Monday, February 27, 2012

A Sorry Lot

Politicians in Australia this week have shown again that they are a sorry lot. From their own accusatory lips we have learnt again that politicians are vain, driven by a desire for power and status, disloyal, narcissistic, obsessed by their own egos, insecure, faction driven, tribal, self seeking, two faced, scheming, pragmatic, selfish, sexist and, at times, just not terribly nice people. It’s enough to make a grown man cry and one called Anthony actually did. The Australian Labor Party has torn itself to shreds this week, all in an attempt to convince us that they are worthy of our vote at the next federal election.

But those words don’t only apply to the ALP. Not that long ago the Liberal and National parties of Australia were tearing themselves apart, using some equally vindictive language over whether or not they believed in climate change and who was the best person to lead their party. The decisive vote that supposedly solved all their internal disunity and disquiet was by a majority of only one. The loser of that vote said he would leave politics, but later changed his mind and maybe still waits for his day of unlikely resurrection.
Of course the journalists who tell us all about these terrible politicians are actually not so wonderful themselves. They regularly drink too much and make fools of themselves at award ceremonies. Just occasionally they look a little vain, self seeking, arrogant and bloody minded. Journalistic ethics sounds so impressive but are often compromised by phone taps, false reports, vilification and a lust to be able to report the fight. At times the media looks a lot like the crowd at a schoolyard, cheering on the punch up behind the science block. Sometimes similar power struggles occur in academia, on building sites, at hospitals, amongst teachers at schools, and in those proverbial dispute centres we call families.
And please don’t think that I am now going to say that nice people who go to church are so much better. In fact vanity, narcissism, egotism and selfishness are all pretty commonplace in most church communities. It may even be a reasonable description of a lot of ministers and pastors I know. More to the point, I can’t even be sure it’s not something my critics might justifiably and regularly say about me! 
You see our politicians’ greatest weakness is that they are just like us. Sin is not the preserve of the powerful – they just have a little more freedom of expression and considerably greater scrutiny. We need much more than a self improvement program and we need something greater than a politician with a messiah complex.
We actually need a Messiah. One who is without sin. One who can save us from our sins.
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Romans 7: 24-25

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Do you feel a little worried if your mobile phone isn't nearby? Do you launch into a panic when you are not sure where you left your phone? Do you get anxious at the realisation that your phone is perilously low on battery power? Does the mobile reside on your bedside table at night, or worse, under your pillow? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then a recent study sponsored by SecureEnvoy and written up in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests you may be suffering from Nomophobia, the fear of having no mobile. Apparently Nomophobia is worse amongst the young who may never have known a mobile phone less period. Those with so-called smart phones may be suffering even greater anxiety, suggesting the more you have the more you have to lose.
In reality many of us have survived much of our lives without mobile phones. Somehow we got by. And my parents seem to have survived their childhoods without washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, TV and a whole lot of things that I can’t imagine life without. Their parents (my grandparents) survived their childhoods without a whole lot more ‘very essential’ things.
One thing most people in the western world have decided to live without is a knowledge of, and relationship with, the living God. For a range of reasons the idea of reaching out to our Maker, listening for moral guidance, seeking for spiritual salvation, and trying to understand life beyond the grave, has become something our society just does not encourage. But why not?
No amount of technology can help us understand what we are doing here on this extraordinary planet that sustains life. Scientists are desperate to discover life somewhere else in the universe, or to postulate the existence of parallel universes, in part because our existence seems too good and too unlikely to believe. Technology can lead us astray while offering us no real moral guidance. We have access to seemingly unlimited knowledge, but seem at the same time to have lost our sources of wisdom. While our technology increasingly distracts and entertains, it does little to offer spiritual salve to the spiritual needs that no amount of distraction can completely satisfy. Finally, and fortunately, our life expectancy is far greater than our technology, but our own built in obsolescence remains an unsolved riddle. Technology may grant us a year or three more on medication in a nursing home, but the mystery of death remains unexplained.
Abandoning God in the hope that technology might provide the answer is a forlorn hope. The death of God has long been predicted, but stubbornly (and fortunately) God refuses to accept our verdict. To know God remains the greatest source of understanding, guidance, spiritual comfort and hope—something we really should not live without.
“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.”  Proverbs 14: 27

