Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hugo: A Film Review by S and K Taylor

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Here is the review for February 2012, on the movie Hugo. I wrote this with one of the kids – it seems appropriate for a children’s movie, provides variety for the audience and is a very good growth opportunity for a child.

“Time is of the essence.”

The movie begins with time, with the orphaned Hugo, tending the many clocks of a Paris railway station. Forced to age through trauma and tragedy, abandoned by his drunken uncle, Hugo lives with two precious things. One, a broken automaton, the other a notebook in which Hugo’s clock maker father has described his dreams for the automaton’s repair.

Hugo is aided by Isabelle, also orphaned, who lives with her godparents, one of whom (Papa Georges) works at Hugo’s station. Together they will unravel the past, discuss the present and change the future. She introduces Hugo to books, while he, despite her misgivings – “This might be an adventure, and I’ve never had one before, outside of books” – introduces her to movies.

Ironically the movie “Hugo” is based on a book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick. The book is beautiful, the story told mainly through black and white pictures. Similarly the movie adaptation favours sounds and images, with any dialogue sparing.

The cinematography is stunning. Highlights are the lights of Paris that blend into a machine-like beauty, the steam that illuminates the twists and turns of the train station, the candles that shine on Hugo’s clocks and cogs and the snow that gently falls as Hugo follows Papa Georges home one evening, desperately seeking the precious notebook.

The result is, as film should be, a celebration of the potential of images to generate mystery and create imagination, all without losing a strong story line.

The acting is strong and consistently believable. Hugo (Asa Butterfield), Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) are highlights. The work of Cohen is a pleasing surprise, given he is better known for his comic impersonations in the form of Ali G and Borat.

Much of the movie draws on historical references. Papa Georges is Georges Melies, a figure famous in French history as an innovative film maker. The train crash scene is a reference to 1895, when a faulty brake resulted in a train crashing out of Hugo’s station and into the street.

A central theme is “time.” Hugo tends time in the form of the clocks at the railway station. Hugo’s father, when alive, fixed time, while Papa Georges lives to hide from his past-time. Formerly a film-maker, shattered dreams have left him a man in need of redemption. As his wife tells him: “Georges, you’ve tried to forget the past for so long. Maybe it’s time you tried to remember.”

“Hugo” might be told through a child’s eyes, but the philosophy and theology questions it raises are adult in depth. Are humans simply cogs in the machine of time? Can a past be redeemed? Can humans, like Hugo, fix what is broken, both people and things?

Thus the film becomes a two way mirror. In “Hugo,” amid the ticking of time, with the machine-like quality that is modern life, through the brokenness of human dreams, we see ourselves. We are human, needing to hear an invitation: “Come and dream with me.”

Steve lives with his daughter, Kayli, in Adelaide, Australia. Both miss New Zealand. Both enjoy writing, watching and reviewing movies.

Posted by steve at 11:29 PM

Saturday, March 10, 2012

house blog

We’ve set up a family blog, to chart the progress of our “project” – the house needing major renovations that we’ve recently brought. The blog is called “taylorskainga” – which is a Maori word for home, address, residence, village, habitation, habitat.

The blog will chart progress, with before and after shots. (Mostly before at this stage, cos while we’ve been working pretty hard, at times it feels like we’ve only just begun!). It’s hopefully an encouragement as we wade through the work.

Today was top coats on the ceiling of the family room, with the hope that by the end of the weekend, we can then move lots of the furniture currently stored in the garage into the house.

Posted by steve at 04:30 PM

Friday, March 09, 2012

inking the stations of the cross

This takes the Stations of the Cross to a whole new level:

A pastor of a Montrose-area church recently challenged members of his congregation to live out their faith in an atypical way by getting tattoos that represent different Stations of the Cross, images of Christ’s journey from condemnation to resurrection. (Full story here)

Tattoing the stations of the cross on one’s person! (Lots of pictures here)

The church’s artist-in-residence, Scott Erickson, designed 10 distinct Stations of the Cross tattoos and as part of Lent, the church were challenged to chose one of the tattoos (all the designs are here). “The tendency we have as Christians is to skip past Jesus’ suffering. Not only do tattoos come with a bit of suffering, they are also an art form that has not fully been embraced.” (here) More than 50 folk decided to participate.

