Current Affairs Feed

Thoughts on Pope Francis

GREAT to hear waves of excitement over the new Pope. I am also excited about the appointment of Pope Francis, because . . .

- he is from South America.

- he is a humble man, riding the bus to work and refusing ecclesiastic titles. 

- he has a heart for the poor.

- he wants renewal of the church, which is awesome.

- he is a Jesuit, and those guys are really cool!

- the charismatic Catholics really like him.

In Italy a few years ago, some friends and I met with Matteo Calisi, who heads up the 150 million people in the Charismatic Catholic Renewal, known as the Catholic Fraternity, and reports directly to the Pope. Lovely man, this Father Matteo, who invited us to speak in his church. Before the service, he was telling us how excited he was about what was happening in Buenos Aries, where he had visited, meeting the archbishop and seeing some of the communities there. I imagine he is totally pumped about having his South American friend living and working in Italy.


Tony Palmer, who helped arrange our meeting with Matteo, has reflections on meeting Bergoglio, who was then the archbishop of Buenos Aries. 

"Here I am in Argentina in a meeting with Cardinal Giorgio Bergoglio, who made it very clear to us during the meeting that we were not to refer to him by 'Eminence' or 'Excellency' as these titles are not found in the Bible and that simply 'Brother' would be better . . . "

Father Anthony, quoted by Marc Van Der Woude, who was also with us in that Italian meeting, on why he thinks Francis is a surprising Pope.

Related: My experience with the Charismatic Catholics in Italy.

American Christians and the Mormon factor

Right now is an interesting time in American politics and religion. There are plenty of conservative evangelical Christians in USA who are about to vote for a Mormon to be their president. Who woulda thunk???

I read a few snippets on Billy Graham removing the "cult" status on the BGEA website. I would be curious to hear from Steve Knight on this.

Interesting quote from Norman Geisler, who wrote the textbook on "Inerrancy" and once chastized the emerging church for relativism. Regarding today's election choice, he says,

" First, even if as voters we wanted to apply such a test, we do not have a really good choice religiously. We face a painful dilemma of voting for a liberal professing Christian (Obama) with Muslim leanings or a cultist Mormon who claims to be Christian. The truth is that we do not live in an ideal world; we live in a real world. Realistically, we have only two candidates who could win the election, and we can only vote for one . . .

Secondly, we do not live in a black-and-white world. There is a lot of grey. So, on the question of good, we don’t have a purely good or evil choice in this election. There is both good and evil in each choice."

Brian McLaren said something very similar yesterday in acknowledging that all parties have their weaknesses and their virtues.

Norman Geisler and Brian McLaren. Probably a different name on their ballots but finally on the same page. Interesting times indeed! Who woulda thunk?


Muslim sanctuaries: For Your Eyes Only


"Cinderazahd: For Your Eyes Only" has its world premiere at the Dowse Art Museum next week but men will not be allowed in. The Qatari writer and film-maker Sophia Al-Maria has expressed her wishes that men should not see the unveiled women in her video, a wish that corresponds with her Muslim faith.

Fair enough. I respect that. She is the artist and she can determine the boundaries of her audience at the showing. My wife and two of my daughters will probably attend while I, obviously and with no hard feelings, will stay home.

Screen Shot 2012 08 30 at 6 56 08 AM

The same thing happened when we visited the hamam (public bath) in Chefchouen, Morocco. The women were allowed in and I had to stay out. No bath for me, which was a bummer because we had just been chased over the Rif mountains by drug dealers and we were all in need of a bath. But it was women's day only in the hamam so I can understand their refusal :-)

Chefchouen, where my family enjoyed the hamam,  was once a Muslim holy city that forbade non-Muslims to enter. Until 1920, only three Christians had entered. One of them was Charles Foucauld, who I wrote about recentl, entering the city  disguised as a Jewish trader. Another dressed as a Muslim. The third was an American missionary who was poisoned and never got out to talk about what he saw. Maybe it was the mickey mouse t-shirt and white Nikes that gave him away???? I don't know. Today, the city is a lot more welcoming to non-Muslims and a great place to visit. I can't say the same for the Rif mountains.


Speaking of Muslim holy places, a friend of mine visited Mecca last month for the opening of Ramadan.

"I was actually inside the Grand Mosque, next to the Kaaba, and a loud canon went off – letting the million plus Muslims there know that tomorrow Ramadan would begin. From there, within seconds, the rest of the Muslim world would know.  ”Tomorrow we fast.”  Everyone began congratulating each other – me included.  Then the evening call to pray went off, and we all lined up, facing the Kaaba (right smack in front of us) and we prayed."

Apparently Carl has upset a few Muslims and a whole Sunday potluck full of Christians and so he is asking for some feedback.


- Blog a Koran Day on Sep 11 will be in its third year. Write something and let me know.

- New resource from Pew Research Center: The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity

Screen Shot 2012 08 30 at 7 37 39 AM

On Muslims Destroying Religious Shrines and Pagan Artifacts

Are the Muslims REALLY planning to destroy the pyramids? I think NOT. The story this week from Egypt appears to be a hoax. Which is good news.

Last year we had a fantastic tour of both the pyramids and the Cairo museum by Ibrahmim Morgan, an egyptologist and historian. We even took a camel tour of the area. So you can imagine my concern this week to hear of plans to destroy the pyramids or cover them with wax because of their pagan symbolism.

Destroy pyramids

But apparently there are no such plans to destroy the pyramids. 

Calls from a Bahraini Sunni cleric to destroy Egypt’s Great Pyramids have been revealed as a hoax. The demands were made from a Twitter account which claimed to be owned by Bahrain’s President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud. Source

But the story, even though a hoax, does illustrate the tension between religious extremists and pagan artifacts which have been destroyed and defaced through the ages by Christians and Muslims alike. What is our response to pagan symbols? Idols? 

Pyramids egypt giza

But first, let me show off my pics of me in Egypt last year. This is the photo where you imagine my right hand is actually a little lower than it is and it looks EXACTLY like I am holding the pyramids in my hand and you say  . . . . "Wow that looks EXACTLY like you are holding the pyramids in your hand!"

Andrew sphinx cairo egypt

This is the famous Sphinx and I am attempting to do a Maori hongi nose-touching greeting. But, obviously, as you can see, even with my head positioned lower than it should be for such an amazing photographic illusion, the Sphinx has no nose, ever since its face was vandalized, they say, in 1378 A.D. by Mohammed Sa'im al-Dahr, a "fanatical sufi of the oldest and most highly respected sufi convent of Cairo." Source.

Looks like payback time for the sufis. According to news reports, sufi tombs and shrines are, in fact, being destroyed in Timbuktu, Mali. This is a tragedy and an outrage. In fact, I am considering doing a series of blog posts, one for each sufi shrine destroyed in Mali. That would be a way of preserving them on the internet, even though the physical tombs and shrines are disappearing.

In Morroco a few years ago I visited the tomb of the famous sufi mystic and poet Sidi Ali ibn Harzihm. It would be a terrible shame to see these shrines around the world being destroyed. So much history to learn from. I believe we should preserve pagan history and learn from it.

Yes, you can preserve something without worshipping it!

William Carey, famous Baptist and father of modern day missions movements, believed along similar lines. He was a positive force in PRESERVING religious history, even though it conflicted with his own views. The Ramayana, Hinduism's major mythological epic, only existed on birch bark and palm leaves before Carey and Joshua Marshman decided to print it in book form for the world to read and understand.

"I have recommended the Ramayana to begin with, it being one of the most popular of all the Hindoo books accounted sacred .. The Ramayana will furnish the best account of Hindoo mythology that any one book will, and has extravagancy enough to excite a wish to read it through." William Carey, July 24, 1805

What about icons? As I blogged once in "How your Emerging Church can stay in Calvary Chapel", the subject of icons has come up before and the Second Council of Nicea 787 names 'the pictoral icons" as something good which the church has received. Jean Luc Marion in his book The Crossing of the Visible (Cultural Memory in the Present), distinguishes between the idol, which receives the "gaze" and the icon, which passes the "gaze" onward to it proper destination.

What about pagan symbols and practices already embedded in Christianity? Now thats an interesting subject. I recommend a book by some friends of mine called Pagan Christianity. Or have a look at a few of my blog posts:

Easter at the ancient stone circle, Sometimes I dress like a pagan, Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, We Bow Down and Worship Thee.

Video: Bishop Justin Duckworth starts wearing purple

Here is my short video of Justin Duckworth getting installed as Bishop of Wellington last weekend. There's some footage of the breakfast we all had with him in the morning, the ceremony at the Cathedral, some thoughts from Jenny Duckworth on the symbols, and some fun stuff. All in 5 minutes!! For the video of the whole ceremony, go here to the Anglican site. For the TV news program featuring my handsome face, go to TV3. But for my ultra-cool video, watch this . . .

Egypt: A Christian vice-president and potential for change

Last year in Egypt I met some amazing people who live in Cairo and have a special interest in the goings-on among the government and church. One of them is W. I asked him for the skinny on the recent happenings.

Andrew: Hi W. I just heard some news about Egypt:

 “One of the first decisions will be appointing different vice-presidents. One of them will be a woman, for the first time in Egyptian history – not just modern history, but all Egyptian history, for a woman to take that position.

“Also, he has decided to appoint a Christian vice-president, and they will not just be a vice-president who will represent a certain gender or sect, but a vice-president who is powerful and empowered and will deal with critical files within the presidential cabinet.”

That sounds amazing for Egypt. Are the Christians excited about that decision over there?

W: Too early to tell Andrew. I do know, though, stories like the one yesterday about Salafi thugs forcing Christians in a church near Alexandria to stop their service and leave town (and then warning the priest to stop encouraging pilgrims to visit it) are more on the minds of believers. (The police, when contacted by the priest mid-service when the thugs had gathered, told him to follow the demands of the thugs! This happened aoccasionally under Mubarak but is regular post-revolution and the more it happens the faster the exodus of Copts will occur - I understand 100,00 left for good in 2011). Sad but true.


Andrew: Yeah I wrote about the exodus and its financial drain. So the vice president will be a Coptic Christian in Egypt? That must be a positive thing? Dont you think?


W:  For sure...But the latest word is that the new President will be there 10-12 months...The new constitution (the regime will draw up as it's fixed the system for creating the new constitution) will require a new set of elections.

This thing could indeed be drawn out (a la what the senior activist I talked to last November outside the PM's building he and his friends [who were] blockading said: the revolution will take 10 years, the length of time it will take for the ruling septagenarian generals to die off).

One good thing from the elections is that everybody sees the result as genuine (first time ever). So the potential is there for democracy...We just need to see a civic culture/civic values established in the hearts and minds of the people (which is partly what E21 is all about).

Blessings, W.


Andrew: Thanks W. Here's a few images I took when you showed me Cairo last year. 


Egypt's ruling party's HQ after the fire. Dang. It will need some redecorating for sure.

Egypt worship

 Overflow space outdoors. A worshipper joins an estimated 70,000 others at the Cave Church in Garbage City to pray all night. See my video.

Coptic lamp

Lamp in a Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo. Some really amazing historical churches there and lots of stories to go with them.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

I just read two books by Michael Lewis. 


The first was his latest book called Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. Love that title! The book gives some eye-popping background and tragic [and sometimes hliarious] narrative to the financial collapse in Greece, Iceland and Ireland. A great book if you want to understand the current-day woes Europe and the challenges it faces. Surprisingly short. Felt more like the first half of a book than the whole thing  . ..  but a great read.

What I found most interesting in Boomerang was how much much blame for the Greek mess Lewis assigns to the Vatopaidi monks, an historic reversal when you think of how the economic corruption of the church 500 years ago was cleaned up by a different set of European monks who launched the Reformation.

"In a society that has endured something like a total moral collapse, its monks had somehow become the single universally acceptable target of moral outrage." Lewis, on the Vatapaidi monks

As I suggested in Ka-ching in the Ka-church, it's time for another Reformation. In fact, I think there are a lot of parallels between then and now.

