Wednesday, June 07, 2017

a fake films film review: Their Finest

ticket-1543115-640x480 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 June 2017.

Their Finest
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Their Finest is well-made entertainment, directed by Danish director, Lone Scherfig. Scherfig has won previous acclaim, with An Education gaining three Oscar nominations and applause in Touchstone (November, 2009) as “a triumph for the directing skills of Dane Lone Scherfig.” Scherfig seems able to draw exceptional performances from women leads. In 2009, Carey Mulligan gained as Oscar for her performances as Jenny in An Education. In 2017, Gemma Arterton shines as Catrin Cole in Their Finest.

Their Finest draws on the third novel (“Their Finest: A Novel“) from the pen of Lissa Evans. Movies about movies are a well-worn cliché, with over 100 listed on one IMDB database. In war-torn England, a secretary finds herself a script writer. In the aftermath of Dunkirk and the blitz on London, England needs stories of hope. But in the world of cinema, truth soon finds herself playing second fiddle to politics. Is fake news in fact a historic reality? The lines between truth and propaganda become blurred as womens’ roles are cut and new characters inserted, in search of favour from audiences home and American.

The result is a set of ethical questions. Is British propaganda more virtuous than German propaganda because winners are grinners? Is making movies about the process of making movies clever? Or is the whole industry self-referencing narcissism? And is that the point being made by Their Finest?

While Their Finest is based on an exceptional performance by Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole, both men in the developing love triangle (Sam Claflin as Tom Buckley and Jack Huston as Ellis), are less than loveable. A chain smoking mansplainer and a philandering artist suggest their is little nobility in wartorn English manhood.

What becomes clear as Their Finest rolls on is that for some, war will be more of a liberation than a deprivation. With a shortage of men, women (like Catrin Cole) who want to script write find themselves achieving in domains previously unattainable. Hence war becomes a theatre in which the emancipation of women is enhanced.

The movie mixes comedy and war time drama. Sometimes the mix is smooth, including the scene in which the German bombing of a London fashion reveals bodies not of humans but of dummies. At other times, the mix is barely believable. A central scene (spoiler alert), concludes with a war-time tragedy that abruptly ends a romantic relationship. As the body is rushed to hospital, the camera remains focused on Catrin Cole. It makes good cinematography, centralising every ounce of grief in one lonely figure. But leaving a victim alone in shock and grief seems a scarcely believable response, in war or peace.

Perhaps this is the dilemma at the heart of Their Finest. The war offers liberation, but only for individuals present in moments of opportunity. It seems a less than fine approach to feminism and opportunity. Does feminism need individual women grabbing opportunity, only to find themselves making fake news? Or does it need a societal restructure, in which solidarity together brings needed change? Their Finest offers entertainment and a pleasing range of puzzling ethical complexities.

Posted by steve at 01:55 PM

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The emerging church in transatlantic perspective

Just out in the latest edition of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2017: 1-11) is a really interesting article on the Emerging Church by Matthew Guest, of Durham University. Matthew did his PhD in the area and we shared a joint article in 2006. (“The Post-Evangelical Emerging Church: Innovations in New Zealand and the UK,” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 6 (1), 2006, 49-64).

In The emerging church in transatlantic perspective, Guest offers a first attempt at sketching the “global dimensions” of the Emerging Church movement (1). He notes that such cross-national analysis remains “substantially under-researched.” (The exception is Marti and Ganiel, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (2014), which examines only the relationship between US and Ireland). As a result, appreciation of the sociological influences of global flows of economic and cultural capital are underdeveloped.

Guest notes the now extensive number of existing sociological studies that have adopted a case study approach to the ECM at a local, regional or national level. These now provides a “wealth of empirical data” from which to theorise the movement as a global phenomena (2).

“A global perspective calls for a theorisation of its contours that takes seriously the particular cultural and historical experiences that framed its emergence” (2).

The ECM is defined as prioritising a conversation over a body of doctrine, valuing an authenticity in dialogue with culture, offering a creative ritual expression that tends toward pick and mix and fostering inclusive spaces for those damaged by mainstream Christianity (2). Guest points to a “single master narrative” (1), that of postmodernity, used as a trope to emphasize the novelty of the movement (1). This trope is enhanced by the “expert theorisers” whose “intellectual capacities in critiquing church and culture contribute to the illusion that they … have effectively disentangled themselves from the institutional and cultural constraints that limit the efforts of the mainstream.” (2, citing The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity ( 2014:81)). The ECM becomes an extension of the entreprenurial tendencies of contemporary evangelicalism, made distinct by this positioning in relation to gospel and culture. Having established this commonality of “entrepreneurial evangelicalism” (3), Guest however argues for national differences, shaped by different denominational structures and local histories.

