Wednesday, May 25, 2016

local agency, local leaders, local indigeneity, local independence

archives It was an evening in the archives, exploring the files and newspaper cuttings that Presbyterian Research has of theological education in Vanuatu. The demand was preparation for The complexity of being woven together: A microhistory of the relationship between Talua Ministry Training Centre and three denominations in Australia and New Zealand, a research paper I am delivering, with Phil King, at Woven Together: Christianity and Development between New Zealand and the Pacific, Victoria University, June 9-10. The result was an evening of inspiration.

Here is some of what I wrote …

What will become clear is that Christianity is a significant development actor. Theological education in Vanuatu is driven by local agency. It is shaped by a vision for equality, contextualisation and indigeneity. It provides leadership for political independence.

Local agency, local leaders
The first Ni-Van were trained overseas. Two travelled to Samoa in 1849, three to New Zealand in 1851. From a Ni-Van perspective, through the eyes of Fiama Rakau, the focus is on local agency. “Ni-Vanuatu took the initiative, to swim and ask to be taken away for training. Theological Education, then, is not foreign, neither was it imposed, but it was born out of desire and necessity.” (Fiama Rakau, From Aname to Talua. A Brief Survey of Theological Education in Vanuatu, 1)

The need for indigenous leadership lead to the first theological college, in Aname, Aneityum. The location was first, close to a significant church and second, monastic in feel. (“The idea of a monastery may still be felt and followed in the early stages of the theological development.” (Rakau, 5)

It was built on the desire for local agency. “The Presbyterian Mission was forced to give up its dependence upon the LMS teachers” (Rakau, 2). It is consistent with Forman’s pattern, which I will discuss later. The College was wholistic, aiming to “enlarge the whole life, head, heart, home and community” (Rakau 3, citing Miller Live Bk 3, 112). Students worked in gardens. This is consistent with the aims of the theological college, that students “keep in touch with man’s deeper need by practical gospel work during training” (Rakau 6, citing Tangoa Training Institution). It was free (“free as far as fees were concerned” (Rakau 3, citing Miller Live Bk 3, 113)). A central focus was teaching students to read, for the sake of local agency. “Our primary object was to teach them to read, that they might be able to read the Bible and learn the will of God … for themselves” (Rakau 3, citing Miller Live Bk 3, 113). This is empowerment, in which the ability to read enhances local agency.

Local indigeneity
In 1895, Tangoa Training Institution was established. It is intriguing to read the aims, using the lens of our conference theme: development. The vision included equality, contextualisation and indigeneity. Regarding justice, the Intellectual aims noted “The essential parity of the intellectual powers, irrespective of race or colour.” (Rakau, 6) Regarding contextualisation, “A teaching approach which has, as far as possible, assimilated the thought-forms of the native culture.” (Rakau, 6) that educated “students to the nature of the responsibility for an indigenous church.” (Rakau, 7) Regarding indigeneity, “A self-governing Vanuatu Church … The principle that the people of the land are the most effective evangelists to their own people … The inclusion of island teachers [as theological educators] as soon as possible … The gradual assumption by the Vanuatu Church of the cost of training its own teachers and pastors.” (Rakau, 7) It is an extraordinary vision for any culture, even more so given the year, 1895.

Local independence
A third institution, Aulua Training College was established in 1977. This date is important, argues Fiama Rakau, “four years before Vanuatu achieved its independence.” (Rakau, 11). The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu was instrumental in the move to independence, with clergy being released to provide national political leadership. “This was particularly felt within the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu because more pastors from that church were released to the political sector.” (Rakau, 11). This resulted in a loss of leadership in the church. This led to the establishing of Aulua Training College.

Again, local agency was central. The first aim was that “Aulua expresses the determination to move towards self-help” (Rakau, 12). There was a critique of “students, studying overseas, [who] become alienated from their own people” (Rakau, 12). An economic analysis was evident: “The high cost factor of providing basic training overseas” (Rakau, 12). Contextualisation is central. A training model is established which takes “place within the culture and life of the people” (Rakau, 12). Examinations were rejected in favour of “written expression, group discussion, and involvement, to assess their readiness for ministry.” (Rakau, 13).

Posted by steve at 09:59 AM

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

is there another sermon in the room

I arrived at church on Sunday to preach. It had been a message I’d worked on faithfully part of Wednesday morning, and again Friday and Saturday evenings. I had a full script and powerpoint.

