Suddenly

I went to work this morning.

And so today began in its ordinary way.

Wrote a email.

Briefed the staff.

Held a meeting. Met the students with birthdays. Conducted an interview.

Felt a little unwell and told my P.A. I would drop in at the doctor.

Six hours later I have just woken up from an operation. All is good. It was quite a mechanical thing really: eminently fixable. No ongoing concerns. But it is still quite a surprise that I began the day with an email and ended it in a hospital bed.

It makes me think. The people on the news expect ordinary days. Then their sister goes missing. Or their son is in a car accident. Or they receive news from a distant capital city of a freak storm or a plane crash or a crazed gunman – and everything is radically altered. All of the best science, the most powerful rhetoric, the most ardent political activism won’t bring their loved one home. Won’t change the news.

On the way out of school today I passed on a message to a colleague. And I told her of my speedy exit to ready myself for tonight’s operation. She told me that she is looking after her elderly parents: cleaning their vomit; negotiating their tired verbal attempts to understand what happens next for them. She used the word ‘raw’ to describe her experiences.

It is her love that makes it raw.

There is a strange comfort in peeling away the pretence.

Once, when I lost control of a vehicle, and had to attempt at 80km/hr to undertake a hand brake 180 degree turn to stop the car – with no previous experience – with only the memory of watching the Holden stunt team do it at the Bathurst race track – I felt this strange peace. For a moment I saw death’s cold eyes. I remember saying to God that if this was it, then that was OK. I had young children and a fabulous wife, and I desperately didn’t want to go yet, but what could I do? Death be not proud. But I could not be proud either.

As I lay in the ante-chamber to the operating theatre tonight I knew that my daughters’ phone calls of best wishes each all had that slightly panicked tone – What happens if someone makes an error and my dad is not OK tonight? Of course I am part of the enormous statistical majority and am now sitting up comfortably in my bed. Death was not proud tonight. But, even in my trust in God and western medicine, I could not be proud either. I had no control.

When I stood beside my languishing father in Tweed Heads Hospital in December 1994, and held his hand whilst he breathed deeply, then paused for ninety agonising seconds before breathing again, I felt the suddenness. The loss of all control. This was a day that had begun ordinarily, before it brought out its nasty little surprise. My mother woke me that morning to tell me Dad had a headache. Could I drop down some tablets? Four exhausting hours later, after holding him on his bed whilst he lunged and pawed, gasped and jerked, I stood beside him whilst he breathed and then stopped breathing. It was raw.

Yet it was what it was. The truth.

The only thing that keeps me being human in the rawness of life is love. And much as I appreciate the study doctors have undertaken to fix me tonight, love is not explained by the science. The science only goes so far. The doctors who operate, love. Holding your convulsing father on a bed is an act of love. Cleaning his vomit is an act of love. Regretting the loss of a distant sister is an act of love. And God, not the sordid mechanical universe, is love.

 

 

But I really love being married…comments on ‘Gone Girl’

‘Gone Girl’ is a gripping film. Quite the farce. Its duplicitous characters act out their attraction and pain in a community that bases its raw emotional responses on the fickle and self-serving concerns of the media.

Yet when I exited the film I wanted to say to the other cinema goers ‘But I love being married’, as an act of affirmation of the trust I feel towards my wife even though the characters in the film generalise their agony to all those who are married. I wanted to rebel against its ‘farcical realism’.

The film could be seen as a parable on the dangers of trust.

Perhaps Ben Afflick plays both an ironic Christ and a deceitful Hamlet. It was Harold Bloom who claimed that Hamlet is the new Christ of literature. The West has replaced, in some of its literature, the man who acts out of sacrifice and love with the man who ponders his own fraught circumstance and then acts with equivocation and occasional senseless violence.

It is questionable if Afflick ever really ever loved his wife. Love itself is questioned as even being possible. There is lust, and insecurity and obsession. But does anyone love? Perhaps the twins do. Perhaps the policewoman. Any ultimate devotion Afflick has to his wife is proof that he has no virtue, no moral courage. It is in this that he is an ironic Christ. All he can do is ponder moral questions, and make vain and soul-sapping attempts at resolutions. It is in this that he is a deceitful Hamlet

And Rosamund Pike’s character leaves no justice, or even vengeance, to God. The pain she feels, she inflicts. She is victim and perpetrator, victim and perpetrator.

