Tuesday, April 26, 2016
childrens talk: with explosives
Needing a children’s talk for Sunday, I asked Presbyterian Archives if they had anything on the church I was preaching at (Knox Presbyterian, Dunedin). They produced a catalogue, which at 35 pages, indicated a rich history. Scanning through, an entry on page 34 caught my eye.
Explosives. I asked for more and they produced a family album and information regarding a Professor Black, who in the 1880′s, gave a lecture on explosives, with numerous experiments. Here is the children’s talk that resulted:
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
“Women’s wealth” as human agency: lines as bridges in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain
Behind Sunday’s sermon, on “women’s wealth” and Dorcas as a pioneering a fresh expression of justice, lay an academic research project I’ve been pottering away on for the last few weeks. As a result, I’ve just submitted a paper proposal for Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions, Conference of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture. It is 9th-11th Sept 2016, University of Glasgow.
It is just before the BERA conference, in Leeds, which I’ve had a paper accepted at and just after the Ecclesiology and Ethnograpy conference, in Durham, which I’ve already got a paper drafted for. So there is a nice confluence of conferences. The paper I’ve proposed for Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions is in the Literature section. It is new terrain, and therefore I am taking a bit of a punt. But it is an attempt to think through some of my current reading, in particular, of Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain and the implications for gender and post-colonial ways of being.
The proposed paper is as follows:
“Women’s wealth” as human agency: lines as bridges in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain
This paper argues that lines are verbs that engender lived experience (Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, 2013). The term “women’s wealth” (Goddard, Threads, 2011) is applied as a metaphor to analyze the arc, art and author of The Mountain.
Drusilla Modjeska is a writer of non-fiction accounts of women’s literature. The Mountain is a departure, a novel of love and loss set within Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) transition to independence and the conflicts surrounding the nation’s quest for economic viability in a globalising world. At the heart of The Mountain is “women’s wealth,” in the form of barkcloth made by the Omie women of PNG. Central to the narrative arc of The Mountain is indigenous agency, the Omie acting creatively in their search for economic sustainability.
The front cover of The Mountain is painted in the black lines distinctive of Omie art. Each chapter begins with a different piece of this art. These lines provide an invitation to read visually. Ingold argued for three types of lines: geometric, organic and abstract. The Omie consider their art is a visual alphabet in which lines are bridges not boundaries. Hence The Mountain invites a focus not on sola literature but on a visual reading that respects lines as organic and abstract.
While writing The Mountain, the author became part of her own fictional narrative arc. She founds a not-for-profit organisation that enables Omie artists to benefit from Western interaction. She writes of her struggle, an English woman living in Australia, to overcome her “internal post-colonial border policewoman” and cross the lines of either/or. She finds agency when recalling “women’s wealth”: the lives of women she has read, interviewed and observed painting lines-as-bridges.
Hence “women’s wealth” – in narrative arc, lined art and women’s lived experience – turns lines into bridges, enhances human agency and empowers creativity.
In working on my International Association of Mission Studies paper – Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain” – a set of questions had been generated, around the materiality of what I was researching. That led down a set of research rabbit holes around Pacifica weaving, which, given the numbers of Pacifica students at Knox Centre and the history of Presbyterian involvement, seemed worth pursuing. This proposed paper is a result.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Womens wealth: Tabitha/Dorcas missiology of economic justice
Acts 9:36, the story of Tabitha (Dorcas in the Greek), preached at Knox Church, Dunedin, in which I suggest economic justice is a fourth mark of the church and wonder if Dorcas is the first female Deacon of the church, and thus the patron saint of diaconal ministry.
Last weekend my sister-in-law from Christchurch came to visit. We’ve brought a house at St Leonards. It has some very dated curtains and so with winter approaching, last weekend was set aside and the words written in the calendar – curtain making. I needed to spend Saturday morning working on a conference presentation, for the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture. So I found myself on Saturday morning reading about “women’s wealth.” It’s a term used to reference the making of bark cloth into woven mats amongst Pacifica cultures.
