Thursday, May 31, 2007

Moltmann on suffering from hope

‘Where freedom has come near, the chains begin to hurt. Where life is close, death becomes deadly. Where God proclaims his presence, the God-forsakenness of the world turns into suffering. Thus the theodicy question, born of suffering and pain, negatively mirrors the positive hope for God’s future. We begin to suffer from the conditions of our world if we begin to love the world. And we begin to love the world if we are able to discover hope for it. And we can discover hope for this world if we hear the promise of a future which stands against frustration, transiency, and death.’

- Jürgen Moltmann, Religion, Revolution and the Future, 61-62.

Anyone can suffer. But only one who loves God, who loves God's good world, who loves neighbour for God's sake, can suffer not just in hope, but from hope.
Twelve points for guessing the city.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Psalms and lament

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
   How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
   and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
   Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
Give light to my eyes,
   or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
   my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
        - Psalm 13.1-4

Our willingness to expose our pain is the means God gives us to help identify and respond to evil and injustice. For creation is not as it ought to be. The lament is a cry of protest schooled by our faith in a God who would have us serve the world by exposing its false comforts and deceptions. From such a perspective one of the profoundest forms of faithlessness is the unwillingness to acknowledge our inexplicable suffering and pain. ... "[Lament] leads us to the dangerous acknowledgement of how life really is. [It leads us] to think unthinkable thoughts and utter unutterable words. Perhaps worst, [the psalms of lament] leads us away from the comfortable religious claims of ‘modernity’ in which everything is managed and controlled. [We believe] that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness. But our honest experience, both personal and public, attests to the resilience of the darkness."

- Stanley Hauerwas, Naming the Silences: God, Medicine,
and the Problem of Suffering
(Eerdmans: 1990), 82-83.
Internal quote from Brueggemann.

We have a problem. Too often, we jump forward to the solution in an effort to avoid the full seriousness of our predicament. Too many attempts to discuss suffering end up making light of it, by making it merely a means to a beneficial end: it will teach us perseverence; it will build our community; it will chastise our faults; it will enable us to minister to others who suffer; it will bring glory to God. Any or all of these may be true - or true at least some of the time - yet any attempt to make positive outcomes into the purpose and meaning of all suffering is cruel. And it makes God cruel. There is no need to justify suffering through recourse to a 'greater good' that is served by it. God may bring from it greater - or lesser - goods, but these are not its meaning.

So let us first simply acknowledge that it hurts and is wrong, and let us lament and protest. The God we worship 'is not a God who needs protection from our cries and suffering.' (Hauerwas, 84)

Hauerwas on suffering and evil

For the early Christians, suffering and evil … did not have to be ‘explained’. Rather, what was required was the means to go on even if the evil could not be ‘explained’. Indeed, it was crucial that such suffering or evil not be ‘explained’ – that is, it was important not to provide a theoretical account of why such evil needed to be in order that certain good results occur, since such an explanation would undercut the necessity of the community capable of absorbing the suffering.

- Stanley Hauerwas, Naming the Silences: God, Medicine,
and the Problem of Suffering
(Eerdmans: 1990), 49.

That there is no 'explanation' of suffering and evil does not mean that God has no response. There is no explanation in the sense that there is no exhaustive account of the origin and purpose of evil, how it fits into the world and plays a useful role. But God's response is found in the cross and empty tomb - and the promise that arrives with the Spirit as the first-fruits of a new age.

The focus for Hauerwas, however, is in the present gift of a community of grace that enables us to go on in hope.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wolterstorff on the meaning of suffering

The Christian gospel tells us more of the meaning of sin than suffering. ... To the 'why' of suffering we get no firm answer. Of course, some suffering is easily seen to be the result of our sin: war, assault, poverty amidst plenty, the hurtful word. And maybe some is chastisement. But not all. The meaning of the remainder is not told us. It eludes us. Our net of meaning is too small. There's more to our suffering than our guilt.

- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, 74.*

I think this is such an important point to remember both pastorally and apologetically. Our job is not to explain all suffering. We can protest, groan, learn to endure - without explaining.

*Wolterstorff, a well known American theologian, offers a moving personal reflection upon the tragic death of his 25 year old son in a climbing accident.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? Series Links

Emotional responses to ecological crises
Here are the links to the whole series:
1. Opening question (series title)
2. Introduction and statistics
3. What is your response?
4. Scepticism I
5. Scepticism II
6. Sorrow
7. Anger
8. Guilt I
9. Guilt II
10. Guilt III
11. Fear I
12. Fear II
13. Conclusion

Williams on hurt and healing

If we believe we can experience our healing without deepening our hurt, we have understood nothing of the roots of our faith.

- Rowan Williams, The Wound of Knowledge (Cowley: 1990), 30.

