Friday, August 26, 2011

Who Should Pay for the Harbour Bridge Pedestrian and Bike Crossing?

It is great that the Harbour Bridge pedestrian and cycle crossing looks like it will happen. At last! Good on you Leigh Hopper, you go guy! However, the question remains, who should pay? It seems a toll of up to $5 each way will pay for it. In tough economic times, this seems the only way and makes a certain sense. It is user pays, which is the way things should be, one can argue at least.

Yet, it all seems bizarre to me. On the one hand, there is a huge movement toward ecological sustainability in our times. We are desperate to get people out of cars and other fossil fuel-using vehicles, into public transport and other means of transport like bikes and walking. Then there is the cry that we are getting fat, we are overweight or obese. We are called to get off our couches, put the chips, chocolate and remotes down, and get onto our feet and bikes and get moving. This will save millions right, as obesity is a huge cause of medical issues which clog up our hospitals.

The crossing is a brilliant way of making progress toward both these goals – reducing fossil fuel production and people lose weight. What a great idea to have a crossing. Heaps of people will now be able to walk and bike to work.

But then who should pay? Those who want to use the bridge, or the city? Here's a few ideas:

How about getting those who use vehicles to pay? Put a cent on every litre of gas purchased in the Auckland region, or even in those in central Auckland and the Shore within a twenty kilometre radius. Slap some tolls on people who want to drive into the centre of the city as they do in other cities like London. This would pay for a whole range of such things. Or how about divert a little health budget toward it, as it will potentially improve our health? Or how about some tourism dollars, as it will be a glorious tourist attraction as people get to walk the bridge in one of the world's most beautiful harbours. This will form part of the cycle-way I have heard. Well, tourists will be coming to use it won't they? Add a dollar to airport tax for foreign visitors. I remember walking the Sydney Harbour Bridge a year or five ago, it was glorious. It would have been worth paying a dollar arriving in Australia for this. Or put small tax on every big packet of chips, or on every bar of chocolate. Or hit the fast food restaurants with a levy on every burger, packet of fries, pizzas etc sold.

Don't get me wrong, it s a GREAT idea – sensational, wonderful, overdue, and all that. But, come on, make those who should pay pay?

 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Team for World Cup

Two days out from the picking of the World Cup team it is time to commit to the team I think they will pick. I think it is pretty easy if you take 3 hookers and 3 half-backs after last night's loss to South Africa. There are a few points of interest.  

The first is who will miss out in the wings. After Toeava showed he is back, I think Gear and Guilford will be the unlucky two. I think they will go for the multi-skilled/position type players over the genuine hard out wingers like Guilford and Gear, despite their talent. Kahui could miss out I suppose if Toeava is picked to cover centre and this would make room for Gear. Or even SBW could sensationally be left out with Kahui and Toeava as back up midfielders?

Then there is the first five, and I have gone for Slade but there may be a surprise with Cruden after his brilliant performance for Manawatu and Slade's decidedly average game against the Boks. But that was only Manawatu against Waikato. Slade will have learnt heaps like, kick the ball deep boy! Still, I wouldn't be surprised if they go that way, or even Weepu as back up.

The fifth loosie is tricky with Thompson, Messam, Vito and as a bolter, Todd, a possibility. Personally I would have Todd because we need another genuine 7. But, we can always bring him in if Richie goes down for the whole cup. So, I think they will stick with Messam. Hoeata is an outside chance as the fourth lock, and he can cover blindside meaning Boric would miss out I suppose.

Lock is interesting with Whitelock, Williams, Boric and Donnelly fighting out for the final locking position. I am sure Whitelock will get in even if he was not great against the Boks, he is a rising superstar. While I am still not convinced about Williams after his comeback, they obviously like him, so I think he will get in. If Boric is fit, he will be in. But Donnelly stands ready. So I will go for Boric.

Then there is loosehead prop. I would go for Crockett as his workrate is amazing, but his scrummaging still has a question mark, so I am sure Woodcock is in. The only wild card is if they take Weepu as back up first five, and Ofoa as back up hooker. This would create space for more options like Gear and/or Todd or Vito. With the cup in NZ, they can bring people in, so who knows. So, here is my team. What do you think?

