Yesterday I was privileged enough to have an article of mine appear on the ABC Religion and Ethics website.
The article is entitled Budgetary nihilism: Deferring foreign aid signals a distorted moral vision. It discusses the recent budgetary decision to defer Australia’s foreign aid commitments under the Millennium Development Goals to 2017–18.
[In this decision to defer our foreign aid commitments] there is, it seems to me, no clearer indication of the nihilism that now permeates politics, for what other than political nihilism could account for the moral obstinacy of diverting foreign aid to help cover a perceived budgetary shortfall? The obscenity of this decision is only compounded when one realises that this shortfall is itself a product of the irrational rhetoric and shameless opportunism of political parties scrambling to annihilate one another and appease a shrill and self-interested minority.
On top of all this, there is the inescapable irony that Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently assumed the role of co-chair of the UN Millennium Development Goal Advocacy Group, charged with “building political will, rallying additional support, and spurring collective action to achieve the [Millenium Development Goals] by 2015.” It is unclear how a leader of our country can do this with any integrity or credibility, given the immorality of one of the world’s most prosperous countries diverting promised money away from programs for the world’s most vulnerable people.
The piece goes on to discuss an approach to the underlying ethics of foreign aid, particularly from a Christian perspective.
The article was also discussed on ABC’s Radio National Drive program (in which I am referred to as a “fiery … obscure PhD student”, which made me laugh).
The article on ABC R&E is largely an updated version of my essay from this time last year (also in response to aid deferrals in the budget) entitled Foreign aid and moral vision.
Feature image: http://www.abc.net.au/news/linkableblob/4689470/data/swan-gears-up-for-budget-data.jpg
Small image: http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201305/r1115368_13599551.jpg
It’s been a while since I last blogged, I’ve been having a bit of an indefinite break. I plan to blog soon about some of the reasons for this, which is ironic I suppose.
In the meantime I thought I would post an address I gave at the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand’s (AAANZ) national conference back in January this year. The theme of the conference was From Pieces to Peace: More than Just Neighbours in a Multifaith World.
My talk is titled A (Recovering) Racist’s Reading of Matthew 15:21–28. In it I explore Matthew’s story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman through the lens of Miroslav Volf’s thought on exclusion and identity as well as recent episodes in Australia’s history such as the Cronulla riots.
You can listen to the podcast of my talk here, as well as one by my friend and colleague Dave Andrews. There are also responses to the talks; a response to Dave’s talk by Nora Amath from AMARAH (Australian Muslim Advocates for the Rights of All Humanity) and a response to my talk by Rabbi Zalman Kastel from Together For Humanity.
I’m sure some will find these talks questionable (for any number of reasons), but I found the talks and the whole conference to be a beautiful and energising experience. If you would like to leave a question or comment please feel free.
Back in October I spent 16 days travelling around India with a couple of friends/co-workers visiting some of TEAR Australia’s partner projects. While that trip occurred a couple of months ago, I’ve been meaning to write something about it since I got back—better late than never I suppose.
Arriving at Delhi Airport is, in most respects, much like arriving at any other major airport in the Asia-Pacific. It’s big, it’s busy and it’s boiling. But what was, until the 1980s, according to one local, “a few runways and some dirt” is now a facility rivalling its cousins in Singapore, Shanghai and Sydney. In a sense the airport is a microcosm of India’s massive growth over recent decades, growth that has benefitted some but also left many behind. With a population tipped to be the largest in the world in the next decade, India is complex: it is a fast growing economy (6.5% growth in 2011-12; as of October 2012 India had 61 billionaires) but it is also home to around one-third of the world’s extreme poor (those living on less than US$1.25 a day).
India is also a place of great beauty. Deserts under the sun’s glow meet lush, green jungles; ancient culture meets modern technology; a multitude of languages meet as neighbours. Stunning ancient architecture and monuments are to be found all over. India is colour personified, both in its natural beauty and in its culture. This colour is particularly striking in the clothing of India’s women—the vibrancy of the sea of saris you experience everyday is hard to describe. And the food…
The first day of our trip was spent Read the rest of this entry
On Sunday night I delivered the following sermon at a wonderful Uniting Church here in Sydney. I was told to speak about something that was burning on my heart.
Since I didn’t have time to memorise much of my sermon beforehand, I wrote much of it down. This means you get to read it! (Huzzah!)
Though I haven’t been able to post much lately this sermon represents some of the things I have been thinking about. I hope it challenges and comforts.
We come to the end of the year, for many of us a time of exhaustion.
For those who have done their best to walk the path of discipleship such exhaustion is compounded by the weariness of the pilgrimage more generally.
Perhaps it is providence that we find ourselves entering into the Christmas season where we join with the Magi, also suffering exhaustion after their long journey, in asking “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2)
In fitting with this the lectionary cycle this week reflects on the theme of ‘Christ the King’ as we again celebrate his coming. For those feeling the strain of walking the road of discipleship what hope and encouragement comes from reflection on this theme? As we will see, the encouragement offered to us by Christ as king is often not what we want, though it is what we need.
What does it mean for our discipleship that Christ is king?
Colossians 1:15-20 
He is the image
of the invisible God
the firstborn of all creation
for in him were created all things
in heaven and earth
things visible and invisible
whether thrones or dominions
whether rulers or powers
all things have been created through him and for him
And he is before all things
and in him all things hold together
And he is the head
of the body, the church
He is the beginning
the firstborn from the dead
so that he might come to have first place in everything
for in him all the fullness
was pleased to dwell
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself
whether on earth or in heaven
by making peace through the blood of his cross
This powerful statement of the identity and meaning of Christ is well rehearsed amongst Christians, but often without much in the way of reflection on what it may have meant to Paul’s audience.
