Tuesday, December 12, 2017

No ordinary Sheila: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for December 2017.

No ordinary Sheila
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

In September this year, Stewart Island nurtured me. I had booked a retreat on New Zealand’s third largest island months prior. Then in late August my sister-in-law was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Within days she lapsed in a coma, from which she never recovered. I arrived on Stewart Island broken by her sudden death.

In shock, expecting little, the island enfolded me in a healing balm. It soothed me as kiwi and kaka walked with me through the main town of Oban. It tended me as the sea lapped at every turn I took. Islands called Faith, Hope and Charity spoke to a land soaked in historic grace. My pain remained, but found itself wrapped in the grace of place.

The memory of this grace returned as I watched No ordinary Sheila, the striking story of New Zealand writer and illustrator Sheila Natusch. Natusch is an extraordinary talent, the author of 77 books for adults and children. She was born on Stewart Island, her family gifting Fuschia Walk, which I took daily as part of my finding of peace.

The film is cleverly structured. It begins with a form of genealogy. Sheila and the Traill family might be European in origin, but they live with a profound respect for people and place. This includes naming Natusch’s descent from missionary stock, followed by a montage of Stewart Island scenery, from robin bouncing on forest floor to dolphin cresting a morning wave.

No ordinary Sheila is held together by two woven threads. One is the life of Natusch, the other an interview with Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand’s Saturday Morning. A radio interview makes for boring film. So documentary maker Hugh Macdonald cleverly adds interviews. Natusch ponders with her biographer her friendship with Janet Frame. She speaks to tramping photos with friends. She explores Owhiro Bay with local café owners. It is a clever strategy, allowing Natusch to be drawn in real life by those who know her well. What it can’t do is scratch away the creep of nostalgic platitudes, including Sheila’s claim that cancer could be held back by a Kiwi “she’ll be right.”

Religion is present, but never pleasant. It appears when Sheila quotes the Bible on wives being submissive. Ironically, she also shares that the decision not to have children was made by Sheila’s husband. “Women were kept in their place” summarises Sheila, of her non-church-going husband. Perhaps submission was as much to be blamed on culture as it is on religions. Religion is also present in Sheila’s memories of being a student at Otago University, her bemusement that church goers would be praying for her as she laced her boots to tramp in God’s book of nature.

No ordinary Sheila provides for Pakeha Kiwi’s a biography of place. It stands as a reminder of how those who have gone before us traced the grace of this land. My sister-in-law shared Sheila’s love for nature. I wish they’d both had time to meet.

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Indigenous knowing: Decolonisation and the Pacific

Decolonisation and the Pacific: Indigenous Globalisation and the Ends of Empire, Tracey Banivanua Mar, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Let justice roll was part of Martin Luther’s King I have a dream speech. It drew on Scripture, Amos 5:24. If King was dreaming of justice in the Pacific, he might have called for justice to roll like the sea. He would have been inspired by Tracey Banivanua Mar and her recent book, Decolonisation and the Pacific: Indigenous Globalisation and the Ends of Empire (Critical Perspectives on Empire). It is an examination of the search for justice, Pacific style, Melanesian made.

It is a unique book. First, it argues that decolonisation has been uniquely experienced in the Pacific. Unlike Asia or Africa, the Pacific experience needs to be appreciated as unique. Second, it takes a long historical lens. It begins not with the development of nation states in the independence movements of the 1960’s through to 1980’s. Rather it begins with first contact. Thus decolonisation is located with geography and history, from which it draws energy. Third, it foregrounds indigenous agency. It argues for networks of relationships among indigenous peoples. These have emerged from the oceanic geography that is Oceania, the mobility of networks, including those imposed by colonisation, like black-birding. Through them flowed information, consciousness raising and leadership development. This makes decolonisation the story not of Empire and of political upheaval, but of the practices of indigenous agency. The argument is that “Indigenous peoples from numerous angles established resistant, convergent and accommodating discourses with and within empire.” (51) The result is a celebration of resistance and creativity. The focus shifts from the upfront and legal, to the home and the every day.

