Writing in the dark

I’m so tired. The plans I thought I had for writing ended up not being plans at all. But instead I messaged a friend in need, who after all is a friend indeed. And now it’s almost 11. And I’m here trying to write the truest sentence I know, trying to string one coherent line after another. It’s a bit like fishing. Except it’s not. Because in fishing you attach the bait, cast the reel and sit down to wait and you listen as hard as you can with the reel for any bites. But when you write, the bait just disappears into your subconscious. There’s no waiting for a bite. You can’t tell when some good prompt will appear or an image or an idea.

Sometimes they just flitter by and you don’t even recognize it for what it’s worth. And you tell yourself another one will come by. Then days and weeks and months can go by if you ever see an idea again; if at all. The worst part is that to catch something, you need to work. You need to work in a way that is unconventional and opposite to everything you’re taught and damn well know.

You need to work hard at not thinking about what you’re writing or what you need to write or when that deadline is due or how to say what you want to say. You need to just write one true sentence after another, the truest sentence that pops into your head, and then maybe that elusive cod will show up. You’re putting out line after line, reel after reel, and bait after bait. And then you do your darn-dest not to look. That’s what writing feels like for me at the moment anyhow.

On Maslows Hierarchy of Needs and Spirituality

I was having a conversation with a patient earlier last week. I didn’t know how she had seen me before. But she knew me as a ‘deeply religious man’ now after learning of my studies. She found herself even apologizing for her painful reactions.‘Oh s—-!’ I was amused. Poor thing. But her next comment made me pause.

She believed that humans needed to have all their physical needs met before they would even consider their spiritual ones. She was studying in grad school and knew something of Maslow’s hierarchy which postulates that humans first seek to have physical needs met before climbing up to the relational and then the spiritual ones. The highest goal of this pyramid was self actualization.

Now that I think about it, it has some freaky similarities to NeoPlatonism. Anyways I digress. To her most of her life’s problems stemmed from her physical health and her relationships. She just had no room for spirituality. Is spirituality and religion simply a luxury? Is it something that only the rich can pursue? If this were the case, religion would flourish amongst the wealthy and powerful.

I realized that there’s some superficial truth to what she’s saying. It’s hard for people to worry about their eternal destinies when they don’t even know if they have a destiny for tomorrow. And we don’t lack stories of celebrities like Morgan Freeman going on a spiritual pilgrimage before returning to the West with their new found wisdom.

But a look at both Jesus’ words and the history of Christianity and Western society would question this.

While Christianity often meets people where they’re at first, whether it’s by building orphanages or feeding the homeless, it does not seek to replace its message with its deeds. A person is not just a soul trapped in a body but an embodied soul. And Christians have always believed that God is most glorified and humans most satisfied when both body and soul are healthy. The well fed and the hungry die equally without being reconciled to God.

Christianity experienced the greatest growth in the early church in the urban margins before branching out to the rural and upper classes of Rome. It has continued to flourish likewise in the suburbs of Nigeria or Iran. And if we look at Western society as a whole, we live in the most materially abundant and safe time in its history. Yet people have never been more irreligious. Religion has no place in government or media, nor even in schools or family gatherings.

How do I make sense of these paradoxes? A rich and poor religion and physical and spiritual needs. I think there’s a spirituality that is only for the rich young ruler and a true one that everyone needs. There’s a search for spirituality that’s nothing more than self justification for one’s life, medicated by techniques like ‘mindfulness’ or ‘meditation’. They’re both equally devoid of context and any meaning. There’s a way of living that seeks only physical needs and the spiritual as an add on to one’s life. And there’s a way of living that sees the spiritual in the physical.

Jesus himself brings this great paradox to earth in his incarnation where the divine and human unite and the finite and infinite meet. Jesus shows us that God cares about both equally. Yet he affirms the primacy of the spiritual. All of the material world and its finitude is seen in relation to the infinite and immaterial God. Life and death as we know it are therefore only symptoms which we describe as ‘sleep’. Our physical life is simply the outpouring of our spiritual life. We exist either towards eternal life in God or death and separation from him.

