Wednesday, September 30, 2020

crafting of call in the knitted theologies-of-ordination series

Last year, during my sabbatical as part of my research into craftivism and knitted angels, I learnt to knit. It is one thing to research intellectually. It is quite another to research by actually making. It certainly locates me as a dependant learner, feeling helpless and needing instruction.

With the sabbatical ended and the journal article submitted (“When ‘#xmasangels’ tweet: a Reception Study of Craftivism as Christian Witness,” Ecclesial Practices 7 (2) 2020, (co-authored with Shannon Taylor)), I kept knitting. Another scarf, then a babies cardigan, then some fingerless gloves from re-found op shop wool.

With a week of holiday recently, I found myself knitting dishcloths. During the week, I was sitting with the emotions of my resignation as Principal of KCML. The sadness at the ending of my relationship with ordination formation, mixed with the release from a demanding role which was at such odds with the understandings by which I had been called. As I knitted, I found myself thinking back over a decade of teaching and leading in the forming of ministers, beginning in the Uniting Church in Australia, followed by the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa.

In the Uniting Church, when deacons are ordained, they are given a gift of a towel (along with a Bible, water, bread and wine), to indicate the diaconal call to a ministry of service.

A group of people, representing those amongst whom the minister will serve, comes forward. They bring a Bible, and water, bread and wine, along with a bowl and towel. Other symbols related to the field of service may also be brought.

One of them says: We are the people of God. We bring the holy Bible, and water, and bread and wine as signs of the ministry to which you were ordained.

Another says: We are the people of God. We bring the symbols of our common life and service.

The minister takes the Bible, opens it and places it on the lectern or pulpit; takes the jug and pours water into the font; and takes the bread and wine and places them on the communion table. S/he then takes the bowl and towel and any other symbol/s and places them in front of the communion table.

As I knitted, I realised that dishclothes offered a similar symbol. I was “hand-making” a symbol of service, that embodied the call to mission and ministry.

So began the knitted theologies of ordination series! Dishclothes, each of which speak to theologies of call to mission and ministry.

First, co-mission.

dishcloth2

Knitted dishcloths as a symbol of ordination as a service of Christ; the colours an affirmation of the creative humanity upon which the Spirit of Christ falls and by which service to Christ is made/woven into the church in mission. Three colours to demonstrate the three strands of word (teach), sacrament (baptise) and discipling (make disciples) by which the co-mission (with other disciples) of Jesus (Go into all the world) is fulfilled (working with the wonderful work by Paul Avis, A Ministry Shaped by Mission).

Second, formation.

ordination3

A symbol of service. Handmade because every act of service in ministry and mission is handmade – is “truth through personality.” In the making of this dishcloth a blemish was discovered – a strand so thin the wool needed to be broken. Despite this blemish, the knitting continued. Such is the call of God, weaving human brokenness into a tapestry of love. Indeed as I knit, it becomes clear who this gift is for.

As I keep knitting, I hope to add to this series …

Posted by steve at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, April 13, 2020

seeing faith: art and theology in Christ in the Wilderness

Christ in the Wilderness: Reflecting on the Paintings of Stanley Spencer by Stephen Cottrell has been a wonderful Lenten 2020 companion.

Art opens up the imagination. Cottrell reflects on the paintings of British painter, Stanley Spencer and in particular a Lenten series of paintings done by Spencer in the 1930′s. The book begins with a wonderful introduction to the spirituality and life of Spencer. Then there are 5 chapters engaging with 5 different paintings.

Cottrell is a brilliant communicator. The clever interweaving of stories from his life and experience, along with Biblical text, theology and the life of Stanley Spencer make for an accessible, yet at times profound engagement. Paying close attention to the imaginative work of an artist makes a space for stillness and reflection. At the same time, there is constant engagement with the life of Spencer, which adds layers of insight.

A picture a week made for a paced Lenten. Each picture is reproduced and in colour. The week began with a few days of my own contemplation on Spencer’s art. This was followed by reading slowly, a page or two, of Cottrell’s insights, as the week progressed. The result was fresh insights and a more contemplative Lent.

Posted by steve at 09:41 AM

Friday, April 10, 2020

limit your palette: radio ZB Easter Friday interview notes

jeremy-chen-b3hedAc21B0-unsplash

I was interviewed on radio ZB on Easter Friday morning. Here were the questions asked, and my rough notes in preparation.

