Thursday, 29 May 2008

... and the Wichita lineman...

The guy from Wichita was late this week, but I'm glad to see he finally made it. I was getting worried something had scared him away.

In honor of his reappearance on the morning's stats I thought this clip appropriate. As a general word of advice: if anyone ever gets the chance to see Jimmy Webb (the guy performing here, who also wrote this song - along with a whole bunch of other classics) take it. Absolutely unforgettable.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Nigeria is a long way from here.

In the wake of Sydney’s growing friendship with +Akinola and his similar minded friends from surrounding parts of Africa I’ve lately I’ve become fascinated by the Nigerian media. Thanks to the internet it’s possible to read the latest news from Abuja, as well as papers from regional centres such as Lagos or Kano and the Muslim north.

Some, such as the national Guardian clearly work hard to present credible and professional journalism, and the courage of those producing these papers cannot be understated. Others, such as the tabloid National Mirror seem more interested in generating Adsense revenue than they are in reporting the news. But my favourite is the Daily Sun

Newspapers like the Daily Sun exist in every country, and if you’re after serious analysis it’s unfair to compare them to papers like The Guardian. Yet they can offer a marvellous window into the hopes, dreams and concerns of the average person. They show a community’s popular culture in a way that more scholarly journals never can. They can even help explain why that nation’s leaders behave in ways which seem to make no sense by one’s own standards.

In Nigeria’s case the Daily Sun suggests that the background of the Bishops who Sydney (and more importantly, significant sections of the US) are embracing is very, very different to that of our own societies. +Akinola certainly comes from a deeply religious community (the Sun’s length list of regular features includes both "MAN IN THE PULPIT" and "ME & MY GOD",where local religious worthies discuss whatever it is that gets them excited. Let’s be honest here: none of them approach anything in a way to which your average western evangelical can relate.

This is in no way to be taken as implying the people of Nigeria (or anywhere else) are in any way inferior to those of the west, so please don’t bother accusing me of racism. The point I’m trying to make is that Nigeria is a very different culture to upper-middle-class Sydney (or North America), and that assuming either side fully understands where the other is coming from is na├»ve – if not positively dangerous.

As an example: not many high-circulation Australian newspapers would feature an article titled "God can still deliver cultists who made money through rituals if..." This fascinating piece revolves around an interview with the Rev. Dr. Francis Chukwuma Uwah (JP), who is the General Overseer of the Hundredfold World Outreach Church International Incorporated, and advises that ”God is so kind and merciful that He can afford to deliver any occult man who made his riches through ritual sacrifices”.

Or somehow I think not even the US National Enquirer could run Dr (Mrs.) Stella Kalu Ozonanze Queen (Eze nwanyi)’s (pictured right) wonderful account “I’m in mermaid cult, but I also believe in Jesus (Ok, I take that back. The Enquirer would love her, but I can’t think of anyone else who'd give her a run.)

Overlooked in all the breathless conservative reports of +Akinola’s brave stand on the global stage is the fact that his is clearly a See in the developing world, and that far from being a stalwart leader of his nation he is actually just one of a countless voices fighting to be heard in the rich Nigerian religious tapestry.

In a milieu which includes High Priest Daniel Oguejiofor (pictured left), the general overseer of Yaweh the King Holy Sabbath ("How my prayer paralysed a native doctor"; the Church of God Mission Inc (CGM) ("Pastoral work ruined my company"); and The Lord’s Brethren Charismatic Reconciliation Revival Ministries ("Satan using women to destroy the Church") featuring in a national secular daily it’s a safe bet to assume there will be some pretty big cultural gaps for both sides to cross before either of us is in a position to assume administrative oversight of the other’s congregations.

In the mean time is it really so liberal to suggest that we all concentrate on fixing the planks in our own eyes until both of us can understand the other whole lot better? And in the meantime how about a few prayers or kind thoughts or whatever it is you're into for the team at the Guardian? Anyone exposing Nigerian corporate and government corruption has a job more dangerous than yours or mine will ever be, and deserves all the help they can get.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

I've been memed.

