Coordinator (0.7)
Dr Peter Gunn, Manager, Educational Resources and Administration
Rev Tim Hein, Director of Christian Education and Discipleship (0.5)
Annette Latham, Administrative Officer (0.5)
Craig Mitchell, Director of Christian Education and Discipleship (on secondment to the Assembly)
Rev Beatrice Panne, Lecturer in Pastoral Care (0.5)
Eloise Scherer, Principal’s PA
Nichola Shaw, Administrative Officer
Rev Dr Steve Taylor, Principal

Posted by steve at 10:26 PM

first team meeting

This week has been a endless string of firsts as Principal – first Leadership Formation day, first job contracts to sign, first email as Principal. Yesterday was the first leading of the team meeting, which happens weekly.

I was awake at 5.20 am, unable to sleep, which I suspect is some evidence of the stress being generated, my body needing to process the move from team player to team leader, my awareness of the giftedness embedded in the team and the skills that will be required to lead that giftedness with clarity and grace.

Some of my emotion and anxiety took me back to my first team day at Opawa, back in 2004.

It was my 1st day at my new church (Opawa) today. I asked the 4 other paid staff to gather.

I gave them all an egg – fragile, yet hopeful. I talked about the church as the bride of Christ … beautiful … hopeful … yet fragile and nervous.

I said that I felt a bit nervous and fragile in this new role. I said I thought people at Opawa were probably a bit nervous and fragile about having a new young minister on board. I said I wondered if the staff were a bit nervous and fragile, wondering how they would fit with this new young minister.

And so we prayed for each other, that in our fragility new life would emerge. (Here)

For the record, yesterday I asked each of us to bring a symbol of our work. We began, first, by reflecting on some thoughts from one of our colleagues from a chapel time earlier in the week, about the Kingdom vision which we all share. It was nice to begin with an insight from within the team.

We then read together the gospel reading for the week. Ironically (!!) it was Mark 6:1-13. Ironically, because it has echoes of one of my favourite missional texts, Luke 10:1-12. We shared what struck us, which included the need to let go and travel light, the invitation to recognise what was new, the sense of God calling us on a journey, the realisation that won’t be easy and that should not surprise us. Lots of richness and the realisation again of the uncanny way that Scripture reads us, rather than we read it.

We then shared our workplace symbol, something about ourselves and how our work life is an expression of the Kingdom vision with which we began together. Our practicality, our reality, in the midst of vision.

A good time, a rich time, a privileged time. Which leaves me hoping I’ll sleep better next Thursday.

Posted by steve at 09:55 AM

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Church out of clergy: Report to Synod says “It’s crunch time …”

The Journey, the Queensland Uniting Church Newspaper, in October 2002, led on the front page with the following headline

“Church: just out of clergy: Report to Synod says “It’s crunch time …”

The Future of Ministry Task Group brought what was described as a “shock finding” that between 60-80% of ministers would retire in the next 15 years.

“It’s crunch time for the church, said Rob Adsett, who chaired the Task Group. “We need to start recruiting young men and women to the ministry and provide flexible and alternative pathways for training them.”

That was some 10 years ago. Last year I walked into the foyer at Uniting College. Four candidates were sitting there. One was training with a focus on overseas mission. Another was Sudanese, with a heart for mission and people. Another was training as a deacon, with a desire to plant a fresh expression. Yet another was also training as a deacon, with a heart for workplace and everyday spirituality.

Each had a shared God, to serve Christ. Each sensed that would be expressed in unique ways.

Each was waiting to be part of a Formation Panel, a group of 4-6 from within the church who would talk with them about their call, help them design a unique pathway.

Flexible. Yes.

Alternative. Definitely.

The four would be followed by 21 others during the day. Currently the College is training more candidates than there are placements. It is tempting to “cap” numbers but instead we are trusting that God is up to something, that the mission of God might just be running ahead of what the church currently requires.

It’s exciting, scarey and risky. It seems a long way from the crisis of 10 years ago.

(Hattip Andrew Dutney for pointing out the article)

Posted by steve at 07:03 PM

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Prometheus: a theological film review

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Here is my most recent, a reflection on creation, Prometheus and original sin.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Director Ridley Scott returns to familiar territory, tracing his “Alien” exploration back to the beginning. While cinematic references to other Alien movies are cleverly interwoven, “Prometheus” still works as stand-alone sci-fi horror. The lighting is superb, the soundtrack appropriately haunting, a visual palette of blacks and white providing a rich array of foreboding textures. The acting of Noomi Rapace is a standout, showing that her central role as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was no fluke. The result is a movie for the strong in mind and stomach (obscure “Alien” reference intended).

