Sunday, December 28, 2008

unChristian

This book by David Kinnaman gathers the outcomes of a three year study by The Barna Group into the way 16-29yr olds 'outside' the church perceive Christianity.

The book uncovers a hostility and skepticism towards the church unheard of in any previous generation. This serious image problem for the church centers around it being:
(a) too hypocritical ('saying one thing and doing another');
(b) too focused on getting converts (outsiders 'feel like targets rather than people' p29);
(c) too antihomosexual (for a staggering 91% of respondents - as 'hostility towards gays has become virtually synonymous with Christian faith' p92);
(d) too sheltered ('Christians seem aloof and insulated', p124);
(e) too political ('a movement that was bursting with energy to spread good news to people 20 years ago - has been exchanged for an aggressive political strategy that demonises segments of society', p153);
(f) too judgmental ( a staggering 87% of respondents - making a habit out of pointing out 'something that is wrong in someone else's life, making the person feel put down, excluded, or marginalised', p182).

[Check-out this link on YouTube for further discussion on the book.]

There is so much to like about this book. I like the humble open tone. I like the way it avoids the easy alternative of promoting a less offensive faith. NO! "We live it ... we embrace and describe all the potency, depth, complexity, and realism of following Christ." (p209) I like the way they try to be constructive. Each chapter concludes with respected leaders contributing short pieces on what can be done to change these perceptions (written in a different font to reinforce the point!). I like the eye on key biblical themes like truth:grace and salt:light (practice "proximity and purity", p133). I like the plethora of rhetorical questions which draws me into the book. I like the way we are called back to Jesus: "Christ followers must learn to respond to people in the way Jesus did." (p206)

Instinctively I like their conclusion: "I believe the negative perceptions that now exist are partly a symptom of a church that has lost its heart for outsiders ... I hope we put aside casual forms of Christianity, piercing the antagonism of our peers with service and sacrifice." (p213, 217)

Seven stats that stick with me...
1. "Among young outsiders, 84% say they personally know at least one committed Christian. Yet just 15% thought the lifestyles of those Christ-followers were significantly different from the norm." (p48)

2. "Only one third of young outsiders believe that Christians genuinely care about them." (p68)

3. "Radio, television and tracts accounted for a combined total of less than one-half of one per cent of the Busters (ie those in their twenties) who are born-again ... we found that these (mass-media) measures create three to ten times as much negative response as positive ... the collateral damage is significantly greater than the positive impact." (p70-71)

4. "For every 100 people who are not born again by the time they reach 18, only 6 of those individuals will commit their lives to Christ as an adult." (p72)

5. After a pretty standard description of the eight elements of a biblical worldview "only 3% of 18-29yr olds (inside the church) embrace such a worldview ... that is 1 out of every 22 ... With older adults, the figure is only 9%." (p75)

6. Just one-third of 18-41yr olds consider that the content of movies and TV is "a major problem facing America ... (our research) suggest a mix of two reasons: they don't care (they are not threatened by relativistic values), and they don't notice (they are not as likely to reject values that conflict with their own)." (p126)

7. For 16-29yr olds outside of Christianity the top five 'best known Christians' are: the Pope (16%), George Bush (13%); Jesus (9%); Billy Graham (7%); Martin Luther King (6%). Among 'young churchgoers' the order was Graham (29%), the Pope (17%), Bush (17%), Luther King Jr (8%), Jesus (7%), Mother Teresa (7%), Mel Gibson (7%) and James Dobson (5%)." (p154)

Kiwi Connections?
Christianity leaves nowhere near the 'footprint' in public life in NZ that it does in the US. I suspect this is significant. While we will find a similar hostility and skepticism I wonder if, with a smaller footprint, our challenge is the sheer irrelevance of Christianity and the way people ignore the church. The authors state that their purpose is to "recapture Christianity's reputation in our culture." (p221)I am not convinced that 'recapture' is the correct verb for us in NZ ... was it ever 'captured' in the first place? Does that make it easier for us?

The statistics relating to biblical worldview are just appalling (#5 above). Probably the most depressing part of the book for me. 3%? 9%? No wonder the church is so ineffective! Part of what is needed is a fresh commitment to the best in both systematic biblical preaching and serious theological training...

We need to let the grace at work in our lives channel out to what and where the New Testament says it should channel: to the life of good works both among the insider and the outsider.

If I was a pastor, I'd take a few initiatives in 2009. (i) I'd buy a copy of this book for all the church leadership team and at each of the first six meetings of the year we'd discuss one of these themes, reflecting on it's presence within our context; (ii) I'd plan a topical Sunday sermon series for Oct-Nov during which we would discuss each one of these perceptions; (iii) I'd activate an artistic bunch in the church to fill the billboard space outside the church with self-deprecating, subversive imagery that constitutes a public confessional for our 'unChristian' behaviour and creates discussion in church and community; and (iv) I'd hold an open forum at the conclusion of the series to find ways to move forward.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

reflecting...

Our 25 years with a NZ-focus in our ministry lives is drawing to a close. I am a sentimental-type and find myself doing a lot of reflecting on these years - and have even been given the opportunity to do so in the company of others.

(a) The first opportunity came with the Baptist Historical Society back in August where I was invited to reflect on my time in theological education in NZ. I titled the talk Populating the territories - a personal reflection on a decade (or two) in theological education in NZ. Five territories were named - territories that had been surveyed but were still needing to be more fully populated: the Mission, the Bible, the Churches, the Academy, the E-word (evangelical). Email me at paul.windsor@carey.ac.nz for a copy of this address, if you are interested.

(b) The second opportunity came at the annual Baptist Assembly where Barby and I were invited to reflect with pastors on our years in Baptist leadership. We called it The Good, the Bad, and the Blessed as we zig-zagged between Barby responding to questions and me speaking to images that were on the stage.

Barby reflected on the importance of the 'withingness' of the spouse in carving out long-term effective ministry, nurturing the faith of children by putting them in the path of blessing, and managing the stressful times in marriage. I spoke to the koru (the indigenous fern that unfurls with such perfection), two suitcases (on the importance of the word and the world), binoculars and bifocals (on the importance of vision, far and near), and a bathtub (on the emotional drain associated with leadership). There is an audio of this talk - just click here, if you are interested.


nice chatting


Paul

Saturday, December 20, 2008

soil, seed, sower

When it comes to the 'word' Jesus told a foundational parable. The writers of the Gospels considered it to be so important that it appears in Matthew (ch13), Mark (ch4), and Luke (ch8). The same parable told three times is unusual. It is commonly known as the Parable of the Sower.

It is a story about a seed, a sower, and four soils. Another unusual thing is that the Gospels record the meaning of this parable. The 'seed' is the word, or the message of the kingdom. The 'sower' is the one distributing that message. The 'soils' are the human responses to the message - and the fact that are four of them shows this to be the variable dimension in the story.

Herein lies a fundamental problem in the way we view 'ministries of the word' today, including preaching. Rather than functioning like the story really is about ONE sower, ONE seed, and FOUR soils...

either
we default to it being about FOUR sowers, ONE seed, and ONE soil.

or
about FOUR seeds, ONE sower, and ONE soil.

It is fascinating to reflect on the implications of these changes. It is subversive fun to retell the parable in these contrary ways ... because it surfaces some massive shifts that have taken place quietly which undermine our confidence in the word - and ministries of the word, like preaching.

nice chatting

Paul

Monday, December 15, 2008

cross country to christ

As a preacher the other challenge I have given myself in 2008 relates to a series in my home church at Mt Roskill Baptist. Given the prevailing discomfort which people have with the Old Testament, I determined to preach a series in which I used an entire OT book as the text for the sermon. But here was the challenge: I wanted to get cross-country to Jesus at the end of each sermon and do it in a different way each time.

With Exodus...
I focused on God as the hero of the story (designing a destiny, appointing leadership, freeing people to worship, guiding and providing, making contracts ...) and then I used Exodus 33:12-23 as my bridge passage and the God who refuses to reveal his glory to Moses. This refusal was lifted in John 1:14 where we discover the truth-full and grace-full Jesus to be the revelation of that glory of God. John 1:14 becomes a 'table of contents' for a Gospel in which we discover Jesus to be designing destinies, appointing leaders, freeing people to worship, guiding and providing and making contracts with people ... John as fulfilment of Exodus?

