Friday, February 23, 2018

research play in the inbetween spaces

Unknown I’ve had a rich, demanding, draining and playful 24 hours. It has involved 24 hours gazing out the window of the Business School at Auckland University, finding generative space in a conversation between social entrepreneurship and theology.

It began last year, when we at KCML piloted the Lighthouse, an educative weekend encouraging local churches in innovation. Funded by an external funder, the funders challenged us to draw on resources from outside the Presbyterian theological world. A number of conversations and networks over the next few months resulted in working with a lecturer from the Business School at Auckland University. As we began she challenged us: what does Christ-based innovation look like? What in Christian resources might encourage the making of all things new?

The result was a rich weekend, in which I worked through the 6 images of innovation in my Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, while the lecturer introduced contemporary innovation practices liked the Innovation Canvas and Rituals of dissent. Participants loved it.

As the weekend concluded, we wondered aloud about doing some writing together. Hence the last 24 hours. Having listened to each other teach over a weekend last year, we met yesterday and began to toss around possibilities for publications. We searched the web for journals. We shared the things we had learnt:

  • could the social entrepreneurship of Joseph Schumpeter provide a way to understand the church as apostolic?
  • could Jesus as fool in 1 Corinthians 4 be read in light of the Biblical Wisdom literature as a way of encouraging resilience and risk-taking in social entrepreneurship?

We used the 40 paragraph technique, chose two different journals, one business, the other theological and began to map out what we might say. We had coffee and mindmapped. We challenged each other and made new connections. We shared journal articles and insights from previous writing.

We now both step away, to meet other commitments. Yet we have a clear map and enough structure to keep on writing. We are both working on our strengths and will need each other to ensure the interdisciplinary conversation continues.

It was rich, demanding, draining and playful. It is interdisciplinary, seeing what emerges in the inbetween spaces. It is a form of benchmarking – taking my speaking and exposing it to another academic, seeing what is making sense and what needs clarifying.

Posted by steve at 04:08 PM

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A millennial stare: Zadok column

zadok I have been asked to be a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Having read my film reviews for Touchstone, they requested a 860 word column every 3 months. I see is as an opportunity to write a lay focused piece of theology. They are happy for me to blog the columns I write, which makes them accessible not only on paper in Australia but digitally for everywhere. Here is my second article, for the Summer 2018 edition:

A millennial stare
Steve Taylor

I am a dinosaur. It is a recent realisation. I attend a student church in which my wife provides pastoral leadership. Making a joke about 80s music, the blank stares of the young adults around me revealed the uniqueness that is my species of dinosaur. I am shaped by different music, and thus experiences, than those born around the turn of this millennium.

Generational theory gives voice to my blank stare experiences. Sociologist Karl Mannheim noted that age-related generations share a view of reality shaped by the times in which live. Hence we get Boomers born 1945-1961, Gen Xers born 1961-1980, and Gen Y and Gen Z, the two millennial groups, born 1980-1994 and 1995-2009 respectively. Hence the music woven through my teenage years means little to my student companions.

Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture shifted Mannheim’s academic work into the mainstream of popular culture. Coupland described the accelerated lives of young adults, who share with each other their experiences of popular culture in order to make their own lives worthwhile tales in the process. Generational theory presents challenges for mission and ministry. How do different generations form faith?

Not all are convinced. Some find the boundaries between an X and a Y artificial. Others argue that humans have more in common than in difference. While the sociologists and theorists argue, I remain a dinosaur, faced with blank stares and that nagging sense of cultural disconnect. What to do? How to connect with worldviews and cultures not our own?

The best way is to listen. We have two ears and one mouth for good reason. Jesus encouraged those who called themselves disciples to interpret the signs of the times. Christian faith involves listening to culture and culture change. For Reformed theologian Kevin Vanhoozer, the competent disciple must be able to read culture and doctrine (Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Cultural Exegesis), 2007). Theology is for Monday, not just Sunday, and so the church needs to be a community of competent cultural interpreters.

What are we to listen to? Alvin Gouldner (The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology: The Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology, 1976) coined the phrase ‘newspaper sociology’ to encourage a listening that includes the reading of popular culture. The signs of the times are found in cultural artifacts like newspapers, film and social media.

The blank stares of my millennial companions pushed me toward some ‘newspaper sociology’ at my local cinema. Recent millennial movie, The Big Sick, provided a way to listen. The movie tells the true-life story of Pakistani migrant Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and American post-graduate student Emily (Zoe Kazan) as they tumble into love. It is a window into the lives and values of twenty somethings in the United States.

Central to the millennials in this movie is technology. The relationship between Kumail and Emily is sparked by Uber, nurtured by text and matured through following on Facebook. When Emily falls sick, it is technology that enables Kumail to connect with her family. Emily might be speechless, but fingerprint recognition on her iPhone allows Kumail to email her family. Dinosaurs like me might pine for face-to-face, but, for these millennials, technology is an extension of being human.

Participation shifts. Community in Big Sick is built not through the regularity of shared friendships but through events, in this case evenings of entertainment at the local stand-up comedy club. Building community occurs in the moment rather than through planned and systematic relationships.

