Saturday, January 15, 2022

journal article acceptance – Ordinary Time Festivals: an Application of Wisdom Ecclesiology

“a thing well made.” It’s a line from a song by Don McGlashan and it’s been an earworm since I received news this week that my journal article “Ordinary Time Festivals: An Application of Wisdom Ecclesiology” has been accepted for publication by Theology Today, an international academic journal out of Princeton. It’s my 23rd accepted academic journal and the news got me thinking – Can journal articles be a thing well made?”

Reflecting on a journal article as a “thing well made”:

  • First, the organising of 5,000 words in a logical and coherent way.
  • Second, the attention to both detail (footnotes, grammar, spelling) and big picture (one coherent argument that connects with the real world).
  • Third, pitching to the right journal. This involves researching the aims and objectives of the journal, working to align the abstract and argument with those aims and then writing a pitch.
  • Fourth, responding to feedback. Submitting your work to multiple blind reviewers takes courage. You open yourself to critique.

Four reasons. What reasons might you add? Can a journal article be a thing well made? While you think, here’s the “Ordinary Time Festivals” abstract —

Feasts and festivals enliven the Christian life. Given Easter, Christmas and Pentecost cluster around the nineteen weeks of Christmastide and Eastertide, the thirty-three weeks of ordinary time are disconnected from these celebrations. The theological impact is considered in light of Amy Plantinga Pauw’s wisdom ecclesiology. For Pauw, the church has largely neglected the ordinary-time dimension of the Christian life. The result is a Christian life disconnected from creaturely existence and God’s ongoing work of creation.

This paper explores the possibility of ordinary time festivals as a way to embody Pauw’s wisdom ecclesiology. A harvest festival in Scotland, a spin and fibre festival in Australia and a local community festival in Aotearoa New Zealand are analyzed. These festivals are argued to embody Pauw’s themes of making new, longing, giving, suffering, rejoicing and joining hands. Hence, ordinary time festivals offer ecclesiologically formed ways for the church to embody wisdom ecclesiology. They enable a theological formed way of joining hands with God’s ongoing work in creation during ordinary time.

Posted by steve at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, December 21, 2020

Vocation, call and a burning bush

A prayer I wrote a few months ago, leading a Listening in Mission class online, beginning with the practice of Dwelling in the Word with a group of KCML interns.

Burning bush prayer

Lord,
When I’m working – tending sheep, being responsible
Help me turn aside to contemplate mystery, seek warmth, feel the burn of wilderness sand

Lord,
When I don’t understand – burning bushes not consumed
Help me trust you, hear you, in the crackle and pop of all that confounds as holy

Lord,
When I’ve nothing to go to – no clear future
Help me say, like Moses, like Isaiah, like Mary, “Here I am, send me,”

Posted by steve at 04:38 PM

Sunday, June 21, 2020

intercession prayers with John Holt on Windrush

I was asked by the Church of Scotland to offer some worship resources (on Weekly Worship) that might connect with Windrush day. My favourite bit was reworking John Holt’s, Stick by me from The Tide is High, Anthology 1962-79 (Trojan Records) and imagining God singing to Hagar and Ishmael.

Lullaby God,
We hear You soothe in the desert
Singing to a crying child – Ishmael, Isaac climbing Mt Moriah and the Exodus children facing the Red Sea
We hear Your comfort, Don’t be afraid, When you cry, I cry too
Stick by me, I’ll stick by you

Lamenting God,
We hear You sing in the wildernessHope for a grieving mother – Hagar, Hannah, Elizabeth
We hear Your peace,
Don’t be afraid, When you cry, I cry too
Stick by me, I’ll stick by you

Serenading God of the Blues,
who mourns in the wilderness
For all families torn apart by bitterness, envy and strife
When you cry, I cry too
Remember my heart and my love belong to you,
We hear Your heart, Don’t be afraid, No one can tear us apart
Stick by me, I’ll stick by you

Harmonizing God
For all churches facing a hospitality crisis
Help us hear Your melody, harmonize with Your desert lullaby,
May we open our arms To all those estranged in our community
You’ve got a place in our heart, oh yeah
Stick by us, as we stick by You Amen.

