Thursday, November 16, 2017

Christ-based innovation: servant

This is part of a series on Christ-based innovation, which I shared at an Educating for innovation weekend run by KCML in October. My task over the weekend was to provide spiritual wisdom, woven in partnership with workshopping processes around innovation. In terms of spiritual wisdom for innovation, I drew on Paul’s images from 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. (I cover these in much more detail in Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration

To explore the first image used by Paul, that of servant, I used lectio divina to reflect on Christ as an innovator who serves. After an introduction of Paul as innovator, here is what I said:

So this weekend, as innovators, we will open one of Paul’s letters. It is the letter of 1 Corinthians. Written by Paul to a church he has begun. And in 1 Corinthians, Paul describes his innovation, in six images. The first innovation image is that of servant.

In 1 Corinthians 3:4 “What is Paul? What is Apollos? Servants.” Again in 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Think of us in this way, as servants.”

So innovation for Paul begins with service. Paul does this because of the God he follows.

So let me read a servant Scripture, from John 13:2-15. I will read it 3 times. Each time, I will pause a the same place. I will ask you to imagine that moment of service in the story.

First time, I invite you to imagine watching Jesus washing the feet of one person from your case study tonight.

The smell as shoes come off. Can you see feet and toes? Can you see Jesus kneeing? Can you see him taking the towel? Can you hear the sound of water and the wiping of the feet.

I wonder what Jesus is saying?
I wonder what the person is saying to Jesus?

Second time I read it, I invite you to imagine watching Jesus washing the feet of one person from your community.

Third time, I read it, I invite you to imagine watching Jesus is washing your feet.

Christ-based innovation begins with leader as servant.

bookcover For the entire series of meditations on Christ-based innovation, go here. For reviews of my book, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, go here.

Posted by steve at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Christ-based innovation

A few weeks ago, I provided spiritual wisdom in an Educating for innovation weekend run by KCML. Seven teams from around New Zealand were brought together. They were offered a fabulous location and invited to work on taking ideas to opportunity for their local community context.

We worked with Dr Christine Woods from University of Auckland Business School, who was invited to walk us through the processes she used with small businesses and in Maori innovation. In planning the weekend, she was careful. “In working with Maori, I quickly realised I can’t just add on a bit of Maori to my existing work. I needed to begin with Maori values. So in this weekend, we can’t just add on a bit of Jesus. We need to begin with Christian values.”

I grinned. I had just written a book on faith-based innovation. In Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration I read Paul in light of Christ, using six images from 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. This includes an entire chapter on Jesus the innovator.

So here is how I introduced the weekend, a beginning located in Christ-based innovation:

We gather as whanua (family) of Ihu Karaiti (Jesus Christ). One of the more interesting innovators in the Christian tradition is Apostle Paul. Most (all) of Paul’s innovation begins when he, like us, goes to the edge.

So in Acts 16, Paul goes to the edge. He hears a man from Macedonia say “come on over.” Paul is a learner. Paul takes a risk. Paul forms a mission team with two others, Timothy and Silas.

And they go to a community in Macedonia called Philipi. In that community, he find some partners. He finds a business woman called Lydia. Together they form prayerful community in the borderlands outside the city

Then he moves to a community called Athens. He takes time in that community to learn the culture, to read their poets and study how cultures gather.

And in each place, in each community, Paul and his mission team, are gaining perspective, seeing more clearly, the Gospel in community.

And in each place, it is only once they get there, only once they begin, only once they listen, that they see light for a next direction.

And for one community, after Paul has left, he sends a letter. And in that letter, we get a glimpse of what it means for Paul to be an innovator.

And so this weekend, as innovators, we will open one of Paul’s letters. It is the letter of 1 Corinthians. It is written to a church that Paul has begun. And in that letter he describes his innovation. The first image is that of servant ….

