Monday, April 11, 2016

My Religion

My Religion

‘Religion’ [inverted commas]

Religion is a term that can refer to many different things including belief, philosophies, culture and community. Here I am going to talk about ‘religion’ in terms of a personal belief that exists in all people (including both those who do and do not believe they encounter a spiritual realm) which gives us a framework to function. Religion as I will refer to it is the driving force behind the christian, muslim, jew, atheist, agnostic, etc. Religion is not the monopoly of those who call themselves ‘religious’ but the meaning that each of us find. It is the truth that points us to a capital ‘T’ Truth.

Loss of innocence

My basis in religion stems from growing up in a baptist church with my immediate family members involved in churches of various denominations. There are some critical points in my lived experience which caused me to deconstruct what I once knew to be infallible truth, and have in turn pointed me to what I understand to be Truth.


Hell for me was a place where people who hadn’t committed their lives to Jesus ended up. I was never really sure whether it was fire and brimstone, or simply a separation from God. But I was taught that it is the place my friends end up if I don’t convert them. When someone who mentored me in the social justice space hung himself, I tried to synthesise my belief with a new lived reality. My friend wrote on his note ‘if there is a God, I hope he forgives me.’

I only have my lived experience to back this up. I know that a God who deeply loves humanity and could even deeply love me would not be a God who would throw my friend into the depths of hell for eternity for not towing the party line. Like Rob Bell, I began asking ‘does God get what God wants?’, and believing in the God who wants relationship and restoration, I could only answer yes.

So from that perspective, I don’t actually care whether Hell exists in another realm. It could, but nothing in my world would fall apart if it didn’t. What I do know is that hell exists on earth now - in Australia’s detention centres, in occupied Palestine, and for people trapped in situations of domestic violence.


Though I may have struggled to admit this, depravity was the lens through which I saw the world. I believed that humans at their very core were broken not bent. The only way to resolve this brokenness was to wrap it up with orthodoxy (right belief), and then fix other people’s brokenness through orthopraxy (right practice). I had to remind myself and others of our shared depravity, and that I had the magical cure to offer them.

It was a radical change for me to come to the understanding that at our very core, at our deepest level, we are the image of God. We have within us the Truth that we are seeking. It’s the Truth which other truths guide us towards. Rather than adding doctrine, theology and religious practices into our lives, we must strip back the lies, hurt and pain which stand in the way of us becoming at one with our very essence. Only then can we delve into and derive energy from the image of God inside us.

This has lead me to believe that good can exist where I was told God was not. There is the capacity within every living human to contribute to a wider vision of what could be. There is nothing I can do to remove the image of God and truth within me from myself or from another human.


It’s much easier to deconstruct than to reconstruct. For many of us, our lived experience propels us into deconstructing the systematic religion we once believed. A life without reconstructed religion or philosophy is appealing. It presents itself as freedom gives the illusion that happiness is attainable.

Perhaps more problematically, such a deconstructed understanding tends to hold up happiness as the central virtue. Yet it cannot derive meaning or purpose in suffering, and it doesn’t have the foresight to sacrifice for the ‘other’. The identity of the deconstructed self is entirely fluid, unreliable, and is unable to hold to principal through trials in order to better understand itself. The deconstructed self can only exist in the immediacy and no one should dare to predict where it may be tomorrow.

While at our very core we have only the capacity to love and to do good, surrounded by this is are our capacities to be selfish, to hate, and to destroy. I believe we can be active in engaging the deepest level of ourselves and others and in doing so bring about a kind of ‘heaven’ on earth and to some degree, within our own lived experience. This could have many facets, but for me includes:

  1. A commitment to a specific community to draw energy from
  2. Seeing the outsider as sacred and inviting them in (the greatest example I perceive of this 'enemy love' is the Crucifixion of Jesus and the way he responded to a violent system)
  3. An openness to learn and adopt the truths of others which point to Truth.
  4. Understanding heaven and hell are lived realities for many people
  5. Pursuing a world which releases people from manmade ‘hells on earth’ and enables heaven to take root among us.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

5 Things I've Learnt from Stephen Christian (Anberlin)

1. There is beauty in the small things

As kids we're encouraged to dream big. As adults, we often feel like we have failed these dreams.