“Stick by me, I’ll stick by you
When you cry, I cry, too, oh oh Stick by me and I’ll stick by you
Remember my heart and my love belong to you, oh oh
Stick by me, I’ll stick by you.”

It was back in December when I did the work and it is interesting to sit with the work I did on Windrush Day now – 6 months later – in light of COVID and of BLM. I think part have aged really well – for example this paragraph I wrote:

“New Zealand biblical scholar, Judith McKinley … argues that the wilderness and ethnic dimensions of the [Genesis 21:8-21] text resonate strongly with our world today. Hence this text allows us to have sensitive conversations with people today who experience marginalisation, including through gender and ethnicity.”

Posted by steve at 11:24 AM

Monday, October 14, 2019

highlighter worship

I had a go at introducing highlighter worship on Sunday morning. And it worked really well.

IMG_7818

The Psalm for the day, Psalm 65, was an invitation to gratitude, while the lectionary text was Luke 17:11-19, with the encouragement to take time to return and give thanks. I was preaching in a local church, a visitor, unaware of their patterns and lives. Given the Bible readings, how might I encourage them in gratitude?

So during the week prior, I asked to be sent the copies of the church newsletters for the previous month. This gave me four newsletters, each different, each a snapshot of life in this church community. I then blew the newsletters up to A3 size on the photocopier, to help with visibility, and create something distinct about this particular moment.

I wanted a way to keep the focus on the newsletter, on the artifacts of this church community and not introduce more sheets of paper. So I went looking for highlighters. The highlighters had to be yellow – the colour of cheery gratitude. The instructions were to work in pairs and read back over the newsletter, yellow cheery highlighter in hand, and mark things to be thankful for.

On Sunday morning, the A3 sheets were laid down the centre aisle – easy to get to, no walking required. People were invited to be thankful, by looking back over a recent newsletter and highlight things to be thankful for (there were some other options if that wasn’t going to be helpful). A song was played quietly in the background.

After about 5 minutes, I reminded folk that liturgy was the work of the people and here was a chance for us to work together, to create our local Psalm of thanksgiving. Folk were invited to call out what they had highlighted. I repeated it, for those hard of hearing, with the refrain “and God’s people said” – to which a shared “Amen” enabled call and response.

Much thankfulness resulted. The energy in the room went up as God was praised and the specific local shape of this community was described.

Highlighter worship! It requires old church newsletters and highlighters. And a thankful heart!

Posted by steve at 08:39 AM

Monday, February 05, 2018

Anna, Simeon and the mission of the church (at Candlemas)

February 2nd in the lectionary is a Feast day in the church; when Jesus is presented at the temple. The Bible text is Luke 22:22-40. In terms of speaking parts, the main characters are Anna and Simeon. They are presented in the Bible text as elderly. So today, in our intercession, we pray for elderly.

God our friend, we give
Thanks for the elderly, for those in our family photo album who are going before us in time
Thanks for our parents and grandparents, those we know who have gone before us.
Thanks for those in our congregations and placements who are Anna and Simeon, who are elderly.

We name the reality of aging. We name the losses that can be physical, psychological, spiritual, financial, social and of autonomy. In every loss is grief and so we pray for grace. For space to name the changes and honestly confess the reality.

In every loss is an invitation to change and so we pray for grace to be adaptable, to find God in the process of aging, to trace the grace of God’s presence in every day, in every breath, in every memory. In the way we pause with examen and seek your grace in our day, we pray that aging may be a step into the examen of a lifetime, and so an experience of grace, mercy and new hope.

Thanks for those who care for the elderly, who provide meals, who offer medical advice, we pray. We ask for good humour, for people centred care.

