Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Ecclesiology and Ethnography: a “down under” perspective
News today that my academic paper for the ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association Theological Schools) combined conference 29 June-2 July, in Auckland, New Zealand, has been accepted. The conference theme is Christians in Communities – Christians as Communities.
Ecclesiology and Ethnography: a “down under” perspective
The aim of this paper is to introduce a new area of theological investigation and offer a “down under” response. It will be argued that a new Eerdmans Studies series, launched with paired volumes, Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, provides a new way of understanding theology, and the theologian, as a participant with communities in the missio Dei.
The first section of this paper will outline this new Studies series and a number of theoretical moves, including the use of empirical research as a theological necessity, appreciating knowledge as a perichoretic practice and valuing ecclesial situatedness.
The second section of the paper will offer a “down under” response to what has initially been a trans-Atlantic conversation. This will include a methodological engagement with indigenous perspectives on qualitative research. It will demonstrate similarities between the Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series and themes articulated by Linda Tuhiwai Smith (recently honoured as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit), including valuing qualitative research, seeking community transformation and encouraging research situated in communities of tradition.
However Smith also identifies ways in which research has been an instrument of colonization. Hence a third section of this paper will employ Smith’s “Community up” framework for researcher conduct to analyse a number of case studies present in the Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series. It will be argued that a pivotal point exists in the work of Paul Murray and Matthew Guest, in which the ethnographer is freed to offer the marginalized a new voice and consequently bring change to ecclesial communities.
Dr Steve Taylor
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University
Principal, Uniting College
Thursday, April 04, 2013
Sustainability and the mission of God: a case study of fresh (and failed) expression
I’m presenting to the South Australian Mission Studies Network Gathering on the topic:
Sustainability and the mission of God: a case study of fresh (and failed) expression
I’ll be reflecting on my findings emerging from my UK sabbatical interview research. The event is open to all mission-minded individuals, including scholars, reflective practitioners and teachers.
Here is the blurb (not written by me!):
Rev Dr Steve Taylor (Principal of Uniting College of Leadership and Theology, writer and blogger. He has published numerous articles and chapters, especially in regards to developing healthy, missional communities. His main publication is The Out of Bounds Church? Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change, (Zondervan, 2005). He has recently been on Sabbatical in the UK and writing his second book.)
Monday 22nd April @ 12.30 pm (until 2:00 pm) in S1, Adelaide College of Divinity, 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park, SA.
BYO Lunch but Tea and Coffee provided. To RSVP by Friday 19th April or want further information, then contact David Turnbull on 8373 8775 or dturnbull at adelaide dot tabor dot edu dot au
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Let me in the sound – not! U2 conference paper proposal
I was informed (graciously) today that my U2 conference paper (April 2013) proposal was not accepted. No explanation as to why. For the record (pun intended), here was my proposal (it makes the title even more poignant!).
Update: An invitation, on 6 March 2013. Due to a late withdrawal, might I be interested, despite the late notice, in presenting my paper! Let me in the sound is, after all, a live performance option.
The paper emerged from this moment of listening pleasure, which was deemed “perceptive” by well known U2 scholar, Beth Maynard. In terms of theorising, I consider their would be some real insight to read U2 against the work of Martin Stringer, UK social anthropologist, who has a body of research applying sociology to live liturgy.
Let me in the sound: the role of one liners in the live concert experience of U2
This paper will analyse the use of one-liners in U2’s live concert performance. It will explore the differences between U2‘s known songs from their studio albums and live performances (as recorded in the limited U22 CD that resulted from their most recent 360 degree tour). The paper will catalogue the one-liners and outline how they serve as a significant dimension of the live concert experience.
Three dimensions of these one-liners will be explored. First, how they particularise, offering a unique concert experience. Second, how they reframe, providing a different hermeneutical lens by which a song might be interpreted. Third, how they humanise, enhancing the connection between the band and the feelings of concert-goers.
An example is illustrative. During the live performance on U22 of “Until The End Of The World,” the following one-liner is employed: “Where’s Frank? 13 years ago, this very evening, we said goodbye to Frank Sinatra.”
This one-liner served to particularise, marking this concert (live from Mexico) as occurring on an anniversary of significance. It served to reframe, linking the song with a legend in rock music. It served to humanise, crafting a respectful memory with regard to those who have gone before.
This analysis will be placed alongside recent liturgical writing, in particular the work of Martin Stringer, On the Perception of Worship and his argument that with regard to ritual, it is in the irregularities that significance is generated.
Monday, July 23, 2012
defining theological research
Tonight I attended, with my daughter, a high school careers night. One of the presentations outlined the Research Project, a final year independent study. It is described as an opportunity to:
- research something you are interested in
- decide how you carry out your research
- decide on the way you produce your findings
- make judgements about how successful you’ve been
The presenter noted that a new feature for 2013 includes local universities offering students the chance to join one of their projects, in areas like health and medicine. The student works with the University in one of their projects and gets named in the research as it is written up.
