Friday, November 26, 2021

squid game – a theological film review

I sent off a film review (The Power of the Dog) to Touchstone magazine today. In 2005, the editor rang and asked me to theologically review a film of interest to their readers. 500 words please. And offered to pay! The editor liked the review so much, he asked again next month.

It’s now my 15th year of film reviewing. 11 reviews a year. 500 words a film review. Now over 82,000 words! Writing to a deadline month by month has been such a wonderful challenge. Viewing a film theologically, yet needing to be respectful of the art. This month, it was the realisation that the title – The Power of the Dog – was a quote from Scripture (Psalm 22:20). Last month, with Squid Game, a co-written review with my daughter, pondering the harrowing of hell …

Squid Game
Reviewed by Kayli Taylor and Steve Taylor

Squid Game is a survival drama television series streaming on Netflix. Hundreds of cash-strapped contestants compete in children’s games for a winner take all prize. Yet, the stakes are deadly. Directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, set in South Korea, it has become a Netflix sensation. Rated R16, it is a dark and compelling mediation on contemporary life.

Central to Squid Game are children’s games. Episode 1 centres around Red Light, Green Light, also known as Statues. Participants run on the call of “Green Light” and must freeze on the call of “Red Light.” Any movement during “Red Light” results in elimination. At this point, the story shifts, and it becomes evident that in Squid Game, this children’s game involves real-life survival.

Children’s games should evoke the sounds of gentle laughter. In Squid Game, they illuminate the worst qualities of human character, holding a mirror on the desperation that results from lack of choice.

The lack of choice is brilliantly depicted. Participants begin each game by walking through a hallway of staircases. Painted in pink, yellow and green, it is similar to Dutch artist M. C. Escher’s famed Relativity. At first glance, Escher’s woodcut suggests an idyllic community in which participants enjoy life. Yet all the figures are featureless and identical in dress. The seven staircases are positioned in ways that evoke feelings of being trapped. None of the figures can move freely or escape the image.

The participants in Squid Game are similarly featureless and trapped. They are numbered, not named. Each has been selected based on an assessment of their debt. Yet each number is a person.

Episode 2, intriguingly titled “Hell,” shines a light on the lives of individual numbers. The main character, 456 (played by Lee Jung-jae) is a man caught in a gambling addiction. Number 199 (played by Anupam Tripathi) is a Pakistani migrant caught in an exploitive working environment. Number 067 (played by HoYeon Jung) is desperately trying to reconnect with her family stuck in North Korea – a reunion that comes with heavy costs. Hell exists in the here and now as the circumstances of life’s realities and the consequences of desperate choices play out in human relationships.

A masked man controls Squid Game, watching the carnage from a distance. The notion of an omnipotent being, usually male, controlling the game played by lesser mortals is a familiar image of the Christian God.

Where is God in Squid Game? Christian theology argues that in Jesus, God refuses to watch from a distance. Instead, God gambles by entering the game of life. Christ becomes a number, participating to repay the debts of those trapped by their human choices. An unknown fourth-century sermon describes the events of Easter as God being “swallowed” by Hades. This swallowing occurs so that Christ might search the very depths of human hell. Could God take the number of another human player inside the game of life, even to death?

Kayli Taylor is a Masters student at the University of Otago and researches queer feminist social histories.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is author of “First Expressions” (2019) and Director AngelWings Ltd, resourcing churches in mission.

Posted by steve at 07:58 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, November 22, 2021

Applied Research Abstract – Theological education as “being with” the future church

I am delighted to have an Applied Research Abstract accepted for the Review of Religious Research.

Title: Theological education as “being with” the future church: applied research among local leaders in an Australian Baptist denomination

Keywords: theologies of change, future church, theological education

The Review of Religious Research is a journal that publishes empirical social science research on religion as a forum for applied and academic research across multiple disciplines and approaches. This means that they publish not only original research but also short summaries of applied research with practical implications for denominations and religious bodies. Given this focus on applied research with practical implications for denominations, I was able to write up a summary of a 2-month piece of research I did earlier this year for Whitley College and the Baptist Union of Victoria.