Here’s a radio station interview with the Pastor, Chris Seay.

Posted by steve at 08:42 PM

my book in Korean

A parcel arrived yesterday, with three copies of this …

Out of Bounds Church? in Korean

Steve Taylor's Out of Bounds Church? translated into Korean

A very weird feeling indeed. Big ups to the publishers (Zondervan), who worked all the channels on this one. I knew nothing about it until it arrived.

Posted by steve at 08:32 AM

Thursday, March 08, 2012

City soul as invitations to community

This is fabulous. A project in Sheffield UK, which invites folk to participate in mapping the spirit of their city. An empty warehouse, a collective of artists and the invitation for April, May and June,

For these three months we will be using a large open plan space to build a model of Sheffield. Anybody can come to make a building to include in the city – not only artists but also passers by, community groups, schools and businesses are all welcome to come and create.

Choose a building or a part of the city that holds significance for you, that is part of your story, and make it in as simple or elaborate way that you like (we have plenty of art materials to use) then put it in place along with everyone else’s creation. In this way the piece of art will grow and evolve with our different stories just as the city itself has. The model city will develop in unpredictable ways as we interact with each other and offer our unique contributions and we will record that exciting process on our website.

I love the mix of creativity, open-endedness, participation and invitation to consider spirit. One of my hopes as the incoming Principal at Uniting College is to create art projects over a semester, a different theme and a different medium each semester, which can create engagement, remind us that we are humans as well as heads, and be a way of building community.

This type of thing sparks creativity around these processes.

Update: Olive Fleming Drane commented, asking for more ideas regarding campus community formation. Well, there is another in Ethnography As A Pastoral Practice: An Introduction which describes a Diversity quilt project. A table was set up and individuals invited to design a square with their name. Creative resources were supplied. Some students were doing a Art Practicuum and their “assignment” (working with an artist) was to assemble the quilt and hang it publicly. It seems participatory, communal, creative and above all, do-able ie it is not an idea but a description of an actual project at Wesley Theological Seminary, US.

Any other ideas that people have experienced?

Posted by steve at 06:03 PM

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

feeling the cross in Lent

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Yesterday I ended chapel by inviting us to feel the cross. The lectionary text for this week is John 2, where Jesus calls the temple. We’d been using El Greco’s painting as a visual aid, to help us engage the story.

When I curate worship, I like to provide something tactile, something to touch, something that engages more of our senses than just ears to listen and mouths to sing.

Last year, while on study leave in the UK, I brought a small carved wooden pilgrims cross. So I suggested that as a benediction, we pass the cross around. As each of us hold it, we might remind ourselves of the invitation to carry the cross into our day, our week and through Lent. It was quite lovely, watching folk pass it from hand to hand, the different ways folk held it, the sense of us together becoming a cross-carrying community.

And of course, there was another whole layer provided by the lectionary text. We are not meant, like Jesus in John 2, to carry a whip. Rather we are called to carry peace, the way of non-violence, as we confront structures.

For those interested, this is the entire service (needed to be 20 mins), that included the lectionary Psalm and gospel, interaction in praise and around Scripture, some art, intercession for justice-makers, communion. And feeling the cross by way of benediction! (more…)

Posted by steve at 07:31 AM

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

crossing cultures for leadership formation

Great day at Uniting College yesterday, with our candidates exploring crossing cultures, through the eyes of indigenous peoples of Australia.

A highlight was chapel, in which we sung in a number of languages, heard the Lords Prayer in local Kaura language, and affirmed God in many cultures.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (from Uniting Church National Worship Working Group, in consultation with local church indigenous people)
We say God created the universe,
and the world we live in,
and every living thing on this earth.