It is a book, beautifully constructed. Each chapter begins with a story that draws in the reader. Each story locates us in another Pacific place: Fiji, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Each chapter ends with a lengthy conclusion, in which the data is located in relation to the books’ overall themes. Chapter titles, with words like currents and churn, saltwater and flight – recall the oceanic geography essential to the exploration of justice rolling like a sea.

What Decolonisation and the Pacific lacks is a considered engagement with the religious dimensions of the Pacific context. For example Walter Lini, first Prime Minister of an independent Vanuatu, is described as a “formidable builder of networks” (198). These are listed as including the Western Pacific Students’ Association and founder of newspaper, Viewpoints. There is no mention of church linkages, so essential to the context of Vanuatu and the identity of Lini, as an Anglican priest. A set of important questions are thus left unanswered. How did faith help or hinder the processes of decolonisation?

Decolonisation and the Pacific is essential reading. It provides new ways to approach decolonisation, that celebrate indigenous agency and the practices of everyday life. It provides a thoughtful examination of the nature of justice rolling like a sea across the Pacific. This includes the telling of the Pacific story on a prestigious academic stage, with publication by Cambridge University Press. It also offers a way of telling a Pacific story that honours the Ocean that all peoples share, in ways that maintain the uniqueness of local cultures. As such, it offers windows into the future search for justice, including the nurturing of networks and education that shares Pacific style, Melanesian made indigenous creativity.

Posted by steve at 08:58 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Christ-based innovation: eschatology and entrepreneurship

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 8.58.08 AM

Christ-based innovation, a short piece, written with a KCML colleague, Mark Johnston, for SPANZ Summer 2017. It uses eschatology to consider innovation, building on my chapter on Jesus the innovator in Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration

The Bible ends with a vision of creation restored and reconciled. At the heart is Jesus Christ – crucified, risen – announcing the making of all things new (Rev 21:5). This provides a way to understand Christ-based innovation.  

Presbyterian theologian Michael Jinkins calls Christ-based innovation one of the most remarkable and vital hallmarks of our Reformed legacy. It is a way to make sense of the call of the Reformers to ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, the Church always in need of being reformed. Presbyterians were innovators with the capacity to draw from the experience of ancient Christian communities in adapting to new situations, says Jinkins in The Church Transforming: What’s Next for the Reformed Project? We are defined by our history as innovative as we participate in God’s making of all things new.

Christ-based innovation is also a way of making sense of the mission of the Apostle Paul. Hallmarks of his ministry were the forming of multiple, diverse Christian communities. For Paul, this was innovation and was always coupled with risk. Paul wrote of how his Christ-based innovation risked the appearance of foolishness with the potential to upend religious, political and economic conventions of wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20-25; 3:18-23). To proclaim Jesus is Lord, meant Caesar was not. To proclaim a crucified saviour was to upend power and religious control and break retributive cycles of violence. To proclaim a Risen Lord with a life now poured out for all who would receive him was to re-order social relations, Jew and Gentile, women and men, slave and free. Innovation was a risky venture as it challenged established cultural patterns.

It was also a risky venture because it challenged established church ways. We see this as Peter met Cornelius (Acts 10) and Paul met Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). The risks echo through history, as Luther, Calvin and Knox met the established church. Today, much of our Presbyterian polity is designed to protect the gains made by earlier eras of innovation, particularly the new impetus that resulted from the Reformation innovations. However in consolidating gains of the past, we can become closed to ongoing attempts to respond to the call of Christ making all things new. We show favour to what we already know over the unknown, uncertain and unconventional.

We need to own as Presbyterian churches that innovation and those risking a new thing will be misunderstood. It will feel like they are challenging the status quo. They will not meet people’s current expectations. They will risk being isolated and left to carry things alone. They will risk exposure, unfair criticism and potentially the shame of apparent lack of success.

