How about going back twenty years?

OK, so we have just been travelling back through my blog archives to 2007. How about going back another five years, to a time from which I have few archives. Diary-X, one of the platforms I used then, no longer exists, and my back-up on Angelfire has long gone. But there is always The Wayback Machine! And it found a trove.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

On a day when the news seems too depressing–the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald is full of the latest insanity/obscenity from Israel–it is good to report that I have belatedly discovered (with some guidance) the poetry of Frank O’Hara.

To John Ashbery

I can’t believe there’s not
another world where we will sit
and read new poems to each other
high on a mountain in the wind.
You can be Tu Fu, I’ll be Po Chu-i
and the Monkey Lady’ll be in the moon,
smiling at our ill-fitting heads
as we watch snow settle on a twig.
Or shall we be really gone? this
is not the grass I saw in my youth!
and if the moon, when it rises
tonight, is empty —a bad sign,
meaning ‘You go, like the blossoms.’

This is surprising, my late discovery, as O’Hara: 1) has been a strong influence on one influential stream of contemporary Australian verse, that associated with John Tranter (whose e-zine Jacket is worth regular visiting) and the late John Forbes; 2) was gay. This last fact leads to the following slightly sad note from a Georgetown University publication for teachers:

Some teachers are afraid to address the homosexual content of his poems. I have discovered that addressing the issue as just one more subject reduces the students’ discomfort. If students remain uncomfortable, the best position to state is, “We are all grown-ups here. We must be ready to confront attitudes and positions we both share and do not share.”

Indeed. The idea of mentioning Frank O’Hara without mentioning his sexuality does seem hard to understand though; yet how many a discussion of Auden, Isherwood, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, etc. etc. has proceeded thus. A not so subtle form of oppression? There is of course the issue of the right time, place and age to introduce “adult themes” of any nature, but again and again one is frustrated and annoyed by the irrationality that conventional morality foists on us all… Oh, and I was so thick that it took several days to dawn on me that O’Hara was gay! I must have been very inattentive…:

Ave Maria

Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to
it’s true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkenss, embossed by silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old you must
they won’t hate you
they won’t criticize you they won’t know
they’ll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey
they may even be grateful to you
for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
and didn’t upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it’s over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won’t know the difference
and if somebody does it’ll be sheer gravy
and they’ll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
or up in their room
hating you
prematurely since you won’t have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys it’s unforgivable the latter
so don’t blame me if you won’t take this advice
and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
seeing movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young.

You may read more about O’Hara at: a special article in JacketThe Poetry SocietyFrank O’Hara – A Tribute to a great American Poet (1926-1966). One rather nice article is Frank O’Hara: Nothing Personal by Elaine Equi.

Friday, June 28, 2002

Further to last Sunday’s diary. Well, reading the latest Time Magazine ties in rather nicely. It is disturbing to reflect on the number of Americans who uncritically believe in a psychopathic god, one whose future activities make the World Trade Centre look like a (ahem) Sunday School Picnic. And this is the epicentre of Western Civilisation? God help us all.

Well, to be fair, not all Americans are like this. As we know. Some of the best thinking in the world does emanate from there after all, and World Civilisation (let alone Western) owes a lot to them. For all their faults they are better than most of the alternatives.

You might consider another spin on the Bible: Steps To Recovery From Bible Abuse, a 12-step program that maybe should be part of their school system over there… Hey, I’m joking about that, really. Well, almost…:

This web site is here to inform, encourage, and help anyone who finds it. Religious abuse and oppression of homosexuals, women, racial minorities, children, scientists, divorced people, mentally ill and retarded people, prisoners, the homeless, many other minorities, and anybody who is “different” are the result of ignorance and a distorted and twisted use of the Bible. Use this web site in any way that helps you and pass it on to others.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

2022: Foreword — about “Father Ted”

I really don’t remember what that was about, except obviously I survived!  Atakan was/is a teacher in Turkey. Kenny was Ken Sinclair, 6 Feb 1927 – 19 May 2005,  openly gay man and priest at St. Francis (Melbourne) for many years. The “strange immortality” in my title refers to the fact his website, which is of interest, is still out there!  He was a lovely man and it is hard to believe it’s so long since he passed away.

Here you’ll learn all about me: my life, my interests and hobbies, the people in my family,  and more. I’ve even included a list of my favorite links to other sites.

In surfing the web, I’ve realised that lots of people have their own personal websites, so I thought, why shouldn’t I have one, too.

I am a 76 year old Catholic priest, living in Melbourne, which is the capital city of the state of Victoria, in Australia. I am living in [sort of] retirement, since a stroke I had about seven years ago. “Sort of” retirement means that I no longer carry out any “public” ministry in the church, although I do a lot of indirect ministry in my daily interaction with people generally. Despite the stroke, I am still reasonably mobile, thank God.

When I was born [at home], in 1927, my parents were living with my maternal grandparents in Footscray, a working class suburb of Melbourne, on account of the early stages of what we called The Great Depression. These grandparents were of Cornish and English extraction, whilst my paternal grandparents were of Scots and English extraction. In those years I can recall the UK still being referred to as “home”…

In one of our conversations Ken said he looked forward to the day when George Pell got what he deserved. I wonder what Ken would think now?

You can find an obituary on Ken Sinclair here (pdf). What a fine man he was!

Back to 2002:

I’d love to have called him Father Ted after that TV comedy show the Crown Prince is so fond of, but Father X it will continue to be, and he has been busy sending me some very interesting stories over the past few days. Apparently there is a very important conference happening in Dallas Texas, with an Australian connection:

Adelaide’s ‘healing bishop’ to help US priests

Adelaide Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson has been asked to help US bishops cope with an unprecedented sex-abuse crisis.

