Saturday, 5 April 2008

For God's sake (cont'd)

My encounter with Hillsong doesn’t end there. Just a couple days later the church comes up in conversation at work. My colleague Laura is talking about someone she knows that attends the church and is quite, shall we say, enthusiastic about it. It’s this element of these organisations that people don’t like – the attempt to recruit, no matter how subtle. People are scared of being ‘brainwashed’ so in fact the more subtle the attempt at getting tem involved, the scarier it all is. My colleagues are stunned when I tell them I went to a Hillsong concert this weekend. One of them describes Hillsong as a bit culty, and I have to say there was an element of ‘recruitment’ at the concert I attended.

Half way through a man who I assume to be one of the head guys of the church came on and gave a big and I suppose what he imagined to be inspirational speech and during that he mentioned that he knew some Hillsong members had brought along family and friends. He said that if they felt they could benefit from the love of Jesus then to raise their hands and someone would come over and give them information about the church.

This despite earlier proclamations that tonight was all about celebrating and worship, not a normal church service. No opportunity is missed it seems, and I sat there with belligerently folded arms wondering to myself why they found it hard to understand why people were so cynical about them.

Reading up about them it’s hard not to become more cynical. As the size of the event I attended suggests, they’re a pretty big deal. Their Hillsong Music albums sell by the bucketload, even topping the mainstream charts. The Hillsong Television program is seen in over 160 countries and Hillsong International Leadership College is attended by over 900 students from many different countries. Hillsong currently claims that it is attended by over 20,000 people each week. Judging by the amount of people at the concert they’re not at all exaggerating.

But then there’s the stories and controversy surrounding them. The church is currently led by Brian and Bobbie Houston, but its history reveals a first cliché – Brian’s father Frank, who founded the church, was found to be a paedophile and was ousted from the church by his son.
This has done little to taint Hillsong however - under Brian’s leadership the church has become the big deal it is. There has been the odd controversy however. Perhaps inevitably Hillsong has enjoyed the support of the conservative right in Australia (you wouldn’t believe how American Australia is sometimes – you’d never catch David Cameron supporting a religious organisation in the way former Prime Minister John Howard and various other members of his party have supported Hillsong).

In 2004 a politician for the right wing Liberal Party (how ironic is that name??), Louise Markus, won the seat Greenway seat and was elected to the House of Representatives. Markus had before run Hillsong’s drug and alcohol outreach service, Hillsong Emerge (what Hillsong calls its ‘public benevolent arm’ – there’s something quite self-righteous about that), and was still a prominent member of the church. Nothing wrong there, you think. But accusations were made (in the New South Wales State Parliament itself) after her election that she had used her rival (one Alan Cadman) for the seat’s Muslim background against him in her campaign. Also, two candidates from the Family First Party were allegedly featured in a Hillsong circular, which asked members to pray for them.

Blimey. And yet Hillsong deny any affiliation with political parties and publicly distance themselves from advocating any: “One thing we are not is a political movement,” says Brian Houston, “…The Assemblies of God in Australia does not have a political vision and we don't have a political agenda. I think people need to understand the difference between the church being very involved in politics and individual Christians being involved in politics. There is a big difference.”

But the controversy with Markus didn’t stop there. The following year Hillsong Emerge offered the Riverstone Aboriginal Community Association the chance to partner them in a bid for a grant of nearly $500,000 for a crime prevention program. The bid failed, then Hillsong made their own bid for a little less and got it. This outraged the RACA, who claimed Hillsong had used them to get funds for their own ‘purposes’. They made accusations in NSW Parliament that Hillsong had deceived them and then tried to buy their silence with a $280,000 pay-off.

It’s hard to see what their problem is at first. They failed, Hillsong didn’t. But the RACA claimed that Hillsong’s second bid plagiarises proposals made by the RACA and dresses them up as their own. They also claimed that Hillsong blamed a lot of the problems in the local area on Aboriginal gangs, exaggerating the situation heavily.

