Tuesday, July 08, 2014

I've joined the twitterverse


Just thought I'd mention that here. It'll be the place that I post things about worship, theology, the arts, sports, the occasional movie trailer, a bit on international relations, possible random videos, a photo or two of the family, and the life of a scholar priest (or, to be more accurate to date, a scholar deacon). The usual.

I can be found @wdavidotaylor.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Emotional Life of Art and Artists

Art is emotion?

This is a Save the Date blog post for the final edition of a three-part Laity Lodge retreat series for "Ministers to Artists" (part one here, part two here). Jeremy Begbie will be our featured speaker, and we'll be exploring the relation of art and emotion, on the one hand, and artists and the emotions, on the other. Guaranteed not to be boring (questioning, among other things, the presumption of the above poster).

See here (scroll to bottom of page) for initial information at the Laity Lodge website. Stay tuned for more info. And do pass this along to anybody you think might be interested.

The dates are April 30 - May 3, 2015.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words ... and other things too


As I anticipate my ordination to the transitional diaconate this coming Sunday, and the opportunity to lie prostrate before God and his people in recognition of the mercy and graces he has given me, I find that this photograph says nearly everything beautiful about the familial nature of the ordination ritual. (Thanks to my sweet friend Michele Trepagnier for sending it to me, along with a prayer for the ceremony.)

If it's true that no one stands alone in the Body of Christ, then it must also be true, I figure, that no one lies down alone.

And if a picture is worth a thousand words, then it is equally true that good words are non-substitutable means of saying things that could not be communicated any other way, such as this:

Almighty God, who by your divine providence has appointed diverse Orders of Ministers in your Church, and who inspired your Apostles to choose into the Order of Deacons the first martyr Stephen, with others; mercifully behold David your servant now called to the same Office and Administration: so fill him with the truth of your Doctrine and adorn him with holiness of life, that, both by word and good example, he may faithfully serve you in this Office, to the glory of your Name and the edification of your Church; through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

My ordination to the diaconate


As I anticipate my ordination to the diaconate in PEAR-USA (Province de L’Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda), it is good for me to keep in mind the fundamental commitments of a pastor, in this case in particular, that of a servant (a diakonos). God-willing, I will be ordained as a deacon on June 15, 2014, here in Durham, North Carolina, in company of All Saints Church, our home church, and at some point in the near future, in Houston, Texas, most likely, to the priesthood.

I'm grateful to bishop Steve Breedlove who will ordain me, to Thomas Kortus who will be preaching, to Isaac Wardell who will be leading the musical worship, and to the many friends who have supported and prayed for us during this season of life. I'm especially grateful to my good wife, Phaedra Jean, for being willing to join me in this calling. Y'all are all welcome to come, of course.

Not sure what this says about me, but three out of four of the people included below belong to the seventeenth-century. Three are Anglican, one is Presbyterian.

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), “The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living.” (These are words which have haunted me since I first read them, nearly twenty years ago.)

“Do not constantly try to excuse all of your mistakes. If you have made a mistake, or an oversight, or an indiscretion, confess it plainly, for virtue scorns a lie for its cover. If you are not guilty (unless it be scandalous), do not be overly concerned to change everyone’s opinion about the matter. Learn to bear criticism patiently, knowing the harsh words of an enemy can be a greater motivation than the kind words of a friend.”

“Give God thanks for every weakness, fault, and imperfection you have. Accept it as a favor of God, an instrument to resist pride and nurse humility. Remember, if God has chosen to shrink your swelling pride, he has made it that much easier for you to enter in through the narrow way!”

Richard Baxter (1615-1691), The Reformed Pastor: A Pattern for Personal Growth and Ministry, “On Humility.” (What Baxter recommends here is something that has not always been easy for me to embrace. I should probably paste these words to the wall of my office and think on them daily.)

