Monday, November 26, 2018

You can’t eat lilies: the future of precarious work zadok column

I am a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Having read my film reviews for Touchstone, they requested a 860 word column every 3 months. It’s an opportunity to write a lay focused piece of theology; that keeps me working between gospel and culture. Zadok are happy for me to blog the columns I write once they are published in Australia, which makes them accessible digitally for folk in New Zealand and elsewhere.

zadoklillies So here is my spring 2018 article. The theme for Spring was Humanising Precarious Work and it became a piece of practical theology, including reflecting on my own work context, which is undergoing review and restructure, making my own future precarious.

You can’t eat lilies: the future of precarious work
Steve Taylor

I write looking out over a green field, toward a University living through a restructure. At the table beside me, a young couple discuss future work. Her best options start with gaining an overseas research contract. It’s fixed term but her partner won’t leave the country.

What might the Gospel offer them? How would they respond if I turned and offered them some words from Jesus? ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin’ (Matthew 6:28)?

None of this is abstract. As I write, a restructure has been announced at my workplace. Suddenly my future is precarious. There are no vacancies in my city for Principals of theology colleges who teach in missiology. The fields around my house might grow green with springtime rain. But my family can’t eat grass.

Jesus’ words about lilies are addressed to precarious workers. They are part of the Sermon that begins with the poor being blessed. While Matthew’s version is more palatable to rich Christians than Luke’s, the four letter word ‘poor’ tells us just who Jesus is speaking to.

In Matthew, this Sermon to the poor includes the words: ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. This is no ritual of routine repetition, but a reality for Jesus’ listeners. Think Matthew 20:1-16, with workers for hire still waiting for work at 5pm. Think Luke 16:19-31 and Lazarus pleading for daily bread at the city gates. Jesus is speaking to the poor, dependant on precarious work.

The Sermon ends with ‘consider the lilies’. Outdoors, on the mountain in Matthew and the plain in Luke, Jesus might be pointing to the arum lily, whose root was a major source of food for the poor. It is more likely that he is making a generic reference to flowers, including the various types of crocus and cyclamen, iris and orchid. They are free, wild and gorgeous: showy, attractive flowers that burst forth in spring on the barren hills of Judean deserts (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, IVP, 1998). Those flowers were food for rabbits and goats. But never for humans. You can’t eat lilies.

Today we safety net our lives through insurance, savings and government assistance. The result of managing risk is a diminishing of faith. The daily bread of the Lord’s Prayer is spiritualised. We never see lilies from our office blocks and public transport windows.

Tomorrow’s workplace looks ever more precarious. While I write and you read, modern capitalism is hard at work, incentivising the radical unpicking of the safety nets of the 20th century. Artificial Intelligence will make anywhere from 14 to 54 percent of US workers redundant over the next twenty years. There is a 50 percent chance that Artificial Intelligence will outperform all human tasks in 45 years and automate all human jobs in 120 years. (Brennan Hoban, ‘Artificial intelligence will disrupt the future of work. Are we ready?’, brookings.edu, 23rd May 2018). This won’t be personal. Redundancies never are. But what will it mean for humanity and for Christian theology?

For Jesus, the safety net seemed to be neither insurance nor savings. Instead it was the humanity of our neighbour. Do unto others. A common purse. Share with those in need.

Whenever I think these words are simply idealism, I remind myself that hospitality has been a universal theme. For Maori, the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, a cultural value esteemed above all else is expressed in the word ‘manaakitanga’, used to describe the value of welcoming the stranger. It involves abundant hospitality and is linked with kindness, generosity and practical support.

‘Manaakitanga’ was historic. It is also remarkably contemporary. It was evident in the winter of 2017, when local Maori meeting houses opened their doors to provide temporary housing for the homeless. Cold and destitute New Zealanders can’t eat lilies. But they can experience ‘manaakitanga’.

Hospitality is a response that stretches across time and place. Sharing the gifts of the earth is a major theme in The Odyessy, while Immanuel Kant notes the place of universal hospitality in the task of being human (Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History (Rethinking the Western Tradition), 8:357).

So the advent of Artificial Intelligence will invite us to practice ‘manaakitanga’. If the future of precarious work results in greater co-dependence, then technology and innovation are a good thing, worth celebrating. With a universal wage, some will work for money, while others will enrich our worlds with art, craft, care and creativity.

Writing about the future of precarious work and amid the draining demands of a workplace restructure is a reality check. I can’t offer lilies, either to myself, my family or the young couple in the café beside me.

At the same time, ‘consider the lilies’ is in fact the radical offer of an alternative vision of a future society. It is a universal invitation to embody Maori ‘manaakitanga’ and to share the gifts of the earth among all humans.

The only way to read the New Testament is through the lens of precarious work. You can’t eat lilies. But you can live simpler, use time to love your neighbour and enter into the experience ‘manaakitanga’.

