Thursday, December 8, 2016

The false link between suicide and mental illness

One characteristic of human society is the tendency to keep doing something over and over again despite it not working. One example would be our approach to incarcerating criminals to punish them instead of rehabilitating them, compounding their trauma and making it harder for them to live productive law-abiding lives when they get out. But this is the "common-sense" approach, the intuitive human response to the failings of others, punish them and they wont dare do it again. It has never worked, ever, but let's keep doing it. Secular society is screwed because it cannot comprehend that its vision is blurred by sin and therefore knee-jerk, common sense solutions are usually destructive and counter-productive.

So it is with our response to suicide. To kill yourself must be the response of the weak minded and sick - so the thinking goes - so to combat rising suicide we treat individuals medically. Yet suicide is a perfectly rational response to a world as broken as ours and the hopelessness engendered by the dominant forces of our society that push us to live meaningless lives as consumers and victims without transcendent meaning or purpose.

Professor Said Shahtahmasebi, Director of the Good Life Research Trust Centre and editor of Dynamics of Human Health, writes:

Over the last 20 years, I have repeatedly challenged the conventional wisdom about suicide, emphasizing that suicide rates follow a cyclical pattern (the sequence of downward and upward movements of suicide rates). Instead of concentrating efforts on breaking the cycle, decision makers, mental health services, and researchers claim credit for lowering suicide rates when the cycle is on the downturn, then demand more funding to continue with the same services. But when the cycle is on the upturn, they claim suicide is a very complex issue with many socio-economic and environmental risk factors and that they, again, require more funding to extend the same service to more people.

Instead Shahtahmasebi relates how projects where community relationships and family support is increased show that suicide rates can be substantially reduced. Why should this be? It seems obvious to me, instead of being considered as individual consumers with a medical condition to treat, they are having their social bonds and meaningful relationships reinforced and being supported in the existential crisis of life. In meaningful human relationships they find purpose and support for living life.

Suicide is a rational response to hopelessness: why suffer longer if things will not get better? Drugs to ease the pain cannot change the cause of that pain or the futility of a life without hope. Here is one of the greatest gifts Christianity has to offer our world, the hope, the faith, that this world is not all there is, but that there is so much more to being human than what our consumerist individualist materialist society has to offer us.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why You Want to be "Left Behind"

Two different posts on the rapture came across my desk this morning, and I thought, surely I have blogged on this myself? But no, I have not. I must have preached on it at some point, because I can remember pontificating on this subject, but not here. Well in order to make good for the omission enjoy Rhett Snell and Doug Chaplin as they explain why being "raptured" or "taken" is not actually the Christian aspiration.

Image result for bed rapture funny

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Need for Humble Atheists (and Theists)

Read the rest of this helpful article by John Thamatil. (I'm not sure about his frequent, continual, undefined use of liberal - but never mind) HT

What binds many atheists together is an unshakable conviction that they know everything there is to know about religion, namely that it is irrational bondage to immutable doctrine. No amount of counterevidence can convince such atheists otherwise. What irony! But where do they come by this knowledge about religion? Their expertise seems to be derived by virtue of sheer sentience alone.

By contrast, if a theologian were to broadcast her convictions about molecular or evolutionary biology without some years of careful reading and study, she would be met with jeering laughter and summarily dismissed. Why then are uninformed atheists who have never read in theology exempt from similar derision? Sadly, every pedant believes himself entitled to his unearned convictions about religion.

The Addictive Power of End Times Speculation

The mighty Rhett Snell has picked up his blog again (I wonder how long he'll last this time), check out his theory on why people get so into annoyingly unbiblical end times nonsense.

I think that where codes-and-calendars end times theology is dangerous, is that it can give a sense of false growth. We read a theory online, or hear it from some bible teacher, and we come to think that we have mastered an area of our faith. A bit like levelling up in a computer game, or Popeye after he’s eaten some spinach. At worst, we begin to believe that we’ve taken a step that other Christians have not; that we’ve entered an elite class of Christianity.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Measuring Success or Faithfulness

[This is first in a series of posts reflecting on the last six years of pastoral ministry in a NZ Baptist church. I'm not looking for sympathy (seriously), or to whinge, I'm trying to reflect on real issues in our theory and practice of ministry.]

At one of my interviews for the role of pastor at the Bay I was asked, "How do you measure success, is it just numbers?" At the time I confidently declared, "Success is about being faithful to Jesus, the numbers don't mean anything." If I'm honest though, at the back of my mind was the firm belief that my ministry would be both faithful to Jesus and show numerical increase.

