Friday, 24 June 2016

Talking 'Bout My Generation

As a card-carrying mid-range Baby Boomer, born in the year the Korean War ended, there are a few Boomer-specific issues in my observation.

1. Baby Boomers spent the first half of our lives being considered too young to be taken seriously and the second half being considered too old to be taken seriously. We went directly from "whippersnapper" to "codger" somewhere around our 42nd birthdays, without ever going through the intermediate stage of "adult person who gets taken seriously".  Our working lives consisted of a stage of our complaining about "old farts" followed by a stage of our complaining about "young farts".

2. We missed out (mostly) on the various great tribal youth experiences of the later 20th century.
  • The generation before us were the ones who really experienced the decades of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis, the Beatles, and hippiedom.  We were the "little kids" when the Beatles hit the scene.  By the time when Baby Boomers were old enough to become hippies, hippies were already passé.
  • Similarly, the generation after us were the ones who experienced the era of the yuppie.  We were the generation who told yuppie jokes.

3.  Boomers are the first generation where it is fairly normal to reach retirement age with one or both parents still alive.  This is a very good thing.  It means that medical care has become increasingly better and the generation who are the parents of Baby Boomers are the first to really enjoy this improved care.

4. Boomers are the first generation where it is fairly normal to reach retirement age with economically-dependent children.  This is largely because of the social inequalities promoted globally (initially by pre-Boomer - don't blame Boomers for this! - politicians and economists) since the Reagan-Thatcher years.

5. Because of (1), many Boomers are under great pressure to retire, both from employers who see us as too old to cope and from our own desire to leave frustrating work situations.  

6. Because of financial pressures associated with (3) and (4), many Boomers are reluctant to retire. 

7.  Because of the time and financial pressures associated with (3) and (4), Baby Boomers don't associate the concept of "retirement" with such things as golf and travel, in the ways earlier generations did.

8.  We grew up in the shadow of The Bomb.  I was nine at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Many of us grew up assuming that the end of our lives would occur in the context of an exchange of nuclear weapons between the USA and the USSR, along with the lives of everyone else we knew.  When the Berlin Wall fell, many of us were confronted for the first time with the possibility that living to old age was a real possibility.

That may be one reason why so many of us made fairly inadequate preparations for retirement when we were younger, and why many of us are risk-averse and security-obsessed when we think about our financial situations.  We only started to take an interest in financial matters around the same time as Mr. Gorbachev was taking the steps he took to end the Cold War. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

I get the joke. (I think.)

I've decided that the whole Dark MOFO arts festival here in Hobart is actually a rather clever practical joke.   This is for three reasons:
(1) The first reason is found in the name of the festival itself, given the meaning of "mofo" in American slang.  It's actually very funny hearing all these solemn artsy types tossing around an X-rated insult originating in gangsta rap, just because it's in the name of a major arts festival.

(2) Another clue is found in the fact that the festival culminates in a mass nude swim in the early morning, during what's reliably the coldest week of the year in Hobart.  This, in itself, should just scream "practical joke!!!" at everyone.

(3) The fact that convinced me that the whole thing was a gigantic practical joke was that, this year, all the earnest-looking statues of 19th century worthies in the middle of Ye Olde Hobart Towne were covered in what looked to be giant pink condoms for the festival.  The sight was Monty Pythonesque in the extreme.

I've decided that Dark MOFO (smirk once again at name) is a brilliant parody of every arts festival anywhere in the world that's tempted to take itself just a little bit too seriously.  Essentially Dark MOFO (chuckle) is the whole Ern Malley / "Angry Penguins" schtick, revisited and on steroids, only developed as an annual event.

I'm not sure if anyone else has got the joke, but I get the joke. 

Congratulations to the Colourful Berriedale Arts Identity who pulled it off.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Sheik Google, Monsignor LinkedIn, Rabbi Twitter, Pastor Yahoo, Archimandrite FaceBook, Rev. Dr. Blog, and co.

