Sunday, May 26, 2019

Craftivism as a missiology of making abstract for Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference 2019

I’m hoping to be in the north of England for a few weeks in September. I have 2 weeks of sabbatical I need to take. I am hoping to link that with being able to participate in the Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference 2019 at Durham. I’ve just submitted a paper proposal. This proposal is a development of the paper I’ve had accepted for ANZATS in Auckland in July 2019, as a result of some of the data analysis I’ve done during my sabbatical.

Unknown-10

Where #christmasangels tread: Craftivism as a missiology of making

The church is formed by witness. A contemporary ecclesial embodiment of witness is craftivism, which combines craft and activism. One example is the Christmas angels project, in which local churches are encouraged to knit Christmas Angels and yarnbomb their surrounding neighbourhoods. This paper examines this embodiment of craftivism as a fresh expression of mission.

Given that Christmas angels were labelled with a twitter hashtag, technology was utilised to access the tweets as empirical data in order to analyse the experiences of those who received this particular form of Christian witness. Over 1,100 “#christmasangel” tweets were extracted and examined. Geographic mapping suggests that Christmas angels have taken flight over England. Content analysis reveals a dominant theme of a found theology, in which angels are experienced as surprising gift. Consistent with the themes of Advent, this embodiment of craftivism was received with joy, experienced as place-based and understood in the context of love and community connection.

A Christology of making will be developed, reading the layers of participative making in dialogue with David Kelsey’s theological anthropology. The research has relevance, first, exploring the use of twitter in empirical ecclesial research; second, offering a practical theology of making; third, challenging missiology in ‘making’ a domestic turn.

Let’s see what happens. In the meantime, back to learning to knit :)

Posted by steve at 07:12 PM

Thursday, April 18, 2019

craftivist research: coding round 1

So I am coding.  As introduced earlier this week, I have 1100 individual tweets; 22 pages of data.  These have been printed on A3 sheets, leaving me with margins to scrawl notes as I go.

Unknown-12 Over 3 afternoons this week, when I need a break from writing on the First Expressions book project, I have laid out the highlighters – orange, yellow, green, pink.  I have added the pens – red and black – and a pencil.  Potentially 7 different categories. 

I have then simply read each tweet, word by word, looking for themes.  When I think there is a theme I write it down on a blank A3 sheet of paper. Then whenever I see that theme in the data, I use that colour highlighter.  For example, pink is warm comments – words like lovely.  I mindmap related words. Cute is similar to lovely, as is beautiful, so I add that to the related words and in pink I underline lovely/cute/beautiful whenever they appear.

This is a first read. I’m trying to get a feel for the data, to notice trends and seek patterns.  There will be themes that will need to be merged, or themes that will probably appear on a subsequent read. I realise that my data set is corrupted. the hashtag Xmasangel has pulled in other data. This is fine, I can cull the database before I read again.

As I go, I make notes of impressions. This will need to be verified, by numbers, by assembling quotes. But I am getting a feel for the data.

There will be a second read and perhaps a third round. I have the data as a master, so will photocopy off another A3 sheet and using the codes I already have, I will start again from the top and read through.

This is intuitive. I am wanting to be able to stand in front of a group of peers and be able to say – these are the main themes in this data – and here is the evidence to explain and support these main themes.

My initial impressions – in no particular order – are as follows,

  •  the overwhelming sense of joy and positivity generated by Christmas Angels. In the 1,100 tweets, there is only one that might be read as negative. The word “lovely” and “thanks” were dominant
  • the place-based nature of this community engagement. Invariably tweets named locations. These could be towns, streets, park benches, homes, train stations etc. There is a strong sense of connection with place being evoked by the angels. The angelic goodwill is not being heard in Bethlehem but in local communities and closes, streets and high streets shops, in contemporary England.
  • the layers of participation, both for senders and receivers. Senders source materials, make, tag, box, commission, deliver and tweet. Receivers find, carry, display, home and tweet. Indeed it could be argued that there is a making of angels as senders and a making of homes as receivers. Making is an essential part of this mission and in making, connections are deepened and meaning is being made.
  • the way the project built connections, particularly within households and between church and community.

These four themes are articulated in one tweet: “What a lovely idea. Daughter found this for me now taking pride of place on tree.”  There is the positivity of response (“lovely”), the place-based nature  (on tree), the layers of making (participation by the receiver of finding, homing, tweeting) and the building of connections (between daughter and parent).

I’m in a really happy place doing this. I love being curious about the world, in particular about mission and how fresh expressions of mission are received. I’m also curious about the domestic and gendered, the place of making in knowing, what is and is not communicated in craft and tactility.

And a reminder: of the craftivism Christmas angels research project (full outline here).

Background: I am interested in fresh expressions of Christian witness. One recent fresh expression I’ve become aware of is Christmas angels. It is a form of How to Be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest, in which angels are knitted and gifted among communities. I spoke on craftivism at the Transitional Cathedral last year as part of their Prophets in the Cathedral series. I am interested in how these angels are received (to read my conference abstract – Craftivism as a missiology of making – go here). It is one thing to ask people why they get involved in a fresh expression project like this. But how do those who find an angel make meaning?

