Saturday, February 28, 2009

amazing slumdog

After twice standing in queues watching 'sold-out' signs go up in front of me, I finally was able to see Slumdog Millionaire last night. I loved it. The last time I soaked like this in a movie experience was probably Amazing Grace.

I soaked in the realism in its depiction of India.
From Amitabh-fever (which has there 30 years ago when I went to see Sholay with my friends) to the poverty and the crowds ... From hearing the Hindi (I reckon I understood every word, even the swearing) to the criminality of petty thieves and brutal big men ... From the putt-putts and the trains (although I don't remember mountains on the way from Mumbai to Agra) to the chai-wallah at the call centre ... From the passion for cricket (with Tendulkar being run-out for 99 in the background adding to the pathos) to the dhobis washing/drying clothes beside the Ganges ... From the Taj Mahal (can there be a more beautiful building in the world?) to those stupid tourists. It just goes on and on. I am amazed that so much of authentic India could fit into 2 hours without leaving the film in fragments. All so real and often so raw. I value every reminder of this lest I become too insulated from the serious suffering that so many in our world endure.

I soaked in the artfulness of the film.
Stitching the plot around the questions in the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? game show (which Amitabh hosted for many years) appealed to me. It pulled me through the story. I found myself wanting to 'turn the page'. It did mean that the plot became a little predictable. As soon as the cellphone was handed over you could see how the film was going to end! When so many plot-lines wallow in deception I liked the way a thoughtful truthfulness in the lead character was honoured. The way the story played my emotions was also masterful. One moment I would be seething with anger and then I would be having a chuckle about something.
But yes - as realistic as the images of India may have been, the plot-line was unrealistic at so many points. When all is said and done, it was impossibly hopeful. It is a movie afterall! I do not find this disconcerting. In fact I find the public's enduring appetite for an uplifting plot to be revealing. It speaks to me of the way God has planted eternity in the heart of every human being. There is this longing for something beautiful to be made out of our messy lives.

I soaked in the insights into contrasting worldviews.
I confess that I am no fan of the fatalism in the Hindu worldview. I find it gives no great incentive to change things. There can be this inertia that is accepting of the way things are. Throw into the mix talk of destiny and chance and the "it is written" by-line in this movie, suggesting that life's plot-line cannot be changed, and it is all so unsatisfying. Is the only hope for slumdogs a matter of mere chance? I find my mission heart being stirred. I much prefer the compassionate activism that provokes the Mother Theresas, the Paul and Margaret Brands, the host of missionaries-past (including my parents and my wife's parents and grandparents), and then those missionaries-present - particularly those thousands and thousands of Indians crossing cultures and learning languages, without leaving India, in an effort to make a difference where a difference is needed most because of their devotion to Jesus.I hope some of their stories will be told one day too.

Yep, I'll soak in Slumdog a few more times, but it will be soaking in Amazing Grace that inspires me with hope that the world can be changed and that I can play a small part in that change.

nice chatting


Saturday, February 21, 2009

what does it mean to be a christian?

Wanting to keep in touch with people as my life faces a shift in focus, I have joined the social-networking site, Facebook. It gives you the opportunity to fill in a 'Profile' with one of the questions being 'Religion'.

What do I write?

I am not sure 'Christian' is that helpful. The word is too fluid and the connotations often too destructive. For some time now (sparked by the Willow Creek world with Bill Hybels, I think) it has been commonplace to use the phrase 'follower of Jesus'. I like that a lot.

But is it sufficient?

No - it is not. In recent months I have gone back to an image I nicked from a book on Greek grammar 25 years ago. I translated it and have used it in preaching classes ever since. It shows the spatial dimensions associated with prepositions (I can just feel your excitement at the moment!):

When these little words are attached to 'Christ' then a much fuller understanding of what it means to be a Christian is gained. While it may all start with being a 'follower-of-Jesus' (as we see in the Gospels), it certainly does not just remain there (as we see in the rest of the New Testament).

I taught Spirituality for just one year... If I was to boil that semester down to one insight it would be this diagram. I called the topic "energising spirituality: being connected with Christ". Let's face it - we are spatially-challenged Christians! If you want the supreme discussion about what it means to be a Christian sit around and reflect on each of the following phrases, and see if you can come up with texts that explain them and images that 'see' them:

through Christ
into Christ
above Christ
on Christ
in Christ
under Christ
with Christ
away from Christ
like Christ
for Christ

This is how I understand my 'Religion'. It is about discovering the significance of these phrases, celebrating them with others of like mind, and letting them take us wherever they will. In doing so I find two themes surface every single day. Spirituality is enabled and energised as we live with these twin realities:

(a) It is about obeying Christ. He is Lord and Master. My life is under 'new management'. I do what he tells me to do and go where he tells me to go. It is about following his direction - not just his life, but also his teaching.

(b) It is about uniting with Christ. We are in Christ. Christ is in us. There is a mutual indwelling. Unique among the religions of the world, Christianity is about a merger with the founder. This is probably the central teaching of the New Testament. Start with the Vine and the Branches (John 15) - and then when you have eyes to see, you see it everywhere!

A little book by John Stott has been gold for me on this one. But like gold it is so hard to locate. Titled as either Understanding Christ (US?) or Focus on Christ (UK?) - but with the same subtitle: An Enquiry into the Theology of Prepositions - I wish you well in finding it. It will be worth the effort.

nice chatting


Saturday, February 14, 2009

frustrations of a fan

So last night the rain robbed us of a series win in Australia - ugh! Our weakest cricket team in a generation was a few raindrops a way from knocking off the world champions in their own backyard - double ugh! How frustrating...

