Friday, June 28, 2013

5 cities in 4 climes

It was a bit of a major headturner trying to pack last night – packing for the frost of Christchurch, followed by the showers of Auckland, then the tropics of Cairns; thinking about what to wear to visit my parents, speak at a conference, lounge on a beach, attend national Uniting Church meetings.

Here’s the upcoming schedule.

  • Friday 28 June – fly today from Adelaide to Christchurch. While in Sydney, I catch up with my supervisor, who will put me through me leadership paces and find some area we agree I need to grow in
  • Saturday 29 June – morning with my parents in Christchurch, catching up after being away for too long!
  • Sunday 30 June – presenting an academic paper – Ecclesiology and ethnography downunder – at ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Studies), being held this year at Laidlaw College, Auckland
  • Wednesday 3 July – with the conference over, and after a Tuesday catching up with good friends, flying to Cairns for a week of family holiday
  • Wednesday 10 July – fly to Brisbane, first do the theme parks on Gold Coast, then to enjoy more family time, including with extended family, on the Sunshine Coast
  • Sunday 15 July – fly to Sydney, first for a one day consultation on the impact of multi-cultural identities on leadership formation, followed by annual national Ministry Education Meetings
  • Wednesday 18 July – return to Adelaide

All in all, a major exercise in moving between various contexts. It also means I’m not at all sure how much blogging there will be in the next few weeks.

Posted by steve at 07:52 PM

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Living libraries: Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning (Conference paper abstract)

A few hours in the air between Adelaide and Sydney gave me time to put together a potential paper for the Learning and Teaching Theology Conference: The Way Ahead. It is being held in Sydney, September 27th- 28th, 2013. It looks a really worthwhile attempt to keep theological colleges thinking about theological education. Since I’ve been involved in a review of distance education here at Uniting College, which has caused me to think theologically about distance education, I scratched together the following abstract.

Living libraries: Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning

This paper, in considering the way ahead for Australian theological education, will apply the theological motif of transformation to the task of e-learning, using the notion of “living libraries” as a conceptual bridging strategy.

Recent research by the Transforming Theology project cited the Adelaide College of Divinity (ACD) Bachelor of Ministry as an example of good practice in curriculum design for transformative learning. “The innovative Bachelor of Ministry of Adelaide College of Divinity quite intentionally included a number of such independent and supervised Guided Studies in the final year … In these units an attempt is made to model the process of transformative integration.”

This paper will use a practical theology methodology. It will begin with a case study from recent ACD activity, the participation through video conferencing of a New Zealand church leader in a supervised Guided study “Church Re-think” class.

This moment will be brought into conversation with “living libraries,” an approach to learning that began in Denmark in 2000. Rather than produce a written resource, a youth movement provided people to libraries who had experienced violence. Rather than borrow a book, the community could book a person, and through conversation explore the perspective of another. An independent audit has recorded benefits including new learning and improved levels of community cohesion and engagement.

Returning to the case study, the potential of “living libraries” for new learning in theological education will be analysed under headings of context, lecturer and learner.

This will allow a three fold argument. First, that “living libraries” provide a fruitful way to understand selected pedagogical factors in transformation. Second that “living libraries” provide a way to foreground theologies of embodiment. Third that “living libraries” provide a way bring an explicit theology to bear in regard to pedagogy and digital technologies.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor
Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology

Posted by steve at 07:37 PM

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Colour my faith

Olive Fleming Drane posted a delightful picture, of the new floor in Glasgow’s new Paperchase.

It’s a delightful reminder of the power and place of colour. And the implications for our engagement with Christian faith.

Like “colour divina.” Imagine hearing the same Bible text, read slowly, read repeatedly. And each time, standing in a different colour. Where is purple in the text? Where is the colour red? Where do we see green?

Imagine different stations, placed on different coloured mats. Confession on red, benediction on green, hearing the Scriptures in purple.

At Opawa, for a period of time, part of the call to worship included the invitation:

Words of introduction: We all come from different weeks; good and bad, busy and slow, major and minor. What colour would describe your emotions and experiences this week?

Action: In baskets at various places around the auditorium are a wide range of colours. Each colour square has a “hot dot” fixed to the back. As we gather as a community in worship this morning I invite you
a) choose a colour square that says something about your week.
b) peel the backing paper of the “hot dot” on the back and place your colour on the cross.
You can do this at any time before the service.