To address this question presented some research challenges. I live in another country, it is not currently Christmas and I don’t want to look like a stalker, chasing people who find Christmas angels to ask for an interview. Helen Kara’s Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide has been a great resource, encouraging me to think creatively about research.

Research method: To address this question, I am experimenting with analysing social media. Each angel was sent out with a hashtag #Xmasangels. This meant that people who received the angels could interact and in ways that are in the public domain. This provides a way to analyse recipent response – How people responded to the angels? What meanings did they make? With help from a colleague, I have extracted over 1,1000 #Xmasangel hashtag tweets. I am now conducting thematic analysis. This will be brought into dialogue with the literature, particularly a theology of making and the place of domesticity and craft in contemporary cultures.

Outcomes? Action-reflection on mission action, research-informed teaching (at KCML and as I am invited by churches to talk about fresh expressions of mission), presentation of data at academic conferences, writing for industry (Candour, Spanz) and an academic journal, possible engagement with Christmas angel organisors.

Posted by steve at 05:31 PM

Monday, April 15, 2019

craftivism research: recipient responses

I’m around the halfway mark of the sabbatical. After 6 weeks, I’ve completed some major tasks

  • 10,000 word journal article on mission submitted
  • 6,000 word journal article on life-long learning submitted
  • article to SPANZ completed
  • article to Candour after Christchurch mosque murders on Spirit in trauma completed
  • Sydney Learning and Teaching conference presentation completed (feedback here)

Plus I have completed around 22,000 new words on the First Expressions book project. I’m around 7,000 words ahead of schedule and I’m moving into the editing stage. So I need to adjust the shape of my sabbatical.

It’s time for a more playful task alongside the editing tasks and as a way of celebrating after the completing tasks. I will continue to write on the First Expressions book project in the morning but I’m picking up a more creative project in the afternoons.

Background: I am interested in fresh expressions of Christian witness. One recent fresh expression I’ve become aware of is Christmas angels. It is a form of How to Be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest, in which angels are knitted and gifted among communities. I spoke on craftivism at the Transitional Cathedral last year as part of their Prophets in the Cathedral series. I am interested in how these angels are received (to read my conference abstract – Craftivism as a missiology of making – go here). It is one thing to ask people why they get involved in a fresh expression project like this. But how do those who find an angel make meaning?

To address this question presented some research challenges. I live in another country, it is not currently Christmas and I don’t want to look like a stalker, chasing people who find Christmas angels to ask for an interview. Helen Kara’s Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide has been a great resource, encouraging me to think creatively about research.

Research method: To address this question, I am experimenting with analysing social media. Each angel was sent out with a hashtag #Xmasangels. This meant that people who received the angels could interact and in ways that are in the public domain. This provides a way to analyse recipent response – How people responded to the angels? What meanings did they make? With help from a colleague, I have extracted over 1,1000 #Xmasangel hashtag tweets. I am now conducting thematic analysis. This is fancy words for printing them out – all 22 pages – on A3 sheets of paper, finding highlighters and coloured pens and reading every tweet, looking for themes.

Unknown-10

Research methodology: As another part of the research, I am also learning to knit. I figure that it is one thing to engage #Xmasangels intellectually. It is quite another to engage by actually making Christmas angels. So I have started to learn to knit. I am keeping a diary of my experiences. It is fascinating to be learning to craft as I am researching craft – a tactile embodying of research. (For those who keep watch on how KCML staff spend their time, rest assured I am knitting after hours and not in work hours).

Unknown-9

What will be the outcomes? I think knowing how people respond to mission is important in guiding future mission action. It is the basis of practical theology and action-reflection modes of learning. I hope to include the results as I teach on mission at KCML and as I continue to be invited by churches to talk about fresh expressions of mission. I hope to present the data to at least one, ideally two academic conferences, as part of reflecting on mission. I hope to write up the results, so that those who don’t hear me talk can still engage with the data. This will include Candour, Spanz and an academic journal. I will also send the results to the Christmas angel organisors. They might want to engage with me and I’m happy to do that. I hope to learn to knit. Above all, I hope to continue to be curious about the world around me and especially fresh expressions of Christian witness.

Over the next few days, I will share my initial impressions of the first read (fancy word for colour coding with highlighters) of the data. While is it very early days, I am already struck by some fascinating recipient responses.

Posted by steve at 04:26 PM

Monday, April 01, 2019

Craftivism as a missiology of making

A conference proposal I have just submitted for the ANZATS 2019 conference in Auckland. It seeks to take forward the presentation I gave at the Transitional Cathedral last year (a summary of which was included in Cathedral Extra here).

craft-unsplash

Where #christmasangels tread: Craftivism as a missiology of making

Craft-ivism combines craft and activism. Craft-ivists utilise needlework, including yarn-bombing, cross-stitch and pink pussy hats, in collective acts of protest and solidarity (Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch). This paper considers craft-ivism as a contemporary form of mission, with a focus on Christmas angels. In the UK in 2014, some 2,870 Christmas angels were knitted and left in public places, with a message of Christian love. By 2016, this had risen to 45,930.

