Is your church a lawn or a forest floor?

Is your church a lawn or a forest floor?

Suburban people love lawn. We cut it, fertilize it, trim it, edge it. Some people even color it. No matter how good your own lawn might be, there’s nothing like the twinge of covetousness and admiration you feel when walking past the lawn-keeping skills of a grandmaster. We love it so much we think nothing of the prospect of watering and trimming a sizeable carpet of grass week after week. The perfect length and trim; the alternating mower lines; the absence of weeds — ah, there’s nothing like it. A perfect lawn epitomizes the suburban values of uniformity, symmetry, balance and neatness. American columnist Dave Barry writes, “The average American home owner would rather live next to a pervert, heroin addict or communist pornographer than someone with an unkempt lawn.” In fact, Americans spend $27 billion per year caring for their lawns, which amazingly is ten times more than they spend on school textbooks. But what if I told you that lawn breaks every rule of nature. Actually, lawn is a freak of nature!   Lawn is a monoculture, but every law in the nature handbook tells our planet to strive for biodiversity. Biodiversity is life; monocultures are on the verge of death, which is why lawn can’t survive without an elaborate life-support system of phosphate-based fertilizers, garden pesticides and herbicides. And

View Full Post

;

Explaining Billy Graham

Explaining Billy Graham

On May 9, 1979, I attended a Billy Graham Crusade at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney. I had access to the lawn area in front of the blue grandstand. I don’t remember that. It says so on the ticket I kept from that night. I don’t really remember anything from Billy Graham’s talk that night either. But I do recall hundreds of people going forward in response to the appeal to invite Jesus into their life. I went forward too. But not to give my life to Jesus. I just went forward to see what happened to all those who did. I meandered through the crowd, overhearing the respondees repeating the sinner’s prayer after their counselor, phrase after phrase like wedding vows. It must have had a big impact on me because I kept my ticket all these years. The 1979 crusade was Billy Graham’s third in Australia. He first landed on our shores in 1959 and that crusade is considered a watershed event in Australia’s religious history. During the ’59 meetings 130,000 Aussies went forward in response to Graham’s altar call. In Sydney alone it was nearly 57,000. It was the closest thing to a revival the city had ever seen. But the Billy Graham phenomenon had begun only ten years earlier in Los Angeles in September 1949. At just

View Full Post

;

Let’s talk about virginity shaming

Let’s talk about virginity shaming

You don’t actually have to be watching the sixth season of Australia’s version of Married At First Sight (MAFS) to know that one of the participants has a very dark secret. His confession has been heavily featured in the show’s endless promos. This week, 29-year-old Matt Bennett was “married” to a woman he’d never previously met, but not before making his embarrassing confession to all the other male contestants at the bucks’ night, and in on-camera interviews with the show’s producers. Even on his wedding night, he was quick to reveal the ugly truth to his new “wife”, Lauren. And it sure was awkward. “For me, honesty is very important. I feel like there’s something I want to tell you and something you should know about me,” Matt stammered, “I’ve sort of been on the fence about whether or not I should tell you because you know it’s been weighing on me a bit, it’s a big thing.” Pause for effect… And then… “I’m actually still a virgin.” Lauren’s response to this news summed up the mood of everyone on the show. “Shit!” she gawped. The idea that a young man could nearly make it to 30 without ever having had sex is a matter of genuine surprise to all. In an earlier episode he revealed his chastity had nothing to

View Full Post

;

Outspoken people are so annoying

Outspoken people are so annoying

Recently, during the normally benign blather and cheesy product endorsements that make up the bulk of morning television, things really blew up when one chat-show panelist accused another of making racist remarks. Things were only made worse by the fact that the one being accused of racism was an older white woman known as the “queen of daytime TV,” and that her accuser was Yumi Stynes, a young woman of color. The Twittersphere and mainstream media blew up with all the usual angsty stuff about what actually comprises racism and lots of “how dare she say this or that”, etc. But one reaction caught my eye. It was penned by the former producer of the very show the altercation took place on. Robert McKnight was the executive producer of Studio 10 from 2013 until 2017, and in an extraordinary blog post he revealed that he would never allow Yumi Stynes on the show when he was in charge because she’s too opinionated. “Morning television is like having a cup of coffee with a friend,” he wrote, “viewers do not want to watch world war three erupt.”   That’s interesting because he doesn’t say he would never have Kerri Anne Kennerley, the aforemented queen of daytime television, on his show. No, he wouldn’t have Yumi Stynes on his show because you

View Full Post

;

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.

View Full Post

;

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

View Full Post

;

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

View Full Post

;

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,

View Full Post

;

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

View Full Post

;

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

View Full Post

;

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

View Full Post

;

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

View Full Post

;