Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jesus original intention for his followers.

What did Jesus mean when he said, "Upon this rock I will build my Ekklesia?" This came up in Matthew 16 verse 18 when Jesus was speaking to Peter, after Peter is the first of the disciples to openly declare Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Do we automatically know what Jesus meant, or is it worth revisiting this again? The first mistake would be to simply assume we know what he meant based upon modern translations of the Bible. Modern translations all seem to translate the work Ekklesia as Church. Older translations into English such as Tyndale and others of the 16th century did not do so.

But what does the word Ekklesia actually mean? When Jesus uttered the word in this context it was radical. In fact, so many of the things that Jesus said were completely radical the first time he said them. That is why he had so many enemies and was crucified. Remember, he completely upset the religious sensibilities of established institutional Judaism.

Here are a few places that I have looked at to seek a definition:

1) A straight definition of the Greek word the way it had been used up until Jesus' time can be found in Wikipedia. Ecclesia (from ancient Athens).
In Ancient Athens, the Ekklesia was a political assembly in any one city that made decisions for that particular city. All citizens were welcome to be a part of the Ekklesia. When Jesus uttered the word Ekklesia, this is the definition that his disciples would have heard. Another definition did not exist at the time.
Could Jesus have had a political definition in mind when he uttered this word? Well good exegesis demands we consider Jesus' views on politics from elsewhere in the gospels. Jesus says in John 18:36 that "His kingdom is not of this world" and that his followers would fight to defend it, if it were. Pilate rightly goes on to say "so you are a king then?" to which Jesus agrees.
I would argue that Jesus did have a political definition in mind when he said the word Ekklesia. The distinction that needs to be made though is that he was not saying his Kingdom was of this world, so neither should his Ekklesia be.

How could the word Ekklesia be translated as it had been understood by Greeks and Romans before the first century AD? If it is to have some political meaning, then this needs to be considered. It carries the idea of a council, a body of representatives, a legislature, a parliament, senate or congress. This "council" is to be the representative of God's Kingdom here in this earth. This does not mean making earthly political decisions as such. It does mean however, making decisions to transform this world through acts of love into God's Kingdom.

Consider the place that early believers had in the Roman Empire. They were expected to worship the Emperor as all people were. The Emperor set himself up as a god and demanded worship. Early Christian believers refused to worship the Emperor, and said "we have a different King". What is more they also had a different Ekklesia, the assembly of believers that endeavoured to see Jesus' Kingdom established on earth. It is no wonder that Rome was threatened by this concept and executed early Christians. I count myself among these believers. I know that in today's world if the Ekklesia of Jesus was truly impacting society in a big way, that it would be a threat to the established political system of the day, a threat that would undoubtedly result in persecution and execution of Christians once again.

In my mind, this is something of what Jesus meant when he said would establish his Council Assembly, starting with his first follower Peter.

2) It is worth taking a look directly at the Greek scriptures. This is not hard to do these days. The NET bible on Bible.org makes the Greek text available.  (A note here for dissenters- the Greek text has been deduced from the over 25,000 original manuscripts available. The fact that there is some variation in these texts is not alarming, as a process of Triangulation can be used to come up with the original words.)
Read the Greek text. To actually read the Greek you will have to click on the Grk/Heb tab at the top of the right hand column. You can click on the word ἐκκλησίαν and come up with a definition.
The definition speaks of "a gathering of citizens" or "an assembly of people gathered". The definition then goes on to speak of what the word means "in a Christian sense". That is, the word Ekklesia did add meaning from it's original Athenian political sense. But this is added meaning that came over the next couple of centuries.

So, I will readily admit that Ekklesia also means "a gathering or assembly of Christians".  But that is the definition of the word as it appears in Acts or in Paul's letters, but not as it appears when Jesus first says it in Matthew 16:18.

3)  A well researched article entitled "The translation of the Greek word 'Ekklesia' as 'church' in the English Bible and its ramifications", further discusses the definition of the word.
The article makes the point that there is no sense in scripture of a universal hierarchical church. Indeed the word Ekklesia is always used in a local context. Even in Revelation, Jesus addresses seven separate Ekklesia groups, but not one mass Ekklesia. This article argues that it is a mistake to translate the word Ekklesia as church, and that assembly or congregation are better suited.

Conclusion: Jesus was interested in establishing his Kingdom on earth, a new order. To do this he wanted to see Local Council Assemblies of believers be his representatives through out the earth. He always intended to remain the King in charge of all of these assemblies, never to have an intermediate person in charge. These Local Assemblies are of course places of worship, but if they never consider how to transform the world around them, then they are not fulfilling their purpose. Therefore the Council part of the definition needs to be worked out in practical Christian love.

I have argued strongly against the word church before. Again, I am not even suggesting a replacement. It is equally possible for us to behave as the representatives of King Jesus in local gatherings without having to put a label on anything. Often when we start to use labels, we begin to shape them into our own human religion and depart from Jesus' original intention. Let's be about doing Jesus' Kingdom.

Ekklesia in my own life

I've been enjoying reading some posts on Jim Wright's blog recently. One post that really blessed me was "Finding Ekklesia"  and another was "Organic Dead Ends". The thing I really like about Jim's writing is that he is completely honest. He gives the reader permission to be who Jesus wants us to be. His writing is the shot in the arm that I have needed.
A few weeks ago I was feeling all depressed and guilty about "not going to church" after having spent two months in church services while back in Canada. I feel some of this guilt lifting after reading Jim's posts. Why? Well because the posts are about simply living as an authentic Christian. Jim describes this as simply reproducing the life that Jesus has put in us.
In Jim's post "Finding Ekklesia" he warns against people seeking others for the purpose of sharing their hurts from the institutional church. Rather he encourages people to seek genuine fellowship by simply being hospitable. That is either inviting people for meals to your own home or visiting people in their homes. In the midst of this it is possible to share the life that Jesus gives us with one another. From this genuine Ekklesia should develop.
The great thing is that is exactly what my wife and I are already doing. The thing is, most of the time we are actually doing this with non-believers. Of course we are sharing the life of Jesus in us with them. We are hopeful that in time life will reproduce in these friends of ours. It has changed my perspective a little. I have been brought up with the attitude that if I don't have enough fellowship with Christians that I will find myself in trouble. But in time, I am sure these friends will be a huge blessing. We already find our time with them an encouragement often anyway. It will just be special to hear the things they have to teach us as they hear the Holy Spirit talking to them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An honest plea for open discussion about dropping the word "church".

I remember some years back some people visited the city we were living in at the time, which was Novosibirsk. They were traveling from church to church, proclaiming that denominations are not in God's will. This particular premise has a lot of validity. However, I found their methods wanting. There was one man in their group who was from an indigenous Siberian people, so we were keen to get know him a little more. As this man, and another from his group sat in our living room, we spoke of the the Body of Christ and true fellowship. But we were disappointed to find they did not have time to hang around for long and pray with us, because they had to hurry off to another church meeting and tell people why they were wrong. I remember back to this time, and how badly they shared their message and how so few listened to them. They did not have the spirit of fellowship in them. I really don't want to be like this as I try to convey the message that is on my heart.

