Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jesus and climate change (series links)

Here are all the posts in my Jesus and climate change series (originally a talk given at St John's, Ashfield) and slightly modified for the blog.

I. Scepticism: an introductory caveat
II. What's happening? What are the likely implications? What can be done?
III. Discussion questions
IV. Why God cares – it’s his world
V. Seeing "creation"
VI. Humanity and why matter matters
VII. Alternatives to "Creation": a brief tangent
VIII. But what’s the problem?
IX. Guilt and fear
IX(b). So what’s God doing about it?
X. Jesus’ life: God with us
XI. Jesus’ death: Liberation
XII. Jesus’ resurrection: Renovation
XIII. The renewal of all things
XIV. But what’s he doing now?
XV. Conclusion.

Bored yet?

Ben redeems boredom from being equated with sloth to a sign of our human dignity and even a possible site of cultural protest and resistance. You won't be.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Saying Sorry

Yesterday it was announced first act of the new Australian parliament on 13th February will be to say "sorry" to the stolen generation.* Our previous government was willing to express regret, but refused to apologise for the sins of a previous generation, despite the recommendations of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report from the Human Rights & Equal Opportunities Commission.

This continues to be a divisive issue in Australia. I found this short paper of the Social Issues Briefing to be the most helpful short item I have read on the topic. It argues that the logic behind such an apology is deeply Christian. If you would like more information about the apology and what it will mean, Reconciliation Australia has published this FAQ document.

Rory suggests that the apology ought to be made by the Governor General as head of state, in order to lift it above party politics. Jason offers some more theological reflections upon forgiveness and saying sorry, as well as some relevant book reviews. GetUp has a campaign encouraging this action to be bipartisan and more than token.

Does anyone have other ideas on how to mark the significance of this step?
*(from Wikipedia): "The Stolen Generation (or Stolen Generations) is a term used to describe the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, usually of mixed descent who were removed from their families by Australian government agencies and church missions, under various state acts of parliament, denying the rights of parents and making all Aboriginal children wards of the state, between approximately 1869 and (officially) 1969."

Moltmann on the end of the world

"Some people think that the Bible has to do with the terrors of the apocalypse, and that the apocalypse is 'the end of the world'. The end, they believe, will see the divine 'final solution' of all the unsolved problems in personal life, in world history, and in the cosmos. Apocalyptic fantasy has always painted God's great final Judgement on the Last Day with flaming passion: the good people will go to heaven, the wicked will go to hell, and the world will be annihilated in a storm of fire. We are all familiar, too, with images of the final struggle between God and Satan, Christ and the Antichrist, Good and Evil in the valley of Armageddon - images which can be employed so usefully in political friend-enemy thinking.

"These images are apocalyptic, but are they also Christian? No, they are not; for Christian expectation of the future has nothing whatsoever to do with the end, whether it be the end of life, the end of history, or the end of the world. Christian expectation is about the beginning: the beginning of true life, the beginning of God's kingdom, and the beginning of the new creation of all things into their enduring form. The ancient wisdom of hope says: 'The last things are as the first.' So God's great promise in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, is: 'Behold, I make all things new' (21.5). In the light of this ultimate horizon we read the Bible as the book of God's promises and the hopes of men and women - indeed the hopes of everything created; and from the remembrances of their future we find energies for the new beginning. [...] If the last is not the end but the new beginning, we have no need to stare fascinated at the end of life."

- Jürgen Moltmann, In the end - the beginning: the life of hope
(Fortress, 2004), ix-x.