Posted by steve at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

the colour of spirituality in the craft of academic writing

Examen is a spiritual practice. It involves prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence. It tends to involve words, in the form of questions, that seek

In the last few years, I have found myself adapting the practise of examen. Instead of words, I use colour. I call this visual examen in which colour is used in seeking to detect God’s presence. This involves 4 colours
- yellow – where is surprise?
- blue – where is wonder?
- grey – what brings clarity?
- green – what brings growth?
To begin I use colour pencils and scribble the four colours on a blank page. I then reflect on a particular event, looking for surprise, wonder, clarity and growth. (For the story of how these questions developed and how they shape my regular work, see my book Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration).


This week, for the first time, I found myself using visual examen. Not on an event or a day, but on a project, spread over months. I undertook a visual examen of my academic writing. On Monday, I heard I’d had an article accepted for publication. On Wednesday, I submitted another academic article to another journal.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 11.19.29 PM

Two such significant events in the space of a few days got me thinking. Could the presence of the divine be detected in the craft of academic writing? Could a journal article, a project spread over months, be a spiritual exercise?

There was certainly the need for clarity/grey. This came in the careful choice of words. It also came in the need to choose keywords and hone a 150 word abstract out of an 8,000 word text. The seeking of clarity was also evident in the task of footnoting and creating a bibliography.

There was certainly growth/green. This came in the commitment to original research which is at the heart of every journal article. It came in the synthesis of the literature and the creation of an argument that would sustain results, discussion and conclusion. For both articles, on Monday and Wednesday, I ended the writing sensing that I had grown, in my understandings, through the requirement to turn vague thoughts into words, link them into sentences and finally turn out paragraphs on a page.

There was certainly surprise/yellow. This came in the curiousity that creates a research question and begins the process that will eventually result in an article. It comes through the way that research is at times a haphazard, unexpected, dropping down a rabbit hole, a la Alice in Wonderland, into a whole new world. It also comes in the structuring of the argument, the use of topic sentences to create a flow, the use of introduction, anecdote and example to create and maintain interest.

But what of wonder/blue? Pondering this colour took the most work. But in both articles, I eventually located wonder. For the Monday article, it was the grace of finding of insight in the indigenous culture of another. For the Wednesday article, it was the delight in weaving an Orthodox icon with the theological insights of Rowan Williams, The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ.

I have, over the last few years, used visual examen to lead myself. The four colours have shaped my working leadership, allowing me to pursue a daily workplace spirituality. It was a rich exercise this week to use the same four colours to reflect on a project over time and a particular task, that of writing an academic article. The four colours breathed life into what is a demanding and extended process. It suggests that academic writing is so much more than an intellectual exercise. It is also a spiritual pursuit, in which my soul is invited to clarify and create, in the finding of wonder and surprise.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures

I’m back in the public ie accessible to anyone teaching space (as opposed to more in-house-KCML-intern-teaching-spaces) this summer.

Church in Mission Theology in Changing Cultures

From 22-26 January, 2017, Doug Gay of the University of Glasgow, and Steve Taylor of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership will teach an intensive: Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures. The course is jointly offered by the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, and the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

The paper offers a theologically rigorous and culturally informed understanding of re-forming Christian communal identity. It will bring together perspectives of global theology, contemporary cultures and ecclesial study in a critical and constructive dialogue.

The course can be undertaken in two way:
• for credit through the Department of Theology and Religion at University Otago course costs.  For further details on this option contact Paul Trebilco, Department of Theology and Religion or 03 4798 798

• for audit student by contacting the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. This will cost $500, with further Ministers Study Grant subsidies available for PCANZ ministers. For further details on this option : The Registrar, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership;; 03 473 0783

The course can be undertaken in two locations:
• In Dunedin, at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, with Doug and Steve face-to-face and a face-to-face tutor to provide interaction and contextual reflection

• In Auckland, with Doug and Steve streamed in via video and a face-to-face tutor to provide interaction and contextual reflection

Posted by steve at 02:55 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Blader runner 2049: a theological film review

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

Blade runner 2049
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

4 symbols make a man: A, T, G & C.
I am only two: 1 and 0.

It is a brave person who seeks to reboot a cult classic. Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott, was released in 1982. It created an entirely believable future, set in 2019, in which humans create replicants to do the dirty work made necessary on a dying planet. When four replicants escape, a complex set of moral questions are raised regarding how to tell human from machine.

