Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Moana film review

ticket-1543115-640x480 Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for February 2017.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Moana is family fun and as such, has much to commend it. Moana is the daughter of Chief Tui and yearns to sail the ocean deep. Forbidden by her father, she finds inspiration in the stories of her sailing ancestors, the encouragement of her grandmother Tale and the resources of the ever-playful ocean. Setting sail, Moana seeks the demi-god, Maui, who is a needed companion in the question to return the heart of Te Fiti to its rightful place, thus replenishing food and fish for her dying village.

Moana is animated and as such, offers a rich and playful colour palate mixed with voice overs and catchy singalong songs. New Zealand actors are well-presented, including Temuera Morrison (Tui), Jemaine Clement (a greedy coconut crab called Tamatoa) and Rachel House (Tale).

Moana has many moments worth applauding. It skilfully tells a Pacific story. It provides resourceful, determined female characters, notably Moana and her grandmother. It affirms that leaders can be female and, in the interaction between generations, points to ways by which cultures might innovate and change. The power of grandmothers to bring change in cultures is a similarity shared with Maori films, Whale Rider (2002) and Mahana (2016) (reviewed here).

Consistent with Pacific understandings, in Moana the ocean is a character, playfully guiding Moana’s quest. On this ocean, Pacific people are highly skilled wayfarers. Watching Moana encouraged me to reach for Karin Amimoto Ingersoll’s, Waves of Knowing: A Seascape Epistemology. She argues that for Pacific people, the ocean is not only a place for swimming and fishing. More importantly, it is a way of knowing and being in which are resources that help Pacific peoples resist the rising tides of colonialism, militarism and tourism.

Alongside these redeeming features, Moana glosses over a complex set of Pacific realities. In the real world of Kiribati, the ocean so glamorised in Moana continues to rise. This nation of 37 islands, none more than three metres above sea level, with a capital city more densely populated than Tokyo, desperately needs not only a demi-god returning Te Fiti’s heart, but people and nations willing to embrace more sustainable ways of living.

Another reality check comes as Moana is placed alongside 2011 movie, The Orator. The differences are stark. With Moana, Walt Disney invested over $150 million, to tell in English a story from another culture. In The Orator, Blueskin Films spent $2.3 million, to tell in Samoan a story of its own. One brings into focus a chief’s daughter, the other a dirt-poor taro farmer named Saili. In Moana, the animated bodies are beautiful, while in The Orator, Saili is a dwarf, bullied by taller Samoan villagers. In The Orator, hierarchies are challenged, not with the help of demi-gods, but by actions of courage, resilience from those on the margins of village life.

See Moana. But may it not be the only Pacific movie you watch as this new year unfolds. And please God, may each of us, and every viewer of Moana, find ways to act for climate change on behalf of the people of Kiribati.

Posted by steve at 04:19 PM

Monday, December 14, 2015

spaces innovate


Thursday and Friday the KCML core team gathered. We wanted some time to dream, think and plan. The first day involved some strategic planning. What is our charism? What values will nurture our charism? What strategic signposts will point us toward God’s future among us? We worked hard and were surprised, pleased and delighted with an initial draft, which now awaits interaction from our key stakeholders.

The second day was curriculum. What do we want our graduates to know, do, be and relate? How might we be able to assess these outcomes? What are the immediate steps we can take? By morning tea, we were tired. We’d worked hard the day before and we needed coffee. A walk was suggested. We left the beautiful room we were gathered in and walked to a local cafe. Around large tables, the conversation returned to the question that had seemed to exhaust us a few minutes earlier. Suddenly, in this space, there was fresh energy. An unexpected question generated intense discussion and a whole new possibility.

We walked back, excited, nervous, and a bit shocked.

Spaces innovate. Different spaces invite different ways of thinking and being. An important lesson for a group of educators to have experienced, in their own bodies and being.

Which, later that day, would set in train another set of unexpected questions, intense discussion and a whole new set of possibilities. If spaces changed us, what might that say about the type of teaching spaces we want to inhabit.

Posted by steve at 07:31 PM

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Place-based theology (updated) with the children of Parihaka

This is a helpful introduction to place-based theology by Richard Twiss.

