Thursday, February 24, 2011

christchurch comfort

Who could ever have nightmared that in the very month of the 80th anniversary of the Napier earthquake, that nation-defining event, there could be the possibility of it being eclipsed by another quake further down the faultline?

I find myself with God's people in Sri Lanka - tsunami-land - and I have been touched by their compassion. I also find myself reading and re-reading Isaiah 40-60, something I had committed to do before the quake struck. The people of God are in a hideous exile and yet God speaks through Isaiah with words of tender comfort, surprising hope - and poignant relevance ... right down to talk of shaking mountains and hope for people of the islands.

If you are looking for words of comfort, may I suggest that here is a good place to commence the journey? I invite you to look over my shoulder at what is helping me:

"See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power and his arm rules for him ... He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the (canterbury) lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those who have young." (Isaiah 40.10-11)

“The (north and south!) islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble. They approach and come forward; they help each other and say to their companions, “Be strong!” ... So do not fear, for I am with you: do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you.” (Isaiah 41.5-6, 10)

“A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42.3)

“Do not tremble, do not be afraid ... Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44.8)

“Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you.” (Isaiah 46.4)

“Listen to me, you islands (north and south!); hear this, you distant nations (aotearoa-new zealand) ... Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (and your photo is on my fridge!).” (Isaiah 49.1,15-16)

“Let those who walk in the dark, who have no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” (Isaiah 50.10)

“The (north and south) islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm ... I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand. I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth and who say ... ‘you are my people’.” (Isaiah 51.5,16)

“Though the mountains be shaken and the (port) hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54.10)

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55.6)

“Surely the islands look to me ... No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. The sun will no longer be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.” (Isaiah 60.9,18-20)

“In all their distress he too was distressed.” (Isaiah 63.9)

...and there is more, much more, where this comes from.
It has been good to chat.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

r & d from capetown

The Capetown Commitment is now available here.

My initial impression is positive. I like the effort made to bring 'unchanging gospel' and 'changing world' together for this time in which we live. Neither text nor context seems compromised. The initial reading causes heart and mind to come alive to both word and world. I am looking forward to the opportunity to savour it a bit.

The conclusion of the Commitment caught my eye.
The words go like this:

"We sought to listen to the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ. And in his mercy, through his Holy Spirit, Christ spoke to his listening people. Through the many voices of Bible exposition, plenary addresses, and group discussion, two repeated themes were heard:

The need for radical obedient discipleship, leading to maturity, to growth in depth as well as growth in numbers;
The need for radical cross-centred reconciliation, leading to unity, to growth in love as well as growth in faith and hope.

Discipleship and reconciliation are indispensable to our mission. We lament the scandal of our shallowness and lack of discipleship, and the scandal of our disunity and lack of love. For both seriously damage our witness to the gospel."

So, when all is said and done, these two remain:
Reconciliation & Discipleship

Just as companies and countries talk about investing in Research & Development to open up their futures, it would seem - from Capetown, anyway - that the global church needs to be doing the same with this other R & D.

But where is the first step and how do you take it?
Two wonderings:

(a) I wonder about placing this R & D in a series of concentric circles. Not too many circles - say, (a) personal/family; (b) local church/community; (c) regional/national; and (d) global.
What if every follower of Jesus, every single person who is in Christ, became committed to a single Reconciliation initiative and a single Discipleship initiative in each of those concentric circles?
What if, in the language of Stephen Covey, this R & D become the 'rocks in their jar' which receive first priority and best energy?
What if church leadership freed people to make this the priority of their peoples' lives?
What if there were praying and sharing times where these initiatives were the sole focus - as one means of keeping people accountable?

(b) I also wonder if we acknowledge enough the attractional missional possibilities of communities living like this. This R & D is very attractive. Today we hear so much about incarnation and not enough about attraction. Being incarnational is pretty much a waste of time, if there is not an attractional dimension going on as well. Heavily contextualised models of ministry where there is an obsession with being relevant and fitting-in often miss this dimension. It is possible to fit in so well that we fall in - and miss the power of living distinctively with distinction.

nice chatting


Saturday, February 12, 2011

the halberg knot

Every year the controversy swirling around the Halberg Sports awards seems to be increasingly cyclonic. Goodness me, we've even had a judge spit the dummy and resign because the 'supreme' award went to the wrong person/team...

I am numbered among those sports fans who are disaffected by it all. So, here is the approach I would take.

There must be a way to acknowledge the subjectivity involved in the selection - but in a manner which places it all within a more objective frame. For inspiration I'd return to my days as an employer and the hours I'd spend setting criteria and interviewing applicants against that carefully-weighted criteria.

I'd have six criteria, each with its own mark, to give a total score out of 100.

1. The global stature of the sport (out of 30)
This is the most important one. Where does the sport fit within the global pantheon? This could be done in a pretty objective way by measuring global participation in the sport, or global viewership of the sport. What fills newspapers as I travel in different countries also comes to mind.

Examples might look something like this (I haven't done the objective analysis!): Football (30/30); basketball/golf/tennis (24-28); cricket/rugby/swimming (20-24); rowing/cycling (16-20); rugby league/netball (12-16/30). Track & Field is trickier. I suspect the 100m scores close to 30, while shot put would be closer to 16.

2. The local pulse of the sport (out of 20)
It is not good enough to just focus on the global stature. An award given in NZ should have the opportunity to reflect Kiwi passions. Here is the opportunity to do so - and again some objective criteria is closer at hand than we realise. Participation numbers in the sport? Viewership? Something like popularity on talkshows on the radio? A pretty objective assessment could be made.

Examples might look something like this: Rugby (20/20); netball (18-20); football/cricket (16-18); rugby league/cycling/rowing/swimming (14-16/20)... Again, track & field is trickier. The 1500m needs to be pushing up towards 20, while boxing, or shooting, hangs around 10.

3. The level of achievement in the sport (out of 20)
This is the place to acknowledge winners with a mark of 20. However I disagree with the view that you must be a winner to qualify for a Halberg award. The focus needs to be on achievement and excellence, rather than just winning. But I'd try to keep this one simple.

Examples might look something like this:  Winner (20/20); second/silver (16); third/bronze (12/20) ...

Then when it comes to global tournaments an eye needs to be kept not so much on how many competitors there are at the tournament, but how many competitors attempted to qualify for the tournament. So, this would enter the picture for a basketball team finishing fourth at a World Championship, or a football team making it to a World Cup. I'd be inclined to give a score of 10-12 in that situation (because the significance of this achievement is picked up under criteria - like #1)

4. The status of the tournament for the sport (out of 10)
Here an attempt is made to separate the global, from the regional, or even the national. For example, a distinction needs to be made between a world championship for countries and an Australasian championship for clubs - and between an Olympic Games and a Commonwealth Games. Recognition is given here to the 'majors' in golf and tennis, for example. I struggle to see Breakers' basketball or Warriors' league ever winning the 'supreme' award for this reason.

Examples might look something like this: Olympics/World Cup (10/10); world championship/majors (8); Commonwealth Games (6); Australasian (4-6); national (2-4/10).

5. The frequency of the tournament (out of 10)
Here we recognise one of the anomalies that irritates me about the Halbergs - namely, that you are at a distinct advantage if your sport has an annual world championship of some kind, as opposed to a four yearly one. While I am a big fan, I think the likes of rowing and Valerie Adams have won more awards than is justified simply because of this reality.

Examples might look something like this: Four+ years (10); three years (6-8); two years (4-6); annual (2-4).

6. The subjective response (out of 10)
If the right judges are in place, then allocate some marks for them to affirm their own personal response to a sportsperson, for whatever reason. Subjectivity is unavoidable - so acknowledge it and constrain it within this criteria. This is a strategy I always used with applicants for jobs. It helps.

Where does this leave us?
It is not as complicated as it sounds. Brighter minds than mine will want to tweak it - but I reckon it provides a tighter objective frame, without becoming too mechanistic. Implications? It gives some justification to football beating rugby in 2010 (my score is 86:79). It suggests rugby league and netball will always struggle to win the 'supreme' award - but it is not impossible.

In terms of untying this Halberg knot, a few other reflections:
More focus needs to go on the criteria for selecting judges. In any given year a lot depends on who else is nominated. Being nominated should attract more recognition (like with the Oscars). Finding a way to give an award to an individual within a team sport remains difficult. I'd consider adding another award for this purpose. I'd also think about adding an award for a captain, as a means of affirming the place of leadership which would be a good thing to do in tall-poppy land. Minority sports get a rough deal with what I am suggesting here - but maybe there is another way of handling this dilemma?

nice chatting


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

advertisements and parables

I've been spending some time reflecting on the similarities between the contemporary advertisement and the ancient parable as part of my DMin thesis.

[Some reflections on the similarity of the political cartoon and the parable can be found here.]

May I introduce you to one of my companions?

It is Mario Pricken. While he has a website, it his book Creative Advertising in which I have soaked for a few months. In this book Pricken provides a systematic analysis of 10,000 award-winning advertising campaigns. The idea is “to provide an insight into the alchemy of creative thinking ... to shed light on the strategies of top creatives and increase the understanding of the patterns that underlie great ideas.(8)”

The genius of the book is that he makes these 'patterns' appear accessible to amateurs and hacks like me. That is quite an achievement for a field so intimidating to the outsider. Pricken accomplishes this, primarily, through two concepts:

1. The Kickstart Catalogue: finding ideas that communicate

He lists 30 'creative strategies' utilised by advertisers and accompanies them with 200 'kickstart questions' which take people into each strategy in a methodical way. Far from being the intuitive and mysterious discipline that we assume it to be, advertising is methodical, like learning to ride a bike - according to Pricken. Each strategy is then illustrated from these award-winning advertising campaigns. It makes for a fascinating book to flick through - even if only to enjoy the pictures!

2. The DreamTeam: a framework for great creative performance

Here Pricken trumpets the brilliance which can gather in a team of brainstormers who trust each other. He believes that “anyone can have ideas; it’s only the implementation that needs to be done by pros."(20) He reckons beginners are a boon to creativity: “naivety can be a great way to open up new fields of ideas.” (20) This entire section is a superb resource for promoting creative thinking in groups.

Pricken contends that a DreamTeam utilising the Kickstart Catalogue, with its questions, can accomplish a lot. As one person noted, the book acts partly as a guide for creative thinking and partly as an inspiration for new ideas.

What has this to do with the parable?

For years I've been trying to describe the 'creative strategy' (to use Pricken's term) in the parabolic form. I have about ten with which I play. Remarkably, along comes these 30 which Pricken exegetes, and I reckon I can overhear the strategies of the parabolic in all but three or four of them. The alignment is startling. There is a similarity between the advertisement and the parable - just as there is with the political cartoon. In just his third paragraph, he writes this:

"Some creatives’ strength lies in analogy, while others always try to induce a change of perspective, and others develop ideas by turning everyday situations on their heads."

He could be describing the parable - with its comparative, occasional, paradoxical and subversive strategies.

nice chatting


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

turning eighty

It is eighty years today since the Napier earthquake - so that means my mum must be turning eighty today too.

And that she is...

I've always loved being introduced by reference to my relationships. Joseph's Dad. Diane's brother. Barby's husband. Someone's teacher. Rachel's boss. Martin's friend. Someone's principal. You get the idea. Well - nothing in all the world beats being introduced as "Gwennie's boy" - and here are some of the reasons why:

There is a devotion about my mum
From a distance our family heritage looks a bit patriarchal. I used to think that myself. But it isn't. It is filled with strong women - mostly mothers - who have known the power and privilege associated with being devoted to their (many!) children and chosen to influence the world for good and for God through that devotion. Across the generations, I reckon my mum is the shining example at the center of our family. A stable, loving home marked by deep convictions and clear boundaries. What more could a child need and want? She is the embodiment of a Deuteronomy 6.5-7 spirituality.

There is a purity about my mum
I was going to stick with 'without guile', but earlier today my sister used this word 'pure'. It is so true. When we were younger we laughed mercilessly at one side of this coin - the naivete and the gullibility of my mum. As we've got older we have admired the other side - the see-through-ness feature of mum, the can't-think-ill-of-anyone quality about mum, the its-a-wicked-world-hatred-of-evil lifestyle of mum. With my mum, what you see and hear is really what you get. She is the embodiment of a James 1.27 spirituality.

There is a goodness about my mum
It was interesting to hear her talk today of her own mum. "She didn't push us to achieve at school academically, or excel in other areas - she just wanted us to be good." That was quite a revelation. It is true of mum herself and it is true of what she has tried to pass on. Every day we'd go off to school with the following words ringing in our ears: "be good, be kind, be true - and look after the lonely ones". Actually, it is not a bad way to live. She is the embodiment of a Philippians 4.8 spirituality.

There is a selflessness about my mum
It is not just the servant-heartedness, it is the quiet and unassuming manner in which she continues to serve, particularly my father in these latter years. She is the ultimate in open-home hospitality - and I should know as my teenage home in Delhi was the transit house for the mission. Whether it was attending to me as a bed-wetter until an embarassing age, or attending to my Barby during a horrendous miscarriage - or simply weeding the neighbour's garden, her life has always been turned to the other. She is the embodiment of a Romans 12.3 spirituality.

There is a simplicity about my mum
There is a simplicity in the lifestyle she embraces. There are no adornments. Nothing lavish in the home. There is also a simplicity about her faith. I was nurtured on 'trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus'. I heard it said and I saw it lived. And she loves Jesus. We heard today how as a little girl she would swing on the gate singing, "Everybody ought to know, Everybody ought to know, Everybody ought to know who Jesus is". Every year everyone in the family receives a card with a Bible verse in it where the number of years (in age) are matched precisely with the number of words in the verse. That says so much at so many levels. She is the embodiment of a Proverbs 3.5-6 spirituality.

There is an enthusiasm about my mum
When I asked my boys what comes to mind when they think of grandma, Martin immediately responded with "zeal - she just keeps going and going". It's true. Oh, the energy. She's robust. She's spunky. The photos of her as a girl reveal so much fun. The courtship and marriage photos reveal a joy. In more recent years there has been the pairing-up of grandchildren for weekends away ... and now that bless-ed camera of hers. She is the embodiment of an Isaiah 40.30-31 (the very verses her mum gave me for every birthday!) spirituality.

Yep - when I grow up, I want to be like my mum.
(NB - this photo with my mum taken on the day)

nice chatting


PS - A little tribute to my Dad when he turned eighty can be found here.