Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas hope that shapes !

Kant, the famous philosopher, described the human situation by posing three questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? For what may I hope?
Speaking of hope Kant said ‘the shape of our hope is determinative of the way we live’.

Christmas and the salvation it brings gives answer to these questions. We know because God first knew us and loved us. In Christ, God comes to seek us out and reconcile us to the divine love and purpose.
What can we do but in glad response follow in the way, the truth and the life. Following in the way of Christ which leads us into the mystery and meaning of God and into serving relationships with our fellow travelers. And we hope for the realization of God’s Kin(g)dom on earth as it is in heaven. The nature of this hope becoming determinative of how we work and serve in the spirit and way of Christ.

‘….and upon us a great light has shone’. We no longer walk in darkness, ‘we have seen a great light’, we know and have One to follow and a hope to shape us. A hope based not on our efforts and understandings but on the substance of God’s action of grace and peace in Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate with wondering love and thanksgiving.

Monday, December 22, 2008

God On Christmas.. Merry Christmas Everyone!

people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
light! sunbursts of light!
You repopulated the nation,
you expanded its joy.
Oh, they're so glad in your presence!
Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.
The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
all their whips and cudgels and curses—
Is gone, done away with, a deliverance
as surprising and sudden as Gideon's old victory over Midian.
The boots of all those invading troops,
along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
Will be piled in a heap and burned,
a fire that will burn for days!
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He'll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there'll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
He'll rule from the historic David throne
over that promised kingdom.
He'll put that kingdom on a firm footing
and keep it going
With fair dealing and right living,
beginning now and lasting always.
The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
will do all this.
Isaiah 9:2-7 MSG

Monday, December 15, 2008


Despite much good work there is a high level of disconnect between what is going on in the community regarding Maori/pakeha relationships, and what many Salvationists perceive.
For a start I would love ALL Salvationists in NZ at ALL LEVELS to do three things:

1. Read Lloyd Martin's little book (10+ years old now), "One Faith Two People" (Lloyd is a man with excellent credentials, trusted by the salvation army in youth work area).

2. Engage with the people in the story and ask - "is what happened fair?"; -"what annoys me about this book?"; -"what would I do differently/the same?" -"how can I learn more?"

3. Talk to somebody who may have a different view to you about these things.

Annette Garrett (Major)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

‘Proximity’ - location, location, location’ is where its at! (2)

”And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God".
Like Mary we could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed with the current world events and the financial and economic uncertainty plaguing our nation.
But the angel’s reassuring message was ‘overshadowed’ not ‘overwhelmed’. Even better. When the Christ was born John says quoting the Message Version:
“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." What great news!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Proximity is where its at!

I attended the Red Letter Voices Conference at which Justine Duckworth of the Wellington Urban Vision spoke about ‘Justice making in a global world’.
One of his points was that ‘proximity’ is everything.

He challenged us by asking what we’d do if a malnourished child was literally dying in the midst of the Conference. Without doubt we’d suspend proceedings and give urgent attention to the little one’s needs. Yet we can eat our meal in the comfort of a lounge chair watching TV and witnessing a mother holding her dying child for want of food, water and medical help, and do nothing.

Justine observed that the more successful we became in Christian ministry the more removed we become from the poor and the opportunity to be directly involved.

Proximity, or location, location, location is where its at. The willingness to be engaged and involved leads to costly action which was his second point and which is where Christ was in his relationship to the people, with the people and for the people. Appropriately we commence the celebration of his advent. Thankfully he has come to be with us where we are.

A new kind of politics 2

The conversation continues. There is a simple little formula that is informing the newer face of politiks. It looks like this:

… for the people to with the people to of the people… (Leonard Boff)

What could this little formula mean for how you and I engage with others? What could this little formula mean for how we imagine and practice our faith? What could this little formula mean for how we re-imagine The Salvation Army?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A new kind of politics

A comment from the in-favour Barack Obama to start our conversation:
"... what's troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics -the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem."

Barack Obama, 2006, The Audacity of Hope.

The craziest of things. I'm engaging with this text of Barack Obama while I'm sitting in the coolest of flats in Soho, London, with the coolest of people, exploring without fear or hestitation, what the face/feel of politics could be like today. I honestly dig where the conversation is going. I like the commitment, the energy, and the passion that there is to be authentic, caring, ethical, embracing of "otherness". I like the seemingly inexhaustible creativity for finding alternatives, a creativity that is countering the gridlocks of stuck imaginations. I like the faithfulness that there is to the excluded, the little people, the forgotten and marginalised who deserve a more expansive politics. I like the largeness of the history that there is to learn from (and what history there is in London - Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandi, Isaac Newton, Jimmi Hendrix, Catherine and William Booth, Samuel Johnson, Christabel Pankhurst, Shakespeare, Florence Nightinggale, William Wilberforce, William Pitt, Charles Dicken, George Orwell, JFK, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Banksy, and Brian Haw). And lastly, I like the sense of deep "place", the sense of "turangawaewae" that these conversations have gifted me.
I've gotta tell you. I have this feeling that something new is emerging and this something is big enough to find a consensus from within our differences, this something is big enough to tackle the problems we've inherited (and continue to make). You feeling it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Biculturalism – what exactly is it?

It is referred to in our government policy, discussed in employment interviews and it even gets the odd mention in some of our social conversations but what does this thing called BICULTURALISM really require of us?

For many, just hearing the word ‘biculturalism’ triggers feelings of INADEQUACY and GUILT. It seems to be SOMETHING we feel we should be doing SOMETHING about but at the same time, WHAT exactly should we be doing?

For others… YAWN! Have we not talked about this issue enough already? WE KNOW that many Maori do not do well in this society, WE KNOW of the unfairness and the injustice in times past but surely it is time to move on… isn’t it? The question is - how do we move forward in a way that is best for both Maori and non-Maori?

Biculturalism is viewed by many as an attempt to ‘respond effectively to the different needs of two cultures’. The Treaty of Waitangi contains the same intentions – EQUAL OUTCOMES in this partnership of two cultures!

Sometimes I look at my two boys – created so differently, both so very valuable, both sharing the same space in our home. It’s taken me some time to realise this but a ‘one size fits all’ approach simply does not work for them and it definitely does not produce EQUAL OUTCOMES.

Do I continue with an approach that works for one child but not the OTHER and expect that the OTHER should just adapt?

Do I just allow a lowering of expectations for the OTHER, settling for the view that it is just the way it is?

No way! I love them BOTH and want to see BOTH of them fruitful and living life to the fullest! The only way forward is to KNOW them BOTH, to have a good relationship with them, to see what works for them. As a very practical example, one needs space and time to chill after school but the other likes my attention and wants to ‘download’ his day - so that is what they get as one way to ‘respond EFFECTIVELY to the different needs of the two [BOYS]’

Considering this then, what can we do in our workplace, our church, our neighbourhood, perhaps even in our own family that allows us to get to know the OTHER, better than we do right now? In which situation do they work/develop/contribute best and what can we do to accommodate and encourage that? How do we love our neighbours (indeed our treaty partners) as ourselves? Perhaps if we begin to take action from this position, we may be able to remove the seemingly unattainable notion of BICULTURALISM from our list of ‘Things I would like to do’ and make it part of the way we live our lives?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

also for alternative christmas ideas and insipiration

Friday, November 14, 2008

An 'Affirmation' for urban living (Dorothy McRae McMahon)

We believe in God whose creativity
is not defeated by concrete or traffic,
but shines forth in the centre of our life.

We believe in Jesus Christ
Who lived as friend and saviour
to the people of the city,
who ate and laughed,
wept and celebrated
with ordinary people like us.

We believe in the Holy Spirit
who dances in the city
as truth and moments of love
who goes between us
with threads of community
and never leaves us without hope.

And we believe in the Church
which is real when it stands open
to the life of the city and bears witness
to the love and justice of God. Amen

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the hope implicit in the election of Barack Obama

the hope implicit in the election of Barack Obama

source unknown (received by email)

Cross-posted from

Friday, November 7, 2008

“This is not change but the opportunity to make it”, says Obama

In a deeply moving speech following his being declared the president-elect, Barack Obama said that his victory at the polls "is not the change, but the opportunity to make that change."
"This is our moment. This is our time", he declared, "to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, We Can."

Obama appealed to the traditional character of the founding fathers, to American values and to ordinary people to work together for a better country and world.
Here is a message of hope for New Zealanders as we go to the polls to elect a new Government. We have often lauded ourselves with being a ‘can do’ people using the proverbial ‘number 8 wire’. We at such a time should reflect on our founding values, the Treaty of Waitangi and what we as a proud people can do for our nation and the world. Yes, We Can!

The Spirit of God is evident in the great moments and movements of history such as we’ve witnessed in the coming to power of Barak Obama, a culmination of the long journey to justice for the black people of the USA. Likewise in the great historic moments and justice movements in New Zealand such as The Treaty of Waitangi and the Hikoi of Hope to name but two.

We celebrate a God who acts in history and who is present today to bring about the needed change and hope. Together with the guidance and aid of God’s Spirit we can say, ‘Yes, We Can’.
The well known verse from St Paul, “behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2Corinthians 6:2), calls us to work towards God’s kingdom and Will, here on earth as it is in heaven. Our national elections will not be the change but is our opportunity to make change here and now!

Nelson Mandela Speaks

Text of a message from Nelson Mandela to President elect Obama

We join people in your country and around the world in congratulating you on becoming the President-elect of the United States. Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place. We note and applaud your commitment to supporting the cause of peace and security around the world. We trust that you will also make it the mission of your presidency to combat the scourge of poverty and disease everywhere. We wish you strength and fortitude in the challenging days and years that lie ahead. We are sure you will ultimately achieve your dream, making the United States of America a full partner in a community of nations committed to peace and prosperity for all.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


What a great moment for the world. Today we all have a sense of hope and expectation about what might happen now in America under President Obama. The President's speech was inspirational and dignified and called people to work for others not for themselves

Viven Hutchinson organiser of the Social Entreprenneurs wrote today

"The next President of the United States is going to have a lot on his plate with not only two wars and an economic catastrophe to immediately deal with ... and there's also the longer-term issues of climate change and building a new energy infrastructure.

It has been heartening during his campaign to hear Obama speak of the necessity of fostering social innovation and social entrepreneurship as he faces these difficult challenges ahead.

It is interesting to re-read what Obama had to say about this in July:
" We need to invest in ideas that can help us meet our common challenges, because more often than not, the next great social innovation won't be generated by the government.
" The non-profit sector employs 1 in 12 Americans and 115 nonprofits are launched every day. Yet while the federal government invests $7 billion in research and development for the private sector, there is no similar effort to support non-profit innovation. Meanwhile, there are ideas across America - in our inner cities and small towns; from college graduates, to seniors
getting ready to retire - that could benefit millions of Americans if they're given the chance to grow.
" As President, I will launch a new Social Investment Fund Network. It's time to get the grass roots, the foundations, the faith-based organizations, the private sector and the government at the table so that we can learn from our own success stories. We'll invest in ideas that work; leverage private sector dollars to encourage innovation; and expand successful programs to
scale. And just as we support small businesses, I'll start a new Social Entrepreneur Agency to make sure that small non-profits have strong support from Washington... "

- Barack Obama "Call To Service" speech in Colorado Springs, Colorado 2 July

Decision 08 - Do's and Don'ts

Do vote this Saturday and exercise your democratic right to elect the candidate/political party that you think is closest to enabling a “common good”, a “good future” that everyone can contribute to and share in.

Don’t vote thinking that this Saturday is where we abdicate our collective/personal responsibilities to the policies/programmes of a (potentially newer version of the same) “nanny state”. Its not.

“The distinctly kingdom question is not about how we should vote but about how we should live. The decision we make in each... election is no more important than how we vote everyday. We vote everyday for companies, for people, and we put money towards “campaigns.” We need to think of the faces behind the scenes. Who are the masters and Caesars that we pledge allegiance to by the way we live and through the things we put our trust in? We vote everyday with our feet, our hands, our lips, and our wallets. We are to vote for the poor. We are to vote for the peacemakers. We are to vote for the marginalized, the oppressed, the most vulnerable of our society. These are the ones Jesus voted for, those whom every empire had left behind, those whom no millionaire politician will represent.”
(Shane Claiborne, Chris Haw, 2008, Jesus For President)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Essential reading before casting your vote

My Personal 'Faith Priorities' for this Election
by Jim Wallis

In 2004, several conservative Catholic bishops and a few megachurch pastors like Rick Warren issued their list of "non-negotiables," which were intended to be a voter guide for their followers. All of them were relatively the same list of issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. None of them even included the word "poverty," only one example of the missing issues which are found quite clearly in the Bible. All of them were also relatively the same as official Republican Party Web sites of "non-negotiables." The political connections and commitments of the religious non-negotiable writers were quite clear.
I want to suggest a different approach this year and share my personal list of "faith priorities" that will guide me in making the imperfect choices that always confront us in any election year — and suggest that each of you come up with your own list of "faith" or "moral" priorities for this election year and take them into the voting booth with you.

After the last election, I wrote a book titled God’s Politics. I was criticized by some for presuming to speak for God, but that wasn’t the point. I was trying to explore what issues might be closest to the heart of God and how they may be quite different from what many strident religious voices were then saying. I was also saying that "God’s Politics" will often turn our partisan politics upside down, transcend our ideological categories of Left and Right, and challenge the core values and priorities of our political culture. I was also trying to say that there is certainly no easy jump from God’s politics to either the Republicans or Democrats. God is neither. In any election we face imperfect choices, but our choices should reflect the things we believe God cares about if we are people of faith, and our own moral sensibilities if we are not people of faith. Therefore, people of faith, and all of us, should be "values voters" but vote all our values, not just a few that can be easily manipulated for the benefit of one party or another.

In 2008, the kingdom of God is not on the ballot in any of the 50 states as far as I can see. So we can’t vote for that this year. But there are important choices in this year’s election — very important choices — which will dramatically impact what many in the religious community and outside of it call "the common good," and the outcome could be very important, perhaps even more so than in many recent electoral contests.
I am in no position to tell anyone what is "non-negotiable," and neither is any bishop or megachurch pastor, but let me tell you the "faith priorities" and values I will be voting on this year:

1. With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies, and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in the richest nation in the world. Such a central theme of the Bible simply cannot be ignored at election time, as too many Christians have done for years. And any solution to the economic crisis that simply bails out the rich, and even the middle class, but ignores those at the bottom should simply be unacceptable to people of faith.

2. From the biblical prophets to Jesus, there is, at least, a biblical presumption against war and the hope of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world and make us all safer. I will choose the candidates who seem to best understand that our security depends upon other people’s security (everyone having "their own vine and fig tree, so no one can make them afraid," as the prophets say) more than upon how high we can build walls or a stockpile of weapons. Christians should never expect a pacifist president, but we can insist on one who views military force only as a very last resort, when all other diplomatic and economic measures have failed, and never as a preferred or habitual response to conflict.

