new short story collection. Out now!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Mirror: Risen

"Because you have seen me, you believe: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Image result for risen film
In the immediate aftermath of the disappearance of Jesus Christ's corpse which had been placed in a sealed tomb following his death by crucifixion, a rumour began to circulate that the disciples of Jesus had stolen his body in order to perpetuate the myth of his resurrection.

Fear of this malevolent gossip about a risen saviour prompted the Jewish leaders to request the tomb be sealed and guarded by centurions. Three days later, the seal had been broken, the stone had been rolled away from the entrance and the tomb was empty.

So far we are in accord with the Biblical narrative. However in the film Risen, Joseph Fiennes stars as a tribune named Clavius who is assigned to find the body of the so called Messiah. Clavius witnessed the death of Jesus, and was certain the rumour of theft was true...until he began to investigate the alleged crime.

He meets and interviews a number of Jesus' followers and is troubled by how they present themselves and defend Jesus. One day, following a lead from a spy, Clavius locates the home of one of the apostles. He bursts in and finds Jesus' inner circle there. He also sees Jesus. This moment in the film is pure gold, The man Clavius saw die and be interred, who set his own Roman seal across the entrance to the tomb, sees Jesus alive and well. To say he is surprised would be the biggest understatement in history.

Flavius then travels to Galilee with the disciples where Jesus appears to them again. Aside from the presence of tribune Clavius which is mere speculation, the film goes back to the story as presented in the Bible. One evening, Clavius has some time alone with Jesus who asks him what he is searching for. Jesus offers some suggestions: certainty? peace? And then he drops another bombshell by repeating Clavius very own words about what his hopes for the future were. A day without death. Hearing his own words from Jesus' mouth almost brings the battle hardened tribune to tears.

At times I felt the film was a little pedestrian, (the odd collection of accents was off putting, and there were some very ordinary acting performances) but in the two aformentioned moments I was really moved, emotionally. These were very powerful scenes, and I thought Fiennes did a great job of portraying a man who didn't know what he was looking for until he found it.

Everyone is looking for something. Countless people throughout the centuries have found their search ended when they met Jesus. The day I met Jesus, for example, my search for meaning in life was terminated. I know exactly who I am, why I am here and where I am going. I know this because Christ is Risen.

Risen is now available on Netflix.

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Dog's Eye: the rort and the blind eye

Image result for teaching englishShout out to the evening class ELICOS* students at another college, whom I had the pleasure of teaching this week while filling in for their regular teacher. I don't know how long I could have sustained teaching a morning class and an evening class, but I have to say it was fun. So stimulated was I by working with a new group of students (and a much higher level than my class), that each night I struggled to unwind and go to sleep.

Although it wasn't an easy gig, I am grateful for the opportunity for two reasons. Firstly, it reinvigorated me as a teacher. For some time, I have been feeling a little stale at my usual place of employment, and have become increasingly frustrated with my students. The challenge this week presented reminded me why I love teaching. Secondly, of course, is the money. Every little bit helps.

I expected a different kind of student this week in the evening class. I had anticipated much higher proficiency, but I also expected better attendance. I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that the evening class students also rock up to class whenever they can, or whenever they feel like it. They also extend the break to suit themselves, and they leave when they are tired or have something better to do.

The attendance policy at this college is clear and matches the national guidelines for the ELICOS program. At my regular place of employment, we also have such an attendance policy. However, we report on progress, not attendance which means that poor attendance only becomes an issue when it results in poor assessment results. Naturally the two are inextricably linked, but if a student only attends half the classes, yet still achieves the minimum pass mark, then there is no problem.

All our students are in Australia on working holiday visas (visa subclass 500). The conditions of this visa state the student is allowed to work for 20 hours each week, but they must attend 20 hours of English classes a week. Would it shock you to learn that none of them do. That's right. Zero percent full attendance.

At the other college where I taught this week, I discovered, despite my hopes and expectation, that they also do nothing about poor attendance. I asked about the roll and if partial attendances were recorded. The answer was no.