It was a project done entirely online, which was a fascinating experience over Zoom (and worth a research reflection on its own right!)

It was an excellent exercise turning what was a 55-page report on interviews, a mix of 1-1 and focus groups, with some 55 people for a College Council, into a short summary, in the format of a structured abstract with Background, Purpose, Methods, Results, and Conclusions and Implications. I’ll include a link once the Applied Research Abstract is published.

Posted by steve at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 07, 2021

more grounded, more international

I completed 3 major project milestones this week.

First, the 6th and last Mission For A Change for 2021. What was a spark of an idea at the start of the year – to offer online resourcing on mission – has become interviews with women and indigenous thinkers who are writing in areas of mission and change.

Second, the completion of a Codesign report. At the start of this year, I was contracted with Val Goold to undertake a consultation about researching the future of theological education and ministry formation across the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and the Pacific. 55 interactions later, after listening with over 160 people, an 8-page report this week summarised a 2nd stage of the Codesign, as we checked our listening with various stakeholders, and outlined 10 research strategies for what could happen in 2022.

Third, the completion of Learn Local. Funding from the Synod of Otago Southland and the support of the Southern Presbytery has enabled me to offer education in local mission. Over the last month, I’ve been privileged to work face to face and online with folk from 7 local churches and 1 Queenslander who have walked local communities as a mission learning experience. The visual is notes from the final “online” session, by the amazing Lynne Taylor, as participants shared their “walking” learnings and as I gave input on forming faith in local mission.

notes from learn local 4

There is much more to process on each of these and more plans for 2022. But it’s nice to savour 3 milestones, all resourcing mission in different ways across different denominations. I feel more grounded in local communities and more international, resourcing across countries and organisations all at the same time.

Posted by steve at 09:57 AM

Monday, October 18, 2021

why should a Christian get vaccinated?

I got vaccinated today. Let me give 5 brief reasons why.

First, because I’m not an island. I live in relationships and I have a human responsibility to be healthy in those relationships. A vaccine reduces the chance of infecting others (for one study, see here).

Second I did an undergraduate science degree, including biochemistry. I learnt enough to know how little I know and how focused and dedicated are those who work in science research. Rather than fear what I don’t know, I choose to trust those with more knowledge than me.

Third I’m a Christian. As the charismatic leader Christian John Wimber used to say – I pray for my headache and I take a Panadol. God heals through medicine and God protects through vaccines. To not trust God the healer through and with science is the way of the fool in Proverbs.

Fourth, in my current work, I conduct high-quality human research. I know how carefully my colleagues check my ethics applications and how carefully I check theirs. That careful diligence is magnified when it comes to medical trials. The global collaboration amongst scientists and governments in vaccine development is to be applauded, not feared.

Fifth, it’s a global pandemic. It’s scary and unknown. One way to respond to fear is with love – love of neighbour, which is what Jesus commands in the Gospels.

For these reasons, I got vaccinated today.

Posted by steve at 03:27 PM

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

on being an indie educator

“Indie” as a noun involves what is small and independent. “Indie” as an adjective involves not belonging or affiliated to a major record or film company.

Which means I’m an “indie” educator. I’m running independent educational events. These are not connected to any major academic organisations.

Because I’m indie

  • I don’t work in a classroom. Instead, I offer educational experiences in cafes and community centres and online
  • I forge different participation relationships, choosing to work in teams to enhance accountability and interaction and diversity of voice
  • I do my own advertising. I use Zoom and Vimeo to make short videos that introduce and invite
  • I handle my own registrations. I use google docs to handle enrolments and seek to clarify  expectations
  • I don’t have a library. So I look for children’s stories read on Youtube and use Scannable app to add key resources. I use Wakelet and look for links to other public square resources
  • I conduct my own student evaluations, gaining feedback using post-it notes and evaluations

For example, one of my current “indie” educator events is Learn Local. It involves a Saturday immersion experience, followed by 4 online evenings. I worked to form accountable relationships with local ministers and sound artists. Some of the video’s are here and here and the Learn local Wakelet course resources are here.

