Friday, March 23, 2007

St Turibius of Mongrovejo

From here:
Together with Rose of Lima, Turibius is the first known saint of the New World, serving the Lord in Peru, South America, for 26 years.

Born in Spain and educated for the law, he became so brilliant a scholar that he was made professor of law at the University of Salamanca and eventually became chief judge of the Inquisition at Granada. He succeeded too well. But he was not sharp enough a lawyer to prevent a surprising sequence of events.

When the archbishopric of Lima in Spain’s Peruvian colony became vacant, it was decided that Turibius was the man needed to fill the post: He was the one person with the strength of character and holiness of spirit to heal the scandals that had infected that area.

He cited all the canons that forbade giving laymen ecclesiastical dignities, but he was overruled. He was ordained priest and bishop and sent to Peru, where he found colonialism at its worst. The Spanish conquerors were guilty of every sort of oppression of the native population. Abuses among the clergy were flagrant, and he devoted his energies (and suffering) to this area first.

He began the long and arduous visitation of an immense archdiocese, studying the language, staying two or three days in each place, often with neither bed nor food. He confessed every morning to his chaplain, and celebrated Mass with intense fervor. Among those to whom he gave the Sacrament of Confirmation was St. Rose of Lima, and possibly St. Martin de Porres. After 1590 he had the help of another great missionary, St. Francis Solanus.

His people, though very poor, were sensitive, dreading to accept public charity from others. Turibius solved the problem by helping them anonymously.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Yesterday was my sabbath. I made damper last night, on a whim. It was really good. I think I'll make some again soon.

Monday, March 19, 2007

St Joseph

Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Poor Joseph. He's pretty much ignored in the gospels (Jesus had but one Father, and Joseph ain't it) and consequently almost nothing is known about him. Nothing is even recorded of him speaking. Mind you, it's probably not that different for any other father - once the kids come along life is pretty much just about the kids, and occasionally the mum...;)

Nonetheless, as I always like to say, the guy who taught us to call God 'Daddy' got his concept of what a daddy was from he can't have been that bad. So here's to fathers - whether ignored or celebrated, being who we are made to be.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

John Dear

What an amazing man. I'm never going to do justice to the week I've had here, but I want to mark the occasion with a post nonetheless. Just an extra-ordinary man in both senses of the word. Probably the closest to a modern-day Jesus I've ever met. I hope I'll find some time this week to unpack the whole thing, but in case I don't, I'll leave this gem he dropped (courtesy of Dan Berrigan, one of his closest friends):

John: What's the point of all this again, Dan? All the arrests and the jail time and the struggle?
Dan: The point, John, is to make your life fit into Jesus' life.

Wow. Try making Christianity simpler than that. I dare you.

St Patrick

Well it was going to happen sooner or later, and here it is: the real St. Patrick's day, which has really nothing to do with green beer and shamrocks and the rest of the paraphernalia that surrounds this day. For a massively detailed account of his life (massively detailed for someone who lived in the 5th century anyway) see here. Suffice it here to give just a part of the prayer known as Patrick's Breastplate:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Friday, March 09, 2007

St Frances of Rome

From here:
Saint Frances of Rome was born in the year 1384. She was an only child. Her parent's dressed her in pretty clothes and gave her a good education. At age 11 in the year 1395, she decided she wanted to be a nun, but her parents said no. They had already selected a husband for her.

At age 13 she married Lawrence Ponziano of a wealthy and influential Roman family. At first Frances found her new life trying. She had many household responsibilities and social obligations. But she found a close friend in her sister-in-law, Vanessa. They pledged themselves to daily acts of penance, prayer, works of piety and charity. They spent hours in prayer in an old summer cottage in the garden. They brought baskets of food to the city for the poor and visited the sick in the nearby hospital.

In the winter the two women made daily trips to the outskirts of the city, gathering branches and vines and loading them on a donkey. They distributed the firewood in the slums where tumbledown shacks were pitiful shelters against the cold.

God graced Frances with the gift of healing. She cured the sick and wounded with prayer and a gentle touch. Frances was married five years and had three children, a healthy boy John Baptist, another boy Evangelist, and a girl Agnes.

Rome was invaded in the year 1410 and during the civil war that followed. Her husband was wounded and her son was taken hostage and did not return until peace was restored. A plague followed in the wake of the war. Evangelist died from the plague, he was nine years old. A Year after his death, he appeared to his mother in a dream, he spoke to her describing to her the splendor of heaven and a choir of nine angels singing "HOLY HOLY LORD GOD OF HOSTS" he told her he was sent to warn her of Agnes impending death and to tell her that God would give her an Archangel to guide her for the remainder of her life.

Agnes died at age 16 from the plague. The promised Archangel became visible to Frances but to no one else. The Archangel's light was so bright she could read by it. When she committed a fault the Archangel would hide himself and the light would not shine again until she made an act of contrition.

The Angel's presence increased her desire to please God. The Ponziano palace is in a section of Rome around the corner from the little church of San Francesco; this church had been given to Saint Francis of Assisi in the year 1212 by a Roman lady. It was at this church that Saint Frances of Rome was received in the Third Order of Saint Francis. In the year 1425 Frances and six other Roman ladies were clothed as Oblates of St. Benedict, this did not cancel her membership in the Third Order.

For at time Frances and Vanessa made a journey to Assisi, walking 100 miles from Rome to Assisi, the city of Saint Francis. Near Assisi Saint Francis appeared to them and provided the hungry and thirsty pilgrims with fresh juicy pears. In the year 1433 after her husband's death Frances founded a religious community of Oblates, they worked and prayed for the Holy Father and peace of Rome.

She died on March 9,1440. She was 56 years old. The angel has finished his task she said, he beckons me to follow him. Pope Paul the
Fifth canonized her in 1608. She is honored as the principal patron of all Benedictine Oblates. But she is also one greatest saints who wore the habit of the Third Order of Saint Francis.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

St John of God

Known for his tireless charity work, particularly for the sick and the poor, and consequently has many hospitals named after him. From here:

Born at Montemor o Novo, Portugal, 8 March, 1495, of devout Christian parents; died at Granada, 8 March, 1550. He is said to have been granted the vision of the Infant Jesus, Who bestowed on him the name by which he was later known, John of God, also bidding him to go to Granada. There he was so deeply impressed by the preaching of Blessed John of Avila that he distributed his worldly goods and went through the streets of the city, beating his breast and calling on God for mercy. For some time his sanity was doubted by the people and he was dealt with as a madman, until the zealous preacher obliged him to desist from his lamentations and take some other method of atoning for his past life. Returning to Granada, he gave himself up to the service of the sick and poor, renting a house in which to care for them and after furnishing it with what was necessary, he searched the city for those afflicted with all manner of disease, bearing on his shoulders any who were unable to walk.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sts Perpetua and Felicity

From here:
Perpetua and Felicity lived in Carthage, North Africa, in the third century. It was the time of the fierce persecution of Christians by Emperor Septimus Severus.

Twenty-two-year-old Perpetua was the daughter of a rich nobleman. While growing up, she had received everything she wanted. But she realized that she loved Jesus and her Christian faith more than anything the world could offer. For this she found herself a prisoner on the way to execution.

Perpetua's father was a pagan. He did everything possible to persuade his daughter to give up her Christian faith. He tried to convince her of the importance of saving her life. But the woman would not give in, even though she knew that she would have to leave behind her husband and baby.

Felicity, Perpetua's Christian maid, had been a slave. She and Perpetua were great friends. They shared their belief in and love for Jesus. Felicity, too, was willing to sacrifice her life for Jesus and for her faith. For this she also found herself a prisoner on the way to execution.

Felicity was also a young wife. While in prison for her faith, she became a mother as well. Her little baby was adopted by a good Christian woman. Felicity was happy because now she could die a martyr.

Hand in hand Perpetua and Felicity bravely faced martyrdom together. They were charged by wild animals and then beheaded. They died around the year 202.

The martyrs were so faithful to Christ that they made great sacrifices. They even gave up their lives for him.

"use red, nobody's dead"

Worst. Campaign slogan. Ever.

