Friday, July 15, 2016

The Barassi Line

I prefer a few of the cultural aspects of sport, for example the film Moneyball (2011), or the fact that the Greenbay Packers are locally owned by their supporters, or observing the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong than actually watching or following any of the sportsball itself. "Did you see that ludicrous display last night!" By the way because I'm a minister seeking to be like 'a gentile to the gentiles', I've adopted an AFL team and even own their offical scarf to wear when they win, which isn't very often. But here's a fascinating sport and geography related phenomenon: 'the Barassi Line'. A cultural boundary running across Western NSW separating the rugby playing north from the AFL playing south. Here in Horsham the whole town turns out to watch football & netball, while Rugby is seen as an exotic hobby, the local rugby league stretches across all of the Wimmera and into South Australia as far as Mount Gambier. But by the time you reach Wagga to the north-east of us, both codes via for attention.

Another interesting boundary is the range of Lutheran settlement in Western Victoria. Every small town in the Wimmera and southern Malle has a Lutheran congregation (e.g Natimuk, Kaniva, Edenhope, Murtoa etc) , but by Ararat and the beginning of gold country they've dried up. Speaking of boundaries, Horsham sits on the border of wheat and sheep, probably more of a climate and landscape boundary than a cultural one, with sheep to the south and wheat to the north. Borders are fascinating both because of what's used to define them but also because of the the ambiguity of the territory right at the edge of the two regions.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Your ministry is valuable

Here, Sam Alberry an evangelical minister in England observes that the phrase "strategic ministry" makes him uncomfortable because it privileges one group of people in God's schemes over another. This is the danger of using the pragmatism of business and politics in ministry; successful ministry to the urban elite becomes more valuable than struggling regional ministry. It shouldn't be like this, the beautiful egalitarianism of gospel truth, is like good philosophy, accessible to everyone. Everyone who trusts Jesus is a character in the divine narrative. You also run the risk down-playing God's providence, over-emphasising the importantance of your own schemes within the bigger picture. The other danger of top down ministry is that it can reinforce class systems that benefit the wealthy.

There is however a flip-side that Sam misses. Everyone is strategic, even those studiously attempting not to be strategic, are making a strategic decision not to be strategic! In reality the Lord's prayer values both the top down and the bottom up approach. We prayerfully connect the grand schemes of God, "thy kingdom come" with our life "here on earth." We also prayerfully connect our parking spaces and drinking water back up into God's larger plans, "give us today our daily bread." It's good that some people are theoretical physicists and it's good others are happy with a cup of tea. I preach to my congregation and I write this blog because I believe my ideas (if they correspond with God's bigger narrative) have value and might go a small way towards influencing people towards Heaven.

So the solution for evangelical ministry is a mixed economy. Small self-sustaining congregations alongside large booming congregations. Niche ministries with obscure goals alongside ministries with plans for wholesale cultural change. Amidst this all needs to be the acceptance and delight in a mixed economy of ministry with a robust sharing of ideas but not the imposition of particular models as normative or necessary. So for example Presbyterian theology with it's careful emphasis on the doctrines of grace contributes to the larger Australian Evangelical world. Therefore ever major town needs a self-sustaining Presbyterian church but they don't each have to be large or influential.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit 2016

In a day that was parallel to the Breakup of the Soviet Union, with immediate and long term repercussions in a year of interesting elections, came a result traditional polling with all it's money and methodology failed to catch, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. BBC coverage was lack-luster, with clumsy graphics, dull presenters and a absence of gravitas. Almost as if it began as a case of, "nothing to see here, we'll put this euroskepticism to bed". Not only is this a big deal for British history, there is a delightful philosophical good news as well. But first a word about left and right wing-ism. The actual voting, apart from Scotland, wasn't along party lines, but there is a media narrative that being pro-leave, is somehow mean and racist. In good times, people have a chance to be kinder and explore the ambiguities of life. If life is tougher, you want the tough guy to be on your side and your suspicious of the outsider. This is why with improved life-expectancy societies tend left. The xenophobia we saw a bit of in the lead up to the vote has a long sad history and the murder of that young politician, Jo Cox, last week is a sad example.

But here's the philosophical upside. The tendency in the modern technological era is towards centralised bureaucracies and specialised experts. "Don't worry, the government knows best." The European Union is built on a system of technocrats organizing things. Now don't get me wrong, good things can come out of collaboration, the economies of scale and experts. But generally good things occur in-spite of human nature, not because of it. And in the lead up to Brexit there was a chorus of politicians, celebrities, various professional bodies and business groups telling people not to leave the European European Union. So it's really refreshing to see the devolution of power on such a grand scale. You don't often see so many people rejecting the advice of their betters on such a large scale and you don't often see the winding back of centralization.