Sunday, October 10, 2010

Facebook and Faith

The proliferation of communication technologies in our day cannot be disputed, both in terms of the breadth of take-up and in terms of its penetration into almost every aspect of our social lives. Those born in the last two decades are on native turf. They have not known an unwired world, and have accepted that developing a relationship does not require physical proximity in the way previous generations formed their bonds. The presence of the telephone in every home in Australia took until the late 1960s or early 1970s, and streets were still littered with public telephones, whose purpose shifted from providing universal telephone access to a place where conversations could take place in a somewhat uninterrupted space. Public telephones have all but disappeared thanks to mobile telecommunications, first the mobile phone, then the advent of mobile internet devices.
To those who have adapted to these technologies, or who have seen their children or grandchildren take to them with alacrity, this can cause some consternation, particularly when reading about the perils of the internet, access to unfiltered information and images, and the capacity to create cyber-identities for purposes which might be regarded as malign. The information about oneself on line, particularly through social networking sites like Facebook, causes generations reared on privacy to wince.
How are we to adapt to this (un)wired world?
We need to recognise that this world is more than a communications medium – it is the harbinger of a new way of understanding our world, as well as interacting with it. It brings with it a new set of values, a new paradigm, and new language. Nowhere is this more clear than in the ways in which we understand our bodies. Whereas once we defined the body in mechanical terms, we now define it in technological terms. Health check-ups were once referred to as a tune-up, and transplants akin to replacing new parts in an engine. Now we recognise the systemic nature of our body. With developing knowledge of DNA, we talk of re-programming. Brain chemistry now speaks of neural pathways and connections. These are just two of the ways in which computer technology has shaped the ways in which we see ourselves, let alone our world.
Those who seek to adapt to this new world may make the mistake of thinking it is merely a matter of adopting new technology: create a web site, join Facebook, send an email (perhaps more appropriately, a tweet!) But this is only part of the challenge to be faced. We do not embrace the new ways of being and thinking simply by bringing a computer into the office, or joining the internet-connected generation. We need to learn a new language, a new etiquette, a new way of interacting. Reading an email requires a different set of eyes than reading a hand-written letter. A facebook status update must be read with different eyes again. We need a different judgment, a different skill set.
Much of the fear surrounding the impact of these technologies is not unlike the cross-cultural experience: not understanding the symbols, cues and language which is on the surface familiar, but substantially different. The value points, communication signals and relational cues are different.
The gospel speaks to each generation with different voices, conveying a time-honoured, eternal message. The job of translating the message into this environment, requires a rethinking, a reimagining, of the import of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the overall work of God in the world. God who is the word, whose word became flesh, would enter the digital world in a creative and unique way. So should we.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Life is Messy

Life is messy. It is an illusion of childhood and adolescence that attaining adulthood means acquisition of control over one’s life. Our adult life often represents the struggle to maintain this illusion in the face of a variety of events which threaten our equilibrium and prompt periodic adjustments to our plans. Some of them are ultimately welcomed and embraced, others less so.

In pastoral work I regularly encounter people in life moments where all semblance of control is lost: standing with a parent outside a surgical unit while her teenage son is undergoing surgery after an horrific car accident; sitting with family whose loved one has suffered a stroke wondering what the next few hours will hold; weeping with a woman who has been learned that breast cancer has returned and metastasised; staring into space with parents of a premature infant struggling for life; sharing parental anger when a child is diagnosed with a terminal illness. In these places any sense of control is shattered, and one’s human limitations are laid bare.

It has not only been in pastoral work that I have encountered these limitations. I have watched my emaciated grandmother lying in a bed wasting away; struggled with infertility for ten years; watched my own parents battle cancer; sat by a warming tray as my 600 gram son struggle for each breath and fought against the constraints which the tubes inserted into his body represented. How I wanted their struggles to end, feeling acutely the helplessness which comes in the face of such circumstances. Something deep within me yearned for some semblance of control, an ability to step in to reduce suffering, to find a constructive way forward. To sit as one engaged in these struggles was often excruciating, but there was no escape; no place to dodge the pain. Even when not present with them, I carried the pain pulsating within.

I understand the impetus which drives the call for the legalisation of euthanasia. These are very difficult places to be – to watch someone ebbing away before our eyes, seeing our relationship dissolve as the progress of insidious disease gradually tears our loved ones away from us, stripping them of much of what we consider to be components of human dignity in adults – down to the very basics such as control of bodily functions, and ability to communicate. To sit with and speak to someone without response, all the while watching them slowly slip away from life, tears at the very fabric of our being. When final hours linger into days, sometimes stretching into weeks or excruciating months, the pain becomes more than we can bear, both for our loved one, and for ourselves. Words fail to articulate what such journeys involve, let alone mean, for those who are pressed into them. The desire to ‘take control’ in the face of life’s last enemy offers the opportunity of at least a pyrrhic victory – a final declaration that we are in control of our own destiny. But it remains an illusion.

Early in pastoral ministry I learned an important and sobering lesson. A member of my congregation had suffered a debilitating stroke and lay uncommunicative in a hospital bed for a number of days. When she made an unexpected recovery, she expressed one of her frustrations during that time – that she had been able to hear and understand all conversations that took place around her, but was unable to respond. She was locked inside a non-responsive body. Although from the outside her humanity appeared to have been stripped away, it remained, locked away, oblivious to those around her. Her expressed fear was not that she had lost some control over her bodily functions, but that she found herself being ignored –the greatest indignity for her, to have others pretend that she was no longer there, even in her diminished and somewhat emaciated state.

The equation of euthanasia with ‘dying with dignity’ is a distortion. As the life cycle turns, we recognise that the ageing years can often bring a shift in relationship balance, where the child becomes the parent and the parent needing the guidance and support of their children. We feel the discomfort which comes when we find ourselves taking a parental role with our own parents, and seek to do it in the most caring and dignified ways we can. When cancer or dementia begins to overtake, the nature of such parental care can even mimic that of caring for our infant children, particularly when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness. But we do not such acts to be undignified towards our infant children. We talk with them and relate to them in the process in order to build and maintain the relationship. I have seen the expert and gracious care of many palliative care nurses towards aged patients in a similar manner – actions which maintain dignity even where the body makes it more difficult without assistance.

