Where’s the respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?!

Where’s the respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?!

In Australia in recent years, it has become increasingly common to recite a very brief form of words called an Acknowledgement of Country at the beginning of public events.[1] It’s a simple tradition, a show of respect, conducted at local council meetings, universities, schools, conferences and conventions, etc., that acknowledges the traditional owners and ongoing custodians of the land now called Australia — the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The person bringing the acknowledgement is expected to know the name of the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander nation who have the connection to that country upon which the event is being held. So, for example, if the event is being held in Sydney, the emcee or convener would recite something like this: “We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the country on which we meet today, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging.”   I teach at a college in Sydney, and we use this acknowledgement at our events, including the first chapel service of each semester as well as special events and conferences. It seems to us it’s the least that can be done to acknowledge the history and culture of the original inhabitants of the land. But

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Bruce, Freddie, Elton and the sounds of sehnsucht

Bruce, Freddie, Elton and the sounds of sehnsucht

In Danny Boyle’s new fantasy film, Yesterday, a young musician wakes up from a bike accident to discover he is the only person on earth who remembers the Beatles. So what does he do? He passes the whole Beatles’ back-catalogue off as his own and soars to fame and fortune, of course! Meanwhile, in an upcoming film, Blinded by the Light, a 16 year-old Pakistani boy growing up in England in the 1980s is given some Bruce Springsteen cassettes by a friend and quickly finds inspiration, using the anthems to navigate his way through life as an aspiring young writer in a difficult environment. Much of the inherent charm in the Bruce Springsteen-inspired film is the fact that a geeky Asian boy in northern England could relate so strongly to the muscular New Jersey working-class sensibilities of the Boss’ music. When you also consider the recent success of the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, and the Elton John rock opera, Rocketman, it’s beginning to look like cinema is getting taken over by the Classic Hits of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. And those songs seem to be everywhere these days. I was waiting in line to buy ice cream at a very cool ice cream truck in New York recently. The customized 1978 Chevrolet step van was pumping out hits

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All those God-words don’t return empty

All those God-words don’t return empty

Back in 2007, I was involved in the management of an art gallery called William Street Studios. This was a rather unlikely development for me, since I have never studied art, nor aspired to be an artist. But together with a band of friends, some of whom were artists, we set it up in a beautiful old Baptist Church building in Manly (pictured above) and hosted regular art shows and classes.  As a result we made great connections not only with local artists, but also with local art dealers.  While in some respects we represented competition to these dealers, they realised we weren’t serious art dealers, but a community of Christians committed to supporting the flourishing of local neighborhood.   One of those local dealers was a woman named Teresa. She and her partner Shane had a little art gallery called artsConnect on Manly Corso right above a Royal Copenhagen ice cream franchise, opposite the Steyne Hotel. We saw Teresa and Shane regularly at Artichoke Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant frequented by artists, and they came along to the openings of a few shows at William Street Studios, as we did at artsConnect.  I had the impression Teresa liked our informal faith community and our commitment to fostering creativity, social justice and spirituality.  Then, one day, Teresa made an odd suggestion.  “How would

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Why haven’t you asked me anything about my life?

Why haven’t you asked me anything about my life?

Recently, my wife and I had dinner with someone we hadn’t seen in years.  We peppered him with questions about his work, his kids, old friends we had in common, his recent travels, even his views on random topics like internet security and the rise of China. We weren’t feigning interest either. We were genuinely curious. He responded with interesting and insightful answers. He was polite, engaged, willing to talk about whatever we brought up. And then he left. Later, as we debriefed the night, we realised that over a three hour period he hadn’t asked us a single question. Not one. He’d shown no interest in what my wife did for work, how old our kids are now, or what we’d been doing for the past decade. The thing is, that’s a pretty common social experience for us. People seem more than willing to answer our questions. In fact, they seem to enjoy our curiosity about their life and opinions. But there’s so little interest shown in us.  Shouldn’t there be some natural desire to ask people what makes them tick, what they like doing, who they like being? I’m getting to point now that when it happens again I might just let my eyes roll into the back of my head, throw my wine on the floor and go

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Grand designs – where heaven and earth come closer

Grand designs – where heaven and earth come closer

Recently, I set myself the modest challenge to list the ten most joyous buildings I’ve ever seen. By joyous I mean in the simple sense that they make me feel happy.  I love looking at them. They bring me a sense of delight, or elation, or contentment. I see the fingerprints of God all over beautiful design, no matter the motivation of their designer, and for me magnificent architecture, like all great art, draws me nearer to God. The Celts believed that the veil between heaven and earth was three feet thick. But in thin places, they said, the veil has worn through. Heaven seems closer. They used the term to describe rugged, breathtaking places like the wind-swept isle of Iona or the rocky outcrops of Croagh Patrick. But for me meditating in the Cathedral of Brasilia or the Rothko Chapel is a thin place. As is laughing at Frank Gehry’s Dancing House or the nuttiness of Habitat 67. Sometimes I’ve stumbled upon thin places in great architecture. Like finding the SR Crown Hall in Chicago. I hadn’t expected to be so touched by it’s elegance and simplicity. Other times, I’ve gone looking for a certain building, knowing it is famed for its transcendence, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Some of the buildings listed here I see every day. Some,

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When Good Things Happen Through Bad People

When Good Things Happen Through Bad People

Remember Rabbi Harold Kushner’s bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People? In that book, he was trying to explain the great conundrum of why God allows seemingly good people to suffer. Well, this week I felt I was confronted by a similarly vexing question: why does God allow good things to happen through bad people? Two disturbing articles got my attention. Both were about historically revered Christian leaders who turned out to be pretty depraved. So depraved in fact, it’s hard to understand how God could have used them so profoundly to enhance the lives of others. George Whitefield – slavery advocate George Whitefield isn’t exactly a household name these days, but he was probably the most famous American religious figure of the eighteenth century. In the mid-1700s, he was one of the primary evangelists of the Great Awakening. A flamboyant preacher capable of commanding audiences of thousands through the sheer power of his oratory, he is said to have preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers. And yet, in a powerful article, Was George Whitefield a Christian?, Jared C. Wilson recently outlined the great evangelist’s dark history with slavery. According to Wilson, while Whitefield initially spoke out against slave-holding, his views changed as his fame grew. He had established an orphanage in the Georgia colony

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THIS IS A NATIONAL EMERGENCY!

THIS IS A NATIONAL EMERGENCY!

Australia has a violence-against-women emergency on its hands. Hundreds of women are dying every year. And 95% of all victims of violence in Australia report a male perpetrator. But first, some names to those faces in the picture above: Courtney Herron, 25, beaten to death by a man, 27, of no fixed address, in Parkville on May 25, 2019 Natalina Angok, 33, killed by her boyfriend, 32, and dumped in a Chinatown lane in Melbourne, 2019. Preethi Reddy, 32, stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend who subsequently killed himself in a car crash, 2019. Aiia Maasarwe, 21, beaten to death and dumped outside a shopping centre in Bundoora, by a man, 20, in 2019. Laa Chol, 20, stabbed to death by a man, 17, at a party in a short-stay city apartment in 2018. Qi Yu, 28, murdered by a housemate, 19, after she cut his lease short, in 2018. Eurydice Dixon, 28, raped and murdered by a man, 19, at Melbourne’s Princes Park in 2018. Renea Lau, 32, raped and murdered by a man in parkland in Melbourne’s King’s Domain, in 2016. Masa Vukotic, 17, stabbed 49 times by a man, 30, in Doncaster, 2015. Fiona Warzywoda, 35, stabbed by her husband, 40, outside her solicitor’s office at a Sunshine shopping centre in 2014. Jill Meagher, 29, raped and

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A Letter to the Australian Prime Minister regarding Climate Action

A Letter to the Australian Prime Minister regarding Climate Action

The following letter was sent to the Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia on May 22, 2019, shortly after the re-election of his government. It was signed by over 60 Christian leaders.  Dear Prime Minister, We are a group of Christian leaders representing eight denominations and twelve organisations from across five states. Firstly, we wanted to congratulate you on your election win, and to assure you of our continued good wishes and prayers as you lead our nation into the future. In particular, we hope and pray that your government will be able to maintain a broad policy platform in which the needs of the rest of the world and the needs of future generations are considered as seriously as the needs of present-day Australians. In the light of this, we would encourage you to be aware of our responsibility as caretakers and stewards of the natural world. Our cultural heritage, steeped in the biblical tradition sees its first responsibility, outlined in Genesis, as that of caring for the creation God has given us. The bible both begins and ends with God’s presence on Earth overseeing the wise stewardship of all of nature. Until that time, our responsibility is to manage it for the benefit of all creation and not just with the short term in mind. In

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Urge, Splurge, Purge… Dirge

Urge, Splurge, Purge… Dirge

Urge, splurge, purge: we are sucked into a cycle of compulsion followed by consumption, followed by the periodic detoxing of ourselves or our homes, like Romans making themselves sick after eating, so that we can cram more in. – George Monbiot   A couple of years ago, Guardian columnist, George Monbiot sounded an ominous warning about the global demand for perpetual economic growth. He believes that measuring wealth entirely in terms of GDP, and insisting that the global economy should continue to grow continuously for the rest of time, is destroying our planet. In a Guardian article from 2017, entitled Urge, Splurge, Purge, Monbiot decried the indulgence and greed that’s perpetuated by blind trust in the market economy: “Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a by-product of this system. It is a necessary element.” Recently, he reiterated the same ideas on Frankie Boyle’s comedy show New World Order. His description of contemporary consumption being like “Romans making themselves sick after eating, so that we can cram more in,” puts me in mind of the scenes of debauchery and indulgence in Satyricon. Written by Petronius during the reign of Nero in the first-century, Satyricon follows the

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Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more so

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more so

For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Snr   Albert Einstein has been credited with decreeing that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more so. Sadly, we live in a time when the “more so” is too prevalent. Everything, it seems, has to be oversimplified beyond all sense and purpose. The President mocks the idea of climate change on snowy days, because climate science has been abridged to some nonspecific belief about things getting warmer. Black Lives Matter, whose guiding principles include advocating on behalf of black victims who died at the hands of white police officers, as well as being concerned with black-on-black crime, is met with the dismissive and oversimplified “All lives matter!” Ethical questions regarding reproductive health, indigenous people’s rights, racial reconciliation or social welfare, are reduced to slogans and catch-cries. People demand that we answer complex questions with a simple yes or no.  Radio announcers and news commentators mock those who want to describe the complexity of an issue and offer multifaceted solutions to tough issues. They decry such answers as convoluted and disingenuous. As Rev Byron Williams says, “Whether it’s Black

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