Introduction: When we think about church and traditions around Easter, we might think of quite traditional churches, but there are church movements that have been wrestling and exploration different ways of expressing and meeting together. Steve Taylor has been leading and observing some of those new approaches to community faith practice for 20 years.

Question: What’s the opportunity for churches to explore new ways of doing things in the time of Covid-19 and how do you think that might actually benefit churches and their communities?

“Limit the palette” (David Sheppard). So not being able to physically gather is a limiting of the palette. It can benefit churches by sparking new imaginations. I’ve seen the creation of DIY walk the local community Stations of the Cross. I’ve seen folk realise that being home alone is a bit like a monastic experience and so offer contemplation and isolation spiritual practices. So limiting the palette has produced fresh forms of spiritual practice.

Question: What have you learned about what to focus on and what not to stress about when it comes to changes to the way we might traditionally worship – are people likely to be sitting around singing hymns on Zoom calls?

Don’t sing on Zoom! Technically the lag times make it awful.

First, stick to your strengths. If you’ve been good at technology, do technology. If you’ve been good at care and connection, do care and connection.

Second, use the tradition. Christian history is rich and deep. There are people before us who’ve been locked down, who’ve explored ways of doing worship. The letters of Paul were written from prison – a lockdown experience. So how might that help us respond.

Question: There are people for whom, big festival celebrations like Easter and Christmas, weddings and funerals are the only time they engage with a collective spirituality. Now that the doors of those buildings are closed, how can communities think about connecting with and serving each in new ways?

There are reports of online attendance increasing in the first week of lockdown. Perhaps it was ministers watching their friends but it will be interesting to see what happens. There are reports of first time visitors online. It is easier to check out a church by clicking on a link than it is to dress up the kids and be a first time visitor. So there is opportunity.

But please use the online space as it is made to be. Remember that online is a ‘making and doing’ space, not a ‘sit back and be told’ space. So explore ways to care and connect online.

Credit: Photo by Jeremy Chen on Unsplash

Posted by steve at 07:26 AM

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

making matters: with a downunder #Kiwiangels hashtag

A piece I wrote last month for SPANZ, the denominational magazine of the Presbyterian Church. It is a popularisation of my craftivism research, with a downunder challenge.

Kiwiangels

Photo by Kayli Taylor

Making matters

God is a master maker, according to Proverbs 8:30. God delights in making, both at creation and among the human race. The chapter begins with the Maker calling in the streets, offering wisdom not inside the temple, but at the crossroads of life, not in the stillness of liturgy but the bustle of the city gates (1-3). The wisdom on offer is fit for daily purpose – words that lead to life offered at the door of every house (34-5).

Making mattered to theologians of the early Church, who wove relationships between God as maker and discipleship as God’s children. Maximus the Confessor called Christian life a game played by children before God. In Acts, Dorcas created a fresh expression of church with the poor through mending and Lydia worked with fine purple cloth, while Paul, Priscilla and Aquila sustained their mission through the making of tents.

The place of making in mission intrigues me. So in recent months, I have researched Christmas Angels, a local church outreach that began in the north of England in 2014. The idea is simple: make hand-knitted angels, attach a tag, and leave for others to find.

Why make? Mystery in mission, was the answer, according to founders, Methodist church ministers, Rob Wylie and David Wynd, whom I interviewed last month in Durham, England. Seeing a felted angel made by Lou Davis (a wonderfully talented pioneer Methodist church leader) a lightbulb went off for Rob and David: “People walk the same route to work every single day. Let’s see what happens when they see something they don’t normally see. What they make of the message will be up to them. An angel turns up and what might change?”

Christianity, like Christmas, has, over the years, become increasingly wrapped in tinsel. What might happen if making, in the simplicity of a hand-made angel, was what mattered at Christmas?

What happened? Well, it seems that local English churches adore making things. What began in 2014 with a few churches near Rob and David, was quickly taken up by churches all over Britain. In 2017, over 60,000 angels, each lovingly tagged, were yarn bombed throughout England. In the dark of winter down country roads and up high streets, outside train stations and opposite local schools, hand-made knitted angels just turned up.

