Saturday, December 29, 2007


I will be taking a short break from posting or replying to comments for the next couple of weeks. When I return, I will continue my series on Jesus and climate change as well as having a number of other ideas to pursue (of course, I am also always open to suggestions or feedback).

May your new year be filled with grace and peace.
Fifteen points for naming the Sydney building. Twenty for the the person who has left the most recent relevant comment on any post when I return.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Introductory theological text book?

In first term next year I will be teaching a Moore Theological College external studies course over seven weeks at Pennant Hills. The course is "Doctrine 1" and covers the doctrines of God, revelation and the person and work of Christ (and perhaps some other things; I'm still yet to receive a syllabus). I'd love to hear suggestions of possible introductory level textbooks to set as required reading. The participants are likely to have never studied any formal theology before and the classes are only two hours per week, so conciseness and accessibility are priorities. I am happy to include more stretching exercepts or texts as extension or recommended reading. Any ideas?

Jesus and climate change IX

This problem is deeper than simply ignorance, and much older than the industrial revolution.

But that’s not all. Not only is the problem one to which we’ve all contributed in different ways at various times individually and collectively, through what we’ve done and haven’t done, what we’ve said or thought or even hoped for, in short, not only are we guilty, we’re also trapped in a phenomenon far bigger than any of us, and that can be terrifying.

And so, I suspect the deepest and most common response for many people in the face of climate crisis is fear. We can feel helpless in the face of forces that appear beyond our understanding, let alone control. If we take seriously some of the possible predicted scenarios, the future can seem bleak and hopeless.

We might fear for our children: will they inherit a world as rich and diverse as the one we have enjoyed? Will they inherit problems larger and more pressing than those we already face? We might fear for international order: will dwindling water supplies spark more conflict? Will the powerful nations continue to demand special privileges while making the weaker ones bear the costs? But perhaps most of all, we might fear for ourselves.

In the face of climate change, are there things you fear?
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Kids these days

"Children nowadays love luxury, have bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect for elders."

- Socrates (c. 470-399 B.C.)

After Christmas

Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.

- Arnold Lobel  

Some of the books I received for Christmas: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel by R. Alan Culpepper, Guns Germs and Steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years and Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive both by Jared Diamond, 666 and all that by Greg Clarke & John Dickson and Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright. Feeling jealous yet? My wife says my beard is already too long.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jesus and climate change VIII

But what’s the problem?
Now, I’ve been speaking of how good God’s world is, but that’s only part of the picture. Things have also gone dreadfully, tragically wrong, as we can see with climate change, if we hadn’t already noticed it elsewhere. Instead of humanity caring for God’s world, receiving his gifts with thanks and sharing them with others, all too often our experience is of a me-first world, both in our attitudes and in how we have set up our societies. Many of us presume that we deserve our standard of living, or vote for politicians who will maintain and increase our affluence before all other considerations. We are often greedy and envious, wanting to hoard and consume more things than our neighbour. Or we might be apathetic about the suffering of others. Or just unthinkingly wasteful. And so often we are simply thankless.

Jesus said that our life is more than the abundance of possessions (Luke 12.15), that loving God and our neighbour are more important than financial security or chasing our dreams or the perfect romance or the pursuit of happiness (Mark 12.28-33). Yet our society often assumes that bigger is better, that everything must be sacrificed to economic growth, that the creation is merely a pile of ‘natural resources’ to be exploited for increasing our material comfort and affluence.

In fact the climate crisis that we face today is a classic symptom of what the Bible calls ‘sin’. Sin is a bigger problem than simply the actions of any one individual. It is an addiction, a deadly habit, found in each of us and woven into our social fabric. Climate change is a classic symptom because like many of the world’s problems, it is not simple. There is no single cause and no magic bullet solution. Instead, we’re faced with a complex series of related problems arising out of many causes, such as the small actions and inaction of millions, habits based on ignorance, pig-headed short-sightedness, greed or fear that refuses to see size of the problem, the desire to maximise our short-term gain without regard for the future. Or simply false beliefs: that the planet’s resources and ability to adapt is effectively infinite, that human actions don’t add to much, that the problem and its solution lie elsewhere. All these contribute to a mega-problem.

Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, has said ‘Sin is not just a restricted list of moral mistakes. It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions.’ Abuse of the natural environment is a consequence and symptom of human sinfulness. It is a symptom of disobedience to God’s command to care for his world. This is both a personal and a collective failure. It is something to which we all contribute and yet something from which we all suffer, into which we were born and raised without being consulted. We are all both perpetrators and victims. And we are not the only victims. Creation itself is groaning in intense pain like a woman giving birth because of its bondage to decay (Romans 8.19-22).
Photo by ALS.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Born amongst beasts.
Lived with sinners.
Died between crims.
God with us.
This is our church sign at the moment. I intended to take a photo and post it, but forgot.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mary's melody: a revolutionary hope VII

Jesus' revolution starts now, but is not yet complete. We're a little like sleeper cells, waiting for the day the world is turned upside-down and living quietly subversive lives now. For instance, this meal we are about to share is not based on income, or status, or friendship. Such sharing is a subversive act in a world dominated by economics.

