Thursday, June 17, 2021

The First Cow: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 160 plus films later, here is the review for June 2021.

The First Cow
Reviewed by Steve Taylor

The First Cow is slow. Like cattle chewing cud, the movie rewards the patient viewer. Beautifully plotted by director Kelly Reichardt, the mix of humanity and humour offer an absorbing meditation on the nature of friendship.

The beginning tells the end. Up a river in the Pacific Northwest, a ship passes. It takes time and little changes. Up that same river, in centuries passed, trappers and traders have passed. Based on Half Life, a novel by Jonathan Raymond, The First Cow reveals the complexity of pioneer ambition.

The land is bountiful. Gold, beaver and the abundance of salmon offer opportunities aplenty. Amid such possibility, what to grow? Yet how to start? Because while dreams are free, getting ahead takes capital and class. Trade requires networks, more available to those already connected. New ventures take cash in advance, less risky for those who already have security.

Pioneer society is riven by class. English gentry has servants, while ships’ captains punish life with death. In contrast, Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro) is an orphan, learning to bake as an indentured labourer in Boston. King-Lu (Orion Lee) is Chinese, on the run from a charge of murder. Across cultures, Cookie and King-Lu form an unlikely friendship. They lack the cash, but as partners find themselves urging each other toward risk.

Oppressed by class, they offer each other trust and loyalty. In a sexualised society, a movie starring platonic friendship between two men, built on respect and partnership, is an oddity.

Theologically, The First Cow brings to mind Jesus’ invitation to friendship. God’s offer of friendship subverts hierarchies of servanthood. Trust, loyalty and mutuality are a radical way to relate to the divine. The cultural differences between Cooke and King-Lu remind us that relationships can be based on respect rather than sexual attraction or social media likes.

Historically, the Christian tradition has seen cultivating friendship as a spiritual discipline. Writing in the eleventh century (“Spiritual Friendship” in Ellen Charry, Inquiring After God: Classic and Contemporary Readings), Aelred, abbot of an English monastery, distinguished between the intimacy of friendship and that of sexuality. Aelred celebrated fun and sharing, arguing that we know God better as we share time, offer tact and draw on the strength of others. In the giving and receiving of life, dignity is possible.

For Aelred, friendship demanded time. Friends should be chosen carefully. Loyalty needs testing, as do intentions and discretion. Only once trust is tried will a friendship offer spiritual growth. For Aelred, such friendships, although few, will be lifelong.

Hence friendship defines the spiritual life. Indeed, greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). This is a way to faith in which the love and loyalty of God on earth is clarified. It explains the slow burn of The First Cow, King-Lu’s final words, “I’ve got you,” and the movie’s beginning, which explains the side-by-side ending.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is author of First Expressions (2019) and writes widely in theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 09:17 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, June 14, 2021

navigating leadership transitions in innovative communities

A few weeks ago, an email with a question – how to navigate changes in innovative communities?

navigating changes in first expressions from steve taylor on Vimeo.

A church pastor, who after reading my book First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, asked if I could share some wisdom with their leadership team about navigating changes and transitions in innovative communities. The community were losing a key leader. New communities by nature have little experience of leadership transitions, so what wisdom could I share?

So I made a short video, reflecting on some of my own experiences (including my “have you grown” story). I also made a leadership transition bingo card, to reflect on innovation theologies and different church systems. I concluded with 3 tips drawn from research I did for First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, lessons from 10 innovative communities I researched over an 11 year period

  • storyforming
  • flexibility
  • situation awareness.

Resources – leadership transition bingo card

Posted by steve at 09:09 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 03, 2021

journal article acceptance – Theologies of fulfilment in a reciprocal study

Stoked with news this week of journal article acceptance in International Bulletin on Mission Research. The journal is “an unparalleled source of information on the world church in mission. The editors are committed to maintaining the highest possible academic editorial standards.” I used to browse the journal as a wide-eyed undergraduate, never imagining I’d ever be a contributor.

My article will likely appear in pre-print later this year and in print 2023 – which suggests a pretty popular journal! This is the first academic output of the AngelWings season, written over the last few months, following presentation at the World Christianity virtual conference in early March and after reading Hirini Kaa’s Te Hāhi Mihinare | The Māori Anglican Church back in February in preparing Mission For a Change. At the same time, it began as part of lecture while I was Principal of KCML, and it’s really gratifying to have this sort of international benchmarking of my lecture content.

