Monday, August 28, 2017

the dangers of heavy in weight research

I have been wondering recently if different types of research carry different weight. In July, I was presenting two papers at two different conferences. One was on indigenous responses to Empire. Titled Converting empire: theologies of church and state in the encounter between British and Maori, it involved some pretty sad reading about the impact of the Great War of 1864 on Maori. A second paper was on Christian theology and sexual violence. Titled Sexual violence in the line of David: The possibilities and limits of recapitulation, it involved some equally sad reading on the impact of sexual violence.

Both papers also invited those who might listen into some difficult spaces. The treatment of indigenous peoples and sexual violence engage us body, mind and soul. Who knows who is in the room, and how they might respond, to presentations that engage heart and head.

I finished both presentations exhausted. There is always a degree of anxiety and nervous tension that goes into a presentation. There is a vulnerability in presenting work to peers. There is the inevitable imposter syndrome – the voices saying I’ve not read enough, that need to be met with the realism of “I never will.”

But this time the exhaustion seemed worse.

This was brought into sharp relief, the next day, when I began looking at a piece of contextual theology, a 63 page comic book titled How to Disappear Completely (2017). I had taken it as holiday reading, intending to enjoy it for pleasure. But within a few hours, I was enormously energised. I had sketched out 750 words. I had done an initial literature review. I found, in a 2nd hand book shop in Bristol, a Faber Gallery book on Stanley Spencer’s Resurrection paintings, which opened up a rich vein of potential comparative enquiry. I had spied a potential arts and culture journal and sent off an enquiry email. I was energised. This was fun.

Placing the two experiences of research side by side within the space of a few days was insightful. Sure it is always more fun (for me anyhow) to start something than end something. But something more was going on. I would suggest that some research is light in weight. Not light weight, but light in weight. It takes me into parts of being human that are creative. These are places of joy and life. Other research is heavy in weight. It takes me into parts of being human that are sad. These are places of pain and heartache. Both are important. I need to invest in both, to be light in weight and heavy in weight. For a time, for the time leading up to the two July conference presentations, I had become out of balance, too heavy in weight!

Unknown-2 Last week, the Stanley Spencer Resurrection paintings book arrived. It sits on my desk. I have made an addition to my research pipeline. Under conceiving new ideas and draft proposals, I have added an investigation into Resurrection today, looking at contemporary depictions

Visualising the resurrection in contemporary urban contexts

How to Disappear Completely is the latest offering from UK artist, Leeds-based, Si Smith. It is a 63 page comic that offers a sophisticated visual engagement with the Lenten journey and the city of Leeds, UK.  A commercial cartoonist by day, by night Smith expresses his faith in ways both visual and playful. Previous work includes 40, a creative imagining of Jesus in the wilderness, Stations of the Resurrection as a set of illustrations reflecting on Jesus’ resurrection today and 25 Advent Flatpack a series of paper-based figures to be assembled in the Christmas build up.
 
This research would bring How to Disappear Completely into conversation first, with the existing body of work, to chart the development of Smith’s visual work.  A key theoretical lens would the work of Scott McCloud, who in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993, 7) defines a comic as “sequential visual art” that works through techniques of “amplification through simplification.” This allows a reading of repeated visual motifs like smoke and pigeons in How to Disappear Completely as visual amplications of human ephemerality in the urban landscape.
 
Second, I would examine the way that Smith’s work can be positioned in conversation with painter, Stanley Spencer. A Spencer quote on page 2 of How to Disappear Completely offers words to introduce reflection on the nature of contemporary vocation. Spencer painted works on Christ in the Wilderness (1939-54) and Resurrection (1945-1950).  He sought to visualise resurrection as ascent, needing to be depicted in the urban streets on which he worked and walked.  How to Disappear Completely is, I would argue, a response to Spencer.  Both work as examples of imaging the resurrection in contemporary urban context.  Placed on conversation, they allow to consider a constant artistic challenge, that of visualising resurrection. They thus present contemporary attempts to visualise the resurrection not as a historical moment but an unfolding contemporary urban transformation.

After the recent heavy in weight research, I need some light in weight research. Both are important.

