Jesus, memory and the Gospels

April 17, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

Lecturer’s book gives confidence in Bible writers

Dr John Cox
Editor, Reflections
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

An Avondale academic and theologian has written a scholarly book that gives fresh confidence in the authenticity of the Bible’s Gospel narratives.

Rob McIver

Rob McIver has generated considerable scholarly interest with Memory, Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels. Credit: Aaron Bellette.

The teachings and deeds of Jesus were preserved in human memory for perhaps 30-60 years before they were written in the Gospels, a fact that has led many to question the reliability of the books. But Associate Professor Robert McIver’s Memory, Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels brings a new dimension to the debate by using the insights from more than a century of psychological experimentation to argue the reliability of the memories underlying the Gospels.

Psychological evidence discussed in the book reveals eyewitness memory is generally trustworthy, despite variations in the recollection of details. While recollection of detail declines during the first three to five years after an event, it is still about 80 per cent accurate. Memory remains relatively stable for the next 20 or more years, with only slight decline thereafter. Memory is further enhanced when eyewitnesses share their recollections, as Jesus’ followers would have done as they discussed His deeds and teachings.

Rob argues the strong social cohesion known to exist in first-century Mediterranean groups, and visible in the book of Acts, would have resulted in strong collective memories of Jesus. While the present needs and interests of groups do shape what is remembered and the group’s sense of what is significant, there are limits to such shaping, especially when eyewitnesses are still present. Radical change that is inconsistent with reality is almost never found in such circumstances.

According to Rob, the repeated references in the Gospels to Jesus as teacher suggests a further reason for confidence in these texts. Teaching methods in Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures emphasised repetition and memorisation to ensure students mastered the main content of their lessons. As a teacher, Jesus, too, would have schooled His disciples thoroughly in the things He wanted them to remember, and the disciples would have passed these things on to their converts – a process giving added confidence in the reliability of the information about Jesus current in the early Christian communities and recorded in the Gospels.

A second book, Mainstream or Marginal: the Matthean Community in Early Christianity, also uses the Gospel as its focus. Rob constructs a profile of the community behind the Gospel of Matthew by investigating content unique to Matthew’s Gospel together with insights from sociology and studies of oral and writing-based cultures. The book argues the Matthean community was likely to be mainstream in early Christianity, not marginal.

Rob explores the community’s relationship to both Judaism and Christianity. On the one hand, the community had a high regard for law, practising Sabbath observance and the distinction between clean and unclean foods, but it also viewed its members as saved sinners who should conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to those who await the soon return of their Lord.

Running mates train for games

April 17, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

Uni games prep gives Eagles good grounding

Brenton Stacey
Public relations officer
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

Avondale will send a team of about 70—its largest—to the Eastern University Games in Newcastle at the end of the semester.

Eastern University Games training

A training weekend has helped Avondale finalise the record seven teams it is sending to the Eastern University Games in Newcastle. Credit: Mark Singh.

The students will represent the Eagles in seven teams across seven sports—basketball, futsal, indoor cricket, netball, squash, tennis and touch football. They plan to not just compete but to be competitive, with preparation beginning earlier this year—the Eagles held a training weekend over the first weekend in April before finalising the teams, which are now practicing at least once a week.

“We’re not going to Uni Games to drink but to take our games seriously,” says Eagles co-captain and education student Jordan Hutchinson. “We’ll play fairly, but we’ll be playing to win.”

A team spirit is developing more quickly than at previous games, which may boost performance, adds Lucy Johnsen, the other co-captain. “If you feel you have support from a close group of people, you want to do your best for them.”

That spirit is bringing off- and on-campus students from across academic disciplines and campuses together—nurses from the Sydney campus are travelling to the Lake Macquarie campus to train. To maintain the spirit, the students will use the cottages on the Avondale Estate as their base during the games.

Avondale’s improved performance at its second games this past year saw the college of higher education finish third in per capita rankings. The men’s basketball, indoor cricket and touch football teams all qualified for but were narrowly beaten in the semifinals, with the former and latter remaining undefeated through pool games.

The games this year will feature about 3000 participants from universities and TAFEs across New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory competing in up to 20 different sports over four days (July 6-10). The top three teams in the basketball and netball competitions qualify for division one competitions at the Australian University Games in Sydney in September. The men’s touch football team from Avondale has already qualified thanks to its division two gold medal win at the Australian University Games this past year.

