Saturday, July 20, 2013

defining church, community, theology, formation and College

Just an advertisement for a car company. And yet –
if a picture says a 1,000 words, then this is a powerful visual question –
what type of church, community, theology, formation and College do we want to be part of?

And if so, how then should we act, what should we practice, what should we affirm?

Posted by steve at 08:27 PM

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Faith as snorkelling

I went snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef this week. (As you do when you live in Australia!) It struck me that snorkelling does have some interesting connections to faith.

It takes a degree of trust, that a thin tube will provide oxygen, that a rogue wave won’t drown you. Related, it assumes immersion, that the only way to snorkel is to snorkel. You can theorise all you want, but at some point you have to immerse yourself in trust. Same with faith, it is a whole bodied immersion in trust.

It can make all sorts of logical sense. The guidebook explains, the guides have gone before, it is reasonable to rely on air through a tube. But despite Scripture, tradition, reason, experience is essential.

That trust is a process. Their is the first brief head plunge with your whole world consumed by survival. Am I breathing? After a while you realise you have energy to look, see, explore. Same with faith, a process by which more and more is opened up.

The result is this realisation you live at the same time in two worlds. Head up, in the pitch and roll and slap of ocean waves. Or immersed in the quiet underwater of a world of exquisite beauty and wonder.

Snorkelling and faith.

Posted by steve at 12:38 PM

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

transition zones

I spent part of yesterday walking the Auckland Art Gallery. After an academic conference, art is exactly what I need.

I spend quite a bit of time contemplating Ralph Hotere’s Godwit/Kuaka. It was commissioned in 1977 for the Auckland airport. At over 20 metres, it is a stunning piece of work. The godwit is known for its migration patterns, flying thousands of miles, to land, exhausted, in New Zealand.

Contemplating the art gave me time to reflect on my flight patterns. First, just about to fly to Cairns for 10 days holiday with the rest of Team Taylor. Yeehaa. So a transition zone personally and as a family.

Second, having just finished being part of a conference, hosted at Laidlaw College, where I used to teach, catching up with old friends, so talking about journeys, hearing about journeys. And then spending the Tuesday and Wednesday with great friends from our Graceway-Auckland-church planting days.

Third, it was just over a year ago that I began as Principal at Uniting College. I drove to work with heart pounding, and settled into a whole new role. A year on, there is much to reflect upon, regarding the changes this role is making in me and requiring of me.

Here is the poem that sits beside the Hotere art work.

Death/exhaustion rises up
It is the rope, koakoa (the cry of the bird)
Binding you to here to me
The cry/chattering of the flock

Come closer together
From inside its throat – a marauding party
A godwit
A godwit that hovers

One bird
Has settled on the sand bank
It has settled over there
It has settled over there
They have settled there

There is such fascinating interplay in this poem between distance and closeness, between here and there. It is exhausting. Yet in the exhaustion, companions are found, the here and there is blurred. Such a deep sense of community and discovery is evoked. I left the gallery glad of godwits, of art, of journeys, of migrants, of settlers, of friends, both here and there, of communities old and new, new and old.

Posted by steve at 12:45 PM

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

bush theology

I’ve been on study leave the last few days. I booked out the time back in June to be in Tasmania with Cheryl Lawrie feeling art and space. That fell over.

So I’ve gone walking instead. About 25 minutes from home is the Onkaparinga National Park, which includes 17 km of gorge.

The plan has been simple. Walk and read. I’ve immersed myself in 2 Corinthians. The first day I read the entire book just for flow. Today I read it for images of mission. Walk for 20-30 minutes then read a few chapters. Walk again – Pondering what it means for mission, for leadership, for spirituality.

It’s been exactly what I needed. No internet access. Hard physical work. That sense of nurture being held deep by earth. Engagement with Scripture.

And along the way, some bush theology.

