Category Archives: Current Events

jesus the gardener: an easter sunday reflection

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them,‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalenewent and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

It is far too easy for us to overlook seemingly minor details in the biblical text. Perhaps this happens because we have become overfamiliar with the stories and no longer read them carefully, or because we have not been trained to pick up on subtlety.

Whatever the case, in John’s account of the Resurrection story such subtlety is apparent, though we must pay careful attention to perceive it.

Recounting the day of the Resurrection John opens his story, “Now on the first day of the week.”

Of what does that remind you in earlier biblical tradition? Read the rest of this entry

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easter 2012: things you should read

Easter has come to us once again, and we set our minds and hearts on the death and resurrection of Christ.

I am going to refrain from writing a new post for the event, since there are so many good resources out there. Here are a few of them:

MCA

jason russell & #kony2012: playing the issue, not the person

Whether you are for, against or undecided on #Kony2012, no one would have expected to wake up to the news that one of the co-founders of the campaign, filmmaker Jason Russell, had been admitted to hospital for medical evaluation under odd circumstances.

The gleeful rants did not take long to fill the internet. Personal attacks against Russell in the aftermath of his breakdown are not hard to find as the wheels of social media turn, crushing anyone who falls in its midst.

Personally I find this both interesting and unfortunate. When #Kony2012 dropped I expressed my concerns about and overall disapproval of the campaign in a blog post which I eventually removed. One of the reasons for this removal was the personal attacks that I attracted, both from those I know and those I do not, for offering some considered cautions. I never made a personal attack against anybody involved with Invisible Children, and sought to stick to the actual issues involved. Unfortunately the same courtesy was not extended to me by some readers.

Of course I was by no means the only one offering critiques of #Kony2012. I was, however, disappointed by those whose critiques consisted solely of cruel personal jeers. Such critiques are not in any way relevant to the issues of #Kony2012 and reveal more about the authors than the targets. Read the rest of this entry

reflections on kony 2012

UPDATE: I have decided to put this post up again since a number of people have asked for it. I have retained my last update, found at the bottom, where I explained my reasons for removing the initial post. A fair amount of time has now passed since #Kony2012 and I would probably nuance a few of the views expressed here. Nonetheless I will refrain from changing the original post.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any group or organisation, including my employers, unless otherwise stated.

In the past 24 hours thousands of Australians, particularly young Australians, have shown their support for Invisible Children’s newest campaign, Kony 2012.

I write this post with great trepidation for at least two reasons:

  1. Literally hundreds of people I know have shared videos on Facebook about Kony and have expressed a keen desire to support Invisible Children in this project.
  2. I work for another NGO, and any criticism I make could be seen as bitter in that light; I hope that people see this is not the case

When Invisible Children initially made its way to Australia I supported the organisation. At points I have even used The Rescue (film) in Scripture classes as a thinking point for justice issues. A number of years on, however, and I’ve learned a lot about about development and international issues. At this point I cannot support Invisible Children and Kony 2012.

I do not in any way intend this post to take away from young people speaking up for the oppressed. I hope and pray that this becomes more widespread. I know that everyone who has supported the Kony 2012 film has nothing but good intentions. But good intentions are not enough – we must also be educated on what it is that we are supporting.

Before any criticism, I would highlight some positives about IC. They have obviously used film and social media in a highly successful way, and this is admirable. Their ability to shoot high quality films and distribute them far and wide, getting their message out to the public, is amazing. Their success at highlighting issues in Uganda is worthy of praise.

Concerns

Yet I have a number of serious concerns about IC.

These are complex, and writing them all down in detail would take a long time. Fortunately others have written on this topic and I will frequently link to them rather than explain every detail.

The organisation is far from accountable and transparent. The mission to “stop Kony” is not given much in the way of explanation. Moreover there are serious questions around IC’s financials. One writer has claimed:

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee.

(This quote does not mention that the IC score at Charity Navigator overall is 4 stars, which is great. Still the accountability question is significant.)

IC reports 80.5% of their funding going to programming. However, as this writer correctly argues, according to the IC 2011 financials this includes filmmaking, and other NGOs do not consider this as counting to their programming expenses, but to their fundraising expenses. Ultimately the filmmakers are passionate young people who experienced the problems first hand, but do not have the expertise in aid, development or international affairs to judge the best way to solve the problems or spend the millions of dollars they are earning.

