Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Inside Word on SBW

There is a lot of speculation about the future of SBW (Sonny Bill Williams). Some are saying he is going back to league to the Sydney Roosters. There is a thought he will go for a year, play the league World Cup, and return for the 2015 RWC. Others are saying he will stay with NZ rugby with a few extras, like some time in Japan, boxing, etc. There is even speculation that he will go to Aussie Rules. He is playing so brilliantly that I was hoping that he would stay in rugby; well until yesterday—you will realise why below.

Well, I can put everyone out of their misery. I have just got back from a bus trip into Auckland where I happened to sit beside SBW’s, aunty’s, husband’s, employee’s, brother’s, father’s friend—he told me he has the inside word on SBW. Because of his closeness to SBW, I know it is true. Here is the goss.
Apparently, SBW has been courted by all of the above and more. However, aside from the other attractive offers above, some of which SBW too seriously, it has come down to three main possibilities.

First, Al Qaeda, knowing that he was a young Muslim, have courted him to give leadership to the organisation after most of their leadership have been wiped out in recent months. SBW is not into terrorism except on the rugby and league field, so turned down that option pretty quick.
The second approach has come from a source close to City of God leader, and NZ’s 100th most trusted man, Destiny Bishop Brian Tamaki. SBW is being courted to convert and give leadership to the movement; and of course to tithe. SBW was not interested apparently, because BT ranks above him on the list and we can’t have that.

The final possibility, and the one which I can be first to announce publically and with the authority given by the close source above (who, like any good journalist, I won’t name no matter what is thrown at me—except money), is that he is indeed converting and is being fast-tracked into Presbyterian Ministry! As a Presbyterian, I am understandably rapped! Now, by fast-tracked, I mean, that is not being expected to the usual degree in theology, or learn Hebrew and Greek etc.  However, it is likely he will be studying at Laidlaw College on the run. That’s great news for the College—so spread the word. The reason for the delay is that the actual church is yet to be confirmed; but I am sure it will be one of our biggest and churches, one with over 30 people with at least 5 under 60.
Last night I ran this by my wife Emma who has a rather prominent role in the Presbyterian Church. I chose a weak moment as she was just dropping off to sleep. In that moment, I took her by surprise and grabbed her suddenly and yelled, “is it true SBW is converting and becoming a Presbyterian Minister?” She jumped up shocked, flipped her lid, and cried out, “what, ah, what are you doing!? Shush! Who told you that? Go to sleep you idiot!” She turned over without a word. She denied everything this morning. This confirms it—the source is correct.

So, the inside word on SBW is that he is not going back to league or staying with rugby, but he will be leading a Presbyterian Church near you soon. Watch this space.

NZs Most Trusted 2012: Christian Marketing Campaign Needed

Also available on the Laidlaw College Blog.
Note: To be read with tongues firmly in cheek… I think?
So the annual Readers Digest poll is out and we now know who the most trusted Kiwis are. The poll of course was loaded, because my wife and mum weren’t listed on the voting papers, but still, it gives us some idea of how Kiwis view their world.

Richie McCaw wins the vote, up from 55 the year before. That makes sense, he won us the Rugby World Cup with a gammy leg—he is someone we can leave our wallets with! Can’t understand why Graham Henry only got 15th, he was robbed!
And second is Alison Holst, fine cook and food writer. She is someone’s mum, with a nice smile, and a great cook to boot—she must be trustworthy. Personally, I think she fed the judges and won them over.

Peter Leitch, aka, the Mad Butcher is third, followed by John Kirwan (JK), both who have given great service to the community, and they into sport too! JK was an All Black, he should have won! Actually, jokes aside, both these people have made great contributions to the nation and it is great to see them honoured. JK is also someone we can trust to turn the Blues around, I hope the selection panel read these results.
Willie Apiata comes in fifth, which is great, because if we get into a war, which is highly likely with our trustworthy armed forces (below), we can call on Willie. Peter Snell comes in 6th—an athlete from the 1960’s, he must be trustworthy. That’s why Colin Meads is 10th, Valerie Vili is 12th,  Dan Carter is 15th, John Walker 18th, and Richard Hadlee 19th. They are good at sport, so obviously we can trust them aye. Then comes Kevin Milne, Fair Go advocate, he exposes falsehood on TV so he is for real. Then comes Sarah Ulmer, must be the gold medals or the smile—like Hayley Westenra (20th).  

