Friday, June 29, 2018

Asian faces of suffering: an imaginative theological wondering in conversation with Silence (the movie)

An abstract I have just submitted for the CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTS IN ASIA Symposium
September 28-29, 2018. University of Otago, Dunedin

Asian faces of suffering: an imaginative theological wondering in conversation with Silence (the movie)

Sathianathan Clarke in Asian Theology on the Way (Fortress, 2015) argues that one of the key themes of Asian theology is suffering.  This leads to a Christology with the poor, shaped by historic experience and contemporary realities, that seek to find the historical Jesus amid the reality of human suffering.

The suffering of the church in Japan is depicted in Silence, the book and movie.  The historical novel written by Shusako Endo (1923-1999) offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil. In a key scene, Rodrigues sees his own face reflected in the water and it becomes “the face of a crucified man, a face which for so many centuries had given inspiration to artists. This man none of these artists had seen with his own eyes” (Endo 1980: 67). 

The movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, has been affirmed for the way it explores Endo’s theological reflection on suffering. In seeking to visually portray Endo’s novel, Scorcese uses a range of artistic representations of Jesus. This is most clearly seen in a scene in which Rodrigues is captured. As Rodrigues buries his face in the water, he sees the historical Jesus.  In so doing, Rodrigues is entering baptism and thus the passion, not longer a Christ figure but a participant in the passion of historical Jesus. In doing so, this offers a methodology by which to approach art in Asia, not as the detached onlooker but as the immersed participant in solidarity in suffering.   

However the art is European. This makes sense given that Silence is a meditation on the faith of Rodrigues, who is a Jesuit priest. However the result visually is an artistic portrayal of suffering that references European artists and draws on European Christological resources.

The paper wonders what would happen if the art was Asian. This will be achieved by conducting an imaginative meditation, in which every European artistic portrayal of the face of Jesus in Silence the movie is replaced with an Asian artistic portrayal of the face of Jesus, sourced from art and poetry. The Rita England collection will be used as a key resource in this imaginative wondering. My approach is consistent with the methodology of Rodrigues immersion, seeking to bury my face not in European art but in Asian representations. The result will be an Asian visual representation of suffering, drawing on the Rita England collection, in conversation with the artistic Christianity represented in Silence.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor
Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership

Posted by steve at 01:08 PM

journal article: the faith of zombies in Burr Steers’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that art has the potential to disturb contemporary pride and historical prejudice.” This is the opening sentence of an journal article response to reviewer comments I have just (re)submitted. An opening sentence crafted in London and one I’m quite pleased with.

The article is titled “religious piety and pigs’ brains”:  the faith of zombies in Burr Steers’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The role of art in both supporting and disturbing the status quo is especially significant for those alert to questions of justice and inequality. This includes the literary worlds created by Jane Austen, which need to be located in the economic realities of an expanding British Empire around the turn of the nineteenth century. In this paper I focus on contemporary popular culture readings of Jane Austen, in particular the trope of zombies in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, published as a book in 2009 and turned into a movie by Burr Steers in 2016. Drawing a post-colonial reading by Jon Stratton, I argue that the presence of zombies illuminates the economic realities embedded in the British colonial project. I pay particular attention to religious themes in one scene of the movie where zombies partake of communion at the Church of St Lazarus, leading me to examine the biblical character of Lazarus in relation to ethical resources in responding to the injustices of economic inequalities. Scriptural texts used in a sermon preached at the Church of St Lazarus are read alongside sacramental theologies familiar in England during Austen’s era. The Exodus narrative and its invitation to a disciplined freedom, allow us to reflect ethically on systemic injustice. The presence of zombies in Steers’s film represents a post-colonial awareness. The zombies disrupt the social order and religious sensibilities of Austen’s world, demonstrating the ways in which religion and literature can both support and disturb the status quo.

Hours of work. Lots of learning. Very glad of help from friends and experts. Fingers crossed it sees the light of publishing day.

Posted by steve at 11:34 AM

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis

I am a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Here is my third article, for the Autumn 2018 edition, which focused on the theme of Engaging Evil.

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My piece was titled Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis. It offers a theology of baptism as a participation in solidarity with refugees, drawing on U2′s song, Red Flag Day, from their latest album, Songs Of Experience. For fancy magazine layout, saying no U2′s response to the evils of the refugee crisis; or in plain text:

Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis

Sometimes entertainment becomes not only political, but also theological. Songs Of Experience, U2’s fourteenth and latest album, splashed into Christmas stockings over the summer. The album debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard charts, making U2 the first music group to gain a Number 1 album in four consecutive decades. In the midst of commercial success, U2 has continued to engage social issues, singing ‘No’ to human evil in the world. Songs of Experience is no exception as U2 engage the evils around the European refugee crisis.

Evil is a strong word. Yet the Scriptures are clear. The greatest of God’s commandments includes loving neighbour as yourself. Israel’s laws emerged from the Exodus experience of being refugees, fleeing the tyranny of Empire in Egypt. Just as Israel in history experienced God’s protecting love as refugees, so now in everyday life humans should express God’s love, including to refugees. Anything less is to deny the Commandments.

