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.
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Breathe of life
I found this while packing, written during a 2007 =conference
Genesis God creates
Breath of life
Chemicals, atoms, cells – transformed in humans
to love, laughter, friendship, creativity, nurture, innovation
Such Breathe of life
John 21 God re-creates
Breath of life
Resurrected Jesus breathes
to peace, forgiveness, empower
As Father Sent me, so I send
Such Breathe of life. Be human. Be fully human
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Trinity worship, breath prayers and researching Lonergan
I led chapel today and had the sense that it worked brilliantly, offering a space that for many, provided a deep sense of connection with God. It connected with a range of senses, including seeing (contemplating the icon), touching (choosing a symbol of vocation), hearing (each others breathing), tasting (the communion elements). Let me explain.
After referencing Pentecost Sunday and inviting a call to worship, I introduced the icon, “Holy Theologian Bernard Lonergan in the Mystery of the Eternal Processions of the Most Blessed Trinity,” painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols.
I gave folk a few minutes in silence to consider it.
I then offered some explanation. I introduced a quote from Fred Crowe’s biography of Lonergan.
. . . in the welter of words that with other theologians it was his vocation to utter, Lonergan never lost [the insight] that theology can be done, must be done, that when it is done, we are confronted with mystery and bow our heads in adoration. Fred Crowe
I noted that I have been reading Bernard Lonergan as part of my missiology research in recent weeks. I described how research involves lots of reading and how as part of my research, I had discovered the icon. Which I have pinned to my desk. And how it then provided another dimension to my research, inviting prayer along with my reading.
I noted a few features of the icon. It references a painting by Lawren Harris, with Canadian landscape in the background. The light around the pine trees expresses a sense of God’s encounter with Lonergan’s vocation.
On the floor of the chapel I had placed books, pens, pads, name tag holders, white board markers, Bibles. I noted how in the icon, Lonergan was bent down in front of a book, a symbol of his vocation. I invited folk to pick up something from the floor that expressed their current vocation – as student, as lecturer, as administrator. Once collected, I invited folk to return to their seat and lay it down at their feet, much like Lonergan had. I then invited us, as Lonergan was, to look up, expectantly, attentively.
Suddenly each of us were engaging with the icon not just as something visual that we were looking at, but as something we were physically participating with. Our bodies were becoming more deeply connected.
I noted how in the icon, the Spirit spoke as Lonergan looked up. So what one word might the Spirit be wanting to speak to us, as we looked up from our vocations? Which meant that we all as a group had now moved into a time of lectio divina. We had move from sermon to prayer, from explanation to worship.
I maintained this space by introducing a series of breath prayers. We breathed in strength, freedom, hope and love; and breathed out exhaustion, self-doubt, distrust and hate. That sense of looking up, expectantly, attentively, was maintained through the in and out of our breathing. There was by now a palpable sense of God in the air as together, looking up from our individual and diverse vocations, we continued to connect with God.
A seque into communion then occurred, by inviting folk to place their symbol on the communion table. Our vocations were recentered by bread and wine. We continued to breath together as we encountered grace in the sacraments.
There were many people expressing thanks at the end, for the richness and depth, for the dignity given to the practice of theology, for the space to breathe in God. In just over 20 minutes, we had worshipped, prayed, participated in the sacraments, in a way that connected our ordinary and everyday vocations with Divine presence.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
lectio decorio (reading the skin)
A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.
Lectio divina (divine reading) is a practice by which Scripture is read slowly, seeking for God’s voice. Today I invited the community at worship at Uniting College to enter into lectio decorio (reading the skin). (Decorio is latin for skin).
The spark was the lectionary text – John 2:13-22, when Jesus cleanses the temple. Searching google, I found the work of Amanda Galloway. As a way to connect with women in India, a system of Biblical story telling has been developed. It uses the traditional henna process to symbolize biblical stories (I’ve blogged about henna and Biblical storytelling before). Henna, a temporary artwork drawn on hands and other parts of the body, is a popular beauty technique in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As the story is told, the images are drawn onto the hand and arm.
I didn’t have the time (chapel is 20 minutes, including communion), nor the materials (henna), to literally use henna. But I loved the way the Amanda Galloway’s design told the story, and told it onto skin. It seeemed to also connect with the Biblical text, which was all about whips and overturned tables and thus a story about skin in the game of justice.
So, after reading the lectionary text, I introduced the design. I noted how it is used. I then invited folk to trace the design onto their skin. Not with henna, but by using their finger, while I read the text (slowly enough to give time for the tracing).
And so skin touched skin, as the Bible story was heard and traced (decorio).
I then repeated the process, inviting folk to trace to design on their other hand. Given that folk most likely initially chose their dominant hand, it felt deeply gospel to trace the design again, this time using a weaker finger. This also created links between the two contexts – us in the first week of the semester, with all the new learning that a semester involves, women in India, unable to read, but still opening themselves to learning.
I then moved into the six minute communion. And suddenly the passing of the peace had new meaning. It was another moment of lectio decorio, reading the skin, as the gospel story traced on my hand touched the gospel story traced on the hand on another.
I’m still to unpack with those gathered what the experience meant for them.
But for me, the invitation three times to hear a Gospel story, the deeper sense of connection as that gospel was traced on my skin, the sharing of a practice from another cultural context as an expression of solidarity in learning – felt very embodied.
So there we are, lectio decorio (reading the skin).
Thursday, September 25, 2014
green theologies: ancient, creative
Water gives life. The shores of Lake Galilee are richly green, filled with fruit, treelined and in places covered with grass. On the lake shore at Tagba is the Church of Multiplication. It honours the feeding of the multitudes, the rich abundance of that miracle. What is intriguing is that on the church floor, on either side of the altar, are a set of mosiacs.
They are beautiful, and feature birds, lilies, flowers. Most are local, bird and plant life from local Galilee. The mosaics are from the 5th century and are the earliest known examples of figured pavement in Christian art in the Holy Land.
It’s an extraordinary expression of green theology. It connects the church indoors with the creation outdoors. It celebrates the local. It is a wonderful link with the miracle story, but contextualised in an honouring of the abundant gifts of land and lake.
And it’s 1500 years old. Green theology likes to position itself as modern, hip and new. The mosaic artists and the ordinary Christians of Tagba would shake their head in disbelief. Their church, their everyday worship, was ancient, ordinarily and creatively green.
Monday, May 05, 2014
how a voluntary society in a rural town made eHistory
I love stories of innovation. Here is one of a voluntary group in a small, rural town, who made eHistory. The full story is here, but to give you a taster, I’ve made a summary, using words from the entire article.
Carnamah is a town and farming community [of 500 people] 300 kilometres north of Perth. The Carnamah Historical Society was founded in 1983 to collect, record, preserve and promote local history. Made up of folk with a background in wheat and sheep farming, they have no ongoing funding and are volunteer run.
To share history and heritage they created online content, 600 pages. Then primary school educational resources. Then an online data base that utilised virtual volunteers to help with transcription and indexing tasks.
The result: thousands more people have discovered and now have a strong and personal connection; donations of heritage material; featured in National Museum of Australia exhibition; appeared in Inside History magazine twice.
The difference is simply that we’ve made a lot of history discoverable online. We want to share, not just possess. We, as a [history] sector have a terrible track record of doing what we’ve always done and not straying too far from the familiar path. It comes down to attitude. Will you learn or try what you don’t know?
The essential ingredients that tend to be lacking are not ideas, examples to follow, time, availability of funding or technical skill. They are very often attitude, ethos and organisational culture.
I think there are a lot of encouragements and challenges in this story for any group in our changing world.
Friday, March 07, 2014
Dispersed Lent Journal Project 2014
This week I released these around the 34 Lipsett Terrace community
Four journals. On the front cover, the following words … Open me, browse me, take me, write in me, return me.
Inside, mainly blank white pages. A few images, a few practices, in case people get stuck. And the following explanation
Dispersed Lent Journal Project
Here at 34 Lipsett Terrace, we are a dispersed community. We are students, staff, teachers. We are post-graduates and undergraduates. We are studying for audit and for credit. We are casual library borrowers and we are hard working full-time students.
The Lenten journal project invites those who cross paths at 34 Lipsett Terrace to share with each other, through a dispersed pattern, what the season of Lent means to us.
The Overview: Lent in the church year is a time to focus on spiritual renewal. Different traditions in the church do this differently. The Dispersed Lent journals invite you to share with each other what this season means to you and how you connect more fully with the God-story in the days leading up to Easter.
The concept: A journal is a place to write. We can write privately, for ourselves. We can write publicly for others. The Lent journal invites us to write publicly, to share faith with each other.
How to proceed?
1. Once you have received the journal, you have no more than seven and no less than two days to spend with it.
2. During those days, put whatever you like in the journal – thoughts, ideas, drawings, photos, recipes, reflections – anything that captures what Lent means for you and how you connect with God during this season. Be creative. Use the exercises or images. Write in your own language.
3. Write aware that what you write will be read by a stranger. That is the nature of a public journal.
4. When you are finished, pass the journal onto another person in the Department of Flinders or ACD or UCLT or Adelaide Theological Library community.
a) It might be someone in your class
b) It might be a lecturer or staff person
c) You might leave it on the table in the Common Space or Adelaide Theological Library.
5. If you get given a journal for a second or third time, it will most likely be different than the first time you received it – different time, more input. You could pass it on straight away. Or treat it as an invitation to write further.
Who gets a journal? Four journals have been prepared. Each is different – different visual, different set of potential practices. Each will be touched by different hands, passed to different people. Each will encounter you at a different time in Lent. Each will be released into the 34 Lipsett Terrace community during the first week of Lent. After the initial release, who knows where the journals will go. Such is the mystery of God in the community.
How is it shared? The journals are public. If you see one, feel free to browse it. When finished, we might scan journal pages (including onto the website) and use them in ongoing ways around the 34 Lipsett Tce campus to encourage students and enhance worship.
So please be aware that by participating in this project, your work will be shared with others.
After Easter, please return the journals to:
Steve Taylor, Uniting College
It will be fascinating to see what happens over Lent.
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.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
I journal religiously twice
I journal religiously twice. Religiously because it is a paired set of spiritual practices, that keep me in grounded, reflective and in community.
I journal religiously once, publicly, on this blog. It is a place to collect what I’m reading and doing. It’s been a discipline for over 11 years now. I began because I wanted to connect beyond Sunday with my congregation and to explore this new way of being human that is a digital world. It helps me reflect on ministry. I regularly think about stopping but then a helpful comment opens up a new insight and I realise the gift that is communication in community.
I journal religiously a second time, my own handwritten journal. It’s been a discipline from when I began formally training for ministry. I never think about stopping, for handwriting grounds me, connects me. I need to save insights, to record my pain, to jot down the spiritual insight of a moment walking or reading.
Over time, I’ve introduced new practices. Every Saturday I try and collect the achievements of a work week in a few simple dot points. This is essential, for my current work is overwhelming and relentless and I need to remind myself of progress. Or I use Celtic knots to untangle the complexity of an issue. Sometimes these notes can be worked up for public consumption, an insight becomes a sermon, a section allows me to capture a moment.
I handwrite much more than I used to and it’s such a precious space. The increase in handwriting has been a fascinating byproduct of the job. I think it’s because I need to find myself in the rush of a 7 meeting day.
I began to reflect on journalling because one of my handwritten journals is coming to an end. I’m always sad. I’m losing a familar friend and I hate the starting of something new, those first fresh pages speak of no life lived. I often leave the first page blank. A space for God to be God. And a way of beginning, of saying I’ve simply started.
