What is Emerging in our Culture?

Yesterday I participated in a synchroblog on What is Emerging? referring to the emerging church movement and the changes we see happening in our churches and faith communities.  It was obvious that many of us continue to grapple with these issues.  For some they are never far from our thoughts.

This discussion raised other questions for me that I think most of us spend less time thinking about.  They are questions that are central to who we are and what we do at MSA – How is our culture is changing and how we as God’s people will continue to need to change in the future to be more effective followers of Christ.

Some of the changes coming at us are scary – especially the rapid changes in social media that we talked about in the last MSA Seed Sampler on technology and social media and its implications for the future.  And in light of that I wanted to share a recent MSA blog post by Matt Stone in Australia.  He blogs at Glocal Christianity

…do we as Christians see a role for ourselves in the emerging ethical conversations prompted by these new technologies and cultural shifts? Do we seek to have a leading role or a lagging role? Can we imagine some constructive applications, particularly with respect to this social networking technology? Or do we just follow the ways of the world? If we are as into relational community as we say, can we envisage how social networking technologies could be used for good? And can we anticipate some of the pitfalls before we fall into them? 2020 isn’t that far off.  Read the entire article

Matt is one of the most thoughtful and challenging bloggers I follow regularly.  He has also just posted another thought provoking article entitled What Can Google Trends Tell Us About Ourselves

I was scanning Google trends this week and I was noticing a curious trend across many keywords associated with religion.  Read the entire article


Getting Ready For Halloween

One of the things that really surprised and horrified me when I first came to the US was the huge emphasis on Halloween.  Even churches organized Halloween celebrations with kids dressed as witches and no one thought twice about feeding the monsters that came to their doors trick or treating.

Today there seems to be more talk about not celebrating Halloween because it has been so taken over by witches, covens and non Christian groups.  But is that the right attitude?  How could we redeem the celebration of Halloween and return it to the Christian celebration it once was?  How can we enter into the joy and celebration of God’s rhythm of feasting and add to the fun rather than trying to kill it?

The word Hallowe’en itself is a contraction of “Hallowed evening” the old English word for “holy” still seen in older translations of the Lord’s prayer .  The evening is hallowed because is is the beginning of the Feast of All Saints celebrated November 1st.  All greater feasts of the church calendar like Christmas and Easter begin in the evening the following the ancient Jewish practice of beginning the celebration of the Sabbath at sundown on Friday evening.  So it seems to me that ignoring Halloween and trying to just celebrate All Saints Day doesn’t really work.  What we need to do is reattach it to All Saints Day and regain its original and true significance.

So how can we do this?  Here are some possibilities:

Matt Stone conducts an alternative service – Thanksgiving for the Dead to reflect on lost loved ones and the saints who have gone before

Helen Hull Hitchcock from Women of Faith and Family suggests holding a children’s party at which children dress up as saints from past ages.  She has some other great suggestions that you can check out here

tom and I will be on the road this Halloween but here are some thoughts I have on celebrations we could do in the future to enter into the real meaning of Halloween

Plan a family heritage party. Invite people to do some work beforehand researching their family history and particularly the Christian saints who were a part of it.   Ask them to bring photos and stories to share.  Finish with a time of prayer for all those that have gone before us.

Several years ago when my youngest brother went to Greece where my father comes from he found out that it is possible that our family name Aroney comes from the name Aaron and that our family probably originated in Jerusalem many centuries ago.  It is probable that one of the reason they began the journey out of Jerusalem first to Constantinople then to Rhodes and finally to the tiny island of Kithera at the bottom of the Peloponnese mountains is because they became Christians.  There are a number of Greek orthodox priests in my father’s family history and my Aunt Mary was a very devout Greek Orthodox Christian.   I know less about my mother’s family history but would love to find out where her family too has had profound encounters with God.

Plan a Halloween pilgrimage. Again this might require some before time research.  Explore the Christian heritage of your community.  Where did the first Christians come from?  How did they interact with the native peoples?  Where was the first church established?  Who were some of the early Christians who impacted your community.  Plan a pilgrimage walk to the site of the first Christian community and if possible have a time of prayer and possibly even a eucharistic celebration to remember those who have gone before

What ideas do you have for a redeemed Halloween celebration?

