Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Let Time Be Still

This is beautiful. ‘Let Time Be Still’ is a song by Greg Johnson, inspired by the words of poet James K Baxter. It is one of 12 songs recorded for 2000 tribute album Baxter: settings of poems by NZ songwriters. The backdrop is Jerusalem, up the Whanganui River, the centre of Baxter’s final years. The lyrics “matins making” chimes with the Catholic symbols – Mary and the crucifix – which complexified so much of Baxter’s imagination. The beat and vocals slow the tempo, echoing the lyrics, the dream of perfect moments in which time stands still.

Posted by steve at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Christianity and cultures in Asia

christianity and cultures in asia

This is one of great things about being at Knox, the chance to do missiology as a global conversation:

Christianity and cultures in Asia

This series of seminars aims to encourage and promote research and publication on Christianity and cultures in Asia. It also aims to promote use of the rich resources contained in the Rita Mayne England Collection on Asian Christianity held at the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College, in the Hocken Library, and in other libraries around Dunedin.

May 26th Rev Dr John England:
Towards the Bright Pavilions: Approaches to the Study & Teaching of Asian Church Histories & Theologies.

Aug 30th Linda Zampol D’Ortia:
Jesuits in Asia in the 16th century.

Oct 13th Dr Sin Wen Lau
Title tbc

Dec 8th Rev Dr John Roxborogh:
A tale of two Seminaries: Ideas and Realities in the quest for Indigenization and Contextualisation In Theological Education in Malaysia and Singapore.

Posted by steve at 07:50 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mahana: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for March 2016.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

He toi whakairo, he mana tangata.

The Maori proverb, translated in English as “Where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity” is an apt summary of Mahana. Set in the East Coast in the 1960’s, two Maori families, the Mahana’s and the Poata’s, are locked in rivalry. Directed by Lee Tamahori (famous for Once were Warriors and Die Another Day), Mahana is an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s novel Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies.

The pacing is terrific, as screen writer John Collee turns 293 pages of Ihimaera’s prose into 103 minutes of silver screen. The rites of life, weddings historic and funerals contemporary, are the pivots around which tension is both focused and resolved. The ethereal beauty of the bee scene, with its haunting waita, is a rich window into Maori culture and the way people and place are interwoven.

While a period vehicle car chase and the annual Golden Shears provide authentic colour, the film is a reminder that life in 1960’s New Zealand was far from rural bliss. Mahana depicts family feuds and an entrenched racism that were a stain on the idyllic rolling green hills of our history. Mahana thus shares themes with Whale Rider, including drawing from Ihimaera’s imagination, being set in the world of East Coast Maori and depicting the courage required of teenagers caught in hierarchical patterns. Both Pai, in Whale Rider, and Simeon in Mahana, face the challenge of growing beyond a demanding and dominating grandfather.

In a Kiwi cast that includes Temuera Morrison (Grandfather Mahana) and Nancy Brunning (Romona Mahana), it is unknown Akuhata Keefe (Simeon Mahana) that steals the show. From Tolaga Bay Area School, the fifteen year old was in Auckland on holiday, when he was encouraged to audition. His repeated courage is the engine that drives the plot.

Turning from artistic excellence to human dignity, as might be expected in 1960’s rural New Zealand, religion is an ever present reality. Family meals around the Mahana family table begin with grace, while at the church, the priest buries and marries. Yet prayer and ritual seem unable to bring reconciliation in the family feud between Mahana and the Poata.

Instead, it is human dignity that provides freedom. It comes from Simeon Mahana. His belief in fairness and willingness to speak his mind are the means by which three generations are freed from their history. His courage is a reminder, from John 8:23, that the truth will set you free. It provides another way to begin the Maori proverb. Not “he toi whakairo” but “te hauto itoito pono tīari.” “Where courage and honest exist, there is human dignity.”

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: forthcoming) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 05:00 PM

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Earina autumnalis: the downunder easter lily


Earina autumnalis, Maori name Raupeka, is a New Zealand native. It flowers in autumn.

Downunder, in the southern hemisphere, Easter is celebrated in autumn. There are no spring flowers, no Easter lilies, no signs of new life after the death of winter.

Instead we have Easter orchids. They flower during Easter. Although small and fragile (each flower is a mere 10-13 mm), they are a downunder sign of Easter life. They are strongly scented, one of the few NZ orchids to be scented. In the forest, they are as “the sweet aroma of Christ”; a sign of presence. The seeds are so tiny, they need an associated fungi to provide the food to germinate. Thus they rely on what goes before, just as Easter Sunday relies on Good Friday.

For a church searching for contextual faith, Earina autumnalis, the Easter orchid, is worth seeking.

Posted by steve at 06:57 PM

Friday, February 20, 2015

Welcome home: A song in which I keep finding added layers

It was announced yesterday that I’ve been appointed the new Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, serving the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. (The Uniting Church announcement has been emailed but is not yet online). I was in meetings yesterday, but here is some of the personal story behind that announcement:

In 2010, Team Taylor crossed the ditch, moving from New Zealand to Australia, from pastoral ministry in the Baptist church to founding Director of Missiology, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology.

The most helpful way I found to understand this call at the time was through the narrative of the man from Macedonia in Acts 16, who appears to the Apostle Paul saying “Come on over.” Paul is a missionary on pilgrimage and the shift “across the ditch” is the next step in an unfolding journey. There would be different cultures, but – like any missionary – the expectation of listening, serving, partnering with what God is already doing.

So began a season first as founding Director of Missiology, then from 2012, as Principal of Uniting College. In May 2014, we indicated to the Leadership Development Council of Uniting College that we would not be seeking an extension of placement in the Uniting church at the end of my fixed three-year term as Principal. It had been an enormous privilege to serve in the Uniting Church. It is very humbling to be invited to lead a different Denomination’s College, candidates and theological education. That’s a lot of trust.

But for family reasons we felt we needed to return to New Zealand. We had nothing to go to, but hoped that making this clear to the LDC would help with their ongoing planning. In order to give the LDC time to quietly do the long range planning they needed, while I informed the Uniting College team, it was news I did not at the time make widely known.

In October 2014, I spoke at General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. A number of things happened during that time that I found unsettling.

First, I was surprised how many people I knew, how many now ministers in the Presbyterian Church I’d been part of training during my time as Lecturer at Laidlaw College, Christchurch.

Second, I took a photo on my cell phone that would grow increasingly important over the next months. It was of two non-Anglo ordinands training for Presbyterian ministry, sitting together, leaning against a side wall of the hall where Assembly was taking place. At the time the photo was for me prayer; of thanks that God is raising up leaders across cultures, of petition that all leaders would find ways to move from leaning against the wall to the centre of the life of their church.

gift from Presbyterian Third, at the end, I was given a thankyou gift, a Maori toki. I can’t recall the exact words from the Moderator of the Church, but it was something along the lines that even though I was “across the ditch”, New Zealand was still home and so this gift was given in the building of friendship. The gift and words meant a lot at a relational level (and in hindsight, at a prophetic level).

In November 2014, the then Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (KCML) announced he was moving to a new placement.

A number of folk from New Zealand contacted me in the following days suggesting I consider applying.

I did and was interviewed in late January. This involved a formal interview, a 50 minute lecture, a 50 minute presentation on current research followed by 50 minutes of questions and a number of informal conversations with key stakeholders. It was a very thorough process.

The vision of KCML, to equip church leaders for today’s world and their recent change journey around internships excited me.

Our oldest daughter, Shannon was moving to Dunedin to study Medical Science at Otago University. So the whole of Team Taylor visited Dunedin during the interview process, to provide moral support, to show Shannon around her new city and to wonder if we could imagine ourselves in this Southern clime. Kayli liked the feel of Logan Park High School. Lynne can complete her PhD (in missiology) from Dunedin.

The last 10 months have been difficult for Team Taylor. We’ve had to close a door, with no clarity about the future. We’ve had to live in an in-between space, at times quietly, while church processes moved at their pace.

Looking back now, we can so clearly see God’s love – to end up serving in a similar role (leading an organisation that forms leaders across a church system), in our home country, in the city where our oldest is already at University, feels a great gift.

“Crossing the ditch” back, I suspect I’m a few years “out of touch” with New Zealand culture. We’ve undoubtedly picked up a few Australian, a few Uniting Church, vowel sounds!

Our commitment is to do what we did when we came to serve the Uniting Church, to seek, across difference in cultures and denominations, to – like any missionary – to listen, serve, partner with what God is doing.

Posted by steve at 10:10 AM

Monday, May 19, 2014

Home, Land and Sea

This is a song I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. I’ve been trying to explain home to a colleague and my attempts have been a failure. So I’m left playing this video.

Home, land and sea, by Trinity Roots. This video was live, from the final concert of Trinity Roots at the Wellington Town Hall.

Posted by steve at 11:41 PM

Thursday, February 06, 2014

from Waitangi to Walking on Country

Today is Waitangi Day in my homeland. On this day in 1840, a Treaty was signed between Maori people of New Zealand and the Queen. While it is a times a contested document, it stills stands as a seminal moment in the history of New Zealand and in how two people’s might relate to each other. Over the years of my time of ministry in New Zealand, it provided a rich ground for reflection – in sermons, in prayer, in communion.

Today, here at Uniting College, in Adelaide, Australia, is the start of Walking on Country. It might be coincidence, but I don’t think we’d be Walking on Country without Waitangi Day, without the energy that Rosemary Dewerse and myself, both New Zealanders, both Missiologists, both shaped by being Kiwi, being Christian, both now here at Uniting College, have poured into this.

Today a group of about 20 people headed off to the Flinders Ranges, to the land of the Adnyamathanha people. They will be led by local indigenous leaders, to be in their world, to hear their stories. It is the 2nd year we as a College have run this. (See here and here and here).

It was a few days that had more impact on our life as a College in 2013 than any other few days that year. New insights, new relationships (including Pilgrim Uniting), new sensitivity. Thanks Waitangi Day, for pushing us toward Walking on Country.

Posted by steve at 11:08 AM

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

the pain and peril of living in exile: a theological film review of White Lies

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for November, of New Zealand film, White Lies.

White Lies
“White Lies” has the same producer (John Barnett) and original writer (Witi Ihimaera) as the now celebrated New Zealand film “Whale Rider.” Yet “White Lies” offers a far darker exploration of New Zealand’s bi-cultural identity.

The era is early twentieth century and Maori medicine woman, Paraiti (Whirikamako Black) gathers native herbs and provides medical care for her people, scattered throughout Te Urewera wilderness.

On a rare trip to the city, she is furtively asked by Maori housekeeper, Maraea (Rebecca House), to help her wealthy mistress, Rebecca Vickers (Antonia Prebble), keep a secret. Together, these three women generate the emotional heart of the movie, an interwoven pairing of life with death and death with life.

Initially, Paraiti refuses to help, chilled by the alien whiteness of the world in which Maraea and Rebecca live. Her mind is changed by subsequent events, a child birth gone wrong, during which Pakeha display a callous disdain for Maori patterns and practices. All of which is history, for in 1907 the New Zealand Government passed the Tohunga Suppression Act, which limited the services Maori could provide to their communities. For Paraiti, her actions will be an act of resistance, a way of restoring some justice.

This is an acting debut for well-known Maori singer, Whirikamako Black and she is superbly paired with Antonia Prebble, best known for her portrayal of Loretta West in TV drama, “Outrageous Fortune.”

Plaudits are also due to other New Zealand artists. The house in which Rebecca lives is a triumph for film designer, Tracey Collins, while the forests in which Paraiti gathers herbs and the room in which Rebecca gives birth, allow the well-honed atmospheric skills of Alun Bollinger to unfold in all their gloomy cinematographic glory.

Written and directed by Mexican born Dana Rotberg, “White Lies” significantly reworks Ihimaera’s novella, “Medicine Woman.” Maori carvers return to their work, reasoned Ihimaera, so why not writers? Despite the re-carving of words, the early scenes of the movie lack pace, failing to provide momentum the emotional centre deserves.

What unfolds in “White Lies” are three contrasting approaches to dominant Pakeha culture, each embodied in the three women: marginality in Paraiti, accommodation in Maraea, ultimate assimilation in Rebecca.

What is thought provoking is to then lay “White Lies” alongside the First Testament. Israel’s experience of exile offers another perspective on how minority communities activate resistance. We see marginality in the return of Nehemiah to a Jerusalem destroyed. We see accommodation in the book of Esther, her willingness to parlay her sexuality in exchange for influence. We see assimilation in Jeremiah’s injunction to build houses, plant gardens and take wives.

“White Lies” a century on offers little hope. Rebecca’s final decisions are chillingly bleak, while the forest gathering ways of Pariati are, in twentyfirst century New Zealand, long gone.

All that remains, as the movie tagline declares, is the reality that redemption comes at a price. Christians will ponder the crucial birthing scene, in which Rebecca hangs in a crucifix position, arms spread wide, supported by a watching woman, in the painful journey through which new life will eventually be won.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 08:22 AM

Sunday, March 03, 2013

nurturing the arts: arrival of complete boxed set

A thoroughly unexpected, thoroughly wonderful surprise this week, with the arrival of the complete boxed set of CS Arts magazines.

