Monday, February 19, 2018

The Shape of Water: 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 February 2018.

The Shape of Water
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Shape of Water is an extraordinary movie, a splendid example of the power of visual storytelling. Director Guillermo del Toro is a master, and his attention to visual detail is exceptional. He has a history of exploring strange creatures (cue Pan’s Labyrinth) and Hollywood action (cue the Hellboy series). The Shape of Water merges both these genres, in a fantastical fairytale located in the dramatic realism of Cold War America.

Strong characterisation is used to develop both action and romance. A strange creature (Doug Jones as The Asset) is captured from a river in South America. For the military (Michael Shannon as Richard), the Asset is something strange needing to be killed. For the scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr Robert Hoffstetler), the Asset is something rare needing to be investigated. For a lonely cleaner (Sally Hawkins as Elisa), the Asset is something special, needing to be understood.

Elisa is mute, able to communicate only through sign. The Asset is not human, unable to communicate in words. The result is a number of extraordinary scenes, including one in which Elisa insists that her older friend (Richard Jenkins as Giles) give voice to her signing. It provides a profound reflection on the nature of communication, including our passion to be heard and our need of the other in the art of connection.

Another key scene in The Shape of Water involves Elisa tracing the fluid shape of water droplets on the window of a moving bus. Beautifully constructed, it brought to mind Maori understandings of water. Water is essential in Maori creation accounts. When Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother are separated, one sheds tears that are rain, the other cloaks herself in mist and weeps in springs and rivers. In other words, water is a sign of love. Together – rain from the sky as wai mangu and springs from the earth as wai ma – are wai rua, the spirit that animates all forms of life.

These Maori understandings echo the way water is depicted in The Shape of Water. The film opens and closes in water. Elisa is an orphan, found by a river, while water is essential to the life of The Asset. Water is a place of intimacy that fluidly connects love and life. This provides viewpoints in stark contrast to water as valuable only in support of industrialised farming or summer recreation.

A review of The Shape of Water is not complete without noting it is rated R16, with themes that are certainly adult. An essential dimension of Elisa’s loneliness is depicted in relation to sexual need, explored in a number of water scenes. Love is thus portrayed as highly sexualised, a search for bodily need and intimate communication. This co-mingling of water, life, love and people certainly provides a way to respect the compelling final plot twist, in which water animates the love between Elisa and The Asset. But it does raise questions regarding whether The Shape of Water accurately portrays the entirety of the shape of love.

Posted by steve at 09:34 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

the beatitudes of waitangi day

Walking up the hill to our house yesterday evening, I composed a Waitangi Day grace:

Blessed are those who first said haere mai (welcome),
for with them was the grace of God

Blessed are the truth tellers of Te Tiriti,
for through them is the beginnings of change

Blessed are the meal makers,
for by them is the hospitality of God,

Blessed are strangers,
for in each is a waiting friend, Amen

I wrote this grace for a social event I was part of hosting on Waitangi Day, February 6, 2018. The evening involved entertaining around 30 KCML interns, staff and families. Many of those coming were arriving as strangers to each other – different year groups, overseas scholars and their families – and I wanted to name that reality, yet frame it as opportunity (Blessed are strangers, for in each is a waiting friend). The food was a Team Taylor effort and I wanted to express my gratitude to my family (Blessed are the meal makers, for by them is the hospitality of God). The meal was held on Waitangi Day and I wanted to connect our hospitality with what I have learnt from manaakitanga (hospitality) from Maori culture.

The couplet framing – Blessed … for – has a nod to the beatitudes of Matthew 5. It seemed fitting for a grace, connecting our gathering with the values and commitments of Jesus.

The couplet framing was also shaped by U2 and Kendrick Lamar and the spoken word cameo that ends U2′s recent release “Get Out Of Your Own Way.” I like the way it updates the beatitudes of Matthew 5, bringing in contemporary categories. “Blessed are the bullies/ For one day they will have to stand up to themselves…/ Blessed are the liars/ For the truth can be awkward.” LA Times call it a “short sermon“.

