Australia Travel Diary 1

This week Magnet Mag has been on the road! Or rather, I suppose, in the air. We’ve flown far from our familiar shores and all the way half way around the world to Australia! The land of Kangaroo’s and Koala Bears. Of brews and beaches. Of the world famous out back. The beautiful Myall Lakes National Park.

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Myall Lakes is an area of quite incredible natural beauty, multiple lakes connected by thin rivers and leading, eventually, to the sea. We kayaked through there for three nights, just us and our boats and our tents. And quite a lot (but not quite enough) food. Out here in the wilderness, in such a natural seemingly untouched landscape and at a point where there are few other people passing through, you slowly start feeling quite distinct from the human societies we are all part off. Of course our presence here has everything to do with modern human society: Why do we feel so different here? Why is our normal environment so far from this world? Why does it feel normal that such a place would only be for a short, strictly delineated time? Why do we have access to this where so many others do not? How is this area of natural beauty open to us, foreigners, when it is barely accessible to the still economically disadvantaged indigenous people of Australia who could not afford such a trip? This experience was no real escape, we were still tied up in the economic and political cycles of the modern world as much as if we were sitting in a Starbucks starring at an iPhone.

It has been a beautiful trip though and whilst here we have been staying with a friend of a friend. The friend that this new friend was a friend of was the person we interviewed many articles ago about their life as an Oven Cleaner. His friend over here actually works for their Australian counter parts (http://www.ovenu.com.au/) and also has some very interesting things to say about his working life:

“I’ve some strange jobs in my time, some of them have made my happy and some of them have been pretty depressing if I’m honest, but this job is really one that I like. It sounds odd and it is certainly a difficult thing to explain to people sometimes, but as an oven cleaner I have immense freedom over my time and over my whereabouts. The world is not perfect, and neither is my life, but we have to do what we can to get through stuff like this. I do what I can”

Interesting stuff. More from our travel soon.

See you soon!

Jesus, Debt and Compassion.

Exodus 22:24
If you lend money to my people, the poor among you, you must not be like a money lender; you must not demand interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this is his only covering; it is the cloak for his body. What will he sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will listen; for I am compassionate.

 

Compassion, this is a quality The Holy Bible shows Jesus to hold higher and dearer than any other. In fact, many times in reading the Bible you are left with the impression that compassion is the driving force behind all of Jesus’s actions and that this compassion is one that reaches out to and supports the weak, suffering and impoverished without judgement on their position. Jesus does not refuse to help those who cannot help themselves in some attempt to teach them a lesson. He instead teaches them and us all a lesson through the compassion and kindness he shows. When a person is reduced to a desperate situation your relationship to them changes, previous debts and previous agreements change. For instance:

 

Leviticus 25:35-38
When one of your kindred is reduced to poverty and becomes indebted to you, you shall support that person like a resident alien; let your kindred live with you. Do not exact interest in advance of accrued interest, but out of fear of God let your kindred live with you. Do not give your money at interest or your food at a profit.

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Casting out the money changers by Giotto, 14th century.

 

This is a crucial point, there is a burden of compassion on those in the privileged position of lender rather than borrower. Those who borrow and eventually land in poverty and desperation are not defined by their inability to pay their debt, they are defined by their poverty and desperation! There is no space for seeing them as one who has defaulted on their debts when they are truly one who needs your help, not some new loan, but help. They need a place to stay so you open your house. They need food to eat so you open your kitchen. They need compassion and they need respect. Open your heart and open your mind.

 

Deuteronomy 10:17-19
For the Lord, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the window, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.

 

The reality of being the most disadvantaged in society must not be lost on people. Also, the reality that all peoples have at some time been the impovereshed and the alien and the weak and at every time in history there have been these groups. We are yet to experience a time without mass poverty and inequality, so where is the logic in blaming those who are suffering? No more can an apple be blamed for falling from the tree to the ground. There are forces acting on it far bigger that its ability to cling to its branch. We were all aliens once and when we were we deserved compassion and care. So too do those who are suffering now.

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Jesus standing on the breadline.

 

For anyone in any doubt: Jesus does not ask the poor for debt before he asks them what they need. Jesus does not guide us to cut people out of the community if they are an ‘alien’ in the land: ‘Do not wrong or oppress the resident alien, the orphan, or the widow‘ Jeremiah 22:I-3

 

So don’t.

The Bible and the Environment.

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“And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth'” (Genesis 1:28).

God created us in his image, and as such gave us dominion over his other creations, as he has dominion over us all. The earth is ours to use for our own survival, we have been given a gift. But it is a gift that we have a responsibility for, we are expected to look after it. This makes sense, you don’t create some thing and give it to your children hoping they’ll destroy it. You hope they’ll respect and care for it. And if they do not, you may well punish them. They could only be blamed though if you had given them lessons and they had ignored them. What I want to know is if, as it seems reasonable to assume, we are damaging our planet and heading for extreme ecological disaster, what does the Bible have to say about our relationship with the environment?

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Well, whilst grounded in the knowledge of, and relationship too, the environment of the time it was created The Bible does actually give some surprisingly specific orders on how to treat the environment. For instance:

“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard” Exodus 23:10-11

So, be careful of over farming and intensive farming. Listen to the land and think about the long term effects of your actions on it. And stay aware that no one piece of the earth belongs fully to any one man. It is there to serve as support and sustenance for all people, it cannot be held as private when the people need its produce. This much is clear.

