Beer, Bible, and a Baptist?

Ok, let me clear my glass from the outset, I don’t drink beer. And no, it has nothing to do with being a Baptist. To my episcopalian skeptics I will retort by pointing out that for some years we had a group of  ‘underground’ beer brewers at our Church!

Leaving my personal drinking preferences aside, connecting the Bible and beer isn’t that novel an approach. After all, according to Martin Luther the Reformers held a Bible in one hand and a beer in the other,

“I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.  And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it.  I did nothing.  The Word did it all.”

In what is possibly a first though, the Bible Society has joined arms with Coopers Brewery, with Coopers tagging 10,000 cartons of their light beer with a Bible verse, and with links to the Bible Society’s 200th anniversary. While Coopers may or may not benefit financially from this partnership is, I suspect, beside the point. One Aussie company is celebrating our nation’s oldest continuing organisation. There is nothing new about this; Aussie companies have noted and branded all kinds of Australian symbols and celebrations over the years, and this is just another…until one checks their twitter feed!

As part of the Bible Society’s anniversary, they have produced a series of short videos featuring Aussies discussing current topics. The first video was released this week with Federal MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie talking about same-sex marriage. Unlike the Bible versed cartons, Coopers Brewery has not sponsored the videos.

Yes, the video is light hearted

Yes, it’s promoting the Bible. Is that so wrong?

Yes, it is staged, but that doesn’t make the two politicians any less genuine with their comments. I don’t know Andrew Hastie, but I have met Tim Wilson, and I found him to be a decent Aussie bloke, who is clear about what he believes and who is also willing to let others express their views.

I’m sure a lot of Aussies will appreciate the video for what it is, a nonchalant signal that Australians can still sit down and talk about real issues, without name calling and speaking down to the other. However, it was clear from my Sunday afternoon twitter feed that not everyone is so happy.

One Melbourne politician and LBGTI advocate tweeted, ‘Nothing ‘civil’ about homophobia, and that’s what opposition to LGBTI equality is. Boycott @coopersbrewery’

Christine Milne is calling for Aussies to boycott Coopers! It’s okay Christine, I never have.

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 2.15.58 pm

Apparently we should never buy Coopers beer again, and the video reeks of homophobia. I’m not quite sure how that works given that Tim is openly gay and an advocate changing the marriage act.

It is sad to see how our society has reached the point where notable public figures have self-determined that civil discourse is no longer permissible unless it conforms with their particular brand of secular humanism.

I am not sure whether peoples grievance is over the fact that the Bible Society is behind the campaign or because two politicians have dared demonstrate a courteous disagreement about marriage. Either way, this short video breaks the narrative that social progressives would have the public believe, and for them, this is unforgivable. 

When society no longer permits the dissenting voice, as reasonable and gracious as that voice may be, we have abandoned any true sense of the phrase ‘liberal democracy’, and we have entered a very dark and dangerous pathway to authoritarianism. I do hope that we can see the light and steer away from such a direction.

I am reminded of when Christianity first arose in Jerusalem and then spread to neighbouring regions, and eventually throughout the Roman Empire. The Acts of the Apostles records how the apostles and first Christians won over people with persuasion and reason, with impassioned argument and kindness. There may or may not have been a beer in hand, but there was often a Bible, and that is ok. Should we hide the reasons for our beliefs and values? Is not owning up to them a more honest and ultimately more productive approach to public discourse and dialogue? And who knows, maybe next time we’ll drink coffee instead!

STOP the Inequality: Melbourne’s Traffic Light problem

8331244-3x2-700x467

from ABC news

The great feminist battle of March 2017 is the pedestrian signal. I know it sounds small…and pedestrian, but how wrong was I! Thousands of people have participated in straw polls and thousands more have made comments on social media. In fact, the issue has become so contentious, not only are articles appearing on the ABC, The Age, and Herald Sun, from across the globe even the BBC are reporting the story.

According to ABC news, ‘Ten female pedestrian figures will be installed on traffic lights at the intersection of Swanston and Flinders streets as part of a VicRoads-approved 12-month trial.’

The Committee for Melbourne — a non-profit organisation comprising more than 120 Melbourne business and community groups — is behind the move.

Chief executive Martine Letts said having only green or red silhouettes of men discriminated against women.

“The idea is to install traffic lights with female representation, as well as male representation, to help reduce unconscious bias,” she said.”

I didn’t realise men only pedestrian lights were an expression of inequality and oppression. I mean, does anyone really look up and think, ‘see that green man, I wish I was like him’? Apparently we do, but none of us were aware of this unconscious bias, until now. To help me out, I asked my wife what she thought of the saga, only to have a pair of eyes roll past me as though I must be stupid for ever thinking this must be matter for women’s equality.

Victoria’s Minister for Woman said, “There are many small — but symbolically significant — ways that women are excluded from public space.”

I am not denying there are real issues between the genders, but am I the only one who is asking, are we being a little too precious about our traffic lights? I can think of 742 better ways of spending  funds than altering the gender of pedestrian lights, but if it such a pressing issue, then as a Melbournian I say, go ahead; it’s a green light from me.

As we wrestle with this unacceptable prejudice, I can’t help but wonder, what if all traffic light action figures had always been female? I can imagine today’s fight being very different, we would have feminists being outraged as they discover some secret derogatory messaging in our women only traffic lights. Maybe these lights are subconscious signals that make women into inanimate objects!

Let’s be clear, I’m totally cool with changing pants to dresses, but I do have one quick question though, in representing women with a figure wearing a dress, are they not stereotyping women?

One one cheeky friend posted on social media,

“Not far enough Melbourne!

Still stuck in the fixed binary red/green paradigm.

We need lights on a spectrum from red to green”.

Leaving aside that mischievous (although not entirely aberrant) comment, and the perennial problem of our traffic lights discriminating against colour-blind Melbournians, let’s stop for a moment, or at least slow down to amber: the fact that we are even having this tiny squabble over pedestrian lights ought to tell us how far society has moved on women’s issues. If the sex of pedestrian signals is where the fight now lays, then I don’t think we have too much to be worried about.

I was walking through the city today, and when crossing the street I didn’t realise that the traffic light’s gender had changed, but as I can see with this photograph from ABC news, it has (or should that be, she has?). I had just come from speaking to a group of people about some slightly bigger issues, such as God, life and death, and hope. I guess I am a little ambivalent about the messaging in our traffic lights, but I do wish and pray that we Melbournians would stop and think about these biggest issues that we all are facing, which no small social or council alteration can solve.

Contrary to current feminism, which may turn to smaller things because the larger battles are won, the propensity of Melbournians is to focus on miniature and what are often trivialities, at the expense of facing the eternal questions that we must all one day address. And it’s not as though we are lost in the dark, with no direction given. God has given a definitive signal, his only son, Jesus Christ, and yet we walk through life as though he is an irrelevance, and then we wonder why there are so many traffic accidents in life.

Once a crowd asked Jesus, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

He answered, albeit with a somewhat cryptic message, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in 3 days.’

John (the author) then explained Jesus’ meaning,

“the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

Let’s not ignore CBD traffic lights, and please let us stop ignoring God’s signal to us.

Australia’s Oldest Organisation Turning 200 years old

This weekend, Australia’s longest continuing organisation is celebrating it’s 200th anniversary. Few institutions survive 200 years, let alone continue to flourish after such time. The organisation which is reaching this rare milestone is not a bank or a theatre company, nor a business or school; it is the Bible Society of Australia.

logo

I suspect that if this were any other type of organisation, the coverage would be wide across our news and television. Let’s admit it, a 200 year anniversary doesn’t happen very often in Australian history.

The Bible Society had started in England some years earlier, with the purpose of distributing copies of the Bible to military servicemen, and later to Welsh speaking Britains who could not read an English translation of the Scriptures.