We believe the Creation shows us the power and presence of God,
and makes us want to praise and give thanks to God,
and take good care of the earth God has made.

We are full of joy that across the world
different peoples have their own culture and language,
and that in God we are all united together as one.

We say God is Spirit, breath of life,
who is always working to bring people to life in God.

We believe the Spirit has been alive and active in every race and culture,
getting hearts and minds ready for good news:
the good news of God’s love and grace that Jesus Christ revealed.

We are full of joy that from the beginning the Spirit was alive and active,
revealing God through the law, custom, and ceremony
of the First Peoples of this ancient land.

We say Jesus is Saviour and Lord,
and that he began the church,
and prayed that the church might be together as one.

We believe that in the risen Jesus we are all brothers and sisters in the one great family of God, and that God calls us to live in faith, hope, and love
for the sake of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

We are full of joy that we can learn, grow and serve together as a pilgrim people in the name of Christ.

It was very, very rich, almost emotional to sit in that space and hear the indigenous languages of this country honoured.

Then in the afternoon students headed to the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre, to enjoy the beauty and hear the stories.

Pray God it’s not an event, but part of a process in which crossing cultures and respect for local contexts becomes imprinted in our DNA; as a College, as students, as humans.

Posted by steve at 05:56 PM

Monday, March 05, 2012

if you meet monthly, what do I do with the rest of my month?

Christendom is built on a weekly gathering model.

It’s not, of course, the only way. Monasteries meet daily, while the Old Testament festival pattern suggests 3 times a year. (Deuteronomy 16:15-16 “For seven days celebrate … Three times a year you must appear”)

So on Sunday we visited a monthly all-age evening church service. And really, really enjoyed it – the friendly welcome, the diversity of cultures and ages, the oh so natural laughter and engagement. But, like many all-age events, and like much of the early alt.worship movement, they meet monthly.

So what do we do with the rest of the month?

  • Try another one of the services. But that is unlikely to appeal, given that we came to the monthly one because of the values (all-age, over food, local community)?
  • Enjoy the weekends ie only do gathered church once a month?
  • Form ourselves into a local community action group and do something missional in the in-between weeks?

I’d especially like to hear from folk who themselves have tried monthly patterns, as to what they would reply, and how they sort to build values of community and formation around a monthly gathered pattern? I’m also interested in class, because I suspect that the more educated you are, the easier is a self-sustaining spirituality, but that pattern might not prove pastorally rich enough when you are working with marginalised folk.

Posted by steve at 04:43 PM

Saturday, March 03, 2012

why church?

Was great to listen to John Swinton, Professor of Practical Theology from Aberdeen University, speak at the Uniting Church of South Australia Synod today. Back in 2003, I wrote a journal article on his research method, along with John Drane’s: “Doing practical research downunder: a methodological reflection on recent trends in Aberdonian practical theology,” Contact 142, 1 (2003): 2-21. (I never realised it actually got published until 2007, when I met a Anglican ordinand from the UK, who helped me track down an actual copy.)

Then in September last year, I connected with John again, at the Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham.

Today John spoke on health, healing and community and it was wonderful. Here’s one (of many memorable) quote:

The task of the church is not world transformation but signalling kingdom through small gestures. John Swinton

As in this, colour and creativity in concrete places?

Posted by steve at 10:03 PM

theology needs art: Adelaide Fringe Festival floor talk

Here is the floor talk I gave to launch the Adelaide College of Divinity bi-annual art exhibition.

Over the recent summer holidays, I was fortunate to be able to spend some time visiting friends in New Zealand. As part of our time together, they took me to the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, which lies about an hour north of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

The Brick Bay Sculpture Trail is part of the Brick Bay Winery, although owned by a separate, not-for profit arts trust. In 1986, the owners, Richard and Christine Didsbury, had brought the land.

While the land had previously been overfarmed, they had a personal passion for the environment and began a systematic project of restoration. Trees were replanting. Native bush was protected. Water was carefully damned and channelled.

