the muiz

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The Revolution will not be Televised...


...or will it? Obama's inauguration: a masterpiece of carefully crafted state propaganda...and the whole world lapped it up. It's a revolution, but a calm one - ever so civilised...co-opted?

Is all this Obama-hysteria going to leave everyone with a big hangover one day soon, I wonder? For weeks the news has been saturated with Obama - his election, his plans, his inauguration...the world can't seem to get enough. The celeb-style President and his family have been on "Women's Day" and "Who Weekly" covers ever since...

But this wonderful, hopeful feeling that seems to have taken hold across the world - I share it - what if it's all hype? Anyway, aren't we expecting more than is humanly possible, given the world's problems today, and the U.S. system - which is not as free as they like to tell themselves…

I really hope it all goes well for Obama - that he does bring back some hope, some more unity and integrity and vision...but I can't help wondering: is it possible to have integrity in that system, in any political position anymore?

Or will he become the next scapegoat, his hands tied by the “oil-war machine"...Wait and see, I suppose. And hope, and pray.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Speak as we feel



Thoughts on the pope's visit, human rights and the freedom to speak...

I walked past the pope having breakfast today on my way to work. He was surrounded by many red mini-popes, but not much obvious security – it seemed as if I could easily have walked up to him and started a conversation. What would I have asked him? I wondered about this as I continued walking up the street, and nearly bumped into a group of students protesting about ‘victims of hope’ – I wasn’t sure what they meant exactly, but felt strangely tempted to tell them the pope was just around the corner, if they wanted to move their protest somewhere more noticeable…I resisted the urge, and continued through the grey streets in the chilly early morning – noticing the gradual build-up of fluoro-daypack wearing pilgrims filtering into Sydney’s CBD.

What do they all hope to get out of this week? Are they ‘victims of hope’ too? Their youthful hope in such a materialistic, ostentatious religion seems to me misplaced. After all, Christ had nothing but scorn for the pomp and hypocrisy of the traditional religious leaders of his day – he reserved his harshest words for those who ‘place a heavy burden on the poor, and do not lift a finger to help them’…His most powerful parable of neighbourly love contrasted those hurrying past an injured man, to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean on their way to the synagogue, with the man who stopped to help – from a marginalised group, considered totally unspiritual by the religious watchdogs of that time. This is the Christ I follow – who taught love as the only law, the only way to live. I am amazed that so many people still play these religious games, and outsource their own personal spiritual journey to others, to make their decisions for them.

Sure, you could argue that the Catholic Church has done a lot of good in the area of social justice, and I would agree – but also note that these are mostly efforts at ameliorating the symptoms of poverty, rather than any serious efforts to uproot the true cause – the structural violence of today’s global system. Is that what I would have said to the pope? I wish…but the truth is I don’t want to spend any time in an Australian prison (having visited a few, I have some idea what that would mean)! Given the draconian security laws recently passed in Sydney especially for the pontiff’s visit, including prohibitions on what t-shirts may be worn in public places – so as not to offend ‘His Holiness’…a direct confrontation, even a friendly one, is hardly likely to end well for me. So walking mutely and unemotionally past the papal breakfast gathering this morning, I realised it wasn’t a lack of things to say that prevented me from entering, but a lack of hope that anything could change, no matter what I say.

So this is what our society, our world, has come to – we have the right to remain silent. Anything we say will fall on deaf ears anyway, or potentially result in a loss of liberty – depending on the level of ‘terror alert’ we may be on officially at that particular time, of course. However, it seems that most of the world’s problems are due to a lack of imagination, and open discussion is surely one of the best ways to stimulate our collective imagination in the search for far-reaching solutions…

Yet instead, we are dominated and manipulated into submission, by top-down, one-way communication – carefully crafted to conceal the real issues. Our pursuit of ‘truth’, or even more modestly, ‘collective goals and values’ are negotiated continually by a struggle between unequal participants. Communication is always power-based – with access, inclusion and equal participation being especially problematic for women and non-westerners.

