Thursday, December 10, 2009
Art at its best makes me look at things differently and leaves an impression that remains after the work is no longer before me.
The Chinese artist Liu Bolin hides himself in his photographs. In a country where development often comes at a cost to traditional communities it articulates the people who are often forgotten when change occurs in a landscape. The human cost of environmental or economic change is often hidden. In blurring the hidden person into the scene the artist actually accentuates the humanity that is there. Being concerned for the people of the world and their situation is vital.
Coming into the world and identifying with it. Celebrating forgotten humanity. Becoming part of the scene. It is time consuming and costly. But there is something that resonates with being missional.
"Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!"
(1 Corinthians 9 v 19 v 23)
I become invisible that you might be seen
I became invisible that he might be seen.
Here are a few more for your enjoyment.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
This amazing clip from Melbourne was seen first by many on the BBC. The timing of the train arriving is incredible and the mother slipping when she tried to run probably saved her life. In a region where we continue to live with the aftermath of tsunami and earthquake a close call for a baby grabs the headlines. Without the security tape it would hardly have managed a mention. It was interesting after the tsunami hit Samoa that much of the initial news was photographs with voiceover. The event was not captured by video and even afterwards there appeared to be very little video available or certainly available for upload.
The 40 second video clip has become the key currency of communication. If a picture used to worth a thousand words a good short video is worth a million. (which is still less than the number of views it will get). A short insight, a fragment, a glimpse into the everyday that we can relate to - such shards of life increasingly make up the fabric of common culture. This will be spoken of and watched this week more than any soap opera or TV show costing millions to make. And it had a happy ending - I am glad the baby was okay. :)
Sunday, October 18, 2009
What i like about this is the creativity of the reversal. Being part of an upside down kingdom where the first will be last and foolishness is wisdom this appeals to me. Would love to see the idea developed with more actual content that had substance to the hope.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
In Napier this week a man on a bus claimed to have a bomb. He was in the toilet of the coach at the time and his threat resulted in an armed response unit on site, police cordoning of a large section of the city and a negotiation conducted by mobile phone. Eventually he surrendered and it transpired he did not actually have any explosives. The newspaper reported that "the man had earlier been trying to talk to passengers on the bus about God". Now I have a number of issues with this.
Firstly it gives talking to people about God a bad name. Your average reader is moved from "nutcase" to "religious nutcase" and suddenly it becomes clear. It is their attachment to religion that has caused this craziness. Religious people have given God a bad reputation through their actions, which has had negative consequences from The Crusades to Richard Dawkins. Usually these actions have had zip all to do with God. The way that evangelism is being done in many places is putting people off engaging with Jesus. There is a weirdness factor that comes from making talking about faith an activity rather than an extension of life and conversation.
Secondly it erodes confidence in God. People start to think that if these are the kind of people who follow God then I don't want anything to do with him. I am talking briefly on the radio on Monday about the rise of Atheist and Secular Societies on Campuses. In the US the Secular Student Alliance added its 160th affiliate campus group last week and reports that demand for their group starting packets are high. "It’s been a challenge to keep up with the demand for services, especially group-starting packets and follow-up," said Lyz Liddell, senior campus organizer, in a statement earlier this month. "That’s a nice problem to have." The number of SSA campus affiliate groups has increased from 100 in 2008 to 160 this year. In 2007, the alliance counted only 80. More Americans are claiming no religion and many have taken on more outspoken and public campaigns. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 15 percent of Americans are part of the non-religious population, or "nones," up from 8.2 percent in 1990. Many of these people will have been influenced by a negative experience of Christians and a political agenda and attitude that is too often equated with God's truth and Christian life.
Thirdly it makes people nervous about bus travel. People start to think, well at least in my car the only crazy people traveling with me are people I knew before the journey started. Fear of being accosted on spiritual matters, concerns around being evacuated from the bus and an understandable anxiety over being blown to smithereens will make people less likely to travel by bus. This will make travel less sociable and will have a negative environmental impact.
Fourthly it makes bus companies think twice about installing toilets on buses. Even as I write someone is probably doing a risk assessment concluding that the provision of toilets as a haven for potential terrorists or disturbed people is just too great. This will make bus travel more arduous, will probably provoke more passengers on buses to extreme action and will definitely further advance point three above.
Fifthly it will make people think twice about going to Napier. This is not the first incident in the Hawkes Bay this year involving weapons, threats and hostages and is less serious than the ones before, which is partly why the police response was so decisive. Napier is a great city. it is the art deco capital of the world and a more friendly and peaceful place it would be hard to find. But even now there will be people cancelling bus tours and missing out on the delights of the Hawkes Bay in general and Napier in particular.
Which all just goes to show that experience alone is a poor teacher. I remember talking to a Dell computer repair guy, years ago before my conversion to Apple, when my screen needed replacing on my laptop. I asked him if they were generally reliable. "I am the wrong person to ask" he replied, "every single one that I see is broken".
It is sad to see a broken young man on a bus. But our first response should be to care for him and to look at what is breaking people in society. It does not necessarily mean that God should be dismissed, bus travel dismantled or Napier bypassed.
But if you are trying to talk about Jesus on a bus sometime, and people are not that inclined to listen, don't hide in the toilet and threaten to blow them up (at least not if you don't want them to get the wrong idea).
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
May 1940 was a pivotal point in the history of the world. The German army had swept through northern Europe and the British and French armies were in, what I believe the technical historical term is, ‘deep doo-doo’. The Royal Navy had too few ships available to evacuate the troops stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. Those ships that were in the vicinity were unable to manoeuvre close enough to the shore to affect a rescue. As the enemy forces lay poised to deliver the final blow an audacious plan was hatched which was to critically alter the course of history.
The plan was called Operation Dynamo. It called on anyone with a small, seaworthy craft to come and help. A flotilla of over eight hundred little ships assembled: fishing boats, pleasure crafts and lifeboats. Some of these craft ferried soldiers from the shore to the bigger ships, some took men directly back to England. They were not designed for war, but in the hands of those who knew them and could handle them, they played a vital part in the battle.
The grave plight of the troops led King George VI to call for an unprecedented week of prayer. Throughout the country, people prayed for a miraculous delivery. The initial objective was to recue 45,000 men in two days. Over the next nine days 338,226 soldiers were rescued by the hastily assembled fleet of little vessels and only 40,000 were left behind, dead or captured. Over two hundred of the ships were sunk and a similar number damaged .
One contemporary account of the evacuation wrote:
"It was the queerest, most nondescript flotilla that ever was, and it was manned by every kind of Englishman, never more than two men, often only one, to each small boat. There were bankers and dentists, taxi drivers and yachtsmen, longshoremen, boys, engineers, fishermen and civil servants. . .
Even before it was fully dark we had picked up the glow of the Dunkirk flames, and now we could see silhouetted the shapes of other ships, of boats coming home already loaded, and of low dark shadows that might be enemy motor torpedo boats. The beach, black with men, illumined by the fires, seemed a perfect target, but no doubt the thick clouds of smoke were a useful screen.”
What we see in the Dunkirk Spirit is a fleet of small vessels, not at all uniform in design or ordered in their command structure. They have a clear sense of vision and they participate at great personal risk because they understand what is going on and what they can contribute. This flotilla works together and collaborates where possible with the Naval Fleet. It is a messy business, slightly chaotic and not that well thought through but it turns the tide of history.
I believe that we live at a point in time where there are millions stranded on the ‘beaches’. We need a new paradigm of mission where there is a new sense of urgency on reaching and rescuing the lost. We need a new strategy to connect with those stranded from the conventional approaches. I believe that what we are beginning to see in New Zealand and around the world is a flotilla of small craft mobilized. More responsive, less uniform, better able to take initiative and get in closer to the shore. This rag tag flotilla can be confusing to those who man the bridges of the big destroyers. It is the navy, but not as they have known it. The difficulty is that many in the Naval Fleet see the Flotilla of small ships as an unnecessary distraction, self absorbed and deflecting resource from their battle plans, whereas many in the Flotilla find the Fleet, inflexible, hierarchical and disconnected from reality. In Operation Dynamo they work together. The key thing to grasp is that the fleet and the flotilla all sail under the ensign of the King.
The St George's Cross flown from the jack staff is known as the Dunkirk jack, and is only flown by civilian ships and boats of all sizes which took part in the Dunkirk rescue operation in 1940. The only other ships permitted to fly this flag at the bow are those with an Admiral of the Fleet on board. The smallest of the flotilla, the 15 ft fishing boat “Tamzine” is on display in the Imperial War Museum in London. Little boats given a status and a place of honour because they served the King.
I believe we need to see ore inter-generational cooperation, I believe we need to see a recognition from the Fleet of their limitations in the current crisis, i believe the Flotilla needs to collaborate more, to put aside personal agendas and to be less cynical about the Fleet. But as I write I see the smoke of battle smudging the horizon, listen to the sound of the guns and am aware of all those we are not reaching. I long to see urgent prayer for the lost becoming a feature of the year ahead and in particular to pray for a new generation of influence and service to be raised up - who sees things... differently.
Above all I want to see more little ships on the high sea joining the rescue flotilla. Crewed by people giving what they have, who are willing to hazard all for the sake of rescuing some. If you would like to talk about how you can partner with us in prayer, finance or service do get in touch with me. If you want to join the adventure of meeting the challenge of this generation in the company of friends - come. You wont find me at the Captain’s table or on the bridge of a flagship, I’m in the battered dinghy that’s leaking a bit but trying to press on through the wash. Join us.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I am always on the look out for gorgeous things. There is always so much to see and do and the number plate definitely works better in a Glaswegian accent. A number plate can make you look a second time at an old car and see that it is somebody's passion. Gorgeous things for me are things that inspire a second look and make me gasp, laugh, think, smile or cry.
These signs are in the internet cafe in Lower Hutt. Permission seems to be necessary to do just about anything from downloading to using the toilet and before you ask I WOULD rather keep those ideas separate. This is not the way of thinking of your average European descended Kiwi at all but does resonate with Asian and New Zealand born Asian culture. I find it fascinating how divergent attitudes are to things like authority.
