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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

England calling

I am England staying with my parents in Hereford. Any English friends are welcome to get in touch in case we can meet up. I leave on New Years Day.

I come here with a heavy heart and time to reflect and seek direction for my life. I am in a job in which I am very unfulfilled. My passion is for writing, teaching and ministry but I can't seem to find my way there yet although I believe that this trip is part of the process.

I want to return to Australia with a clearer sense of myself so that I can be a more responsible husband and father. I began writing my "story" today and I am also doing some of my Masters work while I am here.

I returned to an alcoholic brother, an anxious mother and a sick father but I also return to my roots and a chance to find some answers to my own mental turmoil. God has brought me to this place at this time to learn and grow. I only pray that I am able to learn and grow to the full potential that God has called me to.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Update

For anyone who reads my posts I apologize for the lack of information. I could list a heap of excuses but it all sounds very unconvincing in the great scheme of things. I pulled out of the Masters of Counseling as I found it unrewarding and not all that challenging. I have enrolled on a Masters of Theology with Southern Cross College in Sydney. I am studying "Pentecostal Hermeneutics" and it is fantastic.

One of the interesting and scary things for me over the past few weeks is that I have had 3 "words" from different people saying that I will be in full-time ministry one day and that I am called to be a pastor. I am preaching a lot more and get a great response and am asked to return for more. It is all good.

So why do I feel like crap under the surface? Why do I need a referral to a psychiatrist? Why do I feel like giving up and lying in bed all day sometimes? I get up, I go to work, I do okay in my job, I am raising 3 boys and have a wife who is mostly contented with me (barring my moods) and yet...

I will continue to walk with God but sometimes it is so hard to make sense of the mess in my head.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Public Opinion

I am currently wading through "A History of Modern Political Thought" by Iain Hampsher-Monk. The sub-title, "Major Political Thinkers from Hobbes to Marx" took my attention in the public library and my intellectual stubbornness has got me through the tough sections.

What interested me recently was the following passage. The chapter in question concerns the thought of John Stuart Mill who advanced and developed his father's utilitarian philosophy. It concerns America but it struck me that it could also equally apply to England and Australia in the 21st century. Mill was writing in the 19th century.

"America was the country where, if anywhere, tradition, inherited authority and the past generally counted for nothing, and yet, strangely, 'in no country does there exist less independence of thought'.

Hampsher-Monk goes on to quote Tocqueville, "For whereas 'older societies have found (it) in the traditions of antiquity, or in the dogmas of priest or philosophers, the Americans find (it) in the opinions of each other."

"...the Americans endowed their own collective opinion with the aura and authority Europeans gave to their royalty, nobility, popes, academics and national myths."

"...faith in public opinion, becomes in such countries a species of religion and the majority is its prophet." (Italics mine).

It struck me, reading this, that although England has looked back on its historical traditions as the 21st century moves on it is becoming more generically like America and Australia, i.e. "the West".

The quote in italics gives food for thought in light of the change in opinion sharing with the prevalence of the internet to disseminate ideas. As much as people like to think that we are all individuals with our private religion it seems to me that "public opinion...(has become)...a species of religion and the majority is its prophet."

Friday, August 03, 2007

Hope

I am reading Juergen Moltmann's "Theology of Hope" and what an inspiration it is. I will reflect more on this as time goes by but a recent series of events caused me to reflect on the need for hope for those outside of the church.

Up until this week I was employed supervising men with mental illnesses. To avoid any compromising details it will suffice my purposes to say that the men have been very poorly treated. Basic rights have been neglected and. although I am less than perfect, I have tried to care for the men and treat them with the respect they deserve.

I had been contemplating leaving because I my time there has become very difficult in recent weeks but I didn't want to resign and leave the men in the same situation. Last week I submitted a 3 page report alleging bullying, harassment (for myself and the men) and lack of basic rights. This paper resulted in a meeting for myself with a senior manager and someone from HR in Sydney.

To cut the story short I was able to resign with cast iron guarantees that the company will be investigated thoroughly, assessments will be done for all men and that a proper complaints procedure will be put in place.

One of the driving factors for me is that my predecessors have eventually resigned but have left the men stuck in an awful situation where they are powerless, voiceless and hopeless. I have been driven by a prophetic calling to speak up for the rights of the oppressed. I recall telling one of the men that I would stand up for them and he told me not to bother because nothing would ever change. I refused to believe that and I carried on in the belief that God had put me in my role for a reason regardless of how difficult it was.

Please understand I am no hero. I spoke up because I could. No-one had followed the injustice through over a period of 8 years. Things are now going to change and I have assurances from Head Office. It is possible to bring hope to the hopeless.

I am working on a book project exploring Moltmann's "Theology of Hope" and its' potential to transform our conception of evangelism and witness. This journey has been extremely stressful but very rewarding.

Last weekend as I contemplated resigning, a friend offered me a role overseeing sales and marketing for his small business. This Monday I begin a role as Business Development Manager for Humanomics. This role is where I want to be headed and it utilises my skills and gives my family release from the financial constraints that we have been under. God wants people who will live faithfully and speak up for those who have little or no voice.

The final sub-point is that God can and does provide all our needs according to His riches in glory.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The wanderer returns

For the 100s; well...10s; erm, anyhow, for those who have wandered where I might have wandered I return to the blogosphere.

Life has been mightily busy as always but I have also been considering more seriously a book that I want to write and I have been completely engrossed in reading "Confessions of a Philosopher" by Bryan Magee. This is a wonderful and insighful introduction to the complexities of philosophy.

For the past couple of years I have tried, in my spare moments, to try and get a grasp of the basics of philosophy. I have a strong sense that, in order to pursue my thinking about Moltmann's "Theology of Hope" and its' implications for evangelism in a postmodern world I need to gaina grasp of some basic philosophical ideas.

Both of these projects are somewhat in their infancy but Magee's book has given me some great starting points as well as whetting my appetite to purchase "The Open Society and its' Enemies" by Karl Popper. I fear that this post will be vague and rambling but I hope to develop some of my journey and invite wider conversation.

Rather than jump even further around I will outline the basic premise of the book project. I have made procrastination an advanced artform but I feel the time is at hand for me to commence actual writing.

Evangelism seems to me to be based on satisfactorily explaining propositional statements to someone who would have an understanding of the Christian gospel which could range from no knowledge at all to being very "churched" (to use a modern term).

The propositions can be presented at a variety of intellectual levels and via a range of media but the basic content includes the fact that God became flesh when Jesus was born as a human; Jesus lived a sinless life and died upon a cross in order to take upon himself the sin of the world; Jesus rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand side of the father in heaven interceding for his followers (Christians).

If the person hearing this message agrees to the propositional statements then the next step is for them to say a prayer asking Jesus to be Lord of their lives. If they do not agree then further discussion may be had until finally a point may be reached where they might be considered not to have accepted the gospel.

There are some points of the gospel message that I want to explore in light of "Theology of Hope" but my first concern is with the fact that "traditional" evangelism focusses on what Jesus has done in the past. Forgiveness of sins is primary and the new believer accepts Jesus as Lord and Saviour in order to receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.

