Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Theologies of the Walking Dead

So, in a strange turn of events, I find myself researching the walking dead. And in so doing, being offered airfares to Adelaide in October and some research assistance.

The walking dead are part of the Easter story, for in Matthew 27:51-53 “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

But what to make of this strange story. And how to conduct research on this Biblical text?

First, the backdrop. In order to maintain my post-graduate supervisions, I have retained my status as Senior Lecturer in Theology at Flinders University.

Second, the events. In March, I was emailed by a lecturer in the English Department at Flinders University, asking if I would be willing to be part of a proposed Flinders research project, titled “Immortal Austen.” It involves an international conference marking the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death. It also involves a desire to broaden Austen studies by inviting researchers in light of disciplines other than English to think about Austen. The aim is a research symposium, with the papers becoming a special journal issue “Undisciplined Austen.”

The email concluded: “I notice you have an interest in religion in popular culture, so I wonder perhaps if you might be interested in considering Austen (whether the novels, modern adaptations, or even the various popular constructions of Austen) from a theological or religious angle?”

Third, the response. In some jest I replied, noting that I had not actually (embarrassed cough), read Austen. But my teenagers had been watching Pride And Prejudice And Zombies

And I noted, as I walked past the TV a few times, that it did have zombie church services and links to the book of Revelation. I also noted a number of academic studies of zombie theology, including Kim Paffenroth, Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth. Published by Baylor Press, no less! So, I replied, still somewhat in jest, I could examine zombies in Jane Austen.

Fourth, the result. A very excited group of researchers, keen to welcome my input, successful in their research bid, which included a trip to Adelaide, research assistance and the invitation to participate in a theology of the walking dead.

Strange days. Strange times.

Posted by steve at 10:13 PM

Friday, April 21, 2017

Researching the future

wonder I’ve spent the last few days pulling together two keynote addresses I am giving in Sydney next weekend. The conference is hosted by the Sydney College of Divinity and is focused on Learning and Teaching, with the theme of Wondering about God together. My preparation has involved trying to stitch together a number of projects sitting on my hard drive, including
– parts of my Flinders Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching application
– some research I presented at the Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in 2015, on activist research.
– a conference abstract I had accepted for BERA (British Educational Research Association) 2016 (which I had to withdraw from due to work and budget pressures)

It has also involved working in partnership with a colleague, Rosemary Dewerse, who has provided invaluable research assistance. I wanted to offer a “sector” survey – of trends in online learning and research in theological education – and Rosemary has been a superb collaborator.

It is my first international academic keynote/s so I am pretty excited. Here are the two abstracts:

Researching the future 1: the contribution of flipped learning to innovation in theological education
Steve Taylor and Rosemary Dewerse

The focus of this paper is learner-centered teaching. Research shows that only 5% of university class time involved active student participation (Maryellen Weimer, Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, Jossey-Bass, 2002). This is considered in relation to the particular demands of teaching theology, which include a student cohort that is often mature and highly invested.

A number of strategies to increase student participation are outlined, drawn from the authors’ own experience. These include attention to classroom interaction, industry-shaped assessment, tutorial design, curricula development and flipped learning.

Given flipped learning is a recent innovation being shaped by changes in technology, it is considered in more depth. Three lines of inquiry are pursued, including as a strategy for increasing student participation, integration with Bloom’s taxonomy and in dialogue with current research into transformative learning, in particular the role of technology in learner centred teaching.

The argument is that learner-centred teaching needs to take technology seriously. However this needs to be nuanced, given that teaching is a profoundly social activity. Paying attention to the voice of student peers is an essential dimension of the learning experience. While technology is an important innovation in attending to this dimension of teaching, equally as important are the pedagogical strategies that enable learners to appreciate agency in themselves and their peers.

Researching the future 2: The implications of activist research for theological scholarship

Steve Taylor and Rosemary Dewerse

The focus of this paper is research-led teaching. The conference theme, of wonder, is applied to the actions of researching our teaching. The notion of researching our teaching raises important identity questions in relation to research, researched and researcher.

The insights of activist research are applied as a theoretical framework which enables us to attend to our identity as theologians (speaking of God’s Kingdom) and teachers (wanting to impact students). The implications of action research are further developed by undertaking a sector survey. This involves applying the work of Ernest Boyer to an analysis of journals, sector bodies and publications in theology. What emerges is a picture of a sector that has prioritised research in the domain of discovery, yet has given little encouragement to the domain of research from teaching and learning.

This is inconsistent with the multiple investments, both as educators and from our key industry partners, who work with us in this sector. I propose four theses:
• Each of us are activist researchers because we care about our content and our communities
• Our denominational stakeholders value activism, our teaching more than our research
• We as a theological sector are weak overall in our research outputs
• Researching our teaching as activist researchers provides an opportunity for us to align our multiple investments and investors and attend to our weakness as a sector

To make this concrete, I outline a set of first steps, under headings of informal research, institutional feedback and researching practice. In the midst of massive social change, the invitation, and imperative, is for us as a theological sector to wonder together by researching our teaching practice.

Posted by steve at 11:24 AM

Thursday, April 13, 2017

God the pain bearer Easter communion

IMG_4766 I was asked to lead a short Easter communion service at an Christian-based justice agency today. I have been developing a relationship with them over the last 18 months, wanting to explore how to train ministers that can connect with communities and community development. So sharing communion seemed an appropriate next step

I decided to focus on God as pain bearer. It is a phrase from a contemporary version of the Lords Prayer, it is a large part of the Easter story and it is a way of understanding the vocation of this Christian-based justice agency, as bearing the pain in the community.

