Month: April 2009

do you speak Danish?

Our church is currently brimming with people for whom English is their second language. About a third of the congregation present on any given Sunday speak German as their first language (which is pretty much as you’d expect in the middle of such a profoundly Italian a suburb as Haberfield, right?).


St Oswald's, Haberfield -- Front Window

Since even five years of High School German can only take me so far, I’ve started to wonder whether I might be able to use my dad’s tried and tested strategy — learn how to say ‘Do you speak Danish?’ … in every language.

It’s one simple phrase, my dad assures me, that can get you anywhere. Well, almost.

How? Let me try to explain. When the person you’re speaking to says, ‘No. I don’t speak Danish.’ (and, to be honest, who does?), all you have to do is say: ‘Well, what about English then?’ and you’ve proposed a happy compromise!

OK. It’s probably a non-starter. But I can think of worse coping strategies (e.g., talking louder and slower in your own language — like you might to a young child)…

In praise of Hans Rosling

Don’t worry, you’re not expected to know who Hans Rosling is. In fact, I don’t know a great deal about him — but what I have seen is truly inspirational. This is a series about great storytellers (c.f. Intro, #1, #2, #3), so I imagine you will laugh when I say this: Hans Rosling is a statistician. 

I work with stats and geographic information systems (GIS, i.e. computerised mapping) and spend a lot of time figuring out how to communicate statistics meaningfully to a non-expert audience. I think a lot about data visualisation.  If I ever acquire the ability to turn statistics into the kinds of stories that Hans Rosling creates I will be a happy woman*. 

He is a miracle worker at using statistics to make sense of (and problematise) commonly articulated narratives about global development. If you have the time, I highly recommend watching the video below (or see another one here). And, thrillingly, you can play with his data visualisation engine here.

So … lies, damned lies, and beautiful stories.

*Note: Chris isn’t the only one who posts here. I do too.

TV science and GIS

I forgive a lot of bad science for the sake of a good story. But sometimes it gets frustrating — so, this offering from PhD Comics gave me a good chuckle.

However, working with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), my personal bugbear is anything to do with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and mapping: How do the guys in Num3ers get access to basemaps instantaneously? And why do they never have to enter into conversations about licencing? And don’t get me started on GPS tracking…

If I could add a fifth frame to the comic linked to above, it would look something like this:


As an aside, and for the copyright conscious among you, the map image above is taken from the fabulous British site The People’s Map.  This is a seriously awesome use of crowdsourcing to create free map data for non-commercial use. While you can get map images from Google Maps, the data used to draw those images is still copyright and there’s lots of conditions about how you can use it. In contrast, The People’s Map (or OpenStreetMap) are aiming to generate copyright free layers of lat-long data that you can use on-line or in your own GIS engine and your derived data is copyright free too! Very cool.

I know medicos and lawyers regularly get frustrated by TV representations of their fields — but does anyone else have a TV science pet-hate?

‘with tears…’

If you’re just tuning in to this series on Christian proclamation, you probably need to read the previous four posts first.

View from Quakers Hill Anglican Church Carpark (May 2007)

View from Quakers Hill Anglican Church Carpark (May 2007)

In my last post I addressed myself to the appropriateness of rhetoric and imagination in proclaiming the good news. I argued that drawing on such resources is about effective communication. We do it as we strive to responsibly use the gifts God has given us to speak words that present the Lord Jesus in the power of the Spirit and to the glory of the Father.

But there’s a potential dark side to this. With so much emphasis on the how of proclamation — maximising its impact, etc — we risk leaving the door of our hearts open to manipulative or self-serving intentions. Continue reading

conversational v confessional growth

I’ve just started reading Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most by three members of the Harvard Negotiation Project. And it feels promising. Partly because, like narrative therapy, it adopts a solution-oriented approach to delivering bad news, confronting hurtful behaviour, asking for a pay-rise, etc. Rather than dwelling on past failures, guilt or recriminations, it’s oriented towards growth and positive change. It’s forward looking. It’s about conversation — understanding rather than judging (or manipulating).

When it comes to Christian growth, a forward looking stance seems right. We’re interested in the work of God’s Spirit. And He’s the one who moves us towards maturity. Producing the fruit of Christ-like character.

We see it all the time in the Gospels. Jesus consistently welcomes people as they are — lost and messy and weighed down with baggage. He doesn’t hand out a list of criteria to fulfil before He lavishes grace on them. But nor does He leave them to wallow. His call is: ‘Go. And sin no more’.

The grace God shows teaches us to say No to ungodliness and Yes to holiness. So it seems to have lots in common with a conversational approach to growth.

Until I read things like this (Difficult Conversations, pp 11-12):

[T]alking about fault is similar to talking about truth — it produces disagreement, denial, and little learning. It evokes fears of punishment and insists on an either/or answer. Nobody wants to be blamed, especially unfairly, so our energy goes into defending ourselves […] But in situations that give rise to difficult conversations, it is almost always true that what happened is the result of what both people did — or failed to do. And punishment is rarely relevant or appropriate. When competent, sensible people do something stupid, the smartest move is to try to figure out, first, what kept them from seeing it coming and, second, how to prevent the problem happening again.

At one level, this is brilliant — and directly applicable to the situation of Christian growth. For instance, if you’re taking on some habitual sin or character flaw, dealing with it has got to involve diagnosing what led to it taking root and thus what kind of spiritual weed killer is needed.

At another level, though, it makes me nervous about the role of confession. Where does admitting our fault come in? What about being sorry? Apologising? Taking responsibility?

Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath-water, though, I want to know if conversational growth can accommodate confession and repentance. Accepting blame when we deserve it — not trying to dodge it. But doing so with an essentially forward looking stance. Sorrow that goes nowhere is worthless. But when it leads to repentance it’s exactly right (cf. 2 Cor 7.8-11).

The grace of God in Jesus elicits my willingness to give up pretending about my sin and guilt. But it doesn’t stop there. It enrols me in a ‘conversation’ about how to go and sin no more…

In praise of Joss Whedon

serenity_one_sheetI wanted to call this post “Quentin Tarantino eat your heart out”, but decided to stay with my established pattern so you would know what on earth I was talking about. 

Joss Whedon is favourite storyteller #3. For those impoverished people who don’t know who I’m talking about, Whedon is the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly (among others). It would be tempting to label these gorgeously layered creations “vampire” or “sci-fi” flicks, but the reason for the Tarantino reference is this…

Tarantino uses a variety of genres in any given film. Kill Bill, for example, blended martial arts, noir, and anime to name a few. Reflect for a moment on Pulp Fiction and see if you can create a list of genres it encompasses. But the thing is, when I watch a Tarantino film, the use of genre is all just a bit too clever and Look At Me I’m Using Lots Of Different Genres.

In contrast, Whedon creates a series like Firefly (and the subsequent film Serenity), which you could potentially label Sci-fi-Western-Adventure-Romance-Thriller-Comedy-Coming-of-Age, but you don’t even notice him doing anything funky with genre because genre is serving the storytelling and not the other way around. 

Tarantino’s ostentatious flaunting of his clever use of genre, suddenly looks kind of clunky next to Whedon’s artful use of storytelling heritage to create imaginary worlds that are complex and captivating but accessible and entertaining at the same time. 

So … Quentin Tarantino eat your heart out.

mission and deficits

In the spirit of Stanley Fish’s recent, somewhat controversial NY Times blog post, I want to do some wondering out loud about the impact of the current crisis on Christian mission.

My friends who are candidates for ordination in Sydney Anglican churches are beginning to apply themselves to finding work next year. And it seems to me that the level of uncertainty they’re facing is unprecedented. They aren’t just wondering if they’ll find a good position. They’re wondering if they’ll find a position. Full stop.

More broadly, with the Sydney Diocesan mission supposedly kicking into high gear off the back of its Connect ’09 campaign — at least, assuming the ‘mind-shift’ it’s expected to catalyse does in fact take place — there’s plenty to wonder about financially. While the extent of the fallout is yet to be determined, like anyone else looking to significant investment income it’s pretty clear that things are going to be tight. And, even if it only directly impacts centralised services, who can say what kick-on effect it will have?

So what will become of the mission? Not just Anglican Sydney’s mission but the wider mission of the triune God in which Christians everywhere are caught up?

Continue reading

from King St to … King St

King St, Newtown to King St, Perth, that is.

King St, Perth (April 2009)

King St, Perth (April 2009)

Natalie and I are enjoying a very lazy Easter extra-long weekend with her parents, who are currently based in Perth — they grew up and moved out of home from the East to the West coast a few years back. Our time’s largely consisted in eating. Talking. Wandering around the CBD. A trip to Freo. More eating. Coffee. Reading. And … did I mention eating?

Back to ol’ Sydney town tomorrow, though. And to my ever-diminishing hopes to achieve all I wanted to these holidays…



Caves Beach (September 2006)

I wrote another poem:

Craving stillness, craving beauty:
Neither an overwhelming surge
Dissolving my borders away,
Nor the cold comfort of seeing
Everything neatly in its place,
But the strong hammer-blow of grace
Straightening until I’m made true,
The ever-marching peace of life—
All brimming and overflowing—
Rather than a final silence.

Longing for a pulsing rhythm
Not leaving me listless, passive,
But quickening and anchoring
A beating heart outside myself,
Whetting even my dull appetite,
Like a gift that dispossesses…

(Jan 2009)