December 30, 2006


Saddam Hussein died today. He was executed in Iraq, his home, by his own people. He was hung by the neck, and he died. It brings up a lot of questions in the minds of Christians; how are we to treat our enemies? When is violence the answer? Is it ever?

I find myself questioning our logic, as of late, in regards to the many issues surrounding violence, killing, and maiming others intentionally. On the one hand, I see the logic in Hammurabi’s "eye for an eye" mentality, and in the MAD-tactics employed in relation to nuclear war. On the other hand, I also see Jesus referred to as the "prince of peace," and that he never raised his hand against anyone. He said things like "love your enemies" and "love your neighbor." Jesus was God incarnate, and so you'd think he'd have some authority on the subject. [MAD, by the way, means "Mutually Assured Destruction," and it means that if two countries both have nuclear weapons, it's fairly certain that neither will use them against he other, out of fear of total global annihilation. Nukes suck like that.]

So is violence ever ok? I suppose the question might be framed, "is violence ever an expression of love?" Putting it that way, it would seem obvious at first blush that no, violence is never an act of love ... is it? I know that it should seem obvious to me, but I feel sort of trapped by the question.

This is my conundrum: when is violence necessary to protect (out of love) the innocent? If a thief comes in the night to steal your coat, Jesus said to give him your shirt as well. But what about when the thief is stealing your child's shirt? What about the rapists, the pedophiles, the drug dealers who intentionally set out to harm our children and our wives? Is the instinct that tells me to throttle the guy trying to rape my wife a bad instinct? How about the psycho-killer intent on racking up a body count? That's one-on-one, but then think big - by ousting Saddam, a man who made his choices, and eliminating him, have we protected more people? Is it an act of love to try and give the people of Iraq their chance at determining their own future?

I see God do all sorts of nasty things in the Old Testament. I see God tell Israel to slaughter entire nations so that they, the chosen people, will not be "contaminated." They disobey, and later pay the price. I see the walls of Jericho come crashing to the ground, the populace slaughtered by the Israelites - at God's command. I see Gideon and a pithy little squad of farmers take on an entire army with a bunch of trumpets, a few rocks, and a lot of faith - and God ordered it. Even more, God wiped out almost the entire population of the planet in a great flood, saving the one faithful family that remained. Now we tell the story to our children because it has fluffy animals in it somewhere.

Then God says "thou shalt not murder".

And then, in the New Testament, God mops the floor with Ananias and Sapphira. They die. Killed by God, through Peter. That's violence, right? It wasn't even self-defense, it was punishment!

So I ask again, is violence ever appropriate?

December 25, 2006

Christmas Eve in the Park


I suppose I should explain that. Liz (my wife, on the left) gave me a Lego Ferrari for Christmas. I love legos; always have. My parents gave me a lego every year up until I got into high school, and even then I'm fairly certain a small one would find its way into my stocking on the railing. Anyway, when we return home, Liz knew I was looking forward to getting our new car, which won't be happening for a while now. So this is my replacement. I love my wife :)

This has probably been the most relaxing Christmas I've ever had. No rush to take care of a million things, no show to perform in or organize at Church, no college finals to finish, and as much as I miss my family, I don't have to worry about balancing two families worth of commitments. It's been slow and restful, just like I always planned to make it but somehow never quite got around to it. But honestly, whoever heard of having a barbecue outdoors on Christmas eve, anyway? And getting a sunburn!

Anyway, mimos got together yesterday at Bundoora Park in Preston for a brunch barbecue. Pete and Sarah grilled tomatoes, bacon, and hash browns. Pete tried to do the eggs too, but the grill was sloped and the eggs ran towards the little drain in the middle. For myself, I proudly offered buttermilk biscuits and buechermusli, a sort of swiss fruit salad that people seemed to enjoy. Sally brought homemade quiche, also tasty. After thoroughly stuffing ourselves, most of us sat around talking while the kids played cricket with Pete and Jono. Then the kids read the Christmas story for everyone, and we celebrated Jono's birthday with chocolate cake (yes, that's right - more food).

Today we celebrated Jesus' birth with Sally, first with pancakes, then with gifts (my ferrari, some tim tams, and a footie ball made my day, and Sally gave us an Aussie book to read to the kid when he's born), and then spent time talking with relatives on the phone and webcam (which is how my parents got that first shot). Then we (meaning Sally, I guess) made dinner. Mashed potatoes, candied yams, salad, sauteed garlic prawns (shrimp) and buttermilk biscuits made up the most unusual yet tasty Christmas dinner I've had. All in all, this was probably the coolest, most unique thing I've ever done for Christmas and to tell you the truth, despite the lack of snow and decor, it was fantastic.

Then I read what the Harrisons did for Christmas. They are amazing. Simply amazing.

December 22, 2006

Mudhouse Sabbath

“Christians understand … [that] spiritual practices don’t justify us. They don’t save us. Rather, they refine our Christianity; they make the inheritance Christ gives us on the Cross more fully our own. The spiritual disciplines – such as regular prayer, and fasting, and tithing, and attentiveness to our bodies – can form us as Christians throughout our lives. Are we obliged to observe these disciplines? Not generally, no. Will they get us into heaven? They will not. Practicing the spiritual disciplines does not make us Christians. Instead, the practicing teaches us what it means to live as Christians. ... The ancient disciplines form us to respond to God, over and over always, in gratitude, in obedience, and in faith.”
[Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath, pg. xii-xiii]

December 21, 2006


Sometimes I think to myself, "wow, being a missionary is really hard! I have to put up with harsh weather (it was 38 and humid again today), public transportation, high prices, weird people (try riding the upfield train line for a few runs and you'll see what I mean), and flies!"

Then I go
here and read about what the Harrisons are doing in Thailand and I get over myself. It's ... increadible stuff, to be perfectly honest. I'm on the one hand envious of their ability to follow Jesus to such ends of the earth, and on the other hand, so thankful I'm not them.

Seriously, go read everything they've
written. Their stories will move you, their courage and passion will cut to your very core, and the offhand manner in which they say things like "Today we were stopped by boarder police - checking to see it we had any Karen people with us without papers. It was just us...and so all was well" will floor you.

Seriously. Go read.

December 19, 2006

College Memories

This brings back two particular college Christmases, both involving Mike, Rob, CP, and the rest of MIF. Ah, those were the days. After all, it wouldn't be Christmas without this particular rendition ...

Dissent in Unlikely Places

Just so that somebody is saying it ... are we sure we all buy into this whole Global Warming thing? I'm still skeptical, there are still scientists out there - reputable ones from Yale and the like - who aren't so sure it's happening the way the politicians say it's happening ...


Why is it that people only care that they've been hurt when they're killed?

December 16, 2006

Samaritan Woman

Having an interesting discussion on Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well here. I'd love if you'd all weigh in with your thoughts, many of you readers know far more about scripture than I do.

December 13, 2006

Minigolf and Cubicle Rockets

So at Credo this week we had a Credo Team gig. We went out to Dandenong to have a barbeque of lamb chops and veggie burgers. Luke and Ray handed out "awards" for the year (mine was 'sleepiest mountain dew drinker', for the time I bought Dew to stay awake and was informed, upon reaching Credo, that it doesn't have caffeine here), and then we left to play mini golf. Mini golf is a game I haven't played in many moons, the last time I remember was in Rhode Island as a tween. My grandmother took my sister and me to a little place that had such obstructions as the Rhode Island Red and various lighthouses. This course was ... well, harder. The water hazards were the worst, but there was a nagging problem with graded slopes leading TO the hazards. But the day was mine, and I took the lowest score by 4. Those golf lessons my dad gave me when I was 10 payed off, apparently. I bought a souvenier golf ball to commemorate the occasion. Pictures here.