“Women’s wealth” thus refers first, to the skills of making. Second, to the knowledge sharing that occurs across generations as the mats are made. Third, to the value of the actual mats. They’re gorgeous. Fourth, to the ability of these women to adapt their skills when times change, when they move to Australia or New Zealand and lose homegrown materials.
As I was working, I found myself pondering the irony. I’m upstairs thinking, writing about “women’s wealth.” At the same time, downstairs, my wife and sister-in-law are making “women’s wealth” – curtains. As they do they’re sharing stories, learning across generations and improvising with different window shapes and lengths of material. In this “curtain economy” of “women’s wealth” I‘m reduced to driver. Steve, drive to Spotlight for more thread, please. Steve, drive to Spotlight for 60 metres of calico please.
“Women’s wealth” – the ability to make, the communal pooling of skill, the knowledge as story that’s shared, the ability to improvise in different contexts.
Acts 9, the lectionary text for today, is about “women’s wealth.” About the role and significance of “women’s wealth” in the mission of God. “In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha (in the Greek her name is Dorcas), she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room … and then in verse 39 – all the widow’s stood around [Peter], crying and showing the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made.” So “women’s wealth” is how this church in Joppa does mission. The ability to make (robes and other clothing), the willingness to share (with the widows), is how the Gospel has come alive in this community. It’s the materiality of the resurrection.
The Presbyterian Church of Aoteoaroa New Zealand has five faces of mission. They’re named are in your newsletter under my sermon title. To make Jesus Christ known:
• in nurture and teaching
• in loving service
• in proclaiming the gospel
• in transforming society
• in caring for creation
Let’s see if we can bring together the world of Acts 9 and the world of the PCANZ. How many of these five faces do we find in Tabitha’s church in Joppa? Ask the person beside you.
I wondered if there were three faces
• In nurture and teaching of people – and nurture is certainly what Tabitha is offering to the widows; and teaching is there in the sharing across generations
• in loving service – and the robes and clothes offered to widows are a wonderful example of practical ministry
• in transforming society – and in New Testament times, widows are poor. They’re on the bottom rung of society. They have no protector, no advocate. So here in this text, they find one – Tabitha.
As I read the Acts 9 lectionary text during the week, thinking about “women’s wealth”, I was struck by how quickly the church in Acts, after the resurrection, settles into such practical, such material, ministries of mercy and justice.
In Acts 2, property and possessions are shared with those in need. In Acts 4, we hear of the willingness to share everything. In Acts 6, the widows are being fed but economic injustice is occurring, some ethnic groups get less, and so the role of Deacons is created to ensure there is just distribution of resources in the church.
Now here, in Acts 9, 65 kilometres from Jerusalem, this economic pattern continues. Women’s wealth is used to cloth widows.
It’s not named, but isn’t Tabitha a Deacon? Serving the church, ensuring justice, that the poor and marginalised are taken care of. She doesn’t need a title, like the church in Jerusalem. It’s just what happens after the resurrection.
Presbyterians talk about the marks of the church. Three Marks of a Reformed Church
• Preach the Word of God
• Administer the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion
• Godly Discipline
Here in Acts, perhaps there is a fourth mark, the doing of economic justice.
What I also find fascinating about this Acts 9 lectionary text, is that all this happens, all this ministry, all this economic justice, all this “women’s wealth,” it all happens before Peter arrives. Peter, as we heard last week, is commissioned by Jesus to Feed the sheep. Peter is the preacher at Pentecost at Jerusalem. Peter speaks in court before the Sanhedrin. Peter, Peter, Peter.
Yet before Peter ever arrives at Joppa, Tabitha has got on with feeding sheep, practising mercy and justice among the poor and marginalised of her community. There’s a church in mission well before Peter, coming from head office in Jerusalem, ever arrives.