I was curious. What did the neighbours make of the making? Were yarnbombed angels a nuisance? I turned to social media as part of my research. Each knitted angel came with a hashtag (search online for “#XmasAngel”) and I found the neighbours responding (tweeting) online. Words like “lovely” and “thanks” kept being repeated. For one person, the angels meant people were “thinking of us here”. For another it was an experience of “divine intervention”. A mother was moved to tears as she watched her children place their newly found angel atop the Christmas tree. Of the 1,100 responses (tweets), not one was negative. The making of knitted angels brought communities together, made visible the church and materialised joy and surprise in the experience of being found by an angel.

It all makes sense of the angels in the Christmas story. They were outdoors. They were making faith visible, not with their hands, but their voices with songs of peace and love for all humankind.

It also makes sense of the making in Proverbs 8. Making matters and mission needs to be “out and about” up streets and at the crossroads. Making matters as the Church becomes playful, turning “purl one and knit two together” into unspoken acts of public mission.

Are there makers in Presbyterian churches? Yvonne Wilkie, our Church’s former archivist, recalls knitted nativities in Presbyterian history. But that was the past, and we all now live in the present.

The instructions are online (https://www.christmasangel.net/). They are simple enough that, as part of my research, I learnt to make one. Is anyone interested in making and mission, with a downunder #Kiwiangels hashtag? Or are Kiwi summers now too busy and too hot for making to matter?

Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 09:14 PM

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Craftivism as a missiology of making abstract for Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference 2019

I’m hoping to be in the north of England for a few weeks in September. I have 2 weeks of sabbatical I need to take. I am hoping to link that with being able to participate in the Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference 2019 at Durham. I’ve just submitted a paper proposal. This proposal is a development of the paper I’ve had accepted for ANZATS in Auckland in July 2019, as a result of some of the data analysis I’ve done during my sabbatical.

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Where #christmasangels tread: Craftivism as a missiology of making

The church is formed by witness. A contemporary ecclesial embodiment of witness is craftivism, which combines craft and activism. One example is the Christmas angels project, in which local churches are encouraged to knit Christmas Angels and yarnbomb their surrounding neighbourhoods. This paper examines this embodiment of craftivism as a fresh expression of mission.

Given that Christmas angels were labelled with a twitter hashtag, technology was utilised to access the tweets as empirical data in order to analyse the experiences of those who received this particular form of Christian witness. Over 1,100 “#christmasangel” tweets were extracted and examined. Geographic mapping suggests that Christmas angels have taken flight over England. Content analysis reveals a dominant theme of a found theology, in which angels are experienced as surprising gift. Consistent with the themes of Advent, this embodiment of craftivism was received with joy, experienced as place-based and understood in the context of love and community connection.

A Christology of making will be developed, reading the layers of participative making in dialogue with David Kelsey’s theological anthropology. The research has relevance, first, exploring the use of twitter in empirical ecclesial research; second, offering a practical theology of making; third, challenging missiology in ‘making’ a domestic turn.

Let’s see what happens. In the meantime, back to learning to knit :)

Posted by steve at 07:12 PM

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Decolonising the (theological) curriculum through place- based pedagogies

IMG_7087

After teaching Theological Reflection on Saturday – on place-based methodologies – I spent some time reflecting on the experience. It was shaping up to be a hot afternoon, so in the morning I worked up a new activity, inviting the class to walk the local botanical gardens in order to break up a 3.5 hour lecture slot. It began out of compassion, but as I reflected, there were some interesting learnings happening. A potential reflective-practice journal article abstract began to take shape

Decolonising the (theological) curriculum through place- based pedagogies

A Theology of Place from :redux on Vimeo.

How to teach place-based theologies to those who might feel shallow-rooted? My practice-based research sought to investigate place-based teaching in the context of theological education among those being formed for the vocation of ordained ministry. I sought to decolonise the curriculum, introducing indigenous theologians, who document the way that identity is formed through  generations of relationships connected to place.  Richard Twist (Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way) emphasises the need to do theology in relation to a primal sense of connection to birth place, Denise Champion (Yarta Wandatha) examines the interplay between land and people, while Maori approaches to pepeha develop identity in relation to landmarks like mountains and river. 

The challenge was that the cohort was not indigenous. As migrants, or descendants of migrants, experiences of a sense of relationship to place can be limited.  In addition, the class was experiencing dislocation, gathered from various national locations into a context not familiar to participants.

