Friday, June 23, 2017

Death in the family

I've had a death in the family.

What  'pastoral' response have we had:

From the paid pastor brings its benefits...he listened quietly and gently encouraged the conversation.

From others in 'ministry' roles, but unpaid: a copy of an insulting book by on grief and death by the Dutch Roman 'priest' Henri Nouwen, a card with a verse of a psalm in very poor distorting translation, and wanting to 'help'. See the paragraph above for the receipe for that.

Others come out with that great conversation ender: "I'll pray for you."

Maybe this is good to say sometimes, but rarely...and only after proper loving attention has been committed to the conversation. Too often "I'll pray for you" is the conversation killer because the speaker does not have the ability to engage in a conversation without 'giving advice' but doesn't know what else to do. Again, see the receipe for this above!

The recipe, to summarise: simply act like a decent friend and listen, no santimonious self agrandizement please. And of course you'll pray; you are a Christian aren't you? No song and dance about it, please. It is unhelpful.

The Lifehacker

In the Lifehacker blog, there was a post on an advice column for a Christian who had been homeschooled in the USA. It attracted a storm of invective from the cool crowd who commented.

Then I saw this post:

Interesting how, for a supposedly irreligious country a religious article prompted more comments than most other articles! This indicates that the editors got it right and there is a lot of interest. Those who disagree with the article of course have significant religious interest; just a different religion!

The tenor of them, and that of the article is that the  Religion of Me dominates. The advice also fails at Theology 1. Christianity has love (not sooky Hollywood love, but love as sacrifice for the benefit of others) at its operational periphery, but at its operational centre is that 'sin', something generated from action to the non-benefit of others, is unavoidable for us.

But its consequences for continued estrangement from relationship with the creator (yeah I know that the Religion of Me prefers materialist existential framing) are evaporated by the creator's action to evaporate it; this is available for us to appropriate by just wanting to. There! and in langauge that I hope might strike a chord with the Religion of Me.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Let's be nice

If you've been following this blog you will know that I am keen on church spaces being dignified, inviting and great places to be: we have a vast Christian tradition of building wonderful spaces, which some are in denial of.

Here's an example I came across on YouTube:

Sunday, April 30, 2017

How might we now go?

Our meetings (that is our 'services') despite a reformation and the passing of centuries of social changes, remain modelled on a quasi pagan ritual: the Mass.
Maybe that has some references to the early church meetings, but I wonder.

Time to meet as Christians, not post-pagans; a fresh perspective:

At our church we have the opportunity to start fresh with a new 'service' in the middle of the day (at last, a concession to we night owls who regard 9am as early morning).

Start with morning tea, for about 15 minutes, then small conversation groups: even the smallest congregations could have three; five to seven would be the max. Then you need to spawn a new meeting. The max number of people in each group would be 7 (give or take), so once the group hits 35-49 people: spawn; or change format.

The small conversation groups could spring from a Bible verse, or some Christian experience, someone's latest reading, and might include prayer; maybe starting with prayer. These would be about 15 minutes.

Next we all come together for a talk: the 'sermon' de-liturgized. This might go for about 15 minutes. Any news could be given before the talk.

After the 15 minute talk we would return to small groups: same or different from before, for prayer.

After 15 minutes we'd come back together for a couple of songs, hymns, a short devotion (a couple of minutes) and benediction.

The whole thing could run from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on people's choices.

Everyone would be encouraged to join the whole show, but would know that the talk would start at a fixed time, so they could just turn up for that. In fact, people could come and go for the segments of choice, to juggle other commitments they might have.

Congregations with a liturgical background might us liturgical forms for the segments: nice to stay in touch with our important traditions.

This should be held in an acoustically 'soft' space, at tables: that is not an echo-y hall, perhaps a carpeted space with drapery and an acoustic ceiling: it should be a well designed and attractive room that is warm and inviting: that lifts the spirit. So, there's a challenge for our architects.

Here's an image that might give some hints

Refreshments would be available afterwards: another cuppa, with food; lunch if some wanted to stay.