Which means that all of the art in the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, is outdoors. So to experience the art requires about an hour of your time, and about a 2 km walk. You climb through native bush and walk past gently meandering lakes.

In other words, the backdrop is not walls, but trees and landscape. The roof is the sky and the land and environment speak. Which allows a fantastic art experience – glass of wine, time to wander, space to contemplate and discovery, all outdoors, all surrounded by birdsong, all open to random encounters with native wood pigeons and tui.

The 43 artpieces displayed in the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail are from some of New Zealand’s most well known sculpturers.

For example, sculpture 17 – Lucy Bucknall’s Awaiting Transportation. It references immigration, a proud couple, dressed their best, awaiting transport on their next part of their journey to a strange land. It says so much about the hopes and dreams of all migrants.

Or sculpture 25 – Jim Wheeler’s Regeneration. A revered native bush, the Puriri, sprouts from a distinctively New Zealand fence post. It says something about the processes of settler colonisation, and about the potential for rebirth, of nature’s ability to regenerate and reemerge.

Or Sculpture 31 – Graham Bennett’s Position Fixing. A wire fence, it captures the linkages – links between people, links between place – that give shape to our identity. Running along the top of fence are a line of towers and at the top of each tower is a boat, each boat pointed toward a Pacific Island, in honour of those who first sailed to New Zealand. The art explores boundaries and journeys.

Each sculpture is profoundly shaped by it’s context; Lucy Bucknall’s Awaiting, the migrant couple waiting to board a boat, is playfully positioned by a small stream of water. Jim Wheeler’s Regeneration almost hidden in a thicket of regenerated native bush. Graham Bennett’s Position Fixing standing proudly atop a hill and it serves to mark a boundary between native bush on one side and a (imported) vineyard on the other.

I’ve taken the liberty of taking quite some time to describe this, because I want it to serve as contrast with some of my experiences of theology.

You see, in 2009, I was part of an academic theology conference that explored the theme of land. I did a theological paper that engaged with many of the sculptures – that explored Jacob in the Old Testament as a migrant, as crossing boundaries, and the impact of that on the indigenous peoples of the land.

In 2011, the conference became a book. The Gospel and the Land of Promise: Christian Approaches to the Land of the Bible. In which my paper appeared and it was a bit of a personal highlight from last year.

But walking the Brick Bay Sculpture trail, sitting on the grass, looking at Graham Bennett’s Position fixing, I began to wonder what sort of conference, what sort of book, and what sort of theology might have been possible if our theological work on land had actually engaged with art of the land.

If instead of sitting in a sterile lecture room, we’d been expected to take regular walks been lectures through this art trail. If instead of a lecture spent looking a data projector, we’d had a lecture looking at the art, which was exploring so many of the same themes. If artists like Lucy Bucknall, Jim Wheeler and Graham Bennett had been our dialogue and conversation partners, rather than simply other theologians.

In other words, over the summer I was reminded again of how much theology needs art. (The question of whether art needs theology is best addressed by an artist?)

Theology needs art, first because art celebrates metaphor more than careful footnote. Both are important. But a theological focus on the footnote alone, on the careful analysis, on the minute detail, needs to be reminded of the importance of metaphor, the need for making connections, for looking for a bigger weave.

Theology needs art, second because art reminds us we are bodies and not just heads. The first thing theology tends to do is look for a library. But we are more than minds, waiting to be stuffed full of information. We are also bodies, who need to walk and look and be moved by our emotions. That, to quote one New York art critic, there are times when “words fail us; the glossary dissolves, there are no more terms that really work.”

Theology needs art, third, because art invites us to see. Richard Kearney, who is Charles B. Seelig Chair of Philosophy at Boston College has written over 460 pages on the place of art in human history (The Wake of Imagination). He concludes by arguing desperately, passionately, for the need to see in our world today. He argues that we need two types of seeing.

