Friday, April 29, 2011

Frog in Love

Why do people feel the need to criticize things which are good and nice? Why do we, as humans, tend so often to tear down rather than build up? Why is a negative thought always so readily available? Why can't my dog make up his mind whether he wants to be inside or outside? Why are we so intent on dying rather than living?

Perhaps you might like to answer those questions but I'm not going to because a man and a woman were married yesterday. William and Kate are in love, and on the 29th day of April in Westminster Abbey, they exchanged vows and, in the sight of God, their family and friends, and a couple of billion spectators, became husband and wife. Naturally this wedding was not an average nuptial ceremony. It cost truckloads of cash, and attracted huge amounts of attention and why shouldn't it have? A prince married the woman he loves and she has become a princess. Who doesn't love a fairytale?

The vision of the beautifully happy and totally in love young couple that I watched on my television screen last night melted my heart. As for the extravagance of the occasion, the opulence of the setting, the cost of security, and the political irrelevance of what? Hear me loud and clear: it was lovely and delightful. Yes, I used those adjectives willingly, and I am not ashamed.

I see nothing wrong with people celebrating love. If you have ever been in love or are in love right now, then you know how all consuming the passion is. You know the dizziness, the butterflies, the joy. You know how love makes you crazy and gives you strength. Like the Frog who fell in love with the Duck*, you know that love crosses all divides of race and religion. You know it is worth celebrating, and if you had as much money as the British royal family, you would spend it without a second thought to tell the world how magnificent and wonderful love is, especially your love.

Given a choice, I would not have watched the wedding instead of the football last night. However, I was happy the match was delayed so that I could see William and Kate in love and getting married because it made me feel good. I pray their love and happiness never ends.

* Frog in Love, by Max Velthuijs, Anderson Press (1989)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fighting Losing Battles

Sometimes you can try your hardest to do something but it won't be good enough to achieve success. Sometimes you can play as well as you possibly can, but it won't be good enough to avoid defeat. We may fight with everything we have, with strength, bravery, skill and doggedness, but sometimes everything is not enough. Nobody wins every battle they fight. There are some wars which simply cannot be won, and some enemies which cannot be defeated. There are times when we need someone else to fight for us.

This brings us to the common theme of Easter and Anzac Day: sacrifice. Our soldiers fight our battles for us and many of them lose their lives. In the great wars of the past many have died to save others. Our troops are still dying as they fight unwinnable wars. Without wishing to cause offence though, I believe Easter is of greater importance because of the nature of the enemy, and the totality of the victory.

We are fighting a losing battle against ourselves, our selfishness, our pride, our greed, and our brokenness. Death is the certain outcome of this war and the casualties are mounting. Look around you, listen to people's stories, learn of the pain and suffering which defines our lives. We do not have the resources to win this fight. We are far too weak. We need some else to fight for us.

Jesus Christ sacrificed himself so that those who believe in him could have their sins forgiven, and be healed of their pain. He was broken so that we could be fixed. Three days later, he rose from the grave having defeated the ultimate enemy, death itself, and in doing so he made true, meaningful and eternal life possible.

If you are tired of battling alone, struggling through one war after another. If you are on the verge of surrendering because of exhaustion and hopelessness, hear the words of your saviour, Jesus Christ: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Our Men Are Afraid

Some fool over in Afghanistan, a local politician or something, added his two cents to our current debate about allowing women in the Australian Defense Forces to serve in frontline positions. Obviously an ignorant sexist with a flare for being offensive, he said that we must be considering women for combat roles because our men are afraid. Fair enough, this may have been a juicy example of hyperbolic rhetoric but it really annoyed me. What a stupid thing to say when our men, our soldiers, are dying in his God forsaken country to try and secure a peaceful future for them.

The re-ignited public discussion about women in combat roles is also stupid. As with just about everything kicked around in the forum of the vox populi, it is largely drivel. People have a right to their opinions but we should all be aware that there is a difference between points of view which are informed by relevant knowledge and/or experience, and hot air fuelled by ignorance and prejudice.

Women and men are not the same but they can do the same things. The only pre-requisite for employment in a particular profession, in this case, the armed forces, should be a person's ability to do the job. Are they physically, intellectually and emotionally capable of executing their duties? The presence of a penis between the candidate's legs, or lack thereof is not a relevant criterion.

Speaking of penises: have you heard the one about how women on the front line may get raped if captured? Men get raped too. What about that women are too soft and they might not be able to handle the terror of combat? Men have had their insides ripped out, literally and metaphorically, ever since they first raised arms against one another after they were expelled from Paradise. What about the one that says men will feel overly protective of the females in their unit? I believe that the bonds that exist between members of a combat unit are unbreakable; thicker than blood in some cases.

