Monday, 25 April 2011

Clean and green: the politics of laundry detergent

Some of you may have seen a news item tonight on the various commercial evening news programs, concerning women’s love of cleaning. Or you might have read it in the Sydney Morning Herald (18 April 2011 in Lifestyle). If you did, you would know by now that the majority of modern women actually like housework.

The local mid-north coast news program on de facto channel 7 trumpeted this headline. It seems that modern, working progressive women love their household chores. [faint cheer in the background] They don’t want their partners to help. [slightly louder, somewhat quizzical, cheer is heard*] They don’t want to hand it over to someone else. [more confident cheering now] These selfless, dynamic beings, working around 70 hours a week, wanted to do their own housework. [raucous, unrestrained cheering in the next room!] They did not want their partners to help, particularly with the laundry. Partners mixed colours and whites, and delicates with jeans. This is not acceptable practice to the modern, progressive woman.

And to back up this fabulous story, Channel de facto 7 interviewed some women from the mid north coast to see if it was true.

Lo and behold, 3 out of 3 women interviewed said that they agreed with the survey. Oh yes, they cried. We do like our housework. We just got on with it in our day. It is satisfying to have a clean house. But wait! What is that by-line down in small print on the bottom of my screen? Ah, I see. They are all from the CWA. Could this perchance be a biased sample and not truly representative of the modern, progressive woman as outlined in the survey?

Initially, I thought this was a mid-north coast survey and a plot to get women back into those Aga-fuelled kitchens. So I looked it up using Google. I found a mid-north coast playgroup with the survey headlines. It asked its members if they agreed with it. Strangely, 29 out of 30 said no, they didn’t. They didn’t like housework. One took the sponsoring web group to task, accusing them of misquoting the survey in the same way the SMH had done. She felt this was unacceptable, and stated that the SMH and other media had not in fact reported the survey correctly. She also gave the name of it: “Wringing out the future”.

Wringing out the future???? This sounds like something my mother did with a mangle years ago. What sort of name is this for a survey?

I’ll tell you what sort of survey has a name like this. It is a survey sponsored by a laundry product company, who have a laundry powder to sell to modern, progressive women. Did this fact escape the media outlet you heard this story on? It certainly seemed to escape the notice of the SMH and de facto channel 7.

So what else did I discover from this survey? I found that, among other things, that 85% of those surveyed believed that their partners only did half the amount of housework they themselves did. [near-suffocating chortling from the next room*] The same number said they did most of the laundry (fancy that, in a survey sponsored by a washing product!). Staggeringly, most said that they did not begrudge the time spent on household tasks; progressive women actually enjoyed them.

As none of my female friends and only 1 out of 30 on the play group website liked housework, I was very suspicious of this result. But then I read further.

Yes, there are some household chores women don’t mind. They are parenting, cooking and shopping. Well, duh. What about all those other chores like cleaning and ironing and washing the dog? But wait, it says that women would happily relinquish cleaning if given the opportunity. Fancy. Was this reported in your sound bite of media? It wasn’t in mine.

On the next page, 86% said they did do the laundry, and 85% said they would rather do it themselves. They do not trust their husbands, who got it wrong. [lots of humph-humph-humphing from the next room] Progressive women take pride in their family’s appearance, and do not trust their laundry to anyone else. And I quote from p.5:

Due to prior negative outcomes, some partners were encouraged to lend a hand elsewhere, rather than the laundry.

So we have established that women don’t mind cooking, parenting and shopping, and refuse to outsource their laundry. I bet you can’t guess what comes next.

86% of progressive women find smarter ways to get their domestic work done faster and more efficiently, freeing up their time for more important things. They do not waste their time with untried solutions. They rely on information from their peers. They seek guidance from online search engines (well, I have to agree with this one, don’t I?), media sources (not confident about this one) and key opinion leaders (mmmmm, who could this be? Perhaps people who conduct surveys for products?)

Under the title “Lean on me”, we find that smart=cleaner+greener. Progressive women want “results driven requirements” whilst environmental impacts are limited. 87% have had bad experiences with green laundry products. 12% felt such products were worse for the environment, as clothes had to be rewashed or far more powder used.

And progressive women are prepared to pay a premium price for a laundry product that offered them a “cleaner, greener wash”.

The last page of this survey is the name of the product. I am not going to name it. No free advertising from me.

I am outraged at our undiscriminating rural media outlets. In a bid to produce something controversial on the traditionally ‘down time’ of Easter, our TV stations are running this rubbish as a serious survey of women, and backing it up with a carefully selected threesome of rural women. How much free airtime is this product ultimately going to get from the reporting of this apparently unbiased ‘survey’? Worse, how many tired and stretched women will be negatively impacted as a result of a ‘survey’ that places their experiences outside of all these other surveyed women?

Shame on you all, TV and newspapers alike. This is not journalism, it is opportunistic claptrap at its best, and potentially damaging to vulnerable women at its worst.

*cheers and inserted chortling supplied by non progressive, antiquated male partner

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Who killed Jesus? (Easter reflections)

During Lent, we have been leading a weekly Bible Study for members of the congregation, following the sequence of Gospel stories from John’s Gospel, where Jesus encounters a Judean man (Nicodemus), a Samaritan woman (anonymous), a man born blind (with his parents and neighbours, and the local religious leaders), and then a family in Bethany who were mourning a death (Martha, Mary, and Lazarus).

