Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cricket and Luck an Existential mirror

In watching the Indian Cricket players on the fourth day of the Boxing Day Test Match there was a difference between the Indian players and the Australian players, specifically two of them. Opening the second innings for the Indian team was the mercurial batsman Virender Sehwag whose head was facing the sky in what looked like prayer before the innings began. At the other end was the new Australian fast bowler James Pattinson waiting primed and eager to begin. The thought I had was “Does Pattinson acknowledge any deity to aid him in his pursuit for success?”

Long ago back in the 1970's and even in the 1980's the image of the Australian fast bowler with chains gold around their necks proudly displayed over their hirsute chests would usually have one chain with a crucifix on it. Who can forget the proud display when Brazil last won the world cup with players falling to their knees thanking God after winning the final game. One had a shirt under his strip declaring his faith. In the South African team Hashim Amla proudly bats on hottest of days with his long beard a statement of his islamic faith. Even in the Pacific nations with their traditional tattoos proudly display a heritage and tradition that is copied by many Australian males in the current test team. Cricketers are often an incredibly superstitious lot to the point where many have rituals that have to be carried out in a religious exactitude that if disturbed will ruin the entire day for them. Yet seeing the religious fervour of the Indian fans it often makes us uncomfortable and I wonder why?

Listening to the ABC coverage of the fourth day of the Boxing Day test I overheard Harsha Bhogle the indian commentator say “In India people say that Sachin is God and I don't like that”. Harsha's reason for this is that he knows and speaks regularly with Tendulkar. Earlier in the coverage Harsha conveyed Tendulkar's reticence in being away from his family. For Harsha, Tendulakr is a man like himself (though unlike Tendulkar Harsha is not on 99 centuries in test match cricket) and I would like to ask Harsha why he considers the deification of Tendulkar unfavourable. The effect of such worship was not a favourable gain for the Australian Rules player Garry Ablett who was nicknamed “God” for his talents. Though Ablett did try to lower the title by insisting for a lower case “g” the effect of his descent was clearly evident. Even though his son's and nephews play at the elite level he is involved in the sport as a supporter and fan, rarely giving interviews.

Worshiping a person just for their talents and abilities is dangerous for the person being worshipped and the people worshiping them. But, bringing God into the sporting arena is not a problem for other countries, why not ours? The old line trundled out by the victors throughout the ages has been that the won because God was on their side. The opposite, that God was not for them, has of course been used for the losers as well. Bringing God into the sporting equation for Americans is of no problem it has been the stereotype of many a sporting film (sans Disney of course) for the team to pray for the big win. Still, Australians are these days reluctant to rely on a higher power to aid their arms in battle. Or do they?

Over the last few cricket seasons in Australia the momentum has swung in the favour of the tourists. Momentum and that elusive gift of good luck is often mentioned. Sayings like “The luck swung our way.” or “It was just bad luck.”. Often I wonder if it devalues the players skill who won the game while minimising the mistakes of those who played poorly. Of course its the common way of expressing that despite their best efforts a team or individual has not performed to expectations. Surely this is not dissimilar to the old line “God was with/against us.”. Luck is an enigmatic and often cruel mistress. At once friend and foe, the reason for failure and the extra help in success. This was the ancient pagan understanding of God or gods they helped when it suited them, they were capricious and often deceitful. But to cross them was worse,to do so would put you in their bad books forever. So why have a God or gods at all when they just get in the way and merely take the praise due to the hard work and effort or are the excuse when failure was up to poor execution or foolish preparation. Why not accept the failure for what it was and praise the victors for a well played game. I wonder if it is because we see people do the right thing and work hard and still fail, while others seem to do very little and succeed. Is the need for a reason for success and failure in the sporting arena a mirror to the existential angst that we find in our own lives? Though unlike the sporting arena not everyone is watching us on television in an arena where we cannot hide what is happening behind closed doors. When success eludes us or others and we ask why, can we simply say it was poor preparation or poor execution, or that despite our efforts we just fell into some bad luck. Or was it the work of a capricious deity who puts obstacles in our way and we need to placate him/her/it so that they will fight on our side next time? Which do you think? I wonder now that the indians have lost the test match what do Virender Sehwag and the indian supporters think.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Went to the Orchestra and wrote a story

On Saturday I went to see The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony at the Melbourne Town Hall. I am not a regular attendee for classical music and was rather daunted by the weight of history and culture that accompanies going to the orchestra. So, I made sure I did not walk in unprepared. Before the day I listened to the entire symphony on youtube and did the research on the history of Shostakovich's writing of his fifth symphony. The history tells us Shostakovich's Fifth is a reaction to the Stalinist regime and the loss of friends to the purges that happened around him. The Communist party wanted a symphony that fitted their heroic leanings and all through the symphony is this darkness that looms in the background along with a bombastic and cynical rejoicing enforced by a military beat from a snare drum.

