Saturday, July 04, 2015

a super semester

It’s been an exceptional first semester for Uniting College. This is a summary from an email I sent to the team this week:

I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your contributions over this Semester. On top of the regular demands of teaching, supervision, administration and student support, we’ve pulled off some very significant developments in our life as a College. I’d suggest it’s worth pausing, looking back and recalling what we have achieved over the last six months.

Team wise – We’ve welcomed five new folk – Tanya Wittwer (Postgraduate Coordinator), Danika Patselia (Big Year Out Coordinator), Denise Boyland (Principal’s PA maternity), Nadia Boscaini (Marketing Coordinator), Kerry Pierce (Lecturer Pastoral Care). Each have settled well and made important contributions to our life. We’ve been able to appreciate new personalities and worked in different ways to clarify our values, vision and establish new sets of working relationships as a team. We’ve stood with each other through some significant moments of sadness, stress and grief.

Student wise – We’ve seen our first English as a Second Language cohort begin our Certificate in Bible and Ministry. We’ve seen Big Year Out begin a second year, with an increased cohort, in both number and cultural diversity. In these two programmes are the seeds of a very different student profile – younger and far more multi-cultural. We’ve experienced what many felt was our best ever Walking on Country indigenous immersion experience. We’ve celebrated our most successful ACD graduate, including two Doctors in Ministry and our first ever cohort of Cert IV/Big Year Out Students. We’ve experienced our largest ever cohort of Bachelor Theology honours.

Blended education wise – Now into our third semester, we are looking more and more comfortable across our system with ACD Online and video-conferencing. The resourcing provided by Adam Jessep (Blended Education Design Coordinator) continues to serve us exceptionally well, in teaching and education development. This has included exciting progress on the VET Online project.

Development wise – We’ve successfully launched a Diploma of Ministry hub on the Gold Coast, with 17 students now studying with us through New Life College. This has required inducting new adjuncts, developing new relationships and systems of administration and accountability. We’ve put significant work into our Flinders University Department of Theology Review and in the process, found ways to re-imagine and re-dream what world-class theology programmes might look like. We’ve made significant strides in promotion, including an improved social media presence, the return of a regular email to stakeholders, improved brochures and a sharper, clearer look for ACD.

In short, it’s been an exceptional semester for us as a Uniting College. Thanks for all your work, commitment, creativity, energy and persistence. I’m grateful to you all for what you’ve contributed and I’m excited about what we are becoming.

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

Friday, July 03, 2015

Why write?

Today is a second day of study leave, a few days in which I am seeking to write about, and reflect upon, my learnings in leadership from recent years of ministry.

bluemountains I am in the Blue Mountains, surrounded by bush and quiet. I am staying with my supervisor, who continues his delightful ministry of naming reality, asking provocative questions, helping me circle around my worlds, both inner and outer.

The Old Testament lectionary reading for today, and in particular four phrases, proves strangely clarifying.

I will stand at my watch-post
Write the vision
Make it plain
So that a runner may read it.

Let me explore these phrases from the bottom back up to the top.

I write for a person. A runner. For individuals and teams, whether wondering, willing, or wanting, running the journey of innovate. I write that they might run sustainably, strategically. I want to offer them some signs that point to processes of innovation that have reality, integrity, creativity and a deep compassion and care for people and places.

I write with a purpose. I seek to avoid fancy words, clever theories and quick quotes from leadership heroes. Instead, with honesty and integrity, I want to make as plain as possible the real life learnings from innovation. I want to share stories that offer hope. Organisations do change. People do grow. Resources can be aligned. Access can be enhanced.

I write by choosing to stand at the watchpost. Rather than look forward, rather than theorise, I choose to look back, to particularise. In standing, I find myself slowing and as I slow, I feel once again the particular emotions, demands and experiences of leading an organisation in a complex system in a rapidly changing world. It is hard to stand. It is hard to lead. It is costly to innovate. Yet such is the place from which these words, these leadership learnings, must emerge.