This pattern is repeated time and again in mission history. In 1287, Kublai Khan sent a Chinese Christian bishop as his ambassador to Rome, with instructions to ask the Pope if the Pope was a Christian (The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died)
When the missionaries arrived in top end of Australia, indigenous Aborigines had already heard the gospel from fisherman working down from Indonesia (Gumbuli of Ngukurr: Aboriginal elder in Arnhem Land).
In Aoteaoroa New Zealand, it was Ripahau who carried the pages from the matyred body of Tarore’s Gospel of Luke to Otaki, which resulted Katu Te Rauparaha converted, which causes him to visit enemies of his father Te Rauparaha up and down the South Island, long before any missionaries from head office in London arrive.
In the middle of last century, the world of mission was tipped on its head by a German mission administrator who gave us the term Missio Dei – God’s mission. God is a missionary God. Mission starts with God, and we’re simply playing catching up.
Just like Peter. He arrives from head office, with some great Pentecost stories, only to find women’s wealth and a mission of economic justice is already happening. This is missio dei – starts with God and Peter’s playing catchup.
Will Willimon writes of this Acts 9 lectionary text – “Every community, every family, every congregation exists within certain settled, fixed arrangements of power … Tabitha is to stay home and let the men devise an affordable welfare system … But [God] comes …. These miraculous events announce a new age … and nothing is quite the same.” (Acts: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 85-6). Such is women’s wealth, in the mission Dei, mission of God.
Let me finish with a contemporary story that helps me understand the role and significance of “women’s wealth” in the mission of God today. The story of a church in the UK called Knit and Natter.
In 2008 four women in a small Methodist Church in the middle of a housing estate near Liverpool, arranged to met and knit prayer shawls for the bereaved and those in hospital. Then they moved to blankets for the local women’s refuge. Then hats for shoebox appeals overseas. Everything they knitted, they would lay hands and pray for those who would receive the finished items. Called Prayers for Others.
Three years later, that initial group of four women had grown to sixty, meeting weekly to knit and pray, many with no previous church connection. Calling Knit Natter their church.
Women’s wealth. Used in mission. Four women who make, sharing across generations, integrated their knitting with their prayer life, formed a community of economic justice and spiritual practice, that folk from the wider community now call church. It’s just what happens after the resurrection.
A friend who researched this community for her PhD, noted three things. First, the importance of what she called “Casting On” – the role of knitting as a practical entry point of – hand’s on making – which allowed these four woman to establish connections with the local community.
Second, the power of giving people ways to care. Here’s what one woman, Emma, said:
It feels part of something bigger because the things that people make here are going off into the wider world to be appreciated. So you’re not just part of something local, you’re part of something world- wide really. I think, for me anyway that re-enforces your faith. I think it is lovely to be part of something global, that people can appreciate.
Third, the possibilities of knitting as prayerful practice – how knitting enabled the women to begin or develop a rhythm of prayer and reflection. “ Many of the women interviewed talked about the relaxation and calm frame of mind which knitting brings. They spoke of using their knitting time to create space to be quiet and pray for others.” Knitting is an act of prayer. It’s how the Gospel has come alive in a housing estate in Liverpool.
In conclusion: women’s wealth is often overlooked within societies and cultures. So when I see it in the Biblical text, I want to make that my focus, to major in this sermon on Tabitha. On making, sharing, in the mission of God. And as I did, I was struck by how the church in Acts is marked by economic justice. And that mission starts with God, and that we’re often simply playing catching up. And that mission is can be as simple as making, sharing, integrating our faith with our life. Such is the value of “women’s wealth.” The gifts of Tabitha and Knit and Natter.
It’s just what happens after the resurrection.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
a busy wee patch
The photocopier is whirring away as I type, printing off 90 sets of workshop notes. On Saturday, I am delivering two workshops on the theme Making Jesus known through the nurture and teaching of people in the Christian faith. It is part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Synod of Otago and Southland. They have chosen to celebrate 150 years by looking forward, offering resourcing workshops on around each of the five faces of mission of the PCANZ: to make Jesus Christ known:
in nurturing and teaching
in loving service
in proclaiming the gospel
in transforming society
in caring for creation
It is a wonderful approach to being 150 years old, one of the first invites I got to speak when I arrived as Principal and I’m thrilled to be part of it.