Place yourself in their world, a world colonised by images of Caesar: Read the rest of this entry
Other parts of this series:
Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross
In the previous parts of this study I have discussed two of the malevolent characters in Revelation, namely the Beast and the Great Prostitute, representing on the one hand military might and violence and on the other luxury and economic exploitation respectively.
These are powerful critiques on the part of the author. But critique and challenge are not enough for faithful discipleship—we also need to embody an alternative. With this in mind, what positive model does John give us to follow? What hope do we have in the midst of a world of violence and greed?
OUT OF EMPIRE: THE LAMB AS A MODEL THEN AND NOW
We must remember that in Revelation Rome is simply the then-current manifestation of empire! Though John himself was not envisioning future empires, such as those in our time, the images can nonetheless be indirectly applied to them because the phenomenon of empire is, as John knew, an ongoing reality. The challenge for us is to identify empire and “come out” of it.
If we are called to come out of Empire, what does this mean exactly? What models does John give?
I want to suggest that John offers us very strong models, but unfortunately they are often unacknowledged or ignored. One of the most important images is that offered as an alternative to the powerful and monstrous Beast and the seductive and inebriating Prostitute: The Lamb in Revelation 5. Read the rest of this entry
Other parts of this series:
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury
In this, the third part of this study, I will discuss another of Revelation’s major characters, the Great Prostitute of chapter 17-18.
A PRIVILEGED MALE SPEAKING HARSHLY ABOUT A PROSTITUTE?
Now, before I begin, I must follow the wisdom of Howard-Brook and Gwyther and comment on the fact that it is a privileged male from the First World who is about to talk about a prostitute.
Indeed, John’s negative use of the image of a prostitute has, in some circles, been very controversial for its patriarchal and sexist depiction. Feminist biblical scholar Tina Pippin claims the disembodiment of the Prostitute in Revelation 17:16 “points to the ultimate misogynist fantasy!”
Pippin’s point is that these images can be quite dangerous, particularly in the hands of man who can exert power over the bodies of women. Howard-Brook and Gwyther point to the example of the church’s burning of women as “witches” as the consequence of taking these depictions as the “word of God”.
It will not do for a male like myself to simply say that this language was a product of the time. This would be to pass over, and even excuse, the real pain, violence and degradation that many women across the world have felt because of the use and abuse of such passages. I must acknowledge this pain. My only response is to say that the images of women used by Revelation were not produced with the intent to legitimate violence against women. Faithfulness to the text requires that no reading ever contradict this intention.
Ultimately the image of the Prostitute in Revelation, though a product of a different time, is not about human women: as we shall see the image represents a city and an empire.
Revelation 17:1-14 (The Great Prostitute) Read the rest of this entry
Other parts of this series:
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.
Who/what is the Beast? Read the rest of this entry
Over the weekend I gave a series of Bible studies at the Black Stump Festival entitled Beauty and the Beast: Empire in the Book of Revelation. In these studies I attempted to set out a fairly cursory overview of some themes in the Bible’s most misunderstood book by zooming in on three key characters—the Beast, the Prostitute and the Lamb—and applying the resulting interpretation to empire today.
I have been asked by quite a number of people for a copy of my notes. While my originals would have been quite indecipherable to anyone but me, I have attempted here to provide a rough version of my study in prose form. I don’t intend these to be highly detailed, much less scholarly, since they were given as a Bible study for all ages. Still, I hope they help out some of my readers.
Before getting into the notes I want to recommend a series of posts entitled Reading Revelation that my friend Josh Dowton has started writing over on his blog. Josh is doing his PhD in Revelation, and is far more knowledgeable on the subject than am I. His posts will no doubt be very helpful for those wanting to understand more about Revelation (and it happens to be great timing that he is currently in the middle of writing them!) In truth my many conversations with Josh have been a big influence on my own understanding of Revelation.
My original study was in three parts, but I will split these next posts into four:
Part 1: Revelation in Context Read the rest of this entry
We were each given seven minutes to give a perspective (no problem!), and thus this is only a sketch of some ideas. There was then some Q&A. I was asked to bring a perspective from a) a Christian and, b) the context of TEAR Australia’s work with the global poor. As a rich, white, educated, Western male I did my best to speak on behalf of the bottom 3-or-so-billion…
Law is a mere tool, a political construction, used by humans to achieve a certain social ends. Like any tool, it is subject to the use and abuse of the one wielding it.
Much of the time law can be understood positively – law created by those elected representatives for the good of most, of not all, people. So long as law serves in this capacity it demands our respect. Such laws help society to construct more just, albeit impersonal, structures.
However law does not always work this way. Read the rest of this entry
This week’s announcement of a new marriage vow to be introduced by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney* has caused quite a stir across a range of circles.
The vow, which is expected to be approved at the synod of the Sydney Diocese in October, and which may not in fact comply with federal laws, would require a minister to ask the bride regarding her groom, “Will you honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ?” and for her to pledge ”to love and submit” to her husband.
These words are taken unmistakably from Ephesians 5:22:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Complementarians regularly claim that their understanding of this text is in line with its “plain meaning” or “plain sense”. In other words, women submitting to men in marriage (and often in other areas) is the literal meaning of the text.
But the idea of a “plain meaning” of a text, particularly ancient texts far removed from our own chronological and geographical context, is at best questionable. Read the rest of this entry