college travels

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

‘Twitter is permissible, and may even be beneficial; but I will not be mastered by anything’

In an article I wrote for the Buzz e-news I gave the self-justification for giving in and joining the growing number of twitterers. Paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:12, this post shares some of the dangers I’ve discovered, and my current strategies to keep twitter as a servant and not let it become the master.

4. Missing what’s happening because I’m telling other people what’s happening

A few months ago my youngest daughter and I were going out together to watch my other daughter in a school play. So my youngest and I had dinner at a little take-away chinese place in Wollongong. It was great sitting there with her perched up on her stool with her plate of spring rolls in front of her. I took a photo and posted it to facebook, with a caption something like ‘on a daddy-date with my daughter’. A wise friend replied, ‘so why are you on facebook then?!’

The advantage of twitter is the immediate update – real time reporting, ‘this is happening right now!’ The danger is that I end up like the tourist who spends their holiday looking at the world through the lens of their video camera and ends up missing out on actually seeing the world as it is.

So tweets will need to be mostly before and after the event. Does this kill the beauty of the technology? Perhaps; and perhaps there’ll be times when an immediate tweet is helpful – but if I end up one of those people who doesn’t look you in the eye when you’re speaking because I’m too busy bashing out a new tweet on my blackberry, then please come up and slap me.

3. Being constantly occupied with thinking I should be tweeting something profound

Now that I twitter my brain hasn’t just got a new task on the agenda, it has a new set of standing orders. I now have a new activity to fall back on in down times so that I never need to employ the services of a mental screen-saver. I’ve found that in the rare moments where I used to be able to just sit and think, I’m now busily constructing new thoughts to tweet to my loyal band of followers.

The problem is, for a Type A person like me, this puts me firmly on the path to a heart attack! My colleague Ruth Lukabyo diagnosed me a few years ago as dangerously Type A—the sort of person who finishes other people’s sentences, who walks quickly even if I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere, who stresses over whether they’ve chosen the shortest queue at the supermarket and who carries reading material everywhere just in case you have to sit somewhere and wait for three minutes and don’t have anything productive to do! All of which puts my brain in a constant state of stress, building an adrenaline addiction in my system that can lead to heart disease and premature death.

In his book, Adrenaline and Stress, Arch Hart outlines helpful remedies for Type A’s which includes the benefit of doing nothing every now and then. Our brains need some down time, and can often be far more creative when they’re given a bit of a break; the sort of breaks that come when you’re waiting in a supermarket queue, waiting for an appointment, sitting in traffic – as long as you’re not busily working on formulating your next tweet!

So my discipline is to not check twitter every time I’ve got a moment to spare (which doesn’t sound that difficult when I write it here, but actually is... which must be a sign of addiction!) and to train my mind to slow down, to smell the roses, enjoy the moment. Maybe if I keep doing that I’ll have more interesting thoughts to tweet!

2. Mistaking Twitter for the Bread of Life

My greatest addiction used to be coffee; I can see that it could easily become twitter.
The sign that coffee had become an addiction was when I found myself saying ‘I can’t get through the morning if I haven’t had a coffee before 7:30am’ (that, and the headaches I got when I tried to quit!). Yet at the same time I realised I was able to make it all the way to lunch without having prayed, and could go whole days without sitting in silence before God’s word. So the discipline was invoked, ‘no quiet time, no coffee’. I needed to express to myself that my need for the ministry of word and prayer was much more ‘vital’ in the literal meaning of being ‘life giving’ than coffee ever could be.

Now the discipline is to not read my twitter updates until I’ve read my Bible – my discipline of giving the first word to the God who I follow with my life, rather than to the twits I follow on my phone! It’s difficult because my phone doubles as my alarm clock – so the first thing I touch in the morning is this oh so tempting piece of communications technology. Maybe I should buy an alarm clock.

1. Living my life for the praise of men

This really is the biggest challenge of all for me. So much of my Christian life is lived publically; it’s one of the main occupational dangers of being in leadership ministry. So many of my reflections on and responses to God’s word are public, which makes me a prime candidate for the sort of hypocrisy that Jesus warned against in Matthew 6 – am I in this to be seen by others, or because I want to serve my heavenly Father? As Twitter gives the opportunity to share so much more of what’s going on in my life, it also gives the opportunity to shift the focus of my spiritual life from being lived for God to being on show for others: beware of tweeting your points of spiritual inspiration in order to be retweeted by others, I tell you the truth, you will have received your reward in full!