When I was volunteering with World Vision Australia I was privileged to interview Stephen with a group of young activists. One things which is frozen in my mind is how Stephen seemed to come alive when surrounded by a small group of activists. I know he is charismatic, but he is also used to performing in front of large groups of people. Yet something lit up in him when he told us that we as a small group of people who cared about poverty and human trafficking will be the ones who change the world.

Life is a constant revaluation of our own path. Many who are who we want to be are not happy and want what we have. We don't have to be famous to live the good life or change the world, we have to be committed.

2. There is a time and a place

I think for the members of Anberlin, perhaps the easiest thing for them to do would have been to stay together. It was life as they knew it. I have great respect for Stephen and the other members as they are still choosing to follow their dreams when many of their fans think they are already living it.

I distinctly remember Stephen saying to me that his dreams are bigger than Anberlin. Although he plays internationally sold out shows, he will be called to do bigger smaller things. Sometimes we try to qualify what we do by the quantity of people that see it. But there are so many macro-ideological yet micro-relational things we are each called to

3. There is grace in honesty

Many Anberlin and Anchor & Braille songs deal with pain and suffering. I must admit, when I first heard them I brushed them off as an emo band. Song titles like 'There Is No Mathematics To Love And Loss' is a bit of a dead giveaway. In fact I refused to like Anberlin until a band member made us perform Unwinding Cable Car. I then realised music can be emotionally honest while still being profoundly interesting.

4. There is honesty in grace

Grace doesn't always mean being nice. In the face of violence and suffering Christian sings 'we owe this to ourselves, we can't just let this go'. 

I have also realised that Stephen believes it is important for leaders to not hide away their shadow self. In a recent interview Stephen was actually grateful to be able to reveal publicly the things he struggles with. In an age where our idolised leaders are caught up in a web of lies and scandals, taking the initiative of stepping down from the pedestal is unusual yet admirable. It means coming to terms with the gap between the 'is' and the 'ought', but it also separates us from the captivation of denial.

5. Practice, don't preach

It's often tempting to push our world view and morality on others. Rather than telling people how to act in his lyrics, Stephen considers both the suffering and hope we can bring about through our actions. I think a reflective rather than prescriptive communication of one's world view is a much more powerful yet less violent way of coming to a better conclusion.

Here is my 2009 Interview with Stephen Christian from Anberlin and Anchor & Braille.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

'Generosity Cap' : stepping towards a refugee solution

I have been involved in refugee advocacy for over three years. I have said a lot about what is morally wrong with how the state of Australia treats asylum seekers, and how the nation of Australia views them. I have also discovered that many on ‘my side’ of the fence, as it were, are somewhat more reluctant in putting forward a tenable ‘solution’, or at least a step in what we may believe is the right direction.

This is understandable as there are many contradictory ideological perspectives that can group together to attack how the state and nation view those seeking asylum. It is far easier to bond together on what we are against, rather than what we stand for. The reality is that those who are against the current treatment of asylum seekers do not all stand for the same thing, so we have grouped together around what unifies us.

Saul Alinsky says that ‘the price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.' Many of us are terrified of the word ‘solution’, because its heritage in Australian political discourse makes it seem synonymous with ‘deterrence’ rather than something that actually addresses the reasons as to why people are seeking our protection.

So here is my first try at a ‘solution’. I think this is humane, realistic, and a step in the right direction.

Refugee Camp: Sven Torfinn for the Guardian

'Generosity Cap' : a refugee solution

7.5% of Australia’s gross population increase should be reserved for protection visas with a minimum of 30,000 to be granted each year. Currently Australia’s population is increasing by approximately 400,000 people each year. 30,000 is a reasonable figure - we need the numbers regardless.

