Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”

Abstract (2) for 14th Assembly of International Association of Mission Studies, August 11–17, 2016, Seoul, South Korea

Conference theme: Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change

Title: Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”

Stanley Skreslet (Comprehending Mission, 2012) argues that missiology has been slow to examine historical fiction from outside the West. A way to respond to his challenge is presented in The Mountain (2012), a novel by acclaimed Australian writer, Drusilla Modjeska. Book One describes the five years leading up to independence in Papua New Guinea in 1973 and ends with a ‘gift child’: a hapkas boy. Book Two describes his return – the child of a black mother and white father – to the land of his birth.

In the book an account of conversion and transformation in Papua New Guinea is offered. “Of all the applause, of all the cheers, the greatest is for the Christian missions, the priests who cross the stadium with their crucifixes and their bibles …. ‘Jesus,’ … ‘good’ man true” … ‘He die on a tree. Very good. He die for PNG.’” (The Mountain, 291). It is a surprisingly positive portrayal of conversion and transformation, referencing indigenous approval (“the greatest [applause] is for the Christian missions”) and indigenization (“He die for PNG.”)

The paper will take this notion of Jesus as good man true and analyse how this Christology interweaves with themes in The Mountain of ancestor, gift and hapkas. It will argue that The Mountain offers a distinct and creative Christology, one that offers post-colonial insight into the interplay between missiological notions of pilgrim and indigenizing and the complex journeys between there and here. Such a Christology is one result of religious change in PNG.

(My brief book review of The Mountain here).

Posted by steve at 10:27 AM

“regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Abstract (1) for 14th Assembly of International Association of Mission Studies, August 11–17, 2016, Seoul, South Korea

Conference theme: Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change

Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence is a historical novel that offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil.

The book is currently being made into a movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.

This paper will examine three missiological approaches.

First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism.

Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action.

Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.

Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.

Posted by steve at 10:15 AM

Thursday, October 22, 2015

time to flourish: a theology of time management

The day lies open before me. It is gift, waiting to unwrapped.

How to fill it?

Appointments – these include the requests from outside to meet, greet, complain, engage. Each of these reach out to fill my day.  When I think of appointments, I also include my to do list. As it lies open before me, it is also making appointments, marking my diary not with “Meeting” but with “Complete marking schedule.”

Crisis – something unexpected might happen. I recall days that have been consumed by funding crisis or relationship breakdown. The adrenaline surges and the crisis engulfs.

Routine – the comfort of habit. I settle today in what I did yesterday. Yet if I am honest, what I did yesterday was what I did last week, last month, last month, last decade. There is security in this, the rhythm of routine. But do I want my gravestone to be titled “lived by habit.”

Flourish – Psalm 1, the lectionary reading for today, suggests another approach. In verse 3

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Which got me thinking about the shape of flourishing. I suspect what it means for me to flourish might be different from what it means for you to flourish. My role, my skills, my context, invite a particular set of fruit.

The Psalm mentions not only fruit, but leaves.  Like fruit, leaves also are particular, shaped by seasons. Again comes the reminder that my season is different than your season. So to flourish, in fruit and foliage, is unique, an individual fingerprint.

This requires some work, some intentionality. What might my fruit be? I began to journal, a rough draft. A flourishing Principal will

  • ensure continuous quality improvement in learning and forming
  • be careful, competent, yet creative with resources (buildings, people, systems)
  • connect with stakeholders in ways that serve the church of tomorrow
  • think (research and write) in ways that take the organisation they serve back to the future

In doing this work, I find that the gift that is my day now has some shape. It might well be expressed in appointments, in responding to crisis, in routine. But my day, my time mangement, is now  more that the sum of its parts.  To grow fruit takes time. The deliberate application of fertiliser, the careful pruning, the commitment to thin appropriately. And so the gift of today is now shaped – by what it means for me and my organisation to flourish.

Posted by steve at 07:04 AM

Friday, October 16, 2015

first week: three words to describe KCML

I often ask people, in job interviews or reference checks, to provide 3 words to describe. There is always room to expand on the three words, but it’s a useful way to encourage clarity and focus.

knox So, at the end of a first week as Principal at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (KCML), let me apply the question to myself. Three words to describe KCML?
- warm
- connected
- thoughtful

Let me expand
- warm – with a wonderful welcome morning tea on Monday, with hot scones and cream lamingtons on the Wednesday, with a range of interesting people in the staff lounge in the afternoon, with lovely greetings on arrival from a range of people
- connected – closely to Knox College in a range of practical ways (including the morning teas), with the church up and down the country, with culture in interesting conversations about digital archiving and crossing cultures
- thoughtful – lots and lots and lots of conversations with people who care deeply and passionately about the church, ministry and the future of faith

It’s been a good first week.

