Kaiser Wilhelm – my favourite church

Kaiser Wilhelm - my favourite church

It is difficult to capture the sense of sitting in this church, in a half light permeating from blue glass in every direction. I find it quieting and awe-inspiring.


Stupid Religion

I am listening to Radio Zimbabwe and people are phoning in telling stories about Church that has instructed its members to sell TVs, RADIOS, Phones and their children no longer attend schools, parents have left jobs, and those who were doing self jobs have stopped their businesses. They are saying Jesus has come and these worldy things have to be stopped. They survive on maputiroasted maize. The Church is reported to three years old. The Church started in Guruve but its now in Harare and other places around Zimbabwe.

Post on Facebook by Bishop Kadenge in Harare.

Is there no end to human suffering? And for religion to add to the misery…

We live in a time when rumour and conspiracy gossip is rife – in the West at least fanned by shallow journalism, the ten second soundgrab (or is it five?), twittering and the like. Thank goodness for sites like which provide a corrective voice in a ‘Cloud’ open to malicious intent. The first time I was notified that I had inherited a million pounds sterling was surprisingly tempting!

But on the other hand I am grateful that Facebook enables Bishop Kadenge to let me know what is being perpetrated in his home country among the vulnerable poor. I saw a mild dose of it in a Pentacostal church Sandy and I visited in Harare in 2000 – the ‘offering’ appeal went on and on, chorus after chorus.

I have the privilege of an education, and in the religious sphere at least, an understanding of how truths may be tested. I am lucky enough to have knowledge to draw on as I apply critical thinking.

This last week I have been privileged to sit at the feet of a leading Swedish political scientist, a theologian and an investigative journalist at the Conference of European University Chaplains in Sweden; I have had many informal discussions with University chaplains from across Europe and been encouraged as one who is part of a broad community committed to drawing on the well-springs of religion in the interest of promoting the well being of our communities.

As Risto, University Chaplain in Tampere, Finland just posted on Facebook

“I would prefer an intelligent hell to a stupid paradise.”  Blaise Pascal (June 19, 1623 – August 19, 1662)


Interfaith Peace Religion and Violence Spirituality Uncategorized Vision

Get Along


The Holey Gospel!

Praying for economic miracles

Sunday morning and I am at a Protestant Church in the Philippines, attending worship with my wife Sandy, along with a handful of other international guests on their way to attending an Asia-Pacific Deacons conference.

The local minister introduces the guest speaker as his mentor of twelve years. Quite a rap! Today’s preacher is Filipino, but has grown up in Canada – a member of one of many families that fled the Philippines when Marcos pronounced Martial Law in 1972. These days he is a pastor in Toronto, Canada.

His text is John 15: 12-17

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command.
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
This is my command: Love each other.

After an introductory ramble about himself I begin to feel uncomfortable.
‘Hands up if you need a miracle in your life?’ he asks.

Well, no! I seek to live a life open to God but I’m not dependent on actively looking for miracles all day long. My hand stays down. I see from the outset we are on a different page!

We hear his story of a ‘miracle’.

The night before he was to fly out to the Philippines he discovered his passport was out of date.

He’s an engaging storyteller and by the end of ten minutes probably everyone is convinced that it really was a miracle he had his passport renewed the next morning within an hour of lining up at the passport office – particularly if you were hearing with the ears of those living in the bureaucratic jungle of a developing country!

But a miracle? Have we got to the stage that when a clerk goes into emergency mode to help someone who has made an honest mistake, it is a miracle?

I don’t buy it. But the congregation seem to. They want to be rescued. They are looking for miracles. But we’ll come to that later.

He makes some good points as he begins to unravel the text. The need to invest in people, to be a blessing to others, to leave a legacy.

But then we get to the title of his sermon: ‘The Secret to Getting Whatever You Want’.
It’s his take on that verse in the reading: ‘Whatever you ask in my name I will give to you.’

The legacy the preacher wants to leave his children is to have more than he has. If he drives one car, he wants his children to drive three cars! Following Jesus, ‘living a godly life’, delivers ‘whatever you want’!

Behold, the economic miracle!

It’s just the ‘good news’ the people want to hear. And they’ve heard it from a pro. There’s a score of people kneeling out the front at the end of the service, praying they will live a godly life and get whatever they want.