Theologies of fulfilment in a reciprocal study of relationships between John Laughton and Rua Kēnana in Aotearoa New Zealand

Abstract: The crossing of borders of religion presents challenges and provides opportunities. This paper presents a contextualized case study from Aotearoa New Zealand, examining the life-long relationship between Presbyterian missionary, Rev John “Hoani” Laughton (1891-1965), and Māori leader, Rua Kēnana (1969-1937). Photography, as a tool in discerning lived theologies, suggests a side-by-side relationship of reciprocity and particularity. Relationships across differences are revealed not in theory but lived practices of education, worship, and prayer, life, and death. The argument is that Kēnana and Laughton are enacting theologies of fulfilment, grounded in different epistemologies, one of matauranga Māori, the other of Enlightenment thinking.

Keywords: fulfillment theology, matauranga Māori, new religious movements, Presbyterian

Posted by steve at 09:38 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Reimagining Faith and Management book launch

It was a lot of fun to be at the book launch of Reimagining Faith and Management: The Impact of Faith in the Workplace (Routledge, 2021) in Auckland on Tuesday. Big thanks to Auckland University of Technology for the hosting. It was wonderful to have packed house and the speeches of the Chancellor and Vice-chancellor, along with two cabinet ministers and the Race Relations Commissioner, to help launch the book. Congratulations to the editors – Professor Edwina Pio, Dr Tim Pratt and Dr Rob Kilpatrick.

The overwhelming theme, in all the speeches, was the need for ways to think about faith in management, given the importance of faith for so many people in our world today, and yet the silence of so much of the business literature about the place of faith in management. This point was made particularly well by MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan and MP Michael Wood, along with Meng Foon.

I was present because I have a chapter in the book, applying wisdom literature to the governance of innovation. My argument is that governing innovation requires different governance capacities and even more so in rapidly changing times. I used the wisdom literature – from First Testament and from Paul in Corinth – to outline 6 competencies, which are then grounded in two recent experiences of governing boards seeking to invest in innovation. The invitation to contribute allowed me to develop part of a chapter from First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God (2019) on governance as catholicity, and integrate with some of Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration (2016), for which I was glad.

At a personal level, to be invited to contribute to an international published volume was quite a thrill.

Posted by steve at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

“important data”: Emma Percy reviews my First Expressions book in Theology Today

“The book is a useful read for those engaged in Fresh Expressions and Pioneer ministry and those making decisions about what and how we support such initiatives.”

Emma Percy reviews my First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God in the latest edition of academic journal Theology 2021, 124 (3): 215-216. Theology as a journal considers itself the best journal available for students in ministerial formation, for theological educators and recent ordinands, as well as for laity and clergy keen to keep in touch with developments in Christian thought and practice. So it’s great to have the book reviewed!

Dr Emma Percy has research interests in feminist theology and ministry and is Chaplain and Welfare Dean, Trinity College, in Oxford. She affirms my research has generated important data and considers the book a useful read that is beginning a needed conversation, particularly when new initiatives are linked to financial grants. She considers my theological conversation partners (Janet Soskice and Julian of Norwich) are interesting and notes how I’ve chosen them because of the gendered nature of the formal Fresh Expressions movement of the Church of England. She affirms my questioning of the overvaluing of permanence in ecclesiology as “important” and requires further “nuanced theological reflection.”

She has some critical comments. First, she thinks the book has too many theological strands, with a need for greater coherence. Second, she wanted more engagement with the more critical voices in the debates around Fresh Expressions. Third, she ponders the reality that metaphors have limits. She considers how the birthing theologies I develop (from feminist theology) work given my data and how to understand the closure of first expression gatherings in relation to death of babies and infants. At the same time, metaphors have potential, which is clearly evident as Percy begins to work with my metaphors of craft and compost in seeking to think about the ecclesiology of first expressions.

Foregrounding some of his other metaphors from ecology or craft may have enabled him to play with the idea of things springing up and then being dug back into the ground or a faulty pot being remade into something new.

Finally, a conclusion, that the book is timely and important for the Church of England, particularly given current financial constraints. Thanks Dr Emma Percy, for a really thoughtful review, that helps me keep thinking, particularly about metaphors of craft and compost.

