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
- James McEvoy, Leaving Christendom for Good: Church-World Dialogue in a Secular Age, 2014.
- James Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, 2014.
- Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 1992.
- Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, 2007.
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.
Saturday, February 07, 2015
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
- 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).
Sunday, September 21, 2014
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.
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.
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.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
mission then, mission now
I’ve just finished marking a set of assignments for my Mission, Evangelism and Apologetics intensive I taught in Sydney in July. I’m delighted with how the first assignment question worked.
Each student will, at the start of the class, be given a missionary. They will then use the Essential texts
for the course as a beginning point to find out more about their missionary. (These texts are Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today or Dewerse, R. (2013). Nga Kai-Rui i Te Rongopai: Seven Early Maori Christians. Rotorua: Te Hui Amorangi ki te Manawa o Te Wheke.)
The student will submit a biography (300 words) of the individual, a summary of how this person understood either evangelism or mission or apologetics (400 words), followed by a discussion of the implications of this understanding for either evangelism or mission or apologetics today (300 words).
Note: If students have other learning styles, they are welcome to submit this assignment verbally, by submitting a 10 minute podcast on a mailed USB stick or uploaded to a website and emailing the relevant URL to the lecturer. The lecturer will be assuming that at 100 words a minute, the spoken length of the podcast is similar to 1000 written words.
I set this type of assignment for a number of reasons.
Fist, stories have power. One way to enthuse and engage about mission is to tell stories. By asking students to do this assignment, I am introducing them to stories, that they might use. (Throughout the intensive, I offered a number of examples – Caroline Chisholm an Australian pioneer and Maori peace stories – to enthuse the class and model the assignment.)
Second, biography as theology. As James McClendon has argued (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology), people’s lives embody doctrine. We see truth in actions. So this assignment was a way of doing biography as
Third, the common perception is that mission in the past has been all about colonisation. This assignment helps them realise that history does include tragedy, but it also includes some outstanding examples of servanthood that brought great benefit to indigenous cultures.
Fourth, it enabled mission to be placed as global, to place our talk about evangelism and apologetics alongside the stories of Maori in mission, pioneering in Japan, India and Europe. It allowed mission to be so much more than Euro-centric.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
research assistance required
I am seeking research assistance for a project that involves developing a theological resource for undergraduate students in the area of indigenous women’s Christologies.
The project involves working with a number of local theologians, in particular selected indigenous woman (already identified), to clarify their theology (in both written and visual forms), and to create an accompanying resource guide by which undergraduate students can identify the resources and processes used in theological contextualisation and consider the questions raised for theological method.
Applicants will need skills including the ability to
- organise technologies (visual and written) to preserve the insights
- write clearly
- develop resources
- think theologically, including in areas of Christology and culture
Funding is available for a total of 25 hours at Flinders University Causal Academic Rates. The project needs to begin by late September, 2014 and to be finished by early November, 2014.
Apply by email to Steve Taylor (steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au) by Friday 6 September. Applications should include a CV and a letter of interest, addressing the skills required.
Monday, August 25, 2014
Jesus on the Gold Coast
I’m teaching a three day intensive on Jesus at Newlife Church, Robina, on the Gold Coast, in November 11-13, 2014.
Theology of Jesus – This topic combines biblical, historical, doctrinal and contemporary approaches to Jesus Christ and to salvation in Christ. Special attention will be paid to the missional Jesus, in popular culture and in encounters with other faiths.
Lecturer – Rev Dr Steve Taylor – Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology and Senior Lecturer, Flinders University. Church planter, church leader and author, Out of Bounds Church? and blogger (www.emergentkiwi.org.nz)
Here is a little video that I shot a few weeks ago, to introduce Jesus and the course to students.
