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These Infinite Spaces

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread (Pascal)

Updated: 2014-02-03T12:22:22.790+11:00


Music Review - Atonement (Emu Music)


This is, by my count, the twelfth album Emu have released. It is a remarkable effort, especially given the dramatic changes inflicted on the music industry in the last ten years. That's over 100 congregational songs published, and you would have to have a hard heart not to find at least a few to your liking. As you would expect with such a large catalogue, their songs have ranged from the insipid to the inspiring. How does the latest offering stack up?

I bought my album from iTunes for $16.95, though that meant I missed out on sleeve notes and track information. Regarding production values, the artwork is good, and the music is produced to a strong standard, though with a slightly generic CCM flavour. The vocals are a bit of a mixed bag, with some tracks really not up to scratch. There may have to be some hard conversations before the next album is released.

But ultimately, the songs on this album are for singing, not just listening to. The theme is in the title - this is an album about the Atonement, Christ's work on the Cross to bring us peace with God. As you expect from Emu, the theology is top shelf - rich and deep. They have not sacrificed craftsmanship either, and the metre and rhymes are very good. Some of the melodies are also very good - "Each Day I Live" and "Grace Awaiting Me" caught my ear. iTunes agrees, and also tells me that "Calling all Sinners" will be popular.

But there were some weaker melodies on the album too, and this is an area of the craft they need to keep looking at. These days, Emu are competing with high profile Christian artists who are coming out with some killer tunes.

And this, really, is the great challenge for them. As I mentioned above, the whole music industry has undergone radical change in the last 10 years, and CCM has not been exempt. Really high quality congregational songs are now available for free on sites like Bandcamp and Worship Together. Anyone can go to YouTube and listen to the latest Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman hit, and then look up the chords. And a lot of Emu's traditional customers are doing just that, too. In such an environment, some people will find it hard to justify $24.95 for a physical CD.

Which is a shame, as there are some very good songs in this little collection and they deserve a wide audience. The challenge for Emu is balancing breadth of influence with their particular commercial realities.




(image) (image)

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary - Sex


A good read(image)

Why some things just aren’t funny


I was pretty shocked a few months ago, when I went to a performance of Antony Jay’s and Jonathan Lynn’s stage play Yes Prime Minister. I loved the wittiness of the original series, the caricatures of politicians, the comic timing and the fact that in a program that aired at 6.30pm at night, you could be assured that the humour was fairly PG. While Jays and Lynn’s wit was still there, the European view of what people find funny appears to have shifted significantly from what is acceptable here in Australia.I think most things one can have a good laugh about – illness, loves lost, social awkwardness, death, even dementia. Black humour, when things can’t get much worse has allowed people to come through some pretty awful situations – I’m sure there was plenty of joking going on in the trenches and even in prisoner of war camps.I certainly don’t share people’s idea that church institutions should be spared from ridicule. I don’t think comedy programs set in church contexts are usually mocking God or even true religion, but they can poke fun at our flawed expression of it, our funny institutions and sometimes quite illogical and puffed up attitudes towards outsiders. The Barchester Chronicles and Rev are good examples of each type of ‘camp’ in my denomination, the Anglican Church have points that can easily be criticised in a humorous way. One thing I think that is never funny is the prospect of using children for sex. And that is what the Yes Prime Minister stage play was using as its awful scenario. Some eastern bloc politician, at Chequers for the weekend, would only sign the ‘deal’ that was required, if the underage daughter of the Prime Minister’s cook was procured for him for sex. The rest of the farce was based around whether to allow the request and how to procure the daughter if nothing else could be done. OK, it was trying to be a criticism of utilitarian ethics, but it was still in poor taste.The thing is, I don’t know why the scriptwriters even needed to go there. Had they completely run out of ideas? Surely some witty avenue could have been explored, without having to even put the idea in everyone’s head. It wasn’t what I remembered, and I really hadn’t prepared myself for an evening of smut. I went with a work colleague and her elderly parents. I’m pretty sure none of them was very impressed by the plotline. A few weeks after I saw this, one of the actors of which I was the most fond of as a child, from the ABC TV series Blinky Bill, was extradited from the UK to face child sex allegations on behalf the child actors that he used to work with. This made me feel ill. After this came the BBC Jimmy Savile scandal, a man who was given access to hundreds of children in British hospitals and at the BBC, not to mention the unfolding scandal in the Catholic church in Australia.It saddens me that the utilitarian quandary in the play was even considered a quandary in the first place. It would have boded much better for a modern Britain if Mr Hacker had charged the pervert up for attempting to procure a minor the first moment it was suggested. I would have found it much less uneasy. And everyone who turned up at the play with some prior childhood sexual abuse trauma, wouldn’t have had it unnecessarily triggered during what was supposed to be an enjoyable evening at the theatre. I still find it disturbing that even in light of all the awful abuse that has come to light recently, we still think it acceptable to indulge a taste in more than slightly dodgy humour of this type.PS. It appears that a new season of Yes Prime Minister has been commissioned for the BBC, but it seems in the light of the Jimmy Savile scandal, the plotline with the underage prostitution issue has been removed. The Daily Star quoted Lynn as stating: ‘The Jimmy Savile thing has made the whole subject so unpleasant, we decided to change all that’.The potential sexual exploitation plotline was always unpleasant and much more than u[...]

