A journey into openness and honesty… Distilling truths about ourselves, others and life from shared experiences… Learning to live consistently with that truth… Becoming free to be who we truly are…

Archive for August, 2016

A very different birthday…

This week I turned 59…

It was a birthday like no other…

I was on my own.

I was driving in a remote part of Western Australia I’ve never been to before.

I’d forgotten to book my accommodation for my next destination and had no mobile phone reception.

I figured there’d be no gifts or birthday celebration.

But it felt good…

I was alone, but far from feeling lonely. Being alone and loneliness are two very different things.

I spent most of the day driving north from Kalbarri to the coastal town of Denham on Shark Bay. The weather was perfect… a brilliant blue desert sky set against the deep red outback earth and the low scrub… just a smattering of clouds, temperature in the mid 20’s.

I was doing something I love… exploring territory I’ve never been to before.

The desert countryside is never boring… a wide array of vegetation still manages to survive in this arid area. The wild-flower season is beginning… much of the roadside featured yellow wattles… in places the ground was covered with carpets of white flowers, then yellow flowers, interspersed with bushes displaying purples, pinks and occasional reds.

I’ve never been a wildflower enthusiast I found myself constantly on the lookout for new colours, and in some places the landscape took my breath away.

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Unexpected birthday gifts…

Life has a habit of bringing surprises… it had a few in store for my birthday…

A long distance celebration…

My phone rang very early while I was half-dressed. My day started with a cheery Happy Birthday from a friend. For her sake and mine I’m glad it was audio only… my waist down got progressively colder during the call but it was well worth the birthday greeting!

Once I left Kalbarri that was it for mobile reception. When I arrived in Denham early afternoon my phone burst into life with a host of text messages and facebook notifications.

By evening I’d received a profusion of birthday wishes, messages and phone calls. I think more people wished me Happy Birthday this year than ever before in my life! I’d been blessed with a long distance birthday celebration… lots of love, care and encouragement ‘over the wire’… I really felt touched!

It’s the little things that count…

A free cappuccino. The young waitress making my coffee asked about my day… I told her it was my birthday. “That’ll be $4.50 thanks”… then a smile, and “No need to pay… it’s your birthday!”

The big things count too…

The key tourist attraction at Shark Bay is Monkey Mia… a beach 25km from Denham where wild dolphins come in every morning to be hand fed. Originally it was fishermen who fed them. Since then a whole resort has been developed along the beach and the dolphins are fed by staff.

According to Google the nearest Backpackers/YHA hostel was in Denham. Hostels in urban settings are not my ideal, but I was pleased at least there was one.

After leaving Kalbarri I realized I’d forgotten to book the Denham hostel. There would be no mobile reception until I arrived. A remote location… no accommodation booked… if all else failed I’d be rolling out the tent!

I stopped at a roadhouse for petrol and a coffee and spotted a brochure for a “Flashpacker’s Hostel” in the Monkey Mia resort complex.

The Flashpacker’s Hostel was a total winner! It’s located right on the beach where the wild dolphins come in. The hostel is clean and modern and I’ve got access to all the resort facilities… a restaurant, café, two bars, dining areas overlooking the beach, kayaks for hire and free WiFi to top it off. And so far I’ve had an 8 bed dorm to myself! To top it off it’s actually cheaper to stay here ($35/night) than in Denham!

My surprise accommodation was a BIG birthday blessing!

The biggest surprise of all…

A very precious birthday gift came the morning after I arrived… you don’t always get your birthday gifts on the day!

I woke much later than usual. The sky looked stormy and there was a strong, cold onshore wind… a total contrast to the day before… time for jeans, shoes and socks.

I wandered along the beach to get a coffee at the restaurant. I noticed people gathered at the water’s edge with a bloke in the water speaking to them. The dolphins had come in and it was feeding time! I hurried down to join them and got my camera ready.

The instructor explained only people chosen by staff would be permitted to feed the dolphins. Anyone who stepped into the water, waved their arms to get attention, or called out ‘Pick me!’ would be excluded. Most people were in shorts and bare feet. With jeans, socks and shoes on it never entered my head I’d be in the running.

