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.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Pell's Cell?

We went for a wander around the city yesterday, and snapped this picture of Cardinal Pell's place. The signs explain the scaffolding is part of a restoration for next year's visit from Benny Ratsfinger, but I wasn't fooled. They're reinforcing the tower prior to walling up the pair of them inside.

There's hope for the world after all.

Thank You (Wondering where the lions are?)

Since making the previous post things have been a bit of a blur. The weather’s been spectacular, the dogs have been full of the kind of exuberant canine silliness only seen on a warm windy day, and two very dear family members are visiting from New Zealand.

And the incredible number of people who read my confession (especially those of you who have made such overwhelmingly supportive and empowering comments) have left me feeling…

… words can’t describe the sense of freedom and renewed strength.

Thank you.

Thank you also to those Sydney Evangelicals who’ve taken the time to read what I have to say: IP addresses and Google will give you away every time, so there’s no point thinking you can lurk undetected ;-) I understand that you may well have found what I wrote deeply offensive in that it criticizes someone you’ve been brought up to believe is beyond criticism, and I realize that you’re probably feeling very angry as a result. However, what you must try very hard to understand is that the vicious lack of empathy John Chapman displayed that afternoon is only a symptom of the heartlessness and systemic judgementalism that has become a defining feature of your church. It’s incompatible with the Gospel of Christ, and it must stop. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your exegesis might be, no church can legitimately call itself “Christian” if it doesn’t display love and compassion to the alienated and marginalized.

Running over and over in my head at the moment is a Bruce Cockburn song called Wondering Where the Lions Are. After writing my confession I decided to wait a few days before posting in order to think things over first. That night I had a terrible dream; a nightmare about long distant pasts, of children I’d loved who are now gone, time I spent as involuntary hospital patient, and all that might have been. I must have been screaming out, because my dog jumped up onto the bed, and gently nuzzled me awake. We lay together in the quiet dark while he softly growled at the ghosts that had howled in my nightmare. Together we fell back asleep snuggled next to my sleeping partner, who is expecting our son in February.

In the morning I played this, and you've seen what I posted later in the day. The song’s become a bit of a personal anthem since, and it really does sum up how I feel about where all this might lead. The lions may not have gone, but they’re not half as frightening as they were before…

Listen for yourself.

Friday, 19 October 2007

My Confession.

There’s a lot of things I said and did while part of the Sydney Anglican machine of which I’m now ashamed, but one incident more than any other has always left me feeling crushed by guilt. Thus this post, gentle reader, is written as a public confession of that incident, and marks an attempt to do and say what I should have done and said all those years years ago. But first a little background…

The picture on the left is of John Chapman; a prominent evangelist associated with the Sydney Diocese for over 40 years. For 25 of them he was director of the “Department of Evangelism”, and since retiring he continues to devote his time to pestering believers – who comprise the vast bulk of his audience - to adopt his understanding of what it means to be a Christian, to the exclusion of all other notions of faith and theology.

People who haven’t grown up within Sydney Diocese’s closed culture generally find him bewildering. If you don’t then you probably aren’t going to be too happy with the rest of what you read here, but some things long overdue need saying. I’ve spent plenty of time listening to your side of the argument, and now it’s your turn to be quiet.

If you haven’t encountered John Chapman before take a moment to listen to the sound clip below of him preaching. It’s not long and gives a small indication of what he’s like. Bear in mind as you do that he’s firmly committed to all the usual Sydney nasties: he believes God has forbidden the ordination of women as Priests (let alone Bishops!), that homosexuals who express their sexuality face eternal damnation, and that any beliefs or practices not part of Sydney Evangelicalism are a perversion of the faith: a compassionate liberal he isn’t.

What he is though, is very well connected within the potent brew of committees and factions which control the diocese: to describe him as a powerbroker is a serious understatement. Which meant that my fellow ordinands and I believed to a man (no women allowed, remember) that crossing John Chapman would result in your ecclesiastical career being over before it started. He’d often attend college lunches, and if he addressed us my friends and I would smile, laugh when appropriate, and desperately hope he’d soon turn back to those students whose pedigree made them more worthy of his attention, and who, perhaps because they’d known him since childhood, didn’t experience a vaguely creepy feeling whenever he came near.