The other book by Michael Lewis was The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, which reads like a financial thriller as it traces the story of the Wall Street subprime collapse in 2008 and those who gambled on its demise, and won. I remember being in San Francisco in 2008, praying for the economy and here I am in San Francisco again, still trying to get my head around this gigantic disaster and the invention of these complicated financial instruments that hardly anyone, including the bankers selling them, really understood. 

Economics IS the conversation of our moment. I also recommend Economics of Good and Evil (2011) by Tomas Sedlaćek for a more philosophical understanding of our time and The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business by Umair Haque as a way for business to do good and create a better world.

Coptic Pope Shenouda III Dies

The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Shenouda III has passed away at the age of 88. He was greatly loved and respected. I saw pictures of him on walls all over Cairo.

Pope shenoudaiii

I have a lot of respect for the Egyptian Orthodox church. It's one of the oldest churches in the world and has so much to offer other streams of the Christian faith. While in Egypt last year, I got myself a Coptic cross tattoo as a way of identifying with the plight of the Coptic Christians in Egypt and a sign of respect.

coptic cross tattoo in cairo egypt

I heard Pope Shenouda speak at the large prayer gathering in Cairo that happened on 11.11.11 as a response to the recent violence. Some of us felt he should have been more embracing of the evangelical wing of the church and so we were disappointed when he banned their leaders from speaking from the platform. I hope the next Pope will be a little more ecumenical and not too frightened of the Protestants but at the same time I hope the Protestants will be considerate of their older brother in the faith, especially in the lands where the Orthodox have been holding the light for so many centuries.

See the video I shot of the the prayer gathering.

Is the number 666 really on our barcodes?

A blog reader asked if the number 666 is somehow integrated into the barcodes. This has been a discussion for over 30 years among Christians.


I asked my friend David Allis who is not only a Christian man but is also a leading seller of barcodes, to reply to the question, "Do all barcodes have the number 666 in them?'. He replied immediately [Thanks David]

"Nope they don't. 666 isn't encoded into all barcodes. However, we can put it in a barcode if you really want it :-)"

Of course I ordered 6 of them. But what about the QR barcode ?

Screen Shot 2012 02 23 at 1 17 46 PM

Looks pretty innocent at first appearance . . . Which is reassuring because this QR code was generated from the TALLSKINNYKIWI URL. Nothing sinister going on here.

Or is there?

Wait a flippin minute . . . WHAT DO I SEE HERE?????????

Barcode 666 qr

Not only is there a BIG DIRTY 666 on this barcode, [HELP ME Jesus!!!!] but I can also see two devil's horns, Marilyn Manson's right eye, a backwards masked image of Ozzy Osbourne's evil cat, and the ISBN number of Hal LIndsay's "Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth."

Related: Get a second opinion from some 666 mark of the beast geeks here and here.

More on TSK: About that pact with the Debil in Haiti, KISS, and the Heaven and Hell Tour with Motley Crue.

Seeking unity in the Egyptian Revolution

Egypt: 33 bodies in the main Cairo morgue right now. Might be more in Alexandria and other cities. 1700 injured, many blinded by rubber bullets. Last month's violence against Coptic Christians, which resulted in 23+ deaths, was the bloodiest sectarian violence in Egypt in 60 years. This week, things got even worse.

Its a mixed bag. The horror of death and the pain of persecution but also the hopeful signs of revival among the Christians, evidenced by last weeks all night prayer meeting which attracted 71,000 people [video], and attempts at unity among Muslims and Christians.

In Cairo, we interviewed one of the guys who has been working inside the revolution to bring peace between Muslims and Christians. This is the Cross and the Crescent T-shirt he created to reflect his heart for peace and harmony.

Cross and crescent egypt

In the first video, he shares about the death of his brother during the riots but, as he says, he "still has to show the love."

[video taken down for some editing. sorry]

In the second video, he talks about his efforts to bring God's peace among the people and the Egyptian revolution that he says was stolen.

[video taken down for some editing]

The third video is about the crescent and the cross, how Egypt can be rebuilt when Christians and Muslims learn to love each other. Its still uploading. Link soon.