A tribute to my dad, for the occassion of his 60th birthday

I love my dad.

I don’t just love him, I’m proud of him and proud to be like him in many ways.

I might not say this enough, and there’s years of hurtful stuff (including punches) flung at him while we were both figuring out who I was in my teenage years that I probably should work harder to undo with my words now… but I’m really, really thankful that my dad is my dad.

I’ve been struck, as I get to know my own son, he’s almost 4, at just how much it’s going to hurt me when history inevitably repeats and he first tells me he hates me. Or that I’m stupid, or fat, or apelike… sorry dad. I really am proud of you, you’re not stupid, or ape like, and I’m always told I look like you, so hopefully you’re not ugly.

I’ve also been struck by what I want to, and don’t want to, pass on to and teach my son. And I’m struck by how good a job dad did with shaping me in a way that means, on the whole, I’ve made reasonably good decisions.

I don’t know if I’d be me, or dad would be the dad he is now if it weren’t for those stormy adolescent years either. But I certainly wish I’d been able to see some of this stuff more clearly then, and that while we had slightly different visions for what my life could be, or should be, his was a voice I should have listened to more… this isn’t to say he got everything right, or that he gets everything right, I don’t want to lionise him in de-aping him… but let me tell you, for this auspicious occasion (his birthday was yesterday), some things about my dad. Perhaps you know him, and perhaps these will be some things that you know about him, or perhaps you’ll be surprised by some of this, perhaps you’ve never met him (or me), in whoch case… indulge me.

I’ve come to understand that dad does things excellently because he’s driven by passion — not for himself and his own name — but for the inherent value of things themselves, for the benefit of others, and to the glory of the God who makes excellent things too… whether it’s a song on the guitar, a well crafted table tennis point, a video game or gadget review in a national publication (sometimes when it was too socially awkward to admit dad was a minister I had the fallback option of telling people he was a freelance games reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald (which was true), sometimes I’d mumble the ‘minister’ bit and rush into the cool job so the conversation I was in would go there), a font (like Foxjump, the font Tourism Tasmania once used to brand the state, or the in house fonts for Mitchelton Presbyterian Church), odd bits of furniture, Bible talks, books (one on the Vic 20 computer and one on preaching)… dad is driven and disciplined and sets out to be a master, an artisan, because small stuff matters, because it says things about big stuff. And, I suspect, cause there’s joy in detail as much as there might be the devil. I realised recently when talking to someone about the experience of eating breakfast at a cafe with dad that he is basically a Platonist… there’s an ‘ideal’ form of everything (including eggs) out there, and all the ‘things’ of this world are opportunities to get close to that ideal (but sometimes they can also be judged against that ideal, so dad’s eyes will be drawn to the smallest inconsistencies)… I think this idealism is part of the drive, it’s not so much perfectionism (perhaps I’m recognising some of this in myself), but a wanting to get as close as humanly possible to these ideals (the difference, I think is one involves a striving for improvement, while the other involves always measuring yourself against unrealistic standards, I suspect it’s a mistake to see these as exactly the same thing). Not everyone sees the world this way, and seeing the world this way would be crippling if it weren’t matched with curiosity, imagination, intelligence, discipline, courage, and ability. What makes dad truly special is his God-given combination of these. What is, I think, the challenge of his ‘genius’ is realising that most of us aren’t wired this way, and it’s not just that we can’t see the world the same way, but that even if we could, we couldn’t do much about it… this difference can be hard, especially if people misunderstand the motives and expectations (even for those of us whose biology and environmental upbringing disposes us to being just like it). I don’t care as much about kerning or alignment as dad (but I care more about fonts than most people, statistically speaking). I, like many of his students, trainees, and staff, have endured robust critiques (according to his standards) of work I’ve produced. I’ve given up trying to write a non-run on sentence and adopted all manner of punctuation quirks like semi-colons, em dashes, parentheses, and ellipses in order to avoid comma pedantry… but mostly these bits of who dad is come together for my good, and the good of others. I’m a better writer (and preacher) because of him and this drive for excellence, and this is the testimony of many, many, others. It’d take me a long time to list out the ways these qualities manifest themselves on the ground in dad’s life, but I suspect this would be the testimony of many witnesses… One of the harder things, I suspect, for dad, is that he’s known as a practitioner of ministry when almost all his practice and preaching is driven by a coherent theological framework that is misunderstood (even by me), and I suspect he’d rather have passed on that, than a love for fonts, design, and 22 minute sermons (ask him about Deuteronomy 30, pronouns in Ephesians, and the destruction of the Temple sometime). I love that I’ve always been encouraged to dig deeply and imaginitively into God’s word, and to look for connections that make Jesus richer and more compelling and interesting. Two people I really, deeply, respect have commented to me recently about just how rare this capacity is, and I guess I’ve always taken it for granted as the way things are done.

