Life & Faith

Take me higher

Community , transcendence and the music of U2.

 

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"Music's powerful. It's probably in all of us more than we realise. You'll be humming (the songs), you'll be thinking about them. So there is something I think is special about that art form, that it touches something very human and spiritual in everybody. And, I don't know, there's a great power that music has than maybe even watching opera, or reading a novel ... there's some portability of music. Not that you're carrying it around physically, but it's inside of you."

What is it about music that is so emotionally powerful in matching and even shaping our moods? Can music change how we view each other and our place in the world?

Scott Calhoun, creator of the U2 Conference, believes in the power of music to create community, an identity and a sense of emotional understanding. He thinks the ambiguity and mystery of the music of Irish rock band U2 helps explain the breadth of their appeal over four decades.

Here Scott discusses the traditions of the psalms, gospel and blues as key influences in U2’s music, and the way this has resonated for so many people - where joyful music becomes a means of processing life’s pain.      

“You can see over the 40 year career that human rights issues, the dignity of the individual, the freedom to choose and control and sort of be in charge of your own life, for better or for worse, but giving the human being freedom, that's the through line in all their messaging."

Performance Anxiety

Almost a quarter of young Australians struggle with their mental health, says Mission Australia.

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“I think my generation, everyone wants to have it all together. If you’re at university, you need to be working a really busy job, you need to be doing really well, you need to have a social life. And so then when you’re not okay, people are shocked and there’s a bit of shame attached to not being okay.”

That’s Michelle Basson, a 20-year-old university student opening up on her experience of mental distress.

Almost a quarter of young Australians struggle with their mental health, according to Can we talk? Seven year youth mental health report, a joint study by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute.

That rise in mental health concerns represents a jump of 5.5 percent over the last seven years, with young women experiencing distress at twice the rate of young men. 

In this episode of Life & Faith, we reflect on the report with Dr Jo Fildes, Head of Research and Evaluation at Mission Australia and psychologist Dr Collett Smartt.

We also speak to Michelle Basson and Nic Newling who grant insight into the pressure cooker environment young people find themselves in today. Both point to a significant source of strength in their lives that buffers from their struggles: for Michelle, God, and for Nic, a sense of purpose and meaning.

“That’s often what the medical model can miss. We look at how we get someone who’s got a mental illness to feel better in some way,” said Nic. 

“Then we often forget, well, then what? Then, what does the life of purpose and meaning look like? That's often missed.”

Trigger warning: this episode features a story of suicide.

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Nic Newling’s mother wrote a gutting memoir about the loss of Nic’s brother: Missing Christopher: A Mother’s Story of Tragedy, Grief, and Love. You can read chapter one here.  

Psychologist Collett Smart’s book is They’ll Be Okay: 15 Conversations to Help Your Child Through Troubled Times

Dr Smart also recommended the following apps: 

Among other things, MoodKit helps you identify and change unhelpful thought patterns.

WorryTime allows you to log your worries in designated worry periods. 

Three Good Things gets you to practice gratitude for what went well today.

The Poems You Could Have Written

As a lawyer, Senator, then priest, Father Michael Tate has thought long and deeply about vocation.

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“Every time a new Australian takes the citizenship pledge, that’s a great moment for me, because I wrote it.” 

Michael Tate has had many careers. In this episode of Life & Faith, he tells Natasha Moore about several transitions in his life: from a natural conservative to a staunch Labor Party member; from a student of law to the first Catholic to study theology at Oxford since the Reformation; from a Senator and Australian ambassador to the priesthood. 

A horrific car accident, the Vietnam War, and a painting and a poem were among the triggers for each of Father Michael’s vocational changes. From conversations with Les Murray and Pope John Paul II to his optimism about the “commonwealth" that is Australia, he reflects on how a rich and varied life fits together into a kind of unity. 

“I was reading a poem by W. H. Auden … When you appear before the judgment seat of God, God will recite, by heart, the poems you could have written. And you will cry tears of shame. Well, that hit me like a grenade thrown at me. Was I going to be crying tears of shame on my deathbed because I didn’t have the courage or the guts to write the ‘poem' which God always intended me to write?” 

Twinning

The McAlpine brothers have spent their lives navigating their similarities - and differences - and those of their various “tribes". 
 