In the secular West, religion remains. However, it is present, not in the life of American student Emily, but through the Islamic practises of Kumail and his family. Yet even here the practice of faith formation is being challenged by Western individualism. Kumail’s parents think he has retreated to pray in the downstairs basement. In reality, he spends his time practising cricket and watching YouTube videos. The interplay of faith and culture is angrily challenged. ‘Why did you bring me to America, if you wanted me to marry a Muslim?’, Kumail asks his disappointed parents.

So what does this mean for my experiences of being a dinosaur? Seeking clarity, I realised I needed to enrich my ‘newspaper sociology’ with empirical research. Ruth Perrin, in The Bible Reading of Young Evangelicals: An Exploration of the Ordinary Hermeneutics and Faith of Generation Y (2016), wanted to know how ordinary millennials are actually forming faith. She provided groups of millennials with Bible texts and watched how they engaged with the supernatural and with Divinely sanctioned violence.

The results of her research provided me with an observation, an affirmation and a gift. Perrin observed an ever-extending season of faith formation. The twenty somethings are now taking a decade to engage in genuine exploration. As is evident in Kumail’s challenge to his parents, there is intense questioning and an eclectic gathering of ideas from diverse sources. Perrin affirmed the value of consistent Biblical teaching ministry but only in environments that encourage exploration and value authenticity.

It makes those blank stares of the young adults around me an important gift. Different generations offer invitations to enter worlds we do not know. In doing so, we will encounter important questions. Is my faith more than a cultural overhang? How does a God of love square with the violence and patriarchy of the Christian past? Faced with the blanks stares of a millennial generation, I can tiptoe back to the safe ground of easy hallelujahs. Or I can see the millennial stare for what it is: the future of a questioning faith.

Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin, New Zealand, and author of Built for Change. He writes widely on theology and popular culture at

Posted by steve at 01:30 PM

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

word craft

writing-1-1314626-639x477 Intensives are intense. Running from morning to evening, from 8:30 am to 4 pm, stacked day after day, a lot of information and experiences are pushed together. One way people process is through group discussion and lecturer interaction. But there are other ways. In the intensive I co-taught last week, Church in Mission, I decided to explore processing through writing.

In the programme, I set aside 55 minutes each morning. Before the intensive started I wrote, asking students to come prepared to write. If they wrote by hand, then bring pen and paper. If they wrote by laptop or Ipad, bring that.

Writing is a “practice of care” (Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for getting published, 4). It is a major way by which knowledge is shared. Words written emerge from the internal work we do. Hence writing is a spiritual practice, that invites us to attend to self-awareness, our passions and vulnerabilities.

However, while writing is an essential skill, it tends to be taught informally. I did not receive any formal advice on writing during any of my undergraduate or postgraduate degree training. So over the last few year, wanting to take writing as communication seriously, I have read, reflected and refined my writing. The results have been encouraging. Last year I wrote 8 academic pieces (4 book chapters and 4 journal articles) and 9 industry focused pieces (plus my annual 11 film reviews for Touchstone). So I was keen to see what would happen in a class if given space to write.

Each morning of the intensive last week, I offered a few minutes teaching on writing skills. On Tuesday, warm up exercises; on Wednesday, writing habits, on Thursday, tiny texts; on Friday, structures. These were drawn from sources like Pat Thomson, Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals: Strategies for getting published and Helen Sword Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write and Stylish Academic Writing.

Then I simply invited people to write, whether to summarise the course in preparation for the first assignment or to report to their church leadership on learnings from the week of study leave.

The quiet tap of keyboard and scratch of pen enveloped the class.

As the writing time drew to a close, I invited folk to do two things. First, to count the number of words. Second, to note a few dot points of what they would do next. So that come the next morning, after a few more writing tips, they could climb back into the keyboard tap and pen scratch.

The first morning, in trying to framing why we might do this, I asked folk to brainstorm the forms of writing they might be expected to do in their ministerial context. The list was extensive and together we realised the value of writing, and the need to think about and practise together the skill of writing.

Feedback from participants was very positive, with writing mentioned every day in the daily debrief and in written class evaluations at weeks’ end.


Posted by steve at 08:01 PM

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Christ-based innovation: eschatology and entrepreneurship

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 8.58.08 AM

Christ-based innovation, a short piece, written with a KCML colleague, Mark Johnston, for SPANZ Summer 2017. It uses eschatology to consider innovation, building on my chapter on Jesus the innovator in Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration

The Bible ends with a vision of creation restored and reconciled. At the heart is Jesus Christ – crucified, risen – announcing the making of all things new (Rev 21:5). This provides a way to understand Christ-based innovation.  

Presbyterian theologian Michael Jinkins calls Christ-based innovation one of the most remarkable and vital hallmarks of our Reformed legacy. It is a way to make sense of the call of the Reformers to ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, the Church always in need of being reformed. Presbyterians were innovators with the capacity to draw from the experience of ancient Christian communities in adapting to new situations, says Jinkins in The Church Transforming: What’s Next for the Reformed Project? We are defined by our history as innovative as we participate in God’s making of all things new.