I do not judge or condemn those find it difficult to remain present when the last days drag on. It is confronting at times to journey those last hours and days with someone we love; to know that the person shrinking before our eyes was once hale and robust, full of life and energy. To talk to someone without eliciting a response where once their witty repartee brought raucous laughter or punctured the tension evokes a deep grief which cannot be readily expressed while they still live, even less so while we are in their presence.

Ranjana Srivastana’s column in The Age on Wednesday was refreshing for its honesty and humanity. As are her reported comments of the son. That death has its own timetable pushes us into uncomfortable and apparently inhuman spaces, spaces and experiences which we do not talk about enough, either about death or grief, or our own human limitations. Yet to gain the illusion of control may be to lose something at the very fabric of our being, something of our deepest selves.

I find myself asking what I would fear about a lingering death such as Sanjana describes? I identify pain levels which can only be known by those who experience them, much of which can be controlled or ameliorated with medication. I note the loss of control of bodily functions which threaten one’s dignity, but which can be cared for both physically and emotionally. Then there is the slow decimation of the body, slipping into being a shadow of my (former) self. But I realise that one has to learn that by degrees as one ages in any case. And then there is the sense of being left alone to die. I realise that it is the relationships that make me who I am; the people around me who give meaning, purpose and joy to life. These are those who celebrate success with me, who chide me when I fail, who urge me on to other things, and with whom I share a similar privilege. To be human is to be remembered, to be re-membered as part of a community. This is perhaps the greatest fear to be faced, particularly for those who believe that there is no comfort in death, and no company with us through the shadow of death’s valley.

There is a need to be there with a loved one in those difficult last moments not because they have anything to give to us as such, but so that we can be with them, showing that we remember, and that we care. This is the greatest gift anyone can give and receive in life. I fear that an acceptance of euthanasia may serve to undermine that gift, and therefore undermine our very humanity.

Life is messy. Let’s not make it clinical.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Beyond Ground Zero

The call by an American pastor to mark the September 11 anniversary by burning a copy of the Koran is not only an inflammatory gesture, but represents a misunderstanding of not only the gospel which the pastor seeks to represent, but of the events of September 11 themselves. It has become acceptable to link the September 11 attacks with either an attack on American religious freedom (more particularly its Christian heritage) or an attack on American culture and prominence itself. A closer examination of the events of that day demonstrate a far more simple statement was being made in a rather more complex manner than the pastor suggests.

American dominance throughout the second half of the twentieth century was rooted in a combination of its economic power, its military might, and its political power. It is hard to separate these from one another, so interlinked have they been. As we move into the second decade of the twenty-first century, each of these three pillars has lost some of its sheen, and the gap between the USA and the rest is reducing. US budget deficits are measured in the trillions, trade deficits continue to grow, and the might of the US military machine has been tested and stretched significantly on the Iraq and Afghanistan stages, where not only its expertise has been exposed as insufficient to bring out the desired outcomes, but the overall cost has significantly impacted the local economy’s capabilities in responding to the financial crisis. All of these, together with the shambolic outcomes of some presidential elections as far as the integrity of the voting process is concerned, have combined to undermine the political authority of the USA, particularly when further taking into account issues of diplomacy and in addressing global concerns such as Climate Change and the Millennium Development Goals in addressing global poverty. Whilst still the preeminent nation on the planet, there are reasons to question where the present directions of the US might lead, and what the pecking order on the list of countries might be like at the end of this century.

An arguable turning point can be anchored in the events of September 11, 2001. The events of that day are deeply entrenched in American culture and in global perspectives on American responses. The images of the World Trade Centre Towers collapsing are burned upon the minds of all who lived through those days. The residual anger in the community makes analysis of the events problematic and prone to misunderstanding. But rather than regarding these atrocities as random or completely senseless acts, we should look more closely to examine the import of the events of that day. Of course, one does so with a sense of trepidation, realising the tremendous cost, both in terms of lives lost on the day, but also its damage to American pride. The tragedy of that day and the deep grief which continues for a nation, and many individuals within it needs to be respected.

The visual imagery conveyed in the events of September 11 wield a coherent narrative, seeking to challenge the very structure of power which facilitated and underpins American dominance. In fact, in spite of the apparent wanton and random nature of the devastation it caused, the combination of events on that day exhibit something far more strategic. Consider the three targets: the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon, and the White House.

The World Trade Centre has remained the single enduring memorial image of the events, thereby masking the overall imagery of the day. It stood for decades as a symbol of America’s dominance in the world economy and of its engineering capabilities. It supplied 15% of the available office space on the island, and housed major multinational corporations. Billions of dollars of transactions passed through its offices annually. Its size related not only to its importance architecturally, economically and culturally to New York, but to America’s economic influence internationally.

The other two targets are remembered only in passing, perhaps because the impact was much less obvious – the symbolic skyline of New York being reshaped far more dramatically – and the loss of life in those other places less so. One of the airliners crashed into the Pentagon, causing not only the loss of life of passengers and some on the ground, but also significant damage at the point of impact – yet not enough to change the shape or the functioning of the buildings in any significant way. Similarly, Flight 93 was brought down by the courageous act of its passengers over fields in Pennsylvania, well short of its intended target, the Whitehouse, which continues to stand physically unscarred by the events of 9/11. In light of these outcomes one might suggest that the overall effect marked as a failure for its perpetrators, failing to significantly scar the three pillars of American dominance on that day, and allowing the reframing of the story by the victims for their own purposes.

However, a long-term analysis suggests that the damage might be more significant to Pentagon and Whitehouse than the scars of the day itself. The US response was to send its troops into Afghanistan and then to Iraq, ostensibly as revenge for these attacks, and as a pre-emptive response to any future acts of terrorism. Convinced that the Taliban and Saddam Hussein were involved and complicit in the 9/11 attacks, a massive commitment of troops succeeded in overthrowing both regimes in reasonably brief time frames. However, due to inability to establish a lasting peace or a stable government, the troop commitments are nearing the end of their first decade, involving significant loss of human life, with over 4000 US troops alone killed in action, and thousands more civilians and enemy combatants added to this number. In addition, the economic cost to the US economy of the two wars already exceeds $1 trillion dollars, with no end in sight to US involvement in both theatres. While these significant costs related to the conduct of action in Afghanistan and Iraq escalated, a new threat on the home front emerged – the global financial crisis. Already under significant budget stress, the financial cost of these wars has severely hamstrung the US administration in its ability to formulate meaningful and significant responses to the economic downturn which has pushed unemployment levels in the USA to double figures and created significant pain for its people. Economically and militarily, America’s vulnerabilities have been exposed, and any belief that the economic and military might of the US could shape the world as it pleased has been undermined. While only the World Trade Centre was brought down on the day – and is on the brink of re-emerging in a new form, the military and economic scars may well endure for many years to come.

