Saturday, December 13, 2014

home again

It was fun for Barby and I to go back 'home' to North India - and to introduce it to our friends of many years, Jan & Bill Dewar and Stephen & Bonnie Bond, whom we first met almost 30 years ago when we started in pastoral ministry in Invercargill.

We find that there is so much to love up there in the north...

the people
The waiters in the restaurants; the drivers of the taxis; the guides at the monuments... When I was young these people tended to be annoying - but now it is all about enjoying them. My pathetic Hindi goes to work as I discover a naam (name), a gaon (village), a bibi/buchha (wife and family) etc. On and on it goes until I run out of vocabulary, or the syntax gets too complicated - or Barby comes to my rescue. I love watching their faces open up and the smiles spread across their faces, with the pahari (mountain) people to the fore. Here is Shyam taking such delight in showing us the only assymetrical piece of imperfection in the Taj Mahal.

the scenery
Not only are the people beautiful, so also are the mountains. Whether it be the Himalayan foothills (on whose steep slopes we grew up);

or, the distant snow clad peaks, there are some views from which we never tire.

When it comes to scenery, I am particularly partial to the beauty of an ordered and colourful fruit stall amidst the chaotic dirtiness of an Old Delhi street.

the monuments
I align myself fully with historian-novelist William Dalrymple on this one. The eurocentrism in our education system means that we miss the historical and cultural marvels of a place like Delhi. Not so with me. Five hours after our friends arrived from New Zealand I had them at the Qutb Minar - for many decades the tallest building in the world (almost a millennium ago!). Me and the Qutb are great mates from way back.

We climbed a minaret at the Jama Masjid mosque, enjoying the view across to the Red Fort.

and, of course, the view towards the Feroshah Kotla cricket ground in the distance :).

the spelling
Again and again, I realise that their English is far better than my Hindi - but that doesn't stop me from enjoying their mistakes anymore than I let them enjoy me making my mistakes. And so when I discovered a left-wing eco-friendly vegetarian item on the menu, I smiled.

But what about the pepper called Anand facing charges of harassment from the salt? More smiles.

the transportation
Where do you start? How about a regal wave from a very English mode of transport?

I always feel the welcome of the Indian train. I didn't really need to be reminded, but the reminder couldn't be missed.

the leaders
Are there two more influential figures in the twentieth century than Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa? Maybe. Maybe not. To visit the places commemorating their deaths is a must on any visit to India. Going to Gandhi Smriti (where he was assassinated), seeing the photos, reading the words and walking the final steps is always worthwhile. The poignancy of Nehru's speech catches me every time. In the darkening gloom of the evening, he announces to the nation that the 'light has gone out of our lives'.

Then there is the simple story-telling, with word and image, at Mother House in Kolkata.
"I want to be only all for Jesus, truly and not only by name and dress." (Mother Teresa) 

the memories
A lot of the memories return to my Dad. When I was about 11 he bought us a unique Christmas present. An annual pass to the swimming pool of a five star hotel (Oberoi Maidens) next door to where we lived. Every afternoon, for months...

But lots of other memories for Barby and I. Like the place where we said goodbye to each other at Woodstock School in November 1976, with five years of letter-writing to follow - with no phone calls or email...

We love being 'daughter of...' and 'son of...' much-loved and respected parents in this land. Nothing lightens our faces quite like coming across people who remember our folks. On a visit to Delhi Bible Fellowship one Sunday (where Barby's Dad was pastor and where I gave my heart to Jesus a zillion times under the ministry of his predecessor - an evangelist!), Stephen met a man who remembered Dad...

nice chatting


PS... and we are so grateful for great friends who have stuck with us over the years - and here they are on the steps leading up to the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi. Thanks for more memories.

Friday, December 12, 2014

nice chaating

I am a Dilly-wallah - or, a person from Delhi. [NB: 'Dilly' is the way the name sounds in Hindi]. Delhi was my home from the age of 10 right through until I was 17 - first over in Old Delhi (near Kashmere Gate) and then in New Delhi (in Jangpura Extension).