Healing requires a deepening of hurt because the problem is worse than we think. Telling the truth of the depth of our need is painful, but necessary for our healing.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? XIII

Scepticism, sorrow, anger, guilt, fear: each of these five responses we’ve discussed can undermine our motivation to take positive action. But they don’t need to. The good news Jesus brings is not simply that we can feel better about these issues, but that God has begun to do something about them. In the death and resurrection of Jesus he has begun, and he will finish the job. This frees us up, not so that we can apathetically ignore the issues, or cynically rape the earth because God is going to fix it, but frees us up to think hard, ask the hard questions, love hard and work hard without falling into denial or despair.*

At this point, some of you may be wondering: am I trying to persuade you to become a Christian, or a greenie? The answer is neither. And both.

Neither, because both these terms are thrown around in so many ways that you may immediately think of connotations that I wouldn’t dream of trying to persuade anyone to accept.

And yet both, in the true sense of each.

I believe if you are a Christian who takes the Bible seriously, you are drawn to caring for the good world that God has made and of which he has made us stewards. And I believe that while it is possible to care for the living spaces of the earth without being a Christian, and even to achieve much good, only Jesus offers a deep enough analysis of the problem and radical enough solution to give a sustainable grounding to our environmental concern.
*The shape and nature of this hard and joyful work is for other posts (and other blogs). The focus in this one has been on the common emotional responses to hearing of the various ecological problems.
Fifteen points for the first to link to another picture on this blog of a Scottish mountain reflected in a loch.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Crude: the incredible journey of oil (preview here)
Made by the highly regarded ABC Science unit and commended by David Suzuki and Tim Flannery (Australian of the Year).
Don't miss it - 8.30 tonight on ABC. Sorry to non-Australian readers.
H/T Dave.

UPDATE: If you missed it (or live outside Australia), you can watch the whole program via the ABC website here. I haven't had a chance to watch it myself yet, as I was at week three of the Problem of Evil course last night.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? XII

Fear (cont)
But of all the responses we’ve looked at, while sorrow is probably the one I can most straightforwardly endorse, fear is the one that the Christian message affirms least.

Of all the commands in the Bible, by far the most frequent is ‘fear not’. It is often thought that hatred is the opposite of love. Not so. The greatest barrier to love is fear. The Apostle John tells us that ‘perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4.18).

And how, according to Jesus, is it possible to fear not?

Because God loves his world. God passionately, deeply, unswervingly, sacrificially loves his world. He will not abandon it. He has shown a pledge of his commitment to his good world by raising Jesus bodily from the dead. This is the start of his clean-up job. It is his pledge, his down-payment, guaranteeing that he will finish the job, that he will likewise raise all those who belong to Jesus, that he will liberate the groaning creation from its bondage to decay (Rom 8.19-22).

No matter how bad we get, God can heal and restore. Even if we destroy ourselves, which would be very sad, God can raise the dead. This is not an excuse, a safety-net freeing us from responsibility. Precisely the opposite. God loves his world and will restore it, but he will destroy those who destroy the earth (Revelation 11.18). Those who persist squandering God’s good gifts, ungratefully hoarding all they can lay their hands on, apathetically or cynically ignoring the plight of their neighbour, despoiling the world God made, in short, those who persist in rejecting life as Jesus shows us it was meant to be lived, they will eventually succeed in cutting themselves off from life as it should be. By rejecting Jesus, you reject the one who brings life and so choose death.

But those who weep over the cracked world, who admit they are part of the problem, who realise that Jesus paid the ransom to set them free from guilt, who renounce their selfish or self-righteous lifestyle, who yearn for the liberation of creation, who follow Jesus in loving all life, these ones are liberated from fear, and find themselves free to live a life of faith, hope and love. If you trust the God who made a good world, and so have a sure hope that he will complete the job that he began by raising Jesus from the dead, then you are freed from fear and are able to begin the delightful privilege of learning to love your neighbour and the whole community of creation.
Eight points for guessing the country. Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

Thanksgiving reflection

On Saturday morning I went to a service of thanksgiving with a small gang of about 140 family and friends in order to praise God for his goodness. It was a wonderful morning. Giving thanks together is a privilege and a joy. A few people described it as an anti-funeral. Towards the end of the service, everyone had a chance to reflect on God's goodness and write a brief prayer of thanks onto a small card, which was then pinned onto a banner Jess and Bill made and which now hangs on our wall.

Thanks to everyone who helped make the morning happen. It was (yet another) delightful gift. Speaking of which, our rector Tim surprised us at the end of the service by getting us up and giving us a gift from the All Souls community - time off and some extra money for a holiday! Details are still being worked out...

I have posted the text of my reflection at the service here. Regular readers will recognise many of the ideas from recent posts.
First picture by HCS, taken just after the service ended.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? XI

The final, perhaps the most common, and I suspect the deepest response for many people when encountering the depth and breadth of the various ecological crises 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.