The space between indigenous knowing and migrant experience was presented as an opportunity. The writing of Alifeti Ngahe (Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight) was instructive, providing vocational examples of how he migrated into new communities and developed place-based theologies.  Students were invited to locate themselves as “other” and in that epistemic rupture (Rosemary Dewerse, Breaking Calabashes) find a posture of investigative curiosity.  The class was sent in groups to examine statues in a local Botanical Park. They were provided with a short history of various monuments and instructed to see if they could do what Alifeti had done, make theological connections with place. 

Each group reported a range of insights. Work was then done as a cohort to shape the insights into prayers of approach for use in the context of vocational ministry. The liturgical movements of thanksgiving, confession and lament provide room to examine a range of important movements in the journey of decolonisation. This enriched the place-based reflection and provided vocational application.  

The argument is that practice-based pedagogies inform the practise of place-based ministries. Outdoor experiences, paying attention to local monuments, naming epistemic rupture and listening to indigenous theologians provide important resources in place-based teaching.    

Posted by steve at 10:33 AM

Saturday, September 22, 2018

built for change workshop

I tried a new approach to teaching today. I was asked to provide a keynote address in Northern Presbytery as they began a more regional approach to leadership training. I had my book Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration but wanted to move beyond talking head and instead offer  an interactive, engaging workshop task.

As everyone arrived, they received a handout, a summary of my notes. Each handout also had a different coloured sticky note (one of 6 different colours). As I spoke, in introducing the Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration  material, I linked the (6) different colours to the six images of leadership Paul offers in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4.

  • Servant – light yellow
  • Garden – green/blue
  • Build – red
  • Resource manage – pink
  • Fool –dark blue
  • Parent – bright yellow

The workshop task involved dividing the room into three around three church change projects.
A – If you wanted to care for creation in your local community …
B – If you wanted to engage your wider community through social media …
C – If you wanted to diversify your Church Council – younger or more culturally diverse …

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Each person was asked to speak to their selected change project through the standpoint of the colour of their sticky note

  • Servant – light yellow
  • Garden – green/blue
  • Build – red
  • Resource manage – pink
  • Fool –dark blue
  • Parent – bright yellow

Tasks:
1. Think of ways that Paul’s image/the colour of your sticky note is needed in this change project.
2. Think of what would happen to the project if Paul’s image/the colour of your sticky note was not part of this change project.
3. If you finish, see if there is an actual church change project in the group you could brainstorm

There wasn’t time to debrief the groups. But watching the groups, I was struck by how quickly mutual patterns of leadership emerged, with groups looking around going “OK, which colour is next.” And so quickly, every person was drawn into the change project, rather than privileged voices.  Listening into the groups, I heard comments like “oh wow, I can see how all these 6 work together”.

A workshop exercise worth developing.  Invite me :)

Posted by steve at 05:01 PM

Thursday, June 14, 2018

burning bushes in cultures and contexts

It’s been a real privilege to spend a week with the Church of Scotland, speaking at various events on innovation and mission. My thanks to Doug Gay, Trinity College and the Panel for Review and Reform, who generously made the time possible and did the hard work of promoting, organising and hosting. Over four days, I did 5 different events, the shortest 90 minutes, the longest three hours, all with a different focus.

Some events were open to the public and provided a chance in general to work with questions of innovation and mission. Some were focused on senior leadership of national and Presbytery bodies, or those working in theological formation. These gave a chance to compare stories and in the richness of different contexts, gain insight.

burningbush As a way of helping locate myself, and as a way to emphasis how cultures and context create space for innovation, I began each session both with a greeting (mihi) in Maori and showed some images of the burning bush in Aoteoroa New Zealand – and the role of Maori culture, Pacific migration and alternative worship. In the burning vine that is Te Aka Puaho, in the frangipani flowers added to the stained glass window of St Johns Papapatoetoe, in the pumice rocks soaked with methylated spirits that then then burn blue, there are important mission insights, about how diverse cultures hear faith differently.

Posted by steve at 12:37 AM

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Call for papers: CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTS IN ASIA

A project I’ve been involved with as part of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership for last 2 years – now stepping it up

CALL FOR PAPERS: CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTS IN ASIA

A Symposium
September 28-29, 2018
University of Otago, Dunedin

Art is an essential dialogue partner for Christian faith. From earliest times, art has given expression to Christian faith. It is a means of contextual theological expression and enriches understandings of doctrine and practice. Art has also served to offer critique of Christian faith.  
  