Big grant for big clean

April 10, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

Academic’s interest in infectious diseases raises research profile

Brenton Stacey
Public relations officer
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

A project on which an Avondale academic is a chief investigator has received a $650,000 grant to find the most effective way to clean hospitals.

Brett Mitchell

Brett Mitchell’s “prolific” publication record and his role with the REACH project enhances his status as one of Avondale’s top researchers. Credit: Brenton Stacey.

Dr Brett Mitchell is one of 10 chief investigators implementing and evaluating the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of targeted environmental cleaning practices in 20 Australian hospitals. The three-year study aims to reduce healthcare associated infections.

Despite the role cleaning plays in patient care, little evidence informs its practice. “Cleaning practices in hospitals vary,” says Brett, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Nursing and Health. “There’s no gold standard.” Yet.

The project, called REACH (Researching Effective Approaches to Cleaning in Hospitals), will make recommendations about standardising cleaning practices and products. These will be timely.

Other research co-authored by Brett and published in the Medical Journal of Australia last month (March) shows a significant increase in hospital-identified Clostridium difficile infections. Patients with this infection suffer severe diarrhoea but also shed spores into the environment. The spores—thick-walled “seeds” shed by the bacteria—can remain on hospital surfaces for months after a patient has been discharged. They are also resistant to alcohol-based hand hygiene products and common detergents and some disinfectants.

“I’ve gone into research to make a difference to patients and to the care they receive,” says Brett. “That’s why this project’s important—it will directly effect practice in hospitals.”

REACH is led by Professor Nicholas Graves from Queensland University of Technology. Funding for it comes from the National Health and Medical Research Council as part of its Partnership Project for Better Health. Securing a grant from the council, the preeminent funding body for medical research in Australia, is highly competitive.

Avondale is seeking approval to apply in its own right to the council for grants, “which will put us on the same footing as other universities in Australia,” says vice-president (research) Professor Tony Williams. The college of higher education’s status as a partner of a successful applicant will, adds Tony, “strongly enhance our profile and potential success at earning this right.”

Author on ancient and afterworlds

April 10, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

Publisher sees value in lecturer’s take on life after death

Bianca Reynaud/Brenton Stacey
Public relations assistant/Public relations officer
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

The Australian book industry’s Publisher of the Year is now a contributing cause to what an Avondale lecturer describes as her “incurable disease.”

Lynnette Lounsbury

Lynnette Lounsbury explores spiritual themes such as life after death in her debut novel, Afterworld, a young adult fantasy published by Allen & Unwin. Credit: Etienne Reynaud.

Historian and academic Lynnette Lounsbury is establishing herself as an engaging and successful writer after the publication by Allen & Unwin of her debut novel, Afterworld.

The young adult fantasy follows Dominic Mathers as he discovers that the end of his life is just the beginning of his journey—one that entails adventure, philosophy, romance, metaphysics and theology. “The characters and world stay with you long after you have finished the book,” says Eva Mills, an associate publisher at Allen & Unwin. Afterworld is unique, she adds, because it “draws on multiple traditions to create a life after death.” This “clever concept” leads readers to “think hard about their own beliefs.”

Living with her parents—both teachers—in Papua New Guinea until the age of eight exposed Lynnette to concepts such as myth and to stories about magic. The novel’s other themes all come from history, which, Lynnette says, is even more interesting “when you mess with it.”

Lynnette used her understanding of religion, belief and myth in the ancient world, a unit in which she lectures at Avondale, and of the so-called global consciousness to construct a world where what happens after death is a compilation of what everyone has ever believed will happen. The aim: to introduce the concept of God—described in Afterworld as “the Awe”—without the secular connotations of Christianity. “I wrote whatever I wanted,” says Lynnette. “I thought, They’ll ask me to cut back on the spirituality, but they never did.” Instead, Allen & Unwin said the theme was important and interesting. “They wanted it included because it’s not appearing in a lot of other novels.”

Lynnette describes Allen & Unwin’s publication process as “relaxed but professional.” “It takes a whole heap of pressure from me. They do the marketing and PR, which means once I’m finished writing, I just let go.”

Editing is different, though. Lynnette says the “extremely rigorous” process improved the plot and her writing, which she now describes as “more precise.”

Lynnette is writing two more novels. One—an allegory of the colonisation of Australia—is for her PhD. The other, tentatively called The Anarchist, is about teenagers rejecting the status quo.

Launch: Afterworld, Gleebooks (49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe), Sunday, April 13, 2014, 3.30 pm

Stoning and fever

April 3, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

The cross-cultural mission experience

Murray House/Alex Green
Senior lecturer in ministry and theology/Bachelor of Ministry and Theology (Honours) student
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

Theology students Rome Ulia and Sean Tavai had a rough introduction to Avondale College of Higher Education’s cross-cultural mission program. After a week of preaching in the village of Ringi in the Solomon Islands, they were told they had “disturbed a hornet’s nest.” They learnt what that meant when a mob stoned the house in which they were sleeping.

Ministry and theology students in Solomon Islands

The ministry and theology students on the tarmac in Honiara, Solomons Islands.

Despite the threat, Rome and Sean continued preaching. At the end of the series, more than 40 people were baptised and a further 200 made decisions for baptism. Among these were those who had stoned the house. “God has not only brought us here to bless but has also sent us to be blessed,” says Rome.

On the nearby island of Gizo, students Moses Depaz and Daniel Christie were preaching when Daniel fell ill with dengue fever. Moses preached for the rest of the series. The daughter of the local church deacon asked why God would allow the evangelist to be sick at such a critical time. However, on the final Saturday, the hospital discharged Daniel, who then witnessed the 44 baptisms that came from the series. “God is still with us even when we don’t understand what’s going on,” says Moses.

As part of the same program, lecturer Dr Kayle de Waal ran a series with graduate Joel and wife and education student Rachel Slade at Sun Valley outside the capital, Honiara. A hot spot during the ethnic tension in the country, a gang still held influence. On the first Tuesday evening of the series, Kayle made a call for people to start their life anew with Christ. The raskol leader came forward; 20 others followed. Later when Joel made a call for baptism, the leader addressed the crowd, pleading for his mates to decide for Jesus.

In total, the five series presented by the students saw 172 baptised and 311 make decisions for baptism.

Avondale now requires ministry and theology students to complete at least one cross-cultural mission trip. Avondale’s Ministerial Training and Scholarship Fund provided $10,000 for the five series and continues to support the program. In June, a new group of students will travel to Malaysia to conduct several series there.—Adventist Record

Toilets come up trumps

April 3, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

Student mission team brings health to Amazon villages

Dr John Cox
Editor, Reflections
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

Mayors of two districts in Brazil have offered to financially support a humanitarian organisation with which Avondale students worked to build toilets in remote villages.

One Mission Brazil 2014

One Mission Brazil leader Odailson Fialho and his team have built 49 toilets in remote Amazon villages over the past three years. Credit: Mae Selidio.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) project has improved health and sanitation in some of the most remote villages in northern Brazil, where water-borne diseases are a major cause of illness and death. Teams from the Avondale College of Higher Education student club One Mission have worked with ADRA over the past three years to build 49 toilets, a classroom and a health clinic. Villages in surrounding districts have appealed to ADRA to do the same for them.

The 27 students on this year’s team raised $35,000 for building supplies, as well as $5000 each for airfares and other expenses. They were away from home for seven weeks. Preceding their work on the health and sanitation project, the students visited Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Peru. From Peru, they travelled for several days down almost the full length of the Amazon River, first in a small boat, then in a larger boat they shared with 500 passengers, sleeping each night in hammocks on the open decks. At a port on the lower Amazon, they met ADRA staff members, then boarded a mission boat for a seven-hour trip back up the river to the area where they were to work for the next three weeks.

During their stay in Brazil, the students also visited the Adventist University of Sao Paulo and also shared their experiences with Adventist churches in Rio de Janeiro.

Mission trips such as these have real challenges. The Amazon is infested with alligators and piranha. There are dangers from snakes, ants and malaria-bearing mosquitoes. There are the challenges of living in primitive conditions, coping with an unfamiliar diet and managing tiredness. And there are dangers from the tools the group uses, such as chainsaws and machetes. But no student has suffered a serious illness or injury during any of the three One Mission trips.

Team leader Odailson (Dada) Fialho describes the trips as bringing positive changes to the lives of many of the students. “The trips also motivate significant numbers of students for future leadership roles,” he says. Three students from the Brazil team have already volunteered to lead future mission trips.

Dada, a Brazilian who received Avondale Alumni Association’s Community Service Prize this past year, came to Avondale to learn English but stayed on to complete a degree in theology and ministry. “I am grateful to Avondale for the opportunities it has given for mission service, especially to my home country.” Being involved in One Mission “is one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” he adds. “I want to thank everyone who has prayed for us. And I want to thank Avondale for encouraging and supporting One Mission.”