Starship Troopers


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Reading "Old Man's War" last week prompted me to immediately revist Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers". Written in 1959, this book is considered by many to be the seminal work of military science fiction, and it usually ranks highly in "greatest sci-fi" lists. It won the Hugo in 1960.

Starship Troopers is set in a future where humanity ("The Terran Federation") has colonised the galaxy, but is at war with two alien species, known as the "Bugs" and the "Skinnies". It follows Johnnie Rico, a young man who joins the Mobile Infantry, an elite military combat service equipped with powered armour. We follow Johnnie's story from boot camp, through several combat missions, and finally into Officers school and leading his own platoon. Johnnie is a very sympathetic character, and his adventures are fascinating. A page-turner.

Interspersed with the action are long slabs of intriguing monologue, where Heinlein expounds his views on politics, history and military science. His most radical proposal is that only those who have done military service should be entitled to vote. The book has been accussed of promoting a kind of militaristic, fascist utopia, though in real life Heinlein was a liberal (with increasingly conservative views as he grew older).

In 1997 a movie version of the book was released. The director, Paul Verhoeven, was actually appalled by the book, and turned his film into an anti-fascist satire, albeit one featuring pop-corn space opera. It bears only a superficial resemblance to the book, but it's still one of my favourite films. And, of course, I immediately fell in love with Dina Meyer.

Overall, this is a fascinating and influential book, and I've read and re-read it many times, and I've no doubt I'll be returning to it again before too many years have passed.


Richard Johnson, Arthur Phillip, & Moral Subjects


One of the most famous stories about Richard Johnson tells that future Governor Arthur Phillip, after hearing him preach, asked him to "begin with moral subjects" in his preaching, as opposed to doctrine and gospel. In this short piece, I want to share the sources and context of this famous incident. The First Fleet began assembling in Portsmouth in early 1787, and departed on May 13th of that year. Johnson's movements during this period are not precisely known. He was married in December 1786, and spent some time with friends in Lymington, and we might also presume he visited family in Yorkshire. He also spent some time visiting the Bishop of London, the Archbishop, the SPCK (Society for the Propogation of Chrisitan Knowledge) and SPG (Society for the Propogation of the Gospel), as well as gathering his own supplies for the trip. Records suggest that he had joined the fleet at Portsmouth by early April. His practice then, and whenever the ships were in port during the voyage, was to preach on two different ships every Sunday, and so work his way through the fleet. Arthur Phillip most likely heard Johnson first preach aboard the HMS Sirius, the flag ship. It seems most likely that Johnson would conduct the service from the quarterdeck, though I haven't been able to find anything to confirm that yet. Sadly, we have no records of Johnson's sermon - we don't even know what he preached on. Yet something in his sermon triggered Phillip to make his famous comment, that Johnson should "begin with moral subjects" in his preaching, as opposed to "dry doctrine". It should be noted that this caused Johnson some anxiety! Let's dig a little deeper. Although this little comment is often quoted, no-one ever gives the primary source. That's because it's rather rare and difficult to find - Bonwick's 1898 book "Australia's First Preacher". I have a copy before me now that I picked up for $150 in an antique book store. Worth every penny! It turns out that we learn of the encounter not through the pen of Phillip or Johnson, but rather through two letters from John Newton - yes, the fellow who wrote Amazing Grace. He was a close friend of Richard Johnson and had been instrumental in securing him the chaplaincy. Indeed, he was more than a friend, acting in the role of mentor and advisor. Bonwick records the two letters from Newton in his book - that is the only place they have survived. Johnson must have written to Newton about the matter just before the fleet departed. Newton penned this response on May 13th, 1787 - But however justly Captain Phillip may be disgusted with hypocrisy, I trust you will be able to fix in his mind a conviction that, however others may do, you are yourself an upright man; and this persuasion, as I have before hinted, will stand you in more stead than many arguments. I hope what has happened will not so confine you to moral subjects, as to tempt you to suppress the grand peculiarities of the gospel. I am conscious of a manner of preaching, which I hope the Lord will lead you into, that is a medium betweeen a dry detail of doctrines and a dry enforcement of moral duties. (Bonwick p.63-64) From Newton's wise counsel (and it *is* wise counsel - I wish we had a few more Newton's today!), we learn a few things. Phillip expressed his disgust at the hypocrisy of certain people, who were most likely religious figures, and maybe evangelicals. It also seems that Johnson got into an argument with Phillip over this matter. Finally, we see that Phillip criticised Johnson for preaching "dry doctrine", and encouraged him to preach morality instead. May 13th was the date the Fleet departed. It seems that Johnson must have received the letter and managed a reply, possibly from a port on the way. The long delays between letters meant that the conversation was still continuing over two years later, when Newton sent this letter on June 24th, 1789 - It would have [...]

