Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Smelly Work

So what does your church smell of?

Now before you start thinking I have lost the plot completely and am heading into the realm of marketing manipulation lets face up to a reality. Your church does smell of something at the moment. Possibly wood polish, old paper, slight damp or industrial cleaning product. Maybe that smell you get in charity shops or second hand stores. If you are from some traditions incense or burning candles.
Research apparently indicates that 75% of our daily emotions are triggered by smell but 80% of commercial communication is targeted at eyes. A growing band of companies are looking at signature scents as a means of creating positive associations for their customers.

Singapore Airlines, a pioneer in the area use their own perfume called "Stefan Floridian Waters" in the hot towels, flight attendants fragrance and in the air in the cabin.

Omni Hotels spreads the scent of lemongrass and green tea in hotel lobbies of its 40 North American hotels. Omni also uses a chocolaty coffee scent in some coffee shops as a way of creating "a sense of place".

Have you walked into a bakery and smelled that warm and comforting aroma of just baked bread? Some local bakeries have an electronic dispenser that sprays an artificial baking scent into the store every few minutes.

Thomas Pink have the aroma of "line-dried linen" wafting through their stores.

It seems to work both ways. Smells with which you have a positive association will make you feel good about the place. This is why some house sellers roast a couple of coffee beans under the grill before open home viewings. But you can also create your own association by people having a positive experience and liking the smell.

It is not a new idea. The Romans commonly used incense in Triumphal Processions the smell premeating the atmosphere and slowly spreading into the crowd.

Paul picks up the idea in 2 Corinthians 2 from verse 14

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God."

There is some amiguity in the image of the procession. Paul could be thinking of sharing in the triumph with Christ or walking with the prisoners with Christ. In either event we are the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ to the world.

The image shifts but remains centred on the sense of smell. We are not just an aroma to the world but to God himself. Here Paul is picking up some old testament imagery where the burnt offerings of his people are portrayed as a sweet smell. Noah in Genesis 8 makes an offering where there is an association of the smell with forgiveness, acceptance and a covenant (as well as a visual aid - the rainbow). In Exodus 29 the burnt offering is described as a sweet aroma to God but there were undoubtably smell associations for the people too!

The smell that we are has positive and negative associations depending on who you are. To those who are being saved it is the fragrance of life, leading to life - like the old "Bisto" adverts. To those who are perishing it is the smell of death.

I think the way our churches smell matters but I figure what we smell like matters more.

It's not easy, its not for profit, it requires sincerity recognising that it is God who calls and approves us.

In short - it's smelly work.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

What would you rather?

Scotch tape are running a competition in NZ.

First prize is either a trip to Scotland or 3 Apple Imacs.

You apparently get to choose which of the two alternatives to select.

At least they have quantified what the experience to acquisition ratio is.

Could be a market for a formula that could work out cash or material alternatives to all of lifes experiences.
If your going to sell your soul - you might as well know what you can get in return.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Superman Returns

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s a muscly blue bloke with red accessories who flies and has a yellow S emblazoned on his chest in case anyone is confused about his identity. Yes! Superman has returned. After an absence of x years from the big screen the man of steel, with the allergy to kryptonite is back on the sliver screen. He still has the worst disguise of any superhero, favouring a pair of glasses, while others shroud themselves in hoods and masks. Superman remains the most globally recognised hero with special powers. He is an American icon, coming from outside the country, growing up in Smalltown and finding a place in Metropolis with a steady job and a few good friends, from where he quietly exercises his responsibility as protector of the weak, enemy of evil and saviour of the world.

For much of his life the man of steel stood for three ideals. Ideals that could be openly articulated and found widespread agreement not just in Metropolis but around the world. He fought for Truth, Justice and the American Way. The returning Superman only contends for truth and justice. In 2006 it is not possible around the world to connect truth and justice with the American way. It is interesting to observe as I have travelled to different countries how the United States has moved from a position of admiration and aspiration in many peoples minds to one of fear and loathing.

America, in its latest caped crusade has become more the embodiment of Batman. Dark, dysfunctional, driven by revenge, with vast wealth, the most technologically advanced gadgets and few friends. In fact Bush as Batman and Blair as Robin would make a great PhD thesis, even if it has not always made great television.