I am hoping to again bring up discussion surrounding the use of the word "church". There are a few prominent bloggers and authors who have taken the time to explain or defend their use of the word church. What I write here is not meant to be an attack, rather a plea that this become a topic for discussion. I would like to approach this topic from my professional background as a linguist, taking into account issues of semantics and translation.

My argument goes deeper here though, I want to see believers dropping the use of the word church. I think the word itself is a sacred cow to so many of us, and we are afraid to stop using it.

So many modern protestants would prefer that the word "church" would mean a gathering of God's people, or the Body of Christ, or other metaphors that scripture uses. But sadly, every time the word is used for that definition, a qualification needs to be added, "Church isn't really the building, it's the people you know." But even as modern Christians, we so often speak of "going to church", "the church roof needs repairing", "the altar is at the front of the church" or similar phrases. We betray the desired definition by the constant use of the other definition.

Neil Cole mentioned that he considered the word church to have been corrupted and abused. This is not actually the case. A look at the history of the word will show otherwise. The word "church" comes from the Greek word Kyriakon. It is the same word that is also translated Kirche in German or Tserkov in Russian. In the time of Constantine, believers were moved from the home into the temple. Constantine built basilicas, and banned people gathering in their homes to worship God. They were to gather in these public buildings to worship God. These buildings were named after apostles. As the Roman Empire institutionalised Christianity people began to call these basilicas Kyriakon doma, or the "house of the Lord." Sound familiar? Later on the phrase was shortened to simply be Kyriakon, the possessive "Lord's". The concept of this basilica and Kyriakon became synonymous. But this was never even a concept or a word that appeared in scripture. So the word in scripture has not been abused, but sure enough God's people have been. [1]

Over the centuries the word itself dictated definition to God's people. To be God's people they must meet in the Lord's house. It was not possible to truly worship God other than in this context. It began to shape people's understanding of what it meant to be the people of God. The Institution took over in people's understanding. The real fluid, organic nature of God's people was lost. There were always underground movements through out history, be they monks in the desert fleeing institution or Waldensians in Italy getting killed for their "heretical" faith in the 12th and 13th centuries. [2]

William Tyndale was a famous reformer, who tackled this controversial issue head on. Tyndale translated the New Testament into English after being inspired by Martin Luther who had been translating the Bible into German. When Tyndale came to translate, he was not reading the word Kyriakon in the Bible, he was reading the word Ekklesia. He accurately decided that the word was best translated "congregation." Tyndale came up with other controversial translations such as "elder" instead of "priest", "repent" instead of "do penance", "love" instead of "charity." These translations got Tyndale in a lot of trouble, ultimately getting him burned at the stake for his efforts. [3] 

Tyndale saw fit to translate Ekklesia faithfully. The established church however had been using a word based on the Greek Kyriakon. Tyndale's translation was an affront to the institution. To stop using the word church today in some ways carries similar risks, but likely not resulting in execution.

Can the word "church" really have two definitions? Some would like to say it means "a gathering of God's people", but in reality any survey of the English speaking population would show that it actually means "a religious building." Words influence how we behave. This word has had a massive effect on how we behave as believers, dragging us away from an honest expression of the priesthood of all believers into a religious temple form of worship. An attempt to redefine the word will not yield results, because the majority of the English speaking world will continue to use the word "church" the way it always has been.

I wonder just how the Spirit of God would lead us if we were no longer bound by a label, such as "church"? I am not even proposing we come up with a new word. I say let's just drop the word, be the Body of Christ and see where the Holy Spirit leads us. This is kind of like walking a tight rope with no net beneath us, but if we fall, we just might fly.


Neil Cole took the time to answer my initial comments on his blog on August 17th, when he had blogged on the topic of "Is Bigger Really Better, the Statistics actually say No!"  You can read my comments and his responses there.
Alan Knox wrote a post, "How others use the word Church, according to Google." He also took the time to answer my initial comments.
I would like to continue this discussion, but have chosen to not put a string of comments on their blogs, but open it up to wider discussion (if anybody ever bothers to read my blog. :)  )

Sunday, September 09, 2012

New AFL Draw proposal

The structure of the Australian Football League fixture has been a mess for years now. Many of the clubs complain that the fixture needs to be more fair. The AFL how ever constantly ignores these requests because they want to stage the block buster games more often in a season. The AFL would prefer to have clubs such as Collingwood and Essendon play each other twice every season, or both Perth teams etc.

In 2012, amid controversy Adelaide received a very easy draw which saw them play Greater Western Sydney (new club), Gold Coast (new club) and Port Adelaide (greatly under performed) twice. This east draw saw them finish in second place at the end of the home and away season. Adelaide went on to lose easily to Sydney even as they hosted a home final.

The finals draw for 2012 has seen a potential top six being capable of winning the Grand Final, but realistically only the top four have a chance of winning. After the first two games of week one of the finals, it became clear that Hawthorn and Sydney will mostly likely contest the Grand Final. The following six games before the Grand Final are almost meaningless.

The AFL are scared that they will not deliver to the tv networks the highest ratings for the $1.253 billion contract that was drawn up in 2011.

I have a solution that will deliver both fairness and even more blockbuster games.

1) During rounds 1-17 all 18 clubs will play each other just once. This will be done on a purely home and away system. If Sydney were to play Collingwood at the SCG in 2014, then they would play at the MCG in 2015, and then alternate every year. If Collingwood had 9 home games in 2014, then they would have 8 home games in 2015.
This is the only fair format with the current number of clubs, unless a conference system is put in place, which has other draw backs. The team at the top at the end of round 17 would be the minor premier.

2) After round 17 the finals would start. All top 8 teams would play each other once. The finals series would have a new ladder. The points from the first 17 rounds would not count. Home games would be played on rank from the first 17 rounds.

3) After the 7 week finals series the teams would have a new ranking of 1-8. From this the top four would go through to direct knock out semi finals, followed by a Grand Final.

This new system would not involve less blockbuster games. In fact there would be four blockbuster games every week for the duration of the finals series. The finals series would remain competitive to the very end as all top eight teams battled to earn their place in the semi finals.

Under this system every game would count for the entire season.

The ten teams that did not make the finals could play an 'International Cup' exhibition series. The ten teams could be split into two groups. Group A would play each other once (four games per club) in a European Pool. Group B would play each other once in a North American Pool. There would be a final in each group with the winners playing a Grand Final in either London or New York (to be rotated each year).

Sunday, September 02, 2012

I am a baby Christian learning to take my first steps

I made the decision to stop going to church in July 2011. It was a decision that was a long time coming. I have long known about the priesthood of all believers and long known this is God's plan for the body of Christ.

So leaving church was not a sudden decision nor was it not deeply considered. Back in 2007-08 my family was blessed to be part of a home church when we decided to step out in faith following reading "Organic Church" by Neil Cole. This wasn't even the first time I had been involved in something close to the priesthood of all believers. Back in the early to mid 90s I was part of a church that made its way from a traditional "sitting in rows and pastor led church" towards an "open church" where all were encouraged to share, prophesy and lead in worship and teaching.

The decision in 2011 followed after reading "Pagan Christianity" by George Barna and Frank Viola. (Yes, I did read Reimagining Church and found it to say nothing new than I already knew from previous experience and reading.) There were many good points made in this book about the development of the church from Constantinian times. I had also long been aware of the massive changes that happened during the fourth century, but never to the extent that the book pointed out. I no longer needed any convincing. 

If I was to be a part of the solution instead of the problem I needed to be a part of something new. This meant I would have to go through a period of "detoxification" from many of the things in the church that had polluted my faith. At times this past year has been very good, and at times very hard. On the positive side, I noticed that I made friends with a lot more people who were not Christians. At the same time I did not judge them, I did not plot how I would invite them to church. I spoke to them of Jesus out of an overflow of my faith. I know this has had many positive effects on people, leading them towards Jesus. But on the downside, there would be times of feeling guilty for not going to church.

This guilt passed with time. It is quite ridiculous that I had subconsciously picked up the belief in my life that to be a good Christian you have to go to church. This is fraught with so many problems and is at the root of human religion. As I realised that there must be something else to being a Christian I began to go back to the gospels, and began to see Jesus in a very different light. I began to notice that Jesus is very forgiving. In fact, he forgives without provocation. 

The biggest story that wedged a splinter in my mind is the story of the woman caught in adultery. This woman had just been caught, she hadn't even the time to repent. Yet as Jesus exposed the hypocrisy and sin of the pharisees as none could throw the first stone, he tells the woman "no one condemns you, nor do I, now go away and sin no more."  Jesus does not ask the woman if she repents before he is willing to forgive her sin. (He hasn't even died on the cross yet.) He forgives her first! He then asks her to repent as an act of response to her forgiveness. This is not in keeping with evangelical doctrine, and so I have realised neither am I.

Forgiveness is a massive part of Jesus' purpose. When he heals the paralytic he is more concerned that he be forgiven than physically healed, "so that you may know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you take up your mat and walk." Jesus teaches in some hard hitting parables that if we do not forgive, we are fried. I'm not much of a fan of hell, but I can not avoid that Jesus teaches about it. But it is not in reference to punishment for sins that he so much speaks of hell, but rather that people who do not forgive will lose the Father's forgiveness. This seems so backwards, but I believe it is a massive part of the gospel that we have misunderstood. There is NO option to not forgive. We endanger our very salvation by not forgiving. Yet at the same time Jesus is handing out salvation as quickly and as generously as he can to who ever will receive it. This challenges me in ways that have often been glossed over in my past church going life, where there is much unforgiveness.

Let's go straight for the most obvious of all stories Jesus taught when it comes to heaven and hell. Many church going evangelicals will love to put this one in the too hard basket. It's the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus does not let us off the hook. If we ignore those in need around us, we are ignoring Jesus, we are unloving (perhaps unforgiving of someone for offending our prejudices), and yes we set ourselves up for hell fire. Surely my idea of Jesus forgiving everyone is a universalist sounding idea? No, I am not a universalist. I do believe Jesus hands out forgiveness much more easily than any Christian or any church on the planet. But we humans have an awful knack of throwing it back in Jesus's face and saying "no thanks, I think I will hold on to my comforts, my prejudices, my unforgiveness and I will go it my own way." People reject salvation, far more than missing out on seeing it.

I have been praying for the last couple years that Jesus would help me to love the weak and the poor. I am such a novice at this. I have began to really take a notice of the poor people in our city, of the street people and the beggars. Jesus tells us to give to everyone who asks of us without expecting anything in return, and as a rule I really try to do this. Only recently my wife and I found ourselves holding the hand of an old lady we know from the street as she died of gangrene behind some rubbish bins on the wet concrete. The Lord's graciousness in this situation speaks such volumes. He provided a person to tell us that she was dying, he provided an old arm chair that someone had thrown out so we could lift her on to it, he provided a caring doctor in the ambulance who did not reject a street bum. It is staggering for us to realise that our friend Marina was most likely destined to die alone in the cold, rain and garbage, but that the Lord loved her enough to make sure that this would not happen. I read to her from Psalm 23 and Revelation 21. As I was walking on the way to those garbage bins with another street lady, the Lord spoke to me and reminded me "what ever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." I knew that I would offer her forgiveness of sins. Melody and I were at her side, Marina was quite unresponsive as she died from toxins in her system. But the Lord blessed us as we saw Marina nod a couple of times in response to Melody. I prayed for Marina, "Marina, Jesus forgives you of your sins, Jesus is waiting for you." No matter your belief on sin and forgiveness it is hard to argue that Jesus did anything else in the gospels. Of course I do not know Marina's heart. But I also know it would have been her choice to reject this forgiveness that was freely given to her. We saw this woman open up to us slowly over the last couple years, shedding tears as my wife and I hugged her many months ago and declared our love for her.

It is only in taking these baby steps that I am beginning to learn what actually being a Christian means. This feels like the beginning of the journey of my faith, that my entire life up to this point has been embryonic. I am still very weak and hopeless in being able to truly love the way Jesus does.

So back to this dreaded church thing. Why do I feel so guilty about not going to church? Recently we went to Canada for two months, to see family and supporters of our work. We went to church every Sunday for two months. I didn't have the heart to tell people I wanted to skip services. I didn't want to offend them. I figured, how could going to church for a couple months hurt? But I fell into my stupid little subconscious lie that I was pleasing God by going to church services, that I was performing some kind of holy religious ritual. And surely all the people in these church services are good people who love God, so it can't be that bad? But after doing this for two months, and getting my religious reward in God's eyes for attending his holy temple, I suddenly feel like a heathen again for not going to church. It feels like a year of progress in my detox has gone down the drain.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Part 5: What is the definition of an Empire?

The simple answer to this question is: when one country exerts its will over another country and extends its borders or kingdom.
The very first example of an empire in history (that is widely accepted and known) is the Akkadian Empire. The Akkadian Empire was founded by Sargon sometime in the late 24th century b.c. It was an empire that included both the Akkadian and Sumerian cultures. The Sumerian culture is a very famous one, but this post is not about that. There of course have been many other famous empires throughout history, many of them feature prominently in the Bible. Off the top of my head these empires include: Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Alexandrian Greece and Rome.
There is a very common thread all ancient empires hold in common. The king or emperor considered his culture and empire to be the greatest in the world. His intention was very clear- he wanted to take over all nations of the world and subdue them to himself. These emperors even bestowed upon themselves god status, they believed they were descended from the gods, they believed they were gods themselves.
That emperors believed they were gods and that people should worship them is no secret. The pharaohs  of Egypt were famous for such behaviour. Nebuchadnezzar, in the time of the Jewish exile to Babylon also carried on such behaviour. He built a big statue of himself and insisted that all people worship the statue.
A god like complex is not the only thing that is problematic or sinful about an empire. The simple fact of exerting one's will over another is obviously sinful. We know this to be true on an individual level. The same is true on a cultural level. For one culture or nation to exert its will over another culture is sinful. To force another culture to take up language and customs is abusive. This has also been a very common thread among the practices of empires.
It would be a worth while topic of research to look into ancient empires and see how they violated God's precepts. There are many examples in the old testament of this. Quite often we know that God considers their practices to be quite evil. He often waits to judge an empire when its "sin has reached its full measure". God's judgement over the Egyptian empire can be seen in the time of the Exodus. God sends clear warning to Nebuchadnezzar as the emperor of Babylon. (Many seem to forget that Nebuchadnezzar actually listened to God in the end).

