Red, black and white—Dialogue on history

Oh man this post turned out to be a lot harder to write than I thought! It’s been a two-week slog chipping away practically every day, but I got there. Finally.

Naming orthodoxy

The first chapter of Red Letter Christianity focuses on the history of orthodox Protestant Christianity and the gradual morphing of that identity from “fundamentalist” to “evangelical” to (Tony argues) “Red Letter”.

Tony’s overview of that history is very simplistic and US-centric, and I’m not sure “Red Letter” will supplant “evangelical” as the primary identifier for theologically conservative, socially engaged Protestants. Still, I understand the desire to identify with something other than evangelicalism because like Tony and Shane, my relationship with that school of theology is complicated.

Some backstory

The Uniting Church has a reputation for being a fairly progressive church, but the truth is more complicated than that. It’s actually patchy and broad; the Uniting Church is both mainline and evangelical. I grew up in the evangelical strain, but shed that identity pretty quickly after leaving high school. I remained in the Uniting Church, but I suppose you’d say I was post-evangelical.

I wound up describing myself as evangelical again when I moved to Iona because it helpfully described a difference in my worldview compared to my coworkers, most of whom were from decidedly mainline church traditions. But the troubles I had with evangelicalism before I left for Scotland still remained: I found that it is sometimes intellectually dishonest; it puts too much pressure on the individual Christian, ignoring the responsibility of the community and it is obsessed with controlling and being at the centre of culture.

Now I’m back in the Uniting Church and somewhere in the post-evangelical middle. The tension between identifying with evangelicalism and being repelled by it has actually been pretty helpful for me working in the Uniting Church where I need to represent the broad spectrum of believers who worship there.

Ecumenism in post-evangelicalism

The Red Letter approach to the Bible is not new to me. It has been helpful in the past and has sustained my faith, but it’s only a sliver of my post-evangelical theology. My clumsy forays into Catholic, Orthodox and “other Protestant” theology (Quaker, Anabaptist, etc) has been just as useful, and I don’t think a fully-fledged post-evangelicalism is possible without an ecumenical outlook. Without it Red Letter Christianity will age into yet another unfashionable tag and be discarded just like “fundamentalist” did.

The Uniting Church is uniquely placed to live out a post-evangelical faith in Australia. It’s a denomination that is rooted in ecumenism: Its very foundation was an ecumenical act, and ecumenical dialogue is ongoing. There’s an openness to difference in the Uniting Church I haven’t been able to find elsewhere, even in ecumenical groups like the Iona Community. There are factions, but on the whole they are used to collaborating with each other, and all decisions are made by consensus.

There are many ways in which the Uniting Church falls short of its ideal, but it’s also a place where this kind of theology could find real expression at a denominational level.

Praxis

Shane and Tony back me up a little at the end of the chapter as they talk about discipleship and living out Christian theology in a practical way. The Uniting Church is placing an emphasis on making disciples; 2014 is the year of discipleship in the national Assembly and the Queensland Synod (where I work) has been riffing on discipleship for a few years now.

The way the church is governs itself means that if a congregation doesn’t want to participate, the emphasis on discipleship won’t happen there. This makes it hard to tell just how effective this focus is, but the fact that it’s a discussion happening in this denomination indicates to me that the Uniting Church is already some way down the path Shane and Tony are describing here.

Alright I think that’s enough—this post is already long overdue! Hopefully this serves as a good background and I’ll be able to expand on anything I haven’t outlined properly in a later post.

Red, black and white—introduction

Red Letter Christianity by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo book cover

Last year I was given some Koorong gift cards at the Australiasian Religious Press Association conference, which I eventually got around to spending on a handful of popular theology books. One of them is Red Letter Christianity by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. I’ve decided to blog my way through the book as a way to get more out of it and to feed the content monster here on the blog.

I’m calling this series Red, black and white, because those are the colours you’ll find in a red letter Bible (the words of Jesus, the other words, and the paper).

Uniting Church in Australia logo

The Uniting Church in Australia

Red, black and white also happen to be the colours in the Uniting Church in Australia logo, which I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about because of my job working on Journey in the Queensland Synod. Try as I might to keep things generic, my experience growing up in the Uniting Church and now working within it has profoundly shaped the way I think, so I will be specifically referring to the Uniting Church in my reflections.

