Monday, May 31, 2010

ecumenical extrapolations

One of the most common questions I've gotten asked is about the differences I see between American churches and Australian churches. I must qualify immediately that, while my knowledge of American churches is vast and reasonably varied, my knowledge of Australian churches is based almost entirely on mine -- Church by the Bridge (see photo below; complete with rainbow!). I absolutely love it, which is why I so rarely venture elsewhere, but consequently my assertions may not be as, well, well-rounded as they could be. Oh well.

Before I get too far into the thick of things, I'd also like to point out that I got this question significantly more at the beginning of my time here -- which, really, is slightly ironic. While I could give a general first impressions sort of answer (we, um, never say "amen" in the middle of a prayer), I think I'm actually in a much better position to comment now than I was then. Now of course no one is asking -- though finally if they do I'll simply be able to say, "yeah, tons of thoughts on that, check my blog!"

(This, incidentally, is not a random photo of a fake American church. It happens to be the fake American church that is part of my Grandfather's railroad village and that sits next to the fake American trees made, very creatively might I add, of grapevine.)

I think the biggest difference that I notice is that, by and large, most people in Australian churches are there because they are Christians and they want to be there. A higher percentage are what I'd classify "solid" Christians in Australian churches than American, where I tend to think there are a lot more "nominal" Christians whose faith you don't really see impacting their lives very much. While Australian Christians are far from perfect, they generally seem better at realizing how far from perfect they are and working to address sins in their lives.

Going hand in hand with this idea is the fact that Australian Christians are much more forthright in their conversations. "How'd you become a Christian?" "What challenged you most in the sermon tonight?" "What's been most encouraging for you spiritually lately?" and "What has God been teaching you recently?" are all common questions churchgoers must be prepared to answer -- at any time! While initially this struck me as forward and just a wee bit rude, I have come to really appreciate (usually!) the honesty and directness of Australian Christians -- I have found such questions to be very challenging, but have learned that they also strengthen my walk with God, as they show me areas I need to work on. I think American churches could cultivate deeper Christians if they followed suit and regularly asked such tough questions.

Discussing the sermon is a particularly salient point -- not only are listeners expected to stay awake and focused (no reading the bulletin notes or, worse, texting!); they are also expected (let me repeat: expected) to think about it, apply it to their lives, discuss it with others and, often, change an aspect of their lives because of it. While many American Christians would presumably agree, I find that the cultural expectation for these things to happen is lacking in most churches.

Another thing that surprised me at first in Australia is that everyone at church was expected (let me repeated: expected) to be in a connect group (i.e., Bible study, home group, care group, Bible fellowship group, whatever you'd like to call it). Sure there were a few on the fringes who didn't join, but they raised more than a few eyebrows. Compare that with American churches that are constantly striving to get 80% -- okay, 75% -- okay, 50% -- okay, if at least a solid handful are considering joining a Bible study that'll do.

Also, the Australian connect groups are not just connect groups -- they are given real responsibilities at church. For example, they are rostered on schedules for welcoming, preparing "supper" (i.e., coffee hour), cleaning up after church, helping with various outreach events, etc. While you could argue the "20% doing 80% of the work" rule still holds true, I don't think the discrepancy is as large in Australian churches.

So, between always being prepared to give an answer for the sermon you heard and being expected to give a day for the connect group you're in, I think Australian churches really do foster spiritual growth in a way the many American churches are lacking.

Interestingly, on the flip side, Australian Christians also engage in many behaviors that would raise many American Christian eyebrows. I find their language shocking at times (you just said what?! in a church!?), and the concept of modesty is rarely touched (ha!) upon. Almost no books or movies would incur a social taboo (regardless of whether or not a Calvin understanding of discernment took place). They drink tons more beer, often head to the pub after church and pretty much always supply alcohol in social gatherings. And, while they may agree with the American political right in terms of issues such as abortion, they're much less likely to share the same politics (which, yes, they usually know more about than most Americans do). They're more concerned with the environment than most midwestern Christians, and generally more politically liberal. And not only that, they don't have adult Sunday school.