What will happen if oceans rise and millions are forced to flee? What happens if sustained drought leaves millions more hungry? What will happen when we pass Peak Oil, the halfway point of oil extraction – where production inevitably drops, prices skyrocket and the world economy goes into massive recession? What will happen to our supply of food when soil degradation meets population expansion? Will there be wars over access to fresh water? What will happen when the last ancient rainforest is destroyed? How will we cope with knowing we pointlessly exterminated hundreds of thousands of species? And perhaps most worrying: when every river is tainted, every sea is overfished, every wind carries toxins, every non-renewable resource is exhausted, every field eroded, every forest is logged – when we reach that stage, who will we have become?

Once more, there is something right about having a healthy concern for the future. These are questions that need honest investigation and expert consideration. Being Christian certainly doesn’t mean I think that God guarantees us individually or a society against self-destruction. It has happened before. Most historians believe that the native inhabitants of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the Pacific Ocean had a thriving little civilisation until perhaps a hundred years before European discovery. However, in their unthinking growth, they cut down every tree on the island, precipitating a cascade of ecological problems, which in turn decimated their population to a fraction of its original size. There’s no guarantee against self-destruction.
Twelve points for guessing the English town in the picture. Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

Hart on costly comfort

Some discussions of the problem of evil distinguish between a pastoral response to those who might be hurting and an intellectual and/or theological and/or philosophical response to satisfy the inquirer. Hart argues that this is a false dichotomy. In particular, whatever we say about God's sovereignty we ought to be able to say to someone in grief. Can we really tell a father who has just lost four of his five children in the tsunami that 'his children had died as a result of God's eternal, inscrutiable and righteous counsels, and that in fact their deaths had mysteriously served God's purposes in history, and that all of this was completely necessary for God to accomplish his ultimate design in having created this world'?

Words we would not utter to ease another's grief we ought not to speak to satisfy our own sense of piety. ... For if we would think it shamefully foolish and cruel to say such things in the moment when another's sorrow is most real and irresistibly painful, then we ought never to say them. ... [S]uch sentiments would amount not only to an indiscretion or words spoken out of season, but to a vile stupidity and a lie told principally for our own comfort, by which we would try to excuse ourselves for believing in an omnipotent and benevolent God. In the process, moreover, we would be attempting to deny that man a knowledge central to the gospel: the knowledge of the evil of death, its intrinsic falsity, its unjust dominion over the world, its ultimate nullity; the knowledge that God is not pleased or nourished by our deaths, that he is not the secret architect of evil, that he is the conqueror of hell, that he has condemned all these things by the power of the cross; the knowledge that God is life and light and infinite love, and that the path that leads through nature and history to his Kingdom does not simply follow the contours of either nature or history, or obey the logic immanent to them, but is opened to us by way of the natural and historical absurdity - or outrage - of the empty tomb.

- David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?
(Eerdmans: 2005), 99-101.

Twelve points for the location of the photo. Maybe more if you're specific.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? X

Guilt (cont)
I said there was something right about feeling guilty. But like the other responses, there is also something wrong. Not just because we feel guilty for the wrong things. Not just because others might sometimes be more guilty. No, guilt is an inadequate response because of Jesus.

He said he came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10.45). He wasn’t out to maximise his own benefit, but to do what was best for others, to serve. In the end, his service led to his execution on a Roman cross. He gave his life. Even as he was dying, his concern was for those who had been torturing him. He prayed: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing (Luke 23.34).* Even in death, he was serving. Indeed, he calls his death a 'ransom', a price paid to free those held in slavery. We are enslaved by our guilt, by our habits of selfishness and thanklessness. If we will admit our slavery, Jesus sets us free. Not free to do whatever we feel like – that would not be freedom from selfishness but just more slavery. But Jesus’ sets us free from guilt so that we too can become servants.
I realise there are textual issues with this verse. I choose to blatantly ignore them for the moment.

Jesus dealt personally with our deadly behaviour by bearing its consequence - death - for us on the cross. By rising again to life, he achieved a decisive victory over sin and death and began their undoing in the world. Because of this, we can be redeemed from death and set free from sin to enjoy a perfect relationship with our gracious Creator God.

Jesus’ death opened the way to both a new relationship between creature and creator, and a new relationship between human creatures and the rest of creation. Because of Jesus, we are no longer enslaved to sin or trapped in sinful ways of living: we are free to live in loving obedience to God - including by being good stewards of the rest of creation. We can be free from the godless greed and selfishness that led to our present environmental mess, free to live in the manner originally intended by the creator - namely in joyful submission to him, in selfless love towards our fellow creatures and with great care for the rest of creation.
Thanks to Meredith for some of the ideas and wording of this post. See her excellent series on ten things I think about the environment, esp this one. Ten points for guessing the Sydney suburb containing this quarry wall.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

Thanksgiving reminder

Tomorrow, 10 am
All Souls, Leichhardt
A service of thanksgiving in response to getting the all-clear
All welcome
More details here

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? IX

Guilt (cont)
In fact the various ecological crises that we face today are a classic example 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.

