Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Reading the Bible devotionally

I've been dissatisfied with the time I spend reading the Bible for devotional purposes. I've found myself finding it hard to open my Bible and read it. Sure, as a pastor, I spend heaps of time dissecting it, wrestling with it and preparing sermons or devotions or a small group studies for whatever it is that I need to get done. But stopping, taking time to read the Bible for no other reason than to be with God, and allow that passage to shape my prayer and form me as a person and a follower of Christ, that's been difficult. And then when I do read it, well, I seem to allow the words to wash over me and then it's done. What's the next thing on the list?

As I reflected on this, I wondered if there was a way I could re-shape some of my devotional reading and practices. Try and be more intentional about exploring the passage. And so I came up with three questions that I've found really helpful.

1) What is this passage about?

I take the time to write down in three or four sentences what the passage is about (I tend to read one chapter at a time). If I know that I have to write down a summary, it helps me to remain attentive to what I'm reading. Then writing the words down helps me to process a little bit of what I've just read.

2) What is capturing my attention? Is there anything I don't understand?

This is where I begin to note (by writing) some of the detail in the text and reflect on things that particularly seem to stand out to me. For example, I was reading through Lamentations 4 the other day and was struck by verse 10 (in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem): 'With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.' What an awful passage! It shows the depth  of devastation going on. And yet, the passage calls these mothers 'compassionate'. The situation must have been absolutely awful. It stuck with me and has been forcing me to wrestle with what was going on, and where is God in all of this?

On top of noting specific things that stick out to me, I also like to write down things that I don't know about or don't understand. People, places, customs, phrases or theological happenings like utter destruction that God seems to allow to happen or perhaps appears to be complicit in making it happen. I write these down so that maybe I can explore them further at another time, or perhaps leave them there as questions or wonderings.

3) What might God be saying to me/teaching me/challenging me through this passage?

This is where I move from simply talking about the passage to wondering what this might mean for my life, my understanding of God or my understanding of myself or God's world. Is there something that God might be calling me to do or remember or stop doing. How might God be speaking to me through this passage? Remember, this isn't a small group study but a time spent with God communing with God through the Bible and in prayer.

I then pick one of those things from the last question and take it to God in prayer.

This helps shape my prayer life, the things I want to say to God and reflect on what God might be saying to me. Going back to the Lamentations 4 example, I couldn't help but think of the situations in our day and age where compassion is doing what those mothers did. It profoundly affected me and my prayer to God that day (and since then).

I've been doing this several times a week for the past few weeks. It usually takes me about 10 minutes. But 10 good minutes to slow down.

This little devotional practice has helped me to become more attentive to God, more attentive to what God might be saying to me and helped shape my prayer life.

If you are feeling dissatisfied with your own devotional time with God (whether it is vibrant, barely existent or not existent at all) then perhaps this devotional exercise (or an adaption) may be helpful.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Digging into a Bible Passage

I've recently run a class on preaching at our church. We had twelve folks. Most had never preached before, and six of the participants were under the age of 21.

As part of the course, I developed a series of steps for digging deeper into a Bible passage. I wanted to develop it for people who didn't have theological degrees. So it needed to be weighty enough to get into the passage but simple enough so that the average person could use it. None of it is particularly new, but I reproduce it below in case it's helpful for someone whether for preaching or leading a Bible study or simply because they want to understand a passage more. Feedback is welcome.

Digging into a Bible passage
Ask God to speak to you through the Bible (and if you are doing this for preaching or for a Bible study) that you may be able to share that richness with others.

2)      Read the Biblical text several times
Read it slowly. Much of the Bible was originally written to be spoken out loud, so make sure you read it at least once out loud. Allow the words to sink in.

3)      Ask questions of the text/write down questions you have about the text
The world of the Bible and the world of today are very different. There may be people, places, ideas, things in the passage that don’t seem to make sense or you don’t know much about. Write down your questions. Feel free to write down any other observations you have or connections you are making that may or may not be there.