I met a monk that afternoon, on the way home. He was another Hindu missionary, this time at Melbourne Central. He pulled me off the sidewalk and asked if I was a foreigner or a local (not sure why he started with "foreigner," do I really give off that vibe?) and I told him I was both. He asked me if I'd ever met a monk before, and I said yes, I had. He seemed a bit startled, and asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a missionary. It was a short conversation, since I knew he'd ask for money again, but that was fine, since I didn't have any (again). But as I left he told me to "keep preachin' the word of the Lord." I'm not sure if he was trying to speak my language or make a joke - I couldn't tell - but it amused me, even if it wasn't something I'd ever say.

In other news, Victoria is in a bit of a crisis at the moment. It seems that seven years of drought cause bush fires a bit more severely than if there had been rain. At one point last weekend, the news reported that an estimated one-fifth of Victoria (yes, of the entire state) was on fire! The smoke drifts with the wind into the city, causing a creepy-colored fog to roam the streets. But the sunsets are cool.

Some articles that have piqued my interest this week:

A rediculous
Holocaust conference that tells me that Iran isn't really interested in peace in the middle east.

A new
toy I think may be required equipment in cubicles in a few years ...

And an interesting
article on cross-cultural mission, despite its title, from One Cosmos.

December 9, 2006

Hot Hot Hot!

This was what we had to enjoy today. Two fans running continuously in our living room, lots of water bottles, two cold showers, and six hours later, it's still hot as hell in here. Good thing we're going to the pub for mimos tonight; I sure hope they have air conditioning!

December 8, 2006


So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food). The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?"

Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

"Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."

The weather here never ceases to amaze me. One day it can be a balmy, comfortable 70F out, overnight it drops to 50F, and then jacks itself all the way up to 100F for the next day. That's today, and meteorologists warn that it's going to be one of the worst weekends in recorded history for bush fires.

In case you're not aware, most of the south east coast of Australia has been in a drought for the past seven years. Water levels in the reservoirs are dropping steadily, and restrictions have been placed on the sort of water consumption that consumers are allowed. Nobody's allowed to wash their cars with city water; they have to collect it from rain water (what little we get) in big tanks, or put buckets in the shower and collect the excess. And that's just the beginning.

It's been strange for me, being an American in such a climate. Water never felt like much of a precious commodity at all; upstate New York is literally surrounded by the stuff. We have two great lakes, numerous finger lakes, and many streams, rivers, canals, and ponds just for good measure. Often enough, our basements flood during heavy spring or autumn rains, and our rooves get burdened with heavy snow drifts in winter. We take water for granted, or at the very least, curse its name for the many inconveniences it poses as it falls upon us from above.

It's not like that here. Commercials on TV beg us to use less water, to be mindful of taking three-minute showers instead of the average seven-minute showers. I'm lucky if I can get our shower to a comfortable temperature in three minutes, let alone CLEAN myself. The drought has affected the local climate something fierce; today we walked outside to be greeted by fog that smelled suspiciously like burning leaves, a good indication that there are bush fires somewhere to the northwest.

To talk about the water of life takes on new meaning in a country bereft of usable drinking water. Water becomes precious, life-giving; something to appreciate instead of something taken for granted.

December 2, 2006


I was walking down Swanston street yesterday, minding my own business, when out of nowhere this girl shoves a book in my hand. She was early twenty-something, sort of bohemian, short blonde hair popping out from a hat, knitted scarf around her neck, and a big smile on her face. It was a bit disorienting, for some reason, especially when she started talking. Her accent was like nothing I've heard yet, an odd combination of aussie and irish, and she spoke with a rapid mumble, just for good measure, and I had a very hard time making out what she was asking me. It seemd that my hesitation after each question she asked was her cue to ask another question, simpler, different, which mostly just made me hesitate again, hoping to translate in my head. This is how it went:

girl: hi! [shoves book into my hands] how are you?
me: um hi ... good ... you?
girl: oh wonderful. [mumbles something]
me: [blinks incoherently]
girl: are you from out of town?
me: uh, sort of, I live in Coburg but I'm going home to the States soon
girl: have you ever heard of Karma?
me: [pause] um ...
girl: do you believe that what goes around comes around? you know, karma?
me: sure, I guess
girl: do you wear contact lenses?
me: [pause] um, yes?
girl: oh cool, me too [at this point, she pokes at her contact lens with her finger]
girl: so do you think you're a good person?
me: *pause, translate* yeah, I ... I dunno, maybe
girl: [mubles something incoherent] and you could donate, you know, just something small for the book.
me: [looks down at book in hands, taking note of the many hindu-ish looking figures on its cover] uh ...
girl: do you think you're rich?
me: no, not at all
girl: do you think [mumbles]
me: excuse me?
girl: do you think you're rich in spirit?
me: uh ... sure ... I guess, maybe ...
girl: [mumbles something about the book and donating money] do you think you could donate anything? what goes around comes around.
me: [comprehension dawning] oh no, see, I don't have anything on me, I'm sorry, I'm actually on my way home
girl: oh, ok, you should try this restaurant just down that way, they do lunch for like, $4.50 or something
me: oh, sure, maybe I'll try that sometime
girl: well have a nice day
me: [hands to book back] you too

I felt a bit guity, as I'd just been to the bank, but I didn't have any smaller change to buy a book from her. But I walked away, head spinning, wondering what the hell had just happened. Had I just talked to a hindu missionary? I didn't know that there WAS such a thing, I thought only Christians and mormons and jehovah's witnesses ... maybe even Jews ... did that sort of thing. I thought all the eastern religions weren't really into propoganda. I suppose maybe that's a wrong assumption. It was still very disorienting though, and I had a hard think about it on the way home.

I kept feeling like there were so many responses I wanted to give her, but because I could barely make out what she was saying, I never got them in. Isn't that the way it always is? I get blindsided and don't know what to say under pressure, but later it's like "oh, I should've said this or this or this!" Bugger. She asked if I'd ever heard of karma, to which I wish I'd said "yes, have you heard of Jesus? great guy!" She mentioned the "what goes around comes around" thing, to which I wish I'd asked "so wait, what happens if somebody does something bad to me, should I do something bad to them?"

Are we all the moist robots that Scott Adams says we are, or is there something more?

It all got me thinking about Karma and how I think I sort of agree with it, in part. I mean, from what I understand, Karma is basically the idea that "what goes around comes around." Causality. Chaos theory. Newton's Third Law. Lots of names are there, but I think it fits with what we observe in the world. I give it another name, though: Holism.

I love the idea that everything affects everything else. It's sort of comforting, in some ways, that we're all connected by events, ideas, motion. On the other hand, it makes everything harder - if I do something, somehow it is going to affect somebody else, eventually. It brokers lots of questions about 'responsibility' and 'choice' and all that.

Then I ask the question, is it scriptural? Sure, I think you could make a HUGE case for this in scripture. Stuff happens to the Israelites after they do other stuff. It's basic life. It also makes you wonder what happens if you start taking little pieces out of the equation. Say, for example, I were to take a piece of scripture by itself. Suddenly I have no context, no bigger picture. I can make it say whatever I want it to, and I think there will be no consequences for it.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

The devil is trying to tempt Jesus and what does he do? He uses scripture! Cheekly little bugger, that one. But notice how Jesus puts the scripture back in context. To understand the scriptures, you have to look at the whole thing, not just one little piece. So often we take scripture and make it say what we want it to say. [sidenote: notice that I've linked to the entire fourth chapter of Matthew, not just the verses I wanted to make my point]

The only problem with Karma is this: what happens if somebody pisses you off? Is it just the way it happens that you piss them off right back? Is that moral? Or does karma mean that they'll get what's coming so you don't have to worry, they'll get theirs. Either way, justice is done.

