Saturday, July 25, 2015

Yarta Wandatha by Denise Champion: book review

Originally published in Uniting Church Studies, 20(2) pp. 69-71.

Yarta Wandatha

Review Yarta Wandatha, Denise Champion with Rosemary Dewerse, Adelaide: Denise Champion 2014.

Yarta Wandatha by Denise Champion is a rich addition to the doing of theology in Australia. As such, it should be compulsory reading for all Australian Christians and a set text for all Christology classes taught in Australia.

The title is derived from Champion’s mother tongue, Adnyamathanha, the language of her people from the Flinders Ranges, in South Australia. It means “the land is speaking, the people are speaking.” As a title, it provides a concise summary of the theological method that integrates book. Second, in using language, it suggests a theology of the heart, a following of God integrated with language and culture, working from place and people.

The book has ten chapters, two introductions, one song (a contemporisation of the Magnificat) and one prayer (Lords Prayer). It is sixty-six pages, attractively presented with colour photographs of the landscape around the Flinders Ranges, the land from which this theology is speaking. While landscape photographs are not standard in academic texts, they are essential to this book, congruent with the theological method being articulated.

Each chapter (except the brief chapter provided by Rosemary Dewerse) is centred around a story. These include Awi-irtanha (The Rain Bird), Yurndu Akanandha (The Creation of the First Day) and Wida Ardupa (The Gum Tree Couple). These stories, located in land, become essential to the theology being advanced.

Despite the variety of stories, a coherent and considered theology is evident. This is summarised in the phrase ngakarra nguniangkulu, God is revealing so that we can see (28). It is a theology that assumes revelation and respectfully seeks to listen to revelation. It suggests that theology is action, of seeing, in order to act in response to what is seen.

One way to explore the theological methodology of Yarta Wandatha is through the lens of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Experience is a key theme. It is evident, first in Champion’s self-location in relation to land, second in her integration with a history of decolonisation. This is a theological method that thus begins with lament, with yulupunha vadiangkapala, the deep sadness that results from a long time of suffering.

With regard to Scripture, Yarta Wandatha starts with the Magnificat (6-7) and ends with the Lord’s Prayer (62-3). There is repeated engagement chapter by chapter with Biblical stories and themes.

Reason is evident, most clearly in the use of story. Champion utilises a tri-partite hermeneutic by which to interpret story (29). Stories teach rules for living, instruct has about the environment and provide insight into the spiritual world. Champion applies these three themes consistently (reason-ably) throughout the book as a way to interpret story.

Tradition is present, although in ways perhaps not immediately evident to a Western reader. Denise tells the story of how her father drew on memory as part of his learning (28). She tells of hearing her mother ask Wanangha nai, (Where are you going?) to which her father would reply Anhangha idla ngukanandhakai (I’m going back to this place). As a result, learning from tradition, in the form of memories linked to places, occurs. Land and people are speaking, past to present, as people practise living in their memories. It is an innovative approach to notions of tradition.

It suggests a way by which indigenous theologies can engage with other indigenous theologies. In making this argument, it is important to note that all theologies, whether Western, liberationist or indigenous, are contextual, emerging from a particular time and place. However, Duncan Forrester (Globalisation and Difference: Practical Theology in a World Context) challenges all theologies with the reminder that while “locating us firmly in space and time, bodies also take us beyond mere flesh and blood to confront and reveal deeper threads.” In other words, every move toward particularity – Western, liberationist or indigenous – comes with the invitation to connect universally.

Reading Yarta Wandatha, I wondered if a way to approach any tradition could be Anhangha idla ngukanandhakai (28). In other words, could acts of “living in the memories”, of going back to the particular places from which the traditions speaks, be applied not only by Denise’s father to access the wisdom of his elders, but by anyone reading Augustine or Aquinas? Theological reflection on tradition would thus become a “living in the memories”, contextually located, place based, a learning from stories from other places and all spaces. Such an approach could allow the memories from other traditions to be woven into indigenous theological work, whether Western, liberationist or indigenous.

Together, Champion’s use of reason and tradition allow her to work fluently between past, present and future, between theory and ethics. To be a person “living in the memories” is also be a person considering how to live and act into the future. This is most clearly seen in the story of Awi-irtanha, the Rain Bird (40-42). Champion uses the story to critique how indigenous cultures from the past are presented today and to consider how she might live in conflict situations into the future.

