Month: December 2012

Lord – teach us to pray!

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Our 15 month old son is learning to pray.

At least, that’s how we’re interpreting what he’s doing as he clasps his hands and bows his head with us before meals and during his bedtime routine.

He doesn’t have much by way of language, of course. So I guess it’s our words that ‘carry ‘ him — a kind of family-sized common prayer.

But this itself is pretty terrifying.

Why terrifying? Because Natalie and I are supposed to be teaching him how to pray!

Which you might think wouldn’t be that frightening a thought — especially after a year in which the waves of life threw us up against our own limits again and again. Our sense of self-sufficiency has taken a battering. Any notions of proud Western independence we may have harboured have warped and splintered. And we’ve choked on our fair share of spiritual whitewater.

And yet — for all that I’ve prayed a lot of desperate, needy prayers that lifehas torn from my throat this year — I’m not sure I’ve learned to pray especially well.

Or in ways that particularly reflect how our Lord taught his disciples to pray.

You know, taking our heavenly Father’s agenda as my own agenda? Putting a priority on him — his glory, his holy reputation, his kingdom, his mission?

And consequently trusting him to provide for our needs — in the day to day as well as in the deeper, forgiveness-demanding dimensions of our existence. To protect us from temptation. And deliver us from evil.

So in a sense my prayer for next year is: Lord – teach us to pray!

I guess it’s kind of a new year’s resolution for someone who lacks resolve. And also — a bit like Paul Tripp — doesn’t really believe in the emphasis on decisive human action and dramatic self-saving initiative that’s often loaded into popular conceptions of such resolutions…

a timely word

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder if I’ve sung every traditional Advent hymn and Christmas carol thousands of times.

And yet as overdone and all-too-familiar as they can feel, the words still occasionally pierce the numbing cloud. This year these ones did it for me:

Wise men leave your contemplations!
Brighter visions shine afar;
Seek in him the hope of nations
You have seen his rising star.
Come and worship, Christ the new born King;
Come and worship, worship Christ the new born King.

Timely — especially for someone who finds it so easy to get wrapped up in my own contemplations…

if it’s big in Japan…

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Yesterday, I heard a Christian missionary speak about the challenges he’s facing in Japan. One of the big ones is that, apparently, in Japan to become Christian is to become un-Japanese.

It’s seen as a massive betrayal. Giving up on what’s most essential and distinctive to the Japanese culture and way of life.

And from what I hear this is a fairly common theme — especially in non-Western cultures.

But it’s got me thinking…

Why don’t we assume something similar about becoming Christian in Australia?

If it’s big in Japan, why isn’t it so big here?

Or, rather, why don’t we expect it to be so big here? (I’m less interested in a historical or sociological account of how Australian culture and Christian ‘values’ have become intwined. And more interested in why Christians in Australia are likely to find the thought that being Christian means becoming un-Australian in some essential sense.)

Is it perhaps that we’re too engaged — too deeply embedded in and complicit with the Australian way of life? Too uncritically accepting and unable to imagine any other possibility than being here, fitting in, belonging?

Are we too unprepared to own the kind of identity the Apostle Peter hails his readers with: “elect exiles of the dispersion”, “temporary residents”, “strangers”?

And if I’m onto something with these hunches, then I’d want to know what it is that’s got us here. Even if all I’ve got is questions. Questions like:

How helpful is our popular evangelical emphasis on ‘just praying the prayer’ and not standing on ceremony?

Not that calling people to conversion is a bad thing. But I worry about what happened to urging people to count the cost. Or to baptising people into the radical new identity and life-course Jesus launches us on — where we’re summoned to observe everything our Lord teaches…

Please don’t misread me. It’s not that I’m looking to place (or avoid) blame here. But I do think it’s worth trying to tease apart the matted ball of contributing threads.

Otherwise I doubt we’ll never disentangle ourselves from our culture long enough to meaningfully engage it with the gospel.

who doesn’t want to be likeable?

I like to think of myself as a pretty likeable guy. I mean who doesn’t?

Of course, there are temptations wrapped up with this desire. Driven by pride and insecurity no doubt.

But when this summary of what makes a business ‘likeable’ landed in my inbox (courtesy of the #StartupLab mailing list I’m on), it made me stop short:

Likeable businesses live by 5 principles: listening, responsiveness, authenticity, transparency, and surprise and delight.

I guess wanting to be likeable can’t be all bad — especially if this is what it means.

Maybe I need to start asking some hard questions about the likeability of my ministry and the Christian groups I’m involved with.

What do you reckon?

consumerism and idolatry (iii)

In the previous post in this series I flagged the connection of consumerism with greed. But this apparently obvious connection raises questions. In particular:

5. How should we ‘map’ the connection? Is greed the idolatrous dimension of consumerism? Or is greed the essence of consumerism — such that consumerism is merely the ‘clothing’ greed wears in the late modern West?

Why does this question matter?

Well, if greed turns out to be the idolatrous dimension of consumerism, then it probably isn’t so helpful to condemn consumerism as idolatry tout court. Rather, we should take issue with greed-tainted consumerism (leaving open for now the issue of whether there is any such thing as consumerism untainted by greed).

But if, on the other hand, consumerism turns out to be the contemporary form of greed — or otherwise to have greed as its essence — then we have to start asking questions about what we gain by using the label ‘consumerism’.

Not that there are no good answers to this question. It could very well be that it’s a necessary — and illuminating — matter of translation, for example. Contemporary Westerners may not recognise themselves as greedy (reserving that label, e.g., for big business or people like Gordon Gecko from Wall Street — the 1% targeted by the Occupy movement). But they may recognise themselves as entangled in consumerism.

Alternatively, things could run the other way. Helping someone see they’re entangled with consumerism could well lead them to say, “Big whoop!” Whereas showing them that they’re implicated in greed could prove to be the really arresting thing: “You mean that thing I hate in big business is at work in me too? Ouch!”

Enough throat-clearing! I’m half-way through my ramble already — I was heartened to notice that Brian Rosner took nine chapters of his book on greed and idolatry to get to this point.

Let’s just run with the Consumerism Is Idolatry line and see where it takes us…