In five minutes he provides a number of explicit theological resources that might encourage a place-based theology. He draws on culture, that of the Navaho people, to suggest the importance of a relationship with earth as part of identity and belonging. He then turns to Scripture. First, 2 Chronicles 7:14, and the phrase “heal their land.” Which, he notes, means land can be broken. Second, he references 2 Samuel 21:1-14,

While both are Old Testament Scriptures, they do offer an understanding of connection between place and identity. Next, Twiss turns to place-based education, which immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, using these as a foundation for the study. Drawing these threads together, Twiss encourages place-based theology.

Twiss is not alone. In Australia, indigenous woman, Denise Champion has written Yarta Wandatha,
(see my review here). The title is Adnyamathanha for “land is speaking, people are speaking.” It offers an wonderful example of place-based theology, telling stories of land, in order that “ngakarra nguniangkulu,” God is revealing so that we can see (Yarta Wandatha, 28). I also see links with Celtic theology, for example in the understanding of thin places, a Celtic understanding of physical locations in which God is especially present. It has academic rigour, for example in Philip Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity and Living Between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Spirituality.

I have experimented with place-based theology by taking students to places. I have reflected on the potential in walking the art, which then became a floor talk at the launch of an art festival. I have wondered about teaching New Zealand mission by going to places – to Bay of Islands, Waitangi, Rotorua, Parihaka, Anzac day memorials. Now I’m wondering what an assignment might look like, in which students not only engage with place, but seek to construct their own place-based theology.

Updated: This is another example of place-based education, and thus potentially place-based theology (a review here).

It is about place; places from history in which people lived. The places remain today and can be visited, as part of remembering. In remembering (an act at the heart of identity formation for the people of Israel) respect is paid, identity is formed and connections are made.

This has links with one of the rich insights from Yarta Wandatha, in which Aunty Denise uses story, of her father, to introduce Anhangha idla ngukanandhakai (28) – “living in the memories.” This becomes a way to understand tradition, and to connect that to place. Is this what is happening in Tatarakihi – The Children of Parihaka and in place-based theology?

Posted by steve at 03:07 PM

Friday, November 13, 2015

Steve Taylor, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant”

My practical theology of community gardens is now online, published by Urban Seed. It is one of 16 contributions, which are summarised here. They were all presented at Urban Life Together: Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods, which was a grass roots missiology conference organised by Urban Seed on October 17-18, 2014. Conference contributors were invited to submit their presentations, which were then peer reviewed and copy edited, before being made available online – in order to enhance access.

-1 Here’s the summary of my contribution:


Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhood. This paper considers gardens in Scripture, start, middle and end. It researches the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens. The story of each is brought into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1–12 and 1 Cor 3:6–9. The insights from this dialogue between Scripture and two urban garden case studies is then enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is a documentary about an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden. Both point to the power and potential of a seasonal spirituality. Throughout this paper, beginning and end, is also woven experience—mine—into the place and potential of gardens in mission and ministry. The argument from Scripture, case study, film and experience is that gardens invite us and our neighbours to become good, plot by plot and plant by plant.

In this small thing is all of creation! God made it, God cares for it, God loves it. (A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich)

In some ways, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant” is is something I’ve been writing all my life. It became words because I wanted to reflect missiologically on community ministry, specifically community gardens. There is my personal interest in gardening, woven with research into inner-city community gardens, Scriptural reflection and my film reviewing. It is online here.

Posted by steve at 07:01 AM

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

Friday, May 02, 2014

where would we pilgrim in South Australia?

Four overseas examples of pilgrimage and faith formation have got me asking – where would we pilgrim in South Australia?

These four overseas examples of pilgrimage and faith formation have got me thinking – where would we pilgrim in South Australia? Where would we go to connect with the stories from God’s past activity, in order to help discern our participation in God’s future?

I have a student doing a Guided reading with me on this very topic. She’s going on “Celtic” pilgrimage to the UK. More importantly, as she does, she’s asking what it means back in her local, rural, community?

Now I know that at Uniting College we have Walking on Country in which we spend time listening to indigenous stories. And in July there is a Mission immersion trip to Melbourne, to look at examples of current mission practice.

Are these the same sort of innovations? Or is there a local mission pilgrimage piece that’s still beckoning us?

Posted by steve at 10:33 AM

Sunday, March 17, 2013

grassed off at the Adelaide Oval

“So significant is sport to Australians that an evaluation of their life without an understanding of their attitude towards sport would lead to an incomplete result.” (Geoff Cheong, “Sports Loving Australians: A Sacred Obsession,” Sacred Australia: Post Secular Considerations, edited by Makarand Paranjape, 2009, 237.)

