The end of (un)certainty? – Guest Post

Thanks to my brilliant friend Sam Blanch for contributing this post.

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An intriguing little piece of political jargon has been continually assaulting my ears over the last few years: “certainty”. It has been an assault not only because of its appearance in ubiquitous soundbites, but also because it questions assumptions that I had made about Australian politics. It was Paul Kelly, The Australian’s editor-at-large, who had argued in his influential book The End of Certainty (1994) that “the old order is finished. There is no returning to past certitudes”. He had identified a fundamental consensus across the major political parties. The real story of the 1980s and 1990s was “the embrace by both sides of politics… of the free market agenda and its gradual application as the solution to Australia’s underlying problems”. This “new philosophy”, in short, meant that politics had been irrevocably changed by economic rationalism. Australian businesses and workers alike were now to be subject to the ever-increasing efficiencies, deregulations, flexibilities, and market-based mechanisms demanded by a competitive economy. Certainty was out of bounds.

chance

But certainty is certainly back. Here are a few choice morsels of certainty and its cognates, from across the political and social divide and across political issues. I’m sure you’ll quickly get the picture:

Just try searching for “certainty” in the transcripts of any political leader, you will soon get sick of it. What explains the bombardment by this word “certainty” that we have all faced? Let me tentatively suggest a few things.

Firstly, certainty is an obviously useful word when comparing policy. And given the frequency of its use, certainty is probably a word identified by the ubiquitous focus groups that political parties make use of these days – “The carbon tax makes the future of my business uncertain”, “Tony Abbott’s character makes me feel uncertain about his leadership potential” – that sort of thing. Thus certainty becomes a useful political bludgeon, a tool of the political one-liner. But this is really just to defer the question. Why the prominence of certainty as a term and as an issue?

Well, secondly, it may suggest some ‘uncertainty’ about the economic rationalist consensus. Australians may be a little worried about the incessant focus on productivity gains through constant cost cutting and perennial political reform. Of course this might be just a practical demand for consistent rules in the economy. Thus certainty would partly act as a break on reform when it comes from business (changes to superannuation, for example, might deter investment by a business). But it has at least the potential to be an artefact of economic populism, a symbol of opposition to the constant change demanded by modern economics. Notice, though, that ‘certainty’ talk doesn’t actually offer a substantive alternative.

Instead, certainty’s third function may be to offer a convenient way to avoid substantive discussion. Certainty is raised with regard to change in circumstances or policies, but in itself it says nothing about the quality of a policy or circumstance. Like the very latest piece of electoral jargon (‘real solutions’, ‘positive plans’) it offers precisely nothing of use in any substantive consideration of carbon pricing, school funding, broad questions about the state of the budget, or anything of political substance. Paradoxically, this complete analytical uselessness when divorced from substantive argument may actually represent its very political usefulness. It offers a way to talk about economics without actually talking about economics. It enables pertinent questions, for example, about the redistribution of wealth throughout society, about the ownership and distribution of natural resources, and about appropriate levels of corporate taxation, to be effectively ignored. Like the political focus of people smugglers, it offers an agreed field upon which politicians can do battle on comfortable terms.

We could also discuss certainty/uncertainty in relation to the hung parliament, and the Byzantine affairs of the ALP. The former might reveal a national desire for easy answers and clear leadership rather than the perceived problems of the 43rd Parliament. The latter might lead us towards the ALP’s personality politics and obsessions with opinion polling. But let’s not go there…

Instead let me conclude with a few tentative observations. I suspect that the jargon of certainty/uncertainty indicates a lack of political consensus beneath current economic policy in Australia. At the very least, it reflects the current political class’s failure to articulate policy with any sort of philosophical or ideological rigour. Indeed, certainty seems to say little more than ‘we like making money and your political changes/lack of change potentially upset that’. And it is a term adopted across the political spectrum. In so in this vein, it also indicates what might be described as our pathological demand for a king or idol. As Willem H. Vanderburg puts it, it is modern society’s political beliefs and myths that “help cover over an abyss of relativism, nihilism, and anomie”. Perhaps then, the abyss threatens, and we crave certainty about what to put our faith in. While the economy remains the pantheon, we might be a little confused about the names and hierarchy of the new gods.