For policy makers, making decisions about New Zealand future, setting codes of practice for care, we pray for wisdom;
For the medical decisions that surround ageing we pray for wisdom, for listening ears, for full disclosure;
For those wrestling with decisions about the types of care of retirement homes, we pray for wisdom;
For those experiencing dementia and those watching people experience dementia, we pray for ability to find faith in a God who holds all memories.

Erik Erikson calls this stage of life a journey into an age of integrity. In that sense we give thanks for Anna and Simeon, for their integrity as they waited in the temple, for their commitment to prayer, for their willingness to hope, for their ability to let go and trust the future to another generation.

We ask that grace for the elderly.

We ask that grace for the church. We have many congregations entering this age of integrity. We pray that like Anna and Simeon, they would have a commitment to prayer, a willingness to hope and an ability let go and trust the future – of their church, of their denominational identity, of their buildings, of their polity structures – to another generation.

And so we pray for ourselves, that like Jesus in the temple, we will commit ourselves in this internship, to increase in wisdom, and in favour with God and in our intern placements.

Amen

Posted by steve at 09:39 PM

Monday, October 02, 2017

Tide turn

I found myself on Maori Beach, Stewart Island last week as the tide turned. I watched as the sea pushed the river backwards. I reflected on the power of water. It became a prayer, for mainline denominations in decline; and all those who serve in them.

tide turn Stewart Island from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 10:11 PM

Sunday, September 17, 2017

genealogy of desert: the Word of mission in Exodus 3

Consuming Word
bush crackles
as livid presence in living present
red-rimmed
is unconsumed

by
naming Word

this is my beloved
particular, storied, watching
Moses, stolen son
bush tracking
indigenous songlines
singing ancient

sounds

Here I am
desert rock wanderer,
in silent desert, I scream
raised, stranger in a strange land
hearing Word

from
Ancestor Word
I am, God of past pleasure
woven through time
sperm of covenant
tracking grace bearing of desert woman
Hagar, Rebekah, Zipporah, Mary

stands
in time
this place of hearing
makes holy
through calling, responding
Word


Theotokos of the Unburnt Bush: more here

Posted by steve at 05:39 PM

Thursday, April 13, 2017

God the pain bearer Easter communion

IMG_4766 I was asked to lead a short Easter communion service at an Christian-based justice agency today. I have been developing a relationship with them over the last 18 months, wanting to explore how to train ministers that can connect with communities and community development. So sharing communion seemed an appropriate next step

I decided to focus on God as pain bearer. It is a phrase from a contemporary version of the Lords Prayer, it is a large part of the Easter story and it is a way of understanding the vocation of this Christian-based justice agency, as bearing the pain in the community.

IMG_4767 I began with newspapers and invited people to find a headline or picture of pain, tear it out and place it around the cross. I found a version of “Te Ariki,” sung by prisoners and recorded in a prison. The lines in Maori “Oh Lord, listen to us.  Oh Lord, look at us. This is us, your children” seemed an appropriate backdrop to our connecting with the pain of the world. You can even hear prison doors slamming in the background. (from The Inside Volume 1: Auckland Prisons. Recorded at Paremoremo and Mt Eden Prison in July 1991 by Te Ao Marama Productions).

IMG_4768 I chopped the Easter events into 4 sections (the Dramatised Bible is a great resource for this type of reading).
– the pain bearing of Easter Thursday
– the pain bearing of Easter Friday morning
– the pain bearing of Easter Friday afternoon
– the pain bearing of Easter Friday evening

This story of pain bearing does not wave a magic wand or seek quick fix. It is rather an invitation to sit with and be among. That allowed us to hear the words of communion as a “Take, eat, this is my pain bearing body broken for you.” And the epiclesis (the invoking of the Spirit upon the Eucharistic bread and wine) as a request for the Spirit to strengthen us as painbearers.

