Monday, April 14, 2014

colouring Holy Week

This week I’m colouring Holy Week. I’ve found a bit of board in the garage, which I’ve cut and prepared with a gesso wash.

And then I painted blocks of colour, adding layers to deepen intensity.

Then I applied gold leaf, in celebration of resurrection life.

These colours are not necessarily traditional church colours. But they help me, and perhaps others with visual learning preferences, step through the events of this week. I’m doing this for myself. I’m also doing this to help me prepare for Easter Camp in Robe, at which I’m speaking to young people from the rural South East of South Australia.

The colours of Holy Week make sense for me as follows:

Green on Palm Sunday, to remember those who waved palms and celebrated Jesus entering a city. Red on Monday, because on Monday (in Mark’s gospel), Jesus got angry, red-faced, and trashed the money changers in the temple. Brown on Tuesday, to recall Jesus words that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it can not produce many seeds. Lavender on Wednesday, to remember perfume, and the extravagant, expensive love of an unnamed woman, who poured what was possibly her family hierloom onto Jesus head. Blue on Thursday, to express the feelings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, a soul deeply distressed, troubled, overwhelmed. Black on Friday, for on this day God died. Grey on Saturday, for on this day all of creation mourned. Gold leaf, etched with rainbow colours on the Sunday, for on this day life to the full in the here and now was re-defined.

As a result, on Monday, I have cut two pathways of response into my board, for on Monday, the events of this week leave us with some choices. How then will we live, in light of the events of this week.

Posted by steve at 01:10 PM | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

a spirituality for a pilgrim people

I’m teaching Church, Ministry, Sacraments over these 2 weeks. This morning the lectionary Psalm was Psalm 84. It got me thinking ….

You are a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal (Basis of Union, rifting off Hebrews 11). “Who go through the barren valley find there a spring” (Psalm 84:5)

It comes to you. A pool of water on a heated day.

You can’t make it, nor create it.

You can try to hurry to it. But that leaves you exhausted, the proverbial hare, gasping, while the tortoise plods on by.

Best simply to wait for it. And when you see it, spread invitingly around the next corner, simply receive it.

If deep, jump in. Splash. Laugh. Dunk a fellow swimmer. Get out shaking your head like a playful dog. Then lay your clothes on a sunny rock. Lie back. Enjoy the birdsong. Reflect on steps taken, share a story with a travelling companion, compare blisters, prepare for the next part.

If shallow, drink deep. Splash iced cold water over your face. Wet your hair and let it trickle down your neck. Laugh. Splash a fellow drinker. Then lie back. Enjoy the birdsong. Reflect on steps taken, share a story with a travelling companion, compare blisters, prepare for the next part

Some find these pools of water on a heated day on a night with friends over red wine. Others find it on a weekend bush walk. Yet another find it as one wanders through an art gallery or turns the page on an ancient theology book. Wherever you find it, you leave the richer, nod the wiser, knowing more deeply that on the way Christ feeds.

With Word and Sacraments

The trouble is, whether deep or shallow, poorly done or richly resonant, you know you can’t stay. A pool on a heated day is only a pausing place for a pilgrim people.

It’s dangerous. No stupid – to remain in the barren valley. It’s not the point, nor the purpose.

For you are a pilgrim people

Posted by steve at 08:56 AM | Comments (1)

Monday, February 03, 2014

body benedictions

At the National Fresh expressions and mission-shaped ministry 2014 conference, I was asked to contribute not just some explanation of history, but also be part of leading in a final act. I’ve been aware more and more recently of the importance of our bodies (and the way they are so rarely used in worship). So here’s what I did.

In your right hand, gather your dreams, what is arising in hope from within you. Take some time to hold these dreams before God.

Now, since we are the body of Christ, I invite you to connect your right hand, the dreams you are holding, with the hand of another. Now take some time to pray, silently, for the dream you are touching.

In your left hand, gather your to-do list, all the things that might lie neglected as a result of these last few days. Take some time to hold your to do list before God.

Now, since we are the body of Christ, I invite you to connect your left hand, the to do list you are holding, with the hand of another. Now take some time to pray, silently, for the to do list you are touching.

Now put your hands in your pockets. You are taking your dreams and your to do list with you. I invite you to turn and face the door.

Now hear the benediction, some words from the lectionary text for this Sunday … (and so I offered them some words from Luke 2:29-32; servants be dismissed in peace, go to see salvation, go to be a light for Gentiles, for the glory of God)

A good deal of positive feedback after, as people collected their stuff and began to take their bodies into God’s world.

Posted by steve at 08:05 AM | Comments (1)

Friday, December 06, 2013

intuitive worship: baptism, ministry, deeper water and Psalm 42

Today we farewelled a colleague. They had expressed a desire for a ritual moment, so over a number of days, by email, among a number of folk, a service of leaving was sketched.

It’s been a hectic week at College and with one of the key folk sick, I wasn’t convinced that all the i’s were crossed or t’s were dotted. Just in case, I grabbed a Bible as I left my office – a useful tool in case of emergencies.

Sure enough, it emerged on the walk over that no-one was down to do the Bible reading. I’d suggested it, so was happy to read. Especially since I had a Bible.

It was the Psalm for today in the Lectionary, Psalm 42. It fitted really well with the opening song. The colleague loves Paul Kelly, so we’d chosen Deeper Water, a song about growth, journey, life.

Deeper water, deeper water,
Deeper water, calling them on

As the song played live, I began to wonder were to stand to read. My eyes settled on the baptismal font. Water. An intuitive link gets made in my mind.

So as the song ended, I stood and walked to the baptismal font. I introduced the Psalm as about deeper water, as about where is God in deeper water. (As a hart longs for flowing streams (v. 1); Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts; all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me (v. 7).)

As the Psalm ended, I returned (Djed) the lyrics of the song. “Deeper water, calling you on, and you’re never alone.” I dipped my hands in the water of the baptismal font and walked across to our departing colleague and bent to make the sign of the cross on his forehead.

An intuitive moment – a mix of Paul Kelly, Psalm 42 and the Christian ritual of baptism. For it is in our baptism that we are called into ministry. So a re-affirmation of baptism as that which holds us on the ongoing journey into ministry.

A few extra seconds, wordless, in which the waters of baptism were applied. And I returned, in silence to my seat. It had felt, intuitively the right thing to do.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, baptism, ministry and Psalm 42). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 06:21 AM | Comments (2)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

mission, identity, relationships and gender: preaching Luke 20:22-38

Here is Sunday’s sermon. To be honest, I approached the Lectionary text – Luke 20:22-38 apprehensive, thinking, this is going to be tough. This is an obscure argument about an obscure part of the Bible. Over the week, I’ve gained fresh insight into the radical nature of God’s Kingdom. Thanks especially to the commentary by Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament).

Luke 20:22-38 offers some radical insights on identity, relationships and gender. We’re invited to be children of God. Our relationships with each other, our relationships with God are not defined not by historic cultural patterns. Nor by how sexy we are. Nor by how much bling we have. We’re children of God. Called by a God who listens to the cry of people’s suffering. Invited to live lives of mercy and justice.

Here’s the sermon …. (more…)

Posted by steve at 12:41 PM | Comments (2)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

from spark to worship: praying the Psalms with roses on world map

Yesterday I blogged, grateful for the sparks of inspiration from a Sunday browse through Ikea. I understand creativity as a we

Today I found myself on chapel, which involves around 20 minutes of prayer. It is in the semester break here at College, so it tends to be staff, a smaller group. So here is how the spark became worship.

To give some Scriptural spine, I checked the lectionary readings and selected the Psalm (Psalm 85) for the week, which I printed so folk could read.

I was thinking about how people might want to name their prayers. I’d noticed a few days ago a stray rose still in the garden, so grabbed that on the way to work. To keep it fresh, I took it in a plastic container. Opening the lid during the morning, I was struck by the scent and realised that might be a helpful sense to engage.

With my 20 minutes I welcomed people and invited us to stand around the world map/table. We read the Psalm, verse by verse around the group, which gave voice to our prayer. I handed the rose around the group and as I hoped, people caught the scent and with a word of surprise, discovered it’s joy together.

I noted that at the heart of Christian faith is the Easter story, in which brokenness and vulnerability are so essential. I invited us to pray by handing the rose, again, around the group. We would each break of a petal and place it on the world map, naming what were praying for. We would keep doing this until the rose ran out of petals.

This happened, naturally, beautifully, for around 15 minutes. We concluded by reading again the Psalm, again around the group. And a final picture, to “capture” our prayer.

