Batting for Jesus on a rough wicket

The teacher set the class the common task of designing their own respective coats of arms and matching life mottos. Our son’s motto was simple and to the point:

Cricket. Nothing more, nothing less.

Cricket always was a metaphor of life, and that includes the Christian life surely. Listening to the commentary, one learns that there are many types of wickets. Flat wickets, grassy wickets, crumbling wickets (and that’s quite apart from the dreaded and proverbial ‘sticky wicket’).

Another is the rough wicket. The kind you might get on day 3 of a test match, but never ever for T20. Spin bowlers relish it. No one wants to bat on it. But alas, that was just the kind of pitch prepared by the curators down at the ABC for last Monday’s test match under lights, otherwise known as Q&A. And a handpicked Christian side were sent in to bat. No one saw a pink ball, but it was tough out in the middle.

But as often happens at the cricket, the crowd reaction was at least as interesting and varied as anything on the ground. The reaction of fans was richly varied; everything from those who rated the batting side’s performance a raging success to the ones who felt utterly let down by a singular lack of courage and not a single boundary.

Now one can understand the disappointment, the sense of lost opportunity. But here’s a thought … Maybe the most dejected fans were the ones who hadn’t thought carefully enough about the batting conditions. Nowadays rough pitches are the norm for Christian batting in what has become a very secular game, in which we’re by and large the minnows. That’s a frustration for those who recall the glory days of Christian ascendancy in the public sphere. And it’s a bore for those who now think the real action is in T20, where every second balls is lofted into the stand.

On my take, the batting conditions for Christian engagement in public discourse today (of which Monday’s match was but a single session in a very long game) are like this: The program’s brief was to evaluate Christianity’s contribution to modern Australia. A utilitarian approach, in other words. That means the secular world’s asking the questions, and we’re answering on its terms. That’s a big determinant of what can possibly be said (what kinds of strokes can be played). I thought the panel did pretty well with the rough wicket they were batting on.

Or to put it another way — The Q&A setup is more a test match pitch with mainly spin bowling, meaning a batsman who expects to hit 4s and 6s won’t last long. 2 runs an over and maybe the occasional 3 all run is a good strategy, even if the crowd does get bored and start throwing beach balls. 

I suspect many Christian critiques of the program come from folks who’ve gotten a little too used to T20.

Living with grey

Even for those who believe unfashionably in absolute truth and absolute error (notably we orthodox Christians), mature engagement with the world demands a basic recognition that some things really are grey, almost never black and white. That’s especially so of people, and the systems they form in plurality.

I presume that most people who’ve been Christians for more than 5 minutes would be well aware of this reality of life in the world of this age (i.e. between the Cross and the Lord’s return in glory), and that a glance in the mirror alone would remind them, especially if accompanied by reflection on the Scriptures and/or the self-examination that rightly occurs when believers confess their sins together as they gather for worship. Yet it both strikes and puzzles me that political discussions seem to possess a capacity at times to drive even very thoughtful, mature and intelligent believers to a kind of trench warfare that presumes every politician is either a goody or a baddy, devoid of nuance.

The events of last week in the Australian Federal Parliament, specifically the exchange between Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Julia Gillard over Peter Slipper as Speaker, seem to have produced this effect dramatically. I’ve nearly lost count of the number of discussions I’ve scrolled through on social media, in which death-or-glory type positions have been adopted, demanded and zealously expounded. Depending on which trench one is fighting in, it’s either that Ms Gillard has seized the high ground of principle over the base misogyny of the now exposed Mr Abbott, or that she has shown herself the ultimate pragmatist devoid of all principle in the face of true moral courage. With that seems to go, whether explicitly or implicitly, a righteous certainty that one must be respected and the other despised. A bit of both, it seems, is not possible.

So I’m perplexed. For in Scripture itself and all history since, God who alone ultimately determines who’s in authority, persists in raising up the most complex people to employ for his sovereign purposes in the world of people and nations. He vests authority in people such as Cyrus who don’t even honour Him as the one true God, and high esteem in Kings like David, notwithstanding the grossest of sin. Christians should remember that the only messiah the world ever had, and will ever need, is the Saviour from Heaven. All the rest are much like me. But the real power is in the safest of hands.

Headlines and other mythologies

Oh for Pete’s sake! It’s time to sack a few sub-editors and redraft some headlines.

First the SMH publishes a headline with a grossly inaccurate and misleading paraphrase of a statement by ACL’s Jim Wallace. (And then the Prime Minister and other pollies react to that.)

Now the ABC radio news reports that Peter Jensen (on Q&A) has ‘backed’ it.

Anyone who listened to Q&A would have heard the Archbishop say that Jim has been quoted out of context. What he did then proceed to address was Wallace’s actual point – that there are real health concerns affecting the lives of practicing gays.

Just to compound the editorial mediocrity, the same ABC news grab effectively places the phrase ‘political correctness’ on the lips of Peter Jensen in his call (same Q&A discussion) for respectful public dialogue. He didn’t use that phrase or any similar slogan. He chose his words much more carefully.

Heaven save us all from this 24/7 news cycle where the headline has become story!