Thursday, January 29, 2015

colouring my leadership

Over my recent summer holidays, I appreciated the New Zealand landscape. Four colours in particular grabbed me. They were the grey of alpine stone, the blue of glacial water, the green of Westcoast forest and the yellow of the alpine daisy, each an important memory in a road trip that Team Taylor took to the Westcoast.


I pondered some way to take these holiday experiences into my working year. The process began by reflecting on the emotion that each colour generated in me, those feelings of concrete stability (alpine grey), of awe at nature (glacier blue), at the outrageous growth possible due to West coast rain (forest green), at the joy of exploration that meant an encounter with the very rare alpine daisies that grow around Castle Hill.

I then sought to reduce each colour to a word. One word. This was difficult, but the work paid off.

  • grey=clarity
  • blue=wonder
  • yellow=explore
  • green=create

As I pondered these words, I realised that each word, each colour, could actually be applied to my vocation as Principal.

  • grey=clarity, as I communicate, chair meetings, conduct performance appraisals, ask questions
  • blue=wonder, as I ask “what is God up to?” in the candidates I am part of forming, in the classes I teach, in the team I lead
  • yellow=explore, as I seek in my research and reading to keep addressing the questions of mission and ministry
  • green=create, as I have some specific writing projects that I want to deliver on

In turn, I then began to imagine how my weekly diary might look.  Grey (clarity) and blue (wonder) are the colours of my day to day work. Yellow (explore) is the research time that I programme into my Fridays.  Green (create) is what happens in study leave and with my “hour a day” of writing habit that while I struggle to maintain, has a been a great help in enhancing my writing output in recent years.

The colours have changed my attitudes to work. As I journal at the end of each day, I focus now not only on what happened, but on the colour. How have I been part of bringing clarity? Where have I seen wonder? As I turn to write for an hour a day, often tiredly, I am refreshed by thinking of green, the invitation to create.

To give one specific example, the day I arrived back from holiday, my PA regretfully told me that she needed to resign, due to personal reasons relating to an unexpected and critical health concern in the family. The colours shaped my response. How could I bring grey/clarity in my communication with team and wider? What, I wonder, might God be doing in this totally unexpected news?

The colours helped me look at life in new ways. It enabled me to pray in new ways. Equally importantly, I have a deep sense that the joy of recreation that is part of summer is continuing with me into my working week.

Each of us will have different colours. Each of us have different ways to recreate. Each of us have different working weeks. But I wonder what your colours would be? And how they might shape how you engage with your working place?

Posted by steve at 06:41 PM

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

the mindfulness of vocation

I love the way the prophets’ call begins (Old Testament Lectionary reading for Sunday 25 January 2015). In Jeremiah 1:4, “Now the word of the Lord came …”


Not yesterday or tomorrow, but now.

There is a time-bound, fully present, mindfulness to this call.

The entire passage in Jeremiah 1:4-10 is laced with God’s action. Considers the verbs – forms, knows, consecrates, appoints, sends, commands, delivers, touches (mouth), appoints. The whole process is about God’s actions.

The prophet is only a participant. What that requires of the human in response to God’s action, is a participation in the now.

One contemporary word to describe this is mindfulness. It’s common in schools and wellbeing workshops. It’s the intentional focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.

On the now. This body, this community, this set of challenges, these invitations. I know churches and organisations caught up in God’s action yesterday. I know leaders who live constantly for the future. The challenge of Jeremiah 1:4 is for leaders to be in the now, responding to God’s actions in and around them.

This brings into play two essential practices of mission, those of listening and discernment. Listening, in order to pay attention to the “now” of God’s action; discerning, naming what it might mean to participate in what God is doing. Both of these practices, what Rowan Williams calls the first acts of mission, are “now” activities.

They will bring an alternative tomorrow, they will draw wisdom from yesterday. But they begin with the “now” of God’s action.