Given that many Christmas angels included a twitter hashtag, technology can be utilised to access empirical data (Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide) regarding the experiences of those who received this particular form of Christian witness. This paper will examine 1,100 “#christmasangel” tweets. Content analysis will provide insights regarding how recipients make sense of this fresh expression of Christian witness, while geographic mapping suggests that Christmas angels have taken flight all over Great Britain.

Christine Dutton argues that acts of making are spiritual practices that can be formative in the making of new forms of Christian community. This suggests that practices of craft-ivism can be read theologically. Hence, a Christology of making will be developed, reading Proverbs 22:2 “the Lord is the maker” in dialogue with David Kelsey’s theological anthropology (Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set)). God is revealed as practicing delight (crafting), wonder (making) and perseverance (a discipline known to all crafters and makers). Hence, acts of craftivism are both a participation in the being and acting of God as maker and a spiritual means of connecting with the world. Missiology is invited to ‘make’ a domestic turn, by participating in practices of making.

(Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash)

Posted by steve at 11:31 AM

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The week day church as a hermeneutic of the gospel: an action research project integrating faith and work in a local church

A book chapter proposal for a proposed special journal edition on ‘Mission, Faith, Work and Economics.’ I wasn’t expecting to write this on sabbatical, but last week I found 900 words of notes and resources from a workshop I led last year.

The week day church as a hermeneutic of the gospel: an action research project integrating faith and work in a local church

A distinctive feature of Christian spirituality is the commitment to sacralise the secular. Martin Luther asserted that “household chores are more to be valued than all the works of monks and nuns” (Christian History: An Introduction, 2013, 169). John Paul II argued that the church must “form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God” (Laborem Excercens, 1981, 24). So how does a local church help participants integrate their faith and work?

This chapter will outline an action research project, that of my own participation in leading one local church in the integration of faith and work. Intentional actions wil be described, along with documentary analysis of liturgical innovation.

Three areas of ecclesial life will be examined. First, liturgy, including sermons, creative Eucharist, monthly work-place pastoral prayers and engagement with a secular festival (Labour Day). Second, small group practices of discernment and action-reflection. Third, mission structures, in the form of annual commissioning days and the development of mission collectives to encourage integration of faith and work.

The data will be examined in light of Lesslie Newbigin’s claim that the re-missioning of Western cultures requires the congregation to be a hermeneutic of the gospel, “men and women who believe it and live by it” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989, 227). Newbigin develops this hermeneutic in six domains: of praise, truth, neighbourhood, engagement in public life, mutuality and hope (227-233). These domains provide a theoretical, and missiological, framework through which to examine the liturgy, group life and mission structures of a particular faith community.

The argument is that action-research in local church can sacralise the secular as it provides contextual resources that invigorate mission as faith-ful work witness.

Posted by steve at 09:38 PM

Monday, March 04, 2019

structuring outside study leave

When the Presbyterian Church formed KCML in 2006, the goals for the College included research. KCML is to be responsive to trends and training needs and to foster and facilitate high quality research into these needs and trends. It makes sense, in a time of rapid change, to create capacity for action-reflection on ministry and mission. Such reflection, especially if it is to be high quality, takes time and so to embody the tasks assigned by the church, KCML Faculty are allocated outside study leave, 15 weeks every 3 years.

I was due October 2018, but delayed mine – what with other Faculty already on study leave and to ensure teaching over Spring and Summer block courses. However as of today, I have 13 weeks to engage in high quality research. Over the last few weekends, I’ve been setting up an office at home, making a writing space, printing the various chapter drafts to date and bringing home books I might need.

Unknown-2

Given a need and a trend within the church involves new forms of church, the focus of much of my research will be on sustainability and innovation. In order to make sure the research is accessible to the church, I have signed a book contract with SCM Press. The provisional title is First Expressions: emerging movements in mission and the contracted publisher is SCM. It will bring my action over 25 years – planting a fresh expression, leading a church that planted fresh expressions, developing a “have-a-go” pioneering qualification at UCLT, developing New Mission Seedlings here at KCML, into conversation with theory on mission and innovation. In order to keep it give it a wider “action” frame than my own experiences, it will draw on my longitudinal research on new forms of church ten years on in the United Kingdom. I’m particularly interested in what we learn from those who try/play/experiment and how we theorise the tension between durability in cultures of continuity and fail fast in cultures of discontinuity.

Connecting with SCM was a delightfully random part of last year. I had been keen to pitch them the book project but had lacked the time to polish up a proposal. However, when the editor heard I was going to be in Scotland last year, doing a bit of teaching for the Church of Scotland, he asked to connect. I said that actually, well, I had been wondering about showing them a book proposal and if I gave it a quick polish, could I send it before we met … and the rest is history. It feels so good going into a sabbatical with a specific project, with 10 distinct chapters already in draft form, with chapter summaries of each to give me focus.

Unknown

To help me write, I need structure. I also know it is not healthy for me to write all day. So I have allocated other activities to break up my days. So each day is divided into five parts.

  • create – two golden hours of writing – picking up on the research around the value of 2 golden hours
  • make – some tactile engagement with the wider world, in particular craft and the Bible
  • complete – to help motivate during a major project, there are a range of smaller, almost complete projects – rejected journal articles from last year to try in another journal, a couple of spoken lectures to turn into a publication
  • deepen – reading and research, including in the wonderful Hocken, which I find a wonderful re-creative space
  • connect – time to attend to email, rock up to random lectures, blog, administer

I’ve even made time sheets to help me keep track of progress.

