Friday, November 17, 2017

Made in the Image of God: Talk in Singapore

Tonight I am giving a talk based on Genesis 1. The forum is a weekly meeting of Indonesian students who are part of the Singapore Fellowship of Evangelical Students at the Nanyang Technological University. Here are the slides.

For background, I recommend comparing and contrasting Genesis with the Babylonian creation myth the Enuma Elish, which is nicely summarised in this short video.

Another helpful short video is Science and Genesis, featuring John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, and others.

I have found helpful the book How to Read Genesis  by Tremper Longman.
An excellent introductory book that puts my talk in context is Exploring Science and Belief by Michael Poole.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Integrating Christian and academic lives

A wonderful little book, Why Study? Exploring the Face of God in the Academy has just been published by the Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Singapore (IFES).
In each chapter, a Christian academic describes their personal journey as they aim to integrate their Christian and academic lives. Fields covered include history, law, engineering, sociology, biology, ...
Most of the authors are from Asia.
I wrote one of the chapters,  Living as a follower of Jesus and a Physicist. I thank some friends who gave many constructive suggestions on a draft.

The target audience is Christian undergraduates who are beginning their studies.

I welcome any comments on my chapter, bearing in mind the target audience.

I hope this book will stimulate similar ventures from other parts of the world, and for different target audiences. For example, it would be great to see an African version and an Australian version. I would also like to see a version for non-Christian audiences and for faculty audiences.

Monday, November 6, 2017

How might Christians respond to university student strikes?

There are many things I am learning from my friends in the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). They provide a perspective on global Christianity and bring up issues that in the affluent Western world we do not grapple with. Here I want to start to explore the issue of strikes (or class boycotts) by university students in the Majority World. In some countries, ranging from South Africa to Papua New Guinea, it is not unusual for a campus to be closed down for a substantial fraction of the year. Strikes are about a wide range of issues: student fees, racism, de-colonisation, politics, government corruption, university policies, sexual violence, ....
This disruption and the associated unpredictability has serious implications for the education of students, for campus life, and the relationship of government to the university.

Student protests are not unknown in the Western world, even right now, particularly in the USA on issues of racism and sexual violence. The Wikipedia page on Student protest, lists a long and fascinating list of actions. These range from protests at the University of Missouri in 2015-2016 to a two-year strike at the University of Paris in 1229!  Some protests are successful in bringing about significant change (even the fall of governments), while others end in tragedy such as the 1989 massacre of students in Tiananmen Square. Others just peter out...

However, most of the current protests in the Majority World are on a completely different scale to anything happening in the West. I have studied and worked at universities in Australian and the USA for the last 40 years, and I can only recall one or two day when classes were cancelled, and that was due to faculty strikes, not students. To be honest, I wish Australian students were passionate enough about some issue to want to strike! I particularly wish they were more concerned about social justice and educational issues.

The main question I am interested in is my title, "How might Christian students, faculty, and IFES groups respond to a university student strike on their campus?"

To get the flavour of the issues and one specific response look at this example from the Student Christian Organisation in Cape Town.

There are many possible responses: ignore, oppose, join, organise, moderate...
Given the diversity of issues and contexts, I think the answer will depend on the specific strike.
This is a complex issue with no clear-cut answers and I think it is best to first back up a bit and explore some other questions.

What lessons might be learned from the history of student strikes and demonstrations in different global contexts?

Why do these strikes occur?

What is my perspective as a faculty member?

What would be my advice to the strikers?

What might be a Christian perspective?

How can student Christian groups function and be a witness (in life and word) best in this context?

I will try and explore these questions in future posts. Feel free to post your own questions and answers.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

It is painful to hear voices that need to be heard

On a recent long flight, I watched three excellent documentaries: I am not your negro, Obit, and Whitney Houston: Can I be me. Hope to write more about the second two later.

The first documentary is based on the reflections of James Baldwin on race relations in the USA, based on an unpublished manuscript he wrote, reflecting on the murders of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.
It is powerful and disturbing, particularly as it juxtaposes video of recent events associated with Black Lives Matter.
Baldwin is an eloquent and insightful social critic. His criticisms of the church and its role in segregation, racism, and injustice are painful to hear.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Who is this powerful man who fell?

He was highly creative and what he produced inspired many.
His success led to him being very powerful in his field.
Women sought help from him and wanted his approval.
Tragically, he used his power to sexually abuse countless (hundreds?) of women over decades.
There were widespread rumours.
Because of who he was and his power many chose not to believe the rumours.
Colleagues covered up for him.
His employer covered up for him.
Only after a New York Times article appeared, did his employer properly address the issue.
Reading about the conduct of this "dirty old man" makes one want to take a shower.
He never took full responsibility, or made appropriate apologies, but blamed others.
Furthermore, he came up with highly convoluted rationalisations for his behaviour.

Who is this man?
You are probably thinking of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer.

But actually, this history also describes that of the highly influential Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder.

Unfortunately, when it comes to sexual abuse it does not matter what the religion, philosophy, denomination, or theological position. They all have their abusers and victims.

There is a new article by Stanley Hauerwas [who played a significant role in bringing Yoder's theology to a wider audience] who wrestles with his own role and response. It makes painful but worthwhile reading.

To me, this tragedy highlights many important lessons.
One lesson is the importance of personal integrity and accountability. Furthermore, as Hauerwas emphasises you cannot separate theology and action. Mind, heart, and body are integrated and inseparable.

Christian leaders (that includes me!) have to take very seriously Paul's exhortation to Timothy:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
You cannot separate life and doctrine. How you act is just as important as what you believe. Unfortunately, believing and speaking the "right" thing is an awful lot easier than living the right way.

Furthermore, we have an incredible capacity for self-delusion. This is particularly true when power, sex, or money are involved.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Guest post: What is real?

My dear wife has written the following post.

From time spent in India I am more aware of the existence of the spiritual world. In the West we tend to discredit things that aren’t tangible, things that can’t be touched or measured – for the sake of being “educated” and "rational". We have disqualified the spiritual for the sake of the material, things that we can not see for things that we thing are quantifiable and "real".

That makes me angry – this cultural blindness is like wearing shackles that I never asked for.

In most of India you can’t go far without running into a shrine or temple. To most Indians, there is no question that there is a spiritual world. Even some physicists consult the astrological calendar to pick an audacious date for their daughters wedding. I am not saying this is a good thing. The question isn’t so much “is there a god?” but rather “which gods will I honour?” We might argue about which is farther from the truth – living as if there are no gods or sacrificing to false gods? Yet the difference is striking.

As a Christian it is refreshing that the reality of the spiritual realm is affirmed by a society. It becomes easier to set one’s heart and mind on things above, not on earthly things. The dark side also is true, I’m more aware of the spiritual warfare surrounding us, and that our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil. The problems of our age can’t be solved by argument but need prayer and fasting.

I pray that God would help me to hold onto this awareness before it recedes into the Western norm. Help me to remember this world needs people honouring You with their lives – not an over emphasis on material things or analytical arguments seeking a perfect answer.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Does she belong in the slum?

My wife and I really enjoyed watching the movie, Queen of Katwe. It is based on the true story of a young Ugandan woman, Phiona Mutesi. She becomes a national chess champion while growing up in a slum.

I first heard of the movie after a story about Phiona appeared on the front page of the Seattle Times. Then a friend who works in a slum in Africa said he watched it with a group of local children to inspire them. Less than a week later my daughter independently recommended it.

The movie does a beautiful job of capturing many things.

The tragic daily grind and challenge of living in a poor family.... homelessness... debt... prostitution... disease... accidents... filth... floods... widowhood... no education.... lack of hope..

The "atmosphere" and imagery of a slum. This brought back memories of some of my limited experiences in South Asia.

The value of mentoring and role models.

Teaching chess to slum children teaches so much more. Here there are similarities to another movie and true story.

How human dignity transcends economic circumstance, family background, and street address.

To me, an important thing to remember is that the life depicted in the slum is what about one billion people experience.