I do not buy into the all pervasim anti-American fervour. I believe there are many ordinary Americans who share God’s concern for truth and justice.
The problem is with those people of all nationalities who are more interested in
claiming that God is on their side than seeking to be onside with God

God is concerned with truth and justice. He has shown humanity what is good – that we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. He does not endorse particular countries and automatically bless their foreign and domestic policies. Jesus says “blessed are the peacemakers”.

“God Bless America” is a commonly used phrase stateside. Offered as a genuine prayer its impact could be powerful.

If my people who are called by name would confess their sins, turn from their wicked ways and humble themselves and pray; then would I hear from heaven and answer their prayers and heal their land.

Now that would be super.

[Oh and a word of caution. If you are of a nervous disposition while flying – its probably wiser to choose an alternative in flight movie. The plummeting jet scenes will work better on DVD in the serenity of your own living room!]

Minority Report

It is not easy navigating in a landscape devoid of familiar markers. My family and I have now been in New Zealand for nearly a year. There have been a whole host of things for us to adapt to: giving way to right-turning traffic, paying for medical bills, different Weetbix and the pronunciation of vowels. This cuts both ways, of course. In the UK, I have met with Kiwis adjusting to queuing in post offices, driving on motorways and living without pineapple lumps, milo and friendly faces.

I am not sure that we feel entirely at home anywhere at the moment. I can empathise with the question: “How Shall we Sing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land?” It is a vital question, which has implications not just for the dislocated but for all believers, even those who have never left the land of their birth. How do the people of God live in an alien environment with opposing values, morals, ideas and religious philosophies?

How does anyone live as a minority community in wider society? Through history there have been three main approaches to this issue:
• Assimilation–where the minority loses its distinctiveness and becomes absorbed into the collective culture, perhaps contributing something of value in the process.
• Isolation–where the minority withdraws and attempts to isolate and inoculate itself from the majority.
• Colonisation–where the minority changes the majority culture so that it becomes like them, taking on their values and characteristics.

I believe that a key problem of the church through history and of the church in Western culture is that we have conceived of our role in society through one of these approaches. Assimilation is the mistake of the liberal; giving the unbeliever less and less to disbelieve. Isolation is the error of the pietistic; abrogating responsibility for wider society while constructing an irrelevant haven. Colonisation is the fallacy of Christendom; seeking to influence positively but unable to untangle the eternal from the temporal.

The Bible presents us with a powerful alternative approach to the problem: the notion of Exile. I believe the rediscovery of this radical fourth approach is vital for the people of God today, and provides a prophetic theme for TSCF to pick up in these days.

The Exile was extremely significant in the history of the people of Israel. All the things that had been seen as key to their identity, security and prosperity were lost. Yet, when we read the scriptures, we see that in Exile a new paradigm for being the people of God emerges. Israel’s identity is rooted primarily in their relationship with God and in a future hope connected to his promises. They are to love and serve the Lord; they are to make an impact where they are, but they are to live with the hope of a future return. They are to seek the welfare of the city, build houses, plant crops and have children. But they are to get involved in Babylon remembering that they are not Babylonians and that in 70 years time God will rescue them and take them back to where they belong.

Exile is a powerful paradigm for the church in the world today. We are called to live as a faith community in enemy territory, with one eye on the future. As believers, we live as aliens and strangers in the world, fully engaged but waiting for Christ’s return.

To do this effectively our identity needs to be centred on the gospel. We need a fresh confidence in biblical, cross- centred evangelism, which clearly focuses on Jesus. The gospel is not uncertain, since God has revealed himself to us in his word. The truth is not simplistic but it is simple. It is not an abstract concept. It is rooted in the person and work of Jesus, centred on his death and resurrection, and orientated towards his future return.

In Nigeria, I once met a businessman who had been an international student in the UK in the late ’90s. “Nobody knows what church stands for anymore”, he told me. “I was searching for certainty, looking for absolutes. I was attracted by the teaching and person of Jesus and by the clarity of the scriptures. But the modern church in Britain has abandoned this simplicity for a sophisticated irrelevance. That is why I turned to Islam.” The persuasive articulation of truth is vital if people are to understand the gospel, which defines our identity and delivers salvation and hope.

We also must be discovering new ways of being the people of God today. The triangle between where people live, work and worship is getting bigger all the time. The structures that served the gospel in the last century are not necessarily going to serve them this century. Over the past year we have been considering the transition of graduates into the workplace. Many graduates are entering professions or businesses where they will live as a minority.

Connecting Christians at work, encouraging them to sing the Lord’s song together rather than just whistle their own tune, and resourcing them in evangelism is the great opportunity and challenge of today.

Our Graduate Initiative will seek to facilitate the transition from final year student to first year of work through short term mentoring programmes and resources. We are starting to put resources on the web site which are relevant to particular professions. Initially we are targeting medicine, law, nursing, teaching and business. This will be supported and complemented by a physical professional resource centre in Wellington.

We are also developing strategies which will help make OE a more positive spiritual experience through international networks and we are looking to better support international students as they return to their home culture. Churches around the world are increasingly realising the importance of being more intentional in equipping members for work. It is both a means of honouring God and of involvement at the heart of society. Proper engagement with the marketplace is absolutely vital if we are to be salt and light in the world. The workplace is the vital arena for most Christians to connect with culture, share faith, build relationships and manifest the essential difference that Christ makes through word and action. We want to be at the cutting edge of this in New Zealand.

We must be God’s people and bring colour to the washed out landscapes of communities that are living away from Him. As we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, may our music lead many lost people home.

From "Canvas" November 06

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Surfing in China

China's internet users lead the world in chatroom usage. Each Chinese Internet user holds an average of 7 chatroom accounts. China has nearly 100 million instant messenger users and approximately 123 million internet users.

Zhejiang University, a prestigious Chinese University has advised first year students not to use laptops to stop them wasting study time surfing. Mr Cheng Yi, director of recruitment said increasing numbers of students were becoming addicted to the internet. Between September 05 and July 06 two thirds of the 90 students who dropped out of the university did so because of internet addiction.

The newspaper reported a student named Sun "The intention is good but have they realised that we could just as easily hang out in Internet bars for the whole night?"

Sun, on the basis of this brief quote, does not appear to countenance a life which does not involve 12 hours of internet usage a day! He probably only surfs to be sociable.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bringing Life to your office.

As I was parking outside a building last week the rentokil operator was getting back some gear from their truck.

I walked in behind them, reading the slogan on the back of their tee shirt. "Bringing life to your office".

Life Bringer as a job description sounds so much better than EXTERMINATOR.

Interesting idea that putting something to death may be motivated by a desire to bring life.

Would be a neat thing for your average Christian to have on their back going to work.

The key is not an inscription on the back but an incision in the heart.

"Bringing life to your office" becomes a growing reality when something is put to death.

Colossians 3 could have big implications for where you work.

It's about being true to who you are rather than what you were. Putting to death that which belongs to that which is dead and living differently, with and like the one who is and has brought life.

Some pest control is way beyond rentokil but the life that it brings is way more substantial.

in both cases, though, people in the office will appreciate the difference.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Ladder

Toby Barraud, Kiwi film maker living in New York, interviewed in "Metro" May 2006.

I asked him in a follow-up email if he ever saw himself coming back to New Zealand and - before predictable talk about how if he had children he would want to raise them here - he wrote that his time in New York had been mostly hard work, struggling to survive and get ahead.

"But of course, now that everything is in place I think about changing it all again by moving somewhere else. I guess that's the nature of attainment - it's not until you get to the top of the ladder that you wonder if it's propped against the right wall."

Not sure where this cartoon comes from - will acknowledge if I can find out - but it's making the same point.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Alcohol in New Zealand

New advertising campaign in print and television is trying to address attitudes to alcohol in New Zealand. The theme is "It's not the drinking - it's how we are drinking" and seeks to link behaviours with outcomes by stressing consequences. Coming from Scotland I am hardly in a position to lecture any culture on its attitude to alcohol.

But for a country which prides itself on a healthy, outdoors, quality of life culture the kiwi statistics are interesting. Remember our population is just over 4 million - which makes some of these figures quite stark.

88 percent of men and 83 percent of women are happy to claim that they are drinkers.

Nearly half the population thinks that it is okay to get drunk.

25 percent of current teenage drinkers admit to having drunk at least five glasses of alcohol
at least once in the last two weeks.