I suspect it was not just misunderstanding each other, but also my taking dad for granted (and mum too, but it’s not her birthday) that was actually at the heart of our conflicts in my adolescence… but perhaps this is at the heart of the problems in most relationships everywhere, so that’s not all that profound…

This year at church we’ve been looking at Matthew’s Gospel, and at how Jesus is the archetypal epic hero. There’s this literary convention, or observation of how stories work, called ‘The Hero’s Journey’… the hero’s journey starts with a sort of willingness, a call to adventure, a willingness to take on the status quo and to bring change that is necessary and good. There’s a sort of contrarian streak at the heart of the hero, and dad and a bunch of his mates owned and embodied that streak for some time (within the context of our denomination), and they marked it by wearing red socks to the business meetings of the church. It’s interesting now that dad is no longer apart from the system… he ‘is’ the system… to be someone coming into the same system with the same contrarian instincts, but I do love and admire the way that dad has largely managed to be a gracious and generous contrarian with a modelled commitment to the greater good and even the ‘system’ (even when it is frustrating). The status quo of our denomination, as I’ve entered it, is very different now to what it was then, and this is doubtless a result of the work of the red sock brigade, and I want to honour them, even if they’re now the establishment… dad and his mates didn’t just say what the problems were, they created alternatives, they didn’t just throw stones, they created a Christian journal (before the world of the Internet) that went a little bit global, it seems to me that they did this to love and serve others (and to challenge the establishment.

Dad also married up. A great example to me and one I’m thankful I learned from. It shouldn’t be all that special to not be insecure about your wife’s brilliance, and, positively, to make space for that brilliance to shine. In fact, I don’t think it’s that special. I take it for granted. It seems normal. It blows my mind that it isn’t. And that’s another good thing I got from dad (still trying to figure out how that works with small children though).

There’s a line dad used in his induction speech last year, when he became ‘the system,’ or rather ‘the moderator,’ here in Queensland; where he said he hoped that his ministry to date, his life, had been marked and defined by ‘zeal for the Gospel’… it reminded me of the phrase from Psalms that people quote about Jesus in John 2,’zeal for your house will consume me’…that is dad. Consumed (maybe sometimes too comsumed, as I’m discovering as I try to figure out where the ministry role ends and I begin) by the work of the Gospel. There’s not, I don’t think, many idle moments in dad’s brain, many moments where he’s satisfied with what is, rather than driven towards what could be, and particularly when he’s not thinking about how to help more people follow Jesus. I’m thankful for this zeal, perhaps mostly because it is a thing he did pass on. By example and perhaps even deliberately. This Jesus stuff really matters. If it is true (and I believe it is), it’s the best and most important, most precious thing that you can give your children… or to anyone. I’m not sure exactly what worked for me here… but something did, and I’m not sure that there was any great parenting strategy on mum and dad’s behalf, other than perhaps to help us see the cost and to explain why the cost was paid gladly (most of the time).

Something remarkable has been happening in my relationship with dad over the last few years, as I’ve entered the family business, there’s a new sense of respect or recognition, that goes both ways. Maybe I’ve become a real person (I haven’t called dad any names for a few years). Maybe parenting has changed me. Maybe grandparenting has changed dad… but some of my favourite memories don’t come from childhood (though I have lots of good ones), but from the sense of serving in the trenches with the old fella. I remember playing soccer with a bloke in his late 30s or early 40s, back when I was a precocious teen, and I chipped away at him once about when he was going to retire. He said his goal was to play a few games with his son. Dad isn’t really a sports guy, but I think I’m enjoying the sort of thing this other dad was hoping for… one of the things that does blow my mind a bit is that the way dad makes space for mum to be mum is also there in how he now lets me be me… I say some relatively outrageous and provocative stuff when I channel the red sock thing, but I never doubt for a second that dad will be there supporting me, championing some things, listening to others, being proud right back at me. I suspect the older-younger dynamic in systems like the Presbyterian Church that have structured themselves to avoid violent inertia always advantages the ‘older’… you could, if you were ‘the system’ never listen to a younger voice, you could have the sense that your time to be influential has finally come, but dad hasn’t done that with me, and he hasn’t done it with others. He’s spent his time this year encouraging others… especially young blokes planting new churches. Though perhaps again this is the fruit of his labours… if you invest your time in changing the system, and training and equipping  young blokes to love the Gospel (and a 22 minute sermon where the Gospel is clearly communicated), maybe when you listen to them they end up saying stuff you’re happy to listen to… even if they don’t get the significance of Paul’s pronoun use.