I will be very interested to read the rest of this little book. Moltmann can be so inspiring, though sometimes his language is a little over the top. "Christian hope has nothing whatsoever to do with the end"? What about the end of death? The end of crying and mourning and pain? The end of endings?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Theology in Pennant Hills

Just a reminder that tonight I start teaching an introduction to theology course at St Mark's Anglican Church, Pennant Hills (cnr Rosemount Ave and Warne St). It's not too late to just turn up on the night. There is a small cost, but I can't remember what it is. The course runs from 7.30-9.30 pm each Wednesday night for seven weeks, with an exam in the eight week, and can be taken in order to gain credit towards a Diploma of Biblical Studies from Moore Theological College's External Studies Department. We'll be covering the following: an introduction to studying theology as well as the doctrines of Christology, Trinity, creation and providence, humanity (and sin), revelation and scripture. No prior experience in formal theology necessary.

Jesus and climate change XV

Speaking of carbon-emitters and carbon-sufferers reminds us – what has the church got to do with climate change?

I submit that only a community based on love can sustain a genuine concern for justice and sustainability in the face of ecological crisis. Lots of other movements and groups do great stuff and I thank God for them. I thank God for the IPCC: on the whole, they do us all a great service, as do many others. But the desire for change, the impulse towards justice and living wisely, cannot be sustained merely by guilt over past mistakes. Even fear, which is a great motivator, in the end can just compound the problem, because we get so terrified that we’ll buy any solution, even if we have to sell our souls to get it.

Only if we are secure in the knowledge of being held in a love that will not let go, can we step out on the risky path of putting the needs of others first. Only when we know that we are deeply loved by a God who made the heavens and the earth can we move heaven and earth out of love for our neighbour. Only when we stop thinking individualistically and start thinking as a global family can we face global problems, when the ones who are suffering from our greed or thoughtlessness are not faceless strangers, but brothers and sisters. Only when we are not paralysed by fear can we be released from the chains of denial and be honest about the scope of the problem and think clearly about creative solutions. Only when staying alive is not our primary goal, can we avoid be paralysed by threats. Only when the environment is not treated as either a resource to be exploited or a god to be worshipped can we live in harmony with it. Only when we understand ourselves as God’s image on earth, a good part of the created order with the task of enjoying and serving the creation will we stop acting like we own the place, or thinking that we are a disease that needs to be purged. Only when we see the world as a gift entrusted to our care, as the realm of God’s coming glory, as our future home, will we make more than cosmetic changes to our behaviour.

In God’s grace, there are many people doing good things in response to the threat of climate change and certainly most of them do not yet think of Jesus as a brother and God as their father, or believe that God raises the dead. That too is a gift from God. But only a community based on love, not guilt and fear, can sustain a genuine concern for all of God’s children, and for all of God’s world. As strange as it may sound, I believe that the church is the hope of the world.* The church is what God is doing now. God likes to work in surprising ways. He used a poor marginalised Jewish peasant on the outskirts of the Roman empire to turn the world upside down. He won his greatest victory through a shameful death. What is God doing now? He’s building a community full of broken and hurting people, but a community that has started to taste what it’s like to be healed.

If you’ve never done so, then I’d like to invite you to come and taste this community at your local church. If you've had disappointing experiences before, remember, this ought to be the community that does failure and repentance and new beginnings well. Come and see whether God might be at work in surprising ways. Come and be healed. Come and become a healer. Come and be part of God’s renovation.
*Of course, Christ is the hope of the world, but the community of his followers is the sign and foretaste of his coming presence and rule.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

One dollar jackpot

Here's the deal. Answer simple questions in twenty-five words or less and win a dollar. Not just any old Canadian, Kiwi, Singaporean or even Australian dollar, but a genuine, PayPal American greenback.

This new website is a simple idea, and word is spreading. No luck is involved. All you need is a keyboard, a (free) PayPal account and a brain (or, failing that, a team of a million monkeys at a million keyboards and a bit of time). The best entry (as chosen by the team at Brown Box) wins the dollar. The current competition asks you to complete the sentence "I wish that I..."

There's a new competition every couple of days. You can enter as many times as you like. Previous competitions have included such difficult questions as "How could Tom Cruise be more crazy?", "What's good advice?", "How to tell someone they have bad breath", or my personal favourite, "Write a story about public transport". I don't know how my entry didn't win: "Bus meets Train. Train meets Ferry. Bus is jealous of Ferry. Ferry is chronically late. Train dumps Ferry. Bus gets back together with Train."

