Monday, September 27, 2010

Why I love Queanbeyan

As I walk along the streets of Queanbeyan, I sometimes get an overwhelming feeling of thankfulness for my town.

I belong here. I am part of the community. And that’s something to be thankful for.

I haven’t lived here my whole life, but I was born here. My grandmother has lived here my whole life and, as a child, we used to visit her every week. As I grew older, I still visited her, though not as often. Plus, I have lived here for the past 14 years.

I love walking down the street and saying hello to the people that pass me. I love going for a quick dash to the shops and ending up in a long conversation with someone. And every time I go to the local shopping centre, I see at least one person I know. On a busy day, I might be saying hello to someone every five minutes. (There are times I have spent more time talking to people than I have in actually doing the shopping.)

I’m upset about the disappearance of the corner stores. (Originally, there were three corner stores within eight blocks of my house. Now there are none.) I think they fostered a sense of community which isn’t there with the big franchises. That said, I have also gotten to know people at my local Coles or BP.  I can talk to the people serving me with more than just the standard polite conversation you reserve for strangers.

I like knowing that, if anything ever happened and I needed help, there are many people around that I know would help me. When my youngest son was only two, I lost him. I had many people on the street looking for him. (It turns out, he had hidden under a lounge-room chair and fallen asleep!) When my grandmother couldn’t walk earlier this year, one of my neighbours told me she needed help and then went to get my youngest son from tennis. Later on, someone else asked me whether my grandmother was okay. It’s good to know I have neighbours who care.

But it’s not just the people - although they certainly are a big factor in making me feel like I belong. It’s the town itself. For all its faults, it is still a part of me. Or maybe I am a part of it. I know its streets, its stores, its river, its parks, its houses. They form the background of my life. Walking across the bridge to go to church in pink, frilly dresses. My cousins and I sneaking into the showground to play cricket or football. Taking my children for their first day of preschool and then school, the preschool I went to and the school my father went to. Sitting in the park, watching my sons climb trees. Even saying hello to the statue of John Gale every time I pass it with my children. And the unbearable sense of loss every time something changes, closes down, gets demolished or, in the case of Spotlight, moves.

It’s hard to convey this sense of belonging to people who don’t have it. People move around so much nowadays. There was a time when you lived in one town your whole life and all your family surrounded you. My grandmother is the only member of my family who still lives in Queanbeyan. Everyone else has moved. It’s become normal for people to live in a variety of different places. And that’s kind of exciting. Sometimes I wish I could do it too. But at the same time, I am thankful that I am still here. Because I think I get a sense of community that other people fail to even realise they are missing. 

But even if I moved, I would still belong somewhere. I would still belong to the Church. And like a home town, the Church has its faults. It is made up of imperfect people. But it is still a part of me and I am a part of it. And it’s nice to know that. And it’s nice to able to recognise how important that really is.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Good or Bad, Left-wing or Right-wing Christian

I was watching a talk by Tony Abbott for a theology@thepub event on YouTube. And during that talk, Tony Abbott said that people tend to think of Good Christians as those who were more socialist, while bad Christians were those who were more conservative. And in that light, he was considered a bad Christian.

It probably depends which church (or denomination) you belong to. When I was in the Pentecostal Church, I always felt like I was a bad Christian for caring more about injustice and poverty than I did about moral issues.

But the purpose of this blog is not to discuss which Christian is good or bad, but the assumption that one is either a ‘Socialist Christian’ or a ‘Conservative Christian.’ I think it’s because we like to put people somewhere on the political spectrum. Are they left, right or somewhere in between? Then once placed, we expect their views to line up with their place on that political spectrum, rather than with Christ.

I’ve had people speak to me who are convinced that Jesus would vote for the Liberal National Party in Australia (the conservative party). Yet I’ve had people equally adamant that he would vote for Labor. As many people have pointed out, Jesus is not a card-carrying member of either political party. In reality, he would probably agree and disagree with both or either side of politics, depending on the issue being discussed.

