Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Benediction

It was a privilege to be invited to speak at a House Chapel service at Carey Baptist Grammar School this morning. It was a wonderful celebration of worship replete with student reflections and contributions. The students are most creative and thoughtful. The benediction was especially powerful:
Lord, as we part and go our different ways
it is our prayer that you will give us, each in our own way,
the passion for living and loving,
the courage for daring and hoping,
the freedom for growing and receiving,
the capacity for giving and receiving,
the humility for learning,
the tenderness for understanding,
the strength for enduring,
the trust for believiing,
and may your grace and your peace,
which is not the absence of conflict,
but the presence of all that makes life whole,
be with us and go with us.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lent (2)

Lent is the season when we look at our way of life with hope:
to see it as God sees it, both in its present reality,
and its future possibilities

USA: A Tale of Two Americans

Two very different Americans are arriving in Australia this week. The reception each will receive, and the messages they have for Australia, could not be more different, says Justin Whelan.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


The season of "giving up". One could give up sacrifice... I could give up smoking! Or give up giving up... So many jokes about Lent and making sacrifices which mean nothing. One could be forgiven that we have trivialised Lent in a whole range of ways, particularly when it comes down to sacrificing small things which do not touch the core of who we are and of that which shapes us most.
I wonder whether we might give up credit cards, or television. For some that might be more challenging. How about giving up the computer? Arrgghhh! Could I really survive? One writer suggested giving up supermarkets.
The original focus was food related, which is why the last day before Lent commences is Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Tuesday. It was the feast which removed all flour from the house: the symbolic leaven which turns our focus towards purification. If food was the major symbol of that which distracts us from God in ancient times, we might ask where our poverty lies today: time? technology? consumerism? How can we adopt a purifying approach to that which dilutes our humanity most and reminds us of our dependence upon God, or at least creates space for us to give this greater consideration. Perhaps a greater commitment to recycling, eating locally produced foods, leaving a smaller footprint upon the planet... So many challenges, choosing one could be life-giving in so many unexpected ways.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Magicians employ the art of distraction to turn the eyes of their audience away from the "real event" so that the end result appears 'like magic'. The technique is effective, so much so that we miss what really happens. Psychologists have conducted tests which demonstrate this power of distraction, whereby the audience misses a man in a bear suit walking across the middle of the picture because they are 'distracted' counting balls.
It is amazing how often this distraction occurs when we read the text of scripture, brought home powerfully last night as we reflected on the beatitude: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied". The distraction in the beatitude is the word "righteousness", one which doesn't get good press these days. Particularly when it is combined with the word 'satisfied', and its implied partner 'self'. We typically begun by analysing the word righteousness, and what it means. Last night we turned it around, focussing on the last word "satisfied".
What is it that offers us satisfaction today? The Rolling Stones seems to have made a modern anthem of its tune "(Can't Get No) Satisfaction". In spite of the burgeoning consumer culture, whereby we earn 5 times what our parents did, live in larger houses with smaller families, and have much more in our possession and at our disposal, we aren't exhibiting the same level of satisfaction that the advertisers suggest these products will bring. In fact, the situation is quite the opposite... The incidence of mental illness has increased ten-fold, the top ten diseases affecting young men in Australia are either psychological disorders or substance-abuse, nearly one in four Americans is taking mood-altering drugs, and anxiety and depression is regarded as an epidemic. In the midst of prosperity, we have “spent ourselves sick”, according to Clive Hamilton in his book Affluenza. Satisfaction clearly does not come from the sources our consumer culture suggests.
When we accept that the present focus for satisfaction falls short, we are forced back the first part of the Beatitude: where do we find satisfaction? In a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Not by being (self-)righteous, but through a desire for righteousness. Here we are faced again with the example of Jesus, who pushes us away from traditional understandings of righteousness (all the way through the Sermon on the Mount, and throughout the Gospels) into a new place: where we follow his example: service, love, giving... In other words the focus of satisfaction is found not in trying to obtain it for ourselves, but to work for others.
I would suggest that the many things our consumer culture suggests we go out and obtain for ourselves are really by-products. We do not gain love by forcing or demanding it from others, we receive it by giving. We find happiness not by looking for what makes us happy, but by working for the happiness of others. We do not find hope alone or selfishly, but by living hope for others. These things are by-products.
In the same way, satisfaction is a by-product of hungering and thirsting for righteousness... by choosing an alternate pathway to the consumerist culture. In some senses it is a bit like turning the canoe around in a fast-flowing stream and seeking to row back to the source... we will find ourselves making little headway initially, and tiring easily. But hungering and thirsting to go another way is the first step. Simply going with the flow keeps us on the same course. The destination may be elusive, but if we are facing the right way, we are closer to reaching it than otherwise.
Satisfaction - itself an elusive term - becomes the window to understanding this Beatitude. By realising that the present system doesn't offer it, we are forced to look into alternatives, which is perhaps Jesus' point. The Sermon on the Mount goes a long way towards redefining righteousness away from the unsatisfying models we are all familiar with. It certainly isn't made easy, but it offers a pathway of hope, and life.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Birthday Celebration

The place was buzzing last night... Maurice's 80th birthday was celebrated in style with a gathering of his many friends at the church, where we punctuated the night with a "Maurice, this is your lifetime" challenge. It was a roll-out of the rich tapestry of the North Melbourne community and of Maurice's life. Maurice has been a local identity for over 50 years, his enthusiasm, encouragement and sense of humour enfolding many with hope and a sense of belonging. We thought it worthy of a much broader announcement!

Friday, February 16, 2007


A-Available or Married? Married
B-Best Friend? Definitely my wife
C-Cake or Pie? Mostly a cake person - chocolate!
D-Drink of Choice? Coke, hot chocolate (European variety)
E-Essential Item? Computer
F-Favorite Color? Blue
G-Gummi Bears or Worms? Worms - not to eat, but we have a wonderful worm farm which keeps the household waste down
H-Hometown? Born in Adelaide, South Australia, but lived in Melbourne most of my life.
I-Indulgence? Chocolate
J-January or February? What's not to like about January? Middle of summer, school holidays, cricket, tennis...
K-Kids and Names? Caleb, Rachel and Samuel
L-Life is Incomplete Without? Times of quietness
M-Marriage Date? 30-4-1983
N-Number of Siblings? 2, one of each, both older!
O-Oranges or Apples? Oranges if they are juiced, apples if solid
P-Phobias/Fears? Snakes and I have a wonderful agreement: I don't go near them and they don't come near me.
Q-Favorite Quote? Everybody has a choice. You just have to be prepared to live with the consequences.
R-Reason to Smile? Life itself is a reason to smile
S-Season? Autumn
T-Tag 3 People Martin, Megan, Rick
U-Unknown Fact About Me I can't tell you, can I? Then it would no longer be unknown! How about... I was expelled from prep!
V Verrrrry interesting... but stupid! (guess the TV show!)
W-Worst Habit? T?
X marks the spot!
Y-Your Favorite Food? Chocolate (is there any other?)
Z-Zodiac? Is this a new type of sweetener?!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Will of God

You've got three seconds to tell someone about knowing the will of God. What do you say?

Here's one answer: "It is God’s will that you cannot say anything meaningful about God’s will in three seconds." Read the author's original comment when caught off guard by the question.


There may be some insights which come from poor hearing. Certainly Jason's mishearing of the prayers offers some food for thought:
Today I thought I heard the person leading the prayers of the people pray 'for those in authority under us'. I thought I was sure I misheard (and, asking later, this was verified), but what a neat image. We're so used to authority being 'over' us, as if to keep us down, or keep us in line, put us in our place. What if authority is something 'under' us, to support us, uphold us, lift us? This would be a way of construing what true authority is in the church: service. And the greatest will be called servant of all. This is a service and authority which elevates people and makes possible the fullness which God intends for us, an authority authorised by the very flourishing it gives rise to.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A stress-free career?

New Scientist offers six steps to a stress-free career - a wonderful ideal at first glance, but hardly achievable, or even desireable as a goal. First let me give you the six steps:
  1. Create a good space
  2. Raise your status
  3. Be social
  4. Don't be too social
  5. Learn to switch off
  6. Modern stress-busting (activities to dissipate stress and its effects)
The ideal of a stress-free utopia is an empty myth - it is stress which is at the heart of growth. The problem is not stress itself, but unmanaged stress and ignored stress. It goes to the heart of suffering and its place in our personal growth. Meeting new challenges, finding ourselves testing new resources, building stronger networks and relationships... all emerge from response to stress as we learn and adopt new coping mechanisms.

It is part of our nature to hold to goals and ideals which are beyond us, which call us forward into a better future. This is the nature of hope - to keep us dissatisfied with what is so that we work to create what can be.

Certainly the advice in the article is helpful, but its premise needs to be questioned.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Long Now

"If we want to contribute to some sort of tenable future, we have to reach a frame of mind where it comes to seem unacceptable - gauche, uncivilised - to act in disregard of our descendants."
Brian Eno asks us to consider living in "the long now".

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The End of Slavery

Friday 23 February marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Every time we sing that well-known hymn Amazing Grace, we encapsulate this struggle. John Newton, its author, was once himself a slave trader who made a remarkable conversion to Christ. The struggle against slavery has been presented on film in a soon-to-be-released movie “Amazing Grace” which tells the story of William Wilberforce and his determination, even at the risk of life and reputation, and even with multiple attempts over a number of years, to push forward in the British Parliament the abolition, the end of slavery, no matter the cost. Despite Wilberforce’s victory so long ago, there are still over 27 million people in slavery around the world. Take a look at the movie’s web site.

And to read more of the present-day situation in relation to slavery, read Jim Wallis.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Be Like Jesus

John Smulo has created an interesting perspective on what it means to be like Jesus.
1. Get baptized by the craziest guy in town.
2. Say and do things that are guaranteed to make religious people want to kill you. Repeat again, and again, and again, and again, and again—don’t stop unless forced.
3. Do amazing things for people and ask them to not tell anyone.
4. Hang out with the most despised, marginalized, looked down upon, and shunned people you can find.
5. When possible, forgive and restore people, even if they betrayed you.
6. Live in a way that provokes gossip.
7. Win the most grace competition.
8. Keep the party going.
9. Serve people (note: nose plugs may be required).
10. If you’re sad cry.
11. Empower people to do the extraordinary.
12. Act like a rock star in a hotel temple.
13. Radically simplify theology.
14. Break human-made religious laws. Repeat consistently.
15. Prioritize the most important over the important.
16. Let women with “questionable” backgrounds pay your bills.

Some interesting additions in his comments also.

Jesus and Osama bin Laden 2

This little foray into advertising has created much discussion... The weekly newsletter "Soundings" from the Centre for Christian Ethics, offered the following helpful response.

Does Jesus love evangelical poster art?
by Kristine Morrison
As signs proclaiming that Jesus loves Osama adorned mainstream protestant churches this week, the deluge of media interest appeared to require some explanation. Baptist spokesperson and Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics, Rod Benson, fleshed out some or the detail in Soundings no. 45 (1 February), assuring enquirers that Jesus did in fact love Osama bin Laden and many other evildoers of our planet and our time.
It appears that it wasn't such a serious question after all. The answer was so simple. There is a seamless and uncontroversial Christian approach that claims that any human being, no matter how reprobate, has claims upon the love of God.
What then was the point of the question? I'm a sufficiently conversant participant in evangelical culture to be very clear on the point of the question. The point was to assure non-believers - the unchurched, those who are "not-yet-Christian" - that in their reflective moments they ought to banish any thoughts that they are beyond the reach of God's love because, if God can love Osama, then God can love them.
Did the poster succeed in conveying that message of unconditional love? Well, yes, the poster was technically correct but it fell well short of answering some important human questions.
I'm glad for several reasons that the infamous poster was not displayed on the front wall of the local church I attend. First, because the question betrays an ignorance of the kinds of questions that non-believers ask themselves. Current evangelical practice relies on persuading people that they are sinners.
It is true that many modern people possess an inner anxiety. The anxiety, however, is not so much about the magnitude of evil they have committed. Society could not function if it were populated with multiple Osamas. People's consciences are much more likely to be troubled by the way they do things rather than what they do. They wake in the night not because they didn't pay their bus fare but because they were impatient or dismissive of the bus driver. They didn't necessarily do anything bad; rather, they could have done better.
Most people do not consider themselves anywhere near as bad as Osama bin Laden. This is not to say that they cannot appreciate the fact that they fall short of ideal human behaviour. The common everyday experience of human failure lies more in the realm of character than actions. The Osama question does not arise for most people, and it is therefore not an effective evangelistic approach.
The second reason I am glad this poster did not appear on our church wall is that it pays far too much attention to the perpetrator of evil and fails to appreciate the hurt of the victim. It is a pastoral faux pas on an all too public scale. When people who have been victims of abuse witness the church proclaiming happy days for the perpetrators of evil it is as though they are wounded again.
The question most likely to be occupying the minds of passers-by is, "Does Jesus love the victims of Osama?" Human suffering, whether personal or that which we see in others, is a profound stumbling block to the acceptance of Christianity. Christianity offers serious answers to the problem of human suffering but there were no pointers to these answers in this poster. The poster raised the problem of human suffering but provided no answer and gave the impression of being more interested in reconciling with the perpetrators of injustice than supporting the victims.
Third, perhaps the answer to the question of God's love for Osama is more ambiguous than it seems. We may agree that all humans are loved by God but is it possible to engage in such widespread and systematic practices of evil that a person can disqualify him or herself from being human?
Can we degrade ourselves so completely that we are no longer recognisable as humans? If a person is no longer human then is that person outside the orbit of God's love? In ordinary conversation behaviour that is good, generous and kind is described as humane, while practices that are deliberately and systematically cruel are described as beastly, animalistic or inhuman.
A modern rendition of the animalistic human is the human as machine. We describe people as machines when they appear to have lost any human feeling and they have become totally functionary beings. The idea that human beings can lose their humanity is not a totally foreign one and therefore makes the issue of God's love for bin Laden less of an open and shut case than has perhaps been demonstrated.
Poster Christianity is perilous witness. Simple truths, simply stated can be less than helpful to those with whom we desire to communicate, notwithstanding the goodwill of those who develop these posters. We can be encouraged, within our churches, that people do read our advertising signs. But we can also be challenged to consider the pastoral implication and the wisdom of using some of our available promotional material.
Not all publicity is good publicity.
Kristine Morrison is a midwife at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and a member of the Social Issues Committee of the Baptist Churches of NSW and ACT.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Revisiting Numbers

I have been fond of saying that the three measures by which we traditionally determine success in ministry is based around "the three Bs: Bums (on seats), Budgets, and Buildings". If any of these is on the increase, we assume that the ministry is a good (successful) one. But I wonder whether that is true.

Ryan Bolger takes another look at numbers:
We needed to take another look. Are numbers always evil?
He suggests that "what is counted is always imbued with theology." And suggests that perhaps numbers still have a place - suggesting different things to count.

The Web is Us/ing Us

Michael Wesch has put together this presentation which not only gives some history of the way in which which information and the technological revolution has unfolded, but raising the implications for the way in which we address a range of issues.

This is a video response to Web 2.0

Thoughts from the Blogosphere

Here's some interesting posts:

Matt Glover lets the distinction between emerging and traditional church dissipate as he ponders his journey through intensive engagement with both in a post entitled Why I chose NOT to critique the emerging church.
Matt says:
There are millions of different expressions of church, and I like some far more than I do others. But that doesn’t make them any more or less church. I’m fairly certain that the expressions I struggle with, God likes quite a lot. I’m absolutely certain that the average guy that I meet down the street who has no church experience couldn’t care less about what form a church takes.

Not strictly blogosphere, but Michael Duffy reflects on the Australian psyche:
We Australians like to think of ourselves as larrikins and rebels, but the truth is we're a bunch of sheep. This nation is one of the most overgoverned and overregulated on Earth. Foreign visitors often comment with surprise on local behaviour such as compulsory voting, almost unknown elsewhere in the civilised world, and pedestrians' reluctance to cross against the red light, even when a road is empty of traffic.

Here's a well-thought out Missional Apologetic Manifesto.

John Smulo has a rather more discomfiting description of what it means to "be like Jesus"

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Memorable and Transforming Speeches

Our community reflections this year have focussed on the Sermon on the Mount. We began by reflecting on the speeches and/or sermons which have made an indelible print upon us. Of more recent times, there is one which stood out above all, and for the vast majority of our community: Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. If you have never heard the speech, or seen footage, let me urge you... it is worth the few minutes of your time.

MLK's dream still stands largely unfulfilled some 44 years later, but it has not lost its power or its pertinence. Significant gains have been made in some quarters, smaller ones elsewhere, and a large reservoir remains unmoved. His passion is grounded in reality, grounded in scripture, and grounded in hope. Though society has changed significantly, it resonates at many levels.

MLK's speech is an interesting frame through which to view the Sermon on the Mount. It is tempting to view the SM through a rigid theological frame, as a simple critique of society, or as a (quasi-academic) treatise rather than hear its passion, be moved by its vision, and embraced in hope. Yet rather seeing the SM as offering an unrealistic burden, we need to encounter it as a paeon of hope, a harbinger of a new way of being, a manifesto of radical living. Its groundedness is evident, its challenges very pointed. As one observer noted: the SM has more often than not left untried because it is too hard. Such sentiments did not deter MLK, Gandhi, Wilberforce, and a litany of others who have been driven by a higher ideal.

Take careful note of the movement in MLK's speech as you watch: when he moves from the text to the heart (not that the two are mutually exclusive). Know that the dream is not pie in the sky. Then when it is finished, turn to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It will take you less time to read than to listen to MLK. Be inspired and challenged. Dare to live the dream!

A Sorry Affair

John Smulo is compiling a powerful and humble list of apologies sent in by Christians on behalf of themselves and their communities. It reflects a deep compassion and humility -and honesty - which needs to be encouraged in the church, as it seeks to represent Christ in this world. The list is currently:

  • I am sorry that as Christians we have focused on speaking words of judgment, rather than living lives of love and grace.
  • I am sorry for thinking that being moral was more important than being merciful.
  • I am sorry for focusing on being right instead of being kind and merciful.
  • I'm sorry that I ever thought that a pointing finger would be mistaken for a beckoning hand.
  • I'm sorry that I have excluded too many wonderful people by sticking to a narrow minded view point for too long.
  • I'm sorry that for far too long my politics and my rhetoric have far too often mirrored the kingdom of this world rather than the Kingdom ofGod.
  • I'm sorry that I've acted out of self-interest rather than out of true love and care for others.
  • I am sorry for loosing connectivity with the most important thing while defending my
  • I am sorry for being so busy with church work that I didn't take the time to show you Christ's love.
  • I'm sorry for thinking that God can only work and speak through Christians and that true beauty can only be found in the sacred.
  • I'm sorry we don't party more.
  • I am sorry that as Christians we have said we will follow Jesus teachings "Love God and love neighbor" but forgotten the second part, neighbor. You, yes you, the (right/left, gay straight, poor/rich, democrat/republican, convict, felon, rapist, ugly, fat, skinny, pretty, popular, dork) neighbor. Forgive us.
  • I'm sorry that many of you placed your trust in us as Christians...and got badly let down.
  • I'm sorry that we have closed the doors; that we have placed behavior and belief over love and relationship. I'm sorry that we've been ourown little clique and left you out in the cold. Will you forgive us?
  • I'm sorry that we have spent our fortunes on ourselves while neglecting the needs of those who are desperate.
  • I am sorry we have not been a more frequent, more firm and more graceful voice in environmental, political, and human rights arenas.
  • I am sorry that I have thought for so long that you needed to come to me, instead of me coming to you.
  • I am sorry that I have often been too busy [and] that I still walk past the hungry, homeless people on my way to theological college, daily.
  • I am sorry that I don't venture out of the safety of my own four walls near enough.
  • I am sorry that I loved myself more than I loved you.
  • I am sorry that we have defined holiness by a list of things we do not come into contact with, people whom we don't have fellowship with, and distance from behavior we do not approve of. This is not the path of Jesus.
  • I'm sorry for being so quick to point out others sin while hiding my own in a closet and not dealing with it.
  • I am sorry that I have been consumed with self-interest over God's interest and that has taken its toll on you.
  • I am sorry that I drew battle lines when I should have been busy walking over with a loaf of home-made bread and a warm smile.
  • I am sorry that I was too busy to see you or to really listen.
  • I am sorry for making Jesus seem so boring and religious. He's not. But a lot of times I am.
  • I'm sorry I haven't shown more compassion to those in need.
  • I am sorry that somehow church has come to mean dead building where you are made to feel uncomfortable,rather than vibrant community where you are made welcome.
  • I am sorry for being so easily offended.
  • I am sorry that I have let the church dictate who I show love and grace to rather than following the Example of Jesus..
  • I'm sorry that I've participated in helping make the hours of the week when most churches worship together the most segregated hours of the week, segregated racially and economically.
  • I'm sorry that I was busy with my own struggles, and I did not visit you when you were hurting.
  • I'm sorry that we have presented the true love of our lifes so poorly to you. What is in our minds is not what comes over our lips. I am appalled that what is beauty, freedom, love and truth in my head comes out as unfreedom, judgement and ugliness of my mouth. Please help!
  • I'm sorry for having been a moralistic, unloving, selfish asshole for too many years.
  • I'm sorry for being legalistic.
  • I'm sorry that we as Christians have been so poor at demonstrating God's unconditional love...
  • I'm sorry Jesus for taking 14 years to realise that its whats on the inside that counts.
  • I am sorry that we create the facade that Christians are sinless, issueless, unbroken, unf*****up. we are a community of sinful, broken, f*****up people and you are welcome to join us. I am also sorry that we in America think in terms of the bottom line and have reduced the message of Christ to getting people out of hell. I am sorry for how we cram this truncated message down your throat.
  • I'm sorry for having been so defensive - as though your just criticisms could somehow hurt my God - rather than simply listening to and exploring your questions and doubts with all sincerity.
  • I'm sorry I thought that 'having dominion over the earth' gave humankind the right to rape the environment because Armageddon was going to happen anyway. I'm sorry I thought ideas about religion were more important than God's creation.
  • I am sorry that I ran off my mouth instead of just listening.
  • I'm sorry I thought it was all about me and my gifting and my 'gig'. I'm also sorry christianity is so boring as it's practiced in western culture. I'm sorry I've spent more time being 'right' instead of 'kind'. I'm sorry I missed so many opportunities to learn from you...especially the 'you' that looked or believed differently than me.
    I'm mostly sorry I've squandered resources like time, money, talents, and LOVE that are so freely bestowed on me undeservedly...and instead griped and used them for my own ego and gain. God, forgive me. World, forgive me.
  • I am so incredibly sorry for all of those times I have repeatedly sacrificed kindness on the self-righteous altar of "correct" theology, morality and politics.
  • I am sorry that I have been consumed with self-interest over God's interest and that has taken its toll on you.
  • I am sorry I didn't listen to you when you said we were full of s***. I am sorry that I didn't defend you against the wiles of ambitious preachers. I am sorry I didn't address the sexual, physical and emotional abuse you witnessed. If I could change anything, I would be like Jesus and overturn every money changers' table and walk out on every "church building" speech I heard. More than that, I would be that one doing the healing, touching and ministering to you, rather than turning you over to the "church" for ministry.
  • I'm sorry to those that I have ignored. I'm sorry to those I have been less than genuine. I'm sorry to those I have wronged in deed and word. I'm sorry to those whom I have spoken harshly to or judged too quickly. I'm sorry that I have offered less than what was freely given to me. I pray that somewhere, someone was able to show you truth in a way I didn't. Please forgive me!?
  • I'm sorry that we as Christians have imposed our system of belief upon many non-christians in such a way as to force them to believe as we do. We shouldn't be taking those who don't follow Jesus and expect them to live by a Christian standard.
  • Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    The Knack

    OK, so I am having a bit of fun with videos lately... this one is great! Dilbert has "The Knack"... destined to be an engineer, and socially inept.

    Is this like having "the gift"... being a wonderful preacher, but socially inept, unable to communicate except to large crowds while standing behind a pulpit and spitting into the first two rows?

    Monday, February 05, 2007

    The Shape of Church Ministers (and Ministry)

    I've been following an interesting conversation sparked by an Anglican priest called Sam reflecting on issues of workload, priorities and vocation. Pressures on clergy are increasing, leading to increased levels of burnout and turnover, which raises interesting and challenging questions about the shape of the church in its ministry to the community, as well as its ministry to its own leaders.

    This has generated some interesting responses from Paul Roberts, himself an Anglican priest, who unpacks these challenges in a thoughtful way. While the terminology and construct is generally Anglican, the questions he addresses have relevance across denominational spectrums, challenging the way we see ministry and leadership. There are four posts in Paul's response: (1) Clergy Stress; (2) The role of the priest, with the unusual title, "If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him"; (3) On visiting; and (4) You get the priests you plan for.

    As one who serves in three part-time capacities, alongside a post-graduate study project, the work-life balance has been a hot topic of discussion and reflection both personally and in our household. Leaving behold old models of ministry is not as easy as it sounds either - with the boundaries and challenges uncertain (or liminal!) not allowing one to necessarily 'turn off'. Whilst I recognise that this is increasingly a phenomenon for all people, with 'flexible work hours' and the 'mobile office' become much more in vogue, there are unique aspects to church ministry which make it more than a personal lifestyle/vocational issue.

    I'd be interested in reading others' thoughts...

    Spiritual Disease

    Interesting thought expressed by Thomas Merton in response to a journalist's request to diagnose the leading spiritual disease of our time, he gave a one-word answer: efficiency. Why? 'From the monastery to the Pentagon, the plant has to run... and there is little time or energy left after that to do anything else...'

    There are deep resonations around our community about the pressure to be more efficient, and the lack of time for relationship that leaves. Does that resonate?

    Friday, February 02, 2007

    Is the emerging church new?

    Maggie Dawn has made some insightful comments about the status of the emerging church movement, questioning whether it is even important that it is new, and at the same time drawing on the biblical notion that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl 1:9 - my words, not hers).

    Perhaps one of the real tragedies of considering the emerging church as something of a novelty (in the deepest sense of the word) is that it isolates the deep questions which undergird the movement from churches who do not consider themselves in any sense emergent. Yet for the most part the questions which drive the varied manifestations of the emerging church are fundamental to the future of the church as a whole, even if they exist in the context of broader questions. But the 'isolation' of the emerging church from the mainstream conversation has created a sense for many that it is an irrelevant phenomenon, and that the questions it is asking (and forming responses to) are uniquely theirs.

    But these questions (should) trouble us all. Some which are presently being grappled with in the context of the emerging church include:
    How much is the gospel become captive to the modern world-view?
    How can we form community in ways which reflect present concerns and dynamics?
    What is the ultimate purpose of the church, and how does it sustain its life and witness where the structure of everyday life has been radically changed?
    What is truth? Can we ever know "pure" truth, or is our view always coloured by where we sit?
    In what sense do we serve the structures of the church, and is this necessary for the mission of the church?
    What does it mean to be authentically christian in this global village with all of its attendant challenges?
    Is society something more than an economy?

    I would suggest that, while these (and other) questions are at the forefront of thinking in much of the emerging church, they are important for all christians to grapple with, no matter their church estting. In this sense, the emerging/traditional church dichotomy breaks down.