It’s not the wildlife you have to be afraid of in Sydney, it’s the Baby Boomers…

So. That might be a controversial title. But I’ve just been to see French economist Thomas Piketty speak at the Opera House, and I thought I’d share a little of my thoughts.

In the audience were a lot of economists, some socialists, and two Pentecostals.

Classily, as we were assailed on the front steps by the Socialist Alliance paper, Dreu quoted Oscar Wilde “…the trouble with Socialism is that it takes too many evenings.” Which we laughed at because so does Pentecostalism, actually. There’s a lot of dancing, and giving, and … oh well back to the topic.

I actually find macroeconomics very sexy. Oh, speak to me softly in Keynesian. I did a political economy degree at the University of Sydney, and I very nearly did my PhD in it.

Instead, my PhD is situated at the intersection of anthropology and development, and charts emergent ways that Aboriginal Christian leaders are using their congregations to insulate themselves from the devastating policies that increase Australia’s racial inequality, or “the gap.” During my studies, I spoke with 88 Christians attending churches with Aboriginal pastors. They spoke about the intersection between Dreaming culture and Christianity, and the ways they help people in their community get car licenses, stop smoking, do aerobics and work for NGOs. They are reducing inequality. This is the invisible Australian church.

Anyways, the summary of this Piketty presentation is that global inequality is rising, and in some places around the world has gone back to levels before WW2. Inequality is most troubling, interestingly enough, where there is oil revenue – e.g. in The Middle East, where the top 10% of income earners take almost 60% of the income.

Piketty doesn’t want to predict another war, of course, but at the same time, he provides historical links to inequality (of both income and wealth), characterizing this as “instability” that may give rise to conflict. Which certainly stacks up with development theorists.


There was something very interesting about sitting with thousands of people in the Opera House listening to this presentation.

It felt like church. Although the Today Tonight crew are desperately against more progressive Pentecostal religiosity, the reality is that it provides a collective identity, and a motivation to redistribute wealth. Jesus is a pretty compelling reason to limit your income, particularly for those at the top of the income ladder. And, it turns out, the poor in Pentecostal churches actually do see a material gain in income. If you’re desperate for stats, I can point you to many, from all over the world.

The true problem of our world is that the rich cannot see how rich we really are.

It is a virtue to truly be able to see yourself. This kind of sober judgment doesn’t come overnight.

The irony is that due to negative gearing and 0% tax on wealth inheritance (which Piketty made into a lovely joke), those who could attend this seminar in the Opera House in Sydney are truly the 1%.

I love the city of Sydney. But let’s be honest, it’s no longer tenable to live in. Without inherited wealth or a wealthy benefactor, you’re unable to afford the city at all.

For example, we live three kilometres out of the CBD in the converted basement of our besties: a surgeon and a business consultant. They got into the market well before the heist. But a 2-bed apartment-no-car-space across the road sold four months ago for $1.1 million.

There are thousands of apartments going up in our area. Three blocks away, there is a 2 bedroom faux-terrace that real estate agents predict will sell off plan for $2 million. It might lie vacant until the buyer deems they have made enough profit from it to resell.

The reality is, most Australians simply can’t afford to slap down $1-2 million on an apartment and let it lie vacant. 

But this is how it works at the centre of our city.

All the workers that staff the shops, the university students at major institutions, and most of the CBD professionals now travel in from other precincts.

I can only reflect upon my own journey. After giving six years of my life to administrating United Live unpaid, which turned out to be one of the most successful musical exports of Australia (don’t worry, I didn’t get a cent, or a movie ticket, so obviously I was only imagining how important it was for me to be doing those 80 hour weeks, which is reassuring), I walked away without any superannuation, and decided to complete further study. But there is no incentive for young people to pursue the Arts in inner-city Sydney anymore.

My husband works with youth at risk in the Chatswood area. His organization does not take a cent of government funding. They raise it all themselves. Which means that we often brush shoulders with the philanthropic set, usually when they are highly inebriated, which of course helps make them feel compassionate towards street kids. There is no incentive for people to create innovative social services in inner-city Sydney anymore. 

There is no incentive in Sydney other than money.

You either play to existing rules, or you’re forced to move out.

The five km radius from the CBD creates the perfect city for Baby Boomers with inherited wealth who want freedom from millennials. And children. And anything else that challenges the idea that this isn’t really “the good life” that they paint it to be.

I’m not suggesting we run screaming down the street aka Chicken Little, but I am suggesting that we look very seriously at the spirit of our city.

Or, if you still refuse my assertion that there are some benefits from participation in a religious community, then at least read Thomas Piketty.

A Sermon in Three Acts: Of Grief, Of Fear and Of Faith.

Last weekend I preached at St George’s Anglican Church. This is one of Australia’s many churches that use The Lectionary, a three-year plan for each scripture to be read aloud in the public service. Each denomination’s lectionary is slightly different, but most weeks are allocated four scriptures. This is what I was given:

Lamentations 1:1-6

Lamentations 3: 19-26

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Luke 17:5-10

When I got the text message, I shuddered a little – two passages from Lamentations?! These are some heavy going scriptures. Although a preacher doesn’t have to preach from all four, as I thought about it during the week, I realized that there was indeed a deep connection.

