Thursday, March 31, 2016

Letter to the editor March 31 2016

My recent letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times has just been published! A little flag wave for justice. Ten days after submission, but still a point worth making.

The ODT (19 March) leads with the headline: “Camp site like ‘refugee camp.’” It quotes Brandon O’Callaghan comparing a Gibbston camping ground to a “Syrian refugee camp.”

The article mentions 200 people camping. The Za’atari refugee camp holds 83,000 refugees. The leading ODT photo shows twenty parked cars, with people relaxing on camping chairs. Syrian refugees walk, arriving at Za’atari desperate for food and water. 86% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line, a far cry from the financial resources freedom campers require to navigate Aotearoa New Zealand.

In a short time, Dunedin City will welcome Syrian refugees. What will they make of Dunedin’s leading newspaper making such pronouncements about the realities they have experienced?

Freedom camping is a problem needing solving. Misleading headlines add more heat than light. Can I suggest the ODT do some fact checking in order to run headlines more accurate and compassionate.

Dr Stephen Taylor

Posted by steve at 03:05 PM

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory

There’s an interesting conference in Wellington, 9-10 June, 2016. It is sponsored by UNESCO and Victoria University. Titled Woven Together? Christianity and Development between New Zealand and the Pacific, it will examine Christianity as a development actor, investigating the roles that Christianity has played in influencing development and humanitarian practices, ideologies, rituals, networks and imaginations in the Pacific. It is a wide brief, interested in all aspects of the interweaving of Christianity and development in the Pacific.

Given the role of the Presbyterian Church of Aoteroa New Zealand in the Pacific, particularly Vanuatu, I contacted Phil King from Global Mission and suggested involvement. Phil King and I began work on a potential contribution. We have had excellent help from Archives, who have located some rich historical documents.

Abstracts are due 26 March, 2016, and here is what Phil and I have submitted.

The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of the relationship between Talua Ministry Training Centre and three denominations in Australia and New Zealand

Dr Steve Taylor and Rev Phil King

An essential dimension of Christianity in the Pacific is theological education. A common pattern involved denominations establishing a general school, to teach practical and theological topics. By paying close attention to local language and patterns, a contextualised and economically self-sustaining mode of training emerged.

Dramatic changes occurred in the 1960’s. New institutions emerged. These were centralised and ecumenical, teaching university level theological education in English. They relied on a different economic model and contextual approaches.

This becomes obvious when Talua Ministry Training Centre, Vanuatu, is examined. At Talua, three denominations from Australia and New Zealand are involved. Each can be theorised, drawing on archival research, as an actor, complexifying the development of Talua. Each is also being acted upon, facing internal tensions regarding gender and contextualisation, which in turn have impacted Talua. Being woven together requires paying attention to a shifting set of complexities, including economic dependency, partnership and contextuality.

For me, it is important that church-based mission agencies are present and thinking in these places. I consider it a sort of “public” missiology, in which activity and history is reflected upon in wider contexts. So I’ve also contacted Uniting World in Australia, suggesting they could be making a contribution.

Posted by steve at 08:13 AM

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gurrumul and Paul Kelly – Amazing Grace

It seems a fitting song for today, for Holy Week, for all those caught in the shadow of human exploitation and violence.

Gurrumul and Paul Kelly – Amazing Grace from Resolution Media on Vimeo.

There is an alternative narrative, a way of being across cultures, a way of seeing even through (Gurrumul’s) darkened eyes, a way of embracing hope despite the religious violence of imposed colonisation.

Posted by steve at 09:32 AM

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rejuvenation in the Church: some theological notes (Candour repost)

(This is a piece I was asked to write for Candour, a blog for Presbyterian Church leaders, in January this year. )

Much of my thinking about a theology of rejuvenation was shaped during the early days of a difficult change process. I was working with a traditional church experiencing steady decline. Expecting resistance, I referred often in my sermons to the numerical decline of the last few decades. After a few months, an older gentleman commented quietly, “It wasn’t all bad you know.”