Finally, there are the carrots. If I meet the mid-May deadline, I hope to have a few weeks to hikoi with Te Aka Puaho and the whanau of Wiremu Tamehana communities or perhaps go walkabout to visit Aunty Denise Champion in Port Augusta, Australia, and complete with her a joint journal article we began a few years ago.

I can adjust the schedule as I go, or if I fall behind. But it is a start, a way of enabling me to step through the gift that is the space to be responsive to trends and training needs and to foster and facilitate high quality research into these needs and trends.

Posted by steve at 01:54 PM

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Craftivism in (Transitional) Cathedral Extra

In September last year, I was asked to speak at the Transitional (Anglican) Cathedral in Christchurch. It was a 30 minute talk as part of Prophets in the Cathedral, a combined event run by the Diocesan Education Office and the Cathedral. I was delighted to be asked and I really enjoyed putting something new together. I wanted to look a fresh expressions of mission and in ways that a Cathedral congregation might find new possibilities and in ways consistent with their Anglican understandings of mission.

To my delight, the Dean was so enthusiastic about what I said that he that he emailed afterward asking if a summary of my talk could be used in the Cathedral Extra, the quarterly magazine, which goes to supporters all over Christchurch. It was quite an integrating (weaving) experience for me to knit (pun intended) reading and ideas together from various places in the last 5 years.

What I wrote appeared late in November. I got the back page and all!

craftivism

 

Craft-ivism is as simple as the joining of two words: Craft + activism. It is a form of activism, centred on domestic craft (Greer, Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch, 2008). It tends to utilise needlework, including yarn-bombing and cross-stitch and value collective empowerment and creative expression. It has been linked with elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism and solidarity.

For those who like practical examples, it is the knitting of Christmas angels. In the UK, in 2014, some 2870 Christmas angels were knitted and left in public places, with a message of Christian love. By 2016, this had risen to 45,930 (http://www.christmasangel.net). Domestic craft had become a way of spreading good news in public places.

In 2008 four women in a small Methodist Church in the middle of a housing estate near Liverpool, met to knit prayer shawls for the bereaved and those in hospital. Then they moved to blankets for the local women’s refuge, followed by hats for shoebox appeals overseas. Everything they knitted, they would lay hands and pray for those who would receive the finished items. Three years later, by 2011, that initial group of four women had grown to sixty, meeting weekly to knit and pray, many with no previous church connection. Many of these women were calling Knit Natter their church. The story of Knit and Natter is a fresh expression is analysed by Christine Dutton in Ecclesial Practices 1(1), 31 – 50).

These are contemporary stories. Yet craft-ivism is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. In Acts 9, Dorcas crafts clothes for widows, an activity that mirrors the diaconal activity of Acts 6. Her craft-ivism builds a community of widow’s who have found a strong, clear and articulate voice, able to show a visiting Peter what the Gospel looks like in their community.

The Anglican church has five faces of mission and there are elements of all five faces in the work of Dorcas:

  • in nurture and teaching of people – and nurture is what Tabitha is offering to the widows; while teaching is there in the sharing of craft across generations
  • in loving service – and the robes and clothes offered to widows are a wonderful example of practical ministry
  • in proclaiming the gospel – demonstrating Christian community to Peter
  • in transforming society – given that in New Testament times, widows were poor and lacked protection, yet finding in Tabitha an advocate
  • in caring for creation – seen in the role of upcycling as garments are fashioned and re-fashioned

This example from the New Testament suggests that craft-ivism is rooted in Christian history.

Turning, to the Old Testament, God is a craft-ivist in Proverbs 22:2; “the Lord is the maker.” Drawing on the Old Testament wisdom literature, theologians like Paul Fiddes (Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context)and David Kelsey (Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set)), argue that to be fully human involves being like God

  • practicing delight (crafting)
  • practicing wonder (making)
  • practicing perseverance (a discipline known to all crafters and makers)

Craft-ivism is thus a human participation with God the maker.  What is significant about Proverbs 22 is that God’s craft-ivism is then located in the context of justice and mutuality.  We see this in verse 9 – “Those who are generous are blessed; for they share their bread with the poor.” Hence Proverbs 22 provides a way to think Christianly about prophetic craft-ivism.

Posted by steve at 09:49 PM

Friday, October 12, 2018

First expressions book contract

Another happy Steve moment.

signingbook

I’ve recently signed a book contract with SCM Press, for a book on sustainability and innovation. The provisional title is First Expressions: emerging movements in mission. It will be drawing on my longitudinal research on new forms of church ten years on. I’m particularly interested in what we learn from those who try/play/experiment and how we theorise the tension between durability in cultures of continuity and fail fast in cultures of discontinuity.

I’ve had the empirical data for a while and the UK trip in June included the opportunity to connect with SCM editor, David Shervington who reached out on twitter and then graciously accommodated my lateness as the British Library refused me entry because my suitcase was too large.  A book proposal and 2 draft chapters, some back and forth and SCM said yes a few weeks ago.