A spark – a world map. Which became worship – prayers for the world and each other. Which involved the hearing of Scripture, the smell of the rose, the touch of a petal, the visual engagement with the world and each other. And this deep sense of being in the presence of God, tender with each other and God’s world.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, praying the Psalms). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 06:53 PM | Comments (2)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Colour my faith

Olive Fleming Drane posted a delightful picture, of the new floor in Glasgow’s new Paperchase.

It’s a delightful reminder of the power and place of colour. And the implications for our engagement with Christian faith.

Like “colour divina.” Imagine hearing the same Bible text, read slowly, read repeatedly. And each time, standing in a different colour. Where is purple in the text? Where is the colour red? Where do we see green?

Imagine different stations, placed on different coloured mats. Confession on red, benediction on green, hearing the Scriptures in purple.

At Opawa, for a period of time, part of the call to worship included the invitation:

Words of introduction: We all come from different weeks; good and bad, busy and slow, major and minor. What colour would describe your emotions and experiences this week?

Action: In baskets at various places around the auditorium are a wide range of colours. Each colour square has a “hot dot” fixed to the back. As we gather as a community in worship this morning I invite you
a) choose a colour square that says something about your week.
b) peel the backing paper of the “hot dot” on the back and place your colour on the cross.
You can do this at any time before the service.

Prayer: We will start our service with the following prayer

Leader: Arriving, we bring our current reality.
All: The good and the bad. The busy and the slow. The major and the minor.

Leader: We dare to believe that God is among us.
All: Among us as one who listens, holds, loves, heals, guides.

Leader: We dare to believe that we are safe here.
All: Safe among friends journeying together. Journeying to a deeper knowledge of, love for and service with God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(full post here)

For more on the place of colour in Christian faith, see

  • Colouring the stations of the cross here
  • Colouring formation here
  • for a fantastic resource, in the form of a children’s book, see here.
Posted by steve at 10:20 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

breath prayers as communion

At communion yesterday (as well as offering a missional introduction), I wanted to try and embody the great prayer of thanksgiving. It is a prayer that is often patterned on salvation history, moving from creation, through the people of Israel, to Jesus, with the saints. One way to offer embodiment, and experience embodiment, is through the simple act of breathing.

I’d also been thinking about brains. As you do!

projectors magnetic field

projectors magnetic field

And the fact that apparently connections between neurons in the brain produces an electrical charge. With every electrical charge comes a corresponding magnetic field. And that although magnetic fields rapidly lose their force, they never completely dissipate. So every thought and memory ever produced still lives, as an infinitesimal magnetic trace. So how to engage with that reality at communion?

Deep breath.

God we breathe in air. As we do, we thank you for creation, for the air we breathe, the birds that sing in the morning, the colour of the gum trees.

Deep breath.

God we breathe in air. Air breathed by others. As we do, we thank you for those who’ve gone before, for the prophets and saints who’ve showed us how to live life and seek justice.

Deep breath.

God we breathe in air. Air breathed by others, including the God-man Jesus. As we do, we thankyou for the humanity of Jesus’ breath, the places he walked, the people he healed, the grace he offered, the words he said.

And so we pray together the prayer, Jesus invited us to pray …. and we recall the words of Jesus, who took bread ….

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, May 06, 2013

missional communion

An introduction to communion that I shared today, working with our candidates, faculty and visiting ministers, gathered around the topic of self-care.

There is a story of some ministers gathering. Much like us today, to wrestle with ministry. In the question time, a question is raised. A person aware of their world, concerned about the church. How can we bring people to the altar?

The response is made. Is the question how do we bring people to the altar? Or is the question, how do we bring the altar to people?

An important reminder as we gather. It is not that we come to communion, but that in communion God comes to us. In this we are invited to participate in God’s mission.

Yes, it is about our care. In communion God feeds us, centres us, re-values us around grace and redemption.

But it is more than that. It is also about care for the church. In communion God feeds the church, centres the church, re-values the church around grace and redemption.

But it is more than that. It is also about care for the world. In communion God wants to feed the world, wants to centre the world, wants to re-value the world around grace and redemption.

And so we pray; Spirit, fall on us, that these elements of bread and wine may be for us a participation in your life, love and mission, your bringing the altar to people.

Posted by steve at 03:25 PM | Comments (5)

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Easter with U2: overview

It began with a question.

As many things do.

As I walked into church for Maundy Thursday, I wondered what U2 song, if any, might connect with the themes of this day? Which quickly prompted another question, could this extend over Easter? Which made for a personally rich Easter, as I found new ways to understand and appreciate the Christian story.

