Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Interesting little article

So it's pretty much been a billion years since I last posted, but I came across the above link, some of which I've put below on Mark Sayers' blog which I am really enjoying reading, as I do with all of Mark's stuff.

LILY Allen, who became a star when millions found her quirky pop tunes on MySpace, is taking two years off to beat her addiction to . . . technology.

Allen has recorded frequently on Facebook, Twitter and her blog.

But, after releasing her second album -It's Not Me, It's You - the 24-year-old ditched Twitter with a final message: "I am a neo-Luddite, goodbye."

She said: "I just had this revelation that Facebook, blogging, all those things were becoming a total addiction.

"I'd be with my boyfriend or my Mum and they'd have just got half of me.

"So I put my BlackBerry, my laptop, my iPod in a box and that's the end.

"I won't use email. I play records on vinyl. I don't blog. I've got more time, more privacy. We've ended up in this world of unreal communication and I don't want that. I want real life back."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

'Live in the now man'

That comment, said in a dopey voice was how you did the stereotype of a hippy in high school, man it made me laugh.

But on that topic, read this article :) Very interesting...

It turns out, the present is not dead. According to a New York Times article, recently socialites in Manhattan rediscovered the present when they hosted a series of small parties which were explicitly “off the record”, which meant “no tweeting, no blogging, no photos”. The idea, according to one of the party’s hosts, was “to let invitees talk fearlessly in the present.” He goes on:

We are fighting against this whole idea that everything people do has to be constantly chronicled…People think that every thought they have, every experience – it if is not captured it is lost.

And they are bravely fighting the idea that everything needs to be chronicled, by chronicling this fight in The New York Times.

The rediscovery of the present moment has led to further rediscoveries of things once thought lost, like conversation. One of the hosts exclaims:

When it’s off the record, you actually listen to the conversation, not just wait for your turn to speak.

That a leading newspaper ran an article about a party in which people actually had a conversation tells us something striking about the world in which we live. No longer merely reflective of our social lives, Twitter and Facebook are beginning to shape them. The present moment is constantly being packaged into clever little tweets and status updates, or recorded as endless and instantly uploaded photos. That is, the present moment is chronicled rather than experienced; it is shaped for consumption by others, rather than those actually present. We are in danger of retreating from genuine human relating.

I am probably going too far here. I suspect most people don’t experience things this way. Still, I think it is a warning worth making. Social-networking sites, in some form or another, seem to be here to stay. The danger is, we will become better at relating through technology than in the flesh; better at clever one-liners than genuine conversation, like characters in a sitcom. This is, after all, the safe option. Relating in real time involves risk, the possibility of hurt, disappointment, misunderstanding, boredom. But it also carries with it the possibilty of intimacy, of being genuinely known, cared for, understood, loved. That is, relating in real time actually involves relating, something that Facebook and Twitter, if misused, can get in the way of. By making us all “public” figures, these technologies threaten to make us as well-known as celebrites, that is, not really at all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This captures all that is wrong with society

I'm actually quite a fan of Mia Freedman's blog, she's got her foot in popular culture, but also has the brains to critique it.

This is just freakin depressing...

http://mamamia.com.au/weblog/2009/08/come-on-kiddies-lets-pretend-to-be-strippers.html#more

http://www.dlisted.com/node/33341

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Praying for healing??

As some of you may know, pretty much my entire footy season of 2009 has been non-existent due to a recurring hamstring injury. I've torn or 'twinged' it like 7 times already... Ridiculous.

Anyway, have been trying to think of as many alternate forms of physio type treatments as possible, as I've been doing everything right each time, but just coming up no good.

I have been praying about it a bit, but know of some people who do the whole praying for healing gig all the time, and was wondering whether I would go see them. It's bad terminology and sort of bad theology, but they are kinda 'prayer specialists'.

Anywho, I totally believe God can and does do that kinda thing sometimes (why and when is another question) but I have been a little retiscent to really spend a chunk of time praying about it.

I'm not exactly sure what it is, or why, but I just don't feel 100% comfortable with it. It's not like I have this image of God that can only heal ever so many people at a time, but I do wonder if there are more pressing things I should be praying about...

Like when there's people with seriously life debilitating illness', shouldn't I be praying for them rather than myself being able to play footy? And the same could be said of the millions of people living in material and spiritual poverty around the world, clealry those things are much more important than me running around for Tyabb.

I wonder if perhaps that's what this is all about, about needing to put it all in right perspective, about getting over myself and looking at the world around me first, about not being so consumed with my own little problems.

Maybe if I get that perspective right, then, and only then, should I spend a bit of time praying for my hamstring to heal...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Prospects for Peace in the Middle East

Have been at a fascinating conference today about the whole middle east situation, has been fascinating.
A whole lot of speakers giving both sides of the story with regards to each of the different countries and conflicts, which was great to hear the counterpoints.

Fascinating too for me as an impartial observer to the conflicts, and hearing about why and how so many people are so passionate about it. Am feeling like I've got my head around some aspects of the whole situation too which was the main aim. It's such a massive thing in the world, is good to be somewhat informed.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

JJJ Hottest 100 of all time

After weeks and weeks of deliberating, and a couple of final changes, this is what I came up with for JJJ's Hottest 100 of all time...

U2-I still haven't found what I'm looking for
Incubus-Are you in?
Stevie Wonder-Superstition
Mark Ronson-Valerie
John Farnham-You're the voice
Oasis-Wonderwall
Bon Jovi-Living on a prayer
Jeff Buckley-Hallelujah
Pearl Jam-Betterman
Ben Harper-Steal My Kisses

Near misses:
MJ-Billie Jean
The Verve-Bittersweet Symphony
Grinspoon-Minute by Minute
Bon Iver-Skinny Love
John Butler-Losing You
Metallica-Enter Sandman
Phil Collins-In the air tonight
Beatles-Come together
Damien Rice-Blowers Daughter

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Prevenient Grace

I was listening to some people pray the other day, and a lot of them started 'God, please be with us...' and I thought, hang on, something's wrong here...

Most Christians would indeed affirm God's everywhereness (omnipotence), that God is with us all the time, but so many words of our prayers would say we disagree.

I think the problem is that many of us know in our heads that God is with us all the time, but don't know and feel it in our spirit. Why else would we always be asking God to be with us.

I always try to pray 'God, please make me aware of your presence' 'make me realise you're here with me' 'help me to switch on to what you're already doing in the world around me'

One of my biggest theological convictions is that ministry should be about us getting on board with what God is already doing, not just doing stuff and asking God to bless it. God is always 2 steps ahead of us, prevenient grace-it's a good thing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Showboating

Further to my post yesterday, I was even more annoyed today when I read the front page of the stupid paper about how the footy club that had had the stripper in before the game was getting fined.

Although I totally agree it was the wrong thing to do, I'm just a little cynical of them feeling like they have to make a stand now when 90% of the clubs in their league would be going to the rippers at least once during their footy trip.

No fines then... Just getting on board the latest issue of the day. Ridiculous.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Footy players and women.

Being interested in football of most sorts, women and what society regards as morals, has meant that I have been following this whole Matty Johns scenario with a bit of interest.

For overseas readers, basically an ex-NRL player who is in the media a bit over here has just been fired because stories have come out of a group sex scenario he was involved in in his playing days.

At the time it was investigated, no charges were laid by police as it was found all parties were consenting.

Apart from the moral issues, and the fact he had a wife at the time, he didn't do anything legally wrong.

So, it seems rather strange to me that Ch 9 and the NRL-who normally have nothing specific to say in the field of public morals and ethics, have come out and fired him. Particulalry when the NRL's own advisor on the treatment of women has gone on record saying there is nothing legaly wrong with consensual group sex.

It seems a lot of organisations have nothing to say about morals and ethics until an issue comes up and they have to be seen to be making a stand.

But the more ridiculous one was on the front of today's Herald Sun (so no surprise it was trash really) about a local footy club getting in trouble, and all these people looking down on them for getting a stripper into the rooms before a game.

Apart from being stupid from a football POV, I don't understand why all these groups that don't object to the thousands of blokes who go to the strippers every weekend are now having something to say. It's stupid really.

If, as a society we let these things happen every day, why do we feel the need to moralise at certain times?

It's the same with Matty Johns, I've never heard Ch 9 object to consensual group sex, and in fact show their fair share of sex during programs, but now are just show-boating. If you want to make a strong moral stand on something, you need to do it all the time, not just when it suits you.

Monday, May 11, 2009

An Atheist in the Woods

AN ATHEIST IN THE WOODS

An atheist was walking through the woods.