First, he notes how ECM in Australasia emerged from Baptistic-type churches. This was made possible by their focus on the local expression of church, which gave space for innovation to happen and made sense as an early rapid response to cultural change. Many of these early adopters were central city churches and/or nourished by artistic communities. He contrasts this with the UK, in which many early adopters groups were attached to Anglican churches.

Second, he reflects on the gradual mainstreaming of the ECM. This is sociological, as groups have aged, settled into careers and had families. This has opened up a generational gap. Recent research among university students in the UK suggests that ECM’s priority on authenticity is not shared by today’s Christian young adults (5). “Faced with the much more visible, vibrant, and populous evangelical churches that affirm a clear, accessible and explicit theological essentialism, few young people are attracted by the subdued, small-scale, meditative tone of ECM worship.” (5)

Third, he examines national differences, in particular in the US. He notes the strong reaction against the religious right and megachurches in the US. This produces a stronger sense of identity among ECM adherents. Hence “the ECM localizes most coherently and most enduringly within contexts in which a dogmatic evangelical Protestantism is also a culturally salient presence” (7). This is enhanced by the strong voluntarist culture of the US.

In conclusion, Guest notes the global flows of entrepreneurial capitalism and conversionist Protestantism. ECM benefits from these cultural resources, including individual self-expression and the forming voluntary associations, magnified by the high levels of IT competence, artistic creativity and theological literacy. At the same time, Guest argues that clusters of cultural affinity as essential vehicles for the transmission of identity (8). He suggests a cluster of affinity between US and Northern Ireland, based on being a counter-sectarian response to dogmatic evangelical Protestantism. This is not shared in UK and Australasia, which share a more heavily secularised contexts.

I have a number of points of nuance and critique, but that is for another post. What is interesting is that the emerging church continues to enjoy academic research.

Posted by steve at 10:56 PM

Thursday, June 01, 2017

my research pipeline

Last year, I found a helpful article – “My Writing Productivity Pipeline.” A researcher, juggling a variety of academic commitments, began to imagine their research and writing as a pipeline, with work at different places. Proposals were at one end, published work at the other. The aim is to maintain work in every section of the pipeline and to keep that work moving.

I have found it a very useful tool. I took the categories from the “My Writing Productivity Pipeline” article and turned them into a table (click for a better image).


Along the top are the various stages of the research and writing process. Down the side are the types of writing – separating book chapters, journal articles and books. This is about the time taken – it takes a lot longer to complete a book than an article, and also helps me look at workflow over a year and in relation to sabbatical projects.

The table sits on my laptop. It helps me keep track of various projects. It helps me to say yes and no; offering accountability in time management and focus in my research.

Posted by steve at 10:01 PM

Friday, May 26, 2017

two Steve’s in two places

Today, due to the wonders of technology, there are two Steve’s in two places.

First, there is diligent Steve, who is at National Assessment Weekend. I am working with 15 folk from across the Presbyterian Church. Every year, this group gathers in Torbay, Auckland, to discern those called to nationally ordained ministry within the Presbyterian Church. Over the weekend, there will be prayer, listening, questioning, engaging, as we seek to understand God’s call.

Second, with the wonders of technology, there is playful Steve. This person is working in Adelaide, South Australia. They are making a presentation in the Noel Stockdale Room, Central Library, Flinders University, between 2-5 pm. This is part of “Undisciplined Austen” a 2017 interdisciplinary research project run by Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities.

I will be making a presentation on the role of religion in contemporary popular culture portrayals of Jane Austen. (I described a few weeks ago how this has come about). This type of research is at the margins of my Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership role. So all work done has been after hours. Tele watching in the evenings! On Monday evening I watched Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. On Tuesday evening, I put together my presentation. This involved examining the movie, looking for Biblical references, the portrayal of religious practices and theological themes and language.

I confess to being quite surprised. I began quite playfully. Almost flippant actually. But as I examined the role of sacramental practice in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, I found myself pondering anew what the Biblical account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke might actually be saying.

I videod this and sent it to the conference organisers. It will be played today. The interaction of participants and other presenters will be recorded and sent to me. This will then shape the writing of a paper, which along with the other presenters, will become a special journal issue, on the “Undisciplined” i.e. beyond English literature engagement with Jane Austen.

My presentation is titled “religious piety and pig brains: the faith of zombies.” This use of technology will enable me to be Adelaide today, in a somewhat playful space, at the same time as I am in a diligent space in Torbay, Auckland. For those interested, here is “playful Steve”, talking about the faith of zombies in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

steve taylor zombie theology from steve taylor on Vimeo.

I am glad to be both diligent and playful. I actually think this is part my continuing to discern my call, to seek to weave together my desire to keep encountering a God of surprise, in the midst of prayerful search for understanding. I am glad to be part of discerning call. I am also glad to think theologically about popular culture, to review films and consider how religious resources are being used.

Posted by steve at 10:58 AM

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Listening in mission 1: the value of chat

listeninginmission KCML in 2017 are offering a listening in mission practical learning course. It is an experiment for us, testing ways we can provide life-long learning opportunities for ministers in context.

The listening in mission practical learning course involves a listening project, in which participants gather a team of 4-6 from their church and engage in a provided guided listening project. So it is based on action, the church doing something. This is supported by a set of online sessions, in which there is listening to Scripture, engagement with readings in mission, sharing of resources, support and prayer. In other words, reflection.

After a no-strings attached introductory webinar on May 3, to allow folk to check if this was for them, the cohort got underway yesterday evening. The aim was to create links between the project and Scripture and mission and to be a practical resource for each other as we seek to get the listening project going.

For me it was a such rich and sustained engagement in the realities of mission and ministry. I loved the way conversation moved so freely between the readings, the listening practical project and our role as ministers. I loved the exchange of ideas as various folks shared from their current practice. It felt at times like being on holy ground.

Once again, it was a joy to teach without leaving my desk or entering a classroom. Instead, online technology makes possible a very different sort of experience. On the video, I saw children come in for a quick cuddle and partners begin to check about dinner arrangements. This was learning in lounges and around computer desks, threaded through with everyday realities. So different from a classroom.

One of the learnings for me in this particular experience of online learning is the value of the chat function. The online platform we are using has video, voice and a chat function. Three of the KCML Faculty are involved (all from different physical locations). With this shared leadership model, it means that while one is talking, the others can engage on chat. Key discussion themes can be highlighted and 1-1 questions engaged. Even better, the platform we are using allows us to copy and paste the chat.

So every class has the online participation through video, voice and typed chat. It also has the audio saved, to be listened to again afterward. And the chat, which serves as written notes, allowing further reflection on learning. The result is a rich set of layers for learning.

Posted by steve at 03:37 PM

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Objects of faith: Pulpit bibles and Presbyterian theologies of Scripture

“..religion is characteristically expressed in communities of worship.” Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, Picador, 2005, 99).

Unknown-1 This is the pulpit Pew Bible of the now closed Andersons Bay Presbyterian Church. Embossed on the front cover are the words “Good News Bible. Today’s English Version.” It replaces an older Bible, a King James Version. It thus stands as a sign of change in the life of this church community. One wonders what motivated the change process and how it impacted on those used to the existing version.

Unknown-2 Inside is a handwritten inscription. “To the Glory of God. Presented by Robert Hamilton in memory of his wife, Adeline Maude, June 1985.” The Bible is thus personalised, fused with the life of this unique church community and the individual grief as a loved person dies.

Inside is also a bookmark. It is blue felt and has two hand embroidered symbols, both in yellow. One is of a cross, the other is of the burning bush. Both symbols speak of significant iconography, the Christian cross and the burning bush as the emblem of the Presbyterian Church of Aoteaora New Zealand. They suggest this church community is marked as Christian and as part of the Presbyterian Church.

These three markers – “Good News Bible. Today’s English Version,” the handwritten inscription and the hand embroidered symbols – suggest an approach to Bible reading that is open to change, entwined with individual story yet located within the Christian and denominational history. They suggest a Presbyterian theology of Scripture, embedded in the everyday practices of this community of faith. How consistent is this with other Presbyterian, other Protestant, other Christian approaches to Scripture?

One way to address these questions is to place the Andersons Bay pulpit Pew Bible alongside research by Joseph Webster (“Objects of Transcendence: Scots Protestantism and an Anthropology of Things,” Material Religion in Modern Britain: The Spirit of Things, Palgrave MacMillan, 2015, 17-35). He explores how Bibles are used in Scottish Protestantism.

First, Bibles are open (24). Second, Bibles are understood as a living word shaping the behaviour of individuals (25). Third, Bibles are an object that can mediate salvation (26). At work in each of these affirmations is a commitment to the “power of encountering tbe biblical object and its person-like qualities” (26). The use of this object of faith, the Bible, suggests the importance of providing “routes of access to the inwardness of this book (27). What matters is not only the actual text, but also the object, Scripture as an ever-present and potentially transforming reality. “”[T]he saved” become “living epistles” as their lives are conformed to the Bible (29).

Webster reads this alongside cultural shift, in particular the arrival of modernity. Webster argues that these understandings he observed in Scottish Protestantism are neither pre- nor anti-modern. Bibles are used, according to Webster, as consubstantiated hybrids (33). They are at the same time a collection of pages and the breath of God. This is made possible by a worldview of immanence and transcendence in which things are both material and enchanted.

Back at Andersons Bay, we see this materiality. There is the willingness to replace one material book with another, believing that it is not only in specific certain mystical pages that God is encountered. There is the weaving of individual biography, in which tradition is understood in relation to church members who have gone before. There is the craft of embroidery, consistent with a church known for this particular craft. These suggest a commitment to materiality, at odds with stereotypes of Protestantism as not of this world.

Yet we equally see transcendence, in the decision to change the Bible, presumably to enhance the living witness of this text. Also in the belief that in the craft of embroidery and the remembering of individual lives will come inward transformation of individual lives: routes of access in which “the saved” become “living epistles.” (Webster in Material Religion in Modern Britain, 27, 29).

Posted by steve at 12:06 PM

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Is the author actually alive?

For the last month, I have been working to complete a writing deadline. In June last year, I co-presented a paper on theological education in the Pacific at Woven Together, a conference on Christianity and development in the Pacific, run by the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University. Titled The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre, the paper involved research on the history of New Zealand Presbyterian involvement in theological education in Vanuatu, using archives held at the Archives Research Centre of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Talua is a partner College of Knox Centre, so doing this research helped me understand and appreciate this historical partnership.

Following the conference in June, I was invited to develop the paper for publication in a book emerging from the conference. In order to broaden the research, over the last few months I have been searching more widely for materials. Doing a literature search at the Otago University Library catalogue, I discovered some potentially interesting titles were held at the Hocken Collections.


So in late March, I ducked into the Hocken Collections to look at an honours thesis, by Melissa Bray, and a lecture, by Neal Whimp. It was a lovely few hours, in the quiet of one of New Zealand’s wonderful archival resources, reading about mission in the Pacific, taking notes relevant to my research.

On Thursday this week I flew to Tauranga, to speak to the Kaimai Presbytery. I used the time airborne to write, putting the finishing touches to the chapter. This included re-reading the notes I had made at the Hocken Collections on the lecture by Neal Whimp and then adding the reference to the bibliography: The Church in Vanuatu since 1945 with special reference to its role in the move to Independence, 1980. I made excellent progress on the 110 minute flight to Tauranga and later that evening, I was able to send the chapter off to the editors (only 20 days behind deadline!)

On Friday, I was speaking in Tauranga to a group of Presbyterian ministers. Among the audience, asking thoughtful pointed questions, was a person with a name tag “Neal Whimp.” One question in the afternoon session included a very helpful probing about colonialism in mission. The nature of the question suggested that the person with a name tag “Neal Whimp” had some history and empathy toward cross-cultural challenges.

As I packed up at the end of the day, I had this feeling that the name “Neal Whimp” was familiar. Something clicked in relation to my writing the day before. Was the Neal Whimp in person on Friday the Neal Whimp on paper on Thursday? Surely not!? Could the lecture I read at the Hocken Collections actually have a living author? Surely not in Tauranga, surely not some 37 years later?

Before I could check, the person with a name tag “Neal Whimp” was gone.

On Saturday, I spoke again, to a larger group, still Presbyterian, but this time a mixture of ministers, elders and lay people. As folk began to gather, I kept scanning the crowd. Would he return? If he did, would I get to connect with him among a crowd of over 100, moving between multiple workshops and keynotes?

I was delighted to spot the person with a name tag “Neal Whimp” entering and made a bee-line. “Are you by any chance the Neal Whimp who in 1980, delivering a lecture titled The Church in Vanuatu since 1945 with special reference to its role in the move to Independence, 1980? Because if you are, I was reading your work two days ago and I’m delighted to meet you.”

Sure enough, it was the same person.

