Thursday, January 23, 2014
Jesus and popular culture
“the afterlife of the Bible has been infinitely more influential, in every way – theologically, politically, culturally, and aesthetically – than its ancient near-eastern prehistory.” (John Sawyer, 2004, 11)
I spent yesterday at Flinders, teaching in the Bible and popular culture course. The topic was Jesus and popular culture. Dan W. Clanton Jr., in The Bible in/and Popular Culture: A Creative Encounter explores the place of Jesus in American popular culture and argues that thinking about Jesus is thus not confined to the church. Anyone can seek to express Jesus and in so doing, can invite discussion about how accurate, helpful and ethical is their portrayal.
So I explored Jesus and popular culture under 5 headings, using some of the following examples.
1 – Jesus then: in original context – in films like Jesus of Nazareth and Passion of Christ
2 – Jesus now: Christ figures – in places like Narnia Chronicles or Jesus of Montreal or Harry Potter. This draws in particular on Baugh, Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film.
3 – Jesus now: context - in which Jesus is placed in site specific contexts, like Manchester Passion or Baxter’s poem, The Maori Jesus.
4 – Jesus Elsewhere – in which Jesus is placed imaginatively in new world, like Deborah Bird Rose’s hearing of Ned Kelly being a Christ figure in some indigenous dream stories, or a comic series like Loaded, Jesus and Vampire gospels.
The term “elsewhere comes from DC Comic creator “heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places – some that have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow” (DC Comics Elseworlds)
5 – Jesus sarcastically - for example in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, in which with quite some irreverence, Jesus is explored.
It is always a lot of work to bring a lecture together for the first time, but an enjoyable and rich experience.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
the ethics of education and ministry formation
Currently I’m team teaching a summer school topic (Bible and Culture) at Flinders University. It’s the first time in years that we as Adelaide College of Divinity/Uniting College have been able to teach actually on campus at Flinders. It’s a new topic and it’s been great to see Flinders get excited and in behind it.
Of the 17 students enrolled, at least 13 are non-Theology students. Which makes for a very different teaching experience. I’ve heard comments like “Who is Jacob?” when explore the live performances of Bullet the Blue Sky. Or “Did Jesus, if he lived, have long hair? Cos all the pictures say he has.”
In other words, presume nothing.
Yesterday, in preparing for class, I was reading Mieke Bal and her introduction in Anti-Covenant: Counter-Reading Women’s Lives in the Hebrew Bible (Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies). She begins by noting the place of the Bible in Western culture. “The Bible, as at least partially a religious document, has been formative of Western culture. The culture as it is today carries the Bible with it, as it carries the rest of its founding texts” (page 11). In other words, everyone can be involved in this interpretation of Biblical texts.
Her phrase “founding texts” has stayed with me. Being plural, it suggests other “founding texts.” Obviously other religions have other founding texts – Koran, First Testament – being examples. Thinking about Western culture, it seems to me that nations have “founding texts” not necessarily explicit or cogent, but surely celebrated in events like Australia Day, Anzac Day, Remembrance Day. Equally Western individualism and consumerism are again “founding texts” for our culture.
Bal then argues that the “text is one thing … its meaning is quite a different matter. Meaning … is a property of the act of reading.” (12-13) This then, can be applied to all texts, including all founding texts. So this brings into focus the role of the reader and the audience, who create meanings based on their prior experiences, values and attitudes. (Yes these are shaped by the founding texts, but they still exist separately, individually from the actual texts). She suggests that meaning is dynamic, a process, expressed in the phrase “moments of meaning”, present in both the text as a provider of meaning and the reader reading.
Further, Bal notes that rather than fall into a subjective, all readings are equal, or a imperialist, my reading is better, there still remains ways to question, and critique, ours and others meanings (“readings, without positivistic claims to truth.” (16)). She calls this the “ethical responsibility” of reading, that we need to reflect on how we read, the meanings we create, and their impact on ourselves, others, the earth. Specifically, she refers to the methods we use to read, and the nature of our discourse. Thus “every scholar of texts is a reader in the first place. Acknowledging that status, and accounting for the underlying guiding conventions, is a primary ethical responsibility for all scholars.” (15)
What these ethics might be remains open to question, but for Bal, this need for ethical responsibility keeps alive scholarship and justice.
