Monthly Archives: April 2008

My Young Man—Kate Rusby

It’s a few days after Anzac Day. Without taking anything away from those who suffered and died in wartime—on any side—let’s also remember some ‘ordinary heroes’, like those who lost their health or even their lives in mines for you and me.

My Young Man is sung (beautifully of course) by Kate Rusby to a YouTube video, a stunning collage of pictures evoking the lives and sacrifices of miners. Here, it’s Yorkshire miners, but let them stand for all:

My young man wears a frown
With his eyes all closed and his head bowed down,
My young man never sleeps.
The rain it falls upon his back
The dust before his eyes is black,
Oft the times, oft the times my young man weeps.

My young man wears a coat,
Once, long ago, a bonnie coat
Which my young man wore with pride.
Now I dress the coat all on his back,
For love for him I will not lack,
But to see it now, that collier’s coat, I can’t abide.

My young man, where’s he gone?
Once in his eyes my whole world shone
Now my young man he looks away.
Man and wife we used to be
Now he’s like a child upon my knee
And in my arms I help my young man through the day.

A young girl no more am I
But I shall not weep and I will not cry,
For my young man needs me still.
If someone’s watching up above
You’ll see how much my dear I love,
So leave him here, I need him now and always will.
Oh if someone’s watching up above
You’ll see how much my dear I love,
And If he must go, let your best angels keep him well


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Christ is risen!

Yesterday was Easter Sunday for our Orthodox sisters and brothers. With them, we say, “Christ is risen!”

The pics are from the BBC, which has more here.


In Bethlehem


In Macedonia


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The (un)known god

Sermon for Easter 6

Acts 17.22-31; John 14.5-21

My name is Timonus. Once, I was a slave; my master was Sophos, a philosopher in Athens. I had an easy job—I just followed him about and fetched and carried for him. I was set free when he died, it was in his will.

As a philosopher, Sophos spent a lot of time on the Areopagus, the place the Romans call Mars Hill. I used to love being there. I’d keep out of sight of course, slaves should not be seen in such places, but I kept my ears open. My master was one of the Epicurean philosophers. They had no time for any of the gods; as far as the Epicureans were concerned, the gods lived so far away that it was pointless taking any notice of them. And the gods took no notice of us either! My master Sophos never prayed, never sacrificed, never went to a temple except for social occasions. Don’t get me wrong, he was a good man, after all, he treated me well and he set me free.

But he did have one blind spot—he hated the Stoics. They’d gather in the Areopagus as well, and there was often a bit of a verbal stoush between the Epicureans on one side and the Stoics on the other. All done in the most genteel way, of course—with gritted teeth through a fixed smile.

Mind you, I don’t know why they fought really, they were so similar in so many ways. Neither had time for the old ways. Both looked down on people who still believed in the old gods.

I remember this one time, a time when the Epicureans and Stoics were on the same side. The Christian Paul was in town. No one had heard of Christians back then, so Sophos and his friends Dionysius and the lady Damaris were interested. They thought Paul may be representing a new school of philosophy. They thought he may be someone they could have debates with. They debated for fun!

Well, Paul had become quite worked up by all the idols and shrines in Athens. Funny, living here, you get used to them. But it is a shock when you first get here.

I saw him, stopping by the altar to the ‘unknown god’. He stood and stared at it for the longest time…

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Moderate Islam under fire (2)

Professor Toh Swee-Hin, the Director of the Griffith Multi-Faith Centre, has written the following letter to The Australian. Let’s hope it’s published:


The Australian 

 Dear Editor: 

 An essential criterion of  quality and reliable journalism rests on careful and accurate investigation of  the subject under scrutiny. In regard to the issue of funding of the Griffith University’s Islamic Research Centre by the Saudi Government, it is disappointing that  articles in The Australian have appeared under highly sensationalized, erroneous and “fear mongering” headings, including branding Griffith University as ‘an agent of extreme Islam’. 

 Richard Kerbaj’s strong suggestion that the Saudi Government’s donation to GIRU has resulted in or will lead to Griffith propagating “extremist” interpretations of Islam needs substantive evidence rather than a simplistic guilt by association logic. Surely Mr. Kerbaj needs to examine the details of research projects and courses being conducted under GIRU auspices in order to  draw fair and valid conclusions.   

Over the past four years, the Griffith University Multi-Faith Centre has involved the GIRU’s Director, Dr. Abdalla, and his colleagues  in numerous activities and events to promote interfaith dialogue for a culture of peace. I have also attended seminars and conferences organized under GIRU auspices, including the recent conference on “Islam and the West”. I can confirm that I have not heard anything in the presentations of GIRU scholars or invited Muslim speakers that support “Wahhabism” or justify extremist views and practices espoused by individuals or groups labelled as “al- Qa’ida”. On the contrary, GIRU scholars have emphasized the core values and principles of peace, justice, human rights and intercultural respect in interpreting and practising Islam.    

 Recently, I was a member of the Australian delegation at the Fourth  Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue for peace and harmony, hosted in 2008 by Cambodia following previous meetings in Indonesia, the Philippines and New Zealand.  These dialogues, as well as a growing number of interfaith programs and initiatives worldwide, yield the positive outcomes of greater understanding and cooperation among diverse faiths, cultures and civilizations so urgently needed for building a peaceful world.  The manner in which the Australian has chosen to report on the issue of Saudi funding to Griffith University will not help in enhancing interfaith dialogue and understanding. Unfortunately, it has catalysed, as seen in blogs and other venues of public expressions, further stereotyping and vilification of Islam as a faith.   

