Tuesday, September 17, 2019

first day back from sabbatical

Yesterday was my first day back from sabbatical. The day began in Glasgow and ended in Durham and involved four meetings, two in Edinburgh, followed by two in Durham.

First in Edinburgh, a conversation with Dr Carol Marples, who recently gained her PhD for research into creativity in worship, emerging from Carol’s training as an artist and work with congregations. We talked together about ways that she is seeking to cultivate collaboration in creative making in congregations, including developing short courses.

Next in Edinburgh, a conversation with Dr Alexander Chow, Lecturer in Theology and World Christianity at Edinburgh University. I was particularly interested in his use of wikipedia, requiring students to complete assessment that includes writing articles for wikipedia. It strikes me as a great example of making research useful.

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Then onto/back to Durham. The presentations I am offering here in the UK during this trip involves research on the church in the United Kingdom, in particular the impact of Christmas knitted angels. So I contacted folk who began the project and asked if they were interested in hearing about my research.

So a meeting with Dr Christine Dutton, who as Methodist minister encouraged her congregations’ involvement. I have also drawn on her research into knitting as missional practice and together we talked about ways we might conduct further research together, given her strengths and expertise.

Finally, a meeting with David Wynd and Rob Wylie, who had seen some creativity from the gifted Lou Davis, a Methodist pioneer minister and encouraged the Christmas knitted angels project. I interviewed them about their hopes and dreams for the project. Then I gave them a summary of what I had discovered from my research into how folk had experienced receiving an angel. Then we talked about the possibility of a Christmas angels downunder experiment, testing to see how knitted angels upside down – in summer – might work.

So ended the first day back from sabbatical. Rich, full of meetings and hopeful of next step possibilities in research and mission in the church. Today, Tuesday, is my second day back from sabbatical. It involves a morning meeting about another possible collaborative research project and then the Ecclesiology and Ethnography 2019 conference which begins with lunch. Equally full, although thankfully with less travel.

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

Friday, September 13, 2019

writing goalless in Germany

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This week was my last week of sabbatical and at 9 am on Monday, the computer was on and I was writing. I’ve not set myself any writing targets for this week. This is highly unusual. Writing time is so precious and I am normally very focused.

But not this week. For a number of reasons.

First, intuitively, the fact that I am highly focused in writing makes it worth exploring other modes. What would happen if I followed my nose? What might I learn about myself, about writing, about creating?

Second, practically, the major aim of the sabbatical was the completion of a book contract, an empirical study of innovation and mission. The deadline with the publishers was May. When my sabbatical was postponed in February, I absorbed the pressure of needing to meet a deadline with 13 weeks of sabbatical not 15. It meant working a few too many Saturday’s in May. But having met that deadline in May, on the other side in September, I had some weeks spare. It made sense to treat them as a treat. I’d already met the deadline for the 15 weeks, so whatever emerged would be a bonus.

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Third, I’ve decided to spend this week writing in Germany. My daughter is cycling the Rhine River and this was a chance for her to pause and for us to spend precious father/daughter time together. We had agreed that I would write in the mornings and we would explore in the afternoons and evenings. This meant that I would be writing in a totally new space. I was not sure what type of desk I would have to work at nor what books and resources I might need. Nor did I want to carry unnecessary weight half way around the world.

Fourth, this was a new mental space. The afternoon wanders might shake lose some creativity, create new connections, provide different perspectives. So having no goals allowed me to be free.

So as I opened my computer at 9 am on Monday, I had no goals, and thus no expectations. What to do? Where to begin?

I did have a deadline due in 10 days time on a small writing project for Upper room, a US publishing house. It is a collaboration with a research colleague who is currently quite busy. So I decided to draft some words, hoping that would kickstart our creativity.

As I completed that, I realised it was actually a potential conclusion to a longer project we had talked about working on. So I added the words as a conclusion and set up about turning a talk we had done together in July into a 4000 word journal article – researching contemporary practices of ministerial action.

Over the week the article grew. All the resources I needed were available. The afternoon wandering through different spaces set lose some fresh ideas.

As the week ended, the writing had become a complete draft. It needs to be slightly tightened and it needs an edit. But it is a complete draft.

Writing goalless work a week in Germany had resulted in
- 650 words for Upper room, for Devozine, a teenage spirituality resource
- a 4,300 word piece for a New Zealand ministry journal on how local churches respond to tragedy and trauma
- an encouragement. Toward the end of our week, an afternoon explore found me paying my respects to Hildegard of Bingen, one of the church’s finest theologians (Doctor), healer, composer, community builder.

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I have wrestled with my writing over the last 18 months. Is it a good investment of time? Or is it a luxury? Seeing the quill in Hildegard’s hand was inspiring. Writing can be a charism. It can be something through which the Spirit works. Writing goalless in Germany meant finding this encouragement: keep writing, keep creating …

Posted by steve at 10:06 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, September 06, 2019

Germany bound

I’ve had a great week in Durham. The folk doing the Doctor of Theology and Ministry (DThM) from Durham University are a great bunch, doing some really interesting projects and clearly showing the value of practical theology in understanding the relationship between theology and practice.

My lecture on Craftivism as a missiology of making went really well and seemed to be greatly appreciated.

learning to knit

I spoke for about an hour, working from the journal article I submitted a few weeks ago. The questions that flowed were excellent and showed there is plenty of avenues for further research if I want to continue to develop this project! Apparently there is at least one Anglican training event this weekend in which craftivism and Dorcas as an agent in the 5 faces of mission is now being included!

It’s also been great to catch up with folk and nurture some international friendships with which I am blessed.

Today, I headed down to York, to do some journal planning with Nigel Rooms. Together we are co-editing a new journal, seeking to nurture quality research on local Christian communities in mission. After International Association of Mission Studies in Korea in 2016, work has been done to ensure a new IAMS Study Group called “Christian Communities in Mission” as a stream for Sydney, 2020. In addition, work has been done, including raising some seed funding and securing a publisher, for a new journal. The journal will be called “Ecclesial Futures” and will be a double blind peer reviewed journal encouraging original research on local Christian communities as they join the mission of God. It was great to meet with Nigel and clarify our ethos. Nigel and I as co-editors talked about the journal culture we want to create, including a peer reviewing culture that embodies our missional focus – one that seeks excellence through postures of being hospitable, relational and generative.

Tomorrow, I head to Frankfurt, Germany, to meet my daughter, who has been biking the Rhine. After months apart, there might be a tear or three in my eye by this time tomorrow.

Posted by steve at 07:20 AM | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 31, 2019

September 2019 Europe visit

I am England bound today. I had to delay my outside study leave at the start of this year. As a result, I lost two weeks of outside study leave and so my workplace agreed that I take the two lost weeks in September, joined to a UK conference I had already been planning to attend. So my September 2019 plans are as follows:

Friday, 30 August, fly to Auckland and participate in Lighthouse 2019. The Lighthouse is an innovation incubator KCML began in 2016, as a way of trying to encourage discernment in mission and innovation in local community contexts. This year we have 35 people who are in 10 teams, working on a range of community mission projects. I will be providing a welcome and some teaching, alongside the excellent leadership team that has been developing over the last three years.

Leave Auckland, Saturday 31 August to fly to Durham Sunday 1 September. For the week of Monday 2 September to Friday 6 September, I will be a Visiting Lecturer in Practical Theology participating in the Doctor Theology of Ministry Residential School.

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I will be presenting a 90 minute seminar based on my outside study leave research into craftivism, in exchange for library access, accommodation and the excellent company of those in ministry doing a high level of reflection on their practice. It will be an excellent networking opportunity, plus some space to write and offer my research.

Friday, 6th September, I fly to Germany, initially for the weekend to connect with my daughter, followed by a final week of outside study leave, writing. I want to turn the craftivist research into a couple of accessible pieces for Candour and SPANZ.

Friday 13th September, I return to Scotland, for a weekend with the Gay Morley family. I then return to Durham on the Monday, to participate in the Ecclesiology and Ethnography 2019 conference, where I give another paper, also on my craftivism research.

Where #christmasangels tread: Craftivism as a missiology of making

The church is formed by witness. A contemporary ecclesial embodiment of witness is craftivism, which combines craft and activism. One example is the Christmas angels project, in which local churches are encouraged to knit Christmas Angels and yarnbomb their surrounding neighbourhoods. This paper examines this embodiment of craftivism as a fresh expression of mission.

