Response to John Dickson on Australia Day

A few days ago, my friend Scott asked me if I had seen this post from John Dickson, and asked what I thought of his suggestion about the national holiday:


From my perspecvtive it does sound like a pretty good suggestion. However, I think that whatever we do, we need to resist the urge to quickly rush into finding a solution. I think we need to do some reflection and discernment as a nation about what our national story is and how it shapes our values and culture. (I think one of our problems as a country is that we don’t know what our culture is or what we are on about, what we are working towards together.) I think we need to see what comes out of that practise. I don’t expect that process will be led by the government because the government lacks leadership and imagination. I think that if that work isn’t done, a new date might could possibly not honour First Peoples, as is John Dickson’s concern.

If we start doing that reflection and discernment, I expect people will try different things out, which might look different in different places. I think that’s already starting to happen. Lets see what emerges.

Humanity as gardeners

Over the school break we haven’t been receiving guests, so that we could have a rest. Today we opened again, so we’ll probably have people staying again during the week.
In order to get ready to receive guests again we had a working bee on Saturday. I don’t normally do much gardening from week to week (I do more of the cleaning) but when we have working bees I often get to do more of the gardening. On Saturday I started off doing some weeding, but I spent most of the morning cutting the grass. I appreciated the opportunity to do some gardening. Even though I live in the city I appreciate the small opportunity to work with nature.

I think gardening is an opportunity to stay connected with our primal origins. In the Abrahamic creation mythologies the first humans are described as gardeners. It seems (to my understanding) that cities were able to develop because of humanity learning to grow and cultivate plants. Our cities are still dependant on farmers to provide us food, but often we live without them in mind, and it seems as though our urbanised society doesn’t value their contribution.

I wonder whether a regular practise of gardening could be an opportunity for city people to be reminded of our dependence on farmers?

Moving humanity down the food chain

Each Sunday I’m publishing a monster illustration I’ve made for use in tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. You can download the files and use them in your own games if you back me on Patreon:

Today’s drawing is of a carrion crawler. I guess you could think of a carrion crawler as a kind of giant centipede. What I find interesting about carrion crawlers (and many of the other enlarged creepy crawlies in D&D) is that they reasign our characters’ place in the food chain. Humanity tends to presume that we are in charge. We presume that we will dominate the environment and our fellow creatures, adapting them to our purpose. However, monsters like the carrion crawler will treat adventurers as just another wild creature to prey upon, paralysing then and dragging them away to eat later or depositing eggs in their bodies so that their larvae will have something to eat when they hatch.

I think the carrion crawler can remind us that the world is not as tame as we might like to think. Do you ever feel like you’re at the mercy of wild, uncontrollable forces?

Priviledged Human: a background for D&D 5E


I’ve recently been reflecting on why humans seem like a less interesting character option for Dungeons and Dragons players. A few people have suggested things like boosting all their abilities more or allowing them to accumulate power more quickly. I’ve been thinking more about how to make humans attractive from a roleplaying and narrative perspective. So I’d had a go at making a character background for D&D 5E. You can find it here on Homebrewery.

If you try it out, can you let me know what you think?

How do major roads impact your neighbourhood?

My old phone, which had been going for about three years was on its last legs, so I was planning replace it. It was getting to the stage where it would sometimes only last for a couple of hours before it would go flat. I was going to try and see if I could get a Fairphone 2 via a collaborator in the UK, but after Christmas their turnaround on orders really slowed down, so I thought I’d just keep an eye on the Fairphone project for the future.

Anyway, I looked into what other options were more ethical, and found something I wanted to buy. Turned out there were only two places in Melbourne that had the deal I wanted, both out of the city a bit. So I looked up the closest location on my phone and headed out.

Just after the train arrived my phone died, so I’d seen a map of where I needed to go, but when I left the train station there weren’t really any helpful streetsigns. There was a highway passing over the railwayline, and a small street going underneath. I walked along the highway in one direction for a little bit to see if I could see any signs of the shopping centre I was looking for. Walked for about then minutes without being able to see much. Walked back towards the station and then walked along the highway in the other direction for a bit. Wondered about crossing over to the other side of the highway and whether I might be able to work out where to go from there, but there wasn’t really anywhere safe to cross. I ended up walking back to the bridge and going under the bridge to the other side of the highway. I walked towards a hardware store, and once I got to the hardware store I was able to see a big sign further down the highway, advertising a whole lot of stores, including the one I wanted. So I walked along the highway towards where the sign was. I took two rotations of light changes to safely cross the highway. Once I got to spot where the sign was I found myself in an area full of government department offices with a road running through the middle. In the distance I could see a sprawling carpark and some shops. I dodged traffic to cross the road. Saw another person almost get hit by a car as she crossed further down. Walked for about five minutes across car parks to get to the shopping centre.