This problem is bigger than simply ignorance. Many environmentalists think that if only people really knew what was happening, we would spontaneously correct their behaviour, and we’d demand legislative change to curb the abuses of the big corporations. But education alone is not enough. Surveys in America indicate that 80% of people there identify themselves as environmentalists, but this doesn’t prevent them from consuming more per capita than any other nation, or stop many of them from believing that they are perfectly entitled to do so. I suspect that Australia may not be too different.

The scale of the threat may be novel, but its nature is not. The peace and harmony which God intended for his world were not destroyed by the industrial revolution. The problem is much older than that. For thousands of years, humanity has generally ignored God, failing to thank him or to properly care for his good world, placing our own interests before those of our neighbour.

I used to be a high school teacher. During the last week of the year, I would play a game with my students. I have described the game back here (you'll need to be familiar with the game to understand the next paragraph). I played this game in all my classes.

Without fail, I won back every lolly I gave out. None of them were able to consistently vote green. None could stand to see their neighbour also benefit when the prospect of personal gain loomed so large. But with everyone pursuing personal gain, everyone lost. Time and time again. Do you think adults would do any better? I’d love to try that game using ten dollar notes rather than lollies and find out.

We like to think that we’d vote green, but every day in various ways, all too often we each pick red. And we know it. And so we feel guilty.

But Jesus always voted green. I’m not talking about voting for the Greens party in a political sense. Or even about voting for environmental values. He voted green in that he played the game of life without assuming that it’s a competition; he made himself vulnerable by pursuing the good of others; he trusted God and so followed his way of peace, even though it led him into conflict with those who were violent. Jesus didn’t pursue self-interest first. And it cost him his life.(more)
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII. Photo by CAC.

There is nothing new under the sun...

...not even Nothing New Under the Sun (or NNUTS), which is a year old today. During that time, I've shared 184 pictures, published 370 posts (my aim has been one per day), given away 1355 points, received over 3,000 comments, suffered somewhere between 35,800 and 62,000 hits (depending which counter you believe) and fought and conquered the dreaded pop-up beast.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on where to from here. What would you like more/less of? What have been highlights for you and why? Whom should I be more blatantly imitating/plagiarising? And what is just off camera in this picture?
Twelve points for the most creative suggestion of what I have just seen in the picture. Fifteen for the correct answer. Photo by JKS.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? VIII

The problem is not simply out there; it is also in here. And many of us are all too aware of this. And so, the fourth common response is guilt.

We hear of waste, and think of what we recently tossed away; we hear of oil depletion and we think about the size of our car; we hear of water shortages and think of our decadently long shower this morning. Of course, there is a difference between feeling guilty and being guilty. And we often feel guilty over things not our fault, or over minor things, while ignoring our larger errors. And not everyone is equally at fault. There are powerful decision-makers, such as corporations and governments, whose decisions carry more weight than mine or yours. We might not all be as guilty as some.

Nonetheless, there is something quite appropriate about feeling guilt and shame. There is something right about it because we do bear some responsibility, collectively and individually, for many of the serious problems faced by our world. Our lifestyle, our attitudes so often reflect a me-first approach, whose environmental, social and personal costs are becoming more and more apparent. Many of us presume that we deserve our standard of living, or vote for politicians who will maintain and increase Australia’s affluence before all other considerations. We are often greedy and envious, wanting to hoard and consume more things than our neighbour. Or apathetic about the suffering of others. Or unthinkingly wasteful. We are usually happy to ignore how products make their way onto the shelves. And so often we are simply thankless. Having received so much from God, do we say thank you? Jesus said that our life is more than the abundance of possessions, 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. Do we live like this?(more)
I can't remember the actual name, but fifteen points for the best suggested title of this painting. If anyone can find the actual name (and give a link to prove it), then perhaps I'll give them twenty points.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

Matheson on the Problem of Evil

For those interested in the CASE course on the problem of evil I mentioned back here but who are unable to make it to the country (obviously due to a commitment to reducing/eliminating their flying kilometres, rather than any lack of interest in the course), here is the text of a lecture given a couple of weeks ago by Dr Matheson Russell as a teaser to the course. Here's a quote to whet your appetite:

We who have grown up in Christian evangelical circles have inherited a particular way of understanding and talking about God’s relationship to events in the world which we call the doctrine of ‘divine sovereignty’. By this we usually mean God’s control over events; the idea that nothing happens that is beyond God’s control. I want to suggest that this is actually a parody of two traditional Christian ideas that we need to recover.
You'll have to read the article to find out what they are...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? VII

When we learn about how bad things now are, a third common response is anger. How can people be so stupid, so selfish, so short-sighted, so greedy? Up to a quarter of all the sea creatures caught in global fisheries are discarded - thrown back in to the sea dead or dying - because they are not the fishermen's intended target -fish, whales, dolphins, porpoises, fur seals, albatrosses and turtles. Hearing things like this makes me angry.

