Sunday, November 02, 2014
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.
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)
Friday, October 31, 2014
The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions
There is a Cultures of Authenticity Symposium in Adelaide, 28 November, 2014. Here’s the brief
Authenticity pervades contemporary culture. This symposium provides a unique opportunity to investigate the significance of authenticity in regards to self, culture and society across key areas of social life from ethics, spirituality, work and intimacy to new media, tourism, health and environment.
The invite is to scholars to submit papers assessing the role of authenticity in late-modern life and its real-world applications and consequences. Full papers will be published in the journal M/C. It seemed a good opportunity to take my research on fresh expressions into a wider conversation, so last night I submitted an abstract:
The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions
This paper will explore the formational potential of authenticity in late-modern cultures, with particular attention to unintended consequent complexities as authenticity is appropriated by contemporary religious innovations.
Recently within Western Protestantism a range of new approaches to church and worship has developed. Ethnographic research into these religious communities (called “alternative worship”) shows that authenticity was a generative word, used by these community to define themselves as marginal and thus to justify innovation.
However these acts of self-location, so essential for innovation and identity, were complexified when appropriated by the mainstream. This occurred first as mainstream religious communities sought to implement selected liturgical innovations generated by these “alternative worship” groups. Secondly, an organisation structure (called Fresh Expressions) was formed by appropriating the innovation. However the generative energy was not around marginality but rather on the renewal of existing institutional life.
These complexities can be theorised using the work of Sarah Thornton (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital (Music Culture)). Her research into culture cultures in the United Kingdom also noted a creative interplay between innovation and authenticity, first in generating innovation and subsequently, complexified as what was marginal gained success in mainstream musical cultures.
This suggests that authenticity plays a complex role in identity formation in a branded world.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
the power of the Preamble
In recent years, the Uniting Church in Australia has added a ‘Preamble’ to its Constitution. Emerging from discussion with indigenous folk (UAICC -Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress) it provides an account of the role of the church in Australian (settlement/invasion) and makes some declarations of the Indigenous experience of God.
For instance, here is paragraph 3:
“The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.”
Yesterday our Christology class had the second in our indigenous women’s Christology series. We had the privilege of hearing Eseta Meneilly, a Uniting Church minister from Victoria, share how she connects Christ and her culture (Fijian).
She began her lecture by noting the power of the Preamble. How when she read the Preamble, she began to wonder. If the First Peoples of this Australian land had already encountered God, then did the same apply to her Fijian people’s experience? As she pondered this question, she remembered something from her school days. Long forgotten in her journey, a piece of her cultural history.
She shared this cultural history with the class and together we began to see a deeply Incarnational movement by the Christ, to be present in a (Fijian) cultural worldview. We decided that yes, indeed, here was a “particular” insight into God’s ways.
As part of the indigenous women’s Christology project we have videod the lecture by Eseta and a researcher will work with Eseta to see if we can provide a written account. The hope is that this will be added to other indigenous Christology accounts and a student resource might emerge, that can place indigenous theologies alongside the weight of currently published Western Christologies.
But as these efforts to make more visible these rich Christologies continue, I am struck today by the power of the Preamble. I am grateful for the courage of those who dreamed it, wrote it, advocated for it. I’m intrigued by the potential of a written document to bring change, including theological and missiological change. I’m challenged by people, like Eseta, who have taken the Preamble seriously. I’m eager to hear and see what might continue to be produced in the year’s ahead.
Monday, October 27, 2014
sticky innovation: making change concrete
Making change stick. It’s one of the challenges of innovation. Finding ways to embed change in the life of your organisation and your systems, so that change lives on. Last week I saw this happen in two different ways, by ritualising and by double-dipping.
First, by ritualising. Last year as our annual Presbytery and Synod approached, I was in a group discussing a separate issue, of how to name a change in our candidate process. Uniting Church ministerial training guidelines, passed in 1997, reviewed and affirmed in 2007, call for a Third Phase of Ministerial Education. It is intended to be period of sustained and intentional mentoring and support for newly ordained ministers during the first three years of ministry practice. In South Australia, this partnership happens through Formation Panels. Nine times in Phase two, five times in Phase three, a group of experienced ministers meet with those in Phase 3, to provide support in transition, to advise in managing time, developing an appropriate work-life balance and doing all those firsts – wedding, funeral, baptism, Easter, AGM, conflict!
