Sunday, December 30, 2012

what's in a name?

Parents tend to search for significance in the naming of their children. Barby and I are no different. A few things have happened this Christmas to bring this to mind, particularly with our three boys a long, long way away.

Monday, December 24, 2012

share embed save publish

And so when I come across a you-tube video clip to use in this blog, what do I do?

I click on share and then I select embed. The identity of the video clip comes up as a series of letters and numbers. I cut and paste this into my post. I click save, releasing the clip to have a destiny in my blog. And then I select publish and the clip becomes known to a wider audience.

It sounds a bit like the Christmas story to me.

God decides to share, or give, his son to us. He embeds Jesus, or incarnates him, in human flesh to live in this world - filling him with a new identity (check out Mark 1-8). He clicks save, releasing Jesus to fulfill a destiny in this world (check out Mark 9-16). What happens next? My life - like countless others down through the centuries and across the time zones, becomes absorbed in publishing, making this Jesus known.

Here, let me give you the most exquisite example from the St Paul's church, here in Auckland (New Zealand).



nice chatting this Christmas day

Paul

Saturday, December 22, 2012

beryl and adele

Beryl was older than both my parents. I'd known her for more than 40 years - as 'Auntie Beryl' in my days as a missionary-kid (MK). Auntie Beryl lingered with us and took an interest in our little MK lives. We loved her.

Auntie Beryl died earlier this month. Some years ago she had asked me to take her funeral - and then she died a day before I returned home from an extended period overseas. I scrambled. One of my sadnessess will be that I was not able to articulate the farewell for her which I had been imagining.

Auntie Beryl was a great New Zealander, although you'd never know it. Honoured by the Queen and granted an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Otago, Auntie Beryl was one of the first (some say, the first) female professors of obstetrics in the world - but she was humble and unassuming until the end.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

with peterson at raukokore

It has been a long time coming. The final frontier. Through these 29 years in New Zealand, it is the only part of the country in which we have never holidayed. The East Cape. Not any more. Barby and I - together with our daughter Bethany - have just returned from a week travelling around the Cape.

It was a sobering trip.
Those wharves affected me. Rotting and crumbling. They are testimony to a bygone age of shipping vessels carrying goods, long before the arrival of newer technologies like trains and trucks. In 1936 the Tolaga Bay wharf had more than 130 ships visit. At the time its 600m wharf was a triumph of engineering. Further north, the wharves at Hicks' Bay (pictured) and Tokomaru Bay carry warnings of them collapsing under our feet. At Tokomaru Bay - the ruins of an old freezing works at the origin of the wharf added to the sad ambience of the setting.

Then there are the churches. All around New Zealand it is commonplace to find little churches stuck like postage stamps onto rural landscapes. The mixture of beauty and sadness makes me linger every time. There is always the suspicion that the graves in the cemetery outside the church contain more bodies than the pews inside the church. St Mary's in Tikitiki (a town whose population dropped from 6000 to 500 in not much more than a generation) is a church which captures the imagination, with its incorporation of Maori architecture, weavings, carvings, and art into every aspect of the interior design of the building. Then there is that church at Raukokore...




Sunday, December 09, 2012

bond at fifty

I used to teach a course on movies which I called Windows and Mirrors. The idea being that movies can open up the critical area of worldview by providing a window on the world - and often an uncomfortable mirror for ourselves as well.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

paul and timothy

It is months since I posted photos from my work with Langham in Asia. In November it was so cool to have my son-in-law, Timothy (training to be a pastor), accompany me to Camb*dia and Ind*nesia. It was kinda like the old firm of Paul and Timothy being reunited for a journey into Asia once again. (And yes, I did make some good mileage out of that one along the way!). Timothy is a much better photographer and so I asked him to click-away a bit...



After we teach through the morning, the learning really takes place as participants meet in small groups through the afternoon to work with a biblical passage and shape it into a message that they can preach.

Friday, November 23, 2012

open letter to oden

"Welcome, Dr Thomas Oden. I have just elected you to a select band of scholars who have transformed my way of looking at the world. The company you keep is an esteemed one, led by the triumvirate of Phillip Jenkins, Lamin Sanneh, and Rodney Stark.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

lest we never know

'Lest we forget' is the refrain we associate with horrid history like the Holocaust. Keeping alive the memory is designed to help prevent history from repeating. Forgetfulness is just not acceptable.

Yesterday I visited Cheoung Ek (The Killing Fields) for the first time and Tuol Sleng (the Genocide Museum) for the second time. It is sobering to the point of sickening. I find it so disturbing that it happened in my own lifetime. While I can not be held responsible for knowing the events of 17 April 1975 as they occurred, it bothers me that it took me so long to be impacted by what happened here in Cambodia.

I came away preoccupied by the danger of 'lest we never know'. In an age of information flooding all kinds of media channels it is still possible to never know. Forgetfulness may be unacceptable - but surely so also is ignorance, given the the information sources to which we have access? Is it acceptable to remain in the dark with horrid history? While 'lest we forget' is noble, the reality is that holocausts keep happening. I understand why the Holocaust of the 1940s retains such a focus in our attention - but it is troubling that the Cambodian one of the 1970s took so long to spark a response ... and then what about the Congolese one (referred to here) of the 2000s in which 5 million are estimated to have died? Is 'lest we forget' enough - or does the 'lest we never know' refrain need to grab our hearts and minds as well?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

finding the finest

Doing serious research has taught be a significant life-skill.

If I want my own argument to be robust, then as I encounter those views which I oppose it is wise to paint them in their best light, not their worst light. It is about taking time to find the finest exponents of the views with which I disagree and trying to engage with them. Stereotypes and cheap-shots be damned.

Friday, November 09, 2012

ppk governance

It is a consistent theme. In the churches, mission organisations, and employers with whom I have been associated over the past twenty years, (almost) without exception they have tackled the same issue: identifying what good governance looks like and trying to make the changes to embrace it.

I am at San Francisco airport on my way home after the annual Langham Partnership meetings in Phoenix. One of the pleasing features this year was the progress made in this area - freeing governance to govern and releasing management to manage. Mixing up the two groups seems to be a persistent challenge for Christian organisations.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

celebrating otago

I return to a favourite theme.

Has there been a better season for (evangelical) theological education in New Zealand than this current one? I don't think so (NB: I've touched on this topic here and here and here). For example, Carey Baptist College is in full bloom, while Laidlaw College has a compelling vision driving it forward. The two colleges complement and compliment each other. And no doubt behind the scenes there is a little gentle competition which keeps everyone on their toes. The impact may take a generation to be fully felt, but it will come.

But in the last week I've been celebrating the Department of Theology at the University of Otago, based in Dunedin. Here is a secular institution. Almost by definition, it cannot be 'evangelical'. Here is a university with a focus on research outputs. Almost by definition, it cannot retain contact with the 'grassroots'. Here is a Department that has tended to be built around a 'pure', or more classical, curriculum with Biblical Studies, Christian Thought & History to the fore. Almost by definition, this is not the place to go looking for the 'applied' curriculum.

