Saturday, December 20, 2008

101 Best Books Ever Published

Australian bookseller Dymocks has come up with a list of the 101 best books ever published, according to Australian readers.
More than 15,000 people took part in the online survey and some of the results were pretty surprising.
Proving you can't beat the classics, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice topped the list, with classics accounting for a third of the 101 titles.
The survey also found that Bryce Courtenay is Australia's most popular author.
Here is the list in full:
1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings Series - J.R.R. Tolkien
3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
4. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
5. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
6. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
7. Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
8. The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay
9. Magician - Raymond E. Feist
10. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
11. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
12. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
13. Cross Stitch - Diana Gabaldon
14. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
15. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
16. Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
17. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
18. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
19. Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin
20. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
21. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
22. The Bronze Horseman - Paullina Simons
23. The Bible
24. Eragon - Christopher Paolini
25. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
26. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series - Douglas Adams
27. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
28. Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden
29. Ice Station - Matthew Reilly
30. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
31. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
32. The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
33. Perfume - Patrick Suskind
34. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
35. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
36. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
37. Twilight - Stephanie Meyer
38. Angels and Demons - Dan Brown
39. The Pact - Jodi Picoult
40. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
41. Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt
42. April Fools Day - Bryce Courtenay
43. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Dernieres
44. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
45. Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts
46. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
47. Tully - Paullina Simons
48. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
49. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
50. A Fortunate Life - A. B. Facey
51. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
52. River God - Wilbur Smith
53. Wild Swans - Jung Chang
54. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
55. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
56. The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
57. Persuasion - Jane Austen
58. The Shipping News - Annie Proulx
59. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
60. Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
61. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
62. Possession - A.S. Byatt
63. We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
64. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
65. My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell
66. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
67. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
68. Dune - Frank Herbert
69. Emma - Jane Austen
70. Marley and Me - John Grogan
71. Middlemarch - George Eliot
72. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
73. The Count of Monte Christo - Alexandre Dumas
74. The Secret history - Donna Tartt
75. Chocolat - Joanne Harris
76. Dirt Music - Tim Winton
77. Looking for Alibrandi - Melina Marchetta
78. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin
79. The Ancient Future - Traci Harding
80. Belgariad Series - David Eddings
81. The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
82. The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
83. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
84. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
85. The Stand - Stephen King
86. It - Stephen King
87. Northern Lights - Nora Roberts
88. The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank
89. The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards
90. The Outsider - Albert Camus
91. The Riders - Tim Winton
92. Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
93. Across the Nightingale Floor - Lian Hearn
94. Atonement - Ian McEwan
95. Circle of Friends - Maeve Binchy
96. Seven Ancient Wonders - Matthew Reilly
97. Tess of the D'Ubervilles - Thomas Hardy
98. The Godfather - Mario Puzo
99. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
100. The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory
101. The Red Tent - Anita Diamant

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Smiling Face of God?

An unusual alignment of the new moon with Venus and Jupiter last night provided this joyous visage in the skies, visible even to those in the inner city. Makes you feel like someone is watching over you!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Seminal Moment in History?

It is not often that one can identify seminal moments in history as they are unfolding, but yesterday was one of those days. The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America breaks down arguably one of the most significant barriers in the USA, at the same time as inviting us into a new paradigm of political thinking. Given that Obama is only one of five blacks elected to the Senate in its history, his elevation to the Whitehouse is an astonishing leap forward. And in doing so, Obama has inspired average punters in ways not seen on the political landscape in a generation.
Obama’s victory speech last night was masterful in its rhetoric. At times he sounded like the archetypal black preacher in the pulpit. He has brought to the main stage of American culture something that has existed across a broad subculture. Yet for me, the seminal moment emerged from his description of the experience of the 106-year-old Georgian woman, who has emerged from a society in which there were two reasons why she was not able to vote – being a woman, and because of the colour of her skin – into a society where she can vote for a black president. In this vignette, Obama cast his view forward a century and asked what society his daughters might experience if they were to live to such an age. This rare sense of vision and perspective is perhaps the most encouraging of all his calls. Politicians rarely look past the next election, and many seem not to think further than the next opinion poll, and we suffer short-term thinking in so many costly ways. For a leader to ask us to imagine the world in 100 years is to free us from terminal thinking of impossibility, and to free us from immediate responsibility for its fulfilment, but at the same time to energise our imaginations and therefore shape our perspective in ways which begin the transformation.
Time will tell whether Obama makes a good president, although when using his predecessor as a point of comparison, it will be difficult to imagine him not being an improvement. He has, however, set lofty ideals which will be hard to match. He does come to office at a time of deep turmoil and radical reassessment. This should play into the hands of a reformer as the case for change does not need to be strongly made. The question being asked in these tumultuous economic times is, “what change is most needed?” By pointing to high ideals, Obama at least has invited us to look beyond our own self-interest and to consider the interests of our planet, and to reconsider what we value as important.
And importantly, Obama brings to the office of the President a unique perspective amongst Presidents. He brings the perspective of the underside of history, of the marginalised and oppressed voices. While not himself a son of slavery, he has lived as one of a class whose history, ideals, suffering, and imagery has not been central to the experience of its leadership, let alone decision-making, Perhaps here we need to honour the leadership offered by George W Bush, who has recognised the gifts and talents of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and in some small way provided a model to the American people which depicts capable black leadership… a legacy on which Obama has built.
In recent times, seminal moments in history might well have occurred more regularly, but yesterday will stand as a beacon in marking a cultural shift which cannot be turned back. Whether it marks a shift in other ways for the USA and the world will be learned in the unfolding of the years ahead. The seeds of hope and of a different future were on display yesterday, and I pray that these seeds bear fruit.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Religion is Ridiculous?

Ridiculous, and worse. So say the new atheist books: In *God is Not Great*, Christopher Hitchens does not mince words, calling religion "violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children." Now Bill Maher's movie *Religulous* lampoons the plausibility and social effects of all religion, ominously concluding that the world will end if religion does not end. But I suggest that social science data point to a different conclusion than do the new atheist anecdotes of hypocritical and vile believers.

Many in the community of faith gladly grant the irrationality of many religious fundamentalists - people who bring to mind Madeline L'Engle's comment that "Christians have given Christianity a bad name." But mocking religious "nut cases" is cheap and easy. By heaping scorn on the worst examples of anything, including medicine, law, politics, or even atheism, one can make it look evil. But the culture war of competing anecdotes becomes a standoff. One person counters religion-inspired 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta with religion-inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. Another counters the genocidal crusades with the genocidal atheists, Stalin and Mao. But as we social scientists like to say, the plural of anecdote is not data.

