Thursday, August 07, 2008

Catholicism on Merit

From paragraph 2011 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.

After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone.... In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself." - St. Therese of Lisieux, "Act of Offering"

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Protestant Myth of its Own Origins

Recently I've been perusing a website entitled "Biblical Evidence for Catholicism", the personal site of a person who converted from Calvinism to Catholicism. In one of his articles I discovered a quote that I thought really resonated with truth about Protestant self-identity in which he muses about "the Protestant myth of its own origins -- or a sort of Protestant folklore".

Central to Protestant self-understanding is the notion that Protestants are the "Bible people"; the ones who are Bible-centered (as well as "gospel-centered," of course) and who reject the "traditions of men" and arbitrary rulings of a powerful ruling class with a vested interest in the status quo. Many Protestants assume that they more or less have a monopoly on love and respect for the Bible.

Clearly, the abovementioned self-understanding is no longer held universally among those who call themselves Protestants. However, for Evangelicals (and particularly, for Calvinists), who regard themselves as the true inheritors of authentic Protestantism, this identity is as strong as it ever was. Ironically, it is this very identity that prevents Protestants from coming to a greater understanding of the Bible, as I shall discuss below.

It should be remembered that Protestantism was born, as it were, as a reaction to the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this, the early Reformers had to commit themselves to hermeneutical principles (presuppositions, for the presuppositionalists among you) that justified their reaction against Rome, whether or not these principles accorded with internal biblical testimony. The obvious first step was to deny the authority that Roman Catholicism attributed to sacred tradition. Not only did this provide some kind of a leg to stand upon, it also reinforced the perception that Protestants had a high view of the Scriptures because it was their ultimate source of authority. This presupposition also carries with it a presupposition of the sole sufficiency of Scripture.

The belief that one could deny the authority of sacred tradition and question the interpretation of the established church created further problems. On what basis could the Reformers legitimately do so? How did they know the interpretation of the Bible by the Catholic Church was wrong? The only viable solution to this dilemma is to assert that Scripture at these very critical points relating to salvation was self-evident. From here, we get the presupposition of the perspicuity of Scripture.

It is the presupposition of the perspicuity of Scripture, along with the identity of Protestants as the "Bible people" that has been so self-stultifying for Protestant understanding of the Bible. In short, if Scripture is clear (at least at important points) and you are part of the tribe of Bible people who are devoting to studying the Scriptures intensively, then it stands to reason that you believe your tribe understands the Bible correctly. The problem is, how do you explain the fact that other tribes disagree with your interpretation at different important points when you have affirmed the perspicuity of Scripture? If you're convinced that you've understood the Bible correctly, the only logical conclusion is to suggest that the other tribe is simply ignorant about Scripture. That is, if they had the devotion to Scripture that you did, and because Scripture is clear, they would come around to your understanding. No wonder that Calvinists like to perpetuate the myth that most Catholics are biblically illiterate.

Of course, there is the slightly disquietening thought that there are some who disagree with your understanding of the Bible that have studied the Scriptures diligently. One way around this is to simply claim that those people have simply been brainwashed by that Great Satan, the Roman Catholic Church and are parroting exactly what they hear from their evil overlord. The other way is to reaffirm that you are in fact part of the tribe of Bible people, that you cherish the Bible, that this person stands against you, and as such, they stand against the Bible. In short, if they were being honest with you and honest with themselves, they would quite humbly admit that you were right all along. Quite naturally it would be that way. After all, you belong to the tribe of Bible people ...

Monday, July 21, 2008

10 Insights from World Youth Day

1) While I'm still well and truly on the journey, I'm not quite ready to convert to Catholicism just yet. There is still much prayer and reflection to do before I will decide definitively.

2) Whatever qualms I have about Catholic doctrine, there is no denying that the majority of Catholics I know truly live by faith and are reliant upon the grace of God in their daily lives.

3) The majority of Catholics I know lead lives empowered by the Holy Spirit, far more so than many who would decry them as not being Christian. I found this particularly true on the last afternoon, where they were more than gracious towards my less than perfect behaviour.

4) The Catholics I know have self-aware and reflective faiths. They think carefully about what they believe and take their faith seriously.

5) Contrary to the stereotype, most Catholics I know don't see themselves as "good" people who will get to heaven because of their goodness. They see themselves as unfinished and in need of God's grace to sustain them.

6) Most Catholics I know place far less importance on doctrine than living a life in communion with God. Theirs is a very earthy and grounded faith.

7) Most Catholics I know appreciate that there are many elements of their faith that are a mystery. They don't seek to place God in a box they control, but humbly realise that God is bigger that they are.

8) Most Catholics I know are open to the Scriptures are don't read their own theology and prejudices into the text.

9) Most conservative Protestants don't have a clue about Catholicism and Catholic doctrine and don't have any inclination to become better informed. While this is sad, there is not much I can do to change that.

10) The Catholic Church is the only institution who can bring significant change for the better and the message of Jesus to a lost and broken world. Time will tell to what extent it is successful with this mission.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Ambitious Intentions for World Youth Day (Week)

Where I live and work I'm on the edge of World Youth Day celebrations, so until tonight I've really only seen the odd smattering of groups from around this world. But tonight I went to where the action is at Circular Quay and was totally unprepared for what I saw. So many pilgrims. So many countries. So little alcohol.

This gave me an idea ... No, not bootleg liquor, as profitable as this might be. I thought, since there are so many people around, how about I say hello to some of them, maybe give them a sign of the peace. And perhaps, I could get them to sign my WYD book, which I may have to pick up from the supermarket later tonight. My aim will to be to get as many countries in the book as possible.

So, what does everyone think of my plan?

Is it stupid?
Will I even go through with the plan?
And is this simply a thinly veiled idea to talk to girls from overseas?

I guess all these questions and more will be answered in due course. Stay tuned ...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stream of Consciousness Writing 1

Drifting, seamless star. From where you are; from where you sleep. What are those tangerine dreams that you speak of? Spoke, but no longer speak. Lifting from the ether and rising from the surface, then descend to rend all their due. Karmic consequence, that is. No grace; grace is gone. Sun no longer shines; peace no longer reigns; a new age begins.

Alien nation, why so foreign? Why so aloof? You hold the secrets you never wish to share; those you cling to your breast, and your breast alone. Is it really you that owns them? Disown. Rezone. Transcend and break free; seize and release. Unite with the other lonely being, thirsting for their counterparts.

To strike, to slay, to heal. The double-edged sword and the twisted olive branch. Make crooked paths straight and feeble hands strong. Empower by taking away. Away. Away with it all, away with them all. Simplify. Bring to focal point; the colours concentrated as one.

Sing, sung, unsung. Let the music reverberate, re-enervate. Ill fated swan, where do you swim; from where have you swum and from where have you come? Past is important - decides but not determines. To be determined upon other vicissitudes of life. Left for consideration, reflection, inflection.

Once stranded, once sailed, now failed. Death rattle. Last unfettered breath. Inhales, exhales. Expires and expires. Eyes shoot last flickering signs of life, last sparkling signs of sentience. Blinds drawn across. Eyelids close, shutters shut. Head bobs down, down to sleep, and yet no more to wake. Peace.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Demolition in Doha

It was a wonderful effort in Doha in the early hours of the morning, Australian time, as the Socceroos virtually assured themselves of first spot in their group with a 3-1 thrashing of Qatar. In terms of their attack, it was probably one of the best games I have seen from them in quite a while. The only disappointment was seeing them concede a consolation goal in the dying minutes, but you can't have everything your own way. Suffice to say, the performance was appreciated by all in attendance at Paddy Macguires in the city.

Last night's win means that the game against China next Sunday night in Sydney, which I will be attending, will pretty much be a dead rubber, but hopefully they can show some of their form regardless. I suspect that Australia's toughest games are ahead of them as they progress to one of the five-team groups where pretty much every game will be very tough to win. I'm not sure when the draw will take place to determine who else Australia will be playing, but I look forward to it with interest.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ulysses is Freakin' Hard to Understand

This time I really do think I've bitten off more than I can chew. I read a few of the great novellists and I thought that I was ready to read James Joyce. Suffice to say, I'm inclined to think that I'm out of my depth. From what I've read so far, it also seems as though you need post-graduate qualifications in English literature to understand the novel.

