I wrote on the 'feminisation' of the church earlier, and why I disagree so strongly with such an analysis. Over on "Meet Jesus at Uni" blog, Tamie has a superb contribution to this debate, writing about Tanzania and how, despite their touchy-feely male culture, men STILL don't go to church.
Some time ago, I wrote briefly on Yoder’s misconduct; now I’ve just been reading Andy Alexis-Baker’s recent treatment. As interesting as his balanced article is the massive conversation in the comments.
I’ve been re-reading a paperback from the 1970s, Inward Stillness by George Maloney, a Jesuit. For Maloney, God’s silence is not an illusion nor a temporary state. Nor is it even something to be mourned: it is the way of God in this world. Not an empty silence, but a silence filled only with one Word.
It is the struggle in faith to accept the silent love of the indwelling God… When we in silence hear God’s silence through faith, we come into the presence of a dynamic God, acting and loving within us. (19)
God wasn’t silent at a church I used to go to – not for the others there. God had something to say about everything. But I don’t know how much they heard God in the silence.
I am not good at silence, and so many of the spiritual masters emphasise it. I’m addicted to the radio, to iTunes, to keeping the silence at bay. Maloney would say that when I do this, I am keeping God at bay.
But this idea that silence is the mode of God’s work in the world…
I can’t imagine Paul saying that, or even Jesus. I can imagine Qoheleth saying it, and Job, until God shows up.
I need to understand better what Maloney means, but his words read wise to me, and I know that he is right that cultivating silence is good for the spirit; if it doesn’t allow us to hear God silence, it may allow us to hear God’s voice.
I don’t know about conferences. Not easy for the introverted. Not necessarily natural for the bookish.
To read someone’s book at length and then respond in writing feels right. But what about if you’re in an audience of a hundred – or a thousand – and asking a question (usually making a comment) is more like contesting a mark in football?
Every couple of years newspapers will run a feature article on hip young Christians and the rise of megachurches. Alas, today’s story, "JC and the Cool Gang", in the Weekend Australian Magazine, doesn’t break much new ground. It stays at the level of amazement or amusement that there are Christians who have combined mainstream youth culture with pentecostalism/ evangelicalism. The focus of the story is a young couple, Erica and Jim Bartle, he an extreme sports evangelist (‘extreme sports are an excellent way of capturing kids’ attention’) and she a former fashion journalist for a ‘glossy young women magazine’.
Some critiques of a ‘cool’ gospel are briefly offered, but I would have liked to have seen more. The public might be interested by an exploration of some of the challenges facing the evangelical church today – the tension between faithfulness and contextualisation; the polarisation between three broad factions: conservatives who reject postmodernism and doctrinal shifts to the ‘left’; the postconservatives who are theologically left; and the ‘mainstream’ who are theologically pragmatic and culturally corporate.
One could read the story and come away thinking that evangelicalism was a new phenomenon of the last twenty years, and that before that there were only old-fashioned Anglican and Catholic churches. The transformation of Baptists and Assemblies of God (to name just two) from old-fashioned evangelical to a mix of the factions I mentioned is a more nuanced and interested story. And Anglicans and Catholics have never been uniform. A discussion of the strength of Sydney Anglicanism would have complicated her story in a good way.
But I’m hoping for too much – journalists have to try to get on top of a new topic each story and they’re never going to please people on the ‘inside’ of those stories.
Two random thoughts, which don’t touch on theodicy or climate change or the things one should be thinking. Both are observations, rather picky ones, but meant merely as things I find interesting, rather than criticisms of Australians.
1. I see and hear and read again and again the declaration “Bricks and mortars can be replaced, but humans can’t”, or variations. It’s a logical thing to say. Perhaps it’s the only thing people can think to say in such a situation. Of course, with my low tolerance for cliches, I tend to groan when I hear a politician or spokesperson say it, but I aim to feel more compassion. I heard a lady say it twice on the news last night as she showed a reporter through her flood damaged home. I began to wonder if it was almost liturgical, a declaration of belief. It’s a good belief to get back to. At its core, even if the articulation is overly familiar, its message runs counter to the way the consumerism in our society makes us so orientated toward objects.
2. Interesting to hear both reporters and politicians to speak often of the ‘Australian spirit’ in getting on with life in the face of disaster. I wonder why resilience is claimed as a particularly Australian trait? In what sense is it an ‘Australian’ spirit rather than a human spirit? The people of the two-thirds world seem a lot more resilient to me, because bad stuff happens to them a lot more regularly, and they just get on with life too. I wonder if our national identity and pride become a source of comfort in times like this?
I hear Subiaco Oval is to be renamed Patterson Oval because the stockbroking firm has bought the ‘naming rights’. Incredibly, even team names are for sale these days – the ‘Retravision Warriors’. It’s like a satirical science fiction dystopia become real. It is a terrible thing that everything is for sale. I don’t follow sport, but it’s a mindset that leaks into everything.
I didn’t use to think much about atheism; it didn’t bother me. But lately it is – the fact that intelligent people can come to such an opposite conclusion about the nature of the universe to me. Perhaps it’s because I have a number of friends, former believers, who have become atheists that it is starting to cut.
But in terms of PM Julia Gilliard reiterating that she is an atheist, I have to say I would MUCH rather that than have a ‘born again’ president like George W. Bush who brings the way of Christ into disrepute. (I am ideologically a long way from conservative Catholic opposition leader Tony Abbott, but there’s something about his faith which rings truer than Bush, Howard, Blair. I don’t even know what I mean by that, but I don’t think he’s a phony, even if he’s dangerous and has the wrong priorities in my judgment.)
I sent out On The Road #45 today. To subscribe email me at nathanhobby at gmail.com. Or you can find it online.
There’s plenty of interesting reading inside. There are four different Anabaptist ways to read the Old Testament proposed, there’s some responses to violence in the Old Testament, and you’ll learn things about Habakkuk and Ezekiel you probably didn’t know. Dave Andrews also has some interesting things to say about violence in the military and we review The Naked Anabaptist.
The next issue will be focusing on the Australian Federal Election.
Yesterday The West Australian previewed the findings of a survey about to be released by the Christian Research Association into belief and church attendance in Australia. The print version of the newspaper had more information, quoting, I think, that only 44% of Australians now believed in God. I was surprised by that, as my impression was that a fair majority of people believed in God, but just didn’t feel that any particular religion connected them to him/her. It’s so strange that we can all live in the same world, even the same country and have such different accounts of why we’re alive, or what the nature of the world is. (But then in another sense, there is a consensus about life, built around not religious questions, but economic and political ones – home ownership, career, education, health. And most believers share in this consensus, that’s how they can function in the world.) (I tried to read Charles Taylor’s massive 2007 opus, A Secular Age, on these questions, but it was too long, too dense and I couldn’t hold it up reading in bed.)
What do I think as an Anabaptist of the decline in monthly church attendance to 16%? Not sure; more mixed than a few years ago. (Comes from working for the Establishment now.) I think churches are not often places for authentic discipleship – but is it better people didn’t go at all? Probably not. I just hope something of Jesus truly gets into them. As more people grow up without a tradition of going to church, I’m hoping that truly post-Constintinian churches will develop, and those who go to church will more often be interested in deep discipleship.
What will actually happen? The megachurches will keep growing. The print version of the article hinted at this, interviewing Margaret Court of the Victory Life Centre, a warehouse in Osborne Park. I don’t think evangelicals and pentecostals are in decline.