Sunday, November 22, 2015

the First Real day at work: Auckland blockcourse

Tomorrow is the First Real Day at work. Tomorrow the Summer KCML block course starts. which means I get to meet students. It’s very exciting, after six weeks of connecting with staff and with the church, to actually connect with students.

KCML operates on an internship module. Students speak 60% of their time in placement. The other 40% is a mix of mentoring, tutorial group work, plus three block courses spread over the year. The block courses last for 10 days. The Summer block course is in Auckland, to ensure interns are situated in a multi-cultural context. Which means that I’ve got quite a bit of gear to pack.


I am involved in 5 lectures, plus preaching at the Graduation sermon. I’m very much looking forward to the First Real day at work. But not to the 5 am start, to fly to Auckland.

Posted by steve at 07:42 PM

Friday, November 20, 2015

How do local churches respond to global events? research project

(Please share. The more responses the richer the results)

This is a short survey that asks a set of questions regarding how the local church you attended responded to the Paris attacks of Saturday 14 November, 2015 (NZT). It should take around 5-10 minutes to complete.

The survey is also being undertaken in two NZ denominations, to provide a geographic contrast alongside the networks of social media. The more people that participate that better, so do please share the link. (If you’ve also received a link via email, please use that one rather than this social media one: it’ll make analysis easier)

The research will be used in ongoing resourcing of church and worship leaders. Participation is completely voluntary. Unless you give specific permission to be contacted, all responses are anonymous.

Please click on the following link. If that does not work then copy and paste the FULL URL into your web browser: (It will NOT work to put the URL into a search engine). If you have any trouble email

Thank you (in hope) for participating in this research in understanding how local churches respond to global events.

Steve Taylor (Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand) and Lynne Taylor (Researcher, Baptist Churches of New Zealand)

Posted by steve at 01:44 PM

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Place-based theology (updated) with the children of Parihaka

This is a helpful introduction to place-based theology by Richard Twiss.

In five minutes he provides a number of explicit theological resources that might encourage a place-based theology. He draws on culture, that of the Navaho people, to suggest the importance of a relationship with earth as part of identity and belonging. He then turns to Scripture. First, 2 Chronicles 7:14, and the phrase “heal their land.” Which, he notes, means land can be broken. Second, he references 2 Samuel 21:1-14,

While both are Old Testament Scriptures, they do offer an understanding of connection between place and identity. Next, Twiss turns to place-based education, which immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, using these as a foundation for the study. Drawing these threads together, Twiss encourages place-based theology.

Twiss is not alone. In Australia, indigenous woman, Denise Champion has written Yarta Wandatha,
(see my review here). The title is Adnyamathanha for “land is speaking, people are speaking.” It offers an wonderful example of place-based theology, telling stories of land, in order that “ngakarra nguniangkulu,” God is revealing so that we can see (Yarta Wandatha, 28). I also see links with Celtic theology, for example in the understanding of thin places, a Celtic understanding of physical locations in which God is especially present. It has academic rigour, for example in Philip Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity and Living Between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Spirituality.

I have experimented with place-based theology by taking students to places. I have reflected on the potential in walking the art, which then became a floor talk at the launch of an art festival. I have wondered about teaching New Zealand mission by going to places – to Bay of Islands, Waitangi, Rotorua, Parihaka, Anzac day memorials. Now I’m wondering what an assignment might look like, in which students not only engage with place, but seek to construct their own place-based theology.

Updated: This is another example of place-based education, and thus potentially place-based theology (a review here).

It is about place; places from history in which people lived. The places remain today and can be visited, as part of remembering. In remembering (an act at the heart of identity formation for the people of Israel) respect is paid, identity is formed and connections are made.

This has links with one of the rich insights from Yarta Wandatha, in which Aunty Denise uses story, of her father, to introduce Anhangha idla ngukanandhakai (28) – “living in the memories.” This becomes a way to understand tradition, and to connect that to place. Is this what is happening in Tatarakihi – The Children of Parihaka and in place-based theology?

Posted by steve at 03:07 PM

Monday, November 16, 2015

Flags as lament: Brooke Fraser for Paris, Beirut, Kenya and violence

Brooke Fraser’s song “Flags” (from the 2010 Flags) album) became a place of thoughtful healing over the weekend. Certainly the weekend brought news that was “plenty of trouble, from which we’re all reeling.” The suggestion, to “listen,” to news of lives flapping empty (“our lives blow about, Like flags on the land)”.

There is something disturbing, challenging even, in the line “My enemy and I are one and the same.” The reminder that Jihadists are humans, who have mothers and brothers, and they will awake today to grieve a dead son. What will they be feeling? And to wonder what drives a human, a person born vulnerable like me, to such extreme acts.

And then her turning to Scripture; with the verses that reference the Beautitudes. In these verses (pun intended) is a place to feel – “to mourn, to weep.” In these verses is faith, not in triumph but in reversal; for the innocents who have fallen and the monsters who have stood; “I know the last shall me first.”

Which gives me a place to act: To listen, to feel, to retain the will to faith. Thanks Brooke.

Come, tell me your trouble
I’m not your answer
But I’m a listening ear

Reality has left you reeling
All facts and no feeling
No faith and all fear

I don’t know why a good man will fall
While a wicked one stands
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land

Who’s at fault is not important
Good intentions lie dormant
And we’re all to blame

While apathy acts like an ally
My enemy and I are one and the same

I don’t know why the innocents fall
While the monsters still stand
And our lives blow about
Like flags on the land

I don’t know why our words are so proud
Yet their promise so thin
And our lives blow about
Like flags in the wind

Oh oh oh oh

You who mourn will be comforted
You who hunger will hunger no more
All the last shall be first
Of this I am sure

You who weep now will laugh again
All you lonely, be lonely no more
Yes, the last will be first
Of this I’m sure

I don’t know why the innocents fall
While the monsters stand
I don’t know why the little ones thirst
But I know the last shall be first
I know the last shall be first
I know the last shall be first

For more of my writing on lament and popular culture, see U2 and lament for Pike River; which became a book chapter in Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, when I worked with a colleague, Liz Boase, to explore Paul Kelly’s concert response to the Black Saturday bushfires and U2’s response to the Pike River mining tragedy.

Posted by steve at 06:22 AM

Friday, November 13, 2015

Steve Taylor, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant”

My practical theology of community gardens is now online, published by Urban Seed. It is one of 16 contributions, which are summarised here. They were all presented at Urban Life Together: Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods, which was a grass roots missiology conference organised by Urban Seed on October 17-18, 2014. Conference contributors were invited to submit their presentations, which were then peer reviewed and copy edited, before being made available online – in order to enhance access.

-1 Here’s the summary of my contribution:


Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhood. This paper considers gardens in Scripture, start, middle and end. It researches the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens. The story of each is brought into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1–12 and 1 Cor 3:6–9. The insights from this dialogue between Scripture and two urban garden case studies is then enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is a documentary about an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden. Both point to the power and potential of a seasonal spirituality. Throughout this paper, beginning and end, is also woven experience—mine—into the place and potential of gardens in mission and ministry. The argument from Scripture, case study, film and experience is that gardens invite us and our neighbours to become good, plot by plot and plant by plant.

In this small thing is all of creation! God made it, God cares for it, God loves it. (A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich)

In some ways, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant” is is something I’ve been writing all my life. It became words because I wanted to reflect missiologically on community ministry, specifically community gardens. There is my personal interest in gardening, woven with research into inner-city community gardens, Scriptural reflection and my film reviewing. It is online here.

Posted by steve at 07:01 AM

Thursday, November 12, 2015

writing less because I’m writing more

Readers of my blog will have noticed a down turn in words on the blog. My blogging halved when I became Principal of Uniting College of Leadership and Theology.


It has pretty much halved again since I became Principal at KCML. The irony is that in both situations, I am actually writing more.

In regard to Knox, currently, I am making sure and steady progress on the Built for Change book project. I began writing in June. I tested some material in public – Creative Renewal in action – with a Mission Network at the end of July. I wrote that up as a book proposal and signed a contract in September.

The book project is getting the best of my writing time and I suspect that is a major reason for the decline in blogging. I was meant to delivery a finished manuscript at the middle of October, but given I was moving countries, that was probably a bit optimistic. The publisher has asked for 40-50,000 words. I’ve currently got 35,000 words that I’m pretty comfortable with and a chapter structure that is becoming tighter and tighter. It is a practical theology of innovation, in which I am taking multiple stories of change and exploring them theologically, with a particular focus on Paul’s understanding of ministry, informed by a Trinitarian lens.  I’d hope to complete by the end of November!

