Sunday, 30 December 2007

Christmas reading: Espresso Tales

From the book by Alexander McCall Smith, p. 4:

Australia was a world away, and it was full of possibilities. Anybody might be forgiven for going to Melbourne or Sydney—or even to Perth—and discovering that life in those places was fuller than the one they had led before. There was more space in Australia, and more light—but it was also true that there was there an exhilarating freedom, precisely the sort of freedom that might appeal to a nineteen-year-old. And there were young men, too, who must have been an additional lure. She might meet one of these and stay forever, forgetful of the fact that vigorous Australian males within a few years mutated into homo Australiensis suburbis, into drinkers of beer and into addicts of televised footie, butterflies, thus, into caterpillars.

Not to mention the cricket. Nice to see India beaten into early submission in the Boxing Day Test.

"As a batsman, if you don't have runs flowing, you're under the pump," said Gilchrist after India were bowled out for 161 in their second innings to secure a 337-run victory, with the last five wickets collapsing in 10 overs for a mere 27 runs. "They [the Australian bowlers] were a great pack of bowlers that worked well and hunted well."

Christmas 2007

Went down to Austinmer for a few days, including Christmas. Matilda and I looked at a bit of Ecclesiastes together, because she'd picked it out as something she wanted to read.

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2    Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be

-Ecclesiastes 1.

I asked her what she thought of it, and she said she didn't really understand it. I said, that's not surprising, I don't think I understood it the first time I read it. It's in the Bible so we know that God said it, but it's almost like he's pretending that he doesn't believe in God.

We prayed that God would help us to understand his word, even the tricky bits.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Flood news

"The Bogan River in the state's far west is in minor flood."

So we're told, anyway. The surrounding countryside has been inundated by mullets.

With apologies to the overseas reader. You, dear friend, will need to spend a bit of time googling for 'Bogan' and 'mullet' in order to undertstand this local yokel jokel.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Peter Garrett, burning the Midnight Oil

Mate. What have you done.

Not sure, really, but I'd say Traceee is not alone.

Check this blog

Here's another blog that I am going to be checking regularly, because I so much enjoyed the previous incarnation. AB is putting his leftover sermon bits and pieces here, and like the Gentiles (or the dogs under the table), I am grateful to log in and pick up the occasional scraps.

Thanks for tossing them out, AB!

You got nothin'

"Political life is about listening to the different sides and finding a way forward, and I think Anglicanism is a bit like that."

-Philip Aspinall, buried somewhere here.

That's pathetic, Phil. You got nothin'.

Re: Your Christmas newsletter

Dear A and B,

We love you dearly, but if you send a file that busts our monthly download limit in one hit, we will delete you.

Well, not you, but every last one of the megabytes you sent.

Photos are the big thing. One photo of you is lovely. Two is equally lovely. Three, your message gets deleted. Five, we get our ex SAS friend to hunt you down, insert himself strategically into your study, and use C4 explosives to blow up your computer the next time you hit 'send'.

Now look.

Unless you have suffered a terrible disfiguring disease or an industrial, automotive or military accident during the last 12 months, we have a reasonable idea of what you look like, and have no urgent need to see the most recent photo. If that changes and we do find that we need to remind ourselves about you, then we will check your blog, find you via the facebook status update, or fire off a quick Christmas message of our own to let you know that we need that piccie, and we need it now.

Notwithstanding: if you really feel you need to get that information through, send it via snail-mail or try again in January. January is a quiet month, and we are unlikely to exceed 20 MB, and that will handle at least the first 23 of your photos.

Your annual friends,

Gordo, Fifi, matilda, ruby and lily

PS Happy Christmas.

Friday, 21 December 2007

facebook chess II

Since I blogged about facebook chess I not only haven't picked up any opponents, I appear to have scared off a few of you and even paralyzed one of you into chessboard inaction.

*throws head back and laughs*:mwahahahahahaaaa!

But seriously, send me a challenge, someone. I'm not that good, really.

In all honesty

Here's a terrific blog. Jean was president of the Melbourne Uni Christian Union when I worked down there, and her husband Steve now works for the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students, at RMIT Christian Union.

Jean is a latter-day Puritan in the entirely positive and good sense of that word, and her reflections on being a wife and mother, and the nature of sin and grace, are well worth a close look. She is a specialist on puritans actually, with a Doctorate from Melbourne Uni which she received under Ian Breward (the same man who sent my thesis back recently with lots of metaphorical and well deserved red pen scribbles all over it).

More good reasons for preachers to minister 1-1

The fertile ground of the comments section of my previous post on Richard Baxter appears to have been sown with weeds!! (See Matthew 13:25)

So let me ask again if any of you can think of more good reasons why preachers should also do one-to-one ministry.

And Jensen! Stay away from that 'post comment' button! The rest of you, have at it.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Ten great reasons for preachers to work at one-to-one ministry

With the help of The Reformed Pastor (written by Richard Baxter) and the Bible (written by God); and in no particular order, I have thought of ten good reasons why preachers should work hard at one-to-one ministry.

First, in conversation with people, we can find out whether or not they actually understand what they are hearing in our sermons and in our other teaching.

If we were interested in depressing or confusing ourselves with statistics, there would be any number of studies that demonstrated how the average hearer retained very little of what was said from the average sermon.

Amongst the many possible responses to this is the obvious observation that, scripturally speaking, the models of ministry that we have in the New Testament rely on all sorts of ways of speaking the gospel, not just pulpiteering. When we speak to people one-to-one, it’s a matter of moments to see whether or not our meaning is clear. If we haven’t been clear, then we can take all the time we want to explain further any of the basic questions that need to be worked on. If the person is not as sharp or as quick to pick up ideas as others, then we can simply go over the basics again.

Second, as we talk to people individually our personal relationship with them will become stronger, and our communication with them will become more effective. If people like and respect us, they will be more likely to pay attention to what we say and give it due weight as an explanation and application of God’s word.

While we can often hear of how hypocrisy in churches turns people away from the gospel, we are less likely to hear the corresponding truth: that as people see and hear the good example of their minister, they are more likely to respond with trust and obedience in their heavenly Father. More than once the apostle Paul points people to his own example and those of other Christian leaders as something that confirms the truth of the gospel and lends weight to his words (eg 2 Tim 3:10, cf Phil 2:22; 1 Cor 4:15-17).

Third, personal contact with people will also improve our public preaching. We will be able to pray for our hearers more specifically, and we will be able to apply our public sermons more carefully, thoughtfully and thoroughly.

Fourth, as we talk about individuals about spiritual matters, we will ourselves be more open to being challenged by God’s word and by our conversation and prayers. If we are dealing with someone about their lying or their gluttony, for example, we will be reading Scripture and holding conversations where we ourselves are exposed to rebuke (and encouragement) in our areas of weakness.

When we are in conversation, there is far more opportunity for specific spiritual application both to ourselves and others. Many ministers know first hand the joy of going to visit a member of their congregation, only to discover that they come away more strengthened by the conversation possibly even than the person they were speaking to.

Fifth, we will be better able to minister to people at times of crisis. They will be more willing to seek us out, and we will be better able to help them, if there is a pre-existing strong relationship.

Sixth, getting to know people personally, reading the Bible and praying with them sets an example that they will be able to repeat with others, especially members of their own families. This can be particularly significant in men’s ministry, since the role of the man within a marriage is to work to help his wife and children to grow in godliness. The husband is to “love [his wife] as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25), which means doing whatever he can to help her grow in godliness. Likewise, the father has a responsibility not to provoke his children to anger, “but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).

Seventh, people are more likely to support the work of ministry that they themselves have benefited from; and one-to-one ministry has obvious, immediate and direct benefit.

Eighth, when people see and benefit from effective personal ministry first-hand, they are more likely both to do it themselves and support and encourage others in doing it.

Ninth, personal ministry gives us the opportunity to assess more carefully and closely the state of someone’s spiritual life, and so work out whether we should be further encouraging them in ministry and in leadership.

Tenth, personal ministry reduces the opportunity for laziness and complacency on our part, in a job that can tempt us into both sins by the fact that we are not observed at work by many people for most of the week. Of course, we should always “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col 3:22)—but our regular contact with others who share our desire to see the gospel go out has great potential to help us in this area.

No doubt there are plenty of other reasons, both practical and theological, for considering how to minister the gospel to others in this one-to-one way. Some of them are related to our concern for God’s glory. Some of them are related to obeying the command to love our neighbours as ourselves. Some of them have to do with a right concern and fear for our own spiritual state, that we might be living out what we are teaching, “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27). Some reasons will be more persuasive to us than others, and some have more theological significance than others. Whatever the case, the net result ought to be for us that we make this type of ministry a large and regular part of our teaching in a church, and encourage others in our congregations to do likewise.

