Friday, December 16, 2016
Seeing Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives symposium
Friday 7:30 pm, March 17, until 1 pm, Saturday, March 18, 2017.
Venue: Otago University
Call for papers: Silence: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) is a historical novel. Written by Shusako Endo (1923-1999), one of Japan’s foremost novelists, the book offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil. It allows us to explore the possibilities and pitfalls when conversion seems fruitless.
The book is currently being made into a movie, directed by Martin Scorsese. Due for New Zealand release on February 17, it stars Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson. Scorsese considers his movie-making an act of prayer, writing “I wanted to be a priest. My whole life has been movies and religion. That’s it. Nothing else” (Detweiler and Taylor 2003: 155).
This symposium welcomes a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on the themes of Silence. Contributors could focus on Silence as film, the history of 17th century Japan, the diversity of indigenous Japanese responses to Christianity and Empire, Jesuit approaches to mission, the ethics and limits of conversion, cross-cultural interactions, the writing of Endo, the missiological and theological challenges presented when faith suffers.
Papers of 20 minutes in length are sought. The deadline for 250 word abstracts is Friday 20th January, 2017. Enquiries and abstracts to Kevin Ward email@example.com. Presenters will informed on 31 January, 2017. Papers will be streamed if needed.
Friday evening March 17 – Special viewing of Silence and conference meal.
Saturday morning March 18
9-9:45 am Panel discussion: Asian history, film studies, history, missiology (tbc)
9:45 – 10:45 am Papers
11:15 am – 12:15 pm Papers
12:15 -1 pm Concluding comments
The symposium has been timetabled with a view to presenters watching the film after release on February 17 and having time to develop papers for the symposium.
This event is a programme of the Christianity and Cultures in Asia series, sponsored by Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, the Otago University Department of Theology and Religion, and Presbyterian Research Centre.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Silence, art and global Christologies
Here is the visual I constructed to illustrate the conclusion to my International Association Mission Studies paper: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change.
For those who value words:
To represent the fullness of Christ, both Christologically and missiologically, we need the “face of Christ” giving inspiration to artists at every stage of the Philippians arc (the U shape). We do not ask art images of Christ the Victor (right hand art image) or Jesus the baptised (left hand art image) to express a complete Christology, to capture every stage of the Philippians arc. We let them stand individually as Christological snapshots. In Silence: A Novel, we are offered an artistic gift, that of obedience to the point of death. This is a truthful missiology which voices Christ’s silence. Such is the Christological gift of Silence: A Novel to missiology. It provides an essential snapshot, ensuring our accounts of conversion and transformation include not only narratives of triumph, but also narratives of solidarity with Christ’s silence.
My paper was assigned to the hour of death. For some reason the conference organisers had scheduled 5 papers back to back in a row; between 4 pm and 6:30 pm. This was at the end of a day that included a plenary session plus 5 other papers spread over 2 other sessions. My paper was the last one, at 6 pm. So I needed to up the communication. Thankfully, when you talk about film, you can show movie trailers. That, combined with the above visuals, some Steve Taylor energy and a handout (“regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change handout) ensured that no-one fell asleep.
Two good questions were asked:
Q. What about the words of Christ, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
A. What is happening in Silence: A Novel is of a different, deeper, order. At least Jesus speaks (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me). In Silence, there is only “silence.” Faith is abandoned. The result is a Christology of solidarity, a depth of shared experience with those who have denied Jesus.
Q. What about the film, As it is in heaven? Is that not also both a Christ figure film and a Jesus film?
A. Not according to the definitions that I am working with from Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film (Communication, Culture, and Religion). As it is in heaven is certainly a Christ figure film. But it is not a Jesus film in that it does not reference the historical person of Jesus.
It was good to integrate what is something of a sideline hobby – monthly film reviewing – with my research interests in missiology and indigenous Christologies. It was good to present with video and art.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
spirituality of eating: a lectio vocatio
I led a two day retreat for Wellington Ministers this week. The brief was fairly broad: to speak on something they’d not heard from me before. I decided to focus on “Give us this day our daily bread” and explore the spirituality of eating and the implications for ministry and mission.
Each session involved a five step cycle, which I called “lectio vocatio” – listening to God and each other – amid a shared vocation as ministers.
- Stories: reflective questions that invited story sharing
- Bible stories – read firstly for ordinary eating
- Bible stories – read secondly for theological purposes
- Ministry stories
- Application: Given the spirituality of “eating” in this Biblical story, what are the implications for ministry and mission?
I was rifting off lumia domestica, an art exhibition by Willie Williams, and how he takes ordinary things (culled from Oxfam shops across the world), and makes reflective, beautiful things. So in the ordinary of eating, there is beauty, which makes us go “wow.”
A first session revolved around Abraham’s hospitality in Genesis 18, to consider call
- Where are the places in which you have met strangers?
- What are the practices of hospitality you have experienced?
