Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Dispelling Myths about 'Boat People'

Australia is about to have a Federal election on the 21st August. Sadly, once again, the topic of immigration is high on the list of some people's concerns, and politicians in both of the major parties are far too ready to exploit people's fears (and at times ignorance) about a perceived influx of refugees.

By definition a refugee or asylum seeker is "a person with a well-founded fear of persecution". The focus of public statements (in particular) by the Liberal and National opposition parties has been a pledge to "stop the boats". The boats of course carry 'boat people', those who seek asylum by paying large amounts of money to corrupt people to cross dangerous oceans in rotting boats; all in the hope of starting a new life in Australia. There have been many lies and distortions of the facts. Since the Labor government was elected in 2007 about 4,500 'boat people' have arrived from countries like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. While those who exploit the tragic circumstances of people seeking asylum need to be stopped, it is easy to lose sight of the human misery that drives people to risk their lives to reach our shores. 

In an interesting video interview (see below), Associate Professor in Law at The University of New South Wales Jane McAdam, attempts to dispel some of the popular myths about refugees.

Myth 1 - Refugees arriving by boats are queue jumpers stopping legitimate asylum seekers from gaining entry. She explains how this is incorrect and in fact there is no orderly system for the processing of asylum seekers around the world.

Myth 2 - Refugees are terrorists. In reality, the stringent checks made as part of the UN assessment processes make this the most risky way for any terrorist to enter the country.

Myth 3 - The number of 'boat people' and refugees in general is exaggerated and in effect is quite small as indicated in a recent article in The Australian newspaper (read the article 'Who's Afraid of 4,500 Boatpeople?).

You can view the interview with Associate Professor McAdam below.

My hope is that Christians will inform themselves of the issues as they seek to live as people who know from God's word that we are to welcome the alien and the stranger (Leviticus 19:34). Micah 6:8 is a good reminder of what is expected of us in terms of justice and kindness:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Music, Life & Worship

The place of music in the Christian life is frequently misunderstood. I have heard many views expressed concerning its place, that range from one extreme where it is rejected as an unnecessary distraction from God's word, through to the opposite extreme where it is given a place at the centre of the Christian life and experience of worship that reduces the importance of expense teaching the Word, prayer and so on.  At either extreme, the focus can drift easily from the cross of Christ to us - our desires, needs and personal satisfaction. We could all think of trivial and largely unimportant arguments that distract us from actually understanding what the Bible teaches about the relevance of music to worship, faith and a life centred on Christ    

The latest edition of Case magazine with the theme 'Music and Theology' attempts to shed some biblical light on the place of music in the Christian life. One of our contributors is Steven R. Guthrie. In an earlier article 'Singing, in the body and the Spirit' (2003) Guthrie suggested that music is not just a simple addition to what people of faith do in the name of worship. He argued that it has always sat alongside prayer and the reading of the Word as one of the building blocks of Christian worship.  He wrote in 2003:
Whatever support music may offer words, however it may highlight, reinforce or enhance the text, music itself—the music of music—is used in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Music is a suitable resource in this work, not despite, but because it engages women and men at the level of body and sense. First of all, music enlists body and sense in the praise of God, re-orienting and re-defining these fundamental human endowments, which may once have been used solely for self-gratification. Secondly, singing together involves sensing and responding to others and one’s environment. Throughout Ephesians and elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul likens the church to a body...Corporate song is a sensory experience in which we dynamically respond to others, and so, give these corporeal analogies greater depth and power. Finally, by virtue of the distinctive properties of musical sound, music offers a powerful aural image of life together. In particular, music articulates a kind of unity in which individual distinctiveness is preserved and even enhanced.
In the latest issue of Case Magazine Guthrie contributes a new piece, 'The Song-Shaped Soul', in which he extends his earlier thinking by examining a letter written by Athanasius (c 295-373) to Marcellinus about the Psalms. In it Athanasius draws attention to singing the Psalms as part of our 'spiritual discipline' and as part of our growing life of faith.

Guthrie points out that Athanasius suggests that a primary reason for singing is not expressing ourselves in words and sound, but rather taking words in, something he calls 'im-pression'. The psalms for Athanasius were a way not just to express our emotions, but also to understand and express the emotions of others. Guthrie reminds us that singing is an act of imitation not just expression. Athanasius wrote:
"He who recites the psalms....sings them as if they were written concerning him, and he accepts them and recites them not as if another were speaking nor as if speaking about someone else. But he handles them as if he is speaking about himself. And the things spoken are such that he lifts them up to God as himself acting and speaking then from himself."
Guthrie's thoughts, and those of our other contributors to Case may just change the way you view music. If you'd like to read the other articles in this issue you can obtain a single copy or become a subscriber to Case. You can also download Guthrie's piece free. The five articles on theme are:
  • 'The song-shaped soul' by Steven R, Guthrie - As the above suggests, Guthrie explores the question 'Why do Christians sing?'
  • 'Theologising about music in worship' by Andy Judd - Judd examines four theologies of music and poses a challenge for today's church and music leaders.
  • 'Polyphony of life: Dietrich Bonhoeffer' by Jeremy Begbie - Begbie explores the place of music in life drawing on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writing.
  • 'Musical aesthetics: Paul vs Plato' by Peter Dart - Dart considers Paul's words on music and how these relate to the rest of Scripture as well as Platonic thinking of the first century.
  • 'Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. What are they and why sing them?' by Rob Smith - Rob Smith considers what Paul meant by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
Steven Wright also reviews Jeremy Begbie's book 'Theology, Music and Time' (HERE).

For those readers living in or near Sydney you might want to come to the New College Lectures this year (14-16 Sept 2010) at which Prof Jeremy Begbie (below) will deliver three lectures in a series titled 'Music Modernity and God'

Previous post 'The Influence of Music on Hearts and Minds' (HERE)

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Peak Oil: What happens when the oil runs out?

From the Case vault  - Byron Smith, 'Global Scarcity: Are we running out?'

In Issue 14 of our quarterly magazine Case (2008), Byron Smith offered a biblical perspective on the looming crisis in world oil production. Most oil-producing nations have peaked in their production of oil and Byron Smith argues that Christians should give careful consideration to this issue. He argues that we need not adopt the polar myths of either infinite growth and blind optimism, or the opposite response of despair and inaction at the prospect of nightmare scenarios and impending calamity, that leads simply to paralysed fear.

He writes:
Oil is a finite resource. There is only so much of it in the ground. That it exists at all is the result of a complex series of processes taking hundreds of millions of years. Of course, while finite, the total volume is staggeringly huge: somewhere in the order of two trillion barrels. Yet globally we consume about 85 million barrels of oil each day and our collective appetite for energy continues to rise. Ever-increasing demand for a limited resource is a party that must one day come to an end. Many experts believe the global petrol tank may be running dangerously low... however, the coming oil crisis is not simply that we will eventually run out, not even that we will run out sooner rather than later, but that we will soon run out of cheap oil. They claim that within the next few years we will reach a point at which we cannot expand our rate of oil extraction to match rising international demand. Oil production will ‘peak’, and then begin an inexorable decline.

Byron Smith's article raises many important issues. When might we reach the peak? What will happen once we pass global ‘peak oil’? What might life be like when we have declining oil production, growing world population and growing demand for oil? What are the possible responses? How should Christians respond in the light of biblical teaching? How can Christians focus positively on the promises of God to supply our needs abundantly, while accepting our guilt for sinful and gluttonous consumption of resources at the expense of others with less? How do we spur one another on to "creative generosity"?

While Byron's article is focussed on peak oil, it offers a framework for thinking about a wide range of issues where we have failed to accept our responsibility to act.

You can download a full free copy of Byron’s excellent article HERE from the CASE website.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

What's Worth Censoring in Children's Literature? Beyond Misdirected Piety

Some readers of this blog may be aware that I write a blog on children's language and literacy learning - 'Literacy, Families & Learning'. I also have a long-term interest in children's literature and have published widely in these areas. I have been seeking for many years to reconcile good secular scholarship, my theology and writing on Christian education. This is challenging. I don't always agree with the things I see written by Christians in the field of education. It seems far too easy to use a shallow form of piety or offer up appropriate theological language to dismiss ideas in the field of education without thinking biblically about the myriad decisions we make daily as teachers and parents. As I have shared in previous posts on censorship (here) and Tedd Tripp's views on physical punishment (here), I'm puzzled at times by the views of some of my fellow Christians hold when commenting on education. One area of ongoing bafflement, which I suspect is symptomatic of different biblical application, is the children's books that are banned or challenged by parents.  While Christians aren't the only people to object to some children's books, many have questioned some of my favourite books, including 'Where the Wild Things Are', 'Bridge to Terabithia' and 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'. Lists of frequently challenged children's books (here) contain a number of books that I value highly, or would use, as well as some that I wouldn't want my children to read.

It is clear that in the last twenty years authors have pushed the boundaries of appropriateness for the child reader. This alone should be reason enough for any Christian parent to be very careful about the things that their children read, and even the books that might be set for study at school. But while many parents complained when Susan Patron's book 'The Higher Power of Lucky' was published in 2006 with the word 'scrotum' on the first page, few seem to complain about books that promote other topics like nationalism, militarism or versions of humanism that many Christians. Nor do some Christian parents question the view of the world promoted in many TV teen dramas, videos, musical lyrics, teen magazines etc.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, offers some wisdom on this topic in 'Educating for Life' (p. 43):
There is rampant in our Reformed community, as I guess there is in most Christian communities, the belief that the great dangers in literature are obscenity and profanity. Thus, we wage strong campaigns to keep the eyes and ears of our children from "filth" as we call it. We have not the slightest compunction in allowing our children to read paeans of praise to nationalism, to financial success, to humanism, to militarism - just provided they are "clean"...What the Christian school absolutely must do is educate its constituency to these issues. It must teach them to be discerning as to the message of literary works. And with them - not against them - it must face up to the issue as to wherein lie the really serious threats to the moral and religious life of young children, and adults as well.
I hope that Christian readers of this blog do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not against censorship and in fact managed to ban a number of televisions shows, teen magazines and the odd book when my children were growing up, but much more of my time was spent talking to them about the things they read, viewed, listened to etc.  And if I had an objection (as I did have to Dolly magazine), why did I hold it. In the process, I was helping them to apply their growing understanding of the purposes for which God had made them and his expectations for the life that he had given them. This is surely one of the most fundamental challenges for parents and Christian teachers, and is one of the true 'basics' in Christian education and parenting.