You can read old competitions and see previous winners here, or find out more. I've already made the grand total of two dollars, and one of them was even won without promising to give the site a free plug on this blog.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jesus and climate change XIV

But what’s he doing now?
You might be thinking: it’s all very well that God created the world and continues to sustain what is good, despite our many problems. It’s all very well that God has shown us we’re not alone but has come to dwell with us in Jesus, that back then he began a solution and promised to do more, that one day, if we believe this promise, he will finish the job he began in raising Jesus from the dead. But what about now? Climate change wasn’t an issue in Jesus’ day, and who knows whether God’s ultimate renovation will come in time to avert the potential climate catastrophes that are beginning to unfold around us. What is God doing now?

God is creating a community based on love, not fear and guilt. Actually, he’s making lots of them, all over the world. Little gatherings of people who have caught a glimpse of what God was doing in Jesus and are excited by it, people who want to be part of a renewed world, people who can’t wait for it to happen and so who start to live as though it were already true, a community that has begun to understand that death is not the last word on life, a group that refuses to let past hurts determine the present because Jesus’ death sets us free, a movement that will not give up hoping no matter how bad things get, because God can raise the dead.

What is God doing now? He’s growing a family in which everyone is a precious brother or sister and has access to the Father, a family in which fear of missing out has been replaced by trust, and mutual concern and hope. Of course, there are still family squabbles. And it’s a family with much to learn about how deeply God loves his creation. Despite its failures, this community hopes for God’s promised future while acknowledging that we’re not there yet and so doesn’t pretend to be perfect. But it’s a family where failure isn’t final either. And crucially, it’s a family that spans the globe and brings together Arabs and Jews, blacks and whites, Chinese and Americans, rich and poor, carbon-emitters and carbon-sufferers.
Eight points to the first person to guess the city near which this ruin is found.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pedigree and privilege: class consciousness quiz

H/T Rev Sam. The idea is to highlight the elements of your own upbringing that apply in bold as an exercise in social class awareness. I've modified the language of a few statements to make them more suitable for an Australian context. For a few others, I've replaced culturally irrelevant statements with what I think might be more suitable ones.

Text below copied (with modifications) from Step into Social Class 2.0: A Social Class Awareness Experience. Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka, Indiana State University, © 2008. See Rev Sam's post for the original.

Embolden the true statements.

1. My father went to university.
2. My father finished university.
3. My mother went to university.
4. My mother finished university.
5. Have any relative who is or was a lawyer, doctor or academic.
6. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
7. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
8. Were read children’s books by a parent.
9. Had extra-curricular lessons of any kind before you turned 18.
10. Had more than two kinds of extra-curricular lessons before you turned 18.
11. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.

12. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
13. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your university costs.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your university costs.
15. Went to a private primary school.
16. Went to a private high school.
17. Your family regularly employed a cleaner.
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.*
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.
25. You had your own room as a child.

26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.
27. Participated in an HSC preparation course or study camp outside of school.
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.
29. Owned a mutual fund or shares in high school or university.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.
34. Growing up, you were unaware of how much electricity bills cost for your family.

*From a relative who was an artist.

Nineteen out of thirty-four. I'm not sure whether there is meant to be a rating system to accompany the statements. How did others go? What other statements would you suggest ought to be added to the list to make it more accurate? What has been your experience of the class system in Australia (or elsewhere)?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Australians all let us rejoice for we are...

How would you finish that line to make it a little more accurate?

Richard Glover gives 43 ways to tell if you're a true Aussie.

