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January 31, 2007

Some fun links

Here's a link to tell you how long you can expect to live, unfortunately it won't tell you whether you will live well - that is something that is beyond statistics!

How about World statistics in real time? This includes education, water, environment, energy and health in the statistics. The rates of some statistics is mind-boggling.

And if you are wondering why Americans are more blase about their agents performing torture, check out the kill count of Jack Bauer, from the TV series 24. Seeing such rogue agents as heroes on the screen has to have an impact on the cultural psyche. I wonder what that means for Hillary Clinton (or Barack Obama) in their Presidential campaigns in the wake of Commander-in-Chief?

An eerie video of starlings in flight.

And a magnificent panorama of the Manhattan skyline (how long did they need to wait to get a clear, unpolluted sky>

The real story of How it all Began! (not!)

Posted by gary at 12:04 PM | Comments (0)

January 30, 2007

Stars, Comets and Christmas

comet mcnaught.jpgThe appearance of Comet McNaught in southern skies over recent weeks has provoked conversation in our household about the star at Christmas which lead the wise men to the infant Jesus. How we actually perceive that star reflects some interesting challenges in the faith conversation. Did the wise men "follow the stars" in the same way that astrology is understood, rather than geographically lighting up the manger like a neon sign? Or was it a comet such as this one? Or a peculiar manifestation of a star or planet in the night sky? How we picture in our mind the text of scripture goes a long way towards interpreting the text for us.
My original perspective on the text was of a giant star hovering over a manger - a Christmas Card special, painted in the night sky for all to see. But I have yet to see the night sky produce anything approaching a similar effect. And knowing that the stars track across the sky during the night makes it even more problematic, not to mention the issue of whether or not the star appeared on consecutive nights for a lengthy period. What if it rained?
It is more likely that the wise men were astrologers, who read the stars and were alerted to the fact that something special was afoot in history, of cosmic proportions. But then, there are other presuppositions brought to the text which cause us to baulk at such a notion.
It is an interesting concept to explore, not without practical implications. God has the strange habit of appearing to us in ways which contradict his own theology..>! (or was that mine?8^0)

Posted by gary at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

January 29, 2007

The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins is a British scientist and author who has moved across the Atlantic in order to spread his brand of atheism. Dawkins is a thoughtful, if at times obstinate (reminds me of some christians I have met!) proponent of his particular perspectives on life and its purpose. His most recent book, The God Delusion, continues his campaign against religion in all forms (although, to be honest, he uses the most extreme forms to justify this). The following clip is perhaps only a little instructive, but worth seeing nonetheless. Dawkins is promoting his book and his thoughts (although, with authors it is often difficult to know which is foremost!), and is being "interviewed" by comedian Stephen Colbert.

Posted by gary at 07:17 PM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2007

What is your most precious asset?

Was introduced recently to Fernando's Desk by a friend and have found it to be a thoughtful reflection on popular culture and theology. (And it makes me wish I could add lists of links etc to this site!) Fernando loves reviewing movies - always something which captures my attention - and made recent reference to a blog by 'the only working producer in Hollywood with a Ph D in theology,' Phil Cooke. Phil offers seven priorities for religious media professionals, which are worth pondering if you are involved in this area. I was taken, however by the comment he makes at the end of this post, which I reproduce here:
"The most valuable asset you have right now isn't money, it's time. Time is the currency of the most successful people in the world, and you can always identify influential leaders by how they value their time. This year, use 2007 to re-think your priorities, cut away the junk, and get back to the heart of the issue.
You'll never have another chance to re-live 2007, so let's invest this year in what potentially could change the world."

Good words, which don't require media fanfare for strength and power...

Posted by gary at 05:24 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2007

Culture Creators?

It was assumed for many years that christians were somehow removed from culture, and that the message of the gospel was a-cultural - timeless, if you will, without influence in the places where it was anchored. In more recent years we have come to recognise, and own, the impact of culture on the way in which we have proclaimed the gospel, often in ways which did significant damage to indigenous peoples. At the same time, we learned to critique our own cultural contexts in order to more effectively minister. Some have done this exceptionally well, at least as far as measurement based on numbers of people in churches is concerned. In many ways we have waded unwittingly into the territory of merely imitating culture, and rendered ourselves compromised, if not powerless, when it comes to the task of transforming it.
What is the way forward?
We can satisfy ourselves that we are merely being faithful by not engaging with the surrounding culture - the way of the Amish (at one extreme) whereby we are regarded as a curio... exhibting some merit, but not necessarily offering a replicable pattern for the broader community.
Culture is almost always global AND local. We find ourselves intimidated when faced with the global media-inspired and -driven culture which has broad impact. We could set ourselves up as a christian media conglomerate and manufacture our own TV programs and movies, and even produce some interesting product lines to get out the message. We could... but we don't necessarily have the resources to do so. And even if we did, are we transforming it by merely reproducing it?

Better start local.
Having spent our married life in Melbourne, my wife and I have made our way anti-clockwise around the suburbs. While this is unusual (there is an "eastern drift" evident among the Melbourne population over that time - most people move further out along the axes from the city in which they grew up), it has exposed the variety of local cultures which are evident in Melbourne. The south-east is very different from the east (bible belt), which is again different from the northern suburbs. When our church rebuilt its manse, we found temporary accommodation across the Yarra, not 10 kilometres from where the manse was located, yet we found ourselves in a significantly different cultural, as well as socio-economic set. The inner city has also revealed these very strong local tendencies - West and North Melbourne a different culture from Footscray, not 5 kilometres west of here, and different again from Docklands, and the city.
Which offers some insight into the challenges of culture facing the church. There is significant scope to impact one's local culture. Building strong links with one's neighbourhood, and seeking to strengthen community spirit, and create new community links can have a significant local impact.
I know that there are some who might suggest that it is not much of an impact - but if we do not impact where we live, what hope do we have in transforming a community where we do not live?
Through street parties, local functions, seasonal celebrations, community festivals, and community-based fund-raising efforts, it is possible to impact the way local communities respond to one another, and meet challenges which each inevitably faces.
Through building of relationships, the possibility of dialoguing with and about global culture and its impact is enhanced, offering opportunity not only for critique, but for creating new ways of being. Oddly enough, you will more often than not find similar concerns about the impact of broader culture held by many who have never stepped near a church.
We can, however, retreat behind oaken doors and live restricted lives in which we are cut off from wider cultural pressures. It might help us, but isn't that a bit like hiding a light under a bucket? Ought we not welcome the opportunity to engage with others who recognise this same pressure, and yearn for new ways of being? You'll be surprised how receptive and creative people can be - if we don't simply offer pat answers without opportunity for joint struggle.

Posted by gary at 05:03 PM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2007

Fighting Consumerism II

Ryan Beiler has cut his food spending by searching dumpsters. Of the 500 billion dollars spent on food in the US, about 100 billion ends up in dumpsters, often outside of supermarkets as they reach their sell-by date. Beiler and others have been able to redeem much of this (still-edible) food and not only support themselves, thereby releasing their money for other causes, but also using the much-more-than-they-need gatherings to feed others. Beiler and his team's efforts were reported on a Canadian TV program, and the segment can be found on YouTube.

Posted by gary at 12:01 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2007

Woolworths and the Drought

I always get a little nervous about programs like this: Woolworths (Safeway in Victoria) is offering to turn its profits for a whole day into drought relief. One would guess that Woolworths will simply offer the average daily profit to the cause, rather than go to the expense of calculating its profit for that particular day, so that any increase in patronage really goes to increasing the bottom line rather than to drought relief, but then again, maybe I'm too much of a cynic.
If you want to read about it directly from the Woolworths CEO, go here. I think I'll be staying at home. It sounds a little too much like the call to shop after September 11.

Now, here's a late thought. Instead of going to the Supermarket for that day, why not simply donate what you would have spent directly yourself. Then you can gain the tax deduction yourself, instead of Woolworths!

You will, of course, notice that I haven't designated the day.

Posted by gary at 01:10 PM | Comments (1)

January 08, 2007

Fighting Consumerism

Another creative way of fighting the consumerist culture in which we find ourselves immersed: this coming from San Francisco - a group calling themselves "The Compact" who decided to give up shopping for a year. Ten people, over a dinner conversation, decided to give up new clothes, gadgets, computers, car parts, mobile phones, books or music for 12 months, and captured the imagination of thousands, who have now linked up through an online discussion group.
They found some unusual responses, being called "unAmerican", and "economic terrorists". Perhaps consumerism is more of an addiction than we are prepared to admit!
Final comment belongs to one of the group members: "The real revelation is that it isn't that hard," he said. "We all have so much stuff, we could probably live for years without replacing anything. It makes you change the way you look at and appreciate the things you have. We're definitely going to continue."
Anyone game?

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

January 05, 2007

The Ordinary Day

I was caught today by a quote from Dow Egerton about the challenge of living an ordinary day:
To live an ordinary day... But what could be harder to do? Who can claim to have done so much? A pilgrimage may be easier than a day! A great quest may be easier than a single day! Some task which is dangerous, demanding and full of the bright din of conflict may be easier than the ordinary day
It set me to wondering about this "abundant life" which has become part of christian-speak, as to what it really means. It began in new year reflections, as we sought to bring New Year back into our Christmas thoughts. In Australia, Christmas Day is largely seen as the last day of Christmas, whereas in the Christian calendar, it is seen as the first. So we leave the manger on Christmas Day...
The Apostle Paul spoke of Christmas in terms of 'In the fullness of time God sent forth a son, born of a woman, born under the law'. While at new year, time is on our minds, we reflected on what this "fullness of time" meant for us... Is it to 'live a full life'? to be overloaded with responsibilities and pressures? are we lulled into believing that God wants us to live to the max, stress levels at their optimum, if not their maximum?
I know we're not American, but haven't we bought into the idea that any idiot could be President - the notion that the world is waiting for us to seize the opportunity and maximise our potential? Is that what 'abundant life' is for the christian?
I doubt it.
We spend so much time looking for the mountaintop experience that we never get to enjoy the meandering path through the valley, considering it to be God's gift to us. Instead, we are looking for the next path up the slope, missing the precious gifts flying and walking by us on the journey.
To live an ordinary day... could this be God's desire for us? And how then do we do it?

Posted by gary at 03:39 PM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2007

On your bike

Australians purchased more new bicycles in 2006 than cars and trucks combined, it was reported today. Seems the combination of high petrol prices, concerns about global warming, and need to get a little fitter (and of course, one can't rule out the 'better weather' which comes with a ten-year drought), sent people purchasing a new two-wheeler. I didn't read any news about what folks might be doing with the extra garage space! Of course, with a bicycle, you don't need to worry about the person in the passenger seat picking at your driving...

Posted by gary at 11:37 PM | Comments (0)

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