Posted by steve at 09:46 PM

Friday, March 27, 2015

developing a bottom up vision statement

On Tuesday, I was in a group in which the purpose question was asked:  “What is the purpose of your organisation?”  The whole question of why an organisation exists is crucial. It provides clarity. It allows you to say yes to things and no to things. It provides motivation.

At our team meeting on Thursday, I decided to take the story from Tuesday, tell it and ask the question of the team.  “What is the purpose of our organisation?”   In our case, we’re a theological college. We are in a re-building team phase, with at least four folk new in the last few months. So the question would not only provide clarity, guidance and motivation. It would also help with team building and re-building.

In order to resource the conversation, I used the Signposts resource.

vision2

It involves a whole range of pictures, printed on card, with a few phrases. It’s visual and tactile.  I spread them around the room and invited the team out of their seat and to each find a card that they felt answered the question – What is the purpose of a theological College?  Returning to our seats, we each shared our cards.

vision1

I then offered two options. (We normally set aside 30 minutes in our team meeting for devotion and community time,).  One option was to share with each other a moment recently when we had seen our card in action. This took the ideal of why we exist and located it in our life as a group. It allowed for encouragement.

The other option was that everyone was asked to leave their cards on the table. And if folk wanted, they could try and find a sentence that wove together all of the cards.  This was a far harder option and I wasn’t sure if there would be any takers, let alone any success.

But I was amazed, within 15 minutes, the group reported back they had a sentence. Within 30 minutes, with the help of one question (What is our purpose?) and a set of visuals, we had developed, from the bottom up, with the input of every voice in the team, a rough vision statement.

Posted by steve at 05:38 PM

Friday, November 20, 2009

kingdom living as grassroots business realities

active intent….
I believe that we are created to live the Kingdom of God in our world, not apart from but within society. I am a representative of God’s Kingdom here on earth. I live and speak for God’s rule as an attractive member of the Kingdom, not against the world but for God’s Kingdom, His Good news in Jesus transforming the world.

From the blog of Phil, one of God’s gifts at Opawa. Last year, I invited Phil, and a number of others, to keep a blog as a spiritual practice, a way of being intentional about attending to God’s Kingdom flutters (and further here). It meant that as I preached on the Kingdom during the month, ordinary folk in our church were modelling what this might look like. So it looks like Phil has continued to blog. What’s more, it’s become a fantastic set of grassroots, mission reflections. Not from a pastor, but a businessperson.

There is more to this story. Earlier this year I asked Phil and his wife, Bronwyn, to lead one (of three) mission collectives, living. Four times a year, collectives are meant to gather us around God’s mission – to discuss, resource , pray. For us at Opawa, mission has taken concrete shape in

  • living, faith in our workplaces and among our neighbours
  • loving, the local streets around us
  • creating, the citywide creative capacity of the Christmas Journey and Pentecost.

It’s been an experiment, simply trying to build community and capacity around the green shoots that seem to be Opawa’s season at the moment.

So the blog now contains some of Phil’s reflections on this challenge – what living faith sharing looks like. Again, it is fantastic – grassroots, everyday, outside church walls. Go Phil. Go mission reality beyond Sunday, outside sacred/scared walls.

(By the way, Opawa’s mission collectives are meeting again next weekend, as follows:
Friday, 7:30 pm, November 27, 303 Colombo St
Saturday, 7:45 pm, November 28, Latimer Square
Sunday, November 29, 12:30 pm.)

Posted by steve at 04:25 PM

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

does forgiveness have legs?

I sat with a workplace group today. I had been asked to spend two hours addressing the topic of Managing conflict positively, and to cover negotiation, mediation. We got to the topic of forgiveness and the question was asked. “Does forgiveness have a place in the workplace?” Great question. We bounced it around the group for a while. Some said yes, others no.

Then I went fishing. I asked them if they had ever seen forgiveness in their workplaces. (If they had, I was then going to ask if it had a positive or negative effect on the workplace culture, hoping that it was positive and so might address the original question – “Does forgiveness have a place in the workplace?”).

Silence.

No one could think of an example.

It was a sad silence and I came home pondering the “alleged” Christian Easter message, that God in Christ forgives and reconciles, wondering if any of these people worked alongside Christians, wondering what it will take to give the forgiveness message legs, into our workplaces.

Posted by steve at 06:34 PM

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

how do you sustain a workplace spirituality

On Sunday, I preached on the Bible as a resource for our workplace. I looked at Esther as beauty queen, Nehemiah as urban developer and Lydia as a business women. All were found in hard ethical places and yet sustained a missional spirituality. I suggested the church should be encouraging our young people to be ministers of the gospel in government and politics and business. Halfway through my sermon I thought; “Steve, it would have been really useful and practical if you had some practical tips on how to sustain a workplace spirituality.” But by then it was too late.

So I am on a mission this week to collect resources that would help sustain a workplace spirituality. Here’s my start. What else do you know of?

(more…)

Posted by steve at 06:22 PM