gathertown is minecraft or habbohotel meets zoom (take your pick depending on your age). chances are you'll hear about it at some point. i like it - it's fun and whilst i think zoom is great a change is also good especially if you have been on zoom for work. and it especially suits some things - a more dynamic social space for example or an event where you want different things in different spaces. it's also dead easy to use or get started in. you simply login and choose a space - a lounge, bar, conference room or whatever and can then invite some people and hang out. it's easy enough to create some interactivity through the objects. i confess to finding the videos a bit exasperating in the tutorials - i'd rather just have a plain old manual than have to go through loads of videos - that makes me sound old i know! but over christmas i set up a space for family and we met and hung out in it with interactive pictionary and the like. i also worked out how to create a room that was a snakes and ladders board so you can roll the dice and move your avatar round the board. the grandkids love it (and the rest of us to be fair).
because rooms are designed on a grid it made me think that the labyrinth we created for st pauls back in 2000 would work because that was designed on a square grid. anyway a day of messing around over christmas and i figured out how to create a labyrinth room with interactive stations. so grace on saturday was our first on gathertown. of course it takes a bit of getting used to but it went really well. we had a bar/lounge area and a portal through to the labyrinth so you could do that when you liked. the timing felt good because the online interactive labyrinth version that has been running for twenty years is no more as of this month i think due to flash no longer being supported so it was good to give it a new lease of life. the labyrinth tracks are still magical twenty years on. we invited people in their homes to have various objects that they needed to make it work for the reflections - stone, pen, paper - that sort of thing.
it's free to create things so you can just try it out and remains free for up to 25 people. we just stayed below that number.
thanks to everyone who came to the first just imagine session which was fun! it was possibly the craziest and busiest chat in a zoom i have ever been in!! we have decided to make 100 more places available for the just imagine webinar series. technically all 500 places have gone but there were lots of spaces so we decided to make more available as not everyone shows up when they book on a free thing. so go and register soon here - if you are registered you'll get the link to previous sessions as well so you can catch up.
i cycled past this sign in london over christmas and had to stop and photograph it. it reminded me of the forthcoming webinar series which starts this week. i am looking forward to it. the just imagine series of 4 webinars run for one hour each thursday evening in january at 8pm. to sign up simply go and register here and you will get sent the link. you can attend 1,2,3, or all 4. and it's free!
i will be hosting and joined by 3 guests each time. the first one we will be exploring creativity and imagination, how you come up with ideas with a mix of interviews and creatve exercises. it is honestly pitched at anyone especially if you think you are not creative - don't think it's the preserve of creatives and artists.
and whilst the series will apply the ideas to the area of church and faith today it will not be overly churchy and you can take the ideas and apply them to any area you are involved in.
we spent time over christmas connecting online as family using gathertown which was fun. particularly exciting for the granddaughters was a room i made of a snakes and ladders board where your avatar walked the steps on the board. it was good fun. zoom is great but it was a nice to have a change.
it got me playing around and i ended up designing a space for the next grace which will be in gathertown rather than zoom. there will be a cafe space and an online labyrinth which you can visit when you like. if you have never used gathertown no problem - it's easy enough. here is the blurb about it below. a link and more info will be sent nearer the time. please do email the address below if you are not a regular and want to come along as we need to get a rough idea of numbers ahead of time.
Join us for the first Grace of 2021. There will be an online labyrinth and a café space. Rather than Zoom we will be using Gathertown this month. We’ll send a link on the day so email [email protected] and we will send you the link.
There are two things you need to know or do:
a) Gathertown works best with Chrome browser so download that to your computer in advance - it’s free. It won’t work from a phone so you'll need to be at a computer. It may well work with Firefox too.
b) The web site is https://gather.town/ - do go and have a look and sign up with a user id so you are ready to go. It’s fairly straightforward but we will talk through how it works on the day.
For the labyrinth itself there will be a series of stations, several drawn from the labyrinth we have used before and some new ones. You will need to gather a few items in your home to use as follows:
- a stone and ideally a bucket of water but a stone on its own is fine too
- a pen and paper
- bread and wine
- a seed
- a candle (or a few candles)
no idea how this is going to work but risk is part of grace's ethos!
yes literally! the first day of the year was spent at the wood and the latest addition to go with the pirate ship is a swing for the grandkids (though as you can see it is adult friendly too!). it seems to have worked quite well - i decided to use hammock straps to suspend it. so far so good...
our friends have got an owl nesting box so we hope that owls like ot and come to nest there this year which would be exciting.
and latest wooodland toy is a char cloth tin which was fun to try out - it makes char cloth from cotton to use as firestarters in case you wondered.
perfect way to start the year - just hoping that we can share it with more people later this year...
