Saturday, January 31, 2015


I've never come close to marital infidelity. No one in my extended family has either (and that covers lots of people); but it has now come close to me. Not in a family sense, thankfully, but a colleague who I sit on a committee with confided to me recently that her husband just announced that he'd had an affair with one of their friends! The other couple has now separated.

Its very different when one sees the raw emotion of betrayal in real life,  up close, and not in the puerile reduction of cinema. Its far more complex, deep, and full of meaning when one talks to a shattered person. The pain is palpable.

My friend's life has changed irrevocably. Even if she and her husband are reconciled, there is no peace in the marriage any longer. No settled trust. She sees in her children's puzzled eyes (their father explained the matter to them) the loss of family cohesion, and uncomprehendingly.

Her home is no longer her home. She feels betrayed at every level. She asks was the other woman more attractive, nicer to be with, unencumbered by the banalities of everyday life and free from the rugged contours of intimacy with its good and bad in equal measure, unhidden from the other.

Imagine the feeling that you no longer feel joy or peace in the prospect of going home after work, in  preparing for your children's next morning readying for school. You no longer look forward to bed, except hoping for the quick overtaking of sleep. Will it be sound? Will you hear your partner and wake, remembering the dagger to the heart? Helping the children with home work is not a family thing, now, but an obligation, with the husband in the house, representing his unloyalty!

Does she leave him? Her mother's instinct is to preserve the children's home life...but its now an effort and not a natural outflow of unstinted love flowing through the family, because there is now a choke on that flow. It effects everyone.

That's what its really like.

36: 2

The second question in the '36 questions to intimacy' project:

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

Only a media outfit would think of that: fame is their bread and butter. I don't think that a mature adult would even think about 'fame'. To do so would be narcisistic, and it misunderstands 'fame'. People are not just famous. Their fame is an outcome; usually of achievement.

I'd imagine that people see fame for currency: it is productive of either wealth or power (or adulation for the narcissist). Maybe some people would be famous for doing 'good'. Mother Theresa springs to mind, but few. On the other hand, Tim Flannery is famous for getting it wrong...again and again. Do you want that?

My answer is 'no'. The second question then falls away.

But if the question is 'what would you like to be known for' that's different.

I avoid any temptation to go off into fantasy land (thus, I wouldn't want to be known for being a great...anything): instead, I would want to be known for loyalty, love, and being there when needed.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Often we talk at church about assistance to our fellow members who are in some need. All well and good, and I must say, my family has benefited from such at crucial times, such as with a new born in the house. It is very welcome. It also comes in handy for incidental support: I'm happy to both give and receive.

But there are limits, I've noticed, and that's possibly understandable, given circumstances. I noticed this when I was in a youth group many moons ago. A single mother in our church had three young children. My mother helped look after them during school holidays, which was a bind for my brother and I as we didn't like the children; nevertheless, mum ploughed on.

Later the woman suffered a so-called 'nervous breakdown' and was hospitalised. The youth group went to her home to clean it. And cleaning it needed! It was good to do; but she needed such help in the long term. We couldn't do that: it was a one-off, as many church efforts are; but happily there are public services that can step in.

I would have loved someone to accompany me to hospital with one of my children recently: at 11:30 at night. I didn't think that would the nice ambulance service accompanied me instead!

Compare that to Tim Winton's experience, as I understand it. His father had been injured in a work accident, and needed help to bathe. A local church member came every day to so help. Not in the short term, but in the long term. That's commitment to the needs of another, not the token that my youth group experience represented. Its a gutsy and sacrificial 'I'm here for you'. I don't know that many Christians would extend to that type of commitment...and I have to ask myself if I would.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Small Group Quirks

Like any group of people, small groups are going to be quirky, at least from time to time. And don't think that this is just a feature of church groups. I've been in a quirky branch of a political party. I found the Army quirky in its own special way, and a meeting of the Rationalist Society in Sydney that I attended when a friend debated them on something or other maxed out on quirkyness.

But, I stick with church small groups.

After some years attending 'high' Anglican Churches (two of them, and at the same time) in the city, I thought to check out churches closer to home in Randwick. St Judes was OK but I didn't feel the same about it as St James or CCSL; I eventually settled at Randwick Presbyterian during the women in ministry debates, to which I contributed on the pro side; not with much effect, I'd think; but on my way there I spent some time getting to know if Randwick Baptist church and I would work out. In the end no dice.