I love the city. The history and culture surprises and fascinates anyhow who draws near. Amidst the mess, there are places of rare beauty. Then there is the food - particularly, the street food and Delhi's famous chaat. We've just returned from a few days in Delhi, staying in Hotel Tara Palace in the heart of Old Delhi. An affordable hotel in an ideal location. 5min walk to Chandni Chowk; 10min to both the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid ... with chaat options abounding.

Aloo tikki is a favourite. Potato patties drenched in both mint and imli sauces. Yummy.

... with me then partaking thereof!

Another favourite is pani puri - or, gol guppa. On this occasion you tap-tap-tap on a small, hollow, crisp puri, creating a hole into which you spoon a mixture of vegetables - usually potato and a chickpea of some kind. A generous pouring of imli sauce follows. Then it is baptism by immersion into the green pepper water (pani) - filling the little puri to overflowing - before a quick and skillful transference of the entire entity into my open and willing mouth. This is repeated six times with one serving (for a cost of something less than one dollar).

In the words of the James Bond anthem of yesteryear - when it comes to chaat 'nobody does it better' than the Dilly-wallahs of Chandni Chowk.

nice chatting


PS. Barby's favourite chaat is called raj kachori. Similar ingredients but then the whole thing is swamped in dahi (yoghurt). We've been travelling in India with our good friends from Invercargill days thirty years ago (Bill & Jan Dewar and Bonnie & Stephen Bond). Here they are about to be transported to raj kachori heaven...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 on the couch

Our first two children, Stephen and Alyssa (1987)

Our first two grandchildren, Micah and Amaliya (2014)

good looking


Monday, November 24, 2014

lyrics for living 1

It was another disappointing Sunday, as far as the singing goes. 

In the morning we were treated to lyrics written by Sunday School theologians, mired in mild heresy, sung to awkward tunes which the worship band, so desperate to sing a new song, loved - but which kept the congregation silent.

In the evening we worked our way through dull and dense hymns, written by poet-theologians, but introduced by someone with minimal enthusiasm and sung to tunes with maximal dreariness. 

This so often seems to be the limited choice of options which greets the worshipper on a Sunday. Why?

OK. Let me reveal my hand. I looove hymns. The really good ones have a capacity to reach deep down into my soul and articulate longings they find there which I cannot put into words myself. The sheer resonance that then takes place moves me, often to tears. I confess I am not a fan of the more popular hymns that get sung. Great is Thy Faithfulness. How Great Thou Art. They are good, but I've grown a bit weary of them. Like the pretty kids in class, they always get picked. I am drawn to the ones that don't look so interesting, but are fascinating.

Years ago I wrote a series of reflections on hymns (Lyrics for Living), pitched at youth pastors in an effort to convince them of the value of hymns. I've decided to refresh and recycle them here. I'll start with my favourite verse in the entire hymnbook:
Down in the human heart, crushed by tempter. Feelings lie buried that grace can restore; Touched by a loving hand, wakened by kindness. Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
Look at the strength of those verbs.
On the downside: crushed, buried, broken.
I remember a youth pastor coming to Carey Baptist College. He put a clay pot on the classroom desk and then smashed it once with a hammer. Gulp. Gasp. 'What will the cleaners say?' Splinters went everywhere, as he said, 'this is what our lives can be like'. Then he took out a second clay pot. He smashed it once - twice - three times. Again and again. More gulping. More gasping. 'This is what life is like for so many young people out there'. I will never, ever for get it.

On the upside: restore, touched, wakened
Look at grace doing its thing again. Amazing. But then what about that phrase, 'touched by a loving hand'. Whose hand? Divine? Human? Not sure - but what about the divine hand through the human hand. That is how I interpret it. You and I can get involved in the restoration and wakening of others. My daughter has just completed her medical elective in Bangladesh, among people with whom she could communicate so very little. But where word and speech shuts down, does that not create a greater opportunity for other senses to step forward - like the touch of a loving hand? I think so. She knows so.

I did go to youtube to find an extract of this hymn being sung. As expected, all was dull and dreary and I couldn't bring myself to provide a link here. Maybe my friend, Dale Campbell, can add this to his collection of good, old church songs

nice chatting 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

warning: content won't offend

They say I look like Paul Walker.

