Thursday, December 13, 2007

Submissions Concerning my Extended Adjournment

For the few people still out there who have been long-term readers of my blog, you may be wondering why I have been relatively quiet of late. I certainly feel as if an explanation is in order, especially since my lengthy absence was unannounced beforehand. I'd suggest that there has been no one critical determining factor, but rather a multitude of reasons, which I shall try to explain below.

Firstly, it is worth pointing out that I started a new job two days before I entered the blogosphere wilderness. On the most basic level, it has been an incredibly difficult (yet greatly rewarding) experience adjusting to the new responsibilities that this job entails. While I am certainly not working long hours, I am usually so busy during the day that I am often exhausted when I come home. In fact, on quite a few days I have gone to sleep soon after arriving back at my place. Putting a great deal of intellectual and emotional energy into a blog entry (which is almost invariably a feature of most of my writing) is not the first thing I have felt like doing.

Secondly, as I progress within the legal profession, I become increasingly more confused about where I stand in relation to "the system". Just eighteen months ago I was a student struggling just to make ends meet. Now I am earning a reasonable income and work in what is generally regarded as a respected profession. Having previously seen myself as someone on the edge of the system ministering to other marginalised people, I have found it rather difficult to come to terms with this paradigm shift. For the most part I can no longer claim this position - I am a well educated, well-connected and reasonably well paid professional and have bright prospects for the future. This being the case, I have had to reassess precisely where I stand and what I can and should contribute.

Thirdly, I regret to say that my spiritual life has been a struggle of late. As someone who believes that I have strong responsibilities both towards God and towards my fellow human beings, I believe I have failed somewhat to properly strive for these goals. While I might be tempted to point to the changing circumstances of my life and other related personal issues (both of which have adversely impacted upon my ability to even write, let alone write well), the fact is that I ultimately have to take responsibility for my behaviour. Even more importantly, these are issues which I must address (and am attempting to address) so that I can begin to be fruitful again in my Christian ministry, of which I include my writing pursuits.

Fourthly, along with a recurrence of my battle with depression, I have been feeling a sense of powerlessness. Having engaged with several Christian blogs, I have been continually disheartened by the sheer sense of nastiness I have seen on many of them, especially towards other Christians. I should make it clear that this is certainly not true of all Christian blogs that I have come across, but it certainly is a very common feature. Participating on these blogs, it has been quite distressing to see the way in which many respondents would simply pounce on someone expressing a minority view like a pack of wolves. It seems like people often took the view that the more times one said something and the more aggressively something is said, the more legitimate the position. Being someone who is often found on the minority side of a debate, it was quite frustratrating being drowned out in the noise. However, I was perhaps even more concerned about the way outsiders might perceivably look at these Christian conversations and what they might conclude from such interaction. Feeling that I would be unable to overturn this negative perception was greatly troubling for me.

Finally, as I became dragged (admittedly of my own volition) into these arguments, the agenda of my own blog started to change. I became convinced that the level of nastiness that I saw from many of these blogs needed to be forcefully confronted and portrayed for what it was. In so doing, I unwittingly gave up my conviction that the most powerful manner that someone can confront a cycle of ungrace is by acting graciously. Indeed, in doing so, the original aspirations of my blog became corrupted. While I have strong points of disagreement with these theological traditions, it was never my intention to attack evangelicalism and particularly Reformed Christianity. Indeed, it if is through Reformed Christianity that an individual finds a path to truly becoming a disciple of Jesus, then I actually celebrate this conversion. The original aims of my blog were twofold. Firstly, I wish to provide encouragement to those who found themselves on the theological fringes. Secondly, I wished to demonstrate to more orthodox Christians than even though I might be unorthodox, I have given great thought to what I believe, I love Jesus just as much as they do, and that I honestly wish to live my faith with integrity, however imperfectly this may be. To some degree this objective was relatively successful, considering that many Christians who are more conservative than myself have come to regard me as a brother in Christ, even if they believe I would be better off believing more of the things that they do. To the extent that my blog has strayed from these agenda, I shall have to bring things back into line with the original vision.

So there you go - I hope that provides a bit of context. I'm going to try to blog more regularly, though I certainly can't offer any promises. And if you are more conservative theologically than myself but find value I what I have to offer or even a question that I ask, then please link to me and if possible I shall try to return the favour.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Ether in the Afterglow

How hopelessly fickle we are
We love on borrowed time
Our hearts deceive us
And our angry eyes are outraged
What is seen is not what is
But when what is is seen
Then we will weep for what is
And mourn for what is not
But still we chase after chimeras
Looking no further than ourselves
For we love when we are loved
And love less when we are less loved
So we cradle our carefully crafted idols
Until twilight sends them to sleep
Only to wake to the new dawn
And yet the same story as before

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sydney Anglican Ideologues Left Red-Faced as Penal Substitution Amendment Fails

Last week the circus was in town as Sydney Anglicans came together for the last two days of the 2007 Synod. Having heard the legendary stories of Synods gone by but never having personally observed any of the magic before, I decided to attend so that I could witness the fun and frivolity for myself. I was not to be disappointed, for the key ideologues of the Diocese were more than happy to oblige me by strutting their stuff on the proverbial dancefloor.

Perhaps the most interesting debate concerned the question of Penal Substitution. Originally a fairly tame motion affirming Penal Substitution, changes were made to publicly name and shame opponents of the doctrine, including the Dean of St Alban's in England. In post-Trentine language, it was the closest thing possible to a declaration of anathema upon those with the audacity to question the archetypal Sydney Anglican line. Lest we think we were in a Protestant denomination that cherished the doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers, the motion also called for the Diocese Doctrine Commission (which one may only assume is the Sydney Anglican equivalent of the Vatican's Magisterium) to provide a report outlining the importance of the abovementioned doctrine.

As expected in such an evangelical Diocese, the motion passed without too many problems. However the success of this motion was to be overshadowed by a failed amendment. In what may well be described as the tactical blunder of the Synod, Reverend Sandy Grant pushed for Synod to endorse two books to the parishioners of the Diocese, namely The Cross of Christ by John Stott and Pierced For Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffrey, Mike Ovey and Andrew Sach. This amendment was defeated in rather sensational circumstances, with Archbishop Peter Jensen suggesting that the amendment was carried on no less than two occasions, before it was finally revealed that Synod had voted 163-152 against.

Days after, a bewildered Grant expressed surprise at the spectacular and embarrassing failure of the amendment. Jeremy Halcrow, who had spoken with many of the representatives, had suggested that many individuals were not prepared to endorse a book that they had not yet. Of course, this raises the obvious question of why the amendment was put forward in the first place. Did Grant simply expect that people would blindly accept his unmitigated praise for the two books? And perhaps even more concerningly, how many of the 152 who voted in favour of the amendment had not actually read one, or both of the books? Quite a few, I suspect. I suspect that an even greater number of representatives at Synod has not taken the time to read the review of Pierced For Our Transgressions by esteemed scholar N.T. Wright, in which he describes the book as "deeply, profoundly, and disturbingly unbiblical".

For all the failings of the ill-fated amendment, the motion itself is rather inexplicable. Firstly, that the motion sought to deliberately marginalise those who disagreed with the majority stance re-establishes Diocese's stance that one is saved by faith in "correct" doctrine. Most notably, opponent of the motion Reverend Clive Watkins made note of the fact that in interviews he had been asked whether he affirmed Penal Substitution but had not been asked whether he loved Christ. Perhaps in the view of the powerful in Diocese, the latter question is not really so relevant as long as they can recite the approved formulas. Even in the eyes of Sydney Anglican apologists such as Craig Schwarze, the covert anathemas lowered the tone of the motion.

Secondly, at a time when the atonement is being discussed and debated with new vigour, the motion sought to close off all avenues of debate. Rather than actually engage in discussion of the issues involved, the motion instead chose to adopt an obscurantist stance, in which even questioning of conventional rhetoric means that one will be viewed with suspicion. That is, unless you want to be publicly recognised as a trouble-maker, branded as a heretic and have your claim to faith in Christ dismissed as illegitimate, you sure as hell better tow the party line.

Finally, as supporters of the motion made clear, Penal Substitution is a doctrine not very well understood, either by opponents or by supporters of the doctrine. While the accusation that those who have criticised Penal Substitution are engaging in straw-person representations of the model is getting rather cliched and tiresome, the suggestion that this was because Penal Substitution was inaccurately represented by those who believed in the doctrine was rather eye-opening. This suggested to me that many evangelicals within the Diocese believed in a doctrine that they did not properly understand. Even more disturbingly, this motion sought to affirm a model that people did not properly understand and castigate those who questioned this understanding, or lack thereof.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Difference Between Humility and Self-Deprecation

Perhaps one of the great things about public transport is that you get the opportunity to witness society in of its dysfunctional glory. Whether it is businessmen talking loudly enough on their mobile phones about their sex life for everyone else to hear, people talking to themselves or fellow travellers engaging in mind-numbing banalities, public transport seems to have that ability to produce the absurd. For that reason, most travellers prefer to mind their own business. Indeed, this was what I was doing the other day as I started reading through my copy of "Les Miserables". Perhaps this was a bad choice, because a girl of about my age became interested in my book and started talking to me. Realising that there was no way that I was going to get any more reading done, I put the book back in my bag and started to engage with her in conversation.

I'd like to think that I'm not a rude person, so I asked the standard bus conversation question: "Where are you heading?" As it turned out, she was volunteering as a crew member for the Anthony Robbins motivational seminars at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Making a fatal mistake, I feigned interest in the subject matter. I must be a fairly good actor, because before long she was recommending that I try the Anthony Robbins experience for myself.

As we approached Hay St, she rose from her seat and alighted from the bus. She asked me if I would like to walk with her to the Entertainment Centre since it was more or less only a slight detour en route to my destination. I can only assume I thought that was trying to pick me up because I agreed to her suggestion. As it turned out, the more likely explanation was that she was simply wanting to hock some Anthony Robbins merchandise. She escorted me into the foyer of the Entertainment Centre and showed me to the desk where the Anthony Robbins products were being sold. Looking at all of these overpriced products with happy, smiling people I thought I had just entered into Hillsong. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I had no desire to "Get the Edge" and that I was actually quite content being a "Minister of Incompetence", so I took a brochure and told her in a rather nondescript manner that the products looked interesting. I then thanked her for her time, told her genuinely that it was lovely to meet her and then went on my way.

I must admit that the whole incident got me thinking. Not about whether a relationship between a self-improvement junkie and a Minister of Incompetence could work out in this crazy world, but about the relationship between self-abasement and self-esteem. More particularly, I reflected upon whether the two concepts were necessarily mutually exclusive or whether they could happily coexist. I mean is self-confidence really all that bad? Is low self-esteem the same thing as humility? Reflecting upon this, I came up with the following principles:

(1) We are products of God's creation - Surely this suggests that each individual is of immeasureable worth. As the Psalmist remarks, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). We cannot denigrate ourselves as worthless without denigrating the work of the Creator.

(2) We are made in God's image - We are not simply part of the creation - we have been carved in God's image (Genesis 1:27). That God has seen fit to bless us in this manner speaks volumes of our intrinsic worth.

(3) It is perfectly legitimate to recognise that there are areas where we have been gifted by God - God has given us all natural talents and abilities. What's more, we are expected to be good stewards of these gifts (Matthew 25:14-30). Good stewardship in this context usually means using these gifts to serve others (Romans 12:3-8). Only by acknowledging the fact that we are gifted in a certain area can we begin to use our gifts. Pretending that we don't possess these gifts doesn't help anyone and it doesn't glorify God. Such an attitude does not reflect humility, but rather false humility.

(4) We should not be proud of our abilities, but rather grateful - I'm not responsible for my abilities - rather my abilities are a product of the genetic lottery. Even if one's success is through hard work, it may still be said that they were genetically predisposed with the ability to apply themselves. We have been graciously granted these abilities by God, who is the author of every good gift (James 1:17).

(5) Thinking lowly of ourselves is not always humility - It may seem counter-intuitive, but I think that wallowing in self-pity is a strange form of pride. I mean, why would we spend so much time reflecting upon how terrible we were unless on some level we felt that our own miseries were important enough to dominate our thinking? Of course there's nothing wrong with acknowledging our flaws and weaknesses, but if we allow these things to consume our thinking at the expense of others, we paradoxically grant ourselves greater importance than others.

From these considerations, I've concluded that humility is actually quite a pragmatic concept. To my way of thinking humility is not so much about denigrating yourself as it is about choosing to forego the glory and honour that is usually associating with the exercise of one's gifts. Humility is actually a more accurate appraisal of one's self because it is the sober recognition that we are no more responsible for our abilities and talents than we are for the colour our eyes and as such we are not worthy of glory and honour. Furthermore, humility manifests itself in the time that we spend dedicated towards serving the interests of others. For this reason, Paul couples humility with the service of others and not with self-deprecation (Philippians 2:3-4). To put others interests before ourselves and indeed even before thoughts of our own inadequacies and weaknesses is what humility is all about.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The 2007 Electoral Debates

With all the subtlety of a schoolyard bully, Kevin "look at me, generation Y" Rudd has challenged Howard "'57" (1957, that is) to a series of three debates. Of the three debates, one must take place on You Tube and another on the ABC. Clearly, this move is directed towards undermining Howard's honour (or what might be called "honour", anyway) in the playground. If Howard backs away from this backyard brawl, he risks being labelled a "chicken" by Rudd, although my guess is that Rudd will couch the insult in more sophisticated parlance, or possibly Mandarin.

Anticipating these events, it is clear that Howard will have to counter by suggesting a venue where he would feel much more comfortable - but where?

Kirribilli House?

Rooty Hill RSL?

Brentwood Village Retirement Home?

I really don't know - has anyone got any suggestions?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Keys to the Lodge '07

As the political climate warms up, a number of my colleagues have started a blog covering the campaign called Keys to the Lodge '07. The idea is to keep the public informed about the issues that matter - the number of times the leaders kiss babies, the vapid cliches used and the fashion on the field. Quite simply, they'll be providing the latest news, views and shoes. They'll also be conducting polls that gauge the mood of the nation and the things that you want to speak about most.

Join to be in the know today!

Friday, September 14, 2007

WWPD - What Would Paul Do?

St Paul of Tarsus is an undeniably controversial figure. To some, he is God's great messenger to the non-Jewish nations. To others, he is blamed for a great many evils in this world, including slavery, the oppression of women and homophobia. Still, others regard him as the real founder of Christianity, starting a new religion quite distinct from the teachings of Jesus. But just who is this Paul, and how does a fuller understanding of his character and experiences help us to understand more clearly what he wrote? Join me at Space For God on Sunday night as I offer a few of my thoughts and give you a chance to offer some of yours.

Deconstructing Archbishop Jensen

... or his message on Wednesday night, that is.

A number of people have actually asked me what I made of Archbishop Jensen's talk from Luke 18:18-30 on Wednesday night. So, on the presumption that my opinions actually have some weight, I thought I might provide an "outsider's perspective" of some things that stood out to me:

(1) Jensen started by talking about centrality of relationships in human existence, which was a self-evident starting point for a mission entitled "The Ultimate Relationship". He communicated this point particularly poignantly, speaking about the joys and sorrows that relationships bring us. It made me think about the fact that I have always held the supreme importance of relationships in my life as undeniably true. Funnily enough though, I have never sought to prove this logically. Sure enough, one could appeal to a biological basis for relationships, but I've held relationships as important even before this line of thinking had occurred to me. It was an important reminder that some of the greatest truths in this world are intuitive rather than logical.

(2) Jensen also talked about some of the things which militate against quality relationships, including individualism and consumerism. While I wouldn't agree with Jensen that individualism has been an "unmitigated disaster" as he expressed, I'd certainly agree with him that the relentless pursuit of individualism at the expense of community has proved to be particularly problematic, both individually and corporately. Of course, I couldn't agree with him more about the devastating effect that consumerism and materialism has had upon relationships. Jensen's reminder that we have become asset rich, yet time poor and hence relationship poor is an important corrective in contemporary society.

(3) In order to switch focus from human relationships towards our relationship with God, Jensen spoke about the reliability of relationships and the fact that there are certain points in life that our closest human relationships will fail us. In particular, he pointed out that death is a process we ultimately travel through alone. I thought that this was rhetorically powerful, precisely because I am sure that there has been a point in every person's life when they have felt the pain of feeling alone.

(4) After talking about the profile of the rich young ruler and his question, Jensen focused on Jesus' directive for the man to sell all of his possessions and come and follow him. I was really glad that Jensen didn't qualify this verse by adding the caveat that simply because Jesus asked the rich young ruler to sell all of his possessions, it doesn't mean that we are expected to do the same. I have heard many speakers do this - and it annoys me every time, because I see it as a concession to an increasingly consumerist and middle-class church. If people hear this request and are shocked, then I think the story has served its purpose. People are meant to be shocked because it is the Ultimate Ultimatum - The Money or the Son. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out, grace may very well be free, but it certainly isn't cheap.

(5) Jensen finished up with a standard "sinner's prayer" which was more or less evangelical in focus. While my understanding of the atonement is somewhat different from that held by evangelicalism, I have no great objection to this type of prayer itself. However, the prayer did seem strangely out of place given the context of the talk. For myself and others aware of the evangelical gospel, Jesus dying for our sins and paying the penalty are familiar concepts, but to the newcomer, such talk probably would have seemed bewildering considering that it didn't really figure in the talk itself.

All of the above said, I both enjoyed and appreciated Jensen's talk. I can't say I was "pleasantly surprised", because I have heard Jensen talk before and accordingly already held high expectations. This said, my expectations were not disappointed. Finally, I should point out that the message of relationship and discipleship of Jesus and the forsaking of the world to pursue these objectives that is central to this narrative is both familiar and of critical important to my more liberal church community at Space For God. I couldn't have imagined anyone in this community having too much to object to in the thoughtful and effective way in which Jensen presented these motifs.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I'm Hearing Archbishop Peter Jensen Talk Tonight

Christians in the Media are hosting Archbishop Jensen tonight to kick-off their "Starting the Ultimate Relationship" mission. As chief Sydney Anglican watchdog, I felt that I had a responsibility to attend.