And as I watched the film, and found its narrative strength drawing me into it, enjoying its twists and moral pain, I found that I could not conclude that it was just a sophisticated narrative of the sins of the world. Yes, it delves deep into the ‘heart of darkness’ in both genders. It evangelises a misogyny and misandry at the centre of the human heart.  It smears away any pretense that the viewers might have that they can act with love of their own accord. It is a mirror to our own equivocation.

Is there therefore no redemption?

I note that if there was no artistic memory of the Christ that Afflick’s character is not, or no sense that love is possible (possible even in the sad milieu of their lives), then it loses its dramatic tension as a film.

Love remains extant.

And there is hope that the director thinks so too. I think again about the sister and the policewoman. Even the Defense Attorney. The policewoman is true to her vocation. The sister is true to her brother. The Attorney, whilst ostensibly chasing the dollar, believes in uncovering the truth. These are acts invoking justice and altruism.

Ironically, even in the heart of darkness, the idea that ‘God is love’ can’t be undone. It is out of the bottle.

And yes, despite my desire to rebel as I exited, I enjoyed the film.

Acts of Violence

I don’t know quite how we should approach the violence of ISIS.

ISIS feeds on violence.

Members are horribly violent to people who are identified as being against them: Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidi, Westerners…

We all know that there have been and are other such groups that act with terrible violence: Baader Meinhof in Europe, The Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa, FARC in Latin America…

I read quite a bit of literature that seeks to tie a belief in violence to faith, or to non-faith, or to some noun somewhere. If I can just call them fundamentalists or rightists or leftists I will know they are not like me. And when I listen to people who commit acts of violence on behalf of an ideology I hear them using their belief system, or rage against a belief-system, to justify their actions.

Yet I am sure that within each group there are some who are not as committed to violence as their leaders and other members.  They are culpable, as Albert Speer was culpable. They are ideologically linked by their use of symbolic black flags or by their silence whilst atrocities are committed, but one day there might be a book or film like The Railway Man that helps us see them as human because it tells their story rather than the story of their movement.

This leads me to think that it is the act that we must find abhorrent. The act of massacring a group of people is abhorrent. Cutting off a person’s head is abhorrent. Lining people up against a wall and shooting them is abhorrent. We call them ‘crimes against humanity’. We call them ‘sin’ or ‘acts of evil’. The permission a person gives their conscience to initiate violence is an act against God and society.

They are choices.  It could be the rape of a young woman. It could be a Mafia revenge act. It could be a Mexican drug execution. It could be a bomb dropped on a neighbourhood.

There must be many people in places where violence rules who are not making this choice. There must be peacemakers, who, like some of the citizens of Missouri, go out onto the streets to try to tell the police and the violent protesters not to fight. We need to honour them and give them the headlines.

Yet I don’t think this helps us with ISIS. Whatever is wrong with Missouri, acts of violence are still seen as shameful by both sides. ISIS, in contrast, glorifies the pain of others, makes it into a grotesque form of public relations.

ISIS has really declared war on us all. Told us all we must become like them or perish.

We therefore must do all we can to stop ISIS and to support the Assyrian Christians, ordinary Muslims and Yazidi people. They are us, but they are stuck where ISIS thrives.

Visit of Simon Conway Morris

Professor Conway-Morris visited PLC Sydney this week.

He described the evolutionary process: natural selection, survival of the fittest…

And he described convergence: the theory that the same characteristics have evolved again and again in species. Thus, the octopus and the human both have have camera eyes, though one is not the predecessor of the other.

The range of options is narrower than those who promote the randomness as the basis of everything suggest. Predictable.

And he said that the mind is not explained by the chemistry or actions of the brain. In one of his books he calls the brain an antenna: a link to The Other. Science, he states, cannot prove God. But there are hints that there is an underlying order and intent behind the curtain: Fibonacci numbers in the organic world, for example, in the shell of the Nautilus.

He actually gave our students permission to wonder. To have faith and reason. To see that reason does not emerge from Nothing. There was a spark ignited in the playground.

Rather than the dull oppression that results from reading Dawkins, there was a real spirit of enquiry. A hegemony was dispelled.

It helped that his science is superb. Rigorous. Exemplified with numerous cases and telling images. Challenging to my interpretation of my faith. Challenging to all of us.