And yet, in 2012, two of Otago's Theology faculty have published books which engage the grassroots in applied ways that can only stir the heart of 'shaped by the Bible - focused on Christ' evangelicals.

Tim Cooper collaborates with Kelvin Gardiner on Pastoring the Pastor in which we find a collection of 'Emails of a Journey through Ministry'. I read the entire book in a single day of airplanes and airports in the USA. A little reminiscent of Letters Along the Way, it records the correspondence between a young pastor, Daniel Donford, and his  Uncle Eldon during the first two years of Daniel's time in pastoral ministry. It develops the personalities which can accompany that first church... The obstructive Frank. The chatty Martha. The church-growth-expert Schneider. The colleague Sam. The conspirator Harry. The eccentric Meredith. The wise Hayley (Daniel's wife!). A nice touch is the inclusion of emails between people other than Daniel and Uncle Eldon. It adds depth and fullness to the story - but it means the book needs to be read relatively quickly, so that you don't lose track of people.

Monday, October 29, 2012

humilitas

I am always on the look-out for a new author to enjoy. I think I have found another one.

A couple of months ago I was on the 'undercard' at a preaching conference where John Dickson was 'the main event' (I am not a boxing fan, but you get the idea). An Aussie based in Sydney, John has the hint of the 'renaissance man' about him. Primarily a historian (and here he reminds me just a bit of Rodney Stark), Dickson is also a musician, a writer, a scholar, a media guy ... and a preacher.

Humilitas is a book about humility. Humility is the sweetest grace of all, the common denominator in the people God chooses to use. 'Humility enhances the ordinary and makes the great even greater' (29). While it is difficult for someone as able as this to write a book on this topic, Dickson gets away with it due to large dollops of Aussie self-deprecation.

While he writes as a Christian, the book is not overtly pitched at a Christian audience. Dickson is adept at living life in the media and the public square and it comes through in his writing. It is an easy read, not the least because it is full of great stories (Joe Louis, 26-27; Muhammad Ali, 56-57; Edmund Hillary, 70-71; Daniel & Janet Matthews, 73-77; Bill Gates, 125-127 - in a little story about the humility of Gates compared with the arrogance of Jobs ... and Dickson is a Mac-user!; etc)

There is much that could be said but let me zero in on three sections which impacted me.

Friday, October 26, 2012

fours and sevens

Sticking with the apocalyptic theme for one more post...

As various scholars like to remind us, in the Book of Revelation 'numbers are symbols, not statistics'. So, for example, the number 4 is a symbol which represents everything, all of something. A bit like the way the four winds, or the four corners, is a way of representing all there is of the earth. And then the number 7 is a symbol for completion, or perfection.

Let's say we are speaking of cups. If 4 is associated with cups, then it means all possible cups are included. If the number 7 is in there somewhere, then the symbolism suggests that each of those cups is filled to the full.
Or take, the koru - that exquisite tree fern which we have here in New Zealand. If 4 is associated with koru, then it means that all possible koru are represented. If a 7 is in there as well, then this symbolism suggest that each koru is fully extended, approaching perfection.

Coming back to Revelation, look at the way the church is described. In 5.9 you get a phrase like 'every tribe and language and people and nation'. There are four descriptors here and this suggests that it is the entire church, all the church from all around the world, that is being described.

Read on in Revelation and this collection of four descriptors keeps repeating, even if the individual words change a little bit:
7.9: 'from every nation, tribe, people and language'
10.11: 'many peoples, nations, languages and kings'
11.9: 'from every race, tribe, language and nation'
13.7: 'every tribe, people, language and nation'
14.6: 'to every nation, tribe, language and people'
17.15: 'peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages'

That is a lot of collections of four descriptions, isn't it?
How many exactly?  Count them up!

In Revelation there are seven times when this fourfold description of the church is used...
Does that ring any bells?

Might it be that one of the messages of Revelation is that it speaks of a time when the church will be drawn from all peoples and be perfectly mature?

bring it on - nice chatting

Paul

Monday, October 22, 2012

preaching from revelation

As I posted earlier in the year, a project for me in 2012 has been figuring out how to preach from the Book of Revelation. I've had the privilege of training people in Indonesia, Pakistan, China (in my work with Langham overseas) - and also people in Dunedin, Mt Roskill and New Plymouth (back home here in NZ).

I am excited about what I have learned. The 'fear factor' has been overcome. When I was speaking to young people in my home church (Mt Roskill), I began by showing the first image to appear on google-images for the word 'apocalyptic' (which is what Revelation means). Here it is:


I asked them to tell me the first words that come to mind when they look at this image. Back came the words: hopelessness, defeat, dark, fear, doubt, death etc. It is true. All over the world 'apocalyptic' attracts a censor's warning for its bleak and violent images of the end of the world. When I finished my presentation I came back to this image and suggested that nothing could be further from the truth. Those words are the polar opposite of what the words 'Revelation' and 'apocalyptic' should spark in our lives. Revelation is about hope, victory, light, courage, faith, and life...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

where are they now?

This week I had the 32nd anniversary of my 21st birthday. Here is the group of friends that celebrated way back then - it was touch rugby on the tennis courts, from memory.


BACK ROW
Gavin McConnell, together with Michelle, had a lengthy period overseas with Interserve and now run Piringa, a place people can go to process and 'de-brief' the stuff that has happened in their lives.

David Diprose - while I've lost contact with him, I remember that he knew where the accelerator was.

Jeff Turner was the most eligible bachelor in the church for many years, but he has made up for lost time as he and Melinda have the most lovely family of seven children. Jeff is the Chairman of Fresh Direct.

Graeme Thompson is my first cousin and runs his own techie(?) company from Whangaparoa (north of Auckland). I see very little of him, but he and Jenny have a son, Ben, who attends a home group that meets in our house.

Hugh Kemp has lived a remarkable life with Karen. They were one of the early missionaries into Mongolia (in the recent wave). A well-received book on the history of the church in Mongolia led on to a PhD on Buddhism in NZ. Last year they moved to Gloucester (UK) where they are both involved in teaching, with Hugh at Redcliffe College.

Ross Thompson is based in Wellington with Rhonda and the children (I took their wedding at Old St Pauls!) and Ross is General Manager of Ballentynes. Also my special cousin...

MIDDLE ROW
Robert Lovatt, whom I saw for the first time in about 15 years just this week, is based in Manila with Leanne and two of their three boys. He has a senior leadership role with Wycliffe globally ('strategic initiatives') and also in the Asia-Pacific region.

John Windsor is my big brudder and has had a distinguished career as a surgeon here in Auckland. Works away at the interface of the academic and the clinical (a model for most pastors, I might add!). Hear him at the TEDx conference next Saturday in Auckland! He and Chris have five children spread around the world.

