Fireworks at Eiffel Tower Copyright Peter Hallett 2012

Paris celebrates Bastille Day 2012: photos

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Bastille Day seemed to us Australians something like a mix between Anzac Day and Australia Day with fewer barbecues and more tanks and fighter planes.

There were lots of crowds moving quietly to watch parades, flyovers and fireworks and just as many watching the passing crowds from the forward-facing chairs of cafes.

As we arrived at the fireworks, a short walk from where we are staying, it was somewhat like Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks only the iron of the bridge had morphed into a giant tower.

So conditioned am I by the Sydney event, when the fireworks were under way I kissed my wife and said Happy New Year! Or perhaps that was just an excuse… Enjoy our small photographic selection

Ceiling of the Dome Church

Skimming and delving through life and travel with war, segways and macaroons

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“That was travel… A dance across surfaces to see the face of everything and learn the meaning of very little.”

Thomas Keneally has one of his characters think this thought in his new novel, The Daughters of Mars,  as she travels by train through Egypt to board the hospital ship Archimedes during World War I. The story tells of Australian nurses who serve at Gallipoli and then at the Western Front, an apt book to read while touring France.

The danger of skimming and never learning is as much a risk of life as it is travel but no doubt the tourist mentality heightens this risk as people skip from one famous site to another, record endlessly on their devices, but take very little time to absorb meaning.

An inquiring mind, open heart and keen eye are as useful in travel as in life to remedy the dearth of meaning that can so often diminish our days. On the other hand, sometimes the constant barrage of meaning in cathedrals and chateaus and cities and coffins is too much and some pleasant moments with a pistachio macaroon are just as important…

On our last day before returning to Paris we visited Francois 1’s château Chambord, possibly built along the architectural principles of the king’s favourite Italian artist and thinker, Leonardo da Vinci. Its central dual staircase which allows people to climb up entwining stairs without ever meeting is reminiscent of some of da Vinci’s drawings which we saw at Le Clos Luce, Amboise, where da Vinci lived and died in the service of Francois.

And the meaning of this imposing structure: a chance for the king to build his own château from scratch, to demonstrate his power and wealth, and to have extensive grounds for hunting. Now the tourist has conquered and at least we are free to share this indulgence and feel a connection with history, such as it is.

Perhaps as instructive as the architecture was sharing a meal in a nearby cafe afterwards and assisting the French waiter with a little English and no Italian explain to some slightly bewildered Venetian tourists with no English or French that the special of the day was fish. We Australians did somewhat better than the French waiter, no doubt because we come from Leichhardt! There was some admirable French indignation when the affable but fiery Italians refused to be served the dessert that came with the special of the day and we came to understand how Europe has so often found itself at war. There’s some meaning for you…

Speaking of war, having solved the riddle which is the location of the Europcar depot at Montparnasse (four levels underground marked by a six inch sign near the Pullman hotel and no where near where it is advertised as being located) we returned our hire car – undamaged but witness to some minor cursing – and after a pleasant evening with friends, went walking the next morning, past the Eiffel Tower, nonchalantly, to see L’Hôtel national des Invalides.

This imposing structure was built by Louis XIV as a home and hospital for aged and infirm soldiers but not content with its pleasing and unadorned chapel, he had a new private, royal chapel built known commonly as the Dome Church. Much later it became the resting place of Napoleon and several other national figures and at eye level is more aptly named (by me) ‘Le halle of massive coffins’. Napoleon is encased in no less than six coffins, the largest exterior one appearing to be the size of a large van but proportions are hard to determine in so grand a space. Much dusting required no doubt.

Having found seats on which we could recline to enjoy the dome ceiling we then toured the military museum which actually provided a very useful and brief history lesson on the origins of WWI and WWII. A group of young Australian men came through and while respectful in a Cronulla beach kind of way, seemed larger than life, loudly commenting and questioning as if the world belonged to them, carrying the same bravado many of our diggers did when they “toured” Europe in the early 1900s. It was impossible not to enjoy their confident if at times misinformed commentary but our national ‘presence’ must still be a mystery to the somewhat sombre French.

Coming out of this other-world towards the Seine, under the still watchful eyes of Napoleon, we walked back to our abode in Paris’ “15 district”, again passing the Eiffel Tower where I paused to trim my finger nails while a bride and groom had their photo taken and a scurry of segways surrounded us.

