Poverty and the image of God

Posted on October 14, 2016

The people of this neighbourhood are often referred to by terms such as ‘battlers’ or ‘the marginalised’, or ‘those experiencing disadvantage’; but in the biblical lexicon they are ‘the poor’. How do we make sense of the Bible’s teaching about ‘the poor’ in relation to the real people and the real places we encounter? Who are the poor? What defines the experience of poverty? Who are we in relation to the poor and who are we together?

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The ISIS Adventure 2: Hardship and Encounter

Posted on December 14, 2015

Leaving the Shire

Justin Duckworth, Anglican bishop and a good friend of Praxis (who I work for), loves to speak to young adults of the adventure of following Jesus. The first requirement for the adventure, drawing on Lord of the Rings, is that ‘you have to leave the Shire’. The hobbits must encounter danger, risk and the unknown to have an adventure. I think this is true of all people, and is germane to young people who are attracted to groups like ISIS.

When young adults join ISIS or extreme nationalist groups like the United Patriots Front (UPF), political and security leaders call this ‘radicalisation’, pejoratively. But let’s reclaim this word. The tradition of Christianity that inspired me in young adulthood is ‘radical discipleship’. In other words, the following of Jesus (discipleship) which draws on the etymology of ‘radical’ (Latin radix); the ‘roots’, the ‘heart’, what lies beneath all the dross of the constant diet of job, house and material security that is served up to young people.

In my last blog, I suggested that two drivers for Western-raised Muslims who join groups like ISIS are ‘poverty as exclusion’ and ‘ennui’. This pushes them to search for belonging and adventure in extreme places.

I think these twin factors (adventure and belonging) are necessary for all young people’s development, whether they are Muslim, Christian or whatever. How do young people find belonging and adventure?

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The ISIS Adventure 1: Exclusion and Ennui

Posted on December 9, 2015

As a high school teacher, I accompanied a group of young men from my school to John Marsden’s writing camp in rural Victoria. Marsden is a famous Australian writer, best known for his Tomorrow… series in which young adults, with their high school certificates still hot off the press, wage guerrilla warfare against invaders of Australia. At first glance, John Marsden is avuncular and to the adolescent eye, decrepit. But he had these young guys, from a rough part of town, writing enthusiastically. I could only envy his ability to connect young people with their artful hearts, and I frantically recorded his methods so to copy in my own classroom.

In short, I gained much respect for his understanding of young people’s motivations. In his book for adolescent males, “Secret Men’s Business”, he was pilloried for giving instructions on how to use a brothel. In comparison, his prescription for manhood was less controversial: that attaining manhood needs the thrilling experiences of killing an animal, having sex and defeating your father.

I want to suggest that this points to reasons that some Muslim young people, raised in Western countries, are sympathetic to ISIS. And, in some ways, what I write here could be applied to young people who join extremist nationalist groups such as the United Patriots Front.

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Religion, Spirituality and the Sacred

Posted on November 5, 2015

Hi all, I am currently writing a chapter for a book on spirituality and youth work. Here is a section of my chapter on how to understand religion, spirituality and the sacred, and what a definition of these realities might be when discussing them in relation to youth work. The academically minded may be frustrated that I haven’t provided full references – there are some suggestions for further reading at the end.


Secularism constructs ‘religion’ as a private endeavour:

In the West ‘we see “religion” as a coherent system of obligatory beliefs, institutions and rituals, centring on a supernatural God, whose practice is essentially private and hermetically sealed off from all “secular” activities’. In other cultures and through the ages the idea of religion has never been reduced to beliefs and practices separated off from the rest of life. (Pickard)

A definition of religion

Seeking to avoid privatized definitions of ‘religion’, I follow Schneiders, who distinguishes three interrelated elements. One, religion is the “fundamental life stance of the person who believes in transcendent reality, however designated”. Two, “a spiritual tradition” which is a “characteristic way of understanding and living in the presence of the numinous”. Examples would be Buddhism, Christianity, or Zoroastrianism. Three, religion refers to “a religion or institutionalized formulation of a particular spiritual tradition”. We think of Roman Catholicism or Sunni Islam. These particular forms are incredibly complex, requiring particular beliefs, rules, debates, cultural systems and rituals for their maintenance. Schneider argues that this last element is what most casual observers mean when they say ‘religion’.

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