In following posts I would like to look at how these threads also existed in the Roman empire and how pivotal that was in early Christianity. I would also like to look at how the concept of empire is still very alive in todays world, and still affects nearly everything we do in society including the very practices of church.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Part 4: What will happen to the nations?

Individualism is a pervasive world view that now exists in the west. It affects how everything is played out, especially attitudes towards the gospel. I won't go into depths on individualism now- I will leave that to experts like Mark Sayers.

Unfortunately this means that people often only read the bible looking for ways that the individual can be saved. This approach neglects the fact that people best come to God in the context of their community, culture and nation. This approach also means that many western readers neglect to realise that the bible is so full of the theme of nations.

One of my bug bears is the western pre-occupation with an eschatology that has Jesus returning really soon to rescue them from an uncomfortable society that is not as cosy and puritan as it once was. This is a very selfish approach that does not acknowledge the thousands of nations around the world yet to understand the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was not plagued by individualism. He saw it as his role to bring the truth and gospel to all of Israel, to the "lost sheep of Israel." It is true that his method was to focus on the small, not on the big. Jesus preferred to spend his time discipling a smaller group of people than preaching to the masses- as much as he had compassion on the masses. But even as Jesus was discipling his core group of men and women, he was doing this in the midst of community, one of the building blocks of an ethnic nation. Jesus avoided individualism.

Jesus spoke to his disciples of the end of time. But Jesus chose to deflect this error and focus his attention on the importance of the nations. He explained that the gospel he had been teaching them needed to go to all the nations of the world.
This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14).
This was not just a nice idea, but a necessity for the end to come. This is so often ignored by western individualism, a world view that is so self focused it ignores the wider world.

Some even try to argue that it is therefore only necessary to preach the gospel to all nations, and that when all have simply heard, this is then good enough and Jesus can return. Wrong. Aside from this being unloving, there are other scriptures that underline God's purposes are far deeper. 
Jesus tells his disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." It is clear that preaching is not enough, making disciples of all nations is the goal. Doing this takes patience and a lot of time.  (Matthew 28:19)

That is not the end though, nor the only evidence that Jesus cares about the nations. We can take a flash forward to the end of the age in Revelation. Multitudes are worshiping before the throne of the Most High God. There are so many there that no one could even count them. 
They are singing: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the lamb. (Revelation 7:10).  But don't forget to notice who is there as they are worshiping God. A multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language. That's people from everywhere, all nations. This underlines that it is God's desire that his plan of salvation is for nations, not just individuals. and that all nations need to be in heaven, not just in small numbers, but in a multitude.

Following the posts:
It should now be clear what a nation is, and how significant they are to God in his eternal plan of salvation. In following posts I would like to take a look at what empires are, how they differ from nations and are not part of God's plan, how there is only one good empire and how the Kingdom of God fits into the concept of nations and empires.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Part 3: What is the definition of a nation?

What is a nation?

This is an anthropological question as well as a political one. Every society has building blocks. In many places around the world this is the extended family. In some places, it is a nuclear family (although this is an exception historically and geographically). Still in other places the extended family is quite large and better referred to as a clan. A tribe is best understood as clans living in close proximity to one another with interaction. There is some blurring between the clan and the tribe. There is also an unclear distinction between tribe and nation. Each of these designations are best understood on a spectrum.

Many of the world's earliest cities started to appear as early as 9,000 years ago. Archaeologists now view some of the earliest as large villages rather than cities. The earliest were Jericho (modern day Palestine) and Catal Huyuk (in modern day Turkey). These "cities" had populations of up to 6,000 people, but they did not have the social structure to make them cities. The earliest cities that all archeologists seem to agree on are Uruk and Ur, both in ancient Sumeria. Their history can also be traced back earlier, but they reached "city status" by around 3000 b.c or 5000 b.p.

The city is an important element in the question of what a nation is. The city was the next stage in political development after the tribal village system. It was in the city that early nations consolidated their identity. Each city was independent from the next. One thing that can be certain from scripture is that God took notice of cities. A prime example is Nineveh, of whom God said "how can they not be important to me? 120,000 people live there."

In the broad sense of the word a nation is an ethnic group that shares a language, culture and geographical location. There are plenty of varying debates about when a nation is defined distinctly from another, if any of these criteria change. I wrote an article a few years back about the birth of the modern Australian nation, and the seeds of the gospel within the nation. This serves to show that new nations can be born, and that the Australian nation does differ from its roots. I would definitely differentiate between the modern Australian nation, and the some 200 Aboriginal nations that existed before 1788.

In the earliest historical sense, when individual cities rose up, they were often separate nations from other cities around them. This was not always the case, sometime a nation had more than one, in the case of Ur and Uruk, but most nations did not have multiple cities. Each nation has its own distinct identity and is entitled to it as such. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Part 2: Nations in the Bible

This idea that "the nations" are important to God is not some fleeting idea in the Bible. It laces every story, every context, and is intertwined throughout the entire epic. It is simply because as westerners we are individualistic that we miss this emphasis. We make the perilous mistake of thinking that God's story is only about salvation, and then we reduce that to individual salvation.
One of my favourite verses in the Bible, I think sums up very well the purposes that are in the heart of God. Habakkuk is complaining to God about the violence and injustice surrounding Israel. The Lord responds that he can use any nation for his glory, even the Babylonians.
The Lord goes on to explain to Habakkuk that in a future time all will be clear:

This vision is for a future time, 
it describes the end and it will be fulfilled, 
if it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. 
It will not be delayed. 
What sorrow awaits you who build cities with money gained through murder and corruption! 
Has not the LORD of Heaven's armies promised that the wealth of nations will turn to ashes? 
They work so hard but all in vain! 
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
(Habakkuk 2)

God is very interested in the behaviour of nations. The Lord wants to see his world transformed in every way to bring glory to him. He desires people every where to worship him and to display their love for God and for people through righteous and just living. It is glorifying to God when the nations live in the way that he desires.

It is not enough for individuals to simply live righteously. People exist in families, clans, tribes, communities and nations. These social structures must be transformed by the gospel. It is when this happens that God is glorified.

God's heart for nations is the very reason that God decided to use a nation as part of his plan. He spoke to Abraham and told him that he would be come a great nation that would bless all nations. Sadly, this plan is not fully revealed in the old testament. We see a hint of this during the time of Solomon. During Solomon's reign, his wisdom and fame spread to other nations of the world. Kings and Queens from around the world came to him. It is clear to see that God wanted this to work better than it did. Nevertheless, there is still an example here. The Queen of Sheba came up to Israel during Solomon's reign. She took Judaism back to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian people became believers of the old covenant. These facts can be verified by studying Ethiopian history and archaeology.

The story did not stop with the Queen of Sheba for the Ethiopians. Later on, in the story of Acts, Philip shares the completion of the gospel with an Ethiopian Eunuch. The Eunuch already understood the old covenant. Philip explained to the Eunuch who Jesus was from Isaiah. The Eunuch became a believer in the New Covenant and went back to Ethiopia to explain the rest of the story to them. This is probably the best example in history of a "Jewish" people becoming Christian en masse.

There are so many examples in the old testament that speak about the nations. I will not try to quote them all. Many of them can be found in the prophets, because it was something that God was trying to teach his people.

