Monday, 31 December 2007

We are sorry, Arabanoo. Please pray for our forgiveness.


Two hundred and nineteen years ago today marines acting on orders from Governor Arthur Phillip unlawfully imprisoned a member of the Cannalgal people, the original owners of Sydney Harbour’s northernmost arm.

The man had committed no crime; he was captured so that he might assist those ruling the eleven month old colony to learn more about the people whose communities had occupied Sydney for the preceding sixty thousand years – give or take a few dozen millennia.

Contemporary accounts of his capture and subsequent life are heart-breaking: he “was now fastened by ropes to the thwarts of the boat; and when he saw himself irretrievably disparted from his countrymen, set up the most piercing and lamentable cries of distress.”. Later that day he was given what he thought was an ornament to wear upon his wrist, which cheered him up. But it was actually a handcuff, and he was again enraged and distraught when its purpose was revealed.

There are no known portraits of the man, whose name was Arabanoo (although since this was considered too foreign and “primitive” he was commonly referred to by the place of his capture). One account says he was aged around 24, but another suggests he was older; about 30. He was not tall, but 'robustly made', with a thoughtful face and a soft, musical voice; his disposition was mild and gentle, but 'the independence of his mind never forsook him'. It’s recorded that he was horrified by the brutality of a public flogging, an everyday sight in the gulag that was European Sydney in 1788.

Shortly after his imprisonment a severe smallpox epidemic broke out among the indigenous communities, who had no prior exposure (and thus no immunity) to the disease. Arabanoo nursed two sick children named Nabaree and Abaroo, who had been found ill and possibly orphaned: they recovered, but he then fell victim himself and died on 18 May 1789. One year and four months after the invaders arrival: one year and four months after what must have seemed like the unleashing of hell itself.
As I’ve already said, there are no known pictures of Arabanoo., so the best picture I can find is this one taken with my cell phone from a spot now known as “Arabanoo’s Lookout”. The hills, beaches and bays shown once belonged to him and his people and, coincidentally, they’re also where I grew up. Where I learned to sail, and dive, to surf and to ride a bicycle. To read, and to make love, and to believe.

It was a wonderful place in which to be a child, and Arabanoo, and countless of his ancestors before him, doubtless loved it just as much I did. The difference, however, is that my joy was their loss: blissful ignorance is no excuse for the fact that all - absolutely everything - they loved, cherished and held sacred was taken from them just as brutally as Arabanoo was himself dragged away. He and his fellow Cannalgal people were gone for more than 150 years before I was born, but the places in which I played were still rightfully theirs. With friends I’d find their carvings in the bushland, and in the sandstone caves at the water’s edge, and I’d wonder about the people who’d created them. Now I am old enough to know: the artists were killed by my people, by members of my Church.

Instead of bringing Christ, my predecessors brought death. Instead of law, they brought injustice; injustice as epitomised by what was done to Arabanoo on this day so long ago. Lord God, forgive us, for the blood of our father’s sins stains our hands. Arabanoo, we remember. Too late for you and those whom you loved, but we remember. Our barbarous past kneels in shame before the dignity of your own.

And we are sorry.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

The British hotel, Lyttleton.


Lyttleton is one of the world’s most southernmost English-speaking ports. Coal and timber ships depart for China, Taiwan and Japan, while Arctic factory-fishing ships re-provision after a southern summer spent tearing the heart out of the Southern Ocean.

Before the hard men onboard these stinking juggernauts of rust, diesel and death head north to Vladivostok, Kalingrad or Murmansk they – like their predecessors in Lyttleton for more than a century before them - seize a final opportunity for liquor and women. Those bound only for Taipei or Yokohama join them – they might not be fishermen, and they may not spend 11 months of each year at sea in the world’s cruelest waters, but they’re still sailors.

Yet gentrification is coming to Lyttleton, much as it has come to other ports around the world. Places once housing the desperate and drunken are now dedicated to the modern cults of home improvement and property investment. Just as the ghosts of Dicken’s London no longer whisper in the Docklands’ laneways, so also are Lyttelton’s undead now being exorcised by corporate consultants with artistic pretensions.

Maybe this isn’t an entirely bad thing: history is rarely preserved by those who lack money and time. Yet there’s something sad about seeing the old ways disappear: a fashionably restored wine-bar filled with professionals might be safer than a linoleum tiled pub worked by down-at-heel hookers fleeing a childhood in Shanghai or Stalingrad; but you’ll never hear the memories of an old Union man who stood loyal throughout the 1951 stevedore’s strike – to the point of near starvation - in a boutique selling Beaujolais Nouveau.

Fortunately the British Hotel has resisted prevailing trends, the bright paint recently pasted onto the frontage notwithstanding. I first came here with a friend about 8 years ago, and while drinking dark south-island ale we noticed an unmistakable spray of dried arterial blood across the low ceiling, directly above where we sat.

Chuckling at our nervous glances upward, the barman called over “Hey Aussies!” (to Kiwis the Sydney accent is as subtle as a New Yorker’s in rural Georgia) “How’d you like our décor? Couple of Russian long-liners started fighting, and we’ve left the result as a reminder.”

Sometimes there’s nothing, absolutely nothing you can say in reply. Raising our glasses we ordered another pint each, and made mental notes to never, ever say anything that might even remotely upset a Russian seaman. And then we left the barman a hefty tip. Just incase he knew where we were staying


***

Lest anyone think this blog has entirely abandoned it’s vaguely religious raison d’être to become a B-grade travelogue, relax (or don’t relax, if you’re one of the people who keep sending me angry anonymous emails). There really is a point to this story, and I promise to keep it brief:

Some of the disciples were fishermen, and the job wasn’t any easier, safer, or more prestigious then than it is today. Fish smelled exactly the same, if not worse, since there was no refrigeration. Jesus was friends with people who worked, drank, and lived in bars like the British Hotel – he even frequented such venues himself from time to time. And the whole messy business of the incarnation was as much an act of Supreme Love for the patrons, staff and “freelancers” of the British Hotel as it was for anyone else who’s ever walked, crawled, gurgled or belched on the face of this planet.

Which includes Southern Coneheads, Matthians, and all the rest of us. I doubt I’ll ever understand why, but the whole bunch of us have been thrown together into the same boat. My instinct says to kick them out, and theirs is to throw me overboard. All while the folks at the British Hotel just want to have a few beers, experience something as close to intimacy as is possible, and then get back to catching fish. My guess is that the Church has more to learn from them than they have to learn from the Church. but it doesn't have to always be this way.

Friday, 28 December 2007

The One True Southern Cone


Not only are +Akinola and his band of rarely merry men a distinctly unbiblical, unloving and divisive bunch, they're also unoriginal. In a shocking Duck Noodle Gang exposé, it’s now been revealed that they have actually pinched their nom-de-schism from a sculpture in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square.


The fact is that the One True Cone is thousands of miles south of any imitation Southern Coneheads, and has bewildered locals for the past 7 years: much longer than any plagiarising namesakes have been enjoying their global tantrum.

What’s more, while the northern imitators have proven themselves full of nothing but hot air, the Genuine Southern Cone is transparently honest about the air it contains. And given Christchurch’s latitude, this is rarely even warm.

Lastly, while the original cone pictured here may like the schismatics appear bigger than the Cathedral behind, this is actually just an optical illusion. Yes, it’s taller than an individual standing at the base, but when viewed from a proper perspective there’s no question that the Church is much, much larger. Nor does the Cathedral actually bend in homage towards the cone. Lenses can just as easily distort reality as they can clarify it. Which is always worth remembering in these troubled times...

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Merry Christmas from Middle Earth!



Yes, I know these wishes to everyone for a wonderful Christmas is a day late by my local time, but since I’m currently 12 hours ahead of GMT (and about 20 ahead of the US West Coast!) it’s still Christmas Day for most of the people dropping by here. Christchurch is quite possibly one of the most English cities in the world – far more so than anywhere in England herself that I’ve ever visited - and the lovely old English practice of closing business to mark days like Christmas extends to internet cafes. Consequently I’ve been unable to get online until today, and that’s fine. The day anyone thinks the world can’t occasionally take a day off to celebrate Something Truly Wonderful will be when the meaning of Christmas really has been forgotten. Which is something that will never happen – the warm faith and love of so many of the people I’ve come to meet through this blog is proof of that.

