Thursday, January 28, 2010

Religion in (Aussie) public spaces

While channel surfing last nite (looking for the tennis) I heard the announcement, that a “Father Bob” was the upcoming TV feature.

“Father Bob.” The name sounded potentially religious, and since my interests are in how church relates to society, I thought I’d pause the tennis and check out this “Father Bob.”

Sure enough, on came Father Bob. He was an elderly gentleman. Full of cheer. Who seemed to be linked to a church. Who had a news assignment that, of checking out the Big Day Out. Cruising around, checking out the merchandise, interviewing band members (Powderfinger) and Big Day Out concert attendees, asking what would it take for them to come to his church. Then back to the studio and Father Bob continues his dialogue with the panel.

My mouth is hitting the floor.

You’d never seen anything like this on New Zealand TV. Priests and ministers only appear in the public media in relation to scandals and moral issues. They’re on the back foot, under the pump. Yet here, on prime time Aussie TV, at a prime time slot (7 pm), is a priest. Being portrayed in a human, humane and humerous way, helping carry a news story.

Is this unique to Father Bob? Or does this actually suggest that Australia is less secularised than New Zealand? And that the church has a much higher acceptance in the public (Aussie) space?

Oh, and the answer to Father Bob’s question: “What would it take for them to come to his church?” (Man I hate that question and the way it reduces mission to church attendance and spirituality to come-to-us consumption)

Question: What would it take for them to come to his church?
Ans: Music. Get some bands in. Entertain the back row. Get your hands in the air.

Posted by steve at 08:22 PM

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australia Day 12 months on

Today is Australia day. A year ago, I participated in the Australia day synchroblog, an (excellent) initiative of Matt Stone. My personal contribution was a review of a book on Australian missiology: Credible Witness by Australian Darren Cronshaw (published by Urban Neighbours of Hope in 2006). Here’s what I wrote:

It’s an excellent missional resource. It takes Australian context seriously. It asks what the Spirit might have already been doing in that place. In the case of Credible Witness, it trawls Australian history and the place of chaplaincy, of shepherds, of advocates for the marginalised, of servants and of generous hosts. What I love is how it refuses to stay with history, but suggests contemporary expressions of these images.

At the time, I had NO idea, that in 12 months time, I’d be living in the great red land. But I did quote a prayer, by Michael Leunig, for myself and for Australia on Australia Day 2009, that in hindsight, looks quite remarkably prophetic:

God help us to change. To change ourselves and to change the world. To know the need of it. To deal with the pain of it. To feel the joy of it. To undertake the journey without understanding the destination. The art of gentle revolution. Amen.

To read the entire Australia Day 2009 post, go here.

Posted by steve at 01:26 PM

Monday, January 25, 2010


is unexpected. it creeps up on you when you’re not watching. it found all the four Taylors at the same time, in the same place, on Sunday morning.

we’d gone looking for a church home and five minutes into the service, we were all crying. nothing to do with the church. at ALL.

just this sudden realisation – that the songs were not Opawa songs and the people were not Opawa people. and so the tears flowed, for loss.

which is fine for us. but i couldn’t help wondering what the worship leader, what Australians in general, think of people who get all teary eyed in public places?

Posted by steve at 02:45 PM

Saturday, January 23, 2010


The plan was to look for accommodation and an internet search threw up a range of possibilities.

Outside one house was a collection of hard rubbish – tenants obviously busy packing. And chucking, based on what was lying on the verge. Including things like dead plants. In pots.

My eyes light up.

Pots. Now, a person can plant things in pots. Like vegetables. And a person can take pots with them, from house to house. Especially a person who’s traveling light, carrying only 23 kg of luggage, the allowable airline allowance.

A polite enquiry and YES! the pots are mine.

Later, a visit to a local plant shop, for some renewed potting mix, plus a few plants and seeds.

And so our earthing in Adelaide continues, hands in soil, and now growing basil, parsley, rocket, spinach and mesculun lettuce. Just a few pots, just a few plants, all great for spicing up salads.

So a beginning. And as that great Aussie theologian sings: From little things, big things grow.