And whatever Bono's done, this was always going to be a train here's proof:

Costly Red Campaign Reaps Meager $18 Million

Bono & Co. Spend up to $100 Million on Marketing, Incur Watchdogs' Wrath

By Mya Frazier

Published: March 05, 2007
COLUMBUS, Ohio ( -- It's been a year since the first Red T-shirts hit Gap shelves in London, and a parade of celebrity-splashed events has followed: Steven Spielberg smiling down from billboards in San Francisco; Christy Turlington striking a yoga pose in a New Yorker ad; Bono cruising Chicago's Michigan Avenue with Oprah Winfrey, eagerly snapping up Red products; Chris Rock appearing in Motorola TV spots ("Use Red, nobody's dead"); and the Red room at the Grammy Awards. So you'd expect the money raised to be, well, big, right? Maybe $50 million, or even $100 million.

Try again: The tally raised worldwide is $18 million.

The disproportionate ratio between the marketing outlay and the money raised is drawing concern among nonprofit watchdogs, cause-marketing experts and even executives in the ad business. It threatens to spur a backlash, not just against the Red campaign -- which ambitiously set out to change the cause-marketing model by allowing partners to profit from charity -- but also for the brands involved.
Enormous outlay
By any measure, the buzz has been extraordinary and the collective marketing outlay by Gap, Apple and Motorola has been enormous, with some estimates as high as $100 million. Gap alone spent $7.8 million of its $58 million outlay on Red during last year's fourth quarter, according to Nielsen Media Research's Nielsen Adviews.

But contributions don't seem to be living up to the hype. Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the recipient of money raised by Red, told The Boston Globe in December, "We may be over the $100 million mark by the end of Christmas."

Rajesh Anandan, the Global Fund's head of private-sector partnerships, said Mr. Feachem was misquoted, and defended the efforts by Red to increase the Global Fund's private-sector donations, which totaled just $5 million from 2002 to 2005. (The U.S. Congress just approved a $724 million pledge to the Global Fund, on top of $1.9 billion already given and $650 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)

'Hugely frontloaded'
"Red has done as much as we could have hoped for in the short time it has been up and running," he said, adding: "The launch cost of this kind of campaign is going to be hugely frontloaded. It's a very costly exercise."

Julie Cordua, VP-marketing at Red and a former Motorola marketing exec and director-buzz marketing at Helio, said the outlay by the program's partners must be understood within the context of the campaign's goal: sustainability. "It's not a charity program of them writing a one-time check. It has to make good business sense for the company so the money will continue to flow to the Global Fund over time." She added that since many of Red's partners haven't closed their books yet on 2006, more funds likely will be added to the $18 million.

But is the rise of philanthropic fashionistas decked out in Red T-shirts and iPods really the best way to save a child dying of AIDS in Africa?
Parody mocks Bono
The campaign's inherent appeal to conspicuous consumption has spurred a parody by a group of San Francisco designers and artists, who take issue with Bono's rallying cry. "Shopping is not a solution. Buy less. Give more," is the message at, which encourages people to give directly to the Global Fund.

"The Red campaign proposes consumption as the cure to the world's evils," said Ben Davis, creative director at Word Pictures Ideas, co-creator of the site. "Can't we just focus on the real solution -- giving money?"

Trent Stamp, president of Charity Navigator, which rates the spending practices of 5,000 nonprofits, said he's concerned about the campaign's impact on the next generation. "The Red campaign can be a good start or it can be a colossal waste of money, and it all depends on whether this edgy, innovative campaign inspires young people to be better citizens or just gives them an excuse to feel good about themselves while they buy an overpriced item they don't really need."

Fears of nonprofits
Mark Rosenman, a longtime activist in the nonprofit sector and a public-service professor at the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, said the disparity between the marketing outlay and the money raised by Red is illustrative of some of the biggest fears of nonprofits in the U.S.

