And a (Swedish) child shall lead them

And a (Swedish) child shall lead them

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg might have just missed out on the Nobel Prize last month, but this week Time named her their Person of the Year for 2019, making her the youngest ever to receive that recognition since the magazine started it in 1927. The Swedish schoolgirl has become the face of a worldwide campaign for action on climate change since she staged a solo school strike outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018. Since then she has been tireless in her work to alert the world to the mounting risks from worsening heatwaves, floods, storms and rising sea levels. Her success at both inspiring and riling people all around the world has been quite a surprise given her youth, prompting a number of people to quote the line, “and a little child shall lead them.” And it seems appropriate. She is a child, after all. And she is leading a global movement by her moral authority, her outrage and her tenacity. But have you stopped to think where that famous line comes from? It’s a phrase from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and it’s found in a passage about the messianic hopes of Israel. Isaiah 11 forecasts a new beginning for the nation of Judah, but in it, the prophet imagines an audacious, almost magical new world in which wild

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Is this country even capable of telling the truth?

Is this country even capable of telling the truth?

Last weekend, police officers shot and killed a 19-year-old man, Kumanjayi Walker in the central desert community of Yuendumu, Northern Territory. Eye-witnesses have disputed the police report that Walker resisted arrest and attacked the officers, stabbing one, thereby forcing the police to defend themselves. But no one disputes the fact that the police, terrified of reprisals from the local community, locked themselves in their station with Mr Walker’s body, turned out all the lights and refused to tell the family whether he was alive or dead as they waited for reinforcements to arrive. There are now national calls for a full independent investigation into what happened to Mr Walker. The residents, predominantly Walpiri people, are calling for the police to leave Yuendumu for at least one year. It feels like remote little Yuendumu is becoming our latest Black Lives Matter moment.   In the midst of all the grief and anguish, anger and confusion that has characterized this terrible incident, I heard local people being reported as saying that what happened in Yuendumu “feels like Coniston.” Coniston? I had to Google it. Coniston cattle station is not far from Yuendumu, and the Walpiri are referring to the massacre that took place there in 1928 when up to 170 died in a series of reprisal killings of Warlpiri, Anmatyerre, and Kaytetye

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Tourists are jerks, and we’re all tourists

Tourists are jerks, and we’re all tourists

Uluru is a massive, gorgeous, red sandstone monolith in the heart of Australia’s outback. Named Ayers Rock by white settlers, its deed was officially handed back to the traditional custodians, the Anangu people, in 1985. The Anangu promptly returned the rock to its original name, and installed signs informing tourists that because Uluru is a sacred site they were requested not to climb on it or show disrespect to it. But for 34 years, many tourists blithely ignored those signs and happily scaled the rock. One woman filmed herself performing a striptease on the rock. Several people have hit golf balls off the top of Uluru. Many have urinated on it. This year after decades of lobbying the government, the traditional owners finally succeeded in banning the climbing of Uluru, and announced that all pedestrian access on the rock itself was to cease at 4.00pm on October 25. You’d think this would confirm that how seriously the Anangu people took this matter. After over 30 years of politely requesting we not climb their rock, they were now resorting to outlawing it. However, instead of an immediate drop in the number of climbers, 2019 saw an unprecedented increase, as tourists from around Australia and overseas rushed to Uluru to climb the monolith before the ban came into effect. Pictures of hundreds

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Boycott porn! It’s a sweatshop.

Boycott porn! It’s a sweatshop.

Last week, the ABC’s youth station, Triple J, declared it “Porn Week” and broadcast a series of stories about our use of porn and the ways to use it to enhance your relationships. They had previously surveyed more than 15,000 people aged 18-29 about their use of online pornography. Here’s the infographic with their findings: And in case fineprint was too fine, here are my takeaways from their survey: Just about every man surveyed watches porn, and just over half of women In general, guys watch porn a lot more often than women Almost no-one pays for porn About half of men worry they watch too much porn Despite the above, relatively few are worried that porn has negatively affected their relationship In fact, a larger proportion say porn has been good for their relationship And in case it’s not already good for you and your partner, the ABC published a handful of articles about how porn can enhance your love life, like this one, “How porn can be a positive influence in your relationship.” The assumptions behind the week-long campaign seems to be (1) porn is here to stay so we’d better get used to it, (2) watching it is nothing to be ashamed of, and (3) you might as well be open about it with your partner. But

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Weaker Sex? As If.

Weaker Sex? As If.

The reference to women being the “weaker sex” comes from the Bible, I know. It’s a variation on the words of 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel…” Note the term, vessel, not sex or gender. Some scholars say that when Peter uses the term vessel (in Greek, skeuei) he meant just that, a vessel or a jar or container of some sort. And if that’s case, what he’s saying isn’t that men should take care of their weaker wives, but that they should treat them as one would a piece of pottery that warrants special care, like a family heirloom. It’s also worth noting that the whole passage that precedes it is about how Christians should treat their unbelieving spouses. So, it seems clear that Peter is saying that newly converted men should treat their still-pagan wives with special care. Rather than lording their new-found religion over them, they ought to woo their wives into the faith by affording them special dignity. This makes sense because he has just told Christian wives to win over their unbelieving husbands in the same way. (3:1-6). It might be true that men have a higher percentage of lean muscle mass than women, but that definitely doesn’t make

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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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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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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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Two Tales of Persecution

Two Tales of Persecution

Two high profile Christians fell foul of their critics this week. For one it meant the loss of his career as an international rugby player. For the other, it means up to seven years in a Chinese prison. One has been fired for continuing to post provocative messages about homosexuality on social media, even after being warned not to. The other may be imprisoned because of his work on behalf of the poor and disenfranchized. In both cases, commentators are referring to them as evidence of persecution against the Christian faith. Let’s look at each one separately:   CASE ONE: CHU YIU-MING For some years now, I’ve been telling the inspirational story of Rev Chu Yiu-ming, leader of Chai Wan Baptist Church in Hong Kong. Chu’s social conscience was pricked in 1989 when he was in a position to help ferry Chinese student protesters out of the country during the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Since then he has preached a gospel that includes a commitment to human rights, dignity, and care for the poor. In 2013, Chu was one of several Hong Kong leaders who launched Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a mass movement of nonviolent civil disobedience on the streets of the city to protest the anti-democratic incursions of the Chinese government. Occupy Central brought the city

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Our male privilege is revealed by the things we DON’T think about

Our male privilege is revealed by the things we DON’T think about

I work with a great team at the Tinsley Institute, one of whom is the redoubtable Dr Karina Kreminski. I’ve known Karina for decades now and have worked alongside her for nearly five years. She’s formidable – highly skilled, an excellent communicator, a great researcher and writer, a deeply committed urban missionary. The other day she posted this quote on social media from the Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche from her book, Dear Ijeawele: “We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”   A world full of women. So all women feel this way? I was surprised. Not Karina, surely. She always gives me the impression of ease and confidence, not of one folding herself into shapes to impress others. So I commented on her post, asking whether she felt that way. Her reply was curt: “Of course!” Another woman chimed in, “Of course! There’s no woman who doesn’t feel that way.” And women kept commenting: “This is how we live.” “All women have felt that way.” “So poignant and so true. Brought tears to my eyes just reading it this morning.” Then one of my friends, a female Mennonite pastor from Pennsylvania, shared this: “Yes. Always self

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