In regard to the Uniting College, I will leave you a picture.


I have a spiritual practice of journalling and as part of packing to move countries, I was collecting all my journals together. On a whim, I grouped them according to each of my placements.

  • In 9 years church planting, I filled 6 journals
  • In 6 years Senior Pastor, I filled 3 journals
  • In 2.5 years, Director of Missiology, I filled 2 journals
  • In 3.5 your, Principal, I filled 7 journals

Less blogging, but actually writing more. Is there any wisdom to be gleaned from this, I wonder?


Posted by steve at 07:20 AM

Monday, November 02, 2015

Moving into the neighborhood: a missiological conversation with Good Neighbors

At the heart of Christian faith is the challenge to be a good neighbor. In John 1:14, Jesus moves into the neighborhood, while in Mark 12:31, Jesus invites us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. In recent times, a major theme in Western understandings of mission has revolved around moving into the neighborhood. Excellent books like Simon Carey Holt’s, God Next Door and Al Roxburgh’s, Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood (Allelon Missional Series) provide a rich theology of place. The Parish Collective exists to encourage Christians to love their neighborhoods.

All of which makes Sylvie Tissot’s, Good Neighbors: Gentrifying Diversity in Boston’s South End an important read. It is a study of a gentrifying suburb in Boston’s South End. Tissot uses ethnography, which allows her to undertake a structural analysis, focused on the local agencies. It analyses how mixing across social groups is defined and controlled. Her argument is that “enthusiasm for diversity ultimately translates into a form of power that operates on a particular combination of inclusion and exclusion.” (6)

“One last specificity is the gentrifiers’ inordinate taste for espresso, cappuccino and other drinks considered sophisticated in the United States.” (8)

Introduction (1-10)

“Gentrification, the rehabilitation of old and degraded neighborhoods as wealthier households move in, is one of the most flagrant manifestations of inequalities that mark the twenty-first century.” (1) Everyone seems resigned to the fact that it is an inevitable social process. Tissot chooses Boston because it has sought as a city to value the neighborhood and because it represents the victory of an arriving upper-middle class in what was a working-class suburb. A key instrument was the use of participatory planning processes, along with the concept of diversity. It is a challenging and provocative thesis, one that Tissot claims she will make by analysing four planes – politics (Chapter 2), morality (Chapter 3), culture (Chapter 4) and public space (Chapter 5).

Chapter 1 (11-36)
This locates the research, researcher and the neighborhood. Between 2004 and 2010, she uses standard ethnography tools of attending (visits over 6 years) and interviewing (77 people). Tissot argues that this is the value of ethnography, a particularity shaped by physical proximity and scientific distance (25). Her method includes finding interlocutors, people who provide different perspectives on the community.

She explores the role “played by neighbourhood associations, the vast majority of whose members were white homeowners” (12). She realizes that what on the surface appears to be an upper class suburb in fact has significant proportions of working class.

“Taking the time to walk around the neighbourhood … I … discovered the still-visible and daily presence of the “undesirables,” and with each stay, my impression that white owners exercised a uniform control over public spaces diminished.” (31)

She will argue that while the upper class claim they value diversity, in fact they have used their influence, primarily through voluntary associations, to create the perception of homogeneity.

Chapter 2 (37-78)
This chapter explores history of neighbourhood. It paints a picture of an ecology, the systems of local government and local community, enmeshed with wider economic and urban developments. It is a mistake to view a neighbourhood as autonomous. Rather it is shaped by an interlocking mesh of groups and structures.

The focus of this chapter is tracing the urban struggles of the 1960s and how they generated an activism that included neighbourhood committees – “resident participation” organised “democratically.” (48) It begins because ethnic-minority activists during the 1960 protest urban renewal strategies. Yet by the turn of the century, upper middle class appropriated these structures.

How did these diverse associations develop into more monochrome? “Efficient professionalism replaced the amateurism of the activists of yesteryear.” (69) Competent people in fact contribute to socioeconomic exclusion. “Websites and e-mail lists provided an opportunity for those who had mastered these techniques to introduce new rules.” (70) In other words, if you want to plan with people, key justice question include who you plan with, and how you plan?

They generate authority by seeming to be committed to diversity. What is the social imagination that adds power to these concepts, mobilizing around values? Addressing this question is the task of the next chapter, as it explores how collective action happens.

Posted by steve at 06:49 PM