Well, that may be stretching it a bit. The 'they' is really only me. think I look like Paul Walker - and I could be wrong. Probably the only thing that Paul Walker and Paul Windsor share in common are the initials of our names. He is kinda a cool dude - or, should I say, he was kinda a cool dude ... because almost exactly one year ago, at just 40 years of age, Paul Walker was in a car that was going too fast and too furious. It crashed. He was killed.

The real world meets the reel world.

Paul Walker was a star of the Fast and Furious series of movies. Given this initialed likeness that we share, I've been known to watch the odd film from the series. Like the other night. Fast and Furious 6. Yes - you read that right ... 6. As in five earlier movies. Amazing.

Of course, when in India I can watch in the full knowledge that all offensive material will have been deleted. The remote can remain remote. Sub-titles figure prominently because the F&F franchise follows the Stallonian school of smouldering looks, heavy glances - and minimal dialogue. So there is ample time to see how some words become a series of stars in the subtitles - while others get changed. But 'Jesus Christ' will remain Jesus Christ. Go figure.

One reviewer describes the earlier films like this: 'a street racing movie with dull, two-dimensional characters' ... but (the fifth film) was 'the start of something incredible and the sixth film continues to be just as awesome, fast paced, daring, action-packed and sexy.'  That sounds enticing?!

And let's not forget the excessive speed, the excessive violence, the excessive abuse, and the excessive destruction which Hollywood habitually sheds abroad with such evangelistic fervour. After the climactic images and sounds of that speed and violence and abuse and destruction, the movie arrives at its final denouement, a brief familial scene where peace hovers - and grace resounds.

The other night the screeching cars, the fist fights, the explosions, the 'dull two-dimensional characters' had almost combined to secure my slumberings - but now, as the cast shut their eyes for grace, I was awake ... and offended.

Still I feel the zealous jealousy for the living God rising up within me. How dare they make grateful prayer so sincere. How dare they address him as 'Father'. How dare they allow such destructive public lives to harbour such laudable personal spirituality. How dare they baptise such a godless movie with a godly sprinkle at the end. How dare they produce yet another movie in which Christianity is fused with the very worst of American culture - so that the rest of the world can watch on, as they do, and be so misled.

It may well be content that offends no one other than me. I hope not.

nice chatting


Sunday, November 16, 2014

living in two worlds

With the power China has - and the global attention it receives - maybe it is time to label Europe the 'Far West' and the USA the 'Far East'...

Our labels become dated so quickly, don't they? East and West? Developed and Developing? First World and Third World? Not many are helpful - and too many are embarassingly eurocentric. It is becoming common to speak of the Global North (formerly, the West) and the Global South (Asia-Africa-Latin America) ... although this still leaves my homeland of New Zealand as an annoying anomaly?!

Let's go with Global North and Global South. One of the privileges of my life is to have an identity inextricably entwined with both worlds. It is one of God's most gracious gifts to me. Born into a Global North heritage, but raised in the Global South and now returning to live there. I love having these two voices in my head. I love having my horizons filled with the contrasts and the paradoxes which these worlds provide (see this post, for an example).

This week I had my SAIACS students read some pages from a Philip Jenkins' book. It is about reading the Bible in the Global South. Then I asked them a question:
With a library stuffed with Global North scholars telling you how to handle the Bible, what is it that you appreciate most about your own (ie Global South) heritage of reading the Bible?
Silly, silly me. I asked the question 10 minutes before the end of class.
We could have gone all day. But here is what I captured on the whiteboard - in ten minutes.

Whiteboard writing is not my strength and so let me list them again here: A greater respect for sacred writings (ie., no Bibles left on the floor!); a greater zeal for evangelism; a greater willingness to take the Bible as it is; a greater sensitivity to cultural difference; a greater willingness to be different and stand against the flow; a greater expectation that a price is to be paid for being a Christian; a greater appreciation of being closer to the Biblical world; a greater understanding of identity being embedded in the collective and the communal...

As I yo-yo between North and South, I can only agree with them.
It was ten minutes of prophetic profundity.
[NB: Global South readings of the Bible do have their issues too, let me tell you...].

