Life & Faith

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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In Vino Veritas

Caring for the drunk and the vulnerable in the party capital of Europe.

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“It was a square mile that had more pubs, clubs, and bars than anywhere in the European continent.”

San Antonio, Ibiza. According to Brian Heasley, it’s the “playground of the rich and famous”, a “stomping ground of the young and drunk”, a beautiful place with an underbelly.

“There’s a darker element – everybody’s taking drugs, somebody’s selling drugs,” he says.

In 2005, Brian decided to move there – with his wife and two young children, then aged six and nine. It was a challenging environment to raise a family, but it’s where they felt God wanted them to be.

“Church needs to be in broken places,” Brian says.

Brian and his wife found themselves walking the streets of Ibiza asking themselves: What does a church look like in Ibiza?

So, they started asking people if they could pray for them. Many of them were drunk, a little confused, sometimes wary, or even a little freaked out. But most of the time, they were up for it. That first summer, they prayed with more around 1,000 people.

“I think people were genuinely responsive to the fact that we were listening and offering the chance to talk and pray about that.”

Brian established the 24/7 Prayer organization in Ibiza. A small team, all wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the 24/7 logo, continued to walk the streets and pray for people in need. Then they opened a drop-in centre where people could use the internet, grab a drink of water, and take a breather from the relentless nightlife. They also started driving drunk and vulnerable people back to their hotels in a vehicle affectionately dubbed the “vomit van”.

Locals – from bar owners to the cops, to the workers in the local health centre – started to take notice and realise that Brian and his team were not just there to pray but to offer “actual” help as well. They chipped in where they could, and they started to change the way they did things too.

“People became more compassionate,” Brian says, “people started saying they were ‘doing a 24/7’.”

These days, Brian is the international director of 24/7 – he’s back in the UK and overseeing several 24/7 prayer rooms around the world, including the one that’s still operating in Ibiza. There’s a Latin phrase Brian likes to use when describing his work there: in vino veritas.

“In wine there is truth. Sometimes people are a little bit more honest, a little bit more vulnerable than they would be normally,” he says. “We were modelling a way to care for drunk people.”

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Find out more about 24-7 Prayer: www.24-7prayer.com

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You Are What You Wear

People are prepared to pay the price for ethical fashion – and the industry is taking notice.

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“We believe that we won’t need to use the word ethical in the next five years - because that is what the fashion industry will be.”

Davyn de Bruyn has a bold vision – and he doesn’t think it’s too far out of reach. As the Managing Director of Thread Harvest, an ethical online fashion marketplace based in Australia, he knows that “people are prepared to pay more for ethical fashion”.

He’s not the only one who’s convinced the needle is moving in the fashion industry towards ethical wear.

Gershon Nimbalker puts together Baptist World Aid’s annual ethical fashion guide. It scores fashion companies – from Cotton On and Country Road, H&M to Zara, even major department stores like David Jones and Myer – and gives them a rating from A through to F.

The scoring criteria include company policies and how well they’re enforced, whether companies have a relationship with their suppliers, factory conditions, and worker wages.

“People are willing to pay the difference to get this right,” Gershon says.

And companies are starting to notice - but competing on price while achieving ethical standards in the fashion industry is not without its challenges.

“The one question mark we have with some of those fast fashion brands, is whether their business model is consistent with workers being paid a living wage,” Gershon says.

“The only brands that are paying a living wage, are usually niche ethical brands that are committed to working with workers from the ground up … and you often pay more for those products as well.”

For both Davyn and Gershon, their Christian faith is woven into their advocacy for ethical fashion.

Gershon says, “My faith has certainly crystallised for me the things that are really important – that commitment to make the world better, to make it just,” Gershon says. “Love transcends boundaries, it’s not just limited to my family and friends, but extends to wherever in the world there’s need.”

“When you look at a garment, you can immediately see where there’s a tear or a rip, and you’re drawn to it – but you go and repair it,” Davyn says. “In the Christian faith, we believe that you are created in the image and likeness of God, which means you have infinite value and worth. … If someone has infinite value and worth, then surely we should all have equal opportunity to thrive and enjoy the benefits of this beautiful world we were created to live in.”

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Read the 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide: www.baptistworldaid.org.au/resources/2018-ethical-fashion-guide

Shop at Thread Harvest: www.threadharvest.com.au

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Speak Up, Show Up

A conversation about death, loss, and what you can really say and do to help grieving people.

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“Hope was with us for 199 days and then she was gone.”

Nancy Guthrie has had to live through what many dread as the worst of all experiences of death – the death of her child. And she had to go through it twice.

“I had lots of questions. There were things I thought I understood about God that this brought to the surface – maybe I didn’t understand as much as I thought I did.”

As a Christian, Nancy turned to the Bible for answers. It wasn’t easy, but she eventually found herself in a place where she could believe that “somehow, [this experience] is going to accomplish God’s loving purposes for my life, and for my family”.

Then she fell pregnant again, unexpectedly.

“It felt like there were grey clouds gathering in the distant horizon that were getting ready to sweep through my life again,” she says.

