Monday, June 30, 2008

It's all Hamo's fault

Peter Jensen has laid the blame squarely (and no doubt fairly) at Andrew Hamilton's door today when he stated:

"We have decided to rescue people in the West who want to stand for the old ways. We've decided to protect ourselves against this postmodern and relativistic world view that will come our way through the internet and other communicational revolutions."

In the 'new' (or should that be 'neo-old') communion being formed by the breakaway Anglicans that met in Jerusalem, blogging will be frowned upon I imagine.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A not-quite-ANZAC-day reflection

Yesterday our team at work had a corporate development day, the first part of which included a talk by Peter Hughes, a building contractor who was critically injured in the first Bali bombing in 2002.

It was a remarkable presentation and you really get a sense of just how much Peter’s life changed for good and ill after the bomb went off.

One of the most notable things Peter said was about the immediate response of people to the blast and how so many young Australians went straight in to help those who were injured. Peter, burned and maimed by the blast had staggered outside only to be blown back inside by the explosion of the car bomb outside the Sari nightclub. He made it back out - with 13 people in tow that they had collected as they moved out. He then went back inside the burning Paddy's Pub to bring out more injured people.

Peter reflected on the others he say helping out right after the blast and later in the hospital in Denpasar.

Peter Cosgrove later referred to the young Aussies who helped out in the immediate aftermath and for some weeks afterwards as ‘diggers without uniforms’.

Australia’s history does seem to have a strong streak of mucking in when help is needed and we seem to be at our best when the situation is at its worst.

There was another example of that yesterday when a young bloke, Brock Curtis, jumped on his surfboard and paddled out to rescue his mate who had been bitten by a shark.

Imagine going out in the water to the very place a shark has just attacked someone. That really is the most extraordinary thing, and the tragedy of his mate’s death does not lessen the enormity of the act.

A quote, sometimes attributed as an old Norwegian folk saying and at other times to George S. Patton goes; “Courage is fear hanging on one minute longer”. Regardless of the origin, the truth of the statement is evident. Most people who are heroes are heroes because they transcend their fears for the brief time required to do what needs to be done.

I don’t think the fear is gone – and I imagine that the later nightmares that many people have after such an event are reflections of the enormity of that fear, but the fact that a person can push through the natural desire for self preservation is remarkable.

I don’t know that Aussies have this capacity more than other people, I hope we do as it makes up for some of our other national flaws. I do know that we see it more often when the need is greatest, just as we see greater community strength and charity when times are toughest.

I wonder sometimes whether the very fact of our current affluence has led us to complacency and isolation and whether if we had to struggle together a little more we might be more successful as people.

It seems that the true spirit of Australia was born in adversity and is renewed in adversity - may we never become afraid of a little adversity.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


With Easter in just a few days time, anticipation in the Grendel household is at a fever pitch.

Junior Grendel Number One has been practising wearing his robes for his role as a jeering bystander in the Passion play at school and Junior Grendel Number Two , while welcoming the coming of the great bunny, is also facing the fact that the bunny is not only coming to deliver chocolate eggs, but also to take away dummies.

Our boys love their chocolate eggs, and we ration their take over a period of some months. I too love chocolate, I love that warm silky sweetness as it melts down your throat and the endorphin rush that hits soon after.

I'm sorry for what follows in this post - we should all be sorry for what follows in this post.

Tim Costello of World Vision has been off in Africa checking out the cocoa farming regions, and the news was not good.

Apparently human trafficking and slavery are alive and well and living in the cocoa plantations. The Rev. Costello visited Ghana and the Ivory Coast and estimate that over half a million children now work in the cocoa fields in conditions that at their best are exploitative and at their worst are outright slavery. 50% don't get formal education and most are involved in hazardous work - it is these children that are providing the majority of the cocoa we will consume this Easter.

70% 0f the world's cocoa comes from West Africa so their is an excellent chance that the egg you bite into on Easter morning will originate from cocoa harvested by a child slave. In the worst cases this child will have been forced to work 80-100 hours a week.

I'm sorry if that puts anyone off their elegant rabbit or giant egg, but the cheaper the chocolate for us to buy, the cheaper the price paid to the farmer and their labourers. International buying cartels force down the prices of cocoa and seek volume supplies. Sound familiar? Just like coffee - volume means poor quality. We need to be encouraging lower production of higher quality cocoa, and pay a fair price for it.