Rainbow welcome in prayerful Seoul

When travelling to Europe from Australia you cannot and should not forget we are part of Asia.

Sauntering into steamy Seoul this afternoon we were greeted with a welcoming rainbow as if to assure us we are in the right place. Overnight at least.
Having checked in to our aptly named Sky Hotel near Incheon Airport, I ducked outside to join many locals in admiring and photographing the colours in the sky.

South Korea is one of the most prayerful nations on the planet with millions of devout Christians well-known for their all night prayer vigils and prayer mountains.

Not surprisingly I found a church steeple to partner with the rainbow, which by this stage had lost some of its initial brightness.

Walking back to our hotel a young Korean woman walked past wearing an over-sized t-shirt that said, ‘In God we Trust’. I read it out loud and smiled and received one in return.

Prayer seems all the more important for South Korea when seeing close at hand its proximity to large neighbours China and Russia and of course it’s cranky northern relative. Pray for the peace of Korea…

 

Caravaggio’s Resurrection of Lazarus restored

“Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend
And then he raised him up again.”

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (September 29, 1571 – July 18, 1610) painted Resurrection of Lazarus in 1609, not long before his death, and while on the run for various crimes committed in his often wild and tumultuous life. He was on his way to Rome hopeful of pardon when it appears he died on fever.

His painting has received the restoration he longed for and has also found its way to Rome where it is currently on display. Read the BBC’s report.

Lazarus, we can presume, lived to die and live again and is now with his great Friend forever… perhaps Caravaggio is with them, pardoned at last. Read the Bible’s report

Entree to Transit of Venus: partial lunar eclipse on tonight (June 4)

Moon
Partial lunar eclipse in Sydney, June 4.

With all the Tranist of Venus excitement which occurs from about 8am June 6 (and then not again until 2117) there’s been little mention of the partial lunar eclipse occuring tonight.

The moon is passing through the eath’s shadow and will be mot affected at 9.03pm.

It’s a beautiful clear night in Sydney so step outside and see our collective shadow on the moon and pray for this mysterious round ball we call home.

More details here: http://nightskyonline.info/?p=3676

Oh, and the Tranist of Venus is June 5,6 and occurs when Venus crosses the sun.

More details here: http://www.sydneyobservatory.com.au/transit-of-venus-6-june-2012/

Christian aid worker rescued in daring SAS raid

“We are deeply grateful to everyone involved in her rescue, to those who worked tirelessly on her behalf, and to family and friends for their love, prayers and support over the last twelve days.” The parents of Helen Johnson.

Committed Christian Helen Johnson, her Kenyan colleague Moragwa Oirere and two Afghan woman who all worked for aid agency, Medair, were rescued in a daring night time raid by members of the British SAS and US Navy Seals over the weekend.

“David Cameron authorised the rescue attempt after military forces in Afghanistan briefed him on the planned operation. Speaking outside Number 10 after the raid, he described the rescue effort as ‘extraordinarily brave’ and ‘breath-taking'” reports the Daily Telegraph, London.

Helen’s father Philip, a theologian and senior lecturer at Cambridge University, said he and his wife Patricia were delighted that Helen and her colleagues were safe.

Medair is Christian charity based near Lausanne, Switzerland:

“Our mission is to seek out and serve the vulnerable women, children, and men in crisis who live in often difficult-to-access regions in Africa and Asia, and other areas with extraordinary need. We are a non-governmental organisation (NGO), with internationally recruited staff who are motivated by their Christian faith to care for people in need. Our work is compassionate and practical, providing life-saving care and support that upholds the dignity and independence of every person, regardless of race, religion, or politics.”

Read more about the rescue of the four Medair workers:

Sydney Morning Herald

Sunday Telegraph, UK

Armageddon arrives with emotional depth and musical perfection

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Guy Sebastian brought his Armageddon concert to the Hordern Pavilion tonight and showed again why he will continue to be one of Australia’s leading performers.

Not only was the show energetic, fun and original, it was also faultless with Sebastian using his voice like a well tuned, well loved instrument.

His vocal precision was matched by a ‘killer band’ by his own estimation and no one could argue.

Carmen Smith of The Voice fame had a large vocal (and groovin’) role, often stepping up from backing singer to take the lead with Guy.

And while the all-age audience loved his pop and soul favourites, the night belonged to the deeper, more telling music off the yet to be completed Armageddon album.

