Saturday, October 28, 2017

work and play

I’m heading off for 6 days of work and play in 4 different cities.

Today, I fly to Hamilton. On Sunday, I am connecting with one of our churches that host an intern placement, thanking them for the partnership.

On Monday, I am speaking at REFORMATION 500 NZ: a multi-disciplinary conference on the Reformation and its impact, to mark the 500th anniversary of the symbolic beginning of the Reformation on 31 October 1517. I am doing a hour long presentation, titled Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand. I am using Maori story and Maori understandings of taonga tuku iho (treasures handed down) to reflect on sola Scriptura. Some of it is based on research over this year. Some of it is hot off the press, using the insights of Jonathan Mane-Wheoki in the amazing The Lives of Colonial Objects.

Then, I bus to Auckland, staying with friends, before flying to Adelaide. At this point I shift from work to play. I am part of “Undisciplined Austen” a 2017 interdisciplinary research project run by Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities. This involves making a presentation on the role of religion in contemporary popular culture portrayals of Jane Austen. (I described here how this has come about). This type of research is at the margins of my Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership role. Hence the “play” as I will be on leave.

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 4.20.19 PM However, I’ve still got a bit of work to do on this presentation, so the flight will likely be work, in a playful way.

I pause for a day of recovery in Adelaide on Wednesday November 1, before flying to Christchurch to spend time with my mum. There is a garden that needs a tidy!

Back in Dunedin on Friday; after working and playing through 4 cities in 6 days.

Posted by steve at 10:30 AM

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand

(My abstract for REFORMATION 500 NZ: a multi-disciplinary conference on the Reformation and its impact will be held in Hamilton, New Zealand, to mark the 500th anniversary of the symbolic beginning of the Reformation on 31 October 1517.

Rethinking the Reformation: Sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand

Essential to the Reformation was the claim of sola Scriptura that destablised received patterns of church tradition. Yet contemporary reader response theory shifts the focus of Scripture from text to reader, from tradition to context. How might indigenous strategies of Scripture reading in Aotearoa New Zealand help us rethink the Reformation? Two examples are provocative.

One is the speech of Wiremu Tamihana recorded in the Great Britain Parliamentary Papers. In response to the ultimatum presented by the Crown to Waikato Maori in 1861, Tamihana drew on Deuteronomy 17:15 and Ephesians 2:13. The result was a contextual theology of church and state which reconceived Maori political initiatives, preserved difference and offered a Christology framed by justice.

A second is Te Whiti O Rongomai’s use of the Bible at Parihaka in the 1880’s. His use of the Samson narrative in Judges 15:4-5, as outlined in Nita McMaster’s research, shows a remarkable sensitivity to the narrative development of the book of Judges. Te Whiti invoked the implements of the oppressor, both their sacred text and their plough. This was a radical reading, an indigenous strategy that pre-dated by some hundred years Western interpreters (including Robert Boling and Roger Ryan) who argue that Judges 15 offered a guerilla strategy of non-violent resistant.

The Reformation impulse that prioritised vernacular translations of Scripture is evident in the historical commitment to Bible translation in New Zealand. What is intriguing is how this privileging of text results in indigenous readings that challenge the patterns of tradition being imposed by colonisers. Such is the power of sola Scriptura when people read for themselves in their own language.

Hence the examining of sola Scriptura in Aotearoa New Zealand is instructive in rethinking the reformation. Sola Scriptura is a key resource in resisting imperialism and complexifying understandings of cross-cultural transmission.

Posted by steve at 11:42 AM

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thresholds: liminal learnings for theological education

I’ve been asked to contribute to a 2018 book on the future of theological education in Aotearoa New Zealand. The theoretical lens is thresholds, which got me thinking about the ways that previous thresholds might resource future journeys. Here is the abstract I submitted for the research project yesterday.