So I decided to construct this sermon in three Acts: of Grief, of Fear and of Faith.

Many film writers have used the Three-Act Structure to tell stories. Of course, we don’t experience life as a play. But this is really just an exercise in reflecting upon fundamental human experience in light of the Word of God. In any three-act play, the first act sets the scene. So I will do that here.



Most of the activity in my life at the moment happens under the bed. Let me explain… we live in a terrace house in Annandale that our best friends cut into two. I live in the basement with Tim my husband. In order to make this space work, our bed is on stilts and I sit and work underneath it, on a desk. It also doubles as the closet, which is kind of complicated to explain when I have a Skype appointment.

From under the bed, I encounter the world. I dissertate, and write books and songs. In order to feel some connection to outside, I regularly Facebook stalk.

I have a Facebook friend named Jake Heath. His mother has early onset Dementia, and she has been fading away now for eleven years. He has started to document her life as it is, because that’s all he actually remembers of her. In the last ten years she’s lost the ability to speak, walk, talk, eat solid food or even recognize her family members. She has panic attacks and paranoia. He published some of the events that have structured the last decade of his life in a story called “the long goodbye”. It has been covered by The Huffington Post, the Daily Mail and other papers all over the world. This week, he posted again, and I will read it now:

If you watched the video I posted last night, you’ll want to read this. This time yesterday I had just packed my bags to head down to Batemans Bay. I was trying my hardest not to cry because I knew that if I started that I wouldn’t be able to stop. I knew that trying to drive four hours while having an emotional breakdown wouldn’t be safe. I got here at around 4pm and went straight to the hospital. When I walked in I saw my dad standing over the hospital bed where mum was curled up. She was fast asleep, with tubes hanging out her nose and an IV drip in her arm. He was looking tired and stressed. I choked my tears back and stood there for half an hour or so before dad and I decided to go to the pub.

After all, there was nothing we could do. Mum was warm and comfy, and the hospital informed us that they would call if things took a turn for the worse. She had a fever and had not been able to handle fluids or food for the previous 24 hours. It was finally time to say goodbye. It was time to say farewell to the long goodbye.

After the pub dad and I went home. We watched TV, we had a few laughs, we discussed business – anything except facing the reality that we would be saying goodbye to Jacquie very soon. Went to bed about 1am, but couldn’t sleep, so I woke up exhausted this morning. We made our way to the hospital. I dropped dad off and went and bought us breakfast so that he could have some alone time with her.

… I walked in 15 minutes later with hash browns and coffee to a lot of commotion. “You’ll never believe it Jake…” dad said as I walked in. “She’s done it again.” I looked over the nurse’s shoulder at mum and she was up and active. Dad was feeding her, and she was gurgling with what I imagine was delight at having food. I stood there for a few minutes not knowing how to react. To be honest, I still don’t know how to react. After spending a decade knowing that this time would come, I thought it was finally here.

I knew it would be extremely hard, but I also knew the journey would soon be behind us and we could finally get on with our lives with some sort of closure. So instead of 12 minutes or 12 hours, it might be 12 days. It might be 12 weeks…. Some might say that this is good news, but I don’t think it is. All it means is that the long goodbye is now even longer. It’s like running a marathon and thinking you’re about to cross the line, only to find that the line is nowhere in sight. I thank you for [your many touching messages], but I felt weird ‘liking’ them, so I didn’t. The condolences with early onset dementia are ongoing and still apply, so thank you.

Mum is on her way back from the hospital in an ambulance. When she gets here she’ll go back to her special chair. She’ll get fed and looked after. She’ll continue to barely exist, while we sit here trying our hardest to enjoy life. It’s going to continue being difficult for a while – I truly hope that it’s not too long.
I don’t know what it’s like to watch your mother disappear. But I resonate with Jake’s honesty, and indeed grief, because I think all of us know what it is to lose someone or something that matters to us. And even it’s not this extreme, we all know what it’s like to watch our hopes disappear into a terrible, frightening mess.

This weekend I have spent a number of hours speaking with a family member whose marriage is slipping away in front of their very eyes. It’s barely a year on from the happiest wedding ceremony I’ve ever been to. But the pain between the words they say that gets me, because I love these people. I don’t want them to be packing up each other’s belongings. But neither can back down yet. And so, until there is a glimmer of light, we must live with the grief.

In Lamentations 1 that was read today, the city of Jerusalem sits as a lonely widow, mourning the loss of her relationship. Verse 2 reads,

She weeps bitterly in the night,

with tears on her cheeks;

among all her lovers

she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,

they have become her enemies.

It  says that Judah also weeps with loss. The prophet depicts the nation of Israel as ruined by her inability to stay faithful to God.

And therefore God leaves as hurt lovers will do, and Israel is left as a nation to itself. The situation has become more and more toxic, and Zion is silent. There are no festivals or visitors, it is a complete wasteland. Instead, the evil inside her has taken over, and to intents and purposes, it looks like they have won. She is destroyed by them.