Jesus said, Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God (Luke 6.20). Mary’s song teaches us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Once we realise our poverty, when we give away everything that we think is ours, once we share all the good things we don’t and can’t ever own, when we are poor, then God will open our eyes to see that we have everything in his kingdom. When we loosen our grip and let our treasures slip from our hands, then we will discover that it is only with open and empty hands that we can receive. Once we realise our helplessness, when we stop being impressed by our own abilities, or stop being envious of those around us, once we are weak, then God will give us strength to pick up our cross every day. Once we realise our finitude, our frailty, our emptiness, then God can begin to fill us with unspeakable beauty, undying love, untamable hope.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Jesus and climate change VII

Alternatives to 'Creation': a brief tangent
For those interested in philosophy and worldviews, a Christian understanding of creation can be usefully contrasted with at least three other commonly held views: materialism, pantheism, and deism. I realise each of the following descriptions are rough sketches requiring much more detail to be useful engagements with alternative understandings, but I offer them briefly to help delineate a conception of the world as 'creation'.

• Materialism is the view that only what is tangible is real, that we ought not to be distracted by dreams of an otherworldly beyond and instead focus on what’s in front of our eyes, what can be grasped and manipulated. There’s something very helpfully pragmatic about this approach. I’ve already claimed that matter matters, that our responsibilities lie here and now with the good we can actually do. Yet the atheism implicit in this claim renders empty or at best a useful lie our earlier discussion of existence as gift.

• Pantheism, or everything-is-god-ism, treats the cosmos as itself divine. Thus, you and I and the trees and the stars are all fragments of God. Once again, there’s something in this view that resonates deeply with our experience and with the Scriptures. The world is filled with wonder. If we start to pay attention, it is filled with jaw-dropping marvels in which we can catch glimpses of divine glory. But according to Jesus, only if we treat it as a secondary good can we enjoy it properly. Once we start treating anything good as God, then we not only ignore and dishonour God who gave us the good thing, but we also start to distort the gift he gave.

• Deism is the idea that God may have made the world, but he is like a clockmaker, who sets the clock ticking and then walks away and perhaps just watches from a distance. This view highlights the regularity, predictability and complexity of the systems we inhabit, as well as our responsibility to live well within them. But in the Scriptures, we find a God who not only made the cosmos but who continues to take responsibility for it, who continues to be intimately involved.
Twelve points for correctly naming the city.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Williams on failure in/of the church

The Church [...] addresses itself to all human violence, in all human beings. If it is to be itself, it has no option but to live in penitence, in critical self-awareness and ackowledgement of failure. It must recognise constantly its failing as a community to be a community of gift and mutuality, and warn itself of the possibility of failure.

What kind of gospel can plausibly be preached, for instance, by a Church which is unable to deal with the moral, emotional or psychological collapse of one of its ministers except by a mixture of frigid and embarrassed public silence and punitive internal discipline? It is not often that we hear leaders of our churches - it is not often that we hear any of us - admitting in such cases the failure of a community to love its ministers pastorally and the breakdown of mutual support between clergy; or warmly assuring the victim not only of Christ's love and forgiveness but of its willingness to learn from them, to receive some challenge, enlargement, even enrichment from their trust and hope. Yet all this is part of what it is to be a penitent Church - to say as firmly as possible that no one's failure is theirs alone, and that no failure can put an end to the relation of mutual gift that is the ground of the community's life. Historic Christianity has, of course, disciplined believers by means of excommunication; but we should remember that, primitively, excommunication (so far from excluding the sinner wholly from the Church) accorded the recognized status of a penitent within the Church. It was a recognition that the bonds of communal life (so much stronger in the early Church than today) were ruptured by sin, and its orientation was towards reconciliation (sometimes only in the next world, but nonetheless reconciliation). Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of this sort of discipline, we have to admit that (at least in 'North Atlantic' Christendom) we have nothing to correspond to this: excommunication has far too long been simply a penalty, absolving the community from any active work in restoring relations. We cannot use the traditional acceptability of such a practice to modify the Church's vocation to preserve the sinner's place in the community.

- Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, 48-49.

What is the Christian community to do with major failure amongst its members? How do, can or ought we respond to a life falling apart in our midst? What if it's one of our leaders? What if it's us?
Eight points for correctly naming the building.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mary's melody: a revolutionary hope VI

But there is good news. We can join God’s revolution. Not a revolution of burning torches and raised fists and the angry noise of guns and gripes. A revolution of humility; a revolution of trust, like Mary, that God will raise the lowly, so I don’t need to climb to the top. A revolution that would rather than die than kill. A revolution in which we throw away fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of missing out and falling behind, because we’re too busy fearing God. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

For we who are rich, there is good news. We can join God’s revolution. We don’t need to end up so full of ourselves that we are sent away empty. We can join God’s upside down revolutionary society. However, it will cost us everything: our pride, our dreams, our wealth and security, our very selves. If you think it is possible to be a Christian and not have your life turned upside down, you haven’t understood Mary yet. No more being impressed by money, status, power, education, beauty. No more seeing life as a competition in which we must win so others must lose. No more hoarding wealth to impress our buddies, to live the good life, or just to be on the safe side.