Serious teaching could be at another time, in seminar format: pre-reading, or watch a short YouTube video, or listen to a podcast; a more detailed talk, then discussion afterwards for about 20 minutes. The whole thing should take an hour, ending with perhaps a song or hymn and brief benediction.

An occasional Saturday afternoon intensive might be held three times a year to further knowledge and practice. This could be celebration as well as 'teaching'. Or we all just head up to Hillsong occasionally.

Monday, April 10, 2017


An article in The Sydney Morning Herald's The Good Weekend on Mindfulness triggered a follow up to my post on this topic.

A note I sent to one of our paid Christians on this topic:

Dear Filburt,

There was an article on 'mindfulness' in the Good Weekend on Saturday. If you've not seen it, I've attached it, as I recall that you extolled the virtues of this practice in a sermon some months ago.

I've been long acquainted with 'mindfulness' and related practices, and have pondered the nature of the approach to meditation that it represents.

As the article points out, the roots are in Buddhist practice. It therefore has to do with the Buddhist conception of the world. It follows, to my mind, that the preoccupation of mindfulness with the self in isolation has less to do with the world as the Bible portrays it: characterised in 'concrete reality', and more to do with the Eastern characterisation of reality as very much not concrete; rather, chimerical! Thus it harks to an dissolution of the individual in the amorphous depersonalised emptiness cooked up by Buddha and his demons.

I wonder, then, at the intended purpose of mindfulness in your reference to it and the positives of the practice that would displace (or even augment) God's provision in his word.

David enjoins us to mediate on the law; Yeshua to be in the personal presence of the Father in dependence upon him; Paul encourages us to pray without ceasing (for others).

These are entirely at odds with the solopsistic self-absorption of Buddhist/Zen/Hindu meditation, which seeks to produce a benefit by denying what is real, trapped in the ignorance of the Buddhist 'doctrine of creation' and its necessary flight from reality (contrast the Biblical doctrine of creation): that is, that we are persons in the image of God who is love (i.e., to be other-directed/in communion), called to fill our minds with his word.

There is a vast tradition of Christian 'mediation', which, as a writer in the Melbourne Anglican put it " an explicit form of prayer, not a conversation with the self, based on the conviction that salvation comes from God and not from ourselves. Christian mindfulness, by definition, is entry into the saving presence of the God, the holy Trinity".

Far better, I think, to teach and encourage spiritual engagement (as, for example in the long standing tradition of a 'quiet time') than a risky spiritual disengagement that could open the door to all sorts of indicated by some of the research mentioned in the article.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

if it pleases you...

The sermon this afternoon was remarkable; about prayer, springing off Luke 11, but with a careful reference to the word translated 'persistence' in most versions, in verse 8. the ESV is closer with 'impudence'. Our speaker used 'shamelessness'. Similar thing (the New English Bible translates anaideia in Luke 11:8 as 'shamelessless' (importunity in the AV).

He went on to quote a piece from the SMH writer Elizabeth Farrelly, who late last year wrote:
We think prayer is a plea for wealth, health, happiness, love…like children pleading for sweets. But that is 180 degrees wrong. The very word, ‘please’, is a clue. Properly speaking please is not a demand but an offer, not a gimme, but an ‘if it pleases you’. It is in other  wants, a listening, a straining to hear the will of the universe or what you might call the voice of God. The effort of prayer is to see more truly, hear more clearly, connect more deeply.
Many good things in that passage; except of course for the materialist's inevitable misunderstanding of their own position: 'hear the will of the universe'? as if the universe is a person with a will and can communicate! What a disappointing position. But how liberating and moving that it is about a relationship with God, the 'ground of our being' who is truly personal: we are continuous in that with the only self-existent one: he is personal, as are we (in his image) and connected as Yeshua connects God and humanity once more in fellowship...nothing is better. Farrelly misses so much in that she thinks all we 'relate' to is a bunch of mute impersonal atoms. For this view, there is no hope.