The evaluations from Saturday asked people to identify learnings and explain Learn Local to a friend and in response, they said things like:

stimulating, informative, thought-provoking;
a way to develop thought processes, develop relationships that enable you to discover your own answers;
a good way of getting ideas for mission in our community;
a curated theological reflection group

I’m an indie educator. I’m not sure how long it will last but I’m enjoying meeting people I’d never meet inside existing academic organisation. Above all, I’m learning as I go.

Posted by steve at 07:20 PM

Monday, October 04, 2021

“a unique contribution”: Andrew Dunlop reviews my First Expressions book

Another (7th) international academic review of my First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God is out in International Bulletin of Mission Research, Vol 45, Issue 4, 2021, 441-442, here. The review is by Andrew Dunlop, who is Tutor in Context-Based Training at Ridley Hall and oversees pioneer teaching for lay and ordained. The review is a highly accurate summary of the book, with many affirmations.

Since the review is behind a paywall, here are some of my highlights
– “a first — a longitudinal study” of new Christian communities
– the empirical research of new Christian communities is “particularly engaging” with my “woven ecclesiology” (90–91) offering a “reframing” of sustainability in fresh expressions of church. (Instead of longevity, numbers, and finance, I argue for leadership development, inter-generational faith formation and creative resource making).
– “a huge amount of deep missiological thinking”, particularly as from the empirical date I develop themes of authenticity, ambient witness, creativity, sacramentality, and governance, explored through the credal framework of the church being one, holy, catholic, and apostolic
– noting my conclusion, that “innovation is what makes church “church,” enabling it to remain faithful to this credal structure (232)”

Andrew concludes that First Expressions makes a “unique contribution” to ecclesiology questions around resourcing and sustainability. The book is of “particular interest to those studying new Christian communities.” First Expressions also provides “a valuable addition to theologies of innovation.” Thanks Andrew for such an accurate review, along with such a range of compliments.

This is the 7th substantive review of First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God. The other reviews (that I’m aware of) are summarised by me –

  • here in Theology;
  • here in Church Times;
  • here in Ecclesial Futures;
  • here in Practical Theology;
  • here in Ecclesiology;
  • here in Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal.
Posted by steve at 09:26 AM

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Learn local walking with short explanatory video

“because I’m an educator, let me read you a story ..”

A short video introducing Learn local as a mission education experience + walking as a local practice.

  • 3 reasons to walk local – because Jesus walked, because early church walked, because pilgrimage is a Christian practice
  • 2 experiential ways to learn
  • 1 children’s story – The Listening Walk by Paul Showers

Participation in Learn Local is possible face to face and online. Register here. Enquiries to me at -> kiwidrsteve@gmail.com

Posted by steve at 01:11 PM

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Learn local

God is up to something.

My research into how churches are responding to Covid-19 has included analysing interviews with ministers from a range of denominations in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and the United States. A recurring theme is the ways in which churches are returning to their neighbourhoods.

In lockdowns, we live and exercise locally. God’s love has been made visible as churches have slowed, localised, walked and (appropriately) blessed. I’ve heard socially distanced stories of laypeople being equipped, commissioned and released as neighbour connectors. I’ve seen and experienced worship in which local parks, suburban crossroads and mailboxes have become invitations to pray.

Amid constrictions, ancient spiritual practices have been expressed in new ways. There has been a creative localising of disciplines of discerning, spiritual direction, serving, and prayer walking (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, IVP, 2005, 99-103; 115-7; 145-7 and 253-5).

Learn local connects with what God can do locally. Learn local visits local mission initiatives to experience grassroots mission, hear stories of local community engagement and consider different expressions of Christian mission practice. The first Learn Local begins in Dunedin and visits the Seedling and Student Soul on Saturday, October 9 (10 am – 5 pm). This experience (a soundscape will be available for those at distance), is followed by 4 online Thursday evenings. These 75-minute sessions provide theological, practical and relational resources to encourage individuals and churches in local mission.

Supported by the Southern Presbytery and a gift from the Synod of Otago and Southland, Learn local offers hybrid learning – there are face to face and online options – to cope with the complexity of rapid level changes. Numbers for the Saturday experience are limited to 15 and priority will be given to those endorsed by their Church Council.

For queries->Steve Taylor, kiwidrsteve@gmail.com.
To register-> tinyurl.com/learnlocalnz

learn local advertising

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Mission For A Change 2021

Mission For A Change is a bi-monthly resource showcasing recent research and new ideas. Steve Taylor, Director AngelWings Ltd, provides short, sharp upgrades to learning. To register for updates and more content -> here.


Mission for a change faith and migration
– explored Squid Game and bubble tea, then internalised racism, policing and the way the Gospel transforms identities with Grace Lung

mission for a change faith and migration.mp4 from steve taylor on Vimeo.


Mission for a change Enliven
– explored social research and church vitality with Dr Ruth Powell

Mission and conversion – explored conversion and faith-sharing with Dr Lynne Taylor

Mission for a (climate change) – explored faith and tikanga with Rev Christopher Douglas-Huriwai.

Mission and gender – explored gender, mission and reading Scripture for liberation with Dr Rosemary Dewerse and Dr Cathy Hine.

Mission and indigenous cultures – explored indigeneity and mission with Rev Dr Hirini Kaa

Posted by steve at 05:43 PM

Friday, August 27, 2021

Learn local: a mission learning opportunity

Want to meet Christians passionate about their local community? Want to learn about grassroots mission? Want to grow skills in starting and sustaining a new initiative in mission?

learn local advertising Rev Dr Steve Taylor, a creative and experienced mission educator, and former Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership is facilitating mission learning opportunities in Otago/Southland. The aim is to explore mission not in a classroom but in local communities. This involves opportunities to visit local mission initiatives to experience grassroots mission, hear stories of local community engagement and consider different expressions of Christian mission practice. The Saturday experience is followed by online learning, four sessions in the following weeks, which help participants connect local learnings with best practices in mission.

The aim of learning local is to discern practically grounded insights into mission and ministry and to encourage mission dreams, imaginations and experiments through the Presbytery. Numbers for the Saturday experience are limited to 15 and priority will be given to those endorsed by their Church Council. (For online participants, a soundscape can be made available 48 hours after).

The first learning Local is Saturday, October 9, 10 am – 5 pm and involves visits in Dunedin to The Seedling and Student Soul. Lunch and snacks are provided and participation is free, thanks to the generosity of Synod of Otago and Southland.

Online sessions are Thursday’s 14, 21, 26 October, 4 November, 7:30-8:45 pm.

For queries->Steve Taylor, kiwidrsteve@gmail.com.
To register-> tinyurl.com/learnlocalnz

FAQs
• Is lunch provided? Yes.
• Is the site visit experience free? Yes. All it costs is your time to register and participate.
• Can I bring others? Yes. Several folk from a church would enhance learning. But everyone must register -> tinyurl.com/learnlocalnz
• Can I come to just the site visit? Yes. Register and we will discuss with you other ways you can apply your learning local.
• Can I come to just the online learning? Yes. Register and we will discuss with you other ways can ground your learning local. For example, a soundscape of local participants sharing could be made available 48 hours after.
• Can I come if I live outside the Presbytery? Yes, both the site visit and online learning are open to anyone. However, to make funding work, there is a learning cost of $200 for the online evenings for those outside Otago/Southland. This contributes to making online learning happen. The local site visits remain free for anyone.
• What if you get more than 15 for the site visit? We will prioritise those with endorsement from their church council/leadership. We are capping at 15 to ensure a workable site visit. Numbers for the 4 online sessions are not limited.
• Will there be other opportunities? A second Learn local is planned for a Saturday in March and will likely visit in Central Otago.

Posted by steve at 01:42 PM

Sunday, August 22, 2021

John Wesley on knitting and the universal basic income

The ordinary knitters research project involves not only interviewing people who knit for projects for a Christian church or organisation. It also involves reading about the role of knitting in Christianity, including in history. This week, while examining a post-graduate thesis, I came across some writing that in passing noted an entry from 1741 in the journals of John Wesley:

My design, I told them, is to employ for the present all the women who are out of business, and desire it, in knitting. To these we will first give the commonprice for what work they do; and then add, according as they need. (The Journal of John Wesley, 7 May 1741).

