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.