“Our work must also be conducted with great humility. We must conduct ourselves meekly before all. When we teach, we need also to be open to learn from any that can teach us. Thus we teach and learn at the same time. Do not let us proudly boast of our conceit, and disdain all who contradict us. Do not let us act as if we had reached the top and all the others had to sit at our feet.”

“Humility should teach us to learn willingly everything that we do not know. For if we would be wiser than all, then we must be willing to learn from all. For they who receive from all will become richer.”

George Herbert (1593-1633), The Country Parson: His Character, and Rule of Holy Life, “The Parson in Mirth.” (I love the seemingly odd-ballish quality of this advice. Had I read it in my twenties,  though, it would have saved me from a dreadfully serious disposition [ask my family!] that plagued me for an entire decade. Thank God for friends in my thirties who reminded me, time and time again, that a sense of humor was not inimical to good pastoral care. It's comforting to hear a seventeenth-century parson say it out loud and to give us permission to embrace "mirth" full-heartedly.)

“The Country Parson is generally sad, because he 
knows nothing but the Cross of Christ, his mind 
being defixed on it with those nails wherewith his Master 
was: or if he have any leisure to look off from thence, he 
meets continually with two most sad spectacles, Sin and 
Misery; God dishonored every day, and man afflicted. 
Nevertheless, he sometimes refresheth himself, as knowing
that nature will not bear everlasting droopings, and that 
pleasantness of disposition is a great key to do good; not 
only because all men shun the company of perpetual 
severity, but also for that when they are in company, instructions seasoned with pleasantness, both enter sooner, 
and root deeper. Wherefore he condescends to human 
frailties both in himself and others; and intermingles some 
mirth in his discourses occasionally, according to the pulse 
of the hearer.”

Frederick Buechner (1926-), Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale. (I never tire of re-reading--and meditating on--these words.)

“The Gospel is bad news before it is good news. It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony, slob. That is the tragedy. But it is also the news that he is loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for. That is comedy. And yet, forgiven when the very mark and substance of his sin and of his slobbery is that he keeps turning down the love and forgiveness because he either doesn’t believe them or doesn’t want them or just doesn’t give a damn?”

“In answer, the news of the Gospel is that extraordinary things happen. Henry Ward Beecher cheats on his wife, his God, himself, but manages to keep on bringing the Gospel to life for people anyway, maybe even for himself. Lear goes berserk on a heath but comes out of it for a few brief hours every inch a king. Zaccheus climbs up a sycamore tree a crook and climbs down a saint. Paul sets out a hatchet man for the Pharisees and comes back a fool for Christ. It is impossible for anybody to leave behind the darkness of the world he carries on his back like a snail, but for God all things are possible. That is fairy tale. All together they are the truth.”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pop-Rock Worship: singing your "mother tongue"



(This is part three of a three-part blog entry on a consultation around pop-rock worship that took place at Calvin College, May 19-21, 2014. See part one and two here. The following is the second half of a brief reflection I offered to the group on the last morning of our gathering. It is in rough draft form. In it I explored the way in which pop-rock worship might make the gospel both familiar and strange. I also suggested that while every congregation possesses a liturgical mother tongue, for ecclesiological reasons it should also be open to other, adjectival tongues.)


2.     The Church: if God has made us the body of Christ and enabled us to discover true unity, true fullness and fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit, what does it look like for pop-rock worship to give expression to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church? How might it strengthen our sense of connectivity to the body of Christ across time and space? And what do healthy partnerships look like in this work of pop-rock worship?

My first year of seminary I took a course with Eugene Peterson, titled “Biblical Spirituality.” Not once during the entire semester did he offer us a piece of advice. There were no practical suggestions, no how-to’s, no handy helps for living into this so-called biblical spirituality. At the end of the last class of the term, sitting at the back of the room, I raised my hand. I asked him how we could live out this rather expansive vision which he had laid out for us. His answer, after a lengthy pause:

“Read outside your tradition.” 

Translated for our time here: “Relate outside your tradition.”

What sorts of questions might we ask ourselves in light of this?

