You can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats dead bodies

You can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats dead bodies

You can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats dead bodies. Some cultures revere them. One of my favorite films Departures is the story of a young man who returns to his small hometown after a failed career and takes a job as an assistant to a nōkanshi — a traditional Japanese ritual mortician. The respect shown to the departed by the nōkanshi as he prepares them for burial — washing, oiling, dressing, honoring — is truly beautiful. In Jewish societies, burial takes place as quickly as possible after death, with a chevra kadisha (a team of volunteers) preparing the body, by showing it proper respect, ritually cleansing and shrouding it. When their work is done, a shomayr or watcher is appointed to sit with the body so that the deceased should not be left alone or unwatched until burial. We’ve all heard about Norwegian water-borne funeral pyres and South Indian cremation ceremonies and the ancient South Pacific practice of excarnation. The manner of dealing with the dead is rich and varied throughout the world. In America, bodies are embalmed and displayed in open caskets at the funeral home, prior to and during the funeral. I’ve read it owes its popularity to a combination of the effect of the national grief felt at Abraham Lincoln’s death

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Is autographing a bible an act of desecration?

Is autographing a bible an act of desecration?

I’m no celebrity – not even close – but I have been asked to autograph someone’s bible before. On a few occasions. In certain church circles it’s actually a thing to get people to sign your bible. I recoiled the first time it happened. It seemed like desecration to add my pathetic signature to the pages of the Holy Bible. And when I demurred, the person looked genuinely hurt. They couldn’t seem to understand why I wouldn’t do it. I guess they figured it was a weird cultural thing that Australians have with not autographing the Good Book. But actually, Australians have their own version of Good Book signing in the so-called Fleet Bible, which was brought to Sydney Cove on the first fleet of colonizers to arrive on our shores in 1788. Rather strangely, it has been signed by every monarch to visit Australia in the past century, including Charles and Diana, Will and Kate, Queen Elizabeth and her uncle, the short-lived Edward VIII, who abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. I just don’t get it. I really don’t. Why is it considered appropriate to have celebrities scrawl their names on an ancient holy book? I mean, isn’t it kinda, um, desecration? This question was reignited last week when President Donald Trump signed a bunch of bibles at

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How do I vote pro-life, AND pro-planet, pro-poor, pro-peace, pro-refugee?

How do I vote pro-life, AND pro-planet, pro-poor, pro-peace, pro-refugee?

There’s a national election due in Australia soon, and the options for a pro-life, pro-peace, pro-planet, pro-religious freedom, pro-refugee, pro-Aboriginal reconciliation, pro-poor, kind of Christian voter like me are extremely limited. The conservative government has continually disappointed people like me with their draconian approach toward asylum seekers, their rejection of the Uluru Statement, their enthusiastic support for the coal industry, and their consistent cuts to foreign aid. But the Greens continue to alienate a lot of Christians by campaigning to decriminalize abortion and prostitution in all states, to end chaplaincy in public high schools, and to threaten religious freedoms for churches not willing to provide same-sex marriages. Then this week, the Australian Labor Party pledged to build an abortion clinic in Tasmania and to push for the decriminalization of abortion in South Australia and New South Wales. Even if a Christian could live with these pledges, hoping for a world where terminations are “safe, legal and rare”, as the saying goes, the ALP went even further. They enshrined a new policy of requiring public hospitals to provide termination services through commonwealth funding agreements. In other words, no abortions, no commonwealth money. What’s a voter like me to do?   Is it too much to ask for a truly pro-life political party that supports the poor and takes meaningful steps toward

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To the Dones and the Almost Dones, I hear you

To the Dones and the Almost Dones, I hear you

My friends know what’s in store. I won’t be here anymore. I’ve packed my bags I’ve cleaned the floor. Watch me walkin’ Walkin’ out the door.   We’ve become used to the term, “nones” to describe those who have no religious affiliation or faith, but Josh Packard, the author of a University of Northern Colorado study, recently coined the term “dones” to describe former churchgoers who nevertheless maintain their faith in God and their Christian identity. And according to his research, this describes an estimated 30 million Americans. Not only that, Packard says there are another 7 million “almost dones” coming up behind them. In 2007 the Pew Research Center conducted its Religious Landscape Study with a massive survey of 35,000 individuals and found that about 16 percent of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. By 2015, that same study reported the number had climbed to 23 percent. Way back in 1980 only eight percent of those under age 30 were “nones.” The Pew Center says that number has risen to 32 percent. People are leaving the church in droves, especially so-called millennials. But the picture that seems to be emerging isn’t a simple one of wholesale church decline. Part of what is happening is that many committed Christians are continuing to pursue their faith outside institutional church membership. Indeed, Packard’s