Glad of the song, enjoying the Songs Of Experience U2 album, I began to think about the contemporary categories if I was doing a Kendrick Lamar, but “blessing” not America, but New Zealand and the Waitangi celebrations. Hence the couplets about Maori as those who “first said haere mai” or welcome; and “the truth tellers of Te Tiriti” – those who speak for truth about the history of the Treaty signing.

Of course, U2 were contemporising the beatitudes of Matthew 5 before Kendrick Lamar was born (in 1987). Bono wrote “Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland)” when he travelled to Ethiopia after Live Aid (around 1986). The song was reworked and released in 2007 as part of the 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree. The two lines of a couplet are evident “Blessed … for.” They are also contemporised, into those “meek who scratch in the dirt,” “the voice that speaks truth to power.” and “tin can cardboard slums.”

Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland) is a song I love – brooding, justice-focused – with a clever set of lyrics that reframe Ethiopia with the dignity of “ancient holy scrolls.” Again, an echo of my beatitudes of Waitangi Day, which sought to honour Maori as sovereign actors, extending to a visiting Captain Cook and so many subsequent migrants a welcome that for me speaks of the grace of God.

Posted by steve at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

A millennial stare: Zadok column

zadok I have been asked to be a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Having read my film reviews for Touchstone, they requested a 860 word column every 3 months. I see is as an opportunity to write a lay focused piece of theology. They are happy for me to blog the columns I write, which makes them accessible not only on paper in Australia but digitally for everywhere. Here is my second article, for the Summer 2018 edition:

A millennial stare
Steve Taylor

I am a dinosaur. It is a recent realisation. I attend a student church in which my wife provides pastoral leadership. Making a joke about 80s music, the blank stares of the young adults around me revealed the uniqueness that is my species of dinosaur. I am shaped by different music, and thus experiences, than those born around the turn of this millennium.

Generational theory gives voice to my blank stare experiences. Sociologist Karl Mannheim noted that age-related generations share a view of reality shaped by the times in which live. Hence we get Boomers born 1945-1961, Gen Xers born 1961-1980, and Gen Y and Gen Z, the two millennial groups, born 1980-1994 and 1995-2009 respectively. Hence the music woven through my teenage years means little to my student companions.

Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture shifted Mannheim’s academic work into the mainstream of popular culture. Coupland described the accelerated lives of young adults, who share with each other their experiences of popular culture in order to make their own lives worthwhile tales in the process. Generational theory presents challenges for mission and ministry. How do different generations form faith?

Not all are convinced. Some find the boundaries between an X and a Y artificial. Others argue that humans have more in common than in difference. While the sociologists and theorists argue, I remain a dinosaur, faced with blank stares and that nagging sense of cultural disconnect. What to do? How to connect with worldviews and cultures not our own?

The best way is to listen. We have two ears and one mouth for good reason. Jesus encouraged those who called themselves disciples to interpret the signs of the times. Christian faith involves listening to culture and culture change. For Reformed theologian Kevin Vanhoozer, the competent disciple must be able to read culture and doctrine (Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Cultural Exegesis), 2007). Theology is for Monday, not just Sunday, and so the church needs to be a community of competent cultural interpreters.

What are we to listen to? Alvin Gouldner (The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology: The Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology, 1976) coined the phrase ‘newspaper sociology’ to encourage a listening that includes the reading of popular culture. The signs of the times are found in cultural artifacts like newspapers, film and social media.

The blank stares of my millennial companions pushed me toward some ‘newspaper sociology’ at my local cinema. Recent millennial movie, The Big Sick, provided a way to listen. The movie tells the true-life story of Pakistani migrant Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and American post-graduate student Emily (Zoe Kazan) as they tumble into love. It is a window into the lives and values of twenty somethings in the United States.

Central to the millennials in this movie is technology. The relationship between Kumail and Emily is sparked by Uber, nurtured by text and matured through following on Facebook. When Emily falls sick, it is technology that enables Kumail to connect with her family. Emily might be speechless, but fingerprint recognition on her iPhone allows Kumail to email her family. Dinosaurs like me might pine for face-to-face, but, for these millennials, technology is an extension of being human.

Participation shifts. Community in Big Sick is built not through the regularity of shared friendships but through events, in this case evenings of entertainment at the local stand-up comedy club. Building community occurs in the moment rather than through planned and systematic relationships.

In the secular West, religion remains. However, it is present, not in the life of American student Emily, but through the Islamic practises of Kumail and his family. Yet even here the practice of faith formation is being challenged by Western individualism. Kumail’s parents think he has retreated to pray in the downstairs basement. In reality, he spends his time practising cricket and watching YouTube videos. The interplay of faith and culture is angrily challenged. ‘Why did you bring me to America, if you wanted me to marry a Muslim?’, Kumail asks his disappointed parents.

So what does this mean for my experiences of being a dinosaur? Seeking clarity, I realised I needed to enrich my ‘newspaper sociology’ with empirical research. Ruth Perrin, in The Bible Reading of Young Evangelicals: An Exploration of the Ordinary Hermeneutics and Faith of Generation Y (2016), wanted to know how ordinary millennials are actually forming faith. She provided groups of millennials with Bible texts and watched how they engaged with the supernatural and with Divinely sanctioned violence.

The results of her research provided me with an observation, an affirmation and a gift. Perrin observed an ever-extending season of faith formation. The twenty somethings are now taking a decade to engage in genuine exploration. As is evident in Kumail’s challenge to his parents, there is intense questioning and an eclectic gathering of ideas from diverse sources. Perrin affirmed the value of consistent Biblical teaching ministry but only in environments that encourage exploration and value authenticity.

It makes those blank stares of the young adults around me an important gift. Different generations offer invitations to enter worlds we do not know. In doing so, we will encounter important questions. Is my faith more than a cultural overhang? How does a God of love square with the violence and patriarchy of the Christian past? Faced with the blanks stares of a millennial generation, I can tiptoe back to the safe ground of easy hallelujahs. Or I can see the millennial stare for what it is: the future of a questioning faith.

Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin, New Zealand, and author of Built for Change. He writes widely on theology and popular culture at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 01:30 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, February 05, 2018

Anna, Simeon and the mission of the church (at Candlemas)

February 2nd in the lectionary is a Feast day in the church; when Jesus is presented at the temple. The Bible text is Luke 22:22-40. In terms of speaking parts, the main characters are Anna and Simeon. They are presented in the Bible text as elderly. So today, in our intercession, we pray for elderly.

God our friend, we give
Thanks for the elderly, for those in our family photo album who are going before us in time
Thanks for our parents and grandparents, those we know who have gone before us.
Thanks for those in our congregations and placements who are Anna and Simeon, who are elderly.

We name the reality of aging. We name the losses that can be physical, psychological, spiritual, financial, social and of autonomy. In every loss is grief and so we pray for grace. For space to name the changes and honestly confess the reality.

In every loss is an invitation to change and so we pray for grace to be adaptable, to find God in the process of aging, to trace the grace of God’s presence in every day, in every breath, in every memory. In the way we pause with examen and seek your grace in our day, we pray that aging may be a step into the examen of a lifetime, and so an experience of grace, mercy and new hope.

Thanks for those who care for the elderly, who provide meals, who offer medical advice, we pray. We ask for good humour, for people centred care.

For policy makers, making decisions about New Zealand future, setting codes of practice for care, we pray for wisdom;
For the medical decisions that surround ageing we pray for wisdom, for listening ears, for full disclosure;
For those wrestling with decisions about the types of care of retirement homes, we pray for wisdom;
For those experiencing dementia and those watching people experience dementia, we pray for ability to find faith in a God who holds all memories.

Erik Erikson calls this stage of life a journey into an age of integrity. In that sense we give thanks for Anna and Simeon, for their integrity as they waited in the temple, for their commitment to prayer, for their willingness to hope, for their ability to let go and trust the future to another generation.

We ask that grace for the elderly.