Yarta Wandatha emerged in a partnership, as Uniting College Director of Missiology, Rosemary Dewerse, built a relationship with Aunty Denise Champion. In time, Dewerse made the offer, to serve Champion by hearing her oral stories and in partnership arranging them in ways that were true to her indigenous voice. The location of copyright, not with a known academic publisher, but with Denise Champion, is deliberate, in the hope that all proceeds from sales might be returned to indigenous people, not to publishing companies.

This partnership raises some provocative questions regarding the role of scholars and the place of scholarship in the Uniting Church today. Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union acknowledges that God gives to the church “faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture.” A consequence of current relationships between the theological colleges of the Uniting Church and various Universities is the pressure for scholars to write in academic journals and “world-class” (read Western) publishing presses. Applying these standards, the “faithful and scholarly” role undertaken by Dewerse in Yarta Wandatha will not gain her any credit from the contemporary academic world.

At the same time, the Revised Preamble commits the Uniting Church to partnership with first peoples. The mutual authoring and assigning of copyright in Yarta Wandatha is surely an embodiment of the Revised Preamble. Returning to Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union, it is a work of scholarship that has indeed resulted in “fresh words and deeds.” The tension between being scholars faithful to church or academy is brought into stark relief by Yarta Wandatha.

In summary, while some might be tempted by a first glance at the length of, and the pictures in, Yarta Wandatha, to dismiss it as less than theological, a closer look, using Wesley’s Quadrilateral, reveals a unique, coherent and potentially transformative approach to theology: one that is ethically and eschatologically mature. This is most particularly evident in the application of reason and the framing of tradition as the stories of “yarta wandatatha,” a living in the memories. If this is one of the first fruits of the Revised Preamble, then the church in Australia is entering a rich and blessed season of theological scholarship.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor
Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, South Australia

Posted by steve at 11:10 AM

Sunday, May 31, 2015

leadership formation: an indigenous experiment in oral learning

I have been working with a group of indigenous ministers over the last 6 months, praying about what Aboriginal leadership development might look like amongst the Aboriginal churches in Adelaide. This week we participated in the following learning experiment.

indigenous leadership welcome

First, welcome. We begin with worship, with song written by a gifted, local, indigenous leader.

indigenous leadership Bible

Second, Biblical immersion. We hear the Scripture. We hear again, tracing the Scripture onto our hands. We hear the Scripture for a third time, drawing the Scripture onto a blank hand. Together, using ears, hands, eyes, we immerse ourselves in ancient story. The hope is that this bypasses writing and text. It returns us to the Scriptures as aural. This connects with those who have highly developed skills in ways of learning other than Western.

indigenous leadership questions

Third, working with the story. In Adnyamathanha culture, we learn from a story by asking three questions. What is the rule for living? What does this tell us about the environment? What do we learn about the supernatural? We apply these indigenous questions, asking each other what we learn about God, about ministry, about life? The discussion is rich.

indigenous leadership next

Fourth, we hear the story again. Each of us are given a blank hand, which we hold. The immersion in Scripture, the discussion together, is gathered into a single question on a single blank hand. We ask ourselves – what do I most need to learn from this story? Who can I learn from?

This is our homework. We will connect our learning journey with our wider community. Next time we gather, we will come enriched by the wisdom of our ancestors. This will become our “assessment.” We will re-tell the story, enriched both by our discussion together and our seeking out of wisdom from our wider community.

All done, not by privileging books, but “living libraries” – us and others.

Posted by steve at 04:10 PM

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Divine tracker: a reflection on Psalm 23

On Sunday I attended church at Port Augusta Congress. It was the conclusion of Walking on Country and it was good to end in worship with indigenous sisters and borthers. At the start of the service, the congregation was informed that I would be preaching. This was news to me, but I had been part of a discussion of the Lectionary text on the 4 hour drive from the Gammon Ranges (Adnyamathanha country) to Port Augusta, so I had been doing some processing.

What I wanted to do was
- expose the cultural lens we bring to Scripture (New Zealand sheep stories)
- name what we had heard as part of Walking on Country (the pastoralists)
- make sure that indigenous cultures had the “last word” (the story of Great Uncle Alf and the link to God the tracker)

Here is (my recollection) of what I said.