"There is a broadening concern that business is taking on the patina of philanthropy and crowding out philanthropic activity and even substituting for it," he said. "It benefits the for-profit partners much more than the charitable causes."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

in summary

Came across this Vincent Donovan quote from Christianity Rediscovered as I was re-reading it last night...thought it was a pretty good summary of Christianity, and that coming from someone who really doesn't like short summaries of Christianity. You'll have to excuse the gender exclusive language - he's writing this in the 60's:
What does scripture say people must do if they accept as true God's revelation to man? First, they must believe in all that God has done, and in Christ. Then they must be sorry that they have thrown this goodness back in God's face in ingratitude; they must be sorry for the part they have played in destroying the world and their fellow men. They must believe the unexpected good news that though they have taken part in this destruction, there is no reason to despair, there is no reason for anyone, or any people, to remain a failure forever. Because of Jesus Christ, all of this can be undone, can be forgiven, and they can begin anew. They must signify this belief and sorrow of theirs outwardly through a sign that all can see, that is, they must be baptized. They must not keep all this to themselves. They must go forth in the Spirit and witness to this good news and to Jesus, letting others see the meaning of it all, by their words and by their lives, until the time that Jesus comes again. And this is the final obligation: they must believe that Jesus will come again in consummation, and they must work in expectation of that parousia." -- Fr Vincent Donovan, in 'Christianity Rediscovered'.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Had my induction at Brunswick Baptist Church this morning. Induction always sounds like a medical procedure to me, but was very affirming and encouraging. That's a picture of the church building in 1912 or something... So I had to talk a bit about my hopes and they are:
I hope that we can become true disciples of Jesus. May we live deeply in his stories, to the point where they become our stories. May his eyes be our eyes, his priorities our priorities, his Kingdom our Kingdom. May we follow in the footsteps of a God who so ticked off the religious establishment and the government that they murdered him. A man who nonetheless loved all the way to the end, refusing to repay violence with violence but instead repaying violence with self-giving love. I pray that like him we too might take up our cross, that inevitable price of our social nonconformity, trusting God for the promised resurrection and victory. I pray that we would wrestle together with what that means for us, that we would be courageous, honest and vulnerable with one another, and forgiving, loving, and appreciative of our differences.

I pray that together, in the power of the resurrected Jesus, we might be holy fools for Christ, ordinary radicals who live the Kingdom of God into being.
They're a pretty cool mob there at Brunny. Great to be a part of it.

Friday, March 02, 2007

on alpha

I've been chatting with Croz a few times about the whole Alpha phenomenon, and trying to articulate my thoughts about it, and so I sat down the other day in response to his questions and just hammered out some of them. I thought it might be useful to post it here to see what other people think. Notice there's nothing in there about Nicky Gumbel's choice of cardigans. Yes, I took the high road.

So here's what I wrote to Croz. His questions are in italics:

here's my thoughts...Bear in mind that none of them are absolutes. That is, they don't (separately or together) mean that alpha is a bad thing, so much as they mean that alpha is, in my opinion, not the best way to do catechism, let alone create disciples. Many of these objections apply not just to Alpha but to what has historically come to be known as (capital e) Evangelical Christianity. Hope you're ready for a long rant! This is actually a really helpful process for me to do too, to articulate some of my objections.

What are some of Alpha's strengths? What does it do really well?
It's hard because I think some of the things that people traditionally think Alpha does well, I would say are actually weaknesses; such is the subversive nature of the Kingdom of God. We think we're right side up, but time and time again Jesus subverts that...Things like the fact that it's convenient - yay, I can just play a video and then talk rather than doing the preparation and teaching myself - is an apparent strength but actually, I think, a weakness (for reasons I'll soon expound).

I think its strengths are generic human/God strengths: getting people to meet together around a meal table to talk about issues of ultimate importance. So maybe something like human connection. But is that an Alpha thing or is that a human/God thing?

What are some of its weaknesses?
- Lack of attention to context/cookie cutter approach: This is particularly in reference to its theology, but also its method, in terms of the way the same videos are shipped out to Australia, Britain, the US and anywhere else in the world. To me, where you are matters. Your context (country, neighbourhood, social position, gender, economic situation, etc. etc.) makes a massive difference to the way you hear, let alone experience, digest, process, understand, etc. There simply is no generic version of "the truth" that you can ship out like a car off a production line, let alone enough to fill a 12 week series, let alone that will be understood exactly the same by all the different people you're expecting to hear it.

