Wednesday, July 14, 2010

when non-priests pray – as Spirit making a world habitable

Here in an excerpt from my recent paperWhen non-priests pray: A conversation between Sarah Coakley and Bono Vox regarding incorporative pneumatology and priestly prayer.

Yet at the heart of the incorporative pneumatology of Romans 8 is that of the Spirit at work in all creation, in spaces and places both inside and outside ecclesial. Such Spirit-ed activity makes sense of a number of “non-priestly” stories within the Biblical narrative. Consider Melchizedek in the Abrahamic narrative (Genesis 14), Balaam’s blessing of Israel (Numbers 22-24) and the worship of the Magi (Matthew 2). All of these are moments in which people outside the faith community offers public prayer. All can be claimed to be some expression of the activity of God’s Spirit.

Bono has often been called a prophet. Yet the argument that “Mysterious ways” is a call to worship suggests that Bono, arms raised, is serving as a contemporary cultural priest.

Bruce Marshall in The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings, conceives the Spirit as the One who works to make the world “habitable.” Such an approach to pneumatology provides one final way in which to analyse the U2 concert I experienced.

It is significant that at a number of points throughout the concert, Bono invited those gathered to pray. They were invited at the beginning of the song “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday,” to listen to a recording of Radio Tehran. Such can be framed as an invitation to lament.

They were invited during “Walk On” to send prayers to Aung San Suu Kyi in her quest for freedom. This invitation comes in the form of a bodily action, to touch our heart and to send our love.

Using liturgical language, in “Mysterious Ways” Bono called those gathered to worship, to “move with her.” During “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday,” those gathered were invited to engage in lament, while during “Walk On” those gathered were invited to “pray for others” and finally to make an “Offering” by texting their support for the One campaign.

Is this not the work of the Spirit, inviting all of creation, those inside and outside the church, to participate in a world made habitable – in which people say yes to the divine, hear the cry of the oppressed, pray for those held captive and offer ourselves in the quest for justice?

Posted by steve at 08:14 AM

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When non-priests pray: A conversation between Sarah Coakley and Bono

Today I delivered my paper – When non-priests pray: A conversation between Sarah Coakley and Bono Vox regarding incorporative pneumatology and priestly prayer.

In sum I was holding a conversation between the evolving performance of a U2 song, Mysterious Ways, and exploring themes around what it means to talk of the Spirit present at a pop culture event like a rock concert. While Bono is often called prophet, I began to trace some lines by which he might be called priest, not in a captured by church way, but in the sense of a Melchizideck in Genesis or a Balaam in Numbers or the Magi in Matthew, all outside the church yet offering blessing.

The paper stimulated some energetic and thoughtful conversation, so that was encouraging. In fact, the whole 2 day conference has been a delight, with Sarah Coakley a delightfully engaged listener as we talked about her work. The only surprise, for me, was the absence of many Anglicans – Sarah is both an Anglican priest and Systematic Theologian at Cambridge University, UK, and I really thought her presence would have seen them out in droves.

In light of my current interest in Wordle, here is my paper “wordled”.

Update 1: A highlight for me of the conference was the excellent papers by two younger women theologian; both so poised, so respectfully engaged, so clear in their articulation. It was a delight to behold and a real sign, for me, of hope for the church.

Update 2: An excerpt from my paper is posted here – in which I explore how a theology of Spirit allows the Christian to celebrate pop-culture artifacts.

Posted by steve at 04:30 PM

Saturday, July 10, 2010

God in the margins and cross the boundaries

It has been a fascinating 24 hours at the Engaging the Basis of Union conference. The aim is to provide scholarly discussion on the Uniting Church’s Basis of Union and I was urged to attend by my work. I think the hope was for me to network and get more of a feel of the whole Uniting ethos/theology/style.

To be honest, I came reluctantly. I needed a weekend with family, not yet another weekend away on church stuff, yet another meeting with strangers, yet another chance to feel displaced. But the ticket were booked and away I go.

What has resonated the most for me was the session on “transcending cultural, economic, national and racial boundaries, and hearing the wisdom from a Korean theologian and a Fijian theology. Here are some of the choice quotes, all of which I apply to my own sense of displacement:

  • “to be open to the grief of leaving your cultural home is to be willing to share in the healing of others.”
  • “when you live in the margins, you gain the privilege of seeing two centres”
  • “the time does come when you discover a piece of yourself even in a strange land”
  • “offering a hospitable space to a new culture can’t be at the expense of a Christ-following which challenges injustice”
  • “if Jesus did contextual theology, then don’t forget he still came into conflict with his context.”

