Monday, April 25, 2011

The job of a Christian

Right now I'm feeling sick at a comment from the head of the Australian Christian Lobby, that Australian servicemen and women didn't fight for gay marriage and Islam. I feel sick because this is a Christian leader who is using a sacred Australian day - when we should be remembering the horror of war and the people who lives were lost or changed forever because of it - to peddle his own political agenda of hate and exclusion. Is that was Christianity is about?

I'm also feeling sick from a conversation I had over lunch yesterday - Easter Sunday - with a group of mainly Christians. Someone told of how students from the student village in Maribyrnong - next door to the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre - placed Easter eggs on the outside of the fence line, so that the people locked inside could not reach them. The students were taunting the imprisoned asylum seekers. People sniggered over their Easter barbecue lunch.

I'm disturbed mainly because these are Christians saying and doing these things. If our churches don't teach a message that makes us repulsed at such statements and such behaviour, then our churches are lost. There is no point to them. If they are preaching a message of personal salvation that is divorced from salvation for our community, our society and our world, then this is rubbish salvation. It's salvation that is egotistical and self-centred, and no good for anybody.

What kind of salvation was preached in our churches this Easter?

As the events leading to the state murder of Jesus picked up their pace, Jesus told a story about who will enter the empire of God. All the nations would be gathered before Jesus who, in that scenario, was King. Some people would be invited in: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

These people asked the King when they had ever seen him in need. And he answered, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

It wasn't long before Jesus was executed. We remember his death and resurrection at Easter time.

We, as a nation, will be judged by the way we treat those on our edges. Asylum seekers, strangers seeking a new home, people with disabilities, people who are imprisoned or homeless, our first people, people who are gay, foreign or just plain different - these are our edge dwellers. Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

It's the people on the edge who will judge us, because they are the people who can tell us whether we are a loving, justice-seeking nation. This is the prophetic voice, the voice from the wilderness, the voice that lets us know who we're fooling when we congratulate each other for our prosperous, peaceful, egalitarian society.

It's easy to be blind. But the job of Christians is to see the people, to hear their prophetic voice, and to do something.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Religion in schools

The controversial issue of religious education in schools has again reared its less-than-pretty head, like a pimple that could either burst or go underground again for an indefinite period of time (as a mild acne sufferer, I know how these things work).

Apparently the Education Department forces primary schools to have religious education whether they like it or not, and the only provider to conduct such education is explicitly and motivationally Christian. As such, 96 percent of religious education in schools is taught by Christians.

It's not meant to be biased, but of course it is. It's taught by church goers who are passionate about their faith, and passionate about sharing it with the up-and-coming generations. They're going to want to talk about the joy they find in their own faith.

I'll be blunt: I think that it is absurd in this day and age, in this multi-cultural, multi-religious society, in this diverse and complex world of many diverse and complex religions, that the religious education taught in schools is almost entirely Christian.

The Christian story and faith is an important one, and children need to know about it because it undergirds much of the culture and customs in this Anglo-Saxon dominated society. From a personal perspective it is also a worldview that I am passionate about, and believe that it has the potential to seriously enrich and change people's lives.

But it's not the only religion! Religious education is important because whether we like it or not - whether we are religious or not - religion is one of the things that makes the world go round. It shapes events, it determines the way people interact, it determines the way people don't interact. To be schooled only in the Christian religion is to miss a crucial lens for viewing our society and the world. It is to miss out on the opportunity to understand where other people are coming from. And it is to miss out on the chance to be seriously enriched and changed by these different ways of doing, being and believing.

I think it would be amazing if the funding allocated to religious education in schools was used to promote understanding between different religious groups. There is an experimental program called 'Building Bridges' that aims to facilitate discussions between high school students of different faith backgrounds. I think that's a brilliant idea, and the kind of thing that true 'religious education' should be aiming towards.

This conversation is also somewhat personal for me, as I have been thinking about chaplaincy as something to do in the future. I believe that there is an important role for people of faith in secular institutions - to provide support in a holistic way. But I'm uncomfortable that again it's mainly Christians that get the funding to do this stuff.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wandering the wilderness

In the period of Lent, we read the story of Jesus in the wilderness, wandering for forty days and forty nights, by which time he is understandably 'hungry' and is tempted by Satan.

It's good for us to have 'wilderness' times in our lives - periods of wandering and waiting with no path to anywhere. I'm having a wilderness time at the moment. I am waiting for my path to appear. It hasn't been long but I'm already hungry. Hungry for a sense of purpose and direction; hungry for the feeling of importance or the elation of significance. I am ripe for the tempting.

And the temptations come in fairly innocuous forms: an ad for a job that seems 'ideal' but not for right now, for example. Things that, as Caroline preached a few Sundays ago, are not bad in and of themselves, but could be 'temptations' merely because they stop you doing what you are meant to be doing.

Which for me, is wandering in the wilderness a bit longer. Waiting for the right path to appear, and having faith that it will.