To honour Australia Day, this evening I patronised that most Australian of playwrights, Bill the Bard. Amazing how even a mediocre production can still be redeemed by a decent script.
Fifteen points for to first to reveal where this natural formation can be found, which looks (at least from some angles) remarkably like a map of Australia (without Tasmania or the Northern Territory).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jesus and climate change XIII

The renewal of all things
The renewed creation will be the full realisation and perfection of the present order, as well as its transformation into something even more wonderful. The writers of the Bible struggle to describe it, in language limited by present experience. Nonetheless, they paint a picture of a place where we will be completely at home, with recognisable physical bodies, where we will know one another, will love and be loved, where we will be at rest and yet will have fruitful things to do in serving God, where life will abound without the threat of extinction and decay. We sometimes get a fleeting taste of this now, but then it will be the steady settled reality.

Many people have a mistaken idea of disembodied spirits going to heaven at death. This is not the hope presented in the Bible and is a sub-Christian idea. The Christian hope is actually for heaven to come to earth, that is, for the reality of God’s gracious and gentle rule to become as established and evident on earth as it is in heaven. This is not going to heaven when you die. This is heaven coming to earth at some point in God’s glorious future.

And nor is this a return to a garden paradise like the one we read about in the opening chapters of the Bible. The Bible’s final picture of our ultimate destiny is not a garden, but a garden city. The city is a place of creativity and technology, yet also of human community and relational intensity. The human task of ordering, blessing and caring for the earth finds its consummation in a flourishing human community in which all living things flourish. In the images offered us in Revelation, we are told of this harmonious city that "the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it" (Revelation 21.26). This seems to imply that nothing that is good will be entirely lost, that God will honour what is honourable in human creativity and endeavour. Part of humanity's destiny (and so task) is to enrich the good things in the world. This is not, on the one hand, to leave them untouched as though our mere presence pollutes, yet on the other, nor is it to dismiss created things as irrelevant, distracting or corrupting.

And so the Christian hope that God will renovate the created order is not a license to trash the world in the meantime. In fact, the opposite is true: because God will redeem his entire groaning creation, how we treat it now ought to reflect its importance. Because the earth will one day be filled with God’s glory (Numbers 14.21, Habakkuk 2.14, Psalm 72.19), we ought to glorify him today in how we care for it.
Twelve points to the first person to guess the Sydney building in the picture.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

How to live forever

"Write a wise saying and your name will live forever."

- Anonymous

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jesus and climate change XII

Jesus’ resurrection: Renovation
But that’s not all, because Jesus didn’t stay dead. The heart of the good news on which Christians base their lives is that God raised the crucified Jesus from the dead. As crazy as it sounds, that is what the Bible clearly says, it’s what Christians really believe.

Imagine: what if it were true? Although it would be an amazing biological miracle, there are more important consequences. Yes, it would mean that the guilty verdict passed by Pilate has been overturned by God. Yes, it would mean that the disciples who abandoned Jesus in his hour of need could have a second chance, a fresh start. Yes, it would mean that Jesus’ amazing claims to represent God to us in word and deed have been vindicated. Yes, it would mean that God has publicly appointed him as his special king. But it would mean something even more exciting. If Jesus is not only God’s representative to us but also our representative to God then if God raised Jesus from the dead, that is a picture, a promise, a precedent of what God intends to do with his whole creation. God's plans for the creation have been revealed in what he did to Jesus.

God hasn’t given up on us or on his world, despite all our problems. We don’t need to be afraid. He is not the kind of builder who walks into a house, notices the shaky foundations, peeling paint, broken windows, leaking pipes and says "tear it down, let’s start again." God is not a demolishing developer. He is into transformative renovation. To renovate something is to make it new and amongst the last words spoken by God in the Bible is the wonderful promise: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21.5). If God raised Jesus from the dead, he has started to keep this promise.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thy My will be done

Do you have a will? This is not a philosophical question asking about volition; I'm talking about the legal document, a.k.a. last will and testament, telling people what to do with your stuff after you're dead. If not, why not? Jessica and I have been intending to make one since we were married and have still not got around to it. We didn't even get to it after the events of the last twelve months or so. It seems like an obvious thing to do, a straightforward way of caring for those who will have to pick up the pieces after your death.