Rumour has it that there will be APEC-style fences up in place and people may experience delays travelling down Parramatta Rd and Johnston St. Furthermore, security personnel have been told to shoot to kill, so it's unlikely that I'll be trying any Chaser-style stunts. At least that's my intention.

To those at Christians in the Media who are concerned about the fact that I am attending tonight, I'll have you know that I will be on my best behaviour ...

Bible Contradictions

Perhaps one of the issues that led me away from evangelicalism was the issue of biblical inerrancy. In short, to suggest that the Bible is inerrant is to say that the Bible contains no two pieces of Scripture that contradict each other when understood in context. Over time and through continued Bible study I came to view this position as increasingly untenable. Yet as important as biblical inerrancy is in the evangelical schema, it was not the nature of the Bible itself that lead me away from evangelicalism. Rather, it was the way in which evangelicals dealt with the Bible in order to maintain their position of inerrancy that concerned me most. I began to observe that despite remonstrations to the contrary, evangelicals in actual fact had no real love for Scripture, a point to which I shall return to later in this essay.

The issue of contradictions in the Bible has been raised by Craig Schwarze at his blog, "These Infinite Spaces". It is clear that Craig believes that the Bible is inerrant, or infallible, depending upon the terminology one wishes to use. Reading through the comments, Schwarze reveals that his belief in the inerrant nature of the Bible is a mere assumption, or what he chooses to call a "presupposition". Exactly why he has chosen this presupposition rather than being open to the possibility of Scripture perhaps being errant is unclear.

As one travels further into Schwarze's train of thought, it becomes clear that he has set up a number of mechanisms in his mind to avoid seriously examining the issue of biblical inerrancy. Not only is Schwarze's belief in the inerrancy of Scripture a mere presumption - it is an irrebutable presumption. When Schwarze is faced with an accusation that two verse contradict each other, his first port of call will be to engage in a process called "harmonisation". Harmonisation essentially involves moulding and massaging two texts into shape until they agree with each other. If he can't do this, Schwarze will simply assume that he currently lacks the understanding to properly interpret these verses and that in due course, the contradictions will be resolved. Ironically, it is generally only these problematic passages that are unclear (even if the verses would apparently seem to look straight forward) - evangelicalism claims an almost dogmatic certainty on all other parts of Scripture. The possibility doesn't even seem to occur to Schwarze that he indeed accurately understood the two passages and that his understanding confirms that Scripture does indeed contain contradictions.

Schwarze's contention that contradictions that can't be easily explained away must be the fault of the reader rather than the text directly runs into a distinctive of conservative Protestantism - the perspicuity of Scripture. Conservative Protestants generally assert that Scripture is comprehensible by the lay person and that one doesn't need an authority to interpret the text. Quite clearly, this claim aims to circumvent the Roman Catholic argument that scriptural interpretation is the province of the Vatican alone. Yet Schwarze would seem to be suggesting that Scripture is difficult to understand at certain points (which coincedentally correspond with passages that are alleged to contradict with each other), to such an extent that a proper understanding of certain bible passages remain elusive to the reader until at least a later point in time. Of course, this raises another dilemma - what is the point of having an inerrant set of Scriptures if one can't actually understand what they say?

The presupposition of biblical inerrancy is a harsh and demanding mistress. In evangelical thought, it commands respect above all else, including the Bible itself. If normative principles of hermeneutics lead to an understanding of Scripture contradicting itself, then these principles must be set aside to appease the bleeting voice of inerrancy. If there is a straight forward reading of a text which threatens the doctrine of inerrancy, the straight forward reading must lay its life down at the feet of inerrancy to make way for a more obscure reading that satisfies its ravenous appetite.

This returns us to my first point - evangelicalism is not so much concerned with understanding the Bible as it is with maintaining the doctrine of inerrancy. For evangelicals, biblical inerrancy is the idol that they worship. And ultimately this means that they worship themselves, because biblical inerrancy is a product of their own making. Nothing is allowed to get in the way of serving this idol - not even the Bible itself.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Is Space For God Simply a "Glorified Good Works Club"?

At Space For God we don't believe that one comes to God by uttering a series of shibboleths. Indeed, we believe that speaking in Christianese generally only serves to alienate outsiders. Accordingly our commitment to speak in "outsider language" raises the suspicions of those who believe that secret passwords initate one into the Christian community. I mean, if a church doesn't use words such as justification, sanctification or propitiation, how can they really call themselves a Christian community?

Space For God also desires to be actively involved in pursuing social justice, whether that be as individuals or as a community. Again, "social justice" is one of those phrases that arouses an element of suspicion in the wider Christian community. Accordingly, a conservative Christian friend of mine asked whether the Emerging Church in general and Space For God more specifically was little more than a glorified good works club. Wouldn't we be better off, he argued, simply joining Rotary or another charitable organisation?

Questions such as those asked by my friend don't really annoy me. On the contrary, such questions indicate at least a surface level interest in what we do at Space For God. What's more, such questions provide an opportunity for closer self-examination and scrutiny. And considering that the people at Space For God are not afraid of facing difficult questions, this is precisely what I did - I raised the question for consideration on the Space For God retreat.

Bek, our correspondent from Ireland, gave this response.

Yes, that's right. You'll have to click on the link to find out ...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stupid Acronyms

I'm sure that most of you can remember the first aid acronym, ABC. Meant to be a guide to help your average Joe confidently apply first aid principles, ABC reminded people to check the Airway, Breathing and then Circulation in a victim, in that order. It was clever, not only because it was easy to remember, but also because the ABC corresponded with the fundamentals of first aid.

Then one day, some bright spark discovered that perhaps checking the airway was not always the prudent first step to take. For instance, if the victim had been electrocuted and there were live wires around, the only thing checking the airway would do is to create a second victim. So the powers that be decided to add DR to the front of the acronym, standing for checking Danger and a Response in the victim. Accordingly, far fewer people coming to the rescue found themselves getting injured in their rescue efforts, but a clever acronym was spoiled forever.

Some acronyms were never clever. Living in a room that used to be part of a hotel, I still have the instructions for what to do in case of fire. The acronym? RACE. For what it's worth, the acronym stands for the following:

Remove people from danger area
Alert people nearby and raise an alarm
Confine fire and smoke
Extinguish and contain fire and evacuate

Reasonable advice, but could they have come up with a more stupid acronym if they tried? I mean, if there's a fire, you want to respond in a calm and composed manner to the threat. RACE simply doesn't conjure up the idea of calm and composure. I surprised that they didn't come up with PANIC:

Push others out of the way
Argue with the designated fire warden
Neglect to use common sense
Inhale smoke fumes
Collapse on floor

At least then the acronym would be consistent with the advice.

So, as the first official Ministry of Incompetence competition, I'd like to ask readers to tell me about some of the most stupid acronyms they've come across. An unimpressive prize goes to the winner.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Memoirs of a Washed Up Preacher

Once upon a time I preached with unfettered confidence. I was ready and willing to set the pulpit on fire for Jesus. There was nothing that would stand in my way – I had a message to give and come hell or high water that message would be heard.

Back then, I was a very different person. How blissfully oblivious I was to the complexities of life and how wonderful it was that I could speak with utter conviction and clarity without even a twinge of conscience. What noble misapprehensions I laboured under. True enough, I believed in lies – but what beautiful lies they were.

As I look back upon the headstrong twenty year old boy preaching his first sermon, I reflect back with nostalgia, although not without a twinge of sadness. I lament over what has been lost. Over what will never be redeemed. Little did this boy know what would be stolen from him through the vicissitudes of life. First, he lost his sense of self-assured certainty. Once so safe and predictable, the world becomes an intricate web of variables that interact together to confound his preconceived formulas. Then he lost his sense of integrity. Sins once darkened by the shadows of ignorance reveal themselves in the light of a new morn. His pretensions were forever dashed.

Preaching became increasingly hard for me in this new world. I could feel myself becoming less articulate day by day and was sure that my listeners could sense it too. It was easy to preach powerfully and passionately when I believed that the ideas I believed in were as stable as the ground below me, but once the ground opened up and swallowed me whole, I knew that there was no turning back. I considered myself a fraud. How could I preach about something that I wasn’t absolutely sure about? How could I preach about selfishness when I was selfish to the very core? I concluded that to continue on could only be regarded as the epitome of hypocrisy. And then one day, I made the decision that I could never preach. That I would never preach again.

If I was sure about anything, it was my decision to never preach again. However, this too proved to be unstable. Steph asked me if wished to speak at Space For God. Since I wasn’t expected to stand out in front of a pulpit, I reluctantly agreed. I still remember that night. To my mind, it was a technically flawed performance. I felt that I didn’t communicate clearly and that I stumbled over my words. I felt as though I was a pale remnant of my yesteryear. But apparently the effort was appreciated and I was asked to speak again – and again I agreed reluctantly. I have since spoken a few times and still feel uncomfortable at the prospect. Still, it is gratifying to know that I can contribute to the life of the community.

It has occurred to me that I am condemned to preach - but to preach what? I have made the conscious decision, however awkwardly, to preach those things about which I know best. I will preach my doubts, my fears and my failings. I will preach my depression, my demons and my struggles, as well as the love of God in amongst all of this messiness and my utter dependence upon his grace. How can I do any more? How can I do any less? It is the only way that I can speak with clarity and truthfulness. I've realised that I don't need to know all the answer to communicate something close to my heart. I think Peter Cameron expressed it most beautifully when he talked about the role of a minister:

"The minister to my mind was not a hierophant - a revealer of sacred things - but a fellow traveller, someone whose task it was to be more honest and open about his frailty and doubts than anyone else, a professional doubter, an intellectual rather than a moral conscience."

This is why I am what I am - a Minister of Incompetence.

As I Sat Sadly By Her Side

Lyrics by Nick Cave (2001)

As I sat sadly by her side
At the window, through the glass
She stroked a kitten in her lap
And we watched the world as it fell past
Softly she spoke these words to me
And with brand new eyes, open wide
We pressed our faces to the glass
As I sat sadly by her side

She said, "Father, mother, sister, brother,
Uncle, aunt, nephew, niece,
Soldier, sailor, physician, labourer,
Actor, scientist, mechanic, priest,
Earth and moon and sun and stars
Planets and comets with tails blazing
All are there forever falling
Falling lovely and amazing"

Then she smiled and turned to me
And waited for me to reply
Her hair was falling down her shoulders
As I sat sadly by her side

As I sat sadly by her side
The kitten she did gently pass
Over to me and again we pressed
Our different faces to the glass
"That may be very well" I said
"But watch the one falling in the street
See him gesture to his neighbors
See him trampled beneath their feet
All outward motion connects to nothing
For each is concerned with their immediate need
Witness the man reaching up from the gutter
See the other one stumbling on who cannot see"

With trembling hand I turned toward her
And pushed the hair out of her eyes
The kitten jumped back to her lap
As I sat sadly by her side

Then she drew the curtains down
And said, "When will you ever learn
That what happens there beyond the glass
Is simply none of your concern?
God has given you but one heart
You are not a home for the hearts of your brothers

And God does not care for your benevolence
Anymore than he cares for the lack of it in others
Nor does he care for you to sit
At windows in judgment of the world he created
While sorrows pile up around you
Ugly, useless, and over-inflated"

At which she turned her head away
Great tears leaping from her eyes
I could not wipe the smile from my face
As I sat sadly by her side

Exciting News ...

I found out something truly exciting this morning and have already told a few people the news. However, the rest of you will have to wait for a few weeks until all the formalities are settled. One must be discerning about such things ...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Phillip Jensen on Reputation and Criticism

A few of my own insights at Sydney Anglican Watch, critiquing Dean Phillip Jensen's opinions about the reputuation of the Sydney Diocese, St. Andrew's Cathedral and Moore College.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Launch of Sydney Anglican Watch

After much reflection, I've decided that it is the right time to open Sydney Anglican Watch - a site dedicated to promoting honest and open discussion about matters pertinent to the Sydney Diocese. I've long been concerned about the phenomenon of censorship in the Sydney Diocese, but over the last few months my concerns have been greatly increased. Whether censorship is a more localised phenomenon or something intrinsic to Reformed theology I cannot profess to know (of course, one might wish to point to Calvin's adventures with Servetus), but this is largely irrelevant. The fact is that I feel compelled to act and to deny this compulsion would be irresponsible in the extreme.

I have stated my aims and objectives of the project here.

If you are a reader from the margins, this is a chance for you to freely discuss issues in a manner that was perhaps not available to you before. If you are a Sydney Anglican reader, I welcome your views and opinions too and would be more than happy for people to be involved with a sustained defence of the behaviour of the Sydney Diocese. As the Scriptures say, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another".

Monday, August 20, 2007

What Could I Be Getting Up To?

I do apologise for not posting much recently, but something very big is about to happen.

Updates shortly ...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Inaugural Space For God Weekend Away

Last weekend Space For God went for their inaugural retreat at Yaraandoo in Fiddletown. If you don't know where Fiddletown is, then you're in good company because neither did we. Basically, it's at the other end of the earth, beyond Galston and as such, beyond any sense of civilisation. Of course, if one wants to get there, it's particularly helpful to have an accurate map. We didn't, but miraculously found our way there regardless.

There was no real agenda for weekend except for the intention of basking in the warmth of each other's company. We found this to be a fairly time consuming task - when you only see one another once a week there is a lot of catching up to do. It's also helpful to see each other outside of the context of church to get to see a completely different side of their personality. I'd like to think that I was able to learn something about each person that I wouldn't have unless I took the opportunity to attend the retreat:

Paul is a pretty handy cook and not too bad with a sword either.

Julie is particularly fond of Elmo and has pyjamas to prove it.

Luke is not adverse to a bit of collusion to improve his chances of winning a board game.

Clare has a real problem with guys who feel the need to show off in their car.

Bek is quite disdainful of academic language despite the fact that she is currently completing her PhD.

Katishe is the best person to ask if you have a headache and want something strong to take away the pain.

Steph regards herself as an evangelical.

Tim eats a lot, but is discrete enough to avoid being detected.

Ahh, good times.

As much as we tried, it was impossible to go through the entire weekend without reflecting upon our shared identity as people of faith. Though the way each of our faiths manifest themselves differ somewhat, it is clear that we seek to be disciples and that our discipleship is what spurs us on towards love and good deeds. We are not merely, as I have heard it alleged, a glorified "good works club". Though good works and social justice is a central part of our platform, we only partake in these activities because we believe that we called to do so by a God who affirms the intrinsic dignity and worth of humans and indeed, of all life.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Last Post For Signposts

Some two weeks ago I learnt about It didn't take me long to get involved with discussions on postmodernity, homosexuality and Hillsong and to find people who both strongly agreed and disagreed with what I said. I'd suggest that the diversity of views reflects very favourably upon Phil and Dan McCredden and the latitude that they gave to open discussion and enquiry. Perhaps the only thing that annoys me more than dogmatic conservative Christians is dogmatic progressive Christians, especially when they are operating under the declaration of being open-minded. To their credit, Phil and Dan did not let this happen, welcoming views from all over the theological spectrum.

It would appear that Phil and Dan are now deciding to shut Signposts down. While extremely disappointing (especially considering that I arrived so late on the scene) the decision is completely understandable. I can only imagine that keeping Signposts running for as long as Phil and Dan did would have been rather draining on their time and resources. Their quest for inclusivity has also incurred the ire of some, which is rather unfortunate. I wish both Phil and Dan Godspeed in their future endeavours - may they continue to be a positive influence upon others.

Having had a taste of this community, I am still in denial. I want to keep it running. I want to keep the flame alive. How about others? I'd be particularly interested in hearing from other Signposters about the prospect of continuing along on the journey, pursuing questions and embracing a more holistic faith. If it's possible, I'd love some of you to leave your thoughts here about where we can go as a community and other ideas that may seem even remotely relevant to keeping the dream alive.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Tribute to Geriatric Characters in Children's Entertainment

To tide me over until my current sense of malaise has passed, I thought I should introduce you a new blog started by Derek, my team leader called My Views and Thoughts on Everything. What can I say about this blog but that it is a quirky series of reflective essays about everything from the joys of catching the 610X bus from the city to Kellyville to the unique Australian phenomenon of the local chemist. However, perhaps my favourite essay is the following piece about a character who seems oddly out of place in a video that Derek was watching with his 4 and 3 year-old daughters.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Being Rich Towards God

At Space For God on Sunday night we discussed what it might mean to be rich towards God. In a sense this is quite ironic because I'm not really feeling particularly wealthy as I write this article. Perhaps this is partly due to lack of sleep and partly due to anxiety over my final few College of Law exams, but at the back of my mind there is also this feeling of unworthiness and illegitimacy about my walk as a disciple of Christ. At the moment I don't really feel that I have a lot to offer God and this is currently manifesting itself in a real sense of writer's block. God only knows what I will write.

I guess my first impression is that it is very easy to fool ourselves into believing that we are being rich towards God. We often believe that saying, believing or doing the right kinds of things is a substitute for real spirituality. We might go to church, perform religious rituals or volunteer for church project in the mistaken belief that these things of our own accord make us more committed to God. Perhaps we might pray, read our Bible or dedicate our lives to helping the poor with the same intention, only to be disappointed. While these things may be helpful spiritual disciplines, they do not in themselves guarantee a life in which we have drawn close to God. This reminds me of the following passage:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. - 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

I understand this passage as saying that it not through being religious that we are rich towards God, nor by knowing great and profound things about Him, nor by having great faith, nor by doing great deeds. It is through having great love, which will manifest itself both in our devotion to Him. As Jesus points out, whatever we do for the least of His brothers or sisters we also do for him (Matthew 25:40), so to be rich towards others is to be rich towards Him. Indeed our love towards others should be the natural outworking of our love towards Jesus. As John points out, it is impossible for us to hate our brother or sisters and yet love God (1 John 4:20).

A rich faith as I understand it, is a holistic faith. It isn't a faith that clocks in just before church starts and clocks out just after church finishes - it should be a part of our everyday life. It is not just a Sunday thing. Being rich towards God is not merely something we are doing during explicitly religious activities - we can be rich towards God in the more mundane pursuits of everyday life. Indeed, I truly believe that this is when the true extent of our richness towards God is most clearly highlighted.

Finally, being rich towards God means giving our whole selves over to Him. This may mean being honest about our weaknesses, our doubts and our fears. It is precisely in these dark places that true redemption can take place. And it is only when we are truly weak that we can be of any use to God. To illustrate this point beautifully, I shall conclude with one of my favourite Kierkegaard quotes:

Confess your weakness and face it. Perhaps just in this weakness God will meet you and come to your aid. This much is certain: the greatest thing each person can do is to give himself to God utterly and unconditionally – weaknesses, fears, and all. For God loves obedience more than good intentions or second-best offerings, which are all too often made under the guise of weakness.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Retaliation of the Priest

An interesting story has been doing the rounds about the behaviour of a prominent Melbourne priest who retaliated against a group of boys who trespessed onto church property to skateboard on the premises. This retaliation involved a flurry of swearing, a few racist slurs and even some physical abuse by the priest. I had wanted offer my thoughts on the subject since I became aware of the issue a few days ago, but was concerned that I would unleash a torrent of unjustified anti-Catholic sentiment by raising the issue. That said, now that the video has circulated itself widely throughout both the media and the Christian community, I see no point in holding back from providing my commentary. Before I do so however, here is the video of the incident, which I would suggest you watch before proceeding to read the rest of my article. Just to offer the standard cliched disclaimer, some viewers may find the following footage distressing. Having said that, I have all but guaranteed that the vast majority of people who come across this post will now watch the video:

The first thing I think I need to say is that I have no right to take the moral highground. Of course, this is a cue to make a confession. Late last year, at a time when my pacifistic stance was only just taking shape but nonetheless existed, I took umbrage against a man who quite deliberately shoved me out of the way to get on a train. I shoved him back forcefully enough to let him know that I was annoyed. This wasn't a particularly wise thing to do, since he shoved me back, this time with much more aggression. This would have been fine, but for the fact that I was holding a yoghurt that I had recently bought at the time. I ended up second-best with the yoghurt spilt all over my suit. Very angry at the time, I was actually quite tempted to throw the remains of my yoghurt through the open train door at his face. Quite possibly because I will soon be seeking admission as a solicitor and that fact the Law Society of New South Wales does not look kindly on such behaviour, I held back. That and the fact that given the temperament of the man, further annoying him may have encouraged him to lash out in even more serious violence. It seems like a self-evident response, but refraining from retaliating for the second time was the wisest thing I did all day.

Having acknowledged my profound wrongdoing so that there are no real skeletons in the closet concerning my own behaviour, I have to say that I completely understand the response of the priest. He was mercilessly taunted by the boys and to respond as he did was perfectly natural. This said, I was also disgusted by his behaviour, especially his physical abuse and his racism. Especially as a man of the cloth, the priest should know that his behaviour serves as a witness both to the Church and to Jesus. By acting as he did, he has brought both the Church and Jesus into disrepute. When Jesus tells us to "turn the other cheek" when we are struck, be it literally or metaphorically, he truly means it - he is not speaking in hyperbole. I should point out that to his credit the priest has since shown deep contrition for his behaviour, for which I must commend him, although it is strange that his apology has only occurred since the issue has become public.

As a pacifist, this incident raises many interesting questions for which I have no easy answers. Here are my questions, for which I would also be interested in seeing how others respond:

(1) How would I have responded to the belligerence of the skateboarders?
Unfortunately, as much I might like to, I can't guarantee that I would not have retaliated - though I am almost certain that I would not have made racist slurs and fairly certain that I would not have physically struck out.

(2) How should one act in such situations?
It is important to recognise that pacifism should not be equated with "passivism". We are to turn the other cheek and refuse to respond to violence with violence, but this does not mean that our non-violence response cannot serve to deeply shame our attackers. I am sure that Jesus would have been able to come up with a response that would have stopped the cocky skateboarders in their tracks, but unfortunately, I can't. I certainly wouldn't have been able to come up with a calm and collected response that shamed these skateboarders in the heat of the moment.

(3) What is the logical conclusion of my pacifism?
It has recently dawned on me that if I say I am a pacifist, not only must I refuse to respond with violence myself, but I must refuse to take advantage of any resort I may have to address the situation through violence means, even if by proxy. As a pacifist, does this mean that I should not take advantage of the police force, since to do so would not be to act non-violently, but simply to delegate my violent response to another party, who indeed can retaliate far more effectively than I could in the first place? And yet this may be precisely what Jesus calls us to do.

So many questions ... so few answers

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Debrief From the Steve Chalke Talk

Last night I had the privilege of listening to the prominent social activist Steve Chalke at the Wesley Centre. Chalke spoke powerfully as he argued that as Christians we must allow our Christology to determine our missiology, which in turn determines our ecclesiology. All too often, he suggested, Christology and missiology takes place within the ivory towers of the church and thus our mission becomes ineffective while our Christology becomes distorted. By seeing how Christ does mission and how he understands community, we can be far more effective in mission while being more genuine in community.

Recounting his first ever sermon as an ordained minister which centred around the narrative of Jesus turned water into wine, Chalke suggested that according to Jesus, the Kingdom of God is a "party for the poor". Jesus came first and foremost to the sick, the sinful and the disenfranchised to bring healing to a broken world. Although Jesus came to bring spiritual healing, he also came to heal people emotionally, physically and financially. To Jesus, the Kingdom of God is not some otherworldly phenomenon - it is an imminent reality based in the present. Chalke suggested that we cannot think of the good news of Jesus without of our responsibility to bring holistic healing to disenfranchised individuals. While this doesn't mean that people will always be in good health, it does mean that we should do whatever we can to make affordable and effective health care attainable. While this doesn't mean that people will be rich, it does mean that we should do whatever we can to fight against structures that exploit the poverty of others. While this doesn't mean that people will always be happy, we should do whatever we can to bring grieving people comfort. To do all of these things is to do the work of God and indeed to proclaim the gospel.

I found Chalke's talk quite thought provoking at many points, but what surprised me was the level of importance that he granted to theology. He rightly asserted that everybody, even the village atheist does theology - the only question is whether we do good theology or bad theology. All of this would be music to the ears of conservative evangelicals, who have long suggested that good theology is of critical importance. That is, until they discover that Chalke believes that conservative evangelicalism does quite terrible theology at several critical points.

It may come as no surprise to my readers that I have come to the conclusion that Chalke is right both about the importance of theology and the fact that conservative evangelicalism does theology incredibly poorly. Indeed, during his talk Chalke made reference of a newspaper article that suggested that "evangelical scholarship" is a contradiction in terms. I believe that there is some substance to this accusation. By and large, evangelical scholarship is concerned not with open and honest enquiry, which should be the object of true scholarship, but with defending the parameters of evangelicalism. Evangelical scholarship is not so much scholarship as it is glorified apologetics. And because theology is so cherished in evangelical circles, those who rise to the ranks of greatness in evangelical scholarship become cult figures adored by their followers. That is until these evangelical scholars do what scholars should do and actually act in a scholarly manner by not being afraid to take one's thoughts to their logical conclusion, at which point they dramatically change from hero to villain, becoming pariahs in the evangelical community and traitors to the tribe. There is no more perfect example of this than in the case of N.T. Wright. It is still a source of much amusement to me that evangelicals who are in raptures of Wright's more orthodox arguments think that the same brilliant mind has lost the plot when it comes to his writings on subjects on which they disagree with him.

While I am utterly convinced of the fact that conservative evangelicalism does theology incredibly poorly, I would have to concede that progressive Christianity does not do theology much better at lay level. I believe that this might be because there is generally a poor level of Bible knowledge among progressive Christians. I guess this is where I believe I have a role to play. To its credit, conservative evangelicalism has endowed me with not only a fairly strong knowledge of the Bible, but also a great love for the words within. But unbeknown to them and indeed unbeknown to myself at the time, they created a monster of their own making. I believed that to properly read the Bible was more important than simply defending the sacred cows of the tribe. Indeed, if reading the Bible led me to believe that the sacred cows should be slaughtered, I believed it was my responsibility to do so. I still believe that it is my responsibility to do so. With all of this in mind, conservative evangelicals should realise that to the extent that I undermine the foundations of conservative evangelicalism, it is conservative evangelicalism that is responsible for what occurs. I can say with the utmost of sincerity that I have conservative theology to thank for equipping me with the tools to knock over their Tower of Babel and conservative evangelicals only have conservative evangelicals to blame for its unwilling and unwitting assistance in my mission.

I would like to encourage all of those progressive Christians out there to become better acquainted with your Bible and particularly with the teachings of Jesus. Let me suggest that it is not only your privilege to be able to read the Bible, but it is your birthright and your responsibility. It is your responsibility because we live in a society that believes that the message that Christianity has to offer is that God hates them. Indeed, last night I learnt the disturbing statistic that over half of all people who commit suicide and leave a note in the United States have committed suicide for issues relating to their sexuality. A significant proportion of these people have had considerable exposure to conservative evangelicalism. This cannot continue. This must not continue. We cannot allow conservative evangelicalism to claim the title "Biblical Christianity" for itself by default. The time for action is now.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Steve Chalke to Speak in Sydney

Jesus tells us "the poor you will always have with you" (Matthew 26:11). Perhaps one of the more novel interpretations of this verse has been to suggest that since poverty is inevitable, social justice has no place in the role of the Christian. It is argued that Christians would be better off dedicating all of their spare time to converting people. For Steve Chalke, the chair of an organisation dedicated to fight against human trafficking called Stop the Traffik, this suggestion is absurd. This Wednesday night, Chalke will be talking about the role that his faith plays in motivating him towards pursuing justice in society and indeed how this very verse propels him to act. The details of the evening are as follows:

Date: Wednesday 1 August 2007
Venue: Wesley Theatre, 220 Pitt Street, Sydney
Time: 8.00pm - 9.30pm
Cost: Free of charge
Further Information: 02 9806 6363

For those of you in Sydney who attended the talk on William Wilberforce or watched "Amazing Grace" last week, this would be an excellent opportunity to become better informed about the role that you can play in fighting injustice in this world, both as individuals and as a church community. It would be great to see some of you there.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Critiquing Hillsong

If there is one thing I believe the Church as a whole would benefit from, it is open dialogue. Too often, the Church finds itself shutting down debate on important issues. Those who have been prepared to speak out against the status quo have been branded trouble-makers, malcontents and even heretics. Throughout the centuries, many of these "heretics" have put to death merely for the crime of calling for accountability.

If one looks at the history of the Church, freedom of thought and speech has often been prevented when the Church was at its most powerful. It is interesting to note that while the Reformation was just starting to develop, John Calvin led the charge for religious freedom. However, as the Reformed community in Geneva grew in influence and power, the same John Calvin used the full weight of his influence to prevent the freedom of individuals to express opinions about the Bible that disagreed with his understanding. As is well documented, Calvin even played a pivotal role in the execution of the dissident Michael Servetus. Many of his followers even today have embraced similarly censorious approaches to opinions that conflict with their own. If nothing else, it is good to see that they are carrying on the family tradition!

In the pursuit of promoting open and honest dialogue, a friend of mine has creating Critiquing Hillsong, a site dedicated to encourage transparency in financial and leadership matters at Hillsong - which I shall also place on my links page. My friend has had extensive experience within Hillsong and has already attempted to look at their financial records - unfortunately without success. This has occurred despite the fact that Hillsong has previously claimed that all of its financial records are openly available to the public.

Now, I should point out that even while the openly expressed agenda of Hillsong grates against my values, I haven't personally taken the lead in pushing for transparency in the affairs of Hillsong. The primary reason for this is because I haven't had any significant degree of involvement in Hillsong and thus my testimony contributes relatively little weight to the cause. However, I am willing to promote Critiquing Hillson - firstly, because I believe my friend to be a trustworthy individual with integrity and secondly, because I believe heavily in the pursuit of transparency and honesty. Quite simply, I believe that an organisation that is meant to represent truth has no business in embracing censorship.

Short of comments defaming the character of others or otherwise creating messy legal implications, I have made the very conscious decision to encourage open discussion on my blog. It is an incredibly defensive strategy to censor comments and shows a real lack of faith in one's position. My rationale has always been that if my position cannot withstand attack, it is not worth having. And what do I fear from transparency, apart from that which will come to light eventually anyway? I can only hope that Hillsong and others will adopt a similar approach.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Those who know me personally and those who are acquainted with the broader scope of my writings will know that I am a fairly outspoken critic of evangelicalism and more particularly Reformed Christianity. However, I feel that it would be remiss of me not to mention a particularly positive contribution made by Christians in the Media, an evangelical church in Annandale on Tuesday night. Celebrating 200 years since the abolition of the British transatlantic slave trade and in anticipation of the upcoming movie "Amazing Grace", Christians in the Media invited Sandy Grant to speak about the life and legacy of William Wilberforce.

Sandy gave a particularly compelling account of the role that Wilberforce played in the abolition of the slave trade, examining the pivotal role that his Christian faith played in motivating him in this cause. This reminded me particularly of a speech by Jim Wallis I attended last year, in which Wallis argued for a passionate commitment to justice motivated by an underlying Christian faith to strengthen one's resolve in the face of adversity. However, I was most pleased by Sandy's call for the church to walk in the footsteps of Wilberforce, and to continue the fight against the slave trade that still exists in many parts of the world today. In particular, Sandy mentioned the importance of responsible purchasing decisions with respect to markets that are fuelled by slave or otherwise exploitative labour. One way in which we may do this is by purchasing Fair Trade, a pursuit which is already close to the hearts of the Space For God community.

After listening to the talk, a crazy thought entered my mind. Is it even remotely possible that promoting Fair Trade is a project that Christians in the Media and Space For God could work on together? I don't for minute believe that this would help to smooth over the theological differences that the groups have. I may be young, but I'm not naive. Not that naive, anyway. But what a profound statement it would make if we were able to put our theological differences aside for one day to promote such a blessed cause! And who knows, notwithstanding the profound disagreement that may exist, perhaps members from each church could even appreciate the sincerity and conviction of each other's faith and the central role that our respective faith journeys play in spurring us on towards love and good deeds?

You may say that I'm a dreamer - but am I the only one?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Where Does My Faith Lie?

I thought I might just take this opportunity to share a favourite poem of mine - "A Hymn to God the Father" by John Donne:

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.

To properly appreciate this poem, it is necessary to recognise that it was written while Donne was facing a life-threatening illness in 1623. Facing premature demise, Donne is forced to confront death face to face and perhaps more importantly, what lies beyond. What I love so much about this poem and the rest of Donne's work during this period is that he refuses to run away from these questions by offering simplistic answers. He does not deny his sense of confusion and doubt, but embraces them in the pursuit of deeper understanding.

In the first two stanzas Donne questions his identity as a Christian. He is acutely aware of the extent of his sin and the fact that even after so many years he still struggles. In this respect, what do his professions of faith really mean? He may profess that Jesus is Lord of his life, but behind these professions he asks himself whether he really considers Jesus to be Lord when his life does not reflect this? And if, after so many years he is struggling with the same sins, has he truly repented?

Donne realises that he can have no real confidence in his profession - it may be genuine, but he may be deceiving himself. This gives him reason to doubt his salvation, which he freely admits - he is worried that he shall "perish on the shore". This leads him to wrestle with God and demand a guarantee that he will saved from himself, notwithstanding his lack of belief and even his erroneous beliefs. This is reminiscent of Jacob wrestling with God and refusing to give up until he received God's blessing (Genesis 32:22-32). But it is not a blessing that Donne desires, but rather for God to swear by Himself that Donne will be preserved. This seems to reflect the story where God swears by Himself that Abraham will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 22:15-18). God swears by himself as a sign of absolute guarantee to Abraham - nothing else is stable or consistent enough for which God may take an oath.

So, what does this poem say about my own relationship with God? I think that it means that God is bigger than my failings, my doubts and my misapprehensions about him. Perhaps one of my favourite verses in the Bible is 2 Timothy 2:13 in which we are told about Jesus:

If we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

And so, with this in mind, the object of my faith is further clarified:

I do not believe in myself, for my sins and struggles demonstrate that I am not a sure foundation.

I do not believe in my belief, for my faith ebbs and flows through periods of strengths and weaknesses - surely this demonstrates that my faith is not a sure foundation.

I do not believe in my beliefs, for I am fully aware of my biases and my ignorance - surely this demonstrates that my understanding is not a sure foundation.

I believe in Jesus, despite my unbelief - for He alone is my sure foundation.

Friday, July 20, 2007

How to Turn Your Church Into an Orwellian Nightmare

Last weekend I had the good fortune to read a very entertaining book called "Who Moved My Blackberry (TM)?" by Lucy Kellaway. Written primarily from the perspective of the fictitious Martin Lukes and set within a multinational called "a-b glöbâl", the book is a satirical look at corporate culture in which the author ridicules office relationships, mindless corporate slogans and vaulting ambition. Perhaps one of the more interesting subplots in the book involves an initiative that a-b glöbâl develops to retrench a sizeable proportion of their employees in a period of falling profits called "Project ABC". The rationale of Project Uplift is to divide the employees into A, B and C workers with the intention of firing the C workers. Responding to concerns within the company an executive responds:

Hi everyone, As chief morale officer, I have been tasked with ensuring that the knock-on morale implication of Project ABC are phenomenally positive. I know some of you have surfaced some issues wikth the process, which I hope this FAQ will solve!!
Q: Are the people who are As, better than the Bs and Cs?
A: No way! Everybody in this company is a uniquely talented individual. All we are saying is that the talents of A workers are supremely well aligned with our core purpose. Bs are well aligned, and Cs are not so well aligned.
Q: Are the Cs being fired?
A: I'm glad you asked that! The Cs are NOT being fired! We love them and we are deeply appreciative of all the fine work they have done here. However, we believe that in their own best interests they would be happier working someplace else.

Far from encouraging teamwork and open communication, Project ABC produces a work environment which becomes a veritable cesspool of backstabbing and doublespeak. Because all of the employees are concerned with consolidating their position within the company, they look out only for themselves - even to extent of making "gracious" criticisms to undermine their fellow employees. And because it is the executives that will be doing the grading, employees start to engage in a process of insincere sucking-up to curry favour with them and prove just how well-aligned they are with the core purpose of the company.

One of the criticisms levelled at the book is that it essentially fails in its attempt to be satirical. Primarily this is because satire is meant to exaggerate the absurdity of its subject and it is simply impossible to exaggerate the already manifestly absurd nature of corporate culture. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to satirise the political dimensions of a Boy Scout troop or a cricket team. Or maybe even a church. Ironically, I discovered an article about a church that developed a Project ABC of its very own and extolled the virtues of doing so. Let me provide an extract of the article, the full version of which may be found here:

Craig Groeschel at has an interesting series of blog posts on getting people to leave your church. It seems completely counter-intuitive, but it makes sense. If people aren't moving your church forward, they're dead weight (which is kind of scary--am I dead weight?). And it's not just about helping your church, it's also about helping those people find the church for them.

Craig gives an example where he preached on the church's vision trying to get everybody on board. If people weren't on board with the vision, he asked them to find another church. He even offered brochures from 10 other churches he knew and recommended. It was a serious challenge and 500 people ended up leaving. Most people would freak out at that thought. Not Craig:

The next week, we had about 500 new seats for people who could get excited about the vision. Within a short period of time, God filled those seats with passionate people. Many of those who left our church found great, biblical churches where they could worship and use their gifts.

Everybody won!

That's why I sometimes say, "You can grow your church by asking people to leave."

Pretty funny, isn't it? Except that this is no satire - these guys are actually serious. It would appear that the church has discovered the techniques of corporate culture and has begun to implement these types of initiatives to facilitate church growth. Growth (as the minister defines "growth") is the key and those who do not contribute to this growth are simply "dead weight", as the article so graciously expresses. The value of a person becomes determined not by who they are in Christ, but what they can bring to the table to offer to the program.

So, what advice can I offer (in a satirical sense, of course) to those who want to remain within such a church rather than politely be ushered onto "greener pastures":

1) If you have any problems with the direction of the church or of the leadership therein, just keep quiet. In fact, make sure you complement your minister and tell him regularly just how much you believe in him. After all, you want to make sure that you are known as a team player.

2) Make sure that you attend church each Sunday come hell or high water. You might be sick, but don't you really want to show that you're so committed to the vision of the church that such difficulties don't prevent you from attending?

3) If there's a project that the church is undertaking make sure you volunteer, regardless of whether such a project falls within your talents, interests or capacities. You don't want to arouse the suspicion of your minister about your commitment to the church by being reluctant to volunteer, do you?

4) Don't allow work, personal interests or family to get in the way of serving the church. If you play indoor cricket rather than attend Bible Study on the one night a week you have free, people are going to know that you're really not very interested in promoting the Kingdom of God (and more importantly, the church), won't they?

5) Whatever you do, don't admit that you have struggles and that you sin. The church is a place for winners and people who are committed to their own spiritual growth. Quite frankly, if you're not going forward, you can't take the church forward and you're no use to anyone.

Of course, did it ever occur to these people that if you're staying at a particular church, you must at least on some level value its vision?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

This Week's Song Stuck in My Head

Music is such a powerful medium. Though music, there is no emotion that cannot be conveyed by the musician or be provoked in the listener. Different types of music make me feel sadness or joy, frenzied intensity or peace. There are times when music even makes me feel transcendent - I become oblivious to everything and everyone around me and past, present and future converge into timelessness. Perhaps one of the things that I missed most during my prolonged period of numbness was that music did not convey the strong emotions that it did before. Thankfully, that period has now passed.

As you'll remember from my previous post, I was feeling fairly lonely on Saturday night. As I flipped through my CD collection I stumbled upon the 1991 album Woodface by Crowded House. It was lovely to listen to, but the highlight was the very last song - "How Will You Go?" In particular, the lyrics in the bridge suddenly gave me a sense of hope:

And you know I'll be fine
Just don't ask me how I'm going
Give me time, give me time
'Cos I want you to see
Round the world, round the world
Is a tangled up necklace of pearls

Of course, the lyrics would not have had such a powerful effect on me without the melody, so here's a cover:

Just in case you're not sure, the part I'm talking about starts at 1:43. Truly beautiful.

As I listened to those lyrics, I had the vague sense that things would find a way to work themselves out. In particular, I loved the imagery of a tangled up necklace of pearls wrapped around the world. As I understand it, this line is suggesting that the world truly is a beautiful place, but we often miss it because we prefer to focus on the fact that things are tangled up. It is a call to step back and look at things with a sense of perspective.

This song and particularly the abovementioned lines have sustained me all week. Just to let you in on an embarrassing secret, I often sing to myself in public. Apparently this isn't normal behaviour, but I don't care - I find that it helps me to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life into a world of my own making.

Stay tuned for next week, when I let you know which new song I am singing to myself on the streets of Sydney ...

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Message to the Broken-Hearted

For most of my High School life, I tried desperately to be what I thought others wanted me to be in the unsuccessful pursuit of being accepted. When I became a Christian in the last year of High School all of this changed. I worked out that I was miserable trying to be someone I was not. From that point I made the resolution to be the unique person I believed God had made me to be. I reasoned that if people didn't like me then at least I could know who I really was.

As I started being outrageously myself, something strange happened - people started to really like me. People became interested in what I had to offer. I had my downs as well as my ups, but for the first time in my life I truly felt human. This new lease of life continued into my first year of university as I entered into a world of seemingly limitless possibilities. There was no person to which I would and could not relate to and no stranger to whom I would not introduce myself. For someone who was naturally quite introverted, this was no small achievement.

As tends to happen through one's university years, towards the latter half of 2001 I fell in love and plunged head-first into a relationship, giving it the same kind of intense energy as I gave everything and everyone else. Things seemed to be going swimmingly well until New Years Day on 2002, when without warning, the relationship ended abruptly. Things started to fall apart. It wasn't so much the fact that the relationship had ended or that I had been rejected - it was the manner of the break-up. I certainly don't blame the person involved for choosing to break-up with me and I don't think that she wasn't being malicious, but the method used was really ill-considered and inconsiderate.

This was to be a major turning point in my life. More subconsciously than anything else, I shut up shop. I shut down. This worked so successfully I eventually stopped feeling pain. I stopped feeling anything. For almost five years afterwards. During this time I was involved in a series of relationship in which I felt very little connection with the other person. My grandmother died, but I felt nothing. I felt no real joy towards activities I previously enjoyed.

I'm not entirely sure what has changed, but in the last six months I have started to feel again. My self-imposed shackles have fallen off. I've started to feel human again. I am slightly more wary, slightly battle-scarred, but I am starting to feel that connection with the person I truly am. The person I always was. Whereas for so long I could only see in monochrome, I am starting to see the full brightness of the colour spectrum. Where there was only cold and dark before, there is warmth and light seeping in to the very core of my being.

Over the last few weeks I have faced (sometimes loving, sometimes not so loving) rejection from a few different sources: people, job interviewers, institutions. And for the first time in ages I began to hurt. Really hurt. It was in a sense a surreal feeling - while I remembered being in pain, I had almost forgotten what it had felt like. As you might have imagined, I've been feeling pretty lonely during the last week. But as a sat in my room on Saturday night, I began to feel hope. This pain I was feeling showed me that I was still human. My heart was still beating and blood was still flowing through my veins. I have learnt that there is only one thing worse than feeling the sting of pain and rejection and that is to feel nothing at all. In a small way I began to feel united to the rest of humanity and its common experience. I thought about those who have suffered divorce, those who have lost loved ones prematurely and those who suffer the pain of rejection from society on an everyday basis - people who have all suffered at least a hundred times more than I have. I hope their heart is still beating. I hope their blood is still flowing. I hope they haven't given up on being human.

My thoughts then turned to my Exemplar, Jesus. Was he ever more human than when he wept tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as he awaited his imminent fate? Was he ever more human than when the nails of hate were driven mercilessly through his wrists? Was he ever more human than when he cried out in agony after being forsaken by all those he loved and even His very own Father? No, no, and a thousand times no! He was never more radiant, more glorious in his humanity.

And yet, he was never more divine ...

Kanyini - Some Thoughts on Intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal Communities

Last night at Space For God we watched "Kanyini". Literally translated "interconnectness", Kanyini is the story of the search for Aboriginal identity in contemporary society. Narrated by local Aboriginal man Bob Randall, the film seeks to explore how it is that indigenous Australians have been systematically stripped of everything that made them feel connected to their roots, as well as why it is that they face such a chronic struggle to meaningfully connect to the world in which they now find themselves.

Though the film was produced last year, Kanyini has taken on new relevance in the context of the current intervention by the Federal government. Not surprisingly, the issue provoked quite animated discussion in the time of conversation after the film. In particular, there were real concerns that the current action wouldn't solve the underlying structual issues and that the approach may actually serve to be counterproductive.

While I think it is good to be able to make constructive criticisms of current government policy, it is much more productive to suggest possible solutions to the endemic problems we currently face. Clearly we need to be people of protest, but at the same time we need to be actively promoting workable solutions that will serve to empower the Aboriginal population, both individually and communally. Protest without praxis may justifiably incur the criticism that we care more about scoring political points than the actual people that this issue impacts. So with that in mind, I open the floor to invite people to talk about what concrete things we can do individually and as a community to be part of the solution and not simply people who can identify the problems.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Evangelism is Still a Dirty Word ... But Should it Be?