We had a great conversation. He was delighted to know his lecture was held at the Hocken Collections and was being read. I gained some more insight, albiet briefly, into his work in Vanuatu in theological education between 1969 and 1980.

And I left pondering this striking coincidence. Authors read in archives can actually be alive! A person I cite on a Thursday can be met for the first time on a Friday!

Posted by steve at 05:42 PM

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Undisciplined Austen


Here’s my draft abstract in relation to the Undisciplined Austen research project at the Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities, and in which I am participating, in a slightly bemused sort of way (and in my own time!)

Faith of zombies by Dr Steve Taylor

My “undisciplined” discipline is that of popular culture. I plan to “read” the 2016 movie, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, in which zombies express faith through religious practice.  I will examine the religious service scenes in the movie, in dialogue with three sources. First, the established religion of Austen’s time, in the form of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (still the official Prayer Book of the Church of England). Second, the Biblical themes of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, in particular in relation to the book of Revelation. Third, in dialogue with analysis of Christian imagery generally in zombie movies, beginning with Kim Paffenroth’s Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth, Baylor 2006. The aim is to articulate the uniquely “undisciplined” contribution that Austen genre makes to zombie theology and in relation to current study of zombie theology.

Posted by steve at 09:03 AM

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

4 talks in 4 hours: Kamai Presbytery bound

I shut my office door at 1:30 pm this afternoon. I have to travel tomorrow morning to deliver 4 talks in Tauranga over the weekend.

Friday, 19 May, 10am-12pm: Discipleship and the mission of God – an examination of what it means to from disciples, including reflecting on the distinctive archival resources from Presbyterian history It was Innovation and the Mission of God

Friday, 19 May, 1-2pm: Preparing for mission and ministry today – the introduction of three art pieces, with the stories of how they have been central in shaping my ministry and their implications for innovation, formation and mission.

Saturday, 20 May, 10:30am-11:10 am: Innovation and the Mission of God – a workshop reflecting on six Biblical images that help us understand innovation as an essential practice of a healthy community. Two stories of change that help us appreciate that innovation is not the mysterious quest of a heroic leader, but a set of collaborative, practical actions.

Saturday, 20 May, 11:15am-12:15pm: Refresh! Renew! Rethink! How Scripture brings change in our communities, with particular attention to the justice-making of Wiremu Tamihana, Te Whiti and the Tamar project.

So with a 4 hour window clear of appointments, it was time to prepare. Thankfully each of the talks was something I’ve done before. Thankfully when I speak, I keep physical files of the various resources I use on the day. Thankfully when I speak, I prepare on a computer, which means I can easily make adjustments from one context to the next. So the preparation was a matter of sifting piles, compiling resources, checking and then copying handouts.

IMG_4892 By 4:45 pm this afternoon, I had 4 rows. Each row was in relation to each talk and included speaking notes, handouts and a range of creative resources, unique to each session, that I will use to enable engagement, imagination and interaction.

Now all I need to do is get the 4 piles packed and on the plane, trust nothing gets lost in the Dunedin -> Tauranga flights and make sure the right resource gets pulled out for the right session. I really enjoyed my time with the Kaimai Presbytery last year, and I’m also looking forward to connecting with current interns, recent graduates and perhaps some incoming interns!

Posted by steve at 05:20 PM

Monday, May 15, 2017

lectio drawing: celtic knots and Scriptural contemplation

Lectio divina (Latin for “Divine Reading”) is a practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. It normally involves hearing Scripture.

Over the weekend, I explored drawing rather than hearing. It involved Celtic knot-making to engage Scripture. Celtic knot-making involves an “under and over” sequence. Applied to journaling, it involves drawing a number of interwoven lines onto the blank page of a journal. Colour and words can then applied.

I became by randomly drawing three lines across a blank page. The physicality of movement and shape seemed to settle me, the movement opening me up to engage and connect.


The Scripture text was Romans 12. Verses 6-8 list a range of gifts, given to individuals for ministry in the church. I was drawn to three gifts – teaching, encouraging and leading – which are a part of my current role. So I wrote the three gifts into the three lines.

I had also been drawn to verse 1 – “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” I like the earthed dimensions of the spirituality on offer. I’d never thought about it before, but there was a potential connection between ordinary life and the living of gifts.

So I selected three words – sleeping, working and walking. Consistent with the Celtic knot making, I connected each word with each gift: sleep – teach; walk – encourage; work – lead.