On the way home, the following conversation ensued.
Daughter: I liked the idea of doing research with a university.
Dad: Yes, when they talked about that, I wondered about theology offering a research project.
Daughter: Now that would be cool. They could start new types of churches and explore how people engage with those new forms.
Dad grins, pondering the rather unique view of theological research – the mix of research and practicum, thinking and doing, university and church – the daughter has grown up with.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
a big day: social innovation research funding bid
Today I ticked off one of my study leave goals, submitting a funding bid to do some research into pioneering (social innovation) in Australia. It has involved a lot of work, a few late nights, some 5,000 words, spread over 26 pages of application and pulling together support from 4 different partners.
The bid is titled “Social innovation within religious communities in Australia.” The aims are “to undertake an analysis of quantitative data, and gather further qualitative data in order to analyse the skills and capacities required to catalyse and sustain innovations that build social capital and enhance the public good in the not-for-profit sector.”
It has involved negotiating with various partners, trying to think about their needs and how they might link with the aims of the University (research). The intended outcomes (if the bid is successful) will include a mix of articles, book, video and help in our post-graduate research.
It’s a highly competitive process, so I’m not holding my breath.
But it’s been fascinating to try to explain pioneering and fresh expressions in publicly accessible language (almost mission in itself perhaps?). And it’s been great to have the space of sabbatical to write and re-write. It’s allowed me to met some new people, be stretched in new areas and be very glad that Uniting College has a relationship with Flinders University, that makes such collaboration even a possibility.
But it’s left me stuffed.
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
intuition and anecdotes in theology
A playful moment today. I am working this week on a chapter on emerging church practices. In trying to make sense of how to proceed, I have been enjoying a book by Max Van Manen, Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy.
The book explores how to use lived experience – ours and others – not for mere academic interest, but to be part of transformation – in us and in our spheres of influence. In the book, Van Manen seeks a method by which to be systematic and critically rigorous about lived experience. One way he suggests is by the use of anecdotes. He notes how so often in conversations, people use short stories to make a point.
Anecdotes connect us to real life. They can provide concrete demonstrations of wisdom. They provide experiential case studies. Each anecdote is unique and particular, yet often each anecdote is addressing matters of universal importance.
So I have been looking through my interview data, looking for anecdotes. Surprise, surprise, I found that in the 5 focus group interviews I did, 45 anecdotes were used. Previously I might have dismissed these as examples, difficult to make into nice little sound bites. So probably I would have walked past them.
Instead, today I have grouped these 45 anecdotes and begun to analyse them, each particular, for the emerging practices present in them.
As I have worked, I have also been thinking about the Gospels. And I began to wonder if perhaps they too are in fact a collection, artfully chosen, of anecdotes about Jesus. In John 20:30, we are told that “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.” In describing these signs to each other, the disciples used anecdotes. Which John then declares that he has selected, edited and artfully arranged so that the reader “may believe” and “by believing … may have life.” I love that sense of the Gospel writer daring to tell a universal story by gathering a particular set of particular anecdotes.
But how to connect some anecdotes from an emerging church today with these Gospels as anecdotes?
So this afternoon I spread out the Jesus Deck on the office floor. The Jesus Deck has 52 cards. In other words, 52 anecdotes from the life of Jesus! I spread out these Gospel anecdotes alongside the anecdotes from my interviews.
It is certainly not an approach I’ve used in research before. But it has begun to generate some really interesting conversations. Whether they are dead ends or not, we will see in the coming days.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
wanted dead and alive: UK alt.worship communities
As part of my PhD research (what became “A New Way of Being Church”, University of Otago, 2004), I conducted research during March – June, 2001 into mission experimentation in the UK. This was focused on alternative worship communities and included both participant observation and interviews with both leaders and laity.
Some ten years on from that research, I have been reflecting on sustainability. As any parent will know, it’s one thing to birth a child. It’s quite another to do the early mornings and late nights, to piece your way through the ups and downs.
So I have begun a “Sustainability in new mission initiatives” Research Project. This first part has focused on the church that was the major focus of my research, Cityside Baptist. I have returned to participate in worship, to interview key leaders, to re-survey the congregation, and to conduct focus groups in response to reflect upon their data. Currently I’m writing up the results.
The next stage of the project involves wanting to explore the sustainability of the UK alt.worship communities I had researched back in 2001.
Here I need some help. Some initial website research has revealed that of the twelve I researched,
four six continue today ( two three under another name). Two Four appear closed. I remain unsure about six two of the communities. They look to have little web presence and so perhaps are closed.
