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March 31, 2006

Stick Figures

This is absolutely worth a look.

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

March 30, 2006

2006 AFL Ladder Prediction

Last year I made my prediction in relation to how the new football season would turn out. I made some glaring misreadings of teams, which were evident when the season ended. So, now that my relative credentials have been revealed (rather than established), let me delve into the waters of prediction once more...
1. Adelaide - misread them badly last year. Hopefully again this year ;-)
2. Geelong - well placed for a tilt at the big one. My current tip for the flag
3. West Coast - if they can keep their minds on football
4. St Kilda - still have reservations about their ability to go all the way.
5. Sydney - their strength is their team
6. Fremantle - they have different mind problems to West Coast. Could surprise.
7. Western Bulldogs - have lost Darcy already, but some real class still in the squad.
8. Richmond - had them here last year. But they are getting better every year (or at least last year!)
9. Melbourne - could go as high as fifth
10. Kangaroos - good even team, but don't think they can go all the way
11. Essendon - time for rebuilding.
12. Brisbane - injuries already taking their toll as they rebuild.
13. Collingwood - have some good players back but the engine room is still superceded by a number of seasons.
14. Port Adelaide - their theme song "We'll never stop, stop, stop, until we're top, top, top!" gives them away. They were top two years ago. And they are still coming to a stop.
15. Hawthorn - might make an early jump, but too many young bodies
16. Carlton - building for the future, and still digging the foundations

The first tip for the season? West Coast to beat St Kilda! Premiership? Geelong (at this stage) Brownlow? Deledio! (or I could toss a coin!)

Seal up the box until the end of August.

Posted by gary at 02:11 PM | Comments (2)

March 29, 2006

God's Politics

British Finance Minister and Prime-Minister-in-Waiting has warmly endorsed Jim Wallis' book God's Politics, in a bold statement which challenges the presuppositions on which much of the religious right's agenda in national politics. Jim Wallis is launching the book in Melbourne on Sunday at Melbourne Town Hall - an event I will be attending.

I don't have a problem with religious issues entering our national political agenda - goodness knows that they are writ large all over the international stage at the moment... but let's ensure that it is not used to merely prop up a narrow ideology which marginalises the poor, demonises the stranger, and diminishes our commitment to compassion, justice and truth.

Some of the great atrocities of history have been committed by well-meaning religious people, who have lost grounding in the full message of the Bible. I'm looking forward to hearing Wallis speak, and this broader conversation entering the Australian public dialogue.

Posted by gary at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2006

God-Sized Assignments

Some people say, "God will never ask me to do something I can't do." I have come to the place in my life that, if the assignment I sense God is giving me is something that I know I can handle, I know it is probably not from God. The kind of assignments God gives in the Bible are always God-sized. They are always beyond what people can do, because He wants to demonstrate His nature, His strength, His provision, and His kindness to His people and to a watching world. This is the only way the world will come to know Him.

- Henry Blackaby in "Experiencing God"

Posted by gary at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2006

Critical Thinking

At the risk of gutting the full intent of Frank's thoughtful post on rational faith, this particular comment jumped out at me:

The willingness to think is one of the most scarce capacities in our current situation. There is a great scarcity of critical thinking. We value the kind of thinking that 'produces results'—that is, which helps us to know how to do things, and to do them better. We value the kind of thinking that will give us more things, more money, more 'outcomes'. But we find it uncomfortable, or downright annoying, when someone asks questions about the values in these activities. We need the rational inquiry which involves self-criticism and moral challenge. In other posts I have written about the quest for truth. Most important for me is the quest for truthfulness.

It appears that one of the significant cultural shifts post-September 11 has been the reluctance to allow open publicly debate about the bigger questions of value and culture. Those who do so usually find themselves stereotyped - images such as "unAustralian" or "unpatriotic" are freely used - and suspicions about motives are raised. In times of crisis, this level of debate becomes more important, rather than less. In an era of redefinition, it remains equally so.

Posted by gary at 12:37 PM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2006

Lent and the Desert

Very helpful thoughts on the desert here.

Posted by gary at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2006


A comment by one athlete at the Commonwealth Games shocked our eldest son. Having just won the gold medal for long jump, the athlete commented that she had gone without chocolate for ten years for this moment. That was enough for my son - that sort of sacrifice was just too much - even for a gold medal!

Posted by gary at 08:54 AM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2006

A Modern Parable

This parable, called "A Modest Disposal" appears in the autobiography of John Dominic Crossan, entitled "It's a Long Way from Tipperary".

Once upon a time there was a group called the Southern Baptist Convention, which locked horns (possibly an unfortunate metaphor) every year with another group called Walt Disney Incorporated. The mdeia reported that the issue was the sexual content of movies made by Disney subsidiaries or the equal respect it showed to both gay and straight employees at its theme parks. The Southern Baptist Convention held that gays should repent, change, and go straight. Gays responded that such was not possible, that they had never met such transformed individuals, but they had often met fundamentalists who had repented, changed, and become Christian. Be that as it may, the media got it completely wrong. The debate was not over morality or even the differing views of morality. It was not over the Bible, the New Testament, or the Gospels, over where they were permanently valid ("Love your enemies") and where they were socially relative ("Slaves, obey your masteres"). It was actually over the global control of fantasy.

The contest was between two giant corporations over the worldwide missionary expansion of illusional entertainment. Both were, at least in large doses, equally if differently dangerous. With Walt Disney Incorporated it was sometimes difficult to tell reality from fantasy as cartoon characters, literary figures, historical events, geographical places, and evetually religious traditions disappeared into animated illusion. With the Southern Baptist Convention it was difficult to distinguish between religion and Prozac, Christianity and chloroform, baptism and lobotomy. But, locked together, the object of the battle was obvious. Who, for the next century or even the next millennium, would control the transmutation of reality into fantasy, of religious reality into religious fantasy, and of secular reality into secular fantasy?

The only solution was to bring in a conflict-management arbitrator to negotiate a final solution before the parties destroyed one another. She spoke about the dangers of giant corporations fighting to the death rather than arranging sensible compromise. She said she wished that Apple and IBM had combined forces to make the original personal computer and that Microsoft had died aborning. (She admitted that the last comment might have been unfair because she realised the difficulty or reinventing the wheel without infringing on its first patent. It did, however, make the final product more complicated than the original.)

After only a few weeks, the deal was concluded. Walt Disney Incorporated and the Southern Baptist Convention amalgamated freely and evenly - not a hostile takeover or even a friendly buy-out, but an absolutely equal combination. It was like, as the arbitrator had said, Harper and Collins becoming HarperCollins-Publishers. Two erstwhile enemies became BaptistDisney-Entertainments.

They started immediately to plan for the future. There would be a new giant theme park, wiping out any recent gains made by Universal Studios' Escape and taking up all of the rest of Central Florida, from sea to shining sea. It would have an attractive Garden of Eden, where visitors could create different original sins and divergent histories of the world, and an interactive Rapture Ride and Millennial Slaughter, where visitors could invent alternative atrocities to exterminate the ungodly. The possibilities were endless.

There was only one cloud on the horizon. The U.S. Justice Department moved immediately to forbid the merger and to prevent BaptistDisney-Entertainments from obtaining a monopoly on world fantasy. But a good legal defense was able to overturn that prohibition. Clearly, there were still other major contenders in the market. There were Hollywood's special effects wizards, England's Royal Family, Rome's Vatican City, and Israel's National Parks Authority, which, according to Time Magazine for February 22m 1999, "has approved a 262-ft.-long transparent bridge to be built just below the surface of the Sea of Galilee so visitors can follow in the footsteps of Christ... After it opens in August, [the contractor Ron Major] expects up to 800,000 people a year to pay a minimum fee to walk on water. And, yes, lifeguards will be on hand in case anyone strays from the true path. That issue was actually introduced as an exhibit for the defense.

Eventually, the Justice Department agreed: BaptistDisney-Entertainments would not be a monopoloy, just number one. Everything was now perfect, although an op-ed in the New York Times warned, from somewhere in William Butler Yeats's poetry, that when a heart grows up on fantasy, it often grows old on brutality.

Posted by gary at 05:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2006

Spirituality of Place

I have greatly appreciated the musings of Frank Rees on the spirituality of place, with his reflections on the beach and on contrasts. His reflections set me thinking, as I journeyed to some places in the past week which have been significant in my own journey, which I have reflected upon here.

Posted by gary at 08:52 PM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2006

Thoughts from Tomorrow's Message

Imagine the headline “God wants to destroy the church!” Most of us would be up in arms. If I preached that in some churches, I would doubt whether they would let me finish. Yet this is the message which Jeremiah is asked to preach. He stands before the people of Israel and tells them that if they want to be a part of God’s future, if they want to be in the place of God’s blessing, they have to leave the Promised Land behind (Jer 24). In other words, to know the blessing of God, they would have to let go of a blessing they had already been given. They would have to leave behind the Promised Land, leave behind the temple, leave behind the palace where memories of David and Solomon crossed their minds every time they saw the palace. They would not only leave behind the place where the stories of the heroes of faith were lived, they would need to embrace something which would generally be regarded as the antithesis of everything that they stood for as the people of God - submission to the rulers of Babylon, where they would be taken in exile. Jeremiah was not a popular man for preaching this message. They wanted to kill him. But… Jeremiah was convinced that the people had held so tightly to the blessing which God had given them in the past, they had crushed its meaning. It was like the manna served in the desert – if it was held on to for too long, it would turn rancid. The only way to experience the fresh manna was to let go of the one already held.

Posted by gary at 10:06 PM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2006

The Best Irish Joke

In honour of St Patrick's Day, my eldest son, who is on the cusp of his teenage years, emerged this morning with the following joke:

News reports are coming in of Ireland's worst air tragedy. A two-seater Cessna crashed into the Dublin cemetery when its pilot inexplicably lost control. The scene is a disaster. Rescue crews have so far dug up 744 bodies, with the death count expected to go even higher...

Not bad for a 12-year-old!

Posted by gary at 10:37 AM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2006

Inner and Outer Morality

Outward as well as inward morality helps to form the idea of a true Christian freedom. We are right to lay stress on inwardness, but in this world there is no inwardness without an outward expression - Meister Eckhart

Posted by gary at 07:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2006

Passing on of Story

How is it that the songs of an American entertainer from the 1910s are etched into the memory of people in their 40s over 90 years later? As I watched The Jolson Story, and Jolson Sings Again in the past week, I found myself singing along, with cries from another room, “I remember those. My Dad used to sing them to me when I was a kid!” Familiar tunes and vaguely familiar words resonated through my brain. Some songs I could sing word-for-word, others echoing childhood memories. Of course many of them became familiar anthems and stage numbers, yet still from an era which pre-dates me. How are they carried through in living memory today?

The songs were originally performed in burlesque and vaudeville theatres, before moving to broadway. These were essentially live performances, often broadcast live on radio. The advent and spread of the gramophone allowed these songs a second life, albeit subject to the vagaries and fickle nature of the hit parade. During the war many gained another life, as Jolson entertained American troops, only to fade away once more. When the songs were translated into the Hollywood movie and its sequel already mentioned that a new generation was introduced to them, and the life of Jolson. I am sure that the emergence of the LP, and the later shift to digital recordings via CD kept this music alive and introduced it to further generations. Now the movie resurfaces on DVD...

Stories and history are handed on from generation to generation in many and diverse ways. As Ev and I reflected on the part these Jolson songs played in our lives, we considered the impact they had made on our parents, which emerged in the songs they sang around the home, and particularly at bed time. Some of them I still sang periodically, not recalling their origin. I often found myself thinking, “that’s where I learned that song from!” as I watched the movies.

This form of history is powerful, and reflects the ways in which the early stories of Jesus were passed from generation to generation. The first disciples and those who had been impacted by Jesus would retell their experiences, even converting some to song and poem, which would be remembered for the shape they brought to new generations. It was some time before they were committed to the written form which has come to us today, perhaps highlighting their power and influence in living memory.

As I read gospel stories, I find myself being energised in a similar way: moved to act and do as the stories depict, much in the same way as the songs came to life again for me (and others!) It’s how we keep the gospel story alive: in the life we live and share.

Posted by gary at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2006

Improve your writing

(and by extrapolation... your speaking)

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place
- William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style

Posted by gary at 10:43 AM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2006

Red Letter Christians

Here's a new term doing the rounds. Don't know if it will catch on, but it's one worth thinking about...

Because being evangelical is usually synonymous with being Republican in the popular mind, and calling ourselves “progressive” might be taken as a value judgment by those who do share our views, we decided not to call ourselves “progressive evangelicals.” We came up with a new name: Red-Letter Christians.

Who first suggested the label? A secular Jewish Country-and-Western disc jockey in Nashville, Tennessee. During a radio interview he was conducting with Jim Wallis, he happened to say, “So, you’re one of those Red-Letter Christians - you know - who’s really into those verses in the New Testament that are in red letters!”

Jim answered, “That’s right!” And with that answer, he spoke for all of us. By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the New Testament, the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting this name, we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said. Of course, the message in those red-lettered verses is radical, to say the least. If you don’t believe me, read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

In those red letters, He calls us away from the consumerist values that dominate contemporary American consciousness. He calls us to be merciful, which has strong implications for how we think about capital punishment. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he probably means we shouldn’t kill them. Most important, if we take Jesus seriously, we will realize that meeting the needs of the poor is a primary responsibility for His followers.

Figuring out just how to relate those radical red letters in the Bible to the complex issues in the modern world will be difficult, but that’s what we’ll try to do.

Gandhi once said that everybody in the world knows what Jesus was teaching in those verses - except Christians! We will try to prove him wrong.

Read the full story here.

Posted by gary at 04:12 PM | Comments (6)

Think you read people well?

See how well you can guess a person's age.

Posted by gary at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2006

Pay It Forward

Saw the movie "Pay it Forward" on the weekend: a simple story about a challenge given to twelve-year-olds by their Social Science teacher: "How does one make a difference in life?" The young lad comes up with the idea of "paying it forward" - when someone does a good turn, you don't pay them back, you 'pay it forward' to three other people. It's a challenge that constantly frustrates him, yet has a hidden power in the midst of his own life and family struggles.

It's not your typical Hollywood fare, and the ending will give you pause for thought. It touches on some of the nastier challenges faced by too many children growing up, and every character is allowed to be human - perhaps more than we would like for a movie.

It's the sort of movie you can watch with your (older) children and be a catalyst for some interesting discussion about our place in life and our ability to face challenges.

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

Could you survive?

The Ultimate Test - have you watched "Survivor" closely enough? Will you live or die?

Posted by gary at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2006

Eating Locally - environmental considerations

An interesting follow-up to a recent post about eating locally, from the current edition of Adbusters.

Local rather than organic food could provide the biggest boost to sustainable living according to scientists. American researchers calculated that purchasing just 10% more food from within state boundaries would reduce collective annual carbon dioxide emissions by 3.6 million kilos. A Japanese environmental organisation found that switching to local food – expecially choosing local soy over imported – would be equivalent to reducing household energy use by 20%, which would enable Japan to meet its Kyoto targets easily. UK researchers calculate that purchasing food grown within a 12-mile radius has a greater positive impact than buying organic food that is not local. They calculate the environmental cost being lowered from $2.3 billion per year to under $230 million.

This is not to say that some international trade isn’t necessary. Chocolate and coffee might be two examples. However, when the port of New York city exports $431,000 of California almonds to Italy and imports $397,000 of Italian almonds in the same year, we have to ask serious questions.

Posted by gary at 07:21 AM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2006

The Simpsons come to life

This is a real hoot! As the Simpsons are about to start their 17th season (March 20 in the USA), the creators have put together a real-life version of the opening credits. The clip re-enacts the title sequence to a tee. You can view it either in small, medium or large format.

Thanks to Ken for the heads up on this one!

To read the story behind it, click here.

If you pick the blooper, let me know!

Posted by gary at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

The Real News Agenda

Here's an interesting quote which will make you skeptical about anything you hear on the nightly television news:

"This is an industry, it's a business. We exist to make money. We exist to put commercials on the air. The programming that is put on between those commercials is simply the bait we put in the mousetrap" - Ted Koppel, retiring news anchor of USAmerica's ABC network, speaking about advertising in the news business.

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

March 05, 2006

Lent and Jeremiah

Working through the prophet Jeremiah in my own devotions has led me to an interesting Lenten reflection... Imagine the headlines "God is going to destroy the church"... what sort of furore would it create?

Yet this is akin to the message that Jeremiah brought to Israel: God is going to destroy you and remove you from the promised land, all at the hand of a godless nation. Seems bizarre. Do you think the Israelites would be predisposed to such a message? Of course not. The promised land was an integral part of their story. It was the place given as God's promise to their ancestor Abraham. It was the place to which the people were brought after being freed from slavery. It was the place where the temple was standing - a reminder of God's ongoing presence. It was the site of David's palace, with its reminders of great victories given by God. For Jeremiah to call Israel to leave it behind was tantamount to treason and heresy. This was the source of life. Yet Jeremiah tells the people that life will only be found in exile. Death will come to all who stay.

This required some new thinking. To leave behind that which came as the fruit of God's promise... why? Because the new could come only when the old was gone. The best could come only when the good had been removed. In spite of the Jewish hope for a messianic return to Jerusalem, they must leave if they ever wish to see it. To fight to stay would be to choose death.

Now how does this link in with Lent? Lent is the time when we are invited to examine our lives afresh. Instinctively our minds are turned to the sins which still beset us, and unhealthy attitudes. But what if the way forward was to let go of something God had blessed us with in the past? What if the way forward required us to let go of something good, something which was a real blessing?

In a critical moment with the disciples, Jesus had to challenge them in the same vein. When Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from this whole die-and-be-raised-again thing, Jesus rebukes him in the strongest way, then goes on to say that only those who lose their lives for the kingdom will gain life, and those who try to save their lives will lose it. In other words, to try and hold on to past blessings may actually destroy us.

Consider Jesus' own end. He was stripped of everything: his clothes, his friends... his last act was to hand responsibility for his mother over to one of the disciples. He lost everything at that point. And yet much more was gained. It was not a path Jesus readily welcomed (remember Gethsemane?) yet he followed it knowing that it was God's call.

Herein lies a major Lenten challenge: to be prepared to set aside not only the bad, but the good, in the hope of realising the path to something even better.

What might that be for each of us?

Posted by gary at 08:33 PM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2006

Eat Local

Imagine only eating food that is grown within 100 km of where you live. Sound strange? Why would someone make such a choice? The Washington World Watch Institute estimates that the ingredients of the average North American meal travel between 2500 and 4000 km on the way to your stomach. Imagine all the greenhouse gases produced in that! Choosing to eat locally is an environmentally friendly choice.

But it is also a spiritual choice, inasmuch as it connects you with the rhythms of your land. No more watermelon in winter, strawberries in early Spring. Some foods would be removed completely from your schedule - how would you go without tea or coffee?

I remember visiting fishing villages in the Philippines where their evening food was caught in the afternoon. No fishing catch and the meal was rudimentary to say the least. It also meant less waste, as there was nowhere to refrigerate the fish for later use. How different from the lifestyles we lead, where our cupboards could keep us going for months. Any wonder our connection with creation is broken.

To give consideration to the environmental impact of our eating habits will become more of a necessity with the passing of years. Reclaiming it as part of our spiritual heritage is increasingly important. Remember the place that meals hold in both Jewish and Christian history: the Passover Feast, the Eucharist (or Lord's Supper), consider the space given to dietary laws in the Pentateuch. Clearly God intended the act of eating to be an expression of our relationship with Him.

At the heart of the christian celebration of eucharist is the reminder of a central aspect of faith: "as often as you eat bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." This is the grace in which every meal is celebrated.

Posted by gary at 07:03 PM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2006

Attention to one's day

Love this quote: a reminder to be aware of what is happening around me each day.

Great opportunities come to all, but many do not know they have met them... The only preparation to take advantage of them is simple fidelity to what each day brings - Albert Elijah Dunning

Posted by gary at 04:10 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2006

Bush at the Roast

This is clever... something like Dave?

Posted by gary at 07:32 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2006

Something useful from the US Government

...practical tips to help you guard against internet fraud, securing your computer and protecting your personal information. It also includes advice from the technology industry.

Here are seven tips:
1. Protect your personal information. It's valuable.
2. Know who you're dealing with.
3. Use anti-virus software and a firewall, and update both regularly.
4. Make sure your operating system and Web browser are set up properly and update them regularly.
5. Protect your passwords.
6. Back up important files.
7. Learn who to contact if something goes wrong online.

read more

Posted by gary at 06:58 PM | Comments (0)


Smack the Penguin
What happens to 500kv when you unplug it...
Try painting your home this way.
Find out what Google thinks of you, your friends or anything. (Don't get disheartened!)
Looking for an old version of software?

Posted by gary at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

Crossing Boundaries

The most recent wedding I conducted raised some interesting questions amongst many of the guests, largely because of its location. I have performed wedding ceremonies in many different places, perhaps the majority of them outside of the church, but it was inside a church that the most questions were asked. Why? Because I - as an ordained Baptist Minister - was conducting a wedding inside a Catholic church.

The questions raised were not critical. In fact, most were quite pleasantly surprised to note the level of cooperation and affirmation which must undergird such an event. Old divides within the church are breaking down, and opportunities such as this serve to make public the fruit of some very productive conversation taking across the institutional boundaries inside the christian church. It is a reminder that we are working in the same cause, serving the same God, and that our diversity is celebrated rather than treated with suspicion.

I have been happy to work across denominational boundaries for many years, and have been greatly enriched by the conversations and partnerships. A simple occasion such as this serves only to bring to light for many people what the Spirit has been doing for many years.

Posted by gary at 10:28 AM | Comments (1)

My Line is Dead

Funeral directors (we don't seem to call them undertakers any more!) have reported a rather strange trend developing: family placing mobile phones in the casket with their loved one at the time of burial. Now this could spark a plethora of comments to do with battery life, reception, and call charges, but I'll resist. It is clear that mobile phone companies are charging too little for the handsets!

But what does this say about the valued memories of a loved one: we could never talk to them because they were always on the phone? The only decent conversation we could have with them was on the phone, but never in person?

Ahh, I should have read the fine print at the bottom of the article in this morning's Age newspaper. Apparently the line has to be dead (good thing. Imagine one of these intelligent phones making its own call: "Help! I've been buried alive!" Or what recorded message would be stored on Messagebank: "You have called the casket/phone of Fred Bloggs. Fred can't take your call right now because he's dead. Leave a message after the tone and St Peter will get back to you..." Also the battery has to be removed - don't want to turn the cremation into a fireworks display - there's no-one alive to appreciate the pyrotechnics). However one has to question the IQ of the funeral director whose comments are recorded: "We don't allow the battery to remain... And we don't allow the phone to be turned on..." HELLO! NO BATTERY? HOW CAN YOU TURN ON A PHONE WHICH HAS NO BATTERY? Really!

Which brings me to the best story I've heard about additions to the casket... A very rich man died, his will leaving instructions that all his wealth was to be buried with him. When questioned about this, the son indicated he had no problems with the request. Upon further interrogation, the son indicated that he had put all his father's wealth into the casket: he had written out his personal cheque for the full amount!

Posted by gary at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

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