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church politics, social media and the archbishop

I’m a politics tragic. Watching the Labor party implode (actually watching Federal politics generally) has been like watching  a car crash – it’s awful, but I just can’t look away. Then there’s NSW politics. NSW has always seemed to me to have a particularly toxic political culture, perhaps something in the water. On moving to Sydney (after almost a decade’s absence) and becoming a member of a Sydney Anglican church this year I’ve discovered there’s a whole new political sphere to watch with fascination. It’s an election year in Sydney. We’re voting for archbishop.

When I say ‘we’, I don’t actually mean me. The voters at synod are made up of clergy and synod reps (I don’t even know who my church’s synod reps are!). So you could say the election doesn’t really concern disenfranchised church members like me.

But this time, the campaigns have been more public than ever.

RickThe supporters of the two candidates – Glen Davies and Rick Smith – have embarked on social media publicity campaigns, commending their men like never before. There’s whyrick.info and glendavies.info, both with their weekly email updates and a facebook page. The candidates are very similar, neither seem likely to bring significant changes. But still, there’s a definite Rick brand and Glen brand being marketed. Glen’s is the seasoned, wise, experienced and mature candiate. Rick’s brand is about being young, energised, active. The wise old owl or the fresh-blood whippersnapper.

Previously all this campaigning was relatively hidden from the public eye and people in pews like me. But thanks to social media it’s open campaigning now. What was previsouly whispered in secret is being proclaimed from rooftops, and it hasn’t all been pretty. The first instalment of ‘why rick?’ videos had me chuckling as a series of Anglican celebrities (they weren’t named, you’re meant to know who they are) offered only a couple of words of support  before the camera cut to the next endorser, even mid-sentence (‘I think that Rick’ CUT ‘would be a’ CUT  etc.). The effect was overwhelming – all these important people think Rick is great – though I couldn’t actually be sure why.

Church politics?

But firstly, to the issue of politics itself. Should we even have campaigns for archbishop? Should we eradicate church politics as much as possible? Secular politics hardly fills Australians with hope – and now we’re being political at church too?

In my view, politics is inevitable with a group of people like the church. We’re going to have different views on what needs to be done and we need some sort of framework for making group decisions and persuading others. But church politics ought to be done so differently to politics in the secular world that it’s almost unrecognisable.

That’s because Christians can’t use power to trample or dominate over others. A Christian will not (or ought not) run roughshod over those with whom she disagrees. Instead, we take the position of weakness, we make ourselves vulnerable for the sake of others. We speak the truth, seeking to persuade others. Even the Apostle Paul didn’t use his position to pull rank. He became like a ‘little child’.

With the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. (1 Thessalonians 2)

So if the Christian way is not to use power to dominate others, how do Christians actually get stuff done? We believe that the way to change things is through submission, gentleness, humility even weakness. This is how Jesus achieved his victory through the cross and it’s how his followers ought to act too.

fistThis means that in church politics there’s no place for factionalism, back-room deals, faceless men, political alliances, nepotism, jobs for the boys, branch stacking – these are weapons of power-politics, not of Christian humility.

And in church campaigning there’s no place for spin, cheap slogans, shallow celebrity endorsements (which distract from the substance of debate), sound-bites, innuendo or insinuation – these bury or confuse the truth rather than revealing it.

Our politics must be in service of others. We still have our views and preferences, we still seek to persuade others of them, but we can’t do it in a way which manipulates or crushes others – that would be self-defeating. Is such a politics possible? I think yes, but we might not recognise it as ‘politics’.

Social media opportunities

The Rick and Glen campaigns seem a little unprepared for the reality of social media. If you set up a facebook site you need to be prepared to receive negative feedback and be wary not to feed the trolls. Things have been defensive at times.  Poor John Dickson’s even been accused of ‘cyberbullying’ for asking too many tricky questions. This seems like growing pains to me.