Posted by steve at 11:48 AM

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

the final lecture – transforming leadership in Vanuatu

The final lecture of my week of teaching at Talua College, was titled Transforming leadership in Vanuatu and I designed the intensive carefully to build toward this final lecture. The aim was to encourage local agency and group application of the lecture material to local context

Talua Memorial lecture

Talua Memorial lecture

On the first day, I had provided two case studies.

Either: You are chairing a leadership meeting. During a discussion of the church budget, two long time members of the church engage in a protracted and tense public exchange. How can you provide effective leadership in this situation (both immediate and during the next week or month)?

Or: You hear news that an overseas company wants to set up a fish factory on an important beach that is part of your village. You are preaching in church the next Sunday. How can you and the church provide effective leadership in this challenge?

Work in a group. Select one of Paul’s images of leadership in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. Discuss with your group how this one image of leadership might guide your response to the challenge. Be prepared to share with the entire class 2 things you would do and thing you would not do.

I noted that on the final day, I would invite groups to present in relation to the case studies. I had workshopped the case studies with Paula Levy, who had recently served with her husband Roger at Talua.

I was delighted that on the last day, twelve groups presented. 7 chose the first case study, on handling conflict. 3 chose the second case study, on the arrival of a foreign fish factory. 2 groups worked on a 3rd assignment, a case study that had come up in class. This involved forgiveness and the question of whether saying sorry on behalf of someone else would allow genuine reconciliation. It was encouraging to see this level of improvisation occurring over the week and a sense of grounded integration.

Each group was able to clearly work between Biblical text and local context, and offer clear and practical next steps in leadership. 5 groups worked on leader as servant, 1 group leader as gardener, 2 groups leader as builder, 1 group leader as resource manager and 2 groups leader as fool – (With 1 group, my Bislama was not good enough to work out which Pauline image they were using).

11 of the groups presented in Bislama, 1 in English. The staff at Talua gave verbal feedback on each of the group presentations. This was verbal, and involved providing affirmations and suggesting improvements. This ensued some rigour and accountability in the learning process.

So in Bislama, this was nambawan (the best) lecture. It was a class essentially taught entirely by the Ni-Van students, as they grounded the material in their context.

Posted by steve at 12:32 PM

Monday, August 21, 2017

Transforming leadership and ecclesial identities

I’ve just spent 7 days on Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, at the invitation of Talua, a Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu theological college. I was asked to speak on transforming leadership over 20 hours and as I prepared, I found myself trying to think missiologically about leadership: ie the movement from a sending God; through discipleship; to leadership – using the biblical images in my Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration book. Given my 6 years serving with the Uniting Church of Australia, who are also, like the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, a partner church of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, I also found myself thinking about transformation and leadership in light of the Basis of Union. Here is some of what I wrote as a sort of course description for myself:

__________

Melanesian garden, Novata farm

Melanesian garden, Novata farm

Transforming leadership and ecclesial identities

Transforming leadership is located in missiology, in the sending God at work in the world (Luke 10:1-12). Our understandings of leadership begin with God as the active agent, the One who has called the church to serve as a fellowship of reconciliation, a body with diverse gifts, an instrument of witness (Paragraph 3).

As “the people of God on the way” (Paragraph 18), the Protestant church recognises two sacraments, that of baptism and communion. Hence any talk of leadership emerges from baptism, for it is baptism that we are initiated into God’s mission and it is through communion that we are sustained in mission. As it says in the Basis of Union, “On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments” (Paragraph 3). No leader emerges apart from the fact that we are all one in Christ Jesus, all of us saying yes to participation in mission through our baptism, all of us in communion strengthened in order to participate “in the mission of Christ in the world” (Paragraph 8).

An expression of our participation in mission includes the experience in which all members have gifts for which there is a “corresponding service” (Paragraph 13). In 1 Corinthians 3 and 4, Paul explains his ministry, using six images – of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent. In these passages, Paul is explaining what it means for him to be sent to serve, and how his theology of baptism and communion finds expression in his “corresponding service.” Given that through baptism all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28), it makes sense when Paul describes a shared leadership: he labours alongside other servants (Apollos in 3:5), other gardeners (3:9), other builders (3:10), other resource managers (Apollos in 4:6), other fools (apostles in 4:9) and other parents (Timothy in 4:17).