I have not yet read past the first chapter, but from what I already know about Shane, Tony and the Red Letter movement, the Uniting Church already has a lot in common all of them. I think it also has a lot to learn from the Red Letter movement, and how Christians like Shane and Tony apply Red Letter Christianity to their lives in the post-Christendom Western world.

I’ll be covering some of these similarities and differences in the first entry of the series, which will cover the first chapter of the book, “Dialogue on History”. Somewhat naïvely I’m hoping the entries won’t exceed 500 words each, but it’s probably more honest to warn that they’ll likely creep up to 1000 as I try and explore each section of the book in a meaningful way.

I am very open to incorporating comments and feedback in this series because the goal is to help me think more deeply and complexly about the issues in this book and I hope your comments will help me do that. I would love for you to join me on this journey. I’ll post the first in the series before the end of this week.

Confessions of a Christian church-hater

Hello, my name is Rohan. I like Netflix and birds. I also like the internet, provocatively-titled articles and chicken.

I thoroughly enjoy discussing ideas, politics, storytelling and writing and I’ve even come to like those inconsistent rules in English spelling and grammar that used to make me cry in primary school.

There are a lot of things I enjoy in life, but I hate church.

Everyone is offended

Actual video of my friends when I told them I hated church.

About a month ago I confessed this to some friends while I was visiting the United States. Their mouths where literally agape. How could this be? I’m very open about my faith, and I suppose that’s one of the first things that springs to mind when people think of me.

I thoroughly enjoy theology, community and talking about what Jesus means to me. I like Christians and I ardently believe that churches have an important role to play in society. I work for a church and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about church and churches and how to grow them and encourage them and all the exciting, interesting things about them. I even spent nearly two years living in a Christian community on Iona because I believe communities of faith are a vital part of what it means to follow Jesus.

But none of that changes the fact that sitting through a church service makes me want to pull my fingernails out.

I love learning and listening to people talk, but I can’t listen to a sermon without completely zoning out.

I love to sing and dance, but church worship feels artificial and I can’t stand it.

I don’t know why. In my teens and early 20s I LOVED going to church. It was the highlight of my week. I’d go to church in the morning, spend all day hanging out with church people and then go to church with them again at night. Then we’d have dinner together and chat late into the night. But not anymore. What changed?

Man punching himself in the face.

Me, at church.

Maybe I overchurched myself when I was on Iona. While I lived there we had church twice a day every day. By the end of my time there it was all too much and I regularly skipped the morning office, and sometimes evening worship too. That’s probably a contributing factor.

Leaving my old church on the Gold Coast may be another. Having to make new friends and a find new support network in Brisbane was hard, and I might be trying to find an identical thing in what is actually a very different context. I still visit my old church from time to time and in many ways it feels like coming home, but there’s still the feeling that this isn’t where it’s at for me anymore. I’m done.

At the moment when people ask where I go to church, there is a congregation I say I attend. My boyfriend and I started going there a few months ago and we really enjoy spending time with everyone there. But the reality is we might make it once a month if we’re lucky. I’ll take any excuse to avoid a church service.

Before the service starts it’s great, and once it’s over I’m in my element, but during worship I feel stressed and cynical, and then I feel guilty about feeling stressed and cynical.

I should be into this. I love God and love the church, so why do I hate church services? Can I even do my job properly if I don’t like going to church? Do I have the dreaded “It’s all about me” mentality that my pastors always decried and which I always looked down on during my more enthusiastic churchgoing days? I know God loves me, but is he annoyed at me for being so petulant about the whole thing?

You're the devil

“You don’t like going to church?!”

That’s a lot of me-focused thought happening when I’m supposed to be participating in a God-centred worshipping community. I feel guilty about that too.

I know this side of things is my problem. I’d probably just deal with it and go if I truly believed that’s all it is, but there’s also the niggling thought that I am definitely not alone feeling this way. My story is one part of a much larger story.

It’s not a secret that churches in Western countries are struggling to attract and retain people my age. It’s practically a miracle that I’ve been attending church for as long as I have. There’s a lot of talk about how churches can fix this, but the problem is so complex nobody is quite sure what to do about it.

