Thursday, February 14, 2019

Children of the waters journal article

Children of the waters: whirlpools, waiora, baptism and missio Dei

Keywords: Missio Dei, baptism, indigenous, Māori, early Christian art, environment

Abstract: From space, the Pacific glitters in ocean blue. What might the world’s largest ocean contribute to missio Dei? A spiral methodology is used to trace connections between the baptism of Jesus, early Christian art, recent legal (Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal) research and indigenous knowing, including ocean voyaging, ancestor understandings of whirlpools, Māori water rites and oral history of river beings (taniwha).

The argument is that indigenous Oceanic (Māori) understandings of water, in conversation with baptismal narratives, present missio Dei as an immersion in God. Mission is located not in the activity of the church – and hence mission expansion as part of European colonisation – but in the being and becoming of God. Creation and redemption are interconnected and an environmental ethic is expected. Children of the waters (ngā tamariki o te Moana nui a Kiwa) listen to creation’s voice (taniwha speaking) and act for the life (waiora) of water.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Decolonising the (theological) curriculum through place- based pedagogies

IMG_7087

After teaching Theological Reflection on Saturday – on place-based methodologies – I spent some time reflecting on the experience. It was shaping up to be a hot afternoon, so in the morning I worked up a new activity, inviting the class to walk the local botanical gardens in order to break up a 3.5 hour lecture slot. It began out of compassion, but as I reflected, there were some interesting learnings happening. A potential reflective-practice journal article abstract began to take shape

Decolonising the (theological) curriculum through place- based pedagogies

A Theology of Place from :redux on Vimeo.

How to teach place-based theologies to those who might feel shallow-rooted? My practice-based research sought to investigate place-based teaching in the context of theological education among those being formed for the vocation of ordained ministry. I sought to decolonise the curriculum, introducing indigenous theologians, who document the way that identity is formed through  generations of relationships connected to place.  Richard Twist (Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way) emphasises the need to do theology in relation to a primal sense of connection to birth place, Denise Champion (Yarta Wandatha) examines the interplay between land and people, while Maori approaches to pepeha develop identity in relation to landmarks like mountains and river. 

The challenge was that the cohort was not indigenous. As migrants, or descendants of migrants, experiences of a sense of relationship to place can be limited.  In addition, the class was experiencing dislocation, gathered from various national locations into a context not familiar to participants.

The space between indigenous knowing and migrant experience was presented as an opportunity. The writing of Alifeti Ngahe (Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight) was instructive, providing vocational examples of how he migrated into new communities and developed place-based theologies.  Students were invited to locate themselves as “other” and in that epistemic rupture (Rosemary Dewerse, Breaking Calabashes) find a posture of investigative curiosity.  The class was sent in groups to examine statues in a local Botanical Park. They were provided with a short history of various monuments and instructed to see if they could do what Alifeti had done, make theological connections with place. 

Each group reported a range of insights. Work was then done as a cohort to shape the insights into prayers of approach for use in the context of vocational ministry. The liturgical movements of thanksgiving, confession and lament provide room to examine a range of important movements in the journey of decolonisation. This enriched the place-based reflection and provided vocational application.  

The argument is that practice-based pedagogies inform the practise of place-based ministries. Outdoor experiences, paying attention to local monuments, naming epistemic rupture and listening to indigenous theologians provide important resources in place-based teaching.    

Posted by steve at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 03, 2019

theological reflection as integrating the journey’s of life

An introduction to theological reflection. A 3 hour class to begin a learning community, orientate interns and introduce assessment. In preparing the class, I had 7 different definitions of theological reflection. I decided to lie these down the hallway leading into the lecture space.

walkingin1

This meant that we began the class not in the room, but in the hallway. I introduced myself and noted that we would all be bringing our stories, our life experiences, our learning to date, into the class. The task of theological reflection was to work with our lived reality. As interns, we were preparing for ministry and that meant that all those we ministered to would also be bringing their stories, their life experiences, their learning to date, into our churches.

walkingin2

I invited the interns to walk slowly down the hallway, to take their time and engage each definition. In a few minutes, we would choose the one we liked the most and the one we disliked the most. This generated good discussion. People signed their names to various definitions, owning their understandings of theological reflection that they brought into the room.