So if we are to be churches that create conditions for the risk of Christ-based innovations, we will need to lay hold of another of our great Reformed hallmarks, that of grace. Overflowing grace along with risk is at the heart of innovating. We are always in grace, for Christ-based innovation is birthed out of gifts given and received.

Grace for innovation givers involves the freedom to try new things and be generous when there is stumbling. This includes being supportive with compliments and ready to revise metrics about success and progress.

Grace for innovation receivers includes being faithful stewards of the gifts of generosity, freedom and support. It will mean reporting on progress and sharing stories of what God is up to in the midst of innovation.

In the grace of risk and innovation, givers and receivers will find themselves as disciples, learning to draw from the experiences of ancient communities, like Paul and the Reformers, in the making of all things new.

Mark Johnston and Steve Taylor, KCML

Posted by steve at 07:52 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, December 01, 2017

We’re hiring – Educational Delivery Project Officer

Educational Delivery Project Officer
0.6 (fixed term 12 months with possibility of extension)

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Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership has a strategic plan which prioritises lay and ordained training to be enacted through a mix of face to face and online learning across the country. This is a new position created to support our existing educational delivery and work with us to develop our strategic plan.

The successful applicant will be skilled in organisation and networking, with experience in event management and educational administration. They will have an eye for detail, a passion for adult education and the ability to support and co-ordinate the deliver of high-quality education to leaders across the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. This includes supporting the KCML Faculty in the use of online, video conferencing and digital resources and enhancing our ability to met our commitments to being a bi-cultural and intercultural church.

Enquiries and applications including a CV and letter of application addressing the Position Description to: Steve Taylor, principal@knoxcentre.ac.nz.

Applications close 9 am, Monday 4 December, 2017. Interviews are set for Monday, December 11, 2017.

Posted by steve at 04:45 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Resisting Empire: A Maori theology of church and state

In January, I was reading Vincent O’Malley’s wonderful The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800–2000. I was surprised to read a speech, made by Maori leader, Wiremu Tamihana, that used Scripture to resist the power of colonial expansion. “A public theology of church and state?” I tweeted. O’Malley tweeted back within minutes, in the affirmative. Intrigued, I asked the amazing Hewitson Library if they could track down the speech. Within days, copies of the Great Britain Parliamentary Papers 1861 were on my desk. I offered the speech to the KCML interns at a February Summer intensive, as an example of public theology and together we find in the speech the formative factors of theology all at play – not only Scripture, but also experience, reason and tradition. A public theology indeed.

In February, I wrote an article for SPANZ, the quarterly magazine of tbe Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. Titled Religion and politics: Learning with Wiremu Tamihana, in 600 words it provided some initial thoughts on The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800–2000 and why Wiremu Tamihana might be articulating a public theology of church and state.

In May, I did further research, doing more work with the Great Britain Parliamentary Papers and in July I presented a 20 minute conference presentation at the Australian Association of Mission Studies.

During that conference, participants were invited to present a short 3 minute video summary. The editing took a while, but here is mine, which arrived yesterday. In it I explain what why missiology must research indigenous thinkers. It was a challenge, to explain a 20 minute paper in 3 minutes, but a useful exercise.

Resisting Empire: A Maori theology of church and state from steve taylor on Vimeo.

In October, that conference paper became three written papers. First, it was summarised into 1000 words as a contribution to Snapshots for Mission, a (just released) KCML publication that aims to make research accessible to the wider Presbyterian Church. Second, the thread of indigenous sovereignty became a 6,000 chapter contribution to a potential book, edited by Mark Brett and Jione Havea. Third, the thread of home-making became a 6,000 contribution to another potential book, on the Australian Association of Mission Studies conference theme of Re-imagining home. While Tamihana is one person, there is a depth and complexity to his life that deserves to be considered from multiple angles.

