Thursday, October 11, 2012

Slogans for the 21st century: cultural exegesis by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland, who came to fame for his book, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture has an uncanny knack of providing acute descriptions of our contemporary world.

Three young adults who in the midst of this changing world, seek to find their voice,by telling stories.

“We know this is why the three of us left our lives behind us and came to the desert – to tell stories and to make our own lives worthwhile tales in the process.” (Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture)

Coupland has gone on to produce 12 books of fiction that seem to capture our changing culture – Microserfs: A Novel, about Microsoft Culture; Jpod, about life after the iPod; Hey Nostradamus!: A Novel, describes a fictitious high school shooting similar to the Columbine High School.

He’s currently working on an art project “Slogans for the Twenty-First Century,” in which he is seeking to “Try and isolate what is already different in the twenty-first century mind as opposed to the twentieth.” In other words, to do contemporary cultural analysis.

The exhibition is currently showing at the Daniel Faria Gallery.

Over recent years I have invited my classes to engage culture, to do “cultural exegesis” by using Third Way magazine’s Icon series, a monthly reflection on a contemporary cultural symbol. This series by Coupland would be another way of undertaking “cultural exegesis.”

For more see
- Coupland’s theologies of salvation here
- Coupland from X to A here

Posted by steve at 09:23 PM

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Sapphires film review: an expression of ubuntu theology

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Here is the review for October.

The Sapphires
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Without me, there’s no you.”

1968. The year I was born. The year that Martin Luther King was shot. The year four indigenous Aboriginal sisters, from rural Australia, found themselves in the midst of Vietnam.

Based on a true story, “The Sapphires” is an endearing mix of comedy, song and romance. In response to a newspaper advertisement, aided by out of luck Irish DJ Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) – Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), Kay (Shari Sebbens) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) – sing their way into a war. Travelling through Vietnam, entertaining American soldiers, they discover love and sorrow, dreams and reality.

An indigenous movie demanded an indigenous cast, requiring a scouring through Aboriginal communities around Australia. It is a credit to the emerging indigenous film industry in Australia to find actors as talented as Deborah Mailman. With 11 movies in 2011 and 15 in 2010, it suggests a community both creative and healthy. (In the period 1970-1979, there were 9 indigenous movies, compared with 135 in the period 2000-2009.*) (For more graphs go here).

Indigenous film or films made by indigenous film makers – Australia decadal

The use of black and white archival future – of Martin Luther King, of indigenous Australian campsites – skillfully adds a historical layer to the song and soul. Issues of ethical significance are raised, without the storyline being consumed.

“The Sapphires” began life as a stage musical. Indigenous writer Tony Brigg’s then crafted the song and dance genre for the big screen. He drew on the lives of his mother and three aunts, their love of song which led to and their work in Vietnam in the late 1960s. All four remain alive today, working for health among their indigenous communities.

Kiwi audiences will see similarities with the art of Maori comedian, Billy T James. Both employ the genre of musical comedy. Both share a public story of beginnings in Vietnam and use humour to gently poke at issues ranging from racism to indigenous experience.

Christian audiences will see similarities with the Biblical story of Ruth. First in the sentiments of the handwritten marriage proposal and the display of a sacrificial love willing to embrace “Your people as my people.” Second, in the indigenous smoking experience in which a mother welcomes a long lost daughter, stolen by officials enacting the White Australia policy of the 1950s. It is these scenes that give this movie a real power, the human tragedy made more poignant by the backdrop, including the death of Martin Luther King.

“The Sapphires” offers a poignant reminder of the social, ethical and communal heart of God, through the sacrificial actions of kinsman redeemers who open the way for redemption in community. This is seen most clearly in the Christian tradition through “ubuntu” theology, the concept made famous by Desmond Tutu in which “I am because we are.” The reminder that in God, and thus among God’s people, that indeed “Without me, there’s no you.”


Posted by steve at 08:54 AM

Monday, October 08, 2012

I bind unto myself today

It’s quite lovely to wake up this morning and experience this wrapped around my wrist.

Trinity worship

It was the result of Church last night. God as creator, redeemer, sustainer – 3 threads woven into one. We are a bead, an invitation to find ourselves woven into the Trinity.

A really embodied worship experience, that lingers into the week. (As a practical expression of this – Seeking holy ground)

Posted by steve at 12:04 PM

Sunday, October 07, 2012

seeking holy ground article

I was asked a few weeks ago to contribute an article to Journey, the Uniting Church of Queensland monthly newspaper. It’s become the front page headline for the October edition – titled Seeking Holy Ground. For those interested, it is here, or below … (more…)

Posted by steve at 03:45 PM

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

homeward bound

I’m back home, Aotearoa New Zealand home, for a few days.

It’s my mum’s 70th birthday and I’m looking forward to that and to family time.

It’s just on 3 months since I became Principal and I’m looking forward to a break from that, to reflect, as my supervisor suggested, on the first lap, and how sustainable (not) the pace of life is.

It’s “home, land and sea”

- and I’m really looking forward to that.

Posted by steve at 09:39 AM

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

the politics of Christian influence: Christianity and colonisation

James Boyce’s 1835 explores the Founding of Melbourne and in doing so, the conquest of Australia. Such books are essential reading for all those who care about mission and the witness of the church, because they allow us to reflect on the past.

Chapter 5: London 1835 includes a summary of the place of Evangelical Christianity in colonisation. “With the assistance of their …. [evangelicals] …. the British government became focused on the physical and moral welfare of indigenous people to an extent unknown before, or for the most part, since.” (37)

First, it helpfully notes that British Evangelicalism of the early 1800s should not be confused with present day American Evangelicalism.

Second, it notes the motivation. Once Slavery was abolished, indigenous welfare became a priority area of Evangelical concern. “Government control, along with support for enterprising ‘respectable’ settlers, was urgently needed to counteract the harm done to natives by lower-class European.” (38-9) This provides a contrast to the Domination narrative, which is often pinned on Christian colonisers. “The simple fact that evangelicals accepted that people had rights based on prior possession set them apart from the dominant settler discourse, which argued that the right to land arose from using it for farming.” (39)

This produced an ironic tension, that Christians supported colonisation because they saw it as “the primary means of ensuring that Aborigines were not degraded or killed by the lower order of Europeans.” (40)

Third, this advocacy on behalf of indigenous people relied on information. What happened in Melbourne and in the colonising of Australia, was that distance and lack of missionaries on the ground, meant that the Christian politicians lacked data to work for justice.

It’s a fascinating narrative about the relationship between church and society and the attempt to use politics for influence.

(New Zealand readers will want to read Chapter 7 – The Treaty, as it provides a fascinating analysis of a Treaty signing, both the politics and the processes, just a few short years before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. But that is for another post).

Posted by steve at 09:04 AM

Monday, October 01, 2012

Campfire 2012

I’ve spent the weekend in Western Australia, speaking at an event called CampFIRE. It’s been great fun, joining with around 150 folk to explore mission as the people of God.

It is located at Yearlering, which is about 3 hours drive out of Perth. So it’s rural, with all the beauty that involves.

It’s a unique approach to a camp in that it’s self-catering. You rock up with your tent or caravan – with the constant encouragement to hospitality, to share meals, pool with other families.

The campsite is located beside Lake Yearlering, which provides a gorgeous backdrop for connecting with people and engaging with God.

A standout was the number of children and teenagers, a sign that this part of the Uniting church is in great health, with a bright future being passed onto another generation.

My sessions all seemed to go well, with some great questions asked and what folk experienced as a blend of challenge and hope.

Posted by steve at 08:07 PM