There’s more. Hillsong’s successful bid also lists RACA, the Blacktown City Council, federal Labor MP Roger Price and NSW Labor MP John Aquilina as stakeholders. All four said that this is untrue. None of them had been asked by Hillsong.

Then there’s Louise Markus’s involvement. She’s listed in the application as having written a letter of support and people saw this as Hillsong Emerge getting the grant thanks to the political support of its members.

It’s not the only controversy to emerge about Hillsong. Other religious leaders have criticised the church for its unabashed pursuit of money and financial success, both for itself and its members. “The quickest way to degrade the gospel,” says Tim Costello, former head of the Baptist Union of Australia, “is to link it with money and the pursuit of money. It is the total opposite of what Jesus preached. These people have learnt nothing from the mistakes made by the American televangelists.”

Brian Houston, in an interesting article looking at Hillsong’s financial success,
disagrees: “When Jesus said it was harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, he didn't mean rich Christians, because all you need is God as your foremost priority. Jesus talks constantly of people's attitude to money but he never talks against money.” Yet another example of how you can interpret the Bible to suit your own views, I feel.

Houston goes on to say such comments come from people’s jealousy of his church’s success. Maybe he has a point, and as such I try to be objective. In the same way, a lot of my colleagues’ criticism of Hillsong is based on ignorance of what goes on. They won’t have heard all these stories. Instead they hear about a large religious (no matter what Druvis or Andy say about their personal beliefs, that’s what Hillsong are) organisation, see people’s fanaticism about it and file it under cult. It’s the same with media coverage, which is very much, ‘Ooh look at the scary religious nutters.’ But with stories like this floating
about, it’s no bloody surprise. I don’t think that Hillsong are a cult, but the more I learn about them, the more I think they do take advantage somewhat of people’s need to be spiritual.

I go round to Andy’s for dinner one night a week after the concert. On the way we pop in to his church venue in Waterloo in Sydney, just so I can have a look. Hillsong run a tithe system (which I also belligerently ignored at the concert), which is partly how they fund themselves, and it’s quite obvious they make a lot of money from it. They’re not afraid to show it off at all. The church is a state of the art venue, a cross between a concert venue and a particularly swanky dance studio. No expense has been spared. This place has been designed for both maximum comfort and, I speculate, to win over those who think Christianity is all about ancient churches and dusty pews. I realise that Hillsong doesn’t take Christianity and try and make it relevant for modern society, they’re merely dressing old ideas up in new clothes.

We go back to Andy’s. He lives with some people he knows through the church - a Taiwanese lad and a Kiwi couple who are a fair bit older. On the table are leaflets with titles like, ‘Is Carbon Dating Accurate?’ and 'Did Humans and Dinosaurs Co-exist?'.

The Kiwi couple is Creationist in their beliefs and Andy quickly points out that he’s not of the same bent. I pick up the carbon dating one. Incredibly it’s written by a scientist. A scientist that believes in the creation of the world by God. Intrigued I have a read. Although a lot of the science is over my head, I get the drift that, though a lot of scientists take carbon dating as scientific fact, you can poke a lot of holes in it because a lot of it is speculative. I’ll admit I was unaware of just how much was speculative and thought it was more of a sure thing that this leaflet reveals it to be. This annoys me. Do scientists rely as much on faith as those with a religious bent? But then I realise it’s not the case. Their speculation is logical and based on what they know is absolutely true. Creationists’ speculation is not logical – it’s based on a book of moral tales in which the level of fact is highly debatable and doubtful.

I chat to Andy about it. He tells me he’s not a Creationist as such. He believes the world was created by God but not in seven days. That seems somewhat ridiculous to him. He points out that the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and that often the words used in translation don’t mean exactly what they would have done at the time. When it was written that the world was created in seven days, the term they used for ‘day’ might not have meant day as how we know it. They could be talking about a longer length of time.