What I’m trying to say is that Maslow’s pyramid is really a circle (or is it a spiral?). When Jesus fed the 5000 by the sea of Tiberias, he reprimanded the crowds for only following him for their physical appetites. They saw the event as nothing more than a free meal and him as nothing more than a food truck. But if only they knew who the one multiplying the bread was! They would have asked for the food which never perishes which was to believe in Jesus. Peter his apostle recognized this when he admitted that Jesus had the ‘words of life’. Where else could he go?

We’re constantly surrounded by worries – where we’ll live, how much we’ll have for our families and if the world is becoming a better place for our children. It’s easy to see our physical problems because they’re our most urgent ones. And an abstract spirituality that simply offers therapeutic techniques is just not worth looking at in such a state. But if we rightly understand life as a manifestation of the spiritual then our physical predicament becomes much more serious.

We die because we’re dead spiritually. Like our ancestor Adam, we’re separated from God and turned out from the garden of Eden. Men work to draw their food from the earth and then return to the ground they were taken from, finally consumed by their labors. Women bring others into the world through great pain and expend their life in those of their children before passing on. A physically needy world is a curse. I have no doubt about it. But in some ways it’s also a dream. Jesus has entered that dream to make reality known, to show us the spiritual in the physical and finally to remake it for our good. If only we would trust him as he ought to be. What I wish I’d said to her was ‘come and see’.

The Pied Piper of Parramatta

On a steamy summer’s night, Parramatta river is alive. The air is heavy with mosquitoes and flies. From bushes no one sees, crickets mock at passers by. And the ever watchful ibis stalks its banks looking for a cigarette butt, a garbage bag, or a stray Big Mac under its bridges. Amidst all this is the main attraction of Parramatta river — humans. Like the air, the river walk is teeming with people. Couples lie on the grassy banks smoking shisha and feeding one another, making out and embracing, arguing and cursing, oblivious to the spectacle they are, in the zoo that is Parramatta river. An elderly man sits by the wharf. His fishing line is as lonely as he is. It lays completely still and vanishes at the surface of the river, swallowed by its murky depths.

A young Asian man walks along the river after dinner. What strikes him as bizarre is what lies submerged in the middle of the river. To everyone else, it is simply the end of the normal day in Parramatta. They walk past without batting an eye. But the man is riveted. For in the middle of the river, perched on by ibises, guarded by paddling pelicans, is a shopping cart, sticking out at all the wrong angles. Is it front to back or back to front or upside down? Shaking his head, he curses and blames the neighborhood drunks. He limps on.

Soon after midnight, the river is still. Traces of shisha and cigarette smoke linger on the park benches. But there are no other memories of its night life under the orange glow of its lamps. Every now and then, the silent darkness is broken by the occasional car overhead, some party goers returning to whence they came. From near the wharf comes a melody that strangely resembles the Woolworths’ theme song… “We are the fresh food people”.

At first there is no response. But slowly silhouettes emerge from the bushes and trees and stairs along the river. Boys of all ages and ethnicities emerge from the dark. Black, brown, red, straw, blond and hazel; their hair stand out like constellations in the night sky. The last boy to step out is playing the song on a flute. He stops only when every boy from Parramatta has come forth to await him. They have been summoned. It is time for Kart club.

Every weeknight, when the moon has fully risen and glowers at the concrete zoo over Parramatta and it’s adults have grown weary of staving off their age and retired for the night, young boys from all over Parramatta and its suburbs gather around the river. They have kissed their parents good night. They have placed enough pillows under their blankets to fool the most astute dad. And they have slipped out through their windowed houses and apartment elevators to escape into the night. Dragging shopping carts they find on the sidewalks and around Westfield and from the home of any lazy adult, they ride it to the river and park it near the bushes. They wait and hope with bated breath to hear that melodious tune once more; “We are the fresh food people…”

The number one rule of Kart club is that you don’t talk about Kart club. And this is how it was formed. Between 2010-2020, Parramatta experienced unprecedented development. It became an urban hub where every developer who had money wanted to build an apartment there and every bank with a name would relocate their employees. Roads and light rail tracks and train lines would criss cross each other in a dizzying array of construction. It was like Thomas the tank engine married Sim City and gave birth to Lego. Parramatta council were too busy with their adult games to notice that they had made Parramatta somewhere with nothing to do. Children were stuck between digital screens and parents telling them to go outside… to what I’m still not sure about. For all the children could see was an ugly concrete zoo awaiting them. It was a drab and gray world outside.

