Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Walpurgisnacht 2008

Walpurgisnacht is that point in the year’s cycle when the fabric stretching between these Shadowlands and That Which Is To Come was traditionally believed to be at its thinnest. In our bright shining world of IPhones and HDTV most Christians dismiss all this as superstition, and maybe they’re right. But if they turned off the lights for a few hours tonight and went for a walk somewhere beyond their comfort zones, who knows? Perhaps even the most certain might just for a moment reconsider...

It’s also the evening on which Hitler, Goebbels and a few other loathsome and cowardly toads killed themselves and their families. Which not just signifies the terrible end of a terrible chapter, but also points to something far greater. Something that should give us all courage: no matter how invincible any dictator may appear, or how insurmountable and overwhelming the bureaucracy, or even just how monocultural, nepotistic and unchallengeable the Family Firm; only God lives forever.

Flowers will always break through cracks in the pavement,
and only Love endureth.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Dean Jensen: "Let's party like it's 1517!"

This week's Message from the Dean shows the tradition of sectarian ranting lives on. Then again, it's also kind of funny; but how can a homily beginning "Protestantism is a protest. Our protest is against the enormity of the claims of the Roman Catholic Church." be anything else?

What's even funnier is the logical contortions he undergoes in order to stress that although Catholicism is the nadir of heresy, there's nothing wrong with the state government spending buckets of taxpayers money subsidising World Youth Day. "In the larger picture of our finances" Dean Jensen explains, "it is a small amount of money". Yeah right: the current figure of $86 million is nothing. Loose change in our pockets.

Of course there's no secret about the real reason for going soft on this appalling diversion of public funds away from frivolities like hospitals, schools and child-care. If the politicians spend money on the Catholics this year there's a good chance the Sydney Anglicans can squeeze them for a few dollars next year, isn't there?

Sunday, 27 April 2008

For whom the Pell tolls...

One of the small consolations of being a Sydney Anglican is that your Roman Catholic friends here understand exactly what it’s like to have a leader who seems to think the Pharisees are the Gospels’ good guys. That’s because while us Anglican’s have got Archbishop Peter Jensen, they’ve got Cardinal George Pell.

Even though the two each believe that the other’s church preaches a false gospel condemning believers to an eternity of fire and brimstone, and that God cares far more about people’s sexuality that about injustice, oppression and discrimination, they actually enjoy quite a cordial relationship. Proof perhaps that hatred of your fellow humans can run deeper than your love of a God constrained and limited by a doctrinal straitjacket.

GAFCON pretensions notwithstanding, only the most blinkered Matthian believes +Jensen will ever rise any higher in the global Anglican hierarchy. Let’s face it, the sect that's Sydney is not exactly an exportable commodity. On the other hand rumours of Cardinal Pell’s elevator having considerably more floors to pass before hitting the rooftop have been buzzing around for some time.

Thanks to a tip from FranIAm (hey: it’s her anniversary so click the link and wish the happy couple all the best!) I've discovered the Irish Catholic Priest Sotto Voce and his blog Clerical Whispers. In a very well reasoned post he explains just why Sydney Catholics can feel justified in hoping ‘Benny’s Bunny’ might soon be hop, hop, hopping away. Which is great news for Sydney Christians, but bad news for Catholics everywhere else. Sorry guys, but we could do with a break...

To help you all prepare for what’s ahead, here’s a snap of our Cardinal taken during the last World Youth Day in Germany, showing what a fun and down-to-earth guy he really is. Wearing a jaunty but casual little number selected by one of his coterie, the famous Pelle’s Belles, he’d just stepped outside for a short stroll. Perhaps he was looking for a bus called Priscilla.

And again!!!

Closely following the great news of Bishop Kay Goldsworthy's appointment comes further proof that at least some parts of the Australian Anglican Communion take the Bible seriously enough to recognise that an omnipotent God is indeed capable of calling women to the office of Bishop.

Canon Barbara Darling of St James Dandenong, has just been named by the Melbourne Archbishop as Australia's second woman Bishop. Having lurked on several occasions in St. James I can speak from experience in saying she's a wonderful priest, a wise and insightful preacher, and will undoubtedly prove a faithful and compassionate Bishop. The people of Melbourne have indeed been richly blessed.

