Hang on, that’s a balanced Hillsong article!

July 7, 2011 was a big day for Hillsong. Not only was it the penultimate day of its 25th anniversary Hillsong conference at Darling Harbour, but also the day the Sydney Morning Herald printed a reasonably intelligent, mainly positive article about the mega-church.

Having taken to task the SMH several times for its mindless bias against Hillsong, which has seen the paper link the church with negative stories to which it has no actual connection, I thought it only fair to highlight the opposite.

Writer Ross Cameron describes how some friends visiting from England explain “they want to see Hillsong” and concludes with:

“Hillsong avoids many of the excesses of American TV spirituality. It’s delivered in the Australian vernacular and it respects the audience enough to make sure speakers know how to communicate. There are elements that don’t suit me, but Hillsong is changing people’s lives for the better. Some theological custodians argue Hillsong is just the power of positive thinking with a patina of Jesus. But even if that were true, would it be a bad thing? I would prefer being uplifted than depressed and it’s clearly better than my default position – lying on the couch with a coffee, The Insiders and three newspapers.

“Sydneysiders have taken a certain pleasure in finding fault with this church, and most have no idea of its impact. Hillsong is throwing modern Christianity a lifeline, while reaching out to others in a life beyond self.”
At last glance, there were 163 comments on the article with many agreeing that it is good to see a “positive Hillsong article from SMH for a change”. As usual, wherever there is a positive potrayal of Christianity, the evangelistic atheists are in a commenting frenzy with their usual taunts of “imaginary friends” and “sky fairy”.
Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald.
Previous Hillsong posts:

 

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Space provides hope for street sex workers

My only encounters with brothels and sex workers have been organising to have flowers distributed outside one of Sydney’s largest brothels in Camperdown during random acts of kindness events and trawling the area around Hollywood Boulevard, LA, in the early hours of the morning with a Dream Centre team.

In both cases the intention was to bring the kindness of God to an otherwise unkind corner of our society, hopefully surprising people with the news that God loves them.

Oh and there was one occasion on the bus from work when two young women, looking like uni students, sat behind me and begun discussing their ‘clients’. Being a consummate eaves-dropper I was soon shocked and got off feeling a little shaken about the world we live in.

So it is good news indeed to see a Christian community group featured in the Sydney Morning Herald because of complaints against sex workers – not making the complaints but being the object of them.

Baptist Church urban compassion ministry, Hope Street, has raised the ire of inner Sydney residents for running a support service for sex workers out of a Bourke Street, Darlinghurst terrace.

Established in April 1995, Women’s Space is described by Hope Street as a “safe place where we provide support for street-based sex workers and other women involved in the sex industry in inner Sydney, with a focus on encouraging those women who choose to make a change in their lives and supporting these women during and after the changes they make.”

About five street-based sex workers visit the centre each morning, according to the SMH report, and may seek counselling have a shower, get a new set of clothes or just sit in the sunny courtyard.

Coordinator Kay Syonesa said the women “can come here and have someone treat them as an individual whereas other places it’s: ‘just a sex worker’… they come here and it’s: ‘you’re human’.”

As the service only moved to the Bourke St location at the start of this year, the were asked to submit a development application to the City of Sydney and local residents have contributed 84 objections out of 88 responses.

One representative of the East Sydney Neighbourhood Association came up with this ‘impressive’ list of objections: “the street sex workers are homeless… it does not service the residents, it’s not compatible with the permissible use.”

Compelling reasoning… not. Kings Cross police have no problems with the service, street prostitution has not increased in the area and some residents are seeing the bigger picture: “It’s just pathetic, this idea of ‘not in my backyard. It will make absolutely no difference to these residents but it could do a huge amount of good for these women,” the resident told the SMH.

Let’s hope compassion wins over ‘not in my backyard’ as City of Sydney planners assess the development application.

Find out  more about Hope Street’s Women’s Space.

Check out this previous post:

Paul Moulds – into the dark places.

Faith by billboard conversation continues

If you happen to commute along the M4 and also Victoria Rd (you are to be deeply pitied for that commute) then you may feel like you’re in the middle of a friendly, billboard-sized banter between a Christian and a Muslim. And the topic? Jesus.

Check out the full story at Australian Christian News.

Original billboard post
Forget billboards, they want to ban the  Bible

Alpha course (very) distinct from Alpha Dynamics

An attempt was made to list on Wikipedia an article about Alan John Miller, the Australian man claiming to be Jesus who was featured on A Current Affair this week.