Blade Runner became a cult classic, considered by critics as one of the best science fiction movies of all time. They point to the birth of cyber punk as a new genre, in which present concerns are placed in a technologically advanced and dystopian future. They point to the visual sophistication of a future world on earth, the clever use of light and dark by cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth and the music score by Vangeles (since been sampled more than any other film score of the 20th century).

Adding to Blade Runner’s intrigue was a Directors Cut, released ten years after the original in 1992. It removed explanatory voice-overs and added a dream sequence. The result was a further set of questions regarding human identity and the place of memory and myth in a digital world.

Blade Runner was set in 2019. What was a distant date in 1982 is rapidly becoming a present reality. Hence director Denis Villeneuve attempts in Blade Runner 2049 to throw the future another thirty years forward. Acclaimed for the science fiction of Arrival (Praised in Touchstone December 2016), it is a brave person who seeks to reboot a cult classic.

Blade Runner 2049 makes fine work of meeting a set of impossible expectations. It is a standalone movie, visually stunning, musically complex and intellectually stimulating. It makes numerous references to the original, including the return of key characters like Harrison Ford (Deckard), Sean Young (Rachael) and Edward Olmos (Gaff). Yet at 164 minutes, 43 minutes longer than the original, Blade Runner 2049 deserves a director’s cut, starting with the multiple repeated lingering shots of an expressionless Ryan Gosling.

More specifically, Blade Runner needs a female director’s cut. Both movies present a future world created for and by a male gaze. The original involves Deckard engaging in sexual assault, physically forcing himself on an ambivalent Rachael. Blade Runner 2049 offers extensive female nudity, most evident in the advertising hologram Joi (Ana de Armas).

Dystopia invites us to explore the anxieties of our present world. In a month in which the hash tag #metoo has called attention to harassment, we urgently need to explore a future equally shaped by female concerns for the human body and what makes human identity.

Religious themes are present, albeit opaquely, in both movies. The original provides visual references that do theological work, including the presence of stigmata and the release of a white dove. In 2049, religion is verbal, through a range of obscure First Testament-esque quotes. More important than religion are the theological questions regarding the humanity identity, irrespective of whether the future is 2019 or 2049.

Posted by steve at 08:55 PM | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Earth Cries Out book review

The Earth Cries Out, by Bonnie Etherington, is a brooding meditation on grief and vulnerability. The story is told through the eyes of Ruth. Her family flee from tragedy in New Zealand, only to find yet more grief in a strange new world, that of West Papua. Coming of age is hard enough in places familiar and families secure, let alone in new worlds, across cultures, amid the armed cross currents that fracture modern day West Papua.

A Scripture, Romans 8:22 is used by way of introduction. Faith is a constant thread, closely examined through the lens of human pain. In the innocent eyes of a child the world is always big, held together by parental security and friendships of circumstances. Ruth’s gaze increases the sensitivity by which we contemplate the cries of creation. Theologically, there are no cliches. Only the reminder, that the cry for justice will never be stilled.

The story of West Papua is more complex than individual narratives of expatriate families such as Ruth’s. Etherington skillfully deals with this complexity through the use of individual vignettes – of plane crashes, Japanese invasion, botanical adventurers, mining – scattered through the narrative. Each stand alone, yet each in their uniqueness narrate the rich complexity of this island nation. In the interruptions, they are a poignant pointer toward beauty and history.

The Earth Cries Out is an absorbing read. Skillfully told, each page is an invitation to care and compassion, for all those we know both near and far.

Posted by steve at 08:41 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, November 03, 2017

My year with Helen film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for October 2017. It’s a review that met a deadline, but I sent it wishing I had a bit more time.

My Year with Helen
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

In this, a year of election, Aunty Helen is back. In our cinemas, on social media and active at Labour party events. On the movie screen she is the star of My Year with Helen, leading the United Nations Development Programme while also seeking election as the next Secretary General of United Nations.

