‘The lid is doing a nudie run down Barkly Street it’s gone into Poons to order Lemon Chicken and Special Fried Rice (Large) in the nuddy BECAUSE WE ARE IN A GRAND FINAL!!! GO DOGS!’

First Dog On The Moon does it again even better this time.

Zadok/University of Divinity Field C Research Group Colloquium

On 18 November 2016, Zadok will partner with the University of Divinity Field C Research Group and Whitley College to host a colloquium, the program for which is as below.

All are welcome to attend. If you are planning to come along, however, for catering purposes it would be great if you could let me know via email.

1330                     Welcome

1340–1415          Paul Tyson, ‘On being of the world but not in the world – how secularism defines our religion and renders our worship harmless’

Dr Tyson is Director of the Emmanuel Centre for the Study of Science, Religion and Society, Emmanuel College, University of Queensland.

Abstract: As Peter Harrison points out ‘religion’ is as new an idea as ‘science’. Both of these notions are alien to the Biblical revelation and to the beliefs the practises of the Church before modern times. Yet the ideas that there are discrete ‘supernatural’ and ‘natural’ realms, that true knowledge only concerns material things and mathematical relations, that religion is a private matter separated out from the realm of secular public life, define contemporary Australian Christian beliefs and practises. In this manner thinking that has come to define what the New Testament calls ‘the world’ sets the terms of Christian belief and practise, relegating faith to the civically harmless realm of distinctly personal, non-political, non-scientific religion. Our faith is defined out of public life and becomes a sectional interest identity concern (surely a debasement of both faith and politics) at best. It is no surprise that Australia is worshipping the Golden Calf of financialized functional materialism, and that this idolatry is just as at home inside the Church as it is in ‘the world.’ The paper concludes with a few tentative ideas about how the Church might seek to change this situation.

1415–1445          Barbara Deutschmann, ‘Gender and the Garden Story’

Since retiring from TEAR Australia last year, Barbara Deutschmann has been largely working on how scripture speaks relevantly to current life issues. She is currently doing a PhD on gender and the Garden narrative in Genesis.

Abstract: Same-sex marriage, gender violence, post-feminism, queer discourse: gender-framed topics pulse through Western society’s political and social conversations. People of faith are driven back to their foundational narratives, such as the Garden Story of Genesis 2-3, in search of faith-full perspectives on these matters. This paper will give an overview of trends in interpretation of Genesis 2-3, then, looking at the narrative afresh, draw out some implications for current conversations on sex/gender. In the exploration, just as we are driven to ask questions of scripture, we find that scripture, in turn asks questions of us.

1445–1515          Keith Sewell, ‘The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity: Roots, Consequences & Resolutions’

Dr Sewell is Emeritus Professor of History, Dordt College, IA, USA.

1515–1530          Break

1530–1600          Karen Pack, ‘Mateship – a holy alliance: rediscovering covenant friendship in the contemporary Australian Church’

Abstract: There was a time in Australian society when ‘mateship’ was revered as one of society’s grounding realities – an ANZAC value. Understood as a relationship of unbreakable loyalty, mateship held deep friendship to be a reverent, almost sacred thing. In today’s society, the lines of friendship have been blurred and the notion of loyalty sacrificed to the ego-centric ideal of ‘doing what is right for me’. Friends are no longer life-long mates, but seasonal or situational companions to be picked up and discarded according to convenience. Even more concerning, however, is the blurring of lines between friendship and sexual recreation. Rather than being the domain of ‘platonic’, non-romantic connection, friendship is now seen as a safe place to satisfy one’s irresistible need for sexual intimacy. To express this reality, we have even spawned a new lexicon, including ‘friends with benefits’, CSBF (Casual Sex Between Friends), ‘booty call’ and numerous far less savoury terms. When a friendship between men seems to involve an emotional connection or attraction, it ceases to be simply a friendship and becomes a ‘bromance’. For a Christian, this sexualisation of friendship and intimacy should be alarming, given the ideals of friendship and commitment taught in the Biblical narrative. This paper seeks to address the sexualisation of friendship in contemporary Australia, and contrast this with the Biblical ideal of covenant friendship. This paper will consider how such covenant friendships can be a nexus of hope in the midst of despair, an expression of the Ahava of God. Ultimately, it will seek to answer the question, ‘How can covenant friendships nurture holiness and wholeness, serving as a witness to the holy and tenacious love that God has shown us?’

1600–1630          Graham Leo, ‘Reading the Book of Esther: A Theology of Work for the 21st Century in the West’

Graham is a DMin student exploring the engagement of churches with male workers in their congregations. His work is investigating how men perceive the significance of their own work, and how their own churches perceive and respond to that work. Graham is a retired school Principal from the Gold Coast.

Abstract: The world of politics is the field in which our perceptions of human work are set in Esther. This paper will consider ways that notions of Jewry in fifth century (BCE) Persia clearly sound many resonances to the social milieu in which many in the West find themselves, especially Christians in ‘secular’ workplaces and various typical urban or rural environments.

Marty Folsom to visit Whitley College

Marty Folsom.jpgMarty Folsom, author of the Face-to-Face trilogy of works on relational theology, will be visiting Whitley College on Saturday 15 October, from 0900-1030. He will offer a presentation and share in conversation with those gathered.

Marty is the Executive Director of the Pacific Association for Theological Studies (USA). He maintains a marriage and family counselling practice, and teaches theology in the Seattle area. He has a particular interest in family systems theory and its relationship with theology.

All are welcome to come along and hear Marty. If you plan on doing so, please flick me a quick email and let me know so that I can make sure that there are enough coffee beans in the cupboard.

 

‘Father and Daughter’

holding-hands

It came to this, the panic at not being loved,
an overdose in the middle of the morning.
She slept for five days
strapped down in a hospital cot,
and when she woke to stew in her shame,
her father was by her bedside.
For a moment as long as a word of praise, neither spoke.
In that small silence, questions ripened.

