Moderator’s Column: Christ the controversialist

Some people love a good controversy. They write letters to the newspaper, attend rallies, join movements and engage in vigorous debates.

I am not such a person. I have, however, attended a number protest marches. My first was at the age of nineteen when I joined a couple of hundred other Christians, carrying crosses near a nuclear shipyard that planned to name a new nuclear submarine ‘Corpus Christi’, Latin for ‘the body of Christ’. We could not reconcile giving such a sacred name to a weapon of mass destruction.

More recently, I spoke at a rally on behalf of the suffering Rohingya people, and at Palm Sunday peace rallies I have felt compelled to join many other people giving support and solidarity to  poorly treated refugees.  I have reluctantly at times engaged in controversial issues, sometimes forgetting that Christ, who I claim to serve, was controversial. It seems that on some of the issues of the day, Jesus entered the controversy. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Seeking wisdom

It is nearly fifty years since my wife, Jill, and I moved to Western Australia. The plan had been for us to stay four years, but Perth made such an impression upon us that we never left.

We have so many vivid memories from those early days in Perth and one of those for me is of the beautiful Reflection Pond in front of Winthrop Hall at the University of Western Australia (UWA). The Memorial Seat that looks down the length of the pond from the eastern end bears the inscription: ‘Verily by beauty it is that we come at wisdom’. The motto of UWA itself is: ‘Seek Wisdom.’

In the season of Lent that will be just concluded by the time this edition of Revive is published, I’ve been prompted by a few things to reflect upon the nature of wisdom, within the context of a Benedictine concept of renunciation.

What is truly important in the journey of following Christ, and what should be renounced in order to pursue it more fully? Continue Reading

Moderator’s Column: Training versus trying

A very belated Happy New Year!

As I write this we are two weeks from 1 January, the day that some of us made New Year resolutions. Typically at the beginning of a new year we start to think about some changes that might help that year go better than the old one.

According to my Google research, the big four resolutions are: aiming to be fit and healthy, vowing to lose weight, trying to enjoy life more (less stress) and spending time with people we care about.

Other standard resolutions include spending less, getting more sleep and watching less television.

I wonder if you made a resolution. Mine was not so much a resolution but a reminder verse for the year: “. . . the joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). I started to think about how this sense of the joy of God might become increasingly part of my daily life. That started me thinking about the difference between trying and training. Continue Reading

Practising Reformation

By the time you read this the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the Reformation may well have faded from your memory.

For a week or so in late October and early November, suddenly we were made aware of our history. Most Protestant churches paused to remember what a mild mannered Augustinian German monk did on 31 October 1517. He nailed, some argue pasted, his defiant ‘95 Theses’ to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg.

He brazenly charged the church with corruption. He fiercely objected to the practice of the faithful throwing a coin or two in a coffer to buy their way out of purgatory or worse. He probably had no idea of the seismic effects his protest would have on the European church and politics. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Renewal begins in worship

Occasionally people ask me what is the best part about being Moderator of the Uniting Church WA. Usually, quick as a flash, I say “Sunday mornings.” That’s because I have the enormous privilege of visiting, preaching and worshipping at many different congregations across the state.

Sometimes, I find myself in a small rural community, meeting in a home, hall or sanctuary. On other occasions, I am in a suburban gathering of the faithful with pipe organ or guitars and drums. I also receive the great honour of worshipping in other languages in our migrant ethnic, intercultural communities.

As celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia reminded us, “All of this is us.” Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Living out the ethics of Christ

I heard a story recently about a fight between two wolves, which were both fierce and competitive. The question was asked ‘which wolf will overcome the other?’

The simple answer is whichever wolf we feed.

Ethics is rather like this. There is a growing awareness that ethics matter. We live under the shadow of the tragic findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. There has been story after story of the most horrendous misuse of power and of the failure to bring the perpetrators to account.

As a Uniting Church, thankfully we have become much more conscious of the essential need for the church to be a safe place for everyone, especially children. We have a strong Code of Ethics for  people in ministry and a Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders that guides us in areas where there is ethical ambiguity, and points us to ethical wholeness. Ethics must matter to all of us. While the Gospel offers grace and forgiveness, it comes with the call to discipleship, to live a holy life; to pursue a lifestyle of behaviour that models the highest Christian standards of ethics. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Celebrating 40 years and asking the hard questions

Some people who hit 40, experience a midlife crisis; if they are affluent they might buy a red sports car or go on a big European trip. But, 40 years of living often also prompts us to look back with thanks and gratitude and it can be a time to ask oneself some hard questions.