Fullback/Wing

M. Muliaina

I. Dagg

C. Jane

S. Sivivatu

I. Toeava

Midfield

C.Smith

R. Kahui

M. Nonu

S.B.Willams

First Five

D. Carter

C. Slade

Half Back

P. Weepu

J. Cowan

A. Ellis

Loosies

K. Read

L. Messam

R. McCaw (Capt)

J. Kaino

A. Thompson

Locks

A. Williams

B. Thorn

S. Whitelock

A. Boric

Props

O. Franks

B. Franks

J. Afoa

T. Woodcock

Hookers

K. Mealamu

A. Hore

C. Flynn

Sources for Nero and the Reliability of the Gospels


I have been doing some research on Nero looking for data that might help in the interpretation of Philippians, which I believe should be placed in Rome in the early 60's when Nero was on fire. One interesting offshoot has been comparing the sources we have for Nero with those we have for the Gospels. The three main sources we have for Nero are Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio Cassius. The first, Tacitus or Publius/Gaius Cornelius Tacitus lived from AD 56-117. So he was born 2 years after Nero came to power and was 10 when Nero died. So he did not experience Nero first hand, although he might have seen him. He was a senator and historian, at one point Governor of Asia (AD 112/113). He was a part of the scene when Domitian was at his peak of despotic mania. He drew on earlier sources like Pliny the Elder which are lost. The work of most interest to study of Nero, Annals (Annales), was written sometime in the period AD 110-120, likely at the latter end of the decade. This is some 50-60 years after the event. We have only two incomplete manuscripts, one from AD 850, nearly 8 centuries after the event (Ch. 1-6), the other from the eleventh century (Ch. 11-16). We do not have the material on Nero's childhood and youth, nor the final two years of his life.

Suetonius or Gaius Suetonius Tranquillis lived from around AD 70 to 130. He worked mostly as Hadrian's palace librarian. He wrote Lives of the Twelve Caesars (De Vita Caesarum or Casares) which has a section on Nero. It is thematic rather than chronological. It was likely written at the end of the same decade as Tacitus' Annals, around 119 – so also around 50 years after Nero.

The third main source is Cassius Dio who wrote a Roman History from its origins to AD 229 indicating that it was completed in the early 3rd century, some 160 years after Nero. Dio was a senator, consul in AD 204, 229 proculsul of Africa, and at various points governor of Dalmatia and Upper Pannonia. The section on Nero is found in 11th-12th Century Byzantium material, some 1000 years after Nero. Further, the manuscripts have not been copied with care and have a lot of comments from the scribes making interpretation difficult.

We have a bit of data in Flavius Josephus who joined the Romans in the rebellion of AD 66-73 and has scattered references to Nero which tell us little of real detail.

The three sources have a lot of similar material but deviate at points. One can put together a good life of Nero from it, but at points of detail one has to try and reach a conclusion with some variance from the sources. We don't have historians questioning the existence of Nero, or many of the elements of his life – but we do have debates about whether the history casts him in too bad a light, and over detail.

If we come to the Gospels we have four works about Jesus, and scattered details of his life through the 25 Epistles and Revelation. There are also many writings about Jesus in the centuries that followed, based in the main on the records in what is now called the NT. We have to remember when we read the NT that it was originally separate documents not a book as we have it, and brought together as as unit. This is important because each part needs its own analysis, rather than the whole thing. When we look at the sources for Jesus as compared for Nero, the data comes out at least comparably if not better.

Mark is likely dated in the 60's. We have one testimony that he drew on first hand evidence from Peter (Papias). He may also be an eye-witness if he is the 'nude-guy' in the garden in Mark 15 which cannot be verified. If he is not mind you, one wonders what on earth that little piece is doing in Mark's Gospel? So, it is some 27-37 yrs after Christ. Unlike Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio, we cannot verify that he had written sources, although it cannot be ruled out that the disciples took down material and/or that Mark or a proto-Mark existed in Aramaic.

The date of the other three Gospels are debated. Luke is dated at 62-63 by some, including myself on the basis that it ends with Paul in Roman prison and says nothing about a set of major events in the 60's (James death in Jerusalem, Paul leaving Rome and further ministry (if it occurred), Paul and Peter's death, Paul's letters, the Fall of Jerusalem). Luke uses Mark, which would mean Mark should be dated before this, maybe at 60-61. This is not an issue because using Luke and the letters, Mark and Luke are in Rome together in the early 60's. Other scholars would date Luke in the 70-80's. If so, it is some 40-50 yrs after Christ, still less than the gap between Nero and Tacitus or Suetonius. Luke also refers to written sources in his prologue. One of these written sources may be the mysterious and unverifiable Q (Quelle – source), the common material in Luke and Matthew. He must have drawn on others because he has a lot of unique material. So, we have at least three sources. Like a good ancient historian, he also refers to speaking to eye-witness testimony from those who worked with Christ (Lk 1:1-4). As such, Luke should be considered at least as reliable as Tacitus and Suetonius, even more so perhaps, if the earlier date is to be trusted.