He will leave today to address the special session at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas, which starts on Saturday. It is the first time an Australian archbishop has been invited to the conference, which will be attended by 350 bishops from across the US….

Archbishop Wilson said yesterday he was honoured to have been invited but also was “a bit over-awed” by the prospect of counselling the US bishops.

“I have been asked to lead them in reflection about what they are going through,” he said. “I think they would probably want me to talk to them about the feelings I had when I was confronted with similar issues in Wollongong. I will be talking to them about how, as bishops, they are coping with this challenge.”

Archbishop Wilson, 51, became known as the “Healing Bishop” in Wollongong through his handling of a spate of child-abuse scandals involving Catholic clergy and teachers.

Archbishop Wilson said he would be telling the US bishops about how he confronted sex abuse in Wollongong and, more recently, in Adelaide.

He is a vocal opponent of the use of confidentiality clauses in compensation payments to victims, describing them as “hush money”.

Archbishop Wilson also has engaged a private consultancy, Child Wise, to develop a child-protection strategy for all Catholic schools in SA.

Conference spokesman Mark Chopko said he had been asked to address the bishops because he was “wise in matters of faith, skilled in diocesan leadership and experienced in dealing with the scandal and the pain and misfortune that clerical crimes bring upon bishops, the people and the church”.

There are some unexpected dimensions to sacerdotal sexual abuse, as the following explores:

Among the abused

By John Gallagher (Excerpted from The Advocate, June 25, 2002)

Gay men and lesbians are among the many who have been abused by Catholic priests–a fact church officials may be forgetting in their rush to scapegoat gay priests.

Now as a lapsed Presbyterian I could have told them that mandatory priestly celibacy is a problem, not to mention unscriptural; but that aside, one cannot but relate to the humanity in the following story, which could apply to teachers I know or (at various times) even to oneself:

Loss of healthy affection is the hidden tragedy

By PATRICIA LYNN MORRISON

For many priests and religious, it has taken the decades since the Second Vatican Council to help achieve well-integrated psychosexual health. Boys and girls who entered high school seminaries at 14 often found themselves, in their 20s and 30s, in a state of arrested adolescent development, experiencing for the first time crushes and romantic behavior most people go through as teens. Religious people don’t have a monopoly. The human heart is a fragile but real school of life, and the human condition being what it is, I’d bet that most of us — married and single, gay and straight, lay and religious — muddle awkwardly through relationships on our way to wholeness and integration. Some of us, unfortunately, never get there; pedophiles are a case in point.

If it’s a tossup between Father A, who is cold and disconnected from people, and Father B, who has ‘fallen’ by having had an adult romantic relationship but who has become a pastoral, prayerful and efficient leader, most Catholics would take Father B any day.

Priests — like all of us but perhaps more than those of us with family and spouse — need strong, healthy relationships, because celibacy is not about avoidance, but about loving. In the 1984 anthology, Celibate Loving, An Encounter in Three Dimensions, Jesuit L. Patrick Carroll summed up the challenge: ‘In every generation [of church life] there have been too many crusty bachelors and mean old maids masquerading as celibates, going to their graves without once letting sex rear its head. Too often love was squelched in the process, and they witnessed to nothing but will power.’

It would be a better world, in my humble opinion, if the conservatives were to be rolled. By definition all they can offer is more of the same, endlessly repeating the abuses of the past because they are incapable of confronting reality or questioning what Blind Freddy can see needs to be questioned. But that is conservatives for you, isn’t it? Where they are not merely smug, they operate from fear, from self-interest, from an undue romanticism about the past. However, see what you think:

From The Tablet

…In America, too, there is a strong whiff of a witch-hunt in the air. Mother Angelica’s EWTN network recently posted on its website (it has since been withdrawn) an old pre-Vatican II document barring gays from the religious life. It was issued by the Congregation for Religious in 1961 and published in a 1963 volume of the Canon Law Digest. It reads: ‘Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.’

The bishops know, of course, that if an efficient purge were ever possible–and after all, how could chaste celibate priests, whatever their inclinations, be removed? –the only way of keeping up priest numbers would be to ordain married men. For one of the sea-changes of the last few months has been the acceptance by both sides that at least 50 per cent of priests are of homosexual inclination. This statistic was a bombshell when Fr Donald Cozzens first used it in a chapter of his book Changing Face of the Priesthood it is no longer considered controversial. At the April meeting of the American cardinals in Rome, Bishop Gregory spoke of an ‘ongoing effort to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men’ — sure evidence that the bishops accept Cozzens’s evidence.

Liberals and progressives in the American Catholic Church also want to look at clerical celibacy, not to enforce it but to make it optional. They say obligatory celibacy, adopted by the Latin Church in the High Middle Ages, is a broken model. Because in this era society sees sexual activity as intrinsic to human life, as a necessary expression of love, a number of priests who lack the vocation of celibacy will also experience it as an arbitrary burden. Men kept sexually immature by paternalism and an all-male environment will be unable to sustain celibacy; sexual abuse of minors and other sins against chastity are therefore inevitable.

Progressives too are angry at their bishops, not for succumbing to tolerance but for using money donated by the faithful to pay for the costs of clericalism. Pointing to Boston, they say sex-abusing priests were allowed to continue to abuse because they were sheltered by a secretive, hierarchical, self-protective, us-and-them culture of cronyism. If compulsory celibacy is one of the factors at the root of the scandal, clericalism, in this view, is its greenhouse. Clericalism can only be overcome, progressives say, by ordaining women and married men and by opening up the governance of the Church to the laity.

The bishops need to keep these diametrically opposed interpretations of the crisis in mind as they gather in Dallas, but their options are in reality far more limited than the radical solutions proposed by either side. The United States bishops are almost all conservatives appointed by John Paul II, and must operate within the norms of a universal Church. But public outrage is intense and media scrutiny aggressive. The bishops may be in the mood for fairly sweeping reforms, especially with the present pontificate in its twilight, and the character of the new one unguessable. But their room for manoeuvre is still more limited than most Americans realise.

So thanks, Father Ted–er, X 🙂 That has been very interesting, and important to us all really. Bless you.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

This was obviously a nice day, and I do remember who “The Crown Prince” is — in fact he is at the moment a FB friend! But darned if I recall the others or the event!

Today I caught up with the Crown Prince again. We have succeeded in finding the richest Chocolate Brownies in Sydney. The only disadvantage is that it is impossible to finish one by oneself. Just as well there were seven of us there: N and M, J and T, X (who had a holiday from the monastery) and W–and last but by no means least, C. Rarely has such a crowd been so much of one mind 😉 We all look forward to meeting again in the very near future.

This brownie is from 2010 Surry Hills!

Reflections post-election, starting with Scomo’s tears

And I must start by thanking whatever gods that be for the FACT Australia has been witnessing a swift, smooth and PEACEFUL transfer of power. Not even the USA can boast that! Especially the USA since the Orange Sickness struck it!

I thank also our predecessors who have made for us from British roots and our own tradition an electoral system that deserves to be the envy of the world for its integrity and practicability.

I am going to do a different take on this.

I have annoyed some by not in the past going out of my way to demonise ScoMo. For example I have never spelled that with a U. Nor have I got overexcited about his religion.

Now it so happens that I have been in this church in Sutherland, or rather in the Assemblies of God church that preceded it. Ir was not called Horizon then and was much smaller and poorer, but the idea was the same. It was 1964 or 1965 I think, and I was still an Elder at Sutherland Presbyterian Church. Yes, another life. Fellow Elder and friend Robert Kennelly had been invited to preach there. He was aiming to become a Presbyterian minister, which eventually he did — but in the Presbyterian Reformed Church — which began in Sutherland just as I left the church.

From our point of view at the time the Pentecostals were more than a bit weird and theologically suss. But Bob accepted and I went along as moral support and to give him feedback on his sermon. Bob remains in my memory, along with Gwenda his wife, an esteeemed friend, as do Greg and Helen Fox who became key members of the PRC. Helen in fact later taught Latin at Sydney Girls High where I renewed acquaintance in the late 90s and early 2000s. A lovely and funny lady.

I was amused to discover where ScoMo’s church is. And it isn’t Hillsong by the way, though ScoMo’s connection with the Houstons was unwise.

Looking back at what I saw in the 60s and what I see in this story one thing does strike me. This church may be many things, some not so good, some no doubt fulfilling to its community. But I would call this a painfully naive kind of Christianity, and I suspect that is an issue with ScoMo. I also suspect, though he may not even be aware of it or would deny it vehemently, that aside from a certain emotional piety there is no great connection between the way he has acted as salesman and politician and anything profound in the religion. Heretical of me, but let me refer to another notably religious Prime Minister — Kevin Rudd. Again flawed (aren’t we all?) but his religion is far more sophisticated and intellectually and philosophically deeper than ScoMo’s.

OK, but to this story. Morrison’s behaviour here is well within what is normal in such a church as this, his emotions genuine — it must have been traumatic to come unstuck as much as he has in the 24 hours before this talk — and so I am not going to judge or criticise him. But it is also naive, Plucking Bible texts completely out of context because the wording seems to suit is common practice in many low church circles, not just in Pentecostalism. In my opinion it is a most undesirable way to use the Bible. As Cam Williamson, a wise Presbyterian minister at Sutherland in the 50s and early 60s used to say, a text without a context is a pretext.

But the truth is he looks and sounds like a broken man here. I am sure he will recover very quickly though.

And while ScoMo is many things, one rarely noted — and of course I may be completely wrong — is that he is, for 2022, incredibly naive and out of touch! Take his master work in his advertising days. Crass as!

Not that he was necessarily directly involved — though I suspect he would at least have approved them– the childish run of attack ads that characterised the Liberal Party campaign will go down in history as among the worst ever.

Amazingly irritating!

Idiotic and offensive

After the event the ABC’s great show Media Watch analysed the campaign’s media performances. The last minute or two introduce two of the most painfully idiotic takes you will ever see from — of course — the sheltered workshop called Sky After Dark.

Those final thoughts are the subject of some excellent analysis in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

The narrative according to a chorus of hardline Coalition MPs and columnists goes like this: the Morrison government positioned itself as “Labor-lite” – experimenting “with the poison of leftism”, according to South Australian Liberal Alex Antic – because it caved in on net-zero emissions, racked up budget deficits, abandoned “freedom” during the pandemic and shirked on fighting culture wars.

This shameless Marxist posture, say the critics, not only failed to placate voters in the Liberals’ traditional seats, those folks having long metamorphosed into Maoists and not for the turning, but alienated the party from “the Quiet Australians” and blue-collar battlers the party ought to regard as its real base.

In this construction, the battlers are less concerned about climate change than they are focused on cost-of-living pressures and whether their kids are being indoctrinated into radical doctrines at school. They seem curiously unconcerned about a minimum wage rise, however.

What really happened has been captured in some great cartoons, not least Cathy Wilcox:

AUSTRALIA HAS MOVED ON!

Easter Saturday — memories, images, music

Back to South Sydney Uniting Church in 2009:

Wesley Mission Wollongong:

As we look towards Easter Day the symbolism is resurrection.