Today our Bible reading is Psalm 23:1 – “The Lord is my shepherd”.

At the start of the week, I heard these words from Scripture as a New Zealander. I come from a country with 40 million sheep and 4 million people. The shepherd stands behind the sheep. The shepherd has dogs, that bark and chase the sheep. So “The Lord is my shepherd” has a certain meaning. A God who chases me, with dogs.

On Friday and Saturday, I heard these words differently. As I visited the Northern Flinders, I heard of the arrival from overseas of pastoralists. They were shepherds. They fenced off the land. They stopped indigenous people from walking across their land. They hoarded the water holes. At times they poisoned them, to ensure water went to their sheep, not the indigenous inhabitants of the land that had been taken. On Friday and Saturday, I became ashamed to consider how these acts of shepherding might be linked to the Lord as shepherd.

On Sunday, as I was driving with Aunty Denise down to be with you here this morning, she told a story. It was about her Great Uncle Alf. He left his country here in the Flinders Ranges and settled down at Penola. He was a very skilled tracker. So skilled, he was employed by the Police to find lost people. When children got lost, it was Great Uncle Alf who time and again found them. Great Uncle Alf was so skilled, so valued, that after he died, the Police honoured him with a ceremony.

Great Uncle Alf, the tracker of lost children, gives me another way to understand “The Lord is my shepherd.” At times I am lost. I am cut off from God and far from my community. So I need God to track me. To do what seems difficult, near impossible, and find me.

So as we now move to communion, I invite us to consider together what it means to be found by God. “The Lord is my shepherd”; God is my tracker.

Posted by steve at 07:01 PM

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

witnesses of a wounded church: sermon on Luke 24 (Easter 3)

A sermon I preached among our candidates and Faculty. The Biblical text was Luke 24:36b-48 (Easter 3) and I have been reflecting on being Christian in a country with such a tragic historical relationship with indigenous peoples.

On Saturday, I was offered front row seats at the episcopal ordination of Chris McLeod as Assistant Bishop with special responsibility for ministry alongside Aboriginal people in South Australia. It was amazing to drive down King William Road at 9 am on Saturday morning and to see Bishops from all over Australia and New Zealand all dressed up.

ordination outside st peters

And behind them to see clouds of smoke from an indigenous Kaurna smoking ceremony, billowing above their heads. I wondering if St Peters Cathedral was on fire for a minute.

Chris is the first ever Aboriginal Bishop in South Australia; and the 3rd ever in Australia. Chris is one of my PhD students, hence my ability to secure a front row seating. Closer to the action even that all the Clergy, including Peter, Vicky’s husband.

ordination Chris McLeod

The ordination made major news, with footage on Channel 7 on Saturday night and in the Sunday Times yesterday. When interviewed by channel 7, the sound bite they grabbed was of Chris saying he hoped to a Bishop of healing. It struck me as a rich way to understand our Bible text, the Gospel reading for Easter 3; Sunday April 19. In particular the last words from the reading, from verse 48 – you are witnesses of these things.

I’m a missiologist, so when the word witness pops up in the Bible text, I pay particular attention. When I’m working with church groups I often suggest that “witness” is a better word for us to use than “evangelism.” Witnesses simply pass on what they experience. In court the task of an eyewitness is to report what you see. No hearsay, no interpretation, no guesses at motives or the big picture. Simply be a witness.

For most church groups, this is encouragement. And challenge. Encouragement, because there’s a simplicity when evangelism becomes report what you see. You don’t need to know everything. You don’t need to be skilled at apologetics. You don’t need to know all the story. You don’t even need to have done Heritage and Polity or Church, Ministry Sacraments. So that’s an encouragement. We’re to be witnesses. It’s as simple and as honest as report what you see.

But alongside the encouragement, there’s also challenge. Do you have a faith story that’s active enough to witness to? Can you share of healing. Or are you stuck nursing your resentment and pain, polishing it for revenge? For a mainline church like the Uniting, when at times being a church member has been linked to social status, the invitation to be a witness becomes a particular challenge.

I love the way that “witness” in this Bible text is so framed by experience. The disciples are startled and terrified in v. 37. Those are pretty honest words to keep in your story of witness. Jesus responses with “Touch me and see” (v. 39). That’s a pretty experiential approach to being a witness. And by eating fish in v. 43. That’s a very practical response to being risen.

I love that these honest and experiential and practical details are included, presumably as an example of what being a witness will actually look like. It will involve telling the honest and experiential and practical details. Which helps me make sense of the ordination of Chris. He hopes to be a Bishop of healing. For Chris to do that there’ll need to be remembering. And a grieving. You see, Chris’s mother and grandmother are stolen generation.

And so Chris can’t tell his story without telling their story. And in so doing, telling the story of a church, who contributed to their pain. That’s what will need to happen as Chris sets out to be a witness to healing.

I’ve been reading Australian Catholic theologian, Nieil Ormerod’s lastest book, Re-Visioning the Church: An Experiment in Systematic-Historical Ecclesiology. Neil looks at the church through history. He divides history up into eras and every Era he gives a name. And the name he gives to this era, the era we’re all in together, is the Era of the Wounded Church.

And it’s in this Era of the Wounded Church that you and I are called to be a witness. It’s in the era of woundednes that you are seeking to exercise ordained ministry in the Uniting Church.

Which means, taking into account the Ordination on Saturday, our witness must to include our woundedness, the woundedness of the church. That’s the only way for our story to have the human and experiential and practical details which are so clearly part of being a witness here in the Luke 24. Being startled and terrified. Touch my wound, and see.

Neil Ormerod (Re-Visioning the Church: An Experiment in Systematic-Historical Ecclesiology) talks about the defensiveness that has emerged within the Catholic church as it is wounded. But also about the creativity that’s also been part of the church’s story, how the church has transformed itself through history. And by how the strongest transformation’s have occurred when mission has been the integrating principle.

So the church in the Era of woundedness can chose to be a defensive witness. Or an honest, truthtelling, finding creative transformation in mission witness. You are witnesses of these things.

The Uniting Church recently agreed to a new Preamble to its Constitution. Which begins, As the Church believes God guided it into union so it believes that God is calling it to continually seek a renewal of its life as a community of First Peoples and of Second Peoples from many lands.

Continually seek a renewal.

After the ordination on Saturday, I got talking to a Uniting Church colleague. And he said that he and his mob really hoped this is ordination was not just symbolic. That it would actually lead to real change.

And we could ask the same about the Preamble. How is it practically, continually renewing our witness. As a College. As individuals. Because every one of us who lives in Australia, we are witnesses of these things.

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM

Friday, March 20, 2015

activist researchers and community up research as fresh words and deeds

One of the benefits of being at Uniting College is our connection with Flinders University. This includes their extensive professional development workshops. So yesterday, on a beautiful autumn morning, I found myself learning about models for successful post-graduate supervision.  I currently am involved in supervising 9 postgraduate students- 5 PHD students, 3 DMin, 1 MMin – so it was a morning bound to benefit not only myself, but a number of gifted, competent and hard-working colleagues in ministry.

During the morning, the presenter noted that only 15% of those who gain PhD’s in the United States find academic work. This is partly because of a shrinking job market and growth in PhD candidates. But it is also, according to research, because people study for many reasons. These include those who have no desire for an academic job. Instead, they research because they want to impact a group they are working with, or bring change to wider society.

A word began to rattle around in my head “activist researchers” – those who study in the hope of wider change.

It made sense of my own PhD journey. I was planting a new form of church and it was attracting considerable critique.  So the PhD was a change to think deeply about what I was doing. I deliberately wanted to expose my musings to rigorous processes of thought, both for my sake, for the sake of those who were joining this experiment in mission and for the sake of the church in society today.  Academic work (at that time) was the last thing on my mind. (Ironic now I realise :))

Now I’m not saying that those who find academic work are not activists! (I’d like to argue I’m an activist academic, but that’s for another post). I’m simply noting that this is a very different motivation from say those who study to get a good job, or to become a lecturer.

It also makes sense of the students I supervise.  Everyone of them has a question that has bugged them. They turn to post-graduate study in order to have a sustained period of in-depth reflection. The reward is personal and societal. They want to be better practitioners in their field, they want to be part of making a difference.  They also are “activist researchers.”

