Grand designs – where heaven and earth come closer

Grand designs – where heaven and earth come closer

Recently, I set myself the modest challenge to list the ten most joyous buildings I’ve ever seen. By joyous I mean in the simple sense that they make me feel happy.  I love looking at them. They bring me a sense of delight, or elation, or contentment. I see the fingerprints of God all over beautiful design, no matter the motivation of their designer, and for me magnificent architecture, like all great art, draws me nearer to God. The Celts believed that the veil between heaven and earth was three feet thick. But in thin places, they said, the veil has worn through. Heaven seems closer. They used the term to describe rugged, breathtaking places like the wind-swept isle of Iona or the rocky outcrops of Croagh Patrick. But for me meditating in the Cathedral of Brasilia or the Rothko Chapel is a thin place. As is laughing at Frank Gehry’s Dancing House or the nuttiness of Habitat 67. Sometimes I’ve stumbled upon thin places in great architecture. Like finding the SR Crown Hall in Chicago. I hadn’t expected to be so touched by it’s elegance and simplicity. Other times, I’ve gone looking for a certain building, knowing it is famed for its transcendence, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Some of the buildings listed here I see every day. Some,

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When Good Things Happen Through Bad People

When Good Things Happen Through Bad People

Remember Rabbi Harold Kushner’s bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People? In that book, he was trying to explain the great conundrum of why God allows seemingly good people to suffer. Well, this week I felt I was confronted by a similarly vexing question: why does God allow good things to happen through bad people? Two disturbing articles got my attention. Both were about historically revered Christian leaders who turned out to be pretty depraved. So depraved in fact, it’s hard to understand how God could have used them so profoundly to enhance the lives of others. George Whitefield – slavery advocate George Whitefield isn’t exactly a household name these days, but he was probably the most famous American religious figure of the eighteenth century. In the mid-1700s, he was one of the primary evangelists of the Great Awakening. A flamboyant preacher capable of commanding audiences of thousands through the sheer power of his oratory, he is said to have preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers. And yet, in a powerful article, Was George Whitefield a Christian?, Jared C. Wilson recently outlined the great evangelist’s dark history with slavery. According to Wilson, while Whitefield initially spoke out against slave-holding, his views changed as his fame grew. He had established an orphanage in the Georgia colony

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THIS IS A NATIONAL EMERGENCY!

THIS IS A NATIONAL EMERGENCY!

Australia has a violence-against-women emergency on its hands. Hundreds of women are dying every year. And 95% of all victims of violence in Australia report a male perpetrator. But first, some names to those faces in the picture above: Courtney Herron, 25, beaten to death by a man, 27, of no fixed address, in Parkville on May 25, 2019 Natalina Angok, 33, killed by her boyfriend, 32, and dumped in a Chinatown lane in Melbourne, 2019. Preethi Reddy, 32, stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend who subsequently killed himself in a car crash, 2019. Aiia Maasarwe, 21, beaten to death and dumped outside a shopping centre in Bundoora, by a man, 20, in 2019. Laa Chol, 20, stabbed to death by a man, 17, at a party in a short-stay city apartment in 2018. Qi Yu, 28, murdered by a housemate, 19, after she cut his lease short, in 2018. Eurydice Dixon, 28, raped and murdered by a man, 19, at Melbourne’s Princes Park in 2018. Renea Lau, 32, raped and murdered by a man in parkland in Melbourne’s King’s Domain, in 2016. Masa Vukotic, 17, stabbed 49 times by a man, 30, in Doncaster, 2015. Fiona Warzywoda, 35, stabbed by her husband, 40, outside her solicitor’s office at a Sunshine shopping centre in 2014. Jill Meagher, 29, raped and

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A Letter to the Australian Prime Minister regarding Climate Action

A Letter to the Australian Prime Minister regarding Climate Action

The following letter was sent to the Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia on May 22, 2019, shortly after the re-election of his government. It was signed by over 60 Christian leaders.  Dear Prime Minister, We are a group of Christian leaders representing eight denominations and twelve organisations from across five states. Firstly, we wanted to congratulate you on your election win, and to assure you of our continued good wishes and prayers as you lead our nation into the future. In particular, we hope and pray that your government will be able to maintain a broad policy platform in which the needs of the rest of the world and the needs of future generations are considered as seriously as the needs of present-day Australians. In the light of this, we would encourage you to be aware of our responsibility as caretakers and stewards of the natural world. Our cultural heritage, steeped in the biblical tradition sees its first responsibility, outlined in Genesis, as that of caring for the creation God has given us. The bible both begins and ends with God’s presence on Earth overseeing the wise stewardship of all of nature. Until that time, our responsibility is to manage it for the benefit of all creation and not just with the short term in mind. In

