Life & Faith

REBROADCAST: The Story of Gender

Professor Sarah Williams on the importance of language and history when it comes to gender.

“We have lost the language for talking about any form of biological determinism. Gender has replaced the word sex, which is ironic given the fact that it was introduced to create the possibility of nuance.”

Questions about gender are a big part of the zeitgeist – they’re incredibly important for us at this point in history, and incredibly charged. It’s interesting to discover, then, that the word “gender” is a relatively new addition to the English language. The idea of gender, though, has a long and complicated history.

Professor Sarah Williams from Regent College in Vancouver has been mapping the history of gender. In this episode, we take a deep dive into that history, and how we’ve arrived at the understandings we have today. Plus, we discover the key roles that the Bible, and Christianity, played in gender equality and women’s rights movements.

“Somewhere along the line, Christianity has been written out of the feminist narrative and of the women’s movement. Women like Josephine Butler, who argued very strongly from a Christian perspective it was essential for the woman to have the vote, using Christian theology as the basis of her political philosophy.

The late modern feminist doesn’t quite know what to do with Christianity being a radical force for women, rather than a subjugating force for women. And as a Christian feminist myself, it matters a lot to me that we recover this part of the history of feminism.”

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The Bullet in the Bible

We look back on the span of World War I through the prism of one man’s life – and death.

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The centenary of the end of World War I is not an easy one to know what to do with. The relief on the faces of those captured in photos from 11 November 1918, celebrating in the streets, is palpable. But the futility of the long war, and our knowledge, looking back, of what was still to come, make the anniversary a muted one.

To mark the occasion, in this episode of Life & Faith, Natasha Moore brings you extracts from a 2015 documentary about one particular Australian soldier – and how the ripple effects of this one life (and death) reflect the unfathomable cost of the war for a whole society.

“A bullet struck him right here – in the Bible that he carried in his breast pocket. Now he had it back to front in his pocket, which means that, because it was a New Testament and Psalms, the bullet went through Psalms, and then Revelation, and then went through all of Paul’s epistles and stopped at John’s Gospel.”

Bullet in the Bible tells the story of Elvas Jenkins: from outback Australia to Egypt; from the scrabbly hills of Gallipoli to the Western Front; from a home-grown romance to the story of a miraculous escape, it traces the beauty and tragedy of a life caught up in the times, and of the life that might have been.

This is also the story of a serendipitous encounter, almost a century later, and the piecing together of Elvas’ experience through the rediscovery of his trusty battlefront Bible.

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BUY Bullet in the Bible: https://www.koorong.com/search/product/bullet-in-the-bible/9780647519349.jhtml

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Divine Inspiration

Tremper Longman says the Old Testament remains fresh and exciting to him – even after 40 years studying it.

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Bloody battles, glorious poetry, Hollywood-level drama, even romance … the Old Testament has it all.

But how many people have read it? A lot of us think we know what it’s all about – without having chalked up much, if any, personal experience within its pages. Even Christians often skip over it in favour of the New Testament.

“When I was young, my father would take me to the movies, but he had this weird habit of not looking to when the movie started. So more times than not, we’d show up 20 minutes before the movie was over – so we’d watch the last 20 minutes and then he’d say, ok, we’ll wait and watch the beginning. And then when we came to the end bit he’d go, ok, we’ve seen this, let’s go home. That’s kind of like reading New Testament without the Old Testament – but a lot of people don’t even watch the first part on the next showing!”

Tremper Longman III is an Old Testament scholar, so naturally, it matters a lot to him that people read this part of the Bible – and read it right.

“We need to remember that the Old Testament is ancient literature, it’s written millennia ago and it’s written in a Near Eastern context, not a Western context. So first of all, it’s important to remember that the Bible – as my friend John Walton puts it – wasn’t written to us, even if it might have been written for us. So it takes work.”

In this episode of Life & Faith, Tremper Longman answers a barrage of questions on the text he’s chosen to devote his working life to, from claims of divine authorship to those contested first few chapters of Genesis.

He’s convinced that the work it takes to understand this very old, very strange, but very rich book is worth it: “I’ve been studying it professionally for about 40 years, and every day it’s fresh and exciting.”

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Evolution Wars

Sociologist Tom Aechtner on why complexity is better than conflict, and how we change our minds.

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“Even from the very beginning, Christian resistance to evolutionary theory, or also Islamic resistance to evolutionary theory, wasn’t necessarily bound to people reading Genesis and saying, ‘this is in opposition to evolutionary theory’. A lot of the early opposition came about because evolution seemed to be supporting racist ideas, and there was moral opposition to the idea that we could rank people evolutionarily.”

Tom Aechtner lectures in science and religion at the University of Queensland. That means he spends a lot of his time trying to introduce nuance – not to mention solid historical data – into some of the more inflamed, and inflammatory, conversations we’re having as a culture.