She stood waiting for an ambulance
to take her to a psychiatric hospital.
She was dressed in a hospital robe and booties,
one size fits all, worn thin by other people’s fear.
The linoleum was as cold as the sea in winter.
She held a paper bag containing a toothbrush
and a copy of Tribune, which a cleaner had given her.
The air tasted bitter, of walnuts gone black in the shell.

– Kate Jennings, ‘Father and Daughter’, in Cats, Dogs and Pitchforks (Port Melbourne: Heinemann, 1993), 14.

On not singing the national anthem

Anthem 1

A friend in Tweetland (and Zuckerland) is wondering whether his kids, who are Christians and who are about to start school, should be encouraged or discouraged to sing the Australian National Anthem – ‘Advance Australia Fair’. I couldn’t resist a quick reply.

I’ve threatened my kids with homelessness and disinheritance if I ever learn that they’ve sung the Australian national anthem, or encouraged others to do so. Even standing during such, were I to hear about it, would be met with their pocket money being docked. Put simply, you can’t sing the national anthem and celebrate the Eucharist. Not only is the theological disconnect as huge (in a Pythonesque kind of way) as one could imagine, but bread and wine are simply so much more interesting than any anthem, and one should set one’s mind, heart, and voice unreservedly upon the most interesting things. The only reasonable alternative I can think of is to deliberately sing the anthem very badly, as out of tune and as out of time as one can muster, to do with it what Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd once did with a Colt Python .357 Magnum. To do otherwise is to put your salvation in doubt.

There is also the matter of the song being an appalling and anaemic piece of writing. That a school should torment its students with such horrid literature is tantamount to nothing short of abuse (something, to be sure, that the country is getting very good at). That a Christian – a Christian for God’s sake! – would let such a situation pass as if it were neither here nor there is probably best explained by the fact that most churchgoers have been made immune to such heresy though years of being fed a liturgical diet of equally squalid and giddy songs and prayers. Mornings of the Lord’s Day might be much better kept by reading Shakespeare or Robinson or Flanagan while listening to Springsteen on the couch in one’s pyjamas than by enduring such torment; unless of course one believes that such activity might function as a kind of training ground, a kind of school perhaps, for the purgatory that awaits the saints. Indeed, this might be among the best of reasons to go to church. But that an institution set apart to teach literature (as laughable as that sounds in today’s climate) should promote the singing of such vacuity is reason enough to have the entire school’s curriculum reviewed by a state parliamentary committee. Her majesty could not possibly expect anything less of her government.

On another note, I understand that the anthem’s election was the fruit of a plebiscite. Enough said.

Painting for Freedom: some happenings with Richard Kidd

I’ve previously mentioned that next month Richard Kidd, Anne Mallaby, and myself will be teaching an intensive unit on theology and the arts. I’m really looking forward to being part of what is shaping up to be a great week of learning. (Spaces are still available for anyone keen to be involved.)

In addition, Richard Kidd will be exhibiting some of his work at Chapel on Station Gallery, in Box Hill. The exhibition will be accompanied by three related events:

Thursday 8 September, 1830–2000: Official Opening and Book Launch (with drinks, nibbles, and poetry).

Sunday 11 September, 1630–1830: Conversation and Cake. Richard Kidd and Anne Mallaby invite you to explore art and theology … and cake.

Tuesday 20 September, 1800–2000: Art & Justice: Creative Voices of Liberation. Richard will talk upon the work of Freeset in Kolkata, and his new Charitable Trust, ‘Painting for Freedom’.

All events are free and will take place at Chapel on Station Gallery, cnr Station St & Ellingworth Pde, Box Hill.

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‘No longer male and female’: a note on gender, Christian community, and the intersex condition

april-none-of-the-aboveA guest post by Andie Hider

In June last year, I was invited to attend a conference held by the Australian Paediatric Endocrine Group at which was discussed the vexed issue of how to treat a group of infants born with a particular group of genetic conditions. Present at the conference were surgeons, endocrinologists, and other medical specialists from some of Australia’s leading children’s hospitals, representatives from support groups that support parents of infants, and people born with the conditions, as well as ethicists and the current and former Chief Justices of the Family Court of Australia.

Earlier last year, in March, I shared my story growing up with one of these conditions with my congregation. My best friend, a devoted Christian, and friend of hers, who is a Deacon with whom I had shared my story long before, were amongst those visiting our congregation on that day to give me moral support. Standing up and telling my story living with my genetic condition is something I am very used to doing, but standing up and telling my story to my own faith community made me very nervous and was the reason for the moral support present on that day.

By now you may be asking yourselves what could be so complex, so difficult to treat, about these particular genetic conditions that would warrant such a formidable gathering of medical and legal expertise? What could possibly be so awful in the medical suffering I faced that telling my story to my own faith community would need the moral support I had? The answer to both of those questions is there is nothing medical about these genetic conditions that demands that sort of attention and fear. No, the difficulty faced here in both situations is a social problem.

The genetic condition I was born with is called an Intersex condition and, without wanting to get into complex discussions about genetics and embryonic development, it quite simply means I was born biologically both male and female. There are thousands of people like me in Australia, millions across the world, and the conditions and the people born with them have been around since the dawn of God’s creation. The problem is that for thousands of years we have not understood the conditions, and then once we understood them we did our best to hide the people with them away.

Society has spent so much time neatly dividing God’s creation up into male and female that once we realised there were plants, animals, and people who did not fit into one of our categories we didn’t know what to do with them. Throughout history people with Intersex conditions have either been humiliated, put on public display as curiosities, or, in some cultures, given specific ‘elevated’ roles in society (most often as shaman or healers) that allowed them to be set apart from others. As a result of this history the medical profession has been forced into the position they make a ‘best guess’ about the gender a child with an Intersex condition should be raised.

Placing the medical profession in the position they must make a decision on behalf of a child who is not yet old enough to speak their mind about who they are is unfair. The reason for the gathering of medical and legal expertise at the Australian Paediatric Endocrine Group conference is because things have now come to a difficult place. A decision about gender of rearing is often reinforced medically and irreversibly and if it is wrong the later consequences for that child and their family are horrific. Medical professionals and support groups are then again left to work with the families to try to pick up the pieces of the resulting harm to that child. As a result of this, and because of law suits brought against hospitals and medical practitioners, the Family Court has had to become involved in protecting the rights of the children involved. Conspicuous by their absence at the conference to discuss such an important and vulnerable group were our Christian leaders and we need to ask ourselves why that is?

‘Male’ and ‘female’ are words, part of human language and our attempt to reduce God’s creation to a level we can understand in our human simplicity. Once God created Eve, regardless of how you personally believe that came to be, God gave us the gift of creating life. God also meant for the beauty of creation to be realised in all of God’s forms. Creating Eve from one of Adam’s ribs would also have meant that Eve, our greatest of mothers, had some male in her and was by medical definition Intersex. We live in a world of striking and wonderful creations of God where we marvel at the diversity of plant and animal life we are privileged to enjoy. We are not the masters of God’s creation, and nor are we some immutable caretakers of that creation; we are part of it.

The reason our Christian leaders were not part of the conference is because we are part of the problem, not the solution. There is a very public debate about the issue of ‘gay marriage’ going on at the moment, and central to the debate is the oft-cited statement ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman’. Apart from the artificial line we have created to try to reduce God’s creation to our level of understanding, there is no division between male and female. God saw to that when He created Eve from Adam. Male and female are attributes and we all have some mix of both and we all fit somewhere along a spectrum.

Every time a Christian leader or one of our politicians makes the statement about marriage being between a man and a woman they are reinforcing a statement that science and medicine has long understood to be untrue. Worse than that, every time we make a statement about male and female in that way we keep doctors and infants with Intersex conditions and their families trapped in a circle of shame, secrecy, and hurt. Every time we make a statement about male and female in that way we force the Family Court to have to intervene in the lives of families that have enough to cope with. Every time we make that statement we deny God’s wonder and the diversity of creation, and reduce it to something merely human and insignificant.

Worst of all, every time we make a statement that God created man and woman to reinforce the view there is some inviolate division between them, people with Intersex conditions or parents of infants with the conditions that need our support turn away from our churches and our faith because we turn them away. We, Christians, limit and deny God’s creation and turn other Christians away from our church by making them feel unwelcome and misunderstood. A friend of mine that helps run our support group and has the same condition I do is also a member of the Uniting Church. There will be other members of our church that either have the conditions or are parents of an infant or child with an Intersex condition. When was the last time that one of them spoke to anyone reading this about the trials they are facing because God created them in a way that we, as human beings, are unable to accept because it would mean admitting that we cannot define God’s creation in human terms?

We as Christians should be at the forefront of helping understand God’s creation in all of its wonderful diversity. We should not be adding to the discomfort and shame and misunderstanding of people born with Intersex conditions by taking a hard, and incorrect, stance about God’s creation in our over-enthusiasm to define something that cannot be defined by us, but only by God. Our leadership should be part of the discussion about supporting infants with Intersex conditions and their parents, not excluding us because we add to the problem. We are challenged as Christians to welcome all who believe in Christ as our savior into our Christian family, and to understand, accept, and love them. We cannot do these things if we refuse to acknowledge some people even exist because they are the living proof our binary construct of male and female is wrong. It should not be that hard for us because we have grappled with the concept of a triune God since the beginnings of our faith.

‘Human Rights and Human Wrongs’: An Evening with Gillian Triggs

Gillian Triggs flyer September.png

‘Children’s Song’

Pat Scala

We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven.

– R. S. Thomas

[Image: Pat Scala/SMH]

Whitley College seeks a new Principal

whitleyWhitley College is looking for a new Principal for its theological school. The position description is available here. The closing date for applications is 22 August 2016.

 

‘And there is no dawn’

Night Road

Is there anything behind the façade
of performance and pretence
any bottom to the abyss
of self-doubt and self-condemnation?

Stretches of the road
are long and lonely times of bleak unknowing
plagued by anxiety, uncertainty
memories burdened by guilt, inadequacy,
ineptitude, inaction, time not taken to listen

and there is no dawn
no other side.

– Noel Davis, ‘And there is no dawn’, in Together at the Edge – Trust Me: One Live to Live, Love, Reverence, Give Thanks (Narooma: Lifeflow Education, 2011).

[Image: Songs from the Forest]

Fences

Zadie SmithZadie Smith’s recent piece on Brexit is one of the best-of-its-kind analyses I’ve read on what’s happening in the West – around us, in us, because of us, in spite of us. It is also an invitation to do some seriously-uncomfortable work around dismantling those fences which have become symbols of the end of the risk we must learn to embrace again if the days in front of us are to be less dark than are those behind us. There are echoes here of calls that have been made by others – Jonathan Sacks’s outstanding book The Dignity of Difference comes to mind – but Smith’s is grounded in a more explicitly local context and is illustrated with some powerful domestic examples that work to underscore that the challenges before us are more proximate than most of us dare imagine. (Read through Christian eyes, Smith’s piece also functions as a call to take seriously the profound political and cultural implications of venturing to believe that God is a community of difference, of otherness, and of extraordinary risk vis-à-vis the world.)

Tolle, lege.

