Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creation Day/Wattle Day/First Day of Spring

Happy Creation Day. Happy Wattle Day. Happy First Day of Spring (for those in Australia.)

I would have liked to write a longer post on this day. But unfortunately I have an essay due Monday and am very busy. However, I couldn't let the day past without writing something.

My sons and I celebrate the day by having a first day of spring picnic. Sometimes we need to move it to the next weekend and sometimes we have to have it indoors because the weather is too bad. But if everything goes well, it's a picnic on a rug in our backyard. We have ice-cream sodas and other picnic food. (The first day of spring is not a good diet day.) We place wattle in a jar in the middle of the rug. We play music that sings of nature or spring or creation. We read out prayers related to Creation.

It's one of my favourite days. In Australia, we miss out on the whole importance of the season to Easter. Easter is really a spring holiday. It speaks of new life and new beginnings. When you're celebrating it in autumn, you do miss out on a lot of that. And we don't have many opportunities for remembering or celebrating the season in Australia. That's why I decided a while back that our family would celebrate this day. It's not just a good excuse to have ice-creams sodas and picnic food. It draws the season to our attention. It reminds us of what is happening in the natural world. And I think we all need that from time to time.

For more information on the Season of Creation, go to: Calendar | Season of Creation: - Sent using Google Toolbar

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tobacco and climate change

            'Propaganda mills' are putting out warnings that ignore other research. Agencies are using a scare campaign to raise revenue. There is an 'unfair attempt to destroy' industry and affect 'the livelihood of millions of people'.
            Sound familiar?
            But I'm not paraphrasing climate change denialists. I'm paraphrasing a tobacco ad from the 1960s. Here's the full thing.

Tobacco Ad from the 1960s
"100 years ago the tomato was considered 'poison'"
            In the 19th Century the tomato was considered poisonous … children were warned to enjoy its beauty but not to taste it. Today we know the tomato is not only delicious but an excellent source of vitamins A and C.
            Now we are being told that tobacco is poison. The propaganda mills grind out dire warnings based on "research." These warnings simply ignore other bodies of research which flatly state "no proved link" between tobacco and diseases of the lungs and heart. Several independent health agencies use the tobacco scare to raise huge sums of money.
            There is good reason to think that within a few years we will look back and laugh about "the great tobacco scare of the 1960s." In the meantime, there is a vicious, unfair attempt to destroy a great American agricultural industry, affecting the livelihood of millions of people.
            Think about it!
            (From Ending the Tobacco Holocaust: How big tobacco affects our health, pocketbook, and political freedom - and what we can do about it, by Dr Michael Rabinoff).

            There was a time when an ad like this from the past would have shocked me. I may have even laughed. I know I laughed at Back to the Future where Marty gets told the links between smoking and cancer haven't been proven. But despite the ad's predictions, no-one is seriously looking back and laughing at "the great tobacco scare of the 1960s".
            But the reason this ad doesn't shock me today is that it's very similar to what we're hearing about climate change. I've heard all these arguments by different people at one time or another - that the link isn't proven between man-made carbon emissions and global warming, that agencies are using climate change to raise revenue and that our response to it will affect industry and people's livelihoods.
            Of course, just because climate change sceptics use the same arguments as this ad doesn't mean they are necessarily wrong, any more than the erroneous health scare against tomatoes proved the health scare against tobacco was wrong. But it should make us realise that just because people label something a 'scare' and claim that the science is not proven does not mean there is no cause for concern.
            And I think it is fair to say that if the 'tobacco scare' had been taken a lot more seriously (and I say this as a smoker, albeit it one that is trying to quit), then a lot of lives may have been saved. Will we say the same about climate change one day? Instead of looking back and laughing at the "great climate change scare of the early twenty-first century" will we be looking back and wishing that we paid more attention?
            As the ad says - Think about it!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Suffering doesn't have to be human-like to be real

Wow, I wish I could speak whale -- Dory, Finding Nemo.


Finding Nemo is one of my favourite children's movies. The main reason for that is, while the animals often act in very human ways, they also act in very animal ways. It is educational, as well as entertaining.