i love music and have always been in the habit with some friends of compiling and exchanging playlists for the end of the year. we used to do that via burning cds but now it's much easier to do via streaming services. the last few years i have actually taken to creating two because i listen to so much ambient/instrumental music that i ended up thinking that was better as a separate playlist. anyway here are the playlists and a bit more reflection on them below
(for the record there is one tune that was not on spotify so that is one short - 1-0 apple!)
this year perhaps more than any other, music has been a great source of comfort and inspiration. i always listen to a lot of instrumental music but i have found quiet ambient music especially soothing. two things really inspired me in that regard - one was jon hopkins posting a playlist of his on apple music which consisted of 24 hours of ambient music (!) and the other is the curated playlist on apple music called pure ambient which has 100 tunes at any one time but that includes quite a lot of recent releases as well as more classic tunes. through those i have discovered the likes of snufmumriko (i had to include a tune in the playlist which is possibly my most played tune of the year but it came out in 2019 - don't tell anyone), antonymes (whose album like rumours of hushed thunder ois gorgeous but didn't feature as it came out in 2015) and ian hawgood.
but the other way music featured for me this year was in relation to black lives matter and the whole cultural debate and protest after george floyd's death. i found the response of dj's such as gilles petersen really amazing in how they played what seemed like just the right tunes of protest, lament and justice. his club lockdown was a wonderful moment in the year. i also really was inspired and challenged by steve mcqueen's incredible series small axe and the soundtrack to those was fantastic. so these playlists below are not tunes that were released in 2020 but they feel like they belong to the year as much if not more so than the playlists above. the first is simply a set of tunes i have added to through the year that i called blm (black lives matter) though i have not ordered it in any fashion so might be best played on random select. the second is the tunes i liked (which is most) from the small axe series - if you want all the tunes i have added the link below to the official playlist on spotify.
that should keep you going for a while!
jen and i cycled in on what turned out to be a wet and windy evening to go round the nine elms advent trail. it's quite a big area and due to building work not straightforward to work out where you are going so it is quite a trail. we probably managed half of it but enjoyed it and hope to go back. it's outdoors so it's socially distanced and all that. our walk was punctured by news that christmas in london is under tier 4 so it means our plans to see family and grandkids are scuppered - feels like a depressed london today. i definitely feel in need of a bit of light in the darkness. big thanks to betsy and others who put this together.
i have added a photo album here - as ever in the dark i had to work quote hard to get anything like a half decent photo but i do quite like that challenge.
i loved this anthony gormley exhibition event horizon of figures around the hayward gallery in london back in 2007 which is where the photo is from. this phrase probably seems more evident now but when john taylor was writing it was probably a newer idea because mission was something that happened overseas. i have pretty much oriented what i do around this idea for the last 30 or so years!
cathy chose this quote to post this week and this is what she says about it
We are learning that the missionary frontier is on our doorstep – literally. Another apt John Taylor saying! At the beginning of lockdown I met daily with my neighbours in our physically distanced meet-up over coffee. We now meet weekly and sometimes more often. We have discussed so many things and shared a lot together. It has been a real gift to get to know one another so deeply. It has been a wake-up call for me to find connection and friendship in the neighbourhood. And it has taken a pandemic to get us there. I think we are waking up to much during this pandemic which is unmasking powers, fragilities and false gods. The missionary frontier is always on our doorstep. What is yours?
imagining mission is for sale here and there is a chapter in it in which we explore mission.
betsy blatchley is a pioneer in nine elms which is a huge new housing area near battersea power station just south of the river thames in london. the focus of her pioneering is arts and community building. she has pulled off what looks like an incredible advent project no doubt with some others - nine elms advent calendar trail. every day through advent a new location is unveiled on social media which reveals a piece of art produced by an artist or community group or some sort of collaboration. but it sounds as though the whole trail is up already so you can go round it. i plan to cycle in at some point and wander round and take some photos. there is a really good instagram and twitter flow with images every day. this is such a good project for this year when you can only really meet outside. and it is an amazing project regardless of the year. a huge effort is behind this i am sure. you can download a map of the trail and follow round it. i really like the look and feel of what is happening through nine elms with the living room and other things - it's been quite a while since i last saw betsy and it looks like things have developed in really creative and good ways since we last spoke. i must catch up! great to see creative pioneering like this in london.
i am making this a worship trick - two in a row!!!???
ben bell loves advent! when he was a youthworker he always produced something creative and now he is a priest he is still up to his old tricks i am glad to say. angels over hoxton is a street art project where two churches have worked together to angel bomb the area and encourage photos to then be posted on social media using the hashtag #angelsoverhoxton - follow the instagram here
it's a very simple idea but it makes perfect sense to take advent to the streets this year perhaps more than any other year but i always like things like this that engage in public space rather than simply inside church buildings.
i am adding it as a worship trick. i'll blog about the other advent project that has caught my attention tomorrow.
we had cms pioneer graduation on zoom this year. it's tough for students not being able to gather but the group that had planned it did an amazing job and i thought it was a wonderful occasion. this is cathy and i talking to the screen! there's a write up on the pioneer blog here
every year we give those graduating a gift to remember the pioneer journey. iain cotton who is a sculptor has makes a set of tiles which each represents a new pathway across a landscape. it also looks like a script, a new language. every year he gives it a different twist. the theme of this year's celebration was shifting sands and this is what he says about this year's design...