So please, have the very merriest of days; and thank you for (a) dropping by during the past few months this blog has been going, and (b) for all your encouragement – both of which have meant far more to me and been more empowering than I can ever possibly hope to explain.

Far easier to explain is the rationale of my “Middle Earth” reference: if the link isn’t obvious from the picture, then it certainly would if you you were standing here next to me. The Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand for obvious reasons; and on days like this it’s hard to remember that Tolkien’s characters aren’t just resting somewhere around the next corner. Close your eyes and you can almost smell Merry & Pippin’s bacon sizzling on a crackling fire, while Gandalf blows smoke-rings and laughs over old times with Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam.

This photo was taken from Diamond Harbour, which is IMHO one of the most beautiful villages on earth. The white buildings on the far right are the port of Lyttleton, and Christchurch lays just the other side of the hills behind. As for the mountains in the centre of the picture? My guess is that half a day’s ride and Shadowfax would have you in the House of Elrond.

The picture is from the same spot, but facing the other direction. Try as I might, nothing I can write conveys the air’s thick fragrance of cypress and pine, nor the rich tang of an ocean even older than the volcanoes in which these rocks were forged.



Sail east past this headland, and the next landfall is Tierra del Fuego, more than half the globe away. Round up to starboard at any time during the voyage, and a few days later you’ll strike Antarctica

It’s a different journey, however, that's on my mind today; rather I'm thinking about the one to that Christmas has made real for all of us: the one in which all sadness shall pass when it’s time to hoist sail for the Grey Havens. If they’re half as beautiful as here then life will be pretty good indeed, and until it’s time to cast off on that passage, the people (and dogs, cats and everyone else who’s called by!) like all of you make holding anchor in this harbour all the more worthwhile.


Merry Christmas, and may God Bless each and every one of you.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Numbers add up to nothing.

Perhaps it’s because I’m into week three of the rather interesting experience of withdrawing from the little white pills that have for past decade helped to compress and maintain my equilibrium, but while lurking in church last Sunday morning I experienced a slight recurrence of the disorder which once ruled my world. It was far from severe, and actually gave me something of an insight into the current mess facing my beloved Anglican communion. Which will take a little explaining…

For much of my life I have wrestled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an odd affliction which may be quite amusing when portrayed by Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets” (or more recently by someone whose name I cant remember – which shows things are pretty much under control these days - in “Monk”), but is actually a cursed way to live. At it’s worst my particular symptoms were pretty weird: I’d have to spend whole nights laying awake and memorizing large chunks of books (usually dictionaries), and then attempting to discover a mathematical algorithm to account for the difference in word length – thereby enabling me to predict how many letters any new words which might be created would contain, irrespective of what that word might mean… or some other equally meaningless mental task. Yes, I know I’m probably losing you at this point, and I really do know how crazy it all sounds – but obsessions like this could literally keep me awake for days at a time, and intrude into every spare moment of the working day. And please don’t think they seemed any less crazy then: at the time I fully realized my mind had been captured by an utterly pointless and stupid task – but it felt irresistibly, exhaustingly urgent just the same. It simply had to be done, and I had been made slave to the task.

Those extremes are long in the past now, but while lurking in a back pew at church last Sunday morning, I could feel the once-familiar troll recommence his gibbering at the back of my mind. Although this time the end result was good

As it was an old church (by Sydney standards at least) the pews still have faint traces of numbers on their ends; a legacy of the days when they were rented on an annual basis by parishioners in an alarming extension of the class system – the better the pew, the more you paid and the wealthier everyone knew you were. Looking across the aisle, I could see the numbers were out of order: at some point in the past the pews must have been moved around in the course of maintenance.

“So what?”, any sane person would say. And I agree, except that for me this could have once been an unavoidable mine-field: “were they now in any mathematically discernable pattern?”, “what would the next number in the series be?”; and “could there be any meaning in the order the were now positioned?”; the old ways of thinking were not so loud as to be crippling, but just loud enough for me to laugh at my old tormentor.

By the grace of God, and with the help of more than a decade’s therapy, I could understand the situation for what it was, and keep control. But it’s amusing to know that there was once a time when I would have been compelled to re-arrange the pews if I were to continue attending the parish. I’d have had to keep my reasons for doing so secret (maybe even hide the whole process itself), since I’d have known my reasons for shifting things around was idiotic, but I’d have simply had to confront the issue. Instead I found myself wondering: if my obsession was other people’s sexuality, instead of word and number patterns, would there be much difference in the obsession’s validity?

What I’m trying to say is that I wonder if some of the people currently claiming to be focused on a “biblical” and/or “moral” issue aren’t actually just suffering from a more socially acceptable form of my own malaise? Whereas I learned from a very early age that sharing my obsessions with others normally just resulted in them dismissing me as “weird”, the obsessions of people such as +Schofield, when expressed in the manner in which they have learned to use so effectively, actually gains them a following among others similarly afflicted.

The reason I never liked any of the “Bible Code” garbage is because their linguistic/mathematical hypotheses were always so weak – but what if someone had been able to produce a more rigidly consistent theory? It’s likely I’d have embraced it wholeheartedly – just as so many of the followers of the currently popular obsessions gaze so lovingly at the loudly repeated tissue of lies.

***

I’m writing this in a plane thousands of feet above the Tasman Ocean, heading for Christchurch, New Zealand, where I’ll be joining my wife and her family for Christmas. On this day ten years ago I was in a psychiatric ward, having just failed in an (yet another) attempt to kill myself. Then life felt very, very alone, and all over bar the screaming. Today, in contrast, it’s very, very wonderful. But how dearly do I wish that some of the other people similarly afflicted could find their own new life of wonder and joy, instead of so loudly indulging their own obsessive disorders at other’s expense.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Sydney supports San Joaquin

Yet again this blog has to start with the line "No, I'm not making that headline up." It's lifted straight from sydneyanglicans.net.

The first sentence of their article says it all: "Sydney’s Standing Committee has announced its support for the Diocese of San Joaquin as it realigns itself with the Southern Cone." Anyone feeling especially masochistic can read the rest here.

The really hypocritical thing about it all is that given Bishop Schofield's past (as researched by the brilliant Lisa Fox at My Manner of Life) there is NO WAY the schismatic trouble-maker could ever have been ordained in Sydney, let alone enthroned in the purple he clearly finds so becoming. The response to any application from +Schofield would be pretty much as that so many others have recieved...

"We appreciate your request for consideration, and fully understand that your past has been forgiven, which was, in any case, a long time ago. Still, given your circumstances we cannot believe it is right or Biblical for you to proceed in ministry.

The Archbishop thanks you for the interest you have expressed, and wishes you all the best for your future."

Is it really surprising I get angry sometimes?

Friday, 14 December 2007

Even in the belly of the beast...

Yesterday morning I took She-Whom-I-Love, along with the littlest Duck Noodle and her unborn baby brother to the Airport: they're going home to New Zealand for Christmas. I'll be joining them in a few days, but till then it's just me and the dogs... and a whole heap of work I don't think is ever going to get finished.

Even though it's only a three hour flight across the Tasman, because She-Whom-I-Love is 6 1/2 months pregnant it seemed a good idea to cash in the frequent-flyers points and upgrade everyone to the extra leg room of business class. Consequently it was goodbye to the usual economy check-in counters, crammed with Kiwis escaping the Sydney heat, and hello to quiet luxury at the expensive end.

Now I've got to admit; I love airports. Yes I know they're (and least in western countries) crass temples to a uniquely pompous kind of marketing (Is owning a certain type of credit card made from the usual plastic, but named after a precious metal really going to make me more handsome? And are many people actually gullible enough to believe that?) - but I still find them exciting: possibly because (a) I like planes the way some people like cigarettes, and (b) as a first generation child of migrants, the airport was where we went to meet mysterious (and invariably fascinating) relatives visiting from the other side of the world: people who's accents were the same as my parents, and who (unlike everyone else living in what was then a very Anglo suburb) understood and appreciated the funny foods and customs for which us migrant kids more usually faced ridicule.