[Image: Derrick Santini]

With Martha Nussbaum, the ‘Captain of Her Soul’

Martha Nussbaum.jpg

Rachel Aviv’s piece on Martha Nussbaum, published in The New Yorker, really is a wonderful read:

“To be a good human being,” [Nussbaum] has said, “is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered” …

For a society to remain stable and committed to democratic principles, [Nussbaum] argued, it needs more than detached moral principles: it has to cultivate certain emotions and teach people to enter empathetically into others’ lives …

Last year, Nussbaum had a colonoscopy. She didn’t want to miss a workday, so she refused sedation. She was thrilled by the sight of her appendix, so pink and tiny. “It’s such a big part of you and you don’t get to meet these parts,” she told me. “I love that kind of familiarization: it’s like coming to terms with yourself.”

The Danger of Outsourcing Morality

Jonathan SacksSome characteristically thoughtful words here from Jonathan Sacks in his acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize:

A free society is a moral achievement. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom … At some point the West abandoned this belief …

Morality itself was outsourced to the market. The market gives us choices, and morality itself is just a set of choices in which right or wrong have no meaning beyond the satisfaction or frustration of desire. The result is that we find it increasingly hard to understand why there might be things we want to do, can afford to do, and have a legal right to do, that nonetheless we should not do because they are unjust or dishonourable or disloyal or demeaning: in a word, unethical. Ethics was reduced to economics … [And] having reduced moral choice to economics, we transferred the consequences of our choices to politics.

And it seemed to work, at least for a generation or two. But by now problems have arisen that can’t be solved by the market or the state alone …

You can’t outsource conscience. You can’t delegate moral responsibility away …

But the West has, in the immortal words of Queen Elsa in Frozen, “Let it go”. It has externalised what it once internalised. It has outsourced responsibility. It’s reduced ethics to economics and politics. Which means we are dependent on the market and the state, forces we can do little to control. And one day our descendants will look back and ask, How did the West lose what once made it great?

Every observer of the grand sweep of history, from the prophets of Israel to the Islamic sage Ibn Khaldun, from Giambattista Vico to John Stuart Mill, and Bertrand Russell to Will Durant, has said essentially the same thing: that civilisations begin to die when they lose the moral passion that brought them into being in the first place. It happened to Greece and Rome, and it can happen to the West. The sure signs are these: a falling birthrate, moral decay, growing inequalities, a loss of trust in social institutions, self-indulgence on the part of the rich, hopelessness on the part of the poor, unintegrated minorities, a failure to make sacrifices in the present for the sake of the future, a loss of faith in old beliefs and no new vision to take their place. These are the danger signals and they are flashing now.

There is an alternative: to become inner-directed again. This means recovering the moral dimension that links our welfare to the welfare of others, making us collectively responsible for the common good. It means recovering the spiritual dimension that helps us tell the difference between the value of things and their price. We are more than consumers and voters; our dignity transcends what we earn and own. It means remembering that what’s important is not just satisfying our desires but also knowing which desires to satisfy. It means restraining ourselves in the present so that our children may have a viable future. It means reclaiming collective memory and identity so that society becomes less of a hotel and more of a home. In short, it means learning that there are some things we cannot or should not outsource, some responsibilities we cannot or should not delegate away.

We owe it to our children and grandchildren not to throw away what once made the West great, and not for the sake of some idealized past, but for the sake of a demanding and deeply challenging future. If we do simply let it go, if we continue to forget that a free society is a moral achievement that depends on habits of responsibility and restraint, then what will come next – be it Russia, China, ISIS or Iran – will be neither liberal nor democratic, and it will certainly not be free. We need to restate the moral and spiritual dimensions in the language of the twenty-first century, using the media of the twenty-first century, and in ways that are uniting rather than divisive.

One can read the full lecture here.

[Image: source]

On becoming an anti-communist

Bolsheviks‘My political identity was shaped by the Holocaust. At first this drew me naturally to the left. However, because of my reading about the historical crimes of Stalin and the contemporary crimes of Mao Zedong, and because of the influence of two teachers, Vincent Buckley and Frank Knopfelmacher, during my undergraduate days I was gradually drawn into the anti-communist movement. There were two main reasons why people became anti-communists in those days. The first was geopolitical: because they believed the future of the world would be determined by the outcome of the Cold War that was being fought between Communism and Democracy. The second was moral: because of the crimes of Stalin and of Mao. For my part, I did not become an anti-communist because of the Cold War. In 1970, I marched against Australia’s participation in the United States–led Vietnam War. I became an anti-communist because only the anti-communist intelligentsia seemed to speak of the mass killings associated with Stalin and with Mao in an appropriate moral register.

Between the time I was preparing for my matriculation exams in October 1965 and the time I arrived at the University of Melbourne in March 1966, some 500,000 Indonesians were slaughtered. During my undergraduate days there was no discussion of the murders. We were preoccupied by the Vietnam War. As I know now, the American and Australian governments supported the murders through aid and silence, principally for questionable foreign-policy reasons. The threat of Chinese aggression, especially at the time of the Sino–Soviet schism, was vastly overblown. The anti-communist intelligentsia offered their governments full support. It is of course possible, perhaps even likely, that if the Indonesian communists had come to power a different kind of tragedy might have occurred. But can it seriously be maintained, as many anti-communist defenders of the Western policy in Indonesia did then and still do, that acquiescence in the murder of half a million civilians on political grounds can be justified by speculations about possible events in the future?

If I had known then what I know now, while my attitude to the crimes of communism would have been no different, I hope I would have had sufficient judgement to have given the anti-communist movement a far wider berth’.

– Robert Manne, ‘Rivers ran red: Indonesia’s mass killings have been overlooked for 50 years

Why the military must not train police

Soldier

A guest post by Andie Hider

We have just seen the rise and fall of a military coup in Turkey. Many of the details have yet to become clear but one thing that is known is during the attempted coup factions of the military leading the uprising targeted Turkish police headquarters and killed 17 police. This pattern of military or insurgent groups targeting police has been seen in many other internal conflicts elsewhere in the world.

