05 January, 2021

Communication in education

At some point in 2020, I was in a staff meeting and becoming frustrated with the language of education. In particular the way that school reports (at least in my experience as both teacher and parent) seem designed to ensure no one is upset by a teacher suggesting sometimes child can't do something. "Fred is developing the ability to ***" sounds good. But it reality it means "Fred should be able to *** but can't". To prevent myself from dominating the meeting with my complaints, I wrote the following policy (educators, feel free to present it to your institution as a policy suggestion).

When producing school documents, it is important to ensure that these written instruments always facilitates educational dialogue and best practice outcomes. At The College we do this through the provision of multi-platform written communication, which deploys the most appropriate style guides alongside expedient editing processes and current formatting procedures (both manual and automated) to maximise intelligibility across language, cultural and intergenerational divides; producing an end product which eschews gatekeeper-centric obfuscation of the intended message created through professional and technical jargon or the use of potentially inconsistent vernacular expressions, in favour of phrasing which is capable of generating complete clarity and wide teaching decipherment through brevity and the intentional application of the most applicable form of accessible verbiage. We do this to ensure that we, as gatekeepers to educational outcomes, drive scholastic accomplishment through guaranteeing transparency and coherence of all grammar and vocabulary; and are therefore able to amplify the core message of The College to all stakeholders: internal, external, and potential.

15 May, 2019

A sermon on John 20

A couple of weeks ago I got the chance to preach the sermon at my local Anglican Church. I post it here, not because I think I have any readers (given how long I have gone between posts), but because I liked writing a sermon and I don't want to lose it.

John Granville Gregory - Still Doubting

I have enjoyed the writing of Paul Tillich since well before I understood Christianity well enough to be able to understand what he wrote. One of the first things that stood out to me was his statement: "Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful."
As someone who grew up unchurched, this resonated with me. I felt like I was defending why I had faith, to those who didn't; but when I was with people of faith I found the resounding denial of doubt unconvincing and even off-putting.
That is why I feel like I understand today’s gospel reading. Thomas and his reaction to the disciples' story that - the same Jesus he had seen crucified, had popped in for tea and scones.
Even before 20th century western medicine became the big fashionable way of understanding how death works, people were well aware that dying was a one way track, so it is not unreasonable for Thomas to be a little concerned that his friends might have, in their grief, all got a bit confused.
We live in a world where people won’t come and sit with us on a Sunday morning because. If I can't see it and can't touch it, why should I believe it? The scientific method and critical thinking skills have been at the centre of our education system for a long time.
So it is logical for both unbelievers and believers to ask do I need to believe in things that I can't see?
And, if I do, how do I work out what those things are?
And on what basis do I believe them?
In short I guess, where is the boundary between faith and gullibility or between faith and deliberately ignoring reality? How many of us are putting our fingers in our ears and going “lalala lala”?
This is a critical thing for Christians to grapple with, because you don't have to look far to find people who will tell you all the things that Christians shouldn't believe in:
climate change, evolution, fossil geology or
healing, resurrection and answered prayer...
So, again, how do we work out which of these things we do (or can, or should) believe in? How do we engage seriously with contentious issues and faith's part in modern society?
Thomas, in today's reading, shows us one way we can work out our faith. We can put our fingers in in, touch things, examine them. I would say though that is not just something we can do, but something we should do. And I’d like you to consider that following Thomas' example is good for the church.
When it comes to people leaving the church, most statistics seem to be American, but the American stats line up with what I hear from my students; and that is a clear belief that Christianity and Science are incompatible. So, if one of those things has to go it is faith they discard. We are (unintentionally I hope) putting a stumbling block in the way of others by demanding that they quell their doubt, push it down, hide it.
Thomas’, story gives us permission to use scientific enquiry in questions of faith. Even more importantly, we see Jesus' response to this doubt. Thomas is not cast out from amongst the believers, he is not rebuked because he failed to reign in his sceptical nature and he is not instructed to turn his brain off and pretend that ignoring your doubts is the same as having faith.
“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
He is allowed to test the claims that the other disciples put to him and once he has performed that test then and only then does Jesus instruct him to stop doubting. So, let’s embrace those with doubts and make St James the sort of place where the curious are welcome to poke their fingers in and test what they find.
This is not the only scripture that shows us we are permitted to admit our doubts. In Mark 9 we meet a father who brings his son to Jesus. The son suffers from convulsion and the father wants to know is healing is possible. When Jesus tells the father “Everything is possible for one who believes.” we hear a profoundly human cry from the father “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
So, where do we go to find what we as Christians should believe? Well, you don't rely on me to tell you. Nor should any of us rely on anyone to be the sole arbiter of what is true just because they have access to a pulpit. Take your cue from Thomas and work out the answers for yourself using God's word and sticking your fingers into the confusing bits; to make sure you are understanding them. 1 Thessalonians 5 talks about prophecies, “don't treat them with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good.” It tells us.
Some in The Church, I think, need an occasional gentle reminder that testing things is not the same as denying God. Whether it is prophecy or the words of anyone who tells you that they know the truth “test them all; hold on to what is good.” What does testing them mean? Test them by making sure they line up with reality. Test them by making sure that they line up with God’s word.
Testing, like doubting, is not a lack of faith. It is perfectly easy to disbelieve something without testing it, just look at the claims being made in our current election campaign and the reactions of the public who believe the claims of those they like and disbelieve the claims of those they don’t – without testing anything.
For other (myself included) I would put the emphasis on a different part of 1 Thessalonians 5. “don't treat them with contempt” and Jesus’ words to Thomas “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Because doubting shouldn’t be the same as being cynical.

