Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trinity worship, breath prayers and researching Lonergan

I led chapel today and had the sense that it worked brilliantly, offering a space that for many, provided a deep sense of connection with God. It connected with a range of senses, including seeing (contemplating the icon), touching (choosing a symbol of vocation), hearing (each others breathing), tasting (the communion elements). Let me explain.

After referencing Pentecost Sunday and inviting a call to worship, I introduced the icon, “Holy Theologian Bernard Lonergan in the Mystery of the Eternal Processions of the Most Blessed Trinity,” painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols.

Lonergan Icon

I gave folk a few minutes in silence to consider it.

I then offered some explanation. I introduced a quote from Fred Crowe’s biography of Lonergan.

. . . in the welter of words that with other theologians it was his vocation to utter, Lonergan never lost [the insight] that theology can be done, must be done, that when it is done, we are confronted with mystery and bow our heads in adoration. Fred Crowe

I noted that I have been reading Bernard Lonergan as part of my missiology research in recent weeks. I described how research involves lots of reading and how as part of my research, I had discovered the icon. Which I have pinned to my desk. And how it then provided another dimension to my research, inviting prayer along with my reading.

I noted a few features of the icon. It references a painting by Lawren Harris, with Canadian landscape in the background. The light around the pine trees expresses a sense of God’s encounter with Lonergan’s vocation.

On the floor of the chapel I had placed books, pens, pads, name tag holders, white board markers, Bibles. I noted how in the icon, Lonergan was bent down in front of a book, a symbol of his vocation. I invited folk to pick up something from the floor that expressed their current vocation – as student, as lecturer, as administrator. Once collected, I invited folk to return to their seat and lay it down at their feet, much like Lonergan had. I then invited us, as Lonergan was, to look up, expectantly, attentively.

Suddenly each of us were engaging with the icon not just as something visual that we were looking at, but as something we were physically participating with. Our bodies were becoming more deeply connected.

I noted how in the icon, the Spirit spoke as Lonergan looked up. So what one word might the Spirit be wanting to speak to us, as we looked up from our vocations? Which meant that we all as a group had now moved into a time of lectio divina. We had move from sermon to prayer, from explanation to worship.

I maintained this space by introducing a series of breath prayers. We breathed in strength, freedom, hope and love; and breathed out exhaustion, self-doubt, distrust and hate. That sense of looking up, expectantly, attentively, was maintained through the in and out of our breathing. There was by now a palpable sense of God in the air as together, looking up from our individual and diverse vocations, we continued to connect with God.

A seque into communion then occurred, by inviting folk to place their symbol on the communion table. Our vocations were recentered by bread and wine. We continued to breath together as we encountered grace in the sacraments.

There were many people expressing thanks at the end, for the richness and depth, for the dignity given to the practice of theology, for the space to breathe in God. In just over 20 minutes, we had worshipped, prayed, participated in the sacraments, in a way that connected our ordinary and everyday vocations with Divine presence.

Posted by steve at 11:31 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Divine tracker: a reflection on Psalm 23

On Sunday I attended church at Port Augusta Congress. It was the conclusion of Walking on Country and it was good to end in worship with indigenous sisters and borthers. At the start of the service, the congregation was informed that I would be preaching. This was news to me, but I had been part of a discussion of the Lectionary text on the 4 hour drive from the Gammon Ranges (Adnyamathanha country) to Port Augusta, so I had been doing some processing.

What I wanted to do was
- expose the cultural lens we bring to Scripture (New Zealand sheep stories)
- name what we had heard as part of Walking on Country (the pastoralists)
- make sure that indigenous cultures had the “last word” (the story of Great Uncle Alf and the link to God the tracker)

Here is (my recollection) of what I said.

Today our Bible reading is Psalm 23:1 – “The Lord is my shepherd”.

At the start of the week, I heard these words from Scripture as a New Zealander. I come from a country with 40 million sheep and 4 million people. The shepherd stands behind the sheep. The shepherd has dogs, that bark and chase the sheep. So “The Lord is my shepherd” has a certain meaning. A God who chases me, with dogs.

