Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Tunnel Vision

The latest issue of David Hulme's magazine, Vision, features a satellite image of my home patch, Auckland. Exactly why isn't immediately clear, but hey, does anyone care? Hulme is leader of the now somewhat downsized Church of God - an International Community, a secretive spin-off from the Worldwide Church of God that recently witnessed a significant exodus of ministers and members.

Inside Vision writer Gina Stepp focuses on the theme of bullying, and there's an interview with a developmental psychologist. It's an interesting choice given the appalling history various COG groups have over their own ministerial authoritarianism and spiritual bullying, and the 'Hulmerous' church is hardly exceptional. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the report Gary Leonard is carrying on his blog over an upcoming United Church of God seminar in which John Cafourek will be pontificating on "How to Recover from the Ravages of Abuse".

It seems to me that many Church of God groups have an issue implementing what educationalists call "reflective practice". They simply can't see how any of this stuff applies to them. They're far too busy pouting and pointing to the splinter in someone else's eye to recognise the beam that is projecting out of their own eye sockets.

Should you feel so motivated, the relevant issue of Vision is available online.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Sunday Assembly

I wouldn't exactly say my jaw dropped, but there was definitely a small southward movement when 3 News tonight covered the opening of the Sunday Assembly in Christchurch.

The Sunday Assembly is "a godless congregation". First established in the UK just last year - and by two comedians (!) - it now has a growing international presence in Britain, Europe, the US, Canada, Australia... and now New Zealand.

What is it exactly? Here's what it says on their website.
The Public Charter
The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrates life. Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential. Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.
We are here for everyone who wants to:
Live Better. We aim to provide inspiring, thought-provoking and practical ideas that help people to live the lives they want to lead and be the people they want to be
Help Often. Assemblies are communities of action building lives of purpose, encouraging us all to help anyone who needs it to support each other
Wonder More. Hearing talks, singing as one, listening to readings and even playing games helps us to connect with each other and the awesome world we live in.
The Sunday Assembly
Is 100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.
Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.
Has no deity. We don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.
Is radically inclusive. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs – this is a place of love that is open and accepting.
Is free to attend, not-for-profit and volunteer run. We ask for donations to cover our costs and support our community work.
Has a community mission. Through our Action Heroes (you!), we will be a force for good.
Is independent. We do not accept sponsorship or promote outside businesses, organisations or services
Is here to stay. With your involvement, The Sunday Assembly will make the world a better place
We won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can
And remember point 1… The Sunday Assembly is a celebration of the one life we know we have
What should you expect from a Sunday Assembly event?
Just by being with us you should be energised, vitalised, restored, repaired, refreshed and recharged. No matter what the subject of the Assembly, it will solace worries, provoke kindness and inject a touch of transcendence into the everyday.
But life can be tough… It is. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, we have moments of weakness or life just isn’t fair. We want The Sunday Assembly to be a house of love and compassion, where, no matter what your situation, you are welcomed, accepted and loved.

So what do you make of that? A flash in the pan or the way of the future?

Thirty people attended in Christchurch this morning; which is modest by any criteria. But judging from the television coverage the age demographic is younger than your typical liberal Christian or Unitarian congregation - if you can even find one of those beasts. There's an Auckland SA projected to launch in March next year.

The 3 News story is currently available to view online.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Two in the Field


Benjamin Corey on the Formerly Fundie blog has an interesting take on Matthew 24:40. Here is that verse (NRSV throughout).
Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
Believers in the "secret rapture" use this as a proof text. They want to be among those taken, swept up to some kind of interim glory while those poor sods "left behind" must pass through the Great Tribulation.

Then there's Luke 17:34-35 which says something similar.
I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.
 Corey then points to verse 37:
Then they (the disciples) asked him, "Where, Lord?" [i.e. where will they be taken?] He said to them, "Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."
Corey comments: "That's right. The ones who were 'taken' were killed. Not exactly the blessed rapture."

His point is that Jesus is talking about the Roman invasion, hence the need to "flee quickly - to not even go back into their house to gather their belongings..."

And so, if you take the text literally, being "left behind" is definitely the preferred option.

I don't remember hearing this reading of the text before. It certainly seems to fit the context, and makes a lot more sense than the silly idea promoted in the Churches of God of fleeing to Petra on chartered commercial jets (a variant of the rapture) in order to avoid the Trib.