In any case, I was thinking this morning about wills and the sociological effects of the economics of singleness (or more specifically, childlessness - whether through lifelong singleness, infertility or choice). I began wondering whether there have been any studies done on the wills of childless people: do they bequeath proportionally more to organisations which promote and sustain patterns of social cohesion beyond the familial level?

I am curious: how do you think about your will? How do children (or the lack of them) shape your attitude to the future of your material blessings?
For those who might be worried, this post was not prompted by any new developments in my life (which continue to be good on the health front) or by any recent deaths or illnesses.

Jesus and climate change XI

Jesus’ death: Liberation
Jesus said he came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10.45). He wasn’t out to maximise his own benefit, but to do what was best for others, to serve. In the end, his service led to his execution on a Roman cross. He gave his life. Even as he was dying, his concern was for those who had been torturing him. He prayed: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing (Luke 23.34). Even in death, he was serving. Indeed, he calls his death a ransom, a price paid to free those held in slavery. We are enslaved by our guilt, by our habits of selfishness and thanklessness. If we will admit our slavery, Jesus sets us free. Not free to do whatever we feel like – that wouldn’t be freedom from selfishness but just more slavery. But Jesus’ death sets us free from guilt so that we too can become servants.

Jesus’ death opened the way to both a new relationship between creature and creator, and a new relationship between human creatures and the rest of creation. Because of Jesus, we are no longer enslaved to sin or trapped in sinful ways of living: we are free to live in loving obedience to God - including by being good stewards of the rest of creation. We can be free from the godless greed and selfishness that led to our present environmental mess, free to live in the manner originally intended by the creator - namely in joyful submission to him, in selfless love towards our fellow creatures and with great care for the rest of creation.
This post is substantially based on a similar post in my previous series: Would Jesus vote green? Emotional responses to ecological crises.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

The greatest moral issue of our time?

A post from a few weeks ago continues to generate some discussion after Gordon asked me a question, which he has recently rephrased like this (my answer follows):

But are you then saying that if it turns out that if anthropogenically induced climate change turns out not to be as serious as first thought, or even turns out to be a furphy, the basic shape of your Christianity would remain unchanged?

By the way, I don't think climate change is the #1 moral issue of our time; that issue remains whether we will follow Christ or anti-Christ, seek life or death, serve neighbour or self, worship God or the devil. I don't even think it is the greatest environmental problem faced by humanity, which is idolatry. Not so much idolatry of the created environment in Gaia-worship (though there are a small minority for whom this is an issue), but plain old Mammon. The Christian response to environmental degradation is not to buy a hybrid, but to repent of consumerism, the desire for comfort at the expense of others, the belief that the world is there as my supermarket and garbage bin. And then to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (and possibly to eat fruit in keeping with repentance too, but that is for another post).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Jesus and climate change X

Jesus’ life: God with us
God’s passionate and loving commitment to his wonder-filled creation is seen most clearly in Jesus. Christians have always believed - and we celebrate this at Christmas - that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us: the Son of God come amongst us, as one of us. If we want to see the heart of God, if we want to see what God cares about, if we want to see God, Christians say, "look at Jesus! Come and see what God is like – you might be pleasantly surprised." In Jesus, God moved into our neighbourhood. He didn’t stand at a distance and make assurances that he cares, he came and got his hands dirty. Actually, he got his hands pierced with great ugly nails to a wooden cross. God is not cold and distant. He is like Jesus.

If you want to know the heart of God, try reading the Gospels and seeing the heart of Jesus. He is the kind of God who welcomes little children, the kind of God who hates religious hypocrisy, the kind of God who throws parties for the outsider, who opens the eyes of the blind, who feeds the hungry, heals the sick and raises the dead, who brings good news for the poor. In Jesus, we discover that God’s yoke is easy and his burden is light; he is gentle and humble in heart. He is the kind of God who, like Jesus, is easily misunderstood, but not easily ignored. He is a God who knows our suffering and temptations from the inside, who can sympathise with our weaknesses. He washes smelly feet and weeps over death. He is a God who would rather die than live without you. He is the kind of God who won’t let death stand in the way of his plans. What is God doing about climate change and all that threatens us? For a start, he is with us. We are not on our own, fending for ourselves.

But Jesus doesn’t just demonstrate that God cares for a world gone wrong, he is also the start of God’s solution.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Christianity too abstract?

A few weeks ago I overheard a conversation in which Christianity was being criticised for being too 'abstract'. Compared to the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament can seem to have made both the problem and the solution abstract.

For the Israelites, failure and blessing were closely connected to the material conditions of their social and political order. For instance, the judgement of God upon their idolatry and failure to establish a just society was experienced as physical exile from the land, the downfall of the Davidic royal line and subjugation to foreign powers.

In contrast, the Christian message is often understood to diagnose an essentially internal, perhaps even individualistic, problem of 'sin' in the heart of each person, and to promise a purely 'spiritual' reward. Or even if a more orthodox hope for physical resurrection is held, Christian life today can appear to be primarily concerned with attitudes and 'inner' realities, rather than externals. Sometimes this is even put forward as the key difference between the New and the Old.

But this gets both testaments wrong.

The transformation of the world is not merely a change in attitude: if we see the world as gift, we see it as something to be given, as the call to give. The "transformation of the world of persons" discussed above must always take full account of the fact that personal relations have a straightforwardly material dimension. The oppression and violence, the chains of destructiveness, which we have been reflecting upon are embodied things; they occur socially, economically, and quite simply physically. They occur in connection with the possession of the world's resources. When material reality is taken, dominated and hoarded in order to become part of the order of meaning I construct for myself (and the "I" here is as much collective as individual), it is incapable of being inhabited by the "significant being" of Christ, because it cannot be a symbol of mutuality. Thus it locks Christ out, and constitutes a denial of Christ's Lordship: it is a sign of unbelief in the resurrection. When convertedness is embodied in a transforming of economic relationships, material reality will have become charged with the life of Christ risen: the world will be revealed as his.

- Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel
(London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982), 103.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jesus and climate change IX(b)

So what’s God doing about it?
So what then is God up to? Does he not care? Has God given up on this world gone wrong? Many Christians seem to be amongst those most opposed to environmental concern. They seem to take a strange delight in speaking of a supposedly inevitable coming destruction of the earth and their escape elsewhere.

Such sentiments make me sad, disappointed and sometimes even angry. Christians, of all people, ought to know better. God made a world that was good, very good, and which, despite deep problems, is still fundamentally good. He is faithful and is not about to give up on it.
I've just realised I already have J&CC IX, so this post is now IX(b).
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; IX(b); X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January points table

December was thoroughly dominated by Anthony, who set a record (at least since I've been recording points each month) with 79 points in a month and so scores ten more for coming first. Five for Jonathan, three for Geoff C and one for H. Goldsmith. There are still around 579 points left.

January points table

20: Meredith
15: Mister Tim, One Salient Oversight
Fifteen points to the best suggestion for a new church sign. This one has now been up for more than two weeks and we need something new.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

GM chief admits peak oil

Front page of today's SMH: of course, no hint from GM that the future might involve less reliance on cars.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I saw Bobby tonight and recommend it as a film worth watching, particularly as the US enters another season of primaries. Rather than comment further on the film, I thought I'd simply post one of RFK's more famous speeches, delivered the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and just two months before his own violent death.


This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"God doesn't do waste"

A message for the new year from Rowan Williams, nicely linking our attitudes towards the world and one another.

The wages of sin

"The wages of sin are death, but by the time taxes are taken out, it's just sort of a tired feeling."

- Paula Poundstone