Christ-based innovation is also a way of making sense of the mission of the Apostle Paul. Hallmarks of his ministry were the forming of multiple, diverse Christian communities. For Paul, this was innovation and was always coupled with risk. Paul wrote of how his Christ-based innovation risked the appearance of foolishness with the potential to upend religious, political and economic conventions of wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20-25; 3:18-23). To proclaim Jesus is Lord, meant Caesar was not. To proclaim a crucified saviour was to upend power and religious control and break retributive cycles of violence. To proclaim a Risen Lord with a life now poured out for all who would receive him was to re-order social relations, Jew and Gentile, women and men, slave and free. Innovation was a risky venture as it challenged established cultural patterns.

It was also a risky venture because it challenged established church ways. We see this as Peter met Cornelius (Acts 10) and Paul met Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). The risks echo through history, as Luther, Calvin and Knox met the established church. Today, much of our Presbyterian polity is designed to protect the gains made by earlier eras of innovation, particularly the new impetus that resulted from the Reformation innovations. However in consolidating gains of the past, we can become closed to ongoing attempts to respond to the call of Christ making all things new. We show favour to what we already know over the unknown, uncertain and unconventional.

We need to own as Presbyterian churches that innovation and those risking a new thing will be misunderstood. It will feel like they are challenging the status quo. They will not meet people’s current expectations. They will risk being isolated and left to carry things alone. They will risk exposure, unfair criticism and potentially the shame of apparent lack of success.

So if we are to be churches that create conditions for the risk of Christ-based innovations, we will need to lay hold of another of our great Reformed hallmarks, that of grace. Overflowing grace along with risk is at the heart of innovating. We are always in grace, for Christ-based innovation is birthed out of gifts given and received.

Grace for innovation givers involves the freedom to try new things and be generous when there is stumbling. This includes being supportive with compliments and ready to revise metrics about success and progress.

Grace for innovation receivers includes being faithful stewards of the gifts of generosity, freedom and support. It will mean reporting on progress and sharing stories of what God is up to in the midst of innovation.

In the grace of risk and innovation, givers and receivers will find themselves as disciples, learning to draw from the experiences of ancient communities, like Paul and the Reformers, in the making of all things new.

Mark Johnston and Steve Taylor, KCML

Posted by steve at 07:52 PM

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Is the author actually alive?

For the last month, I have been working to complete a writing deadline. In June last year, I co-presented a paper on theological education in the Pacific at Woven Together, a conference on Christianity and development in the Pacific, run by the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University. Titled The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre, the paper involved research on the history of New Zealand Presbyterian involvement in theological education in Vanuatu, using archives held at the Archives Research Centre of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Talua is a partner College of Knox Centre, so doing this research helped me understand and appreciate this historical partnership.

Following the conference in June, I was invited to develop the paper for publication in a book emerging from the conference. In order to broaden the research, over the last few months I have been searching more widely for materials. Doing a literature search at the Otago University Library catalogue, I discovered some potentially interesting titles were held at the Hocken Collections.


So in late March, I ducked into the Hocken Collections to look at an honours thesis, by Melissa Bray, and a lecture, by Neal Whimp. It was a lovely few hours, in the quiet of one of New Zealand’s wonderful archival resources, reading about mission in the Pacific, taking notes relevant to my research.

On Thursday this week I flew to Tauranga, to speak to the Kaimai Presbytery. I used the time airborne to write, putting the finishing touches to the chapter. This included re-reading the notes I had made at the Hocken Collections on the lecture by Neal Whimp and then adding the reference to the bibliography: The Church in Vanuatu since 1945 with special reference to its role in the move to Independence, 1980. I made excellent progress on the 110 minute flight to Tauranga and later that evening, I was able to send the chapter off to the editors (only 20 days behind deadline!)

On Friday, I was speaking in Tauranga to a group of Presbyterian ministers. Among the audience, asking thoughtful pointed questions, was a person with a name tag “Neal Whimp.” One question in the afternoon session included a very helpful probing about colonialism in mission. The nature of the question suggested that the person with a name tag “Neal Whimp” had some history and empathy toward cross-cultural challenges.

As I packed up at the end of the day, I had this feeling that the name “Neal Whimp” was familiar. Something clicked in relation to my writing the day before. Was the Neal Whimp in person on Friday the Neal Whimp on paper on Thursday? Surely not!? Could the lecture I read at the Hocken Collections actually have a living author? Surely not in Tauranga, surely not some 37 years later?

Before I could check, the person with a name tag “Neal Whimp” was gone.

On Saturday, I spoke again, to a larger group, still Presbyterian, but this time a mixture of ministers, elders and lay people. As folk began to gather, I kept scanning the crowd. Would he return? If he did, would I get to connect with him among a crowd of over 100, moving between multiple workshops and keynotes?

I was delighted to spot the person with a name tag “Neal Whimp” entering and made a bee-line. “Are you by any chance the Neal Whimp who in 1980, delivering a lecture titled The Church in Vanuatu since 1945 with special reference to its role in the move to Independence, 1980? Because if you are, I was reading your work two days ago and I’m delighted to meet you.”

Sure enough, it was the same person.

We had a great conversation. He was delighted to know his lecture was held at the Hocken Collections and was being read. I gained some more insight, albiet briefly, into his work in Vanuatu in theological education between 1969 and 1980.

And I left pondering this striking coincidence. Authors read in archives can actually be alive! A person I cite on a Thursday can be met for the first time on a Friday!

Posted by steve at 05:42 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 …


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

Thursday, February 02, 2017

U2 praying the pattern of the Psalms in Paris

A joy yesterday to have a 2,000 word article accepted for Equip a bi-annual publication of Ethos Centre for Christianity and Society. Aware of my interest in U2, they asked me early in January to write something for an upcoming edition on music.

Back in October I was doing research on how religious groups prayed after Paris. Having written a number of times about U2′s live concert performances, I wondered how they responded, given they played days after the Paris bombings. The research in October (watching the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Live In Paris DVD) never made it into the two conference presentations that resulted.

So when Ethos emailed, I thought it might be an opportunity to use research done, but not likely to find a writing home. I looked back over my research notes: watching U2 DVD’s as research! How did they pray, live, publicly, in the midst of so much pain?

I also was aware of the friendship between Bono (of the band U2) and Eugene Peterson (author of contemporary-language Bible translation The Message) and their common interest in the Psalms.

So over the last few weeks, various scraps on the hard drive began a 2000 word piece, titled


U2 praying the pattern of the Psalms in Paris


Here’s part of the conclusion:

In sum, aware of a broken world, I have examined how music and musicians might respond. Psalms voice the full register of human emotion. The Psalms of lament offer a pattern: call, confession, complaint, curse and confidence in surrender. I have examined how U2 played in Paris and have argued that this pattern is evident, not on a single song, but over a number of songs, stretched over more than sixty minutes. In response to terror, and the resulting emotions of anger and fear, U2 called for help, confessed and complained. But they did not curse. Instead they looked to New Testament resources, to the love of Christ.

It’s my 2nd U2 piece this month, having submitted in the middle of January a 9,500 word chapter for a book on religion and U2 with Bloomsbury, currently titled


God moves in mysterious ways: Performed pneumatology as passionate participation in the evolution of U2’s Mysterious Ways


Two pieces in one month on one band is a bit ridiculous. But it is nice to be writing in the theology and culture interface. It brings to seven the number of things I’ve had published on U2 over the last 6 years. Not something I every expected, but it has been a fun trip. Now back to some real theology!  (It also explains the silence on the blog front – only 1 post in the month of January, my most silent month ever. Apologies).

Other work I’ve had published on U2 and lament:

Posted by steve at 02:25 PM

Sunday, January 22, 2017

writing in 2016

Writing is essential to my role as teacher and academic. Writing allows me to place ideas in the public domain. It is one thing to develop ideas in front of students and over the water cooler at work. It is quite another to discipline these into a coherent whole. Writing invites me to be accountable, exposes my ideas to review, comment and feedback. It is a discipline, one I have worked on cultivating over the past few years.

So as the 2016 year ticks over, it is always interesting to reflect on progress. During 2016, I had five things published, including one book and four printed articles. Each had a unique journey, which in itself says something about my location and how I work.

The book – Built for Change: A Practical Theology of Innovation and Collaboration – began with a book proposal, which was accepted by the publisher in August 2015. I really wanted to write a book about change based on real stories of real people. My location is Australia and New Zealand and I was delighted to find an Australasian publisher, allowing me to reflect theologically on local stories. The writing happened over the final months of 2015 and into early 2016. This period also included shifting countries. The move both helped my writing, giving me different perspectives, but also hindered, with the reality of shifting. The complete manuscript was submitted in February 2016 and various editorial drafts bounced back and forth until release in late May 2016.

Since then it has gained 7 reviews, including from two Moderators, a Director of Mission for a not-for-profit agency and two academic lecturers. All have been very complimentary.

The four articles were all “industry” related. I had two short articles published in SPANZ, the quarterly publication of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

It takes a church to raise a minister. SPANZ, 65 (Summer), page 18.

A theology of strategic planning? Yeah right! SPANZ, 67 (Spring) page 18.

I had a further piece published in Candour, an online publication of the the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. This was a requested piece, to write something theological about rejuvenation and the church.

Rejuvenation in the Church: some theological notes. Candour, March 2016

In describing them as “industry” related, I am making a distinction between writing for my academic peers and writing for key “industry” stakeholders, which in my case involve ministers and church leaders. “Industry writing” requires taking theological ideas I am wrestling with, but trying to explain them directly, without footnotes and reference to all the background. The writing needs to be differently structured, to capture and maintain interest.

As the year ending, I had a further article published in Refresh: Journal of Contemplative Spirituality.

Mission possible: Becoming intercultural by becoming children, Refresh: Journal of Contemplative Spirituality 17 (2) Summer 2016, 42-44

This was an unexpected surprise, a piece of writing that had begun life as a graduation sermon and then a spoken presentation in Auckland, which I summarised on my blog. The editor of Refresh spotted the piece and a few months later, sent me a lightly edited copy, noting how it fitted the upcoming theme of the journal and asking if they could publish it. So a very easy “writing” birth, because of the interplay between speaking, blogging and a good editor! It is yet another “industry” publication, but emerging as a result of various speaking opportunities.

During 2016, I also continued to write monthly film reviews, which at 500 words a pop, amount to 11 published pieces totaling 5,500 words. These appear in Touchstone magazine and I am then allowed to place them at a later date on my blog.

