Monday, November 21, 2011

election reflection

The Rugby World Cup Final and now the National Election. Two sporting occasions in one month. I love it. I can't wait to pull my chair a little closer to the screen on Saturday and watch the contest unravel.

Some things have not surprised me.
The surge in support for the Greens. The humbling of John Key (Kiwis would never let that smug cockiness get that far ahead in the polls without bringing the poppy down to size - it had to happen).

Some things have surprised me.
I never, ever picked the resurgence of Winston Peters - nor can I believe that Peter Dunne is entering this election with the same haircut as last time.

As a Christian and as a citizen, I always struggle to know which way to vote. People who find it easy or go the same way every time really surprise me. It doesn't look that easy to me. There are so many tensions and continuums filling my field of vision. Very generally speaking and written by an amateur with partial understanding, here are some of them:

Personal ethics (those leaning to the right) vs social ethics (those leaning to the left). I want to lean both ways at the same time. Both abortion and poverty trouble me deeply, even equally.

More punitive justice (lots of fairness to the letter of the law; lean to the right) vs more restorative justice (a little grace within the spirit of the law; lean to the left). I think I lean more to the left. Locking them up just cannot be the answer all the time.

Wealth creation (those leaning to the right) vs wealth distribution (those leaning to the left). I think I lean more to the left. But I sure see the importance of creating the stuff in the first place.

Individual initiative (those leaning to the right) vs communal responsibility (those leaning to the left). I think I lean more to the right. A close call - but some aspects of the welfare state just cannot be good for us.

Appealing to self-interest vs appealing to national and global interest. I think I can rise above merely voting for what is in my best interests. There is a lot to like about the Greens on this one.

The personality of a political leader vs the policy of a political party. I want to lean both ways at the same time. Leadership is critical, character is important and it is not just about policy. This one could make me vote for Tariana, Pita and the Maori Party.

MMP vs the others. I have to look more closely at this through the course of this final week. It has not been a hot issue for me. All I know is that I won't vote for returning to FPP. Another personal 'beef' for me in parliamentary politics (which impacts my voting) is that I watch those in opposition to see whether they can ever say anything positive about the people and policies of those in power. If they can, their integrity builds a little in my eyes. Sadly, Phil Goff has been one of the poorest at doing this in recent times. And isn't it good to see the demise of so-called Christian parties? The whole idea is wrong-headed as a means of influencing society.

So, as you can see, I am far from decided.
"The televised debate tonight will sort me out. Yeah Right"

nice chatting


Friday, November 11, 2011

intriguing cricket intrigue

So I've been working on my DMin thesis most of the week. It is on The Role of Intrigue in Communicating with Contemporary Skeptics ... which reminds me - for those of you skeptical about the wonders of cricket (particularly the Test match variety), here are a few intriguing happenings in recent days.

Can you believe it?! The most embarassing moment in all of New Zealand sport was almost trumped by our trans-Tasman buddies last night. They were 21-9 chasing our all-time low score of 26 - until their last batsmen top-scored and they made their way to 47. The story is made all the more intriguing when it can be stated with confidence that there is no suggestion of match-fixing...

[Added later] Can you believe it? One of the finest writers of all time on cricket, with his columns mastering the language as much as the subject, Peter Roebuck, is dead at 55. Having read some of his autobiographical material I just knew from the very early moment when I read the news that the circumstances would carry a story of deep tragedy. A piece in Melbourne's Age expresses it so well that for a moment I thought it must be Roebuck writing. But it isn't and it never will be again.

Can you believe it?! M.D. Crowe, my all-time favourite batsman, continues for the Cornwall reserve team against Papatoetoe tomorrow in his comeback match - at 49 years of age. He is 15* overnight. I wonder if I could sneak down tomorrow and watch a bit... [NB: He was out on his overnight score of 15].

