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April 28, 2006

Measuring poverty

It strikes me that people who only know how to measure wealth in one way, can only see poverty in the same way. How difficult for us in the West to see the riches of lands and peoples who we rate as poor by material standards.

Posted by gary at 11:26 PM | Comments (4)

New Question

Last time we were in Seattle, we were constantly being asked what our vision and mission were as a church. It was almost as regular as the weather reports. Now the question is "What are your key values?" I have been asked that on more occasions than I care to count. Interesting how the shift in organisational culture and framing takes place, eh? What comes next?

Posted by gary at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2006

In Seattle

So you've guessed I am in Seattle. Ev and I have come as part of the MSA network to catch up on developments over the past three years, and to take part in a conference scheduled for Friday and Saturday entitled The church has left the building. As we look to the future, and honestly at the present, it is apparent that the institutional church is in decline in the West, and that there are small yet significant shifts in the way people come together in faith communities. Although church attendance in Australia, the UK and the US is on the decline, many christians are found amongst the exodus from the church, clearly searching for a more significant expression of christian faith and practice. For all sorts of reasons, younger generations in particular (although not exclusively) have searched for greener pastures. Some have become part of a movement known as "the emerging church", others are committing themselves to lifestyles and work patterns which allow them to engage with the challenges of our globalised economy - poverty, environment, and other forms of injustiCe, which they do not find high on many local church agendas.

This conference will draw together many people on that journey - at different stages and diverse paths. I will be presenting a session on "Matrix Spirituality" and Ev will be leading a session using art to explore other ways of giving expression to faith.

So far we have had opportunity to catch up with Board and Staff of MSA, exploring some of the dreams they share, and doing some of the physical preparation for the conference, which is to be held on Friday and Saturday.

Posted by gary at 01:29 AM | Comments (1)

April 25, 2006

What can you do with a dog?

Walking down a Seattle street this morning I was taken by this sign... what could it mean?
Dog Bakery.jpg
Do they serve Chihuahua Croissants? German Shepherd Pie? Maybe Sausage Dog Rolls? or Collie Scrolls?
OK. OK. I'll stop the puns. But our group was wondering at the fact that 1. there was such a shop selling pastries especially for dogs, and
2. that it could sustain a shop in downtown Seattle.

That was until we stumbled across another sign and another shop...
Dog Shop1.jpg Dog Shop2.jpg

Good grief!!! Dog holidays? This set us off on a trek to find a dog travel agent. I'll let you know if we have any luck!

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

April 24, 2006

For the more astute reader

In case you were wondering how it is that my last blog refers to a newspaper which is published on the date following... (of course, you noticed, didn't you!) It is because of where I am writing from at the present... I'll give you a clue.

Guess where

And no, "about to get run over" is not the correct answer.

I'll tell you more shortly.

Posted by gary at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2006

The Benefits of Sex

It seems that a lot of research is going in to prove there are benefits to sex. I wonder what the motivation is for these? In January I noted research that demonstrated benefits for those engaged in public speaking. Today's newspaper reports that sexual intercourse can also offer protection from depression, colds, heart disease and even cancer, but its benefits are only relevant for heterosexual activity.

Of course, this begs a second question... who offers to be subjects of such research, and how honest are people about reporting?

But that's another question.

Posted by gary at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2006

Are these real?

Some amazing cloud formations

Posted by gary at 06:18 AM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2006

Find out what your name means

Although in ancient times names were reflective of character, we tend to choose names for different reasons in the West today. If you want to find out what your name means, click here.

Posted by gary at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2006

The Missing Resurrection records...

It has long given me pause for thought that the earliest Gospel offers no proof of the resurrection, offering only a promise. The earliest manuscripts of Mark end at verse 8, which says (of the women who had come to the tomb and heard the angel’s message) “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” What prompts the gospel writer to leave the story there, and not detail resurrection accounts as the other writers do?

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is depicted as continually resisting the desires of others to place him into their mould. Whether it be in the names they use of him, or the priorities they wish to ascribe to him, Jesus makes his own way through, resisting the temptation to let others control his destiny. We find this same trait through the other gospels – the disciples try to talk him out of going to Jerusalem; he slips through the crowds who want to seize him for their purpose; he challenges others’ understanding of the Messiah’s task. In the Easter narrative, we find Pilate pushing Jesus to answer the claims made against him. Pilate’s discomfort with the silence is evident.

And so when it comes to the resurrection, Jesus once again slips through the disciples’ grasp, a young man asking them to take a journey to Galilee to discover the resurrected Jesus. Mark reports their fear, and notes their silence.

The church, and we as members of it, have long been faced with the temptation of keeping Jesus under our control. How often do we make our plans and simply ask Jesus to bless them? How often are our prayers an expression of our desires which we want God to make reality? It is an alluring temptation to use Jesus as an overlay for our own desires. Yet, for Mark, even the resurrected Jesus is beyond our grasp, though not out of our experience.

In reality, the journey of following Jesus does not end at the resurrection. It begins with a fresh perspective. When we proclaim a gospel that ends with “all you have to do is pray this prayer and be saved,” we truncate the gospel call to follow the resurrected Jesus into the community, where we are called to meet and serve him. We are to be constantly vigilant for the resurrected Jesus at work and in need of ministry in our community - a ministry which is based in the resurrection, which affirms that the worst that can be thrown at us cannot destroy us, just as the array of powers against Jesus could not end His ministry.

The resurrection begins a new journey for us, one which allows us to enter the world with hope and courage, to believe that – even in the midst of hostility capable of murder – God’s purposes in and through us cannot be stymied. Our challenge is to ensure that we are working in God’s purposes.

Christ is Risen Indeed!

Posted by gary at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2006

Astronomy Picture of the Day

This amazing resource provides daily pictures of natural phenomena. Some stunning visuals.

Posted by gary at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2006

Are we borrowing from the future?

We are living in the midst of the longest stretch of economic prosperity ever known in Australia. We have been fortunate not to have been through a recession for over 15 years. In the midst of a record sharemarket, low interest rates, lower unemployment rates, and record property prices, we have governments at state and federal level running budget surpluses in the combined order of more than ten billion dollars. All things seem to be rosy. And yet...

Earlier this year The Age reported that local government infrastructure has been run down to the tune of $6 billion. We are seeing the fruits of growing ignorance of global warming, and of the privatisation of many once-public assets. In addition we are loading up the next generation with study debts, all the while making participation in property ownership extremely difficult. We have sold off schools in areas where young people are now growing up; we prefer to offer tax cuts to the wealthy instead of investing in education at every level and public health facilities, and we continue to neglect the growing environmental pressures necessitating significant investment in sustainable technologies and renewable energy.

In the midst of economic boom times, we are neglecting to build for the future in any meaningful way, preferring to dine out on it. Yet we seem to be collectively anaesthetised against the costs we are accumulating. Our greatest fear - at least in the public conversation - is terrorism. Yet the potential for disaster within the frameworks of our current public policy is much more sinister than any potential terrorist threat. We need to take our responsibilities to the future much more seriously - and see them in much greater terms than the accumulation of sufficient superannuation to see us through retirement.

Posted by gary at 10:12 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2006

Being pro-life

I have heard the following description (or something similar) of the pro-life movement a number of times over recent weeks. "The pro-life movement is really pro-pregnancy. Once the child is born it is on its own. The pro-life movement is usually pro-war and disinterested in poverty, two of the greatest killers in our world."

It carries some power because it is remarkably close to the truth. What do you think?

Posted by gary at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2006

Reading SMS

I Cnot BlEv dat U R unable 2 rED DIS msg. dun U spk eng?

Do you have trouble reading some of the creative shortcuts which come via SMS? It often appears as a language of its own. I laughed when sending a friend "TNX" in response to information he had provided. Seconds later my phone beeps again: "What's TNX?" was the message. As with any language, those who are familiar don't recognise the challenges it presents (think about this from a church perspective). Well, at least in relation to SMS, there is a place to solve your problem. transl8it.com allows you to type in an SMS message and have it converted into English, and vice versa. So if you cannot make sense of the opening sentence above, copy it, click here, and paste it into the appropriate section, et, Voila!!

Might prove handy in bookmarks, particularly if you have teenage kids!

Posted by gary at 05:53 PM | Comments (0)

April 05, 2006

Chasing down old school photos

Having just enjoyed a 30-year reunion with my high school mates, setting up a reunion web site and tracking down all the form photos, I wish I had found this site earlier. It tracks down almost any school photo. Having collected all the high school ones, I went looking for the primary school. Many funny memories came flooding back. Do you remember what was in fashion when you were in school? Wait until you see photos you had long forgotten.

Posted by gary at 01:03 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2006

Answers to everything

Answers to just about any question you like, or don't like? Try here

Posted by gary at 08:46 PM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2006

The Secular Church

The following article, written by Rick Dugan offers an interesting perspective on the present challenges facing the church. Rick has been leading an international church in the Middle East for many years...

The Secular Church

We are a part of the Church at a pivotal time in history. For the last 1600 years western nations could proudly claim to be the home of `Christendom' – lands and cultures where Christian values reigned and where the church wielded significant influence. But no longer. Christendom is dying. Rather than occupying a central place in society as it has since the fourth century, the Christian church is now finding itself on the margins – a situation similar to what the early church faced.

Many attribute this loss of influence to the rapid secularization of western culture. Yet statistics indicate that contemporary America is not less but more spiritual than it was in previous decades. The secular society has failed to satisfy spiritual thirst, solve the world's problems, or provide meaningful answers to life. Now many are willing to acknowledge a divine dimension to reality. Though more open to the influence of the supernatural in their lives, Americans are increasingly less likely to look to the institutional church for spiritual guidance. The success of books and films such as The Da Vinci Code reveal how deep is the distrust of institutional religion while highlighting people's desire for a spiritual connection through non-traditional means.

Why has this happened? Let me suggest that one cause may be the secularization of the church rather than the secularization of society. At first the idea of a secular church may appear to be a contradiction in terms. After all, the Church is a religious institution, and "secular" refers to something that is not influenced by religion. A secular worldview assumes that faith is a personal rather than public matter and that the problems of life can be addressed by science and reason. In subtle ways this worldview has permeated the church of North America.

During the era of the megachurches a strong emphasis was placed on personal application and meeting felt needs. The autonomous individualism that characterizes a secular society was encouraged as churches turned the gospel into a means of personal fulfillment. A subtle shift occurred in the interest of "relevancy" as the outward proclamation of the story of Jesus and its claims upon us was replaced with the inward application of principles to enhance our lives.

A second way that the secular worldview has influenced the body of Christ is in our approach to church growth. Many churches engaged in marketing rather than mission to help their congregations grow. As George Barna writes, "For several decades, the Church has relied upon greater sums of money, better techniques, bigger numbers and facilities, and more impressive credentials as the means to influence society at large. These elements have failed us; in our efforts to serve God, we have crowded out God Himself."

Where do we go from here? We could spend our time mourning the death of Christendom and fighting to regain our position of power, but is that what the Church is called to do? We must resist looking to our culture to provide us with the tools to minister. Instead, we need to look to Jesus. It is the incarnation that provides our model for ministry rather than Wall Street or Hollywood. In John 20:21 he said, "As the Father has sent me, I also send you." The leaders who guide the church into the future will not be CEOs. They will be prophets and poets who look to God and point their congregations to Him.

In Mark 2:15 we see Jesus exemplifying mission and leadership in a world similar to our own. It says, `Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him.' For Jesus, mission often took place in the context of a community. Rather than a multiple staff, He had friends. Rather than marketing, we see hospitality. Rather than a program, He shared a meal. He brought the kingdom of God into the homes and workplaces where life happened.

Second, Jesus demonstrated that leaders themselves must be involved in mission. As a leader, He entered the home of someone that the religious professionals would have avoided. But not only did he visit tax collectors and sinners, he led his disciples there as well. No doubt the disciples felt uncomfortable as they sat with people that the religious establishment rejected, but they trusted the leadership of their rabbi. They were willing to follow him into dangerous territory. Today we need leaders who think like missionaries and lead their congregations in mission.

Third, Jesus invested His time in people who were followers and not just customers. His concern was never to draw a crowd, but to make disciples. We need churches willing to abandon the world's standards for success – standards of size and budgets – by becoming intentional about ministering to those on the margins and helping them become followers of Jesus.

More important than engaging our culture, we must reengage with the mission of God. Darrel Guder rightly says, "The answer to the crisis of the North American church will not be found at the level of method and problem solving. The real issues in the current crisis of the Christian church are spiritual and theological." To overcome the effects of secularization and to minister once again from the margins of society, we must become worshiping communities participating in God's mission.

The world doesn't need – or want – a secular church. As secular rock group Green Day sing, "The Jesus of suburbia is a lie." They speak for a world in crisis – a world that no longer believes that science, politics, or organized religion can provide a life of hope and meaning. In this context, Christians live as an alternative community defined by our trust in Christ and participation in His work.

Overcoming our compromise with secular culture begins with repentance. We must confess we have relied on man's wisdom to fulfill God's purposes rather than looking to the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Once again we must listen to the voice of the Spirit and follow the example of Jesus to become the people of God. As we live out the message of reconciliation and invite others to trust in God, our churches become the arena where He lives and where others can witness what life is like under His rule. This is our greatest witness.

Posted by gary at 09:38 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2006

School Reunion

Last night I attended the first reunion of my high school class – a journey in education which was completed nearly 30 years ago. I had barely seen a single person since finishing and moving on to university. It turns out I was not alone. We had been dispersed into the wider community following high school, and continued quite separate lives. In the days leading up to the reunion there was a growing sense of excitement… where had life taken us? would we recognise one another? what of those with whom we had conflict?

From the moment the first groups entered the room, a buzz of excitement and conversation emerged, growing with the numbers. Connections were made and re-established with ease, some with a simple look at the face, and others by looking at the name tag! It was fascinating to see the way people who had not seen each other for 30 years were able to pick up and carry on as though they had last seen each other recently. Sharing of memories lead to sharing of stories, as we pieced together our varied journeys. The six years we had spent together (some longer, as we had attended primary school together) established a rich bond which has lasted. As one person commented, “Our years at school are carried in our heads and our hearts, and everyone with it.”

I gained a new sense of community last night. Some of the people I was not close to at school, others I was in conflict with at different times, other friendships had waxed and waned, and others admired from a distance. And I was not alone. I sensed a need to “set some things right”, as the years have made us realise the stupidity - perhaps naivety and innocence - of our actions. To be able to laugh together about many of those misdemeanours and poorly formed intentions is somehow healing and releasing, and life-affirming. We have been allowed to grow and to “place a marker in the ground” affirming that growth, yet at the same time known in our raw reality. We were “real” people a broad sense.

I sense there is something important in a community which allows us to test ourselves and our limits, to learn relationships, to experiment with who we are and what we might be, and not just for our pre-adult years. It is a part of the gospel story to rediscover ourselves and be remade in grace: for Simon to become Peter, Saul to become Paul, Onesimus to be seen as someone able to contribute, and to be welcomed as part of the community, with all our warts and flaws known and keeping us real.

It is a significant challenge to become a safe community where we are able to test and to experiment, to fail and to restore, and in so doing to grow in our understanding of who God has made us to be.

... on a very different note, I also gained a perspective on what it means to have aged. All of the people in the room were teenagers when I last saw them, and are now in their mid-late 40s. It offers an interesting mirror into one's own ageing process! If you want to see what I went through, there is a reunion web site.

Posted by gary at 03:32 PM | Comments (0)

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