I've never read any of his four million psychology/child-raising books, but Steve Biddulph has written a very interesting article in today's SMH suggesting that climate change, peak oil and growing awareness of ecological crisis will shift the political landscape over the next two federal terms to a two-party contest between Labor and the Greens, with the Liberals reduced to a minor party. I think he is right to suggest that we will only hear more about climate change (if that is possible) and peak oil (easy to hear more than almost zero) in coming years, however, I wonder whether both major parties will continue to shift to the ecological 'left', bringing into the mainstream environmental policies once viewed as extreme. I suspect that there is enough poll-driven pragmatism in Australian politics to keep the major parties alive for some time to come.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
"I was not humble enough to conceive of the humble Jesus Christ as my God."
- Augustine, Confessions VII.18This quote reminded me of this great Barth quote, and also of this one:
What marks out God above all false gods is that they are not capable and ready for this [humility]. In their otherworldliness and supernaturalness and otherness, etc., the gods are a reflection of the human pride which will not unbend, which will not stoop to that which is beneath it. God is not proud. In His high majesty He is humble.
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, 159.We can become unwitting idolaters by thinking God is in our box, just another version of the best (or worst) in ourselves. Yet we can also worship a false god if we think God is so distant and different as to be entirely unknowable, or simply too important for the likes of us.
Twelve points for the Sydney location in the picture.
Monday, November 26, 2007
In response to my previous post, Geoff asked an excellent question: can we still say it's 'new' leadership?
I assume that by asking if we can 'still' call it new, Geoff was referring to the enormous gap of around 1977 (or maybe 1974) years since Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Is this still something 'new' after the fall of Rome, after the black death, after the invasion of the Americas, after the Renaissance, Reformation and countless revolutions, after industrialisation, after the European colonisation and destruction of Africa, after the war to end all wars, after Auschwitz, after the bomb, after globalisation, after a Ruddslide?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is 'new'?
On the one hand, it is an acknowledgement that, despite all these momentous changes (and more - after all, my summary was very eurocentric), the most important and decisive turning point in history was the life, death and resurrection of this somewhat obscure Jewish peasant on the outskirts of an ancient empire. This is still news, good news, in the face of twenty centuries of disaster of death. Indeed, those twenty centuries are counted (in many parts of the world) from Jesus' birth (or as close to it as some medieval monks could calculate). Not only so, but his advent divides history in two, throwing all previous events in a new light and rendering them "B.C.".
But there is more. Jesus' victory, like the mercy of the Father, is new every morning (Lamentations 3.22-23). This is not to say that he is forever changing his mind, eternally indecisive, but that his good gifts never become stale, his rule never runs out (Luke 1.33). Ironically, the ever-new is an image of stability.
Furthermore, God's redemption is also always to do a 'new' thing, as promised in Isaiah 43.18-19. Our hope is for God's surprising act of refreshing, of renovation. But this isn't because God is like the market, shallowly obsessed with novelty, or like the SMS-generation, unable to make a commitment, always needing to keep bridges unburnt. No, God's renewal takes the form of life from the dead (both literally and metaphorically) and so is both restoration (continuity with the old) and novel transformation (discontinuity: new!). He is the one who renews, who gives a fresh start (in fact many fresh starts): in every deadly end, Christ brings a new beginning. And so the message of Jesus is good news - it breaks through the dreary depressing sameness of sin with the promise of a new day. Every morning is a reminder of that coming new day, which is already dawning (Romans 13.12).
Sunday, November 25, 2007
New leadership, the stale and poisonous old regime decisively swept away and left in disarray, a bold and exciting new plan for our future, a huge task ahead, the horizon filled with hope.
Kevin Rudd? Of course not. I'm talking about Jesus' victory over the forces of destruction, his plan to make all things new, the task of love and the hope of new life. O happy day!
Friday, November 23, 2007
When you leave the house today: fear not. When you travel to the polling station: be not afraid. When you stand in line: don't give in to anxiety. When you're faced with the string of empty boxes: don't get scared. Make your judgements in wisdom and love of neighbour without giving way to terror.
Today, vote for someone else.
Depending which counter you look at, nothing new under the sun passed 100,000 hits around 8 pm last night. About two hours earlier, my wife's website also passed 100,000. This site took eighteen months; hers took six days. Thanks for visiting!
As best I can work out, the 100,000th page load came from someone in Perth running Windows XP. If you think this might be you, post (or email) your IP address for twenty points.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Imagine your shock to find that in this world private car use continues to grow by 10% each year and that car manufacturers are making huge profits. How can this industry possibly be flourishing? Perhaps they have run scare campaigns spreading misinformation about the dangers of public transport (when in fact, it poses the same or fewer dangers than regular use of a private automobile). Perhaps they have successfully branded car use with a variety of attractive identities - healthy, natural, convenient - despite the actual facts about the situation.
I imagine you might be worried. Not only are your fellow citizens being duped out of their money and helping to unnecessarily destroy the environment, but if more and more people switch to their own (far more expensive, far more polluting, far more oil-dependent) car, the government will have less reason to maintain the excellent public transport system at its present standard. What of those who can't afford a car and rely on the public system?
Oh, and imagine that in this world, using public transport actually improved your teeth.
Now stop imagining, because in Sydney, this is world in which we live. Except rather than transport, I'm talking about drinking water.
Bottled water makes no sense. Tap water is just as safe (if not safer), comes in at about 1/2400th of the price, uses very little energy and produces very little pollution. Bottled water costs about as much for a bottle as you spend on drinking tap water for a year: one tonne of tap water costs about $1.20, while the same amount of bottled water costs around $3,000. Water is heavy (and thus energy-intensive) to transport (and refrigerate) in bottles, compared with Sydney's tap water, which is largely gravity-fed, or occasionally pumped, through an amazing pipe system that connects to almost every building in the city. The bottles themselves are energy-intensive to produce (being plastic, an oil-based synthetic product), and in Australia only about one third are recycled (with the exception of South Australia, whose enlightened policies manage to get a recycling rate around 70%), while the rest make their way into landfill, where they take hundreds or thousands of years to decompose. The production of a plastic bottle ironically uses about seven times more water than will ever be able to fit into it, and results in about one hundred times more carbon emissions than the production of a glass bottle.
And all this is entirely unnecessary, yet sales of bottled water continue their astonishing growth (180 billion litres sold last year and growing at 10% p.a.): a testimony to the victory of consumerism over common sense.
A friend of mine has done the logical thing and started a Facebook 'cause': Reject Plastic Drink Bottles.
Having been cynical about The Daily Telegraph in my previous post, I applaud them for running a story the SMH seems to have missed on this topic.
This site summarises the pros of tap water and the cons of bottled water, encouraging us to "think global, drink local".
After backing Howard at every federal election since 1998, the other newspaper has declared it is time for change. Principled decision or leaping off a sinking ship? You can sell more newspapers if you find what the majority think and print it. Either way, I think today's scandal over the fake flyer may well prove to be the final nail in the Coalition's coffin.
My apologies to non-Australians for the many political posts recently. The election is on Saturday and there will be fewer Australia-specific posts after that. No apologies to apathetic Australians. Voting and political engagement are your responsibility.
Two denials that make me sad:
(1) When people in positions of responsibility and influence (or potentially so) stick their head in the sand over the existence and significance (economic, environmental, social) of climate change.Unfortunately, Dave Lankshear records a public instance of both in one open letter from Ewan McDonald, CDP Senate candidate from Victoria.
(2) When Christians unnecessarily turn their disagreements (especially political) into exercises in excommunication.
Dear Gordon, I would like to respectfully disagree with your correspondents Ron and Christine Lankshear whose letter criticising the CDP climate-change policy appeared in the feedback section of November 15 CVIP. They mention that their son, a Greens supporter, was dismissive of the CDP environment policy that questions the prevailing paradigm of anthropogenic global warming. Even if one believes the claims of the cult-like prophets of doom about the causes and effects of global-warming, there is no way any Christian should prefer the overtly anti-Christian and pro-death policies of the Greens over the pro-life and pro-Christian policies of the CDP. I am assuming the Lankshears are a Christian family so it distresses me to think that their son could have adopted such pagan views. I fear this is indicative of the wider church and Christian community who have generally failed to pass on their faith to the next generation and our society is suffering because of that. GK Chesterton famously said, "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything." Perhaps this is the reason why so many people today have unquestioningly adopted the new Green 'faith' - is it because they have first rejected the Christian faith? Regards, Ewan McDonaldMany Christians I know and respect vote for the CDP (Christian Democratic Party), and I have done so in the past. In particular, I respect their efforts to call attention to the human cost of the tens of thousands of voluntary abortions performed every year in Australia. However, this letter doesn't make them very attractive and I am not a fan of many of their policies. There is no party with a monopoly on 'Christian' issues, because there is no subset of issues that can be labelled 'Christian' or 'moral', as though Christ were only interested in part of our lives.