How do we sign up? By fearing God. By admitting that I am a nothing: that however wealthy I think I am, I am bankrupt without God's grace; that however clever you think you are, you are a fool apart from God's wisdom; that however powerful we might be, we can do nothing without God's Spirit. When we recognise our poverty, our humiliation, our hunger for God, then he will have mercy on us.
Fifteen points for the naming the Sydney suburb.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jesus and climate change VI

And God made us to enjoy and care for his world. The picture in the opening pages of the Bible is one in which humanity was intended to extend God’s good order in the garden, to make God's good world more fruitful. Humans were to lead and join with the rest of creation in bringing glory to God through the abundant and thankful enjoyment of all that is good. This means that caring for the non-human created order is actually part of worshipping God since we are allowing creation to give glory to God as he intended.

Many people think of spirituality as downplaying the importance of the physical in favour of the ‘spiritual’. For Christian spirituality, the physical and what we do with it is spiritual, because it is God’s Spirit that brings life to all that lives. Or put another way, matter matters.

“In order fully to access, enjoy and profit from our environment, we need to see it as something that does not exist just to serve our needs. Or, to put it another way, we are best served by our environment when we stop thinking of it as there to serve us. When we can imagine what is materially around us as existing in relation to something other than our own purposes, we are free to be surprised, educated and enlarged by it. When we obsessively seek to guarantee that the environment will always be there for us as a storehouse of raw materials, we in fact shrink our own humanity by shrinking what is there to surprise and enlarge, by reducing our capacity for contemplation of what is really other to us.”

- Rowan Williams, Ecology and Economy lecture (2005).

UPDATE: Fixed broken link to RW's article, now that the Archbishop's website has been re-arranged.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

I'm dreaming of a nice bitter Christmas

Kim Fabricius on why we ought to boycott nativity plays rather than anti-Christian movies.

And Rev Sam on why children's longings for presents might not be such a bad thing after all.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mary's melody: a revolutionary hope V

3. A revolutionary life
The humble lifted high, the proud brought down. This is what God is like. This is what his king Jesus is like. This is what his kingdom is like: many who are first will be last and many of the last will be first (Mark 10.31). God turns the world upside down to set it the right way up. This is God’s revolution.

And he invites us to join in. We are to be revolutionaries. We are to see the world upside down to see it the right way up.

Back in the first half of last century India was under British rule. The Anglican bishop William Temple, later archbishop of Canterbury, warned his missionaries to India not to read the Magnificat in public. He feared that it would be so inflammatory that it might start a revolution!

Martin Luther, the great 16thC reformer, said that Mary’s Magnificat “comforts the lowly and terrifies the rich.” The upside down God is a comfort to the distraught, the destitute, the downtrodden. But he’s no comfort to the comfortable. If Mary’s song is true, it “comforts the lowly and terrifies the rich.”

My question to us is: are we terrified? If not, perhaps we haven’t yet grasped the negative side of this divine inversion. We like to hear about the last being first, but remember: many of the first will also be last. We’re quick to see ourselves as victims, as the poor and needy, whether it be financially every time interest rates go up, or emotionally every time we are overlooked or our ego are bruised. But the reality is that most of us are far more rich than poor, more those with full bellies than hungry mouths, more those who benefit from the status quo than those who suffer from it. For all our gripes, even for those of us with left-wing sympathies, we’re more likely to be the ones up against the wall being shot than amongst those storming the palace.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.
                   - Luke 1.51-53
I suspect we ought to be terrified. Will we be scattered? Brought down? Sent away empty? These are real possibilities if we are proud in our inmost thoughts, if we act as if we own the place, if we seek security in work of our hands. Are we secretly, or not secretly, full of ourselves? Am I too full to have room for others? Am I amongst the first, the top, the best, the most important, the most influential? Is this where I seek to live? Is this how I think of myself? Is it from the popular, the powerful, the attractive that I seek attention? Whose approval do I crave? Whose life do I envy? I suspect we ought to be terrified.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII.

Ethics test

I just took this ethics test. H/T Frank.

