A majority of one

Australia’s new federal government now officially has a parliamentary majority of one after the final seat was decided by just 37 votes.

It seems politics in Australia is now a game of inches, no doubt true also of the Olympics which are about to begin in Rio.

Presumably the level of motivation and organisation for all government Members of Parliament will be at gold medal standard when it comes to voting on bills, knowing that even one latecomer, dozer, long-luncher or call of nature could result in a hung parliament.

It would do us all well to live life as if we are a majority of one. That in every aspect of existence our presence and participation is crucial to the outcome.

Too often we drift through the world as if nothing really matters or worse still, that who we are and what we do is somehow less valuable than someone whose face is instantly recognisable.

When the bells sound for a vote in the next sitting of the House of Representatives, every MP will be mindful that their presence counts heavily. It should always be that way.

There are bells ringing in our lives right now – bells calling for kindness, forgiveness, justice, outrage. Bells calling us not to be another person who just walks by.

We are a majority of one in helping our relationships and families to be strong, resilient and loving – don’t leave it to someone else.

We are a majority of one in ensuring there is truthfulness, fairness, humility and welcome in our society.

For Christians, the founder of our faith had unswerving commitment to changing the world through his majority of one. But it was us he called alongside, to take up our own cross, to also find a way to shine and be a light in an often dark world.

The next time you feel inclined to helplessness, despair, boredom or self-interest, picture our politicians bolting for the Chamber knowing their vote counts.

Remember, no one is unimportant. We are all a majority of one.

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Elusive Archbishop of the slums

It is easy to categorise and be categorised. In many places in society the only way to get ahead is to sublimate yourself in the colours of the tribe.

But a true mark of faith and healthy personality is that you are ‘elusive’ to the box-carrying, label-making mechanisms of our world.

Jesus told a man, who was feeling an elusive breeze rustling through his straight-jacket religion, that:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8

There is something of this about Pope Francis and, as he prepares to visit the US, it has the American box cutters in a frenzy.

There is cause for hope in this archbishop of the slums.

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Ties that bind us in Gillard-gloating-blue to smoke-on-the-water purple

Tony Abbott wore a blue tie everyday of his Prime Ministership, bar one.

And was criticised for being partisan, or was that Parisian, or worse still, that he wore only gloating-at-Gillard blue.

Clearly he could have worn more inclusive tie colours (as the leader of a nation that by and large avoids ties like the plague).

An occasional Rudd-red for the Labor constituents, glamping green for the, well, Green citizens. Some mottled-dinosaur prints would have calmed down the Clive Palmer voters and perhaps no tie at all for the sex-party supporters.

But on the day of his Prime Ministerial demise it was noted he wore deep purple.

The traditional colour of faith and mourning; perhaps of Herod’s robe.

And certainly of smoke on the water.

Turnbull and Shorten, we are watching your ties, don’t let us down.

‘It is nothing’ – the assassination of Franz Ferdinand

To mark 100 years today since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinaz of Austria and his wife Sophie, here’s a chapter from my unpublished WW1 novel, Shot: a great war story, that among other things retells the events of that day.

 

June 28, 1914

‘One comes here for a visit and is received with bombs…. It is outrageous!’

Franz had never felt so furious. How could this be, how could they let this happen? To think that his life and that of his Sophie had been in mortal danger from the actions of some fool in the crowd.

He saw again the slow loop of the explosive as it headed towards them, first bouncing off the bonnet of the car, before he had instinctively swatted at it, knocking it away. Then only to learn that Eric and the Count had been badly wounded in the car behind. And now this simpleton of a mayor is intent on giving a welcoming as if nothing has happened.

The scorn of his uncle and the Imperial court over this debacle would be insufferable, Franz thought, when he felt Sophie take his hand. She was standing by his side at the top of the town hall steps, where they were supposed to be basking in the warmth of an official welcome and the appreciation of the people, and where a stunned mayor stood fingering his notes.

What point is there after what has happened? Franz thought. Someone has tried to kill us! The realisation of how naïve he had been, how unrealistic, began to dawn on him. He turned to Sophie, feeling her trembling, seeing her lip quiver, and reached to wipe a tear, then noticing a slight graze on her cheek.

‘Sophel, oh my dear wife, I see you have been injured in the blast. My God, how close we have come to tragedy!’

She flinched from his touch, produced a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at the graze.

‘I am all right, Franz, do not fuss. We must not be overcome by this. Look, the people do really love you,’ Sophie said,  whispering in his ear.Read More »

In a digital world, hackers are the new guerilla warriors

If something strange happens to Utterance in the next few days, it has been probably been hacked. If it can happen to a French magazine, a Mexican drug cartel and Iranian nuclear facilities, it can happen to anyone.

