Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: The Faith Lives of Women and Girls

Book review: Done for Regents Review 6.2 (April 2015), Regent’s Park College, Oxford publication.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls: Qualitative Research Perspectives, ed. Nichola Slee, Fran Porter, Anne Phillips. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013.

One way (for a male) to review a book on women by women is through a lens provided by a third woman. Drusilla Modjeska, in her study of the writings of Australian women describes the “enormous energy” required by women writers to maintain themselves intellectually and artistically (Exiles at home : Australian women writers 1925-1945 / Drusilla Modjeska, 15). She documents the essential role of one person, Nettie Palmer, in nourishing women writers and how her work as an editor created a supportive network in which women writers flourished.

It is a helpful frame by which to approach The Faith Lives of Women and Girls, edited by Nichola Slee, Fran Porter and Anne Phillips. Such an approach offers historical insight and encourages a respectful gratitude for their essential and nourishing role as editors and initiators of a supportive network in which research on female faith might flourish.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls is part of Ashgate’s Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology series. It consists of 19 chapters, all written by woman, all emerging from practical theology. Each chapter offers original qualitative research on the faith lives of women and girls, drawing on a range of approaches, including ethnography, oral history, action research, interview and case studies.
This alone makes the volume worthwhile. Reading as a minister, I found myself reflecting on my pastoral and ministerial practice. Anne Phillips chapter (God Talk/Girl Talk) offered new preaching resources, while Kim Wasey’s chapter (Being in Communion) challenged my hopes regarding the impact of women presiding at the Eucharist.

The book raised what seems a perennial question in practical theology, concerning the relationship between sociology and theology. Some chapters felt more sociological and descriptive than theological. Other chapters, like Fran Porter’s work on Irish women’s understanding of God (“The ‘In-the-middle’ God: Women, Conflict and Power in Northern Ireland) offer rich theological insights (including for my Easter preaching at a youth camp).
The quality of research and reflection did vary across the volume. This is perhaps inevitable in a volume that includes both experienced researchers and post-graduate students.

Studies of between six to ten women, as in Jennifer Hurd’s chapter on understandings of death (“The Relevance of a Theology of Natality for a Theology of Death and Dying and Pastoral Care) or Francesca Rhys’s unpacking of ordinary Christologies (Understanding Jesus Christ), raise questions about the place of sampling and representation in qualitative research.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls lacked an overarching theme. The introduction suggested a distinct discipline. However the absence of a concluding chapter that synthesised a theme (or themes) raised questions concerning what makes feminist practical theology a distinct discipline. Is it anything that studies women? Is it, given that all 19 contributors are women, something done only by women? Or is it that 19 fine grained studies might, with the ongoing encouragement of contemporary Nettie Palmers, be the grit around which a pearl of great price, research resulting from the lived experience of women and girls, begins to develop?

I suggest the latter and look forward to reading further work from those who contributed to this important and ground breaking volume.

For application to fresh expressions see here.

Posted by steve at 07:16 PM

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

lectio decorio (reading the skin)

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

Lectio divina (divine reading) is a practice by which Scripture is read slowly, seeking for God’s voice. Today I invited the community at worship at Uniting College to enter into lectio decorio (reading the skin). (Decorio is latin for skin).

The spark was the lectionary text – John 2:13-22, when Jesus cleanses the temple. Searching google, I found the work of Amanda Galloway. As a way to connect with women in India, a system of Biblical story telling has been developed. It uses the traditional henna process to symbolize biblical stories (I’ve blogged about henna and Biblical storytelling before). Henna, a temporary artwork drawn on hands and other parts of the body, is a popular beauty technique in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. As the story is told, the images are drawn onto the hand and arm.


I didn’t have the time (chapel is 20 minutes, including communion), nor the materials (henna), to literally use henna. But I loved the way the Amanda Galloway’s design told the story, and told it onto skin. It seeemed to also connect with the Biblical text, which was all about whips and overturned tables and thus a story about skin in the game of justice.

So, after reading the lectionary text, I introduced the design. I noted how it is used. I then invited folk to trace the design onto their skin. Not with henna, but by using their finger, while I read the text (slowly enough to give time for the tracing).

And so skin touched skin, as the Bible story was heard and traced (decorio).

I then repeated the process, inviting folk to trace to design on their other hand. Given that folk most likely initially chose their dominant hand, it felt deeply gospel to trace the design again, this time using a weaker finger. This also created links between the two contexts – us in the first week of the semester, with all the new learning that a semester involves, women in India, unable to read, but still opening themselves to learning.

I then moved into the six minute communion. And suddenly the passing of the peace had new meaning. It was another moment of lectio decorio, reading the skin, as the gospel story traced on my hand touched the gospel story traced on the hand on another.

I’m still to unpack with those gathered what the experience meant for them.

But for me, the invitation three times to hear a Gospel story, the deeper sense of connection as that gospel was traced on my skin, the sharing of a practice from another cultural context as an expression of solidarity in learning – felt very embodied.

So there we are, lectio decorio (reading the skin).

Posted by steve at 09:42 PM

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wood school: imagine if this was church

At Wood School church we see curiosity as the foundation of learning. We aim to inspire curiosity with stories and activities that explore the woodland world and extend out into the world beyond.

We aim to foster confidence, creativity and problem solving skills in our children. We do this through a learning environment that is primarily outdoors.

We have an emphasis on play, child-led learning and fostering relationships.

Through these we aim to develop in our children all of us a strong sense of self, combined with an empathy and compassion for other people and the natural world.

We aim to develop life skills for sustainable living – helping develop in our children all of us the attitudes and skills we need in order to live in harmony with the environment and other people.

We have a focus on: responsibility; making a difference; conserving resources; growing food; crafts; cooking; making and laughing!

From Woods school in Manchester, England.

Posted by steve at 06:38 PM

Thursday, December 20, 2012

the nativity as a theology for the differently abled: film review of Intouchables

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 80 plus films later, here is the review for December.

The Intouchables – A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“That’s what I want. No pity” Philippe from his wheel chair

It is Christmas. In the next weeks many of us will find ourselves contemplating an image of the Nativity, the crib surrounded by adoring angels, bewildered shepherds and a prayerful Mary.

(from Metropolitan Museum , usage based on their fair use policy and from

The Adoration of the Christ Child by Jan Joest (1515) is one such depiction. While not sited on contemporary Christmas cards, it has caught the eye of scientists, who have identified one angel and one shepherd as displaying the typical features of Down syndrome.

It raises an important theological question. When the Word became flesh, one with all humanity, how might this be good news for the differently abled? What does disability mean to a Christian understanding of being human?

French movie “The Intouchables,” written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, provides a delightfully comic, yet theologically thoughtful response.

Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a tetraplegic, sentenced to life in a wheel chair as a result of a hang glider accident. Needing care, he hires Driss (Omar Sy), a Senegalese migrant, from a long list of applicants. They share little in common, separated by age, ethnicity, upbringing and social context.

Yet together this unlikely pairing help each become more fully human. Their journey is a delight. Those around me in the packed cinema found a shared laughter, an enjoyment with, never at, the differently abled.

The film was voted the cultural event of 2011 in France, enjoying number one at the box office for ten consecutive weeks, becoming the highest-grossing movie in a language other than English. It is easy to see why. The dialogue is deft. The acting is superb.

Some critics suggest easy stereotypes in the contrast between rich white man and poor black man. Yet “The Intouchables” uncovers the brokenness in both their worlds. For one, the relational sterility of wealth, for the other, the drug addicted violence of high-rise migrant housing.

Both Philippe and Driss must eventually find healing for disabilities not just physical, but relational.

Suggesting easy stereotypes also overlooks reality. “The Intouchables” is based on truth, the relationship of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Algerian Abdel Sellou, spread over ten years. Their story is told in A Second Wind and they remain friends. Together their relationship offers a depth of insight into the task of being human.

“Pity is the last thing you need. Pity is hopeless. Pity is what someone gives you because he is afraid to take care of you. I didn’t need that. But compassion I don’t need also. It comes from Latin and means ‘suffering with’. I don’t want you to be suffering with me. I need consolation, which in Latin means keeping me as a whole person, respecting me as I am.” (Philippe in Daily Telegraph, 5/9/2012)

Christians can get good at pity. At Christmas we can face many calls for compassion. Might it be that Christ, surrounded by disabled angels and shepherds, calls us to neither pity nor compassion? Rather he invites consolation, the God who in Christ so loved the intouchables, all “the least of these.”

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

Copyright note: Usage here based on the website. The Materials are made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only…. Users may download these files for their own use, subject to any additional terms or restrictions which may be applicable to the individual file or program. Users must, however, cite the author and source of the Materials as they would material from any printed work, and the citations should include the URL “” By downloading, printing, or otherwise using Materials, whether accessed directly from this website or via other sites or mechanisms, users agree that they will limit their use of such files to non-commercial, educational, personal or for fair use, and will not violate the Museum’s or any other party’s proprietary rights.