For my first time at the small group I was in, run by an assistant or student minister and his wife in their home, I turned up a fraction early, after walking up the hill from my place near Alison Rd. I was greeted politely enough; then peremptorily abandoned! The husband and wife who were hosting both left the room without explanation. They went off to pray, they told me later. I think I twiddled my thumbs.

At St Alban's Lindfield my wife and I sought to join a small group, but found the process riven with cliques. One friendly chap invited us to join the group that he was newly in. We accepted with pleasure. On the evening when we were about to go, feeling very much included as part of the parish, we got a phone call from the assistant minister (curate in Anglican parlance) to tell us not to attend the group! We were flabbergasted! Knowing the others in the group we could only surmise that we would be seen as spoiling the cosy social dynamic of those church worthies. Not pleasant. Confusing too, as we had many friends there and got on very well with the then Rector.

Come to think, they are the only two outlier experiences. Whew.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Two songs

For some reason, it has become a practice at our church to start the service (not wanting to be boring, but the biblical term is 'meeting'. 'Service' is too pagan for my liking, but I'll not mention this again too soon) by singing two songs or hymns in the one bracket (songs are the trite ditties we are modernly subjected to, hymns are proper reflective works).

Many years ago I toyed with this very same practice when presiding, but after watching the reaction of the congregation, once was too often. How do I pass on my experience to our current service conductors? I must say, I'm usually tempted to sit during the second one, as are some of our older members.

Another exciting moment in the service was when one of the ministers mentioned disquiet that the giver of last week's sermon had caused with a misunderstanding on the faith-works question.

Part of this would have been solved if a sermon was less a liturgical performance and more a discussion, with people free to ask questions, kindly, one hopes, at its conclusion, or in a separate seminar afterwards.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Public Christians

I mentioned the work of Public Christians, as I call them, previously in an adverse manner.

Compare the media use of Australia's public Christians with that of the Dali Lama. The DL is, of course, a consummate faker, so I wouldn't want that aspect of his image to be replicated, but his coining of statements that pull people towards his world view and religion, as duplicitous as they are, is brilliant.

I understand that he takes advantage of the political support for Tibet against China, the Western infatuation with Eastern religions, and the congenial front that Buddhism shows to the West, but who wouldn't use their advantages to manipulate the media's handling of their statements?

A great opportunity not taken was during the debate a few years ago about providing 'Ethics' classes in primary schools. These are promoted as an alternative (a 'cool' alternative) to Christian 'Scripture' classes for children whose parents don't support their attendance at such.

In the debate, the then Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen talked about 'Christian values' being promoted.

The primary Christian value in this connection is provided by Isaiah: all our righteousness is as filthy rags!

The problem with ethics classes is that ethical epistemology is built on a particular view of the world; the world view that structures ethics classes includes (unavoidably) no pathway to deal with ethical failure. Where is forgiveness outside a framework of grace? It might be given lip-service, but it is an applique on a world view that cannot include it. Jensen didn't touch this, and so lost a great opportunity to introduce the heart of the gospel into an active debate.

'Epic fail' as they say these days.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

First date

In a previous post I mentioned the sparse intellectual offerings of my earlier church life.

My first encounter with studious engagement with the Bible occurred in a home group associated with a Billy Graham event (I think). It was organised by an old school friend and conducted by a couple who were keen and widely read Calvinists (a near-oxymoron there). This couple impressed me greatly, particularly their prayerfulness, their grasp of the scriptures and their generosity. They lead me into literature that was completely and welcomely new to me. I read this avidly for a number of years, and it was through their encouragement that I attended summer schools at Capenwray's Australian operation.

But I'd still not really encountered anyone who thought about the sermons they heard and talked about them critically until I met a young woman at one of the many church 'camps' (I much prefer the Anglican term 'house party') that I attended.

On our first date we visited a huge civil engineering project that my employer was completing (don't panic, it wasn't a mine, sewerage treatment works or dam; it was a public recreation area on previously waste land). All went well, and we seemed to have little incentive to part, so attended a local church together that evening.

The sermon was unremarkable, but I was thrilled that Foxtrot (code word to hide identity...not her real name, in case you were wondering) remarked upon the sermon: the benefits of a BA degree, I guess. This was a welcome first in my experience, as I'd known no one in my circle who even entertained the possibility of so doing.

I'm pleased to say that one of my brothers and his family regularly discuss the sermons given in their parish (and one of his children is studying to be a minister), as do my wife and I and a number of our friends. I encourage it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Teaching Christians

In my earlier post on the Didache, I added a comment to point to an article on a similar theme. A torrent of readers asked that I make a clickable link to the article by Craig Dunkley. It is titled "Why Christianity is Losing in America" but it contains some interesting comments on the education of Christians that line up with my thoughts in the Didache post.