Posted by steve at 03:12 PM

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

“It takes a church to raise a minister.” Discuss

Today at our first staff meeting as a KCML (Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership) team, I began with a statement for ongoing discussion.

I pointed out how, given our recent move across the ditch, our endings and beginnings, how acutely aware we were of relationships. This is well-captured in the saying – it takes a village to raise a child. Healthy communities offer a wide range of relationships, which at all sorts of different levels, can contribute to growth. That’s the positive take. Equally, unhealthy communities offer a range of relationships, which, because of their lack, or because of their bite, can contribute to decline.

Pondering relationships, their fragility and vitality, I began to wonder if the proverb – it takes a village to raise a child could be applied to forming ministers. Is it that it takes a church to raise a minister? If so, what are the implications for us at KCML?

So today, at our team meeting, I introduced the statement. I invited discussion by offering one Biblical character (not telling who :)). Together as a team we had a very fruitful and rich conversation, one shaped by Scripture and placed alongside a set of living case studies, one that enabled all the team to contribute, one that led naturally into prayer and our business together.

As a result, we decided that in the coming weeks, we would keep exploring the question. We will take turns, each week, to bring a Biblical character or person in history. And we’ll see where the conversation goes, and what it might mean for us, for ministers and for the church.

Feel free to join us

1. What Biblical character or person in history would you introduce?
2. What insight might they bring to the statement – it takes a church to raise a minister?
3. What might be the implications today – for churches, for theological colleges, for ministers and those training and those considering training?

(in the comments)

Posted by steve at 01:44 PM

Monday, October 12, 2015

so many “news”

Today, I start a new role, as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. It involves a new country, a new city, a new denomination, a new team. That’s a lot of news!

In an amazing set of “coincidences”, the lectionary reading on the day I moved countries (1 October) was Luke 10:1-12.

sendinmission

Further, as I left Australia, a recent graduate gave me a gift and a word of thanks. “Thanks for sending us out in mission.” The image is based on Saint Brendan and the Celtic pattern of mission.

So it’s nice to be beginning a season of “news” with a reminder of Luke 10:1-12. Here is what I wrote about Luke 10:1-12, for a book on mission in New Zealand, in 2008.

First, listening occurs as the disciples first hear the sending God, and second, seek to discern where God is already at work. Hence the command to “Take no bag, no purse, no sandals” (Luke 10:4). This is a radically different concept of mission. We start not with what we imagine the needs of the community are. Instead we start by looking for the welcome that God has already prepared in advance for us. There are echoes of Exodus 3:5, where Moses is instructed to take off shoes, for he is standing on holy ground. This suggests that for the sending God, the places we go, the mission places, our towns and villages, are actually holy places. This is holiness not as separation, but holiness because God is present and up to something.

Second, community building starts because the sending originates in community. The disciples are then sent out in community (Luke 10:1). They are sent to eat and drink in table fellowship (Luke 10:7). (It is a great life being a Luke 10 missionary!) As one writer put it (Robert Tannehill, Luke), “the mission requires contact with people in their homes and towns, while brief contacts on the road are insufficient.” Mission is an act in community, an invitation to dwell, deeply, incarnationally, within the lives of people.

Third, the mission of God includes the proclamation of peace (Luke 10:5). This speaking has echoes of First Testament concepts of shalom. God’s covenant concerned the whole of life: economics and politics, crime and justice, societal and environmental relationships. God was forming Israel as a community to live together in ways that protected new migrants, offered justice when accidents occurred and encouraged sustainable farming. The mission of God is thus this call to seek the wellbeing of all the facets of our community. Hence we engage in acts of healing.

Fourth, Luke 10 is written to a changing church in a changing world. During times of change we all seek certainty. Some seek certainty in historic understandings of church and the Bible. Others seek certainty in charismatic leaders. Luke 10 offers us a different type of certainty, that of God in the world. Luke 10 tells the story of a sending God who invites us to seek God’s future in the ordinary and everyday. It is an affirmation that 70 no-name disciples could be trusted with God’s missionary purposes. It is the anticipation that as we accept the hospitality of the culture, then God’s healing and redemptive purposes can be discerned. It is a vision of church as wholistic, embracing shalom: word, sign and deed. It reminds us that God is active in our world, at the tables and cafes of our culture.