On a remote mountain, an alien life-form releases DNA into the waters of life. In caves on the Isle of Skye, archaeologists find symbols of alien life-forms coming from distant stars. On the space vessel Prometheus, the crew emerge from hibernation to face an alien planet and their own conflicted agendas.

The narratives are woven together, as tension builds. Rocks ooze a sticky liquid. Water unexpectedly surges. A storm front approaches. Alien life breaks forth from within and without, inflicting a bewildering array of horror on all those sailing the good ship Prometheus.

The movie cracks open an endless series of moral dilemmas. Should science propel the quest for new life on new planets, when science generates weapons of mass destruction? Should business pay for the quest, when economic gain risks reducing people to dollars and cents? Can faith exist amid the rationality of the scientific quest? Should one die to preserve the many?

At one level the Christian narrative is obvious. As the movie concludes, we see Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) reclaiming a cross missing from around her neck, while affirming her belief in faith.

In a beautiful cinematic sequence, David (Michael Fassbender) will dance, almost worshipfully, among projected planets, an affirmation of creation’s beauty and mystery.

Yet throughout the movie, at a molecular level, DNA is portrayed as vulnerable to distortion, destruction and death. Thus the movie becomes a way to conceive the Christian doctrine of original sin. Well-known early church theologian, Augustine of Hippo, suggested that from birth, humans are infested with sin’s destruction. Creation might be created good, but in human time, has become deeply infested with an inbuilt bias toward depravity.

In hindsight, we are now aware that Augustine was working with a mis-translation, a corruption of the Latin text, interpreting “in him all sinned,” as a reference to Adam. More recent translations from the original Greek now suggest a very different reading (for example, the NIV, “ because all sinned”).

Yet the question remains. Are all babies born singing God’s good name? Or is all creation infested by destruction, needing a cross? In the “Prometheus” movie, the destructiveness of DNA is placed alongside a belief in the power of a cross and the need for faith. “If they made us, can they save us?” This concluding question propels Elizabeth Shaw into what will undoubtedly be yet another Alien movie.

“Prometheus” is a beautifully shot, albeit sometimes bewildering cinematic journey into questions foundational to philosophy and faith.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Director of Missiology, Uniting College, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 08:00 AM

Monday, July 02, 2012

a question (2) of Principal

This continues my “As an incoming Principal, I have plenty of questions” series – questions that I ponder as I begin a new role as Principal at Uniting College. (First question, with some responses is here).

Here is the second question I’m asking

How much, and what type of time, should a Principal give to students? Teach a class? Supervise a thesis? An initial connection and then as a student requests? Informal chats in a break between classes? Have them over for meals?

All responses welcome. Because


you got it ….

Sometimes a question, followed by a response helps one listen. Sometimes a question, followed by a response confirms an intuition. Sometimes a question, followed by a response simply reveals what the next question should be.

Posted by steve at 06:26 PM

Sunday, July 01, 2012

theology of divine supermodel by Gregory of Nyssa

IVP have released a new series, called Classics in Spiritual Formation. They are designed as introductions, for first time readers of the Church in history. They take the original languages (Greek and Latin) and seek to connect them with contemporary life. Last night I found myself reading Gregory of Nyssa: Sermons on the Beatitudes.

Yet God made us “in the image of God.” So indirectly we, who are created in the likeness of true blessedness, experience blessedness. Let me give you an example of what I’m trying to say. Take, for instance, the physical beauty of a supermodel captured on the cover of a women’s magazine. The real beauty is the supermodel herself. Yet, secondarily, we can attribute that same beauty to the photographic image. Likewise human beings are images of the transcendent blessedness, and similarily as copies we may be said to possess the same beauty when we display the features of blessedness. (24-25)

This is a fascinating bit of writing, for it images God in feminine terms – as a supermodel. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing recently about gender and faith development (here, here, here, here and my summary here). So it’s fascinating to find this, God as a supermodel.

The sermon is by Gregory of Nyssa, a 4th century bishop and theologian. He is highly regarded in the church for insights into the theological debates about Jesus Christ, one of the great defenders of trinitarian Christianity.

So were their supermodels and photographic images in Gregory’s day? No, which suggests the image of is introduced in the paraphrase by Michael Glerup, his desire to connect with contemporary life. So I need to whip off and check the original, as to how Gregory of Nyssa was imaging the divine.

But whether Gregory of Nyssa or Michael Glerup, what do you think of the image? What are the implications for gender and faith development if God is a supermodel and followers are copies of photographic images?

Posted by steve at 09:01 PM