All of which may give a sense of how I felt when he turned to me across the table one day:
“What was your last class, brother?”
“3rd year ethics” I replied, hoping the conversation would go nowhere.
“And are you feeling ethical now?” He always spoke like this; “What aspect of ethics were you learning about?”
“Well actually we were discussing the subject of abortion.” I said, wishing I’d had the courage to lie and say something less confrontational.
“Oh” he dismissed, “there’s nothing to discuss about that. It’s a wicked, evil sin and there’s no more to say about it.”

I couldn’t help myself, there was an acid taste of raw lemons in the back of my throat. “Well sometimes it can be a bit more complex than that. What, for example, if a 15 year old girl is pregnant as a result of being raped by her father? Is it still a sin for her to have an abortion?”

My friends looked on in horror, they clearly thought I was about to commit vocational suicide. Against all reason I wanted to push the point home, and continued; “In a circumstance like that is it really still so evil to intervene in order to restore a girl’s life and future? Is it really a sin to end the nightmare into which she’s been dragged before she faces the agony of another 6 month’s pregnancy, not to mention the trauma of giving birth?”

Somebody kicked me under the table hard, willing me to say no more. Chapman brought his face near mine. He looked very, very angry; he was about to make a point and wanted me to know I must under no circumstances contradict him: “If she’s pregnant” he hissed, “then it won’t make things any better by committing a second sin on top of the first. Everyone knows it takes two people to make a baby, and she must accept her share of the responsibility no matter how much she’d like to blame her shame on someone else. Besides, there are countless good Christian families desperate to adopt babies. The child should be taken from her at birth and raised as a believer. Anything else is sin.”

I wanted to explode, to scream “What the hell do you know about her predicament? How can you even begin to understand what she’d be going through? You’re a man in his late 60s who’s spent most of his life living with his mother; you openly boast of never having lived in a sexual relationship, and you’ve clearly little or no experience of rape. How dare you condemn others for their choices in the face of a nightmare you can never hope to comprehend, much less experience?”

I wanted to shake my fist in his face, to make him feel just one tiny fragment of the fear anyone in an abusive relationship faces every moment of every day. I wanted to shake the smugness from his soul, to make him see how his position of power should be used to empower the downtrodden and abused, not to add pain to their suffering. I wanted to get angry, to shout “enough!”, to…

… but I bit my lip and said nothing. My friends jumped in to change the subject, and I thought of my family, of all I had put them through to get this far. I thought of myself, and said nothing.

For many years afterwards I’ve felt profound guilt over this moment. I should have spoke up for all those who’ve been stepped on, but I was afraid of what the repercussions would be for me. I didn’t think of the hurting, the little ones with no voice; I thought of myself.

Yet now, years later, I’ve realized it’s still not too late to speak out. The internet didn’t exist then, and at most the few hundred gathered in the dining hall could have heard me before I was bundled off, but today the whole world can hear. It’s probably just as well I didn’t hit anyone, that would have only got me arrested, and not changed anything. Today, instead of relying on violence to make the point – which rarely changes anything for long – the message can rely on clicks and links, the intangible global network that is the web. It’s going to stay up here until things change, and everyone is free to reproduce and share what’s written here in any way they wish until the people whom God has entrusted with power (but only for a short while) finally use that power for more than just to condemn and alienate. If it embarrasses anyone I make no apology whatsoever; there are some things the people who control our churches should be embarrassed about, and this is one of them.

If you’re a friend of John Chapman’s then I expect you’ve been feeling increasingly angry at what I’ve written here, and thoughts like “How dare someone say things like this about a man who’s spent his life preaching the gospel?” are screaming in your head. To which I can only reply, “How dare he have shown so little compassion for those whom the church has failed to protect, to nurture, to welcome and to comfort.”

And John, if you should ever read this yourself, then please understand it’s not too late to change. You still have the influence and opportunity to turn the Sydney Diocese on its head, to bring it to repentance, and to embrace those whom it has spent so long excluding. The choice is yours, and people are praying for you. Make the wrong one, and you just might discover that on the judgment day you’ve spent your whole life preaching about there is seated at Christ’s right hand a small and rather shell-shocked 15 year old girl. Her eyes may be tear-stained, but she sure won’t crying anymore.