Is it a crisis in theology? (Partly!)
A crisis in style of worship? (Maybe!)
Do we ask too much or too little from our young adults? (Sometimes!)
A neglect of single people and those whose families aren’t “normal”? (YES!)
Is religion in a losing battle with science? (Not really!)
Are Christians sometimes insular and naive? (Kinda!)
Is there a negative demographic shift? (Sort of!)
Do ministers misunderstand the reasons people go to church? (Probably!)
Are churches too paralysed by fear of obliteration to innovate? (A little!)
Too wedded to nostalgia and tradition? (Perhaps!)

Are people too afraid to admit when they don’t like going to church, so they just kind of embarrassedly drift away never to be seen or heard from again?

I think that last one is a pretty safe bet. It doesn’t explain the whole problem, but I think it’s more common than we’d like to admit and I’d like to avoid being part of it, if I can.

I don’t like going to church. Can’t entirely put my finger on why. It’s a problem for me and for God’s family.

I’m open to suggestions on what to do about it.

Ian Thorpe is not dead! He’s gay!

Ian Thorpe in 2012. Photo: Eva Rinaldi

Photo: Eva Rinaldi

Ian Thorpe, the Australian Olympic hero, has come out. In an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson the former swimmer said “I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man. And I don’t want young people to feel the same way that I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.”

It’s unsurprising that a person with that level of celebrity coming out in such a public way has set the media abuzz. Everyone (including me, now) wants to give their two cents. The internet is awash with opinions. Some have been great, but one in particular put a bee in my bonnet, and if you’d indulge me I’d like to talk about it here.

I find Lauren Rosewarne’s piece, Thorpedo and the rewriting of history on ABC’s The Drum, pretty troubling. On Twitter I called it “by far the nastiest thing I’ve read today and that includes [what I read on] Facebook“. I should clarify that I don’t think Lauren is nasty, but the article is deeply problematic in that it perpetuates myths that (I hope) she would actually rather see extinguished.

Lauren asks, “If Ian Thorpe is a role model for coming out, is he not also a role model for lying about sexuality on the journey to the top, and proving that homosexuality is so shameful in our culture?”

Ian’s closeted-ness is the reason this story has whipped up such interest. He’s denied being gay for 15 years, and even denied it in writing. Ian says it himself: it was a lie. It’s okay to acknowledge that he lied—that’s what being in the closet means—but my problem is in the implication that being closeted is somehow a malicious deceit: that he made it to the top by pulling the wool over the nation’s eyes.

“Is he not also a role model of keeping mum until you’ve got nothing left to lose?”

Although supportive of out LGBT people, the article clears room for the idea that being closeted is a stain on your character. Ian could have been braver. He could have been more honest. What were his motivations for lying, really?

The commenters have jumped right into this breach. Ian withheld information about his sexuality, they say, so he is no longer trustworthy. But you don’t stay in the closet to screw other people over, you’re there to protect yourself from a culture hostile to anyone outside the cishet norm. Ian’s closeted life caused him serious emotional damage. Why on earth would he be in the closet voluntarily?

We often lament the dearth of out, gay sportspeople to be role models for the next generation, but when someone does come out they are greeted with suspicion and called a coward.

Honestly, I know what the author is getting at. The source of Ian’s problems lies with the shame our society attaches to homosexuality and there would be no need to come out if that shame didn’t exist.

The problem is the article goes on to reinforce that shame. There’s a bizarre expression of “devastation” from the author about “the sad loss of a gender diversity icon.” The idea is that because Ian “did manhood differently and elegantly and showcased that there were innumerable ways to speak as a man”—yet he was still sexually attracted to women—”he gave hope to all those people whose sex sits uncomfortably with social expectations.”

Sure, but Ian Thorpe is not dead! He’s still here—he just happens to be gay. He still represents an alternative model for manhood regardless of who turns him on. But the author discards Ian’s model of masculinity on the basis of his sexuality saying, “in the Parky revision, the Thorpedo becomes less revolutionary and much more of a stereotype.”

The implication here (intended or not) is that gay men are not “real men”. Only masculinity, (alternative or not) practiced by heterosexual men is valid and praiseworthy. Alternative models of masculinity practiced by gay men are silly stereotypes which can be safely ignored.