Posted by steve at 08:37 AM

Sunday, October 07, 2012

seeking holy ground article

I was asked a few weeks ago to contribute an article to Journey, the Uniting Church of Queensland monthly newspaper. It’s become the front page headline for the October edition – titled Seeking Holy Ground. For those interested, it is here, or below … (more…)

Posted by steve at 03:45 PM

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

21st century feminism: film review of Snow White and the Huntsman

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). This one is a bit special, a collaboration with oldest teenage daughter. I’ve done this a number of times now with both the children. We watch together, write together and share the writing fee together. It’s always a very rich experience.

Snow White and the Huntsman
A film review by S and S Taylor

Snow White is a German fairytale, made famous by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. From them we get the magic mirror, poisoned apple and seven dwarfs.

The tale has long been a fascination for movie makers. Snow White first appeared, silent, in 1916. Disney grabbed her in 1937, while in 1961 the story was parodied as “Snow White and the Three Stooges.” In other words, when the tale is well known, give it a twist. Exactly 200 years later, enter “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a dark recasting of the classic tale.

Some things remain – magic mirror, poisoned apple and seven dwarfs. Both focus on the importance of inner beauty, with an Evil Queen preoccupied with her appearance.

But in 2012, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) becomes both saviour and fellow fighter, the dwarves are more suspicious, while Snow White saves not only herself, but her entire Kingdom.

While the cast is well known, the acting is uneven. Kristen Stewart (Snow White) struggles to break free from being Bella Swan of the “Twilight” saga. Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, struggles to be more than the mysterious strong man. Charlize Theron (featured in “Prometheus,” reviewed in Touchstone last month) is superbly wicked, an Evil Queen of chilling complexity.

Despite being old-fashioned, Snow White is intriguing in the way it places as central two strong female characters, in Snow and the Evil Queen. But this is a twisted tale and so the question is worth exploring. What might it take to be a twenty first century woman?

For the Evil Queen, it is to seek youth and beauty. She lives and dies defined by her mother’s words: “Your beauty is all that can save you.”

For Snow White, her mother’s words are also defining, an inner beauty expressed in honourable actions. (Although a climax in which she leads an armed uprising becomes an intriguing 21st century take on moral purity). Surprisingly for Hollywood, Snow White in 2012 requires no Hollywood love interest, no handsome hero to complete her day.

And to be a man? It means confronting pain and facing grief. For Snow’s father, impulsive decisions result in far reaching negative consequences. For Snow’s childhood friend, boyhood loss generates a lifelong quest. For the Huntsman, adult grief requires facing the pain, taking risks and making right choices.

Being a modern tale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” comes complete with environmental themes. The Evil Queen poisons not only an apple but people and planet. The good fairies emerge from friendly birds, to conjure up a very English creation, complete with cute squirrels and the famed white stag.

The M rating is deserved, a mirror of human wickedness. All fairytales contain a moral. In 1812 it was that beauty comes from the inside but it needs a rescuing Prince to restore Snow White to her rightful place, man at side.

In 2012 beauty remains, but it needs an iron fist, a deadly battle between sword and bow, leaving Snow a woman alone. Such is the feminism of the twenty first century.

Posted by steve at 10:09 AM

Sunday, July 01, 2012

theology of divine supermodel by Gregory of Nyssa

IVP have released a new series, called Classics in Spiritual Formation. They are designed as introductions, for first time readers of the Church in history. They take the original languages (Greek and Latin) and seek to connect them with contemporary life. Last night I found myself reading Gregory of Nyssa: Sermons on the Beatitudes.

Yet God made us “in the image of God.” So indirectly we, who are created in the likeness of true blessedness, experience blessedness. Let me give you an example of what I’m trying to say. Take, for instance, the physical beauty of a supermodel captured on the cover of a women’s magazine. The real beauty is the supermodel herself. Yet, secondarily, we can attribute that same beauty to the photographic image. Likewise human beings are images of the transcendent blessedness, and similarily as copies we may be said to possess the same beauty when we display the features of blessedness. (24-25)

This is a fascinating bit of writing, for it images God in feminine terms – as a supermodel. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing recently about gender and faith development (here, here, here, here and my summary here). So it’s fascinating to find this, God as a supermodel.

The sermon is by Gregory of Nyssa, a 4th century bishop and theologian. He is highly regarded in the church for insights into the theological debates about Jesus Christ, one of the great defenders of trinitarian Christianity.

So were their supermodels and photographic images in Gregory’s day? No, which suggests the image of is introduced in the paraphrase by Michael Glerup, his desire to connect with contemporary life. So I need to whip off and check the original, as to how Gregory of Nyssa was imaging the divine.

But whether Gregory of Nyssa or Michael Glerup, what do you think of the image? What are the implications for gender and faith development if God is a supermodel and followers are copies of photographic images?

Posted by steve at 09:01 PM

Monday, May 07, 2012

faith of girls: more than a guy thing part 3

What do Lo-ruhamah in Hosea 1, Namaan’s wife’s slave girl in 2 Kings 5, the slave girl in Philippi in Acts 16, Jarius daughter in the Gospels, have in common?

First, they are pre-pubescent girls. Second, they are agents of new theology. God is made more real, more understandable, more present, through these girls. This is so consistent with Jesus, who takes children in his arms and reminds us that keys to God’s Kingdom are found in them.

My reading in gender and faith development continues. I didn’t expect this when I began my sabbatical. But I’ve learnt there are times to chase the unexpected, to follow the rabbit holes of research. My intuition says there is something important about the emerging church and gender, so I am reading.

In response to my posts last week on faith development and gender (here and here), Andy Goodliff commented, suggesting The Faith of Girls by Anne Phillips.

It is superb.

Phillips notes how gender blind is the church, and that most theologies of childhood have been written by men. She interviews 17 young girls, seeking to understand their faith development. “In asking the girls the question: ‘Who is God for you?’ I was not asking them to engage in abstract theory or systematic theology, but to narrate or to reflect on how and where in their own experience they had encountered God.” (105)

Anne argues for a “wombing” theology as an approach to faith development. It protects and so the need for a “home space.” It enables play, in which the one being birthed is free, away from adult control, to work at their identity. It connects. Regarding church, “membership of a cohort was not enough for the girls to feel a sense of belonging. Intergenerational sharing was named as a significant feature in their attachment to the environment … Girls [interviewed] regularly spoke of the impact on their faith of older people … Most participation was initiated by adults.” (160)

The Faith of Girls is practical theology at it’s best. It shows how by starting with human experience, in this case the faith development of young girls, we find fresh insights, new imaginations emerging from the Christian tradition and the Biblical text. (To the above list of Biblical characters offered by Phillips, I’d also add Mary. Plus the unnamed children of those effected by Jesus healing ministry, for example, if the leper in Mark 1 had a daughter, or the Syro-Phronecian woman had a daughter.)

Phillips is a Baptist minister, and Co-Principal of Northern Baptist College and the book emerges from her PHD research. The Faith of Girls is currently only available in hardback, which makes it pricey. But still worth it. There is a sermon series on young girls as Biblical characters, there is rich material to discuss with those in your church responsible for faith development, there are insights for fathers and mothers, grandparents, other family into how they raise children.

Posted by steve at 11:34 AM

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sense making faith: taste

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

This is superb. The power of the mouth, the potential of taste. That sense of intimacy, the way the mouth functions as useful, a barrier, sensual.

It would be fabulous loop for use during communion. Or for use during the “taste” session when teaching Sense Making faith.

Posted by steve at 10:39 PM

Friday, July 15, 2011

God touched me downunder

In my last blog post, I reflected on smell and spirituality. It turned out to be quite a profound learning experience for the class. So, encouraged, this morning I introduced touch and spirituality.

I began with a mediation. I invited the class to think about returning home at the end of the day. To get out of the car. To enter their home. To imagine their lounge, then bathroom, then bedroom. And in each place to look around and consider what kind of things you find pleasure in touch?

I then noted the importance of touch in Christianity – in baptism, during Ash Wednesday, as we say the peace, as we participate in Communion. I noted how Jesus was touched – wrapped in swaddling clothes, circumcised, taken in Simeon’s arms, in baptism, in the passion. And how Jesus touches others – little children, the leper, in bread broken and cup offered.

And then invited reflection on what kind of touch experiences have been important to us in our spiritual journey.

Together we said a prayer

Lord, You knew the touch of love
You knew the touch of friendship
You endured the kiss of betrayal
You endured the crown of thorns
Help us to touch others with your love
Help us to touch others with your friendship
Help us to heal the wounded hearts
Help us to heal the scars and hurts. Prayer from Sense Making Faith.

