The Agape Dilemma #1

(One of a series of quotations in many languages, displayed in frames, in the porch of St Hedwig’s Cathedral, near Alexanderplatz in Eastern Berlin)

I have been arguing that Christians need to retire the word ‘love’. It has passed its used-by-date.  A quick check of any dictionary will attest that ‘love’ has been reduced to a feeling.

Eros we know. Filia we know. But agape, the selfless, unconditional care of the other, …?

I have argued in my book that the ‘second commandment’, to love one’s neighbour as one’s self, has contributed to this degradation of meaning.

When you think about it, the ‘second commandment’ or ‘Golden Rule’, as it is widely known, is actually self-interested. To recover the Biblical intention of agape-love requires Christians to love their neighbour as they (the neighbour) would want to be loved.

This turns everything on its head.

Such ‘love’ is impossible without knowing one’s neighbour and, in the broadest sense, their culture. That means adopting a disposition of habitually wanting to understand the  other.

That is what ‘radical hospitality’ is all about – putting on hold one’s own agendas to allow the other the space for theirs.

Radical hospitality is the opposite of ‘telling’ – imposing oneself on the other, so in-ground in Christian consciousness – evangelisation and preaching.

Radical hospitality is unlikely from a ‘needy’ person, who inevitably seeks self-affirmation through every human encounter. It requires a certain confidence in one’s own value as a person, a deep understanding that their value is intrinsic, ultimately not determined by external circumstances or threatened by strangeness.

From a Christian perspective, that is the essence of the ‘Good News’ – that we are already, without pre-conditions, accepted and loved. That was what Jesus demonstrated. Practising this, moment by moment, frees us from the tyranny of fear, to be ourselves; we don’t have to prove anything. It is a discipline. It is a practice. It has to be learnt. It becomes a lifestyle.

I am in Berlin. Yesterday I wandered around the centre. There is no end to the monuments of self-giving that are honoured by the German people.


I paused at the Neue Wache, the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship”. It is a large, severely grey, circular room covered by an open dome. There is only one permanent object in the centre of the space –  Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture Mother with her Dead Son. 

Kollwitz was married to a doctor who cared for the poor in Berlin. She came to admire them, and found beauty in them; so they became the subjects of her art. During the Nazi period, her work was condemned, not supporting the images of the myth of the superiority of the Aryan (German) race.

In and around the ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ museum many moving stories are recounted of spontaneous acts of self-sacrifice, on both sides of the Wall, acts of bravery and conscience that portray radical hospitality enacted in the face of grave danger. Many without second thought for oneself. Enough stories to restore one’s confidence, that in the face of human hubris, ignorance and greed, there is still a voice of hope.


(In front of the Berlin Cathedral (Dom))

What’s Happening #3

  1. Going electric.








2. Buy On-line


(Placed in a Shopping Centre!)

3. Donate/buy/travel from your phone. (no need for all those cards in your bulging wallet when they can all be on your iPhone or Apple Watch!)

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(On a shop window: Tap your bank card and it will take two quid.)

4. Empty the garbage.


(Vacuuming the bins on Hampstead Heath.)

5. Hire, rather than own.


(iPhone for an Uber (cab), iPhone for a bike, iPhone for a car you pick up in your vicinity to drive where you want,….)

6. iPhone your order and pick up from the Organic store, local church… all local produce!


What’s Happening #2, WeWork


Life is not all sunshine and light for younger creative people who have chosen not to take the seemingly easier path of employment – ‘getting a job’ in an established organisation – often choosing a trade-off between becoming cogs in a larger machine, with its seeming security of work and pay, and a risky freedom to pursue their own dreams. Not to say many don’t find satisfaction in being part of a larger enterprise, understanding they are contributing their own part to a bigger vision. But change is afoot.

Education and a higher standard of living have created frustration with the industrial paradigm, where those with the capital have been able to call the shots and utilise the working masses for their own profit-making ends. Many educated younger people are wanting to follow their own aspirations. They want to make their own contribution, not someone else’s. They are  choosing a path that values quality over quantity, creativity over the mundane, responsibility over obligation, and trust over micro-management.

If Celine is representative of many individual younger creatives who are done with big companies, WeWork might be representative of how she finds community.

All over London old buildings are being refurbished to create collaborative workspaces for this new generation. But not just bland office space. To buy into a space one buys into a lifestyle and a cultural aesthetic. Hundreds of autonomous individuals or project groups live synergistically in a setting that maximises networking and collaboration. It’s an exciting place to get on with ‘doing your dreams’. No wonder the saying, ‘Thank God it’s Monday!’


Our son, Nick, has just gone into business on his own. He rents a desk at WeWork London Fields for 300 pounds a month.

This is a large multi-story old building. On the ground floor there is Reception – the receptionist sits inside a renovated old Renault van. Book yourself in at the iPad nearby and the person you want gets a text message to say you are downstairs.


