Monday, August 21, 2017

Transforming leadership and ecclesial identities

I’ve just spent 7 days on Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, at the invitation of Talua, a Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu theological college. I was asked to speak on transforming leadership over 20 hours and as I prepared, I found myself trying to think missiologically about leadership: ie the movement from a sending God; through discipleship; to leadership – using the biblical images in my Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration book. Given my 6 years serving with the Uniting Church of Australia, who are also, like the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, a partner church of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, I also found myself thinking about transformation and leadership in light of the Basis of Union. Here is some of what I wrote as a sort of course description for myself:

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Melanesian garden, Novata farm

Melanesian garden, Novata farm

Transforming leadership and ecclesial identities

Transforming leadership is located in missiology, in the sending God at work in the world (Luke 10:1-12). Our understandings of leadership begin with God as the active agent, the One who has called the church to serve as a fellowship of reconciliation, a body with diverse gifts, an instrument of witness (Paragraph 3).

As “the people of God on the way” (Paragraph 18), the Protestant church recognises two sacraments, that of baptism and communion. Hence any talk of leadership emerges from baptism, for it is baptism that we are initiated into God’s mission and it is through communion that we are sustained in mission. As it says in the Basis of Union, “On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments” (Paragraph 3). No leader emerges apart from the fact that we are all one in Christ Jesus, all of us saying yes to participation in mission through our baptism, all of us in communion strengthened in order to participate “in the mission of Christ in the world” (Paragraph 8).

An expression of our participation in mission includes the experience in which all members have gifts for which there is a “corresponding service” (Paragraph 13). In 1 Corinthians 3 and 4, Paul explains his ministry, using six images – of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent. In these passages, Paul is explaining what it means for him to be sent to serve, and how his theology of baptism and communion finds expression in his “corresponding service.” Given that through baptism all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28), it makes sense when Paul describes a shared leadership: he labours alongside other servants (Apollos in 3:5), other gardeners (3:9), other builders (3:10), other resource managers (Apollos in 4:6), other fools (apostles in 4:9) and other parents (Timothy in 4:17).

This suggests that Paul’s “corresponding service” is in fact shared by others, who alongside Paul also offer a “corresponding service” as servants, gardeners, builders, fools and parents. The result of these shared acts of service in mission is transformation. At Corinth, individuals are transformed and a church is established. When the six images of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent are read against literature describing the existing cultural understandings of sociality and ethics of the world of Corinth what becomes clear is an alternative ethical polis. As the one body in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28) examines itself in communion (1 Cor 11:28), existing cultural understandings of leadership and influence are challenged. Such a transforming body is made possible by a transforming leadership, one which results when the church serves, gardens, builds, resource manages, acts as a fool and parent.

For every image of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent there are practical tools by which the entire community can serve. Thus transforming leadership has nothing to do with individual heroic leaders. Rather, both missiologically and practically, transformation emerges as God’s people participate with the Sending one in acts of service, gardening, building, resource managing, being a fool and a parent.

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In sketching this understanding, I am drawing on a range of recent scholarship including missiology, leadership, indigenous Aboriginal theologies, Biblical theologies, pneumatology, Christology, indigenous theology, New Testament scholarship both Pauline and Gospel, Old Testament narratives and post-colonial hermeneutics. Particularly Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians; Eugene Rogers, The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings; Ben Witherington, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom; Kenneth Bailey, Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15 (Concordia Scholarship Today); Walter Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism and Denise Champion, Yarta Wandatha.

Posted by steve at 03:54 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

online resourcing by KCML in mission

listeninginmission It was an exciting day for KCML today as we hosted our first ever online learning opportunity for ministers.  We used video conferencing technology and had 12 participants from around New Zealand join us to explore listening in mission. It was lovely to welcome folk from the breadth and diversity of NZ, particularly rural folk in Central Otago, Marlborough, Waikato, North and South Canterbury. (We also had five apologies. They will be sent the recording of the session and invited to engage with us if they have further questions.)

We read Scripture together, using lectio divina to explore the movement between text and context. We heard two short stories of how listening in mission changed us. We were introduced to two components of the Listening in Mission Practical Learning course. First, five online sessions that will be a support and an encouragement. It is lonely leading in mission and we need ways to encourage and be encouraged. Second, a listening in mission project. Each participant is invited to conduct a listening in action in their community, gathering a team of 4-6 people to engage in four guided listening exercises. This is embodied listening, quite different from surveys or census data.