The article was deleted due to a lack of substantiation and references, however a discussion sprang up on a forum about the article, mainly among people concerned about relatives who have begun to follow Miller’s Divine Truth teaching.

Part of Miller’s technic is to reach searching people through a course called Alpha Dynamics, which ostensibly is about improving the use of your brain in relation to concentration, memory and better sleep. It also draws on New Age references to alpha and beta waves. The course is coordinated in Australia by Peter H. Heibloem.

As the course progresses, attendees are pushed towards the ‘real  answer’ to their worries, Divine Truth, as taught by, you guessed it, Alan Miller.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, one of the most popular training courses being run by Christian churches recently is called Alpha and while it has nothing to do with Alpha Dynamics, there is potential for confusion.

For example, a person who contributed to the forum (mentioned above) expressed his concerns for friends entangled with Miller and refers to Alpha training.

Continue reading

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory…

The Sydney Morning Herald has taken a cheap shot at Hillsong and the Seventh Day Adventist church by linking them to federal budget legislation that ‘will put a lid on the practice of so-called charities using their tax-free status to  generate business income for no charitable purpose whatsoever.’ (SMH, May 11, pg 4)
The story reports on changes to legislation expected in Tuesday’s budget which will require not-for profit organisations to pay tax on profits kept for commercial purposes.
The article then lumped Hillsong and the Seventh Day Adventist Church into that category: ‘The Hillsong church has links with the Gloria Jean’s coffee shop franchise,  while the cereal company Sanitarium is owned by the Seventh Day Adventist  Church.’
The SMH has been like a rabid conspiracy theorist in relation to Gloria Jeans and Hillsong for some time and failed again to acknowledge or understand that the fact that the owner of Gloria Jeans attends Hillsong does not equate to the church owning the business. Hence the nebulous ‘has links’ in the article. If every charity or church is to have its tax status changed because it has ‘links’ with a business, then most would be impacted. Continue reading

Popular TV shows discuss faith and church

Two prime time television shows and classic re-run featured characters discussing the merits of church attendance and Christian faith in the past week.

Channel 7’s Packed to the Rafters this week had character Nick ‘Carbo’ Karandonis telling his girlfriend Loretta ‘Retta’ Schembri that she would have to convert to the Greek Orthodox faith for them to be married. She replied she would not convert as she didn’t believe and it would be hypocritical. She also questioned the sincerity of Carbo’s faith, given that he claimed to be Greek Orthodox and never attended. So they attend church together and afterwards Retta says she felt the spirituality of the service and wants to attend every Sunday. Carbo is horrified that she might take faith seriously and the theme is set to continue in the show – next season.

Channel 10’s The Good Wife saw Grace Florrick challenging her mother Alicia about belief in Jesus. Mrs Florrick, the good wife, replies she believes Jesus was a person who lived 2000 years ago and she couldn’t see what impact he had on her life. grace replies that you either ‘love Jesus or hate him’, there’s no middle ground. She further argues that she is an intelligent person who believes in Jesus, and that the two things aren’t mutually exclusive. The episode finished with Mrs Florrick agreeing to take her daughter to church.

And a classic episode of Everyone Loves Raymond screened on one of the digital channels. Titled The Prodigal Son, it features Raymond arguing with his parents about going to church. Also, his wife and children go to church every week but Raymond refuses to go. After some hilarious interactions, the episode concludes with a serious discussion of church going and faith between Raymond and wife ?

‘Why don’t you go to church Raymond?’ she asks. And after complaining that all the kneeling is hard on his knees, the focus moves to ideas such as parents wanting to pass on their values, feelings of guilt and the need to believe in and be part of something bigger than ourselves.

When Raymond turns the questioning back on his wife, ‘Why do you go to church?’ she replies, ‘To say thanks for you and the children… and to pray for strength to get through another week with you and the children…’

Hopefully Australian households are discussing faith in a similarly open and revealing way and perhaps these episodes are a case of art imitating reality.

While the conclusions drawn, arguments used and theology displayed are not always satisfying, it is encouraging that writers and producers are willing to include spiritual, faith and religious issues (very occasionally) as themes for their shows.

Check out a small part of the final ‘church’ conversation in Everybody Loves Raymond…

http://www.tbs.com/video/index.jsp?oid=84388&eref=sharethisUrl

Where to with Utterance?

So, I’ve had a very long case of writer’s block. More writer’s coma than block. More writer’s near-death experience than coma. More…

Anyway, I’m just searching for that sweet-spot of an idea for what to do next. Don’t tell me, I’ll get it eventually.