An additional 10,000 places should be made available for permanent protection reunion visas, where a refugee in Australia can sponsor a family member when they have the means to independently support those who they are being reunited with.

It’s difficult to come up with a number like 30,000 or 7.5%. One way of looking at it is to first consider that Australia has about a 1% share of global wealth.  There are just over 50,000,000 refugees in the world. This means that Australia’s fair share is around 500,000. It is difficult to assess over how many years the 50 million refugees have been ‘produced’. The UNHCR reports that there were 10 million new refugees last year along. It would take us about 17 years to become host to over 500,000 first generation refugees or 13 years if we are to include reunion visas. 

It is worth noting that resettlement is not always the best option. Many refugees are looking for peace, not resettlement. It would seem that the 5 million Palestinian refugees are not all desiring resettlement in Australia. But for many of the 50 million refugees in the world, resettlement is their only option.

This intake can only be increased by individuals or communities committing to hosting an asylum seeker, or asylum seeker families for periods of at least 3 years. Those who are hosted for three years by members of the public will not count towards the 30,000 cap. This is a fair compromise between collective responsibility towards those in need and individual. This is a ‘cap’ that is determined by the generosity of Australian citizens.

Maximum 10,000 refugees can be resettled through arriving by boat or claiming protection once in Australian territory. Only those who are found to be genuine will be resettled. Once the 10,000 cap is reached, asylum seekers will be forced to relocate either back to their home country or to a regional refugee camp which is co-sponsored by the Australian government unless Australian individuals and communities are willing to commit to hosting them.

Those who arrive by boat and are found to not be genuine should have the right to appeal. If they are unsuccessful or choose not to appeal, they should be sent back to their home country where possible. In the rare cases that they are unable to be sent back, they should be given temporary residency in Australia.

The Australian government should once a year check on the status of those who have been sent back through a trusted humanitarian organisation over the course of five years. If it is found that forced deportations have resulted in those who were thought to have not been refugees being persecuted then this policy must be reconsidered.

At least 20,000 refugees from camps, primarily in the Asia-Pacific region should be resettled in Australia each year. This should lower the number of boat arrivals and drownings at sea. There should be incentives for employers to hire refugees so that they can become ‘economic contributors’ as soon as possible (acknowledging that various studies have shown that refugees are currently contributing greatly towards Australia’s economy).

The Australian government should invest in online infrastructure to make it simple for members of the public to be able to host refugee families during their initial resettlement in Australia.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Confessions of an (almost) pacifist


It's the name of the game. People tend to like to pigeon-hole others, and by implication - themselves, as far away from those with opposing views as possible. It forces each one of us into thinking in black and white. Shades are a compromise.

But even those who believe that shades hold truth, often believe it with the same force as those who hold fast to a black and white mindset. Any views, whether open on closed, progressive or conservative, left or right, which need to pigeon-hole others as a counterpoint for validation purposes are essentially black and white.

And yet black and white is incredibly attractive to us humans. We believe we have each eaten the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which convinces us that we are righteous judges. Perhaps more so, it convinces us that we are right judges. We have each been to the mountaintop and are so confident in our beliefs that we would commit murder to see them practised among the others.

Confessions of an (almost) pacifist

They came to the village with their weapons. Home by home, they raided. Life by life they ended. In order to do no harm, the villagers stood by watching their wives and children being raped and tortured.

I have a certain admiration for those in our military and police force. To the extent that they are willing to, or in many cases have already taken the courageous step of sacrificing their lives for others, they are the most noble among men. I often doubt whether I or many others would be willing to make the sacrifice they make - at times for their mates, at other times during humanitarian missions. To blindly criticise the army and police-force and what they have committed their lives to without any thought for their vision, hope, and aspiration reflects either blatant hypocrisy or one's own inflated ego.

