Tuesday, November 24, 2020

test

Posted by steve at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, November 06, 2020

Theologies of fulfilment in a reciprocal study of relationships between Christianity and Ringatu in Aotearoa New Zealand

Today involved submitting a paper proposal for the World Christianity Virtual Conference, March 3-6, 2021. Being virtual, it’s a great way to connect with missiologists, without the expense and time of travel.  The conference theme is the borders of religion and it seemed a good chance to take some research I did last year on a “contextualized case-study” – of how Presbyterians in Aotearoa interacted with Ringatu into a world Christianity space.

SEO-World-Christianity-Conference

However it was also a wakeup call. Being 2021, it is after I finish as Principal of KCML. So when it came to “academic affiliation,” I found myself having to tick “independent scholar.”  While I have links with Flinders and Aberdeen University, they are not Faculty roles. While I’ve got some (very exciting) possibilities for 2021, they are all still conversations and none at the public stage. So a reality check.

Anyhow amid the swirl of emotions, here’s the paper proposal, with notice of acceptance (or not), in a few weeks.

Theologies of fulfilment in a reciprocal study of relationships between Christianity and Ringatu in Aotearoa New Zealand

The crossing of borders of religion presents challenge and opportunity. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Christianity’s arrival resulted in new religious movements, including Ringatu, an indigenous religion, emerging in the 1860’s.

For Presbyterians in Aotearoa, a leading figure in the crossing of religious borders was Rev “Hoani” Laughton (1891-1965). Scottish born, Laughton ministered to Maori for all of his adult life. His approach to other religions is evident in an 1960’s lecture he delivered regarding Ringatu. For Laughton, Ringatu is seen as a living religion, in which Christians must immerse themselves as guests. As a result of Laughton’s participation in “hundreds of [worship] services,” he outlines a theology of fulfilment. Ringatu’s birth is a creative fulfilment in response to the historical actions of Christians in the New Zealand War. Laughton works in the hope of a new dawn for suffering Maori forced into an “arrested twilight” by colonization.

Analysis of Laughton’s approach will occur by way of comparative reciprocities. Initially, Laughton will be pairing with Maori contemporary, Rua Kenana. What is Kanana’s approach to the other religion that is Christianity? Are there signs of evolution, fulfilment even, in the Ringatu movement?

Further analysis will occur by locating Laughton alongside Presbyterian approaches to other faiths, in particular, that of John Nicol Farquhar (1861-1929), Scottish born, who ministered in India for much of his adult life. Farquhar published The Crown of Hinduism, arguing that Jesus fulfils the desires and quests of other religions. How might this resonate with Laughton’s approach to Ringatu and Kenana’s approach to Christianity?

The aim is to utilize a methodology of reciprocity in a contextualized case study. Theologies of fulfilment are tested by listening at the border between Christianity and Ringatu.

Posted by steve at 05:48 PM

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

innovation evaluation

One of my tasks this year has been innovation evaluation. As Principal of KCML, particularly in 2016 and 2017, I sought to develop New Mission Seedlings, local mission experiments in partnerships with wider church. The hope was to find spaces to encourage mission and the forming of leaders in mission.

With two New Seedlings developing in 2018, there was always a need to reflect on progress. So over the last 6 months, I’ve worked with one particular local seedling. Together there’s been a 360 design, finding ways to encourage grassroots reflection and generate missional reflection. Being 360, this needed to include children, along with those new to the various mission ministries. So there’s been some careful thought regarding language.

After the design was agreed, I’ve been busy interviewing folk, then compiling and feeding back to the leadership and external funders.

Tonight, there’s a further feeding back, to those invested in this particular seedling.  In preparing, I’ve played with shaping it in the arc of worship.  So tonight, everyone will get a coloured highlighter

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  •  if yellow, they are to look for things in the review to thank God for
  • if pink (purple/orange), they are to look for things in the review to seek forgiveness for (After all, to err is human, to forgive divine)
  • if green, they are to look for things in the review to ask God for help with

So after a bit of an introduction to the review, folk will get busy with their highlighter. This will allow us to move through praise and confession. Next, we will then gather around the Word – by considering some of the Jesus images present in the review, followed by the recommendations (response to the Word). Finally, those with green will be invited to offer prayers of intercession.

