Weep with those who weep

Today is 26 January, Australia Day.

Australia Day is a national public holiday, commemorating the beginning of the nation of Australia when Captain Arthur Phillip began a British penal colony on the shores of Sydney Harbour on January 26, 1788.

Australia Day has become for most Australians the end of a summer holiday season that began at Christmas – a day of eating and drinking, celebrating, activities, flags and an Aussie brand of patriotism.

Continue reading “Weep with those who weep”

Fake news and tribalism are the new black?

Monthly challenge

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about people’s attitudes to climate change recently, and I am reinforced in the view that we (all people, but especially christians) have entered a new era.

Almost 15 years ago I began discussing issues on the internet, writing my own blog and discussing on others’ blogs and forums. Mostly I was discussing with atheist and agnostics, but at times with christians too.

But the thing was, we mostly discussed reasons why we each believed what we did.

A short history of climate change discussion

Climate change discussion seemed to be the same a while back. Those who accepted the scientific consensus argued about the meteorological facts. Those who were sceptical the climate was changing alarmingly pointed to facts that they thought showed the consensus was wrong – a year when the steady temperature rise was reversed, or a cold snap in Europe.

But it soon became clear that those sceptical arguments were unsustainable. The temperature downturn was merely a small blip in an otherwise inexorable rising global temperature graph. The hot weather events far outnumbered the cold weather events.

I used to wonder how much more evidence of increased temperatures and their effects would be necessary before the sceptics were forced by the evidence to re-think.

But now I know the answer.

Unprecedented is not enough

Last post I outlined how my part of Australia (the south east) is literally burning up, with enormous areas now burnt out, record high temperatures, a serious drought, more than a thousand homes lost, and firefighters on the verge of total exhaustion.

Today (Saturday 4th January) is another day of officially “catastrophic” fire conditions. Temperatures in the mid to high forties Celsius, humidities down to below 10%, strong winds coming. The whole country is on edge. Thousands of holiday-makers have been forced to leave or even be evacuated by the Navy. Some towns are indefensible. We don’t know how bad it will get.

All this was predicted by the climate science. Everyone agrees it is unprecedented. Except maybe a Government increasingly defensive about how foolishly negligent it has been, and some sections of the press who don’t seem to care for truth.

Yet still the Government, the right wing press and many christians refuse to admit the obvious. The climate has changed, it will get worse and we need to act now. (Well we needed to act a decade ago, but now is the best we can do.)

Tribalism rules, OK?

When all the predictions have become alarmingly true, when our country is burning, when hundreds of millions of native animals have perished, when agricultural and small business livelihoods are on the line, still, these people cannot admit that the climate is changing and we need to act.

Why?

It seems that evidence and truth no longer rule. Tribalism rules, OK?

For many christians, their tribe (conservative christianity) is tied to an ideology that requires tham to disbelieve in climate change. The Australian Christian Lobby (a conservative lobby group) names those concerned climate change as “Marxists”.

My guess is that the way was prepared by suspicion about the science of evolution, and the fear of social change relating to abortion and gay marriage. Suddenly, christians who used to be part of the dominant culture are starting to feel threatened, fearful, and fear generally leads to tribalism, drawing the wagons in a circle and hunkering down.

So climate change scepticism seems as much a mark of being a christian as believing in the resurrection, and held with a similar faith and tenacity.

The terrible truth

These christians don’t realise there is a documented link connecting climate change denial and the fossil fuel lobby. Think tanks that used to argue against the connection between smoking and lung cancer now argue against the connection between burning fossil fuels and climate disaster.

The christians don’t realise they are being lied to by professionals, and they don’t care to investigate because this is now a matter of tribal identification and faith.

January challenge

Find something that other christians believe and you don’t, or something you believe and other christians don’t, and investigate it with an open mind.

It may be climate change, it may be politics, it may be doctrine, or it may be ethics.

But give it a go. Pray for God to help you have an open mind. Read the best proponents of both sides of the question. Try to judge honestly.

You may be confirmed in your belief …. but you may not. The important thing is to make sure we are able to think and not just accept what we are told by our tribe.

For we christians need to recover our sense of truth, and be set free from tribal thinking. Jesus’ promise has never been needed more than now.

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

All is quiet on New Year's Eve …. not!

Some of the happiest memories of my life are family holidays down the south coast of NSW when I was a boy. We’d go to bed early and at about 1 a.m. mum and dad would wake us up, we’d pack the car and set off. Down Mt Ousley in the night fog while us three younger boys in the back seat dozed. If I was awake enough, I’d check progress on the map …., Kiama, Nowra, then as the sun rose over the sea, Milton and Ulladulla.

