Agitating as always: my top 5 blogs of last year

Agitating as always: my top 5 blogs of last year

Last year was a great year for this humble little blog. We saw an increase in readership from 2018 and a lot of engagement around a number of posts. As ever, I was agitating for people to question the things they normally take for granted, and it turned out that the top five posts for 2019 addressed hot-button issues like gender, evangelical culture, and new ways of doing church. So, here they are from 5 to 1 (click on the title to go to each one):   5  Dinner Church, anyone?  This article was really popular, with lots of people sharing it on social media. I think it was because it was a simple, accessible description of a fresh way of being and doing church, and many people are looking for examples of how to do just that. In it I shared links to six dinner churches from around the world and suggested people try it. As I wrote in the post, “You just need a table (or a few tables), some food, a basic liturgy, a welcoming spirit, lots of prayer and patience and grace, and a willingness to do life with a group of neighbors as you orient your lives around Jesus together.”   4  Brotopia: breaking up the church’s boys club  This one was a bit more polarizing

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So this is what it feels like to lose your country

So this is what it feels like to lose your country

In other countries they have wars… I’ve always thought of my country as not the place that has flood, famine, war – you know, all the apocalyptic stuff. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? I guess my overwhelming feeling is of loss. It’s grief. Australia is a precious and beautiful place. It smells and sounds and feels like no other place on God’s earth. And it has been scorched to the point of irreparable damage. It’s just simply devastating to contemplate the scale of this disaster, and the loss of human life, property, flora and fauna. The consequences of this event will be generational – at least. Who can put this into words? Those are the thoughts of Sydney Anglican rector Rev Dr Michael Jensen and despite feeling he can’t put it into words, I think he speaks for many Australians. The loss, the grief, the anxiety. We all feel it. The 2019-20 bushfire season, becoming known as Black Summer, is now the longest continuously burning fire complex in Australia’s history. It has burned more than 5 million hectares (12,000,000 acres), with flames as high as 70 metres (230 ft). Compare that to the 2018 California wildfires (766,439 hectares or 1,893,910 acres) and the 2019 Amazon rainforest fires (900,000 hectares or 2,200,000 acres) and you can see the level of

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It’s time to join the ceaseless celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany

It’s time to join the ceaseless celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany

According to church tradition, January 6 is the day to remember one of Jesus’ strangest encounters. It’s called the Feast of the Epiphany and it celebrates the so-called three wise men worshipping the infant Christ. Except, we need to clear a few things up. They weren’t kings. The Bible doesn’t really call them “wise men”. And there’s no evidence there was only three of them. There could have been a whole caravan of them for all we know. Or there might have been just two of them. Tradition has it there was three because they presented the infant Jesus with three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh). But their actual number is unknown. I created a bit of a stir recently when I dared to disagree with a much-loved Christmas song, so I’m not going to trash all those Christmas carols about the three wise men/kings, but when Matthew’s Gospel refers to them it’s with the Greek word, mágos. In ordinary usage this word means “magician” or “sorcerer,” as in, illusionist or fortune-teller, even though the KJV and RSV translates it benignly as “wise man”. It can also refer to the priests in Zoroastrianism and the earlier religions of the western Iranians. So, when Matthew writes that “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem” (2:1), he might have been talking about

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Praying the Prayers of the Nativity: a daily rhythm

Praying the Prayers of the Nativity: a daily rhythm

As we get caught up in retelling the Christmas story, it’s easy to overlook the prayers of the nativity. Yes, the prayers. In the Gospel According to Luke, the narrative is punctuated at various points with beautiful, ancient prayers, expressions of praise and worship and wonder, delivered by people like Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon. And while these prayers are specific to their situation — giving praise for the birth of Christ — together they form a marvelous rhythm for your daily prayer life. Why not consider praying the following five nativity prayers each day as a way of devoting every part of your life to God.   ON RISING “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)   Mary utters these simple words of committal after the angel informs her that she will conceive and give birth to a child who will be called the Son of the Most High. As extraordinary as this commission might seem, the angel insists, “No word from God will ever fail.”  Mary, though greatly troubled and confused, responds in faith, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” On rising each morning, say this simple prayer. Reaffirm your status as God’s humble servant. Open your heart, your hands, and the challenges of the upcoming day to God, to do

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To those having a blue, blue, blue Christmas

To those having a blue, blue, blue Christmas

I’ll have a blue Christmas without you I’ll be so blue just thinking about you Decorations of red on our green Christmas tree Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me   The song Blue Christmas, most famously recorded by Elvis Presley in 1957, is a perennial favourite at this time of year. It’s a song of unrequited love in which Elvis gives voice to a jilted boyfriend bemoaning his sadness at being alone at Christmas and resenting the object of his affection for being so unaffected (“You’ll be doin’ all right, with your Christmas of white”). But the phrase Blue Christmas has taken on broader meaning. More than just referring to lonely ex-boyfriends, it describes the way many people feel during the so-called festive season. In fact, according to Psychology Today, nearly half of us actually dread the holiday season: “…according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience the highest incidence of depression. Hospitals and police forces report the highest incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. One North American survey reported that 45 percent of respondents dreaded the festive season.” To back this up, another survey of men found that 48 percent