In addition to this 1 video and 4 publications, there have also been 4 further talks over the year.
- In January, a 60 minute keynote at Rethink, Restore, Renew in Clevedon.
- In March, a sermon at First Church Dunedin, celebrating their anniversary as a church.
- In May, a 60 minute keynote at Kaimai Presbytery.
- In October, a 40 minute conference presentation Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand, at REFORMATION 500 NZ.

So, some summer reading has, by the end of year, resulted in 1 video, 4 publications, 2 conference papers and 3 talks. A single 140 word online tweet has birthed over 15,000 written words, both popular and more academic. It has been one of the unexpected surprises for me of 2017, a rich and generative year of learning from a bi-cultural Treaty partner.

Thanks Vincent, thanks Twitter, thanks Hewitson, thanks to KCML interns, particularly Hone Te Riri, thanks to conference organisors and book editors. Above all, thanks to Wiremu Tamihana.

Gracious and eternal God,
as we honour Wiremu Tamihana,
keep us honourable and fair
in our dealings with each other,
true servants of the Prince of peace.

Wiremu Tamihana, Prophet, Kingmaker, 1866, New Zealand Prayer Book. He Karakia Mihinare O Aotearoa, (Auckland: William Collins Publishers, 1997)

Posted by steve at 12:33 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Christ-based innovation: servant

This is part of a series on Christ-based innovation, which I shared at an Educating for innovation weekend run by KCML in October. My task over the weekend was to provide spiritual wisdom, woven in partnership with workshopping processes around innovation. In terms of spiritual wisdom for innovation, I drew on Paul’s images from 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. (I cover these in much more detail in Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration

To explore the first image used by Paul, that of servant, I used lectio divina to reflect on Christ as an innovator who serves. After an introduction of Paul as innovator, here is what I said:

So this weekend, as innovators, we will open one of Paul’s letters. It is the letter of 1 Corinthians. Written by Paul to a church he has begun. And in 1 Corinthians, Paul describes his innovation, in six images. The first innovation image is that of servant.

In 1 Corinthians 3:4 “What is Paul? What is Apollos? Servants.” Again in 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Think of us in this way, as servants.”

So innovation for Paul begins with service. Paul does this because of the God he follows.

So let me read a servant Scripture, from John 13:2-15. I will read it 3 times. Each time, I will pause a the same place. I will ask you to imagine that moment of service in the story.

First time, I invite you to imagine watching Jesus washing the feet of one person from your case study tonight.

The smell as shoes come off. Can you see feet and toes? Can you see Jesus kneeing? Can you see him taking the towel? Can you hear the sound of water and the wiping of the feet.

I wonder what Jesus is saying?
I wonder what the person is saying to Jesus?

Second time I read it, I invite you to imagine watching Jesus washing the feet of one person from your community.

Third time, I read it, I invite you to imagine watching Jesus is washing your feet.

Christ-based innovation begins with leader as servant.

bookcover For the entire series of meditations on Christ-based innovation, go here. For reviews of my book, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, go here.

Posted by steve at 01:17 PM

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Christ-based innovation

A few weeks ago, I provided spiritual wisdom in an Educating for innovation weekend run by KCML. Seven teams from around New Zealand were brought together. They were offered a fabulous location and invited to work on taking ideas to opportunity for their local community context.

We worked with Dr Christine Woods from University of Auckland Business School, who was invited to walk us through the processes she used with small businesses and in Maori innovation. In planning the weekend, she was careful. “In working with Maori, I quickly realised I can’t just add on a bit of Maori to my existing work. I needed to begin with Maori values. So in this weekend, we can’t just add on a bit of Jesus. We need to begin with Christian values.”

I grinned. I had just written a book on faith-based innovation. In Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration I read Paul in light of Christ, using six images from 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. This includes an entire chapter on Jesus the innovator.

So here is how I introduced the weekend, a beginning located in Christ-based innovation:

We gather as whanua (family) of Ihu Karaiti (Jesus Christ). One of the more interesting innovators in the Christian tradition is Apostle Paul. Most (all) of Paul’s innovation begins when he, like us, goes to the edge.

