Friday 31 August 2007

Oilver O'Donovan Speaks on Political Theology

Oliver O’Donovan is this year to present the New College Lectures. He is in Australia at the invitation of the College to deliver the lectures and to speak to residents at a formal dinner. The first official component of his visit took place on Wednesday when Oliver delivered a short address to the 250 residents of New College, plus a few life fellows and staff. The largely non-Christian audience of 18-20 year olds (about 30% of residents are Christians) were privileged to hear a brilliant address on political responsibility. His talk challenged them and provided an introduction to political theology and urged them to consider their responsibility to the nation. In doing so he addressed a theme that readers of his work (as in books such as The Desire of the Nations) would recognise – that through the nation of Israel God made known his purposes in the world. A kingly rule expressed in Israel’s corporate existence and brought to final effect in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And of course he spoke of true freedom.

Australians he argued are a people with a government that serves the provision of freedom – being effective and being able to carry through purposes into action. Such a structure requires cooperation and collaboration. Quoting Rousseau he suggested to our residents that they are “not born free…… unless we are born into a society that makes us free.”

The New Testament he suggested sums up the role of government in two ways: it is a “minister of God” and it is a “human institution”. It exists to serve the will of God that there should be government and it exists to give order and shape to human society and its affairs.

He also explored the notion of representation - government is “representative”. Representation he suggested is a concept based directly on the model of Christ’s representative role in relation to the human race. Jesus is the one who suffers and triumphs for us, in whose suffering we suffer, in whose triumph we triumph. But the key to political representation is that authority is conferred by it. Government must be identity-bearing, speaking for the people, at the same time as it commands the people.

In challenging New College residents to consider their political responsibility he suggested that commitment to their nation required something that ancient Israel demonstrated, memory. The Israelites were a people with the consciousness of a common history. Second, they could see in their history how God’s providence had worked through their history to preserve and sustain them.

While introducing significant biblical themes he also posed some significant and practical questions. Can a nation of great cultural diversity develop a shared memory? How do people with family stories that are not bound up with the memories of this country develop shared memory? Can they make the memories of this country their own and recognise the hand of God in the events of their lives and that of the nation?

“How can there be a common memory when some memories can be very bitter? This is a common problem of ex-colonial nations such as Australia, in which the legacy of the colonial experiment is a terrible mixture of constructiveness and destructiveness. How is the memory of indigenous Australians to be held together in one with the memory of those whose people came from Europe? Will memory not be conflictual, tying us into repeating patterns of destructive behaviour? Much memory is not true memory at all, but obsessive images - often of violence and injury - which leap out at us from their context in the past and trail around with us in the present. Joseph’s brothers recalled the moment when they threw Joseph into the pit and sat down cold-bloodedly to decide how to dispose of him. And around the image of their own past guilt all their insecurity and nervousness collected. But they were not really remembering, since their attention was hooked on this one moment, and did not lead them on to think of Joseph’s success in Egypt and his role as deliverer. They had not learned to say, “but God meant it for good”. Good historians can always give us that view.”

There is much in these comments that resonate with the challenges we face as a nation, and pointers to the biblical insights that apologists might bring to bear when commenting on contemporary issues that we face collectively.

Case #12 will be in the mail this week (if you’re a CASE associate) in which an article by Oliver O’Donovan will appear. Don’t forget the New College Lectures next week (4,5 & 6th Sept). Come and hear one of the most outstanding Christian Ethicists of our time. Consult the New College Website for details. You might just be able to RSVP on Monday but that will need to be the cut-off, we have had a big response.

Monday 20 August 2007

Remembering the importance of literature in Book Week

My daughter has reminded me through an entry in her Blog that it is Book Week. As someone who has written about and taught children’s literature for almost 30 years, I shouldn’t have needed reminding. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to remind CASE readers of the importance and power of literature for children. Christians are people of the Word, so Christian parents have good reason to do anything possible to support their children’s literacy development and growing understanding of language. Narrative is a vital part of life. Much of life is impacted by ‘story’. In a sense, life is a grand narrative made up of countless sub narratives. And of course narrative is an important genre within the Bible. It shouldn't surprise us then that children's literature is one of the most common and effective ways to introduce children to literacy.

Of course a piece of literature is more than just a good story. I wrote in one of my books (Pathways to Literacy, Cairney 1995, p.77-78) that literature could act as:

* a mirror to enable readers to reflect on life problems and circumstances
* a source of knowledge
* a source of ideological challenge
* a means to peer into the past, and the future
* a vehicle to other places
* a means to reflect on inner struggles
* an introduction to the realities of life and death
* a vehicle for the raising and discussion of social issues

As well as helping our children to be comfortable using language and to become readers, literature offers all of the above opportunities, and provides parents with a rich and enjoyable means to apply the wisdom of God to the stories our children read. A few basic hints:

* Read from birth (yes, the first few days if you can cope and find time). In fact, you can start before birth, my children both read to my grandchildren in the womb!
* Don’t stop reading when your children learn to read themselves – read to them (even up to 12 years of age), read with them (I read with my teenage children), read the same books at times so that you can talk about the content of what they are reading and then apply biblical understanding to the events and character’s lives that they are encountering. This is part of developing common ground – things to talk about.
* DON’T turn every reading event into a Bible study or lesson. We seek to integrate Christian teaching into our children’s lives, and their reading should be no different. Discussion of how our faith helps us to understand books will hopefully occur as naturally as possible at just the right time.
* Do involve yourself in the choices your children make about books. Help them to choose books that they will like. Help them to make wise choices about books that aren’t appropriate for them.
* DON'T forget that our children need to understand that the stories we read don't represent truth as the Bible does, but that the events of stories have parallels in life and that only the Bible can give us true wisdom to make sense of life.

Here are a few books that you and your children will find rewarding and enjoyable and that will offer great opportunities to talk about the Bible's teaching.

1. Littlies

I’ll always love you, Hans Wilhelm – a delightful picture book that tells of the death of a little boy’s dog called Elfie. This would be appropriate for 4-7 years.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, Mem Fox – the story of a little boy who makes friends with the residents of an aged care facility next door and discovers just how wonderful memories can be. This would suits 3-6 year olds.

Where the wild things are, Maurice Sendak – This classic book has so much to offer. It is about the imaginary adventures of a little boy who is sent to bed without supper after being naughty. Suitable to be read at multiple levels from 3-7 years.

2. Early primary (suitable to be read to children as young as 7 or read by 8 & 9 year olds)

Mike, Brian Caswell – This junior novel tells the story of a boy who moves with his mother from Melbourne to Sydney and of the adjustment problems, including experiencing bullying and making a new friend. The companion story Lisdalia is written from the perspective of his friend who is growing up in a traditional Italian family with all of the struggles you’d expect when living in two cultures.

Tales of fourth grade nothing, Judy Blume – This junior novel tells of the problems an older brother has coping with his little brother, Fudge. Plenty for siblings to relate to here.

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White – It’s hard to go past this classic tale of survival, hope, life and death. Even if it’s been seen on DVD its worth reading with your children.

3. Upper primary (suitable to read to 10-12 year olds or to be read by 11-13 year olds)

Number the stars, Lois Lowry – This wonderful book tells of the escape of a Danish Jewish family by boat from the Nazis in World War II. A story that touches on numerous themes such as human cruelty, life, death and survival.

The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson – This is the story of a tough little girl who has lived most of her life in foster care. The events of the book are centred on what happens when she goes to live with an elderly woman, Mrs Trottter. Full of rich relational issues.

The machine gunners, Robert Westall – This one is for the boys! Guaranteed to interest any boy. The tale of a group of boys living in Britain through the Blitz, their war souvenir collecting, their brushes with death and of lots of moral choices along the way.

For readers interested in further posts on literature, literacy, families and learning you might find my blog that focuses on these issues of interest.

Tuesday 7 August 2007

The Tomb of Jesus

You have no doubt heard reports in the media (for some time) about the claim that the tomb of Jesus has been found. Channel 10 in Sydney screened a documentary on the 5th August (yesterday) which was originally seen on the Discovery Channel. CASE featured an article on this topic in CASE magazine #11 that was distributed to Associates in July. In this piece Professor Richard Bauckham (University of St Andrews, Scotland) provides a response to the claims of the documentary. Christians will find this helpful. It might also be worth sharing with non-Christians who question you about the supposed tomb and what it means. Read Professor Bauckman's article and distribute it to friends who might find it interesting.

Speech and writing are different

In my last post I indicated that I would do a mini-series on writing. I nominated the following as my topics:

* How are writing and speech different?
* Does context matter?
* Do we need to know our audiences?
* What do other media add to the message of the Word?
* What are the risks and possibilities of BLOGS, email, network communities (e.g. Facebook)?

One of our readers also suggested that I comment on the ephemeral nature of digital publications like BLOGS. I’ll probably cover that in my last suggestion.

So, how are writing and speech different? Someone suggested at the Faithfull Writer Conference that writing is simply “talking on paper”. But, writing is not the same as talking. In fact, one of the most important things that all writers need to learn is that writing is NOT talking. Yes, there are parallels between speech and writing, and together they make up language, but there are many differences. For example, writing doesn't include prosodic and paralanguage features such as intonation, rhythm, phrasing and pausing (although we try to approximate this by using devices like brackets etc). And in parallel, talking doesn't indicate the use of sentences and paragraphs. Secondly, speech and writing have different contexts for different purposes. So the meanings that we use in written contexts are not always easily translated into talk. Writing and talking end up being used for different purposes. Of course language changes and so do purposes for language forms. So what we once spoke (by phone or in person) might end up being written (in an email or BLOG), but more on this in a future post.

I could go on to discuss social variations (dialects) that occur that reflect the groups to which you belong as speakers and writers and the functional variations that reflect what is going on, who is taking part and the role that language is fulfilling.....but you're probably already bored. My point is this. If you want to be an effective Christian writer and communicator, you need to understand a few things about the differences between speech and writing. In each of these posts I’ll offer a key understanding for would-be Christian writers. Here’s the first.

# Key understanding 1 - Know the strengths and limitations of speech and writing and how these vary across these two language forms. And know, the contexts and functions for which each form of language is best suited. If you do understand this you won't read a long complex essay at an evangelistic event and call it an outreach talk. Neither will (or should) you use email to discuss a problem you're having with someone.