Within minutes of walking into the auditorium, I began to wonder if there was another sermon in the room. It is only the 2nd time in 22 years of ministry that this has happened. Deep breathe. What to do?

tablecloth

The trigger – On arrival, I commented to the worship leader on the visual display, including the bright red tablecloth spread for Pentecost. “Oh,” she said, “it comes from PNG.” Now, I was raised in PNG. I often share a story from PNG when talking about mission and link it to the Pentecost story in Acts 2. Was the tablecloth an invitation to offer another sermon, a story and some insights about Pentecost and mission?

The points for doing an impromptu sermon.
1. It was Pentecost Sunday. Such days are always a more pointed reminder of the need to trust the Spirit. Was the tablecloth an invitation to me to trust the Spirit in fresh ways?
2. A helpful part of my call to be Principal at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership was a comment made in the interview process – “Could you return to your story?” (for more on the impact of this on my research at the moment, see here). It was a question – posed by someone with the ability to connect two quite different parts of my presentations – in ways that offered me new eyes. My story felt held. My experience felt important. It was a moment, of care, of hope, and potentially of guidance. Seeing that table cloth from PNG, I heard again the question – “Could you return to your story?”
3. There was a sense of energy and immediacy. It would allow a very contextual engagement with that service, that Sunday.
4. The group gathering for worship was smaller in number and older in age than I had expected. A more conversational sermon was, I felt, more likely to work in that setting.

The points against doing an impromptu sermon
1. I had no idea of length. How long could a few jotted notes last? Related, as a visiting speaker, I did not want to appear lightweight or under prepared or waffly. Would it link logically? Could it be landed?
2. I had put a good amount of work into the existing sermon.
3. Going impromptu would generate a significant amount of adrenaline, which after a demanding week, needed to be considered.
4. I’ve seen a few preachers “throw away their notes” and I’ve always wondered whether it was real, or just attention seeking. So if I went impromptu, how would I want to frame it?

Four reasons for. Four reasons against. A draw.

What to do? I gave myself the worship time to further test the discernment. I had a sermon already as a backup. As the congregation sang, at the front, I was frantically making notes. I mapped out a possible opening that noted the two possible sermons and linked to the table cloth. I identified three headings that would give some structure. Each was related to the Lectionary text (Acts 2). I find myself able to make some contemporary connection for each of the points. I realised I had a conclusion, that returned to the tablecloths. The Evernote function on my cell phone was great. I cut and pasted, moving phrases around, adding more insights as the sung worship continued. A couple of comments made during the worship were further encouragement. They could be woven in, adding connectivity to the message.

As I stood to preach, it was decision time.

I decided to go with the impromptu. It was, after all Pentecost. There were a few stutter steps. There were a few moments when the logic was not as strong as I would like. But it was connective. There was energy in the room. A number of folk afterward expressed how important the message was for them. After I spoke, the worship leader shared some more about the story, sharing of reconciliation and justice, a story that would never have been told if I had not gone impromptu.

Would I do it again? Yes.

Would it matter if I had done the original? No. That also would have blessed, I am sure. (Just a different set of folk).

Oh, it lasted 18 minutes. And what I shared might actually be useful for a writing project that I need to finish …

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Innovation as a body practice nourished by the Prodigal Son

innovation I spoke this morning at Central Presbytery, providing a keynote session on the topic of innovation as a body practice. It was a chance to continue to develop my thinking around being a church body built for change. With the final edits on my Built for Change book complete, each time I speak at the moment is a chance to try and take what is 53,000 written words and shape it into a spoken presentation. It is also a chance to explore the place of innovation and ministry within the Presbyterian Church, in particular their essential documents.

Before I talked, there was a short time of worship, followed by a Biblical reflection on the Prodigal Son. I was not aware of it in preparing and it was fascinating to stand to speak on my chosen topic, with that Scripture fresh in all our minds. The result was that there were two moments in my talk when what was said in the prior Biblical reflection became incredibly helpful.

First, in defining body practice. I had prepared to rift off John Swinton and Harriett Mowat (Practical Theology and Qualitative Research), and their insights on the shape of practical theology. But in reflecting on the Prodigal Son, the Bible study leader pointed to how the Prodigal Son, is given a ring, a robe and sandals. These, it was suggested, were physical symbols that would have helped the Prodigal Son understand their new identity. The statement was made:

“God’s gifts that help us see ourselves differently.”

It became an illuminating and helpful phrase. Body practices – confession, hospitality, discernment, listening to the stranger – begin with God, they are gifts. Body practices are about us; about how the church is the body of Christ. Body practices are things we do, and in that doing, we see ourselves differently. Thus they allow a theology on the road, a call to practice our way into God’s future and in doing so, expect to ourselves be changed.