We assume as humans that bigger is better, that the more people "reached" the better something is, that the more "successful" (in what /whose terms?) or "efficient" something is, the better it is. I think Jesus constantly undercuts and subverts this in favour of small, in favour of intimate, in favour of contextual, in favour of genuine; hence stories about seeds, and yeast, and so on to describe the nature of the Kingdom.

- Theology: Just because it's mainstream doesn't mean it's correct. I have particular problems with:
* Penal substitution theory: While widely accepted amongst Evangelicals as "The Gospel" (capital t, capital g) it's actually a massive misunderstanding of the nature of God. This, for me, is the biggest battle the church faces with respect to its theology. I'd like to see the church understand the excesses of this understanding of God, and redeem them.
* Dualism: The assumed split between the spiritual and the physical causes massive problems. This is classic modernism and classic Greek thought which has crept into Christianity (and much of the New Age and neo-pagan movements are based in it). At its worst it's closer to superstition than religion. For Jesus and other Hebrews there is absolutely no sense in which the spiritual and the physical are separate. Misunderstanding this leads to massively skewed theology. For example, there is no separate "spiritual" realm into which we go to heaven. Heaven is always conceived as a physical place, just beyond the clouds. In fact, when Revelations talks about the "new heaven and a new earth" it's the same deal - hence the new earth coming down out of heaven. The new earth is a clearly physical thing.
* Salvation: The whole problem, as we talked about, of just what constitutes salvation has huge implications for the way we see a Christian life, and the energy out of which that is done. There is little about the Kingdom (which, if you think about it, is all Jesus ever talked about), in Alpha, except as a place you go after you die. Yet Jesus said the Kingdom of God is among you, is close to you, is here. And salvation is about individual humans, with no relation to their social relationships or interrelatedness. What about the whole of creation which God is redeeming? What constitutes being a Christian for Alpha is an individual praying "the prayer". This, to me, is not what it means to be a Christ-follower. When you say things like "Alpha got me over the line" I worry a bit because I don't think there is a line. Or at least, there's no "in" and "out" to God. That's our way of excluding. What if the whole of life is God working for the redemption of everything (ie the Kingdom of God), whether people know it or not, whether they recognise or acknowledge it or not, whether they work for it or against it? What if the nature of life is such that every act for the Kingdom of God is an act of life, and every act against is an act of death? What if we all work both for and against it, in different measures at different times, and the idea is to work as much for it as possible because that's what it looks like to have the best life? What if Jesus shows us what the way to real life looks like, and enables it in those of us who are so sick and confused with the way of death that we can't otherwise work towards life? Do you see some of what it might look like not to have "ins" and "outs" or lines to cross?

- Assumption of 'right belief, right result': In other words, it assumes that so long as someone has been taught all the "correct" doctrines or beliefs or whatever, then all they must do is assent to those being true and one has the desired result (a very modernist assumption). It's all so heady and little or nothing to do with action or experience. It has little or nothing to do with ongoing relationship or community. What about practices rather than truths? What about processing/reflecting on experiences rather than facts?

- Focus on personal rather than communal discernment and decisions: While Alpha would encourage you to join a church, there is a sense in which being a Christian is merely a personal decision, rather than a communal one. This individualism is something I think Jesus invites us to be healed of, and to repent from, in order to be whole. We are made for relationship - it is what we are as humans. Without others, my individual decisions mean very little. This is why Christian community is absolutely indispensable to me.

At its excess, this individualism (along with other aspects of Alpha) can (and often does) lead to a consumeristic version of Christianity (which is actually not Christianity at all) which says that it's all about me and God and what God can give me (blessings, salvation, etc.)

If you were in charge of running it, how would you go about it?
If I was in charge of running it, I wouldn't run alpha. That is, I would run something like inspiral (though I'm aware that inspiral's a long way from perfect - which is why I need everyone's help!) for the people who are part of inspiral. I would run something different (and contextual) for some other group of people (as I am about to do with 4 young people who have grown up in the church). All of them would, of course, have similarities, but they would be native to that context, and they would be organic and happen naturally rather than pre-fabricated or imposed. They would happen in their own time (rather than 12 weeks).

