This post comes from my wife:
A lifetime ago I arranged for a photo to be taken of all the children in the church we attended. All kids under the age of fifteen or so were gathered in the church hall and the photographer stood on a trestle table to take the snap, while proud Mums, Dads, and the rest of the congregation looked on.
It wasn’t until later, when the photos arrived on my desk, that I noticed the banner hanging high on the wall behind the children. It read: Christians are different.
We used to laugh about that.
But the truth is, that when it comes to our children, Christians aren’t different enough.
We don’t see our children through God’s eyes. We are like all those adults watching the photo shoot and not seeing the bright yellow banner behind.
We go about the busy-ness of child rearing; the milestones, the school fees and homework, the music lessons and little athletics. We stress over mixed parties and drugs and driver training, just the same as our unsaved neighbours are doing.
However God has different plans for our children, and He calls Christian families to BE different. One Christian put it thus:
The Christian family must define Christ to the world, so that the world may find Christ.
May we scoop up that delightful toddler,
May we be caught up with the excited third grader who has won a ribbon for running,
May we hide a secret smile while our lovesick teenager mooches around the house,
But may we never forget that they are part of God’s plan for Gospel-spreading.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Sin had slithered in
and God living harmony
Life and love became terminal.
Through the human
silence of the guilty
in the garden
the Word spoke again.
Sin and love
One must go.
An enemy crushed.
A head abolished
The Godman would come
From the broken
Mother of the living.
A divine son slain.
A Word crucified
so that love
will rise and rule again.
“American Exceptionalism” is a term that has resurfaced in recent times. This phrase has echoes in the American Revolution, Alex de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln. It reflects the unique origins and principles upon which the United States was established and its role in the world.
If ever that phrase was under challenge it is now. When a nation of over 300 million people has placed before it two very unexceptional people as a choice for president any claim to exceptionalism comes under intense scrutiny. It could be argued that the two candidates, in fact, represent two aspects of American society that reveal the baser instincts of humanity – the power hungry political machine and the excesses of capitalism.
No matter who wins on Tuesday, the USA is going to struggle to assemble some social and political equilibrium in the future. This comes on top of its unwillingness as a society to deal with issues of guns, race and social inequality.
To prove to itself and the world that the title of being exceptional is justified, the nation needs to show that it has the willingness and moral fortitude to confront these issues. The next few decades will reveal which aspect of the American character will come to the fore.
A friend recently sent me a song that he had written about education – partly his own education 50 odd years ago but more pointedly also about education today. The reality is that today education is even more perilous because it has moved into a post-modern era where the present social views are determined by numbers and political correctness rather than an objective norm e.g. a Judaeo Christian ethic. The song refers to this as a “rudderless boat”.
Currently in our state this has come to a head under the guise of “Safe Schools”. On the surface this is a noble idea. Our children need to be safe from predators and bullying – every one of them. Yet within the program there is also (not too subtle) social engineering about sexuality – an engineering that is shaped by the latest (most vocal) views.
Another phrase in the song that struck me was, “the system can’t tell me what all this is for.” The implication is that so many ideas have been compressed into what has become an overcrowded education/curriculum which, I believe, is striving to compensate for a chaotic social fabric. The result is that we have lost sight of, or have become unsure of, the purposes of education because there are just so many competing ideas in this can of worms.
The school in which I teach states in its Vision Statement “[Our] College strives to be a vibrant Christ-Centred community where parents and teachers serve in partnership to nurture in each child a passion for learning and an uncompromising desire to live according to God’s word.”
Three things stand out in contrast to much of our current education in this statement. One, education is the equipping of a child to love God and their neighbour, two, this is on a foundation not created by our own whims but one that is distilled from the Word of God and three, this is surrounded by a community shaped by a common ethos.
My friend’s song also asks, where will the current societal trends in education lead us? It is a question that disturbs me too and for which the only answer I have is, more chaos.
A quirky and wonderful post from my wife – who loves cities:
Sometimes I think I appreciate cities as other people appreciate nature. I’ve walked along Bourke Street in Melbourne for the past few hours. Dawdling, really. Stopping at a cafe overlooking the street, sitting on a bench in the mall.
The street is amazing. It’s so full of bitumen, concrete, trees with their bright green spring-ness fluttering in the breeze, big imposing buildings with little ones squished inbetween. There are interesting things to see in the shop windows. Stuff you’d never wear in a fit, stuff the likes of you’ve never seen before. My mind goes in all directions: imagining what people would have thought seeing a television or a vacuum cleaner in a shop window for the first time. Or wondering at the street sign that says ‘formerly Synagogue Lane’.
There are people everywhere. Busy, playful, bored, hassled, waiting. It seems every nation on earth is represented on the pavement and in the vehicles. I catch a sigh here and a laugh there. People talking to each other animatedly. Some looking lost and many who definitely know the mission they’re on. I wonder where all these people will be at the end of the day. Do they have loved ones to come home to? Will they feel they’ve achieved something today?
It’s fun to concentrate on the tiny details of the city. The way the bricks of an old building have been laid, or the little bows on the heels of the lady standing in front of you at the pedestrian crossing.
And then to switch your attention to the vastness of the streetscape. The sudden whoosh of wind hurtling along the canyon between the buildings. Or the volume of humanity moving about. Or the blue sky above me with wisps of clouds appearing and disappearing from view as they duck behind the skyscrapers.
Eventually, it’s time to leave this wonderful built environment. I feel the same as others might after a day in the bush. Refreshed.
