Tuesday, October 21, 2014

life to the full: Boyhood and wellbeing

Over the weekend, I watched Boyhood, the coming of age movie by Richard Linklater. It’s outstanding, following Mason from age five to eighteen. Through his eyes we experience broken marriages, domestic violence, bullying and various male rites of passage deemed essential to contemporary Western cultural life. We face the pain and potential of becoming adult.

Over the weekend, I noted that a school in Western Australia were advertising a new position – Director for the Centre for Boys’ Health and Well-being. It is a new role, to inform the school and wider community through guest speakers, research and publication of best practice and next practice related to the health and well-being of boys of school age. It builds on the Centre for Ethics and the Centre for Pedagogy.

It seems to me to be a new way of the church (in this case it is an Anglican school) doing public theology. Here is a group talking wellbeing (which can be framed as John 10:1 – life to the full).

I loved the meshing of input, research and communicate. I love that it’s research linked closely to actual communities, in this case to school and parents. I love that it’s such a practical response to Boyhood.

Posted by steve at 07:13 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

even better than good news: a reflection on being out of my depth

This week at chapel I led the community. With the lectionary text being the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), I began to reflect on being out of my depth

Last year in the Semester break, we as a family had a mid-winter Cairns holiday. The highlight would the Great Barrier Reef and for months we had pumped up the kids – how exciting it would be to swim in the ocean, see the fish and relax in the sun.

The day arrived and the weather was lumpy. It’s about two hours by boat to get out from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. One of Team Taylor doesn’t do waves well and breakfast duely disappeared.

But this was a family highlight and we keep the kids pumped up. How exciting it would be to swim in the ocean, see the fish and relax in the sun. We arrived and set anchor and duely jumped overboard.

Within about 30 seconds I panicked. I got hit by a wave. I got pushed by the current. My snorkelling face mask got filled with water. I lost contact with my kids. The safety officer on the boat starts whistling at me to stay within the safety area. We’re miles out to sea and the waves are slapping and we’re swimming in deep water and there’s no bottom for miles.

I panic.

Apparently I’m in good company. Bill Bryson in his book on Australia, (In a Sunburned Country) writes of numerous tourists, often men, who step confidently off a boat on the Great Barrier Reef, only to experience significant fear once they’re actually realise how deep they are, with no bottom for miles.

The Bible text, verse 24, say that the disciples are in deep, with no bottom for miles. The Greek is literally “stadios pollous” – many stadia – and a stadia is 100 metres and there are many stadia. Lake Galilee is 5 mile, 8 kilometres across and they are many stadia in the deep.

The disciples are in the deep because Jesus has stayed to pray. This doesn’t make sense to me, I’m not sure how Jesus plans to get across the lake if he’s sent the boat on ahead.

It’s only the second time in Matthew that Jesus is actually recorded as praying. This also doesn’t make sense to me. I would’ve thought Jesus prayer life would have been more important to Matthew.

When the disciples see Jesus, they think he’s a ghost. This also doesn’t make sense to me. He’s your boss for goodness sake and you’ve given up a lot to follow, so surely you’d recognise him.

Peter wants to join Jesus. That’s verse 28 “If it’s really you, command me to come.” This also doesn’t make sense to me. Why wouldn’t Peter stay warm and dry? So the disciples are in the deep and their fear is significant and many things about this passage simply doesn’t make sense to me.

This passage occurs in cluster of passage between chapters 13 and 17 that are doing two things. First, they’re telling us about Jesus. That’s the punch line is verse 33. Truly you are the Son of God. This shouldn’t make sense to me because this about God and by definition God won’t always make human sense. Second, these cluster of passages are telling us about us. That disciples, real dedicated, take up your cross disciples, don’t recognise Jesus. That leaders, real dedicated, take up your cross leaders, at times have little faith.

So this is the good news. That we’re in deep. With no bottom. Which often causes grown men to panic. That Jesus still comes to us. That our levels of faith and our ability to recognise Jesus doesn’t seem to matter. Because Jesus is God. Truly God.

Which is good news for people of faith. That Jesus is God and comes to us.