Today felt small and yet big. Small, in that the sixty minutes flashed by. Small in that other education providers have been doing this for years.

Big, in that the technology worked, the audio was good, the group made immediate and excellent use of chat. Big in that KCML is resourcing ministers without requiring them to travel. Big in that this could apply in other areas of KCML life – a further course on experimenting in mission, or growing in preaching or enhancing resilience in leadership etc etc.

The KCML vision is

create, partner and sustain
innovative learning communities and ministries and
cultivate
mobile, accessible and collaborative theological reflection and formation.

Today we did that. We created a learning community, by being mobile in technology, accessible in taking a process we use with our interns and making it available more widely, collaborative as three KCML Faculty worked together to share the leadership.

It was an exciting day for KCML today.

Posted by steve at 06:35 PM

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Resurrection for mission

Some (theological) writing this morning, drawing on the Resurrection to understand listening as the first act of mission …

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Rowan Williams offers a way to understand the interplay between Christ, church, creation and culture. In The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ Canterbury Press: Norwich, 2003, 23-41, Williams introduces a classical Orthodox Resurrection icon. Icons are “written” and “read”: theological documents in which we encounter Christ. Williams points to the way that in a classical Orthodox Resurrection icon, Christ unites, standing on a narrow bridge of rock spanning a dark pit. Christ is grasping Adam with one hand and Eve with the other. He is restoring relationships – between men and women, between humanity and creation, between the mind’s knowledge and the body’s experience.

Williams then draws on Maximus the Confessor and his explanation of Christ as overcoming all the great separations that humans suffer. Williams notes the presence in the icon of characters from the Jewish Scriptures, including David, Abraham, Moses. The result is that “the resurrection is a moment in which human beings are reintroduced to each other across the gulf of mutual resentment and blame; a new human community becomes possible” (31-2). The Risen Christ is reintroducing us, opening the ways by which these characters from Scripture stand in the middle of “our present community, speaking to us about the God who spoke with them in their lifetimes in such a way that we can see how their encounter with God leads toward and is completed in Christ” (34). Thus revelation comes, understood in light of the resurrection. This is then applied to the relationship between Christ and creation. “But if we also bear in mind the context in which Maximus the Confessor sets the work of Christ, we can see here in outline the foundation for understanding the relation of Church and creation” (35-6). The logic is one of extension. “If the Risen Christ takes hold and speaks through the great figures of biblical history … by the same token he speaks through the world around us … he introduces us to that world and requires us to listen to it and receive from it what he wants to communicate.” (36) This is the work of Resurrected Christ, a “very obvious consequence both of the theology that shows Christ uniting what fallenness and sin have departed and of the image of a whole history brought to fulfilment … what Christ does and suffers affects all things, all areas of human experience and so all aspects of human relation, including relation with what is not human” (36-7). Through the Resurrection comes a redemption of creation which is so complete that creation becomes a source of revelation. In creation, experience and culture we can see the redemption that Christ is revealing. We are, in the risen Christ, being required to listen and receive from creation, experience and culture.

This provides a Christology of mission.

  • First, mission “opens out” (37) from Christ.
  • Second, we are required to listen to what Christ introduces us to, in this case the world which Christ has overcome our separation from.
  • Third, our listening will include human experience, which in Christ has been experienced, suffered and to which, in the Resurrection, we are being reintroduced.
  • Fourth, human experience, and hence human cultures, are a dimension in which Christ is revealed.
  • Fifth, we are listening for what Christ is speaking, what Christ wants to introduce us to.

Thus in the Resurrected Christ is a theology of revelation for mission. God is speaking, through what Christ as experienced, not only in Scripture and the characters from the Jewish Scriptures but also through creation, human experience and human cultures.

Posted by steve at 09:57 AM

Monday, April 03, 2017

Silence: a theological 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 April 2017.

Silence
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Silence is recommended viewing in the season of Lent. The movie is an extended passion play, in which multiple characters follow Jesus to the cross. Two Jesuit missionaries (Andrew Garfield as Father Rodrigues and Adam Driver as Garupe) believe they are called by God to Japan. It is the seventeeth century and as they travel, they hear rumours of a persecution so brutal that their confessor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has committed apostasy. Silence thus becomes an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the complexity of discipleship unto death.