The comment got me thinking. Were my references to decline working against our shared desire for rejuvenation? I found myself reflecting on the change images used by Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus begins his ministry by declaring himself an agent of transformation, anointed by God to initiate shalom. [Luke 4:18-19] He describes his ministry using images of mustard seeds, yeast and grains of wheat. [Matthew 13; specifically 31-32; 33; 45-46; John 12:24] He commissions the church – as the Father sent me, so I sent you – as an agent of rejuvenation, to partner with the shalom of Jesus. [John 20:21]

Challenged, I threw away my graphs of decline. Instead, I gave out sunflower seeds. Creation grows and changes. Humans grow and change. I found myself tapping into what I now understand as a Trinitarian theology of rejuvenation.

As Christians we understand God relates to us in relationships: to create, reconcile and make all things new. Let me apply this pattern to rejuvenation.

In Genesis 2, God is pictured as creating a garden. The words used to describe the activities of God include

Maker,

Former of people,

Breather of life,

Planter,

Pleasant to look at.

Into God’s garden, humans are placed, to work and care. [Genesis 2:15] Rejuvenation begins when we recognise ourselves as gardeners with God, creating environments of visual pleasure and practical nurture.

On Easter morning, the first encounters with the Resurrected Jesus are in a garden. A body is transformed, hope is updated, all of creation is reconciled. [Colossians 1:20] At the same time resurrection challenges a theology of rejuvenation. We see this clearly in John 12:24. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In Christ, rejuvenation is only entered through death.

Revelation ends in the garden. “Behold, I am making all things new,” is a song of rejuvenation. The verbs of Revelation 21:5, when placed alongside the list of verbs in Genesis 2, give a sense of the Revelation garden completing the Genesis garden.

Maker -> Making

Former of people -> All things new

Breather of life -> Healing

Pleasant to look at -> No curse

The harmonies begun with Creator God, heard in Re-creator God in Resurrection, are completed in the Revelation making of all things new. The trees are for rejuvenation, the “healing of the nations.” [Rev 22:2]

This provides a theological and relational pattern for rejuvenation. It is one based on the three persons of the Trinity. Another pattern is present in the processions of God in mission. In the Creeds, the Church declares both “God from God, Light from Light” and the Spirit “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This is how God rejuvenates, in the mission of the Son in the incarnation and the inspiration of the Spirit who draws creation together in grace. This pattern allows us to discern what it means to participate in God’s rejuvenation, whether inside or outside the church. [I am summarising the work of Paul Fiddes, Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context]

Let me end by returning to the story I began with. Three months after I gave out sunflowers, I was shown a photo, of the older gentleman’s grandson, standing dwarfed by a sunflower, planted from one of those seeds. Such is the power and potential of a theology of rejuvenation. For the church, it means that

  • Rejuvenation has a theology when it finds itself within this arc of creation, redemption and the making of all things new.
  • Rejuvenation has a shape, as it expresses the patterns of the mission of God in Incarnation and Integration.
  • The rejuvenation of the church is a subset of God’s work in creation. The Genesis garden is for humanity, God loves the world redemptively in Jesus, Revelation is for the healing of the nations.
  • God is the active agent, initiating and sustaining rejuvenation.

This was the good news my church needed to hear, not my bad tidings of great decline.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. This article is developed more extensively in his forthcoming Built for Change: Innovation and Collaboration in leadership (Australia: Mediacom).

Posted by steve at 08:58 AM

Friday, March 18, 2016

“says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what U2 has done”

c6016d10682061148d818b5ac2b57716 A very thorough review of U2: Above, Across, and Beyond—Interdisciplinary Assessments, edited by Scott Calhoun, has recently appeared in the Cleveland Examiner. “This is heady stuff written by individuals who’ve given serious thought to U2’s “missteps, disappointments, failures…and ordinary problems.” …. As is the norm with a Lexington publication, Above, Across is … a college-worthy appreciation of its subject.” High praise indeed.

In terms of my chapter, “Transmitting Memories” there is an extended, positive, engagement.