…….

This is the sixth substantive review of First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God. There have been five other reviews (that I’m aware of)

  • 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 10:45 AM

Monday, May 17, 2021

Easter in Art

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 160 plus films later, here is the review for May 2021.

Easter in Art
Reviewed by Steve Taylor

“That Jesus film,” said the cashier, somewhat suspiciously as we requested tickets to Easter in Art. Outside, a southerly drizzle left me pondering if the darkness of Good Friday included rain. Upstairs, the Dunedin architects’ gathered, their noisy networking loud enough to disturb the opening credits of Phil Grabsky’s Easter in Art.

“That Jesus film” is actually art history. Since 2009, director Phil Grabsky has brought art and artists to cinema screens across 61 countries. Easter in Art takes this art history approach to visual portrayals of the Jesus story.

Four different voices read the four gospel narratives. A soundtrack marks shifts in mood, from Palm Sunday’s courage, through the betrayals, love and suffering of Holy Week, to the redeeming surprise of Easter Sunday. Slow camera panning of art, from medieval to modern, is spliced with interviews with leading art historians. Easter, we are told, is the most illustrated story in the Western tradition.

Opening and closing scenes highlight how profoundly multi-sensory is the Christian faith. An Easter gathering, likely Orthodox, proclaims that Christ is risen. The words are surrounded by icons and incense. Candles illuminate statues, while bells and music invite listening and singing. Worship includes the bodily actions of walking in pilgrimage, standing to sing and making the signs of the cross. Sights, smells, sounds, touch and taste: all are engaged in the Jesus story.

The art history commentary clarifies the participatory nature of faith. Viewing art is not a spectator sport. Instead, Easter in Art outlines how art positions the viewer as a participant. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper adorned the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Refectory originates from the Latin word “to remake.” The actions of Jesus “remake” the everyday activities of eating with others. Ruben’s Descent from the Cross was created for an altar in Antwerp Cathedral. As the faithful gather, they are invited to imagine carrying in love the body of Christ. The Isenheim Altarpiece was first displayed in the Monastery of St. Anthony, which specialized in hospital work. The sick suffered not alone, but accompanied by “that suffering Jesus.”

The result is a checklist for preacher and hearers. Sermons and worship are for participants, not spectators. Seeing “that Jesus” can remake us, changing how we eat and act together. Hearing about “that Jesus” should connect with the human experience of courage, suffering, love, and redemption.

Next Easter, you could download the Easter story in Art (here). If you are preparing to preach, you could purchase John Drury’s Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meanings or Richard Harries’ The Passion in Art. If you want a global Jesus, ponder the twelve images in “Searching for a Jesus Who Looks More Like Me” (New York Times 10 April, 2020) or Rev Dr Wayne Te Kaawa’s “Jesus Christ meets Ihu Karaiti.” Each, in different ways, invite “that Jesus” to remake us, not as watchers but as participants in a global story of suffering, love, courage and redemption.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is author of First Expressions (2019) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 12:15 PM

Friday, May 14, 2021

Theologies of fulfillment in a reciprocal study of relationships: article submitted

A few months ago, I was glad to be part of the World Christianity Virtual Conference. Being virtual, it was a great way to connect with missiologists, without the expense and time of travel. The conference theme was the borders of religion and it seemed a good chance to offer some research I did – following the Christchurch mosque shootings – into how Presbyterians in Aotearoa interacted with difference, specifically the Ringatu faith.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to participate and very much enjoyed putting the presentation together – which I shared on a Sunday morning. It is pretty nerve wracking speaking online – and I was so nervous I forgot to turn my video on! Duh.

Anyhow, after the presentation, a journel editor reached out and expressed their appreciation of my paper and showed an interest in publication. I hadn’t made any plans for further publication, but having done the work, it seemed a good opportunity.

However, words written are different than words spoken. So I had to do some cultural checking regarding authorship, along with some copyright checking regarding photos. But again, the response from my tikanga (cultural) guide was warm, as was the National Library archivists. So after some editing and polishing, I submitted the article today – and now wait to see what happens through the academic review process.

