Age of Angst, Age of Redemption

•March 17, 2019 • Comments Off on Age of Angst, Age of Redemption

The rain, the rain.  It comes down relentless more than 12 hours since late last night.  I watch the runoff cascade down our road towards Willoughby Falls only 40 metres from here.  It’s dark with a greyness that has been building for a week.  Yet the real darkness we deal with is the slaughter of 50 people, Muslims at prayer on Friday, and many injuries in Christchurch, New Zealand by a 28 year-old Australian. 

The massacre is so shocking.  It is fuelled by a white extremist online community that the man has been drinking from for not so many years. Waleed Aly understands the issue best of all commentators yet, and Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, is an example to us all in her immediate compassion and identification with those who have been so brutally affected by the loss or injury of their loved ones. 

I have been in tears reading and listening to the accounts, and the commentary of the wise.  They say rightly that every attempt to polarise our people for political purposes will result in such consequences, however long it takes after the seeds are sown.

The online world is as much destructive as helpful.  It breeds a new kind of showmanship in terror and with the way this white man has gone about his killing, there now exists a new model of how to inflict as much damage as possible on “soft targets,” the least suspecting people, indiscriminate as to age and circumstance.  As if this is somehow heroic, when it is the utmost cowardice.  Rather than self directed it is a surrender of one’s soul to the torments of the architect of evil.  We can only expect more of this because of the kind of political leadership that many in the West are allowing.

I think of the pale grey behaviour of Australian politicians – Abbott and Dutton in their macho pragmatism.  Ironically that also seems to motivate the Christian PM, Scott Morrison: the willingness to use the old tropes of “divide and conquer.”  But at the forefront of this delusion of power through violence is the president of the U.S.  When, Lord, will this rot be stopped – or is this another instance of the descent into lawlessness that the Apostle Paul warned of in his second letter to the church in Thessalonica?  It seems so. History is replete with examples of this. 

We know that Rome was destroyed because its effete rulers did not imagine that barbarism could arise against their civilisation.  Such hubris.  And when it did, they blamed Christians for the decline of their Empire – because Christians were not like them, politically pragmatic, violent and tyrannical in their use of power.  Augustine challenged this self-deceiving narrative by writing his “City of God” manifesto.  Christianity he demonstrated was not the cause of the disintegration of the 1000 year republic.  Christianity was not understood or even attempted among the rulers of the doomed Empire. Which is exactly the case today in the West, and admitted in Australia by some of its recent Prime Ministers. 

Barbarism is rising again now, and the modern barbarian hordes create virtual communities.  Rather than restraining their baser feelings towards others they give louder and wider reach to them by venting in vile words leading to horrendous deeds among their members.  This applies to every brand of terrorist.  Strangely, they all claim a divine imprimatur for their debased hatred of others.  Some, Allah.  One apologist for the self -appointed executioner in Christchurch, an Australian Senator, Fraser Anning, quoted the Gospel of Matthew!  Nonetheless, it is a spiritual issue, and for people driven by secular liberalism in which there is only a vestigial category for the spiritual, its leaders now embody the hubris and delusional narrative of the Roman elites.  Selfish ambition rules in the public arena.  I see much misjudgement in what secular leaders project as the issues we are dealing with. Witness the plethora of Democratic candidates for U.S. president and none with a narrative that captures and unites the hearts of their people.  Self promotion and powerlessness to reverse social division: It doesn’t have to be this way. 

Taking their cue from Jesus, his Apostles warn that when love in most people grows cold we can know that Jesus is at the door.  His return will mean carnage, only a glimpse of which we get in the awful destruction of empires throughout human history.  But at his return the destruction will be global as God the maker and re-creator of all things ploughs under mortality, and remakes the world eternal.  According to all the prophets and Jesus, the Almighty will mete out judgment for our behaviour towards one another across all nations and bring to an end mortality.  Some will rise with Jesus for doing what is best for others while waiting for Him.  The self-interested-violent will suffer his judgment, a fact they seem to rage against all their mortal lives as they use and abuse others.  There is no category but mostly mockery for this understanding of final judgement in liberalism.

It’s with Christian certainty I say that Waleed Aly is right to point the finger back to the politicians who use ethnic division as a political strategy.  Leadership licenses behaviour.  But which will it be?  Who will steward their mouth and their impulses like Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is doing?  Who will promote what is best for the least powerful? 

Lord, you know.  You know the people you have for the times in which we live to lead rightly and to do good.  But help us to encourage communities of faith to see through the smog of hatred and division, and regain the vision of You the reconciler uniting all people and all created things to yourself.  You paid the ultimate price for it – not just in your death but in being branded with the sins of the world as the reason for your execution.  What foolishness of evil that we would  try to destroy the eternal and the one true Son of Man, Son of God!  That you are alive in your humanity forevermore, upends everything we think is normal.