Don’t try to avoid being a Doubting Thomas, follow Thomas’ example. Be open with your doubts because you don’t build your faith by supressing them, you build your faith by putting your finger directly into the disgusting, confusing, impossible parts of your faith and try to understand what you find.
Thomas, despite his desire for proof, went on to do great things. It is claimed that he travelled as far as India, establishing Christianity there in the year 52. Some 230 years before Christianity reached Britain.
And, if you have doubts about how true that story is, that is probably OK.

15 August, 2017

Who is to blame?

image by itsbruce
cc license
Who is to blame for the current (apparent) popularity in being a loud, proud, violent, racist, sexist, homophobe? I think I have it all worked out...

Unlike what some may be telling you, I don't think we can blame the Abbotts and Bernadis of this world. Arsehole politicians with outdated views on what other people should be doing are really nothing new. And, for the most part, the rest of the world just ignores them for a few years before accidentally voting them in again at the next election.
No, we can rule them out as the cause.
I put it to you that the real cause is HIPSTERS.
Yes, hipsters. Bearded, boutique-beer drinking, vinyl listening, bicycle riders.

Being a hipster might seem harmless, but as you reach back into the 20th century in order to locate more obscure things that you can like and know about before your friends do, it is only a matter of time before you bring back other things with you.
What things? Well, racism and homophobia are pretty retro. And it is surely a short step from being the sort of man who thinks that shaving with a straight razor might be fun, to being the sort of man who thinks that women are his to command. Were you into that before it was cool? Well it is still not cool, so stop it.

Image by Ryan Hayes
cc licensed
So, what is my solution? I think it is obvious, rather than looking to the past for our inspiration it is time to look to the future. And not the dystopian, 'the future will be awful' sort of stuff. Real imaginative science-fiction!
If you want: same sex marriage; to close the gender pay gap; to get racists off the streets again; to find a world where we welcome the alien among us, then read science fiction again.

07 February, 2017

Vote 1 The Gutless, spineless, gormless, direction-less, neurotic, underachieving, snivelling, cowardly pile of Smeg Party.

A rare photo of Cory NOT thinking about what gay men get up to.

The Cory B Bernardi Song
(with apologies to Arnold J Rimmer)

If you're in trouble he will save the day
He's brave and he's fearless and so not gay
Without him our nation would go astray
He's Cory, Cory, Cory Bernardi
Without him our progress would be less tardy
He's handsome, trim, and just changed party
He will see if that was quite foolhardy
He's Cory, Cory, Cory Bernardi
More rugged than rugby’s Scott Fardy
He's frequently been mistaken for a pharisee
He's very very worried about your sexuality
Goes and sits in church for his Sunday
His belief that he is right is uncanny
How come he's such a wanker? Don't ask me!
Ask Cory, Cory, Cory Bernardi
His head looks like a strange erection
And if you write your votes right
Then he just might be out of parliament next election.
He's Cory, Cory, Cory Bernardi
Thinking of him makes me scoll bacardi
We’ll decorate his election posters with a sharpie
And try and ignore his political bastardy

(with thanks to Adam for the title of the post)

05 August, 2016

I received an email today (I actually received hundreds, but that is another issue), this one was on the census and I include it here for context when you read my ensuing rant.

Subject: Be careful how you answer the Census next Tuesday night

Dear Friends, Next Tuesday night (9 August) is 2016 Census night – where we are required by law to answer all sorts of questions to help governments make decisions about such things as public transport, housing, education and hospitals. There has been little controversy – until now.
 This year, the religion question – and its implications for the funding of school chaplains and faith-based charities, as well as tax-exempt status for churches – is all important. The religion question is the only one that is not compulsory. It lists six Christian denominations and three non-Christian religions, with a space for “other” – but this year for the first time, “No religion” is the first option. That was the result of a quiet campaign by the Atheist Foundation of Australia three years ago. They hope that putting “No religion” at the top before any other option, they would win the “donkey vote” – and ultimately force governments to end any subsidy or recognition for the huge amount of public good done by faith-based community organisations. 
They have also mounted an advertising campaign in supermarket car parks and elsewhere, urging people to mark the “No religion” box. The problem is compounded by the fact that many non-denominational Christians mark “No religion” because they have faith in Christ, but don’t belong to a particular denomination. To them, “religion” means “denomination”.
What can we do? We can:
  • Make sure we answer the religion question – by marking one of the six boxes for Christian denominations, or writing “Christian” or something similar in the space provided for “other” religion.
  • Send this email to other friends and family, encouraging them to do the same.
  • Pray – that the atheist campaign will fail. May the Lord bless and guide you!
FamilyVoice Australia: a Christian voice for family, faith and freedom

To which I reply...
There are some interesting assumptions here. Amongst them: that no religion is on top of the list for nefarious reasons; that the tax status of churches & funding of chaplains is tied to census figures; and that atheists automatically oppose good work done by faith based charities.