The movie explains her current real life, 2017 election presence. In one cinema scene, Clark demonstrates to the camera her social media skills as she cross-posts photos between Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The movie “conveys how tough it is to break the remaining glass ceilings. May it motivate future generations of women to keep at it!” No wonder Aunty Helen is back, tweeting her support for a potential female Prime Minister in Jacinda Ardern.

My Year with Helen is documentary. Behind the camera is Gaylene Preston and her singular passion for telling New Zealand stories. For Preston, “the basic responsibility of New Zealand filmmakers is to make films principally for the New Zealand audience. If we don’t, no-one else will.” For over thirty years, Preston has told our stories, from Kiwis touched by war in Timor (Punitive Damage (1999)) to the impact of Parikaha (Tatarakihi (2012)). Recognised as Officer of the NZ Order of Merit for her services to the film industry, Preston’s skills are clearly evident in My Year with Helen.

All movies have stars and at times, Helen seems more actor than real life Kiwi. The final interview, as Gaylene questions Clark about her election loss is a masterful en-act-ing of reticence. Clark’s reluctance to reveal more than necessary suggests a movie more aptly titled My Year with a Guarded Helen.

Guarded Helen is however warmed by relationships. We see her in Waihi preparing meals for her ninety-five year old father. We see her husband Peter, patiently waiting after an Auckland speech. While each of these scenes humanise Clark, they also reveal her doing more than her being. We glimpse what Helen gives more than what Helen receives from these significant domestic relationships.

The movie is devoid of religion. Such an absence is consistent with Clark in real life. Raised Presbyterian, as Prime Minister she described herself as agnostic. Yet the UN is not New Zealand. As a global organisation, the UN works for 193 countries. Many in these countries are deeply religious. One wonders how these religious needs impact on the development work of the UN, especially given recent research has urged development studies to take seriously the role of religion in development.

Despite being devoid of religion, the movie does offer a commentary on the difficult task of justice making. Breaking the glass ceiling is an expression of the equal worth of all humans a way of making sense of Galatians 3:28. This provides a theological lens by which to understand My Year with Helen. The agnostic Clark, movie star, tweeter and politician is playing her activist part in re-making the world, seeking to make an equal place for generations of future women.

Posted by steve at 04:05 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 02, 2017

academic research as speaking peace a la Luke 10

On Tuesday I presented on “religious piety and pigs’ brains”: the faith of zombies. My task was to analyse a communion scene in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, in which zombies take communion.

I began with the work of Dutch cultural theorist, Mieke Bal in Anti-Covenant: Counter-Reading Women’s Lives in the Hebrew Bible and her insights into the place of religion, particularly Christian religion, in Western culture. I then offered some zombie-gesis and explored Matthew 27:52-3, which I read in light of Ezekiel 37:12-13 and the sense of God’s justice for the righteous. I then moved to Luke 16:19-31 and considered the seeking of justice in that parable. Next I provided an introduction to theologies of communion. First, I mapped Anglican and Methodist sacramental theologies, before examining the role of Exodus narratives in liberation.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 9.40.01 AM

On Wednesday I woke up thinking about Luke 10:1-12. The importance of going, the need to go in postures that offer peace, the task of being a receiver of hospitality, of being seated at the table of another, the value of conversation in which signs of the Kingdom might emerge.

Was my academic research on Tuesday a Luke 10 table? Was I, in the act of doing research, living Luke 10:1-12? Was I speaking peace, both to the initial wierdness of reseaching zombies and to an invitation from a University Humanities department? I certainly received hospitality in the invite to speak and in the financial provision. The result was certainly a conversation deeply salted by Kingdom themes around Scripture and sacraments, all in the light of justice for those oppressed.

Luke 10:1-12 is usually applied to neighbourhoods. Can it also apply to networks like academic research, around zombie-gesis?

