Friday, July 28, 2006

more street poetry

"my favourite winters game
is letting the wind chase away my shame"


Well worth a look.

Seriously...take the tour. In the immortal words of the Wayne's World trailer, "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll hurl."

Thursday, July 27, 2006


The story: we went on holidays to Rosebud for a week last year, and I think, "Hmm. A jigsaw puzzle would be a relaxing activity to while away some time this week." So I choose a 1000 piece one (a nice easy one of an old castle) from the op shop (ooh, 50c. expensive.) and show it to Julie. "Oh, come on, that's too easy," she says, "do this one instead." And she pulls out this one.

A year later, it's finally done.

So much for "relaxing".

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

ciaron o'reilly and pitstop ploughshares verdict

Australian peace activist on trial in Ireland cleared

July 26, 2006

An Australian peace activist on trial in Ireland for allegedly helping disable a US navy plane in the lead-up to the Iraq war was acquitted yester-day. Ciaron O'Reilly, 46, from Mitchelton in Brisbane's north-west, was charged with causing criminal damage without a lawful excuse, after he and four other peace activists allegedly disabled the plane early on February 3, 2003 at Ireland's Shannon Airport.

Also acquitted at Dublin's Four Courts were Irish nationals Deirdre Clancy and Damien Moran, Scottish woman Karen Fallon and American Nuin Dunlop.

The unanimous verdict was handed down after about three hours of deliberations.

The five had pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they faced a maximum of 10 years' jail.

The group are members of the pacifist Catholic Worker Movement and follow the biblical mandate in Isaiah to "beat swords into ploughshares", or in simpler terms to dismantle military and nuclear arms equipment.

"The jury is the conscience of the community chosen randomly from Irish society," the group said in a statement on its website,

"The conscience of the community has spoken.

"The government has no popular mandate in providing the civilian Shannon airport to service the US war machine in it's illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq."

The US government estimated the group caused $US2.5 million ($A3.36 million) in damage to the aircraft.

The group did not deny they were responsible for the dismantling, but claimed they needed to disable the plane to prevent further damage being done in the Iraq war.

The group said the ruling should send a message that Ireland wanted no part in waging war on the people of Iraq.

"Refuelling of US warplanes at Shannon Airport should cease immediately," the statement said.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

street poetry

'you come here to me tonight
we'll collect those lonely parts and
set them down.'

Our section of Lygon Street (the same tram as in the first picture, but looking the other direction).

The more I look, the more I see the beauty that exists in everything around me. And that of God.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

prayer spot in winter

Things look so much different in winter, even on a sunny day. Compare these with these pictures taken last December.

Friday, July 21, 2006

wendell berry

Now I'm not normally one for poetry, but Brian McLaren introduced me to Wendell Berry, and I confess to being somewhat smitten. This is one called "A Warning to my Readers" that I can relate to, but check the site out for more.

Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.

the legacy of the israel/lebanon conflict

From this article in today's Age:

The greater legacy is the human one. Every bomb dropped by Israel will have broken hundreds of Lebanese hearts. Some will have lost loved ones; others will have seen bridges, streets and houses that were painstakingly restored after decades of war smashed into the ground.

Those who witnessed it will not forget it, and they will carry a bitterness towards Israel for the rest of their lives, passing it on to their children. The bereaved families of Israeli civilians will feel the same way about their enemy.

From all the rational, strategic calculations, this is the factor that is so often missing: the hatred sown in the human heart. Both sides have ensured this dreadful conflict spreads, not just across borders - but down the generations.

In a situation like this engaging nonviolence looks like trying to hold back the incoming tide, but as this article suggests, it is the only hope of a world locked into the cycle of revenge. Breaking that cycle is the only way to stop the carnage; yet in what seems to me to be the ultimate in irrationality, no-one is willing to take the first step. How people can't see that is beyond me, but then, so is the situation.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Found this in the paper this morning. This is from the website:
Goatonapole is the philosophy of being that holds that there is a Goat and a Pole and that the Goat is on the Pole. In the relation of Goat and Pole we Goatonapolists find an eternal thread of unfathomable cosmic significance, a point of reference in which all opposites dissolve into a unity of infinite breadth, a universal truth underlying the very fabric of existence. Upon contemplation of the Goat, the Pole, and their relative positions, one cannot help but realize that we've always been talking about Goatonapole. Whether we accept, reject, or live in ignorance of Goatonapole, we are all Goatonapolists.