Whether it’s Galileo, Darwin, vaccines, climate change … the history, and the issues at stake, are sure to be more complicated than we imagine. And yet black-and-white cultural myths – like the idea that science and religion are necessarily at odds – continue to be perpetuated. Tom has spent a lot of time thinking about why, and how.

“I got interested in this when several years ago I was teaching a course in Canada on science and religion. At least one student came to my office and said, your teaching runs against what I’m learning in another class. It had to do with Galileo, the idea that Galileo was imprisoned, which is not true. I heard from another student that Galileo was beheaded! So eventually I went and started looking at anthropology textbooks – modern, 21st-century anthropology textbooks – and lo and behold, I found significant myths about religion and science history.”

Reading undergraduate-level textbooks is just a fun side project, though. Mostly Tom’s research looks at the broader context of why some of these conflicts continue to vex us as a culture. In this episode, we discuss mass persuasion, why we believe and disbelieve things, and how we can get past pointing fingers and yelling at each other.

“These are not just scientific issues for people, and that’s one thing you have to recognise. If you’re going to get into a conversation with people, you’re not just dealing with facts, you’re dealing with values people hold very closely to their hearts. I’m not saying that’s a valid or invalid reason to accept or reject a scientific premise, but that’s just the reality –and those values are then tied to the communities those people are part of.”

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This interview was recorded at ISCAST’s 2018 Conference on Science and Christianity (COSAC). Find out more about ISCAST here: www.iscast.org

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REBROADCAST: An Empty Plate

The Corbetts arrived in Everton ready to fight losing battles – but they’re winning some too.

“Listen to me. You’re grown-ups. This is bad. You are being bad unless you do something about it.”

The words of a seven-year-old kid living in Everton, Liverpool. He had just drawn a picture of an empty plate, with the outline of Africa and Liverpool over the top of it. 

“Because I’ve heard kids in Africa are hungry too,” he explained. 

In a UK survey called the Index of Multiple Deprivation, Everton is described as the lowest ranking ward in the most disadvantaged local authority in England. Educational attainment is in the bottom 11 per cent of England, income deprivation is in the bottom 9 per cent of England, and then there’s health – it’s better than zero per cent of England. 

But these are just numbers. 

For Henry and Jane Corbett, and this seven-year-old kid, Everton is home. 

“Our little community, on paper, you’ll see stats and you’ll think ‘oh my goodness’,”  Jane says. “There’s difficult times, it’s not perfect … but it’s heaven on earth.”

In this episode, the Corbetts share their passion for the Everton community – including all of the highs, and all of the lows. 

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This interview was for CPX's documentary, For the Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined. Check it out at betterandworse.film.

You can find out more about the work Henry and Jane Corbett are doing in Everton here: http://www.shrewsburyhouse.org.uk 

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This episode was first broadcast on 4 May 2017. 
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A Busy Brain

YA novelist Claire Zorn on surviving high school, why she didn’t expect to be a writer, and mental illness.

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“I suppose I always had these preconceived ideas of the sort of person a writer was, and I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in my ability to write … I think I thought that a writer was a very serious, intellectual, well-read sort of person. I do read a lot, but I thought it was someone who read the classics and loved James Joyce … I just thought it was someone very different from the sort of person I was.”

Claire Zorn is the multi-award-winning writer of YA novels The Sky So Heavy, The Protected, and One Would Think the Deep. She’s as surprised as anyone, though, to find herself in this position – she never really thought of herself as a writer, despite growing up with a mental world teeming with characters and stories.

Having what she describes as a “busy brain” has been a two-edged thing for her.

“I have a pretty high dose of anxiety, and my specialty is catastrophising. My mind will generally go down the ‘what if, what if, what if’ route, whether I want it to or not. So with my books I tend to use that … I think it’s interesting to place a character in a situation where they are really challenged by the space that they find themselves in. That makes for really rich writing.”

In this episode of Life & Faith, Claire takes us through what she wanted to be when she grew up, the books that inspired her to write fiction for young adults, and why she calls her time in high school the worst years of her life – along with some survival tips for other struggling teens.

“I suppose it was just being very self-conscious, being overly self-conscious – and this feeling of not fitting in. Now I quite like not fitting in! I like being different. But when you’re a kid, that’s the last thing you want to be. I just felt different to the other kids, and I lived in an imaginary world, and when you go from that to the intensity of high school and the ruthlessness of particularly teenage girls, and the kind of emotional manipulation that goes on, I think poor little me was just completely blindsided by the whole thing.”

From a very young age, Claire struggled with mental illness. Throughout her teen years, then later after the birth of her first child, she experienced severe anxiety and depression and has had to develop ways of managing her mental health. Somewhere in the middle of that, she also became a Christian.

