Sunday, September 21, 2014

processing Palestine

It’s been an intense few days. We landed at Tel Aviv on Thursday and have spent the last few days exploring Bethlehem, dipping our toes in the River Jordan, visiting Orthodox monasteries and walking Qumran.

In between has been the inevitable exposure to the deeply riven conflicts that shape this land. Passing police checkpoints and refugee camps, walking the Separation Wall, reading the experiences of Palestines, recorded on the wall as part of an oral museum project.

In trying to process the experiences, I’ve found “Cedars Of Lebanon” by U2 to be helpful.

First, the complexity, perhaps impossibility of understanding, “Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline.”

Second, the whiff of hope “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose. The scent of it lingers and then it just goes”

Oddly poignant, given my becoming aware of the Rose of Sharon a few months ago, only to see them for sale today near Jericho. They are a plant that remains dry and dessicated for years. It looks dead. But just add water, and wow. What is dead springs to life, flowers, seeds, then prepares for drought once again. An extraordinary symbol of hope.

Third, the one to one human reactions; “Soldier brings oranges he got out from a tank.” That every encounter between “nations” in conflict is in fact a one to one moment between humans.

Fourth, the final verse. It is pure Bono genius, so let me quote the entire verse

Choose your enemies carefully ’cause they will define you
Make them interesting ’cause in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friends

It’s brilliantly lyrically, the repetition of “c” in line one; the contrast between “beginning” and “end” in line three; the juxtaposing of “enemies” in the first line with “friends” in the last. It’s great poetry. (It’s also superb musically, the significance of this verse highlighted by the delicate edge “hammer on.”)

It’s also deeply Christian. Love your enemies is a concept unique to Christianity. It is a radical approach to conflict, a refusal to let the victor-victim narratives define those who participate. Instead, the inversion of power, the gift given to all participants, to chose how they respond, not in the best of times, but in the worst of times.

Posted by steve at 05:42 AM | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ode to the feline flirt at Hagia Sophia

Hagia Cat

Cats paw
Hagia proud
Kneaded Turkish pride,

Carpet
East mets West
in consumer dance

Cats mother
Blue Mosque blue bred
Serene in Allah’s will

Cats father
Greek Orthodox
History, marginal minority worn with pride

Cats purr
Scented, scraps from tourists,
tired

Posted by steve at 01:52 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

colours of creation

I believe in the Kingdom Come,
Then all the colours will bleed into one

It’s a line from U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking. It’s in stark contrast to some of what I observed today, and have been experiencing over recent months.

Today, the Spice Market in Istanbul. Such richness of colour in the world of spice, so linked to taste, in the food we eat.

colours1

In June, in Sydney, an art installation in the main foyer. It included a fan, gently blowing, that allowed the colours to move, touched by the wind. So soon after Pentecost, it seemed a wonderful expression of Pentecost, the wind of God’s Spirit that does not bring uniformity. Instead, as each heard in their own language, it brings individuality, affirms culture, encourages diversity, insists on contextualisation.

colours2

Over Christmas, a bead shop in Christchurch. Again, such richness of colour. This time, so linked to play, the creative act that is bead making. So close to Christmas, an expression of the act of creation, in which God lavishes not mono-cultures, but the enormous diversity of creation.

colours3

Me things, U2 that you’ve got you’re theology wrong. The colours of the Kingdom are not bleeding into one, but into the rainbow of God’s purposes.

We live in such a rich world. Bring on the colours of creation in all the tables of humanity

Posted by steve at 04:59 AM | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

alt.worship in Istanbul

This is the most gorgeous space for alt.worship.

cisterns Istanbul

The Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul. Built by a Roman Emperor (Justinian), to store water in 532 AD, they have been opened to tourists in recent years.

It was dark, being underground, which immediately invited a different experience. It was lit, each pillar, creating a rich mood. There was water, being an underground cistern, which gave the light another surface to reflect with. There was music, a soft, ethereal, looped recording, which opened up a even richer space. There was history, something retrieved from the past and offered into contemporary culture. It was a reminder of the beauty and potential of space.

Not all alt.worship can find such spaces.

But that awareness of environments, the interplay of senses and the retrieval of history – those are all key elements in alt.worship. The best exploration of this is Doug Gay, Remixing The Church: Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology. His work on unbundling and retrieval provide an excellent analysis of the rich and complex interactions possible when faith is thrown forward because it is located in the past.

Posted by steve at 04:40 AM | Comments (1)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

out of office: Istanbul and Israel

I’m on the road for the next few weeks.

I’m speaking in Jerusalem, at the Uniting Church National Ministers Conference. Prior to that, I’m taking a few days to recover from jet lag. This will be Istanbul, where Europe meets Asia, tasting an immense history.

I have thought very little about it, given the intensity of the last few weeks.

But it is probably the perk of my year, so when I get there, I am sure I will enjoy it.

I will be travelling with my partner, who for some reason, felt she really needed to join with me on this particular trip. That is one thing I have very much been looking forward to!

Posted by steve at 07:39 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

fresh expressions through sociology of religion lens

I found out yesterday that The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) is meeting in Adelaide in 2014. I do have quite a bit on my plate this weekend (including travelling overseas).

But I have been keen for a while to examine my fresh expressions sustainability data using a sociological lens, and in particular to engage with the rich material emerging from the UK. So a quick glance through my book shelves and I have offered the following abstract for consideration.

TITLE: A sociological parsing of everyday religious innovation: An analysis of first expressions

Abstract

In 2001, qualitative research was conducted of ten new forms of church emerging in the United Kingdom. In 2004, the Church of England adopted an extensive theological apparatus, including the nomenclature of Fresh Expressions, to define, then manage, these emerging innovations.

In 2012, as part of a longitudinal project, further research was conducted, first, into the development of these individual innovations and second into the interplay between institutional intent (Fresh Expressions) and local communities (fresh expressions). This paper seeks to analyse these interactions using a number of sociological lens.

Firstly, innovative entrepreneurialism, a concept Warner deploys to investigate contemporary religious life (Secularization and Its Discontents, 2010). It will be argued that this lens has limited potential. It provides a mechanism to understand the institutional impulses of Fresh Expressions. It describes outputs from these local (fresh expression) communities. However, it makes little sense of themes emerging from the interview data, regarding the interplay between everyday faith and life.

Second, generational. Many of the local innovations researched emerged among University educated young adults. Research into the trajectories of young adult religious belief (Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith, 2013) certainly offers a more nuanced understanding of fresh expressions as located within a wider sociological ecology. However, this lens offers few conceptual tools to map the interplay between local innovation and ecclesial institution.

Third, belief as cultural performance. Abby Day argues for varieties of belief, as evolving over time, especially when tied to sets of sustaining relationships (Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World, 2011). This provides a helpful way to understand Fresh Expressions, as a cultural performance responding to changing social ecologies. It also makes sense of some of themes emerging from local fresh expressions. However, the fact that a number of the fresh expressions had, by 2012, ceased, suggests an additional category, that of belief enacted in funeral performance.

Posted by steve at 05:32 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, September 12, 2014

a college of passion

Passion.

Twice this week I’ve been told that a Uniting College lecture is full of passion.

First, a visitor. A successful local business person, dropping in to see “what happens”? And at half-time, looking the lecturer in the eye and thanking them for their passion.

Second, a lecturer. Inviting guests to share of their ministry. Glad, at lecture’s end, of the passion. And how it infected the students, shaped the tutorial, infected the ongoing learning of the class.

Passion.

What is interesting is that passion is a core value at Uniting College. You know those vision statements, destined to sit at the bottom of a pile of papers? Well, the vision statement of Uniting College includes passion:

To develop life-long disciples and effective leaders for a healthy, missional Church, who are:
Passionate
Christ-centred
Highly skilled
Mission-oriented practitioners

So, somehow, passion has snuck out of our vision statement, leapt of the page and seeped into how classes. How?

I asked this question at our team yesterday. What does passion mean for us? And how has it leaked into our life?

And so together we talked as a team.

  • is it because we care for our students? We’re not just about our research, we’re also about the people who come to learn and grow with us
  • is it because we’re shaped by suffering? That in each of us as lecturers, there has been a personal learning, a vulnerability
  • it is because we’re authentic? We want to walk our talk. We want what we say about faith, about ministry, about life, to be lived in us and livable through us.
  • is it because we’re sacrificial? Many of us have been paid better elsewhere. We’ve taken pay reductions to work here, because we believe in the Kingdom, believe in what we’re doing.
  • is it because we’re whole-bodied? The creative act invites us to take risks, to offer ourselves in risk into our projects, our lectures, our classes.

Passion. In us. In all of us as a team. In our life.  Snd so in our lectures. And please, in God’s grace, in our students.

Posted by steve at 09:51 PM

Thursday, September 11, 2014

facing forward Uniting Colleges

“We need different kind of leadership; people that respond quickly to new situations; people that don’t come with a ready made tool kit of resources; people that know how to draw out the best of the local community” So said Andrew Dutney in announcing the birth of Uniting College for Leadership and Theology five years ago. It was the reason for the change of name, a commitment to be a different kind of College that would train a different type of leader.

It’s consistent with how scholarship is understood in the Basis of Union. Paragraph 11 links scholarship with the mission of the church for fresh words and deeds, as the occasion demands. Thus the Uniting Church seeks a different model of scholar than that offered by the modern University. It seeks scholarship (and by implication, a College) that is ecclesial because it is integrative (read alongside paragraph 10), missionary, innovative (fresh words and deeds) and contextual (as the occasion demands).

Posted by steve at 12:09 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, September 05, 2014

A cross to carry: Calvary film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for September 2014, of Calvary.

Calvary
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.” Jack Brennan, Village butcher

Calvary is, according to the Christian faith, the place where Jesus met death. It stands at the end of his Passion, the final resting place in a final week of suffering. “Calvary” is also a film, in which a respected Catholic priest in a remote Irish village is invited, unexpectedly, to face his death.

One Saturday, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) in the act of offering a routine round of confession, hears an unknown man recount his story of childhood abuse. The actions of a certain “bad priest”, now dead, deserve punishment. Father James, has been chosen, because he is a “good priest”, to atone for the sins on another by meeting his death Sunday week. It is a bitter take on the Christian interpretation of Calvary, in which one innocent man is invited to suffer for the sins of another.

It is a clever move, both theologically and technically. It provides a way to cast a darkening shadow over James daily life as a priest. At mass on Sunday, through pastoral visitation on Monday, at the pub on Wednesday, James encounters a host of multiple minor characters. An angry mechanic (Isaach De Bankole), a cynical surgeon (Aidan Gillen), a dying novelist (M. Emmet Walsh), each amplify the opening confession.

It builds suspense. Which one of the males James encounters is the unknown man in the confessional? Together these multiple characters become a rising crescendo of sustained outrage. The road to James’ Calvary becomes a suffering not only for the sins of a “bad priest”, but for the acts of a “bad church”, enmeshed in a perceived history of colonisation, injustice and oppression.

Brendan Gleeson as Father James is superb. Entering the priesthood following the death of his wife, he towers over the windswept heather of this bleak Irish coastline. Intelligent, deadpan, he seems, like a sponge, to absorb the hostility that surrounds him. He is delightfully humanised by the appearance of his daughter (Kelly Reilly).

Her appearance introduces a further challenge to the Christian narrative of Calvary. If Christ’s crucifixion is preordained, is it actually a suicide?

In “Calvary”, as in the Gospel accounts of Calvary, the Christ light of devotion and faith are held most clearly by assorted women. We met Teresa (Marie-Josée Croze), whose husband dies in a car accident on the last day of their long planned holiday. She meets this tragedy with grace and acceptance. It is a welcome foil to the bitterness of the village and a source of sustenance for James as he contemplates whether his cup of suffering should be taken from him.

In the end, “Calvary” is one man against a village. It is hard to imagine in real life a priest so isolated. Or perhaps this is the message of the movie? That today, the Church in the West is isolated. Alone it needs to suffer, in atonement for the sins of it’s past.

If so, then it might find aid in the faith of many a Teresa as it prays through the agony of Gethsemane and the suffering of Calvary.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Learning and Teaching

Order forms for Learning and Teaching Theology – Some Ways Ahead arrived today.

The book is a companion volume to Transforming Theology. Student Experience and Transformative Learning in Undergraduate Theological Education. That book is awesome, detailed research  across numerous higher educational providers of theological awards in Australia.  To consolidate the research, the Sydney College of Divinity hosted a conference in 2013 to promote further scholarly thinking on the learning and teaching of theology. That conference has in turn engendered a number of essays by contemporary scholars and practitioners at the leading edge of Australian and New Zealand theological education, now gathered into this volume, which presents some contemporary thinking and innovative practices in the field and so encourages further such development within the theological community.

Book chapters include -
Nancy Ault: Assessing Integrative Learning and Readiness for Ministry. Can There be Common Ground?
Les Ball: Where Are We Going? Questioning the Future of Learning and Teaching Theology
Robert Banks: Paul as Theological Educator. His Original Legacy and Continuing Challenge
Felix Chung: Chinese Theological Education in Australia. The Way Ahead
Tim Cooper: Transformative Learning in Church History
Darren Cronshaw and Andrew Menzies: From Place to Place. A Comparative Study of 5 Models of Workplace Formation at 2 Colleges on 1 Campus
Charles de Jongh: The Contribution of Theories of Multiple Intelligences to the Promotion of Deep Learning through the Assessment of Learning
Dan Fleming and Peter Mudge: Leaving Home. A Pedagogy for Theological Education
Denise Goodwin: A Practical Approach for Teaching Foundational Theology. Inquiry–Based Learning and the Matrix of Ideas Process
James R Harrison: Paul and the Ancient Gymnasium. Research Paradigms for “Academic Citizens” of the New World
Richard Hibbert and Evelyn Hibbert: Addressing the Need for Better Integration in Theological Education. Proposals, Progress, and Possibilities from the Medical Education Model
Diane Hockridge: Making the Implicit Explicit. Exploring the Role of Learning Design in Improving Formational Learning Outcomes
Neil Holm: An Analysis of “Soul” as the Central Construct in Dirkx’s and Ruether’s Transformative Learning Theory
Murray House: Cross-cultural Mission as a Transformative Learning Experience. A Report
EA Judge: Higher Education in the Pauline Churches
Jude Long: Nungalinya College – Empowering Indigenous Christians
Kara Martin: Theology for the iGeneration
Stephen Smith and Leon O’Flynn: Responding to Complexity. Moving from Competence to Capability
Isaac Soon: Video Game Design and the Theological Classroom. Gamification as a Tool for Student-Centred Learning
Steve Taylor: Embodiment and Transformation in the Context of e-Learning

I ordered copies of Learning and Teaching Theology – Some Ways Ahead for each of the Faculty. We’ll use it at as professional development, read a chapter and discuss it together monthly as a way of helping us think about teaching and learning.

Why? It’s contemporary. It’s reflection on action. It’s a local (Australasian) resource. It’s got a chapter by me! (Embodiment and Transformation in the Context of e-Learning). It’s another way for us as lecturers in focus on Year of the Student.

Posted by steve at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

QR codes in worship

This image of a temporary tattoo QR code printed on a person (from here) got me thinking about embodiment and worship.

QR codes

I love that sense of mystery, of not knowing, yet of being aware of information on offer. It got me thinking about worship. For example, here is the lectionary reading for Sunday. (Built from here)

QR Code

Imagine that on the front of the newsletter as people came in.

Or imagine printing various stations on people. Here is a call to worship, again linked to the lectionary text.

Welcome to worship

And to have people scattered around your auditorium, as “worship leaders.” Finding these people and using your cell phone to find out the next step in your worship journey.

Posted by steve at 07:55 PM | Comments (3)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

mission then, mission now

I’ve just finished marking a set of assignments for my Mission, Evangelism and Apologetics intensive I taught in Sydney in July. I’m delighted with how the first assignment question worked.

Assignment:
Each student will, at the start of the class, be given a missionary. They will then use the Essential texts
for the course as a beginning point to find out more about their missionary. (These texts are Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today or Dewerse, R. (2013). Nga Kai-Rui i Te Rongopai: Seven Early Maori Christians. Rotorua: Te Hui Amorangi ki te Manawa o Te Wheke.)

The student will submit a biography (300 words) of the individual, a summary of how this person understood either evangelism or mission or apologetics (400 words), followed by a discussion of the implications of this understanding for either evangelism or mission or apologetics today (300 words).

Note: If students have other learning styles, they are welcome to submit this assignment verbally, by submitting a 10 minute podcast on a mailed USB stick or uploaded to a website and emailing the relevant URL to the lecturer. The lecturer will be assuming that at 100 words a minute, the spoken length of the podcast is similar to 1000 written words.

I set this type of assignment for a number of reasons.

Fist, stories have power. One way to enthuse and engage about mission is to tell stories. By asking students to do this assignment, I am introducing them to stories, that they might use. (Throughout the intensive, I offered a number of examples – Caroline Chisholm an Australian pioneer and Maori peace stories – to enthuse the class and model the assignment.)

Second, biography as theology. As James McClendon has argued (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology), people’s lives embody doctrine. We see truth in actions. So this assignment was a way of doing biography as theology missiology.

Third, the common perception is that mission in the past has been all about colonisation. This assignment helps them realise that history does include tragedy, but it also includes some outstanding examples of servanthood that brought great benefit to indigenous cultures.

Fourth, it enabled mission to be placed as global, to place our talk about evangelism and apologetics alongside the stories of Maori in mission, pioneering in Japan, India and Europe. It allowed mission to be so much more than Euro-centric.

Posted by steve at 11:29 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

one year on: missing Dad, Dad dreaming

It’s a year since Dad died, suddenly, but peacefully. I’m taking tomorrow off, to sit with the pain, to watch the video of the funeral, to walk through the memories. Here’s one memory, a summer dream, that keeps me going …

About four months after Dad died, I awoke one night, aware that Dad had just walked through my dreams. I was in a home and walking down a hallway, a door opened and Dad stepped out.

He was wearing long blue jeans, nicely cut and a knitted sweater. He looked good.  I said hello, reaching out to touch the wool as Dad walked past. It was warm and soft.  Dad turned, meeting my gaze and smiling. He appeared younger, happier, gentler. Then silently, he moved on down the hallway.

Waking, lying in a darkened room, I pondered feelings of presence and absence. Dad was there, a presence I could still talk too. Yet Dad was moving on, unable in this dream to talk to me. I felt both comforted and saddened, aware of grace, reminded of grief.

Continuing to ponder the dream in the  days following, it slowly dawned on me that in my dream Dad was walking.

Walking. It had been years since I’d seem him walk. His last years had seen him trapped in a wheel chair.

Christians claim the resurrection of the dead. That Dads will not just walk, but also talk.  Yet in the here and now, my Dad walked, stepping softly, warmly, through my subconscious. The dream offered a new way to connect with my Dad beyond death.  Deep within the recesses of the parts of me that I cannot fathom, cannot control, Dad lives.

And walks. It’s a source of great comfort, while I wait for the end of time, when I’ll find myself not only able to walk, but also to talk.

I miss my Dad.

Posted by steve at 11:25 PM

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

research assistance required

I am seeking research assistance for a project that involves developing a theological resource for undergraduate students in the area of indigenous women’s Christologies.

The project involves working with a number of local theologians, in particular selected indigenous woman (already identified), to clarify their theology (in both written and visual forms), and to create an accompanying resource guide by which undergraduate students can identify the resources and processes used in theological contextualisation and consider the questions raised for theological method.

Applicants will need skills including the ability to

  • interview
  • organise technologies (visual and written) to preserve the insights
  • write clearly
  • develop resources
  • think theologically, including in areas of Christology and culture

Funding is available for a total of 25 hours at Flinders University Causal Academic Rates. The project needs to begin by late September, 2014 and to be finished by early November, 2014.

Apply by email to Steve Taylor (steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au) by Friday 6 September. Applications should include a CV and a letter of interest, addressing the skills required.

Posted by steve at 11:10 PM