Friday, September 13, 2019

writing goalless in Germany

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

peer-reviewed in an international journal in a discipline not my own

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“Religious piety and pigs’ brains”: the faith of zombies in Burr Steers’s Pride, Prejudice and Zombies,” Persuasions On-Line 38 (3), 2018.

So I’m celebrating having a journal article in an international, peer-reviewed journal (Persuasions Online) in a discipline not my own.  It’s quite an achievement to be published, let alone internationally, let alone in a different discipline.

I’m chuffed. 

It has been a strange and demanding journey.  Flinders University has a Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities (FIRtH) which encourages collaborative and cross-disciplinary research across a wide range of fields in the Humanities and Creative Arts. In 2017, it was the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen. This is a big thing – her appearance on a new 10 pound note in England and Hampshire staging a year-long series of events across the county in 2017. And in Australia, FIRtH decided to make Austen a focus.  Given I still have connections with Flinders University, as I supervise four PhD’s to completion, I was invited to contribute a piece on religion, popular culture and Austen. My teenage kids at the time were enjoying Pride And Prejudice And Zombies the movie.  I was aware it included a communion scene and in response to the FIRtH invitation, began to watch, looking at how the Christian practice of communion was being portrayed.

I provided some thoughts in a cross-Tasman video, was offered an airfare to a symposium presentation, followed by an invitation to develop my work for a special edition of Persuasions Online, a digital, peer-reviewed publication of the Jane Austen Society of North America.   This was very new territory for me – English literature, Jane Austen, international. 

But it gave me a chance to reflect on sacraments and the Gospel of Luke.  It enabled me to think more deeply about post-colonialism. I have also published a range of pieces on U2 and so this was a chance to expand my thinking into zombies.  It also was a chance to test in practical reality a theoretical piece I wrote in 2009 (a chapter in The Spirit of Truth: Reading Scripture and Constructing Theology with the Holy Spirit) in which I argued for the presence of God in popular culture. It sounded good in theory, but would my theory stand when applied to zombies?

I researched and wrote with a constant voice: is this a good use of my time as Principal of a theological college. In the midst of a funding crisis, was this a good use of church resources? 

One way to respond was to do much of this in my own time. I took leave to attend the symposium in October 2017, used days in lieu in March 2018 to complete the first draft and drew down on holidays in June to respond to reviewer comments.

At the same time, I also believed this was public missiology.  Missiologists talk a lot about engaging culture, yet very few seem to work in popular culture, the songs and movies which are the soundtrack to the lives of so many. Missiologists also talk a lot about crossing cultures. So why not cross into another discipline and place my thinking before the critical eyes of Austen lovers (the society has 5,000 members!) and people who care deeply about the English language?

I did however, underestimate the demands involved in moving across disciplines. The last few months have become particularly pressured, as I navigated multiple peer reviews and the challenge to write for literary lovers rather than theologians. The result has been a string of “thanks for your patience” emails, to PhD students and in relation to other writing deadlines.

Anyhow, the piece has just been published – “Religious Piety and Pigs’ Brains”: The Faith of Zombies in Burr Steers’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 38: 3, 2018.

Because I work in popular culture, the article has pictures:

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The article has headings: 
The meaning of zombies in academic discourse  
Applying zombie theory to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  
Afterlives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke 
(Un)sacramental theologies
The present problems of piety 
 

And here are some words, that point to what I was trying to do:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that art has the potential to disturb contemporary pride and historical prejudice.  Realizing this truth, however, requires us to locate the literary worlds so artfully created by Jane Austen in relation to the economic realities and colonizing impact of the British Empire around the turn of the nineteenth century 

The British empire was powered not only by economic and military might but also by Britons’ understanding of Christianity, including the claiming and exploitation of overseas territories.  Desmond Tutu famously declared, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land.  They said ‘Let us pray.’  We closed our eyes.  When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land” (The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon (Biblical Interpretation Series) 326).  Tutu’s challenge invites us to consider the religious practices of Austen’s England.  How might the sacramental practices of communion and the prayers and sermons heard by Elizabeth and Darcy make them complicit in the economic injustices that accompanied colonial expansion?  

Rather than dismissing zombies as an example of popular culture hubris, the argument presented here suggests the zombies in Steers’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies provide viewers with an ethical trope, post-colonial in both sense and sensibility.  Analysis of the zombie trope as socio-cultural phenomenon is followed by an examination of Steers’s film—a hermeneutic “zombie-gesis,” if you will—with particular attention to a scene in which zombies partake of holy communion at the Church of St. Lazarus.  This scene brings into focus the portrayal of Lazarus in the Christian Gospels, particularly Jesus’s parable in Luke 16:19–31 and what it means to consume the body of Christ.  It also arguably exposes the entanglement of Anglican religion and the English colonial project in Austen’s world, pointing to the culturally constructed conjunction of Biblical texts, Western Christianity, and the social world of Regency England.  

In this reading, the role of zombies in the movie is neither parodic nor simply a money-making device.  Rather, the movie inserts an ethical trope, post-colonial in sense and sensibility, that questions the economic system on which the literary world of Austen is built, the ways in which religion can use piety to maintain the status quo, and the complexities involved in seeking to enact justice in the present.  

A careful reading of the Exodus story, however, suggests that a third option is possible.  Exodus And Revolution argues that the promised land holds the hope of equality:  “if no member of the holy nation is an oppressor, then no inhabitant of the promised land is oppressed” (109).  Such an understanding provides a way for the proto-zombies to enact a disciplined freedom that would also be a way of applying justice in their present.  As inhabitants of England, the proto-zombies are a physical reminder of the need for justice.  By holding themselves back from becoming full zombies, they seek partnership in a promised land in which none, whether genteel English or zombie, is oppressed or oppressing. Their deliberate formation provides a critique of the actions of Darcy and Wickham and also of the mobilization of religion only in the future tense.  It suggests that Luke 16:19–31 can be read as an apocalyptic text.  The dualisms of proto-zombie and human can be respected.  

The film, read in light of the Exodus text preached at the Church of St. Lazarus, thus offers a vision of a new beginning for England as a place of justice for all.  The servants at Pemberley need no longer be silent; those who grow the finest grapes, nectarines, and peaches will be justly rewarded, and the soldiers at Meryton need no longer be deployed to maintain the power of a colonial Britain.  This future vision begins now, in the sharing of a moral formation in which all—colonized and colonizer, zombie and human—share a common set of standards and take responsibility for their own agency.

The presence of the zombies points to significant fault-lines that threaten the privileged and complacent social world of Austen’s time.  In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies they remind readers and viewers of the unsolved problem of social inequality and the ways in which religion and literature can both support and disturb the status quo, including the apparent certainties of Jane Austen’s social and religious world.

Posted by steve at 04:37 PM

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Writing August

andrew-neel-308138-unsplash I write to communicate, to make public internal connections, to clarify internal dialogue. As I write, it becomes a spiritual practice, as I examine my internal world, step into into conversations and respond to provocation – sometimes external, often internal.  Part of my writing is personal, through the reality of a journal in which I reflect on my inner world. Another part of my writing is public, reflecting on change, leadership, mission and innovation.

My writing in the last month has felt pressured, personal and piecemeal. It’s not been a space I’ve enjoyed. There has been a range of external deadlines that have pushed, pulled and twisted my priorities. A constant pressure has been a string of final edit emails in relation to an academic journal article.  In a discipline not my own, for an international publication, it’s been a project that kept bouncing back, as the editors worked diligently. I was grateful.

Grudgingly.

At the same time, I’ve been juggling a number of deadlines for shorter pieces of work in more accessible formats. These have become pieces that are intensely personal and immensely satisfying.

  • 2000 words Redeeming a Past: An Ancestor Perspective – for a book on Christianity in New Zealand. I explore my PNG experience in light of a range of other projects I’ve been working on.  I’ve suddenly realised that my work on indigenous readings of Jesus genealogy and decolonisation in writings that connect to Papua New Guinea and atonement theologies of Irenaeus are in fact part of integrating my present with my past.
  • 1000 Snapshots – children of Tangaroa (wai) – for the annual KCML making research accessible publication. This has involved writing with someone who has become my tuakana, an elder brother, guiding me in reading the Whanganui River Waitangi Tribunal report theologically.
  • 600 words SPANZ – “Ko koutou nga uri o Te Tahu Ngahere,” a missiology of being Presbyterian in the burning bush
  • 900 words Zadok – You can’t eat lilies: the future of precarious work column – a reflection on the words of Jesus in light of workplace restructures, Artificial intelligence, indigenous cultures, Immanuel Kant and The Odyssey

With these deadlines met through August, I can return back to a book chapter on migration and theological education. This was due the end of June and my inability to engage, because of the above deadlines, has been demoralising.

I don’t like missing deadlines.

But this week it was a joy to be back in the project.

And then perhaps, by mid-September, some clear space, in order to begin (editorial board meeting in September) what I’m hoping will be a third book, on sustainability in fresh expressions of church.

Posted by steve at 10:17 PM

Thursday, August 16, 2018

identity: pondering the interplay between indigenous and hybridity

What I think is at stake is how identity is constructed. In modern colonial worlds, we construct either-or (for more see Robert Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race). At the heart of The Mountain, by Drusilla Modjeska, is an exploration of hybridity. It is done through the use of a word from Tok Pidgin, that of hapkas. Here is a great piece of dialogue from the book:

“Hapkas. It’s a great word. My kids use it all the time. They call themselves hapkas. I’m from the Sepik, their mother’s from Milne Bay. It’s a point of pride. Makes them interesting … Haven’t you heard of hybridity.” (The Mountain, 278).

So in contemporary PNG, rather than either-or constructs, hybridity is nurtured. The interplay between identity, being indigenous and hybridity is also the heart of author Modjeska’s struggle. Can she, from another place, write about PNG? Or can only indigenous people write about PNG? But then what is indigenous? Is one indigenous by blood, birth, or social construct? If social construct, who has defined it? Most likely the coloniser; as a term to construct people who are ‘other.’ And in so doing the term indigenous homogenises. Perhaps not in countries with one indigenous culture (although even in those countries there seems to be tribal identities that suggest distinctives). But applied to countries with diverse cultures, it becomes a piece of linguistic trickery that is difficult to sustain. How can a person from Milne Bay, one of the 800 plus languages, write a PNG perspective that speaks for all those 800 languages? They can’t, yet the category of “indigenous” as applied to a nation, of PNG, suggests this is possible. We need ways to escape binary worlds and to name the fluid patterns of migration and cultural exchange which have always categorised human identity. This is what make notions of hybridity so generative.

Posted by steve at 12:44 PM

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Was it …. how did I manage to write 6,200 words in 8 hours?

On Sunday morning, I woke grateful for words. I experienced a deep feeling of joy and gratitude, of the way that in the beginning, there is silence and the potential of words to create meaning, bring clarity and express love.

It had been a wierd weekend. I had spent Saturday in bed with a head cold, aware I needed to preach that Sunday morning at South Dunedin. So waking grateful for words gave purpose and joy as I woke early, headed to work to print off some visual resources and then drove to South Dunedin.

As I arrived, I recognised faces from the last time I visited in March. A person stopped me to recall my opening sermon story and name one of the art images I used. A reminder of words heard, pondered.

Following the service, I walked St Kilda beach in the sharp winter sun. I listened to Luke Hurley’s The Sound on repeat, pondering the gift of sound, to minister to the ozone hole in the human soul.

Later that day, I sat down to a writing deadline due that day, a request to submit a book chapter for an International publication. I had no hope of meeting it, but I wondered if I could send them what I had and let them decide whether to grant me an extension or move on without me. Either was, I was relaxed.

Words began to flow. I had some scraps: a conference paper (Missiological approaches to the “Silence” of religious change) from 2016 and a conference paper (Seeing Silence) from 2017. Some 300 words of jotted thoughts stored in Evernote that tumbled out one morning as I walked a few weeks ago. I had drafted an introduction a few days ago. This gave me a cohesive argument. Buttressed by the scraps, the words began to flow.

By that evening, some 5 hours later, I had written 5.200 words. Encouraged by the progress and with a relatively clear diary on the Monday morning, I returned to the project. The due date was set by a Northern Hemisphere editor, so I did still have a few hours!

I rearranged two sections and the project felt much more coherent. I wrote an conclusion. This meant I could write the abstract. I had 6,800 words. In the space of less than 24 hours, over about 8 hours, I had wrote 6,200 words.

I picked up my afternoon tasks and once the office went quiet, I moved from writing mode to editing mode. I printed off the chapter and read the entire 6,800 words aloud, making editorial changes as I went. There was plenty to change: some paragraph arguments to strengthen, some repetition to delete. But it remained, in my opinion, a coherent, imaginative, researched piece of considered missiology, engaging the literature, yet offering genuinely new insights in a dialogue between film studies and Christian witness.

Later than evening, with the changes made, I emailed the chapter – “Understanding conversion in light of the “Silence” of religious change’” for Conversion as a lived experience: Narratives and experiences of converts as a source for missiological reflection to the editors. They will read and respond and more review is likely. As it should be with academic work. Then the book as a whole will go to a publisher and to peer review. Who might turn it down. As is always possible with academic work.

Despite the uncertainty, I sit with a concrete reality: that I wrote 6,200 words in two 8 hour periods; that in less than 24 hours I smashed out an academic book chapter. For the last few years, I’ve been snack writing – regular, limited, settting aside time 4 days a week to write. An hour a day, first thing every morning. In a cafe so I’m less likely to be disturbed by work. Snack writing is placed in contrast to binge writing – large slabs of time, often when faced by a deadline. Snack writing has dramatically increased my output. But on Sunday, here I was binge writing, and finding myself remarkably productive. When I snack write, I tend to write about 300 words an hour. That means it would take me 21 days, or 5 weeks (at 4 mornings a week) to produce the amount of words I crafted in the 8 hours of Sunday and Monday.

As I’ve shared my shocked relief at meeting the deadline with colleagues, we’ve together tried to understand the productivity. Is there anything here to be bottled, to be learnt from, as I seek to understand myself?

  • Are they rubbish words that will be rejected, as the imposter syndrome kicks in?
  • Was it the scraps – the two conference papers and some words stored on evernote – that in reality meant I was working from a rough draft?
  • Was it the introduction, which I had struggled over in the week prior, which provided the clarity to guide the scraps into coherence?
  • Was it the topic, something close and dear to my heart, which meant I had many internal resources to draw from?
  • Was it the carefree knowledge that I had no hope of meeting the deadline, which generated a sense of playful, what the heck?
  • Was it the down tools day prior, mixed with the sheer luxury of a Monday morning with no appointments, and so a sense of stepping, rested, into a brief moment of space?
  • Was it the gift of awakening on Sunday morning with joy and gratitude, sensing the potential of words to create meaning, which turned what felt like a chore the week prior, into a creative, joyful?
  • Was it the response at South Dunedin, the grateful praise for words spoken prior?
  • Was it the walk on St Kilda, the tonic of sea breeze and Dunedin sounds?
  • Was it unrepeatable, a one-off gift to savour?
  • Was it ….
Posted by steve at 10:54 PM

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

words sneak

Words sneak. Quietly they steal away from the page. In the dark of night, they make their way over fences and across borders. They swim oceans and sidestep continents.

On Monday, waiting for an appointment in Mt Eden, I checked a website and noted an article on teaching U2 at Nebraska Wesleyan University, USA.

To prepare students for analyzing this performance, I ask them to read “’Bullet the Blue Sky’ as an Evolving Performance” by Steve Taylor from Scott Calhoun’s Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 (2012). Taylor examines the different meanings of “Bullet The Blue Sky” over the years, from The Joshua Tree album (U.S. involvement in Central America in the 1980s) and how the song is adapted for new audiences and issues, such as during its Slane Castle performance in U2 Go Home (global arms trade in the 2000s). (more here).

IMG_6133 Words that I wrote about U2, for Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2, sneaking across oceans, to be read by University students in USA.

On Monday, sitting at a bus stop, waiting for public transport to Queen Street, I see a tweet.

“My copies of this book awaited me at Ferney, very well written, beautiful theological, ecumenical and personal approach to the role of collaboration in the leadership of innovation. Nice work on 1 Cor 3 and 4 and concerning the example of Peguy – Jane Stranz (Translated from French).

book Words that I wrote about innovation and leadership, in Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, finding life in Europe.

On Tuesday, returning from Auckland to my office in Dunedin, a parcel awaits me from the United Kingdom. Inside, a book, compliments of the publisher, in which is a poem that I wrote.

published poet Words that I offered as prayer at a book launch in Australia back in 2013, heard by someone present, passed onto a Sister of Nazareth, woven into a foreword for a Catholic publication.

Over the last months, I’ve often wondered why I wrote. With two journal articles due on the same day at the beginning of March, I’ve faced some long days and late evenings. There’s been a cost – days in lieu consumed by editing, evenings strapped to a desk.

Today I’m reminded that once written, words sneak. Poetic, academic, life reflective: they cross borders and leaps oceans, they play tag around denominations and juggle past different faith systems. Today I’m grateful that words sneak and to all those – authors, publishers, copy editors, reviewers, readers, tweeters, bloggers – who care for words.

Posted by steve at 09:09 PM

Friday, February 23, 2018

research play in the inbetween spaces

Unknown I’ve had a rich, demanding, draining and playful 24 hours. It has involved 24 hours gazing out the window of the Business School at Auckland University, finding generative space in a conversation between social entrepreneurship and theology.

It began last year, when we at KCML piloted the Lighthouse, an educative weekend encouraging local churches in innovation. Funded by an external funder, the funders challenged us to draw on resources from outside the Presbyterian theological world. A number of conversations and networks over the next few months resulted in working with a lecturer from the Business School at Auckland University. As we began she challenged us: what does Christ-based innovation look like? What in Christian resources might encourage the making of all things new?

The result was a rich weekend, in which I worked through the 6 images of innovation in my Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, while the lecturer introduced contemporary innovation practices liked the Innovation Canvas and Rituals of dissent. Participants loved it.

As the weekend concluded, we wondered aloud about doing some writing together. Hence the last 24 hours. Having listened to each other teach over a weekend last year, we met yesterday and began to toss around possibilities for publications. We searched the web for journals. We shared the things we had learnt:

  • could the social entrepreneurship of Joseph Schumpeter provide a way to understand the church as apostolic?
  • could Jesus as fool in 1 Corinthians 4 be read in light of the Biblical Wisdom literature as a way of encouraging resilience and risk-taking in social entrepreneurship?

We used the 40 paragraph technique, chose two different journals, one business, the other theological and began to map out what we might say. We had coffee and mindmapped. We challenged each other and made new connections. We shared journal articles and insights from previous writing.

We now both step away, to meet other commitments. Yet we have a clear map and enough structure to keep on writing. We are both working on our strengths and will need each other to ensure the interdisciplinary conversation continues.

It was rich, demanding, draining and playful. It is interdisciplinary, seeing what emerges in the inbetween spaces. It is a form of benchmarking – taking my speaking and exposing it to another academic, seeing what is making sense and what needs clarifying.

Posted by steve at 04:08 PM