Deep relationships form. Then suddenly, the minister has moved to Phase 4. How to honour this change? At the same time, another group I was part of was planning the annual Recognition of Ministry service, in which retiring ministers are thanked and blessed. Why not weave a new ritual into that evening? Why not ask all those transitioning into Phase 4 to stand? Why not celebrate this expression of growth? Why not ask the retiring ministers to bless them?
This week the annual Presbytery and Synod approached again. The order of service from last year was found and the email arrived. “Steve, last year we did something. Can you remember what it was, because it needs to be done again.” And so ritualising, weaving a growth moment, with prayer, into a worship service, had “stuck.”
Second, double-dipping. In May, we introduced a change into our Adelaide College of Divinity graduation service. As each graduand came forward, they were briefly introduced. A few sentences that told where they had come from, what they had studied and where they were going to. This involved a prior brainstorm regarding what we as Faculty knew of the student, followed by a phone call to ensure the student was happy with what would be said. A bit of work. But the feedback was overwhelming. Students felt personalised, the audience felt connected.
Last week, we faced the annual government reporting. It includes a graduate survey, to capture employability. We all grinned. No need do that research, because we already have that data. Sure enough, every single graduation introduction, had the employment data we needed. Double dipping. Using one piece of work twice. It makes the change likely to “stick” because of the value of double dipping.
Making change stick is harder that starting change. But ritualising and double-dipping are all practices which make change concrete.
Friday, October 24, 2014
the teaching challenge: theology
I wrote this recently, in response to a Flinders University request to explain why I teach, and how this applies in how I teach theology. (It is a few paragraphs by way of contextual introduction in what was a 5,500 word paper about evidence-based research I’m doing into the impact of flipped learning on the student experience).
Theology students are more likely to be part-time and mature in age. This presents a range of challenges including managing significant diversity within the classroom and working with a range of anxieties as mature age students return to study.
Theology is often closely tied with personally held beliefs. Some students are studying for a vocational role in their religious communities, while others study for interest. This presents some unique learning challenges. Students are being invited to engage critically with beliefs that at times they, or the communities to which they belong, are highly invested in.
In response, I seek to be a learner-centred educator. I believe that each student comes with a unique finger print and deserves space and processes to connect their existing life experience with the subject matter. People learn best when safe space is created, so a classroom of respect and appreciation of diversity is essential. Thinking aloud must be allowed.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
singing a new song
The lectionary Psalm for the day has twice, in the last six days, begun with the words “Sing a new song.” I used it to begin our team meeting community time last week. What new things are we seeing, that we need to “sing” in thanks to God? It opened up a rich and celebrative conversation.
Reading the words again today, it struck me that singing has different dimensions. It can be aural, the audible lifting of voice. The singing can be recorded and thus the the audible lifting of voice can be shared. The singing can also be written down as sheet music, and thus others can perform the new song for themselves. In so doing, the performance can then change, as new harmonies are added, as different speeds or mixes are incorporated. Each are ways to “sing a new song,” each allow different layers of reach, influence and release.
I used this notion of “singing a new song” to reflect back over what God has been doing in and around me in recent weeks.
First, the “singing” of the indigenous womens’ Christology project. This was aural in class last week. But through strategic use of funding, there is the hope it can be recorded. The hope is that in “singing” this indigenous song, that different contexts are freed to sing their own unique harmonies, to find confidence in their own “performance” of Jesus.
Second, the “singing” of the urban gardens presentation I did at the Urban Life together conference. This was sung on Saturday, to a group of conference participants. The conference hopes to produce a book, and so my aural “song” might well end up “recorded.” (If I can find the time).
In the meantime, some of what I said was “recorded” in bits on my website. It’s one of the reasons I blog – to sing a new song, and in a different “recorded” way than book based “recording.” During the conference, a stray conversation with another conference participant offered another “mix.” Again, I recorded this by blogging it, linking community development, missiology and urban development. In turn, it attracted some wonderful comments, which linked with flipped learning and it helped me make connections to another “mix”.
Aural, recorded, performed: the many ways that we can sing a new song.