But the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is a diverse church culturally. It has a covenant relationship with the Maori Synod, Te Aka Puaho. So out of respect for that relationship, I showed a 4 minute video clip, an introduction to the tukutuku panels that adorn the front of Whakatane Maori Presbyterian Church. We glimpsed a very different approach to theological reflection, one expressed through art, that worked with tradition and culture in new and different ways.

And so I invited the class to return to where we began. To walk back out of the classroom and into the hallway. To slowly walk back in, past each of the definitions of theological reflection. And to ask themselves

which definition of theological reflection best sums up this example of indigenous theological reflection?

The students returned with very different definitions. One definition that initially was disliked the most was suddenly liked the most. A definition that made no sense suddenly was clear. It was an illuminating moment as we realised afresh that what we bring – culturally – shapes our theological reflection

An excellent beginning to theological reflection.

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM | Comments (2)

Friday, January 25, 2019

the burning bush and cultural transmission

Today I spoke at the Otago Museum, giving a conference paper (abstract here) at the Held in Trust: Curiosity of Things symposium. My “thing” was the burning bush (an image central to Presbyterian church identity) as it has been crafted and crossed cultures from Hemispheres to Aotearoa New Zealand.

IMG_7018 My talk drew on some different pieces of my thinking/talking/researching over the last few years

  • block course intern teaching on the Bible in Presbyterian identity (in June 2017)
  • introducing New Zealand Presbyterians to Scottish Presbyterians (in June 2018)
  • keynote at Connect18 on burning bush as basis for a Presbyterian theology of mission (in July 2018)
  • guest speaker at Knox Church AGM (in October 2018)

It was rewarding to take previous work already presented in a range of contexts and find ways to weave it together and offer it in an academic context. It was great to take the rich resources of the Presbyterian Research Centre into a museum setting and to have their support (shout out) during my presentation.

In developing the paper and thinking about the transmission of identity as belief across cultures, a key conversation partner was Webb Keane, Christian Moderns (The Anthropology of Christianity). Here is my final section:

Anthropologist Webb Keane studied transmission of Christianity in Indonesia – over 100 years from Dutch colonisation to post-independence. As part of his research, he did an object study of a Sumbanese house as a paradigm of cultural ordering. He argued that when text is detached from objects, new aspects of the object come to the fore. The result can be “different representational economies” and different modes of objectifying” (Christian Moderns, 269).

Which seems to be is what is happening with the burning bush. The Presbyterians brought words: many words in the Books of order and Westminister Confessions. They also brought a symbol. An object – a thing – which could be re-presented; as craft and taken across cultures in the complexity of communication. As text and object are detached, new aspects come to the fore and multiple “representational economies” come to play.

This highlights the essential role of local agency in global exchange. In the glowing vine of Te Aka Puaho and the stained glass windows of St Johns Papatoetoe, a Scottish symbol has been re-framed. It is being interpreted through different Biblical narratives – Christological for Te Aka Puaho, creation-centred Moana voyages at St Johns Papatoetoe. Burning bushes can be frangipani: Sinai wilderness can be oceans in which “I am is revealed.”

Local agency opens the doors for objects to be become subverting symbols. Imaginations can be re-narrated and fresh currents in theological production become possible.”

Thanks to the conference organisers for having me, to the Presbyterian Archives and staff for being so helpful and to Otago Museum and University of Otago Centre for Colonial Research for being such generous hosts.

Posted by steve at 12:15 PM

Thursday, January 17, 2019

a learning community devotion as the year begins

One of the Gospel readings for this week is Mark 1:14-20 and includes the story of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to a learning community, sharing a journey of growing together.

Since this is a text about the beginning of something, it invites us (as KCML Faculty) as we begin the year, to consider our experiences of being called, those moments in life when we sensed that God was looking at us, communicating with us, inviting us.

As we hear the text read aloud, I invite you to reflect on those moments.

