Looking South East from Hilltop Farm, Gladstone South Australia

One Man's Web

How we do our Church Music

We have no hymn books.
Our musicians, a brilliant pianist, and an excellent organist, are both old and in less than stellar health.
How do we sing, as a small congregation, yet also give them a break, and let them stay home at short notice if it is not sensible to push themselves to church?

We have

  1. One License. It it's not covered by One License, and we have no over cover for the song, we don't sing it.
  2. We use the music of Clyde McLennan from smallchurchmusic.com where possible, (free) and as a Uniting Church, we can buy most of the other tunes from MyMidi.com at 25cents per tune. (Thanks Wayne McHugh) It costs you 50cents otherwise.
  3. We use the piano versions of the music. These are excellent, and we have learned to sing to the piano tunes much more easily than to the organ renditions.
  4. We mostly use Together in Song hymns, but add plenty of other stuff if we can purchase music.

How do we make this work?  Read on >>>

My Lenten Discipline has been a long bike ride. (here) The 1200km Audax is the cyclist's equivalent of the marathon. Younger folk can do it in 90 hours, but I'm too old, and was always a plodder, so I've just spent four and a half days with maybe 3 hours sleep each, riding nonstop through country South Australia.

My evening companion has been Carrie Newcomer. I immersed myself in her music, and I've learned some songs by heart. Her spirituality could be summed up as finding God— I do not know its name… elusive and subtle… in the common and ordinary things of life. At first, to my bloke-ish Australian ears, Carrie Newcomer sounded shallow and schamltz. She triggered a lot of my anti American prejudices; we hate you, deep down, because we envy you deeply. Yet I discovered a profound and alluring sense of God which rang true in the harshness of Australian nights.

I woke up this morning with bits of Newcomer echoing in my ears and found the preaching list to which I subscribe full of posts about another school shooting in America. And then looked at the Gospel for the week.

And so, America, I write about what my theology has taught me about you and me, America and Australia.

In this post I am writing about the mythologies of our respective nations. And I am abandoning politeness, for nothing exposes our mythologies— the stories by we live our lives, and which therefore hugely control and direct us— nothing exposes our mythologies like our prejudices. They are windows into the powers which control, or seek to control, our souls

I write with an understanding of Mark as a gospel which is deeply cynical about Empire— the kingdom of heaven is at hand— and yet full of hope in Christ. America: You are the Empire. You are the Rome of our day. Us Australians? Well, we're the little empire that couldn't. We often used to call Prime Minister John Howard "Deputy Sherriff" to George Bush! We are the wannabes that never will be. We are the classic vassal state, full of envy and self-disgust.

Someone on the preaching list suggested that the problem in American society is deeper than the guns. We are a declining society, she said. I think that's the place to start. Both our societies are falling apart. Except, I want to say we are not in decline; we have failed.

We have failed. Both of us. And, deep down, increasingly, I think we know this is true.

So guns are not the problem for you, America: The problem is that your whole platform for being a people— the mythology of the nation— has failed. Like us, you are discovering that your foundations are rotten... Read on >>>>

For those of us who lead Bible Studies, this week is interesting. To begin with, the week is an excellent illustration of how the Lectionary interrupts the flow of the gospel we are studying. And, secondly, the reading which we may have been expecting provides a fascinating illustration of some of the intricacies of translation and interpretation....

The Athletic Lectionary
After a sequential flow through Mark Chapter 1, Lent is now foreshadowed in the Revised Common Lectionary by Transfiguration Sunday. The Lectionary leaps forward to Mark Chapter 9 for Transfiguration, and then back to early Mark Chapter 1 (verses 9-15) for Week 1 of Lent, and jumps forward again to the end of Mark 8, for Week 2 of Lent, (verses 31-38) immediately before the reading for Transfiguration. For those study groups who have been following Mark's developing theology, it is a brilliant illustration of how the Lectionary and the Calendar of the Church Year impose upon the gospel an order which is likely to have rather surprised the author of Mark! ... Read on >>>

As with last week's post, I am seeking to synthesise a heap of ideas here. As someone said, I apologise for such a long post; I did not have time to make it shorter.

We begin with Jesus' proclamation:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near… (Mk 1:15)

It has begun. Jesus is living out the life of the kingdom.