Do you think Alpha is a waste of time? Please explain.
I think it's difficult to answer a "yes" or "no" to this question. It seems like I've gone really hard on Alpha here - because I think you're well aware of some of the good things of Alpha, and because some of the things Alpha does really well are not specific to Alpha, and because the issues are complex, not simple. I would say it's not a waste of time, but it's not as good as it can be done. I would say let's you and I (and anyone else who wants to!) work together to find the best way for us and for those around us.

I also have a theology that says that nothing is beyond redemption. God is big enough and strong enough to redeem anything and everything...hence, nothing is wasted. "Everything belongs" to quote Richard Rohr. So no...Alpha is not a waste of time. But again...could be better.

Why do you think Alpha has been so successful in helping so many people around the world discover Jesus?
I think there are heaps and heaps of factors that have made it so "successful". Again, understand that I see the word "successful" in the world's terms as I answer this - and that I think success in God's terms looks very different. After all, how successful is getting yourself executed by the state after possibly as little as one year of public ministry? We follow someone who was an utter failure in the world's eyes. How successful is most of your followers getting executed by state and religious authorities? How successful is small, is principled rather than pragmatic, is poor, is those who mourn, the persecuted? I think God has a different idea of success to us.

I think (unfortunately) many of the reasons for its "success" are tied up in its weaknesses: that its theology demands very little of people, that it can tend towards consumeristic religion, that it sells a formula for escaping hell rather than a demanding lifestyle that stands against almost everything we're taught in the world. I'd also be interested to hear how "successful" it is. How many studies have been done on this? What constitutes "success" in Alpha? Getting the most people to pray the prayer? Is it quantity or quality? How are these measured? These are genuine questions, I'm geniunely curious. Certainly it seems like a lot of people have participated in an Alpha course, but I'm not sure whether that's a good measure of "success" or not.

Having said all that, it has led some (probably many!) people to understand Jesus better, and in my more cynical moments I would say that I think that is a wonderful testament to the redeeming power of God! In my less cynical moments I'd say that it's very possible that this can be, for some people, a way to move into the Kingdom of God. But I'd want them to go a whole lot deeper than Alpha of course.

What were some of your experiences that left you with an unfavourable overall perception of the course?
It hasn't so much been experiences, as much as just reflecting on what it means to be most true to my understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ. You'll notice the reasons above are principled reasons rather than "I had a bad experience" reasons. Maybe there's a bit of something in me that doesn't like having someone tell me what the truth is that I have to believe or I'm not a Christian? Maybe there's something in that. But that'd be it. Truth be told I found it rather bland, and didn't much like the kind of life it presented as normative for a Christian. If that's good news...well, it just didn't work as good news for me.

You'll also notice that not many of these objections are about individual content disagreements, of which there are probably a few, but not huge deals (except for penal substitution, which I mentioned) objections are mostly about the way Alpha goes about catechism, versus my understanding of the gospel.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

September 11th

James Alison's (Catholic priest, and Girardian theologian) take on September 11th: "Some brothers of ours committed simple acts of suicide with significant collateral murder, meaning nothing at all."


I've been reading Michael Kirwan's Discovering Girard, an amazing summary/explanation of Rene Girard's theory (observation?) of mimetic violence. I thought I'd post just a couple of the quotes from it; neither of them, incidentally, are his directly, but they did make me sit up and listen. The first comes from George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan; the following is a conversation between two churchmen, one of whom, de Stogumber, is speaking of the traumatic effect upon him of witnessing St Joan's martyrdom:
De Stogumber: Well, you see, I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it, you know. That is the great thing: you must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.
Cauchon: Were not the sufferings of our Lord Christ enough for you?
De Stogumber: No. Oh no: not at all. I had seen them in pictures, and read of them in books, and been greatly moved by them as I thought. But it was no use; it was not our Lord that redeemed me, but a young woman whom I saw actually burned to death. It was dreadful: oh, most dreadful. But it saved me. I have been a different man ever since, though a little astray in my wits sometimes.
Cauchon: Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those who have no imagination?