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.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
flipping good neighbours in community engagement
I was researching a community ministry this week, interviewing about a community garden planted on a rooftop, four stories high in inner-city Sydney. (It was part of my work on Urban gardens for the Urban Life together conference).
In telling the story of the community garden, the comment was made that in beginning the garden, they didn’t how to garden. As a result they reached out to local gardeners. Similarly, in establishing bee hives as part of the garden, they didn’t know how to keep bees. Again, they had to reach out to local book keepers.
It struck me as a fascinating approach to take to community development. Start with what you don’t know.
Later in the interview, I returned to tease this out further. “It sounds like your lack of knowledge was a gift. It involved the community to shape the environment.”
Absolutely was the animated reply. Start with what you don’t know and you ensure very different relationships with your community.
In Luke 10:5-8, Jesus instructs the disciples in mission.
‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. ‘When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.
What if Luke 10 is picking up on the same approach? Jesus sends the disciples with nothing (Luke 10:4), with no food for the night. When they approach the community, they approach with vulnerability, with a lack. In doing so, they invite a different set of relationships. Specifically, the person of peace, the one who opens the door, is being invited to become a good neighbour. The community is being invited to be generous, to be hospitable, to participate in partnership.
This is a risky strategy. It might not work, leaving the disciples hungry. Or it might come across as manipulative. (I think this is addressed by the offer of peace in verse 5 – see an earlier post on Sharing faith across cultures).
But it does totally flip the traditional understanding of being a good neighbour. What if the task of the church in mission is not to be a good neighbour? Rather what if it is to act in ways that enable our community to be good neighbours? What sort of relationships of mutuality and partnership might emerge?
It would be as practical as starting community ministry in the areas in which we lack some knowledge.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
At 4 pm I shut myself in my office, with the challenge of writing at least one, if not two academic papers for the Urban life together mission conference in Melbourne this weekend. It looks a fantastic event, encouraging mission reflection among grassroots practitioners.
I wanted to explore the potential of urban gardens for the mission of the church. A few hours work and I have some 2,800 words ready to go. I’ve woven together two film reviews, some of my research into local stories of inner-city urban churches doing garden mission, spiritual practices of composting, a consideration of the shady side of spirituality, some Maori proverbs, interaction with a range of Bible texts in God’s garden, gratitude for the wisdom from Julian of Norwich and Fred Bahnson’s Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith.
Here’s my introduction:
Some gardens are planted in straight lines. They are orderly and linear. Other gardens are planted higgelty pickelty, random and inter-connected. Some academic presentations are planted in straight lines. They are orderly and linear. This presentation is neither straight nor linear. Rather it is random and in the higgelty pickelty you are invited to make the inter-connections with your urban context ….
Which leaves the powerpoint, but there is always the early morning flight over.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
indigenous women’s Christologies project
The indigenous women’s Christologies project began tonight. It began with an indigenous Adnyamathanha woman, Aunty Denise, speaking at our theology class, talking about how she does Christology. It was an extraordinary performance, with an hour of what was essentially an extremely sophisticated hermeneutic, laced through with stories of how the oral stories of culture help her address “Who is Jesus for her.” So the Jesus theology class got an outstanding example of contextual theology. The evening was open to the public and it was great to have a few visitors join us, and catch a glimpse of the edges that contemporary theology at Uniting College is currently exploring.
A second evening will occur on October 22, when Eseta Meneilly will join us, offering an indigenous Fijian Christology.
Around this speaking, two further processes are at work. The talk was being recorded, for future reference. In addition a researcher was in the room, listening and recording. The aim is the production of a written and video resource study guide, which in conversation with the presenters can be used more widely – by other classes and by other theologians.
I introduced the lecture today with the following:
“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different cosmologies is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between cosmology and Christology.”
Now change three words (worldviews and cultures).
“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different [worldviews and cultures] is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between [worldviews and cultures] and Christology.”
In hearing the theology of another, their conversation between their local worldview and a Christology, it helps us begin to form and refine our “model.”
So the class are now processing three questions
- How does Aunty Denise do theology?
- Who is Jesus for Aunty Denise?
- What can I and my community learn for how we do theology?
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
The Lost Thing Liturgy
I preached at chapel yesterday. I used Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, an Academy Award winning animated film, as part of the sermon. I found the original soundtrack on Itunes and the song titles sparked a way to create resonance between Word and Sacrament.
