Monday, August 04, 2014

Gardening with soul film review: like a warm fire on a winters day

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for August 2014, of Gardening with Soul.

Gardening with Soul
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Gardening with Soul is like a warm log fire on a winter’s day. It offers comfort, evokes nostalgia, invites conversation and inspires for mission.

The movie is structured around one life and four seasons. The one life is Loyola Galvin, Catholic sister, turning ninety and thoroughly deserving of being the New Zealand 2008 Gardener of the year. As she weeds, prays, brushes her hair we hear her story of grace and grief amid a changing world. We hear of faith lived amid lost love, the practicalities of Susan Aubert’s mission and the pain visited upon the wider Catholic church by clerical sexual abuse.

Directed by Jess Feast, Gardening with Soul deservedly gained nomination in all four documentary categories at the 2013 New Zealand Film Awards. Feast excels in the art of gentle unraveling. Not religious herself, she is well able to locate a accessible warmth in the religious experience of another.

The four seasons begins with winter. Snow, surprisingly even in Wellington, gently carpets Galvin’s garden. Through, summer, spring and autumn, we follow the rhythms of the season, including the gathering of seaweed for compost, the drying of seeds for spring and the companion planting essential for pest resistance and soil health. In an age of fast food and flash in the pan garden shows, Gardening with Soul is a reminder of a different, more deeply dug, set of spiritual practices.

Gardening with Soul gained cinematic applause in New Zealand, with Simon Morris, film reviewer for Radio New Zealand, naming it one of his highlights for 2013. In 2014, it crossed the ditch to grace 30 screens across Australia, gaining four star reviews from the Herald Sun and applause from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Church goers might glimpse a number of opportunities for practical mission. First in the slow work, in which community gardens become community development. Galvin won New Zealand Gardener of the Year for her initiative in starting the Common Ground community garden scheme, turning lawn at her Home of Compassion into allotment-style gardens for apartment dwellers. In Gardening with Soul, we witness the final stages of community development, as Galvin hands over what she began to a younger generation.

Second, in the care for the dying, as Galvin returns to the memorial garden she created for stillborn children while chaplain at Hutt Hospital. We witness a practical love in which the dying are dignified.

Third, in the return visit of a now grown child, raised by the Sisters of Compassion after being left for dead at their doorstep. In this encounter, we are reminded of the gift of life given to children in the name of the Catholic church.

It is interesting to place Gardening with Soul alongside the recently written Soil and Sacrament (Free Press, 2013). Author Fred Bahnson visits four community gardens, over four seasons. Among different religious traditions (Catholic, Pentecostal, Jewish), whether growing mushrooms or roasting coffee, he finds a shared experience in which rituals of cultivation do indeed add soul. Young, male and religiously unsettled, Bahnson would find much to admire in the settled spiritual maturity of Sister Loyola Galvin.

Posted by steve at 06:21 PM

Saturday, August 02, 2014

community building through community gardens

A few Sunday’s ago I raced into a cafe, seeking a takeaway coffee. It was packed, heaving with people, buzzing with conversation. I felt enfolded by the possibility of human relationships.

Being Sunday morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on how warm, human, relational and busy this place was, compared to many churches around Australia gathering at exactly the same time.

But as I left I reflected on how narrow was this expression of community. It was a community of like minds. I was a stranger visiting this city. If I’d wanted relationship, I could never have found it by pulling up a chair at any of these tables. This was invite only, a chance to catchup with existing relationships, with already established relationships. It was building community, but only with the known and liked.

In contrast, here is a comment on the community building that can occur in community gardens.

“Coffee shops are touted as our cultural commons, but very few people in coffee shops actually interact with strangers … A communal food garden is really one of the few places in our society where you can go and meet someone outside your ethnic or class boundary.” (Fred Bahnson, Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, 247).

Bahnson goes on to describe how you build such a community. It includes having no fence. “If someone takes your broccoli or watermelons, let them … Leave the work of growing food to those who maintain a porous sense of edges and ownership.” (Soil and Sacrament, 252). He also suggests that when it comes to choosing people to invite to your community garden, the garden you are creating “is first of all for the widow who comes to the door in her negligee, the migrant worker who works three jobs and comes to the garden to unwind.” (Soil and Sacrament, 253)

This is all helpful food for thought in terms of my paper for the Urban Life Together conference in Melbourne (which BTW, Tallskinnykiwi AKA Andrew Jones) considers “fantastic.”)