Maher and the new atheist authors present anecdote upon anecdote about dangerous and apparently irrational religious behavior, while ignoring massive data on religion's associations with human happiness, health, and altruism. The Gallup Organization, for example, has just released worldwide data culled from surveys of more than a quarter-million people in 140 countries. Across regions and religions, highly religious people are most helpful. In Europe, in the Americas, in Africa, and in Asia they are about fifty percent more likely than the less religious to report having donated money to charity in the last month, volunteered time to an organization, and helped a stranger.

This finding 'that the religious tend to be more human than heartless' expresses the help-giving mandates found in all major religions, from Islamic alms-giving to Judeo-Christian tithing. And it replicates many earlier findings. In a Gallup survey, forty-six percent of "highly spiritually committed" Americans volunteered with the infirm, poor or elderly, as did twenty-two percent of those "highly uncommitted." Ditto charitable giving, for which surveys have revealed a strong faith-philanthropy correlation. In one, the one in four Americans who attended weekly worship services gave nearly half of all charitable contributions.

Is religion nevertheless, as Freud supposed, and Maher's film seems to assert, an "obsessional neurosis" that breeds sexually repressed, guilt-laden misery? Anecdotes aside, the evidence is much kinder to C. S. Lewis's presumption that "joy is the serious business of heaven." For example, National Opinion Research Center surveys of 43,000 Americans since 1972 reveal that actively religious people report high levels of happiness, with forty-three percent of those attending religious services weekly or more saying they are "very happy" (as do twenty-six percent of those seldom or never attending religious services). Faith (and its associated social support) also correlates with effective coping with the loss of a spouse, marriage, or job.

Maher would surely call such religiously-inspired happiness delusional. But what would he say to the* *surprising though oft-reported correlations between religiosity and health? In several large epidemiological studies (which, as in one U.S. National Health Interview Survey, follow lives through time to see what predicts ill health and premature death) religiously active people were less likely to die in any given year and they enjoyed longer life expectancy. This faith-health correlation, which remains even after controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, and education, is partly attributable to the healthier lifestyles (including the lower smoking rate) of religious people. It also appears partly attributable to the communal support of faith communities and to the health benefits of positive emotions.

These indications of the personal and social benefits of faith don't speak to its truth claims. And truth ultimately is what matters. (If religious claims were shown to be untrue, though comforting and adaptive, what honest person would choose to believe? And if religious claims were shown to be true, though discomfiting, what honest person would choose to disbelieve?) But
they do challenge the anecdote-based new atheist argument that religion is generally a force for evil. Moreover, they help point us toward a humble spirituality that worships God with open minds as well as open hearts, toward an alternative to purposeless scientism and dogmatic fundamentalism, toward a faith that helps make sense of the universe, gives meaning to life, opens us to the transcendent, connects us in supportive communities, provides a mandate for morality and selflessness, and offers hope in the face of adversity and death.

article written by David Myers, a professor of psychology at Hope College and author of A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn't Evil (Jossey-Bass, 2008).

*Sightings* comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Economic Crisis

"Is it possible for someone to please explain in simple English with simple examples how this crisis came to be?" Here at Crikey, we like to help. So we bring you without further ado, the first (and possibly last) episode of the Wall Street crisis explained. The first instalment is brought to you by fellow Crikey reader Tony Stott, and is titled, The parable of the stock market and the monkeys:

Tony Stott writes: Once upon a time in a village, a man appeared and announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for $10 each. The villagers seeing that there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest, and started catching them. The man bought thousands at $10 and as supply started to diminish, the villagers stopped their effort. He further announced that he would now buy at $20. This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again.

Soon the supply diminished even further and people started going back to their farms. The offer increased to $25 each and the supply of monkeys became so little that it was an effort to even see a monkey, let alone catch it! The man now announced that he would buy monkeys at $50! However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would now buy on behalf of him. In the absence of the man, the assistant told the villagers.

"Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has collected. I will sell them to you at $35 and when the man returns from the city, you can sell them to him for $50 each."

The villagers rounded up with all their savings and bought all the monkeys. Then they never saw the man, nor his assistant again, only monkeys everywhere!

Now you have a better understanding of how the stock market works.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lord of the Rings

A recent holiday afforded me space to watch the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, followed by a re-reading of Tolkien’s original books on which the films were based. These two classic works share a common thread but differ significantly in depicting the journey of Frodo and his companions in the battle for Middle Earth. It is a difficult exercise to turn a classic and well-loved book onto the screen – the different media requires words to be translated into visual form. The screen offers in background formations that which the text may take many words to describe, while much background history and poetry of the book do not lend themselves easily to the screen. Peter Jackson’s rendition is a classic in its own right, but many significant and creative aspects of the book have been omitted.

The relationship between book and movie makes for an interesting reflection, particularly for those faiths which bear a strong relationship a book. The Hebrew, Christian, and Islamic faiths are themselves grounded in texts, much of which takes the form of story. The living out of the truths of these texts is itself an act of translation from one form into another – from the written word to the lived world. The balance to be struck between faithfulness to the text and relevance to the lived world is an enduring challenge of interpretation and application, between idealism and lived realities.

The lived world is never identical to the written world, yet the truths of one can readily be applied into the other. This challenge faces not only the film producer, but all people of faith - the battle between spirit of the text and the imagery and words. Judgements must be made about the supremacy and centrality of particular episodes within the text. It is impossible to translate any book to the screen in full satisfaction of every viewer. Words evoke different images and emotions, stories and events tap into different memories for each reader. What emerges is the fruit of a dialogue between imagination and memory, literal word and figurative meaning, subject to reinterpretation after each expression. Re-reading the books helped provide contexts for particular actions and differences in the movie – the death of Saruman in the movie obviates the need to explain the purging of the shire on Frodo’s return which the book details. The omission or reshaping of particular pericopes results in loss of imagery and context for particular actions.

Whilst the film-maker seeks to make a faithful retelling of the original story in its original setting, the life of faith seeks to incarnate the spirit of the text in an entirely different context. In this enactment, some stories will hold greater sway, and those which are overlooked pose new questions and challenges which might ultimately change one’s perspective. To relive the spirit of the whole text requires interpretive cues and frameworks which enable one to live faithfully, yet tentatively towards the ideal.

Far from being a stricture to the life of faith, the presence of a book provides a continuing interpretive and reflective resource for every believer. The life of faith is ever a dialogue between text and action, image and reality. In this dynamic tension lie the seeds of reflection on actual events and frameworks for future action and a basis for reflecting on what is, and for shaping what might be.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I Cannot do this Alone

O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me…
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friday, October 17, 2008

An old warning

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.
Thomas Jefferson 1802

Monday, September 08, 2008

Back to the Red Centre!

