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 | Comments (0)

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 | Comments (0)

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 | Comments (3)

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

Friday, April 13, 2018

Fa’afetai Hibiscus and Ruthless: 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 March 2018.

Fa’afetai Hibiscus and Ruthless
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

A year on from the Hollywood-isation of Pacific cultures that is Moana (see review in Touchstone February 2017), Hibiscus and Ruthless offers rich intercultural film making. Told with humour and generosity, this is cinema that engages the contemporary complexities inherent in coming of age in multi-cultural New Zealand today.

Thematically this a film about the intergenerational pressures of education. New Zealand born Samoan director, Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa describes how classic Samoan parenting prioritises learning. But a message sent with concern – “Whatever you do, do it well” – is not always heard as a message love. For Hibiscus (Suivai Pilisipi Autagavaia), aided by her childhood, Palangi, friend Ruth (Anna-Maree Thomas nicknamed “Ruthless”), Samoan parenting is received as a strict set of rules.

Central to Hibiscus and Ruthless is the kitchen table. It marks time and sets boundaries. Every New Year’s Eve, while the neighbours celebrate with fireworks, Hibiscus’ household gather around the table to hear the message of proper planning. Salamasina, the mother, lays down the rules: work hard, pass University, organise family weddings and stay away from boys.

Every day ends with a cup of tea, shared around the same table. As the rules are strained by the enterprising Samoan men interested in Hibiscus, the dynamics around the family table become increasingly tense. In the growing void of words, silence preaches volumes.

Hibiscus and Ruthless is the second film directed by Stallone Vaiaoga- Ioasa. His first, Three Wise Cousins (2016) was self-funded. A single film trailer, the strength of Pacific networks and the power of Facebook ensured a box office success. The profits that resulted were invested in Hibiscus and Ruthless.

Hibiscus and Ruthless is made, set and shot in New Zealand, all within fourteen days. With little fanfare, we are reminded of the diversity of Auckland, from the University campus and Albert Park, to the volcanic cones and Onehunga Foreshore. While Auckland is present, what is surprisingly absent around the family table are Samoan men. Hibiscus is parented by woman, her mother Salamasina (Lafitaga Mafaufau) and grandmother (Yvonne Maea-Brown).

Religion is present, albeit in dialogue rather than visual iconography or characterisation. We are spared the bro’Town stereotypes of angry ministers preaching moralism. Instead, Ruth offers what is a common secular critique, in which the missionaries bring Jesus, only for Samoan’s to have their Sunday’s stolen for the entirety of their lives. A line comically delivered, it diminishes the social and identity forming role played by the church in Samoan culture, in which faith is entwined with family and feasting.

Most gratifying is the applause that Hibiscus and Ruthless is gaining from my Samoan colleagues, particularly Pacific woman. The accurate portrayal, mixed with the easy humour, is making the kitchen table, a place of tension in Hibiscus and Ruthless, a post movie place of intergenerational conversation. For gifts of humour, the unhibited acting of Anna-Maree Thomas and Vaiaoga-Ioasa’s passion for film, I say fa’afetai (thankyou).

Posted by steve at 08:37 PM

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

words sneak

Words sneak. Quietly they steal away from the page. In the dark of night, they make their way over fences and across borders. They swim oceans and sidestep continents.

On Monday, waiting for an appointment in Mt Eden, I checked a website and noted an article on teaching U2 at Nebraska Wesleyan University, USA.

To prepare students for analyzing this performance, I ask them to read “’Bullet the Blue Sky’ as an Evolving Performance” by Steve Taylor from Scott Calhoun’s Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 (2012). Taylor examines the different meanings of “Bullet The Blue Sky” over the years, from The Joshua Tree album (U.S. involvement in Central America in the 1980s) and how the song is adapted for new audiences and issues, such as during its Slane Castle performance in U2 Go Home (global arms trade in the 2000s). (more here).

IMG_6133 Words that I wrote about U2, for Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2, sneaking across oceans, to be read by University students in USA.