And along the way, we have seen the gradual undermining of America’s moral authority on the international stage. There is no doubt that the practices of rendition, the images of Abu Graib, and the existence of Guantanamo Bay, where “enemy combatants” have been held indefinitely without charge or trial have done America’s reputation no favours. When you consider the restrictions placed on American citizens in order to “preserve America’s freedom,” including “no-fly” lists, wire-tapping, and other intrusions into privacy, the emergent paradox is how far one’s freedoms being removed in order to protect one’s freedoms can be justifiable and morally sustainable. While we may well understand the strength of commitment to ensure that US citizens are protected on their own soil, many of the legislative responses to increase homeland security have caused heartache for many innocent citizens.

The World Trade Centre (symbol of American economic power), the Pentagon (symbol of her military power), and the Whitehouse (symbol of political power) were all attacked by commercial aircraft – itself another symbol of American freedom and ingenuity – on a date which translates as the same telephone number as Americans dial in an emergency – 911. Can we really claim this was a random act of wanton destruction? Can we really simplify this event as an attack by one religion on another? Is the call to “burn the Koran” merely a reflection of the type of stereotypical ignorance which prompted the attacks in the first place?

We do well to hear the pain of the American people as they remember these events, for the wounds and the scars run deep. These attacks were callous and calculated, and designed to send a message. But if the only response is to “burn the Koran,” we have to ask whether anyone was really prepared to face up to the full implications of this day, let alone the call of the gospel to love one’s enemies and to pray for those who persecute you. But to use one’s power to trample on the beliefs of another is to continue to pour fuel on the fires which stoke such acts of violence. At the same time we need to remember that this attack was on much more than the area called "Ground Zero" today...

Monday, August 23, 2010

This is Just Weird

Talk about a strange coalition of events. Try this one.

But reality is often stranger than fiction. Consider the political situation presently being faced in Australia. A national election on Saturday has failed to deliver any party with an outright majority. Granted, that is de rigeur for Italian politics, but rather unusual in an Australian climate. The situation is made more complex by the fact that balance of power in the two houses of parliament are held by different ends of the political spectrum. The lower house, which forms the government of the day, has three independents from the political right who will ultimately determine who has the first opportunity to form government. These rural politicians are generally conservative in their views. In the Upper House, on the other hand, the balance of power falls to the Greens, who are at the left of the political spectrum (arguably the only party in Australia - with seats in parliament - who is on the left). Consider the challenge to be faced by a minority government: to have legislation which meets the demands of the three independent right-leaning MHRs on the one hand, and the Green left-leaning Senators on the other.

Sounds like a recipe for healthy government. Goodbye slogans, hello meaningful debate!

Sometimes the weird outcomes are the most productive~! (but time will tell...)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What would Jesus do about economic growth?

Article from Ross Gittins printed in Fairfax papers on the weekend. Refreshing.

Should Christians support capitalism? According to a leading English layman, despite all its material benefits, capitalism as we know it contains moral flaws with serious social consequences.

I'm in no position to preach to Christians, but I'm happy to pass on the views of Dr Michael Schluter, founder of Britain's Relationships Foundation, which will be of interest to a wider audience (and can be found here).

Schluter's beef is against the failings of capitalism that arise from corporations, which have developed as its primary engine.

His starting point is the belief that God is a relational being, whose priority is not economic growth, but right relationships between humanity and himself and between human beings. Christ's injunction to ''love God and love your neighbour'' points to the priority of relational wealth over financial wealth because love is a quality of relationships.

Corporate capitalism's first moral flaw, he says, is its exclusively materialistic vision. It rests on the pursuit of business profit and personal gain. It promotes the idolising of money, which Jesus calls ''Mammon''.

''People are regarded by companies as a resource, or as a cost in the profit and loss account, devoid of relational or environmental context. So capitalism constantly has to be restrained from destroying the social capital on which it depends for its future existence,'' he says.

This focus on capital lends itself to the idolatry of wealth at a personal level, and the idolatry of economic growth at a corporate and national level. Shareholders pursue personal wealth with little knowledge of how it is generated, and senior management with scant regard for pay structures at lower levels of the company, while customers are persuaded by advertising to pursue self-gratification in its many forms.

Corporate capitalism's second moral flaw is that it offers reward without responsibility. In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus implies that gaining money through interest on a loan is ''reaping where you haven't sown''. Lenders may accept some small risk, but they accept no responsibility for how or where the money is used.

Debt finance generally results in relational distance rather than relational ''proximity'' because the lender generally has no incentive to remain engaged with, or even in regular contact with, the borrower.

In the workings of large corporations, shareholders generally have little say in decision-making. Most investors provide share capital through a financial intermediary, such as a pension fund. Often they don't know or care in which companies they hold shares. Even the financial intermediaries generally do little to influence company policy.

Perhaps, Schluter says, instead of ''no taxation without representation'' we should adopt the slogan ''no reward without responsibility, no profit without participation''.

Corporate capitalism's third moral failing arises from the limited liability of shareholders, which allows debts to be left unpaid where the company becomes insolvent. Worse, the unpaid creditors are often employees, consumers and smaller companies supplying goods and services.

Because the downside risks of borrowing are capped, while the upside risks aren't, management has been willing to borrow huge sums relative to the company's share capital and thus expand companies at a frantic pace.

In the finance sector, incentive schemes often reward risk-taking excessively on the upside with no downside penalties, reflecting the risk position of shareholders. Consequent mega-losses have to be financed by taxpayers to limit wider economic fallout.

Schluter's fourth charge against corporate capitalism is that it disconnects people from place. In the Old Testament, the jubilee laws required all rural property to be returned free to its original family owners every 50th year.

This ensured long-term rootedness in a particular place for every extended family. A byproduct was to ensure a measure of equity in the distribution of property, which ensured a broad distribution of political power.

By contrast, capitalism regards land and property as assets without relational significance. This greater flexibility and mobility undoubtedly bring material benefits. But as extended family members move away from one another, and communities become more transient, they can no longer fulfil welfare roles.