It has been two years since we returned from the journey which kicked off this blog site, and we have now decided it is time to head back to the Red Centre once again. One thing holding us back from an earlier departure (two actually!) is that Caleb has two basketball grand finals this weekend: one in domestic and the other rep. Hopefully we will head off on Sunday with a smile on the face as we look to enjoy the beautiful heart of Australia.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

High Petrol Price Savings!

Australian road fatality figures are down 11.6% across the first seven months of 2008 accelerating a downward trend which has been evident over recent years. Could this be attributable to changed driving habits as a result of higher petrol prices?
American trauma statistics back this thesis up even further, where road fatalities fell by 22.1% in March and 17.9% in April - the latest figures available, but which appear to be continuing through May and June. WHilst some of this might be attributable to a lowering in the distance travelled, it is more likely that the greater proportion is attributable to improved driving habits to increase fuel economy.
Which raises an interesting economic question. If fatalities are down this much, how much reduction in serious injury is also evident, with what saving in health costs? Dare it be suggested that higher fuel costs might actually be cheaper overall for the economy, even if not for individuals within it?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Makes Value

A rare stamp was sold overnight in Melbourne for $29000. The stamp - a 1913 10/- purple stamp with a kangaroo standing over a map of Australia - normally sells for around $1000. This stamp was unique inasmuch as it contained a fault which caused a double-printing of part of its border.

It's amazing, really, when we live in a society which pursues perfection with relentless ambition. Celebrities will often have photographs airbrushed to remove blotches before publication. This week we laud the perfect performances of athletes while many others pass in silence. When we make the inevitable comparisons between ourselves and those in the public domain, we clearly do not match up and tend therefore to undervalue our unique identity. This blemished stamp perhaps serve to remind us that is our unique faults which make us valuable in this world.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Freedom Paradox (Book Review)

“We have built ourselves a grand castle of freedom but choose to live in a shack nearby”
- Kierkegaard

In his first two books, Growth Fetish and Affluenza, Clive Hamilton began to unmask the prevailing philosophies of our time and expose the high price being paid for our unwitting enslavement to them. In his latest work Freedom Paradox: Towards a Post-Secular Ethics, Hamilton directly addresses the question which emerges from these two works: Why it is that our unparalleled time of economic prosperity and choice has left us with lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness? Has the modern promise proven empty, and left us unfulfilled, with less freedom, rather than more?

Beginning his journey with the father of modern liberalism John Stuart Mill, Hamilton begins a journey which dialogues with great thinkers through the ages, seeking explanation for the deep unease which permeates Western Culture, in spite of the promise of freedom which the great economic growth spurt promised us. By juxtaposing three alternative views of life: the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life, the framework is set for exploring the dialectic between liberty and limits.

Whereas modernity has conceptually enthroned the individual, Hamilton suggests that we have exchanged submission to obvious powers (church, state) for more subtle ones which subvert our capacity for freedom. Our ability to freely consent has been compromised by our capacity for self-deception, our tendency for akrasia (the ability to act in contradiction to one’s considered judgment), and in response to the subtle forms of coercion from the market and from socio-economic forces, all of which have served to diminish rather than enhance our freedom.

Having articulated some of the ways in which freedom has been compromised at the socio-political level, Hamilton explores the realm of metaphysics for an exploration of the relationship between inner freedom and greater wellbeing. In revisiting questions of the nature of reality, Hamilton boldly suggests that which modernity first announced and post-modernity has buried – the transcendent – remains accessible. The dense argument which comprises the middle stages of the book outlines a philosophical and metaphysical basis for access to the noumenon (the reality which lies behind the world of appearances) which Hamilton argues is based within humans (rather than God-centred), which provides a basis for the real Self as the centre of moral autonomy. In engaging with the mystical world of Buddhism, Sufism and of Christian mystics, Hamilton suggests that the “secret door to the citadel” is in finding the universal Self, where the God within and the God without are united, in the words of William Law, “in the deepest and most central part of thy soul.”

Hamilton examines – in a brief digression – the question of the existence of God, taking issue with Dawkins (whom he criticises for his poor metaphysics), Kant (with his view of God as separate and remote from humanity), and attempts to equate the concept of God as expressed in words with the Supreme Being, abandoning the idea of a God as cosmic policeman (my term) for a “more sublime notion of eternal justice”.

The basis for morality is thus grounded no longer in rational ethics, or an external moral code, but the Universal Self – where our independent existence merges into the Universal Self, shared by all. Morality is therefore grounded in metaphysical empathy, in which we recognise our common humanity, not merely as independent selves sharing a common core, but united by participation in the being of each other. Here Hamilton seeks to redeem emotion, compassion, intuition and conscience as a source for morality. The greatest moral acts are often counter to the prevailing social-cultural norm, citing Gandhi, Mandela and the Dalai Lama as avatars of virtue who have lived life on a higher moral plane.

“The freedom to do as we please is the most subtle form of unfreedom ever conceived,” he concludes. In seeking to reclaim access to the noumenon within the phenomenal world we experience, Hamilton suggests that the journey towards true freedom begins in being rather than doing. Many readers will welcome his call to rediscover the transcendent, although some will argue that he has been too optimistic of the human capability to overcome these forces and gives too little attention to what Christian theologians continue to hold in spite of its contemporary unpopularity: the nature of sin in the human condition, although we perhaps need to confess that the church has often placed this too much at the forefront and so shadowed the good news of grace it seeks to embody.

The Freedom Paradox offers a healthy critique of modernity, post-modernity and institutional religion and seeks to point us back to the deeper reality of which the spiritual giants of history have sought to point towards. ‘Tis a pity that too often we have wrestled with the words rather than the reality.

Clive Hamilton, Freedom Paradox: Towards a Post-Secular Ethics, Sydney: Allen & Unwin 2008

Review by Gary Heard

Friday, August 08, 2008

Companies or Corporations?

Quote worth pondering:
We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this - companies that have made big investments around the world.
- a Chevron lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, speaking about a lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of Indigenous Ecuadorian peasants over the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic oil wastes into their region's rivers and streams. Chevron is pressuring the Bush administration to eliminate special trade preferences for Ecuador if its government doesn't quash the case.
(Source: Newsweek)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Towards a Sustainable Future

It was the year 1899 when the then Commissioner of the U.S. Patents office was reported to have said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." While he might choose to have retracted those words even before they had hit the wires, we might do well to pause and reflect on whether all invention can be described as progress.

As we enter an era when the level of carbon in the atmosphere continues to climb to hitherto unrecorded levels - and even while we debate the implications of that - we recognise that one of the significant costs of progress remains the environment in which we live. We have, in reality, bitten the hand that feeds us hard, and wonder at its capacity to recover and adapt.