The rest of the ground floor, separated from the WeWork reception, is a cavernous restaurant.

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It leads to outside seating. But also in the same space there are some ‘pop up’ stores, a wine shop (presumably to wine and dine clients) and a Podcast studio.


The upper floors contain a number of different kinds of spaces for people to work and meet, and even soundproof booths for important phone calls. There is an open kitchen anyone can use. Free craft beer and good coffee are provided. Everything a Creative needs is provided – including super fast internet!


24/7 Building Access.               Global Network.                                Craft on Draft


Business-Class Printers.          Micro-Roasted Coffee.                      Office Supplies


Bike Storage                               Private Phone Booths.                      Mail & Package Handling

There are three full-time cleaners in the building and the management are always providing inspirational seminars, workshops and support.

Buying into WeWork puts Nick in touch with the WeWork network, whether he needs a logo designed, graphic work done, a film made or collaborators on a project. It also means he runs into other creatives as he goes about his work – sources of inspiration and possibilities.

I am told that WeWork are now the second largest property holders, after the government, in London. This represents a huge shift in the way work is being undertaken. It seems to confirm Frederic Laloux’s proposition that a new organisational paradigm – soulful organisation – is emerging.

What’s Happening #1


Celine is having a mid-morning breakfast, a boiled egg and coffee, sitting at a narrow table outside a little coffee shop in North-East London. She is catching up on a few phone calls before heading off to work.

It is a beautiful day. I ask if she would mind me joining her, while son Nick and Sandy go inside to order coffees.

We get chatting. I can’t pick her accent, but discover later that she is French. She is a shoe designer for an Italian niche fashion shoe company. She is wearing one of her designs, Primury, white leather, crossing boundaries of formal and informal, typifying the aesthetic of this generation of younger entrepreneurs.

She has worked for one of the bigger shoe brands but her tone of voice tells me that she has disdain for them.  I suspect that, like many of this generation, her expectations of creativity and work have not been satisfied in that environment. Here she is, mid-morning and free to determine her own work schedule, while enjoying the aesthetic lifestyle that feeds her inner life.

She asks me about myself. She doesn’t understand the concept of chaplaincy. I explain that while chaplaincy has religious roots, for me it is about nurturing those inner qualities that are life-giving.

Our conversation turns to the topic of trust. Clearly she has experienced a breach of trust  from the shoe company she used to work for. She tells me that she was brought up Catholic, but has rejected the Church with its instillment of guilt and fear.

I think she typifies the movement of younger generations, not only away from the church but from the world of institutional work. I am excited to find this move toward spiritual freedom.  There is a spontaneous valuing of the spiritual for its own sake, but without conscious calculation, free from the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ that institutions are good at instilling, yet responsible and seemingly open to others.

She is interested in the themes of my new book and makes a note of its title. I am interested in looking at her work. It’s the kind of interchange that also seems to characterise this dynamic new paradigm.

Sad Little Circles

Today I got wind of what I think is a very sad story. I see it akin to one of those Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse stories. Sad because it is a story of ignorance and control in a church where one would expect enlightenment and grace.

I recall a conversation I had with my Rabbi friend some years ago. She had volunteered to be part of a multi-faith team invited to a regional city as part of Project Abraham. This was an ecumenical initiative to encourage respect between Jews, Christians and Muslims, seeking to promote inter-religious understanding and respect following the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City – remembered as 9/11.

We were having a coffee together the week after she returned from this visit. She told me how amazed she was that the young people they engaged with in schools were totally ignorant of the Bible. They appeared never to have heard about Noah or Moses; and Jesus was simply a swear word. She is American. So I suppose I was not totally surprised at how stunned she was that Australia, having its roots in a Christian past, had been so careless in its disregard for the sources of its moral heritage.

The problem we have, illustrated in the story I am about to share, is not that we have lost religion. It is that where we have religion, it is often uninformed. It is no wonder that young firebrands declare themselves qualified to be leaders, whether they be upstart, untrained Muslim clerics or so-called Christian (Youth) pastors who seem to claim they have all the answers. It has ever been so. But, as we are beginning to discover, our modern society ignores its ramifications at its peril – and at huge cost.

Here is a largish Uniting Church whose youth leaders have signed a covenant. It commits them to uphold a narrow view, including a rejection of homosexuality. And it claims to be ‘biblical’!

In days gone by, my first response would be to demonstrate that any number of the propositions put forward in the ‘covenant’ are actually ‘unbiblical’, particularly when lined up against the values displayed by Jesus and by his emphasis on love of God and neighbour, and his passion for inclusion of the marginalised.

But I now think there is a more fundamental dynamic at play.

I am informed by the missiologist, Paul Hiebert, who wrote a paper on a thorny issue facing Christian missionaries. Could an uneducated peasant, who couldn’t read the Bible or pass a catechism test, ever become a Christian? Reaching to a missiologist might seem a far stretch, but bear with me.