So in Acts 16, Paul goes to the edge. He hears a man from Macedonia say “come on over.” Paul is a learner. Paul takes a risk. Paul forms a mission team with two others, Timothy and Silas.

And they go to a community in Macedonia called Philipi. In that community, he find some partners. He finds a business woman called Lydia. Together they form prayerful community in the borderlands outside the city

Then he moves to a community called Athens. He takes time in that community to learn the culture, to read their poets and study how cultures gather.

And in each place, in each community, Paul and his mission team, are gaining perspective, seeing more clearly, the Gospel in community.

And in each place, it is only once they get there, only once they begin, only once they listen, that they see light for a next direction.

And for one community, after Paul has left, he sends a letter. And in that letter, we get a glimpse of what it means for Paul to be an innovator.

And so this weekend, as innovators, we will open one of Paul’s letters. It is the letter of 1 Corinthians. It is written to a church that Paul has begun. And in that letter he describes his innovation. The first image is that of servant ….

Posted by steve at 03:00 PM

Sunday, November 12, 2017

the colour of spirituality in the craft of academic writing

Examen is a spiritual practice. It involves prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence. It tends to involve words, in the form of questions, that seek

In the last few years, I have found myself adapting the practise of examen. Instead of words, I use colour. I call this visual examen in which colour is used in seeking to detect God’s presence. This involves 4 colours
- yellow – where is surprise?
- blue – where is wonder?
- grey – what brings clarity?
- green – what brings growth?
To begin I use colour pencils and scribble the four colours on a blank page. I then reflect on a particular event, looking for surprise, wonder, clarity and growth. (For the story of how these questions developed and how they shape my regular work, see my book Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration).

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This week, for the first time, I found myself using visual examen. Not on an event or a day, but on a project, spread over months. I undertook a visual examen of my academic writing. On Monday, I heard I’d had an article accepted for publication. On Wednesday, I submitted another academic article to another journal.

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Two such significant events in the space of a few days got me thinking. Could the presence of the divine be detected in the craft of academic writing? Could a journal article, a project spread over months, be a spiritual exercise?

There was certainly the need for clarity/grey. This came in the careful choice of words. It also came in the need to choose keywords and hone a 150 word abstract out of an 8,000 word text. The seeking of clarity was also evident in the task of footnoting and creating a bibliography.

There was certainly growth/green. This came in the commitment to original research which is at the heart of every journal article. It came in the synthesis of the literature and the creation of an argument that would sustain results, discussion and conclusion. For both articles, on Monday and Wednesday, I ended the writing sensing that I had grown, in my understandings, through the requirement to turn vague thoughts into words, link them into sentences and finally turn out paragraphs on a page.

There was certainly surprise/yellow. This came in the curiousity that creates a research question and begins the process that will eventually result in an article. It comes through the way that research is at times a haphazard, unexpected, dropping down a rabbit hole, a la Alice in Wonderland, into a whole new world. It also comes in the structuring of the argument, the use of topic sentences to create a flow, the use of introduction, anecdote and example to create and maintain interest.

But what of wonder/blue? Pondering this colour took the most work. But in both articles, I eventually located wonder. For the Monday article, it was the grace of finding of insight in the indigenous culture of another. For the Wednesday article, it was the delight in weaving an Orthodox icon with the theological insights of Rowan Williams, The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ.

I have, over the last few years, used visual examen to lead myself. The four colours have shaped my working leadership, allowing me to pursue a daily workplace spirituality. It was a rich exercise this week to use the same four colours to reflect on a project over time and a particular task, that of writing an academic article. The four colours breathed life into what is a demanding and extended process. It suggests that academic writing is so much more than an intellectual exercise. It is also a spiritual pursuit, in which my soul is invited to clarify and create, in the finding of wonder and surprise.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM

Friday, November 10, 2017

Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures

I’m back in the public ie accessible to anyone teaching space (as opposed to more in-house-KCML-intern-teaching-spaces) this summer.