Grandparents can no longer help look after grandchildren, and responsibility for care of older people and those with disabilities falls on the state, with the costs having to be met from tax revenues.

Schluter's final charge is that corporate capitalism provides inadequate social safeguards. It has no concept of protecting the vulnerable through constraints on the market. Deregulation limits constraints on consumer credit although the devastating consequences of debt for personal health and family relationships are well known.

Deregulation ensures labour is available for hire 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whereas biblical law protected a day a week for non-work priorities including rest, worship and family.

The adverse consequences of these flaws start with family and community breakdown. ''The greater wealth of some sections of society in capitalist nations has to be set against the greater 'relational poverty' which extends to an ever greater proportion of the population. The danger is that over time these relational problems become self-reinforcing and self-replicating,'' Schluter says.

Another consequence of capitalism's failings over the longer term is a huge growth in government spending. As the number of damaged households increases, so does the size of the bureaucracy.

Government spending on welfare has reached a level many regard as unsustainable, Schluter argues, yet without it many vulnerable people would have little or no physical or emotional support.

As state agencies take over many of the roles of family and local community, they undermine the reasons why these institutions exist and thus further lower people's loyalty and commitment to them.

Schluter's conclusion is that Christians need to search urgently for a new economic order based on biblical revelation.

Ross Gittins is the economics editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and correspondent for The Age. Original source

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

If you find God too easily

Thanks Andy for posting this thought/prayer from Thomas Merton:

If I find Him with great ease, perhaps He is not my God.
If I cannot hope to find Him at all, is He my God?
If I find Him wherever I wish, have I found Him?
If He can find me whenever He wishes,
And tells me Who He is and who I am,
And if I then know that He Whom I could not find has found me:
Then I know He is the Lord, my God:
He has touched me with the finger that made me out of nothing.

Monday, May 03, 2010

From the Outside In?

It strikes me that there are a number of significant hurdles to be contemplated as we reflect on the invitation to theologically reflect on what it means to be a Baptist denomination, any one of which serves as an obstacle of some size on its own, let alone where there is a range of issues in the mix. Let me articulate some of these:

Complexity – “re-imagining the BUV” assumes we can “imagine” it in the first place, and then understand the complex permutations and combinations which changes to structure might cause. Starting this process is like grabbing hold of a loose thread in a jumper – once you start pulling, you risk unravelling the whole jumper. Building aeroplanes in the sky and herding cats are two images which strike me in this process. I wonder whether it is a little too clinical an approach. Theological reflection is an ongoing process in which praxis is essential. One act of reflection (or a time) without consequent action and further reflection is insufficient, and suggests there is a “right answer” to be found.

Experience – it is fair to say that there are those of us who find ourselves at one end or other of a spectrum: there are those who do not have a positive experience of denominational life, for whatever reason. And there are those for whom participation in denominational life has been a complete blessing. We all read the denominational structures through a particular grid of experience, none of which disqualifies us from recording our observations and communicating them for the good of its future (or should I say, our future, keeping in mind Frank’s observation that the BUV is our denomination).

Understanding – from the outside in. How many of us have a real understanding of what is happening inside the denominational office? Of the considerable complexities which reflect the theological, pastoral, ethical, organisational, legal and administrative issues. The question could be asked as to how effective any reflection is from a distance…

Personal Concern. There are those who believe that speaking out about their experience and concerns will compromise them in terms of future pastoral appointments, and therefore choose to continue to suffer in silence. The only way for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing. But there is another risk in speaking out – not having one’s concerns validated by others. There are times when we haven’t been pastoral in our response to one another. The history of the VBMN list shows this. The use of the anonymous post feature of the list has demonstrated the need for a place to vent in complete confidence.

Incompleteness – sometimes we hold strong convictions about something without necessarily having the capacity to offer a potential solution. That’s OK. It is a function and a privilege of community to hear the incomplete thoughts born of pain, angst, or even joy, and to help one another work through the implications.

From the Outside In? Asking us to reflect on something most of us have only experienced at the margins is problematic. There may be longer term strategies unfolding which aren’t apparent, or to which we may not be privy. A change in organisational direction, theologically and strategically, emerges from familiarity with the systems and their impact in relation to the strategic plan, surely. BUT… let us never forget that the central figure and central story of the Christian faith is found at the margins: outside a city wall, amongst the poor and marginalised. If we are to develop healthy denominational structures, we need to hear all voices, all thoughts, because we should be listening for the voice of the Spirit, and not one of self-defense or self-justification.

My efforts in these writings are an exercise in “thinking out loud.” And certainly – as one who has had little contact with the internal workings of denominational life – from the margins. Theological reflection is a conversation. It is dynamic. We all need to offer our half-formed thoughts, impressions and observations.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Denomination by Association