I grew up listening to cricket on radio. Summer was about watching cricket, playing cricket, listening to cricket. When it finished in New Zealand, different time zones meant that the radio would take us to Australia for the final hours play of each and every test match. Across the static, I’d listen to these hard accents describe Boxing Day in Melbourne, the bounce of the WACA and the grass of Adelaide Oval.

Today I got some of that grass. Four pieces of turf from the Oval. The Adelaide Oval is under re-construction. It includes a resurfaces. So 2000 pieces of turf from Adelaide Oval were offered to the public. First come, first served, from 9 am Sunday morning.

I went for an early morning drive, arrived about 8:20 am, to find a long queue, stretching up the hill and down the road.

By about 9:30 am, I had my stash and was excitedly texting a friend, offering them a piece of the action.

It’s just grass. Just atoms and dirt. Yet on this grass history has been made and identity expressed. Dreams have been shattered and joy has been gained. For White Australia, so shallow rooted in this red land, sporting grounds become a way to express a sense of place.

While some of the below is a bit dated, Anglican Vicar, Geoff Cheong writes:

From a Christian perspective Australian sport could be said to carry the marks of the great Crucifixion/Resurrection story. White Australian history began with death to England and its ways, and the pain of suffering and rejection. Today Australians regularly celebrate their sport as an expression of triumph in life. Relatively small in number, nothing deters them from ever tackling the Goliaths of international sport. They continue to count each and every victory as an affirmation of their own valued identity. (Geoff Cheong, “Sports Loving Australians: A Sacred Obsession,” Sacred Australia: Post Secular Considerations, edited by Makarand Paranjape, 2009, 250.)

Posted by steve at 09:32 PM

Monday, September 10, 2012

“The Cross is not enough” book review – Chapter 6

After a break, I’m back, reading my way through Cross Is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection by Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, Australian Baptist thinkers. The break is important. During the break I experienced this:

Overnight it had rained. Truth be told, overweek it has rained here in Adelaide, making the ground sodden and the trees laden with rain.

As I left the house, I noticed a flash of red and green. Our front yard is currently host to a pair of parrots, outrageous in their bright red crest, raucous in their squawks of delight as they place chase with each other from tree to tree.

As they landed, their weight caused branches, laden with rain, to shake vigorously. Water cascaded, sheets of white, unleashed from a branch of green, by these playful red crested visitors. A full immersion indeed.

In the Scriptures, so often birds are linked with the Spirit’s visit. Have I just participated in nature’s baptism – appreciated again her noise, colour and water? Heard afresh “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”? Been invited anew to creation’s plays? (here)

An experience in which creation made connections with Christianity. Which is exactly what this chapter is about. It asks the question – Are we awake to the possibilities of making connections from the signs of resurrection in nature to general revelation? It is a point well made. Training for ministry, I was asked to connect a Christian theology of creation with a Christian theology of the cross. But what about creation to resurrection? For Clifford and Johnson

We believe that in this motif of resurrection the creation “speaks” to us: resurrection is an integral part of the natural order. It is an analogy, of course, because nature “dies” and “rises again,” and dying-and-rising in nature is not identical to the bodily resurrection of human beings; however, what we need to bring back into focus is that nature itself reveals a resurrection motif, and this motif should be appreciated as being part of general revelation.

What mission possibilities are intriguing:

  • the place of analogies to resurrection in nature – in the cycles of birth and death, in metamorphosis of a butterly. “In today’s context where dolphins feature in alternative spiritualities we might consider reemphasizing the resurrection symbolism associated with these marvelous sea-mammals.”
  • the growth of “the symbologist as a heroic character in fiction.” Dan Brown’s books are a great example, in which the hero is “the symbologist is someone who decodes and interprets the hidden messages of signs—signs and symbols that can carry spiritual messages.” I’ve never heard leader-as-minister described in this way – as a symbologist of the spirit. Although it does link so obviously with the command in Matthew to observe the signs of the times.
  • the importance of thin spaces

“Some people who are highly intuitive are very responsive to encountering God in the world and feel a heightened sense of the divine in geophysical spots of transition—such as the borders where land and sea meet, where open fields become a forest, where mountaintops touch the sky. Such places of transition are often cal led “thin places” simply because the geophysical zones are wafer-thin and can be portals to spiritual encounters. So for people who are hardwired for the creative and intuitive and experiential, the resurrection analogies in nature can be connected to other kinds of thresholds or “thin places.””

