Month: June 2009

honour your father and mother?

More than one in four Australian seniors [65 and over] live in poverty on international measures [less than half of median household income]. This is the fourth highest old-age poverty rate in the OECD countries and more than double the OECD average.

OECD (2009), Pensions at a Glance 2009: Retirement-Income Systems in OECD Countries

Admittedly, the definition of poverty used here means there will always be someone under the poverty line, but it still gives me pause. As a community, our generosity to our elders clearly isn’t overflowing…

jehovah jireh (ii)

Read Part (i).

You may not know that some people consider providence an unscriptural idea. Imposed on the Bible as a distorting grid.

And the word itself is pretty rare in Scripture. More common are notions of ‘governance’ — drawn from the image of God’s kingly rule over creation and history — and ‘preservation’ — associated with God’s care for the world, which he lovingly upholds and sustains through his personal involvement with it.

Some feminist theologians have protested that even these biblical images can be (and often have been) hijacked by oppressive patriarchal agendas. As when God’s kingship, for example, is wrenched from its proper context — the manifestation of his loving fatherhood (Matt 6.9-10) and essential attitude of humble service (Phil 2).

But potential abuse doesn’t eliminate proper use. There are moments in the Bible at which providence occupies the limelight, and God’s provisio — ‘seeing to’ his creatures’ needs — is highlighted. Such as the climax of that story in which Abraham is called upon to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac (Genesis 22). With wood piled, son bound, and knife poised, God makes good on Abraham’s confession of hope against hope: ‘God himself will provide (see to) the lamb for the burnt offering’ (v 8).

Here, God hints at the unbreakable connection between his sovereign provision and what he achieves through the propitiating sacrifice he himself graciously sets forth.

This, furthermore, is taken up in the New Testament reflection establishing that the God who provides is the God of resurrection. The God of the living not the dead. Whose intention to secure peace, life and harmony won’t be thwarted by sin or death. Even through the fires of judgement, God will achieve cosmic renewal, establishing the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3).

In Abraham and Isaac we thus get a (shadowy) preview of the fact that providence has its centre in God’s achievement in Christ, inaugurating the new creation and guaranteeing the ultimate victory of life and hope…

BBQ skills

I spent a chunk of my weekend transcribing some interviews I’d conducted with people about church-based ESL ministries. Let me just say that producing transcripts is not a career I ever want to pursue! Even so, it’s really been worthwhile for picking up details that hadn’t stuck in my mind.

One thing that impressed me was an observation one veteran ESL teacher made: most Australians aren’t good at sustaining a conversation (beyond the meet-and-greet stage), especially with people whose English isn’t great.

This rings true for me. I really need to work on my ‘BBQ skills’ — you know, those conversational strategies you use at a BBQ, where you’re interacting with people you barely know.

BBQ Salmon

BBQ Salmon by NicnBill, on Flickr

Not just asking questions all the time (being bombarded by questions with little chance to reciprocate can feel like an interrogation). But exchanging stories. Taking a genuine interest in the other person. And showing it.

I recently read these 5 non-question based strategies for sustaining a conversation:

  1. Make observations about physical facts — saying ‘You’re smiling a lot’ or ‘I can see tears in your eyes’ is less interrogative than ‘What’s got you so happy?’ or ‘Why are you crying?’
  2. Comment on how things seem to be to you — saying ‘You seem kind of agitated’ can be less direct and demanding than asking ‘What’s bothering you?’
  3. Use “I” statements — explicitly and verbally taking responsibility for your reaction to something or your need for clarification, can (bizarrely) often take the heat or awkwardness off one of those potential conversation killer moments.
  4. Say “Tell me (more) about…” something that’s popped up in conversation — it might seem pretty direct and demanding with no relational context, but the interest it communicates (e.g., showing you’re listening well enough to pick up a specific detail) can really move things forward.
  5. Employ sounds and grunts as well as body language — used judiciously these kind of prompts can really draw someone out.

Basically, it’s about showing interest and concern while letting your conversation partner set the ‘agenda’ (in terms of how mucht o share and at what pace).

What BBQ skills have you picked up?

on not (quite) getting it

Natalie’s already made this point in regard to cross-cultural connections, but I’m a slow learner: it’s more virtuous (honest, realistic, courageous) to assume that you haven’t understood everything about a person or encounter than to assume that you have.

This applies also to reading the Bible — something those of us trained to analyse a passage with confidence, reflexively looking to its immediate and wider salvation-historical contexts, would do well to own.

It’s especially true of Hebrew narrative, which as the literary critic Erich Auerbach observes is so sparse, leaves so much — unexplained — in the background. This is the key to its realism: the springs and causes of action are rendered opaque, the complexity and inaccessibility of human motives is underlined.
Soren Kierkegaard knew all about this (Fear and Trembling):

It is supposed to be difficult to understand Hegel, but to understand Abraham is a trifle. To go beyond Hegel is a miracle, but to get beyond Abraham is the easiest thing of all. I for my part have devoted a good deal of time to the understanding of the Hegelian philosophy, I believe also that I understand it tolerably well, but when in spite of the trouble I have taken there are certain passages I cannot understand, I am foolhardy enough to think that he himself has not been quite clear. All this I do easily and naturally, my head does not suffer from it. But on the other hand when I have to think of Abraham, I am as though annihilated. I catch sight every moment of that enormous paradox which is the substance of Abraham’s life, every moment I am repelled, and my thought in spite of all its passion cannot get a hairs-breadth further. I strain every muscle to get a view of it – that very instant I am paralysed.