Craig blogs at Logic and Light which takes a more 'essay' approach than CARM, for example.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

If church was in business

For various reasons and those known within our church, none of us could get to church today. I was looking forward to going, but it just couldn't be done. I felt quite deflated and was grumpy at the dog for some time as a result.

I would have welcomed just a short visit from a minister, or even a friend from the congregation, to chat, pray and read a psalm with us. Nothing grand, not trying to 'diagnose' any particular concern, but just being Christians together. 15 minutes.

In a business this would be part of keeping long term customers current and buying, because customers can be lost in small steps as service unravels. Maybe this is for churches too. Not that we have any plans in this direction, but it seems that the steady people miss out and those obviously at the fringes draw the effort.

Free market solutions to poverty

In my post on the zero-sum game, I mentioned an article on the approach to really helping. Here is another: Free market solutions to poverty.

And What Oxfam doesn't want you to know about poverty. And The Tablet on the same.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

36: 1

No, not my age, but a set of questions that I saw in The Guardian that are designed to produce intimacy ('love' they say).

I'll give my answers to those questions that I can (some need to be answered in a pair, so I'll have to skip those) over the next few months, the label will be '36', if you want to look at them together.

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

The temptation here is to give the Sunday School answer: why, Yeshua, of course. So, I'll not do that.

In the media, this question is supposed to be answered with the name of some famous, but ideally, somewhat 'specialised' and 'cool' famous, person whose mention makes one seem very cultured, special, exclusive...I'm not going to do that either.

I'd choose one of my close and oldest friends...that's who I would want as a dinner guest.

I wonder what people think they'd do if they met some exalted famous person; probably ask 'what's it like to be famous'! Fame feeds itself in media land, but omits that relationships are not for entertainment or selfish gratification, but for fellowship: togetherness.

But what to say if you do meet someone really famous?

A friend related to me that he met one of the major figures in his field: James Watson was speaking at a seminar in Australia that my friend was attending. Most people were overawed by Watson, but when my friend found himself standing near Watson he simply asked how his trip to Australia had been. That started a conversation.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Phone call

Today we had a phone call from one of the ministers at church, just to 'catch up' and  see how we were.

We've had to deal with some medical matters lately and so haven't been at church on Sundays for a little while. She just wanted to chat.

In over 40 years of Christian life, I can't recall this sort of support being offered before! I've had friends visit when I've been unwell or injured (I had a major car crash when in my mid 20s: not my fault), and that was nice; but for a minister to ring to see how we were? Never before. We all felt very cared for.


Last year in our home group (small groups that meet locally through the week to discuss the Bible and their faith: the idea being one of Wesley's) we worked through John Dickson's The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission. Sub-titled "Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips"

Meeting fortnightly we have not completed it, and may do so this year. We used the study guide by Simon Smart, which was quite helpful.

The book was a good springboard for discussion. It covered a number of topics that do confront the Christian in everyday conversation, but it failed on a number of grounds, and its object is undermined by the failure of public Christians (those who get media time, whether in general or church media) to speak the gospel!

One doesn't need to go into a long discourse on these dimensions of disappointment, because they are captured in the author's appearance on the ABC's discussion program Q&A. If you've not viewed Q&A, it is typically a forum for jeering at the range of views not held by half-baked socialists. This includes Christian faith, of course.

Dickson, who is also associated with the self-styled Centre for Public Christianity, (I would think more of such an organisation if it was connected with a theological college, for example) was on a panel with a well known and outspoken atheist, Lawrence Krauss (mentioned in this article). Dickson failed at every opportunity to deliver an aggressive Christian critique of the fellow's empty world view. Not only that, he even endorsed its basic premise in materialistic evolution. So if the atheist's basic claims about the structure and content of reality are right, in Dickson's assessment, the gospel has no point!

Monday, January 12, 2015


For as long as I've known of the Didache -- in fact, for as long as I've been involved in Christian ministry (most widely conceived...I am not a paid Christian) I've thought about the process of induction of a new convert into discipleship.

The Didache is probably the most famous starting point, but there are others, of course, Augustine's Enchridion, for instance.

I'd like to see an approach used in modern Christianity for this purpose that is better than the hit or miss that I experienced and that I see others experience, without becoming rigid about it.

When I was brought to an awakened faith (nothing mystical here, just that I had someone to talk to as I grew in understanding) after the 1968 Billy Graham crusade, and when I'd attempted to support others as they grew in faith (my last such formal effort in about 1982 with a young man named Peter...can't recall surname...) there were booklets to assist, but no comprehensive manual that covered the Bible, the life of faith, prayer and devotion, and the kingdom of God: that which we were now in.

