Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lingua Latina: want to learn Latin?

I have recently started learning some basic Latin (beyond the vocab that it's possible to guess from having a good knowledge of English) and on the recommendation of Seamus, I have invested in a wonderful textbook called Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. Pars I: Familia Romana. There is no English in the entire book, you are simply immersed in Latin from page one. However, it is so cleverly structured in always building on what you already know that each page makes sense. For instance, here is the first sentence: Roma in Italia est. Even without the map of Europa on the opposite page, I bet you can understand it. Each sentence introduces one new idea, gradually building (with the help of a few handy illstrata) both your competence and confidence until you're reading fun little narratives about the life of a familia Romana. Who ever imagined that language learning could be so much fun?

Has your understanding of the gospel changed?

Do you think you understand more about the good news (= "gospel") at the heart of Christianity than you did five years ago? Is this message shaping more of your life?

Chris Tilling writes about his own previous understanding and some of the questions that have moved him forward (sideways?) since then. They are worth pondering.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In praise of... teachers (meme)

Having been tagged by Michael Jensen, I would like to praise five significant teachers in my life. As I am only allowed five, no offense is intended to the many gifted and caring teachers not found on this list. I have had four significant periods of formal education, so have picked one teacher from each period, and then taken the fifth from an experience of church.

1. Mr Warren Glass
Thornleigh West Primary school
Year 5 was the most important year of my primary school experience, probably of my formal education overall. Until that year, I had been a good and conscientious student. After it, I loved learning. We might not have covered the syllabus, but we had a great time and my horizons were stretched.

Every morning, we would begin with music, lots of it, singing along to the funny-looking man with the guitar. Then, we would discuss current affairs, society and culture. Sometimes, he would just talk about something that had come up in the news and that would take us through to morning tea, or even lunch. Others hated it; I couldn't get enough. After lunch, he would read us books and get us to respond to them creatively, turning the classroom into the narrative we were experiencing. I am sure we must have done some maths and spelling and so on, but I really don't remember. What I do remember is regretting hearing the bell for the end of the day.

Throughout the year, Mr Glass loaned me books personally, and would talk about them when I returned them, forming in me habits of critical novel reading that have continued and broadened ever since. I trace my sense of humour to him. He would tell jokes all day, and the feeling of starting to "get" some of them was a treat. To him I also trace the beginnings of my sense of social responsibility, particularly ecological concern. And Year 5 was also the time that I realised that being a Christian isn't something that happens automatically, but involves personal loyalty to Jesus. Although it took me a few more years to explicitly own that loyalty, the ground-clearing work that happened with Mr Glass was crucial.

Wherever you are, Mr Glass, I salute you - and I thank God for you.

2. Mrs K. Ballantyne
James Ruse Agricultural High School
Year 11 was for my high school years what Year 5 was for my primary schooling. My memories of those two years are far more vivid and three dimensional than the other years put together. Mrs Bal taught me English in year 11 and much of year 12. Educationally, until that point I had focused heavily on maths and science, selecting my subjects to avoid the humanities and studying English under some duress (even though I loved reading). Indeed, Mrs Bal initially had to talk me out of doing the lowest level of English offered at Ruse. Nevertheless, by the end of year 12, I would go on to study Arts at Sydney University, majoring in English and Philosophy. Since I had Mr Ballantyne (husband of Mrs Bal) for Physics, this transformation was something of a victory for her. Mrs Bal introduced me to T. S. Eliot (I still clearly remember reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock), to the first Shakespeare I really understood, enjoyed and was moved by (Hamlet) and to the delightful Tom Stoppard response (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead).

I remember a story I heard about her first ever classroom as a young teacher fresh out of college at a rough school. When she walked in, a boy was sitting on a ledge, dangling his feet out a second-story window. She walked over and shut the window on him, leaving him outside on the ledge for the whole period! Whether it's apocryphal or not, it captures something of her creativity and charm.

