Friday, December 08, 2006

An Open Letter to the Standing Committee of the Sydney Anglican Diocese

We have been sent an email containing an open letter addressed to the Standing Committee of the Sydney Anglican Diocese. The letter was written by Rev Dr Keith Mascord who will soon take up a role as the National Chaplain at Mission Australia.
We do not know Keith personally.

As the letter is an open letter, can I encourage you to read it! The letter is written in a good spirit addressing some specific and some more general concerns about the nature of the Sydney Anglican Diocese.

Keith has encouraged feedback to this letter, both affirming and also disagreeing with his thoughts, which are representative not only of himself but generally from a council of people he represents. Keith's cover email indicates that these responses will also be passed onto Standing Committee. Can I encourage you firstly to email your feedback to Keith (his email is in the letter), but also consider adding those thoughts to this blog so that other readers can see and perhaps interact with your response (do so anonymously if you would prefer).

Please also feel free to email others the link to the letter or to this blog, so that they can join the discussion.

I would like to affirm the spirit this letter was written in by encouraging you to pray as Keith has suggested in his covering email.
"Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the sentiments of
the letter, please pray that good will come out of this, and that
involved would act in loving, humble and non-defensive ways."

Read Keith's Open Letter to the Standing Committee

FYI - "The Standing Committee is made up of approximately 60 people (either ex-officio or elected) who meet monthly to exercise many of the powers of the Synod when it is not meeting." View Source

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cultural Experience 101

You may have seen this in the Winter Olympics?

You probably had the thought, "those crazy Canadanians" ...

If you crossed a 10 pin bowling centre, on ice, with lawn bowls (but definetly no bare feet), you probably wouldn't have come up with Curling, but that's what you get anyway!

Our Regent community group had a great time, although our form at times was questionable ... it was clear that the other groups were taking their curling much more seriously than we were!

The winners were the 3 Aussies and a Yank who convincingly beat the 3 Canadians (shame ...), the Yank and the Irish.

And yes, sweeping the ice does do something ...

See Jess, Nerida & I on YouTube!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

How Much Redemption Can We Stand? (3 of 3)

It is fair to say, I think, that we in the church “are not in the business of legitimising the fallenness of things, but of ushering in the kingdom of God” (or we should be)! What does this mean for our reading of scripture? What we think scripture says should shape how we live and so how we read scripture is very important. We need to employ a hermeneutic that requires us to consider the overall direction of the text’s energy and intent. We need to look for the highest ethic that scripture is pushing toward, rather than legal concessions for our weakness or legislation to keep society (and the church) from getting worse than it already is, in determining what is the best and most ethical way to behave. This distinction between ethics and law is important. Law is never the highest aspiration of a society. Thus, upholding law is not the highest aspiration of the Christian, our highest aspiration is to push beyond the minimum the law requires to the maximum embodiment of love of God and love for neighbour. And this must underlie all our reading of scripture.

So, why am I harping on about this? Most of my observations are probably obvious. Yet, when we begin to consider scripture in this light, we find that scripture may be on a different trajectory than the one we are currently on. What are the implications of this hermeneutic that is based on the trajectory of scripture for “women’s issues” in the church? Is there perhaps, like with slavery, a cultural blinding that has kept us reading texts in a certain manner, not because it is the best way to understand the overall passage and message of the Bible but because this reading is the only one our cultural and historical lenses would allow?

What are the implications of this hermeneutic for our attitudes toward the poor and wealth accumulation? The trajectory of scripture on this issue is a bit different from slavery. Rather than ameliorating the condemnation of those who oppress the orphan, the widow, the alien, and the poor, scripture consistently, loudly and forcefully pursues a message of liberation for the oppressed, roundly condemning those who do not care for the poor and dispossessed. When we think about it, this consistent condemnation is also a very redemptive direction. It is the direction of generosity. It is the direction of loving others as ourselves. What is it to consider the law, the prophets, the teachings of Jesus in this light rather than to write them off as somehow not quite as applicable to us today?

The great irony is, we seem to continue reading scripture from our place of privilege, so sure of what it says that we may very well be missing the heart of the message. How much redemption can we stand as a people? Can we stand to have our societal structures, our churches, our economics redeemed? Or are we content to stop with our individual souls and let it go at that? Are we to be in the business of legitimising the fallenness of things? Or are we to partner with God in bringing about his kingdom?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hermeneutics and the Highest Ethic of Scripture (Part 2 of 3)

As a literature student and later an English teacher, I was always very aware that we never approach a text with a “view from nowhere.” We always carry our cultural, social, gendered, economic and political biases with us when we read. Granted, we can be aware of these and try to minimise their shaping effect, but it is impossible to completely escape our own experiences when approaching a text. This is one reason why it is so important that scripture be read within the community of believers, both current and from ages past. The larger and more varied the perspectives we bring to the Bible, the better chance we have of not only seeing our privilege and opinions reinforced. But what do we do then with slavery? The larger community was wrong. Perhaps this was, in part, because the culture wasn’t quite ready to hear that part of the Gospel. Perhaps it was simply because rich, white landowners kept reading and shaping the exegetical direction and they just couldn’t see beyond themselves. Perhaps they weren’t able to see the higher ethic that scripture was always pushing toward but that wasn’t yet, in the first century, a reality for the church.

