Tuesday, January 26, 2010

fancy a coffee?

Some of the most probing insights into the (ir)relevance of the church in society come from missionaries returning home after years away in distant - and very different - lands. While they think they are way out of touch, I have learned to listen to the startling things they have to say.

It happened last week again.

Two of my very favourites popped in for a visit. They've been off shore for about ten years. Within five minutes the hubbie was asking me,

"How come people tend to meet each other now in cafes rather than in their own homes? What is happening to the ministry of hospitality here in NZ?"

nice chatting


Friday, January 22, 2010

the final book

John Stott's 51st - and final - book has been published.

Mark Meynell, a current member of the All Soul's staff and a fine preacher (and blogger!) himself, has written a wonderful review of The Radical Disciple here.

[By the way, "Uncle John" is the loving and respectful way in which those who know him well refer to him. It doesn't flow off my tongue quite so easily as it makes me feel like an imposter - but it is a delightful tradition that reminds me of my Indian childhood with all its 'uncles' and 'aunties'. Even today I purr inside when my childrens' Indian friends refer to me just as 'Uncle'...]

nice chatting


Thursday, January 21, 2010


I feel sad.

One year after the inauguration I feel sad that Obama now finds himself in such a pickle. You don't have to be a Fox TV political analyst to know that when a Kennedy seat goes Republican within months of a Kennedy death, something seismic is happening. Obama is in big trouble.

I am not close enough to the action to know whether he really is making monumental stuff-ups or not. And I am not an American citizen so I never actually have to stand in the ballot box and make a decision on which way to vote. I can live in a kinda demilitarized zone between the two warring factions! Moreover I have American family and friends who stand on both sides of the great political divide and will vote accordingly.
[So this post could indeed be monumentally foolish!].

Still I feel sad.

I feel sad that things are not going well for Obama. Even if I had chosen not to vote for him I'd have wished him better than this in his first year.

I feel sad that America, the wealthiest nation on earth, can not find a way to provide meaningful health care for all its citizens. From this distance it seems that the wealthy and the special interest groups are just being obstructive in order to protect their own wealth and special interests.

I feel sad that so many Christians in America consider that their faith compels them to occupy one side of the political divide and not the other. Christians identifying wholesale with a political party makes me so nervous. From this distance people easily think that all Christians in America vote Republican! This is a worry. Take ethics as an example. Since when was personal ethics more important than social ethics? Gee whiz - some people desperately need to read Amos again! One night in Bangkok, jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, I listened to Obama speak at the Notre Dame graduation and address abortion. I didn't agree with him, but I thought he did a reasonable job of trying to find a way forward. But here is what irritates me. Since when was abortion a bigger ethical issue than the deaths of children caused by global poverty due to an improper distribution of the world's wealth? There are babies on both sides of the birth event - in the USA and abroad - that need to be protected with equal zeal.

I feel sad that a person in our church can pass onto me a youtube clip, inspired by Christians, which makes the claim that Obama is a Muslim. I am not even going to dignify the clip with linking it here. What saddened me most is that it is based on out-of-context pieces of Obama's speech in Egypt. And I thought that speech was one of the highlights of the year, I really did! I had my family stay up to watch it. I shed tears during it. It was a model on how to build cross-cultural bridges in a multi-faith world filled with tension and strife. From this distance I could see America becoming the respected leader in the world once again. Mmmmmm...

I feel sad that so many Americans care so little about how popular Obama is overseas. Doesn't that say something? Why are they not prepared to hear this? From this distance I thought that this would bring enormous encouragement to globally-minded world-christians in America. Clearly this is not the case. I don't get it.

I feel sad, as I always do for politicians, when they get saddled with the problems of a previous administration. It seems a necessary burden that comes with political leadership. But from this distance watching Fox TV, you would never get the idea that the financial recession had anything to do with a greedy era of over-consumption marked by lax banking regulations introduced by a previous administration, would you?

Yes, I do feel sad.
Maybe I shouldn't be.
Maybe I have it all wrong.

What I do know is that God, the Lord of Lords, is the ruler of nations and in him I place my hope and for him I give my life in service, hoping to make a difference.

nice chatting


Monday, January 18, 2010

if i was bill bryson (part one)

If I was Bill Bryson I'd come to New Zealand and write a book about my travels. As my own favourite past-time is planning itineraries around NZ, I am happy to say to Bill, "Here is the route, Bill - now you find and write the story".

I'd give him three parameters:
(a) No more than 20 days on each main Island
(b) No more than 300 kms traveling on State Highway 1 (SH1), excluding the urban areas
(c) No more than half that amount, 150 kms, traveling twice on the same road

Fasten your seatbelt.

Let's save the best until last and start with the North Island :)
[Click on the map to enlarge it. Numbers in brackets add up to 20 days].

After arriving in Auckland on an early morning flight we head for SH16 and the road to Helensville, stopping for a real fruit ice cream in Kumeu and visiting Minniesdale Chapel (overlooking the Kaipara harbour) en route to Wellsford. Then, sadly, 28kms on SH1. At Maungaturoto its west on SH12, dipping our toes in the Kai-iwi Lakes and 'hugging' Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Kauri Forest. A night in Opononi or Rawene, waking up to views of the Hokianga Harbour. (1 - "are we there yet?" nope).

Over on the car ferry, we find our way to Mangamuka and, sadly, a further 38kms on SH1 before arriving in Kaitaia. We leave the car in Kaitaia and catch a bus to Cape Reinga, traveling both ways (!) on Ninety Mile Beach because we do not have enough SH1-kms to waste here - and 'cos it sounds like fun (2). Then a leisurely drive down SH10, stopping to enjoy the beach-perfection of Matai Bay, fish-n-chipping in Mangonui, detouring to any one of dozens of bays 'n beaches, pilgrimaging off to Marsden Cross at Kapiro Rd, before ending up in Paihia for a couple of nights so as to enjoy the history of the place, everything from missionaries to Maori (3, 4).

Another car ferry - this time to Russell and then the back roads through Parekura Bay, Whangaruru, and Helena Bay before heading, rather sadly, for 5km on SH1. A little loop out to Tutukaka brings us into Whangarei the back way. An unavoidable return to SH1 awaits us, sadly, for the 38km to Waipu. Great pizza place. Then its off to the coast again, making our way back to Wellsford, via Mangawhai and on to Waiwera for a long soak in the hot pools after, sadly, another 46kms on SH1 (5).

Drive south through Auckland, exiting at Papakura for the drive through Clevedon and Miranda and across to SH25, encircling the Coromandel Peninsula. It is up the near coast and across to Whitianga, walking down to Cathedral Cove, and gradually arriving at Whangamata for the night (6). The Bay of Plenty coastline holds us all the way through Waihi to Tauranga and onto Mt Maunganui. A walk around its base gives the semblance of exercise before continuing on SH2 to Edgecumbe and the beautiful drive through the lakes into Rotorua. Okataina is my favourite. Hell's Gate is another world that requires a visit. Then into Rotorua for 2 nights (7, 8). Agrodome, Rainbow Springs, Whakarewarewa, and Buried Village would be my four for Bill, probably meaning a late start the next day.

Ah, driving south from Rotorua into Waikaremoana is a highlight and staying the night in a Fisherman's Cabin with a lakeside view is even better. The walk up to Lake Waikareiti is a must (9). Then it is down through Wairoa and onto Napier. A quick climb up Te Mata Peak (in the car!) and then it is off to Woodville on SH2. Time for a close-up view of Palmerston North's main tourist attraction - the windfarm on them windy hills (!) - before driving onto my latest discovery, taking a left at Masterton for a night on the coast at Castlepoint with its lighthouse and lagoon(10). Oh - we are half way, Bill, why not take an extra day in a remote area to relax? (11)

Over the Rimutakas we go, via the charming trinity of Carterton, Greytown, and Featherston, and down SH2 into the Hutt Valley and find a place to stay (12). Leave the car at home and take the train into Wellington, enjoying Te Papa Museum, the cafes, Oriental Bay, maybe some cricket at the Basin Reserve(!!!) and a most alluring compact little city (13). To avoid SH1 it is up and over the Akatarawas to Waikanae. I've done it once and once was enough! Mindful of our SH1 quota, we spend, sadly 31kms on the way to Levin before detouring on SH57 until we meet SH3 in Palmerston North and head towards Wanganui. It is foot to the floor until Hawera and the gorgeous drive between the mountain and the sea in the evening light on the Surf Highway (SH45) all the way around the bump on the map to New Plymouth. That was a long day (14). Why don't we take an extra one to recover? (15) I'd head for that mountain (Taranaki) and then that sea...

Today is the day for a loitering drive along the Forgotton Highway from Stratford (inland from New Plymouth) to Taumarunui and then south on SH4 and across to The Grand Chateau on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu for the night (16) and much of the next day. Later in the day we head off to the shores of Lake Taupo at Turangi before circling back on the northern route to Taumarunui and on to Te Kuiti for the night (17). Driving through those King Country mountains in the setting sun will be something to savour. Maybe we'll meet Sir Colin Meads in the main street?

A quick trip to the Waitomo Caves after leaving Te Kuiti is a possibility, but then it is SH3 to Te Awamutu where we turn off on the back road to the exquisite little town of Cambridge. Avoiding SH1 we continue onto Morrinsville (and maybe another of my favourites - Te Aroha) and then up SH27, joining SH2 on the road to Pokeno, stopping for a mountainous ice cream cone(up to 10 scoops from memory) and some back roads through Pukekohe and into the Auckland urban area (18). Which leaves 19, 20 for looking around Auckland. I'd walk as many West Coast beaches as possible on one day and climb as many of Auckland's volcanic 'mounds' on the other...

The Great Omissions?
Well, you tell me... I bet Taupo and East Cape head many peoples' lists.

nice chatting


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

prw cricket rankings

Looking down my 'labels' to the right, I see that "cricket" is coming last in terms of number. We can't have that, can we?! With so much cricket on around the world at the moment, here are my (prw) cricket rankings.

These rankings come as I stand outside myself and watch who I support as the top eight nations play each other. And then I sort through the various permutations to create 'most favoured' through to 'least favoured' country, in terms of my own support.

ONE New Zealand
With each passing year I become a less and less nationalistic and patriotic person. And the latter years of Stephen Fleming's captaincy hastened this process in the cricketing sphere. I was not a fan of the arrogance he tried to convey. He wanted to be like Steve Waugh but he lacked the team to give such an attitude any credibility. For example, his confrontation with Sangakkara and Jayawardena, towards the end of his career, was a low point in NZ cricket. It was despicable. However, I am a Kiwi and I will always support NZ on the cricket field above everyone else.

TWO India
Ahh, the country of my upbringing. The country which nurtured my love of this, the greatest game. Gavaskar and Vishwanath, Solkar and Abid Ali were the names I lived with as a child. Yes, India has to be #2. However it is no longer straightforward. In my view Indian money - and with it, Indian power - is ruining the game. The only sport which fosters both professional 'club' teams and playing for your country is football/soccer. And how does FIFA do it? With an iron fist! With windows in the club schedule for international fixtures. The ICC is no FIFA and it shows. If FIFA has an iron fist, the ICC has a clay pinkie. India runs cricket. No country will be hurt more by the professional Indian club game (IPL) than NZ. I am not sure how long India can stay at #2.

THREE West Indies
Again the influence of my childhood shines through. Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards?! Anderson Montgomery Everton Roberts?! These guys had style and they had skill. Unless they are playing NZ or India, I still find myself cheering for the Windies. But they are a shadow of what they once were. It has been sad to watch their decline and the IPL will lubricate that decline at test level, just as it will for NZ. I'd love to see someone wave a wand and have the current group of players suddenly become the 1980s revisited. It ain't going to happen.

FOUR Sri Lanka
Here is a more contemporary choice. Like it was with many others, it started with the Jayasuriya:Kaluwitharana show opening the batting - with my wonder only increasing when I walked past 'Kalu' one day and he was just a slither of a man. But such power in his hitting... While I did not care much for Ranatunga, those who have followed in his wake have had such grace, such intelligence and such a joy in playing the game. The aforementioned Sangakkara and Jayawardena are two of my favourites. I know India's hold on the #2 spot is tenuous because when India play Sri Lanka I find I lean the way of the latter increasingly.

FIVE England
NZers are not great fans of the 'mother country' on the sporting field. The press here is so biased against England. Time and again, a successful England will not make it into the news - but a failing England will almost always make headlines (particularly on the rugby field, it must be said - but with cricket as well). It is a pettiness in the Kiwi press for which I have little patience. Not so for me. England leads the second half of my rankings which I guess means I like to see them win about half the time! I will enjoy watching Broad develop as much as I enjoyed Flintoff and Botham before him. As is the case with Sri Lanka, I think England is on the move upwards...

SIX Pakistan
Being Indian-by-upbringing, this is a big call for me to make - but I think it reflects the contemporary global situation where Pakistan has so few opportunities to play. [And the fact that I am visiting the country a bit and developing a fresh heart for it]. I still find the level of sulking and rivalry and power-plays that goes on inside Pakistani cricket to be a bit playground-ish - but their talent matures so early and so young and I have always loved watching it surface (usually in games against NZ, it must be said ... Wasim Akram? Miandad? Inzamam? Umar Akmal?)

SEVEN South Africa
I felt genuine and lingering compassion for the Hansie Cronje mess and this impacted the way I viewed their cricket for a season. Jonty Rhodes was something special. I admired the way they founght their way to the top in these years after readmission. But really - supporting them is not part of my past (as they were still banned in those years) and I do not find that their teams tug away at any heart-strings at all. While I see the place of 'affirmative action' selection policies, I think they have tended to overdo it and give the impression - a bit like Pakistan - that cricket is really a projection of national politics. Plus, they frequently choke on the big stage which says something.

EIGHT Australia
When I stand outside myself and watch the Aussies playing any one of the teams from #1 through to #7, I never find myself supporting them! :) So I guess that means they are #8. I don't think the trans-Tasman rivalry has a lot to do with it as I don't readily subscribe to it. I like and follow many Aussie sportspeople (their golfers, for example). They are the world's most prolific sporting nation and I admire this in them. Maybe they are #8 because they are just so successful and I like the underdog... Steve Waugh's biography was one of the best I have ever read. But there is an ugliness in their cricket over there that many Aussies themselves dislike. With sledging they misapply the words of Jesus, finding it far better 'to give than to receive'. And then there is the perennial irritant for NZ cricket fans - those sycophantic cricket commentators! Ugh?! When I need some balance from across-the-ditch I shut my ears to Mark Nicholas and go and read another Peter Roebuck column!

nice chatting


Sunday, January 03, 2010

the new shape of world christianity

It took me awhile to get a hang of the direction in which Mark Noll was heading in his latest book, The New Shape of World Christianity (IVP, 2009).

I know the guy is an elite historian but every now and then he seemed to be going down the same path as Jerry Falwell did in a chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School when I was a student there. Falwell asserted that the success of God's mission in the world is dependent on the USA remaining the dominant global power. While Noll is nowhere near as American-dependent as Falwell, he certainly is more American-centered in his thesis than I would have thought was warranted.

The opening sentence of the final "Reflections" chapter troubled me: "the main point of this book is that American Christianity is important for the world primarily because the world is coming more and more to look like America (189)." Gee - that is a big call to make! However let me quickly add that he is not saying that 'correlation is causation' but that "understanding American patterns provides insight into what has been happening elsewhere in the world (189)."

And yes, we see this here in the New Zealand church. I valued the places where Noll listed these 'American patterns'. For example, in asserting that "American Christianity is unmistakably American as well as Christian (120)" he describes the 'preferences' we find there:

1. individual self-fashioning over communal identification
2. a language of choice and personal freedom alongside a language of given boundaries and personal responsibility
3. comfortable employment of commerce as opposed to cautious skepticism about commerce
4. a conception of religious organizations as voluntary bodies organised for action instead of inherited institutions for holding fast
5. an optimistic hope expressed in the creation of new institutions instead of a pessimistic skepticism about innovation
6. personal appropriation of sacred writings over inherited or hierarchial interpretation of those scriptures
7. a plastic, utilitarian attitude toward geography as opposed to a settled, geographically-determined sense of identity
8. a ready willingness to mingle different ethnic groups (in at least public settings and despite America's wretched black-white history) as opposed to strong convictions about ethnic purity
9. the innovations of the bourgeois middle classes instead of deference to traditional elities (120-121)

Add to these 'preferences' words like "conversionist, voluntarist, entrepreneurial" and a picture of American Christianity emerges - a picture that fueled the success of various missionary initiatives such as The Jesus Film, Wycliffe Bible Translators and New Tribes Mission - all of which Noll discusses in some length.

Some personal reflections:

1. 'Schooled' at an American boarding school in India (Woodstock) and 'seminaried' at an American seminary (TEDS), but based here in NZ ever since - I have often gone on and on about how we need to be more discerning in the way we utilise American resources (the Willowcreeks and the Saddlebacks, for example). Helpful though they are, they do come packaged in those 'preferences' above which themselves need to be submitted to strong biblical-theological critique.