This suggests that Paul’s “corresponding service” is in fact shared by others, who alongside Paul also offer a “corresponding service” as servants, gardeners, builders, fools and parents. The result of these shared acts of service in mission is transformation. At Corinth, individuals are transformed and a church is established. When the six images of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent are read against literature describing the existing cultural understandings of sociality and ethics of the world of Corinth what becomes clear is an alternative ethical polis. As the one body in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28) examines itself in communion (1 Cor 11:28), existing cultural understandings of leadership and influence are challenged. Such a transforming body is made possible by a transforming leadership, one which results when the church serves, gardens, builds, resource manages, acts as a fool and parent.

For every image of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent there are practical tools by which the entire community can serve. Thus transforming leadership has nothing to do with individual heroic leaders. Rather, both missiologically and practically, transformation emerges as God’s people participate with the Sending one in acts of service, gardening, building, resource managing, being a fool and a parent.

__________
In sketching this understanding, I am drawing on a range of recent scholarship including missiology, leadership, indigenous Aboriginal theologies, Biblical theologies, pneumatology, Christology, indigenous theology, New Testament scholarship both Pauline and Gospel, Old Testament narratives and post-colonial hermeneutics. Particularly Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians; Eugene Rogers, The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings; Ben Witherington, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom; Kenneth Bailey, Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15 (Concordia Scholarship Today); Walter Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism and Denise Champion, Yarta Wandatha.

Posted by steve at 03:54 PM

Friday, August 11, 2017

Transforming leadership in Vanuatu: Talua Memorial lectures

I’ve been invited to give the 2017 Talua Memorial lecture, August 14-18, in Vanuatu and address the topic of Transforming leadership. The Presbyterian Church in New Zealand has a long history of relationship with the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu; and Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership has a long history of relationship with Talua College. So it was easy to say yes.

Talua_Ministry_Training_Centre

Until I realised that the Memorial lecture was actually 10 lectures! Gulp. However the topic – leadership – is something I’ve written a book on recently (Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration). And I did some research last year on Christologies in Melanesia, so I had some resource to weave. And Jesus has a lot to say about transforming leadership. So the invitation has provided a good opportunity to turn a book into a one week intensive, and integrate with contextual Melanesian theology.

I’ve had some creative educational fun in the preparation over the last week. I developed an assignment that would allow group work on “what does this mean in Vanuatu?” This included a set of case studies, which I had workshopped by a colleague with many years of experience at Talua. I also had help in the making of a certificate, to encourage assignment participation :)

certificateimage

Posted by steve at 07:29 PM

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How to Disappear Completely: a (visual) review

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 August 2017.

how-to-disappear-coverHow to Disappear Completely

Films are visual storytelling. The film reviewer examines the craft of images. In this review, I want to examine images from the genre that is comic rather than cinematic.

How to Disappear Completely is the latest offering from UK artist, Leeds-based, Si Smith. A commercial cartoonist by day, by night he expresses his faith in ways both visual and playful. 40 is a creative imagining of Jesus in the wilderness, Stations of the Resurrection a set of illustrations reflecting on Jesus’ resurrection today and 25 Advent Flatpack a series of paper-based figures to be assembled in the Christmas build up. Each is telling of story through pictures.

How to Disappear Completely (2017) is a 63 page comic that offers a strikingly sophisticated visual engagement with the Lenten journey and the city of Leeds. The main character quits work, deleting his facebook account to enter a contemporary wilderness, an abandoned municipal tower. Artistic skills are turned loose on interior walls. Visually, what is abandoned is transformed from the inside out. The results are breathtaking, as the palette, initially black and white, morphs into life-giving blues and rich reds.

The theological work is biblical and imaginative. The 40 days of Lent are linked to the seven days of creation. It is a rich reading of Scripture, weaving creation into the life of Christ. The Biblical instruction of Genesis 2:15 – to till and keep –find expression in the wasteland of urban life. God’s glory is revealed in the work of human hands (Psalm 8:6), Incarnate amid modern day Leeds.