And she’s going to be asking you some very, very awkward questions…

Crawling out of the woodwork:

Elections have a way of bringing out the bottom-feeders, especially those of a religious variety. From crikey.com:

Exclusive: Brethren get a foot in the doors of power
Alex Mitchell writes:

Crikey can exclusively reveal that the secretive Christian sect, the Exclusive Brethren, has gone to great lengths to obtain parliamentary lobbying status for two of its leading Sydney members.

Warwick John of Copeland Road, Engadine, in Sydney’s south, and David Walter Stewart, who gives his address as an Engadine Post Office box number, have become official parliamentary lobbyists representing the so-called Christian Lobby Group.
With their official credentials issued just before the NSW state election in March, John and Stewart can patrol the corridors of the NSW Parliament in Macquarie Street merely by flashing their official passes. Their keen interest in meeting ministers, shadow ministers and MPs in the privacy of their parliamentary offices is bizarre when you consider that the fundamentalist sect bans its flock from voting in elections!

The parliamentary democracy-worshipping MPs who signed and sponsored the lobbyist passes for the non-voting Exclusive Brethren were Upper House MPs, the Rev Fred Nile and the Rev Gordon Moyes, of the Christian Democrats, and David Clarke, an Opus Dei supporting Catholic and leader of the NSW Liberal Party’s hard right, pro-Howard faction.

John declared on his application form that the purpose of his special pass was to “lobby for Christian rights” whatever they are. Normally, lobbyist passes are authorised by parliament’s presiding officers who, at that time, were Speaker John Aquilina and Legislative Council President Meredith Burgmann. Because parliament was in recess pending the March 24 election, it is unclear whether they co-signed authority for the passes or it was processed by the clerks, Russell Grove (Legislative Assembly) and Lynn Lovelock (Legislative Council).

As comprehensively demonstrated in Monday night’s Four Corners, the Exclusive Brethren has interfered in state and federal elections in NSW, South Australia and Tasmania and overseas in New Zealand and the United States supplying campaign cash and advertising support to right-wing conservative and anti-Green forces.

The exposure of Fred Nile as an ally of the Exclusive Brethren will do little to shame the Iemma Government. This week it was revealed that Premier Iemma successfully solicited the services of Nile to act as chairman of a limited, restrictive upper house committee inquiry into the Royal North Shore Hospital scandal thereby escaping Opposition demands for a wider investigation into the maladministration of the hospital system, doctor and nursing shortages and chronic under-funding by Treasury.

Watching Labor rely on the likes of Nile, whose reprehensible re-election platform was a religiously bigoted 10-year ban on Moslem immigration, is sickbag-reaching stuff. Iemma, MP for Lakemba, is living down to the catchcry of his mentor Graham Richardson – “Whatever It Takes”.

This particular Christian would like to make it perfectly clear that unlike the Brethren I don't believe women must always wear their hair long, covered by a little scarf thingummy. However I do believe that usimg the name of God to forbid people from exercising their democratic right to vote is evil - as is compromising one's values in return for a few grubby Brethren dollars.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Being a Sydney Anglican can kill you!

It's true! Southern Cross (the Diocesan equivalent to the USSR's Pravda) has confirmed what countless heretics have been saying for years: going to a Sydney Anglican church really can be bad for your health.
The October edition reports:

After hearing that a pilot study of six church sites found that four had loose asbestos, Synod yesterday voted unanimously to pass a new law which will help clean up the risk.

“This is not to say all properties in the Diocese are dangerous, however when sheeting breaks down… there are significant health risks,” said Robert Tong, chairman of the Diocesan Property Trust, in moving the new ordinance.

Mr Tong said the Diocese not only had a legal requirement to comply with the national asbestos management code, but a moral obligation to act quickly.

“There is a moral obligation to ensure that people who use our buildings are not exposed to risk.”

Great to see this new determination to get serious about the moral obligation to ensure people aren't exposed to risk. Now can they please extend it to protect people from the risk of harm caused by mysogyny, homophobia and sectarianism?

Not all sermons are boring.

