Monday 24 December 2012

Jerusalem Widow: Encountering Jesus

The Bible offers detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew (Matthew 1 & 2) and Luke (Luke 1 - 2:40). It presents the details of the birth, shows how Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah are fulfilled in him and presents a number of descriptions of the encounters of ordinary people with the Son of God. Two of the most wonderful stories in the gospel accounts are the encounters of Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:21-38). Both knew from the Scriptures of Jesus coming, and each rejoiced at what it meant to them personally when he arrived as a baby in Bethlehem. Two separate people who faithfully waited for the promised Messiah, and who overflowed with joy when he entered the world.

At this time when we remember the birth of Jesus and rejoice that in him salvation has come, I thought I would simply share a beautiful poem, 'Jerusalem's Widow', written by my daughter in 2008. It tells of the elderly widow Anna, a faithful servant of God fasting and praying constantly in the Temple. Married just seven years, she spent the rest of her life serving and worshiping her God, as she awaited the Messiah. "She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying awaited the arrival of the promised Messiah." (Luke 2: 37). Rembrandt's painting (circa 1627) of Simeon and Anna meeting Jesus (left), captures something of the wonder of the moment when she sees him for the first time.

Jerusalem Widow
By Nicole Starling

Luke 2:36-38, Lamentations 1:1-2, Isaiah 54:1-4

Married seven short years,
Jerusalem widow
alone and childless,
makes the temple her home.

She does not know
the chatter of children
squeezed around
a table filled with food.
Just the hard knot of hunger,
fasting day and night.

She has no comfort
in the night.
No warm arms
slipped around her belly
as she sleeps.
Instead, she weeps into the dark,
And waits a lifetime.

But when a baby comes
one ordinary day,
She knows.
Her wait is over.
She takes the baby,
and holds him.

Jerusalem widow
(like widow Jerusalem)
cradling salvation in her arms.

Thank you for supporting CASE and reading this blog. Might all our readers encounter Jesus in their own way at Christmas.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Tuesday 18 December 2012

How will others 'read' us at Christmas?

Children are learning machines. From birth they observe their world and the people who inhabit it. Even if you wanted to stop children from learning you'd find it difficult. We often lament the fact that our children don't (or won't!) learn the things we want them to. But in many ways, a much bigger problem is the fact that they learn lots of things we'd prefer them not to learn, simply by observing us.

At Christmas Christian families have great opportunities inside and outside their homes to speak about and demonstrate the reality that Christ lives (!) in their hearts and lives. And yet, it is easy at times to inadvertently lead people to wonder whether this is so. Our lives can easily provide confused messages and priorities to our children and friends. This is a challenge for all of us not just parents of young children.

So as we approach Christmas it might do us all a lot of good, young and old, singles and parents, male and female, to consider in advance how our family members will 'read' us at this time when we celebrate God's grace and mercy in entering the world in the person of Jesus. It might also be worth taking some time to think about those situations that put us under the greatest pressure. The times, places and activities where and when we fail! I offer some questions below for self-evaluation that I've framed broadly enough for those of us who don't have young children.
Do we speak of God's grace at this time and yet demonstrate lack of forgiveness in our attitudes, actions and words towards and with our family members, fellow Christians, workmates and neighbours?
Do we talk of the love of Christ and yet demonstrate a coldness of heart that fails to show patience, kindness, and gentleness in the way we deal with others?
Do we speak of the generosity of God in sending his Son into the world and yet demonstrate avarice, greed, envy and jealousy?
Do we speak of the priority of Christ in our lives and yet at this time demonstrate in our actions that other things gain priority over our devotion, love and service in Christ's name?
Paul challenges his readers in several of his letters to be imitators of godly men and women who in turn are imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14). Similarly, the writer to the Hebrew church exhorts his readers to be imitators of those who through faith and patience have inherited the promises of God (Hebrews 6:12; 13:7).

People read us every day. How will they read us this Christmas?

Friday 7 December 2012

The Means to Attain a Happy Life

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to revisit some old episodes of the "The Tudors" (a television drama produced by Showtime). In later episodes the viewer is introduced to the Earl of Surrey- Henry Howard, who is renowned for various talents including that of poet. Amongst his works is The Means to Attain a Happy Life. 

MARTIAL, the things that do attain
The happy life, be these, I find :
The riches left, not got with pain ;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind :

The equal friend, no grudge, no strife ;
No charge of rule, nor governance ;
Without disease, the healthful life ;
The household of continuance :

The mean diet, no delicate fare ;
True wisdom join'd with simpleness ;
The night discharged of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress :

The faithful wife, without debate ;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night.
Contented with thine own estate ;
Ne wish for Death, ne fear his might. (1)

In simple yet impressive language the poet has effectively communicated his thoughts on how he believes he would obtain some degree of contentment in his life. The pursuit of such sentiments is still real today as it was in the 1500's, and the occasion brought to mind issue #14 of Case magazine, which explored the topic of seeking happiness.

Readers will find this edition of Case interesting, as author Ben Cooper explores a concept known as 'happiness stagnation' in his article "Money and the Pursuit of Happiness." The author's research highlighted survey data which concluded "...that once a nation has reached a certain level of prosperity further economic growth seems to have little or no impact on the average levels of happiness."

The article goes on to discuss whether happiness stagnation can be resolved, but also counter the idea that the Christian gospel is opposed to happiness:
....we need to be clear that the Christian gospel is pro-happiness—good news of great joy—and not necessarily anti-material. To enjoy material blessings thankfully, as good gifts within a loving relationship with our heavenly Father is indeed one of the constituents of true happiness. It is only when our love of money supplants our love of God (and thereby love of neighbour) that we have a problem.
Cooper concluded that discontentment with what we have leads to envy and the pursuit of more. This discontentment is alas deeply rooted in our hearts, and thus we cannot solve the problems that surround our discontentment on our own. He however concludes on a happier note- reminding the reader of Luke 2:10-11:
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you.
God himself has intervened in the world and in reconciling us to himself he will reverse our discontentment that leads to unhappiness, envy, emptiness and ultimately to death.