Yet my love of airports has always sat uncomfortably with my love of Christ. The sheer materialism of endless counters displaying duty-free gee-gaws, and the way I am invariably drawn toward the glistening counters promising far-off luxuries - these do not, I cannot but admit, reconcile easily with my theology. I love airports, but they are Godless places.

So seeing this nativity scene tucked in an obscure corner of the Business/First Class check-in left me startled. The miracle of the incarnation can still capture our attention after all, even in this most deistically sterile of realms.



Sorry about the quality of the picture: I only had my mobile with me and had to be quick. Given the miltarily paranoid times in which we find ourselves, standing around taking pictures of airport infrastructure probably isn't the safest of pastimes - being cavity searched by Neanderthals unimpressed with my explanation that I was just taking pictures for a vaguely religious blog about Duck Noodles was understandably not how I wanted to spent the rest of my day.

Sure, if you could see the display in detail you'd wonder how any Semitic baby could possibly be that fair (ok, so He took after the statue of His mother - but that only raises another question, doesn't it?), nor why the happy parents should have been forced into a manger given they were adorned with more gold than a Chinese jewellery store. Nor did the tableaux convey any trace of the blood, shit and tears which have always accompanied any birth at which I've been present. Nor was there any stink of animal dung and cow piss - it was a manger, after all...

... but I'm sliping into cynicism again, and that's wrong. It was a reminder of the Incarnation, proof that this Wonder beyond all others can't help but invade our world again and again and again and... Ok, so the display was only a few metres square - but stop and think about what floor space in the Business/First class check-in area is worth. Even in the dingy corners like this one. The merchant bank which owns Sydney's international airport expects every square centimetre earns it's keep.

And yet the Birth of our Hope can, albeit in just a small way, still fracture their greedy paradigm. Merry Christmas, everyone. God really has invaded our world.

It's Advent!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

We apologise for this brief interruption in transmission...

Sorry for the lack of updates during this past week. We’ve sold the Casa del Caliban and are currently seeking a temporary lair in preparation for a much bigger move some time late next year.

The idea was that we’d shut down the home adsl connection and move to a wireless modem - the changeover should have been seamless, but…

Then to make things worse, severe storms hit Sydney last weekend, taking out the cable into the office to where I’ll be for December and some of January. Things are still working fine at my usual place… but I’m currently over an hour’s drive away from there.

Things should be back to normal soon, and I promise I’ll reply to everyone’s emails as soon as possible…

…till then why not fill the void by visiting the Of Course I Could Be Wrong Christmas Appeal and giving till it hurts.

Go on – you know you want to, and just think how angry doing so might make the Matthians ;-)

Friday, 7 December 2007

Possibly the silliest statement ever.

"Wherever the ordination of women as presbyters has happened the results have been disastrous."

No, I have not made this up. Read it for yourself here if you don't believe me. It's part of a piece written by the Dean of Sydney in October 2006 called "History should be our teacher" - in his case I fear History will only be his teacher if History gets allocated the "special supervision" class for behaviourally-challenged students.


Is it just me, or does anyone else find this picture of our misogynist Dean Jensen kind of creepy?

Maybe it's the way one of his eyes seems to follow you around the room...

Thursday, 6 December 2007

French Boat Porn.



Don't worry - it's safe for work (unless like me you're frequently tempted to quit and go sailing, that is). The term "boat porn" was coined by a friend to describe the pictures of extreme sailing I love downloading, and this clip of racing on Douarnenez Bay pretty much defines the genre.

Watch out for the great kite footage; since I can't afford one of the giant French trimarans shown here (damn but that country builds sexy boats!) I started kite-boarding last May and if you think it looks wild, just wait till you try it…but if I blog anymore about the thrills of kiting there’s no way I’ll be able to spend the rest of this afternoon diligently working here in the office.

Sigh……..

PS. Wonder how much this site’s hit rate will increase because I've used the word “porn” in the title???

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The 7:40am to Harris Park


In the 19th century trains were symbols of liberation, promising a shining new world to come. What went wrong?

And will information technology go the same way?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

BlackStar is sorry (we had an Incident)

It all happened ‘cos Fiver an’ me were in the Cemetery Park. Dad was tapping on his ‘puter an’ we had marked lots of lovely territory all around him an’ we were the Most Very Important Dogs in the whole park.

Because it’s getting very Summer hot an’ Dad needs Protectioning I was close by under the shady tree while Fiver dug holes. Fiver doesn’t really understand Protectioning ‘cos he’s little an’ wasn’t kicked by a Man-in-Boots before coming to live with us, but I do it all the time. When you’ve had your jaw and ribs broken by a Man-in-Boots then Protectioning the ones who taught you how to Love gets in your system. This was made stronger by the time I bit the burglar’s leg so he got arrested, but Dad says I mustn’t blog too much about that because it might make the people-who-don't accept-dogs in our building get afraid of me.

I was sitting being A Very Good Dog an’ Protectioning like I was when Dad took this picture of me. If anyone wonders why I am A Unique Shape it’s because my Ancestors were Dachshund and Labrador. Dad often makes himself laugh by telling people who are pompous about these things that I am a Nova Scotian Seal-Dog (which is just something he made up) an’ then trying to keep a straight face while they pretend to know all about Seal-Dogs. Mum says I am a bad influence on Dad because she knows I understand and find it as funny as he does.

So what happened today was that a man came into our territory when Dad wasn’t looking. The man was holding a long-stick that wasn’t the playing kind of stick AND HE WAS EVEN WEARING BOOTS so I knew he was a Man-in-Boots trying to sneak up on us an’ take our territory and hurt us and MAYBE EVEN HARM DAD which just thinking about makes me go all growly and trembling.

Dad told me to CLOSE! which I usually understand but because I had been startled I thought this was a Very Serious Situation like the other time I’m not supposed to blog about which was when a man with gold chains around his neck road-raged us an’ put his hand in our car to drag Dad out and hurt him but instead he ended up learning a good lesson about Protectioning when I jumped over from the back seat.

‘Cos I was too distracted to CLOSE! Dad had to grab me. Then Fiver got excited an’ started barking an’ he had to get grabbed too an’ it was all a mess ‘cos the man in boots wasn’t really a Man-in-Boots. I know I’m supposed to look to Dad and do what he tells me like we learned when he an’ me went to Dog School every Saturday morning but that was different because people who look like the Man-in-Boots weren’t allowed to sneak up on our territory at Dog School.

Dad told me off an’ we had to go back home. Mum found out and gave Dad a lawyer talk about the New South Wales Companion Animals Act and how much trouble we could get into. Then when Dad saw how sorry I was looking he picked me up an’ gave me a Cuddle, an’ then Mum patted me too. Protectioning them is important because they understand about Cuddles …



Dad also understands about Itchy Places and Dinner, but I’ll tell you ‘bout them some other time…

Friday, 30 November 2007

Slow Emotion Replay

The past few days have been defined by some serious sleep deprivation courtesy of Miss Twenty-Months-old-and-getting-four-big-teeth-all-at-once. Consequently voices sound as if they’re coming from the other end of a long tunnel, and the atmosphere feels like it’s been replaced with some kind of thick fluid manufactured by the DuPont Corporation.

This week I’ve also happened to drive past a few of the old nursing homes in which I once used to celebrate Communion. They’re nasty places, reeking of urine and stale savoury mince served in a cruel parody of what you and I call dinner. Where you end up parked if you’re poor - or even just not quite middle class - and have the misfortune to outlive your body and/or mind.

Visiting these people was my favourite part of parish ministry; when the Eucharistic Sacraments became most real. Men and women would dribble, grab hold of me and spit in my ear, then laugh while cursing uproariously. Claws gripped in equal portions by dementia and arthritis grasping at my surplice for another drink. Or genteel ladies and long-retired freemasons apologising profusely for the behaviour their of fellow patient-prisoners: betrayed by age, and weeping for the desolated temple which was once their body, these were the ones cursed with a crystal-clear mind. The harshest affliction of all.

It is expressly forbidden in Sydney to reserve any element of the Sacraments; any consecrated remnants must be consumed by the Priest in the presence of the congregation. The chalice would be coated with a greasy film, and my reason would silently scream everyrything I’d ever learned about hygiene when faced with the breadcrumb-flecked soup that remained. And I’d drain the chalice with pride, for God had called me to be a Priest, and this was the least I could do for these Children of God in their agonisingly slow transition between this world and That-Which-Is-To-Come.