If we are to obedient to our Lord, then we should of course pay attention to Jesus' words to his disciples before he ascended into heaven:
All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
(Matthew 28).

If we are to understand these words of Jesus, we need to pay attention to what he said. He asks us to make disciples. Disciples are followers of Jesus. But pay attention, he doesn't speak just of individuals, but of nations too. They are very important to Jesus. I consider it to be an interesting and vital note at this point that Jesus did not ask his followers to start churches or to build temples, he asked them to make more followers and to teach them to obey Jesus' commands. Again, in Jesus' commands there is nothing about planting churches, building churches or establishing a priestly temple system.  (But, that is probably for another post.)

There is a parallel in Jesus' words, from the very first command that God gave in Genesis. God told people to "go out into all the world and multiply". This is exactly the same principle that Jesus applied to his disciples- "go out into all the world and multiply followers of me and of all nations." There is an eternal godly principle here of multiplication to the point of filling the earth with God's glory. And I believe that God deserves nothing less than the earth being full of his glory.

If you take anything away from this post, I hope it is that the nations have always been a massive part of God revealing his glory in the earth, and that he will get his desire, but is very patient in doing so.

More in part 3 about how to define a nation, and whether every nation has a part to play in God's eternal glory.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Series: Empire, the Kingdom of God and Nations- a biblical and political perspective. Part 1: Nations in the Bible

This is the first post in a series on the topics of Empire, Kingdom of God and Nations. I would like to have a look at each of these topics from both a biblical and political perspective. The goal is to better understand what God thinks about these topics and how we should live out following Jesus in this context.

A good place to start this series is probably at the beginning of the chronological biblical story. The first of these concepts that arises in scripture is that of a nation. It is easy to read a word without considering the full meaning, the mistake being to interpret nation as a political nation state. This is surely one of the definitions of nation, but not the first one we come across in scripture.

The tower of Babel becomes the starting point for the discussion. I won't go into this stories dating in history- that is perilously hard to do. One thing is certain from this story though- this is where the nations rebelled against God. The people rose up with pride in their hearts, "Hey, we should build a really great city, it will have a huge tower as its centrepiece, that will reach even up into the heavens, we will become famous and powerful. God will not be able to send us out across the world like he wants us to do, because in our great power we will do what we want." God sees their rebellion and says, "anything that they want to do will be accomplished, their pride must be ended." God decides to confuse their common lingua franca, and the people are stuck with their tribal dialects. They give up on their plans of world domination, and set out to live separately from one another, just as God intended when he said "go into all the world and multiply."

This is the story in the Bible where the nations are scattered. It is not exactly the story where the nations are born. There is a clear outline of the birth of the nations in Genesis 10. What ever date you place the tower of Babel, the nations were already coming into view before the tower. Each section of descent in Genesis 10 concludes with, "these were the descendants, identified by clan, language, territory and national identity."  "All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood."

A linguistic world view that allows for multilingualism allows for each of these clans to have their own language at the same time as a common language existed. Many a time people have viewed this story and concluded that it was a curse from God to create multiple languages. This is simply not true, the various languages had already developed. God confused the common language, not as a curse, but as a means of grace, so that they would fulfil his plans and multiply to fill the earth. 

This alternative view, that God acted in grace at Babel, allows us to see that the nations are a good thing in God's sight. This altered world view is further confirmed in the story of Abraham in Genesis 12. (Some time into the distant future after Babel.) God promises Abraham that he will become a great nation and that "all nations on earth will be blessed through you." God had a positive plan for all of the nations. He chose to make a nation out of Abraham.

The nations become a recurring theme of scripture from the tower of Babel, through the old testament, the new testament and up to revelation. They are dear to God's heart and a big part of his plan of salvation.

More to follow in future posts about How to Define a Nation, How to Define an Empire, What does the Bible have to say about Empires?, Are there still Empires in the world today?, What is the Kingdom of God and how does it relate to Empires and Nations?, Discipleship movements that change nations.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How the spirits were born and rebelled

On the fourth day of creation, the Lord God created the sun, moon and stars. The sun to have authority over the day, the moon to have authority over the night and the stars to give light on the earth, to send God's messages.
After the Lord God had created the stars they began to dance and sing and worship him as he completed the rest of creation, the sea creatures, the birds, the animals, insects and then finally people. The people were made in God's image.
A little while later after God had finished his creation, one of the stars who was very beautiful said to himself, "I am very, very beautiful, all of the stars worship God, but if I was to sit higher than God, then they would worship me. After all I am very, very beautiful and they should worship me." This star, called the Son of the Morning was filled with pride in his heart, he set himself up against God, so the Lord God cast Son of the Morning Star out of heaven.
Son of the Morning fell down to earth and took on the form of a snake. The snake went to the garden that God had made for the man and the woman, the garden of Eden, in the east. There the snake tempted the woman named Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The woman listened to the snake's deception, she ate the fruit, and so did her husband Adam. The Lord God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, so that they would not be trapped in evil for ever. The snake slithered away.
Later, after Cain had killed his brother Abel, Adam and Eve had more children. Some of these children decided to worship the Lord God and some did not. Many generations later there was a man named Enoch. Enoch worshiped the Lord God and walked closely with God. When Enoch was 365, God took him up in to heaven.
In the days of Enoch, Son of the Morning Star had another plan to try to destroy God's creation. The Star decided he wanted to take a daughter of man, to be his wife. This was something God had forbidden the stars to do. Their job was to send God's messages to earth and to worship the creator. Son of the Morning Star thought about his plan, he knew he would make God very angry. Instead of doing this by himself, he decided he would convince some other stars to do this with him.
Son of the Morning Star took on the form of a dragon. The dragon flew up to heaven to convince the stars of his plan. When he arrived, the Lord God sent his archangel Michael to war against the dragon. Michael, also a star won this war in heaven on behalf of God. But before the war was finished the dragon had convinced one third of the stars to carry out his evil plan with him. The dragon took his long tail and swept a third of the stars out of the sky. The dragon set out on his plan to torment the nations.
The stars fell down to earth. They took on the form of man this time. These rebellious stars, now looking like men took women for themselves as wives. They had children by these women. These children were known as the Nephilim, they became very powerful. These powerful Nephilim were giants, they were also the gods and legends of the nations around the world. The fallen stars taught the Nephilim magic, and in turn the Nephilim taught the people of earth magic and many other evil things. The people of earth became very, very evil. They were evil all of the time, and no longer worshiped God as their ancestors had.
The Lord God became very said that the earth had become such an evil place. He needed to put a stop to the terrible situation that had happened in his world.

References for this story:
Genesis chapters 1-6; Job 38; Isaiah 14; Revelation 12.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Grace versus punishment

Many people like to reverse engineer their theology. They have an end goal or belief and then go back through the bible finding proof texts to back up their supposition. I think there is a danger in this though, that we will not hear the full message of what God is wanting to say to us.

I am beginning to understand the early stories of Genesis on a deeper level. I have now told the early Genesis stories so many times they are teaching me things I didn't see before. I see so much more grace than people give God credit for.

I honestly think we ourselves as humans have turned God into an ogre. The story of Adam and Eve in the garden is a perfect example of this. It irritates me how a lot of evangelicals think there is only one point to this story, which is to point out humanity's sin, and then move on to the solution. To me, this is rushing through the story far too much.