His customary confidence falls away before one of the Bible’s briefest, most puzzling and overwhelmingly fraught episodes.

free — with a history?

It’s harder now that it’s over
It’s harder now that it’s over
Now that the cuffs are off
And you’re free
You’re free with a history 

So sings the perennially tortured Ryan Adams in Harder Now That It’s Over. And, although I’m not entirely sure I get what Ryan’s singing about, I think there’s something powerful in the image of being free with a history. It’s got legs (so to speak) when it comes to describing the way God forgives and renews us in Christ.

There’s a lot going for the traditional language of ‘being given a fresh start’ or ‘having my slate wiped clean’ — God does meet us with grace and mercy in Jesus, no matter our past (or present) failings and inadequacies; more, He puts His Spirit in us, giving us his own transforming power and presence. But this way of speaking does have some real limitations.

Turbine Hall Tate Modern

Turbine Hall Tate Modern by Guy Nesbitt, on Flickr

Most significantly, it can suggest that our regeneration marks not only a change of direction and identity (new birth, new family, new future, etc) but the irreversible entry into a radical new experience of godliness. What I mean is that if we imagine that someone’s pre-conversion habits, personality and character flaws suddenly become irrelevant once he or she becomes Christian, we’re kidding ourselves.

We may be free. But we still have our histories. And they still matter.

I suspect it’s worth finding ways to speak about forgiveness and Christian growth that don’t obscure this. Any suggestions?

truth is…

Crack the champagne: it’s our 150th post! Not bad for a blog that’s only existed since February this year (if I do say so myself).

To celebrate, I want to share with you some beautiful, poetic images of Truth that are close to my heart:

‘Truth is always a quarry hard to hunt, and therefore we must look everywhere for its tracks.’ (Basil of Caesarea, De Spiritu Sancto)

‘Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but when he ascended, and his Apostles after him were laid asleep, then straight arose a wicked race of deceivers, who, as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspirators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb, still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master’s second coming.’ (John Milton, Areopagitica)

‘Supposing truth is a woman – what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women? That the gruesome seriousness, the clumsy obtrusiveness with which they have usually approached truth so far have been awkward and very improper methods for winning a woman’s heart?’ (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil)

Do you have any favourites of your own?

new stuff

I thought it might be worth drawing some things to your attention:

  • I suggest that ‘Imagination is not the problem’ in my most recent post over on An Inconvenient Invitation.
  • OK — so it’s not particularly new, but the ongoing (and lively!) discussion that ensued from me asking ‘Who’s afraid of theosis?’ has borne much fruit.
  • Bek rises to the challenge (of the good books meme Matt tagged me with) and shares her excellent thoughts about some excellent books.
  • You can now access Natalie’s favourite posts on the sidebar — including her lovely series ‘In praise of’ her favourite storytellers.
  • And … for everyone who arrives at this blog searching for “Christian conflict resolution” (and, terrifyingly, there are lots of you) our new, truly innovative category — Conflict resolution — should help you find the most relevant posts. Pleasingly, as I combed back through our posts to work out which ones deserved the label, a nice mix of theological, exegetical, church historical and pastoral/practical material jumped out at me. We hope it helps!

Ahh, procrastination — it means so many things get done…

underrated movies

There is something peculiarly delightful about watching a film, of which you have decidedly low expectations, and finding it to be pleasantly, surprisingly enjoyable. This post is about two films I expected nothing from but which surprised me with family-friendly, gentle, funny, sensitive stories. Both films deal with joy and love, loss and sadness.

The first movie is one I watched while I was sick with the flu. The advertising had led me to believe that Marley and Me would be a slapstick comedy about the antics of a crazy dog, but I rented the film because there wasn’t a lot else that I hadn’t seen and at least it would have (a) puppies and (b) Owen Wilson.

Don’t believe the advertising:  it’s actually an intelligently humorous exploration of married life, the decision to have kids and the compromises that involves. The dog (Marley) is simultaneously pivotal and incidental; pivotal in that the film follows the timeline of his life, but incidental in that the film is really more about the human relationships that happen around him.

The second film I re-watched this weekend — In Good Company. The first time I watched it, I was a bit dubious. I hadn’t heard much about it, and although I loved Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy, he’s tended to make some spectacularly bad decisions about films in the last few years (Welcome to Sarajevo being a notable exception). So, I was worried. But this film is a lovely satire of the business world, and while the characters are stereotyped they’re also very real. I happily watched it a second time. The ‘synergy’ scene is absolutely priceless.  

You won’t enjoy either of these films as much as I did because, by the very act of making the recommendation, I will have led you to expect more of these films than I did. But you might find them mildly enjoyable.

putting gender on the agenda

A friend and I were chatting all things ministry the other day. In the spirit of Andrew Katay’s ‘If I ran the diocese…’ series, one question we entertained was If I ran a church, what Bible translation would I choose for public reading?


To my friend’s mind some of the key factors to be reckoned with included:

  • displaying a basic faithfulness and liveliness of translation,
  • finding an appropriate level and accessibility of language, and
  • highlighting OT allusions/verbal linkages wherever possible.

I agreed with pretty much all of this. But I wanted to add ‘attempting not to offend (or alienate) people through unnecessarily conservative translations of gender constructions — e.g., retaining references to the brothers or to being adopted as sons of God‘.

What’s your feeling? How much play should we give to an agenda like this when choosing a Bible translation for public reading? Am I being over-sensitive about something that most people just don’t really care that much about? What other factors should enter in?