Joking aside, the whole thing is intriguing. It seems if one is on TV, has a clean sheet in public, and is a great athlete or personality, one can be trusted. Actually, the whole thing is nonsense—these people are images on screens, talented people for sure, with nice trustworthy faces or, as far as we know, good character, but the most trusted—reheally? Or is it just me? Or am I just jealous?
That said; we Christians can take note. First, aside from quite a few individuals that are known to be Christian and scattered across the list, there are no church leaders. Ah, yes, there is one. Good old “City of God” founder, Brian Tamaki (BT), who is back on the list at 100. That can be seen two ways. Woohoo, he made the list! I didn’t after all, so good on you BT. Or, dang, he only got 100th! I think the latter is more likely.
After all, he was even outranked by politicians. Who would be a politician? Mayors do ok with Bob Parker of Christchurch at 47 and Tony Kokshoorn of Grey District at 72, although Len Brown only gets 88. He should be miffed, he has just been nominated for international mayor of the year! As another very trustworthy athlete John McEnroe would say, “you can’t be serious!”

Helen Clark does alright at 52, but she is at the UN now, so she is now honest. Parliamentary politicians are not highly rated as seen by the ratings of Lockwood Smith (76),  Russel Norman (80), David Shearer (83), Pita Sharples (91), Gerry Brownlee (93), Tania Turia (94), Winston Peters (96), and Hone Hariwira (99). Even “honest” John Key is only 70th—must be the asset sales. BT was even outranked by the recently convicted Doug Graham and Data Dotcom! Still, Brian beat out the rest of us ministers and theologians, so good on him. So did Hone, Doug and Data too… mmmm.

More seriously though, where are the trusted religious figures who speak well into society? They are a lost breed.

The second thing to note for us Christian ministers is our place on the list of most trusted professions. We scored a brilliant 28th, understandably behind fire-fighters, paramedics, rescue volunteers, nurses, pilots, doctors, pharmacists, vets, the police and teachers.  Not sure how we were beaten by the armed forces (we should get guns), scientists (says something doesn’t it), dentists (at that price?), chefs (haven’t they seen Hell’s Kitchen?), builders (leaky homes?), bankers (in the current economic climate?) and lawyers (haven’t they seen the movie Liar Liar?)! Thankfully we beat out financial planners (just), sex workers (phew), and salespeople of various sorts (again, phew).
Clearly though, we have a perception problem. Perhaps we should employ someone to rebrand us? Now that’s an idea. Or perhaps we should go out and do works of grace, justice, mercy and compassion? No, that is a silly old fashioned idea which we have tried—we need a marketing campaign.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Queen Street Boozing and the Book of Romans

All the news reports are saying that Queen Street is chaos in the early hours of the morning, particularly Saturday and Sunday. Young people are everywhere; drunk, drugged, fighting, being lewd, vomiting, urinating and worse. Things are more than a little out of control. The trouble is amplified by a kind of mob mentality. The other night, TV 3 also ran a program on 13 year old prostitutes in South Auckland. Clearly, Auckland is a city whose young people are increasingly unrestrained and something must be done.

It is interesting to ponder this from the point of view of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In my view, Romans helps explains the problem and proposes a solution.
First, Romans explains why this sort of thing is happening. Romans 1:18-32 speaks of the problem of idolatry, sin and debauchery of the Gentile world which Paul observes across the Roman world. The essential problem is not drunkenness, but idolatry—rejection of the one true God. This seems to be NZ’s essential problem too. Paul states that the world should know that there is a God from observation and experience of creation and should worship God and live well; but rather, the world chooses to worship the created rather than the creator. They prefer sin to God. As such, Paul says four times that ‘God gave them over’ to further sin. That is, sin begets sin. As people reject God, the relationship with God is severed and humanity falls deeper and deeper into depravity. God’s restraint comes off the idolaters as they slip out of relationship with him, and a wide range of sins increase, including the sorts of things we increasingly see among NZ’s youth—sexual immorality, drunkenness, debauchery and violence as listed in Romans 1:24-32. What we are seeing then is yet another playing out of Romans 1. As New Zealanders reject God, there is an expansion and acceleration of sin as ‘God gives them over,’ and it is getting worse. They are without restraint and egg each other on. This is the pattern we are watching played out on NZ TV.

So what’s the solution? Romans proposes at least four solutions.
First, there is the gospel and its proclamation, which is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. It is when people hear the message of the gospel and yield to Jesus that the pattern of ‘God gave them over’ is broken as God ‘saves them.’ They are then ‘in Christ,’ the Spirit enters their life, and the power of sin is broken over them, and they are empowered to break free sin’s grip and are transformed. They leave behind their lives enslaved to such sin, and are set free. This happened to me when I was 24, for which I remain truly thankful quarter of a century later. The Christian imperative is to go and share the gospel among the lost youth of NZ calling them to turn from these lives of sin which end in destruction and death, to receive Christ’s Spirit, and find the power to live a new life. This has been done before by organisations like the Salvation Army, and so the church must ‘go’ to these contexts and share Christ. This is not standing on street corners yelling at them, this is incarnating among them, befriend them, and loving them into the Kingdom. This is people giving up their early mornings to go among them to be Christ to them meeting them in their need—a radical and challenging ministry. Who will go?