Posted by steve at 03:48 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

“religious piety and pigs’ brains”:  the faith of zombies

I spoke yesterday at FiRTH (Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities). I was part of a symposium on Jane Austen and found myself exploring post-colonial readings of Christian sacraments.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 4.20.19 PM

My paper was titled “religious piety and pigs’ brains”: the faith of zombies and was an investigation of a communion scene in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, in which zombies take communion. It might be parody (the Catholic News Service thinks so: “ghoulish, quasi-sacriligious parody … moviegoers would do better to stay at home and brush up on their Austen”). But I also examined it using a post-colonial lens, in which “the zombie tells the story of colonization: the reduction of human into thing for the ends of capital.” (Jon Stratton, “Zombie trouble: Zombie texts, bare life and displaced people.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 14 (3), 271). I also found myself reading that strange parable in 16:19-31, about the role of Lazarus in relation to justice.

Here is an excerpt:

Lazarus is also mentioned in Luke 16:19-31. The parable begins in the world of the living, with a rich man and a beggar. Both die. The beggar moves into what seems to be an in-between space. It is a world of the dead, alongside Abraham and close to a rich man in Hades.

In Luke 16, in this is in-between world, the beggar is an active agent. The request is made that he become an intermediary, seemingly with power to speak and move. First, an intermediary in the world of the dead: “send Lazarus to dip the tongue of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I (the rich man in Hades) am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:24).

Second, an intermediary in the world of the living: “send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let [Lazarus] warn them, so that they will NOT also come to this place of torment.” (Luke 16:27-8).

So in this in-between world, there are active agents, an eschatological concern for justice, with consequences in this world and future.

I’m still playing with how all the threads tie together, but this was my resting place yesterday.

I have been undisciplined by offering some inter-textual readings of a communion scene in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. This has included conversations with Biblical material, particularly between the Church of St Lazarus, the dimensions of (Un)Sacramental theology and the post-colonial readings. This invites the Christian church to consider sacramental practice. Is it a piety that freezes change? Or is it a converting ordinance in which liberation is anticipated? It also invites us to affirm the subversive potential of popular culture, even shock horror!, in the undisciplined use of zombies to mess with the privileged world that is the world of Jane Austen, both in social history and in literary scholarship.

It was good to be back in Adelaide, and I was very grateful for the hospitality both financial and relational, extended to me by FiRTH and their commitment to foster collaborative and cross-disciplinary projects across a wide range of fields in the Humanities and Creative Arts.

Posted by steve at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

work and play

I’m heading off for 6 days of work and play in 4 different cities.

Today, I fly to Hamilton. On Sunday, I am connecting with one of our churches that host an intern placement, thanking them for the partnership.

On Monday, I am speaking at REFORMATION 500 NZ: a multi-disciplinary conference on the Reformation and its impact, to mark the 500th anniversary of the symbolic beginning of the Reformation on 31 October 1517. I am doing a hour long presentation, titled Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand. I am using Maori story and Maori understandings of taonga tuku iho (treasures handed down) to reflect on sola Scriptura. Some of it is based on research over this year. Some of it is hot off the press, using the insights of Jonathan Mane-Wheoki in the amazing The Lives of Colonial Objects.

Then, I bus to Auckland, staying with friends, before flying to Adelaide. At this point I shift from work to play. I am part of “Undisciplined Austen” a 2017 interdisciplinary research project run by Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities. This involves making a presentation on the role of religion in contemporary popular culture portrayals of Jane Austen. (I described here how this has come about). This type of research is at the margins of my Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership role. Hence the “play” as I will be on leave.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 4.20.19 PM However, I’ve still got a bit of work to do on this presentation, so the flight will likely be work, in a playful way.

I pause for a day of recovery in Adelaide on Wednesday November 1, before flying to Christchurch to spend time with my mum. There is a garden that needs a tidy!

Back in Dunedin on Friday; after working and playing through 4 cities in 6 days.

Posted by steve at 10:30 AM

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand

(My abstract for REFORMATION 500 NZ: a multi-disciplinary conference on the Reformation and its impact will be held in Hamilton, New Zealand, to mark the 500th anniversary of the symbolic beginning of the Reformation on 31 October 1517.

Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand

Essential to the Reformation was the claim of sola Scriptura that destablised received patterns of church tradition. Yet contemporary reader response theory shifts the focus of Scripture from text to reader, from tradition to context. How might indigenous strategies of Scripture reading in Aotearoa New Zealand help us rethink the Reformation? Two examples are provocative.

One is the speech of Wiremu Tamihana recorded in the Great Britain Parliamentary Papers. In response to the ultimatum presented by the Crown to Waikato Maori in 1861, Tamihana drew on Deuteronomy 17:15 and Ephesians 2:13. The result was a contextual theology of church and state which reconceived Maori political initiatives, preserved difference and offered a Christology framed by justice.

A second is Te Whiti O Rongomai’s use of the Bible at Parihaka in the 1880’s. His use of the Samson narrative in Judges 15:4-5, as outlined in Nita McMaster’s research, shows a remarkable sensitivity to the narrative development of the book of Judges. Te Whiti invoked the implements of the oppressor, both their sacred text and their plough. This was a radical reading, an indigenous strategy that pre-dated by some hundred years Western interpreters (including Robert Boling and Roger Ryan) who argue that Judges 15 offered a guerilla strategy of non-violent resistant.

The Reformation impulse that prioritised vernacular translations of Scripture is evident in the historical commitment to Bible translation in New Zealand. What is intriguing is how this privileging of text results in indigenous readings that challenge the patterns of tradition being imposed by colonisers. Such is the power of sola Scriptura when people read for themselves in their own language.

Hence the examining of sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand is instructive in rethinking the reformation. Sola Scriptura is a key resource in resisting imperialism and complexifying understandings of cross-cultural transmission.

Posted by steve at 11:42 AM

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thresholds: liminal learnings for theological education

I’ve been asked to contribute to a 2018 book on the future of theological education in Aotearoa New Zealand. The theoretical lens is thresholds, which got me thinking about the ways that previous thresholds might resource future journeys. Here is the abstract I submitted for the research project yesterday.


Thresholds: liminal learnings for theological education from the history of becoming Presbyterian in Aoteoroa New Zealand

Steve Taylor

Our history, according to Paul Ricoeur, tells us how we might become. For Presbyterians in Aotearoa New Zealand, theological education has taken historical shape over 140 years ago, first in the Theological Hall, more recently through the School of Ministry and Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

Four thresholds have been significant, including relationships with indigenous people, responses to migration, the impact of secularism and student activism in seeking a nuclear free New Zealand. In this history is embodied knowledge, as a range of thresholds have been negotiated. In each is the opportunity to examine theological education by probing the socio-location of church and college, paying particular attention to the learnings from encountering an-other.

A threshold suggests someone, or something, is on the other side. How has the voice of the other been heard in the history of Presbyterian theological education? The church as institution has power in the form of church discipline, standards for ordination and resources of time and finance. How has theological education positioned itself, both in relation to power and in self-understanding as it encountered the liminal space between stakeholders and marginal voices?

An examination of the history of Presbyterian theological education, using published history, archival research and (potentially) participant interviews will clarify liminal learnings that can address the who, how and what of what theological education might become in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Posted by steve at 09:55 AM

Monday, October 02, 2017

Tide turn

I found myself on Maori Beach, Stewart Island last week as the tide turned. I watched as the sea pushed the river backwards. I reflected on the power of water. It became a prayer, for mainline denominations in decline; and all those who serve in them.

tide turn Stewart Island from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 10:11 PM

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Revelation’s Dawn Chorus: Zadok column

I have been asked to be a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Having read my film reviews for Touchstone, they requested a 860 word column every 3 months. I see is as an opportunity to write a lay focused piece of theology. They are happy for me to blog the columns I write, which makes them accessible not only on paper in Australia but digitally for everywhere. Here is my second article, for the Spring 2017 edition:

Revelation’s Dawn Chorus
By Steve Taylor

The huia is a bird, native to New Zealand, with long black feathers and a white-tipped tail. Thousands of huia were exported overseas after becoming fashionable in Britain following a presentation of tail feathers to the Duke of York when he visited New Zealand in 1901. Within six years, the huia had disappeared. Since then, New Zealand’s dawn chorus has lacked the huia’s smooth distinctive whistle.