Help us to respond to Your merciful exoneration for our individual and corporate evil.  Help us stand firm in the face of barbarism, and the effete forces that allow it to spread.  Help us to trust you for the time when you return, and continue to find ways to welcome and protect the vulnerable, the strangers, the refugees, the orphans and the widows of our world.  Amen. 



A Rough & Tumble Ride

•June 19, 2016 • Comments Off on A Rough & Tumble Ride

Last night I completed The Riders – a book I galloped through, (oh dear, cliche and pun at once) because it is a thriller moving at such a pace – but it deeply disturbed me with the inner workings of the character Scully.  The novel traces his ever maddening desperation to recover his lost love – a wife who fails to arrive into a new life in Ireland that she had requested as a move from Fremantle in Western Australia.  When Scully had completed a renovation of an ancient cottage in the Irish hills, the woman sent his 6 year old daughter to him alone – no explanation – so we travel to Athens and a Greek island, Paris and Amsterdam looking for his wife, while Scully sinks into the lowest behaviour of his life, and his daughter victim to it.

I hated the journey this time – yet couldn’t but admire his prose. The depths of Scully’s disintegration infuriated me for the sake of his daughter – yet I couldn’t help wanting to know if he’d find his errant wife somewhere.  It was a needle in a haystack odyssey with a surprising result. And his dependence on recapturing the apparently lost relationship nearly destroys him and his daughter. In that, the book is utterly credible.

His daughter Billie was the voice of sanity, the long suffering Christ carrier in the journey – her face literally marred by the adventure – her head ravaged by a German Shepherd in Greece – a crown of thorns she wore, with minimal medical attention, as Scully indulged the demons in his heart. So I empathised with the child all along the route, while hating his drunkenness, his rat cunning and his surrender to a dark self indulgence, that I have known only too well from both sides, as a boy, as a youth and in pastoral ministry!  The neglect of Billie’s welfare is iconic of the fierce concentration on the fortunes of the self.

Winton has created a profile of Australian male character that rings loud and true. One of the reviewers quoted in the fly leaf said that too. I add that he plumbed the depths of an unhinged Aussie manhood.

As with other stories Winton has a redemptive angel in this story – a true depiction of Jesus in a character, in this case a child – an almost 7 year old – a lone upholder of sanity and virtue when all around is surrender to despair. In Scully’s final drunken self abandonment the seven year old upholds him, takes control of purse and travel documents – even advocates for him when in police custody. The same awareness of Jesus is true in Cloud Street and That Eye the Sky.  It becomes far more subtle in his later books: Dirt Music, Breath, and Eyrie. I struggle to identify the presence of Jesus as a character in those stories – yet those stories too are redemptive in outcome.

It seems Winton was about 31 when The Riders was published in 1994 – an astonishing maturity for someone so young.  It is utterly humbling.  Finally to say – Winton’s ability to depict the essence of a city or place is staggeringly accurate – and seems to arise from his attention to the details of his own place. The characterisation of places in the 1990s, rural Ireland, Athens, Paris and Amsterdam seems objective, not ethnocentric with him, upending cultural hubris like an Isaiah or Jeremiah of the Old Testament.  What a feast of a novel that I so disliked in the rush and tumble of its plot and trajectory!

Lead Us Through This Crisis

•May 5, 2014 • Comments Off on Lead Us Through This Crisis

This tragedy of deficit of leadership needs our prayers and our active support of those willing to lead through the crisis.


Nigeria, where I was born, is in crisis. In the space of a few weeks, 200+ secondary (high) girls have been kidnapped and abducted from a school in the northeast of the country (by men dressed as soldiers) and this unprecedented horror has been sandwiched by two bombs in Abuja the capital, which have killed almost 100 people between them. Untold others have been injured. The nation is under seige, the government appears not to know how to respond, and people are grieving, frightened, and angry.

The radical Muslim fundamentalist group, Boko Haram – who also were behind the bombs – has just come forward to claim responsibility for girls’ abduction. Some of the girls managed to escape in the days following which is how we know of how this terrible event unfolded. Read more here:

And check out the names of those still missing here:  They are…

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“Noah” – obscuring the the golden thread

•April 24, 2014 • Comments Off on “Noah” – obscuring the the golden thread

Yesterday I completed a three week project of writing a bible study on Genesis 1-11, and the reward I gave myself for completing it was to see “Noah.” The interest was natural enough! I had been forewarned by general criticism that the movie was, in part, a response to climate change and our treatment of the planet. An exploration of an old, old story for light on our current dilemma. But this did not jump out at me.  (Spoiler alert – this review exposes most of the movie)

Although I found it a well-crafted movie with strong acting from the four leads, it leaves me grieving. It has ever been thus from the very beginning of my Christian journey in 1975. The grief is about such a sad depiction of the human/God relationship.

God is depicted as the inscrutable God of existential Jesuits in old Japan, or at least as I then read about them in a novel. He is the always out-of-sight far off authoritarian who never communicates personally with the missionary – just leaves him to agonize his way through a cross-cultural life’s challenges, including martyrdom.