Old words. Historic words, that provide a simplicity and a clarity for the “new” season – listen, build community, speak peace, welcome change in the ordinary and everyday.

Posted by steve at 05:25 AM

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The gift: film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for October 2015.

The Gift
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

It is a very ordinary domestic beginning. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move to California. Buying houses, finding furniture, they unexpectedly met Gordo, a former high school classmate (Joel Edgerton).

Into what is domestic slowly creeps a sinister edge. These are built by clever use of symbol, pop culture and Scripture. Memorable quotes and images are used repeatedly. With each return, darker meaning is generated.

Take the windows, which in the opening scene offer Simon and Robyn as new home buyers spectacular views out into the valley below. Yet as the plot progresses, the glass that looks out because both mirror of, and window into, the increasing isolation between Robyn and Simon. Finally the windows are shattered by an act of rage that heralds the end of their shared domestic bliss.

The pop culture references work in a similar way. A reference to the movie, Apocalypse Now, as the newly purchased sound system is fixed, when reintroduced announces to Simon the beginning of his judgment. A showering scene that follows Robyn’s morning run references Alfred Hitchcock. With every repeat, her vulnerability is magnified, caught in the brooding tension between Simon and Robyn. This use of symbol and cultural reference is subtle, artful and essential in the plot development.

A similar pattern is evident in the use of Scripture. It begins with the first dinner, shared between Simon, Robyn and Gordo, at which Gordo quotes the well known verse, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” It continues when Gordo meets Robyn’s dog, and references “Ask and you shall receive.” Each verse, removed from Biblical context, offers multiple meanings. Is Gordo a Christian? Or in fact is God being conscripted as a character, the unseen judge, coopted to work on behalf of those seeking justice?

It is clever, enriched by the character development that also cleverly unfolds. Simon, Robyn and Gordo each have mystery in their history. The plot hides as often as it reveals, artfully using suggestion and innuendo to turn domesticity into a eulogy on revenge.

In three characters we find three responses to experiences of pain and betrayal. In Gordo we find revenge is indeed a dish best served cold. In Robyn we find withdrawal in an attempt to rebuild. In Danny (P. J. Byrne) we find anger expressed as rage. His act, shattering the windows of Simon and Robyn’s house, unleashes the final drama that so powerfully destroys the domestic bliss with which the movie begins.

Given the movie’s use of Scripture, it is fitting to place each of these responses alongside the story of Jesus. The act of Easter is a choosing not of revenge, withdrawal or anger. Instead, it provides another way to interpret Scripture. It is a refusal of Gordo’s co-option of images of God as Judge. Rather, Easter offers a considered decision to intentionally absorb pain and betrayal. Claims of “eye for an eye” are undone by a set of actions in which revenge is trumped by love and withdrawal is overcome in the prayer of “not my will but yours.” In choosing to absorb, love wins. Such is the gift of Christianity.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is becoming Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: forthcoming) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 10:01 AM

Thursday, October 01, 2015

endings

sunset Today we leave Australia, after nearly 6 years of placement with the South Australian Synod of the Uniting Church of Australia. First, as the founding Director of Missiology. It was such a gift to be invited to provide leadership in mission in what was a new venture for the College, seeking to teach theology and church history through the lens of the mission of God. Over 2 and a half years, a new Bachelor of Ministry was developed, including a pioneer track. A missional masters cohort was established and mission-shaped ministry begun.

Second, as Principal of Uniting College. Over 3 years, as a team, a wide range of changes were implemented. These included a move to blended learning across all our topics, a CALD teaching cohort, a Big Year Out young adult discipleship experience, 8 vocational specialisations in the Diploma of Ministry, a Chaplaincy Co-ordinator, a much improved financial and strategic position, a re-negotiated relationship with Flinders University and the planting of an inter-state hub. Much of my learnings from this season are being processed in the upcoming book, Built for change: Innovation and Collaboration in leadership.

empty office Yesterday once the packers had emptied my office, removed every last book, file and paper clip, I walked the outdoor labyrinth for the last time. It was in the labyrinth that the call to be Principal had sounded – literally. So it somehow felt fitting that the call to be Principal should end in the labyrinth as, office empty, I took time to process – Solvitur Ambulando “It is solved by walking”.

There was nothing profound. Just a deep sense of gratitude. That the God who calls, provides. That the twists and turns of life are in God’s hands. That all I need to do is take the next step. In this case, onto an airplane, and into a new season, as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

Posted by steve at 01:25 AM