it's the fourth and final just imagine webinar this thursday evening. there are places available - register here. we explore a classic theme in the creative process of breaking rules to come up with new ideas. this is not about breaking moral or civil laws - it's about conventions, thinking habits, patterns, cultural logic. i have three guests and a bundle of creative exercises. honestly i have had such a great time doing it. do join in the fun! if you register you will get sent the links eventually to all four.
we just heard that imagining mission has been selected one of the top ten books of 2020 for mission studies, intercultural studies and world christianity by international bulletin of missionary research. a few smart alecs have asked me whether there are more than ten books published in a year in that area - i think there are! we're pretty chuffed about it - it means something in our small world at least. i can't actually link to the article because it's on a password protected journal. post writing a book is a weird journey of banging on about yourself - sorry if you have had enough of me mentioning john taylor and the book! one of his books is being reissued at the end of the month for which i have written the foreword so i am afraid there will be more to come!!!
i enjoyed playing around with quotes from john taylor in imagining mission with john taylor, the book i wrote last year with cathy ross, and combining them with my photos. we posted a number of those last year with some short reflections. and i have posted the whole set as a photo album which you are welcome to use.
i like physical objects and thought a card set would be fun. i can imagine using it in teaching about mission or as a personal prompt for ideas or reflection. i have printed with moo cards before which worked fine for a business card type thing but they work out expensive to make sets. after some investigating i found a company who produced decks of cards for games or educational tools and ordered some. when i asked in some of the posts we wrote whether anyone would like a set i began to collect names of people who said they wanted some. all that to say 128 card sets arrived last week. they have printed really well and been posted out to people who wanted a set this weekend. they went much quicker than expected and the whole lot have gone! (if anyone else wants one i could add your name to a list and do another run but it's really only worth it if i do a run of 100 or so...).
i am adding this as a worship trick as i have shown the sequence of images a few times with a music track and they have gone down well. i think i first did that at the book launch along to calle f by mala. thank you to out of the box cards for letting me use their site to manage the orders! and thanks to everyone who joined in this spontaneous side project. hope you like the cards!
the third in the just imagine webinar series is on thursday evening. we're exploring creativity in a chat show style with 3 guests each week. i am absolutely loving it - last week was honestly so much fun and the guests were brilliant! it's going to be a hard act to follow but i am getting excited about this week with some more amazing guests and some really fun exercises. i have got slightly carried away myself over the weekend coming up with ideas for them.
it keeps selling out and we keep adding places so we have once again added a load more places. i am not 100% sure if the person running that has added all the extra places yet so if you go there and it says sold out come back tomorrow evening. it is a series but each one stands alone so don't worry if you have missed some. and if you register you will get links afterwards.
register here is the crucial thing you need to know. hope to see you there.
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.
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.
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
this is a photo i took years ago in the wonderful city of melbourne. it's always amused me that when i have shown it half the people assume jesus christ is a stencil artist and the other half that he is cleaning the place up! looks like a stencil artist to me i have to say...
john taylor calls him the great disturber which i think is hard to argue with. i was speaking at st mary's church last weekend on a couple of stories of social distancing in luke's gospel of healing a leper and a paralysed man. one of the things i was reflecting on was how jesus messed with the dirt boundaries of what is clean and unclean, sacred and profane, who is in and who is out to reconfigure the world as an order of embrace. the religious powers certainly found this pretty disturbing. as we head into advent i thought an image of jesus as the great disturber would be fitting.
these quotes are from john taylor in the book cathy ross and i have written imagining mission. if i am allowed to admit in in very unenglish fashion i am delighted with how it turned out.
i have mentioned before that i am going to get some cards made up of these images and quotes. well i have finally worked out how to do that and they will be a set of 30 cards in a box - like large playing cards. it will work out at around 6 pounds a box. i have about 80 people who have said they want a set - it will be a limited run for those signed up. so if you are interested and have not let me know it's not too late as i have not yet placed the order. just leave me a message. if you have let me know i haven't forgotten.
cathy reflects on another of john taylor's phrases in imagining mission
I think we have all learned that enough is enough and that we need to develop a theology of enough. We are learning that we need to respect the planet and not to be so consumerist and extravagant. In 1972, nearly fifty years ago, Taylor wrote "our Western way of life is marked by excess whichever aspect of our situation one looks at – our consumption of food and our accumulation of goods, our wage claims and price rises, our waste and pollution, the concentration and congestion of our cities, our destruction of living creatures and our plunder of fuels and minerals, our expenditure on armaments and the wanton disproportion of the way we use them – excess is the word that comes continually to mind. Ruthless, unbridled, unthinking excess."Perhaps we are learning to respect the planet, to live more simply so that others may simply live and to take delight and joy in simple pleasures.