There are also concerns about the accuracy of IC films’ portrayal of the situation in Central Africa. Militias have attempted to stop Kony many times before, but have not been successful. In the end, however, he is not the only or even main problem in Central Africa. Disease, malaria, poverty, education – these are all bigger problems. In fact it is doubtful Kony would even be a problem is there was not such widespread poverty in the regions in which he operates.

But the solution of IC is not to deal with any of these complex factors. Rather, IC sets out a very simplistic solution to Uganda’s problems – Stop Kony!

The founders of IC and filmmakers of Kony 2012. (Photo: Glenna Gordon / Scarlett Lion)

This is a noble idea, and Kony is certainly an evil person who needs to be stopped. But how will this come about? The solution seems to be both to bolster the Ugandan military and encourage more American military intervention.

It should be said that the Ugandan military is in many ways as bad as Kony. One writer says:

Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission. These books each refer to the rape and sexual assault that are perennial issues with the UPDF, the military group Invisible Children is defending.

American military intervention is not much more desirable. Any attempt to kill Kony will result in the deaths of child soldiers who guard him. Moreover injecting more violence into the region will only perpetuate it in the long term. There is a logic that says some American-led violence now will stop Kony, put an end to the LRA and bring lasting peace. But this is far too simplistic – the problems are structural, though IC talks about them like they are superficial. Poverty is, as always, a huge factor. Killing Kony will not end the war; in fact it may cause more violence.

Despite the failure of other American military interventions this method is still trumpeted as the solution. This of course plays right into a narrative of White superiority – the Ugandans (and other Central Africans) cannot solve this problem themselves so we must intervene. The idea that the children are invisible is flawed – every Central African knows who Joseph Kony is. Indeed, he is an international war criminal. The truth is that most of us Westerners don’t know who he is. The narrative goes that if we get educated and make Kony famous then this will lead to a solution. But most of us know/knew other dictators or violent leaders; it has not necessarily led to a solution to the problems associated with them.

Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, has written:

There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.

In truth there is already peace coming to the region in question. Sure, it’s a slow process, and it will take time. But it is African-led, and this is far more likely to be long-lasting. You cannot impose peace, nor can you bring it about with more violence. One writer says:

Incredibly, there is no mention in the film or the campaign that northern Ugandans are currently enjoying the longest period of peace since the conflict began in 1986. Virtually every single northern Ugandan I spoke to during my own field research believes that there is peace in the region. While sporadic violence continues, particularly as a result of bitter land disputes, there have been no LRA attacks in years.

And:

‘Kony 2012′, quite dubiously, avoids stepping into the ‘peace-justice’ question in northern Uganda precisely because it is a world of contesting and plural views, eloquently expressed by the northern Ugandans themselves. Some reports suggest that the majority of Acholi people continue to support the amnesty process whereby LRA combatants – including senior officials – return to the country in exchange for amnesty and entering a process of ‘traditional justice’. Many continue to support the Ugandan Amnesty law because of the reality that it is their own children who constitute the LRA.

The point here is that people here in Australia (and in other Western countries) need to know what they are supporting before they sign off. If you are willing to support dubious American military intervention, and other issues I and others have raised, then all power to you.

I suspect that most people who get involved, however, have not engaged with the cause beyond a desire to see Kony stopped. This is admirable, but ultimately insufficient. In Australia we need to do more than click our computer mouse – we need to really understand what is going on in our world and act on the basis of sound judgement. Good intentions are not enough.

I hope you read this understanding that I am by no means criticising the efforts of young people to advocate for the oppressed – I myself spend my life doing this! I simply want to see us think clearly about the issues and act in a way that will actually bring an end to these very, very complex problems. If you want to stop Kony, great, but what’s the plan? Do you even know?

In the end I support stopping Kony (and any other oppressive dictator or regime), but I cannot support Kony 2012. Something is not always better than nothing.

