Desperation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in October 1974 I arrived in Australia as a chubby, freckle faced 10 year old Irish kid with an almost unintelligible Belfast accent. To make matters worse I thought football was a game played with a round ball which in those days cast serious dispersions about my sexual orientation… We rented a house in one of Perth’s cheapest, but roughest suburbs and in those first 3 months I struggled to fit in at my new school and I became the obvious target for ridicule and bullying.

Pasty white skin, a thick Belfast brogue and no clue how to kick a real football meant that I spent lunchtimes in the library away from people, or with my only friend – Charlie – one of the ‘special’ kids as we called them then. Charlie didn’t know I was a loser so he was happy to be my friend.

It wasn’t a great start to life in this new country.

When the new year came we moved house and school. I was relieved as I wanted out and I wanted friends. In this school I knew one person, another kid my age called Mark. On that first morning I went to school I prayed. I don’t think I could even call myself a Christian at this point, but I was desperate and I hoped God might take pity on me and cut me a break. The prayer went something like this, ‘God I know one kid at this school. Could I please sit next to him and be friends? Please?…’

It was simple and direct – the way prayer ought to be I reckon. If I’m honest it was said more in hope than confidence, but I was desperate and prayer always seems to be the place we go to in times of desperation.

When we got allocated to classes I found myself in the lower academic group and Mark was nowhere in sight. I wasn’t convinced prayer worked so that was no great surprise. The morning went slowly, but about an hour before recess the teacher introduced some new maths to us – long division. She gave us a bunch of problems to solve and told us it would take us through to the break. I finished the lot in 10 minutes and got all of it correct. She was clearly a little puzzled at my academic capacity. Starting school a couple of years earlier than everyone else back in Belfast had definitely given me a headstart on the Aussie kids who hadn’t heard of long division until that day.

At that point the teacher decided I really didn’t belong in her class after all and brought in the principal to re-locate me. They had a brief conversation and then told me they were going to move me into the class next door – the smart class – woohoo! As I got to my new class I discovered there was only one seat vacant in the whole room – right next to a kid called Mark…

Now I was the one puzzled. Crikey… this prayer stuff really did work!

Mark became my friend and introduced me to all the other kids at his table, who oddly enough shared my love for football played with a round ball… I instantly had friends and the sense of belonging I wanted.

Although it was over 40 years ago now, I remember that morning vividly – the first time I recall God ever answering a prayer of mine – and what an important one it was to a kid who really needed a friend. Since then I’ve prayed plenty of times and some seem to get answered how I’d want, while others obviously matter more to me than to God.

I can’t say I understand how prayer works – except to suggest that if we see God as a good father then it’s a bit like when my son comes to me and asks for something. I love him and always want what’s best for him so sometimes he gets what he asks for and other times not. That’s what good dad’s do.

No doubt someone will call that experience a co-incidence, a lucky break and that I have just assumed it was an answer to prayer. Honestly?… Maybe you’re right. I can’t be one hundred percent sure it was an act of God, but over the years as I’ve prayed and got to know God I’ve developed a confidence in him that causes me to believe that he actually does care and does want to get involved in the lives of ordinary people – even lonely 10 year old Irish kids who play football with round balls.

Another Day in the Backyard

‘Do you eat marmalade?’ Sally calls out after she has backed her ute into the street.

‘Um… yeah… I guess… My wife will eat it.’ I reply.

So she drops a jar on the front seat of my car. ‘I make it, but I never eat it.’ she says with a cheeky cackle.

Sally is a 70 year old ex-crayfisherwoman turned farmer who lives in a neighbouring suburb and who I’ve worked for several times in the last few years. She lives alone after caring for her sick mum for the last twenty years. She’s tough as nails, a bit rough around the edges and kind hearted all in one quirky package.