A second thought reverberates through my mind - most, if not all of this progress has been to the benefit of the West, at the expense of other parts of the world, even at the exploitation of them. When we consider how corporations have made millions by using cheap third-world labour to produce garments sold at prices which bear little relation to their production costs, we must consider whether progress for some at the expense of the majority is really progress at all.

The cost of producing many of our staples in the West has ignored the unaccounted costs - those which appear on no corporate books or tax records. While countries debate the possibility of carbon trading schemes (which would appear one small and tenuous step towards addressing the problem), there is an unspoken need for the West to recognise the need to bear much more of the cost of our lavish lifestyles.

This struck me afresh recently as I read through the Psalms, and encountered the reverberating cry, "I am innocent, Lord". I realised that this is a cry that cannot honestly emanate from my own lips. I live in a world system which is biased in my direction. I live a lifestyle which takes far more from this planet than is just or equitable, let alone sustainable. Even as I make efforts to reduce this, I realise that I am a long way from innocence. Such is not to pile up guilt, or to deny the possibility of grace, but to underline the need to give careful consideration to the way I live, to the foods I buy, the products purchased, the use of money overall. By almost any measure, living in the West invariably and conservatively places us in the richest 10% of the planet (certainly if you are reading this on a computer!). With such privilege comes responsibility, one which isn't exercised by deferring to governments for action.

The Bible begins by creating an essential link between humans and the planet: from the dust we are formed, and to the dust we return. Our link with the earth is more than merely symbolic, or at the ends of life. Until we recognise our inherent relationship with the earth, and the inherent link between the health of creation as a whole and our own as individuals and communities, we are set on a path into territories which will raise ever more critical questions about our future.

Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do. Perhaps we don't need new innovations so much as better environmental expressions.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Voice of Fear

The suggestion that we should begin a carbon trading scheme in Australia in 2010 has set the voices of fear alight, once again proving the difficulty of conducting serious and mature political debate in this country. What is most disappointing is hearing the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, starting to forecast electricity shortages even before the complete debate about the scheme has got into first gear. The news report last night forecast shortages this coming summer, which is pure nonsense. How can a non-existent emissions trading scheme in the summer of 2008-2009 result in shortages of supply? I am unsure whether this fear-mongering is an interpretation placed by a reporter over the Premier’s remarks, but it underlines the sense of disappointment in the moral fibre of our leadership when they start playing on short-term fears. It is the type of politics we hoped to have seen the last of for some time in the wake of the defeat of the Howard government, which was masterful in such politics.
While the science of global warming has much to both commend and question, there is no doubt that in terms of the health of the planet we are entering into uncharted waters. Instead of crying “Wolf!” or doing the Chicken Little act: “The Sky is Falling!” perhaps we would hope that our leadership might point to the opportunities for innovative and creative solutions to the identified problem of increased carbon emissions. Alas, it seems that we would rather play fear and avoid responsibilities.
In Australia it is hard to justify the absence of a serious effort at solar power and other forms of renewable energy. Instead of playing fear, we should be positioning our state and nation to be at the forefront of renewable energy. So we might have to let brown coal – in such abundant supply – remain in the ground for a longer period. What loss is there if we can develop new export industries which have a healthier contribution to the planet?
It remains to be seen whether the Federal Government has the guts to do the hard work. They’ll be peppered with fear on all sides.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Priest's Job Promotion

A Catholic priest and a rabbi were chatting one day when the conversation turned to a discussion of job descriptions and promotions.
"What do you have to look forward to in terms of being promoted?" asked the rabbi.
"Well, I'm next in line for the Monsignor's job," replied the priest.
"Yes, and then what?" asked the rabbi.
"Well, next I can become a bishop."
"Yes, and then?"
"If I work real hard and do a good job as bishop, it's possible for me to become an archbishop."
"OK, then what?"
Exasperated, the priest replied, "With some luck and real hard work, maybe I can become a cardinal."
"And then?"
Growing angry, the priest responded, "Well, with lots and lots of luck and some real difficult work, if I'm in the right places at the right times and play my political games just right, maybe, just maybe, I can get elected Pope."
"Yes, and then what?"
"Good grief!" shouted the priest. "What do you expect me to become, GOD?"
"Well," responded the rabbi, "One of our boys made it!"

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Towards Clean Energy?

While governments in the West continue to argue about the best ways to tackle the ever-increasing emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, we do well to note that the fastest growth in mobile phone penetration is currently happening in Africa and the poorer Asian nations, where the infrastructure for landlines is absent and the capital isn’t available to invest. Mobile phones do not require the same extensive and expensive infrastructure in order to provide access, and are at home in a society which is used to production and consumption taking place locally. It is a lesson which should not be lost on us as we consider reducing carbon emissions.
While the Victorian State Government has announced another brown coal-powered electricity generator, it perpetuates the mass-production in remote location approach which underpins most Western economies. A downside of this approach in electricity generation – aside from the massive increase in carbon emissions – is the loss of electricity in transmission, up to as much as 80%. On average we need then to produce at least twice as much electricity as is ever consumed at the point of delivery. Solar power, then, brings production and consumption to the same locality, reducing transmission loss. Here in the West, however, we are unlikely to adopt such a disaggregated approach to electricity supply. Poorer countries, on the other hand, may – as with mobile phone penetration – provide a much more creative response to the electricity needs of their communities. Introduction of solar power into such communities, while initially providing small stocks of electricity, may provide a basis for development which is both environmentally more responsible and with the capacity to grow as the minimal requirements of small communities expands.
Here in the West, the cost is large in comparison with the marginal improvement in supply capacity, in contrast with the possibilities of subsistence communities.
Such an approach should not only be feasible, but offer greater security than the current mega-production centres upon which the current electricity generation strategies are now based. There are more than enough rooftops available in any major city in this country which are available for solar panels. With over a million homes generating electricity across a wide expanse, the capacity can be obtained without further scarring the landscape, and at the same time provide a decentralised supply which is far less vulnerable to outages. Should one of our major generators falter, there would be serious disruption to supply. But solar panels on myriad rooftops offers similar continuity of supply as the internet – interconnected nodes across numerous sites which can shift the load as needed. Loss of one panel provides minimal disruption, alongside the greater correlation between production and consumption quantities.
Perhaps it is the African and Asian communities which offer the best alternative to alternative and environmentally friendly electricity, because they have much less invested in existing technologies. Might our aid and development organisations provide a lead here?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dobson and Obama: Who is 'Deliberately Distorting'?

(from Sojourners - some interesting comments, not only on the US election, but the relationship between religion and politics in general...)
James Dobson, of Focus on the Family Action, and his senior vice president of government and public policy, Tom Minnery, used their "Focus on the Family" radio show Tuesday to criticize Barack Obama's understanding of Christian faith. In the show, they describe Obama as "deliberately distorting the Bible," "dragging biblical understanding through the gutter," "willfully trying to confuse people," and having a "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."