Secondly, there is the church. In Romans 12, Paul speaks of Christians modelling a different way of living, in communities which attract through the power of love, goodness—churches that reflect the gospel. We need strong youth leadership and youth groups in which these lost souls can find God’s way of living, form meaningful relationships, find healing, and realise how much fun they can have without living like this. There is nothing more important than strong children’s and youth ministries. These must not be isolated from the church in youth enclaves, but integrated with the older and wiser, who can mentor the young. Authentic communities are needed for these young people.
Thirdly, there is the government. In Romans 13, Paul speaks of the role of the state. When society itself is failing and the gospel is not penetrating, it is the government who steps up as God’s ministers to intervene for societies good. With the forces of chaos taking control, now is the time for local government, the police, etc, to intervene firmly. While they must act compassionately, they need to act strongly to break this up. I am not sure the specific answers, but it would seem a strong police presence enforcing bans on public drinking, breaking up the mobs and coming down on this behaviour is timely. I really encourage Len Brown and his team to be bold and strong. It is time for ‘tough love’ to break up what is going on. And as said above, Christians need to be in amongst them, showing Christ, leading in 12-step programs, inviting people to Christ and community to find what real life really looks like.

The final solution is always prayer—we need to be interceding for our city, for the police, for the youth involved, and especially for churches in the vicinity of the central city. We are praying for a revival of the gospel and churches that gives spiritual homes for these lost young people. Each person involved is either the result of a tragic story like a broken home, or they have been swept up in this seduced by its seeming joy. When the centre of our city is being over-run in this way, it is time to cry out to God for his redemption (Rom 12:13).

Why I Dislike the Word “Religion”

Many Christians have long responded negatively to the word “religion” because Christianity is about relationship with God and should not be boiled down to a set of religious doctrines, institutional or liturgical practices. Reducing the Christian faith in this way has become problematic—no small part of the reason many westerners have rejected “religion.”

I have another reason that I struggle with the word “religion.” Generalizing terribly, the word has become a negative term which is used in the non-religious western discourse to categorise those who believe in the divine, and, in many cases, conveniently write them off.  To be religious means a person is one of those naïve people who still believes in a God or gods, those old “myths,”  who ignore science, and believe in, what is the equivalent of a mythical “flying spaghetti monster.”
For many, the religious are lumped together and directly or implicitly told to keep those “religious” views to themselves, within their gatherings—public discourse must be conducted without “religious language.” So strong is this that many Christians and organisations who engage in the public sphere play along with “the game,” fearing to use religious language, preferring to actively remove it from their communication to try to be influential. The problem is that as they play the game by “their rules,” they are selling out to the dominant ideology of the day and the gospel is lost in the noise. The world around usually sees through it anyway, and know where they are coming from.

What is religion? A religion has a view of life which includes an external cause (s) and in many cases, that this external cause (s) is behind the origins of the world and existence, has a prescribed view of how adherents (and sometimes others) should live depending on their view-point, and is considered when its followers make decisions. In actual fact, in each case, it is really just another philosophy which sees a bigger picture than the material. It differs from non-religious philosophy in that it has a different reference point. But in reality it is just a belief system, a world-view—and we all have one.
Non-religious philosophies are equally belief systems. They are also “religious” in that the worldview in mind is built on certain “faith” presuppositions. Without certitude that there is nothing divine and beyond except perhaps some aliens in this and possibly other universes, generally speaking, “they” have created a worldview that excludes the divine and any external influence (unless from within the material, e.g. aliens). Both “religious” and “non-religious” philosophies are simply philosophies, and have equal right to exist and be heard within public discourse. After all, no one can prove its hold on truth, there either is something out there, or there isn’t. Even among the “religious” of course there are massive differences in belief in what is out there, and the way they see the world varies greatly. Yet all have the same freedom to engage in discourse through their perspective.