And in reality we can agree with different policies from different political parties. And there isn’t necessarily a contradiction between caring about certain left-wing issues and certain right-wing issues. One can care about providing welfare and still want to cut down abortions. One can care about the environment and still want the Lord’s Prayer kept in parliament. One can care about funding for public education and still want school chaplains. One can even agree with giving homosexuals the right to marry without necessarily agreeing that Catholic/Christian adoption agencies should be forced to give them children for adoption.

It is possible to care about social inequalities and recognition of God. It is possible to care about injustice and morals.

Indeed, the bible gives a lot of attention to both. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hope for a Fallen World

There are a few things that people aren’t comfortable with nowadays in terms of Christian doctrine. One of them is the Fall or original sin.

I guess there are a few reasons why people don’t like the thought of original sin. One of them is that people like to think they’re good. Another reason is that it seems to offer no hope. We have no chance of doing the right thing if we are fallen human beings. Or perhaps another reason is that we like to tell everyone they’re okay nowadays. Self-help books of full of the kind of pep talk that is designed to make people feel good about themselves. Even Bon Jovi has a line saying ‘Remember that you’re perfect, God makes no mistakes.’ We love to feel good about ourselves nowadays. The only time guilt is allowed is when it’s going to make you go out and buy something. Guilt about germs, yes! Guilt about moral choices, definitely not.

Yet removing the doctrine of original sin may make us feel better about ourselves, but I think it leads to a far more despairing view of the world. If there is no original sin, if there was no fall, then that means this world is exactly the way God intended it to be. We’re all just acting according to God’s plans.

I don’t know about you, but if this world is exactly the way God intended it to be, then something is seriously wrong. We hurt people. We think way too much of ourselves. We look after our own self-interests. We either cause or allow injustice and oppression. We destroy the earth that God has given us. We have turned our back on God, each other and the world we live in.

And I sincerely hope that this is not the way God planned it!

Sometimes when I see something particularly depressing on the news or someone tells me a story about the hurt they have gone through, I think this isn’t the way life is meant to be. And of course, this isn’t the way life was meant to be. God planned a better world. But because he loves us, he gave us free will and we have used that free will to reject God’s plans. We have gone our own way, and the mess we see in the world is a result.

Yet the Fall also offers hope. But although it says human beings are born sinful, the bible always tells us that Christ has died to redeem us. Furthermore, even in the mess we see, the mess we have created, God is present. And He is continuously at work, bringing about his purposes. We may have gone against God’s plans, but God has a new plan - and therefore, a new hope.

If there was no Fall, then it would appear that this world is as good as it gets. If we’re not sinful, then what hope do we really have? But because there was a Fall and there is sin, there is also redemption. And Christ offers hope to a sinful, fallen world. 

Original Sin by Michiel Coxie, ca. 1550

Friday, September 17, 2010

Good Search

I recently came across this site called Good Search. You can nominate a charity of your choice and everytime you do a search, they donate money to your specified cause.

I do a lot of searching for things on the internet in my work. So it was great to find something where I could feel that all of that searching would benefit a good cause. It may not be as good as actually giving to a charity myself, but at least it's something.

For certain stores, they also donate a percentage of the purchase amount to a charity.

Oh, and you can add a charity of your choice - which includes schools. I think that may just be for American charities though.

The drawbacks are it doesn't have the Australian option, like Google does. And also you can't search for news, blogs or scholarly articles, like you can with Google. But for everyone else, it seems to be working well.

GoodSearch: You Search...We Give!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fundamentalist Christians and Atheists

The Punch recently had this excellent article by David Penberthy, where he discusses his annoyance at 'born-again atheists'.

I have often thought that fundamentalist atheists seem to have a lot in common with fundamentalist Christians. They're both convinced they're right and they both are determined to convince other people that they're right.

