In his introductory chapter Hugh Mackay looks at the Utopia complex being sold to us by business, the media and general societal pressure. He suggests that the pursuit of happiness can actually make you miserable. We seem to think that happiness is our default position whereas often we grow through pain. Wholeness can involve the whole range of emotions and experiences.
In Sophia & Daughters, Rosalie Sugrue offers reflections on 29 wise women from the Bible, some expressed in dialogue form. Some of the women such as Eve, Sarah, Esther, Ruth, Martha and Lydia are reasonably well known. Others such as Mahlah, Achsah, the wife of Manoah, Joanna and the wife of Cleopas are largely buried in the biblical text.
While trying to find the right cover for the edition, we came across a heap of pictures of courageous beings: knights in shining armour, army tanks, you get the picture. We could have chosen an image of a lion – king of the jungle – but as you can see we went with a courageous little penguin. Standing up to a bigger breed of penguins, we thought this little guy epitomised Christian courage.
As a boy I would spend much of the summer holidays staying with my grandparents. It was always a splendid time. I would sit with my grandfather early in the morning and drink morning Camp Coffee while he smoked his pipe. I still remember the smell of the Condor Tobacco as he told me stories of his life. In some way I think telling his story was about beginning to write my story.
One night as I drove home, I heard an interview with Margaret Heffernan about her then new book, Wilful Blindness. As she explained the premise of her book it occurred to me that we, the church, suffer from this phenomena. Wilful blindness can be seen in marriages (why did she never ask about all those business trips?), in hospitals (why did he skip his check-ups?) and in boardrooms (why did nobody question those deals?). Indeed it can be seen in every walk of life. And I think it explains what’s going on in the church.
For over two decades researchers from the National Church Life Survey, among others, have been telling us that unless we change drastically, church decline will become terminal by around 2020. The researchers were vilified when their first results were published and yet, with very few exceptions, mainline Christian denominations in Australia, the UCA included, have continued to age and decline. And we’re still not doing anything significant about it.
Yes, we talk about it a lot. We tinker around the edges of worship; we even talk the language of emerging church and fresh expressions. But we continue to do what we’ve always done but with fewer and fewer people, and little or no hope. We continue to behave like a church that is considerably bigger and more influential than it is; we continue to place almost all our time and energy and resourcing on Sunday worship despite the fact that we know that any newcomers are most likely transfers from another congregation or denomination.
So often in life we float through and take things as they come. In fact, I think most of my life is spent in this way – I’m messy, disorganised and probably a bit too ‘cruisy’. While that might have its place, I’ve heard it’s also important to have in mind some sort of direction or purpose… Maybe one day I’ll get there, but in the meantime I can say I’m honestly inspired by some of the stories I’ve heard and people I’ve met for this edition of Revive.