At the same time, though, they hold fast to the Bible as the true Word of God, and place significant emphasis on the concept of "teaching" -- which is often one of the big deciding factors for church shopping Australians: is the teaching solid? Most agree that Sydney is a hotspot for excellent teaching (sound doctrine, etc.), which allows even the soundest of Christians to pick their parish of choice based on secondary factors, such as the hotness of the single population (which, see notes at modesty, is not difficult to ascertain).

While the standard of teaching at Sydney churches is generally very high, there is some concern that the truth is going out, but without very much love. The Sydney diocese has a reputation for being very conservative and sometimes unlovingly exclusive. Also, some seminary graduates are, though intelligent, perhaps better suited for occupations other than ministry -- while they can think and reason well, they sometimes, simply put, lack social skills or awareness, particularly to the level necessary for a potential pastor to have.

Perhaps because of this, or perhaps for other reasons, I have found a lot less idolizing of pastors in Australian churches. I remember visiting numerous American churches only to be told, "Oh, you've got to come back next week and hear the real guy preach. This one was okay, but just wait till you hear Chris!" This really rather got on my nerves, so imagine my joyful amazement when my church's senior pastor traveled overseas for a couple weeks (multiple sermons!!) and no one batted an eyelash! I was shocked, though in a good way. No one commented that he wasn't there, no one chatted that this sermon wasn't quite up to snuff and everything just ran smoothly. It was great. Of course, it was also great to have him back, but the fact that the glory was going to God instead of one human is what made all the difference.

I think my church does a good job of allowing this to happen because the preaching duties are shared -- yes, our senior pastor does the majority of the preaching, but it is also shared by various other pastors and student ministers. I've probably heard at least half a dozen people speak multiple times. Also, the service "emcee" is a varied role as well, with many different people wearing that hat. Thus, it is entirely possible to go through an entire service up to the sermon -- or even, get this, an entire service -- without seeing the senior pastor up front.

The subject of church retreats is an interesting one: in American churches, retreats are where it all comes out. They're the time to share your testimony, how God is working in your life, what sins you're struggling with, why your life is falling apart and how moved you are by God's presence -- in short, all the things Australian Christians question each other about on a weekly (or, if they're good and going to connect groups, twice weekly) basis. This leaves Australian Christians conveniently free to relax and enjoy their retreats with very little thought of God in their free time, which can then instead be spent playing sports, tanning in bikinis on the beach, drinking down at the pub or making slightly off-color jokes around the bonfire, all while American Christians are passing the second round of Kleenex and coke.

These, then, are the major differences I've picked up on between American and Australian churches (thanks for asking). I'll leave you simply with the "little" things -- the first impression stuff, the things I noticed right away and that stand out the most to visitors, but don't really have all that much bearing on anything, and which I always felt constituted a pretty weak answer to the question of how American and Australian churches differ. Thank goodness I've finally come up with something else!

--Americans almost always go to church on Sunday morning. There often are evening services, but these are usually either seen as "in addition to" or "for teens." My Sydney based church has full-fledged services Saturday nights (yay!!), Sunday mornings (2) and Sunday evenings (2). Interestingly, people are encouraged to pick one service and stick with it -- drifting between two is another Australian eyebrow raiser!
--Australians all sit down after the end of their service.
--Pronunciation of certain words, particularly "Isaiah" and "One John" instead of "First John."
--Australians listen to a "Bible talk" instead of a "sermon." Similarly, they hear "talks" at evangelistic events, weekend retreats and Christian conferences.
--My church doesn't give bulletins with the order of service, though I've been told other churches do.
--Australian Christian children stay in a "creche" instead of a "nursery" which is made up of people who do not go to that particular service -- instead of taking anyone away from their service, regulars of other services are asked to step in come (gasp!) twice in a weekend to support those at other services. Thus, most Kids' Church leaders come Sunday mornings to help out, but actually attend evening services.
--My church doesn't actually have members, though presumably other churches do.
--Most Australian churches don't double as basketball courts.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

quicko: to spade

Spades, though not exactly an out-and-out winner, has got to at least pull a decent showing when the words get together and brag about how diverse of meanings they have. There's the standard garden implement and, my favorite, the suit for a certain Queen (as well as an entire game). There's calling a spade a spade and the dictionary even lists a few obscurer idioms I hadn't come across.

Now perhaps this is just idiosyncratic, but I also recently heard "spading" used as a gerund -- meaning digging not for soil, but for girls. Flirting, akin to the Australian "chatting up," which has also sounded a bit risque to my American ears -- slightly too close to, say, feeling up or knocking up.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

quicko: north-south divide

Sydney is a city divided clearly in two: north of the bridge and south of the bridge. People are very territorial and rarely venture to the other side of the harbor except in extreme circumstances, such as work, dying relatives or cute boys.

Incidentally, in case you were unsure as to the best side: rest assured, it is the north. Not that I'm biased. Just saying.

Friday, May 28, 2010

quicko: conspicuous by their absence

It seems it has taken me well over two years to piece together the fact that Australian landscape is crucially different from American: they have no fire hydrants.

"Fire?" asked my Australian friend. "What's that? We don't have fires in Australia."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

quicko: was sat

This is an interesting grammatical construction Australians (and Brits) tend to use -- a passive voice when there's really no need for one. The sentence goes, "So, I was in the theatre and I was sat in front of this really obnoxious woman who kept dropping crumbs in my hair." See it? Was sat. No one sat you down, did they? Why passive? The only thing I can figure is that possibly in assigned seating contexts (the theatre, some movie theatres, airplanes, etc.) you might not have had a choice -- however, the grammar is still used when there is a choice, such as on buses. There are other similar such uses of passive, but it's a bit late and the top of my head isn't functioning particularly willingly. So we'll leave it at that for now: I was sat at my computer and couldn't come up with any more examples. The end.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

quicko: an ice cream

In Australian English, "ice cream" can be a countable noun. Now, for the non-English teachers among us, perhaps I should expound. ("Expound" means "explain.") Most nouns are countable: you can have a singular form and a plural form, which is most often made by adding an "s." Thus, you can have one baboon, two baboons or a whole bevy of baboons. Some nouns, though, are uncountable. These do not, for lack of a better word, pluralize. They include such common examples as information (not informations), stuff (not stuffs), advice (you can have a "piece of advice," but there "piece" is your operative noun, not advices) and many foods: milk, sugar, flour, beef, etc. In American English, "ice cream" is uncountable -- you can get as many scoops of ice cream as you want, but not "ice creams." In Australia, though, you can. Furthermore, what they refer to as "ice creams" generally aren't scoops at all, but individually wrapped cones, fudgsicles and the like. We could talk about how much these monsters cost, but I think for now it'll be best to quit while we're still ahead.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

quicko: the finger wharves

A gorgeous area of Sydney -- home to the Sydney Theatre Company, the Sydney Dance Company and lots of wharves. Absolutely beautiful -- I think it looks amazing in the rain. Which perhaps goes to show I'm not a native Sydneysider, but I stand by my sentiments.

Monday, May 24, 2010

quicko: rugged up

Australian for bundled up. Dressed warmly, with lots of bulky accoutrements.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

quicko: sydney writers' festival

Today I went to the Sydney Writers' Festival -- a great, annual event full of panels and speakers and books and writers and readers and ideas and publishers and talks and chats and intellectualism and snobbery and down-to-earth-ness and ideals and notes jotted on scraps of paper and new names and old names and damp huddled masses and excited huddled masses and eccentricity and class and thoughts and actions and nouns and verbs and the occasional interjection. It's a lot like the Festival of Faith and Writing, only without the faith, which struck me as bleak -- everyone seems to have faith on the tips of their tongues, but just can't say the word.

It was great, though -- I attended a panel discussion on the state of the American novel as well as one with the winners of the Sydney Morning Herald's award for young (under 35) writers. I also browsed the bookstore and the zine fair -- a relatively new art form (and intriguing sub-culture) of mini-magazines.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

photos: rainbow over church

quicko: bog standard

Very dully normal. As in, "it was a bog* standard week."

Although I heard this precise phrase spoken by a very genuine Australian this morning, it was later called into dispute by another very genuine Australian who had never heard it.

And there you have it: a bog standard post.

*Bog has multiple meanings in Australian, but we remain unsure whether the intention in this phrase is closer to "swamp" or "toilet."

Friday, May 21, 2010

quicko: the shangri la-ndscape

Isn't the view from the top of the Sangri La gorgeous?? I thought so, too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

quicko: guylian chocolate

As you can see, makes Bec and I very happy!!! I don't know if it's Australian or not (I strongly suspect not, actually), but I don't really care. You can buy it in Australia and that's good enough for me. It's amazing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

quicko: ferries

I love the Sydney ferries. Mostly because they ferry me around Sydney. And that's really all they have to do to get my love.

(In case you haven't noticed, ferries usually operate on water. And water in Sydney tends to include the harbour. And the harbour tends to be amazingly gorgeous.)

I also love that they have names. I know most boats do, but that's beside the point. Here are their names (at least of the ones I've been able to record):

Lady Herron
Lady Northcott

Aren't they lovely? I just love them.

*Also, I remain siriusly smitten.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

quicko: 17th biennale

I had no idea, but it turns out Sydney is in the midst of its 17th biennale of contemporary art. I could have sworn you spelled it "biennial," too (and, incidentally, google spellcheck agrees with me ... though, oddly enough, it doesn't recognize either the word "google" or "spellcheck"), but perhaps that's all part of the art of it. I don't know. What can you expect from a girl who has nothing better to do than attempt to win the Blake prize with a liturgical physical interpretation of the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

Monday, May 17, 2010

quicko: street performers

Sydney has lots of street performers -- I felt sorry for the mime next to this one, though. It's hard to compete with a knife juggler suspended bicyclist when you can't say a word.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

quicko: sweet chili sauce

Sweet chili sauce is an Australian wonder -- it's a delicious sauce pictured here to the left. (And why not fit the Opera House in any picture you can, too, regardless of any relevance it has to the topic, hey? Yeah, that's what I think, too.) Being a taste, it's kind of hard to describe, but it's good and goes, in my experience, with most meat and vegetable sort of products. It's a standard sauce here, found wherever you'd normally find BBQ sauce. Now if only they had A1 ...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

quicko: sailing solo

The big news in Sydney today was that there was this 16-year-old girl who skipped school for a year and went sailing around the world and arrived back today. There were crowds upon crowds at Circular Quay ready to welcome her back -- as was this ferry, happily decked on in a pink "Welcome Home Jessica" sign.

Friday, May 14, 2010

quicko: bathroom humor

Okay, I don't actually have a joke about a toilet, but you've made it this far, you might as well keep reading anyway. What I do have is an extremely insightful note about Americans' restroom sensitivity: we are very sensitive. Not only do we not call it anything so crass as a "toilet," (to which end we have endless euphemisms: the restroom (when in public), the bathroom (when at someone's house), the powder room, the little girls' room, the little boys' room, etc. (As a side note, although we know the meanings of lavatory, water closet and loo, we are extremely unlikely to actually use them, except in jest or very desperate need of a new euphemism.) Furthermore, when we actually make it to the room in question, we (at least the female we) are likely to wish to paper our seats first. To this end, the vast majority of American public restrooms now supply pre-made toilet seat covers to supposedly save time and paper in this age-old process (it dates back at least to my great-grandmother). The covers never actually fit right (thus necessitating even more paper to make up for their discrepancies), but, hey, it's the thought that counts.

