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November 29, 2005

Brian McLaren at Princeton Seminary

Brian McLaren addressed the graduating class at Princeton this year, looking at challenges facing theological education in particular, and the church in general. He speaks of the key theologians shaping emerging church leadership, interdenominational relationships, and the things which stifle and redirect newly ordained ministers. The speech runs for nearly fifty minutes, but raises a number of interesting issues. You can listen here. Be warned, the file is about 51 mb, so go make a cup of coffee, particularly if you're on a dialup connection. It's well worth the time, though.

I'd be interested to hear your responses.

Posted by gary at 08:31 PM | Comments (1)

November 28, 2005

Spiritual Formation

Gordon MacDonald makes some interesting observations about leadership in a recent edition of the Leadership weekly e-newsletter.

The forming of the soul that it might be a dwelling place for God is the primary work of the Christian leader. This is not an add-on, an option, or a third-level priority. Without this core activity, one almost guarantees that he/she will not last in leadership for a life-time or that what work is accomplished will become less and less reflective of God's honor and God's purposes.

A frank opinion? I don't think a lot of men and women in leadership know this. I mean really know it. What drives my opinion are these impressions.

First, the primary subject matter of most training and motivational conferences on leadership seems to be all about vision, about clever, well-researched programs, about growing large, successful institutions. Admittedly good stuff. But missing is the recognition that soul cultivation goes before institution building. How do you grow large, healthy, and authentic churches (the current rage) without growing the soul of a leader, which sustains the effort over the long haul?

A second impression: the dreadful casualty list of men and women who do not make it to a tenth anniversary in Christian ministry. Burnout, failure, disillusionment are exacting a terrible toll. I'm amazed how many ministers just disappear, drop off the edge.

A third: the constant conversations I have with younger men and women who confide that they are spiritually dry, unmotivated, despairing, and wondering what to do about it.

And maybe there's a fourth: I never forget how close—how really close—I myself came to missing the cut. Though my own defining moment of personal crisis came twenty years ago, the memory is always fresh.

Gordon offers a very challenging insight into ministry and spirituality. Read the whole article here.

What difference would it make to your ministry and witness if the words we used were cut by more than half? Do you think McDonald is being realistic, or idealistic?

Posted by gary at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2005

It's all about...

In this highly egocentric culture, the ministry of the church does not remain immune. This wonderful little parody from would make an excellent introduction in discussions about worship and/or priorities.

Be warned, the parody might offend some.

Posted by gary at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2005

The Bubble Project

How's this for a simple project. Simply print 15,000 of these bubble stickers and place them on top of ads all over New York City. Passersby fill them in. Then go back and photograph the results.


Check out the results here.

Posted by gary at 07:18 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2005

Practical Recycling

Great concept for the internet - reduce land fill by giving away the stuff you don't want. Simply join a freecycle group, and connect with others who might need what you are about to put into landfill.

Freecycle is an email list where like-minded folk let each other know about something that they are giving away. It is a global phenomenon with over 1 million members. There is only one constraint - everything you post must be free.

Faith in action; community which makes a difference to the planet; a simple practical way to make a difference. Call it what you will... it seems to be a major (couneter-cultural) step forward in this disposable world. There are four chapters in Melbourne/Geelong, and more in rural Victoria... a total of 15 in the state. It's a global phenomenon. If you want to check out a site in your country, click here.

Posted by gary at 11:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2005

How much caffeine?

OK, you are sitting up late at night, finalising that sermon/essay/creative worship piece, and struggling to stay awake. You are pumping in the caffeine in your favourite style, and you wonder what it's doing to your system... OK, so you aren't wondering. But did you realise it can kill you.

I'd have to be careful as I took in my intake of Coke pushed past 380, because death would be very near. Never mind the fact that it would be morning anyway and I'd probably be well and truly finished.

The more powerful stuff would finish me off earlier... and I'd be in bed with all things done!

Check out the death-by-caffeine calculator.

Posted by gary at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2005


Not a book, but a great quote from a Quaker friend:

"Christians who participate in the good news know that death has been defeated. They know that institutional self-preservation is not the greatest of all goods. They are, in other words, freed from the corporate fear of death, set free to invite institutions, corporations, and other human collectivities to fulfill their God-given purposes. Christians model this in their own corporate life and commend this liberating mode of corporate life to the world as a whole."

Source unknown at this stage...

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

Want to give your teeth some sparkle?


See enough to rot your teeth here.

Or how about putting those old keyboards to good use:


Takes the idea of a portable keyboard to a new level, eh?!

Posted by gary at 12:13 AM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2005

Your favourite Oxymoron

Ever struggle to think of an oxymoron? Here's a new classic list that will provide every oxymoron in recent history - and before - you could ever have thought of - whether out loud, or in advance, whether you are a beginner, an advanced beginner, or an expert. And you might find a few more to boot, definitely including perhaps your least favourite.

The top 20 Oxymorons are recorded as:

20. Government Organization
19. Alone Together
18. Personal Computer
17. Silent Scream
16. Living Dead
15. Same Difference
14. Taped Live
13. Plastic Glasses
12. Tight Slacks
11. Peace Force

10. Pretty Ugly
9. Head Butt
8. Working Vacation
7. Tax Return
6. Virtual Reality
5. Dodge Ram
4. Work Party
3. Jumbo Shrimp
2. Healthy Tan
1. Microsoft Works

And if that isn't enough, there's more here than you can shake a stick at... Now there's an open secret...

What's your favourite oxymoron? Congregational government??

Posted by gary at 08:53 PM | Comments (0)

The Beverly Hillbilly Church (2)

The image of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ as it applies to church life offers a number of different images. Here is a family transplanted from one culture into the middle of another, entirely foreign one. Their lifestyle alone is a novelty to those in their local community, let alone the ways of thinking and relating that they bring. They offer an entirely different way of living and being, yet without impact in their setting.

Their story highlights the challenge we face in relating to the culture around us. Once the dominant culture in this area, we are now very much a minority, adhering (in the eyes of many) to ways of living and sharing which appear archaic and quaint, and lack connection to the realities of modern life. There is clearly an element of truth to this perception, one which we might be able to explain, if not justify, by our willingness and commitment to incarnate the life and teaching of Jesus.

Thus the challenge is demonstrated: we are called to be counter-cultural; to live lives which reflect the values of God’s kingdom rather than the dominant cultural values around us. Yet at the same time we are called to build bridges of friendship with those in our local community – building on points of contact, and common understandings that the gospel message might appear in the context of this relationship. It is a balancing act of enormous significance.

If we are to live in this tension, we need to be constantly examining ourselves and our motives, listening to the voice of God, that keep this tension alive. There is no single answer in response to the challenge, merely an attitude that is prepared to act, reflect and respond. The prevailing culture of our local community (and its many variations) does already embody images of the hand of God at work. As those called to mission in this community, we need to know that culture and respond to it in creative ways.

But let’s not be afraid to fail, or to look somewhat awkward in our grappling. In some senses it is OK for us to be ‘Hillbillies’, if that is what we are. But as we reach out, we need to be conscious of what is important to, and connects with others, that they might know and experience the good news which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Posted by gary at 04:30 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2005

The Beverly Hillbilly Church...

A favourite television show of my early years was The Beverly Hillbillies, a situation comedy revolving around a peasant hillbilly family who strike it rich and move to Beverly Hills. Though amongst the wealthiest in the area, they live as though still on the land - eating, hunting, making their own supplies. Their humble lifestyle is subjected to the manipulations of their banker, who fears losing their custom, and seeks to stymie their every move in spending their wealth.

It is, in many ways, a metaphor for much of church life. Though we have the wealth of resources available to us from God, through the gifts and graces he bestows on his church, we often live as though still bereft. And the resources we do have we treat as our own, seeking to protect them, rather than as stewards for all that God has given. How tempting at times to act like the man with the single talent, who buries it in the ground for fear of losing it… which he does in the end for failing to put it into use for his master.

In contemplating the future ministry of the church, we need to develop a risk-taking mentality rather than a conservationist one. Without moving beyond the boundaries of our comfort, we are destined for death. The attitude we need to hold is not that of survival, but of growth – like the sower who sows his seeds in tears, realising that unless this crop succeeds, he is destined for poverty. The only real failure is the failure to try.

When we look at any single project or proposal for ministry, we might be able to think of many reasons it might not succeed. We can probably well articulate the challenges and threats it poses. Being a small church as we are in West Melbourne, the human resources available are inevitably limited. But we have no other calling, no matter our time, place or size, and no other option but to launch out in faith.

Jesus chose 12 and transformed the world. He has chosen us for a task not dissimilar – to be part of His transforming work in our local community setting. The challenge before us is of no different order, and no different resourcing.

Posted by gary at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

OK, so I am unusual

... and proud of it!!

Check yourself out...

Are you usual, or unusual??

Posted by gary at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2005

Saturday Night Fever

I'm demonstrating how slow I can be, but I grabbed a copy of Saturday Night Fever on DVD recently and watched it for the first time on the weekend. No, I don't mean just the DVD - it was the first time I had watched the film from go to woe! It wasn't until I watched one of the special features that I realised why the film was so big - it brought disco into the mainstream. Well, that probably has to match the over blackness of the film's plot!

For a film that (re-?)launched two stellar careers: John Travolta and the Bee Gees, it bore a very dark plot, and the dancing, while technically very good, was not all that spectacular, save perhaps for the landmark scene when Travolta monopolises the floor. Life on the wrong side of the river in New York in the 1970s (and still today?) stands in stark contrast to the "Sex in the City" New York which tourists imagine.

Travolta's bleak life came alive on the dance floor of a Saturday night. It was his hope... his redemption... his one place of achievement. It gave him identity and purpose. Which is something of value!

Hard to watch... not a really 'entertaining' film per se, but powerful nonetheless.

Posted by gary at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2005

Your Rights at Work

The Australian government is proposing the most radical overhaul of our workplaces since Federation, and is allowing only FIVE DAYS for feedback to the Senate. Public submissions must be taken into account. The following link allows you to have your opinion put to the committee investigating the legislation and seeking public feedback.

Take the opportunity to let parliament know what you think about the legislation in particular, and their commitment to democracy in general.

The full text from the web site appears in the extended entry.

Five days. Just five days of hearings. That is all the time that the Coalition has given for a Senate Inquiry to examine the biggest industrial relations changes in a hundred years. After $40m of taxpayer funded political advertising, the Government hopes the deadline for Senate submissions will slip by unnoticed. But - if we act now - we can throw a spanner in the works.

We need to draw national attention to the Senate Inquiry and force a major debate. Our goal is to help Australians make a record number of submissions to a Senate Inquiry over the next five days. Please click this link to send your message to the Senate Inquiry now:

The Senate Committee's job is to read every single submission from any Australian who takes the time to make one. You don't have to be an academic or a lawyer to have an opinion about how the industrial changes will affect you. You simply need to talk about your experiences in the workplace in your own words. This is your chance to communicate directly with your elected representatives, and by law, your opinion must be taken into account. That's what a Senate Inquiry is there for.

You can talk about your experience with AWA individual contracts, how you would feel negotiating directly with your boss about your pay, or how your work/family balance will be affected. Everybody's experience is valid. Even a simple paragraph relating your concerns is important to show the Committee that the Government's plans are a recipe for workplace injustice. With only five days of hearings, every submission - however short - is vital.

Please take a few minutes to visit the Rights at Work website, and use the simple form provided to tell your story. Remember to include your full name, address and phone number so your submission is valid. Click this

Posted by gary at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)

The Worship Leader's Dictionary

Worship pastor Phil Christensen offers a humorous glossary definitions, which probably won't make it number one at Koorong or Word, but are worth a laugh... or cry, depending on whether they are real or not!!!

ALTOS and BARRITONES: (ahl-toez and behr-i-toenz) People who complain that the songs are too high until they learn to harmonize.

BALLAD SALAD: (ba'-lud sa'-lud) A worship set of quiet songs intended to foster a gentle flow of worship and meaningful encounter with the Lord. The Ballad Salad generally follows the up-tempo moments of celebration (see also Rocking the Flock).

BIG KAHUNA: (beeg’ kah-hoo’-nah) Lead Pastor whom God has placed in authority over you. Honor this man. Submit to him graciously unless he asks you to break one of the 10 Commandments.

BLACK HOLES: (blak-hoelz) The dark vacuum around people in the congregation who steadfastly refuse to connect with God during worship. Sometimes accompanied by contemptuous facial expressions. If you can intercede for these individuals during worship, do so, but otherwise avert your attention to avoid being sucked into their gravitational pull. (See also Super Novas)

BLANDED WORSHIP: (bland'-dud wur-ship') The uninspired result that comes when we approach corporate worship with the pathetic goal of avoiding any criticism.

BLENDED WORSHIP: (blend'-dud wur-ship') The astonishing result of a tapestry of praise that’s been skillfully and lovingly woven together with worship ideas from the past and present. “All Creatures of Our God and King” can flow seamlessly into “Here I Am to Worship.”

CHECK UP FROM THE NECK UP: (chek'-uhp fruhm thuh nek' uhp) Important moment during rehearsal when we lower our boundaries and get honest about how we’re really doing. Often involves prayer and teaching. (See also The Hot Seat).

CHOIR: (kwy’-ehr) A disciplined group of singers who sacrifice untold hours away from home to master the intricate details of a three-minute choral arrangement. Their performance is intended to delight and inspire a room full of listeners who, statistically, will never purchase a recording of choral music.

CHORD CHART: (kord’-chart) A document that contains lyrics and a few vague musical suggestions. May or may not indicate the proper key, time signature or even exact moment of the chord change, but it does give musicians something to look at while the song goes by. Particularly frustrating to pianists, who prefer being told exactly what to do. Ideal for guitarists. (See also Sheet Music)

DRUMMERS: (Druhm-merz) Terrific people who worship God by hitting things. Churches often keep them in Plexiglas cages.

EARLY SERVICE: (ur-lee’ surv-us’) A service in which attendees may appear zombie-like. While unnerving to worship leaders and teaching pastors alike, the event is generally harmless.

FRISBEE STYLE: A deliberate approach to worship leading in which the leader’s role is “handed off” from song to song. A good way to mentor new worship leaders.

GROOVE AND FLOURISH: (Gruev and flehr-ish') The mark of a good musician interacting with other players. His or her part should land subtly in the pocket, submitting to other musicians; this is "groove." "Flourishing" occurs when a player discovers the perfect moment to emerge from the groove with a few cool, inspiring licks.

HAND-BURGER: (hand-ber-ger’) The painful result of carrying musical gear through a narrow doorway and not paying attention.

HOT SEAT: A chair placed in the center of the room for a member of the worship team who needs prayer; the rest of the team gathers around and ministers to them. (See also Check up from the neck up.)

HUMILITY: (hew-mil-ih-tee’) The beautiful quality in a talented artist of considering others more important than him or herself. Closely associated with servanthood. Rare.

HYMNS: (himz) Historic praise music. Usually boiled down to 4-part arrangements on a single page with normal rhythmic flow extracted. Lyrics are often stunning, and many of the melodies are almost as powerful as the timeless truths they carry. These songs are infused with the heart-cry of a billion Saints and should be treated accordingly. Ignore at your own loss.

IN THE POCKET: (in thuh paw-kett’). The subtle groove created by mutually submitted musicians.

OPEN/ROOTLESS VOICINGS: A stylistic practice of both guitarists and keyboardists in which primary notes of a triad are substituted or dropped altogether to create versatile textures. Can be puzzling to newbies who briefly wonder why a C chord would contain only a D and a G.

ROCKING THE FLOCK: (Raw-keeng’ thu flawk) The effect of an up-tempo praise song on God’s people.

SEVEN-ELEVEN MUSIC: (7-11 mew’-sik) Praise songs that repeat the same seven words eleven times, or some similar configuration. These are generally enjoyed by youth, but annoying to older adults.

SHEET MUSIC: (sheet mew’-sik) A document containing detailed instructions for a musical arrangement. Perfect for keyboardists. Particularly frustrating for guitarists, who 1) hate to be told what to do and 2) usually can’t read it anyway. (See also Chord Charts)

SIGNATURE: (Sig-nuh'-chur) A musical phrase that helps define or set up a song, most often heard in the introduction. Well-known signatures include the opening 6 piano notes of "Shout to the Lord." The signature often forms the "turn-around" for the piece and the closing notes, as well.

SUPER NOVAS: (soo'-pehr noe-vuz’) People in the congregation who visibly connect with God during the worship events. Not a dependable indicator of their maturity, but impossible to miss and a joy to observe. (See also Black Holes)

THE THRONE-ZONE: (Throewn-zoewn) The place we’ll spend eternity, and therefore the place we should spend every possible moment on planet earth right now.

VIBRATO: (Vi’-brah-toe) A technique used by singers to help hide pitch problems.

What response do you have to a list like this?

Posted by gary at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2005

Why Pastors Leave

An addendum to the post on young pastors...

Why pastors leave

59% of pastors believe the average pastor in their denomination does not stay at any one church long enough.

One out of every ten ministers has been fired or asked to leave a church at some point in his career.

Why Pastors change churches:

27% - Desire to serve in a different region or type of community
20% - Promotion to a higher position
16% - Wanting to move to a larger church
15% - Being transferred by the denomination
15% - Leaving to plant a new church
12% - Feeling God’s call to a different church
11% - Getting better pay and/or benefits

*From Facts and Trends September/October 2005 issue.

Posted by gary at 10:11 AM | Comments (1)

Why Young Pastors Leave the Ministry

Discovered this interesting post over at nakedreligion. Not sure how much is tongue-in-cheek. Some interesting observations are made...

There is an epidemic occurring right under the nose of church middle judicatories and no one seems to notice. Young pastors (less than five years in the ministry) are leaving in droves. The Lilly Foundation has poured millions of dollars into “Sustaining Pastoral Ministry” initiatives and it’s too soon to tell whether or not their approach is working. Aside from the obvious reasons pastors leave the ministry (sexual impropriety, financial mismanagement, and marital dissolution) here are the top ten reasons why young pastors call it quits:

1. The discontinuity between what they imagined ministry to be and what it actually is is too great.
2. A life without weekends sucks.
3. The pay is too low (most pastors in my denomination make less money than a school teacher with five years experience).
4. They are tired of driving ten year old cars while their congregations trade in their cars every two years.
5. Many young pastors are called into difficult congregations that chew pastors up and spit them out because experienced pastors know better.
6. Even though the search committee told them they wanted to reach young people, they didn’t really mean it.
7. When the pastor asked the search committee if they were an “emergent church”, the members of the search committee thought he said “divergent church” and agreed.
8. Nobody told the young pastor that cleaning the toilets was part of the job description.
9. The young pastor’s student loans came due and the amount of money he/she owes on a monthly basis exceeds his/her income.
10. Working at McDonalds has a lot less stress.

Why do you think young pastors are leaving in the ministry in droves?

Posted by gary at 07:41 AM | Comments (1)

November 04, 2005

Technology always runs ahead of morality and ethics...

News this week that a 15-year old boy was able to track down his (anonymous) donor-sperm biological father with no more than the internet and a couple of hundred dollars indicates how technological developments are a series of pandora's boxes. Men, whose motives we can only guess at, who donated sperm in the early days of IVF technology and who thereby sired children who they were assured they would have no connection with, have been shown to be a vulnerable group. Imagine having one (or dozens?) of children knocking at your door saying, "Hi Dad".

Of course, with the growing cohort of children born this way, this ethical dilemma was bound to emerge. Marrying an unknown half-brother or -sister increases the greater number of children sired by the same donor. (Is there a limit on the number of children one donor can sire?)

Now we are confronted with a clash of rights: the right of a donor to anonymity and the right of a child to know his biological and genetic heritage.

The notion of having a child fathered by someone else is not knew. The Levirate marriage of the OT is one example. I am sure than many rulers through the years have sired a much wider family than that which enjoys the privileges of royal heritage today.

But it does raise questions in relation to what it means to be human. Not only biologically, but socially. We are not just a collection of cells, we are part of a web of relationships which help define who we are.

Pandora's box is open in so many areas. I suppose we're so used to the chaos that we have no qualms opening still others....

Posted by gary at 07:38 PM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2005

Rosa Parks - A story in context

Interesting reflection on the broader context of Rosa Parks' actions in 1955. Not a single act in isolation, it seems....

Paul Rogat Loeb

We learn much from how we present our heroes. A few years ago, on Martin Luther King. Day, I was interviewed on CNN. So was Rosa Parks, by phone from Los Angeles. "We're very honored to have her," said the host. "Rosa Parks was the woman who wouldn't go to the back of the bus. She wouldn'tget up and give her seat in the white section to a white person. That set in motion the year-long bus boycott in Montgomery. It earned Rosa Parks the title of 'mother of the Civil Rights movement.'"

I was excited to hear Parks's voice and to be part of the same show. Then it occurred to me that the host's description--the story's standard rendition and one repeated even in many of her obituaries - stripped the Montgomery boycott of all of its context. Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had been active for twelve years in the local NAACP chapter, serving as its secretary. The summer before her arrest, she'd had attended a ten-day training session at Tennessee's labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she'd met an older generation of civil rights activists, like South Carolina teacher Septima Clark, and discussed the recent Supreme Court decision banning "separate-but-equal" schools. During this period of involvement and education, Parks had become familiar with previous challenges to segregation: Another Montgomery bus boycott, fifty years earlier, successfully eased some restrictions; a bus boycott in Baton Rouge won limited gains two years before Parks was arrested; and the previous spring, a young Montgomery woman had also refused to move to the back of the bus, causing the NAACP to consider a legal challenge until it turned out that she was unmarried and pregnant, and therefore a poor symbol for a campaign.

In short, Rosa Parks didn't make a spur-of-the-moment decision.

She didn't single-handedly give birth to the civil rights efforts, but she was part of an existing movement for change, at a time when success was far from certain. We all know Parks's name, but few of us know about Montgomery NAACP head E.D. Nixon, who served as one of her mentors and first got Martin Luther King involved. Nixon carried people's suitcases on the trains, and was active in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the union founded by legendary civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph. He played a key role in the campaign. No one talks of him, any more than they talk of JoAnn Robinson, who taught nearby at an underfunded and segregated Black college and whose Women's Political Council distributed the initial leaflets following Parks's arrest. Without the often lonely work of people like Nixon, Randolph, and Robinson, Parks would likely have never taken her stand, and if she had, it would never have had the same impact.

This in no way diminishes the power and historical importance of Parks's refusal to give up her seat. But it reminds us that this tremendously consequential act, along with everything that followed, depended on all the humble and frustrating work that Parks and others undertook earlier on. It also reminds us that Parks's initial step of getting involved was just as courageous and critical as the stand on the bus that all of us have heard about.

People like Parks shape our models of social commitment. Yet from responses to talks I've given throughout the country, most citizens do not know the full story of her involvement. And the conventional stripped-down retelling creates a standard so impossible to meet, it may actually make it harder for us to get involved, inadvertently removing away Parks's most powerful lessons of hope.

This conventional portrayal suggests that social activists come out of nowhere, to suddenly take dramatic stands. It implies that we act with the greatest impact when we act alone, at least initially. And that change occurs instantly, as opposed to building on a series of often-invisible actions. The myth of Parks as lone activist reinforces a notion that anyone who takes a committed public stand, or at least an effective one, has to be a larger-than-life figure - someone with more time, energy, courage, vision, or knowledge than any normal person could ever possess. This belief pervades our society, in part because the media tends not to represent historical change as the work of ordinary human beings, which it almost always is.

Once we enshrine our heroes on pedestals, it becomes hard for mere mortals to measure up in our eyes. However individuals speak out, we're tempted to dismiss their motives, knowledge, and tactics as insufficiently grand or heroic. We fault them for not being in command of every fact and figure, or being able to answer every question put to them. We fault ourselves as well, for not knowing every detail, or for harboring uncertainties and doubts. We find it hard to imagine that ordinary human beings with ordinary flaws might make a critical difference in worthy social causes.

Yet those who act have their own imperfections, and ample reasons to hold back. "I think it does us all a disservice," says a young African-American activist in Atlanta named Sonya Tinsley, "when people who work for social change are presented as saints - so much more noble than the rest of us. We get a false sense that from the moment they were born they were called to act, never had doubts, were bathed in a circle of light. But I'm much more inspired learning how people succeeded despite their failings and uncertainties. It's a much less intimidating image. It makes me feel like I have a shot at changing things too." Sonya had recently attended a talk given by one of Martin Luther King's Morehouse professors, in which he mentioned how much King had struggled when he first came to college, getting only a 'C,' for example, in his first philosophy course. "I found that very inspiring, when I heard it," Sonya said, "given all that King achieved. It made me feel that just about anything was possible."

Our culture's misreading of the Rosa Parks story speaks to a more general collective amnesia, where we forget the examples that might most inspire our courage, hope, and conscience. Apart from obvious times of military conflict, most of us know next to nothing of the many battles ordinary men and women fought to preserve freedom, expand the sphere of democracy, and create a more just society. Of the abolitionist and civil rights movements, we at best recall a few key leaders--and often misread their actual stories. We know even less about the turn-of-the-century populists who challenged entrenched economic interests and fought for a "cooperative commonwealth." Who these days can describe the union movements that ended 80-hour work weeks at near-starvation wages? Who knows the origin of the social security system, now threatened by systematic attempts to privatize it? How did the women's suffrage movement spread to hundreds of communities, and gather enough strength to prevail?

As memories of these events disappear, we lose the knowledge of mechanisms that grassroots social movements have used successfully in the past to shift public sentiment and challenge entrenched institutional power. Equally lost are the means by which their participants managed to keep on and eventually prevail in circumstances at least as harsh as those we face today. Think again about the different ways one can frame Rosa Parks's historic action. In the prevailing myth, Parks decides to act almost on a whim, in isolation. She's a virgin to politics, a holy innocent. The lesson seems to be that if any of us suddenly got the urge to do something equally heroic, that would be great. Of course most of us don't, so we wait our entire lives to find the ideal moment.

Parks's real story conveys a far more empowering moral. She begins with seemingly modest steps. She goes to a meeting, and then another, helping build the community that in turn supported her path. Hesitant at first, she gains confidence as she speaks out. She keeps on despite aprofoundly uncertain context, as she and others act as best they can to challenge deeply entrenched injustices, with little certainty of results. Had she and others given up after her tenth or eleventh year of commitment, we might never have heard of Montgomery.

Parks also reminds us that even in a seemingly losing cause, one person may unknowingly inspire another, and that person yet a third, who may then go on to change the world, or at least a small corner of it. Rosa Parks's husband Raymond convinced her to attend her first NAACP meeting, the initial step on a path that brought her to that fateful day on the bus in Montgomery. But who got Raymond Parks involved? And why did that person take the trouble to do so? What experiences shaped their outlook, forged their convictions? The links in any chain of influence are too numerous, too complex to trace. But being aware that such chains exist, that we can choose to join them, and that lasting change doesn't occur in their absence, is one of the primary ways to sustain hope, especially when our actions seem too insignificant to amount to anything.

Finally, Parks's journey suggests that change is the product of deliberate, incremental action, whereby we join together to try to shape a better world. Sometimes our struggles will fail, as did many earlier efforts of Parks, her peers, and her predecessors. Other times they may bear modest fruits. And at times they will trigger a miraculous outpouring of courage and heart--as happened with her arrest and all that followed. For only when we act despite all our uncertainties and doubts do we have the chance to shape history.

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear

Posted by gary at 09:37 PM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2005

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks was a remarkable women, and yet at the same time nothing extraordinary. Rosa died this past week, aged 92, but it was events nearly 50 years ago which pushed her name into the American and international spotlight, when she failed to give up her seat – as the law required – to a white man and move to the back of the bus which was designated for black passengers. It was the end of a long working day such that her tiredness made her hold her ground. She was fined $10 for her efforts (with an additional $4 of court costs), which ultimately sparked a thirteen month boycott of the bus system by the black population of Montgomery Alabama, and stirred one young Baptist pastor into a cause which stirred a nation. That pastor’s name was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

How did this happen? There is no doubt that Rosa Parks was a woman concerned about the racial segregation which placed such a heavy and dehumanising burden on black Americans. But her act was neither premeditated nor orchestrated. She had no ultimate purpose in her action. She could not have foreshadowed how her act would become a catalyst and symbol for change. She was tired. Tired from a day’s work, and likely tired from a system which imposed unjust burdens on her and people like her.

Although her act has been trumpeted for its significance, Rosa had no idea at the time that this simple choice could make such a profound difference. Her simple act of sitting in one place inspired a people to take a stand for equal rights for all. It is hard to imagine a more simple and mundane act, yet it catalysed a movement which embraced a nation. This is an example of a true act of faith: a mustard seed act which produced something way out of proportion. It could neither have been planned nor conspired to bring such an unexpected outcome. Such is the ways of the gospel which gave her strength.

To be a great people of faith is not to believe in magnificent and monumental moments, but to believe that God can use the ordinary and mundane choices of our lives and impregnate them with fruitfulness beyond measure. We are not called to search for the grandstanding and defining acts, but to let our simple choices be the defining moments of our lives: to live simply and humbly. It is these acts which God blesses.

Posted by gary at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

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