Monday, March 30, 2020

contagion – a theological review in a time of pandemic

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 140 plus films later, here is the review for April 2020. Touchstone have kindly given permission for me to place it online prior to print publication, given the extraordinary times in which we find ourselves

Contagion
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Contagion was released in 2011. It is available on iTunes and Google Play and at prices cheaper than a movie ticket. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, a “stay-at-home” theological film review seemed appropriate.

“Get ready for the future, It is murder,” sings Leonard Cohen in 1992. The song would make an apt soundtrack for the movie “Contagion.” The film, released in 2011, has in the last week, become the second-most popular movie on iTunes. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the movie dramatizes a medical apocalypse that has, in recent weeks, become our present reality.

A mystery virus, originating in China, is swiftly carried by airline travel around the world. Highly contagious, able to survive on door handles and drinking glasses, a global pandemic ensures.

In this future vision (and unlike our present reality), the United States takes the lead. Central to the drama is the team at the Centre Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP). They are researching (Kate Winslett as Dr Erin Mears), communicating (Laurence Fishburne as Dr Ellis Cheever) and testing (Jennifer Ehle as Dr Ally Hextall; Demetri Martin as Dr David Eisenberg). A vaccine takes months. Distrust of science, mixed with the conspiracy, accelerated by social media results, results in looting, panic and vigilante action. As Cohen laments, the future indeed is murder.

“Contagion” has two emotional palette’s. A cold and fearful first half, as initial heroines (Gwyneth Paltrow as Beth Emhoff) collapse and masked medical professionals seek (unsuccessfully) to contain. A more empathetic second half follows, as romance blooms and sacrifices made for the greater good.

The movie cleverly pairs characters – wife (Beth Emhoff) with husband (Matt Damon as Mitch Emhoff); CDCP scientists’ female (Dr Erin Mears) with male (Dr Ellis Cheever). One sex will die, while the other will find creative ways to care for the next generation. Why, even in a pandemic, do gender stereotypes remain?

“Contagion” becomes an important watch amid the COVID-19 pandemic. What is made visible is the interplay between an unseen virus and a palpable human dread.

In the face of fear, we can choose anxiety. Believe social media. Distrust science. Surrender to conspiracy theories. Or we can choose to re-imagine. Open ourselves to love our neighbour as ourselves. Find different ways to care and connect through times of turbulence.

Churches have historically played an essential role in loving the sick. Basil of Caesarea in the fourth century, founded what historians consider was the world’s first hospital. At Basil’s funeral, the hospital he founded was praised as an institution of mercy in which “diseases are studied, misfortune made blessed and sympathy put to the test.” Such is Christianity. Science is valued, and research is respected. Kindness is evident, and greater love casts out fear.

We find ourselves in an unprecedented time in human history. Might the images of “Contagion” and the lyrics of Cohen accurately portray our emerging present? Or will the compassion of Mother Teresa and the innovation of Basil, mark the church as visible in the face of an invisible virus? Get ready for the future, it becomes our choice.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. He is the author of First Expressions (2019), Built for change (Mediacom: 2016) and The Out of Bounds Church? (Zondervan: 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 04:23 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Annunciation in a time of Isolation

I write from home on lockdown eve. A national state of emergency has been enacted, and at midnight on the 25 March 2020, all of Aotearoa New Zealand has been ordered to isolate for the next four weeks. All over my nation, people are returning home. Parents are becoming teachers. Kitchen tables are now work desks, while fridge doors have new daily routines and economic fear gnaws.

Aotearoa New Zealand is not alone. As I write, more than 1.7 billion people worldwide, over a fifth of the world’s population, are secluding themselves at home.

In the calendar of the church, the 25 March is a Principal Feast. Hence on this 2020 lockdown eve, the lectionary texts revolve around the annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In Luke 1:26–38, the angel appears to Mary, announcing good news. God is conceiving life, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. In the tradition of the church, this announcement of God’s activity is in the context of seclusion.

This is beautifully portrayed in The Annunciation, an artwork by Filippo Lippi (1450s), that hangs in Room 58 of the National Gallery in London. Mary is (humanly) alone. She is seated inside a house, isolated from the outdoors by a stone wall. Behind her is stone stairs, suggesting further layers of enclosure. In front of her is the garden, although even that is enclosed. This is a woman alone and physically separated. Whether this was reality, we do not know. How much of this is patriarchy, with Mary entombed by external prejudices and cultural bias, whether from century villagers or fourteenth century is also unclear.