In 2016, I also had a book chapter accepted for a book on religion and U2 with Bloomsbury. This involved responding to a call for papers with a 300 word chapter proposal in January. This is a much more “academic” piece of writing. My proposal was accepted in March and I supplied a complete draft of around 8,500 words in mid-December. It has bounced back with editorial comment and all going well, will be published later in 2017.

So looking back over the 2016 year, one book, four “industry” publications and eleven film reviews means 16 pieces of work totalling some 63,000 published words across the year. The “industry” focus, along with the demands of writing a book, have meant I have not had as much opportunity to write academically.

I have however, over the 2016 year, worked up three complete-draft journal articles, which I hope to submit to various journals in the coming months. Plus I have a book chapter to write as a result of a paper I presented (The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of Talua Ministry Training Centre) at Woven Together: Christianity and the Pacific conference, which was subsequently accepted by the conference organisors. I have also been asked to deliver two keynote addresses at Wondering about God together in late April, which the conference organisers have already asked me to prepare for publication.

Once those I done, well …

Posted by steve at 06:11 PM

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sandpits. Why some papers write quicker than others.

I had an interesting experience over the last 48 hours. Back in October, I submitted two conference paper proposals (250 word abstracts) to International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) Korea conference. Both were accepted.

One was based on a film, Silence, which was at that time pegged for release in November, 2015. My proposal read as follows:

Title: “regard as valuable”: Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change

Accounts of conversion and transformation within the Christian tradition are often linked to narratives of success and expansion. Yet a truthful missiology needs to engage the entirety of the Christian story. Silence: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) is a historical novel that 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 and due for release in 2016, it will undoubtedly rekindle debate regarding conversion and transformation, including how to understand the mission in the gaps and silences of history.

This paper will examine three missiological approaches.

First, the work of Donald McGavran who has argued that lack of success in conversion and transformation is due to the strategies being deployed, particularly a lack of resources focused on evangelism.

Second, the work of David Bosch who has argued that suffering is at the core of Christian mission and that silence can be an evangelistic action.

Third, the work of Philip Jenkins who has argued that the Christian understanding of Easter, in both death and resurrection, is a more Christian paradigm for understanding religious change than that of progress.

Each of these missiological approaches to religious change will be applied to Silence, both the novel and movie (if released in time). The argument is that missiological approaches that speak of silence are consistent with the Apostle Paul, who asks the church in Philippi to “regard as valuable” the story of Epaphroditus.

Following acceptance of abstracts, IAMS then required 2000 word papers to be submitted by the end of May, 2016. By the end of May, Silence the movie had not been released! I had already written one paper for IAMS. So I wrote to the conference organisors, advising I was unable to provide a second paper, on Silence, due to the film not as yet having been released. They replied, indicating how keen they were to have the paper. They suggested I complete a draft, based on the book, which I could change if and when the movie appeared. They also offered a 12 day extension, to Sunday 12 June.

I had two other talks to give between the end of May and the 12th of June, both of which required significant preparation. I relayed this to IAMS. However, flying back on Saturday having completed the two presentations, I realised I had 90 minutes in the air. Often being locked in a plane can be highly productive. So I decided I’d spend the time writing and see what happened.

90 minutes later, as the plane began to descend and the call came to turn off all electronic devices, I did a word count. 1750 words!

Wow. Another few hours the next evening, and I found myself with a complete draft. An edit from a competent, understanding academic colleague this morning, and I have just sent a 2,000 word paper, written in the space of 6 hours, over a 48 hour period.

Some papers write quicker than others. Why?

Location – as I said above, I often find myself highly productive when airborne at 30,000 feet. It means no email, office interruptions or phone calls. In addition, looking down provides a different sort of perspective. This becomes a gift, which becomes productive.

Limitation – Given the unavailability of the film, the conference organisers had suggested I provide a draft. This did something mentally. Instead of looking forward, wondering what else I needed to read, and in this case, what else I needed watch, I found myself looking back. What did I already have that I could make use of? Locked in a metal tube, with no new books to distract me, all I had was previous scraps of writing and my head. Searching my hard drive, I found a theoretical frame that I had used in a 2008 conference presentation on female Christ figures in film and realised it could be helpfully used. I remembered I had written in 2010 a film review, in my role as Touchstone film reviewer, that dealt with similar themes. Both opened up some helpful theorisation. Suddenly I had the basis for two sections. The initial work I had done in preparing the abstract became a useful third section. Limitation got me looking within.

Clarity of task – Hemingway said write drunk, edit sober. The argument is that we use different parts of our brain to create than we do to correct. We need to play, and then, separately, to evaluate. We should never do these two tasks together. On Saturday, when I began to write, it was playful. “What the heck,” I thought as the plane took off, “I have 90 minutes, so let’s see what happens.” I doubted I would come up with anything, so there was certainly a risk free environment.

Surprised by my output on Saturday, I decided to have a second play on Sunday. “What the heck, I have a few evening hours free, I wonder if I can land this, write a complete draft before 10 pm tonight?” If I did, I could then sleep on it (sleep-in Monday actually), and then turn from play to edit, reading critically what I had playfully produced.