First an ethical seeing, we need things – words and images- that make us aware of the other, of the voiceless, the missing, the unheard the overlooked. An ethical seeing.

Second a creative seeing, we need the invitation to the invention and re-invention of ourselves, others, our worlds. A creative seeing that invites us to be more than what we currently are. To quote Christian Seerveld, we “need an understanding of playfulness if we are going to take sanctification by the Holy Spirit seriously.”

Which is why I’m delighted that every two years the Adelaide College of Divinity is part of the Adelaide Fringe through facilitating an art exhibition. This year, but also back in our history.

And why I thank each artist. And Stephen Downs and his team for the work they put in behind the scenes to make this event possible.

Because theology needs art. First, to remind us of metaphor as well as footnote. Second, to help us recall that we are bodies and not just head. Third, to invite us to see, ethically and creatively.

And fourthly, and finally, because it makes our lives, this space, a whole lot richer. I watched on Tuesday as folk came into the Chapel of Reconciliation for a weekly chapel service. And how, rather than take their seats, they gasped in wonder, and proceeded to wander around the art. To point. To talk. To ponder. And suddenly our lives, our chapel, this space, was a whole lot richer.

Because theology needs art.

Posted by steve at 07:13 AM

Friday, March 02, 2012

rural church mission models

I had a lot of fun on Wednesday, working my way through Rural Theology journal, researching current study of the rural church in mission. During Thursday, some of that research was synthesised into my current fresh expressions, mission and church thinking. Today the results go public, as I gather with 30 folk from across South Australia.

One thing I’m taking some time to explore with them is rural churches in the Bible. While the mission of Paul is often portrayed as urban, there are examples of rural churches in the Bible. As I thought more about them, I became to find them really thoughtprovoking and began to I wonder what patterns of life they might suggest for rural churches today.

For example, Israel in the Old Testament was primarily a rural church. Their pattern of gathering revolved not around weekly worship but around three large festivals. This suggests a very different pattern of worship, community, mission and interconnection. (I wrote about this in 2005 with my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change but never related it to rural church life until this week. Duh!)

Similarly, the church of 1 Peter was primarily rural, scattered in house churches across Asia Minor. Their call was to be “wildflowers” – distinctive in behaviour, drawing questions.

For those interested, my notes for the two hour session are here

Update: the Old Testament model really brought some energy into the room. “So, could we stop doing weekly church and move to a festival gathering?”; “So how would we resource better the home table?” (well, Faith inkubators is one place to start); “So could we connect rural youth with state-wide three or four festivals and skype networks in between?”

Posted by steve at 11:05 AM

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Why are women more religious than men?

Today I am speaking at a Flinders University Sociology seminar. I am providing a response to a visiting lecturer from the University of Aberdeen, Dr Marta Trzebiatowska, who will address the topic:

Why are women more religious than men?

She notes the irony that while women tend to be excluded from leadership, women are more religious than men, both in traditional religions and in New Age spirituality and in ‘supersitions.’

In my response I will mention two pieces of research. First the work of Leslie J. Francis, Robert Barlow and Jeremy Martineau, “Outreach at the County Show: A Study in Psychological Profiling,” Rural Theology 9.1 (2011) 61–67 who argue that more women than men are of the ISFJ personality type and that this personality types connects with a number of recognizable Christian strengths. The preference for introversion values a reflective style of contemplative worship; the preference for sensing values continuity, tradition, stability; the preference for feeling values a loving, caring God; the preference for judging values organization and structure.

“The ISFJ profile is also, psychologically speaking, a very feminine profile, as reflected by the fact that many more women than men report this profile in the UK population as a whole, 18% compared with 7% (Kendall, 1998). Such a strong ISFJ presence in church congregations contributes to the broader feminization of the Anglican Church.”

So like attracts like and so the very spirituality of the church is more likely to attract women. Which still leaves the chicken or egg question. Did it start with the spirituality, or was the spirituality shaped by gender?

Posted by steve at 10:27 AM