Like grief, there is something right about this response. Like grief, we get angry when something we love is under attack. Anger can be a protective response. If parents didn’t get angry when someone was deliberately hurting their children, you’d have to wonder if they really cared. Anger shows we care and want things to be different.

God too is saddened and angered by the abuse and destruction of his creation. This is not a random, capricious rage that unexpectedly explodes, but his deliberate, passionate opposition to all that damages and tears down his creation, all that poisons and contaminates his good world, all that fractures harmony, all that blasphemes his life-giving Spirit.

So it is right and proper to get angry. This is not the way things ought to be. There is a deep problem with the world.

But the danger with anger is that we can blind ourselves to the role that we ourselves play. It is possible to get angry at others, at what the greedy corporations are doing, at what the spineless governments are not doing, at what my neighbour thinks, and in so doing to conveniently avoid what I am doing, not doing, what my attitudes are. This is the danger of self-righteousness.

Things are not the way they ought to be. There is a deep problem with the world. But the line between good and evil does not run between the rich and the poor, or between the left and the right, or between the corporations and the people. It does not run between us and them. The line between good and evil cuts through every human heart – including yours and mine. The problem is not simply out there; it is also in here.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

Online survey

For those who love completing surveys, here is a poll run by Online Opinion. The ‘Federal Election Benchmark Survey’, attempts to gauge the beliefs, voting intentions and reasoning of people of faith in Australia. The pollsters invite Christians and those of other religions to outline their political views and voting intentions, and the way these are connected (or not) to their religious position. Like all polls it may have some flaws and biases; yet it seems to be a reasonable and genuine attempt at understanding. The poll also asks for respondents to briefly comment in their own words on what political issues are important to them.

This Federal Election Benchmark Survey is open until the 21st of May. For more information about the poll and National Forum who publish Online Opinion go here.

Note that the final page asks for your name and personal details, probably in order to prevent multiple answers by any one person. You are promised confidentiality, and are given the opportunity to participate (or not) in follow-up research.

If you complete the survey, you might then consider watching the Online Opinion site and participating in any discussion arising out of the survey.

Sorry - Australian citizens only.
H/T Social Issues Executive - sign up for their weekly(-ish) briefing on a current Australian social issue. These are generally very high quality. My college ethics lecturer, Andrew Cameron, and his assistant do a great job of putting together a page or two introducing an issue for Christian reflection and action. This post was largely taken from an email they sent last week.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pop-ups again

No more pop-ups?
For a number of months, some readers have complained about getting annoying pop-up windows while reading this blog. I think I have now fixed the problem (with many thanks to my brother Adrian!). Please let me know if you have any further problems.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? VI

Once we move beyond systematic denial of environmental destruction, we reach the second common response: sorrow.

Upon coming to accept (at least some of) these claims as true, we are filled with sadness. It is sad that human action (and inaction) continue to cause so much destruction and senseless waste. This is a natural and right response, since we’re really losing things of that are of great value. In particular, I find the rate of extinction very sad, because while most other forms of environmental damage are reversible, (sometimes only in the very long term), with the extinction of a species, once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.

It is not only the animals and plants that suffer from our environmental irresponsibility. Humans suffer too, especially those too poor to move and too marginalised to have a significant political voice. Poisoned rivers, degraded soil, more frequent and more severe extreme weather patterns – these and more cause incalculable human suffering too. This is far more serious than not being able to water your garden or having to pay a little more for electricity.

Sorrow at what is lost and sorrow at what it costs those least able to afford it – this response resonates with a deeply Christian way of viewing the world. We only grieve the loss of what is valuable. Fundamental to Christianity’s take on the environment is that the world God made was good, very good. Grief is the natural correlate of love, when the object of love is harmed or threatened.

And our sadness also accords with a second basic Christian belief: there is something deeply wrong with God’s world. The beauty is marred. There are cracks in the abundant diversity. The health of the planet is threatened by a global disease.

The Apostle Paul teaches that to follow Christ, to be filled with his Spirit, is to grieve over the plight of creation, to groan in shared pain, to be discontent with the fractures in the world. Following Christ is not a recipe for a mindlessly happy escapism; we follow the one called the man of sorrows.

Yet grief alone is insufficient, not least because despite our best – or perhaps our worst, or simply our mediocre – efforts, despite pollution, soil degradation, climate change, the squandering of finite resources, mass extinction, despite all this, the world remains a good gift from God, filled with delight and things worth celebrating. Unless we take the time to stop, notice, enjoy and give thanks for all that surrounds us, we lose the very reason to grieve because we lose sight of the goodness of this gift.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

Let the little children come to...

...someone else. Jesus preferably.

Yesterday morning, I spent two hours teaching four classes of school Scripture to six to twelve year olds.

Last night, I spent two hours with Dr Matheson Russell teaching a CASE course on the problem of evil to about twenty adults.