... and now let the Duck Noodle Gang celebrations commence!

Friday, 25 April 2008

Anzac Day 2008.

For those not familiar with the Australian calendar, April 25 is Anzac Day. It’s a public holiday; our Veteran’s Day or Armistice Day.

That’s because today in 1915 was the first time members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps - the ANZACS - saw action in WWI. They’d landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Dardanelles as part of a naïve Allied plan to gain control of the Black Sea and capture Istanbul, thereby knocking Turkey out of the war and opening an attack on Germany from the east. Understandably the Turks had other ideas, and being better equipped and militarily far more astute than their Anglo-centric invaders could imagine, the attacking Anzacs were slaughtered. By the end of 1915 they had withdrawn. The Gallipoli campaign was abandoned as a failure.

The following years brought Australian troops death in the Western European mud, but April 25 had already been established as our day of commemoration. And so it continues today, as the Australian media wax lyrical about the “Anzac spirit” being “forged in blood and fire.”

Yet the popularity of Anzac Day as a time of national remembrance by those not having served in the Armed Forces is a relatively recent phenomena mostly resulting from the Howard years’ facile jingoism. During the 1970s popular opinion was that the commemoration, which features street marches in every major town, would soon disappear due to lack of interest and the inevitable aging of veterans. Not so: today children parade on behalf place of long deceased ancestors, and any display of enthusiasm which appears less than vigorous runs the risk of public shaming as ‘unAustralian’.

But in 1925 mainstream Australia wanted little to do with those who’d fought for God, King and Empire. The surviving Anzacs weren’t eulogized as they are today; letters to the letters pages of local papers were filled with complaints about anti-social returned servicemen “refusing to get on with life” and “expecting the country owes them a living.” Much as Vietnam veterans were viewed in the 80’s, returned Anzacs in the 1920s and 30s were commonly regarded as misfits, not heroes.

It’s hardly surprising that men who had experienced places like Gallipoli and the Western Front developed problems. The horrors they’d endured were quite literally beyond the comprehension of their friends, family, neighbours and employers who’d stayed behind. Some returned soldiers tried to cope with the nightmares by embracing extremist political groups such as the New Guard or Wobblies: few sought any comfort in Sydney Anglicanism - working class inner-city parishes never regained their pre-war congregation sizes. Other men simply drank till they went insane, and many subsequently took their own life. Still others simply came home crazy and stayed that way.

In which case they usually ended up here: B Ward in Callan Park: a sprawling Victorian psychiatric hospital now partly occupied by Sydney College of the Arts, partly by health related groups, and partly, like B Ward, being slowly demolished by neglect.

There are no foundation stones on the buildings of B Ward, no plaques proudly declaring an opening on such and such a date by Major General Sir So-and-So in the presence of Bishop Longtoss and a raft of similar worthies.

The truth is people were ashamed of the incontinent screaming wrecks sheltered inside. Wards were thrown up as needed, and now these men have lived out however many years they were cursed to endure after losing their minds in a cloud of cordite and barbed wire it’s as if society wishes this remaining evidence of war’s obscenity would just disappear.

For me the most haunting reminder of these forgotten casualties of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination is a miniature Sydney Harbour Bridge constructed in 1931 by the patients in memory of their fallen comrades. They beat the real bridge’s completion, which wasn’t opened until 1932, but the real feat is that few if any of the men who built the memorial had ever seen the real thing’s construction. Nor did they later cross it regularly; as military patients they were confined to the ward and, if they ‘behaved themselves’, the grounds. For most this was the template for however many fragile decades remained of their haunted lives.

In reading this you’ve helped ensure they are not forgotten; thank you. I’ve no doubt the men would also be touched to know we remember them, even though ours is a world beyond their comprehension. They would, however, undoubtedly recoil in horror from the war in which many of our countries are currently embroiled. We should be ashamed by how they would feel we have learned nothing at all from the past.