Prayer: We will start our service with the following prayer

Leader: Arriving, we bring our current reality.
All: The good and the bad. The busy and the slow. The major and the minor.

Leader: We dare to believe that God is among us.
All: Among us as one who listens, holds, loves, heals, guides.

Leader: We dare to believe that we are safe here.
All: Safe among friends journeying together. Journeying to a deeper knowledge of, love for and service with God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(full post here)

For more on the place of colour in Christian faith, see

  • Colouring the stations of the cross here
  • Colouring formation here
  • for a fantastic resource, in the form of a children’s book, see here.
Posted by steve at 10:20 PM

Monday, June 24, 2013

the thinner the skin of leadership? U2, Kite, Jesus and change

’cause hardness, it sets in
You need some protection
The thinner the skin
– U2, Kite

I’ve been reflecting a lot on leadership recently. There are public dimensions to being in a role like Principal. Lots of people provide opinions on how things could be, on how the job should be done. If change happens, then there are all sorts of unintended consequences. Human responses to change are natural, important, and need to be heard. As U2 say, “the thinner the skin,” the more these opinions are taken on board.

I’ve observed a number of responses, a number of ways that “protection” is sought.

One is to hide, to avoid the intensity of relationships by being less available. This can be physically, by finding other places to be. This can be internally, by withdrawing within oneself.

Another is cynicism, to find oneself more and more often with arms folded, seeing the negative side of everything.

I’m sure there are other ways that people find protection.

One of the things I admire about Jesus is how he lived with a “thinner skin.” Even in the events of Holy Week, we find him caring, listening, leading. Through all this he seemed to remain open. There is no resorting to cyncism, no hiding from the challenges he faces.

So to use the lines from U2, did he find a “healthy” hardness, appropriate modes of protection, life-giving ways to enact his gifts and charisms? Or is that any “hardness”, any “protection” is in fact not in the way of Jesus? Was he in the end, so “thin-skinned” that it led to death? And is that in fact God’s way of bringing life? Can Kingdom change only occur when the seed dies?

Only questions, in what is, a fairly “thin-skinned” blogpost :)!

Posted by steve at 10:25 AM

Thursday, June 20, 2013

pastoral studies suite: did “we” do this?

One of my learnings at the moment, is how to shift from I to we. In other words, how innovation and change can emerge from groups, rather than individuals – on how to create communities that can look at each other and go “we did this.”

Here’s a marker to reflect on:

It is a hospital bed that sits in the middle of what is becoming a pastoral training suite. With the advent of the new Diploma of Ministry in Chaplaincy (for more see here and here), here at Uniting College, along with other pastoral teaching and training courses, we thought it appropriate to establish a room suitably equipped for pastoral training purposes. The room is in the process of being equipped with various furnishings and healthcare equipment to create a variety of pastoral contexts relevant to contemporary chaplaincy and other pastoral ministries. The contexts being developed include a hospital bedroom, an aged care living room, a disability ramp and wheelchair, and a schoolroom setting and possibly a prison visiting room. These contexts will enable students to envision the lived pastoral context with significant clarity. Students will, for example, be filmed practising and reviewing their pastoral craft in one of the created contexts. In an small room next door we are creating a discrete worship space to symbolise the sense in which the chaplain / pastoral practitioner takes their liturgical and sacramental resources with them into their pastoral context.

So how did this happen?

This innovation began with our Old Testament lecturer, who having recently spoken to Chaplains in South Australia, wondered if we as a College could better resource then. This question was explored in a small group within our team, workshopping creative ways to respond to our funding challenges. (Sometimes challenges can generate creativity.) From that group emerged a creative solution – a Diploma of Ministry in (chaplaincy/leadership) that already existed within our course structures.

As I heard the group share the idea, I wondered if this innovation could be strengthened by resourcing. I took a funding proposal to our Board, as an entrepreneurial experiment. They agreed and a person, was appointed to be a chaplaincy Co–ordinator.

When the idea of the new Diploma of Ministry was promoted at Synod, a former lecturer of the college mentioned to me their dream of a “pastoral suite.”

