Elusive Archbishop of the slums

It is easy to categorise and be categorised. In many places in society the only way to get ahead is to sublimate yourself in the colours of the tribe.

But a true mark of faith and healthy personality is that you are ‘elusive’ to the box-carrying, label-making mechanisms of our world.

Jesus told a man, who was feeling an elusive breeze rustling through his straight-jacket religion, that:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8

There is something of this about Pope Francis and, as he prepares to visit the US, it has the American box cutters in a frenzy.

There is cause for hope in this archbishop of the slums.

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Executions cannot obscure a miracle

#IStandforMercy, Bali 9, Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran
A section of one of Myuran Sukumaran’s final paintings showing the Indonesian flag dripping blood.

Surrounded by scared politicians, corrupt officials, chaotic processes, frenzied monetized media, public outpourings of hate through to mercy, courageous grieving families and the rest of us who can only really guess at how this ever came to be – a Pastor and an Artist, loved sons both – have ‘died well’ alongside fellow prisoners they had comforted.

There is a miracle here, but for now sorrow and grief. Anger will bloom in many and there will be a turning on one another, personally, nationally. But we who know the Cross know ‘in the world you will have trouble but I have defeated the world’ and ‘death where is your sting’. I refuse to take my cue from rampant media and jostling politicians but from the Rock of salvation on which these two men had learned to trust.

Even as this unjust tragedy moves past us, carried away by an insatiable news cycle, other horrors will rise up to replace it. And while we are often spectators, we can pray for the participants and commit them to ‘the God who is there’. Each time we act justly and mercifully and choose to continue walking with God in the ‘trouble’ we ourselves must face, we make a difference that no headline will report.

Related: The role of faith before the firing squad

Related: Prisoners refuse blindfolds, sing Amazing Grace

Previous post: God help us: Bali Nine pray

Something’s happening in Ukraine

Something’s happening in Ukraine
Yet the pictures don’t make sense
Seems some tourists must be visiting
Hope the locals don’t take offence

I see them lolling among sunflowers
I see them resting where they lay
Surely frolicing in green fields
Or dropping by for a farm-stay

Now they climb aboard the green train
More sightseeing must be their plan
Perhaps to Gaza they wiĺl travel next
It’s more than I can understand

That’s enough, we want you back again
Lovely travellers please come home
Yes something’s happening in Ukraine
You should not be there on your own.

PH

Christian aid worker rescued in daring SAS raid

“We are deeply grateful to everyone involved in her rescue, to those who worked tirelessly on her behalf, and to family and friends for their love, prayers and support over the last twelve days.” The parents of Helen Johnson.

Committed Christian Helen Johnson, her Kenyan colleague Moragwa Oirere and two Afghan woman who all worked for aid agency, Medair, were rescued in a daring night time raid by members of the British SAS and US Navy Seals over the weekend.

“David Cameron authorised the rescue attempt after military forces in Afghanistan briefed him on the planned operation. Speaking outside Number 10 after the raid, he described the rescue effort as ‘extraordinarily brave’ and ‘breath-taking'” reports the Daily Telegraph, London.

Helen’s father Philip, a theologian and senior lecturer at Cambridge University, said he and his wife Patricia were delighted that Helen and her colleagues were safe.

Medair is Christian charity based near Lausanne, Switzerland:

“Our mission is to seek out and serve the vulnerable women, children, and men in crisis who live in often difficult-to-access regions in Africa and Asia, and other areas with extraordinary need. We are a non-governmental organisation (NGO), with internationally recruited staff who are motivated by their Christian faith to care for people in need. Our work is compassionate and practical, providing life-saving care and support that upholds the dignity and independence of every person, regardless of race, religion, or politics.”

Read more about the rescue of the four Medair workers:

Sydney Morning Herald

Sunday Telegraph, UK

Holy relics travel the world and come home to see out their days

I bought them from a department store for a few dollars four years ago, not the coolest or the most expensive but they did the job.

They’ve flipped through the sand playfully and rested on tiles prayerfully with Bali’s beautiful peopleThey made an accidental appearance at Wimbledon, and may have suffered a dollop of warm cream from my strawberries.

A European summer was a fitting environment for these fine friends and not to be outdown by more practical measures

They tasted the dust of Rome’s ancient paths

Cooled in the light blue waters of Venician canalsStood beneath David’s marble features in Florence, dashing through the piazzas.

Not to be outdown by time and distance, they found their place in India’s complex culturesShopping for sarees on Commercial St, BangaloreA dash of tea near a St Thomas church on a steamy afternoon

The sands of Chennai clinging and the blood of the martyr as close as could be

And then there are the wonders of our broad landCarried along the in the far north during a Cape Tribulation stroll

The sounds of Italy and the smell of garlic down Leichhardt streets

windmill on a Brisbane hill looked down on my friends

The trams of Melbourne could not shake us apart

And many other places

But in the end, after taking eveything I could throw at them

Or even when I threw them at anything, many times

They have been undone by nothing more

Than the little cuts and grinds of wear and tear

And though my trust remains strong

My fellow travellers are approaching their last journey

And will abide as holy relics

 

Would the real Jesus please not wear a robe?

SMH.TV has brought us another amazing documentary, this time about a man claiming to be the Messiah and living in the wilds of Siberia.

Vissarion, the Teacher, Jesus… wearing a flowing white robe, sitting on the side of a hill and teaching his followers, who also are wearing flowing white garments.

Vissarion’s real name is Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop who was born in 1961, served in the Russian Army, became a traffic policeman, before losing his job and becoming Christ.

In many ways Vissarion is reminiscent of our very own North Queensland Jesus, Allan John Miller who also lives in a remote location and is busy gathering followers and building utopia. Although Siberia looked quite warm in the video, I can only imagine Miller would be a better choice in winter…

It is interesting to see the faith of many who follow, and there is a certain sense of harmony apparent in the documentary, produced by a combination of the community’s music and the beautiful scenery.

But with the benefit of distance, there is also strong sense of religiosity, stifling spiritual deception and a shallow confusion of thought.

One thing we know, both Miller and Torop can’t be right – one of them is an imposter, or more obviously both.

Jesus, of the New Testament, warned that many would claim to be him, but not to run after them. He can be found, right where you are.

Watch Jesus of Siberia
Wikipedia’s bio of Vissarion

24/7 prayer and night club worship meets the world’s party capital

If you’ve read Pete Greig’s Red Moon Rising you would remember his descriptions of taking 24/7 Prayer Rooms to the clubbing districts of Europe to bring prayer, love and outreach to the thousands of young clubbers.

smh.tv has just released a documentary, God Bless Ibiza, which follows a group of young British Christians as they head to the Spanish clubbing hotspot of Ibiza. One website describes Ibiza as the ‘undisputed party capital of the world.’

The promo for the documentary reads: ‘Young, hip and radical, the team are a far cry from the sandaled missionaries of yester-year. They’re more at home in a club than a church, dance tracks are their hymns and they invoke the Holy Spirit in clubs with quasi-spiritual names like Godskitchen, Eden and Ascension. Whilst they have no problem hanging out with clubbers high on E, the team themselves have all sworn off drugs, alcohol and sex and say they get their kicks instead from supernatural experiences of God.’

If you are used to Christians copping it in the media, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this documentary, not only for the in-depth and positive treatment the 24/7 outreach team is given, but by the groups faith and action. Prayer-walking, creative prayer spaces, worship in night clubs and genuine Christianity without a hint of religiosity.

Check out this nearly 40-minute online documentary and share it around.

In a digital world, hackers are the new guerilla warriors

If something strange happens to Utterance in the next few days, it has been probably been hacked. If it can happen to a French magazine, a Mexican drug cartel and Iranian nuclear facilities, it can happen to anyone.

