Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Religious discrimination--an open letter to VicRoads

Dear Vicroads,

Today I had a fairly offensive and traumatic experience at your Carlton location on Lygon Street in Melbourne. I had checked beforehand and it says on your website that religious headgear IS allowed in license photos.

I wished to wear my religious headgear which easily met the requirements outlined on your website ( ). I explained to 3 different staff members that I was a Pastafarian. 2 of your staff members openly told me that my religion was not real, and not recognised by VicRoads. The manager, Melissa, stated that she was not allowed to discuss the matter, but had been told that I was not allowed to wear my religious headgear in the photo. When I asked her, however, if she would be okay if one of her staff members refused to take the photo with a Sikh or Muslim individual, she said certainly not, that indeed she would require her staff members to take the photo of such an individual with their religious headgear.

In light of all the above, I have a few questions.

1. Can you please clearly outline what the official and public VicRoads policy is regarding religious headgear in license photos?

2. Is it indeed the official policy of VicRoads to allow the headgear of certain religions in license photos, but not of other religions, as I was clearly told by 3 different employees at your Carlton location?

3. If that is the policy, is it a policy of only allowing religious headgear from certain specified religions? Or is it a policy of specifically excluding the religious headgear of certain religions? That is, when the employee at the license renewal location decides whether or not to allow a particular piece of religious headwear, are they intended to be deciding whether the headgear meets a list of requirements for inclusion, or are they intended to be deciding whether it meets a list of requirements for exclusion?

4. Is it the official policy of Vicroads for your employees to be telling individual of minority religions like mine that our religion is "not real"? Do you agree that that this is a profoundly offensive thing for your employees to say to a customer? If so, what steps has VicRoads taken, and what steps will you take in the future, to train your employees not to say such profoundly rude and offensive things to members of minority religions?

5. What further steps I can take towards being allowed to wear my religious headgear in my license photo?

Finally, if indeed it IS your position that Pastafarianism is not real, I would like to say that I'm happy to provide reams of evidence that my religion is real and that my religious beliefs are sincerely held. There are literally millions of Pastafarians in the world, and yes, while obviously we don't have the numbers of the really big religions like Christianity and Islam, that doesn't make us any less real. Pastafarians have done really amazing things to make the world a better place. For instance, We are the number two lending team among religions on Kiva, an organisation that helps individuals provide micro-loans for people in the developing world which has had a profound and lasting impact for good on many many lives. See I look forward to your timely and clear response.

Best regards,
Benjamin Ady
Thornbury, Victoria.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How did I stop being a Christian?

 A couple people have asked me this lately.  I thought I'd try to write about it.

This seems like a very boring thing to write about.  Never mind.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Protesting Mark Driscoll at Hillsong Melbourne City Campus

  Today I went down to the Easter Sunday service at Hillsong Church Melbourne City Campus to quietly hold this sign and chat with people about the fact that Hillsong has invited uber-bully Mark Driscoll to speak at their two Hillsong Confrences this July in Sydney and London, at each of which he'll be put on a stage and given a microphone in front of nearly 30,000 people.

  I'd like to acknowledge that Hillsong has already acknowledged the problem to some extent by downgrading him from speaker at the conferences to simply Mark and his wife Grace being interviewed. Nevertheless, he's still being allowed to speak to all those people. Doing so at the very least will boost his book and media sales and will re-victimise the many people who he abused and bullied to whom he still hasn't even begun to make any amends.

  Also, briefly, if you're new the whole subject and have no idea about what I'm talking, you can read more at some of these links:

Alright.  So I arrived at Hillsong City Campus at Dallas Brooks Centre and found I was rather a lot more nervous than I had thought I was going to be, and also found that there were two entrances on opposite sides of the building, and I had to choose which one. I ended up choosing the sort of "main" entrance, which turned out to be a mistake as it's located behind the building's privately owned car parking lot. The "back" entrance is located right on a public street with a public sidewalk. It turns out more-or-less each entrance ends up getting used by about half the congregation.

I unfurled my sign and stood quietly to the side at the bottom of the stairs, smiling at people and wishing them good morning. About 99% of people just read the sign and kept going into the service. The service officially started at 10:30, and I unfurled my sign at 10:05. 

A lovely fellow named M (this is M number 1) came down and chatted with me for a while. He seemed like maybe he was very much a church insider. He projected an air of relaxed confidence. He was wanting to know what Mark had done, and why did I care, and he listened with curiosity. In the end he said maybe Mark would apologize at the conference, and it would perhaps be useful for the many Christian leaders at the conference to hear about what he had done wrong, and that he trusted Brian Houston to deal with it well. This was a theme I heard from several people with whom I chatted.

