Sunday, August 28, 2016

inspiring individually, really helpful theologically: Built for Change review

builtforchange Here is a fifth review of Built for Change. This one is by Duncan Macleod. Duncan is Director of the Uniting Learning Network with the Uniting Church in Australia. He is also editor of The Inspiration Room, a website focused on creative work from around globe.

Two things I appreciate about this review. First, the evaluation of the second section, Leading Deeply as offering “a really helpful reflection” on a theology of leadership and innovation, particularly for the mainline denomination in which Duncan serves. Second, my approach in the third section, Leading Inward as being inspired/ing. Duncan reads my highly personalised approach as an invitation – “Rather than comparing myself with my colleagues, I need to grasp the particular contribution God is developing in me in relationship with my peers.” My highly individualised approach becomes “a great way to finish … inspire and inform … without prescribing or limiting.” It felt risky and vulnerable writing the way I did and its a relief to have Duncan’s feedback on how this approach inspires.

Here is the review in full: thanks Duncan.

Steve’s first section, Leading Outward, introduces six images of leadership as found in Paul’s self descriptions in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4: a servant who listens, a resource manager who faces reality, a builder who structures collaborative processes, a fool who jumps out of boxes and plays, and a parent who parents. Steve tells the stories of three innovative projects made possible through collaborative leadership: Glenkirk Cafe in Malvern, Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, Sydney, and the Illustrated Gospel Project, a worship resource curated by Malcolm Gordon. He goes on to explore Lewin’s force field, experimentation, the change curve, and the importance of tacking.

The second section, Leading Deeply, delves into a theology of leadership, drawing insight from the ministry of Jesus and exploring the healthy tension between Biblical frameworks and contemporary insights into collaborative leadership. This is a really helpful reflection for the Uniting Church, which in many ways has its roots in movements that were highly suspicious of any one person having too much influence. It’s not that long ago that focusing on transformation, leadership and missional challenge were seen by some as the latest heresy. Steve’s contribution to the conversation helps us recognise some of our own biases and come more lightly to a considered theological reflection on leadership and innovation.

The third section, Leading Inward, provides insights into Steve’s own exploration of collaborative leadership and innovation, including lessons learnt and practices honed. This, perhaps, is the section that inspired me the most. Steve has run a series of C words in this section: call, colour, connection, community. Working in a very similar role to Steve, I resonated with his reflections on the importance of call. “What is in your hand? What among your gifts, talents and experience is of value to the organisations to which you contribute?” Having just gone through my annual vitality of ministry review this week, it’s a pertinent question. Rather than comparing myself with my colleagues, I need to grasp the particular contribution God is developing in me in relationship with my peers. I gathered inspiration for practical daily and weekly disciplines as I read through the way Steve manages to achieve what he does.

Steve finishes with a chapter on reflective leadership, focusing on four tools: journaling, the leading of meetings, breath prayer and the art of asking the question, “What could I do differently”. That last question is a great way to finish, helping us as readers to recognise Steve’s pattern of work and life as his particular journey of learning, which can inspire and inform our own without prescribing or limiting.

“Built for Change” by Rev Dr Steve Taylor is available in Australia through MediaCom Education Inc. or New Zealand through Angelwingsresources@gmail.com.

Review 1 here. Review 2 here. Review 3 here. Review 4 is here.

Posted by steve at 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Research-Led Learning and Teaching

wonder I’ve been invited to be part of the Sydney College of Divinity Learning and Teaching Conference, April 28-9, 2017. The theme is appealing Wondering about God together.

Called ‘the queen of the sciences’, theology begins and ends with wonder at the works of God in the
world. If this wonder is both caught and taught, how can theological educators create a research
culture that fosters deep theological learning? What is the role of research in building communities
of theological learning? Come, let us wonder together!

It invites reflection on the relationship between wonder and Research-Led Learning and Teaching. It also prioritises research in Learning and Teaching, which must be at the heart of higher education and shifts our discussion of learning and teaching out of the realm of anecdote. I have been asked to contribute two keynote addresses, around my research into the impact of flipped learning on theological education. I might also venture into research on innovation and pastoral practice in the face of contemporary.

The conference will offer papers streamed around the four Domains of the new Higher Education Standards (Australia) 2015.

  • Student Experience
  • Learning Environment
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Research and Research Training

The aim is to encourage teaching Faculty and all those involved in the wider tasks of Theological Education to offer papers engaging the wide range of issues currently pressuring all aspects of theological education. The Call for Papers, by 16 November, 2016, is SCD_WonderingAboutGodTogether_Flier.