But another reason why it is such a great movie is that it has a compelling storyline and believable characters. These are characters we can relate to and characters we can cheer for. We are pleased for Dory when she remembers things. We feel for Nemo as he gets taken from home. We want Marlin to find Nemo, but also to let Nemo go. And, if you're a big sook like me, we cry when Nemo and Marlin eventually get reunited.


But we relate to these characters and cheer for them because they are anthropomorphised. It is when they are behaving most like humans that we feel the most empathy for them.


Another reason we care so deeply for the characters in Finding Nemo is because we see their emotions. Again, this is anthropomorphising animals. A fish that is taken from his home would not feel the same emotions as a boy who was taken from his home. But in giving Nemo the same emotions as a boy, the audience can relate to him and feel sorry for him.


In a children's film, perhaps this is needed. But in the real world, do we then fail to recognise suffering unless we can imagine ourselves in the place of who or what is suffering? Do we say that suffering doesn't exist if it doesn't involve human-like pain or emotions?


And can we really say that something doesn't feel just because we don't understand the way it might feel?


As humans, we have not always treated other human beings as having the same emotions and feelings as us (especially if 'us' means white European males). It has been thought that women's feelings were not as valid as men because they were not as rational and more hysterical. In was once thought that black people did not have the same feelings as white people and therefore did not suffer in the same way. In evidence given regarding the Stolen Generation, one woman said their mothers 'weren't treated as people having feelings.'[i] Now we can sympathise with a make-believe fish. Back then, there were too many people unable to sympathise with real women and children.


I don't think that the people who had these thoughts were necessarily bad people. They just fell into the trap that we are still capable of falling into. We believe it is only feelings like ours that have any validity. We think that if suffering isn't expressed in terms we can understand, then it doesn't exist at all.


Why is it that we tend to sympathise more with dogs and horses than we do with mice? Maybe it's because many of us live with dogs and have projected our own emotions onto those animals. When a dog suffers, we imagine its suffering. I have to admit I tend to be more upset at hurts done to koalas than many other animals. Why? Because my son loves koalas. When a koala is hurt, I see that suffering through my son's eyes. And my son has that many toy koalas that, as children often do, he has projected his own feelings onto. When a koala suffers, he undoubtedly feels that suffering as his own.


But is it only our suffering (or suffering that seems like ours, suffering that we can identify with, suffering that we can recognise) that is real suffering? I would say not. Suffering should not be measured by how human-like it is. It is not only suffering which can be empathised with (or even recognised) by humans that is real.


If we could all speak whale (or dog or horse or rat or even cockroach) we might see that there are many different forms of suffering and many different ways that it is expressed. And that is not to say that we necessarily need to try and eliminate all of the different forms that suffering takes. I'm afraid that, when there's a cockroach in the house, it is not that cockroach's suffering that concerns me. But maybe we ought to realise that we are not the judges of who or what suffers and who or what doesn't.


There is a judge. God is the one who will not only judge who has suffered, but who will work to redeem that suffering and bring justice to this world.


I imagine that we express our suffering in ways very different to God. But he doesn't look on from Heaven, saying, 'Well you're not suffering the way God does, so you mustn't be suffering at all?' Instead he became incarnate in Jesus so that he could not only understand our suffering, but suffer as a human being himself.


We can't make ourselves into a fish or a donkey or a whale or a goat to see exactly how those animals suffer. But if we model ourselves on Christ, we must follow his example of identifying with the suffering of others. And others does not just mean people, but those creatures that are completely different to ourselves. And we must recognise suffering even when we don't understand it.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi - Catholic Online

Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi - Catholic Online:

Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.

No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.

- Sent using Google Toolbar

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Then he turned to the one who had one talent and said, 'What did you do with what I had given you?' 'Well,' he replied, 'I figured you were talking about things I was good at rather than money. So I joined the choir and spent the money you gave me on an iPhone.'