Finally, Bal suggests that this need for “ethical responsibility” is especially important in relation to founding texts. In other words preaching the Bible. Or how Australia Day is named and practised.
Which helps me make sense of Bible and culture, and, more big picture, the task of education and ministry formation. It is about helping people to read their founding stories ethically. To develop the ability to think about how they use the Bible and it’s impact on others. To consider the discourse we create as we tell the narratives of an Anzac Day or Australia Day. To ponder the effect of individualism on people and planet.
This applies equally to those who use the Bible or who read a pop cultural text. It allows a wide range of people to sit in a class together, becoming more respectful of how to read, methods for reading, the discourse generated.
Such are my ponderings as I taught today, as we explored how U2′s live performance of Bullet the Blue Sky in Chicago was a reading of some founding stories – Jonny comes Marching home today, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Bible’s expression of desolation and lament.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
hi ho (to watch Lost and Banksy and U2)
It’s my first day back at work today.
And I get to spend it at Flinders, talking about movies, street art and concerts – more specifically Lost, Banksy and U2. It is part of an innovation, in which we are using the (new) Summer School window at Flinders, to offer courses on campus that might be of wider public interest.
So we quietly worked away last year, putting a new topic – Bible and Culture – through academic processes at Flinders.
It seems to have worked, of the enrolments, 12 are non-Theology students, which means a wider public engagement (and a much more diverse and interesting class-room).
So today I spend the morning teaching, talking about the “and culture” part of a topic called Bible and culture. I’ll chat about how I became a film reviewer and the tools I use to do that year after year, from a theology slant. We’ll look at the rise of popular culture and ways to understand the ongoing presence of Christianity in culture.
All while watching Lost and looking at Bansky and considering Bono’s hand gestures!
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
working with the New Zealand Presbyterians
Sitting on an outdoor bench at the bach/shack yesterday, it was lovely to be interviewed by Angela Singer from the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand communications department.
Angela wanted to chat, following up an invitation to me to be the key note speaker at the next General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. The Assembly happens every two years, for five days, from October 3rd to 7th 2014. I’ve been asked to offer three key note sessions, engaging with the theme of Inspiring Mission.
So we talked – about why me, about what I might say, about my knowledge of the Presbyterian church in New Zealand and about whether a new initiative, a move to table group format, would help or hinder my communication style.
I’ve also said yes to being part of Offspring. This will another new thing for the Assembly. It will involve a stream, open to anyone in the church, offering resourcing in mission. It is planned to run alongside the business sessions on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. (What a choice – business or mission resourcing?) It will have a similar format to what I was part of in October earlier this year, with a theme of story telling – learning from local stories about mission and innovation.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Friday, October 25, 2013
The e-learning version of a Jesus call story (Luke 5:1-11)
Some recent writing I’m still quite pleased with …
I want to begin by contemporising Luke 5:1-11. While somewhat playful, I intend to make a more serious point as my argument unfolds.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret the people were crowding around him … checking their facebook status and live tweeting updates as they were … listening to the Word of God.
[Jesus] got into one of the boats … Then he sat down and taught the people … by handing the disciples a Kindle, on which had been loaded core theology texts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and latest translations of the First Testament ….
Then Jesus said to Simon, Come follow me and … so he gave the disciples their moodle login and automated password. Upon login, they clicked on My courses and discovered they had been enrolled in a core topic – Discipleship. It came complete with course outlines for the next three years and powerpoints of the Sermon on the Mount. Assessment involved the completion of weekly forums, involving contemporary doing theology case studies. One involved a written response to a question asked by a rich young ruler, another an exercise in going ahead of Jesus looking for a donkey.
Plus, a bonus, a set of MP3’s. Titled Parables, they allowed students to be updated on Jesus latest adventures in storytelling.
