I would like to draw your attention to a letter written to the editor and published in Adelaide newspaper, The Advertiser:

“Unfortunately, Tory Shepherd’s comment (“Straying from the flock”, The Advertiser, 23/6/09) will fall on deaf ears. Gullibility and irrationalism are institutionalised throughout the private school system and Australian society generally.

The Australian Government spends millions every year to ensure thousands of students are indoctrinated in Iron Age religious belief systems.

In religious homes, children are taught to defer to the approved authority, rather than think for themselves.

This indoctrination is reinforced in government-sponsored faith schools and churches.

At least for some generations to come, priests, pastors, gurus and clerics will continue to tap into the conditioned minds of unquestioning devotees, controlling, exploiting and directing them as they please.

Look at the deference and dollars wasted on the Pope’s visit to Australia.

As long as they pay homage to men as to gods, Australians generally will remain an ignorant and superstitious people.”

SHANE OSBORNE, Adelaide.

I know Shane Osborne – we get on at the same bus stop on the way to work in the mornings. He is an intelligent man and has many years’ experience in both Catholic and Protestant churches.

I posted this because I think we need to pay attention to criticism that is made of the church. I don’t mean to say that all criticism of the church is valid, but I would certainly say that some (if not many of it) is. The church is perfect in only one way – the head, Jesus Christ. Every other part of the body is made up of you and me. We are infinitely capable of doing amazing, loving things; but we are also fallible and can be bitterly selfish and judgmental.

First of all, I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is any of the things described in Shane’s letter. And to expand on this, I don’t believe that a church centred around Jesus Christ should be like this and draw this kind of critique.

In Shane’s experience the church is “controlling”, “directing”, “indoctrinating” and “irrational”. He is not a passing critic – he has been involved in church and has had these experiences. Right or wrong is no question here, perception is reality and if the church has made someone feel like this, then there’s a lot of answering to be done. Jesus Christ never made anyone feel like this – He was a model of love, non-judgment and complete acceptance. Jesus loves. Full stop. No conditions.

I don’t want to spend this time going into all the valid and invalid points made by Shane and the short-comings of many institutional churches (of which I feel there are many). What I would like people to do is to step back and think about how they and their churches have shown the love of Jesus Christ. The fact is that many churches have alienated people, judged them and pushed them away. This shouldn’t happen. Jesus loved all without condition and if you don’t do the same then you should remove the “Christ” from “Christian” when people ask what religion you follow.

I’ll finish up by saying that many of the prophets from God were routinely ignored, abused and finally martyred for their convictions. I’m not sure that Shane Osborne is a prophet of the Lord, but I feel that we would ignore him at our peril.

I really struggle with the concept of taking out insurance. Insurance is a subtle symbol of the individualistic nature of our Western society and of the lack of faith that Christians have in God.

When I bought my car, I took out a loan (debatable whether this was a good idea). The financing company demanded that I have comprehensive insurance over my car, in the case that I write it off and cannot afford to repay the loan. I have asked myself whether I would take out insurance if I was not required to.

Life insurance is a simple example of the lack of true community with those around us and a lack of faith in God. Why do people take out life insurance? Well it’s generally so that when someone dies suddenly, a sum of money can be received by the surviving family. If the financial provider of the family passed away then the money can be used to cover living costs and any mortgage repayments. After all, if the surviving family members cannot meet their everyday expenses, they could face losing their house, forgo luxuries and maybe even struggle to put food on the table.

So why do I think insurance is such a bad thing then? Well, it minimises our need to have faith that God will look after us in times of trouble; and it also underplays our need to be part of a community of people, who can support and bless us when we fall into times of trouble.

Using the example of life insurance…

There is a lovely family: a husband, a wife and three beautiful young children. The couple have been married for 15 years and have spent the last 10 of those in their own home, which they have a mortgage over. The husband and wife both work part-time so that they can look after the children on their respective days off. One day in a sudden event, the husband passes away, survived by his wife and children. The wife quickly realises that her single salary is not enough to pay the bills as well as the mortgage. Her husband didn’t have life insurance and so she was left in financial turmoil. Even if she wanted to work full-time, she would still have to sell the house to get-by; but she’d rather continue working part-time to be able to care for her children.

Sounds like a terrible situation – it is. But what if this woman was part of a community of people that were very close and who shared life together. They meet as a group for meals regularly; they share their joys and sorrows with each other; they cook meals for their friends when they’re ill; and their children play together in the park. This community was very saddened by the death of their close friend and felt deep compassion for the rest of the family and their situation. In response to the financial strain placed upon the family, ten people within the community committed to contributing one hundred dollars a month so that the family could cover all their expenses and stay in the family home. The thought that they could be financially supporting the family for the next 20 years, until the house was paid off, did not even cross their mind. This family was their family – their community was so strong that they would do anything for each other, even if it meant sacrificing some luxuries of their own.

Sound like a nice story to you? I would love to be part of a community that was so close and so loving of each other, that doing such an act as described above, would be done without hesitation.

Western society hails the achievement of the individual and admires those who are independent and who can get-by without needing others. This is a fallacy. Real community is a central element of the Christian faith and of a healthy society. We were not made to be wandering souls without others beside us; rather we were created to enjoy full and loving community with both God and those people around us. “Love your neighbour as yourself” was Jesus’ way of saying “lend a hand to those around you as if they were your parents, your brother or your own child – someone that you would do anything for.”

Not only is this kind of community possible, but it is mandated by God, created through His Spirit and exists in pockets all throughout the World. Unfortunately the individualism of our culture has diminished the scale and impact of true community in Western nations like Australia.

I challenge you to love others as yourself and create real, lasting community with those around you. It will not only bring you closer to others, but it will bring you closer to the heart of God.

A mate of mine recently sent me this video on the recent passing of anti-gay marriage laws in California. I don’t beleive that homosexuality should be condoned by the Church, but showing love for others is something that the Church should be doing a lot more of.

This is a passionate plea from Keith Olberman (MSNBC Host), is for people to embrace love and I find it heartening that it was broadcast on television in the US. It is genuinely worth watching the complete video: