Thursday, May 25, 2017

Listening in mission 1: the value of chat

listeninginmission KCML in 2017 are offering a listening in mission practical learning course. It is an experiment for us, testing ways we can provide life-long learning opportunities for ministers in context.

The listening in mission practical learning course involves a listening project, in which participants gather a team of 4-6 from their church and engage in a provided guided listening project. So it is based on action, the church doing something. This is supported by a set of online sessions, in which there is listening to Scripture, engagement with readings in mission, sharing of resources, support and prayer. In other words, reflection.

After a no-strings attached introductory webinar on May 3, to allow folk to check if this was for them, the cohort got underway yesterday evening. The aim was to create links between the project and Scripture and mission and to be a practical resource for each other as we seek to get the listening project going.

For me it was a such rich and sustained engagement in the realities of mission and ministry. I loved the way conversation moved so freely between the readings, the listening practical project and our role as ministers. I loved the exchange of ideas as various folks shared from their current practice. It felt at times like being on holy ground.

Once again, it was a joy to teach without leaving my desk or entering a classroom. Instead, online technology makes possible a very different sort of experience. On the video, I saw children come in for a quick cuddle and partners begin to check about dinner arrangements. This was learning in lounges and around computer desks, threaded through with everyday realities. So different from a classroom.

One of the learnings for me in this particular experience of online learning is the value of the chat function. The online platform we are using has video, voice and a chat function. Three of the KCML Faculty are involved (all from different physical locations). With this shared leadership model, it means that while one is talking, the others can engage on chat. Key discussion themes can be highlighted and 1-1 questions engaged. Even better, the platform we are using allows us to copy and paste the chat.

So every class has the online participation through video, voice and typed chat. It also has the audio saved, to be listened to again afterward. And the chat, which serves as written notes, allowing further reflection on learning. The result is a rich set of layers for learning.

Posted by steve at 03:37 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Objects of faith: Pulpit bibles and Presbyterian theologies of Scripture

“..religion is characteristically expressed in communities of worship.” Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, Picador, 2005, 99).

Unknown-1 This is the pulpit Pew Bible of the now closed Andersons Bay Presbyterian Church. Embossed on the front cover are the words “Good News Bible. Today’s English Version.” It replaces an older Bible, a King James Version. It thus stands as a sign of change in the life of this church community. One wonders what motivated the change process and how it impacted on those used to the existing version.

Unknown-2 Inside is a handwritten inscription. “To the Glory of God. Presented by Robert Hamilton in memory of his wife, Adeline Maude, June 1985.” The Bible is thus personalised, fused with the life of this unique church community and the individual grief as a loved person dies.

Inside is also a bookmark. It is blue felt and has two hand embroidered symbols, both in yellow. One is of a cross, the other is of the burning bush. Both symbols speak of significant iconography, the Christian cross and the burning bush as the emblem of the Presbyterian Church of Aoteaora New Zealand. They suggest this church community is marked as Christian and as part of the Presbyterian Church.

These three markers – “Good News Bible. Today’s English Version,” the handwritten inscription and the hand embroidered symbols – suggest an approach to Bible reading that is open to change, entwined with individual story yet located within the Christian and denominational history. They suggest a Presbyterian theology of Scripture, embedded in the everyday practices of this community of faith. How consistent is this with other Presbyterian, other Protestant, other Christian approaches to Scripture?

One way to address these questions is to place the Andersons Bay pulpit Pew Bible alongside research by Joseph Webster (“Objects of Transcendence: Scots Protestantism and an Anthropology of Things,” Material Religion in Modern Britain: The Spirit of Things, Palgrave MacMillan, 2015, 17-35). He explores how Bibles are used in Scottish Protestantism.

First, Bibles are open (24). Second, Bibles are understood as a living word shaping the behaviour of individuals (25). Third, Bibles are an object that can mediate salvation (26). At work in each of these affirmations is a commitment to the “power of encountering tbe biblical object and its person-like qualities” (26). The use of this object of faith, the Bible, suggests the importance of providing “routes of access to the inwardness of this book (27). What matters is not only the actual text, but also the object, Scripture as an ever-present and potentially transforming reality. “”[T]he saved” become “living epistles” as their lives are conformed to the Bible (29).

Webster reads this alongside cultural shift, in particular the arrival of modernity. Webster argues that these understandings he observed in Scottish Protestantism are neither pre- nor anti-modern. Bibles are used, according to Webster, as consubstantiated hybrids (33). They are at the same time a collection of pages and the breath of God. This is made possible by a worldview of immanence and transcendence in which things are both material and enchanted.

Back at Andersons Bay, we see this materiality. There is the willingness to replace one material book with another, believing that it is not only in specific certain mystical pages that God is encountered. There is the weaving of individual biography, in which tradition is understood in relation to church members who have gone before. There is the craft of embroidery, consistent with a church known for this particular craft. These suggest a commitment to materiality, at odds with stereotypes of Protestantism as not of this world.

Yet we equally see transcendence, in the decision to change the Bible, presumably to enhance the living witness of this text. Also in the belief that in the craft of embroidery and the remembering of individual lives will come inward transformation of individual lives: routes of access in which “the saved” become “living epistles.” (Webster in Material Religion in Modern Britain, 27, 29).

Posted by steve at 12:06 PM | Comments (2)

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Is the author actually alive?

For the last month, I have been working to complete a writing deadline. In June last year, I co-presented a paper on theological education in the Pacific at Woven Together, a conference on Christianity and development in the Pacific, run by the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University. Titled The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre, the paper involved research on the history of New Zealand Presbyterian involvement in theological education in Vanuatu, using archives held at the Archives Research Centre of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Talua is a partner College of Knox Centre, so doing this research helped me understand and appreciate this historical partnership.

Following the conference in June, I was invited to develop the paper for publication in a book emerging from the conference. In order to broaden the research, over the last few months I have been searching more widely for materials. Doing a literature search at the Otago University Library catalogue, I discovered some potentially interesting titles were held at the Hocken Collections.

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So in late March, I ducked into the Hocken Collections to look at an honours thesis, by Melissa Bray, and a lecture, by Neal Whimp. It was a lovely few hours, in the quiet of one of New Zealand’s wonderful archival resources, reading about mission in the Pacific, taking notes relevant to my research.

On Thursday this week I flew to Tauranga, to speak to the Kaimai Presbytery. I used the time airborne to write, putting the finishing touches to the chapter. This included re-reading the notes I had made at the Hocken Collections on the lecture by Neal Whimp and then adding the reference to the bibliography: The Church in Vanuatu since 1945 with special reference to its role in the move to Independence, 1980. I made excellent progress on the 110 minute flight to Tauranga and later that evening, I was able to send the chapter off to the editors (only 20 days behind deadline!)

On Friday, I was speaking in Tauranga to a group of Presbyterian ministers. Among the audience, asking thoughtful pointed questions, was a person with a name tag “Neal Whimp.” One question in the afternoon session included a very helpful probing about colonialism in mission. The nature of the question suggested that the person with a name tag “Neal Whimp” had some history and empathy toward cross-cultural challenges.

As I packed up at the end of the day, I had this feeling that the name “Neal Whimp” was familiar. Something clicked in relation to my writing the day before. Was the Neal Whimp in person on Friday the Neal Whimp on paper on Thursday? Surely not!? Could the lecture I read at the Hocken Collections actually have a living author? Surely not in Tauranga, surely not some 37 years later?

Before I could check, the person with a name tag “Neal Whimp” was gone.

On Saturday, I spoke again, to a larger group, still Presbyterian, but this time a mixture of ministers, elders and lay people. As folk began to gather, I kept scanning the crowd. Would he return? If he did, would I get to connect with him among a crowd of over 100, moving between multiple workshops and keynotes?

I was delighted to spot the person with a name tag “Neal Whimp” entering and made a bee-line. “Are you by any chance the Neal Whimp who in 1980, delivering a lecture titled The Church in Vanuatu since 1945 with special reference to its role in the move to Independence, 1980? Because if you are, I was reading your work two days ago and I’m delighted to meet you.”

Sure enough, it was the same person.

We had a great conversation. He was delighted to know his lecture was held at the Hocken Collections and was being read. I gained some more insight, albiet briefly, into his work in Vanuatu in theological education between 1969 and 1980.

And I left pondering this striking coincidence. Authors read in archives can actually be alive! A person I cite on a Thursday can be met for the first time on a Friday!

Posted by steve at 05:42 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Undisciplined Austen

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Here’s my draft abstract in relation to the Undisciplined Austen research project at the Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities, and in which I am participating, in a slightly bemused sort of way (and in my own time!)

Faith of zombies by Dr Steve Taylor

My “undisciplined” discipline is that of popular culture. I plan to “read” the 2016 movie, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, in which zombies express faith through religious practice.  I will examine the religious service scenes in the movie, in dialogue with three sources. First, the established religion of Austen’s time, in the form of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (still the official Prayer Book of the Church of England). Second, the Biblical themes of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, in particular in relation to the book of Revelation. Third, in dialogue with analysis of Christian imagery generally in zombie movies, beginning with Kim Paffenroth’s Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth, Baylor 2006. The aim is to articulate the uniquely “undisciplined” contribution that Austen genre makes to zombie theology and in relation to current study of zombie theology.

Posted by steve at 09:03 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

4 talks in 4 hours: Kamai Presbytery bound

I shut my office door at 1:30 pm this afternoon. I have to travel tomorrow morning to deliver 4 talks in Tauranga over the weekend.

Friday, 19 May, 10am-12pm: Discipleship and the mission of God – an examination of what it means to from disciples, including reflecting on the distinctive archival resources from Presbyterian history It was Innovation and the Mission of God

Friday, 19 May, 1-2pm: Preparing for mission and ministry today – the introduction of three art pieces, with the stories of how they have been central in shaping my ministry and their implications for innovation, formation and mission.

Saturday, 20 May, 10:30am-11:10 am: Innovation and the Mission of God – a workshop reflecting on six Biblical images that help us understand innovation as an essential practice of a healthy community. Two stories of change that help us appreciate that innovation is not the mysterious quest of a heroic leader, but a set of collaborative, practical actions.

Saturday, 20 May, 11:15am-12:15pm: Refresh! Renew! Rethink! How Scripture brings change in our communities, with particular attention to the justice-making of Wiremu Tamihana, Te Whiti and the Tamar project.

So with a 4 hour window clear of appointments, it was time to prepare. Thankfully each of the talks was something I’ve done before. Thankfully when I speak, I keep physical files of the various resources I use on the day. Thankfully when I speak, I prepare on a computer, which means I can easily make adjustments from one context to the next. So the preparation was a matter of sifting piles, compiling resources, checking and then copying handouts.

IMG_4892 By 4:45 pm this afternoon, I had 4 rows. Each row was in relation to each talk and included speaking notes, handouts and a range of creative resources, unique to each session, that I will use to enable engagement, imagination and interaction.

Now all I need to do is get the 4 piles packed and on the plane, trust nothing gets lost in the Dunedin -> Tauranga flights and make sure the right resource gets pulled out for the right session. I really enjoyed my time with the Kaimai Presbytery last year, and I’m also looking forward to connecting with current interns, recent graduates and perhaps some incoming interns!

Posted by steve at 05:20 PM | Comments (2)

Monday, May 15, 2017

lectio drawing: celtic knots and Scriptural contemplation

Lectio divina (Latin for “Divine Reading”) is a practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. It normally involves hearing Scripture.

Over the weekend, I explored drawing rather than hearing. It involved Celtic knot-making to engage Scripture. Celtic knot-making involves an “under and over” sequence. Applied to journaling, it involves drawing a number of interwoven lines onto the blank page of a journal. Colour and words can then applied.

I became by randomly drawing three lines across a blank page. The physicality of movement and shape seemed to settle me, the movement opening me up to engage and connect.

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The Scripture text was Romans 12. Verses 6-8 list a range of gifts, given to individuals for ministry in the church. I was drawn to three gifts – teaching, encouraging and leading – which are a part of my current role. So I wrote the three gifts into the three lines.

I had also been drawn to verse 1 – “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” I like the earthed dimensions of the spirituality on offer. I’d never thought about it before, but there was a potential connection between ordinary life and the living of gifts.

So I selected three words – sleeping, working and walking. Consistent with the Celtic knot making, I connected each word with each gift: sleep – teach; walk – encourage; work – lead.

Suddenly, there was a different way to reflect on my gifts. Regular sleep, awaking refreshed enhances my ability to teach. Walking – at the beach on Sunday afternoon, running mornings before work, walks after lunch in the nearby park, walking to the movies and art gallery – enhances my capacity to encourage. It was a rich, generative way to consider my working week ahead. What I don’t do (resting) is as important as what I do. Time taken to replenish is a tending to my life gifts.

It was a rich set of insights that emerged, a new way of considering the connections between rest and work, between restoration and service. I would never have made these connections if it wasn’t for lectio drawing: using Celtic knots to engage with Scripture.

Further links:
- I talk about lectio decorio – engaging the skin through touch here.
- I talk more about Celtic knot making as it relates to leadership and reading Scripture in my recent book, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration.

Posted by steve at 09:50 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, May 08, 2017

One thousand ropes: a theological review

ticket-1543115-640x480 Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for May 2017.

One thousand ropes
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

In February, I urged Touchstone readers watching Moana to keep watching Pacific pictures. One Thousand Ropes by Samoan New Zealander film director, Tusi Tamasese, provides a perfect opportunity. In 2011, Tamasese gave us The Orator, set in Samoa, with a Samoan cast speaking Samoan. Tamasese returns with One Thousand Ropes, again a Samoan cast, again speaking Samoa, but this time set in New Zealand.

Often narrative drives plot. In One Thousand Ropes the linearity of plot is displaced by time. Maea (Uelese Petaia) is a male midwife. Skilled at birthing the future, he needs deliverance from an ever-present past.

Instead, momentum is generated through Leon Narbey’s cinematography. The focus on small detail – lemons, hands, bodies and buildings – allows the plot to move. The movement of time is marked, not by changing seasons but by an apartment block being painted. Or through lemons, which in the beginning are offered by way of thanks. Placed on Maea’s kitchen table, they become an object of contemplation, before becoming liniment, rubbed on the belly of a pregnant woman. These visual details provide strands for continuity.

The reality of domestic violence haunts One Thousand Ropes. It is examined not by moralistic messaging, but in the interplay of symbol and the absence of certain sounds. Symbolically, the camera focuses on hands. They tenderly massage a placenta from a womb and beat dough into bread. They can also bruise the pregnant body of Maea’s daughter (Frankie Adams).

Then there is sound. A cake mixer pounds dough while men chose the violence of actions over the empathy that comes from words. Is it that men don’t talk? Or is it that these particular men from this particular culture, don’t talk? One Thousand Ropes seems to suggest that the actions of human hands are related to the absence of human words.

Controversially, there is the presence of the spirit of a dead woman (Sima Urale). She lives in the corner of Maea’s living room. Cinematically, the character provides a past presence that haunts Maea’s present. But what does her presence communicate about Samoan culture? And what should a Christian viewer make of this ghostly presence? Watching One Thousand Ropes, I wondered what to make of the Christian Scriptures. Old and New Testaments offer stories from life beyond the grave, including the Easter story of walking dead.

The church is absent in One Thousand Ropes. There is plenty of tradition, in the form of traditional medicine and cultural practice. But there is no trace of religion, whether as healing presence, caring community or moral judge. In this sense, the films fail to capture a dimension of culture essential to Samoan life.

Yet redemption is present, located in the actions of Maea’s daughter, Ilisa. Her midwiving father will not help her. Yet in giving birth alone, she finds courage. By her actions, she steps beyond the hands that have beaten her. She weaves instead, for herself and her father, a new future.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 08:35 PM | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

“the main textbook”: Built for change review number 10

builtforchange Here is the 10th review of my book, Built for Change. It is also the 1st review in a more academic publication (St Mark’s Review No. 238, December 2016 (4)).

It is easy to find leaders and books that espouse the need for creative thinking. It is rarer to identify proven processes and principles for implementation of change. Built for Change goes beyond rhetoric in order to explores case studies, theological reflection and reflective practice of how innovation can be collaboratively fostered. As an out-of-the-box thinker, Baptist pastor, and Uniting and now Presbyterian theological educator, Steve Taylor emphasises that innovation at its best is a collaborative team project, facilitated by systematic and careful process.

By the way, Taylor is also carefully well-structured in his writing – I plan to show this book to postgraduate students as a model of clear writing, easy to follow structure and practical theology from a reflective practitioner. Yet creativity is interspersed in Taylor’s writing – the book starts with an outro (explaining how Taylor’s work at Uniting College for leadership and theology drew to a close), and ends with an intro (as he began at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership). The middle section of the book “Leading deeply” functions like a musical bridge to drive the themes deeper with theological reflection. He explores Jesus as innovator (and encourages KPIs – ‘Kingdom Performance Indicators’), evaluates case studies of how tradition can be reshaped to bring “fresh words and deeds”, and correlates theological models of leadership with the “Lead with your strengths” tool (useful for identifying what roles are present or missing in a team).

My favourite part of the book, however, is the foundational first section “Leading outwards” exploring case studies of change. Taylor explains how Uniting College and its faculty team was “built for change” while Taylor was principal, and how it established indigenous learning, young adult program and digital delivery. Taylor explains how he invested time in relationships, looked for partners for projects, and offered new ideas when the timing as ready. He grounds leadership in Paul’s example in I Corinthians 3 and 4 – as servants who listens, gardeners who plant diversity, builders who structure collaborative processes (for example, dreaming, brainstorming, clarifying, workshopping), resource managers who face reality, fools who jump out of boxes and playfully ask “I wonder”, and parents who parent (in contrast to the “paidagogos” or servant who is paid to walk a child to school and correct homework). He discusses how he sought to bring each model into his leadership, for example to listen by asking his team: “Tell me about your call, what about your work drains and replenishes your sense of call, and what do you do?” He also unpacks case studies of innovation facilitated by collaborative leadership in a rural community café, a community garden in Kings Cross and a creative worship resource incorporating the contextual work of 30 artists. The stories show that innovation is not best birthed from the hired holy guru, but emerges from within a group as they respond to local needs, or even ask their community to partner with and help them. Finally, Taylor offers innovation frameworks that complement his biblical models: Lewin’s force field, proposing experiments, anticipating the change curve, and progressing change through tacking.

The final section returns to personalised concerns of “Leading inward”. The chapter on time management suggested a few new tools beyond a handy “to do” list, including refocusing on call and the most important, beginning a big task at the end of the day to get the momentum going for the next day (and noting the next tasks to do), and utilising Evernote software. The chapter on “Leading limited” was brilliant in developing innovations from areas of weakness not just strength; for example, Taylor describes how he playfully took milk and cookies to classrooms to seek feedback from students on an issue the faculty were stuck on. Finally, Taylor discusses the leadership tools of journaling (including colouring and “Celtic knots”), breath prayer, asking the significant question “what could I do differently?”, and basic skills for chairing effective meetings.

Built for Change emerges out of thoughtful theological reflection, but Taylor also offers practical snippets such as this meeting checklist:
• How might the forming Scripture speak to the decision-making?
• Is the room aware of progress?
• Are all voices being heard?
• Are points of agreed decision clear?
• Are unresolved points named for ongoing work?

In previous books and papers by Taylor I have been inspired by the innovative approaches to church and theological education that Steve Taylor brings to his vocation – Built for Change lifts the lid on and helps make accessible the processes and thinking that he uses. These are not solely tasks for senior pastors or principals, but for team members who see a need or have the spark of an idea and are willing to serve/garden/build/manage/fool and/or parent it into reality. I will be returning to it for inspiration and ideas for my leadership and am already thinking of how to workshop the models as I teach missional leadership and congregational transformation. It will also likely become the main textbook for a new innovation and change management unit I am planning, offering as it does a unique mix of biblical models, innovation tools and case studies – all grounded in local Australasian contexts. I have personally ordered a dozen copies as presents for colleagues in theological education and mission training, so I think I can say with integrity that I count this as highly recommended.

This review was originally published in St Mark’s Review No. 238, December 2016 (4).

Review 1 here. Review 2 here. Review 3 here. Review 4 is here. Review 5 is here. Review 6 is here. Review 7 by Darren Cronshaw is here. Review 8 by Uniting Church Moderator, Sue Ellis, is here. Review 9, by American Lanny Vincent is here.

Posted by steve at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 04, 2017

organising for online learning: a physical space

I taught my second online course within 24 hours today. (An intern mission cohort today; a Listening in mission professional development offering yesterday). In preparation, I realised that I have never seen any information on how people prepare to teach online. The online space is totally different physically from a face to face class. I’m no expert and I’ve still got lots to learn but how do I organise myself physically?

Well, this is my desk in preparation.

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On the screen is the video conferencing software ready to go. My video and microphone are turned on and the chat screen is open. As participants arrive, especially for first time users, I will get them familiar with using chat and then turning their microphone and video on and off.

On the desk in the middle is a Bible – I generally use Scripture at some point for lectio divina and to generate interaction and it is ready, open at the page.

You will notice three piles of paper.

On the left is the reading material sent to participants prior. I have a copies printed so that I know exactly what students have recieved and in case specific questions are asked of any of the reading material. I could of course have this on my computer, but I like to keep the computer screen for participants, not for searching for files.

On the far right is a folder (green) of various technical problem shooting solutions. Invariably participants have different browsers or different ways of accessing. I have some basic troubleshooting options, in case simple technical questions emerge. I have limited IT skill, so this covers the basics of login, sound and video.

On the near right is a number of documents I use to keep track of the actual tutorial. I have the names of every participant, which I use to tick off participation. It helps me check who has arrived and in making sure I miss no-one in the initial ice-breaker (name, weather in your location). It also allows me to keep track of who is speaking and ensure student voice is being equally shared. I have a pad of paper, on which I keep notes during the tutorial of what is being said. This enables to keep track of key points in discussion and if I have time after, to provide a summary of key points in the discussion as a way of enhancing feedback loops. In a face to face class, this might be on the whiteboard. I also have a lesson plan/run sheet. This helps me keep track of time. So my run sheet for the Listening in Mission taster is below. This class had 3 facilitators in 3 different geographic locations, so I was quite particular about time – down to every 3 minutes – so that we all knew how we were tracking and could remain disciplined.

Listening in Mission online taster
Wednesday, May 3rd, 4:45-5:45 pm
Hosted by Mark Johnstone Steve Taylor, Rosemary Dewerse

4:45 pm Welcome – Steve Taylor
 
Prayer – Rosemary Dewerse
 
4:50 pm Group building questions – 1 min/person
1. What is weather in your place. 
2. What word or picture or symbol to describe your community (outside the church)?
 
5 pm Scripture Read Luke 10 – Steve
3 questions to contemplate in silence
- as they walked into the village – I wonder what word or picture or symbol they used to describe the community 
- as they listened at table, I wonder what word or picture or symbol they used to describe the community 
- as they saw healing, I wonder what word or picture or symbol they used to describe the community 
  
5:09 pm A short story – how listening changed us and our mission – Mark 
 
5:12 pm Outline of online sessions – Steve
- Scripture 
- pre-reading 
- catch up on project ups and downs 
 
5:17 pm A short story – how listening changed us and our mission – Rosemary 
 
5:20 pm Outline of Listening project – Mark 

5:30 pm Project Q and A – Mark
 
5:40 pm Costs, dates, timings – Steve Taylor
 
Q and A. 
 
5:45 pm Prayer – rosemary  

So this is how I prepare. I still feel like a learner in this area. The piles give me a sense of organisation.

Posted by steve at 09:14 PM

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

online resourcing by KCML in mission

listeninginmission It was an exciting day for KCML today as we hosted our first ever online learning opportunity for ministers.  We used video conferencing technology and had 12 participants from around New Zealand join us to explore listening in mission. It was lovely to welcome folk from the breadth and diversity of NZ, particularly rural folk in Central Otago, Marlborough, Waikato, North and South Canterbury. (We also had five apologies. They will be sent the recording of the session and invited to engage with us if they have further questions.)

We read Scripture together, using lectio divina to explore the movement between text and context. We heard two short stories of how listening in mission changed us. We were introduced to two components of the Listening in Mission Practical Learning course. First, five online sessions that will be a support and an encouragement. It is lonely leading in mission and we need ways to encourage and be encouraged. Second, a listening in mission project. Each participant is invited to conduct a listening in action in their community, gathering a team of 4-6 people to engage in four guided listening exercises. This is embodied listening, quite different from surveys or census data.

Today felt small and yet big. Small, in that the sixty minutes flashed by. Small in that other education providers have been doing this for years.

Big, in that the technology worked, the audio was good, the group made immediate and excellent use of chat. Big in that KCML is resourcing ministers without requiring them to travel. Big in that this could apply in other areas of KCML life – a further course on experimenting in mission, or growing in preaching or enhancing resilience in leadership etc etc.

The KCML vision is

create, partner and sustain
innovative learning communities and ministries and
cultivate
mobile, accessible and collaborative theological reflection and formation.

Today we did that. We created a learning community, by being mobile in technology, accessible in taking a process we use with our interns and making it available more widely, collaborative as three KCML Faculty worked together to share the leadership.

It was an exciting day for KCML today.

Posted by steve at 06:35 PM

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Resurrection for mission

Some (theological) writing this morning, drawing on the Resurrection to understand listening as the first act of mission …

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Rowan Williams offers a way to understand the interplay between Christ, church, creation and culture. In The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ Canterbury Press: Norwich, 2003, 23-41, Williams introduces a classical Orthodox Resurrection icon. Icons are “written” and “read”: theological documents in which we encounter Christ. Williams points to the way that in a classical Orthodox Resurrection icon, Christ unites, standing on a narrow bridge of rock spanning a dark pit. Christ is grasping Adam with one hand and Eve with the other. He is restoring relationships – between men and women, between humanity and creation, between the mind’s knowledge and the body’s experience.

Williams then draws on Maximus the Confessor and his explanation of Christ as overcoming all the great separations that humans suffer. Williams notes the presence in the icon of characters from the Jewish Scriptures, including David, Abraham, Moses. The result is that “the resurrection is a moment in which human beings are reintroduced to each other across the gulf of mutual resentment and blame; a new human community becomes possible” (31-2). The Risen Christ is reintroducing us, opening the ways by which these characters from Scripture stand in the middle of “our present community, speaking to us about the God who spoke with them in their lifetimes in such a way that we can see how their encounter with God leads toward and is completed in Christ” (34). Thus revelation comes, understood in light of the resurrection. This is then applied to the relationship between Christ and creation. “But if we also bear in mind the context in which Maximus the Confessor sets the work of Christ, we can see here in outline the foundation for understanding the relation of Church and creation” (35-6). The logic is one of extension. “If the Risen Christ takes hold and speaks through the great figures of biblical history … by the same token he speaks through the world around us … he introduces us to that world and requires us to listen to it and receive from it what he wants to communicate.” (36) This is the work of Resurrected Christ, a “very obvious consequence both of the theology that shows Christ uniting what fallenness and sin have departed and of the image of a whole history brought to fulfilment … what Christ does and suffers affects all things, all areas of human experience and so all aspects of human relation, including relation with what is not human” (36-7). Through the Resurrection comes a redemption of creation which is so complete that creation becomes a source of revelation. In creation, experience and culture we can see the redemption that Christ is revealing. We are, in the risen Christ, being required to listen and receive from creation, experience and culture.

This provides a Christology of mission.

  • First, mission “opens out” (37) from Christ.
  • Second, we are required to listen to what Christ introduces us to, in this case the world which Christ has overcome our separation from.
  • Third, our listening will include human experience, which in Christ has been experienced, suffered and to which, in the Resurrection, we are being reintroduced.
  • Fourth, human experience, and hence human cultures, are a dimension in which Christ is revealed.
  • Fifth, we are listening for what Christ is speaking, what Christ wants to introduce us to.

Thus in the Resurrected Christ is a theology of revelation for mission. God is speaking, through what Christ as experienced, not only in Scripture and the characters from the Jewish Scriptures but also through creation, human experience and human cultures.

Posted by steve at 09:57 AM

Monday, May 01, 2017

Wondering together feedback

Over Friday and Saturday, I presented two keynote sessions, of around 50 minutes each, at the Wondering Together conference. Organised by Sydney College of Divinity, with about 50 academics in attendance, it was an opportunity to focus on teaching and learning. I presented two papers one on the contribution of flipped learning to innovation in theological education, the other on the implications of activist research for theological scholarship. With each paper, I offered a range of takeaways, in terms of my own practice as an educator.

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Both were very well-received. The feedback during question time raised the following points

1. The value of seeking to place Habermas alongside Bloom’s taxonomy, given that Habermas includes praxis ways of knowing, whereas Bloom’s taxonomy concentrates on primarily cognitive.

2. The tiredness of our sector, driven by outcomes focus on education.

3. The fear is that flipped learning reduces lectures focused on content. How to respond to those who prioritise content over skill?

4. A comment: how to frame research in teaching and learning in light of Australian Research Council grants.

I really appreciated the chance to do some thinking and integrating and to be working with Rosemary Dewerse in these areas. As well as the keynotes, there were over 30 short papers presented on a range of teaching and learning questions. The conference plans to release a book, so that will be a valuable addition to the ongoing need to grow our teaching and learning skills.

Posted by steve at 11:11 AM

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Theologies of the Walking Dead

So, in a strange turn of events, I find myself researching the walking dead. And in so doing, being offered airfares to Adelaide in October and some research assistance.

The walking dead are part of the Easter story, for in Matthew 27:51-53 “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

But what to make of this strange story. And how to conduct research on this Biblical text?

First, the backdrop. In order to maintain my post-graduate supervisions, I have retained my status as Senior Lecturer in Theology at Flinders University.

Second, the events. In March, I was emailed by a lecturer in the English Department at Flinders University, asking if I would be willing to be part of a proposed Flinders research project, titled “Immortal Austen.” It involves an international conference marking the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death. It also involves a desire to broaden Austen studies by inviting researchers in light of disciplines other than English to think about Austen. The aim is a research symposium, with the papers becoming a special journal issue “Undisciplined Austen.”