Yet he helped us see that science needs theology and philosophy. No discipline is an island, so to speak.

He showed an image of a man bending over and dragging up a curtain-like visage of the landscape in front of him. In quite a Platonic fashion there was another landscape underneath. ‘God,’ said Les Murray, ‘is the poetry caught in religion. Caught. Not imprisoned.’ ‘Christ,’ said the apostle Paul, ‘is the sum of all spiritual things.’

He will travel to a remote site soon to find fossils. And will seek to further develop the taxonomy of the history of life.

Yet our students will be left with an understanding that the taxonomy has value – that, to use a title of the professor’s, evolution in some strange way might sing the song of creation.

He spoke of a time in the future when there might be a different metaphysics to the study of evolution. One not so tied to the old doctrine that God is dead, but one that seeks God again.

It made me realise that so many materialist answers describe extant human qualities inadequately. Forgiveness, grace, kindness, generosity and altruism are all extant qualities. Describing them only as the result of blind forces connected to survival alters them beyond recognition. The explanations alter these things utterly in order to explain them using a materialist paradigm.

I hope this short comment does justice to the professor.

‘Inventing the Individual’

I remember asking my history teacher at school why the Board of Studies created syllabuses in Ancient and Modern European History but not the period in between.

As an adult I came to understand that the Renaissance was supposed to mark the start of a new era of anti-clericalism, personal freedom and, ultimately, empirical science. Thus the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ were a period when Christian theology ‘butted-in’ to the progress in thinking that had shown every sign of flourishing under the Greeks and Romans but wasn’t ‘resumed fully’ until the days of Hume and Kant and Bentham.

In my own home my father held both a high view of the importance of studying the natural world in a systematic manner, but also, of the Christian Church. I was brought up surrounded by aviaries of finches – my father had every species of Australian finch – and looking through books that described in detail the importance of observation and hypothesis making. Whilst my family were members of no church, there was an assumption that there were positive connections between faith, learning and personal freedom . My father spoke of a Bishop of Salisbury in the family tree and of the importance of the Magna Carta.

My own Christian commitment in my teenage years led me to read the Bible voraciously. In Jesus’ direct teachings, in the parables, and in the letters of Paul I found underlying assumptions about the dignity of humanity (we are made in God’s image), our shared humanity (God has gifted us all and He will judge us all justly) and our shared need for God’s grace as found in Jesus. Much that we value in the West regarding personal freedom and moral responsibility seemed to me clearly connected to the New Testament.

My own experience of Church was as a place of great freedom and community. The secondary state school I attended had many students who spoke in derogatory ways about refugees and immigrants, but not my church. There people were looking for ways to be hospitable to the recently arrived from Vietnam.

And yet, both my classmates at school and many peers in my adult life, viewed belief in God with suspicion or skepticism.

In my latter teenage years I read a lot of C S Lewis, including books that provided a much greater insight into the diversity and complexity of the medieval mind. Further reading in my adulthood on the periods of the plagues, witch-hunts and the Spanish Inquisition did not quash a growing belief that the view that the Renaissance marked a clear break with the past did not tell the whole story.

These many years later I have at last read a book that articulates the relationship between Christian faith, the Ancient World, the medieval and Middle Ages extremely effectively. Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual is a remarkable piece of scholarship. It links clearly the teachings of the apostle Paul with the modern Western understanding that each of us is individual. My own ‘intuition’ that Christianity has profoundly impacted a great deal of what we value now has a well articulated history to link some of our assumptions to the epistles and gospels. Augustine is given a proper place. Whilst he barely touches on the Reformation, I see how the Reformation itself ties in to earlier attempts at change. And his arguments that secularism is an outworking of the voluntarism that is the basis of Christian faith is very powerful.

Of course there are still questions. I have a higher view of the historicity of the gospels than Siedentop. Yet this is a far more nuanced and reasonable history than that provided by those who wish to depict Christian faith as an interruption to ‘progress’.

I recommend it to you.

And in the end there will only be Finland.

Intermittently, in the papers and on radio, is the discussion about the existence of independent schools. Recently David Gillespie has written a book called Free Schools, encouraging our community to opt for public education; Marrion Maddox has written a book called Taking God to School, questioning the use of public monies to fund religiously based education; and in the Sydney Morning Herald Elizabeth Farrelly called for an end to independent education perse.

