Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dates announced for ++Rowan's first visit as ABC to New Zealand

Well, strictly speaking, the dates have been announced for the 2012 ACC meeting in Auckland, New Zealand. But I think one may presume that ++Rowan will come to the meeting, and thus come to NZ, and thus come for the first time as Archbishop of Canterbury to NZ. (His first visit here ever in any capacity?)

From ACNS's Day 4 Report of the AC Standing Committee:

"The Standing Committee agreed that ACC-15 will be held from the 27 October to 7 November 2012 in Auckland Cathedral."

Naturally, ++Rowan will want to come to the South Island ... the real New Zealand ... and give a lecture sponsored by Theology House :).

Kwashi in Kiwiland

Archbishop Ben Kwashi is featured in Living Church this week. He is a bishop in the Anglican Church of Nigeria and an evangelist with theological substance. I have personally heard him speak and can vouch for his abilities as a dynamic, engaging speaker. Ability is one thing, what about content? Here is an excerpt from an address to the recent Lausanne Conference, as published at Living Church (H/T Titus One Nine):

"The gospel calls for a decision that each person must make, and such a decision will determine the eternal destination of that person. Such a decision, when made, must bring the believer’s life into conformity with the eternal truths of God, of his Son, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. God’s word is truth, and every one of his righteous ordinances endures forever (Ps. 119:160). Therefore anyone who receives and believes the gospel must speak the truth at all times, to all people, and must do so in love. To live in truth is also to insist on standing for justice for the oppressed and on giving justice to all people regardless of their race, religion, nationality or gender. It is significant that it is the gospel’s power which manifests God’s righteousness in us and also empowers us to live righteous lives in such a manner that even unbelievers will acknowledge that righteousness is being practiced by believers of the gospel. Those who do not believe the gospel understand very well when they see people practice righteousness and live in holiness."

But there is more to this gospel man. ++Ben Kwashi can testify to the amazing power of God in the face of deadly threats to his life.

"In February 2006 a band of people reportedly hired to kill me came to my house. Believing that I was there although I was in another country, they tortured my wife, Gloria, from 1:30 to 3:30 a.m. They left Gloria half-dead and blind. Our son Rinji was left unconscious and our little boy Nanminen had a broken mouth. Through the miracle of medical science, Gloria healed thoroughly and regained her sight in five months.

The next year the attackers were back: this time they met me. They took me downstairs to the field outside my house, where they were going to kill me. They changed their minds and decided they would rather kill me in my bedroom. They brought me back to my bedroom and I pleaded with them for an opportunity to pray. They agreed and I got on my knees to pray. A few minutes later my wife was holding my hands in prayer.

A few more minutes later my son Rinji walked in. I screamed at him, “What are you doing? Why are you here?” He said, “Daddy, they’ve gone.” We got up and brought the whole family together and we praised the Lord until the police and the soldiers came, and throughout the day it was a song of praise.

We have witnessed the massacre of Christians; the destruction of churches, Christian businesses, and property; and the disruption of normal life, time and again. But in all this we remain undaunted for the gospel.

I know that I will die someday — how I do not know — but until then I am fully persuaded beyond any doubt that I have a gospel to proclaim. I have a gospel worth living for and a gospel worth dying for."

Sometimes less than complimentary things are said about the Anglican Church of Nigeria. Yes, it's true, negative things have been said about this church and how it deports itself in its mission and gospel work. It may help to think of Ben Kwashi when you read or hear these things and ponder what we know of the context in which the gospel is preached in Nigeria. To do so is to face death.

Here in Kiwiland we can look forward to ++Kwashi coming to a major conference in the life of our church, the Common Life Mission Conference with the theme Shaping the Church for Mission, 19-22 July, 2011. It will be good to have a Nigerian Anglican episcopal leader encourage and inspire us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In today's forum the panel is torn

between discussing the imminent end of the world on 21 May 2011 and the New Testament writers caught out as liars. Difficult choice for the panel. Although the panel was agreed on one thing, the current meeting of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion offered nothing of interest to discuss. In the end the panel decided that the imminent end of the world would resolve itself by 22 May 2011, by which time it noted that President Obama may have made up his mind whether he is or isn't going to expedite the end of Gadaffi's tyranny over Libya. So to the New Testament. Eminent and controversial textual critic Bart Ehrman helps the momentum of the new site Huff Religion by clearly but provocatively stating:

"And here is the truth: Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle -- Peter, Paul or James -- knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a forgery.

Most modern scholars of the Bible shy away from these terms, and for understandable reasons, some having to do with their clientele. Teaching in Christian seminaries, or to largely Christian undergraduate populations, who wants to denigrate the cherished texts of Scripture by calling them forgeries built on lies? And so scholars use a different term for this phenomenon and call such books "pseudepigrapha."

You will find this antiseptic term throughout the writings of modern scholars of the Bible. It's the term used in university classes on the New Testament, and in seminary courses, and in Ph.D. seminars. What the people who use the term do not tell you is that it literally means "writing that is inscribed with a lie."

And that's what such writings are. Whoever wrote the New Testament book of 2 Peter claimed to be Peter. But scholars everywhere -- except for our friends among the fundamentalists -- will tell you that there is no way on God's green earth that Peter wrote the book. Someone else wrote it claiming to be Peter. Scholars may also tell you that it was an acceptable practice in the ancient world for someone to write a book in the name of someone else. But that is where they are wrong. If you look at what ancient people actually said about the practice, you'll see that they invariably called it lying and condemned it as a deceitful practice, even in Christian circles. 2 Peter was finally accepted into the New Testament because the church fathers, centuries later, were convinced that Peter wrote it. But he didn't. Someone else did. And that someone else lied about his identity."

This is very provocative in a number of ways. First, it provokes all who believe otherwise. Secondly, it provokes those Christians who have settled for the 'antiseptic' term 'pseudepigrapha' to front up to the question whether or not Holy Scripture contains blatant lies or not. Thirdly, it provokes scholars who make a living from claiming something as reasonable as pseudepigraphal claims were 'acceptable practice in the ancient world.' Fourthly, it provokes those who believe otherwise than Ehrman while simultaneously believing they are not fundamentalists. Talk about a hornet's nest of claims!

We haven't space here to transcribe the comments of all the panelists. But two points are worth noting. Why doesn't Ehrman discuss the possibility that authorship of New Testament documents may include 'authorisation' so, for instance, Peter did not write 2 Peter, but authorised its writing? Why doesn't Ehrman acknowledge that fashions come and go in academic scholarship? The fashion of our era is to dispute the name on the tin, Paul didn't write X, Y, and Z. But can we be sure that fifty years from now the fashion will be different?

The present writer, however, is in agreement with Ehrman on one aspect of the matter. If (say) Paul did not write some of the letters bearing his name or authorise their being written, then they are forgeries to the extent that they do more than invoke his name at the beginning of the letter as stated author, they also go on to pretend to personally greet this one and to ask after than one. 2 Timothy and Titus are strong examples of this, Ephesians and 1 Timothy are weak examples of this (because hardly anyone else is mentioned).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Huff Religion

A friend has alerted me to the existence of HuffPost Religion . Arianna Huffington has announced this new development here. Mysteriously my name does not appear on the list of featured bloggers. Perhaps I am too liberal for Arianna's cause?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rearranging the deckchairs

You knew they were meeting, didn't you? And you didn't tell me. Noone tells me anything these days. But I have found out. Secret agent Titus One Nine is on the case. So, thanks to their tip off, now I know. The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion is meeting as we read these words. ACNS is reporting daily. SPOILER: Do not read these reports just before bedtime ...

Here for Day One.

Here's my journalistic hunch. If we may liken the Communion to the SS Titanic just after it has hit the iceberg, then we will find this meeting may be likened to the work party assigned to rearranging the deckchairs.

But I could be wrong.