What attitude does this foster?

I'm thinking that Jesus was about more than that. He was about loving people, even your enemies, even the people that piss you off. The flip side to newton's third law is that, if you want to continue some action, it requires energy. You have to work at it if you don't want to get angry back at somebody. It requires effort to forgive somebody who's wronged you. There's always a bigger picture.

November 28, 2006

FORGE Weekend Posts

Just putting up a dashboard for the accumulating posts from this weekend, as they are rapidly increasing in number as I think more from the intensive.

G20 Update
The Trinity
How Shall We Know Him?


Tonight we celebrated our newest direction in life with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants here in Melbourne: Taco Bill's. It's mexican like you've never had before. I think that's mostly because Bill was actually a Mexican, and the recipes were supposedly handed down through the family. Regardless, they have some of the best salsa this side of the pacific, and the Burritos are to die for.

On our way home, we were sitting on a bench, waiting for a tram on Elizabeth street when we noticed this guy hobbling across the street to the adshell overhang. He was carrying a pair of crutches in one hand, a beer in the other, and both feet were in padded braces. He was scruffy and hunched over, wincing a little from the pain. But he looked used to it, and hobbled over to the railing and sank down to the sidewalk with a sigh of relief.

It was at this point that I did something I've never really done before: I stood up, walked over to him and asked if he wanted a proper seat.

It bothered me a little that he'd placed his priority on carrying the beer, not on getting safely from point A to point B. I mean, he could probably move more easily if he'd just open the can when he wasn't trying to walk around, but I suppose to each his own.

Anyway, he smiled and, in a rapid country Victorian accent that took me a touch too long to translate, said that no, he preferred sitting on the ground because it gave his feet a chance to rest. He pointed out that if he sat on the seat, the pressure would go on the bottom of his feet still and he was already in a bit of pain as it was. But thank you for the offer, that's very kind of you.

I smiled back, and upon completing my mental translation, said that I agreed, it looked like it might hurt a bit. Actually, I was thinking it looked downright painful, and that I couldn't handle that sort of thing, but he seemed good-natured about the whole set of circumstances. His tram came along at that point, and he said thanks again before grabbing his can of beer and crutches and hobbling onto the tram.

I bring this all up because the uncharacteristic altruism shocked me a bit and at first, I couldn't quite place where it had come from. Don't get me wrong, I'm about as compassionate as the next guy, I guess, but to be honest, I've never really shown that side of myself. I'm not sure why that is, maybe because I'm scared of talking to strangers; it's the introverted part of me.

I remember one day, about a week after we arrived, Liz wanted to go to some shopping center to buy ourselves some sandles, as the weather was very warm (especially for a pair of new yorkers just come from the dead of winter). However, neither Ruth nor Colin were around to drive us to Glen Waverly (a couple of suburbs over) and so we'd have to take public transport.

I was petrified. It took me a good two hours to pluck up the courage to grab my wallet and walk out the door to the wrong bus stop, then have Liz mention we should probably be on the other side. I was so nervous about the whole thing I nearly went straight back home. But guilt prevailed (I'd made it this far) and somehow managed to bluff my way to the mall and back. Now I use the trams, trains, and busses without a second thought, but that's how scared of everything I was when I got here.

On the tram travelling home tonight, I started trying to place how it came to be that I was now ok with talking to strangers at tram stops. I thought, maybe it's because I got used to it. But that couldn't be it. Urban Seed probably helped a bunch, as I have to often talk with people I've never met who look ... well, dodgy, really.

But then it hit me: this is what happens when you start getting to know God. God's power is transforming, intoxicating. It slowly works its way through every part of you, replacing each little piece with something better, something elemental, something more true and good. It's what enables an introvert like me to offer a guy a seat at a tram stop. There are times when it doesn't feel like you've made any progress towards imitating the God you've come to love so much. But then little signs come along, signs that you're not the person you used to be, signs that maybe, just maybe, you're moving forward, even if it is only creeping inch by inch, day by day.

And you realize that you couldn't - wouldn't - do it any other way.

November 25, 2006

How Shall We Know Him?

An Old Talmudic Legend I was given today at our FORGE intensive. I rather like this, hope you do too.

Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet while he was standing at the entrance of Rabbi Simeron ben Yohai's cave. He asked Elijah, "when will the messiah come?"
Elijah replied, "go and ask him yourself."
"Where is he?"
"Sitting at the gates of the city."
"How shall I know him?"
"He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, 'perhaps I shall be needed: if so, I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.'"


"When my mind thinks about the complexity of the Trinity, the three-in-one God, my mind cannot understand, but my heart feels wonder in abundant satisfaction. It is as though my heart, in the midst of its euphoria, is saying to my mind, There are things you cannot understand, and you must learn to live with this. Not only must you learn to live with this, you must learn to enjoy this. … I need wonder."
~Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

When we talk about the trinity, there is a tendency to make it to be less than it is. This happens, ironically, when we try to understand it, to put it in a box. The fact of the matter is that we don't understand God. We try. We try a lot. We theologize and theorize and make lots of stabs in the dark at exactly who God is, how he works, even what he's going to do next, and yet all our efforts are mostly in vain.

The Bible talks a lot about stuff God does, and from that we start to see a picture of God's character, but in the end, it's only a construct, a language we use to represent the truth. For example, when I say "apple," is the word the object, or is it simply a concept in your head to represent the object? As human beings, we need something to latch on to, something we can understand to make us feel less inferior than we are. I'm fairly certain that's why Jesus came - to, among other things, give us a picture of God to latch on to. Our concept of the trinity is only a picture of God, and a rough sketch at that.

Often enough, it makes me very frustrated. I'm a guy who often enough prides himself in his understanding of things. There's a lot of stuff that I grasp; God built my mind to wrap around concepts with ease (my major failing is that I don't wrap around people with that much ease at all). And yet, my mind does not begin to understand God. There are people far smarter than me who will openly admit that they don't understand the trinity, how three can be one and one can be three all at the same time.

I'll admit, lots of times I really wish I understood. But then God reminds me that if I really understood him, I probably wouldn't be very humble; to understand God fully is to BE God, and I wouldn't be a very humble god. I'd probably go around rubbing it in people's faces. It's a good thing I'm not God.

I think those of us in the academic world often need that reminder. Humility doesn't come easy to academics (you've probably noticed), and so if they don't understand something, it frustrates them to no end. Lots of times they'll make up something to make it sound like they get it, but they really don't. Evolution is one of those things. Trinitarian theology is another.

I'm not saying that the study of the trinity is unimportant, unbiblical, or unChristian or something. On the contrary, to seek God is to seek ALL of God, to seek to understand (and then emulate) his Character. To know that God exists in permanent relationship is to know that WE are to exist in relationship, and not alone. God created us so that we'd know the joy that HE gets in relating to himself. Sounds sort of schizo, put like that, but that's my point - I don't understand how three separate beings can also be one being.

I guess my point in all this is that we have to be careful that we don't make more of our understanding than it is: at some point in our theological ramblings, we need to have the humility to say "I don't know." The trinity is bigger than big: it's HUGE! God is so much bigger than the little construct we've created to try and understand Him. He's without borders or boundaries, and words cannot ever capture His magnatude. In the end, we need to admit that we won't ever understand Him fully. What's important is that we've been seeking Him: after all, he already knows us, and that, if they are willing to accept it, is enough to satisfy even the most curious.