The clear purpose of the show was to attack Barack Obama. On the show, Dobson says of himself, "I'm not a reverend. I'm not a minister. I'm not a theologian. I'm not an evangelist. I'm a psychologist. I have a Ph.D. in child development." Child psychologists don't insert themselves into partisan politics in the regular way that James Dobson does and has over many years as one of the premier leaders of the Religious Right. He has spoken about how often he talked to Republican leaders -- Karl Rove, administration strategists, and even President Bush himself. This year he tried to influence the outcome of the Republican primary by saying he would never vote for John McCain or the Republicans if they nominated him, then reversed himself and said he would vote after all but didn't say for whom. But why should America care about how a child psychologist votes?

James Dobson is insinuating himself into this presidential campaign, and his attacks against his fellow Christian, Barack Obama, should be seriously scrutinized. And because the basis for his attack on Obama is the speech the Illinois senator gave at our Sojourners/Call to Renewal event in 2006 (for the record, we also had Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republicans Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback speak that year), I have decided to respond to Dobson's attacks. In most every case they are themselves clear distortions of what Obama said in that speech. I was there for the speech; Dobson was not.

I haven't endorsed a candidate, but I do defend them when they are attacked in disingenuous ways, and this is one of those cases. You can read Obama's two-year-old speech, [audio link] which was widely publicized at the time, and you can see that Dobson either didn't understand it or is deliberately distorting it. There are two major problems with Dobson's attack on Obama.

First, Dobson and Minnery's language is simply inappropriate for religious leaders to use in an already divisive political campaign. We can agree or disagree on both biblical and political viewpoints, but our language should be respectful and civil, not attacking motives and beliefs.

Second, and perhaps most important, is the role of religion in politics. Dobson alleges that Obama is saying:

I [Dobson] can't seek to pass legislation, for example, that bans partial-birth abortion because there are people in the culture who don't see that as a moral issue. And if I can't get everyone to agree with me, it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the Scripture. ... What he's trying to say here is unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe.

Contrary to Dobson's charge, Obama strongly defended the right and necessity of people of faith in bringing their moral agenda to the public square, and he was specifically critical of many on the left and in his own Democratic Party for being uncomfortable with religion in politics.

Obama said that religion is and always has been a fundamental and absolutely essential source of morality for the nation, but he also said that "religion has no monopoly on morality," which is a point I often make. The United States is not the Christian theocracy that people like James Dobson seem to think it should be. Political appeals, even if rooted in religious convictions, must be argued on moral grounds rather than as sectarian religious demands -- so that the people (citizens), whether religious or not, may have the capacity to hear and respond. Religious convictions must be translated into moral arguments, which must win the political debate if they are to be implemented. Religious people don't get to win just because they are religious. They, like any other citizens, have to convince their fellow citizens that what they propose is best for the common good -- for all of us, not just for the religious.

Instead of saying that Christians must accept "the lowest common denominator of morality," as Dobson accused Obama of suggesting, or that people of faith shouldn't advocate for the things their convictions suggest, Obama was saying the exact opposite -- that Christians should offer their best moral compass to the nation but then engage in the kind of democratic dialogue that religious pluralism demands. Martin Luther King Jr. perhaps did this best, with his Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other.

One more note. I personally disagree with how both the Democrats and Republicans have treated the moral issue of abortion and am hopeful that the movement toward a serious commitment for dramatic abortion reduction will re-shape both parties' language and positions. But that is the only "bloody notion" that Dobson mentions. What about the horrible bloody war in Iraq that Dobson apparently supports, or the 30,000 children who die each day globally of poverty and disease that Dobson never mentions, or the genocides in Darfur and other places? In making abortion the single life issue in politics and elections, leaders from the Religious Right like Dobson have violated the "consistent ethic of life" that we find, for example, in Catholic social teaching.

Dobson has also fought unsuccessfully to keep the issue of the environment and climate change, which many also now regard as a "life issue," off the evangelical agenda. Older Religious Right leaders are now being passed by a new generation of young evangelicals who believe that poverty, "creation care" of the environment, human trafficking, human rights, pandemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and the fundamental issues of war and peace are also "religious" and "moral" issues and now a part of a much wider and deeper agenda. That new evangelical agenda is a deep threat to Dobson and the power wielded by the Religious Right for so long. It puts many evangelical votes in play this election year, especially among a new generation who are no longer captive to the Religious Right. Perhaps that is the real reason for Dobson's attack on Barack Obama.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Art and Science

In recent years I have journeyed back into basketball coaching, teaching youngsters the skills of the sport. It has involved a journey down memory lane, recalling drills and skills which have become second nature over many many years of playing at different levels. My previous coaching experiences had been of adults, so to take up a young group who are still growing into their bodies, developing basic control over limbs, has been a thought-provoking challenge. Some reflections have been germinating on the experience:

1. Never be afraid of failure. One of the first instructions I give to junior players is not to be afraid to make mistakes. None of us learnt to walk without the occasional stumble and fall, yet the only way to learn is by doing. When all is said and done, nothing of a training session is any value unless it is tried on the court during a game. I don't expect players to get it right the first time, and challenge them often to try something a bit different.

2. Don't be daunted by the size of the opponent. On the basketball court, a tall opponent presents obvious challenges. A recent U13 girls opponent was well in excess of 6 foot tall. Getting past the intimidation felt by the girls enabled them to focus on strategies and tactics which helped them turn the game. The taller opponent had a big impact, but their response enabled them to overcome, using their own capabilities in the face of a challenging opponent.

3. Art and Science. Much time is spent in teaching basic techniques, both individual and team. At the end of the day, however, when a player is on court, they have to make their own choices. The basic techniques hopefully lay a platform which gives them a range of choices and the capability to execute within a game situation. But a coach cannot call every play, or micromanage every game situation. Deciding which move to execute is an art which can be honed and encouraged, rather than managed. The range of moves can be expanded by teaching the technique.

4. Results take care of themselves. Game results are a byproduct of other things: how the team plays, how they adapt to the strategies of opponents, and a horde of other factors. However, if the team plays to the best of its ability, works as a team, and has the skills and techniques to use when needed, the outcome of the game takes care of itself. By focussing on winning - on results - we are often distracted from the capabilities we have to respond to the situation at hand.

Each game throws up different challenges... a lot like life really. The sporting field is a good metaphor for many of life's challenges.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

China and Tibet

I wonder where those "Free Tibet" t-shirts have been made... will I find a "Made in China" label?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Geelong Footballers

Why do Geelong footballers still carry handbags?
Because it isn't safe to put their money into Geelong investment banks!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


You will have noticed how quiet things have been from this desk over the last month or so. It has not been the result of holidays or other equivalent inactivity (much to my own disappointment!) I returned home one February morning to see the dreaded "blue screen" on my computer, which reported a dump in progress and inviting a restart. This could not be good news. In fact, the worst. Restart went OK until the time for the hard drive to kick into action arrived. All I could mount in response was the message "No HDD" and an unwelcome and foreboding clunking sound coming from said HDD. Thus began another journey through the digital world.