I mentioned the dream to the new Chaplaincy co-ordinator and suggested he connect with our Campus manager about the logistics. She found a space and put a funding bid to the campus resources board for painting. I also suggested the new Chaplaincy co-ordinator seek to connect by asking agencies for furniture, as a way of decreasing our costs, but more importantly promoting our initiative and building connections. He did. As a result, we’ve been given hospital bed, wheelchair, walker. We are aiming for a public launch in a few months, in which we can invite these agencies to see the result!

In sum, within the space of some eight months, we have a pastoral suite, a new staff person, a clarified Diploma, a more diverse student body, increased connections with agencies, a marketing niche and a branding message that says we innovate not just for leaders in large churches, but also for chaplains in agencies.

Looking back, there are things I might have done differently. But it stands as an intriguing leadership marker. “We did this” – an OT lecturer, a small group, a new Chaplaincy co-ordinator, a “dreamer” lecturer, a Principal as connector, a Campus Manager. Very different gifts mixes and roles, each essential, to innovation.

PS This was a story I shared at the Innovation that Engages Upgrade, as a way of introducing the National Church Life Survey Lead with your strengths insights.

Posted by steve at 08:32 PM

Saturday, June 15, 2013

wood remembers

I’m sure there are connections between this –

Many violinists and violinmakers insist that violins grow into their beautiful throaty sounds, and that a violin played exquisitely for a long time eventually contains the exquisite sounds within itself … In down-to-earth terms: Certain vibrations made over and over for years, along with all the normal processes of aging, could make microscopic changes in the wood; we perceive those cellular changes as enriched tone. In poetic terms: The wood remembers. Thus, part of a master violinist’s duties is to educate a violin for future generations. (Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses, 204)

– and the task of discipling and forming leaders.

Isn’t mentoring “part of a master [mentors] duties is to educate a [?] for future generations”? Can’t teaching theology be “part of a master [theologians] duties is to educate a [?] for future generations?

Posted by steve at 01:28 PM

Friday, June 14, 2013

a theology of sighing

On Thursday, as a staff team, we gathered for our weekly prayer. I was intrigued by the opening verse of the Psalm for the day:

Give ear to my words, O LORD; give heed to my sighing. Psalm 5:1

Perhaps because I’ve become aware, suddenly, in the last week, that one of the children in Team Taylor sighs exactly like one of their parents. It’s uncanny. Perhaps, because I’ve found myself sighing quite a few times in the last week. Perhaps because, at the start of winter, in the last week of a semester, I’ve heard a number of the team, well, sigh.

So, we paused at “sighing.”

And we asked each other – what are you currently sighing over? Together we heard a wide range of life events. There was some good sighing. And some sad sighing. And some worried sighing. With a candle lit to remind us of God’s presence, it was a rich time. As part of the time, one of our team offered a reflection from their ministry practice.

“Sometimes when I sit with people and hear their story, the only response seems to be sighing. To sit in the silence and sigh. It’s the most appropriate, Christ-like, pastoral response.”

A theology of sighing. People sigh. In Psalm 5, God is asked to hear those sighs. In Mark 7, Jesus looks to heaven and sighs deeply. Only in the gospel of Mark is it mentioned that Jesus sighed. More remarkably, Mark uses two different forms of the verb in
this passage. It is an act of deep empathy and prayer. Being in ministry is thus to sigh with the sighing. Pastoral prayer is sighing.

So I’m off for the weekend. To sigh – to God, through Jesus.

Posted by steve at 07:21 PM

Thursday, June 13, 2013

missional readings of Scripture: widow of Zarephath

The missional conversation expects us to read the Bible with missional eyes. That means we pay attention to the edges. We read texts asking – who are the marginal people, what are the marginal places? That then allows us to focus on encounters – the interactions between edges and centres, outsiders and insiders, powerless and powerful.

Take for example, 1 Kings 17, the story of the encounter of the widow of Zarephath with Elijah.

There is a geographic edge. As a consequence of the drought, Elijah heads to Sidon: 1 Kings 17:7-8: “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.”

Sidon is a town mentioned in the previous chapter: 1 Kings 16:30: “Ahab …. married Jezebel daughter of [the] king of [Sidonians] and began to serve Baal and worship him.” So Elijah, God’s agent, heads to Sidon. To the place where Jezebel, the Kings wife was born, to the place where Baal worship is strong and thriving. This is a fascinating response to encountering a diverse belief system. You go to it.