What I began doing was searching the symphony for the emotions and themes within the four movements and while I did this I could see a story emerge. My excuse for this is that my experience of classical music comes from movies and animation. As I hear classical music I expect the themes to tell a story. When that does not happen I find myself lost and unable to appreciate the music as it has nothing for me to grasp onto.

This inability to grasp the music happened earlier when a new piece The Lost Art of Letter Writing by Dean Brett was played. It was technically brilliant but it was very difficult for me as a novice to comprehend and receive it, let alone enjoy it. Compared to Shostakovich's Fifth this new piece was as if I was hearing another language that was communicated with sounds that I had heard before but put together in an unrecognisable form. Surely this is how people approach the unfamiliar searching for something that they are used to hearing.

A good example was put on youtube recently of Grandpa Al listening to dubstep for the first time. Al is clearly a big Beatles fan as the wall behind him is proudly arrayed with Beatles paraphernalia. Have a look and see how Al searches for something that he can understand and does find it despite his early dismissal.

Al finds the beat and then he can deal with the unfamiliar because he has something that he knows. Grandma however cannot get over the alien nature of the sounds and cannot even accept the beat that her husband tries to get her to dance to. Al's situation was similar situation I had with the new piece performed by the MSO. It wasn't until the fourth movement of the new piece which used the familiar large sound that an orchestra has at its disposal that I was able to hear something familiar.

Of course being thischristianguy I feel the need to use what I just wrote as a mirror on how we present the gospel. Are we making it easy for people to grasp the gospel are we making it possible for many to come and find the familiar in the gospel that resonates within them? Can we do this in a way that presents the gospel without the Christian-ese and other baggage that weighs down how we traditionally communicate message. The information is out there and people can read the basics much like how I did, they can also take friends they trust to help them understand what is going on. But if there is nothing that people can find familiar then the words just mean nothing.

What this means for those who are in church like Grandpa Al is that there will be the familiar beat of Jesus as the only way to God, salvation, grace and forgiveness that we can dance too but the sounds and sights are going to very different at times. The technique will change but it will still be based on the same foundation of Christ the Lord of the Dance who can dance the waltz, shake a tail feather, do the twist, the macarena, rock out, shake his groove thing and jump around. To paraphrase The Rolling Stones It's only Jesus Christ but we might not like it, to begin with.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gay marriage in Australia......meh!

As of very recently (I think it was yesterday....I don't remember I was watching the cricket) the governing party in Australia, the Labor party made the decision to support Gay Marriage. This has been a hot topic for conservative and religious minded people all over the world and I have thought about it for some time.
What I have come up with is......who says that the state cannot say what it thinks marriage is? Its the state, the government is elected to govern for the times it lives in. The political breeze is blowing rainbows and thats the way they will roll. Do I think lobbying is going to change anything, yes but not for the conservatives. Politics is about fighting the battles you can win and looking good in the eyes of the majority and lets face it Christians are no longer the majority in Australia. So what do we do in this situation riot? rebel? leave the country?

I believe Paul talks of praying for the state officials and only going against the state when it stops or make illegal the practice of christian worship and the declaration of Christ as Lord. Nothing in this possible future legislation (because it is has yet to be tabled and who says the fickle winds of politics wont blow another way by the time Parliament sits again) that restricts anyone from being married, in fact it makes it possible for anyone to get married. It probably wont be tabled in such a way as to FORCE celebrants to marry those they do not want (the only point I would get mad about) so who cares. Its not like the "gays" are going to do marriage better than the straight people, or will they?

Marriage is not the greatest of instituions these days. Long gone are the days when the song "Love and Marriage" was known for its true advice on matrimony and not the sarcastic title song to "Married with Children". Then there is the divorce rate which is also highlighted by the wonderful Kanye West song "Gold digger" add to this the celebrated position of Hong Kong as the divorce capital of the world, and the wonderful proliferation of the "Game over" t-shirt and what is marriage but a deed end street which results in financial ruin and unhappiness.