If you've been kind enough to read elsewhere on this blog you'll know it wasn't the bacteria that ended all this. No point going over it all again here, but I’d love to go back to those nursing homes. Nowadays there’s no longer any Priest visiting them; the demented and defecating don’t constitute a strategic use of ministry resources. Mercifully the people I knew will have died long ago, but such is the world that there’ll be others like them filling the same stained mattresses. The white metal bed-frames won’t have changed.

Last year I asked for permission to once again conduct services in these places, but the Diocesan offices didn’t reply to my letters ...

Since I’m not interested in being on the receiving end of legal action from the multi-millionaire who owns most Australian nursing homes, I’m not going to show a photograph of any of the places I’ve just written about. Instead here’s a video from the Matt Johnson’s The The. It’s a song called Slow Emotion Replay, and it sums up a lot of what I’m feeling right now. Watch out for the wonderful Annie Sprinkle among the cast of glorious eccentrics.




And because I know my taste in music isn’t to everyone’s taste, and I quite understand that, here’s the words. They say it almost as well.


The more I see
The less I know
About all the things I thought
were wrong or right,
And carved in stone.
So, don't ask me about
War, religion or God
Love, sex or death
Because ...

Everybody knows what's going wrong with the world
But I don't even know what's going on in myself.

You've gotta work out your own salvation
With no explanation: to this Earth we fall,
On hands and knees we crawl.
And we look up to the stars,
And we reach out and pray
To a deaf, dumb and blind God who never explains.

Everybody knows what's going wrong with the world
I don't even know what's going on in myself.

Lord I've been here for so long
I can feel it coming down on me;
I'm just a slow emotion replay
Of somebody I used to be.


Ok, maybe it's not as bad as all that. But if anybody out there knows a Bishop who'd let a ne'er-do-well Priest do something vaguely vocational out on the edges somewhere please don't be shy about dropping me a line. Because I miss being useful, and not just because I'm feeling so tired. Thanks.



Wednesday, 28 November 2007

"Sydney firm on women bishops"

I did not make this headline up. I couldn't. Honestly. See for yourself.

Nor will I succumb to the temptation to make smutty jokes about the Viagra working at last. As long as they're adults and everything is consensual it's entirely their own business.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Yes!

As I write this the Rodent who has torn Australia apart is conceding defeat: John Howard's grubby regime has been soundly thrashed in today's election.

It's still debatable, but it's even looking as though Howard has lost his own seat, which makes him only the second Australian PM in history to sufffer the ultimate electoral ignominy.

The first, in 1929, was this charming creature, Viscount Stanley Bruce. He probably wasn't quite as dismal as he looked, but that's also debatable.

Beyond debate, however, is the fact that the past eleven and a half years of lies, human rights abuse, racism and environmental vandalism are over.

Thanks to everyone around the world for your prayers!

Friday, 23 November 2007

Moore College helps local businessman.

For decades students at Moore Theological College - the institution from which you must graduate if you'd like to be ordained in the Sydney Anglican Diocese - have got their jollies by purchasing the occasional naughty magazine, along with a newspaper in which to hide it, from the newsagent and bookstore across the road. Run by local identity and prominent atheist Bob Gould, his shop provided a much-needed safety valve for over-heated ordinands.

Sadly the internet put an end to Bob’s once flourishing trade, but now the Moore College principal, Rev. Dr. John Woodhouse (pictured left) is fighting to turn the clock back and ensure Moore men once again buy their porn the old-fashioned way. On SydneyAnglicans.net he announced that students and faculty must now equip their computers with a nosey little thing called Covenant Eyes.

I am asking all students and faculty to register and install a software program on their computers called the Covenant Eyes. This software logs all internet sites visited by the computer and reports to a person nominated by the user.

Given Moore has so often in the past been accused of failing to interact with the surrounding community, this represents a wonderful step forward in getting the lads back out into local businesses, and the increased income generated for Bob will surely go a long way to healing the rather bitter feelings he is believed to have towards Sydney Anglicans.

At the same time it also proves Sydney Diocese really does have respect for tradition, irrespective of what their critics may claim. Out with the digital hokey-pokey, and back in with the sticky pages of a whacking-stash hidden beneath old sermon notes: just like things always used to be. But when it comes to results, and really helping men resolve concerns involving their sexuality, don’t take my word for it – just look at what the Covenant Eyes web site says:

“All I can say is that Covenant Eyes has been a life saver for me! What was once a dark alley is now a brightly lit avenue. I’m still tempted. Occasionally, I even catch myself lingering on a lingerie ad or something like that. But I know that Covenant Eyes will even highlight those sites, and my partners (my wife, counselor, and pastor) will know about it, so I leave immediately.”

Lingering on a lingerie ad ??? Shit!! And to think I waste my energy worrying about indigenous infant mortality levels, or racism, or the gay adolescent suicide rate...

No wonder they say I’m destined for the fires of hell.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Who are the Duck Noodle Gang?

When studying for ordination it seemed everyone had a label except me. There were Evangelicals, Bible-believing Evangelicals, Reformed Baptists, Gospel-focused Presbyterians, Evangelistic Calvinists, Pauline Student-Workers and even an Evangelical Liberation Front, who were actually very nice fellows, and most of them have long since left Sydney diocese. Yet I couldn’t wear any of these labels on my heart, since none of them felt even remotely like somewhere I might belong.


On weekday mornings I’d walk my daughter to pre-school. We’d shortcut through a park, passing a long sandstone wall featuring spray-painted letters almost a metre high:

Duck Noodle Gang - broken-hearted disillusioned desperates against meanness and nastiness, greed and stupidity


Perhaps it was only a precursor to the madness that later almost devoured me, but I grew to love this strange graffiti. My mind, marriage and dreams were turning to dust, but the message of the Duck Noodle Gang stood in contrast to the labels which were around me being used to confer power and authority upon their bearers, and to exclude and destroy those upon whom their bearers frowned.

This became my silent joke. When fellow students boasted of their credentials, I’d smile to myself; “I’m just a broken-hearted disillusioned desperate against meanness and nastiness, greed and stupidity. I’m one of the Duck Noodle Gang.”

The years passed, and the pressure of belonging to a machine which crushes all who dare be different also crushed me. The little girl who once walked alongside me is now an adult, and although I think of her every day, I fear she’s yet to see the land beyond the machine’s shining lies for herself. Condemn me for the past if helps you, but please realise my prayers are never far from her side, nor - if only she could understand this - are her cries from mine.



I’m no longer licensed to officiate in Sydney, and the world to which I once belonged either thinks I’m dead, or wishes I was. But I’m not, and neither are a great many others like me; we are those whom the darkness couldn’t kill. Sydney diocese may no longer consider me a ”Bible Teacher” (they don’t like the title “Priest” – it’s “Not Reformed”), but the Duck Noodle Gang still rides the wild ranges of faith in a quest against those things which nobody should ever be frightened into believing.

And the name “Duck Noodle Gang” strikes me as funnier than ever – the sheer Goon-like/Pythonesque ridiculousness of it seems inherently Christ-like. Visions of earnest doctrinal warriors beseeching their god to smite the blaspheming broken-hearted disillusioned desperates against meanness and nastiness, greed and stupidity always start me chuckling – “Oh Father God, of all the evils which conspire against thy word, we ask in your son’s name that you may reveal your might against the Duck Noodle Gang.” You’d better believe that I’ve known a great many men capable of praying that with a straight face, but these days I can't imagine listening to them without bursting out in laughter.

Ok, so I’m only aware of three currently active Duck Noodle Gangsters, and two of them are dogs. We're hardly a mega-church. Yet in reality there’s millions of us, separated by nothing more than space and time. Like Calvin’s “hidden elect”, most gang members mightn’t realise their true status, but this in no way diminishes their standing. If you ever feel like joining then please consider yourself a member. The Gang’s pretty easy going about such things ;-)


The writing has almost faded, but you can still make it out if you know where to look. Most of the finest things in life are like that …



Wednesday, 21 November 2007

This is what we live with.