News reports are now saying that the perpetrator of the murders at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was radicalised on the Internet. 

At one level, I know that there is a lot of seriously destructive and bigoted stuff on the Internet.  Frequently, this material incites contempt for, actual hatred of, or actual violence toward whole groups of people, simply for being who they are.  In the case of the Orlando attack, the violence was directed toward LGBT people simply for being LGBT, but other groups have also been targets of violence in other incidents.

Frequently, the material is presented as being religious in character.  The positive message of many faiths have been perverted by cynical, sectarian fundamentalist groups into a message of hate and violence.  Included in this unhinged message is the notion that mainstream people within a faith, those who reject the call to hate and violence, are somehow less than truly faithful. 

Some unsophisticated people (frequently unsophisticated younger men with more testosterone than brains) respond to this message, particularly if they are already alienated from the community and generally pissed off at the world.  Sometimes, as in this case, the destructive message results in destructive action.  (1)

Within the Muslim community, mainstream imams warn their young people about being taken in by the online purveyors of hate and violence with a religious tinge, to whom they frequently refer collectively as "Sheik Google".  But I'm aware that this isn't just a Muslim problem.  Sheik Google has his colleagues out there:  Pastor Yahoo, Monsignor LinkedIn, Rabbi Twitter, Archimandrite FaceBook, and the Rev. Dr. Blog.  Some write fiercely bigoted material in the name of unhinged versions of their faiths, versions firmly rejected by the intelligent and inclusive mainstream of their faiths.  Sometimes, they claim to represent the true and authentic versions of their faith.  They don't.

I write a faith-based blog.  You're reading it right now.  My blog isn't one with a large circulation, but it's a faith-based blog.  In a sense, I'm part of Rev. Dr. Blog. 

And I think that, among most of us who write these blogs, some good, creative, stimulating, and inclusive things are being written and shared.  It's not all bad.  And, in addition to my own stuff (of admittedly uneven quality), you may find some real quality material in the online writings of those who are named on the side of this blog under the heading "Some other blogs you may like". 

I don't often encounter the hate material on the 'Net, but then I don't look for it.  But I know it's there.   However, whatever your faith background, the hate material will be of no use to you if you really want to learn either about your own faith or about someone else's faith.  You'll be less well-informed after reading the hate material
than you were before.

If you want to learn more about your own faith, find a good local congregation and become part of it.  There's one thing, though, if at any time you hear someone standing in front of that congregation telling you that you need to hate anyone - for any reason - as part of your faith, leave immediately and don't go back.  Find a better congregation.  (There are plenty of those.  Trust me on that one.) 

If you want to learn more about a faith other than your own, get to know people who practice that faith.  Experience the lifestyle and the values of the faith through your friends who are within it.

Get involved in serving other people, whether it's alongside people who believe similarly to you, or beside people who believe differently from you, or beside people who don't believe much at all.  In this way, you'll experience the two profound truths that
(a)   we all live in the image of the Sacred and,
(b)   whether you believe in God or not, God believes in you.


(1)   Mass violence isn't always ideologically-driven.  While the Orlando murders seemed to be the result of homophobia and the Charleston murders were the result of racial hatred, the murders at Port Arthur, Columbine, and Dunblane were the work of non-ideological "loners with boners".

Saturday, 11 June 2016

A letter to the Swedish Ambassador

Following is a letter I just sent to the Swedish Ambassador in Canberra recommending an award for the two Swedish students who intervened to assist the victim and detain the assailant in the Stanford University rape case.  You may want to write a similar letter to the Swedish ambassador in your country.  I believe that honouring these two individuals may be both therapeutic for the victim and a "wake-up call" for those who seek to somehow "justify" the actions of the rapist.