We ask that grace for the church. We have many congregations entering this age of integrity. We pray that like Anna and Simeon, they would have a commitment to prayer, a willingness to hope and an ability let go and trust the future – of their church, of their denominational identity, of their buildings, of their polity structures – to another generation.

And so we pray for ourselves, that like Jesus in the temple, we will commit ourselves in this internship, to increase in wisdom, and in favour with God and in our intern placements.

Amen

Posted by steve at 09:39 PM | Comments (0)

Lent-inar

(part of a work project I’m playing with)

snapshots

During Lent 2018, KCML is offering (free) web-inars. Weekly, two of the contributors to Snapshots in Mission will be interviewed via online video conferencing.

  • What sparked their writing?
  • What piece of music speaks to their article? What are the implications, for church, ministry and mission?

There will be time for Q and A, using video conferencing technology. Thursday’s (February 22; March 1, 8, 15, 2018, 4:30-5:15 pm). Attend one. Attend them all. Learn how to link to the Lent-inar by emailing rosemary@knoxcentre.ac.nz

Posted by steve at 09:11 AM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

word craft

writing-1-1314626-639x477 Intensives are intense. Running from morning to evening, from 8:30 am to 4 pm, stacked day after day, a lot of information and experiences are pushed together. One way people process is through group discussion and lecturer interaction. But there are other ways. In the intensive I co-taught last week, Church in Mission, I decided to explore processing through writing.

In the programme, I set aside 55 minutes each morning. Before the intensive started I wrote, asking students to come prepared to write. If they wrote by hand, then bring pen and paper. If they wrote by laptop or Ipad, bring that.

Writing is a “practice of care” (Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for getting published, 4). It is a major way by which knowledge is shared. Words written emerge from the internal work we do. Hence writing is a spiritual practice, that invites us to attend to self-awareness, our passions and vulnerabilities.

However, while writing is an essential skill, it tends to be taught informally. I did not receive any formal advice on writing during any of my undergraduate or postgraduate degree training. So over the last few year, wanting to take writing as communication seriously, I have read, reflected and refined my writing. The results have been encouraging. Last year I wrote 8 academic pieces (4 book chapters and 4 journal articles) and 9 industry focused pieces (plus my annual 11 film reviews for Touchstone). So I was keen to see what would happen in a class if given space to write.

Each morning of the intensive last week, I offered a few minutes teaching on writing skills. On Tuesday, warm up exercises; on Wednesday, writing habits, on Thursday, tiny texts; on Friday, structures. These were drawn from sources like Pat Thomson, Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for getting published and Helen Sword Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write and Stylish Academic Writing.

Then I simply invited people to write, whether to summarise the course in preparation for the first assignment or to report to their church leadership on learnings from the week of study leave.

The quiet tap of keyboard and scratch of pen enveloped the class.

As the writing time drew to a close, I invited folk to do two things. First, to count the number of words. Second, to note a few dot points of what they would do next. So that come the next morning, after a few more writing tips, they could climb back into the keyboard tap and pen scratch.

The first morning, in trying to framing why we might do this, I asked folk to brainstorm the forms of writing they might be expected to do in their ministerial context. The list was extensive and together we realised the value of writing, and the need to think about and practise together the skill of writing.

Feedback from participants was very positive, with writing mentioned every day in the daily debrief and in written class evaluations at weeks’ end.

(more…)

Posted by steve at 08:01 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, January 29, 2018

tiny text of Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures

A tiny text is a miniature version of the whole. It has been applied to academic work by Pat Thomson. So here is a tiny text, a summary of what I was trying to do in Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures, the week long intensive I taught last week for University of Otago/Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (in partnership with Doug Gay) . I offered it to students as the course progressed and as I challenged myself: could I, in around 350 words, summarise the week of teaching, including linking to assignments, course learning outcomes and each of the course readings.

globe-trotter-1-1531337-640x480 Mission can be defined as joining what God is up to in the world. This human response emerges from the conviction that God sends the Son and Spirit. Humans partner with God, including in resistance of evil, the making of all things new and expressing God’s life in the indigenous particularity of local contexts.