In the course of these discussions, the question arose as to the reason for the death of Jesus; and the oft-made statement was repeated, “the Jews killed Jesus”. This was actually taking the study along a different road from what we intended; so with the agreement of the group, we decided to schedule an additional study meeting during Holy Week where we could look at the matter in more detail. We particularly wanted to examine this claim and demonstrate why it cannot be sustained—it is a misunderstanding of the story which has been fed by decades (centuries, even) of intolerance, dislike, and even hatred for Jews and their religion.

Our study set out a number of key historical questions. What can be said about what actually happened? When did Jesus die? Where did he die? How did he die? Who killed him? Why did he die? In the first few decades of the early church, these questions were becoming increasingly important. Not many followers of Jesus had been present when Jesus was arrested and crucified. As more people joined the church, they wished to know what had happened. Eventually, some people wrote down accounts of what took place. They most likely had not been eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus; perhaps they retold, and expanded, stories from people who had been present.

In the New Testament, there are four attempts to answer just these kinds of questions. (Other accounts that tell a similar story can be found outside the New Testament.) The four canonical accounts, known as passion narratives, come towards the end of each gospel story (Mark 14–15; Matt 26–27; Luke 22–23; John 18–19). They reveal how the early church dealt with these historical questions. Answers to the questions are not given in a direct and systematic manner in the passion narrative; rather, as the story unfolds through the narrative, the answers emerge.

The story follows a familiar pattern in each biblical account. Jesus is arrested at night in a garden; tried before the Jewish Sanhedrin (the council of priests and scribes); sent to the Roman governor, Pilate; sentenced to death as “King of the Jews”; crucified on a hillside with two others; and then buried in a private tomb.

Each account also contains some distinctive material, such as Pilate’s wife’s dream, and the raising of the saints (in Matthew); the hearing before King Herod, and Jesus’ conversations on the cross (in Luke); and details of the conversation between Pilate and Jesus (in John). Given these particular differences between the four accounts, the general story still retains the same shape in all four biblical accounts.

A central historical issue in these accounts is, who killed Jesus? In Christian tradition, the claim has often been made that “the Jews killed Jesus”. Certainly, it is clear from the passion narratives, that there was Jewish involvement in the arrest and sentencing of Jesus. The high priest and the Sanhedrin (the council of priests and scribes) are clearly identified as making decisions about Jesus’ fate.

However, other ancient evidence raises doubts that the Sanhedrin actually had the power to act as it did in the gospel accounts. The way it proceeded appears to contradict rules that were established to ensure that justice was done. As the trial was dealing with a crime which could be punished by death (namely, blasphemy), it ought not to have met at night, as it apparently did; nor did it have the authority to meet on the eve of Passover. In order to bring a verdict of “guilty” in a capital case, the Sanhedrin ought to have left a day between the verdict and the conviction; yet no gospel accounts indicate that this was done. The trial is said to have taken place in the home of the high priest, yet this was probably not allowed in Jewish tradition. Although the record of these rules is known only from the third century, it is highly likely that they were in force in the first century. For these reasons, then, historians express some degree of scepticism about the accuracy of the story at this point.

The claim that “the Jews killed Jesus” overlooks the fact that he died as a result of a Roman punishment. The Roman governor, Pilate, was ultimately responsible for sentencing Jesus to death. Jesus was crucified (a Roman punishment) rather than stoned (a Jewish punishment). Jesus was sentenced to death on a political charge (under Roman jurisdiction), not the religious charge of blasphemy (under Jewish jurisdiction).

Jesus was put to death with two other men, described as “criminals” (a better translation would be “bandits” or “rebels”), reflecting the way the Romans kept order in the province of Judea. The charge against Jesus, “King of the Jews”, was a Roman description of how Jesus was seen, not a Jewish description. (The Jews would more likely have described Jesus as “King of Israel”.)

To say that “the Jews killed Jesus” is a broad, sweeping statement. Throughout history it has been used to charge all Jews, from all times, and in all places, with being responsible for the death of Jesus. One verse, Matthew 27:25, is often quoted to support this view. In this verse, the people cry out: “His blood be upon us and our children!” Throughout Christian history, this verse has been the catchcry used to validate widespread and indiscriminate attacks upon the Jews.

It is certainly clear that the specific Jewish leaders of the time, in first century Jerusalem, did plot Jesus’ death. However, this does not mean that all the Jews who were present in the crowds during the festival were responsible. Nor does it mean that all Jews of all subsequent times and places are responsible for Jesus’ death. Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus can be placed only on a specific, limited group of leaders—most likely acting out of their own sense of political power in the particular context.

Furthermore, historians doubt that it would have been likely, or possible, for a massive crowd of Jewish pilgrims to have been given the opportunity to cry out for the death of Jesus, and the release of Barabbas, as the gospels report. There is no evidence that such a custom was known at the time, and it would have been a dangerous (indeed, foolhardy) custom for the Romans to allow.

Tragically, in the history of the church, the statement that “the Jews killed Jesus” has often been transposed into a stronger claim: “the Jews killed God”. This claim depends upon the traditional Christian claim that Jesus, the Son of God, is one person of the Trinity. It is a claim that derives from traditional theology. However, such a stark claim is never made in the biblical texts. To claim that “the Jews killed Jesus”, or that “the Jews killed God”, is to misread the evidence of the gospels, and to perpetuate a stereotype which arose long after Jesus had died. To use the story of Jesus’ death as a justification for anti-semitic attitudes and actions can no longer be tolerated.