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"The twin thing is very important. And I understand that with my wife, who's also a twin - she has the same relationship with her twin: there's someone who's more important than your wife to you, who's your twin brother. And that's a funny concept to have, and a big part of our relationship. Our ‘twinniness’."
 
David and Stephen McAlpine are identical twins. They sound the same - but are very different! Stephen is a writer and a church pastor; David is a neuroscientist, and he’s not religious. They live in cities on opposite sides of Australia, and believe very different things about the world - but maintain the unique closeness of the twin relationship. 
 
In this fraternal episode of Life & Faith, Stephen and David talk to Simon Smart about growing up between Australia and Northern Ireland - between the beach and a war zone, with complicated feelings about both places - and their experiences of navigating tribes and personal identity, both religious and political. The brothers reflect on how the spectre of loss acts on a relationship this intimate, and also what frustrates them about each other’s beliefs. 
 
"'Religion is a home game as we say, not an away game, in Northern Ireland. But it's also that the divide isn't between those who are perhaps Christian, and those who maybe are not believers. But what type of Christian are you on the spectrum, and are you the 'good-living' type, which means you go to church, or are you just the normal who is a cultural Christian?”
 

Memoir of a Body

Australian actor Anna McGahan tells with searing honesty her story of fame, and of unexpected faith. 

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“It was, I suppose, a divorce that looked like an estrangement, and even a hatred. Just this sense of ‘I’m not at home in my body, I don’t like the way my body looks, and I don’t like the way my body feels, and I don’t like the fact that I’m stuck within it’.”

Anna McGahan never really expected to be an actor - but after graduating, she landed a series of high-profile roles on TV shows like Underbelly, House Husbands, Anzac Girls, and The Doctor Blake Mysteries

There was a dark side, though, to the glamour of her new life. In her newly published memoir Metanoia, Anna describes her struggles with self-worth, body image, relationships, and spiritual hunger, and how they led her to an unexpected place. 

“It never occurred to me that I could be friends with Christians,” Anna laughs. But meeting some believers who didn’t fit with her mental image of Christianity kickstarted a journey for her that was to change fundamentally how she related to spirituality, work, art - and especially her own body. 

“I remember so clearly this one scripture. I took it completely out of context, but Jesus is chatting to a whole bunch of people and he tells them, ‘You are the light of the world’. I read that and I took it to heart immediately - not because I felt like it validated my point of view about myself, but because I had never heard words like that spoken over my life. I had never considered that I could be a force of goodness or light or kindness. I just wasn’t. It permeated me. And what’s more, it permeated my body.” 

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Check out Anna’s book Metanoia: A Memoir of a Body, Born Again

Just Not Cricket

International cricketer (and singer!) Henry Olonga tells the story of his stand against a dictator. 

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“More sinister was the idea that we were apologists for the Mugabe regime - that line was being blurred and so I felt, well, I’ve got to make it very clear where I stand on this … It was early February I think when we did the protest, the first match against Namibia in the World Cup of 2003. The rest is history.” 

Former Test cricketer, and singer on The Voice Australia, Henry Olonga tells Life & Faith about his protest against Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. 

Playing for Zimbabwe in the Cricket World Cup in 2003, Olonga, along with teammate Andy Flower, wore a black armband to mourn the death of democracy in their country. It was a bold and costly decision. In this episode, Olonga tells the story of death threats, arrest warrants, and miraculous escapes, as well as the place of faith in engaging in the protest and coping with life in exile. 

“How do you place a value on the black armband protest? One of the greatest things I learned about myself was, I can step out of myself and not live a selfish life. I mean, up until then, all I cared about was wickets and runs - and I didn’t get many of those - but I did live a very insular life which was all about achievement. And to be able to step outside of myself and think of others ... it taught my soul something.” 

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Murder Most Popular

A detective and a scholar tackle the question: why are we all so obsessed with crime stories?

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“When I was a child, not everything was a detective story. Now it is, on television. And it’s almost as if we all want to know, we want to know the big question: who did it??” 

Judging by the perennial popularity of detective novels and crime shows, and the current wave of true crime podcasts, it’s not a stretch to call our culture murder-obsessed. Why are these stories so fascinating to us? Is there something wrong with us?

It’s a topic writers have long been drawn to, in essays like George Orwell’s “Decline of the English Murder” and W. H. Auden’s “The Guilty Vicarage”. In this episode of Life & Faith, Natasha Moore speaks with literary scholar and theologian Alison Milbank about the hold these stories have over us - and also Jim Warner Wallace, who’s been dealing with the real thing for decades in his work as a cold case detective. 