4)      Note the context
Context is all the stuff surrounding something that helps us make sense of it.

a)      Where does this book sit within the 6-act play?
The Bible as whole tells the story of God creating the universe, humanity falling and God seeking to save the world ultimately culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This can be helpfully understood as a 6-act play. Note where in the 6-act play (whereabouts in the story of the Bible) this book fits.

b)      What happened before this text?
Is this a follow on from a conversation? Does the preceding passage give any hints that might help us understand our text?

c)      What happened after this text?
Does what happened after this text help us to understand our text better?

5)      Dig into the details of the text
This helps us get into the details of the text.

a)      Who?
List all the people in the text
Who are the people in the text? Who is it about? What happens to them?

b)      Where?
List all the places in the text
Where are the places mentioned? In what place or places is this text taking place? What happens in those places?

c)      What?
List the things in the passage
What are the things that are mentioned in this passage? What role do these objects play? What happens to those things?

d)      How?
List the action that takes place in the passage
What happens in this passage? What activity takes place? What are the action words?

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The Death of God

God is dead.

Those are three interesting words. Some would regard them mournfully, some joyfully, some with hope, others with pain, and a great deal many with indifference.

God is dead.

I've recently been pondering three images of God's death.

1) Nietzsche's parable of a madman
Friederich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who wrote at the end of the 19th Century. He wrote a parable where a madman runs into the village square proclaiming that God is dead, and that it is they who have killed God. Churches are now nothing more than God's tomb, the place where nothing but God's memory is kept alive.

Nietzsche's point is that Western society has no need of God. We are now the masters and mistresses of our own destiny. The highest one can climb is to become a god themselves dictating what they choose to do and to be. This philosophy, to pursue one's own self-importance, gain and pleasure, are what it means to become a god.

In this parable those who listened to the madman couldn't understand what he was saying. They couldn't comprehend the concept of God's death, much less that they were the ones who had killed God. A hundred or so years ago, Western culture was still largely religious, but Nietzsche's point is that the people lived as if God was no longer a factor, in life and in society. Nietzsche wasn't sad about this. Rather, he just wanted to point out to the readers that this was the case. And it makes one wonder whether the people in churches today actually live as if God is alive.

2) Wiesel's God hanging from the gallows
Ellie Wiesel was a Jew who, when he was 15 and 16 years old, spent time in German concentration camps. Wiesel's book Night recounts the time when he saw a young boy with the face of a sad angel being strung up and hanged. The boy was too light and it took some 30 minutes of squirming before the gallows finally achieved their objective. Somewhere behind Wiesel, a man yelled out, 'For God's sake, where is God?' And Wiesel replied within himself, 'Where is he? This is where--hanging here from the gallows.'

For Wiesel, the suffering and atrocities he witnessed left him with an impression that God is dead, or at least should be dead.

While in one concentration camp, Wiesel was invited over several nights to witness three rabbis putting on a trial. Who was the one on trial? 


They put God on trial for allowing the atrocities of the holocaust to occur. And their verdict?


God was found guilty.

And the sentence? Well, Wiesel, in that moment staring at the boy in the gallows, wondered that perhaps this should be God's sentence.

The suffering that Wiesel witnessed stole his innocence. His innocence about the world, about how humans treated each other, and even his innocence about a benevolent God that, before the concentration camps, he was determined to devote his entire life to.

God hanging from the gallows.

3) Christ's death on the cross
The Christian story also tells about God's death. How God became human, lived as one of us, and then was found guilty and nailed to a cross. After hours of pain and slow suffocation, Jesus finally succumbed to death.

Jesus' death, according to the Bible, is redemptive. It was part of God's way of drawing a broken humanity back into relationship with God. It was God's way of traversing the most awful of human realities to drag us from the brink of death and destruction into new and eternal life.

Because, as the Christian story tells us, three days later, Jesus rose back to life. Death couldn't keep God down. And death and suffering and pain and indifference would never win. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, 'Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'

The death of God
God's death is met with mourning, joy, pain, hope, laughter, indifference. Whether it be Nietzsche's God who was killed by secularism and its decision, whether theoretically or in practice, that it no longer needed God, or Wiesel's witness of God hanging upon the gallows or the Christian belief of God's redemptive death on the cross.