All of these had a sense of God speaking to me. It doesn’t make it any easier for me to be in Australia, but it has provided some fresh lens.

Posted by steve at 06:13 PM

Thursday, July 08, 2010

gillard’s asylum seeker speech on wordle

Further to my post yesterday, I thought it would be interesting to place Julie Gillard’s speech announcing Labor’s new asylum-seeker policy in Wordle.

Yep, click on it and the word Timor is there! And “values” is smaller than “facts.”

Full text of the speech is here.

Posted by steve at 11:20 PM

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

this is classic: emerging church danger!

Two strangers met at an academic conference. One was me, new to Australia, new to lecturing in the Uniting Church. The other was retired, also a lecturer, a figure large in the life of the Uniting Church. Over lunch we compare notes, talking about the history of theological education in Australia. Wanting to listen, I, the new one asks a broad, opened ended question:

New one: So what is the most important thing a person coming new to the Uniting Church from New Zealand needs to know about the Uniting Church?

Retired one: The danger of the emerging church. The Uniting Church is founded on the Creeds and Reformers and the emerging church is a danger to that.

The mouth of the new one falls open in surprise, amazed at this turn in the conversation!

New one: Oh, I thought the Basis of Union encouraged a pilgrim people, a people always on the journey. That’s why we are called Uniting, not United. So wouldn’t some sort of commitment to the emerging church be some sort of commitment in the Basis of Union to the emerging church?

Retired one: Yes, but a prior article in the Basis of Union says we have a commitment to the worldwide church and to our relationships. The emerging church is a danger to that.

New one: Oh, we’ve recently as a Synod had speakers from the Anglican church in the UK. They, in partnership with the Methodist church, are working on fresh expressions. So they suggest some sense that emerging church is part of the worldwide church conversation.

Pause. Genuine pondering on both sides.

New one: What is interesting is that they called it “fresh” not new. They do not want this to be seen as something new, denying the Reformation, but simply as the challenge for each generation, to be a faithful and pilgrim people in their generation.

The conversation moves on … true moment

Posted by steve at 08:09 PM

free (Timor) parking (of asylum seekers)! Uniting church response to Gillard

For my Australian readers (and for Kiwis who care about social justice and wonder how Christians in New Zealand would respond to people seeking asylum and arriving by boat if we didn’t have a large land mass called Australia sheltering us), here is the Uniting Church response to the Gillard proposal – what the New Zealand Herald called “Canberra sticks out unwelcome mat to arrivals“.

Some quick points.
1. This is one outstanding advantage of being a connectional church, as opposed to a three Tikanga Kiwi Anglican church, or a congregationalist ie Baptist, that the church is able to speak quickly on rapidly evolving social issues.

2. The importance of treating all humans as people, and not slogans like “queue jumpers” or “illegals.”

Posted by steve at 05:42 PM

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

my paper went well – Bible, plough and damper: responding to a de/colonising God

I delivered my paper – titled Bible, plough and damper: responding to a de/colonising God – today. It seemed to gain lots of energy and positive feedback today: the radio man recording for ABC shook my hand in genuine appreciation, while my chief interlocur called it “great”.

What I wanted to do was explore how indigenous communities read the Biblical text, particularly when it is perceived that the dominant culture has brought the Bible as part of the colonisation process. I would suggest such work is of importance given the concern with how contemporary Christianity will survive in the face of what is often perceived as colonising – the threats of consumerism and globalisation.

I looked at two historic examples. One was the Parihaka story and Te Whiti O Rongomai’s use of the Bible, when the story of Samson in Judges inspired their acts of non-violent resistance. The other was the Aboriginal people of Yarralin and Lingara, who have a story of Ned Kelly as a type of Christ figure, multiplying damper and giving his life. My interest was not so much on the actual biblical texts, but on the reading strategies ie how specific communities used the Biblical text.

For those interested, here was my conclusion: (more…)

Posted by steve at 07:57 PM

Monday, July 05, 2010

a rich day intellectually and relationally

It’s been a wonderfully rich day here at the Future of Religion conference. Conversation has ranged from applying Christian martyrs to societal responses to the hijab, from ecological readings to women in eucharistic action in Mark’s gospel, from applying Lukan practices of welcome to asylum seekers to the place of lament in worship today.

A personal highlight for me was discovering the work by Peter Malone on Christ-figures in Australian film, including discussion of Rabbit Proof Fence and The Proposition. I learnt of Ecumenical Prizes awarded to value based films at Cannes, Berlin and Toronto Film Festival, a fascinating example of public mission and the long history of Catholic involvement in film, including the founding of SIGNIS, a worldwide Catholic engagement with film and faith/reel spirituality.