Can you believe it? Chris Martin brought up 200 Test wickets last week. Unfortunately of the 59 bowlers in the history of the game to have reached that mark, the ones with the highest averages (therefore, arguably, the least impressive of all) are: 1. Chris Martin (34.94); 2. Danesh Kaneria (34.79); 3. Gary Sobers (34.03); 4. Daniel Vettori (33.61). I hate to spoil the party but our two leading current Test match bowlers are average performers - something I have addressed here, in the case of Daniel Vettori. If you'd like to drool, consider the top three performers from the West Indies with three remarkably similar records - can you believe it?! - Malcolm Marshall (20.94); Joel Garner (20.97); and Curtley Ambrose (20.99).
[NB: Kiwi's Shane Bond (22.09) and Richard Hadlee (22.29) are not far behind and remarkably similar as well. Of all the bowlers from all the countries in the history of Test cricket (let's say, since 1900 and the subsequent era of covered pitches) who have bowled at least 3000 balls - that is a reasonable career - Shane Bond has the best strike rate of them all. Every 38.7 balls he got someone out...]

Can you believe it?! Well, Martin Crowe can't - and nor can I. Over this upcoming summer there is an 80 day period where there is no first class cricket. What's more, I have the solution :) The window for Twenty20 cricket is far too big. Six weeks?! Ridiculous. Twenty20 is not that different from baseball in terms of time and energy expended. In professional baseball in the USA they often play six days out of seven, with a lot of excitement generated by the occasional back-to-back games, or doubleheaders. Cricket can learn from this without going quite to this extreme. Six teams - home and away - 10 games + finals' weekend. I reckon the window could be three weeks (and four weekends - the last one being finals' weekend). On each weekend three teams could gather in one location (for example, Queenstown) and the other three in another location (say, Napier) - with each team playing twice and there being one double-header in each location. So that would be 6 of the 10 preliminary games played on the weekends. The other 4 games to be played are then fitted in as one-off games on the weekdays. Slightly larger squads. One game every two days... Run it roughly from 26 December - 15 January. Even a Twenty20 skeptic like me would find this intriguing. Go on - elect me to the Board of New Zealand Cricket :) It is a great idea...

Can you believe it?! The ICC has recently released rankings - team and individual - for Twenty20 cricket. New Zealand is ranked third. WOW - third is pretty high for us these days. But here is the bit that is hard to believe: the top six bowlers in the rankings are all spinners - the ones that are supposedly so much easier to hit.

Can you believe it?! In 12-18 months, the New Zealand test team will be world-beaters ("ah, Paul, always the optimist with NZ cricket, aren't you?!"). If a lawn-bowler (ie an underarm bowler) from Australia can lead our selection panel, why can't I have a crack at selection as well (unless, of course, I am on the Board)? Here it is:
1. Martin Guptill
2. Brendon McCullum
3. Daniel Flynn
4. Ross Taylor
5. Jesse Ryder
6. Kane Williamson
7. Reece Young
8. Daniel Vettori
9. Tim Southee
10. Hamish Bennett
11. Neil Wagner
with Dean Brownlie, Doug Bracewell and James Franklin on the bench.

I find that this kind of intrigue really energises me for the other intrigue to which, rather sadly, I must now return.

nice chatting


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

ted steve paul

Those of you familiar with the biographies of John Stott will remember that he once had a Kiwi curate at All Souls' named Ted. Ted had the gall one day to criticise Stott about his preaching being beautifully biblical, but unconnected with the wider world. As the story goes, it was this interchange that became the seed for Stott developing his "double listening" metaphor (and the "bridge-building" one) whereby a preacher must listen to both Word and World on the journey to the sermon.

At more than one point in the various biographies, Ted is described as a "brash Kiwi". Maybe it was just Ted, in that unevenly sanctified state which can mark a curacy ... or is there more to this? Is there something inherently brash about Kiwis? That would be a big call to make...

But this week Steve Williams and Paul Henry haven't exactly helped to dilute that impression.

Four days after the words were spoken, Stevie's comments about Tiger Woods were still the top two most-viewed sports stories on The Guardian website in the UK. That included a weekend of football action - incredible. The story redefined "going viral". Given the global popularity of golf, Stevie is almost certainly more famous than Richie - and maybe even the most recognisable Kiwi name/person in the world today. Sadly, he has a track record of headline-grabbing ugly brashness. This cartoon, entitled 'the most appalling hole in golf', captures it well.

Less widely known beyond NZ is the media personality, Paul Henry. He had to leave his broadcasting job after a series of gaffes which included naming one woman as retarded and another as having a moustache - before setting his brand of humour on two respected leaders of Indian heritage, as he made fun of names and disrespected ethnicity. In the end he had to be sacked - but then he reappeared on our screens with indecent haste and now he has just landed a huge job in Oz. [NB: I am not dignifying his gaffes by providing links for you].

A few reflections:

1. Both Williams' language and Henry's humour are silly, juvenile and over-the-top. It is reminiscent of what one might find on the playground at a primary school. I found both to be ugly and brash, leaving me feeling embarassed to be a Kiwi.

2. At this point many reach for 'political correctness' and ask why we have to be so precious about certain things. 'Where is your sense of humour, Paul?' Although political correctness can squeeze us into thinking more narrowly about the issues, my interest is more with theological correctness. Whichever way you look at it, abusing or mocking people in ways that relate to their ethnicity and/or gender that causes offense is theologically incorrect. For this reason I have been surprised how many fans of Paul Henry I have encountered within the Christian community. I don't get it.

3. All my life I have watched Kiwis engage with Aussies, Brits and Americans - and vice versa. It reminds me of a family. Kiwis are kinda like the little kid brother, by virtue of size and location. I think if we let them, we might become a favourite little brother - but instead, at the first hint of being ignored or forgotten, we break out into all kinds of attention-seeking behaviours. We can become noisy and ill-mannered - as the brash and the ugly surfaces. We see it in the sporting world. We see it in the media. More sadly, it can be discovered within inter-cultural mission teams at work around the world where poor relationships between mission partners is reputed to be the biggest reason for people returning home.

Is Ted a bit like Steve and Paul?!
It couldn't be so...that is why we met him only on a first name basis.

Are Kiwis inherently brash?!
Probably not (although I've seen enough to make me wince) - but we should still take care.

Thankfully, oh so thankfully, the All Blacks won the World Cup - with the brashness and ugliness saved only for the build-up to the game against Australia(!) and only among the supporters, not the team.

nice chatting


Sunday, November 06, 2011

pastor and scholar

Such is my life now that I can describe a book by how many boarding passes accumulate within its pages as I work my way through it. So, for example, that book on Pakistan in July was a "thirteen (international) boarding pass" book. It was long and slow and intense.

Last week I read a "three (domestic) boarding pass" book. It was short and quick and fun...

John Piper & DA Carson's The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor. It was originally delivered on a single occasion in 2009 to which the crowds flooded as one might expect, given the Christian celebrity status of the authors. In the first half we hear from John Piper, a pastor whose "mind never fully left the academy" (108), while the second half is devoted to DA Carson, a scholar whose "heart never left the church" (108).

The purpose of the book comes in its final paragraph: "So in charging pastors to be more serious about the life of the mind, and in challenging scholars to be more engaged with the life of the church, (our prayer) is that all our thoughtful shepherding and all our pastoral scholarship may be to the great end of having the gospel message about Jesus dwell richly (Col 3.16) both in us and in our people...(111)."

My response to the book?! Quite polarised ... sorry!

Try as I might I am rarely able to find Piper's wavelength in his sermons and books. Something must be wrong with me. The temptation is there to say that "he just does not do it for me" - but that would sound hyper-consumerist of me, so I won't say it :). His section is too focused on his own story for my appetite, interesting though it is at various points (for example, his early 'disabilities' surrounding a "paralysis before people and painfully slow reading" (29)). And I guess, if I'm honest, I was stunned to read that his church is in the process of starting its own seminary. "Why, oh why, can that possibly be necessary?! Who on earth came up with that idea? What can a seminary of this ilk possibly contribute to the global church which is not already represented elsewhere? I just don't get it."

Enough. Let's move on. Because in his half of the book Carson is at his brilliant best. Every faculty of every evangelical theological college should make these 35 pages the focus of a daylong retreat. I kinda miss that I am not in a position to make this happen anymore myself! A briefer(!) personal narrative gives way to 'twelve lessons for the scholar as pastor'. Here they are with a great quotation thrown in for free::

1. Take steps to avoid becoming a mere quartermaster
"It is possible to write learned tomes on apologetics without actually defending the gospel in the current world; it is possible to write commentaries without constantly remembering that God makes himself present, he discloses himself afresh, to his people, through his Word ... Unless you are actively involved in pastoral ministry in some sense or other, you will become distant from the frontlines and therefore far less useful than you might be." (82, 84)

2. Beware the seduction of applause
"(it) means that for you it becomes more important to be thought learned than to be learned. The respect of peers who write erudite journal articles becomes more immediately pressing than the Lord's approval (84-85) ... (then after a potentially corrosive discussion with his doctoral supervisor) In a flash I knew that I would rather have the gospel, knowledge of forgiveness of sins, and a reverence for God's Word than all the academic applause in the world" (88).

3. Fight a common disjunction
(the 'critical' vs the the devotional reading of Scripture)
"My response, forcefully put, is to resist this disjunction, to eschew it, to do everything in your power to destroy it ... when you read 'devotionally', keep your mind engaged; when you read 'critically' (ie with more diligent and focused study, deploying a panoply of 'tools'), never, ever forget whose Word it is. The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it." (91)

4. Never forget people
"We don't have mere students, organic sponges whose primary function is to soak up data and then squeeze it back out again on demand. Rather, in our classrooms are blood-bought children of the living God ... because of the content we teach, because of the Lord we serve, we who teach in such institutions must also be eager for relationships with students." (92, 93-94)

5. Recognise different gifts
"Through their books, get to know some epochal thinkers reasonably well. Slow down; read, take notes, think, evaluate ...What is virtually never justified is never reading anything slowly, seriously, analytically, and evaluatively, for such reading of good material not only fills our minds with many good things, but teaches us how to think." (97, 98)

6. Recognise what students learn
"If I happily presuppose the gospel but rarely articulate it and am never excited about it, while effervescing frequently about, say, ecclesiology or textual criticism, my students may conclude that the most important thing to me is ecclesiology or textual criticism ... I dare never forget that students do not learn everything I try to teach them but primarily what I am excited about." (98-99, 99)

7. Make the main thing the main thing
(on the danger of being teachers who love to focus on "the weaknesses, aberrations, and assorted blindspots of contemporary evangelicalism") ... "This may work its way out in students who become more and more critical of confessional evangelicalism, and pretty soon even of the evangel itself. They are in danger of becoming smart-mouths. Their superciliousness guarantees that they cannot minister effectively anywhere. Instead of becoming believers whose lives fruitfully foster change within the church, these students become condescending critics ... In all our legitimate concern for the innovative, what is of greater importance is the changeless." (101, 102)

8. Pray and work for vision
"If you are a pastor-scholar, you ought to be asking yourself what might be especially helpful at the present moment, what work of scholarship is crying out to be tackled, what popularization would benefit the Lord's people ... If you write only what others ask you to write, I fear you may be displaying a want of scholarly imagination, and, still worse, a lack of pastoral care." (102, 103)

9. Love the church
"If we are training a preponderance of pastors and others who will serve in the local church, it is essential that the faculty members truly love the church that Christ loved and for which he gave himself. Many students will learn to love what their professors truly love. So love the church." (103)

10. Avoid lone-ranger scholarship
"Some projects are better undertaken with collaboration ... if you are beginning to press into arenas of thought that are not your first area of competence, you are wise to run your work by others in the field, to solicit criticisms and suggestions." (104)