Let me press a bit further
In our latest newsletter, I made this general observation: "The simple, serious, sacrificial spirituality so often seen among SAIACS students stirs us." Now there are fakes in the Global South, just as there are fakes in the Global North. That is not the point. But still I would make a contrasting general observation about Global North spirituality, particularly among a similar student demographic. It so readily defaults to the opposite: the complex, the shallow, and the self-centered. It does. It just does. It glares back at me.

Let me be a bit more specific
Let's talk about the pictures of Jesus with which we operate at a conversational level - again, among a younger student population. I hung around Global North students for twenty years. The picture of Jesus? Too easily and too often it was a couple of images. (a) for males - a bit of a mate, but only far better; and for females, kinda like a boyfriend, but only far better. (b) a counsellor-therapist-healer. If you don't believe me, listen to the songs being sung :).

Here in the Global South, the same pictures are seen (afterall we sing the same songs). But there is one uncommon picture I hear so often. Again and again, this is how Jesus is addressed in prayers. It is said so tenderly, so sincerely. It is very moving - and refreshing. We have friends from NZ here at the moment and they came up with the exact same observation, quite independently (prompting this post). Jesus is referred to as 'Master'.

Let me tell you - a lot flows on down from understandings of Jesus as mate, boyfriend, counsellor, or master. They take very different trajectories and it doesn't take long for some to leave the biblical Jesus behind.

Am I being unfair?! Yes, maybe a little.
I am also trying to keep things stark in order to make a point.

The Global North church needs to shed its rescue-mentality, its saviour-complex with the Global South church. Sure, there are many needs here. But there are also people here to whom we need to listen, from whom we need to learn, and with whom we need to join. As we do so we'll find them to be like the local optometrist adjusting our lens so that we can see the world (and the truth) more clearly. And maybe they'll extend to us the privilege to do the same for them - but my advice is not to rush towards that expectation.

nice chatting


Monday, November 03, 2014

the great and holy war

This book is a horror show. How is it possible that so few years can contain so much horror? Let's name a few of the ones which Philip Jenkins discusses in The Great and Holy War (OUP, 2014).

Horror #1   Not just the Great War, World War 1 was a holy war.
Christendom reigned in 'the three holy empires' (Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary) of the time. Throw in the British, the Americans, French Catholicism and you have 'the majority of the world's Christians engaged in a holy war that claimed more than ten million lives (5).' Later other nations joined in - but initially this was a monumental intra-Christendom scrap.

The propaganda and the rationale for the war was framed within religious, mystical, apocalyptic, messianic, and millenarian language. 'A holy war ideology became social orthodoxy' (92), as 'a faith-based militarism' took over. Imagery like the offensive depiction of the Emmaus Rd story (see below) seeped into the public consciousness.

A disturbing application of the
Emmaus Rd story to two soldiers...
Horror #2   The pointless brutality of it all
The 'war was a monument to human stupidity' (193) - and it was savage, so savage. It is known for it's trench warfare where men were 'trapped in a seemingly eternal vortex of slaughter and squalor' (43).

Take Verdun, for example - 'a battle of many undesirable superlatives' (55). It was fought on a narrow front of 15 miles, with 800,000 people dead. Or, the Somme: '600,000 Allied casualties gained six miles of French ground' (56). JR Tolkien was at this front for four months and the experience inspired the 'dead marshes' scene in The Lord of the Rings. Or, Passchendaele: 'the whole campaign cost at least 500,000 casualities on both sides and achieved a gain in land of five miles ... (or about) two inches per fatality' (168).

Horror #3   The influenza pandemic
It just so happened that an influenza spread around the world at the same time... 'The Great War itself killed perhaps ten million in four years. In just one year, from around mid-1918 through mid-1919, the Spanish pandemic killed at least 50 million, and some estimates put the death toll at twice that ... (possibly) 10 percent of the world's young adults at that time (182).' And so the influenza killed twice as many people in four months as the AIDS epidemic killed in twenty years.