3. Dr Geoff Williams
Sydney University
I first met Geoff (and he was, I think, the first teacher whom I knew on a first name basis) in a second year English course called Grammar and Discourse, in which he opened my eyes to the nuts and bolts of how language works via systemic functional grammar. We were looking at language so closely that I ended up writing my essay for the course on the opening of a Beckett play and ran out of space after I had discussed the first ten words! This was probably one of the best two or three classes throughout my Arts degree, which I initially selected on timetable convenience and on the casual recommendation of an acquaintance.

However, it was Geoff's personal care for each student in a large class that really grabbed my attention. He quickly knew everyone's name (rare in a lecturer, particularly in a class of around 50 or 60) and took all of his own tutorials. He worked hard to provide excellent examples of the language patterns we were studying and simultaneously introduced me to his second field of expertise: children's literature. When I ended up writing an English honours thesis comparing Harry Potter and Narnia, he became my surrogate supervisor (my official supervisor, based on my initial submission, was a modernist specialist (momentum from Prufrock!) and was humble enough to acknowledge himself out of his depth when my topic shifted).

Years later, his invitation to help teach a modified form of the grammar course (which had become immensely popular and so they didn't have enough tutors) rescued my battered passion for teaching after a year in the deep end as a high school teacher without training or experience. He continued to follow my progress for many years after university and we would regularly catch up for coffee, until he recently accepted an exciting post in Canada. I must write to him again soon.

4. Rev Dr Andrew Cameron
Moore Theological College
Amongst many gifted teachers at Moore, Andrew's gentleness, humility and deep insight were a bastion of sanity and humanity in a hectic and demanding environment. When he first taught me Philosophy 1, he was under the mistaken impression that I had a PhD in Philosophy, which led to some extra stress for him (since his specialty is Ethics, not Philosophy) and some unearned cred for me! Since then, I have been in a number of his classes and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. I also always appreciate his social issues briefings, which come out every "few" weeks.

In class, the wisdom and depth of his material was often veiled behind a lack of confidence and somewhat bumpy presentation, but there were so many gems that have formed me both academically and spiritually. Obviously, his love of ethics and Oliver O'Donovan in particular (see image)* have been very significant in shaping my own future direction.
*This is a picture of Andrew Cameron and Oliver O'Donovan. Andrew is wearing a shirt that our class made for him, which bears a portrait of OO'D with the caption "What would O'Donovan do?".

5. Rev Andrew Katay
St Barnabas' Anglican Church, Broadway
Many preachers and Bible study leaders have shaped me in a variety of related (and sometimes competing) traditions, but it is probably my years with Andrew Katay that have most significantly shaped my faith in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, my love of the holy scriptures and the gospel they proclaim (especially in the Gospels) and my hope in God's coming kingdom.

I met Andrew at my first SUEU event back in 1997 and worked closely with him for most of the five years I spent at Sydney Uni, in a variety of formal and informal contexts. Then, when Jessica and I were married and joined St Barnabas', Broadway, he was our pastor for another four and a half years (there is about eighteen months' overlap between these two periods) and for the final two years, he was also the immediate supervisor of my service as a catechist (student minister). During that time, I have listened to probably hundreds of his talks, sermons, studies, seminars and debates, and have spent hundreds of hours with him in committees, planning meetings, reading groups and casual conversations.

Although we chronically disagree in some areas (politics!), he helped me notice and begin to overcome many of the inherited dualisms in my theology, sharing a faith that is bigger and deeper than "Jesus saves": trinitarian in basis, christological in focus, cosmic in scope, graciously ethical in direction, generous in difference and with a resurrection hope.

None of these teachers is without faults, but my prayer is to become a little more like the best in each of them.

Who have been significant teachers in your life? If you can't think of five, start with one. If you have a blog, consider yourself tagged. When you post, include a link in the comments here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Barth on inerrancy

"The fact that the statement 'God reveals Himself' is the confession of a miracle that has happened certainly does not imply a blind credence in all the miracle stories related in the Bible. [...] It is really not laid upon us to take everything in the Bible as true in globo, but it is laid upon us to listen to its testimony when we actually hear it. A man might even credit all miracles and for that reason not confess the miracle. What it means is to confess revelation as a miracle that has happened; in other words, it means that the statement 'God reveals Himself' must be a statement of utter thankfulness, a statement of pure amazement, in which is repeated the amazement of the disciples at meeting the risen One".

- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 65.

Of course, Barth could be wrong about this...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Take a break

Due to gremlins in the aether, my ability to connect to the net will be quite limited for the next little while. Sorry for not replying to comments, answering emails, or posting anything new (I'm writing this on someone else's computer). While you're waiting, make yourself at home, have a look around, feel free to grab something from the fridge. I'll be back soon.

UPDATE #1: The gremlins have been defeated earlier than I thought.

UPDATE #2: Update #1 was a little premature. Hopefully, they are gone now and I will post more soon (though first I have a sermon to finish).

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Give me more time! Give me time!"

[...] to have time for another, although in the abstract this says little, is in reality to manifest in essence all the benefits which one man can show to another. When I really give anyone my time, I thereby give him the last and most personal thing that I have to give at all, namely myself.

- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 55.

This is how to be generous when you are rich. And of course, most importantly, God has time for us.
Eight points for naming the source of the title of this post (without using Google - you'll appreciate it more if you spend a little time remembering).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A bit rich: getting some perspective

The federal budget unveiled this week by the new Labor government has introduced a new measure of what it means to be "rich" in Australia: an annual family income of $150,000. Above this, and various forms of government aid are now reduced or excluded. As a result, the oppressed upper middle class are crying poor.

The average Australian income is about $50,000, which is more than about 98% of the world's population. If you earn $150,000 p.a., then your income exceeds that of about 99.16% of the rest of the world.

I earn less than $30,000 and consider myself abundantly wealthy. True wealth is found in the smiles you give and receive, the tears you shed, the second, third, and fiftieth chances you receive, the people you trust, the hopes you cherish, the mountains you climb, the stories you share, the bounty of sun, wind and rain, and your name spoken in welcome.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

- Ephesians 1.3

Twelve points for the name of the building.

Another one bites the dust

Requiem aeternam dona eis.
(Is it, however, disqualified from Christian burial since it was euthanised?)

One Movie Meme

1. One movie that made you laugh
Coffee and Cigarettes

2. One movie that made you cry
Dancer in the Dark

3. One movie you loved when you were a child
Mønti Pythøn ik den Høli Gräilen

4. One movie you’ve seen more than once
The Return of the King

5. One movie you hated

6. One movie that scared you
The Birds

7. One movie that bored you
Inland Empire - the most fascinating and compelling three hours of tedium I've ever seen. I love/hate Lynch.

8. One movie that made you happy

9. One movie that made you miserable
Nobody Knows

10. One movie you weren’t brave enough to see
My Best Friend's Wedding

11. One movie character you’ve fallen in love with
Jim Curring (the cop) from Magnolia

12. A movie that surprised you

13. The last movie you saw
Black Sheep

14. The next movie you hope to see
Babette's Feast

15. Now tag five people:
Benjamin, Mark, Dave, Jason and anyone else who feels like it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Williams on grace

"[...] the proclamation of Jesus makes concrete the presence of a non-competitive other: God is not to be approached through skilled intermediaries who will see to it that God's 'interest' is safeguarded in a transaction that, by giving privilege to us, may compromise the divine position. And, if God is conceived as needing to be conciliated so that violent reaction may be averted, as in the mind of the unprofitable servant in the parable [see Luke 19.11-27], God is still within the competitive framework; God has a 'good', an interest, that is vulnerable. Whereas, if God's reaction can never be determined by a supposed threat to the divine interest, God's action and mine do not and cannot occupy the same moral and practical space, and are never in rivalry.