This focus seems to me to offer very little in the way of hope for this life. Without getting into details personal experience of the evangelical church over a 10 year period has demonstrated many people who, to all intents and purposes, live exactly the same lives as their non-Christian neighbours except that they attend church on a Sunday, possibly a mid-week bible study and, in some cases, they may make peronal time to study the bible alone but my basic premise remains, namely, that many Christians live similar lives to non-Christians except in the fact that they may live morally better lives.

What this means for fulness of life for the Christian and for evangelism is that in a post-modern (and possibly post-church) world is that the gospel message sounds empty. I have found in my own efforts to explain the gospel that people understand the basic concepts and may even find them somewhat appealing intellectually but reject them because they see no need to make a commitment when they feel that life is what it is.

Even writing this outline presents to me the size of the challenge that I am setting myself but I believe that I need to find a way to integrate, primarily, Moltmann's thinking into a 21st century evangelistic paradigm. This is not to say that is I want to water down the gospel but, rather, to open it up to its fullest potential in order to liberate individual Christians and to advocate a gospel which is truly hope-full.

What I would like to ask is that these ideas are critiqued and honestly evaluated. If it has all been said and done before I'd like to know. If there is merit then I'd also like to know. If anyone has ideas on appropriate directions for me to pursue this then I am open to advice. If you know of anyone who would be interested in these proposals then please point them in the direction of the blog. Thank you.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Of the writing of essays there is no end...

I finished "Shantaram" and what a fantastic book it was. Roberts, the author and subject of the book, moved on from the Indian slum to become embroiled in the Mumbai mafia and finally took part in smuggling arms into Afghanistan in the 80s to support the war against the Russians. I guess what kept me immersed in the book was the depth of emotion and the search for love and true meaning in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Roberts' use of metaphors was beautiful and my essay fell onto the back burner for a while.

I have nearly completed a 3,000 word paper concerning the life of Sir Winston Churchill and how developmental theory can help offer insight into his life-span. It is a demanding but very rewarding essay.

This Saturday is my Developmental Issues exam and then a short break.

Today is Daniel''s first birthday so it is a very jovial home as we prepare for his party this afternoon.

I have been struggling with depression the past 3 or 4 days and "Shantaram" reminded me to keep holding on to the beautiful things of life despite the encroaching darkness.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rain

Over the past few weeks and months there have been many calls to pray for rain as Australia continues to endure a severe drought with dams at critical levels in some places. About 3 weeks ago there began significant rainfall especially out west in farming communities which have been hardest hit.

Even the Prime Minister had issued a call for fervent prayer. Apart from not understanding what fervent prayer is, lengthier, louder, more words, less words, more sweat, i also have fundamental issues with praying for weather.

I live on one of the driest continents on the planet. When there is drought we shouldn't be surprised. I am not a climatologist but the weather patterns do seem to changing over time. All in all droughts should be expected and we need to do the best we can to conserve water and get through the tough times.

I also believe that if it rains it rains. I consider myself a man of faith but don't see how we can pray for rain when it may suit someone very well to have more sunshine and others want a few weeks of rain but some only want days of rain. Do we rely on God to distribute the precipitation evenly to benefit everyone equally?

When the rains came there was special thanks at church and acknowledgement of God's provision. This weekend there have been terrible storms in this area and to the immediate north-west. The roads were flooded, houses were flooded and power was down, and is still down, for over 200,000 people.

Will there be thanks in church for this? Is this part of God's provision or is it only God when it is "nice" rain?

I realise that this opens up problems for other areas of prayer. I'd certainly appreciate some thoughts.

Shantaram

I am currently reading a wonderful novel by Gregory David Roberts called "Shantaram". Robers is an Australian who committed armed robberies while addicted to Heroin. He eventually fled to India. The book is a novel which is based on his story. Roberts ends up living in a slum and it is here that he begins to discover the beauty of human kindness, acceptance and love.

I am a third of the way through and although I am supposed to be revising for an exam I find it too beautiful and compelling to easily put down. There is a fair share of violence and underworld activity but Roberts' discovery of the light amidst the darkness is written in such magnificent words that he keeps lifting me to heights of wonder.

I thoroughly recommend this as a lengthy but utterly rewarding read. One of the reasons that I am so fussy over the novels that I read is that I like to be taken on a journey that allows me to discover the potential for my own inner discoveries. This is such a book. It will offer an opportunity to look into a place of apparent destitution and find the bonds of true community.

Storms

I have a storm raging in my mind right now which you can peer into at my other blog. This weekend we have been through incredible storms in our part of NSW. We had power out for 30 hours; some friends are still without electricity. We still have a tree in our front garden which snapped at the base and has been lying across the power lines since late Friday night.

At my in-laws a tree fell and squashed their shed and rear fence. The SES (State Emergency Services) volunteers who were chainsawing trees yesterday had come up from Canberra to assist with the recovery. The volunteers had travelled north for 6 hours simply to help with a natural disaster in another part of Australia.

It is incredible to see the commitment of people to help other in a time of need. Here's hoping that the winds stay down for long enough for the city to recover. About an hour north of here there are rivers peaking at 14 metres tonight which will cause more chaos. All of this on a public holiday long weekend.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

After some deliberation I have begun a second blog.

The blog home is linked to Counselling Resource which is a very useful site.

I still intend to blog here but the other blog will be much more personal and will reflect my own, improving, journey with mental illness, my son's possiblr diagnosis on the autism scale and my work with men with mental illnesses.

Feel free to take a look and join me in another aspect of my pilgrimage.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Missional

Following on from the previous post I want to be more intentionally missional in my work environment and in the wider context of ministering to these men. I certainly feel a call to minister to men with mental illnesses of varying degrees. I am concerned to be diligent in my service before God. I am going to explore other ministries that may specifically minister into this area as well as considering how I can best contextualise the gospel message where I am. Any thoughts or links would be greatly appreciated.

What a fortnight...

Where to start?

As people may be aware I am a supervisor for a supported employment organisation. I take men with a variety of mental illnesses on gardening jobs 4 days a week. I really enjoy working with the guys and am seem to be having reasonable success as a I attempt to live and share the gospel in this environment.

The downside is that the money is very poor. With a wife and 3 young boys we find it a challenge to make ends meet although we get through each fortnight. I was becoming very demoralised and started looking for another job. I applied for 3 jobs, each of which I was more than capable of doing. Each of the jobs would pay more than my current role. I felt quietly confident of being able to move into something, possibly less rewarding, but more financially stable. I was doing this for my family.

The first job was as a residential support worker with people with mental illnesses. I didn't get an interview. Next up was very bizarre. I applied for a position on a call centre with a prominent government agency. The interview was a group process and various tests. There were 1200 applicants and I made it to the 60 picked for the selection process leading to a final interview.

Last week I got a phone call from the recruitment agency. I got 100% in the numeracy test, 100% in the literacy test and outstanding in every other area except one; in the telephone role play they felt my empathy skills were not quite up to scratch; this was after a 5 minute role play with an actor on the other end of the phone.

I am not trying to be arrogant but I felt that after a nearless flawless selection process I was hard done by until my pastor, that evening, said that he felt clearly that I wouldn't get the role as it would under utilise my ministry skills to a great extent. This was very encouraging but left me wondering about the future. By this time I felt God say that the third position, a chaplaincy role, was not for me either. It was no surprise to receive an email informing me that I had not even been offered the courtesy of an interview for the chaplaincy position.