On Friday and Saturday, I heard these words differently. As I visited the Northern Flinders, I heard of the arrival from overseas of pastoralists. They were shepherds. They fenced off the land. They stopped indigenous people from walking across their land. They hoarded the water holes. At times they poisoned them, to ensure water went to their sheep, not the indigenous inhabitants of the land that had been taken. On Friday and Saturday, I became ashamed to consider how these acts of shepherding might be linked to the Lord as shepherd.

On Sunday, as I was driving with Aunty Denise down to be with you here this morning, she told a story. It was about her Great Uncle Alf. He left his country here in the Flinders Ranges and settled down at Penola. He was a very skilled tracker. So skilled, he was employed by the Police to find lost people. When children got lost, it was Great Uncle Alf who time and again found them. Great Uncle Alf was so skilled, so valued, that after he died, the Police honoured him with a ceremony.

Great Uncle Alf, the tracker of lost children, gives me another way to understand “The Lord is my shepherd.” At times I am lost. I am cut off from God and far from my community. So I need God to track me. To do what seems difficult, near impossible, and find me.

So as we now move to communion, I invite us to consider together what it means to be found by God. “The Lord is my shepherd”; God is my tracker.

Posted by steve at 07:01 PM

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Place-based theology

On Friday I sat listening to a PhD thesis being read. I was outdoors. The sky was cloudless and I was 8 hours drive away from the Uniting College classrooms at 34 Lipsett Terrace.

outdoors I was part of Walking on Country, an experience we offer at Uniting College, in order to ensure our candidates have an immersion experience in indigenous cultures.

But this year we worked to ensure the experience could also double as Towards Reconciliation, a unit in the Bachelors programmes we offer (as part of either the Flinders Bachelor of Theology or Adelaide College of Divinity Bachelor of Ministry). Hence a PhD thesis being read in the outdoors, under blue sky, rather than in the classroom, seated around desks and screens.

The research we were hearing was work done by Tracey Spencer on the history of Christian mission in South Australia. It is brilliant work – exhaustive, incisive and original in offering a post-colonial perspective on mission today. I’ve used it in my own work on indigenous communion practices (in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions)). And it was being engaged at the exact spot were the mission was enacted. .

It struck me as an example of place-based education. The term developed in the 1990′s and is used to describe learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place.

Place-based is not context-based. Context based seeks to learn within a student’s existing work context. The focus is delivery in situ, which is meant to enhance application and integration. Place-based affirms the local, not the local of the learner, but the local around particular place.

Walking on country from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Place-based theology meant that over the four days we visited place after place. We heard the stories. We walked the land in which the actions had happened. We discussed. We imagined we were one of the people we were hearing about, and then considered the implications for Gospel and culture, for tradition and innovation. Surrounded by reading and assessment, by being place-based, a very different education experience emerged.

As I drove home, I wonder what else in Christian theology could be place based?

Posted by steve at 10:25 PM

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Trinity as two processions in mission: a post-colonial proposal for evaluating ecclesial life

A precis of some reading, thinking, writing and chatting (with anyone I think might even be vaguely interested in listening).

How to evaluate the mission life of a church? Popular measures include numerical, economic (can we afford a minister and building) and romantic (the good old days). This paper will explore the measures that emerge when the Trinity is understood as one God, three Persons and two processions in mission. It will seek to develop the work of Bernard Lonergan, in conversation with Neil Ormerod. It will analyse their understandings, including paying particular attention to the understandings of Spirit and mission embedded in the Uniting Church Preamble. This provides a post-colonial voice in the development of a proposal for a post-colonial missional ecclesiology. Four markers will be identified and tested on a case study: the author’s empirical research into fresh expressions of the church ten years on.

Which I get to present, Monday, 4 May, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology Research hour, 4-5 pm.

Posted by steve at 10:45 AM

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tweeting Charles Taylor missionally: discussion questions

This semester, I’m Reading Charles Taylor missionally. Taylor’s work has been called “the most the academic event of the decade.” (here). He’s one of the most insightful cultural thinkers of our time and so I’ve offered a learning party – a invitation to read Taylor in community and to consider what it thus means to speak of church, mission and faith in a secular age?

On Wednesday, we focus on Taylor’s, The Ethics of Authenticity.

I chose to start here first because it’s short. At 120 pages, it is a much more achievable place to start than the 900 pages of Taylor’s, A Secular Age. Second, he was challenged to express himself as clearly as he could, so that makes The Ethics of Authenticity a good place to start.