Lindy (who most certainly does not have "just another blog"!) tagged me for this, and there’s no way I can pass up a chance write about any book I love. Especially this one. But before going any further here’s the rules:

Books are scarce in the world. They are illegal in some provinces. They are not easily replaced if not impossible to replace if lost in many if not most circumstances. If you can replace a book or buy one it is usually through the black market at astronomical costs that you cannot afford. Yet you have been able to maintain one of the best collections in the world. If your entire library was about to burn up (think of the firefighters in Fahrenheit 451 invading your home) and you could only have one book to take with you other than the Bible, what would that be and why?

Simple Rules: Answer the question. Offer one quote that resonates with you. Tag five people whose response is of genuine interest to you and inform him or her that they have been tagged. Cheers!

Ok folks – so my choice isn’t exactly highbrow, but I still think it's on of the greatest things ever written. I’ve bought and given away more copies than I can remember, but most of my friends couldn’t finish reading it. Some found the language too strained – lots of sentences without verbs, followed by others containing nothing but. Other’s just thought it too weird, but then they also say the same about me.

Perhaps because sometimes when reading this book I feel like I’ve already lived large junks, or at least imagined I have. Even though I’ve never been to Newfoundland, and everyone I’ve met who has says I’d be bitterly disappointed, in the dark times it even helped me believe that somewhere on the far corner of the planet there’s a place that even someone like me might just fit in. It’s the story of a man named Quoyle, although in some ways I’ve always known it as the story of a Priest named Caliban – but that’s a tale for another time.

The book is, of course The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx.
Read this – the novel’s final paragraph – out aloud. Preferably somewhere windy near water, with a glass of dry red wine in your hand: shout it out till the seagulls scream back and you’ll know what I mean. Especially if a funny-looking wet black dog is running beside you. Or maybe you won’t, but it’s still breath-taking writing.

"Quoyle experienced moments in all colors, uttered brilliancies, paid attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones, he laughed and wept, noticed sunsets, heard music in rain, said I do. For if Jack Buggit could escape from the pickle jar, if a bird with a broken neck could fly away, what else might be possible? Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat's blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery."

Now when it comes to tagging others I'm not much good, since although I like these things about as much as most people seem to find them stressful, and I worry terribly about causing good people any stress.

Maybe it's just that for me after writing so much about porno and crappy churches any change is fun, buy I'm honestly interested in everyone who drops by here and their favourite book, so please, if you got the time and a book ou'd like to share feel welcome to pick up the meme and run with it. Just please remember to let me know here so I can link to it - as well as find a copy of the book if I haven't read it.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Well it’s Tuesday morning here in Sydney and the guy from Wichita has just dropped by after usual his search. Google Analytics shows he stayed for just over 2 minutes before cruising on to wherever it is that guys in Wichita go when surfing the web for “hot boat porn Christian” sites.

The other search expression that brought a few people here overnight was “covenant eyes crack”. I’m assuming they were looking for ways to get around the software that seems to be gaining a cult following here, and not just looking for some kind of fetish which involving things can’t even begin to imagine. In which case I’m sorry, but two more disappointed visitors just left us: even if I did know a way around the program (and I don’t) it wouldn’t be here. Playing those kind of self-deceptive games with oneself and others about what you’ve been viewing (even if you just don’t want any Moore College faculty to know you lurk at Caliban’s Dream) never helps anyone.

What I can offer is the suggestion that we do something hypothetical here when talking about porn. Let’s all pretend it’s completely unconnected in any way with a person’s morality, ethical standing, relationship with God, or anything else which effects the way people view a person. When we’re here let’s imagine a person’s fascination with pornography is something purely psychological, like for example, an interest in model aircraft, or collecting beer coasters.

Now please – I’m not saying it is in the same category. Got that? At the risk of sounding rude I’ll repeat it shouting:I AM NOT SAYING PORNOGRAPHY AND MORALITY ARE UNCONNECTED! What I am saying is that when discussing it around here let’s try and think about it as if they are. Just as a kind of experiment, ok?

I realise that’s going to seem awfully challenging for some, and if you can’t handle the idea then don’t feel compelled to stick around; there’s no shortage of places on the web taking a more traditional approach. But if they really did have all the answers I’ll bet we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we? Sure, I know the idea of perving at the old whacko material cuts across just about every rule concerning personal purity you’ve ever heard preached by the Father Christians of this world (and, to be fair, plenty of people a whole lot nicer than he is), but let’s just try and put that to one side when discussing the subject here. For the purpose of this place we’re just going to pretend it’s only an interest some people have, there’s nothing sinful about it, nothing immoral about it whatsoever. Then let’s see where this idea might take us…

PS. Since there’s a fair bit more going on in the world besides porno (nearly all of which I happen to consider vastly more important) I can’t promise a post on the topic every day: in fact for everyone’s sake
(and especially my own ;-) I’d really like to vary the topic occasionally. If there’s anything you’d really like me to grab and run with now please just leave a comment in on any topic, or send an email to the link at the top-right corner on the page. Otherwise just keep dropping by: I promise we'll get back to this topic sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

A few minutes nostalgia.

It's not only a great song, but also one of few genuinely funny music videos ever made. Where would the world be without Billy Bragg?

Porn, porn, porn (& more about "Covenant Eyes").

Lately an old post has been attracting comments: it’s the one I wrote back in January when the manufacturers of a dubious application called Covenant Eyes criticised an an earlier post in which I made fun of Moore Theological College (where you’ve got to study if you live in this town and want to be ordained) for making its installation mandatory for all student and faculty computers.

Guys – I don’t know how to break this to you – but there are bigger problems in the world than your spending time polishing Mr. Lonely. I know it feels a big thing to you (no pun intended ;-), and or wherever it is you’ve been secretly hanging out seems really wicked, and like a giant wedge between you and God, but porn really isn’t the huge barrier between you and God that you’re making it out to be. The guilt, pain, anguish and unworthiness you feel as a result of your obsession is in your head, not God’s. The shame and embarrassment your society places upon you should as a result of your fascinations and urges are didn’t originate with anything Jesus said.

Look, if you feel Covenant Eyes really helps you that’s great. If someone feels more in control of their life and sexuality by rubbing yak butter behind their ears that’s also fine – whatever helps you be more in control of being yourself. But just because the yak butter works for one person doesn’t mean it’s going to help everyone. Nor should those for whom it doesn’t work feel like failures, or second-rate Christians whom God couldn't call for anything.

They’re the people I’m most concerned with. I’ve met an awful lot of people who’ve tried “just-say-no” cures to all sorts of things, and only ended up even more depressed when these didn't work. I’ve also had pretty much all I can take of people reducing Christian morality to sexual abstinence, meanwhile ignoring the things that Jesus mentioned quite explicitly (sorry if that word causes anyone to stumble ;-) - judgementalism, bigotry, religious hypocrisy, materialism… why isn’t there the same market for some kind of software that can filter these out of our churches?

Clearly, if my Google Analytics figures are anything to go by, porn reigns on the internet – even in the micro-niche of quasi-religious blogs about the Diocese-that-time-forgot. Google “French boat porn” and number one (out of 234,000) is a post I put up back in last December about fast sailing craft, and I still regularly get hits from people who’ve come looking for something other than trimarans. Then there’s the guy from Wichita who drops by every Tuesday morning (Sydney time) after googling “hot boat porn Christian” – that gets 1,070,000 hits and I’ve no idea how far he’s got to search down the list before finding this place (nor why he bothers week after week when he must be disappointed with what he finds here). But that’s human sexuality for you. A strange beast, that can indeed seem an uncontrollable and irrational force. Yet if God is all-knowing none of it’s going to come as a surprise, and none of it can ever apply as an exclusion clause to “For God so loved the world…”

Let’s face it, as men each of the apostles had at some time taken their own one-eyed lizard for a stroll, Paul included. Nor can you tell me that the women of the Bible were as sterile as how they’ve traditionally been depicted. They were humans! Which also means that, given there was more than ten in the entire entourage, at least one of the people alongside Jesus preferred thinking about their own gender while self-administering the sacrament of soothing.