The church I serve, the Uniting Church, makes specific mention in it’s founding documents of scholarship.  Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union acknowledges that God gives to the church “faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture.” What is interesting is how these scholars (and presumably their research?) is placed in this paragraph within an activist framework.  “The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr.”  In other words, the Uniting Church does not conceive of the stand alone scholar (or the stand alone theological college). Instead, it envisages partnerships among evangelists, scholars, prophets and martyrs.  (Funny how we have theological colleges for scholars, but not colleges for evangelists, prophets and martyrs).

And the horizons, in the Basis of Union, for all these charisms is activist – “It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.” The task of scholars and research is, in partnership with other parts of the body, to be a pilgrim people on mission.

This then suggests some interesting implications for research methodologies.  How do scholars work on partnership with these wider gifts? How does the thinking and writing serve these missional horizons?

At this point I’d turn to the Community Up framework provided by Linda Smith. In Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, she notes that the “term research is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism.” (4)   She advocates that we stop thinking about research from the perspective of the researcher, and instead consider those researched.  This involves “community up” research, in which the research practices are forms of critical pedagogy. They transform the world. (5)  Researchers “map concrete performances that lead to positive social transformations. They embody ways of resisting the process of colonization.” (12)

So this is activist research. It does not need itself to activate. But it does need to uncover the performances that will benefit the community. Which sounds to me like “fresh words and deeds.” And made me glad of the activist researchers that I know and work with.

Posted by steve at 10:46 AM

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

I’ve just submitted the following abstract for a theology conference later this year. It emerges from my teaching last year and my participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice during which I did research, seeking student feedback on the changes I was making – in particular implementing flipped learning and making a focus on indigenous Christologies. It’s good to take the next step, from doing research, to presenting research

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

One way to “revalue” the worth of the lives we teach is to examine the pedagogies we employ. Educational research reminds us that all pedagogies speak, offering a “hidden curriculum.” What are the truths expressed in the “babble of information” that originates from our teaching? Is e-learning a pandering toward “endless opportunities for self-gratification”?

This paper will explore pedagogical innovation in teaching. Participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice in 2014 provided an opportunity to research student experience when teaching is approached as mobile, accessible and connective.

A core topic (Theology of Jesus Christ) was taught using e-learning technologies, including video conferencing and Moodle. Blooms taxonomy was used as a theoretical frame to negotiate the change with students and the shift in contact time from lecturer-driven content to student-centred small group activities. Changes were made to assessment, shifting participation from face to face to digital, in order to enable connectivity. Indigenous voices were introduced to enhance access.

Students completed a written survey at three points during the course. The results demonstrate that a significant shift had occcured in the class, with students moving from an appreciation of content, to a consideration of how they learn from the diversity inherent among their peers. Students felt the changes enhanced their ability to communicate effectively, appreciate collaborative learning and connect across boundaries.

Haythornthwaite and Andrews (E-learning Theory and Practice, 2011) map the diverse ways students participate in class to enhance learning. This provides a way to theorise my data, including the student who believed they could “now connect [their] own culture and Christ”; because they were asked in a group “by one of my classmates to connect liberation theology to [their] culture.”

This suggests that the pedagogies we deploy do indeed have the potential to “revalue” the worth of the lives of those we teach.

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

research assistance required

I am seeking research assistance for a project that involves developing a theological resource for undergraduate students in the area of indigenous women’s Christologies.

The project involves working with a number of local theologians, in particular selected indigenous woman (already identified), to clarify their theology (in both written and visual forms), and to create an accompanying resource guide by which undergraduate students can identify the resources and processes used in theological contextualisation and consider the questions raised for theological method.

Applicants will need skills including the ability to

  • interview
  • organise technologies (visual and written) to preserve the insights
  • write clearly
  • develop resources
  • think theologically, including in areas of Christology and culture

Funding is available for a total of 25 hours at Flinders University Causal Academic Rates. The project needs to begin by late September, 2014 and to be finished by early November, 2014.

Apply by email to Steve Taylor (steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au) by Friday 6 September. Applications should include a CV and a letter of interest, addressing the skills required.

Posted by steve at 11:10 PM

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series: a “down under” perspective

Today I took a break from the Sustainability in fresh expressions book project. I’ve written about 26,000 words, plus transcribed 10 hour long interviews in the last month, and I’m a bit knackered. Lacking sustainability! Plus there were a number of pressing tasks on my academic “must-do” list.

It was good, in the midst of a major book writing project, to pause and actually get something done. For those interested here is my conference paper abstract for the Christians in Communities – Christians as Communities conference (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:10 PM

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

the diversity of story weaving

The Story Weaving conference is one of the most diverse spaces I’ve been in. Of the 130 delegates, over 40 are indigenous. In the two days to date I’ve listened to research on indigenous theology from Canada, Samoa, Solomon Islands, India, Aotearoa New Zealand, while other streams have included work from Fiji, Philipines, Indonesia. I’ve shared meals with folk from PNG and the indigenous communities of Taiwan and built and renewed connections with various Uniting church leaders, including Congress folk from Tasmania.

The weaving metaphor has been great – we’re each unique and together, as we dialogue and engage, we find a fresh pattern. They even had folk actually weaving late this afternoon.

It’s been a really challenging time, so much stretch and stimulus. It’s a reminder of how much energy there is in the research scene in Australia and around the world. It has made me reflect on my childhood, the marginality of growing up a minority person in PNG and what it has meant to move countries in the last few years.

I’m not sure I’ve had the time to come (I’m meant to be teaching a 2 week intensive in early February), but I’m glad I have.

Posted by steve at 11:16 PM

Monday, January 23, 2012

this is my body? paper update

My paper presentation today, shared with Tim Matton-Johnson, from Congress Tasmania, seemed to go OK. Having two voices was certainly nice in an afternoon session.

Some really useful questions in response, which will help to clarify and make it sharper. It’s the most developed of papers I’ve done in recent times, so it should be an easy task to make publishable – the plan as a result of the confernece is to produce both a set of DVD’s, plus a book as a result, with Palgrave publishers. So hoping for that …

for now, after a 5.45 am start, it’s goodnight …

Posted by steve at 09:45 PM

Friday, January 20, 2012

story weaving conference

I’m off on Monday morning (early), to be part of Story Weaving, an international conference on Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology. It is being hosted by Whitley College, Melbourne. They are Baptist, so I’ll be able to breathe deep that Baptist air :) Apparently the conference is over-subscribed, which is great. For me, being part of these types of conversations is an esssential partnership that needs to lie alongside fresh expressions, as a concrete expression of being a stranger, of surfing the edges and entering into the marginal spaces.

My paper, which I’m delivering on Monday afternoon, is titled:

This is my body? A post-colonial investigation of the elements used in indigenous Australian communion practices

The introduction is here. What is most fascinating is how the paper has evolved. As part of my research I got into conversation with Tim Matton-Johnsto, a Congress (indigenous) leader in Tasmania. Some email, some skype, some shuffling of drafts back and forth, some negotiation with his local elders and the result is that he will be sharing the paper with me, telling a story from his indigenous community of one of their communion practices.

There’s something very personally satisfying about a process which will mean I, as a recent migrant, am part of theologising alongside indigenous communities here in Australia, and am to co-share a paper in this type of way.

Posted by steve at 10:23 AM

Thursday, February 11, 2010

indigenous tables and the prayerful art of gentle space-making

The phrase

gentle space-making

belongs to Sarah Coakley (from her Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender (Challenges in Contemporary Theology), page 35. She is wrestling with what to to with the kenosis, the word found in Philipians 2 and used to discuss the vulnerability and self-emptying of Jesus.

For Coakley, Christology is “what rightly distinguishes Christian feminism from various secular versions of it” (3) and so the question she wrestles with is how to lose one’s life in order to save it, particularly in light of feminist anxiety around themes of fragility, vulnerability, self-emptying.

In other words, if I am vulnerable, won’t I then be taken advantage of? If I’m a minority, what hope is there in the notion of losing one’s life in order to find it?

Earlier in the week I blogged about the privilege of sitting with Covenanting Committee, a group set up to maintain relationships between indigenous Aboriginal people and the Uniting Church. It seemed to me that some of the same questions and anxieties were present – how, as a minority, might we find voice, be heard, be part of change, yet in ways that are distinctly Christian?

Coakley offers a number of suggestions.

Firstly, there is her approach. She is a careful, exacting reader, looking back through history to argue that the Christian history is rich and complex. Thus various notions of kenosis have existed and when rightly understood, are not in fact demanding complaince, but a strength made perfect in weakness and in a way that does not replace one form of secular power with another form of secular power.