  • where (geographically) where you “found”? (In the text, it is by the Sea of Galillee (1:16). Where was it for you?)
  • what was your “work”? (In the text, it was fishing (1:16) and net mending (1:19). What where you doing when you were called?)
  • what were your “fathers and hired hands” thinking? (In the text, they left their father Zebedee and the hired men (1:20). It might be an imaginative exercise, but who was watching you? What were they thinking as you set out to follow your call?)

(Let’s share these together as a team).

These three questions are carefully chosen. They are designed to locate us. First in place, in specific geographic locations. Second in our stories, the specific skills and abilities that we were honing. Third, they are social questions. They locate us in families and in cultures. They invite us to consider our genealogy, the role of ancestors (“they left father Zebedee” 1:20).

I offer this reading and these three questions for a number of reasons.

First, as the year begins, motivation can be hard. If you are like me, you might rather be on holiday, enjoying a beach, a second cup of tea at a slower pace in order to choose whether to look forward to the pleasure of a day with a book in the shade or walk the bush or book that catchup with friends. This text re-calls me, reminds me of the grace and challenge of call.

Second, to remind ourselves of who we are as a team. When we were first called geographically none of us probably imagined that we would be here at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, serving in this way. We bring this past, our specific geographic locations, our past skills and abilities and competencies, our families and cultures. They make us who we are and we work alongside each other as humans, with these shaping experiences. We work with each other, each of us having experienced grace and challenge.

Third, we as KCML are about to welcome a new cohort of interns. Each of them will have a specific past, have been formed by specific geographies, bring prior skills and abilities and competencies, be located in families and cultures. Each of them has experienced, like us, grace of call. Each of them, like us, has said yes to the cost of discipleship. This is our privilege, as Faculty, to be working with these courageous and graced individuals.

As we begin the year, as we consider our blockcourse and the work before us, let’s pray.

Posted by steve at 08:59 AM

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Craftivism in (Transitional) Cathedral Extra

In September last year, I was asked to speak at the Transitional (Anglican) Cathedral in Christchurch. It was a 30 minute talk as part of Prophets in the Cathedral, a combined event run by the Diocesan Education Office and the Cathedral. I was delighted to be asked and I really enjoyed putting something new together. I wanted to look a fresh expressions of mission and in ways that a Cathedral congregation might find new possibilities and in ways consistent with their Anglican understandings of mission.

To my delight, the Dean was so enthusiastic about what I said that he that he emailed afterward asking if a summary of my talk could be used in the Cathedral Extra, the quarterly magazine, which goes to supporters all over Christchurch. It was quite an integrating (weaving) experience for me to knit (pun intended) reading and ideas together from various places in the last 5 years.

What I wrote appeared late in November. I got the back page and all!

craftivism

 

Craft-ivism is as simple as the joining of two words: Craft + activism. It is a form of activism, centred on domestic craft (Greer, Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch, 2008). It tends to utilise needlework, including yarn-bombing and cross-stitch and value collective empowerment and creative expression. It has been linked with elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism and solidarity.

For those who like practical examples, it is the knitting of Christmas angels. In the UK, in 2014, some 2870 Christmas angels were knitted and left in public places, with a message of Christian love. By 2016, this had risen to 45,930 (http://www.christmasangel.net). Domestic craft had become a way of spreading good news in public places.

In 2008 four women in a small Methodist Church in the middle of a housing estate near Liverpool, met to knit prayer shawls for the bereaved and those in hospital. Then they moved to blankets for the local women’s refuge, followed by hats for shoebox appeals overseas. Everything they knitted, they would lay hands and pray for those who would receive the finished items. Three years later, by 2011, that initial group of four women had grown to sixty, meeting weekly to knit and pray, many with no previous church connection. Many of these women were calling Knit Natter their church. The story of Knit and Natter is a fresh expression is analysed by Christine Dutton in Ecclesial Practices 1(1), 31 – 50).