Second, the people on the edge. Elijah finds a woman gathering sticks. To quote from a Bible commentary: There were many widows in [Elijah’s] Isreal and the surrounding areas because of war and famine. Traditional family and village systems of support for widows had broken down since the king … had started buying up the land and corrupting village leaders. Prices for oil were high because they were chief export crops. This widow could not afford them anymore.

They talk in the news media about needing to find the human interest story. Well here in 1 Kings is the human interest story. YHWH, the God of the Old Testament, has a human interest in widows.

Third, the interaction. Having gone to the edge, in place and person, we can now consider this story from the viewpoint of the widow. From this perspective, she is a most extraordinary example of hospitality and faith. She offers her last to a stranger. She says yes to a prophet, no matter how illogical. This is discovered in the “Baal” worshipping town. A redeeming God will always be found in the places the centre considers unlikely!

Finally, this text offers an insight regarding community empowerment. I am fascinated by the way that Elijah doesn’t give her a handout. Instead he empowers her. Invites her to simply give what she’s got. One book noted that “The key [to 1 Kings 17] is that [Elijah] does not do the miracle for [the widow] [Instead he] enables her to do it for herself.” Here’s a way to work with the poor, in ways that do not leave them victims, but invited to use what they have got – the twigs they can collect, their flour and oil.

This is a missional reading. The people of God are encouraged to journey to the places complicit with economic oppression. In this places, they are to concentrate of human interest. They are invited to look for God’s prior activity in those places, to seek those who already have the capacity for extraordinary faith.

Posted by steve at 09:01 AM

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

ageist mission?

On Friday, I ducked away to a seaside cafe to do some writing (another 1,000 words on the Sustainability and mission project).

As I took a break, I looked at those around me in the cafe. At one table was a grandmother, struggling with two lively pre-schoolers. At another was a group of friends, grey-haired, sharing travel plans. At yet another was a similar group, obviously regular weekly gatherings.

The day prior, I’d been part of a presentation of NCLS data on the Uniting Church in South Australia. The average age is 62. That Friday morning, I’d found parking at this seaside suburb outside a local Uniting Church. It is a church I’ve been a few times, to find myself surrounded by a good number of elderly folk.

Cause for concern?

Not if you consider the demography of those surrounding me in the cafe. Surely a denomination of retirees is superbly placed to incarnate the Gospel among grandmother struggling to babysit, retirees planning a worthwhile future and searching for relationships.

Fresh expressions can, frankly be ageist. It can assume that the new, young, hip are the future. Well, the young and hip will struggle to meet those seated around me on Friday.

It reminds me of the claim by Mark Lau-Branson, that Pentecost is for the geriatric.

Posted by steve at 10:04 PM

Friday, June 07, 2013

But is it theological? theology as celebratory, communicative, critical

What is theology? Earlier this year, I had an chapter – engaging popular culture then turning to work with one systematic theologian – turned down for a book project. The book, I was told, was in the genre of systematic theology and my piece, while imaginative and of a high quality, did not fit.

I sat in a post-graduate class recently, with a person doing an outstanding presentation on their research. It would involve talking to people about what God was doing in their lives. And the question was asked – but is it theological?

I have a friend with a passion to share the gospel. They want to be able to do this apologetically, engaged with the questions being asked by the culture, by everyday people in everyday conversations. They also want to do PhD study. Can the two mix? Can ordinary communication find a place? Again the question – what is theology?

Rowan Williams, in On Christian Theology proposes that theological activity occurs in three styles.

First, a celebratory style. For Rowan, this type of theology is nourished and nurtured in the language of hymn and prayer. Examples include the theology of the Psalms, the sermons of Gregory of Nyssa, the icons of Orthodoxy and the writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Theological activity as celebratory occurs because of the intention, not to argue, but rather to “evoke a fullness of vision – that ‘glory’ around” which theology circles.

Second, a communicative style. “Theology seeks also to persuade or commend, to witness to the gospel’s capacity for being at home in more than one cultural environment.” Examples include Clement or Origin, engaging Stoic and Platonic thought with “enough confidence to believe that this gospel can be rediscovered at the end of a long and exotic detour through strange idioms and structures of thought.” Or more recently (for Williams), the use of Marxist categories in liberation theology and theological readings of feminist theory.