What happens when you put all this stuff together in real life, under the sovereignty of God, are some pretty great things, for our family, for the church families dad has been part of, and for the denomination (and beyond)… that again, I’ve taken for granted, or appeared to, but, hey dad! I noticed (I’m sure others have too). Thanks for all of this. I’m proud of you, I love you, and I’m more and more ok with it when people say I’m a bit like you.

Happy 60th birthday dad!*

 

*Oh yeah, dad isn’t 60 for another couple of birthdays, but I thought I’d get in nice and early.

 

 

The (hidden) cost of parenting a (destructive) child

We recently added a puppy to our family menagerie. Taking our pet tally up to 1 turtle, 4 chickens, and said puppy. It turns out puppies chew up lots of stuff they’re not meant to. They’re expensive. So too, are children. They break stuff.

calvin

There are all sorts of studies out there about how much it costs to raise a child – few, if any, consider the damages bill. So this study, which uses Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes, as a test case, is ground breaking research.

 

“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, raising a child from start to age 17 costs, for those in the middle-income groups, anywhere from $226,800 to $264,600 total[1]. These costs include housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, education, and other miscellaneous items (such as entertainment, personal care, and reading materials[2].) Missing from this estimate is an explicit approximation of the amount of damage that children can cause (here, damage refers to that of the break-a-window physical kind, not that of the mommy-and-daddy-need-a-therapist emotional kind). Such an estimate would increase the accuracy of the USDA’s estimate and the budgets of new parents, depending on how destructive they project their child to be. “…

To estimate the cost from damaged goods, I searched amazon.com for comparable items, with some exceptions (e.g., Calvin’s Mom seems somewhat fashionable, so when Calvin placed an incontinent toad on her sweater, I looked for a replacement on jcrew.com). To estimate cost for property damage, I used homewyse.com and fixr.com (using the zip code for Chagrin Falls, OH). In the few instances in which a monetary value was given in the comic, I used that value.

Results and Discussion

In total, Calvin caused an estimated $15,955.50 worth of damage over the duration of the comic strip (Figure 1). Damage ranged from a broken glass jar[6] ($2 from amazon.com) to a flooded house[7] ($4,798.83 from homewyse.com). Taking into account Watterson’s sabbaticals (see Figure 1) and the November start to the comics, Calvin caused $1,850.55 of damage per year. For context, the USDA estimates that middle-income families spend an estimated $1,750 per year on child care and education for 6 year-olds. In fact, the amount of damage caused by Calvin would rank 4th out of the USDA’s categories in annual expenditures, behind Housing, Food, and Transportation, and ahead of Education, Miscellaneous, Health Care, and Clothing.

Tumblrweed: Reasons my son is crying

A father takes a photo every time his son cries and records the reason.

Cruel. Yes.

But if I was to do this the reasons would be “I tried to give my daughter a cuddle when she was holding onto her mum…”

Every time.

I wouldn’t let him drown in this pond.

I wouldn’t let him drown in this pond.

I closed the refrigerator door.

Channel 9’s awful gamble, broken lives, and betting on Jesus

I love Rugby League. I love the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. Say what you will – but League is faster, more exhilarating, and more straightforward than the boot-strapped game of chess and stoppages that is Rugby Union.

I love league. I hate the gambling industry. It’s an awful, poisonous industry that wrecks lives – financially and spiritually. I want to make a distinction here between small stakes poker, a casual bet on the outcome of a grudge match between two friends, raffles, Melbourne Cup sweeps at lunch, and perhaps even gambling as a form of entertainment, free of greed (if that’s possible), and the industry that has set itself up on the back of our love for a punt that makes huge profits by destroying lives. I do some of those things from time to time, but mostly avoid them as a wisdom issue, rather than a moral issue. But the gambling industry thrives on creating addicts and sustaining their addictions. It takes money from people and offers nothing tangible in return. It’s a parasite.

I’m not suggesting the individuals who get lured in and caught up in the web of the gambling industry are devoid of responsibility in their decision to gamble – but if gambling stops them meeting their other responsibilities – like feeding their families, then the gambling industry, the sporting industry, and the viewing audience, have the responsibility to stop enabling that sort of destruction. Responsible gambling is an oxymoron. The nature of a gamble is that it involves risk. The nature of an industry that generates that sort of profits by taking other people’s money, and giving them nothing in return (except a cheap, momentary, thrill) is “irresponsible,” not “responsible.

What makes me saddest is that the gambling industry is all about greed – and greed is an example of the rejection of God that the Bible calls idolatry.

So now I have a dilemma. Because the game I love is in bed with this industry that I hate.