“What fictional book has challenged your thinking and touched your life in some way?” That was one of the questions we explored recently in a Literature class. Other questions included, “What character in literature do you identify with and why?”
Literature or story and the characters and ideas that it portrays is very powerful. Powerful literature works its way into our hearts and minds. Characters and situations become so real to us that it is hard to put the book down because we still want to be involved in this person’s life. Sometimes the novel ends so abruptly that we are confronted with a sense of loss. I am still waiting in frustration for Jasper Fforde’s second book in his series “Shades of Grey” (No! Not 50 shades!). Eddie Russet has been left in limbo for many years.
Scout in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has forever made me more alert to the ways in which young people perceive the world. One student commented that Holden Caulfield’s struggle to accept adulthood is one with which he identifies. Steinbeck was a master at portraying the outcast and misfit. Once introduced to Lennie and George in “Of Mice and Men” we can never look at the people on the fringes of our society the same way again. Good literature confronts us and makes us sit up. We may agree or disagree with the author but at least he or she has made us take notice.
Arthur Miller’s exploration of the ‘American dream’ in his play “Death of a Salesman” discomforts us all as we reconsider our hopes, ambitions, failures and successes, and causes us to reflect on the stories we tell ourselves to justify our existence and legacy. Franz Kafka’s stories written nearly 100 years ago are an ominous omen of the confusion and lack of focus and direction our societies find themselves in today. I certainly feel like a confused “K” at times as I try to understand the world around me.
Is there a work of literature that will forever be with you? It may be one that you return to time and again. I’d love to hear about it.
A few weeks ago while teaching a year 10 class it suddenly hit me that it was exactly 50 years earlier that I had been in Year 10. I expressed this to the students and they responded by saying that it was amazing that someone could be so old and still talk and stand at the same time.
We discussed the changes that occurred over this period. Then the unemployment rate was well under 2%. A student could leave in year 11 and do a two year primary teaching certificate and be back in the classroom before turning 20. Lots of students left by year 9 and 10 and went straight into jobs and apprenticeships. At Queenscliff High all my fellow students would remember Robbo who was the first to escape and became a postman. Even in the early 1970s I could still walk into the Ford factory and find myself on the afternoon shift the next day earning some money so I could afford to get married the following year.
At my school girls still did the “girls’ subjects (Home Economics, Commerce and Shorthand and Typing) and boys did the “boys’” subjects (Mechanical Drawing, Woodwork and the sciences). Some schools were beginning to experiment by allowing a more democratic choice of subjects.
There was the cold war, nuclear fears and the growing rumbles of the Vietnam war. Colonialism was coming to an end and we had just introduced decimal currency.
The divorce rate was still low and de facto relationships hardly heard of. Although later I found out that many of these families suffered at the hands abusive husbands and fathers.
Technology has of course been the one of the most massive changes. In 1966 the teacher would hand out sheets which had been duplicated on a spirit duplicator. Every student would sniff their sheet of paper for its faint smell of the spirit/alcohol.
For those of you who are a certain age, what changes have you noticed?
The room is nervously quiet.
A heater gently hums.
There is the rustling of twitching pages.
Then the reading time finishes
and the starting gun booms in explosive silence.
The click and scratch of pens flinch in earnest.
Unseen but real
nervous energy tensions the air.
details are rummaged for in far recesses
while palms sweat.
Only to know that this is “practice”
and it needs to be done all over again.
I have been watching the American election process with a fascinated horror. It is like observing a slow motion train wreck and being helpless to do anything about it. For me, it is scary to think that the “winner” will wield amazing power within and outside the US.
Yet the most appalling part of this debacle is watching the behaviour of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Their writhing and slithering around the candidates with obfuscation and weasel words is sickening to witness.
Let’s get a few things straight. Every political candidate is going to be flawed. We won’t get the perfect candidate until we are in heaven – and then we won’t need them anyway. Less flippantly however, it is the hope that fellow Christians put into the political process, as though this process is going to be a means of “salvation”, which is alarming.
Christ was neither for the Jewish leaders nor the Romans. His allegiance was to the Father. I think we can learn a lot from that. Our allegiance should not be primarily for one party or the other but to the Father and His purposes. Our task is to put forward an image of an entirely different Kingdom – not a kingdom where we need to create a hierarchy of crucial issues and choose abortion over gun control, or tax over social justice as issues, but rather where we give the world in which we live a picture of what life can be like under King Jesus. We can begin by showing that in our families, in the way we treat the weak and the vulnerable … and the list is endless. The problem has been that we have seduced by our culture. That seduction is in large part the the reason why there is teeth gnashing amongst many Christians today. We have come to realise, rather late, how far the temptation has led us astray
For too long we have made the mistake of assuming that democracy is somehow “Christian”. Like Churchill I believe it is the worst of all forms of government except for all the rest. Now that Western societies have largely foregone their Christian values of the past (which, by the way, enabled democracy to work) we can no longer assume that the majority will get things right. For Christians there is a growing clash of values. We need to rethink our place and purpose in modern post-Christian democracies. I am not saying, don’t be involved – we need to be. But it isn’t the source of our hope.
I believe we are seeing the discomfort and angst of that transition in the current US election. But that uncomfortableness is true for any political arena in Western democracies today. In the US today that change is so glaringly in the spotlight.
Our task is to think about what allegiance to the Father means and how we can be counter cultural in a genuine way in this changing world.