An article published in The Age newspaper (Ruby Hamad, ‘The devastating irony of calling UN troops “peacekeepers”’, 12 May 2016) detailed atrocities committed by members of UN peace and stabilisation missions and a systemic failure to address these atrocities. The article included a quote from Maya Goodfellow about UN peacekeepers: ‘… they’re applauded for bravely choosing to bring decency into a country where citizens are too barbaric to look after themselves. It’s this good vs. bad narrative that clears the way for violence’. The article, including quotes like this, suggests that the root of the problem was a simplistic view of UN police as ‘good guys’. It has been my experience from years of working in this field that the real cause of the problem is a much deeper misunderstanding of the role of police, and that of the military.

What might generally be referred to and seen in action in Australia as liberal democratic policing is much rarer than most people understand it to be. Only a small percentage of the richest countries in the world have police that function in this way. Independent and impartial policing is considered a foundation of established rule of law and critical to a civil-led society. Across the rest of the world many ‘police’ do not perform the role we see here in Australia. ‘Policing’ in these countries can be carried out by the military or criminalised police who use their position to brutilise and oppress the civilian population for personal gain, through colonial policing that enables elites (whether political, social, economic, military, or criminal) to extract power and wealth from the population, to policing that looks much like Australia but gives overly preferential treatment to elites.

A police uniform does not make a person a police officer. In some countries in the world a visitor or member of the local community would place themselves in more peril if they were to approach a ‘police officer’ for assistance after a crime. Policing is a values-based profession and no amount of training, provision of equipment, or appropriate remuneration will make someone a police officer if they start out with the wrong values base. The reverse is more often true – we train and equip them to become far more dangerous to the civil population than they were beforehand, a situation we have seen many times across the world.

Nor does a military uniform make a police officer. The military has a role that is, and should remain, very different to that of police. An environment into which it is more appropriate to send soldiers to stabilise is no place for legitimate civil police as they, like any other mechanism of civil government, are nothing more than additional targets for enemy combatants. The military are deployed to these environments because their primary role is to engage enemy combatants and disrupt military or military-like (e.g., insurgency, warlordism, widespread internecine violence, etc.) operations to the point that civil mechanisms of government can again take back control and deliver effective civil governance.

In the case of the UN, there simply are not enough liberal democratic police available to be deployed to post-conflict peace operations. As a result of this, the UN is put in the difficult position where it must often accept contributing ‘police’ from nations that do not uphold the values of the UN. Quite often these nations contribute what are frequently referred to as ‘Formed Police Units’ (FPU). FPU are made up of military or paramilitary personnel ‘rebranded’ as police. If lucky, a country receives contributing FPU members made up of ‘benign’ groups such as postal workers; in a worse case scenario they could be something far more dangerous.

It is a mistake to think of the criminalised or militarised police I mentioned earlier as some sort of ‘rogue’ element in their country of origin; likewise, the FPUs that these same countries use domestically or deploy internationally. They perform the function their government expects of them and employs them to do. This is the reason complaints about their conduct go largely unaddressed. When deployed by the UN they will apply those same values to maintaining ‘order’ in the countries to which they are deployed. The root cause of observations about inappropriate UN peacekeeper behaviour is not that they are seen as ‘good guys’, but that they are seen as police when they are not.

Nowhere is this contrast between the military and liberal democratic police seen more clearly than in situations like the one we recently saw in Turkey. One of the first acts by the leaders of the coup was to target police headquarters because the police are the legitimate civil mechanism for maintaining order. It is therefore in the interest of a military coup to remove independent and impartial police from the picture, thus leaving the military as the only mechanism capable of enforcing any sort of order. It speaks volumes to the desire for the rule of law in Turkey that the civil population rose up in response to this military threat to civil governance. In places like Afghanistan where police are targeted for the same reasons, civil society is unable to exert the same influence. Impartial police are the natural enemy of any group that wants to remove civil governance.

Yesterday the Turnbull coalition announced plans to have the ADF, rather than Australian police, train paramilitary police in Iraq. Mr Turnbull was quoted as saying: ‘At the moment our training mandate is restricted to training the Iraqi army. And as we discussed, one of the most important objectives now in Iraq is to ensure that the Iraqi police forces, their gendarmerie forces, are able to maintain the peace in areas that have been liberated from Daesh or ISIL as the Iraqi security forces and counter-terrorism forces progress’ (David Wroe, ‘Australian troops to train Iraqi paramilitary police in expansion of role’, The Age 19 July 2016).

The ADF are a supremely professional and capable military, and operate internationally with ethical standards equal to the best in the world. They have an excellent reputation for training members of the military from other countries. The ADF are not, however, police. What Mr Turbull is suggesting is that the ADF assist in the building and training of what by any other name would be called FPUs. To put our military in a situation like this is ill advised at best, dangerous at worst. Australia should not be involved in any way in the training of paramilitary police. If the situation in Iraq is seen to require the use of a paramilitary approach to policing, then the situation calls for a military response and not police. In these circumstances it is entirely appropriate to have ADF personnel train the Iraqi military, but it is not yet a situation for the wearer of any uniform that suggests that wearer is ‘police’.

Australia, through the AFPs International Deployment Group, has contributed professional and impartial state and federal police to some of the most difficult and dangerous UN peacekeeping missions across the world. As one of the few countries that can contribute police of such a high standard we should ensure we exemplify the separation between policing and military that is such a critical foundation of the rule of law. IDG deployments are about reinforcing civil governance mechanisms. During one crisis in the Pacific region there was concern expressed by the Howard Government about media footage showing an ADF member, rather than a police officer, handcuffing someone. It is right for our Government to express such a concern when deployments are intended to substitute civil governance for military, not replace one military with another. Conversely it is very disturbing that our current government thinks this is acceptable given other views about security on the domestic front.