I’m angry and not really looking forward to conversation over coffee afterwards, but a friendly man I had talked with before the service approaches me. He is a graduate of the University of the Philippines and practices commercial law. He is on the Church Board and we had had a warm conversation.

I can tell he thinks the sermon was wonderful – ‘just what we need to get us moving’, he offers. ‘We Filipinos are shy, you know, reticent, we tend to be followers, leave it to someone else to take a lead… So what did you make of it?’

Now I am a guest here. I want to show respect, but not at the expense of my integrity. So being as general as possible to leave room for conversation, if he wanted, I said I thought consumerism is one of the great problems we face and the preacher did nothing to address it.

‘Oh, the business of the cars was just a metaphor for the blessing of God.’

I didn’t want to take it any further with my host. This is a people usurped by “development” – NGO and overseas government handouts, pathetic paybacks by big mining companies in return for ripping the country to pieces and displacing its peoples from their ancestral lands. It’s like rape for a piece of candy – a simile not far from the truth from what we heard of the life story of a prostitute we met later on in a refuge for street-workers established by the Churches of Christ in the Philippines. “Development” has mesmerised the people and sapped them of their spirit just as surely as the colonialism of the past; in fact, my impression is that  the country continues to suffer from the exploitation of colonialism, but under other names and guises. Our visiting preacher is continuing the tradition. He brings hope of a miracle to those who have had little or nothing.

I would not want to deny faith in Jesus and hope of his justice to anyone, particularly if Jesus is about all you’ve got. But this is a holey gospel that is an abuse of the vulnerability of a damaged people.

What I observed in that church that morning was a culture of underlying Christian guilt – guilt that the church was not prospering even though they were trying to fire themselves up with an overseas preacher – guilt that needed to be expunged by saying the right pious words, accompanied by spiritual whipping to ‘win others to Christ’ (that theology which thinks all the world’s problems will be solved if everyone becomes a Christian – which comes to a sticking point when you discover Muslims who have a theology that all the world’s problems will be solved if everyone becomes a Muslim!). Add a good dose of Christian consumer therapy, ‘getting what you want’, piously rationalised by selective use of Scripture, and the congregation glows with purpose.

It’s a winning mix for Christian self-centredness, a disconnect with the world other than that of the Christian chorus-singing club; without any reference, totally oblivious and disconnected, to the exploitation of others outside their holy world. And in the process they have been exploited and the truth of the gospel has been exploited.

Everyone gets a payoff. The preacher gets his ego massage. The congregation has a job to do and a reward to reap.


How sad!
How small!
How pathetic!


Indonesia developing strategies to confront radicalisation

Prof. Muljani A. Nurhadi, MEd., MS., Ed.D, representing the Ministry of Religious Affairs, thanking international contributors to the symposium The Strategic Role of Religious Education in the Development of a Culture of Peace.
From left: Prof  Shahram Akbarzadeh, Dep. Director Asia Institute, University of Melbourne, Geoff Boyce, Chaplain Flinders University of South Australia,  Prof Des Cahill, Prof Intercultural Studies, RMIT, Melbourne (obscured),  Prof Moner Bajunaid, Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, Taufiq bin Raja Nurul Bahri, Rajaratman School of International Studies, Singapore, Rev Dr Ananias Iita, University of Namibia.

I have just returned from Indonesia, contributing to an international symposium The Strategic Role of Religious Education in the Development of a Culture of Peace at the invitation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Centre for Research and Development of Religious Education and Religion of the Republic of Indonesia. I was invited to share my experiences of developing a culture of peace at Flinders University in the face of dominance by a hardline Christian group. My paper was entitled Welcoming the Stranger – Radical Hospitality as The Core Value of Peace-Building in an Age of Pluralism. (

About 30 papers were presented, from academic researchers and experienced practitioners. This was achieved by dividing the symposium participants into three streams – Peaceful Society, Radicalism and Education. Feedback from the discussions in each of these groups was gathered into a statement of conclusions and recommendations, which will become more widely available soon. One likely outcome is that the contributors to the symposium may be invited to form the foundations of a research network, with an international journal providing a means of networking and communication. It is likely a follow-up symposium will be held again next year to continue the conversation.

The underlying motivation of the symposium was concern about Islamic radicalisation, particularly among young people. I came away from the symposium impressed by a sense of urgency and determination among the organisers to find ways and means to address the challenges of religious radicalisation through education and to create a research base to inform leadership and support the ongoing development of strategy and policy development. The youthful, enthusiastic composition of the symposium organising committee bodes well for a strong Indonesian contribution to the international conversation within this domain in the future.

I returned home wondering what we were doing nationally about multiple religious perspectives and radicalization in Australia, and who might strategise and sponsor a parallel forum directed toward establishing foundations for a cohesive approach to supporting religious literacy and inter-religious harmony in Australia?


The Tidy-Men are at it again!

If you follow my blog you will have got an inkling how the ‘heavies’ at Trinity Church in Wall St (the big brother in the two church parish with St Paul’s at Ground Zero) tried to shut down the the opening of St Paul’s to the Rescue Services immediately after 9/11; and got rid of the young minister who encouraged it. They ‘wanted our church back’ – meaning the sanitised, neat and tidy, regular Sunday by Sunday piety.

Well, can a leopard change its spots?

Episcopal clergy convicted after N.Y. “Occupy” demonstration

New York (ENInews)–A retired Episcopal bishop and a priest from the Episcopal Diocese of New York were among seven people convicted on 18 June on charges of trespassing on property owned by Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, during a 17 December Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstration. George Packard, former Episcopal bishop suffragan for armed services and federal ministries, and the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, were sentenced to four days of community service. They had faced up to 90 days in prison on the most serious charge, according to Packard’s lawyer, Gideon Oliver, Episcopal News Service reports. [576 words, ENI-12-0354]


Living with Difference (for Christians)

A short video illustrating how we think about ourselves influences how we live with others who are different.

Chaplaincy Spirituality Uncategorized University Vision


Rather than telling students to study for exams, we should be telling them to study for learning and understanding.

If there is one student attitude that most all faculty bemoan, it is instrumentalism. This is the view that you go to college to get a degree to get a job to make money to be happy. Similarly, you take this course to meet this requirement, and you do coursework and read the material to pass the course to graduate to get the degree. Everything is a means to an end. Nothing is an end in itself. There is no higher purpose.

When we tell students to study for the exam or, more to the point, to study so that they can do well on the exam, we powerfully reinforce that way of thinking. While faculty consistently complain about instrumentalism, our behavior and the entire system encourages and facilitates it.

Yesterday I had a conversation with PhD student in Creative Writing. She asked what “Spiritual Counselling”meant – it’s written on the outside-facing window of Oasis along with other descriptors of what may happen in Oasis.

Beneath her question was a longing for her work to be understood beyond the technical domain. She had suffered much abuse in her childhood and is writing about her transformation toward wholeness. But who is prepared to really ‘listen’ to her, to give her space to explore the spiritual dimensions of her work? No-one, it seems.

I thought Kylie, our Pagan chaplain might be a good person to be her spiritual listener. I introduced them and invited her to join the chaplains for our lunch together next week, to affirm her yearning for spiritual insight and to join a community who value her journey and will support her in it.

The ‘instrumentalism’ embedded in the university goes much deeper than study and exams. It pervades every aspect of university life.




Questions to promote discussion at a chaplaincy round table

I have agreed to facilitate a Round Table at the Global Conference of Tertiary Chaplains in Boston in June. Radical Hospitality is one of the four themes of the conference, so here is what I’m proposing. I’d appreciate your help in sharpening up the questions, which are meant to promote discussion.

Radical Hospitality as the Core Value of Chaplaincy in an Age of Pluralism


The legend of the life of St Martin of Tours defines the underlying values of chaplaincy, in particular, unconditional hospitality. Nouwen’s conception of hospitality as ‘making space’ overlays a powerful image on this myth.

The practice of hospitality is found within the traditions of most, if not all, indigenous cultures and world religions and is therefore a common value for multifaith chaplaincy – a response to the pluralist context.

Radical hospitality is becoming increasingly countercultural and prophetic as universities adopt a consumer-business model.

1. What are our experiences of the transformative dynamic of hospitality that convince us of its centrality to the practice of chaplaincy?

2. What barriers have we experienced to its flourishing?

3. If radical hospitality is unconditional, what issues have you experienced among sponsors or other stakeholders, who may have conditional expectations of chaplaincy?

4. What protections are at the disposal of the host, while still making hospitable space for the guest?