May we at least pray that those whose minds are indelibly terrified by our leaders’ ‘war on terror’ will be treated with greater compassion and grace than these men were. May these little ones at least be loved by the Church in a way that the men of B Ward never knew.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

HMAS Sydney: Lest We Forget.

Today in St. Andrew’s Cathedral a memorial service was held for the crew of HMAS Sydney. Recently discovered where she sunk after engaging the German Maritime Raider Kormoran in 1941, the loss of the Sydney and all 645 men on board has been Australia’s most enduring wartime mystery.

Not solved however, is my own small HMAS Sydney mystery. Let me explain:

At the start of 1987 I had a job painting buildings belonging to the Good Samaritan Sisters in Tempe, an old industrial suburb in Sydney’s inner south. It was a complex which had once been a “place for penitent girls and women”- the Sister’s description, not mine: I can’t be that cruel. There were endless corridors, a chilly dormitory everyone found positively creepy once the late afternoon shadows grew long, and a gloomy dining room/assembly hall in which we were all convinced someone (or something) watched us. Worse though, was the old abandoned commercial laundry.

A few years back there was a movie made about one of Magdalene Laundries in Ireland. I honestly don’t know if the place I hosed and scraped and painted had been as evil as the institution featured in that film, but I’d swear you could hear screaming if you pressed your ear to the wall. And the air hung thick with tears.

Sadly I didn’t think to take pictures at the time, and this is all I’ve been able to find. Taken a few years after I worked on the site; it shows the destruction caused by a fire which resulted in the complex’s demolition, but it doesn’t convey how I remember the place: in my mind it's always cold, grey and damp. The building in the centre housed a kitchen and offices added in the early 50’s, more than half a century after the laundry just showing on the right was constructed.

Inside the far end of the laundry was a sunken passageway leading to the dormitories. Over the years this had become a dumping ground for old laundry baskets and broken machines; for several days my task was to clean this out, replace the lighting, and paint the walls. Judging by the age of the detritus it had not been an official route for a very, very long time: after the day's work it was no doubt deemed more edifying to march the young inmates outside and across the quadrangle (perhaps via the chapel) than to permit them taking the easier direct passage.

Yet don’t think the passageway was unused. The junk was riddled with tunnels leading to small hidden clearings just big enough to let a few girls hide from the Sisters for a few minutes and rest. Or maybe read a contraband movie magazine and dream of film stars and Hollywood and anywhere on earth other than a reformatory for "immoral and uncontrollable girls" claiming to redeem it's captives by forcing them to wash soiled hospital linen. The passage had been regularly occupied for decades, but only furtively so; and the secret kept hidden from the Nuns must have passed down through generations of inmates.

The walls of these hiding places were covered with graffiti scratched into the grubby institutional duck-egg-blue plaster. Most of it was the usual timeless stuff: “Sue Loves Tom Forever” and “Mother Dorcas is a Bitch” (there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind she was a bitch - sadly there’s people like that to be found in the administration of every institution, in every age). But one etching shall live in my mind forever, and it’s the reason for this post.

It was of a crudely drawn ship, with two funnels, two masts and a prominent bridge. Underneath was written “HMAS SYDNEY” followed by two boy’s names, each clearly carved by a different hand, and each surrounded by hearts. At the bottom was the date 27 February 1941 – the date the ship last sailed from her home port, the city after which she had been named. The city in which the girls now imprisoned had loved their handsome young sailors.

The girls who’d created this never saw their young men again, for they spent the rest of 1941 patrolling the Indian Ocean. Until 19 November; after then they were listed as missing presumed dead. Fate unknown. That the graffiti predated their death I have no doubt: the date was of their departure – not their disappearance – and besides it just seemed so cheerful, so optimistic in a place where there was no joy at all.

As I’ve said, I didn’t have a camera to record what I found. I tried explaining to my boss its importance, but his idea of what’s important was different to mine. Being much younger and sillier in those days I shut up and did what he told me: I sanded the wall back and painted over this precious fragment of the past. Nowadays I can’t believe I didn’t even think to record the names listed, but that was a different time and place, and why I was there is another story.

