Thursday, April 06, 2023

settler colonial theologies conference abstract

Conference abstract submitted today – “Do this in memory of me.” The role of church buildings in constructing settler colonial theologies in Aotearoa New Zealand. (Dr Steve Taylor, Independent scholar, AngelWings Ltd).

Christianity recognises itself as a religion of memory. In Eucharist, amid betrayal and before violence, Jesus calls his disciples to remember rightly.

What it means for Christianity in Aotearoa to rightly remember is challenged by “Recessional” (2010), a public artwork on display at Te Papa. Artist Murray Hewitt presents visual imagery of 61 publicly accessible historical battle sites in Aotearoa. These sites require right remembering on both sides of the Tasman, given the earliest dated memorial plaque in Anzac Park, Canberra, marks a military campaign fought in 1860-1 by the Royal Australian Navy Campaign in Aotearoa New Zealand, in which some 4% of the Māori population died (O’Malley 2016). A feature of Hewitt’s “Recessional” is the number of church buildings located close to battle sites. How do these religious communities rightly remember nearby histories of violence?

Enns and Myers (2021:10) call for settler “response-ability.” Writing as white Americans, they urge settlers to undertake identity work to understand how settler colonialism structures the relationships they inhabit. Savides (2022) argues that decolonisation offers settlers theological resources to remember rightly. Writing as a white South African, he uses themes of the cross and vulnerability in Reformed theology to demonstrate how decoloniality provides frameworks to analyse Christian entanglement in systems of Empire.

In Aotearoa, Pākehā have a distinct identity as settler. Reflection on this identity requires recognising privilege, lamenting marginalisation and learning to be better partners. This paper uses as case studies the church buildings present in Hewitt’s “Recessional.” It draws on archival records and anniversary liturgies to consider how churches do and do not pay attention to the battle sites nearby. In so doing, this paper contextualises Christian practices of anamnesis. It examines how the churches that Pākehā built are theologically forming settler identities. Trajectories for a theological ethic of settler “response-ability” are suggested.

Enns, Elaine and Ched Myers. Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization. Cascade Books: Eugene, Oregon, 2021.

Murray Hewitt, Recessional (2010). Accessed 29 March 2023.

Savides, Steven. Unsettling the Settler Colonial Imagination: Decoloniality as a Theological Hermeneutic in South Africa. PhD thesis, University of Notre Dame, 2022.

O’Malley, Vincent, The Great War for New Zealand Waikato 1800-2000, Bridget Williams: Wellington, 2016.

Posted by steve at 02:34 PM

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Learn Local as a uniquely Southern resource

(written for Southern Presbyterians newsletter, April 2022).

Cheese rolls, Bluff oysters and tītī (muttonbird) are local delicacies. They remind us of the unique richness of this southern land. While often we look elsewhere for inspiration, there is plenty to savour in local churches across the Southern Presbytery.

The first Learn Local happened in October 2021. Amid the uncertainty of COVID, people from seven Southern Presbytery churches gathered in a community hall in South Dunedin on a wet Saturday morning. An outdoor community walk was paused. Instead, members of the Seedling Presbyterian ministry shared stories of what it meant to establish a missional community in South Dunedin.

Local immersion continued with lunch at Dunedin’s longest-standing traditional Chinese restaurant. In the afternoon, Student Soul led cafe worship in ways that demonstrated new approaches to technology. The spring weather had improved, so a walk around the University encouraged prayer for local mission among student communities.

Learn Local participants left stimulated by a day packed full of new ideas. There was excitement about different ways of being church, encouragement to work in individual giftings and affirmation of the value of small things with love.

So what? It is easy for resourcing to remain in the “good-day-out” basket.

During the following four weeks, Learn Local participants gathered online. They reflected on what they were learning as they walked their local communities. The questions asked by Learn Local Saturday generated further learning:

• getting started
• who else in our communities can help us provide service for God
• creating cultures of openness
• discerning paths forward
• staying anchored in Christ and motivated in mission
• discipleship and worship in forming faith
• ways to remain connected in mission

Learn Local offers a unique way of learning. Rather than learning from books, the community is the classroom, and the speakers are Southern Presbyterians involved in community mission. Generous funding from the Synod makes Learn Local possible.

A second Learn Local is planned for October 2022. Teams and individuals from Southern Presbytery looking for resourcing in local mission are strongly encouraged. To go on the mailing list for information regarding dates and details, contact Steve Taylor at

Posted by steve at 01:43 PM

Saturday, January 15, 2022

journal article acceptance – Ordinary Time Festivals: an Application of Wisdom Ecclesiology

“a thing well made.” It’s a line from a song by Don McGlashan and it’s been an earworm since I received news this week that my journal article “Ordinary Time Festivals: An Application of Wisdom Ecclesiology” has been accepted for publication by Theology Today, an international academic journal out of Princeton. It’s my 23rd accepted academic journal and the news got me thinking – Can journal articles be a thing well made?”

Reflecting on a journal article as a “thing well made”:

  • First, the organising of 5,000 words in a logical and coherent way.
  • Second, the attention to both detail (footnotes, grammar, spelling) and big picture (one coherent argument that connects with the real world).
  • Third, pitching to the right journal. This involves researching the aims and objectives of the journal, working to align the abstract and argument with those aims and then writing a pitch.
  • Fourth, responding to feedback. Submitting your work to multiple blind reviewers takes courage. You open yourself to critique.

Four reasons. What reasons might you add? Can a journal article be a thing well made? While you think, here’s the “Ordinary Time Festivals” abstract —

Feasts and festivals enliven the Christian life. Given Easter, Christmas and Pentecost cluster around the nineteen weeks of Christmastide and Eastertide, the thirty-three weeks of ordinary time are disconnected from these celebrations. The theological impact is considered in light of Amy Plantinga Pauw’s wisdom ecclesiology. For Pauw, the church has largely neglected the ordinary-time dimension of the Christian life. The result is a Christian life disconnected from creaturely existence and God’s ongoing work of creation.

This paper explores the possibility of ordinary time festivals as a way to embody Pauw’s wisdom ecclesiology. A harvest festival in Scotland, a spin and fibre festival in Australia and a local community festival in Aotearoa New Zealand are analyzed. These festivals are argued to embody Pauw’s themes of making new, longing, giving, suffering, rejoicing and joining hands. Hence, ordinary time festivals offer ecclesiologically formed ways for the church to embody wisdom ecclesiology. They enable a theological formed way of joining hands with God’s ongoing work in creation during ordinary time.

Posted by steve at 11:37 AM

Thursday, December 23, 2021

conference proposal: Missions in Digital Culture: A Transforming Shift

Missions in Digital Culture: A Transforming Shift
by Rev Dr Steve Taylor, AngelWings Ltd, Flinders University

IAMS 2022 conference paper proposal

The digital is a rapidly morphing field. Technology impacts our work and homes and changes health care, leisure, and religious practice. Digital missiology examines how mission intersects with the internet, digital culture, and other forms of digital technology. The IAMS conference themes – of power, inequalities, vulnerabilities – provide a valuable hermeneutical frame to overview the current state of research, assess the contributions, and consider future directions for research in digital missiology.

This paper aims to discern how digitalization is changing the methods and conditions of mission. Particular attention is given to empirical research and ethnographic studies of digital resourcing, including trans-national studies of ecclesial innovation in Aotearoa New Zealand, and the United States. These experiments in digital missions will be analysed missiologically. If, as Marshall McLuhan claims, the medium is the message, then how is the vulnerable Christ present as an animating presence in these digital experiences and networks? The analysis will include dialogue with two recent reappraisals of McLuhan by Douglas Coupland (2011)) and Nick Ripatrazone (2022), as part of a reappraisal of embodiment and participation, informing theologies by which mission might be understood as being re-contextualised for an emerging digital world

This work is part of a larger project seeking to re-theorise Bosch’s notion of paradigm shifts. While Bosch focused on paradigms, the argument is that transforming generativities occur in shifts rather than paradigms. Hence digital cultures offer significant resources for indwelling and embodying missio Dei as transforming shifts in mission.

Posted by steve at 06:31 PM

Sunday, November 07, 2021

more grounded, more international

I completed 3 major project milestones this week.

First, the 6th and last Mission For A Change for 2021. What was a spark of an idea at the start of the year – to offer online resourcing on mission – has become interviews with women and indigenous thinkers who are writing in areas of mission and change.

Second, the completion of a Codesign report. At the start of this year, I was contracted with Val Goold to undertake a consultation about researching the future of theological education and ministry formation across the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and the Pacific. 55 interactions later, after listening with over 160 people, an 8-page report this week summarised a 2nd stage of the Codesign, as we checked our listening with various stakeholders, and outlined 10 research strategies for what could happen in 2022.

Third, the completion of Learn Local. Funding from the Synod of Otago Southland and the support of the Southern Presbytery has enabled me to offer education in local mission. Over the last month, I’ve been privileged to work face to face and online with folk from 7 local churches and 1 Queenslander who have walked local communities as a mission learning experience. The visual is notes from the final “online” session, by the amazing Lynne Taylor, as participants shared their “walking” learnings and as I gave input on forming faith in local mission.

notes from learn local 4

There is much more to process on each of these and more plans for 2022. But it’s nice to savour 3 milestones, all resourcing mission in different ways across different denominations. I feel more grounded in local communities and more international, resourcing across countries and organisations all at the same time.

Posted by steve at 09:57 AM

Friday, August 27, 2021

Learn local: a mission learning opportunity

Want to meet Christians passionate about their local community? Want to learn about grassroots mission? Want to grow skills in starting and sustaining a new initiative in mission?

learn local advertising Rev Dr Steve Taylor, a creative and experienced mission educator, and former Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership is facilitating mission learning opportunities in Otago/Southland. The aim is to explore mission not in a classroom but in local communities. This involves opportunities to visit local mission initiatives to experience grassroots mission, hear stories of local community engagement and consider different expressions of Christian mission practice. The Saturday experience is followed by online learning, four sessions in the following weeks, which help participants connect local learnings with best practices in mission.

The aim of learning local is to discern practically grounded insights into mission and ministry and to encourage mission dreams, imaginations and experiments through the Presbytery. Numbers for the Saturday experience are limited to 15 and priority will be given to those endorsed by their Church Council. (For online participants, a soundscape can be made available 48 hours after).

The first learning Local is Saturday, October 9, 10 am – 5 pm and involves visits in Dunedin to The Seedling and Student Soul. Lunch and snacks are provided and participation is free, thanks to the generosity of Synod of Otago and Southland.

Online sessions are Thursday’s 14, 21, 26 October, 4 November, 7:30-8:45 pm.

For queries->Steve Taylor,
To register->

• Is lunch provided? Yes.
• Is the site visit experience free? Yes. All it costs is your time to register and participate.
• Can I bring others? Yes. Several folk from a church would enhance learning. But everyone must register ->
• Can I come to just the site visit? Yes. Register and we will discuss with you other ways you can apply your learning local.
• Can I come to just the online learning? Yes. Register and we will discuss with you other ways can ground your learning local. For example, a soundscape of local participants sharing could be made available 48 hours after.
• Can I come if I live outside the Presbytery? Yes, both the site visit and online learning are open to anyone. However, to make funding work, there is a learning cost of $200 for the online evenings for those outside Otago/Southland. This contributes to making online learning happen. The local site visits remain free for anyone.
• What if you get more than 15 for the site visit? We will prioritise those with endorsement from their church council/leadership. We are capping at 15 to ensure a workable site visit. Numbers for the 4 online sessions are not limited.
• Will there be other opportunities? A second Learn local is planned for a Saturday in March and will likely visit in Central Otago.

Posted by steve at 01:42 PM

Sunday, August 08, 2021

First Expressions a recommended book for Practical Theology 2021

practical theology journal I’m stoked to hear that my book, First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God is a recommended book for the Practical Theology journal June 2021, 278-279. The annual list of ‘Recommended Books in Practical Theology’ is based on input from Editorial Board members and readers. These books address the complexities of practical theology and ministry through interdisciplinary approaches to research and scholarship, offering fresh practical and theoretical insights to this field. Here’s the summary –

Taylor, Steve, First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God (London: SCM Press, 2019).

Steve Taylor’s work continues a decade of ecclesiological investigations by reexamining sites of ecclesial innovation in the United Kingdom eleven years later. Interdisciplinary in scope and poetic in tone, First Expressions provides a template for future studies of change within communities of faith.

Posted by steve at 05:42 PM

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Researching craft as Christian witness

I am researching whether Christians can witness through acts of making. Making celebrates the ordinary and domestic. Diversity is evident as different cultures make in different ways. Interest in handmade objects has risen in contemporary culture.

A first step was to research Christmas Angels. In 2014, two Methodist ministers in the North of England invited local churches to knit Christmas Angels. The Angels were tagged with a message of love and “yarn-bombed” in streets, train stations and schools. What began with a few churches knitting some 2870 angels in 2014, had by 2017, spread across Great Britain. Each angel was sent out with a Twitter hashtag #Xmasangels. Hence people who received the angels could respond online, using social media. Being a personal user of Twitter, I observed people tweeting their experiences of finding a Christmas angel. I was curious. Might people think a yarn-bombed angel was silly? Was this just Christians making a mess? This research became a journal article (“When ‘#xmasangels’ tweet: a Reception Study of Craftivism as Christian Witness,” Ecclesial Practices 7 (2), 2020, 143-62, (co-authored with Shannon Taylor).

A second step in the research was to learn to knit. I challenged myself to do more than think intellectually about my research. For this project, could I make my own Christmas angel? One of my children taught me to knit while my wife patiently untangled many a dropped stitch. I kept a diary of my experiences. In the joy of completing a row and the despair of splitting a stitch, I realised that research was not an elite mystery. Instead, it resulted from repeated practices: a habit, a way of being in the world. In researching craft, my understandings of research have been re-made. I wove these journal reflections into a chapter I was asked to write for a revised edition of Mary Moschella’s Ethnography as a Pastoral Practice (due out with SCM and Pilgrim Press in 2022).

A third step in the research is to listen to makers. Having researched those who received a Christmas Angel, I also want to understand more about the knitters. I want to interview knitters of Christmas Angels. I also want to interview knitters of scarves for the Common Grace Knit For Climate Action in Australia. I hope to form focus groups of knitters and explore why they participate and what meanings they make.

Hence Ordinary knitters: theologies of making research – If you are aged over 18 years and have been involved in a knitting project like Common Grace Knit For Climate Action or Christmas Angels (or something similar) and are willing to be interviewed about your experiences, I would love to hear from you. More information here or from Steve Taylor (

Posted by steve at 08:57 PM

Saturday, July 31, 2021

researching knitting in Christianity

Ethics approval this week for this research project –

seeking participants for research on knitting in Christianity. If you are aged over 18 years and have been involved in a knitting project like Common Grace Knit For Climate Action or Christmas Angels (or something similar) and are willing to be interviewed about your experiences, they would love to hear from you. More information here or from Steve Taylor (+64221552427 or

Posted by steve at 08:16 PM

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Reimagining Faith and Management book launch

It was a lot of fun to be at the book launch of Reimagining Faith and Management: The Impact of Faith in the Workplace (Routledge, 2021) in Auckland on Tuesday. Big thanks to Auckland University of Technology for the hosting. It was wonderful to have packed house and the speeches of the Chancellor and Vice-chancellor, along with two cabinet ministers and the Race Relations Commissioner, to help launch the book. Congratulations to the editors – Professor Edwina Pio, Dr Tim Pratt and Dr Rob Kilpatrick.

The overwhelming theme, in all the speeches, was the need for ways to think about faith in management, given the importance of faith for so many people in our world today, and yet the silence of so much of the business literature about the place of faith in management. This point was made particularly well by MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan and MP Michael Wood, along with Meng Foon.

I was present because I have a chapter in the book, applying wisdom literature to the governance of innovation. My argument is that governing innovation requires different governance capacities and even more so in rapidly changing times. I used the wisdom literature – from First Testament and from Paul in Corinth – to outline 6 competencies, which are then grounded in two recent experiences of governing boards seeking to invest in innovation. The invitation to contribute allowed me to develop part of a chapter from First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God (2019) on governance as catholicity, and integrate with some of Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration (2016), for which I was glad.

At a personal level, to be invited to contribute to an international published volume was quite a thrill.

Posted by steve at 05:34 PM

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

First Expressions “a compellingly honesty narrative” book review # 5

“If you met Steve Taylor, you would instinctively like him. He might say some things you didn’t agree with; and you’d have to put aside a generous amount of time to hear him out.”

So begins Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester. It is intriguing and highly personal reflection on “Steve Taylor-the-writer” that Warner glimpses as he reviews my book First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God. The review is in Church Times 26 February 2021. Church Times is a weekly English Anglican newspaper.

Warner finds First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God is “a compellingly honesty narrative,” with a bravery that is “honest and challenging.” The ecclesiology  being developed in the book is affirmed as having a “courageous freedom to be immediate and provisional” that seeks “authenticity and depth.”

The review concludes by linking First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God with the global pandemic. Hence First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God has value not only in studying the history of Fresh Expressions in the United Kingdom, but to invite “a shared experience, one that belongs to this time and place in such a way as to connect us with every time and place.”  It’s a wonderful connection, an affirmation that a provisionality in being church can open us to Christ.


This is the fifth substantive review of First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God. There have been four other reviews (that I’m aware of)

  • here in Ecclesial Futures;
  • here in Practical Theology;
  • here in Ecclesiology
  • here in Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal.
Posted by steve at 10:21 PM

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Missional Research Workshop online

The Ecclesial Futures journal, which I co-edit with Nigel Rooms, is offering an online workshop to try and encourage publishing in ecclesially grounded mission.

A short summary would be – Missional Research Workshop: This Workshop (online June 8-10, 2021) is designed to encourage research and networking. Sessions will share skills in writing and publishing and provide opportunities for presentation of work in progress, along with generative feedback from experienced researchers. The event will suit those seeking to publish in areas of ecclesially grounded mission, particularly new and emerging researchers who have not published before. To make a proposal, go here

A longer summary would be – Missional Research Workshop Call for Contributions

The Ecclesial Futures journal, in partnership with the IAMS Christian Communities in Mission Study Group are hosting an online Workshop, 8-10 June, to nurture research, and publishing that research, in mission. The Missional Research Workshop is designed to encourage research and networking. Each session will share skills in writing and publishing and provide opportunities for presentation of work in progress, along with generative feedback from experienced researchers.

The event will suit those seeking to publish in areas of ecclesially grounded mission, particularly new and emerging researchers who have not published before. We seek proposals offering verbal presentations of research reports, thought pieces and updates on mission research in progress, in areas that include:
• Examination of the ways in which theology is generated with the local church
• Longitudinal studies in congregational development over 5-10 or more years
• Diagnoses of why different churches flourish or die
• Studies of the relationship between a local church and its ‘world’ or context, including issues related to contextualisation, ‘cultural negotiation,’ ‘intercultural mission’
• Ethnographic studies of the cultural changes required in flourishing churches
• Methodological treatises on how to research in ecclesially grounded mission
• Studies of how local churches learn to experiment and fail
• Analysis of how organisations and denomination might transform themselves towards embodying the mission of God
• Astute, hermeneutically aware bible scholarship on the future of the contemporary church
• Implications for theological education of the local church ‘as the hermeneutic of the gospel’
• Contextual studies of transformative churches from wide-ranging places, particularly local churches formed outside of Christendom and modernity
• Ways in which leadership is identified, discerned and theologically formed for the local church to embody the mission of God
• Systemic studies of local churches and the systems that support them.
Workshop format – Each session will commence with a short presentation by an experienced researcher on their craft of research and writing. Work-in-progress summary of 10 minutes will be followed by generative feedback of 15 minutes. The 75 minute sessions will be spread over 8-10 June, at different times, to allow global participation.

Abstract proposal of up to 250 words – 15 April 2021.
Notification of acceptance – 30 April, 2021.
Workshop contribution of up to 1500 words – 25 May, 2021.

Proposal registrations here or to Steve Taylor (

A voluntary participation donation is invited. All contributions will fund developments in the Ecclesial Futures journal. Suggested donation for salaried academic/church minister – $40. Suggested donation for student or participant from global south – $10.

Enquires to the Ecclesial Futures editors – Nigel Rooms ( or Steve Taylor (

Finally, as a image,

Posted by steve at 09:32 PM

Friday, March 05, 2021

Mission For A Change – Gender and Mission March with Rosemary Dewerse, Cathy Hine

Mission For a Change creates resources for those engaging in church mission, showcasing recent research and new ideas, as fresh thinking is applied in local contexts. Mission For a Change is ideal for ministers wanting some short, sharp lifelong learning, students wanting to discuss fresh thinking and all who care about the future of the church’s mission. For 45 minutes, every month, there is time for prayer, interview, Q and A and conversation about the “so what.”

Participants have appreciated Mission For a Change:

“Thanks – for creating the space, holding it open and enabling conversations and listening.”

“Thank you for facilitating these mission conversations. It feels ‘just right’ for me .. to find relevant material to expand my missional horizon … and to be time efficient about it.”

Mission For a Change on Wednesday 3 March, focused on Gender, mission and reading Scripture for liberation.

An interview with Rosemary Dewerse and Cathy Hine, explored their article – “Reading from Worlds under the Text: Oceania Woman and the missio Dei,” Mission Studies 37 (1) April 2020.

Is the history of Christianity full of “mansplaining”? Are there ways to read Scripture that give voice rather than create silence? What can we learn from Angelina Noble, Aboriginal mothers, Queen Sālote, Kate Sheppard, Hēni Te Kiri Karamu, Mary MacKillop and the Siwai mothers of Bouganville? As we approach International Women’s Day, how might Oceanic women help us tell stories of God’s mission?

Cathy provides leadership in When Women Speak, while Rosemary has recently helped with the authoring of Anaditj, by Aunty Denise Champion.

The interview is online here – Mission For A Change March Gender and Mission from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Mission For A Change will next focus on mission and climate change and the rich resource that is Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church. Mission For A (Climate) Change will interview Rev Chris Douglas-Hurawai about his understanding of pepeha (a Māori way of introducing oneself) as a resource in climate change. The event will also include the playing of a recently written song by Rev Dr Maggi Dawn, fruit of her search for music of hope. A tentative date is May 5, 4:45-5:30 pm (NZT).

Other upcoming topics include

  • Imagining mission and the gift of creativity
  • Seeing mission, a quick tour of documentaries, films, images

For enquiries, contact Steve Taylor, Director AngelWings Ltd, by emailing: kiwidrsteve at gmail dot com.

To register to receive further information, monthly zoom links and reading resources go here.

Posted by steve at 03:07 PM

Monday, March 01, 2021

sourdough at the end of the world: a contemporary missiology from Ecclesiastes

I attended a workshop on Sunday. With a rapid change in lockdown levels announced overnight, the workshop began with reminders of 1-metre distancing, hand sanitiser and contact tracing.

The workshop was about growing your own mushrooms. So following the health and safety was a whirlwind tour through lifecycles, Latin names and local varieties. After an hour and a half of mycelium and mushroom substrates, it was time for a break.

sourdough as mission The workshop facilitator announced cheese, sauerkraut and bread. “Homemade and sourdough” he announced, proudly whipping the tea towel of a loaf of beautiful bread. Despite the vulnerability of life in a lockdown, he’d still found time for sourdough.

Later, as the event was closing, the facilitator was asked if there were plans for a future workshop. “Next month,” was the reply, “unless the world ends first.” It was a window into the widespread anxiety being generated by this global pandemic.

The making of sourdough at the end of the world makes sense of some reading I was doing today. John Prior served as a Jesuit priest in Indonesia at the turn of the 20th century. The unravelling of a military dictatorship had resulted in acute economic distress, widespread social disruption and a rise in ethnic and religious tension. Prior observed a church that in response to polarisation, was becoming insular and ethnocentric. In the face of such widespread instability, it was easier to tend to their survival as a small sub-group.

Prior writes of his surprise at finding wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is the “bleakest of the canonical wisdom books” (11). Yet Prior found important insights for being church today – a contemporary missiology for a church facing unpredictability.

It is a complicated article, so let me summarise under three headings – who are humans? who is God? how then to live, especially in times of rapid change and increased polarisation?

Who are humans? In Ecclesiastes, humans are caught in a “precarious, bewildering world” (19), in which new technologies and rapid changes have rendered “a world populated by mono-dimensional beings” (11). The result is widespread feelings of powerlessness in a somewhat arbitrary, rapidly changing world. Prior finds resonances between the themes in Ecclesiates and the poor and marginalised in Indonesia. And as I read Prior, I found resonance with experiences of COVID – our sense of bewilderment amid ever-changing lockdown levels, our sense of being powerless in the face of a virus that can’t be seen, the shifts online that seem to zoom-ify humans as “mono-dimensional beings.”

Who is God? The God revealed in Ecclesiastes is an elusive God of surprise. God is beyond human conceptions, not bound by religious conventions and human prejudices. Yet despite the unpredictable of life, trust in God is not misplaced. Life might be chaotic, but this God is not bent on harm.

How then to live? Prior finds in Ecclesiates a “survival ethic” (17-8) which is good news for those who feel powerless. We remain alive to the world. Work is to be valued, yet we refuse to be defined by our jobs. This comes as we enjoy every scrap of life and value a creation ethic in which all that live “under the sun” have worth. We find wisdom through our shared and sustained human reflection on experience.

The result, says Prior, is that Ecclesiastes offers “a modest, guide to mission” (21). This modest mission finds value in every small action. In the wonderful poetry of Ecclesiastes 9:4 “Better to be a live dog than a dead lion.” This result is a “transformation of powerlessness into creative activity” (18).

Which suddenly made sense of sourdough, that joyous murmur among us all as the teatowel was removed, the loaf revealed. It makes little sense to bake if indeed our world is ending. Yet the simple act of making is work that offers dignity, hospitality and the value of life.

Importantly, Ecclesiastes provides a way to live with difference. For Prior, Ecclesiastes chooses to “negotiate, think through and dialogue with opposition view points” (18). This comes through dialogue, the affirmation that two are better than one. The aim is a “sympathetic co-existence” with those with whom you differ (Prior, 19).

I’ve simplified what is a close and detailed article. You are welcome to find it – John Prior, 2002. “When all the singing has stopped” Ecclesiastes: A modest mission in unpredictable times. International Review of Mission, 91(360), 7-23. Or, you are welcome to simply enjoy the power of making sourdough as an act of mission. Not to impress, or convert, but to modestly affirm the value of life, amid the exhausting vulnerability and increased polarisation so common to our pandemic human experience.

Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

Posted by steve at 05:20 PM