At a personal level, it has been a particularly difficult few months at work, with significant internal and external pressures. Sitting here, leading worship with people committed to justice in the community, was a reminder of call and focus. I’m happiest not as an administrator but as a creative thinker making interactive spaces. It was a privilege I was grateful for.

For those interested: here is the entire service script (more…)

Posted by steve at 01:17 PM

Sunday, February 26, 2017

liturgy of sighing

to sigh: emit a long, deep audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or similar

Mark 7:34 Jesus looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”).

A few weeks ago, I was asked to provide a brief welcome to a KCML training event. It was an event focused on training children and youth workers and about 55 folk were present. Some had driven over four hours, while others had flown from the North Island. As we began, I wanted to not only welcome, but also to locate our day in prayer.

The lectionary reading from the day before described Jesus healing a blind man. Reading it, I had been struck by the fact that Jesus sighed. I live in a family of audible sighers and it was nice to realise we shared our humanity, our sadness, relief and tiredness, with Jesus. In my own prayer, I had spent time thinking about the things I was sighing about.

Standing to welcome folk, I noted the need to begin with prayer. I described the very common human experience of sighing and invited us as a group to pray be sighing together!

Since it was a gathering focused on children and young people, I invited us to think of a young person that we were currently sighing about.

And to sigh together. And we did.

Since it was a gathering of leaders working with children and young people, I invited us to think of a leader in our ministry that we were currently sighing about.

And to sigh together. And we did.

Since we were a gathering of people thinking about mission and ministry into our communities, I invited us to think of something in our community that we were currently sighing about.

And to sigh together. And we did.

Since we were a gathering of people aware of politics and politicians, I invited us to think of a politician that was making us sigh.

And to sigh together. And we did.

I then read from Mark 7:34.

And I prayed: that our day together would result in our eyes being opened; opened to see healing and change in our young people and our leaders and our communities and the politics of our world; a prayer prayed in the name of Jesus who signed, and saw the reality of lives “being opened.” Amen.

It was a simple liturgy. It orientated us around Scripture. It acknowledged the humanity of ministry, that it causes us to be sad, relieved, tired. It placed us in context, inviting us to focus on people and community and real life. It was individualised, inviting people to pray for what was on their heart, what was causing them to sigh. It was participatory, a whole room of people sighing together. It used the senses, the physical act of sighing, the audible hearing of others sighing around us. It invited God to be present, to open eyes and situations in revelatory ways.

A liturgy of sighing. Feel free to join our prayer, to sigh also at things you wish to be opened.

Posted by steve at 07:56 PM

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

visual examen: colour in prayer

We finish each day of our internship intensives with a daily examen.

Examen – defined as a prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and grow in understanding how God is present.

Mixed with a morning devotion and a lunchtime intercession, it provides a three-stranded pattern of prayer that weaves through our block course intensives. The danger is that examens become essentially word based – more words at the end of a day full of words in a classroom.

So today, in order to engage our eyes and our sense of touch, I offered a visual examen. I cut up red, green and yellow card into different shapes and grouped them on plates. I walked around the room, offering first red, then green, then yellow. As people chose a colour, I asked them questions to reflect on their day.

  • Red – a strong emotion (how did you feel? who was there? what was said before and after? where was God)
  • Green – a moment of growth (a learning? an insight? a challenge? a connection?). Give thanks to God for these gifts.
  • Yellow – a joy (a moment in relationship? a joke from a colleague? Give thanks to God for these gifts.

I then read a Scripture – Philippians 3:8, 10. “More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. I want to know Christ[a] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” It was a reminder of the importance of surrender into the shape of Christ, an invitation to release.