I stand.

Posted by steve at 10:31 AM | Comments (4)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

innovation in teaching ANZATS paper

I presented my paper on innovation in teaching today at ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Over the last 4 weeks I have written about 7,000 words of what is now a complete first draft of a journal article. So the task for today was to try and communicate the argument and main structure in the 25 minute time limit – of around 2,500 words.

I began by rifting of a prayer offered as the conference began:

Let us pray that students in theological education may be equipped for ministry and for life. We pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy
Let us pray that all teachers may be creative in facilitating student learning. We pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy

My research engages with these prayers. How do students perceive our “theological education”? What is the impact on students of our “creative facilitating student learning”?

There were a good number present and the questions were helpful.

  • What incentives did I build in to ensure students undertook pre-reading?
  • What were the workload implications, not just this year but in years to come?
  • Tell us about the class size and age profile? Does a larger class change the possibilities?
  • Was anything lost as a result of the processes?

These were expected questions. They focus more on the how. How do you teach in the flipped classroom? My paper focused mainly on the why and what? Why would you and what are the results? But the how questions are important, pertinent and natural for the audience – educators. The task now is to take the complete draft and seek a journal article. My sense is that the argument is sound, but that I need a bit more depth around the referencing and some sentence smashing – working paragraphs and words to ensure clarity.

But first, I need to complete a complete 6,000 word draft by 1 September for the Ecclesiology and ethnography conference, on activist research.

Posted by steve at 06:06 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Open days: recruitment or community building?

Adult learners face a number of barriers. A set of inner voice are shouting “It will be like school. The lecturers are scarey. You might look stupid. You’re been out of education too long.” It takes courage to enrol as an adult to learn.

Admiring rare books in library

On Tuesday, we offered an Open Day at Uniting College and on a cold, wet night, about 35 folk gathered to learn more about the College. There were short introductions by key people leading Uniting College, Adelaide College of Divinity, Flinders University and the Big Year Out. Pizza arrived. Short tours were offered – of the library, student common room, of a classroom in action including our online platform.

lecture

As I looked around, I was struck by the range of animated conversations as prospective students talked to lecturers. It occurred to me that as a result of Open Day, when these students arrive for the first day of lectures, they will know some people to whom they can stop and have a chat. They will know where the classroom is and where to get a coffee.

open day 2

They are already surrounded by a set of relationships. Thus the task of building a learning community does not start with the first lecture of the first class. It starts from before the first enquiry, and as the student steps through application.

What we were doing at Open day was not recruiting. It was community building, increasing the capacity of adult learners to participate in their own formation.

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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: The Faith Lives of Women and Girls

Book review: Done for Regents Review 6.2 (April 2015), Regent’s Park College, Oxford publication.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls: Qualitative Research Perspectives, ed. Nichola Slee, Fran Porter, Anne Phillips. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013.

One way (for a male) to review a book on women by women is through a lens provided by a third woman. Drusilla Modjeska, in her study of the writings of Australian women describes the “enormous energy” required by women writers to maintain themselves intellectually and artistically (Exiles at home : Australian women writers 1925-1945 / Drusilla Modjeska, 15). She documents the essential role of one person, Nettie Palmer, in nourishing women writers and how her work as an editor created a supportive network in which women writers flourished.

It is a helpful frame by which to approach The Faith Lives of Women and Girls, edited by Nichola Slee, Fran Porter and Anne Phillips. Such an approach offers historical insight and encourages a respectful gratitude for their essential and nourishing role as editors and initiators of a supportive network in which research on female faith might flourish.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls is part of Ashgate’s Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology series. It consists of 19 chapters, all written by woman, all emerging from practical theology. Each chapter offers original qualitative research on the faith lives of women and girls, drawing on a range of approaches, including ethnography, oral history, action research, interview and case studies.
This alone makes the volume worthwhile. Reading as a minister, I found myself reflecting on my pastoral and ministerial practice. Anne Phillips chapter (God Talk/Girl Talk) offered new preaching resources, while Kim Wasey’s chapter (Being in Communion) challenged my hopes regarding the impact of women presiding at the Eucharist.