Tom Waterhouse is a bookmaker who has signed a multi-million dollar deal with the NRL and Channel 9 to be a broadcast partner of the National Rugby League. That’s $50 million, and $15 million, that Waterhouse’s company has ripped out of the pockets of Australians – a fraction of their profits, and presumably a fraction of the money they stand to make from the arrangement.

Somehow this deal earned him a seat at the table when it came to 9’s coverage – he became a commentator, and his contribution was helping gamblers understand the various implications of Friday night’s game between the Brisbane Broncos and the mighty Sea Eagles (who won, in a thrilling second half comeback).

I didn’t catch the Tom Waterhouse Show on Friday night because I was at the game. Live. With my daughter.

It was her first game of football – and I’m very much looking forward to indoctrinating teaching her about the game, and how to appreciate it (even if Robyn wants her to love that other code).

Sadly, I won’t be able to do that using Channel 9’s coverage. There’s a bigger question about whether or not I’ll be able to teach her about any professional sport if the continued enmeshment of sport and gambling goes unchecked, that’s a deeper issue that needs a resolution, but the “in your face” nature of the coverage is an immediate concern.

The gambling industry preys on broken people and guarantees ongoing failure. Jesus offers restoration to broken people and a secure future.

I’m not into censoring too much when it comes to parenting – I’m happy to sit down with my daughter – and her yet to be born sibling(s) – and talk about what we watch together. I’ll do that with all sorts of cultural texts, because I want my kids to learn about the world we live in, and to be able to critically engage with the arts.

That’s something I’m really looking forward to – I want my kids to be able to parse cultural texts for meaning, and I want them to be able to use culture to reach people with the gospel.

Sadly, thanks to Channel 9’s decision to get in bed with an industry that destroys lives without remorse, their coverage of the Rugby League will now be one of those things I keep away from my kids until they’re in their teens. And by then it might be too late. By then they’ll probably love Rugby Union or some other inferior product.

I can appreciate that some parents prefer to keep harmful ideas away from their children. But that’s not my style. Obviously there are certain things that I want to introduce them to at certain points of maturity – and I think the secular classification board does a pretty good job at picking what is appropriate for different ages, and we’ll probably err on the side of caution.

But that’s not really what’s behind my thinking.

I’m not shielding my kids from gambling – I hope they’ll be sensible enough to understand how to approach concepts like “responsibility” and “greed”… But I don’t think I can be a responsible participant in society if I teach my kids that it’s ok to benefit from exploiting others.

I don’t mind talking to my kids about gambling, money and greed from the moment they’re born – I don’t even mind the casual bet with a couple of mates about the outcome of football games – but I refuse to take part, as a viewer, in enabling the destruction of lives. And I don’t want to model any sort of support for this selling out of others for my own entertainment or financial gain to my kids. Turning 9’s coverage off is one of the ways I’m going to make a stand.

Gambling is poisonous. It trashes lives. It tears families apart. Plenty of people have pointed out that the head of 9’s commentary team is a recovering gambling addict, and the face of the NRL – one of the game’s most scintillating players, has just checked in to a facility to deal with his gambling addiction which has left his life, and his family’s life, in tatters.

This decision by Channel 9 to throw people under the bus for the sake of their crumbling bottom line is a horribly tangible example of how broken our world is. They’ve taken a great thing – sport – a gift from God. And trashed it. And used it to trash lives. For their own gain.

I love sport because it teaches us good things about life. Individual sport teaches us about pursuing goals, working hard, and the value of discipline. Team sport teaches us about teamwork, selflessness, the value of a common cause, and camaraderie.

There’s a reason Paul uses sporting language to describe life following Jesus.

Here’s what he says in 1 Corinthians 9…

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Sport is good – Paul says physical exercise is of some value – but what really counts in life is your spiritual health (1 Timothy 4:8). The real tragedy of Channel 9’s awful decision to enable problem gambling is that they’re taking something good, and not only not keeping it in perspective with eternal, spiritual matters – but they’re using it to destroy lives both physically (as families fall into poverty) and spiritually, as people get trapped in a cycle of greed that leaves them rejecting the God who made us, and sport – to serve the pursuit of money through a system that is rigged against them, and only works if people lose more than they win.

Greed is a horrible thing – not just because it involves trashing other people for your own gain, and ultimately trashing yourself in the relentless pursuit of more, but because it involves putting the pursuit of wealth in the place God should occupy. Paul calls this idolatry (in Ephesians 5:5).

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Jesus puts it a little more clearly – using slightly less theologically loaded language in Matthew chapter 6.

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

He says this off the back of saying that storing up wealth now – pursuing wealth – is stupid because it’s not going to last. And that’s the real stupidity at the heart of gambling – it’s about taking huge risks for long odds on short term rewards. Even if you win now – the one certainty is that when you die, your winnings aren’t going with you.