I'm just wondering if there are any people who could help me get a grasp on this great tome? Perhaps it may be better to read Homer's Odyssey first so I have at least a background knowledge of what Joyce is on about? Or perhaps there is no hope?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sanity Prevails Again

You may well have noticed that I haven't posted for the last week or so. The reason for this was largely beyond control - my computer decided to stop working. That said, the break was quite necessary for an unrelated reason. Sometimes the good has to be postponed for the better. And hopefully, the better better pay off. I shall keep you posted ...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Play's the Thing, Horatio

I had the opportunity to see a production of "Hamlet" by Bell Shakespeare tonight at the Opera House. The accomplished cast included theatre legend Barry Otto as Polonius and rising star Brendan Cowell as Hamlet. As a pleasant surprise, Sarah Blasko not only produced the score, but had a minor role on stage too. I can tell you now, she's even more gorgeous in real life than I had imagined her to be. The performances were absolutely fantastic, especially from Brendan Cowell. He really had such an amazing stage presence.

As a momento to this evening, I thought I might quote the one of the most famous soliloquys in all of Shakespeare's back catalogue. The artful way in which Shakespeare writes is remarkable at the best of times, but one is only made aware of his brilliance when one hears his plays well performed:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. - Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.

Friday, June 06, 2008

"Camus Can Do, But Sartre is Smartre"

So says Jon Lovitz in an episode of the Simpsons, but I'd suggest this is debateable. I've just finished reading "The Stranger" and it is a short, sharp, brilliant book. That said, it was a fairly depressing read, as the following quotes show:

"I was listening, and I could hear that I was being judged intelligent. But I couldnt quite understand how an ordinary mans good qualities could become crushing accusations against a guilty man."

"I did not feel remose for what I had done. But I was surprised by how relentless (the lawyer) he was. I would have liked to have tried explaining him cordially, almost affectionately, that I never had been able to truly feel remose for anything. My mind was always on what is coming next, today or tomorrow."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

On the Desirability of Desire

For some reason, there are two predominant responses when it comes to the issue of what to do with our desires. The first response is to submit to our desires and to simply go with the hedonistic flow. The second response is to repress these desires, to subvert them and to deny that they even exist. For obvious reasons, neither of these responses is particularly helpful. The former is short-sighted and fails to look to the long term interests of ourselves and others. The latter is perhaps even more problematic, because by denying the existence of our desires, we deny the existence of our humanity and even that impulse that gives us reason for being. It is this latter response that I wish to look at, since I believe that it is probably more prominent in Christian circles.

Desire is usually associated with that mysterious entity known as the "spirit" and is the sign that we do not merely exist, but exist for a reason. Without desire, our lives would soon become meaningless and we would see no reason to get out of bed in the morning. Indeed the very fact that we do get out of bed in the morning seems to suggest that we acknowledge that our existence has a reason, even if we dolefully concede this point. It is something that most of us doing instinctively rather than in a pre-meditated fashion.

Of course, as someone who has struggled and struggles with depression, I am well aware of the fact that our desires wax and wane with the tides of the sea. Life does not always seem meaningful and there does not always seem to be a reason to get out of bed. Indeed, this is the most horrible thing about depression - not the idea that one is sad, but that one is unable to find reason and meaning in existence. Life becomes a continual state of ennui and existence becomes nausea.

I would suggest that our desires are indicative of our attempts to reach out towards God. They are our unconscious attempts to cry out to the cosmos in the pursuit of transcendence. Most of the time, the root of our desires are hidden in our natural appetites, whether it be hunger, thirst for knowledge, sexual frustration, or anger. Sometimes, in the pursuit of transcendence, these desires become disordered and we see fulfilling these appetites as a means in themselves, rather than a means towards a greater end. The answer, according to Thomas a Kempis, is self-control:

So it is by resisting the desires that true peace of heart is found, not by yielding to them. That is why there is no peace is the heart of a person who is ruled by his natural desires and prisoner to externals; but there is peace in the person who is spiritually alive and ruled by spiritual standards.

We should not be ashamed of our desires - they are a sign that we are beings who not only live, but are alive. But to be truly alive, we must not be conquered by our desires. Only when our desires serve as a means towards a greater end will our desires ever be fulfilled.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Waugh's Counter-Intuitive Catholic Apologetic

When I finished Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited", I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the novel. Certainly, there is an element of tragedy involved - by the end of the story each of the characters seem to be rather broken as their ambitions and desires have failed to come to fruition. However, by Waugh's own admission, the novel "deals with what is theologically termed 'the operation of Grace', that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself". This being the case, it seems that the various tragedies that befall the characters are not meant to be the focal point of novel, but nonetheless play an important role in Waugh's theological argument.

The first thing that I noticed was that Waugh's depiction of the Catholic characters in the novel is often less than flattering. Each seems to be subject to fairly chronic personal failings. Sebastian, who is converted in his thirties seems completely incapable of beating his alcoholism. Brideshead is socially awkward and rather judgmental. Cordelia, the best intentioned of the lot, seems to be rather naive. But perhaps this is the point. Waugh is pointing out that the Church is a place for broken people; not for saints, but for sinners. In fact, Waugh seems to allude to the idea that it is only when people are brought low that faith begins to truly emerge.

The most charming element of the novel is the power of belief. Throughout most of the story, Julia is an incredibly skeptical lapsed Catholic, but the remnants of her faith remain, like glowing embers beneath the ashes. While she starts to consider that her religion may be true towards the end of the novel, it is only at the memorable deathbed scene of her father, recounted by the intensely agnostic Charles, when her faith is irrevocably restored:

'Now,' said the priest, 'I know you are sorry for all the sins of your life, aren't you? Make a sign, if you can. You're sorry, aren't you?' But there was no sign. 'Try and remember your sins; tell God you are sorry. I am going to give you absolution. While I am giving it, tell God you are sorry you have offended him.' He begin to speak in Latin. I recognised the words 'ego te absolvo in nomine Patris ...' and saw the priest make the sign of the cross. Then I knelt, too, and prayed: 'O God, if there is a God, forgive him his sins, if there is such a thing as sin,' and the man on the bed opened his eyes and made a sigh, the sort of sigh I had imagined people made at the moment of death, but his eyes moved so that we knew there was still life in him.

I suddenly felt the longing for a sign, if only of courtesy, if only for the sake of the woman I loved, who knelt in front of me, praying, I knew, for a sign. It seemed so small thing that was asked, the bare acknowledgement of a present, a nod in the crowd. I prayed more simply; 'God forgive him his sins' and 'Please God, make him accept your forgiveness.'

So small a thing to ask.

The priest took the little silver box from his pocket and spoke again in Latin, touching the dying man with an oil wad; he finished what he had to do, put away the box and gave the final blessing. Suddenly Lord Marchmain moved his hand to his forehead; I thought he had felt the touch of the chrism annd was wiping it away. 'O God,' I prayed, 'don't let him do that.' But there was no need for fear; the hand moved slowly down his breast, then to his shoulder, and Lord Marchmain made the sign of the cross. Then I knew that the sign I had asked for was not a little thing, not a passing nod of recognition, and a phrase came back to me from my childhood of the veil of the temple being rent from top to bottom.

The remarkable thing about this scene is Charles' desperate desire to believe. After rejecting the Catholic faith on the basis of logic, Charles breaks down in this scene to pray to the God who may or may not exist. He finds himself swept up in the moment and starts to pray, almost against his wishes. When sanity is restored, Charles seems to be embarrassed about letting his guard down and returns to his agnosticism. However, this is not to be the last word, and some years later faith finally gets the better of him.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Some Appropriate Soul Searching Music

"Knockin' on Heaven's Door" by the immortal Robert Zimmerman.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Lectio Divina

On the weekend I was introduced to the spiritual practice of "Lectio Divina", a discipline that is said to extend back to Saint Benedict in the early sixth century. In essence, the idea is to read a passage of Scripture several times and then stop to reflect upon a word or a phrase that the Holy Spirit has brought to the attention of the reader. These reflection then lead to prayers the individual offers up to God. This is a process that is meant to transcend mere intellectual ruminations.

Reading through "Imitation of Christ today, I was struck by the words of Thomas a Kempis on the art of reading the Scriptures. He writes:

In the Holy Scriptures we must look for truth, not eloquence. All Scripture must be read in the spirit in which it is written and in the Scriptures we should look for what will help us, and not for subtle points.

Upon reflection, this makes perfect sense to me. Throughout history, the majority of the Christian population has been poorly educated and illiterate. In this sense, the idea that one can get to the deeper truth of Scriptures by clinically analysing sentence structure and grammar seems rather absurd. I suspect the authors of the books of the Bible weren't aiming for such nuances, given that they expected their message to be heard by and understood by a peasant community.