I know which age group I prefer teaching. Scripture is a wonderful opportunity and kids are so often delightful, but putting twenty-odd together and letting them loose on me without much of a voice (or much experience, training or skill in dealing with primary and infants kids) is a recipe for general mayhem. I'd like to improve, but I'd also like to encourage those with an existing passion (and/or training) to get involved too (or simply instead!).

As for the CASE course, it's not too late to join. We had a great time last night, and there's still three more weeks to go. Thanks to for some free advertising.

Budget '07/'08

Mixed messages?
Enough cyber-ink has been spilt on the 2007/08 Australian Federal Budget, so I will not comment, except to wonder whether the government is sending mixed messages:

• $150m for climate change mitigation AND
• $150m for the war on ice.
I said I would not comment further. I lied. For Australian citizens, here is a campaign worth a look.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? V

Scepticism (cont)
And yet, scepticism alone is inadequate. There is a place for reserving judgment, but there is a point where to continue to do so in the face of overwhelming and pressing evidence is simply stubborn. How much scepticism is too much? There are such things as foolish gullibility and lazy conformism, but there also comes a time when stubborn scepticism tips into basic disconnection from reality.

I am fairly sure that of the statistics I quoted, some are probably inaccurate, and some may be based on faulty methodology, or outdated research. I am no expert and am quite happy to be corrected, yet it seems to me that it is now impossible to reasonably deny that human activity is indeed having a significant detrimental effect upon the living spaces of the planet. To do so is an exercise in wishful thinking. And this is no surprise to Christians, as we shall see.

For instance, while there is still dispute over details, to continue to suppose that human activity has not been a major cause of global climate change places you in disagreement with every major scientific organization in the world – except the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. As far as I am aware, for about the last ten years there has not been a single peer reviewed scientific publication disputing the human causation of recent global climate change (please link to examples if you know of any, I could be wrong, but this is what I've heard).

Yet there are still large numbers of people who continue to deny this claim in the face of almost unanimous consensus amongst the scientific community. At some point, it is right to become suspicious of such sustained denial, asking whether it mightn’t be a coping mechanism for dealing with hidden grief or guilt. Denial is a common part of responding to serious tragedy, but to properly grieve, we need to move beyond it. If you call yourself a skeptic,* I hope that in the following posts, you’ll discover reasons why it is safe to move beyond systematic denial.
*Not simply about climate change. I realise that this issue in particular has become highly politicised. At the moment, I am more interested in the broader claim about detrimental human effects on the environment considered more broadly. Nonetheless, here is a useful site answering 26 common myths about climate change. H/T OSO.
Thanks also to the Social Issues Briefing #63 for some of the thoughts in this post. Read it here. If you'd like to receive it regularly, sign up here.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII. Photo by Steve Chong.

Barneys: a year on

A Year Today
Today is a year since my old church St Barnabas', Broadway, burned down. I reflected at some length on this back here.

Construction on the site is still yet to begin.

This has been a sad week for a number of reasons.

Bonhoeffer on confession

Alone in church?
Confess your faults one to another (James 5.16). He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, not withinstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (translated by John W. Doberstein), 86.

Twelve points for each link to another photo on this blog of the same location.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? IV

For some, the initial response to such claims is to question them. After all, 87% of all statistics are made up. Could this simply be the latest fad? Isn’t it perhaps a little arrogant to claim that our actions are really affecting the planet that much? Aren’t there some who dispute many of these claims?

There is much that is good in this response. Jesus was no fan of naïve credulity. He does not ask those who would follow him to check their critical faculties in at the door. We don’t need to jump onto every bandwagon that gathers momentum. The truth is more important than being popular. We are right to be a little suspicious about the endless parade of new disaster scenarios presented to us.

And at a deeper level, there is a foundational Christian truth that ought to make us pause before we accept every new prediction of doom. God made the world good, very good. It is filled with abundance and diversity, evidence of his creativity, blessing and generosity. And so we are right to assume that we live on a good and abundant world. Therefore, we ought to have a healthy initial scepticism towards doomsday predictions.(more on scepticism)
Eight points for the correct name of the building in the centre of the picture.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

Eve speaks to God

A creative sermon on Genesis 4.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? III

There’s a whole range of possible emotional responses to these statistics: apathy, disbelief, curiosity, sorrow, fear, anger, suspicion, guilt, impotence, despair, grief, resolve, self-righteousness. And most of us probable feel some combination of these.

I wonder whether we mightn’t be able to broadly classify these responses into five groups under the following headings:

(a) Scepticism
(b) Sorrow
(c) Anger
(d) Guilt
(e) Fear
In each case, I think there is something fundamentally correct about the response, but also something mistaken. In the following posts, I will take these five common responses as launching pads for considering Jesus’ own attitudes towards the earth.
Eight points for guessing the Sydney suburb.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

You never knew statistics could be this interesting

Not only does this video contain much about the two thirds world that you mightn't have realised, it also has some ingenious graphics.

