Wednesday, August 02, 2017

baptismal words: indigenous and creation based

On Sunday, I was asked to participate in a baptismal service at a local Presbyterian student congregation. In preparing, I wanted to ensure baptism was rooted in a Biblical frame. I wanted to honour the bi-cultural relationships of which the Presbyterian church in New Zealand is a part. I also wanted to connect baptism with creation, given the importance of creation as a mark of mission in the church.

I was encouraged in this direction by a conversation in January with a Maori colleague, who noted the importance of water in Maori culture, and how the old people always reminded him that from an indigenous theological perspective were are all children of the sea. He offered a Maori proverb:

Tangaroa whakamautai, nga tamariki o te Moana nui a Kiwa.

He then linked the proverb with an Old Testament Scripture, from Genesis 6, of the Noah story. This is very astute. Rupert of Deutz, an 11th century theologian, wrote of “how familiarly and how frequently the Holy Spirit was revered even before the coming of Christ, mostly with respect to water” (Rogers, The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings, 178).

water-body-macro-shot-1388772 The conversation got me thinking about the importance of water in the Bible and in baptism. So I pondered scriptures in which there is a connection between water and God – and how they might help us understand baptism. Anyhow, here is what resulted … (more…)

Posted by steve at 09:19 PM

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Wonder Woman as female Christ figure: a theological film review

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

Wonder Woman
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Wonder Woman is fun. My three female companions loved it. Each appreciated a strong woman, doing what is right without needing a male savior. For one, there was delight in connecting with 1970’s childhood TV memories of Lynda Carter fighting crime with one golden lasso and two bullet-deflecting arm guards.

Wonder Woman was a comic character, created in 1941, for DC Comics. The opening scene of the Wonder Woman movie pays homage, with a Marvel van delivering a package. Inside is a photograph. It is a smart scene, connecting Diana (Gal Gadot) with the comic genre, locating her in contemporary time, yet with a photographic history that includes World War 1.

Wonder Woman was created by American psychologist and writer, William Moulton Marston. He sought a superhero who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love. “Fine,” his wife said, “but make her a woman.” (Lamb, Marguerite, “Who was Wonder Woman? Bostonia). In seeking inspiration, Marston looked to early feminists, including birth control pioneer, Margaret Sanger.

Given these feminist ideals, it is interesting to then ponder Wonder Woman as a female Christ figure. Historically, Christian theology has offered a number of ways to understand the work of a male saviour. Three have dominated, including Jesus bringing victory over evil, offering a moral example and as a substitute for sin. (There are other Biblical trajectories, including Jesus as our representative, as faithful witness, as adopting us into God’s family, as embracing us like the Prodigal Son and with us in solidarity.)

In relation to Wonder Woman, the act of sacrificial love is performed by the male, as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) offers his life for the sake of the world. Diane takes another approach. In a climatic final scene, she presents in a crucifix position, arms outstretched, radiating white love from her heart to conquer darkness. It is an act chosen after an extended wrestle with the implications of free will.

It is a complex moral question, carefully explored over an extended final action sequence. Will you give someone choice, when they have the ability to choose evil? For Diana, the answer is resolved in remaining love.

“And now I know… that only love can truly save the world.
So now I stay, I fight, and I give – for the world I know can be.
This is my mission now, for ever.”

Confronted with the human potential to bring darkness, she triumphs not with fists or firepower, but with love. In so doing, redemption chooses to participating with humanity, active in a mission in which love wins.

Wonder Woman is packed with action and fun-filled humour. It provides connections for fans new and old. For new fans, Diana’s Amazon origins are describing, while for old fans, she appears in the opening scene in the same clothes as she wore in the much loved 1970’s TV series. At the same time, Wonder Woman is a serious examination of a female Christ figure who responds to the complexity of free will with a remaining love.

Posted by steve at 07:21 PM

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Objects of faith: Pulpit bibles and Presbyterian theologies of Scripture

“..religion is characteristically expressed in communities of worship.” Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, Picador, 2005, 99).

Unknown-1 This is the pulpit Pew Bible of the now closed Andersons Bay Presbyterian Church. Embossed on the front cover are the words “Good News Bible. Today’s English Version.” It replaces an older Bible, a King James Version. It thus stands as a sign of change in the life of this church community. One wonders what motivated the change process and how it impacted on those used to the existing version.

