Blame the Scots!

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 12 February 2017.

Scottish SchoolAs we all know, Australia and many other countries are governed by two official calendars. One has twelve months, each with around four weeks or so. The other has (in our case) four terms, and it calls the shots. Prices for goods and services rise or fall according to the school calendar; major sporting or cultural events are scheduled around it; even our road laws change with its seasons.

It has such dominance because we’re a society that firmly supports the universal right of our citizens to be educated to a reasonable standard. Schooling is both a public right and a public requirement. And, it turns out, we should probably lay responsibility at the feet of Scotland.

When the Reformation reached Scotland, one of the first acts of the new Church of Scotland was to require every parish to establish a church school. The poor would be able to access education for free, and others would pay fees to help defray expenses. Over the years, the government increased public funding for what had become a universal system, gradually increasing the number of years of education available to each child.

Why Scotland? I suspect because they had suffered sufficiently under the ‘care’ of English kings for them to resent the medieval class system. With the coming of the Reformation, and its message of freedom and significance for every man, woman and child, the Scots worked out that it meant every child should have the same opportunities in life.

And the same chance to read the gospel for themselves, and believe.

The Middle Ages

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 04 February 2017.

Long RoadBeginnings are exciting, opening up all sorts of possibilities. Endings can be happy or sad, but either way, they are usually seen as important or meaningful. But in the middle ... often nothing much happens. There’s a reason why the lazy reader skips to the final chapter of the book.

It’s true in life, as CS Lewis’ fictional devil Screwtape observes: “the routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful hopes and youthful loves ... the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it - all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing a soul out by attrition.”

Screwtape is, as ever, incisively correct and deceptively misguided. We do struggle with the long term; persevering is hard work. Some people respond by seeking new excitement, while others simply despair. It’s a stage of life that sees many give up on God because the burden seems too great.  

And yet... it is not just us who do the persevering. We’re not by ourselves, anyway. It is God who protects us, and leads us, and equips us with his Holy Spirit so that we might be preserved, kept safe as members of his kingdom.

So do not fear the grey days, don’t be alarmed by the grind. The road might be long, but our guide is familiar with it - for he walked it himself, with his own load on his back.

Adjust the Facts, Ma'am

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 29 January 2017.

DragnetNo doubt you heard the story: Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to newly-installed President Trump, was pressed about the fanciful depiction of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration that had been offered by the president’s official spokesman, and explained that he had simply been presenting “alternative facts”. Cue the howls of derision at this new way of redefining a lie. Sales of Orwell’s 1984 have gone through the roof as people reminisce about the days when Newspeak was fictional.

But that’s just the headline. What’s more valuable is to consider what’s going on here. How is it that anyone can be so unashamedly cavalier with the truth? How has society changed to enable this?

It’s democracy - or half of it, anyway. We are so used to offering each person a vote, each a right to hold their own opinion ... but we have forgotten the social compact that agrees to uphold what the majority decrees.

Most interesting of all, however, was to watch Conway deliver her line. She clearly knew what she was meant to say ... but the words caught in her throat. There was a long pause, right in the middle of her sentence, before she could utter those two words. Whatever she says, it seems likely that she really does believe that truth matters. It has value - value that in this case, she was prepared to give up. Just.

It’s the same choice we face, day by day, moment by moment. Will we accept the lie Satan offers us, or will we hold on to the truth that the Spirit has taught us? What is your price?

Co-Incidence

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 22 January 2017.

One of the things that we did while on holidays was go to the cricket at the SCG for a Big Bash match. Tickets are cheap and the format has grown in popularity, so games sell out regularly, with attendances of 30,000 fairly standard.

I got to the ground early with the kids, and was waiting to meet Jude there for all of about twenty minutes. During that time, my old school friend Chris walked by, just a few metres away. I hadn’t known he was planning on coming, and yet there he was. Out of tens of thousands of people, all streaming into the ground, he happened to come by at just the right time, and just the right place.

CoincidenceCoincidence, we call it, when such things happen; literally, two incidents occurring together. And despite their unlikeliness, they keep on coming. For many, they are just curious moments. But in a world ruled by a sovereign God, what are we to make of them?

The Puritans used to call them ‘divine appointments’ - times when God appointed one of his people to encounter a particular situation so that they might act rightly within it. Or we could use Paul’s term for it in Ephesians 2 - ‘works that God prepared in advance for us to do’. It’s part of our being God’s fellow workers, drawn into his plans for this world. We get to serve him even within our everyday lives.

Of course, I prefer Chesterton’s suggestion for how to view them: “coincidences are spiritual puns.”

The Final Arbiter

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 06 January 2017.

ScalesThe old saying suggests that there are lies, damned lies and statistics, though I’ve seen the suggestion recently that we will soon need to introduce a fourth category - presidential tweets. One of the lessons of 2016 is that it is possible to gain traction by simply repeating an idea loudly and repeatedly.

‘Fake news’ is well on its way to being the buzzword of our day. The blurring of the lines between news and entertainment that we’ve seen in cheap tabloids and magazines, and becoming the staple of television programming with ‘reality TV’ has come home to roost. Suddenly, a world that proudly proclaims that truth is relative, and everyone’s opinion is valid, wants to complain about the mainstreaming of acceptable nonsense.

We’re made to listen, remember? But when we stop listening to the one who is Truth, then we face a terrible choice: become our own arbiter of truth, or outsource the role to someone we like the look of. And we’re starting to see that neither option is wise or palatable.

“You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” (Ephesians 1:13) “Sanctify them by the truth; your Word is truth.” (John 17:17). Let’s continue to stand for the truth, proclaim the truth, live the truth and love the one who is true to us.

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