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).


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

Saturday, February 27, 2016

song for the homecoming: Longtime by Salmonella Dub

It’s good to see you again my friend
It’s been a long, long time

Don’t you fall from grace
Be cool with your space
Check your place
In the race

Posted by steve at 07:53 PM

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Creative resource: Ira

Ira is a resource I picked up at Toitu Otago Settlers Musuem today. It is a set of small, handheld cards, about 2 cm by 6 cm. It is beautifully coloured on one side, with the same picture of a New Zealand landscape. On the other side, different for each card, is a Maori word and the English translation.


I thought it had potential as a creative spiritual resource. So I purchased it and brought it back to work.

Meeting my colleagues, I shuffled it, held it beautifully coloured side up and invited them to choose one. Each chose a card, turned it over, and read the word. Looking at them, it was obvious the word had personal significance, a helpful clarifying encouragement in the middle of a hot, tiring afternoon.

The word then became a benediction from me to them as they left at days end. “Enjoy being free.” “Go to be creative.”

I will use this as my Lenten discipline, choosing a word and prayerfully sitting with it.

It would also work well in group settings. You could turn one over and as an act of praise, invite the team to reflect on what that word looks like in the values of the team. Or share a story of how they have experienced that word. Or recall a Bible story that expresses the word.

It is a beautiful, indigenous, spirituality resource.

Posted by steve at 08:09 PM

Thursday, October 22, 2015

time to flourish: a theology of time management

The day lies open before me. It is gift, waiting to unwrapped.

How to fill it?

Appointments – these include the requests from outside to meet, greet, complain, engage. Each of these reach out to fill my day.  When I think of appointments, I also include my to do list. As it lies open before me, it is also making appointments, marking my diary not with “Meeting” but with “Complete marking schedule.”

Crisis – something unexpected might happen. I recall days that have been consumed by funding crisis or relationship breakdown. The adrenaline surges and the crisis engulfs.

Routine – the comfort of habit. I settle today in what I did yesterday. Yet if I am honest, what I did yesterday was what I did last week, last month, last month, last decade. There is security in this, the rhythm of routine. But do I want my gravestone to be titled “lived by habit.”

Flourish – Psalm 1, the lectionary reading for today, suggests another approach. In verse 3

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Which got me thinking about the shape of flourishing. I suspect what it means for me to flourish might be different from what it means for you to flourish. My role, my skills, my context, invite a particular set of fruit.

The Psalm mentions not only fruit, but leaves.  Like fruit, leaves also are particular, shaped by seasons. Again comes the reminder that my season is different than your season. So to flourish, in fruit and foliage, is unique, an individual fingerprint.

This requires some work, some intentionality. What might my fruit be? I began to journal, a rough draft. A flourishing Principal will

  • ensure continuous quality improvement in learning and forming
  • be careful, competent, yet creative with resources (buildings, people, systems)
  • connect with stakeholders in ways that serve the church of tomorrow
  • think (research and write) in ways that take the organisation they serve back to the future

In doing this work, I find that the gift that is my day now has some shape. It might well be expressed in appointments, in responding to crisis, in routine. But my day, my time mangement, is now  more that the sum of its parts.  To grow fruit takes time. The deliberate application of fertiliser, the careful pruning, the commitment to thin appropriately. And so the gift of today is now shaped – by what it means for me and my organisation to flourish.

Posted by steve at 07:04 AM

Monday, October 12, 2015

so many “news”

Today, I start a new role, as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. It involves a new country, a new city, a new denomination, a new team. That’s a lot of news!

In an amazing set of “coincidences”, the lectionary reading on the day I moved countries (1 October) was Luke 10:1-12.


Further, as I left Australia, a recent graduate gave me a gift and a word of thanks. “Thanks for sending us out in mission.” The image is based on Saint Brendan and the Celtic pattern of mission.