I located one of the icons I have written during my time in Australia (here’s a video of me talking about icons as spiritual practise) and placed it flat, as a sort of plate. I then invited people to place their colours on the icon, as a way of releasing our day to God, returning the gift we’d been given and surrendering ourselves to being in Christ.

unknown-2

Posted by steve at 07:50 PM

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

John 21 and Waiting for a voice, Dave Dobbyn

Those looking for some contemporary creativity around John 21:1-19, the lectionary text for this Sunday, will find helpful Dave Dobbyn’s latest album, Harmony House, released last week. I hope to provide an album review soon, but in the meantime, the opening single, Waiting for a Voice, is intriguing. Here are the lyrics (my transcription from the album playing on the car stereo this morning)

Verse 1 –
I look across a clear glass lake
Not a ripple on it, not a minnows’ wake

I saw a stranger on the opposite shore
Cooking up a meal for me
And what’s more, I heard Elijah
I know it was him
Get into the water man, and lose your sin

Chorus
And Heaven is waiting for a choice
Waiting for a still clear voice (repeat)

Whether intended by Dobbyn or not, the references to the story of Jesus in John 21 are multiple. Beside the Sea of Galilee in verse 1 (I look across a clear glass lake), the disciples catching nothing in verse 3 (not a minnows’ wake), the presence of the risen Jesus, initially unrecognized in verse 4 (a stranger on the opposite shore), the charcoal fire in verse 9 (cooking up a meal for me).

The reference to Elijah is not named in John 21, but it is a way the disciples might have been making sense of this encounter. There is clear confusion between the Jesus unrecognized in verse 4 and verse 7 “It is the Lord.” A number of times in the Gospels, people wonder if Jesus is Elijah. This shows the power of the Old Testament imaginations that holds. It also shows how the human mind always works within known structures of meaning when trying to assimilate new experience. This has significant missiological implications of course. People move from their known to the new, so any communication needs to begin with the known. In so doing, it will always run the danger of being misinterpreted.

I love the baptism imagery (Get into the water man, and lose your sin). Again, it is not in the text. However it is a lovely imaginative working with the role of water, that is for baptism, and consistent with the actions of Peter in verse 7, as he jumps into the waters of Galilee in his rush to get to Jesus. The lyric makes total sense of the pathway to redemption, that we come to faith through the waters in which are sin is washed away.

The chorus is a catchy mix of crashing chords and ecstatic vocals, channelling the ecstatic sounds of a Nick Cave. The lyrics are distinctly evangelical. Heaven is waiting for a choice. Personally, I wince at the focus in the lyrics on human agency, at the danger of human pride in “my choosing to follow Jesus.” At the same time, there is a sense in John 21 of choice, particularly and repeatedly, in the three questions Jesus asks of Peter in verses 15, 16 and 17. Are we willing to trust ourselves to a stranger, who insists we make clear lifestyle changes (and lose your sin) in choosing to sit around a fire with Jesus?

So how would I use it? Probably I would mention some of the lyrics during the sermon, then play the song after the sermon, as a seque into communion. I would weave some of the lyrics into the communion prayers (thanking God for the saints, including Elijah; for the gift of creation, including lake shores and the waters of baptism, through which we find communion with God). I would ensure the prayers allow a time of silence in which I would invite us to listen for God’s “still clear voice.”

If I knew the community well, I might even invite them to share what they heard at the end of this listening. If I was doing this, my sermon would focus more on a lectio divina approach to Scripture, in which I create space for imaginative listening. Then I would play the song, mention the lyric – listen for God’s “still clear voice” – and invite that space for silence, for listening, and then for sharing.

Who knows what that still clear voice of the risen Lord, so strange to us, might say?

Posted by steve at 08:13 AM

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Could you return to your story? “hapkas” theology as personal experience

“Could you return to your story?”

It was a question asked as I finished a research presentation. I was interviewing to be Principal at KCML. The interview process began with me taking a 50 minute “mock” lecture to a group of “mock” students. It had gone well, apart from the jug of water for the lecturer, that developed a crack half way through, resulting in water gently easing under my laptop as I spoke. “As long as it is consistent for all those being interviewed” I quipped. The interview process then moved, after lunch with the interview panel, to a research presentation. Fifty minutes on some aspect of my current work, followed by 50 minutes of question and answer.