My first response to the night of theological reflection, and to Frank’s paper is rightly determined to be too theoretical. In retrospect it is my effort to put some parameters around the nature of theological reflection, and to underline that our capacity to determine what God is doing in the present is enhanced by our knowledge of what God has done in the past and of the hope which calls us into God’s future. The question, “What are the implications?” is an important one, but must always be answered with the realisation that all actions and structures express values and embody particular futures. In this light I turn my attention to the Baptist tradition of Association.
From the earliest days Baptists were drawn into association with one another. We need to consider what the nature and purpose of association meant at that time, and how association became denomination…
It is something of a catch cry that the reason for denomination is that there are things that we can do together that we can’t do separately. While acknowledging the truth in such a statement, it does need clarification. Over time it has amounted to a deferral to the denomination rather than the cooperative spirit which undergirds the notion of association. In association, churches found support as they grappled with the implications of the theological convictions which drove them to establish Baptist churches in the first place. In the same way that Paul’s mission to the Gentile world raised questions related to practices such as circumcision, so the embrace of liberty of conscience and commitment to corporate discernment of God’s call pressed the new church to consider the implications. We have studied these movements around theological conviction: General vs Particular Baptist distinctives are but one example, but the ways in which they developed the practices at a local level are as formative as the theological statements produced. Association was about shared conviction, commitment to exploration of this call and its implications, and about supporting one another in this journey, so that individual churches did not feel isolated and alone in the struggle. I do not get the sense of an “Association office” being established to support the work. Rather the Association itself was engaged in the struggle and questions emerging at the local level. They were local church practitioners together. And one would assume, not in large churches by modern standards.
The purpose of Association was directed towards empowering and supporting the local church. This was enhanced by the development of theological frameworks for understanding their mission, although the coming together as Association was arguably founded on this.
One of the arguable outcomes of the shift towards “doing things together” is an increasing disconnect with that which is done corporately from the local experience, to the effect that it looks more like outsourcing than cooperative ministry. By way of example, our Baptist social service and missional ventures are now quite distinct from the local church and disconnected from a significant proportion of those who make up our churches. The major connection, if it exists at all, is through funding rather than an identified partnership in mission and ministry together.
The problem of distance is one which plagues all denominational offices. Ministry at the local church level engages at a different perspective than a denominational office. Not only are they shaped by different concerns, the engagement interface is different. In hindsight, this is one of the troubling thoughts which plagued me on the night and since – the theological reflection undertaken appeared to be largely from the inside-out. That is, we seemed to be reflecting on what is and how to make it better/more effective, rather than taking up the call to reflect on what God is doing in the world and asking how we might align with it. Here I would respectfully disagree with Jeff Pugh’s contention that this is limited to “in those places and with those people who are preaching his message and where the message of the Cross and resurrection is bearing fruit.” Such a limited view of God’s work in the world implies that God is only at work in the church, or in terms which the church readily understands and identifies. If we are to learn anything from the history of the early church and the mission of Jesus it is that God often appears at the margins – even of religious life, inviting us to see His work in new ways and new perspectives. If we limit our theological reflection to what God is doing in the church we risk becoming increasingly insular and inward-focussed. Theological reflection has always been on what God is doing in the world, and where God is leading creation, and those who would follow the call of God.
It is beyond contention that the ministry interface at the local level has changed considerably over the last forty years, perhaps with increasing pace over the last decade. The metaphors and narratives which inform people’s lives are increasingly disconnected from the ones which have nurtured the church’s history and, until recently, Western culture. The risks of and frameworks for ministry have changed considerably. How do we negotiate these in the context of the world and not merely in terms of the risk exposure of the denomination? How do we engage with these in ways which open us up to the new possibilities which God is already creating? How do we prepare ourselves for different ways of being and doing that reflect God’s call in the present and towards the future which God has called us to?
The shift from association to denomination has created a structure where a disconnect between the view from a denominational framework and that from the local pastoral office is not only possible but extremely likely. One potential outcome is the drifting apart of the member churches as they engage more intentionally with their local settings, formulating responses which might be informed by any combination of scripture, Baptist tradition (from the local to the global), openness to God in the present, and understanding of what the future of God looks like. As each develops their own matrix of these (and other) backgrounds into their local church culture, the overarching denominational distinctive gets lost.
Some might argue that the capacity of a denominational body to engage in meaningful ways across the whole state is limited (echoing something of the argument in Federation about the redundancy of the states). As we look back to our associational heritage, we must ask ourselves whether its culture and approach is worth recovering and in what way. Let me offer some food for thought.

An Association view of our Union of Churches could see:
A move to having say 8-10 Part-time area ministers each with 20-25 churches in their locality to care for the pastors. This would enable regional pastors to engage with ministry at the local level, possibly into smaller churches, thereby putting leadership skills to work where most needed. It could also establish a sense of equality and partnership between pastors and their area minister, knowing that the interface of ministry is fresh for all, that many of the challenges being felt by the area minister are direct and not vicarious, creating a sense of mutuality of support and care in ministry. Area ministers would be based at the local level, and therefore have local understanding of issues and context.
In this scenario, the role of the Director of Ministries would have a significant responsibility for leading/mentoring/pastorally caring for the area ministers, modelling the type of care and support which is hopefully reflected in the local settings. This could enhance the environment whereby the process of theological reflection begins to inform wider aspects of denominational life, and the local level engagement with the wider denominational level is enhanced. Rethinking of denominational funding arrangements might also release funds and other resources to the different areas where decision-making around its use is also enabled. Resources shifted back from supporting denominational initiatives towards initiatives at the local level, with particular emphasis on those conducted in association.
As the listening ear to all that is happening across the various regions within the state, the potential for prophetic leadership role by the denomination, both to the churches and the wider community, speaking to missional and into cultural issues such that the church’s engagement through public theology is enabled and enhanced. Whilst recognising that there will be evident tensions as a consequence of doing so, providing a framework in which engagement with the wider culture and community can be modelled enables the public aspect of theological reflection and engagement to develop.
It might be worth reflecting on how the particular associational groupings are established at a local level, and whether a uniform size for each association is appropriate. One might also want to examine whether the area minister was employed by the denomination, or resourced by the denomination through the local church, or even the local association. In any case, such an approach may well place support into the local context where it is needed, with a degree of mutuality amongst pastoral leaders in the area.
And then there are issues around the operation and culture of the denominational office which I haven’t yet begun to articulate...
Another time, perhaps.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Theological Reflections on Re-imagining

The Baptist Union of Victoria is presently undertaking a phase of ‘re-imagining’, which provided the foundation for a time of theological reflection in a session earlier this week. Principal of Whitley College, Frank Rees, was invited to present a paper, which he has published on his blog. Carolyn Francis, Jeff Pugh, and Alan Marr offered responses. I found it difficult to find the appropriate point of connection to the conversation, partly because of the “so what” question which lingered in the back of my mind, and partly because of the confusion about whether the focus is on the denominational office, or on the Union of Churches themselves. Frank identified this important distinction. Frank’s starting point, however, was one which is worth underlining:
“Frankly it is deeply concerning that so little of our decision-making seems to be guided by any overt theological consideration at all.”
What sort of theological reflection do we need? Two aspects of our theological reflection are perhaps on more solid foundations than the other. We need an historical theological reflection: one which looks back to the scriptural foundations, both the text of scripture and the life and teaching of Christ. While this apparently rests on a sure foundation, there are issues to be addressed not only in relation to the way that particular texts are interpreted, but also to the particular texts we choose to interpret. Keeping the entire corpus in the conversation and reflection is more of a challenge than we like to admit. Certain texts often are chosen as interpretive grids through which all other aspects are filtered. There are uncomfortable tensions within scripture that we need to keep alive. These must also find consistency with the teaching, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, through whom our understanding of God and his work in the world is ultimately shaped.