Paul Kennedy (I think this is his name). He was present at the party as a friend of a friend - and a recent believer at the time. I've lost contact with him.

Philip Allen is a surgeon in Auckland whom I do not see often - but he did give me a copy of JI Packer's Knowing God for my 19th birthday!

Andrew Saunders is a Deputy Principal at Selwyn College in Auckland, instrumental in the quite remarkable turnaround in that school. We've maintained contact all the way through. Barby and I delight in the way our Bethany and Joseph have been such good friends with Andrew and Helen's Caleb, Sam and Matt.

David Allen is a special person in my life. As my youth pastor he gave me my first fumbling opportunity to preach. He worked in the Middle East with Interserve where he met doctor Helen. They have lovely Grace and now live back in Auckland.

FRONT ROW
Jim Russell was the king of strawberries in NZ at the time, working as an auctioneer at Turners & Growers. But he surpassed all that my marrying my eldest sister (Diane) and after taking early retirement, they have made 8 visits to Myanmar. They come back this week with Jim having become an itinerant preacher!

Mark Windsor is my little brudder. He and Annie are back at our alma mater in India (Woodstock School) for their third stint on the staff. I hope to see them again in January...

Andrew Becroft has gone on to become one of the most respected Christians in public life in New Zealand, as Principal Youth Court Judge. He and Pip have three kids and live in Wellington. He is also the Chairperson of the TSCF Board, the movement that so shaped him and readied him for being a Christian in that public world.

That is actually me - and not one of my sons!

David Hayes is a friend I made in my solitary year at Auckland Grammar School - bit I've lost contact with him.

Martin Lovatt is an enduring and special friend going way, way back. We were 'best man' at each other's weddings. Martin settled on a career as a graphic designer and together with Joyanne they have raised three great kids.

I am not sure many of these people will ever see this post - but if you do, a big thank-you from me for your friendship over the years. And in taking time over this post, it is remarkable to pause over how wide the ripples of godly influence have extended out from these lives. May it continue...

nice chatting

Paul

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

those unlike ourselves

When it comes to the application of the sermon, it is critical that we consider those unlike ourselves. When it comes to building community, it is critical that we include those unlike ourselves. As a man who both sermonises and builds community this means I must, just for starters, take care to consider and include women.

In the last couple of weeks two images have stuck with me. One is this painting depicting the pain associated with post-natal depression - Never Morning Wore to Evening but Some Heart Did Break (Walter Langley). While I can't begin to understand this fully, I do always find my heart softens to those mothers who battle with it. It seems so common and so unfair. A post from my friend Thalia included this painting and her own candid reflections here and here and here are so helpful..


Then in Kerikeri on Friday, I was leafing through a book on NZ history at the Stone Cottage and this cartoon was sitting there and grabbed me. It is called Roll of Honour (Gordon Calman - 1917) and the link to the National Library describes it depicting "a sorrowful woman with her head bowed drawn in the shape of a map of New Zealand. She holds a Roll of Honour". It reminds me so much of the 'mother's anzac poem' which I posted some months ago and the deep sadness that overcame so many women whose men did not come home.


Look at the two bowed heads - one from depression and the other in grief...

How critical it is that we have an accurate self-understanding and then in preaching-sermons and building-community we make a special effort to consider and include those who are unlike the 'self'.

nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, September 16, 2012

imago dei

It is one of the most eloquent of all Christian truths - the imago dei.

Human beings are made in the image of God. There is a God-likeness about us which grants every person a dignity. 'Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness' (Gen 1.27). Imagine what the world would be like if this truth owned us? And then what about putting it in combo with 'from one person God made all the peoples of the world' (Acts 17.26), thereby combining equality with dignity?

They write big books on this truth. I've always defaulted to things like being rational, moral, social, spiritual etc - the sort of qualities which turn us more toward God, rather than toward mere animals. This past week I had a coffee with an artist. He has come alive by connecting again with creating art after a long absence. It was good to see. As I drove home, the imago dei flooded my mind and heart. This is because in more recent years, contemplating it has pushed me in a different direction.

'Let us make human beings in our image'. The first things that should strike us about the imago dei come in the very phrase which first declares its truth to us. In being image-bearers of the living God, we are made to be creative ('make') and we are designed to operate within teams ('us/our').

I am wired for creativity. It comes with the imago dei. I spent the first two decades of my life in a family where I ranked dead last in all things artistic - be it music, or drama, or just plain art. I was not creative, by definition. I accepted this as the reality and got on with other things. Then through my third decade I discovered God's call to be a preacher and just how much being creative could be integral to this calling. Word-smithing. Image-playing. And through my fourth decade I became a teacher immersed in the creation of a range of courses as I taught in every department in the curriculum. Birthing new courses and imagining ways to help learners learn became one of the great joys of my life. In my fifth decade I discovered blogging which is basically me chatting away to myself, sometimes creatively, and letting people look over my shoulder as I do so. It is the most energising thing I do in this season of my life.

I still can't sing. I still can't play the piano. I admire painters partly because, let's face it, I know I could never do it myself. I try to shrink into invisibility when anything close to drama is suggested. But don't tell me I ain't creative. I am. So healing, so sacred, has this journey been that I have made a pact with God. I hold lightly to what creative ideas I may have, passing them on liberally to help fire other peoples' creativity - knowing that the creative God won't turn off the tap as he works in me. I try to avoid the mentality of the patent and the copyright - but I confess that my spirituality is not yet totally God-like. Oftentimes having my ideas leave home creates the same brand of ache as having my children leave home. While it is hard, I remain committed to it as a lifestyle.

I am wired for team.  It comes with the imago dei. I know theologians love to talk about the trinity as community, but seeing it as a team and the importance of bearing the image of that team in our leadership is critical too. I love Robert Banks on this topic. 'Leadership takes place through more than one person [...] the Trinity is not a doctrinal abstraction, but a divine paradigm of what leadership involves' (Reviewing Leadership, 85-86). But it is a few pages in a little book by Stacy Rinehart (Upside Down) that changed me: 'What we see in the Godhead is an incredible picture of interdependence, and unity and diversity, where the One leading and the One being led change according to need and contribution (88)'. 'Each person has a function and when that function is needed, that person becomes our leader' (93).WOW - isn't that revolutionary in most organisations? He goes on to describe what leadership in the image of team-trinity looks like, as descriptors like multiple, interdependent, rotating, united but diverse, equal but role differentiated, and relational occupy the focus. [NB: it is also interesting to note how active team-trinity is in redemption, not just creation - check out Ephesians 1].

Over the years, I've watched leadership. I've tried to practice leadership. I've read about leadership. When I commenced as a principal, I inherited a staff-family from a retiring father-principal. It was lovely. But what on earth was I meant to do, coming in as the youngest of all the siblings? The context was ripe and ready for growth and the added complexity it brings. Looking back, we stumbled together across the importance of building teams and working through teams as the modus operandi of leadership (with the theological reflection coming later). The governance team was the first priority. The full staff team (admin + teaching) was next - and then these two staff teams separately. Then the multiple teams to guide college life. Finally we settled on a pattern for a management team. Each time trying to build teams and work through teams as image-bearers of team-trinity.

Now I am once again back in a season of watching and reflecting on leadership as I travel to many countries. The challenges remain the same. The autocratic and the hierarchial models still hover. How often do we hear of a leader being labelled as 'strong', only to draw near to discover that this so-called strength is characterized by an inability to build, multiply and nurture teams? We must start naming this as weak leadership because one thing it isn't is 'strong'. What about the struggle with the silo-style where, intentionally or unintentionally, the opportunity for trinitarian-like team work is bypassed, rather than built? This is not acceptable either as it acquiesces to the individualism which can so easily drain dignity from the human experience.

Because of the transformative significance of these perspectives on the imago dei in my life, I find that in my mentoring and supervision of others I probe for their experience of creativity and teamwork. These twins need to be a clear and present delight for them, otherwise life in their callings will become a clear and present danger.

nice chatting

Paul

Saturday, September 08, 2012

martyrs & pukka dosts

It is often asserted that there were more martyrs for Jesus in the twentieth century than in all the other centuries combined. I thought I'd test out this assertion and see if is true - with my trusty The Future of the Global Church in hand. This book has this series of very cool facing pages (pp 22-61) which cover the twenty centuries, one at a time, with the History of Empires in a given century on the left page and the State of the Church in that same century on the right page. And a little box does its best to count the martyrs who died in each century. So out with the calculator...

In the twentieth century there were 44,933,000 martyrs.
In the other nineteen centuries combined there were 23,268,000 martyrs.

It is not even close. The twentieth century had almost twice as many martyrs as the other centuries combined. That is a lot of people dying for Jesus in relatively recent times.

Here is the testimony of a twenty-first century martyr. His name is Shabhaz and he was a Christian politician in Pakistan. He filmed this testimony and it was sent to the BBC - and within a matter of months he was assassinated (specifically for speaking out against the blasphemy laws which are in the news once again right now). Have a watch and listen. The recording can make it difficult to pick up what he is saying and so I have added the words below (as best I can).


"The forces of violence, militant banned organisations, the T. and al-Q. - they want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan. Whoever stands against their radical philosophy, they threaten them. 
When I am leading this campaign against the S. laws, for the abolishing of b. law - I am speaking for the oppressed and marginalised persecuted Christians and other minorities, these T. threaten me. 
But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us. 
I know what is the meaning of cross and I am following of the cross. 
I am ready to die for a cause. I am living for my community and suffering people. I will die to defend their rights. For these threats and these warnings  cannot change my opinion and principles. I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community, rather to compromise on these threats."

There is no denying that Pakistan is a hard country, particularly for believers. But as someone who visits the country regularly, I also hear the sadness of its Christian leaders as they watch the way their country always seems to be in the headlines for the wrong reasons. There are some good things happening too!

One of my 'pukka dosts' (strong, or good, friends) from Pakistan is visiting New Zealand soon. His name is Qaiser and he is one of a number of respected leaders emerging in the country. He is currently working on PhD studies in Melbourne (with a focus on the blasphemy laws). 

There will be a Public Meeting at Carey Baptist College (473 Great South Rd., Auckland) at 7pm on Tuesday 2 October 2012. Come with your questions and leave with Pakistan in the headlines of your more informed prayers.

nice chatting

Paul

Thursday, September 06, 2012

michelle obama

I thought Michelle Obama's speech yesterday was sensational. The words, the imagery, the warmth, the emotion - and the conviction. It was compelling.

But I am not dumb. I know what's going on. The implicit barbs, dozens of them, aimed at Romney and his friends. The explicit, even desperate, attempt to have the American people fall in love with her husband all over again. I see it. I acknowledge it. That is politics.

Nor am I in agreement with everything Michelle Obama said. I have posted here on my problems with choosing between the 'right' and the 'left' in politics. It fascinates me that while the NZ scene is all about fighting over who occupies the center, the American scene has become starkly polarised. Is anybody in the center anymore? Will they ever be able to do anything bipartison ever again? I am stunned by the way Fox TV doesn't even attempt to be balanced in its reporting. Even their presenters are soap-box apologists for the Republican Party. This has driven the mainstream media to be even less balanced themselves (I suspect they were far more balanced than is claimed before Fox arrived on the scene). Who ever could have imagined that the 'fourth estate' in the world's most influential democracy could ever end up like this? Is there any even-handed journalism going on anywhere anymore - or is it just a war of words and images everywhere?

Anyhow... back to what I disagreed with. One area screams at me, one might even say that it is a silent scream. It always amazes me how a political viewpoint so aligned with justice can so readily and easily deny justice to the unborn child. Go figure.

But this post is about one quotation. It stood out above all the others for me. I reckon it will be with me for forever.
"And he believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, 
and walked through that doorway of opportunity
… you do not slam it shut behind you … you reach back, 
and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed."

Now that is the way to live the American Dream, cherished so rightly by so many.
Listen to it for yourself - from the 18.10 mark in the video below:



I was in the USA days after the last election in 2008.  I do not travel there often, but remarkably I will be there on Election Day later this year. It is going to be intriguing...

nice chatting

Paul

Thursday, August 30, 2012

self-esteem, self-forgetfulness


I am in the happy position of having a 19 year old son recommending a Tim Keller book to me. 
I'm blessed and I know it (ah yes, that reminds me of a song - but we won't go there). 

On Joseph’s recommendation, I ordered and read Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. It is a sermon written down – from 1 Corinthians 3.21-4.7. While that may not sound exhilarating, it does mean that the entire book can be read in little more than 30 minutes. And it is Tim Keller afterall. He is always worth reading, as I have tried to demonstrate here and here and here.

Once upon a time it was considered that having too high a view of yourself was the problem with the world – but now it is having too low a view of yourself that is the issue. Keller wades into this transition and as he does so, he lifts the lid on the problem of ‘self-esteem’.

I have always had difficulty with the phrase ‘self-esteem’. It is not a biblical construct. It is not really in the non-Western vocabulary. That combo makes me so suspicious. Furthermore I have never been convinced that a high self-esteem, or even a healthy self-esteem, is a guarantee of anything. Nor have I ever been sure whether that desirable ‘healthy self-esteem’ is the issue. Shouldn't the focus be on humility and pride - and ego, as Keller calls it? And the clincher for me? I smell our culture’s deep problems with narcissism in there somewhere.

I am not denying that the issues are real. How could I? It is certainly part of my story which has frustrated those with whom I live and work from time to time. But there are things far worse than low self-esteem (like high self-esteem, for starters). Plus because I am uncomfortable with the standard analysis of the problem out there, I tend not to like the standard solution either. I go looking elsewhere...

I don’t want to steal Keller’s thunder. But as was the case when the McGraths waded into this subject and then when John Stott had a chapter on 'self-understanding' in The Cross of Christ, there is nothing quite like having a theologian get their hands on the topic. They have helped me so much over the years. So it is with Keller. The key statement in the book for me? “The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (32). Just read that sentence again to make sure you got it :). The little refrain in the book which keeps popping up is ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think’. It is about self-forgetfulness and this makes sense because of the Cross.

I have just ordered 20 copies of the book. Because the issues are so real and because Keller's book is so helpful, I’d love to give it as a gift to any reader of this post - if you can meet three criteria:
(a) You will read it prayerfully and openly, in one sitting, at a time of the day when you are at your best; 
(b) Your own story, or someone you love, has involved a real battle in this area; 
(c) You are resident in New Zealand (unless you make a special plea!).

Please send me your address by email (paul.windsor@langhampartnership.org) and I will post the book out to you. First come first served.

nice chatting

Paul 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

graham henry

The New Zealand cricket team is at an all-time low, so I thought I'd try to turn myself into a big rugby fan - and stopped by Bob Howitt's Graham Henry: Final Word (Harper Collins, 2012) for a read. It is not a classic and I managed to race through it on a return flight to Dunedin recently.

Let me start by saying what I am desperate to say. The hero of the story is the one in a supporting role - Wayne Smith. Every time he pops up in the story, there is something impressive going on.

Then let me also jump into the controversial issue: the way Henry blames the referee for the loss to France in the 2007 World Cup. I agree with him. The most penalised team in the World Cup earns two penalties all game and none after the 30th minute? It is a nonsense. Not only do I agree with him, I think he is entirely within his rights to write about it in his book. Goodness me - at the time of the nightmare he was awarded a Fair Play Award by an international body, one of only three occasions the award has gone to rugby. He handled himself so well at the time and so why can't he spill the beans now? He is telling his story. However what drips with irony is that he also lays the blame for the failed campaign on the 'obsession' which overwhelmed every aspect of the journey. And now when he writes his story - correct though I think he is - he is still being obsessive about it all. Sure - it was a 'decidedly bizarre' game (183). But, seriously, Sir Graham - does the narrative of the book really have to contain every single one of the 40 mistakes by the referee, listed at the exact time they happened?

I tend to read books like this with an eye for anything I can learn about leadership. The transformation of Henry from a take-charge autocratic leader to a stand-back facilitative one is the heart of the book for me. That takes some doing and it is testament to his ability to grow and to change and to learn from mistakes. I remember him at Auckland Grammar School - both when I was a student in 1977 and then on the staff in 1981 - and the self-description of an ego-driven autocrat does kinda fit with what I remember. He was gruff and aloof - but I do respect him for his ability to change. After the debacle of coaching the British Lions and the depression which followed, he found himself as third-in-charge - a mere technical assistant - of the Auckland Blues. He learned new skills and saw new perspectives which helped him later.

After this the facilitative leadership style took root around two realities - both of which draw immense respect from me. One is the way his two assistant coaches (Smith and Hanson) stayed with him for eight years. Gee - you gotta be good to inspire that kind of loyalty for that length of time in that kind of furnace. Then there was the development of the shared leadership group among the players themselves, enabling them to own and take responsibility for the All Black team. There were four on-field leaders and three off-field leaders. They helped set strategy and even adminster discipline. That was a big call to make as well.

A few other gems...
1. Being someone who sees little that is commendable with alcohol, I was drawn to the way the coaches turned around the binge-drinking culture inherited from the John Mitchell years, with people like Justin Marshall and Andrew Mehrtens to the fore. Wayne Smith was the key instigator (surprise, surprise) with Brian Lochore's dictum - 'better people make better All Blacks' - a factor as well.
2. While only stated implicitly, I think he enjoys reminding his readers that Robbie Deans didn't think Dan Carter was suited to playing #10 when he came on the scene.
3. As captain, Tana Umaga took Henry aside and told him his team talks were worthless and so Henry stopped giving them.
4. Brendan McCullum beat Dan Carter to the #10 jersey in the South Island Secondary Schools team.
5. Henry's son-in-law asked for his daughter's hand in marriage on the night of the loss to France in 2007!

nice chatting

Paul

Friday, August 10, 2012

remembering dad with song

It is a big day today. It is one year since my father died.

Sometimes I wish I could rewind those final days, play them again, and slow them down. It is all such a blur. I had no idea that everything would happen so quickly. On a Friday we realised the end was coming. He died on Wednesday. The funeral was on the Monday. I wish I had lingered longer. Goodness me, I was in the middle of a conversation with him about my future - a conversation that will never finish now. It must be so hard for people who have no warning, for whom the death of those they love comes suddenly.

They were unparalleled days of experiencing God's care and help. Between death and funeral I had to slip across the Tasman to speak at a Mission Conference in the Blue Mountains. It was not right to abandon them at such a late hour. I remember arriving back home early Sunday evening, waking at 2.30am and working for 7 straight hours on my message for the funeral. I felt 'carried along by the Spirit' with that sense of God popping words and ideas into my head...

I miss him. I am grateful to family and friends who have let me keep talking about him. That has been important. I miss the soft face, the lingering hug and the reassurance that he loved me and was proud of me. But life goes on. Nine months after he died, his first great grandson (Micah) was born and all of a sudden, it seems, I became Grandpa Windsor. Oh, how Dad would love to have cuddled that little boy...

Rather surprisingly, the thing that has helped me the most has been listening to Dad singing some old hymns in a recording he made for his mother some thirty years ago. In a labour of love, my brother Mark put heaps of his music on disc for us to enjoy. I know they are giggle-territory for younger people, but I've loved the simple spirituality, the deep consecration, and the tender intensity in them. These qualities marked Dad's life and as I listen my prayer is that they will mark mine as well.

The Burden Bearer (listen to Dad sing it here)
Is there a heart that is willing
To lay burdens on Jesus’ breast?
He is so loving and gentle and true
– come unto him and rest.

Lord it is I who need Thy love
Need Thy strength and pow’r.
O keep me, use me, and hold me fast
Each moment, each day, each hour.

Is there a heart that is lonely today,
Needing a faithful friend?
Jesus will always keep close by your side,
Loving you to the end.

Is there a heart that is longing to bring
Blessing to some lost soul?
Jesus is willing the weakest to use,
Let him Thy life control.

I Have a Saviour (listen to it here)
I have a Saviour, He died for me
In cruel anguish on Calvary’s tree.
I do not merit such love divine,
Only God’s mercy makes 
Jesus mine.

Jesus, my Saviour, I come to Thee
In full surrender Thine own to be.

I have a Keeper, He now prevails,
I fear no evil whate’er assails.
His arms enfold me, safe and secure,
In His blest keeping victory is sure.

I have a Master, He bids me go
Rescue lost sinners from fear and woe.
I love to serve Him, this Master true,
Now I am willing His will to do.

Longings (listen to it here)
I long to know Thee better, day by day,
I want to draw much closer when I pray;
To listen more intently for Thy voice,
To let the things Thou choosest, be my choice.

I long to serve Thee better, hour by hour,
Depending more entirely on Thy power;
I want to know more fully all Thy will,
To count upon each promise and be still.

I long to find new beauties in Thy word,
To follow in the footsteps of my Lord;
And, oh, the dearest longing through Thy grace,
Is that mine eyes may see Thee face to face.

So Send I You (listen to Dad sing it here)
So send I you to labour unrewarded,
To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown,
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing;
So send I you to toil for Me alone.

So send I you to bind the bruised and broken,
O’er wand’ring souls to work, to weep, to wake,
To bear the burdens of a world aweary;
So send I you to suffer for My sake.

So send I you to loneliness and longing,
With heart ahung’ring for the loved and known,
Forsaking home and kindred, friend and loved ones;
So send I you to know My love alone.

As the Father has sent me, so send I you. 

[Thanks to my former Carey colleague, Tim Bulkeley, for helping me embed these mp3 files!]

nice chatting

Paul Windsor

Thursday, August 02, 2012

the olympics with other eyes

I enjoy sport and so there is no time quite like the Olympics. But I am also a Christian wanting to participate in the mission of God in the world. I try to watch the Olympics with other eyes...


Watch the flags - and intercede  
With the incomparable Operation World alongside, an anthem here and a flag over there is an incentive to learn about how it is for God's people in another land. The quietness and solemnity of a flag-raising ceremony is the perfect time to intercede for the countries on the podium. Pray for freedom and openness among its people. Pray for justice, compassion and integrity among its leaders. Pray for grace and courage for its church.


Watch the spectators - and worship
There is nothing quite like being among some raucous spectators. Cheering. Applauding ... and let's face it, worshipping. Yes, the athletes are worthy of praise. But let the mind drift across to 'I praise you because I - and especially those athletes - are fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that full well.' Swimming like a fish? Running like the wind? Admiring how one body can win a 100m race, while a quite different one wins the marathon, or the weightlifting? It is amazing. But let's not fall victim to humanity's compulsive behavioural disorder: captivated by the creation and forgetful of the creator.


Watch the athletes - and pursue excellence
I'll always remember an early Board discussion soon after I started as a principal. We were settling on the core values and the word 'excellence' came up. Strong, loud voices spoke out against embracing such a value. I was dumb-founded. I understand the rationale better now, but it was so alien to me at the time. I had been fed on an older spirituality: 'Just as I am, young, strong, and free; to be the best that I can be.' Still I see nothing wrong with the pursuit of excellence, starting with character and in dependence on the Spirit as I seek to remain in Christ ... and Olympic athletes goad me along that way.

Watch the press - and transcend
Regular readers of this blog will know that I find overheated patriotic fervour to be offensive. Oh, I'll cheer for the Kiwis - afterall, I do have a pulse. But the American press getting stuck into a 16yr old Chinese swimmer? Waking up to a NZ headline yesterday, stating 'Awful Aussies'? Shame on you. A plague on both your houses - and plenty of plaque on your teeth (only because plaque sounds like plague, it must be said). God does not see national borders and so we should be very careful how we view them. Passports mean little to him. Participating in the mission of God is about being a 'committed internationalist' and the Olympics are a good time to practice.

Watch the unity - and smile
The Olympics are an incredible display of unity - bringing diverse, even warring, peoples together. What about the London pool where anyone from any nation can have a go without needing to reach a qualifying standard? It has united the strong and the weak who have had a go, flailing away as everyone patiently waits and cheers. I love it - but I smile quietly. Despite what the academics say, nothing comes close to building unity quite like people transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ who take Ephesians 2 seriously, as the walls of hostility come down because of the cross. In troubled country after troubled country, objective eyes will uncover followers of Jesus praying and working hard for reconciliation and justice - facilitating a unity that sport can only ever dream about.

Watch the closing ceremony - and anticipate
That unalloyed joy among diverse peoples at an Olympic closing ceremony is something to behold. I love it. But God is in his heaven saying 'that's cool - but you ain't seen nuttin yet'. God may be blind to national borders, but he loves cultures and delights in languages. I've been studying Revelation. Did you know that variations on the fourfold 'nation (not today's nation state, as I understand it), tribe, people, language' occurs seven times in the letter? The 'four' signals that the whole entire world is covered. The 'seven' signals completeness and perfection. There will be a fullness and a perfect completeness about those who gather for history's closing ceremony. Bring it on. I can't wait. (No - on second thoughts, I can wait. I will wait and participate in God's restorative mission as I do so).

[PS: The Opening Ceremony was absorbing. Although the terms mean less and less, they are still being used and so can I suggest that London was as postmodern as Beijing was modern? London had humour (Mr Bean anyone?); iconoclasm (remind me again, who jumped out of the plane?); protest and dissent in its history-telling; subversion (who was it that lit the cauldron? who formed two lines under the stadium as the flame arrived?); a fuzzying of real and unreal (was that Winston I saw waving? how about Bean inserted next to Eric?); spirituality (was that really Abide with Me being sung?) ... and it goes on and on].

nice chatting

Paul

Sunday, July 29, 2012

governing church

I have been a closet-anglican and a small-b-baptist pretty much all my Christian life. But it is my love of being interdenominational, international ... and interserve (the mission family in which I grew up, known back then as bmmf) that has pretty much trumped everything else.

But God has a sense of humour. He called me to be the principal of a baptist seminary (Carey Baptist College) where I needed to put the capital into the 'b' and become Baptist for a season (although the student community was never much more than 50% baptist). And now he has called me to work in a mission organisation that is so deeply Anglican (although it is working to diversify and broaden), it is hard to remain in the closet.

But there is one area where I am clearly one and not the other: church governance. The New Testament does not appear to be explicit enough about the way a church should be governed. This is partly why so many different ways have emerged through history - and so I don't think the issue is a critical deal-breaker theologically. However, as I travel, I do hear far too many stories of below-average bishops with above-average power. I'd struggle in that world. My doctrine of human depravity is too strong to allow so much influence to be wrapped up in one person...

So, on church governance, I remain baptistic. While it is not without its frustrations, my own experience in my own local church in recent months has provided a surge of optimism. We've been having a tough ol' time - just the kind of time when it is important to hang in there and quietly be part of the solution and not the problem! In recent months we have had two meetings for the members. Given the state of the church I thought both meetings could be tricky, even divisive. The first meeting was about calling a pastor and the second was about houses and property and buying and selling. By instinct I did not think this latter issue needed a member's meeting - but I was proved to be wrong.