Theologies of fulfillment in a reciprocal study of relationships between John Laughton and Rua Kēnana in Aotearoa New Zealand

Abstract: The crossing of borders of religion presents challenges and provides opportunities. This paper presents a contextualized case study from Aotearoa New Zealand, examining the life-long relationship between Presbyterian missionary, Rev John “Hoani” Laughton (1891-1965), and Māori leader, Rua Kēnana (1969-1937). Photography, as a tool in discerning lived theologies, suggests a side-by-side relationship of reciprocity and particularity. Relationships across differences are revealed not in theory but lived practices of education, worship, and prayer, life, and death. The argument is that Kēnana and Laughton are enacting theologies of fulfillment, grounded in different epistemologies, one of matauranga Māori, the other of Enlightenment thinking.

Keywords: fulfillment theology, matauranga Māori, new religious movements, Presbyterian

Posted by steve at 10:58 PM

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Mission for a (Climate) Change with Christopher Douglas-Huriwai

Mission For A Change is a monthly resource showcasing recent research and new ideas. It offers 45 minutes of prayer, interview, Q and A and conversation about the “so what.” The aim is to provide short, sharp upgrades to learning.

In May the focus was Mission for a (Climate) Change and explored faith and tikanga with Rev Christopher Douglas-Huriwai.

“If I had no Māori blood .. You need to research where you’re from … and use whatever mountain is there, whatever loch is there and use that as your pepeha.”

“It’s not about you feeling connected. It’s the fact that you are connected … your ancestors once called that place home.”

“A theology of climate change, a theology of pepeha, is a theology of creation.”

Rev Christopher has written a chapter on pepeha and climate change, in the rich resource that is Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church. Mission for a (Climate) Change excerpts from the interview with Rev Christopher are here. The interview includes Rev Christopher Douglas-Huriwai playing the taonga pūoro.

Mission for A Change runs monthly. Previous months have included

To register to receive further information, monthly zoom links and reading resources go here. For enquiries, contact Steve Taylor, Director AngelWings Ltd, by emailing: kiwidrsteve at gmail dot com.

Posted by steve at 09:06 AM

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

First Expressions “a compellingly honesty narrative” book review # 5

“If you met Steve Taylor, you would instinctively like him. He might say some things you didn’t agree with; and you’d have to put aside a generous amount of time to hear him out.”

So begins Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester. It is intriguing and highly personal reflection on “Steve Taylor-the-writer” that Warner glimpses as he reviews my book First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God. The review is in Church Times 26 February 2021. Church Times is a weekly English Anglican newspaper.

Warner finds First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God is “a compellingly honesty narrative,” with a bravery that is “honest and challenging.” The ecclesiology  being developed in the book is affirmed as having a “courageous freedom to be immediate and provisional” that seeks “authenticity and depth.”

The review concludes by linking First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God with the global pandemic. Hence First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God has value not only in studying the history of Fresh Expressions in the United Kingdom, but to invite “a shared experience, one that belongs to this time and place in such a way as to connect us with every time and place.”  It’s a wonderful connection, an affirmation that a provisionality in being church can open us to Christ.

…..

This is the fifth substantive review of First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God. There have been four other reviews (that I’m aware of)

  • here in Ecclesial Futures;
  • here in Practical Theology;
  • here in Ecclesiology
  • here in Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal.
Posted by steve at 10:21 PM

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Cousins: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 160 plus films later, here is the review for April 2021.

Cousins
Reviewed by Steve Taylor

Cousins, directed by Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith, provides a tactile, immersive experience of a bi-cultural Aotearoa. Cinema is often a visual experience. Cousins uses closeups of the visual to invite immersion. Hands holding feathers from a pillow fight release childhood memories, hands braiding hair image the work of whakapapa.

The lives of three cousins – Māta, Makareta, Missy – offer three experiences of colonisation and the dispossession that results. Māta is stolen, forced adoption stripping away her connections to land and family. Cousins follows her through forced adoption, schoolyard bullying, work and loveless relationships. Eventually homeless, her mind locked up by multiple griefs, she wanders Wellington. Her life will personalise many a case that will be heard by the current Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care

Makareta becomes a lawyer, prosecuting the legal justice made law through Te Tiriti. All the time, she searches for Māta. Missy remains near the family marae. Protecting the whenua, Cousins opens with her phoning Makareta for legal advice as surveyors plot a new motorway through Māori owned land.

These three lives, imagined by writer Patricia Grace (Cousins), are historicised through clever use of historic footage. Makareta’s father sails to his death as part of the 28th Māori Battalion leaving for Europe. Māta’s grief absorbs her as news of the 1975 Land March blares on TV. Māta is adrift on Wellington streets as the Foreshore and Seabed Hikoi of 2004 marches by. Cousins might be fiction, but it offers an immersive weaving with the experiences of many in Aotearoa.

If you are teaching the Bible to children, Cousins suggests you tread carefully. Racist interpretations, that mis-apply a traditional Catechetical Formula, are delightfully exposed. The ancestors are “not strange gods.” Rather, they are “just ugly,” announces Missy, as Māta mis-applies her Catholic orphanage Sunday School teaching in her first encounter with the tekoteko (ancestor) carved on the roof top of the wharenui.

If you’re speaking of the cross this Easter, Cousins offers a powerful portrayal of atonement. In choosing to remain near the marae, Missy becomes a female Christ-figure. In a moment of family drama (seeking to avoid spoilers), she takes initiative to absorb the whakamā (shame) of her family. She acts not as a substitutionary atonement but to re-make broken promises. Shame is as crippling as guilt, particularly in cultures that value community. Missy’s actions restore identity and result in new relationship. She follows Jesus, who in crucifixion, took our shame and in resurrection, re-made our broken promises. Hence we find ourselves invited to God’s wedding feast every communion. Hence Cousins offers theological gifts as we approach the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.

It is no wonder then, that Cousins ends with himene (hymns). After the credits have rolled, and the cinema is dark, amid the emotions wrought by the desolations of colonisation, the chords of “Whakaaria Mai” (How Great Thou Art) begin to sound. Not matter how dark, in God’s grace there is always the possibility of praise. Such is the gift of Cousins.

Posted by steve at 06:51 PM

Friday, March 19, 2021

Jesus as a socially (ir)responsible innovator journal acceptance

I’m stoked with the news that a journal article I co-authored with Associate Professor Christine Woods has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Public Theology.

Title – “Jesus as a socially (ir)responsible innovator: seeking the common good in a dialogue between wisdom Christologies and social entrepreneurship”

Short summary – This article examines the contribution of Jesus as an innovator to a public world in need of change. Jesus, as the fulfilment of God, is interpreted using the insights of Josef Schumpeter who argued for innovation as social change through creative recombination. The result is a social ethic, located in a creation theology, which is hospitable, generative, values partnership and disrupts existing social systems. Hence innovation is sourced in Jesus, as One who empowers socially (ir)responsible public formations that bear witness to God’s wisdom.

Keywords – innovation, social responsibility, Jesus the Innovator, Schumpeter, Paul, wisdom literature

This article is the result of nearly 4 years of interdisciplinary partnership with Christine, who works in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Faculty of Business & Economics at the University of Auckland. We connected thanks to Geoff New and worked together with Mark Johnston developing Lighthouse as a PCANZ innovation incubator. (Just this week I had an email from a Lighthouse participant saying that the vision God gave them at the Lighthouse Weekend was “really starting to take shape, with some amazing community developments”).

This article is also the 7th international journal publication for me in the last 2 years (along with 2 national) and it’s really gratifying to have my theological thinking, particularly in creative interdisciplinary partnerships like this, subjected to international peer review.

It’s also a second academic publication that develops and applies my 2016 book Built for Change. Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration developed a theology of innovation in dialogue with practical stories of change and reflection on my own leadership practices. Since then my thinking has continued to develop. I’ve reflected on what I call “wisdom governance” – developing a theology of governing innovation (Reimagining Faith & Management, with Routledge, book launch May 25) and now this accepted journal article on social innovation as public theology.

So it feels like there is just a lovely mix of practical leadership development (Lighthouse), accessible book (Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration) and now intellectual foundations outlined and extended (journal article and book chapter). Very satisfying, fruit of thinking and acting to serve the church while at KCML.

Cheers

Posted by steve at 05:18 PM

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Theology and U2’s Music Videos

I was asked recently if I was aware of any research into theology and U2’s Music Videos. I’ve only got my home library, but a search revealed 3 chapters in 3 books that provided research into theological themes in 3 U2 music videos.

