Life & Faith

REBROADCAST: O Holy Night

Simon, Natasha, and John share the stories behind their favourite Christmas carols.

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It’s not quite a Bridget Jones-style situation – sobbing into shiraz and lip-syncing to “All by myself” on Christmas eve – but this year, Justine Toh is all alone in the recording booth for Life and Faith.

Regular hosts Simon Smart and Natasha Moore have scarpered off before Christmas, with Simon on long service leave in Canada and Natasha off to the U.S. for a white Christmas.

So Justine delves into the back catalogue of Life and Faith and unearths a gem: an episode from 2014 where Simon, Natasha, and John Dickson share their favourite Christmas carols and the stories behind them.

John explains why Hark the Herald Angels Sing isn’t just a beautiful tune but expresses rich theological truths in poetic form. He also discusses how Christmas carols often speak of two advents, or comings, of Jesus: his lowly birth as that baby in the manger and his promised return in glory.

Natasha relates the fascinating history behind her favourite carol O Holy Night that, among other things, briefly halted the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 as French and German soldiers called a Christmas truce, and was the first song to be broadcast on the radio in 1906.

Simon, invoking Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, bah humbugs about the way Away in a Manger, as he sees it, diminishes the powerful idea of the incarnation: the Christian claim that God became fully human in Jesus.

“The sweet baby Jesus we’re hearing about in this carol – you don’t get any sense that he might actually grow up at any point. This idea that even as a baby ‘no crying he makes’ – I just want to throw up when I hear that bit,” Simon says.

“That’s not the Christian story. Jesus is meant to be fully God and fully human, and he’s not fully human if he doesn’t cry.”

Reflecting on the year when planes disappeared into the Indian Ocean, or were shot down over the Ukraine, and that ended with the Sydney siege at the Lindt Café in Martin Place, John says that the Christmas message remains one of joy, even in a gloomy time.

“It’d be wrong to think that Christmas was about happiness. It is about joy though, that sense that despite everything, God is for us and he’s come towards us as one of us. And that does give a perspective and hope that is real joy.”

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Cure or care?

An exploration of the role of emotional, social, and especially spiritual care in modern medicine.

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“Physical and psychological disruption have obvious spiritual consequences, and spiritual disruption has physical consequences. One of the things we know is that when people feel hopeless, their physical well-being suffers. So if hope is connected to spirituality, then spirituality is connected to medicine – that seems obvious to me.”

The Reverend Doctor Andrew Sloane is a theology lecturer in Sydney. As a former doctor, he’s spent a lot of time studying how the Christian faith intersects with the practice of medicine. In 2016, he published a book on this very subject, titled Vulnerability and Care: Christian Reflections on the Philosophy of Medicine. It looks at questions like, “How important is it for doctors to practice medicine holistically?”, “What is the place of spirituality in healthcare?”, “How can morality be incorporated into medical curricula?”, and even, “What is medicine all about anyway?” – a question to which he gives a rather surprising answer.

This week on Life & Faith is our 300th episode, and it’s produced by our inaugural youth podcast competition winner, Shaddy Hanna. Shaddy is a fourth-year medical student from the University of New South Wales, and his pitch was all about identity, spirituality, and holistic medicine. He’s worked with the team to research and shape this episode, in which he chats with Andrew Sloane about why medicine is fundamentally about caring for the vulnerable, and how a focus on measurable health outcomes often has the effect of devaluing the emotional and spiritual dimensions to health.

“I think it’s very important that we never think that only the things that can be measured count. We often think that if it can’t be counted then it doesn’t count – and that’s just wrong. Most of the things that matter most to us, in fact, are things that can’t be counted or measured – things like love, and relationships, and a sense that our life has made some kind of contribution to the world, that it’s been a valuable thing all in all.”