H.E. Pär Ahlberger
Ambassador of Sweden to Australia
Embassy of Sweden, Canberra

Your Excellency:

I write to you asking you to recommend to the King and Prime Minister that an appropriate civilian award for meritorious conduct be presented by Sweden to two young Swedish citizens who displayed admirable qualities when they recently witnessed a violent crime being committed.

Peter Jonsson and Karl-Frederik Arndt were graduate students at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA.  One evening, they were cycling to a party when they noticed a violent assault being committed. 

When they were closer, they saw that an unconscious woman was being raped.  They quickly took charge of the situation, caring for the injured woman until medical assistance could arrive and detaining the rapist until the police arrived.

Without their involvement, the woman could have died.

Without their involvement, the criminal could have raped another victim at another time, possibly fatally.

These young men demonstrated the admirable qualities of compassion, humanity, and moral courage which I have always associated with Sweden.  I believe that it is altogether fitting that the nation that gave the world Raoul Wallenberg and Dag Hammarskjold should give a public honour to its exemplary citizens Peter Jonsson and Karl-Frederik Arndt.

Yours faithfully,

The Rev. Dr. Robert J. Faser
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Book Review: "The Heart of It All"

David Gill, The Heart of It All:  Sermons from St. Stephen’s, MediaCom Education, 2015.

Since retiring from parish ministry, I’ve been culling my library.  One area I’ve culled dramatically is my books of sermons.  Examining my shelves today, I found only four volumes of sermons remaining. 

·        One was John Wesley’s classic collection of forty-four sermons. 

·        Two of the others were by Martin Luther King. 

·        And then there was this recently-published work, David Gill’s The Heart of It All, with sermons preached at St. Stephen’s Uniting Church, Sydney, in the five years from 2010 to 2015. 

In this context, perhaps I can paraphrase the man in the beer advertisement who pops up in a variety of contexts on Facebook:  “I don’t always buy books of sermons, but when I do they’re by John Wesley, Martin Luther King, or David Gill.”

These twenty-seven sermons (only seventeen fewer than Wesley’s) reflect David’s deep lifelong commitment to the well-being of the people of God, as seen in a wide range of ecumenical and denominational leadership roles, both in Australia and overseas.  They cover the range of celebrations and observances of the Christian liturgical year, as well as such secular occasions as “the Kirkin’ of the Tartan”, Australia Day, and Remembrance Day.

Throughout the book, these sermons challenge us to push our theological envelope, particularly in terms of ecumenical, multifaith, social justice, and international areas of concern.  To give one particular example, David’s sermon for Reformation Sunday (“Always Being Reformed”) dramatically encourages those of us within the UCA, and within similar churches, to mark 2017’s Five-Hundredth Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation by declaring our intention to seek a restored and reconciled relationship of mutual communion with the Roman Catholic Church. 

If you’re looking to read some sermons which combine ecumenical passion, pastoral insight, and theological wisdom, I’d recommend The Heart of It All.

Friday, 3 June 2016

"Colourful Identities"?

Many euphemisms are commonly used in the media.

One of my favourite was always the description of a person as "tired and emotional" to indicate that he/she was drunk at the time of an incident, but the paper or station didn't want to be sued.  This was very popular in British papers for a number of years.  The use of this phrase had a problem in that it made it difficult to describe a person who was physically tired, and in a rather "emotional" mood, but cold sober nevertheless.

