Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Peter Jensen isn't sleeping with any of my friends.

At the start of August the Sydney Mornig Herald ran a story amusingly headlined ”It’s s PJs at PJ’s as clergy seek to bed down Anglicanism” about Archbishop Jensen inviting Sydney clergy for overnight retreats at Bishopscourt, the spectacular mansion in which Sydney Anglican Archbishops reside, in order to explain his Connect 09 mission strategies.

The article mentioned that “Detractors suggest the visits might be used by the archbishop to micromanage parishes and subtly test the orthodoxy of diocesan rectors.” and it should be no surprise to learn that I was indeed one of those detractors. Yet at the same time part of me really did hope this was a genuine attempt on the archbishop’s part to get to know how clergy on the ground are feeling; to hear their thoughts and ideas, and to gain an understanding of their hopes and needs. I’d intended to blog about it, but as I’m currently at home caring for two small and quite severely asthmatic children, while at the same time trying to complete a programming project on the side, life sort of got in the way. Then when Father David Heron gave the matter his usual brilliant attention there didn’t seem anything more I could add.

Then during the course of lunch last week with a dear friend whom against all odds is still ministering in a Sydney parish (which is growing like gangbusters, although with typical modesty he dismisses this as “just transfers from all the Matthian parishes driving people away with their soul-destroying Gnosticism”), his wife, and another mutual friend, a profoundly wise and much-loved Roman priest. Remembering the Bishopscourt sleepovers, I asked my friend if he’d been on his yet, and how it had gone.

“Me?” he exclaimed. “No, I haven’t had an invite, and nor have any of the people who talk to me. It’s only the party-line guys who are getting invited to that. The idea is that they get hyped up and come back to tell the rest of what to do. The Archbishop isn’t interested in hearing what people like me have to say.”

Our Catholic friend was shocked. He’s got his own problems with his local bishop – Cardinal Pell – but can still never get over the way dissenting Sydney Anglicans are treated as if we simply don’t exist. “What do you mean?” he said. “Neither of you are invited? He doesn’t even want to hear what you have to say?”

My friend’s wife laughed. “You’ll get an invitation before Jensen has the slightest interest in hearing what any of these two have to say.” At which we all laughed until the people at other tables were staring at us, and then ordered more wine.

Unless you’ve lived here it’s impossible to understand how hilarious what she said was; and sometimes if you don’t laugh at life in the world’s most conservative Anglican diocese you could just start crying. And then you'll probably never be able to stop.

Hey China: I told you we wouldn't forget.

The Olympics are over and hopefully Australia can regain some sense of perspective on what really matters in life, albeit for just another four years. Meanwhile the Chinese government will undoubtedly be delighted to be able to return to business as usual of imprisoning, torturing, and executing those who dare to have an opinion of their own free from any risk of international scrutiny.

So as a final comment here's a cartoon by Chris Henning published in The Sydney Morning Herald a fortnight back. I looked everywhere to find a copy already online, but it didn't seem to make the web edition. Perhaps it was deemed potentially offensive to Chinese advertisers. So here's a scanned and reposted version instead:

Ee-Aw Represent the ancient Chinese spirit of security. He ensures nothing goes wrong, and no troublemakers ruffle the imperturbable calm of the Central Kingdom as it celebrates the Olympic Games. Ee-Aw looks fierce but he is really very friendly. If you see him chasing Nyah-Nyah, don't worry! The two are old friends.

Fu-fu floats like a cloud above the Games, blessing all with her serene presence. On days when there is lots of Fu-fu, Olympic visitors are encouraged to gather together, look up at the sky and blow as hard as they can to blow Fu-fu away! But take your puffer, dear visitors, in case Fu-fu doesn't get the hint.

Nyah-Nyah loves running away, which is just as well, because she is often being chased! She is the rebellious spirit regrettably present in parts of the motherland. Nyah-Nyah is all right in small doses when Western cameras are present, but when everyone goes home, watch out, Nyah-Nyah! Ee-Aw is coming after you with his big stick.

Bang-bang is the spirit of public relations, so essential to a successful Olympics. Bang-bang is the colour of fireworks, and he is boisterous and noisy. He is also filthy rich after his deals with US TV networks, and he has a remarkably short temper, so it is best to avoid him. If you really want to talk to him, make sure you are very rich and powerful. After all these Games celebrate the People's Republic. They're not for any old riff-raff.