125,000 teenagers under the age of 17 fall into the category of binge drinkers. 75,000 will
drink regularly – once every two weeks – and binge. 50,000 drink at least once a week and
binge, usually with the intention of getting drunk.

635,000 adults drink at least once a week and binge. 785,000 adults drink regularly, often
every day, and with equal regularity binge.

1.2 million drinkers are okay with bingeing or accepting of bingeing and regularly do so.

450,000 of us were binge drinking on our last drinking occasion.

In New Zealand we estimate that alcohol harm costs somewhere between $1 billion and $4
billion a year.

It costs the public health sector $655 million.
It costs in crime and related costs $240 million.
It costs in social welfare $200 million and in other government spending $330 million.
In lost productivity, it costs about $1.17 billion a year.

Alcohol is responsible for 70 percent of accident and emergency hospital admissions.
75 to 90 percent of weekend crime is attributable to alcohol.
One in four women can’t remember what they did while drinking.

The advertisements aim to get New Zealanders to see the connection between getting drunk and the harms that result.
"It's not the fact that we drink that's the problem; the problem is how we drink, that is, the excessive per occasion consumption," says ALAC Chief Executive Officer Dr Mike MacAvoy. "The first step to change is to get people to link that pattern with harms, and at the moment many don't recognise that connection. We're not likely to get behaviour change if no-one thinks it's their problem. So that is what our advertising campaign will do at first.

"New Zealand is a nation that seems to pride itself on the 'save it up for Friday night' style of drinking, the 'we deserve a drink' perspective or consider 'it's a rite of passage that causes little harm'.

Why are we drinking so much? Why are we so accepting of teenagers and students abuse of alcohol?
What is complicated too is working out what is cause and what is effect. If we are serious about addressing the issue we need to be tough on the things which drive people to drink, like poverty and unemployment.

Perhaps after all that - you feel you need a drink.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

My Life is Lost

I live on an island. The majority of people on this island were unknown to me before the plane brought us here. There is much that is hard to understand in this world: What is the nature of the opposition? What is the meaning of the messages? How do we make sense of our experiences?

This much I have in common with the characters in "Lost". Admittedly there are some significant differences.I have not had to cope with polar bears, hide from "the others" or press buttons down the hatch.

The genius of "Lost" is that it draws you into a mystery. We are moving towards the Series 2 conclusion in NZ and there is much that is unresolved. I guess the writers may know where it is heading. I presume they had a plan to end it plausibly at the end of Series 1 if the ratings bombed. Actually I doubt if the final denouement will be satisfying but answers is not really what "Lost" is about.

"Lost" is about a journey, it concerns the relationship of characters with complex pasts into which we are granted unique insights. Each of the main characters has a story. There is no single hero and no one leader.

One of the interesting dynamics is between Locke and Jack. I heard a sermon recently in the US which tied together two quotes highlighting their relationship.

From Exodus 2 in Series 1

LOCKE: I believe that I was tested.

JACK: Tested.

LOCKE: Yeah. Tested. I think that's why you and I don't see eye to eye sometimes, Jack. Because you're a man of science.

JACK: Yeah. And what does that make you?

LOCKE: Me? Well, I'm a man of faith. Do you really think all this is an accident? That we, a group of strangers, survived, many of us with just superficial injuries? You think we crashed on this place by coincidence? Especially this place? We were brought here for a purpose, for a reason -- all of us. Each one of us was brought here for a reason.

JACK: Brought here. And who brought us here, John?

LOCKE: The island. The island brought us here. This is no ordinary place. You've seen that. I know you have. The island chose you, too, Jack. It's destiny.

and from Orientation in Series 2

JACK: No. It's not real. Look, you want to push the button, you do it yourself.

LOCKE: If it's not real, then what are you doing here, Jack? Why did you come back? Why do you find it so hard to believe?

JACK: Why do you find it so easy?

LOCKE: It's never been easy!

The point being made was that the way of faith is not easy but that faced with the evidence there is no real alternative.

Interesting as that thought is - it misses much of what "Lost" has to say.

As I learn to live on this island, not the Lost island but Aotearoa, I need to appreciate what makes my fellow travellers who they are, listen to the questions, issues and challenges which arise from the context and communicate honestly out of experience. Yes there is hope, yes there is rescue and yes there is One who seeks and saves. But to tell that story well...

I need to learn again what it means to be lost.