Not that there's anything wrong in believing you're right. Why believe something if you're not sure whether it's the truth or not? And I don't think there's anything wrong in trying to convince other people that you're right either. Most people who are trying to 'convert' others are convinced that people will be better off if they do convert. And this also applies to atheists who believe Christians or other faith adherents will be better off if they lose their beliefs. 

However, what annoys me is how angry, annoyed and patronising some people get. Or this idea that not only are their beliefs the only true ones, but that anyone who doesn't share those beliefs can be ridiculed or insulted. Or that one has to keep arguing their beliefs until people agree.

People are not stupid just because they believe something different. People are not evil just because they believe something different. We're all just people and we all have different ways of seeing the world. And maybe that's okay.

Now obviously as some of our beliefs conflict with others, some people have got to be wrong. That just makes sense. There isn't a world where everybody can be completely right. If two plus two equals four, then two plus two can't also equal seven. But arguing and mocking and looking down on people does not necessarily mean that you're the one with the truth. As I tell my youngest son all the time, shouting does not make you right.

The other day I was talking to an atheist. I hadn't really talked to her much before, but as walked home together we ended up having an interesting discussion about how she doesn't believe in God but I do. When we reached my house, we kept talking for a while afterwards - and this despite the freezing night-time. And not because we were arguing, but because we were enjoying the conversation. One of us is wrong. We both know that. Either God exists or he doesn't. He can't be real and not real at the same time. But just because one of us is wrong doesn't mean we can't talk about it civilly and respect the other person's beliefs.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


‘Awesome’ has to be the most overused word of the 21st century. Everything is awesome nowadays: music, movies, actors, haircuts, parties, mobile phones, friends, outfits. My youngest son uses it all the time. He comes home from school - ‘Awesome’. He plays soccer out in the back yard - ‘Awesome’. The next-door neighbour invites him to come and play - ‘Awesome’. We have dessert after dinner - ‘Awesome’.

Of course, none of these are really awesome. They’re good or maybe very good, but they’re not awesome.

It’s hard to even say what awesome means nowadays because even our similes for it have been overused. Incredible, wonderful, amazing, brilliant. We’re so prone to over-exaggeration that we now have no words for when something really is incredible, wonderful, amazing, brilliant - or awesome.

I think when we’re confronted with true awesomeness, we don’t even say awesome. We don’t speak. We don’t even think. We are lost in the wonder of something beyond ourselves.

A newborn baby - awesome. This world - awesome. Sacrificial love - awesome. An all-powerful, all-loving God - awesome. A fully divine, fully human Christ - awesome.

We may use the word a lot, but I don’t think we’re that great at recognising true awesomeness. Maybe we need to stop saying it and start seeing it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Funerals are not a celebration

There's been a bit of coverage in the media lately about secular songs being played at funerals. 

The guidelines for Catholic funerals state they should not include secular songs, as they are not meant to be a celebraton of a person's life, but a reflection on our Lord Jesus Christ.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I agree that funerals should focus on Christ. And if people don't get reminded of eternal life at funerals, some people may never have to think of eternal life at all. Plus, the Mass is probably not the best place to play your favourite footy song. Much as I would love to hear Bon Jovi songs at my funeral, I don't know that it would really suit a funeral Mass. (Actually, I just realised I wouldn't actually be hearing the songs as I'd be dead.) Okay, much as I would like to torture people by making them listening to Bon Jovi songs even after I'm dead...

Yet at the same time, even though the Catholic Church says funerals should not be a celebration of a person's life, people do usually go to a funeral usually to remember a person. And one way of doing that is by playing certain songs. It seems a bit sad that people may hear songs at a funeral that mean nothing in term of the deceased's life. As Bishop Tomlinson says, a wake or family gathering outside the church may be a good place to have these types of things.However, a lot of people may only attend the funeral and not any informal gathering afterwards. It would be nice to think that there is something there to help them remember the person.

Anyway, I'm still not decided whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. What does everyone else think?

