Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Religion and politics: Learning with Wiremu Tamihana

I’ve just had a piece published in SPANZ. In the midst of concern about how to do theology after Empire and be the church in violent and unstable times, there is much reference to theologians in Europe, like Bonhoeffer. Why not also look here in New Zealand and learn from indigenous people who in times past have confronted colonising power wielding military might?

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Religion and politics don’t mix. It’s like mixing ice cream and manure, says Tony Campolo.

Over the holidays I read The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 by Vincent O’Malley. It’s a brilliant book – meticulous in research, clear in argument, attractive in presentation. The fast facts are sobering.
• War in the Waikato brought more British troops to New Zealand than were available for the defence of England.
• WW1 killed around 1.7% of the NZ population. Yet in the Waikato War, 4% of Maori died, including alarmingly high numbers of Maori women and children.
• Some forty years after the war, 3,549 Maori remained landless through land confiscation.

The Great War for New Zealand documents how Maori mixed religion and politics. In 1861, faced with increased conflict and the settler lust for land, Waikato Maori were presented with an ultimatum: retain your land only as long as you are strong enough to keep it.

In response, Maori leader, Wiremu Tamihana pointed to the presence of kings in Russia, France and Tahiti. If these kings were not required to submit to Britain’s Queen, should Maori? Tamihana then turns to religion, noting the “only connexion with you is through Christ” and quoting Ephesians 2:13 (KJV), “In Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”

Given this Scripture, Tamihana asks the British Crown to leave the Maori King and let the results “rest with our Maker.” For Tamihana, religion and politics clearly mix. Christ brings people together, God the Maker judges all leaders for the behaviours that result.

Tamihana clarifies his understanding of religion and politics in a later exchange. Placing two sticks in the ground he declared that one was the Maori King and the other the Governor. Across both he placed a third stick, representing the law of God and the Queen. Finally, he traced on the ground a circle around both sticks, [saying] ‘That circle is the Queen, the fence to protect them all’ (The Great War for New Zealand, 143). Again, we see the mixing of religion and politics. Again, God is the judge. This allows for differences, provides protection for all peoples and makes leaders accountable under God.

Reading Tamihana’s theology of religion and politics three things stand out.

First, the creative way in which religion and politics are mixed. Christians often turn to the kings of Israel, the two-sided coin in Matthew 22:15-22 or Romans 13:1-7. Tamihana’s use of Ephesians creatively points to ways that religion mixed with politics can preserve difference and ensure justice.

Second, the reading reversal. In Ephesians, those who are once far off are the Gentiles, whom God acts to redeem. For Tamihana, those who are once far off are the English, now “made nigh” by the blood of Christ. This connects Maori with Israel. It means those who arrive in New Zealand are brought by God. As such, their actions and ultimatums are judged by the character of Christ.

Third, the power of Scripture translated. Ephesians had been translated into Te Reo by 1835, the entire New Testament by 1837. Translation allows Maori to read Scripture for themselves. The result is Tamihana in 1861 challenging colonising behaviour from the Scriptures they have brought. Such is the power when people are encouraged to read for themselves in their own language.

As 2017 begins, our talkback is full of active discussion concerning race, identity and politics. In the months ahead, we face New Zealand elections, the reality of Brexit and a new President of the United States. Tamihana offers much wisdom. Religion and politics mix best when they appreciate difference, look to Christ in bridging between diverse groups and consider all peoples accountable to the character of Christ.

Posted by steve at 08:27 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

paper acceptance Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific

I was delighted to hear today that a paper proposal I submitted for the Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific conference at the University of Auckland on March 24, 2017 has been accepted. The conference will bring together scholars of Christianity in a variety of disciplines to examine the cultural dynamics of the interaction between native peoples and transplanted Christian churches in the Pacific region. It will pay particular attention to the dynamic tension between centralized and localized religious culture.