"God's action is never, in this picture, reactive: it is always, we could say, prior to human activity, and as such 'gracious' - that is, undetermined by what we do. This in turn changes how I am to see my activity: what it can never be is any kind of bartering for a favourable or advantageous position vis-à-vis the universe and its maker. That God is not threatened by finite action entails that there is a level at which my own being is not capable of being threatened. It is simply established by God's determination as creator - that is, by God's will for what is authentically other to the divine being to exist. My behaviour does not have to be a defensive strategy in the face of what is radically and irreducibly other, because the radicality of that otherness is precisely what establishes my freedom from the necessity to negotiate with it. [...] God's acts are undetermined by ours, and [...] therefore we can never and need never succeed in establishing our position in the universe."

- Rowan Williams, "Interiority and Epiphany: A Reading in New Testament Ethics" in On Christian Theology (Blackwell, 2000), 249.

If God's loving commitment to me is not established or threatened by my actions or inactions, then I am not burdened by the necessity of making something of myself. The infinite challenge posed to each of us is not to meet God's needs, but to live in the freedom of God's infinite acceptance.
Fifteen points for picking the Sydney location.

Six simple ideas towards reconciliation

Tonight we had a follow-up meeting after the GetUp GetTogether for reconciliation a couple of weeks ago. Jason, an indigenous artist who participated in the first gathering, invited us to the Boomalli Art Gallery in Leichhardt for tonight's discussion. We brainstormed ideas of small practical steps we could each take to help move towards reconciliation in our local area and in Australia. Here were some of the group's ideas:

• Be willing to take risks and be thick-skinned and patient enough to keep trying if and when there is misunderstanding;
• Write letters to the paper and to politicians to keep reconciliation on the local and national agenda;
• Say "hello" and show basic respect when passing strangers on the street;
• Share positive stories and challenge negative stereotypes when they are expressed;
• Volunteer with a local organization working towards reconciliation;
• Start a conversation with your friends and family: "what does reconciliation mean for you?"
I may have missed some of the ideas we discussed because I only started taking notes towards the end. Does anyone have further suggestions? Remember: from little things, big things grow.

Monday, May 12, 2008

C. S. Lewis Today conference

C.S. Lewis Today Sydney 23-24 May 2008
After a successful gathering in 2006, the second C. S. Lewis Today conference will be held in Sydney on 23rd-24th May. The conference will be "two days of talks, panel discussion, film viewing and workshops designed for anyone interested in Lewis, professional or amateur."

This event has been timed just before the release of Prince Caspian, the film from the second book in the Narnia Chronicles (the films, wisely, are following the original publication order, rather than the chronology of the narrative), and has managed to secure a 40-minute preview reel, which will be screened on the Saturday afternoon.

Speakers include: Alan Jacobs (leading US Lewis scholar), Tim Gresham (Lewis's step-grandson), Tony Morphett (well-known Australian scriptwriter), Robert Banks (author, academic and founder of MCSI), Greg Clarke and John Dickson (directors of the Centre for Public Christianity) and many more (including yours truly).

Registrations close this Friday.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Going to Edinburgh!

Personal update
I have been offered a place and a partial scholarship to research a theology PhD at Edinburgh University starting in September and supervised by Oliver O'Donovan. We haven't yet set a departure date as this depends upon Jessica's work situation. My initial project proposal is to consider the role of the church in a society in crisis (more to come on this in due course).

Jessica and I are delighted at this wonderful opportunity, a little apprehensive at the size of the task and more than a little sad to be leaving church, family and friends for three years. This has been a path we have been hoping to pursue for the last couple of years, though our plans were postponed when I discovered I was quite ill. I am very thankful for more life and now to be given such a gift. I am sure the next few years will be stretching intellectually, relationally, financially and linguistically. If you pray, we'd appreciate your prayers.

Intentional community

The consumerist mindset of autonomy, flexibility, merit and personal preference is poison to church life (not to mention family life and society at large). Mutual submission, relational commitment, grace and the pursuit of the common good are radical concepts to most Westerners but they lie at the heart of what it means to belong to Jesus' family. Yet many Christians drift in and out of churches missing out on what it means to belong to one another, and then complain that their church experience failed to meet their needs.