“I believed in God very very much, and I understood that God loved me. But when things start to go wrong or you start to feel very isolated in your life … for me, I was like, I thought God loved me, isn’t he supposed to look after me? I don’t know if I was ever actually an atheist, but I was trying very very hard to be one. By the time I left high school, I thought there was maybe a God, but I didn’t like him very much.”

Finding “her people” at university made a big difference to Claire’s mental well-being. She was shocked to discover, though, that these new friends were, of all things, Christians. She kept brushing off their invitations to church, but eventually came along one night without telling them, and what she found there surprised her.

Knowing God doesn’t “fix” things, she explains – or not necessarily. There are various things that help in her ongoing battle with mental illness, including being careful about how much she commits to, and the hope that comes from hearing other people’s stories. But she also speaks of the comfort of knowing that Jesus is walking with her, as weird as she knows that might sound.

“He’s in the boat with me. I’m freaking out, and there’s water coming in, and I’m hoping that I’m going to survive. And he’s in the boat going, ‘it’s ok, I’ve got this’.”

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Find out more about Claire: https://clairezorn.com

BUY her books:

The Sky So Heavy: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-sky-so-heavy-claire-zorn/prod9780702249761.html

The Protected: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-protected-claire-zorn/prod9780702250194.html

One Would Think the Deep: https://www.booktopia.com.au/one-would-think-the-deep-claire-zorn/prod9780702253942.html

 

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An Examined Life

What is a life well lived? We consider the ripple effects of one man’s influence on generations of students.

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A British Prime Minister is once reported to have said, “I wish I had as much power as a school headmaster!”

Every one of us has some influence on those around us, for better and for worse. For some people, the ripple effects of that influence go on and on, far beyond our expectations.

Rod West was one of those people. In this episode of Life & Faith, we hear about the impact one ordinary – but also not-so-ordinary – man had on students, families, and communities over two decades as headmaster of Trinity Grammar School in Sydney.

“I always saw him as a bit like a Prime Minister, and that I went to a school that was like a country, and he had his teachers and his senior officials around him who were like his cabinet. I thought he had the charisma of – well, in those days, Bob Hawke was Australia’s Prime Minister – he reminded me a lot of Hawkey, because he had this larger-than-life presence. Our notion of a Prime Minister probably has changed since the days of Bob Hawke … but Rod had that character of largeness.”

Tim Dixon was a student of Rod’s, and went on himself to become a speechwriter for two of Australia’s Prime Ministers. His respect and admiration for his former headmaster and mentor is shared by hundreds, if not thousands, of his fellow students.

In a letter Tim wrote to Rod a few days before his death, he tries to articulate what he most appreciated about him:

“You’ve always had a wonderful sense of the theatrical and you brought exuberance and vitality to classrooms and dinner tables all the course of your life. But more than that, you’ve always brought a sense of transcendence to every endeavour, whether it was a chapel service, a Latin class, a prefects’ meeting, or a bunch of lifeless bureaucrats working on a government report … I think you’ve helped me understand a larger God.”

If the bestseller lists are anything to go by, biographies and autobiographies are perpetually compelling to the reading public. What makes a life well lived? What is power for? How do we manage, across a lifetime, to focus on what’s truly important, rather than getting constantly caught up in the merely urgent?

This episode sketches the character of a humble but influential man through the eyes of one who knew him well, in hopes that an examined life has something to tell all of us about who we are, and who we would like to become.

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BUY Rod West’s book, The Heart of Education: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-heart-of-education-roderick-west/prod9780646965758.html

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Seeking Validation

When you’re a minority of a minority of a minority, the vital question to ask is where you belong.

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“To be a Tamil Christian in itself is a minority but then you take that and transplant that as a refugee community in Australia, and the Tamil Christian community in Australia is even smaller again.”

It’s no exaggeration to say that Max Jeganathan is a minority of a minority of a minority.

His refugee parents fled the horrors of the Sri Lankan civil war when he was one year old to settle in Melbourne and then Perth and Canberra. As he grew up, Max always felt like he straddled the divides between Sri Lankan and Australian culture.

Later, he worked as a policy advisor to Families Minister Jenny Macklin and afterwards for Bill Shorten, the current leader of the Opposition. There, Max again found himself in the minority, with few other public servants of a similar background: “We certainly weren’t represented in the halls of parliament anywhere near as much as we’re represented down Parramatta Road or in eastern Melbourne or northern Brisbane.”

His faith also set him at odds with many of his secular colleagues – and in a context where faith is often seen as an unwelcome intrusion into public life and government policy.

“The separation of church and state does not mean for a second the separation of faith and politics … To expect or assume or pressure anyone into leaving their faith at the door before they engage in public life is completely ridiculous. It’s the equivalent of saying to the atheist or the humanist, look, you can be an atheist, but when you come to parliament, you just have to believe in God while you’re in parliament. That’s as ridiculous as it is to say to the Christian or the Muslim or the Hindu, you’re fine to believe in your religion, but when you come to parliament, you have to be secular.”