The book raised what seems a perennial question in practical theology, concerning the relationship between sociology and theology. Some chapters felt more sociological and descriptive than theological. Other chapters, like Fran Porter’s work on Irish women’s understanding of God (“The ‘In-the-middle’ God: Women, Conflict and Power in Northern Ireland) offer rich theological insights (including for my Easter preaching at a youth camp).
The quality of research and reflection did vary across the volume. This is perhaps inevitable in a volume that includes both experienced researchers and post-graduate students.

Studies of between six to ten women, as in Jennifer Hurd’s chapter on understandings of death (“The Relevance of a Theology of Natality for a Theology of Death and Dying and Pastoral Care) or Francesca Rhys’s unpacking of ordinary Christologies (Understanding Jesus Christ), raise questions about the place of sampling and representation in qualitative research.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls lacked an overarching theme. The introduction suggested a distinct discipline. However the absence of a concluding chapter that synthesised a theme (or themes) raised questions concerning what makes feminist practical theology a distinct discipline. Is it anything that studies women? Is it, given that all 19 contributors are women, something done only by women? Or is it that 19 fine grained studies might, with the ongoing encouragement of contemporary Nettie Palmers, be the grit around which a pearl of great price, research resulting from the lived experience of women and girls, begins to develop?

I suggest the latter and look forward to reading further work from those who contributed to this important and ground breaking volume.

For application to fresh expressions see here.

Posted by steve at 07:16 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, June 22, 2015

lightbulbs and 10 year olds: innovation and communication.

I was shown this image on Friday. It was suggested as a summary of some group work that I was a part of.

lightbulb1

A lightbulb has gone off. An important and significant discovery has been made. But that is not enough. We need to think about how to communicate that lightbulb moment.

In this image, this means getting down the ladder and going across to the watching child. We need to ask ourselves “How would we tell a 10 year old?” This is an important communication exercise, in which seek to clarify our ideas by asking how we communicate this light bulb moment to a 10 year old.

There is that old joke. How many people does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is meant to be one.

But how realistic is that? It is hard for one person to do, most especially for the person closest to the lightbulb. It is their idea and its natural to be blinded by the brilliance.

So in this image, and in the work on Friday, a number of us were working together. Some were offering creativity, others listening ears, others structuring and framing. It adds an interesting perspective on the task of innovation. It is not enough to have a bright idea. There is another whole piece around communication and collaboration of that idea. Innovation must be shared. It might begin with one, but there are many gifts involved in this process.

Who is the leader in this description? Is it the one person who has had the “lightbulb” moment? Is it the child, who is providing an essential role in helping clarify? Is it the people around, encouraging, listening, reframing?

In reality each person is performing an essential role. Each person is offering leadership. Because it does take many people to change a lightbulb.

Posted by steve at 08:12 AM | Comments (1)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Freedom to pursue not a formula to follow

This week I’ve been teaching an intensive, Mission and the church.  It has been an exhausting week  – intensives by their very nature are demanding.  At the same time, it has been a very fulfilling week. Nearly half the class was from inter-state and it was a joy to be resourcing the church nationally.  All of the class had significant ministry experience and thus it became not an exploration of theories for when people might move into ministry, but an intensely practical examination of what could be done now, in living communities. It is a privilege to opens a space and keeps alive a conversation about mission.

My intention is that the conversation is

  • hopeful – in the midst of church decline and structures that stifle, to keep providing ways to subvert and maintain
  • storified – if God is going ahead of us, if missio Dei is for real, then alongside theory of mission needs to be stories of God’s activity and action
  • contextual – theory and stories need to be told in ways that allow people to contextually adapt and innovate, not photocopy. Never once did I hear “oh, we couldn’t do that,” which is a sure sign that contextual has been lost from a teaching context
  • creative – whole church, with our whole bodies, embodying the Gospel, needs to be modelled in the course delivery. All these senses need to be engaged, not just the ears and eyes
  • evidence-based – stories of God’s activity are the evidence from which we discern mission. Three of the 8 sections featured post-graduate research which was studying  stories, in order to discern. So time and again we found ourselves immersed in learnings from people coming to faith, communities exploring innovation 10 years on, churches planting community ministries.

