Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis

I am a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Here is my third article, for the Autumn 2018 edition, which focused on the theme of Engaging Evil.

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My piece was titled Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis. It offers a theology of baptism as a participation in solidarity with refugees, drawing on U2′s song, Red Flag Day, from their latest album, Songs Of Experience. For fancy magazine layout, saying no U2′s response to the evils of the refugee crisis; or in plain text:

Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis

Sometimes entertainment becomes not only political, but also theological. Songs Of Experience, U2’s fourteenth and latest album, splashed into Christmas stockings over the summer. The album debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard charts, making U2 the first music group to gain a Number 1 album in four consecutive decades. In the midst of commercial success, U2 has continued to engage social issues, singing ‘No’ to human evil in the world. Songs of Experience is no exception as U2 engage the evils around the European refugee crisis.

Evil is a strong word. Yet the Scriptures are clear. The greatest of God’s commandments includes loving neighbour as yourself. Israel’s laws emerged from the Exodus experience of being refugees, fleeing the tyranny of Empire in Egypt. Just as Israel in history experienced God’s protecting love as refugees, so now in everyday life humans should express God’s love, including to refugees. Anything less is to deny the Commandments.

On Songs of Experience, U2 engage the evil of the refugee crisis in a mid-album bracket of three songs. First, American Soul suggests that American values of unity and community need to apply to ‘refugees like you and me, A country to receive us’. A second song, Summer of Love, longs for flowers to grow amid ‘the rubble of Aleppo’. The hope, fifty years after a drug-fuelled, music-drenched Summer of Love in San Francisco, is for peace to descend on the West Coast of Syria in the Middle East. A third song is Red Flag Day. The title suggests a continuation of the beach vibe of Summer of Love while the lyrics remain focused on the consequences of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, becoming rubble.

The civil war in Syria resulted in a unprecendented refugee crisis. For more than 1 million people in 2015, this meant crossing the Mediterranean Sea, seeking safety in Europe. Deaths at sea rose to record levels, with more than 1,200 people drowning in the month of April 2015. And so, in Red Flag Day, U2 address this evil: ‘Not even news today; So many lost in the sea’. This is evil-as-disinterest, as the lost and the least disappear from our 24-hour news cycle.

For U2, the response to this evil is located in one word. ‘The one word that the sea can’t say, Is no, no, no, no’. It is easy to imagine the impact of this line performed live, Bono holding a microphone out to an audience, inviting them to sing, ‘no, no, no, no’. It is a powerful lyric. Water, the sea over which refugees travel, can never speak. But humans can. Humans can sing that one word, ‘No’.

At the same time, having raised children, I am well aware of the limitations inherent in the simple word ‘No’. It is often the first word learnt by a child, easy on the lips of a two-year-old teetering on a tantrum. So, when U2 sing ‘No’, what exactly are they asking us as humans to do?

U2 conclude Red Flag Day with the provocative line, ‘Baby let’s get in the water’. It reminds me of the baptism of Jesus. Every year in the Christian calendar, Christmas is followed by Epiphany and the birth of Jesus is placed in relation to God declaring love and pleasure as Jesus enters the Jordan waters. It is the way Jesus begins ministry, by getting in the water.

So is the refugee crisis in fact an invitation for the church to sing ‘No’, to respond to evil by entering the waters of baptism? Physically, in entering the Jordan River, Jesus expresses his obedience to God. This makes getting in the water the essential pattern of Christian discipleship, a way of saying ‘No’ to our own plans and ‘Yes’ to God’s intentions. Historically, as Israel crossed the Jordan River, they were saying ‘Yes’ to living out God’s commandments no matter what country they found themselves living. This makes baptism an expression of ‘Yes’ to loving our neighbour. And sacramentally, baptism and communion are woven together in the Exodus story of the Passover, which involves Israel entering the waters of the Red Sea. This makes getting in the water an expression of solidarity with all those who decide to say ‘No’ to persecution and tyranny, whether in fleeing Egypt in history or in the rubble of Aleppo today.