It was then that the question was posed. “Could you return to your story?” Puzzled, I asked for elaboration. “Well, you began your lecture this morning with your story, of growing up in PNG. So I’m asking what might happen if you returned in your research to your story?”

I remember being struck by the depth of listening. After nearly 3 hours of talking, here was someone with the ability to connect two quite different parts of my presentations, in ways that offered me new eyes. My story felt held. My experience felt important. Perhaps in this place, I would see myself, including my old self, in new ways. It was a moment, of care, of hope, and potentially of guidance in my research journey.

Fast forward some 13 months later. The interview in January 2015 resulted in my beginning as Principal in October 2015. I brought with me a significant piece of research, a book project on innovation and collaboration. Begun in July, it has absorbed all of my writing time in the period since.

Last week, the manuscript was sent to the editor. It will return, but in the meantime, I have some space to begin again. “What will you write?” asked my family on Sunday evening. (I have a habit of spending the first 45 minutes of every work day writing.) I sifted through a few possibilities. The next most important thing is two papers I have to present in Korea at the International Association of Mission Studies. The deadline for submission is 31 March. I chose one (the second is on how to understand Silence in mission), and got to writing.

Cbw_TtUVAAAPB7Q

I looked at my desk yesterday. I am writing on Christology in Papua New Guinea. My research involves reading art gallery publications about bark cloth. I laughed. “Could you return to your story?” was the question 13 months ago.

Well, my first new writing project in this role and I have. I have found myself, by a random set of circumstances, writing on my country of birth. I am listening to ABC recordings of PNG women singing. I am exploring theology expressed in visual, rather than written ways. I am bringing my years of study of Christology and post-colonial theology and literature to bear on my own story. I am reading Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire (Bible in the Modern World). He also is born in PNG. I am beginning to imagine an academic paper presented in Korea not on powerpoint but on bark cloth.

I sense freedom, grace and integration. Such are some of the benefits when we return to our story, when the personal is woven into the academic, when deep listening enables us to see and hear ourselves in new ways.

Posted by steve at 08:42 AM

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Creative resource: Ira

Ira is a resource I picked up at Toitu Otago Settlers Musuem today. It is a set of small, handheld cards, about 2 cm by 6 cm. It is beautifully coloured on one side, with the same picture of a New Zealand landscape. On the other side, different for each card, is a Maori word and the English translation.

ira

I thought it had potential as a creative spiritual resource. So I purchased it and brought it back to work.

Meeting my colleagues, I shuffled it, held it beautifully coloured side up and invited them to choose one. Each chose a card, turned it over, and read the word. Looking at them, it was obvious the word had personal significance, a helpful clarifying encouragement in the middle of a hot, tiring afternoon.

The word then became a benediction from me to them as they left at days end. “Enjoy being free.” “Go to be creative.”

I will use this as my Lenten discipline, choosing a word and prayerfully sitting with it.

It would also work well in group settings. You could turn one over and as an act of praise, invite the team to reflect on what that word looks like in the values of the team. Or share a story of how they have experienced that word. Or recall a Bible story that expresses the word.

It is a beautiful, indigenous, spirituality resource.

Posted by steve at 08:09 PM

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Where do we get enough bread? Graduation sermon 2015

graduation2015 It was the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership 2015 Graduation Service last night. I was asked as the new Principal to preach. The lectionary text for the day was Matthew 15:29-39; the feeding of the 4,000. In the sermon I unpacked what the text might mean for being church and for ministry. I was able to weave in some creativity, including an art work by Faith Ringgold and setting up on stage a picnic, with different cultural groups bringing their mat and food, in order to explore the diversity of the Presbyterian Church in Aoteroa New Zealand. It gained positive feedback, so for those interested the sermon in full is as follows (more…)

Posted by steve at 03:39 PM