As a Christian, I feel that I need to sit deeply with each of these three images.

I need to see how our culture has no room for God or God's meddling interference.

I need to be profoundly moved by the nonsensical suffering of others who faced a pain so deep that it felt like their God had been murdered, and if someone else hasn't already done it, then God deserves the gallows.

I need to be shaped deeply by the realisation that God cares so deeply that God would die on a cross to reconcile humanity and this broken world back into perfect relationship.

And while my life and my faith is shaped most by the third of these images, I still need those other two to deepen my faith, to force me to ask hard questions, to weep and to be angry, to see the connection between divine suffering and human suffering, divine activity and Western humanity's (and of course my own as a product of the western world) indifference toward God.

So, what's my reaction to God's death? Well, mourning, joy, pain, hope, laughter, indifference, gratitude...

Friday, 19 October 2018

What's the deal with Sunday worship? Eight characteristics of Christian worship

At FUEL, the congregation I lead at East Taieri Church, we have been exploring what worship is. When FUEL first started up eleven years ago, an intentional decision was made to not have singing. A couple years after it began, some sung worship was introduced (like a couple songs two or three times a term). I'm grateful that FUEL is a church where singing isn't simply assumed because it's created space for meaningful conversation to occur around what worship really is.

As a community, our latest conversation has been asking what worship is and how we want to express our worship to God. While we recognise that worship is all-of-life and that everything that happens on a Sunday morning is part of worshiping God, this conversation has particularly focused on how we want to express our worship as a congregation on a Sunday morning.

And what we've decided is that we want to have more sung worship. But we don't want to just have sung worship. We are going to have sung worship fortnightly and on the alternate week explore some other expression of worship like art, poetry, drama, sharing of testimonies, even games (especially as we think about how we incorporate the youngest into our expressions of worship).

I'm really excited about this, and what it might look like. I'm excited to be a part of a congregation that's willing to experiment and try new stuff. I'm excited to be part of a church that wants to worship God in ways that are surprising and meaningful!

As part of this fascinating conversation, I wrote a list of eight characteristics that I feel should be a common thread for any Christian worship, and I hope will shape our worship in whatever expression it might be.

1) Worship is always a response to God

We worship God because God has first spoken to us. God has spoken to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God has spoken to us through Scripture. God has spoken to us by calling us into relationship with God. Our worship is a response to the love, grace and holiness of God. Whenever we gather on a Sunday morning to worship, God is already there calling us to come and worship, not us calling God to come and gather with us.

2) Worship is a human response

While we worship the God who speaks to us, worship is also deeply human. We offer our lives, our voices, our actions and our gifts to God. We adore God. We praise God. We confess to God. We cry out to God in our pain. We celebrate with God in our joy.

3) Worship is more than music

Worship is not just the singing part but the entire service. Worship is people gathering and eating together. Worship is the prayers. Worship is the children’s talk. Worship is the singing. Worship is the reading of Scripture. Worship is preaching. And worship is our response to God’s Word. This means that our expression of worship can come through prayer, exploring the Bible, singing, poetry, art, drama, dance, silence, communion, the list goes on.

4) Worship is dialogical

In worship we speak to God and we hear from God. Worship are these two dynamics occurring together. Our engaging with God in worshipful ways and our listening to God.

5) Worship is something we do together

While we can worship God by ourselves at home, it’s also something we do together as a community. When the psalms were sung they were sung to God and to each other. They expressed our hearts toward God and reminded each other of who God is and God’s promises to us. In this sense, worship is something we do to God and for each other.

6) Worship should be a generous outpouring of ourselves before God (this point is taken from The Worship Sourcebook)

 Worship should not be stingy. Like the perfume that anointed Jesus’ feet, our worship should be a lavish outpouring of our love and praise to God who has created us and redeemed us. Worship calls for our best offerings.