Unknown-2 Inside is a handwritten inscription. “To the Glory of God. Presented by Robert Hamilton in memory of his wife, Adeline Maude, June 1985.” The Bible is thus personalised, fused with the life of this unique church community and the individual grief as a loved person dies.

Inside is also a bookmark. It is blue felt and has two hand embroidered symbols, both in yellow. One is of a cross, the other is of the burning bush. Both symbols speak of significant iconography, the Christian cross and the burning bush as the emblem of the Presbyterian Church of Aoteaora New Zealand. They suggest this church community is marked as Christian and as part of the Presbyterian Church.

These three markers – “Good News Bible. Today’s English Version,” the handwritten inscription and the hand embroidered symbols – suggest an approach to Bible reading that is open to change, entwined with individual story yet located within the Christian and denominational history. They suggest a Presbyterian theology of Scripture, embedded in the everyday practices of this community of faith. How consistent is this with other Presbyterian, other Protestant, other Christian approaches to Scripture?

One way to address these questions is to place the Andersons Bay pulpit Pew Bible alongside research by Joseph Webster (“Objects of Transcendence: Scots Protestantism and an Anthropology of Things,” Material Religion in Modern Britain: The Spirit of Things, Palgrave MacMillan, 2015, 17-35). He explores how Bibles are used in Scottish Protestantism.

First, Bibles are open (24). Second, Bibles are understood as a living word shaping the behaviour of individuals (25). Third, Bibles are an object that can mediate salvation (26). At work in each of these affirmations is a commitment to the “power of encountering tbe biblical object and its person-like qualities” (26). The use of this object of faith, the Bible, suggests the importance of providing “routes of access to the inwardness of this book (27). What matters is not only the actual text, but also the object, Scripture as an ever-present and potentially transforming reality. “”[T]he saved” become “living epistles” as their lives are conformed to the Bible (29).

Webster reads this alongside cultural shift, in particular the arrival of modernity. Webster argues that these understandings he observed in Scottish Protestantism are neither pre- nor anti-modern. Bibles are used, according to Webster, as consubstantiated hybrids (33). They are at the same time a collection of pages and the breath of God. This is made possible by a worldview of immanence and transcendence in which things are both material and enchanted.

Back at Andersons Bay, we see this materiality. There is the willingness to replace one material book with another, believing that it is not only in specific certain mystical pages that God is encountered. There is the weaving of individual biography, in which tradition is understood in relation to church members who have gone before. There is the craft of embroidery, consistent with a church known for this particular craft. These suggest a commitment to materiality, at odds with stereotypes of Protestantism as not of this world.

Yet we equally see transcendence, in the decision to change the Bible, presumably to enhance the living witness of this text. Also in the belief that in the craft of embroidery and the remembering of individual lives will come inward transformation of individual lives: routes of access in which “the saved” become “living epistles.” (Webster in Material Religion in Modern Britain, 27, 29).

Posted by steve at 12:06 PM

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Resurrection for mission

Some (theological) writing this morning, drawing on the Resurrection to understand listening as the first act of mission …

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Rowan Williams offers a way to understand the interplay between Christ, church, creation and culture. In The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ Canterbury Press: Norwich, 2003, 23-41, Williams introduces a classical Orthodox Resurrection icon. Icons are “written” and “read”: theological documents in which we encounter Christ. Williams points to the way that in a classical Orthodox Resurrection icon, Christ unites, standing on a narrow bridge of rock spanning a dark pit. Christ is grasping Adam with one hand and Eve with the other. He is restoring relationships – between men and women, between humanity and creation, between the mind’s knowledge and the body’s experience.