Could I, as an advocate for demilitarisation and non-violent responses to conflict condemn those that are willing to risk their own lives to save the villagers in the italicised example above? I would suggest that I would have no right to condemn such people for their actions. I have not been in a war zone, I do not know what it is like to stand by while those I love are either being tortured, raped, or killed. What gives me the right to condemn those who are willing to risk their life and liberty for their families? Sometimes I want to blindly condemn such people - because deep down I still want the world to be black, white, and nothing else.

A third way

I believe that it is not inconsistent to admire those who sacrifice themselves for others and yet believe that there may be a third way that involves neither passivity or aggression as tools for overcoming evil.

Love inevitably overcomes evil. I believe that our nature is good and that goodness comes more naturally to us than evil. I believe that no individual created by a loving God is irredeemable. I believe that God still has good work planned for warlords and juntas; presidents and paedophiles. These fundamental ideas give me no other option than to believe that killing even the most evil of men is denying them the option of doing the good and loving works that God (still) has planned for them.

We could argue 'till the cows come home as to whether humans are in fact naturally good and whether all humans are created to respond and be transformed by simple acts of love. We will never get there in a debate. This is where I have to admit that my belief in non-violence which leads me to being an (almost) pacifist is not fundamentally based on rationality but my understanding of human nature, creation, and God.

And while some argue (rather convincingly in my opinion) that non-violence is the most effective means of overcoming evil in real world conflicts, I admit that I am not basing my beliefs on this empirical evidence. I believe that love wins. This is the hope that keeps me alive. 

Perhaps I am wrong

How will I answer if I have got this all wrong. Perhaps I have let innocent people die because of a faith-based axiom which perhaps could be, but is not in my mind, based upon strict and impartial logic. I believe this is a real possibility. If I am deluded and wrong, I can only ask for forgiveness.

None of us should believe that we are beyond reproach. Whatever the answers may be, a good starting place is to desire the good of others no matter who they may are. In seeking the good of others, friend or foe, we move towards an idea of 'good' for the commons and away from relentless polarisation and shouting matches.


If good does win at the end of the day, and if even the most wretched of us can be transformed through love, then there will never be enough time to practice this understanding and share it with the world. If the same God created Muslim and Jew, Christian and Atheist, then we must invest ourselves into building bridges rather than walls. If God is in fact good, and desires good for us, we have no enemy to kill and no need to be validated through polarising others.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Let's face it: We're probably racist.

Let’s face it. 

If New Zealand was under attack and boatloads of predominately white people from New Zealand came to Australia, our ‘stop the boats’ policy would change instantly. They wouldn't be sent to Nauru, Manus Island, or anywhere else with the promise of never being resettled. They wouldn't be perceived as a threat; as selfish individuals who have come to our country as economic opportunists. We wouldn't seek to deter ifrom asking for our help.

They would be welcomed.

If they were ten, twenty, or thirty percent of our net migration in a given year, we would not flinch. We would welcome support from governments, churches, and charities whether it be in solidarity or in substance. Our preachers would not preach hate. Our teachers would teach us to hear their stories. 

Our lives would be mutually enriched.

If they came to our country we would give them the right to work. We would allow them to have a dignified existence in our midst, and seek to know them in a deeper way than as ‘the other’. Ungracious metaphors would have no place in our language. They are not a flood, a drain, or a wave. They are people. They are real people. They have names. They have stories. They have suffered.

They would be heard. 

If they came to our country they would not see signs saying ‘go away, we’re full’, or ‘don’t like it? get out’. They would be encouraged to express their culture, to teach their histories, to share their food. They would not be looked upon suspiciously. There would be no neighbourhood alarm to ring when one of them steps foot on to a particular piece of land.

We would choose to embrace them.

Why would our reaction be different if they were from a predominantly white country? 

Because we are racist.

People who believe the spin that says ‘they’ have malintent and are out to get us are racist. People who think that asylum seekers fleeing persecution are somehow gaming the system are racist. People who think that suffering and vulnerable people who need our help should be shown the door are racist.