Can anyone think of more?

More Baxter on preaching and discipleship

Richard Baxter speaks again:

Let them that have taken most pains in public, examine their people, and try whether many of them are not nearly as ignorant and careless as if they had never heard the gospel. For my part, I study to speak as plainly and movingly as I can…and yet I frequently meet with those that have been my hearers eight or ten years, who know not whether Christ be God or man, and wonder when I tell them the history of his birth and life and death as if they had never head it before.

But most of them have an ungrounded trust in Christ, hoping that he will pardon, justify and save them, while the world hath their hearts, and they live to the flesh. And this trust they take for justifying faith. I have found by experience, that some ignorant persons, who have been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse in half an hour’s close discourse, than they did from ten years’ public preaching. I know that preaching the gospel publicly is the most excellent means, because we speak to many at once. But it is usually far more effectual to preach it privately to a particular sinner….’

-Richard Baxter, quoted by J.I. Packer, “Introduction” to The Reformed Pastor p 18

Remember, this is not a man who is against preaching. Rather, he is so much for preaching that he wants the message to reach each one of his hearers with maximum effectiveness.

You can fill bottles (your hearers) by trying to line them up and spray water through a firehose into all of them. Or you can take the same bottles individually, and fill them under the tap. Not a perfect analogy by any means, but helps illustrate why both gospel preaching and one-to-one gospel work are worth attempting.

Oopsy, sky not falling.

Sorry about that false alarm a few days ago, folks, and put away the umbrellas. The sky is not falling, and NASA suggests that the Arctic may not be melting after all. Oopsy.

And apparently the temperature in Antarctica has remained exactly stable for a period of thirty two years.

Speak, you global warmenists! If you can see through the fog and mist of this unseasonably cold Sydney winter, er, summer, to see these words on your screen.

Thanks to Andrew Bolt, who has a few words to say, and Tim Blair, who is frequently a very funny person. Here he thanks Kevin Rudd for recent Australian rain.

facebook chess

It's the first time I've played chess in years. I used to play all the time in primary school.

I remember that Sherlock Holmes used to play chess by post in the Conan Doyle stories. [edit: no I don't. see comments]

Anyone want a game, feel free to challenge on facebook. I have a lot of writing to do and I need the brain working. I promise to make at least two unforced blunders per game.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Monday, 17 December 2007


Mate! They're eating our tomatoes! They are top tomatoes too.

What to do, what to do...

Rudd and climate change

From somewhere in today's SMH:

Climate change. The first thing Rudd did was sign the Kyoto Protocol. Great symbolism. Then he went to the Bali conference on climate change and promptly reverted to the substance of the Howard position.

I don't want to be the one to say 'I told you so'. And I won't be, either, because I didn't say so. But it doesn't surprise me in the least.

Rudd has that canny combination of knowing what to promise and knowing when to be careful with words and say nothing, while appearing to say something. It will eventually annoy people in the same way that it did with Howard. But not for a little while.

This non-commitment at Bali was undoubtedly a sensible thing, giving Rudd time to decide what he's actually going to do—or not, as the case may be.

Who knows, by 2009 I'm sure the icecaps will have melted anyway—so the experts tell me—and that will be one less policy issue for Big Kev to deal with.

Here's the article. Pretty sensible really (code for: I agree with it).

The best cycleway in the world

This would get me back on my bike. Here's the article in the SMH, with a picture.

what a great weekend activity with the kids, too.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Thank you Christ Church pre-school

Getting my thoughts here because Fifi and I are about to be interviewed at the end-of-term pre-school service at Christ Church Gladesville. Here are a few drafty thoughts, which I will try to remember when I get up in front of people in just over an hour. But if I don't, I hope at least some of you who will be there will log in here as well, and realize how grateful to God we are for the blessing that the pre-school has been to us.

So what am I thankful for? We’ve been linked to the pre-school for 5 years now, through one daughter or another, so there is a lot to be thankful for, a heap actually, but I think I can summarize it by saying relationships, and stuff.

Relationships: The teachers are great, the girls have loved them,

Claire Zucchini and Miss Annette, all the others too, Miss Merry the director, the list should be longer of specific people but isn’t—sorry about that! You are all great and we don’t want to leave anyone off the list so we are leaving most of you, but we remember you all with affection.
Also relationships because the girls have loved being at pre-school, never once complained, and it has been the start of relationships which have continued on into school years.

Stuff: We have loved every little bit of stuff that has come home from pre-school , except for the uneaten lunches and crushed bananas. Oh, and I admit that I did one time ask Miss Claire why the staff kept dropping empty chocolate wrappers and other rubbish into their bags just before home time. But amongst all the ‘stuff’ that has materialized in their bags have been the most delightful artworks, models, stuffed animals, candy canes, cards, party invitations, photographs, letters and various items that we have kept the best of in various random piles at home, and will keep for a very long time, God willing.

One of the biggest bits of ’stuff’ that has come home is stuff about God, and it is also one of the things we are most grateful for. We want our children to love Jesus and be ready to meet him like we are. We find that they have all come back from pre-school just naturally thinking and talking about God, so that it is not at all a strange thing for them to speak to God, to ask him for things, to read the bible, or to talk to us about Jesus.

Which we love, and it is part of our learning as well.

There are a heap of good things about pre-school, but that really is the best of all. The kids are always looking forward to the next thing in life, which they are sure is going to be bigger and better than what came before. But we sometimes remind them to look back as well, and thank God for what they learned in their times at pre-school.

Thank you to the Christ Church Gladesville pre-school, to the teachers and other staff, to the friends we and our children have made, and most of all to our Heavenly Father who gives all good things.

Friday, 14 December 2007

A special name

It will be yours, and yours alone, and no sales offer attaches to it, and it will be an expression of Jesus' love for you.

I read it with Matilda just tonight:

Rev. 2:17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Compare Isaiah 62:2

The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.

That hidden manna sounds rather marvellous, too.

Preaching and book writing

A non-blog commenter e-mailed me with this question:

Interesting to read your take on writing as a form of preaching… I’ve often thought so too…

But that leaves with a serious question… why is it OK to read female writers, but not listen to them preach in public?

Thanks for the question! To be precise, I don't see any biblical restriction on the activity of preaching by women, only on the context. No preaching to men or to mixed congregations. (1 Tim 2:12). And of course, prophesying to a mixed congregation is fine too (1 Cor 11:5-6).

Just another observation to chuck in; I don't think there is even a whisper of a hint that the authors or editors of any of the Bible books were women, although in Proverbs their words are recorded as authoritative in some parts, eg King Lemuel's mum.

I don't think the reasons are entirely clear, but I speculate that certain types of communication are more inherently authoritative than others, and that the more authoritative they become, the less fitting it is for a woman to exercise such authority.

Books and writing just aren't that authoritative, I think. With the single exception of the Bible.

Ask me why, though, and things get a bit vague.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The sky is falling

It's predictions like this that make regular citizens think that climate change prophesiers are eejits.

I think climate change is probably happening, but when the headlines and the bloggerizers begin to shriek about an ice-free Arctic by 2013, you know you've entered the world of sci-fi. It also makes the likelihood of serious and constructive responses, to something that may turn out to be a real problem, just that much more difficult.

Panic now, folks. The Lord Jesus may return tonight, but this apocalyptic scenario is as nothing compared to the reality that the Arctic will be ice-free within minutes.

Preaching and children's Bibles

For what it's worth, I reckon children's Bibles are a form of preaching too. Not always good preaching, but preaching nonetheless.

Which reminds me, still worth hunting down Sally Lloyd-Jones's The Jesus Storybook Bible as a Christmas purchase, all you parental and avuncular types out there. That storybook Bible really is good preaching, in my broader use of the term.

OK, a bit more on preaching then

Here is an extract from R.H. Mounce's article on "Preaching" in the New Bible Dictionary (Leicester: IVP, 1962).

The choice of verbs in the Greek New Testament for the activity of preaching points us back to its original meaning. The most characteristic (occurring more than sixty times) is kerysso, to proclaim as a herald'. In the ancient world the herald was a figure of considerable importance...A man of integrity and character, he was employed by the king or State to make all public proclamations. Preaching is heralding; the message proclaimed is the glad tidings of salvation. While kerysso tells us something about the activity of preaching, euangelizomai, 'to bring good news' (from the primitive eus, 'good' and the verb angello 'to announce'), a common verb, used over fifty times in the New Testament, emphasizes the quality of the message itself. It is worthy of note that the RV has not followed the AV in those places where it translates the verbs diangello, laleo, katangello and dialegomai by 'to preach'. This helps to bring into sharper focus the basic meaning of preaching.

This assists in seeing Richard Baxter's 1655 comment (see here) in its correct polemical context. It's almost certain that Baxter was working off the 1611 AV (Authorised Version) translation of the Bible when he speaks of 'preaching'. But it also highlights the wide New Testament vocabulary that revolves around the function of teaching: not just proclaiming (or 'preaching') but also evangelising, announcing, speaking, declaring, dialoguing (or possibly disputing, arguing, reasoning, or debating), not to mention plain old didasko, teaching.

Each and every one of these teaching activities, and more, come with dominical and apostolic authority and precedent, and should alert us to the wide range of possibilities for authoritatively communicating the divine and inerrant Word of God to our hearers.

Not to mention the humble task of being a writer, another piece of authoritative communication that the New Testament authors seem to have found time for.

I know that Klaas Runia makes a virtually identical point about the New Testament vocabulary of 'teaching' in his book The Sermon Under Attack, his 1983 Moore College lectures. But do you think I could find it this morning?

At least the desk is just marginally tidier here in the Matthias Media office. But I just wasted twenty minutes of my life looking for the Runia book. No way would Richard Baxter approve of that. There's gospel ministry to be getting on with, and here am I trying to footnote!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

A bit less on preaching, please.

I've never really agreed with the evangelical emphasis on preaching, and never quite understood how evangelicals make so much more of this than of other forms of teaching. It seems to me that the emphasis on public preaching, or should I say perhaps 'pulpiteering'—as against private and personal ministry through, for example, conversation or Bible study groups—is quite unbiblical.

So I was heartened today to pick up Richard Baxter’s old but still revolutionary work The Reformed Pastor to discover that he agrees with me. He makes this sharp and relevant observation about ministry through conversation (or as he calls it, 'interlocution'):

I hope there are none so silly as to think this conference is not preaching. What? doth the number we speak to make it preaching? Or doth interlocution make it none? Surely a man may as truly preach to one, as to a thousand. And… if you examine, you will find that most of the preaching recorded in the New Testament, was by conference, and frequently interlocutory, and that with one or two, fewer or more, as opportunity served. Thus Christ himself did most commonly preach.

Baxter gets around the difficulty I'm thinking about by redefining preaching, which is fair enough, I suppose. The quote is from p. 228 of my Banner of Truth edition, which I got for just under five bucks, a little while ago.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Pull the other one, man!

Atheist Philip Pullman's book The Golden Compass got turned into a movie, On Golden Pond or some such.

From the review by Stephanie Zacharek in

There's also a giant warrior bear, Iorek Byrnison (his voice belongs to Ian McKellen), the most believable of the movie's fake-looking talking animals: He's a soulful creature who has endured much suffering, although not as much as this movie puts us through.

I just wonder if this one is best left alone, like the rats one of our three dogs occasionally insists on leaving mortally wounded beneath our trampoline.

Boiling the house

When you boil something, you really know that it's clean. The boiling point of water is 100 degrees centigrade, at normal atmospheric pressure. Once you've boiled something for ten minutes—a syringe, or a dummy—you know the little microbes that were sitting on it have been well and truly fried. Knowing this, I clean kitchen wettexes by sticking them in the microwave for 1 minute and 11 seconds on high.

it's easier to push 1-1-1-start than 1-0-0-start. Rice gets cooked for 12 minutes 22 seconds for a similar reason.

It occurs to me that one way of cleaning a house would be to warm every surface in it to 100 degrees for 10 minutes. Of course, this would be impractical, but even restricting the heating to kitchen and bathroom surfaces would represent a useful and immediate increase in the level of household hygiene. I imagine the nests of cockroaches hiding behind the oven, microwave, refrigerator and under the sink would be perturbed by the experience as well. And it would be a good way of heating the house in winter.

Imagine being able to phone up your kitchen and bathroom when you were fifteen minutes from home and instructing them to fry all microbes for 10 minutes, and to have a nice cup of tea waiting as well.

This seems to me so obvious that it is a wonder that no-one has thought of the idea before now.

How are you?

Our German friends A and M were puzzled by this regular question from people they have never met before, ranging from people at church through to waitresses in coffee shops.

Fifi explained to them that the answer, in Australia at least, is always 'fine, thankyou' for any condition of life ranging from a mild headache through to having your kidney stolen from you while unconscious in the hotel bathroom.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Yeltsin story

The former British conservative prime minister John Major, after he was tipped out of office by Tony Blair in 1997, used to tell a great dinner party story about his dealings with the Russian leader Boris Yeltsin.

"I asked Boris to tell me briefly what the situation in Russia was like," Major recalled. "'Good', he said. I asked for a longer version. 'Not good', he replied."

-from Annabel Crabb

Gospel of Judas—oopsy

Just a few little errors in the recent publicity surrounding the so-called Gospel of Judas:

Amid much publicity last year, the National Geographic Society announced that a lost third-century religious text had been found, the Gospel of Judas Iscariot.

The shocker: Judas didn't betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. And what was Judas's reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.

It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society's transcription of the Coptic text, I have found the actual meaning is vastly different.

The full article is here.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Fetal homicide or abortion?

Thanks to Nicole for this story of attempted murder:

Nicole makes two observations:

1. It seems difficult to explain why a father killing his child is 'fetal homicide' and a mother killing her child is legally sanctioned 'termination of the pregnancy'.

2. The warnings about the potential for a black market in RU486 beyond medically supervised contexts were not far fetched scare mongering.

Rudd's code of conduct

Here's a good move. Rudd is barring ministers from the Federal government from owning shares, and from working in the corporate sector for one year after they quit Parliament.

It removes a couple of possible sources of corruption and the perception of corruption.

Georg's blog

Thank you to those of you who drop by and make comments on my blog. Today I received a nice comment from a blogger named Georg, in France, about this entry on PG Wodehouse.

He has some pretty photos on his blog and I enjoyed reading what he had to say about heating the house:

The main idea of this text is to pay homage to the kind of heating generated by oak logs. The place is warm but it is NOT the warmth you get from a central heating system.

This warmth is like a winter kiss, gentle and firm. Wood heat radiates right through you and those everchanging flames behind the glass wall makes you feel splendid. In fact, the feeling is difficult to explain, like colour to a blind.

We are short of oak trees around here but this makes we want to plant one, come back in 20 years, cut it down and burn it just to experience what Georg is talking about.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Caring for aboriginals

A powerful opinion piece by Miranda Devine highlights a problem with aboriginal child care. Taking children away from terrible situations leaves governments open to the charge of another 'stolen generation'. But leaving them is horrendous.

No doubt children were taken who shouldn't have been, and serious mistakes were made. But many lives were saved too, and that shouldn't be forgotten in the haste to make an ideological case for what happened in the past.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007


A tedious necessity for sanity, but the place does feel better to live in afterwards. My housework principle is that 60% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Disturbed sleep

Again! And it wasn't even a sleepover. Was awake from 3.30 to 5.30, so made myself a cup of tea and read the paper. The brain was too fuzzy for proper operation, and maybe still is. This is bad news. Things are quite busy, deadlines loom.

'I've got to think!' as the Larsen moose said.

Anyway, read a bit more on Gehl's ideas for Sydney. Knock down the Cahill expressway, bury the eastern distributor and the railway at Circular Quay. Yep, yep, all good. That area backside of Circular Quay is disappointingly sleazy and grimy, and it doesn't have to be.

Monday, 3 December 2007

The other Bad blog

Jen Baddeley has a blog too, and it is is just as terrific in its terrificness as the other Bad blog:

I read again during the week that 'knowledge about God is insufficient compared with knowledge of God'. The writer was trying to show that a personal relationship with God can't be generated by knowing a lot of facts about God.

I have no quarrel with this per se. But it tends towards the view that ignorance is an excellent way to know God, and that knowledge about God gets in the way of knowing God. And I know more than one person who exults in their limited knowledge as a kind of badge of spiritual honour. It's a cute position because there is no argument against it. You can't even engage with it; if you do, you demonstrate knowledge and so are obviously spiritually inferior and not worth listening to.

Having spent a chunk of time this week looking at how knowledge functions in John's Gospel, I am more convinced that ever that this view is neither helpful nor particularly Christian. In fact, I'm beginning to think its sheer laziness masquerading as spiritual righteousness.