People had been invited to bring some cloth meaningful to them. These were laid on the table, as a way of making ourselves present in the circle of God’s love (in which our call to ministry begins). The diversity and colour was a rich reminder of particularity and uniqueness in ministry.
A second session focused on the widow of Zarepath in 1 Kings 17, to consider justice, community development and climate change
- Who are the “widows” in our community?
- What are their sticks and flour?
People had been invited to bring a tin can. We reflected on where the “daily bread” we eat comes from and what we knew about the production and people. This became intercession, as we placed our tin cans prayerfully.
A third session focused on Rahab in Joshua 2, to consider formation in mission and our willingness to work with what God is doing in unexpected places
- Where have you experienced shelter (food and a roof) in the lands of another?
- When have you unexpectedly heard affirmations of faith?
In ending, we cleared the table. As each person reclaimed their cloth and tin can, they shared an action they would like to engage, as a result of engaging together. The table was emptying, yet there was a renewed intentionality toward our ordinary tables of mission and ministry to which we were returning, grounded in a depth of contemplating (lectio) our vocations in ministry together.
I very much enjoy this type of teaching. The theme provided a different way to reflect on ministry and mission. The movement between silence, Scripture, story and discussion felt empowering, yet provocative. The chance to build something over a number of days opened up every deeper layers of conversation.
Key books in my preparation were: John Koenig, Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation and Rebecca Huntley, Eating Between the Lines and Anne Richards, Sense Making Faith: Body, Spirit, Journey.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Sandpits. Why some papers write quicker than others.
I had an interesting experience over the last 48 hours. Back in October, I submitted two conference paper proposals (250 word abstracts) to International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) Korea conference. Both were accepted.
Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change
Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) is a historical novel that offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil.
The book is currently being made into a movie. Directed by Martin Scorsese and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.
This paper will examine three missiological approaches.
First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism.
Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action.
Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.
Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.
Following acceptance of abstracts, IAMS then required 2000 word papers to be submitted by the end of May, 2016. By the end of May, Silence the movie had not been released! I had already written one paper for IAMS. So I wrote to the conference organisors, advising I was unable to provide a second paper, on Silence, due to the film not as yet having been released. They replied, indicating how keen they were to have the paper. They suggested I complete a draft, based on the book, which I could change if and when the movie appeared. They also offered a 12 day extension, to Sunday 12 June.
I had two other talks to give between the end of May and the 12th of June, both of which required significant preparation. I relayed this to IAMS. However, flying back on Saturday having completed the two presentations, I realised I had 90 minutes in the air. Often being locked in a plane can be highly productive. So I decided I’d spend the time writing and see what happened.
90 minutes later, as the plane began to descend and the call came to turn off all electronic devices, I did a word count. 1750 words!
Wow. Another few hours the next evening, and I found myself with a complete draft. An edit from a competent, understanding academic colleague this morning, and I have just sent a 2,000 word paper, written in the space of 6 hours, over a 48 hour period.
Some papers write quicker than others. Why?
Location – as I said above, I often find myself highly productive when airborne at 30,000 feet. It means no email, office interruptions or phone calls. In addition, looking down provides a different sort of perspective. This becomes a gift, which becomes productive.
Limitation – Given the unavailability of the film, the conference organisers had suggested I provide a draft. This did something mentally. Instead of looking forward, wondering what else I needed to read, and in this case, what else I needed watch, I found myself looking back. What did I already have that I could make use of? Locked in a metal tube, with no new books to distract me, all I had was previous scraps of writing and my head. Searching my hard drive, I found a theoretical frame that I had used in a 2008 conference presentation on female Christ figures in film and realised it could be helpfully used. I remembered I had written in 2010 a film review, in my role as Touchstone film reviewer, that dealt with similar themes. Both opened up some helpful theorisation. Suddenly I had the basis for two sections. The initial work I had done in preparing the abstract became a useful third section. Limitation got me looking within.
Clarity of task – Hemingway said write drunk, edit sober. The argument is that we use different parts of our brain to create than we do to correct. We need to play, and then, separately, to evaluate. We should never do these two tasks together. On Saturday, when I began to write, it was playful. “What the heck,” I thought as the plane took off, “I have 90 minutes, so let’s see what happens.” I doubted I would come up with anything, so there was certainly a risk free environment.
Surprised by my output on Saturday, I decided to have a second play on Sunday. “What the heck, I have a few evening hours free, I wonder if I can land this, write a complete draft before 10 pm tonight?” If I did, I could then sleep on it (sleep-in Monday actually), and then turn from play to edit, reading critically what I had playfully produced.
Sandpits – In a recent post on writing (from binge to snack: why Parking 60 has changed my writing life), I reflected on the difference between binge writing and snack writing. I talked about how the discipline of sixty minutes a day had enhanced my writing.
Reflecting on this past weekend, I did not feel like I was either snacking or binging. I wrote for two sessions, one 90 minutes, then other 150. Then it was an edit, once on the screen in response to feedback, the second on paper as a final edit.