IMG_4767 I began with newspapers and invited people to find a headline or picture of pain, tear it out and place it around the cross. I found a version of “Te Ariki,” sung by prisoners and recorded in a prison. The lines in Maori “Oh Lord, listen to us.  Oh Lord, look at us. This is us, your children” seemed an appropriate backdrop to our connecting with the pain of the world. You can even hear prison doors slamming in the background. (from The Inside Volume 1: Auckland Prisons. Recorded at Paremoremo and Mt Eden Prison in July 1991 by Te Ao Marama Productions).

IMG_4768 I chopped the Easter events into 4 sections (the Dramatised Bible is a great resource for this type of reading).
– the pain bearing of Easter Thursday
– the pain bearing of Easter Friday morning
– the pain bearing of Easter Friday afternoon
– the pain bearing of Easter Friday evening

This story of pain bearing does not wave a magic wand or seek quick fix. It is rather an invitation to sit with and be among. That allowed us to hear the words of communion as a “Take, eat, this is my pain bearing body broken for you.” And the epiclesis (the invoking of the Spirit upon the Eucharistic bread and wine) as a request for the Spirit to strengthen us as painbearers.

At a personal level, it has been a particularly difficult few months at work, with significant internal and external pressures. Sitting here, leading worship with people committed to justice in the community, was a reminder of call and focus. I’m happiest not as an administrator but as a creative thinker making interactive spaces. It was a privilege I was grateful for.

For those interested: here is the entire service script (more…)

Posted by steve at 01:17 PM

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Listening in mission practical course


Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership is inviting ministry practitioners into a listening in mission practical learning course. Listening is an active process, in which we grow by doing. It begins with action, stepping into the space of another. It proceeds by “double listening” – to God and people. Online technologies will be used to support ministers in undertaking a practical project in their community.

Participants will commit to 6 online sessions (including the first introductory webinar) with ministry colleagues and the KCML team of Mark Johnston, Rosemary Dewerse and Steve Taylor. Participants will also commit to a practical local project, gathering a team of 4-6 from their church to engage in 4 guided listening local exercises. As a result, a spirituality of presence, community building, attentiveness, discernment, experimentation will be encouraged.

Free information webinar Wednesday, May 3, 4:45-5:45 pm.

Then 4:45-6:15 pm
May 24 
July 26 
Aug 30
Sept 20
Oct 25

Places limited. Booking and queries to Steve Taylor:

Posted by steve at 10:11 PM

Monday, April 03, 2017

Silence: a theological film review

ticket-1543115-640x480 Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for April 2017.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Silence is recommended viewing in the season of Lent. The movie is an extended passion play, in which multiple characters follow Jesus to the cross. Two Jesuit missionaries (Andrew Garfield as Father Rodrigues and Adam Driver as Garupe) believe they are called by God to Japan. It is the seventeeth century and as they travel, they hear rumours of a persecution so brutal that their confessor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has committed apostasy. Silence thus becomes an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the complexity of discipleship unto death.

The strong of faith will find in Silence there is room for doubt. There are the intellectual accusations and theological questions posed by the Japanese interrogator (Issey Ogata as Inoue Masashige). Is missionary religious zeal a commitment made at the expense of those the missionary professes to serve? How can belief in God be sustained in view of persistent failure? The verbal questions are sharpened by the multiple deeds of denial, as Japanese converts deny their faith and Father Ferreira turns to Buddhism. Silence poses to the strong in faith an unrelenting sequence of faith-denying words and deeds.

For the weak of faith, there is comfort in the character of Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubosuka). Unlike Judas, Kichijiro choses not to follow his denial by death. Instead his continual seeking of forgiveness becomes a test of the Christian commitment to forgiveness seventy times seven. Kichijiro’s enduring presence and repeated failures offer a strange comfort to all who doubt.

Silence: A Novel as a book was written by Shusako Endo, one of Japan’s foremost novelists. The movie rights were acquired by film director, Martin Scorsese over twenty five years ago. Scorsese claims a life long fascination with faith. He considers his movie-making an act of prayer, writing “I wanted to be a priest. My whole life has been movies and religion. That’s it. Nothing else” (Detweiler and Taylor, A Matrix of Meanings: finding God in pop culture, 155). Silence allows Scorsese to apply all the learnings from a career spanning more than fifty years to the topic of religion.

Silence is a rich reminder of a director at the top of their game. At crucial times, the absence of sound amplifies the internal conflicts central to Silence. In silence – offering mass and considering apostasy – Rodrigues makes significant choices. Each choice drives the emotional register of the movie.

A further demonstration of directorial skill is the final scene, in which a dead hand holds an empty crucifix. The symbolism illustrates the unrelenting ambiguity of Silence. Is this a scene of hope, that one can hold onto faith unto death? Or is this suggesting the end of Christianity, as the Christian cross is reduced to ash in the Japanese funeral pyre?

Such are the questions Silence asks of each and every viewer. Keeping alive the questions of the cross is a central task of Christianity. Such is the gift of Silence to all who walk the Lenten journey.

Posted by steve at 10:35 PM