What good fruit might be borne in the collaboration of songwriters with fellow songwriters?

What good fruit might be borne in the collaboration of songwriters with pastors, poets and theologians?

What good fruit might be borne in the collaboration of songwriters with believers outside of one’s immediate ecclesial tradition?

What good fruit might be borne in the collaboration of songwriters with members of the global church?

This litany of questions could go on and on, but a deeply good thing could come, I suggest, of these sorts of “together-ing” collaborations.



3.     Discipleship: if the Father has given us Jesus as the image of the true disciple, and if the Father has also given us the Holy Spirit that we might have the power to become like this true disciple—learning new things, adopting appropriate disciplines, conforming our lives to the pattern of his life, seeking to become mature in all things and thereby to attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ—what does this mean for pop-rock worship?

If we can assume that corporate worship is a primary place for discipleship of God’s people to take place, what does it mean for your church always to be growing into new things, while also receiving the grace to be particular? If your church’s worship is characterized (broadly or narrowly) by pop-rock music, what does it mean for you to flourish in your particularity, contextually rooted as it is in the people and the place that mark you as a distinctive member of Christ’s body, while also being willing to grow in new ways or to be exposed to new musical, lyrical or liturgical ways of being Christ’s body?

Put otherwise: What does it mean for your church to have a mother tongue and a range of adjectival tongues that not only enrich your mother tongue but also open up a way for your church to become attuned to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church spread across time and space?

The $64,000 dollar question is: How exactly do we do all of this well, with humility, intelligence, courage and joy?

The exceedingly simple answer: we do it together.

Liturgical historian, Lester Ruth, held up by a small cloud of witnesses.

Zac Hicks, Jeremy Begbie and myself.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pop-Rock Worship: Making the gospel both familiar and strange

Four Bearded Guys: the Texan, the Crowder, the Stranger, the Man.

(This is part two of a three-part blog entry on a consultation that took place at Calvin College, May 19-21, 2014. See part one here; part three here. The following is one half of a brief reflection I offered to the group on the last morning of our gathering. These thoughts are in rough draft form and were scribbled out just before our session. At some point in the future I'll want to make more of them, but here they are, as is, for now. And, yes, it was a very bearded affair.)


The first thing I wish to say is that each of you is doing good work for which you should be commended and honored. Thank you for persevering in the face of difficult circumstances. Thank you for not giving up, on us, the church, or on the task at hand. Thank you for your faithful labors which perhaps have not always borne visible or quantifiable fruit. Thank you for being willing to try something new and for trusting God at times when that has felt nearly impossible.

As I think of a way to distill the conversations of the past couple of days, a phrase from former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, comes to mind. In a small but densely rich book on the work of reading church history, titled, Why Study the Past?: The Quest for the Historical Church, Williams proposes that the task of a good historian is to discover history, for the reader, as both familiar and strange.

A good historian by this measure avoids seeing history as utterly strange (and therefore having nothing to do with our contemporary selves) or as utterly familiar (and therefore turned into an mere image of ourselves). Conversely, a poor reading of history fails to see our points of continuity and discontinuity with the past—how very much we are formed and influenced by our forebears and how we have, in fact, ventured into new places and experiences.

Towards the middle of the book Williams observes that public worship is an important context for making our life as the Body of Christ both strange and familiar. Applied to our discussions this week, I would like to suggest the following.

While in the Psalter, as Israel’s hymnal, we encounter the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob made both familiar and strange to us, it is in the gospel accounts that we encounter the God of Jesus Christ made even more familiar, even more strange than we ever dared to imagine. Here we encounter an intimate and familial knowledge of God: God as Father, Jesus as our Brother, the Holy Spirit as the abiding Presence.

Here we encounter also the strangeness of God all over again. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer, from a sermon which he preached on the Trinity, on May 27, 1934:

The more we come to know this God, the more mysterious he becomes for us. It is not the God who is furthest away from us who is the biggest mystery, but rather the God who is nearest us in the Spirit of Jesus Christ."