Secondly, in reflecting on the Prodigal Son, the difference between shame and blessing was discussed. The Prodigal Son feels shame and as such, is likely to behave in certain ways. In contrast, as the Prodigal Son feels blessed, they are invited to behave differently.

This became a very helpful frame by which to consider how the church responds to change. What does a place of shame look like? Oh, we tried that before. Oh, I remember you from the past. Oh that wouldn’t work. What does a place of blessing look like? Welcome. Take a risk. Experience grace.

It was a rich experience to be able to work with innovation in the light of the Prodigal Son. It provided a fresh lens and opened up a rich set of conversations around people and processes in change.

Posted by steve at 01:12 PM

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Let Time Be Still

This is beautiful. ‘Let Time Be Still’ is a song by Greg Johnson, inspired by the words of poet James K Baxter. It is one of 12 songs recorded for 2000 tribute album Baxter: settings of poems by NZ songwriters. The backdrop is Jerusalem, up the Whanganui River, the centre of Baxter’s final years. The lyrics “matins making” chimes with the Catholic symbols – Mary and the crucifix – which complexified so much of Baxter’s imagination. The beat and vocals slow the tempo, echoing the lyrics, the dream of perfect moments in which time stands still.



Posted by steve at 12:10 PM

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Christianity and cultures in Asia

christianity and cultures in asia

This is one of great things about being at Knox, the chance to do missiology as a global conversation:

Christianity and cultures in Asia

SEMINAR SERIES
This series of seminars aims to encourage and promote research and publication on Christianity and cultures in Asia. It also aims to promote use of the rich resources contained in the Rita Mayne England Collection on Asian Christianity held at the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College, in the Hocken Library, and in other libraries around Dunedin.

May 26th Rev Dr John England:
Towards the Bright Pavilions: Approaches to the Study & Teaching of Asian Church Histories & Theologies.

Aug 30th Linda Zampol D’Ortia:
Jesuits in Asia in the 16th century.

Oct 13th Dr Sin Wen Lau
Title tbc

Dec 8th Rev Dr John Roxborogh:
A tale of two Seminaries: Ideas and Realities in the quest for Indigenization and Contextualisation In Theological Education in Malaysia and Singapore.

Posted by steve at 07:50 PM

Monday, May 09, 2016

Learning and development: a Salvation Army after-dinner mint

chocolate-basket-1327879-640x480 I am with the Salvation Army in Wellington this evening. I have been asked to present a keynote address at the Salvation Army’s inaugural Learning and Development Conference. It involves around 50 executive leaders from across the Army, wrestling with how they might collaboration in training. I have been asked to provide an after dinner speech, in which I, as an outside voice, address the question

Why would the Salvation Army even be doing learning and development, and what is at stake?

After some considered reflection, and rifting through quite a bit of recent speaking material around innovation and discipleship, I’ve returned to something I did in Australia in February 2015, speaking to a group of funders of the Uniting College about the future of the church. It means I will speak under three headings.

  • What is God up to?
  • What lies in a “Kingdom” kete (basket)?
  • Three stories from my own experience

Under each of these headings, I will weave three repeating threads

  • the move from centre to edge, learnt to play away from home
  • the moving from monocultural to multi-cultural, learning to lead across cultures
  • the move from face to face to digital, becoming fluent with faith formation in digital worlds.

It has been at least seven years since I was last with the Salvation Army in New Zealand and will be my first non-Presbyterian outing since I’ve returned to New Zealand. I’ve never seen myself in the after-dinner mint category – you know inspiring, funny – but despite these limitations, I’m looking forward to it.

Posted by steve at 06:11 AM

Friday, May 06, 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for April 2016.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a wonderful tickle of the New Zealand funny bone. The people I sat beside wiped tears from their eyes, then as the credits rolled stood to applaud the script writing skills of director Taika Waititi and the acting of teenager Ricky Barker.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a road trip gone bush. Troubled teenager Ricky Barker (Julian Dennison) needs a home. At the end of a rural gravel road, Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her silent partner, Hector (Sam Neill) are Julian’s last chance before juvenile detention. When tragedy strikes, Ricky goes bush. Tracked by Hector, their actions spark a national manhunt. At this point, with the end inevitable, interest is maintained by the insertion of the bizarre (extinct birds and selfie seekers) and creative rifting on pop-culture (Up, Goodbye Pork Pie and 1980’s Toyota advertisements).

