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The Natural Philosopher

Diatribe on a variety of topics, attempting to link science, faith and philosophy, as well as discussion on pedagogy, blended learning and Web 2.0. Erstaunen bin ich da.

Updated: 2017-10-01T20:27:35.384+11:00


Check the label - ad hominems and labels in political discourse


Have you ever checked the label on a product? Maybe you're health conscious, carbon miles sensitive or boycotting for whatever reason. We expect the labels to be accurate in whatever case. When it comes to people and the discussion of politics, religion or ideology, we need to be more careful that the label truly represents what's in the box.

I see things people post and wonder how often I've done the same. One might choose the most outlandish of things and use this to represent the whole. Sam Harris would call moderates hypocrites and say only the extremists are true to the faith. Or those who see one act of violence and paint the whole as the same. As one meme goes, if you can distinguish between the KKK or Westboro Baptists and most other Christians (and in the vein of this post I'll say either can be), then you can tell the difference between ISIS/ISIL and the majority of Muslims.

So, when we see someone engaging in reductio ad absurdum arguments (reduction to the absurd) by showing something patently ridiculous or easy to ridicule yet attacking the whole spectrum of a group, we should be able to see through it.

You see this in the way in which the idea of triggering is used in humour. To be sure, some of what I have read on micro-aggressions and a certain fragility of modern thinking deserves critique. However, trigger warnings for those who've been the subject of sexual assault for certain news articles, or for cultures that have sensitivities around seeing footage of people who are deceased is another order altogether. Likewise, you might find some obscure YouTube rant by a 'triggered feminist' and think all feminism is like that. But this is unfair to an idea that has given women the right to vote, equality in employment, and unlike Russia, sees domestic violence as a crime.

So always check the label and think it through. Voting for Trump doesn't make you a racist even though racists voted for Trump. And Trump doesn't represent all Republicans. Believing in social security and health care doesn't mean you'd like to move to China or North Korea! Satire has its place, but it's not the only rhetorical tool we have in discussions, so let's drop ad hominems and always wanting to reduce our opponents to some straw man or lowest common denominator. In a so-called post truth world of alternative facts, we need to do better.

Worldviews are like the sun; beliefs and hypocrisy


I got up this morning to see the odd anti-religion meme in my Facebook news feed. Rather than engage them directly, I wanted to take a step back with a favorite quote. Perhaps another time I'll spin off some of them. This quote by C S Lewis should get us thinking about worldviews. We might say we believe in x, but the way we live our lives says more about what we believe that often what we say.

A worldview consists of symbols we uphold, things we do, stories we tell ourselves and questions we ask about the world. I recently saw a meme that compared Donald Trump to a church building - both not paying taxes and both full of shit. Both these ideas deserves posts of their own, but it is interesting for my purposes here to evaluate the claim of what a church represents, or more broadly the variety of Christianities, and the function they play as worldviews. Indeed worldviews as a whole.

One of the things about worldviews is that they are rarely consciously or deeply examined. And they are rarely held consistently, i.e. most people are hypocritical. To consider the first point, anyone who thought it disgusting that Anthony Mundine called for people not to stand for the Australian national anthem hold a worldview with a narrative that excludes large parts of our colonial and present history. They can't even begin to evaluate their own reaction because they see the world in a way that cannot comprehend Aboriginal dispossession and suffering.

Likewise, there are many Christians who cannot see through their own worldview of say Christendom, the wedding of religion to political power (another time I'll talk about different views of this, just in case you think I believe the Church should have no voice in political issues).

On the second charge, it is very true that many religious people are hypocritical in that their behaviour doesn't match their beliefs. Some people conclude wrongly that being religious doesn't make you good or that what you do matters more than what you believe. What you really believe does influence what you do, it's just that you are often not aware of what you really believe. But what is often not thought through deeply is that atheism should lead to nihilism, and meaning means nothing, good and evil are a matter of choice. I'd have thought people who believe nothing rarely live consistently with what they truly believe - call it easy unbelievism if you will. Of course my major concern is lining up what I believe with what I do, not what you believe or do. But I just find it ironic as a fairly public Christian I can be called out by those who can't see they should be called out.

One of the things about "converting" is that you are forced to think through your beliefs. I certainly think rather different things in many areas of life than I did nearly 30 years ago when I first came to faith. But it isn't simply about a book of stories, or a list of statements, or even just about praxis, but about a whole way of seeing reality. Show me someone who has a fully developed, water tight way of seeing the world, and I'll likely see a fundamentalist of some stripe or other. C S Lewis outlines a process, a view of the world, but not a closed set of beliefs, set in stone for all time.

So for me, the journey continues with integrating the answers science gives, with personal experience, with theological understanding. And hopefully, I can avoid what I think would be the biggest hypocrisy in this journey; a lack of humility.

Post-colonial non-gluttony


I've started preaching a sermon series on the seven deadly sins while my minister has been away. We've done pride and lust to date. The aim has been to focus on the positives rather than just the negatives, in these cases the value of self-forgetfulness over self-loathing, and sexual desire in marriage over rampant lust.

Gluttony is the next cab off the rank is gluttony - something you might not hear discussed. There are plenty of issues to cover - associated health issues (non-pejoratively, no one needs to guilt people with disorders), fast food, vegetarianism, poverty, famine, etc. There is of course the issues of sin, food as an idol, etc.

I have a copy of the 2007 Aquila Press book Still Deadly: ancient Cures for the 7 sins. I hadn't consulted it to date until starting research on gluttony. The chapter on this topic focuses on the views of Clement of Alexandria. It is interesting, because the chapter notes that his theology was affected by Greek dualism. I'd already quoted him in my lust sermon saying that women should cover their faces in church. It seems to me going for Clement for guidance on something as earthy as eating while noting his shortcomings would be a bit like saying "I know Hitler was an anti-semite but let's see what he has to say on race relations anyway."

That said, not everything Clement has to say is wrong, but I was kind of shocked when an application from him by the author, in reaction to the gourmand excesses of his day is to extol a plain diet. In particular:

"I live on a street with innumerable That restaurants, and an assortment of Chinese, Italian, French ... and I know what it is like to walk from one end of the street to the other unable to find something to eat."

Now I'm going to be somewhat charitable and take the view he means he is spoiled for choice. But in then going on to suggest we focus on a plain diet, pretty much baptising Clement's diet, intended or not, the following flows on.

  • This is preferring one period of time over all others. This kind of one thing for all time thinking smacks of Platonic idealism. More than that, it's a new form of food laws (ironic as the author notes Jesus dismissed those).
  • It's colonial - are we to suggest all these fancy cuisines are too fancy? Are they sinful? Is our simple fare less sinful than theirs? Is all conservative Christianity able to offer an endless critique of the unknown? While not intended, this "keep your wog food" is intolerably WASP gospel.
  • It ignores the every tribe and tongue messages from Revelation and elsewhere. Is the eschaton so monoculture?