As well as this inclination to blame the Jews, the gospels show a tendency towards excusing the Roman governor, Pilate, from ultimate responsibility for Jesus’ death. In the earliest gospel, Mark, Pilate asks a series of questions which indicate his puzzlement (Mark 15:2, 4, 9, 12, 14); he acts only “to satisfy the crowd” (Mark 15:15). In Luke, Pilate makes three clear declarations that Jesus is innocent (Luke 23:4, 14, 22). In Matthew, Pilate’s wife declares Jesus to be innocent (Matt 27:19), and Pilate himself washes his hands of the decision (Matt 27:24).

In John, Pilate declares that he can find no case against Jesus (John 18:38; 19:6), but when he is pressed to sentence Jesus to death, he does so out of fear (John 19:8) and under duress (John 19:12). Other contemporary accounts of Pilate indicate that this kind of behaviour would have been most unlikely. Pilate had a reputation for harsh rule; he did not hesitate to use his troops to squash potential uprisings. It is quite improbable that he would bow to the wishes of the Jewish crowd out of fear, or to release a known terrorist (Barabbas), as the gospels indicate.

The tendencies we find in the story of Jesus’ death, to excuse Pilate and to blame the Jews, can be understood by considering the setting in which the gospels were written. When these accounts were written, Roman authorities still held power. It is likely that at least three of the gospels were written after the Romans had defeated the Jews in the war of 66–74 (and destroyed the Temple). This helps to explain the way the Roman governor is excused in these accounts.

The gospels were also written at a time when the followers of Jesus (by then, known as the Christians) were becoming increasingly alienated from the Jewish authorities (represented by the Pharisees, and later to become the rabbis who shaped the Judaism that we know today). It is quite likely that some followers had been expelled from the synagogue for claiming that Jesus was the Messiah (John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2). In such a context, bitterness between the two groups escalated.

So, when the story of Jesus was told in the Gospels, the tendency to excuse the Romans went hand-in-hand with the temptation to place more blame on the Jews. In this way, the biblical accounts show evidence of a developing hostility towards “the Jews”—even though many of the early Christians were themselves originally Jewish. Many biblical scholars and historians now recognise this as a major factor that shaped the way the stories of Jesus’ death were written.

Our own context is different from the context in which the gospels were written. When we read them, and especially when we preach from them, we need to be sensitive to the differences in context. These differences become crucial when we read the passion narrative. To claim that “the Jews killed Jesus” is to misread the evidence of the gospels, and to perpetuate a stereotype that arose long after the death of Jesus. To use the passion narrative as a justification for anti-semitic attitudes and actions can no longer be tolerated.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Wauchope Rural Roundup

No, I don’t mean the herbicide, though there are plenty of places here that would readily sell it to me. I have just arrived back from a week in Sydney and found a pile of local newspapers on the doorstep. So it just seemed like a good time to look in our local newspapers at what is happening around Wauchope and district.

In Town & Country, the approaching Anzac Day is heavily featured, especially the Light Horse Reenactment troop that appears to live in the area and who “keep the Anzac tradition alive.” Buffalo fly is apparently a problem in the area currently, and in the opinion of one farmer, you can never have enough tractors. He has forty. Coffs Harbour is hosting the NSW Weed Conference, where “the political landscape of weed management will be discussed.” Innovative solutions are expected.

The Port Macquarie Express is really a huge advertisement sprinkled through with little snippets of local news. You can find them by squinting carefully at the page, where they emerge from the colorful ads like those hidden 3-D images that were all the rage a decade or three ago. Healthy walkers, artistic grannies and children having an Easter party can be found if one has time and patience.

The Port Paper takes another swing at the Council Administrator, this time objecting to his Council-supplied V8 car. I have sympathy with them on this one. Marine theft is on the rise, and the Port Paper took to the streets to see if residents wanted a Myers store. Seven out of seven people interviewed agreed Myers would be a welcome addition. Apparently Port Macquarie is locked in a fierce rivalry with Coffs Harbour in the battle of where the Myers store will go. The rock band ‘British India’ will be hitting Port Macquarie Panthers Club as part of their world domination tour. And of course, there are the columnists. The Zen Solution advocates that we should all take up Zen meditation to slow our breathing and heart rates and thus produce less CO2 than joggers, cyclists and all who breathe deeply. I detect a whiff of climate change skepticism here. My old friend Carp has proved he can actually read by announcing CO2 is a plant food and not a pollutant as expressed in a book by Ian Plimer. I am impressed by his new interest in learning. Chia seeds are making a huge comeback globally.

We also have a Lifestyle magazine. The article entitled “Shades of Green” disappointingly turns out to be about a bowls player. But chia seeds are still a super food and on the comeback trail, though the ones grown in W.A. are inferior.

Lastly, the Wauchope Gazette is delivered full of local news, from the new look Anzac Day, the school Easter parade through to the quest for a new logo for Wauchope. This last one is interesting. What slogan best represents Wauchope? What slogan would make you, the reader, come to Wauchope? Suggestions thus far include “The heart of the Hastings: Wauchope” “Wauchope, the friendly town” or “Welcome to wonderful Wauchope”. More dubious slogans are “Wauchope - a unique shopping experience” (is this a serious proposal?????) and “Wauchope - under new management” (whose new management?).
The editorial on the subject of slogans concludes with the statement that Wauchope is a great place to live and work, a place of huge potential and breathtaking natural beauty.