Posted by steve at 11:59 AM

Sunday, January 25, 2015

five year work anniversary

Linkedin congratulated me a few days ago on my work anniversary. Which led to a lovely comment from Aaron Chalmers, Head of School of Ministry, Theology and Culture at Tabor, Adelaide.

“Congrats and well done Steve! You have really made a positive contribution to ministry / theological training here in Adelaide.”

It was five years since I walked in the door at Uniting College. I perched in a temporary office for six months while a colleague prepared for sabbatical. I was given four courses to teach, which I realised after about a month was actually a full years work in the space of six months. It was in a different culture, which I had underestimated in thinking about the transition. In my first class I followed the rules I’d been told, regarding no food in class, which led to a candidate, telling me that while the place had rules, no lecturer had ever enforced that them! The upshot was a negotiation by which they drank their precious cup of coffee just outside the classroom with the door open so they could hear the lecture!

But God was good and the College was in such an exploring, outward space. There was so much room to innovate – the Missional masters, the pioneering stream within the newly worked BMin, the development of mission-shaped ministry, both in Adelaide and nationally through Australia. There were some post-graduate students with really interesting questions they wanted to explore.

A work anniversary in which I’m deeply thankful.

Posted by steve at 10:32 AM

Friday, January 23, 2015

The use of Psalm 23 in the TV series Lost

(This is part of a lecture I gave in Bible and Popular culture, in which I explore reception history, the way Bible texts are re-presented in different cultural forms over time).

Lost ran over six years (series).  In this episode from the second series, titled “The Twenty Third Psalm,” we are introduced to the back story of a character, Mr Eko. It involves his past in Nigeria and a number of times and ways in which he “walks through the valley of the shadow of death.” First, as he acts to save (be a shepherd for) his younger brother from Nigerian guerillas, later as he seeks to use his brother, now grown, and a Catholic priest (a shepherd) to export drugs.

The episode is laced with religious imagery. Both Eko and Charlie carry religious symbolism. Eko has a piece of wood which he has called his “Jesus stick” which is marked with Scripture. Charlie carrys a Virgin Mary statue which is filled with heroin.

So in plot and character, the episode is an intriguing example of reception history, of the search for salvation in the very dark places of human experience. Karl Jacobson, argues that “in the various musical and theatrical encounters with Ps 23, an interpretive and pedagogical force that wrestles the psalm out of any flat or smooth reading and presses it into the service of disbelieving faith, seeking trust.”[1] This is what is happening in Lost. The words on a page are given contemporary relevance.

The episode ends with Charlie and Eko the saying of Psalm 23. Eko is the leader, yet is joined, falteringly by Charlie. Both men have difficult relationships with their brothers, tied together by drugs. Bringing them together allows them to face their failures, to experience “their souls restored.”

When we engage in reception history, is it possible that the pop culture readings might in fact read insight back into the text. We see this in this episode, which starts with a discussion of two brothers – Aaron and Moses. They are brothers in the Exodus story.

As the episode proceeds, we see more brothers. The difficult relationships experienced by Charlie and Eko invite us to consider the relationship between Aaron and Moses, to pull it “out of any flat or smooth reading.” In what ways might the Biblical characters have wrestled with each other?

The ending, as Psalm 23 is said together by Eko and Charlie, involves inter-cutting of scenes with other characters from Lost. The actions and interplay are each an acting out of the Psalm, not as per the Bible but in the contemporary world created in Lost.

The fish, given on the beach, is an offer of peace between people previously estranged. (a table before me, in the presence of my enemies). Lost is a mysterious island, a place of valleys of death. Yet perhaps, if these people act toward each other in forgiving and ennobling ways, is might indeed be a place of “goodness and mercy.” Heaven (the house of the Lord) is as real as these people might want to make it.

By paying attention to plot and character, this Lost epiosode does indeed provide “an interpretive and pedagogical force that wrestles the psalm out of any flat or smooth reading.”