First, Steve Taylor, “Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways”” U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher, edited by Scott Calhoun, Bloomsbury Press, 2018, 43-60, particularly pages 46-48 examines Mysterious Ways, first song, second, video, third, live performance with the belly dancer, fourth live performances during 360 tour. The theology of Sarah Coakley (drawing from The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings) is used to suggest “visual pneumatology” in relation to the live performances with the belly dancer, in contrast to what is argued to be “sonic pneumatology” offered by Paul Fiddes, (Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context) in relation to the live performances during 360 tour.

Second, Kevin Dettmar, “Nothing succeeds like Failure,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 112-126 analyses Rattle and Hum. Rattle and Hum is a concert film, yet it is also an (extended) music video. Dettmar analyses one song, Desire, on page 117.

Third, Daniel Kline, “Playing the Tart,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 129-150, particularly pages 136-138, analyses U2’s promotional video for Until the End of the World. Kline is working with U2’s theology in relation to Judas. There is an intertextual engagement with Wim Wenders film of same name Until the End of the World.

Some interesting things as I have continued to ponder. First, the existence of much more research into U2’s live performance than U2’s video. In the three books I looked at – U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher; U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments; Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 – there are at least 8 chapters on live performance. 8 compared to 3. Video is either an under-researched area of U2, or video is not seen as significant in U2’s meaning making as live performance.

Second, a thesis needing further testing. It feels like U2 are ambivalent toward the music video as a source of meaning-making. I would argue this based first on the way that U2 seem to give away interpretive control of what a song means. A case in point was the invitation for Anton Corbijn to release a film (Linear) of the entire No Line On The Horizon album. The Linear notes claimed the film was not a music video but an entirely new way to listen to the album. This suggests a deliberate embrace by U2 of multiple interpretations of a song. Second, the way that U2 songs are often recontextualized, performed in different ways in response to changing times (see especially my analysis of Bullet the Blue Sky in Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, 84-97). I think U2 are constantly reworking what their songs might mean, which makes them ambivalent about one music video to offer one interpretation. So while meanings can most certainly be gleaned from U2’s music videos, they are only as strong as the last live performance. In other words, I suggest there is a need to read U2 as not wanting a music video to provide a singular meaning.

Reflecting on this, U2’s lyric from The Fly, off the Achtung Baby album, seems appropriate.

“Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief;
All kill their inspiration and sing”

This sense of multiple meanings is at once both deeply ironic and purposefully contextual. U2 are affirming a relentless search for meaning. This aligns with Paul Riceour’s notion of texts having a surplus of meanings. It also affirms that God-talk is an ocean deep and wide and it is what happens in the moment that is the definitive, yet always provisional, word.

Posted by steve at 08:44 AM

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Missional Research Workshop online

The Ecclesial Futures journal, which I co-edit with Nigel Rooms, is offering an online workshop to try and encourage publishing in ecclesially grounded mission.

A short summary would be – Missional Research Workshop: This Workshop (online June 8-10, 2021) is designed to encourage research and networking. Sessions will share skills in writing and publishing and provide opportunities for presentation of work in progress, along with generative feedback from experienced researchers. The event will suit those seeking to publish in areas of ecclesially grounded mission, particularly new and emerging researchers who have not published before. To make a proposal, go here

A longer summary would be – Missional Research Workshop Call for Contributions

The Ecclesial Futures journal, in partnership with the IAMS Christian Communities in Mission Study Group are hosting an online Workshop, 8-10 June, to nurture research, and publishing that research, in mission. The Missional Research Workshop is designed to encourage research and networking. Each session will share skills in writing and publishing and provide opportunities for presentation of work in progress, along with generative feedback from experienced researchers.