It certainly is that, but like many small rural towns is suffering. Many of its residents, lured by the glitter of Port Macquarie’s shopping malls and the promise of Myers, are deserting the local shopping centre in droves. This is a shame, as there is an excellent Co-op here that serves the community in the form of two IGA supermarkets, hardware store, department store, dairy and 2 service stations. The co-op’s yoghurt is the best in Australia, if I do say so myself. The supermarkets sell local produce, including boutique cheese from the Comboyne plateau. John is in cheese heaven.

I started this blog with the idea of a news roundup. I find I am finishing it agreeing with the local editor. I am all in favour of supporting local industry and shops, even if they are not a ‘unique’ shopping experience. If I find myself unable to drive, if I want to support local producers, if I need local trades people, then I need to support the local shopping centre now. Much better to support homegrown people and produce, than large corporations who put shareholders, not suppliers and workers, first, and ethical behaviour last.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

There is always trouble at Passover

Palm Sunday presents a challenge to congregations wanting to do something different from the usual palm-waving activity. We have been asked by various folk if we have any alternate ideas as they felt the day had a “sameness” from year to year that was not always helpful.

As it happens, the gospel readings tend to support alternate ideas. The palm-waving that Christian churches everywhere seem to have adopted is not actually part of the story. Matthew’s gospel states that the palm branches were laid on the road. Mark’s “leafy branches” also were laid on the road. Luke’s gospel doesn’t mention palms or any branches at all. John’s gospel says that “they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him”. John does not elaborate what the crowd did with the palms.

Perhaps it is time that we paid attention to other aspects of the story. How many of us actually appreciate the historical and cultural elements behind this story? Do we see the tension as well as joy? Do we explore how the story might connect with what happens in our world today?

The following dramatic narrative combines a monologue from an eyewitness to Jesus’ triumphal entry with real items (in the form of radio news bulletins) from world news. We offer it as another way of understanding Palm Sunday.

I Hosanna!
It was a beautiful sound. I could hear the lighter voices of the children, rising over the top of the deeper, less melodious sounds of the adults. Hosanna to the Son of David, they chanted. A small verse, often overlooked; but a verse with immense power, as I think back. For me, it still evokes the excitement of the day, the mix of the sounds, the press of the crowd, the anticipation in the air.
It wasn’t the first sound that I remember from that day. Before that, Jehoshua was on a donkey – he had mounted it in the village of Bethphage, and he was riding it steadfastly towards the city. As he came in, through the gate in the wall, into the city, a great cheer went up from the people, before the chant of Hosanna filled the air. Now that they were inside the city, the feeling grew; the anticipation rose. Hosanna to the Son of David. Some of the people along the side of the road were joining in with them. Hosanna! Hosanna! It all pointed to a great celebration – that’s what we thought, at first.

Next to the Temple was the Antonia Fortress, the garrison where the Roman soldiers were based. As we got nearer, it was clear – there was a whole legion of soldiers, on alert, standing by, in case there was trouble. Not doing anything provocative; just standing there, waiting – as if they were expecting something to erupt.
There is always trouble at Passover, you see. Crowds of people. The press of worshippers, queueing to offer their sacrifices. The sales pitch of the money changers, wanting to make a good profit. The underground rebels, quietly mingling with the crowd, looking to stir up trouble. And the evening meal, when we remember how the Lord saved the people long ago. A story of liberation, told by a people still under the thumb. It is always a time of mixed emotions; of joyful celebration, but also of suppressed tension; a time of anxiously hoping that trouble doesn’t erupt.


Politicians and community representatives are meeting senior police officers to discuss increasing security in North Belfast following serious rioting in the area.
The police rejected criticism on Sunday that they were unprepared for the extent of the violence on Saturday, which erupted after the Scottish Cup Final. Fifteen people believed to be involved in the rioting have been identified by the police.
Twenty eight police officers and 10 civilians were injured after trouble erupted in five flashpoint areas.

Superintendent David Boltwood said his officers faced a very difficult situation. "We did have additional resources on duty in north Belfast last night but I think we need to get the whole thing in perspective," he said
"No matter how many police officers we had here last night it would have been very difficult to contain the large scale and widespread violence which our officers were confronted with."

Two police officers were seriously hurt, with one suffering a suspected fractured skull and another being treated for spinal injuries.
Up to 800 people were involved in the trouble, for which loyalists and republicans have blamed each other for starting.
(Sunday, 5 May, 2002, BBC News)

II The children
As the crowds came closer to the Temple, the children got louder, more excited; soon they would be right outside the holy place. At the same time, the soldiers stiffened, alert to the potential danger. As the procession reached the outer courtyards, the people sensed the excitement of the moment, and their song became bolder: Hosanna to the Son of David. Words of celebration from the Psalms. Hosanna! Hosanna!

But some of the more alert people in the crowd that was pressing forward, realized that they were being carefully monitored by the stoney-faced soldiers. Faces scrutinised, distinguishing features noted, building up a dossier of trouble-makers – just in case the soldiers needed to deal with them on another occasion.