So I have two requests. First, can any of my UK readers check the table here and provide any further information on the current status of any of these groups. I’m particular after information on
- Late Late Service, Glasgow
- Sanctuary, Bath (Updated: website found)
- Resonance, Bristol (Updated: renamed as Foundation in 2005. Thanks Paul )
- The Bigger Picture, London
- Graceland, Cardiff (Updated: according to a blog comment (thanks heaps), has closed, although relational connections continue.
- Holy Joes, London (Updated: Maggi Dawn thinks this group is currently in recess)
Second, I am interested in trying to interview all these groups, or representatives (whether dead or alive!). We need to learn from all our experiments, no matter their current status. I am working toward a research visit to the UK (December 2012-February 2013). So I would like to locate folk, particularly from those that are closed, or appear to be. So can any of my UK readers provide any followup or contact details?
Thanks, in hope
Friday, February 24, 2012
ethnography as pastoral practice
I’m finding Mary Clark Moschella, Ethnography As A Pastoral Practice: An Introduction a really helpful read.
It offers a way of bringing about change, in which the leader becomes an ethnographer, a listener to the patterns and habits that form a group. It provides case study after case study, of ministers who listened, who were surprised by what they heard, who fed back their surprise and as a result, change occurred.
Ethnography is a set of habits and processes and thus the book gives a really clear way of embarking on change. Some leaders do this intuitively. But for those who don’t, this book is gold. It explores the ethical boundaries, developing questions, offering feedback – all written in accessible manner, with story after story.
The book is thus an excellent resource for post-graduate students and for any minister or leader thinking about how to be part of change. It will be especially helpful for those folk put off by CEO and hierarchical models of leadership, but still wanting to be part of transformation of their community, and communities.
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 …
Monday, October 31, 2011
the good company of obsessives
“In this book, I feel I am in the good company of obsessives.” (Exploring U2, xvii)
My copy of Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 arrived today. Hardcover. 276 pages. 16 chapters. Mine is Chapter 6. Plus a foreword by rock journalist Anthony Decurtis. I was so excited I shot a pic of myself holding it (not easy to do with a cell phone).
“U2 is best understood in decibels and LED lights seen through fog machines, not by reading a book. Still, what happens after listening to a U2 album or attending a concert is just as real as the music itself, and U2′s fans know that things have changed for the better because of U2. What makes this happen, why and how it happens, and how U2 has become so good at doing it are the guiding questions here. In this book, I feel I am in the good company of obsessives, and it is a delight to present them as furthering the field of U2 studies.” (xxvi-xxvii)
This time last year I was published for work on TV animation show, Bro’town. Now U2. Such are some of the fertile theological fields I drift upon
Friday, October 07, 2011
Study leave report September 2011
For those interested, here is my September 2011, Study leave report. In some ways it is a summary of the UK Adventures blog series. But it also develops a bit more clearly some of what I reflected upon and raises some possibilities that might be part of 2012 (more…)
Thursday, October 06, 2011
emerging Baptists and the other that is contemporary culture
In 2009, I presented an academic paper at the International Conference on Baptist studies in Melbourne. In late July I received notification that my paper had been accepted in a volume of publications (Interfaces: Baptists and Others) arising from the conference. My chapter is (currently) titled – Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study.
In the chapter, I outline a Baptist understanding of theology and church identity. (Note: For mainline church readers who might not know much about Baptist ecclesiology -
Martin Sutherland (“Gathering, Sacrament and Baptist Theological Method,” The Pacific Journal of Baptist Research 3, 2 (October, 2007)) argues for a distinct Baptist way of doing theology, based on the dynamics of church as becoming. He argues that for Baptists, “the gathering is the sacrament, the moment of Christ’s presence, the telos at once for the church and the world.” (53) Baptist theology thus becomes “the dynamic interplay of two stories – the contemporary, local, ‘gathered’ one, and the Christ story as revealed in scripture … The story itself calls us forward and outwards rather than backwards … Theology’s task is to facilitate this harmonization, to bring us into consonance with Christ.” (54-5) For Sutherland, Baptist theology is to be found not in dialogue with philosophy, but embodied in local life, in things such as the church members meeting or in the formation of church structures.
I then employ this Baptist method to first, analyse an act of worship of a particular “emerging” Baptist Church. I argue that a creative and engaged approach to contemporary culture provided huge resources for this congregation. Second, I engage this “Baptist theology” with current discussion on the relationship between gospel and culture, including Graham Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice; Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling; Kathryn Tanner Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology and some articles by Miroslav Volf. I sketch a “sampling” approach to gospel and culture, and the implications for place, imagination and how tradition is understood.
The volume, edited by David Bebbington (Stirling University) and Martin Sutherland (Laidlaw College), part of the Studies in Baptist Thought and History, is due to be published with Paternoster Press, in September 2012.