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So, the literal order here is for a certain group of people at a certain time to harvest for a certain amount of years and restrain themselves on others. But this clearly reflects an ethos, an ethos of attempting to understand and respect your environment. So, does this mean that the bible is ordering us to all drive around in cars with electric motors? Should Christian owned corporations be replanting trees and operating with ecological industrial fans in their ecological industrial factories? At the moment we have many purportedly ‘christian’ companies wreaking havoc on the environment, so are they hypocrites? Are they heathens? Well I don’t really thing we have the right to cool someone so.  But there is clearly an element of The Bible that says they deserve it…

“The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. 6 The Sabbath of the land 1 shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves 2 and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, 7 and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.” Leviticus 25:1-7

It’s just up to us to listen…

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It’s the least we can do.

On Work

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.” Thessalonians 3:6-9

The Bible’s power as a text is dependent on the level of universality we can glean from it’s lessons. The parables of this book are all told in the context of an ancient world that was obviously very different to ours. Some things are the same and clearly eternal: both then and now there’s conflict, both then and now there’s suffering and sin, and both then and now there’s devisions between rich and poor, different faiths and people with different interests. People kill, people steal, people abuse each other both actively and passively, and people disobey God.

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Much of the Bibles teachings don’t need much translation or reinterpretation to fit the modern world. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not take the Lords name in vain. In many ways (though not all ways) pretty straight forward. There are some more contentious issues however. On some topics the world back then is dramatically different to the world we have now, and some of the teachings really need to be re-adapted and reformed for the new context. There is a strong argument that the areas of work, commerce and general economy, we need an update. We need to see a distinction within the Bible between the morals that the Bible preaches and the way that those morals are put in to practice and illustrated within the economic, social and political world the Bible occupies.

Proverbs 12:11 “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.”


Now, not many folks are working their own land anymore and making their own bread, and defining ‘worthless pursuits’ is perhaps more difficult now than it was back then. Our image of the nobel earth tiller from the Bible, labouring away to make bread for his family, what is the modern equivalent of this? Someone slaving away washing dishes for a million dollar corporation giant on minimum wage? Is this noble work? My fear is that now people do not work on their own land, but work as an army of low pay for a royalty of millionaires, when does the Biblical principle of the ‘nobility’ of work become simply a tool for the rich to keep slaves working.

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It is an interesting issue. The Bible was written in a time when work was a lot more straight forward, you worked to make food, you tilled, you produced, you provided for your family. I started thinking about all this recently when I was at a friends house and there was a man there providing ‘oven cleaning services‘, yes, his job was to clean peoples ovens. He said that his dad had been a migrant who came here and worked picking fruit for 20 years before dying young. The man said he liked his job, though it was strange and he sometimes had strange reactions from people when he told them what he did. Talking on the topic of work, he said that hard work had got him through his life, that it still, in the context of his life, had paid of and got him through. The problem he saw was that his hard work brought him one level of reward, where others equal hard work can bring them untold billions in personal wealth, he simply thought the world could be more equal.

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I think if the Bible was being written today, the parables and examples through which it would illustrate its morals on the matter of work would be quite different, and we’d end up with a more complex picture of the morality of work, to fit the more complex situation of work in the modern world.

We need to be sure to be ready to adapt and re-evaluate. So I wonder: What other lessons of The Bible do you think would come out quite differently if they had been illustrated using examples particular to the modern world?

The Bible and Me. The Bible and You.

Every major religion draws to some extent from a holy text. These works provide a structure and a shared base through which people can build a collective understanding of their faith. The relationship a religious individual forms with the key text or texts of their religion is a deep and complex one that can take many different forms. This relationship is structured by the individuals experiences, the church they may or may not be a part of and their own personality and interests. I know some Christians who like to read the bible to extract the clear messages and lessons they can live their life by, and then are happy to move on safe in the knowledge that they have got the guidelines figured out. I have spoken to many Muslims who tell the that their relationship with the Koran is an ongoing one, reading their book is a meditative experience where the same passage can mean completely different things to you at different times. Reading it is not simply reading a book, but more like going to a place, a place that both comforts and challenges you.

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The way that people have spoken to me about this, I come away with an impression of a relationship to a text that see’s it much less as ‘absolute truth’ in the way some would sell it. They see the contents as akin to a great and complex work of philosophy: a work of great genius, created by great genius, that is henceforth extremely complicated and beyond any final interpretation. Interpretation of such texts is personal, your interpretation is yours, mine is mine. We can debate our different interpretations, their merits and failures. But we cannot claim to have made a final interpretation, we cannot know. For it is not a matter of knowing, it is a matter of faith.

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This all reminds me a little of Søren Kierkegaard, the great Danish Philosopher. Kierkegaard was a christian who completely rejected the authority and place of the organised church. In his eyes the church was simply a barrier in between the individual and God. A barrier made to prop up those who claim power and authority through their personal interpretation of God. Kierkegaard was quite the individualist, and much like Christopher Hitchens, had a hard time with any idea of another being able to tell him what to do. His individualism also meant that he did not see the social and community benefits organised religion holds, he just saw the hold it has over the individual who should be free to determine the form their faith takes. They should be able to interpret God and the Holy Texts of their faith as they choose to.

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Perspective. We have a right to our own perspective. Yes there may be other perspectives that are popular and should be listened to. But we reserve the right to disagree or reject. All faiths contain some idea that faith is worthless if it is not arrived at genuinely and without coercion. Faith should come from you. So read. Read your bible with your own eyes. And make up your own mind.