Better not risk it, some of them thought. This far, is far enough. We’ve enjoyed the excitement; let’s just fade away, now. There is always the chance of trouble at Passover; so maybe we’d better leave it, before it goes too far.

So they stepped back, found excuses to leave, buried their faces in their cloaks, and disappeared into the background.

Not the children, though – they sang on, ever bolder, high-pitched voices rising, faces beaming. You know, I think that some of the adults pushed them forward, egged them on, put them at the front. Maybe they used them as a cover, as some kind of protection.

Those soldiers – they would never do anything to the children, would they? No, they would never arrest the children.


Children as young as 12 are being seized from their homes in the middle of the night by Israeli security agents and police officers.

The youngsters are being taken into custody for interrogation on stone-throwing charges.

In recent months there have been many cases in which minors aged 12-15 from Silwan, in East Jerusalem, were arrested in the middle of the night, the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem says. "The minors were taken out of their beds and brought to the police station in the Russian Compound, in West Jerusalem. Some of them were brought handcuffed, and none of the parents were allowed to accompany them."

The series of arrests is related to ongoing friction between residents of Silwan and settlers in nearby Beit Yehonatan and security personnel guarding it. Palestinian children in the neighborhood are accused of throwing stones at building sites.

In his testimony to B'Tselem, Muhammad Dweik, 12, described his arrest in the middle of the night:

"Around 4:30 to 5:00 in the morning, I woke up from the sound of knocking at the door. Shabak agents asked my father for the ID card of Muhammad Dweik. My father told them that I don’t have an ID card. When I went over to them, I got the feeling they were surprised by how young I am, but they had an arrest warrant. My father asked them to let me stay at home and said he would bring me to the police station in the morning, but they refused. They tied my hands behind me and took me. The policemen put me into a Border Police jeep. A friend of mine was also inside it. A policeman who sat next to me kept kicking me in the leg all the way."

(EMHR Network, Friday 12 March, 2010)

III A prayer for freedom
There is always trouble at Passover. Crowds of people. Stories of liberation. It’s a time of mixed emotions; of joyful celebration, but also of suppressed tension. Jehoshua was walking a dangerous path; I suspect that he already knew it. The cry of Hosanna! which rang forth through the countryside signaled a desire for freedom, for liberation.

I have heard the stories about others, in the past, who tried to lead the people to rise up against the Romans: Simon, of Peraea, a slave of King Herod, who managed to burn down the royal palace at Jericho; he was captured by Gratus, the commander of the royal infantry, and had his head cut off in one fell swoop. Athronges, a mere shepherd, who joined with his brothers to slaughter many of the Roman soldiers in the town of Emmaus; he was arrested and “subdued”, so I am told.

And there was Judas, of Gamala, a village in Galilee; just a few years later, he almost succeeded in staging a successful uprising. I can imagine the reaction of the crowd: Hosanna! Joyful celebration – excited anticipation. But the uprising that Judas led was not successful; his troops spent years in raids in which they had sporadic victories, but then the movement dwindled away. The Romans always knew how to deal with these local uprisings.

So Jehoshua was walking a dangerous path; I suspect that some in the crowd already knew this. Perhaps the choice of psalm that they were singing was not at all accidental. Hosannah! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Words that every Jew knew well. Words from Psalm 118, a psalm that was sung every year at the feast of Tabernacles, as well as at the feast of Passover. At both these festivals, our people praise the Lord for setting us free from slavery in Egypt.
After we had been conquered by other nations, these festivals became times of prayer for freedom. Prayer that the Lord would act again in a mighty and spectacular way – that he would send plagues, pillars of fire and smoke, that he would again drive apart the sea, provide miraculous food in the desert, give us water from a rock – and set us free again.

As Jehoshua rode into the city that day, you could be sure that the fervent prayer of many was for freedom from the Roman empire, the occupying power. Freedom from crippling taxes and freedom from all kinds of oppression. That’s what the cry of Hosanna was really saying.

I think of my sister Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi every day. Her picture hangs on the wall of my office, reminding me that, thousands of miles away in Asia, a nation is oppressed. Every day I ask myself: have I done everything I can try to end the atrocities being committed in Burma? And I pray that world leaders will ask themselves the same question. For if they did, the answer would be "no", and perhaps their conscience will finally force them to act.

Humankind has the ability to live in freedom and in peace. We have seen that goodness has triumphed over evil; we have witnessed political transitions in South Africa, and elsewhere, evidencing that we live in a moral universe. Our world is sometimes lacking wise and good leadership or, as in the case of Burma, the leadership is forbidden to lead.

Aung San Suu Kyi has now been detained for more than 13 years. She recently passed her 5,000th day in detention. Every one of those days is a tragedy and a lost opportunity. The whole world, not just the people of Burma, suffers from this loss. We desperately need the kind of moral and principled leadership that Aung San Suu Kyi would provide. And when you add the more than 2,100 political prisoners who are also in Burma's jails, and the thousands more jailed in recent decades, the true scale of injustice, but also of lost potential, becomes heartbreakingly clear.

The universal demand for human freedom cannot be suppressed forever. This is a universal truth that Than Shwe, the dictator of Burma, has failed to understand. How frustrated must he be that no matter how long he keeps Aung San Suu Kyi in detention, no matter how many guns he buys, and no matter how many people he imprisons, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma will not submit. The demands for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners of Burma grow louder and echo around the world, reaching even his new capital hidden in central Burma. Words, however, are not enough. Freedom is never given freely by those who have power; it has to be fought for. (Desmond Tutu, The Guardian, Thursday 30 July 2009)

IV Retribution in the holy war
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. When they sang this out loud, the crowd was really saying, "At long last, here comes the one who will lead us in rebellion against the Romans."