With so much of life, business, industry and finance heavily reliant on computer and digital processes, it make sense that groups of hackers would begin to use their skills for a cause, not just to create havoc. Some have government backing while others are loose networks of computer geniuses but either way, they are emerging as powerful new players in the world’s political, religious, criminal and even national conflicts. Consider the following three examples.Read More »

Muslim writer questions silent response to death sentence

Muslim writer Mehdi Hasan writes in The Guardian about Muslim response, or lack of, to the death sentence for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran.

‘Pleas for clemency from the archbishop of Canterbury, the UK’s foreign secretary and Amnesty International, among others, have fallen on deaf ears in Tehran. Meanwhile the silence from the world’s Muslims – especially the UK’s usually voluble Muslim organisations and self-appointed “community leaders” – has been shameful. The irony is that I have yet to come across an ordinary Muslim who agrees that a fellow believer who loses, changes or abandons his or her faith should be hanged. Yet frustratingly few Muslims are willing to speak out against such medieval barbarism. We mumble excuses, avert our eyes.’

When this behaviour changes we will have real hope for freedom in many dangerous places for Christians and others.

Read the full article here.

And it’s time the Australian government spoke out in defense of this Pastor on behalf of Australian Iranians, Christians and Muslims.

Stephen Fry can’t deny the gulf between comfort and pain

As the riots began in and around London, one of the UK’s favourite sons, Stephen Fry, tweeted from the film set of The Hobbit in New Zealand:

 “If I’m honest 12,000 miles away in NZ, I’m not further from Brixton or Tottenham than when I’m at home in London. But my homeland is unhappy”.
Despite nearly 3 million followers on Twitter and having lived in England all his life presumably, Fry is acknowledging the gulf that exists between himself and the millions of disadvantaged, disaffected countrymen and women on his doorstep.
And this from a man who is apparently worldly-wise, intelligent and savvy to the point that his views (and his tweets) are highly prized.
On this occasion what is prized is his honesty. While lamenting what was happening in his country and city, he admitted that he had been removed from the reality of his lowly neighbours. He is no different to many millions of members of the comfortable classes, whether they be in Europe, North America or Australia.
My own experience in the past 10 years has been God’s determined dismantling of my own ivory tower . It was not so much that I didn’t care – I did – it was more that I just didn’t know. I couldn’t have called a poor man my friend, because I didn’t know him.
Now I could do so, by the grace of God, and many of the barriers of arrogance, ignorance and apathy have been challenged. Perhaps these riots are a wake up call to the Stephen Frys and Peter Halletts of the world that we can be far too immersed in our own comfort zones to notice generation upon generation of brokenness reaping an ugly harvest, just around the corner, let alone across the world.
Wake up now, there’s a riot a comin’…

Oslo shooter ‘Christian’ label questioned

Claims have now surfaced that the supposed Facebook page for Oslo terrorist Anders Behring Breivik may have been altered to make it appear that he had conservative Christian beliefs.

While the issue should not overshadow the grief and suffering of victims of the atrocity, the issue of why Breivik would act as he did is obviously important to those directly affected but also the millions world-wide trying to come to terms with the crimes.

And as news breaks of a 1500 page manifesto and video from Breivik that delve into his motivations (see below), the use of Facebook information initially and the labelling of the shooter as a Christian fundamentalist still warrant examination.

Utterance was first alerted to the fake Facebook claims by a commenter on our previous post, Oslo misery compounded by shooter ‘Christian’ claim. John Covert claimed to provide a link to the Google cached version of the page. It does not show a reference to Christian belief.

Other bloggers go further and display the Facebook page allegedly as it appeared just before being removed by Facebook with no reference to Christianity and another later version that contains the Christian belief and conservative politics references.

The issues this raises are:

  • It is dangerous when the media reports that crimes may have been motivated by certain religious or political beliefs (and that applies across the spectrum) when they have no corroborating evidence. (This evidence has reportedly now surfaced – see below).
  • Using people’s private social networking information as the basis for news reports is bad journalism as it may be an invasion of privacy and open to inaccuracy – how many people misrepresent themselves on Facebook etc?
  • The ability to manipulate internet information (as may or may not be the case here) means even if it is not considered an ethical problem to access the information, it should still be viewed as in need of corroboration.

People who regard themselves as conservative, Christian or fundamentalist obviously felt targeted, ashamed or unfairly associated with the crimes of Breivik and this might be useful insight into how people of other faiths or political persuasions feel when the actions of an individual or group are used to taint all those of similar beliefs.

It’s important for Christians to remember it is their actions day to day that will have the most influence on what people think of the Christian faith. Headlines come and go and are quickly forgotten, but our lives are daily on display.

STOP PRESS: New sources of information are appearing regarding Anders Behring Breivik’s beliefs and the motivation for his shocking killing spree. Reports indicate he left behind a 1,500 page manifesto likened to an al Qaede document except from a European Christian perspective and also a video summarising his views. 

Read the New York Times report

Fox News shows some of the manifesto

The original Facebook page of Anders Behring Breivik?
The altered page of the Olso shooter?

Oslo misery compounded by shooter ‘Christian’ claim

Ship of Fools, an alternate Christian website, summed up the feelings of many Christians when they tweeted yesterday, “Our misery is complete. The Norwegian gunman is reported as a ‘Christian fundamentalist’.” The enormity of terrorist tragedy was made worse by reports the gunman may have identified himself as a Christian.

It is unclear at this stage what evidence there is for this claim in the media apart from a Facebook page on which the shooter Behring Breivik identifies himself as ‘Christian’ with ‘conservative’ views.

But he also listed interests such as the game World of Warcraft, freemasonry, and the television series Dexter which is about a serial killer. The reality is that any group or organisation with which Breivik expressed an interest will be now horrified by the association.

As a sidelight to the issue, it is in interesting to see how quickly Breivik’s private social media entries were accessed by the media…

Hauntingly, the one message on his Twitter account dated July 17 was: “One person with a belief is equal to a force of 100,000 who have only interests.”

Regardless of the actual nature of his beliefs, it is distressing that the term Christian, first used to describe followers of Christ in Antioch in the first century, should be even remotely associated with this horrific act.

Anyone familiar with the ‘fundamentals’ of Christ’s life and teaching would know he is easily identified with those who were killed and not at all with the one who killed.

For a thorough analysis of this issue, visit The Christian Post’s story.

Read part of New York Times report:

OSLO – The Norwegian police on Saturday charged a 32-year-old man, whom they identified as a Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections, over the bombing of a government center here and a shooting attack on a nearby island that together left at least 91 people dead.

The police said they did not know if the man, identified by the Norwegian media as Anders Behring Breivik, was part of a larger conspiracy. He is being questioned under the country’s terrorism laws, the police said, and is cooperating with the investigation of the attacks, the deadliest on Norwegian soil since World War II.

“We are not sure whether he was alone or had help,” a police official, Roger Andresen, said at a televised news conference. “What we know is that he is right-wing and a Christian fundamentalist.” So far Mr. Breivik has not been linked to any anti-jihadist groups, he said.

AmazinGrace carries the cross in Jerusalem

The Amazing Race Australia on Monday, July 18 will feature some of the four remaining teams carrying large wooden crosses through the streets of Jerusalem as part of the episode’s challenges. Check out a preview.

In a city so taut with religious and cultural tensions, it is a daring and perhaps provocative act, that recalls for Christians the crucifixion of Christ.

One of the effects of global tourism is to take long-held cultural, religious and historical events, locations and practices and make them marketable commodities for tourist consumption. While there are respectful ways of doing this, the Amazing Race epitomises the dilemma of rich tourists enjoying foreign lands while running the risk of carelessly trampling upon them.

In this case, a deeply significant religious symbol and act is incorporated into a reality show game in a city which is sacred for three world religions.  It is an ‘amazing’ clash of ‘realities’ and hopefully will provoke thought about the interactions of tourists and destinations; and even more so, about the meaning of ‘carrying your cross’.