Posted by steve at 11:51 PM

Thursday, January 21, 2010

new migrants landed

safely, tiredly, sleeply

day 1 – gained aussie bank accounts, checked out new office, scored food for first nite

day 2 – forecast 40 degrees, kids seen new school ….

on urgent list still to get – car (under 2 litre, hatch, low kms, manual, ) and house to rent to Marion area or close to trainline

Posted by steve at 04:42 PM

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

book review: After the Church. Divine Encounter in a sexual age by Claire Henderson Davis

After the Church. Divine Encounter in a sexual age. Claire Henderson Davis, Canterbury Press: Norwich, 2007, is a fascinating book. I’d like to give it to people I met outside the church and say “Does this make sense? If so, lets have an ongoing conversation.” It’s short, at 77 pages. It is divided into 6 chapters, each of which has a theological title – Fall; Babel to Pentecost; Incarnation; The Trinity; The Body of Christ; With My Body I Thee Worship.

Each chapter does theology, well-written, interesting. It even quotes large chunks of Scripture, but in a fresh voice, that resonates with the 21st century. This is an attempt at faith that seeks to make sense of Christianity within the cultural frameworks of today. It’s what you would imagine Paul doing, Acts 17 style, if he was here today.

It weaves insights from pyschology with the author’s own life – growing up outside the church, and slowly making sense – through study and personal work – of a coherent Christian faith for herself. Consider the Parable of Samaritan.

“The duty of a Christian is not to seek out people in distress and prey on their needs, but to wait and prepare for that unexpected encounter with the other that reveals the shape of God by making our own limits clear, and, in so doing, offering a path towards greater wholeness.” (55, 56)

This is because the audience would identify not with the Samaritan, but with the beaten man. Thus the challenge is to be open to receive help from the “other”; the one who might well surprise and challenge us.

It is a superbly hopeful book. It invites us into relationships with the Christian church and with each other as humans: not as child to parent, nor as a bored and cynical teen, but as adults – as equals, who in process of encounter, find new forms emerging.

“The real alternative to advertising is not a dull and self-righteous moral rectitude that denies the pleasure and importance of the material world, but a form of storytelling that charts a real course between where we are now and the possibilities that exist for human fulfillment and transformation. This discipline requires that we attend closely to our present reality, and cultivate, in hope, an expectation of where it may lead.” (73)

Posted by steve at 04:45 PM

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

new blog name?

A recurring question, with our shift across the Tasman, is “What will you call your blog?”

It started out as “emergentkiwi” and that is still it’s URL. That name felt appropriate at that time, a signifier of a search for forms of faith that made sense for Kiwi’s in a globalised, millenial culture.

Last summer, while keeping the URL, I renamed it “sustain:if:able kiwi“; because it was summer. And with my garden an increasingly important part of my spirituality, I wanted to reflect on issues around sustainability – still of (emerging) faith and spirituality, but with an earthed feel, and linked to a more scattered spirituality.

But how does that translate with a trans-Tasman shift:

any helpful suggestions welcomed, as we wing our way Aussie-ward ….

Posted by steve at 04:05 PM

Saturday, January 16, 2010

opawa farewell

Today we are farewelled by Opawa. It will be sad time. Yet perhaps also a God-honouring time, as we become thankful for the work of God’s spirit through God’s people at Opawa over the last 6 years.

So the Taylor family sat in a cafe and asked each other what we’ve appreciated about Opawa. In no particular order:

  • the welcome, initial and ongoing. We’ve found people at Opawa to be consistently warm and open, captured in the the big hug from Ngaire, waiting to greet me on my first Tuesday of work.
    a willingness to change. You at Opawa said you were when you called us and mostly you have demonstrated that. One small way has been your willingness to try new things, different ways of responding to God in worship.
  • the way you have welcomed our kids, taken the time to appreciate them as individuals and as people, sent them cards, prayed for them.
  • KIDZTIME. It works. It’s age appropriate and interesting. And lots of effort is put in by the teachers.
  • People at Opawa get on and do stuff. People make an effort and things happen at Opawa.
  • Koru (the intermediate youth programme) is really good for community people, but being there has helped our kid grow and gain in confidence.
  • you said there weren’t any “pastor’s wifes” expectations and that has been Lynne’s experience. She didn’t do anything for a season and that was OK. Then she became increasingly involved and that was OK too. (Please extend that “no expectations” courtesy to the next “spouse”
  • The kids have had opportunities to serve – to help with data projector and speak at Grow, to welcome people at door, help with the kids at Grow and sing upfront
  • the space to do and try lots of things – adding congregations, ministries, Bible days etc.