I know that World Vision are supporting the Fair Trade approach to cocoa, and in this case I think it is the best option. Unlike coffee, the production of chocolate is more specialised and the situation of the workers and the farmers even more dire than in the coffee world.

Interestingly World Vision are not calling for a boycott of the big chocolate companies - that would hurt the farmers further. However they are suggesting that when you can vote with your wallet and buy fair trade products when you can.

I'd encourage you to go and read further - this is an issue that won't go away and if you love chocolate then you owe it to yourself to at least KNOW the facts. More than this you owe it to those who labour to bring this treat to you, yet never get to try it themselves.

If you want to buy fair trade chocolate and Easter eggs then look for Scarborough Fair Fairtrade certified Easter Eggs which are available in some Coles and Target stores.

Check out the World Vision site for more information: What is the real cost of chocolate?

And here is a list of ethical chocolate available in Australia - hopefully it is good quality chocolate as well:

Alter Eco – Fairtrade
Dark Velvet (Organic)
Dark Velvet with Peppermint
Milk Moka
Milk Almond

Cacao Power – Organic and *Fairtrade (*certification imminent)
Cacao Powder
Whole Beans
Crushed pure chocolate

Chocolatier Australia – Fairtrade
Chocolate Thins – Dark and Milk

Cocolo - Fairtrade
Dark Orange
Milk Hazelnut
Milk Almond
Mint Crisp

Cocoa Farm Chocolate (Australian Grown Cocoa)

Mango, Lime and Chilli
Dark Orange
Coffee and Hazelnut

Endangered Species - Fairtrade
Peanut Butter

Green & Black’s – Fairtrade

Maya Gold Organic Dark Chocolate Bar
Organic Hot Chocolate

Oxfam - Fairtrade
Milk with nuts

Scarborough Fair - Fairtrade

All varieties

Oh, and this is the ONLY time you'll ever hear me advising you to go to Starbucks!

Starbucks - Fairtrade Chocolate


Monday, March 17, 2008

A Chai Latte and an Exorcism please. . .

There is a story in the Murdoch Press today about the Hillsong Chruch Mercy Ministries program. I read up on this sometime back when I saw the collection boxes in every single Gloria Jeans cafe I walked past.

I was concerned by the lack of information they provided about the governance structures of the program and how they evaluated their touted '90% success rate'.

The story in the press appears to claim that casting out of demons has become a tool in treating mental illness in Mercy Ministries.

If this is true it is very disturbing and reaches back to the dark ages for its inspiration.

Mental illness is real - not the manifestation of evil spirits but an actual and treatable medical condition.

Telling people that the 'voices' they hear are demons does not help. If this is in fact what is occuring at Mercy Ministries then I am appalled.

It is no secret that Gloria Jeans are closely linked with Hillsong Church but I think that tying the franchise to a very narrow focus of charity does not give a good impression. I wonder if franchisees are 'required' to fundraise for Mercy Ministries or even if they are permitted to fundraise for other charities?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Jesus wants you. . .

for a facebook friend.

Have you noticed that some Christians seem to promote Jesus like a facebook buddy?

But what (if like me) you don't really like Facebook? I have an account, but only about 12 friends - people who it is hard to keep in touch with any other way.

A lot of people seem to feel the need to be a member of 'the club' and want all their friends to sign up to. So they spam you with messages - a lot of them not really relevant and some downright scary about what will happen unless you sign on.

Fortunately the Christians I tend to associate with do not advocate this approach - and also are not the kind of people really into Facebook. Go figure!

I'm surpised no fundy group has started 'Faithbook', which to my mind could never be anything more than a lispy version of Facebook anyway.

Free-Association Ramble over

Sunday, March 2, 2008


"If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul."

Isaac Asimov

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ode to a High Pressure System

A strong high pressure ridge dominates,
It lies south of the state and punishes us.
Its so-called ‘moderate to fresh E/NE winds’
Are in reality, a form of climatic torture.

The central and southern parts of the state,
Can expect flies and heat with little relief in the evenings
Whoever said the desert gets cold at night was wrong
For it never gets cold in February here.

Expect fine conditions for this region,
Fine that is if you like the heat and dust.
Fine is a poor word for the weather,
‘Clear’ might seem more accurate to most.