But Kart club is Parramatta’s never land where boys will remain boys. And so every night, they gladly follow the fresh food summons to meet their mysterious leader; a boy who has come from and is going nowhere. They only know him as Piper. But for them, even when they are 80, he will always remain Piper as they know him, a 15 year old phantom playing that haunting tune by Parramatta river.

They find whatever objects they can and load their carts. And then they all go racing around the river walk which extends from Parramatta all the way to Rhodes. But most of the time they remain in the vicinity of Ermington. Like Mario Kart, they throw whatever they can find from their carts in order to slow or take others out. Banana peels, cigarette butts, and half drunk strawberry milkshakes are all fair game. Sometimes a lucky boy will find a creatine bar near the entrance of some gym to give him the energy to last the whole night.

This is how it ended. On a winter’s night the streets were wet with dew. An orange fog hung in the air illuminated by the broken street lamps. The races had been wet and wild. It remained for two boys to cross the finish line under the Church St bridge. Some had already gone home. But no matter. Piper skipped and flourished his flute. Suddenly the tune was changed. It was no longer “the fresh food people” but Die Walkure by Wagner. And then they heard the boys. Coming round the bend near George St, their carts skidded past the wharf. One boy saw his chance. When the carts were close enough to collide, he stretched his leg out and tapped the left wheel of the other boy’s cart.

The cart of the boy on the right skidded. Then it caught on a leftover banana peel planted by one of the other racers. And then it toppled right into the river. The cart was upended and began to sink slowly into Parramatta’s watery grave. At first the boy was fine if not wet. He didn’t know how to swim. But he knew Piper and some of the boys were nearby. So it was just a matter of time before he was rescued.

Unfortunately, the ibises got excited. They had never had such an opportunity for live entertainment whilst eating. Squawking and flapping their wings, all the ibises around the river gathered around the upended shopping cart. Some looked for actual fish that may have been stirred up around the spot. Others perched on the cart to watch. And still others flapped around the boy, probing him and teasing him out. The collective weight around his head proceeded to slowly but surely push him under. He was being held down by the ibises.

At first he laughed. Then he began to call out for help. But all he saw was the hooded silhouette of Piper who looked at him and continued to play his flute. The boy started to cry. The water was up to his nose and he was scared now. Ripples of water spread out from him. And he began to choke. The water sputtered. Still Piper played on. His notes blending one into the other into a continuous night song. He played furiously, faster and faster, missing notes but making up for them with his own harmony. Eventually his flute drowned out the boy’s cries. And then he was no more. All that remained of the night’s races was an upside down shopping cart and a flock of ibises.

In the morning, a boy in Parramatta was reported missing. His picture was printed in the Parramatta Advertiser by two worn parents who had woken up to discover only blankets and plushies where their son was meant to be. An investigation was opened into his disappearance by police and anxious parents alike. Many of the parents had already harbored concerns at how tired their boys had looked in the morning. And now it all leaked out. A frantic search took place along Parramatta river. They traced the boy’s last known whereabouts to the wharf. But all that they found was an upended shopping cart and a handful of ibises.

The body was never found. The homeless were blamed and rounded up for interrogation. And shopping carts were banned in order to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. A strict curfew of 8 pm was imposed on every boy under the age of sixteen. If the adults had looked closely enough at the ibises by the wharf, they would have been able to see tiny finger or an ear protruding out past an ibis’ beak. As for Piper, nothing seemed to remain of him. The boys of Parramatta would often wonder where he was now. But it is said that every now and then, through the heavy summer night’s air, the playful sound of a flute can be heard to the tune of… “We are the fresh food people.”