This is another problem I have with the Bible. How can something so easily misinterpreted, or at least differently interpreted, be taken so seriously by people? It’s been translated again and again by many different people, all with their own agenda. How close is the version we have now to what was originally written? Even with the current version we have many different people, churches, with different ideas or agendas are able to use the Bible to back up their viewpoints. To me it just seems a very flimsy foundation to base beliefs on.

Dinner is served and I tuck in. A moment later everyone puts their hands together for prayer. Oooops. I’m mortified at my faux pas. I might not share these people’s beliefs but I do believe in good manners and I apologise profusely. Andy grins at me.

We chat more about Hillsong as we walk back to the train station. I tell him how I feel about the venue he showed me earlier. It seemed ostentatious to me, I say. It seemed to go against what I’ve read Jesus and Christianity is about. He seemed to keep his life simple and dedicate his time and effort to helping others. He didn’t make speeches in grand venues to great expense.

Christianity surely should be about following his example – keeping things simple and dedicating all resources to helping others. Surely half the money spent on that hall could have gone to something more useful – their outreach projects for example. Hillsong Emerge, I find out later, has a yearly budget of just $400,000. Where’s the rest of the money from this multi-million earning church going?

Andy agrees with me. There are elements of Hillsong he finds a little hard to take. He says he sees Hillsong pastors walking about with expensive watches on their wrists and wonders how much they pay themselves. He’s not really into the ritual nature of their worship either. Prayer before meals, for example, is something he does when he remembers, not something that has to be done before every single meal. He says he goes to church service on Sundays just because that’s when it is, not because he feels that’s when it should be. He’d happily go on any other day as well.

What about getting in a big room with loads of other people and singing songs together, I ask him. Is that not ritualistic? That, he says, he finds quite powerful. Of course, I think. Anyone who is in a room with lots of other people listening to music they enjoy finds that powerful.

Andy says he finds his church back home in Bristol more in tune with his personal ideas about spirituality. Where Hillsong is very American in its commercialism (as I've said before, like a lot of things in Australia), Woodland Christian Centre, or Woodies as it’s affectionately known, is a much more English take on the whole thing. It has an old school church for a start. No fancy pants venue for Woodies, but they do employ big screens and music and throw out the dog collars to make the whole experience more appealing to young attendees. And there are a lot of them – a good thousand when other churches in the area are suffering. It seems much more relaxed affair as well – you don’t have to have religious views that are strictly in line with those who run the place. It seems like a more adequate forum for discussion than Andy’s Australian replacement.

There are things that put me off personally – the use of the word evangelism always makes me want to roll my eyes, even if it’s not the kind we see on dodgy American cable channels. But what I do like is how much focus is put on helping the community and charity work. It’s not done as an afterthought, a la Hillsong, it’s an integral part of what the church is about. THAT, to me, seems to be more like what that Jesus bloke was banging on about when he was walking about preaching all those centuries ago.

I have total respect for Andy for taking these ancient ideas and making them work for him in a modern context. But it’s not something I could ever get on board with. There are just too many unanswered questions for me. As my friend Megan puts it later when I’m ranting to her about Hillsong, a belief in a sentient being controlling everything made more sense when we had no answers for how things happened. Like how the sun came up every day, how the wind blew, or why some people got ill. Now we have more clearly defined answers to the big questions about our world and yet we are left with these archaic beliefs.

People insist on holding on to the idea that there’s something more mysterious at work, something more magical. That’s great, whatever works for you. I think people should be able to believe and do whatever they want to make the world a better place for them to exist in.
But they should also take a leaf from Andy’s book and have respect for those who believe something different. Spirituality should be about your own ideas of yourself and the world, not someone else’s, and certainly not someone from thousands of years ago who had no concept of what your life is like. Hillsong reveals its true nature in its attitudes towards modern social issues – abortion should be banned and homosexuals are (of course!) unwelcome. Brian Houston also feels creationism should be taught in schools. (Isn’t it? Oh, of course. He means as fact.) But then this is a man who believes in speaking in tongues, which, for me, undermines everything he says completely. He’ll be speaking out against the rising social problem of witchcraft next.

