Monday, November 26, 2018

You can’t eat lilies: the future of precarious work zadok column

I am a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Having read my film reviews for Touchstone, they requested a 860 word column every 3 months. It’s an opportunity to write a lay focused piece of theology; that keeps me working between gospel and culture. Zadok are happy for me to blog the columns I write once they are published in Australia, which makes them accessible digitally for folk in New Zealand and elsewhere.

zadoklillies So here is my spring 2018 article. The theme for Spring was Humanising Precarious Work and it became a piece of practical theology, including reflecting on my own work context, which is undergoing review and restructure, making my own future precarious.

You can’t eat lilies: the future of precarious work
Steve Taylor

I write looking out over a green field, toward a University living through a restructure. At the table beside me, a young couple discuss future work. Her best options start with gaining an overseas research contract. It’s fixed term but her partner won’t leave the country.

What might the Gospel offer them? How would they respond if I turned and offered them some words from Jesus? ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin’ (Matthew 6:28)?

None of this is abstract. As I write, a restructure has been announced at my workplace. Suddenly my future is precarious. There are no vacancies in my city for Principals of theology colleges who teach in missiology. The fields around my house might grow green with springtime rain. But my family can’t eat grass.

Jesus’ words about lilies are addressed to precarious workers. They are part of the Sermon that begins with the poor being blessed. While Matthew’s version is more palatable to rich Christians than Luke’s, the four letter word ‘poor’ tells us just who Jesus is speaking to.

In Matthew, this Sermon to the poor includes the words: ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. This is no ritual of routine repetition, but a reality for Jesus’ listeners. Think Matthew 20:1-16, with workers for hire still waiting for work at 5pm. Think Luke 16:19-31 and Lazarus pleading for daily bread at the city gates. Jesus is speaking to the poor, dependant on precarious work.

The Sermon ends with ‘consider the lilies’. Outdoors, on the mountain in Matthew and the plain in Luke, Jesus might be pointing to the arum lily, whose root was a major source of food for the poor. It is more likely that he is making a generic reference to flowers, including the various types of crocus and cyclamen, iris and orchid. They are free, wild and gorgeous: showy, attractive flowers that burst forth in spring on the barren hills of Judean deserts (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, IVP, 1998). Those flowers were food for rabbits and goats. But never for humans. You can’t eat lilies.

Today we safety net our lives through insurance, savings and government assistance. The result of managing risk is a diminishing of faith. The daily bread of the Lord’s Prayer is spiritualised. We never see lilies from our office blocks and public transport windows.

Tomorrow’s workplace looks ever more precarious. While I write and you read, modern capitalism is hard at work, incentivising the radical unpicking of the safety nets of the 20th century. Artificial Intelligence will make anywhere from 14 to 54 percent of US workers redundant over the next twenty years. There is a 50 percent chance that Artificial Intelligence will outperform all human tasks in 45 years and automate all human jobs in 120 years. (Brennan Hoban, ‘Artificial intelligence will disrupt the future of work. Are we ready?’, brookings.edu, 23rd May 2018). This won’t be personal. Redundancies never are. But what will it mean for humanity and for Christian theology?

For Jesus, the safety net seemed to be neither insurance nor savings. Instead it was the humanity of our neighbour. Do unto others. A common purse. Share with those in need.

Whenever I think these words are simply idealism, I remind myself that hospitality has been a universal theme. For Maori, the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, a cultural value esteemed above all else is expressed in the word ‘manaakitanga’, used to describe the value of welcoming the stranger. It involves abundant hospitality and is linked with kindness, generosity and practical support.

‘Manaakitanga’ was historic. It is also remarkably contemporary. It was evident in the winter of 2017, when local Maori meeting houses opened their doors to provide temporary housing for the homeless. Cold and destitute New Zealanders can’t eat lilies. But they can experience ‘manaakitanga’.

