Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Film review: Mary Magdalene

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 135 plus films later, here is the review for May 2018.

Mary Magdalene
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Mary Magdalene” the movie was my Maundy Thursday religious experience. It provides rich Gospel reflection, whether watched pre- or post-Easter.

The reputation of Mary Magdalene was ruined by Pope Gregory, who in 591 preached a sermon (Homily 33) that wrongly called her a prostitute. Sadly he never bothered to correct his homiletical error. Mary Magdalene, the second most mentioned woman in the Gospels, became tarred by the church with a label neither deserved nor Biblical. In the Gospel, Mary is introduced in Luke 8:2, named alongside Joanna and Susanna as one who journeys with Jesus.

In Luke 7:37, an unnamed woman who “lived a sinful life” anoints Jesus. Quite how an unnamed sinful woman became, in the homily of Pope Gregory, a named prostitute named Mary has never been made clear. Nor why it took the Catholic Church over 1500 years to clarify a Papal mistake. But on 3 June, 2016, the Catholic church finally relented. Pope Francis gave Mary a feast day, to honour her witness as the first to give testimony to the Risen Jesus.

“Mary Magdalene” is an imaginative response, locating Mary alongside Jesus on the journey toward Jerusalem. Woman are portrayed as leaders and learners, baptisers and blessers. The scene in which Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) follows Mary (Rooney Mara) down a long mountain track to a well, all the while protesting that he understands Jesus’ (Joaquin Phoenix) commands better than she does, is a moment that will find many a woman nodding in sympathy. The teaching of Jesus in relation to forgiveness is sensitively applied in relation to women’s experience of rape and gender violence. Mary’s intuition becomes a source of revelation, honouring different ways of knowing that are essential in Christian discipleship. In other words, the movie celebrates what women bring to the mission of God.

Jesus movies are difficult to direct, given an ending that is well-known. Director Garth Davis animates a predictable plot by a powerful portrayal of the first century Roman rule. A sequence of economic injustices are artfully woven into the life histories that shape the call of disciples. Thankfully, and unlike The Last Temptation, the movie avoids any sexualisation of the relationship between Mary and Jesus. The result is a dignifying both of love and gender.

The only blemish is an ending which seems to draw from the Gnostic Gospel of Mary. The Gospel of Mary was discovered in Egypt in 1896. It was not made public until 1955. The most complete text still misses ten pages, including a section from after the Resurrection in which Mary moves from sharing her firsthand experience of Jesus to an ecstatic vision. This missing section seems to resource “Mary Magdalene.” The result is a blurring of lived experience and ecstatic vision and a weakening of the claims for historical accuracy so carefully built in the pre-crucifixion narrations of first century Roman economic exploitation.

Despite this post-Resurrection wobble, the Jesus that emerges is a rich embrace of justice-seeking activist and contemplative: an Easter Jesus worth following, whether first century peasant or twenty-first century #metoo activist.

Posted by steve at 09:53 PM

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Built for change UK trip June 2018

Assembly hall nwb photo credit Bob White I’m in the United Kingdom for 2 weeks early June, working with the Church of Scotland and presenting a paper at the 3rd U2 conference in Belfast. The Presbyterian Church of New Zealand has a partner relationship with the Church of Scotland and it will be good to embody that relationship, reflecting with them on innovation, mission and change.

My itinerary is as follows:

I fly into London on Monday, 4 June and train to Glasgow on Tuesday the 5th.

Thurs 7th June, Glasgow – Built For Change: Biblical, Theological and Spiritual Resources for enabling change within congregations (open to all)

Fri 8th June, Glasgow – Listening In Mission/Mission Seedlings (open to all)

Mon 11th June, Edinburgh – Built for Change: Enabling Change At Regional and National Levels (nomination and invite only)

Tues 12th June, Edinburgh – Initial Ministerial Training – critical reflections on downunder models (invite only)

Tues 12th June, Edinburgh – Listening In Mission/Mission Seedlings (open to all)

Wed 13th June, I fly to Belfast and am there until Friday 15th June, at the U2 conference reflecting on the role of popular music in shaping culture. My paper is Friday morning, 8:45 am – The endings of Pop).

I fly out of London back to New Zealand on Saturday, 16 June.

I’m grateful to Doug Gay, Principal of Trinity College, Glasgow University, for making the trip possible. At a personal level, I’m looking forward to escaping a Dunedin winter. I’m also really interested in seeing how my book, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration will resonate in the Northern Hemisphere context. I deliberately wrote with a down-under publisher, in order to reflect from my context. So taking the ideas half-way around the world to see how they play will be really interesting.

Posted by steve at 03:26 PM

Monday, May 14, 2018

Can those fines: graced redemption in a modern space

An email a few weeks ago from the University library. With winter approaching, it was an invitation to bring an item for a food bank. In exchange, a library fine forgiven.

· If you pop into one of the University Libraries in Dunedin AND
· Bring an item fit for human consumption for the Dunedin Student Associations’ food banks
· We will waive your fines (up to $30).

can those fines I pondered the grace. A call to participate in making the world a better place. In exchange, redemption, as my shame (a library fine), was redeemed.

A lesson for all those who seek to communicate. The easy way is to point the finger, to name the blame. Such is the cry of fundamentalism.

The sliding way is to ignore the sin. “Don’t judge me” is the cry of tolerance. Yet, as London Grammar remind us, truth is a beautiful thing.

“Miles and miles on my own
Walk with shame, I follow on

You’ll be on your knees and struggle under the weight
Oh, the truth would be a beautiful thing
Oh, the truth is a beautiful thing” (Truth Is A Beautiful Thing)

Hence the intriguing way is to invite me to participate anew in mission, in ways that name my shame, all the while immersing it in grace.

“Can those fines” did that. It was graced redemption in a modern space, a lesson in speaking the gospel.

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM

Thursday, May 03, 2018

one word: emotional in multiple textures of action

In beginning to prepare for the U2 Conference in Belfast and my Endings of Pop: Benediction, Lullaby or Lament? presentation, some writing this week, as I read the fascinating Ed Pavlic, Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners alongside U2′s Wake up Dead Man.

The argument in Who Can Afford to Improvise? is that song lyrics function uniquely. They might be words, but they are never prose. First, they are received as an experience. They act to hold “our attention to physical and emotional textures woven in the rhythms of the utterance itself” (7). Second, they disrupt. They are a “musical interruption of the report-function usually assigned to what is called prose.” (7) In analysing lyrics, one must consider both physical and emotional textures and the “multiple possibilities, distinct tonalities that communicate at several simultaneous levels” (7-8). This helps as we consider the ending of Pop [Explicit], in the form of “Wake Up Dead Man.”

The emotional texture is enriched by the bridge, in which the one word “listen” is repeated eight times. “Listen” is the one word lyric that is disrupting time. The song is moving on, yet in that moving, the same word of action is repeated.

The listening is one word, but in the one word, sustained by repetition, is a complex set of repeated actions, of “multiple possibilities”, of “to” and “over” and “through” and “as”: Listen “to” (your words; the reed). Listen “over” (the rhythm of confusion; the radio hum, the sounds of blades, marching bands). Listen “through” (the traffic). Listen “as” (hope and peach march). The “to” is twice, the “over” is four, the “through” and “as” are once each. The one action – of listening – is actually four actions – to, over, through and as. This is a demanding understanding of humanity, and the complexity of engaging suffering. In the face of the physical action of suffering, there are multiple emotional textures and a complex range of response.

Posted by steve at 03:44 PM