What is clear is that in this isolation, Mary is surrounded by Divine activity. She stares at an angel, who has slipped over the enclosed garden wall to kneel in respect. Above Mary is the hand of God, a motif present in so much baptismal art. Filippo Lippi presents the hand as breaking through the roof, a foreshadowing of the paralytic who will descend through the roof to be forgiven and healed by Jesus in Mark 2:1–12.

A bird hovers in front of Mary’s womb. The detail is extraordinary. A spray of golden particles issues from the beak of the dove. It is common in Annunciation art for the dove to be located above Mary’s head. Filippo Lippi provides a new intimacy, as the Spirit draws near to the womb the angel is blessing. Annunciation thus offers a theology of isolation.

First, what is clear is that a home is a place of encounter. Much of religious activity is centred on the church. We expect the Spirit to be present Sunday by Sunday as the faithful gather around the body of Christ. In the annunciation, God is present in the home. This is good news for the millions of humans currently in lockdown. As we gaze longingly at our gardens, God’s hand can enter our rooms. As an external virus entombs us, God’s Spirit draws near.

Blessed are the secluded
For they will experience God

Second, the house protects. The womb of Mary will house the son of God. God’s Spirit’s draws near, proclaiming favour on the womb of Mary. This womb will house the son of God. In the flow of blood and the bodily tasks of eating and drinking, Divine life is safeguarded. This is what makes Christianity radical, for in God, bodies matter. This is the genius of Filippo Lippi. Mary’s womb, that human body that will house the divine body, is inside a house. Do the stone walls enclose? Or do they protect?

Blessed is the home
For protecting of divine encounter

Third, in seclusion is new life. The word “conceive” is used twice (verses 31 and 36), as is the word “birth” (verses 31 and 35). So much of Christianity seems focused on death, yet the story of Jesus brims with new life. The Spirit that hovers over Mary is the Spirit that hovers over the waters in Genesis 1:2. It is the Spirit that makes birth again possible for Nicodemus in John 3:4–6. It is the Spirit that groans with creation in the pains of childbirth in Romans 8:22–23. In 2020, this same conceiving Spirit continues to hover over our locked-down bodies. Bonhoeffer wrote that in birth, God in Jesus Christ claims space in the world as a “narrow space” in which the whole reality of the world is revealed (Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer-Reader’s Edition)).

This narrow space that is the hope of a new creation is conceived in the four walls that enclose Mary. In 2020, the narrow spaces that are the four walls of our home might yet be the womb of God’s new creation. Might we emerge into a new world in which a universal basic income protects the vulnerable? Might we cultivate different habits, like sabbath and localism, which change the nature of global pollution?

Blessed is time
For in the moment is grace

Fourth, an agency is established. In Luke 1:26-38, despite being secluded, Mary is no passive passenger. She is an agent, choosing to open herself to God’s mission of favour. As she utters the words “Here I am” (verse 38), she is locating herself in the genealogy of God’s servants. She is taking her place alongside Moses in Exodus 3:4 and the prophet in Isaiah 6:8.

How might Mary’s agency be portrayed in art? What Filippo Lippi does is extraordinary. A close examination of The Annunciation shows a spray of golden particles pours from the beak of the hovering dove. An answering spray of gold golden particles issues from a tiny parting in the tunic of Mary. This is Mary “active and outgoing” according to John Drury, former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford (Painting the Word: Christian Pictures and Their Meanings, Yale University Press, 1999, 53). In enclosure, Mary is open. Secluded, she is receptive. This is the art of imagination, not the precision of science. Yet in the poetry is a theology of isolation.

Blessed are the isolated
For they participate in God’s conceiving

In time, Mary will be no stranger to sorrow. The years that lie ahead of her will be stained by tears and pain. God’s favour is no offer of a rosy garden. Yet on the Feast of Annunciation, we in 2020 find a theology of isolation. Enclosed in our homes, God’s Spirit is active. Entombed by the invisible, we have agency. In the narrow space in which we, as a global society, find ourselves, a new world might yet be conceived.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and explores ecclesiologies of birth and conception in First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God. This post also appears on the SCM blog as part of their #TheologyinIsolation series.

Posted by steve at 09:15 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

being church as public gatherings are shut down

In 2005, I wrote a book about a future church. In one chapter, I pointed out that the Bible shows that faith is transmitted in many ways. One way is through the Jewish synagogue pattern of meeting weekly.

However, the Old Testament provides other ways by which faith was transmitted. There were festivals, large scale community events that celebrated life over numbers of days. There were pilgrimages, with Psalms of Ascent to sing on journeys. Upon return, there were kitchen tables at which the experiences of festivals past was retold. At significant landmarks, stones were gathered in piles so that when curious children asked “What’s that,” stories of God active in the past could be shared.

In other words, there have always been other ways to transmit faith than by weekly gathered worship.

The COVID19 pandemic is an opportunity to explore these other ways. There are so many possibilities other than live streaming that weekly pattern. We are being freed to minister Word and offer sacramental leadership in other ancient ways.

Design do at home Easter services with recipes for feasts around the family table. Create prayers to turn the pilgrimage from the front door to letterbox into Psalms of Ascent and Descent. Design ways to share digital stories of God’s actions in times present and past. Offer asynchronous lectio divina using open source software.

Posted by steve at 09:38 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, March 06, 2020

making matters grassroots impact #Kiwiangels

Kiwiangels I really enjoyed presenting at St Lukes Presbyterian yesterday. It was great to have the opportunity to offer to a local church and nearby ministers some of my study leave from last year. I took my presentation from Durham Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference in September. I added in a 15 minute introduction to the variety of ways the church might be “making” – for good and bad – in the world today. I also generated some “free range” activities, to mess with the usual question and answer time by adding things to see, do and make. It was gratifying to overheard conversations as the evening ended plotting Christmas 2020 projects and I came away with the sense of being directly useful to the local church.

Making matters: yarn-bombing and craftivism in contemporary Christian mission

There was some very rich discussion, particularly around the materiality of knitting. The discussion was rich enough to generate 900 words as I wrote this morning, reflecting on the Incarnation in light of the useless yet playful act of yarnbombing knitted angels.

One of the unexpected blessings was becoming aware of the impact of my writing in the lives of ordinary people in the Presbyterian church. In October 2019, I wrote a column for SPANZ, the publication of the Presbyterian Church. Under the title “Making matters,” I concluded,

Are there makers in Presbyterian churches? Yvonne Wilkie, our Church’s former archivist, recalls knitted nativities in Presbyterian history. But that was the past, and we all now live in the present.

The instructions are online (https://www.christmasangel.net/). They are simple enough that, as part of my research, I learnt to make one. Is anyone interested in making and mission, with a downunder #Kiwiangels hashtag? Or are Kiwi summers now too busy and too hot for making to matter?

Last night at St Lukes, I met a person who told me she had read the article and promptly knitted 30 angels, which she gave over Christmas 2019 to her friends and neighbours. Each was thoughtfully and carefully personalised, an act of love. It was humbling to be made aware my written words and study leave research had contributed to a kinder world. Study leave research generates grassroots impact :) Yee ha.

Posted by steve at 09:58 AM

Friday, February 28, 2020

Making matters

Making matters: yarn-bombing and craftivism in contemporary Christian mission

Kiwiangels

What is the role of making in contemporary culture? From pink pussy hats to yarnbombing – craftivism combines craft and activism, providing hands-on ways to engage in change. In 2014, Christmas Angels began as a project of Methodist churches in the North of England, yarn-bombing their communities with hand-made angels. By 2018, the number of Christmas Angels knitted in Great Britain were too many to count. Steve Taylor shares his research, focused on those who received these angels. How was good news as craft experienced? How might making provide new insights into Christian faith and mission as hands-on?

St Lukes Remuera, 130 Remuera Road, 7:30-9 pm, Thursday 5th March.

Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and author of 3 books and over 200 articles and publications. His latest study leave involved learning to knit and using digital ethnographies to study making in mission. Steve Taylor is married to Lynne, and together they enjoy two adult children.

Posted by steve at 08:33 AM

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The burning bush – a visual study of indigenization and faith

Title (working): The burning bush in Aotearoa New Zealand: a visual study of indigenization and faith

Aim: 5-7000 words, including notes; scholarly rigour with clear and lively prose; due to publisher 1 March 2020.

Abstract(working): Presbyterianism is a global faith. Yet a message spoken by a sender is not always what is heard by a receiver. Hence communicating faith across cultures can simultaneously generate both globalization and distinct accounts of indigenization. Messages are communicated not only in words but also in visuals. This paper examines the indigenization of the burning bush in the contexts and cultures of Aotearoa New Zealand. An archival study of crafted adornments to Bibles, stained glass windows and identity symbols suggest that visual communication enhances local agency and empowers indigenization. The bush takes indigenous form, burning because of a Presbyterian theology of immediacy in revelation.

(Trying to turn a cross-cultural experience in 2018, and a keynote talk in 2018
IMG_6472 and another more academic talk in 2019 into a written piece for a special journal issue on the principles of indigenization).

Posted by steve at 01:24 PM

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Faith in the boardroom chapter acceptance

My book chapter for Reimagining Faith & Management got a big tick from the editors today. It is a 7,000-word piece I have been working on for a few months, in the gaps around holidays, two block courses and some other writing on craftivism.

It was a quite out of the blue invitation in August of 2019 to consider being part of this international project. I kept wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew. But it has been a wonderful opportunity to push forward my research into leadership and innovation in Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration and institutions and innovation in First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God. In particular to draw on presentations from 3 years of the Lighthouse innovation incubators, along with further research into the Wisdom literature of Hebrew Scripture as a resource.

Chapter title: Faith in the boardroom: Seeking wisdom in governing for innovation

Abstract: This paper explores faith in the context of the boardroom. A notion of wisdom governance is developed in dialogue with Hebrew Scripture and contemporary governance research. The proposal is that faith resources can be utilised in ways accessible to pluralist contexts yet respectful of the particularities of diverse faith traditions. Governance practices are developed using verbs of serving, gardening, building, resourcing, risking and parenting. Two case studies clarify the nature of governance in innovation. The argument is that in conditions that require the balancing of risk and innovation, a wisdom governance that is trusted, engaging and connective is possible.

Keywords: governance, Wisdom literature, innovation, risk

The book – titled Reimagining Faith & Management – is under contract with Routledge. Dr Edwina Pio is the lead editor. She is New Zealand’s first Professor of Diversity and in 2019, was awarded the Te Rangi Hiroa Medal by the Royal Society Te Apārangi for her pioneering research in diversity, specifically, how the intersection of ethnicity, religion and gender is influenced by the world of work. So it is wonderful to have such a skilled researcher taking the lead in what is an interdisciplinary space that has quite some complexity.

The co-editors are Dr Robert Kilpatrick and Dr Timothy Pratt, whom I’ve kept in contact with since being in Baptist ministry together in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Little did any of us dream back then that we’d be writing in this space together! Each chapter will revolve around managerial concepts within which faith-based aspects will be woven. The twenty chapters will be written by contributors from around the globe, with publication either at the end of 2020 or early 2021.

Posted by steve at 04:32 PM

Thursday, December 19, 2019

When Christmas Angels tweet – a research summary as book contribution

One of my 2019 tasks has been a research project investigating the impact of Christmas Angels, a form of Christian witness that began in the north of England in 2014. (A brief summary for my denominational magazine is here). The research project began on the edges of my sabbatical, a creative break in the grind of book completion. It made possible a conference presentation at the Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference (thanks workplace).

Following the conference, I had an email from one of the keynote speakers, Mary Clark Moschella. They had sat in on my conference presentation and the email was one of congratulations, describing my research as highly imaginative.

It was also an email of invitation. Mary was working on revising Ethnography As A Pastoral Practice: An Introduction. She was wanting to include a couple of brief research summaries as examples at the end of the book. Might this include a summary of my research? She noted my research would serve a number of purposes in a revised edition. It would automatically update the work and appeal to students who are considering undertaking online research. It lifts up the feminist implications of craftivism and would exemplify a fresh approach to practical theology based on making. It was a wonderful and encouraging email to receive.

I had already submitted my research to an academic journal so there were copyright implications to consider. But this request was asking something quite different, with a focus on explaining the research to students in a step-by step way, concentrating on the bare bones of the research methodology and process, the ethical considerations, and theological reflections.

Ethnography As A Pastoral Practice: An Introduction is a book I use in my teaching and to be invited to contribute to a revised edition was a real affirmation of the research and the presentation! So in the cracks of time over the last few months, I’ve been working away on a distinctive piece of writing.

Yesterday I was able send off 4,500 words, tenatively titled – When Christmas Angels tweet: making matters and practical theology in researching mission online, seeking feedback from Mary.

IMG_8035 It might well need reworking, or be deemed not suitable. But it has been wonderful to write, sharing the research journey, including my learning to knit and in conversation with Fieldwork in Theology: Exploring the Social Context of God’s Work in the World (The Church and Postmodern Culture). There is also some new theological reflection, developing a theological reading of the knitting (Buxtehude) Madonna.

The sending brought to 9* my academic research outputs for the 2019 year. It’s been a highly productive year:

  • 1 book – First Expressions
  • 5 academic journal articles (3 accepted following revise/resubmit; 2 revise/resubmit work in process)
  • 2 book chapters (writing up of conference presentations)
  • 1 (successful) $130,000 research grant (further announcements pending)

Obviously the 15 weeks of sabbatical has helped my productivity, giving sustained space to complete a range of products. So also has been writing in partnerships. 4 of the 9 outputs have been co-authored with 3 people in different types of writing partnerships. So has a work situation, which in complexity has required me to re-order where my creativity can be offered. With less creativity required in some areas, an unintended benefit has been increased productivity in the cracks of time. I’m not spending any more time writing, just finding in retrospect, that the time I spend writing is proving to be highly generative.

* My rule of thumb is 1 “industry” ie church-facing output for every 1 “academic” output, in which I seek to express theological thinking in accessible and church-facing places. In 2019, there has also been 19 industry/”church-facing outputs including 11 film reviews in Touchstone, 2 SPANZ columns, 1 Zadok column, 2 Weekly Worship lectionary guides, 1 devozine youth resource, 1 Candour blog, 1 SCM blog.

Posted by steve at 11:23 AM

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

On Innovation and Mission: introducing my new book First Expressions

Steve Taylor introduces his new book First Expressions : Innovation and the Mission of God … 700 words to summarise a 95,000 word project …

280719_irst Expressions FINAL CORRECT copy

On Innovation and Mission

Nearly half of fresh expressions will die. My research into new forms of church found 50% of churches had tried and died. My analysis of research by others found 62% of what were proclaimed as “models to hope on” had died.

A pragmatic ecclesiology values numbers. Like Dragons’ Den, a church with limited resources wants to invest wisely. If fresh expressions die, are they worth investing in? A pastoral ecclesiology values people. What is the impact on faith formation when the church that one starts and another joins organizes its own funeral? Is there an innovation ecclesiology, that can locate birth and death in the relationship between innovation and mission?

What research? To understand innovation in mission I studied eleven local church communities in England, Scotland and Wales. I came to call these communities “first expressions”. The name captures a “boldly go where no-one has gone before” approach to spirituality, evident as communities like Visions used video projection to transform church buildings in an Illuminating York Festival or Late Late Service explored “the music that we grew up with and forms of learning that we’re comfortable with” (God in the House, 1996). The term “first expressions” captures the new (and terrifying) reality of those who innovate without roadmaps from those who have gone before.

This was an empirical study. It is tempting for ecclesiology to work with ideals. I wanted to research reality. As Julian of Norwich declares, in one small thing – in my case “first expressions” – is all of creation. I developed a woven ecclesiology, that upholds the value not only of gathering in worship, but of intergenerational faith formation, leadership development and the making of creative product.

I returned 11 years later, to interview and to participate. This gave me a longitudinal study of first expressions, likely the first in the world. In focus group interviews, I heard stories of creative communities like Grace smashing their sense of identity in order to orientate around values not particular leaders. I interviewed leaders of the communities now dead and heard of “Vicar factories” in which the space to create and question resulted in leadership gifted to the wider church.

In the meantime, alongside these first expressions locally, church denominations innovated with Fresh Expressions. I expanded my longitudinal research to study Fresh Expressions as an organizational “first expression”, interviewing leaders like Rowan William, Steven Croft and Andrew Roberts, seeking to understand how a denomination might innovate in mission.

Why research? The research was shaped by my own story. I planted a first expression. Four years after I moved to another leadership role, I heard that first expression was preparing to die. This prompted my longitudinal research.

Through my research, I was challenged by a New Testament wisdom. None of the churches that the apostle Paul planted remain alive today. In Philippians, Paul writes to the very first expression of church in Europe. He names a pioneer that nearly died. Ephaphroditus is to be regarded as valuable. This is a Christian theology of risk, in which birth and death are affirmed.

I was blessed by the grassroots wisdom of local communities. Mobility, leadership transitions and the strength of wider relationships all impact on longevity. What was astonishing was the flexibility by which these first expressions explored new structures of leadership, clarified their identities in the midst of change and creatively drew on spiritual resources.

I was inspired by the organizational wisdom of denominations. In history, churches have innovated with structures. To help understand Fresh Expressions, I examined other mission structures developed in the United Kingdom, monastic patterns, early Methodism and the modern mission agency. I throw in wild cards of contemporary structures like NGOs and incubators. Innovation in mission often includes innovation in organizational shapes.

I was stretched by gender wisdom. The denominational leaders I interviewed were all men. This prompted an imaginative thought experiment. If Elizabeth was an archbishop and Mary was birthing an organization about to be named Fresh Expressions, what might be the shape of their strategic plan?

Innovation in mission is an activity of God. It embodies the word of Jesus: Unless a seed falls, there is no life. Julian was wise. In each small thing, there is value. The birth and death of first expressions invite a radical rethink of mission and ministry. A layered approach to ecclesiology, a church that is neither gathered and parish nor independent and networked, emerges. Innovation is the ants in the pants of Christianity. It keeps the body moving, not for the sake of growth but for the sake of birth and death, which are central to Christianity and thus to being church. Such is the gift of “first expressions”.

***

Order First Expressions via the SCM website before 31st December 2019, and you’ll benefit from a launch discount.

Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and author of First Expressions: Innovation and the mission of God, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration and The Out of Bounds Church?. He enjoys nature and is learning to knit.

Posted by steve at 07:52 AM

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Innovation ecclesiologies and the expanding of World Christianity

280719_irst Expressions FINAL CORRECT copy Paper proposal – taking my new book into an academic context – ANZATS 2020 – World Christianity and Diaspora Theology stream.

Title: Innovation ecclesiologies and the expanding of World Christianity

Global Christianity assumes a gospel that expands throughout the world, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Yet notions of expansion have trajectories, ethics and hoped for eschatologies that require missiological examination.

Ecclesiological expansion is probed through dialogue with research into fresh expressions in the UK (Taylor, First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God 2019), which found that half of fresh expressions had died within ten years of birth. Longitudinal analysis of other new forms of church literature – by Riddell (Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West, 1998), Frost and Hirsch (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church, 2003) – reveal similar percentages. Yet Together Towards Life (2012) affirmed the value of fresh expressions as new forms of contextual mission in the global North.

A pragmatic ecclesiology values numbers. If fresh expressions die, are they of value in theorising the expanding of world Christianity? A pastoral ecclesiology values people. What are the pastoral implications if half of newly planted diaspora churches die in new cultural contexts?

This paper responds to these challenges by developing an innovation ecclesiology. An initial globalizing trajectory is followed as Christianity first expands into Europe. The innovative role of Lydia as a church planter in Philippi is read in relation to Mary as a first apostle, commissioned amid the eschatology of death and the trajectory of resurrection. This resonates with Epaphroditus, who despite nearly dying for the gospel, is regarded as valuable (Philippians 2:29). Such an innovation ecclesiology, in which dying is woven into rising, values expansion while providing ethical resources for the pastoral care of those who innovate in world Christianity.

Posted by steve at 06:27 PM

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

making matters: with a downunder #Kiwiangels hashtag

A piece I wrote last month for SPANZ, the denominational magazine of the Presbyterian Church. It is a popularisation of my craftivism research, with a downunder challenge.

Kiwiangels

Photo by Kayli Taylor

Making matters

God is a master maker, according to Proverbs 8:30. God delights in making, both at creation and among the human race. The chapter begins with the Maker calling in the streets, offering wisdom not inside the temple, but at the crossroads of life, not in the stillness of liturgy but the bustle of the city gates (1-3). The wisdom on offer is fit for daily purpose – words that lead to life offered at the door of every house (34-5).

Making mattered to theologians of the early Church, who wove relationships between God as maker and discipleship as God’s children. Maximus the Confessor called Christian life a game played by children before God. In Acts, Dorcas created a fresh expression of church with the poor through mending and Lydia worked with fine purple cloth, while Paul, Priscilla and Aquila sustained their mission through the making of tents.

The place of making in mission intrigues me. So in recent months, I have researched Christmas Angels, a local church outreach that began in the north of England in 2014. The idea is simple: make hand-knitted angels, attach a tag, and leave for others to find.

Why make? Mystery in mission, was the answer, according to founders, Methodist church ministers, Rob Wylie and David Wynd, whom I interviewed last month in Durham, England. Seeing a felted angel made by Lou Davis (a wonderfully talented pioneer Methodist church leader) a lightbulb went off for Rob and David: “People walk the same route to work every single day. Let’s see what happens when they see something they don’t normally see. What they make of the message will be up to them. An angel turns up and what might change?”

Christianity, like Christmas, has, over the years, become increasingly wrapped in tinsel. What might happen if making, in the simplicity of a hand-made angel, was what mattered at Christmas?

What happened? Well, it seems that local English churches adore making things. What began in 2014 with a few churches near Rob and David, was quickly taken up by churches all over Britain. In 2017, over 60,000 angels, each lovingly tagged, were yarn bombed throughout England. In the dark of winter down country roads and up high streets, outside train stations and opposite local schools, hand-made knitted angels just turned up.

I was curious. What did the neighbours make of the making? Were yarnbombed angels a nuisance? I turned to social media as part of my research. Each knitted angel came with a hashtag (search online for “#XmasAngel”) and I found the neighbours responding (tweeting) online. Words like “lovely” and “thanks” kept being repeated. For one person, the angels meant people were “thinking of us here”. For another it was an experience of “divine intervention”. A mother was moved to tears as she watched her children place their newly found angel atop the Christmas tree. Of the 1,100 responses (tweets), not one was negative. The making of knitted angels brought communities together, made visible the church and materialised joy and surprise in the experience of being found by an angel.

It all makes sense of the angels in the Christmas story. They were outdoors. They were making faith visible, not with their hands, but their voices with songs of peace and love for all humankind.

It also makes sense of the making in Proverbs 8. Making matters and mission needs to be “out and about” up streets and at the crossroads. Making matters as the Church becomes playful, turning “purl one and knit two together” into unspoken acts of public mission.

Are there makers in Presbyterian churches? Yvonne Wilkie, our Church’s former archivist, recalls knitted nativities in Presbyterian history. But that was the past, and we all now live in the present.

The instructions are online (https://www.christmasangel.net/). They are simple enough that, as part of my research, I learnt to make one. Is anyone interested in making and mission, with a downunder #Kiwiangels hashtag? Or are Kiwi summers now too busy and too hot for making to matter?

Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 09:14 PM

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The missio dei embodied in local community ministry in Scotland

IMG_7973 Leading a Listening in Mission class a few weeks ago, with highlighters in hand, working with a case study, some things clicked and a conference abstract – with a colleague – for the International Association for Mission Studies, Sydney July 2020 (IAMS) emerged.

The missio dei embodied in local community ministry in Scotland
Mark Johnston and Steve Taylor

This paper examines the use of missio Dei in a local community context. It outlines a missology of discerning that provides a way to interpret the birthing of the Blue Horizon Youth Charity in South Aberdeen, Scotland.

Our paper works with the assumption that the missio Dei is axiomatic for a missional ecclesiology. In John 5:29, the Son can only do what the Father does. In Luke 10:1-11, a naming of the Kingdom occurs after acts of healing, suggesting a contextual particularity. Hence listening and discernment in local contexts are essential to mission.

The missio Dei is theorised by applying three frames – neighbourhood listening, diagnosing local narratives and discerning God and the gospel – to a case study of the development of a local community ministry. Listening involves activating presence and seeking immersive relationships of curiosity and proximity. Diagnosing occurs through visual tools, utilising metaphors of icebergs and bridges. Diagnosing enables discerning, evident as documents describing the ethos, beliefs, values and practices of Blue Horizon are critically examined with hindsight. A continuity between listening, diagnosing and discerning is developed, suggesting that for community ministry today, doing what the Father does requires action-reflection on community ministry, pays attention to vulnerable voices in the community, works ecumenically and partners with non-church actors in ways that are inclusive while affirming gospel values.

This research provides tools and outlines practices for the local church, interpreted missiologically. Missiology is returned to the local church as the missio Dei is embodied in local community mission.

Posted by steve at 01:25 PM

Monday, November 18, 2019

ending a 15th year as a theological film reviewer

On Friday I hit send on a film review of Jojo Rabbit. It marked the end of my 15th consecutive year of film reviewing.

In August of 2005, I was teaching Gospel and Film at Laidlaw College. The phone rang and Paul Titus, the then editor of Touchstone, the denominational magazine for the Methodists of Aotearoa New Zealand introduced himself. He explained that he had two (free) tickets to Sedition, a documentary about conscientious objectors to war in Aotearoa New Zealand. It was a New Zealand film festival release. Since the film included a number of Methodists, the film would be of interest to readers of Touchstone. Would I be willing to attend (for free) and write a review?  They would pay per word, for a 500 word film review.

I agreed, attended and scratched out my first every film review.  I was a paid writer!

The editor was delighted. As the month ended, he rang again. Would I be willing to become a permanent monthly film reviewer? he asked. Two free tickets and 500 words on the theology of film. Why not, I said. I enjoy going to movies. I teach in Gospel and film. Why not put words where my mouth is?

Every month since, I have turned out 500 words. In the 15 years, that is over 155 film reviews – 77,500 words – and counting. Once Touchstone is out in print, I am allowed to place them online and many are here. Despite shifting countries twice and once changing editors.

“You’re longest running job” commented one of my daughters earlier this year.

Some months it is fun. The film is one I want to watch and the words flow. Many months it is hard. The available films hold little appeal. Those that do are showing at awkward times. Or I’m travelling overseas and the selection is limited.

Over the years – through the fun and the hard – I’ve come to see it as a spiritual discipline. The monthly pattern forces me to pay attention. It might not suit – my interests, my travel schedule, my plans – but that’s the point. In the imposed, I am being disciplined, forced to think theologically. As I do, I am enriched spiritually. I watch things I would not normally watch. I find unexpected insights, gain new perspectives, see (an)other differently.

In 2019 I have reviewed

  • Cold War
  • Storm Boy
  • Celia
  • Daffodils
  • Merata
  • Tolkien
  • Summer in the forest
  • Andrei Rublev
  • For Sama
  • Joker
  • Jojo Rabbit

Some were gruelling – like For Sama and Joker. Some were once in a lifetime – like Andrei Rublev re-mastered on the big screen at the Regent Theatre. Others were delightful – like Storm Boy and Daffodils. In each was the discipline. Paying attention, seeking to approach film as film, and in that discipline become aware that God has yet more light and truth to break forth (to rift off an insight from John Robinson, from his farewell speech of 1620, as the pilgrims were about to set sail on the Mayflower).

Over the years, colleagues have suggested I take film reviewing more seriously. They note I am a missiologist, with an interest in popular culture. Write a book, they say.

I’ve always resisted. It’s just fun. A bit of play. I’m paid to play – paid to watch movies. Isn’t that enough! Besides, each film stands alone. How to turn 500 words into a cohesive narrative? That’s a tall order.

This year, upside down on the other side of the world, I woke with a title and a theological frame. It integrates a Theological Reflection class I teach, on God in the world. The class is 3 hours in length and would certainly provide a chapter or two of theoretical framing. Around the frame, the films could cluster. Importantly for me, the title and frame has liturgical dimensions. It would allow me to turn reviews into prayer, theology into spiritual practice.

It needs some work but it was a landmark moment. Almost like that first phone call in 2005. I sensed an energy. Who knows. Maybe 2020 will not only be my 16th year of film reviewing, but also the year of the book.

Posted by steve at 09:39 PM

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

in an indexing space

Last week I was in the editing cave, huddled in a small alcove, confined in order to focus and check the typeset proofs of my forthcoming book.

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With the editing task completed, this week I’m in the indexing space. I have physically moved. I have found another building, complete with a square table, providing room to spread pages of notes and publisher guidelines and how to index articles downloaded from the internet. The square table is in a large space, with a high ceiling. In this space, I feel free, yet still confined enough to focus.

I have never indexed before. I considered hiring a professional. But the articles from the internet shared stories of books outsourced to professional indexers who lacked a feel for the subject area. My book works across a number of disciplines – missiology, empirical research and innovation. So I decided I needed to learn.

I began by defining the task. 1 page of index for 45 pages of writing said the guidelines from the publisher. With my book being 235 pages, that meant I needed 5 pages. Suddenly the task had an end.

I then turned to similar books. I looked at their index and that got me started. I identified key words and that helped me brainstormed more. Typing these words up gave me 3.5 pages of index. Suddenly I was under way.

Next I began at the beginning. I am reading through every chapter of my book. In the margins, as I read, I am noting key words. I am trying to think like the reader, identify words they might be interested in. As each chapter ends, I add the words as page numbers in the index. The index is taking shape.

Time (and reviewers) will tell whether my first attempt is good, or a poor; my decision to do it myself wise or misguided. But I am, to my great surprise, really enjoying the task of indexing. Indexing involves short bursts of concentration, rather than the extended work required to edit a chapter. It is like sprints, rather than a marathon. And there are patterns. I see the patterns emerging as words become linked across pages. It is fun trying to think like a reader.

I have much to do. But I am underway. The indexing space is different from the editing cave and the creative writing cafe.

Posted by steve at 09:50 PM