As such, I suggest that the word “religion” as a label should be resisted by Christians. Perhaps we should say we are thinking people, we are philosophical, and then explain that this is what we believe and dialogue with others on that basis while at all times upholding the essential Christians principles of humility, love, respect, and the fruit of the Spirit toward all others (perhaps our failure in this is the real problem).
I suggest by using the word “religion,” it is a convenient way to demean philosophies that want to take into account that there is something out there. So, I wonder if it is time for those with a “religious” perspective to resist allowing themselves to be marginalised as “religious” as if their view is inferior. No atheist, agnostic, or secular philosophy has a mortgage on truth in the sense of proven truth. Mind you, neither do we, we have to join the world of competing ideas and we will win some, and lose some. We must allow others with different philosophical viewpoints, “religious” or otherwise, to speak out of their perspective as well—discourse should be free.

I suppose though there must be some agreement concerning “rules of engagement.” Perhaps simply “freedom of speech” is enough.
Religions and philosophies alike are belief systems, worldviews, they are not neutral. The current western dominant ideology has no more right to silence and marginalise those that are “religious” as the “religious” have a divine right to silent alternative viewpoints. The dominant ideology has become deified and allowed to dominate discourse, an ideology which is held by the power holders and imposed through law, media, schools, university, etc. on all including those who are “religious” pushing them to the margins. It seems an attempt to drive the naïve and religious into the sea, so to speak.

As such, I say we “fight back” (non-violence of course) and gently resist the word “religion.” When we hear the word used, we resist it, and turn the conversation back to a discussion of different philosophies, worldviews and ideologies. The “Christian” philosophy (s) or worldview (s) is at the least equally tenable, defendable, possible, and plausible, and has equal right to exist and speak into the public arena as the dominant ideology in our world.

So, while I am an avowed passionate Christian, I am not religious. I hold a worldview, a philosophy, an ideology, that says all of life is tied up in the Divine, and the Divine has shown us how to live. That Divine is Jesus. His life, words, teaching, death, resurrection shape the way I see the world and when I enter discourse I will not apologise or try and speak without recourse to explicit “religious” language; why should I? As such, when I enter the public realm, I will bring this faith into conversation with other world-views. I will not dominate. I will seek to persuade but not coerce, and will allow the majority to decide how life is played out. In my own life, I will live by my conscience. I will not be ridiculed and discriminated against for being naïve because I am religious; I have the right to my view, I will speak out of it, and will not be side-lined.

A non-religious philosophy becomes equally “religious” and “imperial” when it is a belief system that orders reality and it becomes tyrannical, silencing and marginalising others it doesn’t like. I believe we can challenge this tyranny by refusing to be marginalised and silent. Similarly, I do not expect the “non-religious” to hold back and be silent. While upholding the dignity of all humanity, let’s engage in discourse and not silence each other.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Queen’s Birthday Awards—A Query

A piece also found on the Laidlaw College Blog , http://www.laidlaw.ac.nz/_blog/Our_Blog.

Congratulations to all the Kiwis who received a Queen’s Birthday and Diamond Jubilee honour. In Romans 13:3, in the passage on the role of the State, urges the Romans to ‘do what is right and you will be praised.’ So it is great for a nation to honour its people for services rendered.
I have a query about this list though. It is this—where are the people who have served within the world of the church? Or more broadly, where are the people who have served in the world of religion?

As I peruse both the Queen’s Birthday and New Year’s lists for 2012, I see only one person who is honoured for services to religion—Mrs Millie Amiria Te Kaawa, who received an award ‘For services to Maori and the Presbyterian Church.’ Emma and I know Millie and she is a deserving recipient, a true leader at the Ohope Synod with a great deal of mana.
In recent times I remember that Lloyd Gering was honoured—the Presbyterian Minister who denied the resurrection and sparked a huge controversy in the Presbyterian Church. While not much was said publically, this decision was rather controversial with many evangelicals rather disturbed, while others were delighted.

As I cast my eye over the lists I see mentioned a great number of those who have served in government, the civil service, the arts, film and TV, music, fashion, Māori, ‘the community’, business, sport (lots of sport), literature, international relations, law, science, theatre, tourism, industry, education, health, philanthropy, research, conservation, food, wine, rescue and protection (police, military etc.), the Chinese community, Scouting, aviation, etc.

Where are the people who serve in the sphere of the church and religion?

Census figures tell us that over half of New Zealanders are religious, mostly Christian. Up to 20% attend church on a regular basis. Yet, there is virtually no representation in such awards. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not taking away from anyone who has an award, God bless them, we rejoice for and with them. The question for me is, why the lack of people who serve faithfully for the greater part of their lives in building community in NZ’s churches and religious groups, who serve faithfully in their broader communities and pass on the values of compassion and justice that our nation is founded on? After all, while we are guilty of many failings as people of faith, much good is also done in and through our religious groups and people. Is it because we don’t put people up for the awards or a false humility on our part? Or is it another example of the marginalisation of the church and religion in NZ? I wonder.