This advert is more typical of Pakeha Kiwi Culture. Language is used in different ways, not always helpfully. Very few Kiwi's would see anything offensive in this billboard. This is Air New Zealand, the national airline, advertising cheap deals. It is just part of the folksy charm of the place!
I had thought that Australia was also fairly relaxed in a stubbies and singlet kind of informality so was quite taken aback by the dress code at the Melbourne Cricket Club. The list of what is considered unacceptable is a lot longer than the guidelines for acceptable dress. I rather enjoy that acceptable men and women are grouped together whereas fashion crimes for the unacceptable have to be gender specific. This kind of mentality could be running an internet cafe in Lower Hutt but would have the prohibitions laminated I am sure.
This underwear billboard has a number of interesting elements. And before you ask (NO I don't think he is gorgeous!). The way the picture has been taken putting the male model into a more stereotypical female pose is fairly common now in advertising. The angle of the hips and the curve of the breast intentionally blur the gender. I guess many of us would be positive about androgynous clothing, where we can make choices based on comfort and practicality rather than on what is differentiated by gender. But there is a trend to push a more androgynous culture as a whole where there is a blending of male and female characteristics and a blurring of roles. There is significant confusion about what it means to be male and female which has many implications which stretch far beyond our choice of pants.
"The Dominion Post", which is the Wellington equivalent of "The Scotsman", (an explanation that I am sure you will find particularly engaging if you live in some part of the world where neither of these august publications is the first choice for the delivery of quality local news with an international perspective.) had a feature recently on the growth of astrology. Graham Ibell quit his job as a biologist with the Department of Conservation. "I was just finding myself becoming more and more disillusioned with science. It didn't nourish me, I was looking for something soul-filled. Science didn't provide that," "I think it's peoples emptiness. People are looking for answers. It's not just enough to go shopping for bathroom taps on a Sunday anymore". Ibell also reflects on the importance of relationships and of intuition. "It just opened me up, I started to see life in more of an interconnected way. We are not all separate individuals; it gives me a spiritual perspective on life." "It requires a great deal of engagement with the imagination . . . a very different way of thinking than scientific thinking." Many of Ibells comments could come from an emergent church leader talking about religion.
More people are turning to astrology during the recession. Kapiti astrologist Gigi Sosnoski has seen a "steady increase" in clients over the last year - from mothers wanting their newborns' charts read to people setting up a business and pensioners looking for love. In times of uncertainty, she says, people need to feel more in control. "People always want to get some clarity regarding their future. Things to look forward to, how they can best plan ahead."
This connection with the spiritual world, with the past and the future is something many are hungry for. If people stop believing the truth, they don't believe nothing - they believe anything. To prove the point I refer you to the book cover above, where somebody clearly believes that the endorsement of Suzi Quatro will help promote their philosophy. (What? you don't think a Christian book would ever carry the endorsement of a minor celebrity in a way that a thinking person would find laughable? - no me neither!)
Pete Hughes who is a friend of mine in Sydney, is involved in a new church planting initiative in Ryde. They have decided to call the church Soma. Which is Greek for body but is also the name of the drug in Brave New World which is the opiate of the people. We had spoken about a few alternatives which wee close but different. So on the flight over I knocked together a few alternatives to pitch to him over lunch. (which was good fun and I had seen most of the movies anyway!)
Which on a serious point does pose an interesting question. How do we present who we are and what we do in a way that engages the imagination and interest of the people around us. How do we get beyond stereotype that many have of church in the western world and help people to see that here is someone life changing and something authentic which is to quote Suzi "The real deal". We don't have to do it perfectly but if we could it better it would be gorgeous.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
SecretZen is a site that allows you to share your deepest secrets with the world and do it anonymously. These disclosures take the form of "photosecrets" that combine images and words. There are many places online where it is possible to offer virtual confession or share real life secrets. People will say things online, even not anonymously, which they would not say to a friend in the pub if they had both been drinking.
Some of them are related to specific events. As in "usuallymoralguy's" confession about hitting his friends car.
"Ok, so I pride myself in being moral and not doing immoral things but about a month ago I backed into a car. I was being stupid and was talking on the phone. I drove away and parked in another spot. Later that night I found out that it was a high school friend's car and that someone had seen "a truck like mine" hit the van. The police had me come out of the house and asked if it was me. I lied and told them no. The damage appeared to be just broken plastic on the front bumper, but they wrote up a police report and took a statement along with pictures of the vehicles. My truck had no damage. Now I can't stop thinking about it. It seriously enters my mind at least 3 or 4 times a day. I haven't told anyone the truth yet until now. My main motivation for saying it was not me was because I can't afford it, along with an insurance claim that would most likely raise my rates. I feel bad about the whole thing but there really isn't anything I can do now that won't involve me confessing to my friend that I did it or going to the police. Either way, it is good to get this off my chest. Thanks."
Others speak of real difficulties in connecting with people, of feeling loved, appreciated or valued. As these anonymous posts tell.
