Sunday, May 31, 2009

Simon Pegg's face

It's a really good one. You just want to look at it. And giggle.

No matter what he says, it's funny.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

sleepiness (or lack thereof)

Lately I have had trouble sleeping. This is a relatively new phenomena for me. Apart from the odd sleepless night here and there, I have always been a very good sleeper. I'm not sure how to deal with it. Do I examine diet and exercise and make sure I am tired and not full of sugar before bed? But what happens if I do this and still can't sleep. I could wind up even more stressed and tired.

Perhaps there is a deeper reason for my sleeplessness, some deep psychological or spiritual need to be awake. There are bound to be worst things than tiredness in the world.

I'm sure that, this week anyway, part of it lies in the fact of sharing a room with Jane Watson and the fact that we can't stop talking until 1 AM every morning.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Charles Grandison the third (and final)

Re-viv-al: restoration to life, consciousness, vigour or strength… an awakening, in a church or community, of interest in and care for matters relating to personal religion… an evangelistic service or a series of services for the purpose of effecting a religious awakening. Revival is part of personal experience. In Charles Finney’s time, the revival of individuals spread into the communities until large numbers of people were affected. It occurred so often after Finney’s preaching that he began to hold these meetings with the clear expectation that revival would begin.

Just as this image is many layered (thanks to Hanwen), so REVIVAL is a many layered concept.

It’s hard to find comprehensive descriptions of what these revivals looked like. The witnesses seem to expect people to know and understand. As far as I can gather, Finney and some friends would book a meeting place and Finney would preach. He would do so for prolonged periods, for nights in a row. People come in droves to listen to him, be overcome with emotion, “the conviction of sin upon them.” Sometimes people would shake and fall down. Sometimes they broke into uncontrolled laughter. Finney himself records in great detail the occurrences he witnessed at his revival meetings.

Finney would not prepare his sermons. He would pray and ask God to show him what bit of the Bible to preach on. Then he would stand up and talk to the people for hours.

Many complained about Finney’s measures. The Unitarians complained that his ‘anxious seat’ (a place where people who were concerned about their salvation could sit during the meetings) created an emotionally driven response, indeed the beginning of religious melancholy as a social problem has been traced to these kinds of meetings. The Deists believed that by calling people out by name he placed undue pressure on them to change their lives. The Calvinists complained that in urging people to make an immediate decision for Christ, Finney offended against God’s sovereignty.

Finney defended himself, claiming that his exhortations were not emotionally based, but grounded in appeals to reason. He defended his ‘new measures’ claiming that it was appropriate to use means at his disposal to bring a message he believed was urgent to his hearers. Finney believed that he needed to use his new measures to jolt people out of the apathy they lived in. He claimed this apathy was a result of the popular Calvinist view taught in most Presbyterian Churches at the time. Finney believed that such people were not ‘real’ Christians.

Interestingly, the conversion experiences that would ‘change people’s lives’ at Finney’s revivals seem to have done just that. Records show that church membership did not drop off, and eighty percent of recorded converts remained active church members years after the revivals. No one can say how much goodness was introduced into lives and communities through his influence.

In his popular but controversial ‘Lectures on revivals of religion’, Finney says, “Revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God. It is giving up one's will to God in deep humility.” I think it would be interesting to live in such times and too see the changes taking effect. It may also be frightening. I may have been someone who would have criticised Finney and his measures.

I really don’t know how to interpret Finney’s character and life in the light of today. In images, he seems an intense character. Our records of his sermons on ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’ seem to represent all that is wrong about evangelical Christianity. However, I can’t help respecting his passion. He took risks to right the wrongs he was so obviously disturbed by. He was loved and respected by those who knew him, family and friends. He was deeply committed to serving God and believed he knew how best to do that.

I think Charles Grandison Finney presents us with the same challenge that Jesus’ does in his life among the people, and eventually in his challenge to the authorities that resulted in death: these men spent their daily lives helping those they encountered to re-think God, to not be complacent about connecting with the creator of the universe. They jolted people out of their ordinary, everyday contexts and brought them to a point of confrontation with a larger, spiritual world where Good and Evil are locked in a cosmic battle.