This is equally true, of course, of ourselves: the more we know this God and are known by this God, the more we come to know our true selves as far more familiar and far more strange than we ever thought possible.

To apply this idea to the topic of our consultation: In what ways does pop-rock worship enable the gospel to become both familiar and strange to us? In what way does this particular form of worship, with all its common characteristics and different permutations, enable the church to encounter the familiarity and strangeness of our triune God?

Let me offer three possibilities: with respect to the created realm, the church, and the work of discipleship.

1.     CREATION: if God has vested creation with a near infinite possibility of sounds and combinations of sounds, and provided these as an expression of his love for creation and for the human creature, then in what ways does pop-rock worship music represent a gift to the church?

In what ways might worship leaders give voice to creation’s praise and let these distinctive pop-rock sounds in creation become caught up in the praise of God’s people, and vice versa perhaps?

More specifically: What musical capacities does pop-rock open up for the church’s worship and what does it close down? 

What biblical narratives does it enable the church’s worship to accent? What theological realities might it focus for us? What liturgical activities could it facilitate? What relational dynamics does it forge and what missional inertias will it more likely generate than others?


Matt Boswell, Miranda Dodson and myself.


Myself, Andy Piercy, Latifah Phillips, Graham Kendrick.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Benediction of Pop-Rock Worship: Part I


This past Monday a group of men and women gathered at the kind invitation of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship for a consultation on the function of pop-rock worship in contemporary church life.

The group included historians like Lester Ruth, Monique Ingalls and Wen Reagan. It included musicians like David Crowder, David Gungor, David Bailey and David Fuentes. Only songwriters with the name "David," in fact, were invited. Which, of course, is far from true, because we also had the privilege of these people's company: Graham Kendrick, Robbie Seay, Matt Boswell, Miranda Dodson, Latifah Phillips, Charlie Hall, Andy Piercy, Greg Scheer, Tommy Walker, Ed Wilmington, John Chisum, Troy Hatfield and Zac Hicks (who has written up a wonderful report of our gathering here).

The group brought together theologians like Jeremy Begbie, Steven Guthrie, Todd Johnson and John Witvliet. And it included folks like Robin Parry, editor at Wipf & Stock; Ken Heffner, the director of the Calvin Festival of Faith and Music; Erin Rose, program director with Making a Melody based in Richmond, VA; and the always impressive staff at CICW. It goes without saying that many other people could have been included and that a number of sharp folks, like Jamie Smith and Nikki Fletcher, could not make it for any number of reasons. You can see here the happy group here for yourself.



Why was this consultation called?

At one level, we wanted to bring together a group of people who rarely gathered in one room: pop-rock
Libations with Kendrick and Gungor
musicians, theologians, poets, worship leaders, and producers. Certain great moments of musical renewal, we observed, have occurred as musicians and theologians have gotten together. We'd also heard from Matt Redman, Graham Kendrick and Andy Piercy of gatherings like this in the UK, and we believed something equally fruitful could come of bringing a similar sort of people together in North America. At another level, we wished to explore some of the common concerns raised about pop-rock worship music: lamentations about the theologically narrow content; complaints about the impoverished poetry; screeds against a predictable musicality, among other concerns. Such concerns unfortunately have frequently degenerated to a hullabaloo of noise, often leaving the critics blind to their own problematic biases and resulting in relatively useless outcomes.

Worse perhaps, such criticisms have rarely taken place in person, in hospitable environments; more often than not, they have operated like shots across the bow, with opposite sides regarding each other as enemies or as mutually exclusive participants in the work of the church's worship. Stereotypes about pop-rock music, we felt, were just that, moreover: stereotypical rather than faithful characterizations of a rather more complex world.

We believed something deeply generative might result from a gathering like this, where in mutual submission we discovered together pop-rock music that enabled the church to worship, as songwriter Mike Crawford might say, with “words to build a life upon.” If a better outcome were to be expected, then, it would be one that would require what has always been required: the work of the whole church.

Robbie Seay, Zac Hicks, Wen Reagan, Miranda Dodson, Lester Ruth (in deep contemplation), Andy Piercy


So who was being invited to this consultation? We identified three criteria to focus our invitations:

1. They genuinely cared about pop-rock music in contemporary worship. They were neither cynical about this community, nor pessimistic about its musical style, nor dismissive or naive about its potential contribution to the church’s music, but rather hopeful and eager to support the healthy growth of this kind of church music.

2. They were currently involved in this musical practice, whether as worship leaders, musicians, writers, producers, theologians or commentators.

3. They had a strategic contribution to make in light of our gathering, whether in the form of new music crafted, new albums produced, new commentary written or platforms from which to communicate the results of our consultation, or new possibilities for healthy relationship across musical, liturgical and ecclesial and professional lines.

It was in light of all of this that we gathered in Grand Rapids from May 19-21 for what turned out to be a profoundly encouraging, humbling and fruitful series of conversations. In part two of this post, I'll post a series of reflections that I shared with the group on the final morning of our gathering.

Between Two Ferns
The original photograph

Friday, May 09, 2014

Liturgical Art On a Mission

Cathedral of Christ the Light (Oakland, CA)

Last week my good wife picked up copies of two magazines in our local Barnes & Noble: American Craft and Sculpture Review. The title of the former was, "Art On A Mission: Craftspeople Turn Their Talents Toward Social Change." The title of the latter was, "Post Vatican II Sculpture and Architecture." What caught my attention in the American Craft issue was an article on Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2010 the church faced a decision. As the article puts it:

"Should the parish remodel its existing outdated building or tear it down and build anew? In their research, the Rev. Michael Radford Sullivan and his colleagues determined it would cost more to remodel. So they kept the nave ... of the church, which is based on a Frank Lloyd Wright design, but demolished and rebuilt more than 35,000 square feet of space. And as it turned out, rebuilding presented a rare opportunity to incorporate the work of local craftspeople into the church."




With the issue of Sculpture Review, the reader is introduced to a wide range of liturgical art and architecture that has been generated on behalf of local parishes, cathedrals, and university chapels over the past fifty years. Reading through the different stories encouraged and inspired me. It reminded me that very good work--theologically substantial, pastorally and liturgically contextual, aesthetically excellent, and missionally minded--is being done on behalf of churches in North America.

Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle University

Interior of Chapel of St. Ignatius

Chapel at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center

May we continue to see this happening more so and in more varied denominational and geographical contexts. (I confess, I feel pretty lucky to be married to a woman who has made work in this vein.)

"Standing Man with Outstretched Arm" by Stephen De Staebler

"Winged Figure Ascending" by Stephen De Staebler

Monday, April 28, 2014

Phaedra's New Liturgical Art Commission


Recently Phaedra completed a new work of liturgical art which City Church in San Francisco had commissioned. Karl Digerness supervised the project. (He also happens to be a very fine hymnodist; the church, in turn, happens to be a very art savvy community). Because the commissioned involved a request for a sizable triptych, which would be used during their worship services for Eastertide, Phaedra had to become a little creative, knowing that she'd be shipping artwork 2,812 miles across the country. It would be exorbitantly expensive to ship three large encaustic works across the country.

So Karl pitched the idea that she create the artwork as a series of modules. She used 16 panels to complete the work and included a code so they'd know how to put it together when they pulled the art out of a collection of UPS boxes. I've included here a few photographs and the statement she wrote to unpack the work artistically and theologically. I'm so proud of her and excited about her next project too.


"Sweet the Timber, Sweet the Iron."

Encaustic and Mixed Media on Wood Panels, Phaedra Jean Taylor, 2014
For most of my adult life, I’ve associated Easter with the culmination of the Christian life. All songs, sermons, prayers and liturgical events climax at the Lord’s resurrections. Here we arrive at the end of our yearlong pilgrimage and then other things ensue, such as the final weeks of school and the onslaught of summer activities. Recently, though, I’ve found myself re-thinking this theological experience as a kind of beginning. When Christ is raised from the dead, something utterly new takes place. The whole cosmos turns into a new thing, re-oriented to a new end, inviting us to begin a new thing ourselves.

After forty days of Lenten observances, the church celebrates the work of Christ who breaks into the darkness of lives plagued by sin and who offers hope through his resurrection. But it is not all finished on that day. The fullness of that resurrection life unfolds through time, beginning with the apostolic community and continuing to this day, with you and me, here and now. When Jesus ascends to the Father’s right hand, he leaves the disciples with a promise, the presence of the Holy Spirit, who empowers the faithful to embrace a long walk through uncharted territory. Here, in this broken and brokenhearted world, faith is required. Here friendship with God’s people is required.

In a sense, I have begun to think of our whole lives as a kind of long Lent before a new and brilliant Easter, that day when Jesus returns as King. In this time in-between, you and I are invited to see our lives as perhaps brightly sad, rather than endlessly happy. Here in the regular course of our often not-exciting lives, we hold our hearts out to the Spirit, who knows all things, including the depths of our hearts, and we take halting steps towards the day when Jesus shall make all things new, despite our unclear paths and hearts that frequently grow faint.

The purpose of these paintings, then, is to invite you to sit inside a clouded landscape which allusively evokes the pilgrimage nature of our lives as Christians. What is around us feels real, but there is (at least for me) always this nagging sense that things are not quite whole or solid enough, and not quite as beautiful as they were meant to be. We see now through a glass, darkly. The space that I have painted across this triptych is empty, devoid of roads and people and buildings. There are no overt signs of life. Yet it is not lifeless landscape. Greens, blues, and yellows, along with drips and scratches, all speak to the life that is teeming below the surface, barely seen perhaps, but very much real.

Over the top of, and breaking into, this landscape are three symbolic images: 1) bright gold squares, 2) old and worn wood, and 3) thin, almost translucent, paper wings. These images are my attempt to place the triune God as an active presence within this landscape.

The glory of the Father emerges around the action of cross and resurrection. The Father’s glory is concentrated around the work of Jesus on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and it irradiates out into a world which God so loves. This presence of the Father is, at this point, glimpsed in faith and waits to reveal itself in all its splendor at the end of this age. We see now only bright flashes of hope, flickers of what is to come. Yet this glory is very much solid.

The worn wood, pockmarked with nail holes, speaks of the earthiness of Jesus, the One who became fully human and yet remained fully God. On the cross he is the broken one, whose flesh is offered up for the life of the world. On the cross, he receives our poverty to himself, so that he might transfer his wealth to us. On this concrete piece of wood, everything that humanity loses in Adam is wonderfully recovered by Christ. Or as the old hymn puts it: “Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, Sweet the burden that they bear!”

The Holy Spirit in this landscape can be found in the mass of wings which rise up through the earth, dissecting the composition unnaturally, and rain down from the heavens, entering from beyond the scope of the scene. The Spirit remains intimately bound to the faithful as helper and guide, as these wings are embedded into the layers of wax from which the paintings are made. The Spirit here hovers over the activities of crucifixion and resurrection, and then is given in full measure, spread across the world.

While all visual metaphors at some point break down, my hope is that this work will help you to know something about the presence of the triune God in your world—your city and your home, your public spaces, the spaces in which you work and play and build relationships, the places which are easily seen and those which are hidden to human eyes. My hope is that as you sit with these pieces of visual art, you will be able to discover some part of your story at play as well as something of the activities of God in your life, and, perhaps too, a place where those stories, if only in quiet ways, where few trumpets sound, come together to make something new and hopeful.








Side pieces: 36x36 inches. Middle piece: 24x52 inches.





Tuesday, April 22, 2014