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.

churchofmultiplication

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.

Posted by steve at 04:47 AM

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.

Posted by steve at 07:01 PM

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.

Posted by steve at 12:05 PM

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

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.

Posted by steve at 07:10 AM

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
8. Bedroom
9. Factories at Asnieres Seen
10. White House at Night, The
11. Restaurant
12. First Steps (after Millet)
13. Self-Portrait

Posted by steve at 02:58 PM

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.

Posted by steve at 10:10 AM

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.

Posted by steve at 12:26 AM

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

Sunday, March 03, 2013

nurturing the arts: arrival of complete boxed set

A thoroughly unexpected, thoroughly wonderful surprise this week, with the arrival of the complete boxed set of CS Arts magazines.

The vision of Chrysalis Seed was to ‘generate multiplying groups of artists in a subculture centred in Jesus’. The mission was to ‘equip artists to integrate their art and faith, and to reconcile art and faith communities’. For 14 years it existed as a Trust, with a principal mechanism including a magazine CS Arts.

Which grew, from 4 pages, to 52 pages, from black and white, to colour. It covered a wonderful array of topics, interviews with artists and curators, reviews, themed essays (including a few film reviews I wrote). It was free, always distributed widely, including to commercial galleries and studios. It drew praise and gained some very high quality interviews.

The focus was creating conversations with the art world, not meeting a Christian sub-culture and so it was always incredibly classy, in content, design and paper. The decision to make it a boxed set simply underlines the class, drawing attention to entire collection and the search for quality.

Looking through the editions, realising the growth, reading the range of topics, is struck me as a fascinating attempt at contextualisation – to have a conversation with a key area of culture. It would make an interesting piece of contemporary contextual research, to explore the themes over the time period, the sources it dialogued with, the way it sought to speak of Christ.

The Trust disbanded in 2010. Having started a conversation, it wanted to shift it from a centralised office with a magazine, to a grassroots set of networks.  This now includes

  • Four groups of Christian artists in Waikanae, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.
  • A social network of over 600 artists and supporters.
  • A comprehensive library of art and faith materials available nationally to artists and students through Knox College, Dunedin Christian artists and activists networking throughout New Zealand.
  • Regional gatherings of artists.
  • All published CS Arts magazines available online (but not boxed:))
  • A monthly prayer newsletter for artists, groups and arts institutions.
  • Artists’ social network: www.csartspace.org.nz
  • An online community where artists and supporters of the visual arts meet and chat online, share ideas, news and information.

They have a forum here, a website here. All the magazines archived here. But not as a complete boxed set, because that will sit pride of place in my office! And maybe one day a research article. But not this sabbatical!

Posted by steve at 08:17 PM

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Testament of Mary: a Lenten resource

I’ve really enjoyed Colin Toibin’s, The Testament of Mary. It’s an imaginative exploration of Mary, with a strong emphasis on a mother’s bewilderment as her son seems to go willing to his death. It’s by no means “orthodox” in theology, but it raises plenty of good questions about the motives of those around Jesus, including the disciples. It certainly makes sense of the fear and helplessness that would be have been faced by a country ruled by an invading army (the Romans) and thus the profound political disturbance that was part of the mission of Jesus.

It’s a small book, easily read in an afternoon.

It’s a literary book and Toibin is a beautiful writer, with a deft insight into the darkness of being human and the pain of loss. It’s no easy feat for a writer to cross genders, and to carry off a book about a figure as important to human history as Mary is ambitious.

While I don’t agree with all the theology, it’s a book that I’d want to read in the weeks leading up to Easter, as it strips bare the pain and politics of the road to Gethsemane. It thus stands as a creative resource for Easter Friday preachers and worship leaders.

Posted by steve at 05:23 PM

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Faith in the midst of violence: the La Faruk Madonna

In a side room at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, is placed the La Faruk Madonna. At first glance, it looks your standard religious fare, three paintings, an angel either side of a Madonna.

But the story behind the paintings is extraordinary, for they are painted on old flour bags in the middle of World War 2. The artist, Giuseppe Baldan, was by a prisoner of war. Hence the backdrop behind the angels and the Madonna is a prisoner of war camp, including the prison fence, the Sudanese desert, a washing line and the huts that held prisoners.

The story is that Italian prisoners of war, captured by the British in North Africa, sought permission in the camp to build a chapel. A chapel needs decoration and so the La Faruk Madonna was painted, an aid for prayer, a source of hope.

As the war ended, the paintings were saved from the camp and were given to the British commander for safe keeping. It was a mark of respect for the humane way he had treated the prisoners and honoured the art.

It is both comforting and disturbing. Comforting in the creativity of humans, even in bleak times. Disturbing in that here were British and Italians worshipping the same God, yet finding ways to kill each other. What did the British think as they saw the angels being painted and as they watched the prisoners turn up for worship week by week, as they heard the prayers to “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Posted by steve at 11:13 PM

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

creative resource: British Library Illuminated Manuscripts now online

The British Library has just put online their illuminated manuscripts, both images and information. Since the Library holds one the richest collections of medieval and renaissance manuscripts in the world, this is a rich resource.

Since I’m currently working on the Emmaus Road, a search produced 8 images. Here is one from a Psalter, England, Central (Oxford); 1st quarter of the 13th century, before 1220. (I love how the legs are disappearing up, a reference perhaps to Ascension. Also love the fish on the table, a creative addition to the normal bread/eucharistic references).

This is one of 56 images in the Psalter. Imagine a Bible with 56 coloured images, hand crafted. Such a contrast to the text only versions that currently dominate the market! That surely says something about creativity and value and provides food for current Bible reading practices. (For more of my reflections on this theme, see faith shaped by art not words)

By contrast, here is one from Bruges, Belgium, in the 1400s, where we were a few weeks ago.

Of even more interest/usefulness is their public domain copyright policy –

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts content is now available for download and reuse. Although still technically in copyright in the UK (and a number of other common law territories) the images are being made available under a Public Domain Mark* which indicates that there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, adaptation, republication or sharing of the content available from the site.

Posted by steve at 08:18 AM

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Colouring a contemporary stations of the cross

Amid the ancient history of Saint Salvador Cathedral, Brugge, is a contemporary stations of the cross. Beautifully arranged in a side chapel, it is one, of very few signs, that this faith might be living.

A project by Dutch artist, Jac Bisschops, between 2008 and 2010, he aimed to communicate the essential message of each Station of the Cross. His aim is contemplation, a seeking for simplicity, harmony and clarity. The hubris of the cathedral was thus a thoroughly fitting backdrop.

A feature is the limited palette, five colours

  • blue for infinity
  • brown for transitory earth
  • black for darkness
  • white for purity
  • gold for resurrection

Each base colour is used three times. Layering is used to provide a rich intensity of colour.

Another feature is the interplay of horizontal and vertical lines. In this sense, it has echoes of New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon and his stations of the cross (although McCahonh uses more of a two colour palette).

Together, simple palette, straight lines, rich layers, it actually works. I find myself slowing, pausing. In the concentrating, I find an inviting clarity, a simplicity that reminds me of life’s essence, the reality of Easter. (For those interested, a YouTube video, which includes every piece is here.)

Posted by steve at 05:11 AM