Perhaps as God’s messengers in our own context, we need to be imaginative and cooperate with his Spirit in discovering how we can do the same thing for those around us.

Unitarians believed that Jesus was not truly human.
Deists believed that though God created the world, he would not interfere with the events of history.
Calvinists believed utterly in the sovereignty of God and taught that humans could have no impact upon his decisions through prayer or action.

Finney, CG (1875) Lectures on revivals found at

Harvey, BC (1989) Charles Finney: The great revivalist, Barbour publishing, Uhrichsville, Ohio
Liardon, R (2008) God’s Generals: the revivalists, Whitaker House, New Kensington
Rubin, JH (1994) Religious melancholy and the protestant experience, Oxford University Press.
Shelley, BL (1995) Church History in Plain language, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville

Charles Grandison again...

A great revivalist of the nineteenth century? I feel suspicious already, though I'm not sure why. Perhaps I am having flashbacks to the frauds I vaguely remember people like Mark Twain used to write about, tent revivals and false healings and an emotional fever or a spiritual high... wasn't there a movie about this kind of thing with Robert Duvall? I remember feeling confused because I liked Christianity, but I didn't like this sort of thing...

Pete Vol says that he thinks Finney was a man who made himself fully available to God; he risked saying 'yes' to the universe against what may have seemed the acceptable thing to do. Perhaps Finney was listening to the Spirit of God?

Maybe my confusion could be helped by looking at the context of these revivals in the religious life of the USA?

At the birth of the United States, only five to ten percent of citizens were church members. The Christianising of America has been put down to two factors: the influence of voluntary societies and revivals.

Although the official separation between faith and politics underpinning the American constitution saw to it that the USA would not become a church controlled state, voluntary societies in imitation of those pioneered by William Carey became significant influencers on American life. The American Bible society, the Sunday School Union; groups such as these, made up of voluntary members, made contributions to American society. And that’s the volunteer’s influence.

But what of revivals? Supported by the preaching of George Whitefield, Jonathon Edwards’ Great Awakening of the eighteenth century had seen the beginning of revivals that saw thousands brought to faith in Christ and radical changes in the personal and moral lives of those converted. At the same time, similar revivals were being witnessed in England through the work of Whitefield and John Wesley’s Methodists.

Finney’s revivals came after a period of dropping church membership and lost interest in ‘religion’. The Calvinism of the day taught that salvation was only available to God’s elect, pre-ordained from the beginning of time. No one could know for sure if they were part of the elect, so the deal was to live as good a life as possible and hope for the best. This tended to produce lifeless churches, where people prayed but without belief that their prayers could have any effect. Finney revolutionised that thinking by bringing people to make a decision for Christ. He encouraged them to believe that they had a part in forging their own destiny. Finney preached strongly, exhorting his hearers to act now to avoid punishment later. Different signs and wonders happened among the people attending Finney’s revivals.

Pre-civil war America. Finney was a man with Abolitionist sympathies. As president of Oberlin college, he held anti-slavery rallies in a tent, one hundred feet in diameter. Finney’s preaching helped pave the way for the abolitionist movement in America.

After the civil war there seems to have been a split between Christian groups in America, responding to the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species and the new emphasis on criticism in Biblical scholarship. One group embraced the new ideas, emphasising a social gospel and developing a liberal theology. Pastors such as Walter Rauschenbusch were concerned with people’s eternal destiny. However, they also recognised the importance of caring for earthly needs.

The other group responded by focusing on the individual's need for salvation. They believed that the most important thing to do was to prepare people for the day of Jesus' return. And it is this group that continued the tradition of revivals, camp meetings and getting people's souls right with God. DL Moody was to become a proponent of this branch of Christianity. As the years lengthened the polarisation of the two groups became more extreme.

My personal sympathies lie in many ways with the former group. And I suppose I have been suspicious of ‘revivalist’ traditions, feeling that even when they aren’t phoney they tend to overlook some of the pressing needs of those in front of them, offering one dimensional solutions to complex problems.

So from my own context now I need to work hard to remember that Finney preached at a time before this kind of polarisation became entrenched.