Only two dolphins had come in. I stood there taking photos hoping for some good shots. One of the staff had a dolphin swimming next to her. She looked at me and called out “The guy in the green hat”. I was stunned, “You mean me??” I gave my camera to the lady next to me and tried to get my shoes and socks off as fast as I could. I could hear someone saying “You’ll have to hurry!” and almost fell over in excitement and haste. I waded out into the water, getting my jeans thoroughly wet, and had the superb experience of being up close to a dolphin and feeding it!

I could hardly believe what had happened! I wasn’t even heading to the dolphin feeding… I wasn’t dressed for it… I totally expected to not be picked given my attire… and here I was standing in the water in wet jeans just having fed a wild dolphin. What an incredible gift! Totally unexpected and literally ‘out of the blue’!

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At a deeper level…

I sometimes say bushwalking for me is a spiritual experience.

Some people no doubt think this is a bit weird. Years ago in my Christian days I’d hear other people say this and think, “Sad, misguided … they’ve replaced faith in God with a poor, illusory substitute”. (It is so easy to be judgmental!)

Interacting with Nature has always been a spiritual experience for me. I don’t know how to understand it or explain exactly what ‘spiritual’ means for me in this context. What I do know is when I’m in the midst of the Australian bush, or surrounded by a beautiful rainforest, or working hard to reach the top of a mountain and then stand on the summit surrounded by incredible views, or walking along rugged coastal cliffs with huge waves pounding in below, or soaking up an awesome sunrise or sunset… my spirit is deeply touched.

I find myself in a special place… deep stillness on the one hand, deep awe on the other. I feel connected to something far greater than me and I am part of it.

It’s like I’ve come home.

The dolpin…

All the wild dolphins have been named according their personalities as observed by the staff. How ironic then, I had been totally surprised by a dolphin named ‘Surprise’.

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One of the staff told me this was not ironic at all… the dolphins themselves have a role in choosing who feeds them. I felt my spirit being touched again.

Some gifts don’t bear analyzing… they are what they are… our spirit rather than our mind is the primary receptor. All we can do is accept them and appreciate the wonder they bring.

There’s many things we still don’t understand. For me it’s far better to stay open to new truths, whatever form they may take, rather than locking myself into a belief framework that may deprive me of new understandings of life.

A big thankyou…

I had a great birthday. Another memorable milestone in my life.
So many unexpected gifts from family, friends and Life itself.

A big thankyou to everyone who turned a very different birthday into an unexpected celebration!

Ian JamesIan + dingo
18/08/2016

Is Australia (no longer) a Christian nation?

The 2016 Australian Census is almost upon us. The answers we provide on August 9th will be used by the nation’s decision makers to shape and direct Australia’s future.

Changes to the 2016 Census Religion question…

One of the changes to the previous census is in Question 19: “What is the person’s religion?”.

In the 2016 year census No Religion has been moved to the top of the list of choices.

Census 2016 - Q19

In previous years No Religion was at the very end of the list. The reader had to wade through a list of nine religions/denominations, followed by a large text box for Other (unlisted) religions. No Religion followed in an obscure location beneath the text box.

Census 2011 Q19

The value of a census lays in obtaining accurate data. The layout of Q19 has been changed for the following reasons:

  • In the previous layout No Religion could be easily missed, leading people with no personal religious beliefs to inaccurately select a nominal affiliation (e.g. their parents church, the church they were christened into, or where they attended Sunday School).
  • Completion of census form questions is made easier by having the most commonly selected options listed first. No Religion may well be the highest result (above any specific religion or denomination) in 2016 so it makes sense to move it up the list.
  • Having No Religion at the top simplifies completion of the question by effectively breaking it into two parts. Those who identify with No Religion can select this option and move straight to next question. Only those who identify with a religion need to go through the list to make a selection.

The implications…

When this change was introduced in the New Zealand census in 2013 the No Religion result increased from 35% to 42% (compared with 2006) while the total Christian tally decreased from 56% to 49%. For the first time less than half of the NZ population identified themselves as Christian. (Ref 1)

The 2016 Australian census may see a similar result. In the 2011 census the total Christian tally was 61.1%. The impact of No Religion trending steadily upward (22.3% in 2011, 18.7% in 2006, 15% in 2001) (Refs 2, 3), combined with the change to Q19 may result in less than half the Australian population identifying as Christian for the first time. (Ref 4)

The top three options selected in the 2011 census were Catholic 25.3%, No Religion 22.3%, then Anglican 17.1%. (The total of all other Christian denominations combined was 18.7%.) Given Catholic outranked No Religion by only 3% it is highly likely that for the first time No Religion will outnumber each of the Christian denominations individually in 2016, displacing Catholic from the top of the list. (Ref 5)

Percent people reporting No Religion - ABS

Some challenging questions…

Will government funding to Christian organizations be affected?