Yeah! Check the full entry here.

Paul Sheehan on the Greens

Here. He writes

I would have voted Green in a heartbeat if it was a truly environmental party. Instead, it is a sly party which uses the green brand to expend the bulk of its political capital on George Bush, East Timor, West Papua, gays' rights, drug laws, refugees and numerous issues that have little to do with climate change, global warming and water shortages.

Not to mention euthanasia. What's green about that?

More on improving Sydney

The Sydney Morning Herald has taken on Jan Gehl's report Public Spaces, Public Life for the City of Sydney with all the fervour of a religious crusade, which I have to admit makes the whole proposal less attractive to me. Anything the SMH favours I treat with almost automatic suspicion, as they tend to be cynically anti-Christian whenever they report or opine on religious affairs, and given to inaccuracy.

However the man himself talks sense. From the piece:

To do this you need a long-term plan. Two great acts would symbolise this change in thinking: to demolish the Cahill Expressway and train station that sever the city from its harbour (the trains then go underground); and to bury the Western Distributor, whose spaghetti-tangle throttles Darling Harbour and cuts it off from the lifeblood of the city.

Freed from these constricting bands, the city centre will breathe again and be open to its harbour. It will be a welcoming place for people from all over greater Sydney.

Meanwhile, there are other steps to take. Sydney needs a coherent, attractive, walkable north-south link. All great cities have such a street - think of the Champs-Elysees in Paris or the Ramblas in Barcelona. It could be George Street, the city's most historic street, linking the two great doorsteps of Circular Quay and Central Station. But who would dream of walking this great street, clogged as it is with buses and angry traffic?

But close it to vehicles, allowing only buses and bicycles, provide wider footpaths, canopies of trees, and three great public squares at Circular Quay, Town Hall and Central Station, and watch what will happen.

It becomes the great organising spine, with a network of vibrant lanes such as Angel Place and small plazas such as Regimental Square running off it.

As well as observing that the city is choked by the internal combustion engine, Jan Gehl notes the key symptoms of this, which is the near-absence of the very young and the very old from the city centre. Think: where in the city can you find a children's playground? And why, in its current choked state, would you take a child to play there?

Pete wondered in his comment on this entry whether Prof Gehl's vision was utopian; however it is worth noting that he has seen a similar transformation to the one he proposes take place in Copenhagen over the last 30 years.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Little robots

The girls at Matilda's sleepover made little robots. A lot of fun! You can see where Fifi got the idea for the robots here.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

9 little girls

will be sleeping in the house tonight, or more likely, not sleeping. Matilda wanted a sleepover for her 9th birthday. Eek!

It's going to be a lot of fun, though.

Pedestrians of the world, unite!

You have nothing to lose but your lives.

As this report, noting the difficulties of negotiating Sydney streets, observes.

And in this report, also from the SMH, a great question:

Upon completing his report, Public Spaces, Public Life For The City Of Sydney, Professor Gehl asks: "We have one question for this city: what do you value more - your people, or your cars?"

Prof Gehl speaks truth! Buy the man a Danish pastry.

How to do theology

A seminal quote from Luther's Heidelberg Disputation:

19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [Rom. 1.20].
20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

Thanks Mark B.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Death, mortality, and badders.

The Bad man is going to think this is cheeky, but come on mate, we don't all have time to just sit around all day reading blogs. So for the non-bloggerati out there who want to suck the juice of deep thought from the mind of Baddeley without actually reading (much), here are a few choice quotes from today.

The question of the day is whether or not the death of humans is part of the created order.

Now frankly, you don't need to hear options 1 and 2, they don't actually match reality so why bother. But here we join MB at #3:

Third, Adam was mortal by nature but immortal by participation. That is, left to ourselves, death is as natural to human beings as it is for all other parts of the animate creation. There is nothing inherently immortal about flesh and blood—which is why flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God but must be put off for us to put on imperishability and immortality. What Adam and Eve were given was a source of life external to themselves that enabled them to enjoy a share in God’s own eternal life and so be kept from death. This was mediated through the Tree of Life.

On this view death is unnatural when at looked at from the point of view of God’s purpose in creating humanity. We were made to stay connected to God through trusting his word and obeying it and so stay in the realm of life by being caught up in something greater than ourselves. Yet death is natural when looked at from the point of view of humanity’s nature. Humanity was made mortal like all creatures and so once we were cut off from God, we faced death like every other animal.

It is the image of God that made the difference, and this worked dynamically, not statically. It related us to God through his Image, his only begotten Son and so we were partakers in Life.

It’s probably clear that I strongly favour this last view, despite the fact that, as far as I can see, it is a minority position within Evangelicalism.

Cop that! The idea is in the Bible, but in case there is any faint residue of powdery doubt gumming up the works, let's highlight a quote from the great man himself (I mean Athanasius), as supplied by Mark:

For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing, but he bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt.

-De Incarnatione §4

Come on folks, you just know in your bones that this is the right way to think about death and mortality. And I know some of you skimmed that Athanasius quote, so let me just highlight this wonderful phrase: "[man] bears also the Likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt."


If you're still feeling a bit worried about that, skip everything I've just run through and have a read of this for a bit.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Amy Carmichael poem

I found part of a poem about God's providential grace in the book Ten Girls who Changed the World (reviewed here).

Irene Howat introduces the poem by explaining that "as a little brown-eyed Irish girl", Amy Carmichael had "prayed that God would make her eyes blue." The poem continues:

So she prayed for two blue eyes,
Said 'Goodnight',
Went to sleep in deep content
And delight.
Woke up early, climbed a chair
By a mirror. Where, O where
Could the blue eyes be? Not there;
Jesus hadn't answered.

Hadn't answered her at all;
Never more
Could she pray; her eyes were brown
As before.
Did a little soft wind blow?
Came a whisper soft and low,
'Jesus answered. He said, No;
Isn't No an answer?'

Howat goes on to explain that in India, where everyone's eyes were brown, she was able to fit in better because God's answer was 'no'. Dunno if that's true or not, but it's a nice thought.

OK, so as poetry it's not TS Eliot—but maybe AA Milne?

Ten Girls who changed the world (review)

Ten Girls who Changed the World by Irene Howat. (Christian Focus Publications, 2001)

What a messy looking book! That's a real pity, because the cover art on my edition is elegant, but they managed to trash it through cheap paperback production values, use of a sans serif font, and a few other bits and pieces that even I noticed. That means you're not going to give it away as a present to somebody without risking looking cheap.

The text of Ten Girls Who Changed the World, however, is not half bad. It's got ten and a bit pages each on Gladys Aylward, Mary Slessor, Isobel Kuhn, Elizabeth Fry, Jackie Pullinger, Amy Carmichael, Joni Eareckson Tada, Catherine Booth, Corrie Ten Boom and Evelyn Brand; all great missionary women who one way or another have been used by God to make a big difference in people's lives.

The stories are brief and well told, and there is enough gospel in them to make this more than just a group of inspirational tales. There are some fairly shocking insights into the way life is and the way other religions are.

So we learn, in the Elizabeth Fry story, about Newgate prison in the 19th century holding 300 women and children in four rooms, and that each day the women and men were allowed to mix together. Even this PG version has them "gambling and drinking, fighting and dancing" and spending time in the four rooms "cooking, eating, sleeping and everything else as well." Similarly we read in Amy Carmichael's story of how Hindu girls were offered up to the gods because they were unwanted. "They are given to women who are prisoners in the temples and they are kept there and become prisoners too. Then, when they are five or six years old, they are given to the priests and are slaves to them until they are no longer young and beautiful"

Black Beauty or Saddle Club this ain't. Mary Slessor's story tells of babies, thought to be demon-possessed, abandoned in the African bush, or killed and their mother cast out to die. Corrie Ten Boom's story speaks of the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Yet at the same time, the theme of God's grace is strong:

One day, a long time later, a man spoke to Corrie after a church service. He had been a guard at Ravensbruck. 'Isn't it wonderful that Jesus has washed my sins away', he said, holding out his hand to shake hers. So many things went through Corrie's mind. Had he forced her to parade naked? Had he laughted at poor dear Betsie when she coughed herself sick? For a minute her arm seemed glued to her side. The she prayed a quick silent prayer and God filled her heart with forgiveness. Corrie Ten Boom took the man's hand in hers and shook it warmly. And that was a miracle.

