Life & Faith

9 to 5

Mark Greene on the frustrations, and the potential, of work in contemporary Western culture. 

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“It’s not at all clear to me that the way the work is currently being structured in Western culture is good for the majority of the people in it.” 

Mark Greene grew up Jewish, and worked for a long time in advertising in London and New York. These days, he’s Executive Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and he spends a lot of his time thinking, speaking, and writing about the nature of work - which also means, the nature of God, and humans, and our life together. 

"Camus famously said: work is not everything, but when work sours, all life stifles and dies. I think people are created for purposeful activity.” 

In this episode, Mark considers our problematic experience of work, shares three key things that the research suggests make work enriching rather than soul-destroying, and tells stories of workplaces that are doing things differently. 

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Mark was in Sydney in July 2019 as a keynote speaker at the Work and Faith Conference. His books include Thank God It’s Monday and Of Love, Life and Caffè Latte. 

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The “Christian” Classroom

Why might someone who’s not religious want to send their kids to a faith-based school? 

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“Teachers are one of the few groups of people in society who can tell other people what to do in their discretionary time and - by and large - they obey.” 

Education is among our core activities as a society - so it’s unsurprising that it can be a battleground for all sorts of ideas. 

David I. Smith is Professor of Education at Calvin University, and he has spent decades thinking about how education really forms people. He says that there’s no such thing as a “vanilla” or “neutral” education - and that even a maths or a French textbook will imply a whole way of seeing the world and other people. 

“We spent a lot of time learning how to say in French and German, ‘This is my name. This is my favourite food. I like this music. I don’t like biology. This is what I did last weekend. I would like two train tickets to Hamburg. I would like the steak and fries. I would like a hotel room for two nights.’

So the implicit message of the textbooks was that the reason why we learn other people’s languages is so that we can obtain the goods and services that we deserve and so that we can tell people about ourselves … It’s not really imagining us as people who listen to other people’s stories or as people who care about the members of the culture we’re visiting who don’t work in hotels, or as people who might want to talk about the meaning of life and not just the price of a hamburger.” 

Given that about a third of Australian schools are religious, and that faith-based education is the subject of nervousness on both the left and right of politics these days, it’s worth asking: why do parents who aren’t religious want to send their kids to Christian schools? What’s the content of a “Christian” education? And what happens when religious schools get it wrong? 

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Rebroadcast: Just Women

Two conversations, two stories of lives committed to justice and the flourishing of others. 

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“The rescue of one person matters infinitely - it matters to that person, and it matters to us - and at the same time, that one rescue can send a ripple effect through a system of millions of people who are enslaved and exploited.”

In this episode of Life & Faith, we bring together two conversations with remarkable women working to bring justice to situations of terrible brokenness. 

Bethany Hoang spent many years with International Justice Mission, an organisation seeking to fix broken justice systems, end slavery, and bring healing to its victims. 

“The need is staggering when you really wade into these places of deep darkness - but when you see the rescue come it is just overwhelming, and you just want to see more and more of it and give your whole life to it.” 

Ruth Padilla DeBorst is a theologian, wife and mother, educator and storyteller, based in Costa Rica. She’s committed to community development and the flourishing of those who have been marginalised. She also has a very personal story of loss and injustice to tell. 

“Many people said, ‘How can you still believe God is there, with something so terrible happening to you and your children?’ And actually, I experienced at that moment, in the middle of that loss, the sense of God’s presence, not just saying ‘I’m with you’, compassionately, but actually ‘I’m suffering with you.’” 

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Glorious Ruins

Philosopher Steven Garber on how we see our world, and ourselves.

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“Though we mostly don’t talk this way or see things this way, I think we are all profound religious people in that deepest sense - we are homo adorans, to use the Latin here. We will care most about something, we will commit ourselves most deeply to something. Homo adorans: we will adore something, we’ll make something most important to us.” 

Steven Garber is Professor of Marketplace Theology and Leadership at Regent College in Vancouver. In this conversation with Simon Smart, he manages to still some of the clamour of our world in order to understand what it’s like to be human in this time and place. 

This episode of Life & Faith ranges far and wide - from karma to stoicism, from Vàclav Havel to Peter Singer, from the Smashing Pumpkins to U2, from amusing ourselves to death to the dark night of the soul, and what the biggest song on the biggest album of the year has to tell us about what it’s like to be young today. There’s something for everyone in Steven’s wise and warm observations about what we believe and desire, and why. 