These are contemporary stories. Yet craft-ivism is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. In Acts 9, Dorcas crafts clothes for widows, an activity that mirrors the diaconal activity of Acts 6. Her craft-ivism builds a community of widow’s who have found a strong, clear and articulate voice, able to show a visiting Peter what the Gospel looks like in their community.

The Anglican church has five faces of mission and there are elements of all five faces in the work of Dorcas:

  • in nurture and teaching of people – and nurture is what Tabitha is offering to the widows; while teaching is there in the sharing of craft across generations
  • in loving service – and the robes and clothes offered to widows are a wonderful example of practical ministry
  • in proclaiming the gospel – demonstrating Christian community to Peter
  • in transforming society – given that in New Testament times, widows were poor and lacked protection, yet finding in Tabitha an advocate
  • in caring for creation – seen in the role of upcycling as garments are fashioned and re-fashioned

This example from the New Testament suggests that craft-ivism is rooted in Christian history.

Turning, to the Old Testament, God is a craft-ivist in Proverbs 22:2; “the Lord is the maker.” Drawing on the Old Testament wisdom literature, theologians like Paul Fiddes (Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context)and David Kelsey (Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set)), argue that to be fully human involves being like God

  • practicing delight (crafting)
  • practicing wonder (making)
  • practicing perseverance (a discipline known to all crafters and makers)

Craft-ivism is thus a human participation with God the maker.  What is significant about Proverbs 22 is that God’s craft-ivism is then located in the context of justice and mutuality.  We see this in verse 9 – “Those who are generous are blessed; for they share their bread with the poor.” Hence Proverbs 22 provides a way to think Christianly about prophetic craft-ivism.

Posted by steve at 09:49 PM

Monday, January 14, 2019

maggi dawn in New Zealand

Arts and Cultures in Christian Ministry and Mission

Maggi Dawn – songwriter, theologian, worship curator – is in New Zealand to teach a 4 day intensive Tuesday, January 29 to Friday, February 1, 2019. Arts and Cultures in Christian Ministry and Mission looks amazing and I’d be their if I wasn’t teaching a KCML pre-intensive.  Maggi brings an wonderful set of skills.

  • gifted writer – 5 books including Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women, Bishops and the Church of England (2013), The Accidental Pilgrim: Modern Journeys on Ancient Pathways (2011), The Writing on the Wall: High Art, Popular Culture and the Bible (2010), Giving it Up: Daily Bible Readings from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day (2009), and Beginnings and Endings (and What Happens in Between): Daily Bible Readings from Advent to Epiphany (2007)
  • leads chapel daily at Yale University, as Dean of Marquand Chapel, working with students to provide daily worship to those from many denominations and different worship and faith experiences
  • a first career as a writer and performer in the music business. For example, I will wait (1993) (see here for a recording). Or Come Lord Jesus Come (here).

maggilarge

To help with grounding in Aotearoa and provide hospitality, Malcolm Gordon – Worship, Music and Arts Enabler for KCML will be present, offering input in the workshopping and design of events both gathered and public. Malcolm is a gifted singer and song writer, who has established the Illustrated Gospel Project and it could be that some of the art and creativity from the gospel of Luke is part of the intensive in an experiential way.

Input includes

  • Theology and the arts, language and literature
  • The naming of God in a post-blogging word
  • The arts in mission and ministry as gathered church experience
  • The arts and theology in public spaces, as worship meets missiology
  • The workshop and design of events both gathered and public

I’m particularly interested in the worship meets missiology in the design of arts and theology for public space.

The course is jointly offered by the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, and the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. It will be located at St John’s College, 202 St John’s Road, Meadowbank, Auckland, from 9-5 pm daily.

The intensive can be done for credit (as PAST 322 or MINS 414 through University of Otago, contact paul.trebilco@otago.ac.nz ) or audit (through Knox Centre for the Ministry and Leadership contact registrar@knoxcentre.ac.nz). It’s an exceptional opportunity, especially for those from mainline church settings, to reflect on creativity that is deeply theologically and humanly engaging.

