Come to Melbourne and Discover Coffee

I just finished reading an article in the Washington Post that is all about Melbourne coffee. That’s right, one of America’s most celebrated newspapers has published a piece featuring “Melbourne’s coffee obsession”.

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It was kind of nice to see our American allies acknowledging that someone can do something better than they. When visiting Washington DC two years ago, I managed to buy one coffee that was almost drinkable; we had more success in New York where there are a burgeoning number of decent homes of coffee (yes, they are largely run by Aussies). It is no wonder that they flew across the Pacific, bypassing Sydney,  in order to find the place to write about coffee!

It is true that Melbournians demonstrate a proclivity toward believing we are the best at everything: we are the sporting capital, fashion capital, cultural capital, university capital, and capital of everything else of Australia, except the nation’s capital (although we did hold that title for a short period!). Humility isn’t one of our esteemed virtues, and truth be told, we have be known to exaggerate some our ‘qualities’, however when it comes to coffee, the Post has measured us with the precision any decent barista will hold in making my order.

My local coffee roaster is amazing. Freshly roasted to order every time – Five Senses

And here are five of my favourites Melbourne Cafes right now:

  1. Hash, I love their house blend
  2. Market Lane , their milk is truly special & I like the fact that they refuse to serve skim milk
  3. St Ali , because the food and coffee is alway amazing
  4. Brother Budan,  because I like drinking coffee where the chairs are hanging from the ceiling
  5. Hendriks, because it’s close to where I live & they serve Five Senses

 

Leaving aside a certain God-phobic Government and some serious social problems writer, Will Hawkes, was pretty close to mark,

“It’s hard to be unhappy for too long in Melbourne. Life in this blossoming Australian city, it seems to me, can rarely have been so good — especially if you love coffee.”

Return of the Christmas Grinch

The Grinch has jumped off the pages of Dr Seuss and has landed in town.  In Victoria, the current Government have informed state schools that Christmas celebrations can continue, but  references to Jesus Christ are discouraged and may even be outlawed.

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Like blowing out candles and eating a birthday without celebrating an actual birthday, it’s ok to celebrate Christmas, so long as we avoid talking about its actual significance.

The Bible is now banned from being mentioned during school time and no more prayers. Even hymns are prohibited, although carols are ok.  Can anyone tell me how a school is meant to differentiate between a hymn and a carol? Does that mean Jingle Bells still rocks, but Away in a Manger has been thrown out?  Are songs about an obese man obsessed with dressing in strange costumes in, but songs about the birth of Jesus  are out? We can mention the reindeer but not the donkey, the elves but not the shepherds?

Perhaps this has less to do with religion and more about discriminating against classical music in favour of crappy pop songs. After all, has there been a genuine classic Christmas song composed in the last 50 years? Any school performing Handel’s Messiah had better watch out.

To be fair, Education Minister, James Merlino, has said, “As with other curriculum decisions, schools will make the decision as to which Christmas carols feature as part of classroom activities.” So maybe, just maybe,  there is still so room in our schools to sing  ‘Joy to the world’.

I like the Grinch; when he’s mean he is funny, and in the end the Grinch realises the folly of his ways, but real life isn’t always so comical.  We can easily close our children’s books but we should not be so quick to overlook our history books.

There is a lesson from history that the Daniel Andrews’ Government are ignoring, and it is a lesson that was taught at the very first Christmas.  At the time when Jesus was about to be born, Joseph and Mary were knocked back by the BMA (Bethlehem Motel Association); no one wanted them, and so Jesus was born in a cave where animals sheltered at night. When news of Jesus’ birth reached the Government, they didn’t take it too well. In fact , the man in charge, Herod, sent his cronies across to Bethlehem to stamp out any mention of Jesus.

Well, we know how history ended up, Jesus won, and Herod and the citizens of Bethlehem with their closed door policy have been booed into incongruity ever since.

These new  Herodian-like policies in our schools ought to be respected; they are stupid but we must obey them, for the Scriptures tell us to do so (Romans 13). However, I think it is wise for us to revisit history, because by giving it the cold-shoulder we are bound to repeat the same errors that others before us have made.

While Herod hounded and Bethlehem was brusque, at the same time some of the smartest people and the lowest people of that time,  did go to Bethlehem seeking Jesus and in finding him  worshipped him as king and God. History remembers well the Magi and the Shepherds .

If you’re not a fan of Herod, and you do love Christmas, why not visit one of the many churches that will be celebrating the birth of Jesus and singing all the carols we love? And maybe do it soon, just in case someone has the cracker idea that talking about Jesus in Church is no longer a tolerable thing to do.