Hospitality is a response that stretches across time and place. Sharing the gifts of the earth is a major theme in The Odyessy, while Immanuel Kant notes the place of universal hospitality in the task of being human (Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History (Rethinking the Western Tradition), 8:357).

So the advent of Artificial Intelligence will invite us to practice ‘manaakitanga’. If the future of precarious work results in greater co-dependence, then technology and innovation are a good thing, worth celebrating. With a universal wage, some will work for money, while others will enrich our worlds with art, craft, care and creativity.

Writing about the future of precarious work and amid the draining demands of a workplace restructure is a reality check. I can’t offer lilies, either to myself, my family or the young couple in the café beside me.

At the same time, ‘consider the lilies’ is in fact the radical offer of an alternative vision of a future society. It is a universal invitation to embody Maori ‘manaakitanga’ and to share the gifts of the earth among all humans.

The only way to read the New Testament is through the lens of precarious work. You can’t eat lilies. But you can live simpler, use time to love your neighbour and enter into the experience ‘manaakitanga’.

Posted by steve at 09:46 PM

Friday, November 23, 2018

Doing theology on the land of another

I took this picture last year while I was on retreat. I was struck by the words on the sign: access courtesy of land owners. I am welcomed as guest.

doingtheology

It is a reminder that as guest, I do theology on the land of another. As an act of self-location, it shapes the way I read Scripture. What does it mean for me to hear the Bible as 2nd peoples, to do theology on the land of another? The Revised Preamble of the Uniting Church of Australia affirms that the “First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God … the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony.” The Revised Preamble affirms that God was already walking country, revealing Godself before I arrived.

So last week I was working with Exodus 3. It is part of a ongoing research project, as I explore the symbol of the burning bush for church identity. Last week, I began to imagine Moses encountering God as 2nd peoples, on the land of another. The actual text notes that he led his flock “beyond the wilderness” (v 3). Angela Song, in her A Postcolonial Woman’s Encounter with Moses and Miriam (Postcolonialism and Religions), describes Moses as “the nowhere boy who became a nowhere man.” (192). Moses is raised in a culture and class not his own: a nowhere boy. Becoming an adult, Moses calls his first born son, Gershon. It means stranger, alien in foreign land.

And so in Exodus 3, “beyond the wilderness”, this nowhere man encounters God. On the land of another, Moses begins to contemplate a God of care and compassion. Moses initial response, his first articulation of a theology, includes actions. He takes off his shoes.

It is, according to Jewish scholar, Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus a way of showing respect and humility. On the land in which he is a stranger, feeling alien, Moses doesn’t start with ownership and possession and domination. His theology begins with respect and humility, paying attention to the God already there.

Nahum Sarna The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus also notes the liturgical echoes, that the Jewish rabbi takes off their shoes before pronouncing the benediction (15). In response to encounter, as one prepares to leave, one shows respect and humility for land and already present faith.

Take off your shoes is the first theological act of those who locate as 2nd peoples.

Posted by steve at 12:12 PM

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The peaceful man of Aotearoa: Te Whiti

Peaceful man, Te Whiti of Parihaka
by Little Bushmen, live with NZSO

Honouring saints. This song is a mix of lament and remembrance.

It draws inspiration from the dream of peace. The dream is a “feather dream,” in honour of the Parihaka feather, a symbol of Parihaka’s passive resistance movement. For Te Reweti (Joe) Ritai, a descendent of both Te Whiti and Tohu, it originates in a story of an albatross landing on Tohu’s marae at Parihaka (here). A feather was left behind, interpreted as a link to to the Spirit falling on Jesus.

Ihowa, Jehovah God, sent that bird down to leave that feather there, as a symbol of peace, to tell them that it was time to begin their tikanga, their system.

The tikanga, the system, becomes that of peace, “To cast no stone, With wisdom to let go of difference.”