(More information here) 2019 Intensive maggi dawn

Posted by steve at 01:58 PM

Sunday, January 13, 2019

writing in (church) season

Yesterday I emailed off a journal article to an international journal. It felt good – 10,000 words is an excellent achievement. It is a co-authored piece with an indigenous colleague. The work began a year ago, with an initial abstract (here). Over 2018, we have read together, talked, looked at some early Christian baptismal art, written some drafts and found ourselves agreeing on a shared outline.

However the way 2018 worked and with the usual end of year deadlines, the bulk of the writing needed to be done during last week, starting Monday 7th in order to meet a Friday 11th deadline. What was unexpected was the impact of the church season.

Sunday 6th was Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the Magi. As I blogged last week,

“So the Magi are best understood through the wisdom of indigenous journeys. The Magi are like the ancient navigators who guided canoes across the Pacific. They are drawing on ancient wisdom, shared from generation to generation, the lore of ocean currents, star patterns, migration of birds. This is a wholistic way of knowing, attending as fully present to earth and creation.”

So there was something profound about working through the week with indigenous insights regarding water, placing insights from Waves of Knowing: A Seascape Epistemology alongside the poetry of Robert Sullivan in Star Waka: Poems by Robert Sullivan and the oral history of the voyages of the Te Arawa canoe – all while gazing in the wonder at the Magi story of those who had the courage in ancient times to travel by stars.

Sunday 13th was the baptism of Jesus. The article we were writing was using a spiral methodology to trace connections between the baptism of Jesus, early Christian baptismal art, recent legal (Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal) research and indigenous knowing. So the daily lectionary readings through the week, the way that John the Baptist pre-figures Jesus, gave fresh insight and encouragement.

When I began the project, I had no idea I would be writing so in sync with the church season. It was simply the need to juggle holidays and meet a deadline. Not (really) wanting to return to work (and to writing) from holiday, the insights from the Magi story provided encouragement and motivation as the week began. As the deadline loomed, as colleagues gave rigourous feedback on drafts, the movement in the church season from Magi to baptism provided constant encouragement. What I was doing wasn’t abstract academia but was central to the story of the church.

Such are the gifts of writing in (church) season. This week at least!

Posted by steve at 06:38 PM

Sunday, January 06, 2019

star gazing at Epiphany: an indigenous way of knowing

“we observed his star” (Matthew 2:2) And so for the Magi of Matthew’s gospel, following the stars is a way of navigating toward faith. Star gazing, star navigating, star following is an indigenous way of knowing.

Star hangs on ears of night, defining light …
The bottom line

is to know where to go – star points …
So guidance systems attached.”

writes Robert Sullivan in his poem, He karakia timatanga, (Star Waka: Poems by Robert Sullivan, Auckland University Press, page 3)

So the Magi are best understood through the wisdom of indigenous journeys. The Magi are like the ancient navigators who guided canoes across the Pacific. They are drawing on ancient wisdom, shared from generation to generation, the lore of ocean currents, star patterns, migration of birds. This is a wholistic way of knowing, attending as fully present to earth and creation.

Posted by steve at 04:49 PM

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Stretch marks on an ecclesial body: Gender and emerging expressions of faith in women and girls abstract

On the last night before going on holiday, with a mountain of work to do, why not write an abstract for a potential conference – The Faith lives of Women and Girls, Birmingham, 26-7 March, 2019. But it is, after all, Advent – a time of stretch marks when faith is being carried by the faith lives of Mary and Elizabeth.

alicia-petresc-1144261-unsplash Photo by Alicia Petresc on Unsplash

Stretch marks on an ecclesial body: Gender and emerging expressions of faith in women and girls

While birth is a significant issue for all humans, the impact of gender on faith development is under-researched. This paper examines the interplay between birth and faith development, paying attention through longitudinal research to stretch marks on the ecclesial body of an emerging church community in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Empirical data – gathered from surveys, focus groups and participant observation – showed increased rates of belonging and a sense of growth among women over time. In contrast rates of belonging and a sense of growth declined among men over time. What factors were shaping the faith lives of woman and girls in this ecclesial community?