7) Worship should be honest

When we worship, we offer our whole selves to God. That means our joy and our thanks. Our pain and our fears. Our laments and our sin. Our successes and our failures. A number of times I’ve heard worship leaders say, ‘Leave your troubles at the door and come in and worship God.’ But what if God is so generous and kind to us that God calls us to bring our pain and sorrow into our worship so that God can truly form us as the people of God.

8) Worship is for all ages

Jesus says, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ (Matthew 19:14). Jesus dignifies all people—especially children. Children and young people are important to God’s heart and should be important in the life of the church. A question that all Christians need to consider is not just how worship impacts me, but how worship is beneficial for the participation, growth and discipleship of the youngest and oldest in our community.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Supernatural or super-natural? Some thoughts around Bethel Church Redding

A disclaimer: I've never been to Bethel Church in Redding. But over the past few months I've read a couple books from key Bethel leaders. The first was Danny Silk's Culture of Honour: Sustaining a Supernatural Environment. The second was by Bethel's senior leader, Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth: A Practical Guide to a Life of Miracles. I'll be interacting with these books in this post.

I believe that most people who take time out to write Christian books or lead Christian communities are genuinely seeking after God, and there is usually something I can learn from them. I also believe we need to be in conversation with people who think differently from us to continue learning and seeking what God is saying to us and what he thinks about is.

Three points of critique
1) The titles of both books tell the story. They are both obsessed with the supernatural. Johnson says this:

'Salvation was not the ultimate goal of Christ's coming. It was the immediate target...Without accomplishing redemption, there was no hope for the ultimate goal--which was to fill each born again person with the Holy Spirit. God's desire is for the believer to overflow with Himself, that we might "...be filled with all the fullness of God"...Consider this: we could travel off of this planet in any direction at the speed of light, 186,000 miles a second, for billions of years, and never begin to exhaust what we already know to exist. (p. 71)'

My issue with this statement is not that God is not capable of the miraculous signs and wonders, but the lofty place in which they rest in his thinking. Christ's death on the cross and resurrection three days later was not so we could travel at the speed of light. Redemption was achieved to draw humanity and all of creation into right relationship with God.

Moreover, why should we elevate the supernatural over the way God uses everyday, ordinary acts to draw people to himself: someone offering a friend down the road a meal because they're unwell, speaking a kind word to someone who has had a rough day, the church inviting less-than-popular folks to join in their fellowship because of an unwavering belief that everyone is made in God's image. Why are those acts less important, less spiritual than miracles?

In fact, I could argue that God has been at work helping us understand biology, chemistry and medicinal studies so we can create cures for illnesses like smallpox which has claimed many lives. This may lack the 'supernatural' edge but is no less miraculous or the provision of God.

In my opinion, the elevation of the 'supernatural' over the 'natural' has more to do with Greek philosophy than it does the Bible. Plato taught that what we sense with our 5 senses is merely a pale reflection of what we can't see: our intellects and the world of the gods. However, the Bible teaches that God created this world and that it is good. While the world is corrupted by sin, it still retains in some sense that goodness. Christ, in his death and resurrection, wasn't seeking to do away with God's original creation, but seeking to restore it. God doesn't hate what is natural. Indeed, God created it to be part of our ordinary, everyday lives. And so God takes those moments and uses them for his glory as he does with the miraculous. It's not either/or, but both/and. God uses normal, human practices as he uses supernatural ones to bring glory to his name.

2) A second critique of these books is the way they talk about revelation (not revelation as in the book in the Bible, but revelation as God revealing himself to us). Christians by and large believe that knowing God can only be accomplished through God making himself known to us. Primarily, we come to know God through Scripture (or God reveals himself to us through the Bible). But some have believed that God reveals things directly to them. A famous example is Joseph Smith. He believed he received many direct revelations from God, and from those revelations was born the Church of the Latter Day Saints or the Mormons. In the 2nd Century AD, these kind of direct 'revelations' were called gnosticism and labelled heresy. The early church then gathered what they considered to be the canonical scriptures--which today we call the Bible--to become our standard for understanding who God is and what he says about us. The sustained reflection upon God and the Bible is what we call theology.