Williams then draws on Maximus the Confessor and his explanation of Christ as overcoming all the great separations that humans suffer. Williams notes the presence in the icon of characters from the Jewish Scriptures, including David, Abraham, Moses. The result is that “the resurrection is a moment in which human beings are reintroduced to each other across the gulf of mutual resentment and blame; a new human community becomes possible” (31-2). The Risen Christ is reintroducing us, opening the ways by which these characters from Scripture stand in the middle of “our present community, speaking to us about the God who spoke with them in their lifetimes in such a way that we can see how their encounter with God leads toward and is completed in Christ” (34). Thus revelation comes, understood in light of the resurrection. This is then applied to the relationship between Christ and creation. “But if we also bear in mind the context in which Maximus the Confessor sets the work of Christ, we can see here in outline the foundation for understanding the relation of Church and creation” (35-6). The logic is one of extension. “If the Risen Christ takes hold and speaks through the great figures of biblical history … by the same token he speaks through the world around us … he introduces us to that world and requires us to listen to it and receive from it what he wants to communicate.” (36) This is the work of Resurrected Christ, a “very obvious consequence both of the theology that shows Christ uniting what fallenness and sin have departed and of the image of a whole history brought to fulfilment … what Christ does and suffers affects all things, all areas of human experience and so all aspects of human relation, including relation with what is not human” (36-7). Through the Resurrection comes a redemption of creation which is so complete that creation becomes a source of revelation. In creation, experience and culture we can see the redemption that Christ is revealing. We are, in the risen Christ, being required to listen and receive from creation, experience and culture.

This provides a Christology of mission.

  • First, mission “opens out” (37) from Christ.
  • Second, we are required to listen to what Christ introduces us to, in this case the world which Christ has overcome our separation from.
  • Third, our listening will include human experience, which in Christ has been experienced, suffered and to which, in the Resurrection, we are being reintroduced.
  • Fourth, human experience, and hence human cultures, are a dimension in which Christ is revealed.
  • Fifth, we are listening for what Christ is speaking, what Christ wants to introduce us to.

Thus in the Resurrected Christ is a theology of revelation for mission. God is speaking, through what Christ as experienced, not only in Scripture and the characters from the Jewish Scriptures but also through creation, human experience and human cultures.

Posted by steve at 09:57 AM

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

“Sexual violence in the line of David: The possibilities and limits of recapitulation” abstract acceptance

I was pleased to hear last week of acceptance of a paper proposal for ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association Theological Schools) 2017 Adelaide conference. This paper is a joint paper, with David Tombs, public theologian at University of Otago. David did a seminar presentation last year and afterward we got chatting about some more systematic theological implications of his work. I had just returned from doing some work with some indigenous students, which had me thinking about the place of genealogy.

28U44ck I had also been doing some reading on an early theologian, Irenaues. After some email conversation, the following abstract emerged:

Sexual violence in the line of David: The possibilities and limits of recapitulation
ANZATS 2017

Much sexual violence occurs in contexts of kinship, including tragically the family of God. This paper tests notions of recapitulation when lines of kin are stained by sexual violence. Tombs has previously argued that Jesus is a victim of sexual abuse. How is this good news for victims in history?

The genealogy of Matthew 1 connects Jesus with the royal line of David. It names women either sexually mistreated or vulnerable to sexual violence. Tamar is dishonoured by male sexual practices, resorting to prostitution. Bathsheba is sexually preyed upon by a powerful ruler. Rahab as a prostitute is likely to have experienced sexual mistreatment.  Ruth’s vulnerability is evident in the encounter with Boaz. A further victim is anonymously present, given David is Tamar’s father, raped by Amnon. The Matthean genealogy thus locates Jesus as a descendant: of men who violate and of women violated. At stake is the depths to which redemption is possible.

Irenaeus offers an essential link between theology and anthropology. For Behr, The Way to Nicaea (2001), these can be summarised as continual presence, making visible and full maturation. (See also Behr, Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement, (2000)). These ground redemption in humanity experience. Jesus makes sexual violence visible when framed as from the Davidic line. In full maturity, Jesus acts justly toward victims of sexual violence. Gospel episodes of compassion, vulnerability and solidarity become a recapitulation, a contrast to actions of the males in the line of David.

What emerges are starting points for ways to respond to sexual violence, including solidarity, visibility, acting humanly and tending bodies broken.

David Tombs and Steve Taylor
University of Otago and Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership: Flinders University

The acceptance of this paper Sexual violence in the line of David: The possibilities and limits of recapitulation will mean I’m making two contributions to ANZATS 2017. I have already had a poster accepted on Structuring Flipped learning: The use of Blooms taxonomy in the classroom experience for the stream of stream on Learning and Teaching Theology.

If I’m going to cross the ditch, I want to maximise the time, hence the submission of two proposals!