Suddenly, there was a different way to reflect on my gifts. Regular sleep, awaking refreshed enhances my ability to teach. Walking – at the beach on Sunday afternoon, running mornings before work, walks after lunch in the nearby park, walking to the movies and art gallery – enhances my capacity to encourage. It was a rich, generative way to consider my working week ahead. What I don’t do (resting) is as important as what I do. Time taken to replenish is a tending to my life gifts.

It was a rich set of insights that emerged, a new way of considering the connections between rest and work, between restoration and service. I would never have made these connections if it wasn’t for lectio drawing: using Celtic knots to engage with Scripture.

Further links:
- I talk about lectio decorio – engaging the skin through touch here.
- I talk more about Celtic knot making as it relates to leadership and reading Scripture in my recent book, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration.

Posted by steve at 09:50 PM

Monday, May 08, 2017

One thousand ropes: a theological review

ticket-1543115-640x480 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 May 2017.

One thousand ropes
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

In February, I urged Touchstone readers watching Moana to keep watching Pacific pictures. One Thousand Ropes by Samoan New Zealander film director, Tusi Tamasese, provides a perfect opportunity. In 2011, Tamasese gave us The Orator, set in Samoa, with a Samoan cast speaking Samoan. Tamasese returns with One Thousand Ropes, again a Samoan cast, again speaking Samoa, but this time set in New Zealand.

Often narrative drives plot. In One Thousand Ropes the linearity of plot is displaced by time. Maea (Uelese Petaia) is a male midwife. Skilled at birthing the future, he needs deliverance from an ever-present past.

Instead, momentum is generated through Leon Narbey’s cinematography. The focus on small detail – lemons, hands, bodies and buildings – allows the plot to move. The movement of time is marked, not by changing seasons but by an apartment block being painted. Or through lemons, which in the beginning are offered by way of thanks. Placed on Maea’s kitchen table, they become an object of contemplation, before becoming liniment, rubbed on the belly of a pregnant woman. These visual details provide strands for continuity.

The reality of domestic violence haunts One Thousand Ropes. It is examined not by moralistic messaging, but in the interplay of symbol and the absence of certain sounds. Symbolically, the camera focuses on hands. They tenderly massage a placenta from a womb and beat dough into bread. They can also bruise the pregnant body of Maea’s daughter (Frankie Adams).

Then there is sound. A cake mixer pounds dough while men chose the violence of actions over the empathy that comes from words. Is it that men don’t talk? Or is it that these particular men from this particular culture, don’t talk? One Thousand Ropes seems to suggest that the actions of human hands are related to the absence of human words.

Controversially, there is the presence of the spirit of a dead woman (Sima Urale). She lives in the corner of Maea’s living room. Cinematically, the character provides a past presence that haunts Maea’s present. But what does her presence communicate about Samoan culture? And what should a Christian viewer make of this ghostly presence? Watching One Thousand Ropes, I wondered what to make of the Christian Scriptures. Old and New Testaments offer stories from life beyond the grave, including the Easter story of walking dead.

The church is absent in One Thousand Ropes. There is plenty of tradition, in the form of traditional medicine and cultural practice. But there is no trace of religion, whether as healing presence, caring community or moral judge. In this sense, the films fail to capture a dimension of culture essential to Samoan life.

Yet redemption is present, located in the actions of Maea’s daughter, Ilisa. Her midwiving father will not help her. Yet in giving birth alone, she finds courage. By her actions, she steps beyond the hands that have beaten her. She weaves instead, for herself and her father, a new future.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 08:35 PM

Sunday, May 07, 2017

“the main textbook”: Built for change review number 10

builtforchange Here is the 10th review of my book, Built for Change. It is also the 1st review in a more academic publication (St Mark’s Review No. 238, December 2016 (4)).

It is easy to find leaders and books that espouse the need for creative thinking. It is rarer to identify proven processes and principles for implementation of change. Built for Change goes beyond rhetoric in order to explores case studies, theological reflection and reflective practice of how innovation can be collaboratively fostered. As an out-of-the-box thinker, Baptist pastor, and Uniting and now Presbyterian theological educator, Steve Taylor emphasises that innovation at its best is a collaborative team project, facilitated by systematic and careful process.