I never imagined writing one book, yet alone three, so I’m pretty pleased.  I’m due for some sabbatical time February through May 2019, so the timing is perfect, with the full manuscript due to SCM in May.  In the meantime, I have a few other deadlines to complete (ducking to hide from Jione Havea and Christine Woods).

Posted by steve at 11:24 AM

Monday, September 10, 2018

Craftivism as prophetic mission

I’m speaking – Craftivism as prophetic mission – engaging with Dorcas, Lydia, yarnbombing and make spaces. This Sunday 16th September, Christchurch Anglican Cathedral.

craftivism

Posted by steve at 10:55 AM

Sunday, July 22, 2018

connect keynote: a Presbyterian missiology

flyer-connect I was asked to provide a keynote at Connect this weekend, speaking to 175 Presbyterian youth leaders, gathered nationally near Wellington. I used it as an opportunity to pull together some of my thinking over the last year (here and here) and articulate a Presbyterian missiology, one that made sense of the diverse cultural landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand.

So I began with the burning bush and worked with Maori, Samoan and Fhilipino conversation partners, weaving in stories of migration and diaspora. The result is, I think, a global reformed theology of mission, shaped by indigenous insights, which invites people into an even more global, yet profoundly local missiology.

People of the burning bush,
Ko koutou nga uri o Te Tahu Ngahere
Exodus 3:1-7

Mihi: with specific greeting – to everyone one of you, as people of the burning bush, Ko koutou nga uri o Te Tahu Ngahere (Burning Bush), tena koutou

We are people of the burning bush. Ko koutou nga uri o Te Tahu Ngahere. We come from a long line of ancestors who have found in the burning bush a call to mission. Not mission as imperialism. Not mission as colonisation.

Mission as love. Mission as listening. Mission as vulnerable standing on holy ground.

There is a Maori word – mata ora. One way, a literal translation, according to one of my teo reo advisers, is to understand mata ora as a change maker, a person who brings change.

Another way, according to another of my teo reo advisers, is to understand mata ora as a healthy face. We bring a healthy face to our communities.

I’m told that mata ora in Maori sounds like a Samoan word, mata ola. In Samoa, mata ola also means a person who brings change. Brings change by entering the village from outside and by listening.

When I hear the Exodus 3 Bible passage, which we’ve heard read in 10 languages and seen projected in English, I wonder if Moses is being asked to be a mata ora and a mata ola.

And so we understand what it means to be Presbyterian: we understand mission – as being a change maker; as being the people who bring a healthy face to our community; as people who enter our communities and are known for our listening.

Let me look at the Exodus Bible passage. Then let me tell you what the burning bush looks like in different cultures.

Emerges from love- On a working day beside a mountain called Horeb, a shepherd walked the desert. There is nothing out of the ordinary about his role, he is tending sheep from the family farm. In the midst of the ordinary, Moses hears the extraordinary – the “never-interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity.” (Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society)

In 3:7; “I have indeed seen the misery of my people .. I have heard them crying .. I am concerned about their suffering.” It is a wonderful image of God. It is the source of mission. It is the “never-interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity.” Repeated in 3:9 I have indeed – underlined, highlighted, bolded – heard the cry of my people.

This is God. The “never-interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity.” Who sees misery. Who sees suffering. Who is concerned about our communities. This is the God of the people of the burning bush; that God that makes us changemakers – mata ora – mata ola.

Mission as openness – On a working day, besides a mountain, a shepherd named Moses responded to the the voice of uninterrupted love. In 3:4 “Here I am.”

They are the same words as are said by Abraham,by Jacob, by Samuel, by Isaiah and by Mary: “Here I am, send me” for Isaiah. “Here I am, let it be with me according to your word,” for Mary.

Each a listener, responding to the voice of love. This is what it means to be Presbyterian. Scottish theologian, Alan Lewis describes the Reformed church, the people of the burning bush as ecclesia ex Auditu, formed by hearing (Ecclesia ex Auditu A Reformed View of the Church as the Community of the Word of God, Ex Auditu 35, 1 – Alan E. Lewis). People with ears. Who begin by listening. Hearing love. From God. And in each other. Like, Moses, listening for the voice of love, to which we will say “Here I am.”

Holy ground – On a working day, the ground becomes holy. In 3:5 “Do not not come any closer . Take off your shoes for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

I grew up, thinking the holy place was the church. That the closer to the front, the more holy it was. I also grew up thinking the way my church did worship was holy, the best way, the only way. Yet for Moses, the holy place is the working place, the place where he listens.

This changes how I see holiness. Every working place, every social encounter, every community, every young person, every rangitahi, is potentially a place that becomes holy as I hear the voice of uninterrupted love.

What does it mean for us and for our young people and for the way we design our programmes and understand our mission, if the voice of uninterrupted love is already present in every working place, every community?

Mission as love. Mission as here I am listening. Mission as vulnerable standing on holy ground – for Moses.

But we’re not Moses. Are we? Ask the person beside you – are you Moses?

Any Moses?

We’re not Moses.

But we are Presbyterians. We are people of the burning bush. Ko koutou nga uri o Te Tahu Ngahere

We come from a long line of ancestors who’ve found in the burning bush and story of life and vitality.

This burning bush has renewed us.
This burning bush has given us identity.
This burning bush has given us a mission.