It seems to me that those who believe that they are theologically sophisticated because they analyse Scripture with what they believe to be precision miss the point completely. They are like scientists dissecting a frog - understanding the internal organs is interesting, but this doesn't change the fact that the scientist has killed the frog. Scripture is meant to be a living, breathing entity that speaks to the individual by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, not a dead entity that can conquered objectively. For these people, they want to tame Scripture and turn it into something that they possess and I suspect that the idea that Scripture may be bigger than they are might be far too confronting. Only when they subject themselves to the Holy Spirit will the Scriptures be opened up to them.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

My Evangelical Readers Will Be Jealous of Me

I have observed over the years that many evangelicals bemoan the fact that they're no good at evangelism. Either they lack the confidence to share their faith, or they never find themselves in a position to explain what they understand to be the gospel. On Friday night, I got a chance to explain the evangelical understanding of the gospel, even without trying.

To set the scene, I was heading off for a weekend away with a Catholic group and was given a lift to the venue by a girl, along with another passenger. The truth got out that I came from an evangelical upbringing, had been happily evangelical until my early twenties and that I was not yet confirmed as a Catholic. After talking about my background for a little bit longer, one of the girls asked me why a lot of Protestants didn't consider Catholics to be Christians. I outlined the evangelical understanding of the gospel, explaining that a lot of Protestants get very hung up on the idea that Catholics don't believe in salvation by grace through faith and believe that this undermines the sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross. I must confess that I gave a fairly lucid description of the gospel too, which shows that I still haven't lost any of the touch that I had when I was an evangelical myself.

If struck me that evangelicals would get my opportunities to share the gospel if they took an interest in what other people believed and did so with an open mind. Of course, if one wanted to be really cynical, one could simply feign interest, as I suspect most evangelicals do. They could merely pretend they were interested and then press towards the goal. Of course, I suspect that one will get a lot more "opportunities" if they really are interested in the Catholic faith, as I actually am. That said, since there is no room for genuine two-way dialogue in the evangelical understanding of evangelism, contrived and fabricated two-way dialogue shall have to do.

So, to my evangelical friends who are disappointed that they struggle to "share the gospel" with others, consider this: I've probably explained the evangelical gospel to more people than you lately - and I haven't even tried ...

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Run is (Probably) Over

Well, it looks like the end. So far I've blogged every day this year, making 152 days in total. In doing that I've probably sacrificed quality for the sake of quantity - but people don't seem to appreciate quality anyway, do they? Not like in the good old days, it seems. That said, I'm going away to Kurrajong this weekend for a Catholic retreat and probably won't have an internet connection. Well, it's been a good run while its lasted.

Maybe there are some computer heads out there who could set up a program that will "auto blog" for me at twenty-four hour intervals? Or is my belief in the idea of perpetual blogging simply one of my immaculate conceptions based on nothing but an assumption?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

C.S. Lewis on the Reformation

The process whereby ‘faith and works’ become a stock gag for the commercial theatre is characteristic of that whole tragic farce which we call this history of the Reformation. The theological questions really at issue have no significance except on a certain level, a high level, of the spiritual life; they could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure. Under those conditions formulae might possibly have been found which did justice to the Protestant–I had almost said the Pauline–assertions without compromising other elements of the Christian faith. In fact, however, these questions were raised at a moment when they immediately became embittered and entangled with a whole complex of matters theologically irrelevant, and therefore attracted the fatal attention both of government and the mob. When once this had happened, Europe’s chance to come through unscathed was lost. It was as if men were set to conduct a metaphysical argument at a fair, in competition or (worse still) forced collaboration with the cheapjacks or the round-abouts, under the eyes of an armed and vigilant police forced who frequently changed sides. Each party increasingly misunderstood the other and triumphed in refuting positions which their opponents did not hold: Protestants misrepresenting Romans as Pelagians or Romans misrepresenting Protestants as Antinomians [emphasis mine].

- C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Excluding Drama), Introduction, p37

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

From the Road to Brideshead

I finished "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac. The book took me a while to get into, but by the time I had finished, I felt the journey worthwhile. I must admit that I felt a little bit ambivalent about the "hero" of the story, Dean Moriaty. He has a number of fatal flaws, the most prominent of these being his womanising tendencies. But at the time he is certainly not a malicious character, doesn't hold grudges and is warm toward all those he comes into contact with. Still, it is his irresponsibly that ends up alienating him from those around him and ultimately causes his downfall. What I found fascinating was the fact that I felt tremendously sorry for him, even though what happened to him seemed to be poetic justice.

Having finished "On the Road", I've now started "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh. So far I've read the prologue and the first chapter and the novel offers a lot of promise. One thing I am interested in is whether the novel is meant to be semi-autobiographical. I know that Evelyn Waugh was received into the Catholic Church in his late twenties and the book is about the protagonist's attraction to an aristocratic and eccentric Roman Catholic family. Perhaps I shall have to research that later, but it might be a good idea to read the book on its merits for the time being.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Catholic Gathering Tonight

I've been back from my "Branches" meeting earlier this evening about half an hour ago. I would suggest without doubt that it was the most interesting night yet. The talk was about "Brokenness and Healing", but perhaps what intrigued me most was the story of the speaker's conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism. Although people never give me enough details to satisfy my unquenchable thirst, I do know that it was a long journey. From the time she starting flirting with Catholicism to the time when she eventually became Catholic was almost five years.

One of the reasons I found her story so interesting is that it had many similarities to mine, both in her upbringing and by the fact that she was exposed to overzealous evangelicalism in her university days. She also pointed to being strangely drawn to the Eucharist. Upon reflection, I can say this is also true for me. The only major difference is that I that while my mother is Protestant, she would be supportive of my decision should I one day decide to become Catholic. I sense that there was perhaps a time when this may not have been the case, but it seems that her faith have significantly developed since then, just as mine has.

I should point out that it has already been a long journey for me. Some three years ago when I was still living at Ashfield, I discovered that their was a "Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel" open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week at the nearby suburb Belfield. Sometimes, when I would get depressed at night, or could not sleep, I would get in my car and drive the three or four kilometres down to the chapel. Often this would take place at crazy times like three in the morning. When I got to the church, sometimes I would just sit down and reflect, sometimes I'd pray, and sometimes I would read my Bible.

I must admit, I'm not entirely sure how these middle of the night visits led to me deciding to look further into Catholicism, but I'm glad that they did. I can't say for sure that I will become a Catholic, but even if I don't, I'm quite grateful to God that he has been able to help me establish a newfound respect for these special brothers and sisters in Christ. This is something I know I shall never lose.

Monday, May 26, 2008

More on the Atonement

Some of my readers may remember that a few nights ago I talked about the concerning disconnect between the evangelical perception of the gospel and Jesus' teachings. I thought that I might take that idea further tonight and try to examine Jesus' life and ministry within the context of his subsequent death and resurrection. With that in mind, I suggest that by looking at the atonement through the lens of Christus Victor, we see the entirety of Jesus' life, including Jesus death and resurrection, as a coherent whole. Alternatively, I would suggest that the same cannot be said if we understand the atonement through the lens of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, because when we do, Jesus' life and ministry begins to look somewhat like an unnecessary and option extra.

The first thing I'd point out is that I believe that evangelicals are right to see Jesus' death as the focal point of his earthly ministry. Firstly, the gospel writers all include the crucifixion and resurrection narrative, and all conclude their narratives with these events. Secondly, one only needs to see how much space each writer decides to allocate to the final week of Jesus' life to know that they consider these events to be important. Of course, this is not to say that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is of exclusive importance, but it is fair to say that these events should be regarded as the climax of the gospel narratives and the logical conclusion of what has preceded these events.

In my previous post, I suggested that the Kingdom of God Jesus speaks so much about should be central in our understanding of the gospel. I described the Kingdom of God as more than merely a spiritual and distant reality. It is clear that Jesus believes that he has inaugurated the Kingdom of God. In short, he believes that there is a very real sense in which the Kingdom of God is already here. Furthermore, I suggested that the Kingdom of God is opposed to "this present evil age", which is seen to enslave and entrap the captives. By striking out against the religious, political and social institutions that held humanity captive, Jesus is offering freedom to all.

What I have described above in the life and ministry of Jesus is part of the story, but I would suggest that it is only by examining this mission in the context of Jesus' subsequent death and resurrection does the story truly take shape. The first thing to point out is that throughout the gospel narratives Jesus is fighting an active and malevolent force of evil, fighting back to prevent this freedom that Jesus offers. The gospel writers all use the religious authorities as the human face of this evil, and to a lesser extent the Roman Empire. Throughout the gospel narratives, each gospel writer foreshadows the inevitable show down between Jesus' and the powers. At various points of the narrative, it is clear that the religious authorities wish to kill Jesus. Indeed, this is precisely what does happen with the crucifixion. It is here where Jesus meets evil face to face, eye to eye, the event that the whole scope of Jesus' ministry is building towards. Here we understand the resurrection as Jesus' defeat of the powers and the defeat over the power that death holds over humanity.

