Tuesday, September 04, 2018

peer-reviewed in an international journal in a discipline not my own

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“Religious piety and pigs’ brains”: the faith of zombies in Burr Steers’s Pride, Prejudice and Zombies,” Persuasions On-Line 38 (3), 2018.

So I’m celebrating having a journal article in an international, peer-reviewed journal (Persuasions Online) in a discipline not my own.  It’s quite an achievement to be published, let alone internationally, let alone in a different discipline.

I’m chuffed. 

It has been a strange and demanding journey.  Flinders University has a Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities (FIRtH) which encourages collaborative and cross-disciplinary research across a wide range of fields in the Humanities and Creative Arts. In 2017, it was the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen. This is a big thing – her appearance on a new 10 pound note in England and Hampshire staging a year-long series of events across the county in 2017. And in Australia, FIRtH decided to make Austen a focus.  Given I still have connections with Flinders University, as I supervise four PhD’s to completion, I was invited to contribute a piece on religion, popular culture and Austen. My teenage kids at the time were enjoying Pride And Prejudice And Zombies the movie.  I was aware it included a communion scene and in response to the FIRtH invitation, began to watch, looking at how the Christian practice of communion was being portrayed.

I provided some thoughts in a cross-Tasman video, was offered an airfare to a symposium presentation, followed by an invitation to develop my work for a special edition of Persuasions Online, a digital, peer-reviewed publication of the Jane Austen Society of North America.   This was very new territory for me – English literature, Jane Austen, international. 

But it gave me a chance to reflect on sacraments and the Gospel of Luke.  It enabled me to think more deeply about post-colonialism. I have also published a range of pieces on U2 and so this was a chance to expand my thinking into zombies.  It also was a chance to test in practical reality a theoretical piece I wrote in 2009 (a chapter in The Spirit of Truth: Reading Scripture and Constructing Theology with the Holy Spirit) in which I argued for the presence of God in popular culture. It sounded good in theory, but would my theory stand when applied to zombies?

I researched and wrote with a constant voice: is this a good use of my time as Principal of a theological college. In the midst of a funding crisis, was this a good use of church resources? 

One way to respond was to do much of this in my own time. I took leave to attend the symposium in October 2017, used days in lieu in March 2018 to complete the first draft and drew down on holidays in June to respond to reviewer comments.

At the same time, I also believed this was public missiology.  Missiologists talk a lot about engaging culture, yet very few seem to work in popular culture, the songs and movies which are the soundtrack to the lives of so many. Missiologists also talk a lot about crossing cultures. So why not cross into another discipline and place my thinking before the critical eyes of Austen lovers (the society has 5,000 members!) and people who care deeply about the English language?

I did however, underestimate the demands involved in moving across disciplines. The last few months have become particularly pressured, as I navigated multiple peer reviews and the challenge to write for literary lovers rather than theologians. The result has been a string of “thanks for your patience” emails, to PhD students and in relation to other writing deadlines.

Anyhow, the piece has just been published – “Religious Piety and Pigs’ Brains”: The Faith of Zombies in Burr Steers’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 38: 3, 2018.

Because I work in popular culture, the article has pictures:

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The article has headings: 
The meaning of zombies in academic discourse  
Applying zombie theory to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  
Afterlives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke 
(Un)sacramental theologies
The present problems of piety 
 

And here are some words, that point to what I was trying to do:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that art has the potential to disturb contemporary pride and historical prejudice.  Realizing this truth, however, requires us to locate the literary worlds so artfully created by Jane Austen in relation to the economic realities and colonizing impact of the British Empire around the turn of the nineteenth century 

The British empire was powered not only by economic and military might but also by Britons’ understanding of Christianity, including the claiming and exploitation of overseas territories.  Desmond Tutu famously declared, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land.  They said ‘Let us pray.’  We closed our eyes.  When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land” (The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon (Biblical Interpretation Series) 326).  Tutu’s challenge invites us to consider the religious practices of Austen’s England.  How might the sacramental practices of communion and the prayers and sermons heard by Elizabeth and Darcy make them complicit in the economic injustices that accompanied colonial expansion?  