But Ian Thorpe continues to do manhood differently and is he is gay. Coming out doesn’t invalidate that! He can still be admired for being soft-spoken and avoiding sexual scandal. Those admirable traits didn’t disappear when he came out. Ian is still a gender diversity icon and young straight men can still emulate him without compromising their masculinity. Gay men are not toxic to straight men.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Lauren, the author, is reading this and rolling her eyes saying “Of course I don’t believe gay men are toxic!” She’s a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne in the School of Social and Political Sciences. She regularly talks sex, gender and feminism in the media. Surely—surely!—it’s a miscommunication. I wouldn’t bother writing this if I thought she was genuinely mean-spirited. But this article casts suspicion on the character of gay men who have been closeted, then dismisses any admirable traits they still possess on the basis of sexuality.

It’s not ok. If we’re going to talk about LGBT people in the media we can do it better than this.

Mean Girls is ten today

So fetch

So fetch

I was going to do a few posts about media that shaped my worldview, but today is the 10 year anniversary of Mean Girls. Yes, today is a Wednesday, and yes, I wore pink today.

I didn’t see Mean Girls until after I was a teenager, which is one of my greatest regrets. Why didn’t I go see it in the cinema? I thought it was a chick flick and didn’t even think to see it, so I can’t really say it had a profound affect on my worldview. I think I bought it on DVD for $4.95 once I found out Tina Fey wrote it. I’d already been watching 30 Rock and needed to know what else she’d done.

Now it’s in my top three movies of all time. Like, once I watched Mean Girls and then I watched it again immediately after but with commentary.

Actual Glen Coco

Did you know this is what Glen Coco looks like? You go, Glen Coco.

Everyone should watch Mean Girls. It’s just so great. It has this rhythm with its punchlines, one about every two seconds—just enough time to laugh. It’s so quotable, and it’s just weird enough to become a cult classic. It’s perfect. The writing is spot on and Tina Fey is outlandishly talented.

I’m not watching Mean Girls tonight because I just watched it a few weeks ago, but you should watch it. It’s been 10 years, and you should watch this movie.

Okay that’s it for BEDA this year. I’ll see you again soooon but not tomorrow.

End of BEDA

All kind-of-okay things must come to an end.

Another filler post for BEDA

I got a little bump in readership yesterday. I thought it might have been because of my outstanding blogging skills, but it turns out it was people searching for Zac Efron wrestling a crocodile.

I am okay with this. Zac Efron is the closest thing I have to a guilty pleasure but I’m not even sorry.

It’s late and I should get some sleep (for once). Oh look a video I made for work you should watch it, it proves I still make videos sometimes when I get paid to do so.

There’s still one day of BEDA left! Don’t worry I will probably maybe do it better tomorrow!

Rasputin on the cover of The Sun

Rasputin liked this post, probably

Four top VidCon worries

VidCon 2014 logoTraditionally before VidCon you are supposed to release a list video describing “what to do at VidCon” or “top tips for VidCon”. I’m a little out of practice though, because last year I didn’t attend. VidCon might be a totally different experience to what it was two years ago. So here are my four top worries for VidCon.

1. Taking the industry track won’t be what’s best

I’ve never really done the industry track thing before, but this year I’m going as part of my professional development for work. Unfortunately I had to book before any kind of schedule was released, so I don’t really know if the workshops now available to me as an industry person are going to be relevant. I work at a church—a non-profit—and my primary focus is actually print. I need tips on how to use video in a way that supplements print media in a multimedia environment and grows that sense of community around the brand. I’m sure there’ll be something relevant to me, but will I know what it is based on the title of the workshop? It feels like a shot in the dark.

2. I won’t know anyone anymore

Ever since starting full-time work I’ve found it difficult to make videos for YouTube. I still have friends from the internet of course, and I’m sure some of them will be at VidCon, but will they be as happy to see me as I am to see them? Intellectually I know, yes, I’m sure they will. But I feel like I’ve abandoned a community that has meant a lot to me and have now been left behind. Will they all be doing their own thing, and I’ll get left out because I haven’t involved myself enough to know what’s going on? I hope not.

3. VidCon will be about San Francisco startups

Or, like, that ~kind~ of person. Will it still be relevant to someone based on the other side of the world, or will it be very US/UK-centric? It’s always had something to offer me in the past, but YouTube itself has changed remarkably since the last time I went to LA for a conference like this. The goalposts have once again shifted, and I’m not sure if I’m the ~kind~ of person to kick for them anymore.