Something I love about the blogosphere is that it helps remind me that Anglicanism is more than just the Sydney Evangelical monoculture, and that in many parts of the world congregations embracing a more inclusive theology are not forced to live below the radar lest they draw too much attention to themselves. Dissent in these places doesn't invariably result in the appointment of a "bible-believing” clergyman to crush the “troublemakers” and steer everyone back onto the approved “biblical” track.

Yet the blogosphere’s downside is that it also forces me to remember just how insane the situation here has become, and that can be depressing. There is no way, for example, Akinola could ever have been appointed bishop in Sydney: his love of lurid (and often downright funny) vestments would brand him as “popish”, “liberal” and “unscriptural”. My international friends consider him an arch conservative, but here it’s unlikely he’d even be granted a license, since his clerical get-up flags him as "unreformed", and thus possibly liberal and sub-Christian. The business suit is our Archbishop's preferred vestment, and prior to my own ordination all candidates were required to sign a statement promising to “never wear a chasuble while in the diocese of Sydney”. Akinola's crazy mitres alone would cause meltdown.

It’s because of this sort of nonsense that I’m not sure a move to “flying bishops” is a necessarily bad thing. If congregations could be established under the oversight of, for example, interstate or New Zealand bishops (or better still, +Robinson) there could finally be an Anglican ministry to the tens of thousands of who’ve been spat on for so long by the Pharisees.

I realize how angry and bitter this will seem to people who’ve never experienced things here, so I’m going to break my own rule against linking to any of the hard-core Sydney sites in order to give an idea of what we’re up against. But first a little background:

Every January the Christian Missionary Society runs a 6 day conference in Katoomba, a mountain resort about 2 ½ hours drive west of Sydney. Known as “Summer School” (but generally abbreviated as “SS”: the imagery this invokes always appears to escape the faithful), it’s a popular gathering for the Sydney diocese’s elite, as well as those who’d like to be.

However this year some are calling for a boycott because one of the advertised speakers is a woman. Yes, a woman with 37 years’ missionary experience and the author of several books, but a woman regardless. Which means the hardliners claiming to represent the Sydney Evangelical orthodoxy believe God has forbidden her to teach if men are present. No, these people aren’t part of the Taliban, but through a quirk of history they control of one of the world’s largest and wealthiest Anglican dioceses. And they believe themselves to be the future of the broader communion.

Three last points before I give the link to this nasty-but-typical gem. Firstly you’ll notice most comments questioning the official misogyny are made anonymously. Even those who disagree with only minor details of the writer’s odious exegesis are not prepared to give their name - that’s because the threat of retribution here is real. Speaking out costs ministries, or those of people you hold dear. Dissidents are actively excluded from parish life.

Secondly, notice how towards the end of the comments the true believers begin complimenting each other on how lovingly they’ve handled the topic and those who disagree with them. Having dismissed people’s relationship with God, their call from God, their ability to read and comprehend Scripture - even their very identity, they then want to believe they’ve done all this “in love”.

Thirdly: if you can bring yourself to read far enough into the comments you’ll see that at the blog’s owner recommending a critic read a tract by one of the Jensens in order to obtain an understanding of Christianity. Not the Bible, but a tract! These people might talk about the Bible ad nauseum, but when it comes to defining the faith they retreat to simplistic and formulaic propositions, not the rich and complex narrative they profess to trust. Jesus first hand is too prickly, too complex. Better to keep him at a distance, filtered through an approved “teacher”.

That’s more than enough from me read this link and reach your own conclusions. If you find it upsetting (and I certainly do) don’t say you haven’t been warned…

… and if you could afterwards please spare a moment to think about those of us trying to change things here, and maybe even to pray in whatever manner feels comfortable for you, we would be really appreciative.

Thanks.



Sunday, 18 November 2007

Are you lookin' at me?


This morning was spent photographing kangaroos for a web site I'm currently working on (yeah, it's a tough life, but someone's got to do it ;-). When the distinguished gentleman above (undoubtedly a regular visitor to this blog) was asked his opinion of the current state of Sydney Anglicanism, his feelings were clear.



Later on I met a simply charming lady, and while we didn't get around to discussing theology or politics, we did indulge in a spot of flirtatious ear-scratching which I'm worried BlackStar & Fiver will consider an act of heart-breaking infidelity.




Things didn't escalate as far as any snogging, but gee it's great for a fellow's ego to know someone as beautiful as her thinks he smells nice - although it might actually have just been my camera that she liked.

Still, I can dream. (sigh)

Friday, 16 November 2007

John Howard: Slimy since 1955.



John Howard is the most loathsome Prime Minister in Australian history. This dubious honour was once unassailably held by Sir Robert “Pig-Iron” Menzies*; the “Queen & Country” jingoist who resigned his commission at the start of the First World War to avoid the horrors of the Front.



As is all too often the case with his type, Menzies' cowardice didn't prevent him enthusiastically supporting Australia's participation in the carnage of WWI, and as a student he actively (but unsuccessfully, thank God) campaigned for the introduction of conscription. Not that Menzies ever forgot the issue: fifty years later he was able to bypass the messy democratic niceties observed in the years before he seized power. Instead of holding a public referendum, as occurred in 1916 & 17, Pig-iron Bob simply rammed the National Service Act (1964) through parliament and conscripted young Australian men to their deaths in Vietnam.

No, Menzies takes some beating when it comes to the prize for worst Australian PM, but John Winston Howard more than meets the challenge. Viewed on their own, the Children Overboard Affair; the Australian Wheat Board scandal, in which bribes of around $AUD290 million ($US258 million) were paid to Saddam Hussein’s regime in blatant contravention of UN sanctions; or ignoring expert advice on weapons of mass destruction in order to drag Australia into war as George W. Bush’s “deputy sheriff” (we were later magnanimously promoted to the rank of fully fledged sheriff) - are each enough to at least earn Howard the prize as runner-up, but when combined, and then added to his appalling mismanagement of the environment, human rights, the economy (why have interest rates risen six times since he promised his government’s economic prowess would ensure no further increases?) and workplace relations… I won’t go on, but I could. Howard is the worst. Indisputably.

Fortunately all the polls indicate he’ll be gone after Saturday 24 November. If only the damage he’s caused could go with him, but instead we’ll be paying the price of that for decades to come. Yet the writing was on the wall concerning Howard years ago: in 1955 he appeared as a 16 year old contestant on Jack Davey's top-rating radio show "Give it a Go". Here’s a brief excerpt:


All the tell-traits of the man known to his fellow party members as “the Rodent” (and to one former PM as “the unflushable turd”) are there; the smarmy arrogance, the smirking ignorance, and the cock-sure disregard for others. In little Johnny’s world not much has changed since 1955: his religion has shifted from Methodism to Sydney Anglicanism (yep – he’s also one of them), but that’s about it.


John Howard won 100 bars of soap for his efforts on radio that day. Obviously none of it was ever used to wash his mouth out for lying. Pity; we all might have been spared a lot of heartache and bloodshed if someone had just taught him that telling the truth does matter.


*Menzies is Howard's hero. Google and see for yourself.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Fiver is Happy.



My name is Fiver and I am Not A Very Big Dog and it is nearly summer hot and we went splashing in the harbour and digging holes and barking at the squawky seagulls and I ran around and around and around and nearly caught them all while the waves were splishing sploshing up the sand but I am too quick to get splooshed because I ran up onto the green green bouncy grass and rolled all the splashy away.

My name is Fiver and I am Happy.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

The Past is a Foreign Country...

... they do things diferently there.*

The Victorians were fascinating. Ostensibly revolted by all things concerning sex, yet they could erect a fountain like this in Sydney's Botanic Gardens.




The lady here is named "Agriculture", but I suspect the man (there's no way this was made by anyone with breasts of their own) responsible didn't really know too much about rural life in general, and sheep in particular. Or he'd spent wwwwwaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyy too much time alone with them, but that's a thought better not pursued.

Either way, am I the only one to think that this sheep looks uncannily like Hugh Hefner? And that this is all more than just a tad creepy?

*L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between, London 1953

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Remembrance Day 2007: Lest We Forget.