Here are some of the recent articles on the Catholic Church's stance on funerals:

Funerals Should Not be Celebrations - 3AW
Chrch Drops Ball of Funerals - Geelong Advertiser
Funerals No Longer a Celebration of Life in Catholic Church - PM
Funeral March: the day the music died - ABC

Factory Farming

Today, I came across an interesting article The Christian Post by Jonathan Merritt on faith and factory farming.

Faith and Factory Farming

I agree with Jonathan that being a Christian does not mean we should not eating meat, but it should make us think about our treatment of the animals we do eat. We should also think about the impact of factory farming on the local people and environment.

It's probably impossible to avoid factory farmed meat altogether. Yet we should think about where our meat comes from and how the animals are treated beforehand. We also need to think about what is happening to our meat before we eat it. Nowadays, the drive for increased profits, along with genetic engineering, means that factory farms can modify animals so that the profits they receive are even greater. Some animals bear little resemblance to their original forms.

For the producers of meat, profit often matters more than what is good for the animals or what even is good for humans.And that's one of the reasons why I think Christians need to care about factory farming. Because Christians know that there are more important things to worry about than profits.

I also believe there is a spiritual dimension to the food we eat. It comes from God and has a touch of the divine. Yet the more we modify our food, and the more we raise livestock in conditions that are far from natural, the more we lose that trace of the divine.

I don't think we can avoid factory farming altogether. We need to feed people and sometimes factory farming is the most efficient way. Yet I certainly think we should think about how our meat is produced and try to go for the better, more humane, more natural options as much as possible.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Body Corporate

Body Corporate is a recent Four Corners program that describes the impact of patented genes by corporations.

When companies patent isolated genes, medical tests are much more expensive than they otherwise would be. Furthermore, scientific research is often held back, due to the huge sums involved in working with patented genes.

This is just ridiculous. The drive for profit impacts so many areas of our life. But when it stops people getting the best healthcare they can, or makes medical tests extremely expensive or stops people from doing medical research, then something is horribly wrong.

In the documentary, it was pointed out by some people that, unless people knew they could make a profit out of it, medical research wouldn’t continue at all. Now I can be quite cynical at times. But I do have enough faith left in humanity to believe that some of the people conducting medical research out there aren’t actually doing it solely to make a profit. They’re doing it because they want to make a difference. They want to help people.

And if medical research is going down the way of ‘making profits’ maybe that’s because we’ve let profit-making invade every area of our life. And making if we stopped allowing corporations to make a profit off anything and everything, people would be a lot freer just to get out there and help people.

The documentary is still available on ABC iView and can be found here:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Catch the Fire Ministry Disappointed with Election Result

A recent post on the Catch The Fire Ministries website, by Pastor Daniel, shows his deep disappointment at the re-election of the Labor government. His main reason for disappointment seems to be that we now have two atheists running the country ( Julia Gillard and Bob Brown). I suppose it is this which makes him say it is a ‘very, very sad day’ for Australia and that we have put in place a ‘wicked government’.

Just because a leader is an atheist does not mean they are wicked. Or that they will run the country in a way that would be displeasing to God. The bible often talks about helping the poor and the needy. And unfortunately, sometimes it is the people who are not Christians who care more about the poor and the needy than the Christians do. I’m not saying this is the case with Julia Gillard and Bob Brown as opposed to Tony Abbott. But it is sometimes the case. It is also unfortunately the case that the Liberal Party often seems to care more for business and the economy than they do for people. And as Pastor Daniel points out, people on both sides of politics have a belief in God. So I’m definitely not convinced that a Labor government is necessarily ‘wicked’ or a ‘sad day’ at all.

It appears that Pastor Daniel had a dream, which he believed came from the Lord. In the dream, Julia Gillard conceded defeat. He apologises for the dream and says he must have been mistaken. No doubt if Julia Gillard had conceded defeat, he would have been certain that God was speaking to him. One problem with prophecies and prayers is it’s so easy for people to say they are mistaken when they get it wrong. But if they get it right, there’s no doubt in their mind that God was talking to them. How many times has Pastor Daniel told his readers that he has proof that God speaks to him, because what he prophesied has come true?