Attention is paid in the first instance to artistic production, initially in a contemporary Stations of the Cross art exhibition, but increasingly over time through Advent in Art creative practices. Analysis of visual and verbal texts suggests a shift in faith, from deconstructed in death, to stretched through natality. For Grace Jantzen (Redeeming the Present), natality is essential to theology as it invites new beginnings characterized by embodiment, relationality, hopefulness and engenderment. All of these were more visible in Advent in Art than in contemporary Stations of the Cross.

At Easter, death and life are located in a linear and discontinuous relationship, while in Advent, life emerges amid the fear of death. At Easter, faith was resourced synchronously, with an art exhibition which gathered people at set times. At Advent, faith was resourced asynchronously, through postcards designed to be used as a daily resource in the midst of life.

The argument is that gender has an essential role in faith formation, particularly in relation to giving birth and human experience as a constructive resource. Natality becomes an important factor in theorising faith development, something that women can inhabit, yet men can only watch.

Posted by steve at 08:36 PM

Monday, December 10, 2018

Film review: Yellow is forbidden

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 135 plus films later, here is the review for December 2018.

Yellow is forbidden
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Documentary is a unique genre. There is no script writer, paid actors or shooting of multiple scenes. Instead there is the promise of true to life insights. But exclusivity comes with a price. The veil onto an authentic self is being lifted, but the gaze of camera and interviewer should be adoring. An overly prying eye or a critical interview could well result in the end of access, a film canned rather than in the can.

“Yellow is forbidden” is documentary. Kiwi director Pietra Brett-kelly follows Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei off the catwalk and into the dressing rooms and digital design studios of the global fashion industry. Several stories are cleverly embroidered together. First the career of China’s most famous designer, including a closeup of the “Magnificent Gold” dress, stunningly worn by Rihanna on the Met Gala red carpet. Made from gold, taking two years to make and weighing 25 kilograms with a five metre hand embroidered train, it placed Guo Pei on the global fashion map. Second, the complexity of a Chinese designer organising a fashion show in Paris, an outsider crossing boundaries of culture and taste. Finally, Guo Pei’s personal life including the backstitched story of her childhood, in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, in which golds are the colour of the court and Guo Pei is forbidden to dress in yellow.

Yellow as colour is thus a central metaphor. The movie begins in darkness. A voice calls for a iphone to be turned on and the materials of a dress absorb the stark glare of spotlight. With the iphone then turned off the dress then shimmers with a ghostly radiance. It is a stunning visual reminder of the beauty of fashion and the way technology can be twinned with imagination. As a beginning, it has echoes of John 1. A light shines in the darkness, in order that all of humanity might absorb, then in shimmer in response to Divine Light in Christ.

Historically, religion has lived in an uneasy relationship with fashion. Pietism celebrates the unadorned and naturally human. Yet a rich set of images emerge if humans can shimmer with beauty in response to technology and imagination.

In Christian Scripture, God is a fashion designer. In Job 10:11-2, God is a dressmaker. In Ezekiel 16:9-1, God is a maker of designer clothes, a crafter of perfumes and accessories to adorn the nation of Israel. In Psalm 12:6, God is a jeweler crafting silver. One way to watch “Yellow is forbidden” is thus as an extended meditation on God the maker. The cinematic depictions of fabric being dyed, sequins being painstakingly sown and patterns woven in golden thread, are a window into the way God intends humans to participate in the creative fashioning of life together.

Drawing on the image of God the maker, theologian Paul Fiddes argues that being made in Gods’ image means humans are made to craft in delight, be open mouthed in wonder and practice perseverance. Such are the possibilities suggested by a theological conversation with the fashion in “Yellow is forbidden.”

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM

Friday, December 07, 2018

Congratulations to inaugural Judith Binney Trust recipients

The Judith Binney Trust has announced the recipients of the 2019 Judith Binney Fellowships and Writing Awards. They are Dr. Nēpia Mahuika (Ngāti Porou), Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Waikato; freelance writer Ryan Bodman; journalist and commentator Morgan Godfery (Ngāti Awa, Samoa); and independent historian Dr. Melissa Matutina Williams (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Maru). In making the announcements, the trustees noted they were “impressed with the quality and quantity of applications for funding in our inaugural year.”