Her son was diagnosed with Zellweger Syndrome, the same rare genetic disorder that had taken the life of her daughter, Hope, prematurely. Gabriel lived for 183 days.

“You have to make a decision about whether or not this grief is going to continue to define you, to be dominant, if you’re going to keep giving it a lot of power in your life, or if you’re going to be able to find a place for it in your life.”

In this episode, Nancy shares more of her story of loss, grief, and hope – and how she’s found a way to turn her pain into something helpful for others facing similar situations. She also gives great advice on how to really help grieving people.

First, speak up: “When you speak to them about the person they love who died … you didn’t make them sad, they’re already sad.”

And show up: “You remember who is willing to stop the busyness of their life to enter into that sorrow with you.”

For Nancy, it’s her faith that has shaped the way that she has been able to grieve well, and help others grieve well.

“Faith informs loss, but it doesn’t make loss hurt less by any means. So I would say what faith instilled in me [was] this sense that this loss wasn’t random or meaningless, and it filled me with a confidence that this life is not all there is.”

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Life on Mars

An aerospace engineer and an astrogeologist discuss the whether and why of space exploration.

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"For all these wonderful technologies, for all these incredible achievements that you see - rockets that can be reused, drones that can fly long missions, every discovery by the Hubble or the Kepler - there’s this realisation that when all the really, really good stuff comes along, I’m going to be dead."

When James Garth was a young, budding aerospace engineer, he came across an ad in his copy of Aviation Week that read: "In 200 years, space flight will be routine. You, however, will be dead." It was an existential-angst-inducing moment. But it hasn’t kept him from being constantly excited about the work he gets to do now.

"My main job is to make sure the wings don’t fall off – if the wings fall off, it’s a bad day, and if the wing stays on, it’s a good day," James says. He’s not being flippant – the wings of an aircraft, he explains, are designed to not fall off, of course, but only just.

"Aerospace is a really demanding profession because you’re pushing yourself up against the extremes of what is actually possible," he says. "You’ve got to shave out weight at every opportunity, you’ve got to constantly innovate and use new materials and new technologies … and that’s actually why I love doing aerospace engineering."

In this episode, we’re celebrating National Science Week in Australia with two conversations on space travel, the wonder of the cosmos, the possibility of life on other planets, and - of course - the best science fiction on offer.

Hear from two Australians with very cool jobs: James Garth, an aeronautical engineer, and a man who has travelled to Mars. Twice. Well, sort of.

"In the Canadian Arctic the ground is frozen, there’s permafrost, and we know there’s permafrost on Mars," Jonathan Clarke says about the location of his first Mars simulation experience. "In Utah you’ve got a red, dry desert with rocks that are full of clay, full of sulphates, just like we see on Mars," he says of the second.

An astrogeologist, Jon would love to go to Mars for real one day.

"I love beautiful places. Mars has grandeur. It’s got volcanos with cliffs eight kilometres high and canyons 12 kilometres deep, it’s got blue sunsets and pink skies, and great dust storms - it’s an extraordinarily beautiful landscape and I’d just love to be able to explore that in person."

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These interviews were conducted at ISCAST’s Conference on Science and Christianity. Find out more about ISCAST here: www.iscast.org

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Same Species, Bigger Sticks

Is the human race on an inevitable trajectory onward and upward? Not quite, says Nick Spencer.

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"We are the same species but with bigger sticks, and those sticks can be used to reach further and achieve more - but they can conversely be used to beat a lot more people. That is precisely the point. Were we to find ourselves under the same pressures of resource scarcity that our ancestors endured every single day, we would probably find ourselves less moral than we think ourselves to be."

Is the world a better place to live today than it has ever been before? Some would answer this question with a resounding yes – like Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard. His latest book, Enlightenment Now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress, charts improvements over time across a whole range of markers – life expectancy, child mortality, wealth and poverty, war and violence, and more – and one of the central claims of his book is that we owe all this progress to the Enlightenment.

Nick Spencer, Director of Research at Theos Think Tank in the UK and author of The Evolution of the West: How Christianity has shaped our values, says that there’s more to the story of the human race.

"The beef I have with Steven Pinker is that he traces all good things to the Enlightenment and no bad things to it," Nick Spencer says, "and as soon as you do that, you’re almost invariably oversimplifying history for your own purposes."

In the episode, we look at the positives of the Enlightenment, as well as some of its more ambiguous elements.

"You can certainly see an enormous potential for human moral progress," he says, "but you have that twin fear of technological progress that seems to continue apace, with the more ambiguous form of moral progress that may or may not happen."

"The worst possible scenario is a coincidence of significant technological progress and development with moments of human fallibility – if you get that, which is what you did get in the 1930s and 40s, the scene is not a happy one."

But even as a self-confessed "glass half-empty" person, Nick Spencer has hope for humanity, which is rooted in his Christian faith.

"I think that the human person has a malleability, a creative fluidity … the person is responsive to love," he says. "I think, therefore, the person can be redeemed through responding to the love of God, and that means the person’s future can be redeemed and can 'progress' – it can blossom and flourish in a way that it might not otherwise."

