Friday, September 05, 2014

A cross to carry: Calvary 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 September 2014, of Calvary.

Calvary
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.” Jack Brennan, Village butcher

Calvary is, according to the Christian faith, the place where Jesus met death. It stands at the end of his Passion, the final resting place in a final week of suffering. “Calvary” is also a film, in which a respected Catholic priest in a remote Irish village is invited, unexpectedly, to face his death.

One Saturday, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) in the act of offering a routine round of confession, hears an unknown man recount his story of childhood abuse. The actions of a certain “bad priest”, now dead, deserve punishment. Father James, has been chosen, because he is a “good priest”, to atone for the sins on another by meeting his death Sunday week. It is a bitter take on the Christian interpretation of Calvary, in which one innocent man is invited to suffer for the sins of another.

It is a clever move, both theologically and technically. It provides a way to cast a darkening shadow over James daily life as a priest. At mass on Sunday, through pastoral visitation on Monday, at the pub on Wednesday, James encounters a host of multiple minor characters. An angry mechanic (Isaach De Bankole), a cynical surgeon (Aidan Gillen), a dying novelist (M. Emmet Walsh), each amplify the opening confession.

It builds suspense. Which one of the males James encounters is the unknown man in the confessional? Together these multiple characters become a rising crescendo of sustained outrage. The road to James’ Calvary becomes a suffering not only for the sins of a “bad priest”, but for the acts of a “bad church”, enmeshed in a perceived history of colonisation, injustice and oppression.

Brendan Gleeson as Father James is superb. Entering the priesthood following the death of his wife, he towers over the windswept heather of this bleak Irish coastline. Intelligent, deadpan, he seems, like a sponge, to absorb the hostility that surrounds him. He is delightfully humanised by the appearance of his daughter (Kelly Reilly).

Her appearance introduces a further challenge to the Christian narrative of Calvary. If Christ’s crucifixion is preordained, is it actually a suicide?

In “Calvary”, as in the Gospel accounts of Calvary, the Christ light of devotion and faith are held most clearly by assorted women. We met Teresa (Marie-Josée Croze), whose husband dies in a car accident on the last day of their long planned holiday. She meets this tragedy with grace and acceptance. It is a welcome foil to the bitterness of the village and a source of sustenance for James as he contemplates whether his cup of suffering should be taken from him.

In the end, “Calvary” is one man against a village. It is hard to imagine in real life a priest so isolated. Or perhaps this is the message of the movie? That today, the Church in the West is isolated. Alone it needs to suffer, in atonement for the sins of it’s past.

If so, then it might find aid in the faith of many a Teresa as it prays through the agony of Gethsemane and the suffering of Calvary.

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 11:43 PM

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Learning and Teaching

Order forms for Learning and Teaching Theology – Some Ways Ahead arrived today.

The book is a companion volume to Transforming Theology. Student Experience and Transformative Learning in Undergraduate Theological Education. That book is awesome, detailed research  across numerous higher educational providers of theological awards in Australia.  To consolidate the research, the Sydney College of Divinity hosted a conference in 2013 to promote further scholarly thinking on the learning and teaching of theology. That conference has in turn engendered a number of essays by contemporary scholars and practitioners at the leading edge of Australian and New Zealand theological education, now gathered into this volume, which presents some contemporary thinking and innovative practices in the field and so encourages further such development within the theological community.

Book chapters include -
Nancy Ault: Assessing Integrative Learning and Readiness for Ministry. Can There be Common Ground?
Les Ball: Where Are We Going? Questioning the Future of Learning and Teaching Theology
Robert Banks: Paul as Theological Educator. His Original Legacy and Continuing Challenge
Felix Chung: Chinese Theological Education in Australia. The Way Ahead
Tim Cooper: Transformative Learning in Church History
Darren Cronshaw and Andrew Menzies: From Place to Place. A Comparative Study of 5 Models of Workplace Formation at 2 Colleges on 1 Campus
Charles de Jongh: The Contribution of Theories of Multiple Intelligences to the Promotion of Deep Learning through the Assessment of Learning
Dan Fleming and Peter Mudge: Leaving Home. A Pedagogy for Theological Education
Denise Goodwin: A Practical Approach for Teaching Foundational Theology. Inquiry–Based Learning and the Matrix of Ideas Process
James R Harrison: Paul and the Ancient Gymnasium. Research Paradigms for “Academic Citizens” of the New World
Richard Hibbert and Evelyn Hibbert: Addressing the Need for Better Integration in Theological Education. Proposals, Progress, and Possibilities from the Medical Education Model
Diane Hockridge: Making the Implicit Explicit. Exploring the Role of Learning Design in Improving Formational Learning Outcomes
Neil Holm: An Analysis of “Soul” as the Central Construct in Dirkx’s and Ruether’s Transformative Learning Theory
Murray House: Cross-cultural Mission as a Transformative Learning Experience. A Report
EA Judge: Higher Education in the Pauline Churches
Jude Long: Nungalinya College – Empowering Indigenous Christians
Kara Martin: Theology for the iGeneration
Stephen Smith and Leon O’Flynn: Responding to Complexity. Moving from Competence to Capability
Isaac Soon: Video Game Design and the Theological Classroom. Gamification as a Tool for Student-Centred Learning
Steve Taylor: Embodiment and Transformation in the Context of e-Learning

I ordered copies of Learning and Teaching Theology – Some Ways Ahead for each of the Faculty. We’ll use it at as professional development, read a chapter and discuss it together monthly as a way of helping us think about teaching and learning.

Why? It’s contemporary. It’s reflection on action. It’s a local (Australasian) resource. It’s got a chapter by me! (Embodiment and Transformation in the Context of e-Learning). It’s another way for us as lecturers in focus on Year of the Student.

Posted by steve at 10:05 PM

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

QR codes in worship

This image of a temporary tattoo QR code printed on a person (from here) got me thinking about embodiment and worship.

QR codes

I love that sense of mystery, of not knowing, yet of being aware of information on offer. It got me thinking about worship. For example, here is the lectionary reading for Sunday. (Built from here)

QR Code

Imagine that on the front of the newsletter as people came in.

Or imagine printing various stations on people. Here is a call to worship, again linked to the lectionary text.

Welcome to worship

And to have people scattered around your auditorium, as “worship leaders.” Finding these people and using your cell phone to find out the next step in your worship journey.

Posted by steve at 07:55 PM

Sunday, August 31, 2014

mission then, mission now

I’ve just finished marking a set of assignments for my Mission, Evangelism and Apologetics intensive I taught in Sydney in July. I’m delighted with how the first assignment question worked.

Assignment:
Each student will, at the start of the class, be given a missionary. They will then use the Essential texts
for the course as a beginning point to find out more about their missionary. (These texts are Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today or Dewerse, R. (2013). Nga Kai-Rui i Te Rongopai: Seven Early Maori Christians. Rotorua: Te Hui Amorangi ki te Manawa o Te Wheke.)

The student will submit a biography (300 words) of the individual, a summary of how this person understood either evangelism or mission or apologetics (400 words), followed by a discussion of the implications of this understanding for either evangelism or mission or apologetics today (300 words).

Note: If students have other learning styles, they are welcome to submit this assignment verbally, by submitting a 10 minute podcast on a mailed USB stick or uploaded to a website and emailing the relevant URL to the lecturer. The lecturer will be assuming that at 100 words a minute, the spoken length of the podcast is similar to 1000 written words.

I set this type of assignment for a number of reasons.

Fist, stories have power. One way to enthuse and engage about mission is to tell stories. By asking students to do this assignment, I am introducing them to stories, that they might use. (Throughout the intensive, I offered a number of examples – Caroline Chisholm an Australian pioneer and Maori peace stories – to enthuse the class and model the assignment.)

Second, biography as theology. As James McClendon has argued (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology), people’s lives embody doctrine. We see truth in actions. So this assignment was a way of doing biography as theology missiology.

Third, the common perception is that mission in the past has been all about colonisation. This assignment helps them realise that history does include tragedy, but it also includes some outstanding examples of servanthood that brought great benefit to indigenous cultures.

Fourth, it enabled mission to be placed as global, to place our talk about evangelism and apologetics alongside the stories of Maori in mission, pioneering in Japan, India and Europe. It allowed mission to be so much more than Euro-centric.

Posted by steve at 11:29 PM

Thursday, August 28, 2014

one year on: missing Dad, Dad dreaming

It’s a year since Dad died, suddenly, but peacefully. I’m taking tomorrow off, to sit with the pain, to watch the video of the funeral, to walk through the memories. Here’s one memory, a summer dream, that keeps me going …

About four months after Dad died, I awoke one night, aware that Dad had just walked through my dreams. I was in a home and walking down a hallway, a door opened and Dad stepped out.

He was wearing long blue jeans, nicely cut and a knitted sweater. He looked good.  I said hello, reaching out to touch the wool as Dad walked past. It was warm and soft.  Dad turned, meeting my gaze and smiling. He appeared younger, happier, gentler. Then silently, he moved on down the hallway.

Waking, lying in a darkened room, I pondered feelings of presence and absence. Dad was there, a presence I could still talk too. Yet Dad was moving on, unable in this dream to talk to me. I felt both comforted and saddened, aware of grace, reminded of grief.

Continuing to ponder the dream in the  days following, it slowly dawned on me that in my dream Dad was walking.

Walking. It had been years since I’d seem him walk. His last years had seen him trapped in a wheel chair.

Christians claim the resurrection of the dead. That Dads will not just walk, but also talk.  Yet in the here and now, my Dad walked, stepping softly, warmly, through my subconscious. The dream offered a new way to connect with my Dad beyond death.  Deep within the recesses of the parts of me that I cannot fathom, cannot control, Dad lives.

And walks. It’s a source of great comfort, while I wait for the end of time, when I’ll find myself not only able to walk, but also to talk.

I miss my Dad.

Posted by steve at 11:25 PM

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

research assistance required

I am seeking research assistance for a project that involves developing a theological resource for undergraduate students in the area of indigenous women’s Christologies.

The project involves working with a number of local theologians, in particular selected indigenous woman (already identified), to clarify their theology (in both written and visual forms), and to create an accompanying resource guide by which undergraduate students can identify the resources and processes used in theological contextualisation and consider the questions raised for theological method.

Applicants will need skills including the ability to

  • interview
  • organise technologies (visual and written) to preserve the insights
  • write clearly
  • develop resources
  • think theologically, including in areas of Christology and culture

Funding is available for a total of 25 hours at Flinders University Causal Academic Rates. The project needs to begin by late September, 2014 and to be finished by early November, 2014.

Apply by email to Steve Taylor (steve dot taylor at flinders dot edu dot au) by Friday 6 September. Applications should include a CV and a letter of interest, addressing the skills required.

Posted by steve at 11:10 PM

Monday, August 25, 2014

Jesus on the Gold Coast

I’m teaching a three day intensive on Jesus at Newlife Church, Robina, on the Gold Coast, in November 11-13, 2014.

Theology of Jesus – This topic combines biblical, historical, doctrinal and contemporary approaches to Jesus Christ and to salvation in Christ. Special attention will be paid to the missional Jesus, in popular culture and in encounters with other faiths.

Lecturer – Rev Dr Steve Taylor – Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology and Senior Lecturer, Flinders University.  Church planter, church leader and author, Out of Bounds Church? and blogger (www.emergentkiwi.org.nz)

Here is a little video that I shot a few weeks ago, to introduce Jesus and the course to students.

Introduction to Jesus topic from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Date – November 11-13th, 2014
Time – 7 hours a day, 9-5 pm with hour for lunch (12:30-1:30 pm)
Where – Newlife Church
How to Register – Contact Lynda Leitner (lynda dot leitner at flinders dot edu dot au) at Adelaide College of Divinity (phone 08 8416 8400) and ask to enrol in MINS 2314 or relevant post-graduate code
Cost -  $1341 (undergraduate credit); $1665 (postgraduate credit);  $300 audit undergraduate; $400 audit postgraduate

Posted by steve at 06:56 PM

Saturday, August 23, 2014

If you’re not typing you’re not visual: Elearning practice and culture

It was meant to be a writing morning, but instead I slipped into the back of a lecture theatre at University of South Australia to hear Carolyn Haythornwaite address the topic Elearning practice and culture From experiment to mainstream. Director of the School of Library, archival and information services, University British Colombia, she argued that e-learning is a paradigm shift in practice of learning.

She talked about the way that technical changes are driving the social. The result is a society that is more participative and collective, which is bringing unavoidable pressures to bear on University classrooms. She had a lovely phrase

“a balance found in motion not stillness.” (Nardi and ODay, 1999).

She argued that for many years the lecture and the classroom have been a still place, an unchanging place, in which academics have clung for security. But with what is happening in society, the classroom is now in motion!

Not that this is easy. She described the exhaustion for teachers because we are now in “perpetual beta” and of continuously having to learn, both in regard to technology and in regard to how learners are learning.

She talked about two types of online engagement – crowd sourced or community based. Both have different ways of connecting. One tends to offer interaction that is many, small, simple. The other is complex, diverse, connected. Which type of community will e-teachers seek to create?

She had some cool visualisations. Pictures that showed that blended learning classes tend to develop weekly rhythms, the different network channels (chat, discussion boards, email) develop different types of student engagement, that the group rhythm over an entire course changes.

She had some encouragements as I reflected on our journey into blended learning as a Uniting College.

  • The need to have the IT group within the teaching department rather than separate (which we have done at Uniting College)
  • Forget perfection. Build it as you go. You never should have your e-learning space all packaged at start. Rather you should grow it organically as you go.
  • You get used to it. That after a few years of “perpetual beta” change, you suddenly realise you are an e-teacher.

She asked some fresh questions:

  • How to orientate students in the social skills needed to learn online in community?
  • How to understand the multiple roles of the e-teacher – as social presence but also teaching presence and also cognitive presence?
  • How to understand the potential of students to themselves become teachers in e-learning spaces? (Efacilitator, braider, accomplished fellows, learner-leaders).

So, not a writing day, but a rich and thought provoking chance to reflect on all the blended learning changes occurring at Uniting College.

Posted by steve at 12:16 AM

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

open table learning

This week in Theology of Jesus class, it was the fourth week and the theme was open tables: Jesus eating patterns. I decided that we should not only study this, we should experience it.

opentable

I moved the class from the classroom into the student common area. The tables were pulled into a circle. Tablecloths were laid. The soup, which I have been providing prior to each evening class, to help build community, was eaten at what would be our study table. Tonight it was Santa Fe Sweet potato, with charred pepper.

The newly added student wifi meant that I could still teach this blended, with folk from distance connecting live with the class through digital technologies.

Cook books were scattered around and we began with mindfulness, becoming thankful for a good meal that we each found in a cook book.

During the class, I asked what connections were they making between our experience of open table and the class readings and lecture material. Here are some of the reflections

  • is there more interaction and chatter around tables (here and Jesus) time? what does this do for how we understand how Jesus communicated
  • This is more informal. There’s our food and books everywhere. Does this show us a different, more conversational Jesus – more involved in the to and fro. Willing to be interrupted.
  • You see a different person around tables. You see what they’re living. More vulnerable
  • Around table, I ‘m getting to know other students more. Does this say something about discipleship, that following Jesus is with others, getting to know others more
  • Jesus must have been adaptable. He is comfortable in different spaces – socially apt.
  • How often do we have in our homes people we don’t know? How often we eat alone?
  • Jesus is radical and counter-cultural. The boundaries are blurred, yet there is still a sense of order.

Some fascinating learning here, about who Jesus is and how Jesus enacts the Kingdom.

Posted by steve at 10:09 PM

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Affirmations from the outside

On Sunday I preached Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus encounter with the Syro-Phonecian woman. I was struck by her understanding of Jesus, her articulation of faith.

Sometimes in worship we draw on affirmations of faith, spoken statements about what we understand of Christ. These often come from those inside the church. Yet here in Matthew 15, Jesus declares the Syro-Phonecian woman has “great faith.” (15:28)

So what is the Affirmation of faith not from the “inside” but from the “outside”, from one outside the church?

I believe in God the compassionate (have mercy, my daughter is suffering – v. 22)
in whom is mercy

I believe in Jesus the healer and helper (help me – v. 25)
from a royal line (Lord, Son of David – v. 22)
the radical boundary crosser (stepping across boundaries from your culture to my culture)

I believe in a Spirit, generous
in calling me from past to present (moving beyond the pain of the past, your ancestor’s history with Canaanite).

Now isn’t that a faith worth affirming, an outsider Creed worth bringing into our midst?

Posted by steve at 07:13 PM

Sunday, August 17, 2014

bowing to a buddhist monk: a meditation on the Syro-phonecian woman

Here is the sermon I preached this morning at Blackwood Churches of Christ. The lectionary text was Matthew 15:22-28, the story of Jesus encounter with the Syro-phonecian woman. The reading helped me explore a set of circumstances a few weeks ago, in which I found myself bowing to a Buddhist monk. In other words, how do we encounter people of different beliefs and opinions?

……. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:11 PM

Friday, August 15, 2014

teaching Jesus: go global

Gather your little ones to you, O God,
as a hen gathers her brood to protect them.

Today I am teaching on Jesus and history. I will not start with the Christological controversies of the early church. I will not talk about how the Creeds came. Instead, we will turn to global history. We will visit the church in Russia, in El Salvador, in South Africa, in India and in England. We will ask how these communities might help us understand Jesus.

In England we will sit with the prayer of Anselm, A SONG OF CHRIST’S GOODNESS

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying,
we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.

Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us.

In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.

I only have two hours. By going global-early-church, rather than by going standard-early church, my students will not fully engage what is standard, Creedal church history on Jesus. Am I diminishing theology, short-changing students? Or am I being faithful to theology, affirming the church world-wide? Whatever happens, I take shelter God, who gathers us to protect.

Posted by steve at 11:42 AM

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How to read better: 4 general tips to reading better

A resource I gave to a class, trying to help them think not only about what they are reading, but how they are reading. It also allowed me to introduce some foundation tools in theology.

1. Start at the end
You never start a book/chapter/excerpt at the beginning. You always go to the end. First, that is where the conclusion is and that gives you the big picture. Second, since most people start at the beginning and often don’t quite have time to finish, you can more easily stand out from the crowd.

2. Think in pencil or red pen
As you read, always be recording your own work. This is what you are going to get credit for in an assignment/conversation. You want to be ticking what you agree, underling a reference you might want to chase further, noting a question you have, writing a connection you make.

When you come to write or to talk in a group, you don’t want to be scrambling through pages going “now where is it?” You want to quickly find your own work and say, “Well on page x where it says, I made me think of (last week’s lecture, something I read last week”

3. Write a summary in your own words
The best way to see if you can remember something is to use your own words. Try, in a few sentences to catch the major outline of the work. This also then stands you in great stead when you come to your assignments, because you can then turn them into a summary in your own words.

4. Know your tools
Every reading will probably have something you don’t fully understand or can’t quite recall. To help you read, you need to be able to understand words that are new or you’ve forgotten. It can also be helpful to place the reading in context or to read some actual words of original authors.

When it comes to theology, here are four tools I find helpful:

 

Posted by steve at 10:08 PM

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Church on the World’s Turf: faith in hard places

How do Christians engage with their world?

Paul Bramadat decided to answer the question by researching a student group on a Canadian campus. For a year, he participated in the InterVarsity club at McMaster University. He interviewed people and attended small groups. He even went with them on a month long mission to Lithuania. All the time, as he attempted to understand them, they attempted to convert him.

The result is The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series). It’s a sensitive and thoughtful reflection.

He argues that evangelicals are creative and innovative. They employ a complex set of responses. They create a fortress in order to maintain an identity. At the same time, they create bridges in order to be true to their understandings. Key to this is the student group itself – it creates a space in which this creative innovation can be encouraged, in which identity can be nurtured and connections can be established.

“By focusing on evangelicals’ creativity in the face of the perceived hegemony of the secular ethos, not only do we gain a more nuanced view of the resistance of marginalized groups but we also begin to see these Christians as the multidimenensional and imaginative people they are. At the very least, an emphasis on evangelicals’ enthusiastic and creative responses to perceived marginalization might help us understand why evangelical church and parachurch groups show no sign of disintegration and are almost the only sector of contemporary North American Christianity sustaining and even increasing its membership.” (Paul Bramadat, The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series), 147)

Bramadat makes this argument has he explores attitudes to women, approaches to faith sharing, the understandings of the spiritual. It is a fascinating study, the first in-depth ethnographic study of a Christian campus group Bramadat was aware of (at the time of publication in 2000). It shows the richness possible when ethnography is used in research, the creativity of faith responses to the world around and the possibilities for religious groups to nurture robust relationships with their world.

Posted by steve at 06:44 PM