The cat’s out of the bag with social media. There’s no point arguing over whether we should or shouldn’t use facebook for this sort of thing – this is the new reality. Instead, we should be thinking about what are the opportunities (and risks) that new media could bring.

1. It’s an opportunity to include more people in discussions about the diocese. Yes, most of us aren’t going to vote, but at least we’ve got more of a chance to know what’s going on! We can even ask questions! If done well, social media campaigning can generate discussions, promote inclusion and encourage a greater  feeling of ownership in diocesan decision-making.

2. Following from that, it’s an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the role of the archbishop, the diocese and the local church. How do we need to grow? What have we neglected? What really matters? Even the Glen and Rick brands reflect slightly different views about the role of the church and of archbishop. Which is wiser?

3. It’s an opportunity to reflect on how church politics has been done and how we may need to change. Now that more of the machinations can be seen in the light of day, how well have we done our politics? Hopefully, the broader scrutiny will generate renewed concern for doing our politics completely differently (in humility and honesty) to secular politics.

Of course, all these opportunities are also risks if handled poorly. Please let’s not take our cues from secular politics (look how that’s turning out!). There’s a risk that our politics will turn people off, that it’ll leave those who don’t have a vote feeling disenchanted and disconnected, that all our dirty laundry will be put on display and the name of Jesus dishonoured. It’s a big responsibility. Yet as I see it, keeping discussions hidden is never going to encourage the Sydney political culture to become more godly. Instead, we need to change.

As well as doing politics well, I would even suggest there’s even a need for Christians to do some journalism well. Now that these campaigns are going to be public, we could really benefit from a non-aligned godly media asking the questions. I mean journalism without the ‘gotchas’ and soundbites. This could assist campaigners in remaining honest, in avoiding spin and in getting to the point. Perhaps a retired minister or someone from outside the diocese – someone with wisdom, insight and respect as well as knowledge of chuch politics – could be a great blessing in this regard.

My two cents

I’ll just add my thoughts. An archbishop should be loving, wise, humble, faithful to the Gospel and able to communicate (that includes listening). I’d also like to see someone who:

  • Will look to cooperate with, support and even learn from other diocese beyond Sydney. For a perspective outside Sydney see  Jeremy Halcrow’s Sydney’s next archbishop and a crisis in leadership.
  • Will revive a concern for social justice and social inclusion so that we’re not just hearers and preachers of the word, but doers of it.
  • Will encourage more opportunities for women and older people to use their gifts in service so that the Body can be built up.
  • Will fight against tendencies towards tribalism.

What do you think? Am I being naive? Can we do our politics in a Christian way?

christians and the human rights bill – part 4

part 4 of 4

Plaatje Christopher - Human RightsThe Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill (2012) is in draft from and currently before a Senate Inquiry and facing some opposition from Christian groups. In this final post I look at the issue of public perception of Christians.

Firstly, not all Christians oppose the draft bill. Here are two positive Christian responses:

Peter Sandeman from Anglicare If we believe all people are equal we must live this

Elenie Poulos from the Uniting Church Injustice not an article of faith for all churches

how are outsiders going to interpret this?

As I have argued before, PR matters. We need to be concerned about how we come across to outsiders so as not to create a barrier to knowing Jesus. So how do we look? What message do we project to the public when we object to this legislation?

David Marr’s article article in the SMH gives us a hint. He interprets Christian opposition as churches defending their powers to ‘punish “sinners” in the workplace.’

Most conservative faiths have most of the following on their lists of the sackable: gays and lesbians, single mothers, adulterers – yes, even adulterers! – bisexuals, transsexuals, the intersex and couples like Gillard and Tim Mathieson…

Some see Christians as fighting for their ‘right to discriminate’. See Eleanor Gibbs or Ben Dorrington.

Or there’s Jeff Sparrow’s Religious freedom beats your rights at work

Religious lobbyists run the risk of winning this particular skirmish but losing the war. Even those of us who aren’t believers know that the scriptures spend far more time condemning the wealthy and greedy than obsessing about which sexual organ can legitimately go where. Do churches that already struggle for relevance really want to identify themselves so exclusively as the bedroom police, rather than finding something to say about the various moneylenders ensconced in the temples of the 21st century?

