Dear 2012, it’s nice to meet you

Dear 2012,

We haven’t met yet. My name is Utterance and I’m a blog. Sorry I haven’t said hello earlier but it has taken a touch of insomnia from my mate Pete to get things going this year. Um, that’s you isn’t it. This year that is. Well look, I’ve never talked to a year before so if I get a bit muddled, please forgive me.

Anyway, we have a bit in common, me (Utterance) and you (2012). Being a new year, as you are, you’d be interested to know that I pretty much began when my mate Pete made a New Year’s Resolution involving your colleague 2010. This was that Pete would write a new post on me every day during 2010.

Well he managed 266 posts which is not bad, I think 2010 was pleased, and he reflected on this here. He kept going in your other colleague, 2011, and I had my busiest ever day on August 17, 2011 when nearly 700 people dropped by to read my account of Kate Bracks winning Masterchef. Strangely enough, my most popular post of all time is to do with food as well, with 8632 people dropping in on MasterChef’s seven sins; God’s endless forgiveness.

Sorry to say there appears to be no such resolution this you, as here it is your 11th and we’ve only just met. But I’m sure we’ll get better acquainted as the year, sorry, as you progress and to help I’ll give you a bit more background.

As a blog I’m rather hard to define, deliberately so I think, which is a bit like my writer who has never been comfortable in a box, sometimes to his detriment. You know you can get further sometimes just by fitting in but he’s one of those early sixties babies who was never quite Boomer, never quite Buster and then had three Gen Y kids and so it’s all over the place.

I’m quite reflective at times, possibly a bit sentimental and even a little regretful. Please 2012, give me a slap around the ears if I go to far down that path.

I love the news – bit of the old printers’ ink in the blood  – well that would be his blood I guess as technically blogs have bytes and hits and posts but not so much of blood. But yes he was and is a journalist so there’s a newsiness to myself.

I especially like spotting God in the headlines, little signs of faith and the divine that manage to emerge in the daily dust of the world’s happenings. That’s why I might talk about Tim Tebow or job ads or Ayrton Senna or buggity, buggity, buggity or the Amazing Race.

Sydney’s a favourite, this great sprawling city of broad beaches, tense traffic, drive by shootings and colourful characters. And the occasional dead body, rainbow or pedestrian poem.

And if I try and get a little wise, a little insightful, bear with me, this too will surely pass.

So dear 2012, I hope we get along okay and catch up more than occasionally. For your part, could please slow down a little as it’s hard enough to find a moment without you being in a rush too, insomnia aside.

Oh, and as you are just at the beginning, here’s mine, it might help complete the picture of what I’m about.

Fare thee well and remember the advice I give everyone – breath, speak, breath and don’t forget to jump.

Much love
Utterance

PS Mr 2012, you can also follow my friend Pete on Twitter.
PPS Mr 2012, I’ve heard rumours that you are meant to be associated with the end of the world, something to do with Mayan calendars etc. Anyway, just to reassure you I have much higher hopes for you than that and in any case, the world won’t end until He says so.

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Christmas leads to Easter’s mysterious Shroud

Christmas leads inevitably to Easter in Christian understanding and so it is not surprising that the origins of the Shroud of Turin are back in the news.

ABC News (US) reports, ‘Experts at Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development have concluded in a report that the famed purported burial cloth of Jesus Christ could not have been faked.’

The scientists are not claiming they know the origins of the Shroud’s markings, only that they could not have been medieval forgeries. Instead they report, ‘the marks could only have been made by “a short and intense burst of VUV directional radiation.”’

The New Testament written in the first century refers to burial clothes in the empty tomb of Jesus:

‘Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. (John 20:6, 7 NIVUK)’

Further it discusses the presence of angels around the Easter tomb with the appearance of lightning:

‘While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? (Luke 24:4, 5 NIVUK)’

If you believe in nothing more than the limited reach of science then you have no place for lightning-like angels, risen Lords or a baby who is God with us. You are also left with, currently, no explanation for the Shroud.