They reckon isolated showers or drizzle,
That’ll be the patchy stuff down south.
Near and east of Israelite Bay, clearing by noon.
Sucks to be them – humid AND hot.

‘High over the bight” how I loathe thee,
Where is our tropical low that brings relief?
Or those sweeping low pressure ridges,
Which bring us the rain?

Summer ends this week,
So we are told by calendars.
I bet that bloody high ignores,
The dictates of the Gregorian.

37, 37, 38 too hot,
The words evaporate.
Sticky keys and apathy
Now dominate.

How the high makes you feel so slow.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Out to Lunch

Former foreign minister Alexander Downer's lunches seem to be important lately. He blamed Julia Gillard's parliamentary performance and then claimed Kevin Rudd has failed to improve parliamentary debate as he had promised.

Actually I think Downer just proved Rudd right - if they have deterred Downer from attending question time then Parliament is already improving.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Grendel and God - part 3

This is the 4th in a series of posts I have resurrected from Backyad Missionary at a time when Hamo handed over editorial control while he was away.

Well, I’m off on two journeys here so far, my spiritual journey and my one about faith. We’ll get back to the coffee in a bit and talk a bit more about faith.

There have been some interesting and thought-provoking comments posted - so thanks everyone, for your contributions so far.

My work has taken me to some interesting places, and I have been witness to and participant in some amazing and terrible events (not always at the same time!).

I am well aware of the flawed nature of humanity and how Christians view these flaws as at the core of what goes wrong in the church rather than a failing of God. From my perspective though this is not evidence of God (or evidence against the existence of God) it just is - humans are not perfect and whether we adopt a code of ethics or moral framework that is based in religious beliefs or atheistic beliefs we will at some point fail to meet our own (or God’s) expectations.

Just a little aside here: I talk about God, rather than ‘a supposed deity’ or the ‘mythical creator figure’ or any of the other atheist sounding terms you might expect me to use - this is for two reasons:

1. I’m a guest here and I respect the role of this blog and the people that discuss issues in this space;
2. Talking about God is something I’ve done all my life and I’m hardly going to change the language I use whether or not I accept the existence of God.

Ok back on thread. . .

So I have seen a local youth elder, apparently strong in faith and full participant in the life of his church arrested for dealing in drugs, theft and during the investigation multiple affairs with women were also revealed - he was also a police officer. Would such a revelation shake my faith? No, I understand human nature well enough to know that such things are not even uncommon - no matter what belief structure you adhere to.

At this point in my journey though I was already to the point where I had serious questions. I do remember one event that gave me a lot to think about. I had been assisting a colleague to resuscitate a young man who had fallen from a balcony on to his head. He was not breathing when we arrived, but we got a pulse and then breathing with a bit of effort, and I knelt there monitoring him while we waited for the ambulance, his breath coming in ragged gasps, blood trickling from his ears and nose, his skull fractured and open, his eyes open but unseeing.
I knew as I waited that although he was breathing he had little chance of survival, or if he survived I could not imagine that he would have any cognitive response, the best we were doing was keeping him alive long enough for his family to say goodbye while he was still breathing.

I prayed at that point, I wanted him to live, I wanted him to be able to go back to his family, I didn’t even know who he was, just some bloke who got drunk and fell over a balcony but he was there, and I was there and I didn’t see why he should die at such a young age. Even as I prayed it hit me - I don’t even believe this will help - in fact I know it won’t. It’s not the first person I have seen die and it won’t be the last and the process is inevitable.

A couple of years later after I moved to Perth I attended a similar situation, although it is possible that this young man intended to fall rather than fell accidentally - I just don’t know. He was in some bush at the bottom of a cliff about a kilometre from our office by the river. I dashed up the track and met the rescue team from our office there and helped carry the stretcher back up the track.

Deja vu.

The same sound of breath coming in ragged gasps, the sight of blood trickling from his ears and nose, his skull fractured and open, his eyes open but unseeing.

Again, he lived long enough for goodbyes and then died.

I know some people exposed to events like this receive reinforcement to their faith from them. What I experienced was realisation that life is very finite, it needs to be lived and valued. The fact that we can realise we are alive, that we a cognitive creatures capable of introspection and communication is remarkable and both a blessing and a curse.

