Lies they taught me in school about the ‘Brown People’ of this land

Lies they taught me in school about the ‘Brown People’ of this land

When I was in school in the 1960s we were all made to read a book entitled, The Dreamtime: Australian Aboriginal Myths in Paintings (1965). That book was dedicated “To the Brown People, who handed down these Dreamtime Myths.” Those “Brown People” — the original inhabitants of the nation of Australia — were presented to us as a simple, primitive, childlike people. Their stories were quaint. Their children were cute. They lived aesthetic lives as hunter-gatherers in the wild interior of our country. But more recently I’ve discovered that so much of what I was taught about the original inhabitants of this great land was based on misinformation or racism. Even today I’m still learning how limited my education was in my youth. Here are a series of myths you were probably also taught. It’s time to bury them for good.   MYTH 1: THERE IS ONLY ONE ABORIGINAL CULTURE That book I mentioned earlier, The Dreamtime, was written by anthropologist Charles Mountford and illustrated with the surrealist paintings of artist Ainslie Roberts. It was a collection of origin stories, a bit like Kipling’s Just So Stories, only set in Australia. But neither Mountford nor Roberts were Aboriginal people. In fact, Roberts was British. And they retold the Aboriginal myths as over-simplified, popularised, and radically contracted versions of the original stories.

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Do we really want to conserve all the values of that so-called “Christian era”?

Do we really want to conserve all the values of that so-called “Christian era”?

My father was part of what is referred to as the Greatest Generation. They were the guys who fought the Second World War, defeated the Nazis and the Japanese, and returned to build the booming post-war economy. They built family homes in the suburbs and bought nice cars and refrigerators and television sets. They were the churchgoing generation who attended church picnics and potluck suppers, and whose children crowded Sunday schools and vacation Bible camps. In Australia, where I grew up, church attendance in the 1950s approached 50% of the population. In the US, it was well over 60%. When Billy Graham first visited our shores in 1959, my father’s generation turned out in droves to hear him preach. Between his 14 meetings across ten cities, around 3 million people heard his message. And that’s out of a total population of just over 10 million. More than 143,000 people attended his Melbourne Cricket Ground rally alone. People reported that alcohol consumption dropped in 1960-61, and that the crime rate slowed during that period. Less children were born to unmarried women, businesses reported a spike in the repayment of bad debts, enrolments in Bible Colleges went through the roof. Some have called it a revival. In fact, those days are considered such a golden era for religion, I regularly hear people calling

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In the year #MeToo went to church, I had a very Hybels kind of 2018

In the year #MeToo went to church, I had a very Hybels kind of 2018

In the year #MeToo went to church, I guess it was fitting that I had a very Hybels kind of 2018 in the blogosphere. My top three posts for the year all addressed the topic of sexual propriety in the church, each bouncing off the unfolding fall from grace of American megachurch pastor Bill Hybels. Hybels’ story is instructive because allegations against him weren’t taken seriously for many years, even though they were coming from more than one woman. As a highly successful pastor, and an author whose writings focused on integrity and courage, there was a reticence to believe that he could be guilty of the kind of abuse that was being alleged against him. Indeed, some questioned whether the charges could even be categorized as abuse. I mean, if little physical contact occurred and intercourse didn’t take place, is it abuse? So 2018 became the year when the church was forced to acknowledge that the term ‘abuse’ can be used to describe any situation in which a minister, priest or church employee attempts to use their position of power over or proximity to someone to sexualize their relationship. And Bill Hybels isn’t an isolated case. Thanks to both the #MeToo movement, we now know the sexual exploitation of women by ministers is not uncommon. In fact, some researchers suggest

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Overreactive Leadership has us running around like Chicken Little

Overreactive Leadership has us running around like Chicken Little

We all know President Donald J Trump doesn’t cope with criticism very well. After last weekend’s final episode of Saturday Night Live for 2018, featuring Alec Baldwin reprising his satirical impression of Trump, along with Robert De Niro as Robert Mueller, Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen and Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh, the president couldn’t take it any longer. He tweeted: Did you get that?  The courts should test whether shows like Saturday Night Live are actually legal!! In other words, the President of the United States of America is questioning whether free speech should extend to criticism of the President of the United States of America. Which kind of makes him sound like the President of Guatemala, 1982, instead of the Leader of the Free World. Of course, this just opened him up to thousands of tweets counter-attacking him for being so sensitive. One such tweet read, “Remember when all those other presidents complained about their little feelsies getting hurtsies by Saturday Night Live? No.  Because none of them were thin skinned, little babies.” I don’t want to lampoon Donald Trump here. But I do want us to think about “thin skinned little babies”, especially when they’re in leadership. In the literature they’re called “overreactive leaders.” Professor Samuel Bacharach from Cornell University defines them this way: “Overreactive leaders take every piece of information,