And Joumanah el Matrah Shutting out the ‘sinners’ feeds bigotry (not a secular perspective, but relevant nonetheless)

When the federal government assures religious groups they will have the freedom to discriminate against homosexuals and others they deem sinners (The Age 16/1), it not only undermines the rights of already vulnerable groups, such as same-sex-attracted people, it also undermines the substance and integrity of religion by reducing it to a collection of petty bigotries.

Finally, a cartoon

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The secular public does not understand Christians’ reasoning behind their opposition. Instead, Christians, by their opposition, confirm the public’s suspicion that Christians are sexist, homophobic and arrogant and that Christians believe they are entitled to special treatment.

Many of the Christian submissions regarding the bill complain that their free speech and religious freedom would be violated if they’re not allowed to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people.’ (note –  the word ‘offend’ was included in the draft bill because it comes from existing harassment legislation – I wouldn’t normally post something from the IPA, but Berg explains it here).

That does sound a lot like we believe that offending, insulting, humiliating and intimidating people are core parts of Christianity that need to be protected. The public could be forgiven for thinking so. They see the contradiction between what we say we believe and the ‘rights’ we claim.

I am not saying that we should let our beliefs be determined by public opinion, only that public opinion matters if people are going to listen to our message. We need to think seriously about which battles are worth fighting and what our opposition tells people about Jesus.

Because I’m worried that, worst of all, we’re creating a stumbling block to the gospel, a barrier to knowing Jesus.

concluding thoughts

There is a risk that Christians and churches may be taken to court for speaking the truth in love because someone was offended by it.

But there is a far greater risk that, by opposing this legislation, the public will get the impression that we Christians reserve the right to offend, humiliate, insult and intimidate people, to treat people unfairly, to mistreat people, to show favouritism and to ignore the injustices faced by the most vulnerable in our society.

There’s a risk they will think that we value our ‘freedom of religion’ over better protections for vulnerable people.

Would you not rather be taken to court?

christians and the human rights bill – part 3

part 3 of 4

Plaatje Christopher - Human RightsThe Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill (2012) is in draft from and currently before a Senate Inquiry.

The protections for religious organisations are largely unchanged. One exception which is causing concern is that the bill will:

Ensure that no provider of aged care services with Commonwealth funding can discriminate.  This includes religious organisations (although such providers can continue to preference people of their faith).

the consequences of being yoked

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

Ah yes, the ‘don’t date non-Christians’ passage. I worry that with this one we’ve been so concerned not to date non-Christians that we haven’t thought hard about the wisdom in this passage.

When we receive public money, we’re no longer working for Christ alone but also for the state. We become indebted to the government. We’re yoked. The government, as the employer or contractor has the right to set the agenda.

Perhaps, for some services, our values and objectives are so similar to those of the government that Christian organisations can work under them. After all, many Christians do work for the government in their normal employment – public servants, teachers, nurses – and honour God with their work.

Yet I think we need to consider the implications for Christian organisations to be dependent on public money for their operation. Governments demand KPIs and love to measure things (employment outcomes, hospital beds, efficiencies) which, for Christians, are often secondary, rather than primary concerns. Yet organisations dependent on government need to compromise their priorities work to achieve these government benchmarks. Governments are uneasy about evangelism and prayer (school chaplains anyone?), whereas for many Christians these are essential activities for someone in a public Christian position. It means our hands are tied. Not to mention the public perception that Christians get a free ride on public money.

In many areas, I believe it is not in our interests to opportunistically accept cash from the government. Our values are different. We serve Jesus.

Perhaps you think I’m wrong. Perhaps you think it would be better for us to use government money while we can for the Kingdom. What I’m proposing would need  some radical generosity from Christians. Do you think that’s possible?

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Happy Friday everyone.