The summary I've provided above suggests that the very direction of Jesus' ministry leads to an inevitable final confrontation. Even as Jesus is dying, we see the curtain tear in two, a symbol of Jesus fight against the powers that keep humanity from God. Understood this way, the cross is not isolated from the very raison d'etre of Jesus' ministry - rather it is the very point of Jesus ministry writ large. As much as I try, I just can't make the same sense out of Penal Substitutionary Atonement - it doesn't seem like the continuation of Jesus ministry, but rather the antithesis of it. Throughout Jesus' ministry, Jesus tells parable after parable depicting God as "the Good Father" and encourages us to speak to God as if we were on intimate terms with Him. Then Jesus dies on the cross, apparently to placate the wrath of God. I'm sorry, but this simply doesn't seem consistent with the rest of the gospel narrative.

If any of my evangelical readers are still reading, I'd encourage you to explain to me how Jesus' broader ministry fits within the context of Penal Substitionary Atonement. If nothing else, this will encourage you to examine the Atonement from the perspective of the gospels - and you may just give me something to think about.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More Heller Genious

From Chapter 39, "The Eternal City" in Catch-22:

He wondered how many people were destitute that same night even in his own prosperous country, how many homes were shanties, how many husbands were drunk and wives socked, and how many children were bullied, abused or abandoned. How many families hungered for food they could not afford to buy? How many hearts were broken? How many suicides would take place that same night, how many people would go insane? How many cockroaches and landlords would triumph? How many winners were losers, successes failures, rich men poor men? How many wise guys were stupid? How many happy endings were unhappy endings? How many honest men were liars, brave men cowards, loyal men traitors, how many sainted men were corrupt, how many people in positions of trust had sold their souls to blackguards for petty cash, how many never had souls? How many straight-and-narrow paths were crooked paths? How many best families were worst families and how many good people were bad people?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Jesus Speaks to Sydney

It is amazing that two thousand years on, Jesus' words still speak to the behaviour of many religious authorities in Sydney:

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
"Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you receive greater condemnation.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." - Matthew 23:13-15

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Veritable Football Feast

It's been a veritable football feast this week as I attended a party to watch the FA Cup final last Saturday night, went to the local pub to watch the Blues take the honours in the first State of Origin game and slept through the Champions League final which was played in Russia at 4 am Sydney time (but made sure I found out the score as soon as I woke up). Tonight the festival continues as I travel out to the Sydney Football Stadium to see Australia play Ghana live in the sport formally known as soccer. Unfortunately, Lucas Neill, Tim Cahill and Mark Viduka are all out, but it should be an entertaining match, considering the flair of the Ghanians. I'm predicting three or four goals will be scored.

It should be a great game and a great night. And for once on a Friday night, I have a life. Who'd a thunk it?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Social Justice and the "Gospel"

Tony Payne has recently written an article over at the Sola Panel looking at the relationship between what he calls "the gospel" and social action. To cut a long story short, Tony concludes that the relationship is non-existent, or at the very most, fairly tenuous. If anything, this should immediately signal alarm bells, given that Jesus seems to attribute considerable importance to the task of social justice in his ministry.

The first thing to point out is that Tony assumes that the definition and the parameters of "the gospel" are beyond dispute. According to Tony, the gospel is embodied in a series of propositional statements that one affirms in order to become a Christian. Reading through the gospels, that simply isn't what I read in the teachings of Jesus. Quite possibly it seems that evangelicals of Tony's ilk agree, since tracts that are meant to represent the gospel such as "Two Ways to Live" choose not to incorporate any of Jesus' own words into their gospel presentation. Apparently, the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus of history is much too inconvenient for the evangelical understanding of the gospel.

Given that evangelicals don't like to refer to Jesus when they talk about the gospel, it's not the least bit surprising that their understanding of the gospel has become somewhat warped, as evidenced in what they call Penal Substitutionary Atonement. I think more than anything else, this explains why evangelicals have consistently failed to construct a coherent framework to adequately understand the interrelationship between what they call the gospel and good works. Interestingly, it is worth mentioning that James deals at length with the problem of a faith that does not express itself through works and works that exist independently from faith.

I'd suggest that if evangelicals were to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, then they wouldn't have the problem that I've discussed above. The first thing to point out is that Jesus places considerable focus on what he identifies as the "Kingdom of God". It is clear that while the Kingdom of God involves an eternal element, it is also a presently unfolding reality. Several times in Scripture, both in the teachings of Jesus and elsewhere, the Kingdom of God is contrasted to "this present evil age", which is construed as nothing less than an opposing force to the Kingdom of God that Jesus is establishing. The establishment of the Kingdom of God involves tearing down the strongholds that hold humanity captive - and we see this in the ministry of Jesus in his determination to strike against the purity, debt and social codes of his days. His words in Luke 4:18-19 are particularly poignant:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

There is one important last word to say on the subject. Social justice is not the sum total of the gospel. Jesus' ambition to bring about a reconstituted humanity is not completed by building a well, or alleviating hunger - it is only started. Jesus' vision of God's Kingdom coming, when "His will be done on earth as it is in heaven" involves a complete reappraisal of values, both individually and corporately. The first step is freeing the captives. The second step is maintaining this freedom - and this will only occur when people are under the jurisdiction of Christ.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mad World

The Gary Jules' cover written for Donnie Darko, one of the more interesting movies around. Also, if you didn't grow up in the eighties, I suggest that you get acquainted with "Tears For Fears" who originally wrote the song, especially with their tracks "Head Over Heels" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" - they are a very underrated group.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Untitled 1

We are what we are and we are no more - and no more shall we be. We are shadows without substance, silhouettes fading with the failing light. As we expire, we expire, and we sigh from the last of our reserves. "We deserved so much more" we say, but say this to the vast, desolate expanses. It is what it is and it is no more - and no more shall it be.

We resign, because there is no more. There may have been, but what was, is gone, and what is has never been. For nothing shall come, and nothing will suffice. And yet nothing is expected. Such expectations will be satisfied, and yet satisfy they will not. They shall disappoint, and yet disappoint, they will not. Such things will come to pass, though of course they will not.

We have passed through, slipped beyond the mirky depths of the yesteryear to the darkness of today. Our senses sense us failing, and yet there is nothing to fall into but the abyss. And the abyss shall never hold us - it shall give way as we sink ever deep. To stop is to have stopped, and to finished is to be finished, but when shall it stop and when shall it finish?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Masters of War

In all history there is no war which was not hatched by the governments, the governments alone, independent of the interests of the people, to whom war is always pernicious even when successful. - Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Come you masters of war
You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
While the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
While the young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When you death takes its toll
All the money you made
Won't ever buy back your soul

Andl I hope that you die
And your death will come soon
I'll follow your casket
On a pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand over your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Sunday, May 18, 2008

In Search of Silence

Swirling sounds surround me. Chasing, tracing my every move. Silence, violently snuffed out - no more shall I hear; no more shall I see. A rumbling, tumbling cacophany cascades over me. I'm stuck in the whirlwind; revolving, evolving around in my head.

Noise attacks my senses sensely and noiselessly. Trapped on a train travelling south, and so further I descend. Deeper, deeper, deeper, I'm immersed without mercy and descend further. Doesn't anybody hear? Doesn't anybody see?

I arise and yet I can't escape. The faster they run, the faster they follow. And followed still, I fall on fallow ground. Tripped and then slip, up, down to the earthy below. I look ahead - and still they stand.

Voice, voices swallow me whole. My soul subsides in sinking sand. Collapse, relapse, I am no more. I wind across the darkened streets. And stumble still, and will again. And then, and then, and then ...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Catch-22 and Hegemony

It's been a few nights since I've finished Catch-22 and I've had a little bit of time to think about some of the issues in the novel. Of course, it goes without saying that the novel is more than merely a scathing critique on the military by Heller. I would suggest that Heller is making a fairly anti-institutional statement, in which he sees a hegemonic relationship that exists between oppressors and the oppressed that exists only through the means of ignorance. Apart from the military, it seems that the medical profession, the Church, big business and the State are all objects of Heller's attack.