It’s rained everyday this past week. We need the rain, but the two dogs who’ve missed their walks are of a different opinion. Since it’s clearing today we’ve seized this opportunity to get out, and because the dog park doesn’t become a leash-free zone until 5pm we’re in our local church yard: an old and very overgrown cemetery surrounding a pseudo-gothic Victorian fantasy. It’s an interesting place for both dogs and humans alike, they dig holes, chase lizards and wonder, while we read the tombstones, tap our blogs on laptops, and wonder.

The church itself is somewhere I know well; long ago, in what seems like a previous lifetime, I served here as Catechist. It was my final year of study prior to Ordination, and my Rector was a brilliant Priest; a God-sent antidote to the bravura of my fellow Ordinands and our lecturers during the rest of the week. Do I need to mention he also no longer serves in Sydney?

On the vestry wall there is, or was – it’s been many years since I was inside – a picture of the 1912 parish cricket team. Undefeated at the end of the season, the players grin with the confidence of young men who, having proved themselves unbeatable at their favourite sport, are now certain of victory in everything else life may offer.

Further inside the church, on the bare sandstone walls (this is a Sydney church, after all), in a dark and forgotten corner (ditto) is a simple war memorial, erected in 1919. Made in wrought iron at one of local foundries then dominating the suburb, it lists those parishioners who enlisted in the Great War. Nearly all of the cricket team is named: three quarters were killed, and several more wounded. Only a few appear to have returned home unharmed, but who knows what screams ravished their minds in the night? Post-traumatic stress disorder was a diagnosis more than half a century away, and shattered men-boys were urged to simply “put the past behind them and get on with things.”

Perhaps some did, but facilties at a nearby psychiatric hospital were massively expanded during the 1920s to house the appalling number of returned volunteers whose minds were no longer their own.

The horror that was the “War to End all Wars” is something I can’t even begin to comprehend, but how those survivors felt when they saw the world plunge into conflict time and again during the decades which followed is incomprehensible. Kipling rightly worried that it rendered his own son’s death meaningless, but then Kipling was a man who learned the truth in the bitterest of ways possible, and then had the courage to admit his errors:


“If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied”


If only today's leaders were as honest.



Private Joseph Henry Miller, 56th Battallion of Newtown, New South Wales.
A groom prior to his enlistment on 19 October 1915, he embarked from Sydney on board HMAT Runic on 20 November 1916 and returned to Australia on 23 July 1919.



The Homecoming
by Joseph Lee


When this blast is over-blown,
And the beacon fires shall burn
And in the street
Is the sound of feet -
They also shall return.


When the bells shall rock and ring,
When the flags shall flutter free,
And the choirs shall sing, -
"God save our King"
They shall be there to see.


When the brazen bands shall play,
And the silver trumpets blow,
And the soldiers come
To the tuck of drum -
They shall be there also.


When that which was lost is found;
When each shall have claimed his kin,
Fear not they shall miss
Mother's clasp, maiden's kiss -
For no strange soil might hold them in.


When Te Deums seek the skies,
When the Organ shakes the Dome,
A dead man shall stand
At each live man's hand -
For they also have come home.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

My pencil is bigger than your pencil.


Regular readers and other True Christians™ will know big pencils are crucial to today's cutting edge ministry, and they don't get much bigger than this!

Pictured here showing that size really does matter, the Rev. Diocese McDiocese was all smiles, explaining; "Showing my pencil in the street to unbelievers is exciting, and makes it perfectly clear why God called men to church leadership, and not women - the Bible teaches God gave men the pencils."

Speaking afterwards, a Matthias Media spokesman confirmed they will soon be launching a range of giant pencil ministry aids to assist Evangelical Christians in dioceses where liberals no longer respect the authority of giant imitation writing implements. "Our pencils will, of course, be by far the biggest."

Monday, 5 November 2007

Jesus the Lunatic: the Trilemma Pt.2(b).

The three days spent as an involuntary guest of the New South Wales Health Department, courtesy of Section 31 of the Mental Health Act, cannot be described as the happiest time of my life, but the memory of the second afternoon shall always make me smile.

I’d tried to kill myself. I’d come to sincerely believe there was no place in the world for anyone as worthless, incompetent, and perverted as me. My family, my parishioners, and the men leading my diocese (whom I’d diligently trained myself to respect) seemed as though they’d be better off without me. Dare I say it, but their actions in the years since have proved they probably really did think something along these lines, but from behind the bars of a locked ward the idea didn’t seem anywhere nearly as funny as it does now. Then again, in those days I didn’t realize Jesus was also a lunatic, and it was long before I’d met the wonderful people and dogs who’ve shown me life is more than a set of propositions defining the boundaries of hell and heaven.

It had been a cold afternoon, and I might have been running a fever, and no matter what medicine they gave me I couldn’t stop crying. Into the grey sorrow of my observation ward strolled a disheveled patient: he wore combat trousers, a stained purple singlet with a butterfly across the chest, and impenetrable bleached dreadlocks hung like jungle vines down to his thighs.

“Hi” he said. “You’re new here”. I didn’t know what to reply, so he continued anyway.

“I’m a professional golfer, but I take time off the circuit to stay here because they think I’m schizophrenic. But really I just come here because the food’s so great, and it’s great to have a break from the pressures of competition. Besides, I know everyone in this place. I’ve got great connections.”

This last sentence was said as he came around to my side patting my shoulder. I know about as much about golf as I do of speaking Swahili, but if ever someone didn’t look like a professional golfer, it was him. And yet the confidence with he spoke, and sheer warmth of his friendliness was overwhelming. For a moment the clouds of my tears began lifting.

I couldn’t say much in response, but he didn’t mind: “Don’t worry if you don’t feel like talking. What you need is a good round of golf. The fresh air, the green grass, and the sunshine; there’s nothing finer when you’re feeling down. Come on.”

He helped me to my feet, and began leading me into the corridor. I was too dazed to protest, and he asked “Do you play golf? What’s your handicap?”

Never having played the game, I mumbled something about not having a clue. This only made him even more cheerful: “Fantastic, it’ll be an honour to teach you. Let’s go”

We went to the nurses’ station, where having scrounged a tape measure and assessed my dimensions, he calculated my ideal club sizes. I wsa then encouraged to try several different imaginary sets, taken down from an imaginary shelf which only he could see. Eventually the right clubs were found: “They’re a bit pricey, but don’t worry. My sponsor takes care of all that, and it’s important to start out with good equipment from the beginning.”

I can’t recall if any of the nurses tried to intervene during this process; the enthusiasm with which this new friend was introducing me to something he loved was so infectious that I only remember the magic joy of his world, which began filling mine like the warm sunshine of morning. There was a long apology regarding why I couldn’t be fitted for a new pair of golf shoes (footwear other than the regulation patient’s slippers was forbidden on the ward), but, as he explained, the greenkeepers took this into account when preparing the course.

Carrying my new imaginary golf bag, filled with imaginary clubs personally selected for me by an international professional, I was brought me back into the ward. This was the tricky bit, he explained.

“They keep the course here camouflaged, so that doctors in the other parts of the hospital don’t get jealous of our facilities. Until you get the hang of it, it’s probably best if you just close your eyes and let me describe what’s going on. That’ll also help you concentrate on developing a good clean swing.”

And so for the next few hours we played 18 holes, travelling through the ward, out into the grimy concrete exercise yard (surrounded by high fences topped with barbed wire – my friend lost a ball through that fence, and penalized himself the requisite number of strokes as a consequence), and back inside again through the empty rooms and storage areas. Each stroke I made, whether drive or putt, was carefully described and analyzed: after a while I began to get a feel for keeping my back straight, or angling my body slightly to account for the prevailing cross-winds. He was a brilliant instructor; a natural teacher who made every mistake an opportunity to learn something new, and every success a cause for spontaneous celebration. His joy when I scored a hole-in-one on the 15th was overwhelming, and when I repeated this feat on the 17th we were both jumping with excitement.