A more helpful image for what I have experienced would be neither snacking, nor binging but sandpitting. Sandpits are places to play. Play happens because of structure – the physical structure of a bounded space, the social structure of watching parents. In the sandpit, results and outcomes are not the issue. Play is.
Location and limitation and clarity of task had produced a sandpit. A “no-outcomes-expected, have-a-go, draw-together-what-you-already-know” play. My play was further supported by that helpful colleague, able to offer quick, objective, time-bound advice. They knew I had time pressures and were able to feedback within those realities.
What I have written will undoubtedly need more work, including wider reading and a reconsideration when (if) the film appears. But I now have words. And some satisfaction, at producing a 2,000 word conference paper in 48 hour period. And respect for the possibilities and potential of being placed in a sandpit!
Wednesday, June 08, 2016
Woven Together: Christianity and the Pacific
I’m in Wellington Thursday and Friday at Woven Together, a conference on Christianity and the Pacific, run by School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University. The range of papers and presenters looks absolutely fascinating, a rich mix of thinkers and activists. I also spy a few old friends also offering papers, whom I’ve not seen since I left New Zealand in 2009, so that will be an added, extra, relational bonus.
It is the sort of place Knox Centre should be. I’ve teamed with a Presbyterian colleague and we are presenting a paper titled The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre. It has been for a great opportunity to get into the Presbyterian Research Centre Archives and learn more about the denomination I’m now part of. It has also been part of returning to my story, given my birth in the Pacific, in Papua New Guinea and my father pioneering an indigenous theological College. As I’ve researched, I’ve had a few flashbacks :). And it was very meaningful to do the bulk of the writing on Monday morning, when the saint of the day in the lectionary was a Melanesian brother, Ini Kopuria. It felt like he was watching
Here’s our conclusion to The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre:
In conclusion, we have outlined how theological education in Vanuatu was driven, from the beginning, by a vision for local agency. The aims – for equality and contextualisation in 1895 – and self-help in 1977 were extraordinary. Theological education played a key role in developing leadership that contributed significantly to Vanuatu’s independence. However, since the 1960’s, theological education in the Pacific has been complexified, by changing modes of theological education, shifting dynamics with partner agencies and the fragility of Pacific economics. Talua is neither historic nor recent. Is the Ni-Van desire for local agency unrealistic in today’s globalised world? Or, might the birth of digital technologies provide ways for Colleges to remain local, affirm their distinctives, yet share resources with other indigenous theological providers? In other words, using the words with which we began: Can “Theological Education … [be] not foreign, [nor] imposed.”
For those interested, here is out handout: woven together paperhandout
Monday, May 30, 2016
God’s work in a homeless world
I’ve just submitted a paper proposal for the Durham Conference on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, September 2016. If accepted, and if the funding comes through, it will work beautifully with my BERA conference presentation, in Leeds a few days later.
This paper has been composting for over a year. It began as a research memo in May, 2015, when I hit a research brickwall in a book project on sustainability and fresh expressions. I needed a theological lens, other than numbers, by which to discern innovation.
It was clarified by email conversation with Paul Fiddes, who helped me name my research question. It was sharpened by a lecture in February, working with KCML interns. The result is the following paper. And, with thinking clarified, shaped and sharpened, I can return to the book project! Here is the abstract.
God’s work in a homeless world: the Christian practice of discernment in conversation with Irenaeus
Missio Dei understands God as the primary agent of mission. The affirmation, however, generates questions regarding how to discern Divine work in the world. This paper undertakes an exercise in practical theology, testing the practicalities of the Christian practice of discernment. The argument is that a Christology of giving and receiving, evident in a pastoral encounter with a homeless person, redraws Irenaeus’ theology of recapitulation.
The starting point is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s notion of Christ taking “form among us today and here” (Ethics, 2009). Paul Fiddes uses this starting point in clarifying the nature of empirical research in theology (Seeing the World and Knowing Godxt, 2013; Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, 2012). The possibilities of Christ taking “form today” as a Christian practice of discernment are tested in three steps.
As a first step, a set of questions is developed by which the specific shape of Christ’s form might be discerned. Three possibilities are introduced, drawing on Trinitarian presence in three Biblical narratives, the theology of creation in the Old Testament wisdom literature and the Divine processions of mission. Each is consistent with the Christological and Trinitarian impulses inherent in Bonhoeffer, yet provides a different lens in the practice of discernment. Drawing from Trinitarian narratives, do we see signs of creating, reconciling or the making of all things new? Drawing from wisdom literature, what can be blessed because it contributes to human flourishing? Drawing from the processions of mission, where do we see relationships of extravagant giving and receiving?
Second, the three discernment questions are tested against a moment of lived reality, a pastoral encounter between a street chaplain and a homeless person. The encounter is documented by Henk de Roest (Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, 2012). While the use here of an existing empirical data set might be new in practical theology, it is consistent with Five Ways of Doing Qualitative Analysis (2011) in which researchers analyse the same data using diverse methodologies. This paper tests the usefulness of such an approach in practical theology. The three discernment questions, when applied to this pastoral encounter, enrich understandings of God’s work in a homeless world. The shape by which Christ takes “form among us today” is clarified, particularly with regard to the agency of God in human giving and receiving.