November 23, 2006


Our first thanksgiving turkey, done in our tiny little oven here in Melbourne.

It's been quite a holiday for us. Two days of food preparation, baking, cleaning the dishes we just used, baking some more, cleaning the house ... all over in an hour. Which, granted, is longer than most dinners last in our house. It was fantastic; Liz's stuffing, the turkey, the stuffing, the buttermilk rolls, the stuffing, the casserole, the stuffing, the apple pie ... yeah: it was good.

November 21, 2006

G20 Update

After our recent discussion on poverty spawned from the G20 meeting here in Melbourne, I'd been anxiously awaiting news from somebody who was actually there. Chris, a friend from Urban Seed, was the guy who initially sparked my interest. You too might be interested in what he had to say about the various protests that happened this past weekend - it's a good read:

Urban Seed Protest, Day 1

Urban Seed Protest, Day 2

Urban Seed Protest, Day 3

November 17, 2006

Growing Up

This, as you may remember, is Wisdom. Wisdom has been growing a lot lately, and so we decided yesterday to get her a new collar and leash. The new collar looks very cute on her, making her look puppy-ish (because it's twice the size of her old collar, making her look smaller) and grown-up (since she can now put her head on the couch's arm-rest) at the same time. Our little baby is growing up!

November 15, 2006

Where The Money Goes

It's been raining hard all day, mixed with brief periods of sunshine, heavy wind, and longer periods of pea-sized hail. My original plans for the day foiled, I've stayed home, in the semi-warmth and coziness of our living room, browsing the internet news and reading.

I ran across
this article that worried me a little. In seemingly unrelated news, the G20 conference comes to Melbourne this weekend. The G20 is a collection of money guys from the major financial nations around the world who get together once a year somewhere to discuss global economics and the choices they have to make for the following year. This year it's in Melbourne.

For this some people are happy, because it means that they get to do the protesting they've been dying to do, but which travel costs have prevented in years past. You may recall a
previous post on protesting; I'm not much in favor of it because I don't believe that it really helps anybody, but instead, gets a lot of people emotionally riled-up at somebody else and rarely ends peacefully.

However, the protesting that many are planning seems to be slightly more productive than I had originally envisioned. While some seem to be in it just to make a statement to the G20,
others seem more focused on raising public awareness, and if the G20 pay attention, then so much the better. This I can agree with. But aside from raising awareness, I'm still not sure that demonstrating outside the G20 meeting is going to help much. I think bigger action is needed.

Back to the first article, before you think I'm advocating bombing somebody. I've been getting this uncomfortable feeling about our society lately, and the article about the Red Sox just made it worse: we spend a lot of money on frivolties and entertainment. And it's not just like, a hundred dollars more or something. The Red Sox spent $42 million on the rights just to
BID for a player! This isn't even his salary, this is just so that they can try and convince him to play for them. I'm sure he's a great pitcher and all that, but it seems a bit like overkill.

Even so, I'm not sure that it's even their fault. I mean, sure, a bunch of baseball execs could conceivably decide to forego paying a better player and instead donate the money to charity or to some doctors or a cancer-research foundation or something. I think they could do that, but I don't think that it ever crossed their minds. But that's not the point.

How, I wonder, did these baseball teams (or football, or rugby, or basketball, or soccer, or any other pro sport teams) get the sort of finances to be able to casually spend $42 million bidding for one guy? Where did that money come from? Did they win the lotto? Not really. Besides, it never pays that well and most of the money goes back to the government anyway. Did they rob a bank? Maybe, but still unlikely.

No, the money came because they can charge a lot of money for people to come watch the games, and for companies to advertise at their games. All that money goes into their big portfolios. That's where it comes from. So what does that mean?

It means that Americans and Australians and Kiwis and Brits and Germans and Frenchpeople and everybody else who are "western" pay a lot of money every year just to see a bunch of guys play games. The teams make lots of money and pay their players a lot of money, who in turn spend their vast amounts of money on things like fast cars, big parties, big houses, and on lots of other stuff that I probably don't even know about.

I know, the games are fun to watch (I myself like NRL and MLB; I'm a Melbourne Storm fan and a NY Yankees fan), and often bring lots of people together in "community." So do village leagues and community sport leagues. But I can think of lots of other things to spend money on other than the salary of a team of guys that have so much they don't know what to do with it all. For instance, there are people who aren't sure if they'll get food each day - they could use some of it. There are doctors who wish they could afford to live in Africa and treat medical conditions for people there who can't afford it. They could use it too. How about the orphans and refugees in Thailand that came from Burma? They have nothing, not even a country to call their own - I bet they'd appreciate it.

Have you ever heard the excuse "I'm not giving any money to the begger on the street because he'll probably just go spend it on alcohol and drugs"? But then, why do we give our money to the pro sports players, who then go and ... spend it on alcohol and drugs? It doesn't make sense to me.

I'm not saying we get rid of pro sports. I'm saying maybe it's time to think about paying them less. I'm sure that a pro sportsman could afford to make only $1 million a year (I just said "only" to a million dollars a year, that's sad) instead of $30 million or $300 million or whatever they make. I imagine that it might do a lot of people some good to see those pros give up their ritzy lifestyles for the good of others.

Just think: if one team gave up the salary of one player each year and payed their players even just a little bit less, that's millions of dollars to go towards cancer research and AIDS research and relief efforts in third-world countries. That is SO MUCH MONEY!!!

My trouble is this: I don't know how to go about doing this. Does anybody have any ideas where we could start? Seriously, I'm asking for anybody who might agree with me to start thinking, maybe post a few ideas in the comments section. I think that if it ever worked, we'd do a lot of good for a lot of people.

November 13, 2006

The Death of "Normal"

The way I see it, there's no real clean lines anymore. It used to be that you could classify stuff: One thing was black, another thing was white. Nowadays all the lines have been blurred, fuzzed, and otherwise mauled nearly out of existance. Instead of white, there are many choices: off-white, pale-white, ecrew, mother-of-pearl, stucco, glossy-white, matte-white, and beige are merely some of the variations on a theme.

It's getting harder and harder to draw categories. On some level, this is probably a good thing; it keeps the stereotyping down a bit. On another level, it sucks. Royally. The human brain is designed to categorize things to make them easier to remember. And so, even in this day and age of fuzziness, our brains still try and wrap up everything into nice boxes with bows and labels. [sidenote: I propose this be the new name for whatever comes after postmodernism: The Age of Fuzziness]

See, here's my beef: so far, I've read about a bazillion different articles from nearly as many authors on the subject of what the "emerging" or "missional" church is or is not. In flavor, they range from the "academic" to the "purely emotional rant." In about half the articles, the author makes some sort of claim to the definition to what an "emerging church" is or isn't. In the other half, little else is supplied than some sort of vaguery, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks from context or personal assumptions. In all cases, the author merges some things (churches, behaviors, theologies, people) "into" the category and some out.

The trouble is, the line has become blurred. Again. With all the definitions floating around out there, the emerging church (in its many flavors) has become a catch-all phrase used to denote anything that's "different" from "mainstream church." Emerging might mean a house church, a network church, a bunch of guys sitting in a coffee shop talking about vaguely religious matters, a bunch of guys sitting around in a coffee shop who claim to follow Jesus (but may or may not), or a cult that claims Christianity with a nice coat of paint.

I'm a bit tired of all the fuss.