This years awards take on this theme of shifting sands.The stones themselves are cut from Capton Red Sandstone. Ancient compressed desert. Carved into tough landscapes with shifting dune topographies. These stones are traversed by gilded texts; fragments of an ancient prayer of the Church that seems a good fit for these strange days. Kyrie Eleison. Kyrie Eleison. Kyrie eleison.
there were video messages from friends round the world, some lovely montages, the graduation itself and the planning group had commissioned harry baker to write a poem on the theme which was poignant as ever...
Shifting Sands [by Harry Baker]
The ground beneath our feet is unfamiliar
That is not to say we’ve not been here before
Our frames of reference may have shifted,
Or indeed still be shifting But may you bring us in to land on the un-shore
May we not mourn for what is lost but find new form from what it was
Not see before as something gone but something we can springboard from,
What if we saw this new terrain as new training ground
What if it’s not the way we came so much the way we‘re changed that counts
It’s not how we got here but how we get from here that takes us now
May we embrace that close relationship of faith and doubt
When every single one of us has come from the unknown
As we re-enter may we sense that we’ve come home
What if instead of investing in the specifics of the route
We could remember what we did and how we felt that got us through
What if the measure wasn’t what we knew but what we chose to do
What if the limit wasn’t if we could but if we wanted to
When the ground moves beneath us, may it not be beneath us to be moved
May all that is contained in you make you able to continue
The fact this is unsettling is barely worth a mention
Since when has settling been the intention?
Though it is tempting to attempt to shape things how they were before
May we be brave enough to crave for something more
When every single one of us has come from the unknown
As we re-enter may we sense that we’ve come home
i have become more and more fascinated by processes of creativity and imagination. when we sent in the first draft of imagining mission we had some push back from the editor asking for some examples of how what we were describing played out. i actually like it when editors push back and think they should do so more to be honest. but i think we felt that wasn't the kind of book we were trying to write or at least some examples might limit the possibility of how peoples own thinking was provoked. but what it did lead to was us thinking that quite often church leaders feel pressure to be creative but don't necessarily know how to do that if they are not used to it or are not in environments where it is encouraged. so the change we did make was to write a section at the end of each chapter on exercising creativity taking a particular idea and then giving some exercises. i really love those parts and think they work as a standalone too.
as a sort of follow up to that and to celebrate the book i am running a series of free webinars in january just imagine one evening a week for an hour. in those i will have three different guests each time and we'll pick a theme for exercising creativity and play with it. go here to find out more and sign up. there are 500 places i think so hopefully room for everybody! now i need to think what do in the sessions!
when you publish a book it's quite common to invite respected writers and thinkers to read a copy and make a comment. it's weird pushing a book as it feels like showing off or something! but i am going to be very unenglish and say this. stephen bevans made a comment that is on the back of the book. he is one of my heroes and i am happy to say has become a good friend. his writing and thinking in contextual theology and mission is amazing. this is what he said about the book
This is one of the most significant books I have ever read. Cathy and Jonny have tapped into a source that can revolutionise our understanding of church, and the mission that calls church forth. Tylor's creativity and imagination and Cathy and Jonny's as well can stir up the creativity and imagination that is latent in us all to leap over the wall. [Stephen Bevans]
when i read that i thought i could retire as i probably can't top it - so kind!
the good news for those of you who expressed interest in the cards of quotes is that i have now ordered decks of cards. they will be delivered to me in early january and i'll be in touch as to how you can get them. there will be a few extras if you missed out but essentially it is a limited edition - i am quite excited about it! this is the top of the box. i have made a slide set of the cards on flickr which anyone is welcome to use - if you do please mention john taylor as the quotes are his and ideally the book that they are from - imagining mission. thanks!
i get asked a lot about how you come up with ideas. so i have set up a series of four webinars for one hour each exploring that question. each one will take one idea for exercising creativity and play with it. there will be three guests each time - an artist/creative, a church leader and a pioneer. whilst the ideas explored will be helpful to anyone wanting to think about how you exercise creativity, the challenges and exercises we do will explore church and the practice of the christian faith today. this is inspired by a comment that struck me from a friend that the church’s greatest challenge today is a lack of imagination. rather than bemoaning that fact this is an attempt to help get imaginative, get the creative juices flowing as it were. please do not think it’s only for people who think they are creative. the whole point is that it is for anyone interested and not just those who already think they are good at exercising creativity.