With the Psalms of Ascent...
I plunged the depths of the emotion in which virtually every psalm is borne: lying, fear, hatred, anger, despair, injustice, guilt, pride... And then how - still deeper than this emotion, at bedrock - we find the living and active God: protecting, showing mercy, helping, restoring, judging, forgiving, stilling... Then my bridge passage was Luke 24:13-35 where despairing hearts make way for burning hearts because minds (not hearts!) gain a deeper understanding of the Jesus revealed in their Bible.

With Amos...
The God of Justice is every bit as important as the God of Mercy. The searing judgements on the people of God are heard, particularly as they came through the images of the plumbline, the basket of ripe fruit, the sieve - just before being arrested by that merciful Amos 9:8b ("yet I will not totally destroy...") and the images of hope which then take over: the tent and the vineyard. Then I crossed over to another image, the image of the cross: the cross "where heaven's love and heaven's justice meet." My bridge passage? Acts 15 and the way James uses Amos' tent to resolve the biggest crisis the church has ever faced: do Gentiles have to become Jews on their way to becoming Christians? I am still reeling from the revelation that in the climax of a book with such judgement is found the passage that provided the rationale which enables me to be part of the people of God because of the cross.

With Ecclesiastes...
Here we find some pre-evangelism. I like to focus on the three-fold refrain which repeats and which exposes life for so many even today: (a) it is smoke-like ("vanity"): there is nothing left IN it; (b) there is no gain: there is nothing left OVER from it; (c) it is "under the sun": there is Someone left OUT OF it. The writer exposes such a life on the way to providing an alternative in living in the fear of God. Ecclesiastes 11 becomes his climactic response stacked as it is with imperatives ... while also serving as a bridge passage which opens the way to hear John 10:10 in such a fresh way: "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full", thereby undermining (a),(b), and (c).

With Nehemiah...
We find ourselves in the final story of the OT, a story of renewal with seasons of sowing (ch1&2) and nurturing (ch2&3) and weeding (ch4&6) and pruning (ch5) and blossoming (ch7&8) and ripening (ch9-12) as a people are re-established in Jerusalem as the worshipping and consecrated people of God. BUT there is a 13 - a chapter 13. It is the bridge passage. Here is yet another season of withering as the people fail yet again. As the curtain falls on the OT, the orchestra in the pit starts playing "There is a redeemer" as the Jesus of Hebrews - the "once for all", the "better", and the "how much more" Jesus is anticipated and able to deal decisively with this endemic sin-problem.

With Malachi...
The debate between God and his people is heated and even sarcastic. It is disturbing. After their long history with God the people do not seem to have a handle on his love, his worship, their promises, his judgments, his blessing - or their own service of Him. It is a mess. But the 'Day of the Lord is coming' when the mess will be sorted out. But thankfully - and graciously - before that Day, the prophet will come (4:5). Here is the bridge passage with the prophet being John the Baptist, most famously known as the one who prepared the way for Jesus. The salvation found in this Jesus enables us to prepare for 'the Day' with far greater assurance and even excitement.

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

preaching: acts and now

This year I've been reflecting on preaching in the book of Acts. Here are ten things that I've been learning:
[NB - I have brought these observations closer to home with the use of 'Auckland' as it is my home town. Feel free to make the appropriate substitution!].

1. As in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Rome, we must acknowledge in Auckland that a divine initiative lies behind this human speech. The challenge is a theological one before it is a methodological one. God chooses to use preaching as a vehicle for the advance of his unstoppable word.

2. As in Jerusalem, Samaria, Caesarea, Pisidian Antioch, and Corinth, we must focus in Auckland upon Jesus Christ - ensuring that the proclaimer in the Gospels becomes the proclaimed in the church as we build on the gospel events (the death and resureection of Jesus), the gospel witnesses (the Scriptures), the gospel promises (the offer of salvation) and the gospel associates (repentance, faith, baptism, Spirit-filling etc). [Using a little John Stott with that one!]

3. As in Pisidian Antioch, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus, we must persist in Auckland with opening and explaining the text of Scripture - in its fullness and depth and over a lengthy period of time - so that the revealed and sufficient word of God can mature the people of God.

4. As in Jerusalem, Pisidian Antioch, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Rome, we must expect in Auckland a divided response to faithful preaching as we encounter both acceptance and rejection of the message. We must recoil from the cultural forces which would have us 'accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative' in an effort to market the gospel to consumers.

5. As in Thessalonica, and in comparing Athens with Pisidian Antioch, we must be flexible and fulsome in Auckland - ensuring that preachers and preaching teams include 'information, declaration, exhortation, persuasion, and conversation' (Peter Adam) in their preaching. Afterall stott-ing, graham-ing, campolo-ing, carson-ing, and bell-ing are both distinctive from each other and yet still overlap with each other.

6. As in Jerusalem, Pisidian Antioch, Philippi, Athens, and Ephesus, we must identify the spaces in Auckland with equivalency to the temple courts, the synagogues, the riversides, the marketplaces, the lecture halls, and the homes and occupy those spaces with an appropriate communication of the gospel.

7. As in Caesarea, Antioch, Pisidian Antioch, and Philippi, we must free the gospel in Auckland to cross boundaries thereby enabling the 'turn to the Gentiles' to be ongoing as it seeks out the lost and the last and the least and maybe even discovers some of them to be part of a God-fearing fringe in society.

8. As in Lystra and Athens we must be prepared in Auckland to commence a gospel presentation from a point of contact with our audience that is outside the Bible - such as those provided by our own contemporary philosophers expressed in the billboards and lyrics, the advertising and cartoons of our world.

9. As in Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and Ephesus, we must loosen preaching in Auckland from its monological stereotype and welcome the interactivity which comes with dialogue and debate.

10. As in Jerusalem, Damascus, and Caesarea we must in Auckland be well-acquainted with both the biblical story and our own personal story - and be able to testify boldly to the significance of both as we bear witness to Jesus.

And my favourite resource as I've reflected?
I reckon Michael Green, Thirty Years That Changed the World (Eerdmans, 2002) is just fantastic. So readable - yet covers the territory well.


nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Saturday, December 06, 2008

tony and austen, kirk and nick

I never knew that reading a newspaper could be so exhilarating. So it has proved to be today with NZ's leading newspaper, the New Zealand Herald.

First they choose to name Tony McLean and Austin Hemmings as their NZers of the year. What an inspired choice! And what compelling evidence of the impact on this nation of these two young Christian men (both pastor's kids!) who gave their lives for others. I have commented on these stories more than once: here and here.
Lives like these help make the gospel of Jesus plausible in New Zealand. This is one of our most desperate needs. Some good stories to trump the bad ones.

But it didn't stop there. I love my basketball and so to read the featured back-page interview on NZ's best player, Kirk Penney, and discover that he is a committed Christian was fantastic - just as turning to the sports pages to be reminded again that Nick Willis (Olympic bronze medalist and oh, how I screamed when he rounded that final bend in the 1500m; a Sportsperson of the Year) is also a committed Christian ... For years I have longed to see high profile Christians, particularly in the influential world of sports, adorn the gospel with a grace and humility that draws people to the Jesus living within them.

With the challenge of winning Kiwi males to Jesus here are four testimonies in which I find so much encouragement in 2008.

nice chatting

Paul

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

bluffton

I am enjoying my longest stay in the USA since I was a student here 25+ years ago. I have been speaking at the annual missions' conference of a church set in the cornfields of NW Ohio - where my father-in-law is pastor emeritus. The church has been supporting Barby's family in India for 95 consecutive years. It is an honour for me to be here. A few reflections...

1. You gotta love rural America. On my first day here the weekly Bluffton News was published. The front page was blanketed with all the names of students at the local high school and primary school who finished the semester with straight As (or Bs, from memory). Not too concerned about tall-poppies around these parts - and a long way from Saturday sports in New Zealand where team mates take turns winning the 'player of the day' trophy.

2. Inside the front door of the church is a map of the world and pockets to hold the newsletters of the 44 missionaries being supported (by a church of about 500).

