Sunday, November 22, 2015
the First Real day at work: Auckland blockcourse
Tomorrow is the First Real Day at work. Tomorrow the Summer KCML block course starts. which means I get to meet students. It’s very exciting, after six weeks of connecting with staff and with the church, to actually connect with students.
KCML operates on an internship module. Students speak 60% of their time in placement. The other 40% is a mix of mentoring, tutorial group work, plus three block courses spread over the year. The block courses last for 10 days. The Summer block course is in Auckland, to ensure interns are situated in a multi-cultural context. Which means that I’ve got quite a bit of gear to pack.
I am involved in 5 lectures, plus preaching at the Graduation sermon. I’m very much looking forward to the First Real day at work. But not to the 5 am start, to fly to Auckland.
Friday, November 20, 2015
How do local churches respond to global events? research project
(Please share. The more responses the richer the results)
This is a short survey that asks a set of questions regarding how the local church you attended responded to the Paris attacks of Saturday 14 November, 2015 (NZT). It should take around 5-10 minutes to complete.
The survey is also being undertaken in two NZ denominations, to provide a geographic contrast alongside the networks of social media. The more people that participate that better, so do please share the link. (If you’ve also received a link via email, please use that one rather than this social media one: it’ll make analysis easier)
The research will be used in ongoing resourcing of church and worship leaders. Participation is completely voluntary. Unless you give specific permission to be contacted, all responses are anonymous.
Please click on the following link. If that does not work then copy and paste the FULL URL into your web browser: www.surveymonkey.com/r/LCRSoc (It will NOT work to put the URL into a search engine). If you have any trouble email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you (in hope) for participating in this research in understanding how local churches respond to global events.
Steve Taylor (Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand) and Lynne Taylor (Researcher, Baptist Churches of New Zealand)
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Place-based theology (updated) with the children of Parihaka
This is a helpful introduction to place-based theology by Richard Twiss.
In five minutes he provides a number of explicit theological resources that might encourage a place-based theology. He draws on culture, that of the Navaho people, to suggest the importance of a relationship with earth as part of identity and belonging. He then turns to Scripture. First, 2 Chronicles 7:14, and the phrase “heal their land.” Which, he notes, means land can be broken. Second, he references 2 Samuel 21:1-14,
While both are Old Testament Scriptures, they do offer an understanding of connection between place and identity. Next, Twiss turns to place-based education, which immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, using these as a foundation for the study. Drawing these threads together, Twiss encourages place-based theology.
Twiss is not alone. In Australia, indigenous woman, Denise Champion has written Yarta Wandatha,
(see my review here). The title is Adnyamathanha for “land is speaking, people are speaking.” It offers an wonderful example of place-based theology, telling stories of land, in order that “ngakarra nguniangkulu,” God is revealing so that we can see (Yarta Wandatha, 28). I also see links with Celtic theology, for example in the understanding of thin places, a Celtic understanding of physical locations in which God is especially present. It has academic rigour, for example in Philip Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity and Living Between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Spirituality.
I have experimented with place-based theology by taking students to places. I have reflected on the potential in walking the art, which then became a floor talk at the launch of an art festival. I have wondered about teaching New Zealand mission by going to places – to Bay of Islands, Waitangi, Rotorua, Parihaka, Anzac day memorials. Now I’m wondering what an assignment might look like, in which students not only engage with place, but seek to construct their own place-based theology.
Updated: This is another example of place-based education, and thus potentially place-based theology (a review here).
It is about place; places from history in which people lived. The places remain today and can be visited, as part of remembering. In remembering (an act at the heart of identity formation for the people of Israel) respect is paid, identity is formed and connections are made.
This has links with one of the rich insights from Yarta Wandatha, in which Aunty Denise uses story, of her father, to introduce Anhangha idla ngukanandhakai (28) – “living in the memories.” This becomes a way to understand tradition, and to connect that to place. Is this what is happening in Tatarakihi – The Children of Parihaka and in place-based theology?
Monday, November 16, 2015
Flags as lament: Brooke Fraser for Paris, Beirut, Kenya and violence
Brooke Fraser’s song “Flags” (from the 2010 Flags) album) became a place of thoughtful healing over the weekend. Certainly the weekend brought news that was “plenty of trouble, from which we’re all reeling.” The suggestion, to “listen,” to news of lives flapping empty (“our lives blow about, Like flags on the land)”.
There is something disturbing, challenging even, in the line “My enemy and I are one and the same.” The reminder that Jihadists are humans, who have mothers and brothers, and they will awake today to grieve a dead son. What will they be feeling? And to wonder what drives a human, a person born vulnerable like me, to such extreme acts.
And then her turning to Scripture; with the verses that reference the Beautitudes. In these verses (pun intended) is a place to feel – “to mourn, to weep.” In these verses is faith, not in triumph but in reversal; for the innocents who have fallen and the monsters who have stood; “I know the last shall me first.”
Which gives me a place to act: To listen, to feel, to retain the will to faith. Thanks Brooke.
Come, tell me your trouble
I’m not your answer
But I’m a listening ear
Reality has left you reeling
All facts and no feeling
No faith and all fear
I don’t know why a good man will fall
While a wicked one stands
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land
Who’s at fault is not important
Good intentions lie dormant
And we’re all to blame
While apathy acts like an ally
My enemy and I are one and the same
I don’t know why the innocents fall
While the monsters still stand
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land
I don’t know why our words are so proud
Yet their promise so thin
And our lives blow about
Like flags in the wind
Oh oh oh oh
You who mourn will be comforted
You who hunger will hunger no more
All the last shall be first
Of this I am sure
You who weep now will laugh again
All you lonely, be lonely no more
Yes, the last will be first
Of this I’m sure
I don’t know why the innocents fall
While the monsters stand
I don’t know why the little ones thirst
But I know the last shall be first
I know the last shall be first
I know the last shall be first
For more of my writing on lament and popular culture, see U2 and lament for Pike River; which became a book chapter in Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, when I worked with a colleague, Liz Boase, to explore Paul Kelly’s concert response to the Black Saturday bushfires and U2′s response to the Pike River mining tragedy.
Friday, November 13, 2015
Steve Taylor, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant”
My practical theology of community gardens is now online, published by Urban Seed. It is one of 16 contributions, which are summarised here. They were all presented at Urban Life Together: Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods, which was a grass roots missiology conference organised by Urban Seed on October 17-18, 2014. Conference contributors were invited to submit their presentations, which were then peer reviewed and copy edited, before being made available online – in order to enhance access.
Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhood. This paper considers gardens in Scripture, start, middle and end. It researches the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens. The story of each is brought into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1–12 and 1 Cor 3:6–9. The insights from this dialogue between Scripture and two urban garden case studies is then enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is a documentary about an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden. Both point to the power and potential of a seasonal spirituality. Throughout this paper, beginning and end, is also woven experience—mine—into the place and potential of gardens in mission and ministry. The argument from Scripture, case study, film and experience is that gardens invite us and our neighbours to become good, plot by plot and plant by plant.
In this small thing is all of creation! God made it, God cares for it, God loves it. (A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich)
In some ways, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant” is is something I’ve been writing all my life. It became words because I wanted to reflect missiologically on community ministry, specifically community gardens. There is my personal interest in gardening, woven with research into inner-city community gardens, Scriptural reflection and my film reviewing. It is online here.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
writing less because I’m writing more
Readers of my blog will have noticed a down turn in words on the blog. My blogging halved when I became Principal of Uniting College of Leadership and Theology.
It has pretty much halved again since I became Principal at KCML. The irony is that in both situations, I am actually writing more.
In regard to Knox, currently, I am making sure and steady progress on the Built for Change book project. I began writing in June. I tested some material in public – Creative Renewal in action – with a Mission Network at the end of July. I wrote that up as a book proposal and signed a contract in September.
The book project is getting the best of my writing time and I suspect that is a major reason for the decline in blogging. I was meant to delivery a finished manuscript at the middle of October, but given I was moving countries, that was probably a bit optimistic. The publisher has asked for 40-50,000 words. I’ve currently got 35,000 words that I’m pretty comfortable with and a chapter structure that is becoming tighter and tighter. It is a practical theology of innovation, in which I am taking multiple stories of change and exploring them theologically, with a particular focus on Paul’s understanding of ministry, informed by a Trinitarian lens. I’d hope to complete by the end of November!
In regard to the Uniting College, I will leave you a picture.
I have a spiritual practice of journalling and as part of packing to move countries, I was collecting all my journals together. On a whim, I grouped them according to each of my placements.
- In 9 years church planting, I filled 6 journals
- In 6 years Senior Pastor, I filled 3 journals
- In 2.5 years, Director of Missiology, I filled 2 journals
- In 3.5 your, Principal, I filled 7 journals
Less blogging, but actually writing more. Is there any wisdom to be gleaned from this, I wonder?
Monday, November 02, 2015
Moving into the neighborhood: a missiological conversation with Good Neighbors
At the heart of Christian faith is the challenge to be a good neighbor. In John 1:14, Jesus moves into the neighborhood, while in Mark 12:31, Jesus invites us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. In recent times, a major theme in Western understandings of mission has revolved around moving into the neighborhood. Excellent books like Simon Carey Holt’s, God Next Door and Al Roxburgh’s, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood (Allelon Missional Series) provide a rich theology of place. The Parish Collective exists to encourage Christians to love their neighborhoods.
All of which makes Sylvie Tissot’s, Good Neighbors: Gentrifying Diversity in Boston’s South End an important read. It is a study of a gentrifying suburb in Boston’s South End. Tissot uses ethnography, which allows her to undertake a structural analysis, focused on the local agencies. It analyses how mixing across social groups is defined and controlled. Her argument is that “enthusiasm for diversity ultimately translates into a form of power that operates on a particular combination of inclusion and exclusion.” (6)
“One last specificity is the gentrifiers’ inordinate taste for espresso, cappuccino and other drinks considered sophisticated in the United States.” (8)
“Gentrification, the rehabilitation of old and degraded neighborhoods as wealthier households move in, is one of the most flagrant manifestations of inequalities that mark the twenty-first century.” (1) Everyone seems resigned to the fact that it is an inevitable social process. Tissot chooses Boston because it has sought as a city to value the neighborhood and because it represents the victory of an arriving upper-middle class in what was a working-class suburb. A key instrument was the use of participatory planning processes, along with the concept of diversity. It is a challenging and provocative thesis, one that Tissot claims she will make by analysing four planes – politics (Chapter 2), morality (Chapter 3), culture (Chapter 4) and public space (Chapter 5).
Chapter 1 (11-36)
This locates the research, researcher and the neighborhood. Between 2004 and 2010, she uses standard ethnography tools of attending (visits over 6 years) and interviewing (77 people). Tissot argues that this is the value of ethnography, a particularity shaped by physical proximity and scientific distance (25). Her method includes finding interlocutors, people who provide different perspectives on the community.
She explores the role “played by neighbourhood associations, the vast majority of whose members were white homeowners” (12). She realizes that what on the surface appears to be an upper class suburb in fact has significant proportions of working class.
“Taking the time to walk around the neighbourhood … I … discovered the still-visible and daily presence of the “undesirables,” and with each stay, my impression that white owners exercised a uniform control over public spaces diminished.” (31)
She will argue that while the upper class claim they value diversity, in fact they have used their influence, primarily through voluntary associations, to create the perception of homogeneity.
Chapter 2 (37-78)
This chapter explores history of neighbourhood. It paints a picture of an ecology, the systems of local government and local community, enmeshed with wider economic and urban developments. It is a mistake to view a neighbourhood as autonomous. Rather it is shaped by an interlocking mesh of groups and structures.
The focus of this chapter is tracing the urban struggles of the 1960s and how they generated an activism that included neighbourhood committees – “resident participation” organised “democratically.” (48) It begins because ethnic-minority activists during the 1960 protest urban renewal strategies. Yet by the turn of the century, upper middle class appropriated these structures.
How did these diverse associations develop into more monochrome? “Efficient professionalism replaced the amateurism of the activists of yesteryear.” (69) Competent people in fact contribute to socioeconomic exclusion. “Websites and e-mail lists provided an opportunity for those who had mastered these techniques to introduce new rules.” (70) In other words, if you want to plan with people, key justice question include who you plan with, and how you plan?
They generate authority by seeming to be committed to diversity. What is the social imagination that adds power to these concepts, mobilizing around values? Addressing this question is the task of the next chapter, as it explores how collective action happens.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”
Abstract (2) for 14th Assembly of International Association of Mission Studies, August 11–17, 2016, Seoul, South Korea
Conference theme: Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change
Title: Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”
Stanley Skreslet (Comprehending Mission, 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.
“regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change
Abstract (1) for 14th Assembly of International Association of Mission Studies, August 11–17, 2016, Seoul, South Korea
Conference theme: Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change
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 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.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
time to flourish: a theology of time management
The day lies open before me. It is gift, waiting to unwrapped.
How to fill it?
Appointments – these include the requests from outside to meet, greet, complain, engage. Each of these reach out to fill my day. When I think of appointments, I also include my to do list. As it lies open before me, it is also making appointments, marking my diary not with “Meeting” but with “Complete marking schedule.”
Crisis – something unexpected might happen. I recall days that have been consumed by funding crisis or relationship breakdown. The adrenaline surges and the crisis engulfs.
Routine – the comfort of habit. I settle today in what I did yesterday. Yet if I am honest, what I did yesterday was what I did last week, last month, last month, last decade. There is security in this, the rhythm of routine. But do I want my gravestone to be titled “lived by habit.”
Flourish – Psalm 1, the lectionary reading for today, suggests another approach. In verse 3
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Which got me thinking about the shape of flourishing. I suspect what it means for me to flourish might be different from what it means for you to flourish. My role, my skills, my context, invite a particular set of fruit.
The Psalm mentions not only fruit, but leaves. Like fruit, leaves also are particular, shaped by seasons. Again comes the reminder that my season is different than your season. So to flourish, in fruit and foliage, is unique, an individual fingerprint.
This requires some work, some intentionality. What might my fruit be? I began to journal, a rough draft. A flourishing Principal will
- ensure continuous quality improvement in learning and forming
- be careful, competent, yet creative with resources (buildings, people, systems)
- connect with stakeholders in ways that serve the church of tomorrow
- think (research and write) in ways that take the organisation they serve back to the future
In doing this work, I find that the gift that is my day now has some shape. It might well be expressed in appointments, in responding to crisis, in routine. But my day, my time mangement, is now more that the sum of its parts. To grow fruit takes time. The deliberate application of fertiliser, the careful pruning, the commitment to thin appropriately. And so the gift of today is now shaped – by what it means for me and my organisation to flourish.
Friday, October 16, 2015
first week: three words to describe KCML
I often ask people, in job interviews or reference checks, to provide 3 words to describe. There is always room to expand on the three words, but it’s a useful way to encourage clarity and focus.
Let me expand
- warm – with a wonderful welcome morning tea on Monday, with hot scones and cream lamingtons on the Wednesday, with a range of interesting people in the staff lounge in the afternoon, with lovely greetings on arrival from a range of people
- connected – closely to Knox College in a range of practical ways (including the morning teas), with the church up and down the country, with culture in interesting conversations about digital archiving and crossing cultures
- thoughtful – lots and lots and lots of conversations with people who care deeply and passionately about the church, ministry and the future of faith
It’s been a good first week.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
“It takes a church to raise a minister.” Discuss
Today at our first staff meeting as a KCML (Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership) team, I began with a statement for ongoing discussion.
I pointed out how, given our recent move across the ditch, our endings and beginnings, how acutely aware we were of relationships. This is well-captured in the saying – it takes a village to raise a child. Healthy communities offer a wide range of relationships, which at all sorts of different levels, can contribute to growth. That’s the positive take. Equally, unhealthy communities offer a range of relationships, which, because of their lack, or because of their bite, can contribute to decline.
Pondering relationships, their fragility and vitality, I began to wonder if the proverb – it takes a village to raise a child could be applied to forming ministers. Is it that it takes a church to raise a minister? If so, what are the implications for us at KCML?
So today, at our team meeting, I introduced the statement. I invited discussion by offering one Biblical character (not telling who :)). Together as a team we had a very fruitful and rich conversation, one shaped by Scripture and placed alongside a set of living case studies, one that enabled all the team to contribute, one that led naturally into prayer and our business together.
As a result, we decided that in the coming weeks, we would keep exploring the question. We will take turns, each week, to bring a Biblical character or person in history. And we’ll see where the conversation goes, and what it might mean for us, for ministers and for the church.
Feel free to join us
1. What Biblical character or person in history would you introduce?
2. What insight might they bring to the statement – it takes a church to raise a minister?
3. What might be the implications today – for churches, for theological colleges, for ministers and those training and those considering training?
(in the comments)
Monday, October 12, 2015
so many “news”
Today, I start a new role, as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. It involves a new country, a new city, a new denomination, a new team. That’s a lot of news!
In an amazing set of “coincidences”, the lectionary reading on the day I moved countries (1 October) was Luke 10:1-12.
Further, as I left Australia, a recent graduate gave me a gift and a word of thanks. “Thanks for sending us out in mission.” The image is based on Saint Brendan and the Celtic pattern of mission.
So it’s nice to be beginning a season of “news” with a reminder of Luke 10:1-12. Here is what I wrote about Luke 10:1-12, for a book on mission in New Zealand, in 2008.
First, listening occurs as the disciples first hear the sending God, and second, seek to discern where God is already at work. Hence the command to “Take no bag, no purse, no sandals” (Luke 10:4). This is a radically different concept of mission. We start not with what we imagine the needs of the community are. Instead we start by looking for the welcome that God has already prepared in advance for us. There are echoes of Exodus 3:5, where Moses is instructed to take off shoes, for he is standing on holy ground. This suggests that for the sending God, the places we go, the mission places, our towns and villages, are actually holy places. This is holiness not as separation, but holiness because God is present and up to something.