This picture of Sydney crewmen was taken in 1940: perhaps two of these boys (I can’t bring myself to think of such hairless chests, and faces barely needing to be shaved as belonging to men) were the girl’s sweethearts. If not then there’s no doubt they were just as handsome, just as cheeky, just as sure that nothing , but nothing, could overcome them.

The girls, if still alive, must be quite old now: if so I dearly hope life came to bring them more than what they found during their dark days in the Tempe Magdalene Laundry. Somehow though, I suspect they may also have now moved on to the world beyond these Shadowlands. I’ve no evidence for this, and so it’s only my foolish heart dreaming, but while listening as the Sydney memorial service was broadcast on the radio today, I’d swear I could also hear a couple of young girls flirting; they were laughing with two sailors only a year or two older than themselves. You couldn’t quite catch what they were saying, but you could be certain the Sisters wouldn’t have approved.

Then again, the Sisters have probably also found forgiveness now. As, dare I say, so shall we. But today, however, belongs to a couple of kids. May the Lord tonight and always give them the joy which was their birthright, but which was stolen from them by others, by war, and by bitterness itself.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

No Comment.

Please accept my apologies for not bringing this to everyone’s attention earlier, but I’ve just discovered an article on announcing that the Sydney Anglican public health network Hope Healthcare, formally a wholly owned subsidiary of The Anglican Deaconess Institution Sydney Limited, has been sold to Hammond Care - "an independent Christian charity with no official connection with any denomination."

Not stated is how much money changed hands: readers are told "the sale price has not been made public”. Hammond Care CEO Dr Stephen Judd describes the acquisition as “a strategic move for Hammond Care."

Nor does the article mention (as of the time this was posted) that Dr Stephen Judd is also a member of the Sydney Anglican Diocesan Secretariat.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Time for another anthem contender.

A little known fact about yours truly is that (among other strange predilections) I'm a chronic Shakespeare aficionado, and one of my favourite productions ever is Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. It's simply brilliant, conveying Elizabethan perceptions of 'those fiery Mediterraneans' better than anything I've ever seen. Sure the purists have issues with it, but I couldn't care less.

... and damn but it's a beautiful looking picture!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

They just don't get it.

Don’t worry: this portrait wasn’t taken post mortem. It’s Dr. Laurie Scandrett, chief executive of the Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation.

Now before we go any further, let's make it clear that I was going to post something more cheerful today, since we've all had more than enough depressing homophobia this week. But then, after meditating over a delightful cleanskin Shiraz (on sale at my local for the princely sum of $4.00 a bottle), I reconsidered.

“Alcibiades Caliban,” I thought, “what would your old doctrine lecturer think of you – giving up while there was still a point to be rammed home?” And so, with my face set once more towards Jerusalem, I’m stepping back into the ring for another round.

For international readers Dr. Scandrett’s fine name won’t mean much, but in these parts he’s famous for having (with two others) in 1992 launched a Supreme Court action to prevent the Australian church from ordaining women as priests. History shows how God blessed this nasty exercise in wasting at least $100,000 of Sydney parishioners’ money on legal fees, but it takes more than a snub like that to keep this grand old Anglican Church League lay-warhorse out of the papers. And so now he’s decided to weigh into the argument about teenagers at a mega-buck church school in Brisbane not being allowed to take same-sex partners to their end of school formal.

Lest anyone mistakenly thinks issues in Brisbane schools fall under Dr. Scandrett’s oversight, let’s just remember that there’s about 930 km (578 miles) between the two cities – it’s kind of like the folks in Salt Lake City telling Las Vegas how to run their businesses, or a road-worker in Edinburgh commenting on repairs in Paris. Why he should feel obliged to say anything is anyone's guess, although that’s not the biggest problem with Scandrett’s unsolicited advice.

No, the biggest problem is the sheer unthinking idiocy of believing that simply by banning kids from expressing their developing sexuality that somehow they’re going to turn straight. Does anyone really think two teenage boys are going say “Uh-oh: our school and a interstate lay-leader say we’re not allowed to partner each other to the school dance. From now on we’d better find girls sexually attractive instead.” Yeah right: and if you honestly believe reorienting one’s sexuality is that simple, let me quietly tell you about a great Opera House here in Sydney that I may just be able to sell you. It’s going cheap, so you’d better not tell anyone, but if you move quickly, and send cash…

What’s more, if Dr. Scandrett had any experience of teenagers (and as the chief executive of the Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation one would hope he does) he must surely know that the best way to get kids to think anything is attractive and exciting is to ban it. Surely if, as Sydney Diocese clearly believes, being gay or otherwise is simply a matter of making a choice, they would have the sense to not want to make what they consider to be the ‘wrong’ choice so interesting?

Then again, if those of Dr. Scandrett's like had any sense to start with they might take Jesus’ example more seriously, and realise there are much bigger priorities in the Kingdom of God than obsessively hunting down those who happen to be attracted to others of the same gender, and whom in that context aspire to develop loving, supportive relationships which reflect the Grace of God in an often dark and all-too confusing world.

And is it really too much to ask that the church encourages and supports all young people, and provides positive role models for everyone; not just those whose sexuality happens to coincide with that of a few litigious men - at least one of whom looks like something out of Madame Tussaud's? But is actually a whole lot scarier.

UPDATE: A few hours after I first posted this Archbishop Jensen backed up his leading layman with a similar statement to the media, reported here in the national newspaper The Australian. "I would completely denounce any violence against gay persons - it is morally wrong and reprehensible" he is quoted as saying - and yet he finds it's perfectly acceptable to believe God will torture practising GLBTs for eternity. And honestly appears to have no comprehension of how his unabashed discrimination encourages this sort of behaviour in others.

Now repeat after me everyone: We shall not despair, We shall not despair, We shall not...

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Shush! Nobody mention Lay Presidency!

I know I'm not the only one who's noticed Sydney's big men have recently grown very quiet about a topic most dear to their hearts: lay presidency. It couldn't possibly be because nobody wants to risk upsetting our new and very best friends in GAFCON, could it?

Personally I think this is a mistake. After all, surely our dear wise and Bible-believing buddies will see the importance of supporting our initiative once we've taught them how to read the relevant Scriptures correctly?

Just to help, here's a simple little illustration to show our new friends what we know the Bible teaches:

Popish Priestly Presidency - Bad.

Lay Presidency - Good!

All clear now? See how simple it is?

Monday, 14 April 2008

Ugly is as ugly does.

This ugly inter-war brick building is St. Stephen’s Bellevue Hill, home of the Rev. Richard Lane - a faithful Matthian from way back. He’s recently achieved notoriety by sending two even uglier letters to Justice Michael Kirby: a much respected member of Australia’s High Court, and a profoundly Christian man equally as open about his faith as he is about his sexuality.

Anyone unfamiliar with the background to this spectacular example of Sydney Anglicans in action should read Noble Wolf’s account of the talk at which Rev. Lane's spectacular nastiness became public knowledge. At the time Justice Kirby kept the author’s name private; it wasn’t until The Sydney Morning Herald picked up the story a day later and outed the not-so-good Reverend that his identity became known.

In commenting on the issue Archbishop Jensen said the letters “needed to be read fully and in context”. Consequently one might imagine the Archbishop would be helping clarify any misunderstandings by providing public access to the exchange, but he’s done nothing of the sort. Which, once you've read his protégé's epistles, is hardly surprising: the word “loathsome” doesn’t even begin to do them justice.

Caliban’s Dream just happens to have been sent a copy of the correspondence by a sympathetic Duck Noodle Gangster, and unlike some versions circulating the letters here are in chronological order, starting with Lane’s unsolicited “turn or burn” missive and concluding with Justice Kirby’s amazingly patient second response, and appear complete. Read them all for yourself here.