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Let’s talk about virginity shaming

Let’s talk about virginity shaming

You don’t actually have to be watching the sixth season of Australia’s version of Married At First Sight (MAFS) to know that one of the participants has a very dark secret. His confession has been heavily featured in the show’s endless promos. This week, 29-year-old Matt Bennett was “married” to a woman he’d never previously met, but not before making his embarrassing confession to all the other male contestants at the bucks’ night, and in on-camera interviews with the show’s producers. Even on his wedding night, he was quick to reveal the ugly truth to his new “wife”, Lauren. And it sure was awkward. “For me, honesty is very important. I feel like there’s something I want to tell you and something you should know about me,” Matt stammered, “I’ve sort of been on the fence about whether or not I should tell you because you know it’s been weighing on me a bit, it’s a big thing.” Pause for effect… And then… “I’m actually still a virgin.” Lauren’s response to this news summed up the mood of everyone on the show. “Shit!” she gawped. The idea that a young man could nearly make it to 30 without ever having had sex is a matter of genuine surprise to all. In an earlier episode he revealed his chastity had nothing to

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He’s the father of nonviolent protest and you’ve probably never heard of him

He’s the father of nonviolent protest and you’ve probably never heard of him

Look at this foreboding portrait of the Māori prophet and leader known as Te Whiti. It’s entitled, “The man of peace and the man of war (Te Whiti and Titokowaru)” and was painted by New Zealand artist, Tony Fomison in 1980. His full name was Erueti Te Whiti Te Whiti-o-Rongomai III and even if you’ve never heard of him, Te Whiti was an astonishing leader and one of the international founders of passive resistance, or nonviolence direct action (NVDA).   NVDA is the strategic use of nonviolent tactics and methods to bring an opponent or oppressive party into dialogue to resolve an unjust situation. It is used as a moral force to illustrate, document and counter injustices. The best known proponents are from the 20th century, men like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. But Te Whiti employed the method nearly a century before Dr King’s Selma march. Te Whiti was born in the Taranaki region (that’s the imposing Mount Taranaki in the background in the painting above) during the turmoil of the ‘Musket Wars’, the intertribal battles fought between the Māori in the first half of the 19th century. He was recognized as a gifted teacher and prophet very early in his life, and so as a child his tribe took care to protect him from the skirmishes. During this time, a Christian preacher

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Is The Message as bad as they all say?

Is The Message as bad as they all say?

Recently, I had a conversation with someone regarding salvation and the afterlife. A death in her family had prompted her to ask questions about life beyond the grave, so we talked about faith in Jesus, and she showed a great deal of interest. “Where can I read more about what Jesus said?” she asked. Of course, the correct answer is to say, “Read the Bible,” which I did. And she took me up on it! A few days later she told me she had taken my advice and downloaded a Bible app on her phone and had tried reading it. “But it makes no sense,” she said, exasperated. “I don’t understand it.” I enquired what translation she was reading, and she looked at me as if I was stupid. “English, of course!” she snapped. When I looked at her phone it was clear the app she had downloaded used the KJV as its default translation. I went into the settings and changed it to an NIV and asked her to read a section. It was better, she said, but still somewhat esoteric. So I changed it again, this time to The Message. “Oh, that’s much better!” she exclaimed. “I can understand this one.” There are many criticisms of The Message, some of them justified. It’s not a reliable translation if that’s what

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The Gospel Coalition and that heresy hunting thing they do

The Gospel Coalition and that heresy hunting thing they do

The last execution of a heretic occurred in Valencia on 26 July, 1826. After a two-year trial, the Spanish Inquisition convicted the schoolmaster Cayetano Ripoll of deism and sentenced him to hang for his unorthodox beliefs. Today, heretics are tried via blogs and executed with a tweet. And most of the modern-day heresy hunting seems to be conducted by a network called The Gospel Coalition.   Gospel Coalition Canada investigates Bruxy Cavey Recently, the Gospel Coalition’s Paul Carter decided to undertake an exhaustive examination of the theological views of Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor at The Meeting House, a megachurch just outside Toronto, Canada. Apparently, Carter had heard some bad stuff about Cavey’s teaching (maybe from this brutal assessment that he’s a “false teacher” by Jacob Reaume) and decided to interview him in order to make his own informed determination. Fifteen-thousand words later (not counting footnotes), Carter brought down his verdict that, “Bruxy Cavey is not a heretic. He’s an Anabaptist.” Cavey and Anabaptists everywhere must have breathed a collective sigh of relief [sarcasm alert]. Nonetheless, Carter went on to damn him with faint praise, “I have no interest in bringing the Anabaptists into my metaphorical bed, I am merely arguing for their right to exist within our ecclesiological neighborhood.” I know, it sounds smug, patronising, and sanctimonious, but I

