Deeply Tragic

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 23 July 2017.

JustineThe story that absorbed our media this week was the horrifying and absurd death of Justine Damond in Minneapolis. It’s easy to understand why. She sounds like she was a lovely woman to know at any level, and she was only a matter of days away from marrying the love of her life. She is an easy victim for us to sympathise with, and the fact that she was shot by the very police she had called for, while seeking to look after a stranger, only added to the pathos.

It is without doubt a terrible tragedy, but I fear that the scale of the tragedy has been missed, many times.

For a start, I think we should be grieved that Justine’s death has become a ‘story’ - a media event, a topic for making conversation, a political football in the making. Any death deserves more respect and compassion than that. Many people are genuine in their grief, but there are also many who are just curious about the latest story.

Then we should ask why Justine’s death garners so much attention, when there have been 540 people shot dead by police in the US this year before Justine. Is it the novelty of her Australian nationality? Is it because she is a white woman who was just trying to do the right thing?

But the deeper tragedy in this is that Justine’s life has been cut short. By rights, she could have expected many more years. And the question that we’ll never hear in the press is the most vital one: did she hear the gospel? To rob someone of their life is criminal; to rob them of their chance at eternal life is infinitely worse.

Our society fears and abhors death, but tragically chooses to forget the peril of the second death - and this may be the deepest tragedy of all.

The State of Origin

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 15 July 2017.

OriginOnce again, three games of footy have come and gone. For some there is still a warm glow from the results; for others, the bleak hope that next year will be different. Even the disinterested can rejoice that they have a chance to hear about other sports for a while.

It’s an unusual thing, if you haven’t noticed, among sporting codes. Somehow, the most important games of the year in rugby league are not the finals, not even the international matches. Instead, that place is taken by what in any other sport would be called exhibition matches. The Americans love their Superbowls to death, but have very nearly killed off the Pro Bowl. The Davis Cup is well-loved, but people remember who wins at Wimbledon. You get the idea.

So why do the leaguies love their Origin? Partly, it’s down to the fact that the two teams fielded are genuinely of high quality, making it likely that the games will be competitive. But I suspect even more significant is that joy in the rivalry. Queensland used to lose all their talented players to Sydney clubs, and State of Origin was their chance to thumb their noses at the thieves.

And that matters because we really do care about where we come from. We take pride in our roots, whether we’re a city girl or a country boy, whether we were born in Australia or some other land. Where I come from says something about who I am.

Ah, but there’s the rub. Where do I come from? Fundamentally, I come from the God who made humanity – and like those he first made, I’ve made a hash of my life too. And unless God redeems me, that’s nothing to be proud of...

Living Through History

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 08 July 2017.

As we keep exploring the history of the Reformation, you’ll have noticed that the stories we uncover aren’t dull. Men and women keep taking incredible risks, keep making incisive discoveries, never forsaking the gospel that had blazed to life in their generation.

What would it have been like to live through the Reformation? It’s hard not to wonder... Would we have had the same courage, the same initiative, the same dedication? If I had been Luther, would I have tried to be more politic? If I had been Zwingli, would I have taken up arms?

It’s not a new question, of course. We often take a similar approach as we read the Bible. Would I have done any better than Jesus’ disciples when listening to all his teaching? Would I have followed Moses through the Red Sea?

The thing is, we live in such ordinary times, so we mull over these adventures from our armchairs. It’ll never happen to us...

Apple TreeMartin Luther was once reputedly asked, as he worked in his veggie patch, what he would do if he knew for certain that Jesus’ return was the following day. His reply? He’d plant an apple tree. His point was that living the godly life is an everyday activity.

Luther didn’t know the firestorm that he would light, when he hammered his list to the door. He just knew it was the right thing for him to do, to be faithful to God and to his neighbours. No more do we know whether the choices we make might prove to change the world, or even just our part of it. But so what? Jesus called on his servants to be ready for the master’s return - and being ready meant being about their daily work. Let’s live our lives as if each day were our last...and be faithfully ordinary.

As Old as the Hills

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 01 July 2017.

Elderly ManThe story got swamped this week as the news broke of charges being laid against Cardinal Pell, but it was horrifying enough to regain our attention. The results of an investigation into aged care in Australia began to be published in the Fairfax press and through the ABC, and they were extraordinary.

For two reasons.

Firstly, because of the long and sad litany of shabby treatment of the aged by organisations that claim that caring for their residents is their reason for being. There were clear instances of exploitation, and compelling evidence that senior citizens are being trapped by punitive contracts and then bled dry within the timeframe decreed by corporate performance indicators. Most of the bad press went against one particular company; I even spotted an article that raised the possibility that some of the company’s top executives, seeing the stock price about to take a dive, took the opportunity to indulge in a little insider trading.

Secondly, and arguably more depressingly, the reports focused in upon financial matters. We were told repeatedly, breathlessly, precisely how many thousands of dollars various people had lost. It was harder to find a story that saw the disdain and dehumanising of the elderly as the greater crime.

Of course, these kinds of behaviour have been around forever. Humanity - or perhaps inhumanity - has long specialised in exploiting those who are weaker. It’s why the ten commandments included a call to honour our parents, and finish with the rejection of covetousness.

Our long failure, however, points us to one man who was able to honour his Father, and coveted only the humility of a cross.

The Church Sings

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 25 June 2017.

I asked the youth at SPX the other week what reasons they could think of for why Christians sing. We had a great discussion afterwards. But there’s another answer, a deeper answer, that I was struck by later. The church sings because we’re a mixed congregation that has been brought together.

Making MusicAn orchestra includes all kinds of instruments, and all sorts of musicians. Not every brass player is brazen, and not every violinist is highly strung. Together, however, their music weaves its magic, the volume rising and falling, the pace changing from piece to piece.

And then you add the voices. For many people, hearing the massed choir join a top-flight orchestra for Handel’s Messiah is a joyful ingredient of the Christmas season. For others, it’s the amateur but heartfelt crowd at the football belting out a national anthem or a local team’s song.

In the church, God brings together people from all walks of life. There are different ages, different personalities, different gifts, all working together as God’s people, all working together to serve one another and to proclaim the gospel. It’s not merely music without lyrics, though: we are people of the Word, and we have a message to adorn.

Look around you. Who are the percussionists - working in the background, steadily tapping out the rhythms of church life each week? Who plays the bass line, providing support to the weaker instruments? Who is the gentle piccolo, knowing just when to come in?

We make beautiful music - and not just because the composition is so exquisite. Don’t forget: we also have a master Conductor!

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