Out of everything I've heard or read on the Parable of the Talents, at least half talk about talents as spiritual gifts or things we are good at. It's kind of funny that we spend so much time talking about non-financial resources, when we have more money at our disposal now than at any other time in history.

Of those that do talk about money, nearly all of them mention tithing. They use the Parable of the Talents to illustrate that, if we tithe, God will increase the money we have.

I've never liked the Parable of the Talents. Maybe it's because I don't like tithing. Maybe it's because I've always identified with the person who was only given one talent. Maybe it's because I've always found it sad that the person who was given more gets more while the person who was given less gets even that taken away from them. Or maybe I just don't understand it.

So with that in mind, I'd like to offer two readings of the Parable of the Talents. I'm not saying they're the ways the parable should be read. I'm just offering them up as two ways that it could be read.

We're all familiar with the WWJD acronym, for What Would Jesus Do? Another acronym that sometimes gets tossed around is WWJW - for What Would Jesus Watch? I believe there are signs you can place on top of your TV. And some people suggest imagining that Jesus is sitting next to you on the couch. Would he be happy with your viewing choices?

It's funny how we get so legalistic about stuff like television-watching and ignore the things that are far more important. I'm not saying what we watch on television isn't important. I believe it is. But there are bigger things to think about.

WWJB stands for What Would Jesus Buy? That phrase was used for a show by the Reverend Billy. And it's kind of a silly show, but it has a very important message.

What if we read the Parable of the Talents so that we saw the talents God has given us as every cent of our money? What if we took seriously our responsibility to invest that money wisely? That doesn't mean going out and finding an investment fund that will give us a good return for our money. It does mean, however, looking at every dollar we spend and asking questions about how much of it works for or against God's purposes.

Forget about putting a WWJB sign on your wallet. Just imagine handing Jesus your financial accounts at the end of your life. How much money did you spend on clothes - and how many of those clothes were produced in sweatshops? How much money did you spend on things you didn't need? How many of your purchases ended up in landfill? How did your purchases harm the earth? How much money did you give to companies with unethical practices? How much food did you buy that you ended up throwing out? 

And then what percentage of your money actually went to doing good in this world?

I'm glad that's not a true scenario. I'd hate to think of Jesus looking over my accounts at the end of time. I can just imagine him saying, 'So while millions of people were starving, you spent how much money on diet coke and cigarettes?'

Here's another acronym - HWJTTE. It's not as neat as the other acronyms, but it's just as important. It stands for How Would Jesus Treat The Earth?

Another reading of the Parable of the Talents is to replace talent with earth. We only have one earth. What are we going to do with it? Are we going to use it for God's purposes? Or are we going to use it for our own selfish desires? Are we going to ensure that its resources are distributed fairly? Or do we think we can get away with a small percentage of the population having a large proportion of them? Are we going to protect it? Or are we going to destroy it?

And the Parable of the Talents shows us that simply hiding the problem from view and taking a hands-off approach isn't good enough.

Everything we have has been given to us by God - our spiritual gifts, our physical talents, our money and our earth. And the Parable of the Talents shows us that what we do with what God has given us matters. God has given us our money - and not just 10 per cent of it. God has given us this earth. As good stewards, we need to start asking the difficult WWJB and HWJTTE questions. And we need to ensure that everything God has given us is invested wisely.

Friday, August 12, 2011


(Prayer from COP17 Faith Communities) Resources:

"A prayer for climate change

God of light and life, we see you in the rising sun,
the wind blowing through the fields of maize,
and the feel of a life-giving shower of rain.
Help us to see your light reflected throughout creation.

God of compassion, you are there with those people
who are facing the effects of a changing climate,
and are affected by floods, droughts and famine.
Show us how to be there with them too.

God of truth and justice, you hear those people around the world,
who struggle to make their voices heard.
Open our ears and the ears of those in power
to hear the cries of those living in poverty.

God of hope, we see you in people who refuse to give up,
who will not lose faith and keep on fighting,
for your earth and for your people.
Lift us, so that we may never lose hope.