Pan-Pan is a Panda, right? Wrong! He's dressed up like one and he'd like you to think he's one, but really he's from the secret police. Those leaves are his camo hat, so you won't see him up the tree across the road. Don't laugh, dear Olympic guests, or you will end up in the slammer. Also, they contain remote sensing devices so Pan-pan can stand outside your hotel and read your email.

Friday, 8 August 2008

No, Beijing. We have not forgotten.

"Greater love has no one than this:
that a person lay down their life for their friends."
(John 15:13)

Sunday, 3 August 2008

World Youth Day Redux

World Youth Day has come and gone, and Sydney is continues as pretty much the same place it's always been. Yet an image that's stayed with me is of a group led by the gentleman on the right, who were feverishly distributing pamphlets calling for the pilgrims to abandon their faith and convert to Islam.

I can't have looked like good potential Muslim material, because while he and his followers were eagerly thrusting their six page tract at anyone passing by, I actually had to go up and ask for one, which was handed over surprisingly grudgingly. This amazed me, because if I do say so myself I was considerably politer than many people passing by: it doesn't take much imagination to guess the response he received from a large group of young Catholic pilgrims who sounded as if they were from Texas. And to be fair, what sort of reaction did he expect he'd receive by proselytising by the entrance to Hyde Park, at the very heart of WYD festivities?

But despite the spirit in which it was given, I actually read the entire thing; no mean feat given the rather tortured language and tiny print. And it was remarkably like similar leaflets I've received in the past from Christians armed with nothing more than a soapbox, megaphone and and unshakable faith in the certainty of their own dogma. Ok, so the quotes all came from the Koran instead of the Bible, but that was about it. Neither side had taken the time to fairly represent what the other believes, nor, I suspect, would they be capable of doing so - since that would involve making an effort to actually understand them.

Nor did the tract's central argument - that Islam is the only true faith because it's primary text says so - strike me as any more convincing than it's Christian counterpart, that the Bible is an infallible witness because the Bible says it is. If - and it's a big if - you're asking someone to make substantial changes to their life on the basis of how you interpret a particular document I think it's only fair to provide a better argument than that.

Which is not to say I'm entirely without empathy for any street-corner preacher: back in the day I've even done a bit of unsolicited teaching shouting myself, and I must confess that when I was this young man's age I also on occasion handed out some pretty mindless "evangelistic material" - something my friends and wife today view with a mixture of utter disbelief and unbridled mirth. Yet when you're young, and desperate to make sense of a confused and confusing world, it's exciting to think you've found all the answers, and sadly there's never any shortage of old men prepared to send you out and recruit for their empire. The real challenge is maintaining a sense of wonder when those answers turn out to be as cheap and thin as the paper they were printed on. It's then that most people find it much easier to simply stop asking if there might just possibly be something more, and instead fall for the trap of thinking the most profound questions life has to offer involve their mortgage, or the state of the stock exchange or their favourite sporting team.

What I found most fascinating was that a barely disguised undercurrent of sexuality permeated the young Muslim evangelists' efforts in just the same was as it did amongst the Catholic pilgrims. The girls might have been obliged to keep their heads covered (what kind of a deity is so petty as to think anyone is made more virtuous by wrapping stuff around their head?), but nothing could conceal the admiring glances the'd give the boys coming back to base for another handful of tracts.

The girls on the left were in deep conversation with a Catholic leader whose group of kids left him to race ahead and enjoy a little time "off the leash". Somehow I don't think anyone changed faiths as a result of this dialogue, but I did see several of his young charges furtively holding hands while they shared an ice-cream away from his gaze. So nobody can say God didn't use the exchange to bless someone.

By the way, I know the Islamic gear is supposed to be an indication of the wearer's modesty, but I know I can't be the only guy to find the way those long diaphanous dresses accentuate the wearer's thighs and legs as they fall to the ground really sexy. Nor can the the way those tight shirts accentuate the young men's muscular physiques have escaped others' attention. Which in this infidel's theology is part of the way God intended the world to be, and something for which we can all laugh and together offer our praise.

Hello to everyone visting from D-P!

As I'd threatened would happen, my guest post is now up at The World of Doorman-Priest, and so I want to give a special welcome to anyone who's dropped by from there.

Thanks for coming round!