it’s free - simply register and you will be sent zoom links nearer the time. if you sign up you're not obliged to come to all four!
each week there will be a mix of stories and interviewing guests around exercising creativity and how they come up with ideas. there will be creative exercises for the guests to engage in live each time that explore the theme of the week. you will be invited to contribute via chat if you would like but will not be put in small groups to do any work or anything so you can relax about that - you can sit back and enjoy it. i hope it will be fun, generate ideas and give you some tools and approaches to exercise creativity yourself.
if you like the ideas and want to explore further i have written six short pieces on exercising creativity at the end of each chapter of imagining mission with john taylor.
we had a morning this week exploring what it might mean to decolonise the curriculum in the pioneer training we do at cms. anthony reddie led the conversation and was so helpful both through what he said but also by suggesting we were all in this together (though the reality of course is that he has processed this a lot more than the rest of us). i think it’s going to percolate and will take a while for us to work out what we do as a result.
decolonising is about deconstructing colonial ideologies of the superiority and privilege of western thought and approaches. for some this might seem a strange idea to apply to theology but it doesn’t take long to realise that along with the expansion of empire the west exported western theology as though it was universal. this has had to be unpicked all round the world and it is still an ongoing process. i was recently reminded of it through kimson nguyen’s fantastic book on contextual theology in vietnam where he is seeking to develop a contextual theology that the vietnamese connect with but without wanting to betray the theology of the vietnamese evangelical church whose theology is from a particular american evangelical mission organisation. i was also really provoked to think about this in my visit to new zealand earlier this year. of course there is nothing wrong with the west having theology or theologies. but the point is they are simply local or contextual theology. the challenge is when that way of theologising is imposed on others. it would be interesting if a doctrine class was labelled as modern european theology for example, or a class was taught labelled white theology. but it’s never labelled that way. this is to do with many things but the process of deconstruction is important because when you are in a position of power, dominance or simply privilege you tend not to see there is an issue - you just assume it’s just the way things are.
maybe an example will help. anthony reminded us of an article in the book voices from the margins called a native american perspective: canaanites, cowboys, and indians. in it by robert allen warrior writes from the perspective of indigenous first nation people in north america. he points out the story of exodus which is used as the story of liberation for many is a story of oppression if you are the ones who are being driven out of the land! i found the same to be true when i visited a centre for palestinian theology many years ago - they too identified with the canaanites in the story and turn to other narratives to find hope for freedom from oppression.
it’s the encounter with someone else and their take that enriches your perspective and helps you hold a bit more lightly to your own ways of seeing things. this is why multiplicity of views is so helpful - we learn from others and it reminds us that we see in part rather than have the right way of knowing or seeing or acting. that process can be painful when for example we get confronted with the realisation that our ways of knowing or acting have colluded with powers that oppress others and we have been blind to it. read any feminist, womanist, black, liberation, queer, disabled or whatever theology from the margins and that is bound to be challenging but it is also a wonderful gift.
we looked at modules we teach and i do think at cms we are exposed to multiple cultures so are very aware of contextual theology and being part of a global conversation but it is good to be pressed on how we construct learning spaces and curriculum for students and what voices we elevate in our recommendations for reading without realising it. it’s helpful to realise that it is important to expose them to multiple stories and takes and to show that theology is contested rather than just learning the right doctrine or whatever. i do think this is still a problem in the church in different streams whether the church culture and identity is constructed around believing particular truths which can easily mean a particular narrow take that is being universalised, or whether it is convinced that its way of doing church and liturgy and so on is the right way. as i said on a previous post this is a particular church of england problem which is easily on its high horse in this area. the superiority that is at the heart of a colonial mindset has shaped our imagination more than we like too admit i think. so anthony was helpfully suggesting that all of us need openness to be deconstructed ourselves and it is essential to hear from others.
cathy posted this week’s john taylor quote and image on her facebook page about academic ostriches which seems very apt - i think john taylor was thinking theology can have its head in the sand because it’s not engaged with practice on the ground. but it’s equally the case we can have our head in the sand because we are simply not looking around at other voices, stories and narratives. this is actually why at cms we try to frame our teaching of theology and mission through contextual and global theology rather than by teaching systematic theology or doctrine as the frame - our sense is it is more helpful that that gets located or framed as a local theology in a global conversation (and one that came from quite a different era).
anyway lots to ponder. i now have a load more books to read to help me think about it but it’s also about action
#ImaginingMission - still available here