Horror #4   'Russia's martyrdom' (200-206)
Again, at just the same time, the Bolsheviks, with an 'anti-crusade' fury, instigate 'a full scale religious civil war (201)' in Russia. 'Within a decade ... one of the world's great churches was uprooted and most of its leaders were dead or in exile ... the Russian church neither died nor faded away gently, but was violently killed (200).' As part of this, the Bolsheviks seized land and churches and even turned many a monastery into a gulag - or, concentration camp.

Horror #5   The Armenian genocide (287-314)
Today 'the Middle East is a Muslim East ... (but) for most of the past millennium that division would have seemed absurd (288).' Take a city you've probably never heard about: Diyarbakir, in Turkey near the Syrian border. For centuries it was one of the most 'prestigious centers of the Christian world' (290) - and then, just one hundred years ago, it was part of a genocide in which 'the oldest Christian world perished' (308). Who speaks of this today? Where in today's Christian world will it be remembered with a centenary in 2015?  Even Hitler himself, as he gathered a rationale for his own genocidal aspirations, once asked, 'Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?' (287) ... And so, let's see - "If they didn't remember the Armenians, they probably won't remember the Jews." Is that how the logic goes? In the end we remembered the Jews and forgot the Armenians.

The night before the Aussies and Kiwis landed in Gallipolli is when it started. The rulers of the 600 year old Ottoman empire were feeling increasingly insecure. They were concerned that Christian-European countries would infiltrate their lands (I guess this is what Gallipolli looked like to them), gain a foothold alongside the Christian minorities and incite an agitation that would cause the empire to collapse from within. 'European powers hoped to use Christian minorities within the Ottoman world as the basis for expanding their hegemony (292).' And so on the 24th April, the Turkish regime arrested 250 key Armenian cultural and intellectual leaders 'in an act that today is commemorated as the formal start of the genocide' (298). The purge was on.  Village after village 'cleansed'. Forced marches. Deportation. As is customary with rodents today, the 'extermination of a race' had begun. Make no mistake about it. The 'genocidal fury' in this regime 'targeted Christians as Christians (303).' [NB: the word 'genocide' was invented in 1943 to describe this horror show].

I'm a good Kiwi. I'll commemorate Gallipolli's centenary in 25 April 2015.[NB: my mother's uncle is one who died there]. But my sense of identity is wrapped up far more with a global church than it is with a specific nation and so the 25th will get what is left over from a lamenting heart on the 24th when the centenary of the rodent-like extermination of the oldest Christian world will be remembered.

A scene from Ravished Armenia, a movie that tells the story of a Christian girl
(Aurora Mardiganian) who survived the genocide. Christian women being crucified.
Horror #6   The abuse of 'subject' peoples
Eventually, 'the western front became a world front ... savagery was unleashed across Africa, Asia, and Oceania: it was a war of jungles, oceans, and steppes as much as Flanders fields (270).' For example, one million Indians fought for the British - with 75,000 deaths. Throw in the influenza epidemic, which the war helped to spread, and 'India alone might have lost 20 million people, or 5 percent of its total population (272)' over these years. Europe's war became the world's war.

But subject peoples watched and wondered - and were emboldened by it all. 'Those from below would not always remain in the humble places that the empires assigned them (285).' And so 'while the great powers were making exalted claims for their own divine missions, so the world's underdogs were also seeking their own place in history and framing their claims in supernatural or spiritual terms (270).' A new nationalism and a desire for self-determination was on the way...

But alongside the horrors, let's not miss Jenkins' evocative subtitle: How World War 1 changed religion forever. 'The war created our reality' (28). Christianity, Judaism, and Islam changed.

Islam?  'The war created the Islamic world as we know it today (334).' In 1914 there were just three independent Islamic states in the world: the Ottoman Empire, Persia and Afghanistan (with a total of about 35-40 million). But then within the British Empire, there were 75 million Muslims; in the Dutch East Indies there were 40 million Muslims etc. Far more Muslims lived in these empires - but they were 'politically weak ... with little sense of global unity (336).'  But imperial domination slowly stirred them up. There were revolts here and there, now and then - and 'most of the revolts of these years grew directly out of wartime agitation (350).' While the Great War marked 'the end of the caliphate' (with the fall of the Ottoman Empire), 'the shape of modern Islam owes much to the Great War, and especially to the resulting upsurge of activist movements and the creation of autonomous states (366).'