Adapted from Michaela McGuigan/CAFOD

- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Individualistic thinking and global concerns

The western world is a very individualistic place. It suits the market economy for it to be that way. Not only do people make more purchases when they're thinking as individuals, but they make specific purchases that express their individuality. People don't just buy one phone for the family anymore, without really caring what it looks like. Instead, they purchase a mobile phone for each family member, as well as all the accessories that show the style and personality of each mobile phone owner.

But this individualism does not just affect the way we buy. It also impacts the way we live and how we think. Its influence can even be found within the Church.

Every church is different. So it would be ridiculous to suggest that Christians as a whole are focused on certain things. Some churches focus more for global and national problems. Others focus on concerns closer to home.

However, it would be fair to say that, within some churches, there is an incredible amount of focus on the individual. In these churches, Christianity is all about an individual's relationship with God. They pray for individuals. They try to save individuals. They look for transformation of individuals. They acknowledge sin as individuals. Their sermons are addressed to individuals. And when something goes wrong, they tend to blame individuals.

But thinking in such individualistic terms often prevents us from acknowledging societal sins and working towards the transformation of social structures. Not everything that is wrong in this world can be thought of in terms of individual decisions or changes needed in individual lives.

When it comes to environmental problems, this heightened individualism is not only hindering us from addressing the problem, it's hindering us from even acknowledging the problem.

Our initial response to a problem is generally not how is this going to impact everyone? But how is this going to impact me? It's not what might our communities or societies be doing wrong? It's am I doing anything wrong? It's not how can society address the problem? It's what can I do?

And the answers to those problems quite frequently are - it won't impact me much, I'm not doing anything wrong and I'm either doing all I can do or nothing I do will make an impact anyway. Or, in answer to all the questions above, I don't see a problem - with the emphasis on the "I".

People who might be considered environmentally conscious aren't immune from this either. Take a look at enough green magazines or websites and you'll come across quite a few eco-friendly stores and products. And I'm not criticising them. I quite like the eco-friendly stores. If people are going to buy something, it makes sense that they buy something that doesn't harm the environment. But again, we're back to purchases as individuals. And in a world where we define ourselves by what we buy, looking after the environment has to be much more than just a consumer choice. For one, many people are going to decide that the 'eco-friendly, greenie' choice is really not their style.

For most of our lives, ads, TV programs and magazines have been saying 'It's all about you!' Now suddenly it's not about me. It's about us. It's about what we have done to the world and what we can do to fix it. And (particularly for those of us who are over a certain age), getting into that way of thinking is not particularly easy.

So how do we stop people from thinking only in terms of individuals and start them thinking of society as a whole? I don't have any answers for that. After so much conditioning by the media, it's a difficult problem to solve. And I'll leave it to people with far more expertise than I have to figure it out.

What I will say, though, is that the Church has something valuable it can add to the discussion.

For one, churches are community centres. Admittedly, some of them aren't very good community centres. Some of them try their best to become an individual's choice and promote individualistic thinking. But some of them (mine included) really are places where the community gathers, where people feel part of the community and that reach out to the wider community. The people in those churches know that they are one part of a whole - and that the church is not just there to meet their needs.

Secondly, Christians who take their decision to follow Christ seriously know that this world is not all about them. They realise that they need to look outside themselves and consider other people. And certainly that's not a trait specific to Christians. But with so many sources telling us that it is about the individual, we need as many sources as possible that tell us that actually it's not.

Thirdly, the Church is used to thinking of itself as the Body of God. So that means, while it may think of itself in terms of individual parts, those parts still make up a whole. They are united, despite their differences. And that's the kind of thinking that the world needs.

The Church alone is not going to get people thinking the right way about environmental problems. And the Church's only role is not to challenge today's individualism. But by addressing our individualistic ways of thinking and by showing other more communal ways of thinking, it will at least go some way to helping us address environmental problems.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Psalm 104

Psalm 104 (ESV)

O LORD My God, You Are Very Great

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
2covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
3He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
4he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.

5He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
6You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
8The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
9You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

10You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
11they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

14You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
15and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

16The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
18The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.

19He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
23 Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening.

24O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
26There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.