The Christianity and Cultures in Asia Network calls for papers that reflect on art and Christian faith in Asian cultures. Themes could include:
 
• How has art in Asia expressed, interpreted and challenged Christian faith?
• How might Christian doctrines be uniquely expressed through Asian art and Asian art forms?
• Can art from Asia shed light on the complex and continually contested relationship between art and faith, including interpretation, authority, hermeneutics and performance? 
• How might art in Asia give new insight into biblical texts?

Art is interpreted broadly, including architecture, music, literature, painting, visual media, sculpture, dance, and calligraphy.  Presentations that include art are particularly welcomed. This symposium follows the successful symposium on the movie Silence held in March 2017. All abstracts will be blind peer reviewed. 
 
The Christianity and Cultures in Asia Network is a partnership between the Theology Programme at the University of Otago, the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, and the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College, Dunedin. The Symposium will encourage use of two substantial collections of print resources held by the Presbyterian Research Centre, the Rita Mayne England collection on Christianity in Asia, and the Chrysalis Seed collection on Christianity and the Arts.
 
Please submit paper proposals not exceeding 500 words by July 2nd 2018.
Presentations will be 30mins in duration followed by discussion.

Proposals should be submitted to: murray.rae@otago.ac.nz

Posted by steve at 07:21 PM

Thursday, March 22, 2018

preaching to a burgled church

Last weekend I was preaching at a local church. I arrived in the morning to the news that the church auditorium had been burgled overnight. The sound system and data projector were gone. With the Police on the way to dust for fingerprints, there was no way the auditorium could be used.

broken-window-1501606 (not an actual picture of the actual burglary)

The church had a hall and with 15 minutes to go, I suddenly not only had a whole group of strangers to meet and greet for the first time. I also had a church service to re-jig. My preparation had included a number of creative moments that relied on the now absent sound system and data projector:

  • the use of three art images to illuminate the Lectionary text, to be shown via the data projector
  • a digital file of a song for during the offering
  • a digital file of a song for the end of the service
  • a responsive contemporary Immigrants Creed

In addition, there was a hall to set up, along with the range of emotions that would be present. Which meant some rapid mental reshuffling and some interesting learnings.

First, at the beginning, the value of humour and a settling prayer.  As we began, I introduced myself, noted the burglary and that as a result, this would be a service I would never forget. So could we pause and in this new and unsettling space, take a moment to gather ourselves.  I then named some of the emotions running through me and invited God to be present. Doing this provided some instant connection and a sense of solidarity.

Second, at the end, as a key leader in the church stood to thank me for the worship and sermon, the comment was made “It is good to be reminded we don’t need a building in order to worship.”   In other words, the enforced shift provided an experience in which the shared realisation could emerge – that worship does not rely on bricks and mortar.

Third, thank goodness for hymn books. Yes, all the words for sung worship had been carefully loaded ready for data projection and these could no longer be used. But a stack of hymn books meant that we soon had something to sing. More importantly, everyone had something to hold, something familiar. This gave a sense of comfort. It also meant that the absence of the digital songs I had planned for the offering and the end of the service could be quietly dropped.

Fourth, the enforced shift made it easy to implement immediate change.  I was suddenly no longer the visiting speaker but the leader in an unfamiliar space. “How do you want the chairs?” was the first question. “Ah, circle please” I said, not sure if this was allowed. But in a new space, with no tradition, the churches were quickly arranged in a lovely relational, intimate arc. They say you need to build relationship in order to implement change. Well not in a burglary. So never waste a good crisis. Use it to enact different patterns of connecting.

Fifth, the value of being up close.  When it came time for the worship by considering three art images that illuminated the lectionary text, I announced that because of plan B – B for burglary, I would show three art images by walking around with my laptop.  I asked that a hymn be played quietly, and invited people waiting for the images to enjoy the music.  As I walked among the chairs, I noticed people leaning forward to look at my laptop. There was body movement, in a different way than if the images had been on a big screen. There was also often spontaneous comments, like “that’s the best one” or “is that a baby?”  When I mentioned the art images later in my sermon, I included these spontaneous comments, pointing to people and saying “you were right, it was a baby.”  Being up close invited a different type of bodily engagement in the act of seeing and contemplating, along with a set of interactions between myself and those present. All of this enhanced the sense of connection.