This is worth noting because I was an applicant :)

I put in an application titled The Kingmaker’s Bible, which sought to understanding Maori approaches to religion by examining the Bible-reading strategies of the first kingmaker, Wiremu Tāmihana Tarapīpi Te Waharoa. My project sought to extend my recent research and affirm the creativity of indigenous engagement with a book (the Bible) often associated with colonisation and break new ground by locating Maori Bible-reading strategies in relationship to international scholarship, particularly that of Gerald West, The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon and James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. My proposal set out to make an outstanding Maori leader accessible through high-school curricula, a theology textbook and social media.

It was not to be. Not in relation to this particular pathway anyway (although I’m open to offers and imaginative suggestions). But the application process was excellent, particularly the discipline of making a funding application within the confines of 1,000 words. And my referees were very encouraging: one wrote that mine was “a superb proposal for research and a profound project.” And I’m delighted at the calibre of those who were successful recipients of the 2019 Judith Binney Fellowships and Writing Awards. I congratulate each of them and wish them all the best as they contribute to scholarly historical research and writing in this country. Finally, kudos to Judith Binney and the trustees for innovating in this way.

Posted by steve at 05:37 PM

Monday, November 26, 2018

You can’t eat lilies: the future of precarious work zadok column

I am a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Having read my film reviews for Touchstone, they requested a 860 word column every 3 months. It’s an opportunity to write a lay focused piece of theology; that keeps me working between gospel and culture. Zadok are happy for me to blog the columns I write once they are published in Australia, which makes them accessible digitally for folk in New Zealand and elsewhere.

zadoklillies So here is my spring 2018 article. The theme for Spring was Humanising Precarious Work and it became a piece of practical theology, including reflecting on my own work context, which is undergoing review and restructure, making my own future precarious.

You can’t eat lilies: the future of precarious work
Steve Taylor

I write looking out over a green field, toward a University living through a restructure. At the table beside me, a young couple discuss future work. Her best options start with gaining an overseas research contract. It’s fixed term but her partner won’t leave the country.

What might the Gospel offer them? How would they respond if I turned and offered them some words from Jesus? ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin’ (Matthew 6:28)?

None of this is abstract. As I write, a restructure has been announced at my workplace. Suddenly my future is precarious. There are no vacancies in my city for Principals of theology colleges who teach in missiology. The fields around my house might grow green with springtime rain. But my family can’t eat grass.

Jesus’ words about lilies are addressed to precarious workers. They are part of the Sermon that begins with the poor being blessed. While Matthew’s version is more palatable to rich Christians than Luke’s, the four letter word ‘poor’ tells us just who Jesus is speaking to.

In Matthew, this Sermon to the poor includes the words: ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. This is no ritual of routine repetition, but a reality for Jesus’ listeners. Think Matthew 20:1-16, with workers for hire still waiting for work at 5pm. Think Luke 16:19-31 and Lazarus pleading for daily bread at the city gates. Jesus is speaking to the poor, dependant on precarious work.

The Sermon ends with ‘consider the lilies’. Outdoors, on the mountain in Matthew and the plain in Luke, Jesus might be pointing to the arum lily, whose root was a major source of food for the poor. It is more likely that he is making a generic reference to flowers, including the various types of crocus and cyclamen, iris and orchid. They are free, wild and gorgeous: showy, attractive flowers that burst forth in spring on the barren hills of Judean deserts (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, IVP, 1998). Those flowers were food for rabbits and goats. But never for humans. You can’t eat lilies.

Today we safety net our lives through insurance, savings and government assistance. The result of managing risk is a diminishing of faith. The daily bread of the Lord’s Prayer is spiritualised. We never see lilies from our office blocks and public transport windows.