Now, I acknowledge the danger in becoming cultish, or exclusivist about faith, but perhaps there could be something like this for the benefits that could be obtained. Christian faith is a serious business! A delightful and life-changing, but serious, business.

A new convert could be taken through a 'novitiate' year of supervised Bible reading, counsel, prayer and reflection, with possibly a retreat or two along the way. The material should cover church history, the broad sweep of theology over the history of the church, and practical Christianity.

I compiled such an approach for Bible reading a few years ago, fwiw. I'll put it up some time.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Twitter church

I dipped into Twitter recently. I suppose it could be used for good instead of the trivial. I did a search on some Christians, and came to this:
Innocuous enough, but why? Who would want to know? Is it an advert for Balmoral Beach, or perhaps table soccer. I've no idea.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is expert good?

In a previous post I mentioned untrained ministers.

On the one hand, I'm all for the Pauline dispersal of ministry into the whole body of believers. But I'm not for amateur ministry -- the scriptures urge us to study (2 Tim 2:15 comes to mind) -- it does too much damage and produces too much crass silliness (I'll not bore you with details now).  It also is unreliable in fostering intellectual reflection and stifles proclamation of the gospel, as I've experienced it.

But it goes to the form of service as well; and here I veer into the uncertain land of taste.

After a couple of formative decades in non-conformist churches, where the quality of the service depended heavily on the capability of those conducting the service, with very wide variation, I found the order and language of Anglican churches where the prayer book was used well to be a welcome bounty. One of the benefits of the prayer book, particularly the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) but to a lesser extent, the AAPB (now supplanted by the Australian Prayer Book which I happen to like less), is that no matter the capability of the minister conducting the service, one has the words of great and, I think, godly minds.

The words might be fumbled, of course, and there is a huge span of quality in prayer book services, but at least there is the constant of wonderfully meaningful language.

I compare that to the painful groping for words that I've heard, and probably committed myself, when presiding over services in non-conformist settings. The pointless effort to come up with something fresh to introduce the communion is largely a waste of effort when what serves better is, in my view, a liturgy. The liturgy connects the believer to the vast tradition of Christian worship and devotion over millennia. The mumblings of Joe the baker perhaps not.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

January ministry

Note I sent to one of the ministers at church:

The other night I was wondering about ministry over January; maybe it is not such a concern at our church, but as a young man, I often felt quite adrift over the summer; the support and engagement I'd had in small groups vanished as families retreated into their holidays. It was often a bleak period, particularly when I had time free from university.

This was solved at St Barnabas, Broadway where I was in fellowship in the early 90s. There was a summer group that met at the church centre through January. Was good, and it served well many singles, some couples and particularly uni students who were far from home.

Then I got to further thinking about the frustrating intellectual aridity of church life when I was younger. I would have loved then, and others may love it now a summer school at Bible college. I enjoyed a number of such events at Capernwray Bible School in Moss Vale in my mid 20s (when Allan Catchpoole was principal), but wonder if such would be possible in Sydney.

This might be able to go some way to giving intellectual structure to believer's own developing apologetic and spiritual reflection, enabling more rigorous discussion with peers. In my early 20s I remember how I only had the language and thought-tools of simple non-conformist Christianity which paled quickly in almost any conversation with an intelligent non-believer.

Young students at uni discuss the great intellects of their fields (well, at least some did when I was there), but the Christian kids by and large discuss the intellectually trivial....I was never able to find anyone with whom I could chat about what I was reading: Thielicke (who I was blessed to hear speak at Moore College), Carl Henry, and Pannenberg, for instance, and could not then marshal the conversational resources to deal with the (as I now see them) pathetic anti-christian nonsense my opinionated lecturers spouted.

Just some thoughts...

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Our church had a flash mob at a local markets prior to Christmas. I liked the idea, but despite having been in a couple of church choirs and having singing lessons, my voice is akin to a groaning tree; thus, not for me.

The 'flash mob' had a trial run during morning church. It was great. One by one the choir, sitting randomly in the congregation, stood up and started singing. It was quite thrilling. Should do more such.

When I saw mention of this flash mob on Transverse City, and using a choir, I just had to post it.

Rev 19:16


At a recent home group we met in a home other than our usual, due to illness. As we got into the discussion, the owner had something relevant to contribute from YouTube; so using Chromecast we all got into it.

It went on from there to this wonderful video of a bunch of US Marines at church.