The only way for the city again fill with dancing is for Jerusalem to call her lover home and to make amends. But yet she does not, she cannot, she will not.

Under the bed this week, I also encountered Australian politics – or more accurately “the social exclusion of Aboriginal disadvantage” – which structures my research into the intersection of Aboriginal Christianity and The Dreaming. This week, yet another Aboriginal man died in custody. But this time it all played out on my Facebook feed in real time – finding out something had gone awry in the prison, and a call to prayer. Then a heartbreaking final post commemorating his life. A brother, killed while incarcerated by the state. And I thought about the things that we just haven’t done as a nation. The 339 recommendations from the Royal Inquiry into Deaths in Custody that still lie unimplemented.

…. when things are left to themselves, well, it results in entropy. I’m no hard scientist but I feel this lack of order; a gradual decline into disorder in so many parts of my world. It’s like a rot that gets into the fabric of my heart and mind, and it pushes me from life and the Spirit of God.

I don’t think that’s just me. It’s now a cliché, spoken so many times “If God were real then… “ and the things we list after those five words are so meaningful to us. There’s just so much common humanity in those statement.

We cannot protect those we love from death. And yet, so fearful about experiencing this deep grief, we can also spiral ourselves into experiencing the very things that we fear the most.

Which is where the curtain closes and reopens upon Act II, and all the complexities of this story.


The theologian Walter Wink says, “So many people, if the truth were known, live their lives on two levels. The principles they fight about are often at odds with the complicated and often frustrated lives they live. This is why there is so much intensity.”

We find this intensity in another of today’s readings.  After Paul’s release from prison in Rome and his fourth missionary journey, he was again imprisoned under Emperor Nero. During this time he wrote his second letter to Timothy. In contrast to his imprisonment in which he had lived in a “rented house,” he now languished in a cold dungeon chained like a common criminal. Paul knew at this point that his work was done and that his life was nearly at an end.

From this dungeon he proclaims out the words we read in 2 Timothy today, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

That seems quite complicated.

I can only call it a paradox. If I got to watch more science fiction movies under my bed, I would perhaps be better able to describe how the two realities exist together, and that at any one point in time, we can operate in either realm. There is a red pill and there is a blue pill. We can and do in fact make our very deepest fears come true. And similarly, we can choose to move towards something else, the “deeper magic” that Aslan speaks of in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

So, how do we move ourselves from one realm to another? …. Well, as a songwriter, I listen for the narrative arc begin to shift within the lyrical progression. And, in verse 22 of Lamentations 3 it does. In the midst of the lament, comes the turn.

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Although Israel has been turned away, even still, yet Israel’s soul may hope in God.

This is a hesitant, faltering step of faith. It is a incomplete move. But it is indeed faith, as it is “the evidence of things hoped for, and the assurance of the things unseen”.

This narrative turn continues throughout all of scripture. In fact, it is unmistakable as the story of the people of God.

You see, The Bible does not offer people of faith a promise that we will be inoculated from the entropy of the world. Instead, God offers us Himself. But yet, we too often wait in our pain, in our shame, in our failings and our shame, before we take the narrative turn and move towards the Creator of the systems.


And this leads us into Acts III, the scene of faith. The final scene of a story, is usually the confrontation that brings everything to a finale. In the Timothy passage Paul also writes,

This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

This points towards the conclusion of this conflict, which ended with Christ upon the cross. So in verse 8 Paul appeals Timothy his protégé,

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.

Paul writes this because within the Christian understanding, all the cosmic powers of the world were stopped in their tracks as God hung in shame upon the cross and offered what Walter Wink calls “the third way.” This was the end of the retributive cycles.

And thus Jesus, when he was with the disciples, points towards this potential, the power of the seed as a metaphor for faith. In Luke 17: 5-6,

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Traditionally, this verse has been preached in two ways. Many of the Pentecostal preachers I grew up with, they wanted a “power encounter” in which the powers of this world were shamed into submission to Christ’s witness through healings, and the many other miracles that were to take place among the people of God.

I certainly believe in miracles. I do believe that God can indeed heal. I believe that we should indeed pray for healing, for change, for the Creator to break open the systems of the world in the here and the now.

But the greatest miracle of all is that we are no longer beholden to these systems, but can choose a new way thanks to the cross.

As Walter Wink states, “the ‘peace’ the gospel brings is never the absence of conflict, but an ineffable divine reassurance within the heart of conflict; a peace that surpasses understanding.”

I cannot speak for my friend Jake, or to how his long goodbye has affected his faith.

But from the biblical text, God shows us that he does not draw away while we grieve. In fact, he draws near, to indeed experience the very pain of it with us. And, because God draws near to Creation, the promise is that the world and all its death and destruction will be made again new. Renewed.

And thus, the curtain falls upon the world each night we can believe that tomorrow can bring something new, something redemptive, and that we do indeed have hope.

And that is what faith is all about. Not waiting for a quick fix so that we can cope. It is about living life, and life in all its abundance.