2. While Noll plots the extent of American influence, he does have a high view of "local Christianities" (92). This comes up again and again.
For example, after the early missionary initiative, the pattern of development is the "local appropriation of Christianity by local agents for local reasons and in the context of local cultural realities" (78) ...
"The primary agency in recent movements of Christianization has not been the missionaries but the new converts themselves" (106) ... "once Christianity is rooted in someplace new, the faith itself also takes on something from that new place" (190) ... "the gospel that legitimates the particular upholds the universal" (191) ... "the gospel belongs to every one in every culture; it belongs to no one in any one culture in particular" (191) ...
"There is first contact with the gospel (often from missionaries), and there are very often early efforts at evangelization and at humanitarian aid (usually from missionaries). But the actual movement from Christian beachhead to functioning Christian community is almost always the work of local Christians" (195).

3. The book does not go far enough for me. I'd like to see not just an affirmation of the 'local' but an analysis of the way the 'local' is needed by the global-American. It is not enough to say that the 'local' exists. It has a voice which can speak and which can expose a blindspot or two. There needs to be an American humility in the face of these "local Christianities" - and this humility needs to extend to all those impacted greatly by the 'patterns' above (like the church in NZ). Sure - the book closes with a section on Partnership and the significance of the metaphor of the 'body of Christ' and the mutality it conveys - but this requires a book of its own as it is (for me, anyway) the most galvanizing and transformative mission truth there is today. For example, I wonder what the estimated 40-50,000 Indian cross-cutural missionaries at work within India could teach us?

4. I found the book more and more valuable the further I went into it. Chapter 8 on how "American Evangelicals View the World" in which Noll surveys the content of various magazines at specific points through the century. Chapter 9 on the similarities between American and Korean Christianity. Chapter 10 on The East African Revival - and that final Reflections chapter (11) which pulls things together so well.

nice chatting


Saturday, January 02, 2010

more darkness

I went to see Sherlock Holmes (the movie, not the person). Yet another dark movie. Not only is so much of it filmed at night, or in the shadows, or with the lights out - but creative energy is poured far more into portraying evil than good.

There has been a string of movies like this. It is a feature of Peter Jackson's work, for example. While I am no Tolkien expert, did Jackson approximate Tolkien in the balance of the creativity given to both good and evil? I doubt it. Harry Potter seems similar to me. As do the Batman movies - and the Pirates of the Caribbean ones. And if I thought about it a bit more, I reckon I could come up with heaps of examples.

In movies 'evil' seems to receive far more care from the director than 'good' - and these become the compelling and memorable scenes for people.

From movies, my attention is directed (by my son Joseph) to music - Christian music no less. Look at these lyrics from Switchfoot's recent song, Mess of Me:

I am my own affliction
I am my own disease
There ain't no drug that they could sell
No, there ain't no drug to make me well

There ain't no drug
There ain't no drug
It's not enough
The sickness is myself

I've made a mess of me I wanna get back the rest of me
I've made a mess of me I wanna spend the rest of my life alive
I've made a mess of me I wanna reverse this tragedy


[It takes me back to DC Talk in the 90s: "the disease of self runs through my blood; it 's a cancer fatal to my soul; every attempt on my behalf has failed to bring this sickness under control; Tell me, what's going on inside of me? I despise my own behaviour; This only serves to confirm my suspicions that I am still a man in need of a saviour."]

More WOW!

And here is my concern. Yet again, it is for our young people. They soak themselves in dark movies. They resonate with lyrics from DCTalk and Switchfoot. They know evil and sinfulness are real. They see it. They experience it. They know they are 'in need of a saviour.' They 'wanna reverse this tragedy'. But time and time again they will have pastors and leaders who won't talk about sinfulness and evil for fear of damaging their self-esteem. Instead they'll hear tripe about different doorways into the gospel - and rarely has it got much to do with sinfulness. So bogus conversions proliferate and with them shallow disciples. Then when 'back-sliding' occurs (as it will, inevitably) it isn't named for what it so often is - the natural consequence of a spurious conversion. Our understanding of the gospel is so often deeply flawed.

At a time when movies and music so resonate with evil and sinfulness let's not be caught opting out of giving people an accurate self-understanding of who they are in God's sight. Dignity and Depravity. The best work of a brilliant Creator receiving the enduring love of the model Father. Made fully alive in Christ and empowered to live that life in the Spirit. Knowing who they are only when they know whose they are - vertically (with God) and horizontally (with others).

nice chatting