Try to ignore the fact that this book looks like it was printed on toilet paper, and buy it for a girl eight years or older. It's no messier looking than the secular Horrible Histories books, popular with this age group, and has the grace of God predominating over the gore.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Mr Kirsop comments

On Gettysburg, here.

Fine words indeed, sir.

Too many, too many

Yes, well said Michael J. There are too many Bible commentaries, and they are TOO FAT.

I usually use 2 commentaries per Bible series, one thin one with exclamation marks and one fat one. Now that I'm writing for Matthias Media, sometimes I only read my own ;-) . At about five paragraphs per chapter of Bible, I reckon I've reached the limit of my learning and by coincidence, the limit of what most people want to read.

Why the Liberals lost

Ross Gittins thinks it was Work Choices.

When there is close to full employment, individual contracts are likely to be favourable to workers and even better than award. When unemployment increases, the workers are over a barrel in negotiation. Howard recognized this and responded too late with a fairness test—so the voters punished the government accordingly.

Other questions of honesty and decency in public life are also addressed in Gittins' article. I agree with him when he says this:

I believe standards of honesty and decency fell under Howard. They were hardly very high under his Labor predecessors, but they declined further under a man who, to all outward appearance, radiated respectability. He was a tricky man, leaving you with a certain impression but then later protesting that you had failed to read his lawyerly words carefully enough.

How many times were we misled? There were the non-core promises, the children overboard, the Tampa (which, for all Howard's ministers knew, may have been carrying terrorists), the weapons of mass destruction and the probably illegal invasion of Iraq, the AWB scandal (which no minister had any knowledge of) and the promise to keep interest rates at record lows.

Howard was never told and so was never responsible. The buck always stopped elsewhere. As to decency, we had the brutal treatment of asylum seekers, the trampling of the legal rights of David Hicks and others, the shameful treatment of Dr Mohamed Haneef.

The Howard Government ruled by fear and behind-the-scenes bullying of bureaucrats, journalists, business economists and business people. It raised the abuse of incumbency to new heights, especially taxpayer-funded market research and political advertising.

In all these things, it had two standard defences: first, you may care but the electorate does not and, second, our Labor predecessors did it, too.

I would like to believe this election shows that, in the end, the electorate does care about declining standards of public morality.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


From a soon-to-be-published article by John Woodhouse on justification:

Being 'justified’ by "his grace as a gift” means that, as far as God’s acceptance and approval of you is concerned, everything that makes you feel good about yourself is completely and utterly irrelevant. Not only that, it also means that everything that makes you feel ashamed or rotten about yourself is also completely and utterly irrelevant.

Coming soon to The Briefing



Love at first hearing

Svetlana sucks lemons across from me,
And I am progressing abominably.
And I do not know my own way to the sea
But the saltiest sea knows its own way to me.
The city that turns, turns protracted and slow
And I find myself toeing th’Embarcadero
And I find myself knowing
The things that I knew
Which is all that you can know
On this side of the blue.

-Joanna Newsom, "This Side of the Blue" from The Milk-Eyed Mender

Illegal mingling

Thomas Friedman writes:

One of the most talked about stories in the Middle East last week came out of Saudi Arabia, where the Government affirmed the sentence of 200 lashes for a 19-year-old Shiite girl who was sitting in a car with a male acquaintance last year when they were attacked by seven men who gang-raped both of them.

The Saudi Justice Ministry said the young woman deserved 200 lashes and six months in prison, even though she had been raped, because she was guilty of "illegal mingling" - sitting in a car with a man who was not related to her.

See the article here.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Soul mates

I walked into a building recently and was greeted by the shout 'Hey! Didn't we fire you?' This was a seriously funny (ha-ha) experience for about half-a-dozen reasons. Not least of which was that the man who called out told me that we were Soul Mates on the facebook movie application.

He also mentioned that the next movies he wanted to go and see were Halloween and Hitman.

What do you think, gentle blog-reader? Are we really soul-mates, he and I?

Friday, 23 November 2007

Remember Tampa?

Robert Manne is frequently overwrought, including in this article from today's Age. But it's hard not to agree with this bit:

The abandonment of both the aspiration for multiculturalism and the quest for reconciliation had no direct electoral impact. The Government's callous treatment of asylum seekers, fleeing from the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, did.

At first, using Labor's dangerous mandatory detention legacy, the Howard Government imprisoned these refugees for indefinite periods in appalling desert camps. With the arrival of the Tampa at Christmas Island, in late August 2001, it decided on an even more brutal strategy — to use military force to drive all asylum seekers away. To legitimise its cruelty, the Government let the people believe a lie: that the Iraqi refugees had thrown their own children into the ocean. In the long term, mendacity and a carnal desire for power at almost any cost became the trademarks of the Government. In the short term, "border control" hysteria helped Howard win the November 2001 election.

And nothing much has changed in government policy.

Anyway, that's the issue I'm steamed up about. But for analysis without favour, I 've always appreciated Michelle Grattan's work.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


Here I stand head in hand
Turn my face to the wall
If she's gone I can't go on
Feeling two foot small
Everywhere people stare
each and every day
I can see them laugh at me
And I hear them say

Hey you've got to hide your love away
Hey you've got to hide your love away

How can I even try?
I can never win
Hearing them, seeing them
In the state I'm in
How could she say to me
"Love will find a way?"
Gather round all you clowns
Let me hear you say

Hey you've got to hide your love away
Hey you've got to hide your love away


The greatest rock group of this age, or indeed of any age!

Sur le Même accord

I bought this CD up in Leura and must have listened to it half a dozen times now. Bartok's Violin concerto #2 I am loving, and I can't see how any right-thinking person wouldn't especially and what with Anne Sophie-Mutter playing it. But Dutilleux's piece, Sur le Même accord, written especially for A S-M and released on this premiere recording, remains opaque. Maybe this piece of information:

The entire piece is based on one six-note chord, heard at the beginning of the piece, which is manipulated in various ways

from the Wikipedia article is going to help me. I sure hope so.

I am going to give it another half-dozen listens or so, and if I haven't got it by then I'm giving up.

Bartok —ah! the brass! and those East European harmonies. Delight.

A Really Bad Blog

I am enjoying Mark Baddeley's blog heaps, and will be returning to it regularly. It's pretty new. I'm glad these thoughts are being preserved in one place (I mean apart from inside Badders' head) as to trace the Baddeline corpus has required a knowledge of loopy websites and a Sherlock Holmesian cunning, until now.

Here's a recent fave quote from the Bad man himself:

And there’s something impressive about Origen’s freshness in how he reads the Bible. He doesn’t assume that asking the cup to pass from him means that Jesus is trying to avoid death. He looks at outside the box and suggests that it meant that Jesus wanted an even more intense kind of death than crucifixion. And looking outside the box is a good ability to have—if we are going to avoid just reading our own ideas into the Bible, it’ll only be because we’re prepared to take roads not just less travelled, but never travelled.

But this is one time when staying in the box would have been so much better.

And so it goes on. This quote was taken from the post "And you were doing so well". I believe Mark has managed to expose an Origenal sin.

2 more preschoolers' Christmas presents? Well, one.

Read-Aloud Bible stories vol. 1 by Ella K. Lindvall; Illustrated by H. Kent Puckett.
The Nativity Play. by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen

I'm only going to recommend one of these.

These are two books for preschoolers, and they’re both pretty good in the sense that pre-schoolers will love them and they are readily available. I got mine at Moore Books in Newtown, but they should be easy to get in other places or, failing that, online.

You’re not looking for complexity when you pick up a book for a preschooler, and on the patented Cheng ‘non-complexity’ scale, both books are doing well. If you or your kids love the TV show or book Kipper the Dog, you and they will love The Nativity Play by the same creators (Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen) . Although at nearly $AUD16 where I bought mine you would want to love them quite a lot, as there are plenty of high quality secular pre-school books available for cheaper.

This one is the story of a kids’ Christmas play and is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the little kid dressed up with the donkey’s head, and the bit where they nearly lost the shepherd with the key line to a toilet break. And what was that key line? “The Saviour of the World is born.” That’s pretty good, really, and if I was giving a present to a family where eyebrows might be raised over the giving of a childrens’ Bible story, I would consider this as a fun and acceptable alternative.

The other book, Read-Aloud Bible Stories Vol 1. caused me more problems, although the problems won’t bother the kids at all. At least not until they reach adulthood and they start to reflect on their childhood and wonder why their Bible reading skills are so dodgy.

In fact, based on my own experience of several years of reading to little kids, this one is a winner from a storytelling point of view and you can see why it is still in print after so many years. Here’s a sample:

Too-little Zaccheus started to run.