Jesus had toyed with the idea of offering a MOOCS – Massive Open Online Course. Instead of a focus on the disciples, he had toyed with marketing his Discipleship course to the crowds, aiming for open access and large-scale interactive participation.
Sadly his treasurer had resisted, pointing out that it was better to give to poor than to fund the video lecture style pedagogy and a graphic novel, which, it was argued, would increase student retention of texts from the Apocraphya.
This was an introduction to my paper – Embodiment and Transformation in the context of e-learning – at the recent Teaching and Learning: Theology: The Way Ahead conference in Sydney. While at first glance my e-learning version of a Lukan “call story” might suggest the importance of face to face modes of discipleship, my intention was subversive. By placing the Incarnation as central, it applied me to argue that transforming theology can involve e-learning and online technologies. In other words, an attempt to be theological about transforming theology.
Monday, September 30, 2013
a significant national encouragement
I spend Friday in Sydney, at the inaugural Learning and Teaching Theology: The Way Ahead conference. Hosted by Sydney College of Divinity, it is a follow up to the recently completed Transforming Theology project, which tested the claims of Australian theological colleges that they provided a transformative learning experience.
It attracted about 80 people, from theological colleges all around Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia. It was great to be at a conference discussing not what we teach, but how we teach, and thus to find common ground across disciplines. I was there to give a paper – Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning. I had also been invited to be on a plenary panel of four, on the place of integration in theological education. I was also to be, quite unexpectedly, encouraged.
The opening address was by Dr Les Ball. His book Transforming Theology (Mosaic Resources, 2012) documents the recent research into the Australian theology sector. His conclusion is that the claims, by theological colleges, of offering transformation in education, were much ahead of the reality, based on student experience and analysis of curriculum. Despite all the social changes of the last 35 years, theological colleges remain remarkably uniform and remarkably unchanged.
During question time, he was asked if he had come across any signs of hope. He gave two examples. A new topic introduced at ACU called Community Engagement, in which all students have to participate in a community project.
And us! From Adelaide! The new Bmin at ACD taught by Uniting College. In Ball’s book, Transforming Theology, we get three mentions
- Our philosophy of practical ministry preparation and engagement. “The teaching faculty have been strategically appointed to promote such a commitment.” (page 104)
- The use of personal preliminary interviews. “This is not a case of granting credit for prior learning and thus shortening the course, but rather it is a matter of course planning to connect with actual experience, either past or projected.” (I wonder if he’s talking about our candidate Formation panel processes and our Bmin practice stream), (page 110)
- the way we have altered radically our disciplines to reflect our developmental educational philosophy, in contrast to traditional departments of OT, NT, Theology, Church history … “a complete rethinking of the nature, the structure and the progression of content, skills, and formative elements, to facilitate a development in students.” (page 146-7)
It was a very encouraging moment, to hear our degree being affirmed, publicly, in front of 80 people from theological colleges around Australia. At the same time, it gave pause for ongoing reflection on where we, as Faculty, put our energies and focus.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
a very rich speaking event
Last night was one of the most rich speaking engagements I’ve ever been part of. Last year I spoke to the Churches of Christ ministers at their annual Magarey lecture. I focused on the importance of our sense in the mission of God. A number of those present wanted to continue the conversation and the result was an invite to last night – to be part of Conversations at the table. But as a feast rather than a talkfest!
I arrived to find a four course dinner, lights dimmed, candles lit, flowers laid out around tables. It was extraordinary.
Between each course I engaged a Scriptural text and explored four themes – companions, manners, words and communion. I wanted to provide examples of how to do church around tables, not to try and be fresh or relevant or cool. Rather in response to Jesus, who did so much of his ministry in conversation at tables.
Course 1 – Companions
I began my inviting them to plan a special meal for 4-6 people. Who would you invite? Where would you have it? What would you eat? What would you celebrate?
I then read the Parable of the Great Banquet, in Luke 14:15-23 and asked if anyone had stories of times when you’ve invited “poor, crippled, blind, lame.” This opened up some great conversation, about how we’re changed by the simple acts of inviting the strangers to eat.
I introduced them to John Koenig and his research into churches and food.