So my vow before God is to not tweet or facebook or blog or write about the things that are written in my personal journal of notes from my devotional Bible reading and prayers. This part of my life will be under the discipline of secrecy – not because it’s more noble to be secret; but because my heart is too weak to be able to avoid self-serving hypocrisy without this discipline to train me to love the praise of my Father in heaven more than the praise of men.

At times it’s killing me! I read something in the word and hear something from God that I’ve never realised before, make some connection that brings great clarity to some point of behaviour, or some aspect of church life or contemporary culture. And I think, if I tweet that I’ll sound profound and wise and maybe someone will retweet and maybe I’ll get more followers that John Piper or Mark Driscoll or Jodie McNeill!

But I’m not reading the word and sitting in silence before the Lord to wait for him to speak to someone else; and if I’m busily thinking about how to share these thoughts with the world I’m in danger of missing what he has to say to me. So I sit on the back deck in my quiet time chair, with my Bible and my journal. And I leave my Blackberry inside.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Thesis Proposal

I've been working on refining the actual topic for my MTh thesis. Here's what I've come up with so far - I'm presenting this to an Advanced Topic seminar at Moore College on Tuesday so it may well be changed significantly after whatever input my gracious fellow research students may contribute.

Towards an Appropriate Adolescent Theology
How do we engage mid-adolescents with the Scriptures in a way that is appropriate to their developmental stage and equip them to connect theology with practice both now and in the future?

Although practical theology and biblical theology are seen as two competing approaches to teaching the Bible to teenagers, nevertheless a method drawn from canonical-linguistic theology can be successfully employed because it can effectively connect theology with practice while keeping the Scriptures as normative, can address the developmental challenges of mid-adolescence, and be accessible to the developmental capacity of mid-adolescents.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some thoughts on Church and Culture – Thesis 3

My final thought (for now!) on this topic... Thesis 3: By equating ‘church’ with the hour and fifteen minutes we spend together on a Sunday instead of a community we load up the weekly gathering with more than it can or should bear.

This perhaps is not an idea specifically about church and culture but I think it’s one of the reasons we’re in such a pickle over the ‘church and culture’ issue.

I think we (meaning, Sydney Evangelicals (capitals intentional) who have been brought up on Knox-Robinson ecclesiology) have overemphasised the ‘church as gathering’ equation to the extent that church has become limited to what happens when we’re in the building together on Sunday morning (or evening, or Saturday or whenever we gather).

Church is not a building (though every physical gathering needs a location); it’s not an institution (though any gathering of people will have institutional structures, see Volf (1998), After Our Likeness, p.234-45); and neither is it an event (though as a gathering community the church will be marked by the significant regular gathering ‘event’).

Brief Theological Aside: Of course, this wasn’t the intention of Knox or Robinson (imho); their most significant contribution being the point that the heavenly gathering (Heb 12:23) being primary means that we are always ‘in church’. Still though, the insistence that earthly ‘church’ doesn’t exist when we are not gathered (“It is not too much to say that the church on earth does not exist, or is not visible, except in the actual assembly of believers” Robinson (1965). The Church of God), though linguistically precise, is I believe theologically limited. Yes, ekklēsia means ‘gathering’, and the word is mostly used in the NT to refer to actual gatherings (whether Christian or not); but there are at least two times I can see where Luke uses the word to refer more broadly to Christian people who are not actually physically gathered – Acts 8:3; 9:31.

Therefore I prefer to talk of the church as a ‘gathering community’: that is, we are a community living under the headship of Christ (so, we are ‘church’ even if we’re not gathered); but we are a community that is marked and defined by gathering, both spiritual and physical gathering, temporal and eschatological gathering. To be Christian is to be a member of the church, gathered now around Christ by the Spirit, to be gathered on the last day physically in Christ’s presence, and to gather physically now whenever possible and practical as the fundamental expression and experience of our identity. To decide to stop gathering with other believers will by definition bring into question our identity as Christians. If I’m a member of a football team (in my dreams I’m inside centre for the Wallabies) but decide to no longer meet with the other team members and instead aim to play rugby as an individual, I might have lofty intentions, and there may be understandable reasons for my decision, but you’ve got to ask whether it really is rugby I’ve ended up playing.