A Donkey in a Manger

The season of Christmas

Interrupts us in our everyday

Pausing our routines

Disrupting our rituals

Breaking our habits

For what we do not know

For what we scarcely hope

And for whom we dare not think

As we remember that 2000 years ago

It was not kings or adoring crowds

That greeted this baby lying there

Huddled around his manger bed

His parents consoling his cries

Without fanfare or adulation

But three wisemen

Their myrrh and frankincense

A few shepherds

A horse and some sheep

A donkey too who couldn’t even sleep

For as the baby’s cries drowned out

Even hens’ clucks and lambs’ bleats

The barn door failed to muffle the sound

And much less the cold draft

That creaked and strained its joints

As that baby tossed and turned

To mom and dad’s delight

And still concern

The donkey is oblivious

To the baby’s invitation

His ears are full of groans

His back is so sore

From a country’s baggage

His eyes droop and his mind empties

Wondering when he will next shut them

Counting down to the next sunrise

To the baby’s cries

And the parent’s surprise

For the baby’s cries are for him

That lonely donkey

Huddled in the corner to watch

And for every beast of burden

They invite him to cast his bags

Off those weary worn shoulders

To gallop across plains

To jump over boulders

And be free

Free to join those stallions by the sea

Free to roam wherever he may be

The baby cries for that girl

Selling matches on Christmas Eve

Striking them to stay warm beneath

Someone else’s festive wreath

Under the drifting snow

Under human cruelty

Her time ticking away

With the clock

As midnight approaches slowly

The baby cries for that orphan

Longing to share his ham

With a sir or a madame

Even some turkey with a donkey

Would be better than sitting by

The fireplace staring at

The sky and wondering why

The baby cries for you and for me

The baby’s crying still

When we remember that 2000 years ago

Heaven’s time met earth

Kissing it and its inhabitants

Transporting transcendence

Into our very immanence

Will we be lifted up, up and away

Above our homes and far away

To a place of hope

A hope out of this cycle

A hope of the new

The new year and the new me

The new you and the new view

Of the world and all in it

Or will we rub our eyes

Under those Christmas lights

Scarcely able to believe such lies

Stuffed with pudding and tea

Wondering when that rest will come

When we can sleep deeply?

How do you balance being still before God and working in faith?

Dear Captivate slido person,

I assume you’re a real person. But if it was a bot’s question, I’ll be starting to worry for humanity. Nevertheless, thank you for asking it. It took me such a long time to write this because it’s such a big problem (and you asked a good question). So rest assured you’ve done us all a favor because you’re probably not the only one asking this. You’re wrestling with the importance of being before God and the work that you’re doing for him. Perhaps they almost seem like opposite ends of a seesaw. When one goes up, the other goes down.

I think it is a distinctly modern problem to see them as an either/or. If being still before God is opposed to working in faith, doesn’t that mean that the latter is more important? After all, Christians want to be first and foremost faithful people. And by gosh you’re right — there’s so much to do! How can we possibly be faithful with all the possibilities before us to do good? Aren’t we making time for God, the king of the universe, by doing his work? Maybe if we get time at the end of the day, or week, or month, or even year… we’ll get around to being still before him then.

Knowing that you have to be still before God on top of all that you have to do for him is a sure fire way for a guilty and joyless life. But what I want to encourage you to see is that faith is not a work. It’s the posture of your heart. As one lecturer of mine said, “faith is not trusting more in God, but trusting less in yourself.”

Being still before God and working in faith are not opposed to one another. In fact, being still before God is what it means to be faithful. It is its essence. It is in that stillness that we acknowledge our dependence and our need for him. Being still is like the breath of our soul. Have you ever tried to move around just by exhaling? It’s not fun and it doesn’t last very long. Inhaling by being still before God is necessary before doing anything else.

Let me elaborate on this. We need to decrease before God, so that he can increase. The reason why being still before God is essential to faith and even is faith, is because faith is not obedience, which is why Paul says he is charged with bringing about the obedience of faith (Rom. 1). Faith resides in the deepest corner of our heart as the object of our ultimate trust and dependence. To be a faithful Christian is to make a movement of the heart, change its posture, to trust less in ourselves and more in God as the one who establishes and justifies our existence.