Church in Mission Theology in Changing Cultures

From 22-26 January, 2018, Doug Gay of the University of Glasgow, and Steve Taylor of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership will teach an intensive: Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures. The course is jointly offered by the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, and the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

The paper offers a theologically rigorous and culturally informed understanding of re-forming Christian communal identity. It will bring together perspectives of global theology, contemporary cultures and ecclesial study in a critical and constructive dialogue.

The course can be undertaken in two way:
• for credit through the Department of Theology and Religion at University Otago course costs.  For further details on this option contact Paul Trebilco, Department of Theology and Religion paul.trebilco@otago.ac.nz or 03 4798 798

• for audit student by contacting the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. This will cost $500, with further Ministers Study Grant subsidies available for PCANZ ministers. For further details on this option : The Registrar, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership; registrar@knoxcentre.ac.nz; 03 473 0783

The course can be undertaken in two locations:
• In Dunedin, at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, with Doug and Steve face-to-face and a face-to-face tutor to provide interaction and contextual reflection

• In Auckland, with Doug and Steve streamed in via video and a face-to-face tutor to provide interaction and contextual reflection

Posted by steve at 02:55 PM

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Blader runner 2049: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for November 2017.

Blade runner 2049
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

4 symbols make a man: A, T, G & C.
I am only two: 1 and 0.

It is a brave person who seeks to reboot a cult classic. Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott, was released in 1982. It created an entirely believable future, set in 2019, in which humans create replicants to do the dirty work made necessary on a dying planet. When four replicants escape, a complex set of moral questions are raised regarding how to tell human from machine.

Blade Runner became a cult classic, considered by critics as one of the best science fiction movies of all time. They point to the birth of cyber punk as a new genre, in which present concerns are placed in a technologically advanced and dystopian future. They point to the visual sophistication of a future world on earth, the clever use of light and dark by cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth and the music score by Vangeles (since been sampled more than any other film score of the 20th century).

Adding to Blade Runner’s intrigue was a Directors Cut, released ten years after the original in 1992. It removed explanatory voice-overs and added a dream sequence. The result was a further set of questions regarding human identity and the place of memory and myth in a digital world.

Blade Runner was set in 2019. What was a distant date in 1982 is rapidly becoming a present reality. Hence director Denis Villeneuve attempts in Blade Runner 2049 to throw the future another thirty years forward. Acclaimed for the science fiction of Arrival (Praised in Touchstone December 2016), it is a brave person who seeks to reboot a cult classic.

Blade Runner 2049 makes fine work of meeting a set of impossible expectations. It is a standalone movie, visually stunning, musically complex and intellectually stimulating. It makes numerous references to the original, including the return of key characters like Harrison Ford (Deckard), Sean Young (Rachael) and Edward Olmos (Gaff). Yet at 164 minutes, 43 minutes longer than the original, Blade Runner 2049 deserves a director’s cut, starting with the multiple repeated lingering shots of an expressionless Ryan Gosling.

More specifically, Blade Runner needs a female director’s cut. Both movies present a future world created for and by a male gaze. The original involves Deckard engaging in sexual assault, physically forcing himself on an ambivalent Rachael. Blade Runner 2049 offers extensive female nudity, most evident in the advertising hologram Joi (Ana de Armas).

Dystopia invites us to explore the anxieties of our present world. In a month in which the hash tag #metoo has called attention to harassment, we urgently need to explore a future equally shaped by female concerns for the human body and what makes human identity.

Religious themes are present, albeit opaquely, in both movies. The original provides visual references that do theological work, including the presence of stigmata and the release of a white dove. In 2049, religion is verbal, through a range of obscure First Testament-esque quotes. More important than religion are the theological questions regarding the humanity identity, irrespective of whether the future is 2019 or 2049.