1. Aquinas (100%)
2. St. Augustine (95%)
3. Aristotle (73%)
4. Plato (63%)
5. Ockham (62%)
6. Spinoza (55%)
7. Ayn Rand (52%)
8. Cynics (45%)
9. Epicureans (44%)
10. John Stuart Mill (42%)
11. Jeremy Bentham (39%)
12. Jean-Paul Sartre (36%)
13. Nietzsche (35%)
14. Stoics (34%)
15. David Hume (32%)
16. Kant (30%)
17. Thomas Hobbes (22%)
18. Nel Noddings (16%)
19. Prescriptivism (13%)
The irony which this selector failed to note: the assumption that ethics is about the selection of personal preferences or the expression of personal values would not score highly in my understanding of how to live. This belief, that ethics is based on what I choose or prefer, is known as voluntarism and is briefly critiqued by O'Donovan here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jesus and climate change V

Seeing "creation"
To speak of "creation" rather than "nature" or "the environment" is an exercise in creative fidelity of vision. It is a way of seeing that is similtaneously creatively different to the deadly vision of how we 'normally' look at things (a pile of resources to be exploited, an economic unit of production and consumption) and yet is also faithful to those things as they are, involving painstaking attention with self-critical awareness that results in admiration.

The opening page of the Bible says not only that ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’, but also that what he made was ‘good, very good.’

Here’s a little exercise. Think of things you love: a close friend, your favourite family member, your loyal pet fish, your home and comfortable bed. And think of activities you enjoy: eating a fabulous pasta, reading an humorous poem, hitting that perfect six playing cricket, growing basil on your balcony, learning how to speak Swahili - whatever it is that floats your boat. Everyone and everything you love, everything in which you find joy, is a gift from God. Every breath, every mouthful, every morning you wake up, is God’s gift to you. To think like this doesn’t come automatically. To receive each day as a gift of God’s love takes a certain kind of creative vision. The great diversity and abundance of good gifts, or the problems we face as we try to balance them, can distract us from noticing and remembering the giver. God invites us to live lives filled with thankfulness and dependence, to stop pretending that we are self-made, self-reliant. He invites us to stop being self-obsessed.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Mary's melody: a revolutionary hope IV

God didn't choose his people because they were great (Deuteronomy 7.7-8). He chose them because he loved them, and he loved them because he loved them. He made promises to them because he wanted to. God doesn't choose the best people, he chooses whomever he wants.

God chose Mary. And when he did that, he did exactly what he always does, and what he's promised he'll keep on doing. He chose the foolish things, the weak things, the despised things, so that no-one can boast (1 Corinthians 1.27-29).

And when Mary’s son hung spread-eagled and naked on a wooden weapon of mass destruction, lifted up to the scorn of all, a failed messiah, a condemned criminal, an abandoned nobody – God was still doing what he always does.

The humble lifted high, the proud brought down. This is what God is like. This is what his king Jesus is like. This is what his kingdom is like: many who are first will be last and many of the last will be first (Mark 10.31). God turns the world upside down to set it the right way up. This is God’s revolution.
Eight points for naming the iconic Sydney building in the image. No points for explaining its relevance to the post.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sooner than you think...

... the Arctic may be free of ice. Last year I remember hearing reports that by 2070, the Arctic ocean may have warmed enough to be ice-free in summer. More recently, I was shocked to hear that on new data, estimates had been moved forward to 2030. The IPCC bases its estimations on an averaged group of models, yet actual observed ice loss in the last few years has been outstripping even the most dire of predictions. In the last week, a report has come out arguing the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in five and a half years: the summer of 2013.

This report doesn't even take into account the data from 2007, which has smashed all previous records.

Of course, the situation is very complex and of course this is only one of a number of different models and of course modelling climate is very difficult. But if you're still not convinced about the reality, importance or likely implications of climate change, I'm curious: what would it take to convince you?

Some world leaders are still not getting the message. Recent reports from the Bali conference (FAQ on Bali conference) indicate that the US, Canada and Japan are all blocking moves to include references to binding targets from the framework document that will guide the post-Kyoto emissions strategy. Here is a global petition, already at 55,000 in just 12 hours, to be delivered on Friday to delegates at the conference.
Fifteen points for correctly naming the body of water in the image above. Hint: I have never been to the Arctic Ocean.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jesus and climate change IV

Why God cares – it’s his world
Although the media and popular discourse will most commonly speak of the ‘environment’, Christians often prefer to use the term ‘creation’. What springs to mind when you hear this word?

Some people might think of endless debates about creationism vs evolution. Others might think about cosmological theories of the Big Bang and so on. Many, particularly given the topic of this series, will think of the natural environment, or perhaps more negatively of the threat of ecological doom.

But instead, the primary connotation of speaking of the world as 'creation' is that life (human and otherwise) and its entire context in the broadest sense, is a gift: creation is grace! According to Christian thought, God didn't have to make the world; he wasn't filling a hole, responding to a problem or meeting an inner need. Neither was it a struggle, a victory over primordial chaos, or a compromise between competiting forces. No, in pure generosity and love, he stands behind all that exists and says Be.

And this isn't primarily a theory of how everything got started. It's a claim about how things now stand. How does everything now stand, rather than falling in a heap? By the word of God calling them into existence and sustaining all things, holding all things together (Hebrews 1.1-3; Colossians 1.17). This isn't just back then (whenever that might have been is in one sense irrelevant), it's now.

