Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thankful to Be Here

1991 State of Origin

Perhaps it is the spring weather and the fact that all the flowers are blooming, but the other day I was struck by how glad I am to be here. I did not choose this earth for my home. Yet God has placed me here and for that I should be thankful.

Even though life cannot exist on any other planets that we know of, imagine for a moment that one of those other planets was our home. Imagine living in a world with no grass, no trees, no flowers, no birds - a world without the abundance of plant and animal life, with little diversity and even less beauty.

Yes, I know this world is not all good. There is pain, sorrow, grief, disasters, devastation, flood, famines, droughts, injustice, oppression and terrible cruelty. Yet I believe the one of the reasons why we are appalled by such things is because we have seen their absence.

Here on earth, they are not absent for long. But there have been moments when the world really does seem beautiful, when all is right (or at least seems right) in our little corner of the world and there is more joy than sorrow. Even in a sinful world, we do catch glimpses of heaven. If this earth occasionally seems ugly, perhaps it is because we have occasionally seen how beautiful it can be.

There are other species that are also fortunate to be living here on earth. I also believe that all the other species, indeed the whole world, praises God.

Yet humans are unique. We have a special relationship to God. We have souls.

We also have a unique ability to be able to appreciate and be thankful for this world. We can never completely understand God, but we are closer in understanding God than the birds or the grass or the trees or the flowers are. We are the only species in this world that can join with God at looking at his Creation and saying ‘It is good.’

And yet so often we don’t. Instead of thanking God for the world he has made, we complain about our lives. We look at what we don’t have, instead of what we do. We ask why God doesn’t step in and change things, and forget to be amazed at what He has already done.

And honestly, if God did step in and change every thing in this world that seems wrong or unfair or we don’t like, most of us probably wouldn’t thank him. We’d be too busy searching for further things that are wrong with this world. We’re like proofreaders, too busy circling punctuation errors to be swept away by the whole narrative.

Most of us at some stage have found ourselves somewhere where we really wanted to be. And in that moment, everything seems right with the world. Of course there are problems. Things go wrong, as they always will. But when you’re so happy to be somewhere, those problems are only minor irritations. We are so thankful for where we are that we sweep them aside and refused to be bothered by them.

When I was 17, I won tickets to a State of Origin rugby league game. I took my sister, who is two years younger than me. Neither one of us had been to a State of Origin game before. To say we were excited is a huge understatement. Anyway, in the middle of game, when my sister and I had huge smiles plastered across our faces, it started to rain. And I don’t mean just a sprinkling. It poured - absolutely poured. Everyone around us went running for cover. My sister and I just looked at each other and didn’t even say anything. We knew it would take more than a little bit of rain (okay, make that a lot of rain) to budge us. After the game, we had to sit for five hours in soaking wet clothes on a bus. Yet still those smiles never left our faces. Why would they? We had just had the time of our lives.

Imagine if we treated this earth like that. Imagine if we thought of it as a place where we were really thankful to be. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to face problems. It doesn’t even mean that we wouldn’t be bothered by things, sometimes even overcome by grief and sorrow. But perhaps it would give us a different perspective. Perhaps we might even learn to smile, and be thankful, through the rain.     

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Overgrown lawns

A small barn on a low hill (picture taken from the road below), partially hidden behind long grass. Picture from Wikimedia Commons
There are days when the whole street seems to be painted green. These days are first preceded by rainy days, followed by sunny days when you constantly hear the sound of someone’s lawnmower. The result is a street where all the lawns seem to be the standard height, cut close to the ground. Everybody has done their bit to make the street look beautiful.

When I say everybody, I don’t quite mean everybody. There’s always one person who leaves their lawn long, who fails to get the lawnmower out at the unwritten, but universally agreed upon, time.

This nonconformist is the lawn that everybody frowns at as they walk past. After so many short, and neatly trimmed lawns, it’s impossible not to notice that this lawn is different - and therefore wrong. 

This non-conformist lawn is usually my lawn.

There are a number of reasons why I fail to mown my lawn as often as my neighbours would perhaps like me to. One, I am a terrible mower of lawns. Half the time when I go to mow my lawn, I can’t even start it. So then I have to wait until some friendly neighbour or friend comes around to start it for me. Also, it’s very hard to get motivated to do something that I’m so bad at. One day after I had mowed my lawn, my aunt told my grandmother that it was the worst mown lawn she had ever seen. Sometimes I prefer to look lazy rather than incompetent.