The point that jumped out at me recently was that of pain. When God turns to speak to Eve after speaking to the snake and to Adam, he tells her she will now have great pain in child birth. A misinterpretation would see this as a punishment from God. It is not punishment, but grace. If we were to live our entire lives with evil, but without pain, then it would be so easy for us to ignore God and our need for him. It is often only when we have pain we are reminded to think of our desperate need for God.

C.S Lewis rightly analysed the situation when he called pain "God's megaphone to a deaf world." In the midst of pain God calls out to us to come back to him to find the solution. The Genesis story is full of grace.

When God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden it is also often seen as a punishment. But God clearly says he is sending them out of the garden so they will not eat from the tree of life. God does not want them to live for ever with the disease of evil affecting their lives. God sends them from the garden to protect them not to punish them.

I am not saying there is no punishment for sin. If there were no punishment, there would be no need for redemption. But God's primary purpose is not punishment either. If God's primary purpose were punishment there would be no need for redemption either. God could simply choose to punish everyone and the job would be finished.

Grace compels God a thousand times more than punishment does. God knows punishment is an ultimate requirement, but he actually delays it as long as possible, and finds as many ways to avoid it as possible. Punishment is necessary, but Grace moves God to find a way to over rise punishment.

The story of Cain and Abel shows this again. Today I told this story to an Evenka. This friend of ours said:  "previously, you told me God is good, but now I am convinced. God could easily have killed Cain for murdering Abel, but he did not." God says to Cain, "anyone who kills you, I will punish 7 times more." God's concern was still to protect Cain. His punishment was he would have to wander the earth (as a nomad). Again this seemed like a rather gracious act to our nomadic Evenka friend.

Earlier in the story of Cain, God warns Cain, "I will happily receive you if you do what is right, but if you do not, be careful, because sin is at the door waiting to control you, but you must be the master over sin." God was wanting to teach Cain how to deal with the problem of sin. God's concern right at the beginning of the biblical story is to teach us and lead us out of sin. It would have served no purpose for God to simply punish Cain by killing him, how would he, how would we learn to avoid sin?

A careful examination of the text will reveal the word 'sin' first appears in the story of Cain. That is, the word does not appear in the story of the garden. This does not mean sin did not already exist, but rather that sin is not the entire point of the earlier story. Adam and Eve found out evil exists, but they did not find out how evil, evil really is. Sin only became obvious at a later date. They were like juveniles God chose to teach about sin and consequences.

I guess I am calling into question the concept of "original sin". Yes, the act of eating the fruit in the garden was disobedience, and therefore the first sin committed by people. But no, I do not think it means we automatically inherit sin. We are aware of the existence of evil, but we still need to choose to go out and sin. Mind you, I am not saying anyone actually avoids sin. It is like a virus, the instance of temptation presents itself to every human being, and we all give in. If temptation is the virus, we all get infected. The only antidote is Jesus.

The Calvinist doctrine of total depravity also greatly irritates me, and I can not see a biblical basis for it. Total depravity says people are not capable of doing any good. People are not capable of being good enough to enter God's glory, but this does not mean people can not do any good at all. After all, we did gain a knowledge of both good and evil. But to say people are not capable of doing any good is to say God's creation is a complete failure. He created us to do good, and this is why he chooses to redeem us. He chooses to work through us, as broken vessels.

I'm waiting for the stone throwing to start. To clarify for those who are freaking out right now, I want to say, yes- all do sin, and all are in need of God's redemption. Yes, sin does require punishment, and ultimately this does happen. But the point of balance is that God's first motivation is grace, not punishment. The second point of balance is that his creation is good, and we are his creation. We are good, but marred by sin, therefore also evil.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Church de-tox, re-tox and a parable from Jesus to settle the score: parable of the fig tree

I have a confession to make. I am guilty in my life time of putting pressure on people to make a decision as to whether they will believe in Jesus or not. I confess this because I realise it is wrong to put pressure on anyone. In every opportunity I have to share the gospel, I should do so with gentleness and respect.

One of Jesus' parables really helped me to think today. It goes something like this.

There was a man who had a vineyard. There was a fig tree growing in his vineyard. The owner went to the fig tree to look for fruit. He was quite unimpressed when the tree bore no fruit. In fact the tree had been growing for three years, so he was very unimpressed that he had waited so long for fruit. 

The owner told his gardener- 
"Look, I've been waiting three years now for this tree to produce some fruit. It's just a waste of space. Cut the thing down."
The gardener implored the vineyard owner-
"Hey boss, just give me one more year. I'm gonna give extra special care to this tree. I'll get extra manure and dig the soil over and over. Within a year I really hope it will be producing fruit. But, if it doesn't, then fair enough cut the thing down and use the land for something else."

I have some various thoughts swirling around in my head. Most of them have to do with the way evangelicalism shares the gospel with people. The extreme example that presses my buttons is when person A presents the "four spiritual laws" to person B and then hands down an ultimatum- "if you get hit by a bus today will you go to heaven?" 
I have a problem with the ultimatum approach. The are a few reasons for this. For one, I am not the judge of a person's soul. So to say to some body "imagine if you died" is actually a macabre, fearful and unloving thing to say to a person. On the other hand, God is the judge of a person's soul. Only God knows when a person will die. Only the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and righteousness, not me, not any other person. Having said all this, there may be a time when a direct word is needed to challenge some one, but I think the above parable gives us a clue how this should happen.

I have a friend that I have been sharing Jesus with for about 8 months now. This friend is quite open to what I have been saying and sharing. My wife and I have shared many stories about Jesus with him and he has always had something interesting to say, and it is clear that he is thinking things through. Later, this same friend began to pray with us "thank you Lord for bringing these friends to me, thank you for giving me faith." In another conversation this same friend said, "you should come to my village with me and tell people there about Jesus." This friend of mine is moving closer to Jesus. I am not one who cares to draw the line as to when some one is in and when they are out. I just know that moving closer to Jesus is the most important thing. I also know that the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and righteousness and not me. I also know that baptism is a great step of commitment to following Jesus- a covenant to say, "I will not live a life of sin." 

A dilemma came the other day. Another friend of mine met with the one who is coming closer to Jesus. My believing friend decided to issue an ultimatum. "What would happen if you were dead and standing before God." 
My friend answered, "well, I'd be pretty surprised!" I kind of think it was a good answer. 
I was thinking, "oh great, just where do we go from here now." 
I decided to throw my two cents in- "I want to follow Jesus 100%, do you think you want to also, or are you still thinking about it?"
"I'm still thinking about it. I'm 50-50 I guess."
"I have a better question, would you like to meet up again and share more stories about Jesus?"
"Sure I would."

We were meant to meet up today. My friend told me he was feeling sick. Whilst I know this could be true, I also felt that he may have been a bit put off by last week's conversation. There was to be a fourth person present, who has been judgmental of my friend in the past. Sometimes I just can't get over how judgmental some Christians can be. (Chalk that up for my detox period. This whole experience has felt like a "re-tox" not a de-tox.)