The feedback has been enormously positive.

An email:

Thank you again for a great short course on mission, and the church’s place in it. It has given me, and my congregations, much inspiration to live and work to do, and enjoy.

A final comment.

“I’ve gained a freedom to pursue, not a formula to follow.”

As always, I gain as much as I give in these conversations. On Thursday, as I shared some of my research of sustainability and fresh expressions (2 of the 8 chapters I’ve drafted), I found new insights emerging. It is a project I’m struggling to nail, unsure how to tell the story. As the class questions rained down upon me, I found myself making some fresh connections (and kicking myself that I’d forgot to record this section). All an important part of my own processing and clarifying.

Posted by steve at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Writing in Australia: a missiological analysis

During my time in Australia, I’ve had 26 pieces of writing published. This includes 13 book chapters; 2 peer reviewed journal articles; 3 book reviews in peer reviewed journal; 7 other pieces including 3 in Australian Leadership. It totals to over 80,000 published words in the 5 years.

(I have also completed work on a number of rejected journal articles and work on two book manuscripts in relation to sustainability of fresh expressions.)

In preparing for the Mission and the church course, I decided it would be interesting to analyse this published-in-Australia writing from a missiology perspective. It would test the frame of this course, the seven practices. It would also be a way of letting the frame test my work. Am I covering all the areas of mission or am I narrowcasting?

I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that my writing covers all seven areas. I have written most about the planting and forming of new ecclesial communities and least about evangelism. (although I do spend a lot of time talking about evangelism with certain PhD candidates!) Four of the pieces do not fit the frame and I want to think further therefore about whether the frame might need some adaption.

Prayerful discernment, listening – 3
Apologetics – 2
Evangelism – 1
Catechesis – 4
Ecclesial formation – 4
Planting, forming new ecclesial communities – 6
Incarnational mission -3
Unplaced – 4

This exercise thus becomes helpful in guiding my ongoing research. I need to pay more attention in the next phase to apologetics and evangelism. Overall, the pieces include a degree of engagement with indigenous voice, but less engagement with Pacifica cultures. Again, doing this overview of my work helps clarify for me my ongoing research.

On the course website, I have provided an annotated bibliography of this writing. Over the next few days, I will be adding a brief summary of each piece. I will also provide a second paragraph, explaining the missiological reasons why I wrote it and what were the missiological questions that I was seeking to engage with.

This resource sits alongside a standard class bibliography. That was representative of global voices. This is one voice. Most of these pieces I have written do not provide a neat overview of learning to date. Instead, they are more at the edge. They are seeking to address questions I think need to be answered in moving mission thinking forward. This includes the fact that many of my pieces involve engagement with contemporary popular culture and from these emerge conversations about various practices of mission.

The full bibliography is as follows: (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2015

facilitators, braiders, accomplished fellows: students as teachers

Here is another section of my ANZATS Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context paper.

To summarise, results from student surveys suggest that the learning shifts implemented in the Theology of Jesus class resulted in a significant shift in student experience, from an anticipation of content, to considered reflection on the process of how learning happens.

Haythornthwaite and Andrews note the diverse ways students participate in class to enhance learning (E-learning Theory and Practice, 2011, 171). They draw on work by Preston 2008 and his description of a number of roles occupied by students in an on-line community (Preston, C .J. (2008) Braided Learning: An emerging process observed in e-communities of practice. International Journal of Web Based Communities, 4 (2): 220-43). Three roles are described. E-facilitators help shape the argument, provide interim summaries and influence the trajectory of the discussion. Braiders reinterpret the online debate in different styles. Accomplished fellows take initiatives that invite participants to explore a subject in more depth.