“It should be a rather exhilarating thought that the moment of creation is now – that if, by some unthinkable accident, God’s attention slipped, we wouldn’t be here. It means that within every circumstance, every object, every person, God’s action is going on, a sort of white heat at the centre of everything. [...] It means that each one of us is already in a relationship with God before we’ve ever thought about it. It means that every object or person we encounter is in a relationship with God before they’re in a relationship of any kind with us. And if that doesn’t make us approach the world with reverence and amazement, I don’t know what will.”

- Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust (2007), 37, 35.

Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Mary's melody: a revolutionary hope III

2. An upside down God
A little later, once she’s met with her elderly cousin Elizabeth, herself also amazingly pregnant, Mary’s trusting response finds eloquent expression in a song known to us as the Magnificat, after its first word in Latin, and found in Luke 1.46-56:

My soul glorifies the Lord
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
   for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
   for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
   holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   remembering to be merciful
   to Abraham and his descendants for ever,
   even as he said to our fathers.
Mary knows her Bible. Her song is saturated with references and echoes from the Hebrew Scriptures. From these stories, she has learnt that in choosing a nobody to pursue his plans, God is doing what he’s always done.

God chose Abraham, a nomadic herder, a nobody, to begin a family based on a grand promise. As our first reading reminded us, God chose the children of Israel, a racial underclass helping build the riches of the mighty Egyptians, an enslaved mob of nobodies, to witness the humiliating defeat of the prime and pride of Pharaoh’s army. God chose Rahab, a foreign prostitute, a nobody, to protect Joshua’s men in a hostile city. God chose Ehud, a left-handed freak, to perform a crafty clandestine operation to rescue his oppressed people. God chose David, an unknown shepherd boy, a nobody, to defeat the champion of the Philistine army and establish a Israelite dynasty in Jerusalem. God chose Esther, a young orphaned Jewish girl in a strange land, a nobody, to stand up to an emperor and foil a genocidal plot.

Mary knew these stories and more. She realised that in choosing a nobody like her to work his upside plans, God was doing what he’d always done. And so she praises his upside down wisdom, which raises the humble and thwarts the proud and lofty.
Twelve points for naming the building whose ceiling is pictured here.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII.

Wave of sorrow

Originally written back in the 80's during the recording of Joshua Tree, this moving song about Bono's experience visiting Ethiopia in 1984 has finally been released. Make sure you don't miss Bono's rewriting of the beatitudes at the end. Here are the lyrics and Bono speaking of his experiences and explaining some of the references. H/T Rory.

"Wave of Sorrow" (Lyrics)
by U2

Heat haze rising
On hell's own hill

You wake up this morning
It took an act of will
You walk through the night
To get here today
To bring your children
To give them away

Oh... oh this cruel sun
Is daylight never done
Cruelty just begun
To make a shadow of everyone

And if the rain came
And if the rain came

Souls bent over without a breeze
Blankets on burning trees
I am sick without disease
Nobility on its knees

And if the rain came
And if the rain came... now
Would it wash us all away
On a wave of sorrow
On a wave of sorrow

Where now the holy cities?
Where the ancient holy scrolls?
Where now Emperor Menelek?
And the Queen of Sheba's gold

You're my bride, you wear her crown
And on your finger precious stones
As every good thing now been sold

Son, of shepherd boy, now king
What wisdom can you bring?
What lyric would you sing?
Where is the music of the Seraphim?

And if the rain came
And if the rain came... now
Would it wash us all away
On a wave of sorrow
A wave of sorrow

Blessed are the meek who scratch in the dirt
For they shall inherit what's left of the earth
Blessed are the kings who've left their thrones
They are buried in this valley of dry bones

Blessed all of you with an empty heart
For you got nothing from which you cannot part
Blessed is the ego
It's all we got this hour

Blessed is the voice that speaks truth to power
Blessed is the sex worker who sold her body tonight
She used what she got
To save her children's life

Blessed are you, the deaf cannot hear a scream
Blessed are the stupid who can dream
Blessed are the tin canned cardboard slums
Blessed is the spirit that overcomes

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jesus and climate change III

Having given a brief caveat about scepticism and a summary of the global situation according to the IPCC, I opened the seminar up to discussion in small groups with the following questions:

• How do you feel about climate change/global warming?
• What do you think needs to be done about it? By whom?
• What might you be willing to sacrifice or change in your life to make a difference?
• And where might God fit into your picture? What would God need to do to convince you that he cares about our plight?
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Mary's melody: a revolutionary hope II

1. A humiliated girl
Who was Mary? The enthusiastic fan base she’s generated in some sections of Christianity can obscure for us the drama and shock of this well-known story. The endless artworks and famous depictions can make us think of an attractive if modest young lady, strangely familiar and reassuringly (or disturbingly) Caucasian.