MCA

If you are interested in reading more about this there are some fantastic blogs, some that I have already linked to:
http://visiblechildren.tumblr.com/post/18890947431/we-got-troublehttp://ericswanderings.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/invisible-children-and-joseph-kony/http://ilto.wordpress.com/2006/11/02/the-visible-problem-with-invisible-children/http://justiceinconflict.org/2012/03/07/taking-kony-2012-down-a-notch/http://securingrights.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/lets-talk-about-kony/
[UPDATE: Perhaps the best article of the lot – http://davidsangokoya.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/selling-old-newspapers-shouldnt-be-profitable-invisible-children-and-kony-2012/]
[UPDATE 2: Some more articles:
From foreignpolicy.com (http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/07/guest_post_joseph_kony_is_not_in_uganda_and_other_complicated_things):
“It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.”
From the Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/get-kony-goes-viral-questions-raised-about-charitys-social-media-blitz-20120308-1ulnk.html)
From the King’s College Blog (http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2012/03/joseph-kony-and-crowdsourced-intervention/):
“Joseph Kony deserves to be put in cuffs and dragged before the ICC. Raising the profile of the heinous nature of the guy’s crimes is awesome. The idea that popular opinion can be leveraged with viral marketing to induce foreign military intervention is really, really dangerous. It is immoral to try and sell a sanitised vision of foreign intervention that neglects the fact that people will die as a result. That goes for politicians as much as for Jason Russell.”]
[UPDATE 3: The Invisible Children team have responded to criticisms, and it is only right and fair to include that here – http://www.invisiblechildren.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/critiques.html. Good on them for wanting to do good in the world and for being so passionate. The responses do in fact answer in a small way some of the critiques that have been expressed around the web today, though some of the views I have expressed here have not yet been addressed. I’ll leave it to you to decide what you think.]

UPDATE: I have decided to remove this blog for the foreseeable future. I apologise for any inconvenience, and I wish to warmly thank those who respectfully engaged in discussion.

Up until two days ago this blog was read by people who, by my best estimate, were made up of 30-40% people I knew personally. Since posting my Kony reflections this dropped to about 3-4%.

I never really intended this blog to reach beyond people that I have met personally, and to be honest I am not particularly fond of the attention given to a blog post that does not really represent in any meaningful way what this blog is actually about. In fact I wish the things I normally write about were viewed with as much interest, because in reality they are far more dear to me.

Moreover the personal attacks I have received, along with the implicit emotional pressure, is sufficient for me to retire on this issue. I appreciate more than ever the pressure that comes on people much, much more well-known than myself. I wish that everyone would play the issue and not the person, and for most people this isn’t a problem; unfortunately for others it is not the case.

I recognise that Invisible Children has responded to a number of the critiques that have been put forth in recent days (and years). These responses are a step in the right direction, particularly in regards to questions around financial accountability – IC is not yet in an ideal position, but they are working to get there, and I welcome this effort.

My point was always to encourage people to think about what organisations/movements they support, and not to be uncritical in issues as complex and important as those related to social justice and international development. I never once set out to condemn any particular organisation, but to raise critical concerns around how we can achieve lasting justice. My concerns are ultimately around methods and outcomes. It seems that many people who have had no experience in international development assume to know what is best in regard to these complex issues – I urge people to consider listening to those who have a background in such areas.

Though I have expressed serious concerns about IC that have not yet been fully addressed, I nonetheless pray for good outcomes for their  organisation. I do ask, however, that IC supporters do not show others the same amount of condemnation that some have shown me when they decide to support one of the thousands of other organisations around the world. As a wise person said to me last night – we are all necessarily selective in who we support, why must a small but vocal minority of IC supporters condemn those who do not share their choice?

I will leave the comments section open, though I may reconsider this if things become unsavoury. Thank you to those who have supported me, and to those who have disagreed but done so in a respectful manner.

My greatest hope is that we can work together toward sustainable global justice, which is hard, long-term work. Nonetheless it is the most worthwhile cause I know of.

Peace,

MCA

reflections on piper’s “masculine christianity”

Hello readers! It’s nice to be back on board life.remixed after a week of work travel – apologies for the gap.

Since I’ve been away for a little bit this post will be reflecting on an event from last week. Though it is a little old, I feel that this event deserves some treatment, particularly since I have been asked about it a number of times.

On Wednesday last week the Christian Post ran a story entitled John Piper: ‘God Gave Christianity a Masculine Feel’. It reported that Piper, at the 2012 ‘Desiring God’ Conference (which he founded), declared “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

The full transcript of the sermon records that Piper, speaking to a room full of pastors, backed up this claim by saying:

God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22–33).

The sermon goes on, concentrating largely on the ‘masculine’ life of 19th-century English bishop John C. Ryle. I will refrain from quoting it at length (click the link above for the full text). Much has been written on other blogs, so I will simply offer some points of interest as to why I think Piper’s claims are simplistic, exegetically sloppy and ideologically-driven. Read the rest of this entry

beyond survival day: reflections on australia day 2012

This post is of the kind I dread most; a subject about which I am deeply convicted, that I find hard to form into a coherent discourse, and that I know will win me few friends.

However in light of the current subject my discomfort is jovial at best, and I would do well to remember that.

January 26 is a day of celebration for most Australians, of our history, identity and future. However in remembering our history many Australians prefer to screen out those episodes that do not paint the colonisers in a venerable light.

Aboriginal Nations (Click to Enlarge)

Exactly one year ago I wrote a post entitled Happy Invasion Day, a reminder of the fact that this land was taken from its first peoples. Since then I have come to prefer the label “Survival Day”, a commemoration of the fact that despite the recent history of this land the Aboriginal people are still here. Whatever the label, I can no longer celebrate Australia Day in the same way I have in years past; I cannot celebrate only the positive aspects our history knowing the pain and suffering of innocents on which it is built. Both must be acknowledged.

I do not wish to speak on behalf of Aboriginal people, for I am aware I have no right to do so. But I am also aware that Read the rest of this entry

God doesn’t care about tim tebow more than 7 million dead children

About two days ago I learned who Tim Tebow is.

Since I’m Australian I am not exposed much to American Football, so I apologise to my American friends for my ignorance.

Additionally I apologise to my Australian and other non-American friends who simply don’t care.

My exposure to Tebow did not result so much from football per se as much as from Christians getting mega-excited about the new Christian-sportstar on the block who reportedly once touted the Bible passage John 3:16 on his eye-black.

One of the things I have seen in the news (and on my Facebook feed) over the past couple of days is Tebow’s “miraculous” 316 passing yards on Sunday during the NFL playoffs. Here is how CBS, the American television station who aired the game, reported the event: Read the rest of this entry

our time is running out: the importance & death of time

As New Year’s passes and we enter into 2012 we find ourselves ducking and weaving to dodge the plethora of resolutions that will, by statistical accounts, mostly fall to the ground by January 20th.

Despite the overwhelming failure of New Year’s resolutions to affect change in our lives we continue to make them year after year. Why?

In our mind there is something special about particular times. We make resolutions on New Year’s because in our minds it is a time of new beginnings, of fresh starts. Read the rest of this entry

sodom and gomorrah: punished for homosexuality?

Saturday just gone was an important day in Australia for LGBTQI* people.

The Australian Labor Party (the current government) voted on its policy position regarding same-sex marriage at its National Conference; it voted to change its platform in support of changing the Marriage act to include same-sex couples.

In addition was a rally held in the Sydney CBD, with somewhere between five to ten thousand participants, calling for marriage equality in Australia.

In response to these events many Christians I know on Facebook posted comments critical of the push for the recognition of same-sex marriage.

Some, on both sides of the argument, were reasoned and thoughtful, recognising that there are in fact different viewpoints on the matter. They merely sought to offer an opinion in a respectful way.

Others were not so gracious.

But what struck me most was the amount of Christians posting quotations from the Bible, completely out of context and, by my judgement, absent of any form of exegetical investigation.

Something that I found fascinating was the repeated quotation of verses pertaining to Sodom and Gomorrah. Read the rest of this entry

misogyny on the radio: the kyle sandilands episode

Warning: The following post contains explicit quoted material that may offend.

Late last week Kyle Sandilands, a well-known Australian breakfast radio host, made headlines all over the country.

In response to a news article by a female journalist about the unpopularity of his new television show, Sandilands launched into an on-air rant:

Some fat slag on news.com.au has already branded it a disaster. You can tell by reading the article that she just hates us and has always hated us …

… What a fat bitter thing you are. You’re deputy editor of an online thing. You’ve got a nothing job anyway. You’re a piece of shit …

… This low thing, Alison Stephenson, deputy editor of news.com.au online. You’re supposed to be impartial, you little troll …

… You’re a bullshit artist, girl. You should be fired from your job. Your hair’s very ’90s. And your blouse. You haven’t got that much titty to be having that low cut a blouse. Watch your mouth or I’ll hunt you down.

Within days 20,000 people had signed an online petition calling for sponsors of Sandilands’ radio show, and also the radio network on which it appears, to drop their support. So far at least 16 sponsors have pulled out in varying capacities.

Much has been said about this event in opinion columns throughout the weekend, so I will not add to the cacophony.

What I do wish to add however is some thoughts about the underlying misogyny reflected in Sandilands’ comments. Read the rest of this entry

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