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And a (Swedish) child shall lead them

And a (Swedish) child shall lead them

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg might have just missed out on the Nobel Prize last month, but this week Time named her their Person of the Year for 2019, making her the youngest ever to receive that recognition since the magazine started it in 1927. The Swedish schoolgirl has become the face of a worldwide campaign for action on climate change since she staged a solo school strike outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018. Since then she has been tireless in her work to alert the world to the mounting risks from worsening heatwaves, floods, storms and rising sea levels. Her success at both inspiring and riling people all around the world has been quite a surprise given her youth, prompting a number of people to quote the line, “and a little child shall lead them.” And it seems appropriate. She is a child, after all. And she is leading a global movement by her moral authority, her outrage and her tenacity. But have you stopped to think where that famous line comes from? It’s a phrase from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and it’s found in a passage about the messianic hopes of Israel. Isaiah 11 forecasts a new beginning for the nation of Judah, but in it, the prophet imagines an audacious, almost magical new world in which wild

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‘Midnight, Christians‘: the most radical Christmas song ever written

‘Midnight, Christians‘: the most radical Christmas song ever written

In my previous post I didn’t have many good things to say about the Christmas song, Mary Did You Know. So I thought I’d balance things out by reflecting on my favourite carol. O Holy Night was written in 1847 by two very unlikely songwriting partners. Placide Cappeau was an irreligious French wine merchant and part-time poet. He also had one hand, having lost his right one in a shooting accident. In 1843, he was commissioned to write a Christmas poem to celebrate the recent renovation of the local parish church organ in his home town. Cappeau was happy to do it but, being an irregular church attender, he had to reread the gospel of Luke to brush up on the nativity story. Nonetheless, he completed it in time for a reading at midnight mass on Christmas Eve. That’s why, in French, the piece was called Minuit, chrétiens (Midnight, Christians) after the opening line in the first stanza: Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour,  When God as man descended unto us To erase the stain of original sin, And to end the wrath of His Father.  The entire world thrills with hope On this night that gives it a Saviour. Some years later, Adolphe Adam, a French composer best known for the opera Giselle, set Minuit, chrétiens to music. Adam

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Is this the least biblical, most sexist hymn ever written?

Is this the least biblical, most sexist hymn ever written?

I’m sorry if you really like it, but I think Mary, Did You Know? is the least biblical, most sexist Christmas song ever written. Least biblical because if you reeled off the 17 patronizing questions contained in the lyrics of that song to the real Mary, she might have thrown a rock at you. The real Mary, who had tramped heavily pregnant 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to give birth in a stranger’s home, and who then hauled her child 400 more miles to safety in Egypt, well, she wasn’t one to be trifled with. More than that, she was under no illusions as to who she had just given birth to. Listen to the song of praise she sings upon discovering the enormity of the task that has befallen her: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty

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Leave Francis alone; Jory go home

Leave Francis alone; Jory go home

Here’s a tale of two preachers. One is named Francis Chan. He’s a well-known and much-loved pastor, preacher, author and church planter. He speaks on some of biggest platforms in the country, and is the author of several best-selling Christian books. The other is Jory Micah. She is an itinerant preacher and blogger. She engages in social media to support young women and girls build self-esteem, follow God and serve the church. Both Francis and Jory dominated my social media feeds last week, for different reasons.   Francis Goes to Asia Francis recently announced that he is moving to Hong Kong to do evangelistic missionary work in Asia. It’s a bold, costly and impressive decision, prompted by his travels in Asia and in particular his recent evangelistic ministry in Myanmar. But Francis’ announcement prompted a New Zealand missionary, Craig Greenfield, who has himself served in South East Asia for many years, to post a blog raising concerns about Francis’ posture in moving to Asia. In no way was Greenfield suggesting Francis’ decision was a bad one, or that he ought not move to Asia. In fact, he encourages Francis to relocate there. But he did take the opportunity to get people to think about the approach Western missionaries need to take while in developing countries. In fact, I thought his

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Is this country even capable of telling the truth?

Is this country even capable of telling the truth?

Last weekend, police officers shot and killed a 19-year-old man, Kumanjayi Walker in the central desert community of Yuendumu, Northern Territory. Eye-witnesses have disputed the police report that Walker resisted arrest and attacked the officers, stabbing one, thereby forcing the police to defend themselves. But no one disputes the fact that the police, terrified of reprisals from the local community, locked themselves in their station with Mr Walker’s body, turned out all the lights and refused to tell the family whether he was alive or dead as they waited for reinforcements to arrive. There are now national calls for a full independent investigation into what happened to Mr Walker. The residents, predominantly Walpiri people, are calling for the police to leave Yuendumu for at least one year. It feels like remote little Yuendumu is becoming our latest Black Lives Matter moment.   In the midst of all the grief and anguish, anger and confusion that has characterized this terrible incident, I heard local people being reported as saying that what happened in Yuendumu “feels like Coniston.” Coniston? I had to Google it. Coniston cattle station is not far from Yuendumu, and the Walpiri are referring to the massacre that took place there in 1928 when up to 170 died in a series of reprisal killings of Warlpiri, Anmatyerre, and Kaytetye

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