Faith is how we see. When you understand this it changes everything. Our modern Western culture, especially in Sydney, values life based on productivity. It’s the first question we ask to find someone’s identity besides their name — “what do you do?” So of course faith is what we produce because it is our work that justifies our self worth and our life. It’s hard for these habits to go away when we become Christian because they were so ingrained into our old imagination of the world. You may even measure your faith based on how frequently you read the Bible and pray or how much you serve at church.

But we never measure up do we? Maybe you’ve felt the guilt that comes with spending time alone or with God. After all, there’s all this work that God’s calling and beckoning to you with. Being still before God feels like doing nothing. It feels like faithlessness. Doing nothing is so detestable to our culture that not being busy can even seem like a sin. We’ve got to be busy even on our vacations! Yet whilst we as humans are busy looking at outward appearances, God looks at the heart (1 Sam.). In fact, his eyes run to and fro on the earth looking for someone who first and foremost, fears him and trembles at his Word (Ps; Deut. 6.5). Remember the story of Mary and Martha?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Lk. 10.38-42

My prayer for you then dear Captivate slido person, is that you learn like Mary to choose the good portion, to sit at Jesus’ feet, and learn silence, obedience and joy before him. And just like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, you will know that your Heavenly Father cares for you, that nothing you do will change his love for you, and that his peace which surpasses all understanding, will be with you. Like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, your work will be seen in all its beauty and God given glory. Because it is his and not yours. You simply have to be.

The Living God

How to read for transformation

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Ps. 1.1-2.

Introduction

We’re entering the third month of lockdown. Even the most resilient of us are starting to feel the stress of living in such a strange world. Besides depression and anxiety, self-harm and suicides, one thing I haven’t noticed media report much on is the sense of spiritual dryness that people feel. Whether it’s mediums, self-help books, or religion, I’ve observed that people have realized how dehumanizing living in a sterile secular society has been. When the hamster wheel of working 9-5 stops, it can be hard to be motivated to live. No one tells the hamster why they’re running the wheel. A lockdown means that the demand for meaning is at an all time high.

Even Christians themselves are realizing how dependent their faith was on being productive rather than a rich inner life of knowing and being known by God. So many have encouragingly tried to return to the bible to seek and know God for who he is. Unfortunately, Christian habits often mirror their culture. And in an industrial society, reading the bible has a purely functional purpose. It’s read like a manual to follow or a textbook to understand. Returning to that habit only reinforces the problem. We’re still looking for something to do.

But what if life was more than doing? What if living itself is more than moving around? What we need is not just to read more but read differently. In the same way that lenses give us another perspective, reading the bible existentially gives us another reality. This is where the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina can help.

What it is and how to do it

The lectio divina is an early Christian practice developed by our monastics and church fathers. Its goal is to develop communion with God and increase the knowledge of God’s Word. According to one commentator, ‘it does not treat scripture as texts to be studied, but as the living word.’ And it is this sense of reading and communion that I think modern Christians have lost.

Its roots go back to Origen in the 3rd century, after whom Ambrose taught them to Augustine of Hippo. But it was first established as a monastic practice of in the 6th century by Benedict. It was then formalized as a four-step process by the Carthusian monk Guigo during the 12th century. First a passage of scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God.

What makes the lectio divina distinct is that it doesn’t stop with a theological analysis of biblical passages. But it views them with Christ as the key to their meaning. For example, take Jesus’ statement in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you”. Exegesis would focus on why Jesus said this during the Last Supper, the biblical context, etc. But in lectio divina, one “enters” and shares the peace of Christ rather than “dissecting” it. What a Christian is trying to do is to hear Christ speak through the inner voice of his Spirit into their current situation.

Why Christians should do it

The reason why I think this is important is because how we read determines what we become. Reading the bible as words to master makes it subservient to us. Reading the bible to be mastered by its words makes us subservient to it. For evangelical Christians, there’s always a danger of objectifying God. We forget who he really is and equate him with what we know. Whether it’s a doctrine or a moral teaching, we can come to think that we have faith because we assent to these beliefs. Too often, we read the bible like a textbook or a newspaper and then proceed to go on with our day.

