Utterance hits 6000, blogs top 110 million

Today Utterance ticked over 6001 hits, after my somewhat reckless New Year’s resolution to attempt to post every day.

Like most bloggers, once I got into the habit of regularly recording my thoughts for the benefit (or otherwise) of others, the issue becomes having too many things to say, and not enough time.

It’s interesting to consider that there are more than 110 million blogs in the world today but blogging only began in 1994, with one of the very first being  by Chicago-born Justin Hall, sometimes described as ‘the founding father of personal blogging.’ That’s some growth rate…

At the same time as blogging had its meteoric growth, the genre of creative non-fiction also increased rapidly in popularity and today is one of the most successful forms of literature.

Creative non-fiction is the presenting of substance in a literary style, or applying the technique of story to facts.

We all know instinctively that people love to tell and hear stories much more than be confronted with flat slabs of information. (How often have you found yourself re-telling a true-life illustration a preacher gave in a sermon, and not recalling much else?)

The idea is not new of course and the Gospel writers, if not inventing the genre, certainly perfected it as they told the factual story of Jesus’ life in a way that continues to compel, thousands of years later.

Would Jesus have blogged? Not likely, he gives his life and his Spirit, something much greater. But Matthew, Mark, Luke and John almost certainly would have been bloggers. Hopefully I do them justice. PH

PS. To celebrate 6000 + hits I’ve introduced a new theme for Utterance – quite a departure from the very neat and today theme I’ve been using. But then again, my life has got rather more loose ends than it had a few months ago, so it’s probably fitting!

How atheism led me to faith…

If several billion God believers can’t dint the unbelief of an atheist, perhaps just one family member’s faith might make the difference.

Christopher Hitchens is famous for his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and is one of the poster boys of the new atheism secular liberalism. He was a special guest of this month’s Sydney Writers Festival as he promoted his memoir Hitch-22.

But while Christopher has been busy debating Christians and even threatening to have the Pope arrested, his brother Peter has rediscovered faith and published The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.

As the Hitchens brothers’ books battle for bookstore ascendency, we see a microcosm of the struggle between belief and unbelief in the world.

While most atheists will cite logic and reason for the reason of their non-belief in God, behind this for many is a personal religious atrocity that has led them from grace. For Christopher Hitchens it may just have been the brutal, even sadistic regime he encountered at a church boarding school from the age of eight.

And while brother Peter went through his own atheistic ‘revelation’ it was not to last and his book now attacks the blind spots and flaws of atheistic argument.

There is no doubt much more to run in the story of these two men’s lives, and it is a reminder that wherever darkness seems to flourish, a resilient light is close at hand. Pray for Christopher and Peter Hitchens, that both would find themselves beneath the grace of God as they play a part on the world stage.

An excellent article on the belief and unbelief of the Hitchens brothers appears in the Fairfax media today . It is written by Simon Smart, the head of research and communications at the Centre for Public Christianity. PH

Dear CheapBranded, thanks for your caring email…

My computer makes a doorbell sound, ‘ding-dong’, that used to be associated with Avon calling but is now better known as Windows default for a new email.

A shadowy preview of the new message appears in the lower right of my laptop screen and tells me it is from someone called ‘CheapBrandedViagra’.

(Just mentioning the word Viagra in my blog will send the spam protection software for this site into overdrive, such is the inter-connectedness – euphemism for lack of privacy – on the internet.)

A train of thought begins, thanks to my new friend CheapBranded, and I wonder if many of us realise how often we turn to the latest email, Facebook status, Twitter tweet or blog comment to fill deep emotional needs and stave of dreariness.

If our dearest friends are those who connect with us electronically, I have an amazing friend in CheapBranded as he has shown incredible determination to bypass not only my own spam protection, but that of my internet provider.

(I thought you should know I have worked with great commitment to avoid any unfortunate Viagra puns in this posting…)

But wait, perhaps CheapBranded is just that, not a caring friend who searched me out today with a loving email as my life faces precipitous change, but a cheap charlatan hoping to profit by pushing his brand at some perceived need.

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God drives the bus to his own defence

God gave a clue to his reality during our bus trip to the ‘In defence of God’ session of the Sydney Writer’s festival today (May 23).