Temptations remain, despite the wilderness. The distraction of social media and the random violence magnified by the alienations of urban life, clamour for attention. As the monastic life has testified through time, isolation only amplifies the soundtrack of our inner world.

Intriguingly, a feature of How to Disappear Completely is the soundtrack. The comic genre might be paper-based, yet a playlist on page 2, provokes the question. Is sound a tempting distraction? Or a source of revelation? The main character is rarely without music. This provides a narrative continuity, first in the lyrics and second, symbolically, in the loss of sound as the iPod dies.

Si Smith works in conversation with painter, Stanley Spencer. A Spencer quote on page 2 offers words to introduce reflection on the expression of vocation. Spencer painted works on Christ in the Wilderness (1939-54) and Resurrection (1945-1950). He sought to visualise resurrection as ascent, needing to be depicted in the urban streets on which he worked and walked. How to Disappear Completely is a fitting response, a work of love for Leeds.

In its urban particularity universal questions are raised. What would it look like for Jesus to enter your town? Where are the abandoned places in which your vocation might be called to create?

How to Disappear Completely is available from Leeds Church Institute (from accounts@leedschurchinstitute.org at 5 pounds plus postage). For those seeking a contemporary reflection on vocation today, it is a life-giving purchase.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 05:20 PM

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Church in Contemporary NZ: Perspectives and Challenges – Whanganui bound

I’m speaking in Whanganui tomorrow evening (August 9, 7:30 – 9 pm) on the theme of The Church in Contemporary NZ: Perspectives and Challenges. The presenting reason is to met an incoming KCML intern, as part of the processes of induction to the KCML internship process. But it fitted really well with the local churches, who have banded together to present 4 evenings on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It’s a really creative and well-put together mix – of film and speaking and interaction – and I’m thrilled to be part of it.

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 4.48.45 PM

On the 9th of August, under the heading – The Church in Contemporary NZ: Perspectives and Challenges – I will begin with what was a radical new technology, the printing press. I will use that to reflect on a forgotten hallmark of the Reformed project (according to Michael Jinkins, The Church Transforming: What’s Next for the Reformed Project?), that of innovation – “the capacity to draw from the experience of ancient Christian communities and to adapt these lessons to new situations (Michael Jinkins, The Church Transforming: What’s Next for the Reformed Project?, 105). I will then tell stories of some of the New Mission Seedling innovation I am seeing in New Zealand, including in a new build, post-earthquake suburb in Christchurch and the dream of a new monastic presence among the working class suburb in Dunedin.

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 5.02.41 PM

All 4 evenings of evenings will take place at St James Church, Cnr Boydfield/Helmore Streets, Whanganui East. For more info, contact Mo Morgan 021905552 or Angela Gordon 5614314

Posted by steve at 05:07 PM

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

baptismal words: indigenous and creation based

On Sunday, I was asked to participate in a baptismal service at a local Presbyterian student congregation. In preparing, I wanted to ensure baptism was rooted in a Biblical frame. I wanted to honour the bi-cultural relationships of which the Presbyterian church in New Zealand is a part. I also wanted to connect baptism with creation, given the importance of creation as a mark of mission in the church.

I was encouraged in this direction by a conversation in January with a Maori colleague, who noted the importance of water in Maori culture, and how the old people always reminded him that from an indigenous theological perspective were are all children of the sea. He offered a Maori proverb:

Tangaroa whakamautai, nga tamariki o te Moana nui a Kiwa.

He then linked the proverb with an Old Testament Scripture, from Genesis 6, of the Noah story. This is very astute. Rupert of Deutz, an 11th century theologian, wrote of “how familiarly and how frequently the Holy Spirit was revered even before the coming of Christ, mostly with respect to water” (Rogers, The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 178).

water-body-macro-shot-1388772 The conversation got me thinking about the importance of water in the Bible and in baptism. So I pondered scriptures in which there is a connection between water and God – and how they might help us understand baptism. Anyhow, here is what resulted … (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:19 PM