Personally I think people’s spirituality should be fed by their own ideas and communication with other people about theirs, in ongoing and interesting debate that is fuelled by mutual respect, not ‘I’m right and you’re wrong and this is how it is’. It should not be about manipulation, corruption, greed, arguing, violence or hate. It’s a shame the latter is what people generally associate with such things.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

For God's sake

My life can be very random at times. I seem to meet a lot of people, all from different backgrounds, creeds, colours, attitudes, etc etc. You may think this is because of my currently itinerant lifestyle but really it’s always been the case. During my adult life I’ve often found myself doing stuff or visiting places that maybe you wouldn’t in the normal course of things.

And so it is that this Sunday evening I found myself at a concert of Christian music. And by concert I don’t mean a choir in a local church – this was a big event, taking place in a huge arena in Sydney, with an impressive light show and full-bodied anthemic rock songs, all singing about the sacrifice of Jesus and the glory of God. Amen etc.

So how did I end up here? When I was last in Australia I met a student called Andy who was staying at the same hostel as me. Tall and bushy-haired, he was here on a year’s placement for the mechanical engineering degree he was studying in Bristol. We bonded with a mutually wry sense of humour and a love of Lost, which we spent hours watching and dissecting together.

Andy is quite open about his Christianity. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be, of course, though people of our age do tend to treat other people of our age with a religious bent with some suspicion. But Andy’s relaxed and very chilled attitude towards it all disarms you totally. He drinks and chases women like any other man in the hostel, and is by no means a Bible basher. It is clear straight away that he’s not going to try and ‘recruit’ you, which I guess is most people’s fear.

But he is passionate and dedicated to his faith. On his Facebook profile he talks openly about his beliefs, saying:

“I know I'm far from perfect; I know of only one who is or ever was. His name is Emmanuel, Jesus Christ.I can merely endeavour to love. Whilst I know that my Earthly ties will inevitably be cut at some point, I do not fear death. Through my faith, I have hope: hope of an eternity spent in God's presence. I'd be lying if I said the notion of spending eternity in Heaven didn't excite me. The reason I am who I am and I act the way I do is directly because of this. I know I don't deserve to enter God's presence but the idea that I can in spite of this motivates me as a person. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. I hence try my utmost to follow His example: to serve both Him and others. I aim to share what I believe to be the greatest good news anyone could ever hope to hear. I believe it would be selfish not to.”

Being the cynic and atheist I’ve, one, been brought up to be, and two, become even more so as an adult, I always find it amazing when I meet someone of my generation with attitudes such as this. The role religion plays in Western society continues to be reduced for most people. There is still an acknowledgement by those in power of religion’s role in people’s lives but it by no means holds the power it once had historically. When a man as powerful as Tony Blair was refuses to discuss his Catholic faith openly, it’s clear that society is still moving slowly away religious dominance in its affairs.

And yet it does still have a huge influence. I’m constantly reminded that people who still worship God aren’t necessarily unintelligent, needy or naïve. Blair is one example. Professor Robert Winston is another. He’s a scientist who has presented many programmes on human behaviour, a man I interviewed a few years ago when he was promoting his programme The Story of God – an historical look at God and how the belief in a higher power as impacted human development.

“One of the reasons for me agreeing to make this series,” he told me, “was I wanted to show an aspect of humanity that is not, I think, very well dealt with by many scientists, who often profess strongly atheist beliefs and are rather dismissive of the spiritual side of humanity. I wanted to, as a scientist, redress that a bit really.

“It's my view, expressed in that programme, that actually there shouldn't be a conflict between science and religion, that actually they should be able to sit quite comfortably side by side. They're both looking at the natural world in different ways, but which aren't necessarily conflicting.”

Somehow he manages to balance his scientific knowledge with his faith as a practising Jew. When I asked him how he reconciled the two he told me:

“I certainly follow a somewhat religious track in my life. I think religion provides a very useful framework for people and it's been quite helpful to me. Has there been a conflict between my science and religious practice? No, I don't think there has. On the contrary I think it's enlightened and helped my clinical practice. I think it's been very useful in making good decisions about an area of biology that is fairly controversial - mainly the embryo, human life and its start, pregnancy and conception.

“Many of the decisions I come to in helping people have been illuminated by, not necessarily my religious views, but other peoples', and religious views in general.”

And then there’s Andy – not a stupid fellow at all, a very, very clever one in fact.

So when he invites me along to a concert he’s performing at, being put on by his church, I see no harm in it. He’s part of the choir and as a friend I think it would be nice to go and support him. Plus it’ll be something a bit different, something I’ve never done before. Another new experience to investigate.

I’m intrigued as well. In the few brief conversations we’ve had about his church he’s told me it’s not the happy clappy cliché people might expect. He says it takes the Bible’s teachings and applies them to modern life. To me this seems nigh on impossible. How can something written some 2,000 years ago have any hope of applying to today’s society? Of course the moral stance laid down by those writings has permeated society and often forms the basis for what people consider to be ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ behaviour. But to still be using that language and those stories, and keeping the focus entirely on ‘what the Bible says’ seems faintly ridiculous to me.

But maybe this church has found a way for it not to seem ridiculous. Maybe this church has found a way to navigate this compilation of probably historically inaccurate stories that have been translated, re-written and re-interpreted hundreds of times over the past 2,000 years and make it work for today’s society.

At the moment my attitude is much the same as the Malaysian I met recently who could not understand why there were so many branches of Christianity. Why is there Catholics? Why is there Methodists? Etc etc. Why aren’t there just Christians? The only answer I could give was that the Bible was such a vague piece of writing that it can be interpreted many ways to suit the needs of whoever is reading it. It’s this malleability that makes me unable to take it seriously. There’s nothing genuine about it. How can there be when it supports such differing points of view?

But as I say, I was curious about Andy’s church. When I go along I know nothing about them, I do no research. I’m just there to go and see Andy sing. I’m picked up from the hostel by Andy’s friend Druvis, a Sri Lankan guy that Andy’s kindly asked to give me a lift. In the car on the way we chat and get to know each other. Given the nature of our destination it’s not long before he asks me if I go to church as well. I tell him no, I’m not a religious man. He tells me he doesn’t think he is either, he doesn’t like the word religious. He, quite rightly, says the word has bad connotations and suggests rules and regulations. And control, I want to add, but don’t as I’m not sure I trust myself in this debate.

I don’t trust myself because there is a part of me that gets angered by religion. As someone who has always been fascinated by history I’ve read a lot about how the powers that be control their societies with religion. It horrifies me to think of the millions and millions of people over the past 3,000 years or more that have been slaughtered mercilessly in the name of God. The one shining example that I always think of is that of Queen Mary Tudor and her relentless burning of Protestants in her attempt to bring the country back to Catholicism. Imagine that for a second. Imagine being arrested because you do something slightly differently to your ruler. You worship the SAME GOD, but you have a slightly different take on how the worshiping should be done. And so you are BURNT ALIVE for your opinion. She did that to over 300 of her own people. That’s fucking sick. And there are hundreds of examples like that throughout history. Hundreds of them. Each of which I’ve read has hammered it in to me that religion is A Very Bad Thing.

So no wonder Druvis baulks at the word religion. He instead talks about a relationship he has with God, something personal. He says he goes to the church and listens to what they say and develops his own personal relationship with Jesus and God from that. Which seems fair enough, I think. A lot of people don’t do that though, I reply, a lot of people take what’s written in the Bible as gospel (quite literally! No pun intended) and use it to structure their lives. They need that structure to lean on, to help them get through life. He tells me his faith just gives him a sense of peace, a sense that everything’s going to be all right because “someone” is looking out for him.

I change the subject at this point because I know I might offend if I carry on. He seems to be an archetype of why I think people become religious or spiritual - they can’t handle life. They can’t handle the full responsibility of their lives and so they pass some of it over to a higher power, a very quiet and unobtrusive deity who they can turn to when things go bad. It’s such a neat set-up when you think about it. I wish I could convince myself that there’s some greater being watching over me, occasionally poking or prodding me in the right direction. Wouldn’t life be so much easier to bear? But it seems to me a cop out, a get out of jail free card. It’s too easy. And really, when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense. If God’s watching over us, why does bad stuff happen? To test us? Test us for WHAT exactly? Why does He test a 10 year girl who is being abused by her father in such a way? Why does He test a woman with rape? Or an innocent man with torture at the hands of his captors? What’s the ultimate goal with that? What answers do these people hear when they do turn to God in those incidences? Any?

But of course God works in mysterious ways. Who am I to question his motives?

Druvis and I arrive at his friend Andrea’s house to pick her and her friend up, then we go on to the ACER Arena.

Now, the ACER Arena isn’t small. It’s played host to concerts by the likes of Rod Stewart, Iron Maiden and Justin Timberlake and has a capacity of 21,000. Apart from the middle tier, the place is full.

If you thought young Christians were a rarity then you’d be wrong. I question Druvis about where all these people have come from - all over the country, from different churches? No, they’re all from the same church and they’re all from Sydney. I’m stunned.

The concert starts off with a young good-looking chap welcoming everyone. It’s immediately a cliché as the guy starts banging on about how God is in the room with us tonight, how this is worship like any other Sunday but how we’re on the cusp of something special, something amazing, everything is going to be different after this. What is he talking about? It’s a bloody concert. He then reads a passage from the Bible - Isaiah 42:8-13.

"I am the Lord, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another," it begins. It later ends with: "The Lord shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies."

It’s a call to battle. Everyone cheers. I’m confused. Who are they going to FIGHT? These people are going to go leave this place and go home thinking what a nice evening they had, not go out on the streets and take on all who deny the glory of God, or whatever. It DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE.

The music starts. It’s pretty good. It’s the kind of emotive, anthemic pop-rock that U2 or Coldplay could knock out during their lunch break. But with the impressive light show, the combined joy of thousands of people and an excellent sound system it’s pretty moving stuff.

On the way here Druvis told me I would have quite a night. He said he didn’t know what I would feel but I would definitely feel something, implying that he expected me to feel God in that arena. I don’t. All I feel is what I feel every time I join thousands of people in a room to listen to music everyone there enjoys enhanced by fancy lights and heartfelt performances – that joyous buzz of being part of a huge exciting event. These people are confusing that purely chemical response to stimuli to feeling ‘God’ in the room. All they’re doing is responding to that basic, innate human desire to congregate in large numbers, play loud music and have fun together. Where I do it in a club or at a festival, these people do it at a church or Christian rock concert. There is no difference whatsoever – the ultimate goal is the same.

Thing is I’m more likely to feel ‘God’ at a Madonna concert (oh the irony if He actually showed up to a gig of hers) than here. The music’s enjoyable but nothing I’ve not heard a million times before, plus it’s full of lyrics that directly lift Biblical language to sing the praises of Jesus and God. It seems incongruous to me but has obviously worked wonders in winning over these kids to the ideas of Christianity.

Not long after the gig starts I notice a guy down to my left with long grey hair and beard, arms outstretched in praise to the Lord.

In any other scenario the people around him would be pointing and giggling behind cupped hands. Here, I notice as the gig goes on, he is one of many. Down to my left two fit-looking guys in board shirts and tees are doing exactly the same. I briefly consider whether they are on ecstasy. I figure not. This reaction that has been trained in them, this kind of ecstatic hypnosis that sees them arms literally reaching to the heavens, head back, eyes closed, slight knowing smile on their faces, is not drug-induced. Or maybe it is. Where others use drugs and a good tune to reach that high, or drink and a good tune, or just some friends and a good tune, these people use God and their pounding rock music.