Posted by steve at 09:56 PM

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 as deep mission

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-> Journal article submission today:

Where does mission come from? The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 as deep mission

Abstract

We inhabit a geographic region in which for many cultures, genealogy is essential to knowledge. Given that Matthew begins the story of Jesus with genealogy, what are the implications for mission?

Three missiology texts are examined – The Biblical Foundations for Mission, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission and The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative – to understand how they conceive Matthew’s genealogy. Genealogy is then considered in two indigenous texts, one located in Aotearoa New Zealand (Tangata Whenua: A History), the other in Australia (Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific). Both demonstrate how genealogy functions as an essential way of knowing, in which ancient memory is structured to clarify relationship with people and place.

The implications of genealogy for missiology are tested, through teaching mission in one indigenous context. This clarifies the vitality of Matthew’s genealogy in framing mission as an ancestor story, a structured transmission in which God as the primary actor is weaving ordinary and indigenous people into the Messiah’s story.

Posted by steve at 05:46 PM

Monday, March 13, 2017

Seeing Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives programme

Seeing Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives symposium has come together beautifully. Silence: A Novel is a historical novel. Written by Shusako Endo (1923-1999), one of Japan’s foremost novelists, the book offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil. The book is currently being made into a movie, directed by Martin Scorsese. This symposium welcomes a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on the themes of Silence. The call for papers last December has resulted in a historical, religious and cinematic feast.

Friday, 17 March, 7.45 – 8.45 pm
Linda Zampol – The Early Modern Jesuit Enterprise in Japan
John England – A Deeper Faithfulness than Martyrdom

Saturday, 18 March, 9.30-10.30 am
Roy Starrs – The meeting of Buddhism and Christianity in Silence
Lynne Taylor – Our Being becomes us: practising Ignatian Spirituality and becoming Christian

Saturday, 18 March, 11.00-12.00 pm
Richard Goodwin – Silence and Presence: The sacramental style in film
Steve Taylor – Seeing Silence as Cinema

There will also be a panel discussion and a video interview with the director, Martin Scorsese.

The event is part of the Christianity and Cultures in Asia series, a joint venture sponsored by Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, the Otago University Department of Theology and Religion, and Presbyterian Research Centre. Registrations ($20) to murray dot rae @ otago dot ac dot nz.

Friday 7:30 pm, March 17, until 1 pm, Saturday, March 18, 2017.
Venue: Otago University

Posted by steve at 08:18 PM

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

paper acceptance Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific

I was delighted to hear today that a paper proposal I submitted for the Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific conference at the University of Auckland on March 24, 2017 has been accepted. The conference will bring together scholars of Christianity in a variety of disciplines to examine the cultural dynamics of the interaction between native peoples and transplanted Christian churches in the Pacific region. It will pay particular attention to the dynamic tension between centralized and localized religious culture.

My paper will be a development of research I presented at the International Association of Mission Studies conference in Korea in August 2016. I’ve continued to write and research for publication in the months since and am glad of the opportunity to also present my research in a Pacific and University environment. Here is the abstract I submitted:

“Hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

The interaction between Christianity and indigenous cultures can provide rich insights into cross-cultural exchange in liminal spaces. Equally the complexity of such insights can be masked by totalising narratives, including hagiography and Euro-centric imperialism.

One way to approach native Christianity in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is through Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. It has been acclaimed as PNG’s best historical novel (Moore, 2012). The post-colonial methodologies of Ashcroft (in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific, 2014) will be used to read The Mountain for indigenous agency in resistance and innovation. Such a reading requires locating Modjeska as an academic and novelist who refuses to accept totalising binaries, in both her writing and her life.

I will argue that the portrayal of native Christianity in The Mountain assumes indigenous approval and indigenization. Themes of ancestor gift and “hapkas” will be applied to Jesus as “good man true, he die for PNG” (Modjeska 2012: 291). The creative reworking by which native (Omie) people locate Jesus as ancestor gift of Canaanite descent will be examined. This is consistent with recent scholarship in which indigenous cultures are Old Testaments (Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, 1998; Brett 2003) and the book of Genesis a demonstration of indigenous faiths being woven respectfully into the story of Israel (The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism, 1992).