  • Spirituality needs rapids and calm pools, shelter and sun. Both are to be enjoyed and appreciated.
  • If you keep casting about there’s usually a path.
  • Feeling lost generates anxiety. It can be lifegiving to ponder what generates anxiety and where is God in those moments of anxiety.
  • Essential to renewal is giving space for earth to heal itself.
Posted by steve at 08:44 PM

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

the unforced rhythms of pace

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Matthew 11:28-30

It’s been a busy wee period. Then suddenly, late last week, a half day meeting for today (Wednesday) was cancelled. Immediately I dashed into my diary the words “Booked” and headed for some balcony time. It’s a phrase from Ron Heifitz, who argues that if life is a dance, we need time to get far enough above the fray to see the key patterns, to gain perspective on conflict, to nurture relationships, to find sanctuary and recover a sense of purpose.

My first balcony task was to buy a new journal, as my current one was pretty close to full. In the process, I saw a playful pen, which I decided was just what my office needs. Plus, being in the shape of a flower, it felt symbolic. There are some lovely signs of fresh life springing up at Uniting College – new initiatives in regional delivery taking shape, the possibility of one year courses in chaplaincy and leadership and some new team practices and culture.

By early afternoon I was back at my desk, needing to work on mission shaped ministry teaching (hence the background image on my laptop – the Sony Bravia ad! – an illustration for a session on Engaging the community). But the “Booked” morning had been so beneficial – cafe time to reflect on what God is doing and beginning to isolate the next set of questions that might need to be asked.

A wise older minister once commented that part of sustainability in ministry is working the rhythms of grace. Yes, there will always be busy times. So when the slow times come, don’t fill them. Instead “book” them for balcony time.

Posted by steve at 10:05 PM

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

finding my Baptist story in the Uniting story

The front of my Masters thesis has the following inscription:

The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from [God's] holy Word.

It was 1996 and I was training to be a Baptist minister in New Zealand. Exploring mission (in this case analysing contextual images of the atonement as part of post-graduate research) it was liberating to discover these words in an old Baptist hymn book and their origin in a sermon, preached by an early Pilgrim father, John Robinson, in July 1620.

Growing in my Baptist identity, I felt a connection. This was a history I found inspiring. Here were people who prized religious freedom and radical discipleship, who had a way of seeing God that looked forward, that expected growth and innovation.

Imagine my surprise last week, some 16 years later, in another country, in another denomination, to hear these very same words quoted. Not only quoted, but then to be invited to sing the very hymn, from which the words come (We limit on the truth of God).

No, not in a Baptist church, but in a recent worship service here at Uniting College. The service, part of our monthly Leadership Formation Day, was shaped by an invitation for us in the Uniting Church to remember the Great Ejection, a moment in history this month some 350 years ago, when non-conformists where forced out the Church of England.

During the service, four candles were lit.

As each was lit, a part of this story was named, various leaders celebrated, the importance of religious freedom and radical discipleship named. It was explained to us that the Uniting Church was formed from three denominations. Now, in the three years that I’ve been around the Uniting Church, I’ve heard a lot about the Methodist and the Presbyterian roots. But there is a third partner, the Congregationalist church. And here in chapel, this previously silent member of the family, the Congregatationalist part, was being given voice.

“the Congregational mind: in taste, catholic; in feeling, evangelical; in expression, scholarly; in doctrine, orthodox.’” (Bernard Lord Manning)

I sat open mouthed, amazed, that what was a very important part of my Baptist story, was also part of the Uniting Church story, also named, repeated, honoured. My (Baptist) long lost traveling companions are also Uniting Church long lost traveling companions. We share similar forebears.

(For those who think that what happened 350 years ago is dry and dusty, it’s worth noting that earlier this year, a Service of Reconciliation was held at Westminster Abbey. Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, preached at the service, in which the Anglican church sought forgiveness for the Great Ejection. Here is some of what Rowan preached –

‘Until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’ [Ephesians 4.13]

Our Christian faith is something constantly growing, constantly moving towards greater maturity, a greater approximation toward the stature of Christ. And as we grow we need for our maturing, challenges that push us away from infantile faith.)

Posted by steve at 09:45 PM

Monday, August 13, 2012

nature’s blessing

After a full day at work, in which in spite of my best efforts, the unrelenting email increased and the jammed calendar got a few more appointments stuffed in it, it was a gift to encounter this

blossom, gently laid during the day over my car windscreen.