For me - life is very very precious, and I don’t mean just my own life, I mean everyones. Because I see the ‘one shot’ we get, and thus taking someone’s life, or destroying it by harming them in terrible ways in an anathema to me. Helping people live their lives in dignity and helping people to meet there potential are therefore great gifts that one person can give another.

From a Christian perspective you might say “so that you can have life, and have it more abundantly” meaning that life in its fullness, both temporal and spiritual can only come through Jesus.

From my perspective that is not the responsibility of God but the responsibility of each person to every other person. For me that sometimes means supporting my human brothers and sisters in their religious beliefs or obligations because that is the path to fullness of life for them.
I’m sorry about the long posts but the opportunity to post on Hamo’s blog has certainly given me a new outlet for expressing my thoughts!

And this too shall continue later. . .

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Grendel and God - Part 2

Where was I, ahh yessss sleeeeeepy, no, oh god - yah that’s it I was talking about Mr G.
I’ve had friends who’ve asked “why? why don’t you believe any more? you seemed to have such a strong faith?”

But those friends are few and far between. For most, I’ve just never heard from them. I don’t think it was intentional - part of this process was involved in me taking up my working life which involved leaving my university part time job and going to a remote town in the desert to take up a government post. This mean’t losing contact with a lot of people - is maintaining faith then all tied up in the community you share your faith with? Perhaps, to some extent, but if it is dependent for its existence on that level of support from others, is it really faith any more?

Or was it just that living alone in a place where I knew no one, I had a lot more time to think. This wasn’t the starting point - but it was a time when I had a little space, a task to focus on, and a community with needs that I was there to serve.

I certainly saw a lot of human misery, stupidity, malice, bigotry and debauchery. I also saw resilience, nobility, sacrifice, service, humility, empathy, caring and love. Some of those people were even Christians!

Ok - yup, Christians are human too, but what I did observe was that people with a strong moral centre existed and acted as I had been taught was not possible without God. They were just as dedicated to serving their fellows with love as their Christian colleagues.

You could argue I guess that Christian teaching has permeated our thinking so deeply that this is inevitable, except that we do see examples of people behaving this way who have not been exposed to Christian teaching.

From a perpective of faith you might see that as the spirit of God at work. From my perspective I see human potential to act in ways initially beneficial to an individual alone but ultimately destructive for that individual and the group, along with the potential to recognise that the good of the group can also mean the longer term good of the individual.

Ok - I’m not a psychologist or I’d have a great collection of terminology to use in that paragraph but hopefully you get what I mean. I think people can choose to be good or not, and they do so without a guiding entity.

I was also having trouble at this time reconciling the conflicting possibilities of a divine entity that could both reward with heaven or punish with hell (be that a lake-of-fire or absence-of-presence type hell), and I know that is an oversimplification - but as I said at the start - yawn. . .

More than that though was the conflict of the human condition - that, and the pelvis.
The pelvis is a tricky one - particularly on women. It is really really badly designed, it so so flawed there is no engineer who would design it (ok, not true, there is no FEMALE engineer who would design it. . .). Imagine sticking the birth canal through the narrow channel of bone that is the human pelvis and then shoving a baby through that.

We don’t think on it too much here and now because in Australia in 2006 we have a great medical system and caesarians are performed as a matter of course. How many? lots. And before we did those? Women died. In their thousands, every year, in agony, in blood and in terror.

It must be late, I’m heading down hill fast with this and I said at the start that I didn’t want to ‘preach atheism’ but it is part of the process I went through. Leaving it at that point I’ll just say that I began to find the idea of a God who designed that poorly to be a bit weak. And all that for taking the apple from the tree of knowledge?

The reason my other blog is a coffee blog is because I think its a good idea that I alternate these darker thoughts with some even darker roasty toasty coffee thoughts, because we can all agree on coffee.

(Except the nescafe drinkers, for you I will have faith in a special nescafe drinker’s hell, where swedish lounge singers sing those 70’s lalalalammmmmm aaaah type elevator songs and you are served tepid, weak nescafe while having your toes nibbled gently by aunt mabel look-alikes. Us coffee drinkers will be in a kind of coffee-drinking valhalla with gorgeously stylish baristas, warm muffins and fractal designs of latte art using microfoam so tiny its really nano-foam.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Grendel and God - Part 1

I was raised as a catholic and I received the sacraments of the catholic faith and participated in church life until the age of 24. I was raised in a catholic charismatic community, in which it was expected that the holy spirit would descend on you at some point and you would speak in tongues.