I would like to point out that (while this email isn't) there are also some doing the rounds proposing people mark Christian in order that 'Islam can't take over'.

I would like to propose that if any of you are taking part in a conversation about the census, the correct position for a Christian to take is that we want people to answer the question honestly. It doesn't serve the church to promote a dishonest answer regardless of whether our fear is of atheists, Muslims or our own declining influence on policy makers. I say "our fear" because I think that the driver for this (and emails like it) is fear, rather than reality and I don't believe that we (as Christians) should be operating out of a place of fear. This is especially true when the fear is a fear of waning political influence. Our call as The Church is not to legislate morality, nor to take over the government, it is to love the stranger among us and we don't do that through building upon the fear campaigns which are taking over western political discourse.

The last Census showed us that 13,150,673 people identified as Christian and a mere 476,291 identified as Islamic. Likewise 14,871,285 people identified as having a religion while only 4,796,785 gave the answer of no-religion. Neither Atheists nor Muslims look likely to be ousting Christianity from its place of significance in Australia. Not that I would be advocating a campaign to lie on the census, even if Christianity, Atheism and Islam were locked in a three way tie with political influence to the victor.

In a similar vein, the campaign to get people to mark 'no religion' is not about convincing me (or you) to mark that option, rather it is about people who were nominally 'born' to a religion but are not adherents. It is about accuracy of information. Information which we in the church can then use to find out who our community really are and how we can serve them & reach them.

The funding of school chaplains is a political matter, for the government of the day. Likewise the tax status of churches. Decisions will be made based on our votes, not our demographics. (And perhaps on the perception people have about those denominations which are making their preachers wealthy while providing little or nothing for their communities. Or on the quality of the work done by the chaplains).

The good work of faith based charities & their funding, is likewise unrelated to census figures. Rather, as long as they continue in their good work, they will be supported by the public. One only has to look at the public support for the salvos or, conversely, the public distaste for recent foreign-aid campaigns where the money was eaten up by 'admin costs'.

If you look at the old census question you may note that the option of 'no religion' is not obvious. In gathering data, this is likely to skew the results. This is the reason that the format of the question has been changed and while a campaign by an atheist organisation may have brought this to the attention of the Census, the decision was (as it always is in the Census) based on ensuring the accuracy of data collected.

As a librarian, historian & teacher I rely on accuracy of information and, as far as I see it, the census has tweaked this question in an attempt to get the most accurate data (which includes hoping the changes mean less people put Jedi as their religion).  
Image of question 19 from the 2011 Census
The real controversy in the current census, is actually about data retention and privacy, but that is a topic for another manifesto.

26 March, 2016

A letter to a brick, with eyes

The following is the text of a message I sent to Senator Glenn Lazurus. It is in relation to a wonderfully bogan discussion that was occurring on his facebook page, in relation to the lack of the word Easter on eggs. I was aware of the moral panic and hand-wringing of the faux 'war on Christmas' but was unaware that those who are paranoid that Halal will cause them to 'catch the Muslim' are also worried about the Muslim population's seditious plan to get hold of our Easter treats.
(we stole Easter from the Pagans fair and square and we're not going to let brown people steal it off us!)

Senator Lazarus,

I know that you do not share my (lefty libertarian) political bent, and I suspect you do not share my brand of progressive Christianity. However, I have an Easter request for you. You are offended you tell us, about the lack of the word Easter on Cadbury rabbits.
Now, as a Christian, I don't feel that the word Easter (or lack thereof) on a purple box is really deleterious to the practice of my chosen faith.
As an Australian I know we don't have a state religion, nor do I believe we should.
As a lefty, I don't believe that comments about Muslims "taking over" and "breading like rabbits" should be let go without remark. And, that remark would be to point out that I remember the same fears existed over "wogs and slopes". Yet now, few of us would wish to go back and undo the multicultural Gordian Knot which has resulted in a richer culture for my children (and better coffee for me).
As someone with a libertarian bent, I don't believe the comments of those who fear 'Muslim cultural creep' should be censored. Rather that they should be debated honestly in the public sphere. So, I find it upsetting that I am now unable to comment on your facebook page because (it would appear) my stance is more offensive than some of the vile racism and juvenile name calling in that discussion?
I am aware that it is unlikely that you administer your own social media, so would like you to be aware that this debate exists and that whomever holds the password to this aspect of your public face appears to be censoring the debate in one particular direction.


[edit, shortly after sending this message my ability to post reappeared. I am not sure if I was reinstated or if I had initially been caught by some sort of SPAM filter? However, it seems my comments have not reappeared and I am not militant enough to go through the 2000 posts in order to find the ones I commented on and rewrite my comments. Suffice it to say, dear reader, they were droll, but while demonstrating breathtaking political, spiritual and ideological genius].
(second edit, no it seems that while the comment button momentarily reappeared as I read the comments, I am unable to click on it).