New Zealand cinema has been typecast as dark and brooding (interestingly by Sam Neill himself), evident in the bleak cinematographic palate of a Vigil or the subject matter of Quiet Earth or River Queen. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a welcome reminder that rich veins of humour have always run through New Zealand cinema, from Goodbye Pork Pie and Came a Hot Friday to Boy (also directed by Taika Waititi).

What we are finding funny is worth pondering. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an adaptation of Barry Crump’s Wild Pork and Watercress. At the core of Crump’s books are men alone, a reference to the name of John Mulgan’s 1939 novel. In the literature of Crump and Mulgan, men are drift from conflict and commitment rather than embracing the emotional work required of long term relationships. Males alone are the core of Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The humour that surrounds Julian’s use of haiku is not only funny, but a reminder of emotional deprivation.

The sadness at the core of these constructions of being male is magnified by the shift in time. Wild Pork and Watercress, written by Crump thirty years ago, is contemporized in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. John Campbell reports for national news, while cell phone technology is used to track Julian and Hector. In New Zealand today, there are far too many Julian’s and the rate of child neglect remains unacceptably high. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a film well worth seeing, even as the lighthearted laughter involves themes that should weigh on our heart instead of tickle our funny bone.

Religion has a presence in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Director Waititi plays a church minister, his sermon a head scratching piece of nonsense. Shifting from funeral scene to plot development, Ricky and Hector’s act of going bush becomes a form of redemption. Isolation deepens the relationship between Ricky and Hector. The bush can bond. The result is a secularized affirmation of Christian understandings of the grace possible in creation and through relationship.

Go to Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Laugh until you cry. Return home. Commit to acting in ways that turn the tears of New Zealand children into laughter.

Posted by steve at 07:14 AM

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

childrens talk: with explosives

Needing a children’s talk for Sunday, I asked Presbyterian Archives if they had anything on the church I was preaching at (Knox Presbyterian, Dunedin). They produced a catalogue, which at 35 pages, indicated a rich history. Scanning through, an entry on page 34 caught my eye.

explosives

Explosives. I asked for more and they produced a family album and information regarding a Professor Black, who in the 1880′s, gave a lecture on explosives, with numerous experiments. Here is the children’s talk that resulted:

(more…)

Posted by steve at 02:45 PM

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

“Women’s wealth” as human agency: lines as bridges in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

Behind Sunday’s sermon, on “women’s wealth” and Dorcas as a pioneering a fresh expression of justice, lay an academic research project I’ve been pottering away on for the last few weeks. As a result, I’ve just submitted a paper proposal for Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions, Conference of the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture. It is 9th-11th Sept 2016, University of Glasgow.

image It is just before the BERA conference, in Leeds, which I’ve had a paper accepted at and just after the Ecclesiology and Ethnograpy conference, in Durham, which I’ve already got a paper drafted for. So there is a nice confluence of conferences. The paper I’ve proposed for Lines in Sand: Borders, Conflicts and Transitions is in the Literature section. It is new terrain, and therefore I am taking a bit of a punt. But it is an attempt to think through some of my current reading, in particular, of Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain and the implications for gender and post-colonial ways of being.

The proposed paper is as follows:

“Women’s wealth” as human agency: lines as bridges in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain

This paper argues that lines are verbs that engender lived experience (Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, 2013). The term “women’s wealth” (Goddard, Threads, 2011) is applied as a metaphor to analyze the arc, art and author of The Mountain.

Drusilla Modjeska is a writer of non-fiction accounts of women’s literature. The Mountain is a departure, a novel of love and loss set within Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) transition to independence and the conflicts surrounding the nation’s quest for economic viability in a globalising world. At the heart of The Mountain is “women’s wealth,” in the form of barkcloth made by the Omie women of PNG. Central to the narrative arc of The Mountain is indigenous agency, the Omie acting creatively in their search for economic sustainability.

The front cover of The Mountain is painted in the black lines distinctive of Omie art. Each chapter begins with a different piece of this art. These lines provide an invitation to read visually. Ingold argued for three types of lines: geometric, organic and abstract. The Omie consider their art is a visual alphabet in which lines are bridges not boundaries. Hence The Mountain invites a focus not on sola literature but on a visual reading that respects lines as organic and abstract.

While writing The Mountain, the author became part of her own fictional narrative arc. She founds a not-for-profit organisation that enables Omie artists to benefit from Western interaction. She writes of her struggle, an English woman living in Australia, to overcome her “internal post-colonial border policewoman” and cross the lines of either/or. She finds agency when recalling “women’s wealth”: the lives of women she has read, interviewed and observed painting lines-as-bridges.

Hence “women’s wealth” – in narrative arc, lined art and women’s lived experience – turns lines into bridges, enhances human agency and empowers creativity.

In working on my International Association of Mission Studies paper – Fiction as missiology: an appreciation of religious change in Drusilla Modjeska’s “The Mountain” – a set of questions had been generated, around the materiality of what I was researching. That led down a set of research rabbit holes around Pacifica weaving, which, given the numbers of Pacifica students at Knox Centre and the history of Presbyterian involvement, seemed worth pursuing. This proposed paper is a result.

Posted by steve at 06:48 AM

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Womens wealth: Tabitha/Dorcas missiology of economic justice

Acts 9:36, the story of Tabitha (Dorcas in the Greek), preached at Knox Church, Dunedin, in which I suggest economic justice is a fourth mark of the church and wonder if Dorcas is the first female Deacon of the church, and thus the patron saint of diaconal ministry.

colourful-batik-shawls-2-1145599 Last weekend my sister-in-law from Christchurch came to visit. We’ve brought a house at St Leonards. It has some very dated curtains and so with winter approaching, last weekend was set aside and the words written in the calendar – curtain making. I needed to spend Saturday morning working on a conference presentation, for the International Society for Religion, Literature and Culture. So I found myself on Saturday morning reading about “women’s wealth.” It’s a term used to reference the making of bark cloth into woven mats amongst Pacifica cultures.

“Women’s wealth” thus refers first, to the skills of making. Second, to the knowledge sharing that occurs across generations as the mats are made. Third, to the value of the actual mats. They’re gorgeous. Fourth, to the ability of these women to adapt their skills when times change, when they move to Australia or New Zealand and lose homegrown materials.

As I was working, I found myself pondering the irony. I’m upstairs thinking, writing about “women’s wealth.” At the same time, downstairs, my wife and sister-in-law are making “women’s wealth” – curtains. As they do they’re sharing stories, learning across generations and improvising with different window shapes and lengths of material. In this “curtain economy” of “women’s wealth” I‘m reduced to driver. Steve, drive to Spotlight for more thread, please. Steve, drive to Spotlight for 60 metres of calico please.

“Women’s wealth” – the ability to make, the communal pooling of skill, the knowledge as story that’s shared, the ability to improvise in different contexts.

Acts 9, the lectionary text for today, is about “women’s wealth.” About the role and significance of “women’s wealth” in the mission of God. “In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha (in the Greek her name is Dorcas), she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room … and then in verse 39 – all the widow’s stood around [Peter], crying and showing the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made.” So “women’s wealth” is how this church in Joppa does mission. The ability to make (robes and other clothing), the willingness to share (with the widows), is how the Gospel has come alive in this community. It’s the materiality of the resurrection.

The Presbyterian Church of Aoteoaroa New Zealand has five faces of mission. They’re named are in your newsletter under my sermon title. To make Jesus Christ known:
• in nurture and teaching
• in loving service
• in proclaiming the gospel
• in transforming society
• in caring for creation
Let’s see if we can bring together the world of Acts 9 and the world of the PCANZ. How many of these five faces do we find in Tabitha’s church in Joppa? Ask the person beside you.

I wondered if there were three faces
• In nurture and teaching of people – and nurture is certainly what Tabitha is offering to the widows; and teaching is there in the sharing across generations
• in loving service – and the robes and clothes offered to widows are a wonderful example of practical ministry
• in transforming society – and in New Testament times, widows are poor. They’re on the bottom rung of society. They have no protector, no advocate. So here in this text, they find one – Tabitha.

As I read the Acts 9 lectionary text during the week, thinking about “women’s wealth”, I was struck by how quickly the church in Acts, after the resurrection, settles into such practical, such material, ministries of mercy and justice.

In Acts 2, property and possessions are shared with those in need. In Acts 4, we hear of the willingness to share everything. In Acts 6, the widows are being fed but economic injustice is occurring, some ethnic groups get less, and so the role of Deacons is created to ensure there is just distribution of resources in the church.
Now here, in Acts 9, 65 kilometres from Jerusalem, this economic pattern continues. Women’s wealth is used to cloth widows.

It’s not named, but isn’t Tabitha a Deacon? Serving the church, ensuring justice, that the poor and marginalised are taken care of. She doesn’t need a title, like the church in Jerusalem. It’s just what happens after the resurrection.

Presbyterians talk about the marks of the church. Three Marks of a Reformed Church
• Preach the Word of God
• Administer the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion
• Godly Discipline
Here in Acts, perhaps there is a fourth mark, the doing of economic justice.

What I also find fascinating about this Acts 9 lectionary text, is that all this happens, all this ministry, all this economic justice, all this “women’s wealth,” it all happens before Peter arrives. Peter, as we heard last week, is commissioned by Jesus to Feed the sheep. Peter is the preacher at Pentecost at Jerusalem. Peter speaks in court before the Sanhedrin. Peter, Peter, Peter.

Yet before Peter ever arrives at Joppa, Tabitha has got on with feeding sheep, practising mercy and justice among the poor and marginalised of her community. There’s a church in mission well before Peter, coming from head office in Jerusalem, ever arrives.

This pattern is repeated time and again in mission history. In 1287, Kublai Khan sent a Chinese Christian bishop as his ambassador to Rome, with instructions to ask the Pope if the Pope was a Christian (The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died)

When the missionaries arrived in top end of Australia, indigenous Aborigines had already heard the gospel from fisherman working down from Indonesia (Gumbuli of Ngukurr: Aboriginal elder in Arnhem Land).

In Aoteaoroa New Zealand, it was Ripahau who carried the pages from the matyred body of Tarore’s Gospel of Luke to Otaki, which resulted Katu Te Rauparaha converted, which causes him to visit enemies of his father Te Rauparaha up and down the South Island, long before any missionaries from head office in London arrive.

In the middle of last century, the world of mission was tipped on its head by a German mission administrator who gave us the term Missio Dei – God’s mission. God is a missionary God. Mission starts with God, and we’re simply playing catching up.

Just like Peter. He arrives from head office, with some great Pentecost stories, only to find women’s wealth and a mission of economic justice is already happening. This is missio dei – starts with God and Peter’s playing catchup.

Will Willimon writes of this Acts 9 lectionary text – “Every community, every family, every congregation exists within certain settled, fixed arrangements of power … Tabitha is to stay home and let the men devise an affordable welfare system … But [God] comes …. These miraculous events announce a new age … and nothing is quite the same.” (Acts: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 85-6). Such is women’s wealth, in the mission Dei, mission of God.

Let me finish with a contemporary story that helps me understand the role and significance of “women’s wealth” in the mission of God today. The story of a church in the UK called Knit and Natter.

In 2008 four women in a small Methodist Church in the middle of a housing estate near Liverpool, arranged to met and knit prayer shawls for the bereaved and those in hospital. Then they moved to blankets for the local women’s refuge. Then hats for shoebox appeals overseas. Everything they knitted, they would lay hands and pray for those who would receive the finished items. Called Prayers for Others.

Three years later, that initial group of four women had grown to sixty, meeting weekly to knit and pray, many with no previous church connection. Calling Knit Natter their church.

Women’s wealth. Used in mission. Four women who make, sharing across generations, integrated their knitting with their prayer life, formed a community of economic justice and spiritual practice, that folk from the wider community now call church. It’s just what happens after the resurrection.

A friend who researched this community for her PhD, noted three things. First, the importance of what she called “Casting On” – the role of knitting as a practical entry point of – hand’s on making – which allowed these four woman to establish connections with the local community.

Second, the power of giving people ways to care. Here’s what one woman, Emma, said:

It feels part of something bigger because the things that people make here are going off into the wider world to be appreciated. So you’re not just part of something local, you’re part of something world- wide really. I think, for me anyway that re-enforces your faith. I think it is lovely to be part of something global, that people can appreciate.

Third, the possibilities of knitting as prayerful practice – how knitting enabled the women to begin or develop a rhythm of prayer and reflection. “ Many of the women interviewed talked about the relaxation and calm frame of mind which knitting brings. They spoke of using their knitting time to create space to be quiet and pray for others.” Knitting is an act of prayer. It’s how the Gospel has come alive in a housing estate in Liverpool.

In conclusion: women’s wealth is often overlooked within societies and cultures. So when I see it in the Biblical text, I want to make that my focus, to major in this sermon on Tabitha. On making, sharing, in the mission of God. And as I did, I was struck by how the church in Acts is marked by economic justice. And that mission starts with God, and that we’re often simply playing catching up. And that mission is can be as simple as making, sharing, integrating our faith with our life. Such is the value of “women’s wealth.” The gifts of Tabitha and Knit and Natter.

It’s just what happens after the resurrection.

