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

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

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

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.

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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