Tuesday, November 25, 2014

sa...ma on the couch

Our first two children, Stephen and Alyssa (1987)

Our first two grandchildren, Micah and Amaliya (2014)

good looking


Monday, November 24, 2014

lyrics for living 1 (touched by a loving hand)

It was another disappointing Sunday, as far as the singing goes. 

In the morning we were treated to lyrics written by Sunday School theologians, mired in mild heresy, sung to awkward tunes which the worship band, so desperate to sing a new song, loved - but which kept the congregation silent.

In the evening we worked our way through dull and dense hymns, written by poet-theologians, but introduced by someone with minimal enthusiasm and sung to tunes with maximal dreariness. 

This so often seems to be the limited choice of options which greets the worshipper on a Sunday. Why?

OK. Let me reveal my hand. I looove hymns. The really good ones have a capacity to reach deep down into my soul and articulate longings they find there which I cannot put into words myself. The sheer resonance that then takes place moves me, often to tears. I confess I am not a fan of the more popular hymns that get sung. Great is Thy Faithfulness. How Great Thou Art. They are good, but I've grown a bit weary of them. Like the pretty kids in class, they always get picked. I am drawn to the ones that don't look so interesting, but are fascinating.

Years ago I wrote a series of reflections on hymns (Lyrics for Living), pitched at youth pastors in an effort to convince them of the value of hymns. I've decided to refresh and recycle them here. I'll start with my favourite verse in the entire hymnbook:
Down in the human heart, crushed by tempter. Feelings lie buried that grace can restore; Touched by a loving hand, wakened by kindness. Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
Look at the strength of those verbs.
On the downside: crushed, buried, broken.
I remember a youth pastor coming to Carey Baptist College. He put a clay pot on the classroom desk and then smashed it once with a hammer. Gulp. Gasp. 'What will the cleaners say?' Splinters went everywhere, as he said, 'this is what our lives can be like'. Then he took out a second clay pot. He smashed it once - twice - three times. Again and again. More gulping. More gasping. 'This is what life is like for so many young people out there'. I will never, ever for get it.

On the upside: restore, touched, wakened
Look at grace doing its thing again. Amazing. But then what about that phrase, 'touched by a loving hand'. Whose hand? Divine? Human? Not sure - but what about the divine hand through the human hand. That is how I interpret it. You and I can get involved in the restoration and wakening of others. My daughter has just completed her medical elective in Bangladesh, among people with whom she could communicate so very little. But where word and speech shuts down, does that not create a greater opportunity for other senses to step forward - like the touch of a loving hand? I think so. She knows so.

I did go to youtube to find an extract of this hymn being sung. As expected, all was dull and dreary and I couldn't bring myself to provide a link here. Maybe my friend, Dale Campbell, can add this to his collection of good, old church songs

nice chatting 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

warning: content won't offend

They say I look like Paul Walker.

Well, that may be stretching it a bit. The 'they' is really only me. think I look like Paul Walker - and I could be wrong. Probably the only thing that Paul Walker and Paul Windsor share in common are the initials of our names. He is kinda a cool dude - or, should I say, he was kinda a cool dude ... because almost exactly one year ago, at just 40 years of age, Paul Walker was in a car that was going too fast and too furious. It crashed. He was killed.

The real world meets the reel world.

Paul Walker was a star of the Fast and Furious series of movies. Given this initialed likeness that we share, I've been known to watch the odd film from the series. Like the other night. Fast and Furious 6. Yes - you read that right ... 6. As in five earlier movies. Amazing.

Of course, when in India I can watch in the full knowledge that all offensive material will have been deleted. The remote can remain remote. Sub-titles figure prominently because the F&F franchise follows the Stallonian school of smouldering looks, heavy glances - and minimal dialogue. So there is ample time to see how some words become a series of stars in the subtitles - while others get changed. But 'Jesus Christ' will remain Jesus Christ. Go figure.

One reviewer describes the earlier films like this: 'a street racing movie with dull, two-dimensional characters' ... but (the fifth film) was 'the start of something incredible and the sixth film continues to be just as awesome, fast paced, daring, action-packed and sexy.'  That sounds enticing?!

And let's not forget the excessive speed, the excessive violence, the excessive abuse, and the excessive destruction which Hollywood habitually sheds abroad with such evangelistic fervour. After the climactic images and sounds of that speed and violence and abuse and destruction, the movie arrives at its final denouement, a brief familial scene where peace hovers - and grace resounds.

The other night the screeching cars, the fist fights, the explosions, the 'dull two-dimensional characters' had almost combined to secure my slumberings - but now, as the cast shut their eyes for grace, I was awake ... and offended.

Still I feel the zealous jealousy for the living God rising up within me. How dare they make grateful prayer so sincere. How dare they address him as 'Father'. How dare they allow such destructive public lives to harbour such laudable personal spirituality. How dare they baptise such a godless movie with a godly sprinkle at the end. How dare they produce yet another movie in which Christianity is fused with the very worst of American culture - so that the rest of the world can watch on, as they do, and be so misled.

It may well be content that offends no one other than me. I hope not.

nice chatting


Sunday, November 16, 2014

living in two worlds

With the power China has - and the global attention it receives - maybe it is time to label Europe the 'Far West' and the USA the 'Far East'...

Our labels become dated so quickly, don't they? East and West? Developed and Developing? First World and Third World? Not many are helpful - and too many are embarassingly eurocentric. It is becoming common to speak of the Global North (formerly, the West) and the Global South (Asia-Africa-Latin America) ... although this still leaves my homeland of New Zealand as an annoying anomaly?!

Let's go with Global North and Global South. One of the privileges of my life is to have an identity inextricably entwined with both worlds. It is one of God's most gracious gifts to me. Born into a Global North heritage, but raised in the Global South and now returning to live there. I love having these two voices in my head. I love having my horizons filled with the contrasts and the paradoxes which these worlds provide (see this post, for an example).

This week I had my SAIACS students read some pages from a Philip Jenkins' book. It is about reading the Bible in the Global South. Then I asked them a question:
With a library stuffed with Global North scholars telling you how to handle the Bible, what is it that you appreciate most about your own (ie Global South) heritage of reading the Bible?
Silly, silly me. I asked the question 10 minutes before the end of class.
We could have gone all day. But here is what I captured on the whiteboard - in ten minutes.

Whiteboard writing is not my strength and so let me list them again here: A greater respect for sacred writings (ie., no Bibles left on the floor!); a greater zeal for evangelism; a greater willingness to take the Bible as it is; a greater sensitivity to cultural difference; a greater willingness to be different and stand against the flow; a greater expectation that a price is to be paid for being a Christian; a greater appreciation of being closer to the Biblical world; a greater understanding of identity being embedded in the collective and the communal...

As I yo-yo between North and South, I can only agree with them.
It was ten minutes of prophetic profundity.
[NB: Global South readings of the Bible do have their issues too, let me tell you...].

Let me press a bit further
In our latest newsletter, I made this general observation: "The simple, serious, sacrificial spirituality so often seen among SAIACS students stirs us." Now there are fakes in the Global South, just as there are fakes in the Global North. That is not the point. But still I would make a contrasting general observation about Global North spirituality, particularly among a similar student demographic. It so readily defaults to the opposite: the complex, the shallow, and the self-centered. It does. It just does. It glares back at me.

Let me be a bit more specific
Let's talk about the pictures of Jesus with which we operate at a conversational level - again, among a younger student population. I hung around Global North students for twenty years. The picture of Jesus? Too easily and too often it was a couple of images. (a) for males - a bit of a mate, but only far better; and for females, kinda like a boyfriend, but only far better. (b) a counsellor-therapist-healer. If you don't believe me, listen to the songs being sung :).

Here in the Global South, the same pictures are seen (afterall we sing the same songs). But there is one uncommon picture I hear so often. Again and again, this is how Jesus is addressed in prayers. It is said so tenderly, so sincerely. It is very moving - and refreshing. We have friends from NZ here at the moment and they came up with the exact same observation, quite independently (prompting this post). Jesus is referred to as 'Master'.

Let me tell you - a lot flows on down from understandings of Jesus as mate, boyfriend, counsellor, or master. They take very different trajectories and it doesn't take long for some to leave the biblical Jesus behind.

Am I being unfair?! Yes, maybe a little.
I am also trying to keep things stark in order to make a point.

The Global North church needs to shed its rescue-mentality, its saviour-complex with the Global South church. Sure, there are many needs here. But there are also people here to whom we need to listen, from whom we need to learn, and with whom we need to join. As we do so we'll find them to be like the local optometrist adjusting our lens so that we can see the world (and the truth) more clearly. And maybe they'll extend to us the privilege to do the same for them - but my advice is not to rush towards that expectation.

nice chatting


Sunday, November 02, 2014

the great and holy war

This book is a horror show. How is it possible that so few years can contain so much horror? Let's name a few of the ones which Philip Jenkins discusses in The Great and Holy War (OUP, 2014).

Horror #1   Not just the Great War, World War 1 was a holy war.
Christendom reigned in 'the three holy empires' (Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary) of the time. Throw in the British, the Americans, French Catholicism and you have 'the majority of the world's Christians engaged in a holy war that claimed more than ten million lives (5).' Later other nations joined in - but initially this was a monumental intra-Christendom scrap.

The propaganda and the rationale for the war was framed within religious, mystical, apocalyptic, messianic, and millenarian language. 'A holy war ideology became social orthodoxy' (92), as 'a faith-based militarism' took over. Imagery like the offensive depiction of the Emmaus Rd story (see below) seeped into the public consciousness.

A disturbing application of the
Emmaus Rd story to two soldiers...
Horror #2   The pointless brutality of it all
The 'war was a monument to human stupidity' (193) - and it was savage, so savage. It is known for it's trench warfare where men were 'trapped in a seemingly eternal vortex of slaughter and squalor' (43).

Take Verdun, for example - 'a battle of many undesirable superlatives' (55). It was fought on a narrow front of 15 miles, with 800,000 people dead. Or, the Somme: '600,000 Allied casualties gained six miles of French ground' (56). JR Tolkien was at this front for four months and the experience inspired the 'dead marshes' scene in The Lord of the Rings. Or, Passchendaele: 'the whole campaign cost at least 500,000 casualities on both sides and achieved a gain in land of five miles ... (or about) two inches per fatality' (168).

Horror #3   The influenza pandemic
It just so happened that an influenza spread around the world at the same time... 'The Great War itself killed perhaps ten million in four years. In just one year, from around mid-1918 through mid-1919, the Spanish pandemic killed at least 50 million, and some estimates put the death toll at twice that ... (possibly) 10 percent of the world's young adults at that time (182).' And so the influenza killed twice as many people in four months as the AIDS epidemic killed in twenty years.

Horror #4   'Russia's martyrdom' (200-206)
Again, at just the same time, the Bolsheviks, with an 'anti-crusade' fury, instigate 'a full scale religious civil war (201)' in Russia. 'Within a decade ... one of the world's great churches was uprooted and most of its leaders were dead or in exile ... the Russian church neither died nor faded away gently, but was violently killed (200).' As part of this, the Bolsheviks seized land and churches and even turned many a monastery into a gulag - or, concentration camp.

Horror #5   The Armenian genocide (287-314)
Today 'the Middle East is a Muslim East ... (but) for most of the past millennium that division would have seemed absurd (288).' Take a city you've probably never heard about: Diyarbakir, in Turkey near the Syrian border. For centuries it was one of the most 'prestigious centers of the Christian world' (290) - and then, just one hundred years ago, it was part of a genocide in which 'the oldest Christian world perished' (308). Who speaks of this today? Where in today's Christian world will it be remembered with a centenary in 2015?  Even Hitler himself, as he gathered a rationale for his own genocidal aspirations, once asked, 'Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?' (287) ... And so, let's see - "If they didn't remember the Armenians, they probably won't remember the Jews." Is that how the logic goes? In the end we remembered the Jews and forgot the Armenians.

The night before the Aussies and Kiwis landed in Gallipolli is when it started. The rulers of the 600 year old Ottoman empire were feeling increasingly insecure. They were concerned that Christian-European countries would infiltrate their lands (I guess this is what Gallipolli looked like to them), gain a foothold alongside the Christian minorities and incite an agitation that would cause the empire to collapse from within. 'European powers hoped to use Christian minorities within the Ottoman world as the basis for expanding their hegemony (292).' And so on the 24th April, the Turkish regime arrested 250 key Armenian cultural and intellectual leaders 'in an act that today is commemorated as the formal start of the genocide' (298). The purge was on.  Village after village 'cleansed'. Forced marches. Deportation. As is customary with rodents today, the 'extermination of a race' had begun. Make no mistake about it. The 'genocidal fury' in this regime 'targeted Christians as Christians (303).' [NB: the word 'genocide' was invented in 1943 to describe this horror show].

