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Embracing Love

"If your understanding of God is radically false, then the more devout you are the worse it will be for you" - William Temple


What makes for human individual and corporate thriving is a fascinating question for me. What gives life and joy and inner peace for individuals and harmony in society?

Any religion that teaches people to serve others obviously has some benefits for society in contrast to narcissism and competitiveness. But it can be a problem for individuals IF the god behind it is harsh and demanding, if no matter how much you give and serve, it's never enough. That's an anxious and oppressive space to live in... you're better off psychologically being an atheist than believing in that kind of god.

The image of God that has been sitting with me powerfully lately is around that primal wave of love most (reasonably healthy) people feel when they hold their newborn child. To me this gives a profound insight into the theological claim "God IS love"…

On the Wrong Side of History

One of the sobering things about the study of history is to realise that ordinary, well-intentioned people have often cooperated with deeply inhumane practices.

There were well-intentioned people who were involved with, or who at least failed to oppose, the horrors of the slave trade.

There were well-intentioned people, both male and female, who opposed women’s suffrage and the rights of women to own property, to access bank loans, have equal pay for equal work and so on.

There were well-intentioned Germans who felt that handing Jews over to the Nazi authorities was for the good of society.

There were well-intentioned Australians who took “half-caste” indigenous children off their parents. Others who forcibly took children off single mothers for adoption.

There were well-intentioned people who supported apartheid in South Africa.

All of these actions, with the clarity of hindsight, involved cooperation with evil systems. Yet with that hindsight, they are exposed as profoundly immo…

Advent Reflection: The Ancient Relay

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus, John 8:12

The clearest revelation of the nature of God arrived in the most unexpected fashion. There was no writing in the sky nor blinding lights… God’s revelation came as a human baby. A living, breathing, flesh and blood human being, who experienced all the joy and difficulty and frailty of being human.

This baby grew up to be an unremarkable human in an obscure pocket of the Roman Empire. And yet… he was remarkable in another way. He touched lepers and healed the sick and spoke words of grace to broken-hearted people. He cooked fish on the shore for his hungry friends, he washed their stinking feet, he graciously endured (and corrected) their interminable whining. He was remarkable in claiming “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (God). Remarkable in confronting hypocrisy, in courage, in integrity. Remarkable in teaching of love, even for one’s enemies and pe…

My Deep Gladness

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Frederick Buechner

One of the deepest joys of my life is helping others discover their vocations… what has God put them on earth to be and to do? What has God uniquely wired them for? What interests and passions and gifts has God planted within them? Not only does this quest give me great joy, but it releases great joy in others.

It seems to me that living out one’s deepest call (or vocation) can release a deep sense of “rightness”. James and Evelyn Whitehead write that: “The delight of a vocation is rooted in a sense of its goodness and ‘fit’. I delight in the shape that my own life takes as I experience the way it fits my particular gifts and limits. It is not just the right thing for me to do with my life, it is good for me as well.” Terry Walling describes the mature Christian as involving “the coming together of ‘who’ God has shaped an individual to be, and a sense of ‘for this I …

Fire in my Belly

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive” (Eldredge)

One of the things that ignites a fire in my belly is the desire to see people step into their true vocations… to be authentically themselves, and to do the things they were put on earth to do. This feels to me like a win-win situation… the person living out their true vocation becomes alight with joy and purpose, and the world becomes blessed by their unique contribution. Whether that contribution is through the arts, science, business, education, community service, ministry, practical deeds, parenting, or through a million and one different ways… the world is a better place when people embrace and live out their God-given vocations.

Assisting others in the business of vocational discernment releases deep joy for me. Many writers reflecting on “true vocation” suggest clues are often found in our early dreams and yearnings…

Hiding in Paradise

The early chapters of Genesis have caused endless debate over the centuries… was Adam more a saint who fell (Augustine) or an innocent who was deceived (Ireneus)? Are the creation accounts allegorical (Origen) or literal (St Basil)? And so on… please note these are names of early church fathers! The current squabbles between Creation Scientists (literalists) and those who view the first chapters of Genesis more as stories rich in theology, demonstrate there’s nothing new under the sun.
But I shall bypass all of that, and leave those discussions to others more skilled in the dialogue between science and theology, the languages and norms of Ancient Near East literature, theological scholars, and so on. Because however else you interpret the creation accounts, they can ALSO be viewed as a universal psychological drama.
We are all born naked, and unashamed. Most of us were born to a functional enough mother who was close, nurturing, warm, and safe… a god-like figure of intimacy and love. We…

A Line in the Sand

The nature of God is probably the most important theological question of all. The New Testament comes up with a truly stunning answer to this most profound spiritual question: God is like Jesus. Jesus Christ claimed "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (God) (John 14:9).

Jesus best friend on earth ("the disciple Jesus loved") walked and talked and ate and drank and spoke with and listened to Jesus constantly for three years. When reflecting on what God expressed in Jesus Christ looks like, he wrote a simple and profound phrase: "God IS love". (I John 4:16)

God IS love. God is like the perfect parent. God is like the father in the prodigal passage, straining his eyes looking out for the longed-for homecoming of his son. God is the one who pours out abundant and amazing grace through Jesus Christ.

I have just read a most thought-provoking blog post from the wonderful Rachel Held-Evans. She is absolutely right about this: while Christians might diffe…

Mother's Day Reflection from Michael Grose

Out of the Heart, the Mouth Speaks (and the Pen Writes)

Assigning motives to other people is a dangerous game... and suggesting psychological diagnoses for people is an even more dangerous one. But it is game I like to play from time to time, when the responses of others strike me as inexplicable. Call it part of the human quest to make sense of the world. Or perhaps call it imaginative play. 

So let us imagine for a moment I am having a pastoral conversation with someone who said that "a man would be damaged and compromised by having a female boss"... just because she is female. I'd have warning bells ringing in my heart. I'd be tempted to start gently probing about this person's experience of women in authority during childhood. Did this man have an over-controlling or abusive mother? Were there toxic teachers or carers in his life? Transference involving unresolved childhood pain is so common that pastoral carers always need to be on the lookout for it. If signs appeared he actually had been at the receiving end of …

Women's Retreat.

Stereotypes and Grains of Truth?

I gather that in hunter-gatherer societies from diverse places around the globe, work frequently is "gendered". Men work together in groups to hunt, and may also fight against neighboring tribes to defend their patch. Women work together in groups to look after young children, to gather fruits, nuts, roots, bulbs etc. and (often) to prepare these items for eating. They often develop some separate cultural rituals for men and women.

I wonder whether some stereotypes about men might have some kind of genetic or cultural origin from hunter-gatherer societies? The stereotypes that men are good at navigation (traversing long distances) problem solving (creating weapons and tactics for the hunt and for war) aggressive (courage in a hunt would be an advantage) and less verbal than women (I imagine yabbering away might scare off your prey)... all of these might be helpful if your community role involved hunting and fighting.

I wonder whether some stereotypes about women may have som…

Slippery Slope Silliness

One of the most annoying things about online discussions is when "the slippery slope" is evoked to "prove" a point.

Slippery slopes often end up with the Nazis! Here is one recent example which circulated on the internet when gun control was discussed in the USA: "Any attempt to restrict access to semiautomatic weapons is a slippery slope toward a totalitarian government... the Nazi's began their reign of terror by taking guns off the populace!" (Indeed, democratic countries with the rule of law and a free press that have introduced tight gun controls in the past, like the UK and Australia, are now totalitarian states... NOT.)

When a "slippery slope" is evoked, nothing can be evaluated on its own merits: an imagined diabolical end point "proves" an idea is bad. Cory Bernardi's "gay marriage will lead to bestiality" comments were rather prominent on the news last year as an Australian parliamentarian was tripped up by…

Fixing English

The European Union commissioners have announced that agreement has been reached to adopt English as the preferred language for European communications, rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty’s Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five-year phased plan for what will be known as Euro-English (Euro for short). In the first year, ‘s’ will be used instead of the soft ‘c’. Sertainly, sivil servants will resieve this news with joy. Also, the hard ‘c’ will be replaced with ‘k.’ Not only will this klear up konfusion, but typewriters kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome ‘ph’ will be replaced by ‘f’. This will make words like ‘fotograf’ 20 per sent shorter. In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the …

Homosexuality and Law: A Range of Christian Views

I have been noticing a range of views by Christians in the cyber-world on the issue of legalising gay marriage. For the sake of simplicity, I thought I would condense these Christian views into 4 main categories:
1.  Homosexuality is such a vile sin that all homosexual acts should be illegal.
2.  Homosexuality is sinful. However, in a democratic society we legislate less around what is “immoral” and more around that which causes harm or loss to others. Consensual adult homosexual acts are wrong but should be legal: the police have more important things to do with their time than monitor sexual behaviour. However, we draw the line at “homosexual marriage”. Christian marriage is between a man and a woman, and the laws of the land should reflect this for the good of society.
3.  Christian marriage is between a man and a woman. God is the Author of marriage, which existed for millennia before nation-states existed. Legal recognition of a union by a nation-state does not make something a …