I worked overseas (very briefly) with the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Theresa of Calcutta and our family had been founding members of the Catholic charismatic community in Brisbane and been in covenant with that community.

I accepted faith blindly for most of my youth - it had always been a part of our family’s life. I studied for seven years at university, and during that time I did not question my own religious beliefs.

It was later after I started working in the desert that I really began to think long and hard about what I honestly could accept about my own faith, the dogma and teachings of the religion of which I was at least nominally a member and the deeper mysticisms of belief in the divinity of Christ.

I have heard that for some who come to believe, that the process was sudden - a revelation or insight that dramatically changed their lives.

Leaving faith seemed a much slower process - at least for me.

I went through long periods trying to maintain some sort of belief - but I could not in all conscience continue to act in way that indicated that I believed that something was true when I was certain that it was not.

I do not doubt the authenticity of many who do believe, nor do I question their commitment but I found contradictions that were, at least for me, irreconcilable with the way I exist as a living, breathing thinking creature.

I also found that I could live a moral life without the support (or constraints) of a religious framework. I found the same for spirituality, I am able to acknowledge that humans do have a spiritual aspect, for some this manifests as a religious faith, but for me it is more coming to an understanding that while the ability to think and act on those thoughts may make us distinctive organisms on earth, we must also then take responsibility for our own actions - and in many cases for the actions of other people.

I choose to act in ways that harm others as little as possible whenever I can - this has a benefit to all. I choose to act honestly in my dealings with others because this allows me a knowledge of my own integrity which is useful when building the foundations of thinking.

It may seem odd, but I have enormous respect for others who choose to live a life that in some way serves others - whether that is from a sense of obligation or as a result of faith. I grew up in the world of faith, I know the language, the great strengths, the failings of individuals and organisations and the amazing historical continuity and rich traditions.

I’m running short of time to finish this -so call it part one for now and I’ll continue it later tonight.

In the meantime though - here a picture of Hamo on his first day off round at my place roasting coffee - I call this the ‘Coffee Communion’ shot.

The Hamo Series

about 18 months ago I got a gig running Hamo's blog for a couple of weeks while he was away. More for my benefit (as in having a record) than for anything else, I am going to post the old posts from that time up on here - starting with my introductory post:


Ok - weird kinda name, like many internet handles.

There is a reason for it - anyone study early English literature? because this is from some of the very earliest. The story of how the hero Beowulf slew the monster Grendel. How I came to acquire the Dane-eating monster’s name rather than the hero’s is a whole other story.

So Hamo has turned me loose on his blog (”whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in blog also. . .”) and he has suggested that I may provoke some discussion because I am in a different place than him.

“Oh crap! He’s let a catholic loose in the blogsphere!” Ha, not quite.

An Atheist (A post on that term later! And I’ll be talking to the one I heard say “thank God it wasn’t a catholic” about the spirit of ecumenism after class.)

So why would an atheist have an interest in a blog that is essentially about religion - and about communicating that religion to others?

Is it that I want to read it and then go have a laugh with all my atheist mates about how silly it all is?

Or am I here to convert people way from their faith from some bizarre sense of atheistic duty?

Or am I here, at the inspiration of some malevolent (and from my perspective - non-existent) spiritual power to lure the faithful into sin?

Well, none of the above response are correct.

Mostly I’m here because of Hamo.

He’s a good bloke, he cares about people, and unlike many of us he acts in ways that make that care a reality not rhetoric.

He also likes coffee and he lives in Brighton. I first encountered Hamo in planning for a backyard blitz up here in Brighton, and he talked about what he was doing here. My background predisposed me to listen to what Hamo had to say and also to recognise his genuineness and commitment to what he feels is where ‘the spirit’ is leading him.

Now, it would be easy for me to engage at this point on trying to explain away ‘Holy Spirit’ as impulses derived from a deep empathy combined with an ethos that makes demands outside the normal realm of dedication to genetic family and immediate social supports. To engage in that exercise would become tedious in the extreme (at least to me) and I am not in the business of attacking those who have faith. I see that as disrespectful, a denial of rights and in (most) cases a futile exercise.