The music critic in me can’t help but be impressed with the musicianship and vocals on display here. One brunette woman who Druvis is unable to tell me the name of has a particularly striking voice that manages to move even me.

But it’s all let down by the silly lyrics. One song in particular stood out for me, singing as it did about how everyone should be ‘running back to sit beneath Jesus’s throne where they all belong’, or words to that effect. Eh? This is just lifting Biblical imagery and turning it into song, this isn’t making Christianity relevant to today. Some slick rock music just isn’t enough. Other lyrics bang on about the worship and veneration of God – ‘We are living to make Your name high’ is one, ‘For You are great and mighty, let the nations sing’ is another. This isn’t about having a personal relationship with God, this about adulation, reverence, subservience, fawning even. That, to me, does not constitute a relationship.

And this, ultimately, is what I baulk at when it comes to these kinds of ideas of spirituality – the personification of God; the idea of some sentient being up there or all around us or wherever He hides out. I’m not talking about the image of a man in a white dress and long ZZ Top style beard - no one’s that silly any more. I’m talking about the idea of God as thinking, feeling entity with ideas and opinions just like the rest of us. To me that’s a strange idea, that’s just humans projecting their own behaviours on the long-held idea that there is something bigger than us out there. That it is a sentient being is merely an idea borne from the arrogance of humanity. There IS something bigger than us out there - everything that's around us. As I’ve travelled the world I’ve seen it and experienced it numerous times. I know where this feeling of God comes from. I’ve felt it. If I was Christian I would happily say that I have felt Him. All you need to do is stand on the side of a mountain, in New Zealand say, and look down at the beauty that surrounds you and stretches off into the distance and then you’ll feel God. God is the awe we feel when we realise our size and insignificance in the grand scheme of the world. It’s what we feel when we become aware of the small part we play in the world’s workings. It’s what I’ve felt walking around ancient temples being ripped apart by the roots of trees, or when I’ve stood on a boat and watched a gigantic hump-backed whale swim underneath, or when I’ve waded through three foot of powdery white snow while all around me it decorates hundreds of trees. God is everything that we can see, not everything we can’t.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Year (Three) Zero

I've turned 30. This seems totally bizarre to me. I wasn't done with my 20s yet, thanks very much. But it seems they are done with me and everything I do from now on will be something I did "in my 30s". Which is annoying because it seems to put a whole different slant on whatever I do. My actions will be judged in comparison to what other people do 'in their 30s' and whether a person 'in their 30s' normally does such things.

But this is other people's problem, not mine. It's not gonna stop me doing whatever the fuck I want. 'Turning 30' is only a big deal because people have decided it should be, not because it actually is. But I suppose, becuase people do make a big deal of it, how you 'deal' with this alleged landmark moment in your life depends on how you feel about your life at that time. If you're unhappy with your lot, turning 30 is only going to add to the misery. If you're not unhappy then it's a good excuse for a party. I fall into the latter category - things are great and interesting and exciting and adventurous. As such I marked the completion of three decades on the planet by partying, doing the following things:

  • Hanging out with hot Irish girls (and Su) (who is also hot) (but not Irish)

  • Drinking more than is good for the soul

  • Playing with male nude playing cards

  • Dancing to unrecognisable Australian indie rock
  • Developing an unrequited crush
  • Sleeping til 4pm
  • Eating chicken and chips
  • Getting surprise birthday cake

  • Inventing an AWESOME drinking game
  • Playing balloon tennis

  • Enduring the funniest bus journey EVER

  • Getting spun around in a shopping trolley, twice
  • Pretending to watch rugby

  • Pretending to be awake
  • Deleting Nicola's pics of people's crotches in case of arrest
  • Eating corn chips for breakfast
  • And going for a walk over Sydney Harbour Bridge

Job done, then.