The irony is that the two main issues raised in the letter (climate change and abortion, which I presume is what is being referred to by calling the Greens "pro-death") are both about caring for future generations presently unable to speak for themselves.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Perfect love is simply the imitation of the love of Christ; but, although Teresa can say this, and suggest that perfect love is concerned about giving, not receiving, it would be wrong to read her as claiming that the perfect lover is a self-sufficient, quasi-divine subject, loving out of the abundance of an inner fullness. Teresa's perfect lover is someone aware, first and foremost, of being causelessly loved by God: like it or not, the lover is primarily and inescapably a receiver of love. [...] We are free to give love, not because we need no love, but because (as in Christ's relation to God the Father) we are already recipients of an eternal love, and any need we have is met in advance. [...] It is pious nonsense to say that, if we know the love of God for us, we no longer need human relations of the creative kind Teresa is trying to describe; on the contrary, to pass beyond the hungry and selfish needs of 'normal' love we need to be in love with God's friends, who will give us not what we think we want, a greedy love that mirrors our own, but what we most deeply need in order to be human as God would have us be.
- Rowan Williams, Teresa of Avila (Continuum: 1991), 108.To give is indeed more blessed than to receive (Acts 20.35), but it is still blessed to receive. And Teresa points out that as creatures reception is the more fundamental reality for us. We need to receive God's gift before we can give. In fact, we need to receive love from one another too. It is not possible to imitate Christ alone.
Can you explain preferences? Do you know the difference between voting above and below the line for the Senate? Can you explain the difference between the House of Representatives and the Senate? What role do minor parties play in Australian politics? Does it matter if I don't number all the boxes? Why are there so many more candidates on the Senate ballot paper? What does a 'balance of power' mean? What if I'm away on Saturday, do I still have to vote?
If you'd like a short introduction to these and many other FAQ, check out this helpful post.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Experience is itself a kind of text, and texts need interpreters. How often have we thought that we understood our experiences, only to realize later that we had only the barest understanding of our own motives and impulses? We all know how flexible memory can be, how easy it is to give an overly gentle account of our own motivations, how hard it is to step outside our lifelong cultural training and see with the eyes of another time or place. ... To take personal experience as our best and sturdiest guide seems like a good way to replicate all of our personal preferences and cultural blind spots. Scripture is weird and tangly and anything but obvious-but at least it wasn’t written by someone who shared all our desires, preferences, and cultural background. At least it wasn’t written by us. And so it’s necessary to turn at least as much skepticism on “the voice of experience” as [critical scholars] turn on the voice of Scripture. It’s necessary to look at least as hard for alternative understandings of our experience as for alternative understandings of Scripture.
- Eve Tushnet, "Experience and Tradition" in Commonweal: a review of religion, politics and culture CXXXIV:12 (2007).Many people appeal to 'experience' as the highest court of appeal, especially in spiritual matters. It was reading Sartre that I first realised the opacity and ambiguity of my own experience - in short that everything, experience included, needs to be interpreted. This insight (itself an interpretation of tradition and experience) is not a threat to intelligibility or a retreat into anything-goes relativism. It is a threat to the assumption that in order to know something, we must know it with certainty.
The question then becomes not so much "can we trust our experience?" as "how are we to understand it?"
Five points for the artist. Eight for the title. Ten for the location. No individual to guess more than one.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Echoing God's forgiveness
But how is forgiveness possible? Avoiding is easier than confronting. Excusing is more polite than accusing. Tolerating is more familiar than acquitting. And grace is just so, well, unfair! How can we as a community live this way? How are we able to swim against the stream of our culture, our habits and our hatreds? Such a mighty task, such an arduous calling seems almost superhuman.
And it is. You’ve heard the phrase ‘to err is human, to forgive divine’. I think at least the second half is spot on. To truly forgive well is something God alone can do. The scribes were shocked by Jesus' claim to forgive sins, since "who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2.6-7) Jesus doesn't dispute this claim. He simply replied with a demonstration of his authority to forgive, to the glory of God. (Mark 2.8-12)
When we are invited, lovingly commanded, to also forgive, we are just playing catch-up with God. We are echoing God’s forgiveness. It is possible for us to forgive others because God in Christ has already forgiven them. We are just acknowledging what is already the case, putting our signature under God's. “We have the right and the obligation to make God’s forgiving our own – to forgive on our part what has already been forgiven by God.” (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 199)
God's prior forgiveness through Christ gvies us the model, the motivation, the authority and the obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Eight points if you can correctly name this Australian natural rock formation. And five more to someone else who can give its location.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V.
