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... :)