Third, Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation is redrawn in light of the mutual giving and receiving discerned in the pastoral encounter. The argument is that recapitulation needs not only to articulate Christ receiving in maturation, but also in ministry. The pastoral encounter enriches our understanding of the nature of Incarnation and the self-limits of revelation inherent when God’s work in the world occurs as a communicative act of giving and receiving.
Practical theology is thus a Christian practice in which acts of discernment, in conversation with empirical data and historical theology, deepen understanding of reciprocity in the nature of God. The empirical is essential for theology, while theology is essential for Christian practice.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
reading color purple and the ministry of Lydia
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. Acts 16:13-14.
Lydia, dealer in purple. In the The Brilliant History of Color in Art, purple in the Roman empire is a “fashion phenomenon … Rome adored this color with a passion we cannot imagine today” (The Brilliant History of Color in Art, 28). Purple was made from shellfish. They needed to be soaked in liquid, ground together, thus releasing the enzymes that resulted in the colour purple.
Lydia lived in Philippi, a city situated near head of Aegean Sea. In other words, in a city able to produce its own colour purple, using shellfish from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. However, rotting shellfish stink. It is near impossible to leave with the smells made by rotting shellfish, which led to them being placed on the outskirts of towns and cities. This is evident in Tyre, where if you visit today, you can see, outside the town, downwind, the vats in which the color purple was manufactured (The Brilliant History of Color in Art, 29).
This provides another way to read Acts 16. The traditional reading is that Lydia was a God-fearer and hung out with the Jews, who had no synagogue, and thus met by the river on the outskirts of the city.
What if in fact Lydia, the dealer in purple, was tending her vats full of rotting shellfish, located, for reasons of smell, outside the city? What if the beginning of Paul’s cross-cultural ministry in Greece began amid the stench of rotten shellfish?
Christologically, this would provide an interesting way to frame the mission of Paul. Purple was a restricted colour in the Roman Empire. In 48 BC, it was ruled that only Ceasar’s could wear togas died in purple. If Paul begins his ministry amongst the colour purple, is he making a statement about royalty? Not from the Emperor’s position of power, but from outside the city, amid the stench of primary production. It is consistent with the Christ he serves, who died outside the city, the enzymes of his body released in suffering. Lydia becomes, like the women carrying their spices after the Resurrection, a worker amid the stench of rot and decay.
Christologically, of these women, Mary Magdalene is the first to give voice to the life of the Resurrection Christ. She is thus known as the first apostle. Lydia, like Mary, is the first woman named when Paul carries the gospel into Greece. Is a textual echo being created? Are two women, Mary and Lydia, bound physically by their service amid the smell of death? Are they also bound spiritually by their willingness to be the first to say yes, one in Jerusalem, another in Greece, to new life in the Resurrected Christ?
Such are the possibilities created by reading the color purple in light of the ministry of Lydia in Acts 16.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
local agency, local leaders, local indigeneity, local independence
It was an evening in the archives, exploring the files and newspaper cuttings that Presbyterian Research has of theological education in Vanuatu. The demand was preparation for The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of the relationship between Talua Ministry Training Centre and three denominations in Australia and New Zealand, a research paper I am delivering, with Phil King, at Woven Together: Christianity and Development between New Zealand and the Pacific, Victoria University, June 9-10. The result was an evening of inspiration.
Here is some of what I wrote …
What will become clear is that Christianity is a significant development actor. Theological education in Vanuatu is driven by local agency. It is shaped by a vision for equality, contextualisation and indigeneity. It provides leadership for political independence.
Local agency, local leaders
The first Ni-Van were trained overseas. Two travelled to Samoa in 1849, three to New Zealand in 1851. From a Ni-Van perspective, through the eyes of Fiama Rakau, the focus is on local agency. “Ni-Vanuatu took the initiative, to swim and ask to be taken away for training. Theological Education, then, is not foreign, neither was it imposed, but it was born out of desire and necessity.” (Fiama Rakau, From Aname to Talua. A Brief Survey of Theological Education in Vanuatu, 1)
The need for indigenous leadership lead to the first theological college, in Aname, Aneityum. The location was first, close to a significant church and second, monastic in feel. (“The idea of a monastery may still be felt and followed in the early stages of the theological development.” (Rakau, 5)
It was built on the desire for local agency. “The Presbyterian Mission was forced to give up its dependence upon the LMS teachers” (Rakau, 2). It is consistent with Forman’s pattern, which I will discuss later. The College was wholistic, aiming to “enlarge the whole life, head, heart, home and community” (Rakau 3, citing Miller Live Bk 3, 112). Students worked in gardens. This is consistent with the aims of the theological college, that students “keep in touch with man’s deeper need by practical gospel work during training” (Rakau 6, citing Tangoa Training Institution). It was free (“free as far as fees were concerned” (Rakau 3, citing Miller Live Bk 3, 113)). A central focus was teaching students to read, for the sake of local agency. “Our primary object was to teach them to read, that they might be able to read the Bible and learn the will of God … for themselves” (Rakau 3, citing Miller Live Bk 3, 113). This is empowerment, in which the ability to read enhances local agency.