In the meantime, it did spark my interest that the 7pm Project discussed falling church attendances tonight. Tellingly, they quoted no hard statistics, quoted a minister from a denomination with famously declining membership due to its abandonment of faith, and quoted an atheist who is too young to have any idea if there is a God or not because he hasn’t lived long enough to have a single conviction tested. Or so it seemed to me.

Host Carrie Bickmore admitted her mother had dragged her along to Hillsong, Steve Price had the usual hackneyed response about churches and money and Hughesy said that if it makes people happy and gives them good values then what’s the problem. The too-young-to-know atheist pondered what would happen without the community  that religion provides, but failed to give an alternative.

Oh, and by the way, on a different note, I’m reading my first Ernest Hemingway book, Death in the Afternoon, which is non-fiction and about bullfighting… well, it was the only Hemingway available at Leichhardt Library – but already I’ve gained a few insights into his approach to writing, which may or may not be a good thing.

Enabling churches to be more inclusive

‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ Luke 14:21

Christian Blind Mission Australia has long worked with the disadvantaged across the globe but has recently fixed its gaze on an apparent injustice closer to home.

According to a CBM, disability ministry is a growing need yet only 5 per cent of Australian churches have any intentional programs to include people with disabilities.

Inspired by Jesus’ call in Luke 14, CBM Australia has developed a program of the same name that seeks to better equip churches to meet to be more inclusive of people with a disability.

Information about the launch of the program says:Luke14 is a CBM initiative aimed at equipping churches to welcome and include people with a disability. It is a process that assists churches to both reach in to improve church access and understanding, and reach out to offer support and friendship to people and families living with a disability in the community.

‘Many Australians living with disabilities aren’t a part of a caring church family, let alone involved in ministry. Luke14 seeks to help make our churches places where every person is appreciated, welcomed and encouraged to serve.’ 

CBM’s Luke14 will be launched with special guest speaker Therese Rein, wife of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, at St Anne’s Ryde Anglican Church Conference Centre on Thursday, November 25 at 9,30am and in Wollongong at Figtree Anglican Church on November 26 at 9.30am. Both launches are free. Check out the CBM website for details.

Worshipping at the altar of popular culture: Hollywood Jesus

Hollywood Jesus no doubt started out as a genuine attempt to engage with popular culture but is now dangerously close to blasphemy, certainly in regard to its Santa Paws at Your Church “sweepstake”.

A promotional email sent out by Hollywood Jesus, a US Christian movie website, invites readers to enter a ‘Santa’s BFF (best friends forever?) contest in which first prize is a visit by Santa Paws, a free screening of the movie and DVD give-aways. Check it out:

The church does need to engage with culture and to communicate in a language that touches the heart and souls of real people.

But there is a place for purposeful discernment – what are we trying to achieve and what do we risk losing by gaining some temporary popularity? And probably we should ask, who is making money out of it?

When I first saw this email I felt sure it was a hoax, with a virus hiding behind every link. Or perhaps the Chaser boys had sent it out to see how many tacky Christians they could snare.

But it’s real and sincere and obviously no one involved saw a problem with it. And unless you pull back and ask, who is meant to be influencing who at Christmas time, or anytime, it might just slip by as another great way to get lots of unchurched families dropping into the church building to have a great old time.

Except what kind of Jesus could really be communicated in the sickly-sweet company of Santa Claus (or Paws), Walt Disney, Hollywood and good old American (and Australian) consumerist tripe! Continue reading

Farewell institutional power, hello grassroots influence

Sermon on the Mount by Bloch. Image: Wikipedia

Churches have probably lost the fight against the NSW Government’s plan to introduce ethic classes in public schools at the same time as optional special religious education.

Education Minister Verity Firth is glowingly positive about the review of the classes and while there are no plans to remove SRE, the once ‘sacred’ right to offer Scripture without competition in NSW public schools will soon be a thing of the past.

Of course this is a manifestation of a wider truth that the church has lost much of its institutional power and perhaps in the future will lose even more.

There are positives though and the main one is that if churches and Christians learn they can’t rely on a privileged institutional role in society, they may finally revert to the ancient source of Christian vitality –  personal and community transformation through offering real life encounters with a living God.

This of course can’t be done any other way than through authentic relationship and engagement with people of all kinds.

Grassroots influence verses institutional authority – which one sounds more like Jesus? Continue reading