john taylor did not mince his words when it came to church. and he was directing his thoughts to the church of england. i was reminded of this last week when someone who is not anglican described on twitter their experience of being othered and told 'you don't understand' when entering an anglican debate. it's a church of england problem in my view that you don't get in independent and non conformist churches in the same way. maybe it's the state religion thing? but it's way too easy for the church to come across as pompous, lording it over, superior. definitely still some mucking in to be done!
you can order imagining mission here #ImaginingMission
Another wonderful John Taylor phrase which resonates with pioneers. It certainly feels like we are in a terra incognita currently and it feels like a long trek! Many of the old certainties have gone and we don't yet know what is coming towards us. Are we brave enough to let go and reimagine life anew? What might it look like? How might we reshape our cartographies of lifestyle, community, leadership, mission? What new maps might we dream of? How do we decolonise old maps? And then there is the terra incognita of Christ. Always more to discover. Always more to learn. A lifelong trek. Hope you find our book on Reimagining Mission with John Taylor helpful.
this photo still makes me smile every time i see it. it was one of our crazier ideas in grace where we were exploring the idea that there is an assumption in various places that to be holy is to avoid the world whereas if you look at the life of christ the opposite seems to be true! so we had some defenders of the purity codes on the door as people arrived. looking back it would have freaked you out if it was your first time.
anyway all that to say that in our book imagining mission we riff on john taylor's ideas. he would have been great on twitter in my view as he just has so many brilliant short phrases. 'guardians of universality' is a trap the church in the west especially falls into as though she is the defender of some universal truth passed down from on high. history has shown that those universal truths usually turn out to be very modern western ideas - in other words a local theology. there's nothing wrong with a local theology - tradition is a series of local theologies. the problem comes when it loses humility and starts universalising.
if you are enjoying these photos with john taylor quotes i am gradually adding them to a flickr album. i also made them into a set of cards for my own use that are a fun discussion starter. i mentioned this in an earlier post or two and now have a list of getting on for a hundred people who have requested a set. if you'd like to be added to the list let me know. i'll get round to it round christmas time i expect.
it amuses me looking at this that at first glance now it looks like it says "come as a stranger with fosters" - why would you do that? it's such a terrible drink! anyway that aside this week's reflection from cathy on john taylor
Don't you feel like that in these days? We are living in the world but not as we know it. What are we learning in these times? Sometimes I do feel like a stranger in these times and maybe that's good. On good days this can heighten our awareness, sharpen our senses, alert us to things we haven't noticed before, draw us into a solidarity with others. We are learning again how to live in a world where fear, inequalities and injustice have been highlighted. We are also learning that we can be good, we can practise altruism and volunteering is good for us. Taylor's insight also reminds me of some lines from the T S Eliot poem Little Gidding where we are encouraged to explore:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
book still available with discount code:MISSION2020
the church is most surely herself when she is at the periphery with those who are fringe dwellers. jesus was loved by outsiders, fringe dwellers. if the church wants to be renewed she should do likewise and look to the fringes rather than the centre. this theme recurs in john taylor's writing and is this week's quote from imagining mission, the book by cathy ross and i riffing on his writing in his newsletters.
the photo is from a slate headstone in the graveyard of the church of brendan the navigator in ireland where there is a well which i visited on pilgrimage with pioneers some years ago. he too was a fringe dweller...
i have mentioned this before but i did turn these into a set of cards for myself and a number of people have said they'd be interested in a set. so leave me a message if you are and i will add you to the list - it will be a while as we have a number more to get through - probably end of year.
and i am adding them to a photo set here
some years back i did an installation called red tape which had a bible wrapped in red tape, a dog collar made of red tape and bread and wine ring fenced by red tape. looking back i think it must have been a moment where i was particularly frustrated with the church and its controls! i am amazed cms let me get away with at a public event - the photos are here. anyway all that to say that this week's john taylor quote from our book imagining mission uses a photo from that.
here's cathy's reflection on it
There is no such thing as safe theology. I wonder why we ever thought there was! God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not safe! We know the Spirit is wild, free and unpredictable. How have we so domesticated Jesus and theology? How have we made it all so tame, mundane and frankly boring?! Is it centuries of patriarchy? Empire? White fragility? Certainly these did not help. But we all collude somehow. Let's free ourselves of trying to protect God, police boundaries and monitor sound theology. But is this anarchy? Is this relativism? Well what did we have before? Regulatory order? Conformity? Hierarchy? Conscious and unconscious bias? I realise this is rather binary but it is only a short post! Let's trust in the power and guidance of the Spirit and try to be free to dream more expansively, imagine more generatively and theologise boldly. Let's live by courageous faith and not by fear. If mission is an adventure of the imagination, then theology is no longer safe.
combinatory play is einstein's term for putting two things together from different spheres which is a fun and playful exercise in creativity. i have an article here exploring that - how to use your imagination.
and.. i am interviewed here by naomi steinberg on imagination and the new book - imagining mission: a book taylor made for our time