Is this what is going on with the growth of walking church (here and here)?

I have some quibbles, but they seem petty when laid alongside the mission possibilities in this chapter and the practical earthing – in nature, in intrigue and in cultivating thin places.

The link from nature to analogies of the resurrection seems to move us from general to special revelation. The analogies seem to cry out at us to reflect: Has there been one who has indeed gone before all of us to die and rise again?

My review, chapter by chapter is as follows: Chapter one is here, Chapter two is here, Chapter three is here, Chapter four is here, a Hillsong excursus here

Posted by steve at 08:31 PM

Monday, June 25, 2012

nature’s baptism

Overnight it had rained. Truth be told, overweek it has rained here in Adelaide, making the ground sodden and the trees laden with rain.

As I left the house, I noticed a flash of red and green. Our front yard is currently host to a pair of parrots, outrageous in their bright red crest, raucous in their squawks of delight as they place chase with each other from tree to tree.

As they landed, their weight caused branches, laden with rain, to shake vigorously. Water cascaded, sheets of white, unleashed from a branch of green, by these playful red crested visitors. A full immersion indeed.

In the Scriptures, so often birds are linked with the Spirit’s visit. Have I just participated in nature’s baptism – appreciated again her noise, colour and water? Heard afresh “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”? Been invited anew to creation’s plays?

Posted by steve at 12:19 PM

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

An Australian migrant theology?

In Robe (where I spent the weekend) when you enter West Beach, you are invited to beware of migrants. Specifically, migrant birds.

What sort of migrant theology might emerge from this type of posture?

It would expect migrants to arrive exhausted, recognising they have travelled far, they have seen much, they need lots of space to “conserve their energy.”

It would expect migrants to “rest and feed”, to find resources to renew them, to prepare them for the next stage of their journey.

It would offer them space, be willing to change direction and “walk and drive below the high tide mark.”

A pattern that has been happening for thousands of years before any white fella arrived, a pattern in which the land of Australia has sought to serve, renew and restore migrants.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading M is for migrants).

Posted by steve at 09:47 PM

Monday, January 24, 2011

Desert country: a poignant reminder from Aboriginal art on Australia day

Desert country is an art exhibition currently on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia. In the foyer is a huge (5 m high, 10 m wide) photo of the outback, red dirt, a road rolling into nowhere. It’s the standard Western perspective, a snapshot of a moment in time, captured from the viewpoint of the individual staring outward. The red road is surrounded by scrubby bush – better stick to the road, cos in the desert lies the possibility of slowly parched death.

Inside are six rooms, containing the first ever attempt to chart the forty year evolution of the internationally acclaimed Australian desert painting movement. The paintings are drawn entirely from the the Gallery’s extensive holdings of Aboriginal art.

The exhibition is a haunting reminder that there is entirely other way of viewing, and living, in desert country. (These are just my thoughts, as I wandered. I might be well be well of base in my interpretation, but here is what struck me).

The perspective is topographical, looking down, rather than from the perspective of a person looking outward. How a desert people can conceive of land as birds eye is remarkable and shows an active and powerful imagination.

This land is given shape, takes form, through dots, rather than lines. Dots suggest a different way to measure, to enscribe and appreciate scale.

Most pictures have a narrative, a story. Thus land is shaped by the past, by the interplay of human and history and it is this that gives meaning, value, identity. Or tells of bush tucker, the path of emu, the spots to sample bush oranges or plums. What to Western eyes is arid rock, is for Aboriginal a place of sustenance.

The paintings also suggests a radically different approach to time. Often European art captures a moment, a snapshot. In contrast, in this art, a narrative over time seems embedded in the painting. Thus time seems to not be linear, but to be shaped by a sequence of past events, that can all be represented on one single canvas, Desert country.

The standard of the paintings is variable. Some works looking decidedly amateur. Others are simply stunning. But everyone is a reminder that there is another whole way of looking at life.

Land need not be for exploring, fencing, settling, mining. It can also give us identity, tell our story, offer us sustenance, provide a different perspective on time and space.

Desert Country will be making it’s way around Australia. Well worth checking out when it comes by you – Western Australia (13 May – 31 July), Victoria (17 August – 2 October), Queensland (18 November 2011 – 30 January 2012), New South Wales (18 February – 6 May 2012). For more details, go here.