The strong of faith will find in Silence there is room for doubt. There are the intellectual accusations and theological questions posed by the Japanese interrogator (Issey Ogata as Inoue Masashige). Is missionary religious zeal a commitment made at the expense of those the missionary professes to serve? How can belief in God be sustained in view of persistent failure? The verbal questions are sharpened by the multiple deeds of denial, as Japanese converts deny their faith and Father Ferreira turns to Buddhism. Silence poses to the strong in faith an unrelenting sequence of faith-denying words and deeds.

For the weak of faith, there is comfort in the character of Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubosuka). Unlike Judas, Kichijiro choses not to follow his denial by death. Instead his continual seeking of forgiveness becomes a test of the Christian commitment to forgiveness seventy times seven. Kichijiro’s enduring presence and repeated failures offer a strange comfort to all who doubt.

Silence: A Novel as a book was written by Shusako Endo, one of Japan’s foremost novelists. The movie rights were acquired by film director, Martin Scorsese over twenty five years ago. Scorsese claims a life long fascination with faith. He 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, A Matrix of Meanings: finding God in pop culture, 155). Silence allows Scorsese to apply all the learnings from a career spanning more than fifty years to the topic of religion.

Silence is a rich reminder of a director at the top of their game. At crucial times, the absence of sound amplifies the internal conflicts central to Silence. In silence – offering mass and considering apostasy – Rodrigues makes significant choices. Each choice drives the emotional register of the movie.

A further demonstration of directorial skill is the final scene, in which a dead hand holds an empty crucifix. The symbolism illustrates the unrelenting ambiguity of Silence. Is this a scene of hope, that one can hold onto faith unto death? Or is this suggesting the end of Christianity, as the Christian cross is reduced to ash in the Japanese funeral pyre?

Such are the questions Silence asks of each and every viewer. Keeping alive the questions of the cross is a central task of Christianity. Such is the gift of Silence to all who walk the Lenten journey.

Posted by steve at 10:35 PM

Friday, March 24, 2017

Resistance and Innovation: Native Christianities in the Pacific conference

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I spent today at the University of Auckland, participating in the Resistance and Innovation: Native Christianities in the Pacific conference. There were about 35 folk in attendance and I was one of 18 presenters. There were papers on Samoan born diaspora church, Maori Christologies, Chinese indigenous churches, along with numerous papers exploring the relationship between Maori and the Latter Day Saints. So it’s been an excellent workout on the complexity of interaction between religion and culture, especially indigenous Pacific cultures.

I went for a number of reasons. First, it was part of my return to New Zealand, which must include listening again among Christianity and New Zealand. So this conference provided a chance to connect with contemporary research and networks. Second, it was a chance to use work twice, taking a paper I had presented in Korea in 2016 and offering it again. Third, it was a chance to be in a University context, with is always important benchmarking for independent higher education providers. How does our research sit alongside what are our University peers are thinking is important?

My paper went well. From the organisor:

Steve, thank you for a most fascinating presentation on ideas of missiology and hapkas in Papua New Guinea … your discussion of moving between different worlds was very thought-provoking.

The questions after the presentation were helpfully clarifying, mainly in reminding me of the specific limits of what I am doing: reading literature, specifically one book. Here are the questions

Q: Your paper focused on the identity of Jesus. What about the death of Jesus?

A: I was wanting to be faithful to the themes of the book.

Q; You explored the complex relationship between fact and fiction in the work of author, Drusilla Modjeska. Can you apply any of that learning to the Scripture?

A: I’ll need to think about that more. The approach I used in terms of Scripture was to focus on how Israel understood the Canaanites, as an indigenous faith. I am pleased with the creative space that approach opens up, the way it makes sense of the book of Genesis and the Rahab narrative.

Q; Does your argument emerge only from the text of The Mountain? Should it not also emerge from the local context of indigenous people?

A: I am using a literary text. Methodologically, I am using Paul Riceour’s notion of each text having a surplus of meaning, in which the reader might see things beyond the scope of the author’s intention. My approach seeks to move beyond an either/or: universal faith that generalises or local faith that particularising. Every local context lives in more fluid relationships with other worlds and I am seeking to explore those textures in my paper.

Q: I’ll have to read this book, The Mountain.

A: Yes.

It was a privilege to have anothers engage with me around some of my current research. Here’s the conclusion to my paper:

I have examined The Mountain and outlined ancestor agency, gift child and the richness of “hapkas” as a “native” Christology. I have noted recent Biblical scholarship regarding the Genesis narratives in the Old Testament and placed the Christological title “(‘good’ man true”) in critical dialogue with the “big man” and “great man”. My argument is that post-colonial theology must pay attention to native Christianity, including cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation. Or in the words of The Mountain: a “hapkas” Jesus who is “good man true” for PNG.

Posted by steve at 06:57 PM

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 as deep mission

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-> Journal article submission today:

Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 as deep mission

Abstract

We inhabit a geographic region in which for many cultures, genealogy is essential to knowledge. Given that Matthew begins the story of Jesus with genealogy, what are the implications for mission?

Three missiology texts are examined – The Biblical Foundations for Mission, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission and The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative – to understand how they conceive Matthew’s genealogy. Genealogy is then considered in two indigenous texts, one located in Aotearoa New Zealand (Tangata Whenua: A History), the other in Australia (Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific). Both demonstrate how genealogy functions as an essential way of knowing, in which ancient memory is structured to clarify relationship with people and place.

The implications of genealogy for missiology are tested, through teaching mission in one indigenous context. This clarifies the vitality of Matthew’s genealogy in framing mission as an ancestor story, a structured transmission in which God as the primary actor is weaving ordinary and indigenous people into the Messiah’s story.

Posted by steve at 05:46 PM

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Seeing Silence as Cinema

I presented a paper at the Seeing Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives symposium today. My paper was titled: Seeing Silence as Cinema. In August 2016, in Korea, I had presented a paper on Silence at the International Association for Mission Studies. At that time, Silence the film had not been released, so my paper in Korea was somewhat limited, drawing mainly on Silence the book.

With Silence released in New Zealand in February, my paper today was a deeper engagement with the movie as cinema. My argument was that movies are a visual discipline, so we need to “see” Silence. I used a number of scenes from the movie, including the capture scene, to argue that movies allow us to pray with our eyes wide open. This was based on the quote from Martin Scorcese – “I made it as a prayer, an act of worship. I wanted to be a priest. My whole life has been movies and religion. That’s it. Nothing else” (A Matrix of Meanings: finding God in pop culture: 155).

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Another key resource was Lloyd Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film and his types of “Jesus: the movie star” movies. So for example, the capture scene is a fusing of three types: Christ figure, historical Jesus and Jesus art. As a result, Scorsese is changing the fundamental stance of the viewer, from watcher to immersed participant in the reality of God in silence.

My paper was one of six papers at the symposium.

Friday, 17 March, 7.45 – 8.45 pm
Linda Zampol – The Early Modern Jesuit Enterprise in Japan
John England – A Deeper Faithfulness than Martyrdom

Saturday, 18 March, 9.30-10.30 am
Roy Starrs – The meeting of Buddhism and Christianity in Silence
Lynne Taylor – Our Being becomes us: practising Ignatian Spirituality and becoming Christian

Saturday, 18 March, 11.00-12.00 pm
Richard Goodwin – Silence and Presence: The sacramental style in film
Steve Taylor – Seeing Silence as Cinema

The six papers, accepted after peer review, fell elegantly in three pairs – historical, religious and cinematic – and ensured a very rich conversation. We also gained permission from Fuller Studio to show a interview with Silence director, Martin Scorsese, which added a further rich layer. The audience was a mix of lay and academic, which definitely enhanced the conversation.

The event was part of the Christianity and Cultures in Asia series, a joint venture sponsored by Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, the Otago University Department of Theology and Religion, and Presbyterian Research Centre. Each partner brings distinct resources and ensured a thoroughly worthwhile conversation about how to live faith faithfully.

Posted by steve at 04:57 PM

Monday, March 13, 2017

Seeing Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives programme

Seeing Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives symposium has come together beautifully. Silence: A Novel 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. The book is currently being made into a movie, directed by Martin Scorsese. This symposium welcomes a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on the themes of Silence. The call for papers last December has resulted in a historical, religious and cinematic feast.

