Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Nurturing faith online: praxis connecting theory

Some work for my 4th and final Nurturing faith online Community of Practice. After 6 months of action experiments, I’m giving feedback to each participant – bringing their experiment into conversation with theory. What from our praxis confirms? What challenges?

Theory – identity – digital media can be used by people to articulate and work out their religious identities and visions

Praxis – this Community of Practice has involved 4 regulars, 3 others, along with several others who committed to watch a later recording. Meeting online 4 times over 6 months, this Community of Practice brought people together from three countries. While none live in physical proximity, they have found common ground online. This common ground is shaped by a religious vision, a curiosity about nurturing faith online.

Participation was an act of agency. Each person focused on an experiment in trying to make sense of a rapid change. Hence they Community of Practice was an active participation in the out working of a religious identity.

Hence the articulation of vision was in word and deed. Rather than be overwhelmed by COVID, the undertaking of experiments demonstrated dynamic, flexible and adaptive actions. Risks were taken and new things emerged

  • karaoke for playful shared ecumenical worship
  • short courses that invited people outdoors to pay attention to their surroundings and listen more deeply to silence and space
  • listening through surveys that opened up realities of God online
  • experiments in community that showed the reality of fluid identity formation
  • experiments in participation that bore witness to the possibility of relating and connecting

Online has made visible the work that people are willing to do – in their own time – to express and explore their identities online. This is an active, creative, playful vision of nurturing faith online.

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Radioactive: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 150 plus films later, here is the review for September 2020.

Radioactive
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Radioactive is the illuminating story of human brilliance. Brilliance shines from the science of Madame Curie (Rosamund Pike). Living in Paris, she became in 1903 the first woman to win a Nobel prize, for discovering radioactivity. The first ever woman appointed to as professor at the University of Paris, in 1911, she became the first (and only) woman to win a second Nobel prize, for the discovery of polonium and radium.

Radioactive illuminates not only her brilliance but equally her humanity. Born Maria Salomea Skłodowska, she lost her mother aged ten to tuberculosis and her husband, Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), in a tragic accident. Born Polish, she experienced sexism and xenophobia, at times cruelly scapegoated by the populist press in France.

Radioactive draws from the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss (Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout) and is directed by Iranian-born French woman Marjane Satrapi. Perhaps it is the gift of a migrant, to tenderly illuminate the corrosive impact of causal racism and a xenophobic public.

Before directing, Satrapi had gained critical acclaim for her autobiographical novels Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Indeed, a feature of Radioactive is the attention paid to the visual in storytelling. While sequences like the woman aflame in the second meeting between Maria and Pierre add meaning, other visual sequences offer an overworked hyperrealism that distracts from the unfolding drama.

The ethics of making are central to any dramatic telling of radiation. Science has a human side, and in a final sequence, Maria walks through humanity’s future. She enters a future room in which she glimpses the radioactivity she discovers making good, in the cure of cancer. She then enters rooms in which radiation is making bad, killing tens of thousands at Hiroshima, causing hundreds of thousands to be evacuated at Chernobyl. These ending sequences invite a theological reflection on the ethics of making.

For Christianity, making is never neutral. Things, as well as humans, can always be converted. In Isaiah 2:4, swords can be beaten into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks. Such is the vision of God, as military hardware is redeemed into agricultural assistance.

A similar vision occurs in Deuteronomy 19:1-13. Handmade axe heads can kill. Things made for good – to cut wood – can make for bad – a neighbour unintentionally killed. In response, God’s people are instructed to make again. The love of God converts an eye for an eye into the making of cities of sanctuary. Things made are never neutral. Yet a city well made can transform the corrosive impact of scapegoating.

Such ancient visions have inspired contemporary makers. Recently in Sweden, Andreas Vural turned the metal from seized illegal guns into sets of wireless headphones. The Megatons to Megawatts Program dismantled nuclear weapons, making them into civilian electric power stations. Over twenty years, as much as ten per cent of the electricity produced in the United States was generated from the equivalent of 20,008 made in Russia nuclear warheads. Makers can transform. It is a vision in which human brilliance is dignified and each of us are capable of making, whether for good or bad.

Posted by steve at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)

Friday, September 04, 2020

transition time: future unknown

It was announced officially this week that I’ve resigned as Principal of KCML.