Sandpits – In a recent post on writing (from binge to snack: why Parking 60 has changed my writing life), I reflected on the difference between binge writing and snack writing. I talked about how the discipline of sixty minutes a day had enhanced my writing.

Reflecting on this past weekend, I did not feel like I was either snacking or binging. I wrote for two sessions, one 90 minutes, then other 150. Then it was an edit, once on the screen in response to feedback, the second on paper as a final edit.

sandpit A more helpful image for what I have experienced would be neither snacking, nor binging but sandpitting. Sandpits are places to play. Play happens because of structure – the physical structure of a bounded space, the social structure of watching parents. In the sandpit, results and outcomes are not the issue. Play is.

Location and limitation and clarity of task had produced a sandpit. A “no-outcomes-expected, have-a-go, draw-together-what-you-already-know” play. My play was further supported by that helpful colleague, able to offer quick, objective, time-bound advice. They knew I had time pressures and were able to feedback within those realities.

What I have written will undoubtedly need more work, including wider reading and a reconsideration when (if) the film appears. But I now have words. And some satisfaction, at producing a 2,000 word conference paper in 48 hour period. And respect for the possibilities and potential of being placed in a sandpit!

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM

Monday, May 30, 2016

God’s work in a homeless world

durham I’ve just submitted a paper proposal for the Durham Conference on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, September 2016. If accepted, and if the funding comes through, it will work beautifully with my BERA conference presentation, in Leeds a few days later.

This paper has been composting for over a year. It began as a research memo in May, 2015, when I hit a research brickwall in a book project on sustainability and fresh expressions. I needed a theological lens, other than numbers, by which to discern innovation.

It was clarified by email conversation with Paul Fiddes, who helped me name my research question. It was sharpened by a lecture in February, working with KCML interns. The result is the following paper. And, with thinking clarified, shaped and sharpened, I can return to the book project! Here is the abstract.

God’s work in a homeless world: the Christian practice of discernment in conversation with Irenaeus

Missio Dei understands God as the primary agent of mission. The affirmation, however, generates questions regarding how to discern Divine work in the world. This paper undertakes an exercise in practical theology, testing the practicalities of the Christian practice of discernment. The argument is that a Christology of giving and receiving, evident in a pastoral encounter with a homeless person, redraws Irenaeus’ theology of recapitulation.

The starting point is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s notion of Christ taking “form among us today and here” (Ethics, 2009). Paul Fiddes uses this starting point in clarifying the nature of empirical research in theology (Seeing the World and Knowing Godxt, 2013; Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, 2012). The possibilities of Christ taking “form today” as a Christian practice of discernment are tested in three steps.

As a first step, a set of questions is developed by which the specific shape of Christ’s form might be discerned. Three possibilities are introduced, drawing on Trinitarian presence in three Biblical narratives, the theology of creation in the Old Testament wisdom literature and the Divine processions of mission. Each is consistent with the Christological and Trinitarian impulses inherent in Bonhoeffer, yet provides a different lens in the practice of discernment. Drawing from Trinitarian narratives, do we see signs of creating, reconciling or the making of all things new? Drawing from wisdom literature, what can be blessed because it contributes to human flourishing? Drawing from the processions of mission, where do we see relationships of extravagant giving and receiving?

Second, the three discernment questions are tested against a moment of lived reality, a pastoral encounter between a street chaplain and a homeless person. The encounter is documented by Henk de Roest (Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, 2012). While the use here of an existing empirical data set might be new in practical theology, it is consistent with Five Ways of Doing Qualitative Analysis (2011) in which researchers analyse the same data using diverse methodologies. This paper tests the usefulness of such an approach in practical theology. The three discernment questions, when applied to this pastoral encounter, enrich understandings of God’s work in a homeless world. The shape by which Christ takes “form among us today” is clarified, particularly with regard to the agency of God in human giving and receiving.

Third, Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation is redrawn in light of the mutual giving and receiving discerned in the pastoral encounter. The argument is that recapitulation needs not only to articulate Christ receiving in maturation, but also in ministry. The pastoral encounter enriches our understanding of the nature of Incarnation and the self-limits of revelation inherent when God’s work in the world occurs as a communicative act of giving and receiving.

Practical theology is thus a Christian practice in which acts of discernment, in conversation with empirical data and historical theology, deepen understanding of reciprocity in the nature of God. The empirical is essential for theology, while theology is essential for Christian practice.

Posted by steve at 09:59 AM

Saturday, May 28, 2016

from binge to snack: why Parking 60 has changed my writing life

A year ago, I attended a Thinkwell seminar, on academic writing. It was two hours that flipped my approach to writing on its head. As part of the seminar, Thinkwell talked about the contrast between binge writing and snack writing. Binge writing involves large slabs of time, often when faced by a deadline. Snack writing is regular, limited, daily.

Prior to the seminar, I had been a binge writer. I am motivated by deadlines. I told myself I needed good time to get into the headspace I needed to write. Since that time rarely came along, the binges – faced with an academic conference looming – would at times get pretty intense.

Thinkwell encouraged writing between 45 to 120 minutes a day, five days a week, first thing. Writing is writing. It is not reading or editing. It is putting words on a page. I decided to give it a go.