We also hear from Dr Nadia Low, a GP from the Central Coast of New South Wales who has spent the best part of the last decade working in hospitals, clinics, and community health programs across Africa – most recently, in a refugee camp in South Sudan. Nadia thinks Australian doctors have some things to learn from the developing world about how to care for a patient holistically.

“We really need to give thanks for Western medicine and how we can do great things to improve people’s health - but we also need to learn from those in the developing world context who are more accepting of death as part of the cycle of life. When someone’s really close to death, maybe we just need to pay more attention to the emotional and spiritual side of things rather than trying to fix or prevent death happening.”   

Join us for this important conversation about the goals and practice of healthcare in Australia and overseas, and what, if anything, modern medicine can learn from the life of Jesus.

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Surprised by Peter Singer

It took a famous atheist philosopher to shake the foundations of Sarah Irving-Stonebraker’s atheism.

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“A few months into my time at Oxford, my friends and I heard that a very famous atheist philosopher known as Peter Singer was coming to give a series of lectures. The lectures were on the topic of ethics – do we have any duties to other people? Do human lives have any value? So I went to these lectures really excited, and I was expecting that, as an atheist, I’d be hearing exactly the sort of ethics that I subscribed to. But actually, what I heard floored me.”

Sarah Irving-Stonebraker knew she wanted to be an historian from when she was eight years old. From Sydney to Cambridge, then Oxford, followed by a tenure-track job in Florida, things went very much to plan. What she didn’t expect was her journey from atheism to Christian faith.

In this episode of Life & Faith, Sarah tells the story of discovering that neither the Christian nor the atheist worldview were quite what she thought they were. Through her academic research, as she read the work of early modern scientists and was surprised by how influential their faith was for them, and through an encounter with the logic of eminent philosopher Peter Singer, she came to question how her deepest convictions about humans and morality fit with her belief that God did not exist.

She’s quick to add that when she eventually did become a Christian, that didn’t just make all her problems go away. But it did change things dramatically for her.

“Christianity isn’t some kind of self-help doctrine. It’s not probiotics for the soul. But there was an immediate sense that I had an enormous burden lifted from me. That had a lot to do with not thinking that I had to earn my self-worth anymore. I had this immediate rest for my soul – that no matter what else was going on in life, that ultimately, my soul had rest.”

Success, identity, human rights, what history has to tell us about human nature, and more: Sarah’s very academic but also very personal story is one for all of us, as we figure out what it is we believe, and why.

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An Australian in China

Courage, blindness, unexpected romance, and a meeting of cultures: the story of missionary Amy Oxley Wilkinson.

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“In about 1944, when Amy was in the East End of London with her grandson, they went into a Chinese restaurant, and the whole restaurant stood up, and she spoke to them in Chinese. She was English – well, she was Australian! – but this part of China was in her heart.”

This scene would have been unimaginable to Amy Oxley Wilkinson back when she was a young girl growing up west of Sydney. In the 1890s, as a single woman, and knowing full well the possible dangers – from cholera to the very real threat of violence – she moved to China as a nurse and missionary.

Rob and Linda Banks have pieced together Amy’s story in their book They Shall See His Face: The Story of Amy Oxley Wilkinson and her Visionary Blind School in China. In this interview, they share some of her experiences in early-20th-century China, and beyond: the challenges she faced, her unlikely romance, and the legacy of all her work with blind children, which flourishes to this day.

“The other thing is that they didn’t live within the missionary compound – they were outside, in the city, so they were as open to being devastated by typhoons and disease and so on, like anyone else. They lived with the people. And that was deeply respected by all the different levels within Chinese culture – such as the Confucianists and other literati who came together on recognising Amy, because they realised she was an asset to their community.”

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Rob and Linda Banks are also the authors of View from the Faraway Pagoda, which tells the story of another Australian missionary in China.

Their new book is called They Shall See His Face: The Story of Amy Oxley Wilkinson and her Visionary Blind School in China. Buy it here: www.koorong.com/search/product/they-shall-see-his-face-the-story-of/9780647519776.jhtml

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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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