Tomorrow’s workplace looks ever more precarious. While I write and you read, modern capitalism is hard at work, incentivising the radical unpicking of the safety nets of the 20th century. Artificial Intelligence will make anywhere from 14 to 54 percent of US workers redundant over the next twenty years. There is a 50 percent chance that Artificial Intelligence will outperform all human tasks in 45 years and automate all human jobs in 120 years. (Brennan Hoban, ‘Artificial intelligence will disrupt the future of work. Are we ready?’, brookings.edu, 23rd May 2018). This won’t be personal. Redundancies never are. But what will it mean for humanity and for Christian theology?

For Jesus, the safety net seemed to be neither insurance nor savings. Instead it was the humanity of our neighbour. Do unto others. A common purse. Share with those in need.

Whenever I think these words are simply idealism, I remind myself that hospitality has been a universal theme. For Maori, the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, a cultural value esteemed above all else is expressed in the word ‘manaakitanga’, used to describe the value of welcoming the stranger. It involves abundant hospitality and is linked with kindness, generosity and practical support.

‘Manaakitanga’ was historic. It is also remarkably contemporary. It was evident in the winter of 2017, when local Maori meeting houses opened their doors to provide temporary housing for the homeless. Cold and destitute New Zealanders can’t eat lilies. But they can experience ‘manaakitanga’.

Hospitality is a response that stretches across time and place. Sharing the gifts of the earth is a major theme in The Odyessy, while Immanuel Kant notes the place of universal hospitality in the task of being human (Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History (Rethinking the Western Tradition), 8:357).

So the advent of Artificial Intelligence will invite us to practice ‘manaakitanga’. If the future of precarious work results in greater co-dependence, then technology and innovation are a good thing, worth celebrating. With a universal wage, some will work for money, while others will enrich our worlds with art, craft, care and creativity.

Writing about the future of precarious work and amid the draining demands of a workplace restructure is a reality check. I can’t offer lilies, either to myself, my family or the young couple in the café beside me.

At the same time, ‘consider the lilies’ is in fact the radical offer of an alternative vision of a future society. It is a universal invitation to embody Maori ‘manaakitanga’ and to share the gifts of the earth among all humans.

The only way to read the New Testament is through the lens of precarious work. You can’t eat lilies. But you can live simpler, use time to love your neighbour and enter into the experience ‘manaakitanga’.

Posted by steve at 09:46 PM

Friday, November 23, 2018

Doing theology on the land of another

I took this picture last year while I was on retreat. I was struck by the words on the sign: access courtesy of land owners. I am welcomed as guest.

doingtheology

It is a reminder that as guest, I do theology on the land of another. As an act of self-location, it shapes the way I read Scripture. What does it mean for me to hear the Bible as 2nd peoples, to do theology on the land of another? The Revised Preamble of the Uniting Church of Australia affirms that the “First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God … the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony.” The Revised Preamble affirms that God was already walking country, revealing Godself before I arrived.

So last week I was working with Exodus 3. It is part of a ongoing research project, as I explore the symbol of the burning bush for church identity. Last week, I began to imagine Moses encountering God as 2nd peoples, on the land of another. The actual text notes that he led his flock “beyond the wilderness” (v 3). Angela Song, in her A Postcolonial Woman’s Encounter with Moses and Miriam (Postcolonialism and Religions), describes Moses as “the nowhere boy who became a nowhere man.” (192). Moses is raised in a culture and class not his own: a nowhere boy. Becoming an adult, Moses calls his first born son, Gershon. It means stranger, alien in foreign land.

And so in Exodus 3, “beyond the wilderness”, this nowhere man encounters God. On the land of another, Moses begins to contemplate a God of care and compassion. Moses initial response, his first articulation of a theology, includes actions. He takes off his shoes.

It is, according to Jewish scholar, Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus a way of showing respect and humility. On the land in which he is a stranger, feeling alien, Moses doesn’t start with ownership and possession and domination. His theology begins with respect and humility, paying attention to the God already there.

Nahum Sarna The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus also notes the liturgical echoes, that the Jewish rabbi takes off their shoes before pronouncing the benediction (15). In response to encounter, as one prepares to leave, one shows respect and humility for land and already present faith.

Take off your shoes is the first theological act of those who locate as 2nd peoples.

Posted by steve at 12:12 PM