Thursday, April 19, 2007

Clergy work satisfaction

This study concludes that clergy are the happiest and most satisfied workers in the USA. I'm not sure how this tallies with statistics on clergy burnout, and with the number of ex-clergy now in other professions. Christian ministry can be the most difficult and frustrating of all callings... at the end of the day, how does one measure or evaluate one's work? At the same time, it can also be the most fulfilling of all callings.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shaped by Images

In the movie Dead Poet’s Society, Robin Williams’ character is a teacher, John Keating, who inspires his students to reflect on the opportunity which stands before them. He takes his students down to the hallowed entrance halls of Welton Academy where pictures of past students adorn the walls. He asks them to look into the faces, look into the eyes, see their dreams, their hopes, and identify with their idealism. And know that they are all dead. He encourages them to “Seize the Day”, knowing that opportunity slips by quickly.
This is but one of many movie scenes which captures my imagination. I am a lover of movies for two reasons: the images they present which implant enduring ideas in our minds, and because movies tell stories. One rabbi once said that God made people because he loves stories.
In an episode of the Simpsons entitled Colonel Homer, Bart takes Lisa into see a horror movie. As one particularly horrific scene is about to be played out, Lisa covers her eyes and tells Bart to let her know when it has passed. Bart tricks her into looking earlier, meeting loud complaints. Bart’s response: “How are you going to be desensitised to this unless you watch it?”
Jerry Mander once argued, quite powerfully, I would suggest, that “we evolve into the images we carry in our minds. We become what we see.” Mander was concerned about the impact of television, but he strikes upon a broader truth we do well to contemplate.
Stories are told of Vietnam Veterans who were surprised during their first real battle that those who were killed did not stand up and walk away, just as they did in every war movie they had seen.
Vincent Van Gogh saw the real world as an imitation of the paintings he saw in the museum.
we evolve into the images we carry in our minds. We become what we see.
When Paul encountered the Christians in Corinth, he drew three very different images of glory: "Jews ask for signs, Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified." (1 Cor 1:22-23)

I love this story about a young boy's struggle with maths:
A ten year old boy was finding fifth grade maths to be the challenge of his life. Science? A piece of cake. Geography? No big deal. Spelling? Ha! Give me a break... but MATHS? It was devastating! To not only him, but his mom and dad, too! And not that they weren't doing everything and anything to help their son...Private tutors, peer assistance, CD-Roms, Textbooks, even HYPNOSIS! Nothing worked.
Finally, at the insistence of a family friend, they decided to enrol their son in a private school. Not just ANY private school, but a Catholic school. Nuns. Weekly mass. The whole shootin' match.
Well, the first day of school finally arrived, and dressed in his salt-and-pepper cords and white wool dress shirt and blue cardigan sweater, the youngster ventured out into the great unknown. His mother and father were convinced they were doing the right thing.
They were both there waiting for their son when he returned home. And when he walked in with a stern, focused and very determined expression on his face, they hoped they had made the right choice. He walked right past them and went straight to his room - and quietly closed the door.
For nearly two hours he toiled away in his room - with maths books strewn about his desk and the surrounding floor. He only emerged long enough to eat, and after quickly cleaning his plate, he went straight back to his room, closed the door, and worked feverishly at his studies until bedtime. This pattern continued ceaselessly until it was time for the first quarter report card.
After school, the boy walked into the home with his report card, unopened, in his hand. Without a word, he dropped the envelope on the family dinner table and went straight to his room. His parents were petrified. What lay inside the envelope? Success? Failure? DOOM?!?
Patiently, cautiously the mother opened the letter, and to her amazement, she saw a bright red "A" under the subject, MATHS. Overjoyed, she and her husband rushed into their son's room, thrilled at the remarkable progress of their young son!
"Was it the nuns that did it?", the father asked. The boy only shook his head and said, "No."
"Was it the one-on-one tutoring? The peer-mentoring?", asked the mother.
Again, the boy shrugged, "No."
"The textbooks? The teacher? The curriculum?" asked the father.
"Nope," said the son. "It was all very clear to me from the very first day of Catholic school."
"How so?" asked his mom.
"When I walked into the lobby, and I saw that guy they'd nailed to the plus sign, I knew they meant business!"

Sometimes we have questioned our Catholic brothers and sisters who cherish crucifixes, largely because we want to remind everyone that Christ is risen. But this did not seem to be a problem to Paul: "we want to preach Christ crucified," he said. There was something about this image which Paul wanted to be implanted firmly upon the brains of the Corinthians. It would be a recurring theme throughout the epistle. It’s not that Paul didn’t believe in the resurrection – there is a powerful argument for it in chapter 15. It is just that Paul wanted to counter a misconception in the Corinthian church about what it meant to follow Jesus. And the powerful corrective was the crucified Jesus. The enduring image for the Christian was Christ crucified. We evolve into the images we carry in our minds. We become what we see.

We might ask ourselves where in history is the most powerful moment of the revelation of God? Perhaps the Exodus? The Ten Commandments? Elijah on Mount Carmel? David and Goliath? Paul would answer unequivocally: the cross of Jesus Christ: the place where the centurion declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God”; the time when the temple curtain was torn in two. It was for this reason that Paul wants the cross of Christ to be an enduring image in our minds. It reveals something central to the character of God, and to our own formation.

The cross of Jesus stands in the way of triumphalism – which was certainly a problem in the Corinthian church, where it was the powerful and influential who were most admired, and for this reason Paul, with his infirmities struggled to gain acceptance as an apostle. It stands behind arguments about who was baptised by whom (which appear earlier in the chapter).

Paul did not regard the cross as an aberration on the way to the resurrection, nor that the resurrection denied the validity of the cross - the place where the cry of abandonment ("My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?") becomes the most poignant moment of revelation in human history. The resurrection of Jesus is an affirmation of the cross: the heavenly hand affirming that Jesus by his death was revealing something about God.

This is an important image to hold on to. If the death of Christ becomes a focus of God’s revelation, what does it say about our own struggles and suffering? We discover God not bydenying these realities, but by facing them. God’s power is at work in the cross of Christ, and is equally at work in the frustrations and deaths of our own circumstances. We do not need to look out of these to find God, but to look into them, and walk through them. So that even when we encounter the risen Jesus, he bears the marks of crucifixion. He is the crucified one who has been raised. In resurrection he remains who he always was.

Rabbi Zusya tells a story to his followers as the one which has most moved him to tears. He pictures himself in a dream coming to the gates of heaven, and finds that God does not ask him, “Why have you not been more like Abraham?” or “Why have you not been more like Moses?” Instead God asks him, “Why weren't you Zusya?”

Paul asks us to carry at the forefront of our minds an image of Jesus crucified: a reminder that the Lord of the church is true to his character as the one who walked the streets of Galilee and became the crucified one. Foolishness, yes, but an image which reminds us that - as ones who follow in the footsteps of Jesus - our call is to be ourselves, walking in the purposes of God. Walking in all our brokenness, in the depths of our questions and struggles, in moments of abandonment as well as triumph.

We evolve into the images we carry in our minds. We become what we see.

What is the image of yourself you see most? What is the image of Jesus?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Future of the Car?

Top speed around 200 km/h, and doesn't use any petrol. "Tank' capacity of 400 km, and looks pretty good too. The future is breaking in upon us...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Eco-friendly paper planes

Build your own prototype here.
And they don't hit your neighbour... although that might be half the fun!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

The 1901 Predictions of a 14-year-old

Over at Paleo-Future, there is a record an excerpt of the 1901 predicitions of 14-year-old Arthur Palm about what life would look like in the year 2001. The full predictions are recorded in a book: Yesterday's Future: The Twentieth Century Begins (Voices of the Wisconsin Past).

"How it may appear a hundred years hence, when modern inventions have been carried to their highest point of development that even Edison would feel jealous of the great inventions in the year 2001. In the year 2001 you will see sky-scrapers sticking far above the clouds over 200 stories high. On the streets there will not be any room for street cars, so they will build lines way up in the air, and there will be landings fastened to the high skyscrapers, where the people will wait for the cars. The carlines will have different kinds of names and you will see the name "Manhattan Air Line" many hundreds of feet above the ground. You see air-ships and carriages fastened to balloons for the transportation of the people through the air, and you will often see collisions in the clouds. In one of the sky-scrapers on the 119 story you will see a sign, 'Old People Restored to Youth by Electricity, While You Wait.'"

The fact that people then believed in electricity as a panacea stands in contrast to the tenor of discussions about the cost to the planet of electricty generation today.

Looking for Jesus: Refugees in Faith

The 'back door' of the church is well-travelled, with increasing numbers turning their back on the church, but not on Jesus. Barney Zwartz reflects on this phenomenon.