Courtesy of
Re-reading edition #14 of Case is well worth it, as the publication has several other articles that explore the theme of happiness. Mike Wilson provides a summary of the Dalai Lama, and his teaching and its impact upon concept of the meaning of' life and happiness in the Western world. His article entitled "The Dalai Lama's long road to happiness" also offers a Christian response to his teachings. You may also enjoy Kel Richards article which looks at the very etymology of the word 'happiness' and its appropriateness in the biblical vocabulary.

Case Subscribers may enjoy retrieving their copies of "Seeking Happiness" (Case #14) published 2008 and view the articles to which I refer to in this post. Our most recent magazine Case #32 entitled Believing Science, has been available for the last month, it too is well worth a read. For blog followers who are yet to become CASE Associates you can subscribe HERE or order a single copy of edition #14 or 32  HERE.

Send CASE an email

(1) Surrey, Henry Howard, Earl of. The Poetical Works of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1854. 57.

Friday 30 November 2012

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I'm pleased that Dr Megan Best's book 'Fearfully and Wonderfully Made' has been released by Matthias Media. Like many people, I have been awaiting this book for some years. I was excited when I had the privilege of reading an advance copy. Megan Best is a bioethicist and palliative care doctor who lives and works in Sydney. She will be well known to many readers of this blog and to CASE associates. She has written for CASE many times, presented papers at our conferences and has been an associate and faculty member since the inception of the Centre in 2002. Some of us have also been sent briefing papers prior to government decisions on new legislation, and received passionate emails calling us to action. Dr Best has been one of the most effective Christian voices in this country on the ethics of life's beginning and end. As a result, many of us have also encouraged her to write this book on the ethics of the beginning of life (and we hope to see one on the 'end' of life in time).

It is a remarkable book written by a remarkable person. Megan Best has committed a large part of her life to understanding the beginnings of life and the moral and ethical issues that we face in relation to conception, birth, abortion, miscarriage, pregnancy, and reproductive technologies of all kinds. I doubt that there is another person who could have written this book, certainly not as well.

For those of us who want to understand the ethical and moral issues concerning the beginning of life, we have difficulty keeping up with the medical and technological changes, not to mention the many voices commenting on them. In the rapidly changing field of reproductive medicine, we need accurate and well-informed information. We also need to consider how this can be interpreted ethically within a sound biblical framework.

Dr Megan Best provides what is lacking in both of these vital areas. Built on extensive historical, biblical and medical research, 'Fearfully and Wonderfully Made' is the comprehensive, accurate, biblically based ethical handbook that many of us have been waiting for.
Dr Best has set out to write a book that will inform Christian and non-Christian’s seeking answers to the many issues and questions that face us concerning the beginning of life. She weaves together the best secular knowledge, ethical, moral and historical writings, medical research, public policy, law, personal experience and biblical wisdom. This incredible synthesis is done with a great sense of compassion and without judgement. This is a book that is written with humility, grace and understanding of the varied circumstances of the lives of those who face dilemmas and decisions to be made prior to conception, after conception and at time of birth. The facts and the pain of many are at times confronting. Few people will be able to read the chapters on abortion, miscarriage and infertility without tears.

This is a timely book that fills a great gap. It will inform, challenge, offer hope and give answers to the many people who struggle with the complex range of issues that face us, as we seek to understand and make decisions about the beginning of life. I commend it to you.

You can read all our previous posts on medical ethics HERE.

Monday 19 November 2012

A Tribute to Rev Dr Stuart Barton Babbage AM

Rev Dr Stuart Barton Babbage AM passed away on Friday 16th November at the age of 96. I heard the news with sadness because he was a dear friend who I will miss greatly, but also with thankfulness, knowing that he is with his Lord.

Stuart Barton Babbage was born on the 4th January 1916 in Auckland New Zealand, the eldest of 6 children. His early life was in a home of modest resources and his childhood was marked by many challenges. Interestingly his Great Grandfather Charles Babbage invented the first mechanical computer that was the precursor to the computers of today. Stuart was educated at Auckland Grammar (a state school). He recalled many memories from his school days including becoming a member of the Crusader Union after Dr Howard Guinness visited the school to launch the organisation for the first time.

In his teenage years he was heavily influenced by his elderly Bible Class teacher J. Barnard Brown. When he was 16 he was taken to hear Rev W.P. Nicholson who was conducting a mission in Auckland. He went forward when the appeal was made. He wrote in his book 'Memoirs of a Loose Canon' (2004) '...that his conversion experience had far reaching consequences'. He later enrolled at Auckland University College (part of the multi-site University of New Zealand) as a 16 year old in Arts and Journalism and pursued majors in History and Economics, choices which Stuart described as 'revealing in my naivety'.  He joined the Evangelical Union on campus and eventually became President. In his final year of his Arts degree he was awarded a scholarship to St Johns College where he completed the degree. He went on to complete a Master of Arts in History even though he did better (to his surprise) in economics. He was aged 20 at its completion.

Stuart left New Zealand in 1937 for England via Sydney to study theology. In his five day stop over he was to meet the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Howard Mowll while staying with Canon R.B. Robinson whose son Donald Robinson (a teenager at the time) was to become Archbishop of Sydney in 1982. He also met T.C. Hammond, the principal of Moore College, on the same stopover. He travelled on by sea to England where he enrolled at the Bible Churchmen's Missionary and Theological College and eventually took the ordination exams which he passed. However, he needed to wait until he reached the age of 23 (the canonical age) before ministry, so he enrolled in a PhD at King's College, London. He gained a job as a part-time tutor at Oak Hill Theological College. His motivation to enrol in a PhD was to consider the evangelical revival and work of Wesley and Whitfield, but he was persuaded to consider the work of R.G. Usher on 'The Reconstruction of the English Church'. It was some years later before the thesis was published as 'Puritanism and Richard Bancroft'.