If you are undecided, then this Christmas may be your opportunity to entertain the thought of angels, virgin births and a God who loves you.

ABC News report on Shroud findings

Utterance post on 3D images from Shroud

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Christmas speaks to the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul

Birth of Jesus by RembrandtChristmas as we know it has been culturally crafted over thousands of years around a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel.

Each December various scientists, atheists and pot-shotters are trotted out with their latest theories debunking Christmas and erstwhile Christian intellectuals and apologists bravely rally to defend the seasonal ground. Others argue over various cultural accoutrements to Christmas such as dates and customs and commercialistation. They act as if the average person is not intelligent enough to distinguish between later attempts to mark something significant and the significant thing itself.

Certainly the habitual attacks on the historical origins of Christmas or Easter or any Christian belief along with the confusing but largely irrelevant criticisms of the cultural artefacts that accompany those traditions, have a gradual, destabilising effect on the faith of the wavering or nominal who are probably the majority of believers in our nation. Around the globe however the effect is infinitesimal and Christian faith continues to thrive and multiply in amazing diversity with scant disregard for broadsheet column centimetres.

That is because at the heart of it, the Christmas story – to quote myself – ‘a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel’ is so shockingly familiar to our own human experience it reaches us where the debunkers and apologists never could, in the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul.

Here are just a few examples, in no particular order: Continue reading

Petition takes on Channel 7 over Good Christian Bitches

Since the recent Utterance post highlighting Channel 7’s promotion of 2012 series Good Christian Bitches during the grand final of X Factor, a backlash has developed, mainly aimed at the name, with a petition on Change.org.

The petition was begun by Carol McFarland and at time of writing had been signed by 2,445 supporters. Carol’s reasons for opposing the show include, “It is inappropriate and rude to name this show with such explicit language that is uncalled for. We are meant to respect all religions, no matter what the belief system is, but this shows utter disrespect to the Christian Religion and also to Women and is highly offensive.”

When pilots of the show were first being considered by ABC in the US, Good Christian Bitches was the working title, in keeping with Kim Gatlin’s novel, but with pressure from the American Family Association and other organisations, the names was changed to Good Christian Belles and eventually to just GBC.

A key argument was that it was demeaning to Christians, to women and would not be used in the context of another religion, for example, Good Muslim Bitches. These arguments are certainly fuelling the fire in Australia as well. So far Channel 7 has shown no sign of changing the title and, more than likely, is revelling in the publicity. Continue reading

‘Tasteful’ advertising to tempt WordPress bloggers

Almost quietly, WordPress announced this week that it would allow bloggers to have advertising on their WordPress hosted blogs. This news has been keenly anticipated by many bloggers and yet the announcement was brief and without fanfare, perhaps to avoid an immediate avalanche of uptake.

WordPress has, rightly, closely guarded the integrity and aesthetic of its platform and perhaps predictably, the move to allow advertising is being carefully controlled. At the same time, the announcement included  thinly veiled criticisms of competitors.

The 229 word post on the WordPress news blog, began:

“Over the years one of the most frequent requests on WordPress.com has been to allow bloggers to earn money from their blog through ads. We’ve resisted advertising so far because most of it we had seen wasn’t terribly tasteful, and it seemed like Google’s AdSense was the state-of-the-art, which was sad. You pour a lot of time and effort into your blog and you deserve better.”

The post explained that the advertising program would be called AdWords – not dissimilar to the maligned AdSense – and “beginning with our partnership with Federated Media we’re ready to start rolling out AdWords here on WordPress.com.” The word “beginning” suggests further advertising partners may come in the future, but Federated Media is it for now. Continue reading

If remembrance reflects identity, let’s beware what we forget

Remembrance Day last week was highlighted by a preponderance of 11s – 11/11/11 at 11am – and reminds us that the events of time and space are not only measured by dates and location but by our less exacting recollections.

Memory and identity are in many ways at the heart of Julian Barne’s 2011 Booker Prize winning novel, The Sense of an Ending, which includes character Adrian quoting, ‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacy of documentation.’