Given that Christmas angels were labelled with a twitter hashtag, technology was utilised to access the tweets as empirical data in order to analyse the experiences of those who received this particular form of Christian witness. Over 1,100 “#christmasangel” tweets were extracted and examined. Geographic mapping suggests that Christmas angels have taken flight over England. Content analysis reveals a dominant theme of a found theology, in which angels are experienced as surprising gift. Consistent with the themes of Advent, this embodiment of craftivism was received with joy, experienced as place-based and understood in the context of love and community connection.

A Christology of making will be developed, reading the layers of participative making in dialogue with David Kelsey’s theological anthropology. The research has relevance, first, exploring the use of twitter in empirical ecclesial research; second, offering a practical theology of making; third, challenging missiology in ‘making’ a domestic turn.

Around this is a number of networking conversations, including with folk involved in Christmas Angels (could we do it in Aotearoa I will be wondering), a colleague to explore doing empirical research on faith-based governance, plus a meeting in Edinburgh with folk from the Church of Scotland, to explore ways we might learn from each other in mission and innovation experiments along with other connections.

I’m grateful for a workplace that provides this type of resourcing opportunity, excited to be presenting some of the work from the first 13 weeks of outside study leave, looking forward to what words might emerge in a different space and thrilled to be seeing my daughter after quite some months apart.

Posted by steve at 02:36 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Dave Dobbyn dropped into class (again) singing Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home)

Dave Dobbyn dropped into my Listening in Mission class again this week. I am teaching a Listening in Mission (intern) cohort. There are 4 sessions over 2 months:

Mission as gift, call and promise
Being present and listening in neighbourhood/context
Cultivating congregational spaces for conversation and shared practices of missional attentiveness
Discerning and understanding local narratives

These four online Listening in Mission sessions support an action-learning project in which folk gather a group and work with them in listening in their local communities. So the online experience provides support, encouragement and resources. We offer this online support in mission to ordinands training for ministry. We also offer it separately as life-learning for the wider church – a taster Thursday 29 August and first class Thursday 26 September.

listeninginmission2019

Last week, Dave dropped into Mission as gift, call and promise to sing “Waiting for a voice,” from his 2016 Harmony House album. It worked really well – providing a different way of engaging, offering a change of pace.

So Dave dropped in again this week to Being present and listening in neighbourhood/context to sing Welcome Home. First in English, Welcome Home

Second in te reo, Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home).

It is inspiring to see an older Pakeha man learning a second language. That in itself is an example of listening in mission, stepping as vulnerable into new spaces.

There were also really helpful links to be made from Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home) as a song to the theme of the class. Reflecting on welcome, as guest and host, the grace of being able to “offer my hand” and how the Jesus story might resource the challenge of “maybe we’ll find a new way.” The ways that the notion of home and hospitality work in different ways

  • to belong – “woman with her hands trembling, and she sings with the mountains memory”
  • to enfold – “see I made a space for you here”
  • to extend – ‘I offer my hand … I bid you welcome”

Now the pressure comes on for the next class. What song from the Dobbyn catalogue might Cultivating congregational spaces for conversation or Discerning and understanding local narratives?

Posted by steve at 06:08 PM

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Craftivism across cultures

Preparing to speak in Durham, UK, in the next few weeks, I’ve been in the Hocken Collections, researching the history of knitting in Aotearoa. Here is some of what I discovered yesterday:

“In Aoteoroa, knitting arrived with the missionaries. Hannah King, who arrived in 1815, was a gifted knitter and over 200 years later, examples of her craft still exist in the Waimate North Mission House, including her husbands beautifully stitched preaching shirt and a baby gown. What is interesting is how from the 1820’s, knitted garments from Scotland were imported and then purchased by Maori, who unpicked them, recycled the wool and wove it into the borders of their garments – kaitaka (flax coats) and whatu kākahu. When painter and travel writer George Argas visited Aotearoa in 1844, he wrote (Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand, 1847, 324) that brightly coloured wools had replaced feathers of the kaka bird. “[W]ool of the gayest colours has long been preferred by [Maori]. Blue and scarlet caps, and the variegated “comforters” brought by the traders, find a ready market amongst the women, who pick them to pieces to from the tufted ornaments of their dresses.” It is a fascinating example of creativity across intertidal zones of cultural contact, and the tactile ways in which indigenous agency can re-make, as the artefacts of another culture are unpicked, unravelled, and woven into the existing cultural forms” Steve Taylor, Craftivism as a missiology of making, Durham, 2019.