Rather than dismissing zombies as an example of popular culture hubris, the argument presented here suggests the zombies in Steers’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies provide viewers with an ethical trope, post-colonial in both sense and sensibility.  Analysis of the zombie trope as socio-cultural phenomenon is followed by an examination of Steers’s film—a hermeneutic “zombie-gesis,” if you will—with particular attention to a scene in which zombies partake of holy communion at the Church of St. Lazarus.  This scene brings into focus the portrayal of Lazarus in the Christian Gospels, particularly Jesus’s parable in Luke 16:19–31 and what it means to consume the body of Christ.  It also arguably exposes the entanglement of Anglican religion and the English colonial project in Austen’s world, pointing to the culturally constructed conjunction of Biblical texts, Western Christianity, and the social world of Regency England.  

In this reading, the role of zombies in the movie is neither parodic nor simply a money-making device.  Rather, the movie inserts an ethical trope, post-colonial in sense and sensibility, that questions the economic system on which the literary world of Austen is built, the ways in which religion can use piety to maintain the status quo, and the complexities involved in seeking to enact justice in the present.  

A careful reading of the Exodus story, however, suggests that a third option is possible.  Exodus And Revolution argues that the promised land holds the hope of equality:  “if no member of the holy nation is an oppressor, then no inhabitant of the promised land is oppressed” (109).  Such an understanding provides a way for the proto-zombies to enact a disciplined freedom that would also be a way of applying justice in their present.  As inhabitants of England, the proto-zombies are a physical reminder of the need for justice.  By holding themselves back from becoming full zombies, they seek partnership in a promised land in which none, whether genteel English or zombie, is oppressed or oppressing. Their deliberate formation provides a critique of the actions of Darcy and Wickham and also of the mobilization of religion only in the future tense.  It suggests that Luke 16:19–31 can be read as an apocalyptic text.  The dualisms of proto-zombie and human can be respected.  

The film, read in light of the Exodus text preached at the Church of St. Lazarus, thus offers a vision of a new beginning for England as a place of justice for all.  The servants at Pemberley need no longer be silent; those who grow the finest grapes, nectarines, and peaches will be justly rewarded, and the soldiers at Meryton need no longer be deployed to maintain the power of a colonial Britain.  This future vision begins now, in the sharing of a moral formation in which all—colonized and colonizer, zombie and human—share a common set of standards and take responsibility for their own agency.

The presence of the zombies points to significant fault-lines that threaten the privileged and complacent social world of Austen’s time.  In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies they remind readers and viewers of the unsolved problem of social inequality and the ways in which religion and literature can both support and disturb the status quo, including the apparent certainties of Jane Austen’s social and religious world.

Posted by steve at 04:37 PM

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis

I am a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Here is my third article, for the Autumn 2018 edition, which focused on the theme of Engaging Evil.

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My piece was titled Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis. It offers a theology of baptism as a participation in solidarity with refugees, drawing on U2′s song, Red Flag Day, from their latest album, Songs Of Experience. For fancy magazine layout, saying no U2′s response to the evils of the refugee crisis; or in plain text:

Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis

Sometimes entertainment becomes not only political, but also theological. Songs Of Experience, U2’s fourteenth and latest album, splashed into Christmas stockings over the summer. The album debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard charts, making U2 the first music group to gain a Number 1 album in four consecutive decades. In the midst of commercial success, U2 has continued to engage social issues, singing ‘No’ to human evil in the world. Songs of Experience is no exception as U2 engage the evils around the European refugee crisis.

Evil is a strong word. Yet the Scriptures are clear. The greatest of God’s commandments includes loving neighbour as yourself. Israel’s laws emerged from the Exodus experience of being refugees, fleeing the tyranny of Empire in Egypt. Just as Israel in history experienced God’s protecting love as refugees, so now in everyday life humans should express God’s love, including to refugees. Anything less is to deny the Commandments.

On Songs of Experience, U2 engage the evil of the refugee crisis in a mid-album bracket of three songs. First, American Soul suggests that American values of unity and community need to apply to ‘refugees like you and me, A country to receive us’. A second song, Summer of Love, longs for flowers to grow amid ‘the rubble of Aleppo’. The hope, fifty years after a drug-fuelled, music-drenched Summer of Love in San Francisco, is for peace to descend on the West Coast of Syria in the Middle East. A third song is Red Flag Day. The title suggests a continuation of the beach vibe of Summer of Love while the lyrics remain focused on the consequences of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, becoming rubble.