Posted by steve at 10:09 AM

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

haunted hope

A poem that give might give some expression to my current stage of being. Or it might not.

is there
while i am here

becomes then

and i am here

memories seep
to faded deeds

coloniser to migrant
tongued tied, in
church, old,
thriving to dying

grief to grow

time ticks
to new hopes

Posted by steve at 05:28 PM

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

is God holding a white-y Bible? (introduction, chapter one)

Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire is a fascinating read by Australian, Mark Brett. He’s a lecturer in Old Testament at Whitley College and has been a researcher in Aboriginal land claims. It gives him a unique perspective from which to consider the question of whether God is a white-y, and whether God’s book really is an instrument that increases the power of white-y/Western cultures. In this chapter by chapter review, I plan to summarise the book and offer some down-under reflections, specifically from where I sit in New Zealand. It’s an urgent discussion for those of us who live in a post- world, and have to face the abuse of the Bible, it’s complicity in slavery and colonisation and whether we can have any confidence in our ability to use it better than those who have gone before us.

In the Introduction Mark lays out his aims. He acknowledges the crucial role of the Australian context in shaping his work and the fact that he Bible has been used, historically, to legitimate colonization. He outlines his method, in which he refuses to adopt one particular hermeneutic. Instead he uses a range of questions and methods to ask the question: Can God be decolonised, freed from this past? What might it look like for Christianity to not only say sorry, but to find ways to live that are freed from historical injustices and power imbalances?

Chapter one The Bible and Colonisation explores how the Bible was implicated in colonisation and the key texts that might help a ‘post-colonial’ re-reading of the Bible. Brett notes the uniqueness of Australia (unlike New Zealand, South Africa or North America) it was settled with a mindset that which considered Australia “waste and unoccupied.” Social evolution was a huge driving factor in European colonisation, applying Darwin’s theory of evolution to suggest that white people were superior.

“[William] Ward’s prediction was based on the assumed superiority of European literature in general, of which he took the Bible to be a part – even though not a single line of it was first composed in the colonizing nations of Europe.” (Brett, 22).

Brett notes a variety of responses: from evangelical Anglicans like William Wilberforce advocating for indigenous peoples (influencing the thinking of the British Government in relation to the Treaty of Waitangi), through to the published opinions of Australian missionary clergy that Aborigines were “brutes” and “beasts.”

Genesis 1:28 was interpreted (for example by John Locke) to suggest an original empty creation. Land could be owned by no-one until the advent of agrarian labour (ie colonisation).

However, missionaries could not control the reception of the Scriptures once they were translated. “[B]iblical faith presented a form of sovereignity higher than government and it thus provided a foothold for Indigenous resistance.” (Brett, 26). Hence Gandhi drew on the Sermon on the Mount to shape his resistance to British rule, as did the Gikuyu tribe in Kenya in the 1920’s. In New Zealand, Te Kooti drew on the Bible in founding the Ringatu faith. Aboriginal leader David Burrumarra urged holding together both traditional and Christian life.

Despite this subversion, “the overall effect of most of the missions was cultural genocide.” (Brett, 29, quoting George Tinker, an Osage/Cherokee theologian). Ironically, “most biblical texts were produced by authors who were themselves subject to the shifting tides of ancient empires,” (Brett, 31) and this is the focus of Chapter Two.

For discussion: Does it worry you that the Bible might have been used to endorse colonisation? What does such knowledge do to your respect for, and reading of, the Bible?

For all the posts relating to this book/blog review go here

Posted by steve at 05:38 PM

Thursday, April 09, 2009

finding God with flax as Easter spirituality

For the last 10 years, the Easter Journey, has been a feature of ministry at Opawa. However, for the last year or so, there has been a growing feeling that it is time for something new to emerge. Opawa is changing and so are Pete and Joyce. While the Journey has been a tremendous blessing, we have to be sensitive to the moving, changing winds of the Spirit. Too often, good things for a season become institutions the church feels compelled to keep propping up. Letting things go is an essential Christian discipline.

To help us let go, and to start the process of dreaming again, we are starting with an Easter Saturday day of paper making. April 11, 9:45 am for coffee. Bring lunch to share. Together we will turn flax into paper, both for individual journals and for use in the church at Pentecost.

Why paper making? Well this is what I said on radio recently. (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:16 AM