A collection of essays which includes relations with other Christians, other faiths and other movements such as the Enlightenment. What has been the Baptist experience of engaging with different groups and developments? The theme will be explored by means of case studies, some of which will be very specific in time and place while others will cover long periods, and more than one country.
With 400 years of history, and over 150,000 churches and 37 million members spanning 6 continents, and with conference speakers from England, US, Australian, New Zealand, Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea, Aboriginal, Nigeria, India, Burma, the volume should be a rich deposit of history and Christian practice.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
it’s the edits that kill me. any helpful hints?
I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to get my head into edits of written material in preparation for publication. Here’s how I currently experience the writing process
- Speak – I use conferences and keynotes to present my research. I have an aural learning preference, so speaking stuff verbally helps me process my thinking. Plus I get interaction with the wider academic community. There’s a deadline and it’s a buzz.
- Write – Then I write the work up. Conferences tend to only want 20 to 35 minutes, ie never the full paper. Further, someone reading a written paper is hard to listen to. So having spoken, I then take the time to lengthen and strengthen, often building in the spoken feedback. It’s hard to find the time, but it feels creative.
- Contract – The written piece then goes into that black hole, in which publishers do their work. What every writer thinks is their world changing work gets weighed in regard to viability. Markets can scanned, trends get considered. What you though important, unique, fresh, your work is tested. If unsuccessful, then you look for another source. When successful, you get an email, often with a contract form to sign. You then proceed into the stage that is currently killing me.
- Edits – At some point, your written work comes back. Changes are suggested. Alterations are asked for. This can be up to 2 years after your initial submission. Generally the request is unannounced and suddenly arrives. Generally all have short deadlines. And the accompanying note that this is a final step before publication.
I’m not complaining. But I’m not finding it easy. My Myers Briggs personality type is strongly Perceiving, not Judging. In other words, deadlines and precision don’t energise me. So a final edit in which every word in a 6,000 word chapter will be committed to a printed page is scarey. My Belbin profile includes being a plant ie I’m really good at starting things and initating change.
I’m also finding that the editing involves getting my head back into stuff I’ve left well behind. In the last month I’ve found myself editing a piece from December 2010, a piece from February 2011, a piece from April 2011 and a piece from July 2009. And the 2009 piece was a coupling together of some written work from 2003, mixed with some ongoing reading. It all means I’ve got to get my head back into stuff that is long gone.
I know in my head that the editing need not take long. Often I’m surprised by how little time it takes. But you don’t know that until you start. And in the midst of everything else I juggle, it’s hard to craft that time. I don’t find it a creative process, so an early morning does not beckon. Work is busy, so there’s not often uninterrupted space.
In my head, my perfectionist tendencies fight with the 80/20 rule; the desire to be very careful vs the knowledge that I’ve done most of the important work, so how much does this matter. Yet, I hate finding a mistake in a book, and I don’t want to be shoddy.
So it’s the edit phase in the writing process that are currently killing me. I want to start some new projects, but I need to complete what I’ve started. I’m not complaining, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to publish. But I write this wondering if I’m alone and if any readers have any helpful hints on how they negotiate the editing phase, especially when one has multiple projects on the go and at different phrases and in the midst of everyday life?
Thursday, September 01, 2011
some serious theology
It’s been great to have Stephen Garner, practical theologian from University of Auckland here with us for a few weeks as a Visiting Scholar. He’s lectured in our new Bachelor of Ministry introductory course Media and Communication in Contemporary Culture. He gave the Annual Theology Lecture – Sacred Texts in a secular world: How should we teach sacred texts in a pluralistic, multi-faith, modern university. He’s helped resource a new 2012 topic design – Bible and Popular Culture. He’s met with Australasian Theological Forum, which is based here in Adelaide, and done final edits on a book project. He’s worshipped and cup of tea’d with us.
It’s been great to have a fresh face around the place. Personally, it’s been great to have another Kiwi voice, a familiar accent and shared stories and history. Today Stephen left me a parting gift, a sign of the serious theology search we share
Brotown! A primetime animation, about a group of boys growing up in Auckland.
Well Brotown Annual volume 1 begins with “letter from God” and for those who want a more explicit Christ focus, Annual volume 2 begins with “Jesus welcomes you.” Which I’ve written about in much depth, seriously!, in The Bible in/and Popular Culture: A Creative Encounter (Semeia Studies) in a chapter titled “Reading “Pop-Wise”: The Very Fine Art of “Making Do” When Reading the Bible in bro’Town by Steve Taylor” (more on the book here). And Stephen Garner has written about in a journal – Morningside for Life!: Contextual Theology Meets Animated Television in bro’Town – in Studies in World Christianity.