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5 Ways Jesus Would Respond in Today’s World

5 Ways Jesus Would Respond in Today’s World

Russia probes, nuclear summits, refugee crises, #MeToo, and more—these days it feels like everything is in flux. How would Jesus respond to the political and social upheaval we’re currently experiencing? Not with acquiescence and passivity. Not by giving in to the arresting powers of conformity and privacy. But by building a new world order—what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. Here are five things I’m pretty sure Jesus would do in today’s world.   Side with the poor, not with a party It has been claimed that partisan politics is an even more divisive issue in America today than race. Whether left or right, Democrat or Republican, each side lives in its own echo chamber, with its own preferred TV news networks, talk show hosts, newspaper columnists, social commentators, blog writers, conventions, etc. We all seem to exist in huge feedback loops, squelching dissent and growing more extreme in our thinking, blithely ignoring evidence that our respective positions might be wrong. In fact, we want little to do with each other. In a recent Pew Research survey, it was found that 68 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats say they identify with their political party primarily out of their opposition to the other party. Indeed, 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats felt that the other

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Hey Church, you’re not Serena so stop losing like her

Hey Church, you’re not Serena so stop losing like her

Recently, the church has to learn how to lose with dignity, and we don’t like it. After several self-inflicted losses, as well as a groundswell against the church even having a voice in society, a lot of Christian leaders feel like they’re fighting a losing battle for the hearts and minds of Western society. Not accustomed to losing, a lot of white church leaders don’t do so very graciously at all.   In fact, often when the church loses it does so like Serena Williams in the US Open. We kick and scream and accuse others of orchestrating our downfall. We say the umpire of secular humanism isn’t fair, that it doesn’t treat us the same as others. We claim discrimination and bigotry. Our language become intemperate. We sound irrational and impetuous. Everything that Serena Williams’ critics are saying about her now. But actually, the situation couldn’t be more different. Despite her spectacular success, Serena Williams has had to overcome sexism and racism throughout her career. She had to fight alongside other female players for pay parity, with Wimbledon becoming the last grand slam to offer equal prize money in 2007. But that tournament still refers to women by designations like Miss and Mrs on the scoreboard. Still, outside the major tournaments, the gender pay gap in tennis is a chasm.

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Exactly how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

Exactly how xenophobic are Christians allowed to be?

This week in the Australian parliament a newly minted senator called on the government to stop accepting any immigrants who do not reflect “the historic European Christian composition of Australian society and embrace our language, culture and values as a people.” In particular, he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the country, a return to what was termed the “White Australia Policy”, a discriminatory immigration policy dismantled way back in the 1960s. Of course, this doesn’t sound too different to the stated desires of Mr Trump regarding US immigration policy, albeit a less sophisticated version (although when you think about it, being less sophisticated in policy to Donald Trump is quite an achievement). Britain has its own versions in Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. What might surprise some is that Fraser Anning, the Australian senator in question, and the US president, both claim to be committed conservative Christians. Indeed, in the case of the senator from Down Under, he wants a discriminatory immigration policy precisely because he is a Christian. Farage, who has confessed to only praying “sometimes”, nonetheless wants the UK to stand up for Judeo-Christian culture and values. So, is it appropriate for Christians in Western countries to call for the banning of Muslim immigration to their shores? These attutides are usually characterized as xenophobia, a term that comes

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How one religious idea gave us integrated lunch counters (and so much more)

How one religious idea gave us integrated lunch counters (and so much more)

Sure, religious zealots have done some terrible damage throughout history, but some beautiful religious ideas have also shaped history for the better. This post is part of a series looking at some of the ways religion has changed the world. I look at how the Benedictines figured out how to make amazing beer here, how a Calvinist preacher created a world where John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme was possible here, and how an 18th century renewal movement unleashed the abolition movement here. Here’s a fourth religious idea that changed the world.   THE IDEA: THAT HUMAN SUFFERING CAN BE REDEMPTIVE The idea that the suffering of one Christian can be used by God for the benefit of others is as old as the Christian movement, but one regularly ignored or forgotten by believers and nonbelievers alike. Christians believe that Jesus’ suffering on the cross pays the penalty for their sins, but even before his death Jesus taught his followers that their own suffering could have a redemptive power. In Matthew 5:38-39, he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” It’s a well known saying, but its meaning

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