Actually I would like to be wrong about the official, institutional work of the Communion's elite committees.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

If Stale Expressions Were Doing So Well

There wouldn't be Fresh Expressions. Okay so its not fair to characterise the alternative to Fresh Expressions (of the church seeking to be missional in new, different ways to connect with changing cultures) as Stale Expressions. There are plenty of old, familiar ways of the church being missional which connects with changing cultures which are fresh and vital. Questions which can be asked, however, include whether as many cultures are being connected with by the church doing what it has always done as by Fresh Expressions. The point of Fresh Expressions is not so much that there are 'stale expressions' but that there are a lot of people untouched by the gospel as communicated by and through the church being the church in familiar modes of existence. Is it not worth having a go at reaching the unreached with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?

With H/T to Thinking Anglicans the above paragraph is provoked by an article by Australian theologian Bruce Kaye writing in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Religion and Ethics webpage, titled Does Fresh Expressions Misrepresent the Gospel? In turn his article is catalysed by a thoroughgoing theological critique of Fresh Expressions recently published in the UK by Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank called For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions. I encourage you to read the article (if not the book as well). I intend to read the book - it's on order for Theology House library - and then to review it.

But I am wondering already, based on Kaye's thoughts, whether the book is mistitled (more accurate would be: For the Ideal Parish or For the Parish as Intended A Long Time Ago?) or even misleading: the real issue about Fresh Expressions is not whether or not it is for or against the parish system (and whether or not the parish system continues to be fit for 21st century purpose) but whether it is 'the church' at work in the world or some false apparition of it. Kaye, Davison and Milbank tells us that the gospel cannot be divorced from the church as the incarnational presence of Christ in the world. Fair enough. But is Fresh Expressions a movement of the church or apart from the church?

And what is the church? If it is the church of a particular liturgy or style of music or way of doing things decided upon in 1559 then that must be news to God!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Glynn Cardys' Covenant Caveat, Clayboy's Communion Charge

With H/T to Preludium I see the Church Times has a downloadable multi-page guide to the Anglican Covenant, for and against. Check it out here. I shall read it with detailed interest, but a quick read reveals our very own Glynn Cardy (Auckland) prognosticating on the future of the Covenant in our 2012 General Synod, unexpectedly taking a dim view of its prospects.

Meanwhile, over at Clayboy is a thoughtful post about the character of common life in both the C of E (Clayboy's home church) and the Communion ... actually, Clayboy points out that the situation in both contexts is too much non-common life.

A very quick comment from me: the history of our church in these islands may point towards not accepting the Covenant, but that begs the question, is our history pointing in the right direction? Lack of great common life is a feature of Anglican life in these islands. Our headlines about three tikanga wonderfulness obscure some real stories of disconnect, division, and disintegration. (Why has our General Synod suspended the Board of Oversight of St John's College and placed a commissioner in the College to run it? It is not because common life there has being going really, really well!) Glynn and I would agree that we have been to a lot of church synods and conferences where diversity in our church has been celebrated and affirmed ad nauseam; we probably disagree on whether it is timely to work on our common life and reigning in the extremities of diversity. Working on our common life would confront us with the question of what governs our common life and when that governance would constrain diversity. Confronting that question in the church of these islands might lead to greater receptiveness of the Covenant: if common life matters to member churches of the Communion, doesn't it matter to the Communion itself?

Friday, March 25, 2011

God in or outside of the earthquake?

Chris Trotter is the best left-wing writer in NZ today. Somewhat unusually for Kiwi left-wing writers, Trotter is a Christian prepared to publicly write down his theological commitments. The other day in the Christchurch Press he wrote a column about the theology of the earthquake. It was refreshing to find someone going public in the media with a view that God was in the earthquake and not apart from it. His column is now reprinted in his personal blog, Bowally Road.

Here is his challenging introduction:

"WAS GOD PRESENT in Christchurch on 22 February 2011? It’s a question many New Zealanders have wrestled with over the past month, and the tragedy which engulfed Japan on 11 March has given it added urgency.

Officially, we’re a secular nation, yet Census data confirms that more than half of New Zealanders retain a belief in God. That belief is sorely tested by natural disasters. If God was present in Christchurch on 22 February, why didn’t He prevent the earthquake?

But, in posing this question aren’t we separating God from the natural world? Seating Him on a divine throne beyond this earthly realm? Requiring Him to demonstrate his mastery over his own creation by, in this case, countermanding the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates?

Yes, we are. But we can hardly be blamed for doing so. Because, when all is said and done, this is the view of God we have inherited from the Bible. He is the maker of heaven and earth and if it pleases him to command the sun to stand still, or the oceans to o’ertop the world, then it will be so. He is Jehovah, “I am that I am”, the God Charlton Heston (in the role of Moses) invokes when Pharaoh’s army traps the Israelites against the margins of the Red Sea.

“Behold His mighty hand!”, Charlton cries, and low, the waters of the sea are parted.

There are, of course, plusses and minuses to the Jehovan conception of divinity, as the celebrated author, C.S. Lewis, well understood.

In The Horse and His Boy, one of his Chronicles of Narnia, he makes it clear that his own rendering of the Jehovan God – the golden lion Aslan – is not a pet to be called for and dismissed at our convenience. On the contrary, he is an altogether dangerous being. As one of Lewis’s characters indignantly observes: “He’s not a tame lion!” "

His column goes onto challenge some published theological comments of our Dean, Peter Beck. Out of respect for Peter as a colleague, and noting that Peter did not invite Chris Trotter to publicly debate his views in print, I will take comments here about Chris Trotter's views but not about Dean Peter Beck's views. You can always comment on Chris Trotter's site if my policy restricts your desire to debate all views touched on by Trotter's column!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The annoying truth about the Anglican Covenant

David Virtue has handily published a talk by Lionel Deimel on the Anglican Covenant. Lionel is a leading progressive Episcopalian in Pittsburgh. Virtue's publication of the whole talk is here. Deimel's own commentary on excerpts from the talk (which he has published in full as a PDF) is here on his own blog. The talk as a whole is fascinating as it recounts some of the standard lines against the Covenant while not quite coming down completely on the side of TEC rejecting the Covenant: Deimel allows there is a case for TEC going with a discernible flow of Communion approval for the Covenant.

Here I want to pick up one point which I think represents an 'annoying truth' about the proposed Covenant which activists against the Covenant hurry past. Deimel's talk ends in this way:

" Rejecting the Covenant may or may not derail what seems like an unstoppable express, but, at the very least, we will not be complicit in destroying Anglicanism or paying for the destruction of our own church. In the end, our mission might be to pick up the pieces of the Anglican Communion and reconstitute them as a fellowship that is truly Anglican."

Truly Anglican! What on earth is 'truly Anglican'? Since the whole of the talk is intelligent, rational, and insightful it is right and proper that the word 'truly' is understood to mean something in this context. It is not a descriptive word thrown into the sentence as a flourish. 'Truly' has to do with 'true': there is a true Anglicanism which can be distinguished from a false Anglicanism. Further, 'truly Anglican' means some kind of definition going on as to what is true Anglicanism and what is not true Anglicanism. Indeed the sentence speaks about reconstituting broken Anglicanism, a task which implies knowledge of how to go about intentional work on Anglicanism compared with (say) letting Anglicanism randomly evolve. That word 'fellowship' implies some sense of a shared definition as well as intention. So 'truly Anglican' involves definition of what being Anglican means, and a shared definition at that. A definition which Anglicans make a decision to agree to. Finally, note that implicitly the reconstituted Anglican fellowship will not include those who do not buy into the definition of what is 'truly Anglican'.

Sounds like a Covenant with disciplinary teeth by another name!

This point has been made by me before on this blog. Despite the arguments against the Covenant sounding like the choice before us is to have a Covenant or to not have a Covenant, as long as we remain committed to being 'truly Anglican' then the choice before us is to have a written Covenant or an unwritten Covenant.

The advantage of a written Covenant over an unwritten Covenant is that we know what we are agreeing to with the former. With the latter shadowy players behind the scenes have ample opportunity to change the meaning to suit the occasion. Real Anglican democracy lies in the way of transparency with a written Covenant. True Anglican justice lies with a Covenant known to all signers and not with an unwritten Covenant the contents of which noone knows for sure.

It is an annoying truth about the Anglican Covenant that there will be a Covenant as long as Anglicans wish to distinguish true from false Anglicanism. We cannot escape the Covenant, we can only make a choice as to whether it will be written down or not.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Save the religious Kiwis before they become extinct

There is no accounting for the silliness of human beings, even when they otherwise show signs of learning and intelligence. The latest example comes from the USA where researchers looking at census data for NZ and some other countries have come up with the conclusion that religion is set for extinction in NZ. You can read the article here and the comments make interesting reading too.

It seems incredible that researchers could come up with such a conclusion when other evidence points in a different direction. For instance the secularization thesis (that Western countries were becoming more and more secular) has found itself undermined by both a rise in enthusiasm among Christians as well as by immigration drawing in active adherents of many faiths.

But, in particular, in NZ such a conclusion needs to account for a variety of factors such as the following: whether or not large families are drawn more from religious or non-religious ranks; immigration trends (so that, to take a  few examples, South Africans, Zimbabweans, and Koreans are contributing new members to churches, indeed often starting up new churches; then there is also the rising presence of Muslims and Hindus); and, finally, the resilience of some churches (such as the Roman Catholic church which has a mutually reinforcing commitment to active faith through its parish-and-church schools network ... certainly the 350+ Catholic congregation I was part of on Sunday did not look like becoming extinct anytime soon).

Of course it is always possible to modify a thesis in order to strengthen the certainty of the conclusion. Perhaps a better conclusion would be: religion set to become extinct among non-religious Kiwis.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Letters of commendation

It is a pleasure this morning to write commending the work of others, three colleagues all affected to one degree and another by the quake, in particular reworking ministries in changed circumstances, including broken churches.

Bosco Peters now has Liturgy up and running again. The school where he works is in the central business district of Christchurch which has been without power until very recently. No power, no server, no website for several weeks. But all is well again and I am looking forward to a new lease of life at Liturgy after an unexpected and surely unwanted 'leave of absence' from the blogosphere.

As I listen to people, lay and ordained, proferring their opinions of good preachers around and about, a couple of names often get mentioned in dispatches. From my own experience these high opinions are well-founded. Anglican Taonga carries an excellent recent 'post-quake' sermon from each ... from Jay Behan and from Lynda Patterson.

Thank you for your continuing prayers for us. Many challenges face us, and many predictable challenges lie ahead such as the need for stamina, patience, and the hope of which Jay speaks and the faith of which Lynda speaks. The way ahead for many parishes and church schools is a matter of seeing through a glass darkly (will the engineers declare our building(s) should be demolished? will the insurers agree? will people/pupils who have left for safer pastures return?).

Monday, March 21, 2011


An interesting part of my current position is that I am rarely in a church two Sundays in a row and in the one church that I have been to more than any other in the last 60 or so weeks, I reappear about once every six weeks, and the church I have been to second most regularly I reappear about once in every twelve weeks. While that irregularity and peripateticism is unsatisfactory for all the obvious reasons, one neat thing is that I get to see change in some churches happening before my eyes (i.e. I am supposing, on the basis of past experience, that it is harder to 'see' change when one is worshipping faithfully in the same service week by week).

Yesterday, participating in a service at church #1, I was very pleasantly surprised to find yet more new people than when I was there a month ago. I also performed some mental arithmetic: 80% of the large congregation were under the age of 60, with around 50% under the age of 20. By contrast, when I first visited that service several years ago, I would say 80% of the congregation were over the age of 60.

Good news. Anglican churches are not necessarily repositories of the past generations. Hallelujah!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stabilizing our witness

Worrying about our shaky doctrine of God is much less a concern I have for my own understanding of God at this time and more for our witness to the reality of God's existence, God's love, and God's saving action in Christ. What do we say with credibility to a world that looks in askance at devastation through quake and tsunami? Where is the love of God? To an extent we Christians seem to be saying it is present after the disaster as we find new depths of love and compassion for one another in otherwise impersonalised, workaholic, consumerist societies. This is true, but does it resolve all questions sceptical unbelievers and agnostics have about the apparent powerlessness of God relative to the power of the natural world? The world which, in another voice, we Christians proclaim is the creation of God as Creator and redeemed by God as Redeemer. Is the flipside of raising the question of the shakiness of our doctrine of God the question of stabilizing our witness?

There is negativity out there in the community around us, even as that community appreciates all the love that flows from Christians involved in post-disaster care and reconstruction, especially via the Salvation Army. Here is the voice of Paul Holmes (for overseas readers, one of our leading, love him or hate him, media commentators) pontificating on the National Memorial Service on Friday 18 March:

"He quoted his grandmother, the Queen, as saying that grief is the price of love. It was pure class. It was also brief. The speeches, if one were being a bit picky, could all have been a bit briefer, particularly the religious ones.
There was plenty of religion, it has to be said. And what the bloke [Maori elder giving a traditional opening speech] was saying at the start about the tree of life was beyond most of us.

Hayley Westenra stopped the day. She stopped the birds in the trees, did Hayley. The sun stopped moving across the sky and listened in wonder. The timing in her performance of Amazing Grace was extraordinary. You found yourself not breathing. Something very mature has happened to Hayley.

Bob Parker's speech was nice and brief. I didn't quite understand it but it was nice and brief. The various religions each made a contribution, Muslims, Jews, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha'i. They too were brief. It was the Christians who banged on a bit."

The words I have italicised are a familiar theme in Holmes' writing: religion is not up to much, Christianity even less so. But he would speak for many NZers who are well versed in the faults of religions and of Christianity in particular. (One conversation I had with a complete stranger on Friday very quickly got to the roots of his scepticism of Christianity: religious wars beginning with the crusades and continuing through the Irish fighting one another).

Raising the question of the credibility of our witness at a time like this could lead to a long answer which I have not time and perhaps not ability to give. Just a few comments.

First, that our tendency within our communities of faith to speak of God suffering with us in the incarnated Christ may be pastorally helpful to the faithful but implausible if not incredible to those not of faith.

Secondly, the stack of facts against us (such as our appalling record of fighting among each other, or fighting wars for the faith) should not be underestimated. The relatively good record of Christians in the last century or so of working for peace, justice and social improvement may delude us as to the impressiveness of our testimony of good works - the aftertaste of the crusades and other religious wars still leaves lingers in the mouth of humanity.

Thirdly, the challenge of witnessing credibly, with a stable witness undergirded by a secure doctrine of God, is so huge that we cannot meet the challenge in our own strength. We need God's Pentecostal power. And we may have to reckon with those uncomfortable theologians of the Western church, St Augustine and John Calvin when they highlighted St Paul and others on predestination: those who come to faith do so through God's will which transcends the frailty of our witness.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Our shaky doctrine of God

Compared to a number of Christchurch residents (and to many, many more Japanese residents) I have the luxury of being able to lift my head above immediate concerns of water, toileting, and power (a large part of power restored Christchurch are nevertheless being asked to conserve power). In that luxury is some space to quietly think. One part of my thinking is about God and the understanding of God which is coming through many different forms of communication through these weeks of grappling with the enormity of nature's destructive power here and in Japan. To an extent I touched on this a few weeks ago by raising the question of 'theodicy.' But right now I am trying to think more directly about God. Who is God? How do we know God and what God is up to in relation to the world as a whole and to me and my loved ones as particular parts of the whole? What does 'know' mean in the previous question (can I know God? How would I know that I know God?)? Then, when I try to speak about God (witness) or speak to God (praise and prayer), what do I say which is truthful of God (the infinite) and understandable for humans (the finite)?