Posted by steve at 08:55 PM

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Earth Cries Out book review

The Earth Cries Out, by Bonnie Etherington, is a brooding meditation on grief and vulnerability. The story is told through the eyes of Ruth. Her family flee from tragedy in New Zealand, only to find yet more grief in a strange new world, that of West Papua. Coming of age is hard enough in places familiar and families secure, let alone in new worlds, across cultures, amid the armed cross currents that fracture modern day West Papua.

A Scripture, Romans 8:22 is used by way of introduction. Faith is a constant thread, closely examined through the lens of human pain. In the innocent eyes of a child the world is always big, held together by parental security and friendships of circumstances. Ruth’s gaze increases the sensitivity by which we contemplate the cries of creation. Theologically, there are no cliches. Only the reminder, that the cry for justice will never be stilled.

The story of West Papua is more complex than individual narratives of expatriate families such as Ruth’s. Etherington skillfully deals with this complexity through the use of individual vignettes – of plane crashes, Japanese invasion, botanical adventurers, mining – scattered through the narrative. Each stand alone, yet each in their uniqueness narrate the rich complexity of this island nation. In the interruptions, they are a poignant pointer toward beauty and history.

The Earth Cries Out is an absorbing read. Skillfully told, each page is an invitation to care and compassion, for all those we know both near and far.

Posted by steve at 08:41 PM

Friday, November 03, 2017

My year with Helen film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for October 2017. It’s a review that met a deadline, but I sent it wishing I had a bit more time.

My Year with Helen
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

In this, a year of election, Aunty Helen is back. In our cinemas, on social media and active at Labour party events. On the movie screen she is the star of My Year with Helen, leading the United Nations Development Programme while also seeking election as the next Secretary General of United Nations.

The movie explains her current real life, 2017 election presence. In one cinema scene, Clark demonstrates to the camera her social media skills as she cross-posts photos between Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The movie “conveys how tough it is to break the remaining glass ceilings. May it motivate future generations of women to keep at it!” No wonder Aunty Helen is back, tweeting her support for a potential female Prime Minister in Jacinda Ardern.

My Year with Helen is documentary. Behind the camera is Gaylene Preston and her singular passion for telling New Zealand stories. For Preston, “the basic responsibility of New Zealand filmmakers is to make films principally for the New Zealand audience. If we don’t, no-one else will.” For over thirty years, Preston has told our stories, from Kiwis touched by war in Timor (Punitive Damage (1999)) to the impact of Parikaha (Tatarakihi (2012)). Recognised as Officer of the NZ Order of Merit for her services to the film industry, Preston’s skills are clearly evident in My Year with Helen.

All movies have stars and at times, Helen seems more actor than real life Kiwi. The final interview, as Gaylene questions Clark about her election loss is a masterful en-act-ing of reticence. Clark’s reluctance to reveal more than necessary suggests a movie more aptly titled My Year with a Guarded Helen.

Guarded Helen is however warmed by relationships. We see her in Waihi preparing meals for her ninety-five year old father. We see her husband Peter, patiently waiting after an Auckland speech. While each of these scenes humanise Clark, they also reveal her doing more than her being. We glimpse what Helen gives more than what Helen receives from these significant domestic relationships.

The movie is devoid of religion. Such an absence is consistent with Clark in real life. Raised Presbyterian, as Prime Minister she described herself as agnostic. Yet the UN is not New Zealand. As a global organisation, the UN works for 193 countries. Many in these countries are deeply religious. One wonders how these religious needs impact on the development work of the UN, especially given recent research has urged development studies to take seriously the role of religion in development.

Despite being devoid of religion, the movie does offer a commentary on the difficult task of justice making. Breaking the glass ceiling is an expression of the equal worth of all humans a way of making sense of Galatians 3:28. This provides a theological lens by which to understand My Year with Helen. The agnostic Clark, movie star, tweeter and politician is playing her activist part in re-making the world, seeking to make an equal place for generations of future women.

Posted by steve at 04:05 PM

Thursday, November 02, 2017

academic research as speaking peace a la Luke 10

On Tuesday I presented on “religious piety and pigs’ brains”: the faith of zombies. My task was to analyse a communion scene in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, in which zombies take communion.