Alongside inspiration is lament. “Still we fight, turn blood to gold.” This is much more that a story from history. This is how we live now. It is about the stain of violence and the lust for wealth. The feather still sings, the Spirit still swoops, looking for those on whom it might alight, to whisper “beloved” on those who bring Te Harinui, good tidings of great joy. This was the origins of the Christian message in Aotearoa, carried on by Maori saints like Te Whiti and Tohu.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Graduate formation and life-long learning (conference abstract)

Abstract submitted -> to the SCD Learning & Teaching Theology Conference April 2019. This is KCML being research active and accountable. This is taking the hard work of 18 months of Thornton Blair Research and exposing it to “cross the ditch” peer review.

Graduate formation and life-long learning in the context of ministerial vocations
Dr Steve Taylor and Dr Rosemary Dewerse

A caricature of education involves the forgetting of what one has studied once exams are completed. This presents challenges to any talk of graduate outcomes. What to make of teacher talk regarding student futures if learners are on a stated mission to forget?

A more complex dynamic became evident in recent research into the life-long learning needs of Presbyterian ministers. Funding from Thornton Blair Trust enabled research of 280 participants in Aotearoa New Zealand. Phone interviews with 55 ministers ascertained their perceptions of future learning. General focus groups with 230 lay participants provided feedback on the interview data. Action-research tested possible learning plans with specific interest groups and experimental learning communities.

The research revealed that graduate formation has a communal character. Life-long learning needed to account not for the individual minister, but for the leadership groups and communities in which they served. Formation in practise-based modes was valued over information and existing qualifications. Participants identified peers as key learning resources, who as “human libraries” could be engaged in action-reflection modes. Graduates understood formation in relation to interpersonal dynamics, occurring in the middle of communities of practice, through processes of action-reflection and peer learning.

These graduate perspectives have important implications for the undergraduate experience. Outcomes must include skills in action-reflection and the ability to cultivate practice-based learning in communities of practice.

The data can be read theologically. In the temple, Jesus learns with those older in a dialogical community. In the encounter with the Syro-phoenician woman, Jesus’ understanding of identity and faith is challenged in the practice of ministry. Irenaues’ doctrine of recapitulation understands Jesus as one who grows in ministry. Theologically, the growth of Jesus is communal in character and formative in practice. Hence graduation formation is a communal journey of life-long learning in response to the redemptive dynamics of the Divine.

Posted by steve at 09:12 AM

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

a good news in season resource

I had a wonderful day recently with churches in Northland, offering input on mission and being church. As part of it, I worked up a new resource -

northland

I began my time by reading from Scripture – Acts 14:15-16

“Friends, why are you doing this? …. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

I noted that this about good news, and that good news was seasonal – located in relation to crops and food. I noted I was from another island and so they needed to help me with locating this Bible text in relation to their context. What were their crops? What was their current food of plenty? What was filling their hearts with joy? This was their “good news” expression of seasonal joy.

I’d had placed the “good news in season” resource on every second seat. This meant they needed to work in pairs, to “fill in the blanks.” After a few minutes and a fair bit of laughter, I invited folk to share, using the “good news in season” resource as a template. And quickly, around the room, a round of local (Northland) seasonal good news prayer of thanks were offered. The template gave it a rhythm, the different responses made it contextual.

Why?

First, we are people of praise. So this provided a way to begin our time together in grateful thanks.

Second, a practical worship resource for next time they were stuck, a way of engaging people in Scripture. So even if they got nothing more out of the day, they had at least 1 practical resource.

Third, an awareness that good news was seasonal. There is no one size fits all. Instead there is good news uniquely shaped by place and context.

Fourth, this allowed a movement toward a reflection on each of our unique stories. What is our good news story? How is it seasonal for us? And so a movement into good news as faith sharing, woven contextually into individual story.

It was a resource that worked well – to begin in praise, to form as working groups, to create a shared experience in the affirmation of the local and to provide an embodied move toward contextual theologies of evangelism and mission.

Posted by steve at 08:55 PM