3. "Choosing life" is a constant biblical theme, so I will choose candidates who have the most consistent ethic of life, addressing all the threats to human life and dignity that we face — not just one. Thirty-thousand children dying globally each day of preventable hunger and disease is a life issue. The genocide in Darfur is a life issue. Health care is a life issue. War is a life issue. The death penalty is a life issue. And on abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue the practical and proven policies which could dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and therefore save precious unborn lives, rather than those who simply repeat the polarized legal debates and "pro-choice" and "pro-life" mantras from either side.

4. God’s fragile creation is clearly under assault, and I will choose the candidates who will likely be most faithful in our care of the environment. In particular, I will choose the candidates who will most clearly take on the growing threat of climate change, and who have the strongest commitment to the conversion of our economy and way of life to a cleaner, safer, and more renewable energy future. And that choice could accomplish other key moral priorities like the redemption of a dangerous foreign policy built on Middle East oil dependence, and the great prospects of job creation and economic renewal from a new "green" economy built on more spiritual values of conservation, stewardship, sustainability, respect, responsibility, co-dependence, modesty, and even humility.

5. Every human being is made in the image of God, so I will choose the candidates who are most likely to protect human rights and human dignity. Sexual and economic slavery is on the rise around the world, and an end to human trafficking must become a top priority. As many religious leaders have now said, torture is completely morally unacceptable, under any circumstances, and I will choose the candidates who are most committed to reversing American policy on the treatment of prisoners. And I will choose the candidates who understand that the immigration system is totally broken and needs comprehensive reform, but must be changed in ways that are compassionate, fair, just, and consistent with the biblical command to "welcome the stranger."

6. Healthy families are the foundation of our community life, and nothing is more important than how we are raising up the next generation. As the father of two young boys, I am deeply concerned about the values our leaders model in the midst of the cultural degeneracy assaulting our children. Which candidates will best exemplify and articulate strong family values, using the White House and other offices as bully pulpits to speak of sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, strong parenting, and putting family values over economic values? And I will choose the candidates who promise to really deal with the enormous economic and cultural pressures that have made parenting such a "countercultural activity" in America today, rather than those who merely scapegoat gay people for the serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown.

That is my list of personal "faith priorities" for the election year of 2008, but they are not "non-negotiables" for anyone else. It’s time for each of us to make up our own list in these next 12 days. Make your list and send this on to your friends and family members, inviting them to do the same thing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Greed is wishful thinking that turns sour!

One is reminded of the Hebrews who during their escape from Egypt were provided ‘bread from heaven’ as they thought. It sustained them through the forty years of wilderness wanderings but when they tried to gather and store the manna they found to their alarm that it went bad.

How true of the materialistic goals we often aspire to have and at any cost. The recent financial market and share market collapse is testament to such creed and its destructive consequences. Interesting that the modern use of the word ‘manna’ now relates to the ‘bread’ of commerce – money.

Our obsession to have more than we need and to secure our future is to live in a fool’s world. Jesus said, ‘What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose their soul’ (Mark 8: 36) Or, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth , where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break in and steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. (Matt. 6: 19-21).
Seems to me that there is a definite link between greed and idolatry. Our ‘god’ can be defined as that value to which we devote most of our time and effort.
Frederick Buechner puts it well ....
“Idolatry is the practice of ascribing absolute value to things of relative worth. Under certain circumstances money, patriotism, sexual freedom, moral principles, family loyalty, physical health, social or intellectual preeminence, and so on are fine things to have around, but to make them the standard by which all other values are measured, to make them your masters, to look to them to justify your life and save your soul is sheerest folly”.

- Frederick Buechner - Wishful Thinking

A New Kind of Question

A dazzling and disbelieving display of “dumb and dumber” is how I’d describe the anxious “crisis-management” and “problem-solving” of the international community faced with its current financial meltdown. Every economist, market guru, head of state or politician I’ve heard seems to be hurrying and scurrying to fix something that is inherently flawed, panicking to preserve a history of consumerist entitlement, a legacy of exploitative grasping and hoarding that is never going to be sustainable. Is there no alternative? Isn’t this hurrying and scurrying simply changing the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic? No one I’ve heard seems to be asking the hard questions, the real questions. We seem to be simply reactionary, stuck.

The crisis we face is a crisis of a “solution deadlock” (Brian McLaren). We’re trying to madly force/squeeze something different from the same old same questions, something new from the same old same stinky-thinking. A new kind of question is needed:

“... one of our first and most important activities will be to ask a new kind of question, because the right questions cause people to think rather than react. Perhaps questions like these can dislodge us from our conceptual ruts and ideological reactions - and inspire some creative imagination: what benefits will come to the rich if the poor are better off? what dangers and negative consequences will follow for the rich if the poor are not better off?... what kind of world will we who are comparatively rich and powerful bequeath to our children and grandchildren if we do not redirect our energies from accumulation, and self-protection toward compassion, service and equity? And what kind of world will we bequeath to future generations if equity becomes our sacred passion and personal ambition?" Brian McLaren, 2007, Everything Must Change.

Something fairer, something new is possible with these alternative questions: what could our global economies look like if these were the questions that drove our financial markets? what could our international community look like if these were the questions the politicians debated? what could our local churches and neighborhoods look like if these were the questions that framed how/where we lived in community? what could these questions mean for how we see others/ourselves/the planet we share?

Try them on for size today.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Enough is Enough

The girls have graduated (at least momentarily) from Barbie (see Barbie gets a gun, 25th of Sept) and with the school holidays, I had the perfect excuse to drag them off to "Wall-e", a magical little film that explores the massively critical issues of globecity - the chasing of "ease" and "ever-more", our deadly fascination with "info-tainment", our greedy and needless over-consumption, and our indifference towards scarcity. I loved how the film got the girls to naturally grapple with these complex issues facing the future of our planet.

Kiana (6) claimed in mature tones:
"... its interesting... the people have to stop being lazy... we have to do something."
Makayla (11) declared, with a hint of parochialism:
"... we have enough... we have to keep New Zealand green...."


Now there is a little word that can say something of real value to the crashing financial markets, a little word that counters the greed and politicized fear that drives our economies, a little word that can speak volumes to our worrisome world.

"Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone's need, but not everyone's greed."
(Mahtma Ghandi)

There is enough, isn't there?

Friday, September 26, 2008

‘The Algebra of Infinite Justice’

Remember Malcolm’s quotes of last week one of which went ‘Politicians are like diapers. They both need regular changing for the same reason.’

During the week I heard David Lange being quoted. In response to being told by a local Government official that they were naming a toilet block after him he quipped, ‘yes but the contents will be named after you’!

The lead up to the elections will sadly and undoubtedly get quite dirty and one can become disillusioned about politics but we must remain focused on insisting that the right policies are adopted to address a number of pressing justice issues.

Arundhati Roy from her book, ‘The Algebra of Infinite Justice’ gives wise counsel:
“The only dream worth having ... is to dream that you will live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead ... To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or to complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Barbie gets a gun

The “gift” of fathering thr3e incredible daughters is that I get to legitimately sit through Barbie DVDs (click on the Barbie to the left, and you can get the gun to fire). The latest, “Barbie and the Diamond Castle” is a fascinatingly plastic tale of “good defeating evil” (or, with tongue in cheek, blond defeats brunette). The digitized moments that got me the most were at the end (and not simply cos that meant I got to go back to more masculine things). The tale ended with the dominant cultural/imperial myth of “might makes right”, what John Dominac Crossan calls the myth of “peace through victory” or “peace through redemptive violence”. The "good-blonde" Barbie defeats/slays the "evil-brunette" figurine with a more mightier melody that magically transforms the evil persona into stone - the exact same hand and thuggish treatment that “evil” had dealt to “good” earlier on in the story line.

See what is happening?
I couldn’t stop my mind from tripping to Paul and to the Letter penned to the fledgling community of Christians in Rome:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
(Romans 12.14-21).

Sinking in?
How “different” could Barbie be if the iconic figurines of pop culture were to “defect” from the narratives of “might makes right” and “peace through victory”? How “different” could our communities feel/look if we (the Christian Church included) were to “invest” in living from within stories without vengeance and violence? How “different” could our global neighborhood be if we were to persuade (with our taxes and voting?) our national/international leaders to drop the self-seeking sword of the empire and pick up the servant-towel of Jesus? How “different” would that be?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thanks Malcolm for the laughs!

Many years ago I saw the stage play ‘Godspell’. The abiding impression was of Jesus being depicted as a ‘court jester’ and causing hilarity among his disciples and hearers. With humour he poked fun at the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the day and shared his ‘alternative wisdom’ in brilliant one-liners and provocative parables.

In our more serious, literal and religious reading of his comments and hyperbole we often miss the humour.
With the partisan nonsense in the lead up to the election it is wise that we laugh, otherwise we’d cry - or is it both? I'm sure God does!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Poking fun at Politkal Spin

A little politikal fun (and possibly inside of this fun a little truth) to counter the looming intensification of election spin and serious leaders debates we're going to have to endure in September, October and November:

"An election is looming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry."
T.S. Elliot

"Politicians are like diapers. They both need regular changing for the same reason."
Author Unknown

"Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other."
Oscar Ameringer

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Battle for the Mind - thinking as a warrior should think

I was re-reading "I'll fight" by Phil Wall and came across the following. I hope it challenges and inspires and calls you to greater things today.

"As the waves crashed around the ship the evil slave trader, this dealer in human flesh, considered his life and all he had done. As the seas rolled with ever-increasing turbulence, so di his mind. A mental storm was beginning to brew. His human cargo, incarcerated below would, as in most trips, arrive with not all still alive. Between the lashing of the waves cries could be heard from the desperate company beneath decks. Through disease, suffocations, and at times starvation, numbers would die and provide the sharks with a mighty feast. None cared too much if some who went over were not actually dead; it only hastened the inevitable.

Brutality was part of the control: beatings, floggings, rapes. They were all too common a pat of the socially condoned evil of slavery. Families were devastated, whole communities ripped apart, husband from wife, child from parents. This ebony sea of humanity was violated with inhumane intensity. Flesh and bone were pawned as commodities, exchanged with little or no thought of the injury being suffered in body, mind and spirit. Thought of as somewhat inferior to other men and women, human rights were denied to those who were viewed as less than human. Freedom was stolen in the name of commerce.

Scores had died as a result of man's 'financial investments'. Untold misery had been meted out upon the African peoples and during it all no question of guilt nor disquiet had ever flashed across his mind. Yet this day was different. This day, in the midst of the life-threatening storm, he suddenly became aware of his own mortality and the fragility of life, causing fear to grip his heart. The arrogance and harshness of his bigotry began to be challenged. What had been the invincible bastion of an emotional vacuum began to crumble. Thoughts of God and sin, not entertained since he was a child, began to travel across his mind. Guilt, considered by him a rare and unnecessary sensation, began to consume him. His heart began to stir as the pages of his life began turning before his eyes.

None will ever know the full story of what took place during that treacherous night. A revolution of mind and heart had begun that would have life-transforming consequences. More than canvas and wood were thrown into turmoil that night. A battle had begun for how this man viewed God, himself and the sanctity of life itself. Decisions needed to be made, attitudes had to changed, a mind had to be renewed. it was this man who, as a result of the considerations begun that night, eventually bowed his knee before Jesus and became a champion of the powerless slaves. One day, when thinking back to this mental and spiritual journey, he penned the words that have brought challenge and hope to millions

"amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
was blind but now I see"

John Newton had won the battle for his mind."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Review: The Faith of Barack Obama

As an observer of US politics from afar, I have been as interested as anyone in the Obama phenomenon. As I said back in February: "I don't know enough about Barack Obama or his policies to know whether I support him or not, but as a NZer who can't vote in the USA that's pretty irrelevant anyway. But I do know inspirational public speaking when I see/hear it! And surely inspiring his/her country to do better is one of the key roles of a president? Few people can remember Jack Kennedy's specific policy successes, but all remember how inspirational he was."

So, when Michael Hyatt wrote that Thomas Nelson (of which he is CEO) had published the book "The Faith of Barack Obama", and he called for blogger reviews, I leapt at the chance of receiving a review copy because it would bring together many of the interests that I myself write about - christianity, politics, leadership, social justice, public speaking, etc.

Michael's introduction promised that the book would:
  1. explain Obama’s drive and vision for America;
  2. counter many of the myths about Obama’s faith;
  3. explore the difficult aspects of Obama’s faith;
  4. provide a window into contemporary (US) Christian culture;
  5. provide a new model for public discourse.
In my opinion the book has met those lofty goals. It provides a fascinating insight into Obama's personal faith, it's beginnings, the context in which he came to a personal faith after a lifetime of exploring, and most critically - given he could be US President soon - how his faith drives his politics.

But, for me as an overseas observer, neither of the two sections of the book that stand out the most are about just Obama himself.

The first is the section providing historical context and depth around Obama's former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Based on media reports you would think Wright was on the lunatic fringe, but the book makes it clear that while his speaking is provocative it comes with a lot of depth, understanding and prophetic deliberateness. His language and imagery are of the pulpit, not of the public square - if you are not familiar with the style of the pulpit you will most likely misinterpet what he is trying to communicate. This section is worthy reading for anyone interested in how the church could (should?) respond to oppression of its own people, and to social justice issues in general.

The second is the "Four Faces of Faith" chapter comparing the personal faith of Obama with the personal faiths of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and George W Bush - all of whom are active christians who attend their local church when possible (which is not easy for a national politician), and whose faith informs their politics. This chapter is a vital contribution to the need for an understanding of how christian faith can take different forms, which themselves spawn quite different approaches to politics - and yet still be a genuine faith.

This chapter contrasts a faith rooted in an understanding of the oppression of a people and hope that it can end. It compares a faith that is "progressive ... social justice ... and the most liberal face of all" (Obama), with a faith that "cling(s) to traditional religion but long(s) for a politically liberal America" (Clinton), with a faith that is "not comfortable speaking publicly about a personal matter like faith ... measur(es) faith by good deeds ... distrust(s) excessive religious talk but value(s) religion confirmed by good works and character ... silent character ... unpreachy character ... character that would never vaunt religion for political gain" (McCain), with a faith of the "evanglical ... the awakened moral majority ... those eager to connect the nation to her moorings in holy passion and to her call to be a 'city upon a hill'" (Bush).

I commend this book to you. It is a good read, and an aid to understanding faith and politics.

If you buy "The Faith of Barack Obama" here I will receive a referral commission.
Update: Mon-15-Sep: added the sentence about the language and imagery of the pulpit.

Friday, September 12, 2008

one of our most sacred democratic rights

In 57 days we will choose who will govern NZ for the next 3 years, because the Prime Minister today announced that the 2008 election will occur on Saturday 8 November.

As I wrote back in 2004, voting is one of our most sacred democratic rights, so I strongly encourage you to evaluate proposed policies against the values and standards you wish to see our country run on, to assess the integrity of the politicians and parties trying to secure your vote against those same standards and values ... and then - to actually vote in line with your judgement!

I support the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services' (which includes my church the Salvation Army) recent call for ...
... policies to eliminate poverty, support families and protect children, provide for the elderly and enable access to affordable housing.

"NZCCSS is concerned that political parties have not done enough to spell out policies that could lead to better ways to utilise our nation's prosperity to reduce poverty," it said.

"At minimum we seek ... a basic assurance that the impact of all policy-making decisions be measured in terms of the quality of life of those who are the most vulnerable and who are most affected by poverty in our society."
Note, this doesn't necessarily mean I support the types of policies it could be interpreted that NZCCSS statement is seeking, but I definitely support the call for how policies impact our most vulnerable to be clearly spelled out and debated as part of the election campaign.

cross-posted from

Friday, September 5, 2008

Beyond ‘dominating despair’

The following quote and thoughts are from a paper authored by Myk Habets entitled ‘Church and Civil Society: Terms of Engagement’.

“Christian faith at its best responds to the human condition of suffering when it seeks to give more than comfort and wise platitudes, when it seeks, in the experiences of suffering and joy, to find and name the presence of the divine .... The incarnation reminds us that this God became flesh and rose from the dead for new creation and new life for all. It calls for the naming of the divine in our midst and the recognition of Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. Structures and policy which diminish the human person, marginalize and exploit should be challenged.”

As Christians we are called to make visible in the world that divine presence in all the fullness, dignity and wonder of God’s purpose in creation even in the midst of apparent destruction and despair. This means Christians should not merely be (or be seen to be) interested in temporary, issue-orientated crusades. Christians are not simply to march against injustice but to inculcate justice, model it, work for it, live it, and build it in their societies.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Against Dominating Despair

The despairing and disbelieving conversations that dominate how the media is imagining and interacting with the crises facing the City of Manukau (and most of our planet for that matter) have driven me to Walter Brueggemann.
He claims:
"... the dominant text of our culture is a practice of despair. A closed, settled world of reasonableness requires that there are no new gifts to be given, and there is no Giver who might give gifts. There is nothing more than management and distribution of what is already there, distribution and redistribution, wars about distribution of land and oil and water, no more gifts. Everything is limited and scarce, to be guarded and kept, to be confiscated and seized. It is so in the public domain of economics, not less so in the intimate world of human transactions and emotional need - not enough of love, a shortage of forgiveness, and finally a deprivation of grace in this age and in the age to come."
(Walter Brueggemann, 2006, The Word that Re-describes the World).

The counter-text of our faith is the daring, finger-giving-gritted-teeth, pervasive conviction that God and His healing is larger than every circumstance our communities face. Surely, that is the hopeful noise that we should be making today?

Monday, September 1, 2008


Yea so Jesus Says Just before that in Mark 9- " 'If you can'?" said Jesus (may Amie add he said probably said that a bit sarcastically). "Everything is possible for him who believes."

That same Jesus, showed the diciples and those around him how we can live in the kingdom of God. He healed people- like Malcolm says, transformed everyone around him in one way or another. Real belief is Guttsey- do i believe God can heal a terminal illness? Yes i say i do, but will i dare to ask someone in a hospital bed if i can pray for them? No. Then do i really belive God is good. Hes gotta be, look at Jesus, look at what he was pointing to- the kingdom of God.

I get tired, sometimes of thinking about this very fact- that the Kingdom of God is here, and yet often (and the media dont exactly help this) there is some pretty crapy stuff around. So Yes we hope- suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (romans 5:3-4). but let our vision not become clounded or watered down. That the kingdom is here, increasing, and absolute Justice is being rolled out simply because we believe...

i think thats where im at today malcolm... :)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Against and Beyond

A depth of faith I'm trying to echo and live from within where I'm at:

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief."
(Mark 9.24)

A cop-out?
Brian McLaren comments:
"If the word believing seems too soft a strategy for confronting (personal and) global crises, I would reply that believing seems like a soft or weak thing only when it is a domesticated belief. Tame believing for and within the dominant system may be easy, but wild believing against and beyond it turns normal people into heroes and history changers."
(Brian McLaren, 2007, Everything Must Change)

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief."
(Mark 9.24)

The first time someone dared to pray this prayer there was deliverance, freedom, healing, release and transformation. What could this against and beyond believing look like where you're at today? What could this against and beyond believing mean for how you engage with the world?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Steve Crow and the Sacredness of Sex

Someday, I'd love to grab a good fair trade coffee and sit down with Steve Crow (infamous for the "Boobs on Bikes" parade and for the production of "homegrown" porn) and have a conversation that'd go something like this:

G.K. Chesterton claims:
"Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God."

Steve, is that your experience? Do you encounter people involved in the sex industry looking for more? Is sex completely/totally satisfying or is it a signal of something else? Is there more to sex than simply "having sex"? Is sex telling a larger story or is sex the sacred substitute?

Philip Yancey notes:
"Uptight Christians forget the fundamental fact that God created sex. Having studied some anatomy, I marvel at God labouring over the physiology of sex: the soft parts, the moist parts, the milions of nerve cells sensitive to pressure and pain and yet capable of producing pleasure, the intricacies of erectile tissue, the economical and ironical combination of organs for excretion and reproduction, the blending of visual appeal and mechanical design... A connected view of life assumes this is God's world, and that despite its fractured state clues of its original design remain. When I experience desire, I need not flinch in guilt, as if something unnatural has happened. Rather, I should follow the desire to its source, in search of God's original intent."
(Philip Yancey, 2003, Rumours of Another World).

Steve, what is your image of Chhristianity and sexuality? Do you see that when Christianity desacralizes/devalues/limits sex to issues of guilt, immorality, sin, suppression it is ironically mirroring the reductionism of the porn industry?

C. S. Lewis observes:
"We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling in the streets, that he 'wants a woman'. Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a women happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the women as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes)."

Steve, how do you see men and women? Are they simply "body-parts"/tools/objects/things of pleasure or is there in every man and women a slice of divinity, a person with a story that deserves and expects more?

Lastly, Scott M. Peck confesses:
“When my beloved first stands before me all naked, all open to my sight, there is a feeling throughout the whole of me; why?  If sex is no more than instinct, why don’t I simply feel horny or hungry?.... Why awe?  Why should sex be complicated with reverence?” 
(Cited in Mike Riddell, 1997, alt.spirit@metro.m3). 

Steve, have you ever felt awe, mystery, or wonder when looking at or making a porn flick? Have you ever felt "transcendence" within your own sexual life?

Someday we might even dare having a conversation like this at church. What would you say to Steve Crow? What would you say of sex?

Friday, August 15, 2008

In addition to that Malcolm...

See here for 6 parts of commentry on Faith, politics and voting by Brian Mclaren

Click here (scroll down this page and see the 6 parts)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Election Speak

The Election of 2008 is critical.
It is not simply a decision of electing a political party to sit in power; it is a matter of re-deciding our future together.

Listen carefully to the pre-election speak. Listen for how the political parties/policies/politicians promise to re-describe and re-imagine our future. Listen for stories of the “end”; stories of what our future is going to look like if the political promises get kept: what is the promised “end” of “Economic Growth”?; what is the promised “end” of “Personal Tax Cuts”?; what is the promised “end” of “Welfare Benefits”?; what is the promised “end” of “Law and Order”?; what is the promised “end” of “Sustainable Development”? Listen for whether these promises “end” in a future of consumerism or citizenship. It is a critical difference of possible realities.

Walter Brueggemann explains the difference:

“ - Consumers are those who, after they ‘eat and are satiated’,... ‘exalt self, forget, grow fat, serve other gods’, a collage of self-sufficiency, self-indulgence, self-congratulation, self-reference - autonomous and automatic - an ocean of self, characteristically growing fat.”

“ - Citizens are those who, after they ‘eat and are satiated’,... ‘bless and remember’, that is they turn life and satiation back to the Giver in order to acknowledge the gift, the return of given life to the giver of life, to situate self in the world of gift and demand well beyond self. in that transaction of return, the self has a role to play but never autonomous, never automatic, never guaranteed, never taken for granted, always engaged with the reference beyond self who commands, creates and guarantees.”
(Walter Brueggemann, 2006, The Word that Re-describes the World).

A future of consumerism or citizenship? It is the great either/or that has dominated the political history of planet earth. Every politician, from Moses and Pharaoh to Julius Caesar and King Herod from Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler to J.F.K and Fidel Castro from John Major and Margaret Thatcher to Helen Clarke and John Key, have had to engage politically with these options of what it means to be human. The Election of 2008 is now our opportunity to say how we choose to re-narrate our future together.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Imagine, Invent, Invest

Somehow I managed over a few weeks to find myself watching American Inventor. Its a show where a panel of 4 judges listen to sales pitches from wannabe inventors and then decide if that invention is worthy to go to the next round. I've missed the ending but there were some cool and quirky and downright weird inventions. A man's child was killed in a car crash because of her car seat so he invented this amazing capsule that simulates the womb like state and when struck with force it simply spins the child in such a way that there is little impact felt. (That is my terribly non-scientific description!) There was a cool pooper scooper thing that had potential. There was a chopped of dolls foot that you put jam into and then squeezed and the jam came out the toes (it was called toe jam). It was just creepy.

People have incredible imagination. I wonder where they got it from? Perhaps from the greatest inventor of all time...God! He created the heavens and the earth, he created the hummingbird to be able to fly backwards and the cockroach to be able to live 9 days without a head (I'm yet to work out why) He created the human body and none of us can really fully understand the intriquate design involved there. The bible tells us that we are made in the image of God. That ability to imagine and create is a reflection of He who made us.

As I watched the show over a few weeks at times I found myself saying "Only in America". Some of the inventions were definately for the improvement of the quality of life, others were about stroking the ego.

I wonder when we as God's imaginers will see lots of inventions created that improve the quantity of life. We all know that there are millions starving, dying of treatable disease and illness, and experiencing unnecessary pain and destruction. When will God's people imagine a better way, invest their time and their money and invent practical things to take care of the greatest thing ever created- the human life.

I think we can all be imaginers, inventors and investors. You might not see yourself as creative or being technically minded and able to build something, but don't forget - We all have the same DNA - God's. If he can create with a word, I wonder what we can create with ours? Perhaps that is a great place to begin.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sometimes winning is to say we don’t want to fight that war any more!

This interview with Brian McLaren follows my previous posting about the nature of divisions in the church and how we should understand and handle them - a sermon by Simon Barrow Co-director of Ekklesia ‘Whose mission is it anyway?’
Brian McLaren is one of the leading US figures in forward-thinking evangelicalism, post-Christendom approaches to mission and 'the emerging church'.
In an address to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops (16 July - 4 August 2008) he said that Christians have to engage the rapid changes of post-modernity, and that cultural sensitivity on issues such as sexuality was a way to re-hear the Gospel message from each other, rather than dividing into factions.


The Archbishop of Canterbury said you were someone he’d wanted to hear speak to the bishops for a while now … how did you feel when he asked you?
I was very honoured, but also a little nervous! I was also very excited… I have a great belief in the Anglican spirit, with its roots going back even to the Celtic era.

Do you feel then that the world would be a poorer place were the Anglican Communion to be split?
Anybody who had the chance that I’ve had to be here would experience the deep spiritual life here, the deep spirituality and deep personal relationships. You can tell that these have real substance, whether or not there’s a split.
Those who are pulling away are depriving themselves of great resources and are depriving the Anglican Communion of their great resources.
Regardless of what happens, there will be something of an Anglican ethos that will carry on.

Tell me more about how the Western church needs to deal with a colonial approach to evangelism.
We have a lot to learn from the global south, but the North and South together have to realise that the gospel spread under colonialism was just a version of the gospel. Together they need to come up with a new vision.

When you talked about ‘un-embedding’ the gospel from the context into which the Western world has read it, there was an excited sense of “well, we can do things a new way, it doesn’t have to be either/or...”
I’m glad to hear you say it that way. In many difficult issues people can become polarised, or choose a point on the line between the two views. It’s an exciting moment when people realise there can be something outside that line. That’s the creativity of the Holy Spirit, to pull us away from that line.

What about people who say you are advocating turning your back on a couple of millennia of tradition, for the sake of speaking into one generation?
I’m sympathetic to the concern that we don’t abandon things that should be retained. Two hundred years ago, the church went through the painful process of abandoning the slave trade. That meant a deep shift in thinking about economics and human rights. World War II saw the end of colonialism, which had been theologically defended. The church has always demonstrated both continuity and adaptation.

Does our diversity prove a strength in this adaptation?
Sometimes [in a dispute] both groups can slip into a rhetoric of right and wrong, the good guys and the bad guys. I hope we can go on to a different perspective, a missiological perspective. In early years, the Anglican Communion has had to make missiological decisions about what behaviours it would allow in different cultures.

What is the message you want to give the bishops gathered here?
I hope first that they will feel a sense of hope. It is so easy to be concerned with the controversies we see in the headlines. I hope the bishops will turn from that to the primary concern of the church, which is making disciples of people who will then live in the way of Jesus.
I sensed this morning how present that idea is, that it’s time to turn outward again.
You know, I grew up in the Vietnam War era. In the end people lost interest in that war, they said this is not a war worth fighting. Sometimes winning is to say we don’t want to fight that war any more.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Whose mission is it anyway?

A very thoughtful sermon for all at Lambeth to reflect on Simon Barrow who is co-director of Ekklesia

"Some section of the Anglican Communion are convinced that only their narrow vision of what is permissible in faithfulness to the Christian message is adequate. Those who disagree must be excised or shunned. We have been here before. Indeed the first Council of the early church in Jerusalem had to confront deep divisions over the meaning of the Gospel - and came up with what some would these days dismiss as a 'fudge'. Actually, it may have been rather radical. This is a sermon for the Feast of St Peter and St Paul (who were sometimes at each others' throats), based on the following lectionary texts: Zechariah. 4.1-6a, 10b – end; Acts 12.1-11; 2 Timothy 4.6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16.13-19.

It is an interesting feature of our modern culture, one fast losing touch with the religious vocabulary its older generations were raised on, that it often re-appropriates or re-shapes terms previously anchored in scriptural and ecclesiastical traditions.
Take ‘mission’, for example. In spite of waves of scepticism about ‘management speak’, the word remains ubiquitous in the business world, in voluntary organisations and among project developers – where a clear ‘mission statement’ – a forthright declaration of purpose that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound (“smart”, as the acronym has it) – is central to the understanding of a well-run, well-directed organisation.

In Christian circles, however, mission is often a divisive rather than a unifying concept, with some regarding it as a mandate to bring out their sledgehammers, and others avoiding it like the plague! So if the secular world has turned ‘mission’ into a matter of money, measurability and mastery (obsessions which can be equally tempting for church leaders), Christians have often behaved as if the choice is somehow between bludgeoning people in the kingdom of God or finding it too embarrassing to mention God at all. Some better ways forward are surely needed.
But if we expect to turn to the New Testament for neat alternatives, we are liable to be disappointed. First, because the arguments and differences of perspective which we find in today’s churches are equally present (albeit in significantly different form) among those who first sought to live out and communicate the Gospel, the evangel, the good news in a strange world. Second because, far from being preoccupied with sustainable organisational development, the first apostles were often having to contend with the menace of kings (“about this time, Herod launched an attack upon certain members of the church”, we read in Acts), the reality of exhaustion (“my life is already being poured out upon the altar,” Paul writes to Timothy), or the threat of betrayal (Peter’s great confession is soon found wanting in the most dramatic way possible as Jesus faces his death).

The Gospel can be a dangerous business, then. And the danger does not just come from without. It is possible that both Paul and Ignatius, pioneers in the controversial Gentile mission, died in partial consequence of the betrayal of Jewish Christians (those loyal to James and Peter). Similarly, the followers of Paul who helped shape the Johannine tradition existed in great enmity with Jewish Christians – as texts from St John which speak harshly of “the Jews”, and which were disastrously deployed in the twentieth century, make plain.

Conflict, then, is at the heart of the Christian story. It is not new, and it can be deadly. How, then, do we handle it? That is the question confronting Anglicans and others right now. The fact that the recent gathering of those who want to see stricter rules and expulsions, to resolve disagreements about who is and who is not welcome at the table of Christ, has been taking place in Jerusalem is especially poignant. For Jerusalem and Antioch were the two places where arguments over the distinct missions of Peter and Paul took shape – one resting on the conviction that adherence to inherited Jewish rituals and codes was crucial to Christian integrity in the future, the other believing that experimentation, change and development were possible according to the operation of the Spirit.

In this struggle, Paul was a liberal and Peter was a conservative, says modern typology. As with today, the reality was much more complicated. The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 (which is a bit hard to tie up with other accounts of the arguments) looks like a classic Anglican-style fudge. Paul, who seems to have lost the tussle in Galatia, not least because he had little scriptural precedent on his side, was allowed to continue his work from several centres in the East Mediterranean without making circumcision a requirement, while the Jerusalem church retained a strong traditional identity.

However, the Council did retain prohibitions against Gentile converts eating meat containing blood, or meat of animals not properly slain. But Paul seems to ignore this among the Corinthians. Likewise, he opposes circumcision in Philippians (“mutilation” he calls it), while praising the same in the different context of Romans and permitting Timothy to undergo the ritual in Acts 16. He was, it seems, a pragmatist and a radical all at once. And while he may have lost influence in Antioch, his revisionism won out in the end – otherwise we, here, might still be eating kosher food. Peter too, whose restrictive ethic was dubbed “clearly wrong” by Paul in Galatians, was prepared to put aside his reservations in the particular case of the converted Roman centurion Cornelius, when a dream persuaded him to relax his attitude to ritual purity.
What Peter says when he sees the undeniable faith of a pagan is, “Who was I to hinder God?” But Paul was the one to recognise most forcefully that, in practice, the love of Christ is larger than our social, cultural and, yes, religious limitations. For social reasons, God-fearing gentiles were not able to become full Jewish proselytes. Nevertheless they were attracted to the monotheism and the ethical rigour of the faith. By sitting on its edges they were therefore able to benefit without having to betray their own cultural heritage. So it was to the edges that Paul went, to discover God at work where many least expected it. The result was that less than 20 years after the death of Jesus, pagans and Jews were sharing table fellowship in Syria.
This should have been unthinkable, and to the purists and rigorists it was. But Paul, remember, preached about of a Jewish reform prophet embodying acceptance by God and triumphing over the power of death without a total embracing of the weight of the Law as a precondition. This was manna from heaven. It pulled in recruits from the gentile fringe while having relatively little impact among the Jews.

What does all this have to teach us today? Well, it might suggest to us that Jerusalem isn’t always right – or wrong! It might make us ponder the idea that if we take the Bible seriously, then scriptural precedent, as St Paul shows, should not become an obstacle to the Good News and to God’s gracious work among those we may have come to think of as unclean or unworthy. The mission of Acts is to the ends of the earth, not to the end of our tethers. Certainly, it should make us question those ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ labels that get used these days to tell us who the goodies and baddies are. When the Gospel of God’s life-changing love in Christ is unleashed it subverts those categories too, which is why people who posit Jesus against Paul and then dismiss Paul in the name of progress are so mistaken, it seems to me.

I have no idea whether the Anglican Communion will hold together after the next Lambeth Conference. Part of me, to be honest, almost no longer cares. The sight of Christians tearing each other apart is so distressing and counterproductive, that going on perpetuating it through structures and resolutions which bear little relationship to the reality of who we are seems to me to miss the point entirely. That said, I have no wish to excise those I disagree with from the Body of Christ. Peter and Paul, I suggested earlier, held “diverging commitments exercised in great faithfulness to the truth of a person” – Jesus Christ. “And you… who do you say I am?” Jesus asks Peter, and us, according to Matthew.

The answer is that Jesus is the one who leads us beyond what we imagine of limited persons and into the very heart of God. He is the Messiah, the offspring of the Most High – the decisive evidence that God blesses the messy vulnerability of texts, history and flesh; so that none of us dare limit the love that can bend the divine to reach lower than we could ever hope to stoop.
But there is a warning attached to this. In receiving the kingdom of God and preaching it, as we are bound to do, we will continue to draw circles that some will fall within and some without. And for this we are answerable before heaven, as Peter was when the cock crowed before Gethsemane, and as Paul was when he decided to break the religious rules and to join with those who told Emperors that there is another kind of king, Jesus.

Jesus, remember, was clear that the Spirit of the Lord was calling him to proclaim good news to the poor, not the self-satisfied; the sick and the subjugated, not the well and the worthy. In following this Jesus, we will take risks and make mistakes. But that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is to think that it is our rules, structures and institutions, rather than God’s capacity to remake lives, forgive sins and free us from bondage, that really counts.
For “all at once, a messenger of the Lord stood there and the cell was ablaze with light. He tapped Peter on the shoulder to wake him. ‘Quick! Get up!’ he said, and the chains fell away from Peter…”
Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He blogs at and his website is at This article is adapted from an address given at St Mary Arches Anglican Church, Central Exeter, on 29 June 2008.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rainy Days

A triplet of good things to engage with while sheltering from the rain (that is, if you're not busy evacuating, sandbagging or cleaning up):
1. A book, Mountains beyond Mountains (Tracey Kidder, 2001), the captivating biography of Dr. Paul Farmer and how a personal commitment to care for individuals equally can change entire communities and even challenge global solution-deadlocks.
2. A site,, a fascinating online flash that 'measures' globally and nationally the births, deaths and carbon emissions of our existence on planet earth.
3. A film, bella, a magical movie that explores honestly how interruptable, malleable, open and redeemable is our future.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Being involved is to be fully human!

Bishop Desmond Tutu describes the nature of true religion. Not indifference but intelligent engagement, costly involvement and incarnational participation.

“Religion is not a form of escapism. Our God does not permit us to dwell in a kind of spiritual ghetto, cut off from the real life out there. When God encounters injustice, oppression, exploitation, he takes sides. Then God and the Bible are subversive of such a situation.
Our God is not a God who sanctifies the status quo. He is a God of surprises, uprooting the powerful and the unjust to establish his kingdom”.

indifference is not human

Discrimination, distance, and indifference... they’re inhuman companions, blind, deaf and dumb mates, interconnected. The three can be felt and seen together wherever there is a devaluing of life, the exclusion of others, or injustice (see the conversation of The Shar on Wednesday 23rd July, 2008). The everyday entrenchment of statistics on global poverty reveals something of the power of this inhumane triplet:
- 2.7 billion people struggle to survive on less than two dollars (US) per day. Poverty in the developing world means more than income poverty. It means having to walk more than one mile everyday simply to collect water and firewood; it means suffering diseases that were eradicated from rich countries decades ago. Every year eleven million children die-most under the age of five and more than six million from completely preventable causes like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.
more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.
- 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death” (UNICEF).
- the Food Security Assessment, 2007 projected that the food security situation in 70 developing countries will deteriorate over the next decade. The estimates also indicate that the number of food-insecure people for these countries rose between 2006 and 2007, from 849 million to 982 million. Food and fuel price hikes, coupled with a slowdown in global economic growth, hinder long-term food security progress.
- more than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day...300 million are children. Of these 300 million children, only eight percent are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90 percent are suffering long-term malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency. Every 3.6 seconds another person dies of starvation and the large majority are children under the age of 5 (Millennium Project).
- 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. If current trends continue, the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children, largely because of slow progress in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
- nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen. In 2004, global military expenses exceeded $1 Trillion (US), but serious international terrorist attacks rose from 175 to 655 (Brian McClaren).
- infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.
- water problems affect half of humanity.
- some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
- 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 litres day).
- 1.4 million children die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
- 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized.
- 15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom).
- a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy. This compares with a 1 in 3,700 risk for a woman from North America.
- every minute, a woman somewhere dies in pregnancy or childbirth. This adds up to 1,400 women dying each day - an estimated 529,000 each year from pregnancy-related causes (Millennium Project).
- 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide; 2.4 million people are as a result of human trafficking.
- for every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment.
- three decades ago, the people in well-to-do countries were 30 times better off than those in countries where the poorest 20 percent of the world's people live. By 1998, this gap had widened to 82 times (up from 61 times since 1996).
- 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are cut down each year, including 6 million hectares of primary forests. Primary forests - forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities - are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. The world's rainforests are found in the poorest areas on the planet. The people who live in and around rainforests rely on these ecosystems for their survival. Thirty million species of plants and animals - more than half of all life forms on our planet live in rainforests.
- for economic growth and almost all of the other indicators, the last 20 years [of the current form of globalization, from 1980-2000] have shown a very clear decline in progress as compared with the previous two decades [1960-1980].
(Unless otherwise stated, these stats were cut and pasted from Anup Shah at, March 04, 2008)

And the list could go on and on, couldn’t it? You made it to the end of the list, right?

These “global facts” of discrimination, distance, and indifference will only mean something when we make them personal. It’s easy to discriminate against the faceless, nameless people caught in these statements and statistics; its easy to stay detached, distant from or indifferent to them; its easy to cite them and then file them, or if we’re brutally honest, forget them. What if you knew someone personally on this list, could you forget them then? What if you had family or your friends on this list? What if you got close enough to feel a thin hand of someone on this list clutching yours? What if you learnt the names of some of these people? What if you could sit down and exchange stories with these people, could you ignore the pleas for help then? What if you were even more daring and relocated to live where some of these listed people try to make a living? What difference would that make to how you hear, see and speak of these inhumane statistics?

See what I’m getting at?

The last thought goes to Nicholas Kristoff, a journalist with the New York Times who has covered the famine in Ethiopia:
“I often hear comments from readers like, ‘It’s tragic over there, but we’ve got our own problems that we have to solve first.’ Nobody who has held the hand of a starving African child could be that dismissive.”
(Nicholas Kristoff, cited in Jim Wallis, 2008, Seven Ways to Change the World, emphasis mine).

Could we? Could you? Could I?

Reaching-out and staying in-touch (touchable) is the essence of what it means to be human and the practice of a fairer world.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

picnic with gypsies & discrimation

Discrimination takes on all kinds of forms and is revealed in all kinds of places. I was shocked to read the following article on

It recounts how two young children Violetta (12) and Cristina (13) had drowned while swimming with friends at a beach. Their bodies were removed from the water and towels laid over their bodies while waiting for removal from the beach. You can see in the photo the sunbathers in the background happily enjoying their day despite the tragic loss of life right in front of them....

The photographer told CNN the mood among sunbathers was one of indifference towards the girls, who were Roma gypsies - a disliked minority in Italy.
Archbishop of Naples Cardinal Crecenzio Seppe wrote in his parish blog: "Indifference is not an emotion for human beings. To turn the other way or to mind your own business can sometimes be more devastating than the events that occur," CNN reported. The Guardian reports that "Italy is gripped by anti-Gypsy feeling."

“Since coming to office in May, Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing Government has appointed three special commissioners to deal with the Roma in each of Italy's three biggest cities - Naples, Milan and Rome. It has also ordered the fingerprinting of the country's Gypsy population, including minors, who make up more than half of the estimated 150,000 Roma in Italy,” it said. The newspaper quoted a survey showing 68 per cent of Italians want the Roma expelled, regardless of whether they hold Italian passports. Many Italians are openly hostile towards the Roma, accusing them of choosing crime over legitimate employment, and living in illegal camps instead of joining mainstream Italian society.

The British broadsheet quotes Italian newspaper La Repubblica, which also expressed astonishment at the behaviour of those on the beach: "While the lifeless bodies of the girls were still on the sand, there were those who carried on sunbathing or having lunch just a few metres away.” Earlier this month, the European Parliament demanded Italy end its plans to fingerprint thousands of Roma children calling the move a direct act of discrimination.

I find myself asking all kinds of questions when I read this.... how is it that life can seem less precious because someone is 'different'? How can Governments blatantly discriminate against a group of their own citizens? How can the death of a child ever not impact someone? What would it take for me to turn the other way to injustice and tragedy...and how can I make sure that never, ever happens.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What starfish are you making a difference for?

Watch this video here

Its easier than you think to make a differnce, the question is are you going to?

One by one, step by step, starfish by starfish.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Godly imagination!


This comment by Major Clive Nicolson featured in the Southern Division Newsletter and is full of insight. A timely reminder that we can become organisationally constipated with a morass of compliance and conformity requirements. It is of course sociologically inevitable that all organisations become increasingly linear whereas 'imagination' involves lateral thinking and movement. The sequence of 'Man, Movement, Monument' comes to mind. Laterally-minded people think big, broadly, provocatively and creatively. This was true of the OT prophets and their 'prophetic imagination', some church history and some of the early social & political actions of the Army. We also think of Wesley, Newton, Wilberforce, Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Johns Paul 11, Walesa, Romero, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, to have the powerful force of ‘God enlightened imagination’ illustrated. (IanK)

“It all began with God. I’m continually amazed at God’s awesome creative abilities.
Those words, “Let there be” and “Let us”, brought into being the imagined thoughts of
the creator and the world and all that is in it took shape and began its journey through
the ages.
It all began with God, His imagination, His thoughts, and His desire to have relationship
with mankind.
Einstein once said; “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination
encircles the world.”

I have been thinking about Einstein’s statement and have come to the conclusion that
perhaps we need to hear his words and apply them to the church today.
Could it be that we have more knowledge about running churches than we have ever
had with a host of seminars and training opportunities available to us? I’m not
discounting the usefulness of these but could it be that what is missing in our churches
today is imagination.
Einstein also said, “If you can imagine it, you can do it.”

As the Army has come of age perhaps we have focused too much on knowledge and
not enough on inspired imagination. May be we have forgotten what it is to dream the
dream, take a risk and have a go. Our need to understand every part of the plan has
cramped our style and we have become more and more conservative and safe in our
approach to mission.

I was personally challenged at our recent Officers fellowship to think outside the box
more when it comes to the church and how it should function today. Perhaps we need
to find time to sit and allow God’s Sprit to really inspire us with His creativity. What
might be possible I wonder? What changes might God inspire us as individuals and as
an Army to make? What could our ministry and mission look like in the future?

I wonder if we each out of a holy discontent admitted that some of the things we
currently are doing are not working and began to as we discovered in the book club at
fellowship the process of clarifying the win, thinking steps not programmes, in narrowing
the focus, teaching less for more, listening to outsiders, replacing ourselves and as we
continued to work on it, what might be possible.
Let us as leaders encourage a culture of creativity, risk taking, and a positive faith in
God for as Matthew 19:26 says “With God all things are possible. “

Major Clive Nicolson is Divisional Secretary for Programme – Southern Division