Friday, August 31, 2007

Taking Faith Healing Too Far

A faith healer asked Moshe how his family was getting along. "They're all fine," Moshe said, "Except my uncle. He's very sick."
"Your uncle is not sick," the faith healer said. "He THINKS he's sick."
Two weeks later, the faith healer ran into Moshe on the street. "How is your uncle getting along?" he asked.
Moshe shrugged, "He THINKS he's dead."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sex on Television

The first episode of a raunchy new drama(?) series aired this week in Melbourne, and has caused a deal of controversy. The series, Californication, stars David Duchovny of X-Files fame. The first episode - a mere 32 minutes in length - was punctuated by a number of sex scenes which pushed the boundaries for nudity, sexual depiction, and of good/bad taste. It's not often that I find myself agreeing with Andrew Bolt, but I do agree that some serious questions need to be raised about a society in which this can be passed off as entertainment.

The first episode begins with a Duchovny dream sequence, where he is shown entering a Catholic church and encountering a nun... a scene which quickly turns into a sexual encounter which reverts to the bedroom and 'reality' (as opposed to the dream). Bolt asks whether this would be acceptable if the woman were a Muslim - a valid question of our culture. What is it that allows people, in the name of entertainment, to effectively desecrate the central beliefs of a major section of its society? Surely in an admittedly pluralistic society we honour our differences rather than degrade them?

But even more deeply, we need to ask about a society in which sex has been equated with entertainment. Early movies allowed the imagination to play its part. The scene would close with a kiss as the bedroom door closed, then return in the morning. We did not need to witness 'the act', as our imaginations were allowed to take over. Have we lost our collective imagination, such that we have to show everything in order to demonstrate how cultured we are? It is this lack of a collective imagination which imperils our future more than anything else, as we remain locked in present realities unable to imagine alternative ways of being in the face of climate change, environmental concerns, and acts of terrorism. We spend more and more time defending what is as opposed to dreaming of and creating what might be.

And when sex passes as entertainment, we debase the very essence of our humanity, in which the greatest acts of intimacy are mere fodder for the lonely, watching, world. We yearn for deeper relationships, more meaningful community, yet find ourselves spectators of others who are paid for this purpose. The depictions are so far from reality that we are lost. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the high levels of drug use, relationship, health and marriage breakdown and mental health problems amongst the celebrity caste - whose lives seek to echo the 'realities' they construct on the set. We long for deep intimacy with our fellow human beings, yet settle for a cheap alternative: and a horrible ruse at that.

And here's where I part company with Andrew Bolt. The television executives who bring us this are merely reflecting their viewers. These shows would not be made or aired unless there was demand for them. I haven't seen the ratings for the show, but the attention given to it guarantees many more will take a look in the coming weeks. Media executives are rarely leaders when it comes to shaping culture... they merely reflect back to the audience what is in the hearts already. We (the share owners, and the audience) demand that they bring increased audiences and increased profits - shows which we will watch, and therefore command advertising dollars. Perhaps they have read our society all too well.

The gospel offers an alternate and powerful picture of the future, one which captures our spirits and imaginations. In this future, we are invited into a level of intimacy which cannot be captured on screen or mimicked by actors. Perhaps that is its trouble... it isn't too easily marketed, and sometimes we in the church haven't been too good at demonstrating it either.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


One of these new environmental "SMART" cars was parked out front a few days ago. It's apparently advertising a new chocolate bar, but also represents something of the spirit of our age.

Humourous, but concerning at the same time, don't you think?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Assimilation lives!

Sorry - rant coming...

The recent changes to laws relating to Indigenous communities has been a hotly debated issue, as the Federal Government has moved to quell what it claims is an epidemic of child abuse. The government has assumed control of all Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, including the removal of land rights and the scrapping of the permit system which allowed Indigenous communities to control who had access to their land. Whilst acknowledging the existence of problems in many (not all) Indigenous communities, one has to be suspicious of a return to the paternalistic policies of bygone eras. Surely we can trust Indigenous people to work through the issues, properly supported by the government, rather than simply told what to do.