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Urge, Splurge, Purge… Dirge

Urge, Splurge, Purge… Dirge

Urge, splurge, purge: we are sucked into a cycle of compulsion followed by consumption, followed by the periodic detoxing of ourselves or our homes, like Romans making themselves sick after eating, so that we can cram more in. – George Monbiot   A couple of years ago, Guardian columnist, George Monbiot sounded an ominous warning about the global demand for perpetual economic growth. He believes that measuring wealth entirely in terms of GDP, and insisting that the global economy should continue to grow continuously for the rest of time, is destroying our planet. In a Guardian article from 2017, entitled Urge, Splurge, Purge, Monbiot decried the indulgence and greed that’s perpetuated by blind trust in the market economy: “Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a by-product of this system. It is a necessary element.” Recently, he reiterated the same ideas on Frankie Boyle’s comedy show New World Order. His description of contemporary consumption being like “Romans making themselves sick after eating, so that we can cram more in,” puts me in mind of the scenes of debauchery and indulgence in Satyricon. Written by Petronius during the reign of Nero in the first-century, Satyricon follows the

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Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more so

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more so

For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Snr   Albert Einstein has been credited with decreeing that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more so. Sadly, we live in a time when the “more so” is too prevalent. Everything, it seems, has to be oversimplified beyond all sense and purpose. The President mocks the idea of climate change on snowy days, because climate science has been abridged to some nonspecific belief about things getting warmer. Black Lives Matter, whose guiding principles include advocating on behalf of black victims who died at the hands of white police officers, as well as being concerned with black-on-black crime, is met with the dismissive and oversimplified “All lives matter!” Ethical questions regarding reproductive health, indigenous people’s rights, racial reconciliation or social welfare, are reduced to slogans and catch-cries. People demand that we answer complex questions with a simple yes or no.  Radio announcers and news commentators mock those who want to describe the complexity of an issue and offer multifaceted solutions to tough issues. They decry such answers as convoluted and disingenuous. As Rev Byron Williams says, “Whether it’s Black

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In Praise of Elderhood

In Praise of Elderhood

Getting older is inevitable, becoming an elder is a skill. – Stephen Jenkinson   I’ve been reading Stephen Jenkinson’s clarion call for elderhood, Come of Age. It’s a compelling plea for us to embrace the training and preparation needed to become elders.  And I’m feeling the call myself. It’s Jenkinson’s contention that years on the planet alone don’t constitute the basis for elderhood. It takes intention and focus to become an elder. He writes, “It used to be that age was held in some esteem, considerable esteem even, as the concentration of life experience. Life experience and its many lessons were once the fundament of personal and cultural wisdom…You’d think that this is an inevitable result of an aging population in a civilized place. We should be smarter, deeper, wiser. Especially wiser…” If that was true the world would be awash with elders. We’re living longer than ever. Our retirement villages are full. The aged are all around us. But I am regularly being told by younger people that they can’t find elders they look up to, women and men who can pass on their wisdom and insight. Stephen Jenkinson agrees, “They aren’t out there, waiting on our invitation. They just aren’t out there.” I posted a Jenkinson quote on social media and confessed my desire to grow into elderhood

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Easter: More like Game of Thrones than Peter Cottontail

Easter: More like Game of Thrones than Peter Cottontail

It’s Easter. A time for chocolate eggs and hot cross buns and hat parades. The sentimentality of Easter can be comforting. Cute bunnies and chicks bursting from eggs conjure thoughts about new life and fresh hope. And preachers can play into it. Easter becomes a time when they’re often reminding us to invite Jesus into our hearts. Sermons are full of references to God’s love and personal forgiveness and fresh starts. But that’s not exactly how the first Christians talked about the Easter event. For the first Christians, the good news was less Here Comes Peter Cottontail and more like Game of Thrones. I’ll give you some examples. In Acts 13 we read the story of Paul preaching in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. To an audience of Jews and godfearing Gentiles, he recounts a potted history of Israel, including references to their slavery in Egypt, the forty years in the wilderness, the ministry of the prophet Samuel, the anointing of King Saul, and his successor, King David. It’s all about Israel rising from the dust and David ascending to the throne of a great new nation. So far so good for his audience. He then comes to Jesus: “From [David’s] descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.” (v23) What follows is a Readers Digest