Posted by steve at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Contribution to Research Environments

pbrf Part of being an academic researcher involves contribution to the Research Environment. It is one of 3 factors listed in the New Zealand Performance Based Research criteria; alongside research outputs and peer esteem. Contribution to the Research Environment involves the contribution to vital, high-quality research environment. It involves factors like membership of research collaborations and consortia, contributions to the research discipline and environment, facilitating discipline-based and research networks; generation of externally funded research; supervision of student research and assisting student publishing, exhibiting or performance.

Today, back at work after three days travel, I downloaded an email and collected the mail. It included

  1. notification that a journal article I had recently reviewed had been published (Religions 2016, 7(9)). Titled “Maintaining the Connection: Strategic Approaches to Keeping the Link between Initiating Congregations and Their Social Service Off-Spring” it provides empirical research on what it means for congregations to start community ministry.
  2. a post-graduate thesis I have agreed to examine on behalf of another academic institution
  3. a book to endorse, by a fellow academic, stepping into the world of publishing for the first time
  4. a book to review, on academic skills, in particular that of note-taking

Each of these are a contribution to research environment – marking to ensure quality, reviewing of journal articles and books and summarising so that others can engage.

My organisation is not eligible to be considered for New Zealand Performance Based Research. Nevertheless, we are Presbyterian and as such, believe in collaborative leadership, that we are better together. The Performance Based Research criteria provide a set of benchmarks by which we might consider our activities and where we put our energy.  Contribution to the Research Environment is an essential oil.  It is an important category, a reminder that part of being an academic includes not only researching and writing, but providing input into other academics in their writing. Theologically, it is a reminder of the need to do onto others as we would hope they would do unto us.

Posted by steve at 07:22 PM | Comments (2)

Monday, August 22, 2016

makes good sense: the mother-in-law reviews Built for Change

builtforchange Here is another review of Built for Change, this one by my mother-in-law.

During the past month I had more time than usual for reading and I found Steve Taylor’s new book very interesting. “Built for Change” is, as it says, “a practical theology of innovation and collaboration in leadership.” The words “Collaboration in leadership” grabbed me because I don’t see “collaborating” as something Christians always find easy to do. It seems easy to be excited by something we believe God is saying to us individually but often much harder to really listen to others and work together.

Quoting from 1 Corinthians, Chapters 3 and 4, Steve describes Paul’s leadership as combining the attributes of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent. I wondered how exercising those attributes could be a key to making collaboration and innovation successful and I was encouraged to read on. Steve describes how he has used Paul’s ministry as a model for building team leadership over the past few years in Australia and now in Otago. What he has to say makes good sense and his book is full of rich and innovative ideas.

“Built for Change” by Rev Dr Steve Taylor is available in Australia through MediaCom Education Inc. or New Zealand through Angelwingsresources@gmail.com.

Review 1 here. Review 2 here. Review 3 here.

Posted by steve at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Presbyterian Church of Korea newspaper

The Presbyterian Church of Korea has a weekly newspaper and my recent 10 day visit to Korea has made “the Presbyterian news.” (Including a photo: I think I look tired, my family think I look lovely)

Pcknews

I don’t speak Korean but I’m told the article speaks about
- the multicultural context of NZ
- the curriculum of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership
- the concepts of reformed and reforming and the need to hold both in tension in the task of forming leaders and being a seminary
- the reality that being diaspora has a context, which needs to be taken seriously
- that I met on my visit to Korea the translator and readers of my Out of Bounds Church? book, translated into Korean.

Posted by steve at 10:49 AM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fiction as missiology: feedback

fictionspeaking I delivered my second paper today at the International Association Mission Studies: Fiction as missiology: a Creative “hapkas” Christology in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain.”. It was a complex piece of work: reading a fictive novel, Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain as a Christology. In the novel, Modjeska offers evidence of the transformation of PNG by Christianity: “Of all the applause, of all the cheers, the greatest is for the Christian missions …. ‘Jesus,’ … ‘good’ man true” … ‘He die on a tree. Very good. He die for PNG’” (The Mountain, 291). I outlined how her book offers a distinct Christology. I brought this into conversation with Walter Moberly’s The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism and Mark Brett’s, Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire to argue that to understand conversion missiologically requires following “‘Jesus,’ … ‘good’ man true” for the particularity of all indigenous cultures. (Here is the handout I provided, which includes key quotes and the bibliography. Fiction as theology IAMS handout.) There was a lot of energy in the room, with a great set of questions and affirmations.

Questions:

1. Tell us more about the author please?

2. PNG has both patrilenial and matrilenial tribes. Is this significant?

3. If you take a reader-response position to the novel, do you also take a reader-response position to the Bible?

4. Your argument depends on the relationship between ancestors and Hebrew monotheism. How different is the ancestor understandings of PNG and the ancestor understandings of the Old Testament?

5. The concept of “half-caste” is often linked with rejection. How might you weave that into your Christology?

6. Have you considered the “half-caste” Christology you were advocating in relation to global migration flows? This makes your talk of such great significance.

7. You have offered such a creative Christology. What is your methodology?

8. How might your reading be offered as a public theology to other readers of The Mountain?

Affirmations:

1. That was stunning. That should have been a keynote.

2. Can I have your talk. I want to translate it into Korean as an article in Korean.

3. Your talk was so moving. I cried through parts of it.

Overall, a great experience. It was daunting to have one of the conference keynote speakers, Professor Joel Robbins, from Cambridge University in the room, especially given he had conducted his research in PNG. However, I was delighted to have him ask for a copy of my talk at the end and offer some really helpful observations.

Posted by steve at 12:10 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fiction as missiology: an indigenous Christology in Papua New Guinea

I deliver a second paper at the International Association Mission Studies, Korea on Monday. This paper is titled Fiction as missiology: a Creative “hapkas” Christology in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain.” As with my first paper, Missiological approaches to “Silence”, this takes a hobby, a holiday read of The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska and integrates it with my research interests in missiology. Again, it is an interdisciplinary exercise; reading fiction, post-colonial literature and Old Testament exegesis in order to engage indigenous people in Jesus bloodline. It is personal, a return to my story, doing theology in relation to my country of birth – Papua New Guinea.

mountainpowerpoint

It is a complicated paper, but one I’m really, really pleased with. I consider it some of my most creative yet Biblically deep reflection I’ve done, helped greatly by conversation with fellow PNG kid, Mark Brett. Whether the audience agree we will soon see.

Here’s my conclusion:

In sum, I have examined fiction from outside the West and argued for a distinct and creative Christology as one result of religious change in PNG. “Hapkas” provides a way to understand ancestor gift, fully human, fully divine and the new Adam. It is a reading that attributes primary agency to an indigenous culture and offers a transformational way to understand religious change as communal participation in the art markets of twenty-first century global capitalism. It is consistent with recent Biblical scholarship regarding the Genesis narratives in the Old Testament. This suggests that to understand conversion missiologically, requires following Jesus who is “‘good’ man true” for the particularity of all indigenous cultures.

Posted by steve at 12:43 AM | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Silence, art and global Christologies

Here is the visual I constructed to illustrate the conclusion to my International Association Mission Studies paper: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change.

silence and global Christologies

For those who value words:

To represent the fullness of Christ, both Christologically and missiologically, we need the “face of Christ” giving inspiration to artists at every stage of the Philippians arc (the U shape). We do not ask art images of Christ the Victor (right hand art image) or Jesus the baptised (left hand art image) to express a complete Christology, to capture every stage of the Philippians arc. We let them stand individually as Christological snapshots. In Silence: A Novel, we are offered an artistic gift, that of obedience to the point of death. This is a truthful missiology which voices Christ’s silence. Such is the Christological gift of Silence: A Novel to missiology. It provides an essential snapshot, ensuring our accounts of conversion and transformation include not only narratives of triumph, but also narratives of solidarity with Christ’s silence.

My paper was assigned to the hour of death. For some reason the conference organisers had scheduled 5 papers back to back in a row; between 4 pm and 6:30 pm. This was at the end of a day that included a plenary session plus 5 other papers spread over 2 other sessions. My paper was the last one, at 6 pm. So I needed to up the communication. Thankfully, when you talk about film, you can show movie trailers. That, combined with the above visuals, some Steve Taylor energy and a handout (“regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change handout) ensured that no-one fell asleep.

Two good questions were asked:

Q. What about the words of Christ, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

A. What is happening in Silence: A Novel is of a different, deeper, order. At least Jesus speaks (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me). In Silence, there is only “silence.” Faith is abandoned. The result is a Christology of solidarity, a depth of shared experience with those who have denied Jesus.

Q. What about the film, As it is in heaven? Is that not also both a Christ figure film and a Jesus film?

A. Not according to the definitions that I am working with from Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film (Communication, Culture, and Religion). As it is in heaven is certainly a Christ figure film. But it is not a Jesus film in that it does not reference the historical person of Jesus.

It was good to integrate what is something of a sideline hobby – monthly film reviewing – with my research interests in missiology and indigenous Christologies. It was good to present with video and art.

Posted by steve at 01:04 AM | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

film and mission: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

I’m presenting today at International Association Mission Studies, Korea. My paper is titled “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change. With the historical novel, Silence: A Novel written by Shusako Endo (1923-1999), being made into a film (release date as yet unannounced), I want to explore the possibilities and pitfalls when conversion seems fruitless, which it does in the context of Japan in the 17th century.

In order to engage Silence as a film, I will use Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film to provide a theoretical frame. I will then place Silence as film alongside a number of other movies that explore the fruitlessness of mission; including The Mission and God lives in the Himalayas.

I’m looking forward to bringing together my research in film and in mission. My conclusion is as follows:

The gift of Silence is that it allows us to see the face of Christ as death on a cross. To represent the fullness of Christ, both Christologically and missiologically, we need the “face of Christ” giving inspiration to artists at every stage of the Philippians arc. When Christ is the Victor, the “conversion-transformation” narrative is one of triumph. We do not ask art images of Christ the Victor or Jesus the baptised to express a complete Christology, expressing every stage of the Philippians arc. We let them stand as Christological snapshots. In Silence, we are offered an artistic gift, that of obedience to the point of death. This is a truthful missiology which voices Christ’s silence. Such is the Christological gift of Silence to missiology. It provides an essential snapshot, ensuring our accounts of conversion and transformation include not only narratives of triumph, but also narratives of solidarity with Christ’s silence.

Posted by steve at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

a dream few days: Out of Bounds Church in Korea

It’s been a fascinating few days in Korea. In 2005, I published my first book, The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (emergentYS). In 2006, I heard that it had been published in Korea. I assumed it was the work of the publisher, Zondervan/Youth Specialties and their international connections.

This week a different story emerged, one that was much more local, involving a theological discerning scholar and a culturally creative publisher. Suk Whan Sung encountered my book at a Willowcreek conference. He was impressed by the theology, in contrast to many books about the missional church, which he felt were simply sociology.

outofboundchurchtranslator

Suk Whan contacted a local Korean publisher. Not once but repeatedly. I was unknown. But Suk Whan was persistent. And the publisher was a bit special.

outofboundschurcheditor

They had a commitment to publishing not in the area of Christian inspiration but in serious engagement with culture. They have a commitment to craft: the recent books they showed me were clear, fresh and appealing. They wanted to bless culture and thus have published books not only in theology, but in general areas of culture. They publish books based not for the name of the author and how well known they are, but on content.

And so my book was published. Not by an American company expanding their market, but by a local scholar concerned about his people and a local publisher with courage and commitment to a craft.

And this week I got to meet not only translators and publishers, but also readers. I spoke at the Missional church network on Sunday evening, I spoke to the local Presbytery executive, I met a church planter who has planted two communities of faith, inspired by the title.

The feedback: the creativity of the book gives permisssion for others to dream; the theologically thinking provides important frameworks; the cultural engagement of the book provokes.

Posted by steve at 11:51 AM | Comments (2)

Friday, August 05, 2016

Korea bound: Missional Conversation in Seoul

korea I am in Korea from 6-17 August doing a range of things, all work related. First, I am engaging with the partner churches of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. This will involve meeting with representatives from Presbyterian University Theological Seminary, the seminary of Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), the urban mission program of Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK), and the assembly office of PCK and PROK. I will be interviewed by Christian Broadcasting media.

In addition, I am meeting with two groups of ministers who have read the Korean translation of my “Out of Bounds Church?” book. This includes the person who translated my first book, The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change into Korean, back in 2006. This for me will be a highlight. (Yes, I’ve got a gift for him, a copy of my second book – hint! hint! :))

Second, I am presenting two academic papers at International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS). The theme is Conference theme: Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change. This conference happens every four years and I’m delighted to be able to present two papers: both on the implications for conversation of indigenous Pacific Rim Christologies.

Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence: A Novel is a historical novel that offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil.

The book is currently being made into a movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.

This paper will examine three missiological approaches. First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism. Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action. Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.

Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.

And

Title: Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”

Stanley Skreslet (Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and prospects of Missiology, 2012) argues that missiology has been slow to examine historical fiction from outside the West. A way to respond to his challenge is presented in The Mountain (2012), a novel by acclaimed Australian writer, Drusilla Modjeska. Book One describes the five years leading up to independence in Papua New Guinea in 1973 and ends with a ‘gift child’: a hapkas boy. Book Two describes his return – the child of a black mother and white father – to the land of his birth.

In the book an account of conversion and transformation in Papua New Guinea is offered. “Of all the applause, of all the cheers, the greatest is for the Christian missions, the priests who cross the stadium with their crucifixes and their bibles …. ‘Jesus,’ … ‘good’ man true” … ‘He die on a tree. Very good. He die for PNG.’” (The Mountain, 291). It is a surprisingly positive portrayal of conversion and transformation, referencing indigenous approval (“the greatest [applause] is for the Christian missions”) and indigenization (“He die for PNG.”)

The paper will take this notion of Jesus as good man true and analyse how this Christology interweaves with themes in The Mountain of ancestor, gift and hapkas. It will argue that The Mountain offers a distinct and creative Christology, one that offers post-colonial insight into the interplay between missiological notions of pilgrim and indigenizing and the complex journeys between there and here. Such a Christology is one result of religious change in PNG.

Best of all, I’m traveling with my partner. She also is presenting a paper at IAMS, which is just fantastic, showcasing her research:

Authentic Conversion: becoming who we are created to be

Conversion to Christianity in Australia today can be understood as resulting from non-Christians desiring, observing and experiencing genuine authenticity. Drawing on qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with recent converts to Christianity, this paper demonstrates first that religious conversion is fuelled by a desire for authenticity. Secondly, religious conversion is resourced by Christians who embrace and exhibit authenticity in their personal, social and spiritual lives. Thirdly, God enables authenticity to develop and flourish. Influenced by Charles Taylor and aspects of Trinitarian theology, the paper argues that this genuine authenticity is relational in nature: focusing not (just) on the self but also on relationship with God and significant connection with, and responsibility toward, others. This understanding rightly challenges the notion of authenticity as a narcissistic actualisation that prioritises the self over external relationships and responsibilities. When relational authenticity is sought and realised by converts, healthy transformation results. This transformation sees new converts ‘becoming’ the people they were created to be: unique persons who see their worth and their responsibilities in the light of their relationships with God and with others.

Lynne Taylor is a PhD candidate in theology at Flinders University of South Australia where she is using a methodology of grounded theory to investigate why people are becoming Christians in Australia today.

Posted by steve at 04:43 PM

Thursday, August 04, 2016

saying no

At the start of the year I planned myself a treat. I was deep in the last days of writing my Built for Change book and I needed some light at the end of the tunnel. I love the academic stimulus provided by the annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham. Around that, for the last few years, I have found renewal at Holy Island. So I put in place a plan, to return to the United Kingdom in September.

I found another set of conferences around the Ecclesiology and Ethnography and submitted abstracts (total of three). Two abstracts were accepted. One wasn’t. But it was enough. I spotted a number of potential funding avenues. Over recent months, I’ve worked hard to shift the abstracts from ideas to full draft journal articles in preparation.

Over the last weeks, I’ve begun to wonder if the benefits of the treat might actually be outweighed by other realities. Academically, a number of opportunities closer to home have presented themselves. Financially, airfares are higher than I budgeted. At the same time, money is tight in academic circles. There could be some help, but not as much as I had calculated. Work-wise, there are signs I need to be grounded, not working from a laptop on the road. Family wise, I have a partner on the home stretch of a PhD and the “how can the rest of the family pitch in plan” doesn’t work as well if I’m away for a period overseas. I do need a treat, but this treat felt like it was being increasingly diminished.

Last week, I regretfully decided to withdraw my various conference presentations. I feel regret. I will miss the stimulus and the conversations and the space that is created. The networks are important. People have made decisions and given me opportunity and they will now have to reshuffle programmes.

I also feel relief. I’m glad I can say no. I very much enjoyed taking the 10 days I had blocked out with conferences and writing into the blank space of the calendar: “work on lectures”; “quiet day to read”; weekend away with family.” It has also been good to remind myself of privilege: that to even contemplate an overseas conference is in fact an enormous treat. That is a light in a tunnel in itself.