A year ago, I hung a “Shh. Research in progress” sign over my desk at home. I turned off the internet. I cleared the desk of everything but my research. I placed the photo on my cellphone as a reminder. I began to try and not make appointments before 9:30 am.

That was 29 May, 2015.

research60 This week, 26 May, 2016, I took a second photo. “Parking 60.” It captures my current work habit. I do the school run, then head for a cafe (less likely to be disturbed). I write for 60 minutes. I “park” – writing a few notes to myself about what I need to do next. I return to work and have about 15 minutes to clear immediate email, before heading for staff morning tea and into my meetings. I do that three to four times a week.

In the year in between these two photos, in my snack writing, I have written 75,000 words. This involves one book (Built for Change), three journal articles (draft, not yet submitted) and one international conference presentation.

I have continued to find small fragments of time at meet urgent deadlines at other times of the day. This is not in the 75,000 words tally, but has included eleven monthly 500 word film reviews, eight conference abstracts, two 700 word articles aimed at my industry partner and the publication of one conference proceedings.

The encouragement by Thinkwell to snack writing is based on psychological and educational research into productivity in research.

  • First, writing is hard work. It is 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration. Humans tend to do all they can to avoid hard work.
  • Second, the brain makes its best decisions when fresh. Hence the brain is more likely to remain on task, focused on the hard work of writing if you write first in your day.
  • Third, the brain subconsciously processes while you go about other tasks. Snack writing is more likely to draw on this subconscious processes. When a thought comes during the day, I make a quick note, and have something to spark when when I return the next morning.
  • Fourth, the brain remembers what you felt like as you last finished something. If you binge write, you are more likely to finish exhausted. The brain remembers this and the next time you want to write, your brain recalls how hard it was and encourages you to find an easier task. If you snack write, you are likely to stop while you are in a good flow. The brain remembers this. The next time you want to write, the brain recalls how energised you were in the midst of the flow.
  • Fifth, this is helped by “parking.” At the end of 60 minutes, I make a note of what I was about to do. I label this clearly in yellow on my Word document. I also make a note in Evernote using a tag “the next most important thing.” I update my work count, to give a sense of progress. This means when I sit to write, it is easier to pick up the task. I don’t have to work out what do, because it is already there in my to do list .

Over the year, I have noticed some changes. I tend now to think in sections. Rather than look at an entire piece of work that needs to be around 6,000 words for a journal article or 8,000 words for a book chapter, I find I am using headings to break the project up. With only an hour, I find myself focused on completing a section, rather than the entire project. I used to think I needed a sabbatical or at least a whole day to work on a book. Now I am much more comfortable in 60 minute bursts. I also tend to be better organised. I have a cloth bag in which my books for different projects live, which gets taken to the cafe. If I need a book to complete the next section, I find myself fitting the task of acquiring the book into the day, rather than needing to first find the book before I can start writing.

I have moved jobs during the year. The output is roughly similar. I wrote  around 25,000 in the four months of being Principal of Uniting College and have written 55,000 in the eight months of being Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. In the current job, I have less breakfast meetings. However, I am flying more, which provides a different set of challenges.

By claiming 60 minutes, what have I lost? My partner reckons I don’t come home from work any later. I am blogging less. (I have averaged 9 blog posts per month in the last 12 months; 12 blog posts per month in the 12 months prior). In other words, blogging was my previous “snack writing.”  I am probably a bit slower with some email. But I am also more energised. It feels great arriving to my tasks knowing I have already given good, solid, time, to something I value.

I am not sure my writing is any better, although I suspect it is. But one year on, snack writing has changed my writing life and certainly increased my output.

Posted by steve at 03:25 PM

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Letter to the editor March 31 2016

My recent letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times has just been published! A little flag wave for justice. Ten days after submission, but still a point worth making.

The ODT (19 March) leads with the headline: “Camp site like ‘refugee camp.’” It quotes Brandon O’Callaghan comparing a Gibbston camping ground to a “Syrian refugee camp.”

The article mentions 200 people camping. The Za’atari refugee camp holds 83,000 refugees. The leading ODT photo shows twenty parked cars, with people relaxing on camping chairs. Syrian refugees walk, arriving at Za’atari desperate for food and water. 86% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line, a far cry from the financial resources freedom campers require to navigate Aotearoa New Zealand.

In a short time, Dunedin City will welcome Syrian refugees. What will they make of Dunedin’s leading newspaper making such pronouncements about the realities they have experienced?

Freedom camping is a problem needing solving. Misleading headlines add more heat than light. Can I suggest the ODT do some fact checking in order to run headlines more accurate and compassionate.

Dr Stephen Taylor

Posted by steve at 03:05 PM

Friday, March 18, 2016

“says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what U2 has done”

c6016d10682061148d818b5ac2b57716 A very thorough review of U2: Above, Across, and Beyond—Interdisciplinary Assessments, edited by Scott Calhoun, has recently appeared in the Cleveland Examiner. “This is heady stuff written by individuals who’ve given serious thought to U2’s “missteps, disappointments, failures…and ordinary problems.” …. As is the norm with a Lexington publication, Above, Across is … a college-worthy appreciation of its subject.” High praise indeed.