Hearing U2’s Red Flag Day and listening to the Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism offer ways to respond to the evil of the refugee crisis. The single word of ‘No’ is filled with Christian content. Every red flag swim in this summer of love becomes a singing of ‘No’. It means lobbying Parliament to ‘Let them come’. It involves lighting candles as prayers of intercession for all those lost at sea, refusing to forget those forgotten by the news today. It means a welcome to the promised lands as we teach English classes and guide migrants around unfamiliar supermarkets.

We often view baptism in individual terms, as a personal choice to follow Jesus. What if it is also a call to mission, a way to respond to evil by getting in the water in solidarity with the refugee crisis today.

Posted by steve at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

homeward after UK 2018

In a few hours, I step into a metal tube for some 22 hours of flying. It has been an excellent 9 days in the United Kingdom, in 3 different countries, speaking to 6 groups, with 3 other booked meetings. The welcome from various folk in the Church of Scotland was warm and the interaction rich. They are in interesting times as a church, with some very thoughtful folk working hard to discern the ways ahead. It was a great gift to me to see how helpful the material from my book, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration could be in a different place and to watch it find life in a very difficult cultural context. To hear that it was being quoted in Church of Scotland General Assembly reports and to see the gratitude with which people responded to the images of fool/risk/play was very encouraging. (For those in the UK, Doug Gay at University of Glasgow still has copies at the very good price of 10 pound + postage).

onetreehill The U2 Conference was a blast – a triumph of passion over obsession. Locating it in Dublin, after conferences in North Carolina and Cleveland was a master stroke, as it located U2 within the context of Ireland and the streets and people in which U2 were formed. Seeing in real life the “boy” who experienced the “war” and encountered “grace” in the midst of the “bad” was very special. My paper on the endings of Pop went well, which given it was stitched together in scraps of hours in January, May and then in Dublin at midnight, was a relief. I find the focus on creativity, imagination, justice and spirituality provided by conversations about U2 to be quite life-giving, all mixed in with academics thinking deeply about how contemporary cultures might be understood.

Then there were the friendships. Previous relationships renewed, new connections made. Connecting with Steve Stockman and his church community at Fitzroy Presbyterian was inspiring. While it has been a great 9 days, it will be good to see the lights of home. (And to fight off jetlag to lead an 8 day blockcourse starting in a few days.)

Posted by steve at 08:10 PM | Comments (3)

Friday, June 15, 2018

the endings of pop: live

u2 endings Today I shared a paper at the U2 Conference. It’s the third time I’ve shared at the U2 Conference, with presentations on Bullet the Blue Sky as evolving live performance in 2009 and of the role of concert experience in corporate memory making in 2013. Today, 2018 in Belfast, it was the endings of Pop and how U2 end albums and end live performance. I looked at last songs across all U2′s live performances, in comparison with album ending songs and in dialogue with Ed Pavlic, Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners. I am seeking for the words to describe what is a performed reception history.

endings pop

The mix of academics and fans make for such a passionate, engaged audience and the questions and interaction were, as always excellent. The paper raises a range of next step questions, regarding the range of emotions present in U2 endings and what the band might be wanting to gain.

The last two U2 conference presentations have become book chapters.

“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music), edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books, 2014, 105-121

““Bullet the Blue Sky”: the evolving live concert performances,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 84-97.

Whether this one does, I’m still not sure. I grateful to those who made the trip financially possible (Trinity College and Church of Scotland Panel of Review and Reform) and to my family who let me take holidays in this sort of mad/obssessive/culturally focused type of way.

Posted by steve at 01:53 AM | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

burning bushes in cultures and contexts

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

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

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

Posted by steve at 12:37 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, June 08, 2018

Listening in mission resource (for Friday, Monday, Tuesday)

Unknown-20 For those attending the Listening in Mission workshop and for the sake of the environment, here is a copy of the KCML Resource (Assignment Reading neighbourhood).

Posted by steve at 08:01 PM | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Innovation and congregations: Built for change (for Thursday, Monday)

My first teaching session in Scotland, for the Church of Scotland – is titled Innovation and Congregations. I’ve been asked to offer Biblical, theological and spiritual resources, drawing from my Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration book.