I can respect the articles that give their own clear definition for "emerging" or "missional" and try to defend their position based on those definitions. I may not agree - with their position OR their definition - but I can respect them for their writing, and I can certainly try to discuss their position with them and perhaps learn from them. Maybe we might even turn out to agree on lots of other stuff.

However, I cannot find it in me to respect those who claim a stance on a subject who are more or less ignorant of their own writing. I know about this because I used to be one of those people - I could bluff my way out of any discussion simply by looking confident of facts I knew nothing about. Then I got to college and realized after my first "D" on a paper that I had to stop making up information if I wanted to get anywhere.

Anyway, the people that bug me are the people who claim to understand a subject but have spent little time trying to understand the categories, little time meeting with people to talk the subject out, and little or no time walking in the shoes of those they so callously dismiss, but instead make broad generalizations about a vaguely named fuzzy category about which they know next to nothing. They group a lot of people into a category (say, "emerging church" or "missional church") who often have VASTLY different approaches to ministry, theology, and God [sidenote: I daresay that the only thing in common for the various expressions of "emerging" is that they HAVE nothing in common, except a desire to follow Jesus]. Many take stances based on rumors, and worse, take much of their material out of context.

I heard somebody say once that "normal is what everyone else is and you are not." It seemed fitting.

Let's get this straight once and for all: there is no such thing as "normal" anymore. Maybe fifty years ago you could have said "they're presbyterian, so they do it like THIS", but now you can't say that. Now you say "they're missional ... damn, I may have to go spend a few weeks with them to figure out how they do church". You also have to know that "they" are going to look, feel, and think differently than pretty much everybody else.

So here's to the death of "normal." While relativism in truth is a bit of a joke (ask a relativist if they're absolutely sure of their position, the answer is usually pretty funny), relativism in methods and that coat of paint I always talk about is alive and well - and frankly, it's ok. To have differing expressions of church means that everybody can potentially find a home that suits them; God made us individuals for a good reason - he gave us tastes and feelings too. To accept that is to get back to living like Jesus; just because somebody doesn't do it the way you wish they would doesn't necessarily make them wrong. And just because they may be right in their methods doesn't mean that YOU are wrong in YOURS; you are, after all, different people living in different places.

Here's to the death of "normal."

November 10, 2006

On Protesting

I have started re-reading a book that inspired me a lot the first time I read it. Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz is a wonderful read; it's easy, it's engaging, and it even has a couple cartoons.

And it's very, very deep.

I've been thinking a lot about poverty lately, about social justice and social action and all the protesting that goes on. Then I ran across this, and ... well, you'll see what I mean.


"Earlier that afternoon ... my friend Andrew the Protester and I went downtown to protest a visit by the President. I felt that Bush was blindly supporting the World Bank and, to some degree, felt the administration was responsible for what was happening in Argentina. Andrew and I had made signs and showed up a few hours early. Thousands of people had already gathered, most of them protesting our policy towards Iraq. Andrew and I took pictures of ourselves in front of the cops, loads of cops, all in riot gear like storm troopers from Star Wars.

Andrew's sign said "Stop America's Terroism" - he spelled 'terrorism' wrong. I felt empowered in the sea of people, most of whom were also carrying signs and chanting against corporations who were making slaves of Third World labor; and the Republican Party, who gives those corporations so much power and freedom. I felt so far from my upbringing, from my narrow former self, the me woh was taught the Republicans give a crap about the cause of Christ. I felt a long way from the pre-me, the pawn-Christian who was a Republican because my family was Republican, not because I had prayed and asked God to enlighten me about issues concerning the entire world rather than just America.

When the president finally whowed, things got heated. The police mounted horses and charged them into the crowd to push us back. We shouted, in unison, that a horse is not a weapon, but they didn't listen. The president's limo turned the corner so quickly I thought he might come tumbling out, and his car was followed by a caravan of shiny black vans and Suburbans. They shuttled him around to a back door where we watched through a chain-link fence as he stepped out of his limousine, shook hands with dignitaries, and entered the building amid a swarm of secret service agents. I was holding my sign very high in case he looked our way.

The President gave his speech inside the hotel and left through a side door, and they whisked him away before we co uld shake hands or explain our concerns. When we were done, I started wondering if we had accomplished anything. I started wondering whether we could actually change the world. I mean, of course we could - we could change our buying habits, elect socially conscious representatives and that sort of thing, but I honestly don't believe we will be solving the greater human conflict with our efforts. The problem is not a certain type of legislation or even a certain politician; the problem is the same that it has always been.

I am the problem.

I think every conscious person, every person who is awake to the functioning principles within his reality, has a moment where he stops blaming the problems in the world on group think, on humanity and authority, and starts to face himself. I hate this more than anything. This is the hardest principle within Christian spirituality for me to deal with. The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest. ...

More than my questions about the efficacy of social action were my questions about my own motives. Do I want social justice for the oppressed, or do I just want to be known as a socially active pesron? I spend 95 percent of my time thinking about myself anyway. I don't have to watch the evening news to see that the world is bad, I have only to look at myself. I am not browbeating myself here; I am only saying that true change, true life-giving, God-honoring change would have to start with the individual. I was the very problem I had been protesting."

Don Miller, Blue Like Jazz pgs. 18-20

November 8, 2006

Randomness While You Wait

While you wait for my return to blogging (with baited breath, I know), I have a few things for your entertainment, education, and general well-being. There's a great discussion happening here based on a letter Glen wrote to those of us who consider ourselves emerging or missional. If you're either of those things, you should read it and the comments. If you're not either of those things, you should read it for the comments. Either way, it's been an interesting discussion so far, though as usual I talk too much.

Fun article via Myles

Also, I hear there's been something afoot at home. Politics isn't going so well for the conservative right, from what I'm told. Poor buggers. But I believe
Myles may have nailed it on the head. Will anything really change, or are we so bogged down in politics that change is impossible? I highly doubt that we'll be able to pull out of Iraq the way so many democrats have campaigned for - even they know that, despite the war's shaky ethical beginnings, to give up now is probably not in anybody's best interests. But, being politicians, they'll say what it takes to get into office. I'm with Myles ... not much will change. Although I hear that Mrs. Clinton is campaigning for the Presidency; why else would somebody from Arkansas grab a senatorship in New York?

Some fun videos for you:

And some not-so-funny videos, in case you have the time:

November 5, 2006


Jon Cruz wrote something with which I strongly resonate. As I've investigated the "missional church" here in Australia, as I've talked over chai with colleagues in the 'mission field', as I've engaged other Christians in discussion, I've come to believe that the great commission is more than what we in the evangelical community have made it. When we are called to 'make disciples', we are not called to merely preach on the street corners and hope that somebody might be inspired to accept Christ. The great commission is a call for those of us that follow Jesus to inspire and invite others to follow him as well; we are to make seekers of the world, not believers. To clarify: a believer is one stagnant in their beliefs, someone who is convinced of the validity of something, never doubts, never questions, never tries to further refine their worldview. A seeker is one who is constantly questioning their assumptions, their beliefs, their values.

As Christians, we are to seek, to constantly refine our worldview and question our assumptions. Why do we believe what we believe? Is the Bible ok with what we believe? Are we just trying to justify our actions to ourselves?

Just so we're clear, a seeker can hold solid beliefs; they can believe that God exists, they can believe that Christ died and rose again. But it doesn't stop them from re-evaluating their beliefs on a regular basis. If anything, this helps them re-discover their passion for their God, for their cause. Asking "why" is the best motivator for mission I can think of.

November 1, 2006

Where I've Been

For those of you wondering where I've gone, don't worry, I've once again immersed myself in writing. I've been rather busy this week, with a number of essays due. The first I handed in last friday, a paper for my practicum where I imagined what would happen if a seminary became a training ground for the missionally-minded, a place where one could customize their own curriculum for the ministry that God has laid on their heart (whether it be in corporate america or in a slum in Bangkok). If you're interested in reading it, email me and if you ask nicely, I'll consider posting it.

Amidst the various social events of the week (including dinner with Pete and Lisa, and Jericho night tonight) and the mission-related events (orchestra on monday and spent the day at Urban Seed on tuesday), I've spent my free time working on a longer paper. This paper, due tomorrow, is a paper in which I will ... I hope ... describe a philosophy of worship suitable for the postmodern age in which we find ourselves. It SHOULD be easy, since any philosophy of worship should simply reflect biblical principles, but somewhere along the line, the concept got muddled up a bit by the various denominations. And so, in this postmodern age of inter-denominational dialogue, I attempt to find a universal philosophy of worship that can then be applied to each denomination and culture in turn, allowing each their own expression.

We'll see how it goes.

October 26, 2006

Community Work Day

Credo Cafe held a community work day for the inside of the cafe and the laneway just outside on tuesday. I knew this coming down into the ciy, and so I kept praying "please don't make me clean the toilets, please don't make me clean the toilets." Sure enough, they didn't ... a prayer answered.

As soon as I arrived, I was recruited by Luke to help paint the laneway. It had gotten grubby, and was laced with cobwebs, grunge, and graffiti. A good day of work, I must say. I don't usually like painting, but with Chris, Tim, Woodsey, and Nathan working alongside me, I can't say I've ever had more fun.

However, I don't have any work clothing, save the old tshirt I was wearing. In order to keep my shorts from getting paint all over them, I tied an old tablecloth around my waist. Let me tell you - I was sexy in that thing.

Pictures can be found

October 24, 2006

MP3 Update

So go figure, I'm getting indecisive. I read articles daily in the google technology news about one player or another, and I'm about ready to cry (in a theologically non-suspect way; don't worry, I know it's not the end of the world). I discovered a new player that I hadn't considered, via my sister: the Sansa e260, by Sandisk. It's a good player in ways the iPod nano isn't, from a removeable battery that lasts just as long, to a built-in FM receiver with digital recording capabilities.

In the interim, I've been using my Dell Axim as an mp3 player, something it does quite well in addition to the tons of other useful functions (calendar/planner, contacts, wiFi, and of course, games). Truly I tell you, it's one of the coolest gizmos I have, I think; Apple would do well to try them, they're wonderful. Oh, and for all you mac users out there who switched because of the reputation for macs to be "virus free",
think again, I've got news for you. I think I'd use it as an mp3 player permanently, but it's a bit bulky and not the sort of thing that fits well into any pocket other than my jacket, something I wear rather infrequently.

Yet the iPod nano still haunts me, even as I look over the newbie's wonderful features and highly attractive price (read "less expensive by $50 USD"). I like its slim elegance, the simple user interface, and the vast range of useful accessories, despite their slightly elevated prices. It doesn't have cool things like an FM receiver or digital recording capabilities, and it's rumored that it doesn't support MP3 files that well, but I've yet to hear any truely horrible things about the nano (the iPod proper seems to have contracted virus that affect only PCs, which seems a bit nefarious).

Anyway, any suggestions you all might have would be helpful. I can't decide if the expansion slot, FM receiver, and removeable battery on the Sandisk make it worth investing in a new-to-the-market and potentially un-hip product.

October 20, 2006

Maybe, or Maybe Not

"The School of Journalism and Politics called and wants to award you an honorary Doctorate. Or have you arrested for stealing the answers to their senior-year finals exam." ~Joan of Argghh! on IMAO

this article sums up why I don't trust journalists or politicians. Enjoy.

via Mike ...

October 18, 2006

To Be A Missionary

I've been thinking lately about what it takes to be a missionary. There are so many connotations of the word floating around in the grand scheme of things that I think I may need to ditch the word entirely if I'm to successfully communicate my meaning. Unfortunately, I can't think of a better word, although "spiritual tour guide" comes fairly close (ala Rob Bell). It is my humble opinion that we (we = all people claiming to follow the risen Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, usually called "Christians") have all been called to be missionaries. To be a missionary is to be someone attempting to "make disciples of all nations." I think it's fairly obvious where this comes from: Jesus told us. So what is a disciple?

Disciples are seekers. It's important to know the difference between a seeker and a believer:
seekers are people who are seeking truth - nothing more. I think the church has of late bastardized this particular term to mean something it doesn't. A seeker is not necessarily a non-believer; in fact, every follower of Jesus is to be a disciple, and therefore a seeker. A seeker does not give up seeking truth simply because they've committed their life to Christ. In fact, you might say that since they've committed to Christ, they've found the path to follow, and now have to walk it, seeking what may come.

I think many Christians often get an idea that once a person believes in Jesus, their mental life ends and their life in general grinds to a halt. They don't have to know anything new, we don't have to learn, we don't have to seek. But it's not true! Jesus is a beginning - truth is not an end, it's a journey. If Jesus is
the way, the truth, and the life, then we are to start, not end with Jesus. Jesus, in this case is (among other things) the start of a new path.

This, I think, changes the idea of missions entirely. While it's true that missions encompasses humanitarian work (alleviating poverty, building relationships, seeking Justice), it also means that we are to inspire people to seek truth. I think this is starting to include both Christians and non-Christians alike; so many Christians believe that once they've accepted Christ, the journey ends and they have to sit around waiting to get to heaven. They sit back in the pews at church doing nothing, blindly following leadership and going about their everyday lives as if nothing has changed.

And yet the vast majority of people - Christian and non-Christian alike - have stopped seeking. They no longer care to question their beliefs just in case they could be wrong ... they must be right. If a faith is so weak that questioning it could break it, then what's the point?

Yet faith is usually strengthened by testing, by conflict. Look no farther than the muslims in the middle east; because of the war, their beliefs are suddenly under threat, and far from giving up, they've grown. Perhaps we could learn something from them. I'm not saying we should get all militant and start bombing innocent civilians (no comments about whether or not this is happening, I know), but I am saying that perhaps it's time to start getting out of our church-fortresses and start challenging the things we think we know.

The time has come to realize
And see the plan you've been designed for
So face the fear of all unknown
And see the heart inside
So open up your eyes ...

October 13, 2006


So I need some advice. I'm in the market for a new MP3 player. My year-and-a-half-old Rio (1.5gigs) isn't really cutting it anymore. Its display, while once a handy feature, has started causing trouble, mostly at night due to the failure of its backlight: I can no longer see the screen in the dark. This is distressing, mostly because literally half of the time I usually spend listening to my music is at night, on the way home from orchestra.

I had a new player all lined up for my wishlist for Christmas (can't yet afford it), but then I ran into a snag: a whole bunch of new players came out that look ... well, tempting is about the right word for it. The first player was, obviously, the iPod Nano, recently redesigned for longer battery life and a better screen. I loved the idea of it - bright full-color screen, the large (4gig) capacity, the ability to use it to view pictures AND listen to music ... it seemed to have it all.

Then microsoft came out with their new Zune MP3 player, complete with built-in wi-fi, and it got me thinking: what is it I really want? I ran across this Sony product today, called a "mylo" (My Life Online). It includes all the usual mp3 features, but also has built-in wi-fi, a QWERTY keyboard for the instant-messaging and email features, and picture capabilities. And it just looks so shiny! The downside is that it's a bit more expensive than any other players, and I'd have to buy a memory stick if I wanted any serious data storage for the video capabilities.