Opawa, you’ve been our church family for the last 6 years and we, the Taylor’s have loved being among you. We’ll miss you.

Posted by steve at 09:23 PM

Thursday, January 14, 2010

my saint francis moment

So Sunday I went looking for gathered worship. Being on holiday, being in unfamiliar terrain, it meant checking out the signboard on the nearest local church for the start time. 10:30 am Sunday’s it said.

Next day I duly arrived. Disconcerted, I noted a distinct absent of cars. Now I know that country churches can be small, but this was wierd. Perhaps, the minister and the loyal locals parked around the back. So I drove around the corner, but still the street was deserted and the church doors remained locked.

I checked around the buildings and noticed the noticeboard, advertising the Christmas services. So their was life in the buildings. And then, looking closer, I noticed the fine print – that start times for January were in the “Echo.” Of what the “Echo” was, there was no indication.

So the large sign gave a time, the fineprint gave a sign, but both were useless and the street remained empty. So much for the hospitality of the gospel in this local manifestation of God’s body!

I noticed a seat. Seeing I’d driven about 20 minutes, I decided to take a moment. The seat was large, comfortable, out of the wind and in the sun. I nice play to settle and still.

After a few minutes, there was a large, defiant quack. Mother duck emerged from the creek a few feet away, protesting loudly.

Beside her were eight ducklings, who deemed mother’s protest a trumpet call to charge. The ducklings waddled across the gap and began to circle my feet and then settle companionably. One brave duckling pecked my shoe. Another, braver, began to nibble my socks. It felt like Saint Francis, and much closer to heaven than any church service I could imagine.

To add distinctiveness to my holiday spirituality, I had grabbed When I Talk to You: A Cartoonist Talks to God. It’s been a great aid for prayer and reflection. And Leunig uses a duck to express his feelings about prayer. The duck symbolises many things, including nature, instinct, feeling, beauty, innocence, the primal, the non-rational. He concludes: “A person kneels before a duck … The person is praying.”

It seemed to find physical expression in this St Francis moment. The church building might be locked, God’s love expressed in the body of Christ, absent. But God’s love in creation, outside the building, is nuzzling at my feet, reminding me that love exists in the world, and can be experienced through unexpected stillness and undeserved trust.

Posted by steve at 04:32 PM

Sunday, January 10, 2010

atheist delusions. part 3. so how might Christianity live in times of “new atheism”

Christianity offers values of compassion, truth, justice, beauty. It has a wise understanding of human nature, as capable of reflecting the divine and of cruelty.

The question is what world new atheism will offer. What values will it draw from, and how might these nurture a more just and humane society? Hart notes that ““memes” like “human rights” and “human dignity” may not indefinitely continue replicating themselves once the Christian “infinite value of every life” meme has died out.” (237) While we await, Christianity can, for Hart, set about the following.

1. Be accurate apart our history. “Christians ought not to surrender the past but should instead deepen their own collective memory of what the gospel has been in human history.” (17)

2. Make our whole concern the simplicity of love God, love neighbour.

3. Take hope from monasticism

“Even so, it may be the case that Christians who live amid the ruins of the old Christendom – perhaps dwelling on the far-flung frontiers of a Christian civilization taking shape in other lands – will have to learn to continue the mission of their ancient revolution in the desert, to which faith has often found its necessary, at various times, to retreat.” (241)

Posted by steve at 04:49 PM

Saturday, January 09, 2010

atheist delusions. part 2. assessing Christian impact

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies calls attention to peculiar and radical nature of Christian faith in first four or five centuries, the liberation it offered and dignity it gave the human person. Christianity was, in the truest sense of the word, a revolution (xi), the like of which has never been seen before or since in the history of the West. By implication, this becomes a rejection of modernity’s myth of progress and the triumph of reason over faith.