So it’s nice to be beginning a season of “news” with a reminder of Luke 10:1-12. Here is what I wrote about Luke 10:1-12, for a book on mission in New Zealand, in 2008.

First, listening occurs as the disciples first hear the sending God, and second, seek to discern where God is already at work. Hence the command to “Take no bag, no purse, no sandals” (Luke 10:4). This is a radically different concept of mission. We start not with what we imagine the needs of the community are. Instead we start by looking for the welcome that God has already prepared in advance for us. There are echoes of Exodus 3:5, where Moses is instructed to take off shoes, for he is standing on holy ground. This suggests that for the sending God, the places we go, the mission places, our towns and villages, are actually holy places. This is holiness not as separation, but holiness because God is present and up to something.

Second, community building starts because the sending originates in community. The disciples are then sent out in community (Luke 10:1). They are sent to eat and drink in table fellowship (Luke 10:7). (It is a great life being a Luke 10 missionary!) As one writer put it (Robert Tannehill, Luke), “the mission requires contact with people in their homes and towns, while brief contacts on the road are insufficient.” Mission is an act in community, an invitation to dwell, deeply, incarnationally, within the lives of people.

Third, the mission of God includes the proclamation of peace (Luke 10:5). This speaking has echoes of First Testament concepts of shalom. God’s covenant concerned the whole of life: economics and politics, crime and justice, societal and environmental relationships. God was forming Israel as a community to live together in ways that protected new migrants, offered justice when accidents occurred and encouraged sustainable farming. The mission of God is thus this call to seek the wellbeing of all the facets of our community. Hence we engage in acts of healing.

Fourth, Luke 10 is written to a changing church in a changing world. During times of change we all seek certainty. Some seek certainty in historic understandings of church and the Bible. Others seek certainty in charismatic leaders. Luke 10 offers us a different type of certainty, that of God in the world. Luke 10 tells the story of a sending God who invites us to seek God’s future in the ordinary and everyday. It is an affirmation that 70 no-name disciples could be trusted with God’s missionary purposes. It is the anticipation that as we accept the hospitality of the culture, then God’s healing and redemptive purposes can be discerned. It is a vision of church as wholistic, embracing shalom: word, sign and deed. It reminds us that God is active in our world, at the tables and cafes of our culture.

Old words. Historic words, that provide a simplicity and a clarity for the “new” season – listen, build community, speak peace, welcome change in the ordinary and everyday.

Posted by steve at 05:25 AM

Monday, September 28, 2015

walking the zone of transition

I took this video as part of my spirituality retreat at Lindisfarne last week. I found myself reflecting on zones of transition, those physical spaces that reference change.

transitionsholyislandloop from steve taylor on Vimeo.

In this case it was the high tide line. The sea weed is a marker. Above the sand is dry and safe, below, the sand is wet. I found myself walking the high tide line, simply being in the physicality of experience.

That’s our current experience. Friday was my last day as Principal at Uniting College. All through the weekend we worked, preparing to shift. Bio-security laws are tough going into New Zealand, so the barbeque needs to be de-spidered, the tents cleaned. It will take six weeks for our stuff to be shipped, so there’s working out what we can fit into a suitcase that will be enough to live on – clothes, entertainment, books – for six weeks. There is a work office to declutter, deciding what paper needs to stay for the incoming Principal, what I want to take with me.

Today – Monday – the packers arrived and are with us until Wednesday. Thursday we fly, leaving Adelaide around 1 pm, arriving Christchurch late evening. Sunday we begin the drive to Dunedin, arriving Monday to take possession of the house.

We’re walking a zone of transition. We’re tired. We’re emotionally spent. All we can do is walk, step by step, decision by decision, box by box.

Posted by steve at 11:30 PM

Saturday, September 19, 2015

backpacking transitions

Lindisfarne was a great place to process transition. I asked the taxi to drop me off early so that I could walk in. With a heavy back pack, the act of taking it off when I sat down for lunch became a rich bodily reminder of what I am processing. I am taking off the Principal “back pack.” As I do, a certain level of weight and responsibility is removed.