A new retaining wall she installed has created some work for me – some plain grunt work digging trenches and laying pipe and some problem solving, wondering where the old pipes run and how I can make it all function again.  It sounded like two hours work on the phone, but on arrival I ring my next job and tell them to expect me after lunch. Its often that way at Sally’s place. I think her favourite phrase is ‘while you’re at it…’

As a farmer, she knows retic and knows exactly what she wants, so everything needs to be run past her before moving on. I’ve learnt that – its done Sally’s way or its done again.

At 9.00am after just an hour of work the rain sets in so I head indoors to sit at her kitchen table and have a cup of tea. She’s a self confessed hoarder and the room is full of random boxes, papers and junk that probably meant something to her once, but now just fill space. She lives between this house and her farm in the midwest that she manages on her own – no mean feat for an older woman.

‘I lost 21 sheep last week to bloody dogs,’ she tells me. She gives me the rundown of how the farm is going and then asks how I like my tea. Without the slightest blip of conscience she uses a vile racist description to tell me she likes hers very strong. I don’t think she realises how offensive her words are and I am bemused, but beyond wanting to correct her. It isn’t an offense to her and it won’t help for me to go there.

She has no clue how to use her printer to print my invoice out, but she can find the weather radar on her ipad quick as a flash. ‘This is only a quick shower’ she says, ‘but the next will be a big one…’  (and she was spot on).

I head back outside to work while she drives down to Yanchep to book a flight to Darwin for a friend’s birthday. She still uses travel agents and doesn’t trust the internet.

As she gets back a local restauranteur arrives to check out her fridge that is for sale. ‘Oscar’ chats with her, agrees to a price and then after an extended conversation, leaves with a bunch of shallots and some helpful gardening advice.

She potters out the front and tells me a bit about her life – never married – ‘not for lack of offers’ – she assures me. But she didn’t want to spend her life ‘waiting from someone to come home from the pub.’

‘Fair enough’ I say.

‘There have been a few blokes (and one son as a result) but I always wanted someone taller than me and stronger minded than me…’ she laughs.

I laugh as well… She’s 5 ft 10, but that’s not the point. ‘Stronger minded than you?’ I say. She cackles again and makes me another cup of tea as we continue to chat. I near completion and ask if she wants me to backfill the trenches, but she tells me she will do that. (I thought she might)

‘Nothing hard about that!’ she laughs, so I will leave and she’ll get on the shovel and clean up.

When its all done its $1100.00 which is good because she had budgeted $1-1.5K. She pulls out her cheque book and assures me she only has tradies in when she can afford to pay – although I reckon she’s got a few bob in reserve. We have another laugh about what kind of crazy job she may have for me next time and then I drive off.

I leave Sally’s at 12.30 and head for Dave’s house. I debate whether to head home for lunch but instead I pick up a pie to get me thru what I’m hoping will be a quick job. Dave & Edna are kiwis and long term Yanchep locals whose retic has ‘been on the dick’ (or ‘duck’ if you’re a kiwi) for several years, but they have never got around to fixing it.

It looks simple, but turns into a complex problem. Each step of the way Dave is watching me and cursing the retic ‘F$%k me. I hate this stuff’ he says.

‘No’ f$%king idea’ he says, when I ask about what work was done previously.

‘F$%k!…’ he yells emphatically as I finally work out what the problem is and explain that its not gonna be fixed today.

What I thought was going to be 15 minutes turns into two and a half hours and another extended conversation. As I’m packing up out the front and chatting with them I realise I have been here before – but at night. They are the local ‘Christmas lights house’. Dave tells me they have two sea containers of stuff that they store each year waiting for December to come around so they can decorate and serve the local community. Light, snow machine and Santa – the whole bit – people come from miles around to see it.

‘Its just us doing our ‘but’ for the community’ says Dave.

They tell me stories of the people who come to visit each year. Those who come early and complain because the lights aren’t on at 6.30 and those who arrive at 11.00pm and expect them to get out of bed and entertain them.

‘Its must make you think about giving it away?’ I ask, imagining how I’d be feeling if that happened to me.