We are deluded by the machinations of abstraction and modern thought into thinking that the world of concepts is reality itself. Almost without knowing it we have wandered far down a path of self-delusion that has split us away from the foundations of our existence. Our casual dabbling in unquestioned abstractions, foremost the notion of the self as rational faculty, has spawned the many neuroses so inextricable from the modern condition.
Hysterical. Check out the website for more photos of goats on poles.

(yes I know it's not a real religion, but man, it's funny.)

the boxer

"I am just a poor boy and my story's seldom told
I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jest, still the man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest...

...In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him
til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains
Yes he still remains..."

Simon and Garfunkel - The Boxer
Seriously, are these guys not two of the best poets the world has produced?

I was wandering around the supermarket yesterday with my mp3 player buzzing in my ears, and had two Simon and Garfunkel songs in a row; the second of which was The Boxer. It's funny how when I listen to music sometimes just a few words will stand out to you, and suddenly have significance you never saw before. Usually the rest doesn't really apply, but those few words will express something you didn't know you knew, about yourself or the world. I had that earlier in the year with Nirvana's In Bloom ("he's the one who likes all the pretty songs, and he likes to sing along...but he knows not what it means...") and then I had it today with The Boxer.

One of those lines that struck me yesterday from The Boxer was "still the man hears what he wants to hear/and disregards the rest". As I've been reevaluating Christianity, I realise that to a certain extent I've been doing that. I was telling the inspiral guys that I thought Lee Camp's Mere Discipleship was one of the best books I'd read on describing the Christian life, but Croz subversively replied, "Is that because it confirms what you already thought?" and I had to admit, yeah, it kinda is. I mean, it wasn't that crude or that simple because I'd come to most of it over a fairly intense period of reading, and synthesizing all that material (including life experience) only to find it all in one reasonably short book; but nonetheless, I was left with the question of whether I was now merely reading only that which confirms my ideas, whether or not they be misconceptions. After all, just because it feels right doesn't mean it is (doesn't mean it's not either). Maybe I'm not being very generous to myself; probably we all do it, realistically, but it's something I need to be careful of. There's often little difference between hearing the ring of truth and confirming your own prejudices.

I do it with other stuff too - the more I invest myself in nonviolence the more I see around me that acts in contrary ways, reinforcing the myth of redemptive violence. The current situation in Lebanon, with Israel retaliating with the most unbelievable overkill (literally) imaginable, I wonder how on earth it could come to this, how this could make sense to anyone, let alone be justifiable. Then I heard this as part of a Pace e Bene podcast yesterday:
"Creative nonviolence recognizes that each of us has tendencies towards violence and love. It maintains, as the Soviet dissident Aleksander Solzhenitsyn put it, "the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." Each of us has only a piece of the truth, and therefore each of us also has a piece of the untruth. Creative nonviolence fails when it is arrogant or self-righteous - especially when it claims to be free of violence, or when it asserts that only the 'others' are violent."
It humbles me to realize that I am not free of violence, but also that we need each other in order to be whole - it's so much easier to divide myself off from everyone I disagree with or have trouble with. So I, like Simon and Garfunkel's boxer, carry the reminders of every glove that laid me down or cut me till I cried out in my anger and my shame, "I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains."