This understanding of mission defines the church as willing to be sent beyond existing locations into liminal spaces; to pay attention to contexts; and to participate in discerning the patterning of God’s movement. However, the sheer complexity of our global world suggests that no one size fits all. Further, the ongoing unfolding of our cultural contexts requires us to listen afresh to context and to respond appropriately in change.

Analysis of history, for example in Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity, enables a global and in-depth understanding of the resources of the Christian tradition (Assignment 1). One way to categorise the range of church responses is using the headings of resistance, innovation and indigeneity. Because of the unique relationship between theology and culture, each of these responses will have strengths and weaknesses.

As we learn from the past, we gain insight for the present. We can understand the present as we engage in mapping cultural hermeneutics: listening to the cultural complexity of New Zealand today, including at micro, meso and macro levels (Assignment 2). Mapping is then followed by discerning which of the responses – resistance, innovation and indigeneity – the church might adopt. The re-forming that results is part of the churches ongoing participation in the unfolding mission of God (Assignment 3).

Hence the three assignments will demonstrate a theologically rigorous and culturally informed understanding of re-forming Christian communal identity: past and future. The three assignments will bring together perspectives of global theology (Classic Texts in Mission and World Christianity), contemporary cultures (mapping cultural hermeneutics) and ecclesial study of resistance, innovation and indigeneity in a critical and constructive dialogue.

Posted by steve at 09:42 AM

Monday, January 15, 2018

Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus as deep mission

ajms Delighted to have an article published in the Australian Journal of Mission Studies December 2017, Volume 11, 2, 28-35. Titled – Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 as deep mission it notes first that we inhabit a geographic region in which for many cultures, genealogy is essential to knowledge and second the absence of genealogy in the work of missiologists like David Bosch and Chris Wright. Given that the gospel of Matthew begins the story of Jesus with genealogy, what are the implications for mission?

Conclusion
We work in a region of the world in which for many cultures, genealogy is essential to knowledge. Given that Matthew begins the story of Jesus with a genealogy, I have considered the genealogy of Jesus as a starting point for mission. I began by noting the absence of the genealogy of Matthew 1 in contemporary Western missiology. Three important contemporary missiology texts make claim that Matthew 1 is important in the mission of God. Yet the genealogy garners little attention: gaining a minimal mention in David Bosch (Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission) and Chris Wright (The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative) and none in Senior and Stuhlmueller (The Biblical Foundations for Mission). None of the three missiology texts show an appreciation of genealogy as genre or consider the way that genealogy might function as a distinct and important approach to epistemology and identity.

However, when indigenous understandings are applied to Matthew 1, the missiology of the genealogy acquires great significant. Two indigenous texts were examined, one located in Aotearoa New Zealand, the other in Australia. Both stress that for indigenous cultures, knowledge must be located in relationship to ancient memory. One (Tangata Whenua: A History), provides a mechanism, that of genealogy. Genealogy provides knowledge that is worthy of respect as it functions in ways that are replicable, rigorous and reproducible. The other (“Mission in the Great South Land” in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific), provides an invitation to value deep memory. It also provides an intercultural hermeneutic, in which the knowing of deep memory is parsed into beliefs, values and modes of teaching. This provides a further set of rich insights into genealogy; that the genre invites modes of teaching that are replicable, rigorous and reproducible; that the genre communicates beliefs and values worthy of deep respect. Thus indigenous scholarship offers a rich set of resources by which to approach the genealogy of Matthew 1.

This insight has been tested in practice, in teaching on mission in one indigenous context. This teaching demonstrated the vitality of the genealogy of Matthew in framing mission as an ancestor story, a structured transmission in which God as the primary actor is weaving ordinary and indigenous people into the Messiah’s story. It is time that indigenous scholarship, in particular the role of genealogy in structuring knowledge and affirming deep mission, is respected in both the theory and practice of mission.

Posted by steve at 02:40 PM

Thursday, December 21, 2017

learning with Doug Gay: Church in Mission summer intensive

dougrecording Doug Gay is in New Zealand for a summer intensive – Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures. A Kiwi summer has many attractions, so why am I spending a week of it with Doug?

First, Doug has a gift for liturgy. I use one of Doug’s recent calls to worship with our KCML interns . Tasked with a call to worship for the induction of an artist as a pioneer minister.

Doug brilliantly framed theologies of reformation with a missional trajectories. Beautifully word-smithed, theologically rich, I use it with interns to consider how historic theologies are reforming, shaping future vision.

Seccond, experience in innovation. Doug was part of pioneering one of the first alternative worship communities, the Late Late Service in Glasgow. This was in the 1990′s. There were very few maps, certainly no emerging church and fresh expression books. Here is their Christmas service, televised live on Channel 5.

Doug then moved to London, and as a United Reformed Church minister, was part of birthing Host, exploring alternative worship in Hackney, north London.

Third, Doug is a fine public theologian. He completed his PhD in public theology at the University of Edinburgh and has written on national identity and Christian faith. In 2017, he gave the Chalmers lectures. They were described by Jason Goroncy as “informed, intelligent, lucid, timely, and hope-filled challenge not only to Scottish Presbyterianism (the prime focus of his reflections) but also to the wider church.” They have become a book, Reforming the Kirk, with St Andres Press.

Fourth, he’s a respected preacher, tag preaching in 2016 at Greenbelt with Nadia Bolz-Weber, and presenting at the sold-out Festival of Preaching in Oxford, UK in 2017.

Fifth, he is himself a gifted musician. He’s recently returned to the studio to record, a sign of a wellspring of creativity.

Creativity, worship, public theology, preaching and music. Worth a week inside, no matter how good the summer!

The intensive runs 22-26 January, 2018. Titled Church in Mission: Theology in Changing Cultures, co-taught by myself and Doug, it is a joint offering by the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, and the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

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 10:18 PM

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

translation and cultural change: the impact of Scripture for a church in mission

jerome Jerome (347 – 420) was a priest, theologian and Bible translator. A Doctor of the Church, he is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin. But not without conflict.

Translation threatens existing patterns. It causes conflict. When the new translation is read: “A great uproar ensued in the congregation.” (White (ed), The correspondence (394-419) between Jerome and Augustine of Hippo, 92-3). That which was familiar was now different. The church leaders are asked to intervene. Scripture is causing conflict.

Lawrence Venuti, a professional translator, uses this as an example in arguing that “a translation practice cannot fail to produce a text that is a potential source of cultural change.” (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 87).

Translation of Scripture was challenging the church. It was disrupted what was familiar. It was raising questions about the location of authority. Is it in the familiarity of tradition or the pages of Scripture? Should the scholar or the bishop be making these decisions? In a church with different cultural identities, some Greek, some Latin, any use of languages from another culture challenged power. So how did Jerome bring about change? In the midst of conflict, what strategies did he use to change what was familiar and precious?

Venuti describes four change strategies (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 80-1). First, Jerome took time to explain. His translations include a preface, in which he outlined what he was doing. Second, he listened to the objections. He noted the fears, including the impact on stability, uniformity and cultural identity. Third, Jerome offered a new way of looking. He framed his translation not as a replacement but as a supplement. It would aid in the tasks of understanding Scripture. It would protect the church from accusations of ignorance. “Jerome’s version was thus presented as an institutional support, assisting in … debates with the members of a rival religious institution … who cast doubt on the cultural authority of Christianity.” (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 80). Fourth, he found resilience in his heart for mission. Jerome began to translate because he was part of “a culture in which sensitivity to a foreign language was an integral element.” (Kamesar, Jerome, Greek Scholarship, and the Hebrew Bible: A Study of the Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim (Oxford Classical Monographs), 43). Jerome’s awareness of his cultural context, when combined with his desire to offer credible Christian witness, motivated his work.