The vision of Chrysalis Seed was to ‘generate multiplying groups of artists in a subculture centred in Jesus’. The mission was to ‘equip artists to integrate their art and faith, and to reconcile art and faith communities’. For 14 years it existed as a Trust, with a principal mechanism including a magazine CS Arts.

Which grew, from 4 pages, to 52 pages, from black and white, to colour. It covered a wonderful array of topics, interviews with artists and curators, reviews, themed essays (including a few film reviews I wrote). It was free, always distributed widely, including to commercial galleries and studios. It drew praise and gained some very high quality interviews.

The focus was creating conversations with the art world, not meeting a Christian sub-culture and so it was always incredibly classy, in content, design and paper. The decision to make it a boxed set simply underlines the class, drawing attention to entire collection and the search for quality.

Looking through the editions, realising the growth, reading the range of topics, is struck me as a fascinating attempt at contextualisation – to have a conversation with a key area of culture. It would make an interesting piece of contemporary contextual research, to explore the themes over the time period, the sources it dialogued with, the way it sought to speak of Christ.

The Trust disbanded in 2010. Having started a conversation, it wanted to shift it from a centralised office with a magazine, to a grassroots set of networks.  This now includes

  • Four groups of Christian artists in Waikanae, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.
  • A social network of over 600 artists and supporters.
  • A comprehensive library of art and faith materials available nationally to artists and students through Knox College, Dunedin Christian artists and activists networking throughout New Zealand.
  • Regional gatherings of artists.
  • All published CS Arts magazines available online (but not boxed:))
  • A monthly prayer newsletter for artists, groups and arts institutions.
  • Artists’ social network:
  • An online community where artists and supporters of the visual arts meet and chat online, share ideas, news and information.

They have a forum here, a website here. All the magazines archived here. But not as a complete boxed set, because that will sit pride of place in my office! And maybe one day a research article. But not this sabbatical!

Posted by steve at 08:17 PM

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

the politics of Christian influence: Christianity and colonisation

James Boyce’s 1835 explores the Founding of Melbourne and in doing so, the conquest of Australia. Such books are essential reading for all those who care about mission and the witness of the church, because they allow us to reflect on the past.

Chapter 5: London 1835 includes a summary of the place of Evangelical Christianity in colonisation. “With the assistance of their …. [evangelicals] …. the British government became focused on the physical and moral welfare of indigenous people to an extent unknown before, or for the most part, since.” (37)

First, it helpfully notes that British Evangelicalism of the early 1800s should not be confused with present day American Evangelicalism.

Second, it notes the motivation. Once Slavery was abolished, indigenous welfare became a priority area of Evangelical concern. “Government control, along with support for enterprising ‘respectable’ settlers, was urgently needed to counteract the harm done to natives by lower-class European.” (38-9) This provides a contrast to the Domination narrative, which is often pinned on Christian colonisers. “The simple fact that evangelicals accepted that people had rights based on prior possession set them apart from the dominant settler discourse, which argued that the right to land arose from using it for farming.” (39)

This produced an ironic tension, that Christians supported colonisation because they saw it as “the primary means of ensuring that Aborigines were not degraded or killed by the lower order of Europeans.” (40)

Third, this advocacy on behalf of indigenous people relied on information. What happened in Melbourne and in the colonising of Australia, was that distance and lack of missionaries on the ground, meant that the Christian politicians lacked data to work for justice.

It’s a fascinating narrative about the relationship between church and society and the attempt to use politics for influence.

(New Zealand readers will want to read Chapter 7 – The Treaty, as it provides a fascinating analysis of a Treaty signing, both the politics and the processes, just a few short years before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. But that is for another post).

Posted by steve at 09:04 AM

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Finding words for worship

I’ve been asked to provide a call to worship at the Church Synod on Friday evening. My general rule of thumb is to work with what’s engaging me. Last week I posted this,

Pukehinahina Cross, St Georges Anglican Gate Pa. Used with permission.

Which, with a bit of research, over the weekend I have shaped into the following Call to worship -

Leader: The cross,
offering reconciliation, making enemies friends,
All: May we, reconciled and reconciling, feel again Your call to mercy

Leader: The greenstone,
an item of treasure and value in Maori culture
All: May we, Your treasures in earthen clay, hear afresh Your call to value each other

Leader: The fishhook, carved in reference to Jesus invitation,
Come follow me: I will make you fishers of people
All: May we, Your fisher folk, experience anew Your call to mission

Leader: The fishhook, a pattern commonly carved in Maori culture
a symbol for a journey, speaking of the need for shared courage, wise leadership and safety in troubled times
All: May we, Your pilgrim people, find together new courage, wise leadership and surprising joy,

Leader: In our shared journey, Shaped always by this cross of Christ. Amen

Posted by steve at 01:19 PM

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

a contextual visual for mission 2

Other visual theologies of mission here and here.