“When you knock on the door of the neighbour of a serial killer, they’re likely to say, ‘Oh I’m so glad you’re taking that guy to jail, that guy is crazy - I mean it smells bad over there, there’s all kinds of weird noises, he’s always digging holes in his backyard’ … When you think of my kinds of cases, you knock on the neighbour’s door and tell them ‘I’m taking your neighbour to jail for this case from 30 years ago’, they’ll generally say, ‘No, I’ve known that guy for 30 years, he’s a great guy. No way could he have done that.’”

From our deepest convictions about human nature to how you can tell if a suspect might be lying, this episode delves into the appeal of the murder mystery, and also unfolds the surprising story of how Jim came to apply his particular skill-set to the truth claims of the Christian faith. 

“All of my cases, I call these ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’ - cases where you’ve got 80 pieces of evidence that point to this suspect. Any one of those pieces of evidence I’m not sure I would want to go to trial with … but when you have all 80 and they point to the same reasonable inference, this is now heavy and weighty. And that’s where I was with the Gospels.” 

Theology in Pornland

Porn has become a way of life for everyone—even for those who don’t view it.

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“I came to the realisation that what I was asking was not a sociological question, ‘what is pornography?’ It actually was a question of metaphysics, where reality lies.”

What explains pornography’s pull? Is it just the sex? Or the way it ritualises the endless desire for more?

In this episode of Life & Faith, Catholic theologian Matthew Tan offers a theological take on the phenomenon of porn. In swapping the actual for the possible, and the real for the unreal, Matt says porn plays out a metaphysical move that can be traced back to the twelfth century, and the musings of medieval theologians.

What’s more, he says the insatiable desire for ‘more’ isn’t simply a feature of porn but permeates modern life. Food porn, FOMO, online dating, envying the Insta-worthy lives of others: all are driven by the same porn logic.

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Resources mentioned in this episode:

Matthew John Paul Tan, Redeeming Flesh: The Way of the Cross with Zombie Jesus.

www.awkwardasiantheologian.com

 

The Book of the People: Part II

How a not-neat Bible maps onto our not-neat lives. 

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"A text without a context is a pretext for whatever you want it to mean. When you do the chicken nugget thing and excerpt a verse, or a half a verse, or two verses, or three verses from its original context and don’t bother to try to find out what it meant in its original context - guess what, you are bound to twist that text.” 

What happens when you read the Bible wrong? What happens when you read it right? 

In the second part of this conversation about the best-selling book of all time, Bible scholars Darrell Bock and Ben Witherington III talk about some of the challenges of reading this text - and a few epic interpretative fails - and how it has helped them navigate the highs and lows of life, including the birth and death of a daughter. 

“You look at life at the back side of a tapestry, and normally what we see is loose threads and knots. But occasionally the light shines through the tapestry and we see God’s larger design weaving together the darks and the lights of life.” 

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Books mentioned in this episode:

Ben Witherington and Ann Witherington, When a Daughter Dies: Walking the way of grace in the midst of our grief

Ben Witherington III, Reading and Understanding the Bible

Darrell Bock, Can I Trust the Bible?

The Book of the People: Part 1

A series of voices on the many voices that make up the world’s best-selling book. 

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“It’s the most read, most owned, best-selling book of all time.” 

The Bible has over the centuries seeped into our language, our stories, even what we value and imagine. It’s true to say that it’s the most read book of all time - but we could equally call it one of the most unread, and sometimes one of the most badly read. 

In this two-part episode of Life & Faith, three passionate readers of the Bible - Ben Witherington III, Darrell Bock, and Sarah Golsby-Smith - explain what’s unexpected and even shocking about it, and what it means to live in a Jesus-haunted culture. Featuring the seasickness that comes from trying to navigate English literature without it, why the female heroes of the Bible are so appealing, and what a personal encounter with this very ancient and surprisingly modern book can be like.

“Reading the Bible as literature - I actually think it saved my life. I can remember sitting in church in first-year uni thinking I wish I got as much enjoyment out of reading the Bible as I do sitting in a lecture, listening to one of my professors talking about Hamlet … I think about the people who wrote the Scriptures, and the time and effort they put into making something beautiful so it could speak to us, and we read it like a recipe book! That to me seems like a crime.”