Second, community building starts because the sending originates in community. The disciples are then sent out in community (Luke 10:1). They are sent to eat and drink in table fellowship (Luke 10:7). (It is a great life being a Luke 10 missionary!) As one writer put it (Robert Tannehill, Luke), “the mission requires contact with people in their homes and towns, while brief contacts on the road are insufficient.” Mission is an act in community, an invitation to dwell, deeply, incarnationally, within the lives of people.
Third, the mission of God includes the proclamation of peace (Luke 10:5). This speaking has echoes of First Testament concepts of shalom. God’s covenant concerned the whole of life: economics and politics, crime and justice, societal and environmental relationships. God was forming Israel as a community to live together in ways that protected new migrants, offered justice when accidents occurred and encouraged sustainable farming. The mission of God is thus this call to seek the wellbeing of all the facets of our community. Hence we engage in acts of healing.
Fourth, Luke 10 is written to a changing church in a changing world. During times of change we all seek certainty. Some seek certainty in historic understandings of church and the Bible. Others seek certainty in charismatic leaders. Luke 10 offers us a different type of certainty, that of God in the world. Luke 10 tells the story of a sending God who invites us to seek God’s future in the ordinary and everyday. It is an affirmation that 70 no-name disciples could be trusted with God’s missionary purposes. It is the anticipation that as we accept the hospitality of the culture, then God’s healing and redemptive purposes can be discerned. It is a vision of church as wholistic, embracing shalom: word, sign and deed. It reminds us that God is active in our world, at the tables and cafes of our culture.
Old words. Historic words, that provide a simplicity and a clarity for the “new” season – listen, build community, speak peace, welcome change in the ordinary and everyday.
Saturday, October 10, 2015
The gift: film review
Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for October 2015.
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor
It is a very ordinary domestic beginning. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move to California. Buying houses, finding furniture, they unexpectedly met Gordo, a former high school classmate (Joel Edgerton).
Into what is domestic slowly creeps a sinister edge. These are built by clever use of symbol, pop culture and Scripture. Memorable quotes and images are used repeatedly. With each return, darker meaning is generated.
Take the windows, which in the opening scene offer Simon and Robyn as new home buyers spectacular views out into the valley below. Yet as the plot progresses, the glass that looks out because both mirror of, and window into, the increasing isolation between Robyn and Simon. Finally the windows are shattered by an act of rage that heralds the end of their shared domestic bliss.
The pop culture references work in a similar way. A reference to the movie, Apocalypse Now, as the newly purchased sound system is fixed, when reintroduced announces to Simon the beginning of his judgment. A showering scene that follows Robyn’s morning run references Alfred Hitchcock. With every repeat, her vulnerability is magnified, caught in the brooding tension between Simon and Robyn. This use of symbol and cultural reference is subtle, artful and essential in the plot development.
A similar pattern is evident in the use of Scripture. It begins with the first dinner, shared between Simon, Robyn and Gordo, at which Gordo quotes the well known verse, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” It continues when Gordo meets Robyn’s dog, and references “Ask and you shall receive.” Each verse, removed from Biblical context, offers multiple meanings. Is Gordo a Christian? Or in fact is God being conscripted as a character, the unseen judge, coopted to work on behalf of those seeking justice?
It is clever, enriched by the character development that also cleverly unfolds. Simon, Robyn and Gordo each have mystery in their history. The plot hides as often as it reveals, artfully using suggestion and innuendo to turn domesticity into a eulogy on revenge.
In three characters we find three responses to experiences of pain and betrayal. In Gordo we find revenge is indeed a dish best served cold. In Robyn we find withdrawal in an attempt to rebuild. In Danny (P. J. Byrne) we find anger expressed as rage. His act, shattering the windows of Simon and Robyn’s house, unleashes the final drama that so powerfully destroys the domestic bliss with which the movie begins.
Given the movie’s use of Scripture, it is fitting to place each of these responses alongside the story of Jesus. The act of Easter is a choosing not of revenge, withdrawal or anger. Instead, it provides another way to interpret Scripture. It is a refusal of Gordo’s co-option of images of God as Judge. Rather, Easter offers a considered decision to intentionally absorb pain and betrayal. Claims of “eye for an eye” are undone by a set of actions in which revenge is trumped by love and withdrawal is overcome in the prayer of “not my will but yours.” In choosing to absorb, love wins. Such is the gift of Christianity.
Rev Dr Steve Taylor is becoming Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: forthcoming) 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.