Life & Faith

State of Disaster

Life & Faith brings you some personal snapshots from Australia’s bushfire crisis. 


“The refuge was very hot, it was very smoky, and there was no power. It’s nighttime - or at least the sun should have been rising, but it looked like nighttime … At one stage a number of us heard dull thud explosions in the distance. They were gas bottles - houses - so symbolising another house had just gone up. So we knew that the fire was in town.” 

The whole world has been watching this summer as Australia burned. In total, the area burned out is almost the size of England. The loss of life, property, and wilderness has been devastating. 

In this episode of Life & Faith, we give space to a few voices - the voices of ordinary people who’ve found themselves caught up in this crisis in some way, either voluntarily, or less so - in order to give some sense of how things have played out for a few individuals and communities. Air Force chaplain Michelle Philp, RFS volunteer Benjamin North, and Chris Mulherin - who lives in Melbourne but spends a couple of weeks after Christmas every year in Mallacoota, the epicentre of one of big fires - share their stories. 

We hear about a concentration camp survivor who found, in the crisis, a way to overcome his fear of people in uniform. We hear of people responding with anger towards God - and of what happens when you make a bargain with God to save your house … and he comes through. Koalas also get a mention. 

“One of the verses I’ve been reflecting on a lot is the verse where Jesus says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. And that’s been my prayer for the people of the Adelaide Hills - that they will come to find rest in Jesus in amongst all their burdens and weariness, as they’re dealing with the bushfires.” 


If you want to donate to the recovery effort after the bushfires, a useful list of ways you can help is available here.

A Costly Sacrifice

A Hidden Life, Jojo Rabbit, and their stories of ordinary people resisting the evils of Nazism.

It’s Oscar season, and among the list of nominees you’ll find A Hidden Life and Jojo Rabbit, which ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Stylistically, the films couldn’t be more different: A Hidden Life is Terrence Malick’s lyrical retelling of an Austrian farmer’s refusal to swear an oath of allegiance to the Nazis, while Jojo Rabbit is Taika Waititi’s satirical comedy starring Waititi as Hitler, the imaginary friend of the 10-year-old protagonist Jojo.

But both stories share a common theme: the need for ordinary people to stand up for what’s right, even at tremendous cost to themselves.

In this episode of Life & Faith, Simon and Justine discuss the way these films explore the ethical complexities of doing what is right, versus doing what is expedient.

They also talk to Vox film critic Alissa Wilkinson and film buff Mike Frost about hate, prejudice, and what might move ordinary people to make of themselves an extraordinary sacrifice.


Simon Smart’s article on A Hidden Life

Mike Frost’s blog post on Terrence Malick’s movies, including A Hidden Life 

Alissa Wilkinson’s Vox reviews of A Hidden Life and Jojo Rabbit

Re-listen to Alissa Wilkinson on Life & Faith talking zombies, faith and politics.

Misadventures in Wellness

Yoga, mindfulness, and detox diets: religion for those who’d never be caught dead in a church?

“Not everyone who goes to yoga is a spiritual seeker, but there is a lot of it (in yoga). I think yoga can make you start thinking about things, but it’s not really enough to fill that hole.”

Brigid Delaney is a columnist with The Guardian and the author of Wellmania: Misadventures in the Search for Wellness, in which she recounts her attempt to become clean, lean, and serene through an extreme detox diet, daily yoga practice, and meditation.

But Brigid also grew up Catholic. While she’s long been disenchanted with the church, that religious backstory gives her a unique take on wellness culture. She claims that for many young women, yoga is a form of ‘religion-lite’: a practice that addresses the spiritual yearning of those untethered from organised religion. 

Brigid’s account of wellness culture is haunted by religion in other ways as well. At points in Wellmania, she seems to indirectly quote the Bible.

“Maybe I’ve been plagiarising, unintendedly plagiarising the Bible in my work. Or maybe I just listened to enough of it as a kid that it has seeped into some of my thinking.”

Brigid Delaney’s Diary


Losing my religion: after the Pell verdict, the conflict for Catholics


It’s not you, Bill, it’s the country: is this election Australia’s Trump or Brexit moment?

Buy Wellmania: Misadventures in the Search for Wellness

Best in Show

The CPX team bring you a highlights reel of the year that was.


Fear, murder, Masterchef, Aboriginal Moses, the moon: Simon, Justine, and Natasha sit down to mull over some of the stuff they got to talk about this year. 
In this end-of-year special, the team narrow down their favourite anecdote; share some stories behind the stories they brought you; and nominate their most uncomfortable and most memorable moments from the conversations that made Life & Faith in 2019. 
Episodes referenced in this conversation:

Three Dorothys Walk into a Bar

Nobody ever remembers women writers - but playwright Jo Kadlecek wants to change that. 


“In Parker’s case, I think creativity was a burden. I genuinely think she didn’t know what to do with it. She had these great outlets - helping start The New Yorker magazine, writing for Vanity Fair and for Vogue, writing poetry, being a theatre critic - but nothing fed her soul. It was a sad existence. She attempted suicide three or four times, and wrote a poem on suicide, and said it at a party with F. Scott Fitzgerald! What a conversation killer - no pun intended.” 

A play that debuted at the 2019 Sydney Fringe Festival brought together three women who led strangely parallel lives, but (probably) never met: Dorothy L. Sayers, Dorothy Parker, and Dorothy Day. These remarkable women all wrote and worked from the 1920s on - but are largely and unjustly forgotten, says Jo Kadlecek, the woman behind the play Speak … Easy

“That’s a line from the play: nobody ever remembers women writers."

Jo has been a novelist, journalist, and teacher (among other things!) and she’s been trying to get the Dorothys in the same room for the last fifteen years. One of the first women to graduate from Oxford, the first woman to write for the New Yorker, and a firebrand socialist who’s now up for sainthood in the Catholic Church … there is nothing about these women that’s not fascinating. 

In this episode of Life & Faith, Jo talks writing, motherhood, whiskey, falling in love, and being a woman of your time (or not), through the lens of the three Dorothys. 


To find out more about Joining the Dots Theatre - which aims to combine the wit of Dorothy Parker, the theological depth of Dorothy L. Sayers, and Dorothy Day’s passionate compassion for those in need - visit

Find out more about Dorothy L. Sayers from this past Life & Faith Episode:

Take me higher

Community , transcendence and the music of U2.



"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.


“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.


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.


“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?” 


The McAlpine brothers have spent their lives navigating their similarities - and differences - and those of their various “tribes". 
"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. 


“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.” 


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