Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The future of the "established" church

I haven't posted directly on this topic for quite a while. There have been a number of reasons for this. In one sense it has all been a little too close to home. I am employed by a local church with a traditional, denominational history, and I began to see that many of my posts on this subject where just a little too close to home. I also have been trying to sort through my own convictions and the motivation behind them.

But I was asked the question again today, "what do I see as the future of the church?" And so I thought I would think "out loud" and post some of my thoughts here.

In a nutshell, I think the established church is dying. Not dead yet, but well on its way.

The main indicators of church's demise, as I see them, come from the church's role in contemporary culture - Christianity is increasingly becoming marginalised and established, traditional-denominational expressions of church now exist on the fringe of the local (and increasingly secular) community.

Community action for most churches involves marketing of religious goods and services (handing out balloons with the church's website address on it in the local shopping centre for instance) to a shrinking sympathetic demographic, in forms borrowed from and perfected by MacDonald's and Coke et al. Social action comes with press releases and self aggrandisement.

Even though all these things point towards the death of the established church in its current incarnation, I don't necessarily think the local church has to die. I think there is a hope of rebirth. But it means change. It means converting from business-inspired marketing, to Jesus inspired living. It means reconsidering leadership models and practice, it means reconsidering the role of the church and what it means to be the church in and for our world. It means understanding that being missional has very little to do with going on an overseas mission trip, planning an "outreach" event in your suburb, or participating in the next you-beaut mass media evangelistic project.

Despite the whining of some local church pastors that EMC practitioners or commentators don't have a right to comment on the local church, I think it is important to point out that most of the criticisms being leveled at the established church are coming from people with extensive experience within established, traditional-denominational, settings. They aren't people standing on the outside, looking in and pointing fingers.

But change isn't easy, and in most places is almost impossible. If the leadership isn't in the picture it's unlikely the church will adapt - those members who want to see things change will eventually leave when it simply becomes to hard to keep working within a structure in which they don't fit. If the members don't see the need to do things differently, then leadership will find it very hard to make things move. So, I think we are probably about a generation away from the large-scale demise of the local church in its current form. Those that come to grips with the changing environment and adapt accordingly will make it (it's going to be tough!), those that just keep on doing what they've always done (or at least what Hillsong or Saddleback or whatever whoever is the flavour of the month this month did!) will go the way of the dinosaur.

This isn't a simple subject (you've seen the number of books on the topic!), but it's a subject worth getting real about. This involves established churches taking a serious look at themselves and being willing to take the pruners to the dead wood while putting "history and tradition" to one side for the sake of the future. It also involves proponents of the EMC being willing to build bridges into established churches wanting to make changes, recognising the role that does exist in the neighbourhood of the future for long-established (yet significantly modified) expressions of church.

If you're wondering if you're church is really missional - check out this post from Brackish Faith and this post from newly commissioned "Senior Pastor", Hamo, at Backyard Missionary.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Spider

I found this little beauty with a brood of youngsters (several hundred) in the shed this morning. The off-white bits of fluff around it are it's egg sacks. I should have photographed it with a coin to show the size, it was about the size of an Australian 5 cent bit.

For the uniformed (or the un-Australian) it is a redback spider, probably the most venomous spider we have in WA and one of the most venomous in the world.

In its nest I also found the mummified remains of a 7 or 8 cm long 4 toed skink - left overs of a rather hearty spider meal!

We seem to have a lot of spiders around here - wolf spiders and daddy long legs are the most common. After nearly 16 years together Alyssa is finally giving up on getting me to kill or remove these little lovelies. They are great natural insecticides and help keep the mossies under control in summer.

My general rule with the redback is, if they are not around where the kids play then they get to live. Otherwise they are just too dangerous - a small one can easily kill a child of Ashleigh's age with one bite. One this size could probably even make an adult critically ill. Unfortunately I had to dispatch this one and it's babies to spiders heaven. Not worth the risk to the kids or the dog.

Anyway, from the Rigg family (and their spiders), Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Benediction

A Franciscan Benediction:

May God bless you with discomfort,
at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger,
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

My God bless you with tears,
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their
pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness,
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Amen.

From - http://www.toddhiestand.com/a-christmas-benediction/12/

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Thought


A few years ago, as I planned a Christmas Eve message, it struck me how we tend to want to leave Jesus, as a baby, in the manger at Christmas, and then jump forward to Easter and fix him as a thirty-something man to the cross, while forgetting about the life he lived in between these two, important, events.

Even when we describe the gospel we tend to still focus on the nativity and the crucifixion. So often I hear the gospel described in too-simple terms as the Father sending the Son to die for us. Of course, this is true, but it is not the whole truth.

Jesus did enter time and space as a baby. But he didn't stay that way. He grew into an adult and he lived a life that serves as an example to those who claim to follow him, today.

In this light then, Christmas is not so much about the "Christchild" as it is about the incarnation. About a life that was lived among humans as an example for humans of the way God intends us to live.

Instead of thinking and talking about a baby in a manger this Christmas, I am going to be concentrating on celebrating the life that was lived (the gospel in its fullness) between the manger and the cross.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Saving Christians

I finished reading Rob Bell and Don Golden's book "Jesus wants to save Christians" about a week ago. It takes, what the authors call, a new exodus perspective on the biblical story. In a nutshell this means the first exodus forms a basis for understanding the mission and ministry of Jesus - a mission that had firmly in its sights the alleviation of the suffering and the hardship of the least. Of those enslaved.

The New Exodus is one perspective, taken from the side of the weak and marginal and the God who cares about them. We're interested in the big story because that's what the Bible is—a story that unfolds across history. Who are the major characters, what's the plot, how do we take part in it? Perhaps this is why Jesus can be hard to understand. It’s hard to understand the later parts if you haven't been brought up to speed on where the story has been so far*.
I'm a fan of Rob's and read this book hot on the heels of his other new book, "Sex God", and found it drew together many of the themes concerning kingdom and gospel and the link between being the body of Christ and caring for the least in our world - in other words, social justice.

I recommend it as an easy, introductory read on what is really quite a deep subject.

Here's an interview with Rob from Relevent Magazine, in which he discusses the book. Out of Ur also posted a 2 part review of the book which you can read HERE (Pt 1.) and HERE (Pt 2).

*Bell - Online: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god_article.php?id=7569

Understanding love

Surely, exiles need to recover a more biblical understanding of the nature of Christian love for God. If loving God is not just about singing love songs, what more is involved ... Love, then, in the Christian framework, is an action. It is a verb, not a noun. To love is to do something for others, not neccessarily to feel something for them. It is to desire their spiritual growth, so that they might blossom and grow and become everything that God intended them to be in the first place. And, interestingly, this is also how we love God, by serving God's creation.
This is not to suggest that there won't be feelings attached to our love of God and others. (Exiles, Frost, M. pp. 308, 310)

Rwandan child choir to perform at UN


The message of Forgiveness coming from the mouth of babes! These young orphans and vulnerable children from the beautiful country of Rwanda in Africa between the ages of 11 to 18 years of age will delight and inspire their audiences in song, drumming and dancing! December 2008, USA – In December, a group of Rwandan children will arrive in the U.S. as young cultural and peace ambassadors to take audiences on a journey into the lives of the Rwandan people through music, dance, costumes and drumming. They are known as the MIZERO Children of Rwanda which in Kinyarwanda, the language of their home land, means "HOPE." MIZERO EPK video

While many organizations are helping Rwanda recover from the 1994 genocide, few have addressed the issue of cultural brokenness. "My vision for MIZERO is to build, bring and to spread hope to Rwandan children through our vibrant music and dance traditions. It is my goal to mentor them to help them discover the power of forgiveness as I have, to help these young ones grow up free from hatred, bitterness and the spirit of revenge. This use of the arts combined with the message of forgiveness can help these children heal their wounds from the past and put a stop to violence and any future genocide through this next generation of young leaders" says MIZERO founder and CEO, Jean Paul Samputu

The UN has declared the year 2009 as the Year of Reconciliation. Samputu and MIZERO have embarked on an impassioned 2009 schedule filled with activities that focus on 'Forgiveness as a Step to Reconciliation'. This includes the 'Forgiveness Tour', various conferences and concerts, and global conferences called 'Gathering of Forgiveness: A Step to Reconciliation'to be held in
Rwanda in February and July which will also commemorate the 15th year of the Rwandan genocide.


This inspirational tour's highlight will be the children's performance at the UN at theGlobal South-South Development Expo, in conjunction with the Fifth United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation on Dec. 19th http://ssc.undp.org. They have been invited to perform at the conference: Advancing Cooperation between the United Nations and World's Religion. which will take place in New York on December 16th 2008 at UNICEF Labouisse Hall. In addition, the MIZERO children are looking forward to exchanging with children from various schools in the Greenwich, Connecticut area. They will be 'jamming' with the Djole Drum and Dance Company from South Carolina who will be making a special trip to New York City to meet with the MIZERO children. The MIZERO children will experience Christmas with the gracious hosts from Foxhill Bruderhof Community in Walden, NY.

The MIZERO foundation welcomes financial donations, donation of Christmas gifts for the children, or if you can make available a van or bus for transportation needs while in NY and the tri-state area. If your group, organization or church would like information about having the children perform at your event, anytime from December 27th through to January 23rd, please contact us at (438) 275-5147 or (828) 507-1848 or email us at mizerofoundation@gmail.com
MIZERO Children of Rwanda believes that through music and arts, youth receive self-confidence, life skills and creative expression to help them heal and go forward. These children are sharing their gift of music and performance while raising awareness about the 1 million other orphans of Rwanda.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Congo Appeal - Every cent helps

Day 4 Community Aid & Development Inc. have just launched an appeal to raise funds for the purchase of food, blankets and clothing for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Goma, north eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

They are working in with a local church organisation recommended by Claude Nikondeha of Amahoro Africa.

The appeal is only running for a short time - the aid is required urgently so we are trying to raise as much as we can by the 15th of December.

No matter where you are in the world, you can donate online via Day 4's secure credit card gateway - http://www.day4.org.au/donate.htm.

If you are in Australia, please contact me (Andrew) via the Day 4 website and I can give you bank account details for direct deposits into our account.

If you do use the credit card gateway, please make sure you put "Congo" in the "Order or Item Number" field.

We also have flyers which I can email to you if you are willing to advocate for this appeal within your faith community, workplace or among family and friends.

Thanks in anticipation of your prayers and support.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Questions for Brian

When I first started exploring what the Emerging Church really was all about, one of the first figures I came across was Brian McLaren. He appeared as a much debated, controversial and rather enigmatic figure that I found difficult to draw any hard conclusions about.

Most of the stuff I read on the net about Brian was polarised. People seemed to love him and lift him up in an apostolic manner, or hate him; demonising him and branding him a heretic.

Since I first raised my questions on this blog about Brian almost 2 years ago to the day, I have had the opportunity to read several of his books and the privilege of meeting him and hearing him speak on several occasions. I even spent 3 days sitting next to him at a conference in Uganda last year.

Between the polemics offered by those who adore and those who demonise, I have found a man who is inspiring, unassuming and deeply committed to drawing others into a life centred on and lived out of the way of Jesus Christ.

Brian's two most recent books - Secret Message of Jesus and Everything Must Change have probably had the greatest influence on me, inspiring me to take seriously the way I live my life as a follower of Christ.

In an article published on the Christianity Today website back in September, Scott McKnight looks at some of the central themes of McLaren's work and the way in which they've influenced the emerging/emergent movement and challenged the standard, two dimensional evangelical understanding of the gospel and in particular Jesus' own emphasis on the kingdom of God.

McLaren tells us that he could only see this kingdom vision of Jesus when he came to a "place of cynically doubting much of what I had been told about Jesus." To use the words of fellow emergent thinker Peter Rollins, the Northern Irish philosopher at Ikon community, McLaren experienced the "fidelity of betrayal." He had to betray the Jesus and the gospel and the church that nurtured him to become faithful to the Jesus of this kingdom vision.
But rather than simply critique the positive aspects of McLaren's influence, he goes further and poses, what he says, are some necessary questions.
McLaren grew up among evangelicals; we'd like him to show the generosity he is known for to those who ask theological questions of him. The spirit of conversation that drives much of his own pastoral work urges each of us to answer the questions we are asked, and the Bible encourages those who ask those questions to listen patiently and to respond graciously. The lack of the latter has so far inhibited the former. This can be taken as a plea on behalf of all concerned to enter into a more robust, honest conversation.
McKnights questions for McLaren centre on his (McLaren's) theology of the cross - which, according to McKnight, is nowhere near broad enough; And the relationship between the kingdom and the church - while McLaren has dealt extensively with the kingdom, he has not gone far enough, says McKnight, in thoroughly defining the kingdom and in describing or developing an appropriate ecclesiology.

The whole things is well worth a read - McKnight gives a good overview of both the books in question as well as providing something for the fans, and detractors, of McLaren to think about. Hopefully, if he hasn't already, Brian will also respond.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Child Slavery - Still no action from the chocolate makers

Back in March I posted on an "action opportunity" a few of us from Alternate[Or] Community in Bunbury were involved in - helping raise public awareness of the child cocoa slaves in West Africa.

We ended up with around 80 letters urging action from the big chocolate manufacturers, signed by Easter shoppers at one of Bunbury's main shopping centres.

Yesterday, World Vision, which is behind the "Don't Trade Lives" campaign, released a new video on YouTube, calling the big chocolate manufacturers to get their act together and put a stop to the use of slave labour in cocoa farming in West Africa.



Mark Newnham from World Vision said yesterday; "The chocolate industry has repeatedly failed to adequately tackle labour exploitation in West African cocoa fields... bubbles of nothing. Big Chocolate, just say YES and stop using child labour in cocoa production."

You can find out more about the unconscionable actions of the chocolate manufacturers at www.donttradelives.com.au, there is also an online petition and ideas for action that can be taken to help raise awareness of slavery on "Abolish Slavery" day of action on the 2nd of December.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Doh

I've been running my little "tent making" business (doing basic software fix-ups and troubleshooting computers with problems) for around 3 weeks now. Generally it's been going well.