Flinders University senior lecturer Steve Taylor sifts through Bono’s in-concert “lyrical departures” from the recorded versions of key tracks to arrive at an understanding of how the band memorializes people, places, and events during performances—thereby manufacturing unique new moments for the ticketholders in attendance. Spring-boarding from his discovery of a shout-out to the thirteen-years-dead Frank Sinatra in a live version of “Until the End of the World,” Taylor comments upon Bono’s many mentions of past concerts, prior locations…and dead people (Eunice Shriver, Greg Carroll, buried miners in New Zealand) from the stage, and how these seemingly unscripted one-liners establish both an oral history of the band and a “collective memory” for concert audiences.

“What would motivate such changes?” Taylor ponders.

Calendrical repetition, verbal repetition, and gestural repetition conspire upon U2’s gargantuan stages, weaving a ritualistic tapestry the band tosses over audiences like a playful papa blinding a laughing toddler with her “woobie.” There’s more than meets the eye when Bono waves at Larry behind the drums, thrusts a finger in the air, or points his microphone at fans in the front row. These are “concert-rical” connections that make each show special and enhance the universal appeal of each tour after the fact.

Remember Bono’s white flag at Red Rocks (Under a Blood Red Sky), or how he danced with a girl from the audience at Live Aid? These small, spontaneous gestures mean a lot in the long run, says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what the band has done.”

For the full review, by Pete Roche, in the Cleveland Examiner, go here. For a summary of my next U2 chapter – She moves in mysterious ways: a theology of “sexy music” – check out here. For the book, in paperback, check out is here.
.

Posted by steve at 07:19 PM

Monday, March 14, 2016

Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology

My abstract for ANZATS 2016. The theme is atonement, which opens some space to reflect on indigenous Christology and develop a sermon I delivered at Port Augusta Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister last year.

Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Steve Taylor and Denise Champion

James McClendon (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology) has argued that biography can remake theology. This methodology is applied to an indigenous Australian, to argue that a post-colonial atonement theology emerges in the biographical telling.

Warrianha__Alfred_Ryan_-41134-51432 Warrianha (Alfred Ryan) was an Adnyamathanha man, born in the Flinders Ranges. He was honoured in 2004 for his contribution over many years in the Coonawarra area as a Police tracker, renowned for his ability to find people. This provides a way to read Psalm 23, in which the Lord is the shepherd who, like an indigenous animal tracker, finds those lost in the valley of death. This suggests atonement as the experience of being found and returned to home and community.

This reading of Psalm 23 is strengthened by the work of Kenneth Bailey (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), who listened to indigenous peoples in the Middle East. Bailey argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices.

This provides another category by which to engage Indigenous Australian stories. Biography as theology, as in the life of Warrianha, is a different type of story in contrast to indigenous dreaming stories. Further, it is the story of working across cultures, among the Buandig nation, rather than among his Adnyamathanha people. McClendon’s conviction is that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution. Warrianha’s life offers potential for those doing theology in a post-colonial age, as a place-specific indigenous Christology that crosses nations.

Note: It is hoped that the presentation at ANZATS will be done in partnership with Warrianha’s great niece, Rev Denise Champion, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister, Port Augusta, South Australia.

Posted by steve at 08:04 PM

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Acceptance: New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning

I’m delighted with the news, received yesterday, that my New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning in a higher education context paper has been accepted for BERA (British Educational Research Association). The BERA conference is in Leeds, in September 13-15, 2016. It is just after two other conferences I am hoping to present at. More importantly, it is a chance to take my research on flipped learning, which I undertook in 2014, as part of teaching Christology, into a context that is both international and educational.

christologyclass

It is important to research the impact on learners when we make changes, hence why I did the initial research. It is one thing to present that research to theologians (I have presented at ANZATS in 2015). It’s another to present that research to educators, to slip out of my discipline and engage with another. So I’m delighted that my paper was accepted and look forward, with some nervousness, to the opportunity to engage.

Here is the abstract:

New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning in a higher education context

Flipped learning, like any new kid in town, finds itself undergoing careful scrutiny. A Review of Flipped Learning (2013) identified the need for further qualitative research, including its potential to engage diverse learners across cultures and subgroups. This paper investigates the impact on learners when flipped learning is introduced into a higher education undergraduate theology topic. Traditionally, theology has privileged Western discourse. Can flipped learning be a useful ally in encouraging globalisation and personalisation?

A 2014 Flinders University Community of Practice research project implemented three pedagogical strategies. These included the introduction of indigenous voices to encourage personalised learning, the use of Blooms Taxonomy to scaffold activities in-class time and digital participation to cultivate the learning culture. These addressed all four pillars (Flexible Environment, Learning Culture, Intentional content, Professional educator) of flipped learning (The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™, (2014)).

Students completed a four question written survey at the start, middle and end of the topic. The results indicated a significant shift. Students had moved from an initial appreciation of content, to a consideration of how they learn from the diversity inherent among their peers. Students perceived that the changes had enhanced their ability to communicate effectively and expressed a preference for choice, collaboration and diversity. However, feedback from Student Evaluation of Teaching responses, assignments and interaction with students was mixed. While overall people affirmed flipped learning, some expressed a desire to return to traditional lecture modes.

This data can be theorised using the notion of learning as a social act, shaped by learner agency. Preston (“Braided Learning,” 2008) observed that students fill different roles in an on-line learning community. Some act as e-facilitators, others as braiders or accomplished fellows. Each of these roles depend on agency being given to, and received by, fellow learners. Student assignments demonstrated that these roles were present during in class-time and further, that the pedagogical strategies implemented were essential in inviting students into these roles. In contrast, students who expressed concern about flipped learning indicated either a desire to preserve the percieved purity of an objective academic experience or a reluctance to trust student agency.

This suggests that the success of flipped learning depends not on the technological ability to produce videos. Rather it depends on pedagagical strategies, including those that help learners appreciate agency in their peers. In sum, the desire to learn from any new kid in the class remains at the core of the educative experience.

- Dr Steve Taylor, Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Flinders University, South Australia

Posted by steve at 04:08 PM

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Acceptance Notice Mysterious Ways: U2 And Religion

BellyDancer_main-300x286 I was delighted to hear today that my proposed chapter for a book on U2 and Religion has been accepted. The book, titled Mysterious Ways, is to be published by Bloomsbury Press, sometime in 2017. My chapter will pick up on some work I did in 2010, around Sarah Coakley, pneumatology and U2. It is good to have a chance to revisit the work and to be able to position it slightly differently by focusing directly on Mysterious Ways. Here is what the chapter will explore:

She moves in mysterious ways: a theology of “sexy music”
Dr Steve Taylor

This chapter argues that U2’s live performances of “Mysterious ways” offer an ecstatic, sonic and participative theology. The song, described by Bono as “sexy music,” has gained critical and popular acclaim.

Performed live 584 times, “Mysterious ways” has gone through three distinct live phases. The first involved an on-stage belly dancer, moving always out of reach of Bono’s stretching fingertips. The second involved a female member of the audience joining Bono live on stage to dance. The third involved a re-worked conclusion. The lyrics “She moves, We move, s/Spirit teach me” were sung as Bono extended his arms upward and outward. Simultaneously the lighting, until then tightly focused on the band, rolled outward over the audience. Together these three phases – performer on stage, the audience member as performer on stage, the audience as performer – become an incorporative, participative and sonic theology.

This conclusion is reached by bringing the performances of “Mysterious ways” into conversation with British theologian, Sarah Coakley, who calls for an understanding of God’s Holy Spirit as gendered, sexualised and ecstatic. She argues from Romans 8:22-27 that God is experienced only through a profound entanglement with the ecstasies of human sexual desire. For Coakley, feminine metaphors (birth pains) and the mysterious ways of the non-rational realm (wordless groans) describe divine participation. Coakley’s theology gives words to the performative phrases of “Mysterious ways,” making sense of a theology of “sexy music,” in which the audience is invited to “move with” the dancing s/Spirit.