In 1895, Tangoa Training Institution was established. It is intriguing to read the aims, using the lens of our conference theme: development. The vision included equality, contextualisation and indigeneity. Regarding justice, the Intellectual aims noted “The essential parity of the intellectual powers, irrespective of race or colour.” (Rakau, 6) Regarding contextualisation, “A teaching approach which has, as far as possible, assimilated the thought-forms of the native culture.” (Rakau, 6) that educated “students to the nature of the responsibility for an indigenous church.” (Rakau, 7) Regarding indigeneity, “A self-governing Vanuatu Church … The principle that the people of the land are the most effective evangelists to their own people … The inclusion of island teachers [as theological educators] as soon as possible … The gradual assumption by the Vanuatu Church of the cost of training its own teachers and pastors.” (Rakau, 7) It is an extraordinary vision for any culture, even more so given the year, 1895.
A third institution, Aulua Training College was established in 1977. This date is important, argues Fiama Rakau, “four years before Vanuatu achieved its independence.” (Rakau, 11). The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu was instrumental in the move to independence, with clergy being released to provide national political leadership. “This was particularly felt within the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu because more pastors from that church were released to the political sector.” (Rakau, 11). This resulted in a loss of leadership in the church. This led to the establishing of Aulua Training College.
Again, local agency was central. The first aim was that “Aulua expresses the determination to move towards self-help” (Rakau, 12). There was a critique of “students, studying overseas, [who] become alienated from their own people” (Rakau, 12). An economic analysis was evident: “The high cost factor of providing basic training overseas” (Rakau, 12). Contextualisation is central. A training model is established which takes “place within the culture and life of the people” (Rakau, 12). Examinations were rejected in favour of “written expression, group discussion, and involvement, to assess their readiness for ministry.” (Rakau, 13).
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Christianity and cultures in Asia
This is one of great things about being at Knox, the chance to do missiology as a global conversation:
Christianity and cultures in Asia
This series of seminars aims to encourage and promote research and publication on Christianity and cultures in Asia. It also aims to promote use of the rich resources contained in the Rita Mayne England Collection on Asian Christianity held at the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College, in the Hocken Library, and in other libraries around Dunedin.
May 26th Rev Dr John England:
Towards the Bright Pavilions: Approaches to the Study & Teaching of Asian Church Histories & Theologies.
Aug 30th Linda Zampol D’Ortia:
Jesuits in Asia in the 16th century.
Oct 13th Dr Sin Wen Lau
Dec 8th Rev Dr John Roxborogh:
A tale of two Seminaries: Ideas and Realities in the quest for Indigenization and Contextualisation In Theological Education in Malaysia and Singapore.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Womens wealth: Tabitha/Dorcas missiology of economic justice
Acts 9:36, the story of Tabitha (Dorcas in the Greek), preached at Knox Church, Dunedin, in which I suggest economic justice is a fourth mark of the church and wonder if Dorcas is the first female Deacon of the church, and thus the patron saint of diaconal ministry.
Last weekend my sister-in-law from Christchurch came to visit. We’ve brought a house at St Leonards. It has some very dated curtains and so with winter approaching, last weekend was set aside and the words written in the calendar – curtain making. I needed to spend Saturday morning working on a conference presentation, for the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture. So I found myself on Saturday morning reading about “women’s wealth.” It’s a term used to reference the making of bark cloth into woven mats amongst Pacifica cultures.
“Women’s wealth” thus refers first, to the skills of making. Second, to the knowledge sharing that occurs across generations as the mats are made. Third, to the value of the actual mats. They’re gorgeous. Fourth, to the ability of these women to adapt their skills when times change, when they move to Australia or New Zealand and lose homegrown materials.
As I was working, I found myself pondering the irony. I’m upstairs thinking, writing about “women’s wealth.” At the same time, downstairs, my wife and sister-in-law are making “women’s wealth” – curtains. As they do they’re sharing stories, learning across generations and improvising with different window shapes and lengths of material. In this “curtain economy” of “women’s wealth” I‘m reduced to driver. Steve, drive to Spotlight for more thread, please. Steve, drive to Spotlight for 60 metres of calico please.
“Women’s wealth” – the ability to make, the communal pooling of skill, the knowledge as story that’s shared, the ability to improvise in different contexts.
Acts 9, the lectionary text for today, is about “women’s wealth.” About the role and significance of “women’s wealth” in the mission of God. “In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha (in the Greek her name is Dorcas), she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room … and then in verse 39 – all the widow’s stood around [Peter], crying and showing the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made.” So “women’s wealth” is how this church in Joppa does mission. The ability to make (robes and other clothing), the willingness to share (with the widows), is how the Gospel has come alive in this community. It’s the materiality of the resurrection.