It’s been a really difficult decision, which I’ve wrestled with deeply with my supervisor and with my family. I love the intern and teaching parts of the role and the KCML team are fantastic.

I’m grateful to the church for discerning that I had skills in leadership and innovation that might be expressed through the role of Principal, KCML.

I’ve got nothing to go to at this time, but trust my passion and experience in contemporary mission and leadership can continue to be of use in equipping church leaders for today’s world.

“Rev Dr Steve Taylor has announced his resignation as Principal of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, effective from 31 January 2021.

For the past five years, Steve has utilised his experience and skill as a minister, theological educator, innovator and academic to help in the formation of our Church’s ministers and leaders. We thank Steve for sharing his passion for contemporary mission and leadership across the Church, and by doing so, encouraging us all to join God in God’s mission… Ngā mihi nui ki a koe.

I know you will take the opportunity over the coming months to let him know how much his support and leadership has meant.

We wish Steve continued success as he explores new opportunities, and as he continues to serve God’s Church and grow leaders in mission. There will be a gathering to farewell Steve, date to be advised.”

Posted by steve at 12:00 PM

Monday, August 31, 2020

The High Note: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 150 plus films later, here is the review for August 2020.

The High Note
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“Everyone’s a star in our town, It’s just your light gets dimmer.”
lyrics from California (There Is No End To Love) (There Is No End to Love) by U2

Advertised as a romantic comedy, The High Note offered a light-hearted post-Lockdown return to the cinema. The slow drift toward another manufactured Hollywood Sunset Strip ending is surprisingly dimmed by the arrival of ancient, Biblical wisdom.

The High Note is a 2020 American comedy-drama film directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Flora Greeson. Set in California, life is a backdrop of palms, pools, and parties, in which everyone is filled with dreams, scripts, and songs.

Like so many Hollywood dreams, The High Note begins in a music studio. By night, Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson), is making music. By day, she is a personal assistant to Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross).

Boasting twelve Grammy’s, Grace Davis embodies diva, with fabulous clothes, private jets, and extravagant parties. But the light of every star in Tinseltown is always slowly fading. This sets up a career tension. Does Grace make another album of new music? Or does she sink into Vegas, a star slowly drawing down on her fading celebrity?

David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) provides character contrast. A young singer, playing community halls, he meets Maggie Sherwoode over an organic orange at the corner store. This sets up another set of tensions. Can there be an ending apart from young love? In Hollywood, armed with a laptop, everyone is a producer. Can personal assistant become a producer of David’s music? As a result, boundaries blur. The tensions around romance and career soon become ethical.

High notes are amplified by low notes. Contrast comes dramatically with an unexpected plot twist, needed to set up the Hollywood ending, as stars new and old fuse in the grand finale.

Contrast comes quietly in the form of a text message. Maggie and David are messing about while Katie (Zoë Chao), Maggie’s flatmate and loyal friend, is at work. A theatre nurse, Katie sends an image of an open heart. Everything is meaningless, responds Maggie, showing the picture of the open heart to David. In the middle of a budding romance and California dreaming, do you laugh? Do you return to messing about with your boyfriend? Or do quietly ponder the meaning of life?

“Everything is meaningless” is a line of poetry from Ecclesiastes 1:2. The writer, likely King Solomon, has sampled the high notes of life. In Ecclesiastes chapter 2, the pleasures are listed: urban landscaping, wealth acquisition, and sexual choice. In other words, plenty of palms and parties under the Jerusalem stars! Yet as Ecclesiastes concludes:

For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (12:14)

Whether scriptwriter Flora Greeson is aware of the Biblical allusion or no, the intrusion certainly changes the mood. Every star, whether rising or falling, has a heart. Every human, famous or forgotten, is vulnerable. Every action, whether unethical or wise, will be judged. One image accompanied by three words insert Biblical wisdom into The High Note’s dreams of starlit glamour.

Posted by steve at 08:05 PM

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Soul work: two blessings and the eXPERIENCE tour

U2CON 2020 CALL FOR PRESENTATIONS
Heartland: U2’s Looking For American Soul
An International Virtual U2 Conference For Scholars And Fans
October 18 – 24, 2020

Some thoughts about making change, U2, appreciative inquiry and the beatitudes have been floating around my head for a while. With a week’s holiday, and a commitment to only do fun and creative things, today I submitted a conference proposal for the International Virtual U2 Conference.

Paper proposal: Soul work: two blessings and the eXPERIENCE tour

“American Soul,” from U2’s Songs of Experience album, begins with a spoken word segment by Kendrick Lamar. The words flip the blessing genre of the Beatitudes, critiquing the “arrogant” and “filthy rich.” As Bono explained, “There’s a righteous anger that is hard to argue with.” Played live, every American concert goer was urged to stand up and look around, for “refugees like you and me.”

“American Soul” was replaced by “New Year’s Day” on the European leg of the eXPERIENCE tour. The change is canny performance, given the emotional connections between the song and the Polish Solidarity movement. The switch is also smart marketing, given U2 then released “Europa Ep”, with two new versions of “New Year’s Day.”

However, the change also offers another type of soul work. This becomes evident as the eXPERIENCE tour performances of “New Year’s Day” in various European cities are analysed. The song begins with Bono offering a spoken word blessing. Berlin is blessed for the winemakers and the wine drinkers, Belfast for soul music and Milan for the “Santa Maria delle Grazie where you can join in the Last Supper.” These particularities are followed by a general blessing, for all who are part of the “blue above the Europe we share.”

Bono’s blessings share similarities with appreciative inquiry, a collaborative, strengths-based approach to change (Cooperrider and Srivastva, 1987). Each blessing shares particular memories, offers cultural hope and invites conversation about a shared future. In response to Brexit and asylum seekers braving the Mediterranean sea, Bono has crafted a unique blessing for each city and every soul.

Hence the two legs of the eXPERIENCE tour offer two types of blessing, one of righteous anger, the other of appreciative inquiry. Both invite consideration of the experience of soul work in the making of cultural change.

Posted by steve at 09:44 PM

Friday, August 14, 2020

Bubble course participant survey

“80% of respondents indicated they had made changes, with many expressing confidence to try new things, particularly online.”

During Level 3 in Aotearoa, KCML offered Bubble courses to provide input for leaders, elders, ministers and whole people of God. They were offered as timely, conversational, engaging, thought-provoking. Their usefulness was affirmed with a request to offer one particular Bubble course – Building Community and Increasing Participation Online to church leaders in Australia.

Bubble Courses2

As part of action-reflection Bubble course participants were invited to provide feedback. While there are many ways to gain feedback, for example analysing chat interactions), as survey provides an opportunity for more considered evaluation.

11 questions were asked,
• Which Bubble course did you do? (tick box 3 options)
• How did you hear about the Bubble courses?
• Demographics – Role in church
• What about the Bubble Course you attended would you like to affirm?
• What about the Bubble Course you attended would you like to see improved?
• What about doing a Bubble course online enhanced your learning?
• What about doing a Bubble course online diminished your learning?
• Have you done anything differently as a result? (if yes, what)
• Are there any special thanks you would like to share (anonymously)?
• Would you be interested in another Bubble topic at another time?
• What future topics would interest you?

Here is a summary, which I provided a few weeks ago to one of our governance groups and publicly to the church last week on the KCML website:

Executive summary

KCML ran 6 Bubble courses during lockdown, covering preaching, change, and building an online community. Each course attracted between 30 to 45 participants. Of the potential 90 participants, 20 responded to a request for feedback. These were de-identified, collated, and organised thematically. What follows is a summary of over 4 pages of comments.

Those who provided feedback occupied a range of leadership roles, primarily ordained but including paid workers and laypeople. The average age of those who responded was 59 years old. Some 75% were women. The best mode of advertising was through Presbytery mailouts, with KCML channels (apart from the Principal’s personal Facebook) having no impact.

The courses were overwhelming received as positive. They were experienced as significant in decreasing isolation and providing a strong sense of connectivity and inclusion. Specific comments noted the sense of being valued and being able to learn alongside other recognised leaders in the church.

The courses were experienced as professional and of high quality. Particular strengths of the Bubble courses appreciated by participants included the fact that KCML had a go in the first place, the interactive nature of the courses and the quality of the resourcing. Some spoke of being willing to pay.

Within a week of completion of the Bubble courses, 80% of respondents indicated they had made changes, with many expressing confidence to try new things, particularly online. There is a sense that as they saw risk-taking in the offering of the Bubble courses, they felt empowered to take risks. This encouragement to take risks is worth further reflection in terms of how leadership is experienced within church organisations.

The main suggestions from respondents for improvement included requests for longer sessions. More time would allow for more interaction and reflection. The breakout room experience was variable. Some found them very helpful, others not. It was clear that good moderation would be beneficial, for example through appointing a “moderator”.

There was overwhelming (100%) support for more Bubble Courses. While this is only from those who responded (20 of the 90), it is still very encouraging. The reasons for wanting more Bubble Courses included the valuing of accessibility, along with the positive experiences of being individually resourced and being more connected to the wider church. The most requested topics include pastoral care, public theology, mission and innovation, worship and mental health.

Posted by steve at 03:07 PM

Friday, July 31, 2020

playing with faith formation with Port Phillip East Presbytery

Screen Shot 2020-07-30 at 9.18.23 PM

I was hosted “online” by the Port Phillip East Presbytery today, talking about
…. connection, interaction, contemplation, and engaging spiritual practices beyond Sunday worship.
… what leaders are trying and discovering about ways to form disciples in a dispersed community
… ministry as play, about creativity and risk and about how the Spirit takes us in new directions.

It is one of the extraordinary gifts of this time of “distancing”, that while it locks us down, it also opens us up. And so I get to “speak” in Melbourne without leaving my home, and to engage with some wonderful colleagues I used to minister with in Australia. The video is on the Port Phillip Presbytery East facebook site.

Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 6.51.39 PM

It was interesting using two online platforms, Zoom to host a conversation and show the visuals and Facebook live to stream the conversation and enable access and comments. There was a bit of “breathe” holding and risk-taking as we experimented with an online lectio – reading, silence, participation through chat – but it seemed to engage participants. Certainly with 165 comments on the Facebook live feed during the 90 minutes, their was plenty of good interaction with the content.

The time broke into 5 sections

  1. what faith formation and faith practices (or spiritual or discipleship practices) mean
  2. what theological resources shape faith formation and faith practices
  3. how people have been experimenting with online faith formation in recent weeks
  4. the underlying pedagogies that shape my online teaching and learning and recent experimenting
  5. my use of improvisation, play and experimentation in relation to mission and leadership. Why is important to play during a pandemic? Is this normal or abnormal for the church?

I sought to offer theology, reflection and practical examples. Much of my thinking is in a chapter I have submitted for an edited book with Heidi Campbell, which is currently sitting with a publisher. My chapter is titled Lockdown ecclesiologies: the limits and possibilities of enforced online first expressions. I argue that enforced online first expressions are an invitation to appreciate ourselves as child-like, making visible the kingdom as we learn a new (internet) language.

The books I mentioned in order of appearance:

Avis, Paul. (2005). A Ministry Shaped by Mission. T & T Clark, 2005,
Rogers, E. (2009). The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Wiley-Blackwell
McCulloch, G. (2019). Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, Vintage
Taylor, S. (2005). The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change, Zondervan.
Taylor, S. (2016). Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, Mediacom.
Taylor, S. (2019). First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, SCM
Taylor, S. (2020). communities of practice as action-reflection tools.
Smart, J. (2020, April 28). Survey report: online facilitation and virtual meetings.

Books unmentioned but important for my thinking:
Gauntlett, D. (2018). Making is Connecting: The social power of creativity, from craft and knitting to digital everything (2nd edn.), Polity
Matapo, J. (2020). The vā that binds: a Pasifika education story during Covid-19
McNeil, J. (2020). Lurking: How a Person Became a User, MCD, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

My thanks to Craig Mitchell for the invite, Port Phillip East Presbytery for the hosting and Duncan Macleod for the technology and conversation on the day.

Posted by steve at 07:10 PM

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

learning by doing: The art of gaining feedback

At the heart of action is reflection. Reflection is generated by feedback. We can gain feedback in at least 7 ways. Each has advantages and disadvantages. With feedback, we honour the other. From feedback, we begin to learn.

thought-catalog-RdmLSJR-tq8-unsplash

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

1 – Formative participant feedback; informally

Formative because this feedback is generated during a process. We watch body language. We attend to the pauses. We analyse the words being used – the depth of feeling, the type of verbs. We mirror what we hear and ask clarifying questions.

2 – Summative participant feedback; evaluation

We choose questions carefully and through survey (or chat), often at the end of a session or programme, we invite comment. This tends to be written and thus individual. What should we start? What should we stop? What should we keep?

3 – Summative group feedback; together

We create opportunity for the group to engage together. This allows for moderation, challenge, affirmation among the group. As they talk, we listen. We might record or ask someone to take notes.

I was most enlivened by; I did not realise that; We were at our best as a group when we; The most challenging part of our time together as a group was; I am thankful to God for

4 – Reflect on the spoken group work

We keep track of who speaks, paying particular attention to diversity and frequency. We reflect this back, thus shaping the experience. Who has not spoken? Are particular voices not being heard?

5 – Peer review

We invite an external colleague – friend, mentor – to watch us. It might be live. It might be a recording. We ask them to give us their feedback.

6 – Reflect on written interaction

After the event, we analyse the chat or contemplate the whiteboard. We analyse the words being used – the depth of feeling, the type of verbs. We consider the questions being asked. Where they addressed? What do they say about interest and engagement?

7 – Our own experiences

We journal a moment. In half a page, we seek in clear, simple words, to capture the experience: something that made us uncomfortable; something that felt significant; something that seemed to go well. We then turn to analyse what we have written. Now that our experience is outside us, is there a key word or phrase? Is there a 1 sentence summary?

In each of these 7 ways, we are paying attention. The feedback is returning us to the action. Contemplation is from the Latin, con – meaning with and templum – meaning temple. We are daring to believe that in the action is the Divine. God is present. This is holy ground. As we are with God, we see ourselves and others more clearly. We are open to grow. There will be thanks and confession, prayer and petition. Such is the gift of feedback.

Posted by steve at 10:03 PM

Friday, July 17, 2020

of glasshouses and sandpits: mission and innovation

I spoke on mission and innovation at Central Presbytery earlier this week. By the wonders of technology, the minimum 90 minute flight took 9 seconds as I walked downstairs and turned on zoom. I offered 10 minutes on mission. What does good mission leadership look like, using art and Biblical reflection and the excellent Stanley Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission

  • leaving the pen, leaving the existing 99 (John 10: 14-17; Luke 15:3-7)
  • the simplicity of sharing your Jesus encounter (John 4:27-30; 39-42)
  • listening, of finding out where Spirit is already at work in the lives of strangers (Acts 8: 26-31, 34, 36-38)
  • afresh in every different cultural encounter (Acts 14: 14-17)

I then offered 10 minutes on innovation, first pointing out the way that the Presbyterian Book of Order encourages innovation (8.4.1p; 9.45-48; Appendix D-4-E-vii ), then using 3 metaphors

  • enforced
  • glasshouse
  • sandpits

innovationcentral

My argument is that COVID has “enforced” innovation and opened up the church to more change than it ever imagined. However, organisations don’t need to wait for enforced, external change. They can erect glasshouses, to protect and nurture innovation. They can create sandpits, to encourage random play. These are deliberate ways to allocate resource and focus. Mission gives these innovation activities a distinct focus. They are not about novelty, but intentional participation in God’s making of all things new.

The images of glasshouses and sandpits are a development of material in my First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God and a development of Stefan Paas, Church Planting in the Secular West: Learning from the European Experience.

After the benediction, about half the folk stayed online with ongoing conversation for another 30 minutes. That was excellent for teasing out the discussion and engaging more deeply. Since then, there has been ongoing requests for more resources in relation to innovation, including resources I’ve been testing the last few years

  • systems innovation evaluation framework
  • innovation evaluation process

All in all, a graced event. All due to “enforced” innovation. As I said in my talk, 5 months ago if Central Presbytery has asked me to speak and I’d said yes, but can I do it online please, it would have been seen as out of the question. But “enforced” is bringing change.

Full notes are here.

Posted by steve at 03:13 PM

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

twenty-first-century ministry formation

One of my tasks over the last months has been to lead Faculty and interns in shifting a 9-day face to face intensive into a 10 -day online intensive. This has involved upskilling Faculty who have never before taught online and experimenting with ministry interns in new practices around online spiritual formation.

Today I worked through the intern evaluations, summarising the (de-identified) feedback on 13 areas of specific change made for this online intensive. This was the first step in order to be able to offer a report to the various governance and management bodies. As I finished the feedback, I found myself drafting some thoughts. They are very much draft, shaped as much by my ongoing reflection on the impact of COVID on the church in general (plus my recent work developing Bubble courses and Communities of Practice). As such, the words don’t belong so much in a block course governance report, but rather stand as a more general pondering about the future of ministry formation. Hence I note them here:

All new technology, whether a pen, the index of a book, a library catalogue or a learning management system, requires time to learn how best to utilise. How many of the skills that interns noted they were learning will, in fact, become essential ministry skills in the years ahead? Could it be that online learning needs to become an integral component of ministry formation? If so, then it will be essential that time is set aside for skill development. For example, sharing honestly and connecting socially in digital platforms, accessing online content and engaging in online spiritual disciplines. An education that integrates these dimensions will not only enhance the learning experience for all. It will also ensure a twenty-first-century citizen, in this case, an appropriately formed minister of the Word, able to participate in what God is up to, whether on or offline.

Posted by steve at 06:51 PM

Saturday, July 04, 2020

is that your bible – annotated bibliography

A few weeks ago, I wrote – Is that your Bible? – an opinion piece for ABC Religion and Ethics online. In about 850 words, I analysed a moment in popular culture – Donald Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Church – and reflected on what it might mean to read a sacred text.

Behind the opinion piece was a whole lot of thinking and reading. Here are 4 books I’ve found particularly significant:

First, Richard Burridge, Imitating Jesus carefully traces New Testament ethics as they focus on the person of Jesus. A final chapter examines apartheid as an ethical challenge. 75% of people in South Africa were involved in some sort of church during the Apartheid era and all sides considered they were acting “Biblically.” Burridge suggests four common approaches to reading Scripture and I used this as a framework to think through “Mary’s Bible” – using a mix of narrative and prescriptive commands in seeking to think about “law and order.”

burridge

Second, Gerard West, The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon. West examines the Bible in the continent of African and argues that Africans have “stolen” the Bible. West tells the wonderful story ascribed to Tutu.

When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land. And we got the better deal! – Desmond Tutu, The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon, page 326.

This gives agency to readers. While the long arc of justice demands ongoing reparation for anything stolen, the playful and liberative ways that Scripture can enable creativity in resistance require us to pay careful attention to who is holding the Bible. And why.

Third, The Art of Reading Scripture has a great chapter by William Stacy Johnson “Reading the Scriptures Faithfully in a Postmodern Age.” Three statements provide for me a helpful checklist:

  • Statement 1 – Our text is a collection of stories – “A collection of Scriptures that renders a congeries of stories – stories that are not always saying quite the same thing. The testimony of this passage of Scripture is juxtaposed with the “countertestimony” of that passage of Scripture, and so on” (The Art of Reading Scripture, page 114).
  • Our text is a collection of flesh and blood stories – The Bible is about real people, real action, real drama, real choices. We need to read and preach this reality. What if Jacob had not tricked Esau out of his birthright? What is Jesus had made different choices in the Garden of Gethsemane? Capturing the drama of these stories is essential
  • Our text is an unfinished text. “What is most important are not the past meanings the stories are thought to contain but the present meanings they continually provoke in the community of faith. At the heart and soul of reading the Scriptures faithfully is the constant rehearing of stories – and also of sayings, commandments, prophecies, and other materials – whose repetition helps kindle and inflame, right here, at this very moment, the “new thing” that the God who is for us in Jesus Christ is calling into being.” The Art of Reading Scripture, page 116).

Fourth, Scripture and Resistance has a range of excellent chapters on how to read the Bible in ways that resist Empire. The introduction, by Jione Havea, “Negotiating with Scripture and Resistance” spotlights the reader. The Bible does not say anything apart from the reader. Readers interpret. Readers can ignore. Readers can silence. Readers shape what Scripture says (or not). This again is relevant to Trump’s holding the Bible, inviting us to step beyond the photo op and consider how the Bible is being read.

Holding a book is easy. Reading it well is an art.

Posted by steve at 04:51 PM

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Unbounding learning communities in Practical Theology

Practical Theology acceptance ..

Unbounding learning communities: Ako-empowered research in life-long ministerial formation

Steve Taylor and Rosemary Dewerse

Abstract: While formation is an essential practice of local church communities, the formation of ministers for ordination, along with continued professional education, is generally located in the context of higher education. ‘Ako’, describing a teaching and learning relationship grounded in reciprocity, and employed as an approach to researching life-long learning needs among ordained ministers in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, challenged this separation. The results of interviews and workshops with 285 lay and ordained leaders challenged the location of postgraduate provision in the context of higher education. The request was to teach leaders with their people in community in practices for living differently, with a focus on educating educators in relationally embodied ways. Educational experiments clarified ways of unbounding learning for local communities. These praxis-derived discoveries are clarified by conversation with the life of Jesus and Irenaeus’ theological anthropology of recapitulation. This brings clarity regarding the nature of ako as reciprocity in communities of practice and a reimagining of theological colleges as facilitators of unbounded local learning communities.

Keywords: ako, communities of practice, formation, Irenaueus, life-long learning, theological education

More fruit from the Thornton Blair Research project into life-long ministerial formation.

Posted by steve at 09:41 AM

Sunday, June 21, 2020

intercession prayers with John Holt on Windrush

I was asked by the Church of Scotland to offer some worship resources (on Weekly Worship) that might connect with Windrush day. My favourite bit was reworking John Holt’s, Stick by me from The Tide is High, Anthology 1962-79 (Trojan Records) and imagining God singing to Hagar and Ishmael.

Lullaby God,
We hear You soothe in the desert
Singing to a crying child – Ishmael, Isaac climbing Mt Moriah and the Exodus children facing the Red Sea
We hear Your comfort, Don’t be afraid, When you cry, I cry too
Stick by me, I’ll stick by you

Lamenting God,
We hear You sing in the wildernessHope for a grieving mother – Hagar, Hannah, Elizabeth
We hear Your peace,
Don’t be afraid, When you cry, I cry too
Stick by me, I’ll stick by you

Serenading God of the Blues,
who mourns in the wilderness
For all families torn apart by bitterness, envy and strife
When you cry, I cry too
Remember my heart and my love belong to you,
We hear Your heart, Don’t be afraid, No one can tear us apart
Stick by me, I’ll stick by you

Harmonizing God
For all churches facing a hospitality crisis
Help us hear Your melody, harmonize with Your desert lullaby,
May we open our arms To all those estranged in our community
You’ve got a place in our heart, oh yeah
Stick by us, as we stick by You Amen.

“Stick by me, I’ll stick by you
When you cry, I cry, too, oh oh Stick by me and I’ll stick by you
Remember my heart and my love belong to you, oh oh
Stick by me, I’ll stick by you.”

It was back in December when I did the work and it is interesting to sit with the work I did on Windrush Day now – 6 months later – in light of COVID and of BLM. I think part have aged really well – for example this paragraph I wrote:

“New Zealand biblical scholar, Judith McKinley … argues that the wilderness and ethnic dimensions of the [Genesis 21:8-21] text resonate strongly with our world today. Hence this text allows us to have sensitive conversations with people today who experience marginalisation, including through gender and ethnicity.”

Posted by steve at 11:24 AM

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Imagining a New Normal

During lockdown one of the projects and communities, I’ve been involved in is Imagining a New Normal.

Within each Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand there are Mission Catalysts. Some are employed, some volunteer with a passion for God’s mission. During lockdown, these Mission Catalysts have gathered online, brought together by PressGo. The group is becoming a learning community, providing support, encouragement and sharing resources and ideas. As long-held assumptions about church services have been confronted and challenged, there are opportunities to talk about the possibilities of igniting a missional imagination, asking “what if?” questions and taking some risks.

Generally, the future unfolds in small steps. Change involves experiments, from which learnings are gleaned. This enables discernment toward the future. Mission Catalysts know the power of the story. Stories can ignite the imagination, evoke curiosity and help people to think differently.

SO … the Mission Catalysts set themselves the task of telling “what if” stories. We started from “what is” and then told forward where that might lead. Each story was then submitted to peer review. What are the mission practices embedded in each “imagining”. The stories have been collated and a first edition is here. I’ve got one, imagining local church wanting to simplify and seek to stay online. I also did some work, peer reviewing some of the peer reviewing, a way of me offering my missiology skills to the ongoing life of this important learning community.

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The aim is to give permission, offer grounded mission and so to spark more stories – for local communities to “out tell” us with their real life “what if” …

The next stories are yours. We want to hear from parishes, faith communities and small groups about the things that God has been stirring up. About the things you have tried that worked and the ones that didn’t. Stories that start with the seed of an idea, ask “what if” and then, with a playful demeanour, give it a go.

Posted by steve at 03:24 PM