Gambling is hopeless. It comes out of brokenness and leads to more brokenness.

Without Jesus, not gambling is a good idea for your personal finances – but it ultimately leaves us less poor,  still broken, and still losing at the end, when we die.

Jesus gives hope. And his life offers a real solution to brokenness. And a safe investment.

From Matthew 6 again…

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I love this Colin Buchanan song about the real hope Jesus offers (on Spotify) (or YouTube).

“I bet all I have on Jesus
I will throw myself on him
The one who died a real death for real sin
I bet all I have on Jesus
Throughout eternity
I will marvel at the real hope my Saviour won for me”

I hate the gambling industry. I hate that it preys on the weak and vulnerable with almost Darwinian antipathy leaving the weak weaker, and the poor poorer, and I hate that its insidious poison can turn functional and successful people into train wrecks who wreak havoc on the lives of those who love them. So there’s no way I’ll be able to watch Channel 9 destroy lives each week.

Here’s an ad from GetUp exposing some of the rhetoric the pro-gambling types use to justify the destruction of lives for financial gain after the NRL sided with the pokie industry when the Australian Government wanted to do something to make gambling more difficult.

Until Channel 9 extracts itself from this situation where its participating in the destruction of Australian families, undermining everything that’s great about sport, I’ll be listening on the radio or signing up for Foxtel. It’d be nice if the NRL stood up too and separated itself from the poison that threatens so many of those involved in the game – and the people who watch it and look up to its stars – rather than buying into the same greed that fuels that brokenness and perpetuating the problem.

You heard it here third…

I’m not a big fan of putting too much personal stuff on this blog – it’s bad enough for my family (extended and nuclear), and especially my lovely and patient wife, that I am constantly putting my thoughts and stuff out there, let alone posting about the boring and mundane things I’m eating. I’m not really all that interested in talking about me when there are whole other social networks that exist for exactly that purpose, and for photos of my food (or coffee).

And I struggle with sharing good news on this particular front, and figuring out how to do it in a sensitive way, because we know what it’s like to hear other people’s news while you’re struggling in this area. But I love sharing in other people’s joys, and praying for safe arrivals of new babies… and I expect others are the same… so I guess there’s this.

Soph2.0

We are actually pretty excited about this, even if it’s still in that stage where it hasn’t quite sunk in just what double the responsibility will feel like.

If you’re the praying type – we’d love, and crave, your prayers. Especially for Robyn as she tries to knock over the last three subjects in her Masters between now and mid-year.

If you’re not the praying type, then please send financial gifts or other donations to us (not really).

My number one piece of parenting advice: The Jesus Storybook Bible

Parenting is fun. We love it. Getting advice about parenting, well, that’s a mixed bag. Some is helpful. Some is odd. Most is well intentioned. Some is revenge for the years of pain I’ve inflicted on other people’s kids.

Anyway.

Here’s my number one piece of parenting advice. Buy your child this kid’s Bible. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. For less than $12, excluding postage, you pretty much can’t go wrong. It’s brilliant. We’re on the third lap. It is well written, it is theologically astute. You’ll probably learn something about how to make Biblical concepts clear enough for kids.

It’s a sensational example of why a Christ centred Biblical Theology brings the whole Bible together.

I am looking forward to Soph being old enough for me to complement it with pictures from the Brick Bible. I have the Old Testament already. And you can find the kids talks I did once with pictures from the online version of Judges in my Bible Stories for Boys tag.

My six rules for posting parenting related stuff on Facebook

So a while back I courted controversy by poking fun at parents who overshared on Facebook. Now, the world has turned and revolved. Time has passed. And I’m a parent. Which is great. Really it’s up there as one of the equal best things that has ever happened to me.

Like all parents I believe my offspring to be the cutest and most interesting baby the world has ever known. Like most modern day parents I believe Facebook is a great medium for sharing content with interested people who live a long way away. Like my sister who lives interstate, and my sister-in-law, brother-outlaw, and nephew who live overseas. It’s so easy to justify posting stuff on this basis. But that. Friends. Is a slippery slope into oversharing – about which my thoughts have not changed. But consider this a preemptive post which I will supply in the future to anybody who calls me out on the potentially perceived gap between my words in 2009, and my actions in 2012.

So here are my six rules.

