Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Rememberance Day 2009.

Joshua Ismay was born close to where I used to work, and grew up in a very nice house in Hudson Avenue, just up the road from where I’m writing this. It’s a quiet street the Duck Noodle Gang drives past everyday as we take Mrs. Caliban to her office, and we think of it as just a few minutes away, which it is if you travel by car. However when Joshua lived there very few people had cars, and the distance would have been considered quite great since it’s almost an hour’s walk over a long hill. In those days people living at our end of the street usually traveled to town by walking in the opposite direction to Joshua’s place, down to the river, from where they rowed or hitched a ride on one of the timber-cutters' barges - the world was very different then.

A little after Joshua was old enough to vote and drink his family moved around the corner, before a shifting again a year or two later to a very fine home close to the supermarket from which we always promise to never buy another thing, on account of them being vastly more expensive than all the other stores around here… but since it’s convenient, and next door to grocer’s with the best fruit and vegetables ever that’s a promise we always find ourselves breaking. So we drive once again past the spot where Joshua’s family finally settled.

Except Joshua never saw either of the houses into which his family moved after leaving Hudson Avenue, because in 1915, when he was about the same age as I was when I worked in a shop that sold guitars and keyboards and amplifiers to rock and roll bands, and I could fit into a pair of jeans that were so tight they had zippers halfway up the legs so you get into them, Joshua enlisted in the A.I.F., and sailed to Cairo on the Euripides. From there he was sent to France, where he was twice wounded in the mud, and where he fought for the Empire in the War To End All Wars.

And in 1918, two months before the slaughter finally ended, a shell landed in Joshua’s trench. His comrades were adamant he'd been killed by the concussion: “there were no wounds externally”. It might even have been true, but soldiers usually said this to their comrades' grieving relatives; in hell showing the smallest of mercies to a man’s family ceases be a sin. The army sent Joshua's belongings back home on a ship called the Gaika: they amounted to one wallet, a Bible, letters, photos, cards, and a signaller’s badge. In 1922 his sister Dorothy collected a plaque the family was given in his memory, and the following year three medals were sent to Joshua’s father.

That’s not much else I know about Joshua. He was a carpenter, from an upper middle-class Congregationalist family, and prior to enlisting had taken out insurance with the Independent Order of Oddfellows Benevolent Society. With whom his mother engaged in a lengthy episode of correspondence while trying to make a claim on his behalf when he was wounded – they don’t appear to have paid, since Joshua was killed before the necessary paperwork arrived from the battlefield hospitals. They did, however, pay out his death benefit, but the amount was small. Young self-employed men don’t expect to die, so the policy had been geared towards protecting his income in the event of contracting an illness.

Nor do young men expect to be forgotten, and Joshua, and the millions like him they have every right to be remembered. Grant us, oh Lord, an end to the evil madness that takes them away from us.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Freedom from Liberty.

It looks like the gay-straightening business isn’t what it used to be, since word around Sydney is that financial constraints have forced the erroneously-named Liberty Christian Ministries Incorporated to retrench their professional straightener Simon Riches, who’s been doing whatever it is a full-time “Pastoral Support Coordinator” does for the past four years.

Nothing’s been announced on their web site, although that doesn’t mean much since it doesn’t appear to have been updated since December 2008, but anyone out there who’d like to accuse me of making this up should drop along to the farewell, which will be held on 19 November. Email me for details, oh ye of little faith: this could be your last chance to become one of the countless people who’ve received nothing more from these evangelical sexuality salesmen than a profound sense of failure and a whole lot more guilt.