I spoke to my pastor again this week to reflect on this process. He affirmed that I needed to see my current job not as underpaid labouring but as ministry. I currently have 3 of the men and one of their partners attending church and we are planning to run an evangelism course. I also have 3 other men showing a strong interest. This is from a team of 21 men. I have never seen myself as evangelistic or missional but over this past week I am beginning to realise that God has put a missional calling to mentally ill men on my heart.

My pastor also surprised me by saying that, as soon as he can, he wants to put me on staff part-time so I can do my current role as well as supporting my local church in a paid position. So, at the end of a strange fortnight I feel that God is making his intentions for my life clear. I have accepted, before God, a call to these men for whom I am their one clear link to Jesus.

Please pray for us. At the present time we still struggle to make ends meet plus I now have to try and find money for text books for my Masters degree. I am planning to publish a prayer letter which will also ask people to consider financially supporting us. I am cautious in taking this approach but I want to let people know that I am walking this path in obedience to God and we, as a family, need support in many ways. I am excited for the future.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Theology Blogs

Patrik Hagman of "God in a Shrinking Universe" has another site that comprehensively lists Theology blogs.

He has just reached the 100 mark and it is well worth checking out. Let me know some of your favourite sites and why.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

An invitation to leave the comfort zone

Hopefully it won't take much to realise that I am being profoundly and beautifully impacted by "The Porpoise Diving Life".

Today, words fail me. Please, please read this link and comment. I will engage in posts with the comments but I have nothing further to add except to say that I feel the presence of Jesus here with me in a tangible way calling to me to follow him again into uncharted waters.

"Are you threatening me?"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The space after words

As you know, I work with men with mental illnesses. Last week one of the guys phoned me because he'd been thinking back upon his life and he felt that at the age of 48 he'd seen just too much disappointment and heartache to see any hope. He had also been hurt by a few people and was dwelling on these hurts and was been sucked into depression.

The reason he phoned me is because he trusts me. We know that we are becoming more Christlike when people can trust us to listen and be there in their time of need. As I was reflecting upon this I read the first Chapter of "The Porpoise Diving Life".

I found this passage to be helpful:

"Christians and Christianity do not have all the answers that can be expressed in words. There are some things that simply defy explanation. One of the most powerful things a Christian can say to a person overwhelmed with the inexplicable in life is absolutely nothing. To sit with the wounded in the midst of their mourning is a sacred privilege. We need to learn to shut up. When confronted with situations that words cannot describe, we need to do just that; stay speechless. There is a depth and dimension of beauty that God’s Spirit is freed to display when we confess, “I don’t have a clue.”


The authenticity of the Christian witness to one another, the world and our God is compromised by the infernal propensity to have all the answers or know where to find them. It’s time to embrace humility. We must move beyond the superficial, surface level exhortations we so readily distribute to one another and a wounded world."

"To sit with the wounded in the midst of their mourning is a sacred privilege" - it is indeed.

Too often Christians reach for their concordance in order to pull a salient quote to move the wounded person on through their pain when most often we need to simply "be with". I could have brought out "All things work for good for those who are in Christ Jesus". This man is a disenchanted Christian who comes to church with me now and he has heard that verse many times but the power of Christ working through me was in my presence.

To have the mind of Christ is not to have all the answers. To have the mind of Christ is to recognise when to speak and when not to; it is to love those who feel unloved; it is to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice.

People experience all manner of grief as they journey through life. Those who have accepted the call to follow Jesus may find themselves called to sit with those who need someone to simply "be".



Uncertain of Purpose? Be a Porpoise

For those of you who, like me, were left unsatisfied by "The Purpose Driven Life" will be interested in an online book and website that doesn't stop at easy answers.

The "Porpoise Diving Life" is a wonderful exploration of the grey areas of faith and is a good resource for those of us who don't find things all neat and tidy being a follower of Jesus, much like the disciples.

Bill Dahl, the author, said, in an interview, "What I write has, believe me, absolutely nothing to do with some sort of a gimmicky reaction to Warren’s book and/or his writings or theology. It is solely based upon what God’s Spirit placed upon my heart and wouldn’t let up until I acted.

Jesus never promised us that our existence in this world and journey of faith with Him would be without pain, uncertainty, the unexpected, the incomprehensible and hardship. Perhaps there’s another dimension of truth to the Gospel message that people are yearning to hear that is outside the confines of a well-ordered, trouble-free, formula-based, prosperity laden, purpose-driven life."

If you are uncertain of your purpose then explore what it means to live free as a porpoise for Christ.

Friday, May 18, 2007

May Synchroblog - Film

See what the other synchrobloggers have to say on Christianity and film:

Adam Gonnerman pokes at
The Spider's Pardon
David Fisher thinks that
Jesus Loves Sci-Fi
John Morehead considers
Christians and Horror Redux: From Knee-Jerk Revulsion to Critical Engagement
Marieke Schwartz lights it up with
Counter-hegemony: Jesus loves Borat
Mike Bursell muses about
Christianity at the Movies
Jenelle D'Alessandro tells us
Why Bjork Will Never Act Again
Cobus van Wyngaard contemplates
Theology and Film (as art)
Tim Abbott tells us to
Bring your own meaning...?
Sonja Andrews visits
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:Christ in Spaghetti Westerns
Steve Hollinghurst takes a stab at
The Gospel according to Buffy
Les Chatwin insists
We Don't Need Another Hero
Lance Cummings says
The Wooden Wheel keeps Turning
John Smulo weaves a tale about
Spiderman 3 and the Shadow
Josh Rivera spells well with
Christian Witchcraft
Phil Wyman throws out the
Frisbee: Time to Toss it Back
Sally Coleman rushes up with
Making Connections- films as a part of a mythological tradition
Kim Paffenroth ponders
Nihilism lite

And a couple of late entry honorary synchrobloggers:
Crystal writes on
Movie recommendations for the Pope
Elizaphanian writes on
Apologia pro video sua

We don't need another hero

I started working on this post ready for the May synchroblog. It was all typed up ready to go when I had trouble putting the links in for the other bloggers. In the process of trying to fix this I somehow moved to another page and when I returned my blog was gone!! I was so fed up that I left it and the busyness of life jumped in so here I am again, a couple of days late with "We don't need another hero" take 2.

I don't like to draw conclusions too easily but I did get a feeling that, because my post was taking a slightly different approach to many of the others, there was some divine intervention in removing my post before I'd thought it through some more.

I have to be upfront; I do not consider myself to be an "out there", postmodern, emerging thinker. don't start thinking that I am a modernist, reformed, conservative blogger either. In fact, I resist labels in Christendom as much as I do in the mental health field. What has this to do with the blog? Well, not much except to try and help readers to resist slotting me too easily into a box before considering my point of view.

What I am about to say is not reflecting upon any of my fellow synchrobloggers but I get pretty cheesed off with Christians searching for Jesus under every cultural rock and looking for any "star" who shows the slightest interest in Christianity as a spokesperson for the Church. Bono is a case in point; seems like a nice bloke; does some good work for campaigning against debt; has good days and bad days; when he's spiritual sectors of the church lift him onto a pedestal and when he says the "wrong" thing or wears devil horns suddenly the church don't want to be near him. Thankfully he wrote "Yahweh" and was redeemed from the firey pit once again.

