Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Annunciation in a time of Isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed are the secluded
For they will experience God

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

Blessed is the home
For protecting of divine encounter

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

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

Blessed is time
For in the moment is grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The burning bush – a visual study of indigenization and faith

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

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

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

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

Posted by steve at 01:24 PM

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Faith in the boardroom chapter acceptance

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

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

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

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

Keywords: governance, Wisdom literature, innovation, risk

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

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

Posted by steve at 04:32 PM

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

in an indexing space

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

IMG_7853[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by steve at 09:50 PM

Thursday, October 31, 2019

in the editing cave

I am in the editing cave.

And it is dark.

IMG_7847

The copy edits on my first expressions book arrived a few weeks ago.

I took some time to sit with the joy – of seeing the actual size of the book; of holding a complete manuscript of 240 pages, of leafing through and admiring how the multiple tables worked to clarify; of seeing how the haiku I wrote for each chapter work to ensure white space for creativity.

But the copy edits came with a deadline. Please undertake a final read and return any corrections by 4 November.

In order to begin, I needed to break up the task. There are 13 chapters, so over 3 weeks; that means 4 chapters a week; 4 days a week with a day of grace for the unexpected/travel etc.

In order to begin, I needed to find a new spot. Normally I begin each day writing in a cafe. For m, it is a profoundly important time, a time to ideate, to be imaginative with ideas and creative with words. I’m more fully human after an hour of writing.

I have a local cafe with big windows opening onto green space and the distraction of voices talking. In that space I am creative.

But copy edits require not big ideas but focus and careful attention to detail.

The University library has some chairs under the first floor stairwell. This is a confined space, perfectly suited for focus. There is free 2 hour parking close by. That also provides confinement – I only have 2 hours; this concentration has a time limit.

There are no neighbours. This also is important, as I edit by reading aloud. Speaking the words helps me concentrate, be more attentive to what is actually printed, not what my brain thinks should be printed. Under the stairwall, I can talk to myself, hear only myself.

In this cave, I am able to work differently. I miss (terribly) the invitation to be creative and ideate. But in the confines of their stairwall, there is hope. This has limits. This is not forever. This will end.

And in that, there is satisfaction.

Posted by steve at 05:57 PM

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

the journey of a journal article – Cultural hybridity in conversion

“Cultural hybridity in conversion: an examination of “Hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain,” Mission Studies 36 (3) November 2019, 416-441″ (here).

Abstract -This essay analyses Christian witness, applying a post-colonial lens to Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain to account for conversion and transformation in Papua New Guinea. A ‘hapkas’ (half-caste) Christology of indigenous agency, communal transformation and hybridity is examined in dialogue with New Testament themes of genealogy, redemption as gift and Jesus as the new Adam. Jesus as ‘good man true’ is placed in critical dialogue with masculine identity tropes in Melanesian anthropology. Jesus as ancestor gift of Canaanite descent is located in relation to scholarship that respects indigenous cultures as Old Testaments and post-colonial theologies of revelation which affirm cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation in conversion across cultures. This ‘hapkas’ Christology demonstrates how a received message of Christian mission is transformed in a crossing of cultures.

The journey of a journal article – through fiction, art and anthropology via my childhood. ‘Innovative” the editor called it. “Excellent article – well framed, written and a pleasure to read. … one of the best articles I have read in a while … Well done!” said the reviewers.

So a short video to explain the journey and introduce some of the key resources.

Cultural hybridity in conversion by Steve Taylor in Mission Studies from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Drusilla Modjeska, The Mountain.

Drusilla Modjeska, Second Half First.

National Gallery Victoria, Wisdom of the Mountain: Art of the Omie

Stanley Skreslet, Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and prospects of Missiology.

Posted by steve at 08:31 PM

Friday, September 13, 2019

writing goalless in Germany

Unknown-3

This week was my last week of sabbatical and at 9 am on Monday, the computer was on and I was writing. I’ve not set myself any writing targets for this week. This is highly unusual. Writing time is so precious and I am normally very focused.

But not this week. For a number of reasons.

First, intuitively, the fact that I am highly focused in writing makes it worth exploring other modes. What would happen if I followed my nose? What might I learn about myself, about writing, about creating?

Second, practically, the major aim of the sabbatical was the completion of a book contract, an empirical study of innovation and mission. The deadline with the publishers was May. When my sabbatical was postponed in February, I absorbed the pressure of needing to meet a deadline with 13 weeks of sabbatical not 15. It meant working a few too many Saturday’s in May. But having met that deadline in May, on the other side in September, I had some weeks spare. It made sense to treat them as a treat. I’d already met the deadline for the 15 weeks, so whatever emerged would be a bonus.

Unknown-8

Third, I’ve decided to spend this week writing in Germany. My daughter is cycling the Rhine River and this was a chance for her to pause and for us to spend precious father/daughter time together. We had agreed that I would write in the mornings and we would explore in the afternoons and evenings. This meant that I would be writing in a totally new space. I was not sure what type of desk I would have to work at nor what books and resources I might need. Nor did I want to carry unnecessary weight half way around the world.

Fourth, this was a new mental space. The afternoon wanders might shake lose some creativity, create new connections, provide different perspectives. So having no goals allowed me to be free.

So as I opened my computer at 9 am on Monday, I had no goals, and thus no expectations. What to do? Where to begin?

I did have a deadline due in 10 days time on a small writing project for Upper room, a US publishing house. It is a collaboration with a research colleague who is currently quite busy. So I decided to draft some words, hoping that would kickstart our creativity.

As I completed that, I realised it was actually a potential conclusion to a longer project we had talked about working on. So I added the words as a conclusion and set up about turning a talk we had done together in July into a 4000 word journal article – researching contemporary practices of ministerial action.

Over the week the article grew. All the resources I needed were available. The afternoon wandering through different spaces set lose some fresh ideas.

As the week ended, the writing had become a complete draft. It needs to be slightly tightened and it needs an edit. But it is a complete draft.

Writing goalless work a week in Germany had resulted in
- 650 words for Upper room, for Devozine, a teenage spirituality resource
- a 4,300 word piece for a New Zealand ministry journal on how local churches respond to tragedy and trauma
- an encouragement. Toward the end of our week, an afternoon explore found me paying my respects to Hildegard of Bingen, one of the church’s finest theologians (Doctor), healer, composer, community builder.

Unknown-6

I have wrestled with my writing over the last 18 months. Is it a good investment of time? Or is it a luxury? Seeing the quill in Hildegard’s hand was inspiring. Writing can be a charism. It can be something through which the Spirit works. Writing goalless in Germany meant finding this encouragement: keep writing, keep creating …

Posted by steve at 10:06 PM

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Craftivism across cultures

Preparing to speak in Durham, UK, in the next few weeks, I’ve been in the Hocken Collections, researching the history of knitting in Aotearoa. Here is some of what I discovered yesterday:

“In Aoteoroa, knitting arrived with the missionaries. Hannah King, who arrived in 1815, was a gifted knitter and over 200 years later, examples of her craft still exist in the Waimate North Mission House, including her husbands beautifully stitched preaching shirt and a baby gown. What is interesting is how from the 1820’s, knitted garments from Scotland were imported and then purchased by Maori, who unpicked them, recycled the wool and wove it into the borders of their garments – kaitaka (flax coats) and whatu kākahu. When painter and travel writer George Argas visited Aotearoa in 1844, he wrote (Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand, 1847, 324) that brightly coloured wools had replaced feathers of the kaka bird. “[W]ool of the gayest colours has long been preferred by [Maori]. Blue and scarlet caps, and the variegated “comforters” brought by the traders, find a ready market amongst the women, who pick them to pieces to from the tufted ornaments of their dresses.” It is a fascinating example of creativity across intertidal zones of cultural contact, and the tactile ways in which indigenous agency can re-make, as the artefacts of another culture are unpicked, unravelled, and woven into the existing cultural forms” Steve Taylor, Craftivism as a missiology of making, Durham, 2019.

16068-2

Posted by steve at 09:41 AM

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Theological Education as Development in Vanuatu published in Sites journal

Steve Taylor, Phil King, “Theological Education as Development in Vanuatu: ‘Wayfaring’ and the Talua Ministry Training Centre,” Sites: a journal of social anthropology and cultural studies 16 (1) 2019, 135-157.

Abstract
Education is essential to development. In Pacific cultures, in which the church is a significant presence, theological education can empower agency and offer analytical frames for social critique. Equally, theological education can reinforce hierarchies and dominant social narratives. This paper provides an account of Presbyterian theological education in Vanuatu. Applying an educative capability approach to a theological education taxonomy proposed by Charles Forman brings into focus the interplay between economics, context, and sustainability as mutual challenges for both development and theological education. However Forman’s model does not accurately reflect the realities of Vanuatu. An alternative frame is proposed, that of wayfaring, in which knowledge-exchange is framed as circulating movements. Wayfaring allows theological education to be imagined as a development actor that affirms local agency, values networks, and subverts centralising models. This alternative model provides a way to envisage theological education, both historically in Vanuatu and into an increasingly networked future, as an actor in Pacific development.

Key words: Vanuatu, theological education, wayfaring, Christianity, development

Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 5.48.31 PM

This is part of a full special issue on Christianity and Development in the Pacific, which began with Woven Together conference at Victoria University in 2016. New into the role of Principal, KCML, I used the conference as an opportunity to build connections with the Pacific, to collaborate with Phil King, in another part of the PCANZ and to learn about the partnership between PCANZ and Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu. Sites is a journal of social anthropology and cultural studies. It practices ‘delayed open access’, which means that the contents of the journal are made available in full open access 12 months after an issue is published.

I’m grateful to the conference organisors and journal editors, Philip Fountain and Geoffrey Troughton; to the Harrison Bequest which paid for one of the authors to travel to Talua for a ten-day immersion experience in 2017 and to the staff at the Archives Research Centre of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and the Hocken Collections, University of Otago, Dunedin for their tending of taonga.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Saturday, June 29, 2019

the role of wiping noses and lactation in theology

I’m working my way through Janet Martin Soskice’s The Kindness of God: Metaphor, Gender, and Religious Language with a yellow highlighter.

This is the second time I’ve read this fascinating book this year. The first time was during my Outside Study Leave, as I searched for ways to construct a methodology of the unique, a way by which theology could learn with and from empirical research. I found helpful the way that Soskice worked with the theology of Julian of Norwich, arguing that Julian was faithful to, yet offered a “fruitful” development of, the work of Augustine (126). Soskice drew out Julian’s “ingenuity as a theologian” in describing a theology of kinship (126). I was able to draw on Soskice on developing an ecclesiology of innovation, for my First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God book, due out with SCM in December 2019.

IMG_7454 This second time, I’m reading Soskice with a yellow highlighter because I am underlining all the domestic words. Words like –

pregnancy,
childbirth,
baby,
children,
toddlers,
infant,
family holidays,
making meals,
washing clothes,
wiping noses,
lactation

- all in Chapter 1.

It is rare to find such words in a theology text book. Janet Martin Soskice is Reader in Philosophical Theology at the University of Cambridge. It is rare to to find words like wiping noses and lactation in philosophical theology. So I’m fascinated by the role the domestic plays in her theology; the way she uses images of family life as a source of reason and what this might mean for theology.

As I read Janet Martin Soskice, I am reminded of the words of Anna Fisk (‘To Make, and Make Again’: Feminism, Craft and Spirituality, Feminist Theology 20(2) 160–174) and her argument that everyday acts of making in the ‘feminine’ sphere, have been neglected in mainstream theology. I also recall the words of Heather Walton, who notes recent moves within Feminist Practical Theology to prioritise the everyday in order to encourage serious theological reflection upon “the fabric of life” (Heather Walton, ‘Seeking Wisdom in Practical Theology’, Practical Theology, 7:1 (2014), pp. 5–18).

I wonder what it means for theology in general, and my theology in particular, to make the domestic an essential resource in faith seeking understanding. As Soskice writes: “Attending to the child is a work of imagination and moral effort … This is the work of the Spirit, this bodying forth of God in history – in our individual histories and in that of our world … under the attentive gaze of love” (32, 33, 34).

Such are my thoughts as I read with a yellow highlighter.

Posted by steve at 06:17 PM

Monday, May 27, 2019

last days

I’m into the last days of outside study leave.

IMG_7328

The first 1/3 of the outside study leave followed a daily pattern

  • create – write words on First expressions book project
  • make – do something embodied
  • complete – work on ‘must get around to it’ journal articles and writing pieces
  • deepen – reading or doing data analysis
  • connect – attend external random lecture, write a blog post

This pattern held well for the first month. It gave balance. There was joy and satisfaction. I walked lots. I submitted two written pieces for PCANZ publications, two scholarly articles to international journal articles, completed final edits on another three scholarly pieces. I learnt to knit. I got out the highlighters and colour coded data from the Craftivist project.

The second 1/3 involved some external travel. I presented at a teaching and learning conference in Sydney and took the weekend to catch up with good friends. This was also part of complete – working the Thornton Blair Research data into a 20 minute presentation and a journal article. I went on haerenga (journey) engaging with Maori perspectives on their experience of the New Zealand Wars and re-connecting with the Presbyterian church marae at Ohope. This was part of deepen and of make – to undertake place-based learning and be on the land and among people.

The third 1/3 has been trying to complete the First Expressions book project. For the last month I’ve been working all day, most days. I had 5 major chapters and so many days left. Working on the 80/20 rule I have allocated the days and made a timetable.

IMG_7313

There is some flexibility – last week I got stuck into the Mission moves chapter rather than the apostolic chapter. This is the not fun part. There is only one task and the deadline is hard. I have a book contract in which I promised a book in May 2019. I can’t hold a 90,000 word book project in my head when I return to work. I didn’t get the book finished in my 2013 sabbatical and made little progress when I returned to work in 2014. So this last third is just solid writing. If I do well, I might shout myself a little walk. But basically it is write and edit 8 plus hours a day.

In some ways it is a shame to be ending with this sort of pressure. At the same time, I chose to play (make, deepen, connect) at the start of the outside study leave. And there will be huge relief if I can pull it off. I currently have 8 complete chapters, 2 complete chapters with a few holes to fill and 2 chapters rough full drafts but needing a final edit. On my good days, I think I will get there.

When I get tired, I imagine the feeling of returning the 40 borrowed books to the University library, of filing away the rough notes and of clearing the side desk of piles of draft chapters. The project is currently 90,000 words – that’s a lot of words – and I imagine holding the book.

Each week of the sabbatical, I randomly choose a Maori word from the Ira pack. This week – this last days week – the word is hūmārie – gentleness. May it be so.

Posted by steve at 09:33 AM

Monday, April 29, 2019

Mission Studies journal acceptance

Stoked to hear that my journal article – Cultural hybridity in conversion: an examination of “Hapkas” Christology as resistance and innovation in Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain – has been accepted (minor revisions) for Mission Studies. Mission Studies is the Journal of the International Association for Mission Studies and aims to be a forum for the scholarly study of Christian witness and its impact in the world. The article should be published at the end of the year.

It’s the 1st visible written result of my Outside Study Leave Project. It’s also the 3rd journal article I’ve had accepted this year – all focused on Oceania.

The acceptance came with some really lovely reviewer (2) comments – “an excellent article – well framed, written and a pleasure to read. … one of the best articles I have read in a while … Well done!”

Getting this published is a bit of a story of persistence. This particular piece of work began in August 2016 as a conference paper in Korea. It was further helped by the chance to present in March 2017 at a conference in Auckland. I then plugged away all through the rest of 2017 writing it up.  Finally I submitted it to a journal in November 2017. 4 days after I submitted, the editor of the journal emailed saying the journal was closing.

They were no longer taking submissions!

I was gutted. The focus of this article – PNG – is a non-Western nation and it makes it fairly tricky to get something published. The editor agreed it was exactly the type of article the journal existed for. But he had no choice. The University was making funding decisions and cutting the journal was part of their re-alignment of resourcing.

Throughout 2018 I lacked the mental space to do anything. But I’d done so much work already. So outside study leave this year finally gave me the mental space. Here’s what I did.

  • I identified another likely journal. I did this by going back to my two conference presentations and asking – who is talking about these things?
  • I cleared the desk and carefully read Pat Thomson’s internationalising a journal article
  • I settled on her question “what bigger international concern, debate, issue, question or an interest does my paper speak to?”; along with “How might my results inform the wider international conversation in the field?”
  • I read through the recent titles and abstracts of the journal I was targeting, reflecting on the international concern that my paper spoke to
  • I added in a new section to my paper (talking about  conversion, culture and revelation)
  • I then lightly edited the entire article, looking for ways to connect my article with this theme as outlined in the new section.
  • This included a restructure, in which I introduced a local/regional/global frame to help address the ‘How might my results inform the wider international conversation in the field’ question. It also was a way of seeking to keep the particularity (PNG), engage with the region (Oceania) and speak to the international debate
  • I rewrote the conclusion, again with a particular focus on engaging with the new section.
  • This then required a re-worked introduction, followed by the abstract and title (note the use of culture and conversion)
  • Finally, I did the detail work of changing all the references to conform to a different journal article

In the end, there were 1200 new words, over a number of afternoons. Thankfully the new journal accepted longer articles (up to 10,000 words – with the new words I had about 30 spare!)! And I was then intrigued to see the reviewer comment well framed. I think this is a consequence of the work I did in order to internationalise.

2000px-Flag_of_Papua_New_Guinea.svg Which means that PNG – my birth country – will be talked about in an international forum for the scholarly study of Christian witness! (Steve quietly hums the PNG national anthem …)

Anyhow, here is the abstract – This essay analyses Christian witness, applying a post-colonial lens to Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain to account for conversion and transformation in Papua New Guinea. A ‘hapkas’ (half-caste) Christology of indigenous agency, communal transformation and hybridity is examined in dialogue with New Testament themes of genealogy, redemption as gift and Jesus as the new Adam. Jesus as ‘good man true’ is placed in critical dialogue with masculine identity tropes in Melanesian anthropology. Jesus as ancestor gift of Canaanite descent is located in relation to scholarship that respects indigenous cultures as Old Testaments and post-colonial theologies of revelation which affirm cultural hybridity and indigenous innovation in conversion across cultures. This ‘hapkas’ Christology demonstrates how a received message of Christian mission is transformed in a crossing of cultures.

The other reason I’m really stoked is that this article was testing the waters. This is evident in one of the comments from Reviewer 1 – I am intrigued by the notion of “hapkas” christology and hope the author has a chance to expand on this analysis in subsequent research. Landing this article was for me part of my ongoing research plan. It was a stepping stone. It was clearing the ground, gaining scholarly approval, in order to take a further step in researching hybridity and genealogy in Christology.

Posted by steve at 09:00 AM

Sunday, January 13, 2019

writing in (church) season

Yesterday I emailed off a journal article to an international journal. It felt good – 10,000 words is an excellent achievement. It is a co-authored piece with an indigenous colleague. The work began a year ago, with an initial abstract (here). Over 2018, we have read together, talked, looked at some early Christian baptismal art, written some drafts and found ourselves agreeing on a shared outline.

However the way 2018 worked and with the usual end of year deadlines, the bulk of the writing needed to be done during last week, starting Monday 7th in order to meet a Friday 11th deadline. What was unexpected was the impact of the church season.

Sunday 6th was Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the Magi. As I blogged last week,

“So the Magi are best understood through the wisdom of indigenous journeys. The Magi are like the ancient navigators who guided canoes across the Pacific. They are drawing on ancient wisdom, shared from generation to generation, the lore of ocean currents, star patterns, migration of birds. This is a wholistic way of knowing, attending as fully present to earth and creation.”

So there was something profound about working through the week with indigenous insights regarding water, placing insights from Waves of Knowing: A Seascape Epistemology alongside the poetry of Robert Sullivan in Star Waka: Poems by Robert Sullivan and the oral history of the voyages of the Te Arawa canoe – all while gazing in the wonder at the Magi story of those who had the courage in ancient times to travel by stars.

Sunday 13th was the baptism of Jesus. The article we were writing was using a spiral methodology to trace connections between the baptism of Jesus, early Christian baptismal art, recent legal (Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal) research and indigenous knowing. So the daily lectionary readings through the week, the way that John the Baptist pre-figures Jesus, gave fresh insight and encouragement.

When I began the project, I had no idea I would be writing so in sync with the church season. It was simply the need to juggle holidays and meet a deadline. Not (really) wanting to return to work (and to writing) from holiday, the insights from the Magi story provided encouragement and motivation as the week began. As the deadline loomed, as colleagues gave rigourous feedback on drafts, the movement in the church season from Magi to baptism provided constant encouragement. What I was doing wasn’t abstract academia but was central to the story of the church.

Such are the gifts of writing in (church) season. This week at least!

Posted by steve at 06:38 PM

Friday, October 19, 2018

happy Steve being cited on teaching and learning

A week ago, happy Steve celebrated having two book chapters on research-led learning published in Wondering about God Together from SCD Press . (The story of how this came about is told here.)

Unknown-5

A closer read of the entire volume, all 460 pages, reveals my earlier research is being referenced in two other chapters. This is really quite cool, being cited and a useful resource in helping other theological educators reflect on the theory and practice of theological education.

In chapter 25, Integrating Theology in an age of Questioning, Les Ball uses my work which I presented at (Higher Education Research Group Adelaide), HERGA Conference, in Adelaide in 2015.  Titled – A class above: Evidence based action research into teaching that is connected, mobile and accessible in a higher education context).  Over two pages (420-421) Professor Ball uses my research on teaching and learning in relation to fostering dialogue. He affirms my work (both teaching and reflecting on that teaching) as an example of the vital role of the teacher in fostering integrative dialogue.  He also notes how I my work (both teaching and reflecting on that teaching) shows how “intentional teaching of such principles can be incorporated into the standard curriculum of any course – in systematic theology just as well as in field education” (page 421). In other words, I am providing an example/influencing the field of teaching in “the whole range of Bible, theology, history and ministry” (421) as well as more practical subjects. Applying my work (both teaching and reflecting on that teaching) can “help to produce graduates who can appropriate such principles and take them into their ministry and general life.” (421).

In chapter 24,  Theological education in context: Exploring the Delivery of Theological Education in a Multi-cultural setting, Bruce Allder uses my work in reflecting on teaching theology in Fiji, with the aim of offering a “missional approach to theological education that keeps contextuality as an important element alongside content, character and competency” (393).  Allder uses my research in  “Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning,” Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead, edited by In Les Ball and J. Harrison, Morning Star, 2014, 171-18.

Allder noted my argument that e-learning enables the student to remain in much closer proximity to their ministry context and thus increased the possibility of application (403).  Using my research, Allder concludes that “integrative learning does introduce a degree of complexity not found in a decontextualised approach.” (404) Reflecting on his own teaching, in realised that video conferencing “promoted student engagement and has improved the quality of work presented.” (404).  This is because it was used by students to discuss assessment together, which “minimised feelings of being overwhelmed.” (404).

So happy Steve – not only in writing two book chapters for Wondering about God Together, but in realising that my earlier work is being an exemplar and an encouragement to others in their journey of teaching theological education.

Posted by steve at 05:44 PM