Today I emailed the class with some preparation: my (current) list of questions I’ll be using to start discussion.

  1. Can you think of a story from your experience that illustrates one of the three malaises of society described by Taylor in chapter 1.
  2. Can you each please bring one quote (printed on a separate sheet of paper) that you really liked.
  3. “Each of us has an original way of being human.” (page 28; page 61).  Discuss.
  4. What is one question from the book you would most like to ask the group to explain to you.
  5. I have a friend who last year had a go at tweeting (160 characters max), a summary of every book of the Bible. It was a great exercise in summarising. So together, we will work on Wednesday on a twitter summary (160 characters) of each chapter.  So bring a draft prepared.  I hope we’ll actually enjoy this enough that we’ll decide we’ll actually tweet them.

I do hope that this last question will not only be fun, but will also develop student skills in summary. And it might well yield some terrific tweets on my twitter feed come Wednesday!

Posted by steve at 09:58 PM

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Reading Charles Taylor missionally: learning party

What does it mean to speak of church, mission and faith in a secular age?

I am offering a reading group to engage theologically and missionally with Charles Taylor, one of the most insightful cultural thinkers of our time. We will focus on four key books

The aim will be to absorb, to reflect and to consider the implications for mission and ministry.

Wednesdays, 5.15 – 6.45pm, fortnightly from Wednesday 4 March at Uniting College. Seven sessions, finishing June 10. For information, please comment or email steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu do au.

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM

Saturday, February 07, 2015

missional practices

“The missional theologian and the practical theologian must work together to make sure congregations … are prepared to address and engage their post-Christendom setting. A missional theological conception of Christian practices offers a new paradigm for understanding the church’s ministry in the world since the old role of chaplain to society is no longer viable or defensible. Through missional Christian practices all members of the congregation take up their place of responsibility, as those strategically placed and adequately equipped to witness to the reign of God. Through participation in Christian practices that are formative and performative, congregations can practice their faith and practice witness.” (Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices)

I came across this quote in preparing this week for next week’s Mission and Community Service/Diaconal intensive. Rather than do the teaching myself, I have pulled together five case studies from five very diverse contexts in which Christians exercise community service. They are

  • the complexity of interface between church and agency (Peter McDonald case study 1)
  • agency as a place of service (Peter McDonald case study 2)
  • powerful question as a practice of community ministry (Joanna Hubbard case study)
  • ministry as chaplain in Mainstreet communities (Bruce Grindlay case study)
  • the processes as community ministry engages with agency (Ian Bedford case study)

It promises to be a real feast, a lovely mix of practitioners and reflection. Two of the participants bring Doctoral study of their areas to the conversation, all four bring years of practical ministry immersion.

My role will be to work with participants to do ongoing reflection, exploring the questions raised for them by the case studies. To better resource that reflection, I’ve been doing some literature searching, exploring writing in this space. (I’ve found some real gems, including Connor’s Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices, but also Rosemary Keller’s, Spirituality and Social Responsibility: Vocational Vision of Women in the United Methodist Tradition) and Gary Gunderson, Boundary Leaders).

I highlight the quote by Benjamin Connor for a number of reasons.

First, because it makes sense of our Faculty at Uniting College, and the emphasis we have put in recruitment on expertise in missiology and practical theology with a congregational and “practice” focus. So it is comforting to have that affirmed.

Second, it chimes with a 50 minute research presentation I did last week, in which I explored theology “face to face” in order to analyse ecclesial innovation. I ended up using the notion of performance, which attracted lengthy discussion from those present.  Had I considered the downsides of performance? I suspect that had I used missional Christian practices that are “formative and performative” it would have been helpful for us all.

Third, it provides a theoretical framework for the work we did at Opawa Baptist when I was Minister there, in which we clarified seven missional practices,  initially for Lent, but in an ongoing way for those exploring membership. In other words, joining Opawa was about the practice of mission.  We worked to frame these practices missionally, which chimes with what Connor is arguing – that Christian practices can’t involve the simple use of what we practised before. Rather, in a new context, a missional context, they will need reworking in light of the missio Dei.