If Max wasn’t a global citizen before, he certainly is one now, having studied at Oxford and now basing himself in Singapore, where he speaks across the Asia-Pacific about Christianity and its implications for politics, economics, and public policy for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

His experience abroad gives him renewed perspective on Australia – an affluent country, but one with striking levels of both anxiety and personal debt. People are looking for meaning through material advancement, and we’re good enough at it, says Max, that “we can actually trick ourselves into thinking that it’ll get us the fulfilment that we’re looking for”.

The problem is that if we seek validation in our jobs, families, or income, then an affair, a health crisis, a tragedy, a recession, or a change in government – not that Australians know anything about this, right? – can deeply unsettle our sense of security.

That’s at least partly why Max anchors his trust in Jesus – although he clarifies that “the only good reason to be a Christian is because it’s true”. And so he encourages everyone to examine the truth claims of a belief system to see how it lines up with reality.

Almost as a bonus, he also recognises that his faith delivers a profound sense of belonging.

“When you find your belonging in the person of Jesus it’s not like you’re invincible, but your identity is invincible. There’s nothing really that the world can throw at you that can shake who you are.”

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Banishing God

A journalist defies our squeamishness about religion to make the case that God is good for you.

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“I may get into trouble here with fellow Christians – obviously the New Testament is the centre of Christianity – but there is a sense in which the Old Testament is more fun. Parts of the Old Testament are great poetry and parts of it are written in a very elevated style, but a lot of it is written in the style of the Daily Telegraph or the Herald Sun – it’s very punchy, it’s very direct. There is tremendous humour in it. The book of Jonah is like a Mel Brooks comedy, it’s screamingly funny.”

There’s a lot that’s surprising in Greg Sheridan’s new book God Is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times. It’s a classic defence of the Christian faith, in a parallel tradition to the many and popular atheist critiques of religion. But he assures us it’s not just a matter of an older white male wishing things were as they used to be.

“I’m not arguing for the past – the past was a foreign country, full of its own villains and terrors. I’m trying to hold up a mirror to where we are today.”

In this episode of Life & Faith, Simon Smart quizzes journalist and author Greg Sheridan about why he wrote the book, where religion is headed in the West, the fallout of the sexual abuse scandal in the church, his personal faith, and more.

“I’m a secular journalist, I’m a foreign editor of The Australian. My life is involved in the rough-and-tumble of politics and journalism … So it was quite a big thing for me to get to the point of writing about God. People of my generation didn’t talk too much about religion, so that we wouldn’t argue about it. Then the other hurdle was, you’re not really worthy of writing about it. But then you think, well, you’ve got a public microphone, and if you leave it only to the people who are worthy of it, it’ll be a very small cohort!”

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Buy God Is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times: https://www.booktopia.com.au/ebooks/god-is-good-for-you-greg-sheridan/prod9781760636791.html

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An Invisible Wound

It’s everywhere, and it can be crippling. But people can be freed from the grip of trauma.

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“Trauma is an overwhelming need which people really don’t see. It’s not a physical wound that people would identify and want to help you with, it’s a wound that you have on the inside because of something you have gone through.”

Elizabeth Muriuki is General-Secretary of the Bible Society in Kenya, and she has experience of trauma healing from both sides. Her organisation uses a program developed by the Trauma Healing Institute to help people suffering from trauma – and she went through the program herself after losing her daughter. Does it work? Elizabeth gives an enthusiastic yes in response to that question. It takes time, she says, but it works.

In this episode, we talk to people working on the front lines of one of the world’s greatest areas of need: the trauma that millions upon millions suffer from globally.

It’s easy to avoid the pain of others, and hard to lean into it. But the Trauma Healing Institute, established by the American Bible Society, trains people in how to sit with those who’ve experienced traumatic events, and how to help them move forward.

They work in conflict zones around the world, with refugees in the Middle East, with people who’ve experienced domestic violence in South America or gang violence in Central America, in the US prison system. Trauma happens everywhere, explains Andrew Hood, who manages the Trauma Healing Institute.

“One of the things that has been so astounding to me as I’ve worked in this program is that I’ve seen Syrian refugees transformed by this, and I’ve seen suburban Philadelphia natives transformed by this. The point is, all humans hurt; all of us grieve. And it’s rare for us, often, to have an opportunity to process that in a community setting.”

It’s not a simple process, and it’s tough work to be involved in. But both Andrew and Elizabeth insist that there’s plenty of hope alongside the pain.

“Your trauma will always be with you. The point is that it’s not the end of your story – we believe it’s a beginning of your story. You carry it with you, in a way, throughout the rest of your life, but hopefully it can be redeemed into something, if not beautiful, at least something that is a springboard for hope.”

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