'What majestic trees!
'What powerful rivers!
'What beautiful animals!
He said to himself.


As he was walking alongside the river,he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him.

He turned to look. He saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge towards him.

He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder & saw that the bear was closing in on him..

He looked over his shoulder again, & the bear was even closer.

He tripped & fell on the ground.

He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw & raising his right paw to strike him.

At that instant the Atheist cried out,
'Oh my God!'

Time Stopped.
The bear froze.
The forest was silent.


As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky.

'You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident.


Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament?

Am I to count you as a believer?'

The atheist looked directly into the light, 'It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the BEAR a Christian?'


'Very well,' said the voice.


The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed his head & spoke:


'Lord bless this food to my body, and me unto your service. Amen.'

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Thoughts on Easter + Jesus

As usual at this time of year, I start to ponder what Easter is really all about, what the meaning of the whole shebang is

I found this an interesting comparison of the ways that some people think about Jesus, God, the cross and the world.

I don't fully subscribe to either, and a lot of them seem to fit pretty neatly with each other. Some the difference is just semantics, others a bit deeper.

Anyways, some food for thought...



The Human Situation: What is the story we find ourselves in?

Conventional View: God created the world as perfect, but because our primal ancestors, Adam and Eve, did not maintain the absolute perfection demanded by God, God has irrevocably determined that the entire universe and all it contains will be destroyed, and the souls of all human beings—except for those specifically exempted—will be forever punished for their imperfection in hell.’

Emerging View: God created the world as good, but human beings—as individuals, and as groups—have rebelled against God and filled the world with evil and injustice. God wants to save humanity and heal it from its sickness, but humanity is hopelessly lost and confused, like sheep without a shepherd, wandering further and further into lostness and danger. Left to themselves, human beings will spiral downward in sickness and evil.

Basic Questions: What questions did Jesus come to answer?

Conventional View: Since everyone is doomed to hell, Jesus seeks to answer one or both of these questions: How can individuals be saved from eternal punishment in hell and instead go to heaven after they die? How can God help individuals be happy and successful until then?

Emerging View: Since the human race is in such desperate trouble, Jesus seeks to answer this question: What must be done about the mess we’re in? The mess refers both to the general human condition and to its specific outworking among his contemporaries living under domination by the Roman Empire and who were confused and conflicted as to what they should do to be liberated.

Jesus’ Message: How did Jesus respond to the crisis?

Conventional View: Jesus says, in essence, “If you want to be among those specifically qualified to escape being forever punished for your sins in hell, you must repent of your individual sins and believe that my Father punished me on the cross so he won’t have to punish you in hell. Only if you believe this will you go to heaven when the earth is destroyed and everyone else is banished to hell.” This is the good news.

Emerging View: Jesus says, in essence, “I have been sent by God with this good news—that God loves humanity; even in its lostness and sin. God graciously invites everyone and anyone to turn from his or her current path and follow a new way. Trust me and become my disciple, and you will be transformed, and you will participate in the transformation of the world, which is possible, beginning right now.” This is the good news.

Purpose of Jesus: Why is Jesus important?

Conventional View: Jesus came to solve the problem of “original sin,” meaning that he helps qualified individuals not to be sent to hell for their sin or imperfection. In a sense, Jesus saves these people from God, or more specifically, from the righteous wrath of God, which sinful human beings deserve because they have not perfectly fulfilled God’s just expectations, expressed in God’s moral laws. This escape from punishment is not something they earn or achieve, but rather a free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love. Those who receive it enjoy a personal relationship with God and seek to serve and obey God, which produces a happier life on Earth and more rewards in heaven.

Emerging View: Jesus came to become the Saviour of the world, meaning he came to save the earth and all it contains from its ongoing destruction because of human evil. Through his life and teaching, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he inserted into human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated. This seed will, against all opposition and odds, prevail over the evil and injustice of humanity and lead to the world’s ongoing transformation into the world God dreams of. All who find in Jesus God’s hope and truth discover the privilege of participating in his ongoing work of personal and global transformation and liberation from evil and injustice. As part of his transforming community, they experience liberation from the fear of death and condemnation. This is not something they earn or achieve, but rather a free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Working hard in Sunny Qld

Am up in QLD for a few days doing VETAMORPHUS stuff. Is kinda fun being in a different place, but is massively hard work slogging through all the paperwork side of things.
Ah well, not all good jobs are all good all the time.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Girl Effect

From the very little I've seen of the developing world-this website rings very true.