But the real agenda was released today when the PM declared that the only way forward for Indigenous people was assimilation:
"We have a simple aim and that is whilst respecting the special place of Indigenous people in the history and the life of this country, their future can only be as part of the mainstream of the Australian community," he said, reported in an ABC news item. This is simply appalling - a declared return to the type of cultural imperialism which has left a series of messes around the world, not least of all most recently in Iraq. Whilst the Western way of life offers many positives, there are serious downsides (which unsurprisingly our PM refuses to acknowledge: climate and environmental issues amongst the prime)

It's time we recognised that cultures are not morally neutral. There are good and bad elements in every culture. Pretending that our Western culture is perfect - or better in every way - exhibits a blindness of fatal proportions. Unfortunately the cost will fall most heavily on our Indigenous peoples and the lands they (now) own.

Indigenous Australians have survived in this land far longer than we, who would not ourselves have survived but for the wisdom of the Indigenous people. We've created many of these problems, let's help and support these communities in resolving the issues in their own ways - in ways which give proper respect to their culture.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Screen Sirens

How well do you know women in film? This montage morphs the faces of female stars of the screen from 1907 to 2007.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Continuing Dawn Rowan Saga

Let me encourage you to act in support of Dawn Rowan, whose full story can be found here. Dawn is subject to bankruptcy proceedings by the Federal Government arising from an action to (successfully) defend herself against baseless claims made in a government report. Dawn is the pioneer of the Women's Shelter movement in South Australia.

An update from a supporter reads:
Thanks everyone for the email/postcard/letter/personal campaigns you
have waged to contact Federal parliamentarians on Dawn's behalf. Let's keep those contacts happening.

The ball is now apparently in the court of Senator Nick Minchin. Here's his email address: why not contact him as soon as you've read this?

Philip Ruddock has replied with form-letters to those who sent letters or postcards. I don't think anyone's yet heard from Mal Brough, or the PM, or Peter Costello. Parliament sits again in a week's time, so hopefully there'll be some personal lobbying happening then. [Parliament is now sitting]

One or two have mentioned a rumour going around Adelaide about Dawn's
alleged refusal to negotiate a settlement with the Commonwealth. See her Blog for an answer to that falsehood:

Last week in the South Australian Upper House Greens senator Mark
Parnell asked the SA Attorney-General a question about Dawn's case. It's here: and I've put it on to Dawn's Blog.

Dawn goes to Adelaide for her next bankruptcy hearing on 24th August.
Can Adelaide friends be there to support her? Thanks.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Name of God

A Dutch Bishop has stirred some interest with his call for people of all faiths to refer to God as Allah, as reported on the ABC website. Bishop Muskens suggests that God doesn't mind what name he is called, and during an eight year stint in Indonesia celebrated the Mass by referring to God as Allah. It's an interesting and fraught notion.
First, to suggest that it makes no difference to God what we call Him might be stretching matters a bit too far. It is one thing to find a culturally-relevant way to express faith, yet another to suggest that all such expressions are universally relevant and transferable. In some senses, to name God is to reduce Him, to give power over God by the one who names. The great Hebrew name for God can be loosely translated as to avoid that type of limitation: "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be". God defined by Godself.
The response of Gerrit de Fijter, chairman of the Protestant church in the Netherlands, is enlightening and revealing in many ways, "Calling God 'Allah' does no justice to Western identity. I see no benefit in it."
...the fact that Allah doesn't do justice to Western identity is both a strength and a weakness: in one way countering the blind spots of our own understandings of God, and at the same time potentially denying aspects we would wish to affirm.

An underlying concern is the embracing of a view that we must all see God alike. I'm not sure that is true of any two people. Words have the power to create meanings as well as reflect them. If we are to affirm that the God we worship is greater than us all, we have to affirm the limitations of a particular and therefore culturally endowed understanding. But we must also, as Christians, affirm the notion of incarnation - that God is revealed in particular contexts. Determining the relationship of the universal to the particular and vice versa is an ongoing challenge for us all. But I do believe we are impoverished if we reduce God (or life for that matter) to a one-size-fits-all view.

A possibly complicating issue in this matter is that Islam as a faith does not generally accept the notion of cultural and contextual knowledge, at least in relation to revelation. It is founded on the belief of the timeless and eternal truth of the Koran and the prophet Mohammed. To adopt the term 'Allah' for God in the christian church may be seen either to embrace or to insult Islam, depending on whether we are seen to be seeking to turn the notion of Allah towards Western frameworks.

It was C S Lewis who once said that anything we say about God is a lie, inasmuch as it is not the full truth. A Western view of God, as much as an Islamic view, is both enlightening and limiting, opening up to new vistas, and closing of others. While the Bishop's suggestion is worthy of discussion, it is no panacea.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Should they license parents?

I found myself asking this question when reading the following news report:

A New Zealand couple is looking to call their newborn son Superman - but only because their chosen name of 4Real has been rejected by the government registry. The couple originally decided on the name because when they saw the ultrasound they decided that their son was "for real". I only wish that the boy's parents were. I'm sure he's going to thank them profusely when he hits the playground, whatever his parents finally settle on.... "Superman!!! Are you for real?!"

I have some friends who adopted an overseas child, and received a certificate to prove that they were competent parents before the adoption went through. This NZ couple is putting forward a good argument for spreading the net wider. Just because a couple can procreate doesn't make them sane, sensible and reasonable people!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Fingerprints of the Divine?

As an experienced student of forensic science (TV style), I have been forcibly informed that we human beings leave parts of ourselves wherever we go. We cannot pass through a place without leaving behind some mark of our presence. Cyber experts offer similar injunctions: our web surfing, our emailing, and other on-line transactions and activities leave a trace which afford some sort of historical profile. Adding in the use of mobile phones, banking and EFTPOS, not to mention the ubiquitous presence of city and road surveillance cameras, and use of an e-tag, it is no wonder that civil libertarians have us looking over our shoulder wondering about Big Brother and trumpeting our need for and right to anonymity. We are subtly trained to frame these fingerprints traces in a negative way – somehow threatening our true self, leaving it subject to the whim of others.
At funerals I am often taken by the fingerprints which a person has left behind: the memories, ideas, passions and values which have left their mark on others, some for life. As I was listening to the unfolding life story of a friend’s mother this week, I came to understand that these fingerprints and traces are an essential aspect of who we are: people with connections, people who are part of a community – interconnected and interwoven with the lives of others in so many different ways. As I listened to the eulogies, I was reminded of Jesus’ injunction at the commencement of his ministry, “The kingdom of God is breaking in upon you.” I began to ponder whether the mark of God’s kingdom is to be found in the many aspects of our DNA which are left in different places and on different people.
In the busyness of life, I often find myself distancing from people, preferring not to be distracted as I commit myself to the tasks before me. I am tempted to move people on quickly so that I can return to my chosen task, seeking my own space, protecting my own privacy in a way, often unaware that I may be turning myself away from the very kingdom I am seeking.
Then once in a while I remember. I pause to talk with an oft-difficult and demanding man sitting on a bench, to listen to his story, and find myself rekindled with a sense of wonder and refreshed by the touch of his humanity. I occasionally choose to walk down the street in the hope of an encounter with someone in the community, sometimes returning disappointed because there has been no encounter.
Does my often fierce protection of personal space and privacy cut me off from the in-breaking presence of God? Are these tell-tale forensic trails really part of the fingerprint of the Divine?
An edited version of this article appeared in The Sunday Age on 5 August 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

Prayer for Dreamers

We pray for the dreamers of this life, O God,
for those persons who imagine new possibilities,
who long for what others cannot perceive,
who spin dreams of wonder and majesty in their minds.
Defend them from ridicule and harsh criticism,
from self-doubt and lack of faith in their dreams,
and from abandonment of this call to make things new.
Grant that from their dreams
may come forth blessings for humankind
to enrich the quality of life
and the wonderment of us all.

- Vienna Cobb Anderson -