There was certainly truth in my observation that this would be a service I would never forget. It was a great morning. The burglary enabled a very different sort of worship experience, one which might in fact be remarkably useful for a church needing to continue to change.

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM

Monday, February 05, 2018

Lent-inar

(part of a work project I’m playing with)

snapshots

During Lent 2018, KCML is offering (free) web-inars. Weekly, two of the contributors to Snapshots in Mission will be interviewed via online video conferencing.

  • What sparked their writing?
  • What piece of music speaks to their article? What are the implications, for church, ministry and mission?

There will be time for Q and A, using video conferencing technology. Thursday’s (February 22; March 1, 8, 15, 2018, 4:30-5:15 pm). Attend one. Attend them all. Learn how to link to the Lent-inar by emailing rosemary@knoxcentre.ac.nz

Posted by steve at 09:11 AM

Sunday, November 12, 2017

the colour of spirituality in the craft of academic writing

Examen is a spiritual practice. It involves prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence. It tends to involve words, in the form of questions, that seek

In the last few years, I have found myself adapting the practise of examen. Instead of words, I use colour. I call this visual examen in which colour is used in seeking to detect God’s presence. This involves 4 colours
- yellow – where is surprise?
- blue – where is wonder?
- grey – what brings clarity?
- green – what brings growth?
To begin I use colour pencils and scribble the four colours on a blank page. I then reflect on a particular event, looking for surprise, wonder, clarity and growth. (For the story of how these questions developed and how they shape my regular work, see my book Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration).

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This week, for the first time, I found myself using visual examen. Not on an event or a day, but on a project, spread over months. I undertook a visual examen of my academic writing. On Monday, I heard I’d had an article accepted for publication. On Wednesday, I submitted another academic article to another journal.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 11.19.29 PM

Two such significant events in the space of a few days got me thinking. Could the presence of the divine be detected in the craft of academic writing? Could a journal article, a project spread over months, be a spiritual exercise?

There was certainly the need for clarity/grey. This came in the careful choice of words. It also came in the need to choose keywords and hone a 150 word abstract out of an 8,000 word text. The seeking of clarity was also evident in the task of footnoting and creating a bibliography.

There was certainly growth/green. This came in the commitment to original research which is at the heart of every journal article. It came in the synthesis of the literature and the creation of an argument that would sustain results, discussion and conclusion. For both articles, on Monday and Wednesday, I ended the writing sensing that I had grown, in my understandings, through the requirement to turn vague thoughts into words, link them into sentences and finally turn out paragraphs on a page.

There was certainly surprise/yellow. This came in the curiousity that creates a research question and begins the process that will eventually result in an article. It comes through the way that research is at times a haphazard, unexpected, dropping down a rabbit hole, a la Alice in Wonderland, into a whole new world. It also comes in the structuring of the argument, the use of topic sentences to create a flow, the use of introduction, anecdote and example to create and maintain interest.

But what of wonder/blue? Pondering this colour took the most work. But in both articles, I eventually located wonder. For the Monday article, it was the grace of finding of insight in the indigenous culture of another. For the Wednesday article, it was the delight in weaving an Orthodox icon with the theological insights of Rowan Williams, The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ.

I have, over the last few years, used visual examen to lead myself. The four colours have shaped my working leadership, allowing me to pursue a daily workplace spirituality. It was a rich exercise this week to use the same four colours to reflect on a project over time and a particular task, that of writing an academic article. The four colours breathed life into what is a demanding and extended process. It suggests that academic writing is so much more than an intellectual exercise. It is also a spiritual pursuit, in which my soul is invited to clarify and create, in the finding of wonder and surprise.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM

Sunday, September 17, 2017

genealogy of desert: the Word of mission in Exodus 3

Consuming Word
bush crackles
as livid presence in living present
red-rimmed
is unconsumed

by
naming Word

this is my beloved
particular, storied, watching
Moses, stolen son
bush tracking
indigenous songlines
singing ancient

sounds

Here I am
desert rock wanderer,
in silent desert, I scream
raised, stranger in a strange land
hearing Word

from
Ancestor Word
I am, God of past pleasure
woven through time
sperm of covenant
tracking grace bearing of desert woman
Hagar, Rebekah, Zipporah, Mary

stands
in time
this place of hearing
makes holy
through calling, responding
Word


Theotokos of the Unburnt Bush: more here

Posted by steve at 05:39 PM

Monday, August 28, 2017

the dangers of heavy in weight research

I have been wondering recently if different types of research carry different weight. In July, I was presenting two papers at two different conferences. One was on indigenous responses to Empire. Titled Converting empire: theologies of church and state in the encounter between British and Maori, it involved some pretty sad reading about the impact of the Great War of 1864 on Maori. A second paper was on Christian theology and sexual violence. Titled Sexual violence in the line of David: The possibilities and limits of recapitulation, it involved some equally sad reading on the impact of sexual violence.

Both papers also invited those who might listen into some difficult spaces. The treatment of indigenous peoples and sexual violence engage us body, mind and soul. Who knows who is in the room, and how they might respond, to presentations that engage heart and head.

I finished both presentations exhausted. There is always a degree of anxiety and nervous tension that goes into a presentation. There is a vulnerability in presenting work to peers. There is the inevitable imposter syndrome – the voices saying I’ve not read enough, that need to be met with the realism of “I never will.”

But this time the exhaustion seemed worse.

This was brought into sharp relief, the next day, when I began looking at a piece of contextual theology, a 63 page comic book titled How to Disappear Completely (2017). I had taken it as holiday reading, intending to enjoy it for pleasure. But within a few hours, I was enormously energised. I had sketched out 750 words. I had done an initial literature review. I found, in a 2nd hand book shop in Bristol, a Faber Gallery book on Stanley Spencer’s Resurrection paintings, which opened up a rich vein of potential comparative enquiry. I had spied a potential arts and culture journal and sent off an enquiry email. I was energised. This was fun.

Placing the two experiences of research side by side within the space of a few days was insightful. Sure it is always more fun (for me anyhow) to start something than end something. But something more was going on. I would suggest that some research is light in weight. Not light weight, but light in weight. It takes me into parts of being human that are creative. These are places of joy and life. Other research is heavy in weight. It takes me into parts of being human that are sad. These are places of pain and heartache. Both are important. I need to invest in both, to be light in weight and heavy in weight. For a time, for the time leading up to the two July conference presentations, I had become out of balance, too heavy in weight!

Unknown-2 Last week, the Stanley Spencer Resurrection paintings book arrived. It sits on my desk. I have made an addition to my research pipeline. Under conceiving new ideas and draft proposals, I have added an investigation into Resurrection today, looking at contemporary depictions

Visualising the resurrection in contemporary urban contexts

How to Disappear Completely is the latest offering from UK artist, Leeds-based, Si Smith. It is a 63 page comic that offers a sophisticated visual engagement with the Lenten journey and the city of Leeds, UK.  A commercial cartoonist by day, by night Smith expresses his faith in ways both visual and playful. Previous work includes 40, a creative imagining of Jesus in the wilderness, Stations of the Resurrection as a set of illustrations reflecting on Jesus’ resurrection today and 25 Advent Flatpack a series of paper-based figures to be assembled in the Christmas build up.
 
This research would bring How to Disappear Completely into conversation first, with the existing body of work, to chart the development of Smith’s visual work.  A key theoretical lens would the work of Scott McCloud, who in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993, 7) defines a comic as “sequential visual art” that works through techniques of “amplification through simplification.” This allows a reading of repeated visual motifs like smoke and pigeons in How to Disappear Completely as visual amplications of human ephemerality in the urban landscape.
 
Second, I would examine the way that Smith’s work can be positioned in conversation with painter, Stanley Spencer. A Spencer quote on page 2 of How to Disappear Completely offers words to introduce reflection on the nature of contemporary vocation. Spencer painted works on Christ in the Wilderness (1939-54) and Resurrection (1945-1950).  He sought to visualise resurrection as ascent, needing to be depicted in the urban streets on which he worked and walked.  How to Disappear Completely is, I would argue, a response to Spencer.  Both work as examples of imaging the resurrection in contemporary urban context.  Placed on conversation, they allow to consider a constant artistic challenge, that of visualising resurrection. They thus present contemporary attempts to visualise the resurrection not as a historical moment but an unfolding contemporary urban transformation.

After the recent heavy in weight research, I need some light in weight research. Both are important.

Posted by steve at 11:48 AM