And it does remain. But I am leaving...I am leaving.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Perseverance – yes, more and more one sees that it is the great thing. But there is a thing which must not be overlooked. Perseverance is not hanging on to some course which we have set our minds to, and refusing to let go. It is not even a matter of getting a bulldog grip on the faith and not letting the devil pry us loose from it – though many of the saints made it look that way. Really, there is something lacking in such a hope as that. Hope is a greater scandal than we think. I am coming to think that God (may He be praised in His great mystery) loves and helps best those who are so beat and have so much nothing when they come to die that it is almost as if they had persevered in nothing but had gradually lost everything, piece by piece, until there was nothing left but God. Hence, perseverance is not hanging on, but letting go. That of course is terrible. But as you say so rightly, it is a question of His hanging on to us, by the hair of the head, that is from on top and beyond, where we cannot see or reach. What man can see the top of his own head? If we reach it – this we can do – we stand a good chance of interfering with God’s grip (may He forgive us).
Thomas Merton, in a letter to Dorothy Day dated February 4th 1960. From The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters by Thomas Merton.

sin, guilt, freedom

Jude raised an excellent point about sin and forgiveness in her comment on the Kingdom of God post. Sin very often remains an oppressive force with substitutional atonement, because one is constantly wary of having to confess each individual instance in order to have it absolved; otherwise, God's grace is powerless to forgive, it is said (or implied). That's a stressful way to live (or not live, really).

I think substitutional atonement places such an emphasis on guilt (seen as offence against God) and forgiveness that is ends up being oppressive rather than lifegiving. Or that's been my experience, anyway. Brian McLaren made an excellent point in a recent Rev Up when he said that sin is not as much about guilt, as it is about slavery (interestingly, this comment had the most resonance for the audience of anything else he said, which was hugely obvious for me sitting at the back of the room). The Bible talks about this again and again, yet because we are shaped by our reading about sin through a guilt lens rather than a slavery one, we never notice it.

That is, sin is oppressive precisely because it locks us into a spiral of destruction from which we by ourselves are powerless to break free. We are bound by it. Jesus' nonviolent, loving response to sin broke its power over us. His resurrection gives us the power to live (where life is equated with living the way of God, not merely existing).

But I guess ultimately what I'm saying is that past sin (which is very much the focus of substitutional atonement) is not as much the point as present sin. Forgiveness is not just about wiping the slate clean (although that is certainly true, and is a palpable relief for many of us), but is about redemption. God somehow redeems my mistakes (sin) and in so doing, frees me from their consequences. Actually God's grace frees us from the consequences of our sin anyway (Rom 5:8 "But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" italics added), but with confession they are stripped of their power to bind us in future. That is the sense in which past sin is not as important as present sin. Insofar as I am living into the vast, unfettered future afforded me by God's grace, I am being saved.

That's not to say we ignore or gloss over past sin; aside from anything else, reparation being made for that is part of what it means to love positively in the present (which is why restorative justice is so much more lifegiving than retributive or punitive justice). And being aware of past sin means being aware of what power it had over you and perhaps still does if you're not careful to live into the freedom you've been afforded. But living means being fully present, not preoccupied with past or future. Expanding our now, as Harrison Owen says.

Athol Gill apparently used to say that the evangelical problem was not that we take sin too seriously (which appears to be the case because of the excesses of substitutional atonement) but that we don't take it seriously enough. In some way we fundamentally misunderstand what sin is if we merely conceive it as breaking God's rules or offending God's honour. But that's for another time, and another post.

Friday, July 07, 2006

stencil art

There's plenty of stencil art that keeps popping up around the part of Brunswick where I live. Apparently Melbourne has become the stencil art capital of the world - breeding a new kind of artist. I know a lot of people consider it awful and an eyesore, but as one person I heard interviewed about it said, "Where people are happy and have nothing to worry about, there is no stencil art. It's only where people are struggling, and finding things hard that this kind of thing provides an expression for that pain." At the very least, it makes for a visually interesting area.

for the Kingdom of God

What if Jesus didn't die on the cross to assuage the wrath of a just God bent on vengeance?

A little while ago I wrote about how and why substitutional atonement doesn't grab me (that's an understatement) as a way of understanding Jesus. Now, after a journey that has lasted since I first felt uncomfortable with substitutional atonement (I remember I was thinking about it at least around age 10), I think I finally have an alternative that works, and so I want to make a positive statement of what I do believe. Understand this is not a definitive, for-all-times-and-all-places statement, but one that helps me make sense of the Christian story from my perspective.