Posted by steve at 11:36 AM

Sunday, November 09, 2014

teaching the “flipped” open table of Jesus

My Semester 2, Jesus Christ topic, came to an end this week.  It ended as it began, with food. Every week for 13 weeks, soup has been offered. For two of the classes, the entire lesson was done around food.  One week, as we talked about the open table of Jesus and the final week, as we reflected on our experiences together. In doing so, a very different dynamic has emerged among us. We have become community, shared being human, laughed, shared soup recipes.

christologyclass

The dynamic around soup had reinforced another change in class – a change in teaching methodology. I introduced flipped learning. Class readings and lecture notes were placed online and students were invited (expected) to come to class prepared to engage in activities together.

In order to encourage this, I provided two learning moments. First, a discussion around what type of individual behaviours would enhance our class learning as a group? This generated an informal set of expectations among us. Second, an introduction to how people learn. I offered Bloom’s taxonomy and suggested that the traditional lecture tended to keep class time focused on knowledge and comprehension (bottom half of the circle). However if reading was done prior, this would mean our class time together could be used to focus on analysis, synthesis and evaluation (top half of the circle). In order to help this, every class offered a choice of activities. Students could choose to check their comprehension, or to work with classmates in an activity of their choosing – analysis, synthesis or evaluation.

bloomstaxonomy

The result has been a vastly different learning environment. The class has been pushed in new ways and I’ve learnt a lot as a teacher.

To help us process the semester as we gathered the final time, I suggested reflection around three colours. Green, a moment of growth that had occurred in the class. Red, an emotion we wanted to express. White, any thing else we wanted to share.

It had been an extraordinary class. Alongside the flipped learning, we’ve also had to process tragedy. During the semester, a student in the class unexpectedly died. Healthy one week, fully participating, fully engaged. Then during the week, they suffered an out of the blue heart attack. 

So the class has had to process this sudden gap. In some ways the soup and flipped learning have made the gap larger. We’d become more human, known each other in ways more vulnerable and real. Twenty heads facing a talking head lecturer would not have formed these levels of community. Equally, have formed community, we experienced greater pain. But because we were a community, we drew strength from each other, found a group ready to listen and pray.

Such is the “flipped” and open table of Jesus. More engaged. Perhaps even more painful. Yet more vulnerable, more supportive, more human, more prayerful.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Thursday, October 30, 2014

the power of the Preamble

In recent years, the Uniting Church in Australia has added a ‘Preamble’ to its Constitution. Emerging from discussion with indigenous folk (UAICC -Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress) it provides an account of the role of the church in Australian (settlement/invasion) and makes some declarations of the Indigenous experience of God.

For instance, here is paragraph 3:

“The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.”

Yesterday our Christology class had the second in our indigenous women’s Christology series. We had the privilege of hearing Eseta Meneilly, a Uniting Church minister from Victoria, share how she connects Christ and her culture (Fijian).

She began her lecture by noting the power of the Preamble. How when she read the Preamble, she began to wonder. If the First Peoples of this Australian land had already encountered God, then did the same apply to her Fijian people’s experience? As she pondered this question, she remembered something from her school days. Long forgotten in her journey, a piece of her cultural history.

She shared this cultural history with the class and together we began to see a deeply Incarnational movement by the Christ, to be present in a (Fijian) cultural worldview. We decided that yes, indeed, here was a “particular” insight into God’s ways.

As part of the indigenous women’s Christology project we have videod the lecture by Eseta and a researcher will work with Eseta to see if we can provide a written account. The hope is that this will be added to other indigenous Christology accounts and a student resource might emerge, that can place indigenous theologies alongside the weight of currently published Western Christologies.

But as these efforts to make more visible these rich Christologies continue, I am struck today by the power of the Preamble. I am grateful for the courage of those who dreamed it, wrote it, advocated for it. I’m intrigued by the potential of a written document to bring change, including theological and missiological change. I’m challenged by people, like Eseta, who have taken the Preamble seriously. I’m eager to hear and see what might continue to be produced in the year’s ahead.

Posted by steve at 08:49 AM

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

indigenous women’s Christologies project

The indigenous women’s Christologies project began tonight. It began with an indigenous Adnyamathanha woman, Aunty Denise, speaking at our theology class, talking about how she does Christology. It was an extraordinary performance, with an hour of what was essentially an extremely sophisticated hermeneutic, laced through with stories of how the oral stories of culture help her address “Who is Jesus for her.” So the Jesus theology class got an outstanding example of contextual theology. The evening was open to the public and it was great to have a few visitors join us, and catch a glimpse of the edges that contemporary theology at Uniting College is currently exploring.