Finney seems to have expected that receiving the gospel would ready the individual for relationship with the one true God through Jesus Christ. He also seems to have expected that the individual's life would be transformed by such a relationship in such a way that they would become more outward in their focus, caring for the needs of others.

So popular images of revivalist preachers like this one must be separated from my view of who Finney is if I am to do him justice. But just what is a revival anyway? That’s my next post.

Harvey, BC (1989) Charles Finney: The great revivalist, Barbour publishing, Uhrichsville, Ohio
Liardon, R (2008) God’s Generals: the revivalists, Whitaker House, New Kensington
Reynolds, DS (2005) John Brown: abolitionist, Vintage books, New York
Shelley, BL (1995) Church History in Plain language, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville

Monday, May 18, 2009

Charles Grandison Who?

Finney. Ever heard of him?

A man whose determination to seek and understand the truth was matched by his commitment to communicating that truth once he found it.

Finney was converted to Christianity at the age of twenty-nine, the process of his conversion including a prolonged period of study, seeking the truth about the central claims of Christianity. Having been convinced on this level, Finney prayed, determined to resolve his growing anxiety about the subject. He records what happened in almost scientific detail in his autobiography:

"There was no fire, and no light, in the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light. As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me... that it was wholly a mental state. On the contrary it seemed to me that I saw Him as I would see any other man. He...looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. I... regarded this as a most remarkable state of mind; for it seemed to me a reality... I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to Him…"

Following his conversion experience, Finney resigned his apprenticeship as a lawyer and studied to become a minister. He refused to attend Princeton, the Presbyterian theological College, and studied under his pastor for two years before successfully taking the examination and being accepted as a Presbyterian minister.

Finney profoundly disagreed with the staunch and narrow form of Calvinism prevalent in Presbyterian churches at the time of his conversion. He urged potential converts to make their decision to believe in Jesus Christ and to choose to live good lives. Finney’s ministry saw him travel to many small towns and villages in and around the state of New York. His preaching was the catalyst for ‘revivals’ that brought many face to face with the message about Jesus. Though people disagree about the validity of Finney’s methods (and his theology) his impact cannot be understated and his revivals came to be known as the first of the Second Great Awakening.

In 1832 Finney moved to New York City and became a pastor of two congregations. He eventually accepted the call to become professor and later president at Oberlin College (one of the first in America to co-educate men and women, white and black). Finney’s gospel message impacted many communities and thousands of individuals. He was also a fierce abolitionist, denouncing slavery from the pulpit in a time when to do so was unpopular.

Though I am not so sure about all of Finney’s measures, I do admire his whole hearted approach. I would like to emulate him in dedication to following the course God has laid out for me.

This is his description of his own reaction upon his conversion:

“No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart.”

I love to think of this grand, intense man, bellowing with love in large, loud moans and groans. Such passion is not often encountered methinks.

Finney, CG (1873) Memoirs of revivals found at Harvey, BC (1989) Charles Finney: The great revivalist, Barbour publishing, Uhrichsville, Ohio
Shelley, BL (1995) Church History in Plain language. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nashville.
Linden, DH (accessed 10/5/9) ‘Charles Finney’s Doctrine of Justification’ in Reformation and Revival Journal , Vol. 6, issue No.4, published online at
Horton, M (accessed 10/5/9) ‘The disturbing legacy of Charles Finney’ published online at
Galli, M (2000) ‘Charles Finney: Father of American revivalism’ posted at, 8/08/2008 12:56PM
Johnson JE (1988) ‘Charles Grandison Finney: Father of American Revivalism’ in Christian History, issue 20.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

the universe says...

If life is a message from the universe to me, what it is really saying? Well I do believe that the truth is out there, but I still think that it depends largely on the individual's determination. I get to decide how I interpret what happens around me.

A little girl trips along, then slows to an amble's pace as the road climbs slowly. The sun beats along with her as she begins to sing aloud a song she learned by heart through repeated listening: Lennon/McCartney's 'You're gonna lose that girl' from her mum's Beatles compilation tape. Her errand - the corner shop and a packet of smokes for Mum. Her imagination - full of the image of herself as an adult in full evening dress standing on a stage and singing her heart out to a darkened audience. Wobbling her head awkwardly from side to side, eyes partially closed, the little girl imitates her imagined world.

