The Underground, Florida – a better way to be the church?

Did Jesus mean it to come to this? Yes!! I think he did!!

One common theme of this blog is that the 21st century western church too often seems to have lost the vision of the mission of Jesus, and settled for something far less noble.

So it is a great pleasure to be able to wholeheartedly recommend a branch of the church which seems to have kept central Jesus’ vision to love God and love our neighbours.

If you haven’t heard of it before, let me introduce you to the Underground in Tampa, Florida.

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“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26)

Did Jesus mean it to come to this?

It is too easy to put words into Jesus’ mouth and say what he would or wouldn’t approve of. I won’t fall into that trap, but I will ask some pointed questions.

If Jesus could have foreseen twenty-first century western christianity, what would he think? For instance, what would he think of some of the buildings we construct for churches?

What would he think of the money spent on large ornamental gardens, lakes and fountains?

Would he think large megachurches become impersonal and dehumanise ordinary people while raising up the megapastors until they become greater than their master?

I can’t answer those questions, but I can say that these church edifices make me feel uneasy. I can’t help feeling leaders who are servants should also feel uneasy about them.

Photos mostly taken from the video Underground People, which I will be reviewing next post.

Urban tribes and the church (part2)

The story so far …..

Last post (Urban tribes and the church) I discussed how on a recent holiday I was observing young urban Generation Z professionals, and musing what they might think about church, or at least most churches.

I felt there were many ways that modern western christianity was an alien culture to them. This post, I want to look at what churches and christians should maybe do to address this.

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Urban tribes and the church

We’ve just come back from a short holiday in Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city. We stayed in South Yarra, an inner urban and somewhat hip location which is noticeably different to the suburb where we live in Sydney.

The obvious differences start with the dense inner urban environment of high-rise apartments and offices, the streetscapes of trendy clothing shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and coffee shops, and the footpaths busy with mostly young professionals, hurrying to and from work, meeting up for drinks and meals, or buying food at the local markets.

And there are not many churches for all these people, because, fairly obviously, few of them would be interested. We attended a nearby church that aims to “reach a post-church generation with real encounters with God” and while the service was informal and lively and the congregation was young and included some creatives, there weren’t many South Yarra hipsters there.

The whole experience made me ponder again how the christian faith might be meaningful to these inner urban professionals, and how the church might need to adapt if it wants to be alive in the next generation.

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How many christian denominations? Who cares? And why do they care?

Almost 6 years ago I posted on How many christian denominations worldwide. I had been asked this question by an internet friend (not a christian believer) who was tired of hearing unsupported claims.

It has become my most visited and most commented page, accounting for almost half the visitors to this site.

I can’t help wondering why the interest in such a subject.

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Who’s the boss? Leadership in the christian church

Did Jesus mean it to come to this?

You can read a lot about leadership, whether in companies and in the church. You can attend conferences, read books, check out websites about leadership. You can find lists of the essential characteristics of good leadership.

But what does Jesus say about leadership? How does it fit with what the leadership gurus tell us? And how does it match with what we see in our churches?

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Grasstree Gathering: surely it’s time for recognition, unity and respect?

Grasstree Gathering

Australia’s indigenous peoples form a small minority (2.8%) in the country they once had to themselves, and have suffered significantly since white colonisation (which can reasonably be seen as an invasion). About three quarters identify as christian.

They tend to be a spiritual people, but it can be difficult for them to meet with other indigenous christians, because of their small numbers and often remote locations. Grasstree Gathering was organised to offer this opportunity.

Grasstree was held in Sydney this past week. 85 indigenous christian leaders and potential leaders attended for several days, some leaving their remote community for the first time. Non-indigenous christians were invited to support the Gathering in several ways, including attending several of the events.

We were privileged to attend, and meet many of the delegates.

Symposium

A full day symposium was held to inform white Australians like me about indigenous culture and viewpoints.

