Clever Dick

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 08 February 2013.

It’s not often that archaeologists dig up a grave that’s five hundred years old, and even more rare for them to know the identity of the owner. No doubt you would have heard the news during the week that the remains of Richard III, the king of England from 1483-1485, have been unearthed beneath a council car park in Leicester.

In itself, to be able to establish the identity of a 500-year-old body is an impressive achievement. The combination of archaeology, science and genealogy made for a great story. But it was the conclusions that can be drawn from the find that caught my eye.

Richard-IIIThe manner of his death - knocked from his horse, bashed in his head by a halbard - that was known from contemporary accounts proved to be a precise match with the cause of death established from his remains. His skeleton showed a severe case of scoliosis, which would have given the king the hunchback appearance that his detractors used to dehumanise him. He was said to be of slight build, with one shoulder higher than the other; again the bones agreed. And the reconstruction of his face based on his skull’s shape is a dead ringer for portraits from his own time.

Imagine that: old, contemporary accounts of a king, drawn from both friends and foes, that turn out to be extremely reliable descriptions of who the man was. I do believe that reminds me of someone else...

The Laugh of Pi

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 31 January 2013.

PiCurrently in theatres is a film called The Life of Pi. It’s an adaptation of a book that explores the place of humanity in the world, and the different answers that religions have for these questions. It’s a film that is intended to make you think and feel deeply.

There were only a few moments of comedy, but one joke stood out above the rest, most likely because it serves the film’s purposes. The main character, Pi, is Indian by birth, and he describes himself to an interviewer as a Catholic Hindu. The somewhat bemused interviewer inquires what he means, and Pi replies it means that he gets to feel guilty before thousands of gods.

It’s a clever jab at the nature of religion, and it rings true. Over the centuries, prelates of all different stripes have been guilty of using, well, guilt. It’s been seen as an effective means of controlling people.

That’s because guilt is an enormously powerful emotion. From the day Adam pointed at Eve, humans have been in the business of shifting the blame away from themselves. And given the frequency with which any of us messes up, it can become quite hard work. Our failures mount up faster than we can even pretend to get rid of them!

We are not shamed by our need for Christ; we need Christ because of our shame. How good, then, to have a Saviour who bore our guilt and shame, and washes us white as snow.

In the Boat, Or Out of It

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 25 January 2013.

JusticeIt may well be possible to write the story of the 20th century American woman by referring only to two women named Norma. Norma Jean Baker, of course, was the real name of Marilyn Monroe, who has come to epitomise female sexuality - or at least, the public view of it. Norma McCorvey, under the pseudonym Jane Roe, was the Texan woman whose Supreme Court case, Roe v Wade, opened the floodgates on abortion in the US.

This week marks forty years since that decision. In that time, abortion ‘rights’ have become a litmus test for one’s political position, polarising American society, and to an extent, Australian society as well. You are either pro-life or pro-choice (though what choice will be made is well understood). It seems a fairly black and white issue, particularly in a culture that prevaricates about so many things.

But it is not so simple. Life rarely is...

Norma McCorvey, for instance, came out as a lesbian, then began working to undo the legalisation of abortion. She became a Christian and then later converted to Roman Catholicism. Hardly black and white!

The tragedy of the polarisation over the issue is that deeper questions are rarely considered. What makes women so disposed to abortion over adoption, for instance? What kind of support structures have we lost? Why are we so deeply divided on this issue and not others?

We are all at sea, and know it not.

A Matter of Degrees

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 19 January 2013.

BushfireNobody can deny that we’re in the middle of an extremely hot summer. Records are being broken seemingly daily. And more importantly, the bushfire season this year has been remarkably cruel. To have major fires burning in multiple states at the same time is unusual; that one of those states is Tasmania is unheard of.

We should of course pray for those who fight the fires. Their work is vital, selfless, and dangerous. The sad reality this year, however, is that often they’ve been unable to fight the fires at all. Conditions have been so infernal that the firies have had to wait for their opportunities to intervene.

We should of course pray - when we are reminded of our sheer helplessness to act meaningfully, we have no excuse not to. The heat of the sun, the heat of the wind, the heat of the fires... the temperatures have mastered us. Humanity, for all our vaunted powers, has no answer to something as simple and elemental as a naked flame.

That brings us down to earth, doesn’t it?

We should of course pray - because we know that just as we are outmatched by the flames, they are outmatched by the God who created the elements. All things lie within his grasp.  How good it is to know that he is with us, even in our troubles: Immanuel.

Christmas Seasons: Summer

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 20 December 2012.

SunflowerSince men and women began telling each other stories, the myth of the endless summer has captured our dreams. From the Golden Age of legends to the glorious stretch of the Christmas school holidays, we have loved the prospect of sunshine that runs for eternity.

The Bible contains its own expression of this longing - and one given form by God. King David, the golden boy of Israel’s history, was promised that one from his line would sit on his throne and rule forever (2 Samuel 7:11-16). God’s people had held onto that idyllic hope through the darkest of days, looking forward to a time when God would right the world.

That, of course, is the reason why both Matthew and Luke, as part of their accounts of Jesus’ birth, include genealogies that tie him to David. David, however, had many descendants; what set Jesus apart was the announcement made to Mary: ‘The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’ (Luke 1:32-33).

At Christmas, we celebrate the day that the Son came, to shine forever.

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