Date – November 11-13th, 2014
Time – 7 hours a day, 9-5 pm with hour for lunch (12:30-1:30 pm)
Where – Newlife Church
How to Register – Contact Lynda Leitner (lynda dot leitner at flinders dot edu dot au) at Adelaide College of Divinity (phone 08 8416 8400) and ask to enrol in MINS 2314 or relevant post-graduate code
Cost - $1341 (undergraduate credit); $1665 (postgraduate credit); $300 audit undergraduate; $400 audit postgraduate
Saturday, August 23, 2014
If you’re not typing you’re not visual: Elearning practice and culture
It was meant to be a writing morning, but instead I slipped into the back of a lecture theatre at University of South Australia to hear Carolyn Haythornwaite address the topic Elearning practice and culture From experiment to mainstream. Director of the School of Library, archival and information services, University British Colombia, she argued that e-learning is a paradigm shift in practice of learning.
She talked about the way that technical changes are driving the social. The result is a society that is more participative and collective, which is bringing unavoidable pressures to bear on University classrooms. She had a lovely phrase
“a balance found in motion not stillness.” (Nardi and ODay, 1999).
She argued that for many years the lecture and the classroom have been a still place, an unchanging place, in which academics have clung for security. But with what is happening in society, the classroom is now in motion!
Not that this is easy. She described the exhaustion for teachers because we are now in “perpetual beta” and of continuously having to learn, both in regard to technology and in regard to how learners are learning.
She talked about two types of online engagement – crowd sourced or community based. Both have different ways of connecting. One tends to offer interaction that is many, small, simple. The other is complex, diverse, connected. Which type of community will e-teachers seek to create?
She had some cool visualisations. Pictures that showed that blended learning classes tend to develop weekly rhythms, the different network channels (chat, discussion boards, email) develop different types of student engagement, that the group rhythm over an entire course changes.
She had some encouragements as I reflected on our journey into blended learning as a Uniting College.
- The need to have the IT group within the teaching department rather than separate (which we have done at Uniting College)
- Forget perfection. Build it as you go. You never should have your e-learning space all packaged at start. Rather you should grow it organically as you go.
- You get used to it. That after a few years of “perpetual beta” change, you suddenly realise you are an e-teacher.
She asked some fresh questions:
- How to orientate students in the social skills needed to learn online in community?
- How to understand the multiple roles of the e-teacher – as social presence but also teaching presence and also cognitive presence?
- How to understand the potential of students to themselves become teachers in e-learning spaces? (Efacilitator, braider, accomplished fellows, learner-leaders).
So, not a writing day, but a rich and thought provoking chance to reflect on all the blended learning changes occurring at Uniting College.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
open table learning
This week in Theology of Jesus class, it was the fourth week and the theme was open tables: Jesus eating patterns. I decided that we should not only study this, we should experience it.
I moved the class from the classroom into the student common area. The tables were pulled into a circle. Tablecloths were laid. The soup, which I have been providing prior to each evening class, to help build community, was eaten at what would be our study table. Tonight it was Santa Fe Sweet potato, with charred pepper.
The newly added student wifi meant that I could still teach this blended, with folk from distance connecting live with the class through digital technologies.
Cook books were scattered around and we began with mindfulness, becoming thankful for a good meal that we each found in a cook book.
During the class, I asked what connections were they making between our experience of open table and the class readings and lecture material. Here are some of the reflections
- is there more interaction and chatter around tables (here and Jesus) time? what does this do for how we understand how Jesus communicated
- This is more informal. There’s our food and books everywhere. Does this show us a different, more conversational Jesus – more involved in the to and fro. Willing to be interrupted.
- You see a different person around tables. You see what they’re living. More vulnerable
- Around table, I ‘m getting to know other students more. Does this say something about discipleship, that following Jesus is with others, getting to know others more
- Jesus must have been adaptable. He is comfortable in different spaces – socially apt.
- How often do we have in our homes people we don’t know? How often we eat alone?
- Jesus is radical and counter-cultural. The boundaries are blurred, yet there is still a sense of order.
Some fascinating learning here, about who Jesus is and how Jesus enacts the Kingdom.