(Go, Zaccheus. Go fast.)

He came to the tree.

(Climb, Zaccheus. Climb fast.)

Now Zaccheus was up high.

He could see the daddies coming.

And the mommies.

And the grandpas.

And the grandmas.

And the uncles.

And the aunts.

And the boys.

And the girls.

And the friends.


(well, you’ll have to turn the page, won’t you)

This is good stuff for parents who want to keep the attention of one or more restless children. Short, part of a series, and plenty of interactivity. The pictures are big, bold and simple. I don’t like them, but there’s no reason kids wouldn’t enjoy them.


My main difficulty with this and, often, so many other Bible stories and story books that I pick up, is that apart from the fact that they’ve been taken from the Bible, both the stories but especially the way they are applied are almost incidental to the gospel message. God cares for you and knows you by name, that’s true. But to use the Zaccheus story of Luke 19:1-10 to establish such a point (as this read-aloud book does), is dodgy indeed. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” is what this incident is really about (Luke 19:10), but in the version here Zaccheus is not so much lost as short, or should I say TOO LITTLE (the story does). There is no indication at all, in this retelling, that he was a corrupt and sinful man who, in the face of grace, exemplifies repentance. That’s not good.

It’s not the only slip-up either. It’s true that God hears us, but this is not the main point of the Bartimaeus story, which is to contrast the faith of a blind man with the unbelief of those who shoud’ve seen who Jesus was, but didn’t. Jesus does welcome little children, yes, and he welcomes you—but the reason the story is there in Mark 10 is to teach other people that their understanding of the kingdom of God is wrong, and that they must become like little children in order to receive it. (see Mark 10:15).

Some of the stories are better, but in a volume where 3 of the 5 stories either miss the point, obscure it or get it wrong, why would you buy volume 2?

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Euthanasia candidate?

I've just found the perfect candidate for Dr Nitschke's assisted suicide programme! Here he is. Yep, I'm talking about Bob Geldof, Sir Bob to you. He's unclean and unwashed. He's clearly not green, because he thinks the Kyoto protocol is a bit of a waste of time. He's almost certainly been depressed, just take a look at that linked photo of him. And he's downright unAustralian, because he said something bad about us.

What do you say, cobbers? Let's put him on the list.

Euthanasia, Nitschke, and the death of troubled teens.

Last night euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke was interviewed on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton (The transcript is here).

In the interview he expressed outrage at being frequently described as someone who advocated that troubled teens should be assisted to commit suicide, claiming that he had been misrepresented on the basis of an interview he’d done with a US right-wing magazine. Yet when Denton took him through the details of the question as to how this ‘myth’ had arisen, he didn’t actually deny any of the logical steps that led to this conclusion.

That is: he stood by his definition of an adult as someone over 18, noting that such a person was being sent off to kill people in a war. And he further believed that suicide was a choice that should be open to those who wanted it. And that should they want it, then we should be allowed to help them get what they want.

So the idea that Nitschke would agree with assisting the death of a ‘troubled teen’ may be to focus on a part of his logic that he doesn’t like; but this is a long way away from being an urban myth. In fact, it very much sounded to me as if he’d confirmed the truth of it.

Part of his outrage rests on the fact that as a general rule, he only opens his assisted suicide seminars to people over the age of 65. so he is not advocating helping kill troubled teens willy-nilly. But unfortunately for his logic, it is not a rule without multiple individual exceptions, one of which is referred to here in the July 2007 issue of Exit International, where his view—that long-term prisoners who want to die should be assisted to do so—is repeated.

Here's the relevant part of the transcript from the Denton interview, with apologies for Dr Nitschke's language:

ANDREW DENTON: You were quoted in a US magazine called National Review as saying that your workshops were potentially for the elderly, for the bereaved, for the depressed or the troubled teen. Is that a correct quote?

PHILIP NITSCHKE: No, that’s a not a correct quote and I didn’t exactly say that. They, I got asked in this, a long ranging interview by National Review, sort of right wing journal in the US, about what my beliefs were about this issue, about who should have control. And I outlined the idea that I thought that people had to be adult — we’re not talking about children — and they had to be mentally well. In other words able to give accurate, valid consent. And they said “Oh adults?” I said at that point, “Yeah, adults.” And she said, the interview if I remember vividly, “Oh you mean like an 18 year old?” And I said “Yeah, that’s an adult.” You know an 18 year old, you can go off and kill people in war, that’s an adult. They said “So you basically saying that 18 year olds should have access to these best drugs.” Next thing I know, I’m ad, I’m advocating suicide…

ANDREW DENTON: But did you, how did you answer that question?

PHILIP NITSCHKE: Well I said “Yes,” stupidly.

ANDREW DENTON: Why did you allow yourself to be to be so caught out there, to give so much ammunition to your opposition?

PHILIP NITSCHKE: Yeah, well I mean, look it was a mistake to have said that because at the time what I hadn’t factored in, as much as I now do, is this idea that you have to have life experience, so I can see good reason, and I’m quite happy with that good reason.

ANDREW DENTON: How did you not know that then?

PHILIP NITSCHKE: Well, I guess I was, I think I was, I think I was caught. There’s always every meeting I go to now someone will leap up the back of the yard and say “You’re the person who said that troubled teens should have access to the peaceful pill.” And I think “Oh Christ I’m never, I’m never going to live this down,” and it’s a mistake and I wish I hadn’t said it but I said it.

Yes, you did say it. And nothing you've said since then really offers genuine reassurance that you didn't mean it, Dr. Nitschke.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Bennelong, Koreans, Chinese, etc.

Bennelong is the federal seat where I live, and here's an article about it from Chris Johnston of the Melbourne Age. He phoned me to get background for the story and asked about the Korean vote. About which I know nothing. I was able to tell him that I kept getting letters written in Chinese from both John Howard and Maxine McKew, including one inviting me to a reception for the Chinese community to meet with JH.

I wonder why they think I'm Chinese. No-one ever writes to me in Swedish, but it's the only other language (apart from New Testament Greek) that I can read. Come to think of it, no-one writes to me in Greek either.

Sunday, 18 November 2007


It seems to me that if you get soap to smell like roses and toothpaste to smell taste like peppermint, both roses and peppermint tend to lose out from the transaction.

Which reminds me slightly of the old joke that when Shane Warne tours New Zealand, the average IQ of both Australia and New Zealand goes up. Or something like that.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Lily's birthday party

Was today, although her birthday is not until next month. A mermaid birthday party, together with another friend Charlotte.

She is about to turn five and is about to start school. I told all my daughters that they were to stay the same forever, but it hasn't worked. Matilda said that she had heard it worked if you put a brick on kids' heads and left it there permanently. See, that's a kind of a grown-ups' joke and, sentimentalist that I am, it made me feel slightly sad as I laughed.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Bennelong in the balance-vote for sale.

As regular blog readers will know I live in the Prime Minister's seat, Bennelong, where with little more than a week to go until the fed election the seat remains hotly contested. Maxine McKew and John Howard are running neck and neck in local polls.

Today I got the girls home from school to discover some lovely letters from both Maxine and John in the mailbox. Unfortunately Kevin Rudd had helped Maxine with her effort and so it was all in Mandarin, or Cantonese—I couldn't tell from looking at the writing, and it was all Greek to me. I do read a bit of Greek, actually, but it still wasn't making sense. "What's Grafton to you is Rangoon to me", it seemed to be saying.

Anyway, this is just to let you know, Maxine and John, that your little notes were appreciated and that my vote is, indeed, UP FOR SALE. The first of you to take me, my family and Grandpa out to Yum Cha at Rhodes gets my vote, guaranteed. I can't speak for Fifi, she's a bit of an ideologue in these matters. But, Maxine and John, you get to decide whether I neutralize her vote or make it count for two.

Think about it. It's going to be a close one remember, and when the half-dozen readers of this blog read about your response, I'm sure their opinions will be swayed inestimably. Which is to say, I can't estimate what they'll think.

Oh, and my youngest daughter likes you both and would like us to put posters of both of you in our front yard.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Pilgrim's Progress V

Oh, and just to round out this mini-series, here is the entire original Pilgrim's Progress in various e-forms.

If you are completely strapped for cash this Christmas, I suppose you could buy yourself a ream of discount white A4 and print the whole lot off. That should take care of one bookaholic teenager for you.

Pilgrim's Progress IV

If you really want to introduce young readers to Pilgrim's Progress before taking them through the original, then the adaptation to get is still Dangerous Journey by Oliver Hunkin.