But our historical theological reflection must also embrace our own Baptist history, looking back to its foundations and its journey through the centuries. As long as we claim to be re-imagining the future of the Baptist church in Victoria, we must be clear about what we imagined it to be in the first place. Again, this is not as simple as it sounds. Not only do we need to hear our founders’ call to liberty of conscience, even to the point of protecting those who choose not to believe, we must hear also the calls of our Victorian founders, whose unusual step to seek government regulation of our constitution sits oddly with the commitment to separation of church and state. And still more recently we must grapple with the source of the unique diversity which our denominational ties represent, forged on the anvil of some difficult debates in Assemblies, but arguably given a mere nod in the present.

Historical theological reflection is important to our understanding of the present. We cannot hope to understand where we are without examining the journey to this point.

The second aspect of theological reflection which perhaps rests on more solid foundations is that of the future. The eschatological hope which calls us forward. At the core this is clear – the reign of Christ and the restoration of God’s order. We believe that God’s future is clearly established in the just reign of Christ. It is hope which shapes our action in the present. It gives us something to work towards, even if we do believe that the end interrupts rather than fulfils the directions of creation. Our task and call is to work consistently with God’s purposes, which are spelled out for us. But again, this is more complex than initially apparent. Interpretations about the way the end will come cloud the apparent consistencies we uphold about what that future might look like – at least in terms of the internal values it represents: justice, peace, grace. Eschatology asks us to articulate what we believe God is calling us to become. This is grounded in scripture, and in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, which if it confirms anything tells us that the purposes of God are stronger and more sure than any systems which earth can array against them.

The third aspect of theological reflections is somewhat more contentions: reflection on what God is doing in the world today. It is a tenet of mission: to find where God is working and partner with it. How are we to do this? It is important that we undertake the first two aspects of theological reflection before entering this phase. We cannot know where we are without understanding where we have come from (how we got where we are), and where we are going. Any interpretation of the present must find its orientation between these two points. And it must be done in partnership with some form of sociological reflection: an understanding of what is happening in the world around us. Jesus once rebuked his hearers for not being able to read the signs of the times. The temptation is to paint this picture in two colours, rather than to engage the nuances of God’s work in the world today. The world is both getting worse and getting better. This curious admixture of good and evil is ever the challenge for the church to negotiate. For the purposes of our own denominational journey, we must constrain our focus at some point to reflection within the churches which make up the BUV, and the denominational office itself. (As much as I support Frank’s contention that the denomination is the churches, we must recognise and articulate the disconnect and individuality of identity. It is the only way we can work to realign them.)

I hesitate at this point to offer some pithy insights which such a reflection might bring, as the complexity of the task is one which requires more than one person. I will, however, make some observations.

First, there is no such beast as “value-free action.” We wonder whether the BUV should lead the churches. It does. The actions it has taken have always conveyed a message to its member churches. One of the best ways to identify the values of anyone or anything is to evaluate its actions. The statement about intentions should always be measured against the actions which are undertaken, and vice versa. Are we doing today that which reinforces the values we espouse? the calling we confess? On Tuesday night I found myself pondering this when the statement was made by someone that smaller churches seem to be grappling most and coming up with the most creative responses to the present missional challenges, and considered the parallel denominational discussions about the viability of small churches. The disconsonant ring between these two points echoed in my ear. Similarly we speak of the BUV as the union of churches, yet our new governance structure seems to reflect a governance model which moves away from empowering churches in this regard.

Second, I had some difficulty understanding whether the focus on re-imagining is about new ways of being church, new ways of being a denomination, or new ways of structuring the denominational office and function. The conversation on Tuesday night left me in somewhat of a quandary here. Perhaps the issue relates to articulating the primary purpose of our churches and structuring our denominational office so that churches can achieve that. Arguably the greatest challenge to be faced is how we build the bridge between our scriptural and denominational heritage and our present setting. With Frank, I believe that our Baptist heritage leaves us well-placed to engage the public realm. Many tenets of Western belief systems are found within our own: liberty of conscience, commitments to freedoms, and to just action. Losing grasp of our denominational heritage has hampered us somewhat here.

The third comment emerges from what appears to be an elephant in the room. Not one conversation picked up on Frank’s observation that “churches in general, including Baptists, will continue to experience significant decline in numbers, finances and viability.” If any piece of information should cause us to pause and reflect, surely this is one. This is a challenge of imagination as much as anything else, something which perhaps requires a paradigmatic shift in our thinking about church properties and denominational assets. Currently about half of our denominational office is funded from a source whose original charter proscribed its use for such a purpose. This has the dual impact of reducing funds available to churches for the original purpose of the fund, and covers up a question related to the longer-term viability of our collective ministry through the denominational office.

This is an important conversation, and a welcome initiative from the BUV leadership. Getting one’s head about its complexity perhaps requires that we be less focussed on the immediate structural responses and more about articulating the correct questions to be asking. I thank those who presented their reflections on Tuesday night, and who engaged in response. I would say, however, that the demographic in the room also gave some pause for reflection…

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Back yard - Places Where our Stories are Formed

The back yard of a family home is a place filled with memories. When conducting a wedding recently in such a setting, I was drawn to reflect on the ways in which certain places impact our spirituality, our identity, and our journey in life. The choice of a back yard for a wedding potentially symbolises a love grounded in the realities of relationships, not only that of husband and wife, but the wider family and community, recognising that love is planted firmly among family and friends, and grows out of the reality of our daily lives. It is a place where ordinary experiences are made ever richer by shared love, and shared in subsequent years as the family gathers again. But in the back yard we are reminded that love is also open to the sky… a place where friendship can take wings in love; which opens up enormous possibilities together. But in the back yard we are also exposed to the elements, requiring us to let go of some control and enjoying the exploration and randomness which nature can often bring, and which relationships with family and friends can often bring.

Back yards are rich and creative places: Walk around most back yards and you will see very creative use of often discarded materials: they are living testaments to recycling. Back yards are also collections of family stories, each place bearing a memory on which life has been built. Most of us build our lives and values on recycling these values – in at least two ways.

The first aspect of recycling grows out of the reminder that it is out of old materials new things can come. Marriage is a setting where most recycling occurs – we sift through the gifts that our parents have given us, the values they have sown within us, the example they have set us. We have to learn from them, share them with our partner, then present them to our children, to our own friends and community, who will do the same. In fact, well before we come to marriage, we have spent our late adolescent years sifting the values which our parents have spoken to us about, and lived before us (the two not always consonant) as we begin to shape our own selves more intentionally.

When conflict arises in a relationship, we sift through it and pick out the lessons so that we understand ourselves and each other better, and learn to move forward together in love. Occasionally we have to clean up the back yard – go through and throw out that which now stands in the way, and create some new spaces. Married couples are still two very different people, and if handled well these differences can be the source of strength and creativity.

For me, the back yard was a place where I learned something about justice. Being the youngest in the family, I was often out-played or outweighed when it came to the rough-and-tumble of back yard matches. I learned to respond to apparent injustice, to rebound when I felt cheated or overwhelmed. I learned my own skills to deal with taller, faster, stronger siblings. I am sure that these skills have impacted me to this very day. I certainly knew how far to push, and when it was better to let things go. I learned to use my own assets in creative ways when a direct one-on-one contest was too daunting.

Back yards are also closed spaces. There are times when you can just chill out the back – away from the phone, from the front door, from neighbours. Here in the back yard it is your space. I remember times sitting in the back yard pondering the skies and my place in the universe, or the wonder of the myriad stars so far from the earth, illuminating the skies. Looking into history – for the light I could see twinkling left its source many years before – I pondered perspective and the bigger questions of life. And in more mature years I would sit in the back yard with my beloved, and share dreams and hopes together, pondering imponderables, and simply enjoying each other’s presence. These dreams could be something apparently mundane: we can plant this, we can build that… but the intimacy to be built finds its roots in common dreams, shared values, a mutual spirituality – the essence of all that we consider life to be about, and what we yearn to build for yourselves and for those we love. In our marriage relationship, it is this intimacy which moves into the kitchen, the family room, and the bedroom – where a real one-ness is shared – body, soul and spirit. Such places of intimacy need to be nurtured in our spirituality, in our marriages, and in other relationships.

There are many other ways in which we find our shape in the back yard. They are social spaces – places where you share with others, and they with you – around the barbecue, talking about the garden, and just getting outside to think in a quiet space; they are places where we experiment (I well remember almost burning down the family garage), and where we begin to build bridges with strangers (kicking or hitting a ball over the fence meant an introduction was necessary to retrieve it); they are places where our horizons are broadened with family, friends and acquaintances.

Many memories – stories – which shape who we are, how we perceive the world, and our capacities to create within it. Here is a place where the ultimate breaks into the penultimate; where our perceptions of life, love and God find their roots. It is arguably one of the most important places where our lives are shaped.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Places Where our Stories are Formed

As I prepared to conduct a wedding recently, which was celebrated in the back yard of a family home, I was given pause to think about the ways in which our identities and values are formed. The impact of setting and place - the context for our experiences - is significant on our understanding of the world and our place in it. Where we are born, our early childhood experiences, and the people who impact our lives are seminal in shaping values and identity, giving shape to the ways in which we view the world.

As those who live in the West, with access to a computer, we are clearly in the upper echolons of economic value in this world. Resources and opportunities are available to us which the majority of the world cannot imagine. Yet within our own subset, there is considerable diversity of perspective. This is due in no small part to the places where our stories were formed.

The back yard one such place filled with objects and reminiscences of life for most Victorians. But there are others. As I have returned to the routine of a daily run, the places where our stories are formed have been subject to reflection (yes, it is possible to think and run at the same time!)

I can think of a number of places where my sense of justice, value and identity were formed, and will reflect on these in the days to come. Are there particular places which stand out for you?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Changing Gear

The last week has seen me changing gear in a significant way. A week ago today I submitted my completed thesis - the result of 10 years' work. The past 6-9 months have been intense as I have sacrificed other things in order to bring it to a conclusion. Late nights fuelled with doses of caffeine in the form of chocolate and Coca Cola have left their mark upon me in many ways. Last Saturday, after conducting a wedding, I came home and went on a 20-minute run. It was pain free (well, except for the excessive huffing and puffing, the occasional break to get my breath back and allow my legs to recover) - as a long struggle with plantar fasciitis is now behind me. I have spent much of this week sifting through the detritis of filing, notes, and other resources in order to transfer them into a filing cabinet, both at home and the office. Time will come when I start to cut and dice the thesis for publication in different journals, but for now the focus is upon gaining control of my life again and restoring some balance.

It actually feels good to go for a run with a clear head.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Food Waste

I was aware a number of years ago when the price of bananas in Melbourne reached $12 a kilo in the wake of a North-Queensland cyclone that there had been no real shortage of bananas. Instead most were being pulped or sent to zoos because supermarkets would not stock them on the shelves due to the imperfect nature of their skins. I was appalled at the food waste on the one hand, and the assumptions about consumer behaviour on the other, which this practice represented. I had no idea of the extent of this practice until reading Chris Middendorp’s article in this morning’s Melbourne Age. Rather than summarise it, I reproduce it here in full. Do we really need the "perfect" fruit or vegetable?