Running late due to bus delays, we were worried about missing the session until our bus driver got lost in the Rocks and pulled over randomly to let us out – right in front of our destination, Sydney Theatre, instead of the actual bus stop two streets away! God is providential, generous and has a sense of humour…

As we gathered with the unfaithful – the session was chaired by an atheist and featured a lapsed Episcopalian – we found we had more in common with the other speaker, the Iranian-American author and scholar, Reza Aslan.

While Eric Lax, author of Faith Interrupted, lamented his fall from faith (I believe he’ll be back though), Aslan launched an attack against the new atheists. He described their behaviour as being as fundamentalist as some of the religious people they hate. He also reminded the audience that despite a century of violent secularism, the number of religious adherents  had risen from half to two thirds of the global population.

Aslan was challenged by a few questioners but was able to mount a good defence for God before the brief question section was wound up. He even began his talk by referring to the blogs that had questioned why an atheist, lapsed Episcopalian and Muslim were leading this session, with no Christian authors present. I take it from this, that he has read Utterance!

In the long run, however, there was inability of all panelists to consider a God who is a personal, tangible reality in our lives with the chair Louise Adler asking for a more concrete definition of faith and God. It wasn’t forthcoming and this was because no one had been invited to speak who actually believes in God this way. It was a timely reminder that atheists and agnostics are searching for something to lovingly but powerfully challenge their unbelief.

A good place to start might be to invite New York minister and author Timothy Keller to next year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival. In the meantime, read his book, The Reason For God – Belief in the age of Scepticism. PH

Listen to a short section of Reza Aslan’s defence of God:

Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan.mp3
Hosted by eSnips

Writers’ festival ‘undefends’ God…

Read, Rethink, Respond... catch-line for Sydney Writers' Festival

At first glance, Christians might be gratified to learn that the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May will feature a session called, In Defence of God. Closer examination though suggests a name change is in order – God Thrown to the Lions… Media reports say festival director, Chip Rolley, felt that ‘God deserved some time’ after recent visits to Australia by high-profile atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

Good one Chip, are you having a joke with us? The session will be chaired by atheist and publisher-in-chief at Melbourne University Press, Louise Adler, and the two speakers are Eric Lax, a lapsed Episcopalian, now described as a ‘hopeful unbeliever’; and Reza Aslan, an acclaimed Muslim scholar and writer. Reza’s surname is the only (accidental) positive reference to Christianity (think CS Lewis). 

The plot (pun intended) thickens when it is realised the session will be held on Sunday 10am (May 23). Now, where would most Christians usually be at 10am on a Sunday?

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On getting off drink and closer to God

Walking away from the small community centre, past the sitting smokers, down the path in the warm sunshine, he stops and calls me Pete.

‘Pete, there are a lot of people on the streets who could get up if they wanted to but they don’t want to.’

I nod in agreement, ‘None of us make any changes in our life unless we really want to, so I guess that applies to people on the street too.’

‘I was homeless you know Pete,’ he says. ‘But I got myself up. Drugs are the real problem. Drugs and alcohol. I’ve never used drugs but alcohol was my problem.

‘But after I did 15 years straight of a 20 year sentence, the last thing the parole officer said to me was, “Are you going to give up drinking?” and I said, “Yes.”‘

And I haven’t drunk for 34 years.

‘That’s an inspirational story, you’re a great example,’ I say.

He chuckles, and fixes his ebony eyes on me and I feel privileged that this elderly man who carries a remarkable sense of wisdom and dignity, chooses to tell me his stories, week after week.

‘There was one time when I was drinking that I got picked up on the street by three policemen and put into a police van with three deros. When we pulled up at the station we all got out of the van and the police each took one of the deros into the police station and I walked straight across the road and into the Oxford Hotel,’ he says with a chuckle.

He talks about people in prison who ‘became’ Christians to get out of the big house. ‘I’m not a Christian, never will be, but I wouldn’t do that, just put it on.’

He recalled the advice of his mother. ‘She told me that God keeps way off in the distance and always has his eye on us. He’ll get them…’

Might not be great theology but I can feel the faith in this man, I can feel that he has a closeness to God that is born of respect, honour and honesty. One day I might just get to help him see it. I am encouraged. PH

One year on, a fresh look for Utterance

I wrote the first blog post of my life on April 27, 2009, nearly a year ago, but it wasn’t until a hastily conceived New Year’s Resolution that I got serious about blogging (nearly) every day.