“I’ve been a great lover of U2’s music for many, many years now, and gone to many concerts, and even talked sometimes to some of the people in the band about what they do and why they do what they do … You can imagine people coming to these concerts and raising their plastic cups of Coors overhead and singing the songs of Zion - How long, O Lord, to sing this song - and you think, what have you guys done there, Bono and his buddies??” 

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Buy Steven’s book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good: https://www.ivpress.com/visions-of-vocation

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Zombies, Faith, and Politics

 

Film and TV critic Alissa Wilkinson on the end of the world - as pop culture imagines it.

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“Dystopia is like the more woke version of utopia. It’s where we’re working out our biggest anxieties as a culture. For instance, does the human race deserve to continue? Or would it be better if we just went away?”

Alissa Wilkinson fell into film and television criticism after completing a degree in computer science – which she says actually helps her analyse culture well. 

“I think my job is to watch a movie as well as I can, and then be able to look at my reaction to it as a good watcher and articulate why that reaction happened, and then also to make space for the reader to have their own experience with the work of art,” Alissa says.

“Sometimes [my job is] to just say ‘this is bad’ or ‘this is a masterpiece’, but if I don’t add the ‘why?’ then I’m not doing my job at all as a critic.”

She’s particularly fascinated by end of the world narratives and is the co-author of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World.

In this episode, Alissa talks The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Strangers Things and The Handmaid’s Tale – and how the dystopian futures we imagine more often than not tell us more about the society we live in today.

“The bigger question is, what would it take for us, as an enlightened and progressive society, to end up back in that kind of a place? The answer The Handmaid’s Tale gives is really sobering – if we take our eye off the ball, if we get too distracted by our own comfortable lives, little by little our our rights and freedoms that we enjoy can be chipped away.”

But it’s not all about death and destruction. Alissa also recognizses that in the doomsday narratives, there’s often something more going on.

“We’re brought into the story to recognise ourselves in it, and then this sort of mysterious, transcendent thing pops up, and it adds a new dimension to the story, but it also shows us that it’s something we’re really longing for.”

READ Alissa Wilkinson’s articles for Vox: www.vox.com/authors/alissa-wilkinson

Get a copy of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and  Politics at the End of the World: www.alissawilkinson.com/book

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One Giant Leap

 

50 years on from the moon landing seems like a good time to ask a few existential questions.

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“He said he could stand on the moon, look up to earth, and with this gloved hand hold up his thumb and cover the entire planet. Under his thumb - every mountain, every river, every city, every person he knew, all the people he didn’t ... It made him feel terrifyingly small and vulnerable.” 

It’s 50 years since the Apollo 11 mission put humans on the moon for the first time. 

It was an event that captured the imagination of people across the world, and successive generations since. Four days after blasting off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the crew radioed to Mission Control in Houston: “The Eagle has landed.” In the stillness following the landing, before taking communion with bread and wine he had brought specially for the occasion, lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin sent this message back to Earth: 

“I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” 

In this celebratory episode of Life & Faith, Simon Smart asks some existential questions about the universe and our place in it, and our tendency to reach for the spiritual to make sense of such moments of wonder and awe. In conversation with CPX resident philosopher Richard Shumack, he muses on why the moon landing so captivated them as children. And Andrew Smith, author of Moondust: In Search of the Men who Fell to Earth, talks to Simon about how the moonwalkers were changed by the experience, and how they’ve coped with being earthbound in the decades since. 

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Referenced in this episode: 

Andrew Smith, Moondust: In Search of the Men who Fell to Earth

Frank Cottrell Boyce, Cosmic 

Audio courtesy of NASA 

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REBROADCAST: A White Man’s World

There’s sadness and hope on the long road towards Aboriginal recognition and reconciliation.

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“He said to me, ‘never forget you’re an Aboriginal, but do the best you can in a white man’s world’. So that’s what I’ve tried to do. With the help of the Lord Jesus.”

Every year, National Reconciliation Week celebrates the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. The theme for 2017 is: “Let’s take the next steps”. It seems pretty fitting because while there have been some important, and long overdue, moves towards reconciliation, there’s no doubt that many more steps still need to be taken.

In this episode, stories from Cummeragunja, a significant place when it comes to Aboriginal rights, recognition – and Christianity.