“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.”
And the four hospitality practices he offers.
- Practice: serving graciously by finding ways to encourage eye contact and genuine conversation.
- Practice: setting tables in ways and places that reflect God’s abundance and creativity.
- Practice: seek role reversals by finding ways for all to contribute (a diversity of gifts, each has its corresponding service.)
- Practice: committing to a long-term, intentional project.
Course 2 – manners
I asked if Christians should eat differently and suggested a number of practices that might mark Kingdom manners. This included placing on the table all the cans (cleaned) used to make the meal we were enjoying and inviting folk to talk about the labels, what we know of the prayer needs of that country and pray for those people. Intercession!
Course 3 – words
I used the movie The Kings Speech, to ask what it means for us to find voice, to share our story as part of conversations. It was spliced with a number of video and art explorations of woman at the Well in John 4 – her sharing her story uniquely.
Course 4 – communion
We finished with communion. It allowed us to draw the evening together – to “Do this in memory of” the table fellowship of Jesus, the manners of the Kingdom, the words.
I finished with one final conversation around table, the Emmaus story in Luke 24, to remind us that the cup is the cup of the new covenant, in which Jesus continues to be recognised around tables; not just in the past, but into the future.
Why such a rich night? The multiple senses – food, lighting, environment, conversation, cans, wrapped around justice, mission and hospitality – made for an evening that was rich, yet inputting. The people at tables were from diverse churches, making it a time of relational growing. Mission was made as simple as eating, as challenging as Jesus radical Kingdom manners.
A night I will remember for a long time.
And I’d love to do this with other groups – an evening of mission as conversation at tables.
Friday, August 23, 2013
doing theology: teaching theology by induction
I’m teaching an introduction to Christian theology topic this Semester.
I began with a two questions and a proposal. First question, does anyone here not have access to a computer? All did. Second question, does anyone here not have access to a printer? All did. Which led to the proposal. I will put all the lecture notes and class readings online. And when we meet, rather then talk theology ie me lecture you, we will do theology ie I will guide you, through the readings and my doing theology together.
We were all a bit apprehensive about this new approach, since the dominant model of education involves an expert imparting knowledge. But I was keen to explore a learning by doing, induction process, which better equipped them for the complexity of life beyond the classroom.
To help guide them, I have outlined to them the following process, which they used to get them going.
- My (current) theological question is …
- I’m curious about this because ….
- The theological frame I’m going to us is (in week one I suggested three examples Wesleyan quadrilateral, Miroslav Volf’s three questions, indigenous storytelling approach) …
- My conversation partners will need to include ….
- The values I have used to chose them include (from week three) ….
- I’d like to express my findings by (in week two we noted blogs, film, story, liturgy, writing) …
So far, after four weeks, we are all greatly energised. They have come up with excellent theological questions – none that we would have discussed in a normal syllabus, yet all touching key theological themes. They loved the conversation partner idea. The process really energised the library visit I then organised, when they got shown how to use databases to find conversation partners. Some were heading back to the library after class to search further.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Conversations at the table
I’m part of this event – Conversations at the table – August 24, 25.
Evangelism – what if everyone was sitting around the same table?
Hosted at The Village Well (Aldgate Church of Christ)
A partnership between Blackwood and Aldgate Churches of Christ, we’ve invited Mick Duncan and Steve Taylor to lead the conversation over 2 days reframing our understanding of what evangelism is and means for us as Christians in suburban Adelaide.
Hosted by Anthony Risson (Minister Aldgate Church of Christ and Mark Riessen (Coordinator of Mission & Community Engagement Churches of Christ SA/NT). Other conversation partners include Mark Butler (RAAF chaplain), Jeff May hospital (chaplain), Joanna Hubbard (MarionLife), Leigh Cunningham (MFS firefighter).
For more see here.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
defining church, community, theology, formation and College
Just an advertisement for a car company. And yet –
if a picture says a 1,000 words, then this is a powerful visual question –
what type of church, community, theology, formation and College do we want to be part of?
And if so, how then should we act, what should we practice, what should we affirm?