On Monday, sitting at a bus stop, waiting for public transport to Queen Street, I see a tweet.

“My copies of this book awaited me at Ferney, very well written, beautiful theological, ecumenical and personal approach to the role of collaboration in the leadership of innovation. Nice work on 1 Cor 3 and 4 and concerning the example of Peguy – Jane Stranz (Translated from French).

book Words that I wrote about innovation and leadership, in Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, finding life in Europe.

On Tuesday, returning from Auckland to my office in Dunedin, a parcel awaits me from the United Kingdom. Inside, a book, compliments of the publisher, in which is a poem that I wrote.

published poet Words that I offered as prayer at a book launch in Australia back in 2013, heard by someone present, passed onto a Sister of Nazareth, woven into a foreword for a Catholic publication.

Over the last months, I’ve often wondered why I wrote. With two journal articles due on the same day at the beginning of March, I’ve faced some long days and late evenings. There’s been a cost – days in lieu consumed by editing, evenings strapped to a desk.

Today I’m reminded that once written, words sneak. Poetic, academic, life reflective: they cross borders and leaps oceans, they play tag around denominations and juggle past different faith systems. Today I’m grateful that words sneak and to all those – authors, publishers, copy editors, reviewers, readers, tweeters, bloggers – who care for words.

Posted by steve at 09:09 PM

Thursday, March 22, 2018

preaching to a burgled church

Last weekend I was preaching at a local church. I arrived in the morning to the news that the church auditorium had been burgled overnight. The sound system and data projector were gone. With the Police on the way to dust for fingerprints, there was no way the auditorium could be used.

broken-window-1501606 (not an actual picture of the actual burglary)

The church had a hall and with 15 minutes to go, I suddenly not only had a whole group of strangers to meet and greet for the first time. I also had a church service to re-jig. My preparation had included a number of creative moments that relied on the now absent sound system and data projector:

  • the use of three art images to illuminate the Lectionary text, to be shown via the data projector
  • a digital file of a song for during the offering
  • a digital file of a song for the end of the service
  • a responsive contemporary Immigrants Creed

In addition, there was a hall to set up, along with the range of emotions that would be present. Which meant some rapid mental reshuffling and some interesting learnings.

First, at the beginning, the value of humour and a settling prayer.  As we began, I introduced myself, noted the burglary and that as a result, this would be a service I would never forget. So could we pause and in this new and unsettling space, take a moment to gather ourselves.  I then named some of the emotions running through me and invited God to be present. Doing this provided some instant connection and a sense of solidarity.

Second, at the end, as a key leader in the church stood to thank me for the worship and sermon, the comment was made “It is good to be reminded we don’t need a building in order to worship.”   In other words, the enforced shift provided an experience in which the shared realisation could emerge – that worship does not rely on bricks and mortar.

Third, thank goodness for hymn books. Yes, all the words for sung worship had been carefully loaded ready for data projection and these could no longer be used. But a stack of hymn books meant that we soon had something to sing. More importantly, everyone had something to hold, something familiar. This gave a sense of comfort. It also meant that the absence of the digital songs I had planned for the offering and the end of the service could be quietly dropped.

Fourth, the enforced shift made it easy to implement immediate change.  I was suddenly no longer the visiting speaker but the leader in an unfamiliar space. “How do you want the chairs?” was the first question. “Ah, circle please” I said, not sure if this was allowed. But in a new space, with no tradition, the churches were quickly arranged in a lovely relational, intimate arc. They say you need to build relationship in order to implement change. Well not in a burglary. So never waste a good crisis. Use it to enact different patterns of connecting.

Fifth, the value of being up close.  When it came time for the worship by considering three art images that illuminated the lectionary text, I announced that because of plan B – B for burglary, I would show three art images by walking around with my laptop.  I asked that a hymn be played quietly, and invited people waiting for the images to enjoy the music.  As I walked among the chairs, I noticed people leaning forward to look at my laptop. There was body movement, in a different way than if the images had been on a big screen. There was also often spontaneous comments, like “that’s the best one” or “is that a baby?”  When I mentioned the art images later in my sermon, I included these spontaneous comments, pointing to people and saying “you were right, it was a baby.”  Being up close invited a different type of bodily engagement in the act of seeing and contemplating, along with a set of interactions between myself and those present. All of this enhanced the sense of connection.