I don't know anything about war other than what I read, listen to, and watch. I've been to the War Memorial, and I've felt the intensity of overwhelming emotions when I think of what has been sacrificed by our armed forces, but I have never experienced it. Saying that I know about war is like stating I understand brain surgery because I watched a edited version of it on RPA.

To say that I admire the bravery of people who go into armed combat is such an understatement that I feel embarrassed to write it. The debate about whether courageous women should serve on the frontline is best left to people who know what they are talking about. Ignorance, like that demonstrated by our Afghan friend, is not helpful.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Straight Shooting

I am embarrassed sometimes when I hear our political leaders speak. In fact, I don't think many of them deserve to be called leaders. Let's just call them politicians and we all know what politicians are like, don't we? What a tragedy that we live in a country where we don't believe what our politicians say. What a shame that we laughingly accept truisms like, all politicians lie and break promises. They can't even lie straight in bed. Not only do they lie and say whatever is politically expedient at the time, but they can't even do it convincingly. If you expect an honest, direct answer to a question, then you are dreaming, living in a fantasy world where politicians say what they mean, and mean what they say.

I know that not all of the current crop of politicians are crooked doublespeakers, and I also know that many who come across that way, are probably different in private. They may well be honest, passionate people who ooze integrity but I want to see those qualities in their public life. I want leaders who are not allergic to straight answers, not afraid to say what they think, and who actually act instead of mouthing empty rhetoric.

With incessant and totally justified bagging of our politicians a completely normal, and totally acceptable national pastime, I want to break away and offer some praise. This week, two men stood tall. Take a bow, Federal Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, and NSW Minister for Roads, Duncan Gay.

Leaving aside the issue of the secret filming and broadcasting of some horizontal folk dancing by an army cadet, I want to rap Stephen Smith for speaking very strongly against how the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) is handling the matter. Until his intervention, the decision by the female cadet at the centre of the maelstrom to go public had left her bullied and isolated without any offer of counselling, and under implied orders from her superiors that she would have to apologize publicly to her fellow cadets for embarrassing them. She was then hauled before a disciplinary committee on unrelated charges. Mr Smith described the decision to conduct her hearing at this time as either inappropriate, insensitive or completely stupid. Yes, he used the words completely stupid. Bravo! Furthermore, he refused to give his support to the ADFA Commandant. Full marks for straight shooting and direct intervention.

Newly appointed Minister for Roads, Duncan Gay, was interviewed on radio during the the week in relation to the government's plan to audit the state's fixed speed cameras. In response to public concerns that speed cameras are revenue raisers and not safety devices, the government wants to know factually, whether or not fixed speed cameras have reduced accident rates. People feel that many of the fixed cameras are simply in place to raise money by catching drivers unawares in tricky locations, for example, the bottom of hills, around bends or in multiple speed zones. Said Duncan Gay, 'it's hard to argue against that, and that's why we are independently auditing the system' He also said that having marked police cars on our roads was in many instances a much more acceptable option. Common sense and genuine empathy with the public? Minister Gay sounds like a representative of the people. Hats off to you sir.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Great Expectations

School awards ceremonies, a.k.a presentation nights are notoriously dull. Dutiful yet proud parents rock up to these events wishing they could fast forward all the other bits to get to the moment when their child receives an accolade. Prepared for boredom as a succession of names are read out, and ready for lame attempts at humour from the emcee, they endure the momentary pain for the somewhat longer lasting pleasure of seeing their child's achievements formally recognised.

These occasions almost always have a highlight or two. I remember one ceremony I attended in which a Year 6 boy come up to receive an award for maths and was audibly heard to say, 'But I hate maths!'

The other highlight on that night, was watching the same boy, and a Year 6 girl snagging nine or ten awards between them. With academic achievements, sports awards and library service recognition, these two were clearly the stars of the show.

I recall thinking at the time that they were the big frogs preparing to jump out of the pond of primary school and into the lake of high school the following year. I wonder how well they did. What sort of expectations would have been placed upon them? By themselves? Their peers? Their parents? How did they respond?

Most parents want their children to do well at school or at sport, but some mothers and fathers expect big things. Early success is a portent of future greatness. The eager anticipation that these children will produce glorious fruit as older children, and then as adults can hang above their heads like a storm cloud. Some parents attempt to live their lives again through their children to try to somehow atone for their own perceived failures, or lack of success. The weight of these often unrealistic and unfair expectations crushes many young spirits by sucking the fun out of their lives.

God does not place such expectations on his children. As a parent who expects great things from God, my expectations for my children revolve around them finding meaning and satisfaction in living in obedience to God's will, and in them learning to love God and others more than themselves. Who they are matters more to me than what they do. God is more interested in our characters than our achievements but for those who follow Him, and love like Him, the awards ceremony in Heaven will be the most awesome party of all time. I hope to see you there.