Prisons of our own Making

(Former Khymer Rouge Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My photo 2019)

The prisons we build for ourselves.

I have jumped in to deep water with this post, and it feels good. A weight has been lifted.

Some things have been bugging me for quite a while. I know I’m not the only one bothered by the tribalism and divisions opening up in our public life and politics, but I’ve seen what can happen to people who share that concern publicly. Hence feeling like I’m in deep water.

It seems to me that we are allowing ourselves to be controlled by slogans. By our silence, we are allowing these slogans to become established. We embrace slogans that divide us, and dominant ones that control us, with the subservience of serfs.

Simplistic slogans lead us nowhere useful. This is especially true of slogans adopted by opposing tribes.

The first example:

“A Woman’s Right to Choose” on the one hand, and “The Right to Life” on the other. Both are defended righteously and loudly by their respective tribes. Both deny the legitimacy of the other’s case. Both demonise the other. Both own a portion of the truth, but neither can see, apparently, that the issue of abortion is more difficult than they would like it to be. Neither appear to wrestle with the tragedies that arise when we operate with one slogan being correct beyond question, and the other absolutely wrong.

“The Right to Life” calls out the murder of unborn children, but seems blind to ethical problems arising from poverty, family breakdown and rape.

“A Woman’s Right to Choose” calls out the latter but seems blind to the former.

Obviously, the ethical dilemnas attending abortion can not be explored in adequate depth in a single paragraph, but this is what a slogan does! It reduces complex ethical matters to placards.

What bugs me about the way abortion is discussed and contested? Well, you guessed it. When it is presented as a simple choice, devoid of complexity and pain. When it is used to divide people into tribes; each without insight into the deeply held beliefs of the other. It is not simply a woman’s right to choose, unless her foetus is not in any sense human, and unless her rights are the only ones that matter. It is not simply that every foetus has a right to life, unless that right transcends the health and wellbeing of the mother.

A second example?

“Voluntary Assisted Dying” has taken the place formerly held by Euthanasia in the public conscience. Here too, are polarised opinions, and self referential tribes, each with a penchant for simplistic truth. Here too, each tribe owns a portion of the truth and guards it jealously, without concession. Here too, the complexity of the issue seems to be missed among the slogans.

“Dying with Dignity” calls for a humane approach to those terminally ill and in unbearable pain. It argues that the wishes of the patient to avoid pain and trauma trump any notion of the sanctity or ‘specialness’ of human life. There is nothing dignified in dying wracked with pain, they say. The opposing slogan, “Human Life is sacred” argues that humans are not the same as animals and their lives should be regarded as inherently valuable. Suffering and dying are an integral part of human life, they say.

Those who would act to help people avoid what they see as unnecessary suffering say it is humane to end a person’s suffering and there is obvious truth it this.

Many of those in the opposing tribe, believe that life is more than just an individual possession, to be disposed of when the going is tough. There seems, to me anyway, to be truth in this also.

It should not surprise us that this issue is more complex than simple slogans can handle. For example:

Is ending the life of a terminally ill person about the comfort and dignity of that person or more about the distress and discomfort of relatives and friends, who don’t want to witness the proceedings?

Is a person’s wish to end their own life influenced by their perception that they are a burden on their loved ones?

On the other hand, if human life is sacred, what good is there is prolonging suffering unnecessarily?

Who has the right to end another person’s life? Is living uncommunicatively in an extended coma, really living?

Again, slogans help us to avoid the complexities of an issue.

Take truth itself: Truth matters, but it has a bad reputation in some quarters. It is variously contested, distorted, concealed, embellished, manipulated, hidden, and even made up. We seek it; worship it; disagree on it; live for it; kill for it, and die for it.

Truth is often straightforward, but also more often than not, has grey, fuzzy edges.

We love our truth, don’t we? We cling to it, and defend it. We sharpen it, polish it, and are happy to plunge it into the heart of an opponent. Many of us need little encouragement to use our truth to bludgeon those who think differently.

Truth is beautiful, but can be cold, hard and cruel when used as a weapon.

Craving certainty and simple answers, we can find ourselves imprisoned by those simple answers, unable to see the humanity of those who believe differently.

May I suggest a better approach than the tribalism and slogans growing among us like weeds?