There was certainly truth in my observation that this would be a service I would never forget. It was a great morning. The burglary enabled a very different sort of worship experience, one which might in fact be remarkably useful for a church needing to continue to change.

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM

Thursday, March 15, 2018

theology and church as an actor in development

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One of my current projects involves responding to editorial reviewer comments on an article I’m writing on theological education and development. The article began as a paper I presented, with Phil King, at a conference on Christianity and Development between New Zealand and the Pacific in June 2016. I saw this as an opportunity to get to know the story of a key partner church and helping me think more wholistically about theological education in general.

Following the paper presentation, the spoken paper was turned into a written paper and submitted in May 2017. It is one thing to talk. It is another to set out your thoughts over 6,000 words as it tests the logic of an argument over an extended period. The written paper was accepted, subject to my responding satisfactorily to reviewer comments, for Sites Journal of social anthropology and cultural studies of the Pacific Region. It is scheduled for release in 2019. It will be good to be taking theology in an anthropology and cultural studies space.

Editorial review is a wonderful thing, for it ensures allows thinking to gain critical engagement. Horizons are broadened in terms of reading and as the forest is sifted from the trees. In responding to reviewer comments, I start by categorising them as major and minor. I then create a table, in order to note the work I need to do and provide an account to the editors of how I’m responding. Here is the table for this piece of work, as at 12 March.

taluapaperedits

So the last few weeks I have been working away. Here is some writing from today …

Helen Gardner (“Praying for Independence. The Presbyterian Church in the Decolonisation of Vanuatu,’ The Journal of Pacific History, 48:2, 2013, 122-143) argues that Presbyterianism is structured in ways that enhanced its ability to be an actor in development and decolonisation. A Presbyterian church is structured with a national assembly, regional presbyteries and local congregations and these result in a cohesive interwoven identity, encourage individual capacity building and ensure an alertness to context. An interwoven identity is possible, given the interplay between national, regional and local bodies. For Gardner, Presbyterianism is a way of organising that “transcended village and island boundaries … a political form that translated readily to the standards of contemporary democracy” (128). Each body (assembly, presbytery, congregation) has a shared governance group and these provide individuals with opportunities to develop administrative and political skills. The result was that ministers were able to play a significant role in a newly independent Vanuatu (Gardner, 142). An interwoven set of governance groupings enables grassroots voices to be heard. In Vanuatu this “allowed the [church] openly to back the call for independence, as decisions were made from the body of the church rather than imposed by a church hierarchy” (Gardner, 128).

Posted by steve at 10:07 AM

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Divine moves – my 8th U2 publication

I’m delighted to welcome this into the world of academic scholarship and U2 studies …

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U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher, edited by Scott Calhoun, in the Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music. The book has garnered some superb endorsements: “beautiful … smart … truly excellent … lively, provocative … wide-ranging, deep and thoughtful” from the likes of Clive Marsh, Head of Vaughan Centre, University of Leicester and Rupert Till, Professor of Music, University of Huddersfield. The book builds on existing work in U2 studies by examining U2 not only theologically, but in relation to the religious impulse, in particular in relation to sound, space and the affective experience of fans.

My chapter is titled “Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways.”” It began life at a Sarah Coakley symposium in 2010. The piece was re-worked based on feedback and then submitted for publication. It was affirmed by the editors but not accepted (apparently it messed with the purity perceived to be needed in the discipline of systematic theology). Then in 2015 there was a call for papers. In between, I had been reading Paul Fiddes Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context and that gave me the impetus to develop the Coakley/Mysterious ways/Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture thinking further (here was my initial abstract). I rate this chapter the most difficult but most satisfying piece of writing I’ve done in relation to U2. In the chapter, I engage extensively with two systematic theologians, Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes, in dialogue with the development of Mysterious Ways. This involves tracing album covers, video analysis, live performance and U2′s place-based relationship with Morocco.