In my soon to be launched book on Radical Hospitality, I quote large sections of Hiebert’s paper as an appendix to make some points about exclusion and inclusion. Ironically, inclusion-exclusion is exactly what is at the heart of this ‘covenant’ approach. Culturally control and protecting religious purity are attained in one hit. It is classic Phariseism.

The untidy scribble below, an outcome of a coffee discussion with friends about organisational management, draws on Hiebert’s set theory modelling, applied to a discussion about ‘New Wave’ organisation.

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The circle on the left, with its list of ‘rules’, represents the ‘covenant’ approach, whether it be churches or other institutional or business regulations.  To enter the circle, there is a recruitment process and then an agreement to the demands of the culture inside the circle. You are either in or out. And if you break the rules inside, you are thrown out. The line of the circle and the rigid demands it protects keeps those who won’t play the inside game, out; and those who submit to them, in.

BTW, this was never the picture I get of Jesus as one reads the Gospels.

The mess on the right of the scribble represents an alternative model. Obviously we had quite a conversation about it! There is a centre. Our belonging in an organisation depends on our direction with respect to the centre. The nature of the centre itself is not necessarily settled. The centre itself is also dynamic, itself moving in a direction determined by the centre’s vision and values, carrying along those who belong by their relational connection to the centre.

Enlightened organisations support this second ‘centred’ model. It is a model that builds responsibility and releases freedom for creativity. It is risky (Jesus called this ‘faith’). Commitment to the vision and values of the centre relativises ‘rules’. ‘Purity’ becomes irrelevant. Change is inherent. Re-evaluation, both about the centre itself and its vision and values, is continuous.

Those who, for whatever reason, join the inside group in the closed circle will one day feel de-personalised. It is a sad outcome that their own spirit will become a spirit of conformity. Their human potential is captured in a bubble that is not interested in what lies outside its own interest. It is ultimately selfish.

Those who take the experimental risk of commitment to a vision and values centre that is moving into the unknown will know they are alive!

What a pity any institutional church with an intent on religious purity, or any business intent on protecting its brand, promotes an ‘in-out’ protectionist consciousness. Coping with present realities of pluralism for social inclusion becomes near impossible.

Perhaps the most exciting thing for me that came out of our coffee conversation was the suggestion: what if there are multiple centres heading in the same direction? I think that is worth further conversation.


Book Taking Off!

What a fascinating process, this business of writing a book. Certainly takes one out of circulation while you are working to a deadline.

I have the opportunity of a launch at the Conference of European University Chaplains in Dublin at the beginning of June. That meant a launch in Adelaide before Sandy and I head off. So this launch will be at the Duke of Brunswick Hotel, Gilbert St, City at 3 for 3.30 on the afternoon of Saturday May 26.

Front Cover copy

Anyway, today we finished a fairly intense month or so as we head for the finish line. I’m celebrating it being off to the printer so that the process of making it available globally through on-line booksellers can begin.

You can order a print copy here:

An eBook will soon follow.

Many thanks to the many who have encouraged, cajoled, proofread, made suggestions…and particular to my editor Paul Foord for the layout and negotiating all the technicalities of getting to print; and my son Nick for laying out the covers.

The surprising thing for me has been that throwing myself into burning the candle at both ends to get there has actually been invigorating, smashing my image of retirement as a gentler period of life. Not that the ability to find the right word for the elusive thought is anything but a slow Thesaurus operation! Or it is not a fight to keep at bay  the temptation of sleeping every afternoon!

But this morning I pressed the final button for to go to print.


I hope you enjoy it!

The Impact of a Dream



My friend Robert Muller sent a link to The Now Tribe, which I pass on. It shows what can be done when a couple of social entrepreneurs put their mind to achieving a dream – 230,000 jobs created over ten years, impacting a million people in rural India.

Women on Wings’ founders Ellen Tacoma and Maria van der Heijden built a network of likeminded business professionals in the Netherlands and India that work consistently on realizing the dream of creating one million jobs for women in rural India.

230,000 families out of poverty
In ten years, Women on Wings has co-created 230,000 extra jobs for women in rural India, in partnership with 35 Indian social enterprises. That means for 230,000 families an escape from the cycle of poverty – directly impacting over one million people in rural India.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, banker to the poor and founder of Grameen Bank, is the key ambassador of social business. Yunus aims to build an eco-system to support the growth of these new kinds of businesses. Yunus’ belief: “We need to transform this greed based civilization into one based on real human values. We can do it, if only we want to.”

For me, this achievement demonstrates the success of a new way of doing things that matter for humanity, congruent with Frederik Laloux’s emerging fifth paradigm of organisation.

The challenge for churches, corporates and governments is to adapt to empower such new ways of thinking and going about their roles for the the good of humanity.

For the churches this will mean not just accepting religious and cultural pluralism in principle, but to boldly cross sectarian lines to network and work together across historically deeply divisive lines of exclusion, for the benefit of all.