At maybe 10:25 a handsome young fellow whose name I didnt' get who had on the volunteer uniform (a black t-shirt with white lettering VOLUNTEER across the front) came down to the bottom of the stairs and tried to stand in such a way that he was blocking the view of my sign. We ended up doing a funny game of I move, he moves to block, I move again, for a couple minutes, after which he kind of gave up.

At about 10:35, a very handsome hillsong-leader-looking fellow who looked to be about age 30 showed up at the top of the stairs with two Wilson Security guards. Wilson Security provides security for the Dallas Brooks Centre, where the services were being held, and also for the parking lot, which is run by them. This handsome fellow was looking and pointing at me and then the two security guards came down and told me I'd have to move as it was private property. Pretty much everyone had already arrived anyway, so it worked out well, as I shifted around to the "back" entrance, and so when everyone left the services just after noon, all the folks who use that entrance got to see my sign as well.

Around at the back entrance I got into a brief conversation with M (This is M number 2), who was standing out there waiting for his sister K. M2 was really engaged and wanted to know about my story, and why I was no longer a Christian. I really liked him. But we didn't get to talk for long as finally K arrived and they went into the service.

I started chatting with Younger M (aged perhaps 22?) (hereafter YM), who was a volunteer and was standing on the porch greeting folks as they arrived. She and I were there more or less alone as everyone had pretty much arrived, so I rolled up my sign and stuck it in my backpack and went up to stand on the porch to chat with her. She was very willing to share with me her story of how she grew up in a Christian family, but went away from God, but had come back and had been at Hillsong for three years. She thought I was kind of way off base as her take was that she herself had experienced a lot of hurt, but she'd worked through it and forgiven those people, and that was important, and she was trusting God to take care of them.  I tried to have a little chat with her about justice, and tell her a story Brian McLaren told me at a conference years ago about the importance of stopping abusers not out of anger, but out of love for both them and their victims, but YM very much didn't want to hear much of anything I had to say.  While we were chatting, security showed back up and told me I had to stay on the sidewalk. I asked would I be allowed to come into the service if I got rid of the sign completely?, and they said no, they'd been asked to make sure I didn't come on the premises at all. I asked who asked them, and they refused to give any details.

After that, I packed up and went for a little bike ride, and came back at the end of the service. As people were coming out, I had a number of really great conversations with people. Brother/sister pair M2 and K, whom I'd briefly met earlier, came by to chat a bit more. K. shared that she suffers from agoraphobia and lots of anxiety, and that she'd found the sermon very helpful and peace-bringing. I told her I thought she was super brave to have come to church, and she said yes it was really hard. She and M2 were by far the favourite people I met today. I'd love to connect with them again.

Actually I ended up running a sort of small discussion group with 4 or 5 people there on the sidewalk. New people kept edging up wanting to join the conversation, and I kept inviting them in introducing them to everyone already there. I was really delicious. I was holding my sign all the while. I got to explain a bit about Mark Driscoll and why I was personally invested being from Seattle and having friends who had been hurt, and how I really hoped Hillsong disinvites him from the conference.

Finally after most people had left, I ended up in a conversation with D, who looks a lot like Rick Warren (he laughed when I told him that) and J, a lawyer. These two stood and listened and asked questions and shared for maybe 10 minutes--I really enjoyed talking with them, although their take was quite similar to that of M1 and YM. In fact they kind of gently challenged me--D said "Couldn't you have just emailed the leadership to let them know of your concerns? Don't you think it's a bit disruptive to be out here--these people just want to have their experience of worshiping Jesus on Easter morning!".  I told him certainly hoped it was disruptive, as my hope was to get Mark disinvited to speak at the conference, and these people are the very people who create the power structure that will be giving Mark a giant voice in July. He said that seemed a bit conspiracy-theoryish to him, so I told him about Hannah Arendt's theory about the banality of evil.

Finally, I wrapped up with D and J, and as I was unlocking my bicycle and getting ready to take off, M3, a lovely lady who looked to be perhaps 30, kind of surreptitiously approached me and said she wanted to let me know that she massively agreed with me about Mark Driscoll, and she thought I was super brave to be out there with my sign. She said she wouldn't want church leadership to find out she was talking to me and she certainly couldn't bring up the subject of Mark Driscoll at the conference with them herself, as she would then be labelled a "troublemaker" and as someone "not on board with the vision". She said she really loved the people of the church, but the sermons felt not-enough-grace and way to much do-do-do and do-harder-do-harder-do-harder.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself, although I felt kind of emotionally and psychologically wrung out the whole rest of the day. I realised I felt a bit on edge/adrenalin-y the whole time I was there. Don't really know that I'd be up for this sort of thing on a regular basis, although I suspect that feeling gradually goes away, as with anything new and slightly fear-inducing =).

Thanks for reading =)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Some thoughts on forgiveness and the deliciousness of unforgiveness

My take on forgiveness has been very strongly affected by my understanding of what happened to my mother. She was verbally, physically, and sexually abused by her father throughout her childhood. The man was a monster. She left home at 18 and had little to do with him for 30 years. Then in 2005, when he was dying alone, she chose to become caretaker for him, and invited him into her home to live.

He had never so much as admitted to much less apologised for his behaviour. Although he was too frail to be physically abusive, he continued to be verbally abusive to her while living in her home. He lived there for less than a year before being moved into a care facility. It was during/immediately after this time that my mum got cancer, of which she died 3 years later in June 2008.

It makes sense to me that my mum invited her terrifying childhood monster to live in her home and then got cancer. These things are connected in my mind.

Why did she do it?  Her Christianity told her that he was destined for hell, that it was her duty to forgive him and love him and she believed that indeed her love in the face of his monstrosity might be the only thing that could reach him and help him change and thus avoid Hell. I know this because she told me herself.

I loved my mother to bits, and am profoundly grateful for her. Please read my eulogy for her here if you want to read more about that. And I think that the take on forgiveness illustrated by this story is completely and utterly fucked up.

However, I grew up in the same religious community in which my mother grew up, and I used to believe similarly. That's why I say now that I find unforgiveness utterly delicious. If someone's behaviour and beliefs towards me are very unkind, then I don't have to be in relationship with them. I can gently more-or-less cull them from my life, making room for people whose behaviours and beliefs towards me are gracious, kind, loving, and empowering. I don't have to take any responsibility for the monsters. I'm quite happy for them to live their lives out being in community with other people, hopefully people who don't experience them as monstrous.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Not a dog

Yesterday, while climbing Flinders Peak in the You Yangs at the end of a 33 kilometre run, I saw a family hanging out on a grassy picnic area next to the trail. The mum was repeatedly and angrily instructing her ~6 year old son, Fynn, that he was not a dog, while the dad occasionally angrily chimed in "Listen to your mother". Actually, it went more like this (Remember it's all in an angry strident tone. The 6 year old never verbally said anything. He also never once looked at his mum or anyone else, in fact he studiously avoided doing so):
Come over here Fynn! Come here right now. Look at me. Look at me. You're not a dog, you hear me? You don't lap water from a bowl like a dog. You drink from a bottle like a person. Look at me. Look at me. You're not a dog, Fynn. You drink properly like a person. etc. etc.
Part of me wanted to be super useful to this mum by going into my speech pathologist mode. I realised that this probably wouldn't work, and she probably wouldn't find it useful, and also I was very very sore after 32 kilometres and decided to let it go. But it did get me thinking. Possible smart ass responses from Fynn:
  • Yep, and you're not a bitch.
  • Well, actually genetically I'm like 97% identical with a dog.
  • [Panting loudly like a dog]
Possible slightly more useful responses from Fynn
  • Why do you want me to look at you?
  • Why do you feel upset that I lapped water from a bowl like a dog?
  • I wish you'd love me and feel comfortable around me even when I'm silly and slightly out of control.
I actually thought about becoming a dog myself, and crawling over to the family with a big happy dog grin on my face saying "ruf ruf ruf!".  One wonders what would have happened if the dad in the family had teamed up with his son to do just that?

I wish I could have this much perspective at similar times when I'm speaking angrily and stridently to my own children about things that are probably of similar ultimate significance. In fact, I'm going to to make a note of it, and next time I notice myself speaking angrily to my children, I'm going to say to them "You're not a dog, _______ (fill in name here)". Then I'm going to crack up laughing, with happy dog panting in between.  Maybe I'll use this more generally for when I speak angrily.  If you notice me doing this, you'll know now what it's about.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

10 Reason to not choose University of Melbourne to do a Master of Speech Pathology Degree (AKA 10 Forks)

1. Lecture slides/notes written by your overpriced professors with entire sections of Wikipedia articles cut and pasted in.
2. A professor miming eating the dead bodies during anatomy and physiology wet labs
3. Being treated like a child by professors who are significantly younger than you.
4. Being told to stop asking questions so the lecturer can get through their 90 slides in 60 minutes.
5. Corporate/Big-Money stomp-on-the-little-students attitudes vis-a-vis Cochlear.
6. Being treated like shit by hospital based clinical supervisors (who themselves are being treated like shit by hospital administration and policies)
7. Being cooped up for hundreds of hours of lectures in tiny, airless, windowless lecture rooms at 550 Swanston Street.
8. Having little to no say about your choice of thesis topic.
9. Having to re-do subjects you already did in much more depth with exceedingly high marks as an undergrad, despite providing mountains of evidence to that effect.
10. Observed, Structured, Clinical  Examinations (the hated OSCEs), for which the faculty utterly refuse to assist you in any way to prepare, despite the entire student body's ongoing desperate pleas for information/assistance.