I drove home aware of being given a gift, being offered a totally different way of looking at work – not as offices in which I work long and hard, but as a place open to grace, to the gentle gift of natures nurture.

(For another blossom experience, see B=Blossom in my ever expanding Dictionary of everyday spirituality).

Posted by steve at 07:13 PM

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I had a dream

I awake early last week, aware that I had a dream.

I had been given a guitar, well-worn, well-loved, well-strummed. Not mine, but a gift to tend and care.

As you do, I began to tune it, tightening the strings. Satisfied with the results, I laid it aside and went to make a cup of tea.

Returning to play the newly tuned guitar, I was saddened to see that half the strings were broken. They had not survived the tightening.

Which left me pondering. Should I have tightened the strings more slowly? Might they then not have broken?

But then again, might it be better for the guitar to have new strings anyway? The sound will be cleaner, truer.

Although, then again, new strings are also tricky. They are known for their ability to easily slip out of tune and thus require constant ongoing care and attention.

“I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Genesis 41.15

Posted by steve at 11:13 PM

Monday, June 25, 2012

nature’s baptism

Overnight it had rained. Truth be told, overweek it has rained here in Adelaide, making the ground sodden and the trees laden with rain.

As I left the house, I noticed a flash of red and green. Our front yard is currently host to a pair of parrots, outrageous in their bright red crest, raucous in their squawks of delight as they place chase with each other from tree to tree.

As they landed, their weight caused branches, laden with rain, to shake vigorously. Water cascaded, sheets of white, unleashed from a branch of green, by these playful red crested visitors. A full immersion indeed.

In the Scriptures, so often birds are linked with the Spirit’s visit. Have I just participated in nature’s baptism – appreciated again her noise, colour and water? Heard afresh “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”? Been invited anew to creation’s plays?

Posted by steve at 12:19 PM

Monday, June 11, 2012

“All the locals said it couldn’t be done”

A long weekend here in Australia and my family decided it was time to drag me away from the renovation project. We found some accommodation on a beachfront and have had a rich time. This is the sun setting on Sunday evening out our front window.

Highlights included
- the Queens Birthday banquet. In what is becoming an annual tradition, Team Taylor decide an extensive menu with different family members taking responsibility for different courses. This year it was eight courses – nibbles, soup, fish/meat, vegetables, salad, dessert, cheese platter and drinks.
- beach walks, coffee, bakery pies from Port Noarlunga.
- Star Trek. We are making our way with the kids through the movie series.
- meeting an entrepreneur in Myponga, chatting with him about how he took a disused mushroom factory and turned it into a farmers market. “Locals told me it couldn’t be done and it wouldn’t last more than 2 months. That was back in 2000.” I love those sort of stories and meeting these sorts of people.
- exploring Old Noaralunga, including the historic St Philip and St James Anglican Church and the Onkaparinga River. I think I’ve found a “thinking place” – close to the city, yet so isolated – that might serve me well in the next season of ministry that is beckoning me.

Posted by steve at 07:10 PM

Friday, May 04, 2012

faith development: more than a guy thing part 2

Yesterday I raised some questions about the place of gender in faith development. I noted the work of Nichola Slee, Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes. Her work emerges from interviews with 30 women, which resulted in some 1500 pages of transcribed interviews. She then read these narratives alongside a number of conversation partners – faith development theory and women’s spirituality.

She suggests these women develop through a three part process,

  • of alienation
  • of awakenings
  • of relationality

She then makes four broad applications, to those in formal theological education, to those involved in any educational or pastoral care context in church life, to women’s networks and groupings.

First, to ground practice in women’s experience. She suggests making a priority of more inductive and experiential approaches to education. She also suggesting bringing to greater visibility women’s lives. (A simple check list I used in this regard, when I used to preach regularly, was check my sermon illustrations and quotes to make sure I had gender balance, as many women examples as men).

Second, create relational and conversational spaces, for “women’s spirituality was profoundly relational in nature, rooted in a strong sense of connection to others, to the wider world and to God as the source of relational power.” (Slee, 173) Slee suggests we look at our environments, ways to create circles not rows, and processes by which everyone speaks no less than once and no more than twice.

