Month: July 2009

the lost art of the sentence from Scripture

titleAt College, I have the great privilege of sitting in chapel three times a week. For many it’s an acquired taste. And I certainly wasn’t a big fan in my first two years at College. Happily, something sort of ‘clicked’ around the start of third year — although chapel and I do still have our … moments (usually when health, workload or whatever is weighing me down).

One out of three chapel services is run using the Morning Prayer service from An Australian Prayer Book (actually, it’s really only one in six I think — we only do this for half the College year).

And to be honest I love it! Not just because I’m a ‘young fogey’ — although I do appreciate the rhythms and reflectiveness of the Prayer Book, and I’ve come to relish the way reciting the Creed brings with it a sense of solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters who struggled for the soul of the faith.

The main thing that appeals to me about the Prayer Book services is the directness and economy of the exhortations. As we move through from praise to confession to prayer to hearing the Word and back to prayer, the Prayer Book is constantly concerned not only to help us understand what we’re supposed to be doing at each point but to actually do it.

And one of the crucial ways it achieves this is by keeping things simple. It doesn’t waste words. It certainly doesn’t hit us with whole slabs of Scripture. It simply exhort us with one or two sentences judiciously drawn from Scripture.

I think we can learn a lot from this — whatever the dangers of proof-texting it may bring with it. Many of the more contemporary services I’ve participated in involve quite a lot of explanation about what we’re doing as we confess our sins, etc.

Our desire to explain everything so that people understand is commendable. Unfortunately, all this explanation sometimes eclipses the real thing. We spend so much time thinking about what confession is that we never get around to actually confessing our sins. And that’s a tragedy.

Natalie’s top 10 gigs (so far)

DiscoBal_smllLest anyone think we are ‘fused’ I thought it approariate to highlight that my top 10 gigs are rather different from Chris’…

This is more a ‘most memorable’ list rather than a ‘best’ list. In no particular order:

  1. Justin Timberlake — Hordern Pavillion 2004 (proved himself to be a musician) and Acer Arena 2007 (proved himself to be a showman)
  2. Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals — Hordern Pavillion 2000 (touring Burn to Shine; I like Ben’s sad, angry music much better than his later happier stuff)
  3. India Arie — Enmore Theatre 2006 (so joyful! And she listened to the audience and was visibly, physically delighted by the fact that we knew every word)
  4. Cafe at the Gate of Salvation and The Five Blind Boys of Alabama — Enmore Theatre 1992 (we paid Mum out for years about taking us to see this one — but it was actually a pretty big musical moment in my life…)
  5. Arrested Development — Hordern Pavillion 1993 (first gig without parents and it has a very special place in my heart; saw them again at the Forum in ’07 but it wasn’t quite the same)
  6. Idea of North — Black Stump 1997 (the gig wasn’t great — they’re much better at the Basement! — but this was when I first discovered them…)
  7. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova — Opera House 2009 (profound — the only gig that’s ever made me cry)
  8. Beth Orton — Seymour Centre 2004 (beautiful)
  9. Dr John — East Coast Blues and Roots 2004 (this man is a legend — he played two Hammond organs at the same time!)
  10. The Whitlams — Manly RSL 2000 (Ok, it wasn’t the world’s best gig; but I had a blast telling their sax player that he’d been my bandmaster at primary school 9 years earlier!)

top 10 gigs (ever)


My top 10 anyway. (Just to prepare you, this may get a bit weird — as a result, I’d like to believe, of my stunningly insightful eclecticism, but it actually probably owes more to my own musical journey from being a bass player in a thrash metal band to being someone who’ll happily buy a Britney Spears album).

Anyway, here goes:

  1. Fear Factory — The Metro, 1999 (look, it was just really fun!)
  2. Mr Bungle — Macquarie Uni Atrium, 2000/2001
  3. John Butler Trio — The Big Day Out, 2002
  4. Tool — I’ve seen them four times (all of them were awesome)
  5. Radiohead — Entertainment Centre, 2004 (I laughed, I cried, it was heart-breakingly beautiful)
  6. India Arie — Enmore Theatre, 2006 (who’d have thought a Fear Factor fan could have found this engaging, moving and just downright brilliant?)
  7. The Tango Saloon — The Vanguard, 2007
  8. Kanye West — The Horden Pavillion, 2007
  9. Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova — Opera House, 2009 (he came out and stood at the edge of the stage, un-plugged, and totally commanded the concert hall — wow!)
  10. Bloc Party — Museum of Contemporary Art, last night (cool space, the band actually looked like they were having fun, and they weren’t afraid to do slightly different versions of their stuff live — without endlessly dragging things out … unlike [ahem] Metallica)

cross-cultural connections (5)

Download a pdf of this series of posts HERE.

So, it’s been a while since I posted on Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Connections but we were at a CMS event the other night that has spurred me to finish the series off with one last post. And the reason for the post is this: I struggle with the wisdom of many very experienced brothers and sisters that recommends conformity to the status expectations of another culture, making adjustments where possible to give honour as you can.

Elmer writes (p 168):

Keep in mind that if you insist on imposing your cultural values [e.g., gender equality] and even your biblical values on the rest of the world in a way that others perceive as crude or harsh, you will not get a hearing for the gospel… find a way if possible, where you can uphold the cultural values [of status/respect] while bringing your own biblical values to bear on the situation in a sensitive way.

I find this a hard word. I want to do away with gender inequality, I want to break down the caste system and I want to treat the cleaner with all the respect and dignity I would give to my colleagues. Yet the word from Elmer, and from others I respect with years on the mission field, is that certain concessions need to be made when working within the structures of power and authority in other countries.