I'm a good Kiwi. I'll commemorate Gallipolli's centenary in 25 April 2015.[NB: my mother's uncle is one who died there]. But my sense of identity is wrapped up far more with a global church than it is with a specific nation and so the 25th will get what is left over from a lamenting heart on the 24th when the centenary of the rodent-like extermination of the oldest Christian world will be remembered.

A scene from Ravished Armenia, a movie that tells the story of a Christian girl
(Aurora Mardiganian) who survived the genocide. Christian women being crucified.
Horror #6   The abuse of 'subject' peoples
Eventually, 'the western front became a world front ... savagery was unleashed across Africa, Asia, and Oceania: it was a war of jungles, oceans, and steppes as much as Flanders fields (270).' For example, one million Indians fought for the British - with 75,000 deaths. Throw in the influenza epidemic, which the war helped to spread, and 'India alone might have lost 20 million people, or 5 percent of its total population (272)' over these years. Europe's war became the world's war.

But subject peoples watched and wondered - and were emboldened by it all. 'Those from below would not always remain in the humble places that the empires assigned them (285).' And so 'while the great powers were making exalted claims for their own divine missions, so the world's underdogs were also seeking their own place in history and framing their claims in supernatural or spiritual terms (270).' A new nationalism and a desire for self-determination was on the way...

But alongside the horrors, let's not miss Jenkins' evocative subtitle: How World War 1 changed religion forever. 'The war created our reality' (28). Christianity, Judaism, and Islam changed.

Islam?  'The war created the Islamic world as we know it today (334).' In 1914 there were just three independent Islamic states in the world: the Ottoman Empire, Persia and Afghanistan (with a total of about 35-40 million). But then within the British Empire, there were 75 million Muslims; in the Dutch East Indies there were 40 million Muslims etc. Far more Muslims lived in these empires - but they were 'politically weak ... with little sense of global unity (336).'  But imperial domination slowly stirred them up. There were revolts here and there, now and then - and 'most of the revolts of these years grew directly out of wartime agitation (350).' While the Great War marked 'the end of the caliphate' (with the fall of the Ottoman Empire), 'the shape of modern Islam owes much to the Great War, and especially to the resulting upsurge of activist movements and the creation of autonomous states (366).'

Judaism? While the great and holy war was fought primarily by so-called Christian peoples, it was a time when both Zionism (among the winners) and anti-Semitism (among the losers) flourished. Indeed 'the Zionist dream fueled the anti-Semitic nightmare' (254) ... and therein lies a taproot or two for the holocaust a generation later.

Christianity? I won't find it too difficult anymore to understand why Europe has become so secular. And yet in the very same years that severe losses were taking place in Russia and the Middle East, new gains were taking place in Africa (314-331) as the religious world was being turned upside down. And yes, it still annoys me that history curricula in New Zealand choose to go back one thousand years to find an example of a crusade (by Christians) when there are two such crusades in the most recent one hundred years (against Christians) that could also be chosen.
Studying the densely packed events of the Great War, it is often easy to forget just what a shockingly brief span of time they covered: just four years for formal hostilities, with several more years of chaos following - but still less than a decade in all. And yet, as we have seen, the world changed totally in that time (374) ... Not only did the First World War show how calamity can transform the world, but it also suggested how long it takes for the results to become apparent. Observing a revolution is quite different from comprehending it. Only now, after a century, are we beginning to understand just how utterly that war destroyed one religious world and created another (377).
nice chatting


I gained a new appreciation for Karl Barth from this story. My conservative evangelical training of yesteryear focused on how he did not go far enough in his break from liberalism and remained a naughty neo-orthodox theologian. But gee-whiz, this 'daring intellectual from a tiny (Swiss) parish' (221) was in his 20s when he started writing about his horror over this horror show. Eventually he articulated 'a sweeping reassessment of Christian faith ... a radical quest to rediscover sources of divine authority (218).' He reminds us that the default position for Christians is to stand against the prevailing cultural tide, rather than riding it - and not to clothe the church in the aspirations of the state. An inspiration for us all.