Stuart was eventually ordained on the 17th December 1939 and established what we would today call a 'church plant' in Havering-atte-Bower, a small village on the outskirts of London in the Borough of Havering (Essex). He attempted to reach the villagers through children's ministry. In his memoirs Stuart describes his early days this way:

"The Battle of Britain was fought over our heads. Sometimes we saw a dogfight and often, trails of vapour in the sky. Then the night raids began...In the parish there were numerous bomb craters and some property damage but no loss of life. A land mine descended by parachute and landed on the vicarage, almost demolishing it. All the windows of the church were blown out...."

After three years at Havering-atte-Bower Stuart applied to join the RAF and become an air force chaplain. He was posted to Fetwell in Norfolk in 1942. This was a major base for heavy bombing raids against targets in Europe. It was during his years as a chaplain that he met C.S. Lewis who frequently preached for the Chaplain's Department of the RAF. He recalled with great fondness long leisurely walks across the Norfolk fens with Lewis. It was while based at Fetwell that Stuart met the woman who was to become his wife, Flight Officer Elizabeth King. They were engaged and after a short courtship they were married on the 26th May 1943 in Fetwell. His overseas posting arrived the same day. Within fine months he was posted to Iraq and Persia for two years. They would eventually have four children, Veronica, Malcolm, Christopher and Timothy during a marriage that lasted 40 years.

After the war there were five major phases to Stuart's life, each with richness and complexity which cannot be captured in such a brief post. The first post-war phase saw Stuart and Elizabeth move to Sydney where he was to become 'Diocesan Missioner' for the Anglican Church. This was a one-year appointment to undertake 'special duties'. He took up the interim appointment in 1946 and in 1947 was appointed as the 3rd Dean of Sydney at the age of thirty. There were many highlights in this period. He wrote regularly for the Sydney Morning Herald ('Religion & Life') and enjoyed many opportunities to preach and welcome distinguished visitors including (memorably) Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. In this period he was to begin his regular religious instruction at Fort Street Boys' High School. Justice Michael Kirby has commented at length on Stuart's impact on him and many other boys during this time. 

In 1953 he was appointed as Principal of Ridley College in Melbourne, a post he held until 1963. His years at Ridley were fruitful ones and in 2010 the College saw fit to confer on him the title of 'Principal Emeritus'. There were once again many highlights during this period of his life including his role on the Billy Graham Crusade Committee in 1959.  In 1953 he was also surprisingly asked to combine the role of Dean of Melbourne with his role at Ridley. He held the post of part-time Dean until 1972.

When he concluded his role as Principal of Ridley he began a period of more focussed academic. He had enjoyed a Fulbright Fellowship to Columbia Theological Seminary in 1961 and returned as a Visiting Professor. There were many possible moves and positions during the next decade but much of his time was spent in then USA at Columbia, teaching Apologetics and Church History. He was later invited to take up the position of President of Cornwall School of Theology, a position he held until appointed as second Master of New College at the University of New South Wales. In this fruitful decade he wrote many of his books, including 'Sex and Sanity' (1965), 'The Vacuum of Unbelief' (1969), 'The Mark of Cain: Case Studies in Literature and Theology (1966)'.  He also edited the 'Columbia Theological Journal' and 'The Holman Study Bible'.

Rev Dr Stuart Barton Babbage with the Hon John Howard at a formal dinner, New College, 2011

In 1973 he was appointed as Master of New College, where he succeeded Noel Pollard. It was an all male college when he arrived but it was quickly converted into a coeducational residential college much to the relief of all who had found the all-male community difficult. In his ten years at New he was to put his stamp on the community and bring a constant range of distinguished speakers to formal dinners. He and Elizabeth entertained regularly for the residents, contacts that they had within the community and from within the wider church. The list of people who enjoyed their hospitality is a very long one indeed. Stuart also took on many other projects. He was asked by Archbishop Loane to fill the short-term role of Acting Dean of Sydney following the death of Dean A.W. Morton. He also assumed the role of Registrar of the Australian College of Theology (CAT), a role he kept until 1992. The ACT was actually run for a time from within New College. The years at New College were happy ones for Elizabeth but sadly when they left in 1983 to their new home at Waverley, it was just six months until she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and within months she had died.

The years following Elizabeth's death and his departure from New College were marked by his ongoing work for the Australian College of Theology, continued writing and scholarship, including his book 'Memoirs of a Loose Canon'. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1995 "In recognition of service to the Anglican Church of Australia to education and to the community". Stuart continued as a faithful servant of Christ, as father, preacher, friend, evangelist, mentor, dinner host and pastor. His preaching around Sydney was legendary; he was always interesting and had a significant presence in the pulpit. Until just a few years ago he was regularly driving to churches all over Sydney to deliver inspiring messages and was a regular preacher at St Jude's Randwick. In the years after Elizabeth's death his home was also home to a stream of international male students who needed good home stay accommodation while studying at university. Stuart also employed some of them to help in the kitchen and wait on his guests.

Like many people, I saw Stuart as a dear friend. My friendship with him began just ten years ago when I was appointed as 5th Master of New College. Within weeks of my arrival Stuart had invited my wife Carmen and me to the first of many wonderful dinners at his home. Stuart was always the perfect host, cooking, setting the table and fussing over every detail. He would carefully plan who he would invite and then ensure that he connected the people he wanted to connect with his deftly designed seating plan. Stuart was the most hospitable of people. I asked him one day, "Stuart, you are a very hospitable person. To what do you owe this gift? Was there someone in your life who modelled this for you?". He replied simply, "No, I read in the Scriptures that we are to be hospitable, so I thought, I had better do it."