And in other videos, can you imagine John Howard doing this?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? II

As I mentioned back here, tonight I gave a talk titled 'Would Jesus vote green?' at a restaurant in Harbord. Over the next few days, I'll post the talk in a short series.
What has Jerusalem to do with Athens the Amazon?
Human beings are currently causing the greatest mass extinction of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If present trends continue one half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years. A total of 11,046 species of plants and animals are listed as presently threatened or endangered. Current extinction rates are estimated to be around 1,000 times the normal background extinction rate. Within 50 years, one-third of all land-based species could face extinction. According to the United Nations, 71-78 per cent of the world's fisheries are 'fully exploited', 'over exploited' or 'significantly depleted'. All wild seafood will have disappeared from the world's menus within 50 years if current trends in overfishing continue according to one of the most comprehensive studies of marine life. In just 60 years the Antarctic blue whale population fell from 220,000 to just 1,000. One-quarter of the Earth's bird species have been driven into extinction by human activities.

Somewhere between a third and a half of the land surface of the earth has been transformed by human action. More than half of the fresh water sources of the world are now put to use by human beings.

Ancient forests are home to around two-thirds of all plant and animal species found on land. More than 2,000 tropical forest plants have been identified by scientists as having anti-cancer properties. Less than one percent of the tropical rainforest species have been analyzed for their medicinal value. Nearly 90 percent of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide depend on forests for their livelihoods. Yet 80 percent of the world’s ancient forests have already been either destroyed or degraded, and half of that has been in the last 30 years. An area the size of a football field of ancient forest is destroyed every two seconds. That’s an area bigger than France and Spain combined in the last ten years. At current rates, all tropical forests may be gone by the year 2090.

Demand for oil and energy resources from industrialized nations like China are expected to almost double by the year 2030. Two thirds of all energy generated in power stations is lost as waste heat – up the chimney and along transmission lines. The energy use per capita of high income countries is more than 10 times higher than that of low income countries. The world has a finite supply of oil. We are roughly halfway through using it. At some point within the next few years, it is likely that the rate of oil extraction will fall into decline. With ever-growing demand, once this point of ‘peak oil’ production is passed, prices are likely to rise rapidly, with possibly disasterous consequences for the global economy. For every kilojoule of energy we gain from eating food, we spend ten kilojoules of (mainly oil) energy to fertilise, harvest, transport, refrigerate and cook it. If we were to replace all fossil fuels with nuclear power, world uranium supplies would be depleted in four years.

More than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, 2.6 billion lack access to adequate water for sanitation. Water-borne diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. This situation is getting worse. Two thirds of the world population will be without safe drinking water and basic sanitation services by 2025.

The Sahara desert in Africa currently expands southwards at the rate of 5-10 km per year.

Australians are ranked 7th worst in the world for our average ecological footprint. The total human ecological footprint is estimated to have exceeded the biocapacity of the planet by 25%.

And I haven't even mentioned climate change, toxins in the air and water, soil loss or nuclear waste.

How does this make you feel?
Five points for naming the location from which the first photo was taken. Fifteen for guessing the region in which the second one was taken. Second photo by JKS.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

UPDATE: When I first posted this, I avoided discussion of climate change because it is so politicised at the moment and seems to distract from the bigger picture. However, here is a useful site answering 26 common myths about climate change. H/T OSO.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Death sucks (again)

See back here for context.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Après moi, le déluge

I came across a new phrase today. Literally, it translates as 'after me, the flood'. Attributed to Louis XV of France, the attitude expressed is one of myopic self-interest. It doesn't matter what happens after me as a result of my (in)actions, so long as my desires are satisfied. Let catastrophe come, as long as it comes once I'm gone.

Prior to the the Earth Summit in Rio (the UN Conference on Environment and Development 1992) George Bush snr is allegeded to have warned: 'the American way of life is not negotiable.' Après moi, le déluge.

UPDATE: Dan suggests an excellent Christian response: Plongeons dans le déluge (maintenant!).

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
&#160&#160&#160 It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
&#160&#160&#160 It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
&#160&#160&#160 And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
&#160&#160&#160 And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And, for all this, nature is never spent;
&#160&#160&#160 There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
&#160&#160&#160 Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
&#160&#160&#160 World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877, published 1895
This poem captures a number of important theological insights. The first four lines are filled with wonder at God's creation, and the grandeur of God revealed there. Yet already by line four is a puzzled recognition that not all see it.

The next four lines are very pessimistic about humanity's effects on nature. With good reason, yet not as good as the reasons for such feelings today. There is more to be said about this relationship (and Hopkins has much more to say in other poems), but I think this captures an important moment in reflection. The marks humanity leaves on the world are often more shameful than glorious.

After the turn at the end of line 8, the sonnet shifts focus to the future. Despite the worst humanity can do, our powers of ultimate destruction are curtailed. Even if we bring blackest night, that could not dim the regenerative power of God's hovering Holy Spirit. This final confession has been criticised as letting us off the hook, since God can and will fix whatever problems we create. What do you think: does the promise of universal restoration (Acts 3.21) undermine our motivation to care for creation?
Ten points for naming the country in the pic.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Can the cross obscure Jesus?

Can't see the go(o)d for the tree
Interesting 'anonymous' rant over at Hebel about how the gospel might sometimes be (mis?)represented. Can some descriptions of the cross fail to do justice to the importance of Jesus? Does this caricature sound familiar?

God made the world, but people sinned, it all went pear shaped and humans were in the red. So God sent his son, killed him to fudge the books for us, so if we repent (of something?) and believe (in grace not works), then we have direct access to the father (Jesus job is done, he now sits on the sidelines). Where is the Resurrection? Where is the Ascension? Where is Jesus? Is god a bad account keeper?
Love to hear what people think of the author's suggested alternative account.
Points for the location of this photo. I'll decide how many by how accurate the description is.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Would Jesus vote green?

I have been invited to give an evangelistic talk with this title at a restaurant next week. I have a few ideas about how I might approach it, but I'd love to hear any ideas that pop into people's heads. What angle(s) might I take? What might be the main point? How is it good news? I'm interpreting the title to be broadly raising the issue of Christianity and the environment, rather than being specifically about voting. In other words, I will be speaking about small 'g' green issues, rather than the Greens. I'll be working on the talk over the next few days. All suggestions welcome.

Here are the links to all the posts:
I. Introduction
II. What has Jerusalem to do with Athens the Amazon?
III. Five common emotional responses
IV. Scepticism
V. Scepticism (cont.)
VI. Sorrow
VII. Anger
VIII. Guilt
IX. Guilt (cont.)
X. Guilt (cont.)
XI. Fear
XII Fear (cont.)
XIII. Conclusion

UPDATE: Scotland goes to the polls soon. For an interesting Christian take on voting Green (not just green), see here.

UPDATE #2: I have now given the talk and will be posting the text as a series. The first post is here.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

Gittins on eating

More interesting research reported by Ross Gittins in today's SMH on the unconscious operations that lead to overeating:

And, being social animals, how much we eat is heavily influenced by other people. When we're with people we like we tend to eat for longer than when we're alone. If others are still eating we tend to keep eating. Research suggests that if you eat with one other person you eat a third more; when you eat with seven or more people you'll eat almost twice as much.

Thinking Blogs

Having been tagged by MWW for a "Thinking Blogger Award" (thanks!), I am now meant to nominate five others and pass the link-love back up the chain in this pyramid-scheme meme based on flattery and self-interest. Sure.

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).
Five blogs that make me think:
a. Faith and Theology - already nominated, I know, but if we're really going to make this movement feel elitist, we've got to keep it small...
b. The Blogging Parson
c. Alastair.adversaria - currently on a month long hiatus.
d. On Journeying with those in Exile
e. Chrisendom
If you didn't make the top five, guess it must mean that your blog is thoughtless and shallow - did I mention that this meme also works on fear of exclusion and relief when someone finally nominates you?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Death sucks

Our church has a signboard on a fairly busy intersection in the middle of Leichhardt. There have been a number of above average signs in the history of this board, most of them making reference to contemporary events in one way or another:

Where the bloody hell were you last Sunday?
In response to a controversial Australian tourism campaign in the UK: 'Where the bloody hell are you?'
Biannual worshippers welcome here
Just before Easter.
Come to me all you who are Labor and I will give you rest
After the ALP lost the last Federal election.
If you're looking for a sign from God, this might be it
While our rector Tim was away recently, he asked me to put something up. I chose Death sucks, which seems to have generated some discussion. Yesterday I received a call from local newspaper The Glebe interested in running a story. Tim told me today that someone graffitied the board, crossing out the "sucks" and replacing it with "rules". A number of parishioners have mentioned overhearing conversations as people pass by. I'd love to hear your reactions too. Also, any thoughts on what might come next? I'm thinking of Life is a gift, and then a week or two later I have come that they may have life - Jesus. My thought has been to run with sentiments fairly widely shared (though with strong Christian bases) and then build on them with the third sign. However, I'm very happy to hear other suggestions/improvements.

St John's, Ashfield (whose sign is done by our friend Andrew E) has recently put up this one: Church: where relations are more than industrial.
There has been much discussion and controversy surrounding changes to industrial relations laws in Australia over the last couple of years and it has hit the news again recently.

UPDATE: A few years ago when my rector went on holidays, he told the catechists to get the sign into SMH's front-page interest section called 'Column 8' (it appears on the far right of the print version of the SMH front page (or used to - it's now on the back page) and has done so for many years). He did so with the first sign mentioned above ('bloody'). A few weeks ago when Tim again went on holidays, he repeated the instruction to me. And it seems I also succeeded. Thanks to the Wednesday Bible study group at the café, who helped work on the idea.