Here is the result:

Overall, looking back, I was surprised at the personal connections I made through the process. For example, Easter Monday and the image that emerged around busking as a kingdom sign – the improvisation, the public witness, the fleeting nature. Another example was Easter Sunday and seeing the Resurrection with the saints, the importance of belief as it is embodied in another.

Another surprise was the serendipity of the internet. I discovered on Sunday that Steve Stockman, author of Walk on: The Spiritual Journey of U2, was also, this Easter doing it with U2.

But could I do it again? If Easter with U2 (Easter@U2) was a pop culture lectionary, could it sustain a 3 year cycle? I doubt it, not without heading into abstract themes – betrayal, sacrifice, loss, surprise – that would have no specific lyrical references to Easter. Which has left me pondering. For all the hype in some Christian circles about the “spirituality” of U2, this snapshot would suggest they are hardly drawing from the Christian narrative.

U2 have produced 12 studio albums, at an average of 10 songs an album, that means a total of 120 songs. I drew on 4. That is not many, especially when the Easter narrative is so central to the Christian story.

I am not saying they need to. Christian art doesn’t need a cross to make it Christian. And I might be missing some other songs. But 4 out of 120 is not many. Which means I end where I began. With a question! :) (But a great soundtrack to keep me company.)

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, March 08, 2013

Prayers of illumination

Preparing for Pocket lamp worship first, with Jonny Baker and CMS Pioneers, second with the mission shaped ministry Board, a few weeks ago got me thinking about Prayers of illumination. I think it was holding the pocket lamp open, thinking about light, and the phrase – prayers of illumination – sort of floated through my consciousness.

Liturgically, a prayer of illumination is the prayer prayed before Scripture is read and spoken. In churches that consider themselves non-liturgical, it has a predictable pattern asking for God’s help as Scripture is preached, a predictable place just before the sermon and a performative dimension, inviting a focus on what is about to be said.

In liturgical churches, when used (curiously more infrequently, in my experience, than in non-liturgical churches), it tends to be a set prayer, more likely to be varied, drawing from church tradition or various Scripture.

One example of a prayer of illumination, slightly varied from Scripture, is drawn from Psalm 19:14

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer.

What is interesting is the context, what comes in the 13 verses prior. You see, in the Psalm illumination comes from two places – nature and Scripture.

The first six verses (1-6) reference illumination in creation – heavens, skies, sun, heat – all of these are proclaimers of God’s handiwork. From them “pour forth speech.” (19:2). As for example, in this “baptism” experience, or in this recent book release – Forest Church: A Field Guide to Nature Connection for Groups and Individuals by Bruce Stanley – which I am hoping to blog review chapter by chapter over the next few weeks.

The next five verses (7-11) reference illumination in Scripture, and the hope of wisdom, joy and light.

So, presumably when the prayer of illumination is prayed, it is invitation to consider both the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. And it suggests that the sermon that might follow will tell stories of human experience, offer insights from nature and reflect on Scripture. Perhaps in at least equal measure? Now that’s the type of prayer, I’d love to say Amen too.

Because, according to the Psalm, both are arenas of illumination. Sure, not without discernment. I mean, you sure need discernment to read Leviticus, or Proverbs, or Revelation or any portion of Scripture. And yes, you need discernment to read nature. Which is probably why you pray the prayer. Because illumination is a gift, from God’s Spirit. And prayed in community, because faith is corporate and discernment is always about what seems “good to the Holy Spirit and us.” (Acts 15:28)

In community and in need of God.

So a variant on pocket lamp worship would be to spend an entire service exploring Prayers of illumination. Place a whole lot up around the walls. Give people a lamp. Get them to walk, to read. Invite them to place their lamp beside the one that most connects. Share this in groups. Invite discussion on where God reveals Godself, on how discernment happens, both in practice and in the history of the church. Invite them to chose the prayer most meaningful, and pray it individually, at home, as they gather around Scripture. In so doing, the use of Prayers of illumination corporately would be enriched and renewed for another season of the life of the church.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 11:06 AM | Comments (3)

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Pocket lamp worship: creationary

This week I led worship with Jonny Baker’s Pioneers at CMS on Tuesday, then at the mission shaped ministry board meeting on Wednesday. Both involved pocket lamp worship.

I wanted to use what was around me, and the pocket lamp was a Christmas gift and being in the Northern Hemisphere winter, connected with all the dark/light experiences I was processing. The pocket lamp opens and shuts. So it allowed a range of tactile, participative interaction. Here is what I did.

Call to worship – the making of Ovo, at the Amsterdam Light Festival (I’ve blogged about that here).

Praise – Light from God is a gift. So the invitation to take a light, turn it on, and give it to another person. So we can only be given light. Be thankful for gift.

Confession – We all at times turn off the light we’ve been given. So as an act of confession, close your light and recall, silently, the times you’ve turned off the light.

Word – The lectionary text was Isaiah 6:1-8. It of course, has words of absolution. And words of mission.

Petition – So before we are sent, if you’re anything like me, you feel inadequate. So, exchange the light with the person beside you. Hold, and be held, in silent prayer for each other.

Intercession – I had placed newspaper around the roome. People were invited to place their light on an area of the world they wanted to pray for. But before that, a reminder of being sent, as the kiss of God into dark places.

It seemed to work well both places. Didn’t take long to put together, which suited my sabbatical writing commitments fine. It took about 15 to 20 minutes, and with more time it would have been helpful for folk to unpack the connections they made between text, actions and pocket lamp. I like it when worship emerges from the ordinary and everyday.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading L is for Lamps – pocket lamps).

Posted by steve at 06:05 AM | Comments (2)

Friday, December 07, 2012

creating the church of tomorrow

Twice in the last few weeks, a prayer by Oscar Romero has come my way. Romero was a Catholic Archbishop in El Salvador, assassinated on 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived.

God of hope,
Help us to step back and take the long view.
Remind us that what we do in our lifetime
is only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is your work..
Nothing we do is complete, which is only a way of saying that your realm always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No one program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals includes everything.
Help us remember what we really are about:
we plant seeds that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need future development.
We provide yeast that produces
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything.
Knowing this frees us, for it enables us to do something.
It may seem incomplete, but it is really a beginning,
a step along the way.
Our efforts provide an opportunity
for your grace to enter and do the rest.
You are the master builder, and we work with you.
We may never see the end results that are known to you.
Even so, we are prophets of a future
that holds your promise.
Amen.

Given the way the prayer has found me, it seemed appropriate that it become the devotional for our team retreat on Thursday. I provided two ways to respond. One was to pray by planting a seed of petition. The other was to pray by watering as thanks. Outside (because dirt and water don’t go with carpet), I had placed a seed tray and a pot of colour from home.

Inside, we said the prayer together, a different person taking a phrase each. We then sat with the prayer in silence for 5 minutes. I then invited folk to move outside. And to either plant a seed “we plant seeds that will one day grow” or to water the pot “We water seeds already planted.” We then concluded by again saying the prayer together, again a different person taking a phrase each.

The focus of the retreat day was strategic planning and it was just lovely to begin the day watering and planting, reminding each other that- “We cannot do everything. Knowing this frees us, for it enables us to do something.” (To end the day, we shared communion and had a party. But that’s another post).

Posted by steve at 11:27 PM | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

creationary Mark 7:24-30: the dog just scoffed the communion bread

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

With the Lectionary reading for Sunday including Mark 7:24-30, it brought to mind a memorable moment in my pastoral ministry –

It’s Sunday night and the people of God are gathered around the communion table. The youngest is Sam, all of 10 months. The oldest is Gavin, all of 60. A visitor wanders in late and takes a seat on a empty couch. Complete with dog on a leash. Rotwieler cross pup.

The people of God stir. Two teenagers quiz the minister. “What’s he doing here?”

“Same as you,” replies the minister, “Being part of church.”

“Why a dog in church?” the 6 year old quizzes her mother.

Delicately the mother picks her way toward an answer. All strangers are welcome. Yes. But are all animals? You see, the 6 year old is a bright one. The 6 year old has a rabbit! If the dog is welcome, then is this a precedent. Mother pictures rabbits lopping up aisle and fish bowls balanced delicately on child laps.

Back at the communion table, religion continues. The words of invitation are offered. This is the table of God. All are invited.

The loaf of bread is broken. Gifts of God. And the broken body of Jesus is passed down the table. For the people of God. People tear a hunk of God’s body. Crumbs shower on carpet.

Out of the corner of the eye, a blurr of movement. In a flash, the body of Christ is gone, woofed down by hungry jaws. Teenagers stare. The 6 year old is agog. Eagerly the dog looks up, licking the crumbs of Christ off salivating jaws.

Mark 7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Posted by steve at 11:27 PM | Comments (2)