Stuart was generous with his time and his concern for me right to the end. He visited me just last week to give me a book and battled into the building on a single cane while his carer waited (no doubt due to his insistence) in her car. It was to deliver one of his books that he wanted me to have. In it describes the relationship of C.S. Lewis to the RAF chaplaincy work and the links to Stuart's relationship with him. He commented simply, "I thought you'd appreciate this". And I did of course. I insisted that I walk back to the car after the visit, in spite of his protests. For a very independent man used to giving out, receiving care was a little harder to accept. I will miss this wonderful man but know that he is with his Lord who no doubt will have commended this good and faithful servant.

If you would like to read more about Stuart's rich life his own account in 'Memoirs of a Loose Canon' is the best resource. He wrote a sequel to this in the last year or so and distributed copies to a small number of lucky people (me included). It has many stories never told and as he handed it to me, he said with a twinkle in his eye, "Perhaps this one is best not to be published". 

Relatives and friends of Rev. Babbage are invited to attend the service and interment at St. Jude's Anglican Church, 106 Avoca Street, Randwick, on Friday (November 23, 2012) at 10 a.m.

Other tributes to Rev Dr Stuart Barton Babbage

Ridley College HERE
Anglican Church League HERE

Thursday 8 November 2012

Believing Science

We believe in science. To be honest, we’d have to be crazy not to. Subject to the evidence of course. In our latest edition of Case magazine we explore the theme 'Believing Science'. The various writers in this issue acknowledge that science has taught us much about our world and how it works. It has led to amazing technologies hardly dreamt of before: test-tube babies, heart transplants, mobile phones, nuclear energy, space exploration. The news is full of the latest research that tells us all sorts of things, from what the surface of Mars is like, to whether people who drink red wine are healthier; from the development of new high-yield crops, to exciting new treatment possibilities for autism.

Science—and our acceptance of it—are so much a part of our lives that it is hard to imagine things being otherwise. But in terms of human history, science is a relatively recent phenomenon, and one that assumes a particular view of the natural world as regular and ordered.  In an excellent piece of historical analysis, Peter Harrison discusses the rise of Western science, and in particular, the role Christian theology played in legitimising the acceptance of the science we now take so for granted.

However it is not always easy to believe what science tells us, for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes scientific findings seem altogether too strange to be believable, as John Polkinghorne points out in his short essay. For our minds, which have developed their intuitions about how the world works amidst trees, tables and teenagers, such theories as quantum physics or relativity are difficult even to conceive, let alone believe. We need to rely not on what seems obvious, but what the evidence points to. And yet it remains the case that these same minds, which darkly reflect the mind of their creator, are able to explore and understand this ‘mysterious universe’.

Another stumbling block to believing science is the difficulty of working out exactly what it is that the science tells us. Using climate science as a case study, John Quinn explores some of the factors contributing to this difficulty. Science, he points out, is not a homogeneous endeavour. There are many different branches which employ different methods to study phenomena of varying complexity. Our confidence in the outcomes needs to be weighted accordingly. Taking another step back, for the non-specialist, there is the problem of sorting through the different accounts of what the science tells us via politicians, the media and other channels. Which ‘experts’ should we believe? Which of the conflicting reports can we trust? What approach should someone seeking to be a responsible citizen take, and is it any different to a Christian approach?

As well as addressing these aspects of ‘belief in science’, this issue of Case Magazine also looks at the ‘science of belief’ with two articles from a new and growing field of research, cognitive science of religion (CSR).  Religious belief and practice are near universal, but why is that the case? Can the study of human psychology throw any light on this? According to Jonathan Jong, the research indicates the answer is ‘yes’. Our minds are quick to attribute things that happen in the world to other agents or beings ‘out there’, and to readily believe in them.  Other features of human psychology are identified that help explain why it is that some religious traditions spread and flourish while others go nowhere.

Justin Barrett lays out what ‘natural religion’ looks like according to current research—the characteristics of the kind of religion that comes naturally to human minds.  He then looks at how this ‘natural religion’ relates to theology in established religious traditions like Christianity, and also at the potential for interaction between theology and cognitive science.

Because of its direct reference to religion, CSR is likely to be keenly watched by religious apologists and atheists alike. Both Jong and Barrett discuss the implications of CSR for Christian and other religious belief. Does explaining religious belief by appealing to human psychology mean that religion is ‘explained away’? While some have argued that this is the case, Jong and Barrett disagree, maintaining the distinction between explaining something and explaining it away is critical. He also suggests a number of strategies that are open to apologists.

Robert Stening’s review of The Principles of Neurotheology by Andrew Newberg, resonates with Jong and Barrett’s paper. Neurotheology is another field that seeks to investigate religious phenomena, this time using the methods of neuroscience. Our final review by Cath Finney Lamb also addresses religious belief but from a completely different angle, with a discussion of Elmer Thiessen’s important book, The Ethics of Evangelism.
For any Christian, a consideration of science and its claims is vital to an apologetic defence of one’s faith. We hope you enjoy this issue of Case Magazine.

Want to read some more?

Dr John Quinn's article on 'Finding the Truth in the Climate Change Debate' is a free download HERE.  You can buy this single issue of Case magazine HERE or become a CASE Associate for $55 AUD and receive all four quarterly issues as part of your subscription HERE.  

Thursday 25 October 2012

A 'desperate, breathless, dependent' mother

This is a wonderful short video interview recorded by the 'Desiring God' team, in which Rachel Pieh Jones reflects on the birth of her third child in Africa. At the time she was working there with her husband as part of a nongovernmental organization that aimed to serve the local population. The child was born in a dilapidated hospital in Djibouti, a country in the horn of Africa. Her American friends kept saying to her, you're such a brave mother. But as she reflected on the comments of the people she had met when she returned to the US, she concluded otherwise. Was she a 'brave' mother? No! She was a “desperate, breathless, dependent” mother depending on God. She concluded that bringing a child into the world and rearing him or her, even in the USA, also requires this same sense of dependency. This short 3 minute video is worth viewing.

