Saturday, October 30, 2010

creationary: Luke 19 and Zacchaues as babe in womb

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

I’ve been pondering this art image through the week, from the so visually helpful, Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource (which offers art in relation to the Lectionary readings) in relation to the Zacchaues story. It suddenly struck me how “fetus like” is Zacchaues. Not sure it’s the artists intent, but the linking between Zacchaues and that sense of being born again got me thinking …

like a baby in womb

Held by tree cleft
Like needle eye
rich baby this one

like umbilical cord
stretching toward

Toward heartbeat
with life
of the Christ

I see you, little babe
I’ll grow you, little babe

Toddler step down
Teenager make meal

Challenge us
Sorry in cash
and half my retirement
So boldly brash
little babe to man

Posted by steve at 07:58 AM

Friday, October 29, 2010

mission training into 2011

The last few months have involved lots of talk, networking, dreaming, discussing about ways to make concrete mission and pioneer leading training here at Uniting College. The upshot is that in 2011, and through a number of developing partnerships, we are hoping to provide:

mission training for whole people of God – through an Aussie version of the UK Fresh expression Mission-shaped course. This is based on a partnership with a number of other denominations and in a number of states, as a one year part-time learning journey equipping people for fresh expressions. Starting perhaps mid-2011 or 2012. (For more, see here)

mission training for potential pioneer leaders – through a three year Bachelor of Ministry, and the provision of majors in Missiology and Innovation (Subject to accreditation, will blog more when that is approved)

missional leadership training for existing church leaders – through an existing Master of Ministry, but with a distinct missional leader focus. This one really excites me! We will train by inviting leaders to work on missional change within their own ministry context. Growth will be fostered in a combination of coaching, guided reading and peer cohort support. The final thesis need not be a traditional thesis, but can instead be a journal documenting the process, the learnings, the theological integration over the 4 years of mission change in context. The aim is engaged action-reflection leaders in mission. For those interested here is a (1 meg) brochure master ministry 2011-www. We are wanting a cohort of 5 per year and I’m already getting phone calls, so if you are interested, do get in touch.

Posted by steve at 02:34 PM

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It’s my blog so I’ll cry if I want to

Last night, I attended the installation of the new moderator for the Uniting Church of South Australia. Being from a different denomination background, a “baptist-on-loan”, these occasions are truly fascinating.

I tend to approach them as “research opportunities”, a chance to explore the spirituality of another part of God’s mosaic. But somehow last night, I found myself whacked sideways by emotion.

It happened as the outgoing moderator was being released. This involved some words, and then the invitation for his wife and church family to come forward and receive him back. Which they did, standing and coming forward to exchange hugs and handshakes.

And I started crying. (It’s my blog, so I can share this if I want to!)

I think I’m still grieving not being part of the Opawa Baptist church community. I think I’m still finding being in Australia and in this new context very difficult. As are my family. It’s not easy following Jesus. Especially when following is a cost not just to an individual, but to a family and a community.

Church history is full of leaders full of ego and ambition. Church history is also full of leaders dragged away from what they loved, in order to serve the church. (For more on this, see a reflection I wrote earlier this year on Gregory). The church is a demanding mistress and it was moving for me to see some dimension of these demands being visibly named last night.

So thanks, Uniting church, for being demanding, fascinating and for helping me cry 🙂

Posted by steve at 11:49 AM

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the emerging church and the wilderness of God (old post but good post)

Back in 2004, I wrote a post titled – the emerging church and the wilderness of God. I was doing some sermon prep today and it seemed oddly appropriate, both for the sermon, for the emerging church in 2010 and for my current state of being. So I’m reposting it, for posterity’s sake ….

Christianity emerges from a wilderness spirituality;
John the Baptist, camel haired and with locust wings in mouth, emerges from the desert;
Jesus in preparation for ministry, walks into the wilderness;
Israel finds God in the desert, where in the wilderness Moses is called and a nation is shaped.
The rough places and tough spaces become the place of encounter with God.

So what is the place of a wilderness spirituality in the emerging church? A book like The Shape of Things to Come takes growth – in the early church, in China – as the benchmark. A history of vitality becomes the shaping spirituality. When the emerging church emerges from the evangelical church in the US, a history of vitality is the shaping spirituality.

So what of a wilderness spirituality? Where is the encountering of God in the rough and tough? How does the emerging church embrace the wilderness, rather than the myths and shadows of vitality.

Is it time for the emerging church to find new partners in its spirituality? Is it time to stop dreaming of early church glory and embrace God in the rough?

I wonder if this is where the experience of the de-churched becomes redemptive gift. Those who have entered the wilderness and have learnt to find God in the raw might have spiritual gifts to offer.

Wilderness God
Hidden in the deep valley
Obscured by rocky outcrop

This Advent
May we be found in Your wilderness.

(for the comments, which added some rich layers go here)

Posted by steve at 10:35 AM

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

new book release: Bible in/and Popular culture: a creative encounter

I have a book chapter in a new release, out this month. Titled The Bible in/and Popular culture: a creative encounter, it is an exploration of how the Bible reads pop.culture – and how pop.culture reads the Bible. (Available for purchase on Amazon or SBL). Given that pop.culture is the world that most of us now swim, it’s (IMHO) a pretty important area to be researching and writing in.

A lot of writing has done on the Bible and film. This book charts a different path and focuses on areas including the Bible and other popular media like hip-hop, graphic novels, animated TV cartoons, apocalyptic fantasy. Mine is a chapter on Bro-town, an animated TV cartoon, set in Pacifica urban culture. The title is “Reading “pop-wise”: the very fine art of “making do” when reading the Bible in bro’Town.”

Updated: By request, here is the full list of contributors
Introduction by Elaine M. Wainwright

Some Novel Remarks about Popular Culture and Religion: Salman Rushdie and the Adaptation of Sacred Texts by Michael J. Gilmour

Red Dirt God: Divine Silence and the Search for Transcendent Beauty in the Music of Emmylou Harris by Mark McEntire

“Here, There, and Everywhere”: Images of Jesus in American Popular Culture by Dan W. Clanton Jr.

’Tis a Pity She’s (Still) a Whore: Popular Music’s Ambivalent Resistance to the Reclamation of Mary Magdalene by Philip Culbertson

Spittin’, Cursin’, and Outin’: Hip-Hop Apocalypse in the Imperial Necropolis by Jim Perkinson
The Bible and Reggae: Liberation or Subjugation? by Noel Leo Erskine

Help Me Make It through the Night”: Narrating Class and Country Music in the Theology of Paul by Tex Sample

Jesus of the Moon: Nick Cave’s Christology by Roland Boer

Prophetic Voices in Graphic Novels: The “Comic and Tragic Vision” of Apocalyptic Rhetoric in Kingdom Come and Watchmen by Terry Ray Clark

Reading “Pop-Wise”: The Very Fine Art of “Making Do” When Reading the Bible in bro’Town by Steve Taylor

Daemons and Angels: The End of the World According to Philip Pullman by Tina Pippin

Close Encounters: The Bible as Pre-Text in Popular Culture by Laura Copier, Jaap Kooijman, and Caroline Vander Stichele

Pop Scripture: Creating Small Spaces for Social Change by Erin Runions

Personally, career-wise, I am pretty stoked. The publisher is the Society of Biblical Literature, which is the oldest (1880) and largest (8,500 members) international scholarly organization in the field of biblical studies, so it’s neat that first, they are publishing in this area and second, for me to have work published in such a place.

NB 1. One of the talks I gave at Spurgeons College in September drew on this.
NB 2. For a description of my method and some of the resources I used, go here.

Posted by steve at 05:31 PM

Monday, October 25, 2010

creationary: Zacchaeus story in Luke 19

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

The lectionary text this week is the Zacchaues story in Luke 19. It’s such a familiar story. In preparation, I have been finding this poem helpful, Martin Wallace, City Prayers, Canterbury Press, 1994

As you and I walk down this terraced street
Where all the houses seem to be from a common mould
And each door looks the same,
It would be easy to be mistaken
And assume that those inside each house
Are from a common mould.
You and I know, Lord,
That each household has a different story
Of happiness, heartache, and health,

wealth, weariness, and worry,
sadness, solitude, and sickness,
energy, encouragement, and excitement.

I see pictures of biblical villages,
With square white houses all the same,
When the same assumption could be made.
Yet you cut through all of that
And treated everyone differently:

‘Follow …’; ‘Return …’; ‘Give away …’;
‘Be reborn …’; ‘Tell everyone …’; ‘Keep silent …’.

Keep me alive, Lord,
To the special uniqueness
Behind each door.

Posted by steve at 05:47 PM

Saturday, October 23, 2010

DIY soul: a social enterprise fresh expression

Today, as I have wandered Adelaide on a Saturday, I decided I would like to open a missional social enterprise.

It is to be called DIY Soul and it’s purpose is to fund the spiritual search. It’s income would be derived from selling DIY/make your own spirituality resources. This would include

  • prayer stools
  • icon painting
  • make your own angels
  • make your own candles
  • seeds for gardens of healing
  • make your own journals
  • books that to encourage the pursuit of Christian spirituality

It would also have a coffee machine and a few tables. Some space would be provided so that people could simply DIY in the shop. It’s community would be built around

  • this DIY in the shop
  • workshops on the above ie using prayer stools, painting icons, angel spirituality, sense making faith, journal writing (some people might call this pastoral care)
  • coaching and mentoring (some people might call this pastoral care)
  • spiritual direction (some people might call this pastoral care)
  • urban retreats (some people might call this pastoral care)
  • community gatherings to share food, stories and spirituality resources (some people might call this church)

I suspect that my DIY idea could initially start part-time, say 12-2 pm. So perhaps it could be staffed part-time.

It would require a venue. However there might be a few empty church buildings in Adelaide that are hardly used during the week that might be of use. They might require some alterations though. However, this would be a way for them to fulfill their mission, so they could be delighted to consider this possibility.

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM

Friday, October 22, 2010

How real is your church?

Church is “the history of particular persons realizing by the Spirit’s gift the new potential for human nature.” A challenging quote from Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin

It echoed this insight by Neil Ormerod:

“major divide in ecclesiology, between those who study ecclesiology as an idealist Platonic form in some noetic heaven, and those who study it more as a realist Aristotelian form, grounded in the empirical data of historical ecclesial communities.” in The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church

The temptation to construct church in ideal forms. To deal with metaphors and images and DNA’s rather the particular communities that are with us now. If we just rearranged our DNA, if we could just start again, if we could just return to the early church, if we could just have a few more musicians or young people.

Yet the true grace of transformation is that God could take particular humanity, the reality of what is, and through that catch a glimpse of the Kingdom.

Almost, like, yes, an emerging church 🙂

So as part of prayer, I began to place particular persons, specific names, actual communities in the phrase. Church folk I have argued with. Communities I have been disappointed with. People I wish would change.

It was hard. I kept wanting to trade up for idealisms. But the Incarnation of Christ walked among the real, the local, the particular.

God, through these particular persons, unfold your new potential.

Posted by steve at 09:05 AM

Thursday, October 21, 2010

too blunt? the mirror held by early church preaching

I have a column over on the kiwimadepreaching website. Here’s my introduction:

Is the phrase “Biblical preaching” simply too blunt? I began to wonder this as I gazed into the preaching mirror held by the early church.

With over forty years of missionary service in Africa, David Dunn-Wilson has made a study of the sermons of the early church. In his book, A Mirror for the Church (Eerdmans, 2005) David points out how sermon change – in style, in subject – as the needs of congregations and contexts change.

The chapter headings tell the story.

I then explore categories of missionary preachers, apologist preachers, mystic preachers, theological preachers, homiletical preachers. For the full article, or to make a comment, head on over

Posted by steve at 07:30 AM

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

faith making sense?

Senses play
Bodies create
Humans diversify


Christianity. Is yours
good sense?

Posted by steve at 07:29 AM

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

spirituality of change leaders

A fascinating list of suggestions, almost a spirituality, for change leaders (“Rules of thumb for change agents”, a chapter by Shepard in Organization Development Classics, Jossey-Bass, 1997.)

  • Stay alive – care for yourself and keep a life
  • Start where the system is – empathy for the group and the people
  • Look for green zones – places of promise
  • Innovation is as simple as a good idea, initiative and a few friends – work with the willing
  • Celebrate well – build in lots of success milestones
  • Light many fires – utilise the complexity of any group by seeking movement in as many places as possible
  • Keep optimistic – with a focus on the better future

I note the list after sitting with a number of groups in the last few days who are considering mission and are faced with change.

It certainly resonated with my Opawa experience, particularly the look for green zones (for more on leadership and green zones you could try here), simplicity of innovation and light many fires. (And in hindsight, at Opawa we could have celebrated more).

And it sits well alongside Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development, which I have been slowly reading and summarising this year. (For the chapter summaries to date: Chapter one here. Chapter two is here. Chapter three is here. Chapter four is here. Chapter five is here. Chapter six is here. Chapter seven is here)

Posted by steve at 08:51 AM

Friday, October 15, 2010

rural fresh expressions: resourcing Yorke Peninsula

Today has been a rich day, preparing to lead a camp, helping 10 rural congregations who are coming together to think about their mission. Here ‘ss how it is shaping up.

1. What is church

What is church? Why it exists? What is its purpose?

Use video clip from Yes Minister What does the hospital exist?

2. Four images of church (taken from some material by George Lings)

  • institution
  • managerial
  • horticultural
  • relational/familial

For each one – group discussion – Why does church exist? Divide the group in two and invite them to answer from perspective of lay and clergy?

3. Rural fresh expressions of church

video – What is a fresh expression?

It is not a new expression.
It is not a townie thing
It is not saying what existing church is wrong
It is not a bridging project to real church.

I will then give them 14 rural types of fresh expressions I have hunted down. Each has an example, to give flesh. I’m hoping this encourage with it’s diversity.

  • Alternative worship
  • Base ecclesial communities
  • Cafe church
  • Church from community initiatives
  • Midweek congregations
  • Multiple congregations
  • Network focused churches
  • School-based churches
  • Seeker services
  • Traditional church plants
  • Youth congregations
  • Traditional forms of church inspiring new interest
  • New monasticism – Northumbria community
  • Festivals

4. Rural Challenges

We will then kick the tires around 10 rural challenges, from this resource, by David Muir, a pioneer minister in Devon.

  1. Do some serious homework on the social realities in your area. The countryside is hugely varied, so beware of generalisations about what ‘country people’ are like.
  2. Do assume that countryside people are well disposed to the Christian faith. Most are. So think hard before using language like ‘becoming a Christian’.
  3. If you are new to the countryside, get involved. Traditional countryside people will always see you as an in-comer, but it will only take a couple of years to be accepted as an ‘OK in-comer’.
  4. Beware of the idolatry of nice village life. This is a temptation for the traditional inhabitants of the countryside and for in-comers seeking their rural idyll.
  5. A community centred on its own well-being is a form of selfishness. The church must challenge this rather than collude with it to gain acceptance.
  6. Support the church building. It is a social symbol that continues to have some Christian opportunities. Attending funerals will open some doors.
  7. Accept that we have lost the battle for weekly public worship. ‘Public’ worship was a Christendom idea and we need to let go of it. Think about how else to give expression to a living faith community.
  8. Support the vicar. People still want clergy for baptisms, weddings and (most of all) funerals. So support ministers in their traditional roles, and find ways to link their ministries to whatever fresh expression of church you feel called to develop.
  9. Refuse to be trapped by geography. Countryside people travel, often quite long distances, to things they really want to go to. So think wide. Doing something ‘just for our little community’ is killing the countryside socially.
  10. Think ‘sustainability’ rather than ‘funding’. Evangelism by largesse is another Christendom idea that needs to die. It fosters dependency rather than initiative. Grants run out. So keep it simple. Start what the group can sustain.
Posted by steve at 04:19 PM

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why church? some thoughts via the humour of Yes Minister

What is church? Why does it exist? What do you use to assess it’s purpose? I’m doing some work this weekend with Uniting folk in the Yorke Peninsula. In preparation I’ve been mulling over this video from Yes Minister. (Hat tip Andrew Hamilton). A bit dated, but still quite thought-provoking.

What is the purpose of a “hospital? How do you assess it?

  • For the Prime Minister, a hospital is to heal the sick (although it starts with “how does does it cost?”)
  • For the Union rep, a hospital is to employ staff.
  • For the Florence Nightingale award judges, it is hygenie.

Any links to church – how much does it cost? what about the needs of those who serve? how important is keeping people and things pure?

Posted by steve at 10:53 AM

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

P is for posture: dictionary of everyday contemporary spirituality

A recent visit to the Tate Modern saw me parked in front of the art of German photographer Thomas Struth. It was his Museum series, in which he takes seemingly ordinary shots of people entering churches, museums and other public places. (So this is my photo of his photo. The people are in the photo!)

I loved the layers; me looking at others who are looking.

I was fascinated by the wee girl looking in. You almost think she’s wanting to climb in and be with Jesus, until you realise she’s just a viewer. Like me. So how do I position myself in relation to the way of Jesus and his table manners? Am I climbing in?

And then those who look away. They seem to be passing by. You wonder how closely they looked. And you begin to wonder if viewing is a discipline and a practice. That how we position ourselves is a decision.

When I look at the work of Thomas Struth, I think about posture. (In this sense, very similar to the works by another German, Sieger Koder, whom I have written about in another context (summary here)). How do we place ourselves in relation to the world around us and the story of Jesus? Are we walking on by, bored and busy? Or are we taking the time to pause and enter?

For the index in the Dictionary of Everyday spirituality, go here.

Posted by steve at 09:03 AM