The civil war in Syria resulted in a unprecendented refugee crisis. For more than 1 million people in 2015, this meant crossing the Mediterranean Sea, seeking safety in Europe. Deaths at sea rose to record levels, with more than 1,200 people drowning in the month of April 2015. And so, in Red Flag Day, U2 address this evil: ‘Not even news today; So many lost in the sea’. This is evil-as-disinterest, as the lost and the least disappear from our 24-hour news cycle.

For U2, the response to this evil is located in one word. ‘The one word that the sea can’t say, Is no, no, no, no’. It is easy to imagine the impact of this line performed live, Bono holding a microphone out to an audience, inviting them to sing, ‘no, no, no, no’. It is a powerful lyric. Water, the sea over which refugees travel, can never speak. But humans can. Humans can sing that one word, ‘No’.

At the same time, having raised children, I am well aware of the limitations inherent in the simple word ‘No’. It is often the first word learnt by a child, easy on the lips of a two-year-old teetering on a tantrum. So, when U2 sing ‘No’, what exactly are they asking us as humans to do?

U2 conclude Red Flag Day with the provocative line, ‘Baby let’s get in the water’. It reminds me of the baptism of Jesus. Every year in the Christian calendar, Christmas is followed by Epiphany and the birth of Jesus is placed in relation to God declaring love and pleasure as Jesus enters the Jordan waters. It is the way Jesus begins ministry, by getting in the water.

So is the refugee crisis in fact an invitation for the church to sing ‘No’, to respond to evil by entering the waters of baptism? Physically, in entering the Jordan River, Jesus expresses his obedience to God. This makes getting in the water the essential pattern of Christian discipleship, a way of saying ‘No’ to our own plans and ‘Yes’ to God’s intentions. Historically, as Israel crossed the Jordan River, they were saying ‘Yes’ to living out God’s commandments no matter what country they found themselves living. This makes baptism an expression of ‘Yes’ to loving our neighbour. And sacramentally, baptism and communion are woven together in the Exodus story of the Passover, which involves Israel entering the waters of the Red Sea. This makes getting in the water an expression of solidarity with all those who decide to say ‘No’ to persecution and tyranny, whether in fleeing Egypt in history or in the rubble of Aleppo today.

Hearing U2’s Red Flag Day and listening to the Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism offer ways to respond to the evil of the refugee crisis. The single word of ‘No’ is filled with Christian content. Every red flag swim in this summer of love becomes a singing of ‘No’. It means lobbying Parliament to ‘Let them come’. It involves lighting candles as prayers of intercession for all those lost at sea, refusing to forget those forgotten by the news today. It means a welcome to the promised lands as we teach English classes and guide migrants around unfamiliar supermarkets.

We often view baptism in individual terms, as a personal choice to follow Jesus. What if it is also a call to mission, a way to respond to evil by getting in the water in solidarity with the refugee crisis today.

Posted by steve at 06:36 PM

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hidden Figures: a social justice film review

ticket-1543115-640x480 Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for March 2017.

Hidden Figures
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Hidden Figures” offers important insights in how to fight for justice. The time is the 1960’s, the place is the South of the United States, the backdrop is the Cold War. “Hidden Figures” weaves together four stories, of three African-American women who help NASA in one race to space.

After a slow start, the movie hits the rocket burners, deserving Oscar nomination for Best Picture. With the race to space essential to US national identity, it is the mathematical brilliance of Katherine Johnson (played by Octavia Spencer) that will calculate the orbit of spacecraft Friendship 7. She will also re-confirm the mathematical figures for re-entry and touchdown that enable John Glenn (played by Glen Powell) to become the first American to orbit the earth. Such is the hidden skill that powered the American space race.

In the celebration of hidden talents, “Hidden Figures” also showcases the multiple ways by which oppressed minorities can stand for justice.

First, there is the public anger of Katherine Johnson. Publicly, powerfully, in front of her all white work colleagues, she names the reality of her lived workplace experience. She is direct, describing her mile long walk to a segregated bathroom. She is honest, exposing what is being hidden by the separate coffee machines. Katherine Johnson reminds us there are times for public anger.

Second, there are the skilful words of Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). To train as an engineer, she needs changes in state law. She acts in ways polite and pragmatic, seeking a respectful leave of the court to remind the judge of his place in history. “Your honor, out of all the cases you gonna hear today, which one is gonna matter hundred years from now? Which one is gonna make you the first?” Mary Jackson reminds us there are times for skilful manouvering through individual and persuasive legal argument.

