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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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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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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Is autographing a bible an act of desecration?

Is autographing a bible an act of desecration?

I’m no celebrity – not even close – but I have been asked to autograph someone’s bible before. On a few occasions. In certain church circles it’s actually a thing to get people to sign your bible. I recoiled the first time it happened. It seemed like desecration to add my pathetic signature to the pages of the Holy Bible. And when I demurred, the person looked genuinely hurt. They couldn’t seem to understand why I wouldn’t do it. I guess they figured it was a weird cultural thing that Australians have with not autographing the Good Book. But actually, Australians have their own version of Good Book signing in the so-called Fleet Bible, which was brought to Sydney Cove on the first fleet of colonizers to arrive on our shores in 1788. Rather strangely, it has been signed by every monarch to visit Australia in the past century, including Charles and Diana, Will and Kate, Queen Elizabeth and her uncle, the short-lived Edward VIII, who abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. I just don’t get it. I really don’t. Why is it considered appropriate to have celebrities scrawl their names on an ancient holy book? I mean, isn’t it kinda, um, desecration? This question was reignited last week when President Donald Trump signed a bunch of bibles at

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How do I vote pro-life, AND pro-planet, pro-poor, pro-peace, pro-refugee?

How do I vote pro-life, AND pro-planet, pro-poor, pro-peace, pro-refugee?

There’s a national election due in Australia soon, and the options for a pro-life, pro-peace, pro-planet, pro-religious freedom, pro-refugee, pro-Aboriginal reconciliation, pro-poor, kind of Christian voter like me are extremely limited. The conservative government has continually disappointed people like me with their draconian approach toward asylum seekers, their rejection of the Uluru Statement, their enthusiastic support for the coal industry, and their consistent cuts to foreign aid. But the Greens continue to alienate a lot of Christians by campaigning to decriminalize abortion and prostitution in all states, to end chaplaincy in public high schools, and to threaten religious freedoms for churches not willing to provide same-sex marriages. Then this week, the Australian Labor Party pledged to build an abortion clinic in Tasmania and to push for the decriminalization of abortion in South Australia and New South Wales. Even if a Christian could live with these pledges, hoping for a world where terminations are “safe, legal and rare”, as the saying goes, the ALP went even further. They enshrined a new policy of requiring public hospitals to provide termination services through commonwealth funding agreements. In other words, no abortions, no commonwealth money. What’s a voter like me to do?   Is it too much to ask for a truly pro-life political party that supports the poor and takes meaningful steps toward

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To the Dones and the Almost Dones, I hear you

To the Dones and the Almost Dones, I hear you

My friends know what’s in store. I won’t be here anymore. I’ve packed my bags I’ve cleaned the floor. Watch me walkin’ Walkin’ out the door.   We’ve become used to the term, “nones” to describe those who have no religious affiliation or faith, but Josh Packard, the author of a University of Northern Colorado study, recently coined the term “dones” to describe former churchgoers who nevertheless maintain their faith in God and their Christian identity. And according to his research, this describes an estimated 30 million Americans. Not only that, Packard says there are another 7 million “almost dones” coming up behind them. In 2007 the Pew Research Center conducted its Religious Landscape Study with a massive survey of 35,000 individuals and found that about 16 percent of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. By 2015, that same study reported the number had climbed to 23 percent. Way back in 1980 only eight percent of those under age 30 were “nones.” The Pew Center says that number has risen to 32 percent. People are leaving the church in droves, especially so-called millennials. But the picture that seems to be emerging isn’t a simple one of wholesale church decline. Part of what is happening is that many committed Christians are continuing to pursue their faith outside institutional church membership. Indeed, Packard’s

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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

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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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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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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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