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WATCH Nick Spencer debate Steven Pinker on the future of humanity: http://bit.ly/2LI2S1e

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Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner

Politics, religion, and being a good guest at dinner - or a good citizen in the public square.

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"The old edict in the UK is that there are certain conversations you avoid around the dinner table: one is politics, the other is religion. Seeing as I write on politics and religion, I don’t get invited to dinner very much."

Nick Spencer says it makes sense to think that the combination of religion and politics in a conversation at a dinner party will be explosive – politics is typically about compromise, and religion, to many people, is all about not compromising. He suggests, however, that "you can talk about politics and religion without heading straight for the neuralgic issues".

In this episode, Nick explores the ways in which people can mix politics and religion well.

He also uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate ways the Bible has frequently been used (and misused), and often to great effect, by both sides of politics in the UK. On the left, it has been used to "justify bombing in Syria", and on the right to "justify materialism and voluntarism".

But his point is not that politicians should leave religion out of politics. Instead, he makes a case for welcoming the Bible – and other rich, comprehensive moral doctrines – into public debate.

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Nick Spencer’s book, The Political Samaritan: How power hijacked a parable, is available to purchase here: http://bit.ly/2LjoYuZ

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Gloves Off

The gripping, often irreverent, sometimes hilarious history of the Bible in Australian culture.

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"It’s always been gloves off when it comes to the Bible in Australia."

The Bible is the most popular book in the world. But this blanket statement hides all kinds of realities - it’s loved and pored over by some, it gathers dust on many shelves, and it’s hotly debated in parliaments and universities, at dinner parties and in churches.

In Australia, across its history, the Bible shows up in surprising places.

"A lot of people have an opinion on the Bible, and that’s been true historically too," Meredith Lake, historian and author of The Bible in Australia says. "So in a way it was an entrée to the great debates in Australian society, culture and history."

In this episode, from convict tattoos to 19th-century feminist newspapers and an iconic Melbourne bookstore, and encompassing some of the more horrific and heartbreaking moments in Australia’s colonial history, Meredith Lake takes us on a biblical tour through the nation’s history. And she’s convinced the Bible’s core messages still resonate today.

"People try to bend their lives to what they take to be its meaning," Meredith says. "For the religious, it has a kind of authority in their lives that other texts don’t, and so we need to take seriously what they think it means."

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You can purchase a copy of Meredith Lake's book, The Bible in Australia here: www.meredithlake.com/the-bible-in-australia

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Life Is But A Breath

How a near-death experience helped one man embrace all of life – the beautiful, and the ugly.

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"Real faith is to trust God in the good and the bad."

After officiating a wedding, David Robertson wasn’t feeling too well and broke into a cold sweat. He ended up lying on the ground in front of his church, in a pool of his own blood.

Turns out, the Scottish church minister had contracted a virus that created two ulcers over a major artery, which had caused the bleeding. In hospital, his condition went from bad to worse. His lungs went down to 30 per cent capacity, he got pneumonia, and he needed close to 16 litres of blood product throughout his stay. His doctors told his wife: "it’s 50-50 whether he’ll live."

It was a long and traumatic road back to health, but David is now very much alive and well – which is a miracle. In fact, his doctor told him that he doesn’t understand how David’s still alive, or at least not in a vegetative state.

During a conversation with his doctor’s wife, David told her, "your husband saved my life." She replied, "[My husband] says that God saved your life. He says there are only two people in his whole career – and he’s been a surgeon for over 30 years – that he regards as a miracle. And you’re one of them."

In this episode, David shares his near-death experience, the road to recovery, and the lessons he learned along the way.

"Life is but a breath. But also, life is filled with glorious things, as well as the ugly."

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An Astronomer’s Guide to the Galaxy

Astrophysicist Jennifer Wiseman on star-gazing, human significance, and the prospect of extra-terrestrial life.

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"If you fund some level of basic science, it lifts the human spirit, it tends to give people motivation to do other kinds of science as well, it feeds a lot of other worthwhile human enterprises."

Jennifer Wiseman grew up in rural Arkansas, an experience which gave her an abiding love of nature – and introduced her to the wonders of the night sky.

"In the case of astronomy I think it feeds into art and music and philosophy and theology and all kinds of things," Wiseman continues. "So I would say that, as human beings, we need some investment in these 'spirit-lifting' activities - and certainly exploring our universe is a very basic human curiosity that I think lifts the human spirit."

It wasn’t until years later that she realised she could turn her interest in space into a full-time job. These days, she’s an astrophysicist … one who has a comet named after her.

"Science is a wonderful gift and tool to address certain types of questions. How does gravity work? How do stars form? What’s the evolutionary history of the universe? … But science is not really good at answering certain other types of questions, like why are we here, or how should I live, or can I have a relationship with God? These kinds of things I can’t measure with my microscope or my telescope."

When you get to have a conversation with someone like Jennifer Wiseman, you want to ask all the questions. How far can we see? Why is the universe beautiful? How can humans be significant, given the vastness of space? How do you get a comet named after you? And, of course: what about life beyond Earth?

"I wouldn’t be surprised if we found, maybe years in the future, that there are certainly habitable planets, and maybe biological activity on other planets. It would make a lot of sense to me."

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