In summary, I have argued MW is a performed pneumatology, a song in which the Divine is a Passionate Dancer, intimately involved in creation, inviting us to participate in the mystery of movements that reach, teach and move

To make this argument has required a movement in two directions. Musically, what is the song saying? I have argued that U2 have a visual pre-occupation in 1991 and a sonic pre-occupation in 2009. The visual pre-occupation is clear when the design of the covers’ of the Achtung Baby album and MW single is analysed in relation to the video of MW. It makes sense of the use of the belly dancer in the live performance of the ZooTV tour. The sonic pre-occupation is consistent with the fusions of Moroccan music, U2’s hopes in recording in Fez and the “let me in the sound” themes of the NLOTH album. U2’s sonic search makes sense of the re-interpretation of the live performance of MW in the 360 tour. Hence internal factors, including the location of artistic exploration (for MW in Fez), shape live performance. Given this visual, sonic and geographic analysis, MW can be interpreted musically as a reaching for the feminine and an embodied, immersive participation in a reaching for the other.

Theologically, I have argued that God is not male, remote and coercive. Rather God can be imaged as feminine – moving, reaching, teaching – inviting us to participate in immersive, embodied, ecstatic Divine life. The work of two contemporary theologians, Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes has been considered. Both understand God in Trinitarian terms, as three movements in which the Divine is passionate, self-giving love and participates in creation in ways that are ecstatic, sonic and participative. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the ZooTV tour in conversation with Sarah Coakley allows us to see prayer as ecstatic participation in the Spirit. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the 360 tour, can be interpreted as God in three movements – reach, teach, move – with and for creation. A theology of sound allows us to see the interplay between Divine and creation as a sonic atunement in which all of creation is invited to freely participate in multiple ways. This ensures Christian particularity, consistent with U2’s stated religious beliefs, while providing freedom in which varying degrees of incorporative participation, from any and all concert goers, is possible.

Hence theology provides a way to parse the complexities of U2 and religion, offering a set of analytical frames that clarify the development in U2’s performed pneumatology. Equally, what emerges is a quite a different place in which the mystery of religious experience can be located. Live performances at a rock concert become a “thin place” for Divine encounter and ecstatic experience an ideal way to encounter the Divine.

It is my 8th U2 related publication – made up of 5 book chapters from 5 different international publishers, along with 1 dictionary entry and 2 popular pieces. When I began academic writing, I would not have dreamed that I would be published in places like religion and popular music. But as a theologian of culture, a missiologist interested in life outside the church Western and a practical theologian with a commitment to embodiment in practices, it has become a rich and life-giving vein of inquiry.

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“Saying no: U2’s response to the evils of the refugee crisis.” Zadok (in press).

“Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways”” U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher (Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music), edited by Scott Calhoun, Bloomsbury Press, 2018, 43-60.

“U2 Praying the Pattern of the Psalms in Paris.” Equip 30, 2017, 20-21.

“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

“Public Lament,” Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, edited by MJ Bier & T Bulkeley, Pickwick Publishers, 2013, 205-227, (co-authored with E. C Boase).

“Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” Interfaces. Baptists and Others: International Baptist Studies (Studies in Baptist History and Thought), edited by David Bebbington and Martin Sutherland, Paternoster, 2013, 292-307.

“U2,” Don’t Stop Believin’. Don’t Stop Believin’: Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-Hur to Zombies, edited by Craig Detweiler, Robert K. Johnston and Barry Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 125-127.

““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.

Posted by steve at 10:13 AM

Friday, February 23, 2018

research play in the inbetween spaces

Unknown I’ve had a rich, demanding, draining and playful 24 hours. It has involved 24 hours gazing out the window of the Business School at Auckland University, finding generative space in a conversation between social entrepreneurship and theology.