1. Make it opt-in. Don’t force people to consume what you’re putting out there. The internet pretty much does this for you though, so I don’t worry too much about that.
2. Make it interesting. People won’t hate you for oversharing if they’re entertained, or what you are posting is actually cute. Check with someone else. Edit. Put up less than you think you ought (I’m a little guilty of breaking this last bit). Leave people wanting more.
3. Keep it contained. Don’t post a new album of photos every time you upload a photo. Post photos to the old albums. Don’t clutter people’s newsfeeds with an upload a day, upload a batch at once.
4. Don’t be single-minded. There’s more to life than your child and than your role as a parent. Talk about that stuff too. For me this means posting about coffee. Posting links to cool stuff. Posting
links to my blog(s).
5. Don’t potentially embarrass the child. Remember your child isn’t old enough to censor you yet. So self censor. I have good poo stories, and good spew stories. But only posted about the latter when it was me who got covered, and mostly because Robyn’s response to said covering was to laugh and get the camera, rather than to clean me up.
6. Never. Ever. Give gratuitous parenting advice to anybody on the basis of how excellent your own child is, or how brilliant you think you are at parenting. Especially if you’re not a parent.

So, that’s really a long justification for sharing these additional photos of our incredibly cute daughter. Dressed in a koala suit that I bought online. When I ordered it a couple of months ago I was told that it was tacky and horrible. Now I think it’s safe to say that the purchase was inspired.

When slippery slopes attack: why abortion is intellectually untenable

I’m not a single issue voter. And I recognise that abortion is a hot-button issue where different worldviews can produce divergent results.

Maybe I feel more strongly about this now that I’m a father, and that I’ve had the experience of watching, via ultrasound, and feeling, via my hands, the development of a baby in the womb. Maybe it’s the experience of watching my daughter’s eyes take in the world around her for the first time… but some recent Australian developments around the issue of terminating pregnancies just makes me sick about the callous nature of modern life.

It makes me despair about the kind of world my daughter will grow up in – where the implications of moving away from a Christian view of human life will start to be truly felt. If we are just a sack of cells, with nothing to distinguish us from the animals, then everything is fair game. There are no checks and balances. No cohesive account of why life is important. Harm based accounts of ethical behaviour are so very arbitrary and will always be decided by the subjective interests of the powerful, or the majority.

As it currently stand there’s such a mish-mash of values being thrown into the moral/ethical/legal pot that something’s got to give. Holding a consistent position beyond valuing all life (or seeing all human life as representing God’s image) just throws multiple spanners into the works. I’ll get to a solution, of sorts, later. Well. I’ll rehash a solution that I’ve posted once before…

Anyway. Here’s a selection of situations in Australia that have prompted my ire.

First, Western Australia is set to join Queensland, in affirming that a wanted fetus is a human.

“Attorney-General Christian Porter is drafting the new laws and will introduce them into State Parliament later this year.

Under present laws, an unborn baby has no legal status and is not recognised by the courts.

But Mr Porter said the new fetal homicide laws would create a new criminal code offence of causing death or grievous bodily harm to an unborn child.

Based on a law already in force in Queensland, it would carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Offenders who kill or intend to kill an unborn baby by assaulting a mother will face mandatory life imprisonment – the same as a murder charge in all but exceptional circumstances.”

But here’s the kicker.

“He said he intended to consult further with the groups about the Government’s reforms in the coming weeks, but confirmed the legislation would not in any way affect the law relating to abortion in WA.

“The proposed legislation will be drafted to require an unlawful act to be done to the mother before any penalty can apply,” Mr Porter said. “This ensures these changes will not affect a mother’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy.”

There would be no limit on when an unborn baby was considered to be a human life.”

Here’s the story.

So that’s clearly a little inconsistent. And elevates wantedness to incredible significance when it comes to personhood. Which is just bizarre.

But there’s a precedent at play here in recent Australian history – there was a massive public outcry, which highlighted this inconsistency, when a Melbourne hospital terminated the wrong twin in a bungled abortion last year. Again – the unwanted twin was disabled, and would most likely have not lived long, or have been a burden, on the parents. So “wantedness” became the factor by which a decision about the personhood of this twin was essentially made.

Now here’s the icing on the cake. For years. Pro-life, or anti-abortion, activists have been employing a potentially fallacious slippery slope argument against allowing any abortion. Suggesting that once you allow abortion, to be consistent, you should allow the termination of a newborn baby. Because drawing the line at birth is arbitrary. It’s becoming increasingly arbitrary as the miracles of modern medicine mean the viability date for fetus outside the womb is an increasingly early thing.

Most reasonable thinkers have cautioned this kind of argument as being logically incoherent. In the absence of actual evidence of a slippery slope, these arguments are basically setting up a straw man position and not engaging with your opponents with respect.

But now. The slippery slope has been pointed to by a couple of Australian academics. Ethicists. Who recognise that it is incredibly inconsistent to draw a line under a person’s personhood at birth. They’ve argued, in an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics (PDF), that post birth problem children, who represent an unwanted burden for their parents, should also be terminated. Because they are not morally sentient beings, so therefore not people.