Hart is not concerned to advocacy, (“there are numerous forms of Christian belief and practice for which I would be hard pressed to muster a kind word” (x)), merely for accuracy.

Myth: the intolerance of Christianity

  1. The Roman empire accepted a diversity of cults, but not a diversity of religions. “It was tolerant, that is to say, of what it found tolerable.” (118).
  2. Pagan cultures marked by disease, poverty, starvation, homelessness, gladiatorial spectacle, crucifixion, depravity and cruelty.
  3. Gnostics were “marginal, eccentric, and novel.” (135)

Why did Christianity spread across the empire and through social classes?

  1. Christianity welcomed both sexes and all classes. “This was, in many ways, the most radical novelty of their community: that it transcended and so, in an ultimate sense, annulled “natural” human divisions.” (158)
  2. Women found Christianity immensely attractive. Christianity forbade killing female babies and offered care to widows. It demanded loyalty from Christian husbands.
  3. Legal reforms instituted by Christian emperors included greater rights for women in divorce (Theodosius), for slaves (Justinian).
  4. Pagan critics were astonished at Christianity. “[O]ne finds nothing in pagan society remotely comparable in magnitude to the Christian willingness to provide continuously for persons in need, male and female, young and old, free and bound alike.” (163)
  5. Christian theology gave hope in a world of love, over against capricious fatalism. It gave human body dignity, a life here as well as eternal hope.

Part 1 the myths of new atheism here

Posted by steve at 04:36 PM

Friday, January 08, 2010

atheist delusions. part 1. the myths of new atheism

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies is an erudite response to new atheism. The aim is not advocacy (for Hart “there are numerous forms of Christian belief and practice for which I would be hard pressed to muster a kind word” (x)). Rather, the aim is accuracy, to call attention to peculiar and radical nature of Christian faith in first four or five centuries, the liberation it offered and dignity it gave the human person.

The book is written given that for Hart: “new atheism” lacks historical insight and intellectual honesty, and comes as “attitudes masquerading as ideas, emotional commitments disguised as intellectual honesty.” (19)!!

Hart names, and then dissects, the myths of new atheism.

Myth: religion is violent

  1. But to be honest, the reality is that wars, bigotry and religious persecution are peculiar to humanity, not simply to monotheistic faiths.
  2. Christianity actually forbids violence. Should incorrect practice of a faith by it’s followers mean the faith is at fault.
  3. What evidence is there that secular, atheistic society would be less violent than religious societies, especially given the track record of social eugenics movement, including the Nazi movement as it’s offspring?

Myth: religion is baseless.

  1. Reality, for a “baseless” religion, Christianity has had an ENORMOUS impact on making world a more humane, charitable and compassionate place.
  2. Intellectual honesty demands that a religion be assessed on it’s actual particularities, rather than pushed into a category called ‘religion.’
  3. Just because the reasons for faith do not impress a skeptic does not make them irrational. “More to the point, it is bizarre for anyone to think he or she can judge the nature and credibility of another’s experiences from the outside.” (11)

Myth: that humanity has emerged from the dark ages (an age of faith) into a new age of enlightenment (an age of reason)

  1. Isn’t calling something the “Dark Ages” in fact an act of bigotry in it’s assumption that our times are more enlightened than other times (and other cultures?)
  2. In reality, the Middle Ages were marked by dynamism in many fields, like the plow, armor, horse shoe, waterwheels, wrought iron, practical inventions driven by developing scientific theory.

Myth: A golden age of Hellenistic science was killed by Christianity

  1. Copernicus was heir to an extended tradition of Christian scholarship.
  2. Science – its methods, controls and guiding principles – were birthed “within Christendom, and under the hands of believing Christians.” (63) due in large degree to the development known as the medieval Christian university.
  3. Galileo was supported by Archbishops and Cardinals, but refused to acknowledge that his model had flaws and was simply a hypothesis.
  4. Galileo appealed to Augustine and church fathers, who always saw the Bible as not providing scientific descriptions of reality.

Myth: cruelty of religious intolerance (Crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts) in Christendom

  1. In times of witch hunts, the church played a key role by introducing courts to channel mob hysteria.
  2. “[I]n lands where the authority of the church and its inquisitions were strong – especially during the high tide of witch-hunting – convictions were extremely rare.” (80) Eg. Only two convictions went to trial in Spain in all of 13th and 14th centuries.
  3. The fascination with witchcraft was part of a society freeing itself from authority of the church, and thus a manifestation (a fruit?) of the dawn of modernity.
  4. Spanish Inquisition was an office of the state, not the church. It was driven by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who needed an instrument to enforce national unity. As such, the Inquisition serves an object lesson in “the inherence violence of the state.” (85).
  5. History shows us not a decline in church violence as the secular state gained power, but that “violence increased in proportion to the degree of sovereignty claimed by the state.” (86)

Myth: “wars of religion”

  1. Are in reality the first wars of the modern nation-state, with the role of establishing power of state over church.
  2. The crusades began as indignant response to the tales of brutality against Christian pilgrims.
  3. “They certainly had no basis in any Christian tradition of holy war. They [became] the last gaudy flourish of Western barbarian culture, embellished by the winsome ceremonies of chivalry.” (89)
  4. The wars of Christendom pale into insignificance when laid alongside the wars of the 20th century.

Part 2 here

Posted by steve at 04:31 PM

Thursday, January 07, 2010

farewell drinks

For our non-Opawa friends, we’ll be having a few farewell drinks at Fox and Ferrett, Westfields Riccarton from 5 pm, Sunday, 17th January.

(Opawa Baptist are farewelling us from Saturday 16th, 6 pm onwards.)

Posted by steve at 05:22 PM

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

ministry, imagination and leadership

Stephen Cherry, in Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture, reflects on the task of pastoral ministry and leadership. The particular occasion is extraordinary, the brutal murder of a 14 year old boy in his local community. Suddenly, he, as priest, finds himself at the centre of a rapidly evolving crisis. The media ring and at the end of a media interview, the question is asked: will the church be doing anything to respond.

At such moments the canvas is blank. No-one can prepare a leader for such a moment. No book exists, no course was offered in theological education, that can prepare someone for the appropriate response to that particular moment.

After reflection, Stephen Cherry’s church decided to open their doors. The community could come and sit, or light a candle, or write a prayer of condolence. The response was not just his, as ordained minister. It included those who would offer the ministry of the cup of tea.

The moment is certainly extra-ordinary. In my 15 years of ministry, I’ve never faced a brutal murder.

But I reckon the question – will the church be doing anything to respond – is being asked, continually, daily (even if mostly subconsciously). It might be the parishioner, arriving on Sunday, who during the week has just heard news they have cancer. It might be a family facing redundancy, or the professional contemplating a job offer in another city or a festering family relationship.

It might be a more broad brush – the impact of recession, or climate change, or how to live in response to the other that is terrorist.

The canvas is blank, but surely the question is being asked, constantly, subconsciously: Will the church be doing anything to respond?

One answer is no, nothing extra. The church will simply do what is has always done. Driven by a theology of tradition or a theology of worship, the church will continue to pray and reflect. And there is value in that.

But what to do with John 3:16, the knowledge that God so loved the world. Which presumably includes the world’s questions. Or Isaiah 1, which reminds us that God detests prayer and worship as mere repetition, as acts that do not engage with justice, encourage the oppressed and speak for the fatherless.

In the face of the question – will the church be doing anything to respond? – what is required of the minister at this point is primarily imagination. Since no book has been written, since this moment is particular, since the canvas is blank, the demand is for an exercise of imagination.

Thankfully, whether the need is ordinary (the daily routines of life) or extra-ordinary (unexpected tragedy), plenty of resources to nourish the imagination do in fact exist – the guidance of the Spirit, others in the leadership team, pastoral colleagues, time for reflection, two ears that are listening, the wealth of resources present as the church in history has responded through time and space.

As a bird makes a nest, so the task is to work with what is on hand, to sift one’s resources and stitch together something, unique.

Will the church be doing anything to respond is a question not just for the minister, but also for the theological seminary. It is impossible to prepare a leader for every particular. But it is surely possible to give them confidence that they can stitch, that they do have imagination, that they have begun to use it, that they are aware of what resources they might be able to draw on.

Posted by steve at 11:27 AM