Judaism? While the great and holy war was fought primarily by so-called Christian peoples, it was a time when both Zionism (among the winners) and anti-Semitism (among the losers) flourished. Indeed 'the Zionist dream fueled the anti-Semitic nightmare' (254) ... and therein lies a taproot or two for the holocaust a generation later.

Christianity? I won't find it too difficult anymore to understand why Europe has become so secular. And yet in the very same years that severe losses were taking place in Russia and the Middle East, new gains were taking place in Africa (314-331) as the religious world was being turned upside down. And yes, it still annoys me that history curricula in New Zealand choose to go back one thousand years to find an example of a crusade (by Christians) when there are two such crusades in the most recent one hundred years (against Christians) that could also be chosen.
Studying the densely packed events of the Great War, it is often easy to forget just what a shockingly brief span of time they covered: just four years for formal hostilities, with several more years of chaos following - but still less than a decade in all. And yet, as we have seen, the world changed totally in that time (374) ... Not only did the First World War show how calamity can transform the world, but it also suggested how long it takes for the results to become apparent. Observing a revolution is quite different from comprehending it. Only now, after a century, are we beginning to understand just how utterly that war destroyed one religious world and created another (377).
nice chatting


I gained a new appreciation for Karl Barth from this story. My conservative evangelical training of yesteryear focused on how he did not go far enough in his break from liberalism and remained a naughty neo-orthodox theologian. But gee-whiz, this 'daring intellectual from a tiny (Swiss) parish' (221) was in his 20s when he started writing about his horror over this horror show. Eventually he articulated 'a sweeping reassessment of Christian faith ... a radical quest to rediscover sources of divine authority (218).' He reminds us that the default position for Christians is to stand against the prevailing cultural tide, rather than riding it - and not to clothe the church in the aspirations of the state. An inspiration for us all.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

text and context

With the SAIACS MTh class in 2013
Requiring MTh students to take a course in homiletics/preaching? It is most unusual. But that is what happens here at SAIACS (Bangalore). Twenty five students. Their theses go in on the Friday (yesterday). Then this module starts on the Monday. A bit of a challenge for the instructor - but that privilege is all mine.

We'll buttress our theological convictions together, as we take the text seriously on the way to the sermon. The content and purpose of the text will determine the content and purpose of the sermon. There will be no compromise on this. Each one will demonstrate this ability by preaching a sermon in class.

But that is not all that we will do together. We will also take the context seriously. While it won't determine the content or purpose of the sermon, we will be listening carefully to it and looking for ways to build bridges to it.

So, in small departmental teams, students will work with a general topic. They will add a specificity to it by drawing in a perspective from within the borders of their departmental focus (New Testament, Missiology, History of Religion, Theology etc) and creating a question. They will orient that perspective directly towards preaching, the preacher and the sermon. In this way, three worlds will be integrated (hopefully): South Asia, their specialisation, and homiletics. In the aftermath of the rigour of thesis-writing, the focus will be on an oral presentation to the class.

And the general topics in 2014?
This year I have decided not to include the three issues which surface most frequently in this context - caste, corruption and sexual violence - and push them into other areas. Here they are:
Rural India and orality
(Narendra) Modi and oratory 
Hindutva and persecution
Gurus and pastoral leadership
TV - Hindu and Christian
Karma and providence
Prosperity and hope
Shame and freedom
Garbage and stewardship
Bhakti and worship

Should be fun. One thing is for sure.
I am set to learn a bit over the next month.

nice chatting


Sunday, October 19, 2014

preaching matters

Yes - another book on preaching, pitched primarily for people making a start.
(I've tried to surf this recent wave for readers - herehere, here, and here!).

Jonathan Lamb's Preaching Matters (IVP, 2014) has arrived.

I read the book in one sitting - or, one lying, to be accurate - early one jet-lagged morning in Kingston, Jamaica. Not sure I've ever done that with a non-novel before. Maybe they should add that endorsement to the dozen others that fill the first four pages!