A second evening will occur on October 22, when Eseta Meneilly will join us, offering an indigenous Fijian Christology.

Around this speaking, two further processes are at work. The talk was being recorded, for future reference. In addition a researcher was in the room, listening and recording. The aim is the production of a written and video resource study guide, which in conversation with the presenters can be used more widely – by other classes and by other theologians.

I introduced the lecture today with the following:

“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different cosmologies is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between cosmology and Christology.”

Now change three words (worldviews and cultures).

“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different [worldviews and cultures] is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between [worldviews and cultures] and Christology.”

In hearing the theology of another, their conversation between their local worldview and a Christology, it helps us begin to form and refine our “model.”

So the class are now processing three questions
- How does Aunty Denise do theology?
- Who is Jesus for Aunty Denise?
- What can I and my community learn for how we do theology?

Posted by steve at 09:25 PM

Thursday, September 25, 2014

green theologies: ancient, creative

Water gives life. The shores of Lake Galilee are richly green, filled with fruit, treelined and in places covered with grass. On the lake shore at Tagba is the Church of Multiplication. It honours the feeding of the multitudes, the rich abundance of that miracle. What is intriguing is that on the church floor, on either side of the altar, are a set of mosiacs.

churchofmultiplication

They are beautiful, and feature birds, lilies, flowers. Most are local, bird and plant life from local Galilee. The mosaics are from the 5th century and are the earliest known examples of figured pavement in Christian art in the Holy Land.

It’s an extraordinary expression of green theology. It connects the church indoors with the creation outdoors. It celebrates the local. It is a wonderful link with the miracle story, but contextualised in an honouring of the abundant gifts of land and lake.

And it’s 1500 years old. Green theology likes to position itself as modern, hip and new. The mosaic artists and the ordinary Christians of Tagba would shake their head in disbelief. Their church, their everyday worship, was ancient, ordinarily and creatively green.

Posted by steve at 04:47 AM

Monday, September 22, 2014

processing – projects, significations, institutions – Palestine

Today we drove from Bethlehem to Nazareth. The day began navigating military checkpoints in order to move from our hotel through the outskirts of Jerusalem and onto the motorway north. We spent time on the mount of transfiguration, visiting the Franciscan church. At Cana, souvenir museums offered us wine. In Nazareth, we visited churches erected over potential places of institution.

Monastic movements from Europe now camped on Holy land mountains, souvenirs targeting religious tourists, churches fighting turf wars – and a line from theologian Graham Ward has helped me discern a thread.

“There is then a twofold work for those projects involved in developing transformative practices of hope: the work of generating new imaginary significations and the work of forming institutions that mark such significations.” (Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice, 2005, 146.)

It’s a tightly coiled quote. Three words help me make some sense – projects, significations, institutions.

Projects are the future. They are what we are working toward, the dreams we carry that are in the process of being grounded in lives, actions, communities. Significations are the visions, the zeal, the beliefs and values we hold dear and close. Institutions are the groups, constitutions, buildings, schools.

My experience of the Holy Land is of encountering institutions – the buildings, the tourism industry, the complex politics, the religions that fight for their pieces of turf. Each began as projects, a band of monks that arrived from Italy, an idea to make a living, a small community that planted a church. Each would point back to a signification – a set of visions, zeal, beliefs and values.

So what?
- Change involves attention to all three, to projects, significations and institutions.
- Institutions need to keep strong, clear, transparent links to their significations. Storytelling is a key here.
- Projects are the lifeblood of innovation. Wise institutions will keep funding them.
- Significations are deep and powerful. They can be life-giving. They can also be toxic. Practices of discernment are essential.

(For an application of Graham Ward to emerging church, go here).

Posted by steve at 02:14 AM

Sunday, September 21, 2014

processing Palestine

It’s been an intense few days. We landed at Tel Aviv on Thursday and have spent the last few days exploring Bethlehem, dipping our toes in the River Jordan, visiting Orthodox monasteries and walking Qumran.