A candidates' forum for the seat of Grayndler is on tonight at 7 pm at the Leichhardt Town Hall (cnr Norton and Marion Sts). There will be presentations from candidates and open questions until 8.30 pm. Everyone is then invited across the road to the All Souls café for supper and post-match discussion.
UPDATE: The evening had a disappointing turnout from both residents and candidates (the Liberal candidate was a no-show). All Souls were unable to run our own event this time (unlike during the state election earlier in the year) as the candidates kept referring us to this event over the road at Leichhardt Town Hall. I'm sure we could have had a better turnout.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
(iv) Not fairness, but grace
Forgiveness is not fair. It is grace, a gift. It is not limited to "three strikes and you’re out" (or even seven, as Peter discovered: Matthew 18.21-22). It is not conditional: "I’ll forgive when he says sorry". It is a freely given gift, an unmerited cancelling of debt. Of course, like any other gift, forgiveness can be refused. Just as an offered present can be left unopened or returned, forgiveness can be rejected. We can’t force someone to accept such a present; we can only offer it generously.
So it is not that I forgive those whom I think are worth it, or who might be able to make it up to me somehow. No, we are to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us: completely, repeatedly, freely.
But we often think we'd prefer things to be fair. Wrong has been done; and so we stand on our rights and make demands. A world where everyone gets what they deserve is predictable and feels just. However, such an approach misses the bigger picture:
“If on the bottom line of our lives lies the principle that we should get what we deserve, whether good or ill, forgiveness will sit uncomfortably with us. To forgive is to give people more than their due, it’s to release them from the debt they have incurred, and that’s bound to mess up the books.
For a Christian, however, a bottom-line principle can never be that we should get what we deserve. Our very existence is God’s gift. Our redemption from the snares of sin is God’s gift. Both are undeserved, and neither could have been deserved. From start to finish, we are always given free of charge and given more than our due. Therefore it is only fitting that we give others more than they are due.”
- Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 203.Volf is pointing out that we are called to forgive as forgiven people ourselves. We are not giving anything more than has been given to us. We are first recipients of forgiveness from God. This is the point of Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant that follow's Peter's question in Matthew 18. A servant is forgiven millions of dollars worth of debt and yet refuses to cancel a debt of a few thousand dollars. We shake our heads because he just hasn’t got it.
To whom do you need to show grace, not fairness?
Eight points if you can guess the Sydney beach.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
We've been hearing a lot about tax cuts and interest rates so far this election campaign. But if you also care what happens to other people's money and lives, you might like to check out this site from the Make Poverty History campaign. It's a poverty report card comparing at a glance the policies of five major parties on issues such as aid, debt relief and trade. H/T Nico.
(iii) Not tolerating, but acquitting
Forgiveness is not simply “she’ll be right”, or “don’t worry about it”. When I forgive, I do not grit my teeth and bear with what’s going on. I confront, I accuse, but I can do so without destroying the relationship because I also acquit. I refuse to press charges. I refuse to hold a grudge. I do not pay the other back for the wrong done to me. I release the other from any punishment I might be tempted to inflict. And more than that, I release the other from even the guilt of the offence. I swallow the cost of the wrong. I keep no record of wrongs.
According to Miroslav Volf, when we do this, we are echoing God's forgiveness. In effect, I are saying to the one who hurt me:
“Because God in Christ doesn’t count your trespasses against you and because God has removed your guilt from you, I too don’t count against you the fact that you’ve wronged me, and I don’t consider you guilty. God has made you innocent, and therefore I consider you innocent.”
- Volf, Free of Charge:
Giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace (Zondervan, 2005), 196.
Of course, trust may need to slowly re-grow; the relationship doesn’t magically revert to how things were. But I give a fresh start, without keeping a black mark against their name.
Whom do you need to acquit, rather than merely tolerate?
Fifteen points for naming the Sydney CBD building.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
In ten days, Australians over the age of 18 have to vote in a federal election. If you're confused, curious, or simply looking to confirm your views, check out this excellent new website, freshly launched a couple of hours ago. It's called HowShouldIVote.com.au and in about three minutes it can tell you how to order your preferences for the House of Representatives (Lower House). Just enter your postcode and answer twenty multiple-choice questions about your attitudes to a variety of issues, and this website will match you to the responses from your local candidates. Easy!*
The website is run by GetUp, an independent, not for profit group, who lobby all sides of parliament on particular issues (you can see their FAQ page here), and the questions have been endorsed by one of Australia's leading pollsters.