Jonathan Lamb was Langham Preaching's first director and pioneer, under whose guidance the work touched sixty countries in just ten years, ex nihilo and with limited resources. Amazing. As his successor, it often leaves me breathless. Jonathan is now CEO and Ambassador-at-Large for Keswick Ministries globally.

There are a number of distinctives which help this book stand out from the crowd...
1. Jonathan distills such a wide array of reading and experience into simple, clear and brief description. This is what held me through the early hours as I read, just as it is the often overlooked combination that keeps people awake during sermons. Simple. Clear. Brief. For me, it means this book lines up alongside Darrell Johnson's The Glory of Preaching as one to use for required reading in more formal college/seminary courses. It is that good.

2. The use of Nehemiah 8.1-12 to provide an unobtrusive, gentle structure to the book is a bit different and it works well.

3. As a little aside...  Just before we shifted here to India, I taught a final preaching course, something that had been part of my annual rhythm for two decades. It was a master's course and so experienced pastors comprised the core, many of whom I had taught in their undergraduate days. Overall, it was a disappointing experience. As a teacher of preaching, I left NZ with my tail between my legs. Their confidence in the word seem to have eroded. Intimidated by a very difficult mission context, they seemed to be humming and hahing theologically. Deep conviction no longer seemed to hold them. As I listened to them preach, it seemed that the very sin I had pleaded with them to avoid all those years earlier was now holding them - namely, scanning the horizon for the (technique-filled) waves coming from off-shore, finding and riding the next big one, only to find that it crashes into nothingness on the shoreline - just like all the other ones before it. I chastened them but, more significantly, I chastened myself and have made changes in what and why and how I teach preaching as a result.

Techniques have their place. Of course they do (see below). But our confidence, our hope, does not lie in mastering the latest magical technique. It lies in the transforming power of the gospel which comes to us as word, written and living. The secret is found in being mastered by convictions - for a lifetime. In the opening pages (19-61), Jonathan weaves his way through truths and passages to identify some of these convictions, starting with:
Preaching matters, because it is a God-ordained means of encountering Christ (16).
If a preacher does not have this conviction holding them through thick and thin, they should consider another vocation. Later, Jonathan adds:
Too often, the Bible doesn't set the agenda; it is simply the background music (22).
If a preacher is not willing to work hard at letting the Bible set the agenda of the sermon, again they should consider another vocation. It is that big a deal.

4. Speaking of techniques(!), Jonathan then heads in this very direction (62-108). As he does so, the approach of Langham Preaching is overheard on every page. This is intentional, as the book is partly motivated by a desire to get a basic resource into the hands of those we train worldwide. In a nice touch, Jonathan dedicates his book 'to the courageous preachers of the Majority World from whom I have gained so much inspiration.' Then he takes the reader step-by-step through the process of moving from text to sermon in pursuit of a sermon that is faithful, clear, and relevant. So practical and so useful. The Appendix even gathers some of the worksheets that are being used worldwide.

With Jonathan at one of my favourite places on earth
- St Bathans in Central Otago (New Zealand)
Reading Jonathan's book provoked another trajectory of thought. There is an irony here. The quotation which I hear attributed to John Stott more frequently than any other is his phrase 'double listening'. In fulfilling our callings - including the call to preach - we need to listen to word and world, text and context. Or, changing the metaphor to the title of Stott's definitive book on preaching, our callings involve 'bridge-building' - particularly in the call to preach.

But here is the irony. Those who stand in this Stottian tradition - particularly the British and Australians with whom I have chatted and trained and whose books I have read - don't seem to me, in practice, to take listening to the world as seriously as the Stott quotation suggests they should. Does not double-listening suggest that in the course of the sermon we need to be biblical exegetes, but also cultural exegetes? Does not double-listening suggest that in the course of the sermon we need to instill the true biblical story and worldview, but always alongside the need to expose the false stories and worldviews of those with whom we live and move and have our being in wider society? Does not double listening suggest that in the course of the sermon a preacher is a skilled biblical theologian - but also, at the very least, an amateur sociologist? Have we listened carefully enough to Stott's call to be double-listeners?