Utterance’s first thousand hits took about 10 months and the next two thousand just two months – I still marvel at those sites that have millions of hits in a day!

I’ve had some amazing feedback in that time, learned a great deal and rediscovered the joy of writing (if not, perhaps, the skill). I have even at times felt like a journalist breaking news – it’s hard to get the printer’s ink out of your blood (sorry, old journo saying…)

The full version of the Utterance header photo

To celebrate a year of Utterance, and to reflect the change of seasons, I’ve employed one of WordPress‘ favourite themes, Misty Look. The photo in the header was taken by myself at Hawkeshead in the Lake District, England. It shows a gate, a tombstone and a rather shiny clock on the old cathedral. Quite symbolic I think, but I’ll leave you to consider the conjunction of these elements. Happy reading and don’t forget to breath – speak – and breath again…PH


Utterance 2000 times and not counting

Utterance, an attempt to encourage reflective pauses and thoughtful communication, has just recorded 2000 visits – not including my own!

This may be a result of family and friends visiting the site 20 times a day, but hopefully it is an indication that an invisible community of people have been connecting and finding something here that enriches their day.

Utterance is a conglomeration of creative expression, timely information, spiritual devotional, critical comment and reflective observation and half the time, I don’t know which is going to come next.

And then there is the side-bar… glowing with widgets, I wonder if you noticed, that among all the ways you can search or subscribe,  it feeds news from Christianity Today and shows Utterance on Twitter – Twutterance – although I’m yet to find time to get this moving regularly.

As to where this is heading, the best part is not knowing. PH

Sleeping political giant rising

I’ve just written an article for Alive magazine on the state of Christian politics in Australia, in the lead-up to the next election. You can view it online in the April/May issue of Alive out in early April.

One of the people I interviewed was Jim Wallace, managing director of Australian Christian Lobby. Among other things, he had this to say:

“I think that having had decades of swallowing the lies that we musn’t get involved, there must be a separation of church and state, don’t legislate your morality on me – if the devil was going to control the country, what lies would he use to keep the church out of it?  After decades of having succumbed to those, we suddenly realised that we have a heck of a mess, particularly in the state of marriage, family and children. We need to do something about it to get Biblical principles re-established in these very important areas as well as in how we treat the underprivileged, how we address poverty, internationally and nationally.”

Wallace emphasises that Christian politics should not only embrace righteousness (moral issues) but justice (poverty, Millennium Goals etc). He also is very careful not to tie the Christian vote to any particular party, avoiding the mess many of the American Christian lobby groups have got themselves into. Wallace commented to me:

“I was in America in March last year, I was talking to some organisations similar to ours, but without the non-partisan approach and their chins were on the ground; they are at a loss because they said to me, we have no access into the Obama administration and therefore no influence. But what we are most disappointed about is that we didn’t get everything we wanted out of the Republicans.”  

To be honest, as an old journo and then a pastor for 18 years, I have been a bit jaded with all this stuff because too often it seems so removed from people’s lives and so often Christian political voices were either irrelevant, irrational or both. While we have a long way to go, and realising that no human voice, political or otherwise, will measure up to the Still Small Voice, I think there are some positive signs for Christians broaching the political sphere and ACL can take a fair bit of credit.

On another issue, an article I wrote on the Islamisation of Europe appears in the current issue of Alive. You can view online here. It starts page 52. Please note my disclaimer that ‘views expressed are not necessarily my own’. Read and make up your own mind. PH

Transform Your Faith now available

To the right of this post you can see a ‘badge’ for my self-published book called Transform Your Faith.

It is my first attempt at self-publishing and hopefully not my last foray into the world of publishing!

I have just received the first ‘test’ run of 10 copies. They look pretty good and if you would like one, please let me know asap – they cost $30 which might seem a little high but it includes a $10 donation to aid projects I’m involved in through ChangeMakers. The rest of the cover price covers the cost of printing and delivery.

Actually, you can purchase a copy directly for yourself by clicking on the Transform Your Life badge but if you would like to see one first (which is fair enough) then there’ll be copies on display at Eternity this weekend.