Although my dissatisfaction is a response to some of what I am hearing and reading in these days of locally and globally getting to grips with nature's devastation, I think my dissatisfaction is about my own understanding of God, in which there are too many half-baked ideas such as when things work well God is working in my life (obviously!) and when things are not working well then God's ways are inscrutable (obviously!) ... which seems contradictory. My dissatisfaction leads to questions, but I do not feel I have answers (my soundbites are better than yours ... not)!

Then there is an even vaguer feeling that if I took my own questions seriously they would lead to a need to do some very extensive reading ... Augustine, Calvin immediately spring to mind. But the Psalms would be on the reading list too.

In theology (which is 'talk about God') our doctrine of God is huge. Get that wrong and everything else is wrong.

Or, is all well?

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Day in the Sun

Sneaking a post in before my friends and colleagues at Anglican Taonga get theirs online (ok, so their budget hasn't provided them with a satellite phone internet gizmo) ... an amazing day in the sun at Hagley Park for the National Memorial Service following the Christchurch 22 February quake (with plenty of cross-referencing to Japan's quake, tsunami, and radiation).

I went along at 9am as one of some clergy volunteered to be available as part of the Welfare Support Team. For only the second time in my life I worked (albeit without pay) for the "NZ Government", as emblazoned on my blue vest. Talk about blurring the lines between State and church, including some ways in which the service clearly owed more to the leadership of Bishop Victoria Matthews and Dean Peter Beck than to the Prime Minister's Department.

For some, including journalists, the highlight of the service was the presence and speech of Prince William.

But for me personally there were two highlights amidst a series of very well done speeches, prayers, readings, and songs. One was Hayley Westenra singing Amazing Grace with her Amazing Voice.

At 9 am when I arrived there was one interesting experience. North Hagley Park (which for those not familiar with it, is a very large park full of greenfields, large trees, a golf course, tennis courts, a lake, all bounded by the river Avon. A sort of Hyde Park. This morning it could have been Hyde Park because it was shrouded in the loveliest of English mists!

Back to the service. Overall the whole day, blessed by warm sunshine once the mist evaporated, was a lovely day, just right for a large gathering of (perhaps) 100,000 people.

But it was noticeable to me (who ended up sitting in the middle of the crowd) that where responses of a religious kind were involved, the crowd's contribution was barely audible, whether singing Wkakaria Mai (How Great Thou Art) or joining in the Lord's Prayer. How religious are we as a city? Religious enough to involve the leadership of Dean Peter Beck, prayers from church leaders and leaders from other faiths, a reflection and prayers from Bishop Victoria, readings from the Bible (and also Seneca!), along with musical contributions from the Cathedral Choir and a beautiful duet of Malvina Major (well known opera singer) and Patrick Manning (unknown local treble) singing Pie Jesu. But not religious enough to corporately engage in worshipful responses on an occasion such as this? The crowd clapped each of the prayers offered by church and other faith leaders: that struck me as a response of those with little understanding of what prayer in corporate worship means.

The second highlight for me was the action at the end of the service, just before the singing of the national anthem. To the music of Conquest of Paradise (the theme song of our Crusaders rugby team), a short film was shown which ran through a whole lot of scenes of people helping people since the quake. The music is spinetingling stuff and the sequence was awesome. People really have stepped up to the mark in generous, sometimes heroic service of fellow human beings.

[Photos from NZ Herald]

Thursday, March 17, 2011

God Like A Rapist?

From a letter in this morning's Christchurch Press (referring both to the trauma of the quake and to a national memorial service which will take place in Christchurch tomorrow):

' ... may remember whom they please in the quake service and perversely praise the omnipotent author of our troubles if they think it appropriate. But I'm with Epicurus. He said, "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

'Praising the purportedly loving Judaic God at a time like this is akin to thanking a rapist for leaving a victim beaten and in a coma rather than extinguishing their lives completely.'

Tough words!

Here is one response. There is a genuine puzzle about suffering. Epicurus neatly describes the puzzle and does so in a way which points to a solution: there is no omnipotent, benevolent God. There is at least one other solution which, as I understand it, is found in the Book of Job: the omnipotent, benevolent God exists in such a manner as to be only partially examinable through human wisdom. If we think we know God, or know that this God does not exist, then we do not know God whose purposes are beyond our comprehension. In the face of evil this God invites us to trust him, not to dismiss him.

But that is a tough call. If it is touch for a resident of Christchurch, it is even tougher for residents of north-eastern Japan.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nothing is Normal

A timely comment reported at a trauma counselling session I attended yesterday (but please call your own counsellor first, I am not now an expert) was this: nothing is normal in Christchurch anymore.

It was timely because last night I began a teaching series on the Book of Revelation last night at St Christopher's Avonhead. One difficulty in reading Revelation is that very little of what we read is normal measured against most of the rest of the Bible: weird visions, coded language, strange figures of speech, unusual imagery including Christ being the Lamb most of the time.

But perhaps that is the relevance of Revelation: when nothing around us is normal anymore then this abnormal book is the one to guide us forward into God's future!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Would Jesus rebuild our cathedrals?

This morning's Christchurch Press tells us that the repair bill for the Arts Centre in Christchurch is likely to be $100 million. This historic precinct of stone buildings (which once used to be our university site) is worth rebuilding in general terms, but I am not going to try to get my head around the dollar number which would mean we walked away from it! On that basis I imagine a rebuild of the cathedrals in Christchurch would be in the region of $10 million each. Would Jesus rebuild our cathedrals?

I imagine Jesus might answer that question with a question (as he often does in the gospels), 'What important priorities in Christchurch city need to be met ahead of restoring historic buildings?' Listening to people and reading letters to the editor I sense that the people of Christchurch would answer that question with a request that power, water, and sewerage be restored to our residential and business areas before we make decisions about restoring our heritage. (Also before we host Rugby World Cup games).

Suppose, however, that the infrastructure of the city is sorted, that good progress is being made on the myriad of decisions both at a personal and civic level about repairing and replacing damaged homes (in some cases planning for new suburbs to be developed), would Jesus rebuild our cathedrals?

In principle I suggest we can say that Jesus would encourage us to have architecturally significant large churches. He taught us to honour our Father in heaven, he encouraged people to meet together in his name (including in his own ministry some very large crowds), and he cared for people in times of significant events such as weddings and funerals, events which sometimes need large venues to accommodate those who wish to gather for them. With more than a little Anglican bias I suggest Jesus is in favour of bishops as successors to his apostles and understands the importance of bishops having a 'seat' from which to preside over their flock as teaching pastors. That seat or cathedra gives rise to the desire to have 'architecturally significant large churches' which we call 'cathedrals.'

But let us then tread carefully through the next steps to understanding the mind of Christ on rebuilding our cathedrals! Would Jesus have us rebuild two cathedrals or one? Would he wish us to maintain continuity with the past by rebuilding stone by stone (as our mayor has already said we will do, at least for the Anglican cathedral)? Or, always one to look ahead, would Jesus favour a new cathedral or cathedrals for a new dispensation?

If the past is important along with the future would Jesus favour the 'Coventry model' (the old as a memorial side by side with the new) or the 'Auckland model' (the old completed by a new addition, forming a hybrid)? Or could there be a fusion in which a brand new cathedral or cathedrals are partly constructed of present stone but in a completely new design? Then there is always the question whether a cathedral for the 21st century in the midst of a world with great poverty should be expensively designed and constructed or otherwise. Would Jesus be satisfied with a 'warehouse' box for a cathedral?

Finally - being only courageous enough to raise questions and not to answer them (smile) - should there be two cathedrals or one cathedral in our city?

I am not so blindly Anglican that I think Jesus would favour rebuilding the Anglican cathedral and not the Roman Catholic one. Nor as a good Anglican do I think Jesus would favour the converse (unless he wanted to have some teasing fun at Anglicans' expense)! Theologically I struggle with Jesus as the intercessor who prayed ut unim sint favouring two expensive rebuilds. So here is one bold thought:

What if we had an ecumenical cathedral in Christchurch, one and only one cathedral? It could be available for all the churches to use as required for large occasions of gathering (recalling that Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists and other denominations have lost their large inner city churches). It could have individual seats for individual bishops (at least three, Roman Catholic, Maori Anglican, and Pakeha Anglican). It would be available to the community for large funerals and weddings, to say nothing of concerts and performances which glorified God through the arts.

The obvious site for this ecumenical cathedral would be the centre of Christchurch (i.e. the site of the present Anglican cathedral) and to make it truly ecumenical we Anglicans would need to give up our ownership of that site to an ecumenical trust. (Easy words to write, I know, but something to ponder given our commitment to ecumenical relations).

Each denomination would then be free to build at a location of their choosing a 'fit for purpose' large church in keeping with the 21st century, at lowest reasonable cost, and built to the very highest earthquake standards. In the light of the devastation of the tsunami in Japan, somewhere in the west of Christchurch might be desirable. From an Anglican perspective I favour whatever we do being of flexible purpose so that we could hold both worship services and our synods and conferences in the same building.

Other bold thoughts should be considered. The full implications of the gospel as the manifesto of God's kingdom need reflecting on. What statements in keeping with the gospel will be made when we rebuild? What gospel priorities might constrain us from rebuilding? How do we provide for ourselves both a large meeting place for the diocesan family to meet as well as support parishes in their rebuild of smaller churches for local gatherings? When we have dreamed our dreams, what actual dollars will be available from insurance and fund-raising to do what we want to do?

What would Jesus do?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Talking ourselves down to the grave

I am increasingly disappointed by what Archbishop Rowan Williams has to say these days. Please note very carefully that I have not said I am disappointed in the man nor that he himself is a disappointment as ABC. He is doing his best to bring his considerable talents to bear on the role. But I imagine him to be constrained by what other leaders around him permit him to do and to say. If the others have said that tomorrow they are returning to home base to watch the footy, there really is no point issuing a command to go over the top of the trench in an offensive against the enemy. What ++Rowan says these days is what he feels he is able to say as truthfully representative of the reality of our life together (and apart) as Anglicans and thus my disappointment is with what the Communion is allowing him to say.

Take this published letter to the Primates, following the recent partially attended Primates' Meeting. It says this and it says that. Much is unexceptional, talking about our solidarity with one another in prayer and other support in the difficult times we are experiencing. It says an almost tautological thing about the aims and achievements of the Primates' Meeting: we did not set out to do X and so we did not achieve X; previously we had not thought about whether we can do X, though we acted as though we could do X and now we have given it a bit of thought, we think we cannot do X, so that justifies not setting out to do X, and thus we did not achieve X. (It doesn't say that the primates who might think differently would have steered the discussion in a different direction).

Here is the big gaping whole in what ++Rowan says: he does not address why we should value our actions and prayers for fellow Anglicans compared with engaging in action with and prayer for fellow Christians. Lots of Christians in Christchurch, Japan and Libya are NOT Anglican. Why not pray for them? Why not act with them in solving problems? What is special about Anglicans reaching out to Anglicans? It is that we have more in common with each other than with other Christians.

So when we find we have differences, where and how are we going to sort out our differences with a view to making ongoing fellowship among Anglicans more worthwhile than fellowship with other Christians? As far as I can tell from this excerpt from the letter, there is no answer to this question!

"The recent Primates’ Meeting in Dublin did not set out to offer a solution to the ongoing challenges of mutual understanding and of the limits of our diversity in the Communion. But it is important to note carefully what it did set out to do and what it achieved. In recent years, many have appealed to the Primates to resolve the problems of the Communion by taking decisive action to enforce discipline on this or that Province. In approaching the Dublin Meeting, we believed that it was essential to clarify how the Primates themselves understood the nature of their office and authority. It has always been clear that not all have the same view – not because of different theological convictions alone, but also because of the different legal and canonical roles they occupy as Primates. Some have a good deal of individual authority; others have their powers very closely limited by their own canons. It would therefore be difficult if the Meeting collectively gave powers to Primates that were greater than their own canons allowed them individually, as was noted at the 2008 Lambeth Conference (Lambeth Indaba 2008 #151).

The unanimous judgement of those who were present was that the Meeting should not see itself as a ‘supreme court’, with canonical powers, but that it should nevertheless be profoundly and regularly concerned with looking for ways of securing unity and building relationships of trust."

The last part of the last sentence is particularly disturbing. The Meeting won't do anything substantive to change the situation but the situation needs changing and the Meeting should do everything it can to make anything other than a substantive change. Non-sense?

Or, another critique of this important sentence: when we ask what secures unity and builds relationships of trust we come back (in this context) to commonality of vision, belief, values. What is the Meeting going to do when it finds that is cannot look for ways to secure unity and build relationships of trust without tackling "the ongoing challenges of mutual understanding and of the limits of our diversity in the Communion."

At the heart of what the Communion is asking its chief spokesperson to say on its behalf is a contradiction: a refusal to act on what it knows it needs to act on.

We are talking ourselves to the grave. Individual Anglican churches may survive this corporate act of ecclesial suicide but the Communion itself is talking itself to death. It can only take so much contradiction before it vapourises into thin air. It would not be the first time in church history that a collection of churches with great promise has disappeared into the sands of time.

Remember, in recent days, we have been seeing a serious attempt in an Anglican church to formalise communion without baptism. If that takes place some Anglicans will move to a position of having less in common with other Anglicans than with many other Christians who insist on reasonable, Scriptural  and traditional eucharistic discipline.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

In the midst of devastation, perhaps some humour will help

Tomorrow's Gospel reading is Matthew 4:1-11. Here is a little something both to enlighten us and to humour us. Those grey clouds hovering over humanity after the tsunami can be dispelled with these thoughts about the little grey cells, as Poiret used to call the human brain. Enjoy!

"This year, the international brainfest auspiciously coincides with Lent, when we remember Jesus' 40 days and nights alone in the desert. Before this desert experience, Jesus was a newly baptized, unheard of, undereducated 30-year-old carpenter from the wrong side of the tracks who quit his day job. Afterwards, he became a popular traveling healer and preacher who spread the good news of God and wielded political power in unprecedented ways. Jesus must have had a major brain makeover during his desert sojourn to undergo such a sweeping personal transformation.

Unfortunately, it's a little late to give Jesus a brain MRI or CAT scan. Ah, but here's some good news! The gospel reading for Sunday, March 13 (Matthew 4:1–14) gives us insights as to how Jesus' brain changed in the desert, preparing the way for the mind of Christ to which Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 2:16 ("Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.")?

An important clue is in the very first line: "After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." Before entering the desert, Jesus felt connected to God."

You can read more here. (H/T MCJ at MWC).

PS I may be misunderstanding this libation from the fountain of Anglican wisdom. Perhaps it is a serious essay and not a piece of humour. I have been known to misunderstand things.

Our Dangerous Planet

It feels almost absurd that our TV news in Christchurch should be showing an even worse disaster unfolding before us, this time in Japan, struck by an earthquake variously reported between 8.4 and 8.9 (or 8000 +/- times the force of our recent 6.3 quake) and, perhaps more devastatingly, by a resulting tsunami with waves said to be 10 metres high. (Christchurch is so flat that if such a tsunami struck us it would finish off some 80% of our city for good.)

Our planet is dangerous. There is nowhere to escape from the possibility of natural disaster. If earthquakes do not get you, floods will. Nowhere is free of storms. Even deserts where there is no rain can thrown up a sandstorm. Climb mountains to avoid tsunamis but keep an eye out for avalanches.

From the perspective of faith, disasters on this dangerous planet keep faith vital. At any time we may meet our Maker. In an instant everything dear to us may be swept away and all we can do is cry out to our Redeemer.

Pray for the people of Japan!

Friday, March 11, 2011

What Would Jesus Do?

I have always thought that the question 'What would Jesus do?' is a very good question. The fact that some conservative folk in America popularised the question with bracelets sporting the initials WWJD and what have you does not alter the fact that this is a very good question to apply to many situations in life. It has a very good biblical basis in 1 John 2:6, "whoever says they abide in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked."

How do we walk in the same way that Jesus Christ walked? What would Jesus do? Beyond perennial debates about 'Scripture, reason and tradition' for Anglican Christians as we work out what we should be doing is the question of what Jesus would have us do. When we revise liturgy, for instance, are our revisions taking us closer to the heart and mind of Christ or further away? Does our understanding of ministry orders get consistently renewed towards Christ's vision for apostleship and service or away from it (perhaps stuck in one century or other of Christendom's history)?

Here in quake damaged if not destroyed Christchurch as we engage with long-term questions of rebuilding churches (or not), many parishes have short-term questions of what congregational worship should consist of when the gathering takes place in a spartan church hall, on a lawn outside a cracked building, in a tent, and so forth. Depending on the venue some of the normal expectations of a worship service cannot be met: perhaps no organ, maybe vestments remain locked in a cupboard in a redstickered building, or there is no time for the usual length of service because toilets are not available.  This could be a good opportunity to review what we usually do, and why we do it, asking ourselves 'what would Jesus do?' That is, what is vital to Christ-centred worship and what is not? What is faithful to Jesus in the gospels and his vision of the future of his missional movement? How should we worship God in a structured service with sound content which exemplifies the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ when the new context forces us to ask fundamental questions about the style of what we do (e.g. our robes, our actions, our ancillary helps (choirs, music groups, musical instruments)).

Though I do not say much on this blog about my own personal vision for Anglicanism in the 21st century, bubbling away, without much formation yet, is an increasing conviction that we must refind what Jesus would have us do as a greater priority than restoring the glories of the Reformation or the medieval English church or Celtic Christianity or Laudianism or whatever period takes our fancy!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wrong, wrong, wrong but well meaning

Canon Paul Ostreicher, one of the most famous Anglican priests in the world to have been nurtured in New Zealand in his early life, writes in the Press this morning from his experiences at Coventry cathedral and visiting rebuilt churches in Dresden and Hiroshima. You too can rebuild, seems to be his message. Well meaning but wrong: Dresden and Hiroshima could rebuild in the reasonable belief that their buildings would never again have to withstand bombs being dropped on them. Christchurch can only rebuild on the basis that it is likely to have further earthquakes. Perhaps our cathedral can be rebuilt stone by stone to be stronger than a 6.3 or 7.1 earthquake. But will our people believe the engineers who tell them it is safe? I suggest that unless we can see with our own eyes the steel girders that will hold it together we will have our doubts. Perhaps some letter writers to the Press a few days ago are right: Coventry is a model. Leave the ruined cathedral as it is and build a new one alongside. (Except I notice that one was built from bricks. Bad idea here).

Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi writing in the Anglican Journal (ACCanada) argues for 'open communion' or welcoming to the Lord's Table those who are not baptised. You can tell his argument is going to go horribly wrong very early in his essay when he says this, "Anglicans traditionally have believed that the eucharist is a family meal, reserved for members of the church through baptism. Those who are not baptized are not members of the church; therefore, they cannot participate in the family meal. This exclusive view of the eucharist has a long history. St. Paul warns against eating and drinking in an “unworthy manner” (I Cor. 11:27), though he seems to leave the decision whether to partake in the meal to each person’s conscience (I Cor. 11:28)." First he defines the eucharist solely as a 'family meal' and overlooks other important aspects of its definition such as an act of remembrance of Jesus' death, an act of participation in the body and blood of Christ as a member of Christ's body, and an act of reception of Christ's body and blood through faith. These other aspects assume faith and participation in the body of Christ the church, the entry to which is through baptism not apart from baptism.

Secondly Nicolosi nails the 'exclusivist' approach as having a 'long history' and neatly bypasses Paul's theology of eucharist in 1 Corinthians as having the authority of Scripture and not of longevity. Continue in this vein it is unloving to not welcome the unbaptised to this meal and it is anti-missional to miss the opportunity for growing our churches by making access to the Lord's Table easier. But this thinking not only overlooks proper regard for Scripture as God's teaching for how we are to be church, but also respect for tradition (Nicolosi is saying that the church has been wrong on this for 2000 years), and the basic facts of history: the gospel has flourished both in apostolic times and since by preaching the gospel, baptizing people, and then sharing eucharist together. In post Christendom times we should take seriously pre Christendom missiology not invent our own to suit, irrespective of the teaching of Scripture, tradition and church history.

Nevertheless I get it that Nicolosi's argument is highly fashionable in a number of Anglican circles these days. It is well meaning to want to include and not exclude.

But the question we could ask as Anglicans who profess seriousness about our study of Scripture is whether the argument is right or wrong. Were all the meals of Jesus 'open'? The Last Supper was actually exclusive! Was Jesus the host at the meals which were open to outsiders sidling in? Mostly he was a guest at these meals. What about the feeding of the five thousand? That was an open table meal but it did not form the basis for the early church's practice of eucharist. The similarity of the Lord's words and actions at the feeding of the five thousand and at the Last Supper tell us that the same Lord encourages both hospitality to those seeking him and remembrance of his death by those believing in him. Following that same Lord the church has practiced and can today practice open table hospitality through feeding people (modern day examples would be meals as an integral part of the Alpha Course, providing meals for the poor, opening church cafes to all in local communities). But these open table meals need not and, theologically speaking, should not be confused with the eucharist as a participatory meal for the baptised, those who outwardly have confirmed their inward faith in Jesus Christ.

Our cathedral here in Christchurch has been an open church to all in various ways. our new or renewed cathedral will continue to be an open church, but it will be an Anglican cathedral and thus its worship will be ordered through Scripture, tradition and reason. Right now the 'reason' part is focused not on Nicolosi's argument but on Ostreicher's: what is the rational way forward to maintain our heritage and provide a safe place to worship. If we do not get the safety aspect right we may have a cathedral which is exclusively for the use of risk takers!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Future Church Summit

One of the joys of growing older is to see the brilliance of the younger generation coming on to take over. Last night, by dint of being dio staff, I sneaked into a Summit of young adults, mostly but not exclusively Anglicans, at the Addington Coffee Co-op. Normally meeting monthly, this summit was a special to reflect on the quake. A bumper number of 140 or so were there, hanging onto the words of wisdom of some teaching elders of our city (Bob Robinson, Matt Stott, Steve Graham, Jolyon White). If we take away the 'oldies' who were there, 130 young adults represent the future leadership of our churches. They will do a great job. With due respect to my peers, hopefully a better job than we are doing.

In respect of a few previous posts, I have no idea what church buildings mean to this generation. The spacious surrounds of the Co-op, with coffees being quietly made and distributed while the Word was being shared, are highly suggestive of a church architecture different to what we have been used to!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


This morning's Press reports a $4 million gift towards the rebuilding of Christchurch Cathedral. Lots of money is being raised through efforts as diverse as celebrities giving concerts through to donations of small coins. It is moving that people are generous. It will be interesting to see how this generosity is dispersed. I hope the really needy receive good help. To be in a destroyed home on damaged land with an insurance policy that will not cover all costs of transferring to a similar quality home on better land must be heartbreaking. Even the best insurance policies do not cover the real costs of uprooting a home, to say nothing of the scramble to live while things are sorted out. Today's paper says 10,000 houses may be demolished. There are not 10,000 empty houses elsewhere in greater Christchurch ready for instant moving in.

I guess $4 million donated specifically to rebuilding the cathedral must be spent on that project. Hopefully much more than that will be available for people in need. It would be terrible to have a rebuilt cathedral in the middle of a city with people living in tents.

