Friday, July 13, 2007

Name dropping

Went to a Sydney Theatre Company function last night and it was a case of spot the celebrity/VIP. I'm going to engage in some unashamed name dropping, but given the "five" theme of my blog I'll limit myself to just that number!

1. Andrew Upton (unfortunately his more famous wife, none other than Cate Blanchett, failed to turn up!).

2. Nick Greiner and Kathryn Greiner - I'm sneaking two names in under the one family!

3. Bob Carr (and yes, Bob did speak with Nick Greiner!).

4. Andrew Hansen of The Chaser.

5. Barry Otto.

There were a few more, but to go any further would be bragging ...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More from Mars Hill on hymns

Seems like my Baz Lurhman theory of modernizing hymns was not entirely misplaced. From what Mars Hill have published on their own site looks like they have a similar theory when it comes to singing songs that connect with the past but are in tune with modern culture.

Here's what Joe Day has to say on Why We Don't Use Mainstream Songs:

At Mars Hill we chose to not use mainstream contemporary Christian music for three main reasons. The first reason is their theological content is often pretty minimal. Of course, there are exceptions, but generally this is true. For the ones that do contain good theology, there’s a second obstacle – we have to pay to use them (due to publishing laws). Since we live in a place where songwriters and creative people abound, we’ve simply not considered paying for worship music a viable option. Instead, we opt to write our own music and rearrange old hymns. We rearrange the old-school hymns because their content is rich, the imagery is vivid, and the theology elevates Christ magnificently. Plus, they are in the public domain, which means we don’t have to pay to use them. The original arrangements are artifacts of the era in which they were written–often times very difficult to sing–but because the content is so rich, they beg to be rearranged in a way that makes sense in Seattle. And so we rearrange.
And here's what Pastor Tim Smith says about Christmas carols, which are also in the style of old hymns:

When it comes to Christmas music standards you have to leave the melody in tact—and rest assured we have. However, in keeping with Mars Hill’s philosophy of hymn arrangement we have done our best to frame these beautiful old melodies into a modern, musical context.

Historically speaking, many of the old hymns we sing have a separate author for the tune and the text. Over the years these texts have been put to a number of different tunes to fit with a particular people in a particular place and time. We see ourselves as a part of that continuum of people seeking to bring glory to Jesus in a way that resonates with the people of our culture.

In many ways this is how we are to live as Christians: we share an ancient message (the truth of Jesus) and we articulate that message in the current language and culture of our time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Five thoughts on kids and food

I've been meaning to blog on this topic for a while, but the small debate over at Craig's blog yesterday on kids and food has prompted me to do it now.

Now you're all going to think I'm a food snob or a food nazi or a party pooper, and I'm sure I'll get shot down in flames because hardly anyone I knows shares these views, but here goes. I think that, on the whole, our society has a Bad Attitude when it comes to how we feed kids. It's no wonder there's an increasing obesity epidemic. But it's not just about health, it's also about simple taste! This attitude is exhibited in a number of ways. Here's five of them:

1. As I said over at Craig's blog, it troubles me that junk food is equated with fun. This comes through in what we hand out to kids at their parties (and then give them another bag full of the junk to take home!!!), through to the face of McDonalds being a fun loving clown. Indeed, McDonalds can wear a lot of the blame in my opinion. I have no time for that institution at all. It serves up crap disguised as food, and clothes it in a sugar coating (literally) of fun - kids playgrounds, kids parties, free toys with meals. The one time I took my daughter (then aged only 1) to McDonalds (only because of lack of choice on the highway!), she started kicking her legs with excitement at the sight of the bright vibrant colours - it immediately appeals to kids.

2. The other similar thing that troubles me is that so many restaurants have a "kids menu" which invariably consists of chicken nuggets, chips, hamburgers or anything else battered - once again, crap. I'm not saying I never eat those things (though chicken nuggets I will draw the line at), but when meals such as these are the only things on a so-called "kids menu" what on earth is the message that we are conveying?? What's wrong with sharing some of your risotto with the child? Or serving child sized portions of risotto? This happens also in homes. We have one meal for the adults, and another for the kids, and often the kids meal is stuff warmed up from the frozen food section of Coles.

3. We also use junk food as the reward for "eating your greens". It pits the "nice food" against the "necessary evil food". Again, what's the message this is sending? Why not encourage kids to enjoy avocado, or brocolli, or peas. Cook them in interesting ways. Eat foods raw (my girls love snapping open snow peas and gobbling them up). Give them flavoursome sauces. Get them to help you cook them to increase their interest.

4. Apart from the health issues, there's a broader issue of letting our kids develop a wide taste for interesting and varied foods. Frankly, whether McDonalds is nutritious or not (and we know the answer to that), the simple fact is it tastes like vomit. Why limit them to such garbage when there is a world of interesting and delicious foods out there. In multicultural Sydney there is no excuse - there is such variety to try. Take them out for Vietnamese or Lebanese or Indian. Let them try olives and grilled eggplants and Pad Thai and hommous and curries.