Marketing a Christian Self: Pastoral Care in a New Media World

I had a moment on Facebook the other day. I was flicking through my feed disinterested about my PhD edits. And a friend who I admire greatly had posted a video clip. It disturbed me.

 Firstly, because of who she was in posting it – a thinker and church leader with great influence.

 Secondly, because of what it was communicating about Jesus.

The video was entitled “Keep yo’ business off of Facebook.” The urban dictionary defines business as “pointless meaningless life-consuming spirit-draining activity.” So, I guess, in this context, “business” means anything from a bad romantic break up through to study woes, through to ventures gone wrong.

Now, the song is very catchy, with beautiful gospel harmonies. It’s a contemporary Christian original, clearly sung for a congregational audience.

It’s not singing to or about Jesus, per se, but it’s a humorous take on Christian engagement with social media. It’s written by a pastor. And the chorus pleads with Christians to (breathe) “Keep yo’ business off of Facebook.”

The underlying theme is that it’s unwise to put all the messy details of your life online. And sure, oversharing (and personality disorder, for that matter) is a thing. But the whole point of Facebook is self-disclosure. So before you get all judgey at me, let’s remember that.

I suspect some people will disagree, so I’ll outline my thoughts, and then it’s over to you for comment. This video makes me intensely uncomfortable for a number of reasons. I’ll try and explain.

You can view it and sing along here:

I wish I had this video clip when I wrote a chapter about Christian pastoral care in the 21st century (and particularly its intersection with worship ministry) for the book entitled Congregational Music-Making and Community in a Mediated Age.

A couple of months before I was asked to write this chapter for my colleagues, I had a mind-bending moment in which I moved for a brief second from the “church is wonderful and I love it” group into the “maybe church is a brainwashing cult” group and back again. I personally think every Christian leader needs a window into life on the other side. Now, I see this event as a gift, which I’ll explain here.

I’d been happily attending choir practice for six months every week (that I feel like some people may not believe this is kind of the point of this story). I knew I had a European music tour and scholarly fieldwork coming up, and I was nervous about both. So, I thought maybe I could “ground” myself in Sydney between these trips by singing. I’ve sung all my life, including at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I helped lead the chapel team. I thought that if I participated in my local church every couple of weeks, it would make the lonely “on the road” nights a little better.

It wasn’t really very complex. I didn’t even care where I sang – on the front row, in the back row, behind a curtain. But I did feel like I wanted to serve in weekend services, because that’s what marks “legitimate” from “non-legitimate” involvement in the Christian musical context…

So I went to the vocal training sessions and tried to get a hold of a leader to do an audition, which I knew was the right process. There was some really weird stuff going on, in my opinion. I clearly hadn’t been seen by the right people, or at least, I had people regularly lean over to me and say in a weird meaningfully-edging-on-sinister tones “I haven’t seen you around lately” while I stood right there beside them in the room. I’ve perfected the art of sliding under the radar in public meetings, I guess. Or not. Anyways, it was a comedy of errors, and I couldn’t work out how on earth to get an audition. Which was all I really wanted.

When the girl I was driving home each week ended up chatting to me happily about her audition date (and later tearfully let me know she had failed), I honestly wondered what was wrong with me.

The next morning I posted something vaguely funny and very confused about this experience on Facebook. And within ten minutes I had forty comments. I guess that should have been a clue. By the end of that day, it was two hundred.

That day I got over five calls from pastoral care leaders, including staff and non-staff from my church and other churches. Some knew me, but others I had never officially met. I had clearly shamed people into acting. And they did with a range of responses – everything from getting the facts straight, to apologies, to empathy and inviting me to another church, to outright anger and blankly asking me to remove my post.

Gosh. What a mess. I could hear myself in every single one of those phone calls and text messages. I’ve “cared for” hundreds of young musicians and singers. I’ve been a worship pastor at a medium sized church. I’ve led interns in chapel in two different seminaries. I felt exhaustion in their tone, and I related to it.

How is it, after all these years as a Christian leader, I still don’t have the tools to help myself when I’m slowly disintegrating in this fast paced global life? When I’m tired, I ignore it. When I’m upset, I read the Bible, pleading with God for clues.

I’ve pastored people through miscarriages, death, grief, singleness, and marriage troubles. I’ve seen other very good pastors completely destroyed. And I wear the scars on my heart like trophies. I’m still around. Those who get it, they rejoice with me. Others look at me with skepticism or get competitive. But what I don’t say often is “oh my gosh, at times it hurts.”

Christian leaders are usually really, really good people. But I think we set ourselves up to fail.

We do it in our seminaries, in our bible colleges, but more than ever we do it in the way our internalized models fail to engage our emotional lives, online or otherwise. We have largely abandoned the notion of pastoral care in favour of good biblical teaching, and better communication methods. But this is not how we do the “soul work” of being a Christian.

We market an attractive Christian self. We call it evangelism. Anything less, we think, will embarrass our pastor.

I was genuinely and completely shaken by this really dumb experience. I had an audition (they were kind enough to move heaven and earth to give one to me) and I shook like a leaf the entire time. I passed it, but in the end, I had to let my desire to sing with the team go. I can only explain it as finding myself trying too hard to fake the correct emotion in the one place that had always been a place of non-performance or truth for me. In worship.