The event will suit those seeking to publish in areas of ecclesially grounded mission, particularly new and emerging researchers who have not published before. We seek proposals offering verbal presentations of research reports, thought pieces and updates on mission research in progress, in areas that include:
• Examination of the ways in which theology is generated with the local church
• Longitudinal studies in congregational development over 5-10 or more years
• Diagnoses of why different churches flourish or die
• Studies of the relationship between a local church and its ‘world’ or context, including issues related to contextualisation, ‘cultural negotiation,’ ‘intercultural mission’
• Ethnographic studies of the cultural changes required in flourishing churches
• Methodological treatises on how to research in ecclesially grounded mission
• Studies of how local churches learn to experiment and fail
• Analysis of how organisations and denomination might transform themselves towards embodying the mission of God
• Astute, hermeneutically aware bible scholarship on the future of the contemporary church
• Implications for theological education of the local church ‘as the hermeneutic of the gospel’
• Contextual studies of transformative churches from wide-ranging places, particularly local churches formed outside of Christendom and modernity
• Ways in which leadership is identified, discerned and theologically formed for the local church to embody the mission of God
• Systemic studies of local churches and the systems that support them.
Workshop format – Each session will commence with a short presentation by an experienced researcher on their craft of research and writing. Work-in-progress summary of 10 minutes will be followed by generative feedback of 15 minutes. The 75 minute sessions will be spread over 8-10 June, at different times, to allow global participation.

Timeline
Abstract proposal of up to 250 words – 15 April 2021.
Notification of acceptance – 30 April, 2021.
Workshop contribution of up to 1500 words – 25 May, 2021.

Proposal registrations here or to Steve Taylor (kiwidrsteve@gmail.com).

A voluntary participation donation is invited. All contributions will fund developments in the Ecclesial Futures journal. Suggested donation for salaried academic/church minister – $40. Suggested donation for student or participant from global south – $10.

Enquires to the Ecclesial Futures editors – Nigel Rooms (nigel.rooms@churchmissionsociety.org) or Steve Taylor (kiwidrsteve@gmail.com).

Finally, as a image,

Posted by steve at 09:32 PM

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Bono’s Scripture in song: theological ethics in the performing of the U2 catalogue

A conference paper proposal I submitted today. Bono’s Scripture in song: theological ethics in the performing of the U2 catalogue builds on my paper for the 2020 U2conference, on Soul work: two blessings and the eXPERIENCE tour and the research I did in preparation. However this paper takes that work in a more focused theological direction. It also allows me to develop some of my Theological Reflection lectures that I offered while Principal, KCML, in particular various contemporary applications of the theological ethics of Richard Burridge, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics.

And for the fans and those who need a reminder, of social justice from U2 – Rattle and Hum – “Silver and Gold” was written in support of the Artists United Against Apartheid project, which protested the South African apartheid. With the potentially imitating Jesus lyrics from 1985-

There’s a rope around my neck
And there’s a trigger in your gun
Jesus say something
I am someone, I am someone
I am someone

to the creative use of beatitudes in Waves of Sorrow (2017) and American Soul (2017).

Bono’s Scripture in song: theological ethics in the performing of the U2 catalogue
Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Theological ethics involve reflection on how Christian beliefs are embodied in life and practice. Such reflection occurs not only within academic contexts but equally in contemporary popular culture. Take the world’s biggest band U2. They perform songs that request “Jesus say something,” including about apartheid (“Silver and Gold”), Aids (“One”) and American interference in Nicaragua and Iraq (“Bullet the Blue Sky”).

For Bono, U2’s lead singer, the Psalms are a guiding thread (The Book Of Psalms, Canongate, 1999). Meanwhile, U2’s fourteen studio albums contain seventy-five Scripture references, including the Gospels (twenty-six), Epistles (seventeen) and Psalms (twelve).

This paper analyses Bono’s theological ethics using a frame by Richard Burridge (Imitating Jesus). Burridge outlines four approaches to applying Scripture to ethics, each tested against how the church in South Africa used Scripture during the apartheid era.

Burridge’s work offers ways to analyse Bono’s Scripture in song. First, U2’s live performance of “Silver and Gold” on the Rattle and Hum tour. Second, contrasting “Waves of Sorrow” with “American Soul” as embodied performances of the Beatitudes. Third, examination of how U2’s catalogue clusters around following examples (Gospels) and seeking principles (Epistles). Burridge argues that theological ethics that draw on a limited Biblical canon result in embodied practices more likely to legitimate injustice. What then are the implications of U2’s focus on Gospels and Epistles?

The argument is that Bono’s use of the Beatitudes is a sophisticated embodying of theological ethics. However, the performing of a limited Biblical catalogue leaves U2 vulnerable to embodying theological ethics that legitimate injustice.

Posted by steve at 07:41 PM