The other reason why I am slack in the mowing of lawns is that I really do not like shortly-clipped lawns. People may think badly of my knee-height grass. Well I really don’t like their ants’ knee-height grass. Give me an overgrown garden over a manicured lawn any day.

When everybody mows their lawn, all you can see is green. It does look painted - and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. This may sound strange to the Lawn Nazis, but I do get pleasure when my lawn hasn’t been mowed for a while, and you can see all the different varieties of grass. (Yes, I know most of them are probably weeds. But weeds can still be beautiful if you look at them in the right way.) I think my lawn is so much more interesting that the standard, boring, painted green that you get everywhere else in the street.

What does all this have to do with faith? Absolutely nothing. There’s no spiritual lesson, moral or even point to this blog post. I don’t even know why I’m writing it. Maybe I just felt that it was about time that somebody said something nice about overgrown lawns.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Aussie Saint?

In Eureka Street recently, they had a cartoon, showing someone sitting in a departure lounge with a group of people going to Rome for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop. He had an Australian hat on and was waving a flag with ‘Oi, oi, oi’ on it. He was saying ‘Something tells me I’m missing the point.’ Go to and scroll halfway down the page to see the cartoon.

I was telling my son and his nanna about the cartoon today, saying I found it quite funny.

As I watched the live coverage of the canonisation ceremony, and they showed all the people with Australian flags, my son said to me, ‘Do you still think that cartoon was funny?’ And later on, we found out that people were saying ‘Aussie, aussie, aussie, oi, oi, oi’ as they arrived. No, I don’t think the cartoon’s so funny now - not when it depicts reality.

Now I am a very patriotic person. I have a tattoo of the Eureka Stockade on my upper arm. When I was pregnant with my first child, my sister said, knowing me, I’d probably call the baby Clancy or Matilda. And when it comes to Australia Day, I wave my Australian flag just as proudly as anybody else, usually wearing an Australia Day t-shirt, with green and gold zinc on my face.

But the making of a saint - even an Australian one - is not the time for overt displays of Aussie patriotism.

During the ABC News 24 coverage, Scott Stevens said that we may water down Mary MacKillop’s traits by focusing on things like her egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism, traits that Australians admire and respect.

By focusing on these traits, maybe we do turn her into a saint ‘for all Australians’. But the fact is Mary MacKillop is not a saint because she was egalitarian or anti-authoritarian. She is a saint because she loved God and wanted only to do his will. And that’s the most important thing we need to focus on.

And in watching the media coverage of Mary MacKillop’s canonisation, I sometimes get the feeling that they see her nationality as more important than her religion. It often felt like I was watching an Australian get a gold medal at the Olympic Games. As though they want to portray St Mary of the Cross as a saint for all Australians, so that all Australians can feel proud of its country’s achievement.

But this isn’t a prize for Australia. And it’s not Australia’s achievement. If anything, it is God’s. And we shouldn’t ignore or even downplay God’s part in what Mary MacKillop did. Because if it wasn’t for God, and if it wasn’t for Mary’s faith, it wouldn’t have been done at all.

I am glad Australia finally has a saint. But not so that we can consider her some kind of winner in the Vatican’s saint-naming ceremony. But so that she may serve as an inspiration to all Australians. That is, after all, what saints are meant to do.

Apparently, there have been many visitors to places connected with Mary MacKillop. Many people travelled to Rome for the ceremony. Many people watched the ceremony in places around the country. I believe that many people may have felt an increased interest in religion because of this canonisation. And that is a very good thing.

My son asked me tonight how he could become a saint. I said to him that he can try and be a saint now. How he does that is to try and always do what God wants. And although I don’t expect it to last, he really did try - tonight at least. I could see him be more considerate. I could see him trying to think of others before himself. At one point, I went outside. When I came back, he said that they had said a prayer and he stood up for it, because he thought that was what God would have wanted him to do.

That’s what saints are about. They’re not about patriotism or cheering or feeling like Australia has won something. They’re about providing an example for people to follow. Already St Mary of the Cross has revived an interest in spirituality and faith. I pray that she continues to do so. I also pray that people everywhere try to live like her, not just cheer for her.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October Scrooge

As soon as October rolls around, I start to get that old Scrooge feeling again.