Australia must contribute appropriate training in appropriate circumstances. This means ADF members training military staff, and Australian police training other police. This differentiation is non-negotiable. It is not enough to suggest the AFP will advise the ADF in this regard. To quote the character William Adama in the television series Battlestar Galactica: ‘There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people’. The writers hit the nail on the head. Wise words, best heeded by our Government and their advisors.

on fear

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - Sally (Bailee Madison) © 2011 Miramax, Photo by Carolyn Johns

‘How we deal with our fear is becoming the defining measure that determines us as a people’. – Waleed Aly

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‘Because not to fear was to imagine a world beyond experience. And that was too much for anybody’. – Richard Flanagan

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‘Fearfulness obscures the distinction between real threat on one hand and on the other the terrors that beset those who see threat everywhere’. – Marilynne Robinson

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‘We all know how when moved by fear, people may act against what others see as their own best interest. We know how, when people are afraid, they may act even against their own fundamental will We have seen how, when influenced by such actions, the course of events may take on aspects of inexorable fatality up to the point where, our of sheer weariness, no resistance to the gravitation into open conflict any longer seems possible. This is a constantly repeated tragedy.

Why is war and fear of war in the headlines of every daily paper, if not because man fears man and nation, nation [sic]? … Can there be a greater challenge for us to work for such a recognition of the dignity of man as would eliminate the fear which is eating our world like a cancer? …

If, at long last, the recognition of human dignity means to give others freedom from fear, then that recognition cannot be simply a question of passive acceptance. It is a question of the positive action that must be taken in order to kill fear.

This is not a question of abstract ethical principles. I state conclusions from some very concrete recent experiences. It is when we all play safe that we create a world of the utmost insecurity. It is when we all play safe that fatality will lead us to our doom. It is “in the dark shade of courage” alone, that the spell can be broken’. – Dag Hammarskjöld

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‘It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it. Fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. Fear stifles our sense of right and wrong. In any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched. Within a system which denies basic human rights, fear is the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, torture or death; fear of losing friends, family, property or livelihood. One insidious fear masquerades as “common sense” – condemning as foolish or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve self respect and dignity’. – Aung San Suu Kyi

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‘The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear’. – Mahatma Gandhi

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‘I have been living for more than thirty years with men and women who have been excluded from society. I have seen firsthand how fear is a great and terrible motivator of human actions. Through my experience with these men and women with intellectual disabilities, I have become more aware of how fear is at the heart of prejudice and exclusion.

We are all frightened of those who are different, those who challenge our authority, our certitudes, and our value system. We are all so frightened of losing what is important for us, the things that give us life, security, and status in society. We are frightened of change and, I suspect, we are even more frightened of our own hearts.

Fear makes us push those with intellectual disabilities into far-off, dismal institutions. Fear prevents all of us with the price of a meal in our pocket from sharing with the Lazaruses of the world. It is fear, ironically, that prevents us from being most human, that is, it prevents us from growing and changing. Fear wants nothing to change; fear demands the status quo. And the status quo leads to death.

Fear always seeks an object. If I feel insecure in myself, I will almost always find some scapegoat for my fear, someone or something that I can turn into the object of my fear and then my anger. But there are some broad categories for the objects of fear, and I think it’s worth looking at some of them.

Fear of Dissidents

First of all, there is the fear of dissidents. There has always been a fear of the dissident, that is to say, of the one who seems to threaten the existing order. Those who fear the dissident are those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of that order; frequently, money and power, or the need to control others and to feel superior to them, are at the root of such interests. When political leaders – kings, most frequently – were seen as the representatives of God on earth, protectors of truth, religion, and morality then whoever opposed such leaders were necessarily regarded as evil, agents of the devil. If the status quo was ordained by God, whoever stood against the status quo stood against God and the natural order. The appeal to “God on our side” was always a powerful justification for torture and killing in the name of truth.

The millions who were tortured and eliminated in Stalin’s Russia, in German concentration camps, in South Africa, Guatemala, Chile, any one of a hundred countries in our own time, were seen, in all sincerity, as evil and dangerous by those they opposed. Dictators have always maintained an elaborate secret police to exclude and suppress those who oppose them.

The story of humanity is that of heroes and martyrs with a new vision for humanity, regarded as terrorists and dissidents by some, as prophets of freedom by others. Christians were thrown to wild beasts in the coliseum because the Romans saw this new, strange religion as a threat to the existing order.

It is in the nature of power to resist change; the principle of the divine right of kings goes back at least as far as the first man – and it probably was a man – who sought to establish the continuity of his power as a natural law. We live in a more secular time but we have transformed the divine right of kings into the divine right of anybody in power.

There is a deeper issue here, beyond the self-aggrandizement of the powerful. Leaders consider themselves as generally in the right. It is part of the paradigm we have created: if you have succeeded in making your way to the top, then, by definition, by the law of natural selection, the values for which you stand have been authenticated. That is why it always seems entirely reasonable for the powerful to seek to quell and exclude anyone who opposes them. Those who oppose create disorder; they run against the natural order.

The only point to be made about all this is that it is important for leaders to listen to dissent and try to understand where it is coming from and what is true in it. If history teaches us nothing else, it is that power is borrowed. At best, power is something granted not something taken. That means, in Western democracies at any rate, that those who have power need the gifts of discernment and judgement, because if we recognize the temporary nature of power, then equally, we need to recognize what in the activity of dissent is valuable.

The principle at issue is the temporary nature of power, and the necessity of service and humility, the necessity of seeing what truth is being cried out in an act of protest.

Fear of Difference

Second, there is the fear of difference … Human nature is to want to belong to groups of like-minded creatures, to those of the same culture or who have the same goals and interests. If we know each other, we can work together. We feel safe together. Those who are different disturb us.

Who are those who are different? They are the people who suffer poverty, brokenness, disabilities, or loneliness. They cry out to us for help, these millions named Lazarus. Often, they are in discomfort while others live in comfort. Their cries become dangerous for those of us who live in comfort. If we listen to their cries and open up our hearts, it will cost us something. So we pretend not to hear the cry and so exclude them.