Image result for turning a blind eyeSo here we have two colleges who turn a blind eye to students rorting visa subclass 500. Why? Isn't it obvious? They don't want to lose students. I'm told that ELICOS colleges in Sydney and Melbourne are very strict on attendance. Elsewhere it is not the same. Many students change cities, not just for a different experience, but to find more lenient attendance policies. 

Let me be clear: students who consistently fail to attend the required number of hours in class are breaching their visa conditions. Not clear enough? They are breaking the law. What do the colleges who extract exorbitant tuition fees from the students do about this situation? Nothing. Why would they?

If one college were to crackdown on this problem, the students would simply contact their agents and transfer to another college. If all colleges enforced their attendance policy, instead of just writing them and "informing" the students about them in order to satisfy regulators...the entire industry would shrink significantly.

Image result for turning a blind eye

Self interest? Can I hear an "amen"?

*ELICOS = English Language Intensive Course for Overseas Students

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Dog's eye: the measure of a good man part 3

It's easy to be good to your friends, and by being good to them, it's easy for them to reciprocate.

Strangers are a slightly more difficult proposition, because although a bare minimum of courtesy and politeness can be managed by most people, we are generally less tolerant with, and certainly less trusting of people we do not know. Our own insecurities cause us to be wary of strangers and disinclined to get too involved with them.

Some people will help strangers; others will not, as we see in the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. The Bible says in Galatians that we should "not grow weary while doing good for in due season we will reap a reward if we do not lose heart. Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially those who are of the household of faith." This is what I believe God expects of us and although it won't make us good, it will make us better.

The third group of people by whom our treatment of them will demonstrate our "goodness" is our enemies. Most of us would deny having any enemies, but let us say that anytime somebody does you wrong, or does somebody you know wrong, they become your enemy. It is in how we deal with this group of people that the rubber meets the road. In group one, there will be Christians and non-Christians. In group two you might expect to find more Christians than non-Christians, but in reality there will be a mix. In group three, you will be struggling to find anybody at all who relates well to their enemies.

Let's remember Jesus' words: "If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors and sinners do the same? And if your greet the brethren only, what more do you do than others?"

The 12th chapter of Romans is arguably the best snapshot of Godly
behaviour in the Bible. It should be mandatory reading for everyone. Paul writes, "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good." (v. 21) "If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him drink." (v.18) "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." (v.18) Measure yourself against this criteria and you will quickly be forced to agree that you, and everyone else, falls short of the glory of God. There are no "good" men. Even Jesus, when addressed as Good Teacher, rejected this appellation by saying that only God is good.

If this sounds too hard, that's because it is. It's too hard for you, for me, for anyone. It's really not possible for men to live this way except they be filled with the Holy Spirit. Finally, remember this, even if you pass this test and can be good to not only your friends, but also to strangers and enemies, you still won't be anywhere near as good as God.

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Dog's Eye: the measure of a good man part 2

Bill and Fred have different opinions of George: one good, the other bad. Which is true? The Bible says that George is a bad man, but no worse than Bill or Fred. The truth is, compared to God, we are all bad. Romans 3:23 says that "All men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." There's no shame in that. God is perfectly good. We are not.

Men are judged by their deeds, so eye surgeon and humanitarian Fred Hollows, for example, was a good man whereas Port Arthur mass murderer, Martin Bryant is not. The average person would perhaps consider themselves not as "good" as Hollows, but much better than Bryant. Compared to each other, our goodness or badness is relative, but compared to God we are bad, because God alone is absolutely good. He is perfect. Jesus himself, during his incarnation, even rejected the appellation "good teacher", by saying that God alone is good. We are born in sin, and we die in sin unless we get saved.

If we reject the Bible's teaching on the subject of sin, how can we possibly determine who is good and who is not with any degree of objectivity and fairness? Many people, in this post modern age of relative truth and morality, say that we don't need to make such judgments. That is why you may hear a thousand different answers to the question: 'what is the measure of a good man?"