‘Nah – no way – we love it.’ Edna says.

”F$%k yeah’ says Dave.

As I drive home I realise yet again how blessed I am to work as a tradie in the local community and to spend time with people like these. Beautiful, earthy, genuine people who have generous hearts and kind spirits.

In the evening I chat online with Ian Robbo, a theology lecturer in the East doing some research on the whole idea of being a ‘bivocational / tent-maker’ pastor and whether its a helpful thing or a hindrance to ministry work.

I remember I used to feel sorry for the poor blokes who had to work a ‘secular’ job because their church couldn’t afford them full time. These days I can’t imagine being sentenced to full time ministry work again. I certainly wouldn’t be encountering the likes of Dave & Sally on a daily basis, if at all, and that is worth more than you can ever imagine.

Screen Time Reflections

The last 6 months have been super slow when it comes to running a retic business and I’ve found myself with a fair bit of time on my hands. Also since January I have had an ongoing muscular issue that has seen me most days in mild pain/discomfort and looking for a distraction.

Since March I have noticed my ‘screen time’ has increased (it was already in the ‘significant user’ zone) and my use of ‘the screen’ (primarily social media) to simply kill time was growing. Alongside that my ability to hold a complex thought for an extended period seemed to be decreasing. Reading was becoming harder and study harder still. I was concerned at where this was heading and while I’d known of the idea of ‘brain re-wiring’ for a while I didn’t like the thought of investing the effort required to get things back on track. So one day two weeks ago I decided to take back some control.

Yeah – it was pretty much like that. ‘Enough of this – time to stop some stuff and recalibrate how my mind operates.’

All the research around this area indicates we are headed for 20 second concentration spans and a life dominated by screens. I’m a fan of technology, social media and the internet. I like what it has brought to our lives, but I’m also aware of its double edged nature and my own seemingly easily addictive personality.

To begin I read a couple of books, the most useful of which was ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, a book that suggests that in the future the ability to think and concentrate for long periods will be a rare (and valuable) commodity and that we need to regain the ability to do this kind of work.  ‘Shallow work’ is low value and easily replicable, but deep work requires extended time of concentrated focus. He offers insights into how we can do this, but that’s for another post some other time.

I have noticed over the last few years that when I sit to write a sermon or to read a book I am quickly distracted by random thoughts and apparently ‘urgent needs’.  I wrote them down one day. The list looked like this

  • ‘check weather for Saturday’,
  • Invoice X’
  • ‘has Y paid invoice? – check bank acc’
  • does Bunnings sell shed door flashings?
  • when is McGregor / Mayweather fight?
  • when is high tide?

All answers are available online so I find myself feeling that ‘this is important NOW’ so I chase down the answer. And what I am doing gets fragmented – smashed actually!

So i’ve put in place some practices to try and establish new patterns and habits. Here’s a bit of what I am doing to reshape my way of interacting with the online stuff. I’ve put these in order of how valuable they have been to me.

Mornings Go Analogue – I often used my tablet for my morning prayer and Bible reflection, but on opening it there were always a million notifications to deal with – so sometimes I didn’t get to the Bible and got distracted down a Facebook dogleg. I regularly gave up on meditation and prayer and just surfed the net. Lately I have been practicing using a ‘book’- a Bible with pages – before I pick up my phone/tablet. Its a small discipline, but it sets the tone for the day.

ALL notifications off – And then it simply makes sense to turn notifications off for EVERYTHING and I have been doing this over the last week or so. It has freed me from the distraction that comes when I am reading a book. Someone liked my instagram post… better check it out… Its just phone calls and text that get thru and often the phone is on silent after 5pm so even then I may not get them. The effect has been quite dramatic on my ability to focus and interestingly I had no idea just how many apps had automatically turned themselves to ‘notifications on’.