Christ is Risen-Ukrainian melody
South Sydney Uniting Church

The following may be seen as a resurrection also: I felt JOY when I couldn’t walk or talk. |Finding happiness with chronic illness & chronic pain. Vlad Vexler, a Russian-born Oxford educated political philosopher and music scholar living in London tells his story.

South Sydney Uniting Church

Once more looking at my April 2007 archive after 15 years

Various selections from the month’s archive.

Alana Valentine is a playwright to watch…

That is if Parramatta Girls, which I saw last night, is anything to go by. It is indeed a “must see” as many comments to be traced from that Google Search indicate — Trevor Cook on Corporate Engagement for example:

This is a great piece of theatre, one of the best plays I’ve seen for awhile. The subject matter is often harrowing but the treatment is full of compassion, wit and understanding. The cast work very well together and there are no ‘weak’ performances. If you can get along to see it you should. Its on at the Belvoir until 22 April.

Except you won’t get in; Parramatta Girls is sold out for the rest of the season.

The Sydney Morning Herald is typical of most reviews: The spirit triumphs in this healing journey.

…The director, Wesley Enoch, has created an unflinching, powerful and moving production full of surprising mood changes, peaks and troughs and with a keen eye to the perpetuating cycles of abuse. Ralph Myers’s stripped-to-the-bone set, with its stacks of metal chairs, starkly symbolises the ruin and discarding of souls. The talented cast does great justice to the material, not just being feisty, fearful and loud but persuasively revealing the stains, regrets and shameful emotions that have singled the characters out and, in their later lives, brought them together.

Skinner’s portrayal affords Parramatta Girls much of its spark and spine, as does Leah Purcell’s as the charismatic Marlene, especially in the climactic rooftop riot scene when she reclaims power even though it means time spent in isolation. Annie Byron gives a remarkably brave performance as tough, soft-centred Gayle while Genevieve Hegney delights as Maree, an innocent who mocks authority and whose spirit-crushed presence lends a tragic dimension.

Parramatta Girls is desperately sad, honest, humorous and uplifting. It is a triumph for Valentine and company. On opening night, when former inmates joined the actors on stage for the curtain call, there were tears, smiles and slightly embarrassed bows; an extraordinary moment of life and art blurring and uniting as one.

One small but important point struck me. Near the end of the play one of the Aboriginal ex-inmates has obtained her records but can’t read them; she gets another “Parramatta girl” to read them to her. The official account, it transpires, includes a number of convenient bureaucratic lies… The play of course is rooted in oral history, though not in oral history alone. It has been very carefully researched. That moment in the play resonated with the History Wars, however. I think it very clearly showed the danger of the purist Windschuttle approach to history; indeed I am sure it was meant to.

I went with a group from South Sydney Uniting Church, having turned up on spec as I hadn’t actually applied for a ticket. Fortunately Andrew had a spare. 🙂

I was able to fill in Andrew and Dorothy on the latest on Lord Malcolm too. Dorothy was especially touched when I told her about Lord M’s Easter Sunday writing project, that by his computer (as I noted yesterday when I went to Lord M’s place on an errand) sits her blessing.

Later

I told Lord M about the play when I visited him today. Lord M had an Aboriginal partner, now deceased. It turns out that partner was the cousin of Wesley Enoch, the play’s director.

I now have the portrait of that cousin of Wesley Enoch on my wall here in West Wollongong — a reminder of Malcolm.

Award-winning playwright Alana Valentine has woven together the true stories of women who were once Parramatta Girls into a masterful tribute to their courage, humour, strength and optimism.

UTS Alumni on 29 March 2022 published this:

“I really believe that UTS taught me that sometimes it is good to be a tool for other people’s vision. And that it doesn’t always have to be about you.”

Alana Valentine (BA Comm, 1983) is one of Australia’s most celebrated playwrights whose visionary work puts the human experience squarely on centre stage. Alana has spoken of how deeply she values the trust placed in her by the marginalised communities she has worked with – on pieces such as ParramattaGirls – to share their experiences on stage, and it’s this dedication to telling important Australian stories that saw her win both won the 2021 UTS: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Award and joint Chancellor’s Award for Excellence.

I have been privileged to have met Alana through the South Sydney Uniting Church connection.

Wise words from a young gay American

[There was a blog*] here on WordPress that I was led to by a bit of random surfing, and I am glad to have found it. C**** is “your garden variety, 18 year old queer guy living in Houston, Texas.”

…I am the perpetual student who hates structured education, most of what I know of value I taught myself or at the very least was instructed in away from the walls of my public schools…

I am cynical about oh so much, but still can muster eternal optimism that things can be better (if only people were more like me). Sarcasm and gallows humor are my trademarks.

I love old movies, kitsch, crooners from the 40s and 50s, geezer pop and rock, country music that is not heard on the radio. Hyper masculinity both fascinates me and bores me. I love camp in small doses. My theology comes from books, the saints, the patriots, the movies and drunken ass dances. My politics are liberal but I can’t abide most liberals, and [am] suspicious of them as always waiting for you to trip, but I will have none of their foolishness! Did I mention that I am a wee bit bombastic?…

Teachers need that little dose of reality from the first sentence sometimes just to keep a sense of proportion.

I am referring you to this blog though for one entry in particular, which is not to say the rest is not good because it is in fact a very good blog, especially in the world of teen blogs. In its own way it is as good as the remarkable MyScribbles, the Afghan blog, whose author is around the same age. The cultural context of course is very different. (That reminds me: Ahmad still hasn’t posted this year. A real worry that.)

The entry in question is Choices Made And Not Made.