So Hamo has handed his blog over to a self-described athiest for two weeks. What kind of opportunities does this pose for those involved in missional Christianity? That is really up to you - I’m willing to take the discussion along some wide ranging paths - not so much from a debate about who is right or wrong, but more about the role of church and faith in my world.

I’m going to leave the first post there because I’d like to see what the reaction is to our experiment at this point. In the next post I will provide a little more background about me and how I moved to where I am now (spiritually speaking).

At the very least this fortnight will be an interesting exploration into why people who have faith, lose it and their journey from that point on.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I'm Sorry

Paraphrased from the Prime Minister's speech to parliament this morning:

Mr Rudd told the story of an elderly indigenous woman, part of the Stolen
Generations, an elegant, eloquent and wonderful woman in her 80s full of life,
full of funny stories despite what has happened in her life's journey.

Mr Rudd said his friend told him of the love and warmth she felt while
growing up with her family in an Aboriginal community just outside Tennant
Creek. In the early 1930s, at the age of four, she remembers being taken away by
“the welfare men”. “Her family had feared that day and had dug holes in the
creek bank where the children could run and hide,”

They brought a truck, two white men and an Aboriginal stockman who found
the hiding children and herded them into the truck. She remembered her mother
clinging onto the side of the truck, with tears flowing down her cheeks as it
drove off. She never saw her mother again. After living in Alice Springs for a
“few years”, government policy changed and the young girl was handed over to the
missions. “The kids were simply told to line up in three lines ... those on the
left were told they had become Catholics, those in the middle, Methodist and
those on the right, Church of England. That's how the complex questions of
post-reformation theology were resolved in the Australian outback in the 1930s.”

He may be dry but that comment shows he's got a nice complex sense of humour!

Sunday, February 10, 2008


How should we prioritise government spending?

The state government here in Western Australia seems to have no real pattern to how it allocates major spending on either infrastructure or services.

That's not so say money is misspent, only that there is no rationale provided for some projects are they relate to others.

Naturally, the political party/s that hold government get to decide the main policy on how and where money will be used, but nationally, Australians seem to place a strange priority on how, when and where our taxes are spent.

We will applaud a decision to build a $1 Billion sports stadium - yet only the week before the media and public may have been crying their dismay at an under spent service area.

Working in the area that I do, I often see unmet demand for services. This is a problem for the individuals directly involved but it is also a problem more broadly because not providing the services required directly impacts on productivity and engagement with the community.

At the same time, the government is funding projects, that some would see as essential, but others would see as further down the line in terms of priority.

Sports stadiums for example. How do you weigh the benefits of a new sports stadium against providing accommodation and personal care support for a sportsman who is now a tetraplegic?

More to the point - how about ensuring that all West Australians with a disability can actually go to the football first (if they want to) before we build another sports stadium.

For many West Australians the stadium comes a long way down their list of priorities - they'd like to be able to be helped into bed at a time of their choosing, rather than wait for 5 hours while a lone carer travels between homes getting people into their beds.

They'd like a hot meal every day - instead on one or two days a week.

They'd love to be able to go out once in a while, but their pressure sores haven't been dressed, they have infections as a result and the priority is to have these cleaned and dressed.

I know capital spending is different to recurrent service funding but we are, after all, talking about ONE BILLION DOLLARS. We seem to forget just how much money that really is - ONE THOUSAND MILLION DOLLARS.

3.5% of that amount would provide enough money to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The interest on $1 Billion alone would cover what is needed twice over. And yet, the stadium will get built while West Australians, who, through no fault of their own, suffer in pain - often alone and they'll still not have the opportunity to get to see any event staged at the $1 Billion 'success' for the government.

I'm sure it will be accessible - it may even have a terrific viewing area for wheelchair users that is not shoved off to some dark corner of the ground - but what use are the ramps and the lifts, the special parking and the toilets if the people who would love to use those facilities are not even having their basic daily needs met?

I'd love to see governments come to elections with a 'Strategic Spending Plan' that shows how they will spend government money and why - and prioritises spending because I think that is the best indicator of the true influences on that government.

If they are going to build a massive infrastructure plant that benefits only one group or organisation and this is at the top of the list, then you can clearly see the level of influence that group or organisation has - it may not be fair, but at least it is transparent.

I can however, imagine the horror of any government being asked up front where they saw that money was most needed - imagine how many voters you could put offside in just one list!

