Saturday, June 11, 2011

my book of the month: The German Mujahid

The German Mujahid is beautifully written by Algerian author, Boualem Sansal.

Three of our globals more difficult conversations are engaged – the Holocaust, Islamic fundamentalism, and multi-culturalism in the West. The carrier of these conversations are two immigrant brothers, who discover that their father, brutally killed in his Algerian village by Islamic fundamentalists, was himself a SS officer at Auschwitz. The use of narrative, mixed with diary entries are used to explore the unfolding complexities of contemporary life and what it might mean to speak for peace in cultures of intolerance.

The writing is superb, a searing portrayal. The characters are believable, unfolding in their complexity. (If I was being critical, I’d comment on the male-centric nature of the book, in which the voices of woman are very much pushed to the margins.)

While this book leaves you worldly wiser, it also leaves you none the wiser as to how then to live in cultures of intolerance. The worlds of Hitler and Islam fundamentalism are penned so strongly, that any green shoots of resistance and hope simply struggle for life.

Posted by steve at 11:56 AM

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spirituality in contemporary Australian women’s fiction

Part of my current life task is to listen to Australia. In that context, an unexpected treasure is Rewriting God. Spirituality in contemporary Australian women’s fiction..  She laments that fact that “apart from Veronica Brady, there are no female religious writers who have addressed Australian spirituality in any depth.” (86) The book then addresses the question of whether contemporary Australian women fiction writers – Thea Astley, Elizabeth Jolley, Barbara Hanrahan – are addressing God questions.  In doing so, it finds a spirituality very different from that espoused by male theologians. For instance

  • God is a verb, rather than a noun. There is a focus on the active agency of love, healing and friendship rather than debates of gender.
  • Scant attention is being paid to the solitary and distant place, like the desert, outback or the wilderness.

“Women find it possible to access the divine wherever they are, in their houses and gardens, in the company of friends and family, or in the act of creation … The way to God is through joy, creativity, and loving kindness: ‘salvation’ is communal not individual.” (278, 9)

  • A recurring behaviour is a concern for other people. In this sense, the hermetic journey to the outback is seen as self-absorbed.
  • Acceptance of self, of humanity, of frailness, is the first step towards God. This is in contrast to a negation of self.  “[S]ervice to others is therefore rendered not as a penance but out of compassion and willingness to share onself and thus be enriched.” (279)

Love to hear feedback from the locals, about the claims of another local. In the meantime, I want to go back and re-read a younger Australian writer, Charlotte Wood, and her book The Submerged Cathedral. I seem to recall a woman who does go “outback”:

She builds a garden, creatively using Australian plants to transform the hollowed hull of the monastery. It’s ceaseless and heart-breakingly hard work. But in the process of contextualisation, of clearing Australian clay, she finds love, meaning and redemption.

Posted by steve at 11:45 AM

Monday, June 01, 2009

slap: book review of Christos Tsiolkas

With a holiday weekend forecast for showers and sleet, it was off to Borders for some fireside reading. The Slap by Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas caught my eye and less than 24 hours later, the last (of 483) page has turned.

Great read. A beautifully constructed portrayal of contemporary (Australian) family life. Writing first person, and thus stepping inside the skin of another is an art, yet Tsiolkas handles a wide range of characters – male and female, married and single, gay and straight – with ease.

The book begins with a family barbeque and a man slapping an errant child. The moment becomes a faultline for exploring what it means to human today – to raise children, to age, to migrate, to believe.

Centred on the suburb of Preston (streets I’ve walked with good friends) it deftly captures the pluralism and multi-cultural tensions of contemporary Australia – the racism of Australian pubs, the monosyllabic, yet internet-connected existence of teenagers, the laugh out loud descriptions of the suburbs:

“It was a tacky pokies pub in the middle of nowhere, boganville. Every street looked the same, every house looked the same, everybody looked the same. It was where you came to die. Zombies lived here. He could hear them monotonously tapping away at the machines.”

A book like this should be compulsory reading for all those doing ministry today, a thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing snapshot of the tensions of contemporary living, of love that endures, of the hope found in friendship.

(Winner of 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize).

Posted by steve at 12:35 PM

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

a time of angels: book review

A Time of Angels is a fabulous holiday read. It works on so many levels:
- fictional mystery, as clairvoyant Primo Verona, narrates his life story, the love and loss of his wife, the beautiful Beatrice,
- teaser of tastebuds, as Primo’s best friend is cafe owner Pasquale Benvenuto, creator of fruit breads and salami,
- migrant narratives, as survivors of the Holocaust seek healing in the new soils of Southern Africa,
- philosophical thoughtpiece, as the complex relationship between evil and good is explored.

Patricia Schonstein was born in Zimbabwe and her fiction has garnered her a range of literary awards. She writes beautifully, opening up the richness of her continent, skillfully developing characters, all against a backdrop that is artistically and intellectually stimulating. (It is rare for a book of fiction to conclude with a bibliography referencing both history and art). I am now on the look out for more from this developing talent, including A Quilt of Dreams and The Apothecary’s Daughter.

Posted by steve at 05:32 PM

Monday, December 17, 2007

carpet wars: book of the month

Did you know that in Iraq farmers build towers for birds to nest in so they can collect the fertiliser? The Carpet Wars by Christopher Kremmer is a great read. I picked it up at Borders a few weeks ago and found it hard to put down. The book uses the history of carpet making in the Middle East to provide a rich tapestry by which to understand contemporary Islam. Chris writes beautifully, mixing his travels over ten years through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India, with the personal stories of those he meets. Thus it becomes not only a celebration of creativity, but a really helpful introduction to the complexities and nuances of Islam today – including people, history and culture.

Posted by steve at 04:18 PM

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

turn the page on poverty: book buying for justice

goodbooks logo.jpg

This is a great idea:

Every time you buy a book from Goodbooks – any book – we contribute all profits to Oxfam to help fight its global battle against poverty and social injustice. There is no extra cost to you. We do not mark up our books to cover this contribution; our prices remain among the lowest you will find; delivery worldwide is completely free, and with over two million titles in stock our range is one of the largest you will find. Help us open a new chapter in the fight against inequality.

Check out the great little animation here; with Kiwi and literary icons mixing it among an African village. Hey, you can even buy my book, The Out of Bounds Church? Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change.

Posted by steve at 10:48 PM

Friday, August 10, 2007

Unexpected treats

I have been unexpectedly and richly blessed by the following two books in recent months.


Seeing things helps me understand things. In the midst of words and concepts, I often find a simple diagram brings clarity and fresh insight. After the Spirit, by Eugene Rogers is a theology book that in the midst of some sophisticated reflection on the Spirit as revealed in the ministry of Jesus, managed to draw on some art. This is the type of book that has sat by my bed for the last 9 months, and I have found myself turning to as Christmas, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday approached. And the art pieces – on Jesus birth, baptism and ascension – clarified and then enlivened 3 sermons and 2 lectures.


Behind a boring cover, this book has been fantastic. It’s brought Ezekiel to life for me in recent days. What I thought was a dusty old prophet has become a deeply inspiring and encouraging friend. There’s a huge vision of God and the gospel for the whole of life hidden in Ezekiel that is accessed by this commentary. I have been toying with doing a series on the 12 minor prophets and reading this book has made up my mind.

Posted by steve at 11:24 AM

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

easter resources

I am working on Easter stuff at the moment. (Working on something that I think is my most innovative in a long time. Hoping to be able to blog it in a week. That’s not meant to be a tease, just an excited Steve Taylor-Tigger-like-bounce.) Anyhow, I am finding Passion in Art by Richard Harries passioninart250.jpg incredibly helpful. 32 Easter related art images, from ancient to contemporary, each with 2 or 3 pages of written reflection. It offers me both visual and theological gifts. Very helpful for my creative juices.

Posted by steve at 02:39 PM

Friday, April 21, 2006

alt.worship and australian fiction

submerged.jpg Just finished The Submerged Cathedral by Charlotte Wood. It’s fiction, a beautifully written tale of love set in Australia. It was a read for pleasure but it got me thinking again about contextualisation.

Part of the book is set in a monastery and portrays the naive sterility and rigid patterns that are monastic life. The monastery fails, a European transplant that finds no root in Australian soil.

The monastery is brought by a woman seeking love and redemption. She builds a garden, creatively using Australian plants to transform the hollowed hull of the monastery. It’s ceaseless and heart-breakingly hard work. But in the process of contextualisation, of clearing Australian clay, she finds love, meaning and redemption.

It was for me a reminder that contextualisation is at the heart of missiology. Our talk of missional church is not the transplanting of alien forms but the slow crafting of unique life among the existing contours. And for the Antipodes, it must be earthy, creative and indigenous.

This for me is what attracted me to alt.worship. It is contextualisation. It is faith, creatively expressed in the linga franca of video loops. It is the finding of a submerged cathedral in pop culture. I know it has it’s critics among the emerging missional church. It’s a criticism I struggle to understand, because surely taking missiology seriously demands the slow crafting and indigenous life i.e. contextualisation.

Posted by steve at 09:15 PM

Monday, March 08, 2004

book of the month: the heartbreaker

Confession. I love Susan Howatch. Her latest novel, The Heartbreaker, continues my affair of the heart. Sure it’s long. Sure it’s not a thriller. But I’d buy it because
1 – It’s fiction. And in the world of my imagination is where God most often sandbags me.
2 – It offers a superb contemporary contextualisation of Luke 15
3 – It offers some very interesting insights on sexuality, particularly the complexities around homosexuality. This book will satisfy neither liberal or fundamentalist, but it might make both more sensitive and less dogmatic.
4 – It offers a pastoral model of the “long haul”, in which God works deeply through sustained listening, committed Christian behaviours and the desire for sustained integrated lives.

If your world includes people or ministry, then reading Howatch will be time well spent.

Posted by steve at 08:35 AM

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Liquid Church

In liquid church, Pete Ward takes a deep swim in postmodern waters. While many are just trying to dog paddle, Ward explores ways for the church to incarnationally flourish in our contemporary culture….

(more…)

Posted by steve at 07:13 PM