Hear from Uncle Denis Atkinson who explains his problem with the word “reconciliation”, and says there’s only “one good thing” to come from white settlement in Australia for Aboriginal people.

Also, Aunty Maureen shares her powerful story about growing up on Umeewarra Mission as part of the Stolen Generation.

“We weren’t allowed to be inside at all, we had to play outside all day. But there were times when I needed to get away and there was one little room. That’s where I’d mourn my family. I’d sit there and rock backwards and forwards, just missing them so much.”

Plus, we speak with Uncle Boydie in front of the new Reconciliation Week mural in Shepparton. It features the faces of his grandfather, William Cooper, and his friend, Pastor Doug – both men were iconic Aboriginal leaders who spent their entire lives fighting for their people.

“I think these two men would be very pleased if they could look forward to today and know what happened because of the work they did in their time.”

Keep listening at the end of this episode for a very special thank you to a few people who made this Reconciliation Week episode possible – including a beautiful song from Uncle Denis and Aunty Maureen.

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This episode was first broadcast on 1 June 2017.

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Are we victims?

Michael Ramsden on how we respond to injustice: as nations, groups, and individuals.

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“There’s a very interesting phrase in the Old Testament where it says you’ve turned justice into bitterness. In a more poetical translation it says you’ve turned justice into bitterness, so your righteous acts taste like poisoned fruit. In other words, if your motivation for justice is bitterness, even if you get that which is right, it can taste like poison to everybody else.”

Michael Ramsden has been thinking about our culture’s struggles with injustice and disagreement a lot lately. In this conversation with Natasha Moore, he talks about what it means to live in a “victim culture” - according to definitions from history and psychology, rather than the opinion pages that rail against “snowflake” millennials! - and our options for responding to past trauma. 

From the Balkans to the Holocaust, Superman movies to very personal stories of trauma and forgiveness, Michael helps us interrogate how we construct our identities, and what kind of society we want to be. 

“The problem is, when we hold onto our bitterness, we end up paying twice for all of the injustice we’ve suffered. We pay once when it happens and then we pay again on every remembrance of it.” 

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This is the second part of Natasha’s conversation with Michael Ramsden, International Director of RZIM and one of the founders of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. To hear more about Michael’s personal story, listen to the first part. 

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Are we commitment-phobes?

Michael Ramsden talks to everyone from politicians to terrorists about culture, faith, and Jesus.

“I just thought if I became a Christian my life would become worse … I was 100% sure that I was sacrificing on the altar of truth my only chance for happiness in this world.”

Michael Ramsden was a very unlikely convert to Christianity - and that’s the least unlikely of the stories he has to tell in this two-part interview. From talking to Australian MPs on the day of a leadership spill to being invited to spend time with terrorist groups, he has a lot of interesting conversations with interesting people. 

In this episode of Life & Faith, Michael offers a window onto the various worlds he’s part of, and some cultural observations that we may find more skewering than is comfortable. 

“[We] struggle with the sense of commitment that’s required, all the time forgetting that all relationship relies on commitment. Whatever you’re slightly committed to is going to feel shallow by comparison. So although some commitments may seem huge, when you understand how the nature of all relationship works - which is the more you’re committed to it and the more you’re giving to it, the more enthralling and deep it is - then that equation begins to change.”

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Rebroadcast: Extravagance

Life & Faith tackles a series of moral dilemmas around poverty and luxury, beauty and utility. 

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How can we act ethically in a world that contains so much suffering? 

One of our Facebook followers articulated the moral dilemma involved in devoting money to “non-essential” things when they commented on a Life & Faith episode about the Museum of the Bible, a $400-million project being built in Washington DC. They posted: 

“Surely it is better to spend the time, money and energy required for this project on putting what Jesus said into practice. What about feeding the homeless on the streets of DC.” 

It’s a fair point - but it’s also a slippery slope. 

If we’re truly paying attention to the poverty in our local communities and around the world, how can we ever spend money on a pair of nice shoes, an expensive holiday, or even our morning coffee?

For that matter, how can we justify art and culture? Is it frivolous to spend money on beautiful things, or to spend time making or enjoying art, rather than on feeding the hungry or curing someone of a preventable disease? 

John Dickson and Simon Smart join Natasha Moore for a discussion about luxury and poverty, beauty and utility, with reference to Peter Singer, effective altruism, the Met Gala, and the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet. 

This episode was first broadcast over two weeks in August 2016. 

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