In relation to the ordinary knitters project (full project explained here), there are two things that strike me about this. First, the church offering knitting as gainful work in response to unemployment, and thus the 2nd mark of mission (Loving service responding to human need). Second, what sounds like an economic imagination that involves a universal basic income (“commonprice”); and thus the 4th mark of mission (Seeking to transform society)

Posted by steve at 01:51 PM

Thursday, August 19, 2021

the seasons of research

Today I’m bundling up a pile of research, as another project is sent to a funder. The yellow notebook on the left-hand side is my field notes for this season of the project, some 280 pages from interviews and conversations. The yellow notebook on the right-hand side is untouched. It expresses my sense that the project is warmly welcomed by stakeholders, my hope that the funders will agree to our next step plan and that I might start another season of research.

This season of the project has been co-design, in which diverse voices across a denomination have shared their reflections on a proposed project. It’s potentially a far-reaching and significant investment in theological education, ministry training and formation, across multiple cultures. Hence the need for co-design. Over the last 6 months, there has been some 40 listening interactions, to around 150 people. The result is a report of some 12,000 words, spread over 26 pages, weaving dreams, realities, spirituality and wisdom. The funders met next week to decide next steps.

There has been some significant imaginative scholarship in this particular season. There has been the use of lectio divina as a research tool. There has been the use of a prayer as a way to code what is being heard. On Monday I ideated with a research colleague a possible methodology journal article, emerging from the research design invited by the project.

While the funders read and reflect, I clear the desk, boxing up all the work. I find myself thankful, for being part of a wonderful bi-cultural research team, for the richness of spaces in which I’ve been privileged to listen, and for the creativity possible in research. I find myself excited, at what might happen if I am able to open that shiny, fresh notebook on the right.

Posted by steve at 10:17 AM

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Coding and a prayer

I’m back coding this week. Over this year, I’ve been working with a colleague on a co-design that might discern the future of theological education and formation for a denomination. To date in this particular project, we’ve conducted 40 interactions with around 150 people, inviting their reflections on what the actual project could look like.

With an interim report due to the funders later this month, this week we’re pausing interactions in order to write up findings to date. How to summarise what is now over 130 pages of data?

In beginning the project, the funders offered us a prayer. It was a prayer we prayed as we began every interaction, reading the funders words as a way of respecting their hopes and dreams, beginning with their voice in the project.

Loving and embracing God,
We affirm our guardianship of the precious gift of creation
We have a vision, we have courage, we have your guidance

Prayer of the Moana, by Archbishop Winston Halapua

So we are exploring using that prayer in the coding. It provides some words to shape what we could look for in the data – God, guardianship, vision, courage, guidance. It invites us to interact with our data, in light of those words

  • Where is their God-talk and God-reflection?
  • Where is their guardianship, a valuing of things that need to be tended and nurtured?
  • Where is their vision, hopes for the future?
  • Where is their courage, naming of reality and things that are difficult?
  • Where is their guidance, insight into what is needed for the project to succeed?

codes It also expects that God might actually be present in the co-design. It means that this week, amid the post-it notes and colour codes and white sheets of paper and pages of data, there is a spiritual attentiveness, not just to words said, but in wondering what God might be doing

Posted by steve at 09:15 AM

Sunday, August 08, 2021

First Expressions a recommended book for Practical Theology 2021

practical theology journal I’m stoked to hear that my book, First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God is a recommended book for the Practical Theology journal June 2021, 278-279. The annual list of ‘Recommended Books in Practical Theology’ is based on input from Editorial Board members and readers. These books address the complexities of practical theology and ministry through interdisciplinary approaches to research and scholarship, offering fresh practical and theoretical insights to this field. Here’s the summary –

Taylor, Steve, First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God (London: SCM Press, 2019).

Steve Taylor’s work continues a decade of ecclesiological investigations by reexamining sites of ecclesial innovation in the United Kingdom eleven years later. Interdisciplinary in scope and poetic in tone, First Expressions provides a template for future studies of change within communities of faith.

Posted by steve at 05:42 PM