My paper will be a development of research I presented at the International Association of Mission Studies conference in Korea in August 2016. I’ve continued to write and research for publication in the months since and am glad of the opportunity to also present my research in a Pacific and University environment. Here is the abstract I submitted:

“Hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

The interaction between Christianity and indigenous cultures can provide rich insights into cross-cultural exchange in liminal spaces. Equally the complexity of such insights can be masked by totalising narratives, including hagiography and Euro-centric imperialism.

One way to approach native Christianity in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is through Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. It has been acclaimed as PNG’s best historical novel (Moore, 2012). The post-colonial methodologies of Ashcroft (in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific, 2014) will be used to read The Mountain for indigenous agency in resistance and innovation. Such a reading requires locating Modjeska as an academic and novelist who refuses to accept totalising binaries, in both her writing and her life.

I will argue that the portrayal of native Christianity in The Mountain assumes indigenous approval and indigenization. Themes of ancestor gift and “hapkas” will be applied to Jesus as “good man true, he die for PNG” (Modjeska 2012: 291). The creative reworking by which native (Omie) people locate Jesus as ancestor gift of Canaanite descent will be examined. This is consistent with recent scholarship in which indigenous cultures are Old Testaments (Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, 1998; Brett 2003) and the book of Genesis a demonstration of indigenous faiths being woven respectfully into the story of Israel (The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism, 1992).

This subverts the “big man” as a key trope in the ethnography of Melanesia (Big Men and Great Men: Personifications of Power in Melanesia, 2009). It suggests that post-colonial theology pay attention to cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation. Or in the words of The Mountain: a “hapkas” Jesus who is “good man true” for PNG.

Dr Steve Taylor
Flinders University: Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership

Posted by steve at 07:30 PM

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Jesus and the ancestors

I spent a good part of yesterday in lecture preparation. I am teaching this weekend at Te Aka Puaho, working with Maori ministers in training. My topic is mission and I spent the bulk of my time in Matthew 1: the genealogy of Jesus.

ancestors

While I’ve never heard it used in mission, it is how Matthew begins the story of Jesus: with a genealogy. For indigenous cultures, with a strong sense of ancestors, genealogy is essential for identity.

I explored four headings

  • Deep mission – drawing on Mark Yettica-Paulson and his wonderful chapter “Mission in the Great South Land: An Indigenous Perspective” in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions).
  • Matthew begins with go – and the role of journeying in Abraham
  • Mission includes – and the four Canaanite woman – Tamar (Canaanite), Rahab (Canaanite), Ruth (Moabite) and Bathsheba (Hittite) – woven into Jesus bloodlines. Jesus has indigenous blood, those of Canaanite people.
  • Mission surprises – and the importance of ordinary, everyday, quiet actions by people that no-one notices.

It was a rich exploration, noting the absences, even in books like Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative.

Here’s my conclusion

When it comes to mission we face two temptations. One is to romanticize, to name all the positive things. The other is to recount all the negative and harmful impacts. The genealogy of Jesus offers a third approach. It begins with deep memory and a story of voyaging. It weaves indigenous cultures into the story. It tells the truth, refusing to romanticize, helping us see the courage of those marginalized by society.

Posted by steve at 06:58 AM

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

researching at Te Papa: another research and the rabbit hole

Happy dance – researching in the Pacific collection at Te Papa! Another research and rabbit hole.

Greetings,

My name is Dr Steve Taylor. I am Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.

I am doing research on indigenous Christologies in Papua New Guinea, through the lens of Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain, which has a focus on the Omie people of PNG and their art. I presented a conference paper on my work a few weeks ago in Korea, at the International Association for Mission Studies and continue to do work in preparation for a journal article.

I am aware, through Balai, Sana and Judith Ryan (2009) Wisdom of the Mountain: Art of the Omie that Omie art has been obtained by galleries outside PNG, including Te Papa.

