Tuesday, February 09, 2016

complete not finished

I completed the Built for Change manuscript on Saturday. At 58,000 words and 11 chapters, it is a project I’m very pleased with. It is practical, filled with stories of change. It is probing, using Scripture, tradition and reason to respond to a range of important questions about fresh expressions innovation. Is Jesus an innovator built for change? How to understand the old in light of the new? How might we connect modern insights into leadership with the Biblical tradition? It is personal, an in-depth look at how I lead myself in innovative processes.

It has been very helpful in the transition from Principal Uniting College to Principal Knox College. At the same time, it has been demanding to write a book in what is essentially a 6 month period and I am very glad to have it behind me. Somehow completing it on Waitangi Day felt symbolic, another important step in the process of leaving Australia and earthing myself back in the richness of Aotearoa New Zealand. It is the last of the 27 pieces I wrote in Australia. I can stop “writing back reflectively” and start to think seriously about what it means to “write now” in this next season of my life.

It is complete, but not finished. It now moves into the hands of editors, who work with me on making the book a better book. The publishing company (Mediacom) have a reputation for moving rapidly, so it could well be out by the middle of the year.

Posted by steve at 05:19 AM | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Suffragette: A theological film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

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 February 2016.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Suffragette is compulsory viewing, a disturbing depiction of the power of patriarchy. The movie, directed by Sarah Gavron, is a fictionalised exploration of the fight for the right of women to vote in Great Britain. If follows Maud (Carey Mulligan), a working mother with a young child, who unexpectedly finds herself caught in a street protest. Amid, the shattered glass of a shop front window, she recognizes a fellow worker Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff.) Despite the protests of her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) and threats from Polcie Inspector Steed (Brendan Glesson), she steps into the battle for justice. Forced out of home, imprisoned, brutally force-fed while on hunger strike, she embarks on an increasingly desperate quest for equality.

The movie is bleak, shot in tones of brown and drab. It is apt, given the film’s final statistics, which note the painfully slow journey toward equality. While New Zealand is a world leader, it was not until 1971 that women in Switzerland could vote.

Three places in Suffragette invite specific theological reflection. First, is the matter of unanswered prayer. The first time she is arrested, Maud’s son, George (Adam Dodd), prayed she would come home. Imprisoned for a week, his faith is shaken, both by Maud’s absence and the lack of answer to his prayers.

Second, is the ethics of protest. Are there any circumstances in which protest should become violent? This is the question around which Suffragette pivots. After years of protest through legal and political avenues, change has not occurred. The response of Suffragette is pragmatic. “It is deeds, not words, that will gain the vote.” Christian tradition has always been divided on the role of violence in the face of injustice. Martin Luther King said no, while Bonhoeffer gave his life as a yes. Historians still debate whether the violence of the women’s suffrage movement was justified. Despite the turn to violence in Suffragette, it was another sixteen years before women were given that vote.

Third, is the place of women in the church. Suffragette is set in England in 1912. Theologian Anne Phillips in her 2011 book, The Faith of Girls: Children’s Spirituality and Transition to Adulthood argues (nearly a century later) that the church remains church gender blind. Disturbed that it is mainly men that write about the faith development of women, Phillips talks to young woman about their faith. The experience helps her read the Bible afresh. She discovers richness in the vulnerability of Lo-ruhamah (Hosea 1), courage in the actions of Namaan’s slave girl (2 Kings 5(, faith in the slave girl in Philippi (Acts 16) and sacrifice on the part of the daughter of Jarius (Mark 5). Each are pre-pubsecent girls in whom the values of God are made visible. Hence Suffragette remains both a historic and a living challenge to the church. Will it value the spirituality of women? Or will it remain a place in which, to quote Inspector Steed, “their husbands deal with them”?

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is 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.

Posted by steve at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning in a higher education context

This is the abstract I have just submitted for BERA (British Educational Research Association) annual conference. What I like most is the missiology that is implicit in this abstract. Are you willing to learn from the new kid?

New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning in a higher education context

Flipped learning, like any new kid in town, finds itself undergoing careful scrutiny. A Review of Flipped Learning (2013) identified the need for further qualitative research, including its potential to engage diverse learners across cultures and subgroups. This paper investigates the impact on learners when flipped learning is introduced into a higher education undergraduate theology topic. Traditionally, theology has privileged Western discourse. Can flipped learning be a useful ally in encouraging globalisation and personalisation?