And again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand…   3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ … and … said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mk 3:1-6)

I have often wondered if I would like Jesus, if I were to meet him on the road. There is something driven about him, something extreme. Indeed, whilst I am drawn to him (note that the crowds in our reading are being gathered; that is, drawn to him at the door of the house) there is something about Jesus, and the claims of the Gospels that offends and frightens me. I'd like to unpack this, because recognising this offence— or not— will profoundly shape what we see in the gospels, and in Jesus.

Richard Beck has reminded me of my discomfort, and of my fear of making Jesus in my own image... Read on >>>>

In Bible Study on Wednesday I asked people what they think is going on when it says someone is "with an unclean spirit," or "has an an unclean spirit"  as it does in this week's gospel reading.    Irena said something like this:

It's as though someone has been dipped in something which then controls or affects everything that they do.

So the way Irena imagined it, they've been stained or coloured by this thing that changes everything about them. I found this really insightful because,

firstly, in the Greek it literally says the man was in an unclean spirit. It was not in him.
but secondly, Irena used the language of baptism; she said it's as though someone has been dipped.

Do you remember that only a few verses ago in Mark, John the Baptist says, I have baptized you in water; but he— and we find the he is Jesus— will baptize you in  holy spirit.’

John baptises in water, Jesus baptises in holy spirit and, if we use Irena's image, the man is baptised, dipped, in an unclean spirit... Read on >>>>

How might we claim this reading of Jesus in the synagogue for ourselves; that is, how can it be more than a somewhat abstract demonstration of his power over evil?  Can it be a reading which is personal to us, and say something about a kairos— a-significant-time-is-now fulfilment in our own lives? (cf Mark 1:15 the kairos is fulfilled.)

What is Jesus doing in his teaching? I like Mark Davis' comments on this.

The two options here are ‘teaching as having authority’ or ‘teaching as the scribes.’ I don’t take this to be a harsh criticism of the scribes, as if their teaching were boring, wrong, or weak. In fact, my suspicion is that "teaching as the scribes" is exactly what people expect in the synagogue – their teaching is a close adherence to the scripture, their authority is subordinated to the authority of Moses or the prophets, etc. The scribes’ teaching would be biblical teaching. For Jesus to be ‘teaching as having authority,’ might be something like the Matthean phrase, "You have heard it was said (in the scriptures) …, but I say to you …." ... Read on >>>>

tdu2018gpsFor Tour Down Under 2018 I planned a 230km route, going home from Uraidla through the Adelaide Hills.  The day was cancelled due to extreme weather, and I chose to stay out of the hills because of the fire danger.

I rode my own Clayton's TDU by riding... Read on >>>>


With John's handing over1, another prophet is silenced. Everything in the world goes on, as it has always gone on. The Empire remains in control. Yet into this, into Galilee2 itself, comes Jesus, proclaiming victory3 (euangelion) over Empire. He says the time for this is now.4  He proclaims the victory of the kingdom of God, a new way of being human, a new culture5. Change the direction of your living. Step out of the culture of Rome, out of Empire; trust6 the way of God, leave the old way of being.

He found fishermen embedded in the culture of Rome7, beholden to Empire, pawns of its economy, seeking a life. They trusted him and left— went away. 8 They followed him.

What is it that they trusted? What is good news about this euangelion? Where— how— is it victory?

The victory is the end of the victim9. The culture of God is a world where the last lost sheep is found and restored.10 No one is left behind. The world works without losers. This new world is the opposite of a trump game where power always wins, where power always arranges its own advantage, and makes its own truth, at the expense of victims. The very structure of human reality is changed.11 This is at hand; not yet visible to many people, but ready to be entered for those who will trust it as a reality.12 .... Read on >>>>

The multi-storey flats at the end of our street are surrounded by enormous fig trees with a smattering of Gums and Kurrajongs. A man was immersed in a slow and careful search of the underbrush and the deep leaf litter as we left on our evening walk. Our dog was full of energy in the cool after our recent heatwave, and we were away much longer than we intended. As we came home in the almost dark, I saw the same man, now on the other side of that huge compound, still searching. There was something obsessive and lost in his demeanour. My wife wondered if he even knew what he was searching for, but then said that, probably, he would know it when he found it.

I wondered where this man might take me as I considered Nathanael under his fig tree. Our local Nathanael reminded me of my great frustration in theological college, which was that few of the books they gave me to read, helped my searching. I seemed, instead, to find by accident, texts that were much more helpful, and which came alive. That accidental experience has continued life-long in taking me in unexpected directions... Read on >>>>

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