Newspaper obituaries - particularly obituaries in the English "quality" papers and in top-end papers elsewhere such as the New York Times, the Melbourne Age, the Irish Times, the Scotsman, and Ha'aretz - have some great eupehemisms to describe the deceased.  For example:
  • Describing the deceased as a "confirmed bachelor" means he was gay, but not technically out of the closet, even if everyone knew anyway.
  • Describing the deceased as "the life of the party" meant he was an alcoholic (but a friendly one).
  • A "bon vivant" was a friendly alcoholic who could also eat his hosts out of house and home.
  • A person "of strong opinions" was a bigot.
  • A "gentleman/lady of the old school" was a bigot who nevertheless had good table manners, liked opera, studied Latin in high school, and (if male) could tie a bow tie.
  • A person who "didn't suffer fools gladly" was a bully.
  • A "ladies man" couldn't name every woman he ever slept with.
  • A "man's man" drank like a journalist, swore like a cop, smoked like a 1970s cabdriver, and farted like a Labrador.
One of my favourite journalistic euphemisms has been common in the Australian media for the past 15 years of so, describing a person as a "colourful identity".  If a person was described by a journalist as a "colourful Sydney racing identity", or a "colourful Melbourne sporting identity", or a "colourful Gold Coast business identity", the implication was that the person so described was linked to organised crime, but the journalist or the paper didn't really want to directly say so for various reasons (insufficient evidence, fear of a lawsuit, fear of a "hit"...).

Basically, the concept has expanded beyond a person's link (whether actual or supposed) to the Mob.  Sometimes, it's just used ironically, as a general taking of the mickey, (1) as is the case in the rest of this blogpost.

How can we refer to some prominent individuals as "colourful identities" (2) today?

Here are some of my suggestions.

Professor Richard Dawkins, the man who has almost single-handled proved the case that "you don't have to be religious to be a fundamentalist" can be described as a "colourful Oxford scientific identity".  This will help to distinguish him from that "colourful Cambridge scientific identity", Professor Stephen Hawking.

Cardinal George Pell, for many decades the voice of the conservative wing of the Roman Catholic Church in Australia (3), has progressed from being a "colourful Ballarat religious identity", through being a "colourful Melbourne religious identity" and a "colourful Sydney religious identity", to his current status as a "colourful Vatican City financial identity".

To get a bit more locally Tasmanian, David Walsh, the founder of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which I have been sometimes known to call the "Museum of Pretentious Art" (4), can be called a "colourful Berriedale arts identity".   

And then there's Donald Trump.  I'm not sure whether to call him a "colourful Atlantic City gaming identity" or a "colourful New York reality television identity".  One thing, though, if we start calling him a "colourful Washington political identity", we're all in trouble.


(1)  For example, on my FarceBook and LinkedIn profiles, I refer to myself as a "colourful Hobart religious identity". 

(2)  On a recent episode of the Australian TV comedy-drama series Rake, the comment was made, by a criminal lawyer at a party, that "the place is full of colourful identities", which may indicate that the phrase may be beginning to be used without the geographical and occupational descriptions to refer to a generally dodgy individual.

(3)  Many priests and nuns I know have given the Cardinal the nickname "Pell Pot".

(4)  The "Museum of Pretentious Art" (a.k.a. MONA) is located on the shores of the Derwent River, in the People's Democratic Republic of Glenorchy, the local government area just north of Ye Olde Hobart Towne.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

And then there were three: reflections on the US election as of the beginning of June

Following the US election, this is the third Presidential election in a row to be haunted by the ghost of John F. Kennedy.
With JFK being the first Catholic to be the US President, the past two presidential elections, featuring the first African-American (Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012) and the first Mormon (Mitt Romney in 2012) to be major-party candidates, definitely called for comparisons with 1960.
This year, the Kennedyesque comparisons will continue.
Hillary Clinton will be, if nominated, the most conservative Democratic presidential candidate (by the standards of our day) since JFK (by the standards of his).
In the case of the "colourful New York reality television identity" Donald Trump, the last time either major US party nominated a persion with an openly playboy lifestyle was JFK in 1960.  (On a related note, the last time any major party in the US nominated a candidate as thoroughly secular as The Donald, the year was 1800 and the candidate was Thomas Jefferson.)
And,of course, Kennedy's status as the first RC to be the US president is paralleled by the fact that the three remaining candidates (Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump) would be either the first woman, the first Jew, or the first Bond villain to occupy the Oval Office.

(Update on 9 June:  Now that it appears that it will be a Clinton-Trump general election, I feel these comments still hold.  RJF.)