On the atonement

I’m halfway through these lectures from Fuller and loving them. What DID Jesus Do? The Atonement Symposium Videos

On the weather and climate

Tim Flannery As Australia burns, attitudes are changing. But is it too late?

On lust

When it comes to dressing modestly, I generally think that if my conscience is clear and I’ve dressed to attract no one else but my husband, then if a guy lusts it’s his own problem. Morgan Guyton Lust patriarchy and capitalism made me re-think this.

On church growth

Nathan Campbell Spurgeon v Augustine; Egyptian gold, “faithful preaching”, equilateral triangles and church growth

On good books

I confess to having read none of these books. But I will. Scott Stephens Why the best books of 2012 were so good

On the trolls

Jon Acuff Proverbs 9

On violence

This one’s a challenge. I mostly posting it because I read Nahum last week and am still in shock – I had much the same concerns. Wil Gafney God, the Bible and rape

Also, on the recent shootings and masculinity: David Leonard The unbearable invisibility of white masculinity

On compulsory voting

Mungo MacCallum Visionary voting reform if it works in your favour

On women in ministry

Michael Bird has written a response to Peter Bolt’s review of his book – The Achilles heel of two complimentarian objections

I’ve been pretty disappointed by the responses to Dickson’s book (Lionel Windsor excluded). Dickson’s been dismissed out of hand with little engagement with his argument – a little embarrassing from people who should know better.

On alcohol

This is from Prohibition, what did they do with all the booze? Literal rivers of booze.

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christians and the human rights bill – part 2

Plaatje Christopher - Human Rights

Part 2 of 4

The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill (2012) is currently before a Senate Inquiry and, looking at the submissions, it seems like a lot of Christians are concerned. This series cover my reasons for not joining them in opposing the bill.

when there’s competing rights, the other person wins

Christians don’t cling onto their rights. They give them up.

Paul in the New Testament explains that when Christians conflict, they don’t fight it out, they give up their rights.

One brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.

Radical I know. But Jesus goes further; don’t just give up your rights for another person, wish them well, even serve them when they violate your rights.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Jesus didn’t just say this – he did it. Silent before his accusers, he didn’t even open his mouth.

Rights and obligations go together. When someone claims a right, someone else receives an obligation.With the current situation, where the right not to face discrimination (and associated obligations) possibly conflicts with the right to religious freedom, someone will have to be vulnerable as they serve the interests of the other party.

So either churches and Christians will be the vulnerable party, or people with disabilities, LGBTI people, migrants, older people, women and others will be vulnerable.

These groups aren’t even our enemies, they’re our friends. Many of them are our Christian sisters and brothers! Let’s put their interests before ours and allow ourselves to be the vulnerable party. Let’s not insist on our rights.

facing discrimination is part of being a christian

I can’t stand Christians with a persecution complex. You know. The type who complain when a ‘latte sipping lefty’ made some kind of slur against Christianity. ‘They wouldn’t have said that about Muslims or Buddhists!’, they whinge.

Firstly – perhaps the latte-sipper has a point, maybe you should pause and consider their critique (see The difference between persecution and being corrected). Secondly – what it is to you what the latte-sipper says about Buddhists? You take up your cross, stop complaining and keep following Jesus.

Now I seriously doubt the proposed legislation will lead to greater discrimination against Christians. But even if it might, I’m not sure that’s something to complain about.

The New Testament portrays religious discrimination as something to expect, as part of being Christian.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

So persecution is expected, but should we try to minimise or avoid it?  Should we assert our ‘right’ to ‘religious freedom?’ I don’t think so. In Galatians 6:12 Paul has nothing good to say about people who ‘to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.’ Yes, in Acts 16 Paul insists on his rights as a Roman citizen. But it seems he’s insisting that Roman law should be followed correctly, not that they’re unfairly picking on Christians. Later when warned he’ll be arrested in Jerusalem he heads, not away from, but straight to Jerusalem.