Traditionally, we are told that Jesus died as a substitute for us - that is, we are going to hell because we have sinned (offended God, in this case) and the punishment for that is eternal death (hell) when we die. Jesus was used by God as a substitute punishment, and so if we accept Jesus into our life (whatever that means - usually praying a certain prayer involving asking for forgiveness and repenting - turning from our sins), we are forgiven and will go to heaven when we die.

I prefer the original meaning of atonement - not the guilt-inducing meaning we've come to associated with it, with all its bloody, sacrificial imagery - but the reconciliatory, restitutional meaning, literally AT-ONE-MENT.

To summarize a couple of reasons why substitutional atonement is unsatisfactory:
1. Jesus life and ministry before his death becomes fairly irrelevant. It's kind of nice to hear some stuff that God reckons, but the sense is that its less significant than the 'real show' in Jesus' death. Under substitutional atonement, even the manner of his death is not all that significant - who did it and why are almost irrelevant - although the more we play up his suffering, it seems (ala Mel Gibson) the more Jesus had to go through to pay for our sins, and therefore the more he seemingly (yet perversely) earned it.

2. God is made out to be a monster, bent on securing someone's death as punishment for his offended ego, even if it's his own son. A "Must...kill...something" kind-of-a-God. Plus God then asks something of us that he doesn't do himself - namely, forgive without being repaid or restituted.

3. The resurrection also has less significance under substitutional atonement. Jesus would've 'atoned' just as satisfactorily for our sins had he remained dead. Resurrection, then, becomes like the lovely but unnecessary bonus prize rather than the central motif it was for the disciples. Living on (or again) was, for them (when they finally got it), the fulfillment of Jesus' life, not a supernatural party trick that impressed them enough to go through with the rest of it.

4. It is disempowering. You have debts that you owe that the system is stacked against you having the wherewithal to pay. Some would say that's why we need to throw ourselves on the arms of grace - but what kind of just system is stacked against you from the get-go?

5. It often makes your life after being "forgiven" or "converting" or "being saved" (conceived as a point-in-time) fairly irrelevant. I always used to puzzle over this, because as a Christian there was little or no incentive to better myself or even be obedient to God. Sure, there was the "God wants you to" guilt-trip, but when God will forgive you when you ask anyway, what's the point? Salvation is too far removed from action.

So what am I proposing? Well, nothing new in a lot of ways, but new for me. Maybe a different, more genuine, way of seeing Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Probably just a lens - but for me, one that works and inspires rather than one that leaves a nasty taste in my mouth, holding uncomfortable contradictions (not to be confused with paradoxes) that can't be satisfactorily resolved. It also makes much more sense of the biblical witness - with gospels in which Jesus talks more about the kingdom than anything else, and talks about himself as a sacrificial lamb rarely if ever. With Paul who focusses almost completely on the suffering inherent in being a Christian, not because of that specific time and place, but because Christians as people who are for life-in-all-its-fullness necessarily clash with a system that is bent on destruction and hate and death (even when that system doesn't appear to be that way).

Jesus, in other words, shows us how to participate in the building of the Kingdom of God, a new society characterized by self-giving love; but more than that, he enables its happening in and around us. In that sense, in the context of Jesus' life, his death is not merely one of many possible endings, it is the fulfillment of the way of God, and his life prior to that. This (his persecution and death) is the kind of thing that happens when you follow this way of life - but the positive flip side of that is that this is the way to truly live, not merely the negative consequences of it. This is how to effect the Kingdom of God - by lovingly giving of oneself (not just in death either).

Jesus did pay as a result of our sins, but not to assuage our guilt or in place of a wrathful God bent on vengeance. He did it to show us that there was another way; not just to show, but embody the way to life. The sense in which Jesus took our sins upon him was the he bore the brunt of the very kinds of things we do - hateful, violent, ugly things (sin). Whether they hurt ourselves or others, they embody a way of death in and of themselves. The sins Jesus bore are our sins because we are complicit in the system that killed him - it is something we do every day.