She doesn't know that her crooked teeth and goblet shape will work together with her life choices and fate to prevent her from becoming the Shirley Bassey of her imagination. She listens to the sound of her own voice singing along to the music in her head and thinks, 'I sound good. Maybe I could sing when I grow up.'

And despite the mixed messages she receives from sinister voices (not least her own) as she grows up, telling her that she should indeed be afraid, very afraid... something of that early belief that the world is good, and that the beautiful fantasies are true as well as the dark ones, underpins all that she does. The world is dark and terrible, but also... ultimately... good.

What do you think the universe says? If you could sum it up in 3-10 words, what would you say you believe she is saying to you?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

iron grey with big bold eyes

I am reading a book about heroes at the moment.

James Chalmers, courageous prankster. The perfect man to head over to New Guinea 'n introduce them to Jesus there. Here's Robert Louis Stevenson's description...

“a man nobody can see and not love… a big, stout, wildish-looking man, iron grey with big bold eyes and a deep furrow down each cheek… with no humbug, plenty of courage, and the love of adventure… he has plenty of faults like the rest of us but he’s as big as a church…”

I love it. Oh to have something like that written on your tombstone! Even better - if I could actually live like that. Looks like I better go and cultivate some habits.

The Coona team turned up by surprise today. What an awesome one! We had fun together! I got Irish danced into a corner and we sang heaps and had a whale of a time. I loved catching up with brothers and sisters and I'm in a thankful mood now. Thankful for good friends and a man who lived in the jungle and let it bring out of him something more of who he was created to be...

Excerpt from Pollock, J (2008) Fistful of heroes

Friday, May 8, 2009

the once-english teacher

Last year - right in the thick of assignment time, Dan sent me the following email. I have now completed the challenge and I refer you to the piece of writing below.

2008/10/10 Dan F****** <********>
I charge you to complete the following in the most enjoyable way conceivable to once-english-teachers:
"Your character, who is odd (either somewhat or extremely), writes a letter of protest to the manager of his or her local grocery store. Write the letter."
Have fun,

Dear Mr Quinn,
I imagine that after the incident that took place on your premises yesterday afternoon, you will be finally convinced to relent from your long staunchly held position, and allow me to marry your daughter. Let me reaffirm the sentiments I first revealed to you on January 13, you must allow me to assure you of how much I ardently admire and love your dear sweet M.

I know we have had discussions on this very topic repeatedly over the last several months; and I am well aware of your desire to keep your daughter with you. There is great charm and fascination in the way she holds out tomatoes to people passing by the window, and I believe she is a major attraction for people to come into your store. I myself rarely buy groceries (being of 'independent' means I have servants to bring me meals and snacks at the appropriate time of day - yet another reason why you should let your daughter be wed to me: she would be well cared for), however, M's beauty certainly drew my attention to your lowly premises.

How well I remember that first day... hovering by the newspaper stand, glancing toward your daughter - her eyes meeting mine out of the corner of her eye. She never does look me straight in the face. Her bewitching sideways glance has caught me in a snare and I will not rest until....

But I am allowing myself to become carried away by my hopes and dreams.

Please sir, let me appeal to your better side. Surely you see how selfish it is for a father to expect his offspring to remain always at his side. Children must be allowed to leave their parents homes and cleave unto the partners who will treat them best; and if you will not see reason on this matter you must allow me to protest! Your extreme cruelty in forcing my dearest M to continually hold that same pose - offering those red red tomatoes to all and sundry - is a matter of great objection to anyone with half a heart. I even noticed... DUST! lying there: grey... on her beautiful white arm. Indeed!

And yesterday, when that thoughtless child rushed passed her, knocking dear M clean over. Why you simply left her to lie, helpless on the ground, in greatest pain and agony for all you knew, until you had served your customers. My most glorious darling lay quite silent on the floor, patiently waiting without complaint until you could help her rise again. Why... THIS IS ABUSE! It took all of my strength not to rush straight in from my place on the footpath and carry her off then and there!