Monday, February 13, 2012

Beyond Control

“It’s the economy, stupid.” So said Bill Clinton when it came to the 1992 presidential election in the USA. He was probably right, that when it comes to politics people really do care about the economy, because in the end people ultimately care about what affects their own personal finances. But as we approach very uncertain economic times, governments around the world are facing the fact that the levers they have traditionally used to impact the economy, seem either to have disappeared or have become terminally jammed.
In Australia governments have relied on two main levers. The first is fiscal, meaning the government’s ability to impact the economy by its own spending. During the GFC, governments in Australia spent huge amounts of money on things like schools and insulation, resulting in a massive boost to the economy when it was facing tough times. However now the cupboard is bare the debts have to be repaid and the political imperative is to return the budget to surplus. In Australia, as well as most of the world, the lever of stimulus is rusted so tightly that governments will have little ability to move the lever for some decades yet.
The second lever is monetary, meaning that through influence governments can seek for the supposedly independent Reserve Bank to lower interest rates, in an attempt to get credit and the economy flowing. Again this lever looks ineffective, as the banks are unwilling to follow the Reserve Bank tune as their costs of raising money has escalated. In short, the Reserve Bank is probably going to be unable to move commercial and residential mortgage rates by this lever of economic control. The lever might still be there but it seems disconnected from the engine.
Without any control it won’t really matter who governs Australia, as our destiny will actually be in the hands of international money markets (who lend us money), and the Chinese communist government (who buys most of our iron ore). Of course what happens to the Aussie Dollar may also help or hinder our economic future, but again we can’t really rely on a system of currency fluctuations that are determined basically by a casino we call ‘foreign exchange’.
Actually all that sounds bad, but control is probably an overrated concept. Minor things like natural weather disasters, the transmission of disease, the spread of viruses, the outbreak of war, the attacks of terrorists, and a whole raft of things we generally call accidents, are all pretty much beyond our control and most of the time even beyond government control.
All this might lead us to despair. But there are alternatives. We could give up the idea that we are gods that determine our own destiny. We could in humility seek after God by faith, instead of demanding that He impress us by logic or miracles. We could be a little more thankful for what we have and a lot less confident that we have earned our way to prosperity. We may even learn that our quality of life may grow independently of our asset balance, if we stopped worrying about what the government and Reserve Bank is doing and instead determined to work hard, take responsibility, accept that we have had it good for a long time and practice a bit more generosity.
It might even be a good idea to resurrect the ancient spiritual art of prayer.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Not Born To Rule

Many people’s lives do not turn out as they imagined in childhood they might. On 21 April 1926 a young girl named Elizabeth was born to a rather special family. Her father was a quiet man, whose real importance only lay in the fact that his brother was the King of England (and a few other places). Elizabeth, I guess, grew up in an era when an upper class woman would have been thrilled with a comfortable life, a husband of some standing, a family and maybe a country estate with horses. By the time young Elizabeth had turned 11 things had changed rather radically. Her uncle had abdicated as King, her father had become King and she was next in the line of succession. At the age of  26, this wife and mother of two young children became Queen Elizabeth II. This week marks the 60th anniversary of her father’s death and later this year will mark the 60th anniversary of her coronation as Queen. Whatever her subjects (especially those in the colonies) might make of a constitutional monarch in the 21st Century, her life has certainly been extra- ordinary. Sixty years is a very long time to do any job, especially one in your childhood you never imagined would come your way.
It is often argued that we shape our destiny, but in many ways we respond to our destiny, rather than creating it from scratch. Quite often our adult lives do not match our childhood expectations. On the other hand, sometimes through life we are given opportunities to escape what seemed to be our destiny. We do occasionally come to a fork in the road and the decisions we make on a particular day, or in a moment, can lead us inevitably and conclusively to our destiny.
When believers talk about God having plans and purposes for our lives, the interplay between the ordained and the parts we control is often mysterious. Clearly so much is a matter of fate or destiny. So much of who we are is determined by our genes, biology and circumstances way beyond our control. On the other hand our lifestyle choices, our determination, our willingness to labour, our integrity and our will, all contribute hugely to who we are.
Living life in partnership with the God of creation can be so special. Trusting in God’s sovereign will, while creatively responding to what is dealt us, can be one of life’s greatest joys. Accepting who we are and then striving to be who we want to be under God can liberate us from the despair of fatalism and the naivety that we control our destiny.
“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”  Psalm 139: 1-3