Anyhow I thought it was copybook, case study material. Incredibly full briefing papers canvassing all the issues were distributed well in advance of the meetings. I've never seen it done better. Information is power and passing it on, in writing, in good time and in fulness minimises the possibility of the abuse of power. The documents fueled lots of questions and filled me with confidence that the homework had been done. Then when the meetings came around I was impressed by the way they were convened. Loads of patience in evidence, with defensiveness of spirit held in check. In both meetings I was ready to vote after 10 minutes - but the questions flowed, and then flowed even some more (along with my fidgety-ness). The respect shown to the voices of the older ones in the church impacted me - as did the wisdom shared from among the members (rather than just the leaders up the front). On both occasions a common mind gradually took over the meeting as the questions ran out of steam. It came as no surprise that after what seemed forever, a vote was taken on these potentially polarising issues with the result being decisive, and probably close to unanimous. My sense was that the Spirit was present in the meeting largely because of the way individuals were honoured...

OK - it doesn't always work like this. I know that. But for a local church navigating some tough stuff, there was so much to like about this approach. But it did remind me of a conversation I had with a man many years ago. He came to our little baptist church as a refugee from an imploding pentecostal church. I cautioned him against any expectation that he was entering the 'promised land' of church governance. Afterall when things are going well in a local church, what could be better than a pentecostal, or anglican church, where the big decisions can be made by fewer people and the momentum allowed to race ahead? At such a time what could be more frustrating than a laboured and picky members' meeting? But when things go sour, a church hits the wall, the pastor disappoints with moral failure (as was the case with this friend) - the last place I'd want to be is in a pentecostal church. Because at such a time a church governance that honours and starts within the family of God in the search for wisdom and guidance is to be preferred. Well - for me anyway!


nice chatting


Paul

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

thirty years and counting

Today is our 30th wedding anniversary...

Barby and I met before we can remember. The year was 1963. The setting was probably a church creche in the Himalayan hill-station of Mussoorie. I may have pinched her, making her cry, and have spent the rest of my life trying to put things right. Her dad was pastor and my dad assisted him as choir director. Her parents (and grandparents) had clocked up 50 years in India and my parents had just arrived. They had commenced language study. My  future mother-in-law administered my father's Hindi exam and had a great story to tell...

Over the next ten years not much happened. Barby's family remained on the same hillside in the same house. Our family came and went a bit, staying in a different house each time. In the early 1970s both families moved to Delhi, Barby's parents as pastoral leaders within the Delhi Bible Fellowship (DBF) and my parents to pick up the international leadership of BMMF/Interserve. We attended DBF, with my future father-in-law becoming the first preacher I ever really listened to (whew?!). Our parents' friendship grew and this may be when their mischievous talk about arranged marriages originated. For some of the time we lived in the same suburb in Delhi. I could actually see Barby's house from the roof of our house - but we never hung out at all. I look back now on all those wasted winter weeks on holiday. What fun we could have had together - playing Yahtzee and Ludo, of course.


In their wisdom our parents sent us back up to Woodstock for our high school years - and so we had four years in boarding school to conjure up a little mischief of our own. But alas, we were model students. Barby was in my younger brother's class and it was not until being in a Latin class together that we got to know each other. The dead language stirred to life as 'amo, amas, amat' gradually became the mantra of our lives. Through high school we became friends in that ultra-safe brother:sister sort of way. However we did go to the Junior:Senior Banquet together.

In 1976 I returned home to NZ for a final year of school designed to facilitate an easier entrance into medical school than what had proved to be the case for my older brother, John. (NB: John now has a global reputation as a surgeon and I can't stand the sight of blood. Go figure!). But back I came and the one commitment Barby and I made to each other was that we would write letters. And write letters we did - about 100 of them each way over the five years. No email - and not even a single phone call. But assisted by our favourite photos of each other on our walls (NB: it is entirely coincidental that Barby is found here gazing delightedly in my direction), we managed to get through some difficult months. After three years I had saved enough money to go to the USA to attend the IVCF Urbana conference - and to visit Barby. We had five weeks together, managing to hold hands for the first time (previously, the Pacific Ocean had made this difficult) - and doing so while listening to Billy Graham. We also managed a first kiss as well, before deciding to - you guessed it - keep writing letters. Ahh, the platonic was beginning to drift irretrievably into neo-platonic activism...

At this point our parents became decidedly active in their advice. Plus they showed a penchant for visiting their future in-laws to stoke the fires. Then on the same day (we think at the same hour), on different continents and independent from each other (or, so they maintain!) - our fathers offered the very same advice to us. Barby should visit New Zealand. And so at 20 years of age, demonstrating plenty of courage and grace, Barby came out to visit. My father planned an itinerary around the North Island (ensuring we were staying with family and friends!) - and when we reached Palmerston North to stay with someone I had never met, David Penman (who went on to become Archbishop of Melbourne), our host took me into the Asia Room in the Vicarage and over a few hours convinced me that it would be a good idea to pop upstairs and ask Barby to marry me before she dropped off to sleep. I did so and the wisdom of that decision has grown on me, year by year.

We headed back to the USA together - Barby to complete her study at Wheaton College and me to commence mine at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School - providentially just 60 mins apart and so we saw each other on weekends. Then on a hot and humid day in the western suburbs of Chicago we were married - 17 July 1982. Barby graciously changed her name from Warren to Windsor, as I whisked her away from rabbits and into the embrace of royalty. We arrived back home in NZ on the day David Lange came to power. The only cash I had to my name was a solitary USD20 bill. Lange promptly devalued the NZ currency and my increased wealth was marvelous in my eyes. Over the next 9 years God blessed us with five children (Stephen, Alyssa, Martin, Bethany, Joseph) - the very same five children who, over the past 3 years, have been leaving home with rather alarming haste.

And so another new chapter together beckons. We are grateful for God's gracious hand upon us over the years. It is true that the finger that points the way is part of the hand which provides. And it is true that the love grows.

nice chatting

Paul

PS. This photo was taken in a South Delhi park (Suraj Kund) in about 1975, capturing a bunch of missionary-kids playing the ol' favourite: 'red light, green light'.

It is all good innocent stuff, until you look more closely. Out to the left more mischief is afoot. To help us celebrate our anniversary feel free to submit a caption for this photo...  




Friday, July 13, 2012

the intolerance of tolerance

On a series of recent flights, I enjoyed the opportunity to engage with DA Carson's latest book, The Intolerance of Tolerance. His central premise is that the word 'tolerance' has become slippery and changed its meaning over time. There is an old tolerance (which is good) and a new tolerance (which is bad). Carson circles around this distinction, returning to it again and again for fuller description.


For example:
The old tolerance is the willingness to put up with, allow, or endure people and ideas with whom we disagree; in its purest form, the new tolerance is the social commitment to treat all people and ideas as equally right, save for those people who disagree with this view of tolerance (98).
Or, again - quoting J. Daryl Charles:
Where the old tolerance allowed hard differences on religion and morality to rub shoulders and compete freely in the public square, the new variety wishes to lock them all indoors as matters of private judgement; the public square must be given over to indistinctness ... (and it has) a disposition of hostility to any suggestion that one thing is "better" than another (76-77).
One of the features of the book is that Carson includes dozens of examples of this new tolerance at work in public life - and some of the nonsense that proliferates as a result. However I thought I'd focus on five implications of this distinction as they impacted me and my culture-watching.

a. the myth of neutrality
Secularist advocates of the 'new tolerance' claim a neutrality and fair-mindedness which religious people just cannot attain. It is almost as if 'tolerance comes naturally to the secular person, whilst intolerance comes naturally to the religious person' (92, quoting Coffey). There is a delicious irony here - because it is many of the gurus of these secularists who raised the alarm about the unavoidability of the involvement of a subject in any interpretative exercise in the first place. They are the ones who asserted that neutrality was impossible. And yet their disciples can appear to be exempt from this reality. But since neutrality is not possible for anyone, is it not far wiser to surface the presuppositions at work and weigh their relative merits as a part of that debate? 
But no - 'all religious beliefs must be banished to the private sphere so that we secularists can occupy the public sphere' (with their own brand of religious beliefs remaining under cover). Is this not intolerance in the guise of tolerance? It is a biggie - and right at the heart of the debate about Religious Education in Schools in New Zealand, a debate that was always going to arrive and one which Christians will struggle to win.

b. the infrequency of civility
The relevance of Carson's argument is self-evident. It does not take long to reach issues related to sexuality, race, gender, religion, and life & death. This shift from the old to the new tolerance as the prevailing view in society is making civility in debate to be so difficult. If accusations of 'homophobe' or 'racist' are on the tip of peoples' tongues, the debate that is needed is less likely to occur. There are exceptions - thankfully. Here in New Zealand, two come to mind from recent weeks. One in the area of sexuality and the other in the area of race.


(1) Notice the civility in the tone of the discussion on gay marriage on TVNZ's Close Up programme (06/06/12). While credit goes to both Laurie Guy (Carey Baptist College) and Alison Mau for this, because Laurie's view is the one under attack, the example of civility which he gave is most instructive. He didn't back down - but nor did he lose his cool either. If I was in that situation myself, I would struggle to do either of these. It was very impressive. Stuart Lange (Laidlaw College) is another Kiwi who comes to mind with this ability when placed in the public square. If Christians are to re-enter the public square, we need this civility.


(2) A young lad, Joshua Iosefa, recently gave the most remarkable prefect speech at Mt Roskill Grammar School, called 'Brown Brother'. Seriously, it is weep-worthy. It is profound. It is prophetic. It is delivered with skill and style. What strikes me is that he raises issues that from someone else's mouth could readily be labelled racist - but he has such charisma, humility, humour, courage, truth-filled conviction ...and civility(!) that a deeper debate becomes possible. I include a link to the original delivery at the school's assembly, rather than the more canned version that appeared later on television.




In this area I find that throwing around the phrase 'political correctness' to be singularly unhelpful. It lifts the temperature of the debate (in a manner reminiscent of 'homophobe' from the 'other side') and injects a lack of sanity (which I guess means 'insanity') into what follows. Plus it is becoming a phrase that is assigned to people with whom we disagree. Far better to engage in debate without the phrase being used.

c. the oddity of 'no religion'
Here in New Zealand we like to celebrate the way our last census (2006) revealed that one third of Kiwis say they have 'no religion'. I can't wait to see the results of the next census to see how high the figure is now. We hail this result as progressive and the mark of civilisation advancing towards the elimination of conflict. Really?! Even when the vast majority of humanity thinks it to be so silly? When I share this with peoples in Asia they are invariably dumb-founded, stunned. Fed by this 'new tolerance', taking religion casually is not going to advance the cause of peace in the world. The bloodiest messes in the bloodiest century (20th) were done by the hands of atheists, not theists. As Carson observes,
... cultures in other parts of the world often see in Western (new) tolerance, not a mature and civilized culture worth emulating, but a childish and maniulative culture that refuses to engage with serious moral issues ... Far from bringing peace, the new tolerance is progressively becoming more intolerant, fostering moral myopia, proving unable to engage in serious and competent discussions about truth, letting personal and social evils fester, and remaining blind to the political and international perceptions of our tolerant cultural profile (139).
On this it is also important to note the shallowness of much of what passes for inter-faith dialogue with its search for 'contentless agreement' (123) in which there emerges 'a sort of happy friendship provided no participant believes very much to be true within his or her respective traditions' (124). It doesn't work like that with people of faith - which is the vast majority of the world! "A Muslim who believes very little and a Christian who believes very little and a Jew who believes very little will have a lot in common: very little' (124).

d. the disappointment with universities
I can understand the media and politics losing the plot here - but universities? 'Historically the bastions of free speech and free thinking, have repeatedly, in the name of tolerance, exhibited remarkable intolerance' (31).  If they were truly fair-minded they would offer a Stage Three course which analyses the contribution which adherents of the Christian faith have made to the advance of civilisation. Can you see it in the History department at the University of Auckland? Even a critical engagement with the topic would lead to a string of positive outcomes by Christians. Even an inclusion of Islam in such a course handled even-handedly would lead to numerous positive contributions made by Christian believers. But our universities can be so hostile to Christian faith, often stuck back in the Crusades. It is part of why I would argue, if we are thinking strategically and investing in the long haul, that it is our campuses which are the most urgent mission priority for the church in New Zealand.

e. the intolerance of jesus
Leaning heavily on Jesus' "Get out - I never knew you" conclusion to his celebrated sermon (Matthew 7. 21-23), Carson touches on the intolerance which Jesus can show to those who claim to be his followers. Although Carson does not mention them, I am reflecting on them at the moment and we could add Jesus' messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3 as further examples of this intolerance. 'A central myth of our time is that God is infinitely tolerant, that Jesus is infinitely tolerant' (102). We need to quit creating Jesus in the image of our interests and agendas and allow the biblical record to shape our understanding of who Jesus is. Surely anything else leads to idolatry?

There are two sections in the book where Carson helps strengthen the resolve of believers in this demanding area. From pp111-125, he discusses 'Aspects of Christian Truth Claims' - and then in pp161-176 he offers 'Ways Ahead: Ten Words'. Let me give a taste by concluding with these 'words':
+ Expose the New Tolerance's Moral and Epistemological Bankruptcy
+ Preserve a Place for Truth
+ Expose the New Tolerance's Condescending Arrogance
+ Insist that the New Tolerance is not 'Progress'
+ Distinguish between Empirical Diversity and the Inherent Goodness of All Diversity
+ Challenge Secularism's Ostensible Neutrality and Superiority
+ Practice and Encourage Civility
+ Evangelize
+ Be Prepared to Suffer
+ Delight and Trust in God

I'd add an eleventh (yes, I know - this is incredibly brave of me!) - from my own research and reflection:
+ Live a Life (and Speak Words) which Intrigue
(which is a little different - and a little more - than mere civility)

nice chatting

Paul