Be warned: Lane’s “call to repentance” is positively vile stuff. The first letter is run-of-the-mill hate-exegesis, but his second is surreal, ridiculing Justice Kirby’s spelling, patronisingly addressing him as “Kirbs”, and sarcastically belittling his gracious effort to show that their might be more to reading Scripture in general, and those few passages concerning homosexuality in particular, than Rev. Lane has hitherto encountered. As I said, make up your own mind – but don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Strangest of all has been the hierarchy’s response: silence. Had Rev. Lane been writing to an average parishioner or perhaps a bewildered young man questioning his sexuality, those in power would be wholeheartedly supporting him. But Justice Kirby isn’t an average parishioner, as those in power are well aware. Lane’s regional Bishop, who shares few of the Jensen’s more puritan traits (he was known among certain disrespectful ne’er-do-wells - and not in an endearing sense - as “Reverend Falstaff"), once publicly refused communion to a lesbian couple, and the resultant media attention did nothing to diminish the support proffered by his fellow clergy. Yet this time things are different. Justice Kirby is a well known and much loved figure who gives selflessly of himself to the public. While at least Lane's homophobia is egalitarian, those in charge of the Sydney machine realise this is going to far, and appear to be trying to quietly lay low until things blown over. Perhaps after spending more than two decades encouraging and fostering bullies somebody has suddenly realised the danger of raising serpents as children?

Naturally the usual “blog nasties” are singing Lane’s praises and appear puzzled by this lack of support, although several seem to have quietened down when confronted with the second letter (it really is that bad!). My favourite is the blogger who's reposted letters sent to the Herald in support of Lane, and who claims that because the number of letters in favour of Lane was only slightly less than those criticising him Sydney Anglicans aren’t as unpopular and irrelevant as people say they are! He conveniently fails to mention was that one of the letters is his own, while another two are from clergy who studied with Lane, and are presumably close friends. Wonder how long before the spittle-flecked snake handlers (I’ve been dying for a chance to use that expression since seeing it at Padre Mickey’s, & still can’t say it without chuckling) realise people are laughing at them, not with them?

The funniest non sequitur of the debacle, however, is from someone apparently unknown in diocesan circles: one Lucy Chik of Faulconbridge. I quote it in entirety:

If Michael Kirby was in the surf and Richard Lane saw a shark approaching, would we not expect Lane to sound a warning?

You may have a point Ms. Chik, but Justice Kirby isn’t in the surf. He’s in a loving monogamous relationship, and has been so for 39 years. Contrary to what you might have been taught by your church leaders, there is a difference. Nor is there any shark approaching. Just an ill-mannered little man with a poor understanding of the Bible, and an angry urge to understate the vastness of God’s love.

Friday, 11 April 2008


Just announced is the news that Australia's first woman bishop - The Venerable Kay Goldsworthy - will be consecrated on May 22 in Perth! For more info see here.

Ok, so Perth is as far away from Sydney as L.A. is from New York (except in our case hardly anyone lives in between) - but the precedent's now been established, prayers have been answered, and by God's grace our church has taken a giant step forward in support of justice and equality.

Anyone near the Casa del Caliban tonight is welcome to drop around and join the celebration - let the champagne start flowing!

PS. The official press release from the Archbishop of Perth is here.

Clean Bum?

This morning Missy Two was laying in bed with me, studying the intricacies of alternative Anglican blogging on the notepad ("Give me a child until she's five and I'll give you someone with a top ten Google ranking for life") while her mother showered. Coming back into the bedroom, swathed in towels, Mrs. Caliban was cheerfully greeted with the following:

"Clean face?" asked Miss Madam.
"All clean." replied her mother.

"Clean back?" came the next question.
"Back's clean."

"Clean bum?"

Now if anyone's looking for a salutation which guarantees strangers remember your moment of first meeting... if this doesn't beat "How y'going?" hands down I don't know what does.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

More Chocolate Cake please!

For everyone who liked the song from My Friend The Chocolate Cake yesterday there's a special bonus courtesy of ABC Radio National (that's the Australian public broadcaster ABC - not the other one) show 'Music Deli'.

Recorded live at Victoria's Queenscliff Music Festival in November 2007, it's pretty damn impressive indeed - classic Melbourne music. My faves are "Let's Go Walk This Town" and the classic "I've Got A Plan" - but click here to listen and decide for yourself. You'll have to be quick though: the ABC doesn't usually leave these up for very long.

PS. Guess what Mrs. Caliban is going to be hearing on high rotation for the next few days... ;-)

Monday, 7 April 2008

It's just a matter of time...