An evaluation of innovation, shaped by the arc of gathered worship, that should encourage the 360 participation of all involved.

Posted by steve at 04:28 PM

Friday, October 16, 2020

listening in mission

Leaving a role involves a stream of letting go’s. Yesterday was a letting go of Listening in Mission.

When I arrived at KCML in 2015, the hope was, in the words of the Council of Assembly Convenor, that my passion for contemporary mission and leadership would equip church leaders for today’s world.

With these words of invitation ringing in my ears, Mark Johnston and I looked together afresh at the existing Mission Course offered at KCML. We decided to experiment with our shared passion for contemporary mission and leadership in three ways.

  • first, given our location in the Presbyterian Church, we redesigned the course around the 5 faces of mission
  • second, we redesigned the assessment, increasing the focus on equipping leaders in the practice of mission. This involved a paired assignment, one in year 1, another in year 2, in which our interns formed small groups in their local churches to listen, discern and act in mission.
  • third, we wrapped tutorial support around the assignment. We wanted to provide just-in-time learning, walking alongside interns as they sought to lead in mission. This required us to decrease lecture content. It also required the development of online learning. KCML had no video-conferencing capacity or learning management capacity, so I had to do some self-learning, finding suitable learning platforms (the most recent prior learning technology improvement at KCML had been a binding machine to spiral bind printed notes!).

As a result, I found myself leading the Year 1 interns in Listening in Mission. Over four online learning sessions, I modelled missional spiritual practices and supported interns as they gathered a small group in their local context, to enact the same 4 learning sessions locally, teaching missional spiritual practices to listen, discern and act in their local context.

After a few years, Mark and I realised we might have stumbled upon a stand-alone, online professional learning option. We had ministers noting to us that KCML interns were learning new things about mission. So why not offer the assignment, the written resources and the cohort experience to ministers? Using the online technologies, they could be supported by KCML in listening, discerning and acting in their local context. They could learn with us and from each other, across different Presbyteries.

The result has been three consecutive years of Listening in Mission as life-long learning, advertised through Presbyteries, the PCANZ facebook and at the Connect conferences.

listeninginmission

I’ve even made little video’s to try and spread the word.

listening in mission from steve taylor on Vimeo.

So yesterday’s last Listening in Mission class online was a letting go. There was a wondering (with anxiety), about the future of my gifts in teaching, along with Listening in Mission at KCML. A sense of grief, because I’ve loved this part of the role, being able to engage local contexts. A sense of joy and privilege at what has happened, the resources developed, the insights gained.

In some ways, it was a simple innovation, offering a defined piece of learning online. And the numbers add up

  • 8 – the number of online Listening in Mission cohorts I have taught in the last 5 years (5 cohorts of year 1 interns, 3 cohorts of ministers and church leaders)
  • 50 – the number of leaders, formed around mission practices (30 interns and 20 ministers/church leaders)
  • 300 – the total number of participants, given that each of the 50 leaders was required to gather a small group of 4-6.
  • 50 – the number of churches invited into mission experimentation, supported by KCML to learn locally in mission.

As the Council of Assembly Convenor noted – contemporary mission equipping church leaders for today’s world indeed!

As part of our ongoing action-reflection and leaving a record, we at KCML have written about Listening in Mission as one of our innovations in a number of places.

  • Mark Johnston, “Trusting the missio Dei in the midst of mission innovation education,” ANVIL 36, (2)
  • Steve Taylor and Rosemary Dewerse, “Unbounding learning communities: Ako-empowered research in life-long ministerial formation,” Practical Theology 13 (4), 2020, 400-412. Doi.org/10.1080/1756073X.2020.1787005.
  • Steve Taylor and Mark Johnston,“The missio Dei embodied in local community ministry in Scotland,” Ecclesial Futures 2020, 1 (2) (accepted for publication).
Posted by steve at 04:05 PM

Monday, October 12, 2020

editor as detective and gardener and servant

I’ve just sent off to the publisher my first ever edited contribution.
– 1 editorial, of around 2,600 words
– 5 blind peer-reviewed journal articles, each around 6,000 words
– 3 reviewers, together reviewing 4 recently published books relevant to mission

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The edited contribution is Volume 1, Issue 2 of Ecclesial Futures, an international, ecumenical peer-reviewed journal, aiming to provide high-quality, original research on the development and transformation of local Christian communities and the systems that support them as they join in the mission of God in the world.

