Still others… still needs to happen

Well the big weekend is over. The Salvation Army in Australia is now one territory, and judging by the events that happened over the weekend, you could be given to thinking that everything was rosy, and the future of The Salvation Army in Australia is great and that this weekend is a once off event and now that it’s over we can go off and live our own lives.

But if you think that, then you are mightily mistaken.

Continue reading “Still others… still needs to happen”

I see a black dog rising

Today in church, I did something that – to my knowledge – I haven’t seen any minister do before. I certainly hope that I am wrong in that though.


Today, I was vulnerable in front of my congregation. After talking about my previous mental health problems, I told them that I was currently struggling through a dark patch. I told them that I was going to be seeking out professional help, but I let them know that I was struggling. Continue reading “I see a black dog rising”

Happy New Year?

As I viewed the multitude of Happy New Year posts, and posts reflecting on our years, I noticed a bit of a trend. A lot of people were commenting on how this year was really tough. And you know what, I hear that. Liesl and I have had a really tough year, a trial by fire if you will into the world of officership. It certainly says something when both your Divisional Secretary and Divisional Commander both say that we’ve experienced more in our first year of officership than many experience in their career. But as I thought on it, I wondered whether I really had a tough year.

I think of those who have it a lot tougher than me, like the Families of the 30,000 children who die every day from starvation.

I think of the Asylum Seekers who have been locked up indefinitely with no idea of when things will change.

I think of Peter Greece and his colleagues, who has been locked up in Egypt, only for doing his job of reporting the news in a fair and balanced way.

I think of those in Australia whose benefits are being stripped away simply for the sake of improving an economy that is already the envy of many others in the world.

I think of the number of people who are forcibly displaced from their home every year (in 2013 it was over 50 million).

Within the posts on Facebook lamenting their tough year, they would always be looking forward to a great 2015, that things were going to change and this year would be a lot better. While I agree with the sentiment, my prayer, my hope is that 2015 might be the year that we treat all people with love and respect, and start changing some of the depressing and oppressive situations mentioned above.

What I love about conservative theology

I recently read an article that was basically saying that liberal theology was a blight upon The Salvation Army and that it must be driven out in all its forms. As a Salvation Army Officer who finds that the label of liberal theology is the label that closest fits my own personal theology, reading this hurts. It makes me wonder whether I am an accepted part of the Army. It makes me wonder whether I have a place. It makes me wonder about my own beliefs. See, the hatred of liberalism is a common argument often put up by conservatives, particularly in Christian circles. As such, when an argument such as this is put up, it can make me wonder if I have a place in this wonderful place called Christianity.

My faith is stronger than that of course, and as I reflected upon the article, thoughts turned to what I could do about it. The standard human responses are to fight or flight. Flight was certainly out – I feel so strongly convicted about my calling to officership within The Salvation Army, and so strongly convicted about what others may describe as a liberal theology, that leaving these things behind is by no means an option for me. So I considered fight. I considered writing an article about how conservative theology was a blight on The Salvation Army – basically a rebuttal of the original article. I considered defending liberal theology in the Army, saying that there are many examples where it is perhaps the best fit to Salvation Army theology. But it still didn’t feel right.

Eventually, as I reflected upon my own liberal theology, one that prioritises love and grace over all, one that highlights the holiness doctrine that The Salvation Army cherishes, where I try to be more and more like Jesus, I realised that there was only one thing that I could do – because I love my conservative colleagues.

Three things I love about Conservative Christians

See, the thing is that while the article may hurt, there is always something that can be learnt out of it. And there are many things that conservative Christians do really well, and it’s worth pointing them out. It’s probably worth taking on board, and developing into the liberal theology as well, because it would make us stronger. So here are my three things that I love about Conservative Christians (because three is a holy number, and makes for memorable reading).

A complete and utter urgency about Salvation

Conservative Christians are fantastic about placing the importance on Salvation. Us liberals probably talk more about the journey towards Salvation, but for a conservative Christian, everything points towards Salvation, and they want to get people there as quickly as possible. The journey can happen after that, but let’s get them saved. And it’s true, Salvation is a wonderful thing and something that should be promoted and pushed. We never know when the return of Christ will happen, so it could be in 500 years, or it could be tomorrow. Either way, there is an urgency to get people saved, and that is something that the conservatives have done really well.

A love for every word of the Bible

Now, don’t get me wrong on this one – liberals love and cherish the Bible as well, but the love that conservatives have is certainly to be admired. Their knowledge and memory of the bible is something that is to be admired. I may be wrong here, but I feel like most conservatives have a higher level of recall – that is, more often they can quote passages of scripture word for word, where as many liberals may know the general gist of the passage, they may have to read the passage to quote it word for word.

A strong conviction about right and wrong

While liberals and conservatives may not agree on all the finer points, the final thing I love about conservatives is that they hold a very strong conviction about what is right and wrong. While the liberals often deal in the grey areas of our faith, it means that we hold a lot more flexible opinions, so that even when we do feel strongly about something, we are never as strongly convicted about it as the conservatives are, who will study an area, work out where they stand, and stick to it. This is something that is to be admired, and I feel like liberals often need to have this same sense of conviction about the things that they believe.

So that’s it. Three things that I love about conservative Christians (not that I don’t love more things, three just makes for a good, short blog post). And for me, while I hold strongly to my liberal theology, I value the input that conservative theologians add to our rich tapestry of faith, and strongly believe that through all of us working together – both on the fringes of liberal and conservative, and in the comfortable middle ground as well – we will all save souls, change the world, and be good and faithful witnesses of Christ’s love for our world.

Reforming Society (Vision and Mission Part 5)

This is part five and the final part in my Vision and Mission sermons at The Salvation Army Devonport. View all of the sermons here. The reading for today was Luke 4:14-30.

What will you fight for?

This speech is one of the most famous quotes of The Salvation Army, and has served for years as a rallying cry. It speaks of the battle that we as an army face – that while there is still one person in need, that we will fight, we will fight to the very end.

Where that end is, we do not know. But, still, we must fight, and fight as if the end is both tomorrow, and in the next millennium.

This quote fits so incredibly well with the words that Jesus spoke in today’s reading. Quoting from Isaiah, this passage speaks of Jesus’ mission, that would shape his mission and ministry from that point in.

Jesus fights for Justice

Jesus returned to Nazareth, to his home town, and went to the Synagogue to read and teach. He found his way to this quote from Isaiah, and declared: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

These themes that this passage highlights bare particular emphasis in Luke’s gospel, but it should also be noted that this passage is found in Mark as well. But all through Luke’s gospel, we see the themes of justice, inclusiveness and freedom included as a central part of Jesus’ message. Let’s have a quick overview of Luke, to show these themes.

Luke’s birth narrative focusses in on Mary, and includes what is (I believe) the longest monologue by a female in the bible, in what became known as the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary. The first people to see Jesus, besides his parents, were the shepherds, not exactly the most well respected people in the bible, but the ones chosen by God. Following the reading we had today, Jesus begins his ministry, and heals a demoniac, Simon’s mother-in-law (separate people, I’m not saying Simon’s mother-in-law was a demoniac), a leper, a paralytic – the people generally avoided by society. He calls his first disciples, a fisherman and a tax collector, and teaches on the plain giving praise to the poor, hungry and sorrowful, and declares love for all as what is expected. There’s more healings of women in Luke’s gospel than in the others, and it’s in Luke’s gospel that we hear that there were a number of women who followed Jesus in the same way as the 12 apostles did.

More and more, all the way through, these themes are realised in Luke’s gospel, even through to it being the women who first see Jesus after he had risen.

Jesus is here to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, make the blind see, and to free the oppressed, declaring the year of God’s favour. Jesus is fighting for Justice, so that all may live in the kingdom of God.