Let’s not use colourful ‘diplomatic’ language and call them ‘rationalists’, ‘conservatives’, or ‘patriots’. It’s time we called a spade a spade, a person a person, and a racist a racist.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Not so Super

One of the joys of attempting to navigate towards the Kingdom in the unKingdom/non-Kingdom kingdom of our world is working out the least worse decision when there is no clear singular moral option. I think this is the case for superannuation. Money can be a very bad thing - we know what it does to us yet we still submit to it. However, I think superannuation is nearly unavoidable. So if you have super or are considering investing in a super fund then keep reading.

There are a plethora of ethical and topical considerations which cannot be ignored when it comes to where we invest our money. This is why I recently emailed REST who I currently invest with to find out more about their ethics. This was my email:

'I am a member of Rest Industry Super. I am hoping that you can clarify the following points for me as to my investment with Rest.

  1. Does Rest invest in companies who manufacture weapons?
  2. How does Rest ensure that my investments cause no harm to the environment?
  3. Does Rest adhere to a transparency code?
  4. Does Rest adhere to a charter of ethics?
  5. Does Rest invest in gambling, alcohol, tobacco, or any other industries that are commonly considered to be unethical?'
I sometimes agitate by asking too many questions, but I didn't really consider the above questions unreasonable. This was the response I received:
'Sustainability is one of many important investment considerations our investment managers seek to take into account. We don’t classify underlying investments we hold as you require and we do not restrict investment on any singular consideration. We invest in a range of assets such as shares, bonds, property and infrastructure.'
I found the above response completely inadequate from a customer service perspective and from an ethical perspective. To not restrict investments according to particular 'singular' considerations means that anything is up for grabs... weapons, gambling, porn - you name it!

Australian Superannuation had been suggested to me as the default option for people working in the NGO (NFP) sector. Unfortunately they have removed their restrictions on unethical investments in 2010.

I also had a look at Crescent Wealth, Australian Ethical Super, Cruelty Free Super, and Christian Super. My criteria was that my fund of choice must have a clear stance on various ethical issues, most importantly, weapons manufacturing. They also must have a good standing with SuperRatings.

The list is as follows, from good to bad:
  1. Christian Super - for it's clearly defined stance on topical issues and great ratings
  2. Australian Ethical Super - for it's somewhat defined stance on topical issues and good ratings
  3. Crescent Wealth - for it's clearly defined stance on topical issues, good treatment of animals (generally), clear stance on weapons
  4. Australian Super - Good ratings/awards
  5. REST - ....?
To clarify - Christian super is not first because I identify with the term Christian. That would be like taking a how-to-vote card from the Christian Democrats. Christian Super seem to have the clearest stance on the issues which I feel strongly about (not sure what they are? read the rest of my blog!).


Monday, March 11, 2013

The Kingdom of God

Christ compels us to see God's image in the people whom our society tells us are evil. Moreover, by his example we are called to reject the systems, hierarchies, and religion which depend upon the diminished worth of some to feed the privileges (and stomachs) of others. When we begin to see God's image in all of God's children there ceases to be room for the kinds of exclusionary practices which have haunted our world. 

In the new kingdom, false gods such as racism, militarism, poverty, sexism, homophobia, and others are not required for the Glory of the King. They often are required for the maintenance of our current systems, hierarchies, and religion. Our Kings and Queens, Prime Ministers and Presidents, CEOs and CFOs can only exist in their positions because we believe that some people are capable of determining what is good and right for others, while another, often much larger group of people are incapable of looking after their own affairs. 

We can only acknowledge one lawmaker, and therefore, we can only acknowledge one set of laws. If His law and other 'laws', practices, and beliefs are not in harmony with one another, we are presented with the perfect opportunity to be one with whom our obedience must lie.

I have been born into a world of golden idols whom our Pharisees lead us to worship. For how long will we follow their laws as a derivative of our patriotism, their economic injustices masked by our reliance upon capitalism, and their prejudices based on our worship of false Gods? 

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.