True stories tell well

March 28, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

Arts festival presents premieres on stage and screen

Brenton Stacey
Public relations officer
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

Breath featured the work of 22 artists, including Melvin Duffy.
Breath featured the work of 22 artists, including Melvin Duffy.
Jayneen Orwa won two of the Manifest competitions, both for song composition.
Jayneen Orwa won two of the Manifest competitions, both for song composition.
NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail

A Seventh-day Adventist arts festival has staged and screened two Australian premieres to critical and popular acclaim during its annual celebration of faithful creativity.

Chariot: the Eric Liddell story

Avondale staff members and students star with Michael Taylor (centre) in Searchlight Theatre Company’s co-production of Chariot: the Eric Liddell story. Credit: Colin Chuang.

Chariot: the Eric Liddell story and Hell and Mr Fudge both featured at the Manifest Creative Arts Festival, which Avondale College of Higher Education hosted on its Lake Macquarie campus, March 20-23.

The former tells of a British Olympian who is asked to run in the games for his country on his Sabbath. It starred David Robinson and Michael Taylor of Searchlight Theatre Company. The United Kingdom-based drama troupe staged the production with eight supporting actors from Avondale. The cast members “contributed to making this an engrossing and very human story,” wrote Ken Longworth in Newcastle’s The Herald.

Almost 1000 people saw Hell and Mr Fudge at screenings presented by Manifest and Adventist Book Centres in Melbourne, Sydney, Cooranbong and Brisbane. The period, faith-based feature film is based on the true story of a preacher called Edward Fudge who questioned his church’s belief in an ever-burning hell—and what those questions cost him. Executive producer Pat Arrabito introduced the film before each screening. She spoke to more than 400 people at Springwood Seventh-day Adventist Church, which had sent letters of invitation to more than 200 contacts. Fudge’s emphasis on grace and how he came to understand the immortality of the soul impressed senior minister Pr Travis Manners. “Hell and Mr Fudge highlighted the importance of using story to communicate a message,” he says. “Jesus used stories. Why don’t we use them more, too?”

The screening at Avondale followed Manifest’s first major event, the Breath fine art exhibition. Curator Shelley Poole used works by 22 Adventist artists to tell the story of creation. Associate Professor Daniel Reynaud opened the exhibition by noting how the concept of breath—from descriptions of the Holy Spirit to God giving life to man—is embedded in the story, which is fundamental to Adventist identity. “Despite our long history of not quite knowing what to do with the arts, the breath, the creative spirit is core to our existence.”

This is particularly true for the recipient of the Gabe Reynaud Award, which Manifest names after the pioneering Adventist filmmaker. Avondale alumnus Graeme Frauenfelder, a casual academic, a storyteller and a trainer who is best known for his clowning, dedicated it to the everyday creatives who will never receive an award.

Manifest awarded others for excellence in faithful creativity. Teacher Blake Robinson won the Avondale Choral and Instrumental Music Prize while Melbourne-based tertiary student Jayneen Orwa won both the Institute of Worship and Psalter Music Prizes for song composition. Brothers Karl and Nick Lindsay each received a prize, Karl the Avondale Fine Art Photography Prize and Nick his second Hope Channel Prize for best entry in the filmmaking competition. Writer Linda Brooks won the Signs Publishing Prize.

The festival closed with a cathartic concert. Despite singing his songs and appearing on the cover of one of his albums, vocalist Sally Hilder and contemporary Christian music pioneer Robert Wolfgramm had never performed on stage together. All My Friends Are Sinners, which doubled as the launch of three re-released albums from Galilee Records and a new book about the label, reunited the artists for the first time in 35 years.

In the paint

March 28, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

Students builds basketball court for school in Philippines

Dr John Cox
Editor, Reflections
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

It has taken four years and $70,000 to complete but a primary school in the Philippines has a sports facility thanks to students at Avondale.

One Mission Philippines 2014

Finishing touches are applied to a basketball court student club One Mission helped fund and build.

A team of 27 from student club One Mission finished building a basketball court that will double as a covered learning area for students at the Seventh-day Adventist school in the village of Maitom on the island of Negros Oriental. The students also built an extra classroom for the school and funded the first six months’ salary for a new teacher.

They contributed in other ways, too, organising a children’s program each afternoon, an evangelistic program in the evenings, a feeding program in the local community and a program called Empower Hour for students at a local public high school—the Avondale students involved the high school students in the children’s and feeding programs and in the building project.