I am aware, after a search of your catalogue, using “Omie, Papua New Guinea” that there are 4 items of Omie art in your collection. They are listed as:

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I happen to be visiting Wellington next week – Wednesday afternoon, 7th September and Thursday morning, 8th September – and wonder if I could see these items. I am wanting to actually see with my real eyes what is described in The Mountain, in terms of seeking to understand this art as embodied.

If it was possible to see these objects, I would be grateful.

With thanks

Steve Taylor

Email of confirmation today, including an appointment time. Happy dance.

Posted by steve at 03:10 PM

Thursday, September 01, 2016

research and rabbit holes

Alberto Manguel Argentine Canadian anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist and editor describes how he does research. He writes of being

“an inquisitive and chaotic traveller … discovering places haphazardly …. I have not attempted to devise or discover a systematic method .. My only excuse is that I was guided not by an theory of art but merely by curiousity.” Reading Pictures: What We Think About When We Look at Art, ix.

It disturbs the notion of academic research as objective and systematic and instead offers a process that is more haphazard and unexpected. It feels more like dropping down a rabbit hole, a la Alice in Wonderland, a sudden plunge into a whole new world.

Today I found myself dropping down a research rabbit hole. Two weeks ago I presented a paper on indigenous Christology at the International Conference of Mission Studies. Titled – Fiction as missiology: a Creative “hapkas” Christology in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain” – it involved reading a fictive novel, Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain to articulate a hybrid Christology.

At the back of the room during the presentation was Joel Robbins, one of the keynote conference speakers, who had himself undertaken research in Papua New Guinea. He sought me out afterward to make a connection – that the focus of my research (author Drusilla Modjeska) – had the same surname as an anthropologist from Papua New Guinea, a Nicholas Modjeska. Might they be related?

A rabbit hole beckoned.

The surname connection made Robbins recall that Nicholas Modjeska had done research on the relationship between understandings of leadership, cultural change and ability to resolve conflict. Would this provide another angle on my research? I had been arguing for an indigenous Christology based on a fictive novel. How might anthropological research into how cultures work provide insight into reconciliation among indigenous cultures?

A rabbit hole beckoned.

Today, as part of my Parking 60, I unexpectedly found myself on wifi near the Otago University Library. Looking for an excuse not to write (not to snack!), I googled Nicholas Modjeska. The Library had two books. It is remarkable to have such a diverse collection so close, just across the road.

A rabbit hole beckoned.

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Plus History Australia journal, in which I was to discover a review of The Mountain, and the following most intriguing quote, ideal for a section I am developing.

“Modjeska would probably just smile and repeat that this is a novel, but the level of accuracy in descriptions of people and places is so good that any ex-PNG hands will find themselves making guesses.” Moore, “Crossing the border into fiction,” History Australia History Australia 9, 3: 250

The next time I teach Research Methods I will share the following as a way of conducting research. I will call it the rabbit hole methodology and offer 3 steps:

1. Deliver an academic paper in which a PNG researcher sits in the back.
2. Do research on a person who shares a surname with another researcher.
3. Accidently find yourself on wifi near a large library.

Like Alberto Manguel this will ensure you remain “an inquisitive and chaotic traveller … discovering places haphazardly … guided … merely by curiousity.” Reading Pictures: What We Think About When We Look at Art, ix. Like Alice, slipping into a rabbit hole.

And for those who ask: What’s the point? Here’s the (current-might-change- research-in-progress) conclusion :

In sum, I have examined fiction from outside the West and argued for a distinct and creative Christology as one result of religious change in PNG. “Hapkas” provides a way to understand ancestor gift, fully human, fully divine and the new Adam. It is a reading that attributes primary agency to an indigenous culture and offers a transformational way to understand religious change as communal participation in the art markets of twenty-first century global capitalism. It is consistent with recent Biblical scholarship regarding the Genesis narratives in the Old Testament. This suggests that to understand conversion missiologically, requires following Jesus who is “‘good’ man true” for the particularity of all indigenous cultures.