For some, the questions are about weight gain, career dissatisfaction, parenting struggles or financial worries. For others, it is a time to deal with regrets, missed opportunities, failed relationships and broken dreams. After the big 40 celebrations are over, midcourse evaluations begin and new hopes for the future start to emerge.

This year marks 40 years since the Union of the Uniting Church, and it is first and foremost a time to celebrate. Forty years ago, we tended to be defined by which denomination you came from  (Methodist, Presbyterian or Congregational). Now, that is in the past and is not as important as who we are in the present: Uniting. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Jungle journey

It is often said that God is a God of surprises.

Every once in a while I find myself in a situation that I could never have expected or predicted. A month or so ago, I found myself in a dugout canoe, with an outboard motor travelling along the Irrawaddy river, in a rural and remote part of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. I had to pinch myself; how did I end up here?

The simple answer is that my jungle journey has its origins with the Karen congregation that meets at Uniting Church in the City (UCIC), Ross Memorial West Perth, and the movement of the Spirit.

The pastor of the Karen congregation is Rev S’Win Shwe, who trained in the Uniting Church’s theological college in Sydney (UTC). Last year, he invited me to have dinner with the president of the Pwo Karen Baptist church of Burma, Rev Mahn Benson, who was visiting Perth.

Fast forward four months and out the blue comes an invitation to speak at the 100th year anniversary service of the Pwo Karen Baptist church in Myanmar and at the opening of their renovated church in Yangon. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Life beyond the fishbowl

One of the greatest English rock bands, Pink Floyd, has a line in one of their songs that has always intrigued me: “we’re like two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl, year after year. Wish you were  here.”

These lyrics suggest, rather cynically, that living today can feel like living in a fishbowl. The more I thought about life being like a fishbowl, the more it seemed to me that there is some truth to the  idea.

Water magnifies every action we take, making it look way bigger than it probably should be. Life in a fishbowl means that small things appear much bigger. A rather innocuous comment can be  seen as a massive put down; a flippant remark can be taken as a serious rejection of a person; a mild, gentle criticism can be misunderstood as a character assassination.

In the world of the fishbowl, many things are exaggerated or magnified causing a distorted view of reality. Fishbowl thinking over scrutinises, dissects and then replays over and over again the  same unbalanced view of reality.

Every now and then, I think I suffer from this condition and I am not alone. Others in the church are also unconsciously affected by a fishbowl mind-set. Sometimes when I am in conversation, I  hear a grievance. They range from the trivial, to the important, to the very serious. Discerning which category they belong in is a prayerful, pastoral art. To reinforce the petty is not helping anyone. To minimise the serious is pastorally neglectful. Continue Reading

Moderator’s column: Do dreams come true?

Recently, I had a bad dream; I woke up suddenly believing that I had been attacked by a large army of cockroaches. Thankfully, when my eyes were fully opened, there was not a cockroach in sight.

No doubt, a good therapist could work out why I had such a nightmare. Maybe it was just the curry from dinner taking revenge on my psyche. Sometimes, thankfully, dreams don’t come true. They are usually the   product of anxious living.

Does God have dreams? Probably not the kind we have. Some Christians, however, think that all the talk in the Bible about ‘the kingdom of God’ is really talk about God’s dream for humankind. Pick up on most of  the Old Testament prophets and you will get this drift. If you read through the long and winding Isaiah or the short and abrupt Haggai, you will catch a glimpse of the hopes and dreams God has for humankind.

Jesus was captured by these Godly dreams when he began his ministry with the words, ‘the time has come, the kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news’ (Mark 1 v 15). Notice how Jesus connects  kingdom with the words “now” and “arrived.” The waiting was over and it was time for the kingdom to arrive.

It wasn’t, however, what most of Israel expected. They thought kingdom equals a king, land and  citizens. The king meant ditching Caesar or the corrupt local king (Herod Antipas) and replacing him with a Messiah. This new king would sit on the throne in Jerusalem and rule the land. The land would flow with milk and honey and everyone would follow the Torah (the Law). The citizens would love and serve the king and the kingdom would expand. Continue Reading