A blight on us for a perfectly fruity fetish
Our obsession with perfect fruit is a symbol of our consumer culture and greed.
When it comes to the critical problems facing humanity, there is one issue that does not command our attention the way it should, but in its own quiet way is every bit as compelling and troublesome as climate change or the global financial crisis. It's our flagrant abuse of fruit and vegetables.
Sounds like a bit of a parody, doesn't it? But the fate of the banana, the tomato and the carrot have a lot more to do with our environmental and economic woes than many would at first suspect. How we grow, depict and treat produce in the West is a stark representation of the pernickety, self-destructive consumer society we have become.
For some years, the major supermarkets have behaved like a phalanx of door-bitches fronting exclusive nightclubs. They have decreed that the fruit and vegetables they sell must meet stringent standards of appearance, or no entry.
Although this quest for perfect-looking produce is driven by what customers want, it raises some serious agricultural, not to mention ethical, problems.
The issue has been festering for some time at the Victorian Farmers Federation, which in December doled out some home truths about consumer expectations. A frustrated Andrew Broad, the federation's president, said the expectations were unrealistic and growers were going broke.
The problem is simply stated: people only want to buy produce that looks attractive. Any fruit and veg with a few blemishes or a slightly unorthodox shape are shunned. In some cases, growers have had whole crops rejected by supermarket buyers.
The banana provides an instructive example. In Queensland, Australian Banana Growers Council chief executive Tony Heidrich recently admitted to a high level of wastage that he described as "disappointing".
A more apposite d-word would be disgraceful. At least 100,000 tonnes of bananas are deemed not attractive enough for public consumption and are sent to the shredder and buried. Unattractive fruit won't sell. Customers will only take home the perfect specimens.
This objectification of fruit satirically echoes many debates feminists have had about society's objectification of women. In the quest for some totally artificial construct of an ideal, many people are overlooking the single most important fact - that it's what's on the inside that matters.
Where is it written that wonky looking fruit isn't good for you? It is frequently remarked upon that the flavour of those perfect-looking tomatoes in the supermarket is perfectly bland. Any home gardener will tell you that a rough-looking home-grown tomato, blemished though it may be, is utterly delicious next to an insipid, store-bought example.
This is mildly amusing until you think about the implications. Fruit that fails the appearance test is rejected; thrown away or ploughed back into the ground.
This happens to up to 25 per cent of all produce.
When you consider how many people on earth are starving, and that industries are looking to minimise carbon footprints, it is totally unforgivable to throw away carefully grown and tended food just because it isn't pretty enough.
But human behaviour is often perverse. It's frequently said that what the West spends on dieting could, if re-directed, end starvation in the world. Our inexorable quest for perfection - for beautiful bodies, fabulous homes, shiny cars, breathtaking holidays, perfect meals - is largely responsible for the pollution and damage we have wreaked on earth. You don't have to be Al Gore to apprehend that our lifestyle is screwing up the planet.
It's enough to make one pessimistic. What hope is there to solve complex human problems when half the planet is so hung up on appearances that it refuses to eat food that doesn't have the right look?
It's not just the fault of supermarket managers. Until last July, the European Union had set specific cosmetic standards for most produce and oddly shaped fruit and veg were effectively banned from sale. The prohibition has been lifted largely because of the global recession, which has partially recalibrated some of our commercial decisions.
But supermarkets worldwide still insist on crazy notions of perfection and, of course, they blame us, the customer. We've asked for it. No one really knows just how much food around the world is rejected and wasted in this way. It could be billions of dollars worth each year. Is Western culture even more decadent than anyone imagined?
Under the pretext of preserving the planet's finite resources, the media and government often try to whip us into a frenzy of guilt and accountability. We're implored to get roof insulation, to invest in solar power, to recycle our rubbish, to ride a bike to work, to buy drought-resistant plants and let the lawn die. Tell it to the turnips. Until society learns to value and manage food responsibly, what's the point?
(published 21 January 2010)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Perspective is an Interesting Thing

Our first day in Helsinki – day one of the trip, assuming you don’t count the day sitting on an airplane – was… cold. One degree Celsius was in stark contrast to the warm summer behind us in Melbourne. As we meandered around this beautiful capital, wandering in and out of shops, gaining our bearings, and beginning to appreciate the city’s culture and architecture, one of the shopkeepers remarked that the weather was “unseasonably warm!” It was a comment that pulled us up in our tracks. I don’t ever recall thinking that one degree Celsius could be considered warm. And with the wind chill cutting our ears off at the base, the depiction of warmth was furthest from my mind. But when the forecast for the days ahead included top temperatures lower than -10, and our later journeys in the UK keeping us in temperatures below freezing for days on end, it may be unsurprising to note that when we resurfaced into above-freezing temperatures someone commented on how “warm” it was!
Ah, perspective. What can seem easy to one is a struggle to another. What challenges one person bores someone else. What one embraces as beautiful, another shuns.
The artist John Constable once noted: “I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may, - light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.” Life’s richness is rooted in the depth and breadth of perspectives offered by difference. When we experience something on the way up, we are more appreciative than in times of decline.
The tendency to absolutise particular perspectives robs us of learning experiences. To be pushed out of our comfort zones is not something many of us yearn for, yet such experiences teach us to appreciate what we have.
A journey up the Eiffel Tower in January offered us temperatures in the wind which hovered between -10 and -15. At that stage I would have welcomed a single balmy degree above zero. By then I had learned the beauty of many things which had previously been alien to my experience. Perspective is a wonderful gift which has encouraged me in the journey towards deeper understanding…

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Falling Out

The trials and (self-inflicted) tribulations of Tiger Woods have been well documented in the media, but it was 15 minutes in Madame Tussauds in London that underlined his fall from grace to me. Of all the sporting figures on display in the waxworks, not one picture was taken with Tiger during the 15 minutes we tarried in that section. Sporting greats of the past and present all had people stop for photographs, but poor Tiger was alone. The fact that I saw people having photographs taken with Adolph Hitler in a shorter space of time says something about the fickle nature of our memories. What is it that leads us to hold people up in such high esteem on the one hand, and then abandon them when their human frailties are exposed, only to laud others whose dastardly acts bear remembering only in order that we never repeat them again?

Monday, January 18, 2010

In Surprising Places

Settling back into Melbourne after six weeks travelling Europe, there is now unhurried time to reflect upon the journey and upon the many experiences which were ours during that time. The distance is clearly epitomised by the difference between the last two Sundays - last night worshipping in our small community in West Melbourne was a stark contrast to the previous Sunday night in Sacre Couer, listening to the liturgy in French.

My first reflection comes from London - Westminster Abbey, in which only two scientists are found memorialised. I sat for a little while to watch the reaction of passers-by as they paused for a reality check at the name carved into the stone on the floor. One of the two scientists is an Australian, Howard Florey, who was responsible for the development of penicillin. The other, however, has been the source of much controversy within the church for nearly two hundred years: Charles Darwin. In the era in which fundamentalism has carved its voice, it is hard to imagine that Charles Darwin would be welcomed in such hallowed halls as this, and for this reason many people stopped and called to associates to come and examine the inscription. Darwin and the church have a chequered history, but not so chequered as to be outside the embrace of at least one faith community.

I wonder how many people are written off for the public profile they hold... people whose positions remained largely unexamined because of popular opinion. If Darwin’s Origin of the Species was so anti-Christian, how does he end up memorialised in such a place as this? Perhaps it is more what those who came after Darwin did with his theories that shape our perceptions.

Darwin wasn't the first and won’t be the last one to be misunderstood. When people challenge our perspective on the world, they are sure to be wildly opposed. Maybe even crucified.