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Posted by steve at 09:41 AM

Monday, August 26, 2019

Welcoming Dave Dobbyn to Listening in Mission

Dave Dobbyn, Waiting for a voice, from his 2016 Harmony House album, made it into my Listening in Mission class.

Dave Dobbyn – Waiting for a voice from Sebastian Beyrer on Vimeo.

I was teaching a Listening in Mission (intern) cohort. There are 4 sessions over 2 months:

  • Mission as gift, calling and promise
  • Being present and listening in neighbourhood/context
  • Cultivating congregational spaces for conversation and shared practices of missional attentiveness
  • Discerning and understanding local narratives

The four online Listening in Mission sessions support an action-learning project in which folk gather a group and work with them in listening in their local communities. So the online experience provides support, encouragement and resources. We offer this online support in mission to ordinands training for ministry. We also offer it separately as life-learning for the wider church.

The sessions is online, because we want to work with participants in their context, not in the artificiality of a lecture space. The online sessions go for about 90 minutes. So it needs some sort of break, to briefly stretch legs. So at the 45 minute mark, I announced I was going to play “Waiting for a voice” by Dave Dobbyn twice. Folk were invited to listen once, and take a short stretch the second time. It was a nice way to break up a class. It engaged senses other than talking. The cycle of a song makes it easy for participants to know when to return.

And of course, the lyrics are fascinating. The theme of the class was Mission as gift, call and promise. Prior to class, folk had been invited to visit a local body of water and read John 21:1-19. This is consistent with the ethos of the learning, wanting to work with participants in their context, to read Scripture in their communities. In John 21:1-19, when Jesus appears by the Lake of Galilee. Jesus is Gift and offers gifts in breakfast cooked. Jesus is Call and calls Peter at the same lake where Peter was first called to follow. Jesus is Promise and promises a feed of fish if they will just put their nets on the other side.

Returning as class, with “Waiting for a voice” ringing in our ears, links were made from the song to the theme of the class.

  • Mission is Gift – “I saw a stranger on the opposite shore; cooking up a meal for me”
  • Mission is Call – ‘waiting for a still clear voice’
  • Mission is Promise – ‘and sure as I’m living, i dined with the one; his words were brighter than a billion suns; he sent me running i never get tired, back into the valley where the world had died’

I have no idea whether Dobbyn would make these connections. But the lyrics make so much sense of John 21. It was an excellent way to pause a class and a great seque back into class. Thanks Dave, for your input.

Posted by steve at 12:23 PM

Monday, August 12, 2019

Listening in Mission 2019

Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership introduces Listening in Mission 2019, cohosted by Steve Taylor and Jill McDonald. Listening is an active process, a “double listening” to God and people. Online technologies will support leaders in undertaking a practical project in their community. As a result, a spirituality of presence, community building, attentiveness, discernment, experimentation is encouraged.

Online taster August 29, 4:30-5:30 pm, followed by five Thursdays, 4:30-6 pm – September 26; October 10; October 31; November 14; November 21. Bookings and queries to principal at knoxcentre dot ac dot nz.

For a jpg, download this.

listeninginmission2019

For a flier, go here – PDF.

For a video introduction, shot in my friendly local cafe, click here …

listening in mission from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 02:18 PM

Friday, August 02, 2019

formative process and summative assessment in teaching theological reflection in ministry

I teach a course on Theological Reflection. It is a vocational setting. All participants have done an undergraduate theology degree and all are preparing for ministry in a mainline (Presbyterian) context. This trajectory needs to shape the course and two graduate outcomes in particular: one, being attentive theologically to the questions of another in the wider community and two, being able to help a community reflect theologically.

For the last few years, in seeking to attend to these graduate outcomes, I have developed a summative assessment which involves peer review. Students grade (50% along with me) each other’s work, providing both comment and a grade, which I moderate. This attends to the vocational aim of helping a community reflect theologically, which includes being able to assess theological reflection.