Yet I’m still me, with or without back pack. I am still graced by God, bound by family relationships, gifted with certain insights. It was a rich insight to realise that I am still vital, still loved, despite the demands of the Principal placement over the last three years.

There was great joy over the rest of the day, walking back pack free, enjoying being me.

During the second day, the backpack was worn constantly. This was partly reality, that I had no where to store it. But I could have asked the pub where I was staying. I chose not too. The task of this day was to look ahead, to begin to hear God for this next season. That required the back pack on, for it is in the middle of things that God speaks.

Carrying a back pack produces initial soreness of muscle. But over time, the body will harden. This is encouragement for the next season. In a few weeks, having taken one back pack off, I will put on another one. It was helpful to realise that the initial days of new responsibility are in one sense a temporary soreness.

Posted by steve at 08:41 PM

Thursday, September 17, 2015

spirituality of transitions: Lindisfarne


Today I head to Lindisfarne, Holy Island. It has a rich and deep spiritual history. I went there in 2012 for a time of retreat at a number of significant life junctures. I was in a process of call to be Principal of Uniting College. So the time on Lindisfarne was important in terms of prayer and reflection.

On Holy Island, I encountered another transition. Here is what I wrote –

Inside the church, St Marys, I came across my fathers death. A lifesize sculpture, four men carrying a coffin stands inside the door. It is black, carved in stone. Cold, enduring. It is a confronting moment, facing death. Enclosed within ancient stone walls, it makes the church feel like a tomb.

The moment was more confronting, for my father’s name is Cuthbert. Entering that church, in that retreat of transition, I faced the reality that one day, I would carry my father’s coffin.

So, some four years later, I am returning. I’m wanting to place myself again in that rich and deep history. I go expecting to be prayerful about the ending of one season of being Principal (at Uniting College) and the start of another (at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership). I go expecting to honour my father, whose name is Cuthbert and to be glad of his ordinary saintliness in my life.

I’m taking Praying Our Goodbyes: A Spiritual Companion Through Life’s Losses and Sorrows by Joyce Rupp. I’ve used this personally at times of transition, including to help me find God when a community I really wanted to work with said no. I’ve used it in ministry, to help communities process farewells and individuals engage with deeply buried grief.

Posted by steve at 06:47 PM

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

a parting gift: lecturer and Principal wordle

What words describe Steve as a lecturer and Principal? 22 random students were polled and asked to share three words each. Most responded and provided 40 words that create a word picture.

Steve Taylor lecturer wordle

Steve, thank you for taking your call so seriously, and bringing your whole self to this placement. You have and will continue to be a profound influence on us all.

Posted by steve at 11:53 PM

Sunday, April 19, 2015

thin places

A delightful weekend away in what for me is a bit of thin place. I love the quiet solitude and rich abundance of the Clare Valley. Back in 2008, as my 10 week time as Visiting Scholar at what was then Parkin-Wesley College ended, I took three days of spiritual retreat. I headed for the Clare Valley and walked parts of the Riesling Trail. I contemplated ten life questions, over ten hours between ten different wineries.

Movement and outdoors help me connect with God and the time was a rich time of renewal and reflection. The images of wine-making – of seasons of growing, of the celebration in harvesting, the press-ing complexity of wine-making, the hospitality of wine-tasting – provided a rich set of metaphors by which I considered my unfolding sense of call. (For more, see The Spirituality of Wine). I realised more clearly what gave me joy.

I wondered if I would have the courage to keep saying yes to the journey of leadership that God was calling me into. At the time, this has no precise shape. But within a year, I would be called to be the inaugural Director of Missiology, at Uniting College. Then, two years later, to be Principal.

It was fascinating to return this weekend, some seven years later. Amid the autumn leaves, I considered the seasonal changes I am now experiencing.


I am in the last months of a summer of rich harvest as Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology. I am six months away from another season, as Principal of Knox College for Ministry and Leadership, (yes with a much colder Winter clime!).

It was a joy to be back in the place that was so rich seven years ago. It was rich to re-engage the metaphors. As one season ends and another begins, will I say yes to areas of growth that I’ve been keen to skip over? Such are the joys, yet challenges, of growth. Such are the blessings of thin places, as we encounter and re-encounter the God who speaks.

Posted by steve at 08:11 PM

Friday, May 09, 2014

Solvitur Ambulando “It is solved by walking”

It’s been a difficult week for me in my role as Principal of Uniting College. A whole range of responsibilities and requests have tended to leave me feeling a bit bleak.

What has been immensely helpful is to return to the discernment processes important to my call. I tend to journal as a spiritual practice. Twice. Privately and publicly, through the blog.

One advantage of journalling is in moments like this week. I tend to value written words over spoken words, and so a journal means you can return and read again what you felt in the past, what you discerned in the past.

College has a labyrinth and it was while I was walking the labyrinth that an important piece in my call process occurred. Here is what happened

On the morning of Monday 28 October I was interviewed for the role of Principal of Uniting College. After lunch, I went for a walk. Uniting College is located on the grounds of the Adelaide College of Divinity, which has a labyrinth. So rather than walk the block, I walked the labyrinth, praying the Lords prayer.

The phrase “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done” was particularly meaningful, as I prayed for myself, for the Joint Nominating Committee, for the other applicants.

The labyrinth at Adelaide College of Divinity campus was specifically designed by an Adelaide stained glass artist Cedar Prest. The opening is in the shape of a large communion cup, laid in beautiful mosaics, while the centre is in the shape of a central wafer. As I paused at the centre, I had a strong impression, the realisation that there is plenty of space in the centre to be truly me.

I began to walk out, reflecting on how the pattern of the labyrinth take you from edge to centre, and out to the edge again. It struck me that there were parallels with my own life at that moment, that my interest in mission and fresh expressions might be seen as on the edge, while being a Principal of a theological college is getting pretty close to the centre. It is a role that comes with plenty of expectations of what a Principal should do and be.

And the impression returned: that there is plenty of space in the centre to be truly me.

At that moment, my cell phone rang. It was an ironic moment, interrupted by a cell phone in the midst of the peaceful contemplation of a labyrinth. It was a delightful moment for the call was about the matter I was praying about, a request to attend a further interview in the Principal process.

Standing there holding the phone, it all felt profound, that in praying Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, might I actually be able to experience plenty of space in the Principal role to be truly me.

Twice, this week I’ve returned to that labyrinth and walked it again. I’ve relived the experience, relived my anxiety as I first entered, paused at the centre to recall the freedom, grinned at that moment when the phone rang.

There’s a further thread that didn’t make it into my journal, but which has been helpful to experience again this week. That is the value of walking. All you can do in a labyrinth is walk. Take one step after another. In so doing, you move from centre to edge, and edge to centre.

Back in 2012, what I realised was the importance of “flow,” the need not only for a centre and an edge, but for the movement between the two. They only connect by flow. I wondered if my season as Principal would be about “flow”, attending both to centre and edge in a way that brought flow.

In other words, take one step after another.

That is all I have to do.

Take the next step.

Posted by steve at 06:49 PM

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

leadership: giftedness or weakness

I hear a lot of talk about leadership giftedness. We have strengths, we have talents, we have “sweet spots” and we are called to find ways to express those. The body of Christ is diverse and we need to offer our uniqueness.

As Lent begins, I’m pondering leadership weakness.

As this first image from Si Smith’s wonderful 40, Jesus packs away what he is has spent a life being good at, packs away the tools of his trade, what gives him security, income and purpose.

And heads off into the wilderness, to places of insecurity and discomfort, where he will meet his inner self, face his temptations.

My strengths give me security. I know I can write and speak and improvise on my feet. I know I can listen well, find a clear phrase, think through a situation.