Listening to Enemies as Spiritual Practice

Matt Stone just posted this article on his blog Glocal Christianity as part of our summer series on What is a Spiritual Practice.  I visit Matt’s blog regularly and particularly love the links to Christian art from around the world.  This has really helped me to broaden my perspectives and stretched me outside the theological boxes that I grew up in.  Of course it might be because Matt is a fellow Australian from my home town Sydney, but I don’t think that is the only reason.  Thanks Matt for your insights.

Jesus said, love your enemies, but what does that mean in practice?

In my experience love begins with listening.

If we only listen to those we agree with, what credit is that to us? Even terrorists do that! But if we wish to make a difference in this world, if we want the world to become a listening world, we need to lead by example. We need to become excellent listeners, active listeners … listening to those we disagree with.

So, what has that meant for me? In practice it has meant actively listening to militant Atheists and Goddess worshippers and gays and gun lovers in all sorts of different contexts. It has meant listening to all sorts of people with all sorts of objections to Christianity and Christians like me, sometimes for quite valid reasons. At times it has even meant engaging with militant Hindus who openly justify violence against Christians. It has also meant listening to Christian fundamentalists who’ve called me a heretic, who’ve acted very unloving towards me and been very disinterested in listening and understanding.  Read the entire article

What I Have Read This Week

With all the work involved in getting our Lenten guide completed you can imagine that you usual reading discipline has been rather curtailed.  Probably the book that has most held my attention this week is Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson an David Oliver Relin.  This is a must read for anyone interested in missions, Pakistan, Islam or just in a good read about other parts of the world.  I have also been working my way through The Essential Agrarian Reader edited by Norman Wirzba.  This is a great collection of essays by such note worthy writers like Wendell Berry who help us explore the relationship between our food community and the land on which we live.  I particularly enjoyed the challenging questions it raises about our faith and its connection to this discussion, like the statement from Wendell Berry

If we believed that the existence of the world is rooted in mystery and in sanctity, then we would have a different economy.  It would still be an economy of use, necessarily, but it would be an economy also of return… this would involve return or propitiation, praise, gratitude, responsibility, good use, good care and the proper regard for the unborn.” p27

I have also been fascinated by some great blog posts that have distracted me a little.  Here are my favourites for the week

Mike Morrell Revisioning Jesus Atonement

Catalystspace on 9 Ideas for the Church in Bad Economic Times

Matt Stone’s wonderful images of Jesus from different cultures


Imaging Jesus

What is the image that comes to your mind when you think of the face of Jesus? I love to explore images of Jesus from different cultures. I find that looking at Jesus from a Chinese, African or Latin American perspective often reveals new aspects of who Jesus is to me.  if you are looking for a great array of images of Christ from different cultures I heartily recommend Matt Stone’s blog Glocal Christianity

Supper at Emmaus - He Qi

Supper at Emmaus - by one of my favourite artists He Qi http://www.heqigallery.com/

Some of my favourites images come from the art of Chinese artist He Qi. He Qi first encountered Jesus while painting a replica of Madonna during the political unrest of Maos time. In the daytime he painted Chairman Mao and at night he painted Raphaels Madonna, allowing her peaceful eyes to touch his heart. Since then he draws only scenes from the Bible and seeks to incorporate Christian art into his Chinese culture, changing the image of Christianity from a foreign art to a familiar sight. As the first man to get his PhD in religious images after the communist regime fell, He Qi has studied in China and in America. Currently one of the most popular artists in Asia, He Qi’s amazing use of bright colors and stories tell of a Truth that could change the east.

Pentecost - Jesus MafaI also love the art painted by a Cameroonian organization called Jesus Mafa. In 1973, Christian communities in Cameroon (Africa) longed for a visual representation of their Jesus. As a group, they staged important scenes of Jesus life which were then painted by a French artist, captivating the African spirit. Their colorful representations have been sold around the world and continue to touch people of all nationalities, showing a mix of the simplicity and profound spirituality with which Jesus changed lives.

Overseas Ministries Study Center hosts artists from around the world for a year long artist in residency programme. Their art can be viewed on the OMSC website

Today while reading Will Samson’s blog I came across another interesting set of images of the faces of Jesus on the Rejesus website.

This image is from the Shroud of Turin it is one of the more controversial images of Jesus