However, peer review does not come easily and so I need to provide some opportunity for rehearsal. This includes myself as lecturing doing the assignment. Each year I choose a recent issue and do the assignment (for a 2018 example of reforming ecclesiology in Oceania see here). I provide this “fresh” piece of theological reflection to the class. I give them time to read my model answer and check they are still clear about the assignment. I then ask them to “grade” it. This allows anxieties, fears and understandings to be clarified in community, before they attempt a peer.

Overall, the formative process and the summative assessment has been very generative. It makes clear the vocational endpoints and creates an energy as the class rehearses together. It allows a far greater attentiveness to each other’s work and uniqueness of contexts. While there are anxieties, the interns appreciate engaging more deeply with each other. It’s a really worthwhile process of engaging in capacity building.

Here is a video

explaining Theological reflection assignment Recording from steve taylor on Vimeo.

which explanations more of the why and how, the process and the resources used. The resources and handouts I describe in the video are

  • Case study – of Church as Cathedral of Living Stones – here

For more on theological reflection in this particular vocational space of ministerial formation

  • theological reflection as integrating the journey’s of life go here
  • theological reflection as decolonising through place-based methodologies go here.
Posted by steve at 05:28 PM

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

practically practicing kindness in times of scarcity

I was asked to provide some spiritual input into a gathering of denominational Ministry Educators last week. KCML was invited to be present given a warm appreciation for the knowledge and insight we are currently providing in areas of mission and innovation. The input I offered was at the end, as folk began to travel to the airport and homeward.

I begin with an ending. When I finish, I will offer thankyou cards as a takeway. They will be here on the table.

I’ve been on Outside Study leave for three months earlier this year. I had some aims. I wanted to finish a book on mission and innovation for SCM press. I wanted to present research on life-long learning at a teaching and learning conference and complete a journal article in mission crossing cultures and spend time in indigenous contexts and I wanted to walk daily.

Alongside planned outputs, I also wanted to be open to surprise, the unexpected encounters. I found this in a book by Janet Martin Soskice called the The Kindness of God: Metaphor, Gender, and Religious Language. Through a set of unexpected research moments, I find myself reading, then re-reading, about the kindness of God. It was an image that stuck with me.

  • How does God relate to me? In what ways do I value and experience God as kind?
  • How do I relate to others? What does it mean for me to extend kindness?

In the Hebrew, the word for kindness is hesed. It’s a mix of God as faithful and god ask kindness. It appears in the book of Ruth, in 1:8, “May the Lord deal kindly with you.”

What is interesting is that Ruth 1 is all about scarcity.

  • physical scarcity – times of famine and the absence of food
  • cultural scarcity – moving from Israel to Moab means a crossing cultures into new language and new patterns
  • relational scarcity – moving to another community, then losing husbands means a scarcity of relationships
  • generational scarcity – losing husbands means, in that culture, the end of that family line, the line of Elimilech.

And in the middle of scarcity, there is this understanding of God as kind.

Times of scarcity can produce  other responses. There can be competition for limited resources, a hoarding of what is precious, grief at the loss of what was, fear of having no future.

Yet in Ruth 1, God is kind. This shapes how we might relate to God – as kind – and how we might relate to others – with kindness.

We live in a time of scarcity. There is physical scarcity, as the Presbyterian church declines. There is cultural scarcity as new migrants and new cultures appear in our communities. There is generational scarcity, as we see our children and youth leave our churches.  It is easy to respond by competing, by hoarding, by being afraid.

Yet in times of scarcity, God is kind and this shapes how I relate to God and how I relate to others.

kindness

So in the last few months, I’ve wondered what practically it means for me – in this time and place of scarcity – to be kind? For me, it has involved hand-written thankyou cards. It is so rare to receive a letter these days. It is so easy in the church to be critical and impatient. So I have started to send random hand-written thankyou cards – to people I see in action, to people at a distance, or in a committee that I work in – in which I use words to express kindness for what they do.

As we leave, as we return to contexts of scarcity, you might want to join me. Take a card. As you sit on airplane, why not write a handwritten thankyou card. Express in actions that Hebrew word hesed and the ways of the God of Ruth – a God of kindness.