A pretty cool video too.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Deal or No Deal silliness

This Monday-the 2nd, a good friend and I are on Deal or No Deal here in Australia. Ch 7, 5:30pm.

He's the contestant and I'm in the stands making gags and taking half his money at the end!

Should be a good laugh if anybody's interested.

Slumdog Millionaire

Saw the movie last week, absolutely loved it. best I've seen for a while.

Am wanting to do a bit more reading into the ethical issues behind it, what the producers are and aren't doing with the money they're making, how much the actors got paid etc.

Has anybody seen any good discussions and/or know the actual facts?

Cheers

Friday, February 13, 2009

Failing to understand the nature of an understanding God

I found this in the Age the other day, is well-written, and a good perspective on some fairly shambolic opinions-unlike mine of course that are all completely coherent and accurately representative of God ;)

Disclaimer: Please note, this author's views have at times been known to be massively shambolic also, so no opinions high ground can really be taken.

Barney Zwartz
February 12, 2009
Christian leader Danny Nalliah's rantings about the bushfires are wrong.

CONTROVERSIAL Christian leader Danny Nalliah says the Victorian bushfires are a punishment for decriminalising abortion. Danny Nalliah is wildly wrong. He is wrong as a theologian, a thinker and a pastor, and has shocked and appalled both the mainstream community and the vast majority of his fellow Christians. They feel he has brought the name of Christ into disrepute.

At a time like this, the role of religion is not explanation; it is consolation. It is to seek to offer comfort and hope, a way of going on.

Uniting Church of Australia president Gregor Henderson speaks for most in saying Nalliah's claim is ludicrous, abhorrent and misunderstands the nature of God.

Henderson says: "God is not punishing the people of Victoria, so many of whom lost their lives, and so many more of whom are working day and night to fight fires, support the victims and provide food, clothing and shelter. God is, in fact, there with the people, in the middle of their suffering; God is made known through the love that is extended to those most in need."

Nalliah — senior pastor of Catch the Fire Ministries, a man who has enjoyed the support of former prime minister John Howard and treasurer Peter Costello — is a Pentecostal from the apocalyptic and ecstatic end of Christianity who believes God still speaks in dreams and prophecies.

He had a dream on October 21 in which Victoria was ablaze. He says he awoke, and the Spirit of God told him God had removed his protection, Victoria would be destroyed, and Nalliah should call God's people to repent and pray. He published this on his website in November.

Whether God speaks in dreams, I cannot say. The first two verses of the New Testament book of Hebrews strongly suggest otherwise (that in the past God spoke in various ways but now has spoken by his son). I can say the Bible refutes the idea that suffering is God's punishment. In the Gospel of Luke, for example, Jesus is asked exactly this question of two groups of people who died, and replies: "Do you think they were worse sinners? I tell you, no."

Another key text is the Old Testament book of Job, probably the oldest in the Bible, which ponders suffering. The answer Job is given is that there is no answer — at least, not one accessible to humans; we can only endure. God rebukes Job's comforters for offering false answers.

This might lead pastors who respect the Scripture, as Nalliah says he does, to be wary about offering explanations on behalf of God. His explanation might readily be ignored, except that something like it so often emerges at times of disaster (think hurricane Katrina and the gay mardi gras in New Orleans).

It is simply colossal arrogance to presume to speak for God in this way. To understand God fully, one would have to be God — his thoughts are not our thoughts, the prophet Isaiah says.

Do such Christians really believe God punishes the innocent to teach the guilty? Jeremiah contradicted that idea more than 2500 years ago. Meanwhile, there is another lesson from Job that impertinent pastors could ponder: "Man is born to trouble, as surely as the sparks fly upward."

I don't have the temerity to suggest any spiritual explanation for the bushfires, but there are certainly spiritual lessons — not least, what a gift life is and how precious we are to each other.

At times like this I turn to perhaps my favourite Bible verse, Romans 8:28: "In all things, God works for the good of those who love him." How and why, I cannot know — it is a matter of faith and I know that for many this will bring no consolation. But I also know that such thoughts have provided comfort through millennia of suffering.