And guess what? Jesus never told off any of them for it! Not a single mention. Which, given the joy people find in reporting on other’s predilections in this department, is strange. Surely if Jesus had made some profound off-the-cuff criticisms of one of the disciples for spending too long in the john after one of the Marys had a wardrobe malfunction, it’s pretty certain someone would’ve remembered it. But instead we get nothing. Either Christ’s priorities were wrong, or ours are: take your pick, but I know which way I’ll be voting.

I’ll try and rant some more about this topic soon, just as soon as we can all pull ourselves together for another round (boom-tish!). In the meantime, if you're the guy in Wichita can you please tell me how far down the list we come? And why isn't it easier to just add this place to your favourites?

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Signs and Wonders.

It’s just over a month since the Reverend Career Blind-Alley (or whatever his name was) of St Stephen’s Bellevue Hill hit the spotlight after sending a couple of very childish (not to mention downright nasty) letters to Justice Kirby, one of Australia’s most respected public figures.

Since then Rev. Blind-Alley has been an obedient Matthian, and lain low without making a sound until all the fuss dies down. Rumours that this was influenced by coadjutant Bishop Falstaff are completely unfounded, as is the report that Bishop Falstaff was seen carrying 50 feet of rope and several roles of duct tape into the St. Stephen’s manse.

So, as is the usual means of dealing with hiccups on the path to world evangelical domination, all reference to the event has now been removed from the official histories. All that remains is an unwritten (and oh-so softly voiced) warning for Sydney clergy to in future ignore powerful and popular persons of alternate sexuality, and simply continue picking on their traditional target: the vulnerable and easily intimidated. Consequently I was deleting my unused pictures of St. Stephen’s, since the story has no further mileage and they won't be needed any more, when when I noticed something...

As you can see, when it comes to noticeboards St. Stephen’s believes more is better. That’s not unusual in these parts: perhaps someone in the Cathedral offices a few years ago had a brother-in-law in the sign business.

Look at the close-up of the left sign above, and you’ll see the Sunday evening “Contemporary Evening Meeting” (no + Iker –your new friends from Sydney never call it “The Eucharist”. Ask them why at GAFCON – they’ll be happy to explain.) is held at 7pm.

Yet the sign on the right says it starts at 6pm. So which is correct? When should anyone interested arrive?

One thing is certain: they don’t run two services. Matthians like their sermons long (anything less than 40 minutes suggests the preacher has liberal tendencies), so there’d be no time for Rev. Blind-Alley to double up. Besides, Bellevue Hill isn’t exactly a hot-bed of revival (bet you’d never guessed, right?), so anything more than a dozen bums on pews for one evening service would be surprising.

This indicative of something you see in churches everywhere: it’s certainly not just a Sydney Anglican thing. Those in the know, the pious insiders, have the correct time, and they undoubtedly show up every week as regular as clockwork. The reason the signs haven’t been fixed is because the people responsible don’t care about those not in their clique. They have more important things to do than worry about signs. It doesn’t matter that outsiders don’t know when to arrive for the evening service, because outsiders aren’t really welcome.

If Sydney’s commitment to mission and growth is anything more than lip-service and a "we can do it too" response to World Youth Day (and they’ve a long way to go before I’ll be convinced it is) the men in charge are going to have to start caring about those who aren't on the inner. Showing they care. Listening even. Actually loving those who have not yet attained the authorised (and self-assessed) degree of sinless righteousness.

And gee, it’d help if they could let people know what time things start.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

God spare us all this Mercy.

Since yesterday I've done a little more reading on Mercy Ministries. Ok: so actually I've read a lot about these scum - I use the word 'scum' in its most theologically-considered sense - and please believe me when I say they're a nasty, nasty organisation.