I don’t want to be ‘crude and harsh’. I want to act ‘in a sensitive way’. But I struggle to know what that will look like. This is just one of those things I don’t think I’ll figure out until I’m in a country where it matters. But it confounds me and it tears at my left-leaning, bleeding heart.

redemptive perfection

Recently, I’ve really been building up a strong sense of the way Jesus, in so many of His encounters with people in the Gospels, effects — or at least offers to effect — the restoration of our humanity.


The road from Perth to Albany, WA (Jan 2009)

This certainly seems to be the subtext in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, for example. And he straight out asks the crippled man in John 5, ‘Do you want to be made well (or whole)?’ Likewise, the man possessed by a legion of demons in Mark 5 is lifted out of his thoroughly dehumanised plight in a dramatic ‘preview’ of the final judgement and victory of God over demons, death and disease.

God’s gracious intervention in human life serves the purpose of fulfilling, perfecting, enabling us to be more truly ourselves. Grace, as they say, perfects nature.

And yet as Colin Gunton has emphasised this perfection is a ‘redemptive perfection’. Something requiring cleansing and often costly change.

Time and again in the Gospels we see that massive wrenching is involved in God’s restorative work in Christ. The legion of demons had to be driven out and the pigs plunged into the lake for the man’s humanity to be restored. This is no a simple affirmation of the status quo. God doesn’t just give his stamp of approval to the world as we know it. Rather, in a cataclysmic confrontation — which climaxes in the cross and resurrection of the Messiah — He asserts His authority and plants the flag of His ultimate victory in the soil of His creation.

In short, I’m finding this idea of ‘redemptive perfection’ increasingly generative…


Baby_handWe were privileged to celebrate and witness the baptism of a very special little girl on Sunday. The minister was careful to note that baptism doesn’t guarantee she’ll grow into a Christian. And I can agree with that — there are plenty of very faithful parents who, despite their best efforts and prayerfulness, face the heartbreak of children who grow up to deny their Lord.

But it got me thinking… is it any more impossible for an adult to come to faith than it is for a little child? Is the miracle he works in an adult any less remarkable than if he saved an infant at baptism?

The minister also noted that this baptism was a sign of hope. But the hope we have is not a ‘maybe she’ll be saved’ kind of hope. We have a God who loves to save and I wonder if sometimes we are a little too ready to doubt just how secure our living hope really is.

Israel and Jesus

‘Israel and Jesus’ has become something of a catch cry in post-liberal theology. I appreciate how it pushes back against the way much contemporary evangelicalism pits law and gospel against each other — which results in our difficulty knowing what significance to give God’s dealings with Israel (except as a foil for His unique achievement in Jesus).

River Jordan

The River Jordan where Jesus was baptised as the true Israelite (posted by amanderson2, on Flickr)

It can swing too far the other way though — sometimes the ‘and’ in Jesus and Israel is taken to imply so much continuity between the two that there’s little room left for Jesus to fulfil God’s promises to (and through) Israel.

In The Mediation of Christ (p 29), T. F. Torrance tries to capture the appropriate relationship between Israel and Jesus:

In this Jesus … the Jew in whom the Creator Word and man the creature, the God of the covenant and man the covenanted partner, are brought together, all the interaction of God with Israel throughout their history, and all the intensifying conflict of Israel with God, are brought to their supreme culmination, so that from the moment of his birth at Bethlehem the road ran straight to the crucifixion.

What do you reckon?

beautiful one day…

brisbane_night_smlI got back the other day from the Community Indicators Summit 09 in beautiful Brisbane. The presentations were much better than the last conference I went to. You will be spared from 10 days of ranting. But here are some brief questions and reflections:

  1. What is with the word ‘learnings’? 
  2. You could almost feel the glare bouncing off the overwhelming white-ness of a room full of 300 government representatives and statisticians.
  3. Why don’t we acknowledge country very often at the start of Christian conferences/public lectures etc.?
  4. It was strange to be revelling in ‘t-shirt weather’ while Queenslanders got around in boots and overcoats.
  5. Is the idea of ‘empowerment’ unbiblical? I’ve heard it said, but I’m not sure.
  6. It sucks being stuck in a hotel conference room while the sun is shining on a city you’ve never properly explored.

the Why and How of interpretation

When it comes to hermeneutics, Calvin kicks a goal in ‘The Epistle Dedicatory’ of his Romans commentary:

But we ever find, that even those who have not been deficient in their zeal for piety, nor in reverence and sobriety in handling the mysteries of God, have by no means agreed among themselves on every point; for God bath never favoured his servants with so great a benefit, that they were all endued with a full and perfect knowledge in every thing; and, no doubt, for this end – that he might first keep them humble; and secondly, render them disposed to cultivate brotherly intercourse. Since then what would otherwise be very desirable cannot be expected in this life, that is, universal consent among us in the interpretation of all parts of Scripture, we must endeavour, that, when we depart from the sentiments of our predecessors, we may not be stimulated by any humour for novelty, nor impelled by any lust for defaming others, nor instigated by hatred, nor tickled by any ambition, but constrained by necessity alone, and by the motive of seeking to do good: and then, when this is done in interpreting Scripture, less liberty will be taken in the principles of religion, in which God would have the minds of his people to be especially unanimous.

I love the way Calvin relates the Why of interpretation — imperfect agreement in knowledge — back to God’s good intention to teach us humility and interdependence. Equally brilliant is his treatment of the How of interpretation primarily in terms of character and not method.

Three cheers for Calvin!

why we need Christian statisticians

Because what we choose to measure defines what we think is worth monitoring and managing as a society.

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.  Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.  And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

Robert Kennedy, 1968, University of Kansas