Elizabeth Kaeton, who is the Rector and Pastor of The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, New Jersey, has posted a sermon preached in 1922 by Harry Emerson Fosdick.

Called Shall the Fundamentalists Win? it's as inspiring as it is relevant to the present.

Go there. Read it. Please.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

A crack in the pot...

MadPriest and the truly beautiful Wormwood's Doxy brought Monica Attard's interview with Archbishop Jensen to my attention: there's not much to say that hasn't already been said elswhere, although it's worth repeating that his failure to hurl the standard "The Bible makes it clear that leadership is not a role God has given to women" vitriol marks a significant compromise of his traditional Matthian stance. Certainly the faithful over on the Sydney Anglican Media forums are strangely silent on the matter of ythis interview - always a good sign something beyond the pale has just occurred. They're not even spouting the usual "He was edited to make him appear to say something different to what he meant" rhetoric...

... which is more than they did for this clip. Produced by the Chaser team (the guys who got arrested for entering the APEC security zone while wearing an Osama bin Laden costume), the faithful-but-nasty were all adamant that in this their man was the victim of an anti-christian editorial conspiracy.

Make up you own mind: the +Jensen in this certainly looks, sounds, and acts like the one I once knew. And any mischevious editing, if it has been done, is so tight that I certainly can't spot it.

Besides, it's very, very funny. So who cares?

Monday, 15 October 2007

A little exegesis (an earlier post explained).

Reading the Warren Zevon blog below, She-Whom-I-Love asked “But what are the sentiments expressed in that song which the church needs to grasp?”

Aghast, I first thought that despite playing this song very loud, and excruciatingly often, she simply hadn’t been exposed to it often enough to see what I thought glaringly obvious. Still, after patiently waiting for my alarm to settle, she continued: “Not everyone knows all the lyrics by heart. What’s the point you're trying to make?”

Thus, chastened and concerned lest I appear even more cryptic than I already am, I offer an explanation:

”Boom Boom” Mancini is a real person, and, the events in Zevon’s song really occurred, give or take a little license when it comes to Boom Boom’s alleged reply (listen again closely if you want to know what I mean ;-). Zevon is expressing a young working-class man’s enthusiasm for someone he sees as the embodiment of courage and endurance, and I find this enthusiasm infectious.

I can’t claim to have ever been a big boxing aficionado, although since seeing the tremendous change “Fighting” Father Dave and his boxing gym/church has made in the lives of countless young people from appallingly disadvantaged backgrounds, my empathy for the sport has changed. I’ve certainly come to recognize that the objections I’d previously had to boxing were nothing more than the residue of one of Protestantism’s greatest delusions; that working class sins (like drinking, and smoking, and swearing) are intrinsically more offensive to God than middle class ones (like avarice, racism, and materialism). Since Christ has so much to say about the latter, and so little about the former, it’s hard to take the evangelicals’ claim of having a “biblically based” ethical framework seriously: it always seems more "culturally based" to me.

So, against this background, I never cease to find these lines inspiring:

“When Alexis Arguello gave Boom Boom a beating
Seven weeks later he was back in the ring
Some have the speed and the right combinations
If you can't take the punches it don't mean a thing"


"They made hypocrite judgments after the fact
But the name of the game is be hit and hit back."

For me that’s right at the heart of what it means to be standing up to the fundamentalist bullies; and to continue living in Laughter and Grace in the face of those who exclude, shun and ridicule. You’ve got to take the punches and beatings they blithely throw out from their pulpits, tracts, magazines, Matthias Media brochures, and Blog Nasties, as well as from their Synods, Councils and Pompous Proclamations.

And then you’ve got to get up and hit right back again. Because if we don’t throw the money lenders out of the temple, who will?

A Special Hello...

.. to everyone dropping by after following the link from Mad Priest - future Achbishop of Canterbury (we live in hope), and author of the truly wonderful Of Course I Could Be Wrong

Welcome to this strange end of the world: Sydney is a pretty place (if you only see the expensive parts - and the 2000 Olympic games camera crews didn't show where most people live) - but when it comes to religion things are very, very weird.

... which might help make a little more sense of this blog ;-)

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Priorities matter (thank you Warren Zevon).

