Sunday, July 19, 2015

a “working” holiday – run: write: relax: renovate

The last week has been “working” holiday. It’s been rich and intense. The week followed a daily pattern – Run. Write. Relax. Renovate. It’s a pattern I’d recommend.

In regard to renovate, we have some tasks that have to be completed before we can put the house up for sale. We brought a real do-up a few years back, and the return to New Zealand has placed a deadline on the project. So the week began with a to do list on the family white-board and away we went.


Over the week, we completed 7 of the 11 projects, and made significant progress on 10. The entire outside of the house is now painted. The laundry has a new ceiling, which is painted, along with the walls. A new set of front steps has been framed, cut and concreted. The rear side door has a fresh external coat. The front deck is scrubbed, cleaned and prepared for painting. There has been a really good sort of the garage and kitchen, with some stuff cleaned and packed ready to shift and other stuff taken to the Red Cross.

As well as the 11 tasks, there have also been lots of other tasks done along on the way – a new exterior barge board, stain on a small piece of inside skirting and a side garden built. There are still odd little tasks to do, but we think it’s time to call the agent and hold a “finishing party.”

In regard to write, I have some writing tasks that, like the house, also need to be completed. They include my research on sustainability and fresh expressions. I completed a set of interviews back in 2013. I’ve continued to write but the project remains unfinished. I enjoy writing, so I decided to use the “working” week to experiment with different approach, that of snack-writing. Snack writing involves writing little and often. The idea is that it is better to snack than binge, it is better to write little and often rather than seek big blocks of time.

Practically, snack writing involves trying to write five days a week, first thing in the morning, for no less than 45 minutes and never any more than two hours. The theory is that big blocks are virtually impossible to find in the pressures of contemporary academic world. Also, the brain writes better when it is asked to work little and often. You are more likely to be in a good flow by the end of two hours. That gives the brain something to chew on during the rest of the day. It also raises levels of motivation when you return the next morning as it is easier to return to something that your brain recalls as being in a sweet spot. Finally, a research project found that people who shifted from binge writing to snack writing increased in both quantity and quality. (They produced 2 more peer reviewed articles per year).

So I wrote each day, never for more than two hours. Over the week, I wrote 2,500 words, an average of 500 words a day. I made good progress on a significant chapter that I’ve been struggling with. By the end of the week, I felt I had an significant new section and an overall argument for that chapter. I also realised I had gained greater clarity on the entire project and a clearer, more defined argument has emerged. It had provided a way to ease back into what is currently 9 draft chapters written at various times over the last two years. The result is that I can now tell you in 150 words what the book is about, which is very good thing. For me, for the acquisitions editor and eventually for you, the reader :).

Hence the pattern of the “working” holiday week. Run to pray. Write to snack. Relax with coffee (at our local cafe 3 blocks away). Renovate to return (to New Zealand).

I’d not recommend it as a pattern for every week of my holiday. But it certainly helped me put aside my day job as a Principal. And it provided a lovely pattern that generated momentum and progress on a number of fronts.

Posted by steve at 02:39 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

one year on: missing Dad, Dad dreaming

It’s a year since Dad died, suddenly, but peacefully. I’m taking tomorrow off, to sit with the pain, to watch the video of the funeral, to walk through the memories. Here’s one memory, a summer dream, that keeps me going …

About four months after Dad died, I awoke one night, aware that Dad had just walked through my dreams. I was in a home and walking down a hallway, a door opened and Dad stepped out.

He was wearing long blue jeans, nicely cut and a knitted sweater. He looked good.  I said hello, reaching out to touch the wool as Dad walked past. It was warm and soft.  Dad turned, meeting my gaze and smiling. He appeared younger, happier, gentler. Then silently, he moved on down the hallway.

Waking, lying in a darkened room, I pondered feelings of presence and absence. Dad was there, a presence I could still talk too. Yet Dad was moving on, unable in this dream to talk to me. I felt both comforted and saddened, aware of grace, reminded of grief.

Continuing to ponder the dream in the  days following, it slowly dawned on me that in my dream Dad was walking.

Walking. It had been years since I’d seem him walk. His last years had seen him trapped in a wheel chair.

Christians claim the resurrection of the dead. That Dads will not just walk, but also talk.  Yet in the here and now, my Dad walked, stepping softly, warmly, through my subconscious. The dream offered a new way to connect with my Dad beyond death.  Deep within the recesses of the parts of me that I cannot fathom, cannot control, Dad lives.

And walks. It’s a source of great comfort, while I wait for the end of time, when I’ll find myself not only able to walk, but also to talk.

I miss my Dad.

Posted by steve at 11:25 PM

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

leadership: giftedness or weakness

I hear a lot of talk about leadership giftedness. We have strengths, we have talents, we have “sweet spots” and we are called to find ways to express those. The body of Christ is diverse and we need to offer our uniqueness.

As Lent begins, I’m pondering leadership weakness.

As this first image from Si Smith’s wonderful 40, Jesus packs away what he is has spent a life being good at, packs away the tools of his trade, what gives him security, income and purpose.

And heads off into the wilderness, to places of insecurity and discomfort, where he will meet his inner self, face his temptations.

My strengths give me security. I know I can write and speak and improvise on my feet. I know I can listen well, find a clear phrase, think through a situation.

My strengths can be habitual. I turn to what I know, to what is well worn and familiar. Yet in times of immense transition, the future might actually be found in new habits, new people, new postures.

I wonder what it means if I were to pack away the tools of my trade – turn off the computer, the cell phone – and head into the wilderness. I wonder what temptations would find me.

And whether they are best met by my strength? Or by my weakness?

Posted by steve at 06:24 PM

Friday, January 03, 2014

one of New Zealand’s finest private walks

Team Taylor are having a very relaxing holiday.  Lots of catching up with friends, reading, doing puzzles, reflecting.

New Years included the ceremonial burning – all the stuff from 2013 we wanted to leave behind – and then dancing in hope of a better 2014 with sparklers.

We’re about to head off on the Kaikoura Coast Track, 3 days of walking – off the Christmas dinner! Day pack only, (not a real walk! says one member of Team Taylor) but still a great chance to walk a great piece of Coast. Expecting seals and hoping for a whale sighting!

Posted by steve at 11:35 AM

Saturday, December 14, 2013

flood damage

We headed out to our family holiday home today. It had been hit by floods in June and today was the first time we’ve seen it since. It’s been a place of much happiness and family memory creation, so there was a certain trepidation, wondering what we would find.

We could have had a look in August, when we came back for dad’s funeral. But we had enough grief to cope with at that time and I couldn’t face looking at the bach.

The floods had certainly taken their toll, with over a foot of water through the entire house. Good friends and the insurance company have been hard at work in our absence. Carpet has been lifted and taken away, damaged walls have been cut out, repaired and then painted, new kitchen cupboards installed.

Today was about getting everything outside and sorting. Belongings too damaged in the tip pile, bedding to be washed in another. Every single dish and cultery washed, to remove silt and dried.

We did enough work today that we can move in tomorrow. The day was warm, perfect for drying. It’s hard to believe that six months ago, the entire place was inaccessible, with flood waters over two feet high over the entire village.

We’ve lost a lot of belongings. But we’re glad of insurance. And friends and family, who’ve done so much in our absence. And sunshine and gentle winds, which are so good at airing bedding.

Posted by steve at 06:07 PM

Monday, November 04, 2013

21st Century Theological training – vision radio interview

My radio interview on 20twenty – Life, culture & current events from a Biblical perspective is available here.

Adelaide College of Divinity have introduced some innovative 21st century concepts including study tours and Blended Learning.

Host: Neil Johnson
Guest: Steve Taylor – Principal Uniting College (part of ACD)

I talk about the value of ecumenism in education in a pluralist world and about 3 waves of distance as it impacts upon theological education

  • distance as written
  • distance by broadcast
  • distance by blended learning

I also talk about flipped learning and the rationale for beyond the classroom study tour experiences – those who learn by watching. I finish by reflecting on the imperative of mission in theological education, including the places we go and the books we read if our God is a global God.

“Steve Taylor, you are an inspiration” concludes the radio announcer, Neil Johnson.

Posted by steve at 06:02 PM

Sunday, October 13, 2013

sustainable Sundays

Today we built a solar oven. A few hours at a local community centre, with some cardboard, aluminium foil and glue.

It’s meant to be able to cook pretty much anything, simply using the heat of the sun – casseroles, corn on the cob, potatoes, cup cakes, bread, eggs. It takes a few hours to cook. Which was part of the pleasure and promise, the hint of a different pace of life, a more sustainable Sunday.

It was too wet outside to try but here’s a video of how it’s meant to work. (Although being a vegetarian I’ll be trying something different)

Posted by steve at 09:29 PM

Sunday, October 06, 2013

offspring has sprung

My time with the Presbyterian church at Offspring is over. Very rich. But very intense.

Lots of personal encouragements – seeing former students and Christchurch pastoral colleagues – realising my Out of Bounds Church? book has born fruit – some fascinating interaction on mission, fresh expressions, pioneering, leadership and sustainability.

My input sessions seemed to go well – it was great to be telling NZ mission history stories alongside some Australian mission history stories I’ve picked up in my travels – to be able to bring indigenous gifts from Australia across the Tasman.

The highlight was hearing the stories of four Kiwi pioneer ventures, and realising afresh that God is still up to lots, albiet in fresh ways, in New Zealand. I’d love to write up some of these reflections and missiology I see emerging.

But not now.

First a precious 24 hours to pop back to Christchurch and see Mum, and together continue to process the loss of Dad. Nothing like Mum’s mock white-bait fritters.

Posted by steve at 03:39 PM

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

praying our goodbyes: a book soaked in memories

Some books are soaked in memories. I pulled Joyce Rupp’s Praying Our Goodbyes off the book shelf yesterday. It offers a range of ways to grieve. This includes a selection of rituals for different situations that life deals us – terminating a relationship, feeling betrayed, farewell, living with constant pain. And for each, some Scripture, some prayer, some action.

The book has been so well used that as I opened it the pages fell out. I held them, remembering the times I’d used it – our struggles with infertility, twice in 9 months being turned down for a job I thought would be ideal, the pastoral transition away from a loved church family, some difficult work situations. And how different those situations seem now, 5 and 10 years later. Felt the pain, still. Yet realised, almost laughed in delight, at the different trajectories now in play.

And reflecting on the truthfulness of these words from Joyce

for the Christian, hello always follows goodbye in some form if we allow it. There is, or can be, new life, although it will be different from the life we knew before. The resurrection of Jesus and the promises of God are too strong to have it any other way. (Joyce Rupp Praying Our Goodbyes, 15)

Posted by steve at 09:02 AM

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dad’s death and Christian approaches to suffering

Thursday was my first time back leading the Uniting College team meeting since Dad’s funeral. I decided to share some of what I’ve been thinking and feeling and reading since his death. This had a number of potential dangers. First, the risk of being simply self-therapy. Second, that others in the team have also recently suffered loss, so an uncertainty how my story might connect with their story. At the same time, this is the team that have supported me in prayer and love (cards and calls and care, including gathering to lit a candle as prayer on the day I flew to New Zealand) and a team what is seeking to grow deeper with each other in all of life.

I began by sharing a number of photos that might help capture for the team some of my experience of the funeral. It is wierd when you bury your Dad in a different country, and so I live between two worlds, one of which does not know my dad, nor was able to be with me as the funeral happened.

First, my mums fingers around dad’s ring has he died. That sense of faithful love over so many years.

Second, building our own coffin for Dad, some building, some drilling, some decorating.

Third, the invitation at the funeral to sign the coffin, allowing individual engagement with the reality of Dad’s death.

And then some theological reflection. A few words from a poem, on the importance of pain in the forming of faith

“We must feel
The pulse in the wound
To believe.” Denise Levertov, On belief in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus.

And some words from Justin of Norwich, in which pain and suffering are asked for, as a way of loving God. It is a spirituality so counter to so much of contemporary Western culture, in which we are so keen to live young endlessly.