Having lost a computer due to break-in many years ago (with no backup), I now have a regular back-up plan. I had recently upgraded to Norton 360, which offers a back-up regime. Having backed up only four days earlier, I was not overly worried about data loss. Until, that is, I went to restore data to the new HDD.

For some reason, Norton had failed to recognise and back up any folders I had created in 2008! This meant the loss of a not-insignificant amount of work. Norton 360 also, for some reason, does not back up non-Microsoft web-browsing and email programs, meaning that Firefox and Thunderbird Mail, contacts, bookmarks and the like had not been backed up at all. Grrr.

At this point I searched for data recovery specialists. The first quote to resurrect the drive came in at a cool $2500. This was reduced to $2200 when I indicated I would take my business elsewhere. Another search brought me a quote of around $700, at which point it seemed worth the effort, particularly with a no-data-no-fee policy.

Meanwhile I began the process of reinstalling programs on my new HDD. Fortunately I had placed all disks in one location, so the process wasn't as fraught as it might have been, although it is a lengthy task. Following installation, the search for updates begins. If you run Windows XP, you'll know how many that can mean, let alone office etc, as well as reinstalling and updating Norton 360 and other programs. It's at least a day's work.

Then, on opening documents once again, you realise that you need to reconfigure all settings. Then you realise that some fonts have not been reinstalled. (Norton 360 doesn't back up fonts either). Obviously one program I didn't reinstall carried a font I had used on a number of documents in DTP.

After recovering the computer and getting it operative once again, I received a call from the Hard Drive Doctor, who indicated that he had recovered the drive with 100% data recovery. Woohoo!

Then becomes the process of recovering and resynchronising data... Having used the new setup for a couple of weeks, there were files which had been edited, others created, and emails sent, read and deleted. When trying to open 'recovered' files, I found that some were corrupted - the FAT had recognised their existence, but sectors were damaged.

I now have recovered copies, reconstructed copies, backup copies and other copies of files on three HDDs. And a new backup regime that also targets the Fonts folder as well as the information under Documents and Settings for all programs.

I'm glad computers can save so much time... I think I have spent a bit of it over the last month getting it all back together.

And the interesting timing? I received the note from the Hard Disk Doctor that he had recovered data on Easter Saturday!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Teach Me to Pray

My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee.
Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs.
Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee.
O Father, grant unto me, Thy servant, all which I cannot ask.
For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation;
I dare only to stand in Thy presence.
My heart is open to Thee.
Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware.
Behold and lift me up!
In Thy presence I stand,
awed and silenced by Thy will and Thy judgments,
into which my mind cannot penetrate.
To Thee I offer myself as a sacrifice.
No other desire is mine but to fulfill Thy will.
Teach me how to pray.
Do Thyself pray within me.
- St. Philaret of Moscow

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Response to Change

I haven't offered sermon thoughts on this blog before, but do so here, given the varied response to the apology delivered by the Australian Parliament to the Stolen Generations - Indigenous families subject to forced removal and relocation as a result of government policy over a period of many decades. I seek to address the fear of change which often threatens all of us, and to challenge some of the romanticised notions of the ways in which transformation has often taken place.

This is not a verbatim or complete transcript, but supplemented notes from which I preach...

What a significant week it has been in the life of Australia. Significant because we have collectively agonised for over 10 years about the appropriate response to the Bringing Them Home report which detailed the stories of Indigenous Australians who had been removed from family. Significant because we had to wrestle with the notion of responsibility for decisions taken in very different circumstances. Significant because there were those who felt that an apology overlooked the important and positive things which had been done. Significant because of the move to bipartisanship at least in some small part of Indigenous Affairs. Significant because for the first time the Parliament had been opened with a Welcome to Country by Indigenous leaders. Significant because it was the first week of the new government leadership in parliament.

Sometimes significant moments creep up on us unexpected. Others emerge after a long and intentional search. Still others in the agony of discovery. It might bring us some comfort that the decision to abolish slavery in the British Commonwealth was one born of similar angst. The birth of the Australian nation came amidst great debate and uncertainty. The dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to bedevil modern thinking. Significant and historic moments are rarely clear-cut in their unfolding or in their acceptance.

As we reflect on the significance of this week, I would like to draw our focus back into two texts of scripture in order to highlight on of the great human realities: we all fear change.

There are times when our discoveries open up possibilities which frighten us. There are reports of scientists in Nazi Germany who made breakthrough discoveries but hid them for fear they would be used in ways which the scientists found abhorrent. There is the same concern in other areas of development today, where scientists seek knowledge, yet are concerned by the way in which the military and industrial might of politicians might see it put to other uses.

The story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain comes in the midst of a series of events in the life of Jesus which begin to turn the disciples’ perceptions upside down. First the declaration of faith by Peter, then the revelation of Jesus’ impending death, and now the revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration. Each of them met with some resistance.

When we come face-to-face with life-transforming information, we realise that it asks something of us. When I came face-to-face with Jesus Christ, I realised there was a call upon my life that I could not escape.

The disciples here face the same reality. And they hide in trivialities. Shall we build three booths?

We have similar mechanisms today. Let’s put it to a committee. Let’s pray about it. Let’s… you know them as well as I do.

Human beings are very creative at resisting change. I know – I’m one of those. We ask questions. We ignore certain realities. We conceal our real agendas. When Nicodemus comes to Jesus, he comes as a man seeking to resist. How do we know? He comes at night? He asks vague questions then responds to the answers with some skill to avoid the real issue. Nicodemus senses a new wind but wonders whether he can follow it.

Someone once said that if you weren’t a communist in your 20s you didn’t have a heart, and if you weren’t a capitalist by the time you were in your 40s you had no brains. A young William Carey was put back in his place after sharing his dream of taking the gospel to the heathens by a leader’s remarks “If God wants to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without you or I.”

Where do the dreams and yearnings of our youth go?

During the first year of our time at West Melbourne, I could often be heard stating, “We don’t have to worry about failure. We stare it in the face each week!” The only failure was not to try. Not to risk. We knew that unless something different took place we were destined to die. It wasn’t easy.

Why do we resist change?

Overcome by Fear. What if we can’t handle it? What if we don’t have the skills? What if it doesn’t deliver what we hope? Good questions to ask, but ones which point us back to the source of life and hope.