Now this topic got me thinking about how Christians seek symbols and meaning in movies. Each time a good guy/bad guy film appears (which is many films) some Christians go ahunting for the Christ figure and the triumph over evil. My thesis for this post is that "we don't need another hero" because we already have one in Jesus Christ himself who died once for all. If I am misunderstanding cultural critiques then please someone help me to understand.

I appreciate movies, especially those that seek to explore the human psyche but sometimes we need to accept that a director is seeking to portray a story and make it as popular as possible. The director most likely will not be laying subtle threads of Judaeo/Christian imagery through the plotlines.

I fear that I am making as little sense as my first attempt at this post but now that Blogger has an autosave function I feel some divine approval in this modified attempt.

One of the negative aspects of seeking for spiritual meaning in movies is that as well as the good the bad (evil) is often found. This is what causes Christians to miss some of the wonderful world of horror and sci-fi because they are scared that somehow by watching such films they are opening themselves to demonic oppression. I get the same arguments from some people who discover how little Christian music is in my vast collection of records and cds.

Why can't a horror movie simply be a filmwriter's journey to explore darker subject matter? Why do we have to fear the darker side of media? I am a pentecostal of sorts by persuasion and am not knocking the theology of angels and demons but I am suggesting that it is problematic if it constricts our lives through superstitious fear.

Have I made any sense? If I have failed to hold together a coherent argument I will finish by reiterating my central premise - we don't need another hero. We don't need a type of hero or any kind of hero because Jesus has done all that needs to be done. Now please pass me the popcorn and let me just enjoy the movie.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Holy Spirit

As I mentioned in the previous post I am reading a book on Greek Orthodox Theology by Vladmir Lossky. I am roughly at the halfway mark and it has been a very challenging journey but tonight I had a wonderful moment of joy. Reading a tough theological book is much like mining for gold; there is a lot of hard work but the reward comes in finding the nugget.

One of the things that has struck me in reading this book is how much Greek Orthodoz theology can help breathe life into Pentecostal theology. Lossky is briefly discussing the work of Anselm of Canterbury and the Protestant focus on the juridical nature of Jesus' death on the cross. He says:

"If the thought of Anselm could stop at the redeeming work of Christ, isolating it from the rest of Christian teaching, it was precisely because in his time the West had already lost the true idea of the Person of the Holy Spirit, relegating Him to a secondary position by making Him into a kind of lieutenant or deputy of the Son."

Amen! How much of evangelical theology is a matter of "relegating (the Holy Spirit) to a secondary position by making Him into a kind of lieutenant or deputy of the Son"? I want to also suggest that Pentecostal theology can seek to wedge the Holy Spirit into a dominant feel-good role alongside or above the Son.

Of course, in making these comments I have left plenty of room for discussion but it has fired up my enthusiasm for Lossky and for exploring more of the wonders of Greek Orthodox theology. As I pursue further questions on the email list I will post my reflections.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Wherefore Art Thou?

I have been slack in posting. I have Google Reader and keep myself appraised of a number of wonderful blogs, most of which are in the links section. I found that, with reading other blogs and preparing for sermons plus my own theological study for hobby purposes I have done lots of thinking but haven't submitted any of it to the world that is the blogosphere.

I thought I might bring the blogging world up to date with my reading and reflecting. There is a great deal that is in process and sometimes I feel too self-conscious to share my theological musings.

I have just finished "Attachments" by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy. This is not a theological book. It is a wonderful book broadly discussing Attachment Theory from a Christian perespective. I have read reasonably widely on this subject and this was the first book written from a clear Christian worldview. It is clear, concise and very practical. For counsellors it is a must and for those who are married or raising children and wish to understand some of the mechanics of love and relationships and how to build strong, secure individuals then this is an ideal book. The Christian approach only really comes into play in the second part of the book and is sensitive enough to provide a biblical perspective without being too "churchy". I have read too many books that see the Christian life through Rose Coloured Glasses; this is not one of those books.

I must commend Steve Hayes' blog "Notes from underground". Steve is an Orthodox Deacon in South Africa. A friend of mine recently completed 2 Masters level subjects at St. Andrews Greek Orthodox College in Sydney. My friend is, generally speaking, pentecostal as am I so it was reasonably surprising for me to find him studying here.

What was more interesting is that, independently of my friend's journey, I had been in touch with Steve via email to begin exploring Orthodox Theology. As a result of my discussions with my friend I have begun reading "In the Image and Likeness of God" by Vladimir Lossky. It is a difficult but very insightful book which contains 12 essays discussing some fundamental questions of Orthodox Theology. I am using the book as a foundation for beginning discussions with Steve to help me learn more about a branch of Christianity that I have been ignorant of for so long.

Interestingly I have found parallels in Orthodox theology with Pentecostal theology. I will share these insights as I work through the text and my journey. My appreciation of orthodoxy will be shallow and limited but I want to learn more from the rich mystical traditions and teaching of some of the Fathers.

I am about to commence preaching through Galatians and this has reawakened my passion for grace teaching. As part of my study I have been glancing through "Grace in Galatia" by Ben Witherington III. It is a wonderfully erudite but readable commentary. The preparation has also reacquainted me with Martin Luther.

One of the difficulties I find is to decide what to read and which topic of interest to focus on at any given time. Of course, I haven't mentioned work and my wonderful wife and 3 fantastic boys and Aussie Rules and Soccer training with the kids and church and...so on.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Foundations of Counselling

Last month I began a Masters of Counselling program via weekend intensives. The first subject is "Foundations of Counselling". I am thoroughly enjoying the course but it is also, emotionally, very confronting. As part of the learning process we take part in triads. These are standard counselling practical groups where there are 3 students; one is the counsellor, one the counsellee and the other is the observor who reflects back upon completion of the counselling session.

At the outset of the course we are told that, if we are a counsellee, we can choose a fictitious scenario but, apart from the fact that this is difficult to maintain, it is also more natural to share from our own journey. What has interested me is that firstly there are a number of people on the course who come from quite traumatic backgrounds. I guess this shouldn't be too much of a surprise because the best therapists are those who can truly empathise. I have been very heartened to engage with others who have suffered abuse and have overcome this setback in their childhood.

I think what has encouraged me the most is the strength of the human spirit to overcome. Over the past 3 intensives I have heard some painful stories and, yet, at the same time I have seen people who have families, jobs, a faith in God and who are persevering in regaining control of their lives. As someone who is training under a Christian framework I am not discounting the role of God in the process of healing but I do want to emphasise the resilience in the human spirit.

As I have reflected I have realised that it is easy for me to live my life as a victim of my childhood but there is the opportunity for me to rise above this. I have been encouraged that having been married for 11 years; raising 3 boys and studying at Masters level despite coming through a serious mental breakdown in a considerable achievement. I don't say this to boast but simply to encourage those who may need to see the possibilities that we all have to rise above our circumstances in some way.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Married Life

Today my wife and I have been married for 11 years.

11 happy years? 11 blissful years? Let's just leave it at 11 years.

This year I have come to realise some things:

Marriage is blooming hard work and anyone who says otherwise is in la-la land.

I have been a poor husband for much of our marriage. Some of this is due to my struggles but some of it is down to my selfishness and lack of regard for my wife. I finally believe that in 2007 I am "getting it". Some of the credit for "getting it" is down to our wonderful marriage counselor and also to my wife's grace and forgiveness.

Tonight we are going out for dinner and for the first time in a long, long time I can truly tell my wife that I love her and she has reason to believe me and trust me.

Made is whose image?

I want to draw attention to a post by Sally at Eternal Echoes. With my interest in mental health and the lack of love and regard often found in the church I found this an excellent reflection. Mostly I was challenged and moved by the poem at the beginning of the post which I have reproduced here:

I challenge you

to look beyond the label

you give me,

of gender,

of race,

of sexuality,

of disability…

.

I challenge you to see me

as I am;

unique

created by God,

made in Her image,

fashioned by His design

.

I am a walking talking work of art;

Human, just

like you!

I feel and bleed…

I love and laugh…

.

If you were to see me

and not the label you have given me,

we might talk and laugh,

and love together.



Synchroblog - Persecution

This month's synchroblog is on the subject of persecution. Here is the list:

Check out my other Synchroblogger friends at the links below:

David Fisher - Be the Revolution
Mike Bursell - Mike's Musings
Restoring Our View of Humanity at Eternal Echoes
Persecuting the Marginalized at JohnSmulo.com
The Ends Justify the Means at Calacirian
Billy Calderwood - Billy Calderwood
Seeking First Righteousness at Tim Abbott
Jamie Swann - More Than Stone
Persecution and Martyrdom at Handmaid Leah
"Don't squash the counter-revolutionary/the plank in my own eye" at Jeremiah
The Martyrs of Epinga at Notes from the Underground
Terrorism in Christianity at The Rivera Blog
Persecution or Poor Elocution? at "Hello," said Jenelle

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Theological Acid Test

A friend and I were discussing certain theological positions that appear to be governed more by the prevailing world view of the people involved and less by faithful Biblical exegesis. I came across a quote by Dallas Willard on Just Wondering which, very succinctly, gives a good measure for theological propositions:

"The acid test for any theology is this: Is the God presented one that can be loved heart, mind, soul and strength? If the thoughtful answer is; 'Not really,' then we need to look elsewhere or deeper."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Good Labels/Bad Labels - part two

As part of this time of reflecting I have had cause to look back upon my own, personal, journey. What I choose to share here is a window into my life. It is not the whole story but it does highlight some of the difficulties in living with, and defining, mental illness.

Mental illness. The term itself conjures all sorts of images, many of them negative. I use the term because my predominant struggles are with damaged emotions and thoughts and "mental" illness seems to fit as good as any. I work with men with mental illness and witness, first-hand, the biases and misunderstandings prevalent in Australian society. What I have been blessed to discover is that underneath the labels and history there are special men who simply want to live their lives as best as they are able.

In 2004, upon leaving seminary and embarking upon a role as an associate pastor in a church in Sydney, I was diagnosed with depression. Thanks to organisations such as Beyond Blue awareness and understanding of depression is becoming a lot healthier in Australian society. Visiting a GP and coming to terms with depression, then, wasn't as difficult as I had imagined and I received generally positive support.

As 2004 went on mild depression developed into chronic depression and in October 2004 I was put on the maximum dose of anti-depressants. This dosage means that, when I need a new prescription, the doctor has to phone through to an administering body for permission to prescribe this dosage. I found myself in a new category of society. My journey was really only just beginning.

As 2004 came to a close my ability to function as a pastor steadily became worse. I came to realise that mild depression is something that people are willing to work with but chronic depression, especially as it becomes debilitating, is not so well received by society and, sadly, even by churches. I was no longer as effective in ministry and the church was paying my wages. My pastor's response to my declining productivity was to meet with me once a week to methodically work through my diary for the past week. Suffice to say this simply put more pressure upon me and only served to increase the sense of guilt and failure.

In 2005 I was referred to a psychiatrist in Sydney who wasn't sure at first in what category to place me. As we worked together he found that a mood stabiliser was very effective in moderating my condition and he diagnosed mild bi-polar. This "label" caused a significant shift in my self-esteem as I began to fear that the condition would deteriorate. As I began to research bi-polar spectrum disorder I came to the conclusion that I didn't fit this "box". I returned to psychiatrist with my self discovery and he agreed that I didn't have bi-polar!

The psychiatrist concluded that I had bouts of depression, obsessive tendencies and anxiety. This was very general but at least it was honest. As a result of realising the vagueness of psychological categories I set upon my own research. As I read books and trawled the internet I eventually came across Borderline Personality Disorder. For the first time I was able to read about a condition that fitted my life. I shared the information with my wife and it was a breath of fresh air into our lives.

Does this label help to lift the burden from my life. Not at all. This is something I will come to in a moment. What the label did was to give us something to work on. It gave me something concrete to take to my therapist. We live in a society where there is "well" and "not well". We have failed to fully appreciate that there is a whole spectrum in between these two poles.

As well as health and healing there is such a thing as "managing" or "learning to live with" a condition. Does this approach display a lack of faith and trust in God. I suppose for some people it would but I have come to learn the immensity of God's grace. I am preaching now and believe that my preaching is more real and far more powerful as I have come to recognise my potential but also my need of God's presence in my life.

The label doesn't change very much on the surface but it gives some direction for healing and it helps me to see how much more I need God in my life. I am tired of hearing about the "happy" life, the "better" life, the "good" life. These concepts only foster guilt and resentment. I prefer to think of the life that I live and I am striving for an idealised goal. I am living life the best that I can and seeking to honour God in the process.

Good Labels/Bad Labels - part one

I have had a longer than anticipated hiatus from blogging. There has been a lot of turmoil in my life these past few weeks and when I did feel like blogging I was simply too exhausted to squeeze in those last few minutes before bed. I have the whole of this week off work and, consequently, have time to enjoy my family and also reflect on a number of areas that I have been pondering lately.

A blog isn't the place to reveal one's life to the world in its' entirety but I do feel a need to share an outline of our journey for purposes of prayer and reflection. My middle son, who is 6 years old, has been having quite pronounced behavioural difficulties; he began kindy in February and every week has been in trouble for, basically, being defiant and rude. At home he has been having some very bad tantrums.

The reason that I mention this is because this, and a couple of other issues, have caused me to think about what it means to be a Christian, a Christian family and also the place of labels in society.

I am an ordained Baptist pastor although not employed by a church (which is a good thing). Simply by being recognised as a "pastor" brings an extra burden for some people and I must confess that, in the early days, I put pressure on myself. But the fact is that my children are normal kids with their own struggles. My role is not to force them into a pre-determined box of Christendom's design but to help them to become all that they can be. Thomas, my middle one, is called to be Thomas and no-one else. He isn't called to be the me that never was or to be a child from a movie; Thomas is called to be Thomas.

As we have struggled through the gamut of options from elimination diets through to testing for ADD I have learnt a great deal about what it means to love unconditionally. When a child is punching and kicking you it pushes a heap of buttons, especially with a childhood like mine. To be honest I have been less than perfect and have made my fair share of mistakes but I am called to love my children and everytime I fail in this I get back up and call on God to show me and equip me to be the best father that I can be.