On Songs of Experience, U2 engage the evil of the refugee crisis in a mid-album bracket of three songs. First, American Soul suggests that American values of unity and community need to apply to ‘refugees like you and me, A country to receive us’. A second song, Summer of Love, longs for flowers to grow amid ‘the rubble of Aleppo’. The hope, fifty years after a drug-fuelled, music-drenched Summer of Love in San Francisco, is for peace to descend on the West Coast of Syria in the Middle East. A third song is Red Flag Day. The title suggests a continuation of the beach vibe of Summer of Love while the lyrics remain focused on the consequences of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, becoming rubble.

The civil war in Syria resulted in a unprecendented refugee crisis. For more than 1 million people in 2015, this meant crossing the Mediterranean Sea, seeking safety in Europe. Deaths at sea rose to record levels, with more than 1,200 people drowning in the month of April 2015. And so, in Red Flag Day, U2 address this evil: ‘Not even news today; So many lost in the sea’. This is evil-as-disinterest, as the lost and the least disappear from our 24-hour news cycle.

For U2, the response to this evil is located in one word. ‘The one word that the sea can’t say, Is no, no, no, no’. It is easy to imagine the impact of this line performed live, Bono holding a microphone out to an audience, inviting them to sing, ‘no, no, no, no’. It is a powerful lyric. Water, the sea over which refugees travel, can never speak. But humans can. Humans can sing that one word, ‘No’.

At the same time, having raised children, I am well aware of the limitations inherent in the simple word ‘No’. It is often the first word learnt by a child, easy on the lips of a two-year-old teetering on a tantrum. So, when U2 sing ‘No’, what exactly are they asking us as humans to do?

U2 conclude Red Flag Day with the provocative line, ‘Baby let’s get in the water’. It reminds me of the baptism of Jesus. Every year in the Christian calendar, Christmas is followed by Epiphany and the birth of Jesus is placed in relation to God declaring love and pleasure as Jesus enters the Jordan waters. It is the way Jesus begins ministry, by getting in the water.

So is the refugee crisis in fact an invitation for the church to sing ‘No’, to respond to evil by entering the waters of baptism? Physically, in entering the Jordan River, Jesus expresses his obedience to God. This makes getting in the water the essential pattern of Christian discipleship, a way of saying ‘No’ to our own plans and ‘Yes’ to God’s intentions. Historically, as Israel crossed the Jordan River, they were saying ‘Yes’ to living out God’s commandments no matter what country they found themselves living. This makes baptism an expression of ‘Yes’ to loving our neighbour. And sacramentally, baptism and communion are woven together in the Exodus story of the Passover, which involves Israel entering the waters of the Red Sea. This makes getting in the water an expression of solidarity with all those who decide to say ‘No’ to persecution and tyranny, whether in fleeing Egypt in history or in the rubble of Aleppo today.

Hearing U2’s Red Flag Day and listening to the Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism offer ways to respond to the evil of the refugee crisis. The single word of ‘No’ is filled with Christian content. Every red flag swim in this summer of love becomes a singing of ‘No’. It means lobbying Parliament to ‘Let them come’. It involves lighting candles as prayers of intercession for all those lost at sea, refusing to forget those forgotten by the news today. It means a welcome to the promised lands as we teach English classes and guide migrants around unfamiliar supermarkets.

We often view baptism in individual terms, as a personal choice to follow Jesus. What if it is also a call to mission, a way to respond to evil by getting in the water in solidarity with the refugee crisis today.

Posted by steve at 06:36 PM

Saturday, June 16, 2018

homeward after UK 2018

In a few hours, I step into a metal tube for some 22 hours of flying. It has been an excellent 9 days in the United Kingdom, in 3 different countries, speaking to 6 groups, with 3 other booked meetings. The welcome from various folk in the Church of Scotland was warm and the interaction rich. They are in interesting times as a church, with some very thoughtful folk working hard to discern the ways ahead. It was a great gift to me to see how helpful the material from my book, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration could be in a different place and to watch it find life in a very difficult cultural context. To hear that it was being quoted in Church of Scotland General Assembly reports and to see the gratitude with which people responded to the images of fool/risk/play was very encouraging. (For those in the UK, Doug Gay at University of Glasgow still has copies at the very good price of 10 pound + postage).

onetreehill The U2 Conference was a blast – a triumph of passion over obsession. Locating it in Dublin, after conferences in North Carolina and Cleveland was a master stroke, as it located U2 within the context of Ireland and the streets and people in which U2 were formed. Seeing in real life the “boy” who experienced the “war” and encountered “grace” in the midst of the “bad” was very special. My paper on the endings of Pop went well, which given it was stitched together in scraps of hours in January, May and then in Dublin at midnight, was a relief. I find the focus on creativity, imagination, justice and spirituality provided by conversations about U2 to be quite life-giving, all mixed in with academics thinking deeply about how contemporary cultures might be understood.