27These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
28When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

31May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works,
32who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke!
33I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.
35Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!

- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Polar bears and sin

Most people would be aware that on 22 July, Anders Behring Breivik set off bombs in government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people, and then went on a shooting spree at a camp of the Workers' Youth League, killing 69 people. But there was another attack in Norway that you may not be aware of. Last Friday, a polar bear attacked a youth group, injuring four people and killing 17-year old, Horatio Chapple.

Both attacks bring up questions of sin.

Breivik, as an individual, sinned. There is no doubt about that. And when we ask questions about how God can let this happen, the short answer is that God did not want Breivik to murder anybody. But he gave all humans free will and Breivik used his free will to murder those people and disobey God.

Of course, this still brings up questions about why God didn't prevent Breivik using his free will to kill people. We can understand why a loving God would give humans free will. Yet it is often hard to understand why he continues to let them exercise that free will when its results can be so devastating.

But at another level we may well ask what responsibility society (or specific sections of society) has for this sin. Was he influenced by other people? Can we lay the blame (or at least part of it) at the door of religion or religious institutions? Should someone have been alerted to the possibility of him harming someone from his postings on the internet? Was there anything in his background that could have contributed to his state of mind? Or do we just pass him off as an isolated madman?

And quite frequently, it is when the blame may be placed on those things that we hold dear that we are most likely to say it is solely the individual's fault.

So what does all this have to do with polar bears? Well as with the Breivik terrorist attacks, the polar bear attack was not part of God's plan. And the reason why things do not happen on earth according to God's plan is because sin has entered it.

So again, we need to ask questions about whose sin contributed to the polar bear attack. Unlike humans, polar bears are not given free will. So we can not say it was the polar bear's sin. It can not make individual choices and is not accountable for his actions.

Another answer is that it was Adam and Eve's sin. God made the world good. But when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin entered the world, bringing death and disease with it.

And certainly I believe that. Many people are attacked and killed by animals. And sometimes we can look to human actions for their cause. Other times, it just seems the way the world is. But the way the world is is not the way the world was meant to be. And I believe the reason for that is that sin affects the whole world.

However, we cannot blame that just on Adam and Eve. After original sin, God says the land is cursed for their disobedience (Genesis 3:17). But verses such as Leviticus 26:25, Deuteronomy 29:23-25, Jeremiah 2:14-17, 9:12-14, 44:22, Ezekiel 33:26-29, Micah 7:13 and Zechariah 7:12-14 show that the land continues to suffer because of human sin. This is really the subject for another post. But I do want to draw attention to the possibility that this may account for many animal attacks. If any type of death is due to original sin, then surely death of humans by animals (as well as death of animals) may be caused by our continuing disobedience.

The danger in considering this is that we don't see it as anything that can be changed. It may not be the way the world is meant to be, but it is the way the world is (at least until Christ's return). There will always be sin in the world and therefore there will always be consequences for the land (including plants, animals and people).

While this may be true, it does not mean we need not ask questions about whether human sin was directly or indirectly responsible for such things as the polar bear attack. While sin in general terms has consequences for the land, specific sins impact the land in a very real way. As Christians, we can not just say this is the way the world is. We must acknowledge our part in making this world the way it is, rather than the way God meant it to be. And that acknowledgement must be followed by repentance and a turning away from that sin.

Polar bear attacks have been on the increase in recent years. The polar bears need to go further afield to find food, thereby coming into contact with humans more frequently. The polar bear that attacked Chapple was significantly underweight and starving. Photographer, Andy Rouse, has argued that they are desperate for food, which makes them dangerous. He also said the climate change effects were driving them into more populated areas. (Read about his comments here)

Is this our fault? If we take God seriously when he says our sin affects the land, then we must answer yes. But we must not stop there. Instead, we must ask the difficult questions about what humans may have done that led to increased polar-bear attacks. We must ask whether changing our climate may cause further incidents that do not reflect God's plan. We must also be prepared to accept that the things we hold dear may be contributing to the problem. Then we must acknowledge our sin and repent of it.