I'm often reminded of how much God loves diversity when looking at the natural world. In an effort to combat the gluttony of taste, such theology condemns us to the dull, familiar, safe and the us, while judging the other and providing yet another fence to our theology. Will I even bother to critique such a view in my sermon, or toss the book aside?

Singing from the wrong hymn sheet at Christmas - carol theology


Ok so I'm getting older and more crotchety, but do you ever stop to think about the songs you sing? I can remember going to a primary school concert and being dumbstruck that pre-teens were singing 4 ever by The Veronicas. It's a catchy pop song (I love the guitar) but it is very typical of hook up culture, and young children shouldn't really be singing that should they?Coming away from a carol service I was reminded of subtle assumptions in music. I'm assuming this matters (if you think theology is the study of nothing leave this blog now and go back to cat pictures, LOL). Two we sang that just ended up depressing me were Silent Night and Away in a Manger.Now for a Christian, the idea of the incarnation should be Earth shattering. God adopts the human condition, enters into our world in order to radically transform it. This means more than just be nice to each other one day a year - it's a metaphysical bombshell, a theological conundrum and a life changer. But we miss it so badly. Take Away in a MangerThe cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.What? Did Jesus never crap himself? Did he never teeth? How close did he come to dying of the diseases the modern, individualistic smart ass doesn't want their kids getting immunized against in case 'they get autism'? Why the heck doesn't a fully human baby? What's wrong with crying? A false view of perfection, of sin, of humanity and of what it means for God to assume all that we are. Fake, plastic Christianity.Now Silent Night Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy infant so tender and mild Why the blazes was it silent? Again, no crying. What is so holy about being a mild baby? Was the Jesus who denounced the religious leaders, who called Herod 'that fox', who cleared the temple 'tender and mild.' Save me from plastic baby Jesus!To top it off, back to Away in a Manger Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.Gah! Add to the docetic 'Jesus didn't cry like a baby' some 'beam me up Goddy' theology. Heaven is important, but it's not the end of the world. What of resurrection? Of heaven descending to Earth? Of his will (peace, justice, righteousness, radical neighbour love) done on Earth as it is in heaven? Thank goodness for Hark the Herald Angels Sing Hail! the heav'n born Prince of peace! Hail! the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die: Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth. Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"  Here we have one born to be king, to bring righteousness, healing, second birth (resurrection). Now there's a meaty carol.Veil'd in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail, th'incarnate Deity: The incarnation cannot be reduced to kitsch. Accept it or reject it, Christmas is Earth shattering, Advent is about being adventurous. Time to shake it up.[...]

Paris, online shaming and a hermeneutic of love


I've waited a while to post this, partly letting things cool and partly becoming apathetic about blogging. This cartoon represents some people's approach to the Facebook profile picture changing over the Paris shootings. I wanted to say a few things about this.

The first thing is, that people want to be able to respond to tragedies. Particularly in the absence of religious belief where you can say "I'm praying for Paris", even a simple act of changing a profile pic is an act of empathy and grief. I can understand the cynicism towards tokenism, but people want to find ways of expressing their feelings. Cynicism is overrated. Shaming is unhelpful.

The second thing is, any single act is not nuanced, and may occur in some state of ignorance. No, changing a profile pic doesn't change the political situation, doesn't acknowledge past foreign policy sins (Algiers), doesn't take into account the secularisation that wanted to ban the Burka or the wearing of other religious attire in government jobs. It's as simple act. It doesn't have to affirm or deny these things.

Thirdly, we relate to what we know and find familiar. Yes Beirut should have more coverage, as do other issues. But condemning support for Paris over ignorance of other tragedies robs Peter to pay Paul.

Fourthly, right wing reactions to Islam are ignorant, predictable and depressingly lacking in understanding. This doesn't mean that the sneering superiority of the left about other people's ignorance is any better.

Finally, the predictable condemnations of the evils of religion conveniently ignores the crimes of fundamentalist atheism in the 20th c, or indeed the French Revolution and the events that followed. The song Imagine is so wonderfully naive; the anti-religion crowd so wonderfully boorish.

And hence the turn to love. Love won't seek to shame, but inform or extend. If the press never reports about massacres elsewhere, how does the left know? Better to invite people to conversation than ridicule or shame them. What is your aim? Likewise, knee jerk reactions from closing borders to more bombs lacks love - both for those who suffer, and yes for the enemy. Jesus calls us to love our enemy, and no I'm not convinced love and justice are not mutually exclusive.

Social media is hard enough to use effectively without being driven by superiority from either side of the political spectrum - be it conservative jingoism or progressive hubris. No, changing my pic (which I didn't in the end) doesn't change the world. Maybe it's not "helping". It is expressing something of my shared humanity. Invite me to think more broadly, to act more effectively. But don't shame me for my efforts or look down on me. There is enough dehumanising of the other by those we label "the bad guys", for us to do the same.

The ecology of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


I've recently been doing some reading about ecology and ecosystems. In his recent encyclical, Pope Francis wrote about natural ecosystems and ecology, but also about human ecology - well functioning societies where individuals flourish, and not at the expense of natural ecosystems. I've even recently read a paper that considered education as an ecosystem. So why not consider BJJ as an ecosystem. I think there are three aspects.

Firstly, techniques don't exist in isolation, but in a rich ecosystem of other techniques. One simply doesn't drill a technique again and again without reference to other techniques - variations, common reactions of training partners and so on. Of course you can't drill for every eventuality, as rolling contains a large degree of randomness, but you can learn principles and then play with a technique by experimenting with it. Techniques also exist with others in a progression, what some call a game plan; e.g. pull guard, sweep, pass, control position, submission. Having a broad knowledge doesn't meaning doing a lot of moves, but knowing how they work with other techniques, and how to get where you feel comfortable, out of where you feel less comfortable.

The second aspect of a BJJ ecosystem is other grapplers. Rolling with a range of sizes, ages, ranks and both genders is critical to being part of a good BJJ ecosystem. Different techniques will work in different situations, with different body types, etc. If you can get your favorites to work with everyone you know you are onto a winner. More than that - a good functioning ecosystem means it is not all about you (see below). Rolling with those who present little to no challenge is an opportunity to try new things, yes. But it is also a chance to share and give them an experience that will help their growth.

Finally, ecosystems are constrained by a temperature range and rainfall (actually available water) - that determines the flora and hence the fauna. A BJJ ecosystem's climate is its culture. Culture can mean a survival of the fittest gym, red in tooth and claw, or a symbiotic gym where mutual growth and flourishing is encouraged. This is the spiritual side of a gym if you like. Being symbiotic doesn't mean that there is no competition, no hard training, no pushing people to mental and physical limits - but it's all done to pull everyone up, and not just a few. For me of course, this spiritual side is based on a Christian faith and the aim of loving and serving.

