Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Boyhood: a theological film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for November 2014, of Boyhood.

Boyhood
A film review by Steve Taylor

“The good news is that you’re feeling stuff.”
Father to son in Boyhood

We have either all had one or observed one.

I refer to boyhood: that process by which a child grows into an adult. “Boyhood” the movie follows Mason from age five to eighteen. Through his eyes we experience broken marriages, domestic violence, bullying and various male rites of passage deemed essential to contemporary Western cultural life. We face the pain and potential of becoming adult.

“Boyhood” was twelve years in the making, twelve short stories, each written over the shooting period. It was collaboratively, director and actors together shaping the narrative direction.

Director Richard Linklater is known for movies including “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” “Before Midnight.” Each of the three “Before” movies focused on one twenty-four hour period.

Each explored generational rites, earning Linklater a reputation as the definitive cinematic capturer of 20-something contemporary culture, a visual Douglas Coupland.

In “Boyhood,” that one day becomes thirteen years. Academics call it longitudinal studies, repeated observations of the same variables over long periods of time. They also call it particularity, in which the focus on the singularity makes accessible what is universal. It’s impossible to watch “Boyhood” without thinking of your own becoming of age.

Each of the “Before” trilogy also features Ethan Hawke, who in “Boyhood” faces his own need to grow, from 20-something to father of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). She is also Linklater’s daughter. After the first three years of filming, she wanted out, asking her director father to find a way to kill her “Boyhood” character.

If Linklater is master of the capture of contemporary culture, then what are we seeing as we look in the “Boyhood” mirror? Reflected back are images of developing technology, the seduction of education, the corrosive power of alcohol, the potential of parents no matter life’s circumstances.

The theological notes are intriguing. Good news, a phrase rendered cliché and clunky by so many Christian churches, becomes in “Boyhood” the appreciation “that you’re feeling stuff.” It sets up the final scene in which Mason asks if we seize the moment? Or do the moments seize us? Hence good news becomes feeling the experiences of the now.

It is an intriguing attempt at theology, given that growth over time, grasped through a sense of unfolding memory lies at the movie’s core. This is best depicted by Mason and Samantha’s mother (Patricia Arquette), as she faces the adulthood of her children.

“This is the worst day of my life. I knew this day would come, except why is it happening now? First I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own funeral?”

For her to experience the now is news more bad than good. Which perhaps is the real message of “Boyhood.” That growing up is for adults.

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

Posted by steve at 08:51 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

Friday, November 11, 2011

the messy early church: women, houses and churches

Recently I’ve been getting a bit grumpy about the phrase “messy church.” I’ve been thinking that all church all the time should be messy. Shouldn’t the normal be the involving of all the ages and all the senses and deal with the real stuff of people’s lives, while the abnormal is quiet, respectful, adult only church?

So I was most interested to recently pick up A Woman’s Place: House Churches In Earliest Christianity which looks at everyday existence in ancient households, with a special focus on women’s everyday experience. The book has chapters on hospitality, funerals and education. And the data points to messy early church indeed being the norm.

Messy hosts
Houses led by women in the New Testament include Mary mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), Lydia (Acts 16:14, 40); Nympha (Col. 4:15). Married couples were “vital to the life and infrastructure of the communities.” (48).

But is this simply hospitality? The answer is no. There is evidence of women who acted as patrons, teachers and dinner hosts. They were presiders (and in an environment in which presiding meant a meal that interwove eucharist, food and conversation).

Messy meals
While there is a tendency to concentrate on the expectional woman of early church history, like Priscilla, Phoebe and Perpetua, recent research into Roman families allows us to appreciate the ordinary and domestic. In other words, “within the setting of early church groups, it is safe to assume that conversations about nursing and rearing children were part of daily life and were intermingled with conversations about what we would normally consider as more typical church concerns.” (247-8)

Messy church
What about messy church? well, “house-church meetings must have been noise and bustling places. The sounds of a woman in labor somewhere in the background, the crying of infants, the presence of mothers or wet nurses feeding their children, little toddlers under foot, children’s toys on the floor.” (67) “Children were present everywhere; nothing – not even sexual activity – escaped their gaze.” (93).