The conference lasted from Sunday to Sunday. About 8-12 of these 44 were here for the week, gathering each morning to share and pray together. Then every night of the week (except one) 150+ people in the church came out to hear the missionaries share their story. Incredible commitment. They still run a Faith Promise scheme and after the second Sunday it became clear that they would exceed their goal - at a time and in a place where the economic downturn is really biting.

3. Person-for-person these are the warmest and kindest people you could ever hope to meet. I have just had 9 consecutive evenings in peoples' homes for dinner. I made the mistake of coveting the following text on the dining room wall and Ruth ended up giving it to me...

Speaking of wobbling I remember that my first impressions of the USA 30 years ago were the big cars and the big people. The cars have down-sized a lot, but not the people - except I don't notice it so much now because we have such an obesity problem in NZ.
Speaking of gobbling, it is Thanksgiving this week. I reckon we Kiwis suffer for not having this tradition. I do enjoy the way the default setting for Americans is to be an affirmative, thankful, and positive people. It brought back to mind my early struggles, fresh home from the USA, as a pastor in Invercargill. In the US, if ya done good, you tend to hear about it. In NZ, if ya done good, you tend not to hear about it. From those early days I determined to be an enourager and a thanker of others, demonstrating that it doesn't give people 'big heads' and that the occasional (humble) tall poppy ain't such a bad idea. But gee, I've ran out of gas on that one a few times and not sure how successful we can be swimming against this strong cultural tide.

4. One of the reasons for #3 for me in Bluffton, is the esteem in which my father-in-law is held. I've lived with him for two weeks. I never knew someone could be so godly - selfless and caring and serving. He takes every opportunity to pray. He rings every single person on their birthday. At 87 he still makes personal contact with more than 25 people each week. He is on the go from morning until night. His example is one of the reasons why I am deeply convinced that the first principle of (pastoral) leadership is to love people. I watch the way his love opens people up to God.

5. Some of the mission work is local - for example, in the prisons. The guy was telling me that not since Stalinist Russia has there been a country with such a high rate of incarceration. He told me that if a guy gets an underage (that age being 18) girl pregnant, it doesn't matter what the circumstances, if either the mother or the father of the girl chooses to press charges then the guy is likely to be put away for 10 years AND carry the stigma of being a 'sex offender' for the rest of his life, with every single computer record carrying the information. In fact this prison-worker receives a postcard every six months notifying him that a sex offender is living in his area with the address of the person being given.

6. With my visit being so soon after the elections I determined that the wise course of action was not to use the O-word while I was here - and it wasn't until well into my second week here that I heard the word on anyone's lips at all. It has been fascinating. When they do speak of Obama in this conservative pocket of rural USA it is with such a dismissive disdain - not that different to the tone with which George W. Bush gets treated in NZ.

7. The stability of the community is remarkable - as witnessed by the same names appearing again and again on the headstones and the inter-marriage being the stuff of legend! And no matter how challenged Americans think they are by their culture it never fails to amaze me just how much Christianity intrudes into public life. Radio. TV. Community events. Church buildings. Christians are everywhere it seems. But I do wonder how much energy is spent conserving something that is as cultural as it is Christian. And I do wonder if the channel tends to be tuned - again and again - to maintenance rather than to mission. There are huge down-sides to having a homefield advantage in the marketplace of religions. Isn't that what Christendom taught us?

now that I have set a record for my longest post ever, I shall quit!

nice chatting

Paul

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

a cricketing retirement (sort of)

After 24 years of hanging-out with NZ Baptists I was farewelled as Principal of Carey Baptist College at last week's Baptist Assembly.
Me ol' mate Andrew Picard was one who gave a speech using various cricketing jargon to get his point across. A fellow cricket fan, Andrew had even contacted the Black Caps (the NZ cricket team) in Bangladesh and got them all to sign a T-shirt for me and send it back to NZ. GULP?! He then presented it to me on the night... how cool is that? I even have photos to prove it!





These might be the best available images of the Black Caps for the next few weeks as they are about to take on the might of a wounded Australia. Just as well I am over here in rural Ohio for two weeks (speaking at a missions' conference in my father-in-law's church) with limited access to news... Still - I reckon they'll offer a shock or two along the way.

nice chatting

Paul

Monday, November 10, 2008

being a better bloke

I've been reflecting on the ministry of John the Baptist. Not so long ago I preached on the passage about him in Luke 3. I highlighted the way John demanded a fruitfulness from his listeners and modeled a humility in the way he sign-posted people towards Jesus ... and then how this combination of fruitfulness and humility is what opens peoples' ears and builds credibility in a society where such credibility is lacking.

I concluded my sermon with these words:

QUOTE
For me 2008 will always be associated with two men. Talk about fruitfulness. Talk about sign-posting. Talk about building the credibility that opens peoples' ears. Talk about being prophetic and preparing the way for Jesus ... here it is!

One man is associated with the cavernous rocks holding in a remote mountain stream. The other is associated with the cavernous buildings holding in a busy urban street.

Both men stepped through the door to become fruitful. Both men stood next to Jesus as signposts. Both men died trying to save the lives of others.

Tony McLean died in that stream. Austen Hemmings was stabbed to death on that street.

God may not expect us to die like them. But there is no reason why we cannot live like them.
UNQUOTE

[NB - for overseas readers, the sacrificial deaths of these two young men (both sons of Baptist pastors and active Jesus-followers) have been huge events in NZ in 2008]

After I had finished preaching, a woman whom I respect highly greeted me and said: "I guess I'll go out and try to be a better bloke."

Hmmm?!


nice chatting


Paul

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

my vote

I have just voted in our NZ elections. As I won't be in my electorate on election day - and in solidarity with the Americana in me - I decided that I would vote today on the 4th of November.

I've thought a lot more about it...

1. I decided to help make MMP work and vote for a minor party. This is because I am more and more troubled by the abuse of power in the political process and want neither Labour or National to rule alone. As a nation we are becoming more comfortable with making MMP work and I want to encourage the skills involved in working as a coalition.

2. I will never ever vote for a Christian political party. The very notion of such a thing is wrong-headed in my view. The place for Christians is not clumping together in a party with an unseemly and embarassing grab at power - but as individuals salting and lighting and yeasting and disseminating their way across the politcal landscape as part of the scattered church at work in the world.

3. Nor will I vote for a party that is unlikely to make it into Parliament because either they can't get 5% of the popular vote or they don't have a person winning their own electorate seat. That is what I call a wasted vote.


So with what options does that leave me? The Greens, Maori Party, United Future, Progressives, probably ACT and probably not NZ First.

Now where do I go? I start looking at the bigger picture and the littler pictures (policies).

4. With the bigger picture... it is one thing for MMP to be at work, it is quite another for Labour to come a pretty distant second in the overall party vote - but because they can cobble together more left-of-centre coalition partners find themselves back in government. This is a possible scenario. I do not like the sound of that. I think that would be wrong. It makes me far less open to Greens and Progressives.

5. With the littler pictures... it is a case of trying to understand the nuances of policies. As recent posts have mentioned I will resist being told that good governance is primarily about making everyone more prosperous. It is primarily about ensuring justice. This makes me uneasy about ACT on both counts. I do not like them on Law and Order and I am still not convinced that they have much heart for the poor.

6. I have a lot of respect for Tariana Turia in the Maori Party but I wonder aloud whether (like with the Greens) they are going to do just fine in this election without my help. They will have a strong and effective voice.

7. So this brings me to United Future. I was leaning their way and so I went to their campaign launch to get a sense of the flavour and be more informed. It was worthwhile. While it is too late for Income-Splitting for our family I'd love others to benefit from what seems to be an eminently sensible economic policy. Policies on tertiary education and health also make sense to my limited mind.
Plus I am drawn to a minor party that can be in a coalition with the Left in one election and with the Right in the next. That appeals to me a great deal, particularly on ethical issues where I also want to straddle the political divide. And knowing people in a party makes a big difference. I have huge regard for Denise Krum, sitting at #3 on their list. Yes, I would like to see a person of her quality make it into Parliament. I need to be honest and name that reality for me.
Moreover if National wins the election and forms the next government I'd want United Future to have as many seats as ACT (if not more) and be the stronger coalition partner, a role in which they have great experience.

And so - I got there in the end !! - this is why United Future ended up with my party vote.