There is an invitation to Mentone Baptist’s Christmas services here. Indeed, I would like to extend an invitation to Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino to attend our Carols Service on December 20th, 6pm. You and your families are very welcome to join us.

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My Suburb

My suburb

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The water rises and falls,

Always calm,

Understated.

Cyclists race along Beach Road;

Workers join the chase on the train,

While cars start, stop and start again along the Nepean way.

Got to pay for over priced houses,

And cover our children’s tuition,

To do otherwise would be sin of omission.

Polite,

Respectable,

Clean.

No violent crime,

No social unrest,

Not in public.

Behind brick walls and security doors,

Beneath our happy exterior,

Hide drowning souls.

Sea water dreams.

Looking for air.

Better not appear like I need prayer.

Fear of shame,

Is greater than confession.

Not that I would tell anyone.

Parenting, Sex & Raising Children

Two weeks ago Dr Patricia Weerakoon visited Mentone Baptist Church for a parenting seminar. It was a great morning, enjoyed by many parents, and one that stretched and challenged our minds as well as attitudes.

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I had thought that Dr Weerakoon was one of Australia’s leading sexology academics, after all, she did teach at Sydney University. I can now see why she is so dangerous and her books demand banning;  Patricia Weerakoon is highly intelligent, witty, humble, and kind. Surely these are the last attributes we want to see in a person teaching about sex and parenting!

It’s a shame that the room was filled with doctors, lawyers, university lecturers, teachers, and other moronic people who were unable to discern wisdom and science from archaic religious fantasies!

I highly recommend inviting Patricia to speak at your church, school, or organisation.

The two sessions are now available from the Mentone website or  you can listen here:

Lord’s Prayer Banned

The Lord’s prayer is more wonderful and more dangerous than you think.

A 60 second advert produced by the Church of England has been banned by some of Britain’s cinema chains.

The advert features various individuals and smalls groups taking turn in reciting lines from the Lord’s prayer, and the advert ends with this call, ‘Prayer is for everyone. #justpray’

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The pray itself doesn’t belong to the Church of England, the words originate with Jesus himself, and they form part of his broader teaching on prayer to his disciples, which one can read in Matthew’s Gospel.

Digital Cinema Media (who own many of the cinemas), have explained that they have a policy of not accepting political or religious advertisements, in the case that they might cause offence. Leave aside the fact that many movies are an insult to art and to our intelligence, if Digital Cinema Media were so concerned about offending people should they not show care in their choice of movies being screened? How many films offend peoples religions (including Muslim people)?

Speaking to the Guardian, outspoken atheist, Richard Dawkins said, “My immediate response was to tweet that it was a violation of freedom of speech. But I deleted it when respondents convinced me that it was a matter of commercial judgment on the part of the cinemas, not so much a free speech issue. I still strongly object to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might ‘offend’ people. If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.”

Watch the advert and decide for yourself, but I find myself leaning toward Dr Dawkins (and he says miracles can’t happen!).

While I believe Digital Cinema Media’s decision is silly, I also think the advert’s producers have made some errors.

For example,

#justpray is misleading because it could be easily misconstrued as, just pray to whoever; the details don’t really matter. I realise that’s not the intent, which of course makes the hashtag all the more unhelpful.

A more significant concern is the invitation to call God, Father. This is an incredibly wonderful idea, and it is unique to Christianity. To know God as Father suggests that he is not an impersonal being, but he is relational and personal. What a remarkable concept Jesus is teaching.

But he is not everyone’s Father, and therefore it is imprudent to call him such. The Bible shows us that we only have the privilege of knowing God as Father through faith in his Son. It is inappropriate for any child to call me dad, only my children can do that. Similarly, only God’s children can truly address him as Father. One of the great truths of Christianity however is that we can come to know him as Father.

‘In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 1:4-5). The Bible teaches us that we can know God as Father, but it is through Jesus. By trusting in his death and resurrection, we are no longer separated from God, but are included into his people and brought into a personal relationship with God.

Finally, when we pray, ‘your kingdom come’, we are asking for God to not only save, but also to judge this sinful world. It is calling for God to rid the world of every evil and injustice, including our own. Should we encourage people to ask God for this, especially if they themselves don’t believe in Jesus Christ?

I would love to hear more people praying the Lord’s prayer, but it is ill-advised to invite people to pray what they do not believe or understand.

My suggestion is, amend the unhelpful hashtag, and perhaps add a warning about praying without understanding.

Having offered the above criticisms, overall, I really liked the advert. The line which particularly struck me this morning was, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ What a powerful testimony this could be in light of the dreadful acts that are being enacted around the world. Jesus is pointing us to God who can forgive sins.

Pray with understanding:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours

now and for ever.

Amen.

The end of secular education?

The Age has published an article that every Australian ought to read, for the implications of what has been written could forever change the face of Australian education and society.