Fear of change. The seven last words of the church? We have always done it this way. There is comfort in familiarity. It helps us feel secure. Safe. But how much gospel is that?

We are often tempted to stay the same because we know it. It stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ call to be born again. To live by the fluky winds of the Spirit. To leave behind families and mothers and brothers and sisters for the sake of the gospel.

Transformation is often harder. But which way leads to life?

A pastoral colleague reflected in the wake of the apology and in the light of John 3: "the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. And in that encounter, in which Jesus so profoundly speaks about 'new birth', I realized afresh what the core of the gospel is: that our past no longer needs condemn us to a particular future; that my tomorrows are not imprisoned by my yesterdays; that in Christ, there is a new and more hopeful reality that is brought into vision.

Today's apology was, for me at least, truly a Lenten miracle, and one that served to highlight powerfully the world-shaking wonder of the gospel of which John 3 speaks."

This past week has raised many other questions: compensation. Future Indigenous policy. Can we meet the expectations raised? The government was not limited by the problem of raised expectations because it heard the call of justice and compassion and truth.

The image of the Exodus is strong in our faith tradition: the call to leave the known and secure, if difficult, to strike out in search of the land of promise. The journey from Egypt to Promised Land was messy, fraught, filled with dissent, grumbling. You'd think there would have been better planning! When we become comfortable with the ways that we know we inevitably and inexorably abandon the call to the future which God has prepared for us.

Note Paul's response:
Philippians 3:10-14 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sorry Day Prayer

I posted this prayer yesterday on heardaboutthisone. I reproduce it here today alongside the text of the apology delivered yesterday by the Australian Government to the Stolen Generations. This prayer was written for Sorry Day, reflecting concern for the plight of Indigenous Australians.

Almighty and loving God, you who created ALL people in your image,
Lead us to seek your compassion as we listen to the stories of our past.
You gave your only Son, Jesus, who died and rose again so that sins will be forgiven.
We place before you the pain and anguish of dispossession of land, language, lore, culture and family kinship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have experienced.
We live in faith that all people will rise from the depths of despair and hopelessness.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families have endured the pain and loss of loved ones, through the separation of children from their families.
We are sorry and ask God's forgiveness.
Touch the hearts of the broken, homeless and inflicted and heal their spirits.
In your mercy and compassion walk with us as we continue our journey of healing to create a future that is just and equitable.
Lord, you are our hope.

Text of the Apology to The Stolen Generations

This is the full text of the apology delivered in Parliament yesterday by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Let us pray that the apology will be received by all in the spirit in which it is intended. Let us pray that it will result in our Aboriginal brothers and sisters being able to experience a sense of the closing of a dark chapter of their history, and the healing and release of past hurts and memories. Pray that the apology will release in our nation a fresh spirit of hope and the ability to now look to a future as one people and to work together towards the removal on any injustices, real or perceived, that still exist, until equality is not only spoken of, but also evident in the practical realities of everyday life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Apology to the Stolen Generations

I found tears welling in my eyes this morning as I listened to the broadcast of proceedings from Parliament House in Canberra as the final preparations for the delivery of the apology from the Australian Government to the Stolen Generations was made. It was a moment of both relief and thankfulness that this well-overdue apology was made, and a platform laid for moving forward in a spirit of honesty and cooperation.
Indigenous Australia has suffered greatly from European Settlement, not just with the Stolen Generations but began with the creeping assumption of land from them, depriving them of livelihood, sacred sites and freedom of movement. The treatment meted out to Aboriginal peoples has been a scar on this nation’s history, one kept hidden for too long. The release of the “Bringing them Home” report in 1997 for the first time openly detailed the impact of policies which endured during my own schooling years, not to mention the continuing approach which comes at high cost to Indigenous Australia.
Today, some sense of pride was restored for me: pride in our political institutions and pride in our national character, a pride which will always be tinged with a sense of shame that it took so long to acknowledge what our country has done. I long to see the day when not only a mace sits in parliament – a symbolic reminder of the power of the speaker, but a symbol of the Indigenous heritage of our land sits alongside it, so that Parliament will never sit with its eyes unable to see the Indigenous people of this land.
Let me adapt a line from the second verse of the Australian National Anthem: “With courage let us NOW combine to Advance Australia fare”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In case you missed Sunday School

The Sunday school teacher was carefully explaining the story of Elijah the Prophet and the false prophets of Baal. She explained how Elijah built the altar, put wood upon it, cut a steer in pieces, and laid it upon the altar. And then, Elijah commanded the people of God to fill four barrels of water and pour it over the altar. He had them do this four times
"Now," asked the teacher, "Can anyone in the class tell me why the Lord would have Elijah pour water over the steer on the altar?"
A little girl in the back of the room started waving her hand, "I know! I know!" she said, "To make the gravy!"

The Sunday School teacher was describing how Lot 's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, when little Jason interrupted, "My Mummy looked back once, while she was driving," he announced triumphantly, "and she turned into a telephone pole!"

A Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead. She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would catch the drama. Then, she asked the class, "If you saw a person lying on the roadside, all wounded and bleeding, what would you do?"
A thoughtful little girl broke the hushed silence, "I think I'd throw up."

A Sunday school teacher asked, "Johnny, do you think Noah did a lot of fishing when he was on the Ark?"
"No," replied David. "How could he, with just two worms?"

A Sunday school teacher said to her children, "We have been learning how powerful kings and queens were in Bible times. But, there is a higher power. Can anybody tell me what it is?"
One child blurted out, "Aces!"

Nine-year-old Joey, was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school. "Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt When he got to the Red Sea , he had his army build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then, he radioed headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved."
"Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?" his mother asked. "Well, no, Mum. But, if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!"

A Sunday School teacher decided to have her young class memorise one of the most quoted passages in the Bible; Psalm 23. She gave the youngsters a month to learn the verse. Little Rick was excited about the task - but, he just couldn't remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could barely get past the first line. On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, Ricky was so nervous. When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and that's all I need to know."

There was a very gracious lady who was mailing an old family Bible to her brother in another part of the country. "Is there anything breakable in here?" asked the postal clerk.
"Only the Ten Commandments," answered the lady.

While driving in Pennsylvania ,a family caught up to an Amish carriage. The owner of the carriage obviously had a sense of humour, because attached to the back of the carriage was a hand printed sign: "Energy efficient vehicle: Runs on oats and grass.
Caution: Do not step in exhaust."

Sunday after church, a Mum asked her very young daughter what the lesson was about. The daughter answered, "Don't be scared, you'll get your quilt." Needless to say, the Mum was perplexed. Later in the day, the pastor stopped by for tea and the Mum asked him what that morning's Sunday school lesson was about. He said "Be not afraid, thy comforter is coming."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rank your gadgets

Technology is everywhere. Whether at home, in the office or on the go, gadgets and gizmos of every shape, size and ring tone constantly surround us. But which ones do you feel are truly needed? Rank your favourites and see how they compare with others.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Lines of scripture

Random thought: It is easier to make our theology, perception and practice based on two or three lines in scripture. Much more difficult to base it on lines running through scripture.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Why did the chicken cross the road - or how far can you push an old joke??