Matthew is usually dated at a similar point to the later Luke date, but gives no evidence of written sources. We can deduce two, Mark and Q, and probably at least one other as he has substantial independent material. As such, Matthew too can be considered a reliable record compared to the material for Nero.

Then we have John. John seems to be dated later, 80-100, although some argue for a pre-70 date because of the temple. Still, even if we date it in the 90's in Domitian's reign as would seem the latest it should be dated to me, it is still less than 70 years after the event. This would place it alongside Suetonius and well ahead of Cassius Dio as a source. If John is the apostle, and this is heavily disputed, then we have an eye-witness and friend of Jesus writing, enhancing its authenticity.

Then there is the material in Paul written earliest (c. AD 48-66) and the other letters and Revelation, all in the first century, about the same time distance from Jesus as Nero.

Further, we have fragments of mss and many mss from much closer than the 9th-12th century compared to the one or two incomplete mss we have on the three sources for Nero. We can trace carefully through Textual Criticism what is likely the original text. While we can't finally get there, we are close to the original of each NT document.

The only real advantage one can argue for the records of Nero over Jesus is that the Romans were very much a literary culture took down substantial material, but much of the earlier material is lost to us. Still, the Christians demonstrated quickly that they too were a literary culture.
Putting it together, surely we have as much reason to trust the Gospels as we do for the historical records of Nero. Apologists can use this material as they contend against those who say that the Gospels and NT are unreliable. What do you think?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Abstain for the Game: Have Saachi and Saachi Found Jesus?

I thought it was far too religious an idea that people in NZ would choose to 'abstain for the game.' I thought for a minute that Saachi and Saachi and Telecom had been reading their Bibles and misread it, like Harold Camping who after doing his maths wrong and falsely predicting the end of the world in May 21, now knows the end of the world is about to happen on Oct 21.

After all, abstinence is a highly biblical idea. Whereas the surrounding nations were into anything except abstinence even getting it on to please their gods, the Jews were into abstinence big time. They basically said nothing goes, except when a man and a woman get hitched. Even then, for one week a month, things were all off. In a world where the Greeks and Romans had little time for abstinence, Christians followed the Jewish way, effectively endorsing that abstinence rules, except of course in a marriage between two heterosexual married adults when it is all on.

Despite speculation from people that Jesus was into it like the rest of humanity, all evidence suggests that Jesus was into abstinence. He was single and despite being the object of attention from any number of hot women, some who were prostitutes (e.g. Luke 7), he abstained for the game – the game being saving the world. He did have the advantage of living in a culture that liked to beat up those who didn't abstain from the game, but still, it was an impressive effort to manage to abstain. As a result he won, he saved the world – go Jesus! So, sometimes it works to abstain for the game. Mind you, that he hung out with people who clearly did not abstain for the game, shows that while he endorsed abstaining outside the game of marriage, he was no prude.

In Corinth at the time of Paul (mid first century), the Greek Christians had differing views on what was ok. Some of them thought that now that they were Christians, they could do what they liked with their bodies, so were joining their fellow country men and women and going for it with prostitutes at the local temple feasts, and after-dinner orgies. One of them didn't even abstain with his step-mum, not a good look even for the raunchy Corinthians. Paul was not impressed, he told them to kick him out unless he would abstain for the game. The Corinthians saw little value in abstinence because there was no value in doing so, or in the human body – and it felt good, so why not 'eat drink and be (with) Mary, for tomorrow we die.' Paul had to put them right with a Saachi and Saachi approach, 'abstain for the game' – the game being life and life eternal.

Then there were other Corinthians who took the opposite view. You read about them in the first part of 1 Cor 7. They thought that even though they had got hitched, they should abstain for the game. They likely thought that they should live the ascetic life like a Stoic, subduing the body; that abstaining for the game of life would make them more spiritual, religious, and impress their God – after all, he had abstained for the game.

Paul put them right – don't you dare abstain for the game, it just makes you more randy. That's the problem with getting too fired up over abstaining for the game. It can actually have the reverse effect by making life all about one thing, sex – you lose perspective. This is the problem with the abstinence ring movement. It sounds a good noble idea as young people pledge virginity. The problem is that it is abstracting sex as the thing that really matters and inadvertently locks a person's faith into this one decision. Why not an anti-materialism ring, or a anti-individualism ring, or an anti-violence ring, an anti-pride ring, an anti-drugs, alcohol, white collar crime ring? Christians are far too uptight about sex. Sure, they are meant to abstain for the game unless they have tied the knot, but they also need to relax and live. Sex is cool, God came up with the idea. He just wants us to get it into perspective, wait until we are married. Anyone who will let a book like the Song of Songs into his holy book can't be a prude! When we fail to abstain for the game as he would like, it is not the end of the world – as with all mistakes, he will forgive.