Now I love Christmas - In December. Or the first seven days of January. Or even in July, because the whole seasonal thing of Christmas in July when you’re living in Australia is kind of nice.

But as for Christmas in October - bah, Humbug!

The Christmas items seem to make their way to the stores earlier and earlier each year. We’re not exactly flooded with Christmas products at the moment, but they’re coming out. Warning us that we better buy up quick because Christmas is only - over two months ago. I would add up the days to get a precise figure, but I’m too anti-Christmas in October to even do that.

Of course, it makes sense for businesses to put out their Christmas products as soon as possible. The sooner they’re out, the sooner people will start thinking about all the Christmas buying they have to do. They sooner they start buying things for Christmas, the more they’re going to buy. People who wait until the last minute to do their Christmas shopping rarely go overboard.

But it’s so annoying.

For one, Christmas is not meant to be about buying stuff. And we get so caught up in the whole Christmas buying thing that it makes us stressed and time poor. Instead of spending time with the people we love, we’re out buying them gifts.

But there’s another reason why I hate Christmas in October. We get sick of Christmas before it’s even here. And it ruins the excitement of seeing those Christmas products at Christmas.

I remember when seeing Christmas decoration and products really brought a thrill. Because when they arrived in the stores, you knew that Christmas was just around the corner. Now, by the time Christmas is just around the corner, we’ve been looking at Christmas products for two months. And it’s just not that exciting anymore.

Plus, we’re so over Christmas by the time it gets here, that we have that one day and forget all about it. Christmas should be celebrated after the actual day, not just before it. It’s not meant to be about - got my gifts, great, now let’s start planning for Easter.

Christmas is a very special time of year. It should be about Jesus, about tradition, about family, about love. Instead, we’ve turned it into a three-month shop-a-thon. And the earlier those Christmas products go out onto the shelf, the less Christmas is about like Christ.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Story of Stuff

'The Story of Stuff' is my favourite video on YouTube. It shows the problems along our current model of consumption. It's 20 minutes, but it's well worth watching.

At first, it may seem like this has nothing to do with Christianity. But I think it does. Because if you do watch the video, you'll see that the current model of consumption hurts many people along the way. As Christians are called to 'love our neighbour', which doesn't just mean the people living next door to us but all of our neighbours in the whole world, we should be concerned about any system that isn't beneficial for human beings.

It's also clear from the video that this current model of consumption hurts the environment. Whether Christians should be concerned about it is a bit more debatable. But I believe the earth is God's gift to us and we should be taking care of it. If someone gave me a gift and I just destroyed it, it wouldn't be showing much love to the person who gave me the gift. The more we love people, the more we value what they give us. I think it should be the same for what God gives us. That isn't limited to the environment. God gives us lots of things we should value. But I believe the environment should be part of that.

Anyway, here's the video. I hope you watch it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book of Eli - Two Approaches to the Bible

The Book of Eli is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Eli is in possession of the last remaining bible on earth. (It’s interesting that many descriptions of this film say it’s a sacred book without mentioning that it’s a bible.)

Carnegie wants that bible for his own purposes, and will do anything to get it - even kill people. It’s hard to understand why a man like Carnegie would want the bible so badly, until we realise that he wants to use it to control people.

Most Christians, if not all, would find Carnegie’s approach to the bible abhorrent. Yet I’m sure some people have used the bible to try and control people, and probably still do. I think such people probably do not have genuine faith. But I could be wrong. Faith comes in many different forms. And often people who start out with a genuine faith may end up with a very warped faith.

And although we may not use the bible to try and control societies, I think people do often use the bible for their own purposes. Instead of really trying to discover what the bible has to say, they want to use it to show why they are right. The bible becomes just a tool for them, rather than the living word of God.

But this isn’t a movie about one person who has a bad approach to the bible and another who has a good approach. Because Eli also has a faulty approach to the bible. Eli is so focused on trying to protect the bible that he’s forgotten to live by it.

Near the beginning, there is a somewhat anti-Good Samaritan moment. Eli sees some travellers being attacked. Instead of helping them he says words along the lines of ‘Not my concern. Stay on the path.’

And I do think that many Christians, Christians of genuine faith, have the Eli approach to the bible. They’re too busy protecting it, they’ve forgotten to live by it. They concentrate on doctrine and forget about practice. They memorise bible verses but never do any of them.

The bible is not just meant to be used or protected, but lived. 


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