Spirit, Grace, Love

I have been thinking about the nature of theology. In deference to my last post, let me make clear this is with the posture of a learner rather than the posture of an expert!
“Hermeneutics 101” (biblical interpretation) tells us the bible is not “even” but “weighted”. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus keeps noting: “You have heard that it was said… but Isay to you”. The teaching of Jesus carries more weight than the law of Moses. When Jesus is asked about the greatest commandments, he notes (or affirms) that loving the Lord your God with your heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving your neighbour as yourself, are the most important commandments… indeed, everything else hangs on these. In Acts, the early church was faced with the issue of whether Gentile believers in Christ were to follow all of the laws of Moses. The church leaders in Jerusalem made the decision the life of the Spirit and faith was the most important thing… that they would simply provide a few guidelines to avoid ex…

Credible Voices

What do Mark Driscoll, Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, Jim Bakker, and Bishop Desmond Tutu have in common?

Answer... they are (or were) all high-profile Christian ministers, with completed (or part-completed) theological training.

My question of the day is... does having a high profile and a teaching platform mean that we should accept what these people teach?

My personal answer is... duh... no, not necessarily.

It is not profile per se, but expertise, that carries weight in my mind. There are probably a million or more pastors in the world with some theological training... their opinions need to be considered. There exists a much smaller number of biblical scholars, who devote much of their life to researching and publishing about the biblical languages, or the history, customs and languages of cultures in which the bible was written (and how this may influence our interpretation of texts), or textual criticism, or systematic theology, etc. etc. In complex and difficult questions of t…

Smacking and violence?

We live in a society where 1 in 3 women will experience violence at the hands of a partner at some point in their life. Nearly every week, a woman loses her life to a partner or ex-partner in Australia. Violence against women and children cost an estimated 13.6 billion dollars to the Australian economy in 2009. Intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to ill-health and death in women under 45 in Victoria.

Why are we experiencing such a truly horrible epidemic of violence?

No doubt the causes are complex, as such things normally are. Alcohol, drugs, sexism, mental illness, dysfunctional families of origin... I expect all these things are in the mix.

One of my suspicions (and the primary focus of this rant) is that hitting small children actually normalises violence for future perpetrators and future victims. Not everyone who has been smacked as a child becomes a perpetrator or victim of violence. However, I would think MOST perpetrators and victims were hit as children. The…

Two problem passages for egalitarians

A couple of posts ago, I noted how Complimentarians (in my view) ignore many parts of scripture, but put great weight upon a couple of verses in the epistles. Now interpreting the epistles need to be done thoughtfully. We are reading other people's mail, and we need to carefully consider whether an instruction to a particular church addressing a particular issue, or whether something is a universal principle. The whole context of scripture is there to help us in this task. I have extracted some thoughts below from an absurdly long earlier blog post to highlight these "problem verses", and how egalitarian theologians might interpret them.

Problem passage 1: I Corinthians 14

1. I Corinthians 14:29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits…

Humilty

One of the things I wonder about is the tension between having opinions and having humility.

Intellectual humility would surely involve openness to being wrong. Part of the brilliance of the scientific method is that ideas are constantly tested against reality. Results of controlled testing are published, so others are able to design new tests to see whether a hypothesis is supported or not.

Other areas of academic endeavour, such as philosophy, mathematics, theology, history, and the arts, also involve the discipline of publishing research for scrutiny. The business of publishing academic work opens one up for critique: your ideas might be rejected as other opinions compete for validity.  There is a vulnerability about the best academic endeavour.

I must confess there are many areas where I have formed strong opinions. For example, I have judged Complementarian theology to be very poor theology indeed, based on dreadful hermeneutics, forcing those who adopt it to accept ludicrous sce…

The World According to Complementarians

I’m trying to get my head around what Complementarians believe, and I think it goes something like this:

Complementarians think there is a “headship” hierarchy in the universe. God the Father has always been “head” of the God the Son. When Paul wrote about Jesus being very nature God, and emptying himself in the incarnation, that was a pretty suspect idea… definitely not Paul’s finest hour. The Trinity is a chain of command, not some quaint idea of perichoresis of three Persons equally God.
The man is “head” of the woman: this is why women can’t do church leadership, or speak in church. It seems that you can teach “down” in the hierarchy of the universe, but you can’t teach “up”. Therefore men can teach men about the bible, women can teach women (equal in the "headship" hierarchy), while men and women can both teach children (who are a bit lower in the hierarchy). However, I have heard that something magical happens to boys when they turn 16 (or 18), and God suddenly gets upse…