It was Governor Macquarie who in March 1817 encouraged the birth of the Bible Society of Australia.

The aims of the Bible Society have changed little in its 200 years. They exist to bring the Bible to Australians, whether in English or  by translating the Scriptures into many other languages so that people can read the word of God for themselves. They also support many translations projects across the world.

According to McCrindle research, approximately 45% of Australians now own a Bible (and that percentage shrinks to 32% for Gen Y), although Bible websites are visited by Australians in huge numbers, one site alone has over 50 million visits a year by Aussies. 

The Bible remains the most read book throughout the world, and has been translated into more languages than any other book. Despite a smaller number of Australians owning and reading the Bible, it remains enormously influential across our culture, including in politics, law, and the arts. And while some Australians have put is aside, many thousands of new Australians are keen to read this most astonishing book. Like the foundations of a building, or the innumerable kms of pipes that traverse underneath our streets, both are unseen and yet we depend on them every day, so to  the Bible has provided a bedrock with out which our society would be considerably weaker and less certain.

Think about it…the Bible is, to use its own description, the words of God, the very breathed out words of the living God for us. The Bible is the words of God, about God, and for us so that we might know him, and understand the world and even ourselves.

“The law of the Lord is perfect,

    refreshing the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

    making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right,

    giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,

    giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure,

    enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm,

    and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,

    than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

    than honey from the honeycomb.

By them your servant is warned;

    in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7-11)

The Bible is without parallel in human thinking in regards to its view of God and design for humanity. It portraits God in ways that make the Sistine Chapel appear like a cistern, it penetrates the human psyche more deeply than a hydraulic drill piercing deep into ancient bedrock. It is more glorious than the music of J.S Bach and more comforting than the closest friend. It is more honest, more confounding, more rational, more mysterious than any other text we will read in our short lives. And yes, it chiefly tells us the story of redemption, of the God-man Jesus Christ, who has accomplished the impossible for us.

In a season when many Aussies are less inclined to consider God, I love the Bible Society’s anniversary slogan, Here for Good. Perhaps it sounds a little presumptuous, but 200 years isn’t a bad beginning, and for a book that has been changing the world for centuries longer, might I suggest that the presumption lies with those skeptics who would wish us to close the Bible once and for all, or to lock it up in a Museum’s glass case with the nation’s relics. The problem is, the Bible is a living book and it will continue to transform future generations of Australians, long after every other book has been forgotten.

This weekend there are formal celebrations taking place around the nation, but people are welcome to drop in to a church near them. If you live around Mentone/ Cheltenham, we’d love you to join us this Sunday at 10am, as we open the Bible together and hear of wonderful thing from God.

Also, the Bible Society is giving away free Bibles to anyone interested. If you’re visiting Mentone we are also very happy to give you a free Bible.

Changes to Victorian Donor Laws: some notable & unexpected corollaries

Changes to donor laws that were adopted by the Victorian Legislative Council in 2015 have today been enacted, and if the news is anything to go by, I can express initial support.*

As of today (March 1), Victorians can access information regarding their donors and heritage.

The Age has published the story of Katherine Vowles, a 26 year old Melbourne musician. At the age of 11 her mother told Katherine that she had been conceived with a sperm donor.

“As a young girl, the possibility of half siblings, especially sisters, was tantalising.”I imagined all these different versions of myself,” she said.   “When you’re a little kid you want to find all these brothers and sisters because you want to hang out with them.”

Curiosity grew into a personal mission about a decade later, in 2012, when Katherine moved from her hometown in regional South Australia to Melbourne, where she was conceived.

“As I’ve gotten older I’ve had more questions because of things like medical history, heritage, life interests and life goals, the who am I stuff.”

“As I’ve gotten older I’ve had more questions because of things like medical history, heritage, life interests and life goals, the who am I stuff,” she said. “I wondered if he was into music, if he was any kind of creative.”