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Watch our for weird links

Utterance is a WordPress blog, one of the biggest blogging platforms in the world with literally millions of blogs and posts. It is an excellent choice for blogging but one of its little quirks is that it adds, below some posts of mine, automatically generated links to other WordPress blogs that may cover related content. I can’t control these links so can’t guarantee their suitability. Please feel free to ignore them. Any link in the body of a post has been put there by me so click away. I’ll stick this note to the top of the page for a while to guide people who are new to the blog world. PH

A few tips on blog features

Quite a few of my readers are new to the world of blogging, as am I. As more people are checking it out, and perhaps seeing a blog for the first time, I’ll explain what some of the features are.

Each post can be rated which tells me and other readers what you think is good reading. Simply choose how many stars you think the post deserves. Try to be kind.Read More »

55 Days of Faith and Action

I’m putting together a devotional book based on a daily email I did in 2006 covering every verse of the book of James. This was a pivotal time for our community as we rediscovered God’s love for the lost and the least. Hopefully early copies of the book will be available by early March when we at Eternity run a conference called ChangeMakers.

James in the New Testament is often regarded as a tough book as it gives little in the way of ‘nice’ promises and plenty in the way of straight down the line challenge.

Beneath the surface though is a simple call to reject the cult of celebrity and greed that can ensnare our thinking and live a life of gentle respect for the poor, the rich and one another.

If you are interested in 55 Days of Faith and Action leave a comment or email me.

Here’s a snippet I came across while editing today:Read More »

Eyes of Fire focus on 2010

New Year 2010

It’s 2010 and after seeing another year in from two different locations around Sydney Harbour, one of my new year’s resolutions is to post everyday to Utterance.

breath | speak | breath – a good rhythm for life and communication. Feel free to join me this year as I search for meaning, significance, laughter, the absurd, wonder, beauty, horror, warmth, hope, life and God in each and every day. I hope my search inspires yours. PH

Newtown south eats bacon

Past Camden St where my second cousin Roy, blind, died after a fall. Park somewhere down Holt St because it’s before 10am and a clearway on King. Judy rings, “I’ve been given four tickets to the Swans.” Cool. Walk with one eye on passersby, other eye on shops, cafes. Leaking water at a building site with workmen and mobiles. Coffee store ‘Once-was-Allegro-now-is-Sacks’ is open. Purchase many Marogagype beans. Sales women smells the beans before sealing the coffee. “It’s a beautiful tasting coffee”. Cappuccino to go, one sugar.

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The challenge for the democratic west…

I’m re-reading the classic science fiction trilogy, Dune, by Frank Herbert, and came across an interesting quote in a typical Herbert entree to a chapter.

In Children of Dune the quote has this citation: ‘Words of an ancient philosopher (Attributed by Harq al-Ada to one Louis Veuillot).’

Harq al-Ada is a fictional charcter while Veuillot was a 19th century journalist, man of letters and radical Catholic ultramontane which means he supported the Pope to the exclusion of local church authorities. Ultramontane means ‘dweller beyond the mountains’ (ultra montes), that is beyond the alps – referring to the Pope in Rome…

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Sleepless in the sands of time

I woke up one night with a line from the intro to Days of Our Lives going through my head. For the record, I do not watch Days of our Lives.

While trying to get back to sleep my mind kept twisting the words back on themselves in a ridiculous attempt to come up with ‘deeper’ meaning from the same words in different order…

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‘This is not the beginning’, said Peter Hallett

I remember learning to write in Mrs Rickard’s first grade class at Taree West Primary School. I had a bad habit, or so she felt, of wanting to add just a little more length to my strokes such as on a ‘p’ or ‘y’. The problem was that when writing with crayons, it was almost impossible to get the two strokes to join. I can still see my gangly letters with little dislocations. I got into trouble for this but, when handwriting large letters, I still do it today.

Fortunately, I don’t hand-write much anymore because it has always been reasonably illegible. But clearly I am still writing in other ways, such as right here, right now.

A blog may well be the latest in a long line of attempts to add just a little bit more to my sometimes hesitant communication. I hope some of the things I write will at least join up, perhaps with you, or someone, or God himself.

In the meantime, Sydney weather has heeded the bitter remembrances of ANZAC Day (April 25) and rushed about angrily in cold gusts all day, tempered only by the sun’s impertinent warmth. The sun has called it quits now, however, and the door is open behind me and there is cold air on my neck.

See you later.
Peter Hallett