Then on Sunday, I am preaching at Knox Church, Dunedin. My focus will be fresh expressions of mission as they emerge from the lectionary text of Acts 9:36-42. I want to take a gendered and economic approach to Acts and suggest that economic justice as in fact one of the marks of the early church. My sermon is titled “Women’s wealth.” It is my first sermon in a Presbyterian church, so it will no doubt become an important memory. After morning tea, I am leading a workshop on mission with the church.
Here is the blurb -
Rev Dr Steve Taylor, Principal of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership will be leading a workshop after worship for all interested people. Steve is a missiologist, a discipline that among other things explores how the church can be part of what God is doing in the world. It is an approach which influences much of how the church understands itself.
Sometimes people ask me what KCML lecturers do between teaching block courses. I guess this is one answer – resource the church in mission and ministry
Monday, April 11, 2016
Mahana: a 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 March 2016.
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor
He toi whakairo, he mana tangata.
The Maori proverb, translated in English as “Where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity” is an apt summary of Mahana. Set in the East Coast in the 1960’s, two Maori families, the Mahana’s and the Poata’s, are locked in rivalry. Directed by Lee Tamahori (famous for Once were Warriors and Die Another Day), Mahana is an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s novel Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies.
The pacing is terrific, as screen writer John Collee turns 293 pages of Ihimaera’s prose into 103 minutes of silver screen. The rites of life, weddings historic and funerals contemporary, are the pivots around which tension is both focused and resolved. The ethereal beauty of the bee scene, with its haunting waita, is a rich window into Maori culture and the way people and place are interwoven.
While a period vehicle car chase and the annual Golden Shears provide authentic colour, the film is a reminder that life in 1960’s New Zealand was far from rural bliss. Mahana depicts family feuds and an entrenched racism that were a stain on the idyllic rolling green hills of our history. Mahana thus shares themes with Whale Rider, including drawing from Ihimaera’s imagination, being set in the world of East Coast Maori and depicting the courage required of teenagers caught in hierarchical patterns. Both Pai, in Whale Rider, and Simeon in Mahana, face the challenge of growing beyond a demanding and dominating grandfather.
In a Kiwi cast that includes Temuera Morrison (Grandfather Mahana) and Nancy Brunning (Romona Mahana), it is unknown Akuhata Keefe (Simeon Mahana) that steals the show. From Tolaga Bay Area School, the fifteen year old was in Auckland on holiday, when he was encouraged to audition. His repeated courage is the engine that drives the plot.
Turning from artistic excellence to human dignity, as might be expected in 1960’s rural New Zealand, religion is an ever present reality. Family meals around the Mahana family table begin with grace, while at the church, the priest buries and marries. Yet prayer and ritual seem unable to bring reconciliation in the family feud between Mahana and the Poata.
Instead, it is human dignity that provides freedom. It comes from Simeon Mahana. His belief in fairness and willingness to speak his mind are the means by which three generations are freed from their history. His courage is a reminder, from John 8:23, that the truth will set you free. It provides another way to begin the Maori proverb. Not “he toi whakairo” but “te hauto itoito pono tīari.” “Where courage and honest exist, there is human dignity.”
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.
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
John 21 and Waiting for a voice, Dave Dobbyn
Those looking for some contemporary creativity around John 21:1-19, the lectionary text for this Sunday, will find helpful Dave Dobbyn’s latest album, Harmony House, released last week. I hope to provide an album review soon, but in the meantime, the opening single, Waiting for a Voice, is intriguing. Here are the lyrics (my transcription from the album playing on the car stereo this morning)
Verse 1 -
I look across a clear glass lake
Not a ripple on it, not a minnows’ wake
I saw a stranger on the opposite shore
Cooking up a meal for me
And what’s more, I heard Elijah
I know it was him
Get into the water man, and lose your sin
And Heaven is waiting for a choice
Waiting for a still clear voice (repeat)
Whether intended by Dobbyn or not, the references to the story of Jesus in John 21 are multiple. Beside the Sea of Galilee in verse 1 (I look across a clear glass lake), the disciples catching nothing in verse 3 (not a minnows’ wake), the presence of the risen Jesus, initially unrecognized in verse 4 (a stranger on the opposite shore), the charcoal fire in verse 9 (cooking up a meal for me).