Translation of Scripture brings cultural change. It can disrupt existing hierarchies and challenge established authorities. This is evident in the translation of the Scripture into Latin. This change happens because Jerome is skilled not only technically, in translation. He also shows skill in innovation. He brings about cultural change as he listens, explains, frames and nurtures his resilience.

Christian art represents the Spirit, whispering to Jerome as he works. It suggests the inspiration of God. This inspiration originates in mission, the gospel’s inherent translatability across cultures. Inspiration occurs for Jerome not only in the hard graft and technical skill of translation. It also occurs in the skills of bringing cultural change, of listening, framing and being resilient in and through conflict.

Posted by steve at 10:28 AM

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The endings of U2’s Pop: Benediction, lullaby or lament? U2conference2018

The U2 conference, exploring the work, music and influence of U2, is planned for 13-15 June 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is in partnership with the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, Queen’s University, Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, and the Ulster Museum of the National Museums of Northern Ireland. Given I’ve loved the first two U2 conferences, in Raleigh and Cleveland; given that Belfast and Steve Stockman are as cool as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; given than I now have seven publications in relation to U2 (for the list see below), it made sense to ask my employer for some time in lieu and put a paper forward.

popvisionlogo The 2018 conference theme is U2: POPVision and sets out to investigate, articulate and critique the guiding visions specific to U2’s Pop era of 1997-98. The call for presentations closes 31 December, 2017. So join me.

Here’s my paper proposal:

The endings of U2’s Pop: Benediction, lullaby or lament?

Pop, the album, beckons hearers to a dance floor, all mirror ball and Miami. Popmart, the tour, offered audiences a golden arch, giant olive and the world’s largest video screen. Despite the glitzy mix of electronica and technology, Pop ends in a dark place. The profanity-laced lyrics of “Wake up Dead Man” (WUDM) evoke Divine absence in a lonely world. How does the lyrical weight of WUDM sit alongside POPVision’s ecstatic embrace of the dance floor? This paper examines Pop’s endings alongside U2’s catalogue.

First, in conversation with U2’s other studio albums. How do themes of lullaby, evoked in “MLK,” illuminate WUDM? Are there inter-album references, as occurs with “13 (There is a light)”? How might the genre of lament, referenced in “40,” help us understand WUDM?

Second, against U2’s narratives regarding other album endings. The band have cultivated a narrative that Pop was unfinished. Yet U2’s narrative regarding the ending of War reference a similar pressured deadline. What to make of these contrasts, in which the rush of War becomes an artistic triumph, yet Pop a premature travesty?

Third, U2’s choice of ending songs in live performance. WUDM was played in twenty-two of the ninety-three Popmart concerts, every time as an encore. This points toward a performative role of benediction, a final prayer invoking divine blessing. Yet midway through the Elevation Tour, WUDM shifts to be played mid-performance, between “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “One.” This suggests a different performative role, of lament rather than benediction. How might the interplay between songs as album-ending and concert-ending illuminate the endings of Pop?

I argue that for U2, endings, whether album or concert, deconstruct the dance floor glitter embedded in the now of every performance.

And in case you’re interested, here are my 7 publications in relation to U2:

“Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways”” U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher (Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music), edited by Scott Calhoun, Bloomsbury Press, (forthcoming).

“U2 Praying the Pattern of the Psalms in Paris.” Equip 30, 2017, 20-21.

“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music), edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books, 2014, 105-121

“Public Lament,” Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, edited by MJ Bier & T Bulkeley, Pickwick Publishers, 2013, 205-227, (co-authored with E. C Boase).

“Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” Interfaces. Baptists and Others: International Baptist Studies (Studies in Baptist History and Thought), edited by David Bebbington and Martin Sutherland, Paternoster, 2013, 292-307.

“U2,” Don’t Stop Believin’. Don’t Stop Believin’: Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-Hur to Zombies, edited by Craig Detweiler, Robert K. Johnston and Barry Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 125-127.

““Bullet the Blue Sky”: the evolving live concert performances,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 84-97.

Posted by steve at 09:39 PM

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

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Christ-based innovation: eschatology and entrepreneurship

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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