For now Liberty’s management committee is claiming things will continue through the voluntary efforts of “a range of people
experienced in this ministry”, but organisations of this type rarely survive downsizing – at least I pray this one doesn’t. I’ve actually had some personal experience of one “expert” they’ll be relying upon: it’s someone from whom I sought help in another capacity when I first began suffering from depression. Perhaps someday I’ll write about the experience: suffice it for now to say that those who helped me through those darkest of days are still appalled by that “counsellor” and his antics (yep: the “treatment” really did involve me getting nude)…

As far as I’m aware the Diocese never funded Liberty, so their closure has nothing to do with the recent financial hubris/incompetence. Which can’t help but make me wonder, since “ex-gay” ministries are like the proverbial better mouse trap: it you really can invent one the world would beat a path to your door. Given the number of guilt-crushed young Christians (and their distraught parents) there’s no doubt that if someone’s program really could change people’s sexuality it would be flooded with participants. There aren’t many teenage kids who welcome the discovery that they’re “different”, especially not in fundamentalist and/or evangelical churches, and there’s no shortage of people in such places who’d give everything they’ve got to anyone who could honestly make them “normal”.

So when I hear of groups like Liberty struggling for money it only confirms what I’ve long believed about them – they can’t and don’t help people unsure of their sexuality their find what they’re looking for, and potential victims are growing wise to this fact. The motives might (but not always) be sincere, but this doesn’t make the claims and promises any less spurious. Nor does it change the fact that at the heart of such “ministries” - their raison d'etre - is something Jesus never once mentioned. “Come to me and I will give you rest” has no proviso regarding a person’s sexuality.

Good riddance Liberty. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…

Sunday, 8 November 2009

I know they're short of money...

... but selling ladies at a Friday evening market is taking things too far.

The trade on offer might indeed be fair, but somehow I don't think even the fine evangelical ladies of my local "parish ministry centre" will fetch $160 million ;-)

Friday, 6 November 2009

Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?

About 7 million people live in Sydney and the state of New South Wales, but there’s just one residential school for profoundly disabled children. A place called Kingsdene Special School.

Or rather, there was just one such school, because last Tuesday Archbishop Jensen, who chairs the Anglicare council which has operated Kingsdene school for the past 33 years, announced the school will close at the end of next year. After then there will be no facilities of this type available for children and their families. None.

That’s because the Sydney Diocese says it can no longer afford the $1.2 million a year needed to keep the school open, although the Sydney Morning Herald reported Anglicare Community Care director Ian Jackson as saying the closure was not a consequence of recent diocesan losses. Yeah right… forgive me if I don’t believe that either.

The reality is that in the great and glorious vision of global evangelical domination by which Sydney has been seduced there’s not much of a place for profoundly disabled children. Flying around the world and destabilizing British and American churches is a lot more exciting than caring for kids who dribble and aren’t ever going to join the Sydney University Evangelical Union where they respectfully admire the leaders’ brilliant Pauline exegesis. So when it comes to cutting corners…

Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe that providing facilities for the weaker and needier members of our society is primarily the state’s responsibility, not the church’s, and I find it disgusting that a government who wastes $30 million on a V8 Supercar race refuses to provide appropriate care for those citizens least able to care for themselves. Yet in this case it’s not the government arguing against feotal abnormality testing, nor does the state teach that aborting a disabled feotus is a sin. If Sydney Anglican evangelicals want to set an example to a secular society they clearly consider their spiritual inferiors they must be prepared to lead the way when it comes to supporting those whom the world rejects. Setting a moral bar and then refusing to support those striving to meet it is the way of the Pharisees. And nothing more.

Nor is it enough to claim that since the government won’t put the money on the table then the Church doesn’t need to either. Ours is a calling to do more, not to meet apathy with apathy. If that means postponing the construction of yet another “multi-purpose ministry centre”, or a few less flights to meet and encourage liars claiming “this dispute is all about how we read the bible”, then so be it. Responsibility is not something Christ taught we can shrug off simply because the world doesn’t care either. Sure there’s no glamour (in this world, at any rate) in toilet-training incontinent teenagers, and the angels might rejoice when a 16 year old manages to learn the skills necessary to accompany their aging grandmother on a trip to the shops, but it’s not the kind of news that fills church-growth seminars. Yet since when has love been less important than having a “dynamic entrepreneurial missional focus”?

Forget whoever happens to be the latest gee-whiz evangelical guru: the parents of the children attending Kingsdene teach us all more about love, dedication, service, strength, and suffering than any Matthias Media paraphernalia can ever do. We reject them at our peril.
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.
For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
Matthew 18:10