Sunday, April 22, 2007

living it up at the lido

I took my parents to see Miss Potter at the Lido in Auckland. As we walked through the doors into their intimate little cinema on the ground floor I saw a sight I will never ever forget. The front row is lined with these luxurious laz-e-boy chairs. Leaning all the way back in them with chairs extended and feet stretching up onto foot-rests was a row of elderly women. When we settled into the cheap seats further back all we could see were these six pairs of delicate feet and ankles sticking out over the top. They looked very content as they shuffled out after the movie!

I've been thinking a lot about those women living it up at the Lido. Would they ever be able to live it up within the orbit of the church? I wonder... How is it going with the elderly in churches today?


If the gospel really is real, then it will seek out barriers between people and melt them. Paul spoke about the ethnic barrier between Jew and Gentile and how the two become one in Christ. Does the age barrier - between younger and older - need to receive the same treatment by the gospel today? There is not a lot that is miraculous about like-minded people from one generation hanging-out together.

If human beings really are made in the image of God, then they are always and forever to be prized ... even when they grow old. Prizing the elderly means listening to their stories, taking their minds seriously, loving them enough to sing their songs, taking them out on dates, mentoring them in the art of the internet ... on and on it goes. It is common for children and youth workers to say that 'children and young people are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.' True! Very true... But it works both ways. Neither are the elderly the church of yesterday. They too are the church of today.

If wisdom really does come from experience, then wrinkles and grey hair should be a magnet for the rest of us. The elderly have watched the pendulum swing back and forth a few times. To find the still-teachable, still-moveable elderly is to find one of God's great gifts. We need to keep an eye on Maori, Polynesian, and Asian peoples and learn from them. They do this better than the rest of us. We are so good at pointing out the blindspots of previous eras. What are they going to say about our era? Maybe ... "They were so addicted to the contemporary. They made an idol of relevance. They lived in the present. They neither knew how to remember the past or to hope for a future."

If eternity really does matter, then my maths tells me that on average the elderly are closer to meeting their Maker and confronting eternity than the rest of us. If this is the case - and eternity matters - shouldn't the elderly be receiving some priority in our mission and evangelism?

But then maybe all these reflections are unnecessary. Maybe those elderly women living it up at the Lido were on a church outing - maybe one where the gospel is real, where all human beings have dignity, where the wisdom of experience is valued, and where eternity really matters?

nice chatting


Thursday, April 12, 2007

a first eleven: golf

In the aftermath of a remarkably high-scoring Master's tournament from Augusta in Georgia

[where I once inadvertently drove through the unimpressive front gates, up to the club house, walked into the lobby ... confronted by a security guard with "what are you doing in here?" ... "I came to have a look" ... "this is a private club" ... "Oh, really - I am from New Zealand!" ... at that point my beating heart propelled me back to my car (after a quick look down the fairway!) and on towards the front gates ... confronted on the driveway by a security car emitting all kinds of sounds and furies from within as well as "we are just about to call the cops" ... after a muffled "gee, the gates were wide open" I was outta there],

I have been drawn again to one of my favourite past times: tracking the names of American golfers. Now there is not a lot you can do about a surname, but what were parents' thinking when the following names were dreamed up - or the nicknames were allowed to continue?

Without further ado here are my 'first eleven' favourite golfer names:

#11 Duffy Waldorf
#10 Bubba Watson
#9 Fuzzy Zoeller
#8 Davis Love III
#7 Ty Tyron
#6 Rocco Mediate
#5 Tripp Isenhour
#4 Tag Ridings
#3 Briny Baird
#2 Bo van Pelt
#1 Boo Weekley

nice chatting

Paul Royston Windsor

Thursday, April 05, 2007

musings on a challenge to faith

It was sitting on the shelf of a bookshop at Melbourne airport. Everthing seemed to catch my eye. 'New York Times bestseller'. The title - and more importantly, as often seems the case these days, the subtitle - 'Letter to a Christian Nation: a challenge to faith.' There was even an endorsement from today's most celebrated unbeliever, atheist Richard Dawkins: 'I dare you to read this book. It will not leave you unchanged. Read it if it is the last thing you do.'
I said to myself, "OK, you're on. I'll open myself up to your 98 page challenge. I'll read your attempt to dismantle my Christian faith. You have the flight home to Auckland to convince of the attraction of unbelief."

Having read this book by Sam Harris, here is a handful of reflections:

ONE ... focusing solely on an American brand of Christianity, as he does, is not going to be convincing. It may have the money and the power, the publishing houses and the media - but it is no longer the centre of gravity in what God is doing in the world. This centre has moved from North to South and from West to East and until Christian faith in these settings is engaged the book will not impact me much. To undermine religious fundamentalism in America is not going to undermine Christian faith in the world.

TWO ... anyone can pick holes in the Bible. Goodness me - there are things recorded in the Old Testament that God hates to read. Just because it is on the 'sacred page' does not mean it receives God's endorsement. Then when he jumps from Thessalonians to John to Leviticus to Exodus to Ephesians to Timothy with just a handful of intervening paragraphs ... sorry, I just tune out. Until the little difficult parts of the Bible are interpreted in light of the big clear story of Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is not being taken seriously enough to draw me into the critique.

THREE ... the suffering in the world is a common rock which the atheist hurls at the believer. But I don't really need it hurled. I feel the weight of it enough already. It can seem that God is either absent or unfair. However alongside this must be placed the reality of a God who suffers. I am not aware of another religion or faith where this is emphasized as it is in the Christian faith. Part of the reason why I am a Christian believer is not just because of the triumph of Easter Sunday - but because that triumph followed the pain of Good Friday and the despair of Bad Saturday ... the two darkest days in history and God was actually present in both of them.

FOUR ... there are difficulties not just in the Bible, but in the history of the church. It is a story of flawed sinful people making mistakes - and this book just revels in those mistakes. Even that ol' favourite - the persistence of slavery down through the centuries - gets a few pages. But if you are going to write a book to destroy Christian faith you have to get beyond the Christian story to the Christ story - engaging with the Jesus who lives in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and spending time with him - and with the way he has been transforming people's lives by the power of the Holy Spirit ever since. I fear Harris has made the shining mistake of poor research: painting the opposing view in its poorest light and shooting that down. Such shots can only ever be cheap shots...

FIVE ... this book pushes the believer onto the backfoot. It makes us defensive. That's OK. We need to do that with humility and with care. However we also need to get on the front foot as well. A pluralist society that prioritises tolerance makes space for us to do so. The believer needs to get on the offensive - graciously and courageously. Alongside considering what Christianity looks like through an atheist worldview, we must consider what atheism looks like through a Christian worldview. Under FOUR above, why not commence by noting that the eventual abolition of the slave trade was due to the persistent activity of Jesus-following believers, not atheists?!

If this little book has troubled you or someone you love, can I suggest another book that is often sitting on shelves in similar bookshops: Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (Doubleday, 2004). It just must be read alongside...

I confess that there was a moment where I was distracted away from the book on the flight home to Auckland. The movie A Night at the Museum was playing. I find the pastoral counselling given to the premodern atheist, Attila the Hun, to animate my funny bone. I could watch it on a weekly basis...

nice chatting - and my congrats for getting this far!

Paul Windsor