After arguing that children with certain pathologies that would limit a normal life, a reason that would normally constitute grounds for abortion, should also be legitimately terminated after birth, these ethicists go on to suggest that though children with conditions like Down Syndrome can be said to be “happy” – they may present an unfair burden on the parents (the idea that life is to be “fair” is based on some questionable presuppositions).

“Nonetheless, to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion.

Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.”

This seems like a horrible satire. But it’s published in a legitimate journal.

Lest we be mistaken about what they’re arguing for:

“Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where
abortion would be”

It goes down hill from there…

“Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk. Accordingly, a second terminological specification is that we call such a practice ‘after-birth abortion’ rather than ‘euthanasia’ because the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.”

Here’s where they try to draw a line to define personhood.

“Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this
existence represents a loss to her.”

Now. I’m no published ethicist. But having a newborn baby in the house gives me a little bit of perspective on this. My baby, who is two months old, cries when she is hungry. She has done since birth. She stops crying when she is fed. At this point I would argue that her cries are indicative of a desire to keep on living, via being fed. I don’t know how one could establish a definitive sense of loss short of asking the person – which would rule out personhood until a baby is old enough to comprehend his or her existence.

At this point we start to see the problem with a general social shift away from a Christian anthropology. A view that people are special because they are created different to the rest of the animals.

“This means that many nonhuman animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life. Indeed, many humans are not considered subjects of a right to life: spare embryos where research on embryo stem cells is permitted, fetuses where abortion is permitted, criminals where capital punishment is legal.”

So you can’t kill a functional monkey. But you can kill a disabled baby. The logic here is so thoroughly inconsistent it is staggering.

In applying the logic to themselves – the authors of this study suggest that potentiality is not a valid consideration. You can’t say “well that baby or fetus would have become like us” – because once the decision is made, it’s a moot point.

“If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed, had our parents decided to kill us when we were fetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no’, because they would have harmed someone who does not exist (the ‘us’ whom you are asking the question), which means no one. And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred.”

This is where harm based metaethics fall apart. Who decides and defines harm if not the powerful?

The worst bit, I think, is that they rule out adoption as an option – because adoption may cause future psychological harm to the mother, where the decision to coldly and callously end the life of the child will not. In their logic. This is “potential harm” based on some studies done somewhere. Somehow that is more legitimate than speculating about the effect of terminating a living baby on the mother’s emotional well being.

“Accordingly, healthy and potentially happy people should be given up for adoption if the family cannot raise them up. Why should we kill a healthy newborn when giving it up for adoption would not breach anyone’s right but possibly increase the happiness of people involved (adopters and adoptee)?

Our reply is the following. We have previously discussed the argument from potentiality, showing that it is not strong enough to outweigh the consideration of the interests of actual people. Indeed, however weak the interests of actual people can be, they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people to become actual ones, because this latter interest…

…On this perspective, the interests of the actual people involved matter, and among these interests, we also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption. Birthmothers are often reported to experience serious psychological problems due to the inability to elaborate their loss and to cope with their grief.

It is true that grief and sense of loss may accompany both abortion and after-birth abortion as well as adoption, but we cannot assume that for the birthmother the latter is the least traumatic. For example, ‘those who grieve a death must accept the irreversibility of the loss, but natural mothers often dream that their child will return to them. This makes it difficult to accept the reality of the loss because they can never be quite sure whether or not it is irreversible.”

One thing you can be sure of is that terminating the life of a child is irreversible. Another thing you can be sure of is that this article won’t be all that palatable with doctors who have to consider the prospect of ending a viable baby’s life (the Hypocratic Oath would seem to prevent such action). But really – the foundational truth here is that once you move away from viewing all human life as carrying the image of God – which is one of the fundamentally important points of Genesis 1 and 2, ignoring questions of science, you don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to coherently describing why human life is a good thing, and why it should be protected.

While this will be a minority voice at the table when it comes to setting of policies regarding the rights of a fetus – legislation that is very much on the table particularly in the case of Western Australia… one of the things we, as a church, can and should be doing in Australia is speaking out and saying that we do want these children.

Adoption is a policy solution. Especially if we, as Christians who believe in reconciliation, offer mothers the chance to be involved in their children’s lives – a form of reversible adoption. I think what we should be campaigning for, every time we open our mouths about abortion, is a changing of Australia’s horrendously complex adoption laws. This means being radically prepared to add additional mouths at the table in our family homes. But wow. If infanticide is the alternative – which is a label the authors of this ethics paper tried hard to avoid. Then it is part of the Christian witness to step in and uphold the value of life. Doing that was a driver of change in the Roman Empire – where infanticide was a common practice. Unwanted babies were exposed. Left to die. And the church started collecting them. Caring for them. And challenging the established practice.