As a young Christian exploring the denominations, I met many Pentecostals who claimed to prophesy ( "Thus saith the Lord …") and was struck by how unfailingly God's word through them precisely mirrored their own obsessions.

I don't doubt Danny Nalliah is sincerely disturbed by the Victorian abortion law. I don't even doubt he means well. I do very much doubt that his vision is from God.

Barney Zwartz is religion editor.

Practical ways to help bushfire victims

Lots of things are being donated to families displaced by the bushfires - but where to from there?

St. Vincent de Paul Society has set up in a MASSIVE warehouse in Rowville. There is a bigger pile of things than I can describe, but before it can be distributed, it needs unpacking, sorting and repacking so that it's available to people who really need it.

There's room for hundreds to help but only dozens there at the moment. There are people sorting:
8am - 8pm Monday to Friday
8am - 4pm Saturday
between now and the end of the month, at least. Or, as the lady running it told me "For as long as it takes."

If you can spare an hour or two to help, that would be fantastic. You just rock up to the warehouse, register quickly and then get to work. Lunch, tea and coffee are provided.

The exact address is Lot 7, Henderson Road, Rowville, but the building has a sign out front saying "For Lease" labelled "37 Dunlop Road, Mulgrave". It's 400m from Kellet's Road. I've put the exact location on this map:
http://maps.google.com.au/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&ll=-37.907692,145.242382&spn=0.011512,0.01914&t=h&z=16&msid=108540098799107343748.000462a2a625f9fb015d8

Please forward this invitation on to anyone you think might be interested.

Friday, February 06, 2009

What;s going on?

Just testing to see if this still works at all...

Been having some troubles with it.

Spewing too, cos I actually have some stuff to write about.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Charles Darwin's research to prove evolution was motivated by his desire to end slavery

Doesn't really change what I think about Darwin or his theories, just thought it was interesting

Science historians Adrian Desmond and James Moore have compiled compelling new evidence which reveals Darwin was passionately opposed to slavery and this was the moral impetus behind his work.

Private notes and letters uncovered by the pair reveal that Darwin's opinions on slavery were far stronger than had previously been believed.

Notebooks from his five year voyage on HMS Beagle, during which Darwin first began to form his famous theories on natural selection, detail his revulsion at the slavery he witnessed in South America.

The historians have also discovered letters written by Darwin's sisters, cousins and aunts that reveal the family as highly active abolitionists. Darwin's grandfather and uncles were also key members of the anti-slavery movement.

The pair claim in a new book that Darwin partly chose to highlight the common descent of man from apes to show that all races were equal, as a rebuttal to those who insisted black people were a different, and inferior, species from those with white skin.

They say Darwin attempted to show that his theory of sexual selection, where traits seen as desirable but which give no competitive advantage to a species are passed down through generations, was responsible for differences in appearance between races of both animals and humans.

Professor James Moore, from the department of history of science at the Open University, said that Darwin originally shied away from tackling the origins of humans in his book On the Origin of Species, which was published in 1859, as it was a controversial subject.

"We are not trying to explain away all of Darwin's work as being due to his passion for emancipation, but our argument is that his passion for racial unity is what drove him to touch this untouchable and treacherous subject," he said.

"Darwin was finally goaded into starting his work on the origins of man in 1865 by a rising tide of scientific belief that the races were separate species."

The new book, called Darwin's Sacred Cause, examines notes that Darwin made during his voyage on the Beagle. After visiting Brazil he wrote of his disgust at the slavery he saw in the country.

From an entry on July 3 1832, just one year before the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in Great Britain, he said: "The state of the enormous slave population must interest everyone who enters the Brazils... I hope the day will come when they will assert their own rights & forget to avenge these wrongs."

In notebooks he used while drawing up his theory of natural selection, he also made references to slavery. He wrote: "Do not slave holders wish to make the black man other kind?... from our origin in one common ancestor we may be all netted together."

Darwin also describes the brutality of slavery in his best-selling journal about his Beagle voyage and recalls staying opposite an old lady near Rio de Janeiro who kept thumbscrews to crush the fingers of her female slaves. He also tells of how a young boy was whipped "thrice" for handing him a glass that was not clean.

Correspondence between Darwin and a Jamaican magistrate Richard Hill, a former slave who went on to oversee disputes between former slave owners and emancipated slaves, also reveals some of the naturalist's views.

