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February 28, 2006

Get yourself a virtual dog

No mess... but I'm not sure whether he is CPU-trained!

Posted by gary at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2006

Of wine and wineskins

Our Sacred Space on Sunday night focussed its reflection on the issue of wine and wineskins. It was difficult to articulate the nature of wine when it came to our faith journey. Is it because its nature is something so profound as to be difficult to frame into words? Or because we have become so focussed on the wineskins (frameworks) of our faith that have forgotten that which we long to drink? It was much easier to speak of the metaphor in historical terms, much more difficult to reinterpret for our day.

Posted by gary at 06:43 AM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2006

Earn $10000 in your spare time

Security intelligence outfit iDefense Labs is offering a $10,000 reward to any hacker who finds a worm hole in Microsoft's products... Microsoft isn't all that happy about it, although the resonating open source/closed source philosophical debate may well be at the root of it all.

Yet one might pause to ask whether companies would do this in other areas, particularly in relation to another corporation's property. They may well do, but without the fanfare. Does it send the wrong message (closed source argument) or does it subject it to the most rigorous testing regime (open source argument)?

Posted by gary at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2006

Fighting the enemy...

A Favourite Tony Campolo Story...

When Bill Clinton met Nelson Mandela for the first time, there was an incredible conversation. Bill Clinton asked Nelson Mandela, "When they released you from prison, I got Chelsea up at three in the morning because I wanted have her see this. I knew it was a historic moment and I got her out of bed to see you released from prison.

"As you walked across the courtyard, from the cellblock to the gate of the prison, the television cameras focused in on your face. I have never seen such anger, such animosity, and such hatred. I mean, you usually can't see that so clearly revealed. It was all over you. It was intense hatred, intense resentment. President Mandela, that is not the Nelson Mandela that I know today. Could you explain what was going on?"

Nelson Mandela says, "You're the first one that brought that to my attention. I didn't know that anybody noticed that. But as they released me from the prison block and as I walked across the courtyard to the gate, I thought to myself, 'They've taken everything away from me, my family is destroyed, my cause has been crushed, my friends are dead, anything, anybody, that meant anything to me, they've destroyed it all,' and I hated them with a fiery hatred. And then God spoke to me, and said, 'Nelson, for 27 years, you were their prisoner, but you were always a free man. Don't let them make you into a free man, only to turn you into their prisoner.'"

We have to be careful when we fight the dragon, lest we become the dragon.

Posted by gary at 09:28 PM | Comments (1)

February 24, 2006

To make a sermon interesting...

bingo.jpg

And I wonder what 'buzzwords' we would include if preparing a 5x5 for sermons in church today?

(cartoon originally published 19 Feb 2006)

Posted by gary at 07:14 AM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2006

Mega Churches and the depth of faith

Conversations at the current World Council of Churches gatherings seems to be hitting some important marks, although I'm not sure that today's report will make fans of mega church all that happy.

WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia has been reported to have expressed concern that the spread of megachurches around the world "could lead to a Christianity that is two miles long and one inch deep". He is reported to have said that "It has no depth, in most cases, theologically speaking, and has no appeal for any commitment.

"It's a church being organised on corporate logic. That can be quite dangerous if we are not very careful, because this may become a Christianity which I describe as two miles long and one inch deep."

Apparently the number of megachurches has doubled since 2000, with the following characteristics: based in the suburbs, mostly run on a business model, low on call to commitment, and - the major concern it seems - disconnected from the historical christian message, but more turned towards populism.

Arguably the danger is not so much that such churches exist, but that they are self-sufficient, breaking their nexus with the global church. One strength (which it seems is cited by the WCC as a weakness) is that it breaks through denominational barriers.

My own reflections on megachurch leave me with the impression that they are the pinnacle of modernity, but also at the hub of a transition which we are numbly sensing in the winds of change: which God's Spirit is stirring. It might be easier to point out the weaknesses in "megachurch" and miss the ones in the settings from which we view. A third way????

Posted by gary at 07:52 PM | Comments (0)

Put an end to whaling

It's a small step, but here's an online petition and action forum to help stop the slaughter of whales. A small step in the larger act of reconciliation.

Posted by gary at 07:36 PM | Comments (0)

Being a Christian in Ministry

I enjoyed the privilege of sitting and listening to Brian McLaren live yesterday. Having read many of his books and "talked back" and about his thoughts for some time, to hear him in a live and interactive format was enriching.

Brian made an opening comment along the lines of it being very difficult to be a christian when you are a minister... There were resonating "aha's" throughout the audience. From my own perspective it came along the lines of being so engaged in the practice of ministry that actual personal spiritual formation takes a back seat (if it gets in the car at all!)

When one's life calling is to attention to the lives of others, it can be easy to neglect one's own, as evidenced in many of the helping professions.

Any comments on the difficulty of being a christian when in full-time ministry?

Posted by gary at 05:17 PM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2006

Great Mysteries

How come when you mix water and flour together you get glue ... and then you add eggs and sugar and you get cake? Where does the glue go?

Posted by gary at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2006

On Being a Christian

Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams addressed the World Council of Churches on February 17, choosing as his topic the notion of Christian identity... it is worthy of a complete read, but here are some thoughts that jumped out at me:

The claim of Christian belief is not first and foremost that it offers the only accurate system of thought, as against all other competitors; it is that, by standing in the place of Christ, it is possible to live in such intimacy with God that no fear or failure can ever break God’s commitment to us, and to live in such a degree of mutual gift and understanding that no human conflict or division need bring us to uncontrollable violence and mutual damage. From here, you can see what you need to see to be at peace with God and with God’s creation; and also what you need to be at peace with yourself, acknowledging your need of mercy and re-creation.

...To be a Christian is not to lay claim to absolute knowledge, but to lay claim to the perspective that will transform our most deeply rooted hurts and fears and so change the world at the most important level. It is a perspective that depends on being where Jesus is, under his authority, sharing the ‘breath’ of his life, seeing what he sees – God as Abba, Father, a God completely committed to the people in whose life he seeks to reproduce his own life.

...And when we face radically different notions, strange and complex accounts of a perspective not our own, our questions must be not ‘How do we convict them of error? How do we win the competition of ideas?’ but, ‘What do they actually see? and can what they see be a part of the world that I see?’ These are questions that can be answered only by faithfulness – that is, by staying with the other. Our calling to faithfulness, remember, is an aspect of our own identity and integrity. To work patiently alongside people of other faiths is not an option invented by modern liberals who seek to relativise the radical singleness of Jesus Christ and what was made possible through him. It is a necessary part of being where he is; it is a dimension of ‘liturgy’, staying before the presence of God and the presence of God’s creation (human and non-human) in prayer and love. If we are truly learning how to be in that relation with God and the world in which Jesus of Nazareth stood, we shall not turn away from those who see from another place. And any claim or belief that we see more or more deeply is always rightly going to be tested in those encounters where we find ourselves working for a vision of human flourishing and justice in the company of those who do not start where we have started.

...The question of Christian identity in a world of plural perspectives and convictions cannot be answered in clichés about the tolerant co-existence of different opinions. It is rather that the nature of our conviction as Christians puts us irrevocably in a certain place, which is both promising and deeply risky, the place where we are called to show utter commitment to the God who is revealed in Jesus and to all those to whom his invitation is addressed...

Thoughts?

The full text of the speech is available here.

Posted by gary at 11:24 PM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2006

The Rules for Being Human

I return to this little thought from time to time. Kirrily prompted it with her recent comment.

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period this time around.
2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full time informal school called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.
3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error, experimentation. The "failed" experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately "works."
4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can go on to the next lesson.
5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive there are lessons to be learned.
6. "There" is no better than "here." When your "there" has become a "here" you will simply obtain another "there" that will again look better than "here."
7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself.
8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.
9. Your answers lie inside you. The answer to life's questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.
10. This will often be forgotten, only to be remembered again.

(author unknown)

Posted by gary at 10:34 PM | Comments (1)

February 19, 2006

The Nature of the Bible

Interesting piece of lgic. Reminds me a lot of C.S. Lewis's threefold critique of Jesus (Liar, Lunatic, or Lord) from Mere Christianity and... interestingly, appearing in the Narnia Book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when the two older children initially engage the old professor about Lucy's first story about visiting Narnia. Anyhow, this is taken from a book called 'A Ready Defense' by Josh McDowell, and he's quoting Charles Wesley (thanks to dboy for this)

The Bible must be either the invention of good men or angels, bad men or demons, or of God. Therefore:

1. It could not be the invention of good men or angels, for they neither could nor would make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, "Thus saith the Lord" when it was their own invention.

2. It could not be an invention of bad men or devils, for they would not make a book that commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity.

3. Therefore, I draw this conclusion, that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration.

Thoughts?

Posted by gary at 10:24 AM | Comments (2)

February 18, 2006

Leunig Controversy

Michael Leunig has never been far from controversy since the war on Iraq began. His heartache over the whole affair has been evident through many cartoons. But this controversy reached another level when a four-year-old cartoon, rejected by The Age at the time, appeared in an Iranian competition related to the Holocaust. Leunig's position is that the cartoon is anti-war, not anti-semitic. Age editor of the time, himself jewish, did not see it that way. Here is the offending cartoon (thanks to revhead).

leunig-auschwitz.jpg

The cartoon was submitted to the competition as a hoax, the offender explaining himself immediately the controversy erupted. Leunig initially suspected sinister motives, later reflecting on the whole affair. Age editor Michael Gawenda plays the racism card in his analysis of the affair.

What to make of it all? Leunig is something of a Melbourne institution, and many of his cartoons carry a strong prophetic edge, inasmuch as he is prepared to expose, critique and challenge popular culture.

The problem with this cartoon, as with those of Mohammad published by the Danish newspaper, is that many people look at them objectively, which takes the passion - and the life reality - out of it. When one names a demon, expect a reaction.

Posted by gary at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2006

Resigned to failure?

Children teach us a lesson adults should learn: to not be ashamed of failing, but to get up and try again. Most of us adults are so afraid, so cautious, so “safe” and therefore so shrinking and rigid and afraid. That it is why so many of us have resigned ourselves to failure. - Malcolm X

Posted by gary at 11:12 PM | Comments (4)

February 16, 2006

The Little Colonel

I recently purchased "The Little Colonel" - a Shirley Temple movie - for my in-laws, as I had seen it on special. This movie, made in 1935, had been introduced to me by my parents when I was a child, themselves having seen it around the time of its original release. Now, 70 years later, it reappears on DVD. Shirley Temple (now Shirley Temple Black) is immortalised as a child actor.

Shirley Temple Black served many years as an Ambassador, working for international justice in Africa and Central Europe. She is now 78 years of age. However, since the release of her movies on DVD she has reported an increase in fan mail, with many admirers presuming that she is still 7 years of age. It is amazing that someone can be "frozen" in such a way, and how easy it can be to be ignorant of history.

I encountered a similar experience recently when talking with someone about the movie "Apollo 13". This person - in their late 20s - reported how they were on tenterhooks at the end of the movie because they did not know whether the astronauts made it back safely.

"Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it," said George Santayana. Now we might be stretching it a little to include some obscure movies (sorry Shirley!), but where do we draw the line? When we lose memory of the crusades, we cannot understand Islam's relationship with the West; if we forget the Holocaust, how can we understand the Middle East today (let alone some of the longer history of the Middle East!)

Can we develop our spirituality without regard to the rich history of faith traditions available to us? Or are we condemned to the feeling of the moment - without root, without foundation?

Posted by gary at 11:13 PM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2006

Lenten Fast

With Shrove Tuesday less than two weeks ago, some are already giving consideration to Lent, the season of denial usually characterised by fasting. Here's one idea which is a new take: A Lenten Slow! That's it, a slow! Realising that the idea of giving something up for Lent be supplemented (or replaced) by doing something which goes against the constant pressure to speed things up. It's not a unique idea, there's a Lenten Slow wiki web site where you can join with others in the creative as well as the enacting phases. (Dare I say, "hurry and join today!"?)

Seriously though, someone has characterised Western life as suffering from hurry sickness. Heck, I've even stood at the microwave impatient as it counted down the seconds for something that used to take twenty minutes; I worry about a ten-second wait for a web site to begin displaying... Feeling the pressure to "use" every moment is a notion born of our consumer culture where all time is money.

A Lenten slow... why limit it to Lent?

Posted by gary at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2006

Being British

Apparently one of the British national daily newspapers is asking readers "what it means to be British". This may be another one of those internet legends, but the story which captures attention is this is one from a chap in Switzerland.

"Being British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, then travelling home, grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab on the way, to sit on Swedish furniture and watch American shows on a Japanese TV. And the most British thing of all?

"Suspicion of anything foreign".

Posted by gary at 06:18 PM | Comments (1)

February 13, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

The imminent release of the movie based on Dan Brown's book has Sony Pictures more than a little nervous in the US. The power of the US evangelical political lobby to cause them problems has lead to a creative response: they have constructed a web site in which they have invited key scholars and writers to post articles on the film/book. The web site thedavincichallenge.com will post 45 essays who will analyse and respond to the book's assertions.

If you haven't read the book (where HAVE you been?)... it plays on conspiracy theories and institutional suspicions to underscore a belief that the true secrets of Jesus have been known and hidden.

Let's hope that the christian church has learned the lesson of The Life of Brian, The Last Temptation of Christ and other films which they succeeded in giving greater publicity to by their public protests. I, for one, welcome the opportunities that the Da Vinci Code brings to engage in conversation about Jesus and christian faith. In some senses the book offers more open opportunities for discussion than either The Passion of the Christ or The Chronicles of Narnia.

Dan Brown's book has been on the best seller list for quite some time. When the movie is released in the US on May 18, I can imagine the queues will be long... The questions it asks and challenges it poses are worthy of serious consideration and engagement, rather than dismissive ridicule. In one sense, the book echoes the spirit of our age.

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

February 12, 2006

Being there for others

Don't think it is the right thing to say that I "love" Bonhoeffer, but he certainly challenges one's thinking, both in relation to his writings, and his choices. This one is a good one:

A transformation of all human life is given in the fact that 'Jesus is there only for others'... faith is participation in this being of Jesus (incarnation, cross and resurrection)... the church is the church only when it exists for others

Posted by gary at 11:02 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2006

Being Evangelical

Great description of what it means to be evangelical:

I'm a nineteenth-century evangelical born in the wrong century. Evangelicals led the battle against slavery; they fought for women's suffrage; they fought for child labor reform; they were revivalists and reformers, evangelists and abolitionists, and people like Charles Finney (the Billy Graham of his day, the nineteenth-century evangelist who invented the "altar call" to get the names of his converts to sign them up for the anti-slavery campaign). I like the idea of altar calls. I mean, don't just listen to a talk and clap your hands and go home. Respond. Commit. Make a decision. Join something. That's what it means to me to be an evangelical. - Jim Wallis

Posted by gary at 09:34 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2006

The Prayer of Jabez

This small prayer has been the subject of a best-seller book. The author of the book decided to put the earnings to use in combatting the AIDS problem -among other challenges - in Swaziland, but things didn't turn out the way he would have liked. David Batstone reflects on the consequences for the theology which underpins the book:

The Prayer of Jabez Falls Short In Africa
Bruce Wilkinson, author of the best-selling book The Prayer of Jabez, made a big splash nearly four years ago when he announced his ambitious plan to help children suffering from AIDS in Africa.

Not everything for Wilkinson has gone according to plan, unfortunately. A page one feature in the Dec. 19 The Wall Street Journal captures the sad tale in a nutshell: "In 2002 Bruce Wilkinson, a Georgia preacher whose self-help prayer book had made him a rich man, heard God's call, moved to Africa and announced his intention to save one million children left orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. In October [2005], Wilkinson resigned in a huff from the African charity he founded. He abandoned his plan to house 10,000 children in a facility that was to be an orphanage, bed-and-breakfast, game reserve, Bible college, industrial park and Disneyesque tourist destination in the tiny kingdom of Swaziland. What happened in between is a story of grand hopes and inexperience, divine inspiration and human foibles. ¿[H]is departure left critics convinced he was just another in a long parade of outsiders who have come to Africa making big promises and quit the continent when local people didn't bend to their will."

It is not my aim to gloat at Wilkinson's failure. To the contrary, I mourn what this means for the millions of African children in crisis who apparently will not benefit from his efforts. I also want to honor Wilkinson's desire to help the least fortunate. It would have been easy for him to take the wealth he gained from his book sales and live a life of personal comfort.

This chain of events, however, should not pass without a moment of theological reflection.

The "blessed life" that Wilkinson has helped to promote carries with it a number of assumptions about where God is present in the world, and how God acts in response to the prayers of the faithful.

The Prayer of Jabez is based on a passage out of the book of Chronicles, in which a devoted man named Jabez asks God for a favor: "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!" The fact that God honors Jabez' prayer and blesses him with great riches indicates to Wilkinson a God-principle. If we in pure heart ask God for a blessing - and do so using the very words that Jabez prayed - then God will bring wondrous gifts into our life. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Wilkinson interprets the wild commercial success of his books (roughly 20 million copies sold combined) as yet another proof of the miraculous power of the Jabez prayer. In other words, it worked for Jabez, it worked for Wilkinson, and now it should work for you. With the fiasco in Africa now behind him - and the full Journal report makes clear that fiasco is the appropriate term - I wonder if Wilkinson has reconsidered his theology.

Maybe because I spent so many years in poor regions of the globe I could never accept the prayer-in-blessing-out approach to faithful living. Straight to the point, I have known too many devoted Christians for whom life did not bring them material blessing. Their children still died of infectious diseases that plagued their village. They could not avoid the violence that dictators and ideologues so often use to cow the powerless. Their territory did not expand because their only path for survival was a daily labor with their hands. Yet they did not lose faith, or cease praying for God's blessing.

As I ponder on their lives, I find a more fitting theology for God's presence and action in the world to be laid out in the book of Hebrews. There we are encouraged to have "faith in things not yet seen," and are offered models of individuals who tried to lead devoted lives that honor God. We read that some of them did receive great material blessings, while others ended up in the dens of lions or stoned due to their principled living. We learn, in other words, that God does hear their prayers and loves them profoundly, but it does not always bring them material riches or expanded territory.

Wilkinson's doctrine in fact implies that social structures are immaterial. An individual reciting the right prayer can transcend an AIDS epidemic in his or her village or escape being bought and sold into slavery (like 27 million people on this planet yet today). Perhaps now that Wilkinson has immersed himself in Africa, he better understands that the curse of poverty is not a spiritual punishment, or an indication of a lack of faith. To bring blessings to the orphans and widows of Africa, a dramatic shift in values - political, economic, and personal - will be required. And that challenge cannot be owned by Africans alone; it falls squarely on the shoulders of us in rich nations, who enjoy such great material "blessings."

Just like the next Bible reader, I could pick out individual passages that seem to suggest that God will give us whatever we desire as long as we ask for it with a pure heart. "You can even move this mountain" with such a prayer, as Jesus teaches his disciples in the gospels. I do not summarily discount these passages, nor do I assume that we should never pray for rain in a time of drought.

But the weight of the biblical message balances heavily toward a prayer life that yields courage, love, and compassion to do the will of God. The expectation of material gain and miraculous blessings may even distract us on that pilgrimage. The passage in Hebrews calls us, based on past heroes of the faith, "to run the race in front of us," confident that devoting our lives to God's work is all the reward we will ever need.

original source

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

Quizzes

There are more quizzes here than I've got time to do, but there are some good questions to test your science knowledge.

Posted by gary at 12:06 AM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2006

Democracy

It is time to elect a world leader, and your vote counts. Here are the facts about the three leading candidates:

Candidate A: Associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologers. He's had two mistresses and was not discrete about it. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B: Was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of whiskey every evening.

Candidate C: Is a decorated war hero. He's a vegetarian, politically conservative, doesn't smoke, drinks an occasional beer and hasn't had any extramarital affairs.

Which of these candidates would be your choice?? Make your choice, then click here.

Candidate A is Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)
Candidate B is Winston Churchill
Candidate C is Adolph Hitler

Something to ponder on. Isn't it? What is the relationship between character and leadership? This little vignette does not tell the whole story of course, but it does remind us that leaders who appear ethically pristine may not be all they appear, and/or may not make the wisest political choices.

Posted by gary at 11:23 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2006

Danish Cartoons

The not inconsiderable reaction to the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed has raised significant and conflicting questions, not the least of which is the contest between freedom of speech and respect for the beliefs of others. The report that most of the cartoons were ‘innocuous’ is true only from the standpoint of Western perspective. The reality is that any depiction of Mohammed us regarded as blasphemous in Islam, which makes them anything but innocuous to our Islamic friends.

Others have been quick to point out that such depictions of Jesus do not draw the same ire from the Christian community. Such has not been the case throughout history. The Reformation period is littered with stories of Christians killing others for criticising their position, or of holding a position of difference. The tolerance we trumpet so freely from the Christian perspective has not always been evident from within the walls of the church, or the West in general.

Perhaps we need to remember that our Western understanding of history is not universal. The era known in the West as ‘the enlightenment’ - in which the understanding of authority shifted from the church and social hierarchy into knowledge and logic and individual expression - was a painful one for many in the West during the time of transition. Many Islamic countries still hold to pre-enlightenment positions of authority and truth.

With the shift to a more global culture, it remains to be seen how Islam is able to accommodate to the cultural shift from the faith perspective. With authority as they have known it no longer available to them in many parts of the world, creative leadership is required. But that cannot be the only answer.

It is too easy from the standpoint of the West to adopt a position of superiority: “we are enlightened” is the logical consequence of our history. Yet we are facing the crumbling of many of our own “enlightenment” precepts: The breaking down of national borders through revolutions in international travel and migration together with the advent of communication technologies have challenged our cultural blind spots and invited us to see that there are diverse ways of seeing an issue. Emerging postmodern philosophical frameworks are now deconstructing many truths once held dear. Enlightenment’s dark spots are being exposed. While it remains to be seen where this might lead us, it still is easier to see the deficiencies in the cultures of those different. Islam has much to offer – both as a culture and as a worldview – in the conversation which our increasingly globalised world is entering. If there is an apparent fault of our commitment to ‘freedom of expression’ it is in the lack of appreciation of and respect for the value of some truths to different groups. It risks being a conversation where everything is cheap.

And we dare not avoid the economic issues behind the reaction to the Danish cartoons. Muslims in Europe are not equal in the economic stakes – their situation trails the rest, meaning that the cartoons risk being received as the bully kicking sand in the face of the downtrodden. Inasmuch as this is true, they are not to be regarded as freedom of expression but as an act of oppression.

There is considerable anger being expressed amongst Muslims and others. We need to be wary of letting our perceptions of this anger reinforce inappropriate stereotypes. For inasmuch as the Islamic world is unused to engagement in conversation with the West, so is the West equally inexperienced. We need to season this conversation with grace, respect and a grasping for understanding.

We cannot escape this increasingly multi-cultural world. As we engage with it, we need to be more than tolerant. We need to be people who seek an understanding and an appreciation of the diverse viewpoints which make up this rich tapestry which is humanity. In so doing, we will engage in conversation rather than open warfare.

Posted by gary at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2006

Bono's address to the National Prayer Breakfast

I know I posted the whole text yesterday, but this speech has to be considered for its content, and its courage... Consider this little excerpt (remembering that he is addressing the President)...

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

... and that's not the only confronting aspect of the speech.

If you'd rather listen to it, it's available in mp3 and wmv format here. There's a power in the delivery not fully evident in the text.

Posted by gary at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2006

Bono's Prayer Breakfast Sermon

This is a bold and challenging address. Given an opportunity to address the US President, what would you say? Would you be as bold as Bono?


If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.

Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.

Well, I'm the first to admit that there's something unnatural...something unseemly...about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the south of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert...but this is really weird, isn't it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind.

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It's very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned - I'm Irish.


I'd like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I'd like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws...but of course, they don't always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you're here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here - Muslims, Jews, Christians - all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it's odd, having a rock star here - but maybe it's odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was...well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays... and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land...and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash...in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment...

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical...not about God, but about God's politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick - my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world's poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord's call - and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic's point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

'Jubilee' - why 'Jubilee'?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lord's favor?

I'd always read the scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)...

'If your brother becomes poor,' the scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain himself...you shall maintain him.... You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.'

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he's met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he's a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn't done much...yet. He hasn't spoken in public before...

When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18).

What he was really talking about was an era of grace - and we're still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate - in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn't a bless-me club... it wasn't a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions...making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called AIDS. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones that didn't miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children...even [though the] fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet...conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS...soccer moms and quarterbacks...hip-hop stars and country stars. This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened - and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even - that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying...on AIDS and global health, governments listened - and acted.

I'm here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here's some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."

And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."

"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than 2 million Americans...Left and Right together... united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King - mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market...that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents...that's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents...that's a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That's why I say there's the law of the land¿. And then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won't, at least. Will yours?

[ pause]

I close this morning on...very...thin...ice.

This is a dangerous idea I've put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God...vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.

And this is a town - Washington - that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

'Do to others as you would have them do to you' (Luke 6:30). Jesus says that.

'Righteousness is this: that one should...give away wealth out of love for him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.' The Koran says that (2.177).

Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.' The Jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: 'The Lord will watch your back.' Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it¿. I have a family, please look after them¿. I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what he's calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to 10% of the family budget. Well, how does that compare with the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than 1%.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing.... Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is 1%?

1% is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. 1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. 1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. 1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

1% is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than 1% now. We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us.

1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.

These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.

Now, I'm very lucky. I don't have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give 1% more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed.

There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Posted by gary at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2006

Another time waster

So you think you are handy with a mouse (or trackball). Try this! If you can stay in the game for 18 seconds, you are a master!

Posted by gary at 06:02 PM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2006

Stupidity comes naturally...

If you are looking for real-life stories of how dumb people can really be, check out the Bozo criminal report. It's a wonderful reminder of human creativity (to be shared alongside the Darwin Awards), although in the sense of our ability to get ourselves into trouble.

Posted by gary at 03:26 PM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2006

iPod - can you hear me?

It had to happen! It might cost an arm and a leg to replace the battery when it wears out, but you might not need to anyway... Report from ABC news today:

iPod user sues for hearing damage

A music-lover claiming to suffer from 'iPod ear' has filed suit in a US court against Apple Computer, charging that the market-leading MP3 music player damages users' hearing.

John Patterson of Louisiana filed a federal lawsuit against Apple in the Silicon Valley city of San Jose on behalf of all iPod users and demanded a civil trial, according to court documents online.

IPods have a maximum possible volume of 115 decibels, and listening at that level for just 28 seconds daily can cause hearing damage, the lawsuit charged.

The noise from a typical chain saw is reported to register 110 decibels and a jack hammer about 120 decibels.

Apple iPods are "inherently defective in design" and do not bear adequate warnings about possible hearing damage, the suit charged.

IPod packaging bears a warning about potential hearing loss if music is listened to at high volume.

However, the "ear bud" earphones sold with the iPods do not properly disperse the sound, according to the suit.

The Cupertino, California company has declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing pending litigation.

Apple was forced to pull iPods from stores in France and upgrade them with software limiting sound output to 100 decibels, something it has not done in the United States, the lawsuit contended.

-AFP

Posted by gary at 03:27 PM | Comments (3)

Some fun....

Here's some fun sites to visit.

Just be aware: they may not be all they seem!

Hand-Eye Co-ordination Test
Tired of Living on Earth? Build Your Own Island! - the link now works!
Who said that? This one is a must - you'll be a little taken aback.
New Windows edition

Posted by gary at 07:14 AM | Comments (3)

February 02, 2006

The Queen Mary

Came across this interesting little piece... A stark reminder of how strength from the outside might not match the substance inside...

The Queen Mary was the largest ship to cross the oceans when it was launched in 1936. Through four decades and a World War she served until she was retired, anchored as a floating hotel and museum in Long Beach, California.

During the conversion, her three massive smoke-stacks were taken off to be scraped down and repainted. But on the dock they crumbled. Nothing was left of the 3/4-inch steel plate from which the stacks had been formed. All that remained were more than thirty coats of paint that had been applied over the years. The steel had rusted away.

Posted by gary at 12:49 PM | Comments (1)

Youth program focus

When we think about setting up youth programs in churches we immediately think social activities with lots of fun and high energy. But in Wollongong, a survey of youth in the region came up with a different focus: spirituality.

In their surveys, 'spiritual focus' scored 87 votes, compared with social activities (20 votes) and social action (justice and peace - 21 votes).

Makes you wonder whether we are reading our young people well enough in our churches, or whether our expectations are often too low. Which is not to say that good social activities aren't important, but to question whether they need to be the number one priority.

Posted by gary at 10:02 AM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2006

Brian McLaren wanders into hot territory

Brian McLaren has touched on perhaps the hottest topic in church life in the West in a recent leadership blog... I reporoduce it here - well worth reading. It has created quite a strong response on both sides. Marc Driscoll of Mars Hill makes a strong argument in the opposite direction, and another from Blog and Mablog.

I wonder whether there are two conversations crossing each other here: a pastoral and a theological one... It's a conversation that won't go away.

The couple approached me immediately after the service. This was their first time visiting, and they really enjoyed the service, they said, but they had one question. You can guess what the question was about: not transubstantiation, not speaking in tongues, not inerrancy or eschatology, but where our church stood on homosexuality.

That "still, small voice" told me not to answer. Instead I asked, "Can you tell me why that question is important to you?" "It's a long story," he said with a laugh.


Usually when I'm asked about this subject, it's by conservative Christians wanting to be sure that we conform to what I call "radio-orthodoxy," i.e. the religio-political priorities mandated by many big-name religious broadcasters. Sometimes it's asked by ex-gays who want to be sure they'll be supported in their ongoing re-orientation process, or parents whose children have recently "come out."

But the young woman explained, "This is the first time my fiancée and I have ever actually attended a Christian service, since we were both raised agnostic." So I supposed they were like most unchurched young adults I meet, who wouldn't want to be part of an anti-homosexual organization any more than they'd want to be part of a racist or terrorist organization.

I hesitate in answering "the homosexual question" not because I'm a cowardly flip-flopper who wants to tickle ears, but because I am a pastor, and pastors have learned from Jesus that there is more to answering a question than being right or even honest: we must also be . . . pastoral. That means understanding the question beneath the question, the need or fear or hope or assumption that motivates the question.

We pastors want to frame our answer around that need; we want to fit in with the Holy Spirit's work in that person's life at that particular moment. To put it biblically, we want to be sure our answers are "seasoned with salt" and appropriate to "the need of the moment" (Col. 4; Eph. 4).

Most of the emerging leaders I know share my agony over this question. We fear that the whole issue has been manipulated far more than we realize by political parties seeking to shave percentage points off their opponent's constituency. We see whatever we say get sucked into a vortex of politicized culture-wars rhetoric--and we're pastors, evangelists, church-planters, and disciple-makers, not political culture warriors. Those who bring us honest questions are people we are trying to care for in Christ's name, not cultural enemies we're trying to vanquish.

Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. We've heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us." That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think. Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren't sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn.

Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we'll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they'll be admittedly provisional. We'll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we'll speak; if not, we'll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the "winds of doctrine" blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course.

Later that week I got together with the new couple to hear their story. "It's kind of weird how we met," they explained. "You see, we met last year through our fathers who became . . . partners. When we get married, we want to be sure they will be welcome at our wedding. That's why we asked you that question on Sunday."

Welcome to our world. Being "right" isn't enough. We also need to be wise. And loving. And patient. Perhaps nothing short of that should "seem good to the Holy Spirit and us."

Posted by gary at 05:13 PM | Comments (0)

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