But the strongest evidence that persecution isn’t something to fear or avoid is that discrimination, mistreatment and injustice against Christians caused the early church to grow. Discrimination is not bad for us. God works through it. It can be a blessing in disguise.

christians and the human rights bill – part 1

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christians and the human rights bill – part 1

Plaatje Christopher - Human RightsPart 1 of 4

Watch out! The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill (2012) is currently before a Senate Inquiry and, looking at the submissions, it seems like a lot of Christians are concerned.

The bill is mostly a consolidation of existing Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation (Age, Disability, Racial, Sex, Human Rights). The main addition has to do with protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and greater protections against relationship discrimination for same-sex couples. The bill will also make it simpler to make a complaint and shift the burden of proof to the respondent (who generally has more money and access to legal services) to explain themselves, rather than on the complainer to justify their complaint. I welcome these changes.

The protections for religious organisations are largely unchanged. The exception is that the bill will:

Ensure that no provider of aged care services with Commonwealth funding can discriminate.  This includes religious organisations (although such providers can continue to preference people of their faith).

Controversially, (at least for Christians) it defines discrimination as behaviour which ‘offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates another person or a group of people.’ A lot of people are saying this would violate their freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Perhaps this bill will make things more difficult for Christians. But I argue that we should not primarily be concerned for our own rights, but for the rights and protections of others. We should support the bill.

 
the sincerest form of flattery

Christians often get defensive when human rights come up. I’m not sure why. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; secular human rights have much in common with Christian ideas (you could even argue they’re derived from scripture). The secular world is copying us when they insist on human rights.

Abrahamic faiths believe that all of us were made in God’s image so we each have intrinsic value. We have obligations to treat one another justly (or from the other side, you could call it rights) because of God’s image.

Then Paul took it further when he described a people where social, gender and racial hierarchies do not determine one’s status but where all are equal and deserving of inclusion. Neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male and female. This is a foundation for human rights.

The difference between a Christian ethic and secular rights is that we know our obligations to humanity are not merely ‘self evident’ or a nice idea, they’re based in God, his character and Jesus’ work. We have a firm justification for respecting others’ rights.

christians and the human rights bill – part 2

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Welcome to 2013. I’m still trying to forget that work starts again on Monday. Hope you’re adjusting ok.

What a legend!

Elizabeth Coleman, an 82 year old lady, has started a farm to take in ex-prisoners. It’s to give them a base, a safe environment, love, support and respect while they re-establish themselves. She believes in second chances, no matter what you’ve done. She wants to expand the work too. She knows Jesus.

Radio National Freedom. It’s worth listening to the podcast just to hear her gentle 82-year old voice speak with such passion.

On violence against women

Swati Parashar Where are the feminists to defend Indian women?

The lack of self-reflection among feminists is profound these days. The inability to empathise is astounding and the mimicry of the mainstream is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

We are obsessed as feminist academics and activists about where we publish, how we are seen, what we speak and where we stand, who notices us and who we speak for. We are concerned about whether what we say looks good on our CVs or in our public persona, whether we are on the side of the ‘progressives’, whether our politics is popular.

Saying unpopular things or taking radical positions is no longer fashionable or desirable. The comfort of the’ ivory tower’ from where we preach is good enough. Our job is done as soon as we have made the judgement of where we want to be seen/to belong…

John Piper has clarified his previous statements on domestic violence and abuse, explaining that women should also submit to civil authorities (which may mean calling the police).

On welcoming

Jon Acuff I wish every church said what this church says in their bulletin

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds…

On guns

Jeffrey Bishop The Massacre of the Holy Innocents; who is responsible for Newtown?

Garry Mills Our Moloch

James Martin More parables for our times: not your grandma’s prince of peace

1. When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 2. “Blessed are those who know how to defend themselves, for they will be secure. Blessed are those who arm themselves, for they will not be sorry. Blessed are those with one club, for they will be safe. 3. How much more blessed are those with two clubs, for they will be able to win a fight with those with one club. 4. Let the one who has two clubs buy four, and the one who has four buy ten. Let them increase clubs a hundredfold and a thousandfold.”

On language

Francois Grosjean Change of language change of personality?