Secular groups lobbying for the Q19 change argued that a more accurate answer to this question would help ensure that government funds are distributed more fairly

“Many government services and resources depend on census accuracy, and the figures are used by religious organisations to maintain their status and influence in terms of grants, tax-free services, access to schools for religious instruction, and for their generally privileged position within the community,” president of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Meredith Doig, said. (Ref 4)

In the lead up to the 2016 census some secular groups have been actively campaigning for people to select the No Religion option if they don’t have an active religious faith. The Atheist Foundation of Australia website argues… “Accurate census data helps policy makers and political leaders make all sorts of planning and funding decisions. So if you’re not religious any more, mark the ‘No religion’ box on the 2016 Census.” (Refs 6, 7)

Will the claim that “Australia is a Christian nation” still be valid?

The claim that “Australia is a Christian nation” has been used by some far right wing political and religious groups promoting fear-based arguments that Australia should reverse becoming a multicultural, multi-faith nation. (e.g. Fred Nile, Catch The Fire Ministries/Rise Up Australia, One Nation) (Refs 8, 9, 10, 11)

If less than 50% of Australians identify themselves as Christian their claim will no longer be valid. If they dare acknowledge this will they revert to arguing “Australia has a Christian heritage”?
Personally this argument rankles me… Yes, we have a Constitution and legal system based on Judeo-Christian values. However Australia had an indigenous heritage in place for thousands of years before white men arrived. This heritage was replaced by a ‘heritage’ of British occupiers whose actions towards our indigenous people were anything but Christian.

A challenge to Christians and church leaders…

How should the Christian church react? How will the church react? Will the church react at all??

Regular church attendance has been falling significantly for decades. Fewer Australians have an active Christian faith or identify with a particular Christian denomination than ever before. (Ref 12)

The church has taken little effective action to date to stop decades of decline. If less than 50% of Australians identify themselves as Christian in the 2016 census will the church wake from its slumber and take action to stop it becoming progressively more irrelevant to Australian society?

Each increase in the No Religion result strengthens the case being made by secular groups to remove tax exemptions for religious organizations. If one day this case succeeds the financial impact on Christian denominations will be huge and further reinforce the demise of the Christian church in Australia.

Looking to the future…

While it is highly unlikely that the number of people identifying as No Religion in 2016 will exceed 50% (it would need to more than double from 22.3% in 2011) is Australia heading in this direction along with other Western world countries?

A recent National Geographic New article reported, There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities.” (Ref 13)

What do you think?

  • What is your reaction to the Q19 layout change?
  • Are you concerned about the No Religion result rising significantly while the Christian tally falls?
  • Do you think Australia is a Christian nation? A multi-faith nation? A secular nation?
    Why?

I’m very interested to hear from both Christians and secular readers on this. Please feel free to comment either here on the blog or on the associated facebook post.

References:

  1. http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-culture-identity/religion.aspx
  2. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features30Nov+2013
  3. http://profile.id.com.au/australia/religion
  4. http://www.smh.com.au/national/is-australia-losing-its-religion-20150827-gj94ts.html
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Australia
  6. http://censusnoreligion.org.au/
  7. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-22/census-2016-allows-people-to-select-no-religion/7653208
  8. http://www.christiantoday.com.au/article/fred.nile.in.nsw.upper.house.australia.is.not.a.secular.but.a.christian.nation/13382.htm
  9. http://riseupaustraliaparty.com/our-policies/policy-principles/ Policy principle (20).
  10. onenation.com.au/policies/islam Policy on Islam.
  11. Pauline Hanson on ABC TV Q&A 15/07/2016.
  12. http://mccrindle.com.au/the-mccrindle-blog/a-demographic-snapshot-of-christianity-and-church-attenders-in-australia
  13. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion/

 

Ian JamesIan + dingo
07/08/2016