Tim contacted me yesterday reminding me that I need to pick up a cross for our Senior Pastor, Doug. In our Californian church, Doug has a wall of crosses that hang in the foyer of the church. As the central symbol of our Christian faith, this seems more than appropriate. It is also a beautiful symbol of the international faith community the church is connected to through missionaries and various travellers. Some of the crosses are made of pieces of wood picked up in slums and hewn into this enduring Christian symbol. Some are finely painted. They are all indicative of the geography they came from, and the more authentic the story, the better. There are about a hundred crosses but none from Australia, and I was asked to find one.
So, as I was at the time on vacation in Australia, my dad and I got in the car and ventured down into The Ping, the suburb we live in Sydney, as we wanted to present a cross that represented this town I lived in most of my life. After assessing the OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship?) shopfront dad stated that he didn’t think there would be a cross there, so we went to the Seventh Day Adventist shop. Dad reflected that its offerings were particularly evangelical, complete with Kari Jobe CDs and Billy Graham boxed sets. This surprised us as Hillsongers- we kind of giggled that we were expecting a particularly Saturday experience. The assistant there was lovely, and while she didn’t have a cross we could hang, she suggested we go upstairs to St Vinnies, the Catholic second hand shop. We walked up, and had a great talk to three ladies gathered around the counter. Other than an overload of blue eyeshadow, they were perfect. And smelled nice, which is a weird but important observation when you are in a second hand store. All of these experiences were positive, and local. But what we were looking for was a little out of the ordinary, so they suggested that we go down to the large bible and Christian book supplier in Sydney.
At that point, I felt particularly sad. The place they mentioned I know well, and is a fantastic bookshop which carries a stack of resources – most of which are American, or at the very least, can be described as global. There are probably crosses, but it is unlikely there is anything distinctively Australian. They carry a lot of mass marketed products, and as a case in point, when looking for my PhD entrance exam books, they had none of the twenty three texts on the shelves. I’m not the world’s most intelligent Christian, but I feel a genuine sense of sadness reading many of the books being sold in this type of bookshop. Sometimes I wonder if ideas could be bought in the form of a tweet, whether that would save us the time browsing through thousands of shelves. I don’t say this with any malice, but I do say it with a bit of experience. I worked for at least two years as a sales assistant at this store. As far as connecting local pastors with global trends, it does that successfully. As far as breeding local pastors with intelligent thoughts, I’m not so sure.
This whole reflection has made me long for an ‘Eagle and Child’ experience – as the pub in which C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien (among others) would sit and talk for hours about their latest philosophical theories and thoughts on Christianity. Apparently C.S. Lewis handed out his manuscript for ‘The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe’ and let the boys go to town on it before he published it, which must have been a very vulnerable act. I’ve decided that I don’t want to be dumbed down. I want to be smartened up by the people around me. I’ve learned that if you hang around intelligent people, you might even get to sound intelligent. I suspect that’s what my PhD cohort is doing for me, helping me to sound intelligent ;-). And those types of people do exist in Sydney – in fact, I’ve loved the conversations that I’ve had this week with Christian academics and leaders, conversations that are honest, raw, prophetic and very importantly, biblical.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m so desperate I’d be happy to compromise the pub aspect and have this community encounter over basically any beverage. Or sans beverage if necessary. Maybe it could be done from home with a coffee and a laptop. I’m not sure, but I’m at a stage of my life where I’m not looking for clean places that sell beautifully packaged tame ideas, but gritty places that have the raw energy of developing leadership with all the tenacity and determination this takes. And my hypothesis is that this is better done through face to face interaction than in a commercial or sale transaction. Look, conferences are brilliant, but I’m lamenting the lack of a local gathering place for forging truly great spiritual leaders in our nation. Maybe it’s time for Christian leaders to stop wistfully looking at the Chinese church and wishing we were growing that fast, or the American church and wishing we were as strong. Perhaps its time to look at the ways in which we nourish the spiritual growth of our people, and particularly our thinkers. Sigh. And if you know of a local Eagle and Child, I’ll put it in my next Sydney itinerary.
Oh, and if you have an idea about where I can get a particularly Australian cross, your thoughts would be much appreciated.