Marriage needs to be the example that God intended it to be, as it has been cheapened and dumbed down since the time of Moses. I know this is a bit rich coming from a single almost 40 year old virgin, but, if the Church holds true to the sacrament of marriage as a holy rite how does a state law opening the boundaries of civil union do anything but pale into comparison. There is more in the biblical image of marriage than just safe sex, children and the family unit. There is something so much bigger than that. We talk of the future wedding supper of the Lamb where Jesus and his bride the Church will celebrate their union together forever. This is the happy ever after echoed in the the disney tales that ruin people with a way too high expectations of what marriage will be. Marriage as a sacrament looks forward to something greater than just two people who think they love each other, its about the future union of God and humanity. Which I think is often forgotten on many a wedding day.

As for the situation with the legal postion maybe we need to look back to the age in which Paul and the first church lived and how they had to be different from the authorities in word and deed. This is not a Christian country anymore and all I can say is get used to it. The boundary lines between those who believe this doctrine and that doctrine are not going to mean much when the real problems come. Seriously this is not the worst that a government can do to us. There are no atheists in fox holes and there is not much difference between a catholic and a protestant when persecution begins. We need to realise that this is more to do with us not acting and presenting the truth so that they will know we are Christian and not just merely speaking and shouting. If marriage is precious and sacred we need to show it and live it in all its hardships and sacrifice as well as in its joys and passions. And doing this in such a way that points to the future wedding celebration when Jesus comes and it really is that desired happy ever after.

All protests, flames and pleads for me to change my thoughts on this subject begin now. This is not a troll but me thinking out loud. My opinons can and may change but remember I am stubborn and prone to oppositional defiance.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dark Night of the Soul - Google Image Search

Dark Night of the Soul

I have had a fascination with the mystical part of christianity for some time. Healing, tongues, prophecy, all that stuff did attract me, however, it didn't seem enough. People often use the word more to describe a desire for that extra something that the feel they are lacking in their life. The answer for some is power and enabling, the call of ministry, mission and leadership. For others it can mean service (not that service is distinct from ministry, mission or leadership but that there are some who as Jesus showed us to lead by serving others). For me I find none of these pursuits alluring and I often wondered where my vocation was within the body of Christ. Then in the desire for more knowledge, finding myself in a place to grow and learn I came across people that spoke of a more that was not what my parents found.
My parents taught me that more means service, putting yourself in a position to help others even if it means that these people will ultimately end up hating you. That is Jesus example to the fullest. As I gained more knowledge about the traditions of my own faith, the theology and the history of Christianity I found that there was something deeper drawing me on. I saw Barth and Aquinas and even Augustine as men who saw God, knew God, loved God but there was something missing in their words. Then I found Hans Urs von Balthassar a contemporary of Barth's a catholic preist with the pen of a lyricist. von Balthassar's vision of Christ dead in the place of the dead was overwhelming for me. Here was that more, yet, even now I struggle to read von Balthassar. There was much lacking in my learning and in myself.

Then came Thomas Merton, God bless the great monastic writer of the 20th century. Merton a trappist monk from America a man who had plunged headlong into the abyss that is God and returned refined and enabled to shine a light on the plight of his nation, his order, and the world. Through Merton I learned that intimacy with God was what I desired, that through meditation leading into contemplation I too will be refined by the dark fire of God's love.
This dark fire of God's love is mentioned many times by St. John of the Cross in his epic "The Dark Night of the Soul". This refining fire of love that burns the soul, purifying it so it can accept the love of God becoming more like God in a movement towards ultimate perfection. I have been slowly reading this epic and it has been no picnic. An old fear has over taken me once, I have not been able to receive the same meditation results as before, there is a dryness in my prayer life. Yet, my art is vibrant and colourful, I have put aside meditation for a contemplation that is less dramatic yet more precise. St. John talks of growing from a baby to a child, that once we received the milk and love of a mother. Now God is weening me of this milk of meditation and the glorious result of it. I am being taught to stand and walk in this contemplation of God which as Merton tells us is Life with God. You know the old song "You are always on my mind." Well despite the marijuana Willie Nelson has given us a wonderful example of contemplation. God always on my mind.
I am not sure where any of this is leading. What I am sure of is that it is worth it.