Tallying the card at the end of the game showed we ended in a tie – a result he considered truly astounding given it was my first game. Unlike me, he hadn’t managed any hole-in-ones, but experience of the course, coupled with years on the pro-circuit, had kept him consistently just under par, balancing us out. We weren’t allowed personal possessions in the ward, but from beneath his blankets he produced a half-consumed bottle of Spumante (“We need to remember this occasion with a toast in the finest French champagne”). How he had managed to have a personal alcohol cache I shall never know, but neither shall wine ever taste finer than that warm, flat, sickly-sweet sip from a paper cup surreptitiously removed from the water-cooler waste basket.

It was then time for the evening meal, and soon after I fell asleep, exhausted. The next morning I was woken early, and transferred to a different hospital. I’ve never played golf since, nor do I expect I shall. Some experiences can never be repeated, and are best left to stand alone.

I’ve never seen my friend again either, although I have tried to track him down and would dearly love to be able to help him in return – if such a thing be possible. It doesn’t matter so much though; I know we’ll meet someday. When we do I won’t be in the least bit surprised to learn he wasn’t a human at all, but actually an angel. Or more likely both.



At this point I can hear the evangelical lurkers (don’t worry guys, I know you’re there ;-) thinking “But you haven’t said a thing about Jesus, or even mentioned the Scriptures.” They’re quite right, of course. I haven’t, at least not in the propositional sense they’ve been taught to believe is the only authentic means of communicating Christianity. In my defence, however, I’d like to point out that neither did C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell when they insisted Jesus can be either a lunatic, or Lord, but not both. In fact, that these two could have suggested this makes me wonder if they’d ever heard any of the absurd things Jesus said. Weird stuff like “love your enemies” or “in my father’s house are many mansions”. Statements no sane person could imagine making.

Nowadays I think of Christianity as a kind of madness: that this whole messy business of incarnation and blood is a terrible folly we embrace lest we never again know what it is to be of sound mind and peaceful heart. We believe and we love, and therefore we shun that which the darkness calls sane. We are lunatics, and therein fnd our reason restored.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Jesus the Lunatic: the Trilemma Pt.2(a).

This clip won't make sense, but why I've posted it just might once you read Jesus the Lunatic Pt2. I'll try and have it up in a day or so.

Till then watch this: it's a pretty accurate depiction of how my life became for a while...



It's by an Australian team called "The Avalanches". I don't know much more about them, but if I ever need someone to produce my autobiography as a musical they'll be who I call.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Sorry.

European settlement of Australia didn’t really begin until 1788, and was founded upon a lie; the legal fiction of terra nullius (a Latin term meaning “nobody’s land”) - even though there were as many as 750,000 people already living here - maybe more. Their communities, beliefs, and cultures varied greatly, and there were approximately 700 different languages spoken. Yet no matter what they believed, or however they talked, they were all people. Like you and I they hoped, wept, and dreamed of making love in the warm afternoon sunshine. They had children, and dogs, and enjoyed chasing sticks together.


This picture was probably taken sometime during the 1920s. It’s a fountain erected in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, a sixty year period which witnessed the Aboriginal nations’ decimation by a combination of disease, loss of land (causing starvation), and outright murder. An estimated 90% of the indigenous population died during this time, and it was widely held, even among those sympathetic to the Aboriginals’ plight, that Australia’s indigenous peoples would soon become extinct.

The fountain is still standing, and last weekend we strolled around it just like the people in this picture. In the base are bronze panels of Aboriginals, who are depicted as demurely (and oh-so obediently) underpinning the civilization above. There’s no record of who the models were; I doubt that their names were considered worth recording by the socialites who commissioned the fountain. These survivors of a century-long attempt at genocide were nothing more than the vestiges of a superseded race, about to vanish into history forever.

But they didn't, and I’ve grown haunted by their faces.
Especially this man:



Rest in peace, mighty warrior. Your people have survived, and your land still sings the story of your blood. Pray for us, the descendants of those who brought your people death, that we might be cleansed from our sin. Forgive us, for we are sorry.

Jesus the Liar: the Trilemma Pt.1.

The real reason I’ve taken so long to get this post up has nothing to do with contentious title: it’s just that I couldn’t find an appropriate picture, and I’m not confident in my ability to convey what I mean with words alone.

You see, by “liar” I don’t mean someone who says what they know to be untrue – like the stereotypical used-car salesman, or politician. Jesus wasn’t a con artist, so please don’t start frothing at the mouth in a delusion that I’m trying to claim he was.

Yet so many things Jesus said contradict the golden truths of our age that it’s impossible for me to not tick the "liar" box. “Blessed are the poor”; “the first shall be last”; “leave tomorrow for tomorrow” – all these (and countless more similar sayings) cut so deeply against the grain of our society’s accepted wisdom that most churches I’ve experienced prefer to ignore them, or else explain them in such away as to suggest they actually mean the diametric opposite.
I’m not comfortable with these exegetical sleights-of-hand. I’d rather just admit that in some kind of absurdist game Jesus contradicted everything society taught me to be true.


Where that leaves giant pencils and mock ballot papers, I’m not sure. This one was sticking out above the footpath, ready to impale anyone not prepared to vote according to the parish mission’s party line. I wanted to ask if it would be ok to tick more than one box, but there wasn’t anyone to talk to. Perhaps it wasn’t really an imitation pencil at all, but a giant missile prepared for remote launching against people trying to complicate things.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The Greatest Preacher. Ever

“Equal but Different” is the name of an organization founded in Sydney to oppose to the ordination of anyone not a heterosexual male, although their website says that all they really want to do is promote “relationships of loving male leadership and intelligent, willing female submission in the family and the church.” No, I haven’t made that quote up. Honestly. Google them if you don’t believe me.

They claim to have “members all around Australia and overseas, including men and women” (are there any other genders silly enough to send in their $15 joining fee?), but the steering committee is entirely female, and they don’t explain how these seven women – two of who have the surname “Jensen” – are able to lead the organisation’s men without contradicting their own charter.

Curiously enough, “Equal but Different” is also the sub-title of a particularly nasty little old book I found in a deceased estate sale. Published in the 1870s, it’s called “Slavery Defended”, and contains essays by a dozen or more post-bellum clergy (not all of whom are Southerners, I must hasten to add) explaining why emancipation and the end of North American slavery was contrary to the Bible’s teaching.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the arguments advanced by the 21st century women invoke the same exegetic and hermeneutic processes as their 19th century male namesakes, and both groups allege the real issue at stake is one of Scriptural authority. Neither group ever seems to consider their opponents may actually be people with a deep and abiding faith of their own; in each case the other side is dismissed as faddish and opportunistic modernists at best, and immoral devil’s spawn at worst.

To be fair, one can be more forgiving of the women on the grounds that many of them are undoubtedly suffering from a kind of long-term Stockholm Syndrome: they’ve been repressed for so long that they’ve come to identify with their oppressors’ ideology. There’s no such excuse for the nasty little 19th century racists; they seem to actually take pride in converting the Gospels into something poisonous. Both of them, however, are big fans of the “slippery slope” argument: one sees the ordination of women as leading to ordination of homosexuals, while the other sees the abolition of slavery as drawing inevitably towards female suffrage and equal pay for equal work, and both are conviced that the bottom of the slope is A Very Bad Place.

In reponse to both groups stands a woman I’ve only recently learned of: Sojurner Truth. Born into slavery around 1797, she endured heartache, suffering and oppression of a degree I can’t even begin to comprehend, and rose to become a preacher of such strength that her words bring the same courage and inspiration today as when first spoken in 1851. And that’s not just because her opponents and ours use the same rhetoric; it’s because a fire as intense and truthful as hers never burns cold.

This is her most famous sermon, called “ Ain’t I A Woman?", as recorded by Frances Gage in “History of Woman Suffrage”, using Sojurner Truth's 19th century African-american patois:

"Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all dis here talkin' 'bout?

Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked. 'And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man--when I could get it--and bear de lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

"Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?" ("Intellect," whispered some one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.

"Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with out-stretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him."

Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man. Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting:

"If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued cheering greeted this. "'Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now ole Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."

If anyone’s taking bets on who’s the Archbishop of Canterbury in heaven, I’d like to lay a years’ pay on Sojourner Truth. But then again, she might have already been appointed Pope.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

And oldie, but a goodie.

Passing St. Mary's Cathedral (aka "the House of Pell") I noticed a flashing electronic sign announcing there are 262 days until the start of "World Youth Day" and Benny Ratsfinger's big visit.