But don't just take my word for it: here's an article from last month's Sydney Morning Herald. Or even better, jump on over to Sean the Blogonaut's place and download a copy of the Mercy Ministries program handbook.

That way you can see for yourself what these psuedo-Christians inflict on the poor, the ill and the insecure. While the handbook is supposed to be 'secret' (you'll understand why they'd be ashamed of it when you see it), Sean, a fellow Aussie who is unquestionably what we call down here "a bloody good bloke", has been doing everything he can to expose this scam, and to provide survivors of Hillsong's abusive scam with somewhere to share their experiences. One of them has passed on this frightening document, which is given to women after they've signed on the dotted line and entered the program. If the rules look more like those of a medium security prison than a supportive and therapeutic environment to you, just imagine how they feel to a mentally ill person who's come hoping to find help, only to be hit with all 16 pages of this.

Mercy Ministries Program Handbook
Click the cover image above to go to Sean's blog and read what Mercy Ministries are really like. While you're at it have a look around at the other stuff there about these pharisees, and let him know what a great job he's doing. While he mightn't share the beliefs that many of us here have, his actions prove him a lot closer to Christ than many folk I've met sitting in pews (and much more than most occupying a pulpit in my part of the world), and he deserves all the support he can get.

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Hills aren't singing, they're crying for justice.

At the start of this month I wrote about Hillsong the local Assemblies of God megachurch run by Brian 'Oedipus' Houston and his irritating wife Barbie Bobbie.

What I didn't mention is that Hillsong also operate the Australian arm of Mercy Ministries, a charity whose stated mission is to provide assistance and treatment for women aged 16 - 28 who are experiencing "issues such as eating disorders, unplanned pregnancy, self-harm, addictions, depression or abuse."

Now obviously these are very serious matters, and I don't know anything of how Mercy Ministries operate elsewhere, but lately Hillsong have been getting a lot of well deserved heat over their Mercy Ministries residential program. To an outsider like me the general philosophy appears to have been "they might think their life's hell now, but we'll show them that they ain't seen nothing yet". Then add a loathsome requirement that these ill and vulnerable women sign over all their welfare payments for the privilege of seeing any remaining shreds of their self esteem destroyed - should I mention the exorcisms now?. Couple this with a healthy injection of corporate sponsorship funds, and the whole moneyspinner helps Barbie pay for the most expensive acrylic nails money can buy. Or perhaps the repayments on Oedipus' Porsche.

What is wasn't doing was helping anyone recover - or any of the other promises made to those seeking professional care and treatment. Read this eye-witness account written someone who survived the Hillsong Mercy Ministries program. And afterwards please take a moment to let her know she's a hero for surviving to speak out against this evil.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Just a fisher of men.

"Would you believe it was this big?"

Saturday, 10 May 2008

This week's anthem contender.

Looking over the last few things here has left me worried that I've been coming across rather gloomy, which is really not what I'm like. Absurdly busy: yes (hence the absence of any new posts this past week), chaotic: probably, and sleep-deprived; absolutely, which is perfectly normal when you're a parent. But depressed? Not any more. Pessimistic? No way.

So correcting this glaring inaccuracy is this week's anthem, from the one and only Ian Dury. God bless 'im - one of the Britain's finest. Ever.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

A cold autumn.

Driving home from church this morning we came upon a young man laying screaming on the ground next to his crashed motorbike. A car had just knocked him down and fled the scene, leaving him for dead.

We pulled over, and I ran to help. Having studied a bit of first aid (and even written a first aid course two years ago as part of a contract for a merchant bank – itself a long story: large sections needed revision to cover their executive staff; turned out the classes on CPR were irrelevant since none of them had hearts ;-) it was a relief to discover how much I could remember: if you’d asked me any questions ten minutes earlier I’d have known nothing. Emergency (it’s 000 in Australia, not 911) dispatched an ambulance and began going through the DR ABC checklist (if you don’t know what that is you should: knowing could save someone’s life - why schools seem to think it’s more important to teach algebra than first aid is completely beyond me) and it was reassuring to be able to confirm each step had already been taken.