Old Man's War


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"John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife's grave. Then he joined the army."

So begins "Old Man's War", a military science fiction novel that has made it onto "best of" lists next to "Starship Troopers" and "The Forever War". It's not as good as those books, but it is still pretty darn good. It follows the adventures of John Perry, a 75 year old man who joins the Colonial Defence Force to fight aliens. Lots of gadgets and guns, and all told with a Seinfeld-ian sense of humour.

Interestingly, the novel began life as a blog, was picked up by a major publisher and went on to be nominated for a Hugo. It's a tasty serving of light sci-fi toffee. Recommended.


Sydney's Evangelical Beginnings


Eternity have published a piece by me on the above topic. It's going to form a chapter in the upcoming book "The Promise of Sydney Anglicanism". Due soon, right Peter??(image)

Lamington Drive


My very talented friend Ben has just started up a web comic called "Lamington Drive". It's really good! This one made me chuckle...(image)

The First Christian Service in Australia


This Sunday is the 225th anniversary of the first Christian service in Australian, led by the Reverend Richard Johnson. A lot of churches will probably be talking about this on Sunday, so I thought I would put up the facts to facilitate the discussion. Yes, I should have done this earlier...The first Christian service in Australia took place on the 3rd February, 1788 at Sydney Cove. Our most detailed source of information about this event is from Capt. Watkin Tench, who wrote - On the Sunday after our landing divine service was performed under a great tree, by the Rev. Mr. Johnson, Chaplain of the Settlement, in the presence of the troops and convicts, whose behaviour on the occasion was equally regular and attentive. (source)Not very much, is it? But it's the most detailed account we have. He says the service was performed beneath a great tree by Johnson, and that most of the troop and convicts were present, and that they behaved themselves. To find out what text was preached on, we need to look at a published extract from a journal by the sailor Richard Williams - "Sunday, February 3rd - The first sermon was preached from the 116th Psalm, 12th verse, 'What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?" (source)Capt. James Campbell's Orderly book has the following instructions for soldiers on that day - The Church Drum to beat at 10 O'Clock tomorrow morning for prayers, the convicts are to assemble for Divine Service on the left of the Encampment and they are expected to appear as clean as circumstances will admit of...The Battalian to be under arms tomorrow morning at 10 O'Clock to attend Divine Service, the troop is to beat at the usual hour but the battlain is not assemble on parade until the Church Drums beat and no man to be absent on any account whatever. The Commanding Officer expects that the woman [women?] will be clean dressed and attend Divine Service at the same time.The guard to mount tomorrow morning at seven o'Clock in order that the old guards may have sufficient time to clean themseveles before Church time. (source)We have a couple of other sources, though they add little to our knowledge. Lt. Ralph Clark wrote - "Feb 1788... Sunday 3rd... 'had a very Good Sermon' " (source) Surgeon Bowes Smyth wrote - "Sunday 3d. This day Revd. Mr. Johnson preached on Shore for the first time" (source) src="" style="width:120px;height:240px;float:right;margin:13px" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">There is one additional primary sources that I haven't been able to eyeball. Johnson's register says - "February 3rd, first Divine Service". I still have to check that out at St Philips York St. Some quick questions and answers. Where was the tree? Wood plausibly argues it was "at the corner of Barton St [Alfred St] and George St". (source) What was it? Probably a gum tree! How many people were present? The female convicts were not yet disembarked, so if we take soldiers, convicts and officers, we get a figure upwards of 700. Oh, and we know that the weather for the day was cloudy, with an easterly breeze. Temperature 73, Barometer 29.90. (source)That's it - happy anniversary![...]

Lord Fouls Bane


src="" style="width:120px;height:240px;float:right;padding:13px" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0"> A friend recently encouraged me to revisit The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever by Stephen Donaldson. I read these when I was a teenager, and I was intrigued to revist the first book, Lord Foul's Bane, after this 25 year gap. Many people hate this book, but it is loved by even more. After a few pages I found myself once again under it's spell, and finished it in a few days.

Now, I admit that it's faults are many. The occasional run of really clunky prose keeps reminding you that this is the author's first novel. There's also a bit of stuff that is clearly derivative of Tolkien (the Woodhelvennin are like the elves, the Stonedowners are like dwarves, the Giants and Forestals both bear more than a passing similarity to the Ents, the Ramen with their horses are like Rohan, etc). This all grates a bit at times.

For all that, there is much that is good. When Donaldson is a little less self-conscious, he can produce prose of startling clarity and beauty. The pace is slow, but this serves to create almost unendurable suspense, and gives the setting a vast and epic feel. The characterisations are also strong, none more so than Covenant himself, the leper-rapist-pessimist on whom the future of the world depends. I can't decide who is the greater Fantasy anti-hero, Covenant or Elric.


The Australian Clerical Index 1788-1961


(image) Over 40 years ago, Dr Kenneth Cable began an index of Sydney clergy, covering the period 1788 to 1890. He was soon joined in his endeavour by his wife, Leonie, and his old friend, Rev. Neil Pollard. The scope of the project increased too, until it covered *all* Australian clergy between 1788 and 1961. The final index covers more than 6,500 clergymen and runs to nearly 3,000 pages. It was never formally published, possibly because of it's mammoth size.

However, to the delight of Australian church historians everywhere, the Index (formally known as the Cable Clerical Index) is now online!

Click here to download the Cable Clerical Index (15 MB).

This should be just the first step, of course. What we really need is an online query tool, such as the Clergy of the Church of England Database. I've already created a little program to help me query the Index on my own computer. If copyright issues can be sorted (if there are any), I can create a web-based query tool. My ever more scarce time will be a bottleneck, though. Any web programmers out there who would like to tackle this (gratis, naturally), please Facebook me. (image)



(image) A new British sitcom premiered on the ABC last week called Rev.. It follows the story of Adam Smallbone, an Anglican priest leading the disfunctional parish of St. Saviour's-in-the-Marshes, East London. Unlike the Vicar of Dibley, Rev. never plays for cheap, slapstick laughs. The writing is excellent and the humour intelligent (and hilarious - Mrs CS and I are both in stitches throughout). The characters are well-drawn, fallible and sympathetic, and ring just a little too true! A great series, and well worth checking out. (image)



(image) I've been working my way through the great documentaries over the last year or so. One the weekend I watched Hoop Dreams, which was as good as everyone says. Tonight I watched Koyaanisqatsi, but I have to say I was disappointed.


"Koyaanisqatsi" is a Hopi word meaning "Life without Balance", and the film consists of a montage of footage purporting to show the problems of modern life. There is no dialogue, but a very effective soundtrack. Some of the footage is exquisitely beautiful, especially the open nature shots. The director then moves on to footage of a modern mining operation, which I still found pretty compelling!

And so it goes on, showing a nuclear reactor, then a city, urban life, industry, traffic, and so on. I eventually grew bored and got out my iPad, only occasionally glancing at the screen. My attention returned at the end for a series of striking close-ups of ordinary people, and then slow motion footage of a rocket exploding and falling to earth.

For me, this may have worked as a 30 minute film, but it did not hold my attention for 90 minutes.


Bourgeois Babes & Historical Reconstruction pt 2


Having established that the reconstruction of historical context can be a very helpful thing in Biblical interpretation, we will look at Michael Bird's reconstruction, and explain why I didn't find it convincing. 1 Timothy is a letter from Paul to his protege, Timothy. From the letter itself we pick up a bit of the historical context. Paul and Timothy were in Ephesus together, and seemed to be contending with some fellows who were teaching "different doctrine" (modern theologians call it "the Ephesian heresy"). Now, Paul had to leave Ephesus to attend some business in Macedonia. He left Timothy in charge back at Ephesus, to carry on the fight against the bad doctrine. After Paul arrives in Ephesus, he decides to send back a few more final instructions, and that's the letter we call 1 Timothy. All well and good - what about our disputed passage? Paul says to Timonthy, "I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man". Bird sees the phrase "to teach or to have authority" as a synonymous couple, which would mean something like "exercising authority through teaching." Nothing really controversial there. He then suggests that the teaching referred to could be good or bad teaching. If it is bad, then the phrase would really mean "I do not permit a woman by [false] teaching to dominate a man." Bird believes that this is the correct option, and that women were caught up propogating the Ephesian heresy. In that case, of course, the prohibition would be local. He gives three reasons for taking this option - 1. There was a "new Roman woman" movement happening in the Empire at the time, which encouraged women into immodest and immoral behaviour 2. The heresy involved "asceticism, genealogies, myths and speculations about creation". Bird contends that this suggests "some women were trying to follow a pattern of life based on certain myths about Genesis" 3. The word for authority probably has negative connotations Bird is very honest at this point. He says, "let me emphasize that my conclusion here is based on my reconstruction of the heresy as it relates to the women in Ephesus and my understanding of the connotations of the words for 'teach' and 'authority' in 1 Timothy 2:12 a negative - both of which are contestable." I am not convinced by his reconstruction. As stated, he believes the Ephesian heresy is being propogated by women, but there is no direct evidence that this is so. In chapter 1 Timothy is to instruct "certain people" against the heresy, but there is no indication they are only women. Later in the chapter Paul actually names two people who have gone astray, but they are both men (Hymenaeus and Alexander). The link between the heresy and women is speculative at best. Bird also has no direct evidence that the "new Roman Woman" movement had an influence on the heresy. His own list of characteristics of the movement, "asceticism, genealogies, myths and speculations about creation" does not gel with his description of the new women's movement - "they aspired for the sexual freedoms of men, they threw off apparel symbolizing chastity and modesty". True, Paul encourages women to modest dress (v2:9), but there is no suggestion that this is a problem specific to the heresy. Bird's contention in point 2 was fascinating, so I eagerly followed the footnote. If there was external evidence of a specific heresy at this time, held to mostly by women, and involving genealogies, myths etc" - this would be strong evidence that the Ephesus heresy primarily did involve women. Alas - the footnote is in German! But from a little bit of research, it seems the commentator has deduced the heresy from the text of 2 Timothy rather than an external sour[...]