But faith is not what we know. Faith isn’t even what we do. Faith is a passionate emptying of trust in our selves. It’s to know our highest need in God. And to follow him where he may lead. We forget his Word is to be lived throughout our day so that we become the embodiment of truth and therefore of Christ. If rational study is hearing his Word then contemplating it is to listen to him. And to imbibe it is to live as him — as his mouth and ears, hands and feet. Without this, we can never truly become who we’re meant to be. We’ll remain infants needing rules to follow. Without connecting his Spirit to our everyday lives, we’ll be unable to love from the heart though we may fake it with our head and outward acts of obedience.

Where to apply it

I think I’ve said enough to introduce the topic. And hopefully you can see both how we can read the bible differently and why we need to do so. One immediate way to start applying this is follow Redeemer Presbyterian’s guide to the lectio divina. They’ve provided instructions both at an individual and group level.

https://www.redeemer.com/learn/prayer/prayerandfasting/lectiodivinadivinereading

Heralds of what’s to come

I woke up

Felt the room

Or better yet

The room felt me

Amidst coos and caws

Above our roofs

Stillness pervaded

In my room

Dust trickled

Rays of light

Children played

And the air heralded

What was and is

And is to come

It was warm

Not a midsummer night’s dream

Nor a winter’s frosty morn

But it was a different dawn

The sun embraced me

Rather than I it

Creation sang

And I was silent

I did not have to strip myself

Cooling off this clammy skin

Nor cover up

The shame beneath and within

Today’s clothes

Heralded what was

And is and is to come

Green, brown, and orange

The mess of the sidewalk

Whispered by trees

And under gentle breezes

Cherry blossoms danced

To the tune of spring

Dandelions and daffodils

Stand at attention

The sun also rises

A rolling call

Today the risen sons will come

Dogs bark their sergeant’s orders

Rather than pay attention

The pigeons nearby soar

Into the skies merging

Heaven and earth

And perch still on the telephone poles

The boy next door skips

Like a calf coming out

Of its stalls

When’s the parade mommy?

Where’s the king?

And his donkey?

A bewildered stare flashes

Silly boy she says

It’s all in the past

Under a garage door

An old man snores

His car dented unprepared

His wrench to the floor it falls

These old bones

Creak and groan

Struggling out of bed

It moans and moans

And moans some more

Still covered in sores

We are locked down

Locked out

Not all ready

Nor expectant it seems

Spring will have to go longer

Winter will come once more

More than many hoped

Eternity breaks in

Rather than jolt us up and out

Like a rude alarm

On a Saturday morn

Spring reminds us

The battle’s over

The war’s won

Resurrection’s done

A herald of what was and is and is to come

So arise sleeper

Wake up and rub

Those weary eyes

And see the sun who shines

Upon this very day

Letters from lockdown: The dangerous games we play

Clearance required to travel outside your suburb. No work given to anyone without the government supplied injection. One hour of outdoor time is allowed daily. No more than one person in a household allowed out at a time. Faces are to be covered in public at all times. Helicopters and cars will patrol at random. A curfew of 9pm to 5 am is necessary for problem people. This sounds like a scene from a dystopian novel. Yet here we are in Sydney, August 2021, in the midst of the COVID19 delta pandemic. In efforts to control the spread of the virus, the government has pulled and tugged at every straw.

They’ve tried to become the hero the people want, rather than the one they need. I don’t know whether these Herculean expectations come from the people or from the politicians presuming to be the new patheon on Olympus. I suppose it’s a bit of both. After all, I don’t remember governments ever being blamed for failing the eradicate the spread of a virus. I mean… did people blame the king for the bubonic plague? Like Medicare, if something’s broken, people want the government to fix it. And in trying to fix everything, they inevitably make everything else… well, worse. Vaccines be damned.