Friday, 17 March, 7.45 – 8.45 pm
Linda Zampol – The Early Modern Jesuit Enterprise in Japan
John England – A Deeper Faithfulness than Martyrdom

Saturday, 18 March, 9.30-10.30 am
Roy Starrs – The meeting of Buddhism and Christianity in Silence
Lynne Taylor – Our Being becomes us: practising Ignatian Spirituality and becoming Christian

Saturday, 18 March, 11.00-12.00 pm
Richard Goodwin – Silence and Presence: The sacramental style in film
Steve Taylor – Seeing Silence as Cinema

There will also be a panel discussion and a video interview with the director, Martin Scorsese.

The event is part of the Christianity and Cultures in Asia series, a joint venture sponsored by Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, the Otago University Department of Theology and Religion, and Presbyterian Research Centre. Registrations ($20) to murray dot rae @ otago dot ac dot nz.

Friday 7:30 pm, March 17, until 1 pm, Saturday, March 18, 2017.
Venue: Otago University

Posted by steve at 08:18 PM

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Converting empire: theologies of church and state in the encounter between British and Maori

News today that my paper proposal for Australian Association of Mission Studies (AAMS) 2017 gathering, in Melbourne, July 2-5, 2017 was accepted. The paper was sparked by my reading over the holidays of The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 by Vincent O’Malley. I was fascinated by mention of Wiremu Tamihana’s use of Scripture in responding to the claims of empire. I tweeted and within a few minutes, was in a fascinating, and affirming, conversation with the author, Vincent O’Malley. I wrote some thoughts for SPANZ and also shared some of my thinking at a conference in Clevedon in January. Again, I was encouraged by the response.

The AAMS theme, Re-imagining home, seemed an ideal occasion to share my thinking in an academic context, using the tools of post-colonial analysis, in which the focus is on the creative adaptations and innovative practices of resistance used by indigenous people as they respond to invasion. It is also relevant given our current political context. Amid anxiety about how to respond to global imperialism, what can be learnt from the witness of indigenous people in history?

Converting empire: theologies of church and state in the encounter between British and Maori

Following Jesus in someone else’s country is inevitably complexified by cross-cultural transmission. This was certainly true of indigenous peoples navigating the effects of colonisation. This paper examines how political categories introduced by British expansion in Aotearoa New Zealand were appropriated by Maori resisting the advance of Empire.

In 1861, faced with increased conflict and the settler lust for land, Waikato Maori were presented with an ultimatum: retain your land only if you are strong enough to keep it. In response, Maori leader Wiremu Tamihana used Ephesians 2:13 to offer a theology of church and state which defended Maori political initiatives, reconceived international relationships and reimagined home.

A missiological reading of Tamihana’s theology yields important insights.

First, a creative public theology. Christians often turn to the kings of Israel, the two-sided coin in Matthew 22:15-22 or Romans 13:1-7 to conceive the relationship between church and state. Tamihana’s use of Ephesians preserves difference, seeks justice and offers a different understanding of religion and politics.

Second, the reversal of home. In Ephesians, those who are “once far off” are the Gentiles, whom God acts to redeem. Tamihana interprets those who are “once far off” as the English, brought “nigh” by the blood of Christ. Maori are understood as Israel: a creative reinterpretation.

Third, the power of Scripture translated. By 1835, Ephesians had been translated into Te Reo. Translation allowed Maori to read Scripture for themselves. As a result, Tamihana – in 1861 – used the Scriptures the colonisers brought to challenge colonising behaviour. Such is the power available when people are able to read Scripture in their own language.

Hence, from this example we see that central to mission studies is neither missionary nor method, but the creative work done by indigenous cultures in converting the message and resisting the power of empire.

Posted by steve at 08:59 PM

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

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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 kevin@knoxcentre.ac.nz. Presenters will informed on 31 January, 2017. Papers will be streamed if needed.

Programme (draft):

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

Morning tea

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.

Posted by steve at 02:07 PM

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.

silence and global Christologies

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.

Posted by steve at 01:04 AM

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.

eating1

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.

eating2

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.

eating3

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.

Posted by steve at 09:43 PM

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.

One was based on a film, Silence, which was at that time pegged for release in November, 2015. My proposal read as follows:

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.

sandpit 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!

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM

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 :)

inikopuria

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

Posted by steve at 08:55 PM