Presentation two – Gardening with Soul

This presentation will explore two movies to suggest insights for urban mission. Gardening with Soul (2013) tells the story of New Zealander Gardener of the Year, Loyola Galvin, honoured for her work in turning the lawn of Our Ladies of Compassion, Wellington, into Common Ground, a community garden for local apartment dwellers. Grow your Own (2007) explores the impact of Asian migrants on a well-established British allotment.

Together, these movies offer insights into urban mission, including the priority of place, soil as sacrament and the stranger’s gift. These insights will be tested against the reality of inner-city Australian community gardens in central Adelaide and Kings Cross, Sydney.

Posted by steve at 01:50 PM

Thursday, July 31, 2014

best start to my class ever

I’m teaching an evening class this Semester. It begins at 6 and ends at 8 pm. It runs the danger that those arriving from work will be hungry and that attention levels will be flagging by the end. For those with a class prior, there’s an awkward time of waiting.

So I decided I’d offer soup. A quick email to all participants, saying that soup and bread would be available in the student common room from 5:30 pm.

We have no facilities for cooking, but who needs an oven when you have a crock pot, filled with pumpkin and simply turned to high two hours prior.

By 5:30 pm, about half the class had gathered. We were sitting around a table, pushed together. Bowls were being filled, compliments were being exchanged. Introductions were being made, banter was being exchanged, the warmth of humanity was emerging. Students were meeting me as “Steve the soup maker” seated at table, rather than Steve the lecturer, standing at the front of class.

soup

By the time we entered the classroom, a culture had been created. There was a relational connection, a sense of community, that no amount of first hour class dynamics would have the hope of achieving.

It’s the first time I’ve offered food and I was for me a very significant lesson in my teaching experience.

Posted by steve at 09:21 PM

Monday, July 28, 2014

flipping Christology

“Who do you say that I am?” This is the question Jesus asks the disciples (Mark 8:27). It invites those who hear to define Jesus, to find words to describe who Christ is and what Christ might do. It is a task with which the disciples struggle. Peter initially finds the right words, but fails to fully grasp the content of those words. Thus the question becomes a hinge in Mark, as Jesus turns toward Jerusalem in order to fill right words with cross-shaped content.

But can we flip the question?

Can we, the disciples, ask Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?”

In doing so, wouldn’t we hear an answer that defines us, in which Jesus finds word to describe who we are and what we might do.

“Who, Jesus, do you think we are called to do and be?”

It would allow us to hear what it means to be fully human, made in the image of God. It would connect creation with redemption, in the full humanity of Christ. In doing so, we would hear good news, the gospel of how God images, imagines, humans to be and do.

It would sync us with how Jesus first gathers the disciples, when in John 1, Jesus names the disciples – as Cephas (1:42); as Nathanael, truly one in whom their is no deceit (1:47). Indeed, this diversity of response opens up the possibilities of a contextual response, because who I am as Cephas is named uniquely and differently from who Nathanael is, which is named uniquely for any who dare to flip the question.

I’m thinking of taking this approach to my Christology class this semester. I’m thinking of flipping the Christology question, inviting them to consider how Jesus would reply as we ask: “Who do you say that I am?”

It might make an essay question. Or a class project, as we consider what Jesus might say to the diversity of cultures that make up the contemporary Australian mission context.

Posted by steve at 11:07 PM

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Excellence in Teaching Award

News yesterday that I’ve won an Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law at Flinders University.

CITATION: For excellence, first, in teaching which is innovative in assessment design and in exploring “flipped learning” and second in scholarly activities including conference presentations and publication.

Details of the award are as follows: The Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law Awards for Excellence in Teaching are designed to reward staff for excellence in teaching within the faculty, and to encourage winners to apply for the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching later in the year and possibly the Australian Awards for University Teaching in the next year. Award winners receive a certificate of Excellence in Teaching and a prize of $3000 which may be used for such purposes as conference attendance, purchase of resources to assist in preparation and delivery of teaching and learning materials, or purchase of books, journals etc.

It involved an application (of some 4,000 words). Applicants need to reflect on their teaching in two out of five categories:

  • Approaches to teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn
  • Development of curricula and resources that reflect a command of the field
  • Approaches to assessment and feedback that foster independent learning
  • Respect and support for the development of students as individuals
  • Scholarly activities that have influenced and/or enhanced learning and teaching

I chose to reflect on the first and last categories.

Approaches to teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn – evident through innovations in assessment that have developed critical thinking, encouraged student engagement and inspired independence in learning. I presented as evidence student feedback across three topics I have taught – Reading Cultures; Church, Ministry, Sacraments and Introduction to Theology.

Scholarly activities that have influenced and/or enhanced learning and teaching – evident through leadership activities that have broad influence on the profession, in particular ways that I have encouraged the shift at Uniting College around blended learning technologies within theological teaching as a Department of Theology and also through reflective practice, seeking to conduct and publish research that reflects on excellence in teaching in blended learning.

I applied as a way of inviting myself to reflect on my teaching in general, given it is so crucial to the formation of leaders. I also wanted to benchmark the educating part of what I do and what we as as a College/Department of Theology do, against the wider University.

I’ve not given any thought to how to spend the money. I’m simply sitting with the encouragement that I’m an excellent teacher! :)

Posted by steve at 11:51 AM

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lost Dogs Breathe Deep

Classic song. Great rift, great lyrics, such a lovely interplay of all people invited into God’s presence.

Michael Treston introduced me to Lost Dogs. It was 1996 and we were planting Graceway.

Michael and Maureen arrived from Thames, to train at Carey Baptist College for pastoral ministry. A welder from Redcar in England and a Maori woman from Thames, they added some much needed reality to our community.

Posted by steve at 11:04 PM

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Transcendence: a theological film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for June 2014, of Transcendence.

Transcendence
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.

Transcendence. Defined in the dictionary as existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level. Seen at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 11, in the Tower of Babel as the upward human quest to build toward the heavens.

Seen in the movie, Transcendence, as inward, as a technological quest. The building blocks become not bricks but brains, in an artificial computerised quest for existence beyond human limitations.

The movie begins with a flash forward, to a future devoid of technology. Armed soldiers patrol the streets. Cell phones are silent. Laptops have no use but to hold open shop doors. Such are the consequences of this search for transcendence.

The movie then moves backwards. Johnny Depp is Will Caster, Rebecca Hall his wife Evelyn. Deeply in love, fanatically committed to research into artificial intelligence, their scientific research is halted by a movement of Luddite terrorists.

Together they experiment on the dying Will. His brain is mapped onto a computer and in the wonders offered to us by modern science, a miracle! Will is regenerated as an artificial intelligence, his brain harnessed to the power of the world wide web. A rural town is purchased, in which Will-the-computer calculates his way toward his research dreams.

The vision is fantastic, a world in which cancer is no more, the planet healed and poverty alleviated. It is a modern telling of the Isaiah dream, a secular eschatology.

The results are far more sinister, a loss of human freedom as Rebecca finds herself less and less free to love and be loved, an army of hybrids saved from disease simply to serve Will’s growing empire.

It is an intriguing juxtaposition, as transcendence wrestles with free will. Both are dreams of the modern world, the belief in the power of science to exceed human potential and the priceless gift that is individual freedom.

Despite the philosophical and timely potential of these themes, Transcendence is a poor movie. The movie enlists plenty of star power, including the acting of Johnny Depp and the direction of Walter Pfister. The cinematography is artful, in a style reminiscent of Pfister’s work on the Dark Knight series.

But the plot, Jack Paglen’s first major screen write, is jumbled. The inevitable gunfight at AI Corrall might make for spectacle but seems wooden if one really is fighting against a computer.

And Rebecca Hall is so composed she comes across as lacking emotion. The result is two cold characters, the computerised Will Caster, the emotionally distant Rebecca.

“Transcendence” has potential. The cinematography is artful. The themes are timely. The ethics are intriguing. Yet as a movie, Transcendence is unable to save itself.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 10:56 PM

Thursday, July 17, 2014

‘Urban Life Together’ Conference

A great initiative in Melbourne, with a call for papers for an ‘Urban Life Together’ Conference, 17-18 October, 2014. It hopes to bring together Christian activists, thinkers, leaders and practitioners to interact around urban mission.

Input is invited from practitioners, leaders, activists, researchers and students to explore themes or relate issues or case studies. Either a 30 minute paper, or a 10 minute presentation. I’m keen to encourage this, so in a somewhat playful mode, have offered two presentations.

Presentation one – Fresh or failed? Sustainable practices in new forms of church

Perhaps, the biggest challenge is not starting but sustaining for new forms of church. This presentation will tell the story of new forms of church ten years on, based on longitudinal research in Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom.

It will identify three sustainable practices – ember theology, shifting from key leaders to key values and building catholicity. Biblically, it will dialogue with Epaphroditus and the Philippian church, outlining five layers of sustainability. Finally, it will consider the impact of climate change, first sociological, in recent sociology of religion trends and second denominational, in the advent of Fresh Expressions as a movement.

Presentation two – Gardening with Soul

This presentation will explore two movies to suggest insights for urban mission.

Gardening with Soul (2013) tells the story of New Zealander Gardener of the Year, Loyola Galvin, honoured for her work in turning the lawn of Our Ladies of Compassion, Wellington, into Common Ground, a community garden for local apartment dwellers. Grow your Own (2007) explores the impact of Asian migrants on a well-established British allotment.

Together, these movies offer insights into urban mission, including the priority of place, soil as sacrament and the stranger’s gift. These insights will be tested against the reality of inner-city Australian community gardens in central Adelaide and Kings Cross, Sydney.

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska: a brief book review

Holiday reading began with Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. Set in Papua New Guinea, it follows a set of characters first in the lead up to independence and second, in the twentyfirst century.

Modjeska is known for weaving fact with fiction and this beautifully written reflection is not exception. The Mountain emerges from her own story, a period of time in Papua New Guinea in the early 1970s and a recent return to develop an art-collective. It circles stories within stories, applying the eye of an artist to the complexity of interactions across times and cultures.

The mountain, from which the book is named, is an isolated site of undiscovered beauty. It becomes known to us first through the gaze of the anthropologists, as English-born Leonard and his wife, Dutch-born Rika visit. Second to post-colonial scrutiny, as Jericho, caught between cultures returns to find himself.

In between these personal journeys swirl a rich ripple of contemporary issues, including environmental battles, the impact of development and the search for identity.

As I read, I became aware of theological undercurrents. Whether intentional or not, the book offers a number of intriguing insights into the Christian understanding of Incarnation. Christianity claims the Word made flesh and this gains particular resonance in The Mountain, as the gift of a child becomes redemptive both for individuals and for a tribe, as it seeks to navigate between ways old and new.

The ancestors give us Leonard. We give you to Leonard. And now you return. Ancestor gift. The child who left us, who we called Jericho, has returned, the man who can make a great noise, blow down the walls. Jericho, the name from the ancestor story of Leonard.

This makes The Mountain both fun and an illuminating insight into the complexity of crossing cultures.

Posted by steve at 09:34 PM

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wood school: imagine if this was church

At Wood School church we see curiosity as the foundation of learning. We aim to inspire curiosity with stories and activities that explore the woodland world and extend out into the world beyond.

We aim to foster confidence, creativity and problem solving skills in our children. We do this through a learning environment that is primarily outdoors.

We have an emphasis on play, child-led learning and fostering relationships.

Through these we aim to develop in our children all of us a strong sense of self, combined with an empathy and compassion for other people and the natural world.

We aim to develop life skills for sustainable living – helping develop in our children all of us the attitudes and skills we need in order to live in harmony with the environment and other people.

We have a focus on: responsibility; making a difference; conserving resources; growing food; crafts; cooking; making and laughing!

From Woods school in Manchester, England.

Posted by steve at 06:38 PM

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shed Church as fresh expressions of church

Phil Smith is planting a new form of community in Caloundra, Queensland. He’s also a journalist and learning with us at Uniting College through the possibilities around blended learning. For a unit this year on “Evangelism, Conversion and the Mission of God,” he created this excellent video about how Christians have engaged in the Men’s Shed movement across Australia.

I played this on Friday as I concluded my Mission intensive at United Theological College, Sydney. It was hot of the press, it was an Australian story, it brought together many of the themes of the course, it did great work linking Biblical narrative, in this case Luke 1:1-12.

What I found particularly intriguing was the work Phil did around what is church, at the very end.

Is shed Church? Or could it be church? Luke’s benchmark for church is followers gathered around Jesus and sent by him to express the Kingdom of God. If a shed is only men gathered around a bbq or a work bench, it doesnb’t measure up, as a fresh, stale or any other expression of church; if however some of these blokes are parts of Christ’s body, connecting with others, investing time and others to grow alongside them, if this is more about Incarnation than recreation … then we’ll see the transforming work of God. And that does look a lot like church.

Posted by steve at 06:43 PM

Saturday, June 28, 2014

four week road trip

I’m about to head off on a four week road trip.

Week one I am speaking at the National Ministers Conference in Charleville. The theme is fresh deeds and my fellow missiologist at Uniting College, Rosemary Dewerse,  and I will be using an indigenous model of contextual theology, weaving together children’s stories, Biblical reflection and recent missiology trends.

Week two I am in Sydney, teaching an intensive on mission for Charles Sturt University at the United Theological College campus. There are 20 students. I am framing the week around seven disciplines of mission
1. The discipline of prayerful discernment and listening (contemplation)
2. The discipline of apologetics (defending and commending the faith)
3. The discipline of evangelism (initial proclamation)
4. The discipline of catechesis (learning and teaching the faith)
5. The discipline of ecclesial formation (growing the community of the church)
6. The discipline of planting and forming new ecclesial communities (fresh expressions of the church)
7. The discipline of incarnational mission (following the pattern of Jesus)

These are a frame suggested by Anglican Bishop Steve Croft after he spent three weeks listening to Roman Catholic Cardinals and Bishops with Pope Benedict explore the single theme of the new evangelization.

During week two, Team Taylor will join me. In fact, Team Taylor will expand. We are flying over from Christchurch the girls best friends. So while I teach, they will enjoy girl time.

Week three is holiday. Team Taylor will return to normal size and we will explore Canberra and the Blue Mountains. It will be great.

Week four is the second National Ministers Conference. This one is in Sydney, with a focus on multi-cultural. This is the second of three, the final one being in Jerusalem in September. Yet, I am expecting to be a keynote speaker there as well!

One member of Team Taylor will remain with me, miss school (!) and enjoy a week of cross-cultural experience. I’m really looking forward to having a family member with me as I speak and sharing experience with me.

Four weeks. For weeks teaching! So looking forward to it.

Posted by steve at 07:06 PM

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Uniting College welcomes Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Coordinator

Good news today with the appointment of Karen Vanlint to fill the newly created position of CALD Co-ordinator (VET) at Uniting College.

Karen has taught ESL 0.5 at Salisbury TAFE, for the past 3 years. She has significant experience as a school teacher, here and in the UK.
She has a particular passion for CALD persons, and displayed not only an excellent grasp on the appropriate approaches to establishing this stream at Uniting College, but insight and energy on how it might be significantly developed into the future.

She has a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Education, a Diploma of Christian Studies, a Cert IV in TESOL, and a Cert IV in TA (Training and Assessment).

In the midst of a very rich field of applicants, Karen also spoke of a particular personal ‘call’ to this role, having moved house to specifically engage with communities with higher numbers of CALD people.

Her references noted her diligence, quality and innovation in teaching, and organisational ability. She is an active member of Parafield Gardens Uniting Church.

The position is 0.2, and Karen will commence on Tuesday 29th July. She will focus on

  • the delivery of CALD VET training
  • liaising with ethnic Christian Communities in South Australia
  • student support as required

This position (similar to BYO Co-ordinator and Chaplaincy) is being funded through the release of funds from a specific Trust, to enable innovations which can result in new cohorts of students. We expect it to grow, but are starting small.

Personally, this is probably the most exciting innovation I’ve been part of initiating in my time as Principal of the College.

Posted by steve at 07:08 PM

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Community of practice in flipped learning and indigenous voices

I heard today that I’ve been accepted into a Flinders University Faculty research project. I’m quite chuffed!

The project is addressing the research question: how can lecturers make their subjects accessible, flexible and suitably individualised to promote effective learning without compromising on the quality of the teaching or the integrity of the subject matter under study?

A few weeks ago a call for applications went out, seeking lecturers looking at re-designing and implementing a Semester 2 topic. I replied said that I am teaching Theology of Jesus in Semester 2, which I am wanting to implement flipped learning. I am also wanting to bringing in indigenous voices to explore a diversity of Christology. So if what I was planning to do already was of interest, I’d be glad to participate in a growth opportunity.

Today came the invite to participate. I’m one of 6 lecturers. We will meet together four times. We are asked to keep a journal of our learning. The project will monitor student learning. Together we will present our results, at a Faculty workshop and in writing.

In return each of us is allocated $1200, to spend on buying out teaching time, marking assistance, conference/travel assistance or purchasing of teaching and learning resources.

So why sign up?

  • It will force me to make the changes I want to in regard to flipped learning and.
  • It encourages the type of reflection I try to do anyway. Last year I blogged parts of the course and presented a paper.
  • It keeps me learning as a teacher.
  • It keeps us as a Department plugged into wider learning.
  • I thing this model has possibilities for peer learning as ministers, so I get to experience this as a participant before I suggest it for other
  • I am having a paper published in this area and so this keeps me focused and growing.

More work, but more resourced in a richer conversation, both in teaching and with others across the University.

Posted by steve at 01:36 PM