The reference to Elijah is not named in John 21, but it is a way the disciples might have been making sense of this encounter. There is clear confusion between the Jesus unrecognized in verse 4 and verse 7 “It is the Lord.” A number of times in the Gospels, people wonder if Jesus is Elijah. This shows the power of the Old Testament imaginations that holds. It also shows how the human mind always works within known structures of meaning when trying to assimilate new experience. This has significant missiological implications of course. People move from their known to the new, so any communication needs to begin with the known. In so doing, it will always run the danger of being misinterpreted.
I love the baptism imagery (Get into the water man, and lose your sin). Again, it is not in the text. However it is a lovely imaginative working with the role of water, that is for baptism, and consistent with the actions of Peter in verse 7, as he jumps into the waters of Galilee in his rush to get to Jesus. The lyric makes total sense of the pathway to redemption, that we come to faith through the waters in which are sin is washed away.
The chorus is a catchy mix of crashing chords and ecstatic vocals, channelling the ecstatic sounds of a Nick Cave. The lyrics are distinctly evangelical. Heaven is waiting for a choice. Personally, I wince at the focus in the lyrics on human agency, at the danger of human pride in “my choosing to follow Jesus.” At the same time, there is a sense in John 21 of choice, particularly and repeatedly, in the three questions Jesus asks of Peter in verses 15, 16 and 17. Are we willing to trust ourselves to a stranger, who insists we make clear lifestyle changes (and lose your sin) in choosing to sit around a fire with Jesus?
So how would I use it? Probably I would mention some of the lyrics during the sermon, then play the song after the sermon, as a seque into communion. I would weave some of the lyrics into the communion prayers (thanking God for the saints, including Elijah; for the gift of creation, including lake shores and the waters of baptism, through which we find communion with God). I would ensure the prayers allow a time of silence in which I would invite us to listen for God’s “still clear voice.”
If I knew the community well, I might even invite them to share what they heard at the end of this listening. If I was doing this, my sermon would focus more on a lectio divina approach to Scripture, in which I create space for imaginative listening. Then I would play the song, mention the lyric – listen for God’s “still clear voice” – and invite that space for silence, for listening, and then for sharing.
Who knows what that still clear voice of the risen Lord, so strange to us, might say?
Monday, April 04, 2016
Knox online mission teaching
Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership went online today. The topic focus was Mission and the church. Video conferencing was used to connect interns together and for two hours, Scripture was read, in conversation with readings from Newbigin and the context in which the intern is ministering.
First, traditional education tends to offer theory, which is then applied, often in an assignment. The Mission and the church class has a major assignment which involves working with a group from the local church over a number of weeks in exploring what God is up to in the local neighbourhood. The use of video conferencing was a way to try and place the local context more front and centre, in a different way than in a classroom. Essentially we have halved the face to face contact time and replaced it with in-context tutorials.
Second, some recent educational research has argued that the closer a student is to their context, the more likely they are to begin to experience change, as they seek to integrate content with their current lived experience. In other words, the face to face class removes a student from their context, while e-learning allows them to stay in context, increasing their range of connections they make.
Third, the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership internship offers three block course intensives a year. Providing online engagement in between intensives increases interaction between lecturers and interns. It also provides another way to strengthen relationships between interns. (“Is that what your office looks like” was one comment heard today).
Fourth, technology is an increasing part of life today, so it is good for interns (and lecturers) to be invited to learn and grow, to experience forming and being formed through digital means.