On monotony and yearning

Michael Spencer Just beyond the 100th time

Today’s secret thought was uttered by a commenter in a recent discussion thread, but it’s the kind of terrible thought that lurks in the minds of many of you reading this post. What terrible, shameful, embarrassing secret thought am I referring to?

‘Frankly, I’m to the point where there isn’t that much a pastor/teacher is going to be able to say that I haven’t heard 100 times already’…

On masculinity and faith

Radio National Men and Faith – ‘how Christian and Jewish men define masculinity today, and how it affects their relationship to power, women and other men.’ I tend to see masculinity as a false god and a harsh master. Though perhaps it’s better to ask the men how they feel about it:

As men, though we desire to be powerful—and I think as all of us perhaps, we desire to have everything under control—I think there are moments in our life when we realise, I am utterly powerless. I mean, at any moment now, I could die. I’m just a puny little thing and we, we recognise that when we go into nature or if we find ourselves amidst a booming thunderstorm. We realise just how small and insignificant we are, and that’s a terrifying thing.

Just speaking from personal experience, I don’t like being out of control. But I think this is the Christian message—you know, if you want to find life, you must lose it, our Lord says. And all we need to do is—I think Catholic men, Christian men—is to look to the symbol of our faith, look to the crucifix. I mean, there we see utter powerlessness. But at the same time we believe that that was the greatest victory, that at that moment, God conquered death itself…

On Les Miserables

Peter Enns Jesus himself would have bought a ticket and waited in a half hour line to see Les Miserables

Morgan Guyton Javert vs Valjean and the two Christianities of Les Miserables

Nathan Newman The enduring radicalism of Les Miserables

On beer and history

Koen Deconinck How beer created the state of Belgium

On women giving sermons and women in ministry

Michael Bird Women in Ministry Blitz begins

Luke Collings Gender and Ministry: Why John Dickson is wrong about women and preaching – make sure you read Dickson’s comments too.

I’m sure there’ll be more to come soon on this one.

On homelessness

Toby Hall Safe in their big houses, Australians are blind to the plight of street people

and for the single parents now on newstart

Thank you firstdogonthemoon

Newstart

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bloody good drinkers – the northern territory and alcohol

“Oh, they’ve got some bloody good drinkers in the Northern Territory,” sang Ted Egan, a folk musician whom the governor-general appointed in 2003 to be the Territory’s administrator. His lyrics – as many Australians have known for a long time, and studies are beginning to affirm – are spot on. For nearly 30 years, the money spent per capita on alcohol in the Territory has been between 50% and 100% higher than in the rest of Australia. Similarly, while the national annual cost of alcohol-related harm is about $15 billion (which works out to be a little less than $1000 per adult), the figure for the Territory is more than $4000 per adult. The National Alcohol Beverage Industries Council counters these statistics. This body of alcohol manufacturers and sellers claims its own commissioned study shows more costs are borne by the individual, with national public costs at $3.8 billion. But whatever the overall cost, the Territory government figures are brutal. Alcohol-related crime and illness costs the region’s public purse $642 million per year. Booze Territory – The Monthly

Alcohol related deaths are 31 times higher in the Northern Territory than in the rest of Australia. It’s a crisis.

Just last week was the first ‘Grog in the Territory’ Summit, convened by Land Councils and various Aboriginal organisations. The ‘rivers of grog’ are becoming ‘road trains of beer‘, said one community leader.

Read about the summit here.

VBThe summit was sparked by the newly elected Country Liberals government’s decision to axe the banned drinkers register in the NT. The register had around 2,500 names on it. People with drinking problems or repeat drink divers were banned from purchasing alcohol. It meant that everyone needed to get their ID scanned on buying alcohol to check if their name was on the list. The Country Liberals’ election promise was to scrap the banned drinkers register and instead build giant prison farms for problem drinkers.

It’s unclear how successful the register was. Obviously it’s possible for someone to simply ask a friend to buy their grog for them, obviously some people would be pressured into buying alcohol. But for a few, it would help them manage their drinking problem.