It would also be a challenge for goodwill and peace among all Canterbury and Westland Anglicans if the generosity of cathedral supporters means we have a brand (re)new(ed) cathedral and 25 other churches in various states of disrepair. Hopefully we can make some decisions which see the damaged parish churches repaired at reasonable cost, or replaced with better, 21st century friendly buildings, alongside whatever future our cathedral will have. The good news in some cases is that stone churches which leak and freeze in the winter can be replaced with warm, watertight, flexible buildings at quite reasonable cost relative to cost of restoring stones to their former glory.

What would I like to see in a (re)new(ed) cathedral? Here are two simple ideas for architects to get their heads around: an underground carpark, so no one is deterred from coming to a large service because of fear of not finding a carpark*; a space flexible enough to enable our annual synods, and other conferences to be held in the cathedral (some underground space would help into which seating, tables, etc could be easily lowered and raised for storage between events).

In general terms we are a city now facing two significant challenges: heritage and homelessness. Proud of our heritage expressed in our buildings - cathedrals and churches, certain large houses and many buildings housing businesses, and the "formers" (provincial chambers, university) - we have a desire not to lose that heritage. But we now have many people who are either homeless or facing imminent homelessness. Can we meet both challenges? Can we wait for one to be met before the other? Grateful for the extraordinary generosity of others, will we nevertheless have enough funds to meet both challenges?

*It is true that a revamped inner city may yet include many new carparks near to the cathedral, and the future of the central district as a lively precinct may depend on the council making carparks free, so an underground carpark at the cathedral may not be necessary.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The good news and the tough news

A weekend in Hanmer Springs has been a tonic. Missed a big aftershock on Saturday night. But 'sang for my supper', preaching, presiding and baptizing in the Church of the Epiphany yesterday morning. Now, back in Christchurch, what lies ahead?

Some good news will help all Christians and churches this week: no one, in fact, died in or at Christchurch's Anglican cathedral. For days the prediction was 22 dead there. But despite tearing into one of the tower's walls, and pulling out the rubble, no bodies were found by urban search and rescue. This non-discovery is consistent with security camera footage from the time of the quake which showed no people movements in the tower. It is also consistent with anecdotes that there was a small moment of time between the quake and the crashing of the tower. Presumably people moved fast and successfully away from the tower and other falling masonry within the cathedral.

But there is a lot of tough news for Christians and churches to face. Here are three things which are at the forefront of my mind:

(1) Gathering spaces: yesterday some churches planned to have outdoor services, but the weather was not favourable to that. Where to plan to meet this coming Sunday? In some cases local schools which are signalling they will re-open this week may be available. What if they are not available? Further, what great long-term options can be found for those churches so damaged that it will be months if not years before repair or replacement is organised?

(2) People: it is all very well arranging a place to meet, but where are the people? Media say 20% of Christchurch has left the city. That percentage is quite believable. It will be much higher in the eastern and hill suburbs since lack of services there, or sheer totality of damage to houses means that if people haven't left the city they will have left those suburbs to live with neighbours and friends elsewhere in Christchurch. Then there is the matter of income for churches without people ... some live on a tight budget and a month or three with fewer than normal people attending could be very tough news. Somehow I do not think the government's help package for businesses losing income at this time will apply to churches.

(3) Decisions: there are lots of decisions to be made, some of which are urgent (e.g. how to minister effectively and sutainably to the local community) and some of which can be made slowly (e.g. when an undamaged hall provides an alt.worship space, what to do about a damaged church?). At the best of times significant decisions consume time and energy and demand of us the best our brains can give with analysis, discernment, and wisdom. These are the worst of times. Our minds are often on our own troubles, we are tired, and we are discouraged. Just one element of the discouragement to mention here: is it worth making a decision today when tomorrow we might have another damaging quake?

There is also the question of the layers of decision-making to be engaged with: parish and diocese, trustboard and Anglican Care, church and community.

But just at the point when the description can be made such that it seems an impossible situation, there is good news here: in a number of cases the damage to churches is so severe that demolition will take place and new possibilities for the 21st century are open to us. We love our stone churches, but they were not leakproof or warm or flexible for both church and community needs. The future may be less aesthetically pleasing, but it could be better than the past for the mission of God.

To conclude, here is an intriguing photo, supplied to me by Megan Blaikie, reporter and photographer for our diocesan newspaper:

It was taken last Wednesday and shows a church which is open for ministry and mission - St Ambrose's, Aranui - via a foodbank and a cafe. That availability for mission is part of the good news for this church, and also for this community which has lost the community centre to the left of the church. The digger and truck is a glimpse of the good news of cleaning up the devastating silt in the east of Christchurch.

But the tough news is hidden in this photograph. To open the cafe, water needs to be brought in. The church complex is damaged - not so badly that it is unsafe, but badly enough to crack walls and jam doors. Let's imagine insurance will pay for repairs. But not covered by insurance is the change to the community wrought by the earthquake. How many will return to live here? The visible bit of the road is in good repair, but much of the rest of Breezes Road is a bumpy or rutted mess. Liquefaction has damaged it and closed down shops and petrol station. How long before this community is up and running again?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

New Kiwi Anglican bishop announced

It was bound to happen sooner rather than later. Julian Dobbs, ordained into the Nelson Diocese in 1991 and serving there in flourishing parish ministries, was always a leader among leaders. Having moved from parish ministry to directing the Barnabas Fund in NZ and then in the USA, Julian found himself ministering within the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). His mission expertise led to a move from the Barnabas Fund to a leadership role in ACNA. Now he is bishop-elect as a suffragan bishop within ACNA.

"Bishop-elect Julian Dobbs currently serves as an archdeacon and missioner in CANA. He and Brenda, his wife, and their three children are natives of New Zealand and have resided in the U.S. since 2006. He was ordained in 1991 and went on to plant three congregations and served as the rector of the fastest growing congregation in New Zealand. Amongst his public outreach ministries, he hosted a weekly 60-minute television program."

Interestingly, as you read the whole report in Virtue Online, you will note that Julian's election was conducted by the Church of Nigeria. It seems that ACNA is neither independent of Africa nor unattached to the Communion!

At 42 years of age, Julian will be the youngest Kiwi Anglican bishop.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thank you for praying; keep praying

It is heartening to know that so many people are praying for Christchurch, for individuals known to the pray-ers, and for churches and the church here in general, as well as for national and civic leaders, rescue workers, and others involved in the recovery operation. Thank you!

But please keep praying. I suggest two themes for your prayers.

Strength: we are now out of the first immediate, adrenalin fueled phase, and into the medium-term phase in which tiredness of bodies and minds is a burden and new strength would be a blessing. Our pastoral leaders, of churches and aid agencies are doing amazing things in order to meet people's spiritual,  physical, mental, emotional and social needs, but it takes a lot of energy to make calls, travel distances, and maintain communication in order to achieve this. Pray that we may have strength, stamina and sustenance for the long journey ahead.

Hope: we remain rational beings in the midst of emotional strain. Our eyes see the empty houses from which people have fled. Our minds compute the future as one full of uncertainty. Will our churches regain their flocks in full numbers? Can our city rebuild in ways better than the past (as we are assured some cities overseas have done, and as Napier here in NZ did in the 1930s)? What future for those we love who now find themselves out of work in a city with many closed businesses? It is tempting to despair, to be anxious, and to succumb to overwhelming negativity. But we have been taught and commanded to pray 'lead us not into temptation.' Please pray for us in that respect.

There is much to be thankful for in the midst of intercessions. Financial aid is excellent! It means we can look at some projects and say 'We think we can use some aid money to pay for that.' Our civic, national, and business leadership is united in forwarding the recovery of Christchurch. The weather is pretty good at the moment: warm and no rain. Empty or little used buildings are being found for churches to worship in, and for businesses to resume trade and services. Other cities and towns in NZ are welcoming our refugees.