For those attending the workshop and for the sake of the environment (or technology preferences), want an electronic copy, here is a copy of my note – Innovation and congregations: Built for change Thursday workshop.

Posted by steve at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Call for papers: CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTS IN ASIA

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

CALL FOR PAPERS: CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTS IN ASIA

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

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

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

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

Posted by steve at 07:21 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Film review: Mary Magdalene

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 135 plus films later, here is the review for May 2018.

Mary Magdalene
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Mary Magdalene” the movie was my Maundy Thursday religious experience. It provides rich Gospel reflection, whether watched pre- or post-Easter.

The reputation of Mary Magdalene was ruined by Pope Gregory, who in 591 preached a sermon (Homily 33) that wrongly called her a prostitute. Sadly he never bothered to correct his homiletical error. Mary Magdalene, the second most mentioned woman in the Gospels, became tarred by the church with a label neither deserved nor Biblical. In the Gospel, Mary is introduced in Luke 8:2, named alongside Joanna and Susanna as one who journeys with Jesus.

In Luke 7:37, an unnamed woman who “lived a sinful life” anoints Jesus. Quite how an unnamed sinful woman became, in the homily of Pope Gregory, a named prostitute named Mary has never been made clear. Nor why it took the Catholic Church over 1500 years to clarify a Papal mistake. But on 3 June, 2016, the Catholic church finally relented. Pope Francis gave Mary a feast day, to honour her witness as the first to give testimony to the Risen Jesus.

“Mary Magdalene” is an imaginative response, locating Mary alongside Jesus on the journey toward Jerusalem. Woman are portrayed as leaders and learners, baptisers and blessers. The scene in which Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) follows Mary (Rooney Mara) down a long mountain track to a well, all the while protesting that he understands Jesus’ (Joaquin Phoenix) commands better than she does, is a moment that will find many a woman nodding in sympathy. The teaching of Jesus in relation to forgiveness is sensitively applied in relation to women’s experience of rape and gender violence. Mary’s intuition becomes a source of revelation, honouring different ways of knowing that are essential in Christian discipleship. In other words, the movie celebrates what women bring to the mission of God.

Jesus movies are difficult to direct, given an ending that is well-known. Director Garth Davis animates a predictable plot by a powerful portrayal of the first century Roman rule. A sequence of economic injustices are artfully woven into the life histories that shape the call of disciples. Thankfully, and unlike The Last Temptation, the movie avoids any sexualisation of the relationship between Mary and Jesus. The result is a dignifying both of love and gender.

The only blemish is an ending which seems to draw from the Gnostic Gospel of Mary. The Gospel of Mary was discovered in Egypt in 1896. It was not made public until 1955. The most complete text still misses ten pages, including a section from after the Resurrection in which Mary moves from sharing her firsthand experience of Jesus to an ecstatic vision. This missing section seems to resource “Mary Magdalene.” The result is a blurring of lived experience and ecstatic vision and a weakening of the claims for historical accuracy so carefully built in the pre-crucifixion narrations of first century Roman economic exploitation.

Despite this post-Resurrection wobble, the Jesus that emerges is a rich embrace of justice-seeking activist and contemplative: an Easter Jesus worth following, whether first century peasant or twenty-first century #metoo activist.

Posted by steve at 09:53 PM

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Built for change UK trip June 2018

Assembly hall nwb photo credit Bob White I’m in the United Kingdom for 2 weeks early June, working with the Church of Scotland and presenting a paper at the 3rd U2 conference in Belfast. The Presbyterian Church of New Zealand has a partner relationship with the Church of Scotland and it will be good to embody that relationship, reflecting with them on innovation, mission and change.

My itinerary is as follows:

I fly into London on Monday, 4 June and train to Glasgow on Tuesday the 5th.

Thurs 7th June, Glasgow – Built For Change: Biblical, Theological and Spiritual Resources for enabling change within congregations (open to all)

Fri 8th June, Glasgow – Listening In Mission/Mission Seedlings (open to all)

Mon 11th June, Edinburgh – Built for Change: Enabling Change At Regional and National Levels (nomination and invite only)

Tues 12th June, Edinburgh – Initial Ministerial Training – critical reflections on downunder models (invite only)

Tues 12th June, Edinburgh – Listening In Mission/Mission Seedlings (open to all)

Wed 13th June, I fly to Belfast and am there until Friday 15th June, at the U2 conference reflecting on the role of popular music in shaping culture. My paper is Friday morning, 8:45 am – The endings of Pop).

I fly out of London back to New Zealand on Saturday, 16 June.

I’m grateful to Doug Gay, Principal of Trinity College, Glasgow University, for making the trip possible. At a personal level, I’m looking forward to escaping a Dunedin winter. I’m also really interested in seeing how my book, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration will resonate in the Northern Hemisphere context. I deliberately wrote with a down-under publisher, in order to reflect from my context. So taking the ideas half-way around the world to see how they play will be really interesting.

Posted by steve at 03:26 PM

Monday, May 14, 2018

Can those fines: graced redemption in a modern space

An email a few weeks ago from the University library. With winter approaching, it was an invitation to bring an item for a food bank. In exchange, a library fine forgiven.

· If you pop into one of the University Libraries in Dunedin AND
· Bring an item fit for human consumption for the Dunedin Student Associations’ food banks
· We will waive your fines (up to $30).

can those fines I pondered the grace. A call to participate in making the world a better place. In exchange, redemption, as my shame (a library fine), was redeemed.

A lesson for all those who seek to communicate. The easy way is to point the finger, to name the blame. Such is the cry of fundamentalism.

The sliding way is to ignore the sin. “Don’t judge me” is the cry of tolerance. Yet, as London Grammar remind us, truth is a beautiful thing.

“Miles and miles on my own
Walk with shame, I follow on

You’ll be on your knees and struggle under the weight
Oh, the truth would be a beautiful thing
Oh, the truth is a beautiful thing” (Truth Is A Beautiful Thing)

Hence the intriguing way is to invite me to participate anew in mission, in ways that name my shame, all the while immersing it in grace.

“Can those fines” did that. It was graced redemption in a modern space, a lesson in speaking the gospel.

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

Thursday, May 03, 2018

one word: emotional in multiple textures of action

In beginning to prepare for the U2 Conference in Belfast and my Endings of Pop: Benediction, Lullaby or Lament? presentation, some writing this week, as I read the fascinating Ed Pavlic, Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners alongside U2′s Wake up Dead Man.

The argument in Who Can Afford to Improvise? is that song lyrics function uniquely. They might be words, but they are never prose. First, they are received as an experience. They act to hold “our attention to physical and emotional textures woven in the rhythms of the utterance itself” (7). Second, they disrupt. They are a “musical interruption of the report-function usually assigned to what is called prose.” (7) In analysing lyrics, one must consider both physical and emotional textures and the “multiple possibilities, distinct tonalities that communicate at several simultaneous levels” (7-8). This helps as we consider the ending of Pop [Explicit], in the form of “Wake Up Dead Man.”

The emotional texture is enriched by the bridge, in which the one word “listen” is repeated eight times. “Listen” is the one word lyric that is disrupting time. The song is moving on, yet in that moving, the same word of action is repeated.

The listening is one word, but in the one word, sustained by repetition, is a complex set of repeated actions, of “multiple possibilities”, of “to” and “over” and “through” and “as”: Listen “to” (your words; the reed). Listen “over” (the rhythm of confusion; the radio hum, the sounds of blades, marching bands). Listen “through” (the traffic). Listen “as” (hope and peach march). The “to” is twice, the “over” is four, the “through” and “as” are once each. The one action – of listening – is actually four actions – to, over, through and as. This is a demanding understanding of humanity, and the complexity of engaging suffering. In the face of the physical action of suffering, there are multiple emotional textures and a complex range of response.

