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.

Derek Does Downtown Sydney

My work is a serious place.

Being the great motivator that he is, our team leader likes to make the team aware of our aims and objectives. But Derek is not like other team leaders. While other team leaders give their team long and boring speeches that are meant to be inspiring pep talks, Derek aims to get us motivated and ready for our work through the beauty of interpretive dance. Watch the following clip and see if you work out the vision he is communicating to the team:

This is a man whose star is truly on the rise. There's CEO potential if ever I saw it ...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Welcome to the Working Week!

Depressed that it's Monday?

Feeling like just another cog in the machine?

If so, escape with this 16th century piece from Palestrina:

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Was Jesus an Anarchist? - Part One: Discovering Jesus Again for the First Time

Ask a few non-Christians who they understand Jesus to be and it's likely you'll get answers like "good man", "profound ethical teacher" or "great religious figure". Then ask some Christians the same questions and you might get "Lord", "Saviour" or "Messiah" thrown into the mix. Ask either group and it's pretty unlikely that you will hear the term "Anarchist" thrown around. Now I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with the descriptions that have usually given, but I wonder what difference it would make if Jesus was known as an anarchist? How would Christians live theirs lives differently? And how would non-Christians respond to the person of Jesus?

Although I only recently came to understand Jesus as an anarchist, I'm starting to see that the foundations for this understanding were laid at the very foundations of my faith. On the Good Friday of 2000, I felt this undeniably strong compulsion to read through the gospels. While I came from a church background and was fairly well acquainted with the parables and miracles of Jesus I was not prepared for what was about to happen.

Over the next few nights as I read through all four accounts of Jesus' life and ministry I became captivated with the person that I was discovering for the first time. In a world of mediocrity and conformity, here was a man who stood for something different. Who stood for something. Even more importantly, in a world where people lived their lives without even stopping to question the values that society held dear, here was a man who stood against something. My favourite stories were the accounts of Jesus' opponents trying to trap Jesus with questions that would seemingly get Jesus into trouble no matter how he answered. Literally fighting for his life, Jesus would come up with a response that would not only dodge the bullet heading straight for him, but a response that would leave his accusers in stunned silence and exposed for the scheming cowards that they were.

I began to see Jesus as a man who was waging war on the establishment. However, rather than fight with the weapons of the world, he would fight with the power of his words. I was stunned when he stepped into the fray to save the life of a woman facing the death penalty for adultery. Here was a guy worth following. And so, thoroughly sick of the way that I had been doing things up to this point and thoroughly sick of the way that the world did things, I decided to do the most rebellious thing I could possibly think of at the time - I became a Christian.

Full of enthusiasm and anticipation, I started to go to a church to embark on the Christian life. However, my enthusiasm and anticipation were short lived. Over the next few years and in several different churches and Christian groups I began to realise that these churches taught two Jesuses. The first was a spiritual Jesus that seemed to have come to earth merely for the purpose of dying. The second was a moralistic Jesus was seemed to care more about whether I looked at a bikini-clad woman on a billboard on Parramatta Road than whether I was doing anything to help the poor. Suffice to say, I was disillusioned - this was not the Jesus I had come to know and love through my reading of the gospels. Indeed, half of the time we didn't even touch upon the person of Jesus at all since we seemed to be so preoccupied by the abstract matters of theology taught by a guy known as St. Paul of Tarsus.

The other problem with the churches I attended is that far from subverting the dominant paradigms of an increasingly materialistic Western culture, they embodied them. To be honest, I couldn't see much to differentiate the self-indulgent middle-class mentality of broader society and the behaviour that pervaded the church. The only discernible difference I could see was that the Church was far more adept at speaking in the strange dialect of Christianese. In this respect, my involvement with the mainstream Christian Church was doubly problematic - not only did I have to negotiate with the conformity of society, but I also had to navigate through the conformity and mediocrity of Christian culture. I eventually decided that if I was to rediscover the Jesus who had originally drawn me to follow him, I would have to do so outside the mainstream Church - he had left the building a long time ago ...