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.