Why am I sharing this? Probably to unburden a little but mostly to say that there is no clearly defined Christian family; no perfect Christian father; labelling kids as ADD, ADHD, Behaviourally Challenged etc. doesn't get to the heart of the matter that what is needed most is patient, enduring love and support. Rather than joining in the shouting I now spend a lot of time sitting with him and learning to listen to his fears and concerns and seeking to help him work through them. Much like Jesus I suppose.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The following list was originally taken from Blindbeggar's (Rick Meigs') site. It is a list of underrated / under-appreciated missional / emerging bloggers that was begun by Brother Maynard. The point is to add a couple of recommendations to the end of the list on your own site (see below the list for more of Rick's helpful instructions). I picked up the list from Colin at Darkening Glasses who is becoming a dear blog friend.

This is an exciting list because it shows the diversity and energy in Christian/Missional thinkers. Reading some of the Christian media and mainstream websites Christian mission may seem somewhat stale but this is far from the case. I am looking forward to working through these blogs and being stretched in the outworking of my faith.

Emerging Grace
Robbymac
Lily
Nathan Colquhoun
John Smulo
Todd Hiestand
Theopraxis
Chuck Warnock
John Lunt
Webb Kline
Mark Wilson
Rick Meigs
Brother Maynard
MakDaddy
Glenn Hager
Paul Mayers
Jamie Swann
Paul Walker
Jerry Frear
Phil Wyman
Rainer Halonen
Shannon
Matt Stone
Erika Haub
John Santic
Colin Lamm
Julie Clawson
Duncan McFadzean
Adam Gonnerman
Les Chatwin
Matt Wiebe
Jesus Trips
Notions

To participate, copy this list into a new post on your own blog, and add the names you have to the bottom of the list, and encourage others to do the same. It could get fairly long, but that’s part of the point — helping us all discover those undervalued blog’s profile. Include these instructions with your post. When you’ve done that, leave a comment at Brother Maynard’s blog so he can keep track of who ends up participating.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Just Genesis

I came across a new blog which will focus entirely on the book of Genesis. The author appears to be highly knowledgeable and questions regarding any aspect of Genesis are encouraged. I will be adding the site to my reader as Genesis is a veritable treasure trove of insights.

Slow Dark Train

I have been on the "Slow Dark Train" again. The time since posting has been difficult to say the least. I am not asking for sympathy merely indicating the reason for the lack of blog activity. Family issues plus work issues plus some darkness from my past bubbling up again caused me to hit a wall.

The Vigilantes of Love have been a big influence on my life. Bill Mallonee, the lead singer and chief song-writer is an honest man who is not afraid to deny the grey areas of life. The first time that I came across VOL was at a festival in England. Prior to playing "Judas Skin" Bill told of some of his journey with depression. Even at that time, over 10 years ago now, something of what he said resonated with me but now, more than ever, I pull the CD out from time to time and listen to this song and allow myself to become absorbed in the words and music as I seek to reconnect to my Father God in all of the raw honesty of the struggle.

Here are the lyrics to "Judas Skin":

What is it you need to hear?
It's on your lips and in your ears
If too much static or unclear
Still He holds you dearly

Hound of heaven on your trail
Keen sense of direction and smell
Knows your need before you do
And when you bleed, He does too

On my own again
On my slow dark train
How is it I am found in my Judas skin spinning down?

What is it you need to know?
You don't already understand?
When You offer me a drink, I just keep you at arm's length

What is it that I fear?
Why is it I don't trust?
When hiding out becomes career, what am I covering up?

What is it you need to find?
Love Your Spirit working overtime
And when I come out of this spin and I see You're still my friend

On my own again
On my slow dark train
How is it I am found in my Judas skin spinning down?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Crying Inside

"To be comical on the outside and tragic within; nothing is more painfully humiliating or deeply infuriating." - Victor Hugo, L'Homme Qui Rit (1869).

Possibly one of the most succinct definitions of depression that I've come across. A man ahead of his time.

Lost Tomb of Jesus

I have to confess that the whole business of Jesus' lost tomb left me very underwhelmed. It seemed to highlight more the desperation of people at Easter time to unearth the next lot of "conclusive" evidence to disprove Jesus.

Dr. Ben Witherington has done some excellent work in explaining the Lost Tomb story and it's refutation in layman's terms. Here is a link to an interview that he did on UK Christian Radio. (Scroll down slightly to "A response to the Lost Tomb of Jesus").

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Touch the face of the divine"

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago-- whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows-- such a man was caught up to the third heaven." 2 Cor 12:2

I was on my way to the third heaven but I was stopped at customs and turned back; too much baggage.

The purpose of this blog is not to investigate the possible interpretations of the third heaven referred in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. The synchroblog for this month concerns"Christian Approaches to Altered States of Consciousness". As I reflected upon this topic I was led to consider my journey through aspects of pentecostal/charismatic Christianity.

Is all Pentecostal experience purely a play on emotions or is there a deeper connection with the Holy Spirit that occurs as individuals surrender more fully to the presence of God in a church meeting or in personal times of spiritual intimacy? It is very easy to stand back and look at events in Toronto or Pensacola or to make sniping comments about particular TV ministries but what happens for an individual and can we expect more from our experience of God?

The post will canvass a few ideas and cross-reference a few links and will, hopefully, provoke enough dialogue for further consideration of the topic.

An article by Charles T. Tart on "Altered States of Consciousness" makes the following point "
ASCs can sometimes give us new and wider perspectives on reality and consciousness but...ASCs, like ordinary consciousness, are mixtures of pluses and minuses, insights and delusions, genuine creativity and misleading imagination, so the observations and insights from ASCs need to be subjected to empirical test, just as those of ordinary consciousness do."

Evangelicalism (which is my church home) has championed Christian faith as a very cerebral process. The spiritual life is lived at a cognitive level and what cannot be understood is often dismissed. I realise that this is a somewhat generalised view but the spirit of modernism is alive and well in evangelicalism. Tart makes a valid point that Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs) have pluses and minuses and I believe that this is where, for Christians, Paul's advice comes in: "
but test everything; hold fast what is good." (1 Thess 5:21)

If there are pluses and minuses my goal in this post is to attempt to point out some of the possible pluses and encourage people to seek deeper experiences of God and not to be afraid of losing control to some degree.

There is a fascinating, extremely balanced, article at Anthropology.net that is well worth reading where the author, who is Lutheran, writes of a pentecostal service in Guatemala where he witnessed all manner of "trance-like" experiences. He makes a very good point at the end when, in summing up, he writes

"
It's not about some charismatic leader duping people into blindly following a particular extremist philosophy at all--there is no philosophy apart from that which other churches teach--live according to Judeo-Christian morality and be good people. Only here you can reach out and touch the face of the divine."

One of the key issues that I have encountered is the notion that people who fall down, laugh, speak in tongues, shake etc, in a pentecostal style meeting are being manipulated. Of course, there is always evidence of manipulation but this evidence can be found for all aspects of church life down through the centuries. The underlying theological position of this church was a solid Biblical message but I love the final sentence - "Only here you can reach out and touch the face of the divine." Wow. What an invitation. Somehow there is a possibility to experience so much more of God that our minds, emotions, bodies cannot cope with the encounter.

Dr John Court, a former Professor of Psychology at Fuller Seminary and now Director of Counseling at a Christian College in South Australia, in an article titled "
Discerning between the emotional, the psychotic and the spiritual" makes a good observation which has been a benchmark for many well-balanced pentecostal movements and churches namely:

"Where we see real and lasting change with maturity of spirituality and a desire to know God more, then I believe God is at work"

Is this a sufficient test? Yes, I believe it is. The Christian Church is involved in the work of building the Kingdom of God. If an encounter with the living God results in an altered state of consciousness that draws people into greater maturity and a deeper desire to know God and His Word then, yes, it is good.

So do we need to fear the dilemma between delusions, the devil and the divine?

Dr. Court suggests in relation to ASCs that "the really important questions relate not to the behaviour we observe, but the meaning of this behaviour, and its purpose." Of course there are parallels in other aspects of religion and psychology but what is the purpose?

In the Book of Acts Chapters 10 and 22 both the Apostles Peter and Paul experienced trance-like states where God communicated profound spiritual insight that was a turning point for the church at that time. I am not suggesting that all communication from God will be so pivotal but when God wants to speak deeply to us it can come during trance-like states where we are so caught up in the experience of God that all else seems to fall away from us.

I don't have all of the answers but I do know that I want to "touch the face of the divine". I welcome input as I explore this topic but I long to see a version of Christian experience that will see people enter into a transcendent encounter with the living God.

Synchroblog

Please check out the other Synchrobloggers writing about Christian approaches to altered states of consciousness.

Shamanic Vision and Apocalyptic Scripture at Phil Wyman's Square No More
Can prayer be an example of Alternate Conciousness? at Eternal Echoes
Better Than I Was [at times], Not Better Than You Are by Mike of Earthsea
emotionalism vs rationalism at Adam Gonnerman's Igneous Quill
Consciousness of the absurd and the absurdity of consciousness at Steve's Notes from the Underground
The Unconscious Christian by Matt Stone
Hypnochristians at Jamie's More Than Stone
The extreme consciousness of the Spirit by Les Chatwin
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me at Mike's Musings
What is reality? by David Fisher at Be the Revolution

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Kids need Dads

As a father who is working hard to be a good dad and not always doing too well I was interested in this post regarding the evidence that kids need dad's to be very available in the early years. A lot of people know this anecdotally but it's good to see some hard evidence.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Scandal of the Christ

I have just read an excellent post at "Darkening Glasses".

I have been and am very challenged by this provocative post as it examines the brutal reality of Jesus' life and ministry. At one point the question is asked:

"(If) I were part of the religious establishment, would I have been one of the majority who maligned / condemned Him, or, would I have been like the small minority, like Nicodemus, Simon the Leper, and Joseph of Aramathea who quietly, and fearfully, believed?"

I recall a line from a Keith Green song that says "I bet I could deny you too". Many times that line has made me weep in shame at the hardness of my heart.

Be challenged afresh at this man who is Lord of All.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hope Continued

In mid-Feb I wrote a post that explored the personal, subjective nature of hope. I suggested that hope needs to begin internally as an answer and anchor for the inner needs of each individual. I still believe this to be the case but I also believe that, concurrently, hope needs to be nurtured within community.

This is Christian hope because I believe that hope can only be ultimately complete in and through Jesus Christ. It stands to reason that the communal focus of this hope is the Christian community as it is found in the local church. I am assuming a great deal in making this statement but I believe, at a fundamental level, that the local church can be a community of hope where individuals who have connected with the ultimate ground of hope as it is found in Jesus Christ are connected in a communal journey towards that hope.

I am re-reading Moltmann's "Theology of Hope" plus exploring the internet. Church can be seen in these times through negative lens' but I believe that the local church holds enormous potential but a part of the solution to re-establishing the local church as a voice of hope is to find ways of clearly articulating that hope. Too often Christian faith is seen as "getting over the line" and collecting a "ticket to heaven". Apart from being far too reductionistic this also strips this life of all of the potential that eschatological hope brings.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Community of hospitality

I am reading an interesting article called "Missional Church: A Community of Hospitality" from Allelon - At the beginning is this wonderful quote:

"Simultaneously costly and wonderfully rewarding, hospitality often involves small deaths and little resurrections. By God's grace we can grow more willing, more eager, to open the door to a needy neighbor, a weary sister or brother, a stranger in distress....In the midst of a life-giving practice, we too might catch glimpses of Jesus who asks for our welcome and welcomes us home."

There is so much in this paragraph to discuss. I turned to this article after spending 1.5 hours last night with a friend from church and his wife who have just lost a dear friend to cancer after a 10 year battle. To be able to sit with them and hear their stories of the friendship and to sit in silence as they grieved was a privilege indeed.

Although hospitality refers to inviting people into our homes I also think it involves allowing people into our space and time. In the 21st century time is increasingly at a premium. To give of our time and to spend that time with those in need is a precious gift.

I love the idea that hospitality involves "small deaths and little resurrections". It is costly and beautiful all in the same event.

"By God's grace we can become more willing, more eager to open the door..."

Some of us are natural empathetic but giving as an act of service to those in need can only be truly accomplished with God's grace. I didn't feel particularly equipped to minister to a grieving couple but I felt constrained as an act of obedience to Jesus.

The idea that Jesus asks for a welcome is an especially poignant idea. How busy are we to welcome Jesus. In welcoming those in need don't we invite in Jesus into our conversation of life?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Suffering World

I read this quote today from the German theologian, Johann Baptist Metz:

"All religious people are running around looking for sin. Where is sin, we must get rid of sin. Jesus did not look for sin, he only looked for suffering".

Perhaps this is a key to the pharisaic spirit that still seems to be live uncomfortably close to the surface in most of our churches.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Church of Me

Reflecting upon why the poor and mentally ill are under represented in local churches I got to thinking about how much our opinion counts. People generally have a sense of "rights". "I don't like having that man in my church. It makes me feel uncomfortable."

The problem as I see it is that when we accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and died to ourselves any rights that we had effectively died with Christ. When people view life through the lens of rights and comfort we are not taking the Jesus option.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Blessed be the mentally ill

John Smulo recently asked a question about why poor people are not well-represented in western churches. In responding to his post it raised other questions for me with regard to people with mental illness.

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed the first of which is our level of comfort. Churches are often extremely comfortable places. The ambience, venue, expectations, sermons, events etc are all geared to maximise the comfort of the consumers, i.e. the congregation.

Church is not so much a gathering of Jesus followers meeting to worship and study Scripture with a view to moving out as living witnesses to the local, and wider, community; it has become an "event". Church attendees will often comment that the music wasn't what they liked, the sermon was too long or they, simply, didn't enjoy church.

Of course, if someone comes into this situation who is poor or mentally ill then it is going to disturb the comfort of the group and the event. In the Australian context there are parachurch groups and some churches that cater for those types of people but it is not for the rest of us.

I think it would help if Christians were to admit their prejudices and stop pretending that we are all fully committed to living life as Jesus followers. At the present time large sections of the Church mirror the world outside of the Church. Once Christians admit their biased viewpoints at least the starting point would be one of honesty and integrity. Also, from this foundation stronger teaching could come into the local church.