The only new information she could get was how many other babies had been conceived with the same donor’s sperm. “I had a lady on the phone … she had the file with his name on it but she’s just not allowed to tell me anything,” Katherine said.”

img_0037

One of the many commonalities every human being shares is the existence of a mother and father. We all have a mother and father; life would be impossible otherwise. For most of us, we know and love our mum and dad. For some, one or both parents have caused us great harm and pain, and this knowledge continues tear at us and to bring tears. Others, such as Katherine Vowles, have not know one of their biological parents, whose identity until today remained a secret.

I am grateful for the fact that I do know and was raised by my biological parents, and so because of my own experience it would be presumptuous to assume what is likely to be multifarious thoughts and desires among those who have not known their biological parent(s).

As the story in The Age expresses, it is understandable and even natural for children wanting to know their biological parents, and for the Governmental to remove obstacles is positive, although understandably not all children will take up the opportunity, and no doubt some parents will be apprehensive at the prospect.

I want to focus my comments on 2 unexpected but important corollaries from this change in law:

Firstly, when it comes to children and parents, we cannot escape biology. There may be good reasons why such a separation occurs, and there also be unethical reasons, but we know that time and space and anonymity are not sufficiently strong to break that bond between parent and child.

We should therefore resist establishing societal structures that build family units which depend on removing this link between a child and their biologic parents. This is very different from the example of adoption or foster care, whereby society is practicing a retrieval ethic, that is, making the best out of a bad situation. It is important for Australians to realise that as we tinker with definitions of marriage, for example, we are creating social units that cannot naturally create human life, and therefore necessitate removing a child from one biological parent.

Secondly, the Government, on this occasion at least, makes it clear that the rights of children outweigh those of a parent, albeit a donor parent. Health Minister Jill Hennessy says the Government recognises the issues pertaining to peoples anonymity, but have decided that children learning their parents names is more important than the rights of a donor.

What this shows us is that no matter how hard society tries to fashion relationships and marriages in whatever form we want, we keep finding ourselves going back to that which we should never have left. If the design is good, we should not play with it.

But there is one more thing that needs saying, and in some ways it is more important than these first two points:

The story of the Bible does not end with the ‘normal’, as though affirming and experiencing the normal pattern of family is the prerequisite for knowing God, and you’re damned to hell if it is otherwise.

While the Bible presents a consistent view of marriage and of the family unit, and notably it is this understanding that remains paradigmatic today, it also describes many other families. Some of these families speak of unenviable and difficult circumstances, and yet from them we read beautiful stories of grace: Abraham and Hagar, Jacob and Rachel, Judah and Tamar. These stories are not normative and neither are they suggesting to us alternate ways to create family, but rather they teach us that such scenarios are not the end of the line. Those family relations were not ideal and some clearly immoral, but God was not stumped by them, and through human error (and sin) he showed grace and love.

Society functions best when we encourage family structures that enable children to be raised by their biological parents. As far as I understand the changes to the law, the Government has made a good decision, although I appreciate the difficulties attached for both children and donors. As good as all these things may be, there is something even better, and it is not dependent upon biology or family, and neither is it an alternative to these relationships. In a world where familial identity and relationship may elude us, there is possibility of relationship that surpasses even the most loving and secure family:

“For he [God the Father] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4-5)

It is seriously worth pondering these words for a moment. We may search for lost parents, lost siblings, and children, and we long for these holes to be filled and questions answered. There also exists a need and desire to be reunited with God, and this awareness is as basic and innate to human beings as is our need for familial love and relationship. Consider those words from Ephesians in the Bible: to be known and welcomed and loved by God is the greatest joy and satisfaction anyone can experience.  It is beyond the scope and power of any Government to achieve this, but it is not beyond God who has come down to us in Jesus Christ and calls us to come back to him.

————————-

*I should preface my comments by acknowledging that the field of sperm, egg, and embryo donation is thwart with ethical concerns, but most are beyond the scope of this post.