Sunday, November 02, 2014

looking up

I love the creativity by which spaces are changed. Here is a wonderful example from our recent holiday in Turkey. The interior of a large room, and from the ceiling had been hung bright yellow coloured rings.


Walking inside, we noted a change of colour, from yellow to green, along with a change of shape. It seemed invitation, pointing toward another room.

lookingup green

They had even placed a swing inside. Which sure enough, you were allowed to play on. I watched a young child head straight for the swing, and another young couple enjoy some fun together.


It changed the entire look and feel of the place, from large and stark, to playfully invitational. I have no idea why (not being fluent in Turkish) but it was a memorable and striking way to invite us to “look up.” It created interaction, built conversation with strangers (Wow, what is it?) and offered a set of memories that walked with us into our week.

A church could use their “looking up” to change with the colours of the church year, to hang angels at Advent, to create more intimate surroundings in winter. For a positive, practical, example, Cityside Baptist in Auckland were superb. They had strung wire across their auditorium and this allowed them to attach spots, but also to provide a range of creative offerings – flowers, poppies at Anzac Day.

Up is as much of a space to be curated as the front. (For more on curating and worship; see Jonny Baker, Curating Worship and Mark Pierson, The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader)

Posted by steve at 09:30 PM

Friday, February 07, 2014

writing in grief

I lost my Dad suddenly last August. Which has launched me on another, major, grief journey.

One of the impacts has been on my writing. Essentially, since Dad died, I’ve struggled to write. I have a complex job and that absorbs a lot of mental energy. It involves some deep work with people and that’s been intense and absorbing. Before Dad died, there was some drive to keep using what little mental space I had left for writing, some energy to get up early and steal a few hours in a cafe. But since Dad died, either work has got bigger, or people more intense. Or I’ve lost something.

I’m also aware that one way to deal with grief is to compartmentalise and remain in one’s head, rather than experience emotions. This has made me nervous (become a convenient excuse?) about getting back into writing, especially given some of the more academic type writing projects I was invested in.

I’ve done a few things (monthly film reviews and study leave). But that ability to grab a few hours here and there, at the start or end of a day, which can keep writing projects quietly ticking along – that has gone.

In late October, I became aware of a writing project (working title Farewelling Our Fathers). It was an attempt to connect mens’ studies with mens’ experiences. It is seeking to collect eulogies from about 30 different men – around 2,000 words each reflecting on farewelling their dads – with recent literature on how men of my generation (40 and up) were taught to relate to our fathers, and our fathers to us.

In other words, a pastoral theology, reflecting on masculinity and death. It sounded intriguing, a potentially rich mix of head, heart and culture. I wondered if it might help me process my grief, might let me attend to head and heart, might draw words from me, might ease me back into writing.

It’s been really, really difficult. Going back into the emotions, trying to find the words. It’s like stepping into uncertain terrain, not sure what emotions will emerge, needing to be in a space that allows those emotions to emerge in ways that don’t effect my work and colleagues.

Over the weekend, my daughter needed to be in town for a 2 and a half hour event. It opened up a space, one that was helpfully defined by time, one that was personal. I found a cafe and found the reserves to do a complete edit.

Off to the editor!

I’m sure it will come back for further work, but it was a milestone, the first major writing project since Dad died. I’m not sure it will make future writing any easier. But I’m glad the first major thing I’ve written since Dad died has been so costly, has been about him and has been creative, heartfelt, spiritual and a seeking for integration.

And I still miss my Dad. Daily.

Posted by steve at 09:25 AM

Friday, October 18, 2013

stoned: memories of mission and ministry

I took this picture of a memorial stone that sits on Hutt Street, a stone in the middle of a park, surrounded by fast moving cars in a busy part of central city Adelaide.

It struck me at the time as a fascinating way to reflect on time and progress. Times have certainly changed since that first mass ever in Adelaide was celebrated. The reality of that moment was fleeting – the celebration of Mass was primarily for those present at that time, at that place, to nurture their faith and discipleship.

And that celebration of Mass has certainly spread since 1840. Now all over Adelaide today, Sunday by Sunday, Christ is proclaimed and embodied.

In the Incarnation, the physicality of God made flesh, Christians are offered two types of embodiment. One, physically, in place. Another, in human lives and actions. Both are invitations to memory.

The picture thus sets up a fascinating contrast between memory embodied in lives and practices, and memory embodied in physical objects. The physicality of memory – whether a stone or a building – becomes contrasted with the ongoing reality of God in our world and our response, of nurturing faith and discipleship.

We’re all being called to trust in that God and to believe that the impulse – to teach, to nurture – will continue no matter what physical context.

Posted by steve at 11:30 AM

Friday, November 09, 2012

2020 learning spaces

Help me please.

On Tuesday I will spend 3 hours with some architects. They will look at me and ask:

  • if you had a brand new building, what spaces would you need to grow leaders in innovation and invigoration?
  • what furnishings would you like inside those spaces?

So, my friends, help me ….

Posted by steve at 10:09 PM

Friday, September 28, 2012

campFIRE: another rural adventure

I’m packing my bags for another rural adventure, this time in Western Australia, joining around 120 folk who are camping over the long weekend at Yearling. It’s called campFire.

Looking at my diary, I realised that it’s the 5th working weekend in 7 (glad I said no to the 6th!). Which is a bit much really. And it meant putting 3 members of Team Taylor on a plane to the home country (Aotearoa) yesterday, while I fly the opposite way for a weekend. Which has been quite hard psychologically.

So I am struggling with how to both cope with the busy and stressful side of being a Principal and to be out among churches. The latter is great for the College, but not for the tasks that keep crossing my work desk. My Scripture reading this morning was 2 Cor 9:10

Now God who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed.

Part of my seed is my creativity and I’m still trying to work out how that gets “supplied” and “increased.”

But enough personal therapy! At campFire I’ve been asked to talk about Fresh Expressions of Mission in the Bible and the Early Church and in order to do that, I’m going to try something I’ve not done before. I’m going to focus the bulk of my time around some creative re-telling of the Biblical stories, mix that with some alternative worship stations – some tactile fabric, some art images, some boat making, some work in groups. Not sure how that more intuitive, less linear approach will go, but looking forward to working in that space.

Posted by steve at 01:10 PM

Sunday, February 19, 2012

an eastern state thing

Enjoying Perth which seems to have such a relaxed vibe. I Was quickly made aware yesterday here in Perth of the eastern states factor, the distrust, the independence. An interesting dynamic.

People are very engaged and hospitable. The speaking team have offered a really rich and diverse input.

Posted by steve at 02:01 PM

Thursday, January 05, 2012

holiday reading

In between choosing paint, preparing to paint and actually painting, there has been some (not much) time for reading.

Ford County: Stories by John Grisham is just delightful. It involves a number of short stories, linked by a theme of place (Ford Country), and by various legal comings and going. Delightfully structured, they are a reminder that Grisham is a bestseller because he is a superb user of the craft of plot and character. The final story is the best, a moving reflection on what it is like to be an AIDS victim.

I’ve also been watching episodes from Rev, a BBC comedy about a vicar running a modern inner-city church, which gained BAFTA comedy award in 2011.

It was a Christmas gift, but as I watched I began to wonder if it might be useful for the Church, Ministry, Sacraments blockcourse I am co-teaching in February.

Posted by steve at 01:27 PM

Friday, December 09, 2011

urban advent installations

Great urban Advent idea from Sanctus1 in Manchester. They have created 24 advent shrines all over the city centre. A different artist has taken responsibility for the 24 days of Advent and the “shrines” are then placed in different locations around the city centre.

This is for December 7th, located in the Midland Hotel.

This is the second of five shrines to be located at the hotel, occupying a no-longer-in-use phone booth. Hotels and inns have been places of gathering, shelter and hospitality for centuries. This shrine relates to part of the Christmas story, where Mary and Joseph were trying to find somewhere to stay in Bethlehem, but all the hotels were booked up. Pray for those needing shelter and warmth on these cold winter nights.

I like the transient nature of these, the sense of here today, gone tomorrow surprise that is engendered as these pop up around the city.

I like the vulnerability, the sense that these are precious art, yet could be damaged, graffiited, destroyed. That in itself is a Christian and Advent message, the sense of being given a precious gift, that we can chose to ignore.

I like the everydayness of these, that you are invited to pray not at special times inside a special building, but in the midst of your working, walking life.

I like the public nature of these acts of worship, the Christmas story started not inside a church, but in the public domain, in the bustle of life.

What remains unresolved for me in all these public spiritual installation art is the relationship between authentic presence in a branded culture. Or as I wrote a few years ago in relation to the Christmas Journey:

The tension between whether the [public spiritual installation art] should act like an interactive signboard or the foyer of a building. Should each [public spiritual installation art] stand alone, as a signboard? Or should the [public spiritual installation art] be like a foyer, that welcomes and points people toward church or Christianity in some way? The concept of gift is important. Many churches offer subtle switch and bait operations. Should the [public spiritual installation art] be offered as a gift, with no strings attached? Or should they come with a subtle price tag. (This could include invitation to church services, a Christian tract, a takeway resource). Yet society at Christmas is so dominated by consumerism and when the church offers “switch and bait” have we not bowed down to the gods of consumerism in our culture? Each year this is debated. In 2006 the [public spiritual installation art] simply offered a takeaway potential of a memorable moment.

In terms of resourcing this, it could easily be the main focus of the energy for a community, that is used first in public during the Advent season, but are then all collected and offered as gathered worship (come see all the 24 advent stations) for Christmas eve services, with space, mulled wine, artist floor talks, ambient music and carols. In other words, the creativity is shaped by mission but woven into the worshipping life.

Well done Sanctus1 (and thanks Ben for the hat-tip).

Posted by steve at 10:48 AM

Friday, August 12, 2011

are you one? or part of one?

A question that’s been zooming around and around in my head this week. Do we see ourselves as the one? Or as part of one?

You end the sentence.

Do we see ourselves as the one church? Or as part of one?
Do we see ourselves as the one church in the community? Or as part of one church in the community?
Do we see ourselves as the one trainer? Or as part of the training options?

Because the answer frames how we lead and how we invite people to relate to us.

For me, I’m glad I’m heading off to a mission-shaped ministry weekend that assumes I am not one, but part of one. Which means I am travelling with many others.

Posted by steve at 07:17 PM

Friday, July 22, 2011

writing as displacement in author Graham Swift

I harbour this dream of being a writer. Not a factual writer, but a fictional one. Perhaps it’s why a blog – a wannabe :). Anyhow, beside my bed since Christmas has been Graham Swift, Making an Elephant: Writing from Within. Swift is a UK author, Booker prize winner (1996). Two of his books have become films (Last Orders and Waterland).

This book, Making an Elephant, is a collection of various pieces he has written, many of which explore the art of writing. Below are some quotes that stood out. And which, when put together over some 400 odd pages, suggest a recurring theme. Whether for me, the reader, or in him, the writer, who knows.

[S]he suffers greatly, but she still grows. It’s the price of the ticket, isn’t it? The displacement ticket. Displacement engenders a great deal of suffering, a great deal of confusion, a great deal of soul-searching. (139, 140)

Unlike Vaculik, Klima did not disdain manual work. Rather, he took the view that doing other, temporary jobs could be valuable for a writer; and he told a story which was a perfect explosion of the Western ‘myth’. A famous Czech author is seen cleaning the streets by a friend of his at the American embassy. The American goes into a fit out of outrage at how the authorities humiliate the country’s best minds. But the writer is doing the job voluntarily: it is research for a book. (166)

a belief in the local as the route to the universal, combined with a belief that in the local (including those seemingly familiar localities, ourselves) the strange and the dislocated are never far away. (294)

we are all, at one and the same time, inhabitants of place and of placelessness, creatures of tenure, attachment and of no fixed abode …all writers … would recognize that mental dislocation is part and parcel of what they do. (311)

Posted by steve at 08:35 AM

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Creating safe spaces for leadership development: Missional masters

This evening a Masters of ministry (missional) intensive begins, with folk from inter-state and rural South Australia gathering for 3 days of learning.

The point of the Masters of Mission (missional) is to encourage action reflection research – for folk to be able to treat their context, their ministry placement, as the primary place for reflection on mission and ministry. This means a thesis that is more of a journal, a record of what has been implemented (action), and the learnings (individual, community, theology, missiology) that have resulted, which in turn has lead to more action, and more learning. And so the spiral between action and reflection continues over the 3-4 year period. Academic rigour is essential, but it need not be abstracted, impersonal, detached research.

Around the thesis is built a cohort experience (6 times a year) – for collegiality – along with, over the period of the Masters, a range of readings and intensive experiences.

This includes a leadership intensive and in particular the use of a 360 tool. As students engage in the Masters of ministry (missional), we want them to have a clear picture of themselves as leaders. Most leaders both overestimate and underestimate themselves. Our perceptions get skewed by ego, insecurity and the muddle around the word “leadership.”

To facilitate the 360 tool, we have worked with an independent resource, Sandy Jones, who has a consultancy in this area.

It has required a considerable amount of pre-work, in which the participant nominates 15-20 people who see them in action – in meetings, in peer relationships, in ministry – and are invited to reflect back what they see. This data is compiled and is provided, anonymously, to the participant. At the start of the intensive, each participant is linked with a coach, with whom they meet three times over the time. Once to make sure they are hearing the data correctly (most of us focus on the negative), a second time to start to devise a growth plan that builds on the strengths and faces the weaknesses, a third time to ensure the plan is realistic and achievable. That relationship will continue over a 12 month period as the plan is implemented.

It is a first time. But we hope that rather than teach an intensive about leadership, that instead folk in ministry get an accurate picture of who they are in context, and a chance to be strategic about their growth in mission and ministry. Which in turn sharpens their thesis, their action in a context.

For a Masters in Missional Leadership brochure.

And then more specifically, the shape of 2011 – Year One

Further posts:
For some thought pieces on the underlying methodologies of the Masters of Ministry (missional), see (here and here and here and here).

Posted by steve at 10:26 AM

Friday, June 10, 2011

can there be good without God? some personal debate reflections

I have posted a few days ago my response in the Flinders debate – can there be good without God? I am still reflecting on some of the questions generated for me by the debate, which have kept me thinking and to which I want to pick up.

In the meantime, here are some general reflections.

1. The limitations of a debate. I find it difficult to simultaneously listen carefully and generate a response. So the temptation was to become flippant or search for a cheap soundbite to fill the air. Perhaps I’m a male (only do 1 thing at at time!) but it seems to me that the arguments of another deserve better and while a debate allows you to face the argument, I remain ambivalent about it’s potential to enable real dialogue.

2. It is hard to debate when you feel you are being caricatured. For example – when the multiple ways the church has understood atonement is reduced to “God kills his son”; when slavery in the Bible is equated to slavery in Africa; when the 39 books of the Old Testament, so diverse in genre and context, sacred to three religions, are reduced to “the angry God of the Old Testament.” But then perhaps I did the same to them – for example in my paragraph

“Do unto others alongside the “Darwinian” survival of the fittest of a Daniel Dennett. “Love your enemies” alongside Fran De Waal’s animal “empathy”. ”Greater love has no-one” alongside Sam Harris objective moral “wellbeing”

ie reducing three authors to a soundbite. Hence my 3rd point…

3. Are some ideas better engaged on paper than on a platform. For me, one of the most helpful resources in thinking through good and God was Miroslav Volf. His book Exclusion & Embrace is a reflection on justice, from a man who grew up in the Balkans, including the experience of torture. It is a close and critical read of leaders in modern and post-modern intellectual debate. Yet when I returned to it in preparation, I found it almost impossible to reduce to a few minutes. I might not be skilled enough. Or is that some discussion is simply better on paper than on a platform?

4. About 80 attended the debate. At the end, someone mentioned that their neighbour was one of 2000 attending a local pyschic fare that same weekend. An irony perhaps, a smallish crowd at a University arguing ideas, while many more in our culture are very comfortable with the idea that there is more to life than facts and intellectual debate?

Posted by steve at 10:55 AM

Friday, May 20, 2011

being human: a poem

I am atoms
shared dirt and detritus
shaped to male, emotions

my atoms open, offered to

Jesus atoms
shared, shaped to male, emotions
orb round Orbit

Posted by steve at 10:26 AM

Thursday, March 04, 2010

blokes in church? growing petrol heads and art lovers

A really thoughtful post on blokes and church here, from Dr Richard Beck here. The whole piece is fascinating, using Mark Driscoll’s views on masculinity as a starting point for the suggestion that we have an educated/uneducated split that creates deep fissures in our church communities.

The educated [men] teach, preach, and have the public leadership roles. The uneducated [men] are marginalized. Worse, if you are an uneducated male, you are force-fed those feminine metaphors. Educated males, being chickified, don’t mind or even notice the feminine metaphors. But Joe Six Pack notices the metaphors. All this creates a disjoint in the church. Two groups of males who find each other alien and weird.

Which is further clarified here.

people tend to focus on four big issues when it comes to church life: Gender, socioeconomic status, race, and sexual orientation. But I think one of the most pernicious fissures is the education issue. This problem is particularly acute in Christian churches as Christianity has been, from its earliest days, unapologeticly cerebral and intellectual.

He names something that is pretty real and was certainly my experience at Opawa, the challenge to form men spiritually, whether petrol head or art lover. And why I found the Opawa men’s camp last year so moving, the way that the repeated use of lecto divina (of which this is an outcome), inviting men to use their diverse hobbies, their relationships and life experience, their “caves”, as ways into sharing faith and life.  People were asked to bring something from their shed, which equalised and normalised everyone, from petrol head to art lover. And that became the starting point “going to your favorite spot in your “shed”” for engaging the Biblical text. Which is such a long way from cerebral and intellectual.

The most helpful book I’ve found in framing this for me is Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality (Book. Educated. Yep, I see the educated irony.) I love the way it explores Biblical texts as they relate to males

  • Abraham struggling to connect with his son from his first “marriage”;
  • David, and whether can we let him enjoy a deep male friendship with Jonathan without it becoming homosexualised in innuendo;
  • David who hides behind his work desk when his family comes crashing in

The author (and friend), Phil Culbertson, comes back to Jesus, who he explores from the angle of a person who enjoys deep male friendships, with working class fishermen and with budding intellectuals and poets (like John).

“Jesus appears to have modeled a style of male-male friendship that was committed, intimate, honest, open and even dependent … But there is no record that Jesus and his male followers did “men’s things” together. They did not go hunting together … nor did they share off-color jokes. They did not compete with each other … Christians can recognize the new Adam in Jesus insofar as he was willing to cherish his own human nature, in all its vulnerability, and yet to turn his face bravely toward an unknown future in which he and the world that he knew would be very different.” (105, 106).

It’s such a missionary challenge and we desperately need some working-class missional churches working in and around these issues.

Posted by steve at 09:20 AM