The Salvation Army fights for Justice

Similarly, The Salvation Army has had a long history of fighting for justice. Now, I just want to first clarify that there are two aspects here: Social Action and Social Advocacy. Let’s put it like this: Social action is applying first aid when we see someone fall over and get injured. Social Advocacy is seeing that multiple people have fallen over in that same place, and campaigning to make changes so that others won’t fall at the same place. Social action is meeting a person’s immediate needs, and social advocacy is ensuring that people won’t need our social action again. Both are important, and both are necessary.

The Salvation Army has had a long history and is well recognised for meeting someone’s immediate needs. But we also have a long history of campaigning for changes in society.

In 1885, The Salvation Army, by way of the Founder’s son, Bramwell Booth, was involved in what would become known as The Maiden Tribute crisis, where W.T. Stead, an English publicist and editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, devised a scheme to purchase a 13-year old girl under the assumption that she would get sold into prostitution, but was instead whisked away to a Salvation Army home in France. The corresponding story written by Stead caused so much hysteria in England that the UK Parliament was forced to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16, as they understood that opposition to the bill meant denying that child prostitution existed, but it was also condoning it.

In the 1890s, William Booth saw that many poor people were developing the fatal disease, “Phossy Jaw”, due to their working in factories producing matches with Yellow Phosphorus. Booth sought to show that matches could be produced safely and at a profit using Red Phosphorus, a process that had been invented back in 1855 by Swedish Chemists. Through providing the workers decent living wages, and campaigning to get grocers and shopkeepers to stock only safety matches, they were able to close their factory in 1901, having forced other factories to improve their working conditions and wages, and use red phosphorus exclusively.

Even today, The Salvation Army is fighting hard for justice in our world, taking a lead with Stop the Traffik, an international campaign to end human trafficking, and also playing a large part in the Fair Trade movement, with many corps moving exclusively to Fair Trade tea and coffee, and the Salvos in PNG producing a coffee that follows fair trade principles of a fair price for the farmers who produce the coffee beans.

We must fight for justice.

In the same way, we as a church, as well as ourselves individually, must fight for justice. Through our Doorways program, we are fighting to stop generational poverty. No longer is giving food enough, but instead we must be looking for ways to help get families out of the poverty cycle. Through our Doorways2Parenting, we are giving skills to parents that will help them to be better parents, which in turn models those parenting skills to their children.

There are many issues of injustice that we can fight for today. Slavery still exists in this world – not just in poor, third world countries, but here in Australia as well. Sexual Slavery is one of the highest forms of slavery in our modern world, and women from all over the world are trafficked and forced to take part in prostitution, pornorgraphy, and other degrading activities. The Stop The Traffik campaign aims to highlight the issue of slavery and human trafficking, with the aim of one day stopping this vile practice.

A lot of our food and clothing is produced in third world countries, where many workers are exploited, and not paid a decent living wage. There are a variety of different certification systems around, such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, or UTZ certification, that enable us to be sure that the products we are buying have been ethically produced, and the source producers have received a decent wage for their product. Certified Tea, Coffee, and chocolate is becoming more and more widespread – for example, the coffee at McDonald’s is Rainforest Alliance certified, and Nestlé have announced that they are on track to have 100% of their chocolate products being Fair Trade certified by the end of 2015.

Domestic Violence is a major issue in our society, and one that we must stand up to wherever we see it. While most people think of it in terms of Physical Violence, it can occur in many different forms, be it physical, financial, emotional, psychological, or spiritual abuse. Whenever we see something happening, we have to stand up and say, “No, that’s not how we do it here.” We can support initiatives such as White Ribbon Day, which aims to stop violence against women – which is the predominant form of domestic violence – by encouraging men to swear to never commit violence against women, or to stay silent when they witness violence.

Homelessness is still a major issue in our society, with governments seeming to not want to act on the issue. There are many differing programs around, but one of the best things that we can do is to write to our politicians, at a National, State and Local level, and ask them to take this issue seriously. Governments in the US are beginning to realise that by providing houses for the homeless, they can actually reduce the cost of healthcare and other service costs more than what it costs to house them. The sooner our government realises this, and begins to provide affordable accommodation for the homeless, the sooner we will be able to see a noticeable change in our society.