The truth is it’s the world that’s broken. So being the hero people want is a dangerous game to play. I don’t fully blame them. The people made it necessary. This government has had to enforce and coerce and infringe on as many freedoms and privileges it can, short of a riot, just to cajole citizens to obey the advice they were giving before. ‘I strongly advise you to have no more trips to Bondi.’ It’s sad that we’ve come this far.

The limits of a scientific imagination

The government’s not without sidekicks. Their best one is “what the science says.” Scientists? Which ones? It’s often portrayed in the media as though science is a uniform term with enshrined dogma no one can disagree with. That’s not how it works though. Especially not in a postmodern age. Modernity’s fetish for rationalism keeps coming back. But it’s bunk with the people. All they’ll see are politicians playing power monopoly.

Is listening to science, even if it was unanimous going to work? By making eradication of COVID the measure of a healthy society, I think the government inevitably misses things. Like the effects on the economy. Like the widening gap between rich and poor. Like the mental health stress of the vulnerable whether elderly, ill, female or child. Going with what the ‘science’ says assumes that science also defines the good life. From a scientific point of view, this is no less than life without death, without viruses and illnesses.

We’ve yet to see the full cost of pursuing a solely scientific mindset to addressing this virus. One would think that now would be a good time for Plato’s philosopher king to make an appearance. Because many scientists a wise man does not make. Science as it is, tries to look at the world objectively, to make detached judgments, focusing on empirical data, to the expense of all that is natural and human; to the expense of life itself. Listening to “the science” under the pretense of objectivity actually makes people and society more detached and less human. NSW after all isn’t a laboratory and people aren’t lab rats.

The relationship between a government and its people

The biggest thing it has missed here is the relationship between power and responsibility. Uncle Ben was right. With great power comes great responsibility. The more the government tries to lockdown the virus and its people with science, the more it’s taking responsibility both for the virus and the welfare of its people. I wonder if it’s up to the task of making people happy. If it has the power to lock anyone and anything down, it should also be able to reimburse forced closures. It should be able to reimburse mortage debts. It should compensate for suicides and abuse under lockdown. That’s a tall order the people will ask for. It’s like what 1 Samuel says, the people will cry out for their king to deliver them but he will not hear.

People say that the lockdown brings out the worst in us. But I think it reveals what’s in us. We’re seeing where everyone’s faith was placed (or perhaps misplaced). That’s why the government is under so much pressure. It’s where our faith’s been all along. We’re desperate for order in a disordered universe. We need someone or something to blame so that we can at least pretend we’re in control. And our government happily plays along to be the hero in our darkest hour.

Every disaster requires a sacrifice to the gods believe will save us. Whether it’s mortgages or mocha takeaways, we’ll find an offering to plead the gods we believe will take COVID from us. But people don’t sacrifice their livelihoods easily. They don’t do it without requiring a return — one that’s eternal. The question is — is the government’s treasury big enough?

See the Joker was also right. You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. The heroes we want, like science or the government, won’t save us. Because what the hero we need is the one who’ll save us from ourselves. So when the gods we put our faith in, inevitably reveal that they’re human and all too human (vaccine rollouts perhaps?), then there’ll be a clamor for new gods on Mt. Olympus. But trying to replace a society’s gods never goes smoothly.

Letters from Lockdown: Faith, Hope and Love

What will get us through a lockdown, pandemic and Afghanistan

1 Corinthians 13:12–13 (ESV): For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

When lockdown started I wondered how I was going to cope with isolation. Well it’s been two months now. And the result is: pretty well. That’s not to say I’m thriving. But I’ve been able to use it to recharge and focus on my responsibilities. Daily tasks have been more convenient. And though it’s a struggle to be self-disciplined, I’ve had a wonderful wife who helps me structure my life more effectively. Most of all, I’ve had more time to enjoy her. Excluding our Sydney elites and the professional middle class, I would say that I’m okay. Not good or great, just okay.

