An Odd Number

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 21 June 2012.

During the week I saw a great film called The Way. Written and made by Emilio Estevez, it starred his father, Martin Sheen, playing a father whose son dies in an accident during a pilgrimage through France and northern Spain known as El Camino de Santiago. Sheen’s character decides to complete the journey, carrying his son’s ashes, as a kind of tribute to him. Along the way, he encounters a number of other travellers, all walking the Camino for different reasons, and the film explores their relationships as they travel along together.

Except that they’re not together. The point is made, over and over again, that this particular journey is intensely personal. Although initially a religious pilgrimage, it has become a choose-your-own-reason pilgrimage that is still somehow seen as highly spiritual.
The Way

What struck me as odd is the presumption that ‘spiritual’ necessarily means private, personal, and individual. When Jesus came to claim a whole new people for himself, ‘one’ seems somewhat contrary to his plans and therefore pretty unspiritual.

That’s our society for you though: each of us endlessly obsessed with ourselves. And a great film, beautifully acted, superbly crafted, can still sadly numb us to the truth -  that ‘many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob.”’

Where is the God of Justice?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 17 June 2012.

chamberlain-creightonThe story of Azaria Chamberlain has been part of my entire life. This week, after a period of 31 years, that story finally came to a close. For decades, two bereaved parents have fought to clear their names of the most devastating slur - two parents who profess the name of Christ and claim to trust in a god who is just.

Over the many years that this tragedy has dragged on, it must have been hugely tempting for them to echo the whine of the people, as expressed in Malachi 2:17. As the rankest criminals have escaped prosecution and the most horrific crimes have gone unsolved, the Chamberlains would have had many opportunities to cry out, ‘Why me?!’ To their credit, it appears they have not, and their words are remarkably free of bitterness.

Lindy Chamberlain spent a number of years in jail, and would still be there, were it not for David Brett. He was an English tourist who fell to his death while climbing Uluru, and it was in the recovery of his body that by chance, police recovered a small matinee jacket that Azaria had been wearing at the time she was taken. It was the key to the exoneration of the Chamberlains.

One man died, so that justice could be done. I suspect the Chamberlains appreciate the symbolism.

Where is the God of justice? Look to the cross: there he is, dying in order that we might go free.

Time Travel

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 07 June 2012.

venus-transit-2012If you were outside on Wednesday, you might have missed it. Something to do with grey skies and raindrops on telescope lenses. But nevertheless, Venus still completed its transit across the face of the sun. One or two people saw it, and I believe them.
That’s it, now, for the next 105 years. And we can’t complain - Venus swung by eight years ago, too, so we’ve had two bites at the cherry. If you missed them both, you can’t turn back the clock.
The previous pair of transits took place in 1874 and 1882. It’s kind of funny to think that we’re connected to a crowd from the 19th century that turned out to watch the same event. And turn back another round, and we reach 1761 and 1769. It was the latter that led one James Cook to Tahiti to take observations, and we know the outcome of his sideline diversion.
In some ways, we’re not that much separated by the passage of time. The world still turns, rolling its way around the sun at just the same pace. People are born, and grow, and die. Sometimes we’re a little hasty in asserting how different we are to those who’ve gone before.
Of course, we already know this. We’re part of ‘the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.’ (CS Lewis) We don’t need to go back in time - we have already! - for we will go on into forever with our king, whose transit of earth lasted a moment...the moment.

The Voice

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 01 June 2012.

Man-with-MegaphoneOver in Pop-Culture Land, the success story of the moment is a reality TV show that is ostensibly about finding and developing talented singers. Its distinctive element, the thing that set it apart from the pack and likely has attracted the audience, is that the coaches/judges/celebrities face the audience rather than the performer: they can only hear their voice.
A fair comment on the superficiality of most talent shows? Certainly. More likely to see people assessed on their singing capabilities? We can hope so. Closely tied with the real world? Perhaps not so much.
But not for the reasons you might think.
In the public sphere, everyone has a voice. That’s the distinctive element of a democracy - or, at least, it’s meant to be. Unfortunately, Christians are in the process of losing that right to speak and be heard fairly. Just this week the NSW Parliament debated a motion supporting same-sex marriage. The religious affliliations of the Christian MPs who spoke during the debate were reported, but not those of the other speakers. The message: you can discount what the Christians say, because that’s just their religion talking.
It’s not the level playing field that opinions should be shared in. And it’s as much our fault as anyone else’s; too often we allow ourselves to be silenced. God might be the why, what and how we speak, but truth stands on its own merits.
Let’s make sure we’re all singing.

A Theology of Lego

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 24 May 2012.

A what?! I know what you’re thinking. What does Lego have to do with theology? How can something so mundane be caught up in the grand purposes and character of God?
It’s all here in Genesis 4, really. Right at the beginning of the human race, we meet a character called Jubal, and are told only that he was a musician. He’s never mentioned again. Jubal would not have worked his harp, he would have played it. Music doesn’t grow crops or raise herds. It doesn’t provide shelter or clothing (...well, it didn’t then, anyway). Music is about play: enjoying the goodness of God’s creation, for no other reason than the pleasure it brings.
LegoLego, of course, is a toy. It’s for playing with; it allows a child (or their parents!) to create something for fun. In playing with some Lego bricks, we are in part living out the image of God in us - for the opening chapter of the Bible shows God at play, creating, shaping, enjoying the world he has made.
But Lego can be serious: you can build models of famous buildings, or people, or events. So too can our building be more permanent, and less for enjoyment. Jubal had a brother called Tubal-Cain who kept busy inventing tools...a scientist, I suppose we’d call him.
But more worrying is the first builder: Cain. He reminds us that our work and our play can be good, or godless. ‘Each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any other foundation than the one already laid, whic is Jesus Christ.’ (1 Cor. 3:10-11)

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