This provides a way to theorise the description of learning provided by one student in an assignment.

I will be also exploring Christology in light of my [cultural] identity, which was inspired by the presentations of Aboriginal minister Auntie Denise Champion and Fijian minister Eseta Meneilly from week ten and twelve respectively …. This stemmed from the group activity, where the group I was in was asked to discuss liberationist action. In this exercise, I was asked by one of my classmates to connect liberation theology to my culture.” (Student Reading reflection.)

Using the theoretical categories above, my student was being invited to become an accomplished fellow, to explore Christology in light of their culture. The exploration begins because of the introduction into the class of two other accomplished fellows (Aboriginal minister Auntie Denise Champion and Fijian minister Eseta Meneilly). The impetus is the result of group activity, in which a classmate acts as both a facilitator, influencing the discussion and a braider, re-interpreting lecture material during a group discussion and inviting a different style, in this case of application. Thus students are becoming teachers, occupying a diverse set of roles, significantly shaping each others’ learning.

In making this argument, I am applying on-line categories to what is a face to face group conversation. It raises an interesting question. Have these types of interactions always occurred in class, but remain unrecognised in face to face interactions because lecturers are not present in group discussion? Are these roles only becoming visible now because they can be captured, whether by analysing online forums as Preston does, or in my research here? Or is this visibility further evidence of the development of students as not only learners, but teachers in community?

Posted by steve at 11:12 PM

Saturday, June 13, 2015

We’re all men: gender in teaching mission

Monday I begin a four day intensive, teaching on Mission and the church. Much of this week has been spent building the online site – loading up readings, video clips, extra resources, web links – that will enhance the educational experience.

introduction to Mission and the Church from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Glancing at the class list yesterday, I shook my head in disbelief. The entire cohort, all 9 of the enrolled students, are male. And, if the surnames are in any way reliable, all white fella.

I can’t recall teaching an all male, white fella class. Ever. Certainly not in my experience in the Uniting Church, where one of the things I have most appreciated is the greater gender mix that is present, compared to my experience in Baptist Churches in New Zealand.

I am puzzled and disturbed. What to do?

I do have diversity built in through the readings, which include voices, male and female, and from Asia, Africa, Europe, United States, Australia and New Zealand. I do have guest presenters both male and female. I do have short spoken mission biographies to splice in at various points, of woman and indigenous. The stories of fresh expressions video clips are of women pioneers.

But that does not address the mono-cultural discussion that will inevitably result.

Cancelling the class does not seem fair on each individual who has enrolled. I suspect it is also not permissible in a higher education environment.

I don’t think I can suddenly find someone willing to give four days to participate in an intensive at such short notice. And it runs the risk of tokenism, asking one voice to speak for an entire culture or gender.

I wonder if I should, on the first morning, note the reality of our room. And then place three chairs at three points around the class. And suggest that every now and again, we pause and ask each other:

Now if a woman, or a first-nations person, or a migrant with English as a second language were present in our discussion, what might they be adding to our discussion? What might they be critiquing?

This runs the risk of transference. But at the heart of mission is a commitment to engage with the other. So three empty chairs might in fact provide an object lesson in lack.

Posted by steve at 11:57 AM

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context

I’ve spent much of the week, between various work meetings, working on a conference paper on innovation in teaching for the ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools) in Sydney. The original abstract proposal, which was accepted back in March, is here. I’ve re-worked the title from:

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

to:

A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context

The first title fitted the conference theme, but only worked “in-conference.” So the second title was written with an eye to finding a receptive journal down the track. It was composed as part of an exercise during a Flinders University professional development workshop Publish and flourish on Tuesday.

Tuesday and Wednesday mornings I drafted the methodology section, pulled from notes generated during early morning coffee meetings with my Community of Practice cohort last year.

Today I edited in some of the results. These were originally written at the Tel Aviv airport in September last year, stuck in baggage claim, waiting for a baggage collectors strike to end!