By the way, Taylor is also carefully well-structured in his writing – I plan to show this book to postgraduate students as a model of clear writing, easy to follow structure and practical theology from a reflective practitioner. Yet creativity is interspersed in Taylor’s writing – the book starts with an outro (explaining how Taylor’s work at Uniting College for leadership and theology drew to a close), and ends with an intro (as he began at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership). The middle section of the book “Leading deeply” functions like a musical bridge to drive the themes deeper with theological reflection. He explores Jesus as innovator (and encourages KPIs – ‘Kingdom Performance Indicators’), evaluates case studies of how tradition can be reshaped to bring “fresh words and deeds”, and correlates theological models of leadership with the “Lead with your strengths” tool (useful for identifying what roles are present or missing in a team).

My favourite part of the book, however, is the foundational first section “Leading outwards” exploring case studies of change. Taylor explains how Uniting College and its faculty team was “built for change” while Taylor was principal, and how it established indigenous learning, young adult program and digital delivery. Taylor explains how he invested time in relationships, looked for partners for projects, and offered new ideas when the timing as ready. He grounds leadership in Paul’s example in I Corinthians 3 and 4 – as servants who listens, gardeners who plant diversity, builders who structure collaborative processes (for example, dreaming, brainstorming, clarifying, workshopping), resource managers who face reality, fools who jump out of boxes and playfully ask “I wonder”, and parents who parent (in contrast to the “paidagogos” or servant who is paid to walk a child to school and correct homework). He discusses how he sought to bring each model into his leadership, for example to listen by asking his team: “Tell me about your call, what about your work drains and replenishes your sense of call, and what do you do?” He also unpacks case studies of innovation facilitated by collaborative leadership in a rural community café, a community garden in Kings Cross and a creative worship resource incorporating the contextual work of 30 artists. The stories show that innovation is not best birthed from the hired holy guru, but emerges from within a group as they respond to local needs, or even ask their community to partner with and help them. Finally, Taylor offers innovation frameworks that complement his biblical models: Lewin’s force field, proposing experiments, anticipating the change curve, and progressing change through tacking.

The final section returns to personalised concerns of “Leading inward”. The chapter on time management suggested a few new tools beyond a handy “to do” list, including refocusing on call and the most important, beginning a big task at the end of the day to get the momentum going for the next day (and noting the next tasks to do), and utilising Evernote software. The chapter on “Leading limited” was brilliant in developing innovations from areas of weakness not just strength; for example, Taylor describes how he playfully took milk and cookies to classrooms to seek feedback from students on an issue the faculty were stuck on. Finally, Taylor discusses the leadership tools of journaling (including colouring and “Celtic knots”), breath prayer, asking the significant question “what could I do differently?”, and basic skills for chairing effective meetings.

Built for Change emerges out of thoughtful theological reflection, but Taylor also offers practical snippets such as this meeting checklist:
• How might the forming Scripture speak to the decision-making?
• Is the room aware of progress?
• Are all voices being heard?
• Are points of agreed decision clear?
• Are unresolved points named for ongoing work?

In previous books and papers by Taylor I have been inspired by the innovative approaches to church and theological education that Steve Taylor brings to his vocation – Built for Change lifts the lid on and helps make accessible the processes and thinking that he uses. These are not solely tasks for senior pastors or principals, but for team members who see a need or have the spark of an idea and are willing to serve/garden/build/manage/fool and/or parent it into reality. I will be returning to it for inspiration and ideas for my leadership and am already thinking of how to workshop the models as I teach missional leadership and congregational transformation. It will also likely become the main textbook for a new innovation and change management unit I am planning, offering as it does a unique mix of biblical models, innovation tools and case studies – all grounded in local Australasian contexts. I have personally ordered a dozen copies as presents for colleagues in theological education and mission training, so I think I can say with integrity that I count this as highly recommended.

This review was originally published in St Mark’s Review No. 238, December 2016 (4).

Review 1 here. Review 2 here. Review 3 here. Review 4 is here. Review 5 is here. Review 6 is here. Review 7 by Darren Cronshaw is here. Review 8 by Uniting Church Moderator, Sue Ellis, is here. Review 9, by American Lanny Vincent is here.

Posted by steve at 05:20 PM

Thursday, May 04, 2017

organising for online learning: a physical space

I taught my second online course within 24 hours today. (An intern mission cohort today; a Listening in mission professional development offering yesterday). In preparation, I realised that I have never seen any information on how people prepare to teach online. The online space is totally different physically from a face to face class. I’m no expert and I’ve still got lots to learn but how do I organise myself physically?

Well, this is my desk in preparation.


On the screen is the video conferencing software ready to go. My video and microphone are turned on and the chat screen is open. As participants arrive, especially for first time users, I will get them familiar with using chat and then turning their microphone and video on and off.