The upshot of all this is that church isn’t just our formal gathering; it is not less than that, but must be more as well.

Even if you don’t agree with my theological aside and want to maintain the church is church only when Christians gather idea, then at least we can agree that the church gathering doesn’t need to be (and I suggest) ought not be limited to one hour and 15 minute (or thereabouts) gathering once a week.

Pity the poor ‘Sunday Service’ – it must be a time of public reading of Scripture, gospel proclamation, theological education, spiritual nurture, practical instruction, corporate worship and prayer, and intimate fellowship; with offertory, announcements and morning tea thrown in there’s a lot going on in one gathering (and there’s another series of blogs on the implications of this sort of expectation on preaching and preachers...). The point for now is, that if you add the requirement to be ‘culturally relevant to all who attend, especially to the majority culture of our community that we’ve decided to target’ we’ve ended up with an impossible task.

Putting together theses 1, 2 and 3 therefore, cultural relevance belongs to church through individual Christians or small groups of Christians who are engaged in real relationships of evangelistic-love with their friends and neighbours; while the regular gathering of God’s people, aiming at transforming all our individual cultures by living intentionally as God’s people under Christ by the Spirit, will have a culture different to any other, and open to every other.

So, invite your vegan neighbours to a dinner of barley and eggplant salad on Friday night, your NRL loving workmates to a spit roast on Saturday night and have a cup of tea and a scone with Mabel from across the street on Thursday afternoon; get everyone from your church who surfs into the same home group and encourage them to be an evangelistic community to connect with local surfers; do the same for the scrap-bookers, the long-distance runners and the wanna-be-masterchefs. And then come Sunday, come together in the one gathering that transcends all human connections, this new community in Christ. Introduce your surfer friend to your sister the scrapbooker and your brother the vegan. Then sit together under the word of God and share together in the Lord’s table, and display the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph 3:10), and perhaps lead your friend to worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you’ (1 Cor 14:25)!

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Value of Stories

Some scholars work with the assumption that what counts in the narrative sections of the Bible are the propositions that are to be found there. They want to analyse and dissect a story so that it can be reduced to a series of theological statements. But if this were all that God intended us to do with the long sections of narrative in the Bible, then it is a wonder that he didn’t give us an encyclopaedia or Bible dictionary rather than a long and involved story of salvation.

Sociologists and psychologists will say that beyond supplying propositions, narratives have another important function. Not only do they convey information but they also confer and confirm identity. The stories that we listen to and the stories that we tell play an important part in making us who we are as a community. Furthermore it is in and through those stories that we, as individuals, learn to make sense of the world and of our experiences in it. There is something about a story, they suggest, that is internalised and becomes part of who we are and how we engage with the world outside us. There is something about a shared story that joins us and contributes to a sense of community.

Writers in this area suggest that stories help us to engage with others by offering us examples or ‘archetypes’ to follow. Everyone, they say, wants to live a significant life. They want to be mourned when they die and they want to be remembered for having achieved something. We will look to achieve in one of four areas or in a combination of two or more of: warrior, sovereign, seer and lover.

The narratives in the Bible help us to know how the people of God are to fight, to lead, to offer advice and to help others to appreciate all that God has made. These same narratives also warn us about what happens when these archetypes are expressed inappropriately and the sovereign becomes a tyrant or the seer a fool. They warn us how easily this change can occur and help us always to rely on God and on those he has set around us to keep us balanced and focused.

Samuel is an example of a seer. He is still learning and growing throughout his ministry, and there’s a lesson here for us. One of the things he learns is to see potential and what might be. So he trusts God and anoints a young David in preference to an older and more impressive Eliab or Abinadab. He also learns that his responsibility is to advise Israel and Saul and later David but that he is not responsible if that advice, well presented, is ignored. So he advised Israel against taking a king, but learnt to trust God and to stand by Saul when Israel persisted with their request. Samuel might have been disappointed with their decision, but he did not allow himself to turn that disappointment to bitterness. He served Saul speaking warmly and encouragingly over him at his anointing and continuing to advise him throughout his lifetime. In Samuel we see how to use the wisdom that God gives for the benefit of others and in service of his kingdom.

To be continued ...

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