You see, we were looking for a Messiah under every rock and stone. At Passover time, we were especially excited. It was a festival of celebration; a time when we hope for God to bring freedom. So we are ready to follow a leader, we are ready for God's mighty act of salvation, here and now.

And this was to be the war – the holy war, fought in the cause of what is right and just. And those Romans were finally going to get what was coming to them. Just let them try to stand against God.

In 2003, just before the Iraq War, former President George W. Bush tried once more to get the support of France. His approach to French President Jacques Chirac was straightforward, drawing on thousands of years of history and on higher authority: “This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.” This, he added, was the “holy” war in the Middle East, predicted in the Bible, against Gog and Magog.
Gog and Magog are first mentioned in the Old Testament books of Genesis and Ezekiel, as nations to come out of the north to attack Israel. They make a return appearance in Revelation, Chapter 20, Verse 7-9, as the Devil’s commanders in the final battle of Good and Evil.
(Ali Yenidunya, on Enduring America blog)

V Call yourself a Messiah ?
We love our Psalms. All our favourite hymns, easy to sing, uplifting to the spirit; we are united as we sing. We Jews have so many factions; we love arguments and disagreements. But when it comes to singing the Psalms, we are as one. Many of these Psalms have become unifying symbols for us; symbols of our national pride; symbols of what we hope for as a people.

The Romans knew this – and they were jumpy. Things could have got very nasty. They knew there is always trouble at Passover. Jehoshua only had to say the word, and a bloodbath would have ensued. On that day, as he entered the Temple courtyard, he held in his hand the power of the mob, the power to unite a mixed crowd against a common enemy.

But just as it seemed that he would pull it off; they pounced on him. A few days later, in an unguarded moment, they seized him, chained him, and dragged him off into the praetorium, to stand before the despised governor, Pontius Pilatus. So now, those cheering, excited followers, were abandoned, bereft. Their leader was gone. Their hopes were dashed.

I am told that he was brought back out from the praetorium, in chains, to be sentenced to death. The crowd was against him, now. Maybe some of those who had cheered him on, a few days earlier, were joining in with the soldiers' mocking and jeering. It must have been a relief to the soldiers, to see this potential rabble-rouser and trouble-causer, now so humble and weak. At least they wouldn't have to spend the festival quelling a riot, putting down a rebellion.
They jeered and spat at him in derision.

“Call yourself a Messiah ? What use is a Messiah in chains ?
Call yourself a prophet ? Go on then, tell us who hit you.”
My, how the mighty have fallen.

At the start of the Obama presidency there was great optimism that he would help ensure that there was lasting peace in the Middle East. He demanded that Israel halt their constructions in settlements which meant that the USA would ensure that there would be peace in the region. But, both sides are not negiotiating. Peace will not come to the region in the foreseeble future.

It is understandable that people hunger desperately for change after the Bush years. It is understandable that they would seize on an attractively packaged figure who made a few progressive noises, carried a great deal of genuinely symbolic weight due to his race, and was more personable, cool and articulate than his predecessor.
But there is no hope to be found in the Obama Administration: no hope for genuine change, no hope for a clean break (or any kind of break) from the relentless and ruthless promotion of empire, oligarchy and militarism. By his own choices – his appointments, his policies, his court actions, his rhetoric – Barack Obama has demonstrated beyond all doubt his sincere and abiding commitment to "continuity" in the most pernicious and corrosive elements of America's lawless hyper-state. To place one's hope in such a figure is a crippling, disastrous folly.
(Chris Floyd, blog on Empire Burlesque)

VI Final reflections
How easily human hope is extinguished.
How easily adoration becomes hatred.
It might have been easier if he had gone down fighting,
if he'd argued in his defense, if he had pulled off some amazing escape,
if he had called down legions of angels to free him from his captors.

But who respects a man who marches submissively to his death, with no rousing deathbed speech, seemingly with no stomach for the fight?

Yet, we remember him; he has not faded into the mists of time.

We remember him, and we recall his determination, his passion, his zeal. We remember him because his cause is one which tugs at us,
which calls us to move out of our comfort, to walk along the pathway with him, to step out for the values and principles which we honour and respect.

And so, we have to join in the cry: Hosanna!
Indeed, if we do not cry out Hosanna!
would not the very stones themselves shout forth this word of praise?

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Carping on...part 2

In Sydney, there were many ways for people to get information. As well as free to air TV and cable TV, there were many newspapers, and radio staions. Some are good and informative, and some do not let the facts get in the way of a good story. Others are dedicated to promoting local news, and tend to sit on the political, environmental and social policy fence.

Here in Wauchope, there are a number of local papers, as I have mentioned. Two tend to be careful about what message they peddle. The third, The Port Paper, is not.

And The Port Paper is back. It seemed to disappear after the election, but there it was yesterday, sitting in the driveway. Those of you who read this blog may recall that this anonymously owned, funded and edited piece of dubious journalism had a column known as Carp's Corner.

And Mr Carp is back with a vengeance. I didn't think he would be able to top his last rant about the Mid North Coast seceding to become a loyal eastern satellite of a seceded WA. But those who draw their energy from wells of deep-seated prejudice, fear and intolerance seem to have an endless supply of invective at their fingertips.

His column starts well, with an announcement that there are some facts that we, the reader, need to note as the debate about a carbon tax heats up. This first fact is that wind turbines can only produce 20% of their capacity due to fluctuating wind conditons. This is a very definite statement, Mr Carp. And while this is broadly true, the amount of energy generated by wind turbines is measured by what feeds into the electricity grid. Wasted electricity occurs due to the inability of aging electricity grids to allow more than this percentage of energy to enter them. More importantly, percentage generated doesn't mean 'ineffectual'. Our petrol combustion motors in cars are very inefficient, but they still work.

The second fact is that solar farms "cost a bomb". Very factual - if we know the cost of the precise model of bomb Mr Carp is referring to.

The third fact is that the carbon tax will make ALL of us poorer, sooner not later. And it will kill our resource industry. I'll come back to this in a later comment.

The next fact I like is that we are in a phase of global cooling. Yep, good point, Mr Carp, given global temperatures have been on the increase since the age of industrialisation.

I will mention two more of Mr Carp's facts, though I have many more I could choose from. Firstly, those who support claims of global warming and the carbon tax use "unscientific rhetoric" to make their points - presumably unlike the facts as presented by Mr Carp.

I guess it just must be because scientific facts such as clean energy "costing a bomb" and the concept of "global cooling phase" are too complex for the poor old greenies to understand.

Secondly, Dr Ken Henry apparently said that "Treasury could not build a computer big enough to work out the costs of the Greens policies".

Mmmmm. All I could find when I tried to research this claim online in major newspapers, electronic media and Hansard was that Dr Henry was in favour of the mining tax, and was supported in this by the Greens. I also found that despite Mr Carp's fears of losing our resource industry due to a carbon tax, that BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Woodside, AGL and Alcoa were in favour of an emissions trading scheme.

Mr Carp thinks people who object to his facts and accept the evidence of climate change are socialists who have a new religion in climate change because socialism is now unfashionable. They "hate" all sceptics of climate change.

What puzzles me most about Mr Carp's sustained piece of invective is actually what is driving it. What does Mr Carp have to fear if global warming is real and present? What is invested in NOT having it real? And what is wrong with people finding better ways of being cleaner and gentler to our fragile planet? What is it about wanting pollution controls or a fairer distribution of wealth and resources that sends our Mr Carp into orbit?

I also do not understand why people need to read and believe this stuff. Is it just easier to believe these 'facts' - from an anonymous source with no evident credentials - than changing our habits? Or is there another reason?

Mr Carp, unless you are prepared to put more into your research and are prepared to come clean about who you are, and who pays you, I don't think you should be publishing this stuff.
Or is the fact of 'being honest' also 'unfashionable'?

The Rural Reverend:

Will the real translation please stand up? Considering John 11

Chapter 11 is a climactic moment in the gospel of John. It contains the last, and greatest, of the seven signs that Jesus performs in this gospel, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It is also a literary masterpiece, constructed using metaphors (light and dark are but one example), considerable irony (vs 4 and vss 50-53 are particularly good examples) and a Jesus that again turns everything expected upside down on its head.

I suspect that we tolerate Jesus’ unexpected behaviour and implicit criticism of his society much better when it matches our own beliefs. It is this consideration which leads me to reflect on this week’s reading.

The first social problem Jesus creates is for Mary and Martha. They face a difficult predicament here, as their brother Lazarus is dying. Lazarus is the only male in the household in a culture in which a woman without a man was profoundly vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. Lazarus was not only a beloved brother, but was also the closest thing to social welfare that they had, and he was close to death.

Mary and Martha send word to Jesus, calling on him for help. After all, he is a close friend to Lazarus. They know he has extraordinary powers. They expect Jesus to behave in a manner in keeping with the society they live in. Jesus doesn't.

Jesus fails to come and see Lazarus as he lays dying. Jesus fails to attend his friend’s funeral. Jesus does not meet the sisters’ expectations of a close friend and protector. When they get word that Jesus is finally on his way, after the death and funeral, Martha goes out to meet him. She challenges him about his actions. Mary apparently is at home, perhaps unable to face him.

Jesus’ reaction is again socially unexpected. He does not attempt to comfort Martha, but instead gives her a lesson in doctrine and theology. Whatever we might think about Jesus’ words, especially as we know what Jesus is intending, this is not a particularly pastoral response.

But we can cope with this, as we know it all has a happy ending, and Jesus will restore Lazarus to life. We understand that Jesus’ unexpected social behaviour has a point to it, and this point is also part of God’s plan to give Jesus and God glory.

The story continues, and I am guessing that my next two sentences will probably reflect the bible translation you are reading. In verse 33, Mary, possibly Martha, and their friends are all weeping. This lamenting of the dead was what was expected in these times. The next thing that happens is perhaps a little surprising to us. Jesus is apparently moved by her weeping. By verse 35, Jesus himself begins to weep. Just to help you here, the NRSV reads:

30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb.

But something is wrong. Jesus is behaving within the social convention, something he has consistently failed to do throughout the earlier part of the chapter, and indeed throughout much of this gospel. Quite some time ago, when I really tried to grapple with this text, I found this both odd and comforting. It was very moving to think of Jesus weeping with the bereaved people, having compassion on their grief. But I remained surprised that Jesus was behaving in an expected way. Where had the unexpected gone?

