Sunday, August 31, 2014
mission then, mission now
I’ve just finished marking a set of assignments for my Mission, Evangelism and Apologetics intensive I taught in Sydney in July. I’m delighted with how the first assignment question worked.
Each student will, at the start of the class, be given a missionary. They will then use the Essential texts
for the course as a beginning point to find out more about their missionary. (These texts are Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today or Dewerse, R. (2013). Nga Kai-Rui i Te Rongopai: Seven Early Maori Christians. Rotorua: Te Hui Amorangi ki te Manawa o Te Wheke.)
The student will submit a biography (300 words) of the individual, a summary of how this person understood either evangelism or mission or apologetics (400 words), followed by a discussion of the implications of this understanding for either evangelism or mission or apologetics today (300 words).
Note: If students have other learning styles, they are welcome to submit this assignment verbally, by submitting a 10 minute podcast on a mailed USB stick or uploaded to a website and emailing the relevant URL to the lecturer. The lecturer will be assuming that at 100 words a minute, the spoken length of the podcast is similar to 1000 written words.
I set this type of assignment for a number of reasons.
Fist, stories have power. One way to enthuse and engage about mission is to tell stories. By asking students to do this assignment, I am introducing them to stories, that they might use. (Throughout the intensive, I offered a number of examples – Caroline Chisholm an Australian pioneer and Maori peace stories – to enthuse the class and model the assignment.)
Second, biography as theology. As James McClendon has argued (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology), people’s lives embody doctrine. We see truth in actions. So this assignment was a way of doing biography as
Third, the common perception is that mission in the past has been all about colonisation. This assignment helps them realise that history does include tragedy, but it also includes some outstanding examples of servanthood that brought great benefit to indigenous cultures.
Fourth, it enabled mission to be placed as global, to place our talk about evangelism and apologetics alongside the stories of Maori in mission, pioneering in Japan, India and Europe. It allowed mission to be so much more than Euro-centric.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
one year on: missing Dad, Dad dreaming
It’s a year since Dad died, suddenly, but peacefully. I’m taking tomorrow off, to sit with the pain, to watch the video of the funeral, to walk through the memories. Here’s one memory, a summer dream, that keeps me going …
About four months after Dad died, I awoke one night, aware that Dad had just walked through my dreams. I was in a home and walking down a hallway, a door opened and Dad stepped out.
He was wearing long blue jeans, nicely cut and a knitted sweater. He looked good. I said hello, reaching out to touch the wool as Dad walked past. It was warm and soft. Dad turned, meeting my gaze and smiling. He appeared younger, happier, gentler. Then silently, he moved on down the hallway.
Waking, lying in a darkened room, I pondered feelings of presence and absence. Dad was there, a presence I could still talk too. Yet Dad was moving on, unable in this dream to talk to me. I felt both comforted and saddened, aware of grace, reminded of grief.
Continuing to ponder the dream in the days following, it slowly dawned on me that in my dream Dad was walking.
Walking. It had been years since I’d seem him walk. His last years had seen him trapped in a wheel chair.
Christians claim the resurrection of the dead. That Dads will not just walk, but also talk. Yet in the here and now, my Dad walked, stepping softly, warmly, through my subconscious. The dream offered a new way to connect with my Dad beyond death. Deep within the recesses of the parts of me that I cannot fathom, cannot control, Dad lives.
And walks. It’s a source of great comfort, while I wait for the end of time, when I’ll find myself not only able to walk, but also to talk.
I miss my Dad.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
research assistance required
I am seeking research assistance for a project that involves developing a theological resource for undergraduate students in the area of indigenous women’s Christologies.
The project involves working with a number of local theologians, in particular selected indigenous woman (already identified), to clarify their theology (in both written and visual forms), and to create an accompanying resource guide by which undergraduate students can identify the resources and processes used in theological contextualisation and consider the questions raised for theological method.
Applicants will need skills including the ability to
- organise technologies (visual and written) to preserve the insights
- write clearly
- develop resources
- think theologically, including in areas of Christology and culture
Funding is available for a total of 25 hours at Flinders University Causal Academic Rates. The project needs to begin by late September, 2014 and to be finished by early November, 2014.
Apply by email to Steve Taylor (steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au) by Friday 6 September. Applications should include a CV and a letter of interest, addressing the skills required.
Monday, August 25, 2014
Jesus on the Gold Coast
I’m teaching a three day intensive on Jesus at Newlife Church, Robina, on the Gold Coast, in November 11-13, 2014.
Theology of Jesus – This topic combines biblical, historical, doctrinal and contemporary approaches to Jesus Christ and to salvation in Christ. Special attention will be paid to the missional Jesus, in popular culture and in encounters with other faiths.
Lecturer – Rev Dr Steve Taylor – Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology and Senior Lecturer, Flinders University. Church planter, church leader and author, Out of Bounds Church? and blogger (www.emergentkiwi.org.nz)
Here is a little video that I shot a few weeks ago, to introduce Jesus and the course to students.
Date – November 11-13th, 2014
Time – 7 hours a day, 9-5 pm with hour for lunch (12:30-1:30 pm)
Where – Newlife Church
How to Register – Contact Lynda Leitner (lynda dot leitner at flinders dot edu dot au) at Adelaide College of Divinity (phone 08 8416 8400) and ask to enrol in MINS 2314 or relevant post-graduate code
Cost - $1341 (undergraduate credit); $1665 (postgraduate credit); $300 audit undergraduate; $400 audit postgraduate
Saturday, August 23, 2014
If you’re not typing you’re not visual: Elearning practice and culture
It was meant to be a writing morning, but instead I slipped into the back of a lecture theatre at University of South Australia to hear Carolyn Haythornwaite address the topic Elearning practice and culture From experiment to mainstream. Director of the School of Library, archival and information services, University British Colombia, she argued that e-learning is a paradigm shift in practice of learning.
She talked about the way that technical changes are driving the social. The result is a society that is more participative and collective, which is bringing unavoidable pressures to bear on University classrooms. She had a lovely phrase
“a balance found in motion not stillness.” (Nardi and ODay, 1999).
She argued that for many years the lecture and the classroom have been a still place, an unchanging place, in which academics have clung for security. But with what is happening in society, the classroom is now in motion!
Not that this is easy. She described the exhaustion for teachers because we are now in “perpetual beta” and of continuously having to learn, both in regard to technology and in regard to how learners are learning.
She talked about two types of online engagement – crowd sourced or community based. Both have different ways of connecting. One tends to offer interaction that is many, small, simple. The other is complex, diverse, connected. Which type of community will e-teachers seek to create?
She had some cool visualisations. Pictures that showed that blended learning classes tend to develop weekly rhythms, the different network channels (chat, discussion boards, email) develop different types of student engagement, that the group rhythm over an entire course changes.
She had some encouragements as I reflected on our journey into blended learning as a Uniting College.
- The need to have the IT group within the teaching department rather than separate (which we have done at Uniting College)
- Forget perfection. Build it as you go. You never should have your e-learning space all packaged at start. Rather you should grow it organically as you go.
- You get used to it. That after a few years of “perpetual beta” change, you suddenly realise you are an e-teacher.
She asked some fresh questions:
- How to orientate students in the social skills needed to learn online in community?
- How to understand the multiple roles of the e-teacher – as social presence but also teaching presence and also cognitive presence?
- How to understand the potential of students to themselves become teachers in e-learning spaces? (Efacilitator, braider, accomplished fellows, learner-leaders).
So, not a writing day, but a rich and thought provoking chance to reflect on all the blended learning changes occurring at Uniting College.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
open table learning
This week in Theology of Jesus class, it was the fourth week and the theme was open tables: Jesus eating patterns. I decided that we should not only study this, we should experience it.
I moved the class from the classroom into the student common area. The tables were pulled into a circle. Tablecloths were laid. The soup, which I have been providing prior to each evening class, to help build community, was eaten at what would be our study table. Tonight it was Santa Fe Sweet potato, with charred pepper.
The newly added student wifi meant that I could still teach this blended, with folk from distance connecting live with the class through digital technologies.
Cook books were scattered around and we began with mindfulness, becoming thankful for a good meal that we each found in a cook book.
During the class, I asked what connections were they making between our experience of open table and the class readings and lecture material. Here are some of the reflections
- is there more interaction and chatter around tables (here and Jesus) time? what does this do for how we understand how Jesus communicated
- This is more informal. There’s our food and books everywhere. Does this show us a different, more conversational Jesus – more involved in the to and fro. Willing to be interrupted.
- You see a different person around tables. You see what they’re living. More vulnerable
- Around table, I ‘m getting to know other students more. Does this say something about discipleship, that following Jesus is with others, getting to know others more
- Jesus must have been adaptable. He is comfortable in different spaces – socially apt.
- How often do we have in our homes people we don’t know? How often we eat alone?
- Jesus is radical and counter-cultural. The boundaries are blurred, yet there is still a sense of order.
Some fascinating learning here, about who Jesus is and how Jesus enacts the Kingdom.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Affirmations from the outside
On Sunday I preached Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus encounter with the Syro-Phonecian woman. I was struck by her understanding of Jesus, her articulation of faith.
Sometimes in worship we draw on affirmations of faith, spoken statements about what we understand of Christ. These often come from those inside the church. Yet here in Matthew 15, Jesus declares the Syro-Phonecian woman has “great faith.” (15:28)
So what is the Affirmation of faith not from the “inside” but from the “outside”, from one outside the church?
I believe in God the compassionate (have mercy, my daughter is suffering – v. 22)
in whom is mercy
I believe in Jesus the healer and helper (help me – v. 25)
from a royal line (Lord, Son of David – v. 22)
the radical boundary crosser (stepping across boundaries from your culture to my culture)
I believe in a Spirit, generous
in calling me from past to present (moving beyond the pain of the past, your ancestor’s history with Canaanite).
Now isn’t that a faith worth affirming, an outsider Creed worth bringing into our midst?
Sunday, August 17, 2014
bowing to a buddhist monk: a meditation on the Syro-phonecian woman
Here is the sermon I preached this morning at Blackwood Churches of Christ. The lectionary text was Matthew 15:22-28, the story of Jesus encounter with the Syro-phonecian woman. The reading helped me explore a set of circumstances a few weeks ago, in which I found myself bowing to a Buddhist monk. In other words, how do we encounter people of different beliefs and opinions?
Friday, August 15, 2014
teaching Jesus: go global
Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.
Today I am teaching on Jesus and history. I will not start with the Christological controversies of the early church. I will not talk about how the Creeds came. Instead, we will turn to global history. We will visit the church in Russia, in El Salvador, in South Africa, in India and in England. We will ask how these communities might help us understand Jesus.
In England we will sit with the prayer of Anselm, A SONG OF CHRIST’S GOODNESS
Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.
Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying,
we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us.
In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.
I only have two hours. By going global-early-church, rather than by going standard-early church, my students will not fully engage what is standard, Creedal church history on Jesus. Am I diminishing theology, short-changing students? Or am I being faithful to theology, affirming the church world-wide? Whatever happens, I take shelter God, who gathers us to protect.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
How to read better: 4 general tips to reading better
A resource I gave to a class, trying to help them think not only about what they are reading, but how they are reading. It also allowed me to introduce some foundation tools in theology.
1. Start at the end
You never start a book/chapter/excerpt at the beginning. You always go to the end. First, that is where the conclusion is and that gives you the big picture. Second, since most people start at the beginning and often don’t quite have time to finish, you can more easily stand out from the crowd.
2. Think in pencil or red pen
As you read, always be recording your own work. This is what you are going to get credit for in an assignment/conversation. You want to be ticking what you agree, underling a reference you might want to chase further, noting a question you have, writing a connection you make.
When you come to write or to talk in a group, you don’t want to be scrambling through pages going “now where is it?” You want to quickly find your own work and say, “Well on page x where it says, I made me think of (last week’s lecture, something I read last week”
3. Write a summary in your own words
The best way to see if you can remember something is to use your own words. Try, in a few sentences to catch the major outline of the work. This also then stands you in great stead when you come to your assignments, because you can then turn them into a summary in your own words.
4. Know your tools
Every reading will probably have something you don’t fully understand or can’t quite recall. To help you read, you need to be able to understand words that are new or you’ve forgotten. It can also be helpful to place the reading in context or to read some actual words of original authors.
When it comes to theology, here are four tools I find helpful:
- Big picture – McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought
- Original sources – McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader
- Definitions – Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP Bible Dictionary)
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Church on the World’s Turf: faith in hard places
How do Christians engage with their world?
Paul Bramadat decided to answer the question by researching a student group on a Canadian campus. For a year, he participated in the InterVarsity club at McMaster University. He interviewed people and attended small groups. He even went with them on a month long mission to Lithuania. All the time, as he attempted to understand them, they attempted to convert him.
The result is The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series). It’s a sensitive and thoughtful reflection.
He argues that evangelicals are creative and innovative. They employ a complex set of responses. They create a fortress in order to maintain an identity. At the same time, they create bridges in order to be true to their understandings. Key to this is the student group itself – it creates a space in which this creative innovation can be encouraged, in which identity can be nurtured and connections can be established.
“By focusing on evangelicals’ creativity in the face of the perceived hegemony of the secular ethos, not only do we gain a more nuanced view of the resistance of marginalized groups but we also begin to see these Christians as the multidimenensional and imaginative people they are. At the very least, an emphasis on evangelicals’ enthusiastic and creative responses to perceived marginalization might help us understand why evangelical church and parachurch groups show no sign of disintegration and are almost the only sector of contemporary North American Christianity sustaining and even increasing its membership.” (Paul Bramadat, The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series), 147)
Bramadat makes this argument has he explores attitudes to women, approaches to faith sharing, the understandings of the spiritual. It is a fascinating study, the first in-depth ethnographic study of a Christian campus group Bramadat was aware of (at the time of publication in 2000). It shows the richness possible when ethnography is used in research, the creativity of faith responses to the world around and the possibilities for religious groups to nurture robust relationships with their world.
Thursday, August 07, 2014
The Congregation in a Pluralist Society: Rereading Newbigin for Missional Churches Today
News this week that Pacifica, a leading theology journal in Australasia and the West Pacific Basin, will publish “The Congregation in a Pluralist Society: Rereading Newbigin for Missional Churches Today,” a joint article by Darren Cronshaw and myself, in which we offer a conversation between the reality of church life and the work of Lesslie Newbigin.
Lesslie Newbigin sought to engage the gospel with Western culture. A rereading of Newbigin’s work offers insights for mission and communicating the gospel in the twenty-first century Western world, including the need to grapple with religious pluralism. For Newbigin, ‘[T]he only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it’. How plausible is the Newbigin thesis? Can congregations today believe and live the gospel, especially in a pluralistic context? This article is an appeal for attentiveness to the place and priority of the congregation, for the sake of mission in our pluralist society. It is grounded in the experience of two congregational case studies, which opens up conversation with Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Methodologically, it applies Neil Ormerod’s understanding of ecclesiology as grounded in ‘historical ecclesial communities’ to test both the groundedness and plausibility of Newbigin’s congregational hermeneutic.
It has been accepted for immediate publication in Pacifica (volume 27 number 2), which is one of Australia’s leading theological journals. It’s great to be writing about mission and church in that sort of context and to be have been able to provide a body of writing which results in congregational studies being considered a legitimate source in theological enquiry.
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
even better than good news: a reflection on being out of my depth
This week at chapel I led the community. With the lectionary text being the story of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), I began to reflect on being out of my depth
Last year in the Semester break, we as a family had a mid-winter Cairns holiday. The highlight would the Great Barrier Reef and for months we had pumped up the kids – how exciting it would be to swim in the ocean, see the fish and relax in the sun.
The day arrived and the weather was lumpy. It’s about two hours by boat to get out from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. One of Team Taylor doesn’t do waves well and breakfast duely disappeared.
But this was a family highlight and we keep the kids pumped up. How exciting it would be to swim in the ocean, see the fish and relax in the sun. We arrived and set anchor and duely jumped overboard.
Within about 30 seconds I panicked. I got hit by a wave. I got pushed by the current. My snorkelling face mask got filled with water. I lost contact with my kids. The safety officer on the boat starts whistling at me to stay within the safety area. We’re miles out to sea and the waves are slapping and we’re swimming in deep water and there’s no bottom for miles.
Apparently I’m in good company. Bill Bryson in his book on Australia, (In a Sunburned Country) writes of numerous tourists, often men, who step confidently off a boat on the Great Barrier Reef, only to experience significant fear once they’re actually realise how deep they are, with no bottom for miles.
The Bible text, verse 24, say that the disciples are in deep, with no bottom for miles. The Greek is literally “stadios pollous” – many stadia – and a stadia is 100 metres and there are many stadia. Lake Galilee is 5 mile, 8 kilometres across and they are many stadia in the deep.
The disciples are in the deep because Jesus has stayed to pray. This doesn’t make sense to me, I’m not sure how Jesus plans to get across the lake if he’s sent the boat on ahead.
It’s only the second time in Matthew that Jesus is actually recorded as praying. This also doesn’t make sense to me. I would’ve thought Jesus prayer life would have been more important to Matthew.
When the disciples see Jesus, they think he’s a ghost. This also doesn’t make sense to me. He’s your boss for goodness sake and you’ve given up a lot to follow, so surely you’d recognise him.
Peter wants to join Jesus. That’s verse 28 “If it’s really you, command me to come.” This also doesn’t make sense to me. Why wouldn’t Peter stay warm and dry? So the disciples are in the deep and their fear is significant and many things about this passage simply doesn’t make sense to me.
This passage occurs in cluster of passage between chapters 13 and 17 that are doing two things. First, they’re telling us about Jesus. That’s the punch line is verse 33. Truly you are the Son of God. This shouldn’t make sense to me because this about God and by definition God won’t always make human sense. Second, these cluster of passages are telling us about us. That disciples, real dedicated, take up your cross disciples, don’t recognise Jesus. That leaders, real dedicated, take up your cross leaders, at times have little faith.
So this is the good news. That we’re in deep. With no bottom. Which often causes grown men to panic. That Jesus still comes to us. That our levels of faith and our ability to recognise Jesus doesn’t seem to matter. Because Jesus is God. Truly God.
Which is good news for people of faith. That Jesus is God and comes to us.
Which is better news for people who, like Peter, have moments of very little faith. That Jesus is God and comes to us.
Which is even better news for people, like the disciples, who struggle to recognise Jesus. That Jesus is God and comes to us.
May the words of my mouth, and the mediation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God.
Monday, August 04, 2014
Gardening with soul film review: like a warm fire on a winters day
Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for August 2014, of Gardening with Soul.
Gardening with Soul
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor
Gardening with Soul is like a warm log fire on a winter’s day. It offers comfort, evokes nostalgia, invites conversation and inspires for mission.
The movie is structured around one life and four seasons. The one life is Loyola Galvin, Catholic sister, turning ninety and thoroughly deserving of being the New Zealand 2008 Gardener of the year. As she weeds, prays, brushes her hair we hear her story of grace and grief amid a changing world. We hear of faith lived amid lost love, the practicalities of Susan Aubert’s mission and the pain visited upon the wider Catholic church by clerical sexual abuse.
Directed by Jess Feast, Gardening with Soul deservedly gained nomination in all four documentary categories at the 2013 New Zealand Film Awards. Feast excels in the art of gentle unraveling. Not religious herself, she is well able to locate a accessible warmth in the religious experience of another.
The four seasons begins with winter. Snow, surprisingly even in Wellington, gently carpets Galvin’s garden. Through, summer, spring and autumn, we follow the rhythms of the season, including the gathering of seaweed for compost, the drying of seeds for spring and the companion planting essential for pest resistance and soil health. In an age of fast food and flash in the pan garden shows, Gardening with Soul is a reminder of a different, more deeply dug, set of spiritual practices.
Gardening with Soul gained cinematic applause in New Zealand, with Simon Morris, film reviewer for Radio New Zealand, naming it one of his highlights for 2013. In 2014, it crossed the ditch to grace 30 screens across Australia, gaining four star reviews from the Herald Sun and applause from the Sydney Morning Herald.
Church goers might glimpse a number of opportunities for practical mission. First in the slow work, in which community gardens become community development. Galvin won New Zealand Gardener of the Year for her initiative in starting the Common Ground community garden scheme, turning lawn at her Home of Compassion into allotment-style gardens for apartment dwellers. In Gardening with Soul, we witness the final stages of community development, as Galvin hands over what she began to a younger generation.
Second, in the care for the dying, as Galvin returns to the memorial garden she created for stillborn children while chaplain at Hutt Hospital. We witness a practical love in which the dying are dignified.
Third, in the return visit of a now grown child, raised by the Sisters of Compassion after being left for dead at their doorstep. In this encounter, we are reminded of the gift of life given to children in the name of the Catholic church.
It is interesting to place Gardening with Soul alongside the recently written Soil and Sacrament (Free Press, 2013). Author Fred Bahnson visits four community gardens, over four seasons. Among different religious traditions (Catholic, Pentecostal, Jewish), whether growing mushrooms or roasting coffee, he finds a shared experience in which rituals of cultivation do indeed add soul. Young, male and religiously unsettled, Bahnson would find much to admire in the settled spiritual maturity of Sister Loyola Galvin.