By the way, kiwis are into abstain for the game. Everyone who has had an affair and been caught knows that the should have abstained for the game. It really messes up lives when we don't. That's the point of God's way, it actually makes the world tick if done right. Still, if you fail to there is life after failing to abstain for the game. Jesus himself came from a line of people who had messed up like Judah who had it off with his HERE and David who had an affair with Bathsheba and then knocked her husband off. There is hope even if you mess up.

Back to 1 Cor 7. There Paul does endorse a right time to 'abstain for the game.' It was definitely not when the ancient Corinthian Games were on – their kind of RWC. Yes, every four years in Corinth (and other places like Olympia and later Rome), there was a huge athletics festival. Greeks came from all over the Empire and raced, threw, rode, and more naked for huge crowds – not a pretty thought for the sprints! There were also dramas, poetry, music and other elements to the festival. Now let me tell you that at these festivals, as at the modern Olympic Games, the athletes did not abstain for the game!  The place was heaving and the pimps and hookers made a mint. It was a time of good old Greco-Roman debauchery. The wine-makers and everyone got loaded. Bacchus and Dionysus were the man.

What Paul did say was that the Corinthian Christians should abstain for prayer and fasting, and only when the marriage partners mutually agreed, and only for a short time – sounds like he had in mind that for a day or two, they would get into some serious prayer and stop eating and drinking, and devote themselves to praying. Aside from that, married couples should not hold back. Paul says that a wife's body belongs to her husband, and a husband's body belongs to his wife. The first part of that is standard; everyone in the ancient world knew that a wife's body belonged to her husband. She was a possession to be discarded if need be. She was effectively his servant and lived to please him. If Paul had stopped with the first half of the saying, the world would have nodded – you are onto it. By saying the opposite that a husband's body belongs to his wife, Paul would have blown their ancient minds – mutual ownership was totally counter-cultural. The point of course is that when married we kind of 'own' each other, which really means we live to serve each other like Christ served the world – sexually I suppose it means we can get it on, explore, have fun with each other. We don't have to abstain for the game, at least, not if we are married.

So, I feel for Saachi and Saachi. Perhaps they, like the Corinthians, have found Jesus. Perhaps they think that the path to spirituality and releasing the power of God is to be found in abstinence. Such thoughts have a rich tradition. Of course, they misunderstand Jesus if they do, like most people in NZ's culture these days. Paul would have put them right. They shouldn't abstain for the game because it avails nothing, it just makes you hornier and want it more.

I feel also for Telecom because they not only found Jesus it seems, but they have backslidden! Just when it looked like they were finding salvation, they pulled the ad campaign. Of course when they or Saachi and Saachi read what Jesus said about money, they, like the Rich Ruler, would have walked away anyway. They would have realised that they are camels and that a needles eye is very very small. Mind you, it is possible to get a camel through a needles eye, but it takes an extraordinary effort to blend the camel to the point that it can be squeezed through!

Then again, perhaps if they had both read 1 Cor 7 they could have changed it to 'abstain to pray for the game.' Now that makes sense. Husbands and wives and lovers could have abstained for the next two months and spent their time on their knees to pray for the game. They could pray for the whole game, the world of course! But I suggest, they should pray for the game that matters to us Kiwis more than any other, the RWC. After all, it is 24 years since we first and last won the RWC. The RWC of course is ours by right. We all know it. The Jews knew that they were Godzone and that they should rule the world. We know it too; we are Godzone as the National Anthem proves, as does this ad campaign – the RWC is ours! So, let's get religious and pray for what really matters, that we win the game! We could abstain and fast and pray and the AB's will win!

Of course the problem with this is that it assumes God cares who wins. Does he?

Monday, August 15, 2011

The New Generation Looking For A Movement

I am intrigued by the movements we are seeing all over the world. For a number of years now we have seen the Green Movement reflected in Green political parties, concern over climate change, reactions against globalization, love of whales, and socialism. Then there is the movement of extreme Islamic terrorism which is now on the wane after its zenith in the early 2000's with 9/11, the London and Bali bombings and other terrorist attacks. There are also the clashes seen at IMF and G8 Summits with people railing against globalization. More recently we have had the Middle Eastern revolutions as people across the Middle East are rising up to overthrow dictatorships. Some have succeeded as in Egypt, but in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, they go on. Now there are the London riots, with a totally out of proportion response to the killing of Mark Duggan and London and other British cities the scene of mob-violence and destruction. Everywhere we look people are looking for a movement, what is going on?

