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November 22, 2006

Some Eye Exercise

Remember those "Magic Eye" pictures which create a 3-D effect when you stare at them long enough? Well, they've made their way into cyberspace, with enough to send you into a trance for a long time. Point your browser here.

Posted by gary at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2006

On Culture

"Culture is dictatorial unless understood and examined. It is not that humans must be in sync with or adapt to culture, but that culture grows out of sync with us. When this happens, people go crazy and they don't know it. In order to avoid mass insanity, people must learn to transcend and adopt their culture to the times and to their biological organisms. To accomplish this task, since introspection tells you nothing, we need experience of other cultures; i.e., to survive, all cultures need each other" - Edward Hall, Beyond Culture, 1976

Posted by gary at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2006

One Man Selling His Soul

Christianity Today recently reported the unusual outcome of a story reported widely through the media - a man who offered his soul for sale on ebay. The offer was for one hour of church attendance for every $10 in the bid. Jim Henderson (no, not Kermit the Frog!) of Off the Map won the bid with $504 and asked "Mehta" to give his take on church life - the view of an outsider to the faith. While his experience was different to his expectations ('everyone would be asleep'), he found them 'entertaining' (good point or bad?!) and 'interesting', and 'developed a lot more respect for churches', particularly appreciating the atmosphere of some of the megachurches. Finding the
extras a little showy, he found the sermons strong and the preachers dynamic, especially when they brought in personal stories. One pastor told the story of his mother's decline and the comfort he drew from the Bible, which Mehta found "completely gripping... I can understand why people would be drawn to the Bible when he tells a story like that. You're really telling me how I can go back and change anything that's wrong with my life."
Impressed with the live music (something absent from the atheist conventions he attends), he found the quality of the words, however, to be another story: "I have no idea who writes the lyrics to this stuff, but it sounds like what a four-year-old could write: 'God is good. God is strong.' And repeat. And repeat. And repeat."
Christianity Today reports his observations: "The churchgoers were friendly, and, on the whole, Mehta felt welcomed. He was, however, offended by some things that were said. At a missions prayer meeting, he encountered anti-Muslim sentiment, with followers of Islam being equated with terrorists.
He also detected a definite "us vs. them" mentality.
Although Mehta doesn't think he's any closer to believing in God, the soul-selling (actually soul-renting) experiment helped him to think about faith in a different way."
Mehta has started his own website.

Posted by gary at 12:18 PM | Comments (0)

Mega-Mart

A recent on-line poll asked how people felt about megachurches (with 2,000+ in weekend attendance)? The following answers were given:
* No strong opinion, God uses many kinds of churches: 38%
* Feels like Wal-Mart, I fear impact on smaller churches: 27%
* I don't attend a megachurch, but I appreciate their ministry: 24%
* Hooray for megachurches, I attend one: 11%
What I found interesting is the fear factor present... Of course the source of a poll such as this makes results problematic...
Original source

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

November 16, 2006

An Evangelical's Take on Global Issues

Gordon MacDonald was invited to the Clinton Global Initiative Conference earlier this year. As one of the few evangelicals invited to attend the conference, MacDonald offered his perspective in Leadership Today earlier this year. In the light of the present G20 meetings in Melbourne, it makes interesting reading.

The CGI Conference is a crossroads of ideas and networking to reduce cultural and political barriers that separate human beings and create the grounds for conflict and disaster. Panel topics included (1) Energy and Climate Challenge; (2) Global Health Issues; (3) Poverty Alleviation; and (4) Mitigating Religious and Ethnic Conflict. They were populated by people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Farmer, Kofi Annan, Hamid Karzai, Pervez Musharraf, Bill Gates, and Paul Kagame (president of Rwanda). And I have named only a few.
Amazingly, there was little energy spent on politics. Rather there was an incredibly serious tone, a clear awareness that the world is in greater trouble today than it has ever been. Some (like the King of Jordan) spoke of the widening rift between the Muslim world and the West in almost prophetic tones. The two cultures are misunderstanding each other's hurts and aspirations.
Climate change, fresh outbreaks of disease, the lack of basic community health (clean water, vaccines, etc.) are all contributing to a growing frustration that threatens the stability of the entire world. Despite the drastic situation, there was a streak of optimism. Perhaps that was because the people at the conference are all entrepreneurs, can-do people who choose to see the opportunities that crisis creates. There was little hand-wringing and a lot of innovative thinking.
I know, all too well, that Bill Clinton is a polarizing name among many Christians. My association with him over these years has lost me any number of friends. Personally, I grew to love him and greatly care for him in the years that I served as a personal adviser. I recall many conversations we had about his post-presidency and the priorities for this period of his life. Since leaving office he has used his amazing ability to convince people of wealth to see their social responsibilities.
Some $7.2 billion has been pledged this year by business leaders and philanthropists in response to the Clinton Foundation Global Initiative. Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines has committed $3 billion over the next ten years to alleviation of pollution. Millions will be invested in research regarding malaria, TB, and AIDS. Laura Bush announced a new water-well program that features a low-tech pump powered by merry-go-rounds that function as children spin them in their play.
I left the CGI conference with several feelings in my heart.
1. I had appreciation for the seriousness with which these people addressed the topics at hand. There was no glitz, no posturing. This conference made me increasingly less interested in who is Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Christian or Muslim, and far more interested in the question of who wants to save lives and offer hope and human dignity.
2. These people really believe that the end of the world (the end of humanity anyway) is a distinct possibility if these issues are not addressed globally, dramatically, cooperatively. I respect their seriousness. I will probably die before the full effects of our failure to act are felt. But my children will not, and their children will face a greatly diminished world of opportunity and security.
3. I felt that I was with people who have great compassion for the situation of the poor. Yes, to be candid, some of it is motivated by monetary self-interest. More than once it was said that dealing with disease and poverty is simply good business. But there was also a great sense of moral responsibility.
4. I saw in my encounters with Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists that we have a lot of learning to do about who these people are. We have fallen into stereotypes which reinforce our positions rather than seek out the points of commonality that lead to partnership on global issues. When a man says to you, "I was raised by a mother who taught me that all things belong to God and that I must handle what is given to me with care and generosity," and he is a Muslim, I have to stop and ask "what have I been missing all these years?"
5. Finally, I was personally moved by the drastic situation of the poor in our world. One message that kept coming through in the conference—before you get caught up in the big expensive ideas, spend time asking what you yourself can do as an individual. On the way home, I made a little list that began with becoming more disciplined about energy use, and cultivating relationships with people of other faiths.
When I got home, I took out my Bible and re-read Jesus' words in the synagogue at Capernaum: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He had sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The words took on new meaning.

Posted by gary at 09:02 AM | Comments (2)

November 14, 2006

Australia's Most Generous

The October issue of World Vision's Alliance magazine, contains an analysis of WVA's one million donor base, with the following interesting observations recorded:
* Lower wage earners are more generous than high income earners - the top 10 most generous towns generally exhibited an average income below $40,000
* Women give more than men, with about 65% either sponsoring a child or donating money
* 35-45 year olds are the most charitable
* The highest per capita giving comes from Victoria ($18.40 per person) compared with $13 for NSW and $10.25 for WA.
* Over 2200 sponsors are under the age of 10
* over 100 people sponsor more than 10 children.

Amongst the list of ten most generous suburbs are Toowoomba (#1), Frankston (#5) Liverpool (#8) and Campbelltown (#9).

Wonder what that does for trickle-down theory?

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

November 11, 2006

Immortal Words?

I wonder if you can identify what the following sayings have in common...

* Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
* I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.
* You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.
* Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.
* Here's looking at you, kid.
* Go ahead, make my day.
* All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.
* May the Force be with you.
* Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night.
* You talking to me?

If you think you know the general category, test yourself on the original source(s)....

The quotes are rated by the AFI as the top 10 quotes from movies in the first 100 years of cinema, part of the penchant for "things" of the century which the year 2000 put into train. Here are the quotes and the original film context.

* Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. GONE WITH THE WIND 1939
* I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse. THE GODFATHER 1972
* You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. ON THE WATERFRONT 1954
* Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. THE WIZARD OF OZ 1939
* Here's looking at you, kid. CASABLANCA 1942
* Go ahead, make my day. SUDDEN IMPACT 1983
* All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up. SUNSET BLVD. 1950
* May the Force be with you. STAR WARS 1977
* Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night. ALL ABOUT EVE 1950
* You talking to me? TAXI DRIVER 1976

Perhaps not the best known words in history, but at least some would rank up there. (How many could you identify? I could identify 7, some the speaker but not the film). I'd suggest that the words of the Lord's Prayer might be the best known - it would be hard to find someone who wouldn't know at least some part of it. What do you think?

Posted by gary at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2006

Internet Use Across the World

Internet penetration varies widely around the world, with the highest penetration rates of Internet usage being in Iceland (86.8%), followed by New Zealand (76.3%), Sweden (74.9%), Portugal (74.1%) and Australia (70.7%) making up the top 5. Only 32 countries in the world have a penetration in excess of 50% of population, according to Internet World Stats. At the other end of the scale in Afghanistan and Myanmar only 0.1% of the population uses the internet, due in no small part, one would assume, to the internal strife in both countries and its impact on infrastructure. The information superhighway in such places is clearly littered with potholes.
Which raises interesting questions about this "global economy" and its impact on wealth distribution. One suggestion could be that it only allows the rich to get richer, and the poor are not helped all that much, evidence in India by its rapid economic growth over recent years, with only a 0.7% decline in those classified as 'poor'.
I don't believe that the solution is increasing access to the internet in every place, particularly as food and fresh water seems a much more basic need around the world. But we spend billions on new technology and its development each year while fresh water for everyone on the planet could reasonably be attained by much less expenditure. Perhaps free enterprise and market capitalism is not as morally neutral as we might think...

Posted by gary at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2006

Milk's a Marvellous Drink

...but not for keyboards.
Our family enjoyed some long-awaited Long Service Leave, trekking around Australia for fourteen weeks, enjoying some of the remotest parts of this vast southern continent (see the travel blog for full details). The trek went rather smoothly, but not without mishap. One such mishap involved a milk drink and my computer keyboard while viewing digital photos in Alice Springs. The letters klm,;.i and o became somewhat temperamental. Attempts to clean out said letters resurrected them a little, but weakened the keys.
For three months I have had to put up with pressing the "o" five times to get a response, and pinching the end of my fingers when pushing the plastic piece where the keys ; and . once sat.
No more.
Efforts to get said computer repaired brought quotes approaching $300, not to mention making times for delivery, pick up, service man, etc. I took the short cut and ordered a spare keyboard, which duly arrived yesterday. The first couple of attempts to replace broken keyboard with new one lead only to frustration. Then, the magic Asher arrived, and within ten minutes the keyboard has been replaced, and I only have my poor typing skills to blame once more for the poor reproduction on screen. And all completed for about 10% of the cost!
Milk strengthens bones, reduces need for further solid intake, tastes wonderful with chocolate flavouring mixed through, but is not recommended for computer keyboards.

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

November 08, 2006

I'm So Postmodern - The Bedroom Philosopher

A friend passed this on to me today - thanks Maj :-)

I'm so postmodern that I just don't talk anymore,
I wear different coloured t-shirts according to my mood.

I'm so postmodern that I work from home
as a surf life saving consumer hotline.

I'm so postmodern that all my clothes are made out of sleeping bags,
I don't need pockets, I'm a pocket myself.

I'm so postmodern I go to parties I'm not invited to
and locate the vegemite and write my name on everyone.

I'm so postmodern that I write reviews for funerals,
and heckle at weddings from inside a suitcase.

I'm so postmodern I'm going to adopt a child,
and teach him how to knit, and call him Adolf Diggler.

I'm so postmodern that I breakdance in waiting rooms,
play Yahtzee in nightclubs, at three in the afternoon.

I'm so postmodern I only go on dates that last thirteen minutes,
via walky talky, while hiding under the bed.

I'm so postmodern I invite strangers to my house,
and put on a slide show of other people's nans.

I'm so postmodern I went home and typed up everything you said,
and printed it out in wingdings, and gave it back to you.

I'm so postmodern I held an art exhibition -
a Chuppa Chup stuck to a swimming cap, and no one was invited.

I'm so postmodern I make alphabet soup,
and dye it purple, and pour it on the lawn.

I'm so postmodern I request Hey Mona on karaoke,
then sing my life story to the tune of My Sharona.

I'm so postmodern I only think in palendromic haikus -
(insert palendromic haiku).

I'm so postmodern that I sit down to wee,
and stand up to poo, at job interviews.

I'm so postmodern that I dress up as Santa,
in the middle of August, and haunt golf courses.

I'm so postmodern that I cut off all my hair,
and knitted it into a beanie, and threw it off a bridge.

I'm so postmodern that I stole everyone's mail,
and cut them up into a ransom note and hid it in a thermos.

I'm so postmodern I take my leggo to the supermarket
and build my own shopping trolley, and only buy one nut.

I'm so postmodern I wrote a letter to the council -
...I think it was 'M.'

I'm so postmodern I bought a round the world plane ticket,
and stuffed my clothes with eggplant and pretended it was me.

I'm so postmodern I've got a tattoo of my pin number
in heiroglyphics on my neighbour's guide dog.

I'm so postmodern I fought my way into parliament,
and made a law banning Nuttelex, and then moved to Spain.

I'm so postmodern that I iron all my lettuce leaves,
put my shirts in the crisper - they're real crisp.

I'm so postmodern I give live mice to buskers,
dirty tea towels to the Mormons, and pavlova to crabs.

I'm so postmodern that I live in a tent,
on a platform of skateboards that's tied to a tram.

I'm so postmodern I write four thousand-word essays
on the cultural significance of party pies.

I'm so postmodern I recite Shakespeare at KFC drive thru's,
through a megaphone, in sign language.

I'm so postmodern I'm going to watch the Olympics
on a black & white TV, with the sound down.

I'm so postmodern I go to the gym after hours,
push up against the door, then cry myself to sleep.

I'm so postmodern I wrote a trilogy of novels
from the perspective of a possum that Jesus patted once.

I'm so postmodern that I marry all my friends,
soak myself in metho, and tell them that they've changed.

I'm so postmodern I bought every book written in 1963
as a reading challenge, and clogged up a waterslide.

I'm so postmodern I think I might be a god
in my undies rolling in sugar, in the carpark of a rodeo.

I'm so postmodern I prerecorded this song,
and laced a message subliminally telling Shane Porteous to buy a smock.

Posted by gary at 07:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2006

Cotton Patch Gospel

I remember being impressed by "The Cotton Patch Parables of Liberation" many years ago - it brought the gospels to life in a new and fresh way. I had no idea that its author, Clarence Jordan, had translated much more of the New Testament, or its context, until alerted by Geoff Leslie, who has just completed an essay for a post-graduate course. Geoff and his wife Debbie have lead a significant ministry in a rural setting for many years, and writes a regular column for the local paper. By permission, I include it here.

I have a new hero. I just wrote an essay about a man who lived in Georgia USA, who died in 1969 named Clarence Jordan. He had many enemies and very little recognition in his time, but many today recognise he was a wonderful example for life and should get more recognition.

His essential focus was that he didn't see any difference between Negroes (as he called them - 'African Americans' is more PC today) and the whites (er, 'Anglo Americans') and he started a communal farm where black and white families worked together. That generated visits from the Klu Klux Klan and incredible hostility. But let me outline the story from the beginning.

Jordan always felt that he wanted to do something like the communal farm idea but knew that he needed some training, so he studied agriculture and got a degree in that. Then he anticipated there might be some arguments with church folks so he thought he would study theology as well. He found a natural ability in New Testament Greek and ended up getting a doctorate - a PhD in Greek.

Then, in 1942, he and his wife Florence walked across a thousand-acre farm that was for sale. It was red soil degraded by too much cotton-growing, and to Clarence it cried out, 'Heal me! Heal me!'.

With another couple, they bought it and began to implement good agricultural method while inviting other families, black and white to join them on Koinonia Farm – 'koinonia' being Greek for fellowship or togetherness.

One day he took a dark-skinned friend to his local church. They got thrown out and the church banned anyone from Koinonia farm from ever being a member there. Soon there was an economic boycott - all local merchants were warned not to trade with 'those nigger-lovers'. The persecution grew through all the 1950's and 1960's; it was pretty rough.

Clarence was bewildered by the churches and Christians who lived with such hate and prejudice. Didn't they read the same Bible and follow the same Jesus as he did? He decided the problem was that the Bible was not translated properly. It hid its message behind old fashioned words and its radical message was having no impact.

So he began to tell the story of Jesus as if it were happening in Georgia. 'Jesus was born in Gainesville, Georgia when Herod was governor in Atlanta...' He put the story into the contemporary landscape and it became much easier to see how radical Jesus was and why he was killed. Eventually he produced most of the New Testament in this translation and he called it the Cotton Patch Version. It's most radical feature was that instead of the ancient terms 'Jew' and 'Gentile', he used 'white' and 'Negro', so that, for instance, when Paul's letter to the Ephesians talks about Christ coming to reconcile Jews and Gentiles, the Cotton Patch Version reads:

"So then, always remember that previously you Negroes, who sometimes are even called "niggers" by thoughtless white church members, were at one time outside the Christian fellowship, denied your rights as fellow believers, and treated as though the gospel didn't apply to you, hopeless and God-forsaken in the eyes of the world. Now, however, because of Christ's supreme sacrifice, you who once were so segregated are warmly welcomed into the Christian fellowship."

As you can imagine, in the racially segregated South, this was inflammatory material. The whole translation is now on the Internet at http://rockhay.tripod.com/cottonpatch/index.htm

The Cotton Patch version however remains a wonderful piece of work. Someone even made a musical about it called "Cotton Patch Gospel" with music by Harry Chapin. This musical is being screened free at the Baptist Church this Sunday night, at 6pm - but I digress.

I wish readers could encounter the vitality and power of Clarence’s own words. Here's how he explains why he doesn’t use the word 'cross' or 'crucifixion' – preferring to speak of Jesus being 'lynched'.
"There just isn't any word in our vocabulary which adequately translates the Greek word for "crucifixion." Our crosses are so shined, so polished, so respectable that to be impaled on one of them would seem to be a blessed experience. We have thus emptied the term "crucifixion" of its original content of terrific emotion, of violence, of indignity and stigma, of defeat. I have translated it as "lynching," well aware that this is not technically correct. Jesus was officially tried and legally condemned, elements generally lacking in a lynching. But having observed the operation of Southern "justice," and at times having been its victim, I can testify that more people have been lynched "by judicial action" than by unofficial ropes. Pilate at least had the courage and the honesty to publicly wash his hands and disavow all legal responsibility. "See to it yourselves," he told the mob. And they did. They crucified him in Judea and they strung him up in Georgia, with a noose tied to a pine tree."

Clarence Jordan died at the age of 58 in his study. The coroner wouldn't come to that hated farm to check him out. A co-worker drove his body propped up in a car through the town to the coroner's office. Next day, after an autopsy (it was a heart attack), they sent his body back nude in the back of a station wagon with his clothes in a bag. He was buried in a cardboard box on a hillside on the farm surrounded by the poor folks he spent his life amongst. The farm lives on and so does a wonderful international humanitarian organisation called Habitat for Humanity that he helped start. But in life and death, he was an unrecognised hero. We need more of them.

Although this article is yet to be archived on his web site, more articles by Geoff Leslie can be found on his web site.

Posted by gary at 03:35 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2006

Here we go again!

Why is it that christians feel the need to come up with twee names? Now you can find any "christian and other family friendly" mp3s you like at The Godcast Network. I'd have to say that there is a significant percentage of scripture which wouldn't rate all that well under the "family-friendly" rubric...

Posted by gary at 09:20 AM | Comments (2)

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