What set of circumstances do you suppose occurred where I might have had a choice to be gay? Do you imagine that one day I awoke and just up and decided “today I think I will become homosexual’? Do you think I might have made a critical error on “Career Day” in high school? Do you suppose that I chose to become a pariah just for kicks? That I somehow found it appealing to face harassment from bigots, the religious right and those compensating for their own inadequacies. Do you suppose that I would choose to become a lesser citizen that is denied the rights granted to my heterosexual brother, including the right to marry the one I love? When was I asked? Why is it with 90% of the population heterosexual, no one on that side thought to ask me to choose to be straight?

I admit that wasn’t an answer when I answered the question with rhetorical questions. So here it is. I did not choose to be gay. Whether genetic, hormonal or some yet to determined factor, its not important how I got here, I am here and I accept and embrace who I am in its totality as how I am supposed to be. Long before I knew what gay was or had a clue what sex was, I had attractions to other males. It wasn’t a sexual attraction at first it was something more fundamental than that. Its easy for those who view gay as being bad to dismiss us if they can reduce it to sexual acts alone. That being gay is just an easy way for sexual gratification. It is deeper and more profound than that. Its as much an emotional attachment as heterosexual males and females have.

Choose to be gay? No, but I did come to a realization that I was gay, that these feelings had a name and I decided to accept that as part of who I am. It is as much a part of me as a heterosexual’s sexuality is a part of them. Its not how I define myself, but it is there and shapes who I am, and that I do choose to accept and own it with no apology.

My family accepts me as I am. I was blessed with a family that loves me unconditionally… Sadly, my experience isn’t as common as it might ought to be…

I choose to be many things in my life. I choose to try and live my life honestly and to be a good man, that not only my parents would be proud of me, but to live my life in such a manner I can take pride in it. I choose not to live a life in the margins. I choose to try and be a good son, brother, friend, citizen and one day a partner to a man I love. I choose to be a strong gay man. Those are the REAL choices I make.

I did not choose to be gay. I accept my sexuality, own it and do not choose to hide it.

I REFUSE to be defined by bigots, to be limited by prejudices, nor to be denied my place at the table of life. I refuse to have you or anyone else debate my life. I refuse to suffer foolish arguments, banal one liners or the rants and ravings of zealots. I refuse to let my life to be ruled or dominated by homophobic rants or raving. I refuse to live my life in fear of those that choose to live their life coccooned in their hatred.

I choose also to live my life with dignity and honor to the best of my potential. That, my anonymous friend, is how I define “normal.”

That is magnificent, C***. I have just extracted highlights. [It’s a shame it is no longer available.*]

Mind you, referriing to my reading in the past few days which has also interested Jim Belshaw, I don’t know what it is with Americans and “liberals”. To us older folk outside the US what an American labels and then worries about as “liberal” just seems normal, civilised, progressive, and even quite uncontroversial. Things like health care, for example. Even trade unions. Or at least that was the case until about ten years ago.

* UPDATE 5 May 2007

This blog has now been deleted by its author. I have therefore disguised its origin and names in it, as I respect his choice but still value what he said and wish others might read it.

2022 — And the My Scribbles blog?

See How 15 years ago my blog reached into Afghanistan and encouraged at least one teenager…. And just the other day on Facebook Ahmad, now a friend there, posted:

Forthcoming in London on 10 November 2022
Soon after of course the Taliban took over and Ahmad went into exile…

Reading the Bible

To quote the appropriate page for today from Deng Ming-Dao’s 365 Tao: Daily Meditations:

Don’t be afraid to explore;
Without exploration there are no discoveries,
Don’t be afraid of partial solutions;
Without the tentative there is no
accomplishment.

I am still in the habit of following the Daily Office Lectionary from the US version of The Book of Common Prayer, an eccentricity I mentioned on Blogspot Books and Ideas in January 2006.

Lest that seems either saintly or pretentious, let me say that I am pragmatically finding this of benefit. I get food for thought, and, doing it as I do just before sleeping, I find my nights in general have been much more restful. No, I don’t mean to say the practice puts me to sleep, but it certainly helps compose the mind.

Those of you who have followed my rants for a while know that I do not believe God writes books. In other words, I am not a fundamentalist. So what of the Bible? All along from my teen years to the present I have found the Bible inspiring, if not always inspired. So my ruminations over the Daily Office are often critical. For example, reading Galatians lately I have been struck by how exceedingly dodgy Paul’s use of the Old Testament often is. Galatians marks a key moment, of course, in which the Church became more universalist and less a sect of Judaism. Paul was trying to convince the Galatians that this was the way to go, but I can well understand some not being convinced. Another troubling feature of his argument, and indeed in the representation of the Pharisees in the gospels, is that one can see only too clearly the seeds of antisemitism there. I believe, of course, that you don’t have to go down that path, but the potential was there and in time as we all know it bore strange fruit.

So what are we to make of the Bible? Anthony Freeman addresses this on Radical Faith, and I commend him to you. “Whatever more it may be, it is never less than this: part of our world, a human product situated in a particular place, at a particular time, and in a particular culture.”…

I would also commend James W. Aageson from Concordia College on “Reading Biblical Texts: Truth, Fact, and Myth.”

It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Let’s just read the Bible literally. Let’s forget about all this interpretation stuff and just read the Bible for what it says.” The impulse for this can be appreciated. Serious interpretation of the Bible takes a lot of effort and sustained study, and sometimes all of this effort in the end only seems to work against certain cherished and long held religious beliefs. Many people want the Bible to sustain them. They do not want to be confronted by strange and new interpretations of it. And still others are opposed to the critical study of the Bible because they think God and God’s word are beyond human understanding. They can only be understood by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by human reason standing alone. Moreover, digging into the scriptures seems to make human beings the final arbiter of God’s word instead of God. These concerns are real, and the forces that motivate them should be understood.

Even if a person is of two minds about the critical study of the Bible, however, the problem of a “literal reading” of biblical material is an issue that is more complicated than might first appear. What is meant by the term “literal reading?” What makes a reading “literal” as opposed to something else? And is “literality” the same for all types and varieties of texts in the Bible? If we are to think about this question of literal interpretation, we must address the issue of what is meant by the expression, “literal reading.” The term in popular usage seems to refer to the surface reading of the text. In this sense, “literal” refers to the straightforward adherence to the surface level of the material and its wording, the face value of the text in other words…

One final observation about the discernment of biblical truth should be made. Many truth claims, many biblical truth claims included, should, in my judgment, be subjected to moral critique. When we look at the consequences of historic and religious truth claims, what have been the social and human consequences that have followed from them? Can we discern any consequences? If so, how have these claims played themselves out over time? Are the consequences morally laudable or morally reprehensible? At a minimum, we should ask ourselves if these claims can be true when we see what they have done. When Matthew in his gospel implies that the blood of Christ is not only on the hands of the Jews in Jesus’ day but also on the hands of their descendants, can this statement have any claim to religious truth, given the way this has contributed to the horrible reality of anti-Semitism? When seen in light of the Christian gospel itself, the consequences of this rather direct Matthean implication seem to be suspect, if not altogether devoid of theological truth value, that is if the Christian gospel is in fact good news and not bad news. Moral considerations may not finally settle questions of biblical truth, but they ought to be considered.

Assessing biblical truth is complicated and cannot be reduced to a single notion of truth. Multiple levels of meaning and truth can be discovered in biblical material, and the critical reader of the Bible needs sophistication and flexibility in evaluating them. In some cases, the question of whether the biblical material is true or not is beside the point. It only leads one away from the significant features of the text. Yet truth claims that are made are always made within a social and communal context. Likewise, those of us who try to assess them do so in social and communal contexts. In historical and religious matters, truth is social in character, and the apprehension of it is similarly social. Understanding the social dimensions of truth is important for critical readers of the Bible, just as it is important to understand the historical and literary dimensions of biblical texts and their interpretation.

Many will not be pleased by this approach, but to me it is the only honest way to go. For example, you will see if you visit that lectionary linked in the first paragraph that I am at the moment reading The Book of Exodus, one of the most obvious features of which is that it could not possibly have been written by Moses. Another obvious feature is that the “history” in the book is clearly in the realm of legend, with elements of myth. So you can’t say the Exodus didn’t happen, but you can say it didn’t happen in the in fact various ways it is recounted in Exodus. Wikipedia (for all that it gets bagged) actually reviews this rather well: The Exodus.

If you wish to clarify what myth, legend, and/or folktale actually mean, see Michael Webster’s course material Frequently Asked Questions about Mythology.

It is clear too that when subjected to moral critique Exodus can be decidedly discomforting. There are all sorts of things, what Bishop Spong memorably calls “the sins of scripture”, that Biblical literalists gloss over. (Don’t think the Qu’ran will help, by the way; it is very much in the literalist camp when it comes to its references to Exodus. Not at all surprising in the Qu’ran’s human and cultural context of course.)

Nonetheless, as archetypes Exodus and The Exodus are profoundly inspiring. That is what they still have to offer. Oh yes, and it is a good story, and one which anyone in our culture really should know.

bullock-dray-02.jpg

Bullocky

Beside his heavy-shouldered team
thirsty with drought and chilled with rain,
he weathered all the striding years
till they ran widdershins in his brain:

Till the long solitary tracks
etched deeper with each lurching load
were populous before his eyes,
and fiends and angels used this road.

All the long straining journey grew
a mad apocalyptic dream,
and he old Moses, and the slaves
his suffering and stubborn team.

Then in his evening camp beneath
the half-light pillars of the trees
he filled the steepled cone of night
with shouted prayers and prophecies.

While past the campfire’s crimson ring
the star struck darkness cupped him round.
and centuries of cattle-bells
rang with their sweet uneasy sound.

Grass is across the wagon-tracks,
and plough strikes bone across the grass,
and vineyards cover all the slopes
where the dead teams were used to pass.

O vine, grow close upon that bone
and hold it with your rooted hand.
The prophet Moses feeds the grape,
and fruitful is the Promised Land.

— Judith Wright (1915-2000)

I still love that poem; technically it is almost perfect, in my humble opinion. But it was written in the 1940s, and looking at it through the allusions to Exodus one can’t help wondering about the Amalekites, Canaanites, and so on… Judith Wright herself certainly did, and “put a block on some of [her] poems being anthologised: poems like ‘Bullocky’” later on in life.

Reconciliation isn’t a word I like. It’s about the only word, unfortunately, that fits. But they, I think, have more of a problem reconciling with us because we are the ones who did the deed. And the fact that they can do this speaks very highly indeed for their own capacities for forgiveness and understanding. We don’t have that. That’s because we do have this problem in ourselves: a kind of guilt that stands in the way of understanding. That is a very important part of our development as a people, and until we come into a proper relationship with the Indigenous peoples, we can’t be in a proper relationship with ourselves.

Ramona Koval: You put a block on some of your poems being anthologised: poems like ‘Bullocky’. Was this related to the matter of Aboriginal-white history and reconciliation?

Judith Wright: Yes, in a way it was. That poem came from the nationalist era in which I was only able to write from a white point of view. Now that I can see what that has done to us, I refuse to allow Bullocky to be anthologised any longer because of the way it got taught. It’s a perfectly good poem in itself, I still stand by it as a poem. But it was being used in a way I disapproved of. And the funny thing was, of course, that there were teachers who wrote to me in a fury: ‘You can’t do this. It’s not possible for you to do this. We’ve been teaching it this way for so long.’ They were teaching it as though it was an aggrandisement of the whole invasion. And it was a very bad example of bad teaching of poetry. The only thing I could do was to argue that it shouldn’t be put into anthologies at all. And that, I think I kept to fairly well. It was a great illumination to me of how poems can be misinterpreted simply because the idea is opposite to what they should be.

Interesting.

2022: I still value Bible reading, among other readings, and have a range of translations as actual books or in my eBook Library on Calibre. I have not persisted however with that particular lectionary.

There you are — just THREE posts from my blog for April 2007! And some indications of later developments…

Explorations from my 2007 archive — 1

So interesting looking back at this my first WordPress blog, which was so active! Of course I was more active then too! Yes, 15 years on… I see lots of links to the Sydney Morning Herald in the posts — halcyon days before restrictions and paywalls. Links may or may not work after all this time.

Forgotten and surprising facts on 21st century religion

2 March 2007

That same issue of Atlantic Monthly from which I drew the previous entry also took me to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. There is a fascinating survey there called Spirit and Power: a 10 country survey of Pentecostals. Some definition: “By all accounts, pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity. According to the World Christian Database, at least a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of these lively, highly personal faiths, which emphasize such spiritually renewing “gifts of the Holy Spirit” as speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying. Even more than other Christians, pentecostals and other renewalists believe that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to play a direct, active role in everyday life.”

Go to the survey report for yourself, but I place below two of several interesting fact boxes.

A nice dilemma here in the political correctness and cultural relativity department: how to assert principles of universal human rights without cultural imperialism or belittling the right to difference in other cultures and consequently being ignored. Take Nigeria for example:

A proposed Nigerian law banning same-sex marriages is a threat to democracy, says Human Rights Watch. Writing to the Nigerian Senate, they said the legislation, “contravenes the basic rights to freedom of expression, conscience, association, and assembly”. The rights group urges the Nigerian National Assembly to reject the bill.

If the proposed law is approved, anyone who speaks out or forms a group supporting gay and lesbian rights could be imprisoned.

The bill has divided both chambers of the Nigerian parliament as some MPs see legislation as a move to save Nigerian morals and cultural values. Others legislators who reject it say it say it is anti-freedom and portrays Nigeria’s democracy in bad light…

Naturally I side with Human Rights Watch on this one. You can see the problem though, can’t you? In our focus on the USA and Australia we often forget the rest of humanity, and we forget that Christian fundamentalism is even more alive and well in developing countries than it is in the USA or Australia. We also forget that there is a positive side to this in terms of lives turned around, services delivered, and self-esteem restored; we need to set that against the dark side, the questions of gay rights, AIDS prevention and so on. I see a dilemma. Do you?

When I was a twenty-something conservative in transition…

11 March 2007

… at Dapto High School south of Wollongong, a colleague in the English Department was Dale Spender, who once told me that if I didn’t have shit for brains I might know what she was talking about. Trouble is, she was probably right at the time. Dale went on to a career much more spectacular than mine. To give Dale her due, she knew far more back then than most of us did about how to deal effectively with some of the less able (as in “IQ too low to assess”) and more disadvantaged students we had, and I did learn much from her.

I see she has entered the current silly education debate: Now the class scapegoat is the teacher.

No one has a good word to say about teachers. Not so long ago they were well-informed and well-respected members of the community whose advice was sought after and highly valued.

Today, if you are to believe the Government’s condemnations and the media coverage, teachers have had a spectacular fall from grace.

Press stories over the past decade accuse teachers of everything from illiteracy and incompetence to outright ill will. A few regular media commentators charge classroom teachers with left-wing tendencies, lowering standards, and with throwing out the worthwhile curriculum in favour of “dumbing down”.

Yet no hard evidence of the harmful behaviour of teachers is provided. Rather teachers are being made the scapegoats for the disruptive changes that are under way in society – and in education. For education consultants [it] is so much easier to blame the teachers than it is to look more intelligently and constructively at the problems and pressures of the 21st-century classroom; and at the failure of the nation to properly fund the information-education revolution.

Teachers have been caught up in the turmoil of educational change, but they have not been supported with the resources to make the massive leap from traditional education to computer-based classrooms.

Teachers can teach only what they are taught. Now that they have to learn the art of teaching with the new technologies, they need information, facilities, and a great deal of encouragement. Without such support, it is the teachers who have the genuine grievances: they could put at the top of their list the counterproductive smear tactics used against them by Commonwealth educational advisers and ministers…

Each year teachers are asked to do more: more national testing, more meaningful reporting on students, more social welfare tasks and more new technology courses. And each year teachers are blamed for more school failures, more lapses of discipline, and more of society’s ills. Teaching is the most demanding job ever devised yet the teachers’ side of the story is rarely heard; they can’t “tell someone who cares”. The profession is so badgered and abused, the wonder of it is that there are not more of its members walking out the door.

The bad press that teachers get is not the only source of low morale. Teachers know that there can be no art of teaching with technology when the technology does not work. Spare a thought for the masses of overworked, dedicated teachers who stretch themselves to prepare exciting internet-based lessons only to enter the class of 30 eager, energised students, and find that the computers have crashed, and the network is down. Such disasters can be an everyday occurrence. And although this is definitely not the teachers’ fault, they who must deal with the dire consequences when their anticipated mind-expanding learning experience turns into a nightmare.

One might well ask how teachers’ critics and Co would stare down such high-maintenance students: it would take more than a pile of platitudes and a dose of Shakespeare…

Well, as for technology… I’m here, aren’t I? I suspect that Dale overstates her case a little in that article. It would have been more true ten years ago. It certainly was true of me ten years ago. Nonetheless, she has a better understanding of what is happening out there in the schools than many of her opposing commentators.