And speaking of prayers, apparently the many prayers of people helped keep Labor as a minority government rather than a majority government. I wonder what part prayers played in the big swing towards the Greens.

But what I found most interesting about this post was that ALL of the comments were in agreement with Pastor Daniel. I find it hard to believe that no-one has disagreed with him. So I’m guessing they only allow comments they like onto the website.

I realise that this is a very critical post. And I don’t like being so critical. But articles like this really annoy me. Atheists can do good things. Christians can vote Labour - or even Greens. And not all prophecies or visions or dreams actually come from God. And just because we think that a certain thing can happen in an election doesn’t mean that God is going to agree with us and answer our prayers.

Here’s a bit of shocking news for them. Some people were praying for Liberal to be defeated! Some were even praying for a swing to the Greens! Maybe God was answering those prayers instead.

Spirit of Australia: Religion in Citizenship and National Life (ATF Science and Theology) (ATF Series) (Bk. 1)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mad Monks

At the beginning of this year, I wrote an assignment about the early monks. I hadn’t really learnt too much about the early monks before. And I have to tell you, my first impression was that they were all completely mad!

These are not just people who left some of the pleasures of life for a while. Not only did many of them live alone for years, but they chose extreme self-deprivation. Going without food and sleep. Sometimes doing seemingly inexplicable things like standing on top of columns or spending months in a mosquito-infested swamp. Their aim was to forego all fleshly desires. The more they suffered, the more they believed they pleased God.

I think the reason why those monks seem so mad is because they have a completely opposite worldview to people who live today. Nowadays, everyone seems to be telling us that we should be comfortable and happy. Sadly, it’s sometimes even the churches are spreading this messages. Instead of seeing sacrifice as something we do for God, many churches tell us that God wants to make all of our prayers/dreams/wishes come true. I’ve even heard it said that, if we are suffering, it may be because we have sin in our life or we’re not praying enough or we don’t have enough faith.

You would almost think that the religion of the early monks was an entirely different religion from the Christianity practised in the 21st century.

But maybe we’re the ones that are mad. Maybe we’re mad for thinking that our one aim in life should be for comfort and happiness. Maybe we’re mad for thinking that we can get (and should strive to get) everything we want. Maybe we’re mad for believing that Christianity is a religion where we receive, rather than one where we give up.

I got a letter from my bank today. It very nicely informed me that I don’t need to wait for anything I want. All I need to do is apply for a loan. It didn’t really explain to me what exactly is wrong with waiting until I have the money. I guess that’s a question we’re not supposed to ask. If you want something, you get it. Now. End of story. Who would wait when you don’t have to? In fact, trying to convince someone that waiting for something is actually good can sometimes feel like a losing battle.

I still think those early monks were mad. But I think they have something valuable to teach us. Trying to live like they did would be almost impossible for most normal human beings. But maybe if we learnt to live a little bit more like them, learnt not to be so concerned about our own happiness and comfort, look to deprive ourselves just a little bit, learned that Christianity is about sacrifice and not just blessings, we and the world would be a much better place.

Maybe the monks were mad. But maybe we could all do with a little bit of that same madness.

Monks and Mystics: Chronicles of the Medieval Church (History Lives series)    Ordinary People As Monks & Mystics: Lifestyles for Spiritual Wholeness    The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (Penguin Classics)

Let's try again

I keep leaving this blog and then returning it. Although I always have good intentions, life gets in the way. I get busy and my blog suffers.

I have decided to try posting more frequently again. Part of this will be posting shorter posts, sometimes that may only have one or two paragraphs or a link to something else, instead of writing longer posts all the time. Although hopefully writing the shorter posts will motivate me to write more longer ones as well.

Anyway, this is my hope. Whether it actually happens remains to be seen. I know this is generally the first thing to slide when I start getting busy.

Anyway, we'll see how I go.


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