Tuesday, December 15, 2009

unexpected guest...(Hughes family: remind you of anyone?)

In the apartment complex we lived in before we moved into our new house, we had a regular and welcome visitor whom we called "Cica" (which means "Cat" in Hungarian). Cica would drop by to hang-out, seek lots of attention and be well fed. Cica felt very comfortable in our apartment, as if she may have spent time there before. We think Cica may be a promiscuous kitty who makes regular visits to many apartments in the complex as she looks pretty well fed and cared for.

It was wonderful to have such an affectionate creature come and visit, yet not have ultimate responsibility for her welfare. We did think of adopting Cica to our new home as we enjoyed her company so much, but didn't want to deprive her actual owners of her company.

Cica reminded me very much of Mandy, the family cat we had for about 20 years. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

around the bend: Sunday prohibition

Flashback to August... after an exhausting few days of unpacking a U-Haul truck and driving all around southern Michigan looking for a car to buy, Jessica, Matthew (Jess' bro) and I wanted to relax on the Lord's day. So into the local Supermarket we went, to pick up some cheese and bikkies and something to wash-it-down with. The Martin's supermarket has an impressive array of beer and wine and when its on sale, the prices are great. We had chosen one of the local ales to sample when we were confronted with the following sign:

What? A moment of culture-shock set-in to my Australian sense of what is good and right in the world...

Indiana is one of 15 American states which is still suffering from a legislative-hangover from the temperance movement of 1919-1933, which saw the prohibition of the production, transportation and sale of alcohol. Specific historical reasons why Sunday prohibition remains in Indiana are hard to pinpoint, but the general vibe I get is that "alcohol is generally bad" & "Sunday are reserved for the worship of the Lord," therefore the two should not be mixed.

If Indiana wants to take temperance on the Lord's day seriously, I could easily argue for and support a complete ban on Sunday trading, legislating a moderation on consumerism and 24/7 consumer convenience. But, from a Christian perspective it makes no sense whatsoever to have a HUGE supermarket open from 6am to Midnight selling everything, except beer and wine, since the first sign that the Kingdom of God had arrived was an abundant supply of choice wine (John 2).

We were comforted by the under-age check-out girl who assured us that we could simply drive 5 miles north to the Michigan border where a bunch of stores cater to the needs of deprived Indiana residents, on the Lord's day...

By the way, if you are looking for Beer at our local Martins from Monday to Saturday, you will fittingly find it in aisle 10, alongside the school supplies.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

our (mostly) D.I.Y. re-modelled house

In case you haven't heard, we are visiting Sydney over Christmas/New Year... so in preparation for the visit, we thought we'd show you some of the D.I.Y. work we have done in the last two months on the house we bought in South Bend, which is now our home. Our D.I.Y. philosophy is that you need to know your limits, and thats when you call in the experts...

Bathroom before

Bathroom after... 
We painted and installed a new vanity, mirror, light, shower curtain rod and towel hardware.
Rick installed new taps and spouts in the shower.

Kitchen before

Kitchen after...
A completely new kitchen was on the cards if we bought this house. We helped design a new kitchen. We removed the old cabinets and sold them. Broke tile of the right-hand wall and smoothed the wall out. We did LOTS of drywall repair! We ripped-out old laminate flooring, installed a floating Pergo floor. We painted.
Julie designed the kitchen, Craig & Greg installed it, Willie & team built and installed the solid-surface counter-top.

Master Bedroom before

Master Bedroom after...
We had to paint, which opened up the whole room... Linda's great work!
We ripped-up the carpeting.
Willie & Parker refinished the hardwood floors.

Stairs before

Stairs after...
We ripped-up carpeting. We sanded and painted white. We installed the stair runner.

Basement/Laundry before

Basement/Laundry after...
We did LOTS of cleaning - the basement was disgusting!
We removed the yellow plastic siding, concrete patched and painted the walls and have begun to paint the floor.
We re-finished the bathroom cabinet and hung-it. We installed a laundry sink and built a foundation for it. We salvaged a decaying shelf, cut-out the damp and hung-it. We hung a retractable clothes line and clothes hanger bar to dry clothes.

Desk before

Desk after...
This desk came with the house - it is a solid piece of furniture and fits perfectly in the study/library, but it was beat-up!
We sanded the desk down, stained and sealed and returned it to its former glory.

More after shots...
We installed a new dining room chandelier

We cleaned & organised the garage installing bike racks and tool hangers...

We made a functional storage room in the basement...

We edged and mowed the lawns (and now they are covered in snow)...

A BIG THANK YOU to Jess' Mom, Linda, who flew out from California to help us paint and re-model for two weeks in October. I don't think we would have been ready to move-in on time without all of Linda's excellent work.

Thanks also to the skilled tradesmen who helped us, and Julie from American Kitchen & Bath for her fabulous kitchen design. Thanks to Brandon at Sears who sold me many Craftsman tools and who gave me a brand new drill after I destroyed my first one. Thanks to Clyde for the electric advise over the telephone.

Thank you Sharon at Re/Max 100 for helping us buy our first house.

A few more after shots...