Toolbar Bookmarks deleted – on Chrome I had all my primary bookmarks loaded on my toolbar, which meant I would often realise I hadn’t looked at ‘X’ for while and would check in. Inevitably I would get stuck in the ludic loop and emerge an hour later Since I deleted it I have noticed I rarely visit Swellnet or Coastalwatch etc…

Practicing Waiting – more about that here, but essentially not pulling out the phone to kill the 5 minutes I ‘wait’ for a doctor/kids/train etc. I want to have that headspace I used to have as I think it was valuable for allowing ideas to percolate. This is so damn hard! I often feel like I have so much to do, but by practicing not doing it I seem to be re-training my brain and my capacity to behave differently.

 Mono-tasking This was one of my biggest struggles – watching TV without surfing the net or firing off a few emails and invoices seemed like wasted time… Why not kill two birds? Well… Because I can’t do it very well and I end up not remembering what I have watched. It also fuels an addiction and seems innocuous at first, but when I found myself reaching for my tablet every time the TV was on I realised I was settling into a new pattern that wasn’t going to be healthy.
Going Phoneless – when I walk the dog I used to take the phone and listen to a podcast / take photos / maybe even just skim social media. The same when I’d go to the shops, or drop into see a mate. Now I try to leave it at home when I can unless I know that I’ll need it for a call. I do feel a bit naked without it, but maybe that’s just an adjustment that needs to be made.
Not in the toilet – yeah… I am one of those people… I guess its like reading a magazine, but lately I found myself grabbing my phone each time I went to the toilet – again its just a simple practice, but one that needn’t have crept in in the first place. I can stop doing that very easily and it is another small step back to sanity.
Car Ban – I am one of those people who will read texts when stopped at lights and enter GPS stuff on the go. I am guessing that is only a hop and a skip away from engaging in other stuff. I find it hard to ‘not touch’ when I’m driving, but the last two weeks have shown it can be done if I am conscious of it.
Not in company – This was a hard & fast rule for me that I stuck to pretty rigidly for a while, but then I noticed others doing it – checking in and ‘checking out’ of the conversation, so I began to do it too when I was getting bored, even though I didn’t like it. Its pretty rude really, but it seems to have become the norm. Now I’m the self righteous one tut-tutting while others do it… ha…
Logging Activity – I began by doing this manually in my notes, but have now downloaded a couple of apps for my devices that track my time in them. I imagine that feedback will be valuable as I like to see stats and that often helps me know if I am ‘winning’.
I’m a long way from completely giving up screens and internet activity as I think its a part of our world and we just need to figure out how to do it wisely. When I’m not digging holes and laying turf, I spend most of day on screens, some of it work and some of it play, but it is unavoidable. I watch Netflix on a screen, I edit pics on a screen, I read the newspaper on a screen. I rarely buy real books now so even ‘reading a book’ involves a screen.
How has it been?
Trying to re-train myself has been quite challenging – certainly not as simple as flicking a switch. I have had days when I have done it easily and then other days when I have been weary and turned to a screen to zone out. I’m interested to see what develops in terms of increased concentration span and renewed ability to focus, because I believe Newport is correct that these are key skills that we need to cultivate.
One immediately observable change was in how I prepared my teaching for Sundays. For the last few years I have been doing a couple of hours of reading and thinking on Monday and then doing other things Tue-Thur. I always found that when I picked up the computer on Friday morning I could jump right in and write a sermon quickly and easily – because over the week there had been ‘background processing’ happening. The raw ideas from Monday were ticking over in there even if I was unaware.
This year as my screen time has increased I have found preaching hard every week. I have rarely hit a Friday where I have been able to sit down and smash it out like I used to.
Last Friday after just two weeks of trying new things I woke on Friday at 4.30am – not my usual practice – but felt awake enough to jump up and get started on work. I turned wifi off and managed to get a 25 minute sermon – 9 pages of text – written and edited in 3 hours. I didn’t have any fantastic ideas to work with when I sat down but as I began, the ideas flowed and it all took shape. Maybe it was just the difference of having mental processing space?
Either way – I’m on a mission to re-capture a less screen dominated life and a less zombie-like existence. I’ll let you know how I go.

 

Practicing Waiting

I’ve been in the process of reviewing how I use screens and tech stuff and one of the things I have been doing as a result is ‘practicing waiting’.

That might sound a little weird so I’ll explain.

You go to meet a friend for coffee and get there first – 5 minutes early – so my normal procedure has been to crack open the phone and check email/ FB/ Instagram/News etc until my friend arrives. I’ll do the same when stuck in a long queue or when waiting in the school carpark to pick up my kids, or in the Doc’s waiting room – in fact any time I am in danger of being bored or mentally unoccupied.

Now I’m that weird guy who is just sitting there… without a phone, or at least without using it. And I dunno how you go with this, but I find it hard… It feels like wasted time – when I could be catching up on the inevitable info-barrage that awaits.

But I’ve been reading and learning about the importance of being ‘bored’, about the need for ‘brain down time’, to allow fresh thoughts to percolate and generate. I used to have lots of fresh and fun ideas, but in recent years they seem to have diminished and I am fairly sure its at least partially because my brain never gets a rest. I am always grazing on some form of information so the possibility of my brain firing a new spark is limited.

Its both very difficult to wait and yet also very easy.

You just sit there… and keep on sitting… until your friend arrives, the doc calls you in, or your kids turn up. Its not fun, but I get the sense that it is good for the mental health and may be another piece of the puzzle when it comes to changing up my mental habits.

The End of Semi-Tasking

No – I haven’t got it wrong – that’s what it is.

For a while I thought I was onto something with so called ‘multi-tasking’, watching a movie while clearing emails, or sending invoices only to discover that I couldn’t follow the storyline or even remember the movie when it was over. I gave up on a number of movies because they didn’t make sense, but in hindsight I wasn’t actually paying attention.

‘Semi-tasking’ crept into my life fairly innocuously – it seemed silly to watch TV and not do something ‘productive’ at the same time, but as time went on I realised I was losing my grip on either or both of the things I was doing. Then it went from doing something productive, to just doing something else, so I’d surf Facebook or Instagram, or eBay while ‘watching’ a movie.

I discovered it became a habit to surf and watch, but a dissatisfying habit and I’d guess even a destructive one.

Maybe its just me, but I get the sense we can either do one thing well or multiple things at a fraction of our capacity. I’ve decided to return to old fashioned mono-tasking and see how that goes.

I’m doing some personal reflection on the place of screens in my own life and this is the first shift. One thing at a time… seems so ‘last century’… but I think I’d like to go back there.

Loving Lucy

Back in June we almost sold our dog Lucy. She had been driving us mad for over a year with her constant banging on the door during the night and I had grown to really dislike her.

In speaking to her, I called her ‘dog’ or ‘stupid dog’. Some days I would just look at her and say snarl ‘Gumtree’ in a menacing tone… I think she knew she wasn’t my favourite ‘person’. Eventually she played up enough that I was able to win the argument to move her on. However, when the time came to do it I was overcome with a deep sense that it was a wrong decision. It was one of those internal gut responses that I can’t easily articulate, but after making the decision and finding a new owner I woke up several times during the night disturbed and regretting it. If you believe like I do that God speaks into our world, then I would say ‘God was getting my attention.’

So I not only relented on selling her, I made a decision to love her and treat her well – to make sure she felt loved and part of the family. Its meant giving her much more attention than previously, speaking to her kindly and allowing her to be around us much more rather than locked outside.

Immediately after we made the decision to keep her she had a bad night – crashing and banging 3 or 4 times before I eventually had to tie her up. But since then she hasn’t misbehaved at all. She sleeps thru the night and doesn’t disturb us. She doesn’t get panicky and wired. She’s like a different dog.