Let me clear here. When I speak of judging the goodness and badness of people, I am in fact saying that we should not do that because we are not qualified. On the basis that we are all bad, we are not equipped to judge people. We can however make honest assessments of ourselves which should allow us to be more forgiving of others and gracious to them. 

I suggest there is one answer. The Biblical measure of a man's goodness, remembering that when compared with God our own righteousness is like filthy rags, can be assessed by how he relates to three distinct groups of people; friends, strangers and enemies.

As for the first group, friends are friends because, among other things, they treat each other well, have common interests, help each other and show loyalty. It's easy to be "good" to your friends, and by being "good" to them, it is easy for them to reciprocate. It's easy to love your friends, but as Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?" (Luke 6:32)

Strangers and enemies are different kettles of fish, and I will deal with them in more detail in part 3 of the measure of a good man.

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Dog's Eye: The measure of a good man part 1

Death seems to make saints of so many sinners. When somebody dies, there is very rarely a bad word spoken about them because it is generally accepted that one should not speak ill of the dead, particularly the recently departed.

Does that mean it is okay to criticize and belittle people, to speak hateful, spiteful words, and to highlight someone's faults while they are alive, but when they die they become untouchable? It seems sometimes only death allows a person to be fully forgiven for the wrongs they have committed in life. People are judged much more harshly during their lifetime than at their death. Although the deceased's enemies would no doubt say what a bad person they were, and happily point out their failings and "sins", no one wants to hear that. It makes us all feel much better if the goodness of the person is emphasized.

Friends say it is bad that a good person has died, while enemies say it is good that a bad person has died, and they could be talking about the same person. Both are expressing opinions. Everybody can be good or bad because it depends on a personal point of view. A person's goodness or badness is entirely relative. When you listen to people talk about others, their comments are usually based on what that person has done for them, or for someone they know.

Here's an example: Bill is talking to Fred about George who is a mechanic at a local garage. Bill says that George is a good bloke because he helped Bill's sister when her car broke down and he didn't charge her anything. Fred does not like George because George gave him an outrageously high quote for some repair work, and then became angry when Fred wanted to get another quote. Bill says George is a good man, but Fred says he is a bad man. Both are making judgments solely on their experience of George. If the two men were talking to you about George, how would you judge him? Regardless of what you think, what is the true ,objective measure of a good man?

I will attempt to answer that question in the next installment. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Dog's Eye: to say goodbye

My Nana died on June 11 aged 96. Last Wednesday, July 4, the funeral was held at Woronora Cemetery, followed by a wake at The Bridge restaurant on Woronora River. The funeral was delayed to allow for family members who were overseas, like myself, to be there to say goodbye to a woman who lived a life few of us who remain could imagine.

I belong to a wonderful extended family and for this I am truly grateful to God who holds all of our lives in his mighty hand.

Here is the speech I delivered at the service* on behalf of my cousins. It was bookended by a terrific eulogy by my mum, and a speech by my son on behalf of the great grandchildren.

How do you encapsulate a life in a few moments. And such a long life as Nana had. The bible says we are given three score and ten years, but he granted Nana nearly five score. Wow. 96 years. How do you summarise such a long and amazing life. Well, I think Mum did a great job in her eulogy.

Think of your own life, the highs and the lows but in between so much of the mundane. What can I say about Nana? I can really only speak about the impact she had on my life, and to a lesser, more general extent, about the impact she had on the lives of my cousins. Imagine living to see your grandchildren grow up and have their own children. Think about what Nana saw, what she experienced in her 96 years. I remember speaking at her 70th birthday party about historical events which occurred in the year she was born: 1922. Think of how she saw the world change so dramatically.

For most of the major moments in our lives, she was there. She lived, she loved and she reveled in the achievements of her grandchildren. I remember the sparkle in her eyes, and her undivided attention when I spoke with her and told her all about what was going on in my life from time time to time. I remember how she filled me in on details from the rest of the family. How she remembered stuff, and how proud she was of all of us. I remember how baffled she sometimes was as well, not because there was anything wrong with her mind, but simply from astonishment I guess. Amazed at what we were doing and what we achieved. How we travelled the world, for example, as though it were nothing more than a family camping trip down to Cudmirrah. How great were those family holidays!

I felt especially close to Nana and Grandad particularly during and as a result of the time I lived with them in Oatley when I started high school. During a tumultuous time for me, I remember Oatley as being a safe place. I remember the peace and the quiet. I remember developing a love for dark chocolate which we ate after dinner while watching TV together. For those six months Nana and Grandad were my parents. When I think of Nana, I think of intelligent and wide ranging conversations about books and politics and life in general. I think about playing Scrabble and cups of tea and bikkies.

We'll all treasure our memories of Nana. What a blessed life we have had and how wonderful that we got to share so much of it with her. Sure, we're sad, but i think most of all we feel grateful. We honour the dead by how we continue to live and live well. There is a saying that while there is life there is hope. Nana is dead, but I think hope is eternal. It goes beyond the grave. Jesus Christ is our eternal hope, and I'm looking forward to seeing Nana again one day.

Rest in peace, Eileen Rayner. We love you and we'll miss you Nana.

*I wrote out the speech, but left it in my pocket as I spoke. Consequently I added and deleted some things. The words above are the best my memory can do to recall what I actually said. It was such an emotional day, but so great. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Dog's Eye: pushing the envelope

A video came up in my news feed on Facebook this morning of a guy reviewing some spectacular football 'dives'. Overlooking the liberal use of expletives, it was quite funny so I shared it. I had already been thinking about this issue for a few days, since Australia lost to France in their World Cup 2018 opener.

Image result for the beautiful gameFootball, or soccer as we call it here and in the United States, is truly the world game. The FIFA World Cup is a larger event than the Olympic Games.With an estimated global television audience of nearly half the population of the whole world, and ticket sales of nearly 1.7 million, it is impossible to deny the popularity of what many call 'the beautiful game'.

I don't watch a lot of soccer. I watch Australia's World Cup qualifiers when they are on at a sensible time, and I check out as much of the World Cup action as I can. There is a blight on the beautiful game. An embarrassment which even casual viewers like myself cannot help but notice and shake our heads at. The dive.

Image result for soccer divesPlayers often take dramatic falls and have exaggerated reactions to minor injuries. This is particularly laughable for fans of rugby league which is perhaps the most physically violent of all sports. The collisions between players in rugby league make mortals shudder and wonder how they can keep playing. The thing is even in rugby league, players 'dive'. It does not happen as often as it does in soccer but it happens.

The purpose of diving is to win a penalty or free kick for your team. In league it is known as 'milking', and you will occasionally hear the referee refuse to give a penalty by actually calling out 'milking'. 

I don't like this at all. To me, it is not in the spirit of the game, but the laws of the game-both soccer and rugby league- are such that decisions about foul play or illegal tackles are in the hands of the referees who must exercise their judgement as to the severity and genuineness of the offence. With such subjective assessments and enforcement of the rules, mistakes are bound to occur.

Players push the envelope to gain every possible advantage for their team. If they can get away with it, if they can dupe the referee into awarding a penalty or free kick, then why not? Why not? Because it's poor sportsmanship. I would say that the majority of players don't do it. I wish no one did it, but sport, particularly professional sport which involves such ridiculous amounts of money, is a microcosm of life.

Nearly everyone drives above the speed limits. Normally just a little bit over: pushing the envelope. That's just one example. In every arena of life, people try to bend and stretch the rules to suit themselves, to gain every possible advantage. It's normal right?

It is normal, but it speaks clearly of the rebellious heart within us all. A resistance to authority and to rules. We just don't like being told what to do. In sport, and in life in general the stakes are high, so we feel it is necessary to push the envelope regardless of how we may embarrass or injure ourselves or other people in the process.