Unknown-10

Thresholds: liminal learnings for theological education from the history of becoming Presbyterian in Aoteoroa New Zealand

Steve Taylor

Our history, according to Paul Ricoeur, tells us how we might become. For Presbyterians in Aotearoa New Zealand, theological education has taken historical shape over 140 years ago, first in the Theological Hall, more recently through the School of Ministry and Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

Four thresholds have been significant, including relationships with indigenous people, responses to migration, the impact of secularism and student activism in seeking a nuclear free New Zealand. In this history is embodied knowledge, as a range of thresholds have been negotiated. In each is the opportunity to examine theological education by probing the socio-location of church and college, paying particular attention to the learnings from encountering an-other.

A threshold suggests someone, or something, is on the other side. How has the voice of the other been heard in the history of Presbyterian theological education? The church as institution has power in the form of church discipline, standards for ordination and resources of time and finance. How has theological education positioned itself, both in relation to power and in self-understanding as it encountered the liminal space between stakeholders and marginal voices?

An examination of the history of Presbyterian theological education, using published history, archival research and (potentially) participant interviews will clarify liminal learnings that can address the who, how and what of what theological education might become in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Posted by steve at 09:55 AM

Monday, October 02, 2017

Tide turn

I found myself on Maori Beach, Stewart Island last week as the tide turned. I watched as the sea pushed the river backwards. I reflected on the power of water. It became a prayer, for mainline denominations in decline; and all those who serve in them.

tide turn Stewart Island from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 10:11 PM

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Revelation’s Dawn Chorus: Zadok column

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 Spring 2017 edition:

Revelation’s Dawn Chorus
By Steve Taylor

The huia is a bird, native to New Zealand, with long black feathers and a white-tipped tail. Thousands of huia were exported overseas after becoming fashionable in Britain following a presentation of tail feathers to the Duke of York when he visited New Zealand in 1901. Within six years, the huia had disappeared. Since then, New Zealand’s dawn chorus has lacked the huia’s smooth distinctive whistle.

We as humans take a strange attitude towards those with whom we share this fragile earth. We are born into gift, yet we grow with a seemingly inbuilt desire to possess rather than share. The legacy of social Darwinism is competitive acquisition in which the strongest survive. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson tells repeated stories of this human desire to possess. The Bachman’s warbler had vanished from the southern United States by 1930. Then, in 1939, two separate birding enthusiasts, in two different locations, came across lone survivors within the space of two days. Both birds were shot. ‘I and me’ trumps ‘we and us’.

I think of the huia and Bachman’s warbler when I hear Revelation 7:9-10 read aloud in church: the news of every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, declaring God’s salvation. This dream of the new heaven and new earth makes me wonder about tongues and nations that no longer speak. Could they also be redeemed? Could resurrection and redemption be so complete that what we know as extinct will be resurrected to sing in praise of Christ?
The Hebrew language was once like this. After exile, by 400 CE, the language of King David was lost from everyday spoken use. Yet in the 19th century, through adapted new tools and modern words, Hebrew was reborn. It is a tongue, once extinct, that will now be part of Revelation’s Dawn Chorus.

Let me push my redemptive wondering one step further. What if the Revelation dream of every tongue singing in praise also included bird song? What if God’s salvation included the huia’s whistle and the Bachman’s warble?

Sometimes I dismiss my Revelation wonderings as romantic nonsense. We live in a world of science and reason. What is dead is dead. Jurassic Park is simply childhood make-believe.

Yet in the New Testament I keep hearing hints. In Luke 19:40, Jesus reminds all those listening that, if humans fall silent, then stones will sing. If dead rocks can praise their Creator, why not birdsong?

In Colossians 1:19-20 we find (in The Message translation) that Jesus is so spacious and roomy that everything of God finds a proper place. This includes all the ‘broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms’. All of creation gets properly fixed together in vibrant harmonies. It is a wonderful picture of creation redeemed and restored. Perhaps the harmonies are poetic rather than literal. And yet I wonder. Might not animals and atoms, huia and Bachman’s, find voice in Revelation’s Dawn Chorus?

In a world of science, flattened by reason, I need to keep hitting refresh on my theological vision and Revelation dreams. For me, one essential resource is Rowan Williams’ The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ (2003). Williams, one of our finest contemporary living theologians, ponders the icons of the church. The icons of the church are theology. They were ‘written’ and are to be ‘read’ as carefully as any theology textbook.