Bourgeois Babes & Historical Reconstruction pt 1


In my review of Michael Bird's book below, I noted that I did not find his historical reconstruction of 1 Timothy 2 convincing. Another Michael challenged me to give more specific reasons. It's a fair call. I've got some time tonight as Mrs CS is out with friends, so I'll put down some thoughts.

In terms of biblical interpretation, by "historical reconstruction" we mean the act of establishing the background events that inform a text. This can shed light on the text, and sometimes even change our understanding of it. As John Dickson mentions, it can also help us avoid cultural blindspots.

What are some examples of historical reconstruction helping us understand the Bible? Here are a few from my own experience.

1. Galatians 1 always used to puzzle me a bit as Paul seemed to be randomly talking about his travel itinerary. But then you add in the a bit of historical context - Paul's apostolic authority is being challenged by some folk in Galatia. Suddenly it all makes sense, as you see Paul is establishing his credentials are from God, rather than from man. Now, this bit of context is derived from the text itself rather than some other source, but it's still a good example of how historical background can bring meaning to a text.

2. On topic, we have the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul states that a woman should only pray or prophesy with a head covering on. He also states that it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut short! Most commentators, even conservative ones, believe the injunctions about head coverings and short hair were due to the contemporary culture, and need not be applied literally today.

3. A parable in Luke 19 begins "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return." I always thought this was a strange thing to say. Steeped in British history, I knew that you don't get made king by someone else - you either inherit the crown or take it by force. Then I read "The Jewish War" by Josephus, and discovered this exact thing had happened around the time of Jesus' birth, when Herod Archelaus travelled to Rome to have his authority confirmed by Caesar. Then the passage made perfect sense.

4. The famous parable of the Good Samaritan is even more powerful when you realise that the Samaritans were hereditary enemies of the Jews, and yet it is the Samaritan, rather than the Priest or Levite, who is moved with compassion for the half dead Jew.

5. Following on from point 4, it's only with background knowledge that you realise how subversive some of Jesus's stories are. Even the parable in point 3 is a bit subversive when you realise that Jesus identifies himself with the hated Herod Archelaus. The thing is, the first time I read through the gospels, I couldn't understand why everyone wanted to kill Jesus. Once you get a bit of the historical (and biblical) background to his teachings, it makes a lot more sense.

Anyway, this has gone on much longer than I intended. Better make it a two part post.


Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts


A couple of days ago, Zondervan published a trio of ebooks in a new series called "Fresh Perspectives on Women in Ministry". A rather ad-hoc but effective social media promotion followed, and quite a stir was caused in my little circle. Now, we are on a hiding to nothing whenever the "women issue" comes up in public, but sometimes we have to grasp the nettle. If you've no idea what I'm talking about, or this whole thing bores you to tears, you should probably stop reading now!Of the three books, I've decided to review Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts first because it's author, Michael Bird, is a thoroughly entertaining writer. Actually, you might have guessed that from the title! His style is witty, idiomatic and engaging, and I understand now why he is in some demand as a writer. Before going further, I should make a comment about the format. These books are short (tract length), cheap, electronic, and show solid but inexpensive design values. The Reformation was largely effected via short tracts, but they've been uneconomical to print and distribute for a long time. Perhaps these sorts of small ebooks are the modern equivalent - writers and publishers, take note. Anyway, on to the book itself. Bird's subtitle is "A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry". Given this, you will be surprised to learn that he believes in traditional gender roles in the home, and that only men should be senior pastors in the church. His proposal is that, under a male senior pastor, women should be able to do any ministry in the church, including preach to mixed congregations. As Bird points out, his position means that he is attacked by both sides! The book describes his own progression from a conservative position on these issues to his new, slightly less conservative, position. One thing that impressed him when reading the New Testament was the long list of female "fellow workers" that Paul commends in his letters. There is Phoebe, the deacon who carried his greatest letter to Rome; Chloe, the leader of a house church in Corinth; Priscilla, Euodia, and Syntyche, who Paul calls his "coworkers" in the gospel; Junia, the "female apostle"; and more beside. I'll admit that this long list gave me pause - it's clear that Paul recognised women as "gospel coworkers" in a way that we don't see from some modern commentators. Bird also interacts with the main biblical texts on this issue. To quickly summarise some detailed arguments, he concludes that 1 Corinthians 11 ("a woman ought to have authority over her own head") affirms the public ministry of women (praying and prophesying), so long as gender boundaries are respected. 1 Corinthians 14 ("women should be quiet") he sees as addressing a fairly specific local situation. I thought his explanation of these passages was pretty good, and not too disimilar to the conclusions of his conservative cousins. Unfortunately he spent little time explaining what it means to "prophesy", which is actually a rather important point. This brings us to 1 Timothy 2 ("I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man"), which is really the pivotal passage in this debate. After analysing the culture, the theological background and the text, Bird concludes that the real sense of this verse is "I don't permit a woman by false teaching to dominate a man." I must say that I found this explanation less convincing than other parts of the book. It depended upon a fairly specific reconstruction of the theological context, and seemed to require a fair bit of special pleading. The plain reading of the text still seems more likely to me. But overall I found t[...]