In between I reconnected with friends from Laidlaw College and here in Melbourne and finished the day with a fabulous dahl over a networking dinner with Darren Cronshaw, from Baptist Union of Victoria. We dreamed a few dreams and plotted a shared journal article on fresh expressions research here in Australia and New Zealand.

Posted by steve at 09:20 PM

Saturday, July 03, 2010

God at feast, a further re-imagining of God and creativity

Following on from the image of God as musician, here’s one about God at feast – What does this quote say about God? What does it say about being human?

“All the senses are involved in a good feast. We taste, touch, smell, see, hear. Salvation as health is here vividly physical. Anything that heals and enhances savouring the world through our senses may feed into a salvation that culminates in feasting ….

As millions starve, ought anyone to be feasting? Ought there not to be a long detour of working to feed anyone, postponing the feasting till that has been achieved? Or should we keep alive the hope of food for all by working for justice, and, if we have food, simultaneously celebrating the goodness of God? Can we even sustain work of compassion and justice in the right spirit if we are not also having some celebratory foretaste of the Kingdom of God? …

That combination of sharing and celebrating is, perhaps, the most radical of all the implications of the teaching of practice of Jesus. Feeding the hungry is not a matter of the well-fed offering handouts and getting on with their private feasting: the vision is of everyone around the same table, face to face. Even to imagine sitting like that gently but inexorably exposes injustice, exploitation, sexism, hard-heartedness, and the multiple ways of rejecting the other …

To envisage the ultimate feasting is to imagine an endless overflow of communication between those who love and enjoy each other. It embraces body language, facial expressions, the ways we eat, drink, toast, dance and sing; and accompanying every course, encounter and artistic performance are conversations taken up into celebration.”

David Ford; in Theological Aesthetics: A Reader which has over 126 such readings, original texts from diverse places in history and location, on the theme of creativity and God.

Posted by steve at 05:21 PM

Friday, July 02, 2010

God the musician compliments of 4th century poet Paulinus of Nola

Imaging God, imaging humans – What does the following quote say about God? What does it say about being human?

“Think of a man playing a harp, plucking strings producing different sounds by striking them with one quill … This is how God works … the Musician who controls that universal-sounding harmony … God is the Craftsman of all creation natural and contrived … Like a musician strumming the strings of the lyre with fluent quill, the Spirit proclaimed the same message in different tongues, instilling into men’s ears the varying sounds.”

From Paulinus of Nola, a Bishop around the 4th century, most famous not for his name, but for his poetry. (In Theological Aesthetics: A Reader which has over 126 such readings, original texts from diverse places in history and location, on the theme of creativity and God.

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Ecclesiology and discernment: a case study regarding the emerging church

Explanatory note: An abstract I’ve just written, trying to get my head around some future research offerings that I would like to be involved in.

Ecclesiology and discernment: a case study regarding the emerging church
Dr Steve Taylor

Discernment is named by the Apostle Paul as one of the gifts given to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:10). In the tradition of the church, it has at times taken different trajectories, from The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, to the Pentecostal movement, to the Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality (Howard, 2008), in which it gains an entire chapter of coverage.

One way to understand discernment is to consider it as both a gift and a practice, a charism originating in the grace of God, yet a practice nourish by human skills and capacities. Using this understanding, the performing of discernment can then be analysed.

This paper will analyse attempts at the performance of discernment in relation to ecclesiological innovation, in particular to discerning of the phenomenon termed the “emerging church”. A number of attempts have been made in recent years to discern this phenomenon. Some examples include:

  • Don Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, Zondervan, 2005.
  • John Drane, “Looking for Maturity in the emerging church,” Mission-shaped Questions. Defining Issues for Today’s Church. Edited by Steven Croft, Church House Publishing, 2008.
  • LeRon Schults, “Reforming Ecclesiology in Emerging churches,” Theology Today (January 2009).
  • Kevin Ward, It Might Be Emerging, but Is It Church? Stimulus 17, 4 (November 2009).

This paper will explore a number of these case studies, paying particular attention to the performance of the practice of discernment. What has each attended to? What are the sources being engaged? What might be the strengths and weaknesses of each approach?

The aim of the paper is to provide some analysis of the processes by which discernment happens, to provide some commentary on contemporary ecclesiological developments and to nuance and deepen trajectories surrounding ecclesiological innovation.

Posted by steve at 10:04 AM