 The Australian received deserved praise for your detailed research  and fair reporting on the case of Dr. Haneef. I sincerely hope and appeal for a similar standard of journalism on this issue of Saudi funding to the Griffith Islamic Research Unit.   

 Yours sincerely 

 Professor Toh Swee-Hin (S.H.Toh) 

Director, Multi-Faith Centre 

Laureate, UNESCO Prize for Peace Education (2000) 


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The Liturgy of the Notices

The Naked Liturgist (aka Bosco Peters) takes us through the Liturgy of the Notices. I think this is hilarious (but then, I love liturgy, so what hope is there…)

Of course, there is a serious side to this. Where do we put the announcements? But then, I’ve been to Uniting Church services where the notices have been the most interesting thing!

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Moderate Islam under fire

It was with a sense of alarm that I read an article in The Australian this week called University ‘an agent of extreme Islam’. I wasn’t alarmed because I thought the story was true! It reads like a beatup, with accusations by a judge on the basis of guilt by association. (I wonder if Jesus would get a fair trial in a court where that was the basis on which things were done!)

I was alarmed because it named two members of Griffith University both known to me as men of the highest integrity. One is a Christian, Ross Homel; the other a Moslem, Mohamad Abdallah. To accuse either of being extremist flies in the face of what I have experienced personally in my dealings with each of these men.

Thankfully, the Moderator Rev Dr David Pitman agrees, and has issued a press release which also quotes Rev Dr David Rankin, Principal of Trinity Theological College. I hope that members of the Uniting Church and beyond will take note of these words (and I note that the two Davids are members of this congregation and that Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali recently preached here):


The Moderator of the Uniting Church in Queensland Rev Dr David Pitman has responded strongly to a national newspaper’s attack on Dr Mohammad Abdalla and the Griffith University’s Islamic Research Unit.

In a letter to The Australian, Dr Pitman said Dr Abdalla is an outstanding scholar and a person of great integrity who is making a very significant contribution to the life of the nation.

“The Unit is making a very significant contribution to the Australian community at a time when we should be committed to building trust and respect amongst people of all faiths and all Australians.”

“Mutual respect and understanding are crucial to the peace and security of our society. Sure of our own faith, we should never be concerned about engaging in dialogue with people of goodwill from other faiths.”

“The Christian faith’s belief in hospitality and justice is important in how we approach this conversation.”

Dr Pitman pointed to the importance of academic debate and the value of dialogue across disciplines in strengthening trust and respect.

“In a free society debate amongst scholars should not be curtailed or compromised.”

The Uniting Church in Queensland has a growing relationship with the Muslim community and Uniting Church members are regularly meeting with Muslims from Mosques in Brisbane.

Principal of the Uniting Church’s Theological College Rev Dr David Rankin described Dr Abdalla as informed, moderate and thoughtful academic, with a deep desire to engage with people of other faiths and with Christian scholarship.

“I have found our conversations with members of the Islamic Research Unit to be pleasant and fruitful, demonstrating a clear commitment to engaging with the Australian community.”

A Uniting Church guest, Pakistani born Anglican Bishop of Rochester (UK) Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, was recently involved in a public discussion with Dr Abdalla at the Multi-Faith Centre of Griffith University.

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The exodus and the journey

The Transit Lounge is a great Uniting Church e-magazine which asked me to contribute an article with the theme The exodus and the journey, which I was very happy to do. Here it is, but do check out The Transit Lounge too—there are lots of excellent things there!

I spent the first few years of my post-conversion life in an Open Brethren congregation — if you don’t know what that means, think fundamentalist and you won’t go far wrong.

A few years ago, I went to a get-together where there would be some of the people I’d hung around with in church in my teens and early twenties. I was really looking forward to it — I wondered where they were on the journey of faith, and wanted to swap notes. I was so disappointed; they were exactly where they’d been twenty years before. We were hardly speaking the same language!

The people of God have always moved. They have been pilgrims, missionaries, holy fools, called by the Spirit of God to go, unable to stay still, impatient being in one place. It began with Abraham and Sarah, called by God to find the land given to them and their descendants.

However, the real archetype, the Exodus, came later. Here, the children of Israel escape from slavery under the pharaohs of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, move through the sea as though it’s a walk through a paddock and… get stuck in the desert through their disobedience. For forty years.

If you’d visited them after 39 years wandering aimlessly in the wilderness, you’d find that many of them had their heads in the same place they’d been all those years before. Their feet were calloused, their sandals were worn and patched, but they’d moved nowhere.

Yet in the end, God delivered the people of Israel and gave them the land promised to Abraham and Sarah. Finally, the Exodus was a journey to somewhere, not a spirit-breaking trudge. It was a passage from slavery to freedom!

Generations later, Second Isaiah described the return of the exiles from Babylon in terms which recalled the Exodus. And later still, Jesus spoke of his journey to Jerusalem as an Exodus, which was not for his own deliverance but for ours.

The earliest believers spoke of the Way. They were on the move, walking a way of life first trod by Jesus. It’s not that they had no landmarks for the journey; the Way of Jesus provided all they needed. It was a downward Way of service that led them up to God; it was a Way of giving that met their needs; it was a Way of losing life that brought true life. It was an Exodus: a Way from slavery to freedom.

The Way has led me to more than one conversion. My conversion to Jesus has meant a journey of conversion to justice, to the Church, to finding the heart of everything in worship that seeks to live a daily journey.

I haven’t arrived—these conversions take a lifetime.

I believe every follower of Jesus is on the Way. We have no secure place, nowhere we can call a destination, no terminus. But we’re not wandering; we’re not on some Christian package tour. While we don’t know what the end will bring, we know who will be there—the One who is with us now on the Way. And that, surely, is enough to sustain us.


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