“And it suddenly occurred to me that I should entreat our Lord graciously to give me the second wound [ ], so that he would fill my whole body with remembrance of the feeling of his blessed Passion, as I had prayed before; for I wanted his pains to be my pains, with compassion, and then longing for God … I want to suffer with him, while living in my mortal body, as God would give me grace.” (Julian of Norwich, RDL, 3)

It led to a rich discussion, a story about the richness for a community when suffering was faced, tears for those we love who continue to suffer, a reminder of the positive impact of suffering on our character formation.

(Both readings from the chapter on Julian Norwich in Disability in the Christian Tradition: A Reader)

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Eulogy for John Cuthbert Taylor

My task, my privilege, on behalf of the family is to reflect on John Cuthbert Taylor – as husband, dad, father-in-law, granddad.

For the three Taylor sons, our childhood is defined by Dad and our Dad is defined by PNG.

Holidays using coconut palm leaves as a toboggan to fly into Lake Murray,
the family fondue and games nights – playing Careers,
the three hour church services in Gogodala,
the standards of behaviour expected at the three hour church services from the three sons of the foreign missionary.

All of us as sons were raised in PNG and it’s only in hindsight that one can begin to appreciate the way it shaped us. The values it instilled across cultures. And the costs, for Dad and for us.

For the grandchildren, Grandad meant Wethers Original lollies from his special tin. His smile of welcome. His genuine interest in their lives. And wheel chair rides.

For Mum, Cuth Taylor meant 53 years of companionship. A shared sense of call. Mutual support. In health, and more recently, in sickness

I still remember the phone call from Dad with the news that he’d been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I remember him struggling emotionally to share the news of this disease that was attacking his nervous system. For which there is no known cure. (As yet)

Dad was in his late 50s when he was diagnosed. It would’ve been easy to respond with anger, self-absorbed bitterness. Instead I watched as Dad used those years to grow. To find new ways to contribute – through prayer, in care. I’ve watched him go through the Opawa Baptist church phone directory, person by person. Realising that he was keeping better track of newcomers than most people in the church.

Not that dad was perfect. He could withdraw from conflict. He could hide his emotions. He could work too hard. Not that anyone’s perfect.

Last year for Fathers Day I gave dad a memory book. A series of questions – favourite childhood holiday, his first job – that might help capture his memories before they became lost in the confusion that is Alzheimers.

One question asks – What are the proudest moments of your life. Dad wrote of his first century in cricket. Getting married – to you Mum. Birth of his sons – Chris, Dave and even me. And how he coped with MS.

At first glance it’s an unusual thing to be proud of. But this is what he wrote:

“God’s goodness to me and my growth in Him since my MS was diagnosed. I used to .. ask God why he allowed old people to get sick. But I now know the answer – are we still prepared to trust God even when we are sick. Yes I am!!”

John Cuthbert Taylor – husband, dad, father-in-law, granddad. Remembered by us, admired by us, loved by us – for his character.

Posted by steve at 12:48 PM

Friday, August 30, 2013

tomorrow we’ll build a coffin

My Dad died yesterday, peacefully, surrounded by some close family. After many years of battling debilitating illness, it was a relief to have a passing so swift and peaceful.

Today we met with the funeral director and after a fairly intense planning suggestion, a slightly light-hearted question was asked.

Do we have to purchase a brought coffin?

No came the answer.

And with increasing energy, we began to explore the possibilities of building, then decorating, our own. It would be a group project while we wait for the funeral. It would be an act of love. It would help us process our emotions. It would connect us, personally, with what is happening. It would allow different family groups – some builders, some decorators, some cup of tea makers, to be at work.

We each do our little bit.

Saturday update: Friday night the plan was made, with a bit of help from the internet. Saturday morning we confirmed the plan and brought the pine. Saturday afternoon we built the base, sides, handles and lid. The grandkids did lots of the drilling, while the adults supervised and guided. A really rich time of participation and learning.

Saturday evening update: And now, in the evening, after dinner, a blonde wood stain. It has brought out the pine wood, offered some sense of a proper finish, and laid the foundation for the decorator crew on Sunday. A different group of participants were involved in this painting phase, folk who felt they could contribute via paint, more than hammer and drill.