And you are praying. That's a blessing and we give thanks for that.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Deserted Christchurch

You know those Western movies where the hero or villain turns up in the middle of a street, itchy hand near to holstered gun, and dust swirls around to tell us viewers that this town is a long way from anywhere and so might is right and fastest draw is law? East Christchurch had that feel yesterday. Not the guns (of course) but the swirling dust. Blustery nor-west winds first dried the silt then blew it everywhere. Driving the streets was driving in a desert town. And that wasn't the only aspect to deserted Christchurch. Houses are empty. There aren't many cars on the streets. I think more people have left Christchurch than the media are telling us because all they give are stats from the airport. But anecdotally there are convoys of cars on the roads north, south and west. Our children are still at home, waiting for schools to restart, but many other children seem to be already enrolled in schools elsewhere.

What are on the streets of east Christchurch are trucks. Liquefaction has been greatest there so between removing silt and fixing broken roads the truck is king of the road. Despite some media impressions that nothing much is happening to the (literally) poor people of the east, impoverished through lack of water, power and sanitation, I can assure readers that a lot is happening. But the problems are so great I am sure what is happening is being experienced as not enough and not fast enough in providing solutions.

Every church I visited yesterday is broken. One is open and safe, three are not yet safe, at least one is likely to be demolished. None are on the media's radar. Yet the church in its universal sense - people, congregations, ministry units, aid agencies - is operational in the mission of God. I learned firsthand of how this great operation is going when I had the great privilege yesterday morning of participating in a meeting of church leaders at Spreydon Baptist Church, called by Murray Robertson (the most widely known and respected church leader in our city). Over one hundred people gathered to share what we are doing, what we need and what we can offer.

It was an eye-opener to me how many churches are in our city which I have never heard of. It was very impressive to hear how much well-organised and creative work is going into the churches' responses to the quake. From food parcels to making space available for other churches, even small businesses to operate; from care for elderly to running children's and youth programmes at very short notice, churches across Christchurch are pitching in with love to meet human need. Aid agencies are working together in a co-ordinated work well connected to civil defence. Overseas connections are being tapped for funds and even personnel. Churches in other cities are present in our city offering help. Soon we will see pastors and preachers from far away coming to relieve local ministers overwhelmed by needs around them.

But one clear theme emerged as stories were told. The west of Christchurch is largely untouched and has resources to share. The east of Christchurch is badly hit and has many needs. Connections between the two halves were being made before the meeting, but will increase after it.

For some time to come there will be a need for cooperation between all churches if we are to continue worshipping God corporately and serving the community. Some have safe space and others need it. Some have people queuing for food parcels and others can supply them. The city needs volunteers and churches can provide them. I imagine yesterday's meeting will not be the last of its kind in the months, if not years ahead of us as we rebuild our city and its social and ecclesial structures. The church of God is not deserting Christchurch!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Onion Theodicy

I now realise firsthand that there is nothing like a serious disaster to pose a significant and urgent challenge to Christians articulating theodicy or the justification of God's goodness in the face of evil's apparent rampant triumph over human life. Walking an individual through (say) an awful tragedy there is potential for hugs, long silences, counselling to cover a multiple of shortfalls in one's ability to offer theodicy. A large natural disaster, by contrast, leaves a lot of people fit and able to engage rationally with hardheaded (if not hardhearted) critique of theodicy, in response to which hugs, silences, and counselling are no response.

Here, so as not to disappoint you once you get to the end of the post, I am not offering my own theodicy. I may or may not do that in a future post, but there are others aroundabout able to offer theodicy with greater intelligence and wisdom than I can muster. But I am offering here the idea that theodicy may be like an onion: layer upon layer of justification, each serving a purpose in specific contexts.

One layer of the onion goes like this, based as far as I can remember it, on an actual reported conversation a day or two after the quake last week:

Shop attendant to collared clergyperson: "Tell your boss to stop these quakes. We have had enough."

Clergyperson: "My boss didn't cause the earthquakes."

In one way or another a variety of church spokespersons in the media have offered a similar line: God did not cause the earthquakes - the earth did.

Now, in my view, in a brief conversation in a shop, or in a media interview when a soundbite is all that will be broadcast, something pithy, understandable, and direct is needed, and the kinds of things I am hearing said serve a purpose: to uphold the honour and reputation of God as the One who is Love, who may be turned to for help and comfort in good faith and without fear.

But there is another layer, longer to explain, and liable to lose the listener at the shop counter or watching the TV, but it needs to be said, at least in the theological discourse of the church, at some point in the process of honest dealing with the general situation humanity experiences in a world experienced both as friendly and as hostile.

In this layer God is responsible for the world. God has caused it to exist in the way it exists. God continues to sustain the world. God continues to watch over the world with all its travails and groanings, working a purpose out which culminates in a new heaven and a new earth. Various passages in Scripture supporting this understanding of the work of God can be turned to. One which hit me with special force yesterday is this:

'All things were made through [the Word], without [the Word] was not any thing made that was made.' (John 1:3)

This earth with its spasmodically moving crust is not a random outcome of an ancient cosmic explosion which God ignited without foreknowledge of how all the post big bang bits and pieces would end up. We praise God as creator, precisely because we believe God created our world as it is, not because we believe God's creative power was solely about detonating the initial explosion of cosmic matter. God through Christ the Word is at the centre of creation as well as at its beginning and its end: all things were made through the Word.

From the perspective of theodicy, in this layer of the onion, the God of Jesus Christ is not quite so easily off the hook for responsibility for earthquakes.

There is much more to say, other layers of the onion. But I must stop there today.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Great Debate

Even as dead bodies have yet to be removed from Christchurch's Anglican cathedral, the first murmurings of what will be a great debate are beginning. Damaged historic buildings will be torn down. Gerry Brownlie, government minister in charge of the post-earthquake response, is very clear in today's Press about that. After three people were killed in Durham St Methodist church attempting to remove organ parts there is a 'never again' approach to restoring the past by way of repair. So the great debate will not be about to demolish or not but about whether to replicate or not, and how much to replicate. Gerry Brownlie also spoke sensibly on the TV news a few minutes ago: consideration could reasonably be given to restoring through replication the historic precinct running from the museum down Worcestor St to the Anglican cathedral.

There is a lovely vista down Worcestor St, no question, and restoration to former glory and safe futures is laudable. But many questions would then remain. What cost and who would pay? Would some kind of facade of stone encasing (say) solid steel internal girders be aesthetically acceptable over (say) a brilliant 21st century architectural and engineering gem?

Why the Anglican cathedral and not the Roman Catholic cathedral? There are definitely arguments in favour of the splendour of the latter over the former: George Bernard Shaw visiting here in the 1930s acclaimed the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament as the most beautiful building in the Southern Hemisphere!

And, very, very importantly, as Bishop Victoria Matthews observed on a BBC radio interview, there are many other churches damaged in Christchurch and its surrounds, and they are important too. Bishop Victoria said there were 25 other Anglican churches alone which are damaged. I imagine that if all the other churches were added the total would be around 75. That would not account for halls and church houses.

I sense that, in the end, the (full, safe, rebuilt from scratch) restoration of the Anglican cathedral, or its replacement with a magnificent 21st century edifice, will be a matter for the people of Christchurch to determine as a whole community. It will take time to discern the will of the people. Emotions are running too high at the moment to make any reasonable decisions other than to proceed with demolition on the grounds of safety. I find it hard to take seriously those voices saying our Anglican cathedral can be repaired if that means putting the visible broken bits back together again 'back to what it looked like, without and within'. Rebuilt from scratch, stone by stone, around a solid steel framework, presumably is possible and able to be approved by building authorities. Repaired? Would I be the only one dubious about that solution?

Such questions will be part of a wider and greater debate about what kind of Christchurch we wish to see arise from the rubble of the earthquakes. One irony in considering the course of that debate is that nearly every TV interview these days of the great and good of our city and country takes place in front of our relatively new Art Gallery, an amazing structure which looks brilliant and has survived the earthquakes. Perhaps it is acting as a signpost to the future?