These are some of the questions on my mind, as I read Jonathan's book and as I pick up the reins of  leadership from him. Don't get me wrong. The pursuit of relevance in the sermon is given priority (109-121), as is careful application (150-157). A foundational session on 'making the connection' inhabits the basic Langham training. It's great. But I do wonder aloud, for those who stand in the Stottian tradition, whether this area needs further strengthening - even methodologising. What are the techniques to use? Just as there will be steps to take and skills to learn in handling the word well, will there not also be steps to take and skills to learn in handling the world well? I think so. But my hunch is that well-convictioned preachers don't want to go there because they think to do so will diminish the preaching of the word in some way. It ain't necessarily so. Either we go there, learning new steps and skills, or we pull back from the claim to be double-listening, bridge-building preachers.

nice chatting


Saturday, October 18, 2014

on caste and more

It's one month ago now. Two conversations. One in which I participated. One which I heard about second-hand a couple of hours later. But there they are - both running around my mind ever since ... and annoying me. So it is back to the purge-by-posting strategy.

The first conversation was with a bunch of Christian university graduates. It was about the ongoing presence of caste in Indian society, including the church. Caste had reasonable vocational origins, but now it is a way to keep people separate and then to value some much more than others. A student related to me that when his denomination gathers for it's annual assembly, they divide up according to caste. What?! Haven't these guys heard about Ephesians 2, Galatians 3 - and a bunch of other passages?

It makes me combust. It just does. But when we are about to combust, it is always good to pause, stop the flow of oxygen, and ask 'why'. Self-awareness is always a friend. For me, it is more than a biblical-theological issue. I can see this. As I approach leadership and community and mission, 1 Corinthians 12 may have taken on creedal proportions - but there is more to it than this.

As a child, stuff happened that makes me sensitive to nonbelongingness. It will always be that way. I am from New Zealand. We are so flat and egalitarian. Hierarchy is hated. We have a thing called the 'tall poppy syndrome'. As soon as someone grows too tall and excellent, standing out from the mediocre crowd, we have ways and means to cut down that poppy - or just wither it into lifelessness by a welter of sarcasm. Plus I now work in a UK-based organisation and I see a bit of caste in this class-y society. The era of Downtown Abbey did not rid it of all vestiges of the upstairs:downstairs way of life. I feel it - just as my Dad felt it when he went to work in the UK at my age, three decades ago. Self-awareness? These are some of the factors that light-up my combustible contribution into any conversation on caste.

But then there was a second conversation. I didn't hear it myself. Barby, my wife, heard it and related it to me. Again, a Christian graduate student. She has lived life in multiple places around the world. One simple observation. 'You guys in the West spend a lot of money on leisure.'

Boom. Hmm. Wow. Ugh. Ouch. As you can see, a highly articulate conversation has been triggered inside me.

Is she saying that leisure is wrong? I fantasize about sneaking a week here and there with Barby in some oddly exotic place. Is that wrong? I don't think so. Next month we are having our first 'longer-than-one-week' holiday in four years. Do I feel guilty? Of course not. Truth be told, I feel guilty that it has taken this long a time! Leisure. Rest. Lying fallow. These are good things.

What this woman couldn't understand is the amount of money we spend on leisure - and, I guess, this reflects the huge space it occupies in our imaginations and dreams, our goals and priorities. What I hear her saying is that 'in a world where there is so much need and inequity, how do you justify spending so much money not just on legitimate things like an education and a home - but on your leisure?

Is she onto something here? Of course she is. What is wrong with my self-awareness that I can't see this as clearly as she does? While I've been combusting over Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3, she has been reading much of Luke's gospel and a whole lot of the prophets. And out she comes with disturbing stuff, exposing blindspots in my reading of the Bible and my following of Jesus.

Nah - I don't really want to purge-by-posting. Filling, not flushing, is what I want. I want to get close enough to people like this that they tell me stuff that annoys me, triggering conflictual conversations in my head that help me be more faithful to the gospel with my life. I am asking the Spirit to help me combust as much over leisure's overspending as I do over caste's undervaluing.

nice chatting