Thursday, February 7, 2008


I'm not the PM, so I don't have to be quite so circumspect in my words. The following is where I got to on my version of an apology - It could probably go much further than this but it is about where I would start.

To the first Australians, the custodians of this wide brown land, I express on behalf of parliament our sorrow.

Between a mix of good intentioned and ill intentioned actions, successive Australian governments have caused harm and grief to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The result of these actions has been the perpetuation of injustices against you, our fellow Australians, our sisters and our brothers.

Recent governments have recognised these wrongs, and some have acted, but still we have failed. The result is that you do not live as long as your fellow Australians. You suffer from crime and unemployment at levels that would never be tolerated if they were experienced by all Australians.

We are sorry that this situation has been allowed to continue.

We are sorry that we came, uninvited, and took away your land.

We are sorry that we gave you work, but took away your pay.

We are sorry that we gave you money, but took away your work.

We are sorry that we took away your children and gave you despair, for well intentioned as our motives may have been, the grief from those days has remained and continues.

We are sorry for all the right things, done the wrong way and for all the wrong things done in the name of the government.

We are sorry for dragging our heels when you asked for help and for placing bureaucracy in the way of compassion.

We are sorry for acting compassionately without consulting you on how best to turn that compassion into useful actions.

We are sorry that even today you die sooner than your fellow Australians, and that 'benign neglect' has been our most positive policy response to this.

We are sorry that because of this neglect you are more likely to be victims and perpetrators of crime, your women assaulted and raped, your children abused and your young men jailed.

We have known this has been happening for years and we have not done enough.

It may be that we can never do enough to restore what has been lost, but perhaps, together we can build something new – an Australia that is owned by all of us, that works for all of us and for whom each one of us is willing to take responsibility.

We can be the best of all nations – but we cannot be the best of all nations unless our first people take their place in the continued renewal of our nation.

For this we all are responsible and for having prevented you from participating in our national life we are indeed very sorry. This has harmed us all and you most of all.

We are sorry that this apology has taken 200 years to make.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Orstrayian Test

Of all the ludicrous attempts at defining a national identity, former PM John Howard's authorship of some of the questions in the citizenship test would have to rank fairly high.

I however, think the man has been misjudged. I think he was a visionary - he saw from the start that the nation must inevitably accept wave after wave of immigration if it was to survive and he saw the need for a unifying force to bind the new Australians together.

The Cult of the Don.

Yup, that man, who was by repute an "arsehole" - a nasty little stock trader from South Australia was to become the new idol of a national religion that was, at its core, the epitome of John Howard's "Vision for Australia".

Howard wasn't writing questions to keep people out - he must have been coldly aware that five of the biggest groups seeking to land on our shores already knew very well who Don Bradman was - he just wanted to make sure they understood how high the Don must be placed in the national esteem.

After all it is not as if the English, South Africans, New Zealanders, Indians and Pakistanis have never seen a game of cricket - its just that their idea of who is a cricket hero needs a little adjustment before they'll really fit in to Australian society.

Sadly for Howard, although he may have been able to bowl a googlie in the last term, the electorate were all too aware that Howard, like Don Bradman had a limited game, played it then sat back and traded on the success that was as narrow in its scope as it was emphatic in effect.

Frankly the sooner the Bradman question, and some of the other pathetic attempts to deter African and European migrants and dealt with, the happier I'll be.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Unintended consequences

Policy changes in government can sometimes communicate a more general message to the community.

Australia has just emerged from 11 years of conservative government and the policies enacted by that government have had a broader impact than intended.

Take for example the policy towards refugees. It was touted as a way of protecting the country and all statements to the contrary it also communicated an attitude of ‘we don’t care’ and if even we did actually care, it has been interpreted by some Australians as meaning just that.

Other areas of social justice have also been ‘harder’ – the approach towards the unemployed and the ‘tough love’ strategies in dealing with indigenous issues are some examples of where policy, with probably good intent, and even with good interventions in some cases can be misinterpreted.

I work with people with disabilities – probably the easiest group to defend in terms of justifiable need and yet there has been a hardening towards funding for the disability sector that parallels the situation in other sectors. This has occurred even while the rhetoric has been directly contradictory to the funding situation.

Everyone agrees that funding should be increased, that people with disabilities should be included and that families and carers should be supported – this is bipartisan politically and yet. . .