Ecclesial Futures began for me in August 2016. As part of the International Association of Mission Studies conference in Korea, a group of us met to reflect on what we felt was a gap in missiology – research focused on the local church, that offered a dialogue between academic and practitioner. Over the next few years, a number of organisations agreed with us, generously offering seed money for an initial four issues. Momentum developed and an editorial board began to form.

It was just over a year ago, in September 2019, that I met with co-editor, Rev Dr Nigel Rooms. We spent the day wandering York. Nigel is an experienced editor, of the Journal of Adult Theological Education and now of Practical Theology. During the day, we talked about an editorial ethos of encouragement, of prioritizing constructive peer review and a willingness to mentor potential writers who have not published before.

Volume 1 was published in June 2020 and has been well received. This includes affirming feedback about the visual appeal (“attractive, easy to handle,” “looks great”), the readability (“well pitched”) and connectivity (“interesting research and reflections on mission and the church and crucially it relates to what is happening on the ground”). There have been requests for permission to use articles in training and formation of ministers, along with affirmations from an acquisition librarian in an internationally recognized University regarding the quality and craft. There have also been challenges, including the need to further diversify our editorial board.

My task over the last 3 months has been project-managing volume 2. This involves finding blind reviewers for various articles, moderating between reviewer and author, providing encouragement to authors and gratefulness to reviewers, editing for argument and clarity. Finally, writing an editorial, which introduces the issue and maps out some trajectories we as editors want to encourage.

It’s been a new experience, chipping away in the midst of a myriad of other changes. I’m passionate about the local church and the interface between thinking and doing. But like any new thing, there’s been lots of learnings and plenty of questions.

Why be an editor?

You get to be a detective – It’s been a lot of fun trying to work out who might be a good blind peer reviewer. Each article is unique and each invites examination from different perspectives. Hence co-editing means asking around, seeking recommendations, checking CV’s online. In the process, I’ve been enriched. It has certainly extended my networks and I’ve met some really interesting new people.

You get to be a gardener – The 5 articles are quite different now from the 5 articles individually submitted. It has been fascinating to see authors respond to review, sharpen their argument, read more widely, draw in new material. To use the gardening image, each article is a different plant. Each has required different approaches to pruning. Each author has needed different amounts of fertiliser. As editor, it has been a great gift to watch a stranger read something an author is so familiar with and say “I think this is the heart of your argument.” And then see the author respond, and the article return stronger, more coherent.

You get to serve – The local church deserves the best of our thinking and acting, our research and our praxis. Co-editing Ecclesial Futures is one way for me to seek to serve the local church, for which I’m grateful.

Posted by steve at 01:56 PM

Friday, October 09, 2020

Healing amid crisis: an analysis of theologies of healing in public prayer

The Association of Practical Theology in Oceania (APTO) Conference is online in 2020 – December 3 to 5. I couldn’t afford to go normally but virtual is whole other story. The theme is Encountering God: Practical Theology and the Mission to Heal. After a conversation or three with fellow researcher Lynne Taylor, thinking about our praying in trauma research, we’ve submitted the following abstact:

Healing amid crisis: an analysis of theologies of healing in public prayer as local churches respond in gathered worship to tragedy and trauma

Christian practices embody and reflect lived theologies. The gathered worship service is theory- and theology-laden, offering insight into Christian understandings of how God is engaged in human history and what human response could and should be. Investigating how Christians pray corporately is thus a potentially fruitful way to explore underlying theologies.

This paper draws on empirical research to investigate how local churches pray in response to trauma and tragedy. Online surveys were conducted in November 2015 (following coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris) and March 2019 (following the Christchurch mosque shootings).

The paper is part of a larger project, that seeks to examine how in the midst of trauma, churches might pray. Previous analysis has examined the empirical data in dialogue with Storm Swain’s understanding of God as earth-maker (creating/holding); pain-bearer (suffering); and life-giver (transforming) (in Trauma and Transformation at Ground Zero: A Pastoral Theology); and with Samuel Well’s typologies of God’s presence (Incarnational Mission: Being with the World).

This paper analyses the data paying particular attention to healing. What images of healing are evident? Who are envisaged as agents of healing? What is the telos, the imagined shape of a healed world? As one example, a church invited prayer by placing native grasses on the altar. This suggests several theologies of healing, including remembering, with one grass for every victim murdered, and hospitality, recognizing those who died not as “other” but as lives planted in indigenous soil.

The implications for those who pray in trauma and tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the theological work possible through the practices of Christian public prayer.

It will give us the opportunity/push/invitation to look again at the local church in action and to take in a new direction research shared at ANZATS 2019 and about to have published in Stimulus, the New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice

“Praying for Christchurch: First Impressions of how local churches responded in gathered worship to the mosque shooting,” Stimulus: the New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice (co-authored with Lynne Taylor), (accepted for publication) 2020.

Posted by steve at 10:05 PM

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Fatima: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 155 plus films later, here is the review for October 2020.

Fatima
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Fatima is a movie for the faithful. Directed by Marco Pontecorvo, it tells the story of ten-year-old Lúcia (Stephanie Gil) and her two young cousins, Jacinta (Alejandra Howard) and Francisco (Jorge Lamelas). They report a visitation from Mary, the mother of God. She promises to return monthly, with words of comfort and prediction. Children can be impressionable. Would you believe a child?

In devout Portugal, news of future visits from Mary, attract the masses. Month by month, the crowds gather. Some 70,000 are present for what was the final reported visitation on October 13, 1917. What happened is known as “The Miracle of the Sun.” Lúcia asks Mary for a miracle. Many in the crowd reported seeing the sun spin three times. Each rotation lasted three or four minutes, casting rainbow coloured light across those gathered. Others in the crowd saw nothing. Who would you believe?

In a country racked by war, the voice of suffering is ever-present. Some 12,000 Portuguese troops died during World War I, while civilian deaths due to famine and flu exceeded 220,000. The mother who prayed the rosary for her son to be safe becomes the one who yells in grief as Lucia walks past her door. When Mary speaks of world peace to a child, would you believe?

The voice of religion is heard through the village priest, Father Ferreira (Joaquim de Almeida). During the first decades of the twentieth century, a secularising government placed the church under intense pressure. Clergy were imprisoned, seminaries closed and religious orders suppressed. If there is a time for every activity under the sun, then when is the time for keeping a low profile and when is the time to believe a child? In a number of touching scenes, the potential of saying the rosary to generate peaceful protest is clearly visible.

The voice of the sceptic is heard through Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel). The year is 1989, and in the name of research, the academic professor visits the now elderly Lucia. Why do divine apparitions always conform to the iconography of the culture in which they appear? Why would stigmata appear on the palms of the hands when it is now known that Roman crucifixion involved the binding of the wrists? These visits are a skilful piece of plot development. Over several scenes, the events of 1917 are given room to breathe. As the present interrogates the past, the space for intellectual doubt is held. In the face of secular scepticism, would you believe a child?

What Fatima lacked was the voice of development. In a poignant moment, Lucia believes Mary is telling her to learn to read. An illiterate ten-year-old, tending sheep rather than attending school, suggests a peasant economy. Is organised religion a force for progress? Or is it the opiate of the people, suppressing women and children in patriarchy and poverty?

Fatima rewards but slowly. Over time, you realise you are looking at life through the eyes of a child. If you were that child, would you believe?

Posted by steve at 08:36 PM

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

crafting of call in the knitted theologies-of-ordination series

Last year, during my sabbatical as part of my research into craftivism and knitted angels, I learnt to knit. It is one thing to research intellectually. It is quite another to research by actually making. It certainly locates me as a dependant learner, feeling helpless and needing instruction.

With the sabbatical ended and the journal article submitted (“When ‘#xmasangels’ tweet: a Reception Study of Craftivism as Christian Witness,” Ecclesial Practices 7 (2) 2020, (co-authored with Shannon Taylor)), I kept knitting. Another scarf, then a babies cardigan, then some fingerless gloves from re-found op shop wool.

With a week of holiday recently, I found myself knitting dishcloths. During the week, I was sitting with the emotions of my resignation as Principal of KCML. The sadness at the ending of my relationship with ordination formation, mixed with the release from a demanding role which was at such odds with the understandings by which I had been called. As I knitted, I found myself thinking back over a decade of teaching and leading in the forming of ministers, beginning in the Uniting Church in Australia, followed by the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa.

In the Uniting Church, when deacons are ordained, they are given a gift of a towel (along with a Bible, water, bread and wine), to indicate the diaconal call to a ministry of service.

A group of people, representing those amongst whom the minister will serve, comes forward. They bring a Bible, and water, bread and wine, along with a bowl and towel. Other symbols related to the field of service may also be brought.

One of them says: We are the people of God. We bring the holy Bible, and water, and bread and wine as signs of the ministry to which you were ordained.

Another says: We are the people of God. We bring the symbols of our common life and service.

The minister takes the Bible, opens it and places it on the lectern or pulpit; takes the jug and pours water into the font; and takes the bread and wine and places them on the communion table. S/he then takes the bowl and towel and any other symbol/s and places them in front of the communion table.

As I knitted, I realised that dishclothes offered a similar symbol. I was “hand-making” a symbol of service, that embodied the call to mission and ministry.

So began the knitted theologies of ordination series! Dishclothes, each of which speak to theologies of call to mission and ministry.

First, co-mission.

dishcloth2

Knitted dishcloths as a symbol of ordination as a service of Christ; the colours an affirmation of the creative humanity upon which the Spirit of Christ falls and by which service to Christ is made/woven into the church in mission. Three colours to demonstrate the three strands of word (teach), sacrament (baptise) and discipling (make disciples) by which the co-mission (with other disciples) of Jesus (Go into all the world) is fulfilled (working with the wonderful work by Paul Avis, A Ministry Shaped by Mission).

Second, formation.

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A symbol of service. Handmade because every act of service in ministry and mission is handmade – is “truth through personality.” In the making of this dishcloth a blemish was discovered – a strand so thin the wool needed to be broken. Despite this blemish, the knitting continued. Such is the call of God, weaving human brokenness into a tapestry of love. Indeed as I knit, it becomes clear who this gift is for.

Third, ending.

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Casting off is required for completion. Repetitive stitches, knit two then pull one over. So close, yet more care is required. My stubby little fingers struggling to pull one stitch over another. A theology of ending – repetition, patience, trying not to rush, little human fingers requiring kindness. Ending a ministry of service is unique work.

As I keep knitting, I hope to add to this series …

Posted by steve at 10:28 AM

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Nurturing faith online: praxis connecting theory

Some work for my 4th and final Nurturing faith online Community of Practice. After 6 months of action experiments, I’m giving feedback to each participant – bringing their experiment into conversation with theory. What from our praxis confirms? What challenges?

Theory – identity – digital media can be used by people to articulate and work out their religious identities and visions

Praxis – this Community of Practice has involved 4 regulars, 3 others, along with several others who committed to watch a later recording. Meeting online 4 times over 6 months, this Community of Practice brought people together from three countries. While none live in physical proximity, they have found common ground online. This common ground is shaped by a religious vision, a curiosity about nurturing faith online.

Participation was an act of agency. Each person focused on an experiment in trying to make sense of a rapid change. Hence they Community of Practice was an active participation in the out working of a religious identity.

Hence the articulation of vision was in word and deed. Rather than be overwhelmed by COVID, the undertaking of experiments demonstrated dynamic, flexible and adaptive actions. Risks were taken and new things emerged

  • karaoke for playful shared ecumenical worship
  • short courses that invited people outdoors to pay attention to their surroundings and listen more deeply to silence and space
  • listening through surveys that opened up realities of God online
  • experiments in community that showed the reality of fluid identity formation
  • experiments in participation that bore witness to the possibility of relating and connecting

Online has made visible the work that people are willing to do – in their own time – to express and explore their identities online. This is an active, creative, playful vision of nurturing faith online.

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Radioactive: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 150 plus films later, here is the review for September 2020.

Radioactive
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Radioactive is the illuminating story of human brilliance. Brilliance shines from the science of Madame Curie (Rosamund Pike). Living in Paris, she became in 1903 the first woman to win a Nobel prize, for discovering radioactivity. The first ever woman appointed to as professor at the University of Paris, in 1911, she became the first (and only) woman to win a second Nobel prize, for the discovery of polonium and radium.

Radioactive illuminates not only her brilliance but equally her humanity. Born Maria Salomea Skłodowska, she lost her mother aged ten to tuberculosis and her husband, Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), in a tragic accident. Born Polish, she experienced sexism and xenophobia, at times cruelly scapegoated by the populist press in France.

Radioactive draws from the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss (Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout) and is directed by Iranian-born French woman Marjane Satrapi. Perhaps it is the gift of a migrant, to tenderly illuminate the corrosive impact of causal racism and a xenophobic public.

Before directing, Satrapi had gained critical acclaim for her autobiographical novels Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Indeed, a feature of Radioactive is the attention paid to the visual in storytelling. While sequences like the woman aflame in the second meeting between Maria and Pierre add meaning, other visual sequences offer an overworked hyperrealism that distracts from the unfolding drama.

The ethics of making are central to any dramatic telling of radiation. Science has a human side, and in a final sequence, Maria walks through humanity’s future. She enters a future room in which she glimpses the radioactivity she discovers making good, in the cure of cancer. She then enters rooms in which radiation is making bad, killing tens of thousands at Hiroshima, causing hundreds of thousands to be evacuated at Chernobyl. These ending sequences invite a theological reflection on the ethics of making.

For Christianity, making is never neutral. Things, as well as humans, can always be converted. In Isaiah 2:4, swords can be beaten into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks. Such is the vision of God, as military hardware is redeemed into agricultural assistance.

A similar vision occurs in Deuteronomy 19:1-13. Handmade axe heads can kill. Things made for good – to cut wood – can make for bad – a neighbour unintentionally killed. In response, God’s people are instructed to make again. The love of God converts an eye for an eye into the making of cities of sanctuary. Things made are never neutral. Yet a city well made can transform the corrosive impact of scapegoating.

Such ancient visions have inspired contemporary makers. Recently in Sweden, Andreas Vural turned the metal from seized illegal guns into sets of wireless headphones. The Megatons to Megawatts Program dismantled nuclear weapons, making them into civilian electric power stations. Over twenty years, as much as ten per cent of the electricity produced in the United States was generated from the equivalent of 20,008 made in Russia nuclear warheads. Makers can transform. It is a vision in which human brilliance is dignified and each of us are capable of making, whether for good or bad.

Posted by steve at 11:22 AM

Friday, September 04, 2020

transition time: future unknown

It was announced officially this week that I’ve resigned as Principal of KCML.

It’s been a really difficult decision, which I’ve wrestled with deeply with my supervisor and with my family. I love the intern and teaching parts of the role and the KCML team are fantastic.

I’m grateful to the church for discerning that I had skills in leadership and innovation that might be expressed through the role of Principal, KCML.

I’ve got nothing to go to at this time, but trust my passion and experience in contemporary mission and leadership can continue to be of use in equipping church leaders for today’s world.

“Rev Dr Steve Taylor has announced his resignation as Principal of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, effective from 31 January 2021.

For the past five years, Steve has utilised his experience and skill as a minister, theological educator, innovator and academic to help in the formation of our Church’s ministers and leaders. We thank Steve for sharing his passion for contemporary mission and leadership across the Church, and by doing so, encouraging us all to join God in God’s mission… Ngā mihi nui ki a koe.

I know you will take the opportunity over the coming months to let him know how much his support and leadership has meant.

We wish Steve continued success as he explores new opportunities, and as he continues to serve God’s Church and grow leaders in mission. There will be a gathering to farewell Steve, date to be advised.”

Posted by steve at 12:00 PM

Monday, August 31, 2020

The High Note: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 150 plus films later, here is the review for August 2020.

The High Note
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Everyone’s a star in our town, It’s just your light gets dimmer.”
lyrics from California (There Is No End To Love) (There Is No End to Love) by U2

Advertised as a romantic comedy, The High Note offered a light-hearted post-Lockdown return to the cinema. The slow drift toward another manufactured Hollywood Sunset Strip ending is surprisingly dimmed by the arrival of ancient, Biblical wisdom.

The High Note is a 2020 American comedy-drama film directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Flora Greeson. Set in California, life is a backdrop of palms, pools, and parties, in which everyone is filled with dreams, scripts, and songs.

Like so many Hollywood dreams, The High Note begins in a music studio. By night, Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson), is making music. By day, she is a personal assistant to Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross).

Boasting twelve Grammy’s, Grace Davis embodies diva, with fabulous clothes, private jets, and extravagant parties. But the light of every star in Tinseltown is always slowly fading. This sets up a career tension. Does Grace make another album of new music? Or does she sink into Vegas, a star slowly drawing down on her fading celebrity?

David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) provides character contrast. A young singer, playing community halls, he meets Maggie Sherwoode over an organic orange at the corner store. This sets up another set of tensions. Can there be an ending apart from young love? In Hollywood, armed with a laptop, everyone is a producer. Can personal assistant become a producer of David’s music? As a result, boundaries blur. The tensions around romance and career soon become ethical.

High notes are amplified by low notes. Contrast comes dramatically with an unexpected plot twist, needed to set up the Hollywood ending, as stars new and old fuse in the grand finale.

Contrast comes quietly in the form of a text message. Maggie and David are messing about while Katie (Zoë Chao), Maggie’s flatmate and loyal friend, is at work. A theatre nurse, Katie sends an image of an open heart. Everything is meaningless, responds Maggie, showing the picture of the open heart to David. In the middle of a budding romance and California dreaming, do you laugh? Do you return to messing about with your boyfriend? Or do quietly ponder the meaning of life?

“Everything is meaningless” is a line of poetry from Ecclesiastes 1:2. The writer, likely King Solomon, has sampled the high notes of life. In Ecclesiastes chapter 2, the pleasures are listed: urban landscaping, wealth acquisition, and sexual choice. In other words, plenty of palms and parties under the Jerusalem stars! Yet as Ecclesiastes concludes:

For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (12:14)

Whether scriptwriter Flora Greeson is aware of the Biblical allusion or no, the intrusion certainly changes the mood. Every star, whether rising or falling, has a heart. Every human, famous or forgotten, is vulnerable. Every action, whether unethical or wise, will be judged. One image accompanied by three words insert Biblical wisdom into The High Note’s dreams of starlit glamour.

Posted by steve at 08:05 PM

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Soul work: two blessings and the eXPERIENCE tour

U2CON 2020 CALL FOR PRESENTATIONS
Heartland: U2’s Looking For American Soul
An International Virtual U2 Conference For Scholars And Fans
October 18 – 24, 2020

Some thoughts about making change, U2, appreciative inquiry and the beatitudes have been floating around my head for a while. With a week’s holiday, and a commitment to only do fun and creative things, today I submitted a conference proposal for the International Virtual U2 Conference.

Paper proposal: Soul work: two blessings and the eXPERIENCE tour

“American Soul,” from U2’s Songs of Experience album, begins with a spoken word segment by Kendrick Lamar. The words flip the blessing genre of the Beatitudes, critiquing the “arrogant” and “filthy rich.” As Bono explained, “There’s a righteous anger that is hard to argue with.” Played live, every American concert goer was urged to stand up and look around, for “refugees like you and me.”

“American Soul” was replaced by “New Year’s Day” on the European leg of the eXPERIENCE tour. The change is canny performance, given the emotional connections between the song and the Polish Solidarity movement. The switch is also smart marketing, given U2 then released “Europa Ep”, with two new versions of “New Year’s Day.”