Then I started searching the SONY website, and a funny thing happened: I discovered two more mp3 players for consideration, both new on the market. This one is a smallish-size player, yet contains a three-line stylish color screen and noise-cancellation technology. With 1 gig and 2 gig models and a built-in radio, it seems a good buy, costing about the same as an ipod of the same size. And it claims a 50-hour battery life, something the iPod is sorely lacking, despite the latest power upgrades.

The other model I discovered was this 8 gig beauty, full color screen, and has a comparable battery life (if not better) than the iPod. The kicker is, I could buy this thing for the same price as a 4gig iPod Nano.

And so I ask your help: give me your top choice (or another player, if you have a favorite), and pros and cons if you can think of any.

And no, "just because it's apple" is not a valid pro (or con).

October 12, 2006

Chocolate by the Bald Man

I find it part of my duty as someone overseas to inform my brethren at home of the various cultural oddities and tidbits to be found in the metropolitan area. Also they might visit me if I can make it sound nice enough. Today's fun fact is probably my favorite place in the entire city, and I'm quite sure that it's Liz's as well: Max Brenner's Chocolate by the Bald Man. Yes, it's a long name, but that's only because it's worth the time to say. Chocolate by the Bald Man has two shops in the downtown area, with many more throughout the various suburbs, especially in the East. It is a chocolaterie: a cafe devoted entirely to chocolate in its various forms.

As you walk in the entrance of the shop in Melbourne Central, you are immediately confronted with two large covered vats of pure, liquid, chocolaty goodness. The larger of the two is milk chocolate, the smaller is white chocolate. Around these two cream-colored vats are wicker baskets of coffee ingredients, spices, and nuts. To the left, a shop of dark wooden shelves full of various chocolate-related products, from hug mugs to suckao cups to chocolate powder. In front of you is a waist-high counter, upon which sits a register and several clear pods containing examples of the desserts. The menu sits on the wall behind, its contents in a dark brown font that beckons you to order as much as you can eat.

You catch the eye of the waitress, a short teenage girl dressed in solid black, her apron smeared with chocolate sauce, hair pulled back, her brow glazed from the effort of serving the many customers around the cafe. She hands you a set of menus, then points you towards a table in the corner, a low-set dark wood number surrounded by four rectangular stools, their black cushions inviting. You sit down and peruse the menu.

Ah, but the choices! There are so many, how will you ever decide what to have? There are coffee drinks with chocolate, blended chocolate drinks, hot chocolate in many varieties. Then there are the desserts; chocolate cheesecake, cinnamon buns drizzled in chocolate, waffles with strawberries and chocolate, chocolate fondue ... you notice that they even sell a simple cup of liquid chocolate - called a suckao - for those who want no compromises.

As it is a slightly cooler night, and your dinner settled long ago, you eventually you decide on a hug mug of steaming hot milk chocolate (with a hint of caramel and vanilla) and a waffle with strawberries drizzled in milk chocolate. The hug mug is warm, a cream-colored tear-drop shaped cup perfect for clutching between two cold hands. The waffle is succulent, delectable and satisfying, the strawberries plump, the chocolate sweet, complimenting the dough of the waffle perfectly.

Are you drooling yet? I am ...

October 10, 2006

Like a Child

I was at Credo today and a lady with a rather loud child balanced precariously off her hip told me that she found my accent "beautiful." I found it rather amusing; I've never thought of my pseudo-Canadian accent (I don't say "oot" or "eh", but it's close enough, especially after six months in oz) as beautiful, interesting, or even mildly sexy. Mostly I think it's harsh, slightly edgy, and a bit blase. My "r's" are a bit grinding compared to the soft Metro-Australian accent (compared to the Country-Australian accent, which is more familiar to most Americans from Steve Irwin or Paul Hogan), and I over-emphasize the vowel-consonant pairs. I'm even startled now every time an American commercial comes on TV. But if somebody likes it, I'm certainly not going to complain. I guess I'm different than the usual accents you hear around here, which makes me exotic and cool. I'm ok with that.

I was doing some reading after we finished the main bulk of lunch preparation early (no broccoli to cut up today), and I kept getting distracted by the little kid. She kept letting out these short, high-pitched screams. It's hard to read in such an environment, especially when the screams keep echoing off the concrete walls around the cafe. But as my attention was drawn to her, I couldn't help but notice the way she kept grabbing for things. Her mother (who has gained my admiration) obviously had far more patience for her than I ever would, because she kept correcting her with a gentle "no" and pulling her hand away from the desired item (items ranged from books to a giant bag of cheese to a lit candle). The kid would glare at her, and then try for something else.

All the while I'm laughing (inside, I was far too tired to exert the noise outside) at the kid's futile efforts. I couldn't fathom why the kid kept lunging for stuff that mom, someone far bigger and stronger and faster and smarter than the kid, had obviously forbidden. The kid would barely get her hands on the burning candle and the mom would be right there scooping the her away.

And then it was one of those "oh" sort of moments.

How many times does the all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-wise God have to pull me away from burning candles and giant cups full of lime cordial (sometimes called "dishwasher fluid" by those that drink it; we call it "bug juice" in every YMCA camp in America) and sharp knives? How often does he have to lay the smack down on me for grabbing at giant bags of cheese that don't belong to me, or keep me from putting my grubby little hands in somebody else's [uncooked] meal?


I learned recently that Melbourne's poverty isn't really material poverty like so many developing countries. [side note: why do we call them 'developing' when there's an obvious hangup on the whole "developing" part?] A person can find free food and free shelter and free clothing nearly all over the city. I'm told that it's possible to live a rather comfortable life on the welfare of others - all you have to do is look for it (not to be cruel, but this sort of makes it your own fault if you are hungry and sleeping in a dumpster in this city). No, the poverty here is relational, social.

I noticed this on my first visit with Urban Seed. I went on a "prayer walk" with a number of FORGE people at the first intensive, a walk that took me around several blocks of busy city streets near mid-afternoon. The city was bustling with people and trams and cars and traffic of every kind, and yet nobody was looking at each other. The only glimpses you'd get of peoples' eyes were the few times they'd look in your direction to make sure you didn't hit them. Then they'd continue their brisk pace down the sidewalk and continue listening to their ipod while adjusting their massive '80s sunglasses to further cover their eyes. [sidenote: why does high fashion have to make women look more like bugs?]

I was on the train last night on the way home from orchestra and a funny thing happened. I was traveling with Anna, a redheaded violist who lives close to the city in Richmond, and this group of four twenty-somethings sitting a couple of rows up started talking to us. I suppose it was easy to start a conversation, given the odd-looking cases we had slung over our shoulders (violas and french horns aren't exactly popular instruments around here), but they quickly moved the conversation into what everybody's drivers' license looked like. They laughed at the "fake" looking licenses from QLD, oohed and ahed at the Victorian license card. We never got around to my New York card, for which I am grateful (I'm still 16 in the picture).

It made my night. They were friendly, jovial, and quite content to just be themselves to whoever was around. Credo cafe is a start to the solution of poverty in the city, and I wonder if this isn't the next step - import some extroverts (perhaps a few Queenslanders?) to talk with people on the trains. If everybody had somebody to talk to, would we feel so lonely?

October 5, 2006

The Final Frontier

I've always been a bit of a dreamer. When I was a kid, Jules Verne was one of my best friends - I must've read "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" about a dozen times each, followed closely by every Star Trek novel I could get my hands on. I found a trilogy by John Christopher called "When the Tripods Came" and read them cover to cover about ten times. When I was in sixth grade, I wrote to NASA hoping to start making connections for my inevitable trip on the space shuttle. I even got a response back, with a signed picture of the Atlantis shuttle crew and a bunch of NASA memorabilia. After years of staring at it, I finally pulled my mom's copy of "Contact" (Carl Sagan was a genius) off of the shelf and finished it in three days. I was sixteen. I think it's still in my book collection, waiting to be read again, and Jodie Foster's cinematic version of the book is in my DVD collection. I've read nearly every novel Michael Crichton ever wrote, but my favorites were Jurassic Park, Sphere, and Timeline. I even tried writing my own scifi series once, and gave up when my Grandmother discovered it and thought it was cute. I wasn't going for cute - the future was serious business. But I was ten, and I took stuff like that pretty personally.

My favorite movies are the Matrix trilogy, and I watch Stargate SG-1 on a regular basis. I am a dreamer of things that could be.

All of that, but I don't think I ever truly believed that I'd one day make it into space. Somewhere deep down I knew that it was all for the people who didn't get sick on roller coasters, the people who were in good shape, the people who could fly fighter planes at mach 3 and still smile and banter and joke when climbing out of the cockpit. I can't even read in a car, for fear of losing my lunch, and my lunch is very important to me.

But now it seems that my dreams have been rekindled. I made two discoveries as of late. First was Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist that managed to book a highly publicized flight aboard a Russian rocket to the International Space Station for a few days. Granted, it cost her $33 million USD to get there, but she did it, and from what
she says, it was incredible.

The second discovery was my discovery of
Virgin Galactic. It seems that the airplane company that specializes in cheaper fares (and ‘pleather’ seats, a mild step forward in comfort for airline travel) has begun a new branch to allow passengers to experience suborbital travel for a modest $200,000 USD. To put it in perspective, that means that space travel will cost less than 1% of what it cost Anousheh. Based out of New Mexico, Virgin Galactic is going to use a space plane launched from a mothership to reach orbit.

At this rate, (assuming Virgin manages to do what it says it will and continues to bring the ticket price down), space travel is going to start being a possibility for even those of us middle-class nerds that dreamt of floating in zero-G during those years when normal kids were playing soccer and goofing off with their friends.

It makes me start to wonder when we're going to meet aliens. Will that come before or after we invent a sentient AI? Will ftl drives (faster than light) be standard on any Mercedes in two hundred years? How about rejuvinative surgery? Wormholes? How likely are we to see fruit from all the things that science tells us are theoretically possible?

For the last few years, I've been disappointed by the lack of progress in these areas. It seems to me that exploration for exploration's sake was abandoned for things that would only turn a profit, as if unraveling the great mysteries that God built into the universe was no longer as interesting as the latest celebrity scandal. I was wrong though - NASA was just waiting for the funding for their new fleet of spacecraft. The contract has already been given out, and the dates set: we're heading to the moon, and then Mars starting in 2010. The ISS is going to get bigger, even as the shuttle fleet is retired from service. We are pushing the boundaries once again, and I'm once again excited by the possibilities.

Personally, I want to step on the moon. Or mars. Either would be great.

October 4, 2006

Index Card Art

Someone recently pointed out this website to me and I find it to be most amusing. While it is a bit on the intellectual side, you can find everything on here, from the very cute to the very political to the very silly. I think it best to read during breakfast, perhaps after you've read the news for the day (sometimes the two coincide). Some examples:

try it.

October 3, 2006

Cruz Did It Again

Quite a few churches and church leaders could learn a lot from Cruz's latest post. I think that as far as posts go, it's got it all - cultural references, relevance, practical application, and a goofy looking guy in sepia tones.

September 29, 2006


People are physical beings. So many times in the church we argue about meeting peoples' *spiritual* needs (the word "spiritual" usually used with an air of awe and reverence) and forget to meet their physical needs first. The typical example is the missionary going into a city full of starving people and saying "God loves you" without bothering to hand them his sack lunch. The funny thing is, most of the time they don't even say that, they say "you'll burn in hell if you don't repent," to which the starving people say "who cares, we're already there."

The irony in all this is that the church has one part of this right that they fail to extend outwards: ceremonies. Until recently, ceremonies have been acknowledged by the church as useful, even necessary tools in the journey of faith. A ceremony is simply any one-time event using symbols and imagery that marks a time and place as separate, distinct (as opposed to a ritual, which is a repeating event using symbolism, though both achieve the same ends). In the emerging missional movement, there has been a disturbing trend as of late (ironically following a precedent set by the evangelical, mainstream, and house-churches in their effort to be 'hip,' 'relevant,' and ‘seeker-sensitive’) towards the elimination of ceremonies. For example, churches are beginning to downplay the importance of baptism and in some cases, even weddings. To be fair, this is usually a reaction to their predecessors' misuse of baptism as a necessity for "salvation."

In my case, this is to be expected. I grew up in a church that practiced baptism by sprinkling. Due to other circumstances I ended up moving to a non-denominational church that practiced baptism by immersion. All was going well until the church told me that because I had not been baptized by immersion (they didn't go so far as to say only THEIR immersion), I was not a Christian. They had categories for people like me: the pious un-immersed; studying to be saved, but not actually in the kingdom and so if I died, I'd go to hell.

So many things are wrong with this that I won't even get into. The point is that I have just as much reason to disregard rituals and ceremonies as anybody. They have been misused and abused so much by the church through history that it would be easy to simply do away with them in favor of a steady, day-to-day rhythm of life. However, I do not believe this is wise either.

Rituals are actually a fairly useful practice. As I said, human beings are physical entities linked directly to their bodies. In C.S. Lewis' words, we are hybrids: half human, half spirit, we are not really one or the other, but a mix of the two that when intertwined give us a powerful advantage in the world. The two interact and affect each other, spirit on flesh, and flesh on spirit. It is easy to see then that rituals can have an impact on us as people.

Take baptism for example. Baptism is a ceremony which was initially set aside for the cleansing of sin (John the Baptist), but in light of Christ's death and resurrection, has been used by the church as a means of public declaration: I am a Christian. The ceremony is a biblical command, and while not necessary for salvation, has its benefits:
1. It connects the believer to all other believers who have gone through the same ceremony.
2. It gives the new believer a physical point in time from which to mark a transformation in their life.
3. It contains powerful symbolism on death and new life which is useful imagery that the community can learn from.
4. It is a public declaration of faith to the world, which is instrumental in sealing a believer's commitment - if you publicly declare something about yourself, you are far more likely to hold yourself to that belief.
5. It is a public declaration of faith to the church, who, now aware of the person's commitment, are able to support that person through their journey of faith.

I'm not advocating one form of baptism over another. Truth be told, baptism in water is simply a symbol, and so sprinkling, immersion, whatever you want, they all convey a message. Had I known about immersion at my own baptism, I would probably have opted that route, simply because I happen to like the metaphor of death and resurrection from the water, as well as the washing away of my old life to be replaced by the new.

That so many wish to do away with these ceremonies is understandable; as I said, I too have been hurt by them. But they are still useful and we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. As Ashley Barker says in his book Surrender All, "Ceremony can be a way of touching the divine spark that God placed in our community from the start. Without attention, the spark can be lost. Visual, practical, and physical reminders can be our way of fanning into flame our common meaning and purpose. ... While these ceremonies are often simple, such as giving and receiving of prayer, they help provide the boundaries for new expectations and recognize the commitment of people."