I've been thinking recently about what intentional community might involve. How can we build relationships and a common life that doesn't simply mimic the cultural pattern in which we swim? Kyle over at Vindicated has been posting a series on the "monastery without walls" his church has begun. Worth a read, even for those of us who might not be militant Anglo-catholics.

1. Introduction: To De-Pimp and Re-Monk the Church
2. Monasticism and mission
3. Monastic values
4. Organisation
5. Relationships
6. The Abbey and the Wider Church
7. FAQs I
8. FAQs II
10. Afterword: Monastic Thoughts
Ten points for naming the building.

May points table

April's table saw H. Goldsmith pick up a comfortable win and so ten bonus points. Five go to Jonathan, three to Moffitt the Prophet and one to Anthony. There are currently 530 points available.

May points table

12: One of Freedom
10: Jonathan
8: Doug Forbes, Sair
6: Emergent Pilgrim
Eight points for picking the country.


Sorry for the slowdown/pause in posting recently. I have not been well (just a cold that's lingered) and have also been distracted by some personal (good) news that I will announce in the next couple of days. Watch this space.

Friday, May 02, 2008

New every morning: novelty, imperialism and cataclysm

Continuous Cities • 1
The city of Leonia refashions itself every day: every morning the people wake between fresh sheets, wash with just-wrapped cakes of soap, wear brand-new clothing, take from the latest model refrigerator still unopened tins, listening to the last-minute jingles from the most up-to-date radio.

On the sidewalks, encased in spotless plastic bags, the remains of yesterday's Leonia await the garbage truck. Not only squeezed tubes of toothpaste, blown-out light bulbs, newspapers, containers, wrappings, but also boilers, encyclopedias, pianos, porcelain dinner services. It is not so much by the things that each day are manufactured, sold, bought that you can measure Leonia's opulence, but rather by the things that each day are thrown out to make room for the new. So you begin to wonder if Leonia's true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity. The fact is that street cleaners are welcomed like angels, and their task of removing the residue of yesterday's existence is surrounded by a respectful silence, like a ritual that inspires devotion, perhaps only because once things have been cast off nobody wants to have to think about them further.

Nobody wonders where, each day, they carry their load of refuse. Outside the city, surely; but each year the city expands, and the street cleaners have to fall farther back. The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher, become stratified, extend over a wider perimeter. Besides, the more Leonia's talent for making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists time, the elements, fermentations, combustions. A fortress of indestructible leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of mountains.

This is the result: the more Leonia expels goods, the more it accumulates them; the scales of its past are soldered into a cuirass that cannot be removed. As the city is renewed each day, it preserves all of itself in its only definitive form: yesterday's sweepings piled up on the sweepings of the day before yesterday and of all its days and years and decades.

Leonia's rubbish little by little would invade the world, if, from beyond the final crests of its boundless rubbish heap, the street cleaners of other cities were not pressing, also pushing mountains of refuse in front of themselves. Perhaps the whole world, beyond Leonia's boundaries, is covered by craters of rubbish, each surrounding a metropolis in constant eruption. The boundaries between the alien, hostile cities are infected ramparts where the detritus of both support each other, overlap, mingle.

The greater its height grows, the more the danger of a landslide looms: a tin can, an old tyre, an unravelled wine flask, if it rolls towards Leonia, is enough to bring with it an avalanche of unmated shoes, calendars of bygone years, withered flowers, submerging the city in its own past, which it had tried in vain to reject, mingling with the past of the neighbouring cities, finally clean. A cataclysm will flatten the sordid mountain range, cancelling every trace of the metropolis always dressed in new clothes. In the nearby cities they are all ready, waiting with bulldozers to flatten the terrain, to push into the new territory, expand, and drive the new street cleaners still farther out.

- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 114-16.

Cooking or eating?

Are sermons more about learning how to cook or about eating a good meal? Ought preachers show their exegetical work to teach the congregation how to read the Scriptures or should the hard work happen beforehand so that the message is applied to the lives of the hearers? A good discussion on the issue has begun over on Justin's blog.