This subverts the “big man” as a key trope in the ethnography of Melanesia (Big Men and Great Men: Personifications of Power in Melanesia, 2009). It suggests that post-colonial theology pay attention to cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation. Or in the words of The Mountain: a “hapkas” Jesus who is “good man true” for PNG.

Dr Steve Taylor
Flinders University: Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership

Posted by steve at 07:30 PM

Friday, December 16, 2016

Seeing Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives symposium

Friday 7:30 pm, March 17, until 1 pm, Saturday, March 18, 2017.
Venue: Otago University

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Call for papers: Silence: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) is a historical novel. Written by Shusako Endo (1923-1999), one of Japan’s foremost novelists, the book offers an absorbing, albeit bleak, meditation on the inability of the seventeenth century Jesuit mission to establish religious change on Japanese soil. It allows us to explore the possibilities and pitfalls when conversion seems fruitless.

The book is currently being made into a movie, directed by Martin Scorsese. Due for New Zealand release on February 17, it stars Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson. Scorsese considers his movie-making an act of prayer, writing “I wanted to be a priest. My whole life has been movies and religion. That’s it. Nothing else” (Detweiler and Taylor 2003: 155).

This symposium welcomes a wide range of disciplinary perspectives on the themes of Silence. Contributors could focus on Silence as film, the history of 17th century Japan, the diversity of indigenous Japanese responses to Christianity and Empire, Jesuit approaches to mission, the ethics and limits of conversion, cross-cultural interactions, the writing of Endo, the missiological and theological challenges presented when faith suffers.

Papers of 20 minutes in length are sought. The deadline for 250 word abstracts is Friday 20th January, 2017. Enquiries and abstracts to Kevin Ward kevin@knoxcentre.ac.nz. Presenters will informed on 31 January, 2017. Papers will be streamed if needed.

Programme (draft):

Friday evening March 17 – Special viewing of Silence and conference meal.

Saturday morning March 18
9-9:45 am Panel discussion: Asian history, film studies, history, missiology (tbc)
9:45 – 10:45 am Papers

Morning tea

11:15 am – 12:15 pm Papers
12:15 -1 pm Concluding comments

The symposium has been timetabled with a view to presenters watching the film after release on February 17 and having time to develop papers for the symposium.

This event is a programme of the Christianity and Cultures in Asia series, sponsored by Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, the Otago University Department of Theology and Religion, and Presbyterian Research Centre.

Posted by steve at 02:07 PM

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Arrival: an (Advent) film review

ticket-1543115-640x480 Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for December 2016.

Arrival
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?”
Dr Louise Banks

Western culture tends to think in straight lines. We imagine a linear future getting brighter. Arrival invites us to think in circles and examine the consequences.

We begin with Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), grieving the death of her teenage daughter, Hannah. We end before the beginning, in the tender love within which Hannah is formed. The plot’s circular nature makes sense given the internal linguistic developments.

Banks is a gifted linguist. She is asked by the US military to establish communication with twelve alien spaceships that have suddenly arrived and positioned themselves around the globe. Taking a risk and drawing from the mathematical insights of fellow scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Banks begins to realize the aliens communicate in a circular form. It is a way of thinking that can only be grasped when the end of the sentence is understood before the beginning. The discovery enables Banks to not only avert a global conflict, but also make sense of her personal life. Hence the circular and philosophical logic of her question: “If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?”

The result is a plot that sustains both emotion connection and intellectual curiosity. A strong emotional narrative is generated, first in the joy shared between Banks and her growing daughter, second in the grief as Hannah succumbs to cancer. The alien presence and the resulting linguistic puzzle, offers a pleasing set of interlocking intellectual plot-circles.

Arrival is directed by Canadian, Denis Villeneuve, three-times a winner of the Genie Award for Best Direction. The film is an adaptation of Tony Chang’s Story of Your Life. Chang, American born of Chinese descent, has written fifteen short stories, gaining a string of literary awards (including four each of the prestigious Nebula, Hugo and Locus Awards).

As we approach Christmas, it is interesting to lay Arrival alongside the Christian understandings of a baby in whom is God. In other words, the arrival of mystery comes not in alien technology spread around the globe but in the vulnerability of a baby born in a particular Jewish stable.