Which brings me to the other little cluster of thoughts I have been nursing recently – the blanket of silence that suffocates those whose lives and views are considered so dangerous to ours, that their human rights are sacrificed in an attempt to keep them safely out of public discourse. Out of sight, out of mind, exhibit one: the recently returned Guantanamo detainee – ‘he whose name shall not be mentioned’ for fear of popping up on some international intelligence agency’s radar screen somewhere…

I met his partner recently - a shy, sweet girl – cowed into silence by the fascist restrictions on his rights to freedom of speech, freedom of movement…the same rights that have been signed away on behalf of Sydney to honour and ‘protect’ the pope, actually. I wonder, does he really need protecting from the truth? I thought religion originated from the pursuit of truth - yet another thing I was so very wrong about. Add it to the rapidly growing list - after the na├»ve belief in an international respect for human rights and dignity of the individual. Or before?

This girl – you would have seen her in the tabloid coverage of recent months – once again reminded me, without saying a word, how wrong our perceptions of others can be. She sat next to me during a lengthy discussion of poetry and peace - and as the day progressed, I sensed her discomfort, her insecurity when we realised her identity – and I felt strangely protective of her. After sharing a few guarded words, I realised we shared a few similar views on life, injustice, spirituality… This real life encounter replaced the media image of some misguided partner of a ‘terrorist’ - one of ‘them’ - with the embracing of ‘one of us’, and the hope of a new friendship.

Of course this may be yet another hope I will have to sacrifice to the realities of a world gone mad. A world where victims of injustice, victims of human rights abuses, are not only left on the side of life’s road, to fend for themselves, but also gagged and bound to ensure we don’t have to hear their groans of pain. If they are from the wrong side of the ideological divide, then, instead of covering their nakedness, we feast with the media vultures on the exposed carcasses of their private pain…

Lederach, a renowned peace scholar, stressed the importance of acknowledging and sharing one another’s stories as an essential first step towards reconciliation and restoration. This is also essential in writing our own, authentic version of events in history - there is a Spanish saying that ‘memory runs through the heart’ - so by extension, if you lose memory, you lose your heart…The less we remember, the less we are… and how will we ever build peace even within our own communities, if we are unable to truly communicate? (Did you notice the similarity, the shared root of those two words?)

Instead, in Australia, and much of the world, “precious little in the way of dialogue and exchange – both of which occur in scholarly debate, in artistic production, in the encounters between ordinary human beings who do business, interact, and generally talk to, as opposed to at, each other – makes it into the public domain so dominated by the mass media. Sensationalism, crude xenophobia and insensitive belligerence are the order of the day, with results on both sides of the imaginary line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that are extremely unedifying” (journalist Ed Said).

In contrast, idealists and poets have historically been seen as a threat to the ‘powers that be’ - they challenge the ‘status quo’, and attempt to reclaim language for the imagination – whereas politicians and religious leaders manipulate language to serve their own ends, sell their own versions of ‘truth’… Power lies not only in the ability to enforce one’s will, but in the more sinister ability to define what is right, or rational, or even real. For this reason, the struggle against domination, and the very mechanism of emancipation, is communication. And as Czeslaw Milosz said "Dissidents are not necessarily those with the strongest minds, but those with the weakest stomachs – the mind can rationalise anything, but the stomach can only take so much…"

We need to pull back the neoliberal veil that obscures any ability to see possible alternative viewpoints and solutions - remembering that concepts like democracy, human rights, peace and justice run the risk of being co-opted, and being used to legitimise hegemonic regimes like the United States – especially in the post- 9/11 world. As Bendang pointed out, “we need not follow neoliberal economics in the Orwellian ‘newspeak’- allowing propositions of bombing in order to build, war for peace, or ‘developing’ for impoverishment”.

This reminds me of the beautiful African concept of “ubuntu” – it means (in Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words) “…my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in theirs. We belong in a bundle of life. We say, ‘a person is a person through other people’. It is not, ‘I think therefore I am’. It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong’. I participate, I share. A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others...”