Danelle tells me its because she now feels loved by the ‘head of the pack’ and as a result she feels secure. Maybe she’s right… maybe its as simple as that. And what’s interesting in all of this is that over the last few months I’ve started to like her again. I’ve looked forward to seeing her when I come home and I have enjoyed having her around.

Is it as simple as knowing you’re loved and feeling secure? Maybe it is…

That said I went out last week to drop the kids to school and left Danelle in bed. It was a cold morning so I left Lucy on her bed in the lounge room. When I came home I noticed the covers on the bed in the spare room had been well and truly ruffled up. I thought Danelle must have been sitting on it or been doing something in the room, but a brief discussion had us both realise that this dog now felt loved enough to make herself at home on the bed…

That’s still a bridge too far for me.

The Long Road

This is the road I drive every day either to or from home.

There is a faster road… by about 30 seconds… It cuts thru the streets and gets us home that little bit quicker, but really, why would you take the 'fast' option when for 30 seconds extra you can drive past this ocean every day?

Sometimes in life – maybe even often – efficiency is over-rated and beauty is minimised. I'm pretty utilitarian and practical by nature, but I also know it's important to enjoy moments of 'pointless beauty'.

It enriches the soul and shapes identity in an intangible way, but in a way that matters very much.

Under His Eye

 

 

 

 

 

I haven’t had a heap of work lately so I did a binge watch of the Handmaids Tale over the last few days, a novel I had never got around to reading, but a very good mini series and chilling in its implications.

If you haven’t read / seen then it’s the story of a dystopian future where the vast majority of women are infertile and those who are able to bear children get rounded up against their will, to be ‘handmaids’ to the elite class, so that the species will survive.

How could this happen?

A conversation between three of the senior leaders explains it. Just use biblical justification (Rachel and Leah) and while the women (and wives even) might not like it, once the Bible is involved who can argue?

So ‘handmaids’ are assigned to various homes and the ‘ceremony’ is performed after the reading of a passage of scripture which allows these (apparently) deeply religious people find a way to reconcile their own inner desires with what they know to be wrong and evil.

I’m reminded of that other movie, The Book of Eli, where Denzel Washington protects an unknown book with his life. Eventually the nature of the book is revealed – a KJV Bible – because whoever gets the book gets the power. More correctly would be whoever gets to interpret the book gets the power.

Thankfully that will never happen in real life…

As if…

I’m no fan of 60 Minutes as quality journalism, but Sunday night’s show exposing the sexual abuse within a particular independent Baptist Church, (thankfully it was mentioned several times that this is not our mob) was a contemporary example of the Bible being used to justify a man’s own sexual desires and subsequent evil actions. The abuse suffered by the wife was tolerated for so long because she was caught in a system of belief that validated her husband’s evil behaviour. ‘It was in the Bible’ that she needed to submit and obey so she really had no choice… So she felt.

The recent ABC studies released on domestic violence in Christian families seems to have touched a nerve in two ways. Some of those suffering have finally been given a hearing and an opportunity to break free of ‘biblically justified abuse’ (an oxymoron) while others within the church have gone on the defensive, hitting back at the research methodology and the clarity of the findings. This is completely disingenuous at a time when we need to repent rather than justify. If all that is heard by those willing to tell their stories is that they are ‘invalid on a technicality’ then we have simply become modern day Pharisees.

The Handmaids Tale is no far fetched sci-fi fable. It is an all too real possibility if we continue to allow men to get away with using the Bible / or any other religious text – as a justification for evil behaviour.

To be clear, I’m talking about using the Bible to manipulate your wife into doing something she does not want to do, or using the Bible to justify behaviour that would otherwise be considered wrong and liable to prosecution, even using the Bible to justify any self centred, self serving actions that hurt another. Of course you can step back from the line of ‘abuse’ and still be emotionally abusive and psychologically destructive, which is just as much of a problem.

As men the cards are usually stacked in our favour and the dominant readings of scripture for many years, giving men control and power, have allowed for the possibility of destructive outworkings of those interpretations.