But it is the way he bore them that is perhaps of ultimate significance, as it shows us not merely an expedient method of getting your own way, but demonstrates the way of God. He bore them nonviolently. Nonviolently does not mean passively - it means actively breaking the power of those who oppose you by sheer force of rightness and integrity, and by your commitment to those things. It is a very different way to the way we are taught and socialised into acting to make things happen; the ends justify the means, don't let it cost you, lie cheat and steal your way there if necessary, step on whoever you need to to get there. As John H Yoder puts is, "Suffering is not a tool to make people come around, nor a good in itself. But the kind of faithfulness that is willing to accept evident defeat rather than complicity with evil is, by virtue of its conformity with what happens to God when he works among men [and women], aligned with the ultimate triumph of the Lamb."

And Jesus did so because this is definitional of both the personhood of God and life-in-all-its-fullness itself (though the two are inseparable). This is what we have failed to grasp; that God is not interested in the kind of power that dominates, that forces its will on others. This is the kind of power that instead prefers to love, even when it costs everything. And the Christian story is that this kind of love, this kind of power, wins. That is perhaps the most counter-intuitive, most staggering truth ever devised, let alone embodied. That is the significance of Jesus.

His sinlessness consists in his complete lack of complicitity in the system that killed him, the system that we daily participate in and perpetuate as human beings. It's not that God needed some kind of unblemished sacrifice because he's incredibly fussy about the kind of sacrifice that is made to him, but because it only makes sense in the context of someone who does not give in to the sin systems around us - what Wink calls the Domination System.

Jesus' life takes on much more significance because it's his demonstration of how we are to truly live, not just exist (or even have a "happy" or "successful" existence). Resurrection, then, becomes central because it means that for people who choose this way death is not the end; life wins anyway, even in apparent defeat. It's a no-holds-barred, no-fear approach to life (after all "perfect love casts out fear"!(1 Jn 4:18))

It makes more sense of grace too, because grace is not merely a free ride (Bonhoeffer's "cheap grace"), but is the way that God actively withholds the natural consequences of our sin in order to enable our choosing of life-in-all-its-fullness. There is no tension between salvation by faith or works here.

Salvation is not something that we achieve or even receive at one point in exchange for our loyalty - our salvation lies precisely in the acting out of that loyalty to the kingdom above all else. They are one and the same. Thus we "work out" our salvation, rather than receiving it. We are nonetheless graced (and therefore receive it) in the sense that God did this regardless of our potential-or-actual reaction to it, but because of who God is. Grace is free precisely because it is something we cannot effect on our own. God's grace in withholding the deathly effects of sin enables us (through God's power, because "no-one loves apart from God") to "work out" our salvation. All questions, then, of whether one can "lose one's salvation" become moot.

So nonviolent love is the expression of God's kingdom on earth. How else can we see Jesus' pronouncement to Pilate, "You have no authority except that which you have been given from above" (Jn 19:11) except as a concretely political statement of nonviolent commitment to an alternative kingdom? It's a slap in the face for the powers of this world, a denial of their power in real terms - not just as a statement for beyond the grave, but for here and now. Again, Paul in Col 2:15 "He disarmed {Or [divested himself of]} the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in [his cross]." As Walter Wink puts it, "The powers had used their final sanction against Jesus and had failed to silence him. Not even death could hold him. But if a mere Galilean artisan has withstood the entire Domination System and has prevailed, then the power of the Powers is not, after all, ultimate. There is another power at work in the universe that, like water, cuts stone: nonviolent love." (The Powers That Be, p. 80) In other words, if you can't win even when you do your worst, what is left but defeat?

Try reading the whole New Testament this way and suddenly it all makes so much more sense. Of course there's more - lots more - to the story in terms of revisioning heaven and hell, sin, separation from God, etc. but this is a start at least. And it's probably not been expressed very well. But for me, it's an energizing, exciting, inspiring message, one that I can't help sharing and living out. That's gotta say something for it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

dive-free zone

Don't know who made these, but...whoever you are, I love your work.


twice in just over one week. karma is most definitely dead.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006