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Living libraries: Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning (Conference paper abstract)
A few hours in the air between Adelaide and Sydney gave me time to put together a potential paper for the Learning and Teaching Theology Conference: The Way Ahead. It is being held in Sydney, September 27th- 28th, 2013. It looks a really worthwhile attempt to keep theological colleges thinking about theological education. Since I’ve been involved in a review of distance education here at Uniting College, which has caused me to think theologically about distance education, I scratched together the following abstract.
Living libraries: Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning
This paper, in considering the way ahead for Australian theological education, will apply the theological motif of transformation to the task of e-learning, using the notion of “living libraries” as a conceptual bridging strategy.
Recent research by the Transforming Theology project cited the Adelaide College of Divinity (ACD) Bachelor of Ministry as an example of good practice in curriculum design for transformative learning. “The innovative Bachelor of Ministry of Adelaide College of Divinity quite intentionally included a number of such independent and supervised Guided Studies in the final year … In these units an attempt is made to model the process of transformative integration.”
This paper will use a practical theology methodology. It will begin with a case study from recent ACD activity, the participation through video conferencing of a New Zealand church leader in a supervised Guided study “Church Re-think” class.
This moment will be brought into conversation with “living libraries,” an approach to learning that began in Denmark in 2000. Rather than produce a written resource, a youth movement provided people to libraries who had experienced violence. Rather than borrow a book, the community could book a person, and through conversation explore the perspective of another. An independent audit has recorded benefits including new learning and improved levels of community cohesion and engagement.
Returning to the case study, the potential of “living libraries” for new learning in theological education will be analysed under headings of context, lecturer and learner.
This will allow a three fold argument. First, that “living libraries” provide a fruitful way to understand selected pedagogical factors in transformation. Second that “living libraries” provide a way to foreground theologies of embodiment. Third that “living libraries” provide a way bring an explicit theology to bear in regard to pedagogy and digital technologies.
Rev Dr Steve Taylor
Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology
Saturday, June 15, 2013
I’m sure there are connections between this –
Many violinists and violinmakers insist that violins grow into their beautiful throaty sounds, and that a violin played exquisitely for a long time eventually contains the exquisite sounds within itself … In down-to-earth terms: Certain vibrations made over and over for years, along with all the normal processes of aging, could make microscopic changes in the wood; we perceive those cellular changes as enriched tone. In poetic terms: The wood remembers. Thus, part of a master violinist’s duties is to educate a violin for future generations. (Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses, 204)
- and the task of discipling and forming leaders.
Isn’t mentoring “part of a master [mentors] duties is to educate a [?] for future generations”? Can’t teaching theology be “part of a master [theologians] duties is to educate a [?] for future generations?
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
beaming in the bishop: technology and formation
Technology is amazing. So are creative minds who explore ways to connect technology to formation of leaders.
On Friday, Anglican Bishop, Justin Duckworth (I’ve blogged about his appointment here), came to Uniting College. Not physically, but via video conferencing. He sat with a group of post-graduate students, mainly church ministers in our Master of Ministry – Missional Leadership cohort. Again, not physically, but via video conferencing, because these leaders are spread all over Australia.
They share a passion for mission, within their established church structures. To help facilitate their growth, a group of them are doing a combined learning exercise, called Church Re-think. Spread all over Australia, they gather together regularly, again using video conferencing to share resources.
Books are one resource they share, reading in community, gleaning wisdom for the missional journey.
People are also a resource (see my reflections on the place of living libraries in leadership and ministerial formation here and here). In the case of Bishop Justin, he’s a leader with many years experience of mission on the edge of the church, with that charism now invited into the structures of the church.
Who better to resource a group of ministers thinking about mission inside and outside their own structures?
But he is busy and Adelaide to Wellington is a day of travel.
Enter technology, in which the bishop is beamed in, digitally, to resource a group of leaders, who are also gathered digitally. Together, for a few hours, they wrestle with leadership and mission today. All organised and facilitated by the creative mind of Dr Rosemary Dewerse, Post-graduate Co-ordinator at Uniting College.