I began with the work of Dutch cultural theorist, Mieke Bal in Anti-Covenant: Counter-Reading Women’s Lives in the Hebrew Bible and her insights into the place of religion, particularly Christian religion, in Western culture. I then offered some zombie-gesis and explored Matthew 27:52-3, which I read in light of Ezekiel 37:12-13 and the sense of God’s justice for the righteous. I then moved to Luke 16:19-31 and considered the seeking of justice in that parable. Next I provided an introduction to theologies of communion. First, I mapped Anglican and Methodist sacramental theologies, before examining the role of Exodus narratives in liberation.

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On Wednesday I woke up thinking about Luke 10:1-12. The importance of going, the need to go in postures that offer peace, the task of being a receiver of hospitality, of being seated at the table of another, the value of conversation in which signs of the Kingdom might emerge.

Was my academic research on Tuesday a Luke 10 table? Was I, in the act of doing research, living Luke 10:1-12? Was I speaking peace, both to the initial wierdness of reseaching zombies and to an invitation from a University Humanities department? I certainly received hospitality in the invite to speak and in the financial provision. The result was certainly a conversation deeply salted by Kingdom themes around Scripture and sacraments, all in the light of justice for those oppressed.

Luke 10:1-12 is usually applied to neighbourhoods. Can it also apply to networks like academic research, around zombie-gesis?

Posted by steve at 03:48 PM

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

“religious piety and pigs’ brains”:  the faith of zombies

I spoke yesterday at FiRTH (Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities). I was part of a symposium on Jane Austen and found myself exploring post-colonial readings of Christian sacraments.

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My paper was titled “religious piety and pigs’ brains”: the faith of zombies and was an investigation of a communion scene in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, in which zombies take communion. It might be parody (the Catholic News Service thinks so: “ghoulish, quasi-sacriligious parody … moviegoers would do better to stay at home and brush up on their Austen”). But I also examined it using a post-colonial lens, in which “the zombie tells the story of colonization: the reduction of human into thing for the ends of capital.” (Jon Stratton, “Zombie trouble: Zombie texts, bare life and displaced people.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 14 (3), 271). I also found myself reading that strange parable in 16:19-31, about the role of Lazarus in relation to justice.

Here is an excerpt:

Lazarus is also mentioned in Luke 16:19-31. The parable begins in the world of the living, with a rich man and a beggar. Both die. The beggar moves into what seems to be an in-between space. It is a world of the dead, alongside Abraham and close to a rich man in Hades.

In Luke 16, in this is in-between world, the beggar is an active agent. The request is made that he become an intermediary, seemingly with power to speak and move. First, an intermediary in the world of the dead: “send Lazarus to dip the tongue of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I (the rich man in Hades) am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:24).

Second, an intermediary in the world of the living: “send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let [Lazarus] warn them, so that they will NOT also come to this place of torment.” (Luke 16:27-8).

So in this in-between world, there are active agents, an eschatological concern for justice, with consequences in this world and future.

I’m still playing with how all the threads tie together, but this was my resting place yesterday.

I have been undisciplined by offering some inter-textual readings of a communion scene in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. This has included conversations with Biblical material, particularly between the Church of St Lazarus, the dimensions of (Un)Sacramental theology and the post-colonial readings. This invites the Christian church to consider sacramental practice. Is it a piety that freezes change? Or is it a converting ordinance in which liberation is anticipated? It also invites us to affirm the subversive potential of popular culture, even shock horror!, in the undisciplined use of zombies to mess with the privileged world that is the world of Jane Austen, both in social history and in literary scholarship.

It was good to be back in Adelaide, and I was very grateful for the hospitality both financial and relational, extended to me by FiRTH and their commitment to foster collaborative and cross-disciplinary projects across a wide range of fields in the Humanities and Creative Arts.

Posted by steve at 10:59 AM