Perhaps it was the recent birth of his son or a natural progression for this man of talent and faith, but the new songs he performed all have an edge of strength and emotion that will earn Guy Sebastian new fans and recognition.

Big Bad World is a song for his son but is a song for all parents and all children while title song Armageddon is a love song that collides with thoughts of the end of the world, more than a little beyond some of the catchy but light tunes of the past.

It was all class and even the somewhat tired Hordern couldn’t contain the sheer pleasure of the audience.

Armageddon the album is just a few weeks away from completion, Sebastian told his fans tonight. And after two years in the making it will be worth the wait.
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Let the little children come to me, echoes Barbara in life and death

The funeral of Barbara Holborow today showed that she was a woman of faith as well as the woman of constant action that we all knew her to be.

No doubt planning the event meticulously, she included a welcome to country by Millie Ingram and then the funeral continued with the ‘negro spiritual’, Shine On Me:

‘Shine on me
Let the light from the lighthouse
Shine on me’

Phrases such as “Therefore in faith and hope we turn to God, who created and sustains all things” sat alongside Scriptures such as “I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die.”

The congregation was invited to pray:

“Heavenly Father,
in your Son jesus Christ
you have given us a true faith and a sure hope.
Help us to live as those who believe in the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
and the resurrection to eternal life;
through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen”

Beautiful hymns, the Lord’s Prayer, Scripture readings from Ecclesiastes 3, Amos 5:24 and Psalm 23 accompanied perhaps the most fitting passage for a woman who devoted her life to the protection and nourishment of children: Mark 10:13-16, which includes the well-known words of Jesus:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

One sign of Barbara Holborow’s guiding hand was the involvement of clergy from the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Churches and the Salvation Army. The tributes from Father Chris Riley AM and Reverend Dr Bill Crews AM, both close friends of Barbara’s, were deeply moving as they spoke of the sadness and challenge and love felt as she approached death.

There were many other highlights for the those gathered, including the Irish recessional and Goodnight Sweetheart sung by Col Joye as young men – perhaps some who have benefitted from Barbara Holborow’s benevolence – carried her towards her last earthly journey.

Armondo Hurley sang What A Wonderful World which connected with a radio interview with Richard Fidler in which Barbara had spoken about her hopes for a wonderful world. Hear it here.

One memorable quote, in response to the question, “Have you upset many of the lawmakers over the years?” Barbara answered, “Oh yes, and I still am. The day I stop is the day I know the marrow of my bone has melted.”

Many have asked the question since the death of Barbara Holborow, who will step up and continue her role as a champion of the most vulnerable of society. Probably it will not be just one, but will take many, similarly equipped – as she apparently was – with a faith that brings hope and love.

As my wife and I go through the process of becoming foster carers, we hope in some very small way to be part of continuing her legacy.

Dennis Prince refuses to let atheist convention go unchallenged

Rupert Murdoch has been hailed as an entrepreneurial risk-taker in launching a Sunday tabloid into the “mature and declining” market of printed newspapers with his launch of the Sun on Sunday.

This has not deterred Dennis Prince from launching The Regal Standard, as a direct challenge to the second Global Atheist Convention to be held in Melbourne from April 13 to 15.

The semi-retired pastor co-founder of Kingston City Church and long-time publisher of Resource Christian Music has produced a (presumably) one-off 12 page tabloid to counter the convention being held “in our backyard – on our watch”.

“If this event were to be held in, say, New York, we would expect Christians there to unite boldly and decisively to honour God and proclaim his greatness. That lot has instead fallen on us,” Dennis says on The Regal Standard’s website.

Dennis told Fairfax Media that he “has a tiger by the tail” by creating the Regal Standard, designed to counter atheist arguments. Fairfax reports that there are already orders for 25,000 copies of the 12-page tabloid, which will be distributed to churches, dropped in letter boxes, given to the curious, and sent to convention speakers.

‘Mr Prince… felt God telling him that the convention was happening on his watch, and he had to respond. He has spent $5000 and some 300 hours producing the paper, and needs to sell 45,000 at an average of 20¢ each to recover his costs.’

Dennis advocated for a positive but energetic response to the convention that would stimulate thought and conversation but could see the gullible “led down the garden path”.