This has made me hunger to see something deeper and more profound in my own pastoral care, and the care offered by churches across the globe. And so, my chapter was a manifesto on how I wanted to care for other Christians. I’m not sure I’m there yet. But I’m trying.

Pastoral Care is an ancient art. It began in the early church, and is first noted in Latin through the word “pastorem”. It drew upon the image Jesus painted of himself, as a shepherd. The interaction between watching, and hearing is important to Jesus. Sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, and keep close. But if lost, they must be found. And this is the shepherd’s role.

The shepherd follows the sheep to the place where they fell off track, and he picks them up and he carries them home.

According to Clebsch and Jaekle (1994), pastoral care takes the form of four roles:

  • encouraging congregation members towards wholeness and healing
  • sustaining them in situations where healing is impossible
  • reconciling relationships and embedding them into the community
  • guiding decision-making via wise advice

I’ve had to recognize that our Neoliberal world wants workers to perform and to look a certain way. It asks us to navigate our losses and risks and continually get up again unscathed. This is often made into a virtuous pursuit by Christians.

But you don’t need to appear “put together” for the shepherd. Jesus (as well as those who follow in His way of shepherding) sees it all anyway. That gritted teeth moment. That comment where you’re slightly insecure. That one you wish you hadn’t said. The fact you’re on Tinder and your profile shows you’re not celibate. All your business, whatever that is.

So as far as I’m concerned, you can put your business on Facebook. Because it’s not about censorship. When you’re transformed by Jesus from the inside out, we really want to see it, and celebrate it with you.

What is more important than looking like you’ve got your business together, is engaging in the deep work God asks of us. It is cultivating the soul. And whether you preach on the weekend, or you’re in the back row – we’re all in that together, honey.

Christianity is not about having it together. It’s about having a shepherd.


What’s Going on With Aboriginal Youth in Australia?

This week in Australia, Four Corners screened a program called “Australia’s shame”. It confirmed what Aboriginal elders and leaders had been telling our nation for many years. They had stated over and over again that Australia’s juvenile detention program was costing them the next generation. But, sadly, the government doesn’t tend to listen to black Australian leaders.

No. It took an ABC hour-long episode to break open the case, and make it visible to conscious citizens.

And the footage we saw is astounding. Let’s just say, it’s way worse than the miniseries Orange is the New Black. But the critical word here is “juvenile” detention. Meaning everyone is under eighteen.

At the Dondale Youth Detention Centre, children were locked up in solitary confinement for twenty three hours a day, weeks at a time. They were housed in tiny dark, human excrement smeared holes without running water in hot environments. When accidentally freed from his cell one fateful night in 2014, the footage shows an inmate unscrewing a light fitting, and enact his pent-up rage against the walls that held him. The response? Eight minutes of tear gas exposure on all the boys in solitary confinement.

But the various events that led to this night were also outlined. Kids acting out. Violent retributions from the guards. How we are treating our most damaged children is basically by sending them to war.

In contrast, Sydney has various juvenile detention centres where children finish school, eat three meals a day and learn life skills in a relatively stable environment. It’s not Disneyland, but it’s definitely not Dondale.

Our federal government responded immediately, with the Prime Minister calling for a Royal Commission. And, John Elferink, the Northern Territory’s Correction Minister was sacked (by that, it means he retained his portfolios for Health, Children, Families and Mental Health).

But many people may be wondering what the fuss is about. So while the nation is open to listening, I want to outline some reasons that people working within the sector are spamming Australians with information, and hoping they will call their local member of parliament and add momentum while we can.

  1. Few Australians understand this, but Australia has two populations: a first world, and a developing nation one.

Within the literature, this phenomenon is called “The Aboriginal Disadvantage of Social Exclusion”, or “the gap”. Which tends to infer that the situation is created through exclusion. And, if you were thinking that, you’d pretty much be right.

This situation emerges not only out of British invasion of the land, but also from what’s called “White Australia Policy”. This  was entrenched in the first law that Australia passed in 1901 and was the big idea behind the federation of the states.

Through various laws and failure of approaches to this issue, we’ve managed to now get to a point where there actual clear difference in life expectancy. That means that on average, Aboriginal people live 10.6 years less than their non-Indigenous counterparts. But it’s often closer to 20, and in some places, maybe 30 years difference. The quality of life for Aboriginal people in Australia is also entirely different in many, many ways.

Now you might think here “oh that’s lefty propaganda”. Which would be rude, of course, but I guarantee that’s happening here. Well, my friend, Aboriginal leaders from both the left and right unanimously unite on the issue of “the gap” and how it has occurred. They may not unite on an appropriate response. But where we are at is entirely fact.

2.There are, however, many reasons for youth juvenile detention. Nobody is saying the boys are blameless. They have stolen property, damaged cars, and even in some instances, assaulted people.

