Monday, December 30, 2013

Is Australia over the limit?

They say it is hard to see your own blind spot when you are living in the culture.

Australians look across the Pacific and say the Americans have a blind spot when it comes to guns. True enough.

But here's an observation looking west across the date line.

Australians have a blind spot when it comes to alcohol.

Yes - I know the issue has been getting some press recently with various violent assaults, but as a nation, very little, if anything is being done about it. (In the same way that a couple of awful gun "events" in the US generated a lot of angst and debate for a few months, but in the long run politics and the power of lobby groups meant nothing of any substance has changed.)


Because it seems that Australians are just blind to the pervasiveness of alcohol in everyday, neighbourhood culture - and until that is addressed, nothing will change.

Here's just one anecdotal observation which I think illustrates the point.

Over our winter holidays we've been enjoying watching the ABC series "The Time of our Lives." We've enjoyed the "normal-ness" of the people involved, their dealings with relationship successes and failures, kids, just the coming and going of life. We also enjoy the setting in Melbourne as it reminds us of 6 great months we had living there.

But for a show about a group of "normal" people, there is an enormous amount of alcohol consumed.

Admittedly, a couple of the characters manage an comedy club where there is a bar, so scenes there tend to be in the evening and there is alcohol being served - OK - that is the scene.

But every time the two partners have a chat about the business or a get together there is beer.

When one of the characters comes home from work after a tough day she is routinely offered a glass of wine to "make things better" in the way the English would offer a cup of tea.

Character x arrives unexpectedly at the house of character y at dinner time, is invited to stay and needs to go and get a bottle of wine to "contribute".

Two characters need to talk through a relational issue - they go out for a drink to do it (rather than going out for a coffee or a meal.)

When family members wrestle with the consequences of family breakdown, pre-teen angst and unemployment, it is dealt with sensitively, compassionately and with careful and expressive writing. When a character deals with her relational pain by regularly getting drunk, everyone giggles at her.

When a character is done for low range drink driving, it is laughed off and seen as an opportunity for bike riding and broadening his horizons.

Yes - the government needs to step in an enact Newcastle style lockouts and shot bans and all that stuff, but for any of that to happen, or to work, it seems to me that society needs to ask the question. As a society, are we over the limit?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas in Mexico

Christmas eve here in Mexico, which means Christmas Day in Australia. As we sit in our winter clothes on a cold, crisp day, it is a slightly strange experience reading the reports of carols in the carpark wearing shorts and eating ice creams, midnight carols services and various stages of feast preparation.

All the Christmas action happens on the night of Christmas eve here. Our church has a Christmas service at 6pm, although traditionally there aren't many people at it because the big family get together is getting underway. A huge family feast followed by present giving at midnight is the traditional way. For the adventurous, there are often amateur fireworks, and then Santa presents on Christmas morning. And thats it. The 25th is about recuperating.

Most churches do not have anything on Christmas Day - ours tried it a couple of years ago but so few people came it wasn't worth the effort.

What will Christmas look like for us?

Christmas Eve - I'm working. I've got a stack of exams to be marking and various bits and pieces to do for the new year. During the afternoon we'll skype with the Christmas early birds in Australia. We'll go to church at 6pm where a few of us will probably play music. Then we'll come home and have a quiet dinner. We'll have our traditional family breakfast of pancakes, strawberries and ice cream (strawberries are great here!) do presents on Christmas morning while the turkey is cooking, and enjoy a big Christmas lunch - even with Christmas pudding!

Christmas is one of the times of the year when I think we feel most strongly that we are foreigners living in a foreign land. It is very different here. Yes - there are different Christmas traditions, foods etc - no big deal. But most clearly, we are relationally foreigners. The majority of Mexicans are at big family celebrations tonight - as are many Australian friends - but for us, it'll be just us.

Have a great day celebrating Christmas. Enjoy the family, the food, the presents, all the good ways in which God blesses us. But most of all, remember the saviour.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A great and important read

If you are looking for a "thinking" book to read this Christmas break, can I recommend Dr Megan Best's "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made - Ethics and the beginning of human life" (2012, Matthias Media).

It is a great book - I've just finished it.

I highly recommend it because it gives the average person like me a thoughtful and perceptive insight into the ethics involving the beginning of human life. Dr Best is a committed Christian, a very smart lady, has a sensitive pastoral heart and writes brilliantly. Her desire for people to understand the science, the history, the theology and the pastoral implications of the ethics of reproduction, assisted reproduction technology, experimentation, stem cells and all sorts of other related topics is clear and helpful.

Megan writes clearly and in a really engaging way - the book is 500 pages and I read it while on a couple of flights this week - it is that sort of deep, but in an engaging sort of way book. You don't need a degree in embryology / ethics / law / theology to understand what she's saying.

For me, a few things stood out, and these are the reasons why I think you should buy and read this book.

- The science of the beginning of life is complicated. We need someone like Megan to explain what is going on. I learnt things that perhaps I should have known earlier... (It has actually been a really useful reference book for us to give to daughters growing up in our house.)

- The ethics associated with the science are equally complicated, but cannot be ignored or distilled into "soundbites". It is clear that the debate regarding these issues has often descended into "Who can produce the best one-liner or the most emotive story". As a society we can't make decisions about human life on this basis. This book opens to door to the possibility of an informed discussion.

- From the statistics presented in the book, the ethics of the beginning of life touch an extraordinary number of people. We are living in dreamland if we think these issues have not / do not / will not touch our lives or the lives of those close to us. This book will help us help them.

- The pastoral advice Megan gives is sensitive, wise, careful and based on many years of experience. Great advice for those walking in the pain and fog of infertility or suffering loss, or for those who are wanting to support those who are.

I urge you to read this book. It will help you think carefully, act wisely and in a godly way and encourage those around you in their walk.

PS For those who are blessed to have children, I think it will also encourage you to love them more deeply.

PPS  Don Carson says this is the "must read" book in the field. Who am I to argue?