In terms of my chapter, “Transmitting Memories” there is an extended, positive, engagement.

Flinders University senior lecturer Steve Taylor sifts through Bono’s in-concert “lyrical departures” from the recorded versions of key tracks to arrive at an understanding of how the band memorializes people, places, and events during performances—thereby manufacturing unique new moments for the ticketholders in attendance. Spring-boarding from his discovery of a shout-out to the thirteen-years-dead Frank Sinatra in a live version of “Until the End of the World,” Taylor comments upon Bono’s many mentions of past concerts, prior locations…and dead people (Eunice Shriver, Greg Carroll, buried miners in New Zealand) from the stage, and how these seemingly unscripted one-liners establish both an oral history of the band and a “collective memory” for concert audiences.

“What would motivate such changes?” Taylor ponders.

Calendrical repetition, verbal repetition, and gestural repetition conspire upon U2’s gargantuan stages, weaving a ritualistic tapestry the band tosses over audiences like a playful papa blinding a laughing toddler with her “woobie.” There’s more than meets the eye when Bono waves at Larry behind the drums, thrusts a finger in the air, or points his microphone at fans in the front row. These are “concert-rical” connections that make each show special and enhance the universal appeal of each tour after the fact.

Remember Bono’s white flag at Red Rocks (Under a Blood Red Sky), or how he danced with a girl from the audience at Live Aid? These small, spontaneous gestures mean a lot in the long run, says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what the band has done.”

For the full review, by Pete Roche, in the Cleveland Examiner, go here. For a summary of my next U2 chapter – She moves in mysterious ways: a theology of “sexy music” – check out here. For the book, in paperback, check out is here.

Posted by steve at 07:19 PM

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Acceptance Notice Mysterious Ways: U2 And Religion

BellyDancer_main-300x286 I was delighted to hear today that my proposed chapter for a book on U2 and Religion has been accepted. The book, titled Mysterious Ways, is to be published by Bloomsbury Press, sometime in 2017. My chapter will pick up on some work I did in 2010, around Sarah Coakley, pneumatology and U2. It is good to have a chance to revisit the work and to be able to position it slightly differently by focusing directly on Mysterious Ways. Here is what the chapter will explore:

She moves in mysterious ways: a theology of “sexy music”
Dr Steve Taylor

This chapter argues that U2’s live performances of “Mysterious ways” offer an ecstatic, sonic and participative theology. The song, described by Bono as “sexy music,” has gained critical and popular acclaim.

Performed live 584 times, “Mysterious ways” has gone through three distinct live phases. The first involved an on-stage belly dancer, moving always out of reach of Bono’s stretching fingertips. The second involved a female member of the audience joining Bono live on stage to dance. The third involved a re-worked conclusion. The lyrics “She moves, We move, s/Spirit teach me” were sung as Bono extended his arms upward and outward. Simultaneously the lighting, until then tightly focused on the band, rolled outward over the audience. Together these three phases – performer on stage, the audience member as performer on stage, the audience as performer – become an incorporative, participative and sonic theology.

This conclusion is reached by bringing the performances of “Mysterious ways” into conversation with British theologian, Sarah Coakley, who calls for an understanding of God’s Holy Spirit as gendered, sexualised and ecstatic. She argues from Romans 8:22-27 that God is experienced only through a profound entanglement with the ecstasies of human sexual desire. For Coakley, feminine metaphors (birth pains) and the mysterious ways of the non-rational realm (wordless groans) describe divine participation. Coakley’s theology gives words to the performative phrases of “Mysterious ways,” making sense of a theology of “sexy music,” in which the audience is invited to “move with” the dancing s/Spirit.

Three points of departure are important. Regarding performance, if Bono is inviting the audience to “move with” it, how does an incorporative, participative pneumatology honour the individual in the concert experience? Coakley helps by calling attention to the Spirit’s ceaseless “moves” irrespective of human participation. This complicates and enriches all three of Bono’s performative modes.

Regarding theology, Coakley commends prayer as silent contemplation. U2 provide a stark contrast, offering rock, specifically the Edges’ chiming bar chords, played through an effects unit. U2’s approach provides another way to understand “wordless groans,” as a sound scape. This reading would complicate and enrich Coakley’s understanding of the ecstatic.

This line of enquiry can be developed using the work of Endrinal (2012) who has analysed the introduction by U2 in Achtung Baby of multiregister vocal layering to provide a rich sonic signature. This can be helpfully set alongside evidence of the growing influence on U2 of North African and African-American musical traditions. “Sexy music” is thus communicated sonically, as well as through performance and theology.

Hence bringing “Mysterious Ways” into conversation with Coakley provides a theology of “sexy music” in U2. The Spirit moves in a soundscape that is ecstatic, sonic and participative. This provides a different place to locate the mystery of religious experience, in the beat and bass of a rock concert.

Dr Steve Taylor,
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.

This will be my sixth publication in the area of U2 in the last five years:

Which is a somewhat unexpected (“mysterious” even) move in my writing. However I do enjoy the opportunity to think theologically, particularly through the lens of lament and liturgy, so I’m delighted to participate in this project.

Posted by steve at 02:48 PM