Oh, how I long for a world where we can speak as we feel, not as we ought to! Instead of drawing lines between 'us' and 'them', we could be painting in watercolours…As the wonderful, warm-hearted Stuart Rees (Sydney Peace centre founder, and author of ‘A Passion for Peace’) so poetically phrased it: “Somewhere between religion and revolution…between the alleged opposites, lie the colours of the rainbow”.


Monday, 7 January 2008

10 Reasons I Believe


Why I believe in a Loving, Personal, Creator God


1. Design

The argument for design is well-known in philosophical and other intellectual circles – it is the belief that the universe in all its complexity, order, and precision, could not have happened by chance and evolution alone. The more scientific knowledge we gain, the more it becomes apparent how little we really know about the hidden reasons and causes behind everything. The most honest scientist will admit that these questions cannot be solved by science, but must be left to the realm of metaphysics, philosophy and religion…

We struggle to explain and predict aspects of even the material world through quantitative experiments and logical reasoning – let alone the spiritual and infinite dimensions beyond our reach.

When I look at the ocean, or an underwater reef with its kaleidoscope of life, or a kitten at play, or stare into another person’s eyes, I cannot believe anything other than a magnificent and all-powerful, AMAZING Creator is behind all that I see and feel…..

2. Beauty, Humour, Pleasure, Love 

If evolution were true then why beauty, humour and pleasure? None of these are necessary to survive, and cannot be scientifically measured or validated either. No satisfactory response has been given to this question, and yet no one seems to mind? Perhaps many do not examine the theory closely enough to spot these obvious omissions, preferring instead to accept the opinions of the so-called experts.

Personally, everything that is worthwhile and meaningful in my life relies on one or all of these components – in fact as humans we strive for these above all other considerations. I could carry on about this forever, but here’s the most striking example I have to offer: MUSIC. What is the so-called evolutionary purpose of music? Who can explain that one? And what would our lives be without it…..

3. Fruits of Society 

There are so many theories, philosophies, religions and belief systems (or even non-belief systems) out there, that wading through them and deciding which, if any, to believe, is a daunting task indeed. So daunting that some people drift through life without ever attempting this – they choose instead (without really choosing anything consciously) to follow one of two easy paths through life: Believe everything, or Doubt everything.

I have always reviewed theories with the measuring stick given by a very wise man long ago - I heard these words long before I even knew who this wise man truly was and what he stood for...He said (and I paraphrase) “don’t be deceived by many clever words and theories, by many false prophets - for you will know them by their FRUITS…” Well, it’s common sense really, isn’t it? Again to paraphrase His words: “a rotten tree cannot bear good fruit….a good tree cannot bear rotten fruit”(Although if left alone too long, detached from the tree, the fruit WILL go rotten….and even this further illustrates the point).

As I have surveyed society, individual people, or religious and other belief systems, I have found this basic principle to be amazingly accurate and revealing – helping me to discern between cleverly twisted almost-truths, and pure unadulterated truth….It is not too different from the philosophical practice of working through a theory to its final conclusion, to prove or disprove its logical implications.

For example, the fruits of believing in Reincarnation are completely unacceptable to me – an inward-looking worldview, with very little motivation to attempt to change or improve the world around us. In the countries where this belief reaches its pinnacle, there is an almost arrogant disdain for anyone else’s misfortune, as it must have been brought on by their own misdeeds in past lives…Most disturbing to me, is the resulting guilt and self-blame when this awful explanation is applied to oneself...I have even met people who came to believe that their experience of abuse as a child was obviously the result of having abused another in a previous life, and so they deserved to suffer in return in this incarnation. I find it hard to understand what good could come of such a monstrous explanation - it is completely abhorrent to my soul!

Clearly I have only touched briefly on this topic, but there are many other examples I encounter in daily conversations and in the media - many half-baked theories...all leading to tragic and flawed conclusions, and when applied to life and society the results vary from depression and discouragement to complete meaninglessness.

4. Changed Lives

In contrast to the above, when a person or group of people who have truly grasped the message of Christianity, attempt to humbly and sincerely live out these principles in their everyday existence and dealings with others, the fruits are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, selflessness and hope...And who could find fault with such as these?
I have also seen countless transformed people - from being freed of all sorts of drug addictions - including giving up cigarettes and alcohol instantly, to leaving behind lives of violence and exploitation, and becoming amazing, selfless, gentle people...this is no small thing!

5. Personal Experience

Although hard to explain and measure its validity, who can argue with personal experience? It is of course subjective, but can still be taken seriously if one knows and trusts (perhaps even likes and values) the person citing their own personal experience as the reason for their conviction one way or another. Just as many people justify their lack of belief in one or other theory by saying “I don’t believe in x – I have never seen/ heard x…”, another could very well say “I have…” and at this point neither of them can discount each other’s point of view. Although I would be inclined to think that the person who has experienced something for themselves, has a slight advantage in the discussion and could not be persuaded to discard their actual experience in favour of another’s skepticism on the matter – no matter how logical the other’s opinion may seem.

My life is full of examples of my Creator’s unfailing love, provision, protection and guidance...I could fill a book with the stories (and hope to some day soon..) of how he came through for me time after time - against all odds. If you knew how incredibly miserable and insecure and fearful of the future I was for many many years...you would realise that the person I am now is the product of a miracle (or many miracles over a period of time...).

My Creator has made me with such amazing foresight and care, equipping me uniquely to walk the path He knew I would face, before He even created the world! This is His intention for each of us blessed with the chance to live in this awe-inspiring Universe - our souls filled with love from Him and towards others, a life lived as a gift back to Him, and as careful stewards of all He’s given us - our giftings, our loved ones, our neighbours, our planet...

Once these amazing truths are revealed to your mind, sink down to your heart, and find their expression through your words and deeds, your life becomes truly blessed. Every day is an opportunity to know God more, to bless someone else, and to take another step closer to becoming truly human (in becoming all you were created to be). This cannot be faked, and it cannot be reasoned away, once experienced it becomes more real than anything else...

My personal experience has been vastly different to the people I find myself arguing and reasoning with, which is often very frustrating, as they cannot see what I have seen until this is revealed to them… and at the same time they fail to even consider another point of view – one based on actual experience of the subject – as it would demand a re-evaluation of their entire life. They prefer instead to dismiss my beliefs as those of an unthinking, perhaps even brainwashed person, and rarely do they ask or listen to the many and varied explanations I could give for my faith...Perhaps the only way to convince these people is through living a life that reflects these principles, rather than trying to persuade with words, and trying to force a new perspective in a few conversations…

I am not in the business of “converting” people anyway - that is too forceful and strange an approach, which scares many away from even taking up the topic in the first place. I remember only too well how irritating I found people who constantly threw ridiculous statements my way, in a misguided effort to persuade me of their "superior" viewpoint... Even now, I find bible-bashing Christians, with their abundant store of platitudes for every occasion, more annoying to talk to than a person with many contradictory beliefs - at least the “unchurched” don’t think they know all the answers...

6. Witness

'Witness' refers to the many incidents of supernatural or otherwise unexplainable events and encounters witnessed by myself and many others throughout the world at different times, which confirm and strengthen our faith in a personal, involved and miracle-working God. I have seen people touched in many visible ways by the presence of God, and felt these signs of His amazing presence myself...

I have been healed through prayer, and prayed with someone for a boy - who was healed of a kidney problem right there and then! I have seen other evidences of spiritual activity around me as well - such as people with demons in them (not something I like to talk about much as it is a very good way to lose your audience in a hurry!). I have also received and given prophetic words which were confirmed as accurate either then or later, in ways that could not have been guessed by human efforts alone!

7. Testimonies

Very similar to the above, but involves multiple accounts of personal experience, stretching across all races, nationalities, age groups, genders, and historical periods. I have spoken to many people with amazing stories of God’s goodness towards them. I have also read even more personal accounts from people who lived so long ago, or in worlds so different from mine, that I find it amazing and very encouraging to realise that despite the chasm of time and space between us, we experienced our Creator’s love in such similar ways! In fact, I often identify more with some of these people that I will never meet, than with the majority of people sharing my daily life...

8. Conscience

Ahhh this is a sticky one. Again it is subjective, and easily dismissed by some. But I cannot shake it. That gut-feeling, instinctive reaction, intuitive response, nagging doubt, loss of inner peace…however you define it – it is very real. And it guides us in making decisions or interpreting situations.

However different and varied our responses to situations, there are some very basic common principles we all value and will even fight to the death to preserve… many of these can be shown to have their roots in our original God-designed natures, in the original plan our Creator has for all of us and our inter-relating worlds….When we hurt another human being, we feel regret or remorse or even pain.

True, we can ignore this pang of conscience, and over time it will die, leaving us free to disrespect and dehumanise others in pursue of our own gains - this is evident all around us. Yet as babies we all started out with such a deep empathy that the tears of another were cause enough for us to join in the wailing....

9. Historical Evidence

Actual archaeological and historical evidence of most of the biblical events and characters has been found throughout the centuries - and is studied around the world by both secular and religious scholars…I am not one for remembering details, but you can find many many books on the subject, and frequently biblical accounts have been used to guide non-religious people to making great archeological discoveries, or to establish the date and place of other civilisations they are studying...There is more evidence of this nature backing the authenticity of the bible than any other book in the history of mankind - yet people always hide behind the claim that the bible is not factual.

The same people have no problem believing historical books with a fraction of the historical accuracy or evidence to back up their accounts of events...many of these people probably also believe everything they hear on the news...If only more people would actually do some research before making these sweeping statements! More than one scholar has set out to disprove the bible, only to find themselves faced with the awkward realisation that this book contains truth - and it is challenging, life-transforming, unforgettable truth!

10. Reason

Every so-called flaw in the bible, and in the basic claims of Christianity, can be explained and understood if evaluated in context, in the manner it was intended to be by the biblical writers….and with an open mind (not closed by prejudice, hard-heartedness and arrogance). True biblical interpretation requires some scrutiny and background research to fully understand the sometimes culturally-bound images and idioms used. Even then, alot of the bible is illuminated fully only when read with the aid of the Holy Spirit, who “guides us into all understanding” - and by that I mean in the deeper ways of God. There are many layers to the bible, and the obvious ones are accessible to anyone at anytime who has an earnest hunger to learn...it’s such a pity that many allow the details and cultural or time barriers to keep them from seeing the jewels contained in this book.

I could never “kiss my brains good-bye” and believe something illogical or contradictory – this is the very reason I came to be a Christian, much to my own surprise....as every other avenue I looked into was too illogical to follow completely…as mentioned above, there are so many theories out there, and many contain some truth - but each one falls down when walked through to their ultimate conclusion. In contrast, the more I learn and understand of TRUE Christianity (for there are sadly many misleading versions out there too!) the more convinced I am of its truth and relevance.

The more God reveals Himself and His ways to me, the more inspired, intrigued, encouraged and thrilled I am! This Creator of all life cannot be fully understood by finite minds, but He desires to be in relationship with each one of us, and actively pursues us to win our hearts and begin revealing himself to us...yet always our free will is paramount, and He will never force us! So sadly not all will enter into this exciting adventure, this awesome privilege, this undeserved gift....and for most people the barrier keeping them in the dark as it were, is “reason”.

Yet ironically, I have found that following my heart into the arms of my Creator (seeking comfort and healing) started me on a multi-dimensional journey of discovery, involving not only emotion, revelation and experience, but also reason and understanding! And this reasoning leads not only to a logical conclusion, but even more importantly to wisdom and very deep revelations!

(This is really just a quick overview….there is so much more I could say!!)