The Saddest Letter Ever


When I heard that there had been a gun massacre in America, I admit my first reaction was, "What, another one?" Then details began to filter in. It was at a school, an elementary school, and many of the victims were just 6 years old. That brought a jolt. To imagine someone shooting such young children - actually, for most of us, imagination won't even go there. And I felt for the parents, trying to imagine what it would have been like to lose any of my children at that age. Yet I don't think I'd really felt the absolute horror and evil of what happened. Then on Wednesday, just before going home, I happened to glance at the Herald and saw this, by now famous, letter. Grief pierced my soul. My eyes filled with tears, and I rushed to the bathroom to dry them, so no-one could see I was crying. I came back to my desk, but couldn't help reading it again, and once more my eyes welled up. The pain was indescribable. The media use the term "heartbreaking" all the time, but in this instance it was justified. There is a physical element to this sort of grief, with your chest constricting around a dull pain in your diaphragm. And your mind is reeling, trying to escape from what you've just seen, yet perception pounds away, insisting, "This is real. This is real. This is real." I'm not sure what was so affecting about the letter. Perhaps it was the words themselves, so simple yet poignant - Jack, You are my best friend. We had fun together. I will miss you. I will talk to you in my prayers. I love you Jack. Love, John Perhaps it's the handwriting itself, the sprawling, spidery printing of a six year old. It's the sort of handwriting that we've all seen, usually saying things like "the cat sat on the mat". Yet in this case it carries a message of inexpressible sorrow, and the juxtaposition is extrme and unbearable. For me, though, it is the photos that cut through to the heart, especially the one on the right-hand side. It shows Jack and John walking across a bridge, their shoulders pressed together, their clothes a little too big for them, their faces serious as they discuss the secret and important business of six year olds. It is heartwrenching to realise they will never walk together again, and that John will wake every morning and miss his best friend. I'll be honest and say I've cried out to God this last day. God, why would you let this happen? Are you too weak to stop this? Surely not! Do you not care about a child? I can't believe that either. Such questions make me think of Job. Remember the story of Job? A good man, always does the right thing, then bang - he suddenly loses all his kids, his health and his money too. Ends up sitting on a garbage heap, arguing with his self-righteous "friends". Finally Job rebukes God, asking why he's had to suffer. God responds to Job, and pretty sternly too. A lot of people say that God doesn't really answer Job's question, but I think the answer is plain enough. It is "Trust me. Even though things look terrible, trust me." I guess you either trust God with these terrible things or not, and that's the definition of faith. I'm looking at John's letter to Jack again. I've read this letter dozens of times now, and looked at the photos over and over. The sting is gone, yet an ache remains, the dying embers of a grief that will be forgoten soon. With the pain receding, I notice other things about the letter. Now it seems to me a strong letter, even a hopeful letter. Of course, there are those two terrible phrases, "We had fun together" and "I will miss you." There we have the awful finality of death, inescapable. But there are more ho[...]