If that is true, even in part, then all the more reason to have rituals of remembrance so that some things are not lost. Many of the world’s most memorised sayings or occurrences, such as those of the Christian faith, were passed down through oral traditions that perfected remembrance in a way we rarely do today.

Roy Frederick Hallett

One such ritual is Remembrance Day which recalls for us Armistice Day, November 11, 1918 when hostilities ceased on the western front, virtually bringing to and end The Great War. It came too late for my great-uncle Roy who was killed in action on April 4, 1918 at Villers Bretonneax. He was one of 60,000 Australians who died in WWI and one of 11,000 or more whose bodies were never recovered.

The day before Remembrance Day I visited my sister’s grave because even though 17 years have passed since she was killed, we still remember and are still affected by her loss. We have a body, but no explanation as to who killed her and why, and so our remembrance is unsettled to this day.

It made me realise that as a nation, we must have been powerfully affected by 60,000 families all caught in a remembrance of loved ones lost. Even those who had graves to attend and accounts to read, would still have found the deaths of their loved ones hard to reconcile. Maybe our very identity as a people shifted through this mass remembering of those who would not return.

The only known image of Pemulwuy, one of the first Aboriginal leaders to resist white settlement.

And so we remember, through to World War 2 and it’s 40,000 slain Australians and onwards to today, including three more Diggers dying in Afghanistan. And while the casualties of war-time are just a part of the never-ceasing tide of life and death and birth and ageing that we are all part of, it is the sheer enormity of loss of life that these wars brought that stir us to find ways to remember, to acknowledge, to incorporate a sense of who we are through what has occurred.

But I fear that our remembering in this sphere is too often marked by what is forgotten or ignored as by what is recalled. The only number that comes close to the casualties of the two world wars, was that of Aboriginal deaths during frontier conflict across Australia.

While estimates by some writers of up to 100,000 Aboriginal deaths due to conflict with settlers is regarded as too high, many historians agree on a figure of about 20,000 Aboriginal people killed during a relatively short period as British colonisation of this land occurred. Perhaps 1-2000 white people were killed in these same conflicts which were, on more than on occasion, referred to at the time as the Black War or similar.

A mature nation, I believe, would realise that if white remembrance of the losses of war are vital to our sense of identity, healing and balance, then so too, or even more so, that of Aboriginal people. We cannot go back and undo these horrific losses for the first Australians, any more than I can go back and undo the death of great-uncle Roy. We can’t set aside the tide of history that produced colonial powers sweeping the globe any more than we can for the not dissimilar causes of World War 1 and 2.

But we can acknowledge that it happened – that many thousands of Aboriginal people died in attempts to defend their homes and their families and many more were killed in acts of revenge, extermination and ethnic cleansing so that white people would feel safe. We can acknowledge that this was and is brutally hurtful to those left behind and those that followed, and that it had far-reaching consequences then and now.

Are we ready as a modern Australian society to include in Remembrance Day or Anzac Day or Australia Day the idea that there is another great conflict at the heart of Australian identity and it is the one between Aboriginal and European?

It doesn’t mean that conflict need remain. Australia has rebuilt excellent relationships with many previous enemies – not by forgetting, but by remembering and at the same time, choosing to move forward. As to whether, when and how Aboriginal people may want to do this is another matter.

I fear our (white Australian) refusal to acknowledge this war in our past makes it harder for all of us, black and white, to enter into a peace that is authentic, just and durable. We can ignore it, but an unsettled loss rarely goes away on its own. That’s why we stop to remember year by year, so that in time the remembering hurts less and we are able to reflect and learn from our past.

Lest we forget.

The Slap hits TV and may assault your senses

The television adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ 2008 novel The Slap is about to screen on ABC 1 and while it is a best-selling book in Australia and beyond, many of the television viewers will be encountering the story for the first time.

The Slap is an explicit novel – explicit in its treatment of nearly every bodily function and relationship dysfunction you can think of, or prefer not to think of. Oh, and did I mention the abundant use of legal and illicit drugs?