And thus, there is no doubt the state needed to intervene. But how it does so with juveniles is crucially important. What these boys learn in prison will go on to form the rest of their lives. Here’s a little more information:



This might sound super depressing. But, I see it this way – if we can stop the cycle now, and if Aboriginal elders and leaders can work with the state to create new ways of helping angry, delinquent boys channel their strength into positive outcomes, then we are literally reversing “the gap”.

It’s too important a moment to miss out on.

I’m sure you’re asking here: what can I do?

At Common Grace, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice team has been working furiously to figure out what an appropriate response could be. Most of our members are Christian, and their interest is in promoting Jesus-like love in Australian society.

And that helps because 73% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people self identify as Christian. 

So this seems like an opportunity. And, we wanted to figure out how to resource our peeps to do something really tangible.

  1. We’ve joined with an organization named “Change the Record” who are calling upon the government to make this a state-wide, independent commission. It calls for targets to be set in regards to youth detention.

In my view, collaboration in Australia is important. We have a history of various Christian denominations working separately, and even sometimes against each other. This means that many initiatives weren’t accountable, and we didn’t promote best practice across the board. But “honour where honour is due”.

Change the Record has a long, brilliant history of engagement in this issue, and we’re calling upon all Christians to promote and support this initiative.

Let’s be clear, our action is not secretly motivated by evangelism or building churches. The church in Australia has certainly been guilty of this in the past. (And did I mention that 73% of Aboriginal people are Christian? That’s more than the general population at 61%).

This is about praying and acting to see “thy kingdom come”, in the Amos 5 sense of “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

2. And, Brooke Prentis, Common Grace spokesperson and Waka Waka woman has put out a statement calling churches to ready themselves to act on this issue.

I would love you to read her statement and pray about how you and your church can respond. Her words definitely ring true for me, after having interviewed 88 people in five cities who attend churches with Aboriginal senior pastors, and spending my time talking with many Christians about this issue.

“In community we know these stories – heartbreaking, sad and real stories… My heart and call is still for the churches to wake up to where Jesus is calling us. And to act. The churches continue to reduce funding to Aboriginal ministries, close down our churches, have us operating in derelict buildings, do not fully employ Aboriginal pastors, Aboriginal youth pastors, Aboriginal prison chaplains, Aboriginal court chaplains, and not support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leadership development. Sometimes churches don’t do anything at all.”

She also says this:

You can stand with us by contacting your own church pastor, head of church, minister or denominational leader and asking them to make a public stand for justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in response to the Four Corners report. 

These are her specific asks:

  • Will they commit to standing up to racism inside and outside the church?
  • Are they open to listening and learning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters on how we can work together towards justice?
  • Could your church potentially fundraise to resource Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ministries, churches, prison chaplains, court chaplains, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leadership Development?
  • Could your church look into grassroots efforts led by First Nations peoples that they could partner with and/or support?
  • How can your church continue to open its members’ minds in support of the ongoing struggle for minority and First Nations people achieving justice?
  • How can your church make opportunities for Christians to engage biblically with topics that are often put to one side, such as material issues of land rights, prisons, law and the distribution of wealth in Australia.


If we can’t talk about this stuff inside church, well, I don’t know where we can talk about it. If your church wants to move from singing about justice to actually doing it, Australians, this is your opportunity.

Sign up for more Common Grace updates here (at the bottom of this page).

x Tanya

Religious Truth, Criticism and Holding it All Together

Today the journalist Jonathan Merritt released a much-reposted piece about Christians and criticism. More specifically, The Gospel Coalition and criticism. His point was that while the common thread of their posts is an “air of rebuke”, many in this group of evangelical Christian leaders are bad at receiving criticism. And while they happily accept the preaching platform, as well as Christian people’s admiration and trust, they don’t respond well to correction from the same people who give them authority, even when their teaching is harmful, and criticism may prevent them hurting others.

There’s plenty of questions in there about what builds a church platform, who has authority to speak on behalf of God, and various other issues. But I’m most interested in the notion of criticism, and how it can either destroy us or make us better.

I’m not removed from the game of criticism. I read this sitting at a desk with many projects on it. To be precise, there’s a PhD, a book, a chapter, a peer reviewed article, a teaching contract, and two media pieces. It’s like I’m waiting for projects to hatch.

But I honestly didn’t intend for it to be like this. In fact, I had high hopes I could finish my dissertation writing phase by working insanely hard on it last year, when … well, life happened.

… And I was left with a group of jagged, fragmented sentences that outlined the shape of my body on the pavement. It was a caricature of me, but it wasn’t breathing. A loud gang of personal, and existential criticisms questioned whether I could write, whether I would pass this course, and whether I should pursue a scholarly career at all. After four years of Seminary.


I added these words to an imaginary folder of “critique” I’d collected during the PhD program. And, to be honest, from time in ministry before that as well. In this folder were small pieces I needed to remember. Some warned me when my writing style was too scholarly, while others reminded me it was not scholarly enough. If I flick through the imaginary pile, I recount the times it’s been said I lack logic, probably because I’m creative. And inferences that I’m not very creative really, considering I’m a songwriter! There are notes reminding me not to be unrealistic. And little encouragements to push hard for my career because boys will be assertive and take the first teaching positions, whether qualified or not. Comments in there caution me not to be elitist with colleagues. Still, these notes write, you don’t have an Ivy League education, so you don’t have full access to all the ideas. And, of course, the clincher: ministry is not about the money.