I get the sense that all over the world there is a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the world and its systems. In some parts of the world the target is dictatorships which are obviously corrupt and power is held at the end of a sword – hence the Middle Eastern revolutions. In western countries the 'enemy' is more subtle found in the structures of western society.  The rise of western dominance has been built on centuries of incessant growth. This growth came from a combination of intellectual 'superiority' seen in industrialisation and new technologies, the plundering of other nations for their wealth, the comparative weakness of other economies, the growth of the 'new nations' like the US, Australia and NZ. Things have changed. The west is now in decline with the European culture dying on its own low birth rate. It now relies on immigration but this is proving difficult culturally as immigrants bring different cultures and values into European culture. No longer do Europeans have an intellectual, technological and industrial advantage, and if they do, it is on the decline. Our egalitarianism which is a great and commendable value, is now becoming a disadvantage when competing against nations that can constantly outdo us in terms of the low cost of labour, they being unhampered by labour laws. At the same time the great western work ethic is now failing as new generations grow up with a dependency and entitlement mindset, and simply won't put in the hard yards that prosperity is built on. The west is now going to the emerging nations China and India for labour and to prop up their economies, and these nations are growing in strength. The net result is that the west is now weakening and fast. They are borrowing like crazy to prop up the lifestyle to which they feel entitled.

At the same time, the wealthy in the west who have control over the nations are doing all they can, working their legal, economic and political systems to retain their wealth. They employ people in the emerging nations and continue to produce. However, this is serving to empower the weaker nations and power is shifting from west to east. Within western nations, the greed of the rich seeking to hold on to their privileged lives is producing a growing disparity of rich and poor. The answer we are told is more production, so taxes can't be raised. Yet equally the great social welfare systems of the west are backfiring as multiple generations of welfare dependency has created a underbelly of western countries that has a dependency mentality. Left-leaning thinkers see this as propaganda of the right, whereas the right seem to think western nations are full of 'dole-bludgers.' So we have growing movements in the west screaming for lower taxes and encouragement to business. Others cry out for more tax, and even more welfare. The truth is that we are in a hole because there is not enough money around to keep the rich rich, and to maintain the welfare systems we have created. Our problem is that, due to our decline, and the rise of other nations with a fierce work ethic which puts westerners to shame, we are going to find it hard to stop the rot. For me the bubble has burst for the west.

Now having said all this, it is the quest for a movement that intrigues me and it strikes me that we Christians have an opportunity now we have not had for a while. This deepening dissatisfaction with the state of the world is an opening in which we can proclaim Christ. Christ came to inaugurate a movement, a new humanity, a new creation. He came to call people out of the ways of the world that get us into this sort of mess into the reign of God. It is a movement of restoration. It is the coming together of the people of the world to live the values of God, of love, of service, of grace, of mercy, of compassion, of sacrifice, of humility, to suffer to bring in a new world. It is the Kingdom of God. The gospel is about God and what he is doing. Jesus came to restore every part of God's world. When we become a Christian we are not merely plucked out of the horror of hell and redeemed from this fallen world to heaven – we are saved into a movement of reconciliation, of redemption, of restoration. We are called to join Christ and his people, and with his Spirit surging through our veins, to work for the transformation of God's world. This is the movement that we can now proclaim. It doesn't involve revolution, riots, bombing, violence and mob-anger. It involves an army of people committing to take up towels and crosses and serve. It is not so much interested in all the power play of the world, but living out the values of God in the world.

I think we have an unprecedented opportunity, to invite people into the movement of God. They are looking for a movement, a cause. They are dissatisfied in the extreme with the status quo. We can tell them the story of God and what he is up to. We can tell them of the vision of God for a world of love, freedom, joy, unity, creativity, hope, fun, work, play as we create using the resources of God, building human society in a world of love. We can speak of what has gone wrong, the corruption of human sin which has defiled it shattering the dream and causing the mess we find ourselves in. We can preach Jesus who came to restore, beginning with each human heart restored through the power of the cross and resurrection, and then with marriages, families, communities, cities, nations, even the world restored as people hear the call and join Christ in his movement to restore his world. We can preach that the Kingdom has come and that they are called to join a movement, not of revolt and violence, but of mercy, compassion, love, restoration and hope.

We must move beyond the vision of God as holy and angry judge who is preparing to smite each sinner and humanity. We must move beyond an individualistic anthropocentric gospel to a corporate cosmic Christ-centred Gospel, inviting people into the movement of God. This is what they are looking for, they just don't know it. Of course not all will respond and some will be antagonistic. We won't see this dream realised in this age. But that should not stop us.