I don’t think its as simple as ‘complementarians are bad and egalitarians are good’. It’s possible to be an egalitarian arsehole and a complementarian gentleman.

Its more to do with how we see Jesus and submit to him in our own lives. Because he isn’t cool with this stuff.

 

Changing Our Minds (Back Again)

Well Eugene… You really caused a stir, ‘changing your mind’, only to not really change it at all.

All suspicion aside, if you were ever in doubt that this is the litmus test of orthodoxy in 2017 then this is a clear indicator. Get the ‘gay thing’ wrong and you’re history – no matter who you are.

I doubt Petersen has much interest in the actual ‘debate’ outside of dealing with real human beings – which is possibly why his initial response felt simple, clear, and affirming. He’s a pastor. But when it comes to the flip side of the conversation – the theological argey bargey, he realised he is still conservative. That’s my interpretation of what may have happened. I doubt the removal of his books by various stores would actually sway a person with real integrity. He answered some questions in one state of mind and then as he reflected and had push back he decided to change positions. I’ve done this plenty of times in conversation, on FB and on blogs, but my name is not Petersen and I don’t have his influence, so no one really cares.

But the hostility he experienced for the short time he ‘switched’ means this can never be an open and genuine conversation because too much is at stake.

Anybody wanna get ‘Petersened?’. Ummmmm… No thanks…

A couple of years ago I took off on holidays to Bali with 5 books, three advocating for an affirming approach to homosexual relationships and two of the conservative view. I wanted to really dig into this stuff and explore it – openly – to the point where I was prepared to come home and quit leading our church if it came to that (because I don’t think I could hold a progressive view and keep leading the same church – we aren’t ‘there’)

And as I read the books I felt myself warming to the tone and language of the progressive writers (Gushee, Venn Brown and Brownson), and I felt the pain they expressed both for themselves and for those who find themselves gay and struggling. And then, as I read the books by the conservative authors (names forgotten) I felt a harshness and theological wankerishness that made me want to distance myself from them. I really disliked the matter of fact approach that seemed to exude no pastoral compassion whatsoever.
But at the end of the day I just couldn’t see the progressive argument clearly in scripture. I read and listened, discussed and explored and some more, but it just didn’t gel with me.

Theologically I found myself still conservative. And in fact last week when I had to speak from Romans 1:18-32, the more I read the passage depicting the downward spiral of morality as people moved progressively (no pun intended) away from God, the more I became convinced of the conservative position – theologically…

But it leaves me with the pastoral dilemma. How to respond to gay folks, Christian or not in this time?

I really feel stumped by this as one who is unashamedly conservative theologically.

A friend posted on FB recently looking for a church in Perth fully accepting of gay Christians and I wanted to say ‘hey we could be those people’, because I’d like to be… But truth is we are not – and I am not.

And then I hear a phrase like ‘welcoming but not affirming’ to describe churches and I feel it reads like an oxymoron. Who will feel genuinely welcome while being unaffirmed in their sexual identity? I don’t think we can go that route and not think it will backfire.

Is it more honest to say ‘gay folks not welcome here’?..

But I really don’t want to say that either – (not because it’s a cultural faux past), but because that’s not even close to what I feel in my heart.

Perhaps Bill Loader’s approach is best – summarised, he would say ‘the Bible is clearly against homosexual relationships, but we are now in the 21st C so we need to ditch those teachings and accept that our new context requires new thinking’.

I find that argument more compelling than the re-interpretations that just haven’t been at all convincing in my opinion. My fairly ‘high’ view of the Bible prevents me from taking that route.

That said after 53 years of evangelicalism indoctrination maybe I am simply incapable of any fresh reading of scripture. Or maybe I am tied by my pastoral role and need of income to being unable to even conceive of a way other than the one I have always held.

I have no doubt those are real factors in my own processing of the question.

