Monday, February 01, 2021

From X to A: salvific scenes in Coupland’s fiction paper proposal

I’ve had some ideas floating around for quite a few years and a Call for Papers – for the Douglas Coupland and the Art of the ‘Extreme Present’ Virtual conference – 23-24 April 2021 caused me today to rummage through the hard drive.

First, a perusal of the bookshelves and sure enough, five Douglas Coupland books in the Team Taylor library. Next a rummage around some research from my PhD in 2004. Finally, a lecture from Gospel in a Post-Christian society classes. Taught at Laidlaw College in 2005, 2007 and 2009, each time the material had developed. After about 30 minutes of rummage, there was some 3000 words sitting in a new document. Given virtual conferences are currently a great way to keep up academic networks and given that an interdisciplinary academic conference on Douglas Coupland conference sounds just the right amount of work and play, here’s the abstract.

From X to A: salvific scenes in Coupland’s fiction
Rev Dr Steve Taylor.

Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was instrumental in branding generational narratives into contemporary Western discourse. Coupland’s ability to trace the textures of our time gained him acclaim as a writer with “uncanny insight into what ails our culture” (Hanson, Voice of a Decade). Despite Coupland’s claim to be a novelist, generational frames became tropes to argue for shifts in culture. Christian writers like Tom Beaudoin (Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X) and Gordon Lynch (After Religion: Generation X and the Search for Meaning) appropriated the generational as a trope to argue for ecclesial innovation and a spirituality which prioritises the experiential.

This paper examines the “salvific-as-experiential” as a spirituality in four Coupland novels. Attention is paid to text, including the impact of a “faith-healing gesture” in Generation X, the wilderness secret that concludes Life After God, the framing of 1 Corinthians 15 in Hey Nostradamus! and Adam and Eve motifs in Generation A: A Novel’s epigraph.

Analysis will occur by approaching the “salvific-as-experiential” asking from what, for what and by what means? In Generation X, salvation is from aloneness into communal acceptance through surrendering to the love of the mentally challenged. In Life After God, salvation is from human selfishness into a life of giving and serving through creation. In Hey Nostradamus, salvation is from human loss and need into reconciliation of human relationships. In Generation A, salvation is from environmental harm into a new community through creative storytelling.

The argument is that Coupland’s characters are finding in the “salvific-as-experiential” an alternative vision of sociality. Coupland’s fiction is antagonistic toward forms of community that are arbitrary, intergenerational and guilt-inducing. Rather, his characters seek communities that interact in ways that deepen personal meaning.

The extreme present of a global pandemic invites a reappraisal of Coupland’s socialities. How might Generation X and Generation A speak to the challenges of lockdowns and conspiracy theories now faced by “Generation COVID”?

Updated: As of 1 April, 2021, an audio of my talk – titled “How Clear is [Coupland’s] Vision of Heaven, is here.

Posted by steve at 01:47 PM

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Slogans for the 21st century: cultural exegesis by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland, who came to fame for his book, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture has an uncanny knack of providing acute descriptions of our contemporary world.

Three young adults who in the midst of this changing world, seek to find their voice,by telling stories.

“We know this is why the three of us left our lives behind us and came to the desert – to tell stories and to make our own lives worthwhile tales in the process.” (Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture)

Coupland has gone on to produce 12 books of fiction that seem to capture our changing culture – Microserfs: A Novel, about Microsoft Culture; Jpod, about life after the iPod; Hey Nostradamus!: A Novel, describes a fictitious high school shooting similar to the Columbine High School.

He’s currently working on an art project “Slogans for the Twenty-First Century,” in which he is seeking to “Try and isolate what is already different in the twenty-first century mind as opposed to the twentieth.” In other words, to do contemporary cultural analysis.

The exhibition is currently showing at the Daniel Faria Gallery.

Over recent years I have invited my classes to engage culture, to do “cultural exegesis” by using Third Way magazine’s Icon series, a monthly reflection on a contemporary cultural symbol. This series by Coupland would be another way of undertaking “cultural exegesis.”

For more see
– Coupland’s theologies of salvation here
– Coupland from X to A here

Posted by steve at 09:23 PM

Thursday, December 15, 2011

the bias of a bowling ball as a metaphor for postmodern epistemology

Last week included a team social. Each year we try and do something fun and different to end the year. This year we went lawn bowling. Despite some initial uncertainty, photos of the event revealed a lot of smiles on a lot of faces.

Essential to lawn bowls is the bias on the bowling ball, that one side is weighted. Which makes for great hilarity when folk get the bias wrong and the ball heads off into the next door neighbours game.

In the week following, a number of times I’ve found myself sitting with folk who have felt the need to declare their own bias. They are making an observation and as they do, point out that they have a particular perspective, a particular relationship, a particular history, that will shape their opinion.

Knowing my post-modern epistemology, I gently point out to them that there is no such thing as objective neutrality, that in fact ever person has a particular perspective, a particular relationship, a particular history, that will shape their opinion.

Like a bowling ball I have told them since last week. A bowling ball has a bias. Our task is not to think in straight, objective lines. Rather it is to be aware of our bias and weight the speed of the green (the context). Only by accurately knowing our bias will we ever get close to truth.

The bias of a bowling ball as a metaphor for postmodern epistemology. What do you reckon?

Posted by steve at 09:38 AM

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

data, data everywhere: an emerging picture of an emerging church 10 years on

Babies become toddlers, toddlers head off to school, children become teenagers, teenagers become young adults, who ponder the dilemna of getting a hair cut and a real job.

Ten years ago I did some research on a toddler. More specifically, a group of people, Cityside Baptist Church. With a great tagline – Cityside: thinking allowed; thinking aloud allowed – they were exploring the shape of faith in contemporary culture. They graciously let me join their worship, then survey and interview them (individually and communally.) The research ended up being a major part of my PhD and sparked some ideas which became a book (Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change).

Ten years later you begin to wonder what happened to that toddler. Has time been kind? How has it survived being a teenager?

Again, graciously, they let me return. Again, to join their worship, then survey and interview them (individually and communally). (I think it’s a world first, a (longitudinal) study of an emerging church over time.)

Today I’ve been wading through some of the data. This includes 47 completed survey forms, with 22 questions, that explore the shape of their spirituality. The same questions as I asked 10 years, ago, so this allows some fascinating comparisons, to a time before 9/11 and iPhone’s and fears of global warming. There’s so much information, so much really interesting things to probe and ponder.

Ten years ago, this piece of the data alone became two chapters of 20,000 plus words. So after one day of analysis there are no clear trends.

But an intuitive sense – that this community has changed. And that part of the change is a faith that is more integrated, with a greater depth, that is more willing to express Christian faith in word and deed.

Which is a pretty encouraging thing to say about anyone, whether toddler or teen.

Posted by steve at 05:36 PM

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

emerging adults and emerging church

Christianity Today has a feature “Lost in Transition“, exploring emerging adult research and a new book, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, by sociologist Christian Smith. It is based on the fact that sociologically, about 12 years currently exists between being a young person and settling down to family. It includes a fascinating suggestion that young adults fit into 6 broad categories: Traditionalist (15%); Selecting adherents (30%); Spiritually open (15%); Religiously indifferent (25%); Religiously disconnected (5%); Irreligious (10%).

The missiologist in me wants to be asking if churches in Australasia (having watched today this TV program regarding the future of Sydney Anglicanism) currently strong in young adult ministry are actually only more likely to be targetting/reinforcing belief among say the Traditionalist.

Here were some quotes that struck me: Firstly in response to the question: Do emerging adults like the emergent church?

The bottom-line answer is yes. Emergent churches are on to something that seems to connect better with this wave of young people … Where it exists, your average emerging adult would find it more intriguing and more engaging than a traditional approach. But I would caution that emerging adults are smart about when they are being marketed to. So if the emergent church doesn’t offer something genuinely different from what emerging adults have too much of already, they’re not going to give it two seconds of attention.

Second, the essential role of parents in faith development.

The most important factor is parents. For better or worse, parents are tremendously important in shaping their children’s faith trajectories.

Third, the need for churches and leadership with creativity and imagination!

To connect with emerging adults is going to take more creativity and initiative than I see at the moment.

Posted by steve at 03:58 PM

Thursday, October 01, 2009

the evolving performance of Bullet the Blue Sky: U2 paper to speak

Just finalised my paper for the U2 conference. Huge relief to have it done, leaving the flight to work on the powerpoint. Just for fun, here is one of the sections. It is the 6th section, of 7, titled:

Installation: an art by any other name

“it was the total experience of a U2 set that counted.” (U2: The Early Days).

Having used narrative mapping to analyse key features of the evolving live performance of (Bullet the Blue sky) BBS, one way to consider the data is through the lens of installation art.

A key element in installation art is what De Oliveria calls the “unexpected awakenings of communal memory.” (Installation Art in the New Millennium: The Empire of the Senses) With specific reference to BBS, U2 are employing samples – the blindfold (Vertigo), the fighter planes (Vertigo), the lyrics from When Jonny Comes Marching home (Vertigo) or the chant from Irish singer, Sinead O’Connor (Go Home), the sampling of their own songs (Vertigo) – the collage-like re-appropriating of already existing elements in the pursuit of creativity – to awaken communal memory. They are engaging a shared “desire for immersion in a communal activity with repetitive conditions.” (Installation Art in the New Millennium)

Installation Art in the New Millennium et al describe the “strategies of de-familiarization”, the deliberate attempt in installations to create another world. With specific reference to U2, lighting director Bruce Ramos, describes his work as shifting people from their head to their bodies: “I take them out of their heads and into their bodies and hold them there for their concert.”

This is not escapism. Rather it can be framed as what Installation Art in the New Millennium et al name as a key dynamic in club culture – an experiential space that is introspective, immersive and social; a “viewing of the self contemplating the external world.” This surely is what is happening as communal memory is awakened in the evolving performances of BBS: the self can lament at the external world (Paris), the self can confess (Go home) and the self can both confess and petition (Vertigo).

An outcome is that in a culture which “mourns the loss of public space” a concert is one of few “public space experience” left in our culture. (Installation Art in the New Millennium)

What seems to be happening is a sort of humanisation. Through the evolving live performance of BBS, war is no longer a disembodied experience in El Salvador or Iraq. It is what happens to “those brave men and women of United States,” the “sister or a brother overseas and they’re in danger or whatever.”

Thus my argument is that the lens of installation art enables us to appreciate the evolving live concert performances of BBS. A song grounded in a specific context, through the practice of installation art and the technique of sampling, becomes a facilitator of communal awakening.

Select bibliography:
U2 by U2
U2 Show: The Art of Touring
Joshua Tree (Remastered / Expanded) (Super Deluxe Edition) (2CD/DVD)
U2: An Irish Phenomenon
Bono on Bono

Posted by steve at 08:06 PM

Sunday, August 17, 2008

a theology of pop culture and the Spirit in Luke 10

I am in Auckland for the next 2 days, participating in “The Spirit of Truth – Reading Scripture and Constructing Theology with the Spirit” Colloquim. My task includes delivering a paper titled: A pneumatology for an everyday theology: whither the anonymous Spirit in Luke 10:1-12?

It’s been a lot of fun putting it together; moving between Biblical text and theology of Spirit. I want to offer a theology of popular culture that navigates beyond two tensions that bother me. First, the “adulation of “theology” in the everyday, in which theological God-talk threatens to obliterate out the uniqueness of the pop cultural artifact.”

And a second tension, “”How low can you go?” in constructing a theology of popular culture?

If the feedback is good, I will be looking to publish it in a journal. It’s part of a number of ongoing projects in this area of theology and popular culture for me; including work on an article in the Bible in Bro town and a book project in relation to Christ figures in film.

Posted by steve at 10:54 PM

Sunday, March 23, 2008

resurrecting the resurrection

Went to see the movie Vantage Point and it helped me make sense of the resurrection. The movie is tagged 8 points of view: 1 truth. It’s a soft form of postmodernity, affirming eyewitnesses as subjective, without losing history as truthful.

In a similar way, the Bible has 4 gospels. Each offers a uniquely different point of view – Mark is fear and trembling; Matthew is earthquakes and angels; Luke is burning hearts; John is a new start. Each is subjective. Each adds insight, without losing truth.

Vantage point (the movie) ends with an 8th scene, an extended narrative which provides the big picture. In the same way, Christian hope is a big picture, or in the words of N. T Wright:
the events of Easter Sunday are no less than “a full, recreated life in the presence and love of God, a totally renewed creation, an integrated new heavens and new earth, and a complete humanness … in worship and love for God, in love for one another as humans, in stewardship over God’s world.”

In between the 4th and 8th perspective is the church. Each of us, in our homes, workplaces, city, living out the resurrection in our lives. Each of us subjective eyewitnesses, adding insight.

I wonder if the evangelical captivity to historical truth means that we jump to quickly from the 4th to the 8th perspective. I wonder if evangelicals are so concerned about the historical truth of the resurrection that they reduce the resurrection to an intellectual set of categories. Thus the entry to the 8th perspective is reduced to a set of beliefs that get you into heaven.

Yet the resurrection is so much more than an intellectual historical search. It is the affirmation of life, and life to the full. That is a truth to be lived, through your own unique point of view.

Full sermon manuscript is here.

Posted by steve at 04:34 PM

Friday, March 07, 2008

how should we use the Bible?

I was listening to someone rant this week. Discipleship was poor in the church. The evidence? Well, only 21% of people said they read their Bibles daily.

I thought back to the early Jews. They had handcopied scrolls in the Synagogue. They never had a Bible to read daily.

I thought back to the first disciples. They never had a book. Although they did have the stories of Jesus to tell to each other.

I thought back to the church before the printing press. They had handcopied scrolls in the church. They never had a Bible to read daily.

So isn’t daily Bible reading as a mark of discipleship simply a contemporary phenomenon, based on the fact that due to the printing press and internet, we now have Bibles we can read daily?

I thought back to Jesus. When asked about eternal life in Luke 10. He quotes the Bible, mixing two Bible texts from different contexts. Then he creates a story from contemporary culture (the one about robbers and Samaritans and religious leaders). Then he says go and do likewise. That is discipleship for Jesus. Nothing to do with reading the Bible daily. Simply the ability to relate the Bible to everyday contemporary life in a way that changes behaviour.

Using that story, yes discipleship will include using the Bible. Although not necessarily daily and privately. And it must also include the number of contemporary stories told in church. And it also must include the way lives are lived.

How about you? As you think about the church through time, how should we use the Bible?

Posted by steve at 07:21 AM

Saturday, February 17, 2007

a local church bobbing in a heavy sea

I had a fascinating phone conversation with Bernard Walker, from the School of Organisational Leadership and Development at the University of Canterbury. He had been reading my Out of bounds church? book and was making some fascinating connections with current issues facing industrial relations and labour unions. He was after a book reading list for a post-graduate research project, looking for parallels between the literature regarding church involvement and that regarding union membership. It was a most stimulating conversation that I have continued to ponder.

It is easy to get locked into the local church and to then judge mission effectiveness by the rise and fall of a local community. Yet the local church bobs on a cultural sea. Issues, for example, about membership and belonging and commitment and busy life and time-styles are not just local church issues, but are part of larger cultural currents. We ignore these currents at our own peril.

For all of the alarm in Christian literature about the decline of the church, their is as much, if not more alarm, in other voluntary sectors. (Rugby clubs, unions, political party membership lists being just three examples). In fact, some of the emerging church thinking might actually be of help to the future of other groups in society.

And vice versa, for the health of Christianity, we need to be part of inter-disciplinary conversations, talking to other groups in society, learning together.

Posted by steve at 01:31 PM

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

globalisation and the Biblical text

Each week in my Gospel and post-Christian class we interact with the same Biblical text: Luke 10:1-12. It is amazing to me, and to the class, how one text can have the depth and breadth to challenge us week after week. It puts a whole new slant on the Biblical text as living text.

Today I placed on an overhead for the class all the brand labels of clothing I was wearing. I gave the class a copy of the overhead, with the Biblical text in amongst the brands. Then I read the following story (page xv) from No logo.

nologo.jpg Here they were all young, some of them as young as fifteen; only a few were over twenty-one.

On this particular day in August 1997, the abysmal conditions in question had led to a strike at the Kaho Indah Citra garment factory on the outskirts of Jakarta in the Kawasan Berikat Nusantar industrial zone. The issue for the Kaho workers, who earn the equivalent of US$2 per day, was that they were being forced to work long hours of overtime but weren’t being paid at the legal rate for their trouble. After a three-day walkout, management offered a compromise typical of a region with a markedly relaxed relationship to labor legislation: overtime would no longer be compulsory but the compensation would remain illegally low. The 2,000 workers returned to their sewing machines; all except 101 young women – management decided – were the troublemakers behind the strike. “Until now our case is still not settled,” one of these workers told me, bursting with frustration and with no recourse in sight.

I was sympathetic, of course, but, being the Western foreigner, I wanted to know what brands of garments they produced at the Kaho factory – if I was to bring their story home, I would have to have my journalistic hook. So here we were, ten of us, crowded into a concrete bunker only slightly bigger than a telephone booth …

Suddenly the words of Luke 10:5-7 have fresh challenge: 5″When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6If a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves their wages. Do not move around from house to house.

These are the questions and issues, raised by globalisation and the Biblical text, that framed our lecture.

1. What does it mean to sit at a sweatshop table in a way that lets go of our perceptions of poverty and injustice?
2. There is a cost to self. Will we give to people out of our abundance or lack?
3. When we listen first, then the listening can change us. Change, Kingdom change, will then actually happen now, and in us, not just later, “in heaven.”
4. “The workers deserve their wages.” Makes a surprising connection to sweatshops, because it no longer speaks to us, but the need for justice among sweatshops.
5. What does it mean to pray “give us this day our daily bread”?
6. What would happen if you, because of your justice stance, didn’t eat meat and yet the food placed before you was battery farmed chicken? Would your justice principles, or the desire for relationship, be pre-eminent?
7. In globalisation, the power remains with the bosses. What are the power relationships in our “gospel encounters”? In contrast, in the Kingdom of God, the harvest (ie. every person) has value. How do we do mission so that power does not lie with us?
8. In New Zealand our power issues include land issues. How will we as Christians respond in New Zealand today?
9. What is proclaiming “peace as shalom” to sweatshop? How can you separate “peace and justice”?
10. How do we “dwell” long-term, around sweatshop tables?
11. How do our lives back home change as a result of our short-term overseas trips and cross-cultural changes?
12. The local is intrinsically linked to the global. How does changing the local impact on the global?

Update: In the comments, both Darren and I have applauded this book;
consumingfaith.jpg Consuming faith as a wonderfully accessible theological response to globalisation and how a Christian might respond to the issues raised by No logo.

Posted by steve at 03:40 PM

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

reading a post-colonial Bible

OR: How to sing “ashamed of my past” as the Lord’s song?


Being on top is only one way to view the world. Post-colonial studies is the attempt to read “from the other side.”

Take Genesis 28. Jacob is promised the land of Israel. So what happens when you read this from the “other side”? What does this text mean for the land itself, which will in time be ploughed and domesticated by the migrant? Where is God for those who lose land when the migrant arrives? In the words of Jomo Kenyatta: When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.

I have been reading Jacob’s story throught the eyes of the settler: James Cook Voyage of the Endeavour, and second, through the eyes of the dispossessed: Te Horeta Te Taniwha’s Account of Cook’s Visit. Different values. Different ways of viewing the world.

I, as Pakeha, am descended from settler. I often feel guilty over the migration of my ancestors. It becomes more complex when God and God’s word is used on behalf of those on top.

So this work is part of my learning and listening what it means to follow Christ, when the name of Christ has, at times, been shamefully used in our past. It is also part of research in preparation for a paper I am presenting at the Faith in a Hyphen conference, December 4-6, Sydney, Australia.

Further links:
For more of a poetic on this Genesis 28 text go here.
For a multi-sensory and pop cultural preaching engagement with this text here.

Posted by steve at 03:53 PM

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

salvation in the arms of another

It’s a line from a song (Salvation), by Rae and Christian, from 2001 Sleepwalking album. It became a theme song for my gospel in post-Christian class this week. We looked at the fiction of Douglas Coupland; the endings to 3 of his books; Generation X, 1991; Life after God, 1994; Hey Nostradamus, 2003.

It is fascinating to realise that each book ends exploring themes of salvation; salvation from human loss and need into reconciliation of human relationships in Hey Nostradamus; salvation from human selfishness into a life of giving and serving through creation, through death to self (with sacramental hints of cleansing and baptism) in Life after God; salvation from aloneness into mutual acceptance in community through surrendering the love of the mentally challenged in Generation X.

As a class we then reflected on the narrow ways that salvation is presented in modernity. We contrasted this with the richness of Biblical images. We decided that Biblical images of God as Family restorer (Luke 15) and Environmental integrator (Colossians 1:18-20) in fact connect with the endings and the salvific themes in contemporary culture, specifically in Douglas Coupland’s work.

What a shame if the church was actually preaching a limited gospel that was in fact disconnected from the salvific search in our culture. It was a great class.

Relevant parts of the lecture notes are here if you’re interested.

Posted by steve at 04:17 PM

Friday, June 16, 2006

newbigin and the future of mission in the west

allelon.jpg From June 25-29 I am participating in a International Think Tank on Mission to Western Culture. This involves a multi-year think tank re-applying the work of Lesslie Newbigin to denominational, seminary and other church systems regarding missional engagement with western culture(s). In preparation I was asked to answer 2 questions.

Question 2: What would you identify as the primary themes/questions that need to be addressed regarding mission to western culture at this point in time?


Posted by steve at 05:47 PM