In my "Favorites" is a folder called "Blog Nasties". The title says pretty much everything anyone needs to know about the wingnuts inside: for example there's a clown who thinks the Sydney Anglican Diocese are hell-bound heretics because they’re not explicit enough in their support for a literal seven day theory of creation (although he does like their prohibition against women reading the bible aloud when in the presence of men), and there's another charmer obsessed with the idea that childbirth is a painless process for any truly "biblical" Christian women, and that the feeling slightest twinge of pain is "proof of a rebellious unsaved heart and a Jezebel spirit" (Please pray for the poor lady married to him). Sadly these two are by no means the worst of the bunch.

I'll never post a link to any of them, because the less exposure they receive the better. While they are kind of funny, it should never be forgotten how much misery, hurt and alienation this kind of crap causes.

Still, one of them - who incidentally, I knew while we were both studying - has for these last few months been on a bender about Penal Substitutionary atonement (here’s the Wikipedia definition - although please read it with a grain of salt: it's not exactly written from a neutral viewpoint). Like all true fundamentalists, he’s adamant that anyone who disagrees with this way of understanding Christ's death is a raving liberal with no respect for scripture - whatever that means.

In response I’ve been writing my own $0.02 worth on the subject of atonement (a class that my erstwhile fellow student didn’t enrol in all those years ago), and these words of insight and erudition were just about ready to post today…

… but this evening I found this clip of the late great Warren Zevon playing “Boom Boom Mancini”, and was reminded by the Holy spirit of the need to get my priorities right. So here it is.

When the church has a better understanding of the sentiments expressed in this song than it does of soteriological permutations then I think we’ll really be getting somewhere. And when we can demonstrate these understandings in the way we live then people really will be climbing the walls to hear what we have to say. Just like they did when Jesus spoke.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Love is.

Isn't it wonderful when someone loves you so much they'll groom you even if you're slobbering?

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

You find this ugly, I find it lovely.

This morning I visited a client in King's Cross, for whom I'm building a web site (don't worry - it's not that sort of a web site: the client is a florist ;-). Walking back along Darlinghurst Road to the train station I saw the city council has been improving the tone of the area by inserting at random points along the footpath plaques bearing snippets of Cross history.

One of them featured a few lines of "William Street", Kenneth Slessor's 1935 tribute to the area: 70 years may have past, along with the ravages of heroin (or more accurately, the legal prohibition of heroin) and all that came with it, but like all truly brilliant poetry, Slessor's work could have been written this morning.

William Street

The red globe of light, the liquor green,
the pulsing arrows and the running fire
spilt on the stones, go deeper than a stream;
You find this ugly, I find it lovely.

Ghosts' trousers, like the dangle of hung men,
in pawn-shop windows, bumping knee by knee,
but none inside to suffer or condemn;
You find this ugly, I find it lovely.

Smells rich and rasping, smoke and fat and fish
and puffs of paraffin that crimp the nose,
of grease that blesses onions with a hiss;
You find it ugly, I find it lovely.

The dips and molls, with flip and shiny gaze
(death at their elbows, hunger at their heels)
Ranging the pavements of their pasturage;
You find this ugly, I find it lovely .

He's right, of course, and always has been. It is lovely.

Mornings are made for exploring.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

New words for old...

AWAYE! is an indigenous affairs program on Radio National, which is part of Australia’s Public Broadcast network, the ABC (which is in not to be confused with the US network of the same name). As a substantial part of my job involves working with kids from indigenous backgrounds, I try to make a point of tuning in each week to try and gain some insight into the latest issues confronting their communities.

As part of this week’s show they played a documentary on the role of storytelling within native American communities, and how reclaiming traditional narratives is helping people regain their sense of identity and culture.

At one point there was an interview with a ten year old girl, who was obviously benefitting greatly from her involvement with the project. She made a fascinating remark when describing what she felt had happened to her people at the hands of European colonists::

“…they killed us, and then they took away our religion – well not really religion but, like, spiritual beliefs.”