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Photo: Nick Moir. Taken from The Age

 

 

Anthony Bergin and Clare Murphy from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, have argued that we must give away the idea that we are a secular nation and have secular education, in order to introduce a program into schools that teaches students about religions. Berlin and Murphy have recognised that some young Muslims in our country are being ‘radcalised’, and key to prevention they believe is teaching religions in our schools.

“Our future is as a multi-faith nation. It is better to speak of Australia not as a secular society, but rather a civil society where there’s freedom of religion and separation of religion and state.

Education ministries speak about secular education because of the mantra “free, secular and compulsory”. But it’s time to change the discourse; why call it “secular instruction” when teaching about the histories, beliefs and practices of the major world religions, as well as the role and function of religion in society, is simply “educational” and should be seen as a normal part of the curriculum.”

I want to affirm Anthony Bergin and Clare Murphy’s aim to prevent future attacks. I agree that there is a threat being realised with young Muslims becoming ‘radicalised’, and we need to find ways to avert this evil pathway. But I am  concerned by the answer they offer.

First, is it the role of Government to teach religion?

This is one of the reasons why Church groups were invited into schools to teach SRI. Society had acknowledged the role of Christianity and thus believed in giving students opportunity to understand its basic beliefs and practices, but these half hour lessons were optional and not taught by teachers.

Is it really wise for the Government to step-in to the role of teaching religion? Do we want that?

The state school that my children attend have a set of values. These values are taught and encouraged, and they do so effectively without need for a curriculum on world religions.

Secondly, there is no neutral theological ground. This is one of grave misnomers that secularists pontificate; they see themselves as religiously neutral and therefore objective, but that is no more true than there being fairies living in my back garden. The worldview one holds inevitably informs and skews the way we understand alternative worldviews. Anthony Bergin and Clare Murphy offer a clear example of this failure:

“Teaching about the role of religion in society and in the creation of social unity might help students distinguish between religion and ideology.”

Outlining the difference between Islam as a faith and Islamism as a political ideology could help young people make sense of the way fundamentalist and literalist interpretations of religions become political movements, some of which turn violent. Teaching about religion could also assist in countering right-wing extremism by reducing the fear of difference.”

The reality is by far more complex. There are Muslims who would accept the above statement, but many would not and with warrant. Separating theology from ideology fails to grasp the very nature of Islam, and ignores the teaching of the Koran and the Hadiths (see this piece in The Atlantic). What Bergin and Murphy have done is erroneously imposed onto Islam, a view of religion that derives from Enlightenment and Kantian constructs.

Bergin and Murphy also include this strange paragraph, which further evidences their failure to understand religion, and so provides another reason why we must be  careful about introducing any religious course into schools.

“In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews has ordered special religious instruction classes to be held outside school time from next year, and replaced in school hours with content on world histories, cultures, faith and ethics. We don’t know what’s  taught in the religious classes of Muslim schools, just as we don’t know what’s  taught in the Rudolf Steiner, evangelical Christian and Brethren schools.” 

I am not sure whether Bergin and Murphy are attempting a moment of political correctness or whether they genuinely believe that the SRI program and Christian schools are also dangerous. Either way, mentioning them in this context is poor form; there is simply no parallel between what is happening amongst some young Muslims and with Christians teaching students the Bible.

Bergin and Murphy’s own ideological agenda comes into the open when the say,

‘Providing students with the basic principles of major world religions in their formative years would provide a safe space for students to raise questions about religion that may be uncomfortable, but which require answers from a responsible and open mentor, and are better addressed sooner rather than later. It would assist them to engage meaningfully in a conversation about religious identity and celebrate religious diversity.’

To what extent should our children be taught to ‘celebrate religious diversity’? This is hardly a theologically neutral statement. There is a sense in which we want our children to recognise the reality of religious diversity, and to respect people who hold different views (Christians will take it further and say we should love them), but celebrate? Certainly, we should be thankful that we live in a society where freedom of religion exists, and we can celebrate that, but the word is loaded and can assume that all religions have the same merit or veracity. In other words, any course that teaches the sameness of religions fails theology 101 and insults the people who hold to their faith.

Thirdly, on a practical note, my understanding is that where students are being ‘radicalised’ in schools, it is in Islamic schools and not the State system. In other words, the course  is made redundant because it won’t reach the people it is designed to influence.

I don’t want to see the end of secular education in this country.  Indeed, it is my Christian theology that convinces me about the separation of church and state, not its absence.

Bergin and Murphy’s proposal is rash and it will remove one of the fundamental building blocks of Australian society, namely the separation of church and state. They have admitted that this so, but they believe the cost is worth it. My sense though is that they are falling into the fear trap that ISIL is setting around the world; they want us to change our ways, they want us to turn on each other and to restrict freedoms.

It is not the role of Government to teach religion. I recognise that the issues are incredibly complex and we must do something but this proposal is thwart with problems. Are we really willing to sacrifice secular education? I pray not.

Cultural Blindspots

I have noticed how people on social media, including friends of mine, are questioning why we are talking more about the attacks in Paris, than those in Beirut, Baghdad and Nigeria.

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Mentone in France (courtesy of the Telegraph UK)

There seems to be a sense of frustration, and even anger that we are somehow more concerned for Paris than we are for these other cities which have also witnessed terrifying atrocities in recent days.

To be fair, our focus is partly shaped by the media and what the media choose to bring to our attention. Twitter and social media have to some extent eroded our dependence upon established media, but their influence remains significant. Having said that, the major news outlets have reported these other terrorist attacks, but not to the degree of the coverage in Paris.

I think the criticism holds some weight, and it is also probably a little unfair.

I do not believe that the lives of French people are more important than the lives of Syrians, Iraqis and Nigerians. The Bible makes it clear that every human being has intrinsic value and are equally God’s image-bearers. And yet, the value we attribute to people is evident not by our words alone, but our actions. Are we more concerned for wellbeing of white European citizens? Is the life of a Nigerian worth less to us? Is the security of Beirut less important to us?

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This graphic is being sent around social media; it is certainly cynical. It is communicating something true (and sad), but I think it fails to appreciate laws of proximity. The closer we are aligned to a group culturally, the more affinity we feel with them when tragedy strikes.

To use an analogy, the way I am affected by the death in a family will be more intense than grief I feel in the death of a friend, and it will be certainly greater than my reaction to the death of a stranger. The closer the relationship, the more acute my reaction.

As an example, I admit that I personally have more cultural affinity with France than I do with Middle Eastern and African cultures:

  • My favourite cuisine has always been French (seriously, nothing surpasses truffles)
  • Susan and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary in Paris
  • My favourite art has always been French Impressionism
  • As a pianist I loved performing Debussy, and I still regularly listen to his piano and orchestral works. My favourite orchestral work is Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.
  • My favourite fashion label is also French, although a Pastor’s salary doesn’t permit shopping at Hermes! Those were the days of music.
  • I live in Mentone and my church is Mentone Baptist Church.

These ‘likes’ and affinities are not saying that, for example, Lebanon’s Shia population are therefore less important. Not at all. 

What can we do? Cultural proximity is fact of life, but it is not an excuse for neglecting people who are often more at risk and in need.

Find ways to acknowledge the suffering of people in other parts of the world.

  • We should pray for these other nations.
  • We should investigate what kind of assistance they need. A reality is that France is in a better financial place to assist its citizens in need.
  • In our conversations don’t forget the Non-Western world.

The reality is, our concerns and griefs will always be partial and limited. We don’t have exhaustive emotional energy, and it’s not only cultural leanings, but our sinful inclinations also impact our preferences more than we appreciate. Which is why I thank God that he is God. There exists a good and sovereign God who understands all things and who is able to embrace all of the world’s ills, who is sufficiently righteous not to neglect any injustice, and  who merciful enough to forgive the unjust, even me.

Take a moment to read these words from Isaiah ch.40.

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

    the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

    a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

    every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

    the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

    and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out.”

    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,

    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

    Surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,

    but the word of our God endures forever.”

9 You who bring good news to Zion,

    go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good news to Jerusalem,

    lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid;

    say to the towns of Judah,

    “Here is your God!”

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

    and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

    and his recompense accompanies him.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:

    He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

    he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,

    or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,

    or weighed the mountains on the scales

    and the hills in a balance?

13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,

    or instruct the Lord as his counselor?

14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,

    and who taught him the right way?

Who was it that taught him knowledge,

    or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;

    they are regarded as dust on the scales;

    he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,

    nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.

17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;

    they are regarded by him as worthless

    and less than nothing.

18 With whom, then, will you compare God?

    To what image will you liken him?

19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,

    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold

    and fashions silver chains for it.

20 A person too poor to present such an offering

    selects wood that will not rot;

they look for a skilled worker

    to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?

    Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,

    and its people are like grasshoppers.

He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,

    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

23 He brings princes to naught

    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

24 No sooner are they planted,

    no sooner are they sown,

    no sooner do they take root in the ground,

than he blows on them and they wither,

    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?

    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:

    Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one

    and calls forth each of them by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,

    not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?

    Why do you say, Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

    my cause is disregarded by my God”?

28 Do you not know?

    Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

    and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary

    and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,

    and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord

    will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

    they will run and not grow weary,

    they will walk and not be faint.