5. Finally, I feel that we often treat our kids like second class citizens. We eat the expensive good stuff ourselves, and give them the cheap stuff. We justify it by saying they're too young to appreciate it. Garbage. My own hypocrisy on this was exposed when we had a family over for a meal and served a cheese platter - a block of blue vein cheese (more expensive) for the adults and block of cheddar cheese for the kids (surely that's all their unsophisticated palates can handle?). Guess which one the kids got stuck into? The blue vein!! And why not - let them enjoy the good stuff too! Why should the adults have all the nice food?

Anyway, there's my thoughts? What are yours?


Just clicked over to 1,500 hits. It took me till 21 June (nearly 6 months) to reach 1,000, and has now taken less than 3 weeks to increase that amount by 50%. Just goes to show posting more often really does work ...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Five thoughts while on a lunch time jog

1.  The USS Kitty Hawk is a very big ship.  And attracted a very great number of spectators, more people to duck and weave while jogging.
2.  The Bold and the Beautiful cliches aside, Sydney is a very beautiful city, especially on a blue sky day like today and especially when running harbourside.
3.  Mat is a very good mate, who I haven't seen anywhere near often enough in recent years.  Was very good to bump into him on said harbourside run. 
4.  Inviting American sailors to come to church at the Cathedral while the USS Kitty Hawk is docked in the harbour is a very good idea (well done Mat).
5.  In case I haven't mentioned it before , Mars Hill music is very excellent and on a iPod makes a great jogging soundtrack.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Baz Luhrman and hymns

What has Baz Luhrman got to do with hymns, you might ask? Good question.

I've been doing a lot of posting lately about modernizing old hymns - same lyrics and tunes, just modernized arrangements. I was listening to one of the Mars Hill recordings of All Creatures of Our God and King, and noticed the lyrics "Thou rushing wind that art so strong". What an old fashioned way to speak. Many of the hymns are like this - with smatterings of King James English and plenty of "thees" and "thous".

What do we do with these when trying to modernize the hymn?

This is where the old Baz comes in. Have you seen his version of Romeo + Juliet? Brilliant movie. The whole thing is spoken in Elizabethan English, just as per Shakespeare's original script. Baz has taken the raw product, and given it a thoroughly modern facelift but without changing the underlying story or words. The result is a work of pure artistic genius. There's no doubting this is a modern film, but there's also no doubting it's Shakespeare's original words. The viewer barely flinches when the characters speak in language from 400 years ago.

Same thing with hymns. Keep the tune, keep the lyrics, but give it a modern facelift. If you can carry it off like Baz did, then you'll have a distinctly modern feel, but with language that reminds you that the writers of these hymns lived in another era, but still worshipped the same God and Saviour we worship today, the same God and Saviour that has been worshipped down the ages.

There's something enriching about listening to Shakespeare and his other worldly language. And I think there's also something enriching about singing these old hymns with their language from another time. Change the words too much, and you risk changing the rich poetry of those hymns. And remember, it is only the odd word here and there - it's not like we're trying to sing in Latin!

Perhaps sometimes there's a bit of a cultural gap that results, but that's where the modern arrangement comes in - to bridge that gap and give a modern edge that is relevant to today's times, while retaining the rich heritage left by our forebears.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Decisionism and infant baptism

This is a post script to my last post below on "decisionism" and also follows through on some of the thoughts I posted a few months ago on infant baptism.

You see, ultimately I think the problem with the so-called "believers baptism" model is that it is decisionistic in its focus. It says a child cannot be baptised until she is old enough to have made a mature and well informed "decision". It doesn't seem to accept that faith is something that a child can grow into, and there may be no moment of "decision". There is a constant attempt to evangelize the child and have the child reach a point where they can "pray the prayer".

This is the wrong focus. You tell your 2 year old child that God created the world, that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus died on a cross, that Jesus rose from the dead, and the child will tend to believe those words. Some continue to grow in that belief, others later reject it, but the belief can and is nonetheless present at a young age. Infant baptism is an affirmation of that reality.

Decisionism and the sinner's prayer

John H has posted an alternative version of 2WTL (h/t Craig S). He said he was keen to avoid the "decisionistic" emphasis of the final box of 2WTL. I'm completely with him on that, not so much with respect to 2WTL (which, by the way, I think is generally great as a gospel summary), but more wanting to avoid the "decisionistic" emphasis of evangelicalism generally. Here's (you guessed it) five thoughts:

1. What do I mean by "decisionism"? It's a common feature of evangelicalism that, in the course of evangelism, the evangelist tries to get a "decision" out of someone to become a Christian. Moreover, it can be an attempt to get a decision expressed in a particular way - in the old days it was the altar call; nowadays in Sydney Anglican circles it tends to be "ticking the box" on a feedback card. In both cases it is accompanied by praying "the sinners prayer". So much so that the phrase "prayed the prayer" has become a synonym for "become a Christian".

2. There is much that is true about decisionism. Following Christ does involve making a conscious decision to do so. And in our evangelism we are to call on people to make a response to the gospel. But there's a few aspects I'm not keen on.

3. The gospel response the Bible seems to ask for is faith and repentance. Yes, there's an element of "decision", especially the repentance part. But for the faith part, it's more a case of simply believing. Do you believe Jesus is Lord? Do you believe he died for your sins? Do you believe he rose from the dead? For many (myself included) it can be a case of the penny suddenly dropping - one minute you lack belief, the next minute it falls into place and you believe it and grasp it. Or for others it may happen more gradually over time. It's not so much that I made a decision to be a Christian (although I did), but that God opened my eyes to see the truth and believe it. "Decisionism" can start to sound very Arminian, so I find it somewhat surprising it is so prevalent in our more Calvinist-inclined circles.

4. The other issue I have is the empahsis on "praying the prayer" as the expression of that decision. Barely a gospel tract or gospel outline exists without a version of the sinner's prayer to pray. Of course, there's nothing wrong with praying on conversion - indeed, it's a great thing to do! But as Phil said over in the comments at John H's blog, it implies that the newly-converted person has no faith or forgiveness before the prayer and gains both by the act of praying. Phil said he would teach people the 'convert's prayer'. "Do you believe this? Then the first thing to do is to say thankyou to God!". I like that.

5. Finally, if there is to be some physical expression of the new convert's faith, what's wrong with the physical expression used in the Bible - i.e. baptism? It seems the "sinner's prayer / altar call / tick the box" package has become the new initiatory sacrament of evangelicalism. Instead of ticking the box, what about just finding a nearby river or swimming pool or bath or jug of water and being baptised!! Indeed, even taking the Lord's Supper would be a good idea - eating the bread and drinking the wine as a sign of feeding on Christ in faith for the first time. I saw the Lord's Supper used in that way at St Helen's Bishopsgate in London on my recent trip, and we've done it a few times since at our church - i.e. use the Lord's Supper as a demonstration of new found faith - "if you have believed Jesus' promises for the first time today, why not take and eat this bread along with us".

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Five ways to make an impressive sounding menu

OK, this post is aimed at anyone out there who might be running a cafe or restaurant. This is not about how to cook an impressive sounding menu, but how to write an impressive sounding menu. How to describe the dishes so that any foodie will be salivating and not able to resist ordering that delicious sounding dish (note, it is a delicious sounding dish, not necessarily a delicious tasting dish!).

Here we go:

1. Method: refer to the manner in which the dish was cooked - add the words "pan fried" or "oven roasted" or "lightly seared" or "char grilled".

2. Place: refer to the geographical location from which the food emanated - try "Tasmanian salmon" or "Western Australian angus beef" .

3. Fed: refer to the manner in which the original animal was fed - "grain fed beef" or "corn fed chicken" or "milk fed veal".

4. Jus: give it some "jus" (i.e. a posh word for sauce!) - try "Cranberry jus" or "herb jus" or "red wine jus".

5. Bed: refer to a particular "bed" on which the main food item can rest - "a bed of rocket" or "a bed of spring greens" or "a bed of kumara" or "a bed of lettuce".

Add all these ingredients together and you get a scrumptious sounding gourmet (if not somewhat pretentious) treat. Try this:- Oven roasted grass fed lamb with a rosemary infused Barossa muscat jus served on a bed of grilled eggplant.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Five more Mars Hill hymns

I referred to five of these earlier (post now updated to include links to MP3 files of songs).

These guys truly do a great job with modernizing classic old hymns. So here's five more:

1. Holy, Holy, Holy - by The BCG. ("Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!God in three Persons, bless├Ęd Trinity!")

2. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (with a bit of "And Can It Be" thrown in for good measure) - by The Mars HillBillies. (Hillbilly indeed!) ("Did e'er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown.")

3. Be Thou My Vision - by The BCG. ("Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise; Thou mine inheritance, now and always...")

4. What A Friend We Have in Jesus - by Brothers of the Empty Tomb. ("What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!")

5. Nothing But The Blood - by The BCG. ("Nothing can for sin atone: nothing but the blood of Jesus.")

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Bold and the Beautiful in Sydney

No, I'm not a daytime soapie fan, but I was going for a jog around Mrs Macquarie's Chair a few months ago and I literally ran onto the set of The Bold and the Beautiful. A crew member chased me off. They were in Sydney filming their 20th anniversary episodes. The episodes apparently screened here last week. I couldn't resist checking it out on YouTube.

I think the first video is the scene I ran onto (and no, that's not me running around town with my shirt off chasing the woman!)

The second video I've just thrown in for good measure. It's pure schmaltz - what a sickeningly cliched portrayal of Sydney. ("Oh look, the Opera House.") Look out particularly for when they start trying to say "G'day" and use other Aussie lingo ...

And watch in both scenes for the hilarious way the camera pans out from two separate romantic embraces to reveal, surprise, surprise, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

The Bold and the Beautiful in Sydney #1

The Bold and the Beautiful in Sydney #2