I'm Sorry Dave...

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 21 April 2018.

HALNext week marks the 50th anniversary of the seminal sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s one of those films, where the medium isn’t merely a convenient vehicle to tell a story, but is in fact integral to the whole project. The music, the imagery, the ideas and the silence all interweave to create a deeply affecting whole. The details of the story fade, and it’s how you felt as a viewer that makes the lasting memory.

The film’s great irony is that, on a secret mission to search for alien intelligence, the characters find they’ve brought it with them in the form of a supercomputer that goes rogue. The chilling calm of HAL’s voice as he condemns crewmates to death is the definitive instigator of our fear of computer-based technology, I think.

It’s terrifying to imagine a being of superior intelligence and independent power who lies outside of our control  - and who can save us or destroy us. It puts the lie to the independence we presume we have, and reminds us how fragile is our grip on life in this world.

If only people could develop a similar fear of the one I was really speaking of in the last paragraph: not HAL, but the LORD. And then they might hear his voice, with its chilling warnings of judgment, but also its compassionate offers of escape. For this God did not simply place mute obsidian pillars and leave it to us to find him; instead he came in our flesh, one of us. Not so much HAL, but Hallelujah.

Not the Free Speech You Were Thinking Of

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 12 April 2018.

FolauIsrael Folau recently got himself into hot water when he was asked a question about his Christian faith, raising the old ‘free speech’ debate. But that’s not the debate I want to rehash with you.

Whenever we hear the phrase, we think about in terms of an individual’s right to express their thoughts aloud. Yet speech, with the exception of bored children, is intended as communication with others. It implies a desire to be heard and understood.

Unfortunately, in this age of 140-character tweets and never-ending media punditry, we have trained ourselves to read and listen incredibly poorly. We witness it all the time: TV interviews where the questions and answers barely connect, newspaper rants that utterly misunderstand the issue. There are even those who set off such miscommunication for sport.

Most people take it for granted that we have a right to speak, within appropriate boundaries. That implies a right to communicate, and so a right to be heard. If as a society we want to grant the right to speech, then we also submit ourselves to the obligation to listen. Not without limits, of course: the speaker should then do their best to speak clearly and coherently. Here Folau could have done better, perhaps.

“There is a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). Can we free speech from its current Babel-confusion, and work hard to hear and be heard? If so, it will be the gift of God!

Remembering the King

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 07 April 2018.

MLKThis last week marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, which has obviously been a significant moment for American society. Retrospectives and tributes have abounded.

But it was a line from an editorial that caught my eye:

“The simple fact is that by placing King on a pedestal and viewing his struggle as a closed chapter in history many Americans escape the harsh realities that both he and contemporary minority groups continue to endure.”

It makes a telling point, doesn’t it? By treating MLK as a tremendously important historical figure, he is both honoured and sequestered. The culture can feel satisfied about its enlightened appreciation of the good King achieved, while simultaneously avoiding any threat lingering from what he had to say.

Sounds like another King I know. Jesus was a pretty great teacher (except for a few things we disagree with him on, where clearly he was just trapped by his ignorant culture); we should respect what he achieved and hey, even build on his legacy. Let’s love one another and let everything else alone. That was what he was trying to say, right?

Thank God (literally!) Jesus can’t be marooned in the first century, but is alive today, and continues to speak to our world through his word and through the lips of his people. May he indeed be honoured, though without historical handcuffing - but may he also be heard loud and clear!

Fall-Tampering

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 30 March 2018.

Broken StumpsIt’s been all over the news all week - in fact, you could be forgiven for thinking it was the only news all week. Members of Australia’s men’s cricket team were caught red-handed (or perhaps, yellow-handed and red-faced) in the act of tampering with the ball they were using in a Test match against South Africa.

The howls of outrage and despair began almost instantly. Never has it been clearer how dearly Australian society worships its sporting idols, and how vengefully we will turn on them when we find that they’re only human after all.

They were cheating, and it could not be borne. The punishments began to roll thick and fast, and players used to making millions every year were suddenly losing them in a matter of days. Ball-tampering, it seems, isn’t just unfair, but also intolerable.

Which brings us to Easter and what was achieved by Jesus’ death on a Roman cross. The Bible is clear: our offences against God are of a scale and magnitude that we cannot escape, and he sees them better than any cameraman. We were rightly condemned, and our due punishment would not have just excluded us from the team, but from life itself.

At this point, our rescuer steps in. Jesus single-handedly confounds the effects of humanity’s fall into sin, and bears the reproach of God for us. Death will not have us; the umpire declares us not out.

It is not in the least bit fair, and thank God for that.

Do We Remember?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 25 March 2018.

ArnaudIt’s relatively easy to find his name and photograph. Arnaud Beltrame was a French police officer stationed in the south of France, until this week. Until Friday, actually, when he was one of the first to arrive at the supermarket where an Islamist terrorist had taken around fifty hostages.

The police were able to get a number of the hostages out, but one woman was being held as a human shield. The gunman had already killed and wounded a number of people, and the situation was volatile.

Arnaud volunteered himself in place of the woman, and she escaped. He took his mobile phone in with him, so police could hear what was happening inside; as a result they knew when the attacker began killing his hostages and they stormed the building instantly. The terrorist was killed.

And Arnaud was wounded. He died of his injuries hours later. He had laid down his life for a stranger, becoming a captive so she could be free.

You can find his story, if you look. He will no doubt be long remembered by that woman and her family. But the world will forget his heroism, as it has forgotten similar heroes in the past.

Yet there is one name that, try as it might, the world has been unable to erase. One name, because only one man offered himself in place of countless souls held captive by our fear of death, and gave his life in exchange for our freedom to live. Jesus wasn’t just the first responder to our crisis, he was the only one. And the only one we’ll ever need.

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