Here is the Lost thing communion liturgy
(Music: The search – 1:00)
The Lord is here.
God’s Spirit is with us.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to offer thanks and praise.
It is right indeed, ever-living God,
to give you thanks and praise through Christ your only Son.
Without you our hearts are restless
We are lost
Until we find our home in you
Therefore with all the found at home in you,
With animals and atoms, angels and archangels,
we proclaim your great and glorious name,
for ever praising you and saying:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
(Music: Feeding – 1:16)
On the night before he died , your Son, Jesus Christ, took bread;
when he had given you thanks, he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said:
Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this to remember me.
After supper he took the cup; when he had given you thanks,
he gave it to them and said:
Drink this, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins;
do this as often as you drink it, to remember my mission to lost things
Therefore loving God, recalling your great goodness to us in Christ,
you who came to seek and save the lost
you who told stories of lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons,
you who gathered lost disciples,
by lakes and wayside tax collectors
We celebrate our foundness in this bread of life
and this cup of salvation.
With thanksgiving and hope we say:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come in glory.
Send your Holy Spirit, that these gifts of bread and wine
may be to us the body and blood of Christ,
and that we, filled with the Spirit’s grace and power,
may be renewed for the mission of your kingdom.
The gifts of God, for the lost of God, Amen.
(Music: Utopia – 3:11)
The music that shaped this liturgy was titled Search, Feeding, Utopia. And so we thank you God that you have searched for us, that you have fed us and for your offer as utopia in the communion we share in this time, this place, this community. And we say together The Lords Prayer …
Saturday, October 11, 2014
The Giver film review
Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for October 2014, of The Giver. This one is extra special, given I got to write it with my teenage daughter.
A film review by K and S Taylor
“Out of great suffering came a solution; Communities.”
The Giver was a book and is now a movie. It might yet be a secular Christmas story. It begins with 18-year-old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), surrounded by best friends, Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan). Together they are assigned lifelong tasks by the Elders of their Community.
For Jonas, he is to become the Receiver of Memory. Sent to the Community’s edge, he encounters a mysterious old man (Jeff Bridges), called The Giver. Jonas finds himself the recipient of the memories of what life used to be like before the Community.
The memories Jonas receives include both the best and worst of times, each laced with colour and feeling. Snow and sled offer hope and freedom, a life truly alive. Yet war and death suggest the human ability to create conflict and inflict pain.
The Giver forces us to consider the world we live within. How does a community deal with the worst of their history? How could a community take the best from the past and allow that to shape the choices their children will make?
Intriguingly, this movie set in the future begins in black and white. Colour is used to develop both plot and character. Through the memories The Giver gives, Jonas experiences reds, yellows and greens. With each memory, these colours increase. Gradually Jonas realises he can see beyond what is, and into what could be.
The Giver began life as a book for teenagers by popular author Lois Lowry. Adapted for the big screen by Michael Mitnick and directed by Australian born, Philip Noyce, the acting is excellent. These include standout performances from Jeff Bridges, as The Giver, Meryl Streep as Chief Elder and Brenton Thwaites as Jonas. Mitnick’s adaptation provides a more definitive ending and introduces the thoughtprovoking final scene.
Jonas’s first received memory has involved sliding down a mountain on a sled, surrounded by soft snow. In the final scene, this memory becomes his present reality. As Jonas slides down the hills, he is surrounded by the sounds of a family singing Silent Night. Together, his first received memory and this present reality perfectly completes the plot. A silent night is over, as Jonas and his people enter into a new dawn, one filled with colour and emotion, song and memory.
Jonas’s journey acts as a trigger, releasing all the memories back into his Community. He has grown from Receiver into Giver. Through his suffering comes the solution, a new community, one of unique personalities, emotions, colour and life.
In this scene Jonas is carrying a young child. When linked with the sounds of Silent Night drifting through the snow, this triggers in the viewer a biblical memory. Could this be interpreted as a Christmas story, with a new calm merging from beyond the edge?
Silent Night, Holy Night.
All is calm, All is bright.
Kayli Taylor is a high school student, and an excessive doodler, procrastinator, budding gypsy and musician. She enjoys travelling, Autumn and good books.
Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.
Friday, October 10, 2014
can you help us tell our story in clear, compelling and contemporary ways?
During the week, I was copied into an email, from a person interstate (and from another Denomination). It noted that “Uniting College is one of the most cutting edge colleges in Australia.” It is a huge compliment and a wonderful encouragement. (For those interested in some of our story, here is what I shared at the 5th birthday “naming change” celebrations).
Due to a number of changes, we need a pretty special person to help us tell this “cutting edge” story. The changes include increasing the funding (from 0.4 to 0.6), making the role permanent (it was fixed term) and increasing the amount of money we budget for promotion. So, do you know someone who can help us tell a story – God’s story actually – of a divine invitation to go on a journey?
Uniting College exists to develop life-long disciples and effective leaders for a healthy, missional church, who are passionate, Christ-centred, highly skilled and mission-orientated practitioners. We offer a range of ways to learn and grow as a person and as a leader: through accredited course providers’ Adelaide College of Divinity and Flinders University and also through non-accredited courses for the Uniting Church.
An opportunity exists for the position of Marketing Officer. This position is a critical part of a committed team working within this tertiary education environment.
The Marketing Officer reporting to the Principal of Uniting College for Leadership & Theology, will work closely with the College faculty and staff, the Executive Officer and staff of Adelaide College of Divinity and the staff of the Communications team.
This diverse and challenging position will have a key responsibility for assisting the Uniting College and the ACD to tell their stories in clear, compelling, contemporary and relational ways. This will include;
• The ongoing development of the Uniting College and ACD brands
• Coordinating market research as to how the Colleges are viewed by current and future clients
• Providing professional advice on marketing strategies and methodologies
• Developing marketing and communication plans
• Strategies to increase awareness of the learning and spiritual growth opportunities provided by ACD and Uniting College in local, national and international communities
• Developing high quality written and digital communications
• Managing social and online media communications
• Proven ability to undertake successful promotional campaigns
It is essential the successful applicant will have relevant experience and/or qualifications in marketing, promotions and communications. Similar experience within an academic institution in the VET or Higher Education sector is well regarded. Understanding and experience of theology or theological education will be a significant advantage.
Further details are outlined in the Position Description & Person Specification which is available on our website http://sa.uca.org.au/uc-positions-vacant/ . Enquiries can be made to Manager, Human Resources on 08-82364278 or email@example.com. Please forward applications addressing the selection criteria of the Position Description & Person Specification to firstname.lastname@example.org by no later than 4pm, October 13, 2014.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Offspring: fresh expressions New Zealand Presbyterian style
Alongside my keynote sessions to the New Zealand Presbyterian Church General Assembly, over the weekend, addressing the theme – Hospitality as mission: Your place or mine?, I also provided input into Offspring. This was a stream that ran in the mornings alongside the Assembly. Over three mornings, three different Presbyterian fresh expressions told their story. My role was to add some global and historical depth. I told stories of the church in history and around the world. I organised these around three themes
- crossing cultures, with a particular focus on the Gladzor Gospels from the church in Armenia (The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated (Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum)
- mission and the gospel, with a particular focus on the Celtic church (drawing on part of a chapter from my Sustainability and fresh expressions book chapter)
- what is church, with a particular focus on UK Fresh expressions
At the end of the sessions, the Offspring stream were asked to provide a communique back to the Assembly. This was a grace-filled moment, as the church at the centre opened themselves to hear from the churches on the edge.
Here are the notes that I took, as the stream prepared to share
1-What have we been doing as an Offspring stream? Telling stories, centring in prayer, inspiring each other, connecting, creating community and belonging, challenging each other, global and local stories, clarifying what fresh expressions are, being encouraged by hearing others, eating and drinking, dreaming.
2-There have been opportunities for us to be – Encouraged and affirmed to keep going, thinking and imagination stretched, courageous in responding to what God is telling us to do. We have realised that resources for mission are there in the community not only the church and that significant leadership for mission resides outside Ordained ministers.
3-Challenge for the church – There were many, but these were summarised into one statement
Lest we forget: We are re-forming. God is re-forming us for a new season
It was incredibly rich to offer my stories, while sitting and listening to New Zealand pioneers tell their stories. God is doing some wonderful things among the Presbyterian church.