If you click through on the link you will get the first few pages, courtesy of Amazon.

Pilgrim's Progress III

So, did John Bunyan believe in the creatures of hell? You tell me...

Who would true Valour see

Who would true Valour see
Let him come hither;
One here will Constant be,
Come Wind, come Weather.
There's no Discouragement,
Shall make him once Relent,
His first avow'd Intent,
To be a Pilgrim.

Who so beset him round,
With dismal Storys,
Do but themselves Confound;
His Strength the more is.
No Lyon can him fright,
He'l with a Gyant Fight,
But he will have a right,
To be a Pilgrim.

Hobgoblin, nor foul Fiend,
Can daunt his Spirit:
He knows, he at the end,
Shall Life Inherit.
Then Fancies fly away,
He'l fear not what men say,
He'l labour Night and Day,
To be a Pilgrim.

-John Bunyan

Hear the tune here. There's a great version that Maddy Pryor does too, but you have to buy it.

Pilgrim's Progress II

Which brings us back to Geraldine McCaurean's enjoyable retelling of the original. A few years back this particular book won a couple of Blue Peter awards, and you can see why. The sex changes of one or two of the characters comes as a minor jolt, but I don't suppose the kids will notice or mind that Hopeful is now a woman, for example. Many of the names have been changed to protect the guilty—'Pliable' has become 'Mr Bendy'; a certain 'Mr Alec Smart' appears on the scene to offer advice.

Other changes are slightly more disturbing, and all the more because they need a bit of close reading to pick them up. Bunyan's "cartloads of...wholesome instructions" that the King (i.e. Jesus) had commanded to be sent to fill in the Slough of Despond , in McCaughrean's version, has expanded to include " stone statues of saints, plaster madonnas, oil paintings in heavy gilt frames...and any amount of beautiful quarried marble". That's hardly the sort of material that the Protestant Bunyan would depict God sending to help his people out of despair, and it's not a helpful addition to this book.

Here's another. In Bunyan's version, Hopeful and Christian are very close to the end of their journey when they are shown a door in a hill by some shepherds. Here it is in the original:

Then I saw in my dream, that the shepherds had them to another place in a bottom, where was a door on the side of a hill; and they opened the door, and bid them look in. They looked in, therefore, and saw that within it was very dark and smoky; they also thought that they heard there a rumbling noise, as of fire, and a cry of some tormented, and that they smelt the scent of brimstone. Then said Christian, What means this? The shepherds told them, This is a by-way to hell, a way that hypocrites go in at; namely, such as sell their birthright, with Esau; such as sell their Master, with Judas; such as blaspheme the Gospel, with Alexander; and that lie and dissemble, with Ananias and Sapphira his wife.

We're in no doubt that those who turn away from God are destined for hell. Here it is in the McCaughrean retelling.

"What's in there?" asked Hopeful, intrigued."

"Oh, just the way back," said the shepherds..."Do you want to see?"

The shepherds carefully open the door.

No horned demons or impish ghouls streamed out, no bubbling tar. There was just a chute of blackness on the other side, a tunnel falling away into Nothingness, a fast route to Nowhere.

That's not what Bunyan wrote, and it's not even close. You couldn't read Bunyan and conclude that he was an annihilationist, a man who believed that after judgement we simply disappear into oblivion. But by contrast, you can't read this retelling without feeling that the full biblical doctrine of judgement has been not so subtly undercut.

One more thing, and that'll do. You can't read Bunyan's original without ending up knee-deep in Bible quotes by about the second paragraph, all meticulously referenced. They are all gone from this retelling, or only hinted at. Yet the solid ground of Bunyan's story is that, although allegorical, it is bedded down firmly in the truths of Scripture. Without that truth, it's just another (good) story.

There's enough of the grace of the original—and of the Bible—to make this rewritten version a book that could still have value. But I wouldn't buy it for my kids. I'm going to wait a couple of years and put the original Bunyan in their hands. Or maybe, read it with them and appreciate again the rich reminder of God's grace against the backdrop of his real and terrifying judgement of sin.

Another Christmas book—Pilgrim's Progress I

Sitting next to me on the desk here in the office is John Bunyan's A Pilgrim's Progress, retold by Geraldine McCaughrean and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft.

Whenever I read retellings of Pilgrim's Progress it reminds me how much I love the original. The main character, Christian, is a deeply attractive person who struggles with all the normal doubts and fears of a Christian life. He is sometimes easily led astray by shortcuts and apparently wise companions—although with names like Obstinate, Pliable, Mr Worldly Wiseman, Formalist, Hypocrisy, Talkative, or indeed

"Mr. Smooth-man, Mr. Facing-both-ways, Mr. Any-thing; and the parson of our parish, Mr. Two-tongues"

you occasionally think that maybe Christian could've picked up a few more clues (Is anyone else thinking "My name's Smoke-too-much, Mr I-smoke too-much" from Monty Python?)

One of the best parts of the book is where Christian and his friend Hopeful come to a river of deep waters that all must pass through before they attain the Heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. Peter Jensen read from this passage at Bruce Smith's funeral a few years ago:

Hopeful therefore here had much ado to keep his brother’s head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful did also endeavor to comfort him, saying, Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us; but Christian would answer, It is you, it is you they wait for; for you have been hopeful ever since I knew you. And so have you, said he to Christian. Ah, brother, (said he,) surely if I was right he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he hath brought me into the snare, and hath left me. Then said Hopeful, My brother, you have quite forgot the text where it is said of the wicked, “There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm; they are not troubled as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.” Psa. 73:4,5. These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters, are no sign that God hath forsaken you; but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.

Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added these words, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. And with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again; and he tells me, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Isa. 43:2. Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian, therefore, presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.

Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them. Wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be the heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate.

Now you must note, that the city stood upon a mighty hill; but the pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms: they had likewise left their mortal garments behind them in the river; for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They therefore went up here with much agility and speed, though the foundation upon which the city was framed was higher than the clouds; they therefore went up through the region of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted because they safely got over the river, and had such glorious companions to attend them.

John Bunyan writes with insight and sympathy about the fear of death, and because he does this so well, the comforts he offers about the glories and joys of heaven are all the more reassuring. I find it hard to read this passage without tears in my eyes.

Brand New Cold Case retold after being polled

Some of you sharp tacks out there in blogland managed to work out the small problem with this. 'Brand new Cold Case!' was the advert from the breathless voice over on telly last night.

Can you imagine the internecine departmental warfare at Police HQ if there actually was a brand new cold case?

A: I'm sorry but we're not taking this, constable B. It's a brand new cold case. We only do old cold cases here.

B: That's all very well, constable A, but as you can see the file definitely says 'cold case', and we just can't handle it in the 'brand new case' department.

A: No I'm sorry, we are only interested if it involves a lot of money. Old gold cold cases go right to the top of the priority list. We might be able to squeeze this one in if it's a brand new gold cold case. Especially if it involves politicians in the current election campaign. It will then be a brand new gold polled cold case, and we would give it special consideration.

B: I'm sorry?

A: Never mind.

B: Can't you do me a favour on this one?

A: Alright then, I'll go ask my supervisor. Just wait here.

[Ten years elapse]

A: Thanks for waiting. We'll take it now.

By the way, any of you smarty blog readers know what is the difference between an old case and a cold case?

Bicycle time

Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

-Queen, 1978.

Hey, what about this for an idea? From today's SMH. You hire a bike from a bike station, you ride it wherever you want to in the city, you drop it in to one of many other bike stations. They're already doing it in Paris. And if they can do it there we can do it here, since the car drivers are no less crazy.

Anyway, do you think Fifi will take the hint I've been dropping and get me an electric bicycle for Christmas?

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Brand New Cold Case

Assuming the third word is true, there is at least one error in this title.

Can you spot it?

Not congregationalist enough!

Tony Payne speaks about how American evangelicals think we're not congregationalist enough, here in Sydney!


I've been told that qualified or generalized writing in the passive voice may not hold interest.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007


I am feeling quite sad at the moment, having just heard news of a separation of a couple who have been married a long time.

May God grant them to remain in his peace and to live in his grace, whatever that now means for them.

You will not taste death! Until...

From a comment on the previous post:

v27 "But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

I don't get it. Even Jesus has tasted death. Unless its a different kingdom?

The verse is difficult, for sure, because the immediate context gives no clue about what "the kingdom of God" exactly refers to. There is a crisis, we know that much, because the words let us know that this thing that has been expected for centuries is now about to happen—even within the lifetime of the hearers.