In her column today Miranda Devine praises the recently established Redfern Exodus centre which aims to provide intensive remedial reading to children in Years 3 to 6 who have fallen behind. It is a good project, housed at the moment by my very own church, South Sydney Uniting Church, but run by the Exodus Foundation of Ashfield Uniting Church. The methodology employed derives from the Macquarie University’s phonics-centred approach, and that is Miranda’s angle: the success of the MULTILIT programs underscores the tragedy of so many other young lives wasted – countless smart children who believe they are stupid because they haven’t been taught to read. I do not knock what is happening in Redfern, but do suggest Miranda (all praise to her though for supporting the venture) is unfair in her ideological stance. More “countless” than the numbers of students benefitting from this intervention are the numbers of students who do not need it because they have in fact been taught to read. No single factor explains the issues that led the minority being helped in this and similar programs to their present plight, though more adequate staffing and funding of remediation programs in schools both public and private would no doubt have helped. There are, even so, “countless” students who are assisted within the system and who therefore never need a Redfern program. For very many students the NSW government’s Reading Recovery program has been especially effective. I have seen it done, and spent a year some time back in a research project tracking its effects in a number of schools in a more disadvantaged part of the south-eastern suburbs. (See also Research in Reading Recovery.)

Reading Recovery session at Brookvale Public School Sydney.

One key to both the Redfern program and the Reading Recovery program is individualised intensive tuition. It is a fact too that provision for such individual help after Year 2 in the system is inadequately funded.

All ideology aside, I wish all such programs success.

Reading Recovery has since gone out of fashion.

Radical thinking on education from the USA

14 March 2007

Certainly education issues have dominated my blog lately. The Doctor Donnelly series attracted a comment yesterday from an old colleague, Ken Watson, possibly, from Dr D’s perspective, a bit like a comment from Beelzebub…

Perhaps I should revert to less controversial topics, like religion: why, for example, the current Pope is rushing backwards to the Council of Trent. Or politics: why Tony Abbott is such a poor advertisement for Christian charity.

But education it is again today. Education Week (USA) emailed thus this morning:

In today’s increasingly competitive world, even high-skilled workers in the United States are competing against equally skilled, equally well-educated workers from other countries. And many of those workers from other countries are willing to earn lower salaries than what is typically paid for similar jobs in the United States.

A growing chorus of economists, politicians, and educators now argue that for the U.S. to maintain its standard of living, it will have to keep a razor-sharp technological edge and produce workers who have both much higher levels of academic knowledge than they do now and a deep vein of creativity that enables them to keep generating innovative products and services.

To reach this goal, some are calling for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the U.S. education and training system. The “Tough Choices or Tough Times” report by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, for one, has proposed that teachers be employed by states rather than districts; education be financed by states rather than local communities; teenagers be allowed to take exams at age 16 that let them enroll immediately in community or technical colleges; and high-quality early education be made available to all 4-year-olds and to all 3-year-olds from low-income families.

Is such an overhaul necessary? Are we really losing our competitive edge? And how should schools be changing to face the economic challenges of the future?

I was invited to a live forum on this, though I will pass.

However, the material the email points to is quite fascinating. See U.S. Urged to Reinvent Its Schools.

A report calling for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the U.S. education and training system to help Americans compete in a global economy drew lavish praise and sharp criticism last week, foreshadowing what a heavy political lift its recommendations would likely be to carry out.

Titled “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” the report was unveiled at an all-day meeting here Dec. 14 by a prominent panel whose members include former U.S. secretaries of education and labor, retired governors and mayors, state and local superintendents, and business executives.

Its vision for what’s ailing American education and how to fix it takes on virtually every sacred cow and special-interest group in the system.

Among its proposals: Teachers employed by states rather than districts. State, not local, financing of education. Schools no longer run by districts but by independent contractors. Teenagers who take exams at age 16 that let them enroll immediately in community or technical colleges. High-quality early education available to all 4-year-olds and to all 3-year-olds from low-income families.

For more, see Tough Choices or Tough Times.

Agenda for an Overhaul

“Tough Choices or Tough Times” proposes sweeping changes in the U.S. education system.

— End high school sooner for most students: Expect most 10th graders to pass new state exams that would let them leave high school and enter community colleges directly without remediation. High-scoring students could stay in high school for advanced coursework to prepare for admission to selective colleges.
— Invest in early-childhood education: Make high-quality early-childhood education available to all 4-year-olds and all low-income 3-year-olds.
— Recruit better students to be teachers: Raise pay for novice teachers and those at the top of redesigned career ladders. Have teachers work directly for states. Link compensation in part to student performance and offer incentives for teachers who work in shortage fields and hard-to-staff urban and rural areas.
— Put schools under performance contracts: Shift the role of school districts from one of running public schools to that of contracting with outside operators to do so. Let students choose among schools, which would be affiliated with state-approved networks that provide professional development and other forms of help.
— Rebuild standards, assessments, and curriculum: Improve the quality and reduce the number of assessments. Preface syllabus-based high school exams with national literacy and math tests in the lower grades. Promote creativity and innovation in addition to mastery of key ideas, core facts, and procedures.
— Make school funding more equitable: Fund schools directly by the state under a formula that gives more money for students with greater needs. Add $19 billion to the system and provide extra help—such as an extended school day, tutoring, and mentoring—so disadvantaged youngsters can meet higher standards.
— Support lifelong learning: Guarantee all workers age 16 or older access to a free education up to the new high school exam standard. Also, start federally financed education accounts for every child, depositing $500 at birth and $100 each year until age 16. Individuals, parents, states, and employers could contribute.
— Create regional economic-development authorities: Have the federal government support states and localities in setting up authorities that combine economic development, adult education, and job training.