My strengths can be habitual. I turn to what I know, to what is well worn and familiar. Yet in times of immense transition, the future might actually be found in new habits, new people, new postures.

I wonder what it means if I were to pack away the tools of my trade – turn off the computer, the cell phone – and head into the wilderness. I wonder what temptations would find me.

And whether they are best met by my strength? Or by my weakness?

Posted by steve at 06:24 PM

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

praying our goodbyes: a book soaked in memories

Some books are soaked in memories. I pulled Joyce Rupp’s Praying Our Goodbyes off the book shelf yesterday. It offers a range of ways to grieve. This includes a selection of rituals for different situations that life deals us – terminating a relationship, feeling betrayed, farewell, living with constant pain. And for each, some Scripture, some prayer, some action.

The book has been so well used that as I opened it the pages fell out. I held them, remembering the times I’d used it – our struggles with infertility, twice in 9 months being turned down for a job I thought would be ideal, the pastoral transition away from a loved church family, some difficult work situations. And how different those situations seem now, 5 and 10 years later. Felt the pain, still. Yet realised, almost laughed in delight, at the different trajectories now in play.

And reflecting on the truthfulness of these words from Joyce

for the Christian, hello always follows goodbye in some form if we allow it. There is, or can be, new life, although it will be different from the life we knew before. The resurrection of Jesus and the promises of God are too strong to have it any other way. (Joyce Rupp Praying Our Goodbyes, 15)

Posted by steve at 09:02 AM

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dad’s death as a wheel-chair shaped hole

(A warning to regular readers, since this is my blog, I’m going to continue to process some of my Dad’s recent death on the blog. I guess it runs the risk of being too personal, but as a practical theologian, I’m committed to taking that risk, and finding my life a sifting ground for reflection on the fingerprints of God.)

I’m continuing to reflect on the physicality of Dad’s absence. His death leaves a very interestingly shaped hole, one that is wheel-chair shaped. 

Dad had multiple sclerosis and thus spent his last ten years wheelchair bound. This reality, the shape of his disability, had a physical impact upon our family life.  The reality of that wheelchair meant a physical altering of how our family gathered and related.

The lack of mobility mean that Dad was a physical central point which we moved toward, around which we as a family gathered, around which our social life defined itself.  It is strange, bewildering, to realise we’ve lost a wheel-chair shaped central point.

There are of course, other spatial ways for groups to gather. The Christian tradition often uses notions of pilgrimage, of always moving together toward a distant horizon.Walking a beach offers tidal images, the slow back and forth rhythm of waves. Maori culture gives us the image of Koru, of growth unfolding outwards from a centre. All of these offer quite different ways to visualize gathering. Each result in quite different patterns of living.

Thus the death of Dad is not only of a person, but of a pattern of gathering as a family.

What was intriguing about us as a family making Dad’s coffin was that it was actually giving us a different pattern of gathering – the garage rather than the lounge, working side by side rather than talking face to face, small groups playing different roles at different times.

Being a missiologist, I can’t help linking this with the church in mission. Much of church life in Western Christianity has  a central gathering pattern – we go to church rather than move on pilgrimage or unfold outward as church in the world. So my grief is perhaps at some level what the church in the West is living with on a daily basis.

And what might it mean for the church to embrace different patterns of gathering – around projects, in shared tasks, seeking participation and new charisms.

Spatially, Dad’s hole is not just central, it is also wheelchair shaped. His disability is central to his parting. To help me process this, I’m back reading Disability in the Christian Tradition: A Reader by Brian Brock and John Swinton.

It looks at how various thinkers through Christian history have responded to disability. I suspect that somewhere in there will be important insights for me, about how God’s redemption embraces the physicality of the human body, about how the disability of Jesus (beaten beyond recognition, wounded side, nail-scarred hands) are part of God’s gracious pattern in the world.

Posted by steve at 11:37 AM