To be sure my worthy adversary, I must give fair warning and let you know that if you continue to refuse consent to this match I will consider the field open to play, and will not refrain from carrying the young lady away forcefully should the opportunity arise,

I remain, in strict faithfulness to my love for Manna, the loveliest girl to ever grace a grocery store window

yours in great earnest
Trevor A Worthington Fiddlesticks

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

the Comrade-God

listen to me as when of old our father
sang songs of other shores
listen to me and then in chorus gather
all your deep voices as you pull your oars

fair these broad meads, these hoary woods are grand
but we are exiles from our native land

The next part of our journey was a week in Dubbo, and I attended electives while Vanessa read glorious self-help books. It was a full week, and many thoughts darted around my consciousness. Plenty to dwell on.

One thing that stood out was that both of my lecturers spoke of a book called Miracle on the River Kwai. It is the story of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in World War II and the way prisoners found hope and gave dignity to one another by seeking and sowing seeds of faith, hope and love. When I got home I found this story in our team library. I recommend it to anyone who has done team, is doing team or wants to see the gospel at work practically. There are lots of inspiring stories and examples to follow.

One idea I am currently chewing over is the connections between security, relationship and belonging. After returning to England the POWs experience a culture shock and they are forced to confront certain realities about the emptiness of their culture. Those of us on team see ourselves as 'missionaries' to a culture that seeks 'security' above all else. Ernest Gordon sums it up in strong terms...

"Everyone spoke of seeking security. But what did security mean but animal comfort, anesthetised souls, closed minds and cold hearts? It meant a return to the cacophonous cocktail party as a substitute for fellowship, where, with glass in hand, men would touch one another but never meet... In short, it meant flight from God and descent into the hell of loneliness and despair."

How do we, like these men, implement the practises of the gospel in a culture infused withthe value of security? I am feeling quite stumped until I remember that I probably should go read the gospels a bit and learn from the Master.

Extracts from Ernest Gordon, Miracle on the River Kwai, Tyrell house, Illinois, 1962.

Monday, May 4, 2009


There was something about arriving in Broken Hill. It was so good that even two/three weeks on I still feel refreshed and full when I think of it. Our first evening was one of riddles and games. A room full of the dearest friends, laughter and we finished with singing, us girls in a heap on the couch. I knew I was home and I felt joy and thankfulness that I had four more days to come.

Each day was better than the one that went before. Breakfast, poetry, chats, jokes, op-shops, art, walks, music, music, music. Friends and God in our midst. I loved walking late at night with Milly looking up at the stars. I loved being baptised by my friend Katrina, a woman who inspires me to follow Jesus of Nazareth with my heart and life. I loved sharing it all with my friend Vanessa, who inspires me to say YES to the universe.

We went on a tour of the art galleries with a bunch of local artists. Sophie's art was my favourite - especially my Aslan, but it was great seeing all of the others. Jarrah Mosaic is a fun lovely gallery in Broken Hill. Even the long trip to Dubbo was a joy, because it was shared. Awesome times.

Still, those four days have produced in me a yearning for goodness, belonging and my place that I want to grow stronger, not weaker. A by-product of this feeling is dissatisfaction with my current situation and I need to be careful not to let that grow to discontent. Instead I want it to grow in me a love for the present, because of what we are making the future to be; and a yearning what is yet to come.

Friday, May 1, 2009

bourke and beyond

Our travels continued up to Bourke, which we both loved, and even further west. We visited a small town called Wanaaring and spent the night camped by the Paroo River (Vanessa and I both terrified of death by wild dogs/human psychpaths for the 12 or so hours that we lay seperately in our swags worrying) before heading on down to White Cliffs. We got so used to dirt roads that sealed ones started to feel like God was spoiling us. Mind you I never got used to that squeaky sunroof cover.

Peery Lake was full of water when we visited, which was very special and beautiful, and our night at the underground B&B in White Cliffs was memorable and confortable. There are two small hills in White cliffs jutting up out of a broad flat landscape. Sitting out in the night sky, on top of a pile of rubble, I felt like I was very high up and the earth looked like it had a serious edge to it.

No I don't regret staying up late for moonrise...

nor do I regret getting up early again for sunrise....

It was a privilege to lose sleep for the sake of those moments out in the world.

And I knew that I had four glorious days with my Walker family ahead. I could have stayed up four nights running and paid the price later!