Then the real adventure began. Through dense forests to the town of Batemans Bay and a break in the journey as we joined a long queue to cross the estuary on the car ferry. Then on through Moruya, Narooma, Bega, and the villages with magical names: Mogo, Tilba Tilba, Cobargo, Wolumla, with me following on the map and checking all the milestones, until we reached Merimbula in time to put up our tent and have lunch.

They were memorable holidays, and I’ve always thought that area of Australia was the best place on earth.

Today it became hell on earth, as wild bushfires raged through tinder dry forests, unstoppable and often unpredictable. The fires were so intense they generated their own mini-tornados. Embers could be blown kilometres ahead to start a new fire where no-one was expecting.

This is summer holiday time, when thousands of Aussies head for the beachside towns and villages with their tents, caravans, boats, Christmas bicycles and expectations of a break from everyday life.

This time they got more than they bargained for, with thousands forced to evacuate to safe towns or, when roads were cut by the fires, to the beach or into the middle of the estuaries. They report darkness, smoke, skies red with flames. So far three lives have been lost in these fires alone (more elsewhere in Australia) and scores of homes.

Mogo and Cobargo have been devastated. Batemans Bay is like a tomb. Mallacoota was saved by a wind change.

Rage, tears and resignation

This has been an unprecedented summer for bushfires, well not really summer, because they started at the end of winter, long before the usual fire season, and they haven’t let up.

Australia’s climate scientists have been predicting this for years, and now we’re experiencing it – drought (some country towns have run out of water and most farmers are struggling) unpredictable weather, and furious bushfires.

But our politicians, with documented strong links to the coal industry and recipients of millions of dollars of industry funding, refused to admit the problem for years. Now they cannot escape it, they admit the climate is changing, but pretend Australia is addressing it.

A coalition of fire chiefs, and now thousands of residents and holiday-makers, not just on the south coast, but all over eastern NSW, all know it is a pretence. It is fair to say our Government hasn’t a clue.

The lucky country?

Australia was once called the lucky country. We were blessed with abundant land and natural resources, and a high standard of living (for most of us, anyway – the indigenous Australians weren’t always so lucky!).

But our environment is fragile, our water supplies precious and dwindling in the populated south east as the climate changes. And our politicians are scared to act.

And its not going to get any better. I can’t help wondering how bad it will have to get before the politicians will get the message and move into crisis management. Or the comfortable Australian voters get motivated enough to vote in someone who cares.

I’m not holding my breath.

And this New Year’s Eve, I don’t expect all to be quiet tomorrow. I expect there to be grief, exhaustion, fires still burning, and politicians still standing around making excuses.

Right now I’m somewhere between rage and tears.

Photo: Batemans Bay, with the car ferry, more or less as I remember it from those days (NSW State Archives on Flickr – no known copyright).

Opposing Jesus …. in the name of Jesus

Three warnings to start with.

  1. This isn’t a Christmas post.
  2. This isn’t a political post. Although Donald Trump’s picture appears, it’s not really about him at all, though he is relevant.
  3. I am not an American, so I write as an outsider.

This post is a response to a Christianity Today editorial and the public reaction to it.

Impeachment and the response

So the US House of Representatives has voted to impeach President Donald Trump. I know little detail of the grounds for impeachment and even less about the law relating to impeachment. So let’s move on from that fact.

The US is fairly split on party and on religious lines – the Republicans and Evangelical christians support Trump and oppose impeachment, the Democrats and many in the wider community oppose Trump and support impeachment. Let’s also take that as fact and move on further.

Then Christianity Today published its Trump Should Be Removed from Office editorial, claiming that impeachment of Trump was as deserved as impeachment of Bill Clinton 20 years ago, and there were predictable reactions:

  • Conservative christians and Republicans came out strongly for Trump, saying the magazine had moved far from its Evangelical roots. A number of people cancelled their subscriptions.
  • Apparently three times as many people took out new subscriptions as the number who cancelled.
  • The President tweeted his displeasure.

He is entitled to be displeased, but it’s what his comments reveal that I want to highlight.

“No President has done more for the evangelical community”

Donald Trump is an astute politician, so the tweet reveals some disturbing things if they reflect the Evangelical community’s expectations and values.

Whose interests should we seek?

It seems the President believes evangelical christians should support him because he gives them favours. His tweet said: “No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close.”

Yet Jesus said he came as a servant, not to be served (Mark 10:45), and said we, his followers, should follow his example (John 13:12-17). In case we don’t get this, Paul reinforces it (Philippians 2:3-4): “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

It is well recognised that the whole Bible portrays God as caring for the poor, and requiring his people to do the same. Their interests should come before those of us who are richer.

God and guns and truth?