Throughout the Bible, slavery is a fact of life. But, despite the ubiquity, slavery was not what God intended for his image bearers. We can see this clearly if we read with a bit of literary sophistication. The direction of both Biblical themes and the action push us toward a world where oppression, abuse, inequality, and exploitation are no longer a reality. We see this in that, while slavery was a societal given, scripture constantly takes steps to ameliorate the abusive nature of the institution. Be it in the laws in Leviticus that set up certain standards to for the treatment of slaves (which, by are modern standards are still shocking), Jesus’ willingness to associate with and accept everyone, Paul’s commands to slaves and slave-owners as to how they are to behave, or ultimately, a vision of a better time when we would be truly brothers and sisters and not slaves and masters, the Bible is always pushing toward an understanding that the human person is God’s image bearer, created for His glory. The story of God working with humanity is always pushing us forward to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is the highest ethic of scripture. And so, I propose that, perhaps, we need our underlying hermeneutic to be one of love and grace, a hermeneutic that reads scripture in light of Christ’s work on the cross and the redemption and recreation going on even now and that is a testament to His kingdom breaking into the fallenness around us.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

And the winner is (Part 1 of 3) . . .


The quotes from the previous blog are from the mid-nineteenth century argument in America over slavery. John Henry Hopkins accused abolitionists of perverting the plain-sense meaning of the Bible to try to justify their liberal anti-slavery agenda.

Growing up in California, I knew that some crazy Christians in the past had tried to use the Bible to justify slavery, but I always assumed that their arguments were nothing more than proof-texting or a complete dependence upon archaic laws from Leviticus. Perhaps they were wilfully misreading scripture. Then, just recently, I read some of their Biblical exegesis of Paul and it made sense. In fact, their arguments were quite logically developed, looking not only at arguments from silence (Jesus never taught against slavery), but to a whole range of teachings in the Pauline epistles. The pro-slavery camp points out that Paul did not command Christian slaveholders to release their slaves, but rather insisted that slaves be obedient to their masters and that everyone is to continue to follow Christ in the same state in which they were called to Christ (1 Cor 7:20-24). So, if you were called to Christ as a slave, continue as a slave (although provision is made for those who could buy their way out of slavery). They also argue that when faced with a runaway slave who becomes a Christian, Paul does not commend the slave on his initiative for running away, but rather sends him back to his Christian owner (Philemon)! Clearly this is evidence that scripture is in no way opposed to the institution of slavery per se. Looking beyond Paul, pro-slavery arguments pointed to the institution of slavery in Israel by God in the Torah. To argue against slavery was, in their worldview, to argue against something that God has instituted, ordained and continued to approve of consistently throughout scripture. It was also to argue against the consistent interpretation of the church up until the current (19th) century, as slaves had been acceptable throughout Christendom.

They were Biblical. And they were utterly wrong.

This raises a very important question for us – how do we read scripture? How do we know that our Biblically based, historically accepted ethics and practices are not, like slavery, a terrible blinding by culture to the heart of Scripture. How do we know that we, like our brothers and sisters a hundred years ago, aren’t misreading the consistently redemptive ethic of scripture, reducing it to practices that reinforce our privilege rather than free the oppressed?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Take a Guess!

In the hopes of creating a participatory blog, please take a guess at the following (and post your guess as a comment - that's what makes it interesting)!

The quotes below refer to an important church issue. Can you guess the issue? (The * designates the missing issue in the first quote)

The Bible’s [stand on] * is very plain. St. Paul was inspired, and knew the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, and was only intent on obeying it. And who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God . . . and invent for ourselves a “higher law: than those holy Scriptures which are given to us as a “light to our feet and a lamp to our paths,” in the darkness of a sinful and a polluted world.”

“The advocates of this doctrine are brought into direct collision with the Scriptures. This leads to one of the most dangerous evils connected with the whole system, viz., a disregard of the authority of the word of God, a setting up of a different and higher standard of truth and duty, and a proud and confident wrestling of Scripture to suit their own purposes.”

Happy guessing – more explanation to come!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I have a new job ...

Here's the promo for first event I had to organise ...

I am the Teachers Assistant ("TA") for Regent College's Anglican Studies Program. I got involved, not for the $10 an hour, but to work alongside people like Dr J.I. Packer and Professor Don Lewis, to learn more about the wider church heritage that I grew up in, but feel like I know little about, outside of Sydney Anglicanism.

So if you happen to be in Vancouver this week, please come along ...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lest We Forget

My Old Testament Foundations course has me caught-up in the nation of Israel’s story as I am in the midst of reading the entire Old Testament in a 3-month window. I have been witnessing the Lord’s incredible and seemingly unforgettable acts of grace and deliverance as the Lord brings His people out of slavery in Egypt, splits the Red Sea to allow His people to escape, leads His people by a pillar of fire by night, provides for His people daily with manna from the heavens, and brings the walls of Jericho crashing down with a simple shout from His people - it’s an action-packed thriller!

But it doesn’t end there … David is chosen and brings Goliath down with a single stone. David is rescued and blessed with incredible military wins for Israel and is known as a man “who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes” (1 Kings 14:8). Solomon starts out so well too, building on his father David’s faithfulness, assumingly taking on board David’s instructions (2 Kings 2) and asking the Lord for wisdom so that he could lead Israel well. Solomon spends seven years building the Temple for the Lord to dwell in – a mighty international achievement that was not only very expensive to do, but required a huge amount of planning and resources to achieve. The result is amazing, and the Lord comes and dwells there. We then read of Solomon’s incredible achievements, his wealth and splendor and see that the Queen of Sheba comes and is astounded by Solomon’s achievements and longs to gain some of his wisdom. Through Solomon, Israel is abundantly blessed by God!

Reading the very next chapter (1 Kings 11), the unexpected twist in the story leapt out of the pages and slapped me in the face …
“As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.”

Solomon, this great man who God abundantly blessed, with all the wisdom in the world commits Israel’s sin, forgetting God and among others worshipped Molech – a ‘god’ who was associated with the detestable practice of child sacrifice. How can this be?

Solomon forgets, and a great man and nation fall a long way. The Lord instructed Israel’s Kings to not take many wives (Deut 17:17) and that marrying foreign women may lead the Israelites to worshipping foreign God’s. “Wise” Solomon forgot his father’s parting words, he forgot the law he was meant to meditate on and keep, and "discerning" Solomon forgot Israel’s history of forgetting their God.

For me, this is a humble reminder to not forget and to not be lead astray. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (as one of many examples) about building wise foundations, not serving both God and money, loosing body parts that cause us to stumble and the wide easy road – help us remember.

May God bless you and keep as you go about remembering the Lord’s faithfulness, and get caught up in Israel’s story – your story – of a loving God pursuing His chosen people. That’s a story you can’t turn your back on!

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Life of Extremes in a World of Stability

I am beginning to fear that maybe Jesus really did mean what he said. I am a product of comfortable American thought and theology – product of the western world’s approach to Christianity. But the problem is, the Jesus I see in scripture is quite consistent in his teaching and that teaching consistently does not line up with my self-interest.

We see this played out most clearly when Jesus is confronted by the Rich Young Ruler. While Jesus told the rich young ruler to “sell all that he had,” this wasn’t the only thing said in the story. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus, he questioned Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This question is coming from someone who has it all. He is young, in his prime, full of vigor and life. He is rich with the house, job, and income that define his life and allow for good meals, wine, leisure. He is titled a “ruler” suggesting authority, power, respect. He has it all . . . and yet. And yet he comes to Jesus asking “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” This is not a question that comes out of satisfaction with one’s existence. It is a question that comes out of some quiet whisper, hint that there must be more than this – more than his current state of contentment.

Even at this point, Jesus does not respond with the famous and confronting “sell all that you have . . .” Instead, he tells the young man, “Obey the commandments . . .” With these words, the man’s context is further established. He is religiously educated, at least enough to know the commandments and to be aware of the basic concerns of the God of Israel. But still, the young man wants more clarification, suggesting what we later learn to be true, that he has been keeping them and it still isn’t satisfying him.

“Which ones?” the young man asks.

Jesus responds, “Do not murder (that one’s pretty easy). Do not commit adultery (more difficult, he probably thinks, but yeah, I’ve been good there). Do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother (tick and tick). Love your neighbour as yourself (Ooh, that one’s hard. But yes, I have honestly loved my neighbour as myself.)” The young man affirms that he has been faithful, “all these I have kept since my youth.” And Jesus does not challenge him on this affirmation of faithful living. The young man isn’t even a cynical, lapsed man of faith but a dedicated man who upholds the commandments and follows God’s laws, even the difficult ones! And yet, despite his devotion to God and his clear desire for God, as evident in his approaching Jesus, something is still missing.

Church attendance isn’t enough. Keeping God’s law isn’t enough. Approaching Jesus and seeking him isn’t even enough. Not to mention that money, power, and youth aren’t enough. Apparently, this young man is still hungry for more. Hopefully many of us are still hungry for more.

“One thing still you lack. Sell your possessions. Give the money to the poor. Come and follow me.”

Of course, this isn’t a call simply to a life of poverty. Anyone can take a vow of poverty and join a monastery in the Himalayas. And many have. No. This is a call to radical and transformative community. This is a call to an Acts 2:42-47 community. This is a call to living in real and uncomfortable ways with other believers. This is a call to an extreme life of self-sacrifice, and in that sacrifice, it is a call to finding a real, passionate life, filled with God’s Holy Spirit, truly alive with his grace and presence. This is a call to life redeemed. Life transformed. Life unending.

How can I say this? We must remember who Jesus was and what he was doing at the time. He was traveling all over Israel, with his friends and those committed to him, and he was preaching the Good News of God’s grace for his people and the world. We know from Luke 8 that some of those with Jesus helped support Jesus and the disciples through their own finances. We know that, while they were itinerant, they were often being invited into various homes to stay the night, share a meal. We also know that they celebrated important religious festivals together, as if they were family. This isn’t a call to poverty or homelessness. This is a call to a community where the rich young man would have to give up his self-determination and autonomy in order to be part of the larger community of Jesus’ followers. He had to give up his riches because they were what defined him. He also had to give up his riches because in Christ’s Kingdom there is neither rich nor poor, slave nor free, male and female.

A vow of poverty is merely a spiritual choice, part even of the sort of balance that the Buddha himself taught. Jesus never taught balance. He never taught an individual spiritual path. He never calls us into a personal faith. Jesus calls us to an extreme life. He calls us individually into a community of faith. He calls us to a life that he defines and directs as a part of his body, which is all who choose to follow him, all who believe and act on his call.

“Come and follow me . . .”

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Who do you want to be?

As a rule, I don’t read fashion mags. The reason is simple – after a few pages I am reminded of my larger than acceptable thighs, small breasts, bad skin, outdated clothes; and a deep craving – no, lust – for only five or six beauty products, a hair cut and colour, and a few new outfits wells up in my heart leading to a state of mild depression for at least 48 hours. Despite this general rule of self-preservation, I picked up a few that were lying around work recently. The effect was, as expected, an addictive personal dissatisfaction as the simple lies were whispered up from every page. “This can be you. With a bit of work. It’s worth the cash, after all look at the results. This can be you!”

But, do I want “this” to be me?
Do I want to be defined as “the girl with the good clothes?”
The one with the great hair?
The smart chick?
The sexy one?
The one with the great clothes, great hair, great body, and smart?”
“The woman of style and culture?”

Who do I want to be?

Moving overseas to a city that belongs to neither of us opens up the opportunity to start over. We are not tied to family and friends in a certain area. We know the neighbourhoods only through hearsay and glances. We are free to choose where we live and, in choosing, we assent to being defined by the lifestyle and attitudes of that place.

Do we choose to live in the stylish area with shops close by so our environmental footprint is smaller, good coffee, parks and beautiful spots of creation to enjoy and be in, surrounded by other people who are interested in books and God, who dress well and have good jobs and express concern for the environment and poverty? While sitting in a nice café. Over good coffee.

Do we choose to live in the transitional area with the homeless, the petty dealers, no safe parks to enjoy and few to be in, with a community of other students who are concerned for the homeless and the petty dealers, who have little and minister to “the least of these?” But walk home warily at night. Petty dealers aren’t afraid to mug and pick-pocket.

Do we make the choice to allow our convictions to shape our personalities and interests, the people we walk with, the conversations we have, and the work that we do. Or do we live our dream of . . . of convenience, of style, of safety? After all, living closer to college (in the stylish area) means a shorter (and safer) commute, which will give us more time for the friends we make (who, due to where we live and the way we spend our time as a result, will be more like us and easier to be friends with).

We know only a few people. We are not tied to certain personalities, but have the chance to re-create those aspects of ourselves that are boxed in, for whatever reason. No one remembers the silly or wise things we have done. We have no history. We have the chance to choose our direction. We’ve started down a path with Regent but that is only the beginning. There are many types of people at Regent and many paths to take. Don’t you see – this is the thing, the struggle that we all face in every decision from the biggest (job, housing, partner) to the smallest (clothes, food, time).

Who do we want to be?

Who do you want to be?

The choices you make shape who you are. The direction you take determines the way people see you and how you see yourself. You can only stay different from your choices for so long – given a few weeks or months, you look like everyone else who going in your direction; you become what you have chosen.

So, how do you choose? Conviction? Comfort? Style? Sacrifice?

Who do you want to be?

We only have a limited amount of money, a limited amount of time to spend each day. We only have a limited amount to spend on earth. And, as we see so often in Jesus’ teachings, how we spend ourselves dictates who we are. Each choice in one direction is a choice opposed to another direction. The time spent catching up with friends is time not spent teaching English to an immigrant. Time spent with your mates is time not spent with a lonely elderly man.

I know, it is important to enjoy life – spend time with friends – enjoy God’s gifts. It is truly important to do these things. But too often we choose enjoyment out of habit and inertia and fail to actually find joy (happiness and contentment are much easier) in the gifts of God we say we are enjoying.

Who do you want to be?

Audrey Hepburn, while a humanitarian later in life, is immortalised by popular culture for high cheekbones, big sunnies, and Breakfast At Tiffany’s. She is an icon of glamour, style, and beauty. Mother Theresa needed a few more facials in her lifetime but she is immortalised by popular culture for charity, generosity, and the Sisters of Mercy. She is an icon of grace, love, and Christ.

Choose your icon. Choose your destiny. Choose who you want to be.

Friday, April 07, 2006

mice in a world of elephants

In the past months I have spent a good amount of time reading, thinking, writing, speaking and discussing the subject of Affluenza. Reconciling the disease of Affluenza with the Christian faith and God’s Word has been based largely on my own thoughts and developed through discussions with other like-minded brothers and sisters. Today, I was encouraged to re-read a few passages of Charlie Peacock’s New Way to Be Human. Charlie speaks (indirectly) about the Affluenza disease, but maybe more importantly opens people’s minds to the ‘New Way’, a kingdom that Jesus announces, which as Tom Wright says, must ”overturn all other agendas”.

Too often (I think) the church and church-goers simply highlight the problems of a fallen world, and too rarely do we (I am guilty too!) propose, show, live and invite people into a better way, Jesus’ way!
Charlie starts to do this in this book – enjoy a few passages from his chapter on Work, Money and the Kiss of God:

John Winthrop (1588-1649) defined success not as material wealth but as “the creation of a community in which genuinely ethical and spiritual life could be lived.” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), on the other hand, gave “classic expression to what many felt in the eighteenth century – and many have felt since – to be the most important thing about America: the chance for the individual to get ahead on his own initiative.” This became known as utilitarian individualism. The idea being that if a society will allow each person the freedom to pursue his or her own interests, the social good will automatically emerge. Utilitarian individualism (in its worst forms) saw opposition by the mid-nineteenth century. Women, clergy, poets and writers raised objections to a life lived in pursuit of material gain. People still raise objections today, but their voices are mice in a world of elephants.

One voice that is not small is the voice of Jesus. But when the Father sends the Counselor as my representative--and by the Counselor I mean the Holy Spirit--he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I myself have told you (John 14:26).

Neither the need for money nor the need for goods and services defines work for the man or woman following in the new way … The gathered tribe of Jesus is meant to be a people who take God’s relational Word seriously. “All that we are and do as Christians is based upon the one-off unique achievement of Jesus. It is because he inaugurated the kingdom that we can live in the kingdom” (Tom Wright) … The Kingdom Jesus announced did create a new world and context, and a new world would require a new way of being human, Jesus came announcing a kingdom that must “overturn all other agendas”.

Can it really be that our work is to do good and that’s all? Yes. The simplest theology I can give is do good work and trust God to provide. This is the old way of Eden made new through Jesus. Honestly, this is just too good to be true for most followers, and so in matters of work and money, we think and behave like practical atheists. … rather than trusting God’s relational Word, we trust our own ambitions.

All God wants is people who will do their work as unto him, for his kingdom purposes, and trust him to care for what he loves. If we have a need for resources to accomplish good, he wants us to talk to him about it. If the work we want to do is really good, we can trust that he is way ahead of us. His whole re-creation project is about what is good and right. His invitation is to get in step with his goodness and rightness.

How do God’s people drift so far from the shore? Craig Gay (from Regent College) says that the drift is a result of our imaginations, “that we imagine our world in such a way that we ignore the real reality of God’s gracious presence within it.”

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"the economics of enough"

Today I was encouraged to hear that Chris Cuffe, the '33-Million Dollar Man' (so dubbed when he stepped-down as CEO of Colonial First State Investments with his 100% earned [no golden hand-shake] bonus), has decided to give up his lucrative day-job at the Packer family owned Challenger Investments. Instead of spending most of his time 'making rich people richer', he'll spend it working to provide the funds to lend very small amounts of money to the World's poor, so that they have the opportunity to bring themselves, their families and even their communities out of the poverty trap.

Check out Opportunity International's Announcement plus a few interesting insights from an article that appeared in the SMH on Saturday "From record payout to payback time".

Cuffe wants to "swap success to seek relevance"

Cuffe says it was a trip to Nepal in his early 20's which opened his eyes to the suffering of the poor in the developing world. Last year, a trip through tsunami-ravaged parts of India and a visit to Opportunity International projects in the Philippines fuelled a desire to contribute more.

Asked why he didn't continue to earn a seven-figure salary and simply give it away, Cuffe quotes Opportunity International Australia founder, David Bussau, and the "economics of enough": "I wanted to work for a place. I am not driven to earn more and more and accumulate more and more.

"I want to pursue other things in life that are different, and contributing intellectually to a group like OI is what is attractive to my type A character … if I'm not busy, I'm not happy. I don't want to sit on the sidelines."

Along the same lines of helping the poorest nations in the world, I was encouraged (and challenged) to read Bono's 'sermon' to Washington's National Prayer Breakfast this week - "It’s not about charity, it’s about justice" - definitely worth a read!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Affluenza re-visited

My blog, Affluenza, prompted quite a response! Books were purchased, emails sent, comments made, conversations had - and hopefully lives changed. The SMH keeps talking about Affluenza too (they seem to have an obsession with Sydney's greed and debt), and on their blog today, I found a very interesting site about Affluenza the TV Show, put together by America's non-commercial PBS Television Network. Worth a look to see what this disease looks like in the US of A ...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why is this meal different from other meals?

One Sunday when I was 13, I happened to be in church when communion was being served. I had never seen an evangelical communion before and was given no preparation for it, apart from the pastor in the front reading a passage from Corinthians. It was a story I had heard many times before but never seen, smelt or tasted. When he finished reading the praise team played some insipid music while the elders of the church passed around silver trays with broken matzoh crackers and shot-glasses full of grape juice. Everyone took their shard and shot of Jesus as the tray was passed. We stood and sang a final song. Then we left as we always did. This was the first time I ever took communion.

Of course, it is misleading to say that this was the first time I had experienced communion. As I reflected on the anticlimax of the event, my “first communion”, I remembered attending mass as a young child with neighbours. Communion at Our Lady of Perpetual Help was not a particularly “high” event and it wasn’t called communion. The Eucharist was the centrepiece of the service though, that toward which everything else pointed. As the church prepared, the priest would re-enact the story, holding the bread high above his head and breaking it with a resounding crack at just the right moment. Bells were rung and many people crossed themselves as the bread became the Body. Likewise, the priest would take the cup, a gold shining goblet that looked like something from a movie and hold it high above his head, declaring that Jesus blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Again the bells rang as the wine became Blood. Wisps of incense wrapped around the alter and clung to the dark beams in the ceiling. People went forward, knelt, and held out their hands, waiting in the traditional posture of begging, for Christ. I didn’t understand the theological nuances of transubstantiation but I knew that the people were doing something that had to do with Jesus and his death, and I wanted to be a part of that. Years later, when I finally was, it was disappointing.

Passover is one of the most important of Jewish holidays, and the centre of that feast is the Seder dinner. On the table are three matzohs, recalling the hurried flight from Egypt to freedom, one of which is taken and broken in half before the meal beings. During the meal 4 glasses of wine are poured, symbolising freedom, deliverance, redemption, and release. Prayers are said throughout the meal and a liturgy of questions and answers recalls, for all present, the meaning of each aspect of the meal. The purpose of the Seder is to remember God’s salvation from the slavery of Egypt and the freedom he secured for his people. The Seder is a divine drama that is re-enacted every year to teach the children the story of their people and to remind God’s people of their story with him. It was while celebrating this ceremonial meal that Christ took two of these ancient symbols and invested them with new meaning.

“On the night he was betrayed, he took the bread. When he had given thanks he broke it and said, “Take, eat. This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” The matzoh was broken, as it is at the beginning of the meal, but now it is more than our flight from slavery; it is the Passover sacrifice for us, the body of Jesus broken on the cross for us. Later the symbolism of the cup, which already signified freedom, deliverance, redemption and release, is fulfilled with the amazing and hard words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” The freedom, deliverance, redemption, and release prefigured in the Seder cup are completed in the communion cup.

This is a sacred meal, a Divine drama being enacted to remind us, to allow us to participate in his death. It is a way in which we teach our children the mystery of faith and sustain our own. We know nothing apart from our senses and this is a sensual meal. We taste and smell the bread and wine, feel the texture of the bread and the sweet burning of the wine in our mouth; we hear the words repeated over the centuries, and we hear our own voices joining the chorus in response; we see the bread held high and torn in two, just as our Lord was raised high upon the cross and his body was torn for us, his blood running down his side; we see the gleaming cup and know the light and love it contains. This is a meal we are meant to “dress up” in, to live in regularly so that the death of Christ becomes a tangible part of our lives.

And yet, we seldom share this meal. And when we do, it seldom recalls this ancient and mysterious drama of an ancient and mysterious God who condescended and became one of us for the sole purpose of suffering for our freedom, deliverance, redemption, and release from sin and death. Through this neglect, we not only fail to “do this in remembrance of me” but we also fail to teach our children the drama and beauty of our faith. And we ourselves, those currently entrusted with carrying God’s message of redemption to the world, fail to enjoy the depth, complexity and passion of this divine drama in which we have been lovingly cast.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


We should call it how it really is more often than we do - I was encouraged today when a mate did just this. That moment of honesty can be a beautiful thing - not because it’s good, but rather because life isn’t always ‘good times’, and that’s just part of the journey. Enjoy the honesty (and cheekiness) of Despair … “It's always darkest just before it goes pitch black.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sit Back and I’ll Tell You a Story

No matter who we are or where we are from, stories have shaped our lives – our understanding of ourselves, our culture, our dreams. Stories inspire, educate, encourage, thrill, frighten, and reassure us. Stories make us who we are.

Yet, what of the Christian story? You know the one – God creates a bunch of stuff. Satan and then people try to ruin it. God jumps in and tries to fix things by only rescuing those who understand and accept his actions. Everything else goes to Hell. Literally. At least, these are the bare bones of the story, the parts that we memorise for gospel presentations, the parts of the story that can be easily distilled into precepts that can be believed. Or rejected. But often, despite our love of the propositions and conclusions extracted from the story, we are secretly ashamed of the story. This shame is only reinforced when the world we desperately wish to speak to flatly rejects our propositions or “Truth” as narrow-minded, old-fashioned, lacking compassion, and arrogant. The thought that, since they don’t like the ‘Truth’ the story must be bad, begins to for in our subconscious. And so, while we believe that it is a true story and we know it is meant to be a “Good” story, we remain embarrassed by it.

At first glance, the idea that we are ashamed of our story may seem ridiculous; this story is, after all, what we all believe to be true. The problem is not with us, but with the world that has become such an evil place in recent years.

But do you remember the last time you were asked if you really believe good people go to hell simply because they don’t believe in Jesus? While I believe this is true, a part of me always squirms as I try to explain how this apparently terrible belief is actually compassionate and gracious. Do not misunderstand, we are not to back down from what we know to be “the truth”. But, when sharing the great story of God’s grace I am not, in any way, overwhelmed with the same excitement, passion, conviction, and enthusiasm as you will hear in me when I tell you about the latest novel, poem or film I’ve enjoyed. In fact, none of these emotions even register above the fear, nervousness, and sense of inadequacy. Perhaps even more disturbing is that these euphoric emotions seldom overtake me when talking with fellow Christians, among whom there ought to be no fear but only the shared joy of recounting a great story experience.

Imagine the last time you left a really good movie with friends. What happens as you leave the theatre? At first, everyone is exuberant, repeating their favourite parts. Then comes the critical discussion of exactly why it is so good. Later, a bit more quoting and laughter, maybe a bit of swooning. Finally, the enthusiastic review to anyone who will listen, complete with the demand that they go view the film as quickly as possible. Then, even years later, you find that you and your friends still talk about this film, still quote it, still pull it out and watch it with some regularity, still recommend it to everyone who hasn’t yet seen your “classic” film.

The Gospel does not provoke this response from most Christians. The problem must be with the story. Or, more correctly, with how we have been told and how we tell the story. For centuries some artists have been convinced of the quality of this story, have known that this divine drama is strong enough to be told and retold, painted, interpreted, danced, sung, designed, filmed. We read the story clearly in Dostoevsky, Eliot, Tolkien. We hear the story in Handel, Bach, U2. We even see it in its bloody agony in a Mel Gibson movie. And, for a moment, our hearts sore, knowing that they have glimpsed eternity.

Unfortunately, for most of us, the story has been bled for theological, practical, and historical reasons, leaving us with a pale, anaemic, impotent invalid of a tale that we hide in a darkened room like some humiliating relative. If we are going to share our great story with the world, we must first rescue it from notional distillation and find again the beauty that seizes hearts and compels the world to listen.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Historia Personal

I became an English teacher by default. After finishing my BA in three rushed and turbulent years, I decided to head to Europe to gain some life experience and, in all honesty, to travel. Coming from a family that hadn’t travelled internationally in over a generation, the romantic fantasy of exotic foreign cities and long nights in cafes was irresistible. Being a Christian and a literature student, the natural way to fund such a venture seemed to be going as a “tent-making missionary” / high school English teacher. I would love to claim that my intentions were more noble and that I had a burning desire to remind the people of Europe of their historical faith, but that would be a lie. Despite my less than perfect intentions, living in Budapest turned out to be a wonderful year. Working with people consciously committed to ministry and others who were trained and experienced teachers challenged my ideas of what it is to be a missionary, what it is to bear witness to Christ in the world, and what it is to live a life that is authentic as a Christian, a thinker, and a woman. Like most people at 21, it was a year of false starts, mistakes, and fleeting moments of success. The end of the year took me home and to more teaching, as that was what my resume said I could do. One thing had become clear to me through the long, dark, cold Hungarian winter; the quiet nudging that had been irresistibly inching my heart toward an openly religious vocation since childhood became a strong pushing that would not abate.

I took the most obvious step, which was enrolling in seminary as this allowed for further study and, possibly some form of “religious” work. After realising that it wasn’t possible to work one full-time job with two part-time tutoring gigs on the side and attend Fuller Theological Seminary on even a part-time basis, I quite the three jobs and study to contemplate becoming a nun, at least, after a few break-ups, it was on my mind. Rather than rushing off to the nearest convent, however, I went to the Cedars to do a bit of volunteer work for the summer and to live in community with other young women. It was a much needed break from teaching and, more importantly, from Los Angeles, which I hated. While there, I spent a great deal of time dusting, vacuuming, ironing napkins, cooking 5 course meals, and praying. It was during that time that I met a blue-eyed Aussie whose irresistible accent and playful smile swept me off my feet. It was then that I realised the convent was not for me.

Not wanting to risk everything for someone I hardly knew, I applied to full-time graduate programs with funding (no more three-job attempts, one or two are enough when studying). I also travelled to Australia to work for four months and explore the options ahead of me. While offered a full scholarship and TA position at UCSB, I chose love. This brought me back to finding work and, according to my resume, I could, at this point teach and wait tables. As teaching is more secure, I found a teaching job at a school in Sydney.

Having taught for four years, I can honestly say, some aspects of teaching are great. I love getting to hang out with people and talk about books. I love explaining ideas, others and my own, and seeing people “get it”. I love doing something that is useful to society. The biggest problem is, I don’t like children. Since high school covers years 7 – 12 in Australia, I end up finding about forty percent of my year 12 class a joy to teach. The younger classes have a few exceptions and some days it even appears my students are learning a bit, but the niggling feeling that I this isn’t where my vocation stops won’t leave. Even when teaching in Hungary as a guise for travel, I knew that my position there as a “missionary” was, somehow, close to right.

My husband and I had no plans to attend Regent a year ago. While he had considered it a great deal while single and I knew that God wanted something of me, it wasn’t something we had discussed as a couple. One night, when praying with some friends about our lives, they asked us when we were going to study at Regent. As we had not discussed this, the suggestion seemed a bit odd. So, we shelved the idea. But it kept coming back. Still more friends, without knowing others had suggested it, asked the same question, so we began praying about the possibility. After talking with our families and a wide group of friends and asking them to pray about this possibility for us, the idea not only met with support, but it was affirmed over and over again.

While coming to the point of applying to Regent was a long process of questioning, doubting, and praying, when we dream together now, the reasons seem so very clear. Study at Regent is where our passions for nature, education, social action, service, and rest weave together. While we don’t know what the future holds or where God will take us, at this point, we know we need to be trained for what we see as our possible future ministry. We dream of maybe being involved in some sort of para-church or retreat ministry – a place that challenges people’s perceptions of what it is to follow Christ, where the Church is not seen as something that shapes our spirituality, but where being part of the Body shapes what we eat, how we make money, how we spend our money, how we dress, how we think, where we live, and how we interact with the rest of the world. We hope that studying at Regent will equip us for this possible future, but if not, we trust that God will continue to lead us along his way.

Personal Statement

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I have known these words most of my life, drilled into me from an early age as a simple Sunday School song. A simple phrase really, which is why it is perfect for Sunday-schoolers to sing, but perhaps a little too simplistic for the adults sitting on the hard wooden pews?

“Jesus loves me”, when you understand who this Jesus guy is – sent from God. The Lord of all creation; our ‘Abba’ Father. But not only sent by God, but also from the very beginning of time “He was with God, and He was God.” When you understand who this Jesus guy is and that he loves you – you out of all of the 6 billion people roaming this planet – He loves you - the words “Jesus loves me” become very profound!

“This I know, for the Bible tells me so” – such riches are to be found in this great book! It is the epic love story of a Creator with his creation, a God and his people, a Father and his children, a Groom with his bride. It is tale stretching thousands of years, winding its way through deserts, battles, foreign invaders, miracles, sacrifice, triumphs, heartache, wayward hearts, forgetful minds, faithful souls, and many kept promises – a tale reaching its pinnacle with the arrival of the Hero, who came to point the people back to the Father, and invite them to open their eyes, ears and minds to see, hear and understand that His Kingdom was here and that you are loved.

Simple words, but very profound. These were the words that I chose to leave as my ‘famous last words’ to 250 teenagers and 20 leaders after a six-year journey that saw 12 young men start high-school as boys and finish as a band of brothers following Christ, helping each other along the joyful, but often treacherous road Jesus asks us to follow. After 6 long years of sharing our lives and coming to Christ together, opening the Word and seeing what the Lord had to say about His world and our lives – these simple words seemed to be the appropriate message to leave them with. A platform to stand on, to step forward to the next stage of life and come back too, if necessary.

Of course I got the idea from Karl Barth. After a lecture he was once asked “Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider to be the greatest of them all?” After establishing himself as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, you could have expected his response could have been published as his next written work. Instead after thoughtfully considering the question, Barth responded, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”.

In a nutshell these simple but profound words bring me to this point on my journey: typing my personal statement to be considered for admission into Regent College. To understand that Jesus loves me and that I can know this love through God’s word are radically life-impacting ideas!

This personal statement forms part of my application to study at Regent College. Applying is one of a few hurdles that stand in the way of potentially three years of further study. Part of the application hurdle is my past mediocre academic performance. Ten years ago when I started my first degree straight out of high-school, I didn’t really know why I was studying; it is just what most people I grew up with went on to do. In my first year I struggled and failed a few subjects (not great for my GPA). I soon learnt what I had to do to get through and got my degree without failing another subject. There were moments of academic brilliance and times when I really enjoyed what I was doing, but Youth Ministry, sporting, and work commitments seemed more important than getting great marks for a university degree I wasn’t very interested in. I feel as though my academic prowess is still to be realised.

I followed the crowd into my last degree and lived up to my family’s business expectations in doing so. In the world’s eyes, Regent as my next step in tertiary study is not the obvious course to follow. However, when you know that Jesus loves you and you and your wife have opened your lives up to His call, then three years of learning about what God is doing in this world and in His church is the next step. It is a necessary step toward being equipped to lead, teach, organise, counsel, write, or do whatever and go wherever the Lord may lead. This is a degree I am far more interested in than Commerce.

Regent College seems to be a good place for this equipping to take place. The interdenominational and truly international faculty and student population are a great starting point for seeing the bigger picture of what the Lord is doing with his entire church. The various reasons for which students come to Regent and the variety of places and occupations graduates go afterwards allows flexibility for people to explore and to find where the Lord would have them and what He would have them do. This path also offers a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the scriptures, learn from the triumphs and downfalls of the church, and study God himself - seeking to gain a richer and deeper understanding and love for Him.

One “pipe-dream” of what our (my wife and I) future holds beyond our Regent studies is to run a retreat centre – a place where all of God’s children could come and retreat for a while, quiet spot to still one’s self and seek to listen to the Lord. A place that is emersed in God’s creation, where His goodness is seen, explored and appreciated, an environment where seekers could together question and discuss what it means to be God’s children. A refuge where denominations, cultures and nationalities wouldn’t divide, but instead where followers of Christ could come together in unity. A time-out, to re-focus and be ready to check back-in, refreshed, clear sighted and ready to continue following Jesus down this long and winding road. God willing, Regent will be an important stepping-stone to what God has planned for us.