Love in the time of COVID-19

Love in the time of COVID-19

In his novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, Colombian Nobel prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez tells the story of the complicated marriage of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his wife Fermina. Urbino is a passionless man, a medical scientist, devoted to order and progress, committed to the eradication of cholera. Before their marriage, Fermina was involved in an ardent affair with the fiery Florentino, who despite her decision to marry Urbino, declares his undying love for her and pledges to remain faithful to her no matter what. Fermina nonetheless commits herself to her marriage, growing old with Urbino, while Florintina remains a regular presence in their lives. Throughout the novel, Fermina is caught between the two men, one clinical and methodical, the other impassioned and promiscuous. One of the main themes in García Márquez’s novel is the idea that lovesickness is just that, a sickness. And Florintino suffers from it as he would a disease like cholera. At times, his love for Fermina literally makes him ill. Urbino’s obsession with the eradication of cholera takes on the symbolic meaning of him wanting to rid Fermina’s life of passion. In both Spanish (the original language of the novel) and English, the term choleric describes a fiery, passionate person, so it’s clear that Urbino believes Fermina would be happier and more

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5 Reasons Capitalism is not Christian

5 Reasons Capitalism is not Christian

Recently, Julie Roys, whose work in unmasking evangelical Christian leaders accused of spiritual, sexual, and psychological abuse I greatly admire, wrote an article entitled, 5 Reasons Socialism is not Christian. It wasn’t the most sophisticated piece, I must confess. Those of us who have lived outside the United States in economies that have been influenced by democratic socialism aren’t quite as spooked by the S-word as some American evangelical commentators. But in the end, frankly, I agree with Roys’ general conclusion: I don’t think socialism is Christian either. But lest anyone think that means I believe the usual alternative, capitalism, is Christian, uh-huh, no, I don’t. Christians have found themselves at home in both capitalist and socialist systems, and contributed to those systems significantly throughout history. But neither of them can ever truly be home for us. You’re right, Julie Roys, socialism is not Christian, and neither is capitalism. Here’s my reasons why:   Capitalism benefits the few at the expense of the many The fundamental principles of capitalism systematically undermine social cohesion, dividing us from each other, impoverishing us, and eventually sacrificing our collective well-being for the benefit of the few. In his book, Parecon: Life After Capitalism, Michael Albert writes, “Capitalism revolves around private ownership of the means of production, market allocation, and corporate divisions of labor.  It

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How do you find Jesus in the neighborhood?

How do you find Jesus in the neighborhood?

It’s becoming more common these days for people to talk about finding out what God is doing in your neighborhood and joining God in that work. A few years ago, Alan Roxburgh wrote a book called Missional, which had the subtitle, Joining God in the neighborhood. He said, “What is God up to in our neighborhoods and communities? How do we join with what God is doing in these places? Church questions are a subset of these far more important questions.” It’s a beautiful concept, that the sovereign God is working beyond the church, attending to his grand redemptive purposes, touching lives in some prevenient way — the love of God wooing our neighbors; the will of God drawing them; the desire of God pursuing them; the gift of God healing them; the presence of God empowering them; the word of God convicting them. We’ve all heard stories of Muslims in closed Islamic countries having dreams in which Christ appears. We might have had our own experience of God “turning up” in our lives before we encountered any Christian ministry. But the idea of finding out what God is doing in your neighborhood and joining in seems abstract. How do we know what Christ doing in the world? Stanley Hauerwas, when confronted with this idea, had an important response. He

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The Gospel According to Terry

The Gospel According to Terry

When I was 17 I went to the cinema to see Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. At that age I’d not long graduated from kids’ movies and my cinema-going diet consisted mainly of James Bond movies and disaster films (it was the 70s). I don’t know why I’d chosen Days of Heaven. Back then, I didn’t choose films based on their directors, and Richard Gere, Sam Shepard and Brooke Adams weren’t exactly big stars. But when it ended, I sat in stunned silence as the credits rolled. I’d never seen anything like it. I think it is perhaps the most beautiful picture ever made. The visceral effect of a Terrence Malick film is hard to describe. It just washes over you. Days of Heaven tells the story of a troubled love triangle set on a vast midwest ranch in 1916, but the story doesn’t sit at the front of the film. It is subsumed under layers of beautiful, languid photography, frequently shot at magic hour, eliciting a kind of heavenly vision. Except that heaven is here. It’s in the light on the grass, the waving fields of wheat, the romantic aura of an unlikely mansion, the images of lonely panoramas, even in the darkness of a locust plague. I was hooked. I watched Days of Heaven many times over during

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Five cultural trends killing the church’s mission

Five cultural trends killing the church’s mission

There are forces and trends at work in our society that are killing local churches. You’ve heard people say stuff like that before, right? You know what comes next too, don’t you? Usually, it’s condemnations of the insidious effects of secularization — or sexularization as one Christian commentator calls it — descriptions of hostility toward religion, and warnings about persecution, the limiting of religious freedoms, and fraying family values. Oh, and great angst about people using the greeting, “Happy holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” But while some, albeit loud, voices are telling you to look over there, you might be missing some everyday cultural shifts occurring that are having a greater and unnoticed effect on the church. In fact, it is now becoming clear that these trends are killing the mission of the church far more effectively than the hot-button issues that get all the attention. Here are five that come to mind:   1. THE DEATH OF CIVIL DISCOURSE We live in a time of extreme polarization, where it seems we can’t discuss anything – especially theology and politics – without it devolving into conflict and name-calling. Church people aren’t immune to this. It seems we too have lost the capacity for civil discourse. Sadly, this results in a rapid slide toward uniformity of thought. Because we can’t even

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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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