Which is better news for people who, like Peter, have moments of very little faith. That Jesus is God and comes to us.

Which is even better news for people, like the disciples, who struggle to recognise Jesus. That Jesus is God and comes to us.

May the words of my mouth, and the mediation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God.

Posted by steve at 06:16 PM

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Henry Lawson Fringe act as biographical theology

James McClendon wrote the fabulous Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology. He took four lives – Dag Hammarskjold, Martin Luther King, Jr, Clarence Jordan, and Charles Ives – and used them to consider church doctrine: how theology is illuminated and improvised throughout their lives.

On Saturday, I went to the Adelaide Fringe Festival show – Henry Lawson goes to Princeton – and saw a modern day version of McClendon’s biographical theology.

Ian Coats, one of our adjunct Faculty, completed his PhD at Princeton. He’s also a musician. He’s taken Henry Lawson, Australian storyteller and poet and put his work to music. Supported by a hard working band – violin, drums, double bass, mandolin – over an evening, it was a wonderfully rich musical event.

But alongside the music was the narrative. The songs were carefully arranged by Ian to tell the story of Lawson’s life. It was at this point that the biographical theology emerged, as Lawson’s life was plumbed for wisdom. While Lawson ended his life an alcoholic, other possible pathways were explored – mysticism, friendship, nostalgia, political engagement.

This gave hope. It was authentic, vulnerable and rich.

It also offered choices – how then will we live? And at this point, it became a superb example of biographical theology, of exploring a live listening for wisdom for living. Not through books, but through song.

Well done Ian Coats. Check it out – there are still two more shows, Sunday March 2 and Saturday March 8.


Posted by steve at 09:13 AM

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

After rain: art and a spirituality of encounter

Over the long weekend, hoping to escape work, I picked up William Trevor, After Rain: Stories. Trevor has been called the finest living writer of short stories. He writes with a goal – to “illuminate aspects of the human condition.” I might have read After Rain: Stories wanting to escape work, but spirituality is etched through many of the stories.

The most fascinating is titled After Rain. A young woman, nursing a heart broken by a love affair returns to a childhood holiday spot. With rain falling, she shelters in a church and is captivated by an artist’s rendering of The Annunciation.

She has not been in this church before, neither during her present visit nor in the past. Her parents didn’t bother much with churches.

Harriet becomes absorbed by the painting, by the colours, by the details she hasn’t noticed at first glance. It leads to change.

The rain has stopped when Harriet leaves the church, the air is fresher. Too slick and glib, to use her love affairs to restore her faith in love: that thought is there mysteriously. She has cheated in her love affairs: that comes from nowhere too. Harriet stands a moment longer, alone on the steps of the church, bewildered by this personal revelation, aware instinctively of its truth.

So, an uncertainty toward faith, but a move toward experience, toward truth, toward a changed experience in her world. It’s a turning point in the narrative, from which flows a healing, a restoration, a willingness to face life anew.

And a final sentence, in which the encounter with Annunciation is recalled: “the angel comes mysteriously also.” I took After Rain: Stories to escape from work. I found a faith, formed through art, expressed through words, appreciated in mystery.

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

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

Friday, July 26, 2013

God talk is everywhere

God-talk. It’s everywhere. Now even in my local cafe.

Posted by steve at 05:41 PM

Thursday, February 07, 2013

sense making faith: an invitation to play

I’m playing at the edges in Adelaide after Easter. I’m using the senses to offer a journey of exploration, over 10 weeks. Start with experiences of God through sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and in light of those experiences, what might it mean for church, discipleship and mission.

People engage faith and mission in many ways. Some begin with the head. Others begin with the stories. All are valid. This is about beginning with the body.

I’ve gathered some learning guides – Mark Hewitt, Sarah Agnew – to help me play. It’s in a local church, but can be done for University credit through the channels.

A downloadable PDF is here – Sense Making Faith web.

Posted by steve at 12:44 AM

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 02, 2013

A New Years spirituality – Amsterdam Festival of Lights

The Amstersdam Festival of Lights has been an unexpected treat. For those travelling from a Southern Hemisphere, having darkness fall from 4 pm onwards takes some adjustment. The up side is the chance to play with light.

For the last few years, Amsterdam has maximised this climatic advantage with a Festival of Lights, inviting artists to mount installations in key locations.

Ovo is one installation. In the shape of an egg, it thus suggests new birth. With over 700 lights, each individually able to respond to changes in light, temperature and fog, it proves itself flexible and adaptable. New birth is not a one size fits all, but a uniquely beautiful response to changing environments.

Seeing it today, on the first day of a new year, it became a prayer, for new life in a new year, for beauty that responds to the uniqueness of my changing environment, our changing world.

A time lapse video of the making is here, with the Ovo in full colour, from about 2.11 on.

Amsterdam Light festival: the making of timelapse from Amsterdam Light Festival on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 07:37 AM

Sunday, October 07, 2012

seeking holy ground article

I was asked a few weeks ago to contribute an article to Journey, the Uniting Church of Queensland monthly newspaper. It’s become the front page headline for the October edition – titled Seeking Holy Ground. For those interested, it is here, or below … (more…)

Posted by steve at 03:45 PM

Thursday, August 23, 2012

taking the sense making faith challenge

I was most pleased with how the Magarey lectures whole Bible, whole people, whole mission series of retreat reflections ended. I concluded by pointed out how the whole time had been a risk. They had trusted me and they I had trusted them. Together we had trusted God and it had been rich.

So why not continue this pattern of risk together? In preparation I had identified 5 “sense” projects (gathered from Sense Making Faith Body Spirit Journey). I had typed them up, photocopied them and cut them into separate cards. I walked around the room, inviting folk to take one.

Here was the risk. That rather than me give them some options that they might or might not to when they got back home, that they would commit to do whatever sense project was on the card they chose.

And the next time they gather, to be accountable by telling the stories of what happened.

And then I played the scene from Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, when Lucy steps through the wardrobe into another world. It’s a wonderful 2 minutes of taking a risk, to discover a whole new world. A wonderful invitation, a great ending.

Here were the 5 sense challenges. Dare you to take close your eyes, place your finger on the screen and just do whatever one your finger is closest to ….. (more…)

Posted by steve at 07:01 PM

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

the Pentecost practice of small growth

In February, I gave the three favourite women in my life flowers. Not cut, but living. Each plant was different. One was given an indoor orchid, another a outdoor flowering native shrub, another an outdoor native tree.

The period around Valentines Day in Adelaide is hot. It’s summer and things are dry. It meant that a gift of the day also demanded ongoing care. Each morning I could be found, hose in hand, watering the outdoor natives.

Moving into March, I became quite concerned about one. The soil was dry, the sun hot and significant die-back had appeared.

Yesterday, warming down after my morning run, I was delighted to see new growth, the first fragile signs of life taking root.

And to notice that the indoor orchid was preparing to flower again, a beautiful white and lavender about to emerge.

This week we celebrate Pentecost and move into a season in which we pay particular attention to the work of the Spirit. For me, the miracle of the Spirit, and the task of paying attention, is captured in the fragile new life I see in my garden.

For a while in my late teens, I linked Pentecost with great signs and wonders. I’d leave church looking for the miraculous, the dramatic, the extra-ordinary.

In doing so, I would walk right past what was small, the fragile in my garden, the miracle that is any growth, any sign of life, especially in a hot and barren climate. But the Kingdom that is God’s at times seems to pay more attention to the humble, the small, the insignificant. As Jesus welcomes children, as he avoids the crowds seeking miracles, it becomes a reminder that in God’s economy, all growth is worth celebrating, any new leaf worth paying attention to.

This for me, is the Pentecost practice of small growth.

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

Posted by steve at 05:00 PM

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sense making faith: taste

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

This is superb. The power of the mouth, the potential of taste. That sense of intimacy, the way the mouth functions as useful, a barrier, sensual.

It would be fabulous loop for use during communion. Or for use during the “taste” session when teaching Sense Making faith.

Posted by steve at 10:39 PM