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the eighth day

May 18, 2007

Losing the Second Generation

We in the West are in angst about the 'lost generations' in church - generally in the age of 30-55; people who have left the church of their parents, many having abandoned the faith altogether. We have a noted rise in alternative spiritualities, which are often grounded in ancient practices.

The Religion Report of May 16 spends some time analysing the shift away from Catholicism in Central America, a report coinciding with the Pope's visit. While the ratio of priests to Catholics is about 1 to 7000, in evangelical churches it is 1 to 300, going some way to explaining the drift from Catholicism to evangelical and charismatic churches. But that's not the whole story. Michelle Crowther reports:

But the Catholic church's great exodus is not only at the hands of its competitors. In pockets of Latin America, the debate is no longer between different faiths. Many of those who leave choose no organised spiritual alternative. In Guatemala for example, polls since 1990 show about 12% of citizens citing no religious affiliation at all. And in Mexico, 43% of second-generation evangelicals have no affiliation with the church. This is a very important reality check for those Christians who imagine that the future vitality for Christian churches in the 21st century, lies in the developing world. Even in the global south, the trend towards European style secularism is beginning to appear. If 43% of second generation evangelicals have no religious affiliation, it may be that the drift towards these sects is just a staging post on the way towards no religion. If they're being born again in Mexico City, it's into a new life of liberalism.

Which gives pause for thought. Is there something about the charismatic/evangelical commitment to the present/immediacy of God that does not sustain? Catholic rites and practices are steeped in ancient tradition... practices and images embedded in daily life. But while the charismatic/evangelical tradition has perhaps countered some of the 'deadness' which often permeates such ritualistic approaches, one wonders whether the roots have been jettisoned also. What is it that sustains faith? What rituals and images bring us back to our centre? That the second generation charismatics/evangelicals abandon at such a rate suggests the roots are shallow... it parallels the well-travelled "back door" of the church in the West. People don't find it sustaining for the long term.

We might want to point our fingers at the wider culture and indicate that it's a type of spiritual ADHD, consistent with the constant clamour for something new, yet that is often the paradigm of worship and spirituality we have embraced... focussed towards "our needs" at the surface level, but apparently missing something at the deeper.

I am one who finds ritual and repetition to be boring after a short period of time. I gave up on a highly liturgical worship after enjoying it for the first couple of weeks because knowing what was coming, both in words and actions, did not help me engage. Yet I acknowledge the place for ritual and repetition, for the disciplines of the faith which bring us back to the same place and remind us of - and tend to - our roots.

This is a continuing challenge. The Mexican experience highlights a reality we have known in the West, bringing it into stark relief. Where to from here?

Posted by gary at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2007

A Benediction

It was a privilege to be invited to speak at a House Chapel service at Carey Baptist Grammar School this morning. It was a wonderful celebration of worship replete with student reflections and contributions. The students are most creative and thoughtful. The benediction was especially powerful:
Lord, as we part and go our different ways
it is our prayer that you will give us, each in our own way,
the passion for living and loving,
the courage for daring and hoping,
the freedom for growing and receiving,
the capacity for giving and receiving,
the humility for learning,
the tenderness for understanding,
the strength for enduring,
the trust for believiing,
and may your grace and your peace,
which is not the absence of conflict,
but the presence of all that makes life whole,
be with us and go with us.
Amen.

Posted by gary at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2007

Birthday Celebration

Maurice3.jpg
The place was buzzing last night... Maurice's 80th birthday was celebrated in style with a gathering of his many friends at the church, where we punctuated the night with a "Maurice, this is your lifetime" challenge. It was a roll-out of the rich tapestry of the North Melbourne community and of Maurice's life. Maurice has been a local identity for over 50 years, his enthusiasm, encouragement and sense of humour enfolding many with hope and a sense of belonging. We thought it worthy of a much broader announcement!
Maurice1.jpg . . . Maurice2.jpg

Maurice4.jpg

Posted by gary at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2007

Authority

There may be some insights which come from poor hearing. Certainly Jason's mishearing of the prayers offers some food for thought:

Today I thought I heard the person leading the prayers of the people pray 'for those in authority under us'. I thought I was sure I misheard (and, asking later, this was verified), but what a neat image. We're so used to authority being 'over' us, as if to keep us down, or keep us in line, put us in our place. What if authority is something 'under' us, to support us, uphold us, lift us? This would be a way of construing what true authority is in the church: service. And the greatest will be called servant of all. This is a service and authority which elevates people and makes possible the fullness which God intends for us, an authority authorised by the very flourishing it gives rise to.

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

February 07, 2007

A Sorry Affair

John Smulo is compiling a powerful and humble list of apologies sent in by Christians on behalf of themselves and their communities. It reflects a deep compassion and humility -and honesty - which needs to be encouraged in the church, as it seeks to represent Christ in this world. The list is currently:

  • I am sorry that as Christians we have focused on speaking words of judgment, rather than living lives of love and grace.

  • I am sorry for thinking that being moral was more important than being merciful.

  • I am sorry for focusing on being right instead of being kind and merciful.

  • I'm sorry that I ever thought that a pointing finger would be mistaken for a beckoning hand.

  • I'm sorry that I have excluded too many wonderful people by sticking to a narrow minded view point for too long.

  • I'm sorry that for far too long my politics and my rhetoric have far too often mirrored the kingdom of this world rather than the Kingdom of God.

  • I'm sorry that I've acted out of self-interest rather than out of true love and care for others.

  • I am sorry for loosing connectivity with the most important thing while defending my theology...you.

  • I am sorry for being so busy with church work that I didn't take the time to show you Christ's love.
  • I'm sorry for thinking that God can only work and speak through Christians and that true beauty can only be found in the sacred.

  • I'm sorry we don't party more.

  • I am sorry that as Christians we have said we will follow Jesus teachings "Love God and love neighbor" but forgotten the second part, neighbor. You, yes you, the (right/left, gay straight, poor/rich, democrat/republican, convict, felon, rapist, ugly, fat, skinny, pretty, popular, dork) neighbor. Forgive us.

  • I'm sorry that many of you placed your trust in us as Christians...and got badly let down.

  • I'm sorry that we have closed the doors; that we have placed behavior and belief over love and relationship. I'm sorry that we've been ourown little clique and left you out in the cold. Will you forgive us?

  • I'm sorry that we have spent our fortunes on ourselves while neglecting the needs of those who are desperate.

  • I am sorry we have not been a more frequent, more firm and more graceful voice in environmental, political, and human rights arenas.

  • I am sorry that I have thought for so long that you needed to come to me, instead of me coming to you.

  • I am sorry that I have often been too busy [and] that I still walk past the hungry, homeless people on my way to theological college, daily.

  • I am sorry that I don't venture out of the safety of my own four walls near enough.

  • I am sorry that I loved myself more than I loved you.

  • I am sorry that we have defined holiness by a list of things we do not come into contact with, people whom we don't have fellowship with, and distance from behavior we do not approve of. This is not the path of Jesus.

  • I'm sorry for being so quick to point out others sin while hiding my own in a closet and not dealing with it.

  • I am sorry that I have been consumed with self-interest over God's interest and that has taken its toll on you.

  • I am sorry that I drew battle lines when I should have been busy walking over with a loaf of home-made bread and a warm smile.

  • I am sorry that I was too busy to see you or to really listen.

  • I am sorry for making Jesus seem so boring and religious. He's not. But a lot of times I am.

  • I'm sorry I haven't shown more compassion to those in need.

  • I am sorry that somehow church has come to mean dead building where you are made to feel uncomfortable, rather than vibrant community where you are made welcome.

  • I am sorry for being so easily offended.

  • I am sorry that I have let the church dictate who I show love and grace to rather than following the Example of Jesus..

  • I'm sorry that I've participated in helping make the hours of the week when most churches worship together the most segregated hours of the week, segregated racially and economically.

  • I'm sorry that I was busy with my own struggles, and I did not visit you when you were hurting.

  • I'm sorry that we have presented the true love of our lifes so poorly to you. What is in our minds is not what comes over our lips. I am appalled that what is beauty, freedom, love and truth in my head comes out as unfreedom, judgement and ugliness of my mouth. Please help!

  • I'm sorry for having been a moralistic, unloving, selfish asshole for too many years.

  • I'm sorry for being legalistic.

  • I'm sorry that we as Christians have been so poor at demonstrating God's unconditional love...

  • I'm sorry Jesus for taking 14 years to realise that its whats on the inside that counts.

  • I am sorry that we create the facade that Christians are sinless, issueless, unbroken, unf*****up. we are a community of sinful, broken, f*****up people and you are welcome to join us. I am also sorry that we in America think in terms of the bottom line and have reduced the message of Christ to getting people out of hell. I am sorry for how we cram this truncated message down your throat.

  • I'm sorry for having been so defensive - as though your just criticisms could somehow hurt my God - rather than simply listening to and exploring your questions and doubts with all sincerity.

  • I'm sorry I thought that 'having dominion over the earth' gave humankind the right to rape the environment because Armageddon was going to happen anyway. I'm sorry I thought ideas about religion were more important than God's creation.

  • I am sorry that I ran off my mouth instead of just listening.

  • I'm sorry I thought it was all about me and my gifting and my 'gig'. I'm also sorry christianity is so boring as it's practiced in western culture. I'm sorry I've spent more time being 'right' instead of 'kind'. I'm sorry I missed so many opportunities to learn from you...especially the 'you' that looked or believed differently than me.
    I'm mostly sorry I've squandered resources like time, money, talents, and LOVE that are so freely bestowed on me undeservedly...and instead griped and used them for my own ego and gain. God, forgive me. World, forgive me.

  • I am so incredibly sorry for all of those times I have repeatedly sacrificed kindness on the self-righteous altar of "correct" theology, morality and politics.

  • I am sorry that I have been consumed with self-interest over God's interest and that has taken its toll on you.

  • I am sorry I didn't listen to you when you said we were full of s***. I am sorry that I didn't defend you against the wiles of ambitious preachers. I am sorry I didn't address the sexual, physical and emotional abuse you witnessed. If I could change anything, I would be like Jesus and overturn every money changers' table and walk out on every "church building" speech I heard. More than that, I would be that one doing the healing, touching and ministering to you, rather than turning you over to the "church" for ministry.

  • I'm sorry to those that I have ignored. I'm sorry to those I have been less than genuine. I'm sorry to those I have wronged in deed and word. I'm sorry to those whom I have spoken harshly to or judged too quickly. I'm sorry that I have offered less than what was freely given to me. I pray that somewhere, someone was able to show you truth in a way I didn't. Please forgive me!?

  • I'm sorry that we as Christians have imposed our system of belief upon many non-christians in such a way as to force them to believe as we do. We shouldn't be taking those who don't follow Jesus and expect them to live by a Christian standard.
  • Posted by gary at 03:02 PM | Comments (2)

    February 05, 2007

    The Shape of Church Ministers (and Ministry)

    I've been following an interesting conversation sparked by an Anglican priest called Sam reflecting on issues of workload, priorities and vocation. Pressures on clergy are increasing, leading to increased levels of burnout and turnover, which raises interesting and challenging questions about the shape of the church in its ministry to the community, as well as its ministry to its own leaders.

    This has generated some interesting responses from Paul Roberts, himself an Anglican priest, who unpacks these challenges in a thoughtful way. While the terminology and construct is generally Anglican, the questions he addresses have relevance across denominational spectrums, challenging the way we see ministry and leadership. There are four posts in Paul's response: (1) Clergy Stress; (2) The role of the priest, with the unusual title, "If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him"; (3) On visiting; and (4) You get the priests you plan for.

    As one who serves in three part-time capacities, alongside a post-graduate study project, the work-life balance has been a hot topic of discussion and reflection both personally and in our household. Leaving behold old models of ministry is not as easy as it sounds either - with the boundaries and challenges uncertain (or liminal!) not allowing one to necessarily 'turn off'. Whilst I recognise that this is increasingly a phenomenon for all people, with 'flexible work hours' and the 'mobile office' become much more in vogue, there are unique aspects to church ministry which make it more than a personal lifestyle/vocational issue.

    I'd be interested in reading others' thoughts...

    Posted by gary at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

    Spiritual Disease

    Interesting thought expressed by Thomas Merton in response to a journalist's request to diagnose the leading spiritual disease of our time, he gave a one-word answer: efficiency. Why? 'From the monastery to the Pentagon, the plant has to run... and there is little time or energy left after that to do anything else...'

    There are deep resonations around our community about the pressure to be more efficient, and the lack of time for relationship that leaves. Does that resonate?

    Posted by gary at 10:41 AM | Comments (0)

    May 08, 2006

    A slow thought....

    We commenced a series last night looking at life's pace and its impact on us. Our starting point was exploring the things that we do quickly. The list was startling, embracing almost everything that we do. We race from the time we get out of bed in the morning until our head hits the pillow at night. But it doesn't stop there... how often have we "had a quick nap"? We even sleep quickly, cutting down on hours of sleep, pushing ourselves so hard until we stop - and only when we stop do we sleep. Is there anything we do slowly, with intention?

    The impacts are obvious: higher stress and anxiety levels, growing evidence of chronic fatigue, higher rates of mental illness, more relationship breakdown... the list goes on. We have been lulled into thinking that to "seize the day", and to not let opportunities slip by, means that we are called to push ourselves to extremes.

    Prominent Baptist preacher F.W.Boreham speaks of a theology of sleep, one he practised routinely. I cannot remember ever hearing a sermon on sleep, but plenty on being prepared to seize the moment. The balance has been missing. Universally we admitted that we have succumbed to the pace, being caught up in its ever-increasing intensity. Even rocks skim the surface when travelling at the right speed, never plumbing the depths until it slows its pace. If we are to touch the deep places of our lives, to be in touch with our deep humanity, our deep spirituality, we need to resist the pressures which speed everything up for us.

    To do one thing slowly - with intention - in the coming week, this is the challenge we adopted. Just one thing? How difficult can that be?

    Posted by gary at 10:18 PM | Comments (0)

    February 23, 2006

    Being a Christian in Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

    January 11, 2006

    Two Types of Slackers

    What do you do with the person in your workplace who always seems to be socialising? Whenever you turn around, they are on the phone, surfing the net, reading the paper... (I walked into the bank the other day, and while I was watching my information on the screen, I noticed the task bar was displaying an Explorer Window for stick cricket!)

    According to a recent article from BusinessWeek online, there may be no problem.

    According to the writer, there are two types of slackers: the physical slacker and the optical slacker. The physical slacker is the one who always holds you back in your work - they never have their part completed on time, and always have excuses (none of which were in their control) as to why they didn't perform on time. The optical slacker, on the other hand, seems to always have plenty of spare time on their hands but doesn't appear to hinder any aspect of the work. Like the sport champion who always seems to have plenty of time to do whatever they need to, the optical slacker appears the same way in the office.

    So what do you do about them? The article contains some good advice, so I'll resist replicating it here. It's worth reading in its entirety anyway...

    Posted by gary at 04:31 PM | Comments (2)

    January 03, 2006

    25 Most Interesting Web Cams

    You can see live piranha at work, the Koala exhibit in a South Carolina zoo, wildlife web cams, pandas, and views from the Eiffel Tower, alongside pyramids in Egypt, Valencia in Spain, the picturesque Swedish city of Skelleftea, a unique and expansive view of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, historic Alcatraz Island and the Pier from the heart of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, or watch images of the polar cap from a British Antarctic vessel, after which you might like to repair to Tahiti for some warmth. And if you are an Elvis fan, there's a live link to Graceland. These are just a few of those available.

    To see all 25, click here. Then let me know your favourite.

    Posted by gary at 04:42 PM | Comments (0)

    November 17, 2005

    Practical Recycling

    Great concept for the internet - reduce land fill by giving away the stuff you don't want. Simply join a freecycle group, and connect with others who might need what you are about to put into landfill.

    Freecycle is an email list where like-minded folk let each other know about something that they are giving away. It is a global phenomenon with over 1 million members. There is only one constraint - everything you post must be free.

    Faith in action; community which makes a difference to the planet; a simple practical way to make a difference. Call it what you will... it seems to be a major (couneter-cultural) step forward in this disposable world. There are four chapters in Melbourne/Geelong, and more in rural Victoria... a total of 15 in the state. It's a global phenomenon. If you want to check out a site in your country, click here.

    Posted by gary at 11:34 PM | Comments (0)

    November 09, 2005

    The Beverly Hillbilly Church (2)

    The image of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ as it applies to church life offers a number of different images. Here is a family transplanted from one culture into the middle of another, entirely foreign one. Their lifestyle alone is a novelty to those in their local community, let alone the ways of thinking and relating that they bring. They offer an entirely different way of living and being, yet without impact in their setting.

    Their story highlights the challenge we face in relating to the culture around us. Once the dominant culture in this area, we are now very much a minority, adhering (in the eyes of many) to ways of living and sharing which appear archaic and quaint, and lack connection to the realities of modern life. There is clearly an element of truth to this perception, one which we might be able to explain, if not justify, by our willingness and commitment to incarnate the life and teaching of Jesus.

    Thus the challenge is demonstrated: we are called to be counter-cultural; to live lives which reflect the values of God’s kingdom rather than the dominant cultural values around us. Yet at the same time we are called to build bridges of friendship with those in our local community – building on points of contact, and common understandings that the gospel message might appear in the context of this relationship. It is a balancing act of enormous significance.

    If we are to live in this tension, we need to be constantly examining ourselves and our motives, listening to the voice of God, that keep this tension alive. There is no single answer in response to the challenge, merely an attitude that is prepared to act, reflect and respond. The prevailing culture of our local community (and its many variations) does already embody images of the hand of God at work. As those called to mission in this community, we need to know that culture and respond to it in creative ways.

    But let’s not be afraid to fail, or to look somewhat awkward in our grappling. In some senses it is OK for us to be ‘Hillbillies’, if that is what we are. But as we reach out, we need to be conscious of what is important to, and connects with others, that they might know and experience the good news which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Posted by gary at 04:30 PM | Comments (0)

    November 08, 2005

    The Beverly Hillbilly Church...

    A favourite television show of my early years was The Beverly Hillbillies, a situation comedy revolving around a peasant hillbilly family who strike it rich and move to Beverly Hills. Though amongst the wealthiest in the area, they live as though still on the land - eating, hunting, making their own supplies. Their humble lifestyle is subjected to the manipulations of their banker, who fears losing their custom, and seeks to stymie their every move in spending their wealth.

    It is, in many ways, a metaphor for much of church life. Though we have the wealth of resources available to us from God, through the gifts and graces he bestows on his church, we often live as though still bereft. And the resources we do have we treat as our own, seeking to protect them, rather than as stewards for all that God has given. How tempting at times to act like the man with the single talent, who buries it in the ground for fear of losing it… which he does in the end for failing to put it into use for his master.

    In contemplating the future ministry of the church, we need to develop a risk-taking mentality rather than a conservationist one. Without moving beyond the boundaries of our comfort, we are destined for death. The attitude we need to hold is not that of survival, but of growth – like the sower who sows his seeds in tears, realising that unless this crop succeeds, he is destined for poverty. The only real failure is the failure to try.

    When we look at any single project or proposal for ministry, we might be able to think of many reasons it might not succeed. We can probably well articulate the challenges and threats it poses. Being a small church as we are in West Melbourne, the human resources available are inevitably limited. But we have no other calling, no matter our time, place or size, and no other option but to launch out in faith.

    Jesus chose 12 and transformed the world. He has chosen us for a task not dissimilar – to be part of His transforming work in our local community setting. The challenge before us is of no different order, and no different resourcing.

    Posted by gary at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

    August 25, 2005

    They're everywhere, everywhere!

    The following piece is written by Waleed Aly...

    My wife refers to football as my mistress. I do not vigorously dispute this. I confess that I am a Richmond tragic. I go to every game I can, and many games I shouldn’t. I freely admit I am addicted.

    This year has been even worse. My Tigers have had a reasonable year, and the world has become ever more depressing. My wife tolerates my weekly retreat into the footballing cocoon because she understands how necessary it is for my sanity. It is my release. My brief escape from a world of ugly words and images.

    It is this ugliness that compels me to write, and just now I have a mountain of writing ahead of me. Last weekend it reached the point where my weekly ritual was gravely threatened. My compromise was to take my laptop to the football. There would be opportunities before the game and at half-time to bash out a few paragraphs.

    As half-time approached, with the Tigers staring at a belting, it was time to begin. The siren sounded, the little leaguers ran on to the field, and the ideas began to flow. The strangest places are often the most productive writing environments.

    But my productivity would be interrupted. Within five minutes a young man wearing an official, red, Telstra Dome coat approached and sat next to me. Calling me mate, he asked me to turn off my laptop. It seemed an odd request. I know there are AFL and stadium objections to filming during matches. I knew of no objection to writing. I asked him why.

    Apparently stadium management had received complaints from spectators. The sight of my open laptop in the grandstands had made people edgy. I still didn’t understand. The Telstra Dome official explained himself as diplomatically as possible. “You know with the way things in the world are at the moment,” he said. “Especially for dark people like you and me.” Until then I hadn’t noticed his skin colour.

    This was my first alert-but-not-alarmed experience.

    I have spent a long time since this incident wondering how I am meant to feel about it. Should I feel safer and be thankful for the public’s vigilance? If so, then sorry, I do not. I fail to see how this makes Australia any safer. I know nothing about explosives, but how could a laptop be any more dangerous than, say, a mobile phone? Should people with dark skin not take calls at the football? You know, for our security.

    However I am meant to feel about this, I know how I did feel: humiliated. Never have I wanted so much to be invisible. I contemplated going home, but it is against my football supporter’s code of honour. And in any event, it would have looked even worse; as though I had no business there once I was found out. I had no idea who among the 30,000-strong crowd complained, but I could feel their burning, suspicious gaze upon me. I couldn’t shake the thought that some unknown people suspected I might be a terrorist. I wondered if they were also Richmond fans, and for some irrational reason, the thought embarrassed me even more. All I could do was retreat into the game, pretending I was just like any other supporter. Lying to myself, basically.

    It was the first time in my life I felt like I wasn’t an Australian.

    Maybe that’s because we’ve created a new Australia. One that is so very different from the country in which I was born and raised. That is the power of fear. It triggers social implosion. It can cause societies to tear themselves apart without the need for external interference. And it is antithetical to the charming brashness of the Australian myth.

    Ultimately, this is not a story about me, but about us, and what our country will become if we do not reclaim it from its present trajectory. Beyond this singular event lies a more lasting concern. I am over my initial anger and embarrassment – time heals all wounds. But I carry with me a nagging anxiety for my society’s soul. Time does not, by itself, cure all afflictions.

    Posted by gary at 11:57 PM | Comments (0)

    August 10, 2005

    Models of The Church

    Another quiz, based on Avery Dulles' Models of the Church
    . Seems I confused the quizmaster somewhat...

    You scored as Sacrament model. Your model of the church is Sacrament. The church is the effective sign of the revelation that is the person of Jesus Christ. Christians are transformed by Christ and then become a beacon of Christ wherever they go. This model has a remarkable capacity for integrating other models of the church.

    Servant Model

    72%

    Sacrament model

    72%

    Herald Model

    67%

    Mystical Communion Model

    67%

    Institutional Model

    22%

    What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
    created with QuizFarm.com

    Posted by gary at 07:50 PM | Comments (0)

    July 13, 2005

    Signs of Community

    Each year thousands of people head into the desert in the USA for a festival known as Burning Man, which in itself has become an expression of community: drawing together people of all walks of life into a creative experience which lasts for a number of days.

    As part of the preparations for Burning Man 2005, the organiser feel a need to offer an interesting reflection on community:

    Burning Man is an Experiment in Temporary Community.

    Because many people only know a world shaped by institutions, service workers and commercial transactions, they may not even recognize the signs of a community. Here are a few indications:

    Capacity

    Communities are built on the recognition of the unique abilities of every member. Commerce and the public service sector define us on the basis of deficiency and need.

    Collective Effort

    Community is cooperative - uniting us as varied members of one body. When, by contrast, we consume a service, we're made passive. 50 million people may view a television program or consume a beverage in complete isolation from one another.

    Informality

    In the community, transactions of value take place without money, advertising, or hype. Care emerges in place of structured service.

    Stories

    In universities, people know through studies. In businesses and bureaucracies, people know by reports. In communities, people know by stories.

    Celebration

    Community activities incorporate celebration, parties and other social events. The line between work and play is blurred and the human nature of everyday life becomes part of the way you work. You will know that you are in a community if you often hear laughter and singing.

    Is it that community no longer comes naturally to us, or are the organisers seeking to define the parameters of their particular community gathering? Or have we defined community in institutional and rigid ways which mitigate against the very experience we are trying to create?

    Community is a buzz word, perhaps indicative of its paucity of expression. Churches incorporate the word quite readily into their name, government organisations offer grants and create measuring sticks for its effectiveness. Can community be created intentionally, or does it just happen, or both? And is temporary community a different beast from continuing community?

    Read the original article here.

    Posted by gary at 01:16 PM | Comments (0)

    July 11, 2005

    Prayer: Pilgrim or Tourist?

    Imagine running a car in the same way we run our relationship with God in prayer: I suspect we’d end up waiting on the side of the road with an empty fuel tank much more than we care to confess.

    In the free church tradition (where worship is not conducted according to prescribed liturgy) there is a trend towards scepticism in relation to spiritual disciplines and regular prayer time is concerned. We prefer our prayer to be spontaneous, even ‘continuous’, rather than prescribed according to time or form.

    If we were prospecting for oil or gold, we would land upon a site and spend some time mining that place, ensuring we had explored it with enough energy and persistence to satisfy ourselves that there was no further fruit from that site before moving on. Even if a major strike were to be found, it would not be long before a search in another place was undertaken. Rather than wait for a site to be exhausted, the wise miner would do their best to ensure that there was continuity ahead.

    We are more inclined to be tourists rather than pilgrims in our faith journey: racing across the landscape, looking for bits which immediately pique our interest. If something fails to connect immediately, we move on to the next place, sure that something better lies ahead. As a tourist, impulse access and availability are key. Given limited time, we choose the activities which give us immediate benefit for our tourist dollar. In prayer, the currency is time. With our desire for immediate results: unloading a burden, sharing a concern… we are caught up with the transitory matters, and the deeper relationship which is prayer is sacrificed.

    There is no doubt that prayer born of passion and immediacy has value. But we need to recognise the value of structured and regular prayer also, nurturing our relationship with God and our spiritual journey in disciplined ways. In the same way that athletes are able to draw much more from their bodies through the discipline and constancy of their training – often involving repeated executions of the same drills and exercises – so a prayer life which includes such disciplined attention also has the capacity to spur us on to a deeper relationship with God and a spiritual journey more in tune with God’s presence throughout the day.

    Ritual does not have to be dry. Discipline does not destroy freedom, but enhances it. A rich and nourishing prayer life finds spontaneity and discipline nurturing each other. For God is ever waiting to commune with us.

    Posted by gary at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

    July 10, 2005

    Around the World in Eighty Minutes

    Our celebration of culture and diversity last night, in support of our partner village in Southern Bangladesh, took on an entirely new meaning in the wake of the London bombings of the past week. The spectre of terrorism rises again, with its invitation to mistrust one another on the basis of belief or appearance. As we celebrated with eleven different cultural dishes in the meal, and a similarly diverse community gathered together to eat, we were invited to recognise the beauty that comes from difference, and yet the common humanity that we share.

    The sad reality in the wake of terrorist acts since 2001 is that we have learned to divest ourselves of freedoms in an effort for greater security. With "illegal immigrants" being indefinitely detained in Australia (mostly genuine refugees, and some children), continued and increasing profiling of people according to belief, we are now subjected to a greater sense of fear and security restrictions. In an effort to defend our freedoms, we are giving them away, and demonstrating that we are really defending our economic interests and comfortable lifestyles. Which really is most important?

    There is an unholy trinity at work: global poverty, global warming, and global terrorism, and until we recognise the integral link between the three, we are destined to invest increasing energy in protecting our prosperity at the cost of our freedom.

    In this light, last night was a refreshingly counter-cultural event, where we refused to bow to the fear campaign. We greeted friend and stranger alike. We explored difference, not only in food, but in culture and in belief. And we discovered our common humanity.

    And we began to own our own contribution to global poverty by doing something to restore the balance. We raised funds which would take widows off the streets of Bangladesh, where they currently need to beg for food daily. It is a small step. A seed, as it were. But isn't the kingdom of God like a mustard seed: the tiniest of all?

    Posted by gary at 05:44 PM | Comments (0)

    July 09, 2005

    Tensions in the Changing Face of Church

    Andrew Jones offers a thoughtful reflection on the changing tensions in the church today over at Tall Skinny Kiwi. While he defines these tensions as part of the emerging church movement, I think they reflect a broader tension than between two institutional ways of looking at church.

    Jones writes:
    I have noticed there is still a lot of tension in the relationship between emerging church and the traditional church. Not as much as you think, but there is certainly a lot of heated discussion, mud-slinging and tabloid criticism. There is even the threat of physical abuse and organizations withdrawing favor, or young people leaving their denominations and starting fresh expressions of church without the blessing of their elders. Not good! The emerging church is called to be a reconciling community and part of that reconciliation must happen in the realm of communication.

    The points he makes are valid and certainly real tensions, but on the one hand I'm not sure whether they are so easily broken into the two groups he defines. A large part of what he defines as emerging has been my practice in ministry for over 10 years, perhaps with increasing emphasis, but not without abandoning the "other side". The future calls us to find the link between the two and give practical application to the tension.

    I like to see the concept of emerging through the lens of tree growth: each new layer emerging through the previous, bearing many of its characteristics, but giving it new shape and new identity, and new strength. To create artificial distinctions between the two increases the capacity to create warfare and disagreement, demonising the other, rather than examining for strength and insight.

    These tension points have been around the church for over a decade, and perhaps it is that in the emerging scene they are grappling with it without necessarily having the historical journey... a tree needing to discover its roots?

    Nonetheless, the points of tension are worth reflecting upon from the perspective of balance within one's community.

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

    July 04, 2005

    Sines in Melbourne

    It has been great to spend time with Tom and Christine Sine while they have been in Melbourne over the past week. Their consistent call to unpack the cultural influence on our understanding of the gospel so that our discipleship reflects kingdom values at the core, rather than Western materialism with a spiritual overlay, is an abiding prophetic word in the West. Since the initial publication of The Mustard Seed conspiracy in the 1970s theirs has been a voice in the wilderness against the continual sublimation of the radical discipleship call of Jesus to the American Dream.

    Tom and Christine were in Melbourne for the Forge conference held on the weekend, as they sought to encourage the younger generation who are seeking to reimagine church beyond the traditional denominational paradigms. They were greatly encouraged by the breadth of commitment and work being undertaken by Australian christians to engage in radical gospel mission.

    Tom is currently working on a rewrite of The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, updating it for the new challenges of the new millennium. He'd be happy to hear your responses and any stories you might like to share about what God is doing at the creative edge of church today.

    Posted by gary at 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

    March 29, 2005

    Easter Signboard

    Our community maintains a signboard which offers quotes and thoughts for passers-by. Most are from historical figures, but the one at Easter was an original. It read

    God raised Jesus from the dead: what gets you out of bed in the morning?

    What do you think?

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

    March 19, 2005

    Fast and Furious - The Full Story

    We have reflected on our boat-building experience. Here are the facts, the reasons, and the excuses in full detail. You can decide which is which.

    * None of us had ever built a boat before, or seen such a challenge in action.
    * The two winning teams had professional boat-builders.
    * We were the only ones to build for wind-power.
    * Our boat, called "Noah's Tarp", was big enough for two animals of every kind.
    * We used more wood than anyone else.
    * We didn't sink (one boat did)
    * We didn't finish last.
    * We didn't finish the course (Didn't even complete half a lap!)
    * The two winning teams contained professional boat-builders.
    * There were only two female entrants in the event - and they were on our team!
    * We didn't sink (did I mention that already?)
    * We were out on the water so long, we held up a commercial ferry.
    * The two winning teams had professional boat-builders (Did I already mention that?)
    * When we finally got out of the water, it was getting dark.
    * We had a lot of fun.
    * Emma and Asher kindly took the first lap, meaning Ev and I didn't get wet.
    * Our only progress in the sailing was when I towed Emma and Asher nearly half way around the course.
    * We had a lot of fun!

    One of us reflected (no naming names) that we were a living parable of the church at the end of the twentieth century: still on the water struggling to make progress, and unable to catch the winds of the Spirit.

    Next year we will return somewhat wiser... with a different design!

    Check out our events page for some pictures.

    Posted by gary at 09:42 PM | Comments (0)

    March 18, 2005

    Fast and Furious...

    Two things about the Fast and Furious Boat Building Challenge.
    1. We didn't sink
    2. We didn't win.

    Our boat was the largest of the fleet, the only wind-powered vessel, and the only one requiring to be towed back to the dock.

    We've learned a valuable lesson for next year.

    Stay tuned for photos...

    Posted by gary at 09:42 PM | Comments (0)

    March 16, 2005

    Fast and Furious Boat Building Challenge

    Our community has decided to enter the Dockfest "Fast and Furious Boat Building Challenge", which requires a group of four people to construct a boat out of supplied materials in two hours, then sail it twice around a designated course. Without power tools. The largest thing I have ever built sans power tools is a pencil box, and then it took four weeks under the careful guise of a woodwork teacher. I guess I'll find out how cool the water is in the harbour... unless, of course, I can be in the team which sails the second lap....

    Posted by gary at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)

    March 09, 2005

    These things we have lost

    Our Sacred Space on Sunday night reflected on the formative influences of our understanding of truth, which we all agreed were dominated by the rational, with a small influence of various authorities (parents, tradition, etc.) As we reflected on "being children of light" we realised that one light does not reveal everything. Certain realities are only revealed under blue light, red light, x-rays, and ultra-violet light just to name a few. But we had shone one, maybe two lights on our faith, and lived in the light of that for some time. So what had we lost?

    We created a list of things we needed to recover, both in worship, and in our own journey of discipleship. Here are some:
    * Intuition
    * Mystery
    * Imagination
    * Questions without answers
    * Play
    * Creativity

    It was recognised that this was not a case of either/or, but of the need to create space for these in our worship and community life together.

    Anything you would add to the list?

    Posted by gary at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

    March 07, 2005

    Saving Life and Losing It

    When Jesus said "Those who seek to save their life will lose it," I wonder if he meant that of the church as a whole? With the church in the West so under threat, a lot of energy has been expended to preserve it, shoring up its theological and moral position in the midst of an increasingly pluralistic culture. We are keen to defend and express spirituality in explicitly christian terms (which usually means mentioning the name of Jesus, or pronouncing some empty theological truism like 'God loves you') lest we be mistaken as "New Age", or "liberal" or ---insert your own anachronism---.

    The more we seek to justify our position or demonstrate our success, the more we are seeking to "preserve our own life" in a sense.

    At The Eighth Day, we do not try to foist our views or doctrines on others. Rather we seek to serve our local community and its members, for the purpose of making West and North Melbourne a better place to be. We seek to draw people together, offer opportunities to reflect, create, explore and discover together. We do not back away from the fact that we are christians, but neither do we impose that on others.

    When we changed the name from West Melbourne Baptist Church (WMBC) to The Eighth Day, it was partly due to a recognition that "West Melbourne", "Baptist", and "Church" carry a lot of baggage that we do not wish to perpetuate. It wasn't that we want to deny that heritage, we didn't want to rest on it or recreate it. We believe that God is asking us to be something different: to not try to bring people into a building, but to be a people in the wider community. An interesting sidelight of the name change was that people began asking what we are about. Previously when we had said "WMBC", we were given a knowing look of resignation, and swift end to the conversation. Now, we get one of two responses: from christians we get "why The Eighth Day?", and from others, "Wow, that's great... I love the image", or "tell me about it..."

    We have lost the sense of identity that went with the previous name, and the security that goes with it. The way we are seen is up to us - the way we live in the community. It's a little scary, but exciting at the same time.

    Posted by gary at 07:25 PM | Comments (0)

    March 06, 2005

    What is Church?

    Is church something that we do, or something that we have done to us?

    Posted by gary at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)

    February 25, 2005

    Buildings

    It was Winston Churchill who once said "We build our buildings and then our buildings build us", and this is never more apparent than in the church. We have inherited buildings designed for a form of community and a style of worship which no longer adequately adapts to the culture of our times. The way we are seated, the elevation and separation of leaders, the placement of musicians, the symbols and icons employed... all speak a powerful message to the congregation and places a powerful limitation on the ways in which we interact as a community.

    At The Eighth Day, we are confronting this challenge in a very practical way. The original church building, constructed in the 19th century, was demolished in 1962. It was, at the time, the oldest church building in the area: built of bluestone. The cost of upkeep was becoming too much, and a council overlay meant it could well be demolished to construct a freeway. The church met in a local house until the present building was constructed in 1989. But now we are bulging at the seams.

    This creates a challenge. Do we extend? Rent or buy another property? I have to admit I dislike dealing with such issues, an aversion reflected in Churchill's comment. We are aware of the subtle shift which takes place from care about people to care about property. While we can also positively create a new space which provides new opportunities, we will also unwittingly shape our community. Will it be for good or ill?

    Church buildings... are they a blessing, a curse, or both?

    Posted by gary at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

    February 07, 2005

    To Be Human

    Over the past two weeks we have been reflecting in "Sacred Space" on what it is to be human, talking of potential, and growth, particularly as it relates to being "fully human". But last night we had a question from out of left field: "Should we always be trying to improve?"

    The thought has its roots in the corporate culture which expects you to be continually developing skills, often on your own time. To be satisfied with where you are seems almost sacreligious in this self-actualised world. There are so many self-help books and seminars that to question this culture is bordering on sacrilege. But the question remains... Should we be forever seeking to improve?

    Our discussion began as we considered Paul's injunction to the Corinthians about excelling in faith, knowledge, love, etc... and spent time pondering the areas we might consider being stretched in 2005. Coupling this reflection with Tiepolo's image of Christ leading Peter, James and John up the mountain (See this week's image of the week), we pondered those aspects of ourselves which make us baulk at the bid to climb a mountain.

    At the end of it all, the question was raised. Many professions are requiring people to work ever longer hours, with further 'personal development' to be undertaken outside of work, so that there is less time for the very fabric of life: family, friends, leisure, recreation. It brought our discussion back a full turn to the question once more "what does it mean to be human"?

    We intend to return to this afresh next Sunday evening. Do you have any thoughts to throw in?

    Posted by gary at 08:24 PM | Comments (0)

    February 05, 2005

    Emerging Church???

    While I am sympathetic to the aims of the emerging church movement, and firmly in tune with the rationale which drives it, I continue to ponder the paradox of it all. The rubric under which it organises itself "Emerging Church" suggests that it is the new institution growing up to replace the old, which seems strange when it is the institutional aspect of church which is its greatest impetus. There is also an implicit suggestion that there is one model.

    Have we placed the cart before the horse? Is our goal to design a new institutional framework for church in the 21st century? Or is the framework something which grows up to support an existing dynamic? Ought we be aiming at community first and structure second?

    Which prompts the question: how do we build community? Do we build it by setting an agenda and asking people to respond, or by seeking to add vitality to something which is already present? Community is not some vacuous notion or expression - it always grows within a context.

    When I read the gospels through these lenses, I see Jesus adding vitality to images of life which were already exigent. "A sower goes out to sow" is a depiction of life for a first century Jew. Jesus gives the action symbolic meaning in relation to God and His kingdom. It is not an isolated incident.

    And while Jesus intentionally called a small number to be with him, there was a much larger community which gathered. It almost appears as a byproduct. People were intrigued and entranced by what they heard and saw. (I know the gospels comment on people's response to his teaching, but also look at how much they respond to what they were seeing: was community part of this also?)

    Christian faith is a communal expression, so it follows that the better sense of community that emerges, the better expression of christian spirituality.

    The question then becomes, not how do we do "emerging church" but how do we build better christian community?

    Or am I making an artificial distinction?

    Posted by gary at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)

    January 31, 2005

    Emerging [from] Church

    I have to confess to a touch of aversion to the "emerging church" tag. Sounds a little too institutional to be put into such a box...

    But I realise that the key issue for our community, as we seek to model spirituality and community in a dynamic way, is that we are often shaped by the institutional church - at least in a distinctive and "other" way.

    There are those who are shaped by the institutional church from the inside: they are comfortable with its models of faith and mission. Then there are those who have moved out because they are not comfortable with those models. In this place it is easy to be affected by the institutional church inasmuch as it models what one is not trying to be - we are defined 'over-against' the institutional church.

    A third place is the one where faith and community is worked out without any reference to what the institutional church is doing. Rather than reacting to or against it, one proactively shapes community and faith in the immediate context. In some aspects it may look like the institutional church. In others, it bears no resemblance at all.

    Having my faith formed inside the institutional church, the last place is a difficult one for me to be. It is not "emerging" from the traditional church, but organically (and one suspects, somewhat spontaneously) growing in different places.

    It is from those who don't even know the institutional church that I have much to learn in this regard. And the lessons often make me feel uncomfortable.

    Posted by gary at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

    January 30, 2005

    Back from Holidays

    Good to be back tonight in the midst of our "Sacred Space". Funny how the end of January seems to mark the beginning of the new year here in Melbourne. School starts in the morning for our three (although for most it went back last week), our regular events start to ramp up again - our first movie night in 2005 is on tomorrow night.

    We spent some time reflecting on the question "Who are you?", using a clip from John Safran vs God to spark our thinking. It is really an uncomfortable question to face, as Safran found when amongst Zen Buddhists in Japan. It does, however, shape a lot of our response towards others. I suspect Being John Malkovich might take us down the pathway of similar considerations....

    Posted by gary at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

    January 21, 2005

    Diverse Expression

    In the West we operate in a very broad environment, including in relation to people’s understandings and expressions of faith. At The Eighth Day, we recognise that there is great strength in embracing and learning from this diversity. Each of us sees our faith in different ways, and is nourished in our journey differently. Some are predominantly visual, others tactile, still others conversational or reflective by preference. Although we are all ‘refugees’ in one sense from the traditional church, we still are learning to define our faith in constructive and proactive ways, rather than defining ourselves by the things we walked away from. In this journey, we are learning that not everything we walked away from needs to be left behind...

    Posted by gary at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

    January 17, 2005

    Sacred Space Remembrance reprise

    It always surprises when we have open and unstructured times of worship and reflection. During the service last night, people were invited to light a candle and float it on the pond, expressing their prayer/reflection of hope in relation to the areas affected by the tsunami.

    The children provided some powerful reflections from their own perspective: thinking of those who had no parents, no homes, no schools... the things which impact them are at a different level to the adults.

    Yet, recurring through the evening were pictures of hope and despair: people whose lives were spared under the most amazing circumstances, alongside those where two people were standing together and only one survived, while the other was taken.

    To borrow an image from Henri Nouwen, it seems that hope and despair kiss one another in such times....

    Posted by gary at 09:46 AM | Comments (0)

    January 16, 2005

    Sacred Space in remembrance

    Our community Sacred Space tonight will focus on the power of water. Given that today has been declared a day of national mourning for the victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, we will reflect upon water's life-giving and life-destroying power.

    Having constructed a small pool in the centre of our worship space, we will float candles in memory and place rocks in the water, watching the ripples of disturbance flowing out. A range of texts from the Bible will be available and read as we pray, raise our laments and questions, and reflect on the characteristics of water: something we need to live, yet which has the power to overwhelm and destroy.

    The place of water in the story of Israel - deliverance from Egypt, Jonah, Noah, and others, will be recognised. We will then reflect on our own life-giving and life-destroying capacity.

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

    January 08, 2005

    Bringing rain

    Our church community has a wonderful knack of bringing rain to drought-stricken Melbourne. Although we are eight years into a drought, each of our community activities manages to attract rain.

    Yesterday afternoon and evening we held a sausage sizzle, followed by a prayer vigil, to raise funds to assist the work of organisations working in Southern Asia in the wake of the tsunami. Our sausage sizzle came to an abrupt end when the heavens opened and rain pelted down - but not before we had raised over $1100. (The church will add another $1000 to that effort).

    Our previous sausage sizzle to raise funds for the Darfur region of Western Sudan, turned out to be the coldest and wettest day in Melbourne in over 20 years.

    And to top it off, every other event (three carols in the Park and a community concert in April) also brought the rain!

    I wonder if the farmers would sponsor us at appropriate times to help their crops :-)

    Posted by gary at 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

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