This experience showed me a bit about how dependent I am on a phone to find my way in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. But it also made me wonder whether it was intended as a neighbourhood? It seemed like little thought had been put into making the area navigable for local people on foot. What was being prioritised was getting people through the area (via the highway and railway line) and getting people to the government service offices and warehouse shops.

Even in our own neighbourhood, which I think is pretty easy to get around, it is noticeable  how much busy roads break up the area and make some places harder to get to. Last week we went to visit our neighbours, who live in the same street as us. However, there’s a highway that separates our houses. When it’s not busy it’s easy to cross safely, but when we visited last week it was very busy, so we had to walk a couple of blocks down to cross at the lights.

What role do major roads play in your neighbourhood? What kind of relationship do you have with them?

A nest, a seat and a tuber: invitations to a new Australian identity

This week we’ve been away from the city. We’ve been in Daylesford, in the goldfields.
Today is the national holiday, which is actually a day of mourning for our First Peoples. This year there’s been more momentum than to change the date.

While we’ve been in Daylesford I’ve noticed a few things around the town which I think call us toward new possibilities as a nation.
They are a nest sculpture at the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens…

…a park bench with a Greek proverb written on it…

and a community garden full of murnongs (yam daisies):

I think we are being invited to conceive Australia in a new way.
We could say that Australia is an opportunity to grow a sense of home.
There is a sense that every people group that makes up this modern country has experienced the trauma of losing of home.
That could be an experience that brings us together.
It could be an experience that calls us to grow a sense to home, a nest, to create a new society together.
It could be an invitation to create a place where other dislocated peoples can sit and find shelter. (We could recognise other dislocated people as going through the Australian experience.)
But that has to start with hearing the stories of dispossession and dislocation that our First Peoples have experienced.
January 26 could be a day when we acknowledge this, instead of a day where we get smashed, trying to forget the trauma of our colonial history.

What’s remarkable about the yam daisies growing in the community garden is that they were a staple vegetable for First Peoples in this part of the land. They were mostly destroyed by European colonists’ herd animals. This seriously diminished the food that was available to First Peoples.
I wonder, could restoring the murnongs be a step of repentance for Settler peoples?

Were the primal humans of Genesis immortal?

I’ve been gradually reading through Genesis and each Wednesday I’ve been posting some reflections. I recently appreciated getting a question from my friend Nat:

‘What’s your take on the significance  (i hope I’m remembering this properly) of there being no death in the garden? …ie, if it’s not literal truth’

When Nat asked me this I also wasn’t sure if I was remembering properly. I had a sense that I’d heard people say that there was no death before the humans ate the forbidden fruit. I wasn’t sure whether I’d read that in scripture or whether it was part of the folklore that’s attached to the story. So I thought I’d go back to the text and see if I could find anything suggesting that there was or wasn’t death in the garden.

In the first  section of Genesis I couldn’t find anything saying that their was no death in the garden. What I did find was YHWH Elohim becoming concerned about what would happen if the humans ate from the tree of life (and became immortal) after having already eaten from the tree of knowledge.

I’m wondering if other people presumed, like me and Nat, that the story said people were immortal in the garden? If human beings are descibed as already having a limited lifespan in the garden, does that change our attitudes about death?

I’m also wondering if there may be something I’m missing? If you can see something in the text suggesting that humanity was immortal, we’d be keen to hear.

What if we read Jesus’ parables like Zen koans?

This week we’re away on holiday, so I’m posting some pieces that I’ve prewritten. One of my collaborators reckoned I should publish this one from a few years ago, so here it is. It’s a longer read that normal.

Last year I completed my Bachelor of Theology at Whitley College. One of the most rewarding units of study as part of my degree was spending a semester learning about Buddhism from Paul Beirne, a former Roman Catholic priest who’d ministered in Korea.

While I was learning about Buddhism, my church was also spending some time reflecting on the parables of Jesus. I wondered about how some Buddhist ideas might change the way that we read parables.

What first triggered this idea was the Zen Buddhist idea that the highest truth cannot be put into words. Instead, a Zen master will posit a koan (or ‘problem’) that is designed to trigger an experience of enlightenment. These koans tend to seem a lot like riddles and often have no adequate answer. In this way, Zen koans reminded me of the parables of Jesus, which seemed to confuse his closest disciples. In fact, when his followers ask Jesus why he speaks in parables, he is recorded to say,

To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that
     ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
          and may indeed listen, but not understand;
     so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’

I find this explanation as confusing as any Zen master’s koan. Jesus says that the disciples are in on the secret and that parables are used so that others may not understand, but it is the insider disciples who need the parable explained. I am confused about why Jesus would use a method of communication that he knows will not be understood, and is in fact misunderstood by his closest friends.