Third, there is the shrewd foresight of Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer). Aware of changing technology, she acquires from the library a book on how to programme the newly computer. Next she works with her colleagues, helping them upskill. Finally, she announces she will not offer her newly learnt and suddenly essential computer skills unless all her colleagues are employed with her. Dorothy Vaughan reminds us there are times for solidary, when sacrificial leaders act with shrewd foresight and then stand with and among those they lead.

Each of these women face injustice. Each find different ways to respond. Together they are a reminder of the diverse options available in the fight for justice.

Director Theodore Melfi skillfully weaves together these four stories of three women and one astronaut in the same workplace. Opening and closing scenes are essential. In the beginning, the three women are together, needing to overcome the obstacle of a broken-down car on the way to work at NASA.

In the end, the three women are apart. From different places they watch a single event, the return of John Glen to earth. The women have grown. Each one has have found unique ways to connect their inner courage with external action. Such is the power of “Hidden Figures.”

Posted by steve at 06:11 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

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Letter to the editor March 31 2016

My recent letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times has just been published! A little flag wave for justice. Ten days after submission, but still a point worth making.

The ODT (19 March) leads with the headline: “Camp site like ‘refugee camp.’” It quotes Brandon O’Callaghan comparing a Gibbston camping ground to a “Syrian refugee camp.”

The article mentions 200 people camping. The Za’atari refugee camp holds 83,000 refugees. The leading ODT photo shows twenty parked cars, with people relaxing on camping chairs. Syrian refugees walk, arriving at Za’atari desperate for food and water. 86% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line, a far cry from the financial resources freedom campers require to navigate Aotearoa New Zealand.

In a short time, Dunedin City will welcome Syrian refugees. What will they make of Dunedin’s leading newspaper making such pronouncements about the realities they have experienced?

Freedom camping is a problem needing solving. Misleading headlines add more heat than light. Can I suggest the ODT do some fact checking in order to run headlines more accurate and compassionate.

Dr Stephen Taylor

Posted by steve at 03:05 PM

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Big Eyes: a theological reflection (on the power of fundamentalisms!)

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for May 2015, of Big Eyes.

Big Eyes

Big Eyes is a feel-good biographical drama, based on a true story, drawn from the life of contemporary American artist Margaret Keane. The title is a reference to Margaret’s approach to art, in which her subjects, mainly women and children, are painted with oversized eyes. While, it was a distinctive style that brought mainstream applause in San Francisco throughout the 1960s, behind the big eyes was a darker story that needs to be heard.

Big eyes are not only an approach to painting. They are also a posture. Two key scenes in the movie involve big eyes looking down the camera lens. In one, two males eye the paintings of Margaret and her husband Walter, debating their quality. This “big-eyed” scene sets up the early plot tensions, including the gatekeeping role of galleries and the patriarchal male gaze that would trap Margaret for much of her creative life.

In a second scene, toward the end of the movie, Margaret Keane eyes her art works. She is alone and this scene, in which pairs of women’s eyes gaze intensely, painfully at each other, artfully captures the big-eyed lies in which Margaret finds herself trapped.

Big-eyed is also a theological theme, a way to understand the movie’s portrayal of faith. As the movie reaches for its feel-good climax, Margaret finds herself lonely in Hawaii. She is befriended by door knocking Jehovah’s Witnesses. In a pivotal conversation, Margaret’s daughter (Madeline Arthur) asks the Jehovah’s Witnesses if their God is OK with suing.

The question results in the climatic court action, through which truth is told and justice enacted. It is a reminder of the ethics that result when one has faith in a “big-eyed” God who is understood as speaking up for the rights of the widow and orphan.

Director Tim Burton, his skills honed over forty movies (including Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland), continues to showcase his movie-making skills. Big Eyes offers some lovely directorial moments, including the appearance of the actual artist, sitting on a park bench in the background, as Walter and Margaret first meet. It provides an ethical reminder that this story is being told with Margaret’s approval, unlike the web of lies spun around her by her first husband, Walter.

The script writing of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewksi offers some memorable dialogue. These include the multiple levels of irony in Margaret Keane’s statement, that the eyes are a window to the soul and Walter’s delighted cry, “We’ve sold out” at the end of another successful art show.

The movie, in dialogue, plot and character explores the moral complexities of art and celebrity.
Alongside the fine performances by Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) and Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), Big Eyes provides a heartwarming, yet revealing, window into the soul of contemporary culture and an object lesson in the Christian affirmation that truth shall indeed set you free.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He is the author of The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan, 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 07:31 PM

Friday, March 20, 2015

activist researchers and community up research as fresh words and deeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by steve at 10:46 AM

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Selma: a theological film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for February 2015, of Selma.

Selma
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

At the end of “Selma,” no one moved. As, the final credits rolled, those present remained seated, motionless and silent. Only as the cinema cleaner entered did people finally collect their belongings and begin to exit.

It was a fitting tribute to a moving story, powerfully told. “Selma” documents the American Civil Rights movement, in particular the period during 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr worked in the town of Selma, Alabama, to galvanise protest over the right to enrol to vote. We witness the tactics of non-violence, the hostility of Southern white response and the unfolding story, which resulted in the Voting Rights Act and the provision of Federal Government enforcement of voting fights for all minorities.

What is striking in “Selma” is how these acts of protest were shaped by a faith as political as it was domestic. In prison, pondering his decision to picket around voting rights rather than protesting poverty, King is reminded by his advisers of Scripture (Matthew 6:26-27). Needing courage, King calls a friend, seeking solace in the singing of an old Negro spiritual. Preaching in Selma, at the funeral of a protestor, King asks who murdered Jimmie Lee Jackson?

“Every white lawman who abuses the law to terrorize. Every white politician who feeds on prejudice and hatred. Every white preacher who preaches the bible and stays silent before his white congregation.”

It is a powerful reminder that in the hands of the church, Bible study has at times magnified injustice, rather than worked to further God’s dreams of justice and liberation. “Selma” is a powerful reminder of how faith is political, both for good and bad.

The movie is well made, including the clever mix of actual black and white footage of protest along with the typewritten telegraph text documenting FBI surveillance. David Oyelowo is superb as Martin Luther King, as is Carmen Eiogo as King’s wife, Coretta. However, they are shaded by the standout performance of Henry G. Sanders as Cager Lee, mourning in the morgue his murdered grandson, Jimmie Lee Jackson.

It is a predominantly male cast, with King constantly surrounded by male leaders. It is a visual reminder that following the gaining of civil rights would need to come the struggle for gender equality.

This interweaves with another prominent theme, faith domestic as well as political. Time and again, Selma locates us, the viewer, in the ordinary. The movie begins with Luther worried about his tie and dreaming with Coretta of being a pastor somewhere small, with a house to call their own.

It is these domestic touches – the kitchen scenes of Southern hospitality, the putting out of the rubbish, the tucking the children into bed– that drive the humanity of the narrative. They create the empathy against which the violence that was the Civil Rights movement can be projected large.

This is “Selma” and this is why no one in the movie theatre moved. Faith, powerfully presented, with hope, that the eyes of all peoples in all of life may indeed see the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He is the author of The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (Zondervan, 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 10:56 PM

Sunday, October 19, 2014

flipping good neighbours in community engagement

I was researching a community ministry this week, interviewing about a community garden planted on a rooftop, four stories high in inner-city Sydney. (It was part of my work on Urban gardens for the Urban Life together conference).

In telling the story of the community garden, the comment was made that in beginning the garden, they didn’t how to garden. As a result they reached out to local gardeners. Similarly, in establishing bee hives as part of the garden, they didn’t know how to keep bees. Again, they had to reach out to local book keepers.

It struck me as a fascinating approach to take to community development. Start with what you don’t know.

Later in the interview, I returned to tease this out further. “It sounds like your lack of knowledge was a gift. It involved the community to shape the environment.”

Absolutely was the animated reply. Start with what you don’t know and you ensure very different relationships with your community.

In Luke 10:5-8, Jesus instructs the disciples in mission.

‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. ‘When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.

What if Luke 10 is picking up on the same approach? Jesus sends the disciples with nothing (Luke 10:4), with no food for the night. When they approach the community, they approach with vulnerability, with a lack. In doing so, they invite a different set of relationships. Specifically, the person of peace, the one who opens the door, is being invited to become a good neighbour. The community is being invited to be generous, to be hospitable, to participate in partnership.

This is a risky strategy. It might not work, leaving the disciples hungry. Or it might come across as manipulative. (I think this is addressed by the offer of peace in verse 5 – see an earlier post on Sharing faith across cultures).

But it does totally flip the traditional understanding of being a good neighbour. What if the task of the church in mission is not to be a good neighbour? Rather what if it is to act in ways that enable our community to be good neighbours? What sort of relationships of mutuality and partnership might emerge?