Posted by steve at 03:44 PM

Monday, April 30, 2018

Lest we forget: Anzac beginnings through the words of Kingmaker Wiremu Tamihana

I preached at the Knox Chapel Anzac service this weekend. The Bible readings were Ephesians 2 and Psalm 23. I looked at Anzac beginnings through Australian eyes and the words of Maori chief, Wiremu Tamihana (whom I researched through much of last year). This opened up a reflection on Ephesians 2 and New Zealand mission history. I finished with the tekoteko of Te Maungarongo, Jesus the ancestor.

“The most remarkable Anzac sermon I’ve ever heard” commented an Emeritus Professor of Law. “Outstanding” commented a University Chancellor. So here it is … (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:56 PM

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Endings of Pop #U2lyricbingo

This is my 100 word summary for the U2 Conference: Belfast.

The Endings of Pop: Benediction, Lullaby or Lament?
Rev. Dr. Steve Taylor
Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Knox College
Dunedin, New Zealand

U2 are performance artists. They shuffle songs, insert visuals and craft snippets, in the name of peace. This helps us understand “WUDM”, the song ending Pop. The album begins with discoteque – everybody having a good time – yet ends with profanity-laced lyrics of divine absence. Live, during Popmart, “WUDM” is performed as ending. Is this benediction, an invoking of divine sending? Yet midway through Elevation, “WUDM” is played mid-show. Located between “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “One,” is this lament? How might such performances contrast with lullaby-like “MLK,” another album ending song for a dead man? This talk includes #U2lyricbingo

The 300 word summary is here. Me, looking happy with my latest U2 publication, is here.

Posted by steve at 09:33 PM

Monday, April 16, 2018

Black Panther film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 135 plus films later, here is the review for April 2018.

Black Panther
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Black Panther is breaking box office records. Five consecutive weekends at number one leave the movie poised to become the highest grossing superhero film in American history. Commercial success is being accompanied by a wave of critical praise for the way the movie portrays people of colour. This includes the portrayal of Africans as culturally diverse and technologically superior and a dialogue in which white people are named as colonisers.

It is worth repeating: a superhero character gaining critical acclaim for advancing cultural diversity. In other words, the representations of pop culture are deemed to carry culture-making power.

The Black Panther has a past. Marvel Comics cartoonists Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character in July 1966. The first superhero of African descent in mainstream American popular culture, the comic hero possessed super powers. The Panther’s powers – of strength, speed, stamina and sensory perceptions – were enhanced by access to advanced technology, a mystical precious metal, vibranium, available only in the fictional African nation of Wakanda.

The Black Panther as a Marvel comic character lasted through six volumes. Many of the key characters from the first four volumes are skillfully woven into Black Panther the movie. These include the Black Panther/ T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and his technologically gifted scientist sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). They also include his enemies, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the first attracted by his greed for vibranium, the other by an unresolved grievance with T’Challa and the leaders of Wakanda.

This means that alongside the super hero action scenes and the visual richness generated by the rich palate of African cultures is a plot that explores a rich set of essential ethical questions. One involves the consequences when grievance remains repressed. A second is the question of who is my neighbor. Wakanda has vibranium. Yet if you have resource, do you arm the oppressed? Or do you enact social compassion. Hence a final scene, in which Africans begin doing social outreaching in America. Which generates a final ethical question. Can money and technology be deployed in ways that reverse colonization?

The questions generated by comic and cinema popular culture are given an edge by the real time American history being referenced by the Black Panther title. Some five months after Marvel introduced the comic character, a real life Black Panther Party was founded in California. Co-incidence? Or another example of popular culture creating culture?

The Black Panther Party began by enacting social outreach, including free breakfasts for school children and community health clinics. In time, it sought to take up arms against an oppressor and was linked to police fatalities in 1967 and 1968. Hence the big screen movie conflict between T’Challa and Killmonger echo real time questions about black consciousness and how the oppressed might seek liberation.

The result is a movie to be enjoyed, whether you are seeking action, cultural complexity or social debate. And a reminder: that the pop culture world of comics and movies is a powerful culture-maker, busy addressing real time realities.

Posted by steve at 02:30 PM