A 2014 Flinders University Community of Practice research project implemented three pedagogical strategies. These included the introduction of indigenous voices to encourage personalised learning, the use of Blooms Taxonomy to scaffold activities in-class time and digital participation to cultivate the learning culture. These addressed all four pillars (Flexible Environment, Learning Culture, Intentional content, Professional educator) of flipped learning (The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™, (2014)).

Students completed a four question written survey at the start, middle and end of the topic. The results indicated a significant shift. Students had moved from an initial appreciation of content, to a consideration of how they learn from the diversity inherent among their peers. Students perceived that the changes had enhanced their ability to communicate effectively and expressed a preference for choice, collaboration and diversity. However, feedback from Student Evaluation of Teaching responses, assignments and interaction with students was mixed. While overall people affirmed flipped learning, some expressed a desire to return to traditional lecture modes.

This data can be theorised using the notion of learning as a social act, shaped by learner agency. Preston (“Braided Learning,” 2008) observed that students fill different roles in an on-line learning community. Some act as e-facilitators, others as braiders or accomplished fellows. Each of these roles depend on agency being given to, and received by, fellow learners. Student assignments demonstrated that these roles were present during in class-time and further, that the pedagogical strategies implemented were essential in inviting students into these roles. In contrast, students who expressed concern about flipped learning indicated either a desire to preserve the percieved purity of an objective academic experience or a reluctance to trust student agency.

This suggests that the success of flipped learning depends not on the technological ability to produce videos. Rather it depends on pedagagical strategies, including those that help learners appreciate agency in their peers. In sum, the desire to learn from any new kid in the class remains at the core of the educative experience.

- Dr Steve Taylor, Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Flinders University, South Australia

Flipped Learning Network (2014). The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™. http://flippedlearning.org/cms/lib07/va01923112/centricity/domain/46/flip_handout_fnl_web.pdf.

Hamdan, Noora, McKnight, Patrick, McKnight, Katherine and Kari M. Arfstrom (2013). A Review of Flipped Learning: A White Paper Based on the Literature Review.” http://www.flippedlearning.org/cms/lib07/VA01923112/Centricity/Domain/41/WhitePaper_FlippedLearning.pdf.

Preston, C. J. (2008). “Braided Learning: An emerging process observed in e-communities of practice.” International Journal of Web Based Communities 4 (2): 220-43).

Keywords: flipped learning, diversity, higher education

It is a development of work I presented in 2015 at ANZATS and HERGA, but this time with clear focus on flipped learning. I will hear by 11 March if the proposal is accepted. The BERA conference is September 13-15 in Leeds, so might well fit beautifully with the Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference, 6-8 September in Durham and Lines in Sand, 18th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture, 9-11 September in Glasgow. Or it might be a stretch too far. We will see. Good to have an abstract entered and grateful for the time and encouragement of Dr Katy Vigurs in looking over a draft of my abstract.

Posted by steve at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, January 22, 2016

reading a “settler” (Presbyterian) church missiologically

The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand describes itself as a “settler church.” (here). It’s founding story is expressed in the narrative of Scottish and English settlers wanting to build a better world for themselves and their families, followed by post-World War II emigration patterns, as Dutch, European, then Pacific Island and Asian migrants arrived in New Zealand.

This “settler” narrative shapes identity. It can be contrasted with “missionary” beginnings, as in the case of Anglican, Methodist and Catholic denominations in New Zealand. It can be placed in an uneasy tension in relation to engagement with Maori.

I am interested in reading this “settler” narrative missiologically. My hunch is that in the PCANZ history there are some rich cross-cultural insights. I was alerted to this in reading Migrations: Journeys in time and place, by Rod Edmond, a few years ago. Edmond traces his Scottish forbears. One of the stories is of Presbyterian missionary, Charles Murray. Charles comes to NZ after a short period of missionary service on the island of Ambryn, Vanuatu. He then serves as a Presbyterian minister in Carterton (1888-98), Fielding (1898 -1906), Sydenham (1902-1919) and Matawhero (1919-1920). Ferguson writes that “The missionary impulse never deserted Charles.” (Migrations, 193). Evidence includes establishing home mission stations in Fielding, travelling in support of Maori Mission and urban mission in Sydenham. In addition, he continued to write to support the (then) New Hebrides Mission and took a public stand for pacifism during WW1. All of this is in continuity with his cross–cultural experiences. “Throughout his life Charles had worked at the frontiers of the church – the slums of Aberdeen, the Pacific, the new rural towns of the Wairarapa and Manuwatu, a large working-class suburb of Christchurch and now a remote East Coast settlement.” (Migrations, 203). The life of Charles Murray is an example of mission, in particular, cross-cultural mission, shaping this so–called “settler” church, in this case over 32 years in four locations.