It began last year, when we at KCML piloted the Lighthouse, an educative weekend encouraging local churches in innovation. Funded by an external funder, the funders challenged us to draw on resources from outside the Presbyterian theological world. A number of conversations and networks over the next few months resulted in working with a lecturer from the Business School at Auckland University. As we began she challenged us: what does Christ-based innovation look like? What in Christian resources might encourage the making of all things new?

The result was a rich weekend, in which I worked through the 6 images of innovation in my Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, while the lecturer introduced contemporary innovation practices liked the Innovation Canvas and Rituals of dissent. Participants loved it.

As the weekend concluded, we wondered aloud about doing some writing together. Hence the last 24 hours. Having listened to each other teach over a weekend last year, we met yesterday and began to toss around possibilities for publications. We searched the web for journals. We shared the things we had learnt:

  • could the social entrepreneurship of Joseph Schumpeter provide a way to understand the church as apostolic?
  • could Jesus as fool in 1 Corinthians 4 be read in light of the Biblical Wisdom literature as a way of encouraging resilience and risk-taking in social entrepreneurship?

We used the 40 paragraph technique, chose two different journals, one business, the other theological and began to map out what we might say. We had coffee and mindmapped. We challenged each other and made new connections. We shared journal articles and insights from previous writing.

We now both step away, to meet other commitments. Yet we have a clear map and enough structure to keep on writing. We are both working on our strengths and will need each other to ensure the interdisciplinary conversation continues.

It was rich, demanding, draining and playful. It is interdisciplinary, seeing what emerges in the inbetween spaces. It is a form of benchmarking – taking my speaking and exposing it to another academic, seeing what is making sense and what needs clarifying.

Posted by steve at 04:08 PM

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Re-weaving creation and redemption in light of Oceanic epistemologies

water-body-macro-shot-1388772

This project will examine the relationship between creation and redemption as they relate to the missio Dei.   This has particular relevance in Oceania, given the unique water-based geographies that shape history and epistemology. It also has global relevance, given that the Pacific Ocean is the planet’s beating heart and the Cartesian dualisms inherent in the European authors’ who in the twentieth century articulated the missio Dei.

The project will involve a bi-cultural partnership between two authors, one Maori, the other Pakeha New Zealand. Together they will read the Waitangi Tribunal 1999, Whanganui River Report (1999) to articulate how water is understood and consider the implications for Christian understandings of creation and redemption. This will foreground indigenous epistemological realities, in particular threads of ancestors and gift exchange.

The initial working proposal is that creation and redemption are woven together in multiple ways. Water is neither accident nor afterthought. It is the place where one is fully human, connected to ancestors and blessed through Divine gift exchange.  This allows the missio Dei to be located amid Oceanic realities, as a challenge to anthropocentric and individualised notions of missio Dei.

For a baptismal liturgy, that began this project see here.

Posted by steve at 11:44 AM

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Shape of Water: 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 February 2018.

The Shape of Water
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Shape of Water is an extraordinary movie, a splendid example of the power of visual storytelling. Director Guillermo del Toro is a master, and his attention to visual detail is exceptional. He has a history of exploring strange creatures (cue Pan’s Labyrinth) and Hollywood action (cue the Hellboy series). The Shape of Water merges both these genres, in a fantastical fairytale located in the dramatic realism of Cold War America.

Strong characterisation is used to develop both action and romance. A strange creature (Doug Jones as The Asset) is captured from a river in South America. For the military (Michael Shannon as Richard), the Asset is something strange needing to be killed. For the scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr Robert Hoffstetler), the Asset is something rare needing to be investigated. For a lonely cleaner (Sally Hawkins as Elisa), the Asset is something special, needing to be understood.

Elisa is mute, able to communicate only through sign. The Asset is not human, unable to communicate in words. The result is a number of extraordinary scenes, including one in which Elisa insists that her older friend (Richard Jenkins as Giles) give voice to her signing. It provides a profound reflection on the nature of communication, including our passion to be heard and our need of the other in the art of connection.