Every Easter, in order to keep my theological song lines in harmony, I retrace a resurrection vision. In the classical Orthodox Resurrection icon, the Risen Christ stands 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 also notes the presence in this icon of characters from the Jewish Scriptures, including David, Abraham, Moses. The resurrection becomes the moment in which a new human community is born. Williams then draws on Maximus the Confessor and his explanation of Christ as overcoming all the great separations that humans suffer. This is God as spacious and roomy, all of creation found together in vibrant harmonies.

Reading Williams, I look more carefully at that classical Orthodox Resurrection icon. Surely all this talk of creation will include animals and atoms. Can huia and Bachman’s be etched into these Resurrection writings? What birds did join the Dawn Chorus on Resurrection Day?

Talk of social Darwinism stands in stark contrast to Revelation’s Dawn Chorus: dreaming of an earth of caring humans committed to redemption of all that is weak and frail, marginal and close to extinction. We need to keep drawing those theological song lines between Christ in death, Christ in resurrection and Christ in final return. If the stones sing praise as Jesus walks toward death and atoms harmonise in resurrection, then why not at the Great Dawn Chorus foretold in Revelation?

My first Zadok article, on sacred welfare, on the interplay between community engagement and congregational mission, for the Winter 2017 edition is here.

Posted by steve at 11:10 AM

Sunday, September 17, 2017

genealogy of desert: the Word of mission in Exodus 3

Consuming Word
bush crackles
as livid presence in living present
red-rimmed
is unconsumed

by
naming Word

this is my beloved
particular, storied, watching
Moses, stolen son
bush tracking
indigenous songlines
singing ancient

sounds

Here I am
desert rock wanderer,
in silent desert, I scream
raised, stranger in a strange land
hearing Word

from
Ancestor Word
I am, God of past pleasure
woven through time
sperm of covenant
tracking grace bearing of desert woman
Hagar, Rebekah, Zipporah, Mary

stands
in time
this place of hearing
makes holy
through calling, responding
Word


Theotokos of the Unburnt Bush: more here

Posted by steve at 05:39 PM

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jesus Christ meets Ihu Karaiti

Jesus Christ meets Ihu Karaiti, by Wayne Te Kaawa, is a presentation, made at the Hocken on Tuesday as part of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. It is also on display for a month at the Central Library, Otago University. It is a walk through Maori iconography, reflecting on how Jesus has been presented by Maori. It raises important questions about the transmission of faith, how it moves from culture to culture. When Jesus said, who do you say that I am? what does that question mean for Maori?

This question began particularly pointed when Wayne presented at the Hocken on Tuesday as part of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. He spoke along with three other Maori postgraduate students. Each of the presentations of research raised important challenges to Western pedagogy and epistemologies. The presentations were at ease with personal narrative, prayer, ancestors and with categories beyond the rational. Which of course, is relevant to how one might respond to the question – who do you say that I? Can the responses include experience, prayer, respect for wisdom found in family and in language of mysticism and humility.

In 2014, I began a project cataloguing indigenous Christologies. It recognised the lack of indigenous voices in contemporary theology. In order to build capacity, a number of indigenous woman, from Fiji, Australia and New Zealand were interviewed and their Christologies summarised as a reading resource for students. I wish I had Wayne’s resource – Jesus Christ meets Ihu Karaiti – at that time.

Well done Wayne, for beginning this research.

Posted by steve at 07:57 AM

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Big Sick film review: stand up comedy, stand out social commentary

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 September 2017. Its a review that met a deadline, but I sent it wishing I had a bit more time.

Big Sick
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Big Sick is stand out comedy. Well designed and cleverly paced, it offers not only warmly human humour, but a stand out depiction of the complexity of contemporary life.

The movie generates movement through the skilful use of four distinct backdrops. One is the twenty something flat. The modern flat is a backdrop against which Pakistani migrant Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and American student Emily (Zoe Kazan) tumble into love. The flat contrasts with another backdrop, that of Kumail’s family home, in which he weekly fends of his Pakistani parents’ commitment to arranging his marriage. The pace is fast-paced, an energetic plunge into the complexity of commitment across two different cultures.

A second backdrop is the hospital. In waiting room and ward, the pace of the Big Sick is slowed by Emily’s illness. While sickness renders her silent, she is given voice by the arrival of her parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). Kumail’s understanding of Emily is redefined by the insights Beth and Terry share. Western marriages might not be arranged. Yet Western parents are like all parents. They hold unique insights into the individuality of their children.

The triangles between each couple and their parents generate the exploration of a complex range of contemporary issues, including marriage, migration and Western attitudes to Islam.

A third backdrop is provided through the use of stand up. Comedy clubs are where Big Sick begins and ends. They are also a venue to which the movie returns at regular intervals. The result is a rhythmic repetition as we hear the same jokes. Yet with every repeated one-liner, the faces in the audience are becoming people that we know. It is like hitting refresh on the web browser. Big Sick offers familiarity in this repetition, yet enrichment as the plot develops.

These four distinct backdrops are threaded together by technology. The use of Uber, the role of fingerprint recognition in opening Emily’s iPhone and the vitality of following on Facebook nourish the on and off-again relationship of Kumail and Emily.

Religion is present in the Islamic practises of Kumail and his family. Early on, Kumail fakes his faith. His parents think he has retreated to pray in the downstairs basement. In reality, he spends his time practising cricket and watching Youtube videos. The corrosive effects of Western individualism present a stiff challenge to the future of Kumail’s childhood faith. “Why did you bring me to America, if you wanted me to marry a Muslim?” he angrily challenges his parents.

Four backdrops and the woven threads of technology ensure Big Sick is both stand up comedy and stand out social commentary. Well-crafted, cleverly paced, it offers a warmly human introduction to the ethics of modern living.

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 11:05 PM

Monday, September 04, 2017

video of my “hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation talk online

nativechristianities Video from all the conference presentations of the “Resistance and Innovation: Empire and Native Christianity in the Pacific” conference hosted by Auckland University on March 24, 2017 are now online. The video of my 20 minute paper is here along with the introduction and the followup questions.

Native Christianity in Papua New Guinea: “hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

by Steve Taylor, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership; Flinders University

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 Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions) (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” (The Mountain 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 (Charleston 1998; Brett 2003) and the book of Genesis a demonstration of indigenous faiths being woven respectfully into the story of Israel (Moberly 1992). This subverts the “big man” as a key trope in the ethnography of Melanesia (Strathern 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.

Posted by steve at 12:38 PM

Monday, August 28, 2017

the dangers of heavy in weight research

I have been wondering recently if different types of research carry different weight. In July, I was presenting two papers at two different conferences. One was on indigenous responses to Empire. Titled Converting empire: theologies of church and state in the encounter between British and Maori, it involved some pretty sad reading about the impact of the Great War of 1864 on Maori. A second paper was on Christian theology and sexual violence. Titled Sexual violence in the line of David: The possibilities and limits of recapitulation, it involved some equally sad reading on the impact of sexual violence.

Both papers also invited those who might listen into some difficult spaces. The treatment of indigenous peoples and sexual violence engage us body, mind and soul. Who knows who is in the room, and how they might respond, to presentations that engage heart and head.

I finished both presentations exhausted. There is always a degree of anxiety and nervous tension that goes into a presentation. There is a vulnerability in presenting work to peers. There is the inevitable imposter syndrome – the voices saying I’ve not read enough, that need to be met with the realism of “I never will.”

But this time the exhaustion seemed worse.

This was brought into sharp relief, the next day, when I began looking at a piece of contextual theology, a 63 page comic book titled How to Disappear Completely (2017). I had taken it as holiday reading, intending to enjoy it for pleasure. But within a few hours, I was enormously energised. I had sketched out 750 words. I had done an initial literature review. I found, in a 2nd hand book shop in Bristol, a Faber Gallery book on Stanley Spencer’s Resurrection paintings, which opened up a rich vein of potential comparative enquiry. I had spied a potential arts and culture journal and sent off an enquiry email. I was energised. This was fun.