Which seemed as good a reason as any other to post this clip:



Yes, I know everyone's heard it, and that it's going to be played a thousand times in the next 270 days.
But is there ever really such a thing as too much Tom Lehrer?

Friday, 26 October 2007

The Trilemma: an introduction.

Voting is compulsory for Australian citizens, and on November 24 we’ll all be required to head to the polls and have our say. In an attempt to ride on the back of this event a nearby church has launched an “election themed” parish mission.


These parish Missions have a long tradition with Sydney Evangelicals, and broadly speaking they’re as bad as they sound. The idea is to have a parish-based marketing assault on local residents, resulting in widespread conversion and an ensuing revival spreading to surrounding suburbs. Essentially they are attempts to recreate in minature the 1959 Billy Graham crusade; a watershed event at which many of the current hierarchy were “saved", and the highpoint of a mythical golden age for which they still yearn.

If you’re very lucky not too many people get burned out in the 2-4 week hysteria, and church attendance doesn’t fall too much, although in my experience you had to be very lucky indeed to escape so lightly. More commonly the resulting failure to meet anticipated expectations sends the parish into a decline only ending when the incumbent responsible “moves on” – but I’m a cynic with an endless supply of funny mission anecdotes (it was compulsory for Ordinands to participate in one mission each year) that have a habit of slipping out when friends ply me with cheap red wine.

As far as missions go, this one has appears to have a pretty impressive budget: banners this large don’t come cheap, and since my local Woolworths doesn’t stock giant papier-mâché pencils I’m not too sure how much they cost, but I’ll bet it’s more than the parish gave to AIDS charities in the last 12 months. Certainly the Rev. Diocese McDiocese (or whatever the name of the Rector behind all this is) must be popular with the powers that hold the purse strings, because he was able to buy not just one of the things, but three! As I’ve always said, when it comes to ministry you can never have enough giant imitation pencils.

In parallel with the “Voting is Compulsory" theme the parish is pushing the old Josh McDowell “Trilemma” from “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”. Published in 1979, McDowell argued that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of all; all other responses being invalid. This is actually a reworking of CS Lewis’ argument in “Mere Christianity” (itself based on a series of BBC broadcasts Lewis made in 1943), although Lewis was less succinct: Jesus, he said, was “either a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” Failing these, Lewis continued, Jesus “was and is God.”




The picture on the left doesn’t show it very clearly, but someone's climbed several metres off the ground and made a faint tick next to the “Lunatic” option on this second banner in the church grounds, which is probably a fair indication of the mission's impact on local residents. Still, the whole affair has got me thinking...





There’s no shortage of web sites web pointing out the Trilemma's poor logic, and the inherent falsehood of the premise that no other options exist, but it seems to me the best answer is “All of the above”, which is undoubtedly not what we're supposed to conclude.

So… in-between whatever else crops up here in the next week, I’m going to spend a bit of time blogging about each of the options. It’ll be interesting to see which offends the fundies most: “Jesus the Liar” or “Jesus the Lunatic”? Now that Mad Priest won’t let me feed his troll anymore, I might even be lucky enough to catch one of my own!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Let's just smear everyone.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Sydmey Diocese's push to include people it consider "adulterers" - which will presumably include any who's been divorced and then remarried - in a national register of sex offenders, alongside pedophiles and those alleged to be "invoking God or religion to exploit children". In a world where everything's black & white, guess it's just safer to paint everything black, hey guys?

"We don't want to go snooping around in people's bedrooms," said Mr Phillip Gerber, the Diocese's Director of the professional standards.

Quite right, Phil; it's not a job you want to do, and quite frankly you detest it, but hell, someone's got to do it, and it's not your fault if sometimes it's just the teensiest bit exciting, is it?

The one bright side is that now an awful lot of straight people are going to experience the innuendo, spying and black-listing that GLBT Christians have experienced for years. So it looks like the growing army of the excluded and discriminated against is about to get a whole lot bigger - which isn't going to make the Matthian's fight to defend their bastion of hatred and exclusivity any easier.

Billy Brag deservers the last word here:

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Slice of Heaven

On finding this clip I simply had to share it - right after I'd given our dogs a big cuddle and told them how special they are.
You'll understand why after watching it.



(Dave Dobbyn is an Aotearoa/New Zealand icon, and "Slice of Heaven" is one of two unoffical national anthems he's written. It's not the most sophisticated of tunes, but I defy anyone to keep a straight face while singing along - esp. when sinking a few South Island beers with Kiwi friends and family ;-)

California: we're thinking of you.

Thoughts, prayers, hope and love to everyone (including all the animals) facing the California fires.

We might be a long way from you, but we're with you.
God be with you all, and keep you and all you love safe.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

It's a Miracle!

“Scripture is the way in which God rules his church” declares +Jensen in his "Response to the American House of Bishop’s Statement”.

This may well be correct, but in what’s the greatest exegetical miracle since the Septuagint, when 72 different scholars working in isolation sometime between 3rd and 1st centuries BC miraculously produced identical translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, it appears that the hermeneutic framework God uses to enact His rule is identical to the one used by the Sydney Diocese!

Thus just like the Sydney Anglicans, God also interprets Romans 1:26-27 literally as an isolated “proof” text, while ignoring the command against judging others which follows in Romans 2:1. Equally astonishing is that when it comes to ordination and marriage, and the issue of whether or not these can ever apply to couples with the same shaped smelly bits, God interprets Leviticus 18:22 in exactly the same was as the Anglican Church League – and, also just like them, God no longer cares about the near universal ignorance of Deuteronomy 22:11, which prohibits the wearing of blended fabrics.

A Diocesan spokesman who did not wish to be named on the grounds that it “wasn’t his turn to wear the pointy hat with horns” explained “It’s really no surprise; we’ve always known God interprets Scripture exactly the same way we do – that’s why, unlike the rest of the world, we were created in His image."

The Duck gets Tough

The Rev. Dr. Mark Thompson used to be known as "The Duck" by a small group of disreputable clergy-to-be, on account of a strange quacking noise he'd make when excited during Reformation History lectures. It should be stressed that this rather unkind nickname, which became known as Thompson’s “nom-de-quack”, has no connection with the possibly fictitious “Duck Noodle Gang” lurking behind this blog: it was nothing more than a coarse attempt at undergraduate humour. Matthian readers should be relieved to know that none of the reprobates responsible for the slur remain in ministry within Sydney.

The Duck however, has gone from strength to strength, and nowadays he’s the one allowed to wear the pointy hat with horns* at Anglican Church League meetings. For readers unacquainted with this group, the ACL fulfill a similar role within Sydney Evangelicalism to that undertaken by the Taliban within Afghan society, although the Taliban aren’t as fond of wearing polyester.

In keeping with this important role, the Duck has moved that Sydney Standing Committee request +Jensen writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing the Committee’s “profound concern that the majority report from the Joint Standing Committees of the Primates and the ACC considers the TEC House of Bishops response to the Windsor Report and the Primates’ Dar es Salaam Communique to be either positive, adequate or appropriate.”

Anyone who’s really interested can read the whole thing here, but the only real surprise comes towards the end, in clause (d):
that some TEC bishops also continue to harass other clergy and laity who espouse traditional Anglican teaching and practice tough (sic – but you can’t honestly expect anyone to believe this isn’t a Freudian slip) remaining within the TEC

Clergy and Laity being harassed because they espouse traditional Anglican teaching and practice? Quelle horreur! Next we can expect to see is people being ridiculed as “popish” because they enjoy expressing their worship through the use of vestments, and pressured to abandon traditional prayer-book liturgies! Or the Cathedral’s Choral Evensong being shut down, and parishes “encouraged” to stop celebrating the Eucharist weekly. Instead of allowing the lectionary to set weekly Bible readings and Sermon texts, we might even see Bishops be advising Clergy to concentrate on preaching “in-depth series” focusing on particular books - which purely by coincidence happen to be the same few Pauline epistles again and again.

Those terrible TEC Bishops really have gone too far this time.

*I've been informed by inside sources that this ceremonial head-gear, known to initiates as the "Helmet of Correctness", is actually crafted from tinfoil.