Photo by Sandrachile on Unsplash

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Friday, July 19, 2019

Side project research: turning 1 journal article into 2

IMG_7498 So I’m working on an academic side project.

A side project, according to wikipedia, is a project undertaken by someone already known for their involvement in another project. In this case, the side project involves turning 1 recently accepted journal article into a 2nd and different (adapted and localised) journal article.

A side project is also something done on the side, which applies here given my writing occurs outside of normal work hours.

Why this side project?
1 – I’ve already done much of the work. When writing, there is always work left on the editing floor. In this case, a visit to Te Papa to research Pacific bark cloth, along with a literature review. The work got left behind in the 1st journal article. So it just makes sense to bring that work back into production and make it visible.

2 – I have been strongly encouraged. When the initial journal article was accepted by Mission Studies, Reviewer 1 noted “I am intrigued by the notion of “hapkas” christology and hope the author has a chance to expand on this analysis in subsequent research.” Then Reviewer 2 took the initiative and contacted a 2nd journal to say “I reviewed this article and thought it was so good … I thought it would be great” for this second journal. That sort of feedback and proactivity provides motivation and energy.

3 – It’s part of re-connecting to my birthplace of Papua New Guinea. It was such a thrill writing the initial article and that sense of satisfaction and re-weaving continues with this side project. I get to appreciate the bark cloth of my childhood as part of a complex cycle of art production and think again about the kin relationships that were part of raising me. I feel more centred as a human person.

4 – It’s a concrete step in a bigger project – a monograph researching hybridity and genealogy in Christology. That’s a big project. So I need ways to make it bite sized. A 2nd journal article does that, as I extend existing trajectories and develop new sections.

So what is involved this particular side project? The 1st article was for an international journal. For that journal, the article needed to communicate globally. This involved locating a specific, national, piece of research in relation to international trends in mission. Specifically, a literature review that engaged a range of authors, from a range of countries.

The second journal article is for a national journal. This article needs to communicate more locally. Specifically, more concrete detail of the actual culture. Hence editing in the notes I took from that visit to Te Papa to research Pacific bark cloth in 2016. It is such a thrill to find the Evernote entry from September 2016 and realise that 250 draft words, typed on the airplane on the return flight, are just waiting to be edited in. The result is a new section on the history of art in this particular region.

It also requires locating the research in relation to other national research. Hence deleting a range of authors from a range of countries and instead reading through the back issues of this particular national journal. It was such a thrill to find the Evernote entry with the URL of the journal article back copies, already found online, waiting to be analysed. The result is a literature review for this journal of the history of Christology in this journal over the last 30 years – of Jesus the “wontok” (relation), the clan brother, the “tatapa” (protector).

As a result, over the last 2 weeks, 1 hour a day, a very different journal article is being written. Using work already done, yet particularising, localising, enlarging my understandings of indigenous Christologies, important for my ongoing teaching as an inhabitant of Oceania, a guest on the land of another, a boy born in Melanesian.

Posted by steve at 12:15 PM

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Missional theology at ANZATS 2019

ANZATS 2019 was stimulating and diverse. The keynotes were excellent and the contrasting styles helped provide rich engagement. With over 100 papers and more than 140 participants, it was a great chance to network and re-connect with old friends – particularly for me folk from Uniting College, Adelaide. A highlight for me is always the work of new and emerging scholars, seeing them present with such creativity and enthusiasm.

ANZATS 2019 began with a powhiri and I was privileged to speak in te reo on behalf of manuhiri (visitors). I had been informed I could use both Maori and English, but arrived to find a change of plan and Maori only. I managed to muddle my way through and offer most of the seven sections of mihi whakatau (still need to do more work on my take (reason for meeting), which is considered the hardest section). In addition to duties on the paepae tapu (sacred threshold), I offered two papers.

One (abstract here)

Where #christmasangels tread tweet: Craftivism as a missiology of making

was the product of Outside Study Leave research, developing a presentation I gave at the Christchurch Cathedral last year but knitting (pun intended) in some data, 1100 tweets to be precise, of recipient responses to a piece of local church yarnbombing. This paper generated some really helpful insights, including twitter content creation as an act of “making.”