I believe Silk and Johnson are close to a modern day form of gnosticism. Silk gives us the best example. In talking about the role of apostles he states:

'It is as though God himself has given blueprints to certain individuals to reproduce Heaven on the earth'

Then about teachers he says:

'Most (Christian) teachers today are fixated on the written Word of God (the written Word of God is the Bible). They say that the Word of God is the source of life and truth on earth. Their value for the Word is much higher than their need for the supernatural. These are the lawyers, scribes and Pharisees of our day...The role of the teacher is to help replicate the processes of the supernatural and then train and equip the saints to cooperate with those processes. (Culture of Honour, 68-70).'

I'm sure Joseph Smith considered himself an apostle.

There must be a dynamic where we listen to God and search what Scripture says. Otherwise we run the risk of having one or two powerful leaders who lead us from God into something else (i.e. Joseph Smith). So the apostles and the prophetic must be informed by Scripture and not the other way round. Further, the hierarchical nature in Silk's five-fold ministry (1. apostles 2. prophets 3. teachers 4. pastors 5. evangelists) makes it difficult to push back on the prophet and apostle as they are 'hearing' or 'seeing' directly from heaven.

This leads me back to gnosticism. While Bethel perhaps doesn't quite fall into that category, it strays very close to it and if left unchecked can become that.

To be fair, Bethel still holds the Bible as authoritative. But in some places it sounds like other forms of revelation are elevated to an uncomfortable degree and the Bible is downplayed.

I do agree though, that our interpretation and understanding of Scripture is lifeless without the work of the Spirit as we read it and hear it preached. Knowing God is not just amassing information. Knowing God is being drawn deeper into relationship with our Creator and Saviour which is the work of the Spirit.

3) The third critique is the way--Johnson in particular--seems to have no time for critics. While no one likes being critiqued, no one person has everything right. My theology is deficient. Johnson's theology is deficient. If we isolate ourselves and only listen to voices that mimic our own, we can easily become inflated with our own ego. The irony here is that Johnson creates a straw man out of 'intellects' saying they are afraid of God's activity in the world and that knowing Scripture leads one to pride (p. 94). The antidote to pride, Johnson argues, is being able to do miracles (p. 90-91).

I personally believe that anyone can be prideful with what they have. Whether we are doing amazing things for God or offering the only thing we can (i.e. serving cups of tea after a Sunday service), we can become prideful. Pride, I suggest, is best dealt with by constantly bringing ourselves to Christ and allowing ourselves to enter into meaningful dialogue with other people...even people who may disagree with me.

Johnson says that someone gave him a book critiquing the Toronto Blessing. Johnson would not give it the time of day and threw it out. While I can sympathise with Johnson that there is not enough time to read all the books I'd like to, the attitude is (in my humble opinion) prideful and not open to entering into conversation. The need to be open to others is especially heightened by events like the Lakeland Revival and how that movement was inseparable from Todd Bentley and the Nine O'Clock Service which descended into chaos after allegations of sexual and spiritual abuse by its leader.

While we may disagree with what the other says, inviting people into conversation and being willing to hear what they have to say is a sign of humility. Maybe this is partly what was in my mind in reading these two books (as it must be clear by now I'm on a different theological side than the Bethelites!).

Three points of appreciation
1) One of the things I appreciate about these books is the unflappable belief that God is at work in the world. While that largely pertains to signs, miracles and wonders, I think we can extend that further. God is at work in the hearts and minds of folks. God is drawing this world to himself. God is healing broken hearts and desperate people. God is doing miracles in all kinds of ways, including the unexplainable, supernatural kind. Once we stop believing that God is at work in the world we might as well agree with Friederich Nietzsche that 'God is dead'.

2) Another thing I appreciate is Johnson's talk about surrendering ourselves to Christ. Paul in Romans 6 talks about becoming slaves to righteousness. We give ourselves to God for his glory and take up life in the Spirit which produces in us, as Galatians says: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

3) A third thing I appreciate about Bethel is the excitement and enthusiasm they bring to many young people in their pursuit of God. While I may disagree about exactly what is causing the excitement (is it Jesus or the 'experience'?) I know that God can use all kinds of things to draw us to himself. For myself, God used an 'ecstatic' experience to make me realise that he was God and I was not. My life since then has never been the same again. Even though I wasn't looking for that experience, God came and found me. I long to see people, young and old, excited about following Jesus and passionate to see his mission done here on earth.

