Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Stretch marks on an ecclesial body: Gender and emerging expressions of faith in women and girls abstract

On the last night before going on holiday, with a mountain of work to do, why not write an abstract for a potential conference – The Faith lives of Women and Girls, Birmingham, 26-7 March, 2019. But it is, after all, Advent – a time of stretch marks when faith is being carried by the faith lives of Mary and Elizabeth.

alicia-petresc-1144261-unsplash Photo by Alicia Petresc on Unsplash

Stretch marks on an ecclesial body: Gender and emerging expressions of faith in women and girls

While birth is a significant issue for all humans, the impact of gender on faith development is under-researched. This paper examines the interplay between birth and faith development, paying attention through longitudinal research to stretch marks on the ecclesial body of an emerging church community in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Empirical data – gathered from surveys, focus groups and participant observation – showed increased rates of belonging and a sense of growth among women over time. In contrast rates of belonging and a sense of growth declined among men over time. What factors were shaping the faith lives of woman and girls in this ecclesial community?

Attention is paid in the first instance to artistic production, initially in a contemporary Stations of the Cross art exhibition, but increasingly over time through Advent in Art creative practices. Analysis of visual and verbal texts suggests a shift in faith, from deconstructed in death, to stretched through natality. For Grace Jantzen (Redeeming the Present), natality is essential to theology as it invites new beginnings characterized by embodiment, relationality, hopefulness and engenderment. All of these were more visible in Advent in Art than in contemporary Stations of the Cross.

At Easter, death and life are located in a linear and discontinuous relationship, while in Advent, life emerges amid the fear of death. At Easter, faith was resourced synchronously, with an art exhibition which gathered people at set times. At Advent, faith was resourced asynchronously, through postcards designed to be used as a daily resource in the midst of life.

The argument is that gender has an essential role in faith formation, particularly in relation to giving birth and human experience as a constructive resource. Natality becomes an important factor in theorising faith development, something that women can inhabit, yet men can only watch.

Posted by steve at 08:36 PM

Monday, December 10, 2018

Film review: Yellow is forbidden

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 December 2018.

Yellow is forbidden
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Documentary is a unique genre. There is no script writer, paid actors or shooting of multiple scenes. Instead there is the promise of true to life insights. But exclusivity comes with a price. The veil onto an authentic self is being lifted, but the gaze of camera and interviewer should be adoring. An overly prying eye or a critical interview could well result in the end of access, a film canned rather than in the can.

“Yellow is forbidden” is documentary. Kiwi director Pietra Brett-kelly follows Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei off the catwalk and into the dressing rooms and digital design studios of the global fashion industry. Several stories are cleverly embroidered together. First the career of China’s most famous designer, including a closeup of the “Magnificent Gold” dress, stunningly worn by Rihanna on the Met Gala red carpet. Made from gold, taking two years to make and weighing 25 kilograms with a five metre hand embroidered train, it placed Guo Pei on the global fashion map. Second, the complexity of a Chinese designer organising a fashion show in Paris, an outsider crossing boundaries of culture and taste. Finally, Guo Pei’s personal life including the backstitched story of her childhood, in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, in which golds are the colour of the court and Guo Pei is forbidden to dress in yellow.

Yellow as colour is thus a central metaphor. The movie begins in darkness. A voice calls for a iphone to be turned on and the materials of a dress absorb the stark glare of spotlight. With the iphone then turned off the dress then shimmers with a ghostly radiance. It is a stunning visual reminder of the beauty of fashion and the way technology can be twinned with imagination. As a beginning, it has echoes of John 1. A light shines in the darkness, in order that all of humanity might absorb, then in shimmer in response to Divine Light in Christ.

Historically, religion has lived in an uneasy relationship with fashion. Pietism celebrates the unadorned and naturally human. Yet a rich set of images emerge if humans can shimmer with beauty in response to technology and imagination.

In Christian Scripture, God is a fashion designer. In Job 10:11-2, God is a dressmaker. In Ezekiel 16:9-1, God is a maker of designer clothes, a crafter of perfumes and accessories to adorn the nation of Israel. In Psalm 12:6, God is a jeweler crafting silver. One way to watch “Yellow is forbidden” is thus as an extended meditation on God the maker. The cinematic depictions of fabric being dyed, sequins being painstakingly sown and patterns woven in golden thread, are a window into the way God intends humans to participate in the creative fashioning of life together.

Drawing on the image of God the maker, theologian Paul Fiddes argues that being made in Gods’ image means humans are made to craft in delight, be open mouthed in wonder and practice perseverance. Such are the possibilities suggested by a theological conversation with the fashion in “Yellow is forbidden.”

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM

Friday, December 07, 2018

Congratulations to inaugural Judith Binney Trust recipients

The Judith Binney Trust has announced the recipients of the 2019 Judith Binney Fellowships and Writing Awards. They are Dr. Nēpia Mahuika (Ngāti Porou), Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Waikato; freelance writer Ryan Bodman; journalist and commentator Morgan Godfery (Ngāti Awa, Samoa); and independent historian Dr. Melissa Matutina Williams (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Maru). In making the announcements, the trustees noted they were “impressed with the quality and quantity of applications for funding in our inaugural year.”

This is worth noting because I was an applicant :)

I put in an application titled The Kingmaker’s Bible, which sought to understanding Maori approaches to religion by examining the Bible-reading strategies of the first kingmaker, Wiremu Tāmihana Tarapīpi Te Waharoa. My project sought to extend my recent research and affirm the creativity of indigenous engagement with a book (the Bible) often associated with colonisation and break new ground by locating Maori Bible-reading strategies in relationship to international scholarship, particularly that of Gerald West, The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon and James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. My proposal set out to make an outstanding Maori leader accessible through high-school curricula, a theology textbook and social media.

It was not to be. Not in relation to this particular pathway anyway (although I’m open to offers and imaginative suggestions). But the application process was excellent, particularly the discipline of making a funding application within the confines of 1,000 words. And my referees were very encouraging: one wrote that mine was “a superb proposal for research and a profound project.” And I’m delighted at the calibre of those who were successful recipients of the 2019 Judith Binney Fellowships and Writing Awards. I congratulate each of them and wish them all the best as they contribute to scholarly historical research and writing in this country. Finally, kudos to Judith Binney and the trustees for innovating in this way.

Posted by steve at 05:37 PM