Noah, the person, has that kind of “where are you God?” agonized relationship, and it never improves. His help from God is indirect – through his great, great, great grandfather, Methuselah, a kind of Star Wars, “Yoda” figure here. And then of course there are “the watchers,” a little like the Ents in Peter Jackson’s the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Only, these are angels who came to guard over Adam and Eve after their fall but now forced to live in makeshift rock bodies as a punishment of God for their disobedience.

For some it will seem ludicrous, but the watcher legend is there in old writings to unpack. The script enlists these creatures to help Noah and his family especially in the building and safeguarding of the ark.

Noah, the man, is also a depiction of religious fundamentalism – bending the tragedy of the judgment of God over a whole planet to mean that he and his family deserve to die too, but after obediently saving the animals. Thus, he determines they will die! So just as he built an ark to save the animals, he will see to the end of the human line, because, he reckons that he and his family can only bring more disaster upon the planet. Noah believes mightily that this is in fact God’s plan, affronted, as Noah is, by unnameable evils that we see slip by us very quickly in the city of Cain’s progeny, Tubal Cain.

Noah plans to kill girl children at birth and let the boys die, as they will eventually, without progeny. This is the plot line that creates the drama on the ark, and the climax of the movie. It also interprets Noah’s Biblically reported drunkenness as a coping mechanism after such a long period of stressful adventure/misadventure, involving his family, and the stowaway violent relative, Tubal Cain.

So, if you come from that place of experiencing the personal compassion of Christ in real times in real places, you might be observing that it’s a twisted plot line, very dramatic and attuned to Hollywood success, one that owes much of its story to Jewish midrash and the Targum.

Now, there is nothing wrong with going in that direction – the filmmaker being Jewish has every right to give an interpretation of that event far back in human history. The Hebrew Bible by contrast provides very terse and simple lines to note its place in the unfolding of human redemption. It is very hard to build a Hollywood script from that alone.

But, for “Noah” to unfold in this way, it misses, as it must, the golden thread that unifies Hebrew/Christian scripture – a thread that upends the sense of Creator as distant, ethereal and tyrannical God, but rather weaves us into his compassionate and personal redemption of mankind, his concern for people like Noah that prefer good to evil, but are indeed trapped by evil. And this redemption begins with the promise of a child king, born of a woman, at the fall.

Hebrew and Greek scriptures lead us unwaveringly to the child, Jesus of Nazareth, who grows up to be crucified then resurrected as the rightful Lord over heavens and earth (a Hebrew merism for “universe”). When understood in its physical actuality, His resurrection changes our view of where life is found.

This source represents God who communicates person to person through his Spirit, a Spirit that has been to hell and back, deeply immersed in the affairs and fortunes of mankind throughout history, and amazingly, you and me.

So there is a cultural cringe at work in this movie to take the story line off into what Christians will universally identify as a fatally flawed representation of Christ, the Creator.

And that is why I find it sad that for the next decade or two, this over-large blockbuster interpretation will inform western culture about Noah, without linking it any way to the promised redeemer of mankind that came through Noah’s son, Shem. Rather there is a tired Hollywood fall back – a lone hero’s choice between the love of his family, and the violence of Cain.

Near the end of the movie, the drunken Noah hates himself for preferring love, until he comes to his senses and experiences a pulse of rainbow rings, like cigar rings, from the sky above. Are they the distant God’s affirmation of his choice to be fruitful and multiply? We are left to decide.


Boston’s North Shore Business Expo 2013 – a flourishing economy

•April 3, 2013 • Comments Off on Boston’s North Shore Business Expo 2013 – a flourishing economy

Boston’s North Shore Chamber of Commerce attracted a record number of local businesses, large and small to its annual showcase – the North Shore Business Expo on March 5, 2013.

The mood of the local business representatives was strikingly positive and is captured in the video below.

Reflection from an Aussie Expat on the Blizzard of 2013

•February 11, 2013 • Comments Off on Reflection from an Aussie Expat on the Blizzard of 2013

Youtube and First Amendment Rights

•January 8, 2013 • 2 Comments

I received the following email from Youtube this morning.  Before reading, here’s the context: it’s about a trailer for a short documentary of an historic church celebrating its 200th anniversary in February 2009.  The request I made to Youtube to monetize it – was made early in 2012 – after at least 8 months, they have clearly agonized about it and come back with this! —-

<Dear Christopher Gilbert,

Thanks for submitting your video “Park Street Church – Bicentennial movie trailer” ( for monetization. We did not approve this video for monetization because the content in your video and/or the metadata may not be advertiser-friendly.

Please note that YouTube reserves the right to make the final decision whether to monetize a video, and we may disable monetization for partners who repeatedly submit ineligible videos.

As next steps, please read our Community Guidelines before enabling another video for monetization.


The YouTube Team>

May or may not be advertiser friendly?  Really!  A trailer on an historic center city Boston church, that points to the short documentary that has been for 3 years a Freedom Trail experience?   Thoughts on an appropriate response to the keepers of the Youtube gate?