Maybe a cathartic spleen-venting reflection on other sporting frustrations will help me feel better. Here goes (with an eye mainly on this NZ context):

1. When will the upper levels of NZ basketball recognise that a dependency on three point shooting to win games will always be a less successful strategy than establishing a strong inside game with its higher percentage shots?

2. When will we wake up to the fact that professional sports and national sports are not a great mix? When players make big bucks playing for clubs their commitment to playing for their country will diminish, no matter what they say to the media. The only exception seems to be FIFA who rule soccer/football with an iron fist. The International Cricket Council (ICC) desperately needs to find some FIFA-iron to replace their own clay before a combo of Indian billionaries and bollywoods run away with the game.

3. When will the game of netball tidy up its pedantic rulebook and prevent officious whistle-happy referees ruining the game? The game deserves better.

4. When will commentators start doing their homework before games? This is one area where New Zealand lags way behind the North Atlantic. What percentage of commentators prepare for a sporting event like students prepare for an exam - reading books and tracking websites and having conversations - searching for some new angle that will fascinate the viewer? Too many cliches. Too little intelligence.

5. When will television producers start realising that the immediacy and potency of technology should be used to improve their broadcasts? In the breaks in play they should be displaying statistics and facts. They should be replaying relevant clips from previous games. Particularly with cricket coverage...

6. Do we always have to have our own commentators doing our own games? It is always healthy to see ourselves through other peoples eyes. [Yes, I confess that one exception to this may be those sychophantic Aussie cricket commentators. I went with my son to watch the recent games in Melbourne and Sydney. While I am an Aussie-phile and respect the way they are the finest sporting nation in the world, I was stunned by the disdain with which journalists and reporters referred to the NZ team, particularly when we were 2-0 up in the series. Such arrogance - not unlike how other rugby nations feel about us NZers, it must be said.]

7. Despite the fact that it is an appalling name in our modern world, the 'All Blacks' are a fixture and one of the most recognisable and winningest brands in global sport. OK - that's fine. But why the failure in imagination in naming other NZ sports teams by reference to those All Blacks, coming up with awful names in our globalised world. The All Whites? The Tall Blacks? You can't be serious! And how did the name 'Crusaders' get through the audit process?

8. When will New Zealand rugby realise that there is one too many layers in the game in this country. You can't have club and provincial and Super 14 and national rugby! There are not enough players and not enough money and not enough days for all of them. Once the Super 14 commenced, provincial rugby became the new club rugby...

9. Do you think school sports in NZ will ever get beyond handing out player-of-the-day trophies as if they were on a roster where everyone gets their turn?

10. Who will solve one of the great mysteries in NZ sport for me? When played well, two of the most compelling games to watch (and I do have pretty wide sporting interests) are netball and rugby league. But then why, oh why, are their World Cups such pathetic affairs with such poor global coverage? We know who is in the final before the tournaments start.

There you go - I am feeling so much better already. Actually I think we drew that series 2-2 last night. Jolly good effort chaps. Well done. Bring on the Indians.

One more thing. Sensing my frustration my daughter constructed a photo to cheer me up.

nice chatting


Thursday, February 05, 2009

towards a kiwi-made preaching

If you are committed to the ministry of biblical preaching in New Zealand please read on...

As I shift into a role with Langham Preaching and devote myself to helping nurture biblical preaching movements in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, I have been reminded of how helping to facilitate such a movement here in New Zealand has been a dream of mine for two decades. With us being based in NZ for a few years this seems a good time to give it a crack.

So Langham Partnership New Zealand is sponsoring a forum on April 18th which we've called Towards a Kiwi-made Preaching. More than 25 experienced and emerging preachers will provoke us with questions from their own wrestling with preaching in this NZ context. We are so grateful for the commitment of people like Mark Strom (Laidlaw), Murray Robertson (Spreydon Baptist), Lynne Baab (University of Otago), Nigel Pollock (TSCF), and Bishop Winston Halapua (Anglican). But there are a whole bunch of up-and-comers as well. It will be a fabulous and unashamed talkfest. Then at the end of the day there will be an optional session where we will ask 'what is the Spirit saying?' about some sort of ongoing focus on preaching in NZ.

Please register with Alyssa ( and as soon as we have the Questions finalised we will circulate them to those registered, enabling them to make their selections from the smorgasbord.

(very) nice chatting


Monday, February 02, 2009

george at one hundred

I grew up with an LP (that is a big black disc from which music used to emerge, for those of you who are confused) in the house. It was called Sacred Songs. Actually I was convinced that it said Scared Songs on the cover and it became a bit of a family joke.

Sacred Songs included a collection of hymns sung by George Beverly Shea who is synonymous with the Billy Graham Crusades. 'George Bev' was a voice that filled our home. The words of his hymns grafted into my spirituality. I am blessed.

Well ... yesterday George Beverly Shea had his 100th birthday. Amazing!

As my tribute to the influence of his music on my life I've located a couple of youtube clips of my two favourite GBS hymns. Unfortunately I could not find GBS singing them. But don't be scared! They are just 2-3min each. Take time to listen to the simple spirituality in the unadorned words and make them the foundation of your life.

First up Cliff Richard singing "It is no secret what God can do"...

And then a Rebecca Henricks singing "I'd rather have Jesus"...

nice chatting