In saying this, the girl made a distinction I’ve noticed elsewhere: “religion” is coming to mean something different to“spiritual beliefs”; the latter is good and empowering, the former bad and disempowering. While the surface logic of trend is probably pretty sloppy: “spiritual beliefs” are by definition “religion”, albeit religion with few (if any) liturgical and ecclesiastical accretions and rarely any systematic dogma, that people feel the need to make this distinction is interesting.

What they may actually be trying to say is that their experience of mainstream religion, irrespective of the flavour, has been so negative as to leave them wanting to disassociate from it entirely. As a result anything they encounter which is good simply can’t be part of the package they’ve rejected called “religion”, and hence there's the need for a new description, at which point “spiritual beliefs” seems as good as any.

I wonder then, can it really be said people today have rejected religion in greater numbers than at any time in the past? Or have they simply using the term to describe their beliefs – whatever these may be –since because these beliefs don’t leave them feeling guilty, humiliated, ignorant, unclean or discriminated against these beliefs simply can’t be “religion”?

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Move over, Graham Kendrick

Since Sydney evangelicals have been demanding a boycott of Hillsong tunes on theological grounds finding home-grown hymnody has become rather difficult.

Praise be to God, however, that the void has now been filled by the goodly brethren of the Church of Bluejuice. Even the song's title "Vitriol" should be just perfect for the next fun exegesis packed Matthian hoedown:

Shame about them wearing such unreformed vestments; however I'm sure if someobody gives these clearly zealous boys & girls a Matthias Media catalogue they'll quickly see the error of their ways and start dressing more like Jesus and Paul, who always wore that most sacred of costumes, the business suit, when teaching - yet another fact previously obscured by the Satanic Popish Conspiracy.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Oh dear...

Ok, so getting a laugh at Microsoft’s expense is easy. They’re very big, very cumbersome, and take themselves dreadfully seriously. And their name is the first thing most people see when they start work in the morning.
But really, does Bill Gates and his fun-loving team of thrill-seekers try to do stuff like this on purpose?

The Sydney Morning Herald - September 28, 2007

Excel glitch: it doesn't add up

Microsoft's Excel 2007 spreadsheet program is going to have to relearn part of its multiplication table.
In a blog post, Microsoft employee David Gainer said that when computer users tried to get Excel 2007 to multiply some pairs of numbers and the result was 65,535, Excel would incorrectly display 100,000 as the answer.
Gainer said Excel makes mistakes multiplying 77.1 by 850, 10.2 by 6425 and 20.4 by 3212.5, but the program appears to be able to handle 16,383.75 times 4.
"Further testing showed a similar phenomenon with 65,536 as well," Gainer wrote Tuesday.
He said Excel was actually performing the calculations correctly, but when it comes time to show the answer on the screen, it messes up.
Gainer said the bug is limited to six numbers from 65,534.99999999995 to 65,535, and six numbers from 65,535.99999999995 to 65,536, and that Microsoft is working hard to fix the problem.

And they’re asking how much for this wonderful new improved version of something most people already have?

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Be Ashamed Australia. Be Very Ashamed.

So I’ll admit to being a bit behind the times, but the shock of this has taken some time to sink in:

Australia has been providing training to Burmese “security” thugs.

This mightn’t be the most disgusting thing an Australian government has ever done (although it’s hard to think of anything much more disgraceful), but it’s unquestionably in the top ten.

No doubt there’ll be an outcry over this outrageously immoral activity from every bible-believing church in the country.

Surely there will be. Matthias Media can’t possibly overlook this act of national sin.

Can they?

Why a duck?

... and who is Caliban?

Are you one of those weird liberal Anglo-Catholics that don't believe in the bible?

Are you questioning the fact that there are no Christians left in the world except for Sydney, a few African countries where Our Missionaries taught them the truth, and a couple of places in England where God sent John Chapman , the Jensens and a catalogue from Matthias Media to bring salvation?

How dare you keep asking questions when everything's been decided?

Welcome friends to the blog that never ends.
All this and more can and will be discussed anon - but right now I've got to get up and wipe my daughter's nose (she's 18 months old and kind of snotty) before taking the dogs for a walk and joining my wife (& the afore-mentioned little girl) for a coffee in the park.

... where we'll be laughing at anyone who has already been annoyed by our tiny little corner of this all-too mortal coil. Welcome Aboard!