Blaming Islam is just too easy

Blaming Islam is just too easy

In the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing I’m seeing a lot of commentators demanding we call a spade a spade and identify Islam as the global problem of our time. Several of them claim we’ve been pandering to Muslim extremists by downplaying the danger they represent. Enough of all this political correctness, they say, we should be bold enough to use the words “Islam” and “terrorism” in the same sentence. In fact, they say, by refusing to lay responsibility for global terrorism firmly at the feet of Islam we’re setting ourselves up as sitting ducks. One columnist, Miranda Devine started her piece this way: “We can’t keep our children safe. Every concert, every train ride, every walk across a bridge, every gap year trip to Europe, every cafe visit is fraught with fear. And that is exactly how the Muslim fanatics want it, the inadequate, baselessly arrogant fans of Islamic State with hearts full of scorn and hatred for the free societies which have taken their families in, nurtured them, and offered them every freedom. They kill our children on purpose. They maim deliberately with nail bombs to rip through soft flesh, mutilate pretty faces, butcher young limbs.” Phew! Aside from the misinformation about the likelihood of death by terror attack (you’re more likely to die of the flu

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Mission is a lot like midwifery

Mission is a lot like midwifery

Joseph Campbell once said, “If you want to change the world, change the metaphor.” Maybe if you want to change the church you should change the metaphors you use to describe it too. You’re probably familiar with the church’s use of militaristic imagery to describe its role in the world. This has often been expressed in the vocabulary of aggression, conquest, crusade, advance parties, and beach-heads. Church leaders often see nothing incongruous in using the language of military campaigns to describe their role of sharing Jesus with the world. At a time when the dominant evangelical tone seems arrogant, angry, or afraid (or all three), maybe now more than ever we need a different lens by which to view the church. Maybe we need a more life-giving metaphor. Why not try this metaphor on for size: the church is a midwife to the delivery of the world God is birthing. Stay with me. Isaiah 42:14 refers to God groaning like a woman in labor. And in Numbers 11:12, as the Israelites complain of only having manna to eat in the wilderness, Moses says to God with an almost sarcastic inflection, “Did I give birth to these people? Did I bring them into the world? Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a

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If you want to shape your city’s future, learn its past

If you want to shape your city’s future, learn its past

Recently, I’ve been blogging about how to “read” your context, to understand your neighborhood and to join God in what is going on there. I’ve been exploring the work of Michael Mata, professor of Transformational Urban Leadership at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, and his five S’s for studying your place (structures, signs, spatial dynamics, social interaction and spirituality). You can start reading those articles here. But now I want to add a sixth S. I think you also need to learn your neighborhood’s story. The story of a place has a lasting impact on its personality and general culture, its strengths and weaknesses. Without knowing its story we fall prey to the possibility of misjudging a place for what it is not. Good missionaries will take the time to excavate and retell the history of their city. The study of place informs the way we pray for our neighbors, the way we extend love, and the way we can contend for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.   It’s like falling in love with your place – the more you discover, the more you can love with sincerity and wisdom. This process can lead us to accept what we don’t know, while still choosing to love in the everyday simplicity of what we’ve discovered.

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Taking the spiritual temperature of your neighborhood

Taking the spiritual temperature of your neighborhood

I was chatting to a young(ish) Baptist minister recently who was trying to recruit me to support a particular campaign he was developing (that’s not important right now). What intrigued me was that, as he was pitching his idea to me, he casually mentioned that he just met the local Catholic priest who had shown some interest in his campaign as well. I stopped him. “Earlier you told me you’ve ministered in that neighborhood for 10 years. And you only just met your local parish priest? Is he a new priest?” “No,” came the reply. “He’s been the local priest for nearly the same length of time as I’ve been there.” I lost all interest in his campaign proposal and started wondering how a Baptist minister and a Catholic priest could both be serving their congregations in such proximity, but have never met. If the Baptist hasn’t even met the Catholic – or the Pentecostal, or the Seventh Day Adventist – what hope is there that he’s met the local imam or Buddhist monk? I’m often hearing evangelical church leaders telling me they love their city or neighborhood, but I find myself wondering how well they even know the city they say they love. If you’re not even familiar with your fellow Christian leaders, there’s little chance you know any of