Those who are different are the strangers among us. There are many ways of being different: one can be different by virtue of values, culture, race, language or education, religious or political orientation. And while most of us can find it stimulating or at least interesting to meet a stranger for a short while, it is a very different thing to truly open up and allow a stranger to become a friend.

This fear of the different is very marked when it comes to people with intellectual disabilities. I remember when I first met such people. Father Thomas Philippe, the French priest who became my spiritual accompanier when I left the navy and who was instrumental in the founding of l’Arche, invited me to meet his “new friends” in a small institution where he was the chaplain. At the time, I was teaching philosophy at St. Michael’s College in Toronto. I accepted his invitation but, nevertheless, I was very anxious. How was I going to communicate with people who could not talk? If they could talk, what would we talk about? I was fearful of not being able to cope with the situation or of not knowing what to do and of being inadequate.

When we have constructed our lives around particular values of knowledge, power, and social esteem, it is difficult for us to accept those who cannot live by the same set of values. It is as if we are threatened by such people.

The social stigmas around people with intellectual disabilities are strong. There is an implicit question: If someone cannot live according to the values of knowledge and power, the values of the greater society, we ask ourselves, can that person be fully human?

People with intellectual disabilities are generally placed at the lowest end of the human spectrum. When I first encountered them at l’Arche, I believed in love but, for me, love meant generosity, doing good for others. At that time, I did not realize that through our love we can help others to discover their own intrinsic value; we can reveal to them their beauty and their uniqueness.

Gradually, through l’Arche, I began to see the value of the communion of hearts and of a love that empowers, that helps others to stand up; a love that shows itself in humility and in trust. If our society has difficulty in functioning, if we are continually confronted by a world in crisis, full of violence, of fear, of abuse, I suggest it is because we are not clear about what it means to be human. We tend to reduce being human to acquiring knowledge, power, and social status. We have disregarded the heart, seeing it only as a symbol of weakness, the centre of sentimentality and emotion, instead of as a powerhouse of love that can reorient us from our self-centredness, revealing to us and to others the basic beauty of humanity, empowering us to grow.

Fear of Failure

… Another fear that drives us is the fear of failure. The fear of failure, of feeling helpless and unable to cope, had been built up in me ever since my childhood. I had to be a success. I had to prove my worth. I had to be right. This need to succeed and to be accepted, even admired by my parents and by those whom I considered my “superiors”, was a strong motivating force in me and is a motivation at the heart of many human endeavours.

The urge to please and to succeed is obviously a valuable motivation but it has its flip side. Not everyone can succeed at the same entrance exam; many must fail. And failure can and does break people. This need to succeed, coupled with the fear of failure and the fear of being rejected and of falling into loneliness and anguish, can make us choose to relate only to those who like and admire us: those who look on us as winners. And, of course, we recognize others playing the same game.

People with intellectual disabilities, however, seem so different, as if they were in another world; it seems impossible to communicate easily with them. We can feel totally helpless in front of them.

Fear of failure, of not coping with a situation, of not being able to relate to another person, is at the heart of this fear of the different, the strange, the stranger. It is as if we are walking in unknown territory.

Fear of Loss and Change

Then there is the fear of loss and change. Why do the rich and powerful – you and I, in short – fear so much the Lazaruses in our midst? Is it not because we are frightened of having to share our wealth, frightened of losing something? It is easy to give a few coins to a beggar; it is more difficult to give what is necessary to maintain our own standard of living. We feel so inadequate in the face of poverty. What can we do to change so many seemingly impossible situations? …

We all need a certain amount of security in order to be able to live peacefully. This sense of security comes from the way we live our lives; it comes from the presence of and reinforcement from family and friends; it comes from our place of work and through daily routines. In this context, the unexpected can provoke a crisis. To lose the “known” and to move on to the “unknown” can mean a terrible loss for us. To live such loss one needs a great deal of inner strength.

To give food to a beggar who knocks on the door can be quite an easy thing to do. But if he keeps coming back – with his friends – then what do we do? We can become totally lost and insecure. We are at sea with no horizon, in unknown territory without a map. We are frightened that the beggar is calling on us to change our lifestyle. We are all frightened of the ugly, the dirty. We all want to turn away from anything that reveals the failure, pain, sickness, and death beneath the brightly painted surface of our ordered lives. Civilization is, at least in part, about pretending that things are better than they are. We all want to be in a happy place, where everyone is nice and good and can fend for themselves. We shun our own weakness and the weakness in others. We refuse to listen to the cry of the needy. How easy it is to fall into the illusion of a beautiful world when we have lost trust in our capacity to make of our broken world a place that can become more beautiful.

The Origin of These Fears

What is the origin of the terrible fears that so hinder us in the making of our heart’s desire: a better world? …

One major reason for our mutual distrust, for our propensity to gang together in mutually exclusive groups, is that most of us experience love in only the most imperfect way. When I discover that I am accepted and loved as a person, with my strengths and weaknesses, when I discover that I carry within myself a secret, the secret of my uniqueness, then I can begin to open up to others and respect their secret. The fear of others begins to dissolve; inclusion, friendship, and a feeling of brotherhood/sisterhood begins to emerge …’. – Jean Vanier

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‘ … the substitution of rhetoric for thought, always a temptation in a national crisis, must be resisted by officials and citizens alike. It is hard for ordinary citizens to know what is actually happening in Washington in a time of such great trouble; for all we know, serious and difficult thought may be taking place there. But the talk that we are hearing from politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators has so far tended to reduce the complex problems now facing us to issues of unity, security, normality, and retaliation’. – Wendell Berry

On the seductive fallacy of the ‘safe’ classroom

violenceAlmost every semester, I remind my students that I have three general expectations for any particular class. I couch these in terms of joy, formation, and community. In regards to the latter, I note my expectation that we will learn together. Studying theology is a challenging exercise, but I hope and expect that there will be a growing awareness among my students that theology is the responsibility and work undertaken by a hermeneutical community. Part of this entails that students feel a measure of safety in the classroom, that the learning environment be a place where their learnings and reflections are welcomed. No one learns while feeling threatened or in a place where one is constantly on the defence, or on the charge. Any classroom can be a perilous place as much as it can be a gift, a place where we grow frustrated with and mistrusting of one another, a place where we can learn the disgraceful habits of competition and soon forget that the texts we employ, and the ideas we share, are not part of some intellectual game but rather represent our efforts to think faithfully about the narratives of divine love. I believe that the story of God is the most beautiful of stories, and we learn it best when we learn in such a way that that beauty finds form in our learning together.