Friday, December 11, 2009

An Aussie's perspective on American College Football

Jess and I were 2009 season-ticket-holding-fans of Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish" college football team. In a previous post I described how South Bend comes alive for seven Saturdays in the fall as it hosts visiting college football teams at home. As it turned out, our season tickets weren't with the other graduate students, but with the "Freshmen" - the first-year college students - so we were thrown into fighting-irish-fandom with plenty of other newbies. But, the Freshmen had a huge advantage over us... they all live in the campus dorms and they had all been coached on the 20-plus cheers, songs, dances & traditions that students go through each game to cheer the Fighting Irish on to victory. Plus, we didn't look the part either... the freshmen all wore the matching "rise and strike" season t-shirts, while Jess' parents spotted us from the other side of the stadium because of the shirt and wide-brimmed Driza-Bone hat I had on. One surprise: the seats (really narrow benches called "bleachers") aren't used for their intended purpose - the ND students stand on the bleachers for the entire game, usually 3-4 hours, only taking a break at half-time.

A football ticket doesn't just buy you a football game at Notre Dame - also included are military fly-overs, marching bands, the Leprechaun mascot and yes, the cheerleaders! Throw in the football game and it really is a great experience!

The Irish started the season strongly with a string of wins and close games, two of which went into nail-biting over-time periods. But, the Irish couldn't maintain the momentum for all four quarters and often found themselves too far behind for a final quarter catch-up. While the games were close, the Irish lost the last four to end up with a 6-6 record for the season, which got the head coach fired... In the years to come, watch out for Jimmy Clausen and  Golden Tate in the NFL - these guys can play!

As an Aussie who grew up amongst four football codes I have mixed feelings about American football. On the whole there are lots of things I like about the game: there are a large variety of great tactical plays which keep defensive-sides and the fans guessing, some incredible throws and receptions, big hits and it takes a big team effort to win a game - all good!

I however do not like the "media time outs" which leave the players standing aimlessly on the field waiting for  commercials to run on viewers TV's -- it kills the momentum and is a downer for the fans at the game. In contrast, in Soccer, Rugby and AFL the game dictates the broadcast.

There is a scenario that kills the end of a close game and I really despise it. If the team leading the score board have possession of the football in the closing minutes, they can literally waste the final two minutes by running down the play-clock, removing any opportunity for the defensive team to turn-over the football and score to win or tie-up the game.

While American football is a big team effort, which I like, I find it odd that many of the players would never touch the ball during the game; I bet many wouldn't touch the ball all season. The other football codes are ball-centric where everyone gets their hands and feet on the ball (the possible exception may be Rugby Union forwards). An effect of this is the stars of American games are always the players that touch the ball - the quarterback, receivers and running backs.

Only in American sports would you come up with a game that would involve flying or busing a squad of 60 players, 10 coaches, support staff, cheerleaders, a marching band and a Leprechaun across the country to play - the travel costs must be enormous! Which brings up the critique of why you need so many players to play this game? The positions seem so specialised, where you need 3rd string back-up players who may never get to run onto the field all season. The other football codes seem to produce much more versatile players. Which is why Aussie Darren Bennett, an AFL turned NFL punter, is considered to be arguably one of the NFL's greatest punters, partly due to his versatility.  I like the stories of the small-town high school football teams who only have enough players to have a few reserves, so that most players are on the field for offense, defense, field-goal attempts and kick-off receptions - these guys really get to play the game!

I don't want to fall into Deborah Hutton's trap this week of "biting the hand that feeds me" - ND football brings in the $'s which allows the University to give Jess a free financial ride during her Ph.D and even pay her to study at ND. So I am committed to learn more about American football and be a fan of Notre Dame while we live in South Bend.
Go Irish!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

what is she doing? she is going to be in school forever...

As Andrew explained in his post, we are here in South Bend so that I can study at Notre Dame (for more on ND, see the film Rudy). Besides being home to one of the world’s most famous college football teams (since only America really competes in this category, it is an easy claim for South Bend to a world title), Notre Dame is famous for being the alma mater of President Bartlett on The West Wing. But those two descriptors still don’t really communicate what the university is in the minds of Americans.

First, let’s start with pronunciation. Even though many students here speak French, the school name is pronounced No-ter (or Notra by the slightly more sophisticated) Dame (as in, “Gee that dame sure has swell legs). When pronounced with a French accent, Notre Dame signifies the cathedral in Paris.

For Americans, Notre Dame is a top university: not quite Ivy League but considered to be one of the country’s most prestigious schools (remember, Americans use “school for everything from pre-school to grad-school). This perception is partly due to the stunning campus with expansive quads, tree-lined walks, stately brown-brick buildings, the basilica and the golden-domed “main building.” Part of this perception is also due to the famous (although not always high-performing) sports teams. Part of this perception ― and the bit that is most relevant to my study ― comes from the fact ND has really strong academic programs and a really good rate of placing its Ph.D’s in tenure-track positions at other universities.

Now, I guess I need to explain exactly what it is that I’m doing here…

American English Ph.D’s are a bit different from Australian and British Ph.D’s. Most of the students beginning the program already have a masters degree in English or a related field. But, an additional 2-3 years of coursework is still required before students can take their “qualifying exams.”  Once a student successfully completes the exams, they can propose a dissertation topic and (with approval) begin writing their dissertation. Most English dissertations are running about 400-500 pages on average and take anywhere from 2-5, or 6, or 7 or 8 years to finish. Some schools (like the University of Chicago and Harvard) are infamous for taking a really long time, with average program running 8 years from start to finish. Notre Dame takes away funding after 5 years, which helps people finish more quickly!   (Funding involves a full scholarship for tuition, health coverage, and a salary that is sufficient for 2 people to live on, so it is good to finish before one’s funding runs out.)

Right now, I’m in the “coursework” section of the degree, which means I’m taking classes just like we were at Regent. The difference is, rather than taking one “seminar” and a couple of other less-demanding courses, I take 4 seminar courses and, since everyone is already way too educated, the level of knowledge and thought isn’t like a master’s degree where everyone is just starting out. At the beginning of the term, I was reading about 800 pages a week on average and I’ve written just over 140 pages this semester. Most people (myself included) study for about 60 hours a week (of actual study time, not including meal breaks, chats with other students, etc) but we study more during November and April, since this is when papers are written!  What does this mean for day-to-day life? Well, it means I’m really tired most of the time and have little mental energy left for other things (emails, phone calls, taking baths, cooking).  It feels like some sort of academic boot-camp where we are being broken down and taught to scramble and just produce more and more writing and read more and more texts until our capacity for such things is expanded beyond any normal human capacity, which seems to be working.

So, am I enjoying all this work?

Yes ― at least most of the time!  It is amazing to get to talk about poetry with really brilliant people for hours at a time, especially poets like John Donne or George Herbert or John Keats. I also really enjoy the research involved in writing papers ― sometimes it is really fun just to read what other people think about something and then come up with my own ideas. Other times, I get to try and figure out a historical mystery around a work or writer and that can be really intriguing, as I get to try and place together who knew whom, who read what, and use that to understand the literature better. Sometimes, it is not so fun … especially when taking classes that aren’t in my “field” (which is Victorian and early 20th century novels … but early modern religious poetry is very seductive and could win me over!) but next term I’ll be finished with some of the requirements that are less interesting, so hopefully the study will be more and more enjoyable. Sometimes, it is downright hard ― especially when I have yet another paper to write and I have absolutely nothing to say …

My time at Regent was immensely helpful in preparing me for study here. The work I did on American writer Wendell Berry (his thinking about the concept of “place” and the intersections of his thinking with biblical theologies of creation and land use) not only taught me to manage a large writing project (150 pages) but also gives me a solid background in American agrarian literature (which should be really helpful for one of my courses next term).  But, I love stories and especially the ethical implications of narrative and so here I’m planning to work on 19th century novels and perhaps 20th century Catholic revival novels. I won’t go into the details but I’d love to share with you some of my work (if you are interested), so just ask me about it!

Why am I doing this?

Well, that is a good question. The easy answer is that I really love books, love teaching and love research and so I hope to be a college professor or uni lecturer. But the real answer has much more to do with vocation and trying to follow the path that God has opened up … that isn’t to say that God wants me to be a college professor ― or even that he wants me to get a Ph.D, but this is the second time that he’s opened up the opportunity so, it seems like something that I need to do even if the ends are beyond the ends I figure and are altered in the fulfillment…

Monday, December 07, 2009

Where in the world are we? Why are we here? What have we been doing? When are we coming "home"?

In 6 days time, we will catch a taxi, an interstate train, the "L" train, a domestic flight, connect to an international flight and arrive in Sydney for the first time in 18 months. Some our our friends still think we live in Canada, so its time to offer you the basics to put you on a similar page to us (or at least orientate you to the right country) before we arrive down-under.

After graduating from Regent College in April, we SOLD our apartment in Vancouver and in August drove a U-Haul truck 3881 km across the North America and ended up in South Bend Indiana. Why? Because Jessica was brilliant (and lucky) enough to be awarded a 5 year fully-funded PhD scholarship at the prestigious University of Notre Dame. For the next 5-6 years we plan to be in South Bend as Jess completes her Ph.D in English Literature (more details to come from her in a follow-up post (post #2)).

We followed the Lewis & Clark Expedition trail in reverse across the country. 
A chain-establishment we passed in Iowa with a rather misleading name...

Where in the world is South Bend Indiana? Good question... Lets start with the Indiana part. I was surprised that most Americans I quizzed prior to coming here knew very little about the state of Indiana, about as much as a sports-loving Aussie did actually: Indiana is the home of the Indianapolis 500 Indy Car race and a place where basketball is popular. That's it? No, Indianian's also have a well-known nickname "Hoosiers". That's it.

I made a critical mistake early-on with my family by primarily associating South Bend with being 90 minutes drive east of Chicago. This error has led to: my parents thinking that we were on central time, nope we are on east-coast time; my two Grandmas thinking that we live in Chicago, nope we don't even live in the state of Illinois; and my Dad assuming that we would return the U-Haul truck back to a Chicago depot since South Bend was so small, nope South Bend has four U-Haul depots of its own.

To avoid any such confusion, I will describe South Bend on its own terms. South Bend is in Northern Indiana, only a few miles from the Michigan state border, and a half-hour drive to the Indiana shores of Lake Michigan. You could accurately describe South Bend as a "college town" as it is the home to Notre Dame, an Indiana University campus, a Purdue University campus and Bethel College. South Bend qualifies as a university town, because it has many students in relation to the size of the total population. But, South Bend isn't just a university town - the St. Joseph River  proved to be a spring of economic activity in the city's glory years when the Studebaker family built cars here. But, since Studebaker's demise in 1963, the era following brought the nickname the "rust-belt" and unfortunate economic decline to this area of the country. South Bend experiences 4 genuine seasons - a humid Summer, a spectacular Fall, "lake-effect" snow and ice-storms in the Winter, and a brief Spring.

There is no doubt what the biggest event(s) of the year is in South Bend... Notre Dame College Football home games. For seven Saturdays in the Fall, South Bend is pumping! Beginning Thursday of game-weekend you will see people sitting by the roadside in lawn chairs buying and selling game tickets, parking passes, parking stalls in their yards and beds in their houses. On Saturday morning, five hours before kick-off, traffic starts to swell to the point where many locals simply don't drive their cars on game-day. Before the game, police change the street traffic patterns so all roads leading to the university are converted to one-way channels to get fans to the game. Game-day is so predominate here, that year round traffic signs point to parking lots that only get filled seven days a year. To put game-day in perspective, the population of South Bend and its sister city Mishawaka is a combined 150,000 people, while Notre Dame's stadium seats 80,795 fans and has been sold out for every game (except one) since 1966. It is also estimated that an extra 20,000 fans who don't have tickets show-up to campus to take in the elaborate festivities that the University puts on and to soak in the atmosphere as they "tailgate "party all day and night long and watch the game on portable TV's from the car park. I'll follow-up with another post (post #3) from our experience as season ticket holders this year.

I kid you not, football fans buy these tailgate "accessories"

So as Jess has been studying hard getting settled into her Ph.D program, I have been... in limbo: waiting for my working permit and permanent residency to be approved by the US government... house-husband: trying to take-on more of the domestic duties to free Jess up to read and write... organiser: buying a house... DIY tradie guy: getting the house ready to move-into, which finally came to fruition in the last week of November. Another post (post #4) will follow with some pics and details about our DIY efforts in our new home.
Our place: a 1946, 3 bedroom, 2 story plus a basement, Cape-Cod style house 

As a side-note for the Sydney-siders, you don't want to know how cheap you can buy a nice house for in the rust-belt... to give you an idea, a not-so-nice house could be paid for by many people's credit card spending limit.

Monday, November 30, 2009


We prepared and celebrated our first thanksgiving meal in our own place this year, and were blessed to be joined by a good friend, Helen, from Vancouver. As it turned out, the thanksgiving meal was the first meal cooked in our new kitchen, we moved into our new house a few days earlier.

As this was our first holiday meal in our home, we began two traditions that our family will carry forward. The first, holiday meals as a multi-course dinner that is enjoyed and savored slowly, allowing much opportunity for table-talk as family and friends gather, and pairing each course with an appropriate bottle of wine. This tradition started at Christmas 2008, where Jess cooked her first Christmas dinner at her folks place, a six course meal that was deemed the best Christmas meal ever by her younger brother.

The thanksgiving five course meal started with an appertizer of pesto and cranberry crostini, followed by a pumpkin soup with blue-cheese croƻtons. The main course was anything but traditional, a venison meatloaf served on a bed of sweet potato mash - the deer was shot locally by Craig who finished putting in our kitchen cabinets the day before. A cheese platter followed, which included a traditional touch of cranberry sauce served on a cracker with blue cheese. By the end of the fourth course, we were quite full, so the fifth and final dessert course, a chocolate ice cream covered with a dark-chocolate cranberry sauce and served with a tawny port, was enjoyed later on the couch while watching NCIS...

The second tradition that we began, was to take the time to express our thankfulness - to each other and also to our good and giving Lord. So, for each course that was served, everyone at the table shared something they were thankful for. This year we had much to be thankful for - a wonderful new home to live in, as we also celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary on thanksgiving weekend we were thankful for eachother, plus the many opportunities that we are privileged to have - to be able to study at places like Regent College and Notre Dame, and to be able to travel back to Sydney for Christmas and a wedding this year (see you all soon!).

The +giving side we will have to work on for next year... we have been a little self-consumed of late by our own need to settle into this new town and house. In being thankful for our new house, we were also prayerful that our house would be a place that gave warm hospitality. With Helen as our first house guest, we are off to a good start...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

insight into Vancouver mindset

Last week, I was asked to do a photo shoot with my friend KC Flynn for Tenth Alliance Church as they are about to launch a satellite service in Kitslano. We got some pictures of Kitslano Secondary School where the church will be meeting, and KC came across this poster in one of the hallways...

I think this is a fascinating insight into the mindset of Vancouverites. It is one thing for people to have this opinion, it is another to put it on a poster in the hallway of a public school and not have it torn down or a protest erupt.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

goodbye Whistler?

I first came to Whistler in January 2002. Four months later, I had skied 67 days, spent many late and enjoyable nights working at Whistler Village Sports, discovered an amazing burger place (Splitz grill) and had had a much-needed break. I got to enjoy these spectacular mountains, which rise whopping 5000 feet above the valley floor, with friends old (TK, Adam, Scott, Pete LaF, Jake, Mum & Dad) and new (Chris, Shara & Jen). After 67 days, there was still a lot of skiing on these hills to be done…

So I confess… coming to study in Vancouver always had an ulterior motive. Jess and I have been blessed to be able to enjoy three more ski seasons and two summer visits. Each season we booked a 3-day trip (twice on bargain time-share trial deals!) and also did a bunch of day-trips with the crew from Regent, the Neridas, Ken & Julie, Matt & Chris and AY.

While Whistler is known for its winter activities, the two summer visits that Jess and I enjoyed hiking and biking were incredible too. We just got back from a farewell stay, where we hiked the recently built alpine trails along Blackcomb mountain. The weather was warm, the wildflowers blooming and the creeks running wild.

We experienced the Peak-2-Peak Gondola for the first time, which transports skiers from the peaks of Whistler to Blackcomb mountain in 11 minutes. While I don’t think its necessary to ski both of these huge mountains on a single day, this gondola is a truly amazing engineering feat. At its tallest point, you are 436 meters high and the unsuspended cable length is 3km (1.88 miles) long. If the gondola breaks down, I have no idea how they would be able to rescue people from such heights!

Whistler is gearing up to host some of the events for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, so we checked out the impressive new sliding centre (perhaps Whistlers white elephant after the games?), which will host the bobsled and luge events.

So for now, goodbye to wonderful Whistler… and hello again when we will tune in come February 12!

Monday, July 27, 2009


After what has been a rough road for us, our Vancouver apartment is now SOLD! Thank you to all who have advised us through the process, both when we tried (and came very close) to sell the apartment ourselves (3591oakSt.com), and through the official listing period. A BIG thank you to those who have been praying for the sale, and perhaps more importantly, praying for us through this journey... Although we did doubt what the Lord was doing after so many inspections and no offers, the Lord has once again proved that "he is an on-time God, yes he is!" (to quote Regent's fabulous gospel choir), the day after we arrive in South Bend, the property changes hands. We walk away from this experience, seeing again that steps of faith are not made alone, for the God who calls us, walks with us...

Another BIG thank you, to our friend and Realtor, Elmar Klukas, for the many showings, his counsel and patience (with us) and his professional manner in pushing a complex sale through...

The next step, Indiana via U-Haul, we don't walk alone...

We celebrated the sale in style, Jess cooked a 5 course dinner (including some local lamb - yes Mum I am getting some meat!)) and we cracked a magnificent 2002 St. Hugo Cab Sav (bottle #77907 to be precise)...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

#2/2 – Jesus saves; the church?

The Sydney Anglican Diocese lost $100,000,000.00 in the stock-market slump brought on by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), [read some news and opinions about it in my #1/2 post.] The $100 million loss was partly caused by an investing strategy known as “gearing,” where the investor borrows money to then invest. If the market goes up, gearing accelerates the gains, but if the market goes down – as it did in the GFC – then the losses are magnified. Here are three of my reflections on the Sydney Anglican Dioceses investment woes…

First, a fairly rudimentary understanding of the biblical text should result in the reader feeling uneasy with a ready embrace of debt, which we see in Western economies today – from households to firms, governments and perhaps even churches. While I won’t argue for a water-tight hermeneutical understanding linking biblical texts about debt to modern investment practises, it is worth hearing the biblical text’s aversion towards debt. In Lev.25, the Year of Jubilee is prescribed to ensure indebted families would be able to have their debts forgiven and retain ownership of their land, resulting in their ongoing economic and social inclusion. Deut. 15 speaks of removing debt from the life of Israel and foresees a situation where Israel borrows money from no nation. Prov. 22:26-27 warns about entering into debt when the cost of such debt may be losing life’s essentials (in this case, a bed to sleep in). Jesus uses canceled financial debts as examples of the Kingdom of God in his parables (Lk.7 & Mt.18). The aversion to debt expressed in the Bible is also expressed in the lives of saints throughout the majority of Christian tradition. It was only in 1822 that the Catholic Church relaxed its condemnation on charging interest on a loan. Considering the aversion the Bible has towards debt, doesn’t the question have to be asked why a church denomination would willfully go into debt without any necessity to do so?

Second, the majority of written material I read from the hands of members and leaders of the Sydney Anglican church had no biblical or theological reflection on the gearing strategy (using debt to accelerate gain). Instead, the articles were responding to media criticism, informing parish members about the consequences of the $100 million loss, explaining away the loss as the fall-out of contemporary investment strategies, and some were looking for heads to roll. The lack of biblical and theological critique on the $100 million exposes a way of thinking that separates issues of the church from issues of the marketplace; traditionally this has been termed the “sacred” and the “secular” divide. This form of dualism manifests itself in much Sunday teaching and preaching, where the nitty-gritty practicalities of the biblical text are spiritualised away, beyond any connection to everyday actions and decisions that parishioners face on Monday morning. If the scholarly leaders of the denomination don’t set an example of how to integrate biblical and theological understandings with everyday practicalities like investments, then the pew sitters will be left stumbling in the dark as they try to live holistic Christian lives. Or worse, they will be sadly ignorant that the good news of the redeeming gospel may, in-fact, have implications for all areas of life.

Third, how can a church be salt and light to a city if it acts in exactly the same way as the city? The reactions of journalists and letter writers, as they express opinions on the 100-million-dollar loss, is that the Anglican church has no credibility: the church has acted hypocritically and the church even ignored its own good book. The Sydney Anglican diocese has demonstrated that it has a disconnect between the means (debt-dependent gearing) it chooses to employ and its ends (the preaching of the Gospel and bringing people to faith in the God of the Bible). They have seemingly adopted the attitude that as long as the market keeps going up, the means justify the ends. But do the ends justify the means?
In Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, Hauerwas and Willimon argue that for missional activity by the church to be effective, the church must not accommodate itself to the ways of the world, but instead the church must behave like the church. Perhaps, Sydney Anglicans need to ask themselves Hauerwas and Willimon’s question:
“At every turn the church must ask itself: Does it really make any difference, in our life together, in what we do (in this case, in how we invest), that in Jesus Christ God is reconciling the world to himself?”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

South from Alaska

After our time in California in May, we decided to take the scenic route home and in so doing celebrate our graduation from Regent College and start to bring a close to our time in Vancouver.

[View the full-screen slideshow]

A special thank you to Steve & Linda, Clyde & Sue, Grandma, and Steve & Annemaree for your unexpected and generous graduation gifts which helped make the scenic-route home possible...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

#1/2 - Jesus saves; the church?

It’s been quite a week in the newspapers and the blogosphere for the world's richest and largest Anglican diocese.” The Sydney Diocese lost $100,000,000.00 due to the downfall of its geared investment strategy, which has suffered at the hands of the global financial crisis.

Post #1/2 – I will present a sampling of what I found online (note, my sampling and mild-reflections are not intended to be neutral)
Post #2/2 – I will present some of my reflections regarding what Jesus was on about and what the church is doing in response

The online sampling:

In a classic SMH headline Millions wiped out by church gambles,” SMH reporter Damien Murphy tries to sketch out some details of the Sydney Anglican dioceses losses. Murphy cites comments (aimed at the dioceses leadership): "Nobody's taking responsibility for this. In other organizations heads would roll"

A 2UE radio interview (embedded in the SMH article) of SMH business columnist Ian Verrender has the following reflections on the church's position: Jesus saves, the church invests; the church has committed the cardinal sin of investing; the church's “boom strategy is likened to investment becomes gambling; the church's investment strategy is lumped-in with the likes of the high-profile failure of the Storm Financial group; and Sydney Anglicans are accused of not taking notice of the bible despite their bible-bashing beliefs.

In a letter to members of the Sydney Anglican church, Archbishop Jensen admits that as the whole market fell, this (gearing) strategy also accentuated our losses resulting in a 50% loss of capital and distribution income.

In a blog post “SMH at it again,” Rev. Andrew Katay steers the issue of investment strategies towards (what seems to be a common response by Sydney Anglicans) attacking what the SMH writes rather than addressing the real issues behind the particular article. Don’t get me wrong, journalistic bias is an important issue and should be discussed, but not at the cost of ignoring the real issues. John Sandeman comments, with helpful insight, on the media’s processes and fact checking capabilities.
Richard Cho (a former Financial planner, now OMF missionary to Thailand) redeems the post (via the comments) by addressing the real issue at hand. Cho asks a really important question (that no one else seems to be asking): I don’t think it is a question of the strategy working for a while and then not working or of hindsight. The question is, what kind of investor is the diocese?

Bishop Forsyth’s personal reflection "Eye of media storm" deals with the investment (and related media) issue this week: I see no problem with putting the money God has given us wisely into investments to increase its value. And even adding to that sum through prudent borrowing and reinvestment. At least not in a moral or theological sense. Forsyth’s views are consistent with the investment approach employed by the SDS board he sits on.

While looking at the homepage of sydneyanglicans.net, I found a reflection by the Archbishop’s brother addressing the question, are “Christians at risk of affluenza?” My citing of this reflection is out of context to be sure, but it is worth considering Jensen's thoughts in the context of an investment strategy that took on immense risk in borrowing to gain. Jensen says For the Christian, affluence is the danger of being “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). Little by little, the seed of eternal life, the word of God, is choked out of our lives. The sacrifice that our Saviour made for us, no longer controls our spending patterns or our hearts’ desires. Does "the sacrifice that our Saviour made for us, no longer control" our investment patterns?

Finally, the good ol’ SMH letters from the day after the SMH article was printed… These bring together an interesting conglomerate of opinions on the issue... “why are such profitable institutions tax-free?” “Can we assume that Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen will now take a 50 per cent salary cut in order to help those less fortunate?” “Ah, the House of Jensen crippled by a bad gambling habit. God works in mysterious ways, doesn't she?” Plus, Rev. Nigel Fortescue’s expressed the desire that “Working together to serve Jesus might be better than embedding division.” Fortescue also names and shames a dissenting voice (who is quoted in the SMH article) as looking for scapegoats. Perhaps this dissenter is seeking accountability from the diocese in a disastrous financial situation?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

MIA#5 - Backpacking Trip

The final Monday in May is Memorial Day, a public holiday in the USA. Wanting to take full advantage of our time in CA and the day off, we went on a hiking trip with Dad and Matt in the Sierra Nevada Mountains – in Kings Canyon National Park.

After hiking in about 4½ miles (2 of which were up a set of switchbacks), we were looking forward to a bit of Canadian Club in a plastic bottle we’d picked up on the way up to the mountains. Andrew watched as Matt secured the bottle with 3 Boy Scout knots and then floated it in the rapid Bubb’s Creek (which looked far more like a river than a creek due to the snow melt). Sadly, the nylon rope loosened in the water and the current pulled all 3 knots free. When Matt returned to the river to collect the bottle, all he found was the untied rope floating on the surface of water. We quickly began searching the river just down stream of our campsite, working our way back toward the site, hoping the bottle had become caught in an eddy or fallen tree. As Matt carefully searched the shoreline of our actual campsite, he nearly stepped on one of the site's residents: a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake!

Dad, and Matt quickly jumped into action, grabbing sticks to pin the 2ft snake down. As Matt went for his hatchet, Dad's stick broke and the snake got free. Andrew was quick to jump in with two more sticks. He and dad held down snake as it writhed and bit at the branches holding it in place. Matt hacked off most of the head with his hatchet, finishing the last bit of the skin with his pocket knife and throwing the head in the river. Matt taught Andrew to skin and clean the snake and then we barbecued it, saving the rattle as a memento.

The next two days were less dramatic but great fun, as we hiked about 6 miles round trip with 2500 elevation gain up to a spectacular set of waterfalls. On the way out, we took a 4-mile detour to Mist Falls for a final lunch in the Sierras. The weather was perfect, the stars were abundant, and the food was great (including the snake)!

[View the full-screen slideshow]
all-photos taken by Matt's cell phone

Friday, May 29, 2009

MIA#4 - this desert life

Jessica's Mom's family took advantage of a homestead land grant the government was offering during the 1950's and got the ownership rights to a 5 acre property in Yucca Valley California (see map). A 600 sq ft cabin was built and has evolved over the years, being the outlet of many D.I.Y. dreams and experiments. Jessica's grandparents (Clyde & Sue), parents (Steve & Linda), brother Matt, uncle Dean, cousin Christina and us too, spent 5 days enjoying the desert life together at the "cabin."

red-neck? white-trash? or luxury in the desert?
(photo by Dean)

The desert is hot during the middle of the day, so some of us were up early to photograph the spectacular sunrise and head-out into the hills by 4WD on snake-hunts. The middle of the day was spent eating, snoozing and lounging in the cabin's latest amenity, a blow-up pool (Matt's initiative), which turned out to be luxurious in the dry dessert heat). The cooler late afternoons and evenings were spent exploring the near by Joshua Tree National Park and BBQ'ing as the sun set, eventually revealing a multitude of stars that are perfect to see from the clear skies of the dessert. With 7 of us sleeping in the cabin, 5 on the living room floor, the cabin was packed, but that didn't hinder all of us sharing in a really enjoyable week of desert life together.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

MIA#2 - Ekklesia road-trip to California

As an end-of-academic-year celebration and escape, the Ekklesia group we work with embarked on a 1600km road-trip to camp at Pismo Beach on the central coast of California (between LA & San Francisco). Eighteen of us spent two days driving to Pismo, where we enjoyed a relaxed 4 days of camping together. With 8 Aussies in the group, plenty of beach cricket and slips catching dominated much of our recreational time. Ken spoke on Ecclesiastes and encouraged the college & career aged group to ponder what is fleeting and also meaningful in life. Jessica and I took the lead with the cooking, and turned-out some masterful open-flame/coal BBQ cooking, the highlight being a Mexican feast of carne-asada, tortilla's and all the trappings, including coal-cooked onions topped off with lime and Tapatio hot-sauce - everyone was well-fed! Our last night at Pismo was on fire, literally... see the pics below and check-out the 'fire-games' video on YouTube...

[View the full-screen slideshow]

Pismo Beach is a convenient 3 hour drive from where Jess' family live. As the convoy headed north to Vancouver, we were dropped-off and picked-up by Jess' Mom and brother to head to Bakersfield...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

MIA#1 - Regent College Convocation XXXIX

After being reported as "missing in action" by a good friend, we thought it was time to share a little of the last month... check the blog each day this week for a brief 'snap-shot' of what we have been doing...

#1 - After finishing the Winter semester and our Masters degrees at Regent College, we celebrated with the Convocation ceremony on April 27. I (Andrew) was awarded my "MCS" or Master of Christian Studies (Marketplace Theology). Jessica finished her thesis by semesters end, but due to the lengthy marking period, she will graduate with her MCS next April.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

COMPS6: all of God's people involved in all of God's mission

R. Paul Stevens begins The Other Six Days by asserting the need for all of God’s people to be engaged with theology, rather than theology trickling down from the academic ivory towers and the elevated pulpits to the pews – for Stevens this is “predigested truth without the privilege of dialogue and participational learning”(19). Theology is not only for people when they are gathered in the church on one day, but for when Christians are scattered away from the church on the other six days. Connected to the divide between the theologians and the pew sitters, Stevens dislikes the separate category of “practical theology” because it applies all theology isn’t practical. Stevens central concern is that the laity take back their participation in thinking and living theologically in all facets of their lives.

Stevens is not alone in his desire for the people of God to recapture a biblical view of the People of God, which stands in sharp contrast to the predominate contemporary situation which sees the clergy separated out from the laity, rather than the biblical view of church leadership being among the people of God. A situation that has contributed to many pew sitters having to negotiate the other 6 days of their week with inadequate theology as the pre-packaged, nut-shelled, trickle-down theology most people get doesn’t cut-it in the real world.

A key chapter in Steven’s book is “Calling in a Post-vocational age”. Stevens distinguishes between three different, but overlapping levels of vocational calling: personal; Christian and human. Helpfully, Steven’s contextualises the reformers reaction against medieval monastic personal calls which effectually created two tiers of Christians, the contemplative and the active. Quoting Luther, Steven’s highlights the danger of the two-tier monastic view:
“The idea that the service to God should have only to do with a church altar, singing, reading, sacrifice, and the like is without doubt the worst trick of the devil. How could the devil have led us more effectively astray than by the narrow conception that service to God takes place only in the church and by works therein… The whole world could abound with services to the Lord… not only in churches but also in the home, kitchen, workshop, field.” (77)
Yet, Luther’s view and his well-known exegetical mistake of interpreting 1 Cor 7:17 as a directive to stay in one’s “station in life” can begin “the slippery slide towards the secularization of callings” (77). Stevens notes that Calvin, in contrast to Luther, viewed “‘calling’ mainly to describe the call to salvation or the call into ministry” (79). Stevens view is that the NT isn’t entirely clear on the nature of personal calling, but rather offers four theological perspectives: there is an effective call of Christ to become a disciple; there is a providential call, ie, God uses our family background, education, personality to shape our particular calling; a charismatic call where people are equipped with certain spiritual gifts; and fourth a heart call, perhaps best summarized by the famous Buechner quote “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (82).

The call to Christian vocation is not in dispute. Stevens summarises that OT call language “is used primarily for the people of God who are summoned to participate in God’s grand purpose in the world” (84). Stevens sees Jesus’ call as an “invitation to repent, turn to him, and live for the Kingdom of God” (85).

In discussing the human vocational call, Stevens highlights the tension between those who focus on the creational mandate (Gen. 1:27-30) and those who prefer the Great Commisional mandate (Mt. 28:19-20). Stevens sees this separation as tragic, as it prioritizes God’s mission in the world as separate to evangelism (or at least that is how those who favor the creational mandate see it, in contrast to those who focus on the great commission and only see God’s mission in the world related to evangelism and sanctification). Helpfully, Stevens brings these two mandates back together:
“Salvation is both a rescue operation (recovering our lost vocation in Eden) and a completion project (preparing for the final renewal of creation at the second coming of Jesus). Eschatology is critical to understanding our vocation as Christians in the world.” (90).
Ones work is a key outworking of ones vocational situation. Defining work as “purposeful activity involving mental, emotional or physical energy, or all three, whether remunerated or not” (107), Stevens examines work throughout the scriptures by surveying: the work that God does; work as both blessing and curse; work that God blesses and work he does not; and Jesus as a mason. Stevens concludes “work is much more than a necessity for survival or a means of self-fulfillment; it accomplishes a spiritual good, serving kingdom purposes and drawing us to God” (117).

Stevens frames work in a Trinitarian shape by examining: the Fatherly dimension of work in terms of stewardship and making the creation flourish; the Sons work as Kingdom ministry – both the furtherance of the gospel and the reign of Jesus as Lord of all; the work of the Spirit as empowering and gifting the people of God “to live (and work) by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Stevens also discusses the goodness of work – for the world, our neighbors and ourselves and in so doing stresses both the extrinsic and intrinsic value of work.

The Other Six Days began by stressing the importance of reclaiming theology for the whole people of God. Stevens fleshes out the implications by speculating about what would happen “if we reinstated the ministry of the whole people of God… it would be like discovering a lost continent… think of a church of two hundred members ministering seven days a week in all the contexts which our sovereign God has placed those members. They do not have to be persuaded or inveigled into going into the world; they are already there” (158). But, what are they there to do? Stevens straps on the wide angle lens to see the churches mission to simply be part of God’s mission in the world, where God is calling people to himself, where God is seeking to redeem structures and bring righteousness, justice and liberation; where God is seeking to change how people think and therefore act; where God is concerned for the whole of his creation (not just the work of the 6th day); where God is seeking to defeat the powers who obstruct the coming of his Kingdom – all with the ultimate goal of God’s intended shalom rest. “The goal is the whole people of God engaging in the whole mission of God in the whole world” (213).

This book dabbles in many of the areas that my Comps research is exploring, ie: what is God doing in the world? How are we as the church gathered and individuals scattered to be part of it? How does our work fit into God’s mission, both in this world and in the new creation to come? Stevens is great, because he brings this conversation into the pews and out into the world where it needs to be. Stevens also brings critiques of others work (eg: Volf), which aids my critique of them and introduces me to new thinkers in various readers.