Three points of departure are important. Regarding performance, if Bono is inviting the audience to “move with” it, how does an incorporative, participative pneumatology honour the individual in the concert experience? Coakley helps by calling attention to the Spirit’s ceaseless “moves” irrespective of human participation. This complicates and enriches all three of Bono’s performative modes.

Regarding theology, Coakley commends prayer as silent contemplation. U2 provide a stark contrast, offering rock, specifically the Edges’ chiming bar chords, played through an effects unit. U2’s approach provides another way to understand “wordless groans,” as a sound scape. This reading would complicate and enrich Coakley’s understanding of the ecstatic.

This line of enquiry can be developed using the work of Endrinal (2012) who has analysed the introduction by U2 in Achtung Baby of multiregister vocal layering to provide a rich sonic signature. This can be helpfully set alongside evidence of the growing influence on U2 of North African and African-American musical traditions. “Sexy music” is thus communicated sonically, as well as through performance and theology.

Hence bringing “Mysterious Ways” into conversation with Coakley provides a theology of “sexy music” in U2. The Spirit moves in a soundscape that is ecstatic, sonic and participative. This provides a different place to locate the mystery of religious experience, in the beat and bass of a rock concert.

Dr Steve Taylor,
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.

This will be my sixth publication in the area of U2 in the last five years:

Which is a somewhat unexpected (“mysterious” even) move in my writing. However I do enjoy the opportunity to think theologically, particularly through the lens of lament and liturgy, so I’m delighted to participate in this project.

Posted by steve at 02:48 PM

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Spotlight: a theological 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 February 2016.

Spotlight
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Spotlight” is sobering, yet compulsory viewing. It is the story of Pullitzer Prize winning reporters from the Boston Globe, who broke the story of Boston’s systematic coverup of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The statistics are heart-rending, with 240 Priests implicated and over 10,000 victims.

Take a moment to consider those numbers before you read on.

Lest Touchstone readers point the finger and say “Only in America,” we have in Australia the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. At the half way stage, the Royal Commission had received 13,256 allegations, half of which relate to faith based-institutions, some of which involve priests who served in New Zealand. Research indicates that levels of pedophilia are the same in the Catholic church as in the general population. What “Spotlights” uncovers is the ability of institutions to play “here – surely – no evil, so speak no evil.”

The script is superb. To ensure factual accurancy the original reporters were interviewed. The unfolding narrative, while viewed through the reporters lens, allows us to meet victims, abusing priests, and clever lawyers. The result is an understated movie, in which illumination comes through fact, rather than emotion. This is reinforced by the actors. Stars, including Mark Ruffalo (as reporter Mike Rezendes), Micheal Keaton (as reporter Walter Robinson) and Rachel McAdams (as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer) act in ways that preserve the spotlight for the victims, rather than the red carpet.

“Spotlight” illuminates dark places in both church and city. It is the church that in the movie is shown to have paid victims to keep silence, while quietly shuffling priests into other positions. It is the city, including press, PR and lawyers, that let the perceived “no evil” of the church outweigh the pain of each child. As lawyer for the victims, Mitchell Garabedian, notes, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”

The movie raises significant questions for faith. How to trust ourselves to be the church, if the church does this? One place to turn is the work of theologian and ethicist Richard Burridge. In Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics, Burridge asks how we can trust the Bible, given it was used to legitimate apartheid. Burridge notes four common approaches to reading the Bible. These include proof texting to provide rules, applying principles to life, finding examples to follow and following an overarching, singular viewpoint. Each of these approaches was evident in South Africa, both to legitimate and to protest apartheid.

Instead of giving up on the Bible, Burridge encourages a community-based approach, which insists that Bible reading occur in communities that are open, diverse and inclusive. This requires disarming the power of the pulpit and cultivating the “ordinary reader” through contextual Bible study. For Burridge, it was a lack of openness that lead the Dutch Reformed Church to justify apartheid Scripturally. For “Spotlight,” it was the lack of openness in Boston that allowed the child abuse to remain hidden. This becomes our challenge, to raise our children in villages that are open, rather than closed.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is 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 03:43 PM