The Late, Great Anglican Diocese of Sydney


In his book "How the Mighty Fall", Jim Collins identifies Five Stages of organisational decline - 1. Hubris born of success - "We made it!" The organisation is marked by arrogance, pride, believing your own press.2. Undisciplined pursuit of more - "We can do anything!" More growth, more acclaim, more success.3. Denial of Risk and Peril - "Don't listen to the doubters, everything is fine!" Warning signs are ignored, negative data is explained away, and critics are silenced.4. Grasping for Salvation - "Oh no, I didn't see that coming! Quick, we better do something!" A sudden decline causes panic. Everyone is now talking about the problem and offering up "quick fix" solutions.5. Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death - "Game over man, game over." The organisation spirals downward. Increasingly desperate attempts to survive chew through the remaining resources until the organisation is irrelevant or bankrupt.You can plot this all in a cool chart - Where is the Sydney Anglican Diocese on this chart? I've recently been reading again an article by Tony Payne called Why Aren't We Growing? This piece is now over a year old, but I'm increasingly convinced it's the most important thing that has been published about the diocese in the last 10 years. From this article, we can clearly deduce that the Sydney Diocese is in Stage 3 - Denial of Risk and Peril. Tony's article was based on a research report commissioned by the diocese. Read Tony's article for more of the story, but the research uncovered two explosive facts -1. Our current, modest growth can be explained by demographic factors which will soon start working against us. If these trends continue, it is a mathematical certainty that we will start to decline.2. We are seeing very, very few adult converts in our churches. Our numbers are sustained through an effective children's ministry, but this is also at threat due to declining birth rates and the distintegration of traditional families. The conclusions of this very comprehensive research seem beyond doubt to me. If nothing changes, the next generation will grow up in a church of sustained decline. What is being said about this? Very, very little. Aside from Tony's article, there have been few published references to this research, and even less that communicate the gravity of the situation. Alarm bells should be ringing, but they are not. We've recently been congratulating ourselves on all the good things that have happened in the just completed 10 year mission. No-one at all mentioned that we've made virtually no progress at increasing our relative size. No-one mentioned that we've seen very few adult converts. For all these reasons, I believe we are in Stage 3. Decline is imminent, yet we are living in denial. Talking to people on the inside, I get a "steady as she goes" vibe. I've heard it said that the leadership is rationalising why we don't need to take it all too seriously. Even Tony has not followed up with another article on this very important subject. These are all classic symptoms of imminent decline.There will be those who are unhappy with this article, and I understand that. Another Jim Collins book, "Good to Great", says that organisations need to start by confronting the "brutal facts". I'm sharing the brutal facts that, by God's grace, we can create a better future. [...]

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary


Mrs CS has asked me to post a little more often. We're both looking for a bit of a hook, and have decided to blog review some of the featured sites on the Beacon Ads "What's Hot" page. The first site we're reviewing is Jamie the Very Worst Missionary. According to Beacon, the site currently does about 30,000 hits/month, which is good traffic for a personal site.

The blog is written by Jamie Wright, a 36 year old wife and mother-of-three. After five years as missionaries in Costa Rica, her family has returned to the states, with her husband taking up an outreach director post at Lakeside Church in Folsom, California.

As you would guess from the title, the blog is a funny and self-deprecating look at the life of a missionary and pastor's wife. She shares the highs and lows (and there are probably more highs than lows, despite the title!) The posts are always funny, and quite often profound. One warning - she occasionally uses pretty crude language, which will put some of my readers off. If you can ignore that, I think you will enjoy this blog a lot.


What your Church can do to help Abused Women


1. Develop a statement on the treatment of women and children in your congregation, make it part of your membership or partnership course and place it on your website. Reiterate it to your Bible study leaders, parish counsellors, wardens and staff and ask them to sign a statement agreeing to it as a standard of behaviour.

2. Explicitly preach on domestic violence once a year – I’d suggest the Sunday closest to 25 November as an appropriate one. If you’ve missed it this year, try January or early February. Don’t rush the prep though – that isn’t the kind of sermon you can prepare adequately in a week.

3. Use women’s bible study groups as screening tool for domestic violence. Get women to talk about it among themselves. Domestic violence often escalates when women are pregnant and after they give birth. Daytime bible study groups and women’s fellowship groups are the perfect environment for this type of ‘male-free’ sharing. Encouraging real relationships where people actually know what is going on each other’s lives is really important.

4. If you are preaching on a submission passage - clearly state what the ‘impossible application’ of the passage actually is. Give concrete examples of what it does not mean. If you do this every single time you mention the ‘s’ word, the husband may think you’re a fool, but the wife may have confidence to talk to you or somebody else in your church in private someday.

5. Encourage healthy, normal discussion on theology and interaction between members of the opposite sex in your church. Don’t avoid talking to the wives in the congregation. Be approachable and don’t rely on the women’s worker to handle those sorts of issues. When a woman is looking for help in these situations, she needs a godly bloke, not a woman, to advocate for her. Never, ever send a married woman who is brave enough to ask a question that even verges on these topics, home to ‘ask their husbands about it’. This type of wife is likely to take very seriously the ‘husband as pastor’ and not seek out other opinions from their minister (that’s if she’s allowed to speak on her own to a member of the opposite sex at all). (image)

On Christian Marriage, Submission and Abuse


This week, for White Ribbon Day, my article "On Christian marriage, submission and abuse" has been put  up on the site of the Eternity Newspaper, which is associated with the Bible Society of Australia.

Please have a read of it, if you haven't already. How you respond to it may have implications for some of the most vulnerable women you know.

If you would like to leave a comment below, then please do so. If you are visiting from the link from the Bible Society site, then we'd love it if you felt comfortable enough to comment on the article. Be anonymous if you want.

I'm happy to hear dissent and discussion about the opinions within it, but the most frustrating and dangerous thing for abused women to hear is silence. Start talking. Please.


Where have all the White Ribbons gone?