But there is another side to all this. For if the learning environment is merely safe, it is unlikely that anyone will learn anything at all. Teaching calls for a kind of necessity for violence – a kind of violence against our dearly-beloved ideas and convictions, for example – apart from which the kind of expectations I have in my teaching cannot be reached. Thus there is a real sense in which I hope that my students will not feel safe at all. For there seems little point in undertaking theological study unless one is willing to have one’s ideas interrogated, challenged, transformed, changed. Real learning is always a kind of repentance, with all of the risk and pain in the arse that such entails. It may also, as George Steiner has noted, ‘take us as near as is possible to the concept of resurrection’. In this sense, I invite my students to resist with all their might the seductive fallacy of the ‘safe’ classroom and what Ilan Stavans recently called the ‘façade for overprotectiveness’. ‘Being in class’, Stavans writes, ‘doesn’t bring salvation. Instead, it plunges you into the contradictions that shape our lives. Safety is a basic principle of education: Knowledge results from trust, and trust comes from care. Yet whether we like it or not, violence is an unavoidable feature, our constant companion. Nature without violence is a contradiction’.

‘Fidelity and betrayal are close knit’ (Steiner) in any community, classrooms included.

Musings on Ministry and Theological Education

Anne MallabyA guest post from Anne Mallaby

Coming to the end of a formal pastoral leadership at Box Hill Baptist Church creates a moment to reflect upon ministry as it has been experienced in the local church context, and in my involvement in theological education within the formal educative process. Often this may have appeared to be a dance between separate spheres of academic theology and its practical outworking that could be at best considered a tension, and at worst placed as polarities. However, for me the concluding of formal pastoral leadership responsibilities does not mean that my love for the church as it strives to express the love of God in the world will stop. It continues, albeit in a different mode but contributing to both in ways that hopefully serve the realm of God expressed locally and more broadly.

For many years, I have lived out a model of ministry that sought to apply academic thought to practice by intentionally considering how academic thinking informs my practice, and, in turn, how my practice prompts more rigorous examination and understanding. The conversation between the two has provided a rich base for ministry, with experience informing theological thinking and the resources of the academy enriching my pastoral practice. I’ve delighted in that interesting dialogue that takes seriously the challenges of engaging with people, religious systems, and social phenomena, and that seeks to reflect theologically upon them. And, in truth, I’ve never been tempted to see this conversation as a one-sided one. We need the academy to distil the social data, the sources of our tradition, and the richness of our text. And the academy needs the practitioner to ask the questions, to prompt the exploration, to seek understanding. This has never been an either/or approach. The academy and the practice of ministry delight together in a dance that rises and falls, seeking to catch the rhythm of God with us.

Often when we turn our attention to intentional rigorous thought, searching to make sense of the many conundrums that come our way in ministry, we shy away from thinking of this as academic research. But to truly grapple with issues that lay before us, we need to understand deeply and fully as much as we can. If ministry on the run is our sole approach, we are likely to run full headlong into complex situations that have been over-simplified or run away from the opportunities for rich learning and engagement that will inform how we live.

I’ve needed the rigor of the academy to make sense of my practice, to stimulate my thinking, and to prompt me to extend my ideas and practice. But there is a compromise of resourcing and time. Trying to be abreast of the most current thinking, responding thoughtfully and intelligently to trends and contemporary questions, requires thinking through the implications and considering fresh paradigms of thought with as much energy as we can gather. We need the means of gathering that research and the skills to interpret it within our contexts, and we need people who have those skills and the time to support us in this endeavour.

Of course, we are all practitioners. We engage in community life with real people seeking to live well in God. We are practitioner-theologians in one sense. That said, we can’t all be on top of everything, and if we are to delight in new discoveries and to be open to new insights in our learning, then time and space need to be available for this. If I’m honest, even keeping up with the latest research is a challenge, let alone contributing to it!

As my formal ministry leadership role in a local church comes to an end, the question may be asked if I have sold out to the desire to live in books and ideas? This is not only a simplistic view of the Academy; it is flawed. Just as I’ve needed the rigor of academy to offer input and clarity along the way, so too I will need the community of God to raise up some of the questions that are important and that need to be explored. We all need people who have the capacity to discern clearly and to think deeply about important subjects that inform our living.

I am committed to informed and integrative learning as the way forward for our churches and our formational programs. And being informed requires thoughtful, intentional, attention to research and discovery. I’m excited to be a part of a team who are committed to doing this together.

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Ed. Some related posts can be read here and here.

 

The political realm as a place of spiritual decision

Plato's Symposium - Anselm Feuerbach

‘The weightiest criticisms of Christian speech and practice amount to this: that Christian language actually fails to transform the world’s meaning because it neglects or trivializes or evades aspects of the human. It is notoriously awkward about sexuality; it risks being unserious about death when it speaks too glibly and confidently about eternal life; it can disguise the abiding reality of unhealed and meaningless suffering. So it is that some of those most serious about the renewal of a moral discourse reject formal Christian commitment as something that would weaken or corrupt their imagination. It may equally be that a Church failing to understand that the political realm is a place of spiritual decision, a place where souls are made and lost, forfeits the authority to use certain of its familiar concepts or images in the public arena’.

– Rowan Williams