What do you think?

Monday, 22 September 2014


Baptists so easily revert to wowserism. There was a time, living in the Taranaki, that I attended a Baptist church. Nice people but kinda weird. One memorable evening a guest speaker was invited to address the men's group, and I dutifully trotted along. This guy decided to stir up the spirit (so to speak) by spilling his guts about his terribly sinful life prior to recommitting to his faith.

It turns out that, on a business trip to Japan, our now repentant speaker had plumbed the depths of depravity by drinking sake! But that wasn't all, he had - horror of horrors - even been known to mow his lawns on Sundays!

It was a bit like watching a Monty Python episode with a bunch of zombies for company, none of whom seemed to see any humour in the situation. I kept looking around to see if anyone was finding these revelations as ludicrous as I was. Nope, not a soul.

Growing up Lutheran, one of the few benefits was a relatively healthy attitude to alcohol. The pastor dabbled in wine-making in the manse - not great wine I gather, but being too young myself to drink at the time I could only rely on the testimony of other congregants. I do know that the blue stocking brigade in town were greatly incredulous. A high school mate who had ties with the Adventist church breathlessly passed on the scandalous information to me. He wasn't telling me anything I didn't know, and I couldn't quite work out what the problem was. After all, Luther himself was fond of his mug of good Wittenberg ale.

So Jim West is running true to form when he raises a pious eyebrow over this church sign. Beer and hymns? Why not? I doubt the hymn context would permit overindulgence at Christ Our Savior, and the quality of singing would probably be enhanced. And if Jim had bothered to check their website he'd have found that it is all in a good cause.
We also have monthly focus of food collection for the Lutheran Social Services Food Bank and provide a monthly meal for Clare House.  We have a recycling center with the motto, “Bring Your Garbage to Church, what can’t be recycled can be forgiven.”  And a couple times a year we offer a fundraising event for Lutheran Social Services called “Beer & Hymns” which is pretty much just what it sounds like.
I confess to having a few cold ones tucked away in the fridge, with no sense of guilt whatsoever. Enjoying a social beer, or relaxing after work with a moderate pint is no sin.

Unless, maybe, you're a Baptist.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

New Blog: Gully Heights

Otagosh has been around a while now, and its focus has primarily been on biblicist Christianity, with a perspective shaped by a failed sectarian movement. Otagosh isn't about to disappear, but as time has gone by my own concerns and interests have broadened out, and for a while now I've been tossing around the idea of a separate blog to reflect that.

The result is Gully Heights. The title is an intentional oxymoron indicating, hopefully, that it won't be taking itself too seriously. Occasionally there might be a cross-posting, but the intention is to keep the two fenced off. Items with a religious bent will continue to appear here as usual. Most New Zealand content, including perhaps a certain political twist, non-religious reviews, science and assorted musings, will now appear on the new blog.

While some of the new content will have very limited interest to many Otagosh regulars, you might make an exception for this short video in which Michelle Thaller, a NASA astronomer, explains the role of stars in the creation of our world - and you and me.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Spirit Speaketh

If you're a Christian, are you a teetotaller, or do you enjoy a drink now and then?

And if you're in the latter category, how does a tipple affect your sense of well-being?

Research out of America seems to suggest that the more religious you are, the more you're likely to turn nasty after a few wines or beers.

American Christians are admittedly a strange lot, with loopy evangelical sects parading as mainline, and huge numbers of true believers convinced that evolution is a Satanic lie. So maybe things are a bit different in more secular parts such as New Zealand and, well, almost everywhere else.

Or maybe not. Judge for yourself.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A Kiwi Ecclesiastes

Behold, a sparkling new rendition of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Egad, it may even be better than Lloyd Geering's translation. The Word of Lord, just in time for the New Zealand elections on the 20th.
2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Satirist, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3 What profit hath a man of all his efforts to decide who to vote for?
4 One leader passeth away, and another leader cometh: but the attempted superficial charm abideth for ever.
5 The poll riseth, and the poll goeth down, and hasteth to his place whence it arose.  
I'm not sure a lot - or maybe any - of the specifics will make much sense for our American brethren (and frankly, not much of theirs makes much sense here either), but the general thrust should be clear enough.
6 And I considered what I had thought was the result of skilful but short-sighted politics might also be partly due to actual corruption, and I threw up in my mouth a little.
Amen brother.