It’s like the bush itself has become a changemaker – a mata ora – a mata ola – in different communities and different cultures.

Here’s the burning bush of our ancestors in Scotland. A few weeks ago I was upside down and on the other side of the world because I was doing some work with the Church of Scotland, a partner church of the Presbyterian Church of Aoteroa New Zealand.

This is me – outside the national offices of the Church of Scotland.

The month was June. Last month. So on the other side of the world, the days were warm. The evenings were light, daylight at 10 pm at night.

I’ve got a coffee in my hand and I’m just about to talk to the Church of Scotland about what God is doing at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. Above me, you can see a logo – the symbol – the main visual sign of the Church of Scotland.

That’s the burning bush. Based on the story in Exodus 3

As part of introducing myself to the Church of Scotland, I took some photos with me of the burning bush in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I thought it would be a good way of making connections. And in so doing, to introduce the different cultures of the PCANZ to our mother church.

So I began with the covenant partnership the PCANZ has with Te Aka Puaho, the Maori Synod. So I showed them this symbol from Te Aka Puaho.

In English, Te Aka Puaho means the burning vine. So the Maori church has interpreted the burning bush as a burning vine. Drawn not only from Exodus 3 but also from John 15 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.

So this burning bush is understood in fresh ways by tangata whenua.

Second, I showed them the symbol from St Johns Presbyterian, Papatoetoe. This symbol honours another culture group. It honours Pacific migration to New Zealand from the 1970’s onward. In response to Pacific peoples on the move, St Johns Presbyterian change the church by building a new stained glass window.

In the words of Margaret Anne Lowe, the minister of St Johns Presbyterian: “ The new [burning] bush in our window … has flowers of the frangipani blossoming from it, representing later settlers from the Pacific Islands. It is in the blues and whites of the ocean waters which surround New Zealand … The flames are the white caps on the waves, blown by the wind and doves are the seabirds flying overhead. God’s spirit in the Pacific” (Margaret Anne, Adapted from St Johns Newsletter Jan 2011)

Third, I showed them this person. She is Mary Annie Geconcillo, She’s from the Philippines and she’s part of a 3rd migration of Asian peoples to New Zealand. This week she gave me this– for Connect – specially commissioned craft.

IMG_6472 And the entire thing is made from soft plastics.
Red colours comes from kitkat wrapper.
Brown colours comes from bread wrapper.
Yellow colour comes from 2 minute noodles
Black colour comes from rubbish bags.

Mary Anne trained for ministry in the Philippines. At a Presbyterian University. She was sent to a slum on the outskirts of her city. The slum dwellers said we want to get rid of this rubbish. So she worked with them. Found ways to run rubbish into bags. To sell.

So I reckon she’s a mata ora; and a mata ola – who begins to understand, like Moses
Mission as love – for the slum dwellers of Manila
Mission as listening – finding out what they want
Mission as vulnerable, standing on holy ground – working in community development.

This is fourth thing I showed them. From a recent youth event.

It involves taking pumice. Pumice is a volcanic rock. It occurs mainly in the central North Island. Soaking pumice overnight in methylated spirits. Building a burning bush out of metal. All welded together. Placing the pumice, soaked in meths on it.

Turn out the lights. Form a circle. Sit in the dark. The light the pumice. Glows a beautiful deep blue flame. And with pumice glowing to read the story of Exodus – of a God of love; of Moses response –Here I am; taking off your shoes – for vulnerable mission.

So in 10 years time and in 20 years time and in 30 years time, I wonder what the photos of the burning bush will look like; 2nd generation migrants to New Zealand; in light of how we respond to climate change; as we become mata oras and mata olas, change makers in our communities – I wonder what the burning bush will look like?

IMG_6480 I want you to take a rock which is under your seat. Think about your community. What it means for the God of love to burn with love? What it would mean for your youth ministry, to be a changemaker, a mata ora, a mata ola?

Pause 2 minute quiet reflection.

No reira, Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa

Posted by steve at 11:32 PM

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A millennial stare: Zadok column

zadok I have been asked to be a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Having read my film reviews for Touchstone, they requested a 860 word column every 3 months. I see is as an opportunity to write a lay focused piece of theology. They are happy for me to blog the columns I write, which makes them accessible not only on paper in Australia but digitally for everywhere. Here is my second article, for the Summer 2018 edition:

A millennial stare
Steve Taylor

I am a dinosaur. It is a recent realisation. I attend a student church in which my wife provides pastoral leadership. Making a joke about 80s music, the blank stares of the young adults around me revealed the uniqueness that is my species of dinosaur. I am shaped by different music, and thus experiences, than those born around the turn of this millennium.

Generational theory gives voice to my blank stare experiences. Sociologist Karl Mannheim noted that age-related generations share a view of reality shaped by the times in which live. Hence we get Boomers born 1945-1961, Gen Xers born 1961-1980, and Gen Y and Gen Z, the two millennial groups, born 1980-1994 and 1995-2009 respectively. Hence the music woven through my teenage years means little to my student companions.

Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture shifted Mannheim’s academic work into the mainstream of popular culture. Coupland described the accelerated lives of young adults, who share with each other their experiences of popular culture in order to make their own lives worthwhile tales in the process. Generational theory presents challenges for mission and ministry. How do different generations form faith?