Although the notes barely fit into their folder, I can normally close them up and store them away until I figure out what to do next… they help me in many ways.

But in December the folder flung open, and just wouldn’t close.

This took the gloss off my newly minted “All But Dissertation” status, and I had to remove my friend’s “Congratulations!!” card from the windowsill. I knew I deserved this title along with other candidates in my course, particularly considering I had 100 extra compulsory exam books allocated during the ridiculous gymnastics of changing PhD disciplines.

There were many good reasons I was in this situation, but knowing them didn’t help. I cried many tears over discouraging words that wouldn’t go away. I would be sitting at my desk normally, and then I’d be crying, and only realize when the computer screen became blurry.

If this is depression, I thought, it’s situational depression, because I can point to the place where the dam wall collapsed.

But that didn’t make it go away either…

And, unfortunately I’d already bought a plane ticket to California a week earlier, when I thought I could put a date on my dissertation defense – or at least, the final stages of editing the PhD. So, this date came, and I got on the plane, but with a deep sense of dread. The last place I wanted to go was back on campus.

But, of course, this was the best medicine. And I acted as though I had never cried a tear, not even one. I turned up for all my meetings, and I stilled my racing heart, and I listened to all the new criticisms, and I put them in their little folder, and I closed it somehow and I went off to the conference to present as if I was a professional, not a known fraud wearing high heels and a suit jacket.

At the conference I reconnected with Australian scholars who knew all my flaws but who were ecstatic to see me, and I finally admitted out loud where I was really at. I lamented the comments in the folder, and this helped remind me that I wasn’t actually dead, but being inducted into a community of scholars, and that this was the entry fee.

And, at the conference I met some new sister-friends. A beautiful new friend, Joy, picked me up every day and we talked very honestly and even wept a little. And then I found myself in a lounge with some girls laughing before our scholars dinner, and we talked about crazily unhelpful feedback, and infertility, and teaching young men in the Bible belt. And that night one of us won the conference book prize, and I felt as proud as if I’d done it. Because she’d admitted that she also had a little folder in her heart, and she’d worked slowly through each note, and she’d used those words to create something profoundly world-changing.

I know that criticism can be absolutely and completely unnerving. But somehow the Christian church has to get better at speaking about what is real. Without the barbed wire existential destructive bent. And it also has to get better at receiving comments and applying them within some kind of spiritual process that helps us get better, not bitter.

Why did it take me six months to admit that I wasn’t on top of these criticisms? How did I lose this much precious time?

Well, first I had nobody to tell. There were too few friends willing to stand with me while I gingerly took out the words and read them aloud like bad fortune cookies. When I am around other Christian friends, I have to be really careful. I have battle wounds, and I assume that everyone knows what that’s like. They don’t.

I’m not saying that people’s every day lives aren’t hard. As in, maybe the mundane actually forms a parallel to criticism in shaping our soul. But it seems like some women sit around and plan making pink frosted cupcakes all day. They could be blown over by a feather of opinion. Meanwhile, other parts of the church are like a war-zone. And there’s not a lot of in-between spaces.

I honestly have no idea how it happened, or how I failed to keep my junk together for six whole months, but I think we need to think about turning Christian conversations into places of deep nourishing moments of spirituality.

If someone’s asking, we need more resources for that.

This makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I’ve decided to get around it all by thinking about scholarship as just one role I play. Another is that I might be the friend you call if you want to work through deep existential pain (after your therapist!).

I’m honestly not judging but please forgive me if I vague out while sitting at a women’s ministry event and you’re talking about your six year old’s birthday party and which colour of bunting you like best. It’s just not one of the roles I play.

I’m trying really hard. I’m not always able to pull off the disconnect. I’d like to think I’m piecing together all the ferocious, terrible words for your daughters and grand-daughters, and I’m trying to work out how to make something that we can hand them.

So in that sense I guess, it’s really same-same, right? Some of us nourish the next generation of the church while rocking babies late at night and singing lullabies. Some of us are tracing out the lines of the conversation that build the pastors of tomorrow.

But I’ll admit I’m struggling to hold the spaces together. And at the moment this role idea is the only way I can work it out without becoming really angry and lashing out at everyone and everything around me.

So, today I’m feeling more empathy for the Gospel Coalition leaders than I care to admit. Sometimes, you just want a block button for all the pieces of the world that you don’t know how to deal with yet.

Brand “Christian” Challenges Part #1: Parable and Myth

I’ve decided to start up a new series that includes some straight talk for Christian leaders in urban Western contexts trying to build the church. These summarize challenges  Christians face in negotiating our changing world, recognizing cultural Christianity, and keeping a commitment to living out the Bible story in the twenty first century.

The first brand “Christian” challenge is the importance of truth – meaning both parable and myth.

You see, Often, Christians use the word “truth” with the word “judgement” in reference to calling out sin. But Jesus mostly judged the religious leaders of the day, including the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Evangelicals are really concerned with “truth”. But there are two types of truth we need to account for within the church, not just one.

Let me explain. Yesterday I was sitting in a service in which my husband informed a relatively wealthy majority white congregation that they were seated within two blocks of sixteen known illegal brothels. And I want to say they took the news quite well, which seems ridiculous, really, when you think about it. We should be able to state a fact about the community without too much angst*.

Before they can act towards the good of their neighborhood, Christians have to be made aware of their community. And there’s the catch. Many people in the church are in a state of deep unconsciousness, and even denial about our world. And so, telling certain truths can be a shock.

In their book Mighty Stories Dangerous Rituals, Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley diagnose this challenge as directly related to our liturgy, or worship.

Many Christians don’t deal well with the truth of parable, because they prefer the truth of myth.

A myth presents an ideal which we can agree upon. It makes us feel united, linked in our togetherness.

There are so many myths we ascribe to: national, family, sports myths. So it’s not unique to religion. Atheists have myths. We all do. They help us decide what we’d like our lives to look like in the future.

In conversation with an Aboriginal leader recently, she confessed to me why she wouldn’t be attending an upcoming Christian conference. “They want us there to tell a good story, but they aren’t willing to sit in our pain and brokenness as we navigate our actual lives”.

She was telling me this church wanted a future of a reconciled community so much they were willing to deny ways they were not reconciled, or things weren’t perfect, or there wasn’t a solution. What was happening now.

This sounds like half friendship, doesn’t it, if we as Christians amplify a “good story” from the platform, but are unwilling to publicly weep when people are suffering, hurting, and need help? … If a girlfriend did this to me, I would call her “superficial”. And yet, that’s often what Christians do to marginalized groups.

I think a good question to ask is, how does this fit with the redeeming symbol of the cross, which clearly recognizes public suffering and pain as the path to God’s triumphant victory?

Bono recently identified something like this in Fuller Studio‘s newly released documentary “The Psalms“. He said,

“The psalmist is brutally honest about the explosive joy that he’s feeling and the deep sorrow or confusion… And I often think, ‘Gosh, well, why isn’t church music more like that?”

Sure, there is deep solidarity in the laments of the psalmists, that resonances within the Beatitudes and other parables of Jesus. But, if we’re honest about it, Bono probably doesn’t listen to Christian music (or attend church) often. Because over the years there’s quite a few “explosive joy” songs out there, right?

What we’re not singing is passages such as these:

“No one who practices deceit
will dwell in my house:
no one who speaks falsely
will stand in my presence” – Psalm 101: 7


“Do not put your trust in princes
in human beings, who cannot save
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground:
on that very day, their plans come to nothing – Psalm 146:3-4


“But as for me, I am poor and needy:
come quickly to me, O God
You are my help and my deliverer:
LORD, do not delay” – Psalm 70:5

There are certain words and phrases in the psalmody embraced by the church today, while others aren’t, and the best way to get at this is the word “parable”. Anderson and Foley explain it this way:

“… Parable … is about contradiction. Parables challenge our expectations of a world without blemish. In the parables of Jesus, the last are first, and the meek inherit the earth. The parabolic perspective creates contradiction in both narrative and ritual in order to reveal a truth that is otherwise hidden.” (1998, Kindle Loc 81)

Parable causes a rupture in the way we see the world.

Parable is hidden in the words of a court jester who announces the emperor has no clothes, or in the brush strokes of the artist who paints the blind leading the blind…

Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

And, it is found in the image of Jesus hanging on a cross, having given the religious leaders one last chance to save him, but knowing they would chose the criminal Barabbas.

The Christian Bible uses truth in the form both of parable and myth. It presents an ideal, and then it tells us how we really measure up.

Ironically, this second truth is common language used by secular poets such as Bono, many of whom reject the church, and trade-off their participation in the industry for personal reputation among Christians. And yet faith serves as content for much of their lyrics. Interesting much?

We should be able to sing about the brokenness of humanity in a Christian gathering, even if it divides “us” in various ways.

If Trump’s U.S. Presidency campaign has taught us anything, the church needs better language for “politics” in this moment. We need language for intersections between faith and power. Because God is with the poor and needy while they await his help, even if we aren’t singing about their life experiences.

We need to reclaim parable as Christian language.

Our brand problem that the good news is supposed to be proclaimed to the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. Because they are the ones that can see straight through our myth making. We need both types of truth, but this news requires more truth in the form of parable.

*I deleted this section from the post after comments. It wasn’t so helpful because I equated ‘illegal’ with ‘trafficked’. But I think some Christians will still want it said, particularly those who know the context. So here it is.

While historical memory of the New Atheists does not attend this far, Christians publicly and actively fought human slavery since 1789 with abolitionist William Wilberforce. Once a congregation is made aware of its neighborhood, it can get involved. Involvement in this case wasn’t to judge people’s sin or out of an emotional need to rescue anyone, but to communicate God’s love to the women this figure represented, and to commit to support police efforts in prosecuting traffickers – if and when that was needed.