He writes to Hill just a few months before publishing On the Origin of Species to congratulate him on his work for the "sacred cause of humanity".

Professor Moore claims that Darwin's family were instrumental in helping the biologist form his opinions on slavery. His grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood, who founded the famous china factory and was an active anti-slavery campaigner.

Darwin's uncles included Josiah Wedgwood II, an abolitionist MP, while his aunts, cousins and sisters wrote many letters and donated money to the cause.

Professor Moore added: "Darwin's mother died when he was eight years old, so his sisters brought him up with help from their Wedgewood cousins. He was under the influence of these highly principled and liberal thinking ladies who taught him about anti-cruelty and the sin of slavery."

Next month will mark the 200th anniversary since Darwin's birth, while in November scientists will celebrate 150 years since his seminal work On the Origin of Species was published.

Many supporters of Darwin's work have used his theories to argue against the existence of God and the need for religion, while the controversy that followed the publication of his work is now seen to have mainly been on religious grounds.

In fact, Darwin was a religious man until relatively late in his career, often shying away from speaking publicly about the controversy his research had provoked.

Professor Moore and his co-author Adrian Desmond will present their new theory at a lecture and book launch at Imperial College London on Monday 9 February.

Mr Desmond, an honorary research fellow at University College London, said: "Darwin doesn't overtly refer to slavery and racism as his motivation for writing Descent of Man and On the Origin of Species, but it is there lurking in the background.

"I don't think anyone has really looked at how strong his belief in anti-slavery was, and this could be why it has been overlooked.

"What he was saying was that if you accept evolution, then you don't accept the view that black people are a separate species. It is clear that he believed the same as his grandfathers – that slaves were men and brothers."

Professor Armand Leroi, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College London who is presenting a documentary What Darwin Didn't Know on BBC 4 on Monday, said although the new theories outlined in the book did not change Darwin's achievements, it gave a fresh insight into his motivations.

He said: "We as evolutionary biologists tend to view Darwin as being very much motivated by the things that motivate us, which is the explanation for the diversity of all the things in the world.

"Origin of the Species is a classic scientific work as it has no obvious social agenda, although when you read the journal of his voyage on the Beagle it becomes clear he was horrified by the slavery he saw and how it weighs upon him."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Heard

Once again we're off in our droves to the tennis with the Heard, aiming for 350 this year!
It'll be on like Donkey Kong next Thursday the 22nd, so check out www.heardtheheard.com and get amongst it!

Monday, January 12, 2009

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.

Found this through Al Hirsch's blog, is a fascinating read.

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset.
Matthew Parris

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.

We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in some ways less so - but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Busy times, but slowing down

So, clearly I haven't been on here much at all, but thats fine. Been doing lots of life stuff, but not reflecting on it much here.

Unfortunately I'm not really meant to write about what I've been mainly doing over the past month cos of media restrictions which they have to keep pretty tight (all sounds very secretive I know, but is just one of this group's things). But for those who know what I'm talking about it-it was absolutely awesome, one of the greatest things I've done, and it all went a treat.

I've also finished up my first full year as Chaplain at what is now called Somerville Secondary College, finished my studies and passed my ministry assessment panels-which menas I only have to finish a couple more subjects and I'm all done. Apparently I can chuck a Rev at the front of my name at the end of it all, but I definitely won't be using that too much!!

Christmas is a really cruisey time for me, so loving that, just trying to get a few things done before then so I don't have to stress about them.

Have been doing, and preparing for, weddings galore, which is always fun. The nest one I'm doing is for one of my really good mates, so that will me mad fun.

Am also, after much kerfuffle, going to Falls in Lorne, which I'm really looking forward to. Soo many good bands I want to see there! Tegan n Sara, the Grates, the Kooks, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Mystery Jets, Skipping Girl Vinegar, Franz Ferdinand, Soko, Lykke Li. My mate ditched me, but have managed to find a fair few randoms I know that are going-will be mad fun!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reflecting on experience

Have been flat out lately organising and doing a few different things, which I can't write about right now, but will do so.

Caught up with a mentor the other day, and was reminded of one of my favourite quotes, one which i struggle to live out more often than not.

"An experience not reflected on, is an experience lost".

Very relevant for me in the craziness it occasionally is, and temptation to jump from role to role in my life, without reflecting on the transitions.