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We build our cities, and then our cities build us

We build our cities, and then our cities build us

How do you get to know the city you’re in? In recent posts I’ve been exploring a number of areas every church should examine in order to understand their neighbors better. I’ve referred to it as listening to your city in the same way as a doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to a patient. So far we’ve looked at what the structures of your city tell you about its inhabitants (here), and how to read the signs in your community (here).  In this post, I want to encourage you to examine space and social interaction. City planners give huge amount of time and energy trying to figure out what kinds of public spaces their city needs and how they shape healthy social interaction. You need to do the same. SPACE The spatial layout of any environment can foster relational interaction or snuff it out. Consider airport gate lounges, with their fixed lines of seating all facing the same direction, the lack of tables, or group spaces, and the dominance of screens. Their spatial layout makes them unconducive to interaction. They’re designed in a way that assumes you’re not here to stay, you’re just passing through. Likewise, for most neighborhoods there has been some degree of planning that has gone into creating the environment in which people live, work and

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Listening deeply to your city

Listening deeply to your city

In my previous post I encouraged Christian leaders to consider ways they could listen deeply to the yearnings, desires, hopes and disappointments of their community. My reason for encouraging such deep listening is that I believe all mission is contextual. All mission. We’ve been buying ministry ideas off the shelf for too long, dishing up the same old tired suite of products currently on offer in every church right across the country. Mission is provincial. It’s local. It’s indigenous. It grows in the peculiar eco-systems in which its planted, and so it will taste and smell different in different settings.   So, how are you to know how to respond to the needs of your community, or how to collaborate with the things God is already doing there, unless you can listen? Truly listen. One of the world’s most revolutionary listening devices is the stethoscope. It was invented in 1816 by the impressively named René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec. He pioneered its use in diagnosing various chest conditions (stethos derives from the Greek word for chest). In commending his new instrument, Laennec was noted for saying, “Listen to your patients. They’re telling you how to heal them.”   Get that? The patient’s sick body knows what it needs to be healed. You just have to listen carefully enough. I think deep down your

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What if you could listen to your neighborhood like scientists listen to trees?

What if you could listen to your neighborhood like scientists listen to trees?

Take a walk through a forest and it seems the trees stand still like silent sentinels . A tree is the ultimate individualist, right? Each one appears totally independent of the others. That is, until you realize that trees talk to each other. Yep. They talk to each other. Underground! Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver did experiments that proved that trees pass information between themselves in a silent underground network. And not just between members of the same species. She found that Douglas fir and paper birch trees can transfer information across species’ lines. It’s all a bit technical and sciencey, as she explains here, but, bottom line, she found the underground life of trees is alive with the transfer of information. Basically their root systems can transfer stuff like carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus via something called mycelia. What’s mycelia, you ask? Well, it’s all a bit technical and sciencey, but essentially it’s fungus. Fungal bodies are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as a mycelium. These threads act as a kind of underground internet, linking the roots of different plants, and passing nutrients and elements between them.  If you cover one tree in a forest with a huge plastic bag, like Suzanne Simard did, and pump it full of radioactive gas, like

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In Praise of Protest

In Praise of Protest

I recently came across these two photographs on social media. They both depict elderly protesters at recent anti-Trump rallies in the United States. The photo on the left is of a woman named Shirley, attending her first protest rally at the ripe old age of 93. I found it on a Twitter feed of people posting that they were attending their first public protest. Most were young. But some were old. Like Shirley. What’s happening in America when a frail 93-year-old is moved to protest for the first time? And is it a good thing? Some are saying that such protests are just made up of sore losers who can’t deal with Donald Trump’s election victory. I’ve heard (often), we need to stop complaining and just allow duly elected officials govern. But protest shouldn’t be dismissed so readily. Indeed, protest is a noble cause, a collective responsibility, and a necessary form of self expression. Here’s a few reasons why I think we shouldn’t be afraid of mass protests. Protest is Essential in Liberal Democracies   Dissent is what forged democracy in the first place, and it remains essential in fomenting change in democratic societies. In fact, it moves those societies forward. It always has. Protests nearly always arise in response to social or political changes and can therefore be rightly

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The Opposite of Poverty is not Wealth, it’s Justice