This finished journal will be filed, along with others. As I come to year’s end or to an annual performance review, I will pull out my journal and read through the year. I will begin to catch patterns I’d not seen before. It helps give shape to my becoming, to the work of God in the hard places of life.
I journal religiously twice, a paired set of spiritual practices. But what is really interesting is that I have written this here – digitally – not there – in the handwritten journal.
Sunday, August 04, 2013
a dynamic formation for ministry
Digital artist, Luca Agnani, takes Van Gogh’s paintings and brings them to digital life. He uses a mix of digital light and shadowing plus 3-d mapping, to provide a whole new way of viewing life.
It reminds me that life is dynamic rather than static. It is easy to think of life, of faith, of theology, of Scripture, as a snapshot, a moment frozen in time. The reality is that life is always about movement – the child running to the father, the sea a fluid wave movement, the streets full of people on the move.
Tomorrow, I am introducing a change to the candidate formation process at Uniting College. We will begin an exploration of practices, framed around a missional spirituality, and enhanced by storytelling – “the stories that you swap with other travellers” – about how these practices take shape in our lives.
So we’ve spent a lot of time as a team thinking about why we might do this.
Ministry formation could never prepare me for every situation I would find in life. Nor should it. Life is simply too fluid, too dynamic, to evolving, to ever make that possible.
Christian faith is dynamic – the practice of being sent, of prayer, of unforced rythyms of grace – are never static, but are always moving, shaped by those who walk toward us and away from us, those we welcome and those we let go, our experiences as we approach Scripture. Practices are our friends in this dynamic of life.
For those interested, the thirteen Van Gogh paintings are:
1. Fishing Boats on the Beach
2. Langlois Bridge at Arles, The
3. Farmhouse in Provence
4. White House at Night, The
5. Still Life
6. Evening The Watch (after Millet)
7. View of Saintes-Maries
9. Factories at Asnieres Seen
10. White House at Night, The
12. First Steps (after Millet)
Monday, July 29, 2013
Why the Leap of faith is a myth
Where do great ideas come from? Research indicates it never comes a golden bullet, an inspired leap of faith. Vera John-Steiner interviewed over 70 living creative geniuses. She also analyzed the notebooks of 50 dead ones (including Tolstoy, Einstein, etc.) to look at their work habits.
She even planned to title her book “The Leap” because it would be about those giant flashes of inspiration that led to breakthrough ideas.
But she was completely wrong.
Eureka! moments turned out to be a myth.
There was no inspiration moment where a fully formed answer arrived.
Strokes of genius happened over time.
A great idea comes into the world by drips and drabs, false starts, and rough sketches. (From here)
Instead, creative inspiration involves writing down ideas as early as possible, keeping everything, giving things time and being willing to wrestle with ideas and search for clarity. And the refusal to expect that inspiration will deliver a finished product.
Perhaps the only golden bullet is buying a notebook/keeping a blog ie finding some place to store your work product.
Monday, July 22, 2013
Ikea worship treats
I love wandering Ikea. (I’ve blogged about this before – Confessions: the place of Ikea in worship and teaching). I invariably, as I wander Ikea, come away with a few ideas for worship, inspired by the fusion of good design with customer sensitivity all fused with the DIY ethic
Here are yesterdays offerings after a Sunday shop:
First, a world map table. It is hard to see, because overhead lighting is reflected in the glass. But it is a world map, etched in a glass table. This has got all sorts of possibilities. For example communion table, with elements placed “for the world.” Or a prayer station, in which people post prayers for the world on the table. Or with a bit of experimentation, it might well be that some pens might be able to write on glass and be washed off. So people could write their prayers on the table.
Second, pop up stations. These are advertised in the children’s section. They are made of cardboard, so can be decorated in all sorts of way. Aesthetically, they would make a great set of stations, all identical, yet all able to be named differently.
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.