DR. PHIL : The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on 'THIS' side of the road before it goes after the problem on the 'OTHER SIDE' of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his 'CURRENT' problems before adding 'NEW' problems.

OPRAH : Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.

GEORGE W. BUSH : We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.

COLIN POWELL : Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road...

ANDERSON COOPER - CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.

JOHN KERRY : Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.

NANCY GRACE : That chicken crossed the road because he's GUILTY! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.

PAT BUCHANAN : To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

MARTHA STEWART : No one called me to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the Farmer's Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level. No little bird gave me any insider information.

DR SEUSS : Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not been told.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY : To die in the rain. Alone.

JERRY FALWELL : Because the chicken was gay! Can't you people see the plain truth?' That's why they call it the 'other side.' Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media white washes with seemingly harmless phrases like 'the other side. That chicken should not be crossing the road. It's as plain and as simple as that.

GRANDPA : In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.

BARBARA WALTERS : Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its life long dream of crossing the road.

JOHN LENNON : Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

ARISTOTLE : It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

BILL GATES : I have just released eChicken2007, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your check book. Internet Explorer is an integral part of eChicken This new platform is much more stable and will never cra...#@&&^(C% ........ reboot.

ALBERT EINSTEIN : Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

BILL CLINTON : I did not cross the road with THAT chicken. What is your definition of chicken?

AL GORE : I invented the chicken!

COLONEL SANDERS : Did I miss one?

DICK CHENEY : Where's my gun?

AL SHARPTON : Why are all the chickens white? We need some black chickens.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Walter Brueggemann's 19 Theses

1. Everybody lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit. It may be recognized or unrecognised, but everybody has a script.

2. We get scripted. All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialization, and it happens to us without our knowing it.

3. The dominant scripting in our society is a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all, liberal and conservative.

4. That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy.

5. That script has failed. That script of military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.

6. Health for our society depends upon disengagement from and relinquishment of that script of military consumerism. This is a disengagement and relinquishment that we mostly resist and about which we are profoundly ambiguous.

7. It is the task of ministry to de-script that script among us. That is, too enable persons to relinquish a world that no longer exists and indeed never did exist.

8. The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is accomplished by a steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we say can make us happy and make us safe.

9. The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the tradition of the Church. It is an offer of a counter-narrative, counter to the script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism.

10. That alternative script has as its most distinctive feature, its key character – the God of the Bible whom we name as Father, Son, and Spirit.

11. That script is not monolithic, one dimensional or seamless. It is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent. Partly it is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because it has been crafted over time by many committees. But it is also ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because the key character is elusive and irascible in freedom and in sovereignty and in hiddenness, and, I’m embarrassed to say, in violence – [a] huge problem for us.

12. The ragged, disjunctive, and incoherent quality of the counter-script to which we testify cannot be smoothed or made seamless. [I think the writer of Psalm 119 would probably like too try, to make it seamless]. Because when we do that the script gets flattened and domesticated. [This is my polemic against systematic theology]. The script gets flattened and domesticated and it becomes a weak echo of the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism. Whereas the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism is all about certitude, privilege, and entitlement this counter-script is not about certitude, privilege, and entitlement. Thus care must betaken to let this script be what it is, which entails letting God be God’s irascible self.

13. The ragged, disjunctive character of the counter-script to which we testify invites its adherents to quarrel among themselves – liberals and conservatives – in ways that detract from the main claims of the script and so too debilitate the focus of the script.

14. The entry point into the counter-script is baptism. Whereby we say in the old liturgies, “do you renounce the dominant script?”

15. The nurture, formation, and socialization into the counter-script with this elusive, irascible character is the work of ministry. We do that work of nurture, formation, and socialization by the practices of preaching, liturgy, education, social action, spirituality, and neighbouring of all kinds.

16. Most of us are ambiguous about the script; those with whom we minister and I dare say, those of us who minister. Most of us are not at the deepest places wanting to choose between the dominant script and the counter-script. Most of us in the deep places are vacillating and mumbling in ambivalence.

17. This ambivalence between scripts is precisely the primary venue for the Spirit. So that ministry is to name and enhance the ambivalence that liberals and conservatives have in common that puts people in crisis and consequently that invokes resistance and hostility.

18. Ministry is to manage that ambivalence that is crucially present among liberals and conservatives in generative faithful ways in order to permit relinquishment of [the] old script and embrace of the new script.

19. The work of ministry is crucial and pivotal and indispensable in our society precisely because there is no one [see if that’s an overstatement]; there is no one except the church and the synagogue to name and evoke the ambivalence and too manage a way through it. I think often; I see the mundane day-to-day stuff ministers have to do and I think, my God, what would happen if you talk all the ministers out. The role of ministry then is as urgent as it is wondrous and difficult.

The accompanying audio from which this was transcribed can be found here.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


As we move into 2008, it is worth reflecting on the major shifts which took place in 2007. Two which stand out revolve around the shift in perspective which has taken place in relation to the environment, and the paradigmatic shift which has accompanied it. For too long the West has retained a focus on short-term outcomes, locally measured. With the embrace of the reality of substantially increased carbon emissions, even without agreement as to the overall impact, there has been a need to consider both the long-term implications of present actions, and at the same time the global implications. While the slogan “think locally, act globally” has been around for a while, the blind and slavish commitment to economic growth has meant that we have both thought and acted globally. Australian sentiment has been strong in this area – one of the major reasons put forward for opponents of signing the Kyoto protocol was that our contribution to global emissions was minimal. (This may be true on a quantum scale, but if the whole world were to emit carbon at a per capita rate equivalent to Australia, we would be in much deeper trouble – there is the example to be considered).
Nations are being forced to think in the medium-to-long term, projecting out towards 2020 and beyond to 2050. Never before has strategic thinking embraced such planes, except in the imaginings of scientific discovery. In the case of science, however, the narrow focus on a particular outcome has ignored the global implications.
A new wave of thinking is now required, beyond short-term growth projections, either in share market price or economic growth. We can no longer assume that any progress is linear, or without fallout into other sectors, other parts of the planet, or other aspects of creation. The major challenge is that there has been no dollar-cost to business or individuals for many of the actions which have created the predicament we are now beginning to embrace. Will we be prepared to accept such? And how can we keep governments accountable to these beyond their contribution to budget surpluses?
A new era of political and economic thinking is breaking in upon us. Times indeed are interesting.