Fifth, online technology offers some avenues for Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership to be more engaged in training nationally, including connecting with those in rural areas. If we can do this with interns, could we down the track also do it with lay folk and ministers in context? So this type of experiment allows us to learn and grow, testing our capacity, exploring ways to enhance access to ministry and mission training.
Today had some hitches. As was to be expected. But the conversation I was part of was one of the most honest and sustained exploration of ministry and call that I have experienced in quite some years. To read Scripture, to pray and be prayed through digital technologies, was a rich experience.
Sunday, April 03, 2016
Earina autumnalis: the downunder easter lily
Earina autumnalis, Maori name Raupeka, is a New Zealand native. It flowers in autumn.
Downunder, in the southern hemisphere, Easter is celebrated in autumn. There are no spring flowers, no Easter lilies, no signs of new life after the death of winter.
Instead we have Easter orchids. They flower during Easter. Although small and fragile (each flower is a mere 10-13 mm), they are a downunder sign of Easter life. They are strongly scented, one of the few NZ orchids to be scented. In the forest, they are as “the sweet aroma of Christ”; a sign of presence. The seeds are so tiny, they need an associated fungi to provide the food to germinate. Thus they rely on what goes before, just as Easter Sunday relies on Good Friday.
For a church searching for contextual faith, Earina autumnalis, the Easter orchid, is worth seeking.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Letter to the editor March 31 2016
My recent letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times has just been published! A little flag wave for justice. Ten days after submission, but still a point worth making.
The ODT (19 March) leads with the headline: “Camp site like ‘refugee camp.’” It quotes Brandon O’Callaghan comparing a Gibbston camping ground to a “Syrian refugee camp.”
The article mentions 200 people camping. The Za’atari refugee camp holds 83,000 refugees. The leading ODT photo shows twenty parked cars, with people relaxing on camping chairs. Syrian refugees walk, arriving at Za’atari desperate for food and water. 86% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line, a far cry from the financial resources freedom campers require to navigate Aotearoa New Zealand.
In a short time, Dunedin City will welcome Syrian refugees. What will they make of Dunedin’s leading newspaper making such pronouncements about the realities they have experienced?
Freedom camping is a problem needing solving. Misleading headlines add more heat than light. Can I suggest the ODT do some fact checking in order to run headlines more accurate and compassionate.
Dr Stephen Taylor
Thursday, March 24, 2016
The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory
There’s an interesting conference in Wellington, 9-10 June, 2016. It is sponsored by UNESCO and Victoria University. Titled Woven Together? Christianity and Development between New Zealand and the Pacific, it will examine Christianity as a development actor, investigating the roles that Christianity has played in influencing development and humanitarian practices, ideologies, rituals, networks and imaginations in the Pacific. It is a wide brief, interested in all aspects of the interweaving of Christianity and development in the Pacific.
Given the role of the Presbyterian Church of Aoteroa New Zealand in the Pacific, particularly Vanuatu, I contacted Phil King from Global Mission and suggested involvement. Phil King and I began work on a potential contribution. We have had excellent help from Archives, who have located some rich historical documents.
Abstracts are due 26 March, 2016, and here is what Phil and I have submitted.
The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of the relationship between Talua Ministry Training Centre and three denominations in Australia and New Zealand
Dr Steve Taylor and Rev Phil King
An essential dimension of Christianity in the Pacific is theological education. A common pattern involved denominations establishing a general school, to teach practical and theological topics. By paying close attention to local language and patterns, a contextualised and economically self-sustaining mode of training emerged.
Dramatic changes occurred in the 1960’s. New institutions emerged. These were centralised and ecumenical, teaching university level theological education in English. They relied on a different economic model and contextual approaches.
This becomes obvious when Talua Ministry Training Centre, Vanuatu, is examined. At Talua, three denominations from Australia and New Zealand are involved. Each can be theorised, drawing on archival research, as an actor, complexifying the development of Talua. Each is also being acted upon, facing internal tensions regarding gender and contextualisation, which in turn have impacted Talua. Being woven together requires paying attention to a shifting set of complexities, including economic dependency, partnership and contextuality.
For me, it is important that church-based mission agencies are present and thinking in these places. I consider it a sort of “public” missiology, in which activity and history is reflected upon in wider contexts. So I’ve also contacted Uniting World in Australia, suggesting they could be making a contribution.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Gurrumul and Paul Kelly – Amazing Grace
It seems a fitting song for today, for Holy Week, for all those caught in the shadow of human exploitation and violence.
There is an alternative narrative, a way of being across cultures, a way of seeing even through (Gurrumul’s) darkened eyes, a way of embracing hope despite the religious violence of imposed colonisation.
Monday, March 21, 2016
Rejuvenation in the Church: some theological notes (Candour repost)
(This is a piece I was asked to write for Candour, a blog for Presbyterian Church leaders, in January this year. )
Much of my thinking about a theology of rejuvenation was shaped during the early days of a difficult change process. I was working with a traditional church experiencing steady decline. Expecting resistance, I referred often in my sermons to the numerical decline of the last few decades. After a few months, an older gentleman commented quietly, “It wasn’t all bad you know.”
The comment got me thinking. Were my references to decline working against our shared desire for rejuvenation? I found myself reflecting on the change images used by Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus begins his ministry by declaring himself an agent of transformation, anointed by God to initiate shalom. [Luke 4:18-19] He describes his ministry using images of mustard seeds, yeast and grains of wheat. [Matthew 13; specifically 31-32; 33; 45-46; John 12:24] He commissions the church – as the Father sent me, so I sent you – as an agent of rejuvenation, to partner with the shalom of Jesus. [John 20:21]
Challenged, I threw away my graphs of decline. Instead, I gave out sunflower seeds. Creation grows and changes. Humans grow and change. I found myself tapping into what I now understand as a Trinitarian theology of rejuvenation.
As Christians we understand God relates to us in relationships: to create, reconcile and make all things new. Let me apply this pattern to rejuvenation.
In Genesis 2, God is pictured as creating a garden. The words used to describe the activities of God include
Former of people,
Breather of life,
Pleasant to look at.
Into God’s garden, humans are placed, to work and care. [Genesis 2:15] Rejuvenation begins when we recognise ourselves as gardeners with God, creating environments of visual pleasure and practical nurture.
On Easter morning, the first encounters with the Resurrected Jesus are in a garden. A body is transformed, hope is updated, all of creation is reconciled. [Colossians 1:20] At the same time resurrection challenges a theology of rejuvenation. We see this clearly in John 12:24. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In Christ, rejuvenation is only entered through death.
Revelation ends in the garden. “Behold, I am making all things new,” is a song of rejuvenation. The verbs of Revelation 21:5, when placed alongside the list of verbs in Genesis 2, give a sense of the Revelation garden completing the Genesis garden.
Maker -> Making
Former of people -> All things new
Breather of life -> Healing
Pleasant to look at -> No curse
The harmonies begun with Creator God, heard in Re-creator God in Resurrection, are completed in the Revelation making of all things new. The trees are for rejuvenation, the “healing of the nations.” [Rev 22:2]
This provides a theological and relational pattern for rejuvenation. It is one based on the three persons of the Trinity. Another pattern is present in the processions of God in mission. In the Creeds, the Church declares both “God from God, Light from Light” and the Spirit “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This is how God rejuvenates, in the mission of the Son in the incarnation and the inspiration of the Spirit who draws creation together in grace. This pattern allows us to discern what it means to participate in God’s rejuvenation, whether inside or outside the church. [I am summarising the work of Paul Fiddes, Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context]
Let me end by returning to the story I began with. Three months after I gave out sunflowers, I was shown a photo, of the older gentleman’s grandson, standing dwarfed by a sunflower, planted from one of those seeds. Such is the power and potential of a theology of rejuvenation. For the church, it means that
- Rejuvenation has a theology when it finds itself within this arc of creation, redemption and the making of all things new.
- Rejuvenation has a shape, as it expresses the patterns of the mission of God in Incarnation and Integration.