The rider began to settle: his left arm, leg and collarbone were in pretty bad way, but he had movement and feeling in his fingertips and toes, no significant bleeding, and no head injury – helmets are compulsory for a reason. A passing fireman stopped to take care of the fire hazard: fuel from the bike had splashed everywhere, and then the emergency services arrived.

The police explained that an off-duty officer travelling in the opposite direction had seen everything and given chase, arresting the hit-and-run driver at the next intersection. She (the police officer) returned while I was giving my details, and looked every bit as proud as she deserved to feel: the driver was a tall and angry man easily three times her size, and confronting him would have taken considerable courage.

I’ll drop over to the hospital to visit the rider later today and see how he’s going: in parish I used to do a lot of hospital work, and it still feels like one of the most rewarding ways possible of spending a Sunday afternoon.


All of which brings to an end what has been very dark week. On Thursday a close friend’s ex-wife lost her son in an accident on Sydney Harbour: their daughter was tragically killed about 10 years before, and the grief into which they have been plunged is more than anyone can even begin to comprehend. While at the same time this weekend, which is for us late autumn with high clear skies and cold afternoons, marks 20 years since another dear friend developed tertiary aids.

In those days, which were long before the appearance of antiretrovirals, his future was so much of a forgone conclusion that everyone went into a kind of denial. Quasi-fundamentalist and strangely bohemian at the same time, we were all about as functional as an acupuncturist with Parkinsons. A close-knit community for whom the years have not been equally kind, we’ve long gone our separate ways, and for some those days are only a vaguely remembered science-fiction.

But I know each of us remembers Dusan, and the months following this weekend, which lead to that awful August-September of 1988. I’ll post more in his memory as the anniversary of his death draws nearer, and I promise that it shan’t be too bleak. To write of Dusan in any way other than with laughter and energy would be to deny the life that he brought to everyone around him. This is a song from “back-in-the-day” local band Died Pretty called D.C. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found it on YouTube, and who knows: it might even be about him...

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Oedipus Houston wants a palace.

Sydney’s largest Assemblies of God congregation is Hillsong, a mega-church run by Oedipus Houston, and his wife Barbie. Together they make all Australians proud by proving our most expensive dentists are every bit as good as any Hollywood can offer.

Lately Pastor Oedipus and his happy-clappy revenue sources revolving door congregation have come in for a bit of criticism, since local residents are strenuously objecting to plans to build a 2,700 seat “worship & ministry complex” and seven-storey administrative tower in the middle of Roseberry, a residential community about 20 minutes walk from the Casa del Caliban.

One of the key problems is that Hillsong’s development application (allegedly based on a design directly from God) fails to include anywhere near enough parking spaces. Naturally the prosperity-focussed “kids of the King” who attend Hillsong’s 4+ services every Sunday (not to mention the dozens of mid-week meetings) wouldn’t dream of demonstrating their lack of faith by catching public transport, and since the area already has a shortage of parking the enourmous traffic pressures which will be caused by Oedipus’ tacky Taj Mahal are naturally causing everyone great concern. Not to mention the noise; can anyone begin to imagine how loud almost three thousand donors to the Pastor's Porsche Fund can get when they all start braying at God together?

In an attempt to persuade Sydney City Council to permit the development, Hillsong presented a petition from whom they claimed were locals supporting the project. However when the Roseberry Residents Action Group reviewed this list, they found just 29 of the 4000 addresses provided were valid! In one stunning example of clerical integrity an assistant pastor’s name and signature appeared in four separate entries. Elsewhere the former high ranking Hillsong employee, Leigh Coleman and his wife Vera had signed the petition twice, listing two different addresses. This great cartoon from our local paper Central says it all:

Anyone interested can find out more about Oedipus Houston’s grubby plans, and how a community has come together to resist them here.

But on the bright side, isn’t it refreshing to see someone in Sydney other than the Matthians act as if their claim to have a monopoly on God gives them the right to do and say whatever they want?