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.

Up the poll

Is there no end to the prevailing obsession with polls? When for the past 3 years our senses have been numbed and our reasoning capacities neutered by almost daily electoral horoscopes, I suppose one shouldn’t pause at a front page ‘EXCLUSIVE … Age poll’ about the Federal Labor leadership ballot. But after the gangrenous impact of polling paranoia on the late government, is democracy now truly served by further forecasts of a ‘cliffhanger’ in a ballot limited to Labor members? Will our respect for our nation’s parliament grow by speculating on the roles the factions will play in the ballot, who might swap sides, and which side Mr Rudd is ‘expected’ to take? Enough of this fatuity.

Are faces too human?

I can’t say I’ve ever taken much notice of the relative content of The Age’s print and online editions. But I’m intrigued by the non-appearance in print of an online article by Daniel Street, dated 9th July. The assigned headline “Listening, caring Rudd has always been here to help” is de rigueur. But the content recounts firsthand the human face of the Prime Minister one rarely if ever sees.

As one who was closely associated with Mr Rudd at university, none of the qualities of humanity and compassion, as well as vision and discipline, come as even remotely surprising. However the comments to the online article underscore the disconnect between Street’s honest observations and the immutable judgement of the commentariat.

So I ask: What is it with the culture of today’s media, that any hint of humanness in the most senior politicians is so clinically filtered from the public gaze? Is it just the good ol’ tall poppy syndrome? Or is it some ideological determination to retain politics and politicians as objects of entertainment? If a nation cannot respect its leaders, the nation loses.

Go on, shock me. Publish this letter.

Dishonourable mentions

Your Editorial of 22nd June called on then Prime Minister Julia Gillard to stand aside from her office “so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again,” and to allow the party to “present a compelling, united and inspiring voice”. Prior to his re-election last night (26/6) as leader of the Federal parliamentary Labor party (and subsequent return to the Prime Ministership), Kevin Rudd pledged himself to invest his full energy in party unity, without recriminations or paybacks.

In light of all this can you explain to your readers how a front page headline such as “Rudd’s Revenge” (27/6) contributes to the restoration of intelligent democratic engagement in this country?

Quality time

Your leading editorial of Saturday 8th June is right to call our political leaders back to matters of substance, but short on collective self-awareness. The standard and style of current day political commentary are at the very least complicit in the petty soap opera that now plays out on Capital Hill.

The personas of Gillard, Abbott, and their alleged internal rivals, that we the voting public see are in no small part constructed by those who beam them to us daily. The politicians themselves know this, as do the throngs of their media teams. Why then should we be surprised if policy takes a back seat to posturing? The science of politics has become the art of rap-dancing on a minefield. The story sells; characters are cheap and expendable.

In the antediluvian days when reporting of fact trumped opinion, the media’s role in the equation was on the whole constructive in the higher cause of informed democracy. Now we’re commonly left guessing where reality ends and speculation begins.

Yes, politicians please get on with debate. And journos, please get on with reporting.

Anyone for cordial?

Dave Greenslade’s vignette (Letters, 25/3) of the wartime cordiality between Menzies and Curtin might well be a piece of space fiction, beside the governmental processes that assault our senses in today’s Australia. Thinking of the past decade generally, and the past week most graphically, it’s hard to believe there ever was or ever could be a time when a Westminster parliamentary process could be vigorous without spite.

The dream of, in Tony Abbott’s own words, ‘a kinder and gentler polity’ died with the hung parliament still in nappies. What has followed has been a season of surely unprecedented and almost unrestrained vituperativeness and character assassination. It has played out between parliamentary opponents and within the government, gleefully fuelled by a more than merely complicit media. And therein lies perhaps the greatest challenge to the function of our democracy. As the media regulation debate has highlighted, we won’t readily trust our politicians to scrutinise the media. Yet conversely we’ve come to doubt the media’s capacity to report truth before peddling opinion or trashing images.

How it might happen is hard to conceive. But the rehabilitation of the democratic process in the eyes of the next generation urgently requires some form of multilateral compact between politicians, media and the public. We must commit mutually to ending the culture of dirt units, celebrity gossip, personal invective and character smears. Preferably before it’s too late.

Up the poll again

With a surfeit of worthy contenders, it would be difficult to single out one Age Reader’s Poll for an inanity award. However the question posed on 9th January would certainly be right up there. “Is the lack of iodine to blame for Australian children underperforming academically?” Quite a question, when on the facing opinion page a world leading authority on iodine deficiency can only suggest it might be one factor. On the assumption that the majority of readers don’t hold doctoral research qualifications in both medical science and education, how on earth would we know, and what intelligent use can the poll possibly serve? Leave the cryptic teasers on the puzzle page.

Enough about Alan & Tony

Quite magnanimous of The Age (Letters, Tuesday) to publish Roger Stagg’s observation that 46.7 percent (14 of 31) of letters printed Monday, related to Tony Abbott. Also quite ironic, given that on Tuesday itself 53.3 percent (16 of 30) related to either Tony Abbott or Alan Jones. More ironic still in light of Lindsay Tanner’s polite suggestion on Monday’s Q&A that matters of greater substance might merit more of the nation’s attention. Please wake me up when it’s over.

Strong, please … and no sugar

So let’s see if I’ve got this right. To prove oneself morally pure, the unacceptable must be condemned (or something as closely synonymous as possible), and the vocabulary used must be of sufficient strength; all lest one be suspected of complicity. All part of the theatre of contemporary discourse, I suppose. Shock jocks in the red corner, pollies in the blue, blow for blow, expletive for expletive, character attack for character attack, strike where you can, guilt by association … and may the best tweeter win.

But when the masses follow suit, the unintended consequences follow closely. If the language is too strong, the tweets too many, the walls too public, and the gallery too full, then jurors are too scarce, and justice too fragile.

Methinks the shock jocks are winning.

The off switch

I don’t like Alan Jones, and there is no defence for his tasteless remark about the Prime Minister’s late father. However the flurry of online vigilanteism in the wake of this, his latest folly, is itself no less perplexing. Whether or not he’s axed or even disciplined is a matter surely for his employer alone, with or without pressure from sponsors.

A moment or two’s reflection prior to pressing the send button would serve us all well. Today’s collective penchant for ‘off with his head’ censorship cries on the heels of every public gaffe, seems more often driven by adrenalin than common sense. The initial moral outrage might be tempered by the realisation that ill-considered outbursts have never been the exclusive preserve of the unenlightened. It feels righteous only so long as the tar and feathers are being applied to the enemy. When the pack is baying for one’s own, we’ll all remember the ‘free speech!’ cry soon enough.

Surely the better way to preserve intelligent discourse is to let the monkey speak. Democracy’s most efficient weapon remains the off switch.