Unraveling this mysterious communication from another place is not the domain of gifted linguists. Rather, it is for those who let the children come. The Christian God of Christmas speaks not in complex linguistic forms, but in baby babble. It brings to mind the words of the twentieth century’s most famous theologian Karl Barth. When asked to sum his whole life’s theology in one sentence, his reply was more circular than linear. “Jesus loves me, this I know.” It is a response in which complexity and mystery are enfolded in love. Such is the understanding of revelation present in the Christmas “arrival.”

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 06:54 PM

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Daughter: theological film review

ticket-1543115-640x480 Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 100 plus films later, here is the review for November 2016.

The Daughter
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Daughter is enthralling, a cinematic triumph in which superb acting and smart dialogue yield an emotionally charged finale.

A grown son (Paul Schneider as Christian) returns to the town of his childhood for the second marriage of his father (Geoffrey Rush as Henry). Reunion with his childhood friend (Ewen Leslie as Oliver) and his loved daughter (Odessa Young as Hedvig) results in a sequence of questions. Christian’s present grief rips the scabs from grief past.

The acting is superb. Paul Schneider and Geoffrey Rush are fine embodiments of a male ability to remain emotionally distant. The tears of abandonment by Odessa Young and regret by Ewen Leslie express perfectly the emotional power of this slowly unfolding tragedy.

Hedvig is essential to the movie’s success. She is lively and rebellious. The result is a joy-filled palette of colours, which accentuate the gathering storm clouds. It is an effect magnified by the somber tones of the movie’s backdrop, a rural forest town in which the sawmill is facing closure.

The Daughter is inspired by an 1884 play (The Wild Duck) by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen. In a movie that draws from the traditional strength of threatre in plot and character, the clever use of sound plays a significant role. The first noise heard is a distant gunshot. Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” is an apt soundtrack as the family wedding descends into painful farce. In two key scenes, the only sound is that of breathing: powerful in anger, pleading in pain.

The New Zealand film industry has connections with this Australian movie. First, when The Daughter is placed alongside 2004 New Zealand movie, In My Fathers Den. The similarities are uncanny. Both offer a strong sense of place, in which memories are haunted. Both star a man returning to his childhood home and a lively teenage girl growing into maturity. Both compress pain past and present into unfolding tragedy. This examination of similarities also underlines the differences, particularly the sombre palette that marks The Daughter in contrast to the moments of beauty that gave joy to In My Fathers Den.

Second, through Sam Neill, who plays Walter, Hedvig’s grandfather. He is the character closest to the wounded healer, a previously damaged nurturer watching over these wounded in the movie’s present.

While theology is difficult to find in The Daughter, Jesus is a word used repeatedly in one pivotal scene. The word is uttered neither in blasphemy nor piety. Rather it is a word of shock, as the hammer blow of an unimagined past obliterates a peaceful present. In its repetition, it suggests one way to understand the death of Jesus. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken” is equally a cry of incomprehension in the face of overwhelming pain. It suggests Jesus as a Divine shock absorber. Simple repeated words – My God – arise from a person absorbing blows at the limits of human experience. It offers a response both pastoral and theological to the repetitive use of Jesus in the face of profound grief.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 02:52 PM

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Abstract acceptance. Delighted to be presenting with my partner, Lynne Taylor, at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand: Telling Our Stories conference, December 2-3. It will be a public outing from empirical research we did into how local churches respond in worship to global events.

tear on cheek

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Steve Taylor and Lynne Taylor

Chaplains often find themselves as a Christian presence in the midst of crisis. This can present a particular set of challenges regarding how to speak of the nature of God and humanity in tragedy. How to think of faith in the midst of unexpected suffering? What resources might Christian ministry draw upon?

One common resource is that of prayer. Given lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of praying is the rule of believing) such prayers – or lack thereof – can be examined as the articulation of a living practical theology.

In the week following Sunday, 15 November, 2015, empirical research was conducted into how local churches pray. An invitation to participate in an online survey was sent to pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Baptist Churches of New Zealand. An invitation to participate was also posted on social media. The date was significant because on Friday, 13 November, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. At the same time, a number of other tragedies occurred, including bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.

Over 150 survey responses were received. In the midst of global tragedy, how had the church prayed? What might be learnt from these moments of lex orandi, lex credendi? This paper will address these questions. It will outline the resources used and the theologies at work. Particular attention will be paid to the curating of “word-less space”, given the widespread use of non-verbal elements in the data. The implications for those who pray in tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the ministry of chaplaincy.