At the end of six years of ministry at the Bay the numbers are pretty bleak. Each of those years after the first we have seen a decrease in people attending Sunday services, the main yardstick used by our denomination. Baptisms have more or less equalled funerals, and new families have just about equalled those leaving, but each year the church has been less full on a Sunday morning. The other hard data is offerings. For the first four years we increased our income each year, but the last two have seen it dropping, and next year looks lean for the church. If they don't reverse the trend or find other sources of income they will need to start cutting back on ministry.

Have I been faithful? I'm certainly conscious of areas of failing, of mistakes made, of opportunities missed, but overall, in honesty, I think I have done a good job. I've got it right more often than I've got it wrong. I think the congregational decline we have experienced is due to cultural and demographic changes. My ministry has not been sufficient to reverse those trends, but it has not been the cause of it. I can't take responsibility for rising house prices and families moving out of the city. I can't take responsibility for social trends away from institutions and regular attendance. I can't take responsibility for increased religious diversity in the community or a secularising nation. I can't take responsibility for money being tight, people getting older, or wages not increasing relative to living costs.

That is what I know logically, but psychologically that is not how I feel. Anyway, success is not about effort but about result. I am not a successful pastor. My faithfulness has not been sufficient.

Then I grow uncomfortable with the question. Since when have I cared about my success or my faithfulness? What sort of a question is that? What about the faithfulness of Jesus? Didn't he call me to this role? Isn't he the Lord of the church and the harvest? Is my lack of success a failure of his? Did he send the wrong guy for the job? Did he fail to deliver on something he promised? Did he not give me what I needed to succeed?

My ambition and hope for the church during my ministry has not been fulfilled. Who am I to say that Jesus feels the same? It is entirely possible that Jesus is not remotely interested in increasing numbers on a Sunday morning or balancing the budget. These certainly aren't things that crop up in the gospels.

Jesus has been faithful.

Every time I faced a challenge or situation I didn't know how to handle, he led me through. Every time I ran out of energy, compassion, wisdom or strength, his grace was sufficient. Every time I wanted to quit and run, he renewed my call. Every time I was wounded, he healed my hurts. He never abandoned me, my family, or the church. Whenever we met in his name, he was there. Whether we succeeded or failed, he was there.

I'm tempted to say I've done great work despite the conditions; that I've laid the foundation for the next pastor to build on, cleared away the deadwood and weeds of the past; that my ministry will bear fruit in the years to come as seeds I sowed finally mature. Perhaps I am a success, just success delayed? Perhaps, but I think it is probably just more of the same horse shit.

I cannot put "success" on my C.V. and I'm actually glad of that. Not because the numbers don't hurt or depress me, but because, despite my insufficient faithfulness, I have learned more of Jesus' all sufficient faithfulness. I remember the reason I followed this call, to this church. Yes, I thought I'd be able to buck the trends and show everyone how it was done, so much for that, but I also just wanted to be somewhere where I would have to rely utterly on God; where if Jesus didn't show up I would be sunk; where I would be pulled deeper and closer into his grace. I'm sorry if it seems selfish, that I've let the church or the denomination down; but I think that of the two things, the one I have been granted, it is the better.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wars and Rumours of Wars

I write in the morning after the USA 2016 Elections, which featured the historic election of Donald Trump. Apart from my personal interested as a resident of planet Earth at this time, it is interesting to note some of the apocalyptic language emerging in discussions of what this means. Even archaeologists are turning to the medium of prophecy. Hear the word of Tobias Stone,
So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover and move on. 
Stone suggests that future historians will be able to draw clear lines from Brexit to Trump to the 3rd World War, or something equally bad. Mind you, just because historians can draw those lines doesn't mean they are here.

Then there is the word of Thom Hartman who is more interested in the domestic fallout than the fallout shelter. 
The last time a Republican president was elected with both a GOP House and Senate was 1928—Herbert Hoover. Yes, that Herbert Hoover. The one of the Great Depression. Get ready.
The fun thing about Trump of course, is none of us, himself included, have any idea what is going to happen next. He didn't expect to win. He doesn't have a plan or any policy commitments that can't be explained away as campaign bluster. Yes the way he is talking sounds a little like Adolf, but this is a different century, Trump's USA will not be able to run on the same rails as Hitler's Germany. Technology offers both hope and increased danger in this situation. The GOP may be rallying around their new messiah but will he be loyal to them?

The world will be watching, and holding its breath.

Kyrie eleison.

Monday, October 17, 2016

George Athas on the Bible's Attitude to Rape

This will be my last George Athas share for now, another lecture I haven't had time to watch, so saving this for later. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

George Athas - The Bible's attitude to Rape from Reason for Hope on Vimeo.

George Athas on the Tearing of the Temple Curtain

I've really been enjoying the blog of George Athas, OT lecturer at Moore in Sydney, he puts up brief but useful and challenging posts. He's doing some really interesting research as is obviously not afriad to slay the odd sacred cow. Fancy, for example, daring to suggest that Christian preachers have had it all wrong about the significance of the temple curtain being torn, I've been taught one meaning for this since I was knee high to a grasshopper, it's all about how Christ's death removed the barrier between God and humanity. George would beg to differ. Let me know what you think :-)

Hays on Figural Reading

I saw this posted on BW3's blog, and don't have time to watch it now so am putting it here for later. Should be good. Let me know what you think if you watch it.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Breaking news: Lot finally vindicated!

My earlier post about the story of Lot came down particularly hard on Lot for his callous attitude to his virgin daughters. However, it seems I may have fallen for a narrative trap and committed an injustice of my own. George Athas suggests an intriguing alternative in his article Has Lot lost the Plot?

It is free to view on Academia.edu so click on it, and don't forget to tell him I sent you. :-)
Let me know what you think.

Monday, October 10, 2016

I'm now a PhD candidate!

So, I am happy to announce that as of Feb 2017 I will be a PhD student at Otago University in Dunedin, NZ, working under the supervision of Prof Paul Trebilco. Paul is a highly respected NT scholar, probably best known for his work in Christianity in Ephesus/Asia Minor and early Christian self identification. My own research is (at present) going to be in the area of Mark's Gospel, Christology, narrative, and scriptural intertextuality.

My last stint as student was when this blog was birthed and it received a lot more attention when I wasn't trying to lead a church, so without making any promises I'm optimistic that this blog will find a new lease of life. A number of other blogs were reallly helpful in putting my PhD proposal together and while a scholar needs to consult articles and books, etc, blogs are often a wonderful source of concise information and cutting edge ideas that 90% of the academic world seem uninterested in. So, I'm also looking forward to engaging more fully in the "blogosphere" once more and expect blogging to benefit my research immensely.

I expect there will also need to be some reflective stuff on my last 6 years of pastoral ministry, I"ve got a lot to process and the blog is often a good way to get thoughts down in words.

Hope you'll join me on the journey!
Pax vobiscum.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Baptist Ecclesiology: On the Way and in the Fray

If you are interested in such things don't miss Drs John Tucker and Andrew Picard's article.
When we gather together, Christ is present in our midst and we can expect to hear his voice in the gathered community by the Spirit. Secondly, the promised presence of the Lord Jesus in the gathered community sets the church free from all other lords or rulers. Final authority over a congregation rests not with a pope or creed (or senior pastor,
or elders or national gathering resolutions). Final authority rests with the risen Christ who is present as Lord in the midst of a congregation. These twin emphases form something of the Baptist dynamic, a Baptist way of being.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Diagnosing the Demonic

Do we really believe in the demonic anymore? Or can everything be treated with the right pills? What do we do with the fact that in Mark's gospel Jesus is a full blown exorcist but by John's gospel he seems to little interest in it? Was there more demonic activity in Jesus' time as a reaction to him? Is demon possession just what the ancients used to call mental illness? None of these questions are answered by this fascinating article, but read it anyway. Alternatively some of those questions are broached by an extraordinary panel of N.T. Wright, Richard Beck, Greg Boyd, Tony Jones and Tripp Fuller on this podcast (if you've got time to kill).

Let me know what you think :-)

Monday, July 4, 2016

Dark Satanic Book Mills



Well, of all the ways in which we dehumanise our fellow humans and alienate each other form the rewards of our labour can there be a more insidious and reprehensible form than the academic book mill? My mind had not conceived of such depravity till today.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Centurion's Gay Lover?

Ian Paul goes into great detail debunking numerous myths and falsehoods surrounding the story of Jesus healing a Centurions servant in Luke 7:1-10/ Matt 8:5-13 and the way it is used in the church's debate around sexuality. Well worth a read.
The rhetorical move here, via the story in Luke 7, is that, far from the traditional reading of the NT where same-sex relations are rejected as incompatible with the kingdom, gay people don’t simply become acceptable in the kingdom; they become the archetypal members, in much the same way that Jesus holds children before the disciples as archetypes of kingdom membership. So rejecting this is not just a problem of rights; it is rejecting the central way that God pursues his kingdom purposes.