Second, there is her conclusion, prayer. In particular, wordless prayer. The regular habit of responding to God. This is not pietism, a withdrawal, a silencing but rather “the place of the self’s transformation and expansion into God.” (36)

If anything it builds one in the courage to give prophetic voice. (35)

It’s a fascinating place to conclude: that each and any of us, no matter how marginalised, have power: are invited into a spiritual way of living, in which space is made for the other that is not us. In so doing, we let God be God.

Posted by steve at 02:44 PM

Saturday, November 07, 2009

reading our R-rated Bible

The Bible has some appalling moments: R-rated stories of violence and violation. In preparing for worship for this Sunday, the Lectionary reading suggested is Isaiah 24. To use that text then demands almost a sermon in explanation. However doing a sermon (thus making 2 for the service) was not the task given to me as curator of worship this Sunday. Instead, I chose use the Psalm of the day as the Lectionary reading. And felt guilty all week. Then read this from Maggi Dawn.

Pretty often I edit our lectionary very liberally on the basis that the unthinkable, unimaginable horror stories in scripture should only be read in services where there is an adequate space to address them, and when it’s a read-sing-pray service, the readings have to be selected appropriately. That’s not at all the same thing as editing out the dodgy bits – it’s about choosing when and where they are read, with the possibility of addressing the strange and difficult readings.

So that’s two options for dealing with the R-rated:
1. edit when there’s little time
2. make time to deal with the tough texts. Like I hope we at Opawa have tried to do with our Bible days this year. As we start a new Bible book, we offer a 2 hour Saturday seminar on tools for reading that book and how to deal with the tough texts. The feedback has been very positive over the year and we’ll continue the pattern in 2010.

Maggi has a great 3rd suggestion, changing the congregational response. Rather than “Thanks be to God”, she suggests: “This is an outrageous story to our ears – what does the ancient text have to tell us about what they thought about God then, what we think now, why we still read it at all?” I like. It allows us to be honest. It names the two horizons – that ancient world and our world. It affirms that this text is important enough to keep reading and in a way that invites curiousity and question, not outright rejection.

So that’s 4 options:
1. Steve Taylor’s choose the easier reading
2. Maggi Dawn’s keep but edit the hard bits
3. Opawa’s offer Bible days
4. Maggi Dawn’s change the congregational response.

What do other reader of the Bible text do when they hit the R-rated bits?

Posted by steve at 11:10 AM

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

is God holding a white-y Bible? (chapter four)

This continues a review of Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire and the question of whether God’s book, the Bible, really is an instrument that increases the power of white-y/Western cultures. For me, such conversations are essential to whether an emerging church can get beyond a stylistic makeover, and actually be part of a post- world in which the Bible can have a liberating, rather than enslaving, place in the task of being Christian and being church.

Chapter four. Pigs, Pots and Cultural Hybrids.

There is a convergence between the biblical narrative and archaeological reconstructions, not in terms of an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from Egypt that in one swoop defeated Canaan, but in terms of a developing unique identity among indigenous Canaanites, evolving over time, in negotiated contact with neighbours. This includes contact with refugees from Egypt, bringing the name Yahweh to Canaan.

Archaeological evidence suggests some hundreds of new settlements in the hill country around the 12th century BCE. (Of course, more evidence might be discovered in the future, but this is an argument from silence).

Biblical evidence includes the fact that Bible book of Joshua only mentions the burning of three Canaanite cities (Jericho, Ai and Hazor) and of these, only Jericho enacts the “holy Jihad” of Deuteronomy 20:16. It also includes the fact that Amos 9:7 describes multiple Exodus narratives. (This reminds Israel that their landrights are not exclusive. More, if they do not act justly, they will forfeit their land.)

“In the course of time, and especially with the rise of urban centres, one group within Israel developed an understanding of El-Yahweh that made the worship of other gods incompatible with Israelite identity, even though many aspects of culture continued to be shared with Indigenous neighbours. In principle, there is nothing problematic with this development, since no ethnic group is static.” (Brett, Decolonizing God, 77, 78)

For discussion: What are the implications of ethnic identity is framed as ‘part of a continuum of ethnic groups with overlapping borders … held together by a founding … set of … narratives about how this particular group came into being’ (70)? Is God any less powerful if he is part of such an evolving story?

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

Posted by steve at 09:30 PM