Posted by steve at 04:00 PM

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Jesus and the ancestors

I spent a good part of yesterday in lecture preparation. I am teaching this weekend at Te Aka Puaho, working with Maori ministers in training. My topic is mission and I spent the bulk of my time in Matthew 1: the genealogy of Jesus.

ancestors

While I’ve never heard it used in mission, it is how Matthew begins the story of Jesus: with a genealogy. For indigenous cultures, with a strong sense of ancestors, genealogy is essential for identity.

I explored four headings

  • Deep mission – drawing on Mark Yettica-Paulson and his wonderful chapter “Mission in the Great South Land: An Indigenous Perspective” in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions).
  • Matthew begins with go – and the role of journeying in Abraham
  • Mission includes – and the four Canaanite woman – Tamar (Canaanite), Rahab (Canaanite), Ruth (Moabite) and Bathsheba (Hittite) – woven into Jesus bloodlines. Jesus has indigenous blood, those of Canaanite people.
  • Mission surprises – and the importance of ordinary, everyday, quiet actions by people that no-one notices.

It was a rich exploration, noting the absences, even in books like Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative.

Here’s my conclusion

When it comes to mission we face two temptations. One is to romanticize, to name all the positive things. The other is to recount all the negative and harmful impacts. The genealogy of Jesus offers a third approach. It begins with deep memory and a story of voyaging. It weaves indigenous cultures into the story. It tells the truth, refusing to romanticize, helping us see the courage of those marginalized by society.

Posted by steve at 06:58 AM

Friday, October 07, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings: a personal and pastoral theological reflection on memory

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 100 plus films later, here is the review for October 2016.

kubo Kubo and the Two Strings

Recently I shared dinner with the man who gave me my first job out of school. Strong, disciplined and resourceful thirty years ago, today he has Alzheimers. Over macroni cheese and salad, the conversation kept repeating itself. Yes, I was Principal of Knox. Yes, I have two daughters. Such is the cruelty of an incurable disease that slowly strips memory.

Later, over dessert, this same man began to share memories of his school days, some sixty years ago. They included playing cricket with my father, who died recently, an Alzheimers sufferer also. Suddenly it was my memory that had holes. Such is the complexity of memories. They are always richer when held in community.

A few weeks ago a friend, Professor John Swinton, (and 2016 KCML Inaugural Lecturer) was awarded the 2016 Michael Ramsey Prize. The Award, for the best contemporary theological writing of the global Church, was for John’s book, Dementia: Living in the Memories of God. Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, in announcing the award, commended John for tackling one of the most important issues of our time – whether we can value people in other than economic terms. Swinton argues that our responses to memory loss say essential things about how we understand humans. Which in turn, say important things about how we understand God.

Kubo and the Two Strings is one of the finest movies I have seen. An animated story, it is enchanting, a technological triumph driven by the finest of storytelling. Kubo (Art Parkinson), a young Japanese man, is a storyteller who makes the imaginary real as he strums his magical guitar. Attacked by his aunts, Kubo learns he will only enjoy safety if he discovers his father’s sword, breastplate and helmet. He is joined on this quest by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a samurai with no memory.

In a final climatic ending, Kubo battles not only the aunts, but his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Offered immortality, Kubo refuses. To live in the heavens will mean being deprived of the pain and suffering that for Kubo make him human. In the ensuing struggle, the Moon King loses his immortality, followed by his memory.

Lost, unsure of his identity, he finds himself surrounded by the villagers he has previously terrorised. In the absence of memory, the village community offer him another version of himself.

“You are the old man who feeds the hungry.”

“You are the one who taught my children.”

Are the villagers lying? Or are they offering another way of understanding memory?

In Kubo and the Two Strings, memories are not individual but communal. The counselling term is reframing. It is an approach that invites us to view life through a different lens. The theological term is recapitulation. It belongs to a second century Bishop named Irenaeus, who argued that in Christ are remembered all the stages of being human.

One response to those with Alzheimers is to regret their loss of memory. Another is for their community to hold more tightly their memories for them. Such is what God whispers in the making of humanity in Genesis 1. You are loved not because you remember, but because you are remembered.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 07:05 AM