This continued to trouble me, and in preparing the Lenten bible study for this passage, I finally did what I should have done before. I looked at the Greek.

You will note that I have highlighted some words in verses 33, 35 and 38. If the blog removes the highlight, I am talking about “greatly disturbed” and “deeply moved” in verse 33, “weep” in verse 35 and “greatly disturbed” again in verse 38 in the NRSV passage reproduced above.

I have taught the Translation section of introductory biblical studies for many years at the college. I have also taught it as a bible study for people wanting to improve their understanding of scripture. I have discovered that the translators of our various bibles are thoughtful people, often adding in an extra word (or phrase in the case of “The Message” or the “Living Bible”) to the text to clarify things, especially theological things. I have found they put capital letters onto certain words to change the understanding, and that they ignore at times the real meaning of certain Greek and Hebrew words considered too contentious or difficult to translate.

On the whole, they do a wonderful job getting at times obscure words and ideas into understandable English. But at times they overstep the mark, and this is one of them.

There are three words I want to highlight. Let’s start with verse 33.

Have a look at the bible translation you have with you. In particular, note how your translation describes Jesus as feeling when he meets Mary for the first time. To remind you, the NRSV says:

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

The Greek words are embrimaomai and tarasso respectively. The first is a favourite of mine. It literally means to snort like a horse. It is a verbal idiom for being angry and indignant. The second means agitated or troubled. Neither verb denotes compassion or sympathy.

Gail R O'Day, in the New Interpreter's Bible commentary, outlines the problem in John 11:33-35 extremely well, and her words are worth reproducing:

“From the earliest patristic interpreters of this text, commentators have struggled to interpret the words about Jesus' emotions in these verses. This difficulty has even influenced the way v. 33 is translated. The differences between the NIV and the NRSV translations are instructive in this regard. The NIV translates the verb enebrimesato as "deeply moved," the NRSV as "greatly disturbed." The NIV translates the verb etaraxen as "troubled," the NRSV as "deeply moved." The two translations suggest that the verbs are synonymous and that they have to do with the depths of Jesus' compassion (esp. "deeply moved"). However, they are more interpretation than translation, because the Greek verbs do not have these meanings. The first verb (embrimaomai) connotes anger and indignation, not compassion. In its LXX and other NT usages, it has this meaning consistently (e.g., Dan 11:30 LXX; Matt 9:30; Mark 1:43; 14:5). The primary meaning of the second verb is "agitated" or "troubled" (tarasso; the NIV is more accurate here) and is used here to underscore the intensity of Jesus' emotion.

The NIV and the NRSV thus tend to sentimentalize and play down Jesus' true emotions in v. 33, turning them from anger to compassion. … Interestingly, German translations of this text, following Luther's initial translation, tend to render the verbs as verbs of anger.” (NIB, IX:690)

Translating these verbs correctly actually has Jesus again behaving in an unexpected way, which is much more in keeping with the usual intentions of the author of the gospel of John. And the evidence of the Greek text is very clear about Jesus’ emotions, and he is being described as angry in v. 33.

So we have two problems here. The first is that in a situation that seems to call for sympathy, the author of John has Jesus clearly angry, something which causes problems for us 21st century Christians. It apparently makes us as readers so uncomfortable in our picture of Jesus, that many modern translators simply change the emotions to better suit our own views about Jesus. There are some that do accept the meaning of the Greek – the NLT and somewhat surprisingly, The Message, both use the word ‘angry’ in their translations but this is uncommon practice.

The second problem is why do the tears of Mary and her friends (the "Jews") arouse Jesus' anger and indignation?

Ah, I hear you cry at this point, but the text does say that Jesus weeps. Here it is:

35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

There are two problems with understanding Jesus’ tears as coming from the same emotion as the mourners, and as even the same tears. The first clue is that “the Jews” note that Jesus must have loved Lazarus greatly, and this is why he is weeping. Readers of John would know that if the character “the Jews” say it, then it is extremely likely to be false. So we can conclude this is not why Jesus weeps.

The verb translated ‘weep’ in verse 35, is dakruo, and it is a hapax legomena, meaning that is the only occurrence of this word in the NT. It is different to the word used of Mary or the Jews "weeping", which is klaio. It literally means to “shed tears”. So Mary and her friends weep; Jesus “sheds tears”. The use of this word, chosen deliberately by John, is likely meant to imply that Jesus' tears were somehow different than the weeping of the others, and not out of compassion or sympathy for Lazarus or his family.

The point of this exercise is not to now give you an interpretation of the passage in the light of this translation, though for what it is worth, I think Jesus, who is there to demonstrate a magnificent sign that shows his and God’s true glory (NRSV 11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.") is angry and indignant that the other characters in the story do not trust him or have faith enough to recognise this.

Rather, this exercise has been to demonstrate that a slip of a translator’s pencil has the capacity to change the whole meaning and tenor and interpretation of a passage. Rather than being allowed to explore the full depth and meaning John’s author wants us to experience, we find a sanitised version in many of our bibles that is apparently more palatable to us.

Myself, I would prefer the full meaning, warts and all. I want to make my own decisions about what a passage means, no matter how hard this might be. I want the real Jesus of the text, not the one someone thinks I should have. I want to take the risk associated with truly understanding this story.