Third, foregrounding of imagination, given “the remarkable linguistic and metaphoric creativity of women as they seek to give expression to their struggles to achieve authentic selfhood, relationships with others, and connectedness to ultimate reality.” (Slee, 175). She notes historically how much of women’s theology was embedded in poetry, hymnody, craft forms and popular piety. So we need to find ways to weave this into our “reading” and our talking.

“Yet educators need to go beyond the use of such artistic resources to the active encouragement of learners to engage in artistry as a way of exploring and discerning truth.” (Slee, 177)

Practically, this can include Ignation practices, working with the texts of Biblical women, seeking to recreate their lives “between the lines of patriarchal texts.” (177)

Fourth, of accompanying into silence and paradox. Faith development involves times when we find ourselves in places which have no words. “They require the creation of spaces for waiting, for silence, for apparent nothingness.” (Slee, 178) Helpful resources here can include Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil.

Slee is aware that these suggestions are not new. But from her experience of (British) theological institutions, there is room for growth.

Posted by steve at 11:57 AM

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

icons as spiritual practise

Last year, as a thank you gift for their ministry here in Adelaide, I gave John and Olive Drane an icon I had “written.” They now want to use it as a resource, both in worship and in a class they are running on worship later this year. So they asked if I might shoot a “homemade” video, reflecting on the spirituality of icons.

I thought I’d also place it on the blog, in case any of my readers are interested – why do I “write” icons? what is a “pioneer” icon? how do icon’s work as theology and for spirituality? how to craft an icon?

A short personal reflection on the icon as spiritual practise.

Two most helpful books in getting me started as an icon “writer”:

And for those who can’t access the video, here are my notes in preparation to speak (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:44 PM

Monday, February 13, 2012

project progress: some first signs of life

A first sign of new life over the weekend at our house/project, with seeds germinating. They are a “cottage garden” mix, given to one of our kids in the “transition pack” we gave them as part of the move. Planted, last Sunday, protected by wire in case the 3 cats the previous owner has left behind try to take revenge, they are sprouting by our front deck.

They are a small sign of hope in what has been a week on the home front we would prefer to forget. The day we moved the builders decided to sand the gib, which meant all our stuff now sports a fine film of gib dust. The next day one of the subbies did a runner, with their replacement following suit a few days later. We are perched in the top part of the house, one of the kids sleeping on a sofa in the lounge, while we wait for the builders to finish. The other child has been sick, suffering asthma symptoms, trying to rest in a house filled with gib dust!

So finding even the tiniest sign of growth, the smallest sign of new life, is important.

I am using this post as a prayer, adding as a comment the initials of a person/place which today I want to experience life. You might like to pray with me, adding initials for a person or place in which you would like to see God breathe fresh life.

Posted by steve at 04:09 PM

Sunday, February 05, 2012

the project is prayer: a renovation spirituality

Two weeks ago, we took possession of a project. It is a real mission – every room but the bathroom and laundry needs work. Some rooms had holes in the walls, others had no ceiling.

It has meant an enormous amount of effort, removing previous occupiers animal odours, pulling up carpets, gibbing, plastering, building. We have a deadline in which to be out of our current place, and ideally would like to have at least a few rooms we can sleep in, and store our stuff in.

Today, tiredly, I faced another day of “house work” and wondered what God was up to in all this?

And as I waited, I reflected on the idea that work is prayer. I have some things that greatly concern me, and I realised that the house was connected to these concerns. In other words, every minute I work on the house I am actually responding to the things that concern me. This means that “house work” is literally prayer.

Now the danger is that I think my work will help. And thus prayer simply becomes me trying to resolve the things that concern me.

Yet I began to wonder if there is a deeper way to appreciate the hard work? If work is prayer, then every scrape of sandpaper, every swing of a hammer, is an embodiement of “Give us this day our daily bread”/God resolve these concerns I bring to you.

I left for work with a different, more prayerful, angle on which to find God in the days activities.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading R is for renovation).

Posted by steve at 08:47 AM