The President also tweeted that Christianity Today apparently: “would rather have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns”.

This statement is disturbing and revealing.

  • It assumes, with no basis, that any opponent, or any politician who replaced him, would be “radical left” and a non-believer. Since, if he was removed, Vice President Mike Pence would take over the presidency, this is very misleading. It is doubtful if Trump’s statement is true even of most of his Democrat opponents. And yet he apparently expects his evangelical supporters to believe it.
  • It asserts that Democrats want to “take away” the christian religion. This is ludicrous in a country like USA, yet again, the President apparently expects his supporters to believe it.
  • Donald Trump seems to think that gun ownership is especially important to the evangelical community. Is that the case? I don’t know, though it may well be true. But it does seem odd in those who profess to follow a teacher who said:
    • “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-45),
    • “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39),
    • “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), and
    • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

I’m not concerned here about the President’s statements as much as what they reveal about the US evangelical church. As I said, he is an astute politician, and I presume he has a fair idea how this important constituency thinks.

And he apparently thinks that demonising his opponents be calling them inaccurate names will garner him support among evangelical christians. Yet in the Bible that is named as slander and condemned (Romans 1:29-31, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:10, etc). We christians are supposed to look for the good in others, not enjoy finding what we think is bad (1 Corinthians 13:4-6: “Love is …. kind. …. It does not dishonour others …. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”)

The kingdom of God or competing tribes?

The disturbing thing for me is that these comments suggest that evangelical christians are completely missing Jesus’ main teaching, the kingdom of God coming on earth. The are apparently seeing their faith tribally.

I think it is good for christians to be involved in politics. But the danger lurks that christians might forget the teachings of Jesus and adopt tactics that dishonour God.

The kingdom of God is inclusive, welcomes the poor, reaches out to enemies, is willing to serve. But tribalism is divisive, welcomes only others from the same tribe, treats outsiders as enemies and seeks to control.

In the gospels we see Jesus not just calling people to believe in him, but to follow him. In his day, this wasn’t just an invitation to walk along a path behind him. It was an honour to be invited by a rabbi (teacher) to follow him, because it meant travelling and living with him, learning from his teaching, accepting the teacher’s discipline, keeping to his teachings, and becoming more and more like him.

So if we call ourselves christians, we mustn’t just name the name of Jesus, but follow his teachings and learn his ways.

That means being a servant, serving others especially the poor, putting the kingdom before all other loyalties and being aware that power can easily corrupt.

I fear the American evangelical church (and some sections of the Australian church too) has neglected Jesus and sought political power to impose its will on the wider community. Even if their agenda was godly, that isn’t God’s way – he gives us freedom and doesn’t impose. It is even worse if their agenda isn’t godly, which the President’s tweet suggests.

Mary’s song

Mary’s song in Luke 1:51-53 shows an understanding of the principles of God’s kingdom, and brings my theme andChristmas together:

“he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.”

Take real steps to support poor workers in the clothing industry

Monthly challenge

December challenge

It should be no news to anyone that the clothing industry has a sad history of paying meagre wages and offering unhealthy working conditions to workers in poor countries, all to reduce the price of the clothing in richer countries by a few cents.

Not so long ago, it was estimated that only 4% of the price Australians pay for clothing goes to the workers who made the item. Those workers were reportedly paid a minimum wage of 39c an hour.

Thus, for example, if Australians were willing to pay an extra 80c for a $20 T-shirt, the worker’s pay could be doubled.

There are easy things we can all do

1. Learn more about the fashion industry, where your clothes come from, and whether the brands you buy have a good track record.

Read the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid or watch the video The True Cost. (Links to a few other videos are below.) Let’s make sure we know some facts.

2. Resolve to stand against exploitation

It is good to be aware and concerned, but that obviously isn’t enough.

Are we willing to pay a little more to support the workers?

3. Buy ethical (where you can)

Use the Ethical Fashion Guide to identify which brands are doing better in the areas of labour conditions and environmental sustainability.

If you don’t live in Australia, you can check out if similar guides are available for your country. But since many of these companies are international, the Australian guide should be relevant elsewhere. You can also find other guides, such as this one produced by Oxfam (though it isn’t nearly as rigorous or comprehensive).

Where you can, it would be good to support brands that specifically set out to be ethical. In Australia, my favourite is Etiko.

It won’t be practical for all clothing purchases to be as ethical as we might like, but we can make a start.

Remember, if it looks like a great bargain, it may be because the workers are getting ripped off. Check it out.

The good news: it’s getting better

The 2019 Ethical Fashion Report is the sixth report, produced annually, from Baptist World Aid. And many companies have improved significantly over that time. More are willing to open their supply chains to scrutiny. More are showing their practices to be more ethical.