Aboriginal christians see their indigenous spirituality as consistent with the christianity they now believe, and one theme of the symposium was correcting what they see as a wrong impression among non-indigenous christians that their traditional spirituality is pagan or worse. They believe, I think with some justification, that they have a lot to offer the white christian church.

They naturally feel they have in the past been unfairly invaded and mistreated, and since then displaced, marginalised and disrespected. They feel they are still often treated as second class citizens who have to change to adapt to white people’s ways that they often feel are not good. It is hard to argue against this, even though it hurts to admit that “my people” have perpetrated injustices and mistreatment.

Even more hurtful is the clear fact that many white Australians simply don’t care about the hurts aboriginal peoples have suffered, and still feel, often thinking they should “just get over it”. I was asked by one aboriginal leader why I think that there is so little empathy and support even from white christians, was the issue simply too political? I had to say I suspect it is laziness and lack of christian love – for if we care, we will have to do something about it.

The interesting, and sometimes surprising, thing is that the aboriginal christians bear so little malice. Their plea is simply that we non-indigneous christians walk with them. They ask us to be accomplices in making change, helping make a better Australia and a stronger church.

The symposium also addressed aboriginal history, writing, art and education. I learnt a lot, and made a few new friends.

Uncle Rex and his wife Ida, from remote Central Australia are interviewed by Steve Bevis (a white pastor and singer from the same area) about life, spirituality and art.

Artist Safina Stewart explains the genesis of one of her artworks.

Prayer gathering

At a previous Grasstree Gathering, Brooke Prentis, who organised this gathering, had a vision of a place she had never visited, where she foresaw aboriginal and non-aboriginal christians gathering together to pray for reconciliation. Almost two years ago, Brooke came to speak at our church, and we took her to Kurnell, where Captain Cook first had dealings with aboriginal people. There she saw the place she had seen in her vision, a significant location in Australian and aboriginal history.

Her vision came to fruition this week as a large group of indigenous and non-indigenous christians (as in the photo at top) came together to pray for unity and to symbolically express solidarity.

It was a deeply moving time for me.

Sand and ashes from places all over Australia were placed on the map of the 300 aboriginal nations, and mixed, to symbolise the unity in diversity of indigenous and non-indigenous christians across this land.

Safina explains the symbolism of the sand and ashes.

Celebration night

This was more of a fun night, as a range of indigenous artists performed song and dance.

An ad hoc singing group from North Queensland and Torres Strait.

Aboriginal artworks, one of which was presented to the school whose venue was used for the night.

Sightseeing day

The day after the gathering concluded, we led about 30 of the delegates on a sightseeing day around Sydney city and harbour. It was a great opportunity to make some new friends.

On the ferry.

The group after lunch at Watsons Bay.

Reflections

Grasstree 2018 was a great blessing to us. We learnt, shared a small part of the journey, made new friends and gained a new status as “accomplices” in bringing indigenous and non-indigenous christians together. I don’t see this as my main mission in life, but I think christian love demands that I respond as best I can.

Aboriginal people have much to offer the Australian church – for example their humour, their sense of community, their laid-back nature, their spirituality and their focus on the essentials of following Jesus.

I hope many Australian christians are willing to journey with them, learn from them, support them and make a better Australia.

Did Jesus mean it to come to this?

More than two billion people in the world today identify as followers of Jesus. This includes a fair percentage of inhabitants of the USA, currently the world’s most powerful nation, its most influential via film, TV, social media and popular music, and home of some of the world’s richest people.

My country, Australia, still has a significant christian presence (maybe 10%), and you’ll find followers of Jesus in every first world country, as well as all over the rest of the world.

It is a long way from rural Galilee, a small backwater of the ancient Roman Empire, to some of the richest and busiest cities in the world. How have the teachings of Jesus survived the journey?

I wonder if Jesus came back whether he would be surprised and pleased at how his followers are doing? Or not?

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