Pukehinahina Cross, St Georges Anglican Gate Pa. Used with permission.

Carved by James Tapiata for St Georges Anglican Church at Gate Pa. Used by permission. Not to be used in any form without permission from St Georges.

The greenstone Maori fish hook is entwined around the cross, to remember Christ’s mission as a fisher of people and to show the ties between two people – Maori and Pakeha. Greenstone is of immense importance in Maori culture, both spiritually and historically. Although not stated on the church website, the fish hook is likely to reference “Hei-Matau”, a common Maori carving pattern, in which fishing was simply a way of gathering food. In this context, it would symbolise prosperity, determination, leadership and good health, as well as safe journey over water.

Posted by steve at 10:00 AM

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Amazing news. Go Justin. Go the Anglicans

Amazing news. Justin Duckworth, dreadlocked, 44 years olds, pioneer urban missionary for last 25 years, in recent years reforming that around new monasticism (story told with his wife, Jenny, in Against the Tide, Towards the Kingdom (New Monastic Library)) – has just been appointed Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Wellington.

I remember attending an emerging church hui (gathering) in Wellington in 2005. At that time, some were dismissing the mainline church as dead. Others of us weren’t convinced. Theologically, we wanted to retain an openness to the God of surprise. It’s well expressed in the words of one of New Zealand’s best poets, James K. Baxter.

Lord, Holy Spirit, You blow like the wind
In a thousand paddocks, Inside and outside the fences

That sense that God can work inside and outside the church, in forms new and old. Justin was there, deeply involved in mission amongst the underprivileged and justice workshops. Now a Bishop! It’s moments like these that confirm those instincts, the joy of following a God of surprise, the celebration at the courage of the Diocese of Wellington.

I’ve written about Urban Vision as part of a chapter on the emerging church in New Zealand. Its in a book, edited by Ryan Bolger, that showcases a global emerging church, in continental Europe, Asia, and Latin American and in African American hip-hop culture. Titled: Gospel after Christendom, The: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions, it’s due out in October, and I hope that, given this news, they don’t mind if I post some excerpts. Under the heading “Mission.” I begin with another quote from James K Baxter.

Lord Holy Spirit, Heaven is with us when you are with us,
You are singing your songs in the hearts of the poor

Followed by:

Urban Vision began in 1996 as a group of people committed to serve the innercity of Wellington, through acts of Incarnational mission. Its origins were in a shared set of friendship, a suburb (Berhampore) and a commitment to quietly follow Christ among the poor and marginalised.

An important ministry feature was “the Castle”, an intentional community where people from the street could experience belonging and equality. There was also a willingness from individuals to deliberately relocate into public housing areas in order to support refugees and migrants.

Over the years, Urban Vision has morphed and grown in strength and outreach. It has seeded teams into other urban poor and marginalized suburbs around Wellington. Then in 2007, Urban Vision decided to reform itself as a contemporary independent Order, centered around a set of shared values. These include
• a prophetic call to seek justice
• a willingness to be sent as Good News
• an action/reflection spirituality
• a commitment to simple lifestyle and
• discipleship formation.
To quote from their website “we’re not simply copying something from the past … [Rather] … this similarity to the old missionary movements has come about because of the contexts we live, because of the times we live in and the prevailing culture of society and the church at this point of history in Aotearoa/New Zealand.”

This commitment to radical discipleship, along with their durability over a decade, are a fine example of experimental emerging praxis, of giving concrete expression to the Wind of the Spirit who yearns to whisper God’s “songs in the hearts of the poor.”

Here’s an interview with the Bishop-elect!

And here’s a fuller written article on Justin, Urban Vision and new monasticism here.

Posted by steve at 07:07 PM

Monday, February 06, 2012

Daily prayer for Waitangi Day

Today I was leading our 20 minute daily prayer service here at Uniting College. Being Waitangi Day in New Zealand, a day to reflect upon the Treaty of Waitangi and it’s implications for today, I decided I would name some of my cultural heritage and make it a basis for our daily prayer. (Other worship resources I’ve shaped for Waitangi Day services are summarised here). So last night I DJed a few elements together – something tactile in the shape of a puzzle piece, some Scriptures, a prayer and an active intercessory response. For those interested, here tis (more…)

Posted by steve at 12:24 AM