A very dear reader kindly drew my attention to an article on page thirteen of last weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald headed Church seeks standby plan on women bishops.

The great news is that hopes are up for Australia to have our first woman Bishop appointed very soon – possibly even before Lambeth in July – and probably in either Perth or Melbourne. As it's no secret that this isn’t going to please some of the less Biblically focused dioceses (such as you-know-where), a leading Melbourne layperson is suggesting ”Melbourne synod last November went calling for protocols along this line. It also called on the diocese of Sydney and others opposed to women to offer alternative ministry by women for those within their borders who would like the ministry of women. We'd like to see reciprocal arrangements.”

To which I can hear more than a few congregations and clergy around Sydney cheering. If traditional parish boundaries are going to be broken down, surely it’s only fair that they be broken down both ways. Isn’t it? Or does this new independence only apply in the case of schismatic ‘evangelicals’ like San Joaquin? (Don’t laugh – that’s how the Anglican Church League wants us to think of our new Very Best Friends. Yep, that happy looking big bloke with the robes is actually a Matthian at heart. Right?)

It was the official response from the Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth that caused my informant to splutter: he appears to have remarked that the church was facing a difficult situation and needed to find a way forward: "It's going to require a lot of hard work, Christian grace and sensitivity."

I won’t print exactly what the nice lady who sent this to me said in reply, since she probably doesn’t want to be sued any more than I do. Suffice it to say that she has some past experience of the said Bishop’s notions of ‘hard work, Christian grace, and sensitivity’ and doesn’t seem eager to experience more.

As for my $0.02 on that: I noticed that the Herald misspelt Bishop Forsyth's name. This will possibly cause him great dismay, and may require his urgent attention. For some time. Some issues are more important than others.

Or maybe this should be our anthem?

They're called "My Friend the Chocolate Cake", they're a quintessentially Melbourne band founded by two very talented people called David Bridie and Helen Mountford, and sometimes they can sum up just about everything that's great about life in inner-city Melbourne/Sydney/Brisbane on a sunny autumn afternoon.

Which makes it a pretty strong contender in my search for a blog anthem...

This song's called 'Home Improvements'. It always makes me smile, think of my friends, and enjoy being part of the notorious Duck Noodle Gang.

Whoever they are ;-)

Saturday, 5 April 2008

I've never posted while crying before.

There's an onshore breeze lifting sharply and I should be loading the sailboard onto the car and heading off to catch it. Instead I'm going nowhere and the dogs are looking alarmed, as if I'm about to do something really stupid, like bring home a cat or make them turn vegetarian.

Because all I can do is sit here and write with tears streaming down my face, and hope that nobody who isn't canine sees me like this. And pray that please, for fuck's sake please, can God kick the arse of everybody on this entire planet who professes to believe in anything remotely connected with Christianity (or any other ism or anity God feels like kicking) until we can collectively make sure nothing like this ever happens to anyone again.

It's not hard: let's just make sure pregnant young women - child-mothers - are treated with the respect, care and love they deserve. If they choose to terminate, then let's support them in that choice, giving them first-rate medical care and support. Or if they choose to give birth, and give their child up for adoption, or raise it themselves, then let's help them with all we've got as a society and church. Whatever: it's their call, and our call (if we're going to pretend we've so much as the flimsiest veneer of civilization) is to support and empower them. Who gives a damn about what it might cost: how about for a change we all just take seriously our responsibilities as human beings.

Click here and read for yourself the account of fear, pain and courage that's left me so shaken. And then can one of the fundamentalist Sydney trolls who lurk around here (your IP addresses give you away every time fellas - you might think I'm a theological fool, but don't think that also means I'm not IT savvy enough to know who you are, and when you come around) please explain why we need to take your crap exegesis about the submissive role of women literally, and this passage is only figurative? Because by the hermeneutic you guys use, there's deep shit coming for a whole lot of you 'men' who've wasted the church's money, energy and reputation on things other than helping little ones like these.

Unless that is, God's mercy should happen to be a whole lot bigger than that which you've in the past shown those who've failed to meet your own 'moral' standards. Which is what I happen to believe may be the case. But then, what the hell would I know?

Friday, 4 April 2008

On Anglican Unity, Evangelicalism, and Conversion.

At Evangelicalism’s heart is not a belief system shaped by the Bible (or to be more accurate, a late 19th century Anglo-American interpretation of the Bible), regardless of how loudly its adherents may profess otherwise. Evangelicals don’t want people to believe their exclusivist dogmata per se: they want people to 'be born again' – to experience Conversion as Evangelicalism has defined it.

Thus when the 16 year old Peter Jensen came forward with his dearly loved younger brother at Billy Graham’s 1959 Sydney crusade, the two weren’t embracing a way of understanding Scripture which seeks to shape conservative white upper-middle class contemporary society without in any way challenging the fundamental injustices, inequalities and systemic evils of that society: in all probability the two had both as children done that quite unconsciously years before. Rather they simply wanted to be 'saved' in response to the evangelist’s call. Their’s had been a childhood in a church which sung Amazing Grace, with the triumphant lines “I once was lost, but now am found” celebrating this moment of transition. They, like the countless others alongside them, now wanted such an experience for themselves. They had believed, but what their belief had lacked up until this chilly autumn evening was this one cathartic moment to which they could point and cry “My conversion!”.

In reality it’s highly doubtful the Jensen brothers were “lost” in any sense but the most intangibly metaphoric. Barely adolescent boys from old money suburbs in Sydney’s east, enrolled in one of the Australia’s most exclusive (and expensive) boys’ schools, and having attended Sunday school and youth fellowship classes since infancy, rarely wander too far until at least a few years later in life. Occasional cheekiness, certainly, perhaps even a day’s truancy and a covert cigarette behind the cricket stadium (although in the case of the Jensens I find even this much very hard to believe), but Hell’s Angels they weren’t.

“Yet aahh” cry the Evangelicals, “that’s just the point! Whoever has sinned in only the least of ways has broken the whole law, and stands justly condemned before God. Childhood mischief or serial murder – they’re all sins which leave us irrevocably separated from the Father, but for the atoning sacrifice of Christ…” Which is exactly why the Evangelical need to feel 'converted' is so powerful: what some of us might laughingly dismiss as naughtiness is, in the Evangelical's understanding, viewed by God exactly as if it were multiple homicide, or pack rape. It’s all the same, and their consequent relief at having left the weight of this guilt behind is understandably overwhelming – albeit incomprehensible to anyone whose faith is outside Evangelical traditions.

As an attempt to transcend ecclesiastical persuasions GAFCON shall ultimately fail for exactly the same reason that all previous attempts to establish union between Evangelical hard-liners and those with different understandings of the process by which we express our faith have failed: the soteriological gulf is invariably too vast for the Evangelicals to accommodate. Any common ground – even that as poisonous as the currently shared misogyny and homophobia - is powerless in the face of the greater, more primeval, difference in soteriology. “I have been born again” (ie. ‘I have had a defining conversion experience’) “and you have not. I therefore am a sheep, and you a goat.”

And how long does anyone think the tough boys in colourful chasubles are going to accept a few chaps from Australia (where????) in business suits telling them that they’re not really Christians?

... to be continued ;-)

First day of the Billy Graham Crusade,
Sydney Showground, April 12, 1959.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

New members of Standing Committee announced!

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Archbishop Jensen proudly announced the appointment to the Sydney Diocesan Standing Committee of four new members.

"Every one of the new appointees has in his previous role displayed years of unquestioning allegiance to a rigidly enforced corporate profile" the Archbishop explained, "and can be trusted to vote exactly as instructed, irrespective of the issue. They're completely incapable of independent thought, and collectively represent exactly the kind of men we need to run this diocese on our behalf."

When questioned about the absence of Birdie the Early Bird, Archbishop Jensen insisted he is committed to providing biblical ministry opportunities for women, but "God has clearly established different roles and paths for each of the sexes. That there just happens to be more opportunities for men, and that men's roles are better paid and don't involve cleaning is simply one of the miracles of His Word."