Then there were the friendships. Previous relationships renewed, new connections made. Connecting with Steve Stockman and his church community at Fitzroy Presbyterian was inspiring. While it has been a great 9 days, it will be good to see the lights of home. (And to fight off jetlag to lead an 8 day blockcourse starting in a few days.)

Posted by steve at 08:10 PM

Friday, June 15, 2018

the endings of pop: live

u2 endings Today I shared a paper at the U2 Conference. It’s the third time I’ve shared at the U2 Conference, with presentations on Bullet the Blue Sky as evolving live performance in 2009 and of the role of concert experience in corporate memory making in 2013. Today, 2018 in Belfast, it was the endings of Pop and how U2 end albums and end live performance. I looked at last songs across all U2′s live performances, in comparison with album ending songs and in dialogue with Ed Pavlic, Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners. I am seeking for the words to describe what is a performed reception history.

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The mix of academics and fans make for such a passionate, engaged audience and the questions and interaction were, as always excellent. The paper raises a range of next step questions, regarding the range of emotions present in U2 endings and what the band might be wanting to gain.

The last two U2 conference presentations have become book chapters.

“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music), edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books, 2014, 105-121

““Bullet the Blue Sky”: the evolving live concert performances,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 84-97.

Whether this one does, I’m still not sure. I grateful to those who made the trip financially possible (Trinity College and Church of Scotland Panel of Review and Reform) and to my family who let me take holidays in this sort of mad/obssessive/culturally focused type of way.

Posted by steve at 01:53 AM

Thursday, June 14, 2018

burning bushes in cultures and contexts

It’s been a real privilege to spend a week with the Church of Scotland, speaking at various events on innovation and mission. My thanks to Doug Gay, Trinity College and the Panel for Review and Reform, who generously made the time possible and did the hard work of promoting, organising and hosting. Over four days, I did 5 different events, the shortest 90 minutes, the longest three hours, all with a different focus.

Some events were open to the public and provided a chance in general to work with questions of innovation and mission. Some were focused on senior leadership of national and Presbytery bodies, or those working in theological formation. These gave a chance to compare stories and in the richness of different contexts, gain insight.

burningbush As a way of helping locate myself, and as a way to emphasis how cultures and context create space for innovation, I began each session both with a greeting (mihi) in Maori and showed some images of the burning bush in Aoteoroa New Zealand – and the role of Maori culture, Pacific migration and alternative worship. In the burning vine that is Te Aka Puaho, in the frangipani flowers added to the stained glass window of St Johns Papapatoetoe, in the pumice rocks soaked with methylated spirits that then then burn blue, there are important mission insights, about how diverse cultures hear faith differently.

Posted by steve at 12:37 AM

Friday, June 08, 2018

Listening in mission resource (for Friday, Monday, Tuesday)

Unknown-20 For those attending the Listening in Mission workshop and for the sake of the environment, here is a copy of the KCML Resource (Assignment Reading neighbourhood).

Posted by steve at 08:01 PM

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Innovation and congregations: Built for change (for Thursday, Monday)

My first teaching session in Scotland, for the Church of Scotland – is titled Innovation and Congregations. I’ve been asked to offer Biblical, theological and spiritual resources, drawing from my Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration book.

For those attending the workshop and for the sake of the environment (or technology preferences), want an electronic copy, here is a copy of my note – Innovation and congregations: Built for change Thursday workshop.

Posted by steve at 09:49 AM

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Call for papers: CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTS IN ASIA

A project I’ve been involved with as part of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership for last 2 years – now stepping it up

CALL FOR PAPERS: CHRISTIANITY AND THE ARTS IN ASIA

A Symposium
September 28-29, 2018
University of Otago, Dunedin

Art is an essential dialogue partner for Christian faith. From earliest times, art has given expression to Christian faith. It is a means of contextual theological expression and enriches understandings of doctrine and practice. Art has also served to offer critique of Christian faith.  
  
The Christianity and Cultures in Asia Network calls for papers that reflect on art and Christian faith in Asian cultures. Themes could include:
 
• How has art in Asia expressed, interpreted and challenged Christian faith?
• How might Christian doctrines be uniquely expressed through Asian art and Asian art forms?
• Can art from Asia shed light on the complex and continually contested relationship between art and faith, including interpretation, authority, hermeneutics and performance? 
• How might art in Asia give new insight into biblical texts?

Art is interpreted broadly, including architecture, music, literature, painting, visual media, sculpture, dance, and calligraphy.  Presentations that include art are particularly welcomed. This symposium follows the successful symposium on the movie Silence held in March 2017. All abstracts will be blind peer reviewed. 
 
The Christianity and Cultures in Asia Network is a partnership between the Theology Programme at the University of Otago, the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, and the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College, Dunedin. The Symposium will encourage use of two substantial collections of print resources held by the Presbyterian Research Centre, the Rita Mayne England collection on Christianity in Asia, and the Chrysalis Seed collection on Christianity and the Arts.
 
Please submit paper proposals not exceeding 500 words by July 2nd 2018.
Presentations will be 30mins in duration followed by discussion.

Proposals should be submitted to: murray.rae@otago.ac.nz

Posted by steve at 07:21 PM