On average I've been getting about 2 or 3 jobs a week, which is about the level I had hoped for.

Today, though, I met my first hiccup. I was checking out a laptop computer that had been malfunctioning. I disabled the usual dozen or so nuisance start-up processes - all the software that runs unnecessarily when you first boot up your computer, slowing everything down- and did a re-start. That's where the trouble started.

The computer proceeded to log on to Windows, showing the desktop wallpaper and then, automatically, log itself off. I tried booting into Safe Mode, booting from a Windows boot disk and everything else I could think of, all to no avail.

So I fessed up. I told the customer what had happened and that I was unable to go any further with fixing the problem. As the problem I was now experiencing was similar to that experienced by the customer in the first place (the machine sporadically shutting itself down) I thought it could be related.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I now have one, extremely dissatisfied customer (fair enough too!) who has opted to take their computer elsewhere. I've spent the last two hours researching the problem on the net and think I have found an answer. I've also spent the last two hours ruminating over the fact that I think, I caused the problem in the first place!

In the end I called the customer back and told them what I thought had happened. At least that way they can pass this on to the new guy and he can, hopefully, go straight to the root of this most recent problem and rectify it. I also offered to cover whatever it costs to rectify this issue, if indeed it was I who caused it in the first place.

Sometimes I think I should have concentrated more on finding work marrying and burying people - much easier in the long term.

Christians live no differently to non-Christians

Rick Meigs has posted another challenging gem.

His claim, based on the research of the Barna Institute, is that;

Simple observation confirmed by numerous studies have found that how American Christians live and their basic beliefs about life are no different than those of the non-Christians.
He says the majority of American Christians operate out of the credo - "live your life, share your faith", but contends the missional imperative is to "live your faith, share your life".

I think the Australian church is in pretty much the same place.

You can read the whole thing HERE.

Congo Trouble

The situation in the Congo is desperate for thousands of people now flooding the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in and around the city of Goma in the north east of the country (the North Kivu region).

I have managed to make contact, through Claude Nikondeha of Amahoro Africa, with a church in Goma that is dealing directly with the thousands of people (including many children separated from their families and at the mercy of unscrupulous predators). I am currently working with my colleagues in Rwanda to find a way of getting humanitarian aid (blankets, clothing and food) accross the border into Goma and will post more details of this, and ways you can help support this effort, in the very near future.

In the meantime, and as you read the excerpts from my communication with a Congolese pastor, please continue to pray for the situation and those affected.

Dear Andrew,

Shalom from Goma. How encouraging and how good to be in the family of God's people! ... Your email is a relief in itself. It gives me joy to serve our IDPs who come desperately from the fighting areas. Praised be the name of our living and comforting God. We are fine in the Lord, my family and I. We are in the town of Goma even though the threat is big, the Lord has assured us of His presence and protection.
We are safe and serving our people in the town of Goma and around Goma. We are doing the little He enables us to do. Some times we feel discouraged, sometimes you find low spiritually when you see Innocent people, created at God's image suffer such a kind of injustice. But yours prayers have lifted us.
... since the first day, our church have been active in active ministry to the IDPs. We are collecting clothes, food for them and then our church building and schools hosted them. In the day they are outside... But with time we have been overwhelmed as the war continues to take other dimensions. For hospitality sake many are hosted in families

As a church, we are using our church medical centers to care for them when they are sick. As a church we are also involved in trauma healing and peace building especially at this time when hatred can arouse from the hurting innocent people. My church has appointed a Crisis committee at this time and I am heading the committee. We meet every day to see what is happening and what is needed to be done and where. Pray for us.

The problem we are facing is that all the supplies are becoming expensive that almost all the families are suffering the consequences because rebels have cut Goma from most of the centers we get most of the items from.The needs are as follows: Food, medecines, blankets, clothes.
As for us as a family, it is only food that we need.
But above all, pray for us, for the country, for the international community that seems for close the eye on what is happening in East Congo. The just judge will bring justice and light to this suffering. Send messages of courage and comfort. We need them
I love you even though we have never met. I also bless you. Shalom. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow

Yours in His love
More soon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Community Transformation

Rick Meigs shares another example of community transformation over at Blind Beggar.

It never ceases to astound me how limitless the opportunities seem for making a difference and creating something of genuine community in the community.

Have a read here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

TV and Happiness

Livescience.com have reported the findings of a recent study into happiness and have found that unhappy people watch more tv, on average, than happy people.

While happy people reported watching an average of 19 hours of television per week, unhappy people reported 25 hours a week. The results held even after taking into account education, income, age and marital status.

In addition, happy individuals were more socially active, attended more religious services, voted more and read a newspaper more often than their less-chipper counterparts.
The researchers aren't sure though which comes first, the unhappiness or the TV watching.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Justice and "Justice"


Over the last 20 years I've spent a lot of times in courthouses.

The first few times I went to court because of things I had done. More recently I have been there in support of others. In between I spent time at court as a journalist and a news cameraman. I was even once assaulted at court, resulting in a fractured knee cap.

I have a pretty good understanding of the mechanics of court. I know when to bow. I know not to leave my sunglasses on my head, and to turn my mobile phone off. I once saw a lawyer throw his pager across the court room when he forgot to turn it off and some one paged him. The judge had already cautioned him once about leaving it on. His response seemed a little extreme, but the judge saw the funny side of it.

I have been asked to advocate for clients before the court and even mediated a few disputes at the request of the court.

I have come to see that justice, real justice, the kind of justice that leaves you feeling like a wrong has been properly put right, is often missing from the justice system.

A parent looses access to their children because their former spouse is prepared to lie and they are not.

A homeless man is sent to prison because he spent a few nights in an unoccupied house, trying to get out of the cold and the rain.

A child abuser is set free because the person he abused is unable to face him in court and because his family, out of misplaced loyalty, are prepared to lie for him.

A 14 year old boy, charged with a minor stealing offence, is sent to prison because his family refuses to cover his bail and he ends up getting gang raped while inside.

Yesterday I attended court again with a dear friend who is trying to do something I too often take for granted; have a relationship with his children.

He can't afford a lawyer and so represents himself. His former partner has a lawyer who is prepared to sprout his clients lies as if they are facts. To denigrate a man who has spent the last 10 years just trying to be the best dad he can be.

As I listen, everything in me wants to scream out "this is not justice!". When I hear the lies - blatant lies that fly in the face of things that I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears - I want to grab the lawyer and shake him and ask him "what are you doing? Why do you so want to damage this man? What has he ever done to you?"

As we leave the courtroom, I wait by the door for the lawyer to exit. There are so many things I want to say to him.

Maybe it's not as clear cut as it seems right at this moment, maybe he's just doing his job.

As he emerges I call across the room to him, "My friend ..." He looks up at me with a smile, "You make a mockery of the notion of justice!" His smile rapidly vanishes and the colour drains from his face. He turns quickly on his heal and walks away from me.

He's just a man after all. I find myself feeling a little sorry for him. I think I scared him. I wonder what lurks in his past. What pain he has suffered, what kind of relationship he had with his father. Whether he has ever experienced true justice. Where a wrong has been made right.

I wonder if true justice can only ever come about through omnipotence. Maybe this is why God reminds us that, at the end of the day, vengeance is his domain while loving our enemies is ours.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Trouble in the Congo

I am finding myself troubled by the current situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Around 18 months ago I visited the border town of Gisyeni/Goma in north western Rwanda/north eastern Congo. We met with a delegation of around 20 Congolese pastors and church leaders who travelled from their villages and from Goma, across the border into Rwanda, simply to greet us and to pray with us. It was quite a moving experience.

We didn't share their language and interpreting was difficult. I was asked to pray for them, which I did - I don't know if they understood the words. Some of them then prayed for us. They didn't ask us for anything, except to remember them.

We spent a few more minutes together, shaking hands and exchanging hugs before they gathered their things and disappeared back over the border into the DRC.

I do remember them. I find myself wondering what their lives are like right now. How the fighting is impacting them and the people they serve. I wonder if any of them have been killed.

I feel, right now, that I would like very much for us (through Day 4) to be able to do something but I know that, in reality, there is little good that we can achieve. We're too small and fundraising has been incredibly slow this year. But we can pray. I also promised those Congolese pastors I would remember them, and I would ask you to look closely at their faces (you can enlarge the picture by clicking on it) and remember them before God too.

Walking in the sand


Lyss and I have started using daylight savings to our advantage and, instead of walking around the streets in the evening, have taken to walking up the beach.

On Friday we walked about 4km. Today we walked 6. Ashleigh (6) and Luke (9) decided to walk with us. At first both Lyss and I were a little annoyed. We were hoping for some "alone" time. But in the end it was nice to enjoy the world-away-from-people with the kids.

One of the best things about living in Binningup is that within a few minutes of walking you can be completely alone without a man made thing in sight. Just the ocean, and the dunes, and the birds.

Lyss says the ocean reminds her of God. It reminds me of God too, but it also reminds me of the 10 days I spent sailing on the STS Leeuwin when I was 19. I was a young addict and the 10 days without my drugs, (except for smoking which was allowed then) crewing a tall ship, was an exhilarating experience.

On certain days, when the ocean is wind blown and the swells are large and messy, it brings back vivid memories of riding massive swells beneath the grey skies of the Southern Ocean on the three masted barque.

Today they kids found the dried skeleton of a seahorse, and a starfish in a similar state. They also collected bright orange sponges and speculated about the predominance of the colour red in the oceanic things we saw washed on the shore. "Perhaps", said Luke, "it's because of blood".

Before turning home we paused to worship God and reflect on the beauty of his creation. The kids thanked him for the ocean and the sand and the way in which we can enjoy it together as a family. Ashleigh asked if we could sing "Amazing Grace" for the dead starfish. So we did.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The love of the Father


The innermost desires of man
Do naught compare to the love of God

As He reaches out to touch the wayward life

Of one who would call on Him

The love of a Father that wells within at the very sound of the voice of His child

Calling, asking, loving, yet so frailly

The love of a Father that would see all so clearly

Yet as if blinded by pride refuses to condemn

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bali Bombers Execution

As a follower of Jesus Christ I am oposed to the death penalty. As a follower of Jesus Christ I am opposed to the execution of the "Bali Bombers".

If you agree, pass it on.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Amahoro Africa Video

Tim Keel has posted a video about this years Amahoro Africa Gathering in Kigali, Rwanda. I have had the privilege of participating in the last two Gatherings and also hope to be at the third, to be held in Johannesburg in South Africa, next year.

If you're from Australia and interested in attending (and perhaps participating in a field trip to Rwanda as well) please contact me or visit the Day 4 Community Aid & Development Inc. website for more information.


Amahoro Africa from Andy Michael on Vimeo.

Unfortunately we didn't get a spot on the video! But Fuzz Kitto, a fellow Antipodean, did a pretty good job of representing the Great South Land.

Poverty in a sea of affluence


Considering my last post dealt with the collosial amount of money both Christian and humanist organisations are seemingly willing to throw away on advertising I thought this story may present a contrast for consideration.

While finishing off a good feed at our fortnightly Alternate[Or] BBQ at the Jetty Baths in Bunbury, smack bang in the middle of the towns most upmarket, water front suburb, we were confronted with a heartbreaking scene.

A man, in his mid 20s, dressed in unwashed clothes and barefooted, walked into the park and made his way among the well dressed families and couples lounging around, enjoying their bbq dinners and sipping their wine and boutique beer. He made his way from rubbish bin to rubbish bin, looking for left over food he could take with him. He didn't waste much time. He was methodical in his approach and disappeared into the bushes almost as quickly as he had appeared.

I was left thinking about the contrast this guy, and his life, presented as he made his way among the manicured garden beds in the shadow of million dollar mansions. I thought about the leftovers we had in our esky and started to chase after him with the goal of offering him our food but wasn't quick enough and thought better of making a scene and embaressing him.

I think in future we might try and do something (low key, don't want to embarress anyone) with the food we have left. One of the purposes of our fortnightly social is to provide a way for some of the young single (and homeless) guys we are involved with to get a decent feed. Even in doing this we often have a fair bit left over.

So my question to you is, and I'm looking for inspiration, how do you serve the least in your area? How do you go about reaching out to people like this guy, without strings or church centred expectations?

And, what do you think about a church culture that will raise 100's of thousands of dollars for high profile, event and media based "evangelistic" activities while not directly addressing the needs of the "least of these" living in their own backyards?

Leaving God on the bus


There was an interesting article in the West Australian this morning (you can read a similar one here) about moves by England's atheist brigade - the British Humanist Association - to run billboard advertisements on Londons buses claiming "God probably doesn't exist" and urging people to live their lives any way they want in response to this incredibly deep and profound claim.

The campaign has been funded by Britains leading evangelist for atheism, Richard Dawkins, who, according to the Age newspaper said; "This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think — and thinking is anathema to religion."

Apparently the atheists were sick of seeing advertisements on buses promoting Jesus and threatening people with "eternal damnation" and so thought they would run a campaign of their own in response.

The cost of the campaign is more than $27,000 (Australian).

While obviously dealing with slightly different motivations, this campaign reminds me a little bit of the Jesus all About Life campaign happening over here in Oz. The irony is the atheist campaign is a little more financially efficient. While $27,000 is still a lot of money, it isn't anywhere near as much as the sweet half million the JAAL crew are trying to raise for their Western Australian media campaign.

At the end of the day, while the atheists are obviously trying to get God off the bus (I'm sure He is actually more in favour of environmentally friendly means of transport such as walking anyway), it's interesting that in the process they are leaving him in his seat!

Whether the money is coming from atheists or Christians, I think these kinds of moves present a moral and ethical delima in that they waste a colosal amount of money on what is pretty much a dead end action that serves only to line the pockets of advertising agencies and the companies that sell the space on billboards, in newspapers and television. The upside to the atheist's campaign is that it actually may serve to get people talking about God in a meaningful way allowing Dawkin's anathema - thinking followers of Jesus - an opportunity to engage in meaningful, relational dialogue with those whose interest is piqued by the bus billboards in a way I don't think the JAAL, church centred, campaign will.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Leadership - The Church's Biggest Failing


I attended a Forge intensive in Perth on the weekend. Hamo asked me to do a presentation on the stuff we've been doing in Bunbury with Alternate-Or Community, involving ourselves in the lives of marginalised people, and so was able to kill two birds with one stone and sit in on some of the presentations.

One that got me thinking was presented by Brad Flynn and focussed on co-dependency in leadership. In the context of Brad's presentation, co-dependency related to the way congregations draw their self-value from the pastor or leaders, and the way the leaders have to be "needed" by their congregations in order to find value in themselves.

This got me thinking about the "clergy/laity" divide again. It's something that for many years has made my stomach churn.

It is my opinion that any view of leadership that embraces, either purposefully or unconsciously, the idea of there being any place for an "anointed" priestly class within the church, is fundamentally flawed.

I would even go as far as saying it is one of the modern churches greatest failings and is the cause of many of the issues we face in our established congregations in terms of lack of commitment and involvement in the life of the church and the broader community. It creates a shallow, comfortable environment which actively abrogates the responsibility of all believers to live their lives as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It also forces those who challenge this way of thinking to the margins of the local church or out of it all together, thus stripping it of valuable resources and allowing the flawed philosophical, ecclesial and theological premises at play to have free reign.

CEO leadership models in the church are sinful. Plain and simple. The sooner leaders put the gospel before job security, power and control, or even before the expectations of the institution itself, the better. Leaders, we need to empower our fellow disciples by being the first to take this stand. To be willing to put aside the power structures which create a comfortable secure environment for us, for the sake of the gospel and the future of our local incarnations of the church. Encouraging and facilitating a paradigm shift among those we serve.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Equity - Give Young People a Go!

It really, really pisses me off when I experience first hand or hear stories of young people being given a hard time simply because they are young people.

A 19 year old friend of mine told me today of an experience he had at a job placement agency yesterday. He was essentially called a liar and given the brush off by the customer "service" person responsible for "serving" him. When he told her that he knew someone who worked at the plant and gave the name of the same person, she proceeded to tell him that no such person worked there and then didn't follow any of the process, my young mate had been told was supposed to be followed, in assessing his suitability for a job. She simply took his name (not his phone number) and said they would "be in touch" on the off chance something came up!

Thankfully, the person he knows at the plant is my wife and she is going to follow this up with the manager responsible for work placement who will hopefully follow it up with the placement agency and he will get a fair go at the job.

The thing is this kind of thing happens everyday. People in positions of authority (whether real or imagined) choose to lord it over young people just because they can.

A couple of years ago I stood and listened to a customer service officer at the South West College of TAFE lecture a young person I had taken in to enrol in a TAFE course, on his enrolment. The guy assumed the young bloke would be unsuitable for the course simply based on how he looked, and proceeded to tell him this. After a few minutes of listening to him berate the young bloke for no reason at all, I asked him if the enrolment form was filled in correctly and if he was the person who was responsible for receiving it. He replied that it was and that he was the man. I then asked him why he simply couldn't have just accepted it without giving the completely unnecessary 5 minute lecture. He took the form and didn't reply. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the application form or the way in which the kid was enrolling.

It had taken me 3 weeks to convince the same kid to front up and put his application in. He had very low self confidence and was sure his application wouldn't be accepted. Had he been on his own he would have probably lasted 10 seconds before telling the bloke "where to go" and walking out without putting his paperwork in. Ironically (two fingers to the bloke behind the counter), in the end he was accepted into a pre-apprenticeship course in carpentry.

Another friend recounted a story of walking into a church as a young person seeking information on God and being told by the pastor to leave and only come back when he was dressed appropriately for the "house of God". He was wearing a tee shirt featuring a heavy metal motif. Thankfully he was smart enough to realise the pastor didn't really have a handle on God and my mate encountered God elsewhere and now is a follower of Jesus.

My final example actually happened to my wife, who is quite small (and cute!) last year. We were both out doing a letter box drop around Binningup just on sunset when a dog started barking at her as she dropped a flyer in a letter box. Lyss had a beanie on and a jacket and it was getting dark. The home owner came out to see what was going on with his dog and saw Lyss and mistook her for a young boy. He called out aggressively "hey little bloke, what are you doing? Did you think you could stir up my dog hey!" He got a bit of a surprise when Lyss turned around and told him she wasn't a "little bloke" but a 30 something lady and that the problem was his dog!

These are by no means isolated incidents. It's real easy for all of us to bemoan the lack of respect young people seem to have for authority or for their elders. But at the end of the day what goes around comes around (Jesus referred to it as "reaping what you sew").

So here's my "pay it forward" challenge for the week. The next time you're faced with a young person, no matter how surly or grotty or standoffish they appear, why not take the time to consciously treat them with respect and dignity and see what happens? At the very least, I know that they will notice it, and they will be grateful for it, even if they don't show it outwardly.

Pic by Binababy12 -http://www.sxc.hu/photo/995276

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ugandan Connection


Lyss and I have had a friend from Uganda staying with us for the last week. Alyssa and I met Paul Kiviiri at the Amahoro Gathering in Kigali in May.

For the past 10 years Paul has been working to build bridges across tribal divides and establish new forms of church among southern Uganda's marginalised, nomadic Tutsi tribes people.

The tribal culture prevalent throughout Africa makes this kind of work difficult. It also creates many of the problems we hear about in the west and associate with politics. It is virtually unheard of, even in the Ugandan church, for relationships and ministry to extend beyond the tribal lines.

Paul says it took him 5 years to build the trust of the nomads he is involved with and he still struggles to gain understanding from the other local church leaders for his approaches to church (I can relate to that!).

The churches Paul has been involved in developing following the nomadic people around. They are not fixed to a place and they seek to meet the real day to day needs of those they are formed from. A big part of Paul's work is training up the leaders, many of whom are illiterate, and helping them to impart the way of Jesus to their fellow tribes people. He is also having to tackle issues such as bride-selling, polygamy and traditional spiritual beliefs.

Paul himself knows, as most African's do, what it is to struggle. He was born into a polygamist family during Idi Amin's reign and spent much of his teenage years as a street kid. Even though life was difficult he managed to put himself through school and train as a primary school teacher before becoming a youth pastor in a Kampala church. His heart has always been with the people though and he made the choice to leave the institutionalised church behind in order to pursue a ministry that would break down tribal barriers and share the love of Christ for all African people in meaningful and culturally relevant ways.

It's been a great privilege to have had Paul with us this past week and for him to meet and spend time with the people we are involved with her in the South West.

Paul's story is another example of the way God is working around the globe to revolutionise mission and to move His church into a new era.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Desalination - Part of the Problem

Just over 12 months ago the then Premier of Western Australia, Alan Carpenter, announced that his government was going to build the states second desalination plant in the tiny and politically insignificant town of Binningup, a couple of hours south of Perth.

Previously the government had looked at tapping into the Yaragadee Aquifer, an underground supply of fresh water underneath the states south west corner. This area (the Busselton area) is a pretty popular holiday spot and, compared to Binningup, more heavily populated. The decision to tap the aquifer was met with protest of the possible environmental impact of the decision and so, as a political hot potato, the plan was dropped.

Instead the Binningup desalination plant was announced.

There are a number of issues with the proposal.

Firstly, the location; the area slated for the plant is virgin coastal bushland. It is earmarked for future residential development but is currently untouched and is home to various endangered species of birds, reptiles, plants and marsupials.

Secondly, the process itself; desalination (or at least the process to be implimented in Binningup) is an energy-hungry process. It is also a polluting process in that it pumps tons of hypersalinated (i.e. super concentrated salty water) back into the ocean along with other nasty chemicals in concentrated form.

Thirdly, it's short sighted; Yes, we have a water shortage that is probably only going to get worse, yet rather than simply increasing the amount of water available, we should be looking at ways of changing our cultural dependance on water. The same water that is wasted by heavy industry and wasted on water-hungry private and public gardens. Adding a dirty, energy hungry solution into the mix is only going to provide a short term answer to the problem. In realising this, the government also plans to build a second stage of the Binningup plant at some later date, doubling production.

My internet connection is playing up and I can't access the pages I am thinking of, but if you Google "desalination" you'll find plenty of references on the net. You can also join the "Say No to Binningup Desal Plant" group on Facebook. Here's one link I could access - it'll take you to the local action groups website, there are news updates and other links there.

But, most importantly, if you see the kind of desalination plant proposed at Binningup as a problem now is a great time to let your local politicians know about it (particularly if you live in Western Australia). We have a new state government in place, and even though they have said they are going to follow through with the development of the Binningup site, now is a good time to lobby them and let them know you are opposed to it and why. The more people from outside the Binningup area that make a fuss, the more likely it is the government will listen.

If you're around Binningup on Saturday, the local action group is having a stall at the annual Binningup Spring Carnival. You could drop by and find out more.

This kind of thinking is the same kind of short sighted thinking that, if not nipped in the bud, adds to the greater global environmental problem one small step at a time. This may be one small plant, but you get enough of this small scale industry in politically insignificant areas and it all adds up to a much bigger problem, the results of which are difficult, if not impossible to reverse.

In the big smoke

Well my incredibly slow GPRS internet connection (courtesy of my mobile phone) has allowed me to connect to Blogger tonight so I can post! How did I ever use the net before high speed broadband!

I've been in Perth with the kids since Sunday arvo. We went and saw Wall-E at the cinema on Monday. It's a good show with a very current, "save the planet" message. It's a good way to get the kids thinking about God's world and looking after it, and what happens when we don't. It brings home some of the stuff going on in our own back yard in Binningup, such as the possible development of a nasty desalination plant less than a kilometer from our house.

Yesterday we went to the Perth Royal Show. This was an incredibly expensive exercise, but we did our bit and caught trains pretty much the whole way. The kids had a great time. Sam and Luke tried out the bumper-cars and then we all went on the chairlift. This scared Ashleigh silly for about 5 minutes and then she seemed to settle into it.

I bit the bullet and went on the "megadrop" and got my own mini-adrenaline rush.

Tomorrow it's back home to our Thursday night Alternate[Or] get-together followed by a Water Corporation Community Reference Group meeting in Binningup.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Opportunities for Action

I'm pretty excited about tomorrow. A week or so back the Bunbury City Council contacted me to see if Alternate[Or] Community could provide volunteers for a graffiti art "installation" in a council car park. A bunch of local young people have spent the last few weeks learning some of the finer points of street art and are going to now have the opportunity to do their thing on a council wall.

The council is making a day of it - there's gonna be food and stuff for the kids etc. Finding volunteers can be difficult and the council was struggling in this regard. While we may not be eliminating all their volunteer problems, 5 of us from the Alternate[Or] Community crew are going to be helping out.

This is another great opportunity to show the community that followers of Jesus are interested in the same things they are, particularly when it comes to improving our community, for our crew to work together for something other than ourselves and to show our kids our faith in action in the community.

We also have our Social Sunday this Sunday and have a visitor from the South West Environment Centre coming to talk about local environmental issues. If you are in the area and would like to come and hear what they have to say you are welcome to drop by. We'll be hanging out at the Jetty Baths park and play ground and having a BBQ dinner. It all starts at 3.45pm.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Emerging, Emergent, Emerged?

The Blind Beggar posted a link to this blog post from Brother Maynard, who takes a critical look at the use of the word "emerging" (and it's variants) to describe alternative and new forms and expressions of Christ centred faith and faith communities.

While I have never fully understood the difference between the "emerging church" and "emergent" (this might have something to do with the fact I'm an Aussie), BM reiterates comments made by TSK on the way the term "emergent" (or should that be "Emergent") has been franchised by Emergent Village and turned into something of a marketable brand name. To the point in fact that TSK is now going to stop using "emerging" to describe any aspect of his own involvement in the movement.

Raises the question, if we abandon "missional", as some have suggested we should, and we throw out "emerging" and its variations, how are we going to end up describing ourselves? Maybe we should just go back to calling ourselves "the church"?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Blessing of the fleet

On Saturday I performed the annual blessing of the Binningup recreational fishing club "fleet". This represents one of those rare times our community actually seeks out a "religious" person. It's a good opportunity to talk about Jesus in a specific, but non-threatening way and, as I see it, to help make the link between the real world and the things that matter to people (like fishing) and the way of Jesus.

This year I focussed on "creation care". Recreational fishermen have just had a new load of changes imposed on them by the powers that be, for the simple reason that our fish stocks are at incredibly low levels.

Most recreational fishermen do the right thing. They realise the importance of looking after what we have if we are going to keep it. What I wanted to point out was that this is also the way God wants it.

Back in Genesis God gave the first humans two clear commands; 1) Procreate (i.e. have sex and kids) and; 2) Manage the created universe on God's behalf.

I assumed most of those gathered (especially given the number of kids running around) weren't having too much trouble with the first point, and so focussed on the second.

At a time when the government is making it harder to catch fish for fun and at the same time is going to build a polluting desalination plant not more than a kilometre from where I was standing on Saturday afternoon talking about caring for the environment, the creation care message seemed particularly relevant.

Even for people who probably don't consider themselves to be terribly spiritual, the act of looking after our environment is a spiritual act. To look after the world is, at least in part, to fulfil something of the role we were created for. I wanted those gathered to consider the point that when they were looking after the world, the were partnering with God.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Cluster bombs and Australia

I posted on this a couple of days ago. Since then I've done a bit more research and found that Australia has signed the "Convention on Cluster Munitions" treaty and has therefore agreed to not produce, use or proliferate cluster munitions.

Australia did baulk at signing at first because of a recently purchased cache of "smart bombs" worth $14 million, which could possibly have been classified as cluster bombs. Apparently they don't and so we are among the 107 signatories.

The treaty will be officially closed and ratified in December at the Oslo Conference after which time the treaty's clauses will be introduced into legislation by the participating countries.

Here's an SBS news report on the signing of the treaty, including Australia among the signatories.

We have met the enemy ... Them & us in the institutional church

I've been speaking on John 17 for the last few weeks. We're working our way through the whole chapter, which is actually an amazing, inspiring, information packed prayer of Jesus'.

Somewhere between the upper room and the last supper and the Garden of Gethsemane and his arrest, Jesus prayed this prayer in the presence of his disciples. In the precious last minutes of his life with his beloved friends Jesus poured out his heart to God.

A few years ago I was asked to speak at a church camp on the subject of evangelism. One thing that came out of the workshop's I ran over that weekend was the way so many of those gathered viewed those who were not fellow Christians. It was clear that, for the most part, non-Christians were seen as the enemy.

Yet when it comes to fellow, clean, middle class people with similar ethics and values, to those of the predominantly middle class, evangelical church it was easier to let the thoughts of "enemy" pass. But what about people of other religions, or other socio economic or racial groups (especially those with a different culture to our own)? Or people who are quick to point out the failings of Western Christianity? Or homosexuals or atheists? Or people who criticise the church? With these "kinds" of people many are quick to draw a line in the sand. They may even say, these people are wordly, and we are not. They are the enemy, they are not God's!

In John 17, as Jesus prays for his disciples, he makes a subtle, but interesting point. It's so subtle that it could easily be overlooked - I had to point it out during our discussion at yesterday's gethering.

Jesus says "I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word."

Where did the disciples originate? Jesus says they came from "the world". Jesus also says, at this time, before they were "given" to him, they belonged to the Father. I think this says something about the people who are not yet aware of Jesus or are yet to join him as a disciple. It says that even though we like to draw lines and put people in boxes and find enemies to excuse our lack of action, God doesn't. Before these guys were taken from the world they were the Father's.

If we look at what Jesus is saying here about the disciples, and if we make the (reasonable) assumption that the disciples where no more or less special than you or I or anyone else then, I think, it becomes clear that there is no one on the planet who isn't already God's. There is no enemy among the people of planet Earth.

When we look at people through the framing story of God's love, even people who exist, day to day, without an understanding of God or his love, we see things differently. A world of action opportunities. Not opportunties to preach or coerce or manipulate, but opportunities to serve, and stand along side and love and support and befriend. Opportunities to share in the work of the "Word", which was passed to the first disciples by Jesus and which has been handed down through the generations and over the centuries to us, today. It is a work that goes something like this;

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
As Walt Kelly's comic strip character Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us"!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Cluster Bombs put children and civilians lives at risk in Georgia


I received a press release from Dani at Survivor Corp. yesterday (a link to the release is at the bottom of this post). It details Russia's use of cluster bombs in it's recent military action against Georgia.

Cluster bombs, along with their close cousins, land mines, have been responsible for horrific injuries to children and non-combatants in current and former conflict zones around the world.

In May this year 107 countries signed a treaty in Ireland, agreeing to cease production and use of cluster bombs in armed conflict. Several countries have avoided signing the treaty and are downplaying the dangers of the bombs to the civilian population in conflict zones. Most notable among those refusing to sign are the governments of the USA, Australia and Russia.

As an Australian I am appalled at the Australian governments stance on these weapons and the lame excuses they are offering for refusing to sign the treaty.

Australia is a signatory. I made a mistake! See this post for more information (updated 1 Sept 2008).
I would encourage all readers to follow the links included in this post to get a better understanding of the problems these weapons are causing around the world. Working in former conflict zones I have seen the results similar weapons, such as landmines and other unexploded ballistics, have on the unsuspecting civilian population. Even years after conflict has ceased, these weapons still pose a significant risk to life and limb.

As citizens of the world I think it is imperative we speak out against, and raise awareness of, actions that put the lives and standard of living of the vulnerable at risk. The more people who are aware of the situation in Georgia, and are aware of the significant number of Western governments condoning Russia's action through their own refusal to support the ban on these weapons, the more likely it is we will see a change in the way things happen.

People! Write to your politicians about this. Tell people you meet about this. Raise awareness of the fact that our your government (if you are an American or a Russian) wants to freely use similar weaponry in a similar way in other parts of the world.

The first link here is to Survivor Corps' media release. I'd encourage other bloggers to post the release or a report on Russia's unacceptable actions in invading a sovereign territory and use of cluster bombs. The remaining links are to related news articles.

Please drop him an email or send him a letter telling him how abhorrent it is telling how glad you are that a modern, western nation like Australia would refuse agree to sign a treaty banning the use of cluster bombs. The more people who speak out against this the more likely they are to change their approach to this issue.
I'd also encourage you to contact your local Federal members, this is an important issue of global responsibility taking and accountability.

Thanks Dani for bringing this issue to the fore!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Busting Frames - Paradigm Shift in the Church

About a month ago I wrote about Brian McLaren's coverage of, what he calls, "framing stories" in his book Everything Must Change.

The concept of framing stories is not anything new. In the past they have been referred to as "world-views" and could also be called paradigms. Paradigms exist at many different levels in culture and society.

The interesting thing about a paradigm is it creates an interpretive lens through, if we think of it as a frame, everything within its boundaries is viewed. Evidence supporting the paradigm is kept and evidence refuting it is re-interpreted until it fits or, if this isn't possible, it's discarded. The problem with paradigms is they can be extremely difficult to refute, particularly where they become the common currency and voices of dissent are marginalised, no matter how convincing their evidence.

The tendencies with paradigms, however, is once the evidence against them becomes overwhelming a shift takes place. The old paradigm is toppled, like a dictator in a coup, and replaced with a new paradigm. The new paradigm takes over as the interpretive lens.

This process of paradigm shifts is very evident in the history of the church, no more so than now. The "old" paradigm, that of the Christendom church, is being challenged by a "new" paradigm and a shift is taking place. Originally (and even now in many places) the evidence against the old paradigm was refused, ignored, or assimilated. More recently a clear division began to appear - the old paradigm on one side and the new on the other.

For those of us involved in the process of transition within established churches the goal is essentially that of instigating a paradigm shift. But it is slow and it is painful, particularly where a lack of awareness exists of the manner in which the old paradigm affects (or dictates) the way the church is viewed and should operate. It's possible for two people to be discussing the same thing and to be at complete odds with one another simply because their paradigms are different. For example, what is "the gospel" in an institutionalised, Christendom setting may not be "the gospel" in an EMC setting.

If we don't fully appreciate this we are never going to be able to fully understand the process of transition. It will seem to those looking at the EMC through the interpretive lens of the old paradigm that there is something wrong, something missing. That the things being talked about and the actions being taken are somehow not right. That while there may be some merit in the approach being advocated to fully accept it is to "throw the baby out with the bath water". In the example I gave above, if "the gospel" seems to mean something other than (or more than) Jesus substitutionary death on the cross it's considered suspect, and often, no matter how hard we try to explain it and make it make sense it just won't. Simply because the other party is viewing it through a completely different lens. A lens that essentially has to be smashed if any significant move forward is to be made.

The great photo at the top of this post is from Rubenshito and is used with permission.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Creating Community from Scratch

One of the questions I am wrestling with at the moment is how to create community from scratch? Particularly with reluctant, or at least suspicious participants.

I've been toying with this question for most of this year, specially as it relates to the affordable housing project I currently working on with the Alternate[Or] crew in Bunbury. One of the key parts of the project is the community engagement aspect - this is where we introduce participants in the project to a supportive community, rather than simply book them in for an appointment with the program social worker.

It's been this theoretical aspect of the project that has gained the most interest from those we have presented it to. Most people (particularly those without a hard commitment to particular aspects of professional helping & social work theory), including a couple of politicians, recognise the benefits of engaging disengaged people within a supportive community, instead of just plugging them into the professional merry-go-round. Of course there is a place for professional services - all of the members of the organising team from Alternate[Or] are also involved in the community services sector in a professional capacity.

This is a real problem - particularly in a demographic that has been over-referred and knows the professional machinery, and how to manipulate it, all to well. People prefer what they know, and are going to be reluctant to step into something new - particularly if it is being suggested by people with a spiritual bent.

Obviously there are some important ethical considerations at play as well. We can't be manipulative, or deceptive about what we are trying to achieve, we can't demand participation and, some would say, we can't make engagement in the community aspect compulsory for participation in the project.

So how do we effectively navigate these new waters? How should we approach the dark, less travelled roads that exist between the real community - the one where everyday people live, work, struggle and die, and the world of professional helping?

I have an idea of my own, it comes from my African experiences, and I will post it here later on. In the meantime, if you have any experience with this I would love to hear what you have to say. Suggestions and ideas based on other peoples efforts in tackling this same problem are very much welcome.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Paintballing - Battlefield wounds

Andrew (left) & Sam, before the injury

WARNING: If you have a weak stomach, you might not want to look at the last photo posted below. It contains gore.

Alyssa and I took a bunch of young guys (16-19) paintballing yesterday in Dwellingup. We had never been before and I was looking forward to it.

Lyss was pretty nervous, but got involved anyway and the other guys were all pretty gung ho about it all.

Things started out pretty cool, we played a couple of team games and then, in a game of "capture the flag" one of our guys, Sam, decided to make a break for the flag, which was planted in a bunker of sorts. We covered him with paintball fire and he dived headfirst into the bunker. When he didn't resurface after about 30 seconds I began calling out to him. Then he appeared, mask off yelling "don't f...n fire, don't f...n fire!". Of course everyone did keep firing, the other team turning him into the paintball equivalent of a Pollock canvas.

I made a run for him when I saw a steady stream of blood flowing down his left arm and noticed a gaping wound along his wrist. He had badly gashed his left wrist, exposing a pumping artery and a few tendons in the process. It seems the bunker was lined with bits of colourbond patio decking (really a stupid idea) - essentially roofing iron. It was mostly covered by bits of old carpet, but Sam's wrist came into contact with a section which wasn't covered and worked like a razor blade along his wrist.

We got him off to hospital in an ambulance from where he was sent home, his wrist in a bandage but unstitched, because there were no surgeons available to look at his wrist and severed tendons. He was told to front up to the emergency department of the Bunbury hospital at 8 o'clock this morning, where (as of 15 minutes ago - it's now 12pm Sunday) he's still sitting waiting to be seen. Our medical system is shot - when a 19 year old with severed wrist tendons can't be seen to immediately and is turned away from 3 different hospitals there has got to be big problems. West Aussies take note - we have an election coming up in two weeks time, what is our government doing to fix our pathetic healthcare system?

Here are the photos (the last one is the gory one):

The Binningup Lads on the field - Ready for action

That's my girl! Lyss on the field. Girls were provided with extra padding - the black vest (on top of the God given stuff).

Sam (on the ground), Alyssa and Andrew after the injury - Sam's left wrist - the one with my hand wrapped around it - is the injured one.

The injury - the white bits are tendons. He partially severed at least one (click to enlarge).

The guy running the paintballing didn't seem to have much first aid experience - which was a bit of a concern - and was happy to let Alyssa and me take care of things. I asked for a first aid kit and was presented with a single gauze pad and gauze bandage. Not really sufficient given the amount of blood leaving the wound.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rose coloured formaldehyde

Over 20 or more years hanging around the edges of church and the last 10 or so years playing an active role as part of it, I've heard many stories of the "old saints". People who's lives exemplified Christian living. People who we should strive to be like.

The interesting thing about many of these stories of men (I can't think of any women among them) who rose at 4am every morning to read the Bible in the original Greek, and who prayed on their knees for 2 hours each day and who never swore, or complained, or farted (ok, I added that), is the way they imply perfection.

I have often wondered if the reality about these guys lives, paraded like protestant versions of All Saints Day icons, is really as impressive as the legends would have us believe. I have also often wondered if these stories have really served to spur on those who hear them to better things, or, as in my case, they simply served to further instil a sense of alienation in people who where already struggling with their own inadequacies, weaknesses and failings.

Personally, I think the only perfect example we need is that of Christ. That's not to say we shouldn't look to the examples set by godly men and women through the ages, but we should do so in the recognition that they are not the icons of perfections some in the past have made them out to be. Perhaps we need to throw out the rose coloured formaldehyde so widely used in the preservation of the lives of the "old saints" over the last 100 years or so and get back to being real about the struggles, joys and difficulties of life lived as a disciple of Jesus Christ - the one, true icon of perfection.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Grass Roots Movement

I snapped this on my trusty phone camera just now while out walking through the barren wasteland of "Lakewood Shores stage 4".

Nope, it's not supposed to be Mary or Mother Theresa, rather it's a cross formed from live buffalo grass. A combined reminder of the relationship between the cross of Christ and the call for his church to return to its origins as a grass roots movement.

There aint no such thing as a coincidence!

Action!

The whole idea of 21st century people observing their way to faith (see my last post) is incredibly important to understanding evangelism and discipleship. This is one area that keeps spinning me out in terms of our Bunbury experiment.

We made action an important part of our group from the start. This has included things such as a street-side awareness campaign on child cocoa slaves in West Africa, and collecting money (our weekly 'offering') to give to local organisations involved in helping people at the street level. We also talk about it a lot at our meetings - why it's important and the way it's intrinsically linked to the message of Jesus.

It's really exciting to see these values rub off on the young blokes, and even more so to see them willingly and actively taking initiative in their own lives in this area. It goes to show how critically effective the "observing and talking" side of things is when compared to the more traditional discipleship approaches.

I think when we try and separate action from discipleship (someone recently commented that action wasn't "spiritual") we end up with a lopsided, ineffectively narrow version of the gospel - one that may make sense on an academic level but is difficult to apply to life in the real world.

It's also really encouraging (although not essential to our commitment to action) to hear the stories we get back from the groups we have helped. Stories of making a real difference in individuals lives. These stories spur us on and encourage us to keep doing, in Jesus name, the things we are doing.