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Two Tales of Persecution

Two Tales of Persecution

Two high profile Christians fell foul of their critics this week. For one it meant the loss of his career as an international rugby player. For the other, it means up to seven years in a Chinese prison. One has been fired for continuing to post provocative messages about homosexuality on social media, even after being warned not to. The other may be imprisoned because of his work on behalf of the poor and disenfranchized. In both cases, commentators are referring to them as evidence of persecution against the Christian faith. Let’s look at each one separately:   CASE ONE: CHU YIU-MING For some years now, I’ve been telling the inspirational story of Rev Chu Yiu-ming, leader of Chai Wan Baptist Church in Hong Kong. Chu’s social conscience was pricked in 1989 when he was in a position to help ferry Chinese student protesters out of the country during the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Since then he has preached a gospel that includes a commitment to human rights, dignity, and care for the poor. In 2013, Chu was one of several Hong Kong leaders who launched Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a mass movement of nonviolent civil disobedience on the streets of the city to protest the anti-democratic incursions of the Chinese government. Occupy Central brought the city

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Our male privilege is revealed by the things we DON’T think about

Our male privilege is revealed by the things we DON’T think about

I work with a great team at the Tinsley Institute, one of whom is the redoubtable Dr Karina Kreminski. I’ve known Karina for decades now and have worked alongside her for nearly five years. She’s formidable – highly skilled, an excellent communicator, a great researcher and writer, a deeply committed urban missionary. The other day she posted this quote on social media from the Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche from her book, Dear Ijeawele: “We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”   A world full of women. So all women feel this way? I was surprised. Not Karina, surely. She always gives me the impression of ease and confidence, not of one folding herself into shapes to impress others. So I commented on her post, asking whether she felt that way. Her reply was curt: “Of course!” Another woman chimed in, “Of course! There’s no woman who doesn’t feel that way.” And women kept commenting: “This is how we live.” “All women have felt that way.” “So poignant and so true. Brought tears to my eyes just reading it this morning.” Then one of my friends, a female Mennonite pastor from Pennsylvania, shared this: “Yes. Always self

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You can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats dead bodies

You can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats dead bodies

You can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats dead bodies. Some cultures revere them. One of my favorite films Departures is the story of a young man who returns to his small hometown after a failed career and takes a job as an assistant to a nōkanshi — a traditional Japanese ritual mortician. The respect shown to the departed by the nōkanshi as he prepares them for burial — washing, oiling, dressing, honoring — is truly beautiful. In Jewish societies, burial takes place as quickly as possible after death, with a chevra kadisha (a team of volunteers) preparing the body, by showing it proper respect, ritually cleansing and shrouding it. When their work is done, a shomayr or watcher is appointed to sit with the body so that the deceased should not be left alone or unwatched until burial. We’ve all heard about Norwegian water-borne funeral pyres and South Indian cremation ceremonies and the ancient South Pacific practice of excarnation. The manner of dealing with the dead is rich and varied throughout the world. In America, bodies are embalmed and displayed in open caskets at the funeral home, prior to and during the funeral. I’ve read it owes its popularity to a combination of the effect of the national grief felt at Abraham Lincoln’s death

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Was Christ sexually assaulted?

Was Christ sexually assaulted?

Catholic blogger, Mary Pezzulo stirred up a bit of controversy this Lent when she published, Was Jesus Really Sexually Abused?  I must admit, it was a question that hadn’t even crossed my mind before. Pezzulo’s basis for raising it comes from both a reading of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion as well as historical research into the torturous methods of the Romans. Pezzulo wrote, “The ancient Romans were, as a culture, sadistic. They got off on hurting and humiliating people. And a gang of sadistic Roman soldiers ripped a Man’s clothes off and whipped Him while He was stark naked, then they forcibly dressed Him in a humiliating costume, beat Him up again, ripped the costume off, and threw His own clothes back on Him. That’s sexual abuse.” Some of her readers pushed back on this. They agreed it was abusive behavior, but questioned whether his forced public nakedness constituted sexual abuse. Pezzulo countered with, “Pretend it’s the first time you’ve heard that story.” And when you do try to imagine encountering it for the first time, being forcibly disrobed and mocked certainly has the elements of a sexual assault. But Mary Pezzulo lost a lot of readers when she pushed her argument even further, speculating on what she claimed was standard operating procedure for those brutish Romans. She began

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