What is the right approach? Well reading Jesus' parable today gave me some good insight. I think it goes something like this- if you have been sharing the gospel patiently with someone for three years and they have still not chosen to follow him yet.... then don't give up. Give them a fourth year. But in that fourth year redouble your efforts to really show them and tell them the saving love of Jesus. If after that fourth year the person chooses not to believe then so be it, then it is time to move on. They are free to choose not to believe. In the end it is between them and God.

The fact is, sometimes somebody is not ready in their life and God knows what is in their heart. It is never our place to pressure some one to believe.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Invasion Day 2012

I nearly left this up with out saying anything. I will let the song speak for itself. But let me list some reasons why I can not celebrate Australia Day.

1) Aboriginal languages and cultures are still dying, while we still insist that they speak English and conform to our European way of life.
2) Aboriginal peoples are denied the right to self determination.
3) As European Australians we do not admit that our own cultures are as much guests in Australia as the ones that come after us.
4) Refugees are being turned away, while both sides of politics do not want to freely allow boat people in. They can get away with this because the majority of Australians feel the same way.
5) While we may have said sorry for the stolen generations, our actions do not say sorry.
6) While we may have said sorry for the stolen generations, we have never said sorry for the many generations of genocide that went on before.
7) Because even my mates will scoff at Aunty Joy when she gives a welcome to country at an AFL match (the indigenous match between Richmond and Essendon), saying things like "it's our land now, we kicked them off it" or "can't they find someone more eloquent to speak for them".

I could sit here longer and rant longer, but it will just get me worked up. I want to see a day when Australian Aboriginal peoples are truly respected and valued for what they can teach us. When we have that attitude I think we will find that they are happy to welcome us to their traditional lands- mutual respect will be fostered. Until that day happens there will never be a true Australia Day.

A little post script edit for the end of Invasion Day 2012- let Yothu Yindi have the last word.

Treaty now, treaty yeah!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Invasion Day

As my way of protesting the continual systematic attack on Aboriginal Cultures in Northern Territory, I will not be celebrating Australia Day this year. I will instead be observing Invasion Day.

Happy Invasion Day 2010 from FOABP x FCAC on Vimeo.

Australian Aboriginal cultures under attack by Northern Territory government

It saddens me to know that there is still very little being done in Australia to protect indigenous languages. I consider it to be a culturally dominant and patronising position that English be pushed as the first language in education. It should be pointed out that Australia does not have an official language at all and that legally all people are free to receive education in any language.
The Northern Territory are most guilty in their dismantling of bi-lingual programs in schools.
Evidence for this is cited here:
Australian Indigenous language funding

I have been prompted again to think of this issue after seeing this interview with a lady from the Iwaidja people in Arnhem Land of Northern Territory. A little funding from the federal government does not cover up the fact that Australian Indigenous cultures are still being systematically wiped out. It seems we have actually not learnt a thing in Australia. The apology to the stolen generations now seems rather hollow.

View the video here:

Iwaidja Ngabi Inyman from Bruce Birch on Vimeo.

Here is the letter that I have sent to Peter Garrett's office requesting an official conversation on the matter.

I will write more on this matter as the issues unfold.

To the office of Peter Garrett, M.P

I am an Australian citizen currently living and working in Russia. I am a linguist with a B.A from Monash University (2000). My other qualifications are a Graduate Diploma of Language Description and Development (2009) and an Associate Diploma of Intercultural Studies (1998). I currently work as a linguist in the field of language revitalisation and maintenance among endangered languages of Siberian indigenous peoples in Russia.

I have some real and deep concerns for the state of endangered languages in Australia. My concerns are multi faceted and are connected with language, identity, cultural and mental well being, at both individual and community levels. Among my many concerns the one that falls directly in Peter Garrett's sphere of influence is the education of children in their indigenous languages. This issue is connected to English taking a precedence over indigenous languages.

I, along with many Australians was filled with tears, joy, hope and a very small measure of pride when an official apology was made by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on behalf of the Australian Parliament to the members of the stolen generations, in February of 2008. My colleagues here in Siberia also took some hope that a national government would take the time to pay attention to indigenous issues. Many Aboriginal peoples were very appreciative of the apology and warmly welcomed it. At the same time many Aboriginal peoples reminded European Australians that their languages do not have tangible words for "sorry" (they are oral, tangible based i.e non abstract languages), and that our actions would show them sorry more than words.

I am concerned that the true spirit of sorry has not been grasped by the Australian Parliament (all parties), nor the Australian public. Our continual neglect of indigenous languages and insistence that English take a priority ahead of them is essentially the same mistake that was made with the stolen generations- that Aboriginal peoples be made to fit in and assimilate with the broader Australian population.

I have been aware of this issue for a long time, but a recent video brought it to my attention again. Please take the time to view it.   http://vimeo.com/24300517   It is an interview with a woman named Joy Williams Malwagag from the Iwaidja people of Arnhem Land.

I would like to formally request a telephone conversation with Peter Garrett to discuss these issues. I do not anticipate being in Australia until 2013.

I am a concerned citizen who hopes my concerns are taken seriously. I once wrote to the former Primer Minister John Howard on issues relating to refugees. My letter never received a response from his office let alone the PM himself. I am hoping that your office takes the opportunity to excel the former Prime Minister in his lack of concern and a responsible attitude. 

Yours in a spirit of genuine reconciliation for all Aboriginal peoples,


Thursday, January 19, 2012

#SOPA Free speech under threat.

I'm going to exercise my right to free speech while I still can. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but the western world has definitely taken a turn for the worse. There was some kind of move taken to either (a) allow terrorists through the gate in September 2001 or at the very least (b) exploit the event to bring fear and severely curb civil liberties after the fact.
I'm kind of sick of the whole Republican vs Democrat debate. Both Bush and Obama have done as much to reduce civil liberties as the other. Fear is killing America and the virus is infecting us all. One of the founding fathers of America, Benjamin Franklin, said "any society that gives up a little liberty for a little security, deserves neither and will lose both." Every move made over the last ten years has served to chain Americans.
2011 was a monumental year for protests around the world. It was called the year of the protester by Time magazine. (Yet even Time magazine was caught not showing pictures of Arab protests on their cover in America, when they did everywhere else in the world.) No one doubts the pivotal role the internet had in helping protesters succeed. Yet when the Occupy Wall Street movement started in the US, they have been censored far more than any of the Arab protesters were. Why?
How is it possible that such censorship can happen in America, the "land of the free"? Many of the media companies are run by older people who are conservative and do not understand how the internet works. But there is perhaps something more sinister going on. At a very base level fear is controlling political decisions, but perhaps at a more sinister level there is a conspiracy for absolute totalitarian power going on. The record companies and film companies are also run by old conservatives who do not understand what the internet is even about.
The US Congress is now debating a bill called Stop Online Piracy Act. The stated aim is to protect copyright for the entertainment industry, but it will effectively cripple free speech in so many domains, rendering the internet impotent.

This You Tube video explains it well (unless it gets censored some time soon):

There are two possibilities here:

1) The entertainment industry is tired and outdated, yet the media moguls (Rupert Murdoch especially) have too much sway with congress, and so their petty whinge is killing free speech.


2) The bill is actually a more sinister attempt to kill free speech, with copyright being used as a facade and a smoke screen.

As far as the entertainment industry is concerned, the tired people who run it should get with the times. Apple has done a great job of providing iTunes, an accessible way to buy music, movies and tv. TV and Movies are still way too expensive most of the time. Essentially the entertainment industry needs a new model.