Here’s a letter from a travelling father to a mother:

“”Know that I am still in Alexandria…. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I received payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered (before I come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it.””

Here’s Justin Martyr on the practice of discarding, or exposing, children and the church’s rejection of it (which often took the form of rescuing exposed children lest they end up in lives of prostitution.:

“But as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution…

And again [we fear to expose children], lest some of them be not picked up, but die, and we become murderers.”

And perhaps my favourite, Tertullian, responding to claims that Christian rites involved child sacrifice (which they didn’t).

“But in regard to child murder, as it does not matter whether it is committed for a sacred object, or merely at one’s own self-impulse—although there is a great difference, as we have said, between parricide and homicide—I shall turn to the people generally. How many, think you, of those crowding around and gaping for Christian blood,—how many even of your rulers, notable for their justice to you and for their severe measures against us, may I charge in their own consciences with the sin of putting their offspring to death? As to any difference in the kind of murder, it is certainly the more cruel way to kill by drowning, or by exposure to cold and hunger and dogs. A maturer age has always preferred death by the sword. In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fœtus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth…

You first of all expose your children, that they may be taken up by any compassionate passer-by, to whom they are quite unknown; or you give them away, to be adopted by those who will do better to them the part of parents.”

There’s nothing new under the sun. This sort of callous disregard for human life was something best left in the past, and part of the church’s heritage it should be proud of. And embrace. A cursory glance at Wikipedia’s infanticide article demonstrates the pivotal role we played, through embracing unwanted children, in changing the way western society viewed life. We can do it again. And we should.

The other compelling Christian factor in this argument is that the gospel brings a message of wantedness not just to the discarded or “unwanted” child, but to the mother as well. We value people because Jesus valued us. And because God not only implanted his image in humanity, but calls humans to be his people. We’re adopted into his family. We are wanted by God. That’s the essence of a Biblical anthropology, and its a reality which is heightened for the Christian. Which gives us a precedent to follow, and provides a mandate for us to love and seek the unwanted. This, I think, is the most compelling anthropology going round, and it makes sense of life from conception to death. It only really competes with the view put forward by these ethicists – because they’re right. This is the natural outcome of viewing humanity as a fleshy sack of bones and organs. Only these two options have any sense of cohesion.

That is all.

Parenting 2.0: How to keep your children’s online behaviour in check

When Tommy Jordan discovered a rant his teenage daughter had posted about her parents on Facebook (she forgot to hide it from the dog). He decided to make a little video response and share it with her friends.

There is a language warning here – but I’m posting it with the disclaimer Tommy included when he posted it to YouTube.

“Warning: Since this video seems to have gone crazy, I figure I’ll post this notice. I’m going to read a letter my 15 year old daughter wrote. There ARE some curse words in it. None of them are incredibly bad, but they are definitely things a little kid shouldn’t hear… not to mention things MY KID shouldn’t say!
If you want to see the original Facebook thread, it’s located at:
http://www.facebook.com/tommyjordaniii/posts/299559803434210
——————————————————————————–­————–

My daughter thought it would be funny/rebellious/cool to post on her Facebook wall just how upset she was and how unfair her life here is; how we work her too hard with chores, never pay her for chores, and just in general make her life difficult.

She chose to share this with the entire world on Facebook and block her parent’s from seeing it. Well, umm… she failed. As of the end of this video, she won’t have to worry anymore about posting inappropriate things on Facebook…

Maybe a few kids can take something away from this… If you’re so disrespectful to your parents and yourself as to post this kind of thing on Facebook, you’re deserving of some tough love. Today, my daughter is getting a dose of tough love.”

The first seven minutes of this video essentially function as a back story to the rather dramatic, and pretty awesome, ending. So once you feel you understand the hurt the father is feeling, skip to around the 7 minute mark.

The A-Z of Coffee

Over on thebeanstalker.com (that’s my Coffee blog – you should read it, and “like” it on Facebook, and like St. Eutychus on Facebook) I posted my little hospital room project. Did I mention I have a daughter? She is lovely.

I’d like her to learn about coffee. So I made a set of coffee alphabet posters. Think of them as a Christmas present from me to you.

Check them out.

Expand your LEGO horizons with Rebrickable

I have no idea what set numbers our family’s lego collection contains. But as I start investing in a Lego collection for my own children (it’s not too early, right?) I’ll be keeping tabs on Rebrickable – which calculates what sets you can form using the sets you own. It’s like getting a whole new spaceship. You can also get schematics for user generated constructions.

You can make stuff like this Lego Gundam (a Japanese transformer type robot). You’ll need 501 pieces, spread across 155 varieties of part. But it looks doable.