I think the interesting thing about the abovementioned institutions is that they have their own kind of language that seems nonsensical to those outside the small circle of trust. As a legal practitioner myself, I am all too aware of the fact that I have become conversant in a secret language. It would seem as though these secret languages serve to empower the few at the expense of the many. Those who are not fluent in these languages have little else to do than to trust that the "experts" are providing sound advice and that they will not abuse their position of authority.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thirty Tips on Writing by Jack Kerouac

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside your own house
4. Be in love with your life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yrself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Don't think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You're a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Thursday, May 15, 2008

So, So Busy

It's rather frustrating being busy, but even moreso at the moment. You see, there has been plenty to get agitated about lately, and many articles that I could and would like to write. Some that immediately come to mind are "Christians Who Love Slave Labour", "Do Evangelicals Preach a Christless Christianity?" and "Yossarian: That Crazy Bombardier". But they shall have to wait for the moment, because I have higher priorities at the moment than finding a way to incur the wrath of the Religious Right. Perhaps tomorrow it will be a more viable option?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Customer is Occasionally Right

I had a small victory today as I was able to exchange a faulty mobile charger from the place that I bought it. I think I have become so used to poor service that I expected my cries to go unanswered. The thing is, I didn't need to cry. In fact, I didn't even bring a receipt with me. Just like the way in was in the good ol' days when folks trusted one another ...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fight Club

I've never thought about this before, but don't you think that it is ironic that Tyler Durden has exchanged one type of materialism for another type of materialism in the following quote:

You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your ****ing khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

- Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Monday, May 12, 2008

Choose Life

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a ****ing big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed- interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of ****ing fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing sprit- crushing game shows, stuffing ****king junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing you last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, ****ed-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that?

- Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting (1993)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day, Mum

Over the last few years, I've made a fairly interesting discovery. That is, that is can be very hard for me to truly empathise with people. I mean, it's not as though I don't understand when somebody is upset or hurting, it's simply that this tends to be an intellectual understanding and I don't really feel that I can feel their pain. Even when I hear about atrocities overseas, I struggle to get upset. And to be perfectly honest, this really upsets me, because who wouldn't be moved by seeing the suffering of others?

One of the things that I've learnt is that there is only one person whose distress really physically distresses me - and that's my mother. Actually, perhaps my first reaction is one of outrage, as in "How dare you feel upset - it's making me feel upset". After I get over that, my next reaction is to want to help, which genuinely tends to be fruitless. My next feeling is one of pure helplessness and resignation, knowing that there is nothing that I can do to help my mother or myself. Quite probably, she feels the same way. It's almost like we share this psychic connection that fuses our thoughts and emotions together.

The bizarre paradox about this strange situation is that in helping me feel grief in another's pain, my mother helps me to feel that I am human. That I am part of the human race. Struggling to empathise with other people and having difficulty getting other people to empathise with me can be quite a lonely phenomenon. And so that's why, in a profoundly strange way, I am grateful for the counter-intuitive way in which my mother helps me to realise that I am not alone.

Happy Mother's Day Mum, from your loving son David.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Dada Manifesto



DADA knows everything. DADA spits everything out.

BUT . . . . . . . . .

about Italy
about accordions
about women's pants
about the fatherland
about sardines
about Fiume
about Art (you exaggerate my friend)
about gentleness
about D'Annunzio
what a horror
about heroism
about mustaches
about lewdness
about sleeping with Verlaine
about the ideal (it's nice)
about Massachusetts
about the past
about odors
about salads
about genius, about genius, about genius
about the eight-hour day
about the Parma violets


DADA doesn't speak. DADA has no fixed idea. DADA doesn't catch flies.



The Futurist is dead. Of What? Of DADA

A Young girl commits suicide. Because of What? DADA
The spirits are telephoned. Who invented it? DADA
Someone walks on your feet. It's DADA
If you have serious ideas about life,
If you make artistic discoveries
and if all of a sudden your head begins to crackle with laughter,
If you find all your ideas useless and ridiculous, know that


cubism constructs a cathedral of artistic liver paste
expressionism poisons artistic sardines
simultaneism is still at its first artistic communion
futurism wants to mount in an artistic lyricism-elevator
unanism embraces allism and fishes with an artistic line
neo-classicism discovers the good deeds of artistic art
paroxysm makes a trust of all artistic cheeses
ultraism recommends the mixture of these seven artistic things
creationism vorticism imagism also propose some artistic recipes

50 francs reward to the person who finds the best
way to explain DADA to us

Dada passes everything through a new net.
Dada is the bitterness which opens its laugh on all that which has been made consecrated forgotten in our language in our brain in our habits.
It says to you: There is Humanity and the lovely idiocies which have made it happy to this advanced age



Citizens, comrades, ladies, gentlemen

Beware of forgeries!
Imitators of DADA want to present DADA in an artistic form which it has never had


You are presented today in a pornographic form, a vulgar and baroque spirit which is not the PURE IDIOCY claimed by DADA


Friday, May 09, 2008

I Hate Star City

My parents are down in Sydney tonight to watch a production of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show", so they invited me out to tea before the show started. 'Twas good to catch up with them, but I must admit that I really hate Star City. I mean, hate it with a passion. To see people literally throwing their money away in the pursuit of that big win is too depressing for words. The fact that everything is glitzy and glamourous only makes it worse. The fact is, behind all that glitz and glamour, there are countless people in Australia who have a gambling related problem, many of whom cannot afford it. And what's worse, casinos like Star City deliberately prey on their victims to suck as much blood from them as they can. After all, it's not them who have to clean up the mess, is it?

I guess the rationale for legalised gambling is that people should be free to do what they like with their money, including pissing it away. That said, surely casinos have a responsibility not to exploit the desperation of gambling addicts? But this is precisely what they do, with lights and noises of the poker machines and with the image that is promoted of the casino. Advertisements show good looking guys and girls shrieking in almost orgasmic delight as they score another win over the house. Imagine if like on cigarette packets, they were forced to show the reality behind the facade? Pained expressions of losing one's paycheck, children going without food because the money was gone, people at the end of their rope thinking about taking their lives. It wouldn't be a very strong selling point would it?

I must admit, I don't really know what the answer is to this societal cancer. It seems like the job of many agencies seems to be to help someone to pick up the pieces after someone have destroyed their life. It would be good to think that there is something that can be done before the situation gets that bad, but I guess that it is only when people hit rock bottom that they finally seek help. Regardless, we should recognise all too clearly that this is not an individual problem, but a problem that affects our entire society. In that respect, surely it is in our interests to do something to stop the rot further?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Love Bombing and Heterodoxy in the Church

In an increasingly alienated society, it is not surprising that a place like church can be an appealling place for many people. At its best, the church does a wonderful job of cultivating a community that feel connected to each other. Of course, it would be naive to think that the church is merely a social club, for it is true that people congregate at church for a reason, namely worship. And indeed it is in that context, at the deepest levels of human existence we connect, making this connection all the stronger. At this point, the identity of the individual starts to merge with the congregation, and the community becomes not a group of different believers, but one body of believers together.

As appealling as being part of the group may be, group identity can have a sinister side. There becomes a point at which the identity of the individual becomes so subsumed in the identity of the group that their uniqueness begins to become redundant, either because they forget their distinctiveness, or they are subtlely pressured to fall into line. Dudley Hyde, speaking of his experiences of towing the party line, made the following observation:

In the institution we call the "church" there are lots of rewards. People will sincerely welcome you. They love outsiders who genuinely want to be insiders. They may fawn on you and do all sorts of things to welcome you. And we all like being welcomed! But beware of the price of the "free lunch". The price is conformity. Growing like the people we are with. Soon you find yourself talking their language, singing their songs, even subscribing to their beliefs, because you don't want to be "the odd one out". I never overcame my sense of guilt at my hypocrisy.

Perhaps it may be said that virulent non-conformists like myself want to have their cake and eat it too, in the sense that we want to be part of a community, but we want to retain the right to think for ourselves. But surely their is room for individuality in the body of Christ, where we can gather around in worship of Christ, notwithstanding our differences? I guess the question for me is whether the issue is one of striking an appropriate balance, or whether community is not so dependant upon common belief and practice as we wish to make out?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Disappointments and Decisions

In a sense I'm a little bit ashamed of this, but I thought that I might as well write about it so that I will be able to look back at it in the fullness of time with some perspective ...

Today I received the news that I was unsuccessful in securing a position at [insert employer here]. This was deeply disappointing for me, since I felt that I was more than capable of doing the job, but was let down by my less than impressive interview. This job would have made my future a lot more certain than it currently is, which is something else that I am worrying about.

Tonight at about 9 o'clock, my mother rang me to see how I was feeling since I had called her earlier in the day to relay the bad news. Nothing much had changed and if anything I was feeling worse, given the time to think about things. I'm very hard to make me feel better at such a time, since I will tend to see anything reassuring that is said as a vacuous cliche - and so it was this time.