I share this story in order to honour this blog. On this blog I record things that go according to plan, including abstracts that get accepted and things that get written. So it seems fair to also record things that don’t go to plan and things that won’t get done and the ongoing unfolding of life.

Posted by steve at 12:43 PM

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Star Trek Beyond: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 100 plus films later, here is the review for August 2016.

Star Trek Beyond
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Star Trek was born 51 years old, with a pilot episode shot in 1965. Being 51 in the entertainment industry means the need to win new friends while keeping old ones.

“Star Trek Beyond” delivers. For old fans, there is the familiarity of ship, crew and the willingness to boldly explore strange new worlds. In “Star Trek Beyond,” this means seeking to rescue a ship ambushed beyond the nebula. For new fans, the action quickly moves to warp speed, as USS Enterprise encounters the evil technologies of Commander Krall. For all fans, there is old technology, of motorbikes and VHF radio as weapons in the defeat of Krall. For Kiwi fans, there is Wellington born, Karl Urban as Dr Bones McCoy.

Being 51 means adapting to a changing world. In “Star Trek Beyond,” Sulu (John Cho) is gay, with a husband and young daughter. In addition, strong female roles are provided by the well-known figure of Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the introduction of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), becoming a rescuer despite the previous pain caused to her in an ambush by Krall.

Being 51 also means facing death. The first line in the pilot episode of 1965 belonged to Leonard Nimoy (“Check the circuit”). “Star Trek Beyond” pays homage to Nimony, who died in 2015, aged 83. This involves memorial credits, along with the young Spock (Zachary Quinto) of “Star Trek Beyond” finding strength in a photo of the original Star Trek crew, Nimoy included.

It is one thing to face the death of an elderly man, quite another that of an acting colleague in the middle of the Star Trek reboot. Anton Yelchin, who plays Chekov, died in a freak automobile accident in June 2016, aged 27. It makes poignant Captain Kirk’s (Chris Pine) toast to absent friends and the liquor taken from Chekov’s locker. In a Western society obsessed with youth, navigating the strange new world of death is an essential dimension of being 51.

Star Trek has from the beginning blended technology, action and philosophy. The pilot episode was considered cerebral and intellectual. “Star Trek Beyond” embraces philosophy by mirroring two scenes. Early on Captain Kirk meets with Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo). In deep space, he describes how easy it is for a Captain to get lost. As the movie ends, Kirk meets again with Commodore Paris. Again Kirk notes how easy it is for Captains to get lost in deep space, yet the strength he finds in human partnership. It makes the warp speed action between these two scenes the unfolding exploration of humans facing the existential fear of losing their inner compass.

It is a question Jesus explores in Luke 15. Three parables are grouped together around the experience of being lost. What emerges is a different mirroring, in which direction comes not from human partnership, but from God, acting as seeking shepherd, searching woman and waiting father. Whether the “distant country” of Luke 15:13 can be stretched to include the strange new worlds beyond the nebula becomes the question of faith for every viewer.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 06:53 PM

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Let us sing (in harmonies) a new song in this strange land

Last week, I was asked to deliver a keynote address at the Pacific Island Synod, a gathering of Samoan, Niuean, Tokelau/Tuvalu and Cook Island communities from around Aotearoa New Zealand. I was asked to address the question: How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? As soon as I received the invitation, I asked a KCML colleague, Malcolm Gordon, if he might have a song to sing. A few days before, I gave him the script for my talk and he responded with a yes.

The Pacific Island Synod ended with a feast on the Saturday evening. This included a number of speeches, in which gifts were offered. With Malcolm present, I stood and announced that we as KCML had a gift, that of a song, written specifically – new – for this occasion. I noted the theme – How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? – as a question not only for Pacific Island communities, but also for Malcolm and I as Palangi. Together, as diverse nations, we share a common quest, a shared mission, that of seeking God’s help in singing a new song.

lordssong

Malcolm passed copies of the music around. He noted he had a melody, but that the song needed harmonies. There was an instant murmur among those gathered, with so many fine voices and such a rich tradition of song among Pacific peoples. As Malcolm began a cappella, those gathered began to improvise harmonies. Together in our diversity we produced a new song.

As the Synod Clerk wrote to me later “It was a great moment when the place just broke into song. Thanks Steve and Malcolm for such a great finish to the day. We definitely sung a new song in this strange world.”

Posted by steve at 06:54 AM