White Ribbon Day started in Canada in 1991 in when a group of men, horrified by the massacre of several women on a polytechnic campus in 1989, decided that as blokes, it was time for them to take leadership on this issue and to put together a movement where guys were the ones who pushed for societal change on violence against women. November 25 is now International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Australia, the White Ribbon Foundation is partially funded by the federal government, and partly by corporate sponsorship and individual donations. In New South Wales, there are hundreds of White Ribbon Ambassadors, who are generally leaders in their communities, be it sportsmen, policemen, school principals, politicians or comedians. These guys give up a little of their time each year to give a talk to a school, go to a public event or run a session in their area of influence that engages with others, including women at risk and young men and boys over the issue. Only men are eligible to be White Ribbon Ambassadors, as the whole point of the movement is about blokes encouraging each other to be leaders. It encourages them to say to young guys that abusive patterns of behaviour are not acceptable and that everyone has a responsibility to look out for their sisters, mums, wives, girlfriends and female friends. This is a perfect opportunity for blokes in the church where guys are in many of the leadership positions and are the rectors, pastors, assistant ministers, MTS workers, youth group and bible study leaders and will be the Bishops, Archbishops and Moderators of tomorrow. Women who have suffered from this type of violence are much more likely to venture into a church and engage with those there if they hear explicit messages from those running it that it is a safe place for them. This is a really easy opportunity to love our neighbours.Whats the problem then? While I know a few ministers who have signed up to swear the White Ribbon Pledge, ministers of the gospel are significantly under-represented in the ambassadors’ category. The last update on the White Ribbon website  shows there are currently more footballers listed in NSW as ambassadors than there are protestant ministers. None of the listed ministers (there were only a couple) from my denomination were in my diocese or within 150 kilometres of where I live.You can find out more at or fill in the nomination form at or sent an email nominating yourself to I’d love it if Andrew O’Keefe, the chairman of the Foundation, was totally stunned by the number of Christian ministers who emailed this week, and asked to be Ambassadors. All sounds a bit scary and too hard? Well, next post from me, some ideas about how you can use the White Ribbon stuff and look after the women in your congregation and encourage those vulnerable women in your community that your church is a safe place for them.[...]

C.S. Lewis - Anniversary of his Death


Three days ago, it was the 49th anniversary of the death of C.S Lewis. I've recently been reading the first pubished volume of his letters, and he is much on my mind. Thinking about his death, I've decided to quote something from the final Screwtape Letter, which contains the thoughts of the "patient" after he is killed and encounters glory -

"Yes. Of course. It always was like this. All horrors have followed the same course, getting worse and worse and forcing you into a kind of bottle-neck till, at the very moment when you thought you must be crushed, behold! you were out of the narrows and all was suddenly well. The extraction hurt more and more and then the tooth was out. The dream became a nightmare and then you woke. You die and die and then you are beyond death. How could I ever have doubted it?"

Looking forward to the 50th anniversary - I'm sure it will be a big one...

Confessions of a Craft Circle Ring-in


I went to a CWA meeting once. It was dull.

I’d been taken by an elderly distant relative of mine while my father and I were visiting family in the country. We spent two hours shoving beads onto wire string and gossiping. It seemed a fairly pointless activity to me.

As a kid, in my house, if you weren’t working or at school, you were reading, doing school-work, house-work, watching television or exploring the creek. No one did craft.

However, the funny thing was, my mum was the craft and artwork stewardess for the local show. I spent a few days every summer holidays arranging patchwork quilts, hanging up tapestries and trying to figure out which category the cotton-wool penguin diorama was supposed to go in. I knew my cross stitch from my long stitch but I didn’t know how to do any of it.

Apparently, before children, mum was a half decent sewer and could crochet very well. I think we zapped all her creative energy. The only thing I got taught to do was sew buttons on shirts. My grandfather, in an attempt to civilise me, gave me a book on macramé and some string. By that time macramé was about 20 years out of fashion, but I had a go – I think I still have the same half-finished something or other lying around somewhere. My ambition was to make a handbag, but I never got as a far as a belt.

My incapability in the craft area was exposed a few years ago when I came to the fearful conclusion that craft and craft nights were a popular activity among my church friends. I kept being invited to them and because I wanted to talk to the people, I kept turning up. I never had any materials and kept having to borrow cardboard for cards off my friends, but they kept inviting me along. A few quite bodgy birthday cards that I inflicted on my father and some nice conversations were the result.

I’ve since discovered that girls who are into craft have whole cupboards or rooms full of different coloured papers, stamps and colouring pens. The amount of stuff you can buy is astonishing to me. It seems to be the acceptable Christian version of Imelda Marcos’ shoes.

Since I’ve changed churches the craft nights now serve as a catch up for old friends. I’ve been smuggling the same half-finished birthday card in my handbag the last few times and I think people have begun to notice. I feel like a fraud. However, I really enjoy the evenings.

Last time, when I announced I was just there for the conversation, my friend took pity on me and gave me a go on the loom she had just bought.  It was great!  Very therapeutic.  But unless my ambition is to produce only scarves, I don’t think I have a great future in woollen products. However, I’ll keep turning up to the craft circle with my mending, and hopefully get round to putting the button back on my pyjamas from whence it fell five years ago.

Anyone for a bookclub?