All that to say, when you go to the (gasp!) toilet in Australia, you rarely (occasionally, I do admit) find pre-made toilet seat covers ready to go. Now, if you'll excuse, I must go powder my nose.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

quicko: buffets

Are a much more American concept than Australian. Sure, they know what they are, but their eyes fall out of their heads when they see even a standard one, let alone a seafood one. If you want to impress an Australian, take them to buffet, then stand back and watch.

The only problem is you might get sucked into going every night for a week straight.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

quicko: dusters

i.e., erasers in classrooms (for whiteboards, for instance).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

quicko: chivalry

Australian men are not known for their chivalry. Case in point: a couple weeks ago I was riding home at night on a crowded bus, carrying some stuff. I'd walked to the back and no one offered me a seat. After a minute or so, though, one guy asked if I'd like to sit down -- in (are you ready for it?) an American accent. I gladly took the seat, and we chatted happily (though not, I hasten to point out, loudly) in American accents all the way home.

Monday, May 10, 2010

quicko: no dramas

Not as omnipresent as "no worries," but still an integral part of Australian vernacular. For ages I thought "dramas" were idiosyncratic to my workplace (if it's linguistically possible for a workplace to have idiosyncrasies?), but recently realized that they actually occur quite frequently throughout Australia. Who'd have thought it, turns out other peoples' copiers break down, too!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

quicko: happy mother's day

One holiday that actually coincides with America's celebration! Happy Mothers' Day, Mom!! I love you!!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

quicko: language

I've mentioned this before, but have since come up with authentic language to substantiate my claims: Australians use excessively coarse language in normal, everyday situations. Furthermore, the realm of words considered unsuitable for Australian Christians is much broader than American Christians. Prime examples include the frequent (and completely benign) use of "hell," "damn," "bastard," "ass," and "pissed." Obviously Americans use these words, too, but the level of eyebrow raising is significantly lessened down under.

For explicit examples of Christians using less-than-stellar vocabulary, knock yourselves out at Garry's blog. You might have to dig a bit, but it'll be worth it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

quicko: the english

A mild, civilized long-standing rivalry exists between the Australians and the English. For example, see comments at last blog post.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

quicko: average

In Australian English, means "below average," particularly with regards to food.

For example: "The Coogee Bay Hotel has a great view, but their food is really average."

Translation: "The Coogee Bay Hotel has a great view, but the food is crap."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

quicko: two quote or not two quote

Australian English uses single quotes (i.e., 'single quotes') with much more abandon than does American, which uses them only for quotes within quotes (i.e., "single 'quotes'") or newspaper headlines.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

quicko: a week

Here's something I heard tonight: "Steve's preaching Saturday a week."

What she meant was, of course, that Steve is preaching a week from Saturday. This usage is correct and frequent in Australian English. Go figure.

Monday, May 3, 2010

quicko: trumps

Not "trump." Not sure why, but it sure bugs me.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

update: australian work ethic

Here it is:

And, just in case you didn't catch it the first time:

Any questions?

Didn't think so.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

update: spiders

I believe I've mentioned Australia spiders before, but never from personal experience. Well, ladies and gentlemen, here's the moment you've all been waiting for: the Australian spider! Isn't it lovely? Isn't it gorgeous? Isn't it just like a root beer float, you ask, loudly demanding your money back? Well, yes. Yes, it is, actually. Amazingly like a root beer float except for the fact it's made with coke and called a spider. Or, in this particular cafe, a Mickey Mouse. Go figure. I don't really care -- it tastes good. Although if I were to issue a complaint, it would be the ice. Why do you need ice in a root --er, spider? It was shaved into large chunks and clung to the ice cream, thus rendering it entirely icier than even ice cream needed to be. But never mind. My advice for the next time you find yourself fed an overly iced spider (there's a sentence I don't get to write every day!) is to simply wait and let the ice cream melt a bit. And keep spinning the globe of ice cream. And all will soon be well. Except of course the spider, which presumably will be dead.