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September 30, 2005

vale M Scott Peck

Seems to be the week for deaths... M Scott Peck, author of A Different Drum and the more celebrated The Road Less Travelled, among others, passed away on September 25, aged 69.

These two books were formative in early thinking for me, with Different Drum's more communal focus a welcome shift from the implied individualism of the more popular tome. They are still an excellent read, as is his book on the afterlife: In Heaven as on Earth, which is based on the writings of an earlier author whose name escapes me right now.

Peck's bridging of traditional christianity with the non-christian reader is a hallmark of his work.

A quote from A Different Drum:

How strange that we should ordinarily feel compelled to hide our wounds when we are all wounded! Community requires the ability to expose our wounds and weaknesses to our fellow creatures. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of others...But even more important is the love that arises among us when we share, both ways, our woundedness.

Posted by gary at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2005

vale Don Adams (Maxwell Smart)

Death of the 1960s super-spy brought the following letter to this morning's edition of The Australian:

As kids, we all thought that Get Smart was an American comedy show, but now we suspect that it was a documentary.
(Sandra K Eckersley from Marricksville NSW)

Posted by gary at 08:59 PM | Comments (1)

September 26, 2005

2005 AFL Ladder Prediction - Results

Way back in March (before it all began) my son challenged me to predict the finishing positions of the football teams at end of season. I started to make a mid-season review, but didn't get it completed. However, when it all shapes up, I didn't turn out too badly, save for Adelaide's performance. I wasn't alone there, however, with some 'experts' predicting them for the wooden spoon.

You be the judge...

March Prediction. . . .Final
1. Port Adelaide . . . . . Sydney (3rd at end of regular season)
2. St Kilda . . . . . . . . . West Coast (2)
3. West Coast . . . . . . . Adelaide (1)
4. Brisbane . . . . . . . . . St Kilda (4)
5. Sydney . . . . . . . . . . Geelong (5)
6. Geelong . . . . . . . . . Port Adelaide (8)
7. Fremantle . . . . . . . . Kangaroos (5)
8. Richmond . . . . . . . . . Melbourne (7)
9. Carlton . . . . . . . . . Western Bulldogs
10. Kangaroos . . . . . . . Fremantle
11. Essendon . . . . . . . . Brisbane
12. Collingwood . . . . . . Richmond
13. Western Bulldogs . . . Essendon
14. Melbourne . . . . . . . Hawthorn
15. Adelaide . . . . . . . . Collingwood
16. Hawthorn . . . . . . . Carlton

Sydney breaks a 72-year drought to win the flag... What better result could there be if Richmond didn't win?!

Posted by gary at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2005

Major Challenges

I have to admit to being no fan of George Bush. However, he took a couple of steps up in my esteem with his address to last week, in which he placed poverty and racism on the political agenda in the United States. It has been a sleeping issue which none have had the courage to address... the underbelly of this prosperous nation has been ruthlessly exposed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's destruction.

From a distance, George Bush seems a naive character. His simplistic approach often leads him into dangerous territory, as with the case in Iraq. It is this simplicity which enables him to put this issue on the agenda, where all others would deem it political suicide. It is the most difficult of problems, yet the most urgent, both on the national and international agenda.

Let's hope there is the courage which leads to action.

Posted by gary at 04:24 PM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2005

Churning the ground

Last Saturday I spent the best part of four hours holding onto a rotary hoe, preparing ground for a spring lawn planting. Some of the ground had not been turned over in years, another part was a large tract where soil had been moved in the previous six months. What I expected to be the worst part was a level plot exposed by some serious landscaping (digging and soil relocation) some six months previous. It did not look like a large area of land - until I came to use a cumbersome machine to turn the soil.

As indicated, it was four hours of HARD work. By the end of the time my hands were cramping on the dead man grip as I tried to work one last tract of stubborn earth. In the following days I was suffering significantly from muscle tightness across the upper body...

The land has, to my knowledge, never been built on. It had been at least twenty years since much of it was disturbed: it was clearly set in its ways and resistant to change. It has taken a combination of forces to reach this stage where seed could be spread in the hope of lawn emerging...

Which makes me wonder about the implications for gospel ministry in an era which almost demands instant results. When soil has been hardened through years, can we expect to simply plough through and harvest instant results? If the exhaustion flowing from my efforts last weekend is a guide, we might have insight into the rapid rate of pastoral turnover in churches and the level of burnout. There are two responses to heavy resistance - bring in the heavy artillery for big effort, or take longer-term organic approaches. Both have a cost.

Some of the soil still to be addressed in our landscaping endeavour is pure clay. No kidding, we could make a pot out of it! Not even heavy artillery will make much of a difference. Short of pulling it out and replacing it with something else, the only option is to work with it, seeking to change its texture. In summer it sets like a rock, in winter it becomes slippery as ice.

Many of the leadership models given us for church are business-oriented, rather than nature-oriented. We are yet to see the full implications of expendability implied in the business approach, where buildings can be pulled down, left behind or reconstructed, and people moved on, merged in or out, or sidelined. It is rare to see businesses grown these days by anything except acquisition and merger. Such is the rate of change in the business world that very few of the top 100 corporations of thirty years ago are still in existence, let alone in the top 100. And we still are tallying the environmental cost, while the people cost is hidden amid the small numbers who have made large financial gains.

There is an organic mindset which endures, and allows for perseverance and endurance. As my hands gripped tighter around the rotary hoe, almost in an involuntary way, I realised that there has been no better way invented which lasts.

And what was it that Jesus said about putting one's hands to the plough....?

Posted by gary at 02:39 PM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2005

September 11.... Four Years On

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the events popularly known by the date: 9-11, we do well to reflect on where the world has travelled since then. It is not a pretty picture, these early years of the twenty-first century. I have written the following prayer for use in our worship on this coming Sunday. I hope you find it helpful.

Creator and Redeemer God,
This new millennium is already flooded with visions of a broken world,
Torn apart by winds and rain,
By war and famine,
By towers brought down with technology of global freedom,
By greed and our disregard for creation.

We feel as secure as a caravan in the path of a hurricane,
Unable to hold on, caught up in its power, dragged along in its currents, our strength ebbing away.
The path of salvation and hope seems beyond our grasp and strength.

Who can stand against such forces?
Whose wisdom is sufficient for such crises?

We have seen the Twin Towers fall, witnessed the ravaging of Afghanistan and Iraq, wept with families tortured with grief in the wake of bombings in Indonesia, Iraq, London and Spain. We have barely noticed the devastation in Darfur. We wonder what hope means in a world where violence escalates and the word and work of peace is shouted down.

And we witness the power of nature’s might turned against its inhabitants. Tsunami and hurricane, drought and famine all wreak devastating power.

We cry, we weep, we despair.
O Lord hear us.

We move from one tragedy to the next, unable to sustain our grief, or cope with the longer-term implications of such anguish.

O Lord who wept over Jerusalem, we gain insight into your pain, and we cannot bear it.
What sustains your love and grace in the midst of such agony?

Pour out your Spirit upon us in this moment, not to assuage our guilt, or numb our pain, but to stir us to acts of justice and mercy, to renew our fading strength and commitment to long-term care.

Through this pain, birth in your people a sustainable future, an everlasting image of justice, mercy and peace.

Revitalise our efforts at partnership with your creation. May our recycling and reduced demand for fossil fuels be seeds of hope and renewal. Give us strength to stand the tide which threatens to overwhelm us.
And deliver us from greed and selfishness which both stifles our generosity and fuels this crisis.

Let not the symbols of our freedom continue to be the force turned against us for destruction. Let these planes fly to new ground: a ground of hope and of a new beginning for all peoples.

Catalyse our pain and anguish into a new movement of your spirit for a new hope, that we might live and believe the words which Jesus taught us to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

By the miracle of grace, let this prayer be incarnate in us today.

Through the One whose incarnation brings life and hope through cross and resurrection we pray.


Posted by gary at 04:24 PM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2005

1960s Retraction: God is not dead

It was in April 1966 that Time ran an article questioning whether God was dead. Last month, Newsweek ran a story outlining the resurgent spirituality and search for the transcendent which is permeating American society, at the same time reporting church attendance figures as low as 20% (an historic low). But the nature of this search for God is in its focus: not in traditional christian thinking, but in a much more experiential and eclectic field. It is not good theology that people are looking for, but experience.

Whether it be in the mainstreaming of Pentecostalism, the re-emphasis on meditation in Catholic circles, or the increased interest in previously (and in some senses still) marginal faith traditions. The current movement is much more tolerant and open to crossing previously inaccessible divides: it is not unusual for someone to report a christian background, Islamic conversion and adoption of Buddhist practices. In many cases it is holistic, exhibiting a commitment to ecological and environmental concerns. Much less concerned with "pie in the sky when I die", this spirituality bears the hallmarks of immediacy, both in experience of God and in terms of the implications for lifestyle.

There is some good food for thought here, and a grounding in many historical aspects and disciplines of faith. Evangelicalism as we have come to know it may well have impoverished us much more than we are comfortable to admit or prepared to acknowledge.

Read the article here.

Posted by gary at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2005

Katrina, God and Social Morality

An article by Rabbi Michael Lerner

It didn't have to happen. And it didn't have to result in so many deaths and social chaos.

Before going down the route of spiritual analysis, let me pause for a moment of prayer and sadness for the suffering of the people of New Orleans, prayers for comfort of those who are mourning losses, and prayers for the survival of those who are still in danger. Prayer must always be accompanied by acts of tzedaka, righteousness or charity. The American Red Cross is playing the lead support role here, so you might consider donating to them: call 1 800 HELP NOW.

But this is a classic case of the law of karma, or what the Torah warns of environmental disaster unless we create a just society, or what others call watching the chickens come home to roost, or what goes around come around:

* Environmentalists are making a strong case that the escalated number and ferocity of earthquakes is a direct product of global warming, caused in large part by the reliance on fossil fuels. The persistent refusal of the U.S. to join the nations of the world in implementing the Kyoto Accords emission limits, and to impose serious pollution restrictions on the cars being sold in the US, is a major factor in global warming.

* The development for housing and commercial purposes combinded with massive oil and gas investments destroyed the natural protections from storms that the coastal wetlands has previously provided.

* Funds that were specifically allocated for New Orleans which could have been used in rebuilding levees and for storm protection were cut from the federal budget so that President Bush could use those funds to wage the war in Iraq.

* The white majority of the people of Louisiana elected Congressional representatives who enthusiastically support the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration's environmental irresponsibility. When economic devastation hit workers in northern cities over the past several decades, Louisianans voted to downsize the federal government and to let others fend for themselves. Many talked about the glories of relying on the free marketplace rather than on the "handouts" from a national government that they abhorred. Or they told the poor and the homeless in northern cities that "if they worked harder or had better habits or were smarter they'd have employment and wouldn't have to depend on others' help. Or they saw that suffering of others as "the hand of God."

And yet, the law of karma or Torah doesn't work on a one to one basis...

delivering "just rewards" to those who have been directly involved in causing evil, as JOB noted in the Bible and as we can note watching global warming play out. The terrible truth is that it is the POOR, the MOST VULNERABLE, who are the first to suffer. The wealthy built their homes on higher ground, had better information, more insurance, and more avenues of escape. So whether it is in facing the rising waters in Bangladesh or Malaysia or Lousiana and Missippi, it's going to be "the least among us" who will suffer most immediately. This is why it is inappropriate to blame the victim: because the way the world has been created, the consequences of past social injustice, war and ecological irresponsibility come to a whole planet--because from the cosmic perspective we are one, we are all interdependent-and those who suffer most are often not even those who are most culpable. Ditto with environmental cancers - it's often not the oil company executives but poor people living in proximity to the air and water polluted by corporate irresponsibility and abetted by the lawmakers who depend on corporate contributions and pay them back by imposing the weakest possible environmental regulations.

When some Christian fundamentalists talk about these as signs of the impending doom of the planet, they are laughed off as irrational cranks. It's true that these fundamentalists see no connection between the doom and the environmental irresponsibility that the politicians they support have brought us. But nevertheless, their perception that we are living at "the end of time" can't be dismissed by those of us who know that the life support systems of this planet are increasingly "in danger" if politics continues the way it has been going, with politicians in BOTH parties capitulating regularly to the ethos of selfishness and materialism that is sustained by our corporate plunderers but is validated by the votes of ordinary citizens.

Yet the fundamentalist message is deeply misleading also, because it seems to suggest that all this is out of our hands, part of some divine scheme. But it's not. The biblical version is quite different from what they say: it insists that the choice between life and death is in our hands. After laying out the consequences of abandoning a path of justice and righteousness, the Torah makes it clear that it is up to us. CHOOSE LIFE, it tells us. That choosing of life means transforming our social system in ways that neither Democrats nor Republicans have yet been willing to consider-toward a new bottom line of love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological responsibility, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe replacing a narrow utilitarian approach to Nature. This is precisely what we have been calling for in our Interfaith organization, the Tikkun Community, and in our new project of the Tikkun Community called The Network of Spiritual Progressives. We need a New Bottom Line-a fundamental transformation of what we value in this society. We want to take that message into the public sphere, into the political parties, into the media, into the schools, into the corporations.

What too frequently happens when disasters like this hit is that everyone gets momentarily worked up about helping the victims, then a few weeks later forgets the whole thing, and rarely do we get a serious discussion (much less "follow through") about how to solve the underlying problems. Let's not let that happen again. Please join the Network of Spiritual Progressives of The Tikkun Community. For more information about our perspective, go to the Core Vision at To Join, click here:

There is one beautiful thing that sometimes happens during these kind of emergencies: the cynical realism that teaches us that people just care about themselves, a teaching that makes most of us feel scared to be "too generous" or "too idealistic" temporarily falls away, and people are allowed to be their most generous and loving selves. When the restraints are momentarily down, there is a huge outpouring of love, generosity and kindness on the part of many Americans. People do things like this that I saw yesterday: advertising on the internet's Craig's List that they are willing to take in to their own home for many months a family that has been displaced by the floods. This kind of selflessness is something that people actually yearn to let out, but under ordinary circumstances they'd fear to do so. So watch the goodness show itself.

Not to deny that ugliness will also appear. The looting of stores in New Orleans momentarily revealed the "bottom line" of government responsibilities when the New Orleans police announced that they were going to switch policing priorities from saving lives (of the poor) to saving the property of the wealthy and the corporations from the looters. It's this kind of misplaced priorities over the course of many decades that makes some poor people (and not only poor people, but others who feel that they have a deep sense of social grievance) think (mistakenly and unjustifiably) that it makes sense to take advantage of this moment to rectify a long history of social injustice by taking from the "haves" to provide for themselves as the "have-nots." It's hard to witness this perversity on the part of both looters and police without a deep sadness of heart about the depths of depravity that reveal themselves in these moments, alongside the heights of goodness mentioned in the previous paragraph.

For me, this is a prayerful moment, entering the period just before the Jewish High Holidays (starting Oct. 3), realizing that the Jewish tradition of taking ten days of reflection, repentance and atonement is so badly needed not just by Jews but by everyone on the planet. I hope we can find a way to build this practice among secular as well as religious people, because America, indeed the whole world, so badly needs to STOP and reflect,repent and atone, and find a new way, a new path, and return to the deepest truths of love, kindness, generosity, non-violence and peace.

--Rabbi Michael Lerner
Editor, Tikkun and co-chair (with Cornel West and Sister Joan Chittister) of the Tikkun Community
Author, The Left Hand of God (forthcoming in January from HarperSanFrancisco)

Posted by nick at 12:11 AM | Comments (0)

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