Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why do I like Downton Abbey?

My wife and I recently watched all six seasons of Downton Abbey. For some reason, I am a little embarrassed to admit that I enjoyed it so much. Perhaps, this is because there is an element of soap opera and "wealth porn" to the show. However, what I think I actually enjoyed and valued was the history, social commentary, characters, and dialogue.

I had not appreciated before how the first world world war brought about great social change in England, particularly in the decline of the aristocracy. I was aware that the second world war also brought about a lot of change, but not the first.

The series begins about one hundred years ago, but seems a world away from today. I was particularly struck by the attitudes and prejudices about social class, unwed mothers, birth control, homosexuality, women's roles, royalty, dress, war, rape victims, the death penalty, Catholics, .....
On the one hand ninety years is a long time, but on the other hand that is the era that my parents were born in. Now (unfortunately, belatedly) I have a better appreciation of some of their values, habits, and aspirations that seemed strange or debatable to me growing up.

I felt that some of the characters were very "real" and human, reflecting a desire to often do good, yet struggling to do so and sometimes making a mess of things, as we do.

I don't envy the wealth, opulent lifestyle, and leisure of the Family. But, I do envy some of the characters witty lines, ability to guide conversations, frequent desire to be gracious, and to part on good terms with others, even those who have hurt them.

On the lighter side here are some classic lines from Cousin Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, who I came to appreciate more as a peace maker, as the series went on.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 1 (take 2)

My sermon last week was too long and there was no time for questions.  Tomorrow, I get to give the talk again at a different congregation, Unichurch, which is mostly students and recent graduates. I have cut out material (and commentary) in this version, reducing the length by almost half.

My recommendations on background books and videos are the same as before.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 1-2

At our church,  a new sermon series is starting on Genesis. I was asked to give the first talk. Here is the current version of 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.



Saturday, April 29, 2017

Christian academics talk about their research

Today I am looking forward to attending a Draft Day in Brisbane [organised by the Simeon Network] where Christian academics talk about issues related to their research.

Here are some talk titles.

"The success of the Victoria Institute and the failure of the metaphysical society"

"Considering the role of the church in population ageing"

 "How artificial intelligence may affect human decision-making"

"Justice and inequalities in cancer outcomes"

 "The 1958 Prisons Act: Queensland's missed opportunity in reform"

"The demotion of Pluto and the sociology of Science"

Here are some of the slides from my talk on "Engaging universities with the big questions"

Monday, April 3, 2017

Yearning for forgiveness, redemption, and justice

Western societies today present a paradox. Truth and morality are said to be relative and contextual. But in reality, people seem to be more passionate than ever about what they think is right, whether in politics or social behaviour.

David Brooks has a fascinating column in the New York Times, The Strange Persistence of Guilt. Here are a couple of extracts.
American life has secularized and grand political ideologies have fallen away, but moral conflict has only grown. In fact, it’s the people who go to church least — like the members of the alt-right — who seem the most fervent moral crusaders....Sin is a stain, a weight and a debt. But at least religions offer people a path from self-reflection and confession to atonement and absolution. Mainstream culture has no clear path upward from guilt, either for individuals or groups. So you get a buildup of scapegoating, shaming and Manichaean condemnation. 
Why can't we escape this yearning for righteousness, justice, and redemption?
It seems to be hard-wired into us.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Was Steve Jobs a hero?

I enjoyed watching the Steve Jobs movie, based on a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin [to me famous for West Wing]. It has the creativity and intense dialogue that one expects from Sorkin


I have a few minor comments.

I never quite understand people who go on about how Jobs "changed people's lives" and "transformed the world" and is a hero like Gandhi, Einstein, Gutenberg, Edison, ...
To me, he was one of several key players in the computer revolution.
The movie shows how Jobs had a cult-like status and people were just "dying" to attend his latest product launch.
I agree his creativity and achievements were significant. I love my Mac and much prefer it to a Windows PC. But I just don't feel this gives my life more meaning, purpose, or enrichment.

Given the way he poorly treated many work colleagues, should he be respected? A key issue is whether you believe that the ends justify the means. I don't.

The movie shows how people can have a lot of professional and financial success but at the end of the day what matters is close personal relationships; with family, friends, and colleagues.
We all hunger for acceptance, recognition, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Science and the Bible talk

Tonight I am giving a talk on "Science and the Bible", sponsored by the UQ Chaplaincy.
Here are the slides.