However, the change also offers another type of soul work. This becomes evident as the eXPERIENCE tour performances of “New Year’s Day” in various European cities are analysed. The song begins with Bono offering a spoken word blessing. Berlin is blessed for the winemakers and the wine drinkers, Belfast for soul music and Milan for the “Santa Maria delle Grazie where you can join in the Last Supper.” These particularities are followed by a general blessing, for all who are part of the “blue above the Europe we share.”

Bono’s blessings share similarities with appreciative inquiry, a collaborative, strengths-based approach to change (Cooperrider and Srivastva, 1987). Each blessing shares particular memories, offers cultural hope and invites conversation about a shared future. In response to Brexit and asylum seekers braving the Mediterranean sea, Bono has crafted a unique blessing for each city and every soul.

Hence the two legs of the eXPERIENCE tour offer two types of blessing, one of righteous anger, the other of appreciative inquiry. Both invite consideration of the experience of soul work in the making of cultural change.

Posted by steve at 09:44 PM

Friday, August 14, 2020

Bubble course participant survey

“80% of respondents indicated they had made changes, with many expressing confidence to try new things, particularly online.”

During Level 3 in Aotearoa, KCML offered Bubble courses to provide input for leaders, elders, ministers and whole people of God. They were offered as timely, conversational, engaging, thought-provoking. Their usefulness was affirmed with a request to offer one particular Bubble course – Building Community and Increasing Participation Online to church leaders in Australia.

Bubble Courses2

As part of action-reflection Bubble course participants were invited to provide feedback. While there are many ways to gain feedback, for example analysing chat interactions), as survey provides an opportunity for more considered evaluation.

11 questions were asked,
• Which Bubble course did you do? (tick box 3 options)
• How did you hear about the Bubble courses?
• Demographics – Role in church
• What about the Bubble Course you attended would you like to affirm?
• What about the Bubble Course you attended would you like to see improved?
• What about doing a Bubble course online enhanced your learning?
• What about doing a Bubble course online diminished your learning?
• Have you done anything differently as a result? (if yes, what)
• Are there any special thanks you would like to share (anonymously)?
• Would you be interested in another Bubble topic at another time?
• What future topics would interest you?

Here is a summary, which I provided a few weeks ago to one of our governance groups and publicly to the church last week on the KCML website:

Executive summary

KCML ran 6 Bubble courses during lockdown, covering preaching, change, and building an online community. Each course attracted between 30 to 45 participants. Of the potential 90 participants, 20 responded to a request for feedback. These were de-identified, collated, and organised thematically. What follows is a summary of over 4 pages of comments.

Those who provided feedback occupied a range of leadership roles, primarily ordained but including paid workers and laypeople. The average age of those who responded was 59 years old. Some 75% were women. The best mode of advertising was through Presbytery mailouts, with KCML channels (apart from the Principal’s personal Facebook) having no impact.

The courses were overwhelming received as positive. They were experienced as significant in decreasing isolation and providing a strong sense of connectivity and inclusion. Specific comments noted the sense of being valued and being able to learn alongside other recognised leaders in the church.

The courses were experienced as professional and of high quality. Particular strengths of the Bubble courses appreciated by participants included the fact that KCML had a go in the first place, the interactive nature of the courses and the quality of the resourcing. Some spoke of being willing to pay.

Within a week of completion of the Bubble courses, 80% of respondents indicated they had made changes, with many expressing confidence to try new things, particularly online. There is a sense that as they saw risk-taking in the offering of the Bubble courses, they felt empowered to take risks. This encouragement to take risks is worth further reflection in terms of how leadership is experienced within church organisations.

The main suggestions from respondents for improvement included requests for longer sessions. More time would allow for more interaction and reflection. The breakout room experience was variable. Some found them very helpful, others not. It was clear that good moderation would be beneficial, for example through appointing a “moderator”.

There was overwhelming (100%) support for more Bubble Courses. While this is only from those who responded (20 of the 90), it is still very encouraging. The reasons for wanting more Bubble Courses included the valuing of accessibility, along with the positive experiences of being individually resourced and being more connected to the wider church. The most requested topics include pastoral care, public theology, mission and innovation, worship and mental health.

Posted by steve at 03:07 PM