Theology graduate Joel Slade, now a ministerial intern in Newcastle, led the team—his fifth mission trip to the Philippines.

Over the four years, more than 100 baptisms have come from the evangelistic program. Simon Gigliotti, a final-year theology student, spoke at this year’s program. Braden Rath, also a final-year theology student, and Joel assisted. Those living in the local community led most of the Bible studies. The result: 26 baptisms and a reconfirmation of faith for those who had been baptised on previous One Mission trips.

Romanian idol

March 20, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

Avondale PhD student’s poetry a hit at home

Bianca Reynaud
Public relations assistant
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

The quality of an Avondale PhD student’s poetry is likely to see it recognised as part of the canon of literature in Romania.

Daniel Ionita

Avondale PhD student Daniel Ionita signs a copy of his new book at its launch in Sydney last night. Hanging Between the Stars features Daniel’s own poetry written in English and in Romanian and self-translated into both languages. Credit: Etienne Reynaud.

Daniel Ionita’s first publication, Testament, an anthology of translated Romanian poetry, has proved popular in Romania. His English translations of more than 50 of the country’s poets over a 120-year span of literature are being considered as Daniel’s entry to the influential Writers’ Union of Romania early next year.

His second publication, as well as works from three other prominent bilingual Romanian poets, launched at the State Library of New South Wales last night (March 18). Hanging Between the Stars, published by Minerva Publishing, features Daniel’s own poetry written in English and in Romanian and self-translated into both languages. It is divided into three parts; romance, the prominent; psychology; and spirituality.

Actor Clara Voda read Daniel’s poetry in front of an audience of about 80. “He’s got a lot of sensitivity and talent because he can put all these ingredients together,” she says. “I really love his work—he’s one of my favourites.”

Daniel’s research “fell naturally out of working on these two major pieces of work.” He talked with prospective supervisors at two universities but decided to complete his degree at Avondale. Senior lecturer in communication and English Dr Carolyn Rickett and vice-president (research) Professor Anthony Williams are Daniel’s supervisors. “I clicked with them,” says Daniel. “Avondale’s small enough to be personal. That’s the key to its success.”

Senior lecturer in history Associate Professor Daniel Reynaud, Daniel’s brother-in-law, played and sang Romanian folk songs at the launch.

Kudos for kindness

March 20, 2014 by Brenton Stacey

Manifest award not for creativity in art but life

Brenton Stacey
Public relations officer
Avondale College of Higher Education
Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

An Avondale alumnus who has represented Australia at five Olympics is the recipient of the Manifest Creative Arts Festival’s most prestigious award this year.

Graeme Frauenfelder

Graeme Frauenfelder is the recipient of this year’s Gabe Reynaud Award.

Graeme Frauenfelder will receive the Gabe Reynaud Award during a ceremony also named in honour of the pioneering Seventh-day Adventist filmmaker. The award recognises excellence in faithful creativity.

“Graeme’s the most creative person I know,” says friend Dr Wayne French, chaplain on Avondale College of Higher Education’s Lake Macquarie campus. The two have known each other for more than 20 years. “But he’s not an artist, as such. Creativity is not about art; it’s about looking at something in a different way. And that’s what Graeme does over and over again.”

Graeme is a casual academic at the University of Western Sydney, a storyteller and a trainer who “opens hearts, inspires kindness and awakens creativity.” But he is best known as a clown, particularly at community-building festivals coordinated by Christians during the past five summer Olympics. He regularly travels the world—a camp for those displaced by the Sichuan earthquake in China, cross-cultural community-building and enrichment festivals in Johannesburg, South Africa, and creativity training in villages in Zambia—to enrich the lives of others. Graeme says yes to almost every opportunity, “even if I have little or no idea about what to do. I just figure it out, and I end up discovering more about myself and my abilities than I dreamed I ever would.”

Graeme’s philosophical approach and sophisticated intentionality to the practice of creativity is impressive, says Manifest co-convenor Joanna Darby, an Avondale alumna and artist who is a previous recipient of the Gabe Reynaud Award. “But what’s more impressive: he’s persisted without privilege, often without funding or institutional support, and he’s consistent, pouring creativity into his personal relationships and daily interactions with people.”

Gabe Reynaud Awards, Ladies Chapel, Saturday, March 22, 3.30 pm. Drinks in foyer from 3 pm.