Another key scene in The Shape of Water involves Elisa tracing the fluid shape of water droplets on the window of a moving bus. Beautifully constructed, it brought to mind Maori understandings of water. Water is essential in Maori creation accounts. When Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother are separated, one sheds tears that are rain, the other cloaks herself in mist and weeps in springs and rivers. In other words, water is a sign of love. Together – rain from the sky as wai mangu and springs from the earth as wai ma – are wai rua, the spirit that animates all forms of life.

These Maori understandings echo the way water is depicted in The Shape of Water. The film opens and closes in water. Elisa is an orphan, found by a river, while water is essential to the life of The Asset. Water is a place of intimacy that fluidly connects love and life. This provides viewpoints in stark contrast to water as valuable only in support of industrialised farming or summer recreation.

A review of The Shape of Water is not complete without noting it is rated R16, with themes that are certainly adult. An essential dimension of Elisa’s loneliness is depicted in relation to sexual need, explored in a number of water scenes. Love is thus portrayed as highly sexualised, a search for bodily need and intimate communication. This co-mingling of water, life, love and people certainly provides a way to respect the compelling final plot twist, in which water animates the love between Elisa and The Asset. But it does raise questions regarding whether The Shape of Water accurately portrays the entirety of the shape of love.

Posted by steve at 09:34 AM

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

the beatitudes of waitangi day

Walking up the hill to our house yesterday evening, I composed a Waitangi Day grace:

Blessed are those who first said haere mai (welcome),
for with them was the grace of God

Blessed are the truth tellers of Te Tiriti,
for through them is the beginnings of change

Blessed are the meal makers,
for by them is the hospitality of God,

Blessed are strangers,
for in each is a waiting friend, Amen

I wrote this grace for a social event I was part of hosting on Waitangi Day, February 6, 2018. The evening involved entertaining around 30 KCML interns, staff and families. Many of those coming were arriving as strangers to each other – different year groups, overseas scholars and their families – and I wanted to name that reality, yet frame it as opportunity (Blessed are strangers, for in each is a waiting friend). The food was a Team Taylor effort and I wanted to express my gratitude to my family (Blessed are the meal makers, for by them is the hospitality of God). The meal was held on Waitangi Day and I wanted to connect our hospitality with what I have learnt from manaakitanga (hospitality) from Maori culture.

The couplet framing – Blessed … for – has a nod to the beatitudes of Matthew 5. It seemed fitting for a grace, connecting our gathering with the values and commitments of Jesus.

The couplet framing was also shaped by U2 and Kendrick Lamar and the spoken word cameo that ends U2′s recent release “Get Out Of Your Own Way.” I like the way it updates the beatitudes of Matthew 5, bringing in contemporary categories. “Blessed are the bullies/ For one day they will have to stand up to themselves…/ Blessed are the liars/ For the truth can be awkward.” LA Times call it a “short sermon“.

Glad of the song, enjoying the Songs Of Experience U2 album, I began to think about the contemporary categories if I was doing a Kendrick Lamar, but “blessing” not America, but New Zealand and the Waitangi celebrations. Hence the couplets about Maori as those who “first said haere mai” or welcome; and “the truth tellers of Te Tiriti” – those who speak for truth about the history of the Treaty signing.

Of course, U2 were contemporising the beatitudes of Matthew 5 before Kendrick Lamar was born (in 1987). Bono wrote “Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland)” when he travelled to Ethiopia after Live Aid (around 1986). The song was reworked and released in 2007 as part of the 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree. The two lines of a couplet are evident “Blessed … for.” They are also contemporised, into those “meek who scratch in the dirt,” “the voice that speaks truth to power.” and “tin can cardboard slums.”

Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland) is a song I love – brooding, justice-focused – with a clever set of lyrics that reframe Ethiopia with the dignity of “ancient holy scrolls.” Again, an echo of my beatitudes of Waitangi Day, which sought to honour Maori as sovereign actors, extending to a visiting Captain Cook and so many subsequent migrants a welcome that for me speaks of the grace of God.

Posted by steve at 09:06 PM