The email concluded: “I notice you have an interest in religion in popular culture, so I wonder perhaps if you might be interested in considering Austen (whether the novels, modern adaptations, or even the various popular constructions of Austen) from a theological or religious angle?”

Third, the response. In some jest I replied, noting that I had not actually (embarrassed cough), read Austen. But my teenagers had been watching Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

And I noted, as I walked past the TV a few times, that it did have zombie church services and links to the book of Revelation. I also noted a number of academic studies of zombie theology, including Kim Paffenroth, Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth. Published by Baylor Press, no less! So, I replied, still somewhat in jest, I could examine zombies in Jane Austen.

Fourth, the result. A very excited group of researchers, keen to welcome my input, successful in their research bid, which included a trip to Adelaide, research assistance and the invitation to participate in a theology of the walking dead.

Strange days. Strange times.

Posted by steve at 10:13 PM

Friday, April 21, 2017

Researching the future

wonder I’ve spent the last few days pulling together two keynote addresses I am giving in Sydney next weekend. The conference is hosted by the Sydney College of Divinity and is focused on Learning and Teaching, with the theme of Wondering about God together. My preparation has involved trying to stitch together a number of projects sitting on my hard drive, including
- parts of my Flinders Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching application
- some research I presented at the Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in 2015, on activist research.
- a conference abstract I had accepted for BERA (British Educational Research Association) 2016 (which I had to withdraw from due to work and budget pressures)

It has also involved working in partnership with a colleague, Rosemary Dewerse, who has provided invaluable research assistance. I wanted to offer a “sector” survey – of trends in online learning and research in theological education – and Rosemary has been a superb collaborator.

It is my first international academic keynote/s so I am pretty excited. Here are the two abstracts:

Researching the future 1: the contribution of flipped learning to innovation in theological education
 
Steve Taylor and Rosemary Dewerse

Abstract:
The focus of this paper is learner-centered teaching. Research shows that only 5% of university class time involved active student participation (Maryellen Weimer, Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, Jossey-Bass, 2002). This is considered in relation to the particular demands of teaching theology, which include a student cohort that is often mature and highly invested.

A number of strategies to increase student participation are outlined, drawn from the authors’ own experience. These include attention to classroom interaction, industry-shaped assessment, tutorial design, curricula development and flipped learning.

Given flipped learning is a recent innovation being shaped by changes in technology, it is considered in more depth. Three lines of inquiry are pursued, including as a strategy for increasing student participation, integration with Bloom’s taxonomy and in dialogue with current research into transformative learning, in particular the role of technology in learner centred teaching.

The argument is that learner-centred teaching needs to take technology seriously. However this needs to be nuanced, given that teaching is a profoundly social activity. Paying attention to the voice of student peers is an essential dimension of the learning experience. While technology is an important innovation in attending to this dimension of teaching, equally as important are the pedagogical strategies that enable learners to appreciate agency in themselves and their peers.

Researching the future 2: The implications of activist research for theological scholarship

Steve Taylor and Rosemary Dewerse

Abstract:
The focus of this paper is research-led teaching. The conference theme, of wonder, is applied to the actions of researching our teaching. The notion of researching our teaching raises important identity questions in relation to research, researched and researcher.

The insights of activist research are applied as a theoretical framework which enables us to attend to our identity as theologians (speaking of God’s Kingdom) and teachers (wanting to impact students). The implications of action research are further developed by undertaking a sector survey. This involves applying the work of Ernest Boyer to an analysis of journals, sector bodies and publications in theology. What emerges is a picture of a sector that has prioritised research in the domain of discovery, yet has given little encouragement to the domain of research from teaching and learning.

This is inconsistent with the multiple investments, both as educators and from our key industry partners, who work with us in this sector. I propose four theses:
• Each of us are activist researchers because we care about our content and our communities
• Our denominational stakeholders value activism, our teaching more than our research
• We as a theological sector are weak overall in our research outputs
• Researching our teaching as activist researchers provides an opportunity for us to align our multiple investments and investors and attend to our weakness as a sector

To make this concrete, I outline a set of first steps, under headings of informal research, institutional feedback and researching practice. In the midst of massive social change, the invitation, and imperative, is for us as a theological sector to wonder together by researching our teaching practice.

Posted by steve at 11:24 AM