A second (abstract here)

Praying in crisis: an empirical study of how local churches respond in gathered worship to local and international tragedy and trauma

was a joint project with Lynne Taylor, which examined the responses of over 150 churches to the trauma that was the Christchurch massacre. This paper generated great discussion about the nature of prayer and what it means to relate to the other. We hope to do more on this, particularly find a way to do some follow-up focus group work with some of the churches who demonstrated “being with” (Wells, Incarnational Mission: Being with the World) sensibilities.

It was great in both papers to be working with empirical data and reflecting theologically on the lived expressions of the church. As I said in both the papers, by way of clearing my methodological throat:

Practical theology provides a way to undertake theologically rich and critical reflection on the concrete actions of the church (Swinton, From Bedlam to Shalom: Towards a Practical Theology of Human Nature, Interpersonal Relationships, and Mental Health Care (Pastoral Theology), 12). Actions, like craftivism, invite theological reflection because they are theory-laden, value-directed and as such profoundly saturated by meaning (Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology: Empowering Ministry with Theological Praxis, 48). Empirical methods of research provide ways to research action and clarify theory and values, which can then be considered in light of the gospel and of church tradition. The insights that result from the dialogue between action-as-theological and wisdom from the tradition can inform further action. Hence practical theology is servant of, and prophet to, the life of the church in the world.

It is always an act of faith, offering a proposal 3 months out and always a relief when presentations land. In this case, having Outside Study Leave greatly helped; as did being able to take some days in lieu to be able to be part of ANZATS 2019.

Posted by steve at 11:40 AM

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Faith of girls and the mission of men

I write a column for Zadok, an Australian print publication, every quarter. It is a print based publication which they let me share on my blog, to resource more widely and generally. Here is my column for Autumn 2019, on gender and mission.

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Faith of girls and the mission of men

When I hear talk of gender and faith, I think of Tarore, an indigenous Maori girl, born around 1826 in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Her father Ngakuku, came into contact with pioneer missionary couple, Rev Alfred and Charlotte Brown. Ngakuku’s daughter, Tarore, aged ten, showed an interest in learning to read and write, using a Maori language translation of Luke’s Gospel. She was a gifted student and quickly became an oral storyteller. Crowds, sometimes 200-300 people, would gather to hear Tarore share in Maori the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son. Ten years old and a woman, she became known recognised in her Maori community as an evangelist.

This moment in the life of Tarore reminds me of Lo-ruhamah in Hosea 1 and Namaan’s wife’s slave girl in 2 Kings 5. All three are pre-pubescent girls and all three are agents of a new theology. God is made more real, more understandable, more present, through the faith of girls (For more, see The Faith of Girls, Routledge, 2017).

Tarore’s story is consistent with the history of mission. Time and again, the Gospel has spread not through missionary preaching but through indigenous proclamation. It begins with the Spirit at Pentecost as those from diverse cultures hear “in our own tongues” (Acts 2:11). The missionary is essential, Peter will preach but the Gospel spreads as people giving voice in their own language.

As 1836 ended, Tarore’s world grew increasingly tense, with increased conflict between local Maori tribes. On 18 October, Tarore was killed by a raiding party. At her funeral, her father, Ngakuku, proclaimed the need for forgiveness: “Do not you rise to seek a payment for her, God will do that. Let this be the finishing of the war. Now let peace be made.”

Meanwhile, Paora Te Uita, the man who killed Tarore, took her belongings, which included her beloved Gospel of Luke in Maori. Paora Te Uita couldn’t read. But he had a slave, Ripahau. Like Tarore, Ripahau had learnt to read through contact with missionaries. Ripahau read Luke (in Maori) to Paora Te Uita, who was deeply moved. He sought out Tarore’s family to seek forgiveness. Once again, we have a hearing in their own language and once again, we have an indigenous person, radically embodying the radical Gospel.

Meanwhile, Ripahau, upon release, returned to his home with Tarore’s copy of Luke. Those who listened included Katu Te Raauparaha, a local chief, who set out to make peace and halt a spiralling cycle of violence. Again, in the lives of Ripahua and Katu, we glimpse how faith is transmitted, carried by indigenous people who hear in their own language. (For more, see For more, see Nga Kai-Rui i Te Rongopai: Seven Early Maori Christians, Te Hui Amorangi ki te Manawa o Te Wheke, 2013).