Putting it all together
In my opinion, Bethel has an obsession with the supernatural over and against seeing God at work in the ordinary, everyday. What perhaps frustrates me most is the way they seem to discount the heartfelt and faithful service of many over the years who have humbly and quietly gone about God's business and responding to his call on their lives as second rate simply because they've never done miracles (186-187).

In his book, Participating in God, Paul Fiddes says:

'The New Testament word (for the gifts the Spirit gives) is charismata, but unfortunately this term is frequently drawn into a distinction between two separate realms that are named "the supernatural" and "the natural". Spiritual gifts are often contrasted with natural gifts, and so a kind of spiritual elitism develops, as well as an escapism from the natural world. Usually, more spectacular phenomena like spiritual healing, prophecy, deliverance from evil powers and speaking in tongues are classified as "spiritual" or "supernatural" gifts, and activities like hospitality, generous giving, acts of kindness and efficient administration are dismissed as "merely natural gifts", despite the fact that they appear in a list of charismata in the New Testament (Rom 12:7-13).'

God is indeed at work in the world. And he uses the superstars of the faith, and the barely faithful in his mission. He calls those with 'spiritual' gifts and those who go about doing administrative work for the Kingdom. We participate as Kingdom of God builders as we love those around us, as we seek to know God more, as we gather together in worship and are sent out empowered by God's Spirit in his mission.

Fiddes talks about the Holy Spirit as 'the disturber' (Participating in God, 264). God enters into our lives by his Spirit and disturbs us. He did it to the prophets in the Old Testament. He did it to a group of folks in an upper room on Pentecost. He does it to us today. He breaks into our lives and disturbs us. He calls us and enables us to enter into relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. He disturbs us by doing signs, miracles and wonders. He disturbs us by someone forgiving someone else for a serious crime committed against them. He disturbs us by offering us grace. He disturbs us by calling people we don't like to follow Jesus.

The Spirit is the disturber and he disturbs us in all kinds of ways. And I'm sure he is at work amongst the faithful followers of Christ at Bethel Church in Redding. But he's also at work amongst the struggling parish in a small rural town in New Zealand. And that's because that's who our God is, a God that disturbs us by doing the most unlikely of things with the most unlikely of people.

Friday, 23 December 2016

The Dragon and the Child: A Christmas Story

I recently stumbled across a blog post which on the surface seemed a little surprising. When sharing a Christmas reflection I usually default to Luke who tells the story of Shepherds being greeted by a choir of angels heralding the birth of Christ. On occasion I'll look to John and his reflections on the Word putting on flesh and pitching his tent alongside us. But never in my life had I used the cosmic imagery of an enormous red dragon waiting to devour a child that can be found in Revelation 12.

And yet, this is a Christmas Story and it goes like this:

'A pregnant woman is about to give birth. Standing in front of her readying himself to devour the about-to-be-born child is a giant, red dragon with seven heads and ten horns.

The child is born. He is one who will rule the nations. But before the dragon can devour the child, the child is snatched up to heaven.

And then an epic battle erupts in Heaven. Michael and his angels fight against the dragon and his cronies. But the dragon is defeated and hurled from Heaven. And as the ensuing song of victory declares, the dragon has been defeated by the Blood of the Lamb.'

Revelation is written in an apocalyptic genre. It uses fantastical symbols and images to retell stories. The closest parallel I can think in more recent literature is the way C.S. Lewis uses strange characters and events to retell the gospel story in his Chronicles of Narnia. Revelation draws richly upon Old Testament symbols and 1st Century Greco-Roman images to retell the story of Israel, Jesus and the church.

Here in Revelation 12, John is retelling the Christ story. It draws out images and meaning we don't tend to correlate with the Nativity Scene. When thinking of Christmas we think of peace, singing, joy, a baby in a manger surrounded by smelly animals, shepherds and wise people.