Posted by steve at 08:37 PM

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Wanangha nai: a post-colonial indigenous atonement theology

I’m crossing the ditch this week. First stop is Melbourne, where I am part of ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Second stop is holidays (more on that later).

In Melbourne at ANZATS I’m doing a number of things. These include leading a Forum that I have initiated: Fieldwork in Theology: learnings down-under.

Fieldwork in theology: learnings down-under
This forum will focus on the place of qualitative research in theology. The use of empirical methods in theological research is a growing trend, as evident in the new Ecclesial Practices journal, the annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham, UK and sessions at AAR since 2012. This forum will provide space to share fieldwork notes, including experiences of using qualitative research in theology, issues generated by the use of empirical research in theology and ways to network.”

This involves a panel of four (Dr Cronshaw, Dr Taylor, Lynne Taylor, Dr Ward). Each will address the question: first, their most vivid experience of using qualitative research in theology; second the most complex issue generated by their use of fieldwork in theology. The aim is to allow discussion of the issues arising as fieldwork research is undertaken in theology, in order to engage the topic focus: the place of qualitative research in theology.

Third, I am presenting a conference paper. It emerges from my experiences on Walking on Country last year and ongoing conversation, digitally and by long-distance telephone call, with Denise Champion.

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Titled

Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Here is the introduction …

Wanangha nai. Which means in Adnyamathanha, Where am I going? In this paper, where I am going is to share the story of Great Uncle Alf, honoured by the South Australian Police in 2004, who, I will argue embodies atonement: a knowledge of “this place” so deep that the lost are found and returned to home and community.

To do that I need to provide a methodology, which I do through James McClendon’s notion of biography as theology: that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology).

And a Biblical conversation, which I do in conversation with Kenneth Bailey, who argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament).

Wanangha nai: Where am I going in post-colonial missiology?

First, Missio Dei – God is active in the world. Hence in cultures there are God-bearers, in whom God is Incarnate. Not fully. But enough that God is revealed and cultures and communities are dignified as God-bearers.

Second, paying attention to “ordinary readers.” Gerard West, in the context of South Africa, argued that it was well past time for the academy to read Scripture not by educating the non-scholarly to read the Bible like the academy (Reading Other-wise: Socially Engaged Biblical Scholars Reading with Their Local Communities). Rather by nurturing communities of “intuitive and critical interpreters …[who].. come to the biblical texts from different perspectives that are equally valid.” I will explore what that means among an indigenous community in South Australia.

After 9 months immersed in Aotearoa New Zealand and the role at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, I am really looking forward to stepping off the dance floor/crossing the ditch, to see friends, to say hello to Melbourne and to pick up some research threads that remain important to me and my mission journey while in Australia.

Posted by steve at 12:19 PM

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

“Women’s wealth” as human agency: lines as bridges in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

Behind Sunday’s sermon, on “women’s wealth” and Dorcas as a pioneering a fresh expression of justice, lay an academic research project I’ve been pottering away on for the last few weeks. As a result, I’ve just submitted a paper proposal for Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions, Conference of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture. It is 9th-11th Sept 2016, University of Glasgow.

image It is just before the BERA conference, in Leeds, which I’ve had a paper accepted at and just after the Ecclesiology and Ethnograpy conference, in Durham, which I’ve already got a paper drafted for. So there is a nice confluence of conferences. The paper I’ve proposed for Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions is in the Literature section. It is new terrain, and therefore I am taking a bit of a punt. But it is an attempt to think through some of my current reading, in particular, of Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain and the implications for gender and post-colonial ways of being.

The proposed paper is as follows:

“Women’s wealth” as human agency: lines as bridges in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

This paper argues that lines are verbs that engender lived experience (Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, 2013). The term “women’s wealth” (Goddard, Threads, 2011) is applied as a metaphor to analyze the arc, art and author of The Mountain.

Drusilla Modjeska is a writer of non-fiction accounts of women’s literature. The Mountain is a departure, a novel of love and loss set within Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) transition to independence and the conflicts surrounding the nation’s quest for economic viability in a globalising world. At the heart of The Mountain is “women’s wealth,” in the form of barkcloth made by the Omie women of PNG. Central to the narrative arc of The Mountain is indigenous agency, the Omie acting creatively in their search for economic sustainability.

The front cover of The Mountain is painted in the black lines distinctive of Omie art. Each chapter begins with a different piece of this art. These lines provide an invitation to read visually. Ingold argued for three types of lines: geometric, organic and abstract. The Omie consider their art is a visual alphabet in which lines are bridges not boundaries. Hence The Mountain invites a focus not on sola literature but on a visual reading that respects lines as organic and abstract.

While writing The Mountain, the author became part of her own fictional narrative arc. She founds a not-for-profit organisation that enables Omie artists to benefit from Western interaction. She writes of her struggle, an English woman living in Australia, to overcome her “internal post-colonial border policewoman” and cross the lines of either/or. She finds agency when recalling “women’s wealth”: the lives of women she has read, interviewed and observed painting lines-as-bridges.

Hence “women’s wealth” – in narrative arc, lined art and women’s lived experience – turns lines into bridges, enhances human agency and empowers creativity.

In working on my International Association of Mission Studies paper – Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain” – a set of questions had been generated, around the materiality of what I was researching. That led down a set of research rabbit holes around Pacifica weaving, which, given the numbers of Pacifica students at Knox Centre and the history of Presbyterian involvement, seemed worth pursuing. This proposed paper is a result.

Posted by steve at 06:48 AM

Monday, March 14, 2016

Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology

My abstract for ANZATS 2016. The theme is atonement, which opens some space to reflect on indigenous Christology and develop a sermon I delivered at Port Augusta Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister last year.

Jesus as the divine tracker: an indigenous experiment in a post-colonial atonement theology
Steve Taylor and Denise Champion

James McClendon (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology) has argued that biography can remake theology. This methodology is applied to an indigenous Australian, to argue that a post-colonial atonement theology emerges in the biographical telling.

Warrianha__Alfred_Ryan_-41134-51432 Warrianha (Alfred Ryan) was an Adnyamathanha man, born in the Flinders Ranges. He was honoured in 2004 for his contribution over many years in the Coonawarra area as a Police tracker, renowned for his ability to find people. This provides a way to read Psalm 23, in which the Lord is the shepherd who, like an indigenous animal tracker, finds those lost in the valley of death. This suggests atonement as the experience of being found and returned to home and community.

This reading of Psalm 23 is strengthened by the work of Kenneth Bailey (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament), who listened to indigenous peoples in the Middle East. Bailey argues that Luke 15 draws from Psalm 23 and is an atonement theology in which what is lost is found and heaven rejoices.

This provides another category by which to engage Indigenous Australian stories. Biography as theology, as in the life of Warrianha, is a different type of story in contrast to indigenous dreaming stories. Further, it is the story of working across cultures, among the Buandig nation, rather than among his Adnyamathanha people. McClendon’s conviction is that by paying attention to lives, we find narratives that guide theology’s faithful evolution. Warrianha’s life offers potential for those doing theology in a post-colonial age, as a place-specific indigenous Christology that crosses nations.

Note: It is hoped that the presentation at ANZATS will be done in partnership with Warrianha’s great niece, Rev Denise Champion, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Minister, Port Augusta, South Australia.

Posted by steve at 08:04 PM

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Could you return to your story? “hapkas” theology as personal experience

“Could you return to your story?”