With so much of life, business, industry and finance heavily reliant on computer and digital processes, it make sense that groups of hackers would begin to use their skills for a cause, not just to create havoc. Some have government backing while others are loose networks of computer geniuses but either way, they are emerging as powerful new players in the world’s political, religious, criminal and even national conflicts. Consider the following three examples.Read More »

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?

Midnight arrival of world’s youngest, Christian nation

Click on this photo to learn about the John Dau Sudan Foundation's work in South Sudan.

The world’s newest nation, and one of the poorest, came into being at midnight on July 9. The Republic of South Sudan gained its independence after decades of civil war with northern Sudan and more specifically following a 99% vote for independence in a referendum held in January this year.

The 10 southern states of Sudan now form South Sudan and the population of more than $8 million consists largely of Christian and animist Africans in contrast to the Muslim Arab north.

As well, South Sudan contains between 75-80% of Sudanese oil reserves although this has not benefited local people in the past due to northern domination and violent civil conflicts.

And while estimates vary as to the extent of Christianity, some statistics report South Sudan as having 2,009,374 practicing Roman Catholics and a large membership in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan as well as smaller Christian denominations. How many people identifying as Christian are also incorporating traditional animist practices is another matter.

For a fascinating history of Christianity in South Sudan and indeed north Africa, visit The Sudan Project blog (article written in 2006).

One area of conflict that continues between Sudan and South Sudan is the disputed area Nuba Mountains region where violence continues between the largely Christian and pro-Sudanese People’s Liberation Army Nuba people and northern government forces.

Nubian Christianity traces its origins to the “Ethiopian eunuch” who come to faith through Philip the evangelist who ran alongside the man’s chariot and explained to him how the Old Testament scriptures pointed to Christ.  The story is recorded in Acts 8 from verse 26 and concludes with the African man being baptised in a pool beside the road.

‘The “Ethiopian eunuch” of Acts was in fact not from the land today bearing that name, but from Nubia. (The queenly title given in Acts 8:27, Candace, is peculiar to the ancient Nubian kingdom of Meroe.)’ – From Nubian Christianity – the Neglected Heritage by Paul Bowers.

With such a strong link to the very earliest days of Christian faith, it is fair to say that the youngest nation in the world is also the youngest Christian nation.Read More »

Of evangelistic atheists and an everlasting kingdom

Amazing Grace, First version, in "Olney H...

The religification (my word, I think) of atheism is proceeding at pace and is part of an increased push in the Western world to remove Christian belief from public life.

Stephen Fry tweeted today, “If Christians rose up for Passion of the Christ, so humanists, agnostics, atheists etc might RT [re-tweet] the new film The Ledge!”.

The associated website describes The Ledge as, “the Brokeback Mountain moment for atheists, our tipping point, when we finally get the attention we deserve. Although books have put atheists into the intellectual mainstream, The Ledge is the first Hollywood drama to target the broader movie-going public with an openly atheist hero in a production big enough to attract A-list stars. This is unprecedented.”

Christians will notice close parallels with campaigns circulated through churches to rally support for movies such as Passion of the Christ, Amazing Grace, Bella and various other movies that were seen to authentically present Christian ‘heroes’ and messages.

Meanwhile the Atheist Foundation of Australia is launching a campaign to urge Australians to mark their census, ‘No religion’ as a way of limiting the influence of Christian beliefs in politics.

Read More »

And now atheists join the billboard conversation

First the Muslims, then the Christians, and just as Rev Rob Forsyth suggested, now the atheists.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) is preparing for one of its “biggest and most important projects” – a billboard campaign to encourage individuals and families to “think about the importance and impact of their answer to this leading Census question: ‘What is the person’s religion?'”

As the next Australian Census approaches on August 9, there will be concerted campaign by the AFA to have nominal or non-believing people mark their census “No religion”. Their nominated motivation for the campaign – to take religion out of politics on the basis that if there is a larger “no religion” segment of the community, the views of Christians and other people of faith will be less influential in the political realm.

In the meantime, the political aspect of this campaign has led to one of their billboards being refused, much to the AFA’s loud dismay.

Read the full story in Australian Christian News.

John Anderson receives Order of Australia

John Anderson, a devout Christian, Gunnedah farmer and former deputy prime minister in the Howard government, has been appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday 2011 Honours List announced by the Governor-General.

The list provides national and formal recognition for many Australians across the nation who have made a significant difference to their communities. Mr Anderson is being recognised for his support of rural and regional  communities,  transport development  and water management initiatives when  in Parliament. Apart from being deputy prime minister. Mr Anderson was leader  of the National Party from  1999 to 2005. He was involved in the  creation of the National Water Initiative  in 2004 and as minister for  transport and regional services established the Australian Rail Track Corporation and the Agriculture Advancing Australia  program.

