“Call me Mara” – Chrissie Foster and the bitter taste of faith

“Call me Mara” – Chrissie Foster and the bitter taste of faith

Chrissie Foster was a happily married Catholic mother of three girls when her whole world began to collapse, falling in on itself like a gaping wound had opened up beneath her and was swallowing everything she knew and loved. Chrissie’s own personal hell began when two of her daughters, Emma and Katie, disclosed that they had been repeatedly raped by a priest while attending a Catholic primary school. When Chrissie and her husband Anthony raised this matter with the church they were rebuffed. The then Cardinal of Melbourne George Pell met with them and showed a “sociopathic lack of empathy.” While stonewalling the Fosters, the cardinal challenged them, “If you don’t like what we are doing, take us to court”. They did. But after a decade-long court battle, their daughter Emma could bear the pain no longer. She committed suicide at the age of 26. Shortly after, her sister Katie spiraled into alcohol abuse and was involved in an accident that left her severely disabled, requiring 24-hour care. Devastated, Chrissie and Anthony gave their lives to advocating on behalf of the victims of child sexual abuse within the church. They have been relentless in their pursuit of a church hierarchy that seemed resolved to avoiding responsibility for what many of their priests were doing to children for decades. Then last

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An open letter to moderate, peace-loving Muslims

An open letter to moderate, peace-loving Muslims

Dear moderate, peace-loving Muslims, I know every time there is a major Islamic-inspired terrorist incident you’re called on by angry radio hosts and newscasters to renounce all violence and condemn the perpetrators. And every time this happens your imams and muftis release such statements and appear before the cameras reading them to us. But I’m not writing to demand a similar condemnation from you. I already know you want to practice your religion in peace and leave me to practice mine as well. I know you are as horrified by the recent acts of slaughter in England, Egypt and Indonesia as I am. I know you want extremists to stop bringing dishonour upon Islam and attracting global revulsion toward your religion. I know you wish it would all end. But in case you think the whole world sees Islam as nothing but a hotbed of religious fanaticism and violence, I want you to know, that even though many of us won’t admit it, Christians have a very unhealthy relationship with violence too. We have tried to rule the world with a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. We’ve fallen to the seductive temptations of violence, authority and control many times. We are addicted to the myth of redemptive violence. And I don’t have to go all the

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Blaming Islam is just too easy

Blaming Islam is just too easy

In the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing I’m seeing a lot of commentators demanding we call a spade a spade and identify Islam as the global problem of our time. Several of them claim we’ve been pandering to Muslim extremists by downplaying the danger they represent. Enough of all this political correctness, they say, we should be bold enough to use the words “Islam” and “terrorism” in the same sentence. In fact, they say, by refusing to lay responsibility for global terrorism firmly at the feet of Islam we’re setting ourselves up as sitting ducks. One columnist, Miranda Devine started her piece this way: “We can’t keep our children safe. Every concert, every train ride, every walk across a bridge, every gap year trip to Europe, every cafe visit is fraught with fear. And that is exactly how the Muslim fanatics want it, the inadequate, baselessly arrogant fans of Islamic State with hearts full of scorn and hatred for the free societies which have taken their families in, nurtured them, and offered them every freedom. They kill our children on purpose. They maim deliberately with nail bombs to rip through soft flesh, mutilate pretty faces, butcher young limbs.” Phew! Aside from the misinformation about the likelihood of death by terror attack (you’re more likely to die of the flu

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We don’t need another hero

We don’t need another hero

First up, this isn’t an anti-Trump post. It’s an anti-Marvel one. I want to escape the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I’m not being ironic, they actually call it that. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a creation of Marvel Studios, which has been churning out superhero films since 2007, racking up 15 so far, every one of them exactly the same as the last. In the past year alone we’ve had new Marvel franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr Strange, and Deadpool, as well as being treated to retreads like X-Men 9, Wolverine 3, and Captain America 3. And they have 11 more in various stages of production, including Thor 3, Avengers 3, the newbie Black Panther, and the third Spider-Man reboot (or 6th film if you’re counting). Hey, I’m not judging you if you like these pictures, but does the world really need another Spider-Man movie??   In the Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes of various shapes and sizes, from Hulk down to that raccoon character in GOTG, rip and tear the world to pieces as they fight aliens, villains, gods, and mad scientists at every turn. They even fight each other. There are two main reasons I want to escape (not counting the fact that all these films share the same basic plot). Firstly, none of them contain a skerrick of actual

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Break the rules like an artist

Break the rules like an artist

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist. – Pablo Picasso   Vincent Van Gogh is widely known today as a typically eccentric artist. He might not have invented Impressionism, but he was the first to paint stars swirling uncontrollably in the night sky, or to depict sunflowers as golden explosions, or the sky on fire above a wheatfield. His pictures were vivid, wild, daring, chaotic, full of bright yellows and deep blues. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and be surrounded by a room full of his work – Sunflowers, Irises, Almond Blossom, The Bedroom and Potato Eaters – you’ll know the powerful visceral effect it can have. And yet, if you go to the 2nd floor to the “Van Gogh Close Up” exhibit you’ll find scores of meticulous drawings of hands and feet made by Vincent when he was beginning to learn art. And then it dawns on you – Vincent didn’t simply pick up a brush and start painting A Starry Night. He took boring art classes. He submitted himself to the slow discipline of learning his craft. I remember my father moaning about modern art and saying anyone could paint like Picasso (“It’s just cubes”) or Pollock (“You just splash paint on