There are my thinking processes laid bare.
I hope they help you with yours (if you are a Kiwi, that is)
Now we wait and see - and pray!

nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, October 26, 2008

billboards and parables

When I first saw the billboards from the Green Party I thought immediately of worms.

Two NZ-elections ago the 'worm' was the difference-maker. The leaders of all the political parties participated in debates and the audience responded as they listened and this response took the form of worms crawling across our screens. The main beneficiary was the leader of a minor party (Peter Dunne - United Future) and he carried this momentum into polling day and Parliament was changed.

These billboards from the Greens are the difference-makers in 2008. They are simple. They are clear.

And in the company which they keep, surrounded as they are by air-brushed politicians with impossibly happy smiles, they are so subversive.


I am pleased to see effective billboards getting so much attention at the moment as they form a big part of where my own thesis is headed...

Take a look at the old Engel Scale for a moment. It maps the spiritual decision process through various stages.

Now take closer look. Do you see how there is a column for God's Role and a column for the Communicator's Role? And do you see how the Communicator's Role kicks in at -7? Do you see that empty space next to -8? Does the Scale think there isn't a role for communicators at this stage?

It is filling that empty space that has intrigued me for almost twenty years. It is a space that is out-of-reach of the preaching ministry of the church (to which I am committed from -7 through to +3 and beyond). It is a public space. It is a space which increasing numbers of people in NZ occupy. How can this space be filled with meaningful communication? I am not sure the soap-box and the bumper-sticker and the TV preacher is quite the way forward. Shouting louder just ain't goin' to cut it...

I am making a case for the literary form we know as the parable to be the inspiration for a response. Over the last century the parable has been understood (almost in this order) as a narrative, comparative, secular, paradoxical, occasional, polemical, oral, fictional, artistic, brief, subversive and political text.

I reckon - when you soak in these features - I reckon that two of the communicative analogies of this ancient literary form in 2008 are the editorial cartoon (which Ken Bailey once acknowledged in passing) ... and the billboard.

With the latter I am pleading for churches to use the public space outside their facilities more creatively. Stop the soap-boxing. Stop the inane cliches. Research what people resistant to the gospel and to the church are thinking. Hear their perceptions and their criticisms. I would start with the books by Tim Keller and David Kinnaman . But why not survey your community as well? Then get your artists and your thinkers together and start playing with ideas and images... Make the billboard outside your church a topic of intriguing conversation.

If a whole bunch of churches could be as simple and as clear and as subversive as the Greens we might re-discover the parabolic in our own day and watch numbers of people move from -8 to -7, nudging them closer to the gospel. It might well be a difference-maker.

"That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge people toward receptive insight." (Jesus, Matthew 13:12 in The Message)

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

the next generation

The children have given me the permission to re-post this link.

They had been watching a TV preacher go on about fatherhood and then digress to speak about how God wants us to own multiple houses ... and so on a lazy afternoon on Waipu Beach with too much time on their hands, they decided to have a go as well - and with a single take and minimal editing this is what they produced.

Click here to enjoy the next generation of prosperity doctrine preaching.

nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, October 19, 2008

ethics times four

Political elections are in the air. Both in the USA & here in NZ. I am wrestling with what I always wrestle in these seasons. Ethics. Neither the Right nor the Left is ever totally compelling for me. This is frustrating. Four documents are open in front of me to help guide me.

(a) One is the perennial best-seller from John Stott entitled Issues Facing Christians Today. There have been editions from 1984, 1990, 1999 - and now 2006. [NB - While I have this latest edition, I regret getting rid of the earlier editions as a study of the changes and revisions over the years would be fascinating.]
Here are the topics listed in the 2006 Table of Contents:
GLOBAL: War and Peace; Caring for Creation; Living with Global Poverty; Human Rights.
SOCIAL: the World of Work; Business Relationships; Celebrating Ethnic Diversity; Simplicity-Generosity-Contentment.
PERSONAL: Women, Men and God; Marriage, Cohabitation and Divorce; Abortion and Euthanasia; the New Biotechnology; Same-Sex Relationships.

(b) Then there is Samuel Waje Kunhiyop's African Christian Ethics (Hippo/Zondervan, 2008). As we might expect, the Table of Contents changes a little bit!
POLITICAL: Church and State, War and Violence, Strikes.
FINANCIAL: Poverty; Corruption; Fund-raising
MARRIAGE & FAMILY: Procreation and Infertility; Reproductive Technologies; Contraception; Polygamy; Domestic Violence; Divorce and Remarriage; Widows and Orphans.
SEXUAL: Rape; Incest; Prostitution and Sex-Trafficking; Female Circumcision; Homosexuality.
MEDICAL: HIV/Aids; Abortion; Euthanasia and Infanticide; Strikes and Medical Services; Drugs and Alcohol Abuse.
RELIGIOUS: Witchcraft

(c) Then there is just the Table of Contents of a book I saw over the weekend. I've read some reviews and it is climbing my 'must-read' list very quickly. Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths (IVP, 2008).
While maybe not a book directly on ethics, the Table of Contents does raise ethical issues:
Terrorism, Religious Violence, Human Rights, Multi-culturalism, Science, Post-colonialism.

(d) Then I turn my attention to a document produced by FamilyFirst(NZ) which reveals how every current NZ parliamentarian has voted on a range of family-related ethical issues. I congratulate them on doing some homework and putting a document like this into the public domain. For the record, their 'table of contents' (sort of?!) looks like this:
The Pro-Family Vote opposes recent legislation/policy on Prostitution, Civil Unions, Relationships Bill, Euthanasia Bill, Care of Children Act, Anti-Smacking Law.
The Pro-Family Vote supports recent legislation/policy on Parental Notification, Marriage Ammendment Bill, Drinking Age (raising it).


As I try to vote sensibly, let me try and articulate my frustrations (and leave you the opportunity to add yours).

1. I do not respond well to being told what the Pro-Family vote looks like.

2. While the word 'Christian' is absent from the document, for the vast majority of NZers this document will be perceived to be the Christian perspective. We must acknowldege this. Even though I myself am sympathetic to most of their positions on things, the disturbing conclusion to draw is that to be Pro-Family is to be right-of-centre politically (with very little exception). Really?!

3. So my biggest frustration is not with what is here, but with what isn't here. That is why I listed the other books first. For example, why are money-related issues not mentioned in this FamilyFirst document? Surely a big part of being pro-family in today's world is related to the use and abuse of money? Just look at the greed at work behind the current global financial meltdown. Is that not an ethical issue of equal concern to families?
Then what about issues related to the environment? The most compelling billboards here in NZ are those from the Green Party where across photos of the earth (and also little children!) are written the words 'vote for me'. Is this not a pro-family approach?

4. I do not think God looks down from his heaven and pays much attention to nation-states and the boundary lines that separate one from the other. His heart is for all the peoples of the world and mine should be the same. Somehow ... somewhere ... sometime ... the policies we advocate should put families first not just in NZ but in the countries of Africa (as one example) and this means taking their ethical issues more seriously.

Enuf - far too much, in fact - from me

Paul

Monday, October 13, 2008

tui

I love this time of the year. I am an early riser and enjoy going to my little study on the first floor. It used to be the walk-in closet off a bedroom.

I love having Concert FM accompanying me in the background. Then as 6am approaches the classical music seamlessly and gradually fades away to be replaced by indigenous NZ birds singing. It kinda happens without you noticing...

Outside my window is a kowhai tree in full flower at this time of the year. The blossom is not yellow, it is gold. The NZ tui (bellbird) lives amongst its flowers. Let me tell you - 'bell bird' is a most suitable name!

Once or twice a year, as 6am approaches, I will hear the tui on the radio inside and then there is this delightful resonance with the tui in the kowhai tree outside. It sounds like I am hearing it in stereo...

To me it speaks of the way God guides. The music from within, in my inner and subjective world, needs to resonate with the music from the outside, in that outer and objective world. To enjoy that resonance is one of God's most gracious activities in our lives.

It is a lot like Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire and that classic line: "When I run, I feel God's pleasure". The tui inside him was singing and he was so confident that there was a tui beyond that was singing too. The resonance became compelling for him.

I wonder if it is a bit like "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Because as we delight ourselves in Him, a transformation in our desires seems to take place - and His desires become our desires (and maybe even vice versa!). The resonance becomes compelling for us.

nice chatting

Paul

Friday, October 10, 2008

the best bit of new zealand

The research and publication profile of Carey Baptist College has just reached new heights - well, new sights anyway. The other night Mike Crudge held a book launch for his new book, Abel Tasman Coastal Track: the best bit of New Zealand.



So much of what I have enjoyed about Mike over the years comes through in this book. Firstly, his talent. Here it is his exquisite photography that is on display. Secondly, his entrepreneurial flair. He put this entire project together on his laptop - and the product is both professional and contemporary, just as I would expect from him. Then there is his love for people. Every summer for ten years he has taken people to walk the Abel Tasman with him, introducing them to the 'best bit' of NZ with his own brand of gracious hospitality. Our family were the beneficiaries in 2007. Finally, there is Mike's delight in the creation which God has asked us to steward, a task at which we tend to be very average.

Order your copies (NZD17 + postage) from this website.

While it will be the ideal Christmas present in 2008, I reckon they'll be making coffee tables to put under it in 2009!


nice chatting


Paul

Saturday, October 04, 2008

in london with langham

While I don't commence employment until 1st April the powers-that-be encouraged me to attend the annual International Council meetings of Langham Partnership International in London this past week. There were many highlights...

ONE
I loved attending All Souls, Langham Place on the Sunday (my birthday!) before the meetings started. This is where John Stott has been a minister for decades and the organisation takes its name from this 'place'. A worship-filled service sparked by a masterly biblical/topical sermon from Mark Meynell on 'What gives you a monopoly on the truth?' (ANS: A. We don't ... but B. We know Someone who does) - to which you can listen here - will live on in my memory.

TWO
Located outside All Souls was a panel advertising some upcoming evangelistic activities. I was fascinated by a "warning" right at the bottom of the panel. It looked like this:

The warning states: "Guest events contain Christian content". Interesting?! I have had an enduring concern that our community-bridging activities here in NZ can be a bit shy about having a clear evangelistic purpose guiding them. My mind goes to the research done recently exploring the perceptions of the 'unchurched' attending a selection of one of our well-attended community-bridging franchises. As I remember it, 65% of these 'unchurched' people were open and keen to hear more about why host churches were doing what they were doing - thereby opening the door to gentle, but more intentional, evangelism. That is a very high percentage. Maybe we might not lose as many people as we think...and maybe there is too much emphasis on grace and salt and not enough on truth and light...

THREE
To hear again the Langham Logic, first espoused by John Stott, was as compelling as ever. The logic moves from the Problem and the three Convictions to the Question and the three Strategies.

The Problem facing the church in the Majority World is one of growth without depth.
The three Convictions which shape a response are 1. God wants the church to grow up in maturity; 2. God's church grows through God's Word; and 3. God's Word comes primarily (but not exclusively) through preaching.
This then provokes an obvious Question: what can we do to raise the standard of biblical preaching?
The answer is found in three Strategies: 1. Langham Scholars, providing scholarships for teachers and leaders to gain doctorates before returning home to key positions in places like theological colleges; 2. Langham Literature, providing books for pastors, students and libraries - but also empowering and multiplying indigenous literature, writers, and publishers; and 3. Langham Preaching, developing biblical preaching movements in the countries of the majority world.

Other highlights revolved around these Strategies...
FOUR
At one point a newsletter circulated and as I turned the pages I came across a full A5 sized spread listing all the Langham Scholars (by country) that there have ever been - 282 of them! It was breath-taking... This has been going on quietly for 30 years and now the impact is being felt. Just imagine the ripples of influence that can flow from each one of these men and women. I hope it won't be long before NZ joins the party and has some Langham Scholars studying among us.

FIVE
Once back home, these Scholars have the capacity to take publishing initiatives like the remarkable Africa Bible Commentary where Africans have provided the scholarship with commentary on the text as well as articles on the context.

This has sold so well that it has enabled Langham Literature to make a splash with Hippo Books as an indigenous African publisher whose books are distributed through Zondervan. And now South Asia and Latin America are lining up to do their regional commentaries as well. Just inspirational.

SIX
Increasingly the Scholars are initiating and the Literature is resourcing the work of Langham Preaching, now active in 50 countries. This is where I will be working as Associate Director alongside Jonathan Lamb. I will have some responsibility for Asia and the Pacific (with visits to Thailand, Solomon Islands, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India... already in the diary for 2009) as well as working with the trainers worldwide to develop a consistent curriculum that can guide us all. Pretty cool, eh?!

SEVEN
There are huge challenges facing Langham. Using the direct link to its Founder (John Stott) becomes less useful as a generation emerges who have not heard of him. And the current global financial crisis can feel ominous in an organisation which is so dependent on the generosity of Americans. With Langham commencing in NZ just this past March, I am praying that NZers will catch a vision for this remarkable work and begin to share in the financial responsibility to keep it growing.

EIGHT
The meetings were held at Farnham Castle built by William the Conqueror's grandson and the oldest building in Southeast England with continuous inhabitants - and only 15mins drive to Jane Austen's home to which I made a pilgrimage and spent too much money buying gifts for the women in the family.

NINE
I did manage to read The Shack while I was away - a topic to which I will return soon I suspect! I haven't read all the reviews and blogs (although I've heard people talk about them) but I reckon a lot of Christians need to chill out, get a life and enjoy the book for what it is and not for what it isn't. I applaud our theologian at Carey, Myk Habets, for deciding to make it a required text for one of his classes in 2009. They are going to have some great debates!

Oh dear, I couldn't quite make it to TEN.
Never mind. You've done well to get this far :)

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"are you emergent?"

If your shelves are lined with books with names on their spines like Burke, Pagitt, Ward, Chalke, and Tomlinson... If the links on your laptop suggest you connect readily to Miller, Bell, McLaren, Rollins and McManus...

Then you owe it to yourself - and to those you influence- to read Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who should be) (Moody, 2008). But be at peace as you do so because one of the authors does affirm "I don't consider myself a Carson fan or admirer." (I know how just saying the letters "D" and "A" gets emerging people a bit twitchy). Interestingly, DA Carson does still endorse the book!


May I make three comments about the book?

(a) For me the most searching critique is the way this movement runs the risk of falling victim to the errors of the very modernism (not to mention the old liberalism) from which it so strenuously distances itself. Very perceptive... Ohh - let me squeak in one other critique - n30 on p86 - referring to a comment from DA Carson: "emerging church leaders, unlike the Reformers, are calling for change because the culture has moved. The Reformers, by contrast, were calling for change because the church had moved - away from the Bible."

(b) In the Epilogue lies one of the most positive suggestions I have heard yet. If you are a pastor why not do a preaching series through The Seven Churches of Revelation (Rev 2 & 3) as a framework in which to handle the issues which the emerging movement raises? Be faithful to the issues in the text - but with an eye on this context. A brilliant suggestion...

(c) One single quotation that is one sentence long will do - but it is a very, very long sentence. Are you ready? It carries something of the cheeky, chirpy tone of the book. Here goes...

Are you Emergent?
You might be an emergent Christian: if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash's Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac; ... if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu; if you don't like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism, or Left Behind Christianity; if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and not so much abortion and gay marriage; if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie; if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty; if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life; if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant; if you search for truth but aren't sure it can be found; if you've ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn't count); if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance; if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid; if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic; if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide; if you want to be the church and not just go to church; if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden; if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus; if you believe who goes to hell is no one's business and no one may be there anyway; if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker; if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way; if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us; if you disdain monological, didactic preaching; if you use the word 'story' in all your propositions about postmodernism - if all or most of this tortously long sentence describes you, then you might be an emergent Christian..." (20-22)

... and you need to read this book carefully!!



nice chatting

Paul

Friday, September 19, 2008

before and after II

Back on May 1 I shared with you that not only had I been granted some study leave, someone had gifted me five months in a gym with a personal trainer.

I made myself accountable to you with a 'before' photo of me with the promise that I would include an 'after' photo as well, just to help inspire others among you who need to drop a few kilos.

The time with the trainer is concluded. Just as a reminder, here is that 'before' photo once again:


And now - for the first time - I am able to reveal the 'after' photo.


A nice shot in the swimming pool at the Olympic Gym (Newmarket, Auckland) where my personal trainer (Robin Leaton) has been a miracle-man, I'm sure you will agree. He is always happy to take on new clients.


nice chatting

Paul

Friday, September 12, 2008

up and down and out

Into the margins of my life I am trying to squeeze assignments for my DMin. My focus at the moment is on the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. I am loving it for all sorts of reasons - not the least being the parallels between it and my favourite story of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus.

This morning I have been captured by some quotations in the Ben Witherington commentary on Acts (Eerdmans, 1998).

On page 293:
A major theme of Luke-Acts is the "universalization of the gospel - that it is for all people from the last, least, and lost to the first, most, and found."

A footnote took me back to his introductory pages where I found these words on page 69:
Luke is interested "in the universal spread of the good news not only up and down the social scale but geographically outward to the world ... one can say then that the Gospel of Luke focuses on the vertical (up and down the social scale) universalization of the gospel, while the Book of Acts focuses on horizontal universalization (to all peoples throughout the Empire)."

That really gets me going!

nice chatting


Paul

Monday, September 08, 2008

alyssa and timothy

A new season in our lives beckons with the engagement of our lovely Alyssa to Tim Hart. Barby and I couldn't be more delighted. Tim has been in and out of our home for three years and has been a friend to each one in the family long before talk of engagement commenced.

Here is my favourite photo of the two of them:


Their friendship gained momentum around a mutual love for photography. Here they are with their favourite tree, looking somewhat less alive than their friendship!


We are thrilled to see their desire to serve Jesus together forever. They are committed to expressing this service by living their lives with compassion among the global poor - so much so that Tim left for Liberia just four days after they became engaged. He will be working with two church youth groups in Monrovia ... and will be away for 12 months. They have no plans to see each other during that time. GULP?!




Ahh - there must be room for one more photo of my lovely Lys! Sure - why not?! Here she is showing off her ring.


nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, August 31, 2008

tv news

Whether it be the evening TV news, the midday news, or the morning news there are three features with which I am increasingly frustrated.

It is copy-cat
Whenever I travelled to Australia I would smile at how much they copied the Americans. From extending news broadcasts beyond the evening hour ... to single news readers becoming male:female combinations ... to a fascination with weather reports from quirky eccentrics ... to the actual template of the broadcast - on and on it goes. Then a few years later we find New Zealand slavishly copying Australia. [One of the few distinctions I can identify is that the Aussies and the Americans like their male readers to be older in order to convey greater authority and gravitas].

It is casual
When so much of the news is bad news, even tragic news, I find the casual chit-chat between the presenters to be annoying. Light levity. Vacuuous commentary. Not only does this medium then clash with the message, it trumps the message. The serious sadness of human tragedy gets washed away in wasted and inane words. In recent weeks and months I have watched with alarm as the BBC and CNN have started selling-out to this approach.

It is 'celebritous'
One of the great mysteries of popular culture is just how it is that people who read the news off a tele-prompter can be paid so much money and gain so many headlines. The heroic becomes eclipsed by the celebritous. It is dragging us down. What is the relative time given by people today to the reading of a biography of a hero versus viewing the story of a celebrity? We are far more interested in the flaws of the latter than the character of the former ... and it shows.

As a follower of Jesus I want to affirm the way creativity is more important than copy-catting, being serious is more important than being casual, and following heroes is more important than watching celebrities.

nice chatting

paul

Monday, August 18, 2008

john, barak ... and rick?!

I have a fair amount of Americana in me - having been educated at an American boarding school (Woodstock School, India) and then at an American theological college(Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Chicago). So when the presidential elections come around I struggle to shrug off compulsive behavioural patterns!

2008 has proved the biggest struggle of all.

From the moment a Republican candidate, in a public debate back in January, was asked about what he thought of the 'submission passages' in the Bible (golly gosh - did he really get asked that question - in a political debate?). But wait - there's more! He gave a pretty conservative response and was greeted with thunderous foot-stomping applause...

... Through to the way the inflammatory comments of a Democratic candidate's minister threatened to bring down the entire candidacy of that candidate (really?! - do ministers have that much power over there?) ...

... To yesterday's forum where for the first time in the 2008 presidential race McCain and Obama stood on the same stage together. And what stage was this? Saddleback Church - the Saddleback Civil Forum! And who stood between them with his arms draped around both of them? Rick Warren! Not exactly a great photo opportunity for their separation of church and state, is it?!

It was staggering. It trumped the Olympics coverage for me (although I did manage to switch channells briefly to watch Phelps get Gold #8).
So many observations flood the mind from yesterday. Here are a handful:

1. The prominence of Christian faith in the American context. If a candidate is to win they must convince the American public that their faith is deeper and more authentic than the faith of their opponent. And the more you can lean to 'the right', rather than to 'the left', the better. And so on the hierarchy of evil, abortion is worse than global poverty.

2. The bias of the media. Fox News' advocacy of 'the right' is almost comical in its brashness. Never have I encountered such bias in a branch of the media. Sometimes I wonder if I have tuned into David Letterman by mistake...

3. The impact of communication skills. The smooth intelligent oratory of Obama still seems to be eclipsed by the bumbling, self-deprecating, story-filled style of McCain. This change amazes me. We are a long way from JFK and so very close to GWB.

4. The surfacing of the issues of political correctness. In the Democratic nomination process we had gender and race and now in the Presidential race we have race and age. In reality they are not surfacing explicitly - but they are there alright.

5. The influence of context. John McCain cannot really be understood unless you live in the USA and absorb the prominence they give to patriotism, to freedom and to honouring the military. My children watching with me could not comprehend the weight of the applause he received for the comments he made from within this framework. The fact that Barack Obama received no "bounce" in his poll ratings from his 8day visit to key foreign countries is staggering, making me wonder if - at the end of it all - he makes most sense beyond the USA.

And a word about "Uncle Rick" (I call him "uncle" because Barby's maiden name is "Warren" and some years ago I did little to stop a rumour going around NZ that he was Barby's Dad - or Uncle ...). Well - I thought Uncle Rick did really well. One hour with Obama and then one hour with McCain, asking them exactly the same questions with each candidate unable to hear the other one's responses. Great template. Probing questions. Stopping short of baptizing a candidate or a party. Yep, he did well.

nice chatting

Paul

Thursday, August 14, 2008

the kiwi psyche

OK - take a deep breath, New Zealand.
Don't panic! Hold your nerve.

The medals will come ...

... but in the meantime why not warm our hands and cheer our hearts next to the golden glow of someone else?! Here is a classic headline from this morning's newspapers. Ah, it deserves a full exegesis in search of that elusive Kiwi psyche.

nice chatting - and relishing seeing 'Kiwi' and 'golden' in the one headline!

Paul

Thursday, August 07, 2008

the crusades ... again?!

The other night we attended the parent:teacher evening for our youngest child, Joseph (aged 14 - year 10). With five children we've been to a few of these events over the years...

A Unit of learning in his Social Studies class is the Crusades. Really?! In two thousands years of history this is the story that is still being selected to impact impressionable minds on the themes of the way the wrong ideas can breed injustice?!

I'll take a lot of convincing to change my mind that there isn't an agenda behind this, an agenda that sows a seed in young Kiwi minds that Christianity, particularly Christianity among all the religions of the world, is the root of (all) evil and so stay clear of it.

Of course, we all know what the great irony is, don't we?! Don't we?! If it were not for the Gospel and for the Christianity which carried it, the history of the world would be a far sadder place than it has been.

There may not be a physical persecution of Christians going on - but in the realm of ideas (which is where it really can have a lasting influence), the persecution of faithful followers of Jesus willing to speak their faith in the public world continues on unabated.

Courage is the commodity that we chiefly need.

I attended the launch of the new Laidlaw College (formerly the Bible College of New Zealand) on Saturday where the Principal, Mark Strom, cast a vision of a School of Humanities where the worlds of politics, economics, and philosophy can be engaged. May it be so! We've needed it desperately for some time but the Christian church has been too busy pursuing adenaline and playing with fencing wire.

nice chatting

Paul

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

women's refuge appeal

Is anyone else provoked by this full page picture in New Zealand newspapers this week?

The caption, presumably spoken by this African woman, reads: "In New Zealand many women are denied some human rights that I enjoy".

I know they are trying to push the boundaries in order to expose the despicable that is kept hidden so often. I know they are trying to reframe domestic violence as a human rights issue in the public consciousness. I know they are trying to be careful by inserting the words "many" and "some".

BUT until someone can convince me otherwise this approach invites the perception that they are, at worst, maximising a problem in NZ by minimising it in a country in Africa OR, at best, creating the impression that the problems are of similar magnitude in both countries. Neither approach seems wise or accurate. Why can't the problem in NZ stand on its own as an appalling one?

I feel a tension within and that is what Women's Refuge want me to feel, I suspect. On the one hand I am and want to be revolted into action by what happens here in NZ - but not at the expense of losing sight of what is happening elsewhere which is of a quite different type and magnitude and hiddenness.

Just as one example, I recently went with my daughter to the Human Rights Film Festival to watch A Walk to Beautiful, the story of five young women (among thousands every year) in Ethiopia who develop fistulas.
[NB A fistula is a hole that develops between the birth canal and the bladder (and rectum sometimes) when a young woman, whose body is not ready for labour, pushes and pushes for days. Obstructed labour, I think it is called. The unborn baby tends to die in the womb and then the woman endures urine (and feces) leaking through the hole created by the pushing and it trickles down her legs for the rest of her life. They are rejected by husbands and made to live in a hut out the back. A simple surgical procedure can correct the problem. The last fistula reported in USA/UK was something like 80+ years ago. Surely that says something!].
This is a most horrendous human rights issue unheard of in New Zealand in 2008 (that is not too strong a comment, is it?). There will be other human rights issues like this. And yes, it is different in type and magnitude and hiddenness from the issues we confront in NZ. And yes, just at the moment, I am disturbed by the approach taken by this advertising campaign because I find it minimises - maybe even trivialises - these differences.

I know, I know - a highly inflammable topic and people may want to add me to the fires - but these are honest issues for me. How do we stay alive to local and global human rights issues and see both in proper perspective and with full commitment?

nice chatting - I think?!

Paul

Monday, July 21, 2008

familiarity breeds content

Over the past few months Barby and I have had the privilege of spending time in countries that were new to us: Thailand, Denmark, and Morocco. Each time - months in advance of the trip - we would get hold of the Lonely Planet book and pore over its pages as we planned what we would do and see together.

As I look back now the same thing happened each time.

Before we entered the specific country those Lonely Planet books were tough going. The names of cities and streets and sites were hard work because the Thai and Danish and Arabic languages were so foreign to us - and some of those maps were hard to read!

But once in the country and experiencing it first-hand and, even more, once we had left the country and collecting our memories, then flicking through those Lonely Planet guides and noting all that we had seen and done was so much fun. The books came alive because the information they contained was so much more familiar to us.

I wonder whether we value the familiar enough in our churches today.
For example, preachers can place themselves under this burden to come up with something profound and new every week - when reminding people of the familiar truth that sweeps across the scriptures may well be what is needed most. Sometimes people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed. They can benefit so much from hearing again what they already know...
Or, alternatively, consider those who 'lead' worship services and the excitement they can convey when it comes time to teach the congregation a new song. This excitement is not always shared by the congregation who seem to give themselves the most to the songs they know the best. It is worth remembering. Yesterday I just loved singing the familiar "Faithful One" and even "I love you Lord and I lift my voice" (in a youth service!).

In times of uncertainty - which is a bit like entering a new country - let's breed a deeper contentment among the people of God by drawing on the familiar more often. Lets allow our engagement with word and worship to be like reading a Lonely Planet book that is alive with excited 'been there, done that' memories and 'been there, seen that' images - and not mired so often in language that is so foreign.

nice chatting

Paul

Saturday, July 12, 2008

madness in morocco

I guess it was a kind of madness. Hiring a car in Morocco seemed brave enough - but selecting one without air-conditioning in 46-48 degree weather and then covering 1345kms over two days? Oh - and just to refresh us for the trip we spent the night before listening to scaffolding poles being dropped one at a time onto the road outside our hotel! However such is the beauty of Morocco, it was a brand of madness that would be repeatable...

DAY ONE
We headed off from Marrakech and wound our way up through the High Atlas mountains and over the highest pass for vehicles(7000+ feet) in North Africa - maybe even Africa, I'm not sure. Being children of the Himalayas as we are, mountains like these are magnets for us.

Our descent took us to Ouarzazate, the place name I have found harder to pronounce than any other. I settled for Mollywood because it is home to Morocco's film industry with King Mohammed VI (an easy-to-remember name because every town and city has an 'Avenue Mohammad VI') actively courting Hollywood directors to come and make use of the scenery - with the nearby polished fort/kasbah of Ait-Benhaddou featuring in a dozen or two movies in the past decade or two (starting with Gladiator and going downhill from there). I wonder whether they are making up for the fact that that most famous movie of all - Casablanca - did not have a solitary scene filmed in Morocco!

Then it was about following the Draa Valley all the way to the Sahara. A green ribbon of date palm winding its way down to the desert. The presence of flowing water makes such a difference! Over the years I have urged students to recognise how much of the Old Testament comes alive when we realise how they longed for rain like we long for sunshine. When the Psalmist thirsts, believe you me he is really thirsting!


The Moroccan scenery is Central Otago times ten and minus the lakes.


Finally we reached Zagora, famous for its sign informing travellers that it is '52 days to Timbucktoo', identifying the crucial camel route through to Mali. It also has the sweetest dates on earth and the most intriguing array of skin colours as darker skinned sub-Saharan Africans mix with lighter skinned North Africans. Our goal was to go as far as the sand dunes of the Sahara but we found the Sahara came to us with some force in the form of a sandstorm. Our approach to our Desert Storm was somewhat different than George W. Bush to his. We completed a U-turn. And after a scary ten minutes of driving without a visible road we found our way to safety.

Our nerves were reassembled with the help of traditional mint tea before retracing our steps up the valley to a night under the stars in a kasbah/fort in little Agdz, a town whose consonants I am still not sure I have in the right order. I was pretty chuffed as I reckon that was one more night in a fort than Robin Hood ever had.


DAY TWO
Up early for breakfast and off for what I'd had my eye on for months - the two Gorges at Todhra and Dades. Todhra was spectacular. One of life's scenic highlights for me. Imagine a winding kilometer of two (almost) Sky Tower-high rockfaces fencing-in a little river. I could have walked in the water and gazed upwards all day.

Then while Todhra has you walking/driving along the base, the Dades Gorge has you walking/driving along the top. You get nowhere near the water. The road winds up to the top of the cliff and you peer over the edge - as far as 'peering' is the right word for standing several feet from the edge and doing a half-hearted lean in the direction of the edge. It is possible to do a circular daytrip - with 4WD - that incorporates both Gorges. That will be the highlight of our return visit!

Once the Gorges were experienced it was foot-to-the-floor, back over the the High Atlas mountains with the sun now positioned differently enabling different perspectives. We had an 8:30pm deadline at the Marrakech airport. What followed was as close to the Amazing Race as I am ever likely to be. As the deadline approached so did the setting sun - right in my face in the drive westward. Complicating this was that the setting sun is the signal for the locals to spill out onto the streets in the 'cool' of the evening. So there am I, driving on the right/wrong side of the road, the sun in my eyes, the streets gorging themselves on people and bikes and cars, without a map and following my nose to the airport. Needless to say I had to humble myself and ask directions - but by then we had missed the deadline by 7 minutes. Thankfully a compassionate Avis man did not add the promised full additional day to the cost.

... and then there were the other seven days in Morocco - but for another time and place.

nice chatting

Paul

Friday, June 27, 2008

at the oval

What better way to mark my 100th post than to tell you about my trip to The Oval. Being raised in India I have had a lifelong love for cricket. I used to listen to the dulcet tones of John Arlott on the BBC as a lad. I have even burdened readers of this blog with my top First Eleven: Cricket highlights at the time of the last World Cup.

But over the years I have never watched a game of cricket in England. When the opportunity for a sabbatical approached so also did a visit by the NZ cricket team to England. I got out the itinerary and penned '25th June 2008 at the Oval' into the diary as the fixed point around which the entire sabbatical universe would revolve.



It proved to be a day to remember with a game for the ages.

My childhood friend (and cricket combatant) from Delhi days - Jyoti Banerjee - is now a member of the Surrey Cricket Club and so able to get tickets to the Oval. Anyhow we arrived to be met at the main gate by Sir Richard Hadlee (NZ's greatest player) which I thought was a lovely gesture on his part. The fact that he never acknowledged our presence was just a small oversight on his part.



We settled into our seats and before long I was leaping to my feet screeching to celebrate the dismissal of England's top batsman (Kevin Pietersen) for a duck. It was then I realised I was no longer in the Antipodes and I was the only one among thousands around me on my feet. I soon learned to remain seated and clap politely for every single that is scored.

The sun was intense and so I went in search of a cap and found what I thought was the Surrey County white-brimmed hat - but have since been told it is the English one. What on earth am I meant to do with that now?! Maybe a few scratches from a magic marker...?

I behaved myself impeccably until England captain Paul Collingwood forgot about playing in the spirit of the game, allowing a Kiwi player to be run-out after being tackled by the English bowler in an act deserving of Twickenham. The game seemed lost. I boldly booed Collingwood to show my annoyance. By this time a Kiwi in front of me was reaching a state of alcohol-induced aliveness and we began to high-five frequently - not to mention the high-fives with Jyoti's 8yr old son Joel who was as ardent a Kiwi supporter as one could possibly be.

Anyhow justice was served with Kyle Mills holding his nerve and NZ winning on the very last ball of the match. I floated to the train station, received gracious handshakes from the English supporters who came with us, and then eagerly awaited the newspapers the following day telling Paul Collingwood what a naughty boy he had been - and they were far more severe than I anticipated.



nice chatting

Paul

Thursday, June 26, 2008

danish ramblings

Barby and I have just completed five days in Denmark - the land of Lego, Soren Kierkegaard, Hans-Christian Anderson, a royal princess from Tasmania, Vikings, inflammatory political cartoons, Hamlet, Babette's Feast, and those industrious windfarms (while 15kms away Sweden positions a nuclear powerplant!)

I was attending the biennial meetings of a global scholarly society of teachers of homiletics (ie preaching). It was the only suitable conference I could find at this time of the year and I was glad to listen and learn. A few ramblings...

1. With preaching so much comes down to whether we lean towards the TEXT or towards the CONTEXT with what captivates us. For me this group tended to assume the text, rather than articulate it's issues - because considering the context of the listener and the society is where the real energy lay. Context plays a part. We need to be bi-lingual. I am deeply persuaded by the Stottian 'between two worlds' approach just as I am deeply ambivalent about the McArthurian approach which seems to be 'sermon as biblical exegesis spoken aloud' as the Text alone becomes what matters and, in this case, a specific American context becomes projected on all other ones. How does that respect your listeners?!
However when the Context becomes the driver of the sermon other questions emerge. How do we stop the text being reshaped in our own image? How is the harder word, from outside our experience, ever heard? How do we know what is true for all people in all places at all times?

2. The small group in which I participated was entirely (northern) European. Pastors from Iceland and the Faroe Islands, professors in homiletics from Heidelberg and Basel, a Norwegian missionary, and two pastoral trainers from Denmark - and no Americans, Brits, or Australians (the usual forum for discussions about preaching for me). I have never had a conversation like it! These Europeans love reflecting on 'what' and 'why' - with 'how' being a virtual irrelevance. This is seen in their training of ministers: six years of university education followed by 5 months of practical training (in Denmark)which includes a four week internship. And preaching is such a core indisputable aspect of this ministry. We were reminded of the Lutheran (Augsburg) Confession: "church is where faith is created through the sermon". WOW - that's a different world.


3. The gathering was not very global. There was no one from Latin America. The only Africans were from South Africa. There were only three Asians (out of 100). But while the gathering was overwhelmingly white, the involvement of women was strong and central. It caused me to reflect on all these years in NZ of watching talented women come through preaching classes and receive heaps of encouragement, only to have them disappear into the woodwork of local churches, if not evaporate altogether. I enjoyed the contrast in a paper from German Birgit and the response from American Anna. It caused huge discussion in our small group. Birgit - abstract, restrained, stepping-back-personally as she spoke... and then Anna - applied, animated, stepping-forward-personally as she spoke. One European felt that Anna's was an example of 'violent speech' in the way it intruded into a space that should be created for listeners.

4. The inconvenient truth, as I reflect on my new job with Langham Preaching, was obvious. The participants in this conference represented mainline churches that are declining and they take an approach which is highly academic (maybe even elitist) as they gather as professionals in a guild from largely North Atlantic countries which are well-resourced (maybe even over-resourced) ... and out there beyond them and hardly mentioned at all are evangelical-pentecostal churches that are growing too fast to cope in a grassroots movement spearheaded by untrained pastors spread throughout Africa and Asia and Latin America and which is desperately under-resourced. And I suspect one is animated by leaning towards the Context and the other by leaning towards the Text...

Other highlights:
+ singing Luther's hymn - A Mighty Fortress is Our God - in a centuries old Lutheran chapel
+ gazing at the original Bertel Thorvaldsen's famous "Come Unto Me" statue of Jesus at the Vor Frue Kirke in Copenhagen and noting Luke 11:28 ringing the nearby pulpit

+ meeting the Little Mermaid after trying to cover my eyes when I first observed her as a boy - gee, she was life-size!
+ taking a Kierkegaard walking tour through Copenhagen with a marvelous communicator, matched during the week (on preaching, remember!) only by the guy who gave the lecture on Hamlet in the actual environs that Shakespeare imagined for the play
+ watching the women of Copenhagen cycling on these old-fashioned, high handle-barred bikes creating this stately, elegant style

+ enjoying a beach bon-fire on Midsummer's Day (it was as cold as mid-winter in Auckland!) known as St Hans Day, short for St Johannes (the Baptist) Day and rediscovering Luke 1:76-79 as a core text in the Lutheran understandin of preaching.


nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, June 22, 2008

movies, stories, gospel

Long-time-no-write ... because Barby and I find ourselves in Copenhagen for a conference (more on that later) with the flights over here providing the opportunity for watching some movies.

We've come a long way from The Sound of Music, a linear story (beginning at the beginning and progressing to the end) with basically a single plotline. With critically acclaimed movies like Pulp Fiction (which I am not endorsing here!) and The English Patient leading the way the presentation of stories has changed. The linear storyline is dislocated and the plotlines are multiplied.

We've seen this on TV. The multiplication of plotlines through Hill Street Blues and on to ER - where there may be up to 12-15 plots all happening at the same time - is now supplemented by Lost where any idea of a linear storyline starting at the beginning and progressing to the end is as lost as the title suggests.

A movie which caught my eye on the plane was Vantage Point where an American President is killed by terrorists in Spain and the story is then re-told from four perspectives. We have the story through the eyes of one character for about 20minutes then the movie literally rewinds in front of us to the same moment (12 noon) before the story is picked up through another character. Gradually the story makes sense - but through a non-linear storyline and multiple plots. As a piece of storytelling it was totally absorbing.

AND a person being killed and the story being told through four perspectives reminds me of another killing from four perspectives - the gospel story.

Here is the question which intrigues me. Is our gospel-telling stuck in a 'Sound of Music' world? If so, must this be the case? Would anything be compromised by being more creative and playing with non-linear storytelling with multiple plots more explicitly - even in the course of a single sermon? What would the gospel story look like in the hands of the director of Lost? Would it necessarily be incomprehensible? Probably! But maybe we can stop short of going that far?

I wonder if part of the answer might be found in the way the bigger gospel, the Genesis-to-Revelation story, can be told. Doesn't it make most sense non-linearly - by starting in the middle with Jesus generally (and the Road to Emmaus specifically) and using that then as a portal through which to travel back to Genesis and forward to Revelation, discovering multiple plots along the way?

I love the interface between gospel and culture, probing for that space where unshakeable biblical faithfulness and authentic cultural relevance coexist. I wonder whether there is some unexplored territory here?!

nice chatting

Paul