[1]Karl Jacobson, “Through the Pistol Smoke Dimly: Psalm 23 in Contemporary Film and Song,”

Posted by steve at 06:49 PM

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mission and Community Service Intensive

A course I’m developing this year … Mission and Community Service Intensive

mission and community service

Explore the promise, possibilities and tensions in the relationship between mission, church and social service agencies in contemporary Australia. Can there be a place for Christian faith and historic identities in the contemporary funding climate? Must faith and spirituality live in contradiction? Are words and deeds mutually exclusive? How might professionalism, power and the prophetic be negotiated?

The course will utilise a practical theology model, seeking a critical, theological reflection on lived experience. This will involve a case study approach, through which questions are identified, and a dialogue created with current research.

The learning will occur in three phases:

  • Phase one – Sharing case studies. Four evenings, February 9-12, 7-9 pm.
  • Phase two – Reflecting. Participants will isolate a question emerging from a case study and undertake wider research.
  • Phase three – Workshop days. Participants will present their case study, sharing with one another, insights that have emerged as they have read and thought more widely, May 15-16, 9am-4:30pm (tbc)

Course facilitators will include Dr Steve Taylor, Rev Peter McDonald and Joanna Hubbard (tbc). Case studies presenters will include Dr Bruce Grindlay, Dr Ian Bedford (more to be confirmed). Options for enrolment include professional development, audit and credit.

Enrol at Student Services
P: 08 8416 8400
E: college dot divinity at flinders dot edu dot au

Venue: Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide.

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM

Sunday, January 18, 2015

best fixed term role in Adelaide: PA to the Principal

First day back at work, my PA regretfully told me that she needed to resign, due to personal reasons relating to an unexpected and critical health concern in the family. While a real blow for us all, I do want to affirm the values she displayed, in particular the priority on family.

So my (unexpected) priority for my first weeks back is to find another PA (9 month contract (0.8FTE) (maternity leave))

It’s an excellent opportunity for a senior level Personal Assistant to join a highly focused team and work for a creative, passionate Principal. The successful applicant will need to be well organised, proactive and able to think for themselves. The role includes organising meetings, agendas, papers, taking minutes, keep my diary and communication flowing around a busy work team.

Proven experience in supporting a busy executive is required and support of the ethos and mission of the Uniting Church is essential. More information is here, with applications close Monday, February 2, 2015.

Posted by steve at 08:02 PM

Monday, January 12, 2015

footnote 29 My thanks to Shannon Taylor

91YefmTsDtL Waiting for me when I got back home from holidays was Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific. Edited by Mark Brett and Jione Havea, published by Palgrave Macmillan in their Postcolonialism and Religions, it is 264 pages of gold. Sixteen chapters that explore post-colonial theologies in colonial contexts, particularly in dialogue with indigenous Australian and Pacifica peoples. It is a very, very rich set of essays, that cover issues including acknowledging traditional owners, masculinity and Pacifica contextual theologies.

Like the U2 book from a few weeks ago, this -hard- cover also is stunningly, beautiful – a painting by Mark Yettica-Paulsen (who also has a great chapter on Mission in the Great South Land. An Indigenous perspective, which will be compulsory reading for my mission classes from now on.)

I have a chapter, which I co-wrote with Uniting Church Congress Minister Tim Matton-Johnson. Titled “This is my body? A postcolonial investigation of indigenous Australian Communion Practice,” it explores the elements – bread and wine – and the shapes they take (or can not take) as they move between cultures. It is a dialogue with William Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire and Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ, along with a search through Australian mission history to reflect on the absence and presence of local symbols in the celebration of Eucharist.

It is a chapter which, when I sat down to re-read it tonight, I decided I was very, very pleased with. Including footnote 29 “My thanks to Shannon Taylor for her research assistance in this section.”! She had done some initial literature searching in one section of the paper and so it was a great thrill to acknowledge that as the article was written.

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM