The way of nature
and the way of grace
“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”
– Flannery O’Connor.
In the film, Tree of Life, one of Terrence Malick’s characters says in voiceover, “The nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”
But choosing is tough. Even when walking the way of grace you do it right alongside the way of nature.
Jesus referred to that as being in the world, but not of the world. And it’s a specialized balancing act, not one we always get right. At least I don’t.
So my musings here will be about that awkward negotiation between nature and grace, knowing that, as Flannery O’Connor said, we are inclined to resist grace because it hurts to be changed. But in the long run, bottom line, Jesus is king and following the way of grace leads us deeper into the world he’s creating for us.
You probably won’t agree with everything I say, but I’m trying to stimulate a positive, generative conversation. And starting conversations is a good thing, if you ask me. Right?
So join me as I share my thoughts, excerpt my upcoming writing, launch debates and generally rabble-rouse, all in a genuine attempt to figure out what the reign of King Jesus looks like in earthy, real terms, right here, right now.
I was chatting to a young(ish) Baptist minister recently who was trying to recruit me to support a particular campaign he was developing (that’s not important right now). What intrigued me was that, as he was pitching his idea to me, he casually mentioned that he just...read more
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Recently, I’ve been writing about ways we can listen to our neighborhoods. I’ve been saying we need to lean in closely and hear the deep yearnings of those around us. Only then can we create bespoke ministry responses, not the off-the-shelf, prefabricated religious...read more
In my previous post I encouraged Christian leaders to consider ways they could listen deeply to the yearnings, desires, hopes and disappointments of their community. My reason for encouraging such deep listening is that I believe all mission is contextual. All...read more
Take a walk through a forest and it seems the trees stand still like silent sentinels . A tree is the ultimate individualist, right? Each one appears totally independent of the others. That is, until you realize that trees talk to each other. Yep. They talk to each...read more
Bishop Will Willimon of the United Methodist Church recently participated in a political demonstration in his home state of North Carolina. He even managed to drag several of his conservative parishioners along too. They were standing up to the Governor’s recent...read more
I recently came across these two photographs on social media. They both depict elderly protesters at recent anti-Trump rallies in the United States. The photo on the left is of a woman named Shirley, attending her first protest rally at the ripe old age of 93. I found...read more
Remember the days when we used to suppose that Western society pretty much held to values drawn from Christianity? In those days the church used to rail against such social ills as drugs and booze, and marital infidelity, and gambling, all the while assuming that...read more
I was in San Diego on January 21. The morning was bright and crisp that day. The previous night the city had been lashed by a rainstorm, leaving everything shiny wet and the streets and sidewalks littered with puddles. You couldn’t help but feel the energy in the city...read more
I started blogging less than six months ago and I don’t know why I didn’t do it earlier. I’m having a blast. It takes some discipline to try to regularly write meaningful content in beautiful ways, but I’ve been delighted by the huge response it’s receiving. So far...read more
This week, Donald J Trump will take the oath of office of the president of the United States. A lot of people can’t believe it’s actually happening. There have been “Not My President” rallies across the country. There’s been hopeful talk...read more
“Sony wants you to stream your whole life online.” “Show off how marvelous your life is.” “Stream your world live to Facebook using the ‘Social Live’ camera feature.” “Fill YouTube with constant videos of your cat sleeping or your baby dribbling, thanks to...read more
The final entry in my series of reflections based on ten of the greatest Christmas artworks of all time. Merry Christmas to you all! 10 THE FLIGHT TO EGYPT Artwork: Rest on the Flight to Egypt - Orazio Gentileschi, Birmingham Art Gallery Reading: Matthew...read more
Ten of the greatest pieces of Christian art ever created. Ten Advent reflections. A bit like the ten stations of the Christmas story. Here's No.9. 9. THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI Artwork: Adoration of the Magi – Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery, Florence...read more
My Advent devotion series, based on the 10 greatest paintings of the Christmas story ever produced. Look carefully at the painting. Read the Bible text. Read the reflection. Recite the prayer. 8. THE MAGI SEARCH FOR THE CHRIST Artwork: The Procession of the...read more
7 Broken Men Series
We come to the last of our 7 Broken Men and I'm going to take a somewhat more serious tone with this one. Recent blog posts in this series have been presented with a lighter touch as we've noted the way our broken men have been used by God for the greater good. And...read more
So far (if you’ve been following along) we’ve discovered that some of the greatest movements of Christianity – Calvinism, Pentecostalism, the Great Century of missions, the Jesus Revolution, and the Australian Baptist church – were all launched by broken men. Welcome...read more
In this series of posts we’ve been looking at “broken men” – fragile souls, charlatans, jerks and screw-ups who were used by God nonetheless to bring great hope and healing to the world. So far we’ve looked at men who were affected by overbearing fathers, childhood...read more
I’m a 20-year veteran of the academy, but I still don’t call myself an academic. On my immigration forms I write “teacher” in the occupation box.
I’ve taught at Morling College in Sydney that whole time and am currently the head of the missiology department there.
My doctorate examined a mission-shaped approach to being and doing church, and I’ve written a bunch of books in that field. Some of them have even been popular. Thank you if you bought one.
I enjoy music by guys who can’t sing that great (Dylan, Cohen, Cave), hiking the national parks of North America (15, so far), and reading Flannery O’Connor. I’ve seen every film made by the Cohen Brothers and Stanley Kubrick and I still hold out hope that Terrence Malick has one more masterpiece in him.
I helped launch the Small Boat Big Sea community in Manly. I co-founded the Forge mission training network. I have won camel races in Kazakhstan, cliff-diving competitions in Thailand, and chess tournaments at the Kremlin. And I have spoken with Elvis (not all this might be true).
And through it all I have been loved by an amazing woman who has stood by me for over 30 years and whose capacity for endurance seemingly knows no bounds, my wife, Caz (this part is definitely true!).
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