Father Bob neighbour of next year’s The Block

The producers of The Block may have a thing for living near celebrities but they certainly no how to make Father Bob angry.

“While this year’s houses in Richmond back on to Molly Meldrum’s lavish Egyptian-themed property, the four houses believed to have been bought for next year’s show are opposite the home of renegade priest, Father Bob Maguire,” the Herald Sun reported yesterday.

Father Bob tweeted that he was “Not happy me”. Well known for his media appearances and run-ins with Catholic authorities over his retirement, he clearly resented the renegade title.

The four side-by-side terraces in South Melbourne are located on Dorcas St, overlooking the parish of St Peter and Paul’s.

The properties were recently sold and came with planning permission for a third storey, to maximise city views.

See the Herald Sun story.

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.

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

Justin finds his voice for justice

We’ve all had a chuckle or two at the Justin Bieber phenomenon and wondered how long it would last. I even thought of buying my son a Justin Bieber t-shirt as a tongue in cheek  joke.

But listening to the radio today I noticed someone crooning about closing their eyes to pray for a better day on behalf of those doing it tough. When the song credit was for Justin Bieber, I decided to have a closer look:

I just can’t sleep tonight,
Knowing that things ain’t right.
It’s in the papers, it’s on the TV,
It’s everywhere that I go.
Children are crying, soldiers are dying,
Some people don’t have a home.

Pre Chorus:
But I know there’s sunshine behind that rain,
I know there’s good times behind that pain (hey)
Can you tell me how I can make a change?

Chorus:
I close my eyes, and I can see a better day,
I close my eyes and pray.
I close my eyes and I can see a better day,
I close my eyes and pray.

When someone uses their fame to ask people to consider the needs of others, questions their own role in making a difference and encourages us to take time to pray, it deserves acknowledgement.

And to highlight the benefit that flows when popular culture turns its attention to serious issues, consider these comments on the Close My Eyes and Pray page on a popular lyric website:

‘every time i hear this song i cry and it is sooo sad and true im trying to change things too…‘ and
‘i think this song is very helpful to ppl out there because the first time i heard this song i cried…there’s so many ppl out there that don’t even care about the poor.so thank you justin for making this song.WE LOVE U!!!:)’
 
If you still aren’t sure, check out the YouTube clip and you may become a believer. Anyway, for what’s a worth, I’m a (kind of old) fan Biebs. I’ll be praying you don’t lose your way…

www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9tJW9MDs2M

For the complete lyrics, keep reading. Oh, and, find a moment to close your eyes and pray…

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!Read More »

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?Read More »

Here on earth: an argument for God

Tower of Babel by Lucas van Valckenborch in 1594
Tower of Babel by Lucas van Valckenborch in 1594

When Jesus told his small band of  followers that they would make him known to the ends of the earth, he unleashed a socio-spiritual revolution that continues to change our world today.

And the message they would carry was that as we learn to love God, love our neighbour and love ourselves – in that order – a new community of grace and truth is possible.

These largely uneducated and insignificant disciples never conceived of this mission and the community it would produce as being possible apart from a living encounter with the words and very reality of Christ himself.

On Monday, Tim Flannery released his new book Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope and some of what he proclaims sounds eerily similar to the mission proclaimed by Jesus, but with a new god at its core.

An extract from the book appeared in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald under the heading, ‘To the ends of the earth we must go’ – either an accidental or deliberate recalling of Christ’s words.

And while the focus of the extract is human responsibility for causing – but also potentially repairing – environmental degradation, there is a deeply spiritual tone to the article.Read More »

Even atheists are sick of new atheism…

I’ve had my share of run-ins with online atheists, ready to drive me into the ground for being a person of faith, and that’s fair enough, after-all I am sticking my neck out here, on purpose.

But it’s interesting to see that even atheists are getting sick of the new breed of aggressive atheism which spreads the message that anyone who believes in God is a moron.

Check out ‘Please God spare us the born-again atheists’  from The Punch .

Balancing freedoms as Bibles and bodies are burned

The threatened burning of the Qur’an by a Florida pastor created international headlines and now a Brisbane atheist has used pages of the Bible and the Qur’an to roll fake joints and smoke them. 

And while journalists waste time over these peculiarly western debates, we hear nothing about the very real plight of millions of Christians, many in Muslim countries, where such freedoms are not enjoyed. 

For example a young Laotian woman had her Bible burned (pictured) by villagers who believed it was causing her mother’s illness. 

‘My villagers still hate me and mock me, like they mocked Jesus on the cross. It is the world’s right to hate us or to love us. But for me, I will follow Jesus.’ 

 Many people like this young woman are assisted by Voice of the Martyrs. You might wonder why we need such an organisation in the 21st century but there are more Christian martyrs today than ever before. 

VOM says, ‘In restricted nations around the world, Bibles are burned, shredded or confiscated every day. Those opposed to the gospel can destroy Bibles, but they cannot destroy the faith of those like ****’. 

To read many other heart wrenching stories of the persecution of Christians – the burning of their Bibles, churches and bodies – visit Voice of the Martyrs

We do enjoy remarkable freedoms in the west, rarely known on our planet or throughout history, very much brought about by a Christian world view that says every life is sacred and deserves dignity, freedom, opportunity and life. 

This should be extended to people of all faiths and Koran burning or Bible ‘smoking’ are ridiculous parades of ego. 

But there is something that would help balance the debate. Whenever we stand and affirm that Muslims, for example, should receive the same freedoms in Australia or America as anyone else, it would be inspiring to hear those voices, especially Muslims, speak up and say they would like to see the same freedoms for those persecuted for their faith in Muslim or other restricted countries.

Suffer into Freshness

I wrote this poem on my phone, hence the short lines and meter. Clearly some angst on this particular day…

Suffer into Freshness

Is there a faith that is safe
From fading vacuous jargon
And well-intentioned simpletons
Who trample through the garden?

The further I remove myself
From religious ways of thinking
The more I notice emptiness
And sentiment that’s sinking.

Is this a sign of my decline
Into a heart that’s hardened?
Or a clearing of my sight
To metamorphing pardon.Read More »

Miner’s faith strong, 700 metres and 17 days beneath the earth

The Faith, sculpted in stone from Badajoz in 1...
'The Faith', sculpted by Luis Salvador Carmona in 1752-53. The veil represents 'not by sight, but by faith'. Image - Wikipedia

Quote of the week:

‘Dear Liliana, I’m well, thank God. I hope to get out soon. Have patience and faith. I haven’t stopped thinking about all of you for a single moment. I want to tell everyone that I’m good and we’ll surely come out okay. God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive.’ Mario Gomez, 63.

Mario communicated these thoughts 17 days after being trapped 700 metres underground in a small room with 32 other men, knowing it would be weeks or months before rescuers would reach them. These are beliefs not lightly held…

The reality of God and the value of faith is often discussed in theoretical terms, as if life and death are not involved. But not for Mario and his friends. Seventeen days is plenty of time for an unreal pretense to have been stripped away. And yet faith in God has surfaced loud and clear.

Interestingly, Mario’s daughter made the following comments after hearing of the note from her father:

‘No-one will be able to take this happiness away from me… I’ve never felt anything like this in my life. It’s like being born again.’

Faith tends to have that result, whenever you encounter it… even for you, today.