Messy worship
Which all leads to messy worship. “The attention given to such “liturgical questions” in later patristic documents as the placement of children during church meetings … reflects a commitment to the inclusion and valuing of children in continuity with the period of the house churches.” (93)

In sum, what emerges is a very messy early church, “a picture of church life that challenges preconceived notions of solemnity in favour of the boisterous and somewhat chaotic exchanges of household life. House-church meetings took place in a setting where midwives were hired, babies were born, nursed, and nurtured, and children grew up.” (246-7)

Posted by steve at 04:02 PM

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

Saturday, September 19, 2009

my 9 year old a film reviewing silver medalist

I’m a pretty proud father of a nine year old who this week won the silver medal at the Australasian Religious Press Association annual awards, for a review of another medium.

Since 2005 I have written a monthly film review for Methodist Touchstone magazine. A number of times I have invited my children to write film reviews with me, believing that this both makes for a much more interesting review and helps them in their development both in faith and critical thinking. Joint father/daughter reviews have included Lion, Witch and Wardrobe, Hannah Montana movie, Golden Compass. And Prince Caspian, which has gained the plaudits of an organisation stretching across Australian and New Zealand. Very cool.

For those interested, here is the Prince Caspian film review. (And yes, I really must get around some time to putting all the other reviews up on my blog.)

Posted by steve at 11:29 PM

Friday, September 18, 2009

pay it around as part of community development

As a church we offer programmes for youth and children five nights in seven, attracting various age groups. While we used to provide these for free, we find that participants ended up quite disrespectful and demanding. So we have to tried to move toward a gold coin donation, as a way communicating value. However, because we live in a lower socio-economic community, this is a struggle.

As a result, we are going to trial the following in the next few weeks:

Aim: children who attend our local community ministries, and who are struggling to pay the “gold coin” donation, will be offered a chance to work with us, blessing community (in our annual Spring Clean, it will be our 6th this year) in contrast to working for us. In return the church will pay the costs of children participating in a set number of sessions.

Ethos: this will encourage a pay it forward in generosity and participation. Church blesses community, so that community can bless community.

Process: The week before, the children at the programmes will be offered a “voucher”, which explains the process and which kids take home to parents (this is so that parents know clearly what is going on). It invites those who might want financial assistance to join us on our annual community Spring Clean day.

On the actual day, kids and/or parents report to someone at church. After their task/time is completed, the children and/or parents have the “voucher” signed, allowing them “free” nights at the programme.

When the kids then turn up at the programme in the coming weeks, with their voucher (which children’s leader has copy of, in case kids forget), the voucher is “stamped.” The ministry leaders give the stamped and signed voucher to the Church Treasurer, who repays the childrens ministry out of Community Ministry Budget.

thoughts?

Posted by steve at 09:40 PM

Sunday, August 30, 2009

eli and samuel: from sunday school to (another) male text of terror

Just back from an (excellent) weekend away with Opawa men. The theme was “We’ll be in the shed” and the focus was being male today. Alongside lots of relaxing, eating, relating, we gathered around themes of being Christian and being male. Everyone was invited to bring something from their shed and in the midst of our uniqueness and passion we honoured the life of Christ.

This morning I led a lectio divina engagement with 1 Samuel 3. We read the text slowly three times. The second time half the room were invited to hear the text as a young boy and to wonder what it would have been like to be Samuel in the story. The third time the other half the room were invited to hear the text as an older man and to wonder what it would have been like to be Eli in the story.

Slowly, reading the text closely, the romantic Sunday school layers many of us had of this text were peeled back. It began a frank and robust discussion of Eli, a prophet of God, who is judged for his parenting. What sort of God would do that? Was this fair? As Eli aged, did he in fact grow further away from God?