The thing is, [insert employer here] is currently having a National Recruitment Campaign. This is some degree of consolation, but it is still sobering to think that this process will take many months and I am currently very impatient after seven years of working to get to the point I am now, only to have to wait a little while longer. My mother told me that she "was sure" that I would get a job during this campaign. Such declarations make me feel rather ambivalent. On the one hand, I almost have this superstitious trust in my mother that if she believes that something will pass, it will, almost as though I believe that she has psychic powers. On the other hand, I realise that this is inherently silly and that she has no control whatsoever over the outcome. Rather dolefully, I asked her "What's your basis for that?" to which she replied that there was no basis, but that it was "a gut feeling".

Not to be beaten by this gut feeling, I decided to put my mother's gut feeling to the challenge. I made my counter-attack by making a fairly emphatic declaration that I wasn't and seeing just how serious she was in her conviction. Suffice to say, I now know how serious she is.

I only hope she's right.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What is Our Life?

What is our life? a play of passion
Our mirth the musicke of division,
Our mothers wombes the tyring houses be,
Where we are drest for this short Comedy,
Heaven the Judicious sharpe spectator is,
That sits and markes still who doth act amisse,
Our graves that hide us from the searching Sun,
Are like drawne curtaynes when the play is done,
Thus march we playing to our latest rest,
Onely we dye in earnest, that's no Jest.

- Sir Walter Ralegh, Madrigals and Mottets (1612)

Monday, May 05, 2008


I'm currently about a hundred pages through Catch-22 and let me tell you this - its one confusing head trip. It is truly like nothing else I've ever read. Quite deliberately, the logic is incredibly skewed and rather circular. Not to mention the fact that it is difficult to discern a plot among the disconnected narratives. That said, I think it might be starting to come together somewhat.

Catch-22 is a satirical and scathing assessment at military culture. Reading more like a collection of absurd short stories that seem only to relate to each other at tangents than a united novel, the idea that there is a particular type of illogic in the military that seems alien to commonsense is promoted. This is clearly displayed in what is perhaps the most famous part of the novel, where Yossarian is trying to get out of a flying mission:

"Can't you ground someone who's crazy?"

"Oh, sure, I have to. There's a rule saying I have to ground anyone who's crazy."

"Then why don't you ground me? I'm crazy. Ask Clevinger."

"Clevinger? Where is Clevinger? You find Clevinger and I'll ask him."

"Then ask any of the others. They'll tell you how crazy I am."

"They're crazy."

"Then why don't you ground them?"

"Why don't they ask me to ground them?"

"Because they're crazy, that's why."

"Of course they're crazy," Doc Daneeka replied. "I just told you they're crazy, didn't I? And you can't let crazy people decide whether you're crazy or not, can you?"

Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another appraoch. "Is Orr crazy?"

"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.

"Can you ground him?"

"I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule."

"Then why doesn't he ask you to?"

"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to."

"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"

"That's all. Let him ask me."

"And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked.

"No. Then I can't ground him."

"You mean there's a catch?"

"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Not Such a Good Tournament

I'm back from my weekend and Laurieton and unfortunately the news is not so good. I only scored 5 out of 7, winning third place. The tournament started badly in the first round, when I found a way to blunder in a completely won position, only to win because my much lower rated opponent didn't see a fairly simple winning move. In the third round I played the third seed, got a fairly good position and effectively threw away the game. In the fifth round, I had to play the top seed and I got outplayed pretty much from the opening. My opponent played a fairly obscure line that I wasn't all that familiar with and I got a passive position fairly quickly.

Even though I didn't cover my expenses for the weekend, I was able to learn a few extra things:

1. I really hate it when people driving behind me keep their high beams on. (Incidentally, if you're one of those inconsiderate people who do that, then please stop.)

2. I start a weekend away with notes and end my weekend with lots and lots of coins.

3. While I'd still prefer to win at things, I'm far less competitive than I used to be.

4. You can really begin to enjoy yourself when you force yourself to socialise.

5. For some reason, I feel compelled to buy food and/or drink when I pull in at a service station, even when I'm not hungry or thirsty.

6. When I'm at a chess tournament, I always plan to do something constructive between games like reading, but this never happens.

With all these things learnt, who can say that my weekend was a disappointment?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

You Can't Beat a Heatherbrae Pie

Yes, that's right - you heard it here first.

Last night, I made the trip from Sydney to Laurieton, a small town about twenty minutes south of Port Macquarie. And as per tradition, I stopped on the way to get an Apple and Blueberry pie from Heatherbrae's Pies and a carton of chocolate Oak milk. Goes down like a dream, or so the slogan says.

I've already paid my entry fee for the chess tournament I'm playing in and will return to the venue as soon as I am finished this blog entry. It's good to get away for a weekend to get away from things that I'm impatiently worrying about back home. Although I have a bit of recurring hayfever, I'm not going to let that spoil my little holiday.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Weekend Ahead

You'll all be happy to know that I finished "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens. I enjoyed the book immensely and was most impressed by the way that Dickens was able to set the scene, especially the last section, which had a real gothic feel to it. But let me tell you this, the ending was a real let down. Both of them. No joke.

The new book I'll be starting is "Catch 22" by Joseph Heller. I've already read the first chapter, just so that I could get a feel for the book. You have to admit, the idea of an Anabaptist army chaplain is great. Absolutely classic, as far as I'm concerned.

Finally, I've pretty much decided to play in a chess tournament in Laurieton this weekend. Should be good fun. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe that there is an internet cafe of sorts there that is open for three hours on Saturday morning, which means that I will be able to give you a riveting report on the highlights along the Pacific Highway. Perhaps there might be some potholes between Raymond Terrace and Taree that I can speak about?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Kudos to Caritas

You may remember that a few days ago I told you about attending Branches, an introduction to Catholic spirituality. I should point out that I'm not sure if they used this title and perhaps I should either, since I am quickly learning that there are about as many Catholic spiritualities as there as Catholics. Anyway, after Branches, some of the people go down to the Brooklyn on the corner of Grosvenor and George streets to continue to get to know each other. I didn't have too much else to do, so I decided to join them.

During my time at the Brooklyn, I got talking to a young woman who works for Caritas, a Catholic aid organisation that primarily operate in community projects in the same way as other groups like TEAR. She began to talk to me about her great passion for social justice and the role that this played in her faith, which wasn't entirely surprising, considering that Catholicism has a rich tradition when it comes to charitable organisations. However, as I talked to her I began to realise that I was speaking to someone who was speaking in my language. From my experience of progressive Christianity in the Uniting Church, it seemed to me that she would not have felt out of place in that context in the slightest. In the same way, I felt that my faith journey was much closer to what she represented than that represented by my evangelical upbringing.

One of the interesting aspects of our conversation was hearing her talk about the philosophy of Caritas. She explained to me that while the Statement of Faith for Caritas is undeniably Catholic, they are adamantly opposed to using their charity work to proselytise those communities that they worked for. In fact, she told me that one of the first things Caritas sent to the victims of the Asian Tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka were Muslim prayer mats to enable families who had lost relatives and friends to properly grieve. This surprised her at the time and I certainly surprised me.

One of the interesting things she said was that by respecting the beliefs of those Caritas were providing charity to, a lot of the initial hesitance and hostility to accepting Catholic aid in these countries were diminished. Not only that, but when communities discovered that there was no catch to this aid, they actually wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith. This certainly seems to refute the orthodoxy that suggests that the only way to do evangelism is by explicitly confronting those you seek to convert. Quite simply, the way that Caritas seem to do their work seems to be evangelism of the purest kind - showing people the way of Jesus by being Jesus to these people, respecting where they are at in their personal journey. I must admit, I am amazed at the wonderful work that they do and the fact that they are an incredible witness to Christ.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Feelin' Sick

Well, I've been feeling sick today, so I had to take the day off work. This is, of course, the cruel paradox of human existence - that sick days are actually wasted by the fact that you are sick. My day has consisted of sleeping and reading, with the one meal I felt able to consume at lunch. I apologise for not providing my usual sparkling commentary today, since I simply don't have the energy or the inclination at the moment to do so. Hopefully, I will feel refreshed after a good sleep, which will allow us to resume normal transmission tomorrow ...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Evangelicals are Really Closet Docetists

With the abovementioned title in mind, I'm thinking that I have to start employing a rating system for my blog posts. Posts such as this one may be rated TO - that is "Theologians Only". If some of my evangelical bloggers resent the idea that some readers will be exposed to alternative points of view, I could rate these types of posts PBR - that is, "Pastoral Brainwashing Recommended", so as to ensure that my ideas don't even get a hearing in the first place. Almost certainly, I will have to have to add a disclaimer something along the lines of "Warning: this post may contain theological themes that may be unsuitable for evangelical readers. Take cover ... and pray for my soul."