And yet Revelation 12 draws out other aspects of the Christmas story. Namely that in the birth of Christ, God is invading the world. He's choosing to go to war against the dragon who is the picture of evil in all it's hideous strength.

Enough is enough and the havoc the dragon has wreaked--injustice, brokenness, hatred, fear, loneliness, violence--will be ended, and the Prince of Peace will reign throughout the world.

So while the Christmas story is a story about a defenseless child who is the hope of the world, it's also a story about a summons to battle, a grand strategy to defeat evil which culminates with this little child living amongst us, being crucified and rising again to life on the third day.

While Christ has won the victory, the battle still rages. We see the dragon rearing his ugly head in all kinds of ways. But let us also remember this Christmas, that when God invaded the world on that starry day in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, he called us to join with him to continue fighting the good fight. While we still see brokenness and evil, death and violence, we know that ultimately the victory has been won because Christ is with us.

Hallelujah and glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace because the Saviour is born this night.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

What I've learnt about South Islanders

My wife and I have now lived in the South Island for two years. They've been a great two years. We've enjoyed the scenery and the people. And for the most part, these Southern folk are similar to their Northern neighbours. They share similar qualities and values: DIY, gumboots and number 8 wire, tramping and extreme sports, Tall Poppy Syndrome, L&P, Rugby and cricket. On the face of it, we are one people. But after living amongst these Southerners I've picked up on a few quirks. Let me share some of these distinctive qualities that have emerged from my engagement with the Dunedin locals.

1) The Weather
When I first arrived in Dunedin, I was given the advice to never bring up the weather. That has never been a problem for me, because Southerners seem preoccupied with the weather. I'm not sure whether it's because half of the folks are farmers and the weather is really important, or whether it's because they are in some ways constantly apologizing/defensive about the 10 seasons in one day that Duendin constantly serves up or the way the window freezes up on the inside of the house in the middle of winter.

2) Holiday Homes
I use the word 'holiday homes' to make sure we are all talking about the same thing. You see, in the North Island we call them 'baches'. In the South Island, they are 'cribs'. I always thought a crib was something a baby slept in. It made for an interesting conversation when I was first invited to stay in someone's crib...

3) The word 'wee'
Now this one, I'm pretty sure is localised in Dunedin due to its Scottish heritage. When I use the word 'wee' I mean to say 'little' or 'small' rather than something that you do in the toilet. Folks down here use that word all the time. In fact folks use it so often, they sometimes don't use it in the proper context. For example a 'wee' visit may last a couple hours.

4) Attitudes toward the North Island
The other day I was describing a recent holiday and in the course of the conversation caught myself using the word 'bach'. Well, the look I received. All I can say is 'if looks could kill'! But I think it's a pretty fair summation of a general attitude down here toward the North Island (It's pretty similar to everyone in the North Island's attitude toward Auckland). North Islanders are quick to say to tourists they should definitely tour the South Island. South Islanders are very quick to tell tourists not to bother visiting the North Island. Suffice to say, I don't often volunteer the information that I'm a born and bred North Islander...let alone the fact that I lived in Auckland for 6 years.

5) Everyone seems related
Growing up in Taumarunui I got used to everyone calling each other their cousin. Down here, everyone actually seems related.  One time I managed to introduce a sister to her brother. It does create a lovely familial feel though where cousins grow up together. The problem though is you have to be very careful complaining about someone to another person. Chances are they are somehow related.

6) Puffer Jackets
Up north, it's generally hard core adventurers and 12 year old girls who wear big, down feather puffer jackets. Due to reasons which will remain unnamed (see point 1) this is one contextual anomaly which I have whole-heartedly accepted. I'm pretty sure it must be part of the uniform down here. I have barely taken mine off the whole time since arriving. And the best bit is, you are no less of a man for wearing one.

These are just some of the quirks and distinctives of the South Island folks. I've thoroughly enjoyed the culture and my time here. It's well worth popping over the Strait for a wee visit. The scenery is amazing, and the people are brilliant too!