Not all are convinced. Some find the boundaries between an X and a Y artificial. Others argue that humans have more in common than in difference. While the sociologists and theorists argue, I remain a dinosaur, faced with blank stares and that nagging sense of cultural disconnect. What to do? How to connect with worldviews and cultures not our own?

The best way is to listen. We have two ears and one mouth for good reason. Jesus encouraged those who called themselves disciples to interpret the signs of the times. Christian faith involves listening to culture and culture change. For Reformed theologian Kevin Vanhoozer, the competent disciple must be able to read culture and doctrine (Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Cultural Exegesis), 2007). Theology is for Monday, not just Sunday, and so the church needs to be a community of competent cultural interpreters.

What are we to listen to? Alvin Gouldner (The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology: The Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology, 1976) coined the phrase ‘newspaper sociology’ to encourage a listening that includes the reading of popular culture. The signs of the times are found in cultural artifacts like newspapers, film and social media.

The blank stares of my millennial companions pushed me toward some ‘newspaper sociology’ at my local cinema. Recent millennial movie, The Big Sick, provided a way to listen. The movie tells the true-life story of Pakistani migrant Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and American post-graduate student Emily (Zoe Kazan) as they tumble into love. It is a window into the lives and values of twenty somethings in the United States.

Central to the millennials in this movie is technology. The relationship between Kumail and Emily is sparked by Uber, nurtured by text and matured through following on Facebook. When Emily falls sick, it is technology that enables Kumail to connect with her family. Emily might be speechless, but fingerprint recognition on her iPhone allows Kumail to email her family. Dinosaurs like me might pine for face-to-face, but, for these millennials, technology is an extension of being human.

Participation shifts. Community in Big Sick is built not through the regularity of shared friendships but through events, in this case evenings of entertainment at the local stand-up comedy club. Building community occurs in the moment rather than through planned and systematic relationships.

In the secular West, religion remains. However, it is present, not in the life of American student Emily, but through the Islamic practises of Kumail and his family. Yet even here the practice of faith formation is being challenged by Western individualism. Kumail’s parents think he has retreated to pray in the downstairs basement. In reality, he spends his time practising cricket and watching YouTube videos. The interplay of faith and culture is angrily challenged. ‘Why did you bring me to America, if you wanted me to marry a Muslim?’, Kumail asks his disappointed parents.

So what does this mean for my experiences of being a dinosaur? Seeking clarity, I realised I needed to enrich my ‘newspaper sociology’ with empirical research. Ruth Perrin, in The Bible Reading of Young Evangelicals: An Exploration of the Ordinary Hermeneutics and Faith of Generation Y (2016), wanted to know how ordinary millennials are actually forming faith. She provided groups of millennials with Bible texts and watched how they engaged with the supernatural and with Divinely sanctioned violence.

The results of her research provided me with an observation, an affirmation and a gift. Perrin observed an ever-extending season of faith formation. The twenty somethings are now taking a decade to engage in genuine exploration. As is evident in Kumail’s challenge to his parents, there is intense questioning and an eclectic gathering of ideas from diverse sources. Perrin affirmed the value of consistent Biblical teaching ministry but only in environments that encourage exploration and value authenticity.

It makes those blank stares of the young adults around me an important gift. Different generations offer invitations to enter worlds we do not know. In doing so, we will encounter important questions. Is my faith more than a cultural overhang? How does a God of love square with the violence and patriarchy of the Christian past? Faced with the blanks stares of a millennial generation, I can tiptoe back to the safe ground of easy hallelujahs. Or I can see the millennial stare for what it is: the future of a questioning faith.

Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin, New Zealand, and author of Built for Change. He writes widely on theology and popular culture at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 01:30 PM

Monday, February 05, 2018

Anna, Simeon and the mission of the church (at Candlemas)

February 2nd in the lectionary is a Feast day in the church; when Jesus is presented at the temple. The Bible text is Luke 22:22-40. In terms of speaking parts, the main characters are Anna and Simeon. They are presented in the Bible text as elderly. So today, in our intercession, we pray for elderly.

God our friend, we give
Thanks for the elderly, for those in our family photo album who are going before us in time
Thanks for our parents and grandparents, those we know who have gone before us.
Thanks for those in our congregations and placements who are Anna and Simeon, who are elderly.

We name the reality of aging. We name the losses that can be physical, psychological, spiritual, financial, social and of autonomy. In every loss is grief and so we pray for grace. For space to name the changes and honestly confess the reality.

In every loss is an invitation to change and so we pray for grace to be adaptable, to find God in the process of aging, to trace the grace of God’s presence in every day, in every breath, in every memory. In the way we pause with examen and seek your grace in our day, we pray that aging may be a step into the examen of a lifetime, and so an experience of grace, mercy and new hope.

Thanks for those who care for the elderly, who provide meals, who offer medical advice, we pray. We ask for good humour, for people centred care.

For policy makers, making decisions about New Zealand future, setting codes of practice for care, we pray for wisdom;
For the medical decisions that surround ageing we pray for wisdom, for listening ears, for full disclosure;
For those wrestling with decisions about the types of care of retirement homes, we pray for wisdom;
For those experiencing dementia and those watching people experience dementia, we pray for ability to find faith in a God who holds all memories.