As part of my study of Buddhism, Paul Beirne suggested that I read Paul Knitter’s book Without Buddha I could not be a Christian. Knitter is a Roman Catholic who, in crossing over into Buddhism, has found resources that help him reconcile the difficulties he’s had with Christianity.

Knitter has found that the Buddhist emphasis on the interconnectedness of all things is a helpful remedy to the dualistic views that have come to dominate Christianity. He also says he has benefitted from the Buddhist understanding that suffering happens because of selfishness, which is caused by ignorance – ignorance of our interconnectedness. Rather than being a thing or a substance in itself (as sin or evil have often been understood by Christians) it is understood as a lack.

Knitter says he has appreciated the space Buddhists allow for mystery, as Christians have had a tendency to talk to much, trying to give explanations for everything. He says that Buddhists recognise that words are a means to an end, not the end in itself. Our words and ideas are not adequate to describe the end that we seek, so we must hold them loosely.

Knitter describes the practises of metta and tonglen, Buddhist techniques which may also help Christians develop compassion. He also says that he has been challenged by Buddhists to accept all things, even things he would like to identify as evil, and not to wish that they were different. It is understood that by doing this one can come to an understanding of why things are the way they are.

After reading Knitter’s exploration of Buddhism I decided to see how my reading of parables would be impacted by these Buddhist ideas and practises. Before and after reading a parable I decided I would try to practise metta. As I reflected on the parables I would keep in mind the Buddhist ideas Knitter had explored.

The Lost Parables of Luke 15

Before reading these parables I spent some time practising metta, which is basically directing love. You start off directing love toward yourself, then toward someone close to you, and then to someone who you have no significant connection with. After this you try directing love toward someone who you find difficult to love, maybe even someone who you’d say you hate. Lastly you take some time to direct love toward yourself again, in recognition that many of us find it most difficult to love ourselves.

As I began to read the ‘lost’ parables of Luke 15, I noticed that the setting for the telling of these parables has some tax collectors and sinners gravitating towards Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes are unhappy about this and, in contrast, they seem to want to disasociate themselves from Jesus. The gravitation fo the sinners and tax collectors toward Jesus might indicate a recognition of their interrelationship with himbut it is also leading the Pharisees and scribes to deny any interrelationship.

In the first parable Jesus tells them, the relationship the shepherd has with the one lost sheep is so strong that he will momentarily leave all the other sheep (distancing himself from them) to have all of his sheep back with him. I wonder whether there is a similarity between the shepherd risking leaving all of the other sheep in order to find the one stary and Jesus risking his relationship with the Pharisees and scribes in order to acknowledge his interconnection with the tax collectors and sinners?

It seems that one stray is noticed because its place in the group is missing. With just one missing, the flock is not whole and so all are diminished. This is why there is great rejoicing when the stray is returned. In the second parable th set of coins is also diminished because of the one missing coin.

In the third parable, the first son acts as an individual, separating himself from his family and their land. He suffers because of his selfishness and ignorance. He sells the land that he should have maintained connection with, wastes the money received from the sale and has nothing left when hard times hit. This happens because he is trying to operate as a separate and independent self. He is ignorant of the connection with his father and the love his father has for him. In the foreign land where the first son ends up, no-one will give him anything to eat, even though they are dependent on his labour.

When the son decides to return, he thinks his father will not be happy about his return, He doesn’t recognise the depth of relationship that is missing. He doesn’t realise how much his father just wants him back home. The father celebrates his son’s return. The loss of their relationship was such that his son was as good as dead. Now that he has returned to his family and (what remains of) their land it is as though he has been resurrected.

The second son’s suffering is caused by ignorance. Like his brother, he is thinking of himself as separate from the family. He is thinking about what he will get one day when his father dies. He thinks of his workd as slavery because he is ignorant of his father’s love and generosity. He thinks his father is going to try and keep everything for himself until he dies, which is why he is angry at the unexpected generosity shown to the other son. Because he is thinking of himself as an individual rather than part of a family he doesn’t recognise what has been missing while his brother was away or what will be missing if he chooses not to join the celebration.


The Parable of the Unforgiving Slave

I practised metta again before reading this parable. As I read, what was most apparent to me was that I wanted it to be different. There are other unpleasant parables with nasty endings in the scripture, but here the author actually has Jesus saying that God may act like one of the nasty characters in the parable. However, since I’ve been challenged to accept things as they are rather than wishing they were different, I must try to accept this parable as it is, in order to underdtand why it is like this.

I wondered if perhaps I should practise metta, directing love toward all of the characters mentiuoned in this passage before I came back to it. I spent some time directing love towards the various characters: Peter, Jesus, the king, the first slave, the second slave, God, the author of the text, and myself the reader.

When Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive another member of the church, Jesus gives Peter a nonsense number, seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven times. This seems like a Zen koan, meant to confuse Peter and distract him from counting the times he has forgiven. Jesus follows on with a parable.

The parable starts with a king wanting to cash in on his loans. It appears that this king is thinking selfishly, as though he is not interconnected with the people around him. This is confirmed when he orders one of his slaves to be sold, along with his family and possessions, in order to pay a ten thousand talent debt. However, when this slave begs for patience, offering to pay back all he owes, the king cancels the debt. Perhaps the slave’s plea has called the king to compassion and reminded him of the interconnection between the two men?

It appears, however, that the slave is ignorant as to what has just happened. He does not realise that he has just been treated as though he is not a separate person. He continues acting as an individual. When he sees a fellow slave who owes him one hundred denarii, a much smaller sum, he demands that this man pay what he owes. When his debtor pleads for patience he does not recognise their interconnection, even though he was just recently in a similar situation. Unlike the king, he sends his debtor to prison until the debt is paid.

The other slaves know that the king cancelled the first slave’s debt. They know that the first slave then showed no mercy to his fellow slave. As I refelcted I wondered what significance this would ahve for the other slaves. Perhaps the king’s actions represented for them the possibility of a new way of relating to others, founded on compassion? Maybe they saw the first slave’s failure to follow this pattern as a threat to the possibility of compassionate relationships? Whether or not this is the reaosn for their distress, they tell the king about what has happened. As the slave has not followed the pattern of compassion and forgiveness, the king revokes his pardon.

Jesus explains that God will also treat people in this way if they do not forgive others. Does this mean that God will amke sure one is punished unless one learns to forgive? My hunch is that if Peter had asked this question Jesus might give ans answer aloing time lines of, ‘The question does not fit the case.’ This question is still coming from the kind of minset that asks, ‘How many times do I need to forgive.’ The point may be that if we do not maintain a pattern of compassion and forgiveness, even going beyond what seems reasonable, nobody else will either.

The Parable of the Great Dinner

Once again I spent time practising metta before reading this parable.

The setting for the telling of this parable is a dinner Jesus attended, whcih was hosted by a leader of the Pharisees. Jesus tells the person who invited him that when he invitesguests he should invite people who would be unable to returnt he favour. Normally I would presume that Jesus said this becasue it was the opposite of their practise. This time, howeve, I wondered they were not already trying to practise this kind of hospitality. If they were not already trying to practise this kind of hospitality I wonder if they would have invited Jesus, a man who was known to associate with tax collectors, sex workers and foreigners?

In the parable Jesus tells at the meal, a host invites many guests to a meal, but they all refuse. The intended guests have treated the host as though they have no significant relationship with him. This puts the dinner host in the place of those whose interconnectedness is routinely denied by others: the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame and the people fo the land. Since he has been treated like one of them, he recognises that he is interconnected with them. He has compassion for them, inviting them to the meal.

I felt uneasy about this parable because of the host’s declaration that none of the intended guests would taste his dinner. I found myself wishing the parable was not written like this. But as I menioned abwhile reflecting on the previous parable, I felt challenged to accept the parable as it was rather than wishing ti was different. When I sought to accept the parable as it was recorded I realised I felt uneasy because I was treating the story like an allegory where the dinner represents Heaven and the guests who were originally invited are understood to  end up in Hell. The text, however, does not say that this is a parable about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. The parables does not say that anything bad will happen to the original guests or even that they will never be invited to another banquet.

Moving between workspaces to set a rhythm

Last Monday I posted something a bit whimsical about working outside. Today I thought I’d post something on the same topic that might make some more straightforward sense.

One of the main reasons I’ve been working outside a bit is because we don’t really have a lot of space, so I don’t have a specific place where I can work. I’ve been finding that outside in the garden (or in the carport, looking out into the garden) can be quite productive. I also find that moving between a number of different spaces (which often happen to be outside) can help me break my work up into sections. I might start off in the garden, writing a list of all the things I need to do for the day (or week), then move to the carport to get some rough notes written down for a project, then go to a café or a park or a library in the neighbourhood to turn the notes into something presentable. I think changing spaces for each stage helps to set a rhythm and create a new focus for each stage.

Mindless zombies

On Sundays I’m posting monster illustrations that I’ve made to use in RPGs. A couple of weeks ago I posted a drawing of a ghoul, and today I’ve posted a zombie. You might well ask what is the difference between a zombie and a ghoul? I’d say the main difference (at least in D&D) is that a zombie is virtually mindless. A zombie does the bidding of its master without thinking. as the 5th Edition Monster Manual says,

A zombie might stumble into a fast flowing rover to reach foes on the far shore, clawing at the surface as it is battered against rocks and destroyed.
(Monster Manual. 315.)

Of course the strength of zombies is that they normally come in large groups and can overpower adventurers by their large numbers.
Something that I think zombies can lead us to ask about our human experience is whether we’re we’re paying attention. Are we aware of how we are spending our existance, or are we mindlessly striving toward senseless ends?

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