It would be as practical as starting community ministry in the areas in which we lack some knowledge.

Posted by steve at 11:54 AM

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Uniting College welcomes Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Coordinator

Good news today with the appointment of Karen Vanlint to fill the newly created position of CALD Co-ordinator (VET) at Uniting College.

Karen has taught ESL 0.5 at Salisbury TAFE, for the past 3 years. She has significant experience as a school teacher, here and in the UK.
She has a particular passion for CALD persons, and displayed not only an excellent grasp on the appropriate approaches to establishing this stream at Uniting College, but insight and energy on how it might be significantly developed into the future.

She has a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Education, a Diploma of Christian Studies, a Cert IV in TESOL, and a Cert IV in TA (Training and Assessment).

In the midst of a very rich field of applicants, Karen also spoke of a particular personal ‘call’ to this role, having moved house to specifically engage with communities with higher numbers of CALD people.

Her references noted her diligence, quality and innovation in teaching, and organisational ability. She is an active member of Parafield Gardens Uniting Church.

The position is 0.2, and Karen will commence on Tuesday 29th July. She will focus on

  • the delivery of CALD VET training
  • liaising with ethnic Christian Communities in South Australia
  • student support as required

This position (similar to BYO Co-ordinator and Chaplaincy) is being funded through the release of funds from a specific Trust, to enable innovations which can result in new cohorts of students. We expect it to grow, but are starting small.

Personally, this is probably the most exciting innovation I’ve been part of initiating in my time as Principal of the College.

Posted by steve at 07:08 PM

Sunday, October 14, 2012

End of greed – Be kind to animals

Today I preached at Journey Uniting. The topic they asked me to address was animal care. First time a church has ever asked me to preach on that type of topic!

But I have an experience of a dog scoffing the communion bread. Which in time became a journal article – “Even The Dogs Eat the Crumbs That Fall From Their Masters’ Table”: A Contemporary Reflection on The Sacramentality of Communion” Colloquim 39, 2 (November 2007), 209-225. Which seemed an interesting challenge to offer as a sermon.

So I wove together three personal stories, a selection of Biblical passages, three Christian thinkers (Isaac of Nineveh, Francis of Assissi, Paulos Mar Gregorios) along with Rublevs icon.

(more…)

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

stations of the rainforest as spirituality for tree huggers

Really interesting video, linking environmental themes with Stations of the Cross. The 14 Stations of the cross are woven around the death of rainforest. Interesting that they have included a 15th Station (yes Clifford and Johnson, indeed the Cross is not enough!) which looks out how we can live sustainably, environmentally, in lifegiving ways.

It comes from the Columban Missionaries of Britian, and has an accompanying written resource. (I’d place this alongside my experience of 7 words, 7 sites: an indigenous Tenebrae Service from earlier this year.)

Of course, it’s a video. Which leaves me pondering what an embodied Stations of the Forest would look like – actual nature based walks around Adelaide.

It also links for me with some of what I was exploring last year – outdoor stations as fresh expressions and how God’s second book, the book of creation, might be a regular part of Christian expression. Especially in climates as conducive to being outdoors as Australian ones. Especially if followed by hospitality and community afterward.

Posted by steve at 08:57 PM

Thursday, December 22, 2011

a week’s work: communion in a world of hunger

Most of this week has been a writing week, preparing to speak at a conference on Post-colonial theology and religion in Melbourne later in January. My paper is titled – This is my body? A post-colonial investigation of the elements used in indigenous Australian communion practices – and over the week I’ve put together 4,800 words, which is a pretty good effort.

For those interested, here’s my introduction: (more…)

Posted by steve at 12:04 PM

Friday, December 16, 2011

indigenous dreaming

I’ve had a rich few days that included time with local indigenous Christian leaders, talking and dreaming

  • about ways that Uniting Church candidates can be exposed to indigenous culture
  • about whether we as staff and students at College can be taught the Lords Prayer and Words of institution at communion in the local language (Kaurna), as a way to honour the traditional owners of the land on which College exists
  • about urban field trips, Saturdays in which we drive around Adelaide, hearing the stories from Colebrook, and Lartelare Park
  • initially for students in my Reading Cultures class, but why not as a sort of fresh expression for new migrants
  • about shared theological projects, including communion and the missiology of the Preamble.

I have left these gatherings with this urge to take off my shoes, for I feel like I’ve been walking on holy ground.

Posted by steve at 01:42 AM