Posted by steve at 03:28 PM

Thursday, April 14, 2016

a busy wee patch

The photocopier is whirring away as I type, printing off 90 sets of workshop notes. On Saturday, I am delivering two workshops on the theme Making Jesus known through the nurture and teaching of people in the Christian faith. It is part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Synod of Otago and Southland. They have chosen to celebrate 150 years by looking forward, offering resourcing workshops on around each of the five faces of mission of the PCANZ: to make Jesus Christ known:

in nurturing and teaching
in loving service
in proclaiming the gospel
in transforming society
in caring for creation

It is a wonderful approach to being 150 years old, one of the first invites I got to speak when I arrived as Principal and I’m thrilled to be part of it.

knox

Then on Sunday, I am preaching at Knox Church, Dunedin. My focus will be fresh expressions of mission as they emerge from the lectionary text of Acts 9:36-42. I want to take a gendered and economic approach to Acts and suggest that economic justice as in fact one of the marks of the early church. My sermon is titled “Women’s wealth.” It is my first sermon in a Presbyterian church, so it will no doubt become an important memory. After morning tea, I am leading a workshop on mission with the church.

Here is the blurb -

Rev Dr Steve Taylor, Principal of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership will be leading a workshop after worship for all interested people. Steve is a missiologist, a discipline that among other things explores how the church can be part of what God is doing in the world. It is an approach which influences much of how the church understands itself.

Sometimes people ask me what KCML lecturers do between teaching block courses. I guess this is one answer – resource the church in mission and ministry :)

Posted by steve at 05:16 PM

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mahana: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for March 2016.

Mahana
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

He toi whakairo, he mana tangata.

The Maori proverb, translated in English as “Where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity” is an apt summary of Mahana. Set in the East Coast in the 1960’s, two Maori families, the Mahana’s and the Poata’s, are locked in rivalry. Directed by Lee Tamahori (famous for Once were Warriors and Die Another Day), Mahana is an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s novel Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies.

The pacing is terrific, as screen writer John Collee turns 293 pages of Ihimaera’s prose into 103 minutes of silver screen. The rites of life, weddings historic and funerals contemporary, are the pivots around which tension is both focused and resolved. The ethereal beauty of the bee scene, with its haunting waita, is a rich window into Maori culture and the way people and place are interwoven.

While a period vehicle car chase and the annual Golden Shears provide authentic colour, the film is a reminder that life in 1960’s New Zealand was far from rural bliss. Mahana depicts family feuds and an entrenched racism that were a stain on the idyllic rolling green hills of our history. Mahana thus shares themes with Whale Rider, including drawing from Ihimaera’s imagination, being set in the world of East Coast Maori and depicting the courage required of teenagers caught in hierarchical patterns. Both Pai, in Whale Rider, and Simeon in Mahana, face the challenge of growing beyond a demanding and dominating grandfather.

In a Kiwi cast that includes Temuera Morrison (Grandfather Mahana) and Nancy Brunning (Romona Mahana), it is unknown Akuhata Keefe (Simeon Mahana) that steals the show. From Tolaga Bay Area School, the fifteen year old was in Auckland on holiday, when he was encouraged to audition. His repeated courage is the engine that drives the plot.

Turning from artistic excellence to human dignity, as might be expected in 1960’s rural New Zealand, religion is an ever present reality. Family meals around the Mahana family table begin with grace, while at the church, the priest buries and marries. Yet prayer and ritual seem unable to bring reconciliation in the family feud between Mahana and the Poata.

Instead, it is human dignity that provides freedom. It comes from Simeon Mahana. His belief in fairness and willingness to speak his mind are the means by which three generations are freed from their history. His courage is a reminder, from John 8:23, that the truth will set you free. It provides another way to begin the Maori proverb. Not “he toi whakairo” but “te hauto itoito pono tīari.” “Where courage and honest exist, there is human dignity.”

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of Built for change (Mediacom: forthcoming) 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 05:00 PM

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

John 21 and Waiting for a voice, Dave Dobbyn

Those looking for some contemporary creativity around John 21:1-19, the lectionary text for this Sunday, will find helpful Dave Dobbyn’s latest album, Harmony House, released last week. I hope to provide an album review soon, but in the meantime, the opening single, Waiting for a Voice, is intriguing. Here are the lyrics (my transcription from the album playing on the car stereo this morning)

Verse 1 -
I look across a clear glass lake
Not a ripple on it, not a minnows’ wake

I saw a stranger on the opposite shore
Cooking up a meal for me
And what’s more, I heard Elijah
I know it was him
Get into the water man, and lose your sin

Chorus
And Heaven is waiting for a choice
Waiting for a still clear voice (repeat)

Whether intended by Dobbyn or not, the references to the story of Jesus in John 21 are multiple. Beside the Sea of Galilee in verse 1 (I look across a clear glass lake), the disciples catching nothing in verse 3 (not a minnows’ wake), the presence of the risen Jesus, initially unrecognized in verse 4 (a stranger on the opposite shore), the charcoal fire in verse 9 (cooking up a meal for me).

The reference to Elijah is not named in John 21, but it is a way the disciples might have been making sense of this encounter. There is clear confusion between the Jesus unrecognized in verse 4 and verse 7 “It is the Lord.” A number of times in the Gospels, people wonder if Jesus is Elijah. This shows the power of the Old Testament imaginations that holds. It also shows how the human mind always works within known structures of meaning when trying to assimilate new experience. This has significant missiological implications of course. People move from their known to the new, so any communication needs to begin with the known. In so doing, it will always run the danger of being misinterpreted.

I love the baptism imagery (Get into the water man, and lose your sin). Again, it is not in the text. However it is a lovely imaginative working with the role of water, that is for baptism, and consistent with the actions of Peter in verse 7, as he jumps into the waters of Galilee in his rush to get to Jesus. The lyric makes total sense of the pathway to redemption, that we come to faith through the waters in which are sin is washed away.

The chorus is a catchy mix of crashing chords and ecstatic vocals, channelling the ecstatic sounds of a Nick Cave. The lyrics are distinctly evangelical. Heaven is waiting for a choice. Personally, I wince at the focus in the lyrics on human agency, at the danger of human pride in “my choosing to follow Jesus.” At the same time, there is a sense in John 21 of choice, particularly and repeatedly, in the three questions Jesus asks of Peter in verses 15, 16 and 17. Are we willing to trust ourselves to a stranger, who insists we make clear lifestyle changes (and lose your sin) in choosing to sit around a fire with Jesus?

So how would I use it? Probably I would mention some of the lyrics during the sermon, then play the song after the sermon, as a seque into communion. I would weave some of the lyrics into the communion prayers (thanking God for the saints, including Elijah; for the gift of creation, including lake shores and the waters of baptism, through which we find communion with God). I would ensure the prayers allow a time of silence in which I would invite us to listen for God’s “still clear voice.”

If I knew the community well, I might even invite them to share what they heard at the end of this listening. If I was doing this, my sermon would focus more on a lectio divina approach to Scripture, in which I create space for imaginative listening. Then I would play the song, mention the lyric – listen for God’s “still clear voice” – and invite that space for silence, for listening, and then for sharing.

Who knows what that still clear voice of the risen Lord, so strange to us, might say?

Posted by steve at 08:13 AM

Monday, April 04, 2016

Knox online mission teaching

Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership went online today. The topic focus was Mission and the church. Video conferencing was used to connect interns together and for two hours, Scripture was read, in conversation with readings from Newbigin and the context in which the intern is ministering.

ibook-g4-1-1243494-640x480 It is an experiment we are trialing this year, in 1 of our 7 courses, made for a number of reasons.

First, traditional education tends to offer theory, which is then applied, often in an assignment. The Mission and the church class has a major assignment which involves working with a group from the local church over a number of weeks in exploring what God is up to in the local neighbourhood. The use of video conferencing was a way to try and place the local context more front and centre, in a different way than in a classroom. Essentially we have halved the face to face contact time and replaced it with in-context tutorials.

Second, some recent educational research has argued that the closer a student is to their context, the more likely they are to begin to experience change, as they seek to integrate content with their current lived experience. In other words, the face to face class removes a student from their context, while e-learning allows them to stay in context, increasing their range of connections they make.

Third, the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership internship offers three block course intensives a year. Providing online engagement in between intensives increases interaction between lecturers and interns. It also provides another way to strengthen relationships between interns. (“Is that what your office looks like” was one comment heard today).

Fourth, technology is an increasing part of life today, so it is good for interns (and lecturers) to be invited to learn and grow, to experience forming and being formed through digital means.

Fifth, online technology offers some avenues for Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership to be more engaged in training nationally, including connecting with those in rural areas. If we can do this with interns, could we down the track also do it with lay folk and ministers in context? So this type of experiment allows us to learn and grow, testing our capacity, exploring ways to enhance access to ministry and mission training.

Today had some hitches. As was to be expected. But the conversation I was part of was one of the most honest and sustained exploration of ministry and call that I have experienced in quite some years. To read Scripture, to pray and be prayed through digital technologies, was a rich experience.

Posted by steve at 08:06 PM