Erik Erikson calls this stage of life a journey into an age of integrity. In that sense we give thanks for Anna and Simeon, for their integrity as they waited in the temple, for their commitment to prayer, for their willingness to hope, for their ability to let go and trust the future to another generation.

We ask that grace for the elderly.

We ask that grace for the church. We have many congregations entering this age of integrity. We pray that like Anna and Simeon, they would have a commitment to prayer, a willingness to hope and an ability let go and trust the future – of their church, of their denominational identity, of their buildings, of their polity structures – to another generation.

And so we pray for ourselves, that like Jesus in the temple, we will commit ourselves in this internship, to increase in wisdom, and in favour with God and in our intern placements.

Amen

Posted by steve at 09:39 PM

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

translation and cultural change: the impact of Scripture for a church in mission

jerome Jerome (347 – 420) was a priest, theologian and Bible translator. A Doctor of the Church, he is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin. But not without conflict.

Translation threatens existing patterns. It causes conflict. When the new translation is read: “A great uproar ensued in the congregation.” (White (ed), The correspondence (394-419) between Jerome and Augustine of Hippo, 92-3). That which was familiar was now different. The church leaders are asked to intervene. Scripture is causing conflict.

Lawrence Venuti, a professional translator, uses this as an example in arguing that “a translation practice cannot fail to produce a text that is a potential source of cultural change.” (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 87).

Translation of Scripture was challenging the church. It was disrupted what was familiar. It was raising questions about the location of authority. Is it in the familiarity of tradition or the pages of Scripture? Should the scholar or the bishop be making these decisions? In a church with different cultural identities, some Greek, some Latin, any use of languages from another culture challenged power. So how did Jerome bring about change? In the midst of conflict, what strategies did he use to change what was familiar and precious?

Venuti describes four change strategies (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 80-1). First, Jerome took time to explain. His translations include a preface, in which he outlined what he was doing. Second, he listened to the objections. He noted the fears, including the impact on stability, uniformity and cultural identity. Third, Jerome offered a new way of looking. He framed his translation not as a replacement but as a supplement. It would aid in the tasks of understanding Scripture. It would protect the church from accusations of ignorance. “Jerome’s version was thus presented as an institutional support, assisting in … debates with the members of a rival religious institution … who cast doubt on the cultural authority of Christianity.” (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 80). Fourth, he found resilience in his heart for mission. Jerome began to translate because he was part of “a culture in which sensitivity to a foreign language was an integral element.” (Kamesar, Jerome, Greek Scholarship, and the Hebrew Bible: A Study of the Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim (Oxford Classical Monographs), 43). Jerome’s awareness of his cultural context, when combined with his desire to offer credible Christian witness, motivated his work.

Translation of Scripture brings cultural change. It can disrupt existing hierarchies and challenge established authorities. This is evident in the translation of the Scripture into Latin. This change happens because Jerome is skilled not only technically, in translation. He also shows skill in innovation. He brings about cultural change as he listens, explains, frames and nurtures his resilience.

Christian art represents the Spirit, whispering to Jerome as he works. It suggests the inspiration of God. This inspiration originates in mission, the gospel’s inherent translatability across cultures. Inspiration occurs for Jerome not only in the hard graft and technical skill of translation. It also occurs in the skills of bringing cultural change, of listening, framing and being resilient in and through conflict.

Posted by steve at 10:28 AM

Monday, September 04, 2017

video of my “hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation talk online

nativechristianities Video from all the conference presentations of the “Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific” conference hosted by Auckland University on March 24, 2017 are now online. The video of my 20 minute paper is here along with the introduction and the followup questions.

Native Christianity in Papua New Guinea: “hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

by Steve Taylor, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership; Flinders University

The interaction between Christianity and indigenous cultures can provide rich insights into cross-cultural exchange in liminal spaces. Equally the complexity of such insights can be masked by totalising narratives, including hagiography and Euro-centric imperialism.

One way to approach native Christianity in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is through Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. It has been acclaimed as PNG’s best historical novel (Moore, 2012). The post-colonial methodologies of Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions) (2014) will be used to read The Mountain for indigenous agency in resistance and innovation. Such a reading requires locating Modjeska as an academic and novelist who refuses to accept totalising binaries, in both her writing and her life.

I will argue that the portrayal of native Christianity in The Mountain assumes indigenous approval and indigenization. Themes of ancestor gift and “hapkas” will be applied to Jesus as “good man true, he die for PNG” (The Mountain 2012: 291). The creative reworking by which native (Omie) people locate Jesus as ancestor gift of Canaanite descent will be examined. This is consistent with recent scholarship in which indigenous cultures are Old Testaments (Charleston 1998; Brett 2003) and the book of Genesis a demonstration of indigenous faiths being woven respectfully into the story of Israel (Moberly 1992). This subverts the “big man” as a key trope in the ethnography of Melanesia (Strathern 2009). It suggests that post-colonial theology pay attention to cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation. Or in the words of The Mountain: a “hapkas” Jesus who is “good man true” for PNG.

Posted by steve at 12:38 PM