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

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

public theology indigenous style: Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra

“You put it on the spoon and then you put it in my mouth. Like a baby”

You stole everything from us and then you say to us, live like a white man, think like a white man … You are setting the rules for my children.

Where is my liberty? Where is my people liberty?

Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra is a Uniting Church minister. Here he is addressing the Australian Labour Party national conference, responding to the ‘second Intervention’ otherwise known as ‘Stronger Futures in the NT’, a new Commonwealth Government initiative which will maintain key powers introduced through the NT Intervention. This message was screened in Sydney on Saturday December 3.

Posted by steve at 06:07 AM

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lets talk about food: a prayer for blog action day 2011

Give us this day our daily bread. A prayer mumbled in churches all over the world today. A prayer that is an invitation to consider what and how they eat. A prayer that opens to door to a whole new way of being in mission – around tables, among strangers, with justice, generosity and humanity.

Such is a just theology of food in the Kingdom of God. But first, a short quiz about food.

  1. True or false: Wealthy suburbs are more likely to have fast-food outlets than poor ones.
  2. True or false: Healthy food is more expensive than fast food.
  3. True or false: 77% of Australians eat together as a family five times a week
  4. True or false: In Australia, more women are head chefs that men
  5. True or false: On a daily basis, women spend more than twice as long as men on food preparation and clean up.
  6. True or false: The biggest global killer is a disease called New World syndrome

(Answers, for those interested are at the bottom of this post).

My contention is this – that when Christians pray Give us this day our daily bread, we must pay attention to think about who cooks, who cleans, who eats what, and with who.

To make that practical consider a story from Australian Rebecca Huntley’s (Eating Between the Lines, of a community centre in Melbourne, which holds lunches that aim to bring postwar migrants together with newly arrived refugees. They share food, swap recipes and pass on tips about where to find spices. They also share stories, experiences of the joy and dislocation of migration. So simple – eating together.

A second way to be practical comes in the book by John Koenig, Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation. Koenig argues that

“we have seriously undervalued our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission … to realize this potential, we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, must have our eyes opened by the transforming presence of Christ at our tables.”

He provides a checklist on what it means for meals to become mission:

  • This is serving graciously with human contact. Koenig cites the example of one the busiest church food kitchen in New York, in which each volunteer is expected to find ways to encourage eye contact and genuine conversation.
  • This is setting tables, serving food, eating in patterns and places that speak of God’s abundance and creativity.
  • This is encouraging role reversals by finding ways for all, helper and hungry, to contribute through a diversity of gifts.
  • This is committing to a long-term, intentional project, a willingness to eat together a lot, because in that eating good things will happen.

Give us this day our daily bread. An invitation to take action for food, to be different around tables, among strangers, with justice, generosity and humanity. Such is a just theology of food in the Kingdom of God.

And for those who want the answers to the quiz … (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:03 PM

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Give us this day our daily bread: a just theology of food? part 2

Last week I began to sketch a just theology of food. I offered a short quiz:

  1. True or false: Wealthy suburbs are more likely to have fast-food outlets than poor ones.
  2. True or false: Healthy food is more expensive than fast food.
  3. True or false: 77% of Australians eat together as a family five times a week
  4. True or false: In Australia, more women are head chefs that men
  5. True or false: On a daily basis, women spend more than twice as long as men on food preparation and clean up.
  6. True or false: The biggest global killer is a disease called New World syndrome

(Answers, for those interested are at the bottom of this post).

My contention is this – that when Christians pray Give us this day our daily bread, we must pay attention to think about who cooks, who cleans, who eats what, and with who.

In the class I offered two resources. First, a story from Rebecca Huntley’s (Eating Between the Lines, of a community centre in Melbourne, which holds lunches that aim to bring postwar migrants together with newly arrived refugees. They share food, swap recipes and pass on tips about where to find spices. They also share stories, experiences of the joy and dislocation of migration. So simple – eating together.

The second is the book by John Koenig, Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation I keep mentioning this book, simply because people whom I mention it to keep coming back telling me how helpful it has been in their growth in mission. Koenig argues that

“we have seriously undervalued our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission … to realize this potential, we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, must have our eyes opened by the transforming presence of Christ at our tables.”

He provides a checklist on what it means for meals to become mission:

  • This is serving graciously with human contact. Koenig cites the example of one the busiest church food kitchen in New York, in which each volunteer is expected to find ways to encourage eye contact and genuine conversation.
  • This is setting tables, serving food, eating in patterns and places that speak of God’s abundance and creativity.
  • This is encouraging role reversals by finding ways for all, helper and hungry, to contribute through a diversity of gifts.
  • This is committing to a long-term, intentional project, a willingness to eat together a lot, because in that eating good things will happen.

Give us this day our daily bread is an invitation for all those who pray that prayer to consider what and how they eat. And it opens to door to a whole new way of being in mission – around tables, among strangers, with justice, generosity and humanity. Such is a just theology of food in the Kingdom of God.

(more…)

Posted by steve at 11:23 AM

Friday, March 25, 2011

Give us this day our daily bread: a just theology of food?

(Click here for the food and equality quiz)

Last night the Reading cultures/Sociology for ministry class I teach talked about food. And the fact that, to quote Rebecca Huntley, “food is rich in meaning … eating habits can be a useful means of describing social distinctions.” (Eating Between the Lines, page 175). In other words, the very ordinary things of what we eat and what we cook – reflect “the various strains of inequality in Australia – between men and women, rich and poor, host and migrant, indigenous and non-indigenous, country and city.” (Eating Between the Lines, page 175-6)

We started with a quiz, some statements about food and eating habits in Australia, drawn from her book, Eating Between the Lines.

What’s this got to do with being Christian? Well it this a faith that in the Eucharist, places the eating of bread and wine at the centre of life. And a faith that prays “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Not “my” daily bread, but “our” daily bread.

In other words, it should want to act when being on a low income makes it harder to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”; when being time poor makes it hard to pray “Give us this day our daily bread – healthily”; when living in remote indigenous communities makes it almost impossible to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”

In my next post I’ll post the research data that lies behind the quiz and point to the resources we then discussed in class. In the meantime, take the food and equality quiz (click here for the food and equality quiz)

Posted by steve at 10:09 AM

Monday, July 19, 2010

asylum seeker facts

  • The vast majority of people seeking asylum in Australia arrive by plane.
  • 95% of asylum seekers arriving by boat are found to be genuine refugees.
  • Just 3441 asylum seekers were given refugee status in Australia last year, roughly 1% of the total migration program for that year.
  • In comparison, around 50,000 people over-stayed their visa last year alone – mostly people with business, student or holiday visas.
  • Australia only accepts 1% of the worlds’ refugees.
  • At the current rate of refugee arrivals, it would take 20 years to fill the MCG.
  • It is not illegal to arrive in Australia seeking asylum.

From here.

  • Ruth, part of genealogy of Jesus, was a refugee.
  • Moses was seeking asylum when he fled Egypt.
  • So was Jesus when his parents fled from Herod’s military might.

From here

Sorry, I’m sure this issue is more complex than such simple sound bites.

Posted by steve at 06:03 PM

Thursday, July 08, 2010

gillard’s asylum seeker speech on wordle

Further to my post yesterday, I thought it would be interesting to place Julie Gillard’s speech announcing Labor’s new asylum-seeker policy in Wordle.

Yep, click on it and the word Timor is there! And “values” is smaller than “facts.”

Full text of the speech is here.

Posted by steve at 11:20 PM