The pressure seems to be working.

So the December challenge is to join the movement (if you’re not already in it), pay a little more and sleep easy knowing you’ve paid a more realistic price for your clothing and given garment workers in other countries a little more reward for their efforts.

References

Photo: ILO Asia-Pacifi, on Flickr.

A lead role in a cage?

Pink Floyd’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here is one of my favourites. The theme of the evocative album is the band’s feeling about Syd Barrett, their former bandmate, who had crashed out due to drugs and a mental condition that made it impossible for him to play his part in the band.

Wish You Were Here

The melancholy Wish You Were Here is the centrepiece of the album and its best known song. In it the band describe their feelings for Syd’s decline and how he had fallen from the band’s original high aspirations:

Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?

How I wish, how I wish you were here

The second verse ends with these words:

Did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

I think those lines are devastating.

A lead role in a cage?

I was listening to this song recently in the car, when I saw an awful parallel.

The kingdom of God – the biggest game in town

Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God on earth. The game changer that would begin to offer hope and healing to all people and to the earth itself.

Proclaiming good news to the poor.
freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
setting the oppressed free,
     and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour

(from Luke 4:18-19)

And he calls us to join him in making a difference. Continuing what he had been doing and doing even greater things than he did (hard to imagine, but that’s what he said – John 14:12).

It’s spiritual “warfare”, fighting “principalities and powers”, which you can interpret as spiritual or human evil. But so often it’s done via sacrifice and inconvenience and giving up time and money and energy to help someone else.

Yet too often we turn away from this noble calling to play in our own little kingdoms.

The dangers of professional ministry

It’s easy for any of us to allow ourselves to be caged, But I think it is especially a danger for ministers and pastors.

They have their jobs and they need to keep them. So too often they play the game that keeps the congregation happy and comfortable, and their denomination off their back.

Too often they’re worried about keeping bums on seats, and keeping the income coming in.

Too often they’re worried about their own status and self esteem.

And too often these things keep them from taking risks, challenging their congregations, challenging their denominational status quo, challenging themselves.

They’re only human, after all, and if we were in their position, we’d likely be the same.

But in the end, too often, it’s the lead role in a cage, when they could have an important walk-on part in the real war.

Wish You Were Here (Live)
Photo

Pink Floyd on stage, 1973, two years before Wish You Were Here was released (National Archives at College Park [Public domain], via Wikipedia).

Buy only “good” chocolate for a month

Monthly challenge

November challenge

It’s not such a hard challenge, really. Eating chocolate I mean.

But the good news is that it’s also not so hard to eat “good” (i.e. ethical) chocolate these days.

If you don’t want to be complicit in slavery, child labour, poor working conditions for poor workers or unsustainable practices (and I’m sure you don’t!), then be discerning in the chocolate you buy.

Finding ethical chocolate

The best way to find ethical chocolate is to look for a certification logo. Fair Trade is probably the best, but UTZ and Rainforest Alliance are also good. Chocolate showing one of these logos is certified by that organisation to be ethically sourced.

Once the only way to get ethical, certified chocolate was to buy a specialty brand, but now most supermarkets carry several small ethical brands plus some certified chocolate from the mainstream suppliers.

The public demand for ethically-sourced chocolate seems to have been effective, for now most of the major chocolate brands have programs that are leading to more ethical practices by their suppliers. None of them are fully ethical and sustainable, but many are well on their way and aim to be fully sustainable within a year or two.

The Australian anti-slavery organisation Be Slavery Free (formerly Stop the Traffik) has assessed the traceability, transparency and accountability, child labour monitoring and remediation, community investment, community participation, access to education, women’s empowerment and living income of all major supply chains.

On this assessment, Ferrero, Hershey and Lindt & Sprüngli (“Cocoa Farming Program”) seem to be doing the best, while Mars, Mondelēz (“Cocoa Life”) and Nestlé (“Cocoa Plan”) are not so far down the path. (I should also give an honourable mention to the smaller company, Tony’s Chocolonely, which is 100% sustainable.)

So armed with this up-to-date information, you can enjoy your chocolate with a good conscience. And maybe you won’t need to stop at a month, but just keep going!

Check out the Be Slavery Free report, A Matter of Taste, to see the ratings and read the latest on working conditions on cocoa plantations and the efforts to bring justice to the workers.

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Christianity, pluralism and truth

This challenging book was published 7 years ago, but I hadn’t come across it until I found it in a pop-up bookshop selling off remaindered books. I thought it would have something interesting to say to me, and I was right. It raises some important issues and I think it is worth sharing where it took me.

Continue reading “Christianity, pluralism and truth”
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