Carson ran out of gas (or was it time?) with the last two...
11. Be interested in the work of others
"Be at least as interested in the work of others as you are in your own." (105)

12. Take your work seriously but not yourself
"Make sure you have some people around you who feel free to laugh at you ... Walk humbly - you have far more to be humble about than you realise. Take your work seriously, but not yourself." (105)

And then a delightful concluding word from the editors:
"To Jesus, the great pastor-scholar, be all the glory."

nice chatting


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

rugby emotion

Exactly one week ago the parade was making its way through Christchurch, with thousands turning out to celebrate the All Blacks' victory in the Rugby World Cup.

I've been thinking a lot about emotion in the intervening days.

What an array of feelings surfaced during the tournament. From the opening ceremony when that lad came out to meet Jonah Lomu wearing a Canterbury jersey (the single most enduring memory of the tournament for me) to the final twenty minutes of the final when a pervasive anxiety took over a nation. The land of the long dark cloud beckoned yet again. And then not for the first time in the latter stages of this tournament did the best team on the day lose. What drama it caused...

Then at a personal level there was so much happening. Surely the world's best player could not be cruelly injured out of the tournament for the third straight time? Yes, he was! What about that Stephen Donald, villified and crucified by all sections of the media and talkback radio a few months ago - but there he is sitting way down on the pecking order at fourth and yet he steps up to kick the winning goal? What about the French team advancing forward to the haka? And what a fine line it became between hero and zero, knighthood and exile, for Graham Henry?! And then how about Jock Hobbs? Saviour of the All Black brand in one decade; securer of the World Cup in the second; and then in the third decade he shows up, so seriously ill with cancer, to give Richie his 100th cap and to receive a special award from the IRB for services to rugby.

We could go on and on, couldn't we?! We haven't even mentioned the fans - whose emotion is so well-captured in this little piece:

I am well-wired to my emotions. It is a topic of great interest to me.

The post-resurrection narratives are my favourite resting places with emotion. In Luke 24 there is the despair of the two on the road to Emmaus. In John 20 there is the grief of Mary, the fear of the disciples, and the doubt of Thomas. Despair, grief, fear and doubt. Very human. Very basic. Very elemental - almost like the carbon:hydrogen:oxygen:nitrogen in the Periodic Table of Elements. So much that is damaging at the emotional level is some combo of these four. Full though each person is with one of them, each one drains away in the encounter with Jesus. Doubt becomes faith with a touch. Fear becomes courage with a presence. Grief becomes joy with a word. And those despairing hearts become burning hearts under the influence of an expository sermon from Jesus! It makes me love and worship Jesus so much more when I see such attention to individual human emotion at the very time when he could be showing-off his divinity and victory over death to a packed stadium somewhere.

Another resting place are the writings of Matthew Elliot. There is his more serious book: Faithful Feelings: Emotion in the New Testament.
"Emotions are a faithful reflection of what we believe and value. The Bible does not treat them as forces to be controlled or channelled towards the right things, but as an integral part of who we are as people created in God's image. Christian emotions should be the most intense, the most vibrant, and the most pervasive things we feel as they are based on the most important things in life ... Our emotions will show the reality of our faith.You will find believers living from their hearts at the core of the great moves of God in the New Testament and church history ... Emotion is not the opposite of reason and rationality; it is part of reason's very substance ...When Christian emotions are not present, or when harmful emotions are pervasive, it is a warning that the belief system which the New Testament presents has not been grasped, or valued" (264-268).

Elliot has also written a more popular, storied and interactive book: Feel: the power of listening to your heart. It is supported by a website with all sorts of resources and ideas. His quest has been to find the true role of feelings in the spiritual life. His conclusions?
"Our emotions were given by God to drive us to our best ... emotions are among the most logical and dependable things in our lives ... emotions give us a window to see truth like nothing else ... the true health of our spiritual lives is measured by how we feel. That is the great power in listening to your heart" (4-5).

nice chatting