I thought of Tarore when the news of the death of John Chau broke. John Chau was a twenty-six year old American, who made an illegal—and tragically fatal—voyage to visit a remote tribe in the Indian Ocean. The media sifted through John’s social media profile and suggested a range of motives: an adventuring spirit, Western optimism and a passion to reach the unreached.

Clearly there are differences between Tarore and John. One was indigenous and female, the other Western and male. One was a reciever of initial mission, the other wanted to be an initator of initial mission.

Yet there were also similarities. Both died early, with many years of life ahead. Both died at the hands of another. Both died in the context of missionary zeal and cross-cultural tension.

In the history of Christian mission, those who initiate mission have rarely been effective as proclaimers. Missiologist Lamin Sanneh examined the contradiction: Christianity has spread, yet rarely by missionary preaching. Sanneh, an adult convert from Gambia, became a Professor of Mission at Yale Divinity School. Sanneh argues that mission spreads as missionaries focus on translation. In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh and through the Spirit, the Word is heard in their own language. Sanneh calls this the “translatability” of the gospel (Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture, Orbis, 2009).

This has four benefits. First, it turns the missionary from initiator into a receiver of indigenous knowledge. Second, it makes local culture a carrier of grace, as God moves into the neighbourhood ( John 1:14), accessible through local language. Third, Bible translations tend to use popular language, a liberating move in hierarchical cultures. It results in a pre-teenage girl like Tarore being recognised as an evangelist. Fourth, no one culture is ever above critique. In Africa, among the Zulu people, translation resulted in the missionaries being told to read the Bible. Surely Genesis 27:16 affirm not the colonial safari suit, but indigenous practices of dressing in skins. Fifth, as people hear in their own language, they become agents of change. The cyles of violence in New Zealand cease as indigenous people embody the Good Samaritan and Luke’s radical call to forgiveness.

Tarore and Chau are very different, yet side by side, they teach us much about faith. There is great potential when missionaries are not initiators but learners and indigenous people are the primary Gospel heralds. That even in the unbearable pain of losing a child, peace can be made.

Posted by steve at 05:06 PM

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Theological Education as Development in Vanuatu published in Sites journal

Steve Taylor, Phil King, “Theological Education as Development in Vanuatu: ‘Wayfaring’ and the Talua Ministry Training Centre,” Sites: a journal of social anthropology and cultural studies 16 (1) 2019, 135-157.

Abstract
Education is essential to development. In Pacific cultures, in which the church is a significant presence, theological education can empower agency and offer analytical frames for social critique. Equally, theological education can reinforce hierarchies and dominant social narratives. This paper provides an account of Presbyterian theological education in Vanuatu. Applying an educative capability approach to a theological education taxonomy proposed by Charles Forman brings into focus the interplay between economics, context, and sustainability as mutual challenges for both development and theological education. However Forman’s model does not accurately reflect the realities of Vanuatu. An alternative frame is proposed, that of wayfaring, in which knowledge-exchange is framed as circulating movements. Wayfaring allows theological education to be imagined as a development actor that affirms local agency, values networks, and subverts centralising models. This alternative model provides a way to envisage theological education, both historically in Vanuatu and into an increasingly networked future, as an actor in Pacific development.

Key words: Vanuatu, theological education, wayfaring, Christianity, development

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This is part of a full special issue on Christianity and Development in the Pacific, which began with Woven Together conference at Victoria University in 2016. New into the role of Principal, KCML, I used the conference as an opportunity to build connections with the Pacific, to collaborate with Phil King, in another part of the PCANZ and to learn about the partnership between PCANZ and Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu. Sites is a journal of social anthropology and cultural studies. It practices ‘delayed open access’, which means that the contents of the journal are made available in full open access 12 months after an issue is published.

I’m grateful to the conference organisors and journal editors, Philip Fountain and Geoffrey Troughton; to the Harrison Bequest which paid for one of the authors to travel to Talua for a ten-day immersion experience in 2017 and to the staff at the Archives Research Centre of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Hocken Collections, University of Otago, Dunedin for their tending of taonga.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM