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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy: new taught topic

On Thursday the Ministries Studies Committee for the Bachelor of Ministry approved a new topic

Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy

It’s part of a larger focus that has been emerging, around training in chaplaincy, which is such a crucial ministry in contemporary mission. So part of my work over the last months has been identifying a potential lecturer and then working with various folk on the Uniting College team on the necessary paperwork.

Here is some of the description –

This unit will introduce students to practices, images and theological themes in a practical theology of chaplaincy. This will include developing skills and habits in areas of pastoral care, mission, leadership and worship from the perspective of actual human experience. This unit will consider a range of questions including

1. How do we discern God in the face of people with whom we engage in ministry?
2. How does the God we see present in the ’embodied other’ inform a theological understanding of self that includes vulnerability, mutuality, spirituality, the love of God, belonging and justice?
3. How might historic and contemporary pastoral thinkers inform our understanding?
4. How might a theology of personhood from below shape ministry practice?
5. What skills and habits enable a life-giving practice of chaplaincy?

Lectures, tutorials and case studies will explore issues in the Christian life from the perspective of the socially marginalised. This will include a survey of the historical tradition.

We’re hoping to see this new topic being offered in Semester 2, 2013, alongside the first run of a topic specifically for school chaplaincy. Plus there might be a sort of “masterclass” in chaplaincy, a cohort who focus on the place of lament in the ministry and mission of chaplaincy.

All quite exciting IMHO

Posted by steve at 06:49 PM

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Who pulled the trigger? Dark Knight Rises film review

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Here is the review for September, written after, and with reflection upon, the tragic events in Aurora, Colorado on 20 July 2012.

Dark Knight Rises
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Who pulled the trigger?

Hollywood block buster “Dark Knight Rises” will be forever defined not by plot, character or artistic sensibility, but by opening night. On 20 July 2012, James Holmes, suited in body armour, armed with a Colt AR-15 Tactical Carbine and .40 caliber Glock handgun, walked into a packed cinema in Aurora, Colorado. Movie goers initially thought it was an opening night party trick.

Holmes opened fire, killing twelve and injuring another fifty eight. A premiere that will go down in history as the occasion of the largest mass shooting in US history.

So was James Holmes mad, mentally unable to see right from wrong? Or was he simply bad, clinically choosing wrong from right, death over life?

Or should we point the finger elsewhere, take aim at United States gun laws and the way that allow such easy access to multiple murder and mayhem?

Who pulled the trigger?

Reports quickly emerged after the arrest of James Holmes of how he had described himself as the Joker, a direct reference to an earlier movie in the Dark Knight trilogy (reviewed in Touchstone September 2008), in which evil was personified in the person of the Joker.

If so, might the movie industry in fact be to blame. To what extent does the media influence us as individuals and ourselves as culture? The debate has raged for years, although never as poignantly as in the aftermath of Dark Knight Rises.

Yet the argument prosecutes the one, while failing to consider the many. Millions of people did see the Joker. More have watched murder enacted in Macbeth or heard it described in the Biblical story. Yet only James Holmes pulled the trigger.

Everyone one of us is daily surrounded by suggestion, by products to purchase, sweets to consume and temptations to pursue. Yet we still expect each other to say when.

Putting aside the moral arguments and opening night tragedy, how should the Dark Knight Rises be reviewed? Despite the glitzy star cat – Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman – the movie is hardly worth watching. Directed by Chris Nolan, the glittering special effects fail to hide a reliance on spoken rather than visual storytelling. The repetitive soundtrack remains a stark reminder of the plodding pace.

Dark Knight Rises continues to explore the moral complexity that is Batman. Police and power are ignored, the wealth of the few purchasing an exclusive set of technologies. Rich boys toys become the plaything of a self-appointed vigilante.

The suspension of belief, so essential to movie making magic, remains a bridge too far. The ending needed an edit, for credits to roll with the entry of Robin, rather than the exit of Batman.

Amid the destruction of opening night, Dark Knight Rises as a poorly made finale to a trilogy of disturbing moral complexity.

Posted by steve at 06:21 PM

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

the writing hut project

Father and daughter have been working in recent months on the writing hut project. A spot, outside, for daughter to create and re-create. A space, inward, in which two humans can tend to relationship through a shared a task. Yesterday it took a highly colourful step forward.

Amazing what a difference, in mood and tone, colour can make.

Posted by steve at 08:42 AM

Monday, September 24, 2012

indigenous movie making: an emerging growth industry

Recently, I was working on a film review of indigenous movie, The Sapphires. As part of my research, I wanted to get a handle on the extent of the Australian indigenous movie industry.

My conclusion (drawing on figures from this website) – It’s quite a growth industry!

Indigenous film or films made by indigenous film makers – Australia decadal

And here’s the 2000 decade broken down into years – and the growth is most obvious in the last few years – specifically 2007, 2008, 2009.

For another article – A Short History of Indigenous Filmmaking – go here.

Posted by steve at 09:35 PM

Saturday, September 22, 2012

the feelings of ministry: a Pauline soul window

In this new season as Principal of Uniting College, I’m working my way slowly through 2 Corinthians, wanting to explore spirituality for mission and the inner life of leadership. Today, reading 2 Corinthians 7, as a study exercise, I began to list all the “feeling” words.


It strikes me as an astonishing list, a window onto the inner life, the humanity, the emotions of leadership and ministry. I love the way that 2 Corinthians moves between theology and practice, between wonderful theologies of mission and the reality of life.

This list needs to be placed alongside my recent thinking about the place of emotion in formation for ministry and mission. How do we enable leaders to discern God in the midst of this range of emotion? How do we ensure resilience? How do we cultivate classes and learning experiences that will be as emotionally rich as Paul’s experience of ministry?

Posted by steve at 03:35 PM

Friday, September 21, 2012

the clash of mission images in 2 Corinthians

At first glance, the images of mission in 2 Corinthians 5 sit in stark contrast with the images of mission in 2 Corinthians 6.

In one (2 Corinthians 5), the church are ambassadors of reconciliation. This image is central to the formation and identity of the Uniting Church. In 2 Corinthians it is framed by internal conflict. A church body is divided and in response comes the call for reconciliation. This is intriguing, a stark contrast to images of mission that begin with what God is up to in the world, that pay attention, as in Romans 8:22, to the groaning of creation.

In the other (2 Corinthians 6), the church is called to be no longer yoked with unbelievers. How can this be? How to reconcile, without being in relationship? It seems in stark contrast with the images of mission that begin with Incarnation, with listening in and among, of community development.

Are Paul’s images in conflict?

Well, first, the word “daughters”, which Paul adds in 2 Corinthians 6:18 to the Old Testament text he is quoting. Witherington (Conflict and Community in Corinth) decides that Paul “was more egalitarian that many think, and this text shows his desire to be reconciled with both his male and female converts in Corinth.” (406). In other words, reconciliation remains at work.

Second, 2 Corinthians 6 makes reconciliation practical. It involves whom we eat with and talk to. In other words, it is never simply a God-human relationship. It is also a human-human relationship, the interactions with have with others, our moral and social boundaries in all of life.

What appears at first to be a clash in fact becomes a picture of an alternative future, a reconciling faith with radical social implications for God’s people. Which leaves the question: what is the impact of a mission image (2 Corinthians) that begins with a broken church, in contrast to a mission image (Romans) that begins with a broken creation?

Posted by steve at 09:24 AM

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

a missional snail

‘Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. Ezekiel 3:1-3

An interesting approach to mission. It begins with eating, the ingesting. It leads to mission, the speaking.

All this is important given what I discovered last night. Tidying up my home office, I picked up a pile of Bible commentaries, only to discover my Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV (Anchor Bible) by Joseph Fitzmeyer, was being eaten.


Literally, by a snail. Nibbling at the cover. A literal take on the mission of Ezekiel, the act of ingesting in order for speaking to begin.

Posted by steve at 09:53 PM

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

21st century feminism: film review of Snow White and the Huntsman

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). This one is a bit special, a collaboration with oldest teenage daughter. I’ve done this a number of times now with both the children. We watch together, write together and share the writing fee together. It’s always a very rich experience.

Snow White and the Huntsman
A film review by S and S Taylor

Snow White is a German fairytale, made famous by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. From them we get the magic mirror, poisoned apple and seven dwarfs.

The tale has long been a fascination for movie makers. Snow White first appeared, silent, in 1916. Disney grabbed her in 1937, while in 1961 the story was parodied as “Snow White and the Three Stooges.” In other words, when the tale is well known, give it a twist. Exactly 200 years later, enter “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a dark recasting of the classic tale.

Some things remain – magic mirror, poisoned apple and seven dwarfs. Both focus on the importance of inner beauty, with an Evil Queen preoccupied with her appearance.

But in 2012, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) becomes both saviour and fellow fighter, the dwarves are more suspicious, while Snow White saves not only herself, but her entire Kingdom.

While the cast is well known, the acting is uneven. Kristen Stewart (Snow White) struggles to break free from being Bella Swan of the “Twilight” saga. Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, struggles to be more than the mysterious strong man. Charlize Theron (featured in “Prometheus,” reviewed in Touchstone last month) is superbly wicked, an Evil Queen of chilling complexity.

Despite being old-fashioned, Snow White is intriguing in the way it places as central two strong female characters, in Snow and the Evil Queen. But this is a twisted tale and so the question is worth exploring. What might it take to be a twenty first century woman?

For the Evil Queen, it is to seek youth and beauty. She lives and dies defined by her mother’s words: “Your beauty is all that can save you.”

For Snow White, her mother’s words are also defining, an inner beauty expressed in honourable actions. (Although a climax in which she leads an armed uprising becomes an intriguing 21st century take on moral purity). Surprisingly for Hollywood, Snow White in 2012 requires no Hollywood love interest, no handsome hero to complete her day.

And to be a man? It means confronting pain and facing grief. For Snow’s father, impulsive decisions result in far reaching negative consequences. For Snow’s childhood friend, boyhood loss generates a lifelong quest. For the Huntsman, adult grief requires facing the pain, taking risks and making right choices.

Being a modern tale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” comes complete with environmental themes. The Evil Queen poisons not only an apple but people and planet. The good fairies emerge from friendly birds, to conjure up a very English creation, complete with cute squirrels and the famed white stag.

The M rating is deserved, a mirror of human wickedness. All fairytales contain a moral. In 1812 it was that beauty comes from the inside but it needs a rescuing Prince to restore Snow White to her rightful place, man at side.

In 2012 beauty remains, but it needs an iron fist, a deadly battle between sword and bow, leaving Snow a woman alone. Such is the feminism of the twenty first century.

Posted by steve at 10:09 AM

Sunday, September 16, 2012

heirloom carrots and a missional mode

Browsing a local market on Saturday, we found a bunch of carrots. Not just your standard orange, but at least 3 other, different, types

  • purple (dark)
  • yellow
  • purple

Gorgeous. I walked home wondering if in this photo lies some key elements for a 21st century missional way of being church. Diversity not uniformity, multi-layered not mono-cultural.

This is the world of Heirloom carrots, available from places like Diggers

An exclusive Digger’s mix exploding with colours from red to white and purple to yellow. Succulent and sweet, these carrots hold their colour when cooked, adding an exciting dimension to meals and salads.

I’ve blogged before about the missional lessons at Diggers – the multiple ways they allow a connection with their community

  • A space:
  • A cafe:
  • A demonstration garden:
  • Seeds.
  • Workshops.
  • Festivals.
  • A committed core.

It’s such a practical list of possibilities, an illustration of the diverse ways that a church can create multiple access points and encourage many and varied ways to participate. Of course, the same applies to theological colleges. How can Uniting College encourage such multiple engagements?

If the mono-vision of churches is the worship service, I’d suggest the mono-vision for colleges is topics and courses. So what might be the “demonstrations”; “festivals”; “spaces” offered by theological educators?

Posted by steve at 03:37 PM

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gospel after Christendom in honour of Eddie Gibbs

I wish I could be at this, an event to celebrate missional leadership as embodied in the life and ministry of Eddie Gibbs …

first, to honour Eddie, who as missionary in Chile, writer and lecturer at Fuller Theological Seminary since 1984, has done so much for the mission of the church.

Second, to celebrate the birth of Gospel after Christendom, The: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions. Edited by Ryan Bolger, it includes chapters on innovative church movements in continental Europe, Asia, and Latin American and in African American hip-hop cultures. I was delighted to be asked to contribute a chapter on New Zealand, looking at innovations in mission, worship and leadership.

Alas Fuller Theological Seminary is a tad too far to fly!

Posted by steve at 01:57 PM

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

the unforced rhythms of pace

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Matthew 11:28-30

It’s been a busy wee period. Then suddenly, late last week, a half day meeting for today (Wednesday) was cancelled. Immediately I dashed into my diary the words “Booked” and headed for some balcony time. It’s a phrase from Ron Heifitz, who argues that if life is a dance, we need time to get far enough above the fray to see the key patterns, to gain perspective on conflict, to nurture relationships, to find sanctuary and recover a sense of purpose.

My first balcony task was to buy a new journal, as my current one was pretty close to full. In the process, I saw a playful pen, which I decided was just what my office needs. Plus, being in the shape of a flower, it felt symbolic. There are some lovely signs of fresh life springing up at Uniting College – new initiatives in regional delivery taking shape, the possibility of one year courses in chaplaincy and leadership and some new team practices and culture.

By early afternoon I was back at my desk, needing to work on mission shaped ministry teaching (hence the background image on my laptop – the Sony Bravia ad! – an illustration for a session on Engaging the community). But the “Booked” morning had been so beneficial – cafe time to reflect on what God is doing and beginning to isolate the next set of questions that might need to be asked.

A wise older minister once commented that part of sustainability in ministry is working the rhythms of grace. Yes, there will always be busy times. So when the slow times come, don’t fill them. Instead “book” them for balcony time.

Posted by steve at 10:05 PM

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

the sense in mission: a childhood resource

Here Comes Frankie! is a children’s book by Tim Hopgood. It tells the story of Frankie, who discovers that when he plays the trumpet, he can not only hear, but see and smell. “The air was filled with colourful music and bursts of weird and wonderful smells.”

Which means that everything begins to change. Frankie’s parents begin to dance and all down the street people begin to tap and clap.

It’s a book full of colour (paint chips front and back), styled in a way that insists you touch each page. It’s based on synthaesthesia, the condition in which some people (Miles Davis and Jean Sibelius) actually do see and smell music.

A children’s book, yet a wonderful reminder of the priority of sense in mission, the way that sound, sight and smell change our world, invite people into God’s mission in our communities (join God’s Conga line, to use the image of mission from Stephen Bevans).

Posted by steve at 11:21 PM

Monday, September 10, 2012

“The Cross is not enough” book review – Chapter 6

After a break, I’m back, reading my way through Cross Is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection by Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, Australian Baptist thinkers. The break is important. During the break I experienced this:

Overnight it had rained. Truth be told, overweek it has rained here in Adelaide, making the ground sodden and the trees laden with rain.

As I left the house, I noticed a flash of red and green. Our front yard is currently host to a pair of parrots, outrageous in their bright red crest, raucous in their squawks of delight as they place chase with each other from tree to tree.

As they landed, their weight caused branches, laden with rain, to shake vigorously. Water cascaded, sheets of white, unleashed from a branch of green, by these playful red crested visitors. A full immersion indeed.

In the Scriptures, so often birds are linked with the Spirit’s visit. Have I just participated in nature’s baptism – appreciated again her noise, colour and water? Heard afresh “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”? Been invited anew to creation’s plays? (here)

An experience in which creation made connections with Christianity. Which is exactly what this chapter is about. It asks the question – Are we awake to the possibilities of making connections from the signs of resurrection in nature to general revelation? It is a point well made. Training for ministry, I was asked to connect a Christian theology of creation with a Christian theology of the cross. But what about creation to resurrection? For Clifford and Johnson

We believe that in this motif of resurrection the creation “speaks” to us: resurrection is an integral part of the natural order. It is an analogy, of course, because nature “dies” and “rises again,” and dying-and-rising in nature is not identical to the bodily resurrection of human beings; however, what we need to bring back into focus is that nature itself reveals a resurrection motif, and this motif should be appreciated as being part of general revelation.

What mission possibilities are intriguing:

  • the place of analogies to resurrection in nature – in the cycles of birth and death, in metamorphosis of a butterly. “In today’s context where dolphins feature in alternative spiritualities we might consider reemphasizing the resurrection symbolism associated with these marvelous sea-mammals.”
  • the growth of “the symbologist as a heroic character in fiction.” Dan Brown’s books are a great example, in which the hero is “the symbologist is someone who decodes and interprets the hidden messages of signs—signs and symbols that can carry spiritual messages.” I’ve never heard leader-as-minister described in this way – as a symbologist of the spirit. Although it does link so obviously with the command in Matthew to observe the signs of the times.
  • the importance of thin spaces

“Some people who are highly intuitive are very responsive to encountering God in the world and feel a heightened sense of the divine in geophysical spots of transition—such as the borders where land and sea meet, where open fields become a forest, where mountaintops touch the sky. Such places of transition are often cal led “thin places” simply because the geophysical zones are wafer-thin and can be portals to spiritual encounters. So for people who are hardwired for the creative and intuitive and experiential, the resurrection analogies in nature can be connected to other kinds of thresholds or “thin places.””

Is this what is going on with the growth of walking church (here and here)?

I have some quibbles, but they seem petty when laid alongside the mission possibilities in this chapter and the practical earthing – in nature, in intrigue and in cultivating thin places.

The link from nature to analogies of the resurrection seems to move us from general to special revelation. The analogies seem to cry out at us to reflect: Has there been one who has indeed gone before all of us to die and rise again?

My review, chapter by chapter is as follows: Chapter one is here, Chapter two is here, Chapter three is here, Chapter four is here, a Hillsong excursus here

Posted by steve at 08:31 PM