In fact, if she were around today, she would probably be described in police reports as being ‘of middle eastern appearance’, and, as women in that context usually married very early by our standards, it is most likely that she was only about thirteen or fourteen years old when the events in our passage took place. In our sexually permissive culture, we’re probably more shocked by teenage pregnancy than extra-marital pregnancy. Yet in a culture that took marriage vows more seriously, for Mary to be engaged and pregnant was a serious scandal, threatening her already meagre social and economic future.

A serious scandal for Mary and her family, but barely noticeable by anyone outside her village, a town so small that it had not been mentioned in written accounts until this point. Mary was merely an unmarried pregnant teenager from a repressed race in a small backwater settlement of an unstable region on the edges of the Empire. A nobody. Her one claim to fame of any kind is that her fiancé is a distant descendent of a local king dead for 1,000 years. And even he, according to Matthew’s account, was seriously considering calling off the engagement. Who was Mary? Eight times a nobody: female in a patriarchal culture; barely older than a child; unmarried; about to be ditched by her fiancé; a despised Jew in a land ruled by foreigners; from a hick-town; in a volatile and far-flung province of a hostile empire; and now shamefully pregnant.

But God chooses this nobody to turn the world upside down. God chooses this nobody to become the most celebrated woman and the most popular namesake in history. God chooses this nobody to bring to life the author of life. God chooses this nobody to nurture the comfort of the world. God chooses this nobody to raise the one whose voice will one day raise the dead, to teach the eternal and divine Word to speak, to cradle in her arms the one by whom the cosmos is held together. God notices this nobody.

Mary, the nobody, favoured by God out of his sheer grace, has been picked for a unique and crucial role in the climax of the human drama – she is to usher in the most important scene in which the playwright himself steps on stage. And her response is to simply trust: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
Fifteen points for the artist or location of the image above. But you can only guess one.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII.

Link love

It's been a while since I've shared the love.

Alastair posts some Thoughts on Rowling's revelation that Dumbledore is gay.

Michael has discovered Hart's often breath-taking The Doors of the Sea and offers some reflections upon providence.

Rory is reflecting upon lessons learned about churches (big and little) while in the UK recently.

Frank has noticed a worrying tendency in Christian responses to climate change.

Mark has been posting some (more lengthy) thoughts on creation science (or as MPJ would say: 'creation' "science"). I've just linked to the first few posts in a series that already contains eleven lengthy posts.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jesus and climate change II

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the peak body on the science of climate change. The IPCC recently released the fourth part of its fourth report, which are completed every four years. This fourth document is publicly available (here is the Summary for Policymakers) and integrates the findings of the previous three sections published earlier this year. Here are some of the key findings (adapted from an SMH article I now can't find, though I also note it is here):

What's happening?

• Evidence for global warming is now “unequivocal”, and there is a more than 90 per cent probability of human responsibility for the problem. The main culprit is carbon gas emitted by burning of fossil fuels, which lingers in the atmosphere and traps solar heat.
• Since 1900, the mean global atmospheric temperature has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius and the sea level by 10-20 centimetres. Eleven of the past 12 years rank among the dozen warmest years on record.
• Human-generated greenhouse gases rose by 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004 from 28.7 to 49 billion tonnes per year in carbon dioxide or its equivalent. Levels of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, have risen by about a third since pre-industrial times and are now at their highest in 650,000 years.
• Climate change is already happening, visible in the loss of alpine glaciers and snow cover, shrinking Arctic summer sea ice and thawing permafrost.
What are the likely implications?
• By 2100, global average surface temperatures could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees compared to 1980-99 levels. But this average rise will mask big variations, according to region and country.
• Within this range, "best estimates" run from 2.4 degrees for a scenario based on a major switch to non-fossil fuels and 4 degrees for a fossil-fuel intensive "business-as-usual" scenario.
• Sea levels will rise by at least 18 centimetres by century's end. There is no estimate for the upper limit, given the unknowns about the impact of warming on ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic.
• Greenhouse-gas warming “could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible”. The risks are related to the rate and magnitude of the climate change.
• 20-30 per cent of plant and animal species are threatened with extinction if average global temperatures increase by 1.5 to 2.5 degrees, compared with the average temperature 1980-99. With a 3.5 degree rise, this rises to 40-70% of all plant and animal species.
• “All countries” will be affected, especially poor tropical countries struggling with water stress and few resources.
• In Africa, by 2020, 75-250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress. Yields from rain-fed agriculture in some African countries could be reduced by up to 50 per cent. Desert-like areas could expand by 5 to 8 per cent by 2080.
• In Asia, available fresh water will decrease by mid-century. Coastal mega-deltas will be at risk from flooding due to rising seas. Mortality due to diseases associated with floods and droughts will increase.
What can be done?
• To stabilise emissions at levels likely to limit the overall rise to 2.0 to 2.8 degrees would cost less than 0.12 percentage points of annual world GDP growth to 2030.
• A "wide variety of policies and instruments" exist to reduce emissions, including carbon taxes, tougher emission standards, caps on emissions, incentives for clean energy production.
• In addition to emissions mitigation, a huge effort is also needed in adaptation, to channel funds, technology and knowledge to poor countries that will suffer disproportionately from climate change.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Mary's melody: a revolutionary hope I