The Presbyterian Church of Aoteoaroa New Zealand has five faces of mission. They’re named are in your newsletter under my sermon title. To make Jesus Christ known:
• in nurture and teaching
• in loving service
• in proclaiming the gospel
• in transforming society
• in caring for creation
Let’s see if we can bring together the world of Acts 9 and the world of the PCANZ. How many of these five faces do we find in Tabitha’s church in Joppa? Ask the person beside you.
I wondered if there were three faces
• In nurture and teaching of people – and nurture is certainly what Tabitha is offering to the widows; and teaching is there in the sharing across generations
• in loving service – and the robes and clothes offered to widows are a wonderful example of practical ministry
• in transforming society – and in New Testament times, widows are poor. They’re on the bottom rung of society. They have no protector, no advocate. So here in this text, they find one – Tabitha.
As I read the Acts 9 lectionary text during the week, thinking about “women’s wealth”, I was struck by how quickly the church in Acts, after the resurrection, settles into such practical, such material, ministries of mercy and justice.
In Acts 2, property and possessions are shared with those in need. In Acts 4, we hear of the willingness to share everything. In Acts 6, the widows are being fed but economic injustice is occurring, some ethnic groups get less, and so the role of Deacons is created to ensure there is just distribution of resources in the church.
Now here, in Acts 9, 65 kilometres from Jerusalem, this economic pattern continues. Women’s wealth is used to cloth widows.
It’s not named, but isn’t Tabitha a Deacon? Serving the church, ensuring justice, that the poor and marginalised are taken care of. She doesn’t need a title, like the church in Jerusalem. It’s just what happens after the resurrection.
Presbyterians talk about the marks of the church. Three Marks of a Reformed Church
• Preach the Word of God
• Administer the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion
• Godly Discipline
Here in Acts, perhaps there is a fourth mark, the doing of economic justice.
What I also find fascinating about this Acts 9 lectionary text, is that all this happens, all this ministry, all this economic justice, all this “women’s wealth,” it all happens before Peter arrives. Peter, as we heard last week, is commissioned by Jesus to Feed the sheep. Peter is the preacher at Pentecost at Jerusalem. Peter speaks in court before the Sanhedrin. Peter, Peter, Peter.
Yet before Peter ever arrives at Joppa, Tabitha has got on with feeding sheep, practising mercy and justice among the poor and marginalised of her community. There’s a church in mission well before Peter, coming from head office in Jerusalem, ever arrives.
This pattern is repeated time and again in mission history. In 1287, Kublai Khan sent a Chinese Christian bishop as his ambassador to Rome, with instructions to ask the Pope if the Pope was a Christian (The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died)
When the missionaries arrived in top end of Australia, indigenous Aborigines had already heard the gospel from fisherman working down from Indonesia (Gumbuli of Ngukurr: Aboriginal elder in Arnhem Land).
In Aoteaoroa New Zealand, it was Ripahau who carried the pages from the matyred body of Tarore’s Gospel of Luke to Otaki, which resulted Katu Te Rauparaha converted, which causes him to visit enemies of his father Te Rauparaha up and down the South Island, long before any missionaries from head office in London arrive.
In the middle of last century, the world of mission was tipped on its head by a German mission administrator who gave us the term Missio Dei – God’s mission. God is a missionary God. Mission starts with God, and we’re simply playing catching up.
Just like Peter. He arrives from head office, with some great Pentecost stories, only to find women’s wealth and a mission of economic justice is already happening. This is missio dei – starts with God and Peter’s playing catchup.
Will Willimon writes of this Acts 9 lectionary text – “Every community, every family, every congregation exists within certain settled, fixed arrangements of power … Tabitha is to stay home and let the men devise an affordable welfare system … But [God] comes …. These miraculous events announce a new age … and nothing is quite the same.” (Acts: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 85-6). Such is women’s wealth, in the mission Dei, mission of God.
Let me finish with a contemporary story that helps me understand the role and significance of “women’s wealth” in the mission of God today. The story of a church in the UK called Knit and Natter.
In 2008 four women in a small Methodist Church in the middle of a housing estate near Liverpool, arranged to met and knit prayer shawls for the bereaved and those in hospital. Then they moved to blankets for the local women’s refuge. Then hats for shoebox appeals overseas. Everything they knitted, they would lay hands and pray for those who would receive the finished items. Called Prayers for Others.
Three years later, that initial group of four women had grown to sixty, meeting weekly to knit and pray, many with no previous church connection. Calling Knit Natter their church.
Women’s wealth. Used in mission. Four women who make, sharing across generations, integrated their knitting with their prayer life, formed a community of economic justice and spiritual practice, that folk from the wider community now call church. It’s just what happens after the resurrection.
A friend who researched this community for her PhD, noted three things. First, the importance of what she called “Casting On” – the role of knitting as a practical entry point of – hand’s on making – which allowed these four woman to establish connections with the local community.
Second, the power of giving people ways to care. Here’s what one woman, Emma, said:
It feels part of something bigger because the things that people make here are going off into the wider world to be appreciated. So you’re not just part of something local, you’re part of something world- wide really. I think, for me anyway that re-enforces your faith. I think it is lovely to be part of something global, that people can appreciate.
Third, the possibilities of knitting as prayerful practice – how knitting enabled the women to begin or develop a rhythm of prayer and reflection. “ Many of the women interviewed talked about the relaxation and calm frame of mind which knitting brings. They spoke of using their knitting time to create space to be quiet and pray for others.” Knitting is an act of prayer. It’s how the Gospel has come alive in a housing estate in Liverpool.
In conclusion: women’s wealth is often overlooked within societies and cultures. So when I see it in the Biblical text, I want to make that my focus, to major in this sermon on Tabitha. On making, sharing, in the mission of God. And as I did, I was struck by how the church in Acts is marked by economic justice. And that mission starts with God, and that we’re often simply playing catching up. And that mission is can be as simple as making, sharing, integrating our faith with our life. Such is the value of “women’s wealth.” The gifts of Tabitha and Knit and Natter.
It’s just what happens after the resurrection.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory
There’s an interesting conference in Wellington, 9-10 June, 2016. It is sponsored by UNESCO and Victoria University. Titled Woven Together? Christianity and Development between New Zealand and the Pacific, it will examine Christianity as a development actor, investigating the roles that Christianity has played in influencing development and humanitarian practices, ideologies, rituals, networks and imaginations in the Pacific. It is a wide brief, interested in all aspects of the interweaving of Christianity and development in the Pacific.
Given the role of the Presbyterian Church of Aoteroa New Zealand in the Pacific, particularly Vanuatu, I contacted Phil King from Global Mission and suggested involvement. Phil King and I began work on a potential contribution. We have had excellent help from Archives, who have located some rich historical documents.
Abstracts are due 26 March, 2016, and here is what Phil and I have submitted.
The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of the relationship between Talua Ministry Training Centre and three denominations in Australia and New Zealand
Dr Steve Taylor and Rev Phil King
An essential dimension of Christianity in the Pacific is theological education. A common pattern involved denominations establishing a general school, to teach practical and theological topics. By paying close attention to local language and patterns, a contextualised and economically self-sustaining mode of training emerged.
Dramatic changes occurred in the 1960’s. New institutions emerged. These were centralised and ecumenical, teaching university level theological education in English. They relied on a different economic model and contextual approaches.
This becomes obvious when Talua Ministry Training Centre, Vanuatu, is examined. At Talua, three denominations from Australia and New Zealand are involved. Each can be theorised, drawing on archival research, as an actor, complexifying the development of Talua. Each is also being acted upon, facing internal tensions regarding gender and contextualisation, which in turn have impacted Talua. Being woven together requires paying attention to a shifting set of complexities, including economic dependency, partnership and contextuality.
For me, it is important that church-based mission agencies are present and thinking in these places. I consider it a sort of “public” missiology, in which activity and history is reflected upon in wider contexts. So I’ve also contacted Uniting World in Australia, suggesting they could be making a contribution.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
“hapkas” theology as post-colonial theology
Some writing from today, part of my International Association Mission Studies paper (Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”):
Theoretically, the relationship between Christianity and indigenous cultures has been understood in a number of ways. First, hagiographical. In this reading, missionaries are saints, divinely commissioned to enact God’s will. Second, oppositional. In this reading, mission is an “agent of the civilizing mission of imperialism” to quote Bill Ashcroft (Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific, 4). It is the destroyer of indigenous cultures. Third, transformational. This approach stands with the receiver as “a way of reading the engagements of the colonized with imperial power.” (Ashcroft, in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific, 4) The emphasis is on local empowerment, the ways that received messages are engaged and potentially transformed.
This third approach is tested in this paper. It will offer a reading of indigenous Papua New Guinean interaction with Christianity, arguing for a “hapkas” theology (borrowing a term used in The Mountain) as a distinct and creative ancestor Christology that empowers indigenous culture in creative responses to the received message of Christian mission.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning in a higher education context
This is the abstract I have just submitted for BERA (British Educational Research Association) annual conference. What I like most is the missiology that is implicit in this abstract. Are you willing to learn from the new kid?
New kid in class: Qualitative research into flipped learning in a higher education context
Flipped learning, like any new kid in town, finds itself undergoing careful scrutiny. A Review of Flipped Learning (2013) identified the need for further qualitative research, including its potential to engage diverse learners across cultures and subgroups. This paper investigates the impact on learners when flipped learning is introduced into a higher education undergraduate theology topic. Traditionally, theology has privileged Western discourse. Can flipped learning be a useful ally in encouraging globalisation and personalisation?
A 2014 Flinders University Community of Practice research project implemented three pedagogical strategies. These included the introduction of indigenous voices to encourage personalised learning, the use of Blooms Taxonomy to scaffold activities in-class time and digital participation to cultivate the learning culture. These addressed all four pillars (Flexible Environment, Learning Culture, Intentional content, Professional educator) of flipped learning (The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™, (2014)).
Students completed a four question written survey at the start, middle and end of the topic. The results indicated a significant shift. Students had moved from an initial appreciation of content, to a consideration of how they learn from the diversity inherent among their peers. Students perceived that the changes had enhanced their ability to communicate effectively and expressed a preference for choice, collaboration and diversity. However, feedback from Student Evaluation of Teaching responses, assignments and interaction with students was mixed. While overall people affirmed flipped learning, some expressed a desire to return to traditional lecture modes.
This data can be theorised using the notion of learning as a social act, shaped by learner agency. Preston (“Braided Learning,” 2008) observed that students fill different roles in an on-line learning community. Some act as e-facilitators, others as braiders or accomplished fellows. Each of these roles depend on agency being given to, and received by, fellow learners. Student assignments demonstrated that these roles were present during in class-time and further, that the pedagogical strategies implemented were essential in inviting students into these roles. In contrast, students who expressed concern about flipped learning indicated either a desire to preserve the percieved purity of an objective academic experience or a reluctance to trust student agency.
This suggests that the success of flipped learning depends not on the technological ability to produce videos. Rather it depends on pedagagical strategies, including those that help learners appreciate agency in their peers. In sum, the desire to learn from any new kid in the class remains at the core of the educative experience.
- Dr Steve Taylor, Vice Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Flinders University, South Australia
Flipped Learning Network (2014). The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™. http://flippedlearning.org/cms/lib07/va01923112/centricity/domain/46/flip_handout_fnl_web.pdf.
Hamdan, Noora, McKnight, Patrick, McKnight, Katherine and Kari M. Arfstrom (2013). A Review of Flipped Learning: A White Paper Based on the Literature Review.” http://www.flippedlearning.org/cms/lib07/VA01923112/Centricity/Domain/41/WhitePaper_FlippedLearning.pdf.
Preston, C. J. (2008). “Braided Learning: An emerging process observed in e-communities of practice.” International Journal of Web Based Communities 4 (2): 220-43).
Keywords: flipped learning, diversity, higher education
It is a development of work I presented in 2015 at ANZATS and HERGA, but this time with clear focus on flipped learning. I will hear by 11 March if the proposal is accepted. The BERA conference is September 13-15 in Leeds, so might well fit beautifully with the Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference, 6-8 September in Durham and Lines in Sand, 18th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture, 9-11 September in Glasgow. Or it might be a stretch too far. We will see. Good to have an abstract entered and grateful for the time and encouragement of Dr Katy Vigurs in looking over a draft of my abstract.
Friday, January 22, 2016
reading a “settler” (Presbyterian) church missiologically
The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand describes itself as a “settler church.” (here). It’s founding story is expressed in the narrative of Scottish and English settlers wanting to build a better world for themselves and their families, followed by post-World War II emigration patterns, as Dutch, European, then Pacific Island and Asian migrants arrived in New Zealand.
This “settler” narrative shapes identity. It can be contrasted with “missionary” beginnings, as in the case of Anglican, Methodist and Catholic denominations in New Zealand. It can be placed in an uneasy tension in relation to engagement with Maori.
I am interested in reading this “settler” narrative missiologically. My hunch is that in the PCANZ history there are some rich cross-cultural insights. I was alerted to this in reading Migrations: Journeys in time and place, by Rod Edmond, a few years ago. Edmond traces his Scottish forbears. One of the stories is of Presbyterian missionary, Charles Murray. Charles comes to NZ after a short period of missionary service on the island of Ambryn, Vanuatu. He then serves as a Presbyterian minister in Carterton (1888-98), Fielding (1898 -1906), Sydenham (1902-1919) and Matawhero (1919-1920). Ferguson writes that “The missionary impulse never deserted Charles.” (Migrations, 193). Evidence includes establishing home mission stations in Fielding, travelling in support of Maori Mission and urban mission in Sydenham. In addition, he continued to write to support the (then) New Hebrides Mission and took a public stand for pacifism during WW1. All of this is in continuity with his cross–cultural experiences. “Throughout his life Charles had worked at the frontiers of the church – the slums of Aberdeen, the Pacific, the new rural towns of the Wairarapa and Manuwatu, a large working-class suburb of Christchurch and now a remote East Coast settlement.” (Migrations, 203). The life of Charles Murray is an example of mission, in particular, cross-cultural mission, shaping this so–called “settler” church, in this case over 32 years in four locations.
My hunch is this gives us some important ways to understand ourselves missiologically today. My interest is two fold. First, I am interesting in finding other such stories and asking how these stories disturb the “settler” narrative. Second, I am interested in considering the missiological shape these stories might give to the unfolding story of the PCANZ today.