You can also read about her experiences HERE.

Rachel Pieh Jones on Brave Mothering and Raising Children in Africa from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Anti Poverty Week

A post by Edwina Hine

As I was reading the Anglicare report "When There Is Not Enough To Eat", I was surprised to learn that this week is in fact Anti-Poverty Week.

Anti-Poverty Week is a week where all Australians are encouraged to organise or take part in an activity aiming to highlight or overcome issues of poverty and hardship here in Australia or overseas. Over the years, Case has published various articles that address this issue,  particularly global poverty in the Case # 22.

In Andrew Sloane's article entitled Love and Justice in International Frame, he presents a relational view of love and justice. This is seen as underpinning an imperative for Christians to respond to global poverty. He goes on to argue that since poverty is globalised:
"...there can be no innocent bystanders. globalisation means we are related to the poor in distant places". 
Sloan completes his article by detailing a relational framework that
'...allows us to affirm our obligations to all in our global system without making those obligations the same...'.

Whilst perusing edition #22 of Case, readers will also find  Erin Granville's article on the Gospel and Globalisation. In this article argues that:

'...the beneficial potential of global interconnectedness has often not been realised. Rather, poverty and environmental damage seem to trail in wake of global market...'.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons
And yet, in spite of this, the Glanville suggests that we should consider globalisation in the light of Christianity and asks, " Christians can harness its potential for good".

In light of  Anti-Poverty Week, Case #22 God beyond borders would be a interesting and timely re-read for Case subscribers. For blog followers who are yet to become CASE Associates you can subscribe HERE or order a single copy of edition #22 HERE.

Monday 8 October 2012

77 days and counting

Post by Edwina Hine

This past weekend I learnt that the football season was officially over! I made this discovery not by viewing the jubilant Swans victory parade through the streets of Sydney, but rather, by noticing the following items in my local supermarket.

Photos courtesy of Wiki Commons
Yes, as I write this, it is 77 days and counting until Christmas (2012 Christmas Countdown). Once I recovered from the initial shock, I reflected on my recent reading of last year's December issue of Case (edition #29) entitled Selling Christmas.  As I perused the assortment of Christmas fare in my local Woollies I found many of the articles in Selling Christmas quite timely. The lead article of edition #29 was entitled "Brand Christmas" by Dr. Simon Angus. The article highlights that for most people, Christmas means gifts and not surprisingly, retailers have tapped into our materialism to develop a 'Brand Christmas'. He goes on to observe that often Christians think much less about the brand that they once owned, than the commercial entities do. Angus points out that: 

"...the Christmas  message is fundamentally appealing. It is  a message of goodwill, peace, joy, hope  and love....When it comes to marketing, narratives don’t come better than this. One of the best recognised and most robust effects of a person’s mood on the evaluation of a product or service, is that individuals in a positive mood are more likely to evaluate a product positively. It is no surprise that ‘good news’, ‘joy’ and ‘peace’ are on the ‘positive affect’ side of the ledger, ........Put simply, ‘hope’sells....."

The article goes further and reminds the reader that whilst

"...many people argue that Jesus is not God, or that his conception was natural, that the wise men of the East gave gifts to the Christ child is not a major point of contention. Gift giving at Christmas seems to be a non-controversial and highly agreeable form of remembrance of the first Christmas. To the retailer, this is manna from heaven—a culturally powerful ritual, where the norm of gift-giving is well established and unchallenged...."

In light of this observation it is little wonder that retailers are so keen to utilise  'Brand Christmas' (and why they may begin starting the Christmas hype earlier each year.......). The article continues by suggesting some ways Christians can respond to the commercialisation of Christmas, as it points out the reason why 'Brand Christmas' works so well is that we actually do buy into all the 'Brand Christmas' stuff. But it also discusses how we can also use the season to point towards the 'real' reason for the season - Jesus!

Selling Christmas (Case #29) included some other fascinating articles. Dr Diane Speed discussed  'The Magi and the Myths', Anna Blanch explored 'An Aussie Christmas, Poetically Speaking' and Dr John McClean asked can we believe in the incarnation today? in his article entitled 'Veiled in Flesh'.

For blog followers who are yet to be CASE Associates you can subscribe HERE or order a single copy of edition #29 HERE.

As for me, regardless of my initial surprise, and perhaps even annoyance at seeing the beginnings of 'Brand Christmas 2012', I finish this blog post on a positive, as I choose not to dwell on the Christmas periphery that is on display in the shops, but rather the true foundation of this celebration:
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” … And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:9-14 ESV)

Now this is something worth celebrating!

Post by Edwina Hine (New College and CASE)

Monday 1 October 2012

The Importance of Civility in Public Life

Mr Jones. Photo courtesy
Australian readers of this blog will be well aware that the last 24 hours have seen the unfolding of a distasteful attack on the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard by media personality Allan Jones (details here). Mr Jones suggested that the Prime Minister's father, John Gillard, died recently of shame because his daughter, in Mr Jones' opinion, is a serial liar. The outrage from the Australian public has been strong, with a number of major sponsors dumping Mr Jones' program. As well, some regional radio stations will no longer air the program and a Facebook page has been set up to fight for Mr Jones' sacking. Mr Jones has admitted that his comments recorded at a Liberal Party function were "out of line" but has stopped short of an apology. The leader of the opposition, Mr Abbott has similarly stated that the comments were "out of line". This has led some to suggest that this appears to be an agreed Liberal party response.

I've been moved to write about civility in public life several times in recent years. Amazingly, on the last occasion Julia Gillard was again being attacked (here). As well, our last post by Dr John Quinn was also indirectly about civility (here).

Mr Abbott at the 2011 anti Carbon Tax rally. Photo credit: Alan Porritt (AAP)

Again I ask, does civility matter? The comments from another high profile public figure, suggest that it isn't valued as highly as it once was.  Civility isn't just good manners (though we could do with more of them), but rather behaviour between members of society that leads to a social code and foundational principles that help to shape a civilized society. This historically has been a major focus of political philosophers and has included concern with principles of justice, liberty, rights, freedoms, the law and the duties of citizens to government. The Carbon Tax protests in Canberra during 2011 set new low standards for public political debate. Mr Jones at a Liberal Party function has lowered the standard even further.

When people talk of civility today, they often mean the cultivation of character traits and virtues that are consistent with their own cultural and social practices. These at times simply reflect one's social class rather than well thought out ideas of civil society.  The distinction between practices that some see as demonstrating civility, and others that are uncivilised, can be based on the most tenuous of justifications.

Attempting to move beyond subjective debates about manners or a pretense of civility, requires us to return to the root of the word that is the opposite of civil. The word 'uncivil' comes from the Latin word incivilis, meaning "not of a citizen." To be civil, is to play one's part as a citizen in building a civil society. What any society needs to guard against is behaviour that runs counter to the well being of a society; that is, behaviour that strikes at the very structure and foundation of one's civil society. In the recent decades, many western democracies have seen the topic of civic virtue gaining attention. This has been particularly the case in relation to the good practices of government and the participation of citizens in relation to government. In my view, Mr Jones comments and the behaviour of others in relation to the Prime Minister have been uncivil.

In the 'The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It', well-known Christian Os Guinness argues that civility needs to be rebuilt in western societies like the USA (and I'd add Australia) if they are to survive:
"Civility must truly be restored. It is not to be confused with niceness and mere etiquette or dismissed as squeamishness about differences. It is a tough, robust, substantive concept… and a manner of conduct that will be decisive for the future of the American republic" (p. 3).

Os Guinness's book points to the threat of individuals and minority groups like the Religious Right and the secular Left in the USA, arguing that there is a need to avoid privileging one interest group over another, including religious groups and influential figures who believe that they can set standards for society. High profile figures like Mr Jones', who seem to believe that their views on matters of public policy have greater weight than others, can be just as dangerous.

A mature civil society will need to enable minority groups and individuals to have a voice, but they must not be allowed to establish their position by yelling the loudest or the longest in ways that damage individuals, public office and democracy. Guinness reminds us that in a democracy all have a right to believe anything, but this does not mean, "anything anyone believes is right". We need to expect differences of opinion in a civil society and also to work out ways to discuss them and reach consensus for the common good. Christians have a part to play in such public discourse, participating openly as people of faith with godliness, humility and respect for the rights of others to participate as well.

Sunday 23 September 2012

The Demise of Sensible Conversation

A Post by Dr John Quinn

Photo Courtesy Q&A
One of the more disturbing trends in the current Australian public discourse is the reliance on second hand information in the formation of closely held views.  As I watched Monday night’s Q&A program on ABC Television the problem was most obviously manifest in the discussion of the “Innocence of Muslims”, the Youtube video which has sparked riots all across the world, including one here in Sydney.  Panelist after panelist condemned both video and rioter alike, describing the video as hateful and insulting, the handiwork of a “nutter”. There is, however, another common feature in every panelist’s response, as is evident in the transcript excerpts below. 
GREG SHERIDAN: Well, look, I haven't seen the film but everything I hear about is it sounds like his objective was to incite hatred.
CLOVER MOORE: Well, I haven't seen the film either and I know that Hillary Clinton came out very early and condemned it as being very insulting and appalling.
ROBYN DAVIDSON: I haven't seen it either but from what everyone says, you know... Look, I think he’s a nutter.
Panelist after panelist confessed to not having personally viewed the video. Instead, they sought to rely on the observations and reflections of others.  In some cases this might be perfectly legitimate and reasonable, but the question then immediately arises as to whether those secondary sources are reliable. Had the secondary sources seen the video themselves and, if they had, was their interpretation accurate and their reaction fair? To be frank, I haven’t seen the “Innocence of Muslims”, and nor am I intending to.  But I am not putting my second, third or possibly fourth-hand view about it on national television, either. Although the Q&A discussion of the “Innocence of Muslims” makes for a colourful example, this reliance on hearsay is by no means peculiar to controversial Youtube videos. It might equally be applied to the discussion of history, science, politics or religion.  Later in the same program, on the topic of Israel:

GREG SHERIDAN: I comprehensively reject Ilan's narrative of Israel. I think it’s wrong in every respect. I haven't had time to read all Ilan's books. 

Here we see the same problem – Mr Sheridan has “comprehensively” rejected historian Ilan Pappe’s narrative of Israel as “wrong in every respect”. The language could not be more definitive.  Even so, Greg’s conclusion must have been reached at least partially on the basis of secondary information, as by his own admission he hasn’t read all of Ilan Pappe’s writings.

The same issue comes up recurrently in the climate science discussion, where second and third hand interpretations of science are constantly espoused by commentators and politicians with unwavering conviction. For people without any scientific training it is seemingly impossible to spot the fact from the fiction.  The public are left baffled, unable to determine whether climate change is a problem warranting immediate action or an enormous hoax that means we should never trust a scientist again. It is frustrating enough to see opinions given about topics in history, science and culture on the basis of flimsy or completely absent research.

Photo courtesy of ABC

As a Christian, though, it is especially troubling to see the way in which public figures approach the Scriptures.  One week prior to the discussion of the “Innocence of Muslims”, the same program featured Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen and Melbourne comedian and atheist Catherine Deveny, among others discussing the position of the church on marriage (here). One question covered the interesting issue of whether there was anything that would convince Catherine to give up on atheism and become some sort of believer. In her answer, Catherine Deveny took strong issue with the text of the Bible.

CATHERINE DEVENY: “I mean one of the things that I always think about is like if God exists why doesn't he show himself? But when you actually look at the Bible, which is - that's the only text that I’m - like, religious text that I'm really familiar with, it is basically social engineering embedded in fairytales and horror stories which is just chock full of homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division and most people haven’t even read it. It has been written by 44 - you know, 60 people, I think, 44 chapters, you know, three different languages over thousands of years, thousands of different interpretations and despite all of those different interpretations, the only thing they can all agree on is homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division." 

So which is it – 44 or 60 authors? And how many “chapters”? Catherine Deveny’s answer seems to betray the extent of her real familiarity with the Bible. And to assert that “it is basically social engineering embedded in fairytales and horror stories which is just chock full of homophobia, misogyny, discrimination and division” seems to be a fairly crass characterization of the content of the Bible. I won’t deny that there probably are a good many different interpretations of parts of the Bible, and that regrettably some people have used the Bible to justify all manner of terrible practices.  However,the main thing that “they can all agree on” is probably more that Jesus, God’s only Son came as part of God’s perfect plan to rescue the world from sin. Of course, I wouldn’t expect to see or hear that on Q&A: the first rule of modern media commentary is to never let the facts stand in the way of a good diatribe.

Monday 10 September 2012

Living and Dying Ethically

Photo courtesy of wiki commons
Frequently there are news items that challenge me and bring up various questions. It was little wonder therefore, that this weeks news regarding the expansion in distribution in the RU486 tablet ( which is prescribed to terminate early stage pregnancies) gave me pause for thought (SMH and Australian).

The debate surrounding the use of this medication, is a sensitive one, and has been bubbling away since around 2006 when the drug was first given a very limited release  in Australia. The 'Therapeutic Goods Administration' (TGA) recently decided to allow a wider use of the drug. This will no doubt see the discussion heat up again. This post will not cover the issue of abortion directly, I write though, as I have found a recent read through of  Case #17 entitled  "Living And Dying Ethically" quite timely as I think through many of the issues that arise from these recent news articles.

All the articles of  Case #17 were useful in light of  the current debate, and well worth a read. Megan Best's article entitled "Embryo Liberation" is very insightful. While it isn't about abortion, it examines the ethics surrounding the use of embryos for research, (after they have been discarded as potential IVF embryos). The article investigates the question of when life begins, exploring first the basic biology of conception. Best concludes that fertilization,

"… is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte (egg). The embryo, from the time it is created, is a unified, unique, dynamic, self directed whole, not just a collection of cells."

Megan Best explains that secular views concerning the issues surrounding the embryo debate come down to a matter of person-hood. She contends that human personhood is not merely a matter of biological conception. Secularists see personhood as demonstrated through such things as self awareness, a rational nature and the ability to exercise this nature. The question of personhood is also overridden by many in the debate, as they consider consequentialism (ie in short, the end justifies the means approach).

Our community has decided that, while the destruction of developing humans may been seen to be regrettable, the potential consequences of their destruction—medical cures through embryonic stem cell research, improved IVF, freedom to women through availability of some contraceptives and abortion—justify the use.

Finally Dr Best concludes her thesis with an investigation  into the biblical view surrounding the debate. In essence she states there is is no doubt that the Bible indicates that we have a relationship with God that originates in the womb, supporting her conclusion with various biblical references.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

As stated in the introduction of this post, the issues involved in the RU486 debate are challenging, emotive, and understandably we often wish to avoid the discussion altogether. However I would recommend a re-reading of Dr Megan Best's excellent article, as it clearly defines many of the views and history of the issues surrounding the debate. Increasing our understanding of all the relevant information and becoming more familar with all the facets of the discussion, will ensure we may better be informed, and be able to constructively contribute to future conversations regarding this most difficult topic.

The main article I reference in this post is available as free download from the CASE Website. CASE Associates receive Case magazine 4 times per year as part of their benefits. For blog followers who are yet to be CASE Associates you can sign up HERE or order a single copy HERE.

Edwina Hine (New College and CASE)

Monday 3 September 2012

The Difficulty of Marriage Equality

A Post by Dr John Quinn

Photo Courtesy of Free-extras
One of the hot button issues in the current federal parliament is the issue of marriage equality, or the right of people of the same sex to enter into marriage relationships. Much of the debate and discussion on this issue has focused on the ‘traditional’ definition of marriage, and the extent to which that can be altered.  Proponents of marriage equality are adamant that marriage has a legal definition and as such can be changed on the say-so of the Parliament.  Others contend that marriage is a historical and traditional institution, with a meaning fixed-in-time and thereby unalterable.  In one of the more colourful contributions to the debate, Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said on Meet the Press in August last year “it is like saying, ‘I have a four-wheel bicycle.’ It is fine if it has four wheels but it’s just not a bicycle”[i].

St Andrews Cathedral. 
Photo courtesy Weddings NSW
It goes without saying that marriage equality poses some difficulties for evangelical Christians, and it is heartening to see Christian leaders such as Archbishop Peter Jensen making serious and thoughtful contributions to the debate.[ii]  That said, the debate also raises deep questions about the nature of lawmaking and the reach of government power that, to a large extent, have not been scrutinized. A significant number of Parliamentarians and advocates for marriage equality are utterly convinced that it is within the remit of the government to examine the definition of marriage, and to re-write it.  Even some of those defending a traditional view of marriage are engaging in the debate in such a way that recognizes the parliament’s authority on the issue.  If we accept that the parliament has the power to define marriage, we might justifiably ask what its next intrusion into the social fabric might be.

Until the Marriage Act of 1753, there was no statutory requirement to register a marriage relationship and the government had little authority over the process of getting married.  That Act introduced a requirement for the marriage to be conducted before a priest of the Church of England, with exceptions for Jews and Quakers. So began the process of government intervention in questions of marriage that continues to this day. With the passage of time the statute has continued to evolve, introducing celebrants and various restrictions over who can and can’t marry. Common law marriage, which the statute effectively replaced, has been slowly disappearing from most jurisdictions.

Photo courtesy Wiki commons
Many of those arguing strenuously for marriage equality are also those who would argue that religious organizations or religious thought have no part in public life, in spite of the significant historical role that churches have played in the institution of marriage.  For these proponents, the “separation of church and state” has been become a useful catchphrase in sidelining Christian thought from public discussion.  On the other hand, the same proponents do not seem to hesitate at the prospect of the state legislating in areas of personal morality or personal religious conviction, even in area like marriage where the government’s role has been, in the greater scheme of things, a relatively recent addition. 

As Christian people we ought to recognize the authority of government and seek to live quietly in submission to ruling authorities: such is clear from Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17.  At the same time, the book of Revelation encourages a healthy concern about what over-reaching authorities might do, and the difficulties that might bring upon Christian people. As Christian people we ought to be attentive to the debate about marriage equality, not only because of the Christian view of that institution, but also because of what it says about the government’s perception of its own authority.

Dr John Quinn is Dean of Residents at the New College Village

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Formative Education

The latest issue of Case magazine is out with the theme ‘Formative Education’. I introduce the issue by asking whether we have too small a vision of Christian education. John Hull has suggested that ‘what normally passes for Christian education can be more accurately named Christians educating’. (i) This strikes a chord with me and has been the foundation of a nagging concern I’ve had for many years. For I have observed many godly people building and sustaining schools that are good educational institutions, but which are hard to differentiate from good secular schools. I suggest that authentic Christian education should be different.

I anticipate the obvious response is, "so what should it be like"? and offer a response by making a case for the view that "Education is nothing other than the whole of life of a community, and the experience of its members learning to live this life from a particular standpoint".

This simple definition has two major propositions that I use to frame my essay. First, education is about the ‘whole of life’ of a community, not just the mandated curriculum or that which occurs in planned lessons. Much occurs within the ‘cracks’ or ‘peripheral spaces’ of daily life. Second, participants ‘learn to live this life’ together with others under the influence of a particular standpoint that shapes community life. My argument is that the role of Christian teachers and schools is to nurture, inspire, form and influence for good the children God gives them. Our chief task should be to create contexts for educating children that assist students’ formation as learners, mature humans, communicators, people who work, people who can cope in community as knowers, lovers and desirers of God. As James K.A. Smith argues in the second paper in the issue, Christian education aims to form the loves and desires of students; loves and desires that, in turn, govern and generate action.

Brueghel's famous painting depicts over 200 children engaged in over 80 play activities (Wiki Commons)

I also argue in my article for a greater commitment to pedagogy. This is a pedagogy based on the view that in the day-to-day life of the school community, children learn more than curriculum content. They learn about life and faith, about beauty, loneliness, rejection, truth, humiliation, love, companionship, hate, sadness, and so on. The thing we call ‘education’ is the whole of life of a community not just curriculum, teaching methods, school discipline, or even chapel and Christian Studies. These things—which Christians have often given the greatest attention to—have not necessarily helped to create more authentic Christian classrooms and schools.

By ‘pedagogy’, I mean the way that the life of the classroom is shaped by the teacher with the participation of all others. In a sense, pedagogy is the embodiment of what we believe good research, and our biblical understanding of personhood and God’s ultimate purposes for us in Christ, would suggest we do. 

Sometimes the orchestration of the life of the school community will be dominated by curriculum in the form of method, content, assessment and so on, but always, the habits, beliefs, knowledge, dispositions, actions and words of its members will incline it towards a telos or end purpose and goal of education. An authentically Christian education needs to be evidenced by a desire to see children embrace the Kingdom of God. In the rest of the essay I discuss the way that children learn within communities of practice as they experience the life of the school. I suggest that the task of teachers is to orient themselves and the life of the school 'communities of practice' to the Kingdom of God.

The edition also has four other articles on the theme. James Smith argues, “education is nothing less than a re-narration of our identity in Christ…Christian education is a comprehensive project of rehabituation”. Such habit formation he suggests is ‘at the intersection of stories and bodies’. Education isn’t just about dissemination of information, it is more fundamentally an exercise in formation.

Dr James Pietsch offers an interesting piece in which he uses sociocultural theories, particularly Vygotsky’s, to argue for Christian approaches to classroom practice. He suggests that the Christian teacher needs to see classrooms as ‘relational spaces’, in which we seek to reshape in order to reflect the values of the Kingdom. In this way students' will experience a classroom life in which “…patterns of interaction are distinctively Christian, characterised by humility.”

David Leonard offers a different view of excellence. This is defined not in terms of success, doing one’s best, or even producing excellent work, but rather as a virtue. A virtue he defines as a “habit or disposition which is conducive for enabling one to flourish as a human being”. He considers what such a different definition of excellence might mean for education.

 Finally, Dr Dani Scarratt offers a fascinating insight into the reasons that some Christians choose to send their children to secular rather than Christian schools. She asked a group of such parents to talk about their reasons for making this decision.

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Related links

Trevor Cairney, Bryan Cowling & Michael Jensen (2011) 'New Perspectives on Anglican Education: Reconsidering Purpose and Plotting a Future Direction', Sydney: AEC (HERE)

2012 New College Lectures presented by James K.A. Smith on 'Imagining the Kingdom' (HERE)

2012 'Education as Formation' Conference (HERE)

(i) John Hull, ‘Aiming for Christian Education, Settling for Christians Educating: The Christian School’s Replication of a Public School Paradigm’. Christian Scholar Review Vol.32 (2), 2003, pp 203-223.