As far as I can see, the issues are financial, social and religious.

Financial

A common claim is that independent schools ‘suck the marrow’ out of education funding.  Consider these figures from Sydney and Armidale. They are publically available on the MySchool website.

                Sydney

A well established girls’ school in the inner west of Sydney receives about $4600 per student from all government sources.  A secondary school in the same region in the public sector receives about $10150 per student. A primary school receives about $7600 on average per student. Thus, every student who leaves the independent school to attend a local government school in costs the taxpayer between $3000 and $6500.

                Armidale

Rural schools receive more government funding than city schools. Thus a school like PLC Armidale receives about $7100 per student in government funding, whereas a local public school receives about $14400 per student.

ISCA estimates that if every independent school closed tomorrow, the cost would be $4 billion in recurrent funding plus the cost of building/purchasing numerous facilities to house all of the students.

Parents at Independent Schools are taxpayers. It is reasonable that each taxpayer should be able to have some of their taxes contributing to their own child’s education. Some very rich people select public schools. The system does not ask these people to contribute more to the education of everyone, but only those that select non-government schools. Is this fair?

Elizabeth Farrelly’s response to this on public debate websites is that it would be worth $4 billion to put all students together. This is a social argument.

Social

The basic argument is that it would be best practice for our nation to have all children from all social backgrounds together. Imagine what our country would look like if we did this strictly – and if we didn’t do it strictly, why do it at all? When I was in UK in the public universities system I visited numerous government schools. The best government schools there still have limited catchment areas. House prices around these schools have increased substantially, meaning that a significant inequity in the student populations results. In free societies we are rightly loathe to limit people’s choices in regard to their children. The type of ‘medicine’ we would need to take to bring about Farrelly’s goal would be very hard to swallow and people would constantly undermine it. It would require a centralised system wielding significant powers to make it work.

Further, it assumes that everyone wants the same philosophical or religious base to their education. There are no schools that are neutral in regard to philosophy. If we take away religious bases, we still have secular ideologies. This brings us to religious arguments.

Religious

The Finnish education system has some strong positives including the respect paid to teachers. It doesn’t, however, take the holistic approach we take.

If the end goal is to achieve a universally applied singular system, I believe we are in deep trouble. I love the fact that Australia has lots of different schools that have emerged from different religious and philosophical bases. I am a strong supporter of Christian frameworks for education. I believe, at their best, they offer an education that is much broader and deeper than the type of approach taken in Finland. Yet, I respect that my colleagues at Steiner and Jewish schools have different models. I do love, as an aside, the emphasis on dialogue around the Old Testament at some Jewish school. As I engage as a principal with different systems I am enriched.

I am a firm believer in the model of education we are developing at PLC Armidale and PLC Sydney, both its theological/ philosophical basis and its practice, yet I would be troubled if suddenly our model became the only show in town. We need a variety of types of schools all seeking to educate well.

How sad if, in the end, there only was Finland.

The freedom to fail

The quote on the arm of Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka was written by the absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett. It reads:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Much wiser minds than mine have analysed its wit, resonance and dissonance.

I have been thinking more mundanely about its relevance to teachers and parents as new students commence their journeys at school. Teachers have, in the main, planned assiduously to enable these new students to succeed. In the majority of cases schools have a broad range of programs ready, and parents are very supportive at home.

Yet there is a sense in which all of us could trick ourselves into believing that if everything is put in just the right order, the result will be perfect. The child will learn according to the plan and will emerge confident and accomplished.

Like Goldilocks’ porridge they will be ‘just right’.

The critical ingredient that this recipe does not include is the will of the child.

I am sure that I am not the only principal who is working hard to establish… a tone in their school… a sense of openness towards the idea … a community agreement… that the child must be allowed to fail in order to really enable them to succeed.

They must be permitted to take risks. They must be allowed to solve problems for themselves. They must be allowed to be disappointed.

When we allow these skills to be developed, we show that we trust our children. We believe that they have the capacity to grow, to move from dependence to interdependence.

This is definitely not an excuse for the lazy teacher or the school that doesn’t manage its learning processes well. We need committed teachers and plenty of opportunities to be inspired.

Yet the act of sending a child to school is a conscious act of trust. The parent who decides the primary way to manage their child’s relationship with the school is to watch and intervene constantly is not allowing their child to feel that they can stand back up again when they fail. At some point in their life, they are going to fail. And they will need to know how to stand back up again.

A fellow principal from Hong Kong showed me once the apartment from which a parent in her school watched through a telescope the events of her child’s class. The phone rang often to inform the principal of what was happening in the classroom.

This is not to say that parents should not contact their child’s school. Like many, I constantly encourage parents to form good relationships with staff and each other. Effective communication really really matters. Yet if the primary sort of communication revolves around the management of the day to day milieu that the child should be responsible for, it might be time for a rethink.

Just this week in the media there have been stories of gold medal winning Australians who are struggling to cope with the change from being in the spotlight and cheered at every point to being someone ordinary, their fifteen minutes of fame supposedly over. Fame or a renowned success does not equip a person for life.

It is definitely the case that children need to be encouraged and recognised. They also require benign neglect. They need to be OK with life’s boring bits.

Most parents and teachers that I know want to build resilient young people who will take a deep breath when life has a bump. They might feel low, shed a few tears, even say they ‘don’t want to go to school’ but they have the capacity to grow stronger through the circumstance. As one very wise parent told me this week – the best skill a child can develop is the skill to push up off the bottom.

So Mr Wawrinka, as you held the trophy high this January, you passed on a good message to us all. C.S. Lewis wrote something similar some sixty years ago:

No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up.

Or, perhaps, to not allow the child to fall over in the first place…

Conversations with my Daughters (5)

It is this deep sense of unworthiness that has brought me apparent clarity of thought.

Yesterday one of my daughters and her husband invited Susan and me to the cinema to see the film The Railway Man.  I knew nothing about it and watched it without introduction.

I have to confess I felt a significant reluctance to be in the cinema when I discovered it was about the Thai-Burma Railway. I don’t know quite why. But I do know I tend to avoid books and films about this era.

Perhaps it was because my father served the Australian army in the war, in Moratai. He had a portrait of himself painted by a Japanese prisoner of war – a person of whom he spoke with great respect. It hangs now in my sister’s home, the primary physical proof of all of those months in the tropics, awaiting possible cruelty, processing soldiers and prisoners of war. How much he praised the Americans for their victory in the Coral Sea. How little I appreciated as a young man in my twenties the personal nature of his gratitude.

Perhaps it was because my father spent so many hours in his aviary, watching the finches flit and scoot between the foliage. Like the Railway Man with his train timetables, he too was a man with a deep but quiet interest, a man of solace. He kept books on birds from all over the world. Was it a type of proof of civilisation? A way of guaranteeing that he fought for something important? Was it a way of keeping his mind in order?

Perhaps it was because he never disciplined me in a physical manner, even if I was rude.  He was such a gentle man. Once, when I was obnoxious, he threatened to take off his belt. That was enough to make me a pool of tears, writhing on the floor. I am certain he would not have hit me. I remember there was a deep regret on his face – he feared his response more than he was impatient with my childishness.

In the film I dreaded that they would depict the torture. And later I dreaded that the British soldier would enact revenge. I held my hands over my eyes and ears more than once in the film.

And yet, when the British soldier accepted the apology of his persecutor, when he forgave him, I had the sense that I was hearing the deepest of truths about life. To not excuse the cruelty, to not offer a cheap grace. But to stare at the horror of it in the face and to forgive it. To find friendship in it. To have redemption. I was hearing the Apostle’s Creed, the Westminster Confession, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Sermon on the Mount.

And I was hearing again properly the truth of how unworthy I am.

I felt so very conceited watching the words come up at the film’s close. There was nothing to do but weep.

I am very grateful to my daughter and her husband. It is a magnificent film.

They didn’t talk much about the film afterwards. My behaviour was of the awkward kind, the kind not expected of a father at a family outing. In particular, the kind not expected of a father who has never been to war, who has read about it only in books and who has listened to a few small tales from his own father.

Yet I am so grateful to have been invited, to have recalled again my own father’s tales, and to have been reminded of the substance of my faith.

Thank you Mr Black

In Year 7 I had two English teachers. One took my class for my regular lessons and the other had us once a fortnight for ‘Reading’. Mr Black.

Mr Black had us rule up a 48 page Olympic Stripe exercise book with the headings: ‘Number’, ‘Author’, ‘Title’, ‘Genre’ and ‘Mark /10’. In the back we listed the ‘Book of the Year’ and ‘The most influential authors’.

In Year 6 I had read one book. In Year 7 I read 34. I still have the exercise book and I still, as a fifty-two year old, keep within it an updated list of every book I read. 

Mr Black reinvigorated my reading. My mother had read extensively to me as a child, but when I was in later primary school books were seen as the pariah gifts. Three years later I was asking for them for every birthday and Christmas.

One effective way to describe a good education is to say that it consists of ‘three good teachers in a row’, that is, for three consecutive years to have teachers who know and care for their students, know their subjects, differentiate the curriculum and connect it to the real world. 

Many teachers, myself included, would also add that it is important to be reflective. This little exercise book enables me to look back over my life and to remember the influences on me. I can see the pattern of my reading and thinking. And, for me, it gave my reading a discipline. When there were other distractions, I kept on reading.

Mr Black gave me an excellent education in reading in just one lesson per fortnight.

When I moved to Zimbabwe and entered my classroom for the first time, I found three words left by my predecessor on the blackboard: Read and Think.

Now, twenty years later, in an era of ipads and interactive whiteboards, one might think that education has new priorities. There are many new stimulations and these are mostly helpful, but the basis of an education in the humanities is still read and think.

So thank you Mr Black.

I watched a dog run across the road…

Sitting in the car at the corner of Frederick Street and Queen Street Ashfield, I watched a dog run across the road.

I had seen it wriggle free from the lead of the grey haired woman and spill out into the traffic, wildly excited, flitting and scatty between the cars.

It crossed the city bound lane, then darted across the centre line.

I saw the green Holden VF Ute roll it under its front wheels, then its rear wheels. The driver pulled over, his face contorted as he looked back at the scene.

The grey haired woman was already in the middle of the road, picking up her limp puppy. She continued along Frederick Street, walking away from me, ignoring the driver’s apologies as he ran to meet her.

There was a resignation in her walk, a dignified sorrow that this is the way things are: that one can have a puppy, and take it out, and lose it for a moment, and the judgment is severe.

*    *    *

It is not the science that leads people away from a belief in a loving, omnipotent God. It is the incredulity of a lively puppy crossing a road. Granted, we made the road, and the cars, and the woman decided to walk by them. She took the risk.

But God gave us all of these possibilities.

  *    *    *

And so I imagine, what would the universe be like without God? Without a Mind that causes minds to exist.

Suddenly the dog is only its chemical traits, and the woman is as well, and my metacognivity is also an adaptation to help me survive. This very article only exists because the fittest must survive. It represents no possibility of truth about the universe. My notion of pain being an offence is of similar origin and expression. All of the anger of all of the people whom God has disappointed are just expressing an evolutionary adaptation. As are those who hold to their beliefs.

And even if things – like bees in their hives – cooperate, their synergy is of no greater value than the things that are red in tooth and beak and claw.

Materialist reductionism is a terrible tyrant.

There is nothing to be offended by in this event. Lions kill antelope. Ants dissect the caterpillar. The seed falls into the ground and dies.

In A D Hope’s words: And the great earth with neither grief no malice received the tiny burden of her death.

But even Hope’s poetry is an adaptation, as honed as a sharpened claw or an instinct to fight or flee.

The concept of life itself is only an adaptation. The nothingness of the universe only really breeds another form of nothing.

There is nothing

                           to be angry about.

  *    *    *

And yet, my sense of self is extant. The notion that I might feel compassion for the grey haired woman is extant.

The explanation that every single thing in the universe is only an adaptation that enables survival does not actually come to terms with poetry or love or grace.

These notions are profoundly changed by reductive materialists in order to have them fit the model.

God, said Les Murray, is the poetry caught in any religion. Caught, not imprisoned.

Not imprisoned.

Not imprisoned.

The Bible is, in Karl Barth’s words, an ‘otherworldly book’. In it humanity is dignified. Can speak. Can create meaning. Can be angry. Can love.

I do not understand why a loving God would allow such misery. But I do believe that a loving God has created persons who are selves. Who are, as created beings, not imprisoned.

It was the man in Martin Place in Les Murray’s poem An absolutely ordinary rainbow who wept, then finished weeping, and who parted the crowd and walked off down Pitt Street.

It is a religious vision. A Christian vision of an agentive and potentially empathic humanity.

With a dignified sorrow.