Speakers at the convention include Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Peter Singer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and, perhaps somewhat in the “den”, Marion Maddox, who with a PhD in Theology will participate in panel discussions. (Marion and my paths crossed when we were both children living in and around the Uniting Church’s old Leigh College in South Strathfield…).

Christopher Hitchens is also pictured on the speakers page for the convention, perhaps a sign that the atheist’s are slightly enamoured with the idea of life after death…

PDF sample of The Regal Standard
Atheist Convention 2012

Some Utterance encounters with atheism…

Atheists sick of atheists
Atheism led me to faith
Ethic classes new atheism in slim disguise

Or search the tag atheism

Model’s faith no secret as she leaves lingerie behind…

“I am still modeling but only with brands that respect my decision not to wear lingerie,” tweeted former Victoria’s Secret model Kylie Bisutti, aged 21.

The Californian Christian won Victoria’s Secret Model Search  ahead of 10,000 other girls in 2009 but has quit the company because of her Christian values.

“Victoria’s Secret was my absolutely biggest goal in life, and it was all I ever wanted career-wise,” she told FOX411.

“I actually loved it while I was there, it was so much fun and I had a blast. But the more I was modelling lingerie – and lingerie isn’t clothing – I just started becoming more uncomfortable with it because of my faith. I’m Christian, and reading the Bible more, I was becoming more convicted about it.”

Her comment that “her body should only be for my husband” was widely reported, and ridiculed, but for Kylie “it’s a sacred thing”.

“I didn’t really want to be that kind of role model for younger girls because I had a lot of younger Christian girls that were looking up to me and then thinking that it was okay for them to walk around and show their bodies in lingerie to guys.”

She has a number of career opportunities ahead including an appearance with Jennifer Lopez and will continue to model for companies that respect her decision not to model lingerie.

“It is a very hard industry to be in without falling into things you don’t want to do,” she said.

Husband Mike had apparently prayed that Kylie might come to this decision but allowed her to reach it in her own time.

In a world where people do anything to achieve success, particularly if it involves celebrity, it is encouraging to see someone allow their conscience to guide their decisions and trust God with the outcome.

Follow Kylie on Twitter at @vskylie

LL Cool J opens Grammys with prayer for Whitney Houston

“Tonight, we ask ourselves how do we speak to this time, to this day. There is no way around this, there’s been a death in our family. And at least for me, for me, the only thing that seems right to me is to begin with a prayer.”

And so LL Cool J begins the 2012 Grammys in Los Angeles, leading the large group of celebrities, many with heads bowed, in a prayer for Whitney Houston.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us. Today our thoughts are with her mother, her daughter and all of her loved ones. And although she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit, and to have the legacy of her music to cherish and share forever. Amen.”

Prayer is so often the cry of our heart in the midst of tragedy and joy and many other circumstances.

If you are in need of prayer and are struggling for the words, simply express yourself as you would to a good friend and believe that God who loves you is listening. For more prayer help, visit Wesley Mission’s prayer page or Hillsong’s prayer and support page.

Oh little town of Bideford… where prayer has been over-ruled

Debates over prayers in Parliament or council meetings periodically emerge as another place where institutional secularism seeks to usurp institutional religion.

The latest has been the English town of Bideford where a former councillor took Bideford Council to court over official prayers during meetings.

The High Court ruled in his favour on what it described as a narrow point of law that it was not legal for councils to make prayer part of official business.

Some are seeing the ruling as having wider ramifications as secularism continues to reframe the nature of our societies.

Bideford may yet become a byword for a nation and nations loss of spiritual identity.

Read The Guardian’s report

‘Father and son’s daring rescue saves a life’

If ever there was an earthly picture of a heavenly truth, this is it:

Father and son’s daring rescue saves a life

Not only does this story remind that the understated qualities of mateship and self-sacrifice are alive and well in Australia, but it provides a bloodied and beautiful picture of God’s daring rescue of humanity.

The son Kevin places himself in the dangerous water alongside the fallen man, while father Les throws out the lifeline and directs the follow-up support.

And all while they were out fishing. ‘I will make you fishers of men.’

Be encouraged that God too still rescues and puts within us a rescuer Spirit.

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Would the real Jesus please not wear a robe?

SMH.TV has brought us another amazing documentary, this time about a man claiming to be the Messiah and living in the wilds of Siberia.