We as humans take a strange attitude towards those with whom we share this fragile earth. We are born into gift, yet we grow with a seemingly inbuilt desire to possess rather than share. The legacy of social Darwinism is competitive acquisition in which the strongest survive. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson tells repeated stories of this human desire to possess. The Bachman’s warbler had vanished from the southern United States by 1930. Then, in 1939, two separate birding enthusiasts, in two different locations, came across lone survivors within the space of two days. Both birds were shot. ‘I and me’ trumps ‘we and us’.

I think of the huia and Bachman’s warbler when I hear Revelation 7:9-10 read aloud in church: the news of every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, declaring God’s salvation. This dream of the new heaven and new earth makes me wonder about tongues and nations that no longer speak. Could they also be redeemed? Could resurrection and redemption be so complete that what we know as extinct will be resurrected to sing in praise of Christ?
The Hebrew language was once like this. After exile, by 400 CE, the language of King David was lost from everyday spoken use. Yet in the 19th century, through adapted new tools and modern words, Hebrew was reborn. It is a tongue, once extinct, that will now be part of Revelation’s Dawn Chorus.

Let me push my redemptive wondering one step further. What if the Revelation dream of every tongue singing in praise also included bird song? What if God’s salvation included the huia’s whistle and the Bachman’s warble?

Sometimes I dismiss my Revelation wonderings as romantic nonsense. We live in a world of science and reason. What is dead is dead. Jurassic Park is simply childhood make-believe.

Yet in the New Testament I keep hearing hints. In Luke 19:40, Jesus reminds all those listening that, if humans fall silent, then stones will sing. If dead rocks can praise their Creator, why not birdsong?

In Colossians 1:19-20 we find (in The Message translation) that Jesus is so spacious and roomy that everything of God finds a proper place. This includes all the ‘broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms’. All of creation gets properly fixed together in vibrant harmonies. It is a wonderful picture of creation redeemed and restored. Perhaps the harmonies are poetic rather than literal. And yet I wonder. Might not animals and atoms, huia and Bachman’s, find voice in Revelation’s Dawn Chorus?

In a world of science, flattened by reason, I need to keep hitting refresh on my theological vision and Revelation dreams. For me, one essential resource is Rowan Williams’ The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ (2003). Williams, one of our finest contemporary living theologians, ponders the icons of the church. The icons of the church are theology. They were ‘written’ and are to be ‘read’ as carefully as any theology textbook.

Every Easter, in order to keep my theological song lines in harmony, I retrace a resurrection vision. In the classical Orthodox Resurrection icon, the Risen Christ stands on a narrow bridge of rock spanning a dark pit. Christ is grasping Adam with one hand and Eve with the other. He is restoring relationships – between men and women, between humanity and creation, between the mind’s knowledge and the body’s experience.

Williams also notes the presence in this icon of characters from the Jewish Scriptures, including David, Abraham, Moses. The resurrection becomes the moment in which a new human community is born. Williams then draws on Maximus the Confessor and his explanation of Christ as overcoming all the great separations that humans suffer. This is God as spacious and roomy, all of creation found together in vibrant harmonies.

Reading Williams, I look more carefully at that classical Orthodox Resurrection icon. Surely all this talk of creation will include animals and atoms. Can huia and Bachman’s be etched into these Resurrection writings? What birds did join the Dawn Chorus on Resurrection Day?

Talk of social Darwinism stands in stark contrast to Revelation’s Dawn Chorus: dreaming of an earth of caring humans committed to redemption of all that is weak and frail, marginal and close to extinction. We need to keep drawing those theological song lines between Christ in death, Christ in resurrection and Christ in final return. If the stones sing praise as Jesus walks toward death and atoms harmonise in resurrection, then why not at the Great Dawn Chorus foretold in Revelation?

My first Zadok article, on sacred welfare, on the interplay between community engagement and congregational mission, for the Winter 2017 edition is here.

Posted by steve at 11:10 AM