Friday, August 30, 2013

bullets and booze

My attitude towards alcohol has invited its share of light-hearted mocking over the years. It was the subject of an early post. This is still the post which has provoked the most comments. Some thought that once I joined a UK-based organisation (where attitudes tend to be more spacious), I might change my ways slowly and quietly.

But alas, I am here to tell you that not much has changed. I still have the same convictions. In holding them, I am not suggesting that authentic Christian faith is determined by the outcomes of a breathaliser test. Far from it. Nor do I think less of people who consume, or have difficulty being in the company of those who consume. These are not the issues for me.

I've been thinking about this again. I wonder if alcohol in New Zealand is a bit like guns in America. There is nothing inherently wrong with either, but the damage done by their abuse is incalculable. Furthermore neither society seems to have the will, or the wisdom, to know how to curb the excessive use of either booze or bullets. If David Hackett Fischer is right, then the USA is likely to keep indulging itself in freedom and NZ will keep pigging itself out on fairness - and nothing much will change.

Take the USA. The rest of the world looks on in disbelief at the way the 'right to bear arms' has been ripped out of its historical context and believed with such biblical fervour. The question that comes to mind is, 'Are there any exegetes in the House (of Representatives)'? Because it is an issue of hermeneutics. It is about asking how an ancient text ('the right to bear arms') conveys a contemporary meaning. There are those who argue that such meaning is conveyed through the interplay of the author ('look behind the text at what the author intended'), the text ('look within the text at what the words mean') and the reader, or the community of readers ('look in front of the text at how the reader responds'). In this interplay - where each restrains the excesses of the others - a contemporary meaning can be found. It would make for an interesting discussion with this issue, particularly if participants - while they are discussing 'the right to bear arms' - also own the responsibility to bare their pre-understandings. This might lead to a clearer wisdom and a stronger will in the legitimate use of these weapons that kill.

Similarly (but not exactly), consider New Zealand. This time there is no ancient text to consider. The consumption of alcohol is not enshrined in any constitution - well, not in a formal one anyway. However while there may be no explicit text to engage, there are some implicit assumptions to surface. This is where Kiwi culture gets ugly. The assumption that it is not possible to have a good time without the lubricant which is alcohol. Or, the assumption that nothing levitates laughter quite like the sights and sounds associated with intoxicated behaviour. I try and I try - but I fail to see anything humorous in drunkenness, the very behaviour that leads to catastrophic levels of self-harm and violence towards others. To me, it is one of the most humour-less subjects going around. [NB: this post was provoked by some humour on facebook when a church created a cross up the front out of empty beer crates]. Maybe it is this very humour which muddies the mind and anaesthetises the will, making it difficult for people to see the extent to which alcohol abuse is the common denominator in tragedy after tragedy, headline after headline, story after story.

Bullets and booze.
Ancient texts and implicit assumptions.
Better exegesis and better humour.
USA and New Zealand.
Freedom and fairness.

There are some massive blindspots at work here. And as I mentioned eight years ago, I remain surprised that more Christians do not make different choices with their lives in light of what happens when booze and bullets are abused. Where is the freedom and the fairness for the victims and the grief-stricken? You know and I know that a small galaxy of statistics, could be brought near at this point to support this argument. During the smacking-debate a prominent Christian NZer pleaded with smackers to cease and to vote for new legal restrictions - out of a solidarity with children who are victims of violence. I find a similar logic, a similar solidarity, to be convincing when the subject turns to booze and bullets.

nice chatting


Sunday, August 25, 2013

a 90s kind of guy

It all started in the seventies. The 90s helped teach me how to worship. Worship is more than singing, but it is not less. In the seventies I learned to love to sing.

A call to worship here:
O come let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. 
For He is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
(95.6-7, KJV)
A hymn over there:
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Or, the anthems I will sing until my dying days:
For thou, O Lord, art high above all the earth; Thou art exalted far above all Gods ... I exalt Thee.
(97.9, KJV)
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool; holy is He.
(99.5, NRSV)

But there is more, much more to the 90s...
And in the eighties I discovered this.

We were living in Invercargill. I was pastoring a little church. They were tough years. However, as the decades have flowed on, it is hard to imagine life and love and leadership without those years. Often we travelled down to Bluff, to the AA sign - to the words inscribed in rock near its base (long since removed, I might add) - for the reassurance of God's power at work in creation - and in us:
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters.
mightier than the breakers of the sea - the Lord on high is mighty.
(93.4, NIV)
The 90s also entered the nineties with me. The Bible College of New Zealand had a magazine called The Reaper. I was on the staff and we were asked periodically to write bible study notes that would go out with the magazine. I think I did it twice - Ecclesiastes and ... I had forgotten - the 90s! In my sorting this week, I came across them. On rereading the 90s in the company of my old devotionals, the assurance of God's care refreshed me once again. For example, in the face of the wicked and those who might stand against him (vv16-17), comes the response:
When I thought, "My foot is slipping," your stedfast love, O Lord, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolation cheers my soul.
(94.18-19, NRSV)
In the noughties, it was a verse, a single verse that grabbed my heart for an entire decade. For most of this time, I was principal at Carey Baptist College and this solitary verse captured both my early longing and my later testimony.
May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us;
establish the work of our hands for us - yes, establish the work of our hands.
... and I used to add, 'heads and hearts' as well.
(90.17, NIV)
In these noughties I was starting to travel. God was breaking my heart for the peoples of the world. The Sri Lankan tsunami was a defining experience. So also was a time in Zambia. I began to read new stuff, including Lamin Sanneh and Philip Jenkins. They took me to Psalm 91. 'In Christian Africa and Asia, (this) psalm is everywhere.' (Jenkins' New Faces of Christianity108). How could these Christians with so much to fear be so fond of a psalm with such bold assertions that there is no need to fear? It is a question that I cannot shake - and it comes from the peoples of God I want to emulate. Amidst the pestilence and plague, the terror and arrow, come these words:
If you make the Most High your dwelling
- even the Lord, who is my refuge -
then no harm will befall you, no disaster will cone near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

The twenty-tens opened with a visit to Cambodia in my new role with Langham Preaching. A people traumatised by the Khmer Rouge. Unspeakable horror. Talk about defining experiences. We were teaching 'the single story of the Bible' through the week. The participants hadn't been participating. Quiet and passive. 'Are we even on their wavelength?' Then at the end of the final day, the 'single story' reached Revelation and at the mention of the judgement day, our participants finally participated. They burst out into spontaneous cheering and applause. Never, ever again will I sit in judgement on the judgement of God - and the 90s capture it well.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing forever for joy;
at the presence of the Lord,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.
(98.7-9, NIV; see also 96.11-13)
That is every psalm in the 90s covered - except for one. Maybe this one can come to full flower in my life in the twenty-twenties (by which time Twenty20 cricket will be dead, I might add) with its confidence of the presence of God in my life, bearing fruit on into old age...
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green.,
proclaiming, "the Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him."
I love the 90s. I wanna be a 90s kind of guy - across all the decades of my life. I wanna experience the worship, the power, the care, the favour, the protection, the judgement, the presence of the living God - and join him in his mission in the world, 'declaring his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples' (96.3).

nice chatting


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

thoughts to make your heart sing

If Barby and I were able to claim a commission for books we have recommended over the years, the justification for doing so would hover around just two. One would be John Baillie's Diary of Private Prayer for which Barby has had a standing order in every second hand bookshop in NZ (or, so it would seem!). The other would be Sally Lloyd-Jones' The Jesus Storybook Bible. It is one of the wonders of the (publishing) world, of equal value among children and students and pastors [...but then we'd have to pass on a commission of the commission to my grandmother and my niece (Rachael) who introduced us to these books first!].

But a third book is on the horizon. It is a follow-up from Sally Lloyd-Jones entitled Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. It is a collection of 101 little devotionals - each able to be spoken in about 60 seconds - pitched at children. Once again a whole bunch of other people will be listening in - including preachers on the prowl for sermon illustrations!

In his Forward, Tim Keller acknowledges that 'data-transmission to our children' is important, but then says, "Somehow, however, the experiential side of a relationship with God is often neglected, so that by the time children are teens, they are woefully lopsided - long on information but short on experience of God's presence."

Here is a sample:
What is sin? Sin is trying to get away from God who loves us - it's wanting to go our own way without him. 
But the Bible says it's not like simply wandering off the path and getting lost by mistake. It's like a horse charging at full speed away from him. We want to get away from God that badly! We are like horses galloping headlong after the things we want. 
But God can stop runaway horses.
And lead them gently back.
"Is anyone sorry for doing wrong? ... No! All are running down the path of sin as swiftly as a horse galloping ...' JEREMIAH 8.6 (NLT) 
Here is a little video that sets the scene a bit for the book:

Monday, August 19, 2013

a mother's plea

My dearest son, I must speak to you.

Life has caused a reversal
But my sacrifice remains.

This is what you are doing.
This is what I have done.

You threaten me with harm.
I threatened those who harmed you.

You gain by forcing me to go hungry.
I chose to go hungry for your gain.

Your hands slapped my cheeks.
My hands stroked your cheeks.

You sell my home so that you have excess.
I sold my excess so that you had a home.

You leave me in filth that I cannot clean.
I cleaned the filth that you left.

You take my money before I die.
I will freely give it to you when I die.

You destroy peace with words against your mother.
I mothered you with words that made peace.


I will not speak out.
I will not be left alone.

This is what I ask.
This is my plea.

Your life depended on me.
Let me depend on you.

I saw the future in you.
See the past in me.

  Bethany Windsor

This is a poem written by my daughter on the abuse of the elderly. Take time to read it slowly - and aloud.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

stoking the ashes

Our trans-Tasman cousies need help. The Australian cricket team is in the midst of embarassing themselves. If they lose the Test starting tonight, it will be their longest losing streak since 1888. Let's face it - they are playing Test cricket like New Zealanders. But maybe two negatives can make a positive (?!). I thought we might create a combined Antipodean team to take on the English for the final three Tests of the series.

Here are my selection guidelines:
1. We need experience. So all those to be selected must have played at least 15 Tests.
2. Test averages (the higher the better for batting; the lower the better for bowling) will be the sole guide.
3. To be eligible for selection a player must be either in the current Australian Ashes squad or a current NZ player.
4. I am allowed one wildcard selection among the batsmen and one among the bowlers - choosing any current player in either country.

David Warner - A (bat ave 39)
Shane Watson - A (bat ave 35; bowl ave 31)
Ross Taylor - NZ (bat ave 42)
Michael Clarke - A (bat ave 52)
Jesse Ryder - NZ (bat ave 41)
Brendon McCullum - NZ (bat ave 35)
Brad Haddin - A (bat ave 35)
Tim Southee - NZ (bowl ave 34)
Peter Siddle - A (bowl ave 29)
Nathan Lyon - A (bowl ave 33)
Trent Boult - NZ (bowl ave 29)
12th Man: Jackson Bird - A (bowl ave 16)

Seven Aussies. Five Kiwis. That is about right.
Wildcards:  Jesse Ryder and Jackson Bird (unused Ashes weapon - I'd have played him in Test #1).
Cumulative batting score? (add up batting averages, the higher the better: 279)
Cumulative bowling score? (add up bowling averages, the lower the better: 172)

Sadly, this team is still not good enough. Not even close. The opening batsmen are fragile. The bowling unit is not strong enough. And look at the comparisons with the likely English side. Their top seven batsmen outscore the Antipodeans by 313:279 per innings - and their cumulative bowling average is 164 in stead of 172.

Alistair Cook (bat ave 48)
Joe Root (bat ave 46; bowl ave 17)
Jonathan Trott (bat ave 49)
Kevin Pieterson (bat ave 48)
Ian Bell (bat ave 47)
Johnny Bairstow (bat ave 32)
Matt Prior (bat ave 43)
Tim Bresnan (bat ave 30; bowl ave 31)
Stuart Broad (bowl ave 31)
Graeme Swann (bowl ave 28)
Jimmy Anderson (bowl ave 30)
12th Man: Chris Tremlett (bowl ave 27)

Look carefully for the most amazing statistic of all...
No single Australian batsmen has an average in the 40s
(because Clarke's is in the 50s)

The English can field a top six, ALL with averages in the 40s
(if Bairstow batted at 7).

But you never know - the Aussies may surprise without the help of their trans-Tasman cousies...

nice chatting