He was also president of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship and continues to be a sought-after speaker on issues of faith and society. Earlier this year, Mr Anderson spoke at the Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast on the theme, ‘Lose the faith – lose the culture’.

“As a farmer, if you want to grow a good crop, you have to first till the soil in which a crop is grown. The crop of freedom, of democracy, of all of the good things that we take for granted in our lives, is in fact Christianity, and yet our society has moved away from it and so little understands now the soil in which the crops of freedom are grown, that I do not believe we can expect to continue to grow those crops.” Listen to rest of Mr Anderson’s speech on the Australian Christian Lobby site.

Read More »

Anglican Tim not quite ready to pop the question

Tim Mathieson was married to a woman who was a Liberal Party candidate, lost his licence for 16 months after driving with a blood alcohol level four times the legal limit and once owned a Gold Coast hair salon that is now owned by Tony Abbott (no, not that Tony Abbott!). Now he is better known as Australia’s First Bloke – the partner of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

He is also a self-confessed, God-believing Anglican who claims he has not even discussed his faith with Australia’s most famous atheist.

Mathieson, recently announced as a patron of the Men’s Shed movement, appears tonight in a much-publicised interview on 60 minutes where he explains he will propose to Julia one day, but not any day soon.

“One wedding I think is enough this year,” Mathieson said, referring to the couple’s attendance at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. And in previous interviews, Mathieson said when they do marry it would not be in the church, due to Ms Gillard’s beliefs.

Apart from his best known occupation – hairdresser – the one through which he met Julia Gillard, Mathieson has also been an importer of Levi Jeans,  supplier of marble interiors,  a sales representative for a hair products company and is current job is as a property agent with Ubertas Group, selling apartments in a St Kilda Road 50-storey complex.

Mathieson has two adult children from his marriage to Dianne Stark and another daughter fathered in his teens, Staci Childs, who is well-known hair stylist known for her tattoos, parties and celebrity clients such as Lady Gaga.

There are other, what might be regarded, dark moments in his history – broken relationships, failed businesses, car-crashes. In the long run he is typical of many people seeking to make their way through the maze of life who found himself in love with a woman who became Australia’s leader.

And he has endeavoured to make the most of his newly-found prominence and apart from his Men’s Shed patronship, he is also a Men’s Health Ambassador and works hard to promote men’s health issues around Australia. Ironically, the idea of taking up volunteer work was first suggested to him Therese Rein, wife of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd…

The Australian Men’s Shed Association is a movement granting a special place for men who lack social outlets, to tinker and share stories over a barbecue.

Let’s pray that as Tim chats with men in sheds, interviewers in the media and his partner in the privacy of their home, that his faith moves to the foreground to inform his words, his choices and his into the future.

Mental health gets healthy $1.5 billion

The mentally ill are the most invisible of sufferers in our society and this has often been reflected in government policy and funding.

Having worked for years at a grassroots level with the chronically mentally ill, there are few issues I feel more strongly about than increasing support for people with mental illness, their families and those who care for and treat them.

Keep reading to see what Treasurer Wayne Swan said about his mental health funding initiatives in tonight’s 2011 federal budget speech.

And check some early response to the announcement in this report from the ABC. It qualifies Mr Swan’s announcement by showing that the funding is slow to be rolled out and there will be other losses along the way.

Read More »

School chaplaincy gets promised $222 million

The promised $222 million extension of the school chaplaincy program is part of more than $870 million invested in Australian schools in tonight’s federal budget delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Rewarding Australia’s top school teachers heads school funding initiatives with $425 million while helping disabled school students attracted $200 million.

Read the Sky News report on education funding in the 2011 federal budget.

Tonight’s federal announcement follows the Victorian Government’s announcement on Friday of an additional $200,000 to train chaplains for Victorian schools.

Read the Australian Christian Lobby’s response to the Victorian announcement.

Greens love cafes, asphalt and euthanasia

‘If you travelled on a Sunday you would notice, as you moved out from the inner city to the outer suburbs, that the church services attract bigger crowds. Conventional religious belief is stronger. This explains why these electorates do not warm to the Green agenda of euthanasia, abortion, gay marriage and adoption. The fascinating thing about Green supporters is that their natural habitat is not the open spaces or the pristine forests but the crowded cafes and asphalt alleys of high-density, inner-city living.’ Peter Costello writing in the Fairfax press today.

It’s not the first time this inner city Green phenomenon has been pointed out but the first time since the Greens held the balance of power in the Senate, and to some degree, in the House of Representatives.

A few suggestions – more churches in the inner city; a viable alternate political party with strong environmental and social justice policy that more closely reflects Christian views in other areas; think, engage, critique and comprehend the culture in which you live.

Change comes from global action and the smallest deed

Millennium Development Goals
Image by jiadoldol via Flickr

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York next week, to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, aimed at halving world poverty by 2015. Newly appointed Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, will be attending.

In the meantime, some good news from Britain today with these comments from British PM David Cameron in an article regarding the Pope’s visit:

‘The Holy See is a partner in pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, which will be discussed at United Nations headquarters in New York again next week. For our part, we are totally committed to meeting the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid by 2013. And we want to ensure that the money we spend goes to those who need it most. Sustainable economic development is closely linked to political stability and security. A world in which there is a yawning gap between the rich and the poor will be more dangerous and less secure for all of us.’

Come on Jules and Kev, don’t let the Brits get the jump on us!

Meanwhile in the same article, which touches on the beatification of Cardinal Newman while the Pope is in the UK, David Cameron says: 

‘Cardinal Newman once said that one little deed, whether by someone who helps “to relieve the sick and needy” or someone who “forgives an enemy” evidences more true faith than could be shown by “the most fluent religious conversation” or “the most intimate knowledge of scripture”.’

Swans win emphatic, election less so

While the nation pondered its electoral fate last night, 40,000 Sydneysiders were in no doubt who won the Swans verses Bulldogs clash at the SCG.

When the ABC’s Adam Spencer gave a half time election update it was like instant polling as the crowd cheered and booed various results.

And for the record, that’s not me singing in the audio post…

Jesus is still a dangerous idea…

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Image via Wikipedia

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is on again at Sydney Opera House on October 2-3 covering everything from The Right is the New Left through to that most important of questions, Are All Men Fakes?

But before we take a closer a look at the festival (tomorrow), I recall discovering a dangerous idea when I was at university studying humanities back in the early eighties.

That was a time when Australia still had an active communist party and I think most of its members were either studying or lecturing in my course.

It might also explain why one of the subjects on offer was Studies in Rebellion and I was just rebellious enough to take it.

Then while most of my comrades where sliding to the left politically or dallying deeply into capitalism, I became a Christian and began volunteering in a soup kitchen.Read More »

How to cast the perfect vote… and not cast the first stone

Australian and I Vote
Hands up who votes for Australia?! Image by Stephen Mitchell via Flickr

Many Australian voters will be hoping to cast the perfect vote on Saturday – one that represents the best policies, the best candidates and the best future for themselves and the nation.

Christians, and many other thoughtful people, are trained to be intentional and purposeful in all that they do, conscious of rights and wrongs and doing what is best in the eyes of God or their own conscience. This brings a kind of moral pressure to bear as we sift through the competing arguments from candidates and commentators alike.

Sometimes casting a vote almost becomes a battle to see who will cast the first stone – is there any among us worthy to pass judgement on the poor, political sinners scrambling exposed in the dust?

The hard, but relieving, truth is that the perfect vote does not exist, and never has because none of the parties or candidates are perfect. So if perfection is your goal, your are looking in the wrong place. I can think of Someone perfect, but He doesn’t need your vote. He would appreciate a chat though…

So take the pressure off, sit back and read my summary of the various options based on years of journalism and a relentless reviewing of parties, policies and posting more than 110 articles on the election in the past two months. 

 Oh, and one thing I won’t be doing is telling you how to vote… That’s your decision.

Visit Australian Christian Voter to read the full article.

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Huge Chinese mattress hides $US1.4 trillion…

There is no political, social, educational or philosophical quick-fix for human nature. Figures showing the growing gap between the rich and poor in so-called communist China highlight this once again.

Despite decades of communist indoctrination and more recently, greater freedoms and openness to world markets, the Chinese people still like to keep money under their mattress so they can spend it on ‘things’.

And like anything in China, or India for that matter, that’s one big mattress.

A study conducted for Credit Suisse Group shows that China’s households hide as much as 9.3 trillion yuan ($US1.4 trillion) of income not reported in official figures – 80 per cent of it by the nation’s wealthiest.

One reason economists believe this figure is because the strongest area of economic demand in China right now is the domestic purchase of consumer items from designer handbags to flat screen televisions.

Taking the mattress cash figure into account, it turns out the average urban disposable household income is 32,154 yuan, or 90 per cent more than official figures. The bad news is that this means China’s rich-poor gap is most likely much bigger than realised.

The Gini coefficient is a single statistic used by economists to summarise the distribution of income across the population.Read More »