Australia has been conditioned not to care. 11 years of being told to put ourselves first and that security is the most important national priority has resulted in behavioural change at the social, cultural and political levels and acculturated a nation that no longer has the capacity to care.

The greatest task facing this nation today is to restore compassion as a central core of policy, practice and belief.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Future for Christianity in Australia (Synchroblog)

My mate Hamo let me know about this synchroblog and mentioned I might be interested - he's right! Normally I blog here: at Cafe Grendel, but I kind of like to keep it mostly about coffee - or food, or with at least some coffee kind of context. This post however is so radically outside I thought it better placed here - after all having only used this one once or twice it could use a good dust off.

You may well ask why an atheist bothers to concern himself with the future of Christianity at all - perhaps some might think I should be working my hardest to see that religious belief has no future. I however believe that is folly and my personal consideration has always been that people are entitled to their faith and for many life would be poorer without it.

In that context then, what does an atheist see as the future of Christianity in Australia, and why would I consider Christianity important in Australia's future.

Primarily I am a culturally Christian atheist - that is the culture and beliefs of Christians are not significantly different from my own and I would fit quite comfortably within most Australian churches but for the simple fact that I do not believe in the existence of God.

This has not always been the case - for nearly 30 years I did believe in God - and was very active in a Christian community - I won't go into the reason for my lack of faith here, but generally I consider that most of the core teachings of Christ are relevant and beneficial to humanity.

Australia will continue to be largely 'culturally Christian' but it will also continue to drift to less formal expressions of faith as the various church structures and strictures fail the relevency test for the common Australian.

The challenge for the church (broadest sense) is to make itself continually relevent - but without betraying the truths that are at the core of the belief of Christianity.

I think that the church needs to revisit the way that society's moral demands have changed it - and vice versa and look closely at some of the issues that have resulted from moral positions that result in outcomes that cause harm and hurt to Australians.

I'm not suggesting the church should allow what it considers 'immoral behaviour' to be acceptable - this would abandon some core beliefs, I am however suggesting that the church in Australia appears to lack compassion and has abandoned any pretense of the missionary approach which were the origin on the church and the reason it grew and thrived. That is a rather general statement and there are some excellent examples of missionary church approaches even here in Perth with the Peace Tree crew in Lockridge and the various emerging church groups in the suburbs.

Bigger in this case, is certainly not better. The greatest dangers to Christianity is Australia is from the most conservative elements of the churches who in thinking to defend their faith are isolating their faith. By building walls and guard towers and defending these with arrows of malignancy, they have managed to place themselves in a position where they believe they are under siege.

Sadly for them, it wasn't really an attacking army just a very large crowd wandering along the road outside their castle walls - they'll have all passed by soon and the castle will be left to defend the wasteland.

The second threat is from those who run corporate churches - the corporate model was not the vision of Christ - and if there is a kingdom of God then the corporate model certainly has no place within it. Historically the merchant class was always distrusted by the aristocracy.

Sadly the corporate approach works - as a business. They have a great product, cool marketing and well known brand and are full of loyal customers who bought the sales pitch and enjoy the show. They also enjoy the feeling of belonging to a large and significant group because that makes them feel significant too. The bit that makes me angry was that these people were already significant but because no one had ever told them this there are now grateful to the first group who ever did.

Pauline Hanson managed much the same thing with ultra conservative Australians in the late 1990s.

The corporate approach however does not meet my earlier criteria of the church needing to remain true to the core beliefs of Christianity - there has been too much traded in in order to make the package more attractive.

Australia has a long history (both good and bad) of the church as a central player in Australian life. This will continue - and change will continue. Australians who hold a genuine faith are actively discussing how they can serve. It's kind of refreshing to hear that word used in the proper Christian context from time to time but it is all too rare.

I'd like to see more discussion from Christians that objectively seeks opportunities to improve life for their fellow Australians rather than increase attendance at services. Do the first and I think the second will follow.

Christ taught love. Repeatedly. From our far neighbour the United States of America we see the ultimate betrayal of this teaching by the Westboro 'Baptist Church' who use only the language of hate. I fear that those churches who have isolated themselves in their fortresses risk the same sin.

Christ taught love. Repeatedly. The church must live this if it is to live at all.

This post is part of the Christianity In Australia synchroblog which a number of Australian Christians are participating in to celebrate Australia Day. For more on Christianity in Australia see: