Sunday, October 06, 2013

offspring has sprung

My time with the Presbyterian church at Offspring is over. Very rich. But very intense.

Lots of personal encouragements – seeing former students and Christchurch pastoral colleagues – realising my Out of Bounds Church? book has born fruit – some fascinating interaction on mission, fresh expressions, pioneering, leadership and sustainability.

My input sessions seemed to go well – it was great to be telling NZ mission history stories alongside some Australian mission history stories I’ve picked up in my travels – to be able to bring indigenous gifts from Australia across the Tasman.

The highlight was hearing the stories of four Kiwi pioneer ventures, and realising afresh that God is still up to lots, albiet in fresh ways, in New Zealand. I’d love to write up some of these reflections and missiology I see emerging.

But not now.

First a precious 24 hours to pop back to Christchurch and see Mum, and together continue to process the loss of Dad. Nothing like Mum’s mock white-bait fritters.

Posted by steve at 03:39 PM

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Help us tell our story in clear, compelling, contemporary and relational ways: we’re hiring

As a Uniting College, we have five strategic signposts, one of which is to tell our story. With some qualifiers – we need to tell our story in clear, compelling, contemporary and relational ways. It is one of the reasons I was at the Teaching and Learning Conference last week, telling our new BMin story to other theological colleges.

As a College, we’ve been able, over the last months, despite being in a tight spot budget wise, to make some adjustments among our team. The result is further increasing our capacity to tell our story, by freeing up resources to recruit a Marketing and Promotions Officer (0.4). Here’s the blurb:

Uniting College seeks a passionate, creative, gifted person to “Tell our story in clear, compelling, contemporary and relational ways.” You will have qualifications and experience in marketing and promotion, a high quality of communication skills and effectiveness in emerging technologies. A result will be the attraction of new students. Applications close 15 October. For more, see here or contact steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au.

It’s one of three team appointments (the other’s are Blended Educational Design Co-ordinator and a Business Manager) we hope to make before the end of this year, all through adjustments and re-alignments within our existing team, all with the aim of enhancing our walk into the future.

Posted by steve at 07:46 AM

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Blue Jasmine: theological film review

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for October, of Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine.

Blue Jasmine

It sounds eerily post GFC. A rich New York socialite (Jasmine as Cate Blanchett) is bankrupted onto struggle street. She turns to her San Francisco-based sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in an attempt to rebuild her seeming shattered life.

But like all good stories, the plot will twist and turn. The result is Woody Allen at his best, a master of a movie as character-drenched as it is plot-driven.

How to process the pain when one’s world begins to collapse? Through character, Woody Allen offers us various possibilities. For Jasmine’s step son, it is to wipe the slate clean in order to start again. For Jasmine’s husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), it is to respond to shame by taking his own life. In Augie, Ginger’s former husband, financially ruined by Hal’s fraud, it is to nurse revenge. For Jasmine, it is to hide from reality on a lonely park bench, trapped by her romantic delusions.

“Blue Jasmine” is worth watching for the performance of Cate Blanchett alone. She is the plot pivot that binds together two stories, from two worlds. Blanchett is mesmerising, her descent into mental breakdown captured by the merest twist of a hand gesture.

Director Woody Allen is an international treasure of the film industry, with a career spanning six decades, and forty-five movies. Winner of four Academy Awards, nominated twenty three times, he has given us movies including “Manhattan” (1979), “Hannah and her Sisters” (1986) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011).

Allen is known for his creative movement between reel life and real life, and his use of film and music from the past. “Blue Jasmine” continues these motifs. The film hints at Tennessee Williams’ classic movie “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The movie references in title and in plot beginning and ending, the Lorenz Hart-Richard Rodgers song, “Blue Moon.”

A romantic number penned in 1934, it offers, for those with a nose for religion, an interesting way to read “Blue Jasmine.”

The original song by Rodgers was titled “Prayer”. The lyrics included the following:

“Oh Lord, If you ain’t busy up there,
I ask for help with a prayer
So please don’t give me the air”

Over time, the original words penned by Rodgers were rewritten.

“Oh lord, What is the matter with me?

I’m just permitted to see
the bad in every man”

Performed in “Manhattan Melodrama” it was rewritten yet again, to become the romantic tune hummed by Jasmine on her lonely park bench, as she remembers the romantic beginnings of her New York high life.

It becomes an intriguing way to read “Blue Jasmine.” The words by which a society prays have been rewritten, yet the tune remains.

What is more important, words or tunes, in the human religious impulse? What are the words of faith the church might say if it were to find itself seated beside Jasmine, in her disillusioned post-GFC world, on that lonely park bench?

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

Posted by steve at 11:55 AM

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

change as the aggregation of small moments

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about small moments. What are the quiet places, the moments in conversation, the habits, by which I might be part of enacting change and being part of transformation? I work for an organisation in decline, one that has been in decline for decades (over a hundred years, back to the start of the twentieth century according to one researcher). In decline, certain surface habits can emerge, certain ways of being, certain self-perceptions and accepting norms and acceptance of the status quo.

The organisation I work for is itself part of a larger story, a faith that is in the West eroding away. This produces pressures and realities. Again, it suggest a set of habits, held to be determinative.

It is tempting in such times to look for the bold gesture and the silver bullet, the only sweeping solution that will herald a new era. I see this embodied in the call for certain types of leaders, or the endless supply of conferences. I see this is the rush toward action. I see this in myself. I see it in others.

So a quiet encouragement today from an unlikely source, Douglas Coupland’s Life After God.

“And if we were to collect these small moments in a notebook and save them over a period of months we would see certain trends emerge from our collection—certain voices would emerge that have been trying to speak through us. We would realize that we have been having another life altogether; one we didn’t even know was going on inside us. And maybe this other life is more important than the one we think of as being real—this clunky day-to-day world of furniture and noise and metal. So just maybe it is these small silent moments which are the true story-making events of our lives.” Life After God

Key words that I ponder – collect, small, inside, silent, story-making. It has echoes of the work of Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, his call to let the true story inside each of us be heard. A story repressed by ourselves, by our families of origin, by our society. Yet inside us, it calls, offering us, if we will listen, our true vocation.

A call to reject the grand gesture and instead look for small moments, the repeated habits, the attitudes. To see in these the enormous potential for change, by the simple act of listening, journalling even, and over time, letting the trends surface, and in them weaving a story. Not a surface story of first appearances, but a true, deep story.

That is my task today – to continue to listen, to collect, to discern – another story.

Posted by steve at 08:28 AM