"when I die Im taking my computer with me. My only friend and my biggest secret, no one knows what lies in my hard drive, no one knows me."
"I’m just not good enough no matter what I do I genuinely care so much but no one seems to notice I know I’ll never be worth anything"
"My friends dont like me as much as they like their other friends. Some are better at hiding it than others but I can telli can see the subtle clues. I will never have a best friend maybe because ill always be the sarcastic disposable friend."
"I don’t drink. I’ve never been on a date. I don’t smoke. I don’t do any type of drugs. I’ve self-injured before. I’m friendly to everyone. I’m told I have a great smile. I have a good fashion sense. I’m “average” sized. I’m nothing but myself to people. I don’t believe in underage smoking or drinking. I hate drug use and drinking just to get drunk. I don’t think it’s right to put out for any guy that comes around. I hate Abercrombie and Fitch, Hollister, and all other crappy one-brand teen stores.
I’d give up everything I believe in, everything- just to have friends."
Many revolve around frustrations in relationships. Rejection, the difficulty of being in the right relationship and the al too common experience of feeling trapped in the wrong one.
"It’s weird. I have no friends, no one to talk to, there is nothing I’m exceptionally good at except playing video games, nothing I really want to do with my life, I feel like everything I’ve ever done has been a waste of time, and I think my boyfriend just broke up with me. Yet strangely I can’t bring myself to give a shit. Normally I’d be crying but lately I just can’t find the energy to care anymore. I don’t feel happy or angry or sad. I don’t really feel anything at all.
I think I’d rather be depressed. At least then I feel somewhat human."
"No, I don’t trust you. And yeah, I can’t love you if I don’t trust you… But lets take our clothes off and fool around on my bed, cause when we do that I forget that I just CAN’T trust you."
"I tell people I’m completely over her. the truth is I still have all her texts saved and I read them frequently."
"We have done well for ourselves however we have put ourselves in debt that we cannot get out of. My husband travels alot and while he is away on trips I am sleeping with 3 different men. I like all three and have fun with them. The three men and my husband could not be more different from each and only share 1 thing in common and thats the fact they are all head over heals for me and think they are the only one in my life. I have tried to stop but it seems like sex is my only out. Lately however I am not even happy when I am with one of these men. I feel hopeless. I know that I am using the attention I get to fill some void I have but I dont know what void that is and I feel guilty that I have a void since I should be more then happy with my life cuz many people are much worse off then I am. I also feel guilty b/c I know it is all going to crumble down on top on me and I am going to hurt these men who have done nothing wrong. I am at the end of my rope and can no longer see anything bright in my future and I cannot remember the last time I was happy. The only thing keeping me from killing myself is my son. He is my soul and I cant stand the thought of how sad he would be without his mommy. I cry alot and I hate it when he sees me because he doesnt understand and I feel so guilty about what I do behind closed doors. I wish I could stop."
Many testify to the web of deceit that they weave or get caught up in other peoples lies.
"I’m too self aware for my own good. I don’t fit in anywhere…I force myself to conform. I question every little action I make, but I’m a hypocrite for doing them anyway. Everything I do or say feels constructed and I cannot escape this feeling that I am in no way unique or special. I wonder if any one else thinks about these things or if I’m alone."
"Sometimes I pray for an eating disorder so I’ll be skinny enough for my mom to think I’m good enough."
"I'm a liar.I am such a good liar. I talk about others behind their backs, I gossip, and I meddle. I am so lazy! I would rather hit snooze then wake up with the sunrise, as I should. I procrastinate often. I go from boy to boy like they were kleenex tissues, use one once or twice and then discard. Oh and I watch porn sometimes, and I feel guilty about that. I'm angry. I am so angry at this place, for the pressure it puts on me and my friends. I am angry at my father for having all the characteristics of human that i despise. I am terrified. I am terrified at what this world is going to bring, where I am going to end up and with whom I am going to end up. I just want to be forgiven for my sins and vices."
Jessy in that last post heart wrenching post is 18. I wonder if she would consider church as somewhere any of these issues could be faced. If she has anyone she could talk to who would show her where the forgiveness and hope she seeks is available.
Still others speak of frustration in work, lack of purpose and direction and questions about life.
"I hate my job but i dont even try looking for something new because i dont think i could find anything. but little by little its driving me crazy. i despise it and it is actually turning me into a different person. everytime i wake up to go there i feel like a piece of me is being taken away that ill never be able to get back"
"I’ve dedicated all of my time and done everything i could just so I could reach for and achieve my goals. But they didn’t happen. They were taken away from me. Does this mean its time to start settling?"
"I am graduating university in a couple of weeks. I am absolutely terrified of entering the real world because i define myself as a student and i was great at being a student. In the real world i am no one.
I am moving back home to live with my parents to save some money, and will be leaving all my friends behind. I feel like i am moving backwards in life."
On that site you can leave a comment or a hug. Which may offer a little consolation but not much. So many of these posts reflect the basic human condition of the consequences of sin. Separation from God, alienation in relationships, frustration in work. The created order is fractured and the fault lines run through us all. How do we connect with people in these kinds of situations with these kinds of feelings? Who do they think they are talking to? Can God make any kind of difference given the depth of hopelessness?
I was reminded last night of a verse that I had not thought of for a while. It became the verse of Ten10, the key to Thirst for Life and with the River of Life the focus of a lot of creative energy that year. Ezekiel 47v9. "so where the river flows everything will live" or as we used it most often "Where the river is there is life". So many of these people above need the refreshing, life giving, water of life that rises up within. Yet do we care for the thirsty or even begin to engage with where many of the people around us are. Have we become preoccupied with a gospel of the quality of life and lost sight of the reality of the gospel of Life.
Looking back through some of my old River of Life files. I was struck again by these verses written on roller blinds at the River of Life.
"Some of you wandered for years in the desert,looking but not finding a good place to live,
Half-starved and parched with thirst, staggering and stumbling, on the brink of exhaustion.
Then, in your desperate condition, you called out to GOD.
He got you out in the nick of time; He put your feet on a wonderful roadthat took you straight to a good place to live.
So thank GOD for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children he loves.
He poured great draughts of water down parched throats;the starved and hungry got plenty to eat."
"The life--maps of GOD are right, showing the way to joy.
The directions of GOD are plain and easy on the eyes.
GOD's reputation is twenty-four-carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee.
The decisions of GOD are accurate down to the nth degree."
"GOD turned rivers into wasteland,springs of water into sunbaked mud;
Luscious orchards became alkali flats because of the evil of the people who lived there.
Then he changed wasteland into fresh pools of water, arid earth into springs of water,
Brought in the hungry and settled them there;they moved in--what a great place to live!
They sowed the fields, they planted vineyards, they reaped a bountiful harvest.
He blessed them and they prospered greatly; their herds of cattle never decreased.
But abuse and evil and trouble declined as he heaped scorn on princes and sent them away.
He gave the poor a safe place to live, treated their clans like well-cared-for sheep.
Good people see this and are glad; bad people are speechless, stopped in their tracks.
If you are really wise, you'll think this over--it's time you appreciated GOD's deep love."
It is amazing that God looks on everyone, sees and understands. As David testifies:
"O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast."
This is wonderful but thinking about Ezekiel I am reminded that he went and sat with the exiles who lived by the Chebar River. His reaction is translated variously as overwhelmed, mourning or stunned. But he engaged, he listened to what they were saying around the campfires Jesus looked at the crowds and had compassion on them because they were harrassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.
I need to get beyond indifference. I am surrounded by parched people in an arid environment. And I know both the hope of the rushing river and the reality of the living spring. Do I care? Do you? Do we?
Lord we thank you for your love to us
King of Glory who we nailed upon the cross
Gentle Shepherd when you're searching for the lost
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Captain Kirk had an initial 5 Year Mission. It was "to seek out new life forms and civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before" Apart from its sexist language, grammatical split infinity and Kirk's habit of kissing the life forms he did not kill it was a clear example of a strong relationship between vision and mission in practice.
I have been reflecting on our first three years as we have encountered new life forms and civilisations and its implications for the next 5 years of Mission. I am conscious that it is a little foolhardy to summarise the challenges we face in a few paragraphs but am grateful to all who commented on and helped shape the piece and also to Paul Windsor for his editorial. Both these will appear in the next Canvas but represents the beginning of a conversation that will shape the way TSCF works over the next 5 years and what the Pacific Partnership Trust prioritises in the Pacific. Do feel free to comment.
"Over the years I have learned to find relevance in unexpected places. It was the theologian Carl Henry who asserted that ‘only the eternal can hope to be forever contemporary.’ I believe that being anchored to unchanging truths provides a far better foundation for relevant engagement than shifting forever with the tides of changing trends.
This past week I sat down with a Kiwi missionary on home leave and clicked his ‘play’ button. I asked him how he had found church in NZ. The relevance flowed. It reminded me of a similar occasion some years ago when a returning career missionary addressed a gathered throng about the challenges facing the NZ church. I heard some question ‘What can he know? He has been overseas all these decades!’ He knew a lot. He saw a lot. I hung onto every prophetic word.
Was it not the Scot, Robbie Burns, who spoke about the value of ‘seeing ourselves as others see us’? If we are humble enough to listen, this is the very vision that can emerge from our blindspots with a timely relevance and a shuddering impact.
My respect for another Scot, Nigel Pollock, as well as the entire TSCF staff team, is immense. I was among those who interviewed Nigel for his current role. I still consider it to be one of the most strategic processes with which I have ever been involved. I have looked forward to the day when Nigel feels transplanted enough into Kiwi life that he is able to speak into the challenges we face. This issue of Canvas is that moment. Nigel has the mind and eye and heart to say something significant. Read carefully.
And as you read my prayer is that your mind and eye and heart will recognise the relevance of the ministry of TSCF in our nation and that you will be stirred to support it in new ways."
Paul Windsor, Principle Carey College (at time of writing), Associate Director, Langham Preaching (by time of publication) and TSCF Board member (over the whole of those two weeks - and longer!)
New Zealand is the first major land mass to see the start of each day. I believe that we are uniquely positioned to see by ‘first light’ emerging global trends. New Zealand is a very interesting place to be, still evolving in our national identity, with a tradition of leading social change and a fascinating blend of Maori, European, Pacific, Asian and other cultures. Over the past 3 years I have had the privilege of meeting students, graduates and church leaders from all over New Zealand. I have found their insights challenging and helpful. I have also found that being in the South Pacific has provided a vantage point to consider what is happening in other parts of the world. In TSCF we long to see the gospel at the heart of New Zealand and New Zealand at the heart of World Mission. I am under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge we face in pursuing that vision, but without vision people perish.
I hesitate to offer too many thoughts on the challenges facing New Zealand. I am still learning and there is much I still do not understand. But I have frequently been told over the past few months that if I do not capture my initial reflections as an “outsider” that I will lose them! I believe that we are at a significant watershed in world history and that like the Men of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32) we need to “understand the times and know what to do”. I also believe that the current global financial meltdown demonstrates how interconnected our lives are. I have a postcard on my office door of a factory churning pollution into the atmosphere with the caption “in a world where problems know no boundaries..”
So I offer here my thoughts on 10 major challenges that I believe are key to understanding the times that we live in; each presenting an opportunity. These are broader reflections with some New Zealand application and you can decide how each is relevant to 21st Century Aotearoa. I believe there is an opportunity to work together in new ways which can benefit NZ and have an impact far beyond these shores, in a world where opportunities know no boundaries we can be at the leading edge of change in Christian mission in the world. I hope these challenges stimulate your thinking and make you think about how we can respond.
There is a growing number of un-churched post Christian people in western societies. This is not a group that we are engaging with well anywhere. Most of the things that seem to be working like “Alpha” and “Christianity Explored” are much better at engaging with people with some church background. This is not irrelevant because this is still a significant mission field, but it is a diminishing one. Most expressions of church underestimate the culture gap between where we are and where the people around us are. We live in a country that is increasingly secular. Many now see faith as a negative thing to be pitied and opposed. The key opportunity here is to listen. We need to understand the culture we are in and look for contact points and bridgeheads to share faith. Programmes and resources written for other cultures, countries and contexts are not the best starting point and yet they are all too often the things which NZ churches and TSCF student groups have become dependent upon. Our vision is for biblical evangelism that is culturally sensitive. Effective evangelism among students is at the core of our ministry. TSCF are working with students to help them be less reliant on resources, more connected with their friends and better able to share the good news of Jesus. We need a new urgency in evangelism flowing from a fresh encounter with God.
We live in an age of mass migration. Through choice or necessity, millions of people move about the planet. Entire ethnic communities exist thousands of miles from their point of origin. There are 1 million people living in NZ who were not born here and there are 1 million “Kiwis” living overseas. We all like the idea of a multi-cultural society, it sounds exciting, but what that looks like is not as easy to work out and it involves understanding other cultures, giving up racial stereotypes and, as Christians, pursuing a new Gospel culture. How much of your culture and language do you retain and how much do you give up? Historically, cross-cultural missions have looked to develop indigenous leaders to carry the work forward when they leave. There is as great a need as ever for cross cultural mission but the concept of indigeneity has become more complex. I believe in NZ that bi-culturalism is the foundation on which a strong multi cultural society is built and that the resolution of outstanding issues and treaty claims alongside the valuing of Maori culture and ideas is of immense importance. But alongside the challenge of the past we face the challenge of the future. We are profoundly thankful for the huge involvement of internationals in TSCF and have been thrilled to see students from around the world coming to faith and indeed leading Kiwis to Christ. Our vision is to value all the cultures of New Zealand and to take the opportunity to practise hospitality and show Christ’s love to all. TSCF is one of the most diverse movements in IFES and we are currently building links with greater number of ethnic groups on campus. We are at the same time committed to encouraging students to actively participate in the world wide mission of the church. Our partnerships in Ecuador, Fiji, Papa New Guinea, India and Bangladesh are a great help in this. Although we are remote we have strong connections not least with those who study here. I believe that the fulfilment of the great commission in the 21st century involves Pacific Rim churches growing a vision for world mission, in a way that the Atlantic churches did in a previous century.
Issues of poverty, justice, AIDS and the environment are not optional concerns for the few. We all need to be on the front line of working for peace and prosperity for all. I continue to believe that the exile is the key paradigm shaping our involvement in society. Jeremiah encourages the exiles to seek the welfare of the city of Babylon where they are in captivity (Jer 29:4-17). They are to plant, build and have children, to increase in number but to remember that they do not belong there. They are to remember that in 70 years God will take them home. The challenge that faces us is to fully engage in our communities and to work on the big issues without losing sight of the hope of glory. It is interesting to note that around the world those Christians who live on the margins of society and suffer persecution look forward more earnestly to Christ’s return than those of us who have invested more in this world and can see Jesus’ return as a threat to our comfort. It has been said that some Christians are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use, I sometimes wonder
if the reverse can be more true today. We need to be heavenly minded and of earthly usefulness. We cannot separate gospel and social engagement as if somehow it was possible to have faith that did not translate into action. Our vision is to call a new generation to change the world in the power of the Holy Spirit but to do so with a gospel agenda and a kingdom perspective. Our new Catalyst graduate and faculty ministry is at the start of growing a new generation of Christian influence in the professions, the marketplace, education, public life, the arts and the church.