Of course, what the website doesn't do is tell you how to vote in the Senate. My suggestion is to watch this little video:
Did you know that while the Coalition have held a majority in the Senate, they have passed 100% of their own amendments and blocked 98% suggested by other parties? They have passed complex 500-page legislation within a day of its being tabled and have reduced the hours during which the Senate sits. If you think the Senate ought to be a genuine house of review, perhaps it would be a good idea to avoid having the same party control both Houses. NB It is basically impossible for the ALP to gain a majority in the Senate this election due to their poor showing in 2004 (only half the Senate seats are up for election every three years).
*In some electorates, only a few candidates have completed the survey. If this is the case for you, please return in a couple of days and try again.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
(ii) Not excusing but accusing
There is all the difference in the world between excusing and forgiving. To excuse something is to find a reason for it's not being so offensive after all, some mitigating circumstance or alternative explanation that reduces or removes blame. To the extent that an action is excusable, forgiveness is not required. Indeed, as C. S. Lewis points out, only the inexcusable can be forgiven.
Therefore, forgiveness is only required when genuine wrong has been done, and only to the extent that the offence was culpably inflicted. But this also means that to forgive is implicitly to highlight this fault. "I forgive you for reading my blog", implies that you have been doing something wicked.
Forgiveness, of course, needs to get beyond simply accusing, but it can't get around doing so. The wrong must be named, not simply swept under the carpet. Whom do you need to accuse, rather than excuse?
Fifteen points for naming the world-famous building containing this recently-added staircase.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V.
Once more plundering a recent sermon, I'd like to explore the concept and practice of forgiveness under four contrasted pairs.
(i) Not ignoring, but confronting
To forgive doesn’t mean the problem is swept under the carpet. Jesus said “If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matthew 18.15) Forgiveness doesn’t mean ignoring the problem, hoping it will go away, pretending it is not happening. If we are going to be peacemakers, we’ll need to be loving troublemakers. Jesus doesn’t make this optional. "If you have a grievance you must, you are obligated to, confront the one you believe has sinned against you. You cannot overlook a fault on the presumption that it is better not to disturb the peace. Rather, you must risk stirring the waters, causing disorder, rather than overlook the sin" (Stanley Hauerwas, "Peacemaking: The virtue of the church" in The Hauerwas Reader, 319).
Why? Because there is no such thing as a private grievance. Our lives are not our own. We in the body of Christ belong to one another. The sister or brother who sins is hurting not only us, but also themselves and the community as a whole. Not every minor irritation requires explicit mention, but if it is a genuine wrong (rather than merely a personality difference) ignoring it is a failure of love.
Of course, during the process of confrontation we may well discover that we have been mistaken, that our grievance is not well founded. That is a risk we must take. Or we may find ourselves in even deeper waters - our complaint is accepted and the fault repented of and now we must be reconciled. But that is our goal: to learn to swim in the ocean of genuine relationships of trust, not simply to paddle about in polite acquaintances that never extend beyond Sunday pleasantries. Whom do you need to confront, rather than ignore?
Twelve points for guessing the inner western Sydney suburb in the picture.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
October's only point-scorers were all seasoned guessers, each already over 100 points. As usual, ten more go to Jonathan, five to Moffitt the prophet, three to Martin Kemp and one to Anthony for taking out the top (and only) four spots. There are still around 444 points on offer.
November points table
31: AnthonyTen points to anyone who doesn't recognise this building. Bonus points for creative mis-recognitions.
15: Matt Lemieux
14: Martin Kemp
12: Duncan Andrews
7: Tim R
5: David Ould, Michael Jensen
4: Erin King, Joshua, Moffitt the Prophet, Rachel
Saturday, November 10, 2007
I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
- Jorge Luis Borges
When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.
- Desiderius Erasmus
I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.
- Anna Quindlen
Thursday, November 08, 2007
"A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in [the forgiveness of sins]: from thinking that God will not take us to himself again unless he is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favour. But that would not be forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness; and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.
"When it comes to a question of our forgiving other people, it is partly the same and partly different. It is the same because, here also, forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or no bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. They keep on replying ‘But I tell you the man broke a most solemn promise.’ Exactly: that is precisely what you have to forgive. (This doesn’t mean you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every trace of resentment in your own heart – every wish to humiliate or hurt him or pay him out.) The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (thought not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think: as regards other men’s sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. One must therefore begin by attending carefully to everything which may show that the other man was not so much blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one per cent of guilt which is left over. To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christians means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of family life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what he says."
- C. S. Lewis, “On Forgiveness” in Fern-seed and Elephants, 43.This distinction is very important and yet I see people confusing these concepts all the time.
Fifteen points for the location of this sculpture.