The television adaptation apparently holds little back and if that is the case, many will find reason why they can’t watch it, which is understandable, but a pity that some of the extremes of description were not moderated originally by the author. The story would not have suffered…

But that’s not his style and if you’re not sure if it’s your’s, check out a review of the book I wrote some time ago – it might give you some more insight, or a little more to offer around the water cooler tomorrow.

The Slap book review

Muslim writer questions silent response to death sentence

Muslim writer Mehdi Hasan writes in The Guardian about Muslim response, or lack of, to the death sentence for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran.

‘Pleas for clemency from the archbishop of Canterbury, the UK’s foreign secretary and Amnesty International, among others, have fallen on deaf ears in Tehran. Meanwhile the silence from the world’s Muslims – especially the UK’s usually voluble Muslim organisations and self-appointed “community leaders” – has been shameful. The irony is that I have yet to come across an ordinary Muslim who agrees that a fellow believer who loses, changes or abandons his or her faith should be hanged. Yet frustratingly few Muslims are willing to speak out against such medieval barbarism. We mumble excuses, avert our eyes.’

When this behaviour changes we will have real hope for freedom in many dangerous places for Christians and others.

Read the full article here.

And it’s time the Australian government spoke out in defense of this Pastor on behalf of Australian Iranians, Christians and Muslims.

Marriage beliefs unchanged as public debate moves

Most of the media coverage of the current debate over marriage-law portrays anyone who advocates for retaining marriage as it is, as a bigoted Neanderthal.

The reality is that many people have long and deeply held beliefs about marriage that were formed long before there was any debate about its fundamental nature. They didn’t wake up a month or two ago and say, “Oh, “I’m going to stick my neck out and believe that marriage is between one man and one woman”.

Neither did they decide that they would oppose marriage-law change because they hate or want to harm any person or segment of the community. It’s the debate on marriage-law that has moved and people are being asked to decide if they will move too.

For many people of faith, marriage is deeply entwined with fundamental beliefs about the nature of humanity, the expression of relationship and the very essence of God. It is not something on a bit of paper in isolation. That’s why, in many cases, the marriages of these people are among the most resilient in society – something they want to pass on to their children.

Whether we are a majority or minority is difficult to say. Whether marriage will be somehow harmed is yet to be seen. In the long run, the heart-felt belief of individuals in the context of a supportive faith-community and in relation with God is more important than any law, or anyone else’s view.

In the Parliament today, of the 30 members who spoke on marriage, 18 said an extraordinary majority in their electorates supported retaining the current definition of marriage, six said they favoured changed and six didn’t indicate the numbers in their electorate.

This does not equate to a large majority who are homophobic or hateful towards gay people, it is a large majority who hold certain beliefs about marriage, many for deeply personal or religious views. These are as valid as any of the populist, media-savvy voices that we hear.

For a couple of posts on marriage, check out Australian Christian News

Perry perched on precipice of prayer

Rick Perry

Rick Perry

You’ll hear more and more about Rick Perry in coming days and most of it will be bad. Not to say that he is bad, but being a conservative Christian who is demonstrative about his faith and running for US president ensures he’ll get plenty of bad press. Maybe he deserves it, but don’t believe everything you read.

American politics is complex, polarised and confrontational with far less political correctness than is present in Australia. Australians would find it hard to even imagine a character like Perry surviving anywhere except on the very fringes of Australian politics, and yet he is emerging as a genuine presidential contender. It would be like Fred Nile being a strong contender for Australian Prime Minister… not likely, no hard feelings Fred.

But is his faith genuine, heartfelt, intelligent – giving genuine moral and spiritual impetus to his personal and public life? The secular media won’t even consider such questions. They’ve already stereotyped him as someone to dismiss. Perhaps we’ll join them, but there could be more to him than that.

I’m going to keep an eye on him, and to begin with, check out this thoughtful article from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in The Atlantic.

Is Rick Perry as Christian as he thinks he is?

And while you’re at it, you might want to think about this call to prayer Perry sent to other governors before his controversial August 6 prayer breakfast:

“I sincerely hope you’ll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.

Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.”

What do you think?