My hunch is this gives us some important ways to understand ourselves missiologically today. My interest is two fold. First, I am interesting in finding other such stories and asking how these stories disturb the “settler” narrative. Second, I am interested in considering the missiological shape these stories might give to the unfolding story of the PCANZ today.

Posted by steve at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

culture and gospel insight


“Maungarongo (pointing to the name). The name of your marae means peace or reconciliation. That word was always here, in our (Maori) language. But the Bible drew it out, made the word visible and grow among us.” – (A comment during one of the speeches, made by a spokesperson for the Maori King, during the Powhiri for the re-opening of Maungarongo Marae, in Ohope.)

A fascinating way to understand culture and gospel. The host culture is respected (That word was always here). The arrival of Christianity is noted (the Bible drew it out). You can’t have gospel without culture. Such is the result of the Word made flesh.

Yet culture with Gospel enriches, causes, in this case, peace and reconciliation to flow. What does it mean for Christians to approach culture looking for what is already there?

Posted by steve at 07:46 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

marae opening

It was an wonderful privilege over the weekend gone to represent KCML at the re-opening of the Maungarongo Marae, in Ohope. The marae is the courtyard of Te Aka Puaho (Glowing vine), the Presbyterian Maori Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. (For the history of the marae, go here).

The re-opening began with an Awakening the Dawn ceremony. Beginning at 4 am, it involved prayer in language, offered by a wide variety of religious groups.


On the way into the marae, you pass some maihi, the carved archway, which for many years was a gift from Te Wanangi a Rangi to KCML. They lived in Dunedin and were a visual reminder to staff and students on a daily basis that there was a Covenant between Te Wanangi a Rangi and KCML. In 2007 these old friends returned here to Ohope.


Seeing them at Ohope is a reminder of the history of bi-culutural training partnership between Te Wanangi a Rangi and KCML which has enriched over so many years.

There is a Maori Proverb

He tangata ke koutou, He tangata ke matou
I roto i teni whare, tatou, tatou e

In English,

You are one people, and We are one people
Yet, within this house, we are one together.

With the marae closed in recent months, we at KCML have been weakened by the distance. Now, with re-opening of the marae, there is a chance for the relationship to be strengthened. In opening the marae, we at KCML brought a koha, a gift.


It is a picture of Knox, painted by the partner of a staff person. We give it to this marae, in the hope that it might live in this house, this marae. In the hole it has left at KCML, we will place a picture of this marae.

We offer this as a prayer that – I roto i teni whare, tatou, tatou e

Posted by steve at 05:56 PM

Thursday, January 14, 2016

3 month anniversary: an emotional and grateful reflection

knox This week marks 3 months since I began as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. I celebrated the one week milestone with some thoughts and it seems appropriate to repeat the practice.

I returned to work this week and found myself awaking each day profoundly grateful that I’m called to this role, at this time and place. I am so appreciative of the space to innovate, the genuine invitation and repeated expectation that KCML will live into its mission to train the whole people of God. I am excited by the possibilities that have been generated in staff conversation and at a two day staff retreat in December. While these are still embryonic and face many more conversations with key stakeholders, there is a whole host of creative, connective, ideas beginning to take shape. I am grateful for the resources that come with the KCML space. This includes the team, the variety of financial stakeholders, along with the enormous goodwill and generosity I’ve experienced, repeatedly, within the Presbyterian church and the KCML team. Very quickly as a team we have moved into constructive, prayerful, accountable relationships that are a delight to participate in. They are a group joyfully facing a new future.

This is a great role, in a great place. Long may the honeymoon continue :)

Posted by steve at 01:56 PM

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Paul: the apostolic team builder

This is certainly consistent with how Paul leads. He is a team builder. Of the 13 letters that claim Pauline authorship in the New Testament, more than half (seven in total) are team efforts. Paul and Sosthenes write 1 Corinthians. Paul and Timothy write 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, while Paul, Silas and Timothy write 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The six letters written by Paul are Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus.

The book of 1 Corinthians is rich in alliances and networks, in which “All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings” (16:20). The letter is co-authored (1:1) and is the result of a report from Chloe’s household (1:11). Paul has baptised Crispus, Gaius (1:14) and the household of Stephanas (1:15). Paul exercises ministry alongside Apollos (3:5), Barnabas (9:6), Timothy (16:10) and Apollos and the brothers (16:12). Paul’s understanding of servant in chapters 3 and 4 is in the plural. The church is a body, with different gifts (12:4). Paul greets the household of Stephanas (16:15) and shares greetings from the churches in Asia, Aquila and Priscilla and their house church (16:19). He is grateful that his ministry has been “resourced managed” by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (“they supplied what was lacking” 16:17). This represents ten individuals, three house churches and three other groupings of churches. This is a connected leader enmeshed in alliances and networks.

(An excerpt from upcoming Built for change: innovation and collaboration in leadership).

Posted by steve at 07:25 AM

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Built for change chapter headings

computer The last few days have been flat out writing (This was the view from our upper deck yesterday evening).  By Saturday I had a complete full draft of around 50,000 words, which allowed me to move into editing mode. As of a few minutes ago (big thanks to an eagle-eyed partner), the first four chapters of Built for Change (provisional title) are now with the publisher. I had hoped to do more, but Christmas deadlines and holidays take precedence. However, I’m very pleased with progress. It is a significantly better book than it was 6 weeks ago and now includes a  theology of innovation – weaving Scripture, tradition and contemporary knowledge – that I think is genuinely new, emerging from reflection on lived experience, in particular seven stories of social entrepreneurship/not-for-profit innovation.

Here is a one paragraph summary – This book offers a practical theology of innovation. It emerges not from a place of theory but from a context of reality, a situation often considered resistant to change. Stories of change are told, including programmes for reconciliation, young adult formation, digital learning, creating a rural community cafe, urban community garden and a creative resource. In the telling is inspiration. Collaborative change is possible.

And here are the current chapter headings.

Built for change: a practical theology of innovation

Chapter 1 – Outro: Final chords

Part I – Leading outward

Chapter 2 – Built for change

Chapter 3 – Collaborative change

Chapter 4 – Learning in change

Bridge – Leading Deeply

Chapter 5 – Jesus the innovator

Chapter 6 – Traditions of innovation

Chapter 7 – A connectional theology of innovation

Part II – Leading inward

Chapter 8 – Leading myself

Chapter 9 – Limited leading

Chapter 10 – Leading reflectively

Chapter 11 – Intro: First chords

Posted by steve at 10:38 PM

Friday, December 18, 2015

last trip of the working year

lastflight I took this photo at Paekakariki on Wednesday, to mark my last trip for the year, as I flew to Wellington for a day on Tuesday, then drove to Palmerston North on Wednesday. It is just over 9 weeks since I began as Principal at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and the trip this week enabled me to complete two important tasks.

First, connecting with intern churches. KCML trains using an internship model and the trip to Palmerston North meant that I have managed to connect with the six ministers and local church in which the incoming (class of 2016) interns will be placed. That has involved a local visit and three road trips – to Christchurch, Palmerston North, Rotorua and Tauranga. It has been such a good exercise to sit with local leaders and explore what it means for them to work with an intern and sense their passion and commitment to form leaders for the future church.

Second, connecting with Presbyteries. The trip this week means that I have managed some form of connection with each of the seven Presbyteries that make up the PCANZ. Working from the bottom up

  • a welcome to the Southern Presbytery as I briefly introduced myself at Inspiring Mission, Dunedin;
  • a welcome, introduction and Q and A with Alpine Presbytery in Christchurch;
  • a lunch gathering with available ministers from Central Presbytery in Palmerston North, in which I shared some of what God might be calling us to in this next season as KCML;
  • a visit to Te Aka Puaho, to share in worship and a cup of tea;
  • a visit to two local churches in Kaimai Presbytery (with an invitation to speak in 2016);
  • a meeting with key leaders from Northern Presbytery;
  • engagement with folk from the Pacific Island Synod as part of the block course in Auckland;

Each connection has been different. This is as it should be, because each Presbytery is different and has different patterns of working and being.  For me, these visits are only the beginning. A key part of the future of KCML will be forming training partnerships – each different – with each of these Presbyteries in the years ahead.  But they represent, in the space of nine weeks, a good start in terms of being out and about around the country, connecting and beginning the conversations that will takes us forward in partnership.

Posted by steve at 11:22 AM

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How I Write: An Inquiry Into the Writing Practices

I see the writing process very much like a pregnancy. . . . It takes time. And it doesn’t help to push it. (Tammar Zilber) (85)

There is an interesting article just out, by Charlotte Cloutier, “How I Write: An Inquiry Into the Writing Practices of Academics,” Journal of Management Inquiry 2016, Vol. 25(1) 69–84. It involves interviewing 17 academics about their practice of writing. Cloutier notes plenty of research on what makes good writing, but little research into the mundane, daily practice of writing on a day-to-day basis.

“Our identities and reputations as academics are largely formed on the basis of what and how we write. Many would argue that the fate of our careers rests more on our ability to write than on our ability to teach. And yet despite this, we spend very little time thinking about how we write. Most of us have received little, if any, formal instruction in academic or other forms of writing” (69)

She interviewed seasoned and (mostly) qualitative researchers in the field of organization studies. Patterns did emerge. A key finding was that writing is linked to other practices, of talking, reading, drawing, and thinking.

Regarding talking, practically all the respondents described how their ideas were largely generated through their conversations with others. This involved three areas;
- Informal conversations (face to face and digitally) with coauthors, peers, and students
- semiformal conversations in presentations at conferences
- formal conversations as part of the publication process.

The review process was found by all to be challenging and frustrating. All talked about the need to have a strategy to deal with the inevitable emotions that surround this process. Some were quite strategic.

When I’m writing, I don’t try to write the perfect paper. I try to write a good-enough paper that is interesting enough and intriguing enough for my immediate audience—a set of reviewers and an editor—that allows me to get an {Review and Revision]. (citing Tammar Zilber, 74)

Reading was seen as the lubricant that keeps writing moving. A repeated theme was that “reading and writing were done iteratively and repeatedly, one activity continuously feeding on the other.” (75)

A number used drawing to help make connections. This included boxes, arrows and various mind mapping exercises.

Thinking was important to all. “We write what we think, but in the act of writing, we also clarify our thoughts.” (76) All used some sort of mechanism to help organise their thoughts. For some, this was detailed structures with points and sub points, for others a few dot points. The approach to writing was linked to personality. Some wrote in a linear way, from start to end; while others wrote in a more non-linear method.

Essential was messy writing. “Almost all the authors I interviewed felt that writing became easier once they had managed to write a few sentences, as those handfuls of words gave them something to “mull over” and think about” (77) As a result, all engaged in re-writing.

In conclusion Cloutier noted some important lessons. First, writing is an integrative activity, so there is a need to be continually feeding our writing with activities like conversing, reading, drawing and thinking. Second the importance of developing rituals. There are steps we can take that remind our bodies we are here to write. In other words “writing as a practice that requires practice: a practice that we engage in deliberately and routinely, regardless of our particular mood on a particular day” (80). Third, the understanding that academic writing is actually a social activity.

Posted by steve at 09:17 PM

Monday, December 14, 2015

spaces innovate


Thursday and Friday the KCML core team gathered. We wanted some time to dream, think and plan. The first day involved some strategic planning. What is our charism? What values will nurture our charism? What strategic signposts will point us toward God’s future among us? We worked hard and were surprised, pleased and delighted with an initial draft, which now awaits interaction from our key stakeholders.

The second day was curriculum. What do we want our graduates to know, do, be and relate? How might we be able to assess these outcomes? What are the immediate steps we can take? By morning tea, we were tired. We’d worked hard the day before and we needed coffee. A walk was suggested. We left the beautiful room we were gathered in and walked to a local cafe. Around large tables, the conversation returned to the question that had seemed to exhaust us a few minutes earlier. Suddenly, in this space, there was fresh energy. An unexpected question generated intense discussion and a whole new possibility.

We walked back, excited, nervous, and a bit shocked.

Spaces innovate. Different spaces invite different ways of thinking and being. An important lesson for a group of educators to have experienced, in their own bodies and being.

Which, later that day, would set in train another set of unexpected questions, intense discussion and a whole new set of possibilities. If spaces changed us, what might that say about the type of teaching spaces we want to inhabit.

Posted by steve at 07:31 PM

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Praying for Paris: an empirical study

tear on cheek

Praying for Paris: an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events
Researchers: Dr Steve Taylor and Lynne Taylor

Introduction: Faith lives in a complex relationship with surrounding culture. Christians inhabit a set of beliefs regarding who God is and how God acts in our world today. These become particularly pointed when tragedy strikes. How does the church respond to unexpected violence? What resources does the church draw upon? How to speak of the nature of God, humans and Christian responses to tragedy?

One place to seek answers to these questions is in pastoral prayer. Christian practices articulate a practical theology. As such, the gathered worship service is theory laden, offering insight into Christian understandings of how God is engaged in human history. What Christians pray – what they do and do not say – is thus a potentially fruitful avenue for conducting research into ecclesiastical and religious practice.

Such an approach is suggested in Coakley and Wells, Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture, who explore not only the complexity of liturgical leadership, but also how those who pray and preach in fact become active agents that draw forth the desires and prayers from among those they serve.

This research project seeks to understand how local churches prayed on Sunday 15 November. The date is significant because on Friday, 13 November, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. At the same time, a number of other tragedies occurred, including bombings in Beirut and Baghdad. As churches gathered on Sunday 15 November, how did they pray? What factors were at work in the choice to pray, or not? What resources might have been drawn upon? What theologies were at work in the response?

Method: The aim was to conduct an empirically descriptive study, in order to reflect theologically on ecclesiastical practice, in this case the church service. An online survey, was designed, consisting of ten questions. It was piloted with a number of colleagues at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. An email was then sent to pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Baptist Churches of Aotearoa New Zealand, inviting them to participate in the online survey. A notice was also posted on twitter and Facebook, asking people to share. This presented three different and distinct avenues for gaining data.

The research has a number of possible benefits. These include
• understanding the factors that shape how churches respond to tragedy
• provide insight into the theodicies at play in contemporary ecclesial practice
• providing understanding of church practice, as a resource for training of future leaders in theological reflection, congregational leading and worship leading and to assist with professional development training
• locate good examples, in order to develop a web resource of examples of rapid respond to global tragedy

The study had a number of limits. The response was likely to be skewed toward those who did respond prayerfully. Further, the reach was determined by the social media reach of the two researchers. However, the research does not claim to capture a quantitatively representative sample. Rather it will only claim to provide a qualitative data set, to explore the theologies at work in lived practice.

Results: The survey was closed on December 1, 2015. In just over two weeks, 155 responses had been received. These will be analysed in order to provide an empirically descriptive and critically constructive theory of ecclesiastical and religious practice in society. As time allows, the results will be processed and avenues for publication sought.

Posted by steve at 07:29 PM

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

99 homes: theological 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 December 2015.

99 Homes
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Together we approach Christmas. For many the story is about a homeless family being relocated at the whim of an oppressive regime. It is an understanding shaped by the Christmas story in Luke in which a census is legislated and a family has finds “no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

“99 Homes” is thus a contemporary Christmas Eve story. Recently unemployed builder, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) and his family are evicted from their home in Orlando, Florida. The man representing their bank, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), feigns sympathy, insisting he is simply following legislative decree.

The film, directed by Ramin Bahrani, becomes a biting commentary on the post-2008 US housing market crash. Bahrani spent hours in foreclosure courts watching the legislative moves by which families lost their homes in snap judgements. Bahrani’s research is put to use as Nash, returning to protest, finds himself employed by Carver. As Nash explains to Carver, “America is a culture for winners, by winners.” There is more money in eviction than construction. This is the central tension around which the plot revolves. Is home a place of safety, community and memory? Or is home a commodity to be brought and sold?

“99 Homes” is wonderfully shot by veteran cinematographer, Bobby Bukowski. A highlight is a lingering shot of Nash, panning from gun and whiskey bottle to Nash sleeping by a swimming pool. As the ringing phone disturbs his drunken slumber, we realize we are seeing not Nash’s floating body but his reflection. It captures the helpless, lonely reality of one man drowning in what director, Ramin Bahrani calls the “devil,” the system of scams in which government and banking rules are manipulated at the expense of struggling home owners.

So where is Emmanuel, the God with us of the Christian Christmas story? The only direct reference to Christian faith in “99 Homes” occurs when Carver justifies his work of eviction to Nash. Carver applies the lens of church-as-building to Christian faith. There is, Carver practically notes, only room for a limited number of people inside the building that is church. Those left outside, those made homeless from the house of God, are thus required to help themselves. It is a “survival of the fittest” doctrine of election.

Another place to locate Emmanuel, God with us, is in the scene where Nash receives his first payment from Carver. It is cash to clean up a house the departing tenants have sabotaged by destroying the sewer pipes. It’s a baptism of excrement, a welcome to the real world. It represents another place to find Emmanuel, God with us, on the side of Nash as he adjusts his face mask and begins to clean up the worst of human the condition.

It is a reminder that those inside the church buildings must refuse to abandon justice and economics to those with a “survival of the fittest” theology. The world of evictions and economics needs people of faith. The One who so loved the World is Emmanuel, God with us in acts of initial mercy and the restorative acts of justice.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is 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.

Posted by steve at 07:46 PM