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July 28, 2005

Christians and Muslims

An ancient story...

In 1219, Francis of Assisi traveled to the Holy Land to bring the gospel to the Muslims. Given a pass through enemy lines, he met with Sultan Melek Al-Kamil. A sickle-shaped sword presented to Francis by the sultan as a memento of their encounter can still be seen in Assisi...

Francis of Assisi was sorely troubled. A great army of his Christian countrymen had come to Egypt to fight the Mohammedans. They were on a crusade to win the Holy Land from the Turks. They were killing many people. Francis saw people starving; he saw little children dying. It was not right. What could he do to stop the terrible massacre?

read the rest here.

Posted by gary at 04:07 PM | Comments (1)

July 21, 2005

Media Influence

What are the key values that dominate mass media? Dr. David Walsh, author of Selling Out America's Children: How America Puts Profits before Values and What Parents Can Do, identifies six key values:
1. Happiness is found in having things.
2. Get all you can for yourself.
3. Get it all as quickly as you can.
4. Win at all costs.
5. Violence is entertaining.
6. Always seek pleasure and avoid boredom.
When children spend an average of over four hours engaged with Mass Media (internet, games, TV...) we have to pause to question who has the greatest influence over the next generation.

David Batstone reflects:

Several years ago I interviewed for Sojourners one of Australia's most favored sons, Tim Winton. Winton is a novelist who was nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize twice before he turned 40. When I interviewed Winton, he had just written Cloudstreet, perhaps his signature novel. One of the key characters in Cloudstreet is a woman who gets so fed up with her family that she takes up living in a tent in the family's backyard. I asked Winton how he conjured up the concept of the character.

To my surprise, he said that his grandmother lived in a tent in his backyard when he was growing up on the west coast of Australia. When I asked him if the neighbors thought that peculiar, he replied, "No, that was just grandma." He went on to lament that the push of media around the globe, with such narrow messages, "has squeezed all the eccentricity out of life." Winton then added with a sad voice, "Everyone just wants to be normal."

Yes, we celebrate individualism. But the truth is, I'm dying to meet an individual.

What is the response to this challenge? A simple lament and continue on as normal? How can a more balanced and a spiritual attitude to life be cultivated in this setting?

Clearly we need to make time and space away from the media with family and friends. The notion of "quality time" was used to justify minimal time with family for maximum impact. Unfortunately quality time only comes with quantity. It's often the last 10% which is the quality, and it's not easy to get there without the first 90%.

While ignoring mass media altogether is one option, our family takes the path of critical engagement. We watch movies and TV together, and critique the messages as well as the plots.

Engagement with the margins also helps to counteract the media messages related to prosperity and quality life.

Read one suggestion from David Batstone here.

Any other ideas?

Posted by gary at 02:38 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2005

Resurrection of Jesus 97% probable

An Oxford professor has used logic and mathematics to conclude that it is 97% probable that Jesus was raised from the dead. I would suggest however that the key issues to examine here are not in the calculations, but in the assumptions...

Read about it here.

Posted by gary at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2005

Still Using Dial-up Internet?

If you thought were staying on track with technology simply by being connected to the internet, this might sober you up a little...

Now... if only we could type faster too!

Posted by gary at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2005

We're Not Afraid!

Great new site "We're Not Afraid!" - a wonderful pictorial blog in which people express their intention not to be intimidated by terrorism. A powerful expression of non-violent resistance. Check it out here.

Posted by gary at 10:53 PM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2005

8 More Facts to Digest Today

The Melbourne Age ran these facts on its front page on July 2. They are worth pondering:

1. 30000 children die every day from preventable diseases
2. Nearly 11 million children under the age of five die every year
3. One woman dies every minute as the result of pregnancy and childbirth
4. More than 500,000 women die in childbirth and pregnancy every year
5. 58,000 people die each day from hunger and easily preventable diseases
6. One in five children in the developing world does not have access to safe water
7. 1.3 billion people live on less than $US1 a day
8. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the world's poorest 48 nations is less than the wealth of the world's three richest people combined.

It sat alongside a major article headed: "A child dies from poverty every three seconds" and subtitled: That's how long it took you to read the headline. In the time you've taken to read this, two more have died.

I kept the paper and missed the link, but you can view the front page here

The articles appeared in relation to Live8

Posted by gary at 09:08 PM | Comments (1)

July 14, 2005

Don't trust the packaging!!

OK, I'm about to confess to something embarrassing yet entirely understandable... About two years ago, while attending the first service in the new building for Central Chinese Baptist Church, I managed to score a special prize. I can't remember how I qualified for it, but was given a wrapped gift. I unwrapped it to reveal a pristine container marked "hot-sync cradle for Palm ..." Not having a palm pilot at the time, I put it to one side, even considering who I might give it to.

That was two years ago (or more!)

In the last week a dear friend who upgraded their own palm passed on their old one. After fiddling for a while, my memory was jogged in relation to this lovely box - still unopened - sitting in a cupboard. I retrieved the box and opened it up, only to find something which might be useful for doing a hot-sync with one's palm pilot, but not in the direct manner. It contained a glass coffee mug! A good cup of coffee might be helpful during the process (although it does not take that long), but it won't make it happen.

Never judge a book by its cover. Or a gift by its box.

OK, you can stop laughing....

Posted by gary at 08:59 PM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2005

Signs of Community

Each year thousands of people head into the desert in the USA for a festival known as Burning Man, which in itself has become an expression of community: drawing together people of all walks of life into a creative experience which lasts for a number of days.

As part of the preparations for Burning Man 2005, the organiser feel a need to offer an interesting reflection on community:

Burning Man is an Experiment in Temporary Community.

Because many people only know a world shaped by institutions, service workers and commercial transactions, they may not even recognize the signs of a community. Here are a few indications:


Communities are built on the recognition of the unique abilities of every member. Commerce and the public service sector define us on the basis of deficiency and need.

Collective Effort

Community is cooperative - uniting us as varied members of one body. When, by contrast, we consume a service, we're made passive. 50 million people may view a television program or consume a beverage in complete isolation from one another.


In the community, transactions of value take place without money, advertising, or hype. Care emerges in place of structured service.


In universities, people know through studies. In businesses and bureaucracies, people know by reports. In communities, people know by stories.


Community activities incorporate celebration, parties and other social events. The line between work and play is blurred and the human nature of everyday life becomes part of the way you work. You will know that you are in a community if you often hear laughter and singing.

Is it that community no longer comes naturally to us, or are the organisers seeking to define the parameters of their particular community gathering? Or have we defined community in institutional and rigid ways which mitigate against the very experience we are trying to create?

Community is a buzz word, perhaps indicative of its paucity of expression. Churches incorporate the word quite readily into their name, government organisations offer grants and create measuring sticks for its effectiveness. Can community be created intentionally, or does it just happen, or both? And is temporary community a different beast from continuing community?

Read the original article here.

Posted by gary at 01:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2005

MTV Ad censured

This advertisement aired a single time on MTV before it was removed. It is a powerful reflection on our present global context. What pressures were brought to bear to expedite its removal can only be surmised.

(scanned and cleared by Norton 2005)

Posted by gary at 09:38 AM | Comments (1)

The Unholy Trinity

In the wake of events of the past week, I posted the following comment on our sign board...

Global poverty : Global warming : Global terrorism - the unholy trinity.

Posted by gary at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2005

Prayer: Pilgrim or Tourist?

Imagine running a car in the same way we run our relationship with God in prayer: I suspect we’d end up waiting on the side of the road with an empty fuel tank much more than we care to confess.

In the free church tradition (where worship is not conducted according to prescribed liturgy) there is a trend towards scepticism in relation to spiritual disciplines and regular prayer time is concerned. We prefer our prayer to be spontaneous, even ‘continuous’, rather than prescribed according to time or form.

If we were prospecting for oil or gold, we would land upon a site and spend some time mining that place, ensuring we had explored it with enough energy and persistence to satisfy ourselves that there was no further fruit from that site before moving on. Even if a major strike were to be found, it would not be long before a search in another place was undertaken. Rather than wait for a site to be exhausted, the wise miner would do their best to ensure that there was continuity ahead.

We are more inclined to be tourists rather than pilgrims in our faith journey: racing across the landscape, looking for bits which immediately pique our interest. If something fails to connect immediately, we move on to the next place, sure that something better lies ahead. As a tourist, impulse access and availability are key. Given limited time, we choose the activities which give us immediate benefit for our tourist dollar. In prayer, the currency is time. With our desire for immediate results: unloading a burden, sharing a concern… we are caught up with the transitory matters, and the deeper relationship which is prayer is sacrificed.

There is no doubt that prayer born of passion and immediacy has value. But we need to recognise the value of structured and regular prayer also, nurturing our relationship with God and our spiritual journey in disciplined ways. In the same way that athletes are able to draw much more from their bodies through the discipline and constancy of their training – often involving repeated executions of the same drills and exercises – so a prayer life which includes such disciplined attention also has the capacity to spur us on to a deeper relationship with God and a spiritual journey more in tune with God’s presence throughout the day.

Ritual does not have to be dry. Discipline does not destroy freedom, but enhances it. A rich and nourishing prayer life finds spontaneity and discipline nurturing each other. For God is ever waiting to commune with us.

Posted by gary at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2005

Around the World in Eighty Minutes

Our celebration of culture and diversity last night, in support of our partner village in Southern Bangladesh, took on an entirely new meaning in the wake of the London bombings of the past week. The spectre of terrorism rises again, with its invitation to mistrust one another on the basis of belief or appearance. As we celebrated with eleven different cultural dishes in the meal, and a similarly diverse community gathered together to eat, we were invited to recognise the beauty that comes from difference, and yet the common humanity that we share.

The sad reality in the wake of terrorist acts since 2001 is that we have learned to divest ourselves of freedoms in an effort for greater security. With "illegal immigrants" being indefinitely detained in Australia (mostly genuine refugees, and some children), continued and increasing profiling of people according to belief, we are now subjected to a greater sense of fear and security restrictions. In an effort to defend our freedoms, we are giving them away, and demonstrating that we are really defending our economic interests and comfortable lifestyles. Which really is most important?

There is an unholy trinity at work: global poverty, global warming, and global terrorism, and until we recognise the integral link between the three, we are destined to invest increasing energy in protecting our prosperity at the cost of our freedom.

In this light, last night was a refreshingly counter-cultural event, where we refused to bow to the fear campaign. We greeted friend and stranger alike. We explored difference, not only in food, but in culture and in belief. And we discovered our common humanity.

And we began to own our own contribution to global poverty by doing something to restore the balance. We raised funds which would take widows off the streets of Bangladesh, where they currently need to beg for food daily. It is a small step. A seed, as it were. But isn't the kingdom of God like a mustard seed: the tiniest of all?

Posted by gary at 05:44 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2005

Tensions in the Changing Face of Church

Andrew Jones offers a thoughtful reflection on the changing tensions in the church today over at Tall Skinny Kiwi. While he defines these tensions as part of the emerging church movement, I think they reflect a broader tension than between two institutional ways of looking at church.

Jones writes:
I have noticed there is still a lot of tension in the relationship between emerging church and the traditional church. Not as much as you think, but there is certainly a lot of heated discussion, mud-slinging and tabloid criticism. There is even the threat of physical abuse and organizations withdrawing favor, or young people leaving their denominations and starting fresh expressions of church without the blessing of their elders. Not good! The emerging church is called to be a reconciling community and part of that reconciliation must happen in the realm of communication.

The points he makes are valid and certainly real tensions, but on the one hand I'm not sure whether they are so easily broken into the two groups he defines. A large part of what he defines as emerging has been my practice in ministry for over 10 years, perhaps with increasing emphasis, but not without abandoning the "other side". The future calls us to find the link between the two and give practical application to the tension.

I like to see the concept of emerging through the lens of tree growth: each new layer emerging through the previous, bearing many of its characteristics, but giving it new shape and new identity, and new strength. To create artificial distinctions between the two increases the capacity to create warfare and disagreement, demonising the other, rather than examining for strength and insight.

These tension points have been around the church for over a decade, and perhaps it is that in the emerging scene they are grappling with it without necessarily having the historical journey... a tree needing to discover its roots?

Nonetheless, the points of tension are worth reflecting upon from the perspective of balance within one's community.

Posted by gary at 01:01 PM | Comments (1)

July 05, 2005

7:30 Report

To watch oneself being interviewed on television is rather disconcerting. But to watch images of your fragile son, even ones from years gone by, was an intensely emotional experience. Tonight's 7:30 Report: Is a tiny life worth saving? piece on the challenges facing infants born at the threshold of viability was well-balanced without really grappling with the depth of the issues (what can one do in six or seven minutes with such a loaded topic?) I confess to butterflies, wondering which aspects of a long interview would appear and in what context they would be set. One does not have to say the wrong thing: it is a matter of the context in which they sit which can create as many problems!

What fascinates me is that there is a focus on the initial decisions and not the ongoing impact of those decisions, as well as the experience that accompanies them. It is hard to imagine that someone could be given such power over another life and remain unchanged. To contemplate the possibility of terminating treatment of a loved one is no easy choice, yet places the power of life and death in ill-prepared hands. Such is the power of modern medicine.

Posted by gary at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2005

Sines in Melbourne

It has been great to spend time with Tom and Christine Sine while they have been in Melbourne over the past week. Their consistent call to unpack the cultural influence on our understanding of the gospel so that our discipleship reflects kingdom values at the core, rather than Western materialism with a spiritual overlay, is an abiding prophetic word in the West. Since the initial publication of The Mustard Seed conspiracy in the 1970s theirs has been a voice in the wilderness against the continual sublimation of the radical discipleship call of Jesus to the American Dream.

Tom and Christine were in Melbourne for the Forge conference held on the weekend, as they sought to encourage the younger generation who are seeking to reimagine church beyond the traditional denominational paradigms. They were greatly encouraged by the breadth of commitment and work being undertaken by Australian christians to engage in radical gospel mission.

Tom is currently working on a rewrite of The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, updating it for the new challenges of the new millennium. He'd be happy to hear your responses and any stories you might like to share about what God is doing at the creative edge of church today.

Posted by gary at 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

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