Then some would suggest that if we accept Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God and read all scripture ‘through him’ then he would surely be far more gracious, accepting and embracing than the conservative view seems to allow us to be, suggesting that maybe we need to go back and re-read the biblical text again. Jesus certainly wouldn’t behave like so much of evangelicalism in this regard.

My hunch is that somewhere between 10 and 50 years time this will be a non-issue – like divorce is today. Divorce was once in league with the ‘unforgivable sin’, (40-50 years back) but now it is accepted as inevitable and unfortunate, but generally not disqualifying in any way. I remember the days when divorcees couldn’t attend church, take communion, teach Sunday school and certainly not serve on leadership teams or as pastors.

I sense culture will move us (as the church) to acceptance of gay relationships as normative and that gay folks will be part of our churches just as straight folks are. I imagine it will happen incrementally, and maybe one day young people will look on us in our older years, perplexed at our curious and somewhat disturbing views on sexuality… that is, if we still hold them… because we are not immune to these forces either.

So – people have often asked me for my view on this subject and I have hesitated to give it, initially because I hadn’t done serious reading & reflection and then ironically because I had done the reading and reflection. Reaching a position of stability in my thinking only served to create new challenges and issues that I am still unable to resolve adequately.

I don’t know why some folks have known nothing other than a gay sexual orientation.

I don’t know how we help gay folks find faith and acceptance in Christian community.

And yet if someone walked into my church tomorrow I know my instinctive response would be to welcome them, hear their story and try to help them find a place of belonging… Aint that conflicted?…

So maybe Eugene felt a bit of that stuff going on over the last few days. Maybe he will change his mind again. Maybe I will too…

Either way let’s be a lot more gracious with one another as we try to process with integrity a theological, pastoral and cultural issue that currently seems to be bringing us undone in ugly ways.

If there is a greater and more significant ‘cosmic spiritual conflict’ going on – and our battle is not against flesh and blood then surely we have to see that in this time we are getting brought undone by our enemy as we attack one another and ‘fight for the truth’, meanwhile leaving all manner of carnage in our wake.

When God Kills People IV

I’ve put down Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God for a bit as the further I get into it the more disturbed I become – not so much by his ideas per se, but by the sheer complexity of it all. Is the Bible really that hard to understand? I get that we read with 21stC western lenses and we need to re-enter the culture of the people and their writing to appreciate it. I get that we are always interpreting and we need to interpret well, but I fear he has made this so inaccessible that it almost becomes absurd.

I’m a big believer in the ‘teenager test’ – can I explain my ideas in such a way that a teenager can get them? If not then I need to go back and re-think them.
I posed the ‘teenager test’ on the CWG Facebook forum and discovered I wasn’t the only one frustrated with the hermeneutical gymnastics Boyd was calling for in order to make sense of these difficult passages of scripture.
So I’ve read 1000 pages and have 500 to go… I ‘get’ his points and I understand his theses. I’m yet to be convinced they are the best answers to the questions, but I’m more concerned that if someone said to me ‘what’s the deal with all the killing God orders in the OT then I doubt I could use Boyd’s framework as an explanation unless the person had a theology degree and a half hour to spend.
On a slightly different tack, I discovered an interesting podcast the other day – ‘Unbeleivable’, a series of debates between believers and atheists hosted by a Christian apologist, Justin Brierly. I like the premise of these podcasts – that we don’t need to fear honest debate although I’m not sure how much movement there would be on either side when a convinced atheist comes to defend his position against a theology scholar! Both are entrenched and unlikely to shift, but it is interesting hearing the arguments that get posed.
This one was centred on ‘genocide in the Bible’ and looked at 1 Samuel 15 – apparently the most offensive chapter in the entire Bible according to a ‘Ship of Fools’ survey (ok hardly reliable…) I’m a fair way into it now and the atheist is making a much better case than the Christian so I’m not sure the answers lie there – ha!
So at this point I feel far more aware in dealing with these difficult passages, but I’m yet to settle on answers that I can own. I imagine I will read further afield to see the other modes of reconciling these stories with the nature of Christ.