Last night at Space For God we looked at the "Mission of the Seventy" in Luke 10:1-20. It is a call to action and engagement with the wider world, but inevitably it also raises the issue of evangelism. Katishe acknowledged that she wasn't always comfortable with the idea of evangelism and it might be apt to say that this is indicative of the Uniting Church in general. In some ways this is understandable, since evangelism often has the connotatations of dogmatism, one-sided conversations and intolerance. Indeed, this has often been my experience. I remember distinctly observing conversations in my university days in which "targets" were talked at, rather than talked to. The evangelist had a very clear agenda and the thoughts and opinions of the target were often viewed as obstacles preventing the dissemination of the message. Indeed, after the evangelist had finished his or her monologue and had failed to win another convert, they would often have the nerve to remark sadly that the target was "not open to the truth". Ironically enough, I remember that the evangelist would often have forgotten anything that the target had said - that is, if they were allowed to speak at all.

It is for the reasons above that Katishe and other people in attendance last night often felt embarrassed to be acknowledged as Christians. Indeed, when their deep, dark secret finally did come out, it felt as if they were, for want or a better phrase, "coming out of the closet". Once upon a time the term "Christian" was a term of honour and to be "non-Christian" or "pagan" was almost seen as a term of abuse. How things have changed. These days it would be accurate to suggest that there is often a stigma about being a Christian in contemporary society. However, contrary to the suggestion that this stigma exists because Christians are persecuted, much of the stigma which attaches to the name of "Christian" is perfectly justified.

Some time back Bek suggested in her blog that perhaps the term "Christian" was past its used-by date and that perhaps a new label was needed. Indeed this is a most interesting suggestion, since many have observed a fundamental disconnect between Christians and the teachings of Christ. As Gandhi once observed: "I like your Christ - I do not like your Christians". This said, I see nothing inherently wrong with the term "Christian" - in fact, I believe that the term has a mischievously subversive edge. It is a little known fact that the "Christian" was originally given to the early followers of Jesus as a term of abuse, although for quite different reasons than the pejorative use of the term these days. Perhaps what we need to do is attempt to reclaim the term Christian from the "Christians".

While I have no real objection to the term "Christian", perhaps the term "Christianity" has had a long enough run and finally needs to be put to rest. As Christian Anarchist Jacques Ellul suggests, "Christianity" is to Jesus what Communism was to writings of Karl Marx. That is, when something becomes an "ism" as Christianity now is, it ceases to truly be what it represents. Understanding this but wishing to reclaim the term, Søren Kierkegaard suggested that he wanted to "reintroduce Christianity to Christendom". Australian Christian Anarchist Dave Andrews questions whether this is possible when the history of Christianity is observed in context. Indeed, Andrews goes so far as to suggest that to many "Christianity is the Antichrist". In response, he suggests that people who truly wish to follow Jesus should break away from Christianity and form a sect known as "Christi-anarchy". Ultimately, I think that he could be onto something.

Drawing this all into the context of the mission that Christians have in the world, I believe that the Mission of the Seventy serves to challenge the existing paradigms of evangelism. First of all, Jesus followers are not heading out to impose their ideological agenda onto the villages they pass through. Rather they are to bring peace (Luke 10:5) and healing (Luke 10:9) to those that they visit, as well as announce the Kingdom of God, which relates not to some abstract idea of heaven, but to an imminent reality based upon a society centred around the life-affirming teachings of Jesus. Furthermore, they are to truly engage with the culture they are entering, eating what is set before them (Luke 10:8), whether or not this is the kind of food that they normally eat. In other words, they are not to disrespect and disregard the cultural norms of their hosts, but must seek to move outside of their own comfort zone.

The practice of the Seventy seems markedly different to the current practice of converting someone to Christianity and then making them conform to Christian subculture. Indeed, perhaps this is the very problem - churches are so intent to convert people to Christianity that they forget to convert them to Christ. In so doing, new converts are simply followers of a system rather than of the Christ that the system is meant to represent. Let me be the first one to say that I'm through with converting people to Christianity - there is too much Christianity in the world and not enough Christ. I would much rather show them the person of Jesus, because it is my honest belief that no-one ever walks away from a real encounter with Jesus unchanged. While exposing a person to Christianity more often than not has the effect of embittering them, real and unfettered exposure to the person of Christ is precisely the place where redemption can take place. And if we want to truly introduce and dare I say, convert people to the person of Jesus, we must live the life of Jesus ourselves. Jesus is the gospel and to live as Jesus lived is to live the gospel. In this respect, the advice of St. Francis of Assisi is particularly poignant: "Preach the gospel at all times - and when necessary use words".

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Excess Baggage and the Illusion of Control

Following Jesus is at the same time the easiest and yet the hardest thing in the world. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites us to make our home with him:

"Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my load is light."

What could be easier, right? Well, that is, until we start to think about what wearies us and weighs us down. I think that to some extent we are wearied and weighed down by others, but I would suggest that for most of us, most of our burdens are much closer to home. I would suggest that most of our burdens are self-induced by our compulsive need to control things. Because of our own unlimited capacity to think about things with which to weary ourselves and weigh ourselves down and our limited capacity to actually control these things, we are fighting a frustrating and futile battle. What's more, to what extent can we truly have control over anything? The things of this world are so fleeting - they are here one minute and gone the next. And even if it was right to have control over people, how could we do so? We can say and do all the right things, but it won't force others to love or respect us, or to truly submit to our demands. And indeed, we can have no real control over our very lives, for who by worrying can add a single day to his or her life?

I write this with the all too real knowledge that I can tend to be a bit of a control freak at times. Even with the realisation that I have no real control over the things of my life, I still cling onto my illusions of control like a rat on a sinking ship. Perhaps this is why Jesus' teachings in the lectionary reading really knocked the wind out of my sails. In the second narrative (Luke 9:57-62), Jesus meets a couple of men who seem rather eager to be his devoted disciples. However, they both have one small caveat - one needs to go home to bury his father, while the other simply wants to say goodbye to his family. Especially considering the importance of family in Middle-Eastern culture, these seem like most reasonable requests. I mean, doesn't the Torah say that you had to respect your mother and your father? But Jesus won't even let these men exercise control over these things - rather they are to give them up for the sake of the gospel. They are to give over their control of control itself to Jesus. I wonder how many people could truly say that they have done that?

In the first narrative (Luke 9:51-56) we see an entirely different form of control. Jesus' disciples pass through a Samaritan village seeking hospitality for themselves and Jesus on the way to Jerusalem - but the people in the Samaritan village refuse this request. It is important to realise that we are dealing with a Middle-Eastern culture that places a high level of importance on hospitality as a common courtesy, so we need to recognise that Jesus' disciples would not have merely been frustrated by the inconvenience they faced, but they would have also been quite personally affronted by this profoundly disrespectful display. Trying to regain some semblance of control for themselves and for their master, they suggest to Jesus that they draw on their God-given resources and call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritan villagers to consume them. After all, they reason, they're doing God's work. And isn't calling down fire upon one's enemies Biblical, since God called down fire to consume Sodom and Gomorrah and Elijah called down fire too? But Jesus rebukes them, for his mission is not to destroy life, but to save it.

I think this first narrative has something quite profound to say about the complex interplay between control and power. Not all of us have the same amount of power. In our sick and ailing world, there are the powerful and the powerless. While we may not consider ourselves to be powerful, the extent of our power compared to a person in the third world is quite considerable. We can choose to use this power in one of two ways. The first option is to choose to use our power to consolidate our power base and further our illusions of control. The latter option is to choose to use our power to empower the powerless and to give them a voice. I believe that it is only through choosing the latter option that we are doing the work of God and promoting His Kingdom. Indeed, I am quite adamant that if we choose the first option we actually choose to stand in the way of the Kingdom of God and the pleas for mercy and justice made by the prophets that are so close to the heart of Jesus.

To give an example on a personal level, the use and abuse of power among bloggers is quite noticeable. Indeed, just this week, I have encountered the actions of two bloggers desperate to reassert control through subverting opinions that challenge their own. In order to do this, they have effectively blacklisted me from their blogs. Indeed, this is profoundly disappointing, since it has always been my aim to empower the powerless and to give them a voice. This said, it is not my place to fight the weapons of this world with the weapons of this world. To do so would be to try to reassert control myself, which I believe would be contrary to the Spirit of Christ. It is also important to view things within the context of the bigger picture. These actions are the tip of the iceberg - they are merely symptomatic of the way in which their religious traditions have sought to assert control by empowering themselves at the expense of others. This is the battle I must keep myself focused upon. At the same time, it is important to recognise that these people are mere prisoners of a system that tells them that control is good, that violence is legitimate if the end justifies the means and that might is right. For this reason, I need to act with both compassion and patience, realising all the while that I am by no means free from the allure of control and power.

There is perhaps one final respect in which we must seek to forfeit our illusions of control and self-governance. For some reason or another we have this idea that we are able to give things over to Jesus in our own strength. We believe that we have control over control. For as long as we hold this attitude, we will never get anywhere. To the extent to we try of our own strength to forfeit control to Jesus, control actually controls us. There is only one way to get around this dilemma - we must humbly submit to Jesus and ask that he would help remove the heavy weight of control from our weary shoulders. Only then will we be free.