What the entertainment industry has disregarded is the population boom in the world. The sheer population of the younger generation means that people's interests are far more diverse than they were 30 years ago. Personally I think that we should all create our own music and art and give it away for free. That is perhaps the direction things are taking anyway.

The internet has brought a revolution to the world. There are always counter revolutionaries or "luddites". It remains to be seen whether their attempt to censor the internet will be successful.

If I was American I would be doing all I could to protest this. As it is, I am an ineffectual Aussie, tucked away in Siberia. I hope my blog is powerful enough to make some people think.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Multiverse theory (parallel universes)

According to quantum physics, if time travel is possible then parallel universes are possible. Quantum physicist have come up with a "multi worlds" hypothesis.

It goes something like this:

1) Today I make a choice that affects who I am for the rest of my life. Say perhaps I choose to accept a job offer. As a result I meet certain people, develop certain relationships, maybe even marry a certain person.  My life takes a certain path based upon one decision. This could be thought of as a fork in the road. Whether I eat lasagna for dinner tonight is not really such a big decision.

2) Perhaps I go back in time ten years from now, or perhaps my son goes back in time and convinces me not to take the job. From that point onwards in my life a different path is taken. When my son returns to his time, nothing will have changed there though, I would still have chosen the same job, and he would still have been born.  BUT- a new parallel universe is created where I take a different job, meet different people, maybe even marry a different person, or perhaps still end up marrying the same person.

Some argue that there are an infinite number of parallel universes. I don't quite agree with this. In quantum physics there are an infinite number of possibilities until an observation is made, with all of those possibilities collapsing back into one resulting reality.

I argue that a parallel universe can only exist IF and when time travel has occurred and IF and when a different decision is made at an important forking point. In such a scenario, if time travel has occurred multiple times, there are multiple parallel universes (based upon different dichotomous decisions), but still not an infinite number.

In the same way that an electron can be in more than one place at the same time (yet not being two electrons and not being two halves of one electron; --> see the "double slit experiment"), a person in two or more different parallel universes is the same person not different people. This means that even if there are multiple versions of the same person, ultimately they are still one person. In my opinion this person would be the one person before God.

In fact if one such version of a person tried to jump across from one parallel universe to the next the very act of observation would collapse the other parallel universe that person left behind, making the new parallel universe the reality.

This image goes some way to explaining the various paths a person can take. Many different choices can be made, but the more that are made the thicker the bunch of lines together will be, until there is just one thicker bunch of lines, one over all uniting identity and reality for a person.

I had previously thought I did not believe in parallel universes. My logic went something like this:

1) Apparently there are an infinite number of parallel universes.
2) If that is the case then there would have to be one where Jesus chose not to go to the cross.
3) This possibility could not be so, Jesus would not have done such a thing.
4) Therefore there can not be parallel universes.

Now I think differently:

1) There can be parallel universes, but each of them exist as a result of time travel.
2) There are not an infinite number, but only as many as have been spawned my time traveling choices.
3) Each of these parallel universes still collapse into the one, just as the electron collapses into one upon observation in the double slit experiment.

If you are interested in the double split experiment watch here:

Monday, January 09, 2012

Rain should not stop Twenty 20 cricket

Two of the Big Bash League cricket games over the weekend gave me cause again to reflect on conservatism and how it is halting the growth of cricket. The games in Melbourne and Sydney were both cut short by rain.
On Saturday night in Melbourne the Renegades were chasing a score of 167 made by the Stars. After 8 overs the Renegades had made 3/58 and needed a further 110 to win at roughly 9 an over, which is still quite achievable in T20. The game was rained out. Using the Duckworth Lewis method, the Stars won by 11 runs. It would have been nice to know how the game would have played out. The crowd of 40,000 were robbed of the game they deserved to see.
Then on Sunday night a similar thing happened in Sydney. The Sixers made 117 off their twenty overs, which is not a competitive score in T20. After 5 and a half overs the Thunder were 4/29 in their reply. Four wickets would probably have slowed them down, but they only need 88 off 87 balls when the rain came.
Both of these games were meant to be the show case games in the BBL, where the two Sydney teams played each other and the two Melbourne teams played each other. Both were ruined not so much by the rain as they were by conservatism.

Test cricket is a complex game and over its history it has rightly been decided to stop play when ever rain would affect the wicket. When a bowling wicket gets two wet it can greatly affect the way the ball handles, giving the bowling side an unfair advantage over the batting side. In a game that lasts five days, and where very wicket is held at high value, it is important to make the game as fair as possible.

Twenty 20 cricket however is a very different game. It almost does not matter what the wicket is like, whether it supports spin or bounce, both teams play on the same surface. Wickets are taken at Twenty 20 level when batsmen make mistakes, such as hitting the ball high in the air to be caught, or when bowlers bowl tightly at the stumps and again the batsmen mistime the ball getting bowled. The game moves so quickly that these same mistakes can be made on any surface. Rain would affect these variables very little.

An important point of comparison is with football matches. Football matches of all codes are never cancelled due to rain. The strength of a league based sport is that the fans can count on a game being played week in week out no matter the weather. Twenty 20 is supposed to be a tough and exciting new game, it should not be subject to the same conditions as test cricket. It is a mistake to compare the two games so closely.

Cricket is an older sport than all codes of football. The question must be asked as to why cricket did not spread across Europe the same way that Soccer did. The answer can be found to this question by asking why Rugby did not spread at the same rate that Soccer did. Rugby is actually an older game than Soccer. In fact it was spreading around the world quite well in the 1860s and 70s. It was being played in many European countries before Soccer ever was. Rugby though was a sport marred by conservatism. Games were played at representative level and remained amateur.
Representative games were played for one's country or club, but only ever organised on a friendly one off basis. Rugby did not develop a league of their own. Soccer on the other hand developed a league in 1870. In 1888 the league was professionalised. Soccer professionalised before any other sport. This gave people the incentive to play soccer over rugby. Accordingly, games were played week in week out, meaning that a fan base built up. This did not happen in Rugby.
The simple reasons of soccer being centred around leagues and allowing the players to be paid saw soccer spread quickly across Europe, pushing rugby aside as the number one sport.

The same conservatism that held rugby back is also holding cricket back now. Cricket has been a representative sport until the advent of the IPL a few years ago. Most cricket purists have cringed at the IPL and now at the BBL. But it is league sport that offers the best chance for cricket to spread around the world. The representative model has already proven to move very slowly over the course of one hundred years.

The league model offers the opportunity for players from anywhere in the world to play at the highest level, without having to hope that their country will one day be good enough to play test cricket. The league model offers the opportunity to market the game in new markets such as America. Many an American has told me that they think the game of Twenty 20 is more exciting than baseball.

But the conservatism of the rule makers in cricket who will not allow games to be finished due to a little harmless summer rain harms the chances for the game to spread to markets that do not understand the history of the game. It also harms the viability of a league based game to fans who are not purists of the game in the way that test match followers are.

If football players can play in the rain, so can T20 players. Allow the game to evolve into something new under new conditions. Change the ball if necessary. Heck, even change the paying surface if necessary. If the game does not adapt it will die. Conservatism threatens to be the death of cricket.