These are not abstract questions, for many of us are parents. Having children has changed us. How much guilt do each of us carry over our parenting? How will we cope when our parenting dreams are met by the free will choices of our children?

In that sense, the Eli/Samuel text became a “text of terror” for us as males. (I borrow the term from Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality in which he (with a nod to Phyllis Trible’s work on Bible Texts of Terror Paper (Overtures to Biblical Theology) for women) explores Bible texts that challenge men – Abraham’s relationship with his sons, David’s relationship with his sons, Jesus masculinity – and what it means to be male today.) I love it when the Bible gets under our skin. It did that today, holding a mirror to our parenting and our aging.

It helped us face our fears – of growing old, growing bitter, growing passive in our relationship with God. Oddly, in the midst of these questions, there was a growing sense of companionship. I realised I was less alone. I was among those who have gone before me, and others who are coming behind me. Together, there was a shared pain, a shared strength and a growing commitment.

Further links
For more on male spirituality see. For fathers day worship resources see here, for fathers day worship and communion go here. For fathers day preaching resources see here.

Posted by steve at 09:54 PM

Sunday, August 09, 2009

we’re not as mature as we think we are

This morning’s sermon was a bit of a rework of my week. Since I’ve essentially given 13 different talks in the last 5 days, I thought there was some sense, being back at Opawa, in doing a recap. So I talked about how faith grows.

The Bible text was Luke 2:41-52, how does Jesus grow? We read the text through the eyes of a 12 year old, and then the parents of a 12 year old. Linked in with this, I contrasted the image of faith growing by passing through hoops – baptism, confirmation, ordination, with faith growing as a tree.

To quote John and Olive Drane: “our underlying theological starting points will to a large extent determine how we feel children can or should articulate faith. Those who prioritise the axis of Fall and Redemption, seeing people as irredeemably sinful until touched by the Church, are likely to view spiritual development in terms of jumping through hoops in order to conform to church order and discipline .. their real subtext is ‘you can be part of the community of faith, but we’ll let you in on our terms.’ If we are to prioritize the doctrines of Creation and Incarnation, however, our starting point will be rather different: ‘You are a person made in God’s image, how can we help develop that.’” (Family Fortunes, 119)

This suggests the image of trees; that all trees (young and old) are real trees, that trees grow in the right environment and in a slow, orderly way.

The ensuring conversation got pretty heated, as we wrestled with our images of Jesus as fully divine and fully human and of parenting. And the great (after church) question of what marks maturity? Are we as mature as we like to think we are?

With hoops, I guess it is simply have you jumped through the right hoops. With trees, what marks maturity? Perhaps the ability to give shelter, to be complex in structure, to be more likely to survive hard times.

What is it for you? What do you think should mark Christian maturity?

Posted by steve at 07:51 PM

Friday, August 07, 2009

father abraham where art thou?

Rublevs Icon, painted by a 15th century Russian monk, is a well-known depiction of the Trinity. Based on the account of Abraham welcoming three strangers in Genesis 18, it is an attempt to express what the communing love of God. (A short (children’s) talk I’ve done is here.)

I’ve loved the Icon, finding it very helpful for connecting with God.

But in recent times, as I’ve been pulling the material together for this conference teaching topic of faith:full families, I’ve become disturbed.

Where’s Abraham? Why isn’t he in the icon? He’s been written out of his own story.

Which seems a great shame. Because it seems to me that Father Abraham needs all the help he can get from God, to be sitting among God’s communing love as much as possible. Father Abraham is an appalling parent, sending Ishmael away and offering his wife as a sexual plaything to Pharaoah.

Faith:full families desperately need to be able to imagine God sitting around their everyday, ordinary, kitchen tables and in that sense, Rublev does a disservice by making Abraham absent from the table of Genesis 18.

Posted by steve at 10:56 AM

Thursday, July 30, 2009

faith:full families take a lot of work

I’ve just printed off my speaking notes for Adelaide. 74 pages, and 20,000 words in note form. That’s a lot of work! It’s something I’ve been working on for nearly a year now, using a range of places to workshop stuff.

Here is my introduction in the written material I have provided for participants:

Aim of week: To provide stimulation for our ministries as children, youth, family workers by weaving together selected Biblical narratives regarding families, together with contemporary missiology.

Key image – tables: You sit at a table. The people in your ministry context sit around tables. Jesus sat at tables. Many Bible narratives occurred around tables. What narratives and insights – Biblical, ministerial, missional – can shape our “table” ministry?

My context: I come not as an academic with a lot of well polished talks. Instead the material is tentative and on the run, shaped by 6 years helping an established church refind a heart for local community ministry. This conference has provided a chance to go back through my hard drive, trying to pull together key moments and learnings and shaping narratives, with specific regard to family ministry, and to realise this recurring theme of table. And so to offer the fragments to you, wondering what you will find as we sift life and ministry together. I am looking forward to that with you.

A more thorough outline is here. The angelwings research team has also cooked up some case studies – 4 different contexts in which ministry can be happening – and I’m looking forward to seeing what participants make of them.

While I am in Adelaide, I’m talking with a publisher about the possibility of this becoming a book. Just an exploration. But it seems to me that there is very little written on ministry across the generations from a Downunder perspective. Even less that is closely attentive both to Biblical narratives and to contemporary mission insights. So there might be a hole needing filling. It certainly would be nice to see 74 pages and 20,000 words find life not just for 1 week, but in an ongoing way.

(I’m also doing stuff here and here plus this lovely comment (final paragraph) here).

Posted by steve at 06:42 PM

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

dreams around table

I’m thinking tables at the moment. It’s seems to be the most helpful metaphor for the Breathe conference I’m speaking at next week. I’m speaking to a mix of children, youth and family workers and it seems to me that all ages potentially sit at tables – children, mcdonaldised teens, young adult cafe dwellers, families.

The need for long tables as essential to a church foyer came up last week.

So a conversation this week got me spinning on another dimension of tables. A parent shared how tiredness, personality and family size made table talk over meals difficult for them. And their need for ideas and support in this very practical area of talking over food together.

It got me wondering about the place of shared family food.

Imagine a big long table in a church foyer at which families sat to eat, talk and catchup on the week. It would be a participatory table, in which everyone brought something, it might be food, it might be a joke or an item, it might be a willingness to set or clear the table. In other words, this was not a free lunch, but a family working together – not a nuclear family so beloved by Western culture – but a larger family. Surely it would be no more work than a meal at home. Meeting weekly, even fortnightly, I reckon that it would strengthen families and offer real, practical, tangible relational support, modelling inter-generational relationships and providing mentors and advocates.

Now, with Opawa’s building project still on track for a end of September completion, meaning a dishwasher, kitchen, coffee machine, all integrated into one sensible space …..

Posted by steve at 10:43 PM

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

passionate disciples and nota web tech for co-learners

Playing with a new web tool called Nota. (hat tip): “a unique, cutting-edge collaborative web platform that allows users to create, share and collaborate on presentations and virtually any other form of online material … instantly integrate text, video, maps, clip art, photos from web album or on the local computer, or license-free images from Flickr … instantly embed their work in Facebook or blogs, and can share and collaborate with friends.”

Here’s a page from one of my sessions at Saturday speaking to Salvation Army Youth leaders; I’ve loaded up the youtube video’s I used, some of my framing questions and resources, some of what I learnt as we did lectio together.

And the wondering is: as I start to use this stuff in a range of contexts over the next 12 months – classes, conferences – what are the possibilities in terms of being collobarative – with people adding stuff as we go?

Posted by steve at 03:47 PM