Songs of the Season
During advent at church we have been running a series of sermons under the title "Songs of the Season" (an idea we stole from Barneys last year) in which we study scriptural songs of messianic hope, hoping to understand how Jesus was the hope of Israel, and as such is also our hope. Here are the titles and passages for the series:

The coronation anthem: a royal hope
       Psalm 2 (& Luke 3.1-23)
The lament of the abandoned: a hope for the hopeless
       Psalm 22 (& Mark 15.25-39)
The servant's song: a hope for all nations
       Isaiah 42.1-9 (& Luke 2.25-35)
Mary's melody: a revolutionary hope
       Luke 1.39-56 (& Exodus 15.1-18)
Zechariah's carol: hope for those in darkness
       Luke 1.67-79 (& Isaiah 9.1-7)
The Angels' chorus: the birth of hope
       Luke 2.1-20
I thought I'd post my sermon on Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1.46-56) over the next few days. For an introduction, I played this video, and noted at the end that looking at the world upside down can give us a fresh perspective on life.

Father, too often we find ourselves stuck in a rut, following the same old habits and going nowhere. Give us wisdom to see life afresh today from your perspective, even if it means turning our world upside down. Turn us right way up for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII.

Jesus and climate change I

Why Jesus cares more about climate change than you do and what he's doing about it, or "What on earth is God doing on earth?"
Last week I mentioned that I was giving a seminar at St John's Ashfield on this wordy topic (another suggested title was Why Jesus cared about climate change before it was trendy). I thought I'd post at least some of my notes here.

Scepticism: an introductory caveat
I don’t really want to talk about scepticism here tonight. I believe the debate has moved on so I’m assuming you’re basically on board. Although various details continue to be adjusted in the light of new research,* the broad claim of alarming anthropogenic climate change is almost universally agreed upon by experts in the relevant fields. That is, the global climate pattern, which includes precipitation and extreme weather events, not just temperature, has begun to change rapidly in recent decades and will continue to do so. And these changes are anthropogenic, which means human activity has been a crucial part of the cause. And they are alarming in scope and implications. We face a world that is not simply getting a little warmer on average, but which, taken as a whole, is significantly less hospitable to human society and life in general as we know it. We’re not just talking about hotter days, or more heat waves, but also rising sea levels, increased erosion and flooding (particularly of densely populated areas such as the 60 million people in the low-lying country of Bangladesh), changing patterns of precipitation, with a significant net decline in global agricultural output, stronger and perhaps more frequent extreme weather events, broader distribution of deadly tropical disease, more environmental refugees, loss of unique ecosystems and significantly increased threat of species extinction. Climate change is much more than simply global warming.

So I’m assuming we’re all familiar with and broadly in agreement with the concept of alarming anthropogenic climate change. In fact, until recently, there was only one significant scientific body in the world that was officially sceptical about it, namely, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. But even they have now changed their position.
*Given the enormous volume of ongoing research and the complexity of technical detail, I make no promises about being entirely up to date and accurate on every point. I'm interested in these debates, but am not aiming to generate more of them here.
Five points for the city. Five more for each link to other images of the same city posted on this blog (I think there are thirteen apart from this one). No more than five points per person.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Does church terrify you?

Does church terrify you? Do you get shivers down your spine when you arrive each week? Do you wake up early on a Sunday morning in a cold sweat? You should. Maybe you should. We do some scary things each week. It might seem harmless enough, but we’re playing with holy fire. We celebrate a gory death. We presume to speak to the very one who fashioned our voice box. We proclaim a message that has helped bring down empires and undermined economies. And we also affirm in the creed each week that “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”, which is no less radical, no less startling. In fact, each week we ask God to forgive us our sins in the same manner that we forgive those who sin against us - a scary prayer.
This was how I opened my recent sermon on forgiveness (of which I have recently posted pieces). Ben Myers has pointed out an excellent Annie Dillard quote on a similar theme. Twenty points for picking the church in which this photo was taken.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Wright on heaven on earth

[The book of] Acts, which of course begins with the story of the Ascension, never once speaks in the way [...our] whole tradition [...] so easily does. At no point in the whole book does anyone ever speak, or even sound as though they’re going to speak, of those who follow Jesus following him to heaven. Nobody says, ‘well, he’s gone on before and we’ll go and join him’. And for a very good reason. When the New Testament speaks of God’s kingdom it never, ever, refers to heaven pure and simple. It always refers to God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, as Jesus himself taught us to pray. We have slipped into the easygoing language of ‘the kingdom of heaven’ in the sense of God’s kingdom being ‘heaven’, but the early church never spoke like that. The point about heaven is that heaven is the control room for earth. Heaven is the CEO’s office from which earth is run – or it’s supposed to be, which is why we’re told to pray for that to become a reality. And the point of the Ascension, paradoxically in terms of the ways in which generations of western Christians have seen it, is that this is the moment when that prayer is gloriously answered.