The Australian Government is continuing to push it’s harsh line of border protection, but at the same time trampling on long standing agreements contained within the United Nations Refugee Convetion, as well as Human Rights conventions, and our duty of care for children. There are lots of organisations that are trying to work with the government to present a fairer solution, such as Amnesty International – which you’ve got some of their materials in your sermon notes today – the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, and many more, and we can support their campaigns, as well as writing to politicians, and other actions to encourage our politicians to show the love of the stranger that our faith encourages, and the fair go culture that we believe Australian culture has always had.

At the beginning of my sermon, you heard the words of the founder, in his famous “I’ll Fight” speech, and some modern day responses. As Salvationists, we are called to fight for this world, and whether you identify as a Salvationists or just as a Christian – or even just as a human being – I think we are all called to fight for change in our world. Mahatma Gandhi once said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” Or, as it is often simplified to, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We have the opportunity – not only as a church, but as individuals as well, to fight for change, to fight for the Transformation of our society. So what will you fight for?

While women weep, as they do now, will you fight?
While little children go hungry, as they do now, will you fight?
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, will you fight?
WHile there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, will you fight?
While there are people seeking asylum, who are forced to live in harsh conditions, will you fight?
While there are farmers producing food for major corporations with massive profits, but don’t have money to feed their own family, will you fight?
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, will you fight?

Will you fight? Will you fight to the very end?

Why the $7 co-payment is a bad idea

In last night’s budget, the Government announced a $7 co-payment for GP’s, as well as pathology, and a $5 co-contribution for medicines on the PBS. Now, $7 doesn’t seem like a lot, but the issue is, it’s not ever going to be $7.

Sometimes, a GP can’t get everything they need just by looking at you. They need to send you off to get some blood work done. So, what was a $7 visit, now becomes a $21 visit ($7 for the initial visit, $7 for the pathology, $7 for the results). If there is then medicine needed, that increases to a $26 visit. Continue reading “Why the $7 co-payment is a bad idea”

The abortion debate – debating the wrong question

In reading the ABC this morning, I noticed this editorial by Jonathan Green on the continuing apron debate in Australia. Green sums up the situation quite well, putting both sides of the story in and making the conclusion that the debate is far from over.

The problem is that the debate is asking the wrong question.

Continue reading “The abortion debate – debating the wrong question”

Book review: Make or break your church in 365 days – Paul Borden

In preparation for my first appointment as an officer of The Salvation Army, I’m reading and rereading some books that might help me in my ministry. One of the books recommended to me was Paul Borden’s book, Make or break your church in 365 days. Continue reading “Book review: Make or break your church in 365 days – Paul Borden”

Packing and moving

We got back into classes today, with our first distinctive being a meeting with Kent, the company that moves all the Salvation Army officers each year. Today was just an initial meeting, as well as delivering some boxes.
I also had rehearsal for the praise and worship band, and my final Greek exam. I’ve now finished all my assessments for the year.

Continue reading “Packing and moving”

Doctrine rehearsal

It was another day of study and reviews. Slowly but surely, most of the cadets are finishing off their last assignments, and getting on with a bit of packing.

We also had another doctrine rehearsal. As part of the commissioning and ordination, we declare the eleven doctrines of the Salvation Army, from memory. In order to aid or memorisation, we have rehearsals, so that we can memorise them, and get our timing together so we all say them together at the same time. I’ll go through the doctrines at a later date, but I just wanted to say a little bit about memorisation.

It’s important, I think, to memorise the doctrines, because these are the central elements of our faith that we hold to be true. In eleven relatively short statements, we declare what we believe, and why we believe them. Memorising them helps us make them central to our Christian practice, to shape everything we do in our ministry.

What have you had to memorise? What’s helped you in memorising it?