But what does it mean to "see the kingdom of God"?

As we read further we find that the very next thing that happens is the transfiguration, which serves as a divine confirmation on Peter's confession in 9:20 that, "you are the Christ of God." Then there is the humbling incident of the demon that the disciples (for all the privilege of their position as followers of this Christ) have been unable to dislodge. Both these incidents are, I would say, linked to the confession of the Christ and the challenge that Jesus has laid down to forsake all to follow him.

Then in Luke 9:51, "Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem." This is a major statement by Luke, its importance reinforced just a couple of verses later by repetition (v 53 "the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. ") In fact, this statement governs the next 10 chapters or so, because from now on Jesus is indeed heading towards Jerusalem, where he is to meet his death.

He will die, yes—but all the others who heard Jesus' saying that "there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God" will still be alive, with the possible exception of Judas (See Matt 27:5-8, and also Acts 1:18, neither of which tell you when he died).

So the first candidate, to my mind, for the timing of the coming of the kingdom is Jesus' death in Jerusalem.

This would also explain the urgency of the mission of the disciples then recorded in Luke 10:1-24.

Although come to think of it, when the disciples return from this mission, perhaps the kingdom has already come—noting Luke 10:18, " saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven"; followed up almost immediately by Jesus' acknowledgement:

Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

-Luke 10:23-24

Anyway, maybe this question of timing is like watching a car accident unfold. When is the accident happening? When the car hurtles through the red light at 80 ks? When the other car fails to notice the first car? When the first car, realizing what has happened, begins to swerve and brake? At the point of collision? Or when both cars have come to a screaming standstill?

You could argue that all these events are part of the one accident. In a similar way, you could argue that the miracles and teaching of the Christ; the transfiguration; the mission of the seventy two; the trip to Jerusalem; the rejection by the elders; chief priests and scribes; the killing of Jesus, and his raising on the third day—that these are all part of the single coming of the kingdom of God. It has come, and now we (the angels of God) are preaching it to the nations.

Another verse I don't like

Here's another Bible verse or five that I don't like:

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

-Luke 9:23-27

It is obvious to me that whoever said this needed to get some sound marketing advice about how to effectively grow a religion. And possibly find a good backing band.

Another immigration bungle

This time, a man was wrongfully detained for five-and-a-half years (The Melbourne Age has a fuller version of the same story here). I saw the story of this on Lateline last night, and it was heartbreaking. The man, Tony Tran, was shunted around four different immigration centres over the period while his marriage broke up and his son was placed into foster care. The immigration department at one stage tried to get the son out of Australia and placed into the Korean welfare system. It was just bungle after bungle.

And Mr Tran still doesn't have permanent residency, so could be deported at any time.

I hear many stories that involve similar bungling and hard-heartedness on the part of Immigration and they make me very angry about our current policy and treatment of asylum seekers. To then see election slogans around like 'A strong economy is the centre of everything' makes me less likely rather than more to support a government that comes up with such a mantra while treating weak people in the way it does.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Carless Sydney

An idea whose time has come.

Save the world? I doubt it.

The Sydney Morning Herald is promoting one of its many secular religions:

ON A bonny spring day, three generations of Sydneysiders numbering in their thousands marched to express their concerns about global warming.

Among them was six-year-old Thomas Dimech, who announced their collective aim: "I want to save the planet," he said.

The eco-movement is full of the language of salvation and redemption, and not without reason. That's what is on offer, if you and I work hard enough to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

It's a much easier problem to deal with than the problem of sin in the human heart, and doesn't require much in the way of repentance. Idealism, censoriousness, moralism and a larger-than life cause all rolled into one.

A genuinely Christian response to this religion won't mean either blanket acceptance or blanket rejection of the morality it preaches. But we have some work ahead of us to uncover the toxic ideas that are feeding into it. Save the world? Not by this method!

Tim Challies makes some related observations here in a piece entitled 'Environmentalism—A New Religion'.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Speaking of Christmas—Bethlehem's got talent.

A while ago I mentioned I was drafting a short tract based on the Paul Potts story. So I did, and the result is here.

Click through for the full text, and to order copies.

Jago the illustrator.

After posting about the Jesus Storybook Bible I got a very nice comment from Jago, the illustrator, whose personal blog can be found here.

In it he lets us know that

Jago is an internationally published, award-winning, extremely modest, illustrator of the finest children's picture books. He lives in a wetsuit in Cornwall with his lovely wife Alex and beautiful daughter, Lily Peach.

That must be some wetsuit.

I hope you click through on the link to his blog, because it will give you a lovely sense of how well he uses colour and emotion in his paintings and drawings. That's good because the cover of the Storybook Bible itself doesn't give you the best idea, and feels a little bit cluttered for mine. It's when you open up and read that the charm of the pictures becomes fully apparent.

Jago also provides a number of useful links on his website to other reviews of the Storybook Bible. It is, quite deservedly, already a best-seller, even though it's only been out there for a few months. I believe that as well as being good for Christian parents to use with their children, it is the sort of book that you will be able to give away to non-Christian parents and, unless they have taken a strong ideological set against Christianity, they will be genuinely happy to have and to read to their kids.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

That was lucky

The kitchen was spotless but thankfully, a large, heavy, newly sharpened knife was in the sink just when I needed to grab something to fight the intruder.

On TV.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Children's Christmas recommendations

From the comments on a previous post.

The See With Me Bible is great for pre-readers. The only words are a small summary at the end of each story (which should mostly be ignored). Very detailed pictures help kids to remember the stories really well. It does rely on the 'reader' knowing their bibles.

Candle Bible for Toddlers. One line per page. Simple stories. Lovely pictures. Great for the littlies.

The Lion Storyteller Bible. The author is employed as a storyteller, so the stories are really well written and even include suggestions for some stories for group involvement. The story is over two pages, so better for infants kids than toddlers since there won't be enough page turning for the younger crowd.

Yes, the little ones want to see those pages turned, don't they! I did like your comment that the words in the first one you recommended "should mostly be ignored". I know what you mean.

I'm interested in hearing more from other blog readers, and also why you like what you like.

Reading level of this blog.

cash advance

So come on, all you high-school level readers. What's a 'Noachian redux', eh? Answer me that! Or if not, then back to primary school for you.

I've always thought of myself as a tabloid journalist and this test confirms it.

The Jesus Storybook Bible

After my previous post suggested that most children’s Bibles don’t give you the big Bible picture, I was really happy to pick up another children’s Bible that proved me wrong. To be honest I haven’t been this excited about a book in ages, and I wasn’t expecting to be either, given my random flips through children’s Bibles over the years.

I’m going to go on about this for a bit, so if you don’t like reading long blog entries in multiple parts, then stop now and just get yourself in to Moore Books in King St Newtown having first phoned ahead to make sure that they still have this one in stock.

Or jump onto the net and order more than one. Order more, so that you will have them in time for Christmas, to give to your own children and the children of your friends. Since it only came out this year it is unlikely that they will have their own—but don’t worry, if they do then there will be plenty of grateful parents you can give this away to.

Let’s start at the beginning, which is the cover. It’s a small hardback, nearly square, and it looks like a better quality children’s storybook. The artwork by Jago is quite lovely, and is like the simple artwork that is used in some of my favourite recent fairy story books, or perhaps the work of Pauline Baynes (if you have the opportunity, check her work on Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham or Adventures of Tom Bombadil). The illustration for Goliath in the David story is a hoot. The waves in the storm before Jesus speaks words of calm are shaped like the stylised waves depicted in traditional Oriental art. The Pharisees and Sadducees—boo and hiss—look like they stepped out of the Spanish inquisition, with their Pythonesque blood-red robes and hoods. Fire, water, sky, stars and the green, green grass are textured and the colours are suitably primary where they need to be.

But all this would be worth nothing if the words themselves weren’t up to par. Sally Lloyd-Jones is a natural story-teller, and as well as carrying you along, these stories are funny, friendly, sad, scary, joyful and playful. This from the crossing of the Red Sea:

What were God’s people going to do? In front of them was a big sea. It was so big there was no way around it. But there was no way through it—it was too deep. They didn’t have any boats so they couldn’t sail across. And they couldn’t swim across because it was too far and they would drown. And they couldn’t turn back because Pharaoh was chasing them. They could see the flashing swords now, glinting in the baking sun, and the dust clouds, and chariot after scary chariot surging towards them. So they did the only thing there was left to do—PANIC!

This is better than the kids' Bibles I remember from when I was little.

Next post, I'll get onto theology.