I then gave out fabric, raided from the home sewing stock. Each person got 4 pieces. (They were allowed to swap if they got stuck.) And the invitation, to express our text for the week (Luke 1:39-45), using their four pieces of fabric. People worked away, some with silk and string, others with weave and fabric.

And then the question for group discussion: What had we learnt, freshly, about the Biblical text? And about ourselves?

Oh my goodness.

We were still going some 90 minutes later, sharing, learning, reflecting. It was a rich, rich conversation on a learning exercise that in some ways was so simple. Yet had become profound.

One conclusion (among many): that as Christians we are “out of touch”, simply because we have ignored the senses in our faith.

A note: The shape of this exercise owes much to some material (pun intended) from Sense Making Faith which is a wonderful resource. For more on how it can be used, not just in a class, but in church and in mission, go here.

Posted by steve at 06:11 PM

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

faith making sense?

Senses play
Bodies create
Humans diversify


Christianity. Is yours
good sense?

Posted by steve at 07:29 AM

Thursday, March 04, 2010

blokes in church? growing petrol heads and art lovers

A really thoughtful post on blokes and church here, from Dr Richard Beck here. The whole piece is fascinating, using Mark Driscoll’s views on masculinity as a starting point for the suggestion that we have an educated/uneducated split that creates deep fissures in our church communities.

The educated [men] teach, preach, and have the public leadership roles. The uneducated [men] are marginalized. Worse, if you are an uneducated male, you are force-fed those feminine metaphors. Educated males, being chickified, don’t mind or even notice the feminine metaphors. But Joe Six Pack notices the metaphors. All this creates a disjoint in the church. Two groups of males who find each other alien and weird.

Which is further clarified here.

people tend to focus on four big issues when it comes to church life: Gender, socioeconomic status, race, and sexual orientation. But I think one of the most pernicious fissures is the education issue. This problem is particularly acute in Christian churches as Christianity has been, from its earliest days, unapologeticly cerebral and intellectual.

He names something that is pretty real and was certainly my experience at Opawa, the challenge to form men spiritually, whether petrol head or art lover. And why I found the Opawa men’s camp last year so moving, the way that the repeated use of lecto divina (of which this is an outcome), inviting men to use their diverse hobbies, their relationships and life experience, their “caves”, as ways into sharing faith and life.  People were asked to bring something from their shed, which equalised and normalised everyone, from petrol head to art lover. And that became the starting point “going to your favorite spot in your “shed”” for engaging the Biblical text. Which is such a long way from cerebral and intellectual.

The most helpful book I’ve found in framing this for me is Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality (Book. Educated. Yep, I see the educated irony.) I love the way it explores Biblical texts as they relate to males

  • Abraham struggling to connect with his son from his first “marriage”;
  • David, and whether can we let him enjoy a deep male friendship with Jonathan without it becoming homosexualised in innuendo;
  • David who hides behind his work desk when his family comes crashing in

The author (and friend), Phil Culbertson, comes back to Jesus, who he explores from the angle of a person who enjoys deep male friendships, with working class fishermen and with budding intellectuals and poets (like John).

“Jesus appears to have modeled a style of male-male friendship that was committed, intimate, honest, open and even dependent … But there is no record that Jesus and his male followers did “men’s things” together. They did not go hunting together … nor did they share off-color jokes. They did not compete with each other … Christians can recognize the new Adam in Jesus insofar as he was willing to cherish his own human nature, in all its vulnerability, and yet to turn his face bravely toward an unknown future in which he and the world that he knew would be very different.” (105, 106).

It’s such a missionary challenge and we desperately need some working-class missional churches working in and around these issues.

Posted by steve at 09:20 AM

Monday, December 03, 2007

are our noses a mistake OR a theology of revelation

The following brief interchange yesterday got me thinking.

nose.jpg Question: Is it OK to use some aromatherapy at a worship station?

Response (from me): Yes. Unless God made a mistake and didn’t mean to give us noses.

I was partly in jest, but it has kept me thinking. I believe that God gave us senses – the gifts of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching. So surely if God gave these, then God is able to use these. So surely God desires to speak through our senses – our hearing, our seeing, our smelling, our tasting, our touching.

Why are some branches of Christianity allergic to God speaking through the bodies that God gave us? Why is it so rare to have, say smell, in some forms of church worship? Are these types of church actually scared of our God-given bodies?

Posted by steve at 07:05 PM

Friday, September 14, 2007

God the hairdresser

haircut.jpg I wrote the following for my fortnightly radio slot. Those who have seen me in the flesh recently might appreciate that this post has multiple layers.


Posted by steve at 04:20 PM