That’s the problem of contemporary life though isn’t it? We live in these self contained silos. It just serves to reinforce whatever we already think life is like. No wonder the protestors hate the anti-protestors and the vaccinators the anti-vaxxers. If self-righteousness wasn’t a problem in the past, it’s unavoidable now. It wasn’t until I encountered the stories of how others were doing through close friends and family and those they work with that I realized that I had become a cold-hearted chad. I mean I was burnt out. Maybe this didn’t make me any less selfish. It just revealed my self-centeredness more. Enjoying Amazon deliveries and Ubereats while people protested on the streets was solipsism at its finest. If a man killed himself during COVID and I wasn’t around to see it, then he wasn’t really a man.

In the nursing homes, the lockdown is taking its toll on the elderly. Isolated from family, some have stopped eating. They would rather die. Some have faked illnesses to draw attention even from staff because they’re so lonely. Others have become a shell of themselves and lost all personality. My wife cried as she performed a physical assessment of an old man with dementia. As she checked on him, she held a phone to his trembling face. And as he heard his daughter’s voice, he couldn’t stop weeping. He was blind and mute.

I watched as hundreds of Afghanis flooded Kabul’s airport attempting to escape the Taliban. I watched as many clung onto the wheels of the airplane, knowing that it was certain death. And I watched as they fell hundreds of feet from the air. They were in such fear from the Taliban that they would rather have dropped to their deaths. I watched as the president of the most powerful country on earth turned his face away from a country his nation had shaped for 20 years. He blamed his predecessors. And he explained that his motives came from a desire to protect American lives.

I listened as a relative of mine narrated her struggles through the lockdown. I felt her loneliness, her anger and her question of “why?” I saw that such isolation for her was torture. And the longer it went on for, the dimmer her hope grew. Because life as she knew it, was disappearing from her eyes. Though she was doing all she could to stay home and stay safe, in her heart, she was there with the protestors, fighting for their homes and businesses and livelihoods and freedoms. And yes even amidst the anarchists and conspiracy nuts.

But all I could do was #staysafe. What I realized is that we need to face the reality of the situation. Lockdowns benefit those who can work from home. They drive up property prices. They increase debt to those who can ill afford it. And they increase the gap between rich and poor drastically. So with the courage of honesty, maybe we need to explore some ways of navigating through this together at a community and state level rather than just muzzle dissenters, professors from UNSW included, to claim that “the experts are on their side.”

This is not an anti-lockdown rant. But maybe it’s a plea. I don’t know to who. To God perhaps? I doubt Gladys would see this. With some help from the apostle Paul, we need to think about the state of the world as it is. We need it to drive us to seek the knowledge of both God and ourselves. And we need that knowledge to transform this world, in faith, hope and love.

What we need to stop doing is pretending that hiding in our homes, ordering take out, and online shopping are moral badges to be proud of while we blame the pandemic on everyone outside today. The ones outside are the ones delivering our food and parcels. Faith in God, hope in Christ and love for him and our neighbor. After all our toys and things, and our skills and competencies, that’s all that remains. Those are the essentials. So in earnestness you can pray for the lockdown. But pray more for the elderly, for the vulnerable and most of all for yourself. Because how we’re responding is showing us who we are.

A Doxology of the Knowing God

O’God I heard Berkeley once say

Esse est percipi

To be is to be perceived

Above us an abstract concept seems

Deep down every hearts’ dreams

To know and be known

That is what we wish

To be remembered not forgotten

To reside not be lost

And neither to be missed

In the vicissitudes of time

In the abysses of the sea

In the shadows of the mind

You are still yet with me

You watch our going out

And you see our coming in

Form us in our innermost

We go forth without boast

Bodies of ashes

To ashes we return

Dust to dust

Foxes have holes

And birds have nests

Lilies dance in fields

But humans forget

Your favor and yields

Remember us Lord

We are fickle and we forget

Yet not one of our hairs fall

To the ground

Without you ever being around

Remember us and make us

Like the birds of the air

Like the lilies of the field

Let us know in your son

The grace of knowing you

That rest is won

Give us silence

Obedience and joy

And empty us of our ploy

Though a tree falls

In the woods

No one’s around

It resounds loudly

Because you are its ground

Ground of being

Omniscient one

We ask this in your son

Your kingdom come

Your will be done