Then, in emailing a colleague asking if they could provide a critical read of a complete first draft, I found myself having a first attempt at the conclusion.

My main argument is that the learning shifts implemented in the Theology of Jesus class resulted in a significant shift in student experience, from an anticipation of content, to considered reflection on the process of how learning happens. In that shift, the class dynamic and the diversity among the student cohort became much more appreciated by the student cohort as factors in their learning. In other words, students became essential to the learning processes. If the call of Jesus to “come follow” is a call to transformation that is set in the context of relationships of learning, then the use of technologies, when underpinned by explicit pedagogical care, are essential elements in “re-humanising” learning. They can turn the entire student cohort into teachers, inhabiting different roles in the “conditions” of learning.

It is amazing where one finds oneself writing – desks at home, cafe tables, University lecture rooms, work desks once the corridor goes quiet, polished floors in the no-mans land that is baggage claim. (And no doubt the hotel accomodation in Sydney the night prior to paper delivery on 1 July).

Posted by steve at 06:51 PM

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

the potential of deconstruction: Emerging churches grow people

This is not how you do research! I was at a professional development course on Tuesday, upskilling in the area of writing for publication. The lunch exercise was to find a journal we might be interested in publishing in. The venue, a modern secular University, had few journals in the area of missiology and theology. So I pulled out a journal on sociology of religion. Flipping it open, I found an article researching spiritual growth in the emerging church. This is not how you do research. But it is a great resource.

Sally K. Gallagher and Chelsea Newton, “Defining Spiritual Growth: Congregations, Community, and Connectedness,” Sociology of Religion 2009, 70:3 232-261.

This is a fascinating piece of research. Gallagher and Newton note the claim that religion is good for people. Sociologists like Christian Smith, Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture, (2003) have explored how religion is a spiritual capital. It provides relational networks. It offers meaning through the opportunity to volunteer. It provides frames by which to interpret experiences.

What has not been researched is how the notion of spiritual growth can be good. Nor whether spiritual growth looks different in different types of churches.

Gallagher and Newton researched four congregations in NorthWest Pacific, one of which is an emerging church (the other three are conservative Protestant, mainline Protestant and Eastern Orthodox). Their focus is ordinary people in these congregations, whom they interview in order to understand how they define, articulate and experience spiritual growth. The congregational focus is consistent with the desire to explore the social nature of spiritual growth.

Every congregation shared a similar understanding of spiritual growth as a process. Yet each of the groups expressed ideas around spiritual growth that were consistent with the theological tradition in which they operate. Mainline Presbyterian emphasised tolerance and respect for a diversity of beliefs, conservative Presbyterian focused on bible teaching, participation in church and an identity distinct from the surrounding culture, Eastern Orthodox on practices that connect with ancient traditions in order to love and care for others.

They describe the emerging church as based on “authentic relationship, dialogue, community.” (253) Core messages include an emphasis on deep and authentic relationships and a culturally connected faith that “resonates with a generation that deeply values diversity and authenticity” (257). Growth happens through processes that include worship services that use diverse elements like arts, science, nature, a range of service opportunities and adult education offering theology and film, medieval spirituality, Hebrew and spiritual formation outdoors. “Individuals in this group placed somewhat less emphasis on what happens Sunday morning as a source of spiritual growth than people in other congregations.” (253)

“At the Urban Village emerging church, a consensus around spiritual growth centred on relationships with God, family, and friends within the church and broader community. Authenticity in each of these areas was both a means of spiritual growth and an end in itself. To be mature in this congregation was to cultivate deep and meaningful relationships with trusted others in much the same way as in a personal and authentic relationship with God.” (258)

They note that while the emerging church emphasised “the deconstruction of tradition in order to reclaim a more authentic faith – we heard the echo and rephrasing of historically traditional themes that find expression within well-established Christian traditions.” (260)

In sum, emerging churches are distinctive. The emphasis on authenticity of relationship with people and the surrounding culture produces a distinctive approach to spiritual growth. What is intriguing is that the deconstructive element is actually working to enhance connections, albeit rewired, to different aspects of the Christian tradition. What is also instructive is that the processes of spiritual growth are more de-centred from the Sunday gathering (in contrast to other groups). “One other facet of spiritual growth that was central … was the place of the physical world in facilitating spiritual growth …. part of its broader mission to include teaching and activities that focus both on global as well as local social concerns.” (254)

Posted by steve at 10:34 PM

Monday, June 08, 2015

Sunday film review: a ‘downunder’ Before Sunrise

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for June 2015, of Sunday.