Maintaining a good culture can mean culling or pruning - some people won't fit the culture or add to its flourishing. That said, jiu jitsu is big enough for all sorts of people, and some people need more watering than others in order to flourish.

So try and see your own training as part of a larger whole, and know even when your own individual experience is not as positive as you'd like, you can contribute to the larger goal and may be just growing more slowly through a rough patch.


Sorry - a National Sorry Day poem


Sorry to the dispossessed and sorry to those who have been left behind the progress that loss has paid for.Sorry to those who’ve heard the lies of promises made, but in disguise an agenda deeply hidden, a lack of understanding, by those with eyes that cannot see.Sorry for those prison deaths, for this whole rotten bloody mess where cells make easier solutions than teachers, classrooms and inclusion of native tongue to speak, to listen and to learn. Sorry for a land that’s stolen, for rent not paid, for home invasion, for mother earth her guts ripped open and laid bare in service of the white man’s dollar.Sorry for the racist rants, for insults, patronising comments of cultures misunderstood, ignored, of stories covered up and stored in the recesses of histories untold.Sorry that it’s been said before, words, words, words and more but where is the listening to those who might have the answers, to those who don’t just want solutions, to those who want the right to decide.Sorry that in the midst of this I play a part to keep us moving backward while my voice is silent, stuck while my mind is ignorant.So sorry just won’t be enough unless it comes with promises where rubber hits the long hard road, where hands are joined and shoulders put against the wheel. You can’t know where to go unless you know where we’ve all been. Let sorry be our starting point, our journey together to a better destination.[...]

Nope - a lament of the state of Australian politics


Nope to all compassion and nope to having heart.
Nope to international law and nope to showing class.
Nope to showing leadership and nope to having vision.
Nope to planning for the future, nope to a clear mission.

Nope to fighting climate change and nope on funding science.
Nope to all but mining freebies so nope to the environment.
Nope to solar cause coal reigns, nope to those wind turbines.
Nope to saving the GBR and nope to stopping coal mines.

Nope to care for poor and needy, nope to taxing emissions.
Nope to reviewing iron ore cause nope to independence.
Nope to land rights, nope to lifestyles, nope to non-white history.
Nope to to those whose kids we stole, nope to saying sorry.

Nope to politics and free speech, nope to human rights.
Nope to those seeking asylum, nope to freedom fights.
Nope to Sri Lankans and West Papuans, nope to those who flee.
Nope to anything at all, nope to honesty.

Nope, nope, nope unless you share in our demented plan,
to make this world a world of nope, except for rich white man.

Old man Jiujitsu - on getting a blackbelt in your 40s


Well, after nearly 30 years training in the martial arts, reaching brown belt (or equivalent) in two stand up arts, I finally received my black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu after 13 years in the sport. As I said to a class last night - my skills in wall walking, levitation and walking on water have not improved. Despite the fact that I now have the coveted faixa preta, as I believe Royce Gracie said, your belt covers an inch of your ass, you have to cover the rest. So what does it feel like to be a black belt in BJJ? Well what is it meant to feel like? And at 45? Is age an excuse or a limitation to be recognised?

As I've pushed toward black belt, it's been a real struggle when I look at younger, fitter, stronger guys. plenty of people are more talented and technical than I. Plenty of people should be black belts ahead of me. But some realisations have helped the journey.

Firstly, age is a factor. Rener Gracie talks about Boyd belts, the fact that age and size can function as belt levels, especially for the over 40s. A strong, young blue belt should be keeping me on my toes (and many do).

Secondly, there are older, domestic competitor black belts, and young black belts who compete internationally. Staying on lower belts younger to win the worlds is a worthy task, and I know one guy I'm hoping can finally make this dream come true.

Thirdly, one can be technical but lack cardio and speed to be able to execute, and rolling different ways at times to keep the technique sharp is ok.

Fourthly, age is not an excuse for being lazy. A lot of the cardio battle is mental. I did my hour long grading fairly well, but can pressure myself and gas in a few minutes. BJJ has taught me to be mentally tough, and I'm most disappointed in myself when I break mentally, not physically.

Fifthly, it's about the journey. This journey begins again at every belt level. It's kept enjoyable by exploring, learning and innovating. It's also refreshed by teaching, sharing, and by the awesome people you meet along the way. Too many to name, but my coaches, fellow senior ranks, students, people from clubs far and wide. I've been blessed in that way. Life is too full of amazing people in my team (the club RenegadeMMA as part of Australian Elite Team) to worry about doubters, haters and knockers.

Lastly, being an old man black belt is encouragement to other older men and women who get into the sport. I was able to encourage a 41 year old white belt to keep going last night. Worth its weight in gold.

So the journey goes on, the belt is heavier, the responsibilities larger, the people continue to be awesome. This is what it feels like for me to be a black belt. What you feel or will feel, will be different but no less awesome.

What's your on button?


We all know what it is like to grind through our days, working on automatic pilot. Perhaps we are bored, frustrated or unengaged. Unmotivated to improve, adapt or explore. Sometimes we fear failure and our inner monologue is our own worst enemy. We need an on switch.

As I approach the prospect of a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a number of these thoughts cross my mind. To be in the moment is the need to be switched on, attentive and deliberate. It is to have goals of trying new techniques, of mastering favorites, of rolling without mistake or losing points. Whatever the goal, one has to believe, to be committed, to not give in to the inner demons.

And so it requires an on switch. Following the hand shake and fist bump, I now slap the mats once with my hands. This is my on switch, this means go for me. It doesn't mean a fight to the death, or the unswerving belief that I can never be defeated. It means that tapping is not losing, tapping is learning. It means that I will not let my partner or myself down with second best. It means being on.

Whatever you do in whatever field you do it in, be there. Be switched on. Have an on button that says this is now, this is my time, now I am here and I believe that I should be here.

What is your on button?

Responsible autonomy - freedom, work, the apple & serpent


I was reflecting recently on what it is I like about my job, which started me thinking about the whole idea of freedom and how it is exercised. It struck me that personal autonomy is important to me, yet complete freedom rarely happens in life. Possibly it's even undesirable. Let me explain.

In my job I have to teach content to guidelines - local and international standards for what is covered skill sets to address and so on. And yet the depth to which some things are taught is not dictated. Whether or not it is a lecture, tutorial, prac, assignment or whatever is not dictated. The figures I use are not dictated. In other words, I have a good deal of personal autonomy, but I'm not without accountability in terms of standards or results (if students pass, their feedback, etc).

When I think about growing up, saying that I'm now independent of my surviving parent is inaccurate. I have responsibilities. I have autonomy in the decisions I make, but this does not make me free without bounds.

People are not puppets on strings. Whatever the precise nature of our cognition and consciousness, we make decisions. Everyone is bounded by finitude, family history and ideology. I think it is a myth than the non-religious are the only freethinkers, they just have different boundaries (which excludes the possible truth of religion).

Which draws me to the story in Genesis 3 of a serpent, a piece of fruit (not an apple but hey we're stuck with it) and the idea of personal autonomy and responsibility. Adam and Eve are put in charge of a royal, walled garden and given responsibility to tend it. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil isn't forbidden because they are not to make moral decisions for themselves, but precisely because they should. And yet the boundary was not to reject God and try to become like him by grasping after it. It was a declaration of independence, which in the story is literally suicide. For many today of course, if God is there then they want to cash their ticket in (as Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Kamarazov).

The point is however, that if we spend our lives declaring independence then we work only for destruction. Unhappy is the employee that does not share their employers goals and culture. Unhappy is the marriage where partners just do their own thing. Now the opposites are also unhappy, jobs without freedom or creativity and marriages where one person dominates. And yet, autonomy is not to be used for utter independence, but like Z (played by Woody Allen) in the movie Ants, sometimes we are happiest in situations where we might have less autonomy that we could otherwise have if we have chosen them.

A theology of foreign aid?


Social media is a little like Chinese whispers, but I recently heard of a discussion going on somewhere that can be summarised as: Israel were given resources to develop their economy, that's the way economies should work and foreign aid doesn't work. It's an international version of the argument that welfare is a bad idea because it encourages people not to work, and often tacitly they are suffering because they deserve it and aren't working hard enough.Now I'm one to promote hard work, using what you have to hand, etc, but I think this is an empty argument on two levels. Firstly, I think it's theologically poor, and secondly, aid and development do work. For the second problem, see Barb Deutschmann's article here. Israel was given the promised land with plenty of resources to develop a healthy economy, but can we use it precisely as a case study for geopolitics?Israel dispossessed the original inhabitants and were given resources they didn't work for (see Deuteronomy 6:10-12). Without going into the mire that is the "Holy War" and displacement of the nations, this is not a model for us. This narrative has been used to perpetrate great injustices, murder and dispossession (e.g. North America) and it is profoundly unChristian to take such an example and apply it this side of Christ, and in our post-colonial age.Israel had an economy unlike ours; the idea of Sabbath and Jubilee was about reliance on God and re-distribution, including debt forgiveness. Hence, many Christians pushed for debt relief. To be sure, loans were wasted by corruption in developing nations, but the lenders were no less irresponsible. Surely a Christian understanding of global economics should include debt forgiveness, especially where it cases great suffering.Israel exhausted the land in greed - in not following the Sabbath laws or Jubilee laws. They are not a good model for human rights or land management (see for example Jeremiah 5 on destruction of the land).Israel didn't rely upon its own resources alone - no nation can. Think of its cedar imports for the temple.Israel was meant to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). This should be our model - where blessing can include financial help).There is no Christian nation - so straight application of a promised land teaching needs to be done carefully.Now helping a nation in a time of need with aid in an exercise in neighbour love, just as Jesus commands us to do in the parable of the Good Samaritan - love those in need.When Sri Lanka was overwhelmed by a tsunami, should we have told them it was God's punishment (the story of the blind man in John's Gospel should tell us no), or that they had their own resources to draw on? Of should Christians proclaim neighbour love and give personally as well as ask the government to do so?And what of development funds? The article here examines a number of causes, including corruption. However, the legacy of western colonialism and ongoing exploitation by the west of the developing world tell us there is an historical and ongoing burden of debt on us to do justly (Micah 6:8). Our lives are more comfortable because the system is designed to burden others so we might live well. America prospered because of slavery, Australia by dispossession of the first Australians, etc, etc. As noted in Barb's article, well thought out aid and development allows the proper use of resources by evening things out. As the saying goes, if the system rewarded hard work, African women would be millionaires.Finally, climate change is set to swamp everything we've achieved in aid and development. The comfortable lifestyles of the west will impact the lives of those in the developing world, and for Christians to be blind to the moral urgency of aid just shows the Babylonian Captivity o[...]

Advance Australia where? Thinking about Australia Day


As the son of English immigrants, someone who loves this country, its culture and biogeography, Australia Day is sadly one of those events that is difficult to navigate. I've been thinking why, and how to hold different visions together. The secret is the idea of narratives.

Narratives are stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world - and form a part of world views along with praxis, questions and symbols. There are two or three narratives I see going on, and they are not mutually exclusive.

The first is the one of Australia that begins over 200 years ago and tells the story of brave settlers, moving from a convict colony to a country with a distinctive culture, somewhat self-deprecating, capable of achieving much; a society that is largely egalitarian. It is this that Australia Day calls us to show our pride in.

Yet this narrative either deliberately or subconsciously excludes the narrative that extends back 10s of thousands of years; one that includes invasion, dispossession and colonialism, warfare and violence. It's a variation on a theme found everywhere Europeans arrived in the "New World". It's the story that shapes Australia Day as Invasion or Survival Day. It's a story outside of my experience, and yet one that tempers my own "celebration" of Australia Day. It means that while I want to affirm the good, I have to acknowledge it sits on a legacy - as has been said "White Australia has a Black history", with a double meaning.

The third narrative is the darker side of our own history, from White Australia to duplicity in East Timor, to attempts to undo our egalitarian society and continue to deny the "Black armband history".

For me to be a "proud Australian" is to celebrate the good and want to see the righting of wrongs, to Advance Australia Fair, in the true sense of fair. That might mean a new national day, or a transformation of the old. It will mean constitutional recognition of and a treaty with the first Australians, and continued efforts to allow them to flourish through some degree of self-determination. It will mean continued protection of all that we treasure, our fair society and this amazingly challenging but beautiful land.

Advance Australia where? Into a shared future.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light