- N. T. Wright, 'On earth as in heaven', sermon preached 20th May 2007.

I have posted an sixteen-part series on this necessary corrective to our thinking, singing and expectation about heaven and hope. Wright's sermon is a very interesting brief exploration of "what the kingdom of God looks like when it’s on the road, arriving on earth as in heaven."
Eight points for correctly naming the city.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

One year on

On this day last year (at about this time), I was diagnosed with cancer, specifically a squameous cell carcinoma of the upper aero-digestive tract (though it took a few weeks to get this specific). I first mentioned this (with more details) back here and set up another blog to keep those interested updated.

I thank God for many things: that I'm still alive (it really wasn't looking good for the first few weeks); for the love and support (and generosity) of so many people over the last year, particularly my wife Jessica; for a wonderful (basically) free public medical system in Australia; for my gradually returning voice; for being able to share my experience with others; and for the chance to reflect with a little more depth and urgency upon death, fear and hope (amongst other things); and for new birth into a living hope, which gives us so much to live for now.

Ten years on
In other news today, Australia has finally ratified the Kyoto protocol, almost a decade after signing it. This was a good first step for Mr Rudd after being sworn in as Australia's 26th Prime Minister yesterday: may there be many more.

Ninety-four years on
And yesterday (2nd December GMT), noted British theologian T. F. Torrance died old and full of years at the age of ninety-four. Torrance's The Trinitarian Faith helped deepen my understanding and worship of Father, Son and Spirit, and along the way undid many prejudices I held against the Nicene Creed. May he rest until resurrection.

Political representation

Members of parliament are our representatives. But this means they ought to make good decisions, not simply popular decisions. Although we elect them to office, they are not to merely implement our will. They represent us in that their actions count as ours, not because they are to do what we tell them. Andrew Errington has written an insightful short piece in the latest edition of CASE magazine exploring these important claims in more detail.

In the same edition, there's also an excellent article by Mike Thompson called "Should Western Christians Support the Promotion of Democracy as a Foreign Policy Objective?" and book reviews by fellow bloggers Ben Myers and Larissa Johnson. You can order the magazine online from CASE.
Eight points for the first to correctly name this structure and briefly explain its common name.

Why Jesus cares more about global warming than you do and what he’s doing about it

This Thursday evening, I'll be addressing this topic at a public seminar held by and at St John's Ashfield from 7.45-9.15 pm. I have a few ideas of how I might approach the evening, but any suggestions are welcome. Hecklers, less so.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Godparenting and the church family

Today is the first anniversary of my godson's baptism. According to Stanley Hauerwas, godparenting is a formalisation of what ought to be true throughout the church: that raising children is the responsibility of the entire community. The congregation is the child's extended family, and rightly helps shoulder the privilege and burden of guidance, protection, love, rebuke and provision. However, we might, with growing awareness of the prevalence of abuse, be hesitant to affirm this. Yet while protecting the vulnerable ought to be given particular attention, I don't think restricting their care to immediate family is the solution. We need to strengthen the bonds of love and trust, not withdraw from them. This common task must include unmarried people, the infertile and all those without children, both for the sake of the children and for their own sake. There are to be no members of God's family not amply supplied with mothers, brothers, sisters - and children (Mark 10.30). Of course, not every individual will have an equal role in care, and the natural parents will usually take the lion's share. But children, like the rest of us, belong to the whole family. We have ownership of neither our own lives nor those of our children. We are baptised into Christ, and so into one another.
Speaking of that baptism a year ago, I noted at the time that my (lack of) voice was suited to becoming a godfather, the cause of which I discovered the next day. I saw my speech pathologist again today and she said I am her best case of (significant) recovery from vocal chord palsy.

December points table

November saw more activity and a broader spread of points than October or September, in fact it was more like August, July or June. Ten points to Anthony for taking out first place and continuing to cement his enormous overall lead, five to Nico, three to Matt Lemieux and one to Martin Kemp. There are currently 517 points on offer, which is easily enough for someone to overtake Anthony.

December points table

79: Anthony
42: Jonathan
15: Geoff C
12: H. Goldsmith
8: jm, Matt Lemieux
5: Moffitt the prophet
3: Aric Clark
Five points for naming the city in the image above. Once someone has guessed correctly, there will be eight for the name of the church in the centre of the image. And then once both of those are taken, I'll give twelve to someone else again for the approximate compass direction the camera was facing. Finally, once all the other points are gone, I'll give fifteen to someone who can name the structure on which I was standing to take this shot. No more than one attempt per person please.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Preaching program

What principles are important when putting together a year's worth of sermons for a local church? How long should each series be? What should be the balance of sequential exegetical/theological/topical sermons? What should be the balance of NT/OT? Who should preach? Should there be one main preacher? How many others? Ought there to be any non-sermon weeks? How significant are the lectionary and traditional church seasons?
Eight points for correctly naming the Sydney church.