Placing the two experiences of research side by side within the space of a few days was insightful. Sure it is always more fun (for me anyhow) to start something than end something. But something more was going on. I would suggest that some research is light in weight. Not light weight, but light in weight. It takes me into parts of being human that are creative. These are places of joy and life. Other research is heavy in weight. It takes me into parts of being human that are sad. These are places of pain and heartache. Both are important. I need to invest in both, to be light in weight and heavy in weight. For a time, for the time leading up to the two July conference presentations, I had become out of balance, too heavy in weight!

Unknown-2 Last week, the Stanley Spencer Resurrection paintings book arrived. It sits on my desk. I have made an addition to my research pipeline. Under conceiving new ideas and draft proposals, I have added an investigation into Resurrection today, looking at contemporary depictions

Visualising the resurrection in contemporary urban contexts

How to Disappear Completely is the latest offering from UK artist, Leeds-based, Si Smith. It is a 63 page comic that offers a sophisticated visual engagement with the Lenten journey and the city of Leeds, UK.  A commercial cartoonist by day, by night Smith expresses his faith in ways both visual and playful. Previous work includes 40, a creative imagining of Jesus in the wilderness, Stations of the Resurrection as a set of illustrations reflecting on Jesus’ resurrection today and 25 Advent Flatpack a series of paper-based figures to be assembled in the Christmas build up.
 
This research would bring How to Disappear Completely into conversation first, with the existing body of work, to chart the development of Smith’s visual work.  A key theoretical lens would the work of Scott McCloud, who in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993, 7) defines a comic as “sequential visual art” that works through techniques of “amplification through simplification.” This allows a reading of repeated visual motifs like smoke and pigeons in How to Disappear Completely as visual amplications of human ephemerality in the urban landscape.
 
Second, I would examine the way that Smith’s work can be positioned in conversation with painter, Stanley Spencer. A Spencer quote on page 2 of How to Disappear Completely offers words to introduce reflection on the nature of contemporary vocation. Spencer painted works on Christ in the Wilderness (1939-54) and Resurrection (1945-1950).  He sought to visualise resurrection as ascent, needing to be depicted in the urban streets on which he worked and walked.  How to Disappear Completely is, I would argue, a response to Spencer.  Both work as examples of imaging the resurrection in contemporary urban context.  Placed on conversation, they allow to consider a constant artistic challenge, that of visualising resurrection. They thus present contemporary attempts to visualise the resurrection not as a historical moment but an unfolding contemporary urban transformation.

After the recent heavy in weight research, I need some light in weight research. Both are important.

Posted by steve at 11:48 AM

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

the final lecture – transforming leadership in Vanuatu

The final lecture of my week of teaching at Talua College, was titled Transforming leadership in Vanuatu and I designed the intensive carefully to build toward this final lecture. The aim was to encourage local agency and group application of the lecture material to local context

Talua Memorial lecture

Talua Memorial lecture

On the first day, I had provided two case studies.

Either: You are chairing a leadership meeting. During a discussion of the church budget, two long time members of the church engage in a protracted and tense public exchange. How can you provide effective leadership in this situation (both immediate and during the next week or month)?

Or: You hear news that an overseas company wants to set up a fish factory on an important beach that is part of your village. You are preaching in church the next Sunday. How can you and the church provide effective leadership in this challenge?

Work in a group. Select one of Paul’s images of leadership in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. Discuss with your group how this one image of leadership might guide your response to the challenge. Be prepared to share with the entire class 2 things you would do and thing you would not do.

I noted that on the final day, I would invite groups to present in relation to the case studies. I had workshopped the case studies with Paula Levy, who had recently served with her husband Roger at Talua.

I was delighted that on the last day, twelve groups presented. 7 chose the first case study, on handling conflict. 3 chose the second case study, on the arrival of a foreign fish factory. 2 groups worked on a 3rd assignment, a case study that had come up in class. This involved forgiveness and the question of whether saying sorry on behalf of someone else would allow genuine reconciliation. It was encouraging to see this level of improvisation occurring over the week and a sense of grounded integration.

Each group was able to clearly work between Biblical text and local context, and offer clear and practical next steps in leadership. 5 groups worked on leader as servant, 1 group leader as gardener, 2 groups leader as builder, 1 group leader as resource manager and 2 groups leader as fool – (With 1 group, my Bislama was not good enough to work out which Pauline image they were using).

11 of the groups presented in Bislama, 1 in English. The staff at Talua gave verbal feedback on each of the group presentations. This was verbal, and involved providing affirmations and suggesting improvements. This ensued some rigour and accountability in the learning process.

So in Bislama, this was nambawan (the best) lecture. It was a class essentially taught entirely by the Ni-Van students, as they grounded the material in their context.

Posted by steve at 12:32 PM

Monday, August 21, 2017

Transforming leadership and ecclesial identities

I’ve just spent 7 days on Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, at the invitation of Talua, a Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu theological college. I was asked to speak on transforming leadership over 20 hours and as I prepared, I found myself trying to think missiologically about leadership: ie the movement from a sending God; through discipleship; to leadership – using the biblical images in my Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration book. Given my 6 years serving with the Uniting Church of Australia, who are also, like the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, a partner church of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, I also found myself thinking about transformation and leadership in light of the Basis of Union. Here is some of what I wrote as a sort of course description for myself:

__________

Melanesian garden, Novata farm

Melanesian garden, Novata farm

Transforming leadership and ecclesial identities

Transforming leadership is located in missiology, in the sending God at work in the world (Luke 10:1-12). Our understandings of leadership begin with God as the active agent, the One who has called the church to serve as a fellowship of reconciliation, a body with diverse gifts, an instrument of witness (Paragraph 3).

As “the people of God on the way” (Paragraph 18), the Protestant church recognises two sacraments, that of baptism and communion. Hence any talk of leadership emerges from baptism, for it is baptism that we are initiated into God’s mission and it is through communion that we are sustained in mission. As it says in the Basis of Union, “On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments” (Paragraph 3). No leader emerges apart from the fact that we are all one in Christ Jesus, all of us saying yes to participation in mission through our baptism, all of us in communion strengthened in order to participate “in the mission of Christ in the world” (Paragraph 8).

An expression of our participation in mission includes the experience in which all members have gifts for which there is a “corresponding service” (Paragraph 13). In 1 Corinthians 3 and 4, Paul explains his ministry, using six images – of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent. In these passages, Paul is explaining what it means for him to be sent to serve, and how his theology of baptism and communion finds expression in his “corresponding service.” Given that through baptism all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28), it makes sense when Paul describes a shared leadership: he labours alongside other servants (Apollos in 3:5), other gardeners (3:9), other builders (3:10), other resource managers (Apollos in 4:6), other fools (apostles in 4:9) and other parents (Timothy in 4:17).

This suggests that Paul’s “corresponding service” is in fact shared by others, who alongside Paul also offer a “corresponding service” as servants, gardeners, builders, fools and parents. The result of these shared acts of service in mission is transformation. At Corinth, individuals are transformed and a church is established. When the six images of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent are read against literature describing the existing cultural understandings of sociality and ethics of the world of Corinth what becomes clear is an alternative ethical polis. As the one body in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28) examines itself in communion (1 Cor 11:28), existing cultural understandings of leadership and influence are challenged. Such a transforming body is made possible by a transforming leadership, one which results when the church serves, gardens, builds, resource manages, acts as a fool and parent.

For every image of servant, gardener, builder, resource manager, fool and parent there are practical tools by which the entire community can serve. Thus transforming leadership has nothing to do with individual heroic leaders. Rather, both missiologically and practically, transformation emerges as God’s people participate with the Sending one in acts of service, gardening, building, resource managing, being a fool and a parent.

__________
In sketching this understanding, I am drawing on a range of recent scholarship including missiology, leadership, indigenous Aboriginal theologies, Biblical theologies, pneumatology, Christology, indigenous theology, New Testament scholarship both Pauline and Gospel, Old Testament narratives and post-colonial hermeneutics. Particularly Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians; Eugene Rogers, The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings; Ben Witherington, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom; Kenneth Bailey, Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15 (Concordia Scholarship Today); Walter Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism and Denise Champion, Yarta Wandatha.

Posted by steve at 03:54 PM

Friday, August 11, 2017

Transforming leadership in Vanuatu: Talua Memorial lectures

I’ve been invited to give the 2017 Talua Memorial lecture, August 14-18, in Vanuatu and address the topic of Transforming leadership. The Presbyterian Church in New Zealand has a long history of relationship with the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu; and Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership has a long history of relationship with Talua College. So it was easy to say yes.

Talua_Ministry_Training_Centre

Until I realised that the Memorial lecture was actually 10 lectures! Gulp. However the topic – leadership – is something I’ve written a book on recently (Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration). And I did some research last year on Christologies in Melanesia, so I had some resource to weave. And Jesus has a lot to say about transforming leadership. So the invitation has provided a good opportunity to turn a book into a one week intensive, and integrate with contextual Melanesian theology.

I’ve had some creative educational fun in the preparation over the last week. I developed an assignment that would allow group work on “what does this mean in Vanuatu?” This included a set of case studies, which I had workshopped by a colleague with many years of experience at Talua. I also had help in the making of a certificate, to encourage assignment participation :)

certificateimage

Posted by steve at 07:29 PM

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How to Disappear Completely: a (visual) review

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 August 2017.

how-to-disappear-coverHow to Disappear Completely

Films are visual storytelling. The film reviewer examines the craft of images. In this review, I want to examine images from the genre that is comic rather than cinematic.

How to Disappear Completely is the latest offering from UK artist, Leeds-based, Si Smith. A commercial cartoonist by day, by night he expresses his faith in ways both visual and playful. 40 is a creative imagining of Jesus in the wilderness, Stations of the Resurrection a set of illustrations reflecting on Jesus’ resurrection today and 25 Advent Flatpack a series of paper-based figures to be assembled in the Christmas build up. Each is telling of story through pictures.

How to Disappear Completely (2017) is a 63 page comic that offers a strikingly sophisticated visual engagement with the Lenten journey and the city of Leeds. The main character quits work, deleting his facebook account to enter a contemporary wilderness, an abandoned municipal tower. Artistic skills are turned loose on interior walls. Visually, what is abandoned is transformed from the inside out. The results are breathtaking, as the palette, initially black and white, morphs into life-giving blues and rich reds.

The theological work is biblical and imaginative. The 40 days of Lent are linked to the seven days of creation. It is a rich reading of Scripture, weaving creation into the life of Christ. The Biblical instruction of Genesis 2:15 – to till and keep –find expression in the wasteland of urban life. God’s glory is revealed in the work of human hands (Psalm 8:6), Incarnate amid modern day Leeds.

Temptations remain, despite the wilderness. The distraction of social media and the random violence magnified by the alienations of urban life, clamour for attention. As the monastic life has testified through time, isolation only amplifies the soundtrack of our inner world.

Intriguingly, a feature of How to Disappear Completely is the soundtrack. The comic genre might be paper-based, yet a playlist on page 2, provokes the question. Is sound a tempting distraction? Or a source of revelation? The main character is rarely without music. This provides a narrative continuity, first in the lyrics and second, symbolically, in the loss of sound as the iPod dies.

Si Smith works in conversation with painter, Stanley Spencer. A Spencer quote on page 2 offers words to introduce reflection on the expression of vocation. Spencer painted works on Christ in the Wilderness (1939-54) and Resurrection (1945-1950). He sought to visualise resurrection as ascent, needing to be depicted in the urban streets on which he worked and walked. How to Disappear Completely is a fitting response, a work of love for Leeds.

In its urban particularity universal questions are raised. What would it look like for Jesus to enter your town? Where are the abandoned places in which your vocation might be called to create?

How to Disappear Completely is available from Leeds Church Institute (from accounts@leedschurchinstitute.org at 5 pounds plus postage). For those seeking a contemporary reflection on vocation today, it is a life-giving purchase.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 05:20 PM