Then again, one of the issues is that the local Church is often very much informed by the attitudes of the wider society. I work with mentally ill men. I struggle with a form of mental illness myself. As an ordained pastor I am well integrated into the church "system" but many of these men are not. They are prone to anxiety, mood swings but most of all they are misunderstood and incorrectly judged by their "labels".

Churches like to think that they are "open" but the openness seems narrowly limited to a strict socio-economic demographic. The men that I work with are wonderful men. They all have a "story" and all respond to genuine love. If anyone would like to offer suggestions I'd be interested to hear them.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What's it all about?

John Smulo who is a friend of mine and a top missional thinker recently asked me to consider what my blog might be all about. Looking back over it he has a point. After much consideration here is the couse I will attempt to navigate:

1. Developing a theology of hope especially as it intersects with the work of Jurgen Moltmann

2 Discussing aspects of institutional church life that tick me off and seeking constructive alternatives.

3. Touching, now and then, on my journey with mental illness and how God walks with me in this and shapes my destiny.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bruce Chatwin

I recently completed Nicholas Shakespeare's biography of Bruce Chatwin. As the only famous namesake that I have come across I was interested to read his life's story. It is, indeed, a fascinating story.

What struck me was a quote towards the end of his life when he was contemplating his eventual conversion to the Greek Orthodox faith. Bruce said that he liked the Greek Orthodox Church because they reserved all the best buildings for God.

This comment caused me to reflect on the place of reverence in current Christian practice and architecture. Have we lost a sense of respect and awe for God. Even in a fluid, post-modern church with no permanent building surely there is opportunity to present concrete images of the vast beauty, goodness and love of God.

Having visited many cathedrals in England I am always taken with the beauty of the buildings. Maybe we need to reserve more beautiful places for God?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Personal Jesus

I have been reflecting recently about the need for subjective hope before we can progress towards a wider schema of hope. I am back in the counseling room and dealing, once more, with uncomfortable aspects of my childhood. In one way it is incredibly frustrating for me to find myself back in this place again seemingly revisiting the same issues. I first visited a counselor 7 years ago which coincided with the fact that my first child was nearly a year old and was uncovering the cracks in my well constructed emotional facade.

The positives are that I am back in counseling and at least making some sort of forward progress. As I have reflected upon the complexity of childhood trauma I have been considering the need for Christian hope to have an inner, subjective quality before it can become something more expansive. I may be misunderstanding this and, arising as it does from my own journey, I am open to discussion.

I don't mention the therapy to draw attention to myself but simply to set the context for these thoughts. Everyone has some kind of inner, subjective, world. For some people there is a great sense of integrity and congruence and for others there is a lot of fragmentation and dysfunctionality. In order for Christian hope to be effective and transformative I believe that it needs to meet these core inner needs.

This understanding of the scope and purpose of hope operates as part of a wider framework of hope. In this paradigm subjective hope would be one end of a continuum with ecological hope at the other end. As I comprehend Christian hope Jesus' life, death and resurrection offer transformative hope from the individual to the global level. What I am seeking to do is to drill down to a micro level.

Until our inner being achieves healing and is drawn into a future which is characterised by Christian hope then we cannot be truly effective in living day by day as Christian witnesses. Accepting Jesus as Lord and saviour is a starting point that owns our need for a savior and the idea of Lordship acknowledges, in principle, that Jesus is Lord of every aspect of our lives.

Traditional models of evangelism that rely on a propositional model achieve the goal of mental and spiritual assent to the gospel message but do not, in my view, draw people into the journey of hope on which Jesus can take people. Many Christians, myself included, can become locked into a needy situation where Jesus is the divine rescuer and operates continually as the one who will rescue us from sin and shame. This is a reasonable and biblical understanding of Jesus' interactions with us but I would like to see the church present a message that helps people to have this rescuer Jesus alongside a redeemer who continues to redeem.

Redemption was not simply a one-off. Jesus paid the price with his death and redeemed us so that we can be reconciled to God. This is part and parcel of the classic evangelical position. This can lock us into a life where Christians are assured of their salvation and the hope of eternal life but that hope is not transformative now. I talking of a holistic inner transformation and a hope that presents a future that can make us who we are meant to be. I want to divorce these ideas from any sense of a "prosperity" gospel which looks at what I can get for me. The thoughts presented here begin with me but move outwards as we grow in maturity.

This model arises out of my own therapeutic needs for which I make no apology but I believe they hold the germ of a theory that can operate in a wider arena. My inner world is fragmented and needs healing. I am a Christian and have accepted the offer of salvation but I need a hope that can offer wholeness to my inner brokenness. Over time as I achieve more and more inner integrity I will begin to be more effective in my outer communication of the Christian gospel.

I may be simply going on a round about journey to describe "inner healing" or merely outlining basic counseling concepts but I hope I have been able to elucidate something wider than this. Karl Rahner suggests that the Christian is free of the illusion that the present is the whole of reality. I would add that the Christian is also free of the illusion that the past is the whole of reality. In looking to a future hope it needs to be a transformative hope now.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mid-Life crisis redeemed

I'm 39 this year and married with 3 young boys and I'm growing a mohawk!

Call it a mid-life crisis or an incarnational, postmodern, missiological paradigm but I'm planning to use it for a good cause.

Tonight I saw an advert for the "World's Greatest Shave" where people are invited, in March, to shave or colour their hair to raise funds for Leukemia Research. I am planning to have the "Mo" tidied up and bleached for the occasion.

You can donate online and it's all securely done. All details are on the sponsorship page that I have set up through the Leukemia Foundation.

Please check it out.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Hope

My posting is erratic to say the least. I want to at least try and be a little more disciplined. To that end I'll put out some thoughts here to see if I can spark some conversation or input to assist me in a small project that I have been thinking about.

I have had an idea that I have been pondering for a while now. One of my concerns is to do with the manner of the church's engagement with the world and. more particularly, the individual Christian's interaction with those outside of the church's system.

The standard method of "witnessing" involves the use of propositions; I share with you my logical/faith arguments to do with Jesus. If you give assent to my propositional arguments then you can become a Christian and enter the local church as a "believer". If you disagree with my propositional statements then I have to persist or else leave you to make your own journey through life until another Christian works at the art of persuasion.

I have been sharing my thoughts with a number of non-Christians and am struck by the lack of regard for church as an institution and the "gospel" as a positive message for their life. This is not a surprise but I prefaced my enquiries by telling them that I was attempting to write a book on the nature of hope and, in particular, Christian hope.

My contention is that hope must become a fundamental building block upon which the church engages with the predominating mindset. I believe that we need to understand what hope is and exactly what our Christian hope is. As I reflect on sermons, chat to Christians and listen to Christian music I find the essence of Christian hope that makes a fundamental difference to our life now very vague and insubstantial.

I am attempting to build a theology of hope that is comprehensible for the "average" Christian who wishes to do more with their lives and who wish to break out of the established mould of evangelism. Of course, I will give strong reference to Moltmann and I want to avoid e-merging church cliches because there is something more enduring that contemporary fads that Christianity needs to come to terms with if it is to make a radical impact upon this world.

I look forward and welcome all comments and critiques. Thankyou.