I am frustrated that as I look around the world there is, all too often, a great divide between creativity and content. Many of those who are the most creative are bereft of Biblical content and at the other extreme those who have great content are often lacking in creativity. The protestant tradition has tended to be quite iconoclastic, seeing imagery as often leading to idolatry and therefore needing to be destroyed. More recently a new emphasis on iconography has sought to develop art which can enhance and focus worship rather than detract from it. There is a place for criticism and for creativity. Both can honour God when done for his glory. But I believe that the primary opportunity today is to be an interpreter, seeking to relate faith to culture and culture to faith. Our vision is to be a prophetic voice where creativity and content combine together to speak powerfully into our cultural context and ultimately introduce people to Jesus. We are encouraging students in creative arts to relate faith to their course and we are actively exploring ways of using digital media to promote evangelism and discipleship in NZ and beyond.
The Baby Boomer generation (born 1946-63) has been the most analysed generation in history. They have contributed a huge amount to the development of the cultural, economic and intellectual landscape we inhabit. They are now coming to the end of their era of responsibility. Many in the next generation do not believe that the structures that served the gospel in the last century are necessarily the same structures that will serve the gospel in this century. The older generation becomes frustrated at the lack of commitment of those coming through. The problem is that the baby boomers see the vision as being intertwined with the structures they have invested their lives in. That generation of leaders need to let the structures go and be clear on the vision, entrusting new leadership to adapt and in some cases dismantle that which they hold dear. If we are to engage a new generation with the call to initiative and responsibility we cannot ask them to be janitors of the legacy of yesterday. We are a strongly egalitarian culture which is great, but it can leave us critical of leaders and wary of accepting responsibility. We need to stop chopping our leaders down, covenant to build them up, and be willing to step into the gap ourselves. Our vision is to mentor younger leaders in vision, to trust younger leaders with responsibility and to see inter generational partnerships grow so that together we can move forward under God. TSCF are currently extending the training and mentoring of students and graduates across New Zealand and the South Pacific, we are enthusiastic about partnering with all those who share the call to raise a new generation of influence and initiative.
I read a facebook post the other day which said “I am not going to GO to church ever again. That’s it. Enough is enough. I’m simply going to BE church, journeying with fellow travellers hanging out with Jesus...” It saddens me greatly that for many in my generation the thing that they cite as being the biggest obstacle in their Christian walk is their experience of church. What is interesting about the quote is that the experience of going to church does not seem to correspond to what they are looking for. One key issue here is that people’s experience of preaching neither engaging with the truth of God’s word or the reality of their lives. I have spoken to a number of graduates who have heard no Bible teaching on work, money, sex or career. I know others who long for greater depth of relationship with God and a more authentic experience of Christian community but are not willing to give what might be necessary to get what they seek. I have been fascinated in NZ both by how seldom many keen Christians attend church and also how often people move from one church to another. We long to see better partnerships with, and more unity between, all believers. We encourage new and old expressions of church that encourage people to love God, follow Jesus and live it out in daily life. I spoke to a pastor in Canada who said “Ten years ago people in my church saw the most valuable commodity as money and they would give time to save money. Now the most valuable thing is time and people will give money to save time. Our staff team is much bigger but in truth our congregation is much poorer. We have professionalised service and lost a key expression of being the body of Christ”. Our vision is to see the NZ church grow under leadership that prioritises Bible teaching and prayer; which is centred on the cross; promotes radical discipleship in community and which looks to resource and connect people in their daily lives.
We face a crisis of Bible Engagement around the Western world. Put simply many Christians do not see God’s word as being central to, or having a transformative influence on, their lives. The Bible Society in New Zealand have just published some excellent research on Bible use here. Among Christians 7% read it daily, 9% weekly and 23% monthly. Only 18% of 18-24 year olds stated that the Bible influenced their lives. Only 26% of Christians regularly discuss the teachings of the Bible weekly or more frequently with other people. Many times I’ve been told that the Bible is boring and hard work only to discover that the person making that statement has read little if any of it. I’m not talking about non-Christians here, but Christians. It’s not just that people aren’t engaging it’s that they never have, and were never encouraged to and don’t know where to start. Our vision is to see the Bible opened and handled in a way that encourages people to explore and apply it for themselves. We want to see students excited about the Bible, able to teach it and hungry to apply it to every area of life. TSCF are working hard to model biblical teaching and to support small group leaders getting to grips with scripture.
I think there is a lot of good quality work being done with children. Some can tend to lapse into morality teaching and not say enough of God and grace but there are many committed people who are working hard. Where there is confusion is what do when they get to be 13 or 14 years old. Some churches get them to help with the younger kids, others to start going with their parents to the morning service, others connect them into a Sunday night young adult service which may be more reflective or more high energy depending on the culture of the church. The problem is that none of these are geared to helping teenagers in their discipleship or witness at school. We need to be helping teenagers see how faith relates to school life, their relationships, personal development and the future. I believe we set the bar too low in what we are trying to do with teenagers. There are some centres of excellence and I know many others are concerned about this and are starting to think about how to make progress. One of the striking things to come out of the Mangatepopo river tragedy was seeing the impact of college students who were sold out for Jesus. Our vision is to see teenagers in a real relationship with God with a heart for service and a desire to see friends get to know Jesus. One of the issues in New Zealand is that many in their twenties go on an OE at just the time you would be expecting them to be helping with youth groups and leading at camps. This missing generation means that many teenagers do not have role models in the next generation to look up to and follow. TSCF share the concerns of many throughout NZ for this crisis in teenage discipleship and are talking with Scripture Union and others about how we can do better. We are encouraging graduates to consider teaching as a career and are currently working on helping students transition from college to university.
The nature of the university continues to evolve. Much is now driven by financial considerations such that both the pursuit of knowledge and the teaching of students takes second place. The restrictions on student societies and the lack of support for student activities on some campuses are appalling. On many campuses student societies cannot even book university rooms for meetings which makes regular meeting times and places difficult. Student debt continues to climb and 90% of students in NZ work for more than 10 hours a week in part time paid employment. Many students living in shared accommodation do not share life, choosing to shop, cook and eat separately. The availability of “E” relationships through text, Facebook, email, Twitter and chat is not always conducive to fostering fully orbed relationships. Many students have a wide circle of contacts but not many friendships of quality and depth. TSCF believes in the university as a centre for the exploration of truth and ideas. Our vision is to support Christian academics and to see students relating faith to their studies, to see universities as vibrant exciting communities which contribute to society and prepare graduates for life. We long to see a new generation raised up who can articulate Christian truth in the market place of ideas. We are beginning to look at how we can better support academics and are working to mobilise prayer for Universities. We are experimenting with different models where students live in supported community as places where life is shared through hospitality and outreach.
The acceptable standard of morality in society has been uncoupled from any external frame of reference. Choice has become personal and anything goes as long as it “does not hurt anybody”. Who decides this and works out the true impact of actions is less clear. The way our choices affect and limit other people’s choices, and the standards of personal behaviour we adopt, are confusing. Christians are keen to avoid being seen as judgemental (perhaps the only universally agreed sin in our society). I recently heard someone speaking about Martin Luther King who talked of young black men being struck down by ushers on the steps of a “white” church while the congregation inside sang “Love Divine All Loves Excelling”. It makes me wonder about the cultural blind spots in my own worldview. On important issues, how many of my values come from God and how much do I conform to the society I live in? Issues such as: abortion, race, class, sexual standards, commitment in relationships, raising children, acting justly, loving mercy, making peace, speaking out against oppression, caring for the orphan, the outsider, the marginalized and making use of money, time and talents. Our vision is to call this generation to a standard of Biblical morality not to be content to accept a comparative standard from society. 1 John says “If anyone obeys His word God’s love is truly made complete. This is how we know we are in Him; whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6-7). TSCF are today, and every day, investing in the lives of students in the hope of them and us becoming more like Jesus. We work to see lives transformed and the foundations of character laid, on which the rest of life is built.
These are only some of the headline challenges. There are others! We are small but we believe under God that change is possible. We are not overawed by the task we face, we are not bowed by the opposition, we look to God and to the enabling of His Spirit. We believe it is not by might or by power but by God’s Spirit that the work of God advances. We believe the work of God IS advancing. Jesus has promised to build his church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We know that we are in a spiritual battle. We look to God and we look for opportunities. In God’s grace over the past three years we have seen TSCF staff more than double and our budget nearly treble. We have seen students coming to faith and new groups starting but we are just scratching the surface. In the next few years you will see us trying many new things. They will not all work, but we will learn from our mistakes and we will persevere. We hope that you will partner with us in service, in prayer, in financial support and encouragement as we seek to know God and make Him known.
“Now to him who is able
to do immeasurably
more than all we ask or
imagine, according to
his power that is at work
within us, to him be glory
in the church and in
Christ Jesus throughout
all generations, for
ever and ever! Amen.”
I am particularly interested in hearing about places where these challenges are being met in creative ways; in speaking with emerging leaders (of any age) who are keen to make a difference engaging with others of vision and in networking with people who can see beyond the old organisational tribalism and want to serve the purpose of God in our generation.
As Captain Kirk would say if he had spent more time reading the Bible "to boldly go where God is going before".
Or as another Captain had engraved on his memorial in the Antartic: "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield". Which is a quote from Tennyson's Ulysses and which in the poets own words to his son is about "the need to go forward and brave the struggles of life" To which I would say Amen but would add "Together and under God".
My thanks to all who encourage me in this great adventure.