On the desk in the middle is a Bible – I generally use Scripture at some point for lectio divina and to generate interaction and it is ready, open at the page.

You will notice three piles of paper.

On the left is the reading material sent to participants prior. I have a copies printed so that I know exactly what students have recieved and in case specific questions are asked of any of the reading material. I could of course have this on my computer, but I like to keep the computer screen for participants, not for searching for files.

On the far right is a folder (green) of various technical problem shooting solutions. Invariably participants have different browsers or different ways of accessing. I have some basic troubleshooting options, in case simple technical questions emerge. I have limited IT skill, so this covers the basics of login, sound and video.

On the near right is a number of documents I use to keep track of the actual tutorial. I have the names of every participant, which I use to tick off participation. It helps me check who has arrived and in making sure I miss no-one in the initial ice-breaker (name, weather in your location). It also allows me to keep track of who is speaking and ensure student voice is being equally shared. I have a pad of paper, on which I keep notes during the tutorial of what is being said. This enables to keep track of key points in discussion and if I have time after, to provide a summary of key points in the discussion as a way of enhancing feedback loops. In a face to face class, this might be on the whiteboard. I also have a lesson plan/run sheet. This helps me keep track of time. So my run sheet for the Listening in Mission taster is below. This class had 3 facilitators in 3 different geographic locations, so I was quite particular about time – down to every 3 minutes – so that we all knew how we were tracking and could remain disciplined.

Listening in Mission online taster
Wednesday, May 3rd, 4:45-5:45 pm
Hosted by Mark Johnstone Steve Taylor, Rosemary Dewerse

4:45 pm Welcome – Steve Taylor
Prayer – Rosemary Dewerse
4:50 pm Group building questions – 1 min/person
1. What is weather in your place. 
2. What word or picture or symbol to describe your community (outside the church)?
5 pm Scripture Read Luke 10 – Steve
3 questions to contemplate in silence
- as they walked into the village – I wonder what word or picture or symbol they used to describe the community 
- as they listened at table, I wonder what word or picture or symbol they used to describe the community 
- as they saw healing, I wonder what word or picture or symbol they used to describe the community 
5:09 pm A short story – how listening changed us and our mission – Mark 
5:12 pm Outline of online sessions – Steve
- Scripture 
- pre-reading 
- catch up on project ups and downs 
5:17 pm A short story – how listening changed us and our mission – Rosemary 
5:20 pm Outline of Listening project – Mark 

5:30 pm Project Q and A – Mark
5:40 pm Costs, dates, timings – Steve Taylor
Q and A. 
5:45 pm Prayer – rosemary  

So this is how I prepare. I still feel like a learner in this area. The piles give me a sense of organisation.

Posted by steve at 09:14 PM

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

online resourcing by KCML in mission

listeninginmission It was an exciting day for KCML today as we hosted our first ever online learning opportunity for ministers.  We used video conferencing technology and had 12 participants from around New Zealand join us to explore listening in mission. It was lovely to welcome folk from the breadth and diversity of NZ, particularly rural folk in Central Otago, Marlborough, Waikato, North and South Canterbury. (We also had five apologies. They will be sent the recording of the session and invited to engage with us if they have further questions.)

We read Scripture together, using lectio divina to explore the movement between text and context. We heard two short stories of how listening in mission changed us. We were introduced to two components of the Listening in Mission Practical Learning course. First, five online sessions that will be a support and an encouragement. It is lonely leading in mission and we need ways to encourage and be encouraged. Second, a listening in mission project. Each participant is invited to conduct a listening in action in their community, gathering a team of 4-6 people to engage in four guided listening exercises. This is embodied listening, quite different from surveys or census data.

Today felt small and yet big. Small, in that the sixty minutes flashed by. Small in that other education providers have been doing this for years.

Big, in that the technology worked, the audio was good, the group made immediate and excellent use of chat. Big in that KCML is resourcing ministers without requiring them to travel. Big in that this could apply in other areas of KCML life – a further course on experimenting in mission, or growing in preaching or enhancing resilience in leadership etc etc.

The KCML vision is

create, partner and sustain
innovative learning communities and ministries and
mobile, accessible and collaborative theological reflection and formation.

Today we did that. We created a learning community, by being mobile in technology, accessible in taking a process we use with our interns and making it available more widely, collaborative as three KCML Faculty worked together to share the leadership.

It was an exciting day for KCML today.

Posted by steve at 06:35 PM