4. The YouTube sexual abuse scandal will taint the conference

I think we were all horrified when the sexual abuse within the YouTube community came to light earlier this year, and I’m really glad that it’s finally surfaced so we can begin to deal with it. This isn’t a worry that the scandal will “spoil my enjoyment of the conference” or anything like that (my feelings are not important here!) I’m concerned that the scandal will go unaddressed, or will be addressed superficially but everything else about the event will continue to be complicit in fostering that culture of abuse. Will “YouTube celebrities” continue to be deified by event organisers, YouTube networks and attendees?

As I type all this out, I know I probably have nothing to worry about (except, maybe, about the last one). I’m good at making the best out of things and I’m sure it’s going to be fun and informative. I hope I see plenty of you there, get inspired to try some new things and make new friends too.

A little orange boat, sailing away.

Has the YouTube boat sailed on me?

I heart Civ V

Civilization V

It’s just imperial

I will always love the Civilization games. It’s my brother’s fault for buying me a copy of Civ II back when I was small. love the addictive just-one-more-turn feeling you get when you play, and I love that it teaches me things about history I never knew before.

If I read about historical battles or wars, I’ll get the urge to play Civ. If I look at a world map for too long I’ll get the urge to play Civ. Just looking at that screencap I lifted from Google makes me want to play Civ right now. I wanna play and flex my diplomatic muscle. Or just invade everyone.

I suppose the Civilization games are actually some of the media that have been formative in my life. Consider this first in a series where I blog about them. If I try hard and believe in myself the series might even take me all the way to the end of April.

Civilization is one of the things that spurred my interest in history and politics. I can take the helm of a fledgling nation and nurture it into whatever kind of country I want—there are so many possibilities! You can win the game in multiple ways, all of which are challenging and achievable. It’s a masterfully executed concept. I’m all about it.

I have criticisms of course—I’m never uncritical of things I love. Civ perpetuates the idea of Western cultural superiority by the way it assumes a successful civilisation will follow a particular developmental path. It assumes irreligion is superior to having faith, and that putting effort into developing nuanced theology is detrimental to science. It panders to its primarily American audience in a multitude of tiny ways which aren’t really deal-breakers, but are a little wearisome.

Some of these problems are not so big in the latest version, which is great. I love what the actual architecture of the game suggests about the worldview of its creators and that I get to engage with that and think about it as I play. I love that I learn things about ancient civilisations which I previously had no idea existed. I just love it. It’s so great. I love it.

Okay, I’m going to have to play Civilization now. Sorry if you aren’t into turn-based strategy games. You’re missing out on something great (and time-consuming).

Plotting to kill

Fancy invading England? Go on, you know you want to.

Not going to church

I’ve really struggled to find a church in Brisbane since I moved here a year ago. Churches here tend to be very liturgical, elderly inner-city congregations. There are also much younger, vastly bigger churches with a more contemporary style of worship, but they are in the suburbs and very difficult for me to reach without a car.

It’s always intrigued me that the churches chasing a younger demographic and more liberal in their style of worship are also conservative in their theology. Currently the churches I feel safest in are the ones without anybody my age. It seems like wherever I go, for some reason or another I’ll always feel wildly out of place. That’s not even considering that many of the congregations I feel connected to and challenged by won’t let me contribute in any meaningful way purely because of my sexuality.

It makes me sad, because church used to be a place I felt genuine connection, teaching and care. I agree that it’s necessary to be part of a Christian community in order to grow, but I don’t know if I’ll ever find one here. I feel guilty, and when other Christians find out I’m not regularly attending a congregation I feel judged. “But you have to go somewhere! It’s not about you, you know!”

Usually when there’s a niche nobody else is interested in, you fill it. I guess I should look into starting a Bible study or something like that. I don’t know.

Church where are you?

Church where are you?

Anzac Day

I guess because of the public holiday, I’m supposed to write about Anzac Day right now. But I don’t know, I’m not feeling very articulate about it.

Do I write about the myth of redemptive violence?

Do I write about how thankful I am that Australia has never been successfully invaded, mostly thanks to the work of Australia’s defence force?

Tony Abbott just purchased 70-odd jet fighters for billions of dollars, even though he has declared a budget emergency and is in the process of cutting vital services. But I don’t know if it’s really as terrible as my Twitter feed makes it sound. Are they a necessary purchase? I have no idea.

I just don’t know what to do with today. I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful. I wouldn’t join the defence forces because I don’t think I could kill someone for the sake of a nation state, but I’m pretty glad the defence force exists.

Deep ambivalence. Oh Lord, nothing’s easy.