The wooden cross (the exact shape is debated, but not important) was used for capital punishment in Roman occupied Israel around the first century AD. Part of the cruelty was at times to humiliate the condemned person by forcing them to drag the heavy implement through the city before they were nailed, tied and hung from it, dying a slow and painful death.

From the film, The Passion of the Christ

The New Testament records this being inflicted on Jesus, after a heavy beating, and is known by some as the passion of the Christ. This term encompasses not just his physical and mental anguish, but spiritual as well.

From a theological perspective, this was God in human flesh, suffering the worst humanity had to offer as identification with us but also as a substitution. Though perfect, he allowed himself to be punished as the worst of criminals and cut off from God so that we might be forgiven and re-connected to God.

So the cross is a powerful symbol of God’s grace extended to all. Perhaps it’s fitting that the show Amazing Race is also AmazinGrace…

At another level, Jesus often used the phrase, ‘carry your cross’ as a way of describing the challenge of following him. This must have been powerful imagery for his first century audience.

They would have seen or heard of the terrible journey through Jerusalem and other occupied cities of cross-laden people, heading for their deaths, under the ruthless eye of their Roman rulers.

To liken the life of a Christ-follower to carrying the cross, was a clear sign that it involved selflessness, vulnerability, suffering, obedience and a stretching of every fibre of being.

Not unexpectedly, it may not be the most popular influence for Christians (or anyone else) when making life choices, but thankfully we have the Amazing Race to bring it back to our attention.

While the cross-bearing exploits in the Amazing Race are a pale imitation of the real event, what’s more important is what we all do without the silent witness of the cross and the call of Jesus to carry it.

You may have never even heard of this call but it resonates through history and awaits your decision. After you watch the show, give the cross more thought…

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. Matthew 16:24-25

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

Midnight arrival of world’s youngest, Christian nation

Click on this photo to learn about the John Dau Sudan Foundation's work in South Sudan.

The world’s newest nation, and one of the poorest, came into being at midnight on July 9. The Republic of South Sudan gained its independence after decades of civil war with northern Sudan and more specifically following a 99% vote for independence in a referendum held in January this year.

The 10 southern states of Sudan now form South Sudan and the population of more than $8 million consists largely of Christian and animist Africans in contrast to the Muslim Arab north.

As well, South Sudan contains between 75-80% of Sudanese oil reserves although this has not benefited local people in the past due to northern domination and violent civil conflicts.

And while estimates vary as to the extent of Christianity, some statistics report South Sudan as having 2,009,374 practicing Roman Catholics and a large membership in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan as well as smaller Christian denominations. How many people identifying as Christian are also incorporating traditional animist practices is another matter.

For a fascinating history of Christianity in South Sudan and indeed north Africa, visit The Sudan Project blog (article written in 2006).

One area of conflict that continues between Sudan and South Sudan is the disputed area Nuba Mountains region where violence continues between the largely Christian and pro-Sudanese People’s Liberation Army Nuba people and northern government forces.

Nubian Christianity traces its origins to the “Ethiopian eunuch” who come to faith through Philip the evangelist who ran alongside the man’s chariot and explained to him how the Old Testament scriptures pointed to Christ.  The story is recorded in Acts 8 from verse 26 and concludes with the African man being baptised in a pool beside the road.

‘The “Ethiopian eunuch” of Acts was in fact not from the land today bearing that name, but from Nubia. (The queenly title given in Acts 8:27, Candace, is peculiar to the ancient Nubian kingdom of Meroe.)’ – From Nubian Christianity – the Neglected Heritage by Paul Bowers.

With such a strong link to the very earliest days of Christian faith, it is fair to say that the youngest nation in the world is also the youngest Christian nation.Read More »

Chinese officials float over road and around the world

Utterance more often than not tackles relatively serious and reflective issues but can’t resist the hilarity that has surrounded China’s three levitating officials inspecting roads in Huili, south-west China.

The original badly doctored photo has spawned a creative range of imitations and even prompted a re-issuing of the original photos.