With that out of the way, I am able to tell you that I attended the second week of "Branches" tonight - a ten week program exploring Catholic practice and spirituality. Tonight's topic was "Who is Jesus?" and the speaker was Dr Robert Tilley of the Aquinas institute. The first thing I'll point out is that I don't really think that there was anything the Protestants, even conservative Protestants could have disagreed with in tonight's talk. This wasn't entirely unsurprising, given that the Nicean Creed is a common starting point (I guess depending upon the way you define "starting point") for both Catholic and Protestant Christology. Still, I'll be quite interested in seeing where the two roads eventually do diverge.

Even though tonight's talk was relatively uncontroversial, it got me thinking about one of my objections to evangelicalism. It occurred to me that one of my major gripes was and is in practice, I believe, that the Christ of evangelicalism is primarily spiritual and eschatological figure. By this, I mean that the focus of evangelicalism seemed so heavily focused upon the post-resurrection Christ that the pre-resurrection Christ hardly gets a look in. If I had to explain this, I would have to suggest that this is because evangelicals would like to see themselves as being "cruci-centric" - that is, that the Christian gospel is all about the Cross. What this means is that the evangelicals tend to focus rather heavily on the Pauline epistles, which talk about the implications of the Cross for the believer, while neglecting the earthly ministry of Jesus. It would seem, for many evangelicals, that Jesus' earthly ministry is merely a prelude to the main event, with no real significance of itself, and indeed, no contribution whatsoever to the salvific schema.

The problem with the above approach is that it risks seeing Jesus in purely divine terms - a heresy originated in the late first or early second century known as Docetism. Of course, evangelicals would assert that they believe that Jesus was fully human, but whether this intellectual assertion means anything in practice is fairly debatable. If you disagree with my assessment, I'd suggest you'd do well to look at writings on Jesus in the evangelical subculture. I would suggest that this trend is even true of evangelical theologians, who seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about the post-resurrection Christ compared to the pre-resurrection Christ.

I should point out that I think that the over-emphasis of Jesus' divinity by evangelicalism is probably an understandable reaction to attacks upon the divinity of Jesus originating in 19th century liberal scholarship. Indeed, to the extent that they reject the liberals' rejection of Jesus' divinity, I agree with them. However, I would suggest that evangelicals have tended to overcompensate to such and extent that we wouldn't know that the evangelical Jesus really was human except for the odd Easter and Christmas sermon.

I believe that evangelicals would experience a much more rich faith by spending more time focusing upon the humanity of Christ. It is only because of the incarnation that we are able to speak about the practice of discipleship, quite simply because Christ needs to be human for us to be able to speak of following in his footsteps. If we take the earthly ministry of Jesus out of the picture, we are left with the God of Mount Sinai - the cosmic judge and the transcendent law-giver, a being who seems to be removed from the muck of our every day lives. In short, without the humanity of Jesus we remain with the legalistic code of the Law, rather than the Law of Love, personified so clearly in our Exemplar for us to emulate.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Great Expectations of Romantic Chemistry

A few nights ago I was reading through "Great Expectations" as I came across this charming passage:

I asked myself the question whether I did not surely know thyat if Estella were beside me at the moment instead of Biddy, she would make me miserable? I was obliged to admit that I did know it for a certainty, and said to myself, "Pip, what a fool you are!"

We talked a good deal as we walked, and all that Biddy said seemed right. Biddy was never insulting, or capricious, or Biddy today and somebody else tomorrow; she would have derived only pain; and no pleasure, from giving my pain; she would far rather have wounded her own breast than mine. How could it be, then, that I did not like her much the better of the two?

"Biddy," said I, when we were walking homeward, "I wish you could put me right."

"I wish I could!" said Biddy.

"If I could only get myself to fall in love with you - you don't mind me speaking so openly to such an old acquaintance?"

"Oh, dear, not at all!" said Biddy. "Don't mind me."

"If I could only get myself to do it, that would be the thing for me."

"But you never will, you see," said Biddy.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this exchange is that Pip knows all too well that he loves someone who is not very pleasant towards him, while is unable to become attracted to the girl whose qualities he most admires. It would seem that he is a slave to his desires.

I must admit, I find the whole concept of romantic chemistry most perplexing. I'd be most appreciative if some of my readers could give this confused soul some insight into the following questions:

Just what are the symptoms of chemistry?

How do you know if there is chemistry between you and another person?

Does chemistry change over time?

Can chemistry be manufactured, or does it simply exist on a random basis?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Great Expectations

I'm reading "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens at the moment. In short, Great Expectation is a bildungsroman about the story's protagonist, Pip. Pip is a simple orphan from the country who has Great Expectations of making something of himself. One day, he is given an opportunity to do just that, because of a mysterious benefactor unknown to him, who will financially support his social betterment. The second part of the story deals with his sudden climb up the social ladder from poor rural lad without connections, to socialite.

I'm currently about half way through the novel and the way in which Pip seemlessly makes the transition into high society grates upon me somewhat, but not as much as the fact that he quickly becomes embarrassed by the humble circumstances of his upcoming. Of course, there also truth in the fact that it is good I feel outraged, because this is precisely what Dickens is trying to evoke in his audience. Of particular interest in Pip's desire to improve Joe, a kindly but rather dull blacksmith who raises him. Biddy, who helps out in the home insightfully points out that Joe feels self-sufficient in his humble calling and he would merely be embarrassed by the inadequacy he would feel in high society. I found this to be a particularly clever challenge to the elitism and smugness that high society often takes towards those who move in other circles.

Upon reflecting I tend to think that this part of the story is cutting a bit too close, considering my own life circumstances. While I'm certainly not embarrassed upon my upbringing, I seem to be fighting strongly against my change in circumstances at times, while not at all at other times. While I'm certainly not rich by any estimation, I realise that I am becoming one of those people on the inside of the system I used to rail against. Sometimes it is quite easy to stop fighting and simply take my newly found social status for granted, becoming complacent to the causes that I once eagerly fought for. I must confess that it is a fine balancing act sometimes, and even harder when you struggle to feel empathy for those things that you know should be important.

Of course, I haven't read the second half of the novel yet, by which stage I will probably come to quite a different impression. I guess it is the same thing with respect to my life. I know all too well in my head that life is by no means a constant journey and that there will be times of waxing and waning enthusiasm for those things that were once important to me. What's more, you can be in the forrest and not see where you are because all the trees get in your way. It is all too cliched to say that things will be more understandable with the benefit of hindsight, because this doesn't help me much now. Whether one plods along aimlessly or carefully charts a path, one doesn't always know whether they are choosing the wisest course. I guess it is during those times that we are to "walk by faith", whatever that means ...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mark Latham on Social Capital

Today, however, the biggest problems in society, the things that cause hardship and distress for people, tend to be relationship-based - social issues, not economic. The paradox is stunning: we live in a nation with record levels of financial growth and prosperity, yet also with record levels of discontent and public angst.


A striking aspect of this phenomenon has been the way in which it has affected all parts of society, regardless of their economic standing. Poor communities, after several generations of long-term unemployment and financial disadvantage in Australia, now face the further challenge of social disintegration, a loss of self-esteem and solidarity. Thirty years ago, these communities where financially poor but socially rich. Today they face poverty on both fronts.

While the middle class in Australia has experienced the assets and wealth of an unprecedented economic boom, its social balance sheet has moved in the opposite direction. The treadmill of work and the endless accumulation of material goods have not necessarily made people happier. In many cases, they have denied them the time and pleasures of family life, replacing strong and loving social relationships with feelings of stress and alienation.

This is the savage trade-off of middle-class life: generating financial wealth but at a significant cost to social capital. Thus social exclusion needs to be understood as more than just financial poverty; it also includes the poverty of society, the exclusion of many affluent Australians from strong and trusting personal relationships.

- Mark Latham, "The Latham Diaries", (2005)

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Pacifist Perspective on Anzac Day

Anzac Day seems to be somewhat of a religious holiday in Australia, even moreso than Easter and Christmas, which have largely become a conduit for commercialism. Perhaps the appeal of Anzac Day to our largely secular nation is that it is somewhat of a religious observance for those that are repelled by institutional religion. I remember waking up in my Scouting days to go down to the local dawn service, long before the sun had dawned. Freezing in my Scout's uniform, straining to see in front of me and hearing the solemn words of old men seemed to be sacred stuff. Add the moments of silence, interrupted only be a lone trumpet playing "The Last Post", and you have a liturgy that engages most of the population more than your average church service.

Some fifteen years later as an avowed and unashamed pacifist, it is difficult to know what to make of Anzac Day. There are times that I feel that my pacifism will be received as a mark of ingratitude, a dismissive "thanks, but no thanks" to the fallen Australian soldiers who died on the fields of Gallipoli. And yet I must acknowledge that I did not ask these individuals to fight on my behalf, and would not wish anybody to fight on my behalf if we faced the same situation today. Surely, I would hope, there is a way of both denouncing war in all of its forms and respecting the convictions of the Anzacs?

Firstly, Anzac Day should not be regarded as a glorification of war. Even those who believe in the efficacy of war as a means of settling disputes generally regard such action as a necessary evil and as a last resort. Accordingly, those who use Anzac Day to promote their militaristic agendas should be roundly condemned for their rhetoric and we should make it clear that these people do not represent the Anzac spirit they profess to represent. Anzac Day is a celebration of those who responded to the perceived call that their country needed them, rather than a celebration of the bureaucrats who made the decision to send us off to war.

Secondly, the fact that the Anzacs chose to go to war to fight the enemy is not the reason we choose to venerate them. Rather, it is the fact that these individuals were willing to lay down their lives in the belief that this would bring freedom to their families back in Australia. As Jesus said "Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay his life down for his friends" (John 15:13). That is disagreeing with the belief that war can ever bring freedom will never change the fact that these soldiers were willing to die for others.

Thirdly, I believe that Anzac Day can serve as an effective and an appropriate vehicle to express the virtues of pacifism. Anzac Day reminds us not only of the sacrifices of those who went to war, but also of the evils of war. War, more than any other phenomenon has tragically cut short the lives of people in their prime, whether they be solidiers or civilians. Indeed, it is for this reason that a great number of those fought in the World Wars and saw the senseless distruction of war for themselves became pacifists. Perhaps it is their voices that need to be heard and their opinions that need to be respected on a day like today.

I'd like to think that the above considerations are able to give proper respect to the fallen Anzac soldiers, while nonetheless condemning the atrocity of war. While unlike the Anzacs, there is no cause that I could ever regard worthy of killing for, I'd like to think that there are some things that I would be prepared to die for. And simply because I will not kill, does not mean that I will not fight for what I believe in. It is simply that my battle is not with flesh and blood, but rather with powers and principalities, with structures of greed, power and intolerance. No amount of killing will ever excise these dark places of the human soul.

Lest we forget.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kierkegaard's "Attack on Christendom"

The Christianity of Christendom...takes away from Christianity the offense, the paradox, etc., and instead of that introduces probability, the plainly comprehensible. That is, it transforms Christianity into something entirely different from what it is in the New Testament, yea, into exactly the opposite; and this is the Christianity of Christendom, of us men.

- Soren Kierkegaard, (1854) "Attack on Christendom"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Weekend at Virgie's

Two New York men have taken the term "dole bludger" to new heights after they tried to cash in the social security cheque of their dead friend. The men, James O'Hare and David Daloia were charged with wheeling the corpse of their friend around Manhattan to cash in an office chair to cash in his benefits. Apparently, when they went into the Social Security office, the clerk asked to see the man named on the cheque, Virgilio Cintron. The pair agreed to bring him in, but by the time they went back to the sidewalk where they had left him, a crowd of people had gathered around the deceased man. During court proceedings the two men maintained their innocence, insisting that when they wheeled their friend out the front door he was very much alive. Because the autopsy was not conclusively able to pinpoint a time of death, the pair were acquitted on the basis that prosecuters could not prove that the deceased was actually dead at the time.

The story has been circulating around radio stations on the east coast of America, with shock jocks expressing their outrage at the event. It is disgraceful, they say, that this man was receiving social security cheques in the first place, since it is clear that he wouldn't work in an iron lung ...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Becoming Whole

Tonight I attended the first evening of Branches, an introduction to the Catholic faith that seems to operate very much along the lines of evangelical programs such as "Introducing God". I'm quite interested in seeing the way that Catholics present their faith to non-Catholics, so I thought I'd go along to see what it's like. In particular, I wanted to see if the whole tradition of natural theology in Catholicism, as opposed to special revelation in evangelicalism, would mean that the respective programs would diverge very quickly into different paths. The first thing that I discovered was that I was probably one of the few non-Catholics there, although no doubt that there were many Catholics there who had only a peripheral relationship with the Church.

Tonight was a very general introduction that couldn't necessarily be identified as esoterically Catholic. The focus was upon the desires of the heart - that is, what are our most instinctive yearnings and what is the basis of this existential angst. While the things that we desire may be explained in different ways depending upon one's worldview, I would suggest that Catholic and Protestant alike yearn for wholeness, whether it be in our relationships, our knowledge or our sense of self. Almost by definition, we yearn for wholeness because we are not whole. We seem to have an instinctive sense of our own fallenness and brokenness. Of course, once we reach that realisation, existential angst sets in and we try to do things to make ourselves whole. A lot of the times, we chase after things that do nothing to really to permanently address our brokenness. At its worst, chasing after certain things will be quite self-destructive and will only serve to make us more broken than before.

With that in mind, I think I might soon partake in my Tuesday night indulgence - going to see a movie at the cinemas. I think I'll watch "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", a film about a guy's attempt to repair the brokenness that becomes evident after a relationship break up. I must admit that I am looking forward to the prospect of seeing someone else's misery to alleviate aspects of my own brokenness. Disturbingly it would appear that deep down I have rather sadistic tendencies ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Best Books Ever Banned

After reading a novel, I usually tend to read the corresponding Wikipedia article for a more general background and then Spark Notes to hone in on some of the more specific features of the text I wanted to examine. When I finished "To Kill a Mockingbird" and underwent this procedure, I was surprised to learn about the varied reactions to the book. It turns out that while Harper Lee's classic was typically well received by white audiences, black audiences were much more critical. On the face of it, this would seem to be quite strange, considering that one of the main aims of the novel is to condemn racism and intolerance. However, once one begins to examine the substance of the complaints against the novel, one becomes more sympathetic. Some of the criticisms levelled at the novel include the depiction of black people as uneducated and as victims, as well as suggestions that Calpurnia plays the role of the "contented slave". It is also noted that the racial epithet "nigger" is used some 48 times in the novel. Most of the time, this is used in a derogatory fashion by white people, although at other times the used of the term is neutral. In particular, there is a scene in the novel where Atticus, the hero, chastises his children for using the term, who apparently use the term without any real understanding of its cultural baggage.

My enquiries into "To Kill a Mockingbird" sent me onto a tangent in which I looked at some of the most challenged and banned books in American classrooms. The American Library Foundation has published a list of some of the most famous novels to face the axe and the reason for which it was proposed that they should be banned from the High School curriculum. Having read quite a few of those novels, it would appear that many of the criticisms levelled at these works are hardly justified, although I can understand the concern with exposing one's children to such content. It is certainly possible that if one is not old enough to understand some of the underlying irony behind a certain novel, it is quite possible that they may get the wrong idea about what the novel is trying to convey. At the same time, the novels have the capacity to encourage students to reflect upon important issues in a new way.

Personally, I'd like any children I may have in the future to be avid readers. In particular, I'd want them to be exposed to some of the great texts that I have been had the good fortune to read. When in their childhood such novels would be appropriate for them I would only be able to assess at the time, but I think that sometimes we give children much less credit than we ought to when it comes to understanding some fairly adult issues. By preventing them from being exposed to things that are potentially unpleasant, I believe we infantilise them and prevent their emotional and spiritual development. At the same time, perhaps it would be appropriate to oversee this reading process in order to help my future children understand these issues in their proper context.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

All Hail Prince Roy of Sealand

Last night I found myself at a 50th birthday for one of my friend's mothers. The whole point of my attendance was simply to make this evening somewhat more tolerable for my friend. Fortunately, we both made it through unscathed, although watching people in the late forties and early fifties who had had a little too much to drink was a little bit scary.

Last night was spent talking about our school days and the speculative science that is psychology. I also found out about Sealand, a micronation lying ten kilometres off the coast of England, near the English Channel. The principality, which covers an area of 4,000 square metres, is located on what used to be known as HM Fort Rough, a now disused World War II fort that lies in international waters beyond the maritime exclusion zone of the United Kingdom. Sealand apparently has its own national anthem, its own currency (fixed at one U.S. dollar) and a constitution. Independance was declared from the United Kingdom in 1967.

Two events have shaped Sealand's short but proud history. The first event was the war with the United Kingdom in 1990, when the United Kingdom aimed to take possession of waters around Sealand after the redefinition of territorial waters according to international law in 1989. It is reported that a citizen of Sealand shot at one of the approaching naval vessels. Rather than risk a diplomatic incident, the United Kingdom army turned around in defeat. A "state" of some two dozen people had defeated the British Empire. The second event occurred on 23 June 2006, being the Great Fire of Sealand. The top platform of the Roughs Tower caught fire due to an electrical failure. But this was not to deter the proud nation, who were able to complete the rebuilding process by the November of that year.