- The rejuvenation of the church is a subset of God’s work in creation. The Genesis garden is for humanity, God loves the world redemptively in Jesus, Revelation is for the healing of the nations.
- God is the active agent, initiating and sustaining rejuvenation.
This was the good news my church needed to hear, not my bad tidings of great decline.
Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. This article is developed more extensively in his forthcoming Built for Change: Innovation and Collaboration in leadership (Australia: Mediacom).
Friday, March 18, 2016
“says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what U2 has done”
A very thorough review of U2: Above, Across, and Beyond—Interdisciplinary Assessments, edited by Scott Calhoun, has recently appeared in the Cleveland Examiner. “This is heady stuff written by individuals who’ve given serious thought to U2’s “missteps, disappointments, failures…and ordinary problems.” …. As is the norm with a Lexington publication, Above, Across is … a college-worthy appreciation of its subject.” High praise indeed.
In terms of my chapter, “Transmitting Memories” there is an extended, positive, engagement.
Flinders University senior lecturer Steve Taylor sifts through Bono’s in-concert “lyrical departures” from the recorded versions of key tracks to arrive at an understanding of how the band memorializes people, places, and events during performances—thereby manufacturing unique new moments for the ticketholders in attendance. Spring-boarding from his discovery of a shout-out to the thirteen-years-dead Frank Sinatra in a live version of “Until the End of the World,” Taylor comments upon Bono’s many mentions of past concerts, prior locations…and dead people (Eunice Shriver, Greg Carroll, buried miners in New Zealand) from the stage, and how these seemingly unscripted one-liners establish both an oral history of the band and a “collective memory” for concert audiences.
“What would motivate such changes?” Taylor ponders.
Calendrical repetition, verbal repetition, and gestural repetition conspire upon U2’s gargantuan stages, weaving a ritualistic tapestry the band tosses over audiences like a playful papa blinding a laughing toddler with her “woobie.” There’s more than meets the eye when Bono waves at Larry behind the drums, thrusts a finger in the air, or points his microphone at fans in the front row. These are “concert-rical” connections that make each show special and enhance the universal appeal of each tour after the fact.
Remember Bono’s white flag at Red Rocks (Under a Blood Red Sky), or how he danced with a girl from the audience at Live Aid? These small, spontaneous gestures mean a lot in the long run, says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what the band has done.”
For the full review, by Pete Roche, in the Cleveland Examiner, go here. For a summary of my next U2 chapter – She moves in mysterious ways: a theology of “sexy music” – check out here. For the book, in paperback, check out is here.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
My abstract for ANZATS 2016. The theme is atonement, which opens some space to reflect on indigenous Christology and develop a sermon I delivered at Port Augusta Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister last year.
Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Steve Taylor and Denise Champion
James McClendon (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology) has argued that biography can remake theology. This methodology is applied to an indigenous Australian, to argue that a post-colonial atonement theology emerges in the biographical telling.
Warrianha (Alfred Ryan) was an Adnyamathanha man, born in the Flinders Ranges. He was honoured in 2004 for his contribution over many years in the Coonawarra area as a Police tracker, renowned for his ability to find people. This provides a way to read Psalm 23, in which the Lord is the shepherd who, like an indigenous animal tracker, finds those lost in the valley of death. This suggests atonement as the experience of being found and returned to home and community.
This reading of Psalm 23 is strengthened by the work of Kenneth Bailey (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), who listened to indigenous peoples in the Middle East. Bailey argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices.
This provides another category by which to engage Indigenous Australian stories. Biography as theology, as in the life of Warrianha, is a different type of story in contrast to indigenous dreaming stories. Further, it is the story of working across cultures, among the Buandig nation, rather than among his Adnyamathanha people. McClendon’s conviction is that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution. Warrianha’s life offers potential for those doing theology in a post-colonial age, as a place-specific indigenous Christology that crosses nations.
Note: It is hoped that the presentation at ANZATS will be done in partnership with Warrianha’s great niece, Rev Denise Champion, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister, Port Augusta, South Australia.