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The ferocious motherly love of God

The ferocious motherly love of God

I spent my first Mother’s Day as a motherless child this year. My dear old mother passed away in November last year and I wasn’t sure if Mother’s Day celebrations would affect me or not. I braced myself for the onslaught of cheesy quotes about the wonders of mothering in my social media newsfeeds. I blanched when one ministry friend (who should have known better) posted on Facebook, “Don’t forget to text your mum for Mother’s Day,” to which came the sad reply from another friend, “Not able to. Texts don’t go to heaven”. Bless. Sure enough, my feed was full of pictures of flowers and syrupy quotes. But then I got a note from the minister of our church. In the mail. Delivered to the letterbox outside my house. Remember those? He wrote to acknowledge that this would be my first Mother’s Day without my Ma and to say he was thinking of me and that he hoped I would be comforted by “the ferocious motherly love of God” at this time. Wait, what? The ferocious motherly love of God? I’m in no doubt that the Bible uses mothering metaphors to describe God as well as fathering ones. God is described as a nursing mother (Isa 49:15; Num 11:12), a midwife (Ps 22:8-10), and as one who gives birth

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Go ahead, Stephen Fry, take your best blaspheming shot

Go ahead, Stephen Fry, take your best blaspheming shot

In 2015, British comic and television personality, Stephen Fry appeared on an Irish chat show and referred to God as ‘capricious, mean-minded and stupid’. You might have seen it being shared on social media. The host Gay Byrne asked Fry what he would say to God after he died and appeared at the pearly gates. Stephen Fry replied that he’d tell the Almighty, ‘How dare you create a world in which there is such misery. It’s not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil’. Things went sour this month when a complaint was made to the Irish police that Fry had broken the country’s Defamation Act of 2009, which makes it illegal to publish or utter blasphemous material. That’s right. It’s 2017 and a famous television personality was being charged with blasphemy.   It turns out everyone in Ireland is embarrassed by their blasphemy law, so much so there are calls to repeal it, including from the church. No one has ever actually had to face criminal prosecution for breaking the law and it’s assumed Mr Fry won’t either. That didn’t stop the publicity hungry atheist Richard Dawkins, in a show of solidarity with Mr Fry, from announcing he’d be giving a public lecture in Dublin in June and would “be available for arrest on a charge of blasphemy.” He

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The good ship “No Worries” is sinking

The good ship “No Worries” is sinking

I live in Australia where it’s usually assumed we’re all largely apathetic about traditional religion in general and the Christian church in particular. Maybe that’s because we’ve never had a civil war, or fought off an enemy land invasion, or suffered from a violent sectarian uprising (unless you count the enemy land invasion perpetrated by British colonists upon indigenous Australians, which we should). Nevertheless, we’re pretty chill about everything. I mean, we proudly gave the world one of our favorite sayings – “No worries”. Our struggle isn’t warring religious viewpoints. It’s getting people interested in religion at all. A new study has just been released asking Australians what kinds of things are likely to pique their interest in religious faith. The results are fascinating. They found, “Observing people with genuine faith is the greatest attraction to investigating spirituality. Second is experiencing personal trauma or a significant life change.” That’s not the most fascinating part to me, but I’ll come back to it later. More interesting were the things that turned people off being interested in religion. They hate apologetic discussions and debates. And “the top repellent to Australians investigating is public figures or celebrities who are examples of that faith. This is followed by miraculous stories of healings or supernatural occurrences.” Wait, what? They hate combative apologetic presentations designed win arguments, testimonies from

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Forget Capitol Hill, we change culture from the ground up

Forget Capitol Hill, we change culture from the ground up

There has been a plethora of books in recent years about how Christians can change the world. Many of them urge us to engage society, mobilize our forces and win the culture wars. But let’s face it — whenever the church tries to rule the world it never goes well for us. Indeed, most of the criticisms leveled at the church by its detractors relate to the church’s abuse of temporal power. It’s nice to imagine the church as an ancient remedy that brings healing and repair to a diseased system, but increasingly, people have spoken of the church more in terms of a virus than a tonic. Journalist Christopher Hitchens wasn’t one to pull punches. In his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, he said, “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” Adopting this same line is John Loftus, a former Christian minister and now an atheist. In 2014, he published the anthology Christianity Is Not Great, in which a group of scholars focused on what they perceived to be the damage done by the church throughout history covering everything from the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition

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A tale of two Christianities on its knees

A tale of two Christianities on its knees

They’re both Christian footballers and they’re both known for kneeling on the field, although for very different reasons. One grew up the son of Baptist missionaries to the Philippines. The other was baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran, and attended a Baptist church during college. Both have made a public display of their faith. Both are prayerful and devout. This is the tale of two Christian sports personalities, one of whom is the darling of the American church while the other is reviled. And their differences reveal much about the brand of Christianity preferred by many in the church today.   First up, there’s Tim Tebow. Tebow was homeschooled by his Christian parents, and spent his summers in the Philippines, helping with his father’s orphanage and missionary work. During his college football career, the Heisman Trophy winner frequently wore references to Bible verses on his eye black, including the ubiquitous John 3:16 during the 2009 BCS Championship Game. He has been outspoken about his pro-life stance, and his commitment to abstinence from sex before marriage. He is a prominent member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization which insists that leaders sign a Statement of Sexual Purity, stating that sex outside marriage and homosexual acts are unacceptable to God. He has preached in churches, prisons, schools, youth groups, and a welter

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