May I suggest while there may very well be a lot of evil and many demons in our world, that evil and those demons might not be what we currently recognise them to be?

There are different types of prisons. Not all are made of bricks and mortar. Some we construct ourselves when joining tribes that provide simplistic truths while demonising others.

Judgement has had a Bad Rap

Neglected burial place in Azerbaijan. My photo September 2015

Dare I say it, for millenia, the concept of judgement has occupied a respectable place in law, in communities, and in families? People didn’t feel the need to need to apologise for doing it, feel ashamed when they passed judgement on others, and nor were they in the habit of being criticised for being ‘judgy’.

Times, and things, have indeed changed, at least in today’s western secular culture.

Judging others is definitely out of fashion in a big way. People seen to be judging others are liable to be pulled into line (or jumped on).

That’s not to say that there is no longer any judging that is acceptable. It’s just that it has to be the right sort of judging, and the people we judge need to be the right (wrong?) sort of people.

In our western secular culture, judging others and their beliefs can be a risky business; the gatekeepers of what is morally and politically acceptable would like us to leave it to them to decide. The really tricky part is that what is morally or politically acceptable can and does change, sometimes quite quickly. One has to be on the ball, not to be caught on the wrong side of acceptability.

Is ‘Stop being so judgy’ now the ultimate weapon to enforce conformity?

There seems to be a lot of people who don’t feel guilty about much, if anything. After all, who has the right to judge anymore? Certainly not the traditional churches, whose moral authority, already shaky, was shredded by their response to child sex abuse scandals.

So, here we are then. We have unwritten but popular rules that guide our secular culture today. Many of us think they are much more in tune with where we should be than the traditional practices of judgement were:

1. You can do whatever you like as long as its legal and you don’t harm others. Sound reasonable?

2. Do not judge anyone else for the choices they make. Heard that recently? It does has a certain ring of authority to it, and a whole lot of people do invoke it regularly. What’s not to like?

It’s just that I have a nagging feeling that we are missing something kind of crucial when we nail our colours to these masts.

Who is well qualified to judge that what they are doing is not harming others? You? Me?

Is judging bad? We all do it. Actually, deciding that ‘judging is bad’ is itself a judgement. If judging is bad, should we then avoid saying ‘judging is bad’? Never mind. I confuse myself sometimes.

I’ll concede that some (or even a lot of) judging can be bad, but I’d better clarify my definition. When people use the word ‘judging’ do they mean ‘condemning’? I agree that condemning is bad, well mostly anyway. I believe we humans are not equipped all that well to condemn any other person and we should avoid it wherever possible.

There! Do we have common ground?

Judging though, means something quite different from condemning. Judging, the way I understand it means making evaluations of the worth of something. Used in this way, all of us make judgements every day. We decide whether we want to go to dinner with someone, whether it is safe to cross a street, wise to drink too much alcohol, worth being confrontational, and so on and so on.

Everybody judges. Not everybody rushes to condemn.

In my view there is nothing wrong in judging someone else’s actions to decide whether we want to imitate them or use them as a role model. If we avoid making judgements about such things we leave ourselves unnecessarily exposed to potential dangers. There is a big difference, however, between judging the worth of another person’s actions on the one hand, and condemning them, on the other. This is where grace and humility comes into play.

This is what many of us have forgotten, if we ever knew it.

I believe we need to rewrite those secular rules above about avoiding judgement. We would do well to substitute the word ‘condemn’ for the word ‘judge’. In doing so I think we would recapture something very valuable that we have lost in our flight from judgement.

As I said above, there seems to be a lot of people who don’t feel guilty about anything. There are, however, a lot of people who feel anxious and adrift; who have lost their bearings and sense of purpose. Might the flight from judgement be a factor?

Thanks for reading.

Long lost Questions

Imagining myself in my early teen years is a bit of an ask. After all, it’s a long time since I’ve been there.

I was clearing an old book shelf recently and came across a paperback bible I was given by the Hendra Methodist Sunday School on 12th March 1967. (It had a presentation certificate stuck on the inside cover).

Inside the back cover I found some questions I’d written all those years ago. I don’t expect I did any more than write them down at the time (very cathartic, no doubt). As far as I remember I didn’t ask them of anyone, except it seems, of myself.

From this distance of years, I’m amazed. They were adult questions, but they had gone unanswered. Without waiting for answers, I walked off the reservation at age fifteen, out of Sunday School, and into the world.

I have been a committed practising Christian now for almost 30 years. I have long been an asker of questions, but don’t remember being such an impertinent young fellow. I can’t help but being a little proud that I was not prepared then (or since) to accept the feel good dross, but instead asked tough questions.

How would I answer now my much younger self?

Well, maybe I would start by saying questions are nothing to be afraid of, and neither is doubt. I would follow up by saying not all questions have tidy clear cut answers. I would say be especially careful of cut and dried answers for complex or difficult questions. There are no bad questions.

Having said these things . . .

As for the first question, I looked up the reference on P. 227 and it was still visible with a faded, inked in border and asterisk:

“Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town …”

Looking at that passage now, I am scratching my head at why I picked it then as an exemplar of inconsistency in Christian belief. I guess it jarred a bit with the Sunday School version of sweetness and light. I didn’t know then there are many ways to love and sometimes ‘tough’ love is the only way. Loving people never meant always being nice and cuddly (and non judgemental). Life taught me sometimes ya just gotta walk away.

As for the final sentence, I confess I don’t have a solid handle on it, even now. Perhaps I would say to my younger self that God doesn’t need my advice or expertise in matters of ultimate judgement. Does that sound harsh? All that adolescent angst all those years ago about the reasonableness of God and his need to follow principles of fairness acceptable to me, might possibly have been just a little arrogant. But then again, just like my younger self, who am I to judge?

As for the second question, it is a super knockout question. Attending church regularly does not a Christian make. Neither does quoting moral rules and codes of behaviour. Still less does railing against the sinfulness of other people or of society.

I suppose I could see that even then, as I wouldn’t have written down the question if it hadn’t bothered me.

If I could consult my years of living as a Christian, I would say being one (or at least, not a pretend one) is simply this: To look away from myself and towards Jesus. To rely ever less on my own skills, abilities, gifts, possessions, and ever more on what is fundamentally meaningful: Grace, love, forgiveness and the peace of God, as found in the person of Jesus.

Naturally enough, the secular world is blind and deaf to this. That is why, to be a Christian is to live outside the values and expectations that surround me in that world. Easy to say. Incredibly hard to do, by myself and trusting in my own ability. This is where organised religion comes into its own. Christian churches provide a supportive community of fallible, often broken and damaged people, who share a common faith in the salvation that comes from Jesus. The irony is that churches are also made up of people, and people have a long standing habit of turning out to be interfering busybodies, grumpy hypocrites, sly bullies, or any one of a number of other unpleasant personas.

In my experience it hasn’t been about searching for and finding God. It has been entirely the other way around. God has searched for and found me, in whatever blind alley I’ve blundered into.

So I would say to my younger self, being a Christian is far, far more than a box ticking exercise; far, far more than belonging to a church as a social club; and certainly has nothing at all to do with defending the status quo or prancing around advertising yourself as a good and righteous person.

As far as I see, it has been about being open to God working in me, discovering the end of myself and looking beyond to something miraculous; the risen Jesus Christ. This is the work of a lifetime.

I suspect my younger self would not have understood any of that. I would have been dazzled then by the Apollo moon landings and the advent of computers. Science and technology would have seemed far more likely the hope of the future then than the miracle of a loving God.

How naive I was. Many things that made no sense to me then, do now.

Now to the third question. These ‘tales’ have been around for a long time because they point to a reality beyond themselves, and that reality gels with people. It irritates some and annoys others. It has always been so. I can understand why my fifteen year old self wanted to find a loop hole in them. It’s a natural thing to do, but so is chasing rainbows.

I don’t engage in debates about biblical accuracy these days. When I was much younger I believed such things were significant and meaningful. I don’t now. Arguing with someone whose starting assumptions are different from mine is always doomed to be a bit like talking at or past another person, but not really listening to them. Those who think they can ever win such arguments from either side are welcome to keep trying.

Humans have not changed much since these tales were first written, and it’s not hard to see their relevance to our culture. If I am more interested in searching for inconsistencies or ‘gotcha’ arguments in them, I will likely miss much of that wisdom.

My earlier self probably would have been unimpressed by what I have just written. The young boy/man would have been likely have been obsessed by whether the tales were true or not in a black and white sort of way. They may indeed have been altered in the retelling, or they may have been repeated accurately. I don’t know and I care less.

Of course they are true though; true in the deepest sense and dripping with meaning. Whether I am blinded to that truth by my need to be the decision maker, the judge, and the boss, is another very hard question that evades an easy black and white answer.

Asking difficult questions is an essential part of growing up, both in life, and in faith. Sometimes though it takes a lifetime to understand that not all questions have answers we want to or are ready to hear.

I replaced the old, tattered bible on the shelf. Someone can throw it out one day, but that someone will not be me.

A Personal Creed

(Pilgrim Cross at a monastery, high in the Caucusus Mountains, Georgia. My photo September 2015)

I’ve been sitting on this for a while.

This is is raw and personal, and it strikes me that Easter is as good a time as any to set it free. The usual disclaimer: My experience and my opinions may not match yours. I can live with that. I hope you can too.

Religion is not faith. Religion is about rules, authority, power, privilege, tradition, and conformity. You will commonly encounter religion in a church. You can usually also, but not always, encounter faith in a church, and you will usually, but not always, encounter faith in religion. People (and churches) commonly confuse the these things. They mistake behaving as judgy, pious, joyless finger pointing hypocrites, for an indicator of faithful Christian lives. They are not. People who say they have no religion often point to this type of behaviour and say that they want nothing to do with such people.

I don’t blame them.

I don’t want anything to do with that sort of religion either!

Just a few words to set the scene:

I am not anti-church. I have deep affection for churches I have been associated with. I am however, frustrated by churches that have appeared to have lost their purpose, and the lack of leadership from their leaders. I see institutions that have grown comfortable with the status quo. I believe the Church, by and large, is more concerned with its reputation and social standing than with taking Jesus’ teachings seriously. In doing so, inevitably, it has lost both its reputation and social standing.

Churches today are about not rocking the boat. Many church leaders do not speak out about abuse of power and injustice, or if they do, only if it occurs in a far off country, where patronising sanctimony from the pulpit is a safe option. Many seem more concerned with compliance with government pandemic diktats than they are with lost and broken people. Many are more CEO and risk manager than they are pastoral leader.

On the other hand, churches are made up of people. Any given group of people at any given time has a mix of altruism, ambition, selflessness, selfishness, good intentions and dark desires in its ranks. Belonging to a church doesn’t change this mix, despite what you might have been led to believe. Church people, as a rule of thumb, have just as many blemishes and character flaws as their secular sisters and brothers. They do good things. They do things they should be ashamed of. This has not always been recognised but it has always been the case.

Consequently, it is hard, I think, to be anything other than in two minds about how the Church and its leaders have operated, and continue to operate. Why two minds? Because in spite of all its shortcomings and disappointments, the Church (big ‘C’) somehow has always managed to do its bit in keeping faith alive. Despite its cowardice, greed and subservience to secular powers and authorities, its members continue to meet the risen Jesus within and without its walls.

Historically churches have stepped in and cared for people secular society couldn’t be bothered about and have kept the flame of worship alive. It hasn’t been all good news though. It’s collaboration with despots, and more recently its craven response to the worldwide sexual abuse scandals have seen it deservedly judged and condemned by secular society.

Anyway, back on topic:

There are so many misunderstandings and so much confusion about faith and religion. If you think going to church regularly, being an upright, good person (at least outwardly), and judging and excluding sinners makes you a Christian, then I would ask you to read further what I have to say. If you think living a Christian life means earning your entry to heaven when you die, you are not alone. I suggest though, that you may have boarded the wrong bus.

I say this gently: Going to church will not get you to heaven. Trying to be good will not get you to heaven. There is nothing wrong with going to church or with trying to be ‘good’, and doing these things is very likely to be beneficial, but as far as providing you with entry tickets to heaven? Nope. Definitely not. A misrepresentation based on a misunderstanding of what Christian faith is all about.

Heaven is not a place up in the sky. It is not a place where can we manipulate or work the ‘rules’ to weasel our way in when we die. Despite that, heaven is.

Still with me?

The German monk, Martin Luther, liked to tell jokes and loved a beer.

He was asked once what he thought he would see when he got to heaven. He replied that he would be surprised to see people he would not have expected to be there; surprised to see people missing that he would have expected to be there; and astonished to find himself there!

Christian faith is a fundamentally different, revolutionary way of seeing the world. It’s a totally new way of relating to everything. Christians talk of being born again, of becoming a new person.

Words only take us so far. Some things need to be experienced. As for me, this is how I experience my faith. A sort of creed, if you like:

I realise that God’s image is seen in every other human being; and because of that, other people matter, and deserve my care and respect.

I have come to realise that the message of Jesus’ teaching is diametrically opposed to the way the secular world works, and the values it follows.

I realise that God isn’t impressed by cleverness, sanctimony or piety. God doesn’t care what hymns are sung in church or how long I pray, or how respectable I am. God cares for me as I am; not as I think I should be.

I want to deserve God’s love but realise I can never deserve it. It is a gift. Nothing I can do can earn me God’s approval, except that I am who I am. That realisation changes everything.

I realise that God is sovereign and does not need my suggestions or advice.

I realise that, although my faith changes me from within, I am far from perfect and always will be. I will continue to fall short of my expectations, to hurt others, to put myself in the centre, which is not where I was ever meant to be. With this realisation comes humility.

I realise that the purpose of my life is being part of God’s creation, working as best as I am able, to care for that creation and for its creatures.

When life is over, I don’t understand what God has in store, but I know that God who held out his hand to me will not forget me. Heaven is. God is, and will continue to be, and I trust that God has it covered.

I believe encounters with Jesus can occur anywhere, at any time, and take any form. Those who experience them are always surprised by them. Jesus comes to people who are church attenders, former church attenders, never been church attenders, people uninterested in religion, and even vocal enemies of religion. He comes with or without invitation. Encounters with Jesus change people from the inside out.

Christian faith, to me, does not depend upon institutional religion. Although I am a regular church attender, I’m no great fan of religious authority and power structures. Churches have their place, do lots of good, and are a help to many, but in their quest to be acceptable and respectable, more than a few of them have diluted and distorted Jesus’ teachings.

Churches have nurtured me, but also frustrated, and sometimes angered me. Christian faith, on the other hand, has transformed me.

(One of the wonders of creation: Omega Centauri Globular Cluster. My photo. March 2022)

What then does Christian faith have to say to your world this Easter?

You be the judge.

A Decade of Poems

I’ve been writing poetry of varying quality for quite a while. Not all of it is worth preserving, but I’ve gathered 38 poems so that maybe they can have a life beyond my consciousness. Many of them have appeared on this blog over the years, but here they are together in one place.

(Not me. One of my grandsons.)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GNOlXdbRGSP-t4osYpIadrt0FjcAeUK1/view?usp=sharing

Hopefully the link works.

Hopefully you will enjoy at least one of them.

Curmudgeon Gospel

Curmudgeon and granddaughter.
Assaulted
by a culture he doesn’t fit
and doesn’t want,
if he ever did.
Growling outwardly,
raging inwardly;
in curled up, rampant id.
Control and authority,
for years his own,
took a bow, swept low,
and disappeared;
leaving him alone.
Pride wrung from badges
worn, now wearing thin.
Younger versions of himself
queue to undermine him,
devoid of self awareness;
all arrogance, contempt.
It’s fun goading dinosaurs
overtaken, behind times,
broken, toothless and bent.
Beneath the bluster,
in his night wander,
wriggling on hooks
of cruel self pity,
comes prayer.
Disconnected scraps
of visions fade and flare.
Bold achievements
and battles now nothing,
bring revelations
of two-edged truth;
of family and friends
he’d loved,
when time allowed.
He waits for sleep.
Boyhood memories seep
through time and years.
He’d thought to slay dragons,
but dragons had thrived.
They’d breached the gate;
were now inside.
What had happened to him?
What had he become?
All for nothing?
An army of one?

He sensed, rather than saw, God.

God spoke
a very different gospel.

The defender of truth,
the warrior, was tired.
Having heard his creator speak
as if for the first time,
he relaxed, breathed deep.
And freed, he fell asleep.

Meanwhile Music

Red Cedar Mushroom
Silky Oak goblet (or a wide shallow vase – take your pick)
Huon Pine bowl (yes, with imperfect edges. The wood is very soft and my chisel could have been sharper)

I have had a break from posting for a while. Thinking is good, and writing about thoughts is fun, but meanwhile I’ve kept myself busy with woodturning and music.

Classical guitar is an enchanting instrument, but difficult to master (for me anyway). I am loving playing but there is no way I would play for anyone other than my wife. Lessons were useful and gave me a structure for a few years, but they were not cheap. So six years after I began to learn, I am now practicising on my own. I have a good tone and enjoy pieces that are not too difficult, but I will never be much other than mediocre (shrug).

My musical companion.

Learning music has been a very different experience from anything else I have ever done. Used to academic learning I was unaccustomed to finding stuff that was too ‘hard’. That changed with classical guitar. Not that music theory is too hard, but combining it with technique and all the other dimensions involved in playing has given me a deep respect for competent musicians. Maybe some people just naturally click with it. I found it a bit more challenging and had to let go of a lot of ego while embracing humility. Good for me I guess.

I would recommend learning an instrument to anyone at any age. A lot of attention goes into teaching children music, and rightly so, but don’t be discouraged if childhood is long behind you. Just start, and get some lessons. A world of depth, beauty and enjoyment awaits. Don’t expect to be performing at a concert hall any time soon, though.

Christmas Mystery

The Great Nebula in Orion. My Photo.

When I began this blog, about nine years ago, I posted regularly, dutifully, about stuff that I thought mattered. Various people responded. Not many, but more than a few. Enough at least to reassure me I wasn’t talking to an empty room. Thoughtful people, kind people, interesting people. In fact almost always they were all three. I don’t know if any of them realised the happiness they brought me through their likes and comments. A couple of hundred people decided to follow my blog at one time or another, and possibly a few of them still receive and read what I write.

I have written several hundred posts to date and still enjoy writing, although posts are less frequent now. I haven’t run out of inspiration. There’s still lots to think about and write.

I try to avoid pressing people’s buttons in my writing. I’ve had my share of conflict and arguments and I can’t remember a single instance where either party changed their mind or was a better person for the experience.

At the same time I have tried to be honest about what I think and believe. If it doesn’t gel with the zeitgeist, that’s ok with me, whether or not its ok with you. I realise I am not the soul source of wisdom and that people with different beliefs can be right and wrong just as often as I can.

So, to Christmas.

I know Christians adopted the festival in an early example of cultural appropriation of pagan practices. I know Santa Claus and reindeer came to us courtesy of a 1930s Coca Cola marketing campaign. I know coloured lights and decorated trees can be an excuse for neighbourhood excess. I know gift giving and family get togethers can cause as much grief as they can joy. I know people spend more than they can afford, drink more than is good for them, party to excess and eat to exhaustion because it’s Christmas and they think it’s expected of them. I also know Christmas is a time when loneliness and despair are harder to hide or explain away.

And yet, there is a mystery about Christmas that entrances me. You too?

I do like coloured lights and Christmas trees, but that’s not it. I love carols as opposed to Bing Crosby White Christmas type songs or Rudolf the red nosed reindeer (schmalz is not my thing). I love the excitement of children at Christmas time, just as I love to see the shining faces of parents and grandparents orchestrating the events. All these things are wonderful, but to me they point to a reality beyond themselves.

For me, Christmas is a window into what matters. It is a time for masks to come off, defences to be lowered, and for me to see with absolutely clarity what frees me, and what imprisons me.

How ironic that this window opens at a feast of colour, noise, partying, eating, drinking and the giving and acquiring of things? Christmas contains many contradictions. This is a pointer to its mystery.

In the midst of crowds, travellers, busy markets, and a government census, a small child was born in a stable in very humble circumstances at a very inconvenient time. Yet this child, Jesus, came as the ultimate source of meaning and salvation for all people before and since. People like you and like me. People with high opinions of themselves and people who don’t think they matter. People who live with love and people who live with condemnation. People who love things and use people, and people who do it the other way around. People who try to make the lives of others better and people who do their best to make them a living hell.

The influential elite of Bethlehem, in their rush to a party weekend for the census, did not expect anything of a child born in a stable. Today, in the midst of what has become an orgy of excess, we find something just as unexpected . . if we look.

Now that is irony and that is mystery.

Merry Christmas.

Privileged and Comfortable

Flock of sheep beside a road in Armenia. My photo taken through a bus window.

Is law that prohibits religious discrimination a good idea?

It might not surprise you that opinions differ strongly on this question. In Australia, such a law is now being debated with much emotion, and little clarity. Opinions are polarised.

On the one hand churches, mosques and synagogues are sympathetic to a law they hope will protect their beliefs and practices from secular interference. On the other, various activist groups see such a law as legitimising entrenched victimisation of minority groups in the name of religion. It is widely seen as a zero sum game; for one side to benefit, the other must lose.

“This bill seeks to protect people of faith from discrimination on the basis of their religion in daily life, including work, education, buying goods and services and accessing accessing accommodation.” Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

The Bill privileges and prioritises religious rights to the detriment of LGBTIQ+ people, women, minority faith communities and people with disabilities.(It) takes away minorities’ rights to live free from religious discrimination, hatred and bullying. This Bill legitimises hatred and discrimination using the poor excuse of religious freedoms.” Reason Australia web site.

I don’t agree with either position, and as usual, I guess I am in a party of one.

What do I think?

Christians don’t need their beliefs or practices protected by a benevolent government. Neither, for that matter, do Muslims or Jews. If people of faith feel they need to rely on a secular power for permission or protection, they need to pause and think it through. Is their faith so fragile that it will wither without state laws to prop it up?

It seems to me that, as a Christian, my faith does not wait for the permission of secular authorities for it to thrive. It does not swing on the result of a popular vote, nor on a political deal.

As a citizen, I respect and follow secular laws. I do this in the interest of good order and safety of myself and my fellow citizens. My respect is not guaranteed, and it is not an open invitation for secular authorities to pass laws that hold my faith in contempt. I will obey secular authorities in so far as I see them acting for the common good and in so far that my faith and values are not compromised in doing so. I do not want or need the state to patronise me in protecting my religious beliefs, faith and values from challenge. If others do, that is their affair.

Governments can make it easier or harder for religious people to live in and amongst a culture, but their influence is not absolute. Authorities are just as foolish when they try to mandate religious observance as they are when they try to forbid it. History is replete with examples of both.

Christians and their sisters and brothers of other religions do not need to rely on governments for permission or regulation. People of faith answer to a higher power.

So, although I hope my government will allow me to exist within its laws, I understand there will be times when it may make it harder or easier for me to be who I am. So be it. My faith and my identity do not come from any government. They do not issue from the grace and favour of any secular law.

We do not need to see ourselves as victims in need of rescuing. We don’t need to look to any secular government for validation.

We do need, in my opinion, to take a long hard look at ourselves and our motivations. Are we seeking to live our faith authentically, or are we seeking to preserve a position of comfort and privilege? Honest answers please!

It is undeniable that various earlier discrimination laws have been, and are being exploited by activists hostile to religious institutions. It was always thus, even if recent legislation has made such attacks easier. Sometimes there is uncomfortable truth to be faced, and sometimes not. People of faith would do just as well to recognise legitimate cries of injustice, as they would to defend their institutions against calculated malice.

Noisy attacks are discomforting, but they are not life threatening. Misrepresentations are irritating, but are best countered by being who we say we are.

We do not need religious discrimination law to protect us in our cocoons. We need to engage with our culture, not withdraw from it. In the process, we will continue to experience discomfort (sometimes justified) and persecution (never justified).

When we, in affluent western countries, begin to suffer violence for our faith, as do our sisters and brothers now in less fortunate places, I will be more likely to support legislative protection for us. Not now though.

We need to toughen up, stand up, clean up our act, and get busy reforming God’s world.

Satisfaction in a Hoop Pine Bowl

My second last block of Hoop Pine. Hope I can make the most of this as there won’t be many more chances. It’s hard (for me) to source timber of this size and quality).
This is the hardest step (for me). Rounding off the slab requires endurance, courage and skill. Lucky I have plenty of endurance 😊 and tolerance for vibrations.
This knot gave me a lot of trouble. It was much tougher than the surrounding wood.
Outside of the bowl is sanded. Time to attach the chuck, turn the job around and begin to excavate the inside.
Nearly there!
A few tool marks are visible. Wouldn’t win me a prize in the local craft fair. I don’t care. I like the effect.

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