It was a question asked as I finished a research presentation. I was interviewing to be Principal at KCML. The interview process began with me taking a 50 minute “mock” lecture to a group of “mock” students. It had gone well, apart from the jug of water for the lecturer, that developed a crack half way through, resulting in water gently easing under my laptop as I spoke. “As long as it is consistent for all those being interviewed” I quipped. The interview process then moved, after lunch with the interview panel, to a research presentation. Fifty minutes on some aspect of my current work, followed by 50 minutes of question and answer.

It was then that the question was posed. “Could you return to your story?” Puzzled, I asked for elaboration. “Well, you began your lecture this morning with your story, of growing up in PNG. So I’m asking what might happen if you returned in your research to your story?”

I remember being struck by the depth of listening. After nearly 3 hours of talking, here was someone with the ability to connect two quite different parts of my presentations, in ways that offered me new eyes. My story felt held. My experience felt important. Perhaps in this place, I would see myself, including my old self, in new ways. It was a moment, of care, of hope, and potentially of guidance in my research journey.

Fast forward some 13 months later. The interview in January 2015 resulted in my beginning as Principal in October 2015. I brought with me a significant piece of research, a book project on innovation and collaboration. Begun in July, it has absorbed all of my writing time in the period since.

Last week, the manuscript was sent to the editor. It will return, but in the meantime, I have some space to begin again. “What will you write?” asked my family on Sunday evening. (I have a habit of spending the first 45 minutes of every work day writing.) I sifted through a few possibilities. The next most important thing is two papers I have to present in Korea at the International Association of Mission Studies. The deadline for submission is 31 March. I chose one (the second is on how to understand Silence in mission), and got to writing.

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I looked at my desk yesterday. I am writing on Christology in Papua New Guinea. My research involves reading art gallery publications about bark cloth. I laughed. “Could you return to your story?” was the question 13 months ago.

Well, my first new writing project in this role and I have. I have found myself, by a random set of circumstances, writing on my country of birth. I am listening to ABC recordings of PNG women singing. I am exploring theology expressed in visual, rather than written ways. I am bringing my years of study of Christology and post-colonial theology and literature to bear on my own story. I am reading Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire (Bible in the Modern World). He also is born in PNG. I am beginning to imagine an academic paper presented in Korea not on powerpoint but on bark cloth.

I sense freedom, grace and integration. Such are some of the benefits when we return to our story, when the personal is woven into the academic, when deep listening enables us to see and hear ourselves in new ways.

Posted by steve at 08:42 AM

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.

Posted by steve at 08:34 PM

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”

Abstract (2) for 14th Assembly of International Association of Mission Studies, August 11–17, 2016, Seoul, South Korea

Conference theme: Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change

Title: Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain”

Stanley Skreslet (Comprehending Mission, 2012) argues that missiology has been slow to examine historical fiction from outside the West. A way to respond to his challenge is presented in The Mountain (2012), a novel by acclaimed Australian writer, Drusilla Modjeska. Book One describes the five years leading up to independence in Papua New Guinea in 1973 and ends with a ‘gift child’: a hapkas boy. Book Two describes his return – the child of a black mother and white father – to the land of his birth.

In the book an account of conversion and transformation in Papua New Guinea is offered. “Of all the applause, of all the cheers, the greatest is for the Christian missions, the priests who cross the stadium with their crucifixes and their bibles …. ‘Jesus,’ … ‘good’ man true” … ‘He die on a tree. Very good. He die for PNG.’” (The Mountain, 291). It is a surprisingly positive portrayal of conversion and transformation, referencing indigenous approval (“the greatest [applause] is for the Christian missions”) and indigenization (“He die for PNG.”)

The paper will take this notion of Jesus as good man true and analyse how this Christology interweaves with themes in The Mountain of ancestor, gift and hapkas. It will argue that The Mountain offers a distinct and creative Christology, one that offers post-colonial insight into the interplay between missiological notions of pilgrim and indigenizing and the complex journeys between there and here. Such a Christology is one result of religious change in PNG.

(My brief book review of The Mountain here).

Posted by steve at 10:27 AM

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