The three men will probably remain nameless forever which is a shame, I hope they can have a good laugh with the rest of us. And let’s hope the person who posed them floating over the new road is not locked up! Enjoy…

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Jesus reigns supreme on Facebook

It’s list time at Utterance and first up is a look at the most interesting pages on Facebook, in which Jesus is a clear winner.

Unofficial Facebook resource, All Facebook, records the fan numbers and interactions of dedicated Facebook pages across the globe.

While noting that Justin Bieber had taken a leap forward, the site says that “he is ultimately left in the dust yet again by two religious pages that have spent all of June in the top two spots.”

Basing their list on the number of page interactions (comments, likes etc) All Facebook has Jesus Daily in first place with 1,645,286 interactions in June (5,948,071 fans) followed by The Bible with 1,071,096 interactions (7,609,076 fans).

Justine Bieber came in third with a mere 933,719 interactions (from a massive 29,756,538 fans) followed by Mario Teguh with 838,761 interactions from 4,221,188 fans.

Others in the top 20 include Lady Gaga, Harry Potter, Manchester United and Britney Spears.

But other Christian pages are also found in the top 20 including Jesus Christ in 13th place and Dios Es Bueno (God is good) in 14th. One way or another, Jesus is alive and well in the world of social networking.

Another interesting phenomenon is the influence of the growing use of social media – Facebook in particular – in non-Western nations.

A page called MTV Roadies is in the top 20 thanks to adoring Indian viewers of the reality television show of the same name while in Egypt, We are Khaled Said continues to be a very vocal page of the Egyptian uprising.

Philanthropy as a catalyst for meaningful change: Royal couple

If actions display priorities, then the choice of the first official event attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge says a lot.

William and Kate attended a star-studded charity dinner for Ark – Absolute Return for Kids as their first official engagement since their wedding.

While what the duchess wore captured the usual attention (“a shimmering nude gown by Jenny Packham”) it was the sentiment that took them to the Ark Gala that captured mine.

The duke announced a joint venture between Ark and the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry.

Prince William said he, his wife and brother wanted to use philanthropy as a “catalyst for meaningful change”.

Ark sponsors academy schools in the UK and programmes for disadvantaged children around the world.

Acknowledging the privileged education and upbringing he enjoyed, the Duke of Cambridge said, “So many young people do not have these advantages and as a result can lack the confidence and knowledge to realise their full potential.”

This comment carries forward the theme of the sermon preached at the Royal couple’s wedding: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

Read More »

Camping’s end of world prediction proves Christ’s infallibility

Harold Camping in 2008
Harold Camping

The inevitable failure of Harold Camping’s prediction that the world would end on Saturday, May 21 once again confirms the infallibility of Jesus’ own words about his return.

Knowing that we would be inclined to want to pin down his return to a day and hour and knowing that people like Harold Camping would claim to do just that, Jesus said (2000 years ago), ‘No one knows about that day or that hour…’ (Matthew 24:36).

Knowing that earthquakes, disasters and wars would start us thinking that perhaps the end of the world was near and knowing the advent of instant worldwide communication would mean we hear about more earthquakes, disasters and wars than ever before, Jesus said, ‘You will hear of war and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is yet to come… famines and earthquakes in various places… the beginnings of birth pains.’ (Matt 24:6,8)

Knowing that people would try to cash in on the uniqueness of Christ and claim to be him, such as the recently publicised Alan Miller, and knowing that many are desperate for a tangible, physical sense of hope and will follow these false Christs, Jesus said, ‘…if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There he is!” do not believe it.’ (Matt 24:23)

And knowing that many who were among the first to hear the message of the Gospel would forsake it; the Western world for example, which has grown so fat and comfortable and clever in its own eyes, Jesus said, ‘at that time many will turn away from the faith… increase of wickedness… love of most will grow cold’. (Matt 24: 10,12)

Thank you Harold Camping for confirming once again that Jesus’ insight into human character and history is impeccable, infallible, believable.