12 December 2007

Car hits two joggers; one remains hospitalized

Our friends Jack and Larry were hit by a car while jogging. Jack was seriously injured; Larry, though hit as well, likely saved Jack's life by his quick response. You can keep up with Jack's progress at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jacklondon

From the Sacramento Bee, December 6, 2007

FOLSOM – Two joggers were struck by a passing car on Iron Point Road near Rowberry Drive about 6:15 a.m. Monday, and one of them remains hospitalized in stable but critical condition at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, officials said.

The two men, ages 46 and 43, were westbound in the bicycle lane when they were struck by a Hyundai Sonata driven by a 54-year-old woman, police said.

The older man flew up over the hood of the car, said Officer Michelle Beattie, a police spokeswoman. His injuries included a fractured skull, two fractured vertebrae and a gash across his forehead.

The other jogger was clipped on both legs and grazed by a side-view mirror but did not suffer any serious injuries, she said.

So far, Beattie said, investigators have determined that the seriously injured man was wearing some kind of headband with a blinking red light on the back.

Both men were in the roadway, and police officers generally recommend that runners use a sidewalk or some other separated path, Beattie said.

Police declined to identify the driver or joggers.

– David Richie

17 November 2007

quote of the day

Reinhold Niebuhr's, in his book The Irony of American History, wrote, "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, could be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint; therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness."

13 November 2007

first morning back

I had to agree with Maia when she mentioned this morning that she finds it hard to believe that we are actually going to live here in the USA. So far it feels like a holiday. I enjoyed watching TV this morning, especially the commercials. Feels like New Zealand on speed. Everything is bigger, brighter, newer, faster. Is that good or bad? It depends. Some of it I welcome, like food convenience and shopping choices. Other things are a bit scary, like how much fast and junk food are readily available and how easy it is to get caught up in a shopping frenzy. Our virtues are also our vices. It's quite exhilarating. Walking the isles of Target, I can feel the adrenaline start to pump throughout my body.

Tara has mentioned a verse that has resurfaced in her life. I believe it is from Ezekiel, but I’m not certain. I’ll have to ask her. But it mentions God bringing “showers of blessing.” It hasn’t been a stretch for her to interpret many of the events of the past couple of weeks as blessings. We have had many people reach out to us at this time -- neighbors, friends, church people and co-workers. We've also seen many things “go our way.” Don't you think: it’s so easy to blame Creator God when our desperate requests are ignored or messy situations only appear to get worse. So I guess it's only fair to “fault” him when life seems to go our way or our path get smoothed out and suddenly feels straightened out a bit. If nothing else, it should humble us, and make us reticent to cast blame. We have to affirm, “God is good. All his intentions toward us are good.” (Ezekiel 34:26)

a willingness to move

November 3, 2007

A short time ago, the high school small group that Asia attends did a little exercise. They were asked to prioritise into two columns what they were looking for in a future mate: essential and desired. The first entry in Asia’s desired column was “a willingness to move.” Poor child, she has little chance of being a normal American suburbanite housewife.

One week to go. 10 November we get on a plane back where we came from -- San Francisco, accompanied by our approximately 12 pieces of luggage. Not only are we nomadic, our possessions are transient. Last weekend we hosted a two-day garage sale. The first day, our possessions were flying out of here. Since then, we have dedicated ourselves to getting rid of nearly all we own. Nothing is exempt -- clothes, books, CDs, TV, stereo, dishes, and even stuffed animals and magnetic Pollys.

Photo "gleaned" from http://www.elaineling.com/photo_gobi_family.html

23 October 2007

Word for the Day... or maybe the year

"Sentimental pessimism or melancholy over the state of the world"

(from the German meaning world-pain or world-weariness) is a term coined by the German author Jean Paul and denotes the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that the physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. It is also used to denote the feeling of sadness when thinking about the evils of the world.

The modern meaning of Weltschmerz in the German language is the psychological pain caused by sadness, that can occur when realizing that someone's own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world and (physical and social) circumstances.

"Gleaned" from www.yourdictionary.com and Wikipedia; image from the Canadian comic strip, Weltschmerz.

17 October 2007

Habakkuk in Kyrgyzstan

I recently received a letter from friends in Kyrgyzstan, chock full of genuine concerns: looming political crisis, rising inflation, persecution of the church, faith-stretching projects underway, personal financial struggles, a serious health problem and the gathering of world leaders in Bishkek. Then they added,

"Yet, in the end, we were reminded that GOD IS IN CONTROL! He holds the hearts of rulers in His hand, and shapes their wills to His own. What a comforting thought! We may feel that the political situation in the world is spinning out of control, but we are reminded of the day when Jesus will reign and 'the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea' (Isaiah 11:9)."

Here is my response to them:
It caught my attention when you quoted Isaiah 11:6 in the context of, or in response to, your list of struggles and, what could be interpreted as, spiritual attack or oppression. One of the other places that we find those words is in Habakkuk 2:14, "For the time will come when all the earth will be filled, as the waters fill the sea, with an awareness of the glory of the LORD." However, the context in which Habakkuk finds himself is dire and perplexing -- a people more wicked than his own are being used as the instruments of judgment on his people, as well as, all around him he sees terror, greed, corruption and idolatry, often where he thought he saw God's glory at work, even among God's people (ch. 2).

Nevertheless, Habakkuk is told that this tidal wave of the LORD's glory is "slowly, steadily, surely" coming (2:3) and that "if it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place." Two paths are placed before him: "Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked" and then there's "the righteous" who "will live by their faith." (2:4) We too live in perplexing times, even among believers we find both the emerging of God's glory and corruption and syncretism (old spiritual ways mixed with their new faith); we see moments of redemption and occurrences of oppression and terror.

Eventually, Habakkuk re-centers himself "But the LORD is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him." (2:20) Then he is able to close his prayer with these words:

17 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights. (3:17-19)

God's kingdom -- like a slow train coming, as the prophet Bob Dylan said. Keep the faith.

07 October 2007

Our darkest hour - ever!

"Our darkest hour"? No, not the bombing of Pearl Harbour or 9/11 or even the recent eruption of Mt. Ruapehu. Worse yet. The All-Blacks, perennial rugby favorites, lost again -- early and badly -- in the Rugby World Cup. In NZ, a whole nation mourns. Here are some of the headlines in today's papers.

From www.stuff.co.nz

Our darkest hour - ever!

The horror, the horror. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for the All Blacks at the World Cup, it did.

Nightmare continues: ABs fried by French

Four more years. Those bitter words, plus the screaming celebrations of 20,000 Frenchmen, were ringing in the ears of the All Blacks after they were sensationally bundled out of the World Cup by France 20-18 in Cardiff on Sunday with Graham Henry's side suffering New Zealand's earliest exit from the tournament.

Our gods fall to earth

The All Blacks didn't play badly, but they didn't play well enough. For long periods of this test match they played better rugby than any other team in the competition is remotely possible of playing.

Teary All Blacks 'grief stricken'

"Don't let it happen again".

Rugby: All Blacks choked

Chokers. That is what international media are labelling the All Blacks after they crashed out of the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals against France this morning.

Sports writers were left in as much disbelief as All Blacks fans after New Zealand let a 10-point halftime lead turn into 18-20 loss in Cardiff - their worst ever World Cup performance.

"You've got to choking, it's a new world order" said the Sydney Morning Herald's, while "End of the world for the All Blacks" was brandished across Britain's Telegraph website.

"They said it could not happen again. They said that New Zealand could not botch another World Cup. They said that there would not be a repeat of 1999 at Twickenham when France, from nowhere, humbled the seemingly invincible All Blacks," wrote the Telegraph's Steve James.

"Well, revise your opinions. New Zealand have yet another long wait and France are through to face England in an intruiging semi-final in Paris next Saturday (Sunday NZ time)."

13 September 2007

"Word for the Day" or a great name for a blog

-- Navel gazing. Contemplating one’s navel as an aid to meditation. It is formed from two Greek words, omphalos, “navel, boss, hub,” and skepsis, “the act of looking; enquiry.”

('gleaned' from http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-omp1.htm.

Painting by Kirsten Johnson

07 September 2007

"A long obedience in the same direction"

"The essential thing 'in heaven and in earth' is,
apparently (to repeat it once more), that there
should be long OBEDIENCE in the same direction;
there thereby results, and has always resulted
in the long run, something which has made
life worth living; for instance, virtue, art,
music, dancing, reason, spirituality--anything
whatever that is transfiguring, refined,
foolish, or divine."

--Friedrich Nietszche, Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

"Gleaned" from Addenda: A periodical e-mail newsletter from MARS HILL AUDIO
September 5, 2007 - Number 42

06 September 2007

Happy Birthday Alice!

From The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor
Thursday, 6 September 2007

It's the birthday of the novelist Alice Sebold, born in Madison, Wisconsin (1963). She was a freshman in college when one night she was attacked while she was walking home, dragged into an underground tunnel, and raped. She thought that she was going to be murdered throughout the experience. When she later talked to the police, they said that a girl had recently been murdered in that same tunnel, and so she should consider herself lucky for having survived. A few weeks later, Sebold spotted the rapist on the street, and she went to the police. He was arrested, and Sebold testified against him at the trial. The rapist was convicted and received the maximum sentence, and Sebold thought that the end of the trial would put the experience behind her.

But for the next 15 years she struggled to have relationships with other people, and she struggled to write. She moved to New York and started drinking a lot and dabbling in drugs. She wrote numerous stories and two novels, but she couldn't get anything published. In the back of her mind, Sebold had always thought about that other girl who had been murdered in the tunnel where she'd been raped. Sebold wanted to give that girl a voice, so one day she sat down at her desk and in one sitting Sebold wrote the entire opening of what would become her novel The Lovely Bones, about a murdered 14-year-old girl looking down from heaven as her family tries to recover from the grief of her death. It begins, "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

The Lovely Bones was published by Little, Brown, and it became a word-of-mouth sensation among booksellers and critics before it was even published. It came out in June of 2002, a few months before Sebold's 39th birthday, and sold more than 2 million copies, becoming the best-selling book in 2002.

Alice Sebold said, "It's very weird to succeed at 39 years old and realize that in the midst of your failure, you were slowly building the life that you wanted."
Wow! What a profound statement, "...in the midst of your failure, you were slowly building the life that you wanted." It brings to mind the metaphor of our life as the weaving of a tapestry. From our perspective, in the midst of it, we see the chaos and meaninglessness of the tapestry's backside. And, like most backsides, its not so pretty. However, just possibly, our creative, generous God is orchestrating a masterpiece. He is thoughtfully and carefully crafting a work of unique art. Only to be fully appreciated when completed -- from a distance. Good on ya, Alice.

21 August 2007

Fear of Our Calling Due to Fear Calling


The LORD had said to Abram,
"Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.

"I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you."

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him. (Genesis 12:1-4)

✡ ✡ ✡ ✡ ✡ ✡ ✡ ✡

The Lord invited Abram (later called Abraham) into a life of adventure and meaning. On the other hand, the choice required Abraham to leave his comfort zone -- the safety and security of his own country, his own people and his father’s household. Heading off to Canaan, Abraham quickly became a minority, immersed among peoples who lived, looked, thought, spoke and believed differently. I’ve been there, in situations where I feel like the only one of my species. (An American in New Zealand! ☺) It’s easy to get defensive, even fearful, and switch into self-protection mode.


The natural compulsion when afraid is to seek protection from what we fear. Even though Abraham’s God-given vocation was to be a blessing to all peoples on the earth, it didn’t come naturally or easily. In fact, Abraham’s fear-induced actions (better, reactions) among the Egyptians caused them so much trouble that they paid him to leave and gave him a police escort out of the country! Not really what God had in mind back in chapter 12, was it? What went wrong? When we’re afraid, Abraham shows us, we do things that feel to others more like a curse than a blessing.

A short time later, God in his goodness appears to Abraham with these words, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” (Genesis 15) God even assures him that, even though things will not always be rosy for his descendents, Abraham himself will “die in peace, at a ripe old age.” In essence, he said, “Stop fearing for yourself, Abraham. Start trusting me, so that I can bless you, so you can bless others, like I promised.”

In the same way, as children of Abraham, believers are called to move into the unknown in order to be a blessing to others. When we’re afraid, like Abraham, we put the shield up, we protect ourselves -- we do things that feel to others more like a curse than a blessing. It always takes trust in God to be a blessing. Let’s not let fear keep us from reaching out in friendship and blessing to all around us.

Let’s trade in our fear for faith.

Just a thought…

Music Review: Salvation in Lights, Mike Farris

Here's what I'm listening to this week. Great music from a Jesus-following, New Orleans bluesman. Doesn't get any better than this! Check out the review below.

Review by Randy Brandt

Originally posted at http://www.almenconi.com/index.php
The first time I listened to Salvation in Lights, I thought it was pretty good, but I wasn't paying very close attention. Then I listened to it again and changed my mind--I realized that it was a great album, and now I consider it one of the top couple of CDs I've heard in 2007.
Mike Farris lived the stereotypical substance-abuse lifestyle as the frontman for Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies and then Double Trouble (Stevie Ray Vaughn's former band). A couple of years ago he quit running from God and now he pours his voice and soul into songs about heaven and redemption. New Orleans-flavored gospel, soul and blues are mixed into a musical stew so hot that it just might melt your CD player. While my favorite song is "I'll Take You There," marked by passionate vocals and a scorching guitar solo, "Can't No Grave Hold My Body Down" is the one that gets me moving. If you can sit calmly during that one, you're probably in the grave already. Farris shares his testimony in "Lonely Road":
Used to think that I had the power to change me / but only you my Lord / had the power to save me / There's no doubt in mind / where in this world I would be / Without Your love, without You...I was so blind til I saw Your glory / the day You saved me... will always be the best part of my story

Salvation in Lights offers quality musicianship from Nashville pros on a good variety of musical styles. Contemplative moments are mixed in with tunes that could blow the doors off buildings when performed live. If you have any appreciation at all for passionate bluesy gospel, Salvation in Lights is a must have.

Not a solution, but a sign

One of my absolutely favourite podcasts is Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett. The guests are intriguing, the show is well produced and Krista asks thoughtful questions. Last week she did a broadcast on L'Arche, a community formed around people with mental disabilities. L'Arche may ring a bell for some of you who are readers of books on spirituality and spiritual nurture. The Toronto home was where the author Henri Nouwen spent the last years of his life, as an assistant to one of the mentally disabled core members. He wrote about it in a number of his books, including In the Name of Jesus which I wrote about in an earlier post.

The entire podcast is well worth a listen (it can be downloaded from the website or found on iTunes), but one comment has stuck with me, like a songline you can't get out of your head, like one of those sappy songs from High School Musical. "We’re soarin’, flyin.’ There’s not a star in heaven that we can’t reach..." Sorry, got a little distracted there for a moment.

Here is the quote that keep repeating itself in my head:
What we say that we want to be, and what I think that we are, is we want to be a sign of hope. In the charter of L'Arche we say that, you know, we can't serve every person with a mental handicap. We're not out to be a solution for anything, but more of a sign. You know, our visitors are really important, our pilgrims are very important to us because we live this every day, and we can tend to think there's nothing extraordinary about what we do. When our pilgrims come in—I like that term—you know, they tell us that we're living something that's very unique and very different. And so a lot of times at the end of the week, they're telling about this wonderful experience that they've had and we're sitting around thinking 'Wow. Where were we?' You know, to know that what we're living and how we're living, it has a profound effect on hundreds of people. You know, and that's where the sign of hope comes in. -- Ms. Jo Anne Horstmann, L'Arche
"We're not out to be a solution for anything, but more of a sign"

Huh. As an idea person, I'm usually striving to get the big picture in order to put all the components of the picture into the proper context. I've found it easy to get overwhelmed with trying to be the solution to some huge problem. The first thing I thought of when I heard the above comments, was that it sounds a lot like Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us that if we attempted to record all the works Jesus did, the world couldn't hold all the books it would produce (John 21:25). He was indeed a busy man. But he didn't solve all the world's problems. In fact, John intentionally left out descriptions of much of what he did, and instead, listed seven of Jesus' miracles, referring to them as "signs." In other words, in the same way that L'Arche doesn't seek to meet the need of every individual with a mental handicap, Jesus didn't heal every sick person in Israel or feed every hungry person he came in contact with. Nevertheless, the things Jesus did choose to do were neither a meaningless attempt against an ocean of need (throwing back a starfish or two) nor the complete solution to a global problem. Each person he healed, each miracle he performed, was a sign -- a sign of hope, love and joy, a sign of his future kingdom, the domain in which he is king.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm free to not change the world, to not be a solution to some pressing global problem. Maybe God has called me to be like Jesus, like the L'Arche community, and to do little acts of goodness to ordinary people in my little community. Nothing extraordinary, but signs that point to a future kingdom -- a kingdom of hope, love, and joy.

06 August 2007

Making the Move Back to the Mainland

First of all, we want to thank all of you who have been praying with us for Tara's father and his battle with cancer. At last report, his particular kind of cancer is advancing very slowly and now appears not to be his biggest health concern.

A couple of weeks ago, after feeling increasingly miserable, he went into the hospital, and, as a result, is now on kidney dialysis three days a week. His condition is compounded by the fact that he also has diabetes to contend with. Since Tara's extended family lives in eastern Canada, this leaves her mother and sister with primary care responsibilities. Tara's mom has limited ability to provide complete care, especially if the situation should worsen. Tara's sister, Melanie, has been carrying the load the past few years, as well as caring for her own family.
Consequently, Tara and I have made the difficult decision to move back to Northern California in order to be near them and provide whatever assistance is necessary.
While in the midst of vacillating between staying and going, in my daily reading I came to 1-Timothy 5:4, "[Children or grandchildren] should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God." Tara's parents are not yet believers. Her sister and brother-in-law are very young in their faith. Nevertheless, over the past 15 years, they have grown more and more supportive of us and our life choices. We feel it is now our turn to serve them. We have been preaching St. Francis-like stuff to others -- "Preach the gospel always, if necessary, use words" -- now it's our turn to model it in the clearest way to the people that should most obviously be the recipients of such love and service.

We are hoping to find employment in Northern California and make a move in the next three or four months. However, if we find it difficult to find work or a suitable ministry situation from here, we will make the move anyway and pray that we will find something quickly after arrival.

Reprinted from baltzley::::broadcast, August 2, 2007

30 July 2007

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

by Wendell Berry

I've simply taken it as a symptom of adulthood and a sign of the times that I worry about many things. The war in Iraq. Migrant assimilation. The adjustment of international students. The crisis in Darfur. The overdue "warrant of fitness" for my car. The window I need to replace. The hedges I need to trim. The International Year of the Refugee -- 2.5 million just from Iraq. The fact that I need a job. My parents' well-being. Tara's dad's health. The presentation I should be working on. The list goes on. (We humans are the only "fearcasters" out there.) At times I feel the weight of the world. I thought it would be good to care about many 'important' issues and try to love many different people. I thought it would feel good to want to change the world, but it is a rather heavy burden to try and shoulder.

I try to get out and run two or three days a week. Often I take the coastal walk up from our house. (Every direction is up from our house; jogging has taught me that.) Halfway, there is a platform overlooking the cliff, perched high above the harbour. It makes for a good stopping point, especially after running up the thirty odd stairs it takes to get to the platform. To me, it has become a sacred place, where I stop to pray and survey the quiet harbour. Just yesterday, as I prayed, I watched a couple of brilliantly coloured Rosellas squawk and poke around the top of the pines. Moments later, two Grey Herons soared by. They could've been the prototype for the hang glider the way they stiffen their wings and drift from side to side. Down in the shallows at the water's edge I could see shorebirds and ducks. The still waters of the harbour seemed to be a mirror reflection of the sky, casting back the same steely, shimmering blue.

For a time, I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

M & M Conference

This past week I attended a conference called "Mosques & Miracles." The promotional materials stated, "The Mosques & Miracles Conference will give you a clearer understanding of Islam and an overview of what God is doing worldwide. It will help you consider the Christian response to Islam in today’s society and impart necessary tools to assist you in conveying the message of Jesus in a relevant way. It will also help you value Muslim people more and to reach out with God’s love and not react in fear. Inspiring, encouraging, equipping and challenging. This conference is invaluable and should not be missed."

I came away disappointed. Firstly, despite the stated goal to "help you value Muslim people more and to reach out with God's love and not react in fear," the majority of the conference was packed with fear-inducing content of the Islamic goal of world domination, only periodically broken up with what appeared to be solely obligatory, good-natured remarks about Muslims as people. Most of the content, like a typical hour of CNN -- shocking statements and global events that likely no one in the room would ever be in position to do anything about anyway -- simply causes people to respond emotionally yet remain frustrated bystanders. In his recent bestselling book, The Assault on Reason, Al Gore makes the point that fear is primarily an instinctual response. When we see something hurling towards us, we duck. In moments like that we don't have time to write a dissertation on the rationale for ducking or not ducking. Then a moment later we might realize that it was only a child's helium-filled balloon, causing us to feel a little silly. However, we shouldn't feel silly, because that is how we're wired to respond -- quickly without rationalization. That is how fear works, to sum up Al Gore, with the risk of oversimplification -- when we're afraid, we don't think. We don't rationalize well. We fail to see the whole picture. We take a defensive posture.

We see this in the life of Abraham. He is called out of his comfort zone by God in order to be a blessing to all peoples of the earth. However, being a blessing is not as easy as it looks, especially when you're a stranger in a strange land as Abraham becomes. Entering Egypt, he feels fearful for his wife and a threat to his own life. This causes him to lie as a means of self-protection. His fearful reaction causes a major shift in his impact. Instead of being a blessing, he become a curse. The story ends with the Egyptian Pharaoh paying him off to get rid of him and giving him a police escort out of the country. The first words of God's next appearance to Abraham (Genesis 17) begins with the words, "Abraham, stop being afraid." God assures Abraham that Sarah will bear him a child (if he would just stop giving her to other men). God also tells him that despite his descendants facing some difficult years in the future, Abraham himself would live to be an old man. "Abraham, stop being afraid." We cannot be a blessing to others while crouching in fear.
I believe that if we begin a presentation with all the reasons you should be afraid, very afraid, then there is a good chance that you've lost your audience. They become stranded in the state of fear, assuming a defensive stance, unable to see the big picture, not willing to rationalize and unwilling to take risks relationally.

Secondly, even though reference was made to the need for contextualization and the presenters' own cultural sensitivity in their varied experiences, I believe that the average attender left with very little information that will prove useful in their personal relationships with Muslims. It was a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand, they said it doesn't do any good to criticise Islamic teaching. On the other hand, that is all they did for two days.

Thirdly, they were speaking to the wrong audience. Probably 80% of those in attendance were over 55. (A problem, I will admit, the presenters had very little to do with) On the other hand, I don't have statistics on hand, but it wouldn't surprise me if 80% of the Muslims in New Zealand were under 30. I believe that it is the 18-30 year-olds who need to be having this discussion. As well, if the focus is not going to be on the relational sharing of the good news, but on the systemic (dark) realities and inherit intentions of global Islam and the immigrant Muslim community in Australia and NZ (my summary), then the conference was delivered to the wrong audience. The target audience should be community leaders or politicians, not average church-attending believers, aged 45-70. Again, they were given a bunch of fear-inducing information that they can do little about.

Content is important. Being informed makes you appear wiser than you are, or maybe it manifests your true wisdom. Even though it wasn't always what I wanted to hear, to be honest, I greatly appreciated the content Dr. Durie delivered about the systemic and theological challenges of a strong Islamic presence in our western societies. Nevertheless, my heart is also drawn to efforts like the Interfaith Youth Core that Dr. Eboo Patel started in Chicago. They desire to bring (young) people of various faiths together in community service, giving them a chance to show and tell each other about the best in their own faith tradition. Relationship is built around community service and the communitas that develops through serving together and discussing how faith motivates us to do such things for the common good.

I would love to gather Christian young people, aged 15-30, for a 'conversation' on how as followers of Jesus we can imagine relating to the Muslim community and individual Muslims. Is it possible to take initiative relationally? If we desire to 'proclaim' Jesus with our lives to our Muslim friends, what will it look like? What is the good news of Jesus to a Muslim? Knowing what we do about Islam, how do we live like Jesus anyway? What is the place of joint ventures, like IFYC? ...So many questions.

What do you think?

08 July 2007

The Birthday of My Favorite Historian

It's the birthday of the popular historian and biographer David McCullough (books by this author), born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1933). He started out as a reporter for Sports Illustrated magazine. His first book was The Jonestown Flood (1968), and he wrote another book about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge called The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (1972). But his big breakthrough was a biography of Harry Truman called Truman (1992), one of the best-selling biographies ever published at the time. [I also highly recommend Brave Companions: Portraits in History, a book of short stories of history (see photo) -- very accessible -- cjb]

David McCullough said, "History is about life. It's awful when the life is squeezed out of it and there's no flavor left, no uncertainties, no horsing around. It always disturbed me how many biographers never gave their subjects a chance to eat. You can tell a lot about people by how they eat, what they eat, and what kind of table manners they have."

From The Writer's Almanac for July 7, 2007

03 July 2007

Reading the Book

I love a good book. I’d heard of Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. In fact, it was an Oprah Book Club selection and some people said it changed their life. “I have to have that book,” I told myself. And, lucky me, I was able to pick one up at a used bookstore for $7. When I returned home, after retrieving Reading Group Discussion Questions for Reading Lolita in Tehran off the internet, I found a nice quiet spot to sit down with my new book.

After reading over the questions briefly, I decided to start with question #7: “During the Gatsby trial Zarrin charges Mr. Nyazi with the inability to ‘distinguish fiction from reality’ (page 128). How does Mr. Nyazi’s conflation of the fictional and the real relate to the theme of the blind censor?”

“Whoa,” I thought to myself, “Who in the world is Zarrin or Mr. Nyazi?” “’Gatsby’ probably refers to “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but how? This is a book about reading famous books; I know that much.”

After turning to page 128 (chapter 18 by the way), I learn that Zarrin is a woman. “Maybe she’s in Tehran like the title says.” Page 128 reads like a mock trial of some kind, but it‘s incomplete. The last line of the page reads, “He wrote cheap stories for money …”

Looking back over the questions, I decide that I might have jumped ahead of myself. I go back up to Question #2, “Yassi adores playing with words, particularly with Nabokov’s fanciful linguistic creation ‘upsilamba’ (page 18). What does the word ‘upsilamba’ mean to you?”

“What does ’Upsilamba’ mean to me?! Are you serious?!” Beginning to get a little frustrated, I turn to page 18 (chapter 5). Reading page 18 (twice) doesn’t help. “’Upsilamba’ means nothing to me.

I sit back in my chair with a sign. Maybe Oprah was wrong. I can’t make sense of this book.

What a strange way to read a book, you’re thinking. You got it all wrong Chris; don’t you know how to read a book?

“Okay. I’ll give it one more try.” Picking up the book again – this time looking for a little personal relevance – I turn to page 34, where there’s a dried leaf being used as a bookmark (“Must be important,” I think to myself.) I read a paragraph.

“Many wished to be a part of his hidden kingdom, but he picked only a few who passed his secret test. He made all the bids, accepting and rejecting them for reasons of his own. In return for his help, he asked friends never to acknowledge or mention his name publicly. There were many whom he had cut from his life because they had gone against this demand. I remember one of his oft-repeated sentences: ‘I want to be forgotten; I am not a member of this club.’”

Pause. “Okay, what does this mean to me? Well, first of all, he doesn’t sound very friendly, whoever he is. I want to be a better friend … Maybe I should join the club … I could use the exercise.”

“That’s a little better,” I thought, “But what does it have to do with Tehran or Lolita or me, for that matter?”

A week later, I sold the book back to the same used bookstore for $3. I walked home very disappointed in Oprah.

I have to admit, that's no way to read a book. But the tragedy is – my story reflects just a couple of the inadequate approaches we have to reading the Bible.

02 July 2007

It's a hard life, but I believe in a better way

"It's A Hard Life Wherever You Go" (Nanci Griffith)

I am a backseat driver from America
They drive to the left on Falls Road
The man at the wheel's name is Seamus
We pass a child on the corner he knows
And Seamus says, "Now, what chance has that kid got?"
And I say from the back, "I don't know."
He says, "There's barbed wire at all of these exits
And there ain't no place in Belfast for that kid to go."

I was a child in the sixties
Dreams could be held through TV
With Disney, Cronkite and Martin Luther
Oh, I believed, I believed, I believed
Now, I am a backstreet driver from America
I am not at the wheel of control
I am guilty, I am war, I am the root of all evil
Lord, and I can't drive on the left side of the road

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in this world for these kids to go

Today, on my jog, in the providence of God, my iPod shuffled me this old Nanci Griffith tune, written in Belfast in the midst of the conflict in Northern Ireland. As an American living abroad, I can relate to her exasperation (as well as her struggle trying to drive on the left side of the road).

This past Thursday I met up with an young Iraqi Shiite Muslim woman (Too many adjectives! It sounds like I’m ordering at Starbucks; I don't know which order they are supposed to go in. Maybe I should consult my barista). She had attended one of my seminars last fall on working with Middle Eastern / Muslim students. She was a big help during the seminar. Normally I have a student panel of Muslim students at some point in the day, but, since it was school holidays, they had all fled town. She interjected her personal experiences, which created dialogue and illustrated many of my points.

I inquired about her and her husband’s extended family back in Baghdad. She told me that all of them had been driven from their homes and lost their jobs. They had family in the US and New Zealand, but right now they are not allowing anyone to leave. So they are stuck in the hell hole that Iraq has become. She has been giving money to an orphanage back home, but is unable to tell if the funds even get to those who need it most. We both expressed our frustration at the present realities, “There has got to be something that we can do!” She said that her and her husband, who have a nice life in Auckland, discussed it and are ready to move back in and rebuild Iraq, but presently, it is just too unstable and dangerous. We talked about partnering together -- me and some Christian friends, her and some Muslim friends and family -- to do something, when the time is right, to bring healing to her homeland.

I can’t take it anymore. I feel, as a follower of Jesus, that I must reach out, build relationships and create these kind of partnerships. There are numerous Christians and Muslims in this world that simply want to live in peace, have a job, a simple house, put their kids in school. As Ben Harper sings -- and I sometimes want to scream it like he does:

I'm a living sunset
Lightning in my bones
Push me to the edge
But my will is stone ...I believe in a better way

Fools will be fools
And wise will be wise
But I will look this world
Straight in the eyes ...I believe in a better way

What good is a man
Who won't take a stand
What good is a cynic
With no better plan ...I believe in a better way

Reality is sharp
It cuts at me like a knife
Everyone I know
Is in the fight of their life ...I believe in a better way

Take your face out of your hands
And clear your eyes
You have a right to your dreams
And don't be denied ...I believe in a better way

I believe in a better way

12 June 2007

Big, Scary Dog Story

An article written for InUnison, Student Association magazine, Unitec

The other day, while on my jog, I got to meet one of my neighbours. Actually, to be more accurate, I met his dog first. In fact, I was chased by his dog -- his big drooling, growling dog. My neighbour ran out to save me from certain death, and we began a conversation. Of course, it was all according to proper etiquette. I asked him, “What do you do?” He answered. Then he asked me, “And what do you do?” After telling him what I do, including about my role as a chaplain at Unitec, he inquired, “Are you a Christian?”

To which I replied, “Well, …my name is Christopher, which means ‘one who carries Christ.’ I was baptised before I was a year old. Taken to church nearly every Sunday, and have always celebrated Christmas and Easter. And I had no say in any of that.” After a pause, I continued, “Now I’m simply trying to follow Jesus. So I guess you could say that I am a ‘Christian-background follower of Jesus.’”

As we walked, he began to tell me a little about his own spiritual journey. For a short while we were like spiritual travelling companions, sharing our stories and experiences back and forth. Sharing life.

Whether you identify with a particular religious affiliation or not, you are likely on a spiritual journey of some sort. In fact, I meet a growing number of students who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” As a Unitec chaplain, I want to be available to serve as a temporary travelling companion for you on your spiritual journey. And, to me, it makes little difference where you are on your journey or what you know or how you feel about religion.
Drop by and see me. I would love to hear your story. I am in building 500 Mondays 12-2 pm and Tuesdays 10 am-2 pm.

Want to change the world?

Article written for InUnison, Unitec Student Association magazine

Want to change the world?

Well, maybe right now you’re just trying to get through the day. Nevertheless, somewhere deep down in your heart, you look at the world around you and you wish it could be different. Maybe you even get a little angry when you see injustice, poverty, or even simply, good people who never seem to get a break.

Maybe that’s part of what brought you to Unitec. You know, get some training. Get a qualification. You’re hoping that through your Unitec education, not only can you improve your own situation, but you can also gain the ability to help some other people out as well, from your family, to your community, and potentially to other communities somewhere in the world.
Have you thought about how your spirituality relates to your training and to your desire to make an impact on the world?
Did you now that there is a lot of evidence which shows that personal spirituality is behind why many individuals make lifelong commitments to social change? For example, prominent leaders of social movements such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Vaclav Havel, Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez drew strength and power from their spirituality in order to pursue social and political change. As well, recent sociological studies reveal that a deep sense of spirituality is a primary reason behind volunteering, philanthropic giving, caring for those in need and political involvement.

So, you want to change the world? Or, maybe, just your own world? Consider taking some time out for a bit of spiritual reflection. As a chaplain here at Unitec, I am available and equipped to help you get started. Drop by and see me. I can be found Mondays 12-2 pm and Tuesday 10 am-2 pm in building 500. I’m looking forward to hearing your story.

Image courtesy of www.northlandposter.com

11 June 2007

Greetings from the Land of Misfit Toys

PK periodically attends a Bible study I lead at Unitec-Waitakere, where I serve as a chaplain. He let me know today that he won’t be returning next term to complete his studies, even though he only has one term remaining to receive his diploma in English (the equivalent of an A.A. degree). He has a lot going right now. His family recently purchased an Iranian restaurant and they are going to need each and every one of them to run it. Along with his brother’s family, PK, his wife and two teenaged children will be pitching in.

After five years living here, PK and his family received their New Zealand passports today, which has more than pragmatic meaning to them. For, you see, they have been without legitimate passports for the past seven years. Seven years ago, back home in Iran, PK transferred all his legal possessions to his younger brother, bought fake passports for his entire family and fled to Thailand. Then to Malaysia, where they had to purchase another set of fake passports and flee to Japan. Upon entering Japan, with fake Greek passports, the immigration officer thought it would be a good time to practice his Greek. Ironic, huh? They probably got the lone Greek-speaking immigration officer in Japan. Next stop: three days in jail for the whole family!

According to PK, the Japanese officials were sympathetic and understanding, offered him the possibility to stay on in Japan, but PK had his heart set on getting to New Zealand. They were then deported back to Malaysia. Some time later, after acquiring another set of fake passports, they ended up in South Africa, where they made plans to get to New Zealand.

After their flight to New Zealand was in the air, they flushed their fake passports down the toilet on the plane (A bit of good advice they received from people who know about these things). After departing the plane, waiting in the line for passport control, they simply told the immigration official the truth,
“We are political refugees from Iran. We don’t have passports or visas. We want to stay in New Zealand. We've spent $65,000 USD getting this far! Don’t send us away, please.”
Luckily for PK, the immigration officials believed their story. So five years and lots of hard work and hardship later, they are grateful citizens of New Zealand. PK told me he often longs for home and believes that someday he will be able to return to Iran, but for now, he will remain a loyal, hardworking citizen of New Zealand -- an Iranian-born Kiwi. As we shook hands and traded phone numbers, I felt compelled to say, “Salaam, PK, to you and to your family. May God give you peace of heart and mind.”

At Unitec-Waitakere, where I serve as a chaplain, there are many stories like PK’s. Our little study is primarily made up of religious and political refugees from Mayanmar and Iran and immigrants from Korea and China.

10 June 2007

Blessed is he... who gets the joke

We proclaim an executed Messiah, a stumbling block to those looking for displays of power and a joke to those enthused by bright ideas. (My personal twisted version of 1-Cor. 1:23)

Frederick Buechner wrote:
There are even times when Jesus seems to see the comedy of his own life. His fellow Nazarenes, the ones he grew up with, worked with, played with, come at him with fire in their eyes to throw him off the cliff as a blasphemer at worst and a lunatic at best, and he says to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician heal yourself'" (Luke 4:23). He sees how they see the preposterousness of Jesus, the carpenter's son, putting himself forth as Christ, God's son. He sees how they are affronted by him as one who proclaims himself anointed to preach the good news to the poor when it is no news to anybody that he is himself the poorest of all. He says, "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up ... / and blessed is he who takes no offense at me" (Matt. 11:5-6) which is to say blessed is he who sees that, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, he is who he says he is and does what he says he does if they will only, at admittedly great cost to their pride, their common sense, their sad vision of what is and is not possible in the stormy world, let him do it. Blessed is he, in other words, who gets the joke.
-- From Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale, pg. 59.

Orden de la Hacha: The Order of the Hachet

For homework last week, Maia, my 9-year old, had to come up with "10 Facts about Knights." In fact, did you know that Bill Gates received honorary knighthood from the Queen of England in 2005 for his business skills and for his work on poverty reduction?
It's Sir William of Seattle to you buddy!
Another interesting fact is the existence of female knights. In 1149, women of Barcelona who fought to save the Spanish town of Tortosa, repelling a Moorish attack, were made members of the Orden de la Hacha. The benefits? They were exempted from taxes and given precedence over men in public gathering. It is believed the order died out with the original members.

What do you think, how about a revival of the Orden de la Hacha?

07 June 2007

NZ Weather

[Today's weather reminded me of this speech Asia made last year. We had a short summer, followed by a lovely fall, but winter in on its way. -- The Editor]

by Asia Baltzley

New Zealand weather really drives me crazy at times. Don’t you sometimes feel like you want to scream when it starts raining for the sixth time that day? I know in America people picture New Zealand as paradise on earth, with it’s beautiful beaches and rolling green hills, as they see in the countless movies filmed here. But I knew they were wrong when I first arrived in Aoteoroa. You see, they only saw 25% of New Zealand. That’s right: summer. I hate to say it, but the other 75% is: rain, wind and sometimes snow.

When I first came to New Zealand, I came in winter, so I saw the worst of it. I remember when I first heard the wild Kiwi wind. I nearly jumped out of my seat when I heard it howl like a crazy cat. Yeeeoooow! “What in the world is that?!” I half expected them to say, “No worries, that’s our pet tiger.” I also remember leaving the umbrella at home on what looked like a perfectly sunny day and paying for it later. But this winter is even worse than the last! I mean rain, wind and even, a power cut. You feel like screaming, “What did we do to deserve this?!”

Wouldn’t it be great if it stayed summer all year long? You could spend every weekend at the beach and never worry about getting caught in the rain again. But as we all know, every silver lining has a cloud (or something like that). And if it was summer all year long it would mean … yes, it would mean, THE ATTACK OF THE TOURISTS!!! Every beach and ice cream shop would be flooded with foreigners wearing cameras around their necks and socks with their sandals. Yes, we’d have tourists coming out our ears!

So maybe the winter isn’t so bad. I guess every cloud does have a silver lining. So welcome this winter with open arms, but be sure you are wearing a jumper and have a good umbrella.

Celebrity Look-alikes?

Scary isn't it? Give it a try and see who the stupid computer thinks you look like!

05 June 2007

Dragged Dust Down

Isaiah 6

Theirs is not a voice like other voices
Tangible like a cello's bellow
It shivers like the metro's mellow, inescapable, approaching quake
Do I or does this huge, stone temple shake?

Ablaze as flames in flight
Overwhelmed with meekness before effulgent light
Hiding ember-red faces and ashamed feet
Amassed, the chorus cries
Enduringly they repeat:

Unique! Pure! There is no other!
Unique! Pure! There is no other!
Unique! Pure! There is no other!

The room -- a candlewick awash with life-light

My soul
Exposed and naked
Suddenly aware of sin's night
Drags my body dust down

February 12, 2001

04 June 2007


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an Italian baroque painter who is probably the best example of the naturalistic painting style of the early 17th century. He used models from the lower classes of society, both in his early secular works and later in his religious paintings. Equally important is his introduction of dramatic light-and-dark effects - termed chiaroscuro - into his works.
While 'translating' the context of many of the Biblical stories into the look and feel of his own day, Caravaggio also captured the original raw emotion and dramatic reality of the scenes.
For as you know, history is full of overly spiritualised and sanitised Christian paintings, complete with haloed beautiful people and winged angels sitting on clouds. Caravaggio's compositions are The Message version of Christian-themed paintings, one might say.
The Calling of Saint Matthew (1600) is noted for its dramatic use of "cellar light," streaming in from a source above the action, to illuminate the hand gesture of Christ (based on Michelangelo's Adam on the Sistine ceiling) and the other figures, most of whom are in contemporary dress. There are a couple of things that intrigue me in this particular work. First, is the way in which Jesus is hidden in the darkness behind Peter, the light glancing off his thin face and illuminating his God-the Father-like hand. Second, is the manner in which the bearded Matthew, seated with his rowdy friends, points at himself as if to say, "Who me?" As if he was entirely caught off guard by Jesus' call to "follow me."
The incredulity of Saint Thomas (1602).

Caravaggio's personal life was turbulent. He was often arrested and imprisoned. He fled Rome for Naples in 1606 when charged with murder. Caravaggio died on the beach at Port'Ercole in Tuscany on July 18, 1610, of a fever contracted after a mistaken arrest.

Bio summary adapted from:

01 June 2007


As we dream and plan toward launching a new program to engage university students in community service and social action, I am reminded that I am a idealist. I joke that I would thoroughly love ministry if it wasn't for all the people involved; for I love ideas and imagining innovative systems. (Our pastor has a PhD in Theoretical Physics; maybe I should have gone the route of Theoretical Ministry.) Certain thoughts race through my mind as we dream: community impact, creating a decentralized movement, relevancy to Generation Y, can our generation change the world?, etc. However, as we look seriously at the feasibility of implementing our new program, we meet both very encouraging people and possibilities and potentially discouraging realities.

One reality, that should be obvious, but the implications of which often surprise me is -- New Zealand is a small country with an diminishing Christian presence. I was recently reminded of this when I attended a Christian staff meeting at the university where I serve as chaplain. I and one other person. You carve time out of schedule, maybe you even do a fair amount of preparation, then, one person shows up. As my friend said, "Whether 100 or one, you still do the same amount of preparation." This past weekend, I preached Sunday morning, had a Sunday afternoon Bible study, then three separate meetings on Monday, including the Christian staff meeting. None of them went as expected. Ministry here can be discouraging.

These events drove me back to one of my favourite Henri Nouwen books, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. In my mind, nobody, since Jesus, turns the world on its head like Nouwen. (How's that for hyperbole!) And for such an educated man, he was always trying to return to the foundational practices and simplify following Jesus rather than, like many authors, give in to the professional temptation to take ancient ideas and practices and go and on about them, sounding intelligent and innovative, essentially writing only for their colleagues, and, in the end, only complicating what is basically profoundly simple (despite requiring great trust and perseverance to actually put it into practice).

Well, enough of me. Here is what got underlined in the first third of the book, the section entitled From Relevance to Prayer. (The Buechner quote is a bonus)

For the preacher to be relevant to the staggering problems of history is to risk begin irrelevant to the staggering problems of the ones who sit there listening out of their own histories. -- F. Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale

The Temptation: To Be Relevant

The Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.

Jesus' first temptation was to be relevant -- to turn stones into bread...when he was asked to prove his power as the Son of God by the relevant behaviour of changing stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim the word and said, "Human being live not by bread alone, but by every word that come from the mouth of God." Pg. 18

The secular world around us is saying in a loud voice, "We can take care of ourselves. We do not need God, the church, or a priest. We are in control. And if we are not, then we have to work harder to get in control. The problem is not lack of faith, but lack of competence. If you are sick you need a competent doctor; if you are poor, you need competent politicians; if there are technical problems, you need competent engineers; if there are wars, you need competent negotiators. God, the church, and the ministers have been used for centuries to fill the gaps of incompetence, but today the gaps are being filled in other ways, and we no longer need spiritual answers to practical questions. Pg. 20

It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leader of the future will be the one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows him or her to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and to bring the light of Jesus there. Pg. 22

The Question: "Do you love me?"

The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show me some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? Pg. 24

The Discipline: Contemplative Prayer

To live a life that is not dominated by the desire to be relevant but is instead safely anchored in the knowledge of God's first love, we have to be mystics. A mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God's first love. Pg. 28

Through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own and God's heart.

Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy wit the Source of Life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. Pg. 31-32 -- Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership

Simone Weil said it well: “To be always relevant, you have to say things which are eternal.”

31 May 2007

more ::: quotes

If we do not serve what coheres and endures, we serve what disintegrates and destroys. -- Wendell Berry, May 25th, 2007

Usually the main problem with life conundrums is that we don't bring enough imagination. -- Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

The Jesus of Suburbia is a lie. -- Green Day

It is possible, as I have learned again and again, to be in one's place, in such company, wild or domestic, and with such pleasure, that one cannot think of another place that one would prefer to be - or of another place at all. -- Wendell Berry

It maybe when we no longer know what to do,
We have come to our real work,
And that when we no longer know which way to go,
We have begun our real journey.
-- Wendell Berry

To be sane in a mad time is bad for the body, worse for the soul. -- Wendell Berry

Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not. -- Flannery O'Connor

We don't need permission. What we need is a mission. -- Erwin McManus

Painting by Caz Novak (www.caznovak.co.nz)

28 May 2007

"...Then to US you shall return."

Today I had the privilege of participating in a multi-faith presentation on death, dying and spirituality to first-year nursing students. Of course, I was responsible for the Christian perspective (I know what you're thinking, "Was there no one else available; they must have been desperate.")

At the tail-end of Ishmael's presentation of the Muslim perspective he shared a short verse from the Qur'an. His PowerPoint slide read: "Every soul shall taste death, then to US you shall return." (29:57) (The pronouns for God in the Qur'an are plural -- "we" and "us". So, in order to differentiate the "us" in this verse and show that it refers to God, he capitalised it). As Ishmael read it aloud, he caught himself, "'Every soul shall taste death, then to... not to the United States...to GOD.' They may want everything to return to them, but it doesn't!" The 150 students broke out in laughter.

Later, as I began my presentation I said, "Ishmael, my brother, there are exceptions. As an American citizen, when I die, I will be returned to the US, at least my body!"

Death and dying can be so funny.

26 May 2007


Because real, deepening relationships don’t come naturally or easily, it is important for those of us seeking to be Community Builders to address three specific barriers to the formation of authentic relationships.


When a situation is new or uncertain, people become afraid. The natural compulsion when afraid is to seek protection from what we fear. However, as children of Abraham , believers are called to move into the unknown in order to be a blessing to others. When we fear, like Abraham, we do things that feel to others more like a curse than a blessing. It always takes trust in God to be a blessing. Abraham’s fear-induced actions (better, reactions) among the Egyptians caused so much trouble that they paid him to leave and gave him a police escort out of the country! Not really what God had in mind back in chapter 12. Then, God in his goodness appears to Abraham with these words, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” He even assures him that, even though things will not always be rosy for his descendents, Abraham himself will “die in peace, at a ripe old age.” In essence, he said, “Stop fearing for yourself, Abraham. Start trusting me, so that I can bless you, so you can bless others, like I promised.” We all have a tendency to be more of a curse than a blessing to one another because of our fears. Once we’re aware of this, we can begin helping other believers conquer their fears. And, with faith in a good God, they can be a blessing to others.


We also need to address our tendency to compete with one another. In sharing times with small groups, I have been told that “men compete with one another; women compare themselves to one another.” Whether we are talking about competing or comparing, the natural impulse is still the same -- we desire to come out on top. And, if we are competing with someone or comparing ourselves to someone, it becomes impossible for us to show that person compassion. For compassion cannot be achieved by putting ourselves above another. By definition, compassion is “feeling the hurts of others and doing all that is possible to relieve them.” We must, with the Spirit’s power, help new believers move from their natural compulsion: competition and comparison to what is necessary for authentic relationships to take place: compassion.


Finally, we must help the new believers move from isolation to connectedness – from individualism to community. Many people have come to believe that a cocoon of isolation from others is the safest place on earth, because they have hurts from past interactions with others that were full of fear and competition. A plan that may feel safe, but that is terribly lonely and not at all what God desires for them. We encourage groups of believers to build a safe spiritual community, where, for example, “the absent are safe with us.” We move believers away from isolation to connectedness through modeling and encouraging vulnerability, transparency and mutual confession. As you can imagine, a group of people full of fear and competition will never be able to engage in these brave disciplines.

As Community Builders, we must intentionally address all three of these natural compulsions because they are barriers to authentic relationships. We can help believers move from fear (curse) to blessing (through faith), from competition to compassion, and from isolation to connectedness, creating fertile ground for authentic relationships and a thriving spiritual community.
[Art work: "Communitas" (c) 2003 Peter W. Michel]

23 May 2007

::: Quotes :::

"Humankind was given a share in His wisdom and is called to responsible living and to be a partner of God in the redemption of the world." -- Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Through worship, prophetic word, and protest, we are called to expose oppressive social realities and insist: it could be otherwise." -- Brueggemann

"We want only to show you something we have seen and to tell you something we have heard...that here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves is a New Creation." -- Paul Tillich
"Maybe what is good about religion is playing that the kingdom will come, until -- in the joy of your playing, the hope and rhythm and comradeship and poignance and mystery of it -- you start to see that the playing is itself the first fruits of the kingdom's coming and of God's presence within us and among us." -- F. Buechner

“A human being is a part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. And yet we experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical illusion of our consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all of nature.” --Albert Einstein

"What's lost is nothing to what's found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup." Godric, F. Buechner

Photo of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America


Remember what happens in the story where the three disciples see Jesus transfigured?

Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them privately up a high mountain. And he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Then Moses and Elijah also appeared before them, talking with him. So Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they were overwhelmed with fear and threw themselves down with their faces to the ground. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Do not be afraid.” When they looked up, all they saw was Jesus alone. (Matthew 17:1-8, The Net Bible)

I often think about this story. After all the commotion, bright lights, thundering voices, the appearance of Moses and Elijah (the law and the prophets) and Peter’s building project to erect some sort of memorial, when the air clears, all that is left is Jesus alone. At times, Christianity and churchianity disappoint me, but they are not what it is all about; it is all about Jesus.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honour, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews 12, The Message)

03 May 2007

Faith, Music & Politics: Rickie Lee Jones and Derek Webb

You might not expect to find folk-rock renegade Rickie Lee Jones and Christian singer/songwriter Derek Webb on the same concert bill. But on their latest albums, the troubadours do share a goal: They both want you to get to know Jesus better — and not necessarily through messages provided in mass media or houses of worship.

Jones' The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, released in February, was inspired by a different spiritual journey than that informing Webb's Mockingbird, which has been generating praise, and some controversy, since last year.

"I came to religion wanting to take what's beautiful about it,," says Jones, 52. "I think we are spiritual beings, but Christianity's position in the culture can be so aggressive that it makes people defend themselves coming to the table."

So in 2005, when Jones' friend Lee Cantelon asked her to take part in a spoken-word recording of The Words, his book outlining Jesus' teachings — and distinguishing those teachings from what Cantelon views as the dogmatic interpretations that have evolved in organized religion — the project seemed a natural fit. Jones decided that she would rather sing than speak, though.

Jones wouldn't define the lean, starkly atmospheric songs she co-wrote with Cantelon and Peter Atanasoff as Christian music. "I guess I assume that would mean a Christian person trying to convince me of something, to sell an idea."

Webb, 32, began his career in that market, as part of the Christian band Caedmon's Call. "But as I looked around, I thought, 'where are our artists who are talking about politics? About the government?' It's the job of creative people, and especially those who are followers of Jesus, to be radical truth-tellers. That's what the prophets did."

With Mockingbird, his third solo effort, the Nashville-based artist wasn't concerned about ruffling feathers. On one track, A King and a Kingdom, he sings of "two great lies," identifying one as "that Jesus was a white, middle-class Republican, and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him."

Webb muses that Jesus "wasn't a white middle-class Democrat either, incidentally. The point is that he didn't walk any party line. But I think that the church, especially where I live, makes a terrible habit of co-opting the more conservative political party.

"I'm not saying the church shouldn't be concerned with issues. My problem is that they've grown so predictable, and Jesus was in no way predictable. The people he loved most lavishly were often socially stigmatized, and he reserved some of his harshest language for the law-keeping church leadership. That's the opposite, in a lot of cases, of what the evangelical church puts forth."

Webb espouses the kind of evangelism he associates with Jesus' original followers, "which was telling people about Jesus and what he did. But the church in the West has made some distinction between that and acts of mercy: caring for the poor, clothing the naked, caring for our neighbors."

Jones, who defines her political leanings more firmly to the left, echoes Webb's concerns. "Capitalistic religion inhibits the idea of service. You're supposed to be in the business of serving yourself, and if you don't do that, you must be some sort of tree-hugging idiot."

On Sermon's Where I Like It Best, Jones sings wryly, "See all those people praying on TV and the churches/They like to make a big parade out of what they're doing." Jones explains: "What I'm telling people is that prayer belongs to you, and you have to take it back."

Webb, who has a new album, The Ringing Bell, due in May, admits that he's been getting fewer invitations to play in churches since Mockingbird's release. But he has no regrets about answering to what he considers a higher authority.

"I hope to tell people what I really see when I look at the world," Webb says. "I know the issues can be complicated, and that a 3½-minute pop song isn't the best venue for some of them. But it's the only medium I have, and it's as good a place as any to start."

Find this article at: http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/jones-webb.htm?csp=34

Newbigin on Evangelism in the City

"...In all our preaching and teaching about the hope which the gospel makes possible, we have to keep steadily in view the fact that what the gospel offers is not just hope for the individual but hope for the world. Concretely I think this means that the congregation must be so deeply and intimately involved in the secular concerns of the neighborhood that it becomes clear to everyone that no one or nothing is outside the range of God's love in Jesus. Christ's message, the original gospel, was about the coming of the kingdom of God, that is to say God's kingly rule over the whole of creation and the whole of humankind. That is the only authentic gospel. And that means that every part of human life is within the range of the gospel message: in respect of everything, the gospel brings the necessity for choice between the rule of God and the negation of that rule. If the good news is to be authentically communicated, it must be clear that the church is concerned about the rule of God and not about itself. It must be clear, that is, that the local congregation cares for the well-being of the whole community and not just for itself.

"To put it even more sharply: the hope, of which the church is called to be the bearer in the midst of a famine of hope, is a radically other-worldly hope. Knowing that Jesus is king and that he will come to reign, it fashions its life and invites the whole community to fashion its life in the light of this reality, because every other way of living is based on illusion. It thus creates signs, parables, foretastes, appetizers of the kingdom in the midst of the hopelessness of the world. It makes it possible to act both hopefully and realistically in a world without hope, a world which trades in illusions. If this radically other-worldly dimension of the church's witness is missing, then all its efforts in the life of the community are merely a series of minor eddies in a current which sweeps relentlessly in the opposite direction.

"But if one insists as I am doing upon the radically other-worldly nature of the Christian hope, it is necessary at once to protect this against a misunderstanding which has brought this aspect of the Christian message into disrepute. A recognition of this other-worldly element has often been linked with a privatization of religion characteristic of our post-Enlightenment culture. When this happens, the church is seen not as a bearer of hope for the whole community, but as a group of people concerned about their own ultimate safety. It is thus seen as something essentially antisocial. And, especially in a religiously plural society, this attracts justifiable censure. 'Evangelism' is then easily identified as 'proselytism' – the natural attempt of every human community to add to its own strength at the expense of others. From the point of view of people concerned with the total welfare of a human community, 'evangelism' is seen as something at best irrelevant and at worst destructive of human unity.

"No sharing of the good news takes place except in the context of a shared human life, and that means in part, the context of shared conversation. In such conversation we talk about real things and we try both to communicate what we know and to learn what we do not know. The sharing of the good news about the kingdom is part of that conversation and cannot happen without it... It is a kind of of conversation which is not an alternative to but the occasion for sharing our hope, and it leads some people to ask the sort of questions that lead further.

"Some, but not many. I certainly cannot tell any story of 'success' in terms of numbers. I guess that this is the experience of many working in such areas. The church remains small and vulnerable. I do not find in this ground for discouragement. The kingdom is not ours. The times and seasons are not in our management. It is enough to know that Jesus reigns and shall reign, and to be privileged to share this assurance with our neighbors and to be able to do and say the small deeds and words that make it possible for others to believe."

(Taken from Paul Weston, ed. Lesslie Newbigin, A Missionary Theologian: A Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and London: SPCK, 2006).