The Opposite of Poverty is not Wealth, it’s Justice

An inflatable boat slips into a cove near Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos. It is packed with Syrian asylum seekers wearing orange lifejackets. They have just crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey. One of them waves a lifebuoy triumphantly to the man wading into the water to greet them. The sun is setting. The last rays of hope are receding behind the horizon. In a few moments it will be dark, and no one wants to spend a perilous night at sea in a small craft. The UN worker or government official holds his hands high to greet them. They’ve made it! They are safe. Kind of. This poignant photo was taken by Aris Messinis in February, 2016, nearly a full year ago. Since that time we have heard countless reports of how miserable life is for thousands of Syrian refugees in Europe. Countries like Germany, Austria and Sweden have been remarkably generous, but many asylum seekers, including quite possibly those in this very photo, are still stuck in limbo. This week’s cold snap across Europe has only made matters worse. In Lesbos, snow blanketed the Moria refugee camp, home to more than 4,000 people, most of whom subsist in small tents. Some of those tents have collapsed under the weight of the snow. The UN has tried

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The Lost Art of Neighboring

The Lost Art of Neighboring

In a typical suburban home, not far from where I live, a man was recently observed carrying out modifications to his house. Neighbors saw him on the roof working with power tools and assumed he was just carrying out some basic repairs. He seemed purposeful and oblivious to their attention. When his children, both of whom suffered from non-verbal autism, didn’t show up for school the following week, calls were made to the parents’ phones. No one answered. So the police attended the family home only to discover the terrible truth about what the father had been doing the previous weekend. He had converted his house into a toxic gas chamber by rigging up a sinister network of hidden pipes. He had then closed all the windows and doors, turned on a series of gas cylinders, and poisoned his wife, both the children (aged 11 and 10), himself and the family dog. It was clinical, elaborate, pre-meditated and deadly. They were immigrants, with no family connections in town. Their kids’ disabilities made them extremely demanding. The marriage was under strain, as anybody’s would be under those circumstances. No one knows if the mother was aware of the plan. She was found alongside one of their children. And so they all died silently and unassumingly, while all around them their neighbors

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Why the Missional Movement Must Not Fail

Why the Missional Movement Must Not Fail

In 1888, the intrepid Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen made the first crossing of the previously impenetrable island of Greenland. He was only 27 years old. Other more famous explorers like Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld and Robert Peary had previously attempted the crossing, setting out from the inhabited western coast and trekking eastward for about 160km (100 mi), before being forced back by the freezing mountainous conditions. Nansen tried a different and more treacherous strategy. He started from the wild and uninhabited east coast and undertook a phenomenal one-way journey towards the populated west. It meant that he had no line of retreat to a safe base; the only way to go would be forward, a strategy that suited Nansen’s dogged personality completely. His ship struggled to make landing on the craggy east coast, but once finally unloaded, Nansen and his crew of five others set off westward. There was no plan B.   If any of his crew complained about wanting to give up, he could honestly tell them the only option was to press on toward safety. It feels like that to me with those currently baulking at continuing the missional conversation. I hear some complaining that the results aren’t commensurate with the talk (whatever “results” might be in this situation); others suggest the missional movement is all a bit

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I got arrested recently

I got arrested recently

I got arrested recently. Normally that’s not something to broadcast, but actually I was trying to get arrested precisely so I could broadcast it. I got arrested as an act of civil disobedience. You see, my country has adopted an immigration policy that’s designed to discourage refugees arriving here by boat from Indonesia. This involves using the navy to intercept leaky fishing boats full of asylum seekers and towing them back into Indonesian waters. It also includes making an example of those poor souls who do manage to slip through our maritime cordon and wash up on our coastline. Those desperate people are imprisoned in detention centres on remote islands belonging to other countries and abandoned without any hope. No future, no plans, no sense of destiny. It’s my government’s way of saying to refugees, “Let that be a lesson to you!” Except this lesson or warning is also being meted out to children, and it’s the kids who suffer the most from their incarceration. Recently, over 2000 incident reports filed by the staff of these detention centres were leaked by an anonymous whistleblower. They are a catalogue of assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and other effects stemming from the inherently toxic living conditions there. I’ve read these reports. They describe children not only being assaulted and sexually

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