Third, such experimenting often leads to a degree of crisis. As Williams describes it “is what is emerging actually identical or at least continuous with what has been believed and articulated?” This becomes the critical style of theological activity, a self reflection on continuity and coherence. It can be conservative or revisionist and has two ultimate directions, one a nihilism, the other a rediscovery of the celebratory.

Williams observes that each of these styles of theological activity has a different public. Celebratory is for a believing public. Communicative is for those to whom Christianity, in both vocabulary and grammar, are strange. Critical often occurs within the academy.

So what is theology? Often it is deemed to be the third area, the critical area, among the academy. But using Rowan Williams typology, a chapter in a book that explores popular culture and theology is communicative theology. And researching lived experience of people, if they are inside the church, is celebratory and if outside the church, communicative. And a concern to apologetics, for the gospel in everyday life, is communicative.

Hooray for Rowan Williams and the place of hymn, icon, story, gospel, culture as well as textbook and academy.

Posted by steve at 06:00 PM

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness: to boldly go where no superpower has gone before

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 80 plus films later, here is the review for June, of Star Trek Into Darkness.

Star Trek Into Darkness
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Into Darkness is entertainment, a high-paced, non-stop journey from space’s final frontier, through earth’s orbit, to probe the darkness we call evil. The result is an adrenaline laden few hours, that combines action, special effects and a complex weaving narrative.

Earth is under threat. Initially it appears to be a lone criminal, masterminding a series of terrorist attacks against the Federation. Enterprise and her crew chase the fugitive into Klingon territory, risking a war, uncovering an evil that is found to lie neither in the lone bomber, nor in an alien species, but within Star Fleet itself.

This is the second installment in a re-fit of the Star Trek cinematic enterprise (puns intended). In reprising Star Trek, director J.J.Abrams (Mission Impossible III and Star Trek (2009)), is able to draw on a long history, a wealth of material, from multiple TV series to eleven full length feature films.

This includes a familiar cast, household names of Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Uhura, Bones and Scotty. They provide a continuity around which new characters – Carol (Alice Eve), her father, Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and the fleeing criminal (Benedict Cumberbatch) – can be easily introduced. The result is a richer narrative, one that is familiar, faithful, yet fresh.

This history also allows Into Darkness to offer a series of narrative puzzles. It is here that genuine can Trekies linger, pondering the references to the birth of Khan (referencing the Wrath of Khan), the death (also the Wrath of Khan) and resurrection of Spock (The Search for Spock).

Going back to the future requires finding a new cast. We meet a young Kirk (Chris Pine), struggling to understand a young Spock (Zachary Quinto). This provides one theological lens, the potential richness of the cross-cultural journey. Into Darkness explores how relationships can bloom as time is invested and action encountered together. The temptation is always for what is dominant to demand change. Yet Kirk is a much reduced leader without the emotional passion of Bones or the logic of Spock.

Another theological lens is the exploring of terror. Into Darkness allows the Star Trek franchise, which began in 1966, to provide a mirror, a contemporary commentary on the politics of life post-9/11. The Federation response in the movie is typically militaristic, the aggressive embrace of new technology in response to terrorist violence.

Intriguingly, in the off-screen life of director J.J.Abrams another response is being explored. In real life, Abrams, is involved with The Mission Continues, a charity begun to encourage veterans into community service. Into Darkness is dedicated to America’s war veterans and the founder of The Mission Continues, Eric Greitens, appears in the film’s finale.

Imagine if community service rather than military aggression was the response to terror? Might this in fact be humanities ultimate final frontier? A way of moving out of darkness rather than into darkness, a very different way of boldly going where no super power has gone before.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal, Uniting College, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 07:38 PM

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Walking on country: student participation

Walking on Country: an initiative of Uniting College for Leadership and Theology (UCLT), supported by Pilgrim Uniting Church and Ken Leaver Scholarship Fund (edited by Danica Patselis with contributions from other participants)

In February this year, a group from UCLT went to Camp Coorong for a ‘Walking on Country’ Indigenous Immersion experience, with the gracious Ngarrindjeri people. The group was guided by (Rev Dr) Tracey Spencer and Aunty Denise Champion and consisted of students, candidates, a business owner, farmer, community workers and faculty. The initiative is an important part of the college’s formation process for ministers, and is extended to family and members of the wider church. Steve Taylor, Principal of the College says “We hope it’s the start of an annual event and an ongoing partnership both with Pilgrim and local indigenous communities.”

As a group we came with various apprehensions, pre-conceived ideas and for some of us feelings of shame, growing up in a culture where we as a second people have not recognised the people of this nation. We haven’t been reconciled within our nation and we have not heard the stories of the first peoples of the land who have lived here for so long. With a gracious and loving smile, Aunty Denise, calmed our fears as she guided us over the weekend. Her warm welcome encouraged us, that we are “Walking on Country” with friends, who long to be in relationship and share with us.

Uncle Tom, welcomed us to Camp Coorong, and began our time by asking us why we had come and what we longed to learn from our time with the Ngarrindjeri people. Uncle Tom’s first response, to listen, spoke deeply to us. Over the following days we followed Uncle Tom out onto the land listening to his stories and the stories of his ancestors who had lived and thrived on this land for many years. A young farmer in the group reflected “[the Ngarrindjeri peoples’] cultural practices have been so well developed over the many years of learning…The indigenous culture is much more interested in co existing with the environment. I felt more and more of their pain from the irreversible damage second peoples have inflicted on their land in such a short amount of time.” Ngarrindjerri women also sat with us and taught us their traditional weaving of baskets, hats, bags and art with the reeds found by the River. In response to our thanks they looked into our eyes and said “We are Ngarrindjerri people, we want to share these things with you, that is what we do, we share.”

After listening to Uncle Tom’s stories of our nation’s sad history, we lamented at the slow and pitiful recognition of the Indigenous peoples, and their rights and dignity as custodians of this land in the constitution. We lamented at the horrific stories of displacement, abuse and stripping of cultural heritage. For many of us the experience of participating in the “racism game” one afternoon with Tracey Spencer, unveiled our eyes to the institutionalized racism within our society. We began crying out – not for a change to the rules of the game, but a doing away with the value and playing of the game, imagining a new future, without ‘teams’ and a society founded in love and reconciliation. Later that night, Aunty Denise, brought us together, lit a candle and playing her guitar she shared with us a song in the Adnyamathanha tongue of her people “The light of Christ has come into the world.” She reminded us that first and second peoples can be the light of Christ in the world, standing in reconciliation together and then also with God.

Returning home, we have all had much time to reflect on how we will follow the example of Aunty Denise and Uncle Tom, in listening, sharing and engaging with reconciliation. We are thankful for communities like Pilgrim who encourage all people to covenant with the UAICC. Many of us have taken steps to share our experiences in our own communities and begin new relationships with people in Congress and the wider indigenous community. For each of us we have realised that reconciliation begins with relationship and that continuing action, justice and change begins here.

This was a copy of what was recently shared by Danica Patselis, student at Uniting College, as part of Reconciliation Sunday, at Pilgrim Uniting.

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM

Monday, June 03, 2013

the place of repetition, of the word “just” in prayers

I’ve been enjoying Paul Bramadat’s, The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series). He enters, as an outsider, as a researcher, an evangelical group on a University Campus. He spends 18 months worshipping with them, talking with them, interviewing them. He even goes on a missions trips with them. It’s a rich introduction to researching lived experience, the actual practices of groups of people.

As a researcher, he notices the constant use of the word “just” in their prayers. Here is how he processes what he is observing.

It’s most common syntactical location is near the beginning of the approximately half of the prayers offered … For example, a customary beginning of … prayers is “Fathergod, we just come before you tonight to,” a variation of which might be “God, we just want to sing your praises tonight because we’ve just seen all the wonderful things you do in our lives.” This term seems to muffle the students’ demands somewhat, underlining their indirect and humble approach to God. Without “just,” their prayers would be comparatively bold. For example, they would be reduced to the overly direct alternatives: “We come here tonight to” and “God, we want to.” … By implying that the speaker is unable to finish a prayer because he or she is overwhelmed by the opportunity to communicate with God … emphasizes his or her respectful love for and approach to God.

That’s fascinating. The use of the word “just” reveals an inner humility toward God.

I think it’s a wonderful example of research. It is so easy as an outsider to look down upon the religious practices of another. But Bramadat tries to understand not from his perspective, but from the perspective of the group.

Posted by steve at 06:45 PM