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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Christians can really suck, but not always

Christians can really suck, but not always

Last weekend I spent a few days working with a network of churches called COS I Love You (COS is the airport code for Colorado Springs). It’s a partnership between around 35 churches from across the Springs (as the locals call it), and involves them mobilizing thousands of volunteers to work in community service projects over one weekend in October. Their goal is to help beautify, rebuild, and restore special places in Colorado Springs, including public schools, parks, local businesses, and non-profit organizations in an effort to meet the immediate needs of the city. Earlier in the week, church leaders had hosted a reception, at which the mayor of Colorado Springs, John Suthers, shared both his gratitude for the work they were doing, as well as his heart for how to make COS a truly great city. Then on the Friday night, I spoke at their citywide worship gathering, a beautiful, ecumenical service that brought me to tears at one point. An offering was collected with the aim of raising half-a-million dollars for the Springs Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter downtown (COS I Love You has previously raised $750,000 for the Mission). On Saturday I spent much of the day visiting projects, including seeing people: cleaning up trash from the hiking trails in the Garden of the Gods state park; helping

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The Gospel Coalition and that heresy hunting thing they do

The Gospel Coalition and that heresy hunting thing they do

The last execution of a heretic occurred in Valencia on 26 July, 1826. After a two-year trial, the Spanish Inquisition convicted the schoolmaster Cayetano Ripoll of deism and sentenced him to hang for his unorthodox beliefs. Today, heretics are tried via blogs and executed with a tweet. And most of the modern-day heresy hunting seems to be conducted by a network called The Gospel Coalition.   Gospel Coalition Canada investigates Bruxy Cavey Recently, the Gospel Coalition’s Paul Carter decided to undertake an exhaustive examination of the theological views of Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor at The Meeting House, a megachurch just outside Toronto, Canada. Apparently, Carter had heard some bad stuff about Cavey’s teaching (maybe from this brutal assessment that he’s a “false teacher” by Jacob Reaume) and decided to interview him in order to make his own informed determination. Fifteen-thousand words later (not counting footnotes), Carter brought down his verdict that, “Bruxy Cavey is not a heretic. He’s an Anabaptist.” Cavey and Anabaptists everywhere must have breathed a collective sigh of relief [sarcasm alert]. Nonetheless, Carter went on to damn him with faint praise, “I have no interest in bringing the Anabaptists into my metaphorical bed, I am merely arguing for their right to exist within our ecclesiological neighborhood.” I know, it sounds smug, patronising, and sanctimonious, but I

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5 Ways Jesus Would Respond in Today’s World

5 Ways Jesus Would Respond in Today’s World

Russia probes, nuclear summits, refugee crises, #MeToo, and more—these days it feels like everything is in flux. How would Jesus respond to the political and social upheaval we’re currently experiencing? Not with acquiescence and passivity. Not by giving in to the arresting powers of conformity and privacy. But by building a new world order—what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. Here are five things I’m pretty sure Jesus would do in today’s world.   Side with the poor, not with a party It has been claimed that partisan politics is an even more divisive issue in America today than race. Whether left or right, Democrat or Republican, each side lives in its own echo chamber, with its own preferred TV news networks, talk show hosts, newspaper columnists, social commentators, blog writers, conventions, etc. We all seem to exist in huge feedback loops, squelching dissent and growing more extreme in our thinking, blithely ignoring evidence that our respective positions might be wrong. In fact, we want little to do with each other. In a recent Pew Research survey, it was found that 68 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats say they identify with their political party primarily out of their opposition to the other party. Indeed, 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats felt that the other

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