In between has been the inevitable exposure to the deeply riven conflicts that shape this land. Passing police checkpoints and refugee camps, walking the Separation Wall, reading the experiences of Palestines, recorded on the wall as part of an oral museum project.

In trying to process the experiences, I’ve found “Cedars Of Lebanon” by U2 to be helpful.

First, the complexity, perhaps impossibility of understanding, “Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline.”

Second, the whiff of hope “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose. The scent of it lingers and then it just goes”

Oddly poignant, given my becoming aware of the Rose of Sharon a few months ago, only to see them for sale today near Jericho. They are a plant that remains dry and dessicated for years. It looks dead. But just add water, and wow. What is dead springs to life, flowers, seeds, then prepares for drought once again. An extraordinary symbol of hope.

Third, the one to one human reactions; “Soldier brings oranges he got out from a tank.” That every encounter between “nations” in conflict is in fact a one to one moment between humans.

Fourth, the final verse. It is pure Bono genius, so let me quote the entire verse

Choose your enemies carefully ’cause they will define you
Make them interesting ’cause in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friends

It’s brilliantly lyrically, the repetition of “c” in line one; the contrast between “beginning” and “end” in line three; the juxtaposing of “enemies” in the first line with “friends” in the last. It’s great poetry. (It’s also superb musically, the significance of this verse highlighted by the delicate edge “hammer on.”)

It’s also deeply Christian. Love your enemies is a concept unique to Christianity. It is a radical approach to conflict, a refusal to let the victor-victim narratives define those who participate. Instead, the inversion of power, the gift given to all participants, to chose how they respond, not in the best of times, but in the worst of times.

Posted by steve at 05:42 AM

Friday, September 05, 2014

A cross to carry: Calvary film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for September 2014, of Calvary.

Calvary
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.” Jack Brennan, Village butcher

Calvary is, according to the Christian faith, the place where Jesus met death. It stands at the end of his Passion, the final resting place in a final week of suffering. “Calvary” is also a film, in which a respected Catholic priest in a remote Irish village is invited, unexpectedly, to face his death.

One Saturday, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) in the act of offering a routine round of confession, hears an unknown man recount his story of childhood abuse. The actions of a certain “bad priest”, now dead, deserve punishment. Father James, has been chosen, because he is a “good priest”, to atone for the sins on another by meeting his death Sunday week. It is a bitter take on the Christian interpretation of Calvary, in which one innocent man is invited to suffer for the sins of another.

It is a clever move, both theologically and technically. It provides a way to cast a darkening shadow over James daily life as a priest. At mass on Sunday, through pastoral visitation on Monday, at the pub on Wednesday, James encounters a host of multiple minor characters. An angry mechanic (Isaach De Bankole), a cynical surgeon (Aidan Gillen), a dying novelist (M. Emmet Walsh), each amplify the opening confession.

It builds suspense. Which one of the males James encounters is the unknown man in the confessional? Together these multiple characters become a rising crescendo of sustained outrage. The road to James’ Calvary becomes a suffering not only for the sins of a “bad priest”, but for the acts of a “bad church”, enmeshed in a perceived history of colonisation, injustice and oppression.

Brendan Gleeson as Father James is superb. Entering the priesthood following the death of his wife, he towers over the windswept heather of this bleak Irish coastline. Intelligent, deadpan, he seems, like a sponge, to absorb the hostility that surrounds him. He is delightfully humanised by the appearance of his daughter (Kelly Reilly).

Her appearance introduces a further challenge to the Christian narrative of Calvary. If Christ’s crucifixion is preordained, is it actually a suicide?

In “Calvary”, as in the Gospel accounts of Calvary, the Christ light of devotion and faith are held most clearly by assorted women. We met Teresa (Marie-Josée Croze), whose husband dies in a car accident on the last day of their long planned holiday. She meets this tragedy with grace and acceptance. It is a welcome foil to the bitterness of the village and a source of sustenance for James as he contemplates whether his cup of suffering should be taken from him.

In the end, “Calvary” is one man against a village. It is hard to imagine in real life a priest so isolated. Or perhaps this is the message of the movie? That today, the Church in the West is isolated. Alone it needs to suffer, in atonement for the sins of it’s past.

If so, then it might find aid in the faith of many a Teresa as it prays through the agony of Gethsemane and the suffering of Calvary.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 11:43 PM