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The Best Films of 2018 (for people who want to grow in their soul)

The Best Films of 2018 (for people who want to grow in their soul)

“Some people want to grow in their souls. Film must start to take that seriously. We must stop telling them stories they can understand.” – Howard Barker   There were some great movies released in 2018. Black Panther managed to break box office records and represent the African (American) experience unlike any film in recent memory. Isle of Dogs and Game Night were enjoyable diversions. The Coen Brothers’ foray into Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was terrific. As were American Animals and Roma. But a surprising number of really good films in 2018 addressed really big themes. Themes like love, injustice, white supremacy, religious faith, hope and despair, death and grief. These are the kinds of things some people go to the theater to avoid. But as film writer Howard Barker notes, some moviegoers like films that expand their souls. They don’t necessarily want easy-to-understand fare, and are willing to watch less mainstream films that address important issues. So, here’s five of my favorite soul-growing films of the year and the themes they address:   1. SWEET COUNTRY Theme: INJUSTICE “Sweet Country is Old Testament cinema, with an almost biblical starkness in its cruelty and mysterious beauty, set in a burning plain where it looks as if the sun-bleached jawbone of an ass could at any moment be picked up and

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Four paintings for the four weeks of Advent

Four paintings for the four weeks of Advent

It will soon be Advent, the most beautiful of church seasons, celebrated over the four Sundays preceding Christmas. You might not be part of a liturgical church tradition, but marking each Sunday with a reading and the lighting of a candle can be a rich way to prepare yourself, your family, your congregation for the true meaning of Christmas amidst all the tinsel and commercialism of the season. You might like to use these four paintings, each from different eras, as stimulus for thinking about the well-known story. Here’s how you might do it: Light the candle (you’ll need three purple and one rose candle, and a white one for Christmas). Read the Bible text. Take time to examine the picture. Read the reflection below each picture. This could be done in your Sunday service, or around the family meal table, or as a personal devotional practice. I hope this small resource helps to focus your heart and soul on the true things of Christmas – hope, faith, joy and peace – and forms a brief respite from shopping mall Santas and Jingle Bells and gluttony and avarice. Oh, and merry Christmas. __________________________________________ WEEK 1 — HOPE Light the Prophets’ Candle (purple), symbolizing hope Reading:  Luke 1:26–38 Artwork:  The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner  (1859-1937) In Henry Ossawa Tanner’s depiction of

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And a little old lady shall lead them

And a little old lady shall lead them

Recently I’ve been enjoying doing a bit of research into the history and role of the church in New Zealand. The impression I had was that the Kiwi church was dominated by large Pentecostal churches and Brethren communities engaged in political activism around conservative family values. All of which is fine, but I’ve discovered the Christian church in New Zealand has a long and rich history of engagement in big issues like nation building, racial reconciliation, social activism and evangelism. An Anglican missionary did the primary work in understanding the vocabulary and grammar of the Māori language. And another Anglican missionary translated the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s primary founding document, into that language, so it could be signed by Britain and over 500 tribal chiefs in 1840. In a previous blog post I retold the story of that first man, the missionary, linguist and arms dealer, Thomas Kendall. In another post I looked at the inspirational story of the Māori prophet, chief and Christian leader in passive resistance, Te Whiti. In this, my third attempt to dip my toe into the Christian history of New Zealand, I want to focus on a woman to whom the title Mother of the Nation was bestowed — Whina Cooper. Born Hōhepine Te Wake in 1895, Whina was raised in a devout Catholic

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He’s the father of nonviolent protest and you’ve probably never heard of him

He’s the father of nonviolent protest and you’ve probably never heard of him

Look at this foreboding portrait of the Māori prophet and leader known as Te Whiti. It’s entitled, “The man of peace and the man of war (Te Whiti and Titokowaru)” and was painted by New Zealand artist, Tony Fomison in 1980. His full name was Erueti Te Whiti Te Whiti-o-Rongomai III and even if you’ve never heard of him, Te Whiti was an astonishing leader and one of the international founders of passive resistance, or nonviolence direct action (NVDA).   NVDA is the strategic use of nonviolent tactics and methods to bring an opponent or oppressive party into dialogue to resolve an unjust situation. It is used as a moral force to illustrate, document and counter injustices. The best known proponents are from the 20th century, men like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. But Te Whiti employed the method nearly a century before Dr King’s Selma march. Te Whiti was born in the Taranaki region (that’s the imposing Mount Taranaki in the background in the painting above) during the turmoil of the ‘Musket Wars’, the intertribal battles fought between the Māori in the first half of the 19th century. He was recognized as a gifted teacher and prophet very early in his life, and so as a child his tribe took care to protect him from the skirmishes. During this time, a Christian preacher

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This missionary’s portrait hung in honor until they found out who he really was

This missionary’s portrait hung in honor until they found out who he really was

This stunning painting was made by the British artist, James Barry, in London in 1820. For nearly a hundred years, it hung in pride of place in the hallowed mahogany-panelled halls of the Church Missionary Society’s London headquarters. That was because the powers-that-be in the Church Missionary Society (CMS) had mistakenly believed it depicted the Reverend Samuel Marsden, the pioneer Anglican missionary to New Zealand, with two of his Māori converts. It wasn’t until the early 1900s, when a New Zealand art collector T.E. Donne saw the picture, that he casually observed that the missionary depicted wasn’t Samuel Marsden at all, but his associate Thomas Kendall. And the Māori “converts” were nothing of the sort. They were the Nga Puhi warrior chiefs, Waikato (left) and Hongi Hika (centre). Both are wearing kiwi feather cloaks and flax skirts, and, far from having become peace-loving Christians, they each hold a mere, a type of short, broad-bladed weapon, and Hongi is shown holding a taiaha, or spear. In 1820, the two chiefs were in Britain, hoping to buy muskets for their ongoing fight against colonialists and other Māori tribes. That was awkward enough, but it was the appearance of Thomas Kendall (albeit with a Bible prominently displayed on his knee) that embarrassed the leaders of the CMS the most. T.E. Donne offered to take the picture off

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Is The Message as bad as they all say?

Is The Message as bad as they all say?

Recently, I had a conversation with someone regarding salvation and the afterlife. A death in her family had prompted her to ask questions about life beyond the grave, so we talked about faith in Jesus, and she showed a great deal of interest. “Where can I read more about what Jesus said?” she asked. Of course, the correct answer is to say, “Read the Bible,” which I did. And she took me up on it! A few days later she told me she had taken my advice and downloaded a Bible app on her phone and had tried reading it. “But it makes no sense,” she said, exasperated. “I don’t understand it.” I enquired what translation she was reading, and she looked at me as if I was stupid. “English, of course!” she snapped. When I looked at her phone it was clear the app she had downloaded used the KJV as its default translation. I went into the settings and changed it to an NIV and asked her to read a section. It was better, she said, but still somewhat esoteric. So I changed it again, this time to The Message. “Oh, that’s much better!” she exclaimed. “I can understand this one.” There are many criticisms of The Message, some of them justified. It’s not a reliable translation if that’s what

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Don’t call them toxic, call them “sociopathic baby men”

Don’t call them toxic, call them “sociopathic baby men”

Urban Dictionary: Baby Man A fully grown man that by all appearances looks normal. However, once you get to know him, you realize he’s a big baby trapped in a man’s body.   A couple of weeks ago I was flicking channels in a hotel room when I came upon Tucker Carlson from Fox News berating the idea of toxic masculinity. Bizarrely, the catalyst for his rant were the on-stage remarks of singer John Mayer, but that’s not exactly important here (and it would take too long to explain Carlson’s enormous leaps of logic that night). Carlson, who appears to have no idea what the phrase toxic masculinity means, referred to it as a “made-up dumb feminist term” and the product of a “bunch of ludicrous low-IQ academics making it up as they go along.” His guest that night, political commentator Anushay Hossain, did her best to explain what toxic masculinity means (“Toxic masculinity is actually about men being violent towards women”) but Carlson wasn’t having any of it. He berated and belittled Hossain, he obfuscated and talked over her. In other words, he behaved like a typical Fox News evening presenter. For people like Tucker Carlson, any negative reference to masculinity is anathema. Furious at what he sees as anti-male feminism, Carlson raged ignorantly, “I object to the term. Is there such a thing as

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If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere

If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere

I’m in New York City speaking at a conference on how to mobilize a movement of gospel ministry across the city. The audience is full of church planters, clergy, and denominational leaders, all trying to figure out what Christian mission could look like today. The challenges for the church here are significant. The conditions prevalent in New York City create an interesting crucible in which to do mission. I agree that Christians ought to be present and engaged in every type of context. But across the world people are flocking to cities at the rate of millions per year. So it makes sense that Christians should be moving to cities in the same proportions as the people they want to reach. More than that, the social conditions experienced by New Yorkers are really very similar to those present in other cities, only writ large. As cities grow, and the world become increasingly urbanized, looking to what the churches in cities like New York are doing becomes important for church leaders everywhere. As the song goes, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” So, what are those conditions?   Transience: New Yorkers are phenomenally transient. No one stays there very long. In fact, most churches can expect to lose a third of their members every year. One church

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