This is my Christmas eve 2014 sermon. A bit late as I don't work from a manuscript and so had to type up. Nice and short for a 10.30 time slot. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). Some ancient cultures had the idea of circular history, where the same events would play over again and again. Perhaps they were inspired by the regularity of the seasons. The Whiggish idea of history is that there was inevitable progress which led to the development of Western culture. This was a popular idea in England. Francis Fukuyama famously and foolishly said that history ended after the Berlin Wall came down. He was very premature. More recently, philosopher John Gray has written that “men are the playthings of a blind and amoral fate, which decrees that the same mistakes will be made over and over again”. The aphorism “those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it” comes to mind here.The ancient Israelites understood their history as blessing and curse from a God not just of their nation but all nations, a God of history. The people walked in a great darkness, and in Isaiah 9 that darkness was Assyria, an agent of judgement for Israel’s national sins. Hence Isaiah wrote:“How the faithful city has become a whore! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her—but now murderers! 22 Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water. 23 Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them.” (1:21-23)And, as a result of this:“Assyria, the rod of my anger—the club in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him.” (10:5-6)Assyria were a warlike people known to torture, maim and kill in grizzly ways soldiers and nobility, and burned children alive. Little wonder Isaiah also writes “But this is not what he [Assyria] intends, nor does he have this in mind; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few.”So while a judgment was intended by God, he did not intend such savagery.So it is almost surprising in the face of this risk that Isaiah could also write:“I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” (8:17)For … The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. A light of freedom from war. In Isaiah 9 he describes the burning boots and uniforms of war. Elsewhere he speaks of swords being turned into plough shares. Perhaps we might say the turning of tanks into tractors. This light is also a light of freedom from oppression; the rod and yoke would be broken.The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. The light of a golden age where a child will lead the people into everlasting shalom. Shalom is more than absence of war, but a peace which included wholeness, completeness, the “good life”. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. The light is a child is who bears the very character of God himself –Mighty God, Everlasting Father.The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and so certain was Isaiah, that this future hope is expressed in the past tense of “walked” and “have seen”.The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. After the threat of Assyria came the Babylonian exile, and then the release under Persia where Israel was still a vassal state. Then came Alexander the Great, and after the Selucids as Alexander’s empire broke up. Finally came Rome. The census recorded in Luke 2 reminds us of the part[...]

Privilege for a purpose: Biblical examples


Someone I've met in real life (tm) made a comment on my last post on WASP male privilege to point out that there are biblical examples of where privilege exists, but that is for a purpose.

I probably need to clear up from the start that while I see parallels between Christian social ethics (the politics of Jesus if you will) and socialism, I'm no Marxist. In wanting those of us with much to care for those with less, I'm not advocating doctors and street cleaners be paid the same. Instead, I want them to be valued as humans, have the same access to essential medical care and so on.

My problem is with the way in which wealth accumulates without a connection to real value; hence CEOs earning hundreds of times more than the bottom employees in an organisation. Sabbath economics and the idea of Jubilee acted a a reset for an economy designed not to dispossess or disadvantage others. How this might work today has been illustrated in debt forgiveness - although issues of irresponsible lending and corruption also need to be addressed.

So then, a couple of examples. Firstly, it seems to me that Israel always was to have a position of privilege. In Genesis 12:1-3 it is clear Israel is privileged but in a way that was meant to bless others. I suspect at times some sections of the Christian church forget that is a core aspect of its mission.

What about the rich then? In some cases, it isn't possible to get rich without it being at the expense of others; certainly someone like Zacchaeus benefited from tax farming, and his response would have included abandoning being part of that system. But for those who honestly gain wealth, Paul's constant plea to the churches to make offerings to the Jerusalem church point to the idea that money is sometime best circulated as much as possible.

Finally, my correspondent raises the idea of the "weak vs the strong". In the New Testament period, meat sacrificed to idols was an issue (see for example 1 Corinthians 8). Those strong in faith and conscience who understood that this was a non-issue were not to use their strength as a stumbling block for the weak. Theirs was a position of privilege, but not for their own sake, and sometimes we limit our freedom for the sake of others.

This last example is universally applicable, for only the extreme libertine would ignore the idea of a social contract. There's much said today about the evils of censorship, but sometimes this is for the welfare of others (and indeed ourselves if we more more internally reflective - do you really think computer games where you can rape and kill prostitutes constitutes a good or a right?)

Being a responsible WASP male without the guilt


I've been thinking about privilege, power and responsibility of late. I'm someone whose been born white, male and in a first world country with a solid economy, so I'm well ahead of most of the world. Born into a working class family, education has helped me into the middle class - though like many hardly rolling in it.Likewise I more or less fit the WASP mold. I am white (painfully so in the Australian sun), but more Anglo-Celt I think thank Saxon. And yes, as a member of the Anglican Church, a Protestant. As a label it fits ok.Sometimes the Right (labels again I know, but work with me) accuses the Left of being whiny (which it can be) and of insisting that people like me live with guilt all of the time. It seems the only ones that can be maligned are people like me. What the privileged Right don't get respectively is that one can be aware of privilege and how it has arisen without a self flagellating guilt. What the sometimes whiny Left don't get is that we didn't choose to be part of the system and don't bear the entire guilt of it simply by being born privileged.What I think is required is twofold. The first is to become aware of your advantage. I'm a male so I don't usually fear rape or sexual assault. Women often fear this. Be aware of this. It doesn't mean confessing I'm a closet rapist or assenting to an "all men are rapists" mantra. It does mean that the world is tilted in my favor by my gender. Likewise, in many walks of life having a penis means I can earn more than a human without one. That's not my fault, but I need to see that this wrong exists.Likewise, understanding that to be white often means living on lands that have been taken from others, usually non-whites. Australia was stolen from its first inhabitants - accompanied by frontier wars and people being corralled into missions. In the USA, this included deliberately infecting people with diseases. I didn't take part in this sort of thing, but continue to benefit from stolen land.Finally (but not exhaustively), global capitalism seems to insist on inequality to work; hence my clothing, electrical devices and so on. I'm part of a system that benefits me more than those who made my stuff, and those who own the companies who made the stuff more than me.So I actually do need to feel sorry about this, without browbeating myself all of the time. It's a fact that many things are shit. Which leads me to the second half. How to be a responsible WASP male without the guilt. I'm happy to be who I am, but I might pause at using the word pride because of the unavoidable overtones it invokes. It's hard for me to be really persecuted at this point in history. Black pride makes more sense to me (than it does to those of the white pride perspective) because of the way in which history and socioeconomics and politics makes black people in many places a "minority", even if they are not numerically (think about apartheid South Africa).So knowing this means it isn't Left or being a "champagne Socialist" to want to see the system change to rebalance inequalities. I believe in equal rights for women in the home, workplace and church because of my theology and not in spite of it - while still not seeing men and women as identical - we are equal.Likewise, as all humans are as I read it made "in the image of God" all are afforded that dignity. What is often termed "social justice" is just justice, treating people as best elevates them to that dignity. This means aid to those who suffer from the system and changing it where possible. This means that "lifters and leaners" is unhelpful terminology, and blaming those who are poor can be (and mostly is) baseless. Criticising welfa[...]

Rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty


In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams pits two philosophers against a supercomputer named Deep Thought, whose purpose is to discover the meaning of life. Their demand is for “rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty”, so that they might continue to have jobs.  I’m prompted to reflect upon this idea in response to a couple of Red Letter Christians blogs. Gungor and the Two Faces of Evangelicalism which looks at the reaction against a band who denies what some Christians believe to be essential to the faith, namely a literal (day I say literalistic) reading of Genesis 1-11. The other is the edgy piece Do Christians Really Need the Bible? For me, both pieces raise a number of issues about “rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty”, or what Ron Choong of The Academy of Christian Thought calls “theological safe spaces”.I think God is bigger than our doubts, our fears, our concerns, our misunderstandings and even our heresies. Try talking about the Trinity for more than five minutes and you’ll see what I mean. Not that I am advocating a free for all, breaking all boundaries and smashing all symbols like so much Henry the 8th style iconoclasm. What I’m wanting is far more nuanced.Someone once described to me the difference between biblical theology and systematic theology as like the difference between the jungle and a botanical garden. The later is perfectly ordered, but its ordering may obscure the real relationships that occur in the wild. We need to constantly come back to the wilderness that is Scripture, with its many voices, to understand whether or not our arrangements tell us anything sensible.In Scripture and the authority of God, Tom Wright divides the bible into five acts, not as rigidly as dispensationalism, but nonetheless as a useful guide to reading the bible as a story, and know where we are in it. By story, he doesn’t mean something made up, but an unfolding narrative of revealed truth, a story to tell and retell, to become absorbed in. The role of the reader is to let God bring their own personal narrative into the biblical one. The five acts are Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus and the Church or age of the Spirit. We are called to perform the fifth act, improvising in the light of what we know of the previous four, and the start and end of the fifth.A narrative approach doesn’t oppose story to propositional truth, it simply grounds those truths in the narrative and warns us that too much abstraction will lead to deforming those ideas. The narrative approach is not opposed to Lectio Divina, for our stories become part of HIStory, and then the bible can be mined for inspiration, encouragement and daily nourishment.The narrative approach should make our reading centre (center for my US friends) focused, not boundary focused. Rather than being gatekeepers, we can discover a Generous Orthodoxy as Brian McClaren put it. I mention Brian deliberately because some associated his ideas with universalism, which I’m not convinced is true. But more than this, Christians at both ends of the spectrum need to grow up from the immature hermeneutic of “guilt by association”. Quoting a person on one idea does not mean they are being endorsed in all areas.If we must use labels like conservative, Evangelical or Liberal, let’s use them with much care. After reading much Roger Olson in books like Reformed and always Reforming, and How to be Evangelical without being Conservative, I call myself a post-conservative Evangelical because of this narrative, centre set approach. For me, Liberal i[...]

On humility and self-promotion


  I have a problem. Well I have several, but one in particular is that I now find myself as a writer (one book almost ready to print as a co-author, chapters in two others and a solo book to some), a blogger on a high profile blog (Red Letter Christians) and a speaker/preacher getting invites all over the place.So, in wanting to push my ideas, share them, get them out there, how much is too much self-promotion? How does one go about and get gigs, publishing opportunities etc without becoming big headed?There's a fairly recent and famous example of how not to do it. Mark Driscoll, now formerly of Mars Hill Church was involved in a scandal about using a marketing company to get it on the New York Times best seller's list. For a Christian, such self-promotion is unethical; it's bearing false witness. Indeed for most people this is unethical. Your average person engages in white lies, but this is of another level.I suspect Mark didn't think through this in detail, and more than this, he was so convinced of the importance of his ideas and the need to communicate them, he didn't stop to think. Lesson one to me. I am not God; not all of my thoughts are divinely inspired.But is self promotion right out? Clearly not! The fact that I've gained opportunities to speak and write, and continue to get them is some indication that this is my calling. The issue is not seeking opportunities (actually more often than not for me these days, simply saying yes), but a couple of things.Firstly, when I see someone else doing something similar, I should be happy for them rather than either "I could have done that, why didn't they ask me?" or "I could do that better". I think this attitude gets at what Paul saying in Philippians 2:3 "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves."Secondly, if the aim is self-aggrandisement, people will ultimately see through me, and hence the first part of the verse above will be broken. This is not to say wanting to be well known is such a bad thing, but what for and how will I achieve it? Writers and speakers love to share ideas and stories because they love their ideas and stories, think they are important and believe they can change people. That change should not be manipulative, but dialogical.I can't bash people into believing climate change is real and needed to be acted upon, but hope to bring people along the journey to discover this. I've often said I wish my first book were not on climate change; there are plenty of less depressing topics to write or speak on. But I do it, not for fame or glory (I doubt there will be much of that) or for the money (there most certainly will be none of that) but for the sake of the earth, society and the glory of God.So whatever you speak or write on if you find yourself in such a position; don't be ashamed at pursuing opportunities. Just always ask yourself, what for, who for? If the answers are because of passion and to help others, not only should you pursue opportunities, they will pursue you.[...]

Threading the middle? Belief, fundamentalism and the centre


I recently stopped following a Facebook group. Nothing unusual there. A post pointed to a Patheos blog which assured me of various things the bible doesn't actually say. Nothing unusual there either. There's lots of folk theology as there is folk medicine (anti-vaxxers), folk science (climate change denial), and so on. It's a good thing to question the sources of information. My issue though was when I looked at the first couple of entries, it was just standard (yawn) Liberalism. Sure I know Jesus was a human, a first century Jew, a Messianic claimant and prophet. But the usual "he never claimed to be God but actively denied it" just doesn't wash. The "Paul invented Christianity" is so patently wrong, as with it the view that Jesus had no interest in Gentiles and that a move away from Jews was Paul's plan B. There's plenty of good scholarship to show the gospels reflect the earliest years of the church (where's the conflict on circumcision for example), and that placing Jesus in the full story of Israel and its true location made Gentile mission a matter of when, not if. My point is, in trying to stay with the Progressive (so-called) crowd, I often become weary of some of the so-called assured results of enlightened scholarship, as well as the ironic conservative bashing. Sure Mark Driscoll earned his critics ire, but please, something else. Likewise, when I can't say some things in front of some Conservatives because I'll end up in an argument over their ideological refusal to see the truth of human caused global warming, there's another end of the spectrum I'm unhappy with. All that said, any time we claim the middle ground, are we not repeating other people's errors? Pushing others to the margins, do we not commit the same exclusivity? Well, yes and no. If you have no centre, you have nothing. It's pointless defining a community, a belief system, etc without some core identity. This will include a central story (which contains propositions that can't be abstracted), practices, symbols and questions. But having a centre isn't the same as having hard boundaries (that's fundamentalism). That said, assuming you have even the centre 100% nailed down can be an overreach, as each new idea will open more and more questions. More than that though, overfilling the centre will quickly approach the bounded set, and hence back into Fundamentalism. We all want to think we occupy the centre in politics, religion, culture etc. There ARE extremes to avoid - but maybe not always? We find some Fundamentalisms as morally repugnant if they involve extreme behaviour, such as suicide bombing. Is any idea worth being extreme about? But what if Jesus really is God? Can one be too extreme as a Christian? I think history tells us though an extreme Christian is one who is willing to be persecuted and martyred, not be a persecutor. Likewise, what if the new atheists were right? Would there be something noble in their crusade to rid the world of all superstition? So maybe we don't always shoot for the middle, because sometimes we need to be extreme. Reasonable ideas can end up being simply not worth bothering with, and I think this phenomenon is killing some Christian denominations. So here's the punchline. Christians, be true fundamentalists by putting love first, just as we were commanded. A whole lot more extreme things may follow, and some may thread the middle - but at least it won't be a life satisfied by simply being extreme at either end for its own sake, or threading the middle to play it safe.

Insignificantly significant - Brian Cox's universe


I love Brian Cox's TV shows, and have now seen him live twice. He seems a softer atheist than the "new atheist" crowd, and when asked last time around about his attitudes towards belief, he was generally tolerant. As long as you engage with science on its own terms, it is ok.

His recent tour promotes his new TV series Human Universe. So far I've enjoyed what I've seen. There are two major premises he makes - we are insignificant, and we are inevitable and hence have meaning (though I've also heard he denies meaning, so what does he mean by meaning).

Insignificance comes from the vastness of our visible universe, the huge number of galaxies and the likelihood there are many planets with life. However, he also claims that our appearance on Earth is so unlikely that intelligent life is rare. We are a freak accident. This revolves round the geology of the Rift valley and aspects of the Earth's orbit (Milankovitch cycles) as they conspire to produce an 800,000 year cycle that helped force our evolution. I've about 5 papers to read on this - and will blog in future.

I toyed with the theme of God's control over weather as described in the bible and human evolution a while back. But paleontologist Simon Conway Morris suggested other factors would have forced the issue at some point, and for example no large bolide was needed (as Cox contends) to do away with the dinosaurs. CO2 is in decline (present human forcing notwithstanding) so that the global climate has cooled and ice ages would have done it anyway (killed off the dinosaur), to make way for mammals. So it may be that Cox is over stating his case about contingency. Conway Morris certainly thinks so.

What makes us inevitable for Cox is the eternal multiverse idea, which falls out of quantum mechanics/inflationary theory, but also a desire to push science further back in time and God out of the picture. Cox assumes that the multiverse must be necessary and eternal, and hence functions like God. This is a philosophical assumption left unexamined, just as is the idea that such a multiverse must produce at least one universe that is biophilic. But why should it be the case that a multiverse should exist that produces an infinite number of universes with at least one that is biophilic (beyond our obvious presence)? What adds fire to the equations of quantum mechanics?

It is of course nonsense to suggest this gives us any sense of meaning, that I must exist because I exist an infinity of times. That makes me insignificantly inevitable. It's turtles all the way down.

Stop fighting over who created the world


I love memes, so when I saw this one, similar to one I blogged about on my environment blog, I thought it worth a brief comment.

It is a difficult sentiment to argue with, and why would you want to? The key is that violence should never be the solution to any problem, let alone metaphysical issues. Indeed, when Jesus says that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, it seems to me that fundamentally Christianity is not about killing people for any reason.

That said, the meme betrays a couple of things, Firstly, we tend to take for granted that religion and politics should be separate (though I hope not that religious people shouldn't be in politics, these are not the same thing), and hence no issue (particularly in the middle east) is simply religious. It is political. Secondly, we would not want to forget the complex history of places like the middle east, and how western politics has helped shape the violence, even if it isn't the cause without remainder.

Thirdly, people are quit to forget that atheism kills as well as religion - think French Revolution, Hitler (he simply courted the church), Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, Lenin, etc. These were all attempts to stamp an atheistic world view onto people, resulting in the death of religious leaders, intellectuals, pretty much anyone. It is intellectual dishonesty to suggest otherwise.

Dawkins would accuse people like me of compromise for not being literalists and fundamentalists. This is about as logical as accusing pacifist atheists of doing the same for not seeking to burn churches.

None of this is to deny the role religion plays in violence, and hence the meme as such is something I can agree with.

This leaves us with the opposite problem of the meme, which calls for us to fight against those who are destroying the world - in what sense can we 'fight' if we are opposed to fighting? Surely it doesn't mean it is ok to kill for non-religious reasons. It also doesn't mean we should go to war at the drop of a hat. It does mean that we should oppose violence in whatever form we find it, and perhaps pragmatically that means military interventions at times.

It does also mean we need to examine very carefully events that we see, and move past simplistic sloganeering.

Misconceptions in teaching science


In my wanderings on the net I happened upon a paper entitled Misconceptions in the science classroom by Michael DiSpenzo. Although it is aimed at high school classes, it still seems to me applicable to tertiary and adult education, thinking about public education in climate change and so on. I thought it would be useful for me (and maybe others) to summarise.Factual misconceptions are errors in individual facts. This might be as simple as a wrong date or capital city; an error in a largely inconsequential fact. In this case, if such information carries little emotion baggage, some repetitious reinforcement can deal with it. DiSpenzo notes that in order to deal with these misconceptions, they need to be uncovered, and this is best done before learning.Such pre-learning discovery of learner factual misconceptions shows the value of pre-testing. Applying it to what I do when I go speaking about climate change, it could allow for asking "what do we know about...?" type questions. It opens up the potential to be railroaded, but it also lets you know where your audience is. This second comment however makes it clear that some facts are linked to a broader set of beliefs, which I'll comment on below.Conceptual misconceptions are concepts that are in error. A classic one DiSpenzo mentions is weightlessness in space, that gravity is negligble for astronauts. A meteorological one might be the direction water spirals down the sink in different hemispheres (it doesn't change). In climate science, it might be that trace gases like CO2 can have no effect. These are harder to root out if they can't be directly demonstrated in front of someone - so chains of reasoning, video demonstrations, graphs, charts, etc have to be used. Appeals to beyond reasonable doubt and best possible explanation come in.Preconceived notions I have found less common in teaching adults. This is application of things seen everyday inappropriately into other areas. The only area I can think of it a confusion between weather and climate, and the tendency to think too much in cycles when there is a secular trend.Vernacular misconceptions are problems with language. The classic was the so-called canali (Italian for channels), which was translated to canals and had English speakers looking for an advanced but dying race on Mars. In meteorolgy, ideas of clouds burning off or the air holding moisture are poor use of language that lead to confusion in the physics.Finally, nonscientific beliefs continue to be problematic. This includes religious insistence on a young earth (note I'm an Evangelical Christian but understand both the science of geology, astrophysics, evolution etc to know the Earth is old, and that Genesis 1 is ancient near eastern polemics, a topc for another time), or political and religious opposition to climate change.In some contexts, these issues can be dealt with head on, as I often do in talks and writing on climate change. In the classroom, the science needs to be dealt with head on, and being able to say "x is consistent with y because" is the best approach. Also being able to say that "z is not a science question ..." will mean that appropriate discussions will be had.So when dealing with well established scientific ideas, knowing what our learners know and what and how they misunderstand some ideas is helpful in knowing how to address them.[...]

Mark Driscoll, Rachel Held Evans and book burning


allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="420">The above is one of my favourite scenes from Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, for it highlights that the challenge to all empires and regimes is not weaponry but ideas. A person I once knew at a church I was at, who I'd have to describe as theologically more liberal than myself (a hard term to define, but nonetheless) said that "It was easier to burn people than ideas". True enough, but we can burn books, or at least pull them off shelves.A bookstore chain in the US, LifeWay stores, has recently pulled all of Mark Driscoll's books from their shelves after the various controversies that have surrounded him. Was this a good thing to do? It is also notable that they did not stock a book by Rachel Held Evans because a book she wrote contained the word "vagina" in it. I suppose if I ever expand my blogpost with Red Letter Christians entitled A Theology of Farts and Orgasms into a book, I can forget about their support? In all seriousness, Christian prudishness is no excuse for not facing the earthiness of Scripture and its implications for real life - but see the post for my views on that.The issue is, when is it ever appropriate for a bookstore to either not stock, or remove from shelves, a book? I've only ever owned two books by Mark Driscoll. One is on mission which I've glanced at but not dug into. The other is one on marriage. The chapter on friendship is excellent, but I don't have it anymore. Mark is Calvinist and complimentarian, I'm Arminian and egalitarian. I've listened to some of his sermon series, seen him on the Elephant Room and been to an Acts 29 church for a time. I have ambiguous feelings about him. I think his personality has amplified all of the aspects of his theology I disagree with. But I think pulling his books was wrong.Now of all of his sins (and let's call them that), the only two that really relate to books directly is the plagiarism (unintentional or not) and the dodgy attempts to promote sales.  Even then, only the book where the plagiarism occured provides reason for pulling it from the shelves, if at all. The dodgy promotional activity of paying someone to buy a bunch of copies doesn't change the usefulness or truth content of the book in question.As for Mark's controversial character - Luther was an anti-semite and Calvin was a bourgeois snob implicated in Servetus' murder. Do we pull their books? Where do we draw the line on people's behaviour? And what about theology? Rob Bell perhaps? Brian McClaren?Now all bookshops have to make stocking choices, and a Christian bookshop should stock books by Christian authors propounding a Christian world view. But what does that look like? For me, John Shelby Spong puts himself outside of historic Christianity by denying central tenets about the person of Jesus, but he was a bishop? Do you have a heretics section? Or ignore him? Or be brave and have a few copies? I don't think there is an easy answer, but it's an insult to book buyers to make up their minds for them, particularly if the filter is narrow.Banning books, or protesting them is no where near as effective as loving the authors. I'm not about to jump into any Mark Driscoll, though in writing a book on mission I will be digging it out. Likewise I have just bought some Rachel Held Evans, and will buy her vagina book at some stage and see for myself just how liberal her exegesis is, as one per[...]

Grappling for Christ: Martial arts and Christian mission


This article originally appeared in the Ethos publication Equip.Mission mindedThe raison d’etre or reason for the existence of the church is to ‘know Christ and make him known’. This has often been reduced to ‘spiritual disciplines’ and evangelism which has usually been along attractional lines. Attractional mission is where we organise an event like a guest or seeker service, and invite our non-Christian friends along. Over many years I’ve enjoyed many evangelistic sermons along with all my other Christian friends. My point is, that as the Church increasingly looks irrelevant, if not is irrelevant in people’s lives, we need to do good, be good and speak the good news out of our familiar contexts and into those of others. That means often (but not always) leaving behind the four walls of church.The idea of incarnational mission (see for example Hirsch and Frost in The shape of things to come) is being where people are at, really being with them in what interests them. And this isn’t simply forcing yourself to engage in an activity simply so you can share the gospel (read, be able to trot out a standard tract-like approach). This means doing what you love, being with people you care about, and being the gospel. At times, you will also get to use words. For me, that doing what I love is the martial art Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.This isn’t Kung Fu fighting! I’ve been a martial artist longer than I’ve been a Christian. And yes I’ve encountered all of the arguments about how the martial arts are demonic and violent. On violence I assume all of those people who are critical abhor the footy punch ups, western boxing and most TV and computer games, as well as foreign policy of most western governments over the past several centuries. On demonic influence I’m assuming none of the detractors have a problem with lust, money or any of the other idols the New Testament tells us have demons lying behind them. Yes the martial arts are often Eastern in their cultural form and carry religious elements either as echoes or implicitly. Stop celebrating Easter and Christmas then. Or learn that most things can be redeemed.You can see I’ve been in these arguments; I don’t mean to sound impatient, but when you see what gospel opportunities can open up, particularly with young men, you’ll see the value in it. One certainly has to work through the issues. When I studied Judo there was a maxim from the founder Jigoro Kano that reads “maximum efficiency with minimum effort”. It is a great principle for martial arts, maybe too for business. But who wants efficient relationship? They are meant to be inefficient, time and effort costly. Likewise, when I did Goju Kai Karate, one of the five pillars we recited was a respect for Samurai chivalry. Sure they produced poets and artists, but that same spirit meant that an offended Samurai could cut the head off a peasant, or a disgraced Samurai had to commit suicide. Their noble “never surrender” attitude shaped the treatment of prisoners of war. So never be uncritical.Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is an adaptation for traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu for self-defence and a combat sport. I remember once a famous instructor from Brazil explaining that we shook hands in BJJ instead of bowing (as in oriental arts) because one only bowed to God. Brazil is a good Catholic country, and while many are nominal, that Christian attitude has influenced at least this aspect o[...]

Land of confusion


Watching world events of late has made me think about the Genesis song Land of confusion, also covered by Disturbed. The videos are shown below and are quite different in intent. The Genesis video uses the puppets Rubbery Figures to mock Ronald Reagan's cowboy politics. Recently reading An Angel Directs the Storm by Michael Northcott, I'm really struck by the influence of John Locke and dispensational premillenialism on US conservatism - neither of which strike me as biblical Christianity. American exceptionalism based on this and some idea of manifest destiny is truly frightening.

The Disturbed video is in one sense a better match to the music, with its view of empire, endless warfare and freemarket capitalism as a nationless fascism that only represses. As a Christian however, the idea that a violent uprising is the solution is repulsive - when violence is used to combat violence, violence wins.

To quote the song:

There's too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can't you see
This is a land of confusion.

What is lacking is love. Lack of love in violent responses to old enemies, lack of love in public policy on climate change, refugees, the poor and so on. People make the problems, and love is crucified on a cross to put things right.

But regardless of your religious outlook, can't you see that only love will bring clarity to the confusion?

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Use them and let's start trying
To make it a place worth living in.

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Use your hands in love to make the world worth being in. I believe in the Christ, his kingdom come and still to come, and to love until it does.