Vissarion, the Teacher, Jesus… wearing a flowing white robe, sitting on the side of a hill and teaching his followers, who also are wearing flowing white garments.

Vissarion’s real name is Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop who was born in 1961, served in the Russian Army, became a traffic policeman, before losing his job and becoming Christ.

In many ways Vissarion is reminiscent of our very own North Queensland Jesus, Allan John Miller who also lives in a remote location and is busy gathering followers and building utopia. Although Siberia looked quite warm in the video, I can only imagine Miller would be a better choice in winter…

It is interesting to see the faith of many who follow, and there is a certain sense of harmony apparent in the documentary, produced by a combination of the community’s music and the beautiful scenery.

But with the benefit of distance, there is also strong sense of religiosity, stifling spiritual deception and a shallow confusion of thought.

One thing we know, both Miller and Torop can’t be right – one of them is an imposter, or more obviously both.

Jesus, of the New Testament, warned that many would claim to be him, but not to run after them. He can be found, right where you are.

Watch Jesus of Siberia
Wikipedia’s bio of Vissarion

News recalls the absurd and points to the perfect

Sometimes the news gets the better of me either because it is shockingly bad, relentlessly tedious are downright absurd.

If ever there was a news cycle that would lead you to covert to nihilism and start whispering ‘everything is absurd’ then the past 24 hours might just do it:

  • A boy walks from his bedroom to show his mum a bullet after yet another Sydney drive-by shooting.
  • Soldiers urinate on dead Taliban fighters and say, ‘have a nice day buddy’.
  • News readers sound thankful that an Australian man only received 75 lashes while wearing a leather jacket
  • Mexican transplant staff drop a heart on the tarmac while rushing for the benefit of cameras.

This is the tip of the iceberg. I’m not even mentioning my own strange behaviour, or yours.

It reminds me that when looking for an explanation of a world where there can be so much that is beautiful, profound and wise and so much that is absurd, evil and tedious – all at the same time – the ancient texts of the Bible answer the call.

God created a good world and made human kind in his image which includes love, truth and choice. Humanity falls from the place and introduces chaos, absurdity and evil. The goodness and image of God still tarry in a world steadily succumbing to fallenness.

The dividing line for it all is a perfect life surrendered to the imperfection in all its manifest extremes. Take a hold of this life and you find a way out of the absurd.

That’s the simplistic version, but still the best…

And the moral (s) of the current news cycle – don’t rush when holding someone’s heart, keep your head down in Sydney’s suburbs, always love your enemies and never take off your leather jacket…

Gay protest could be Court’s toughest tennis challenge

It could be a hard-fought three setter between tennis legend Margaret Court and proponents of gay marriage such as Kerryn Phelps over Court’s uncompromising views on the topic.

Dr Phelps has tweeted a call to Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and Tennis Australia to rename the Margaret Court Arena before the Australian Open in Melbourne next week. And there has also been a call for people to protest by displaying rainbow flags at the tournament.

Pastor Court, a winner of 62 Grand Slam titles and now senior minister of Victory Life Centre in Perth, said she was ‘sad’ that her views on marriage were being brought into tennis, but that she would not be running away.

A Facebook page, ‘Rainbow Flags Over Margaret Court Arena’ has attracted 660 Likes while a recently added ‘NO Rainbow Flags Over Margaret Court Arena’ so far only has two. However many comments on the former page are actually in support of Margaret Court.

In The Australian, Ps Court explained that her views on gay marriage were based on the Bible and that she did not hate homosexual people.

“I have always said I have nothing against homosexual people,” she said. “We have them in our church. I help them to overcome. We have people who have been homosexual who are now married.

“When I spoke a month ago and stood for marriage, things came back from tennis players who probably didn’t read what I wrote. It had nothing to do with people personally or tennis players. I remember speaking to Navratilova 10 years ago on something she brought up with me and I said ‘Martina, I love you, God loves you, but a wrong doesn’t make a right’.

“I think I have a right, being a minister of the gospel, to say what it says from a scriptural side.

“I have always been a champion and always loved what I do and love tennis. I think it is very sad they can bring it into that. It is hard that they can voice their opinions but I am not allowed to voice my opinion. There is something wrong somewhere.” Read more

While Pastor Court’s views have been consistent and well-known for a long time, she spoke out on her blog in August about family and marriage and also during the gay marriage debate at the ALP Conference in December.