There are various stats. Some say that alcohol related assaults in Alice Springs by 16% (banned drinkers register successful in reducing assault) while a banned drinker register was in operation. Another source said 15% (banned drinkers laws cut assaults) across the Territory, while another said a 6% (drop in assaults) drop in alcohol related assaults (if domestic violence is excluded). The Alice Springs Mayor has reported increased glass rubbish in parks since the register was axed. (on the other hand – crime figures which came out today indicated that violence in the NT increased in the last year – leading the Country Liberals to say the register wasn’t working)

Whatever the stats, its seems it was a simple programme which meant fewer people were being harmed. Then there’s the things they didn’t measure – medical impact, cases of fetal alcohol syndrome, effect on children’s eduction, crime, suicides etc. Of course the register wasn’t the whole answer, but it was a start.

Nonetheless, the banned register was unpopular enough for promises of its eradication to help a new government to victory.

It seems to me that only a society without a vision of the common good could oppose such a programme. Yes, it’s inconvenient for those of us who don’t have a drinking problem to scan our ID at the counter. ‘Why should I worry about someone else’s problem?’ we ask.

But it’s not ‘someone else’s problem.’ We’re not ‘all individuals.’ Alcoholism affects not only the individual, but their family, their friends, their communities, all of us.

I wish we could be a little more prepared to make small sacrifices for each other – for more communities (even mining towns!) to dry for the sake of others, for retailers to forgo the extra profit, for people to be willing to put up with the hassle of a simple register. In a functioning society, other people’s problems are everyone’s problems. That would be a society which believes in the common good.

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tgif

Finally Friday. I’ve been visiting Sydney this week, which means I’ve spent most of my time sitting in traffic or on the train, not blogging. How was your week?

broken_mirror

(thanks xkcd)

On the Catholic Church

Waleed Aly It’s Essential we Think Outside the Confessional Box

Mark Coleridge Humility and Faith: How the Church should respond to the Royal Commission

Simon Smart Whatever it Takes; Sexual Abuse and the Church

Michael Mullins The Church should Accept its Humiliation

On technology

Ben Collins Aboriginal Language Decline; the Digital Intervention.

I’ve been visiting an Aboriginal community for my fieldwork. When surveyed on what they want their linguistic centre to offer there was an overwhelming consensus – language on ipads! Fair enough, I want an ipad too. This technology could be great for Bible translation and the gospel. AuSIL , of course, is on to it already – they’ve got a whole lot of dictionary phone apps.

The Hoopla The Day that Einstein Feared

I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.

On the psychology of evil

Alex Haslam Rethinking long held beliefs on the psychology of evil. Rather than the ‘banality of evil’ theory, he looks to the power of charismatic leaders to convince people that the ends justifies the means. What do you think? Is it something for Christians to look out for (it perhaps explains things like the cover-up of sexual abuse)?

On how to read the Bible

Imonk Magic Books, Grocery Lists and Silent Messiahs: How Rightly Approaching the Bible Shapes the Entire Christian Life

On disability

Here’s Helen Keller teaching Charlie Chaplin the manual alphabet.

helen keller

On important days

This week we had World Toilet Day and International Men’s Day. Here’s an article on toilets as a feminist issue. And this is What Men Want.

On Baptism

A friend once mentioned to me that she didn’t want to get baptised because she didn’t want people to think you need to be baptised to be saved. But then why are we commanded to be baptised? Josh Stahley Does the Bible Separate Salvation from Baptism – he argues it’s a sign of salvation.

On war

Pray for Palestine and Israel – thank God for the ceasefire. This man lost his son. It’s just awful.

gaza

Tracey Spicer The Futility of War.

Australian New Testament Scholar Most Likely to be Mistaken for Brad Pitt

Spot the difference:

oh Con. We’ll miss you.

For twenty-somethings on our fear of not achieving everything we hoped

Sarah Lebhar Hall The Key to a Purposeful Life (it’s in Christ).

On single parents and Newstart

Eva Cox Sole Parents are not a Workforce

And finally – on Santa

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