Sunday
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Sunday is a ditch-crossing story. Australian (Dustin Clare as Charlie) meets Kiwi (Camille Keenan as Eve). They fall in love, enfolded by Australian sun and surf. In time, Eve finds herself pregnant. Unwilling to raise a child in a relationship in which Charlie is absent for long periods with work, she returns to Christchurch.

Charlie crosses the ditch to see her. Together over 24 hours, they explore their past, examine their present insecurities and ponder their future. Their conversation, a mix of romance, comedy and pathos, is set against the backdrop of Christchurch post-quake. The dancing diggers, twisted metal fences and wrecked cathedrals are an arresting visual and a probing metaphor. Is it worth either of them investing in a rebuild of their relationship? Or will their past remain a scene of untended destruction?

Sunday echoes the plot line of the Richard Linklater directed generational trilogy, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight. (For my review of Boyhood, see here). All of these films involve a couple exploring their relationship; past, present and future. In each, tension is built by the immanence of a departure. In every one, the geographic backdrop is an important character. At the risk of being accused of being parochial, Christchurch post-earthquake is far more impressive than Vienna, Paris or the Greek Islands (of the Linklater directed trilogy). The dawn scenes as Eve takes Charlie to the airport, past cathedrals, walled containers and the quirk that is Gapfiller, is disturbingly beautiful.

In another similarity, as with Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, the writing of Sunday is a collaborative activity. In the Linklater trilogy, director and actors, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, worked together on scenes and script. Similarly, the actors and director (Michelle Joy Lloyd) of Sunday spend time workshopping the characters and themes. Each actor then wrote different scenes, which Eve (Camille Keenan) edited, to ensure coherent voice.

Sunday does little explicit theological work. The title is not a reference to a religious day of rest. Rather it is one potential baby name. Outside the broken (Catholic) cathedral, we hear that the baby, when born, will be christened. But the conversation then drifts to the absurdness of a christening gown being wedding white. The faith present in Sunday is a faith of ritual and impractical irrelevance, dissected in front of a broken and empty building. It seems to have little to offer a couple, or a city, contemplating a rebuild.

Sunday is a work of artistic love. Directed by Michelle Joy Lloyd, it was self and crowd-funded. In the search for an audience it became the first movie in history to be released simultaneously on five platforms; cinema, online, TV, airline, DVD. It remains available to download, hire or buy as DVD, on either side of the ditch, from here. It might be low-budget, but it remains an appealing treat, perfect for a high-quality Sunday evening in with friends.

Posted by steve at 08:55 PM

Friday, June 05, 2015

We’re built for change

In just under four months, I conclude as Principal of Uniting College and shift countries to begin as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. This has a lot of implications personally and professionally.

Professionally, I lead a team of 17 people. An essential dimension of my leadership includes helping them process transitions. This means that a challenge of the next few months includes helping them process my transition.

It is always more complicated leading your own transition. It is tempting to envisage working until the last day, closing the door and slipping out, leaving behind a to do list for the incoming. But that would be remiss of my leadership not to include this personal focus. It would point to a set of values that sit in opposition to a culture of communal innovation. It would work against a culture “built for change.”

So I have spent a number of months with my supervisor and line manager thinking through how to lead through this particular transition.

Yesterday I initiated with the team a conversation about the transition. Let me tell you what I did and what emerged. But first, let me share with you the structures that influence the timing. (more…)

Posted by steve at 01:16 PM