Sunday evening: With the coffin built, today became a day of decoration. Each person found a spot around the sides – a panel for each family. Some used words, others song lyrics, others stencils, beads or lolly wrappers. Across the generations words of love and memory were inscribed. The coffin is now individualised, made with love, decorated with care. The lid has been kept free and before the funeral, participants will be invited to add their words of memory. It has been a rich, full weekend. The activity has created memories and given us something to storytell together, as we seek to find new ways to relate and connect as a family.

Monday morning: So the funeral director returned to take away the coffin. She seemed genuinely impressed, moved by the heartfelt decorations on the side and the extensive number of screws used to hold down the lid.

It felt good to help her load the coffin into the hearse.

And then to close the boot and realise that I’d personally been able to be part of making what would carry Dad for his final physical journey, first to the church tomorrow and finally into cremation.

We built that. For Dad

(The problems were to emerge later that day. Our coffin handles were great for multiple hands to hold, but not good for sliding into the crematorium chamber. Thankfully, the funeral directors took the initiative and added some sheeting on the bottom, to allow for a smoother roll.)

Tuesday at the funeral: As hoped, a handmade coffin, already decorated, proved a big of a magnet. The service was from 3:30pm, with refreshments and fellowship from 2 pm. This included the invitation for folk to sign the coffin and/or leave a message. It was wonderful seeing folk gathered around the coffin, reading, talking, interacting, messaging. It allowed another layer of storytelling and helped people connect with the reality of Dad’s death.

We made a backup plan. If we’re not successful by Monday, we can go back to the catalogue. Which gives us two days to see what we can produce.

Posted by steve at 07:30 PM

Friday, June 28, 2013

5 cities in 4 climes

It was a bit of a major headturner trying to pack last night – packing for the frost of Christchurch, followed by the showers of Auckland, then the tropics of Cairns; thinking about what to wear to visit my parents, speak at a conference, lounge on a beach, attend national Uniting Church meetings.

Here’s the upcoming schedule.

  • Friday 28 June – fly today from Adelaide to Christchurch. While in Sydney, I catch up with my supervisor, who will put me through me leadership paces and find some area we agree I need to grow in
  • Saturday 29 June – morning with my parents in Christchurch, catching up after being away for too long!
  • Sunday 30 June – presenting an academic paper – Ecclesiology and ethnography downunder – at ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Studies), being held this year at Laidlaw College, Auckland
  • Wednesday 3 July – with the conference over, and after a Tuesday catching up with good friends, flying to Cairns for a week of family holiday
  • Wednesday 10 July – fly to Brisbane, first do the theme parks on Gold Coast, then to enjoy more family time, including with extended family, on the Sunshine Coast
  • Sunday 15 July – fly to Sydney, first for a one day consultation on the impact of multi-cultural identities on leadership formation, followed by annual national Ministry Education Meetings
  • Wednesday 18 July – return to Adelaide

All in all, a major exercise in moving between various contexts. It also means I’m not at all sure how much blogging there will be in the next few weeks.

Posted by steve at 07:52 PM

Friday, March 08, 2013

a three-peat publication day

Three things I’ve written, for three totally different sources, all arrived today, all in final published form.

  • “Starting Old: A re-resurrection,” an article in Australian Leadership 5, 5 (February/March 2013), 15-17. (Subscription to e-version of available here)
  • “Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” a chapter in Interfaces: Baptists and Others, edited by David Bebbington and Martin Sutherland, Paternoster, 2013, 292-307. (Available here)

I will try and blog more on each over the next week. But in brief “Starting Old: A re-resurrection,” was a commissioned piece on what I’d learned about change and leadership after 6 years spent in renewing an established church. “Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” offers a theology of gospel and culture for the emerging church. “U2″ is a short piece for a dictionary of popular culture.

When you’re in the midst of writing, having something arrive all finished is a great motivation. But having three things is, well, almost intoxicating.

But also sobering. It makes real the length and detours of the writing process. One of the pieces began life as part of a chapter in my PhD in 2004, was delivered at a conference in 2009 and submitted that same year. That’s a long incubation.

Enough distraction. Back to the writing Steve Taylor.

Posted by steve at 03:23 PM