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August 28, 2005

How do you see?

It was a tense moment as the crowd gathered. The smell of anticipation filled the air, which reverberated with accusation and defence. The atmosphere was at tinder point, ready to explode when Jesus walked into the midst. Instead of reducing the tension, his appearance took it to a new level. Ever suspicious of his commitment to the ways of God, the baying mass found opportunity to test him. While a timid woman lay on the ground cowering, the baying masses began to articulate her plight: ‘Homewrecker!’ ‘Adultress!’ ‘Filthy whore!’ In the chaos the accusation was focussed towards Jesus: ‘This woman was caught in adultery. The law demands she be stoned. What do you say?’ The line was drawn in the sand for Jesus: ‘do you uphold the standards of God?’

It is a fair assessment to state that none of the accusers felt any sense of empathy with this woman: she was in no way seen to be like them, or they like her. That her name is lost to history leaves her faceless and nameless to future generations. How easy to demonise those who are different to us. By drawing a line and putting people on the other side we are released from seeing them as human with us, sharing a common struggle. It is a tactic used through all generations. Our lack of understanding destroys compassion.

Jesus stooped to draw in the sand, then stood to indicate a different line to the one they had drawn for him: ‘OK, if it’s true, let the one who is without sin throw the first stone,’ he said before stooping again to draw in the sand. Where the religious ones had drawn a line to emphasise their difference, Jesus drew one to invite them to see their similarity. Not one could bring them to kill something or someone who was like them.

We are continually being invited to see the difference in others, whether it be in the colour of their skin, the religious or political preferences people express, or in the country of birth or manner of arrival in this country. In our quest to be unique, we are effectively asked to deny significant parts of our humanity. It was a mark of Jesus that he saw good in people traditionally regarded as evil: tax collectors, gentiles, prostitutes… the list could go on. We do well to ask us what conditioned the attitude of Jesus towards those considered outcast.

Two different sets of people looking at the same situation, each inviting a different outcome: Jesus invited the accusers to see aspects of their own lives in the woman they were seeking to condemn, while they challenged Jesus to see her as something ‘other’.

How do you see?

Posted by gary at 04:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2005

Rick Warren's Grand Vision

Is this the new Christendom? Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven passion is now extending to Rwanda, which he wants to use as a prototype for the first "purpose driven nation".

For months the clergyman has alluded in general terms to an immense volunteer effort called the PEACE plan, aimed at transforming 400,000 churches in 47 nations into centers to nurse, feed and educate the poor and even turn them into entrepreneurs. Its details remain unknown, but its Rwandan element seems to have outrun the rest. Warren says he was "looking for a small country where we could actually work on a national model," and Kagame, impressed by The Purpose-Driven Life, volunteered Rwanda in March. In July Warren and 48 other American Evangelicals, who have backgrounds in areas like health, education, micro-enterprises and justice, held intensive planning meetings with Rwandan Cabinet ministers, governors, clergy and entrepreneurs. One dinner was attended by a third of the Rwandan Parliament. Says Scott Moreau, a professor of missiology at Wheaton College in Illinois: "I've never heard of this level of cooperation in the last 100 years between any megachurch, mission agency or even a denomination and a national government."

In addition to the article's reference to Protestant and Catholic involvement in the 1993 genocide, one wonders about the cross-cultural implications of what is largely a Western approach to life. The history of christian-directed nations does not stand up well. Can one turn a successful voluntary program from another culture into a national imprint?

Posted by gary at 03:05 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2005

The Secret of Successful Church Ministry

Is this really gospel?

Most churches fail to make a good impression on visitors because they focus on the wrong things, according to a representative of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.... Visitors decide whether to return [to church] based on such factors as the building’s appearance and the friendliness of greeters, Hammond said.

Forget commitment to justice, mercy and righteousness. Forget the power of the gospel to transform lives. The speaker's main focus (although perhaps not his key message) is that an attractive church campus, friendly greeters, and guest parking is the essence of a good church. The more central point: "we hear the preaching of the Word of God but don't experience it" is interpreted through the grid of a smile from another. Is this what we have reduced the church to? Perhaps this explains the American search for spirituality in places other than the church.

When did the primary determinant of successful church get reduced to the number of bums on a seat on Sunday?

Posted by gary at 05:03 PM | Comments (2)

August 25, 2005

They're everywhere, everywhere!

The following piece is written by Waleed Aly...

My wife refers to football as my mistress. I do not vigorously dispute this. I confess that I am a Richmond tragic. I go to every game I can, and many games I shouldn’t. I freely admit I am addicted.

This year has been even worse. My Tigers have had a reasonable year, and the world has become ever more depressing. My wife tolerates my weekly retreat into the footballing cocoon because she understands how necessary it is for my sanity. It is my release. My brief escape from a world of ugly words and images.

It is this ugliness that compels me to write, and just now I have a mountain of writing ahead of me. Last weekend it reached the point where my weekly ritual was gravely threatened. My compromise was to take my laptop to the football. There would be opportunities before the game and at half-time to bash out a few paragraphs.

As half-time approached, with the Tigers staring at a belting, it was time to begin. The siren sounded, the little leaguers ran on to the field, and the ideas began to flow. The strangest places are often the most productive writing environments.

But my productivity would be interrupted. Within five minutes a young man wearing an official, red, Telstra Dome coat approached and sat next to me. Calling me mate, he asked me to turn off my laptop. It seemed an odd request. I know there are AFL and stadium objections to filming during matches. I knew of no objection to writing. I asked him why.

Apparently stadium management had received complaints from spectators. The sight of my open laptop in the grandstands had made people edgy. I still didn’t understand. The Telstra Dome official explained himself as diplomatically as possible. “You know with the way things in the world are at the moment,” he said. “Especially for dark people like you and me.” Until then I hadn’t noticed his skin colour.

This was my first alert-but-not-alarmed experience.

I have spent a long time since this incident wondering how I am meant to feel about it. Should I feel safer and be thankful for the public’s vigilance? If so, then sorry, I do not. I fail to see how this makes Australia any safer. I know nothing about explosives, but how could a laptop be any more dangerous than, say, a mobile phone? Should people with dark skin not take calls at the football? You know, for our security.

However I am meant to feel about this, I know how I did feel: humiliated. Never have I wanted so much to be invisible. I contemplated going home, but it is against my football supporter’s code of honour. And in any event, it would have looked even worse; as though I had no business there once I was found out. I had no idea who among the 30,000-strong crowd complained, but I could feel their burning, suspicious gaze upon me. I couldn’t shake the thought that some unknown people suspected I might be a terrorist. I wondered if they were also Richmond fans, and for some irrational reason, the thought embarrassed me even more. All I could do was retreat into the game, pretending I was just like any other supporter. Lying to myself, basically.

It was the first time in my life I felt like I wasn’t an Australian.

Maybe that’s because we’ve created a new Australia. One that is so very different from the country in which I was born and raised. That is the power of fear. It triggers social implosion. It can cause societies to tear themselves apart without the need for external interference. And it is antithetical to the charming brashness of the Australian myth.

Ultimately, this is not a story about me, but about us, and what our country will become if we do not reclaim it from its present trajectory. Beyond this singular event lies a more lasting concern. I am over my initial anger and embarrassment – time heals all wounds. But I carry with me a nagging anxiety for my society’s soul. Time does not, by itself, cure all afflictions.

Posted by gary at 11:57 PM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2005

What's Been Happening...

The last month has seen me making a switch in focus as I turn my attention to a research project which has been on my plate for over six years. I am now devoting half of my time to rounding out this project: looking at the impact on families who have extremely premature infants. I am currently reading in the areas of faith development, looking at the ways in which people's response to the extended crisis of extreme prematurity impacts their world-view. In one sense it is an examination of a faith journey which does not take place within a christian framework. Fowler's Stages of Faith has been the latest read... Fowler seems unable to extricate himself from the framework of a christian worldview, assuming that the ultimate of faith development will lead someone to a christian profession. A healthy contrast is the work of Robert Kegan, whose focus is on the activity of meaning-making as something fundamental to what it is to be human. In his two key works, Kegan takes the approach of embeddedness (we rest within certain frameworks unless prised out) and then that of being "in over our heads".

At the bottom, however, is an uncritical acceptance of development as a paradigm, which assumes that people move from one level of thinking to another, with an implied "best" level to be attained, a view borrowed from psychology. It is a thoroughly modern and linear approach. I'm not sure life is so simple, or sequentially organised.

Further reading and thoughts to follow...

Posted by gary at 08:29 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2005

Brother Roger

The murder of Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé, community in Eastern France brings a remarkable end to a remarkable life. Brother Roger's concern for developing spirituality lead him to establish prayer groups committed to peace and reconciliation in Poland, East Germany and Hungary before the fall of communism, based in both Protestant and Catholic circles became a significant catalyst amongst younger folk for change. The Taizé prayer movement now spans the globe.

Brother Roger was also a driving force behind World Youth Day, held this week in Cologne, and recently announced as coming to Australia in 2007.

His amazing capacity to touch people across denominations and outside the traditional church makes him a unique man of God.

Posted by gary at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

Server Problems

Sorry it's been a bit quiet - server problems have prevented any updates for over a week. Normal programming should resume poste haste!

Posted by gary at 06:28 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2005

Seasonal Rhythms

The challenge of finding a rhythm which gives life to us, and nurtures us has become increasingly perplexing. The unravelling of our connection with creation’s rhythms began with the introduction of the electric light and gathered pace when houses were equipped with central heating and cooling. We can now function without respect to the daylight hours, and program sleep around our own wishes. Here in West Melbourne I could hold a game of cricket or football at any hour of the day or night, such is the availability of light from the surrounding streets and buildings. Is it any wonder that we are pushing ourselves to the limit and beyond when the normal limitations have been removed.

But this lack of rhythm has extended to the seasons. Although some might argue the [significant] problems of global warming, the globalisation of the food economy has stripped us from our connection to our land and environment. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a sign of summer’s arrival when water melon and strawberries began to appear in the household. This week, in the depths of winter, both fruits have been consumed. What does this do, not only to our rhythms, but our connection with our environment?

The seasonal rhythms are as essential to the health of the flora and fauna as the daily ones. I stood amazed during a total eclipse when I listened to the evening sounds of the bird life appearing in the middle of the day: taking the dimming of sunlight as the cue the birds moved into the evening routines, only to reemerge in the following half hour as the eclipse passed. Some birds migrate during the colder months, fish move to different parts of the stream to spawn according to the season, and in winter months deciduous trees shed their leaves and tamp down until the spring draws out the new leaves.

With the absence of seasons so creatively constructed, how do we find rhythms in life which encourage us to slow down, draw breath, take up different challenges and responsibilities while letting go of others. The closest we approach in Melbourne is the switch between the cricket and football season, although these lines are increasingly blurred.

To find life-giving rhythms is always a challenge. In a setting where the natural environment is suppressed, even countered, we need to work hard to ensure that we aren’t simply swept along in a tide, encountering a waterfall before we recognise where the river has taken us.

Posted by gary at 04:47 PM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2005

Brian McLaren.. Becoming Convergent (part 3)

The final instalment can now be read here.

Posted by gary at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

Brian McLaren (part 2)

"Becoming Convergent" Read the continuing reflection by McLaren here. Part 3 to follow tomorrow.

Posted by gary at 05:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2005

What's Happening in the Emerging Church?

Part 1 of a three-part reflection by Brian McLaren, who seems to be "emerging" as the spokesperson of the Emerging Church movement in the US. An insightful piece - in part 1 Brian reflects on his own journey of faith.

If you don't know McLaren, his book "A New Kind of Christian" is a good place to start.

Posted by gary at 08:54 PM | Comments (2)

Models of The Church

Another quiz, based on Avery Dulles' Models of the Church
. Seems I confused the quizmaster somewhat...

You scored as Sacrament model. Your model of the church is Sacrament. The church is the effective sign of the revelation that is the person of Jesus Christ. Christians are transformed by Christ and then become a beacon of Christ wherever they go. This model has a remarkable capacity for integrating other models of the church.

Servant Model

72%

Sacrament model

72%

Herald Model

67%

Mystical Communion Model

67%

Institutional Model

22%

What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with QuizFarm.com

Posted by gary at 07:50 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2005

Our ability to see what's there

New Scientist Magazine recently reported on a series of experiments which demonstrate how easy it is for us to miss the obvious. They link to a site where they have stored some of the videos they used to test and demonstrate the principle. Go and check them out - it is amazing how easily we can miss the obvious. They are sourced here.

The principles which undergird these demonstrations are employed by magicians, for example, to create an illusion.

It gives me pause to reflect on our ability to perceive reality when such obvious matters can be overlooked.

Posted by gary at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2005

VoIP

Tonight I held my first voice conversation over the Internet with a family member in Belgium... Amazing technology! The voice was clearer than any telephone call I have held. It was as though they were in the very next room - no, let me make that standing next to me. One can expect a fall in the costs of 'normal' phone calls as this technology becomes more available.

Beats the old... "Arrived safely stop weather fine stop wish you were here stop Can't stop long stop" of the telegrams!

Dick Tracey wrist phones will be the next gadget to take off, I suppose.

Posted by gary at 10:36 PM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2005

Maria Full of Grace

This movie has a magnificent ending, with a subtle statement made by the director appearing in the background. As Maria walks away from the airport terminal, an advertising hoarding announces "It's what inside that counts". In the context of the movie it makes many statements: Maria's intestinal fortitude, the drugs that were carried, the way in which the couriers were treated on arrival, the way in which people viewed them....

In one sense this scene is a critical interpretation of humanity and the way in which we value different things in people. One might turn it around to ask "what is it inside people that ocunts most for me"?

The movie can be a little confronting at times, but worth seeing.

Posted by gary at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2005

Why do I do these?

Which Theologian Are You?

You scored as J�rgen Moltmann. The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

J�rgen Moltmann

80%

Anselm

73%

Martin Luther

67%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

60%

John Calvin

60%

Augustine

53%

Paul Tillich

47%

Karl Barth

47%

Charles Finney

40%

Jonathan Edwards

27%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

I thought I was myself... maybe this indicates how I might connect in with a wider story. I'd have to say I found some of the 'opposites' in the quiz to be rather strange.

Thanks Jason!

Posted by gary at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

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