This is part of a series on this blog where I allow myself a little more freedom with religious language than a strict reflection of my beliefs might allow. I like to imagine slinking into a church and hearing this sort of thing from the pulpit.
Originally when I shared the sentiments of this particular post in conversation I said that if I was a preacher at Christmas time then I would preach this. I guess I sort of am, on this blog. So here it is.
Note: Usually I leave old writing intact but I've given this a little edit for 2015. I hope it reads more clearly.
This Christmas in some churches when they talk about the
nativity they will call it a signpost. They will argue it points to the
fulfillment of “a promise”. The fulfillment of that promise is not there yet in
the birth of Jesus, nor is it even there in the crucifixion. Nor is it even
there in the resurrection.
They will preach that the nativity is a signpost pointing to
a promise fulfilled in Judgement Day – the second coming of Jesus. This is when
the Messiah will reappear in full wrath and might; Jesus will impose their holy will on
the earth as God's anointed King. This is supposedly a good thing – there will be no more victims of
sin like little children abused. However by some reckonings all the little children who don’t
believe in God are going to be thrown into hell so it may be more of a frying pan to fire outcome for some of them.
This shift of focus from the baby in the manger
to Jesus with a flaming sword can be blindingly fast and in that lack of pause I hear shame. I hear shame and
disappointment that when a peoples' awaited Messiah came they were a vulnerable and needy
newborn. Vulnerable and needy are not words that many can comfortably attach to their God. Not when our Gods still function competitively in our psyche and our divine (or secular) powers ultimately prove themselves by their sovereignty over human affairs.
Quickly Jesus must be aged, his human limitations removed
and his divinity weaponised. This way, instead of reflecting on how Jesus might
have needed their ass wiped, we can jump to a future vision of ass-whupping by a righteous king. A king is always meant to be unchallenged. The centre of the universe can’t
be a baby.
But I don't hear anything in the nativity story that gives
this permission to look away from the crib – to hurry time till Jesus grows up, dies, rises,
comes again and makes everything alright by being the sort of Messiah they should
have been in the first place. No, this is supposed to be “it” ; the long-awaited God dealing with humanity. This infant is Gods' cards thrown down on the table in a hand of two high.
One rationalisation of the Christmas disappointment is that God wanted us to have at least two
thousand extra years for us to learn what right and wrong is. Jesus Mark I, the infant and the crucified, was the teacher and example. Jesus Mark II, the warrior, will set the final exam. It seems downright churlish to question this sort of reprieve. To accept it also potentially points history towards us as the real generation of Gods' will fulfillment, a reasonable feed of our ego.
But that’s bullshit. People were being raped two
thousand years ago and I’m willing to wager they and their rapist knew what was
happening to them was wrong well enough. If ever Gods' people needed a saving and avenging
God it was the first century. They cried out for it from beneath Roman boot heels. The
moment was ripe.
To spend Christmas talking about an avenging Messiah who is to come seems to me to be a denial of Christianity itself, a refusal to engage with the most basic mystery of the Messiah we got. Instead the nativity calls us to sit with a reality that includes the collective disappointment of God's conquered people. We should be able to hear their grief still relevant to victims today; “This, this is
what we got God? A baby? Thanks heaps.”
No sword. No power. Another mouth to feed basically. A God
who didn't come to kick our enemies arses at all. Instead they came to teach us
to love our enemies and did so from the only position we would be willing to
hear that from; one of us from the word go.
My local community run cinema, The Star, has been
publicizing a need to raise $65,000 dollars in order to convert their
technology to show digital format films. The fear is that without this
conversion the Star won’t be able to continue as a functional cinema in the
In addition to being one of a dwindling number of community run cinemas in
Australia the Star is the only “art house” cinema in Bendigo, a regional Australian
town of approximately one hundred thousand people. I’m not a huge fan of the
term art house but there is no denying that the films shown at the Star,
compared to Bendigo’s other more mainstream cinema are generally from smaller
film studios, and include more characters that don’t conform to being white, wealthy,
heterosexual and other stereotypes of “normal.”
My immediate thoughts on this matter in order were;
1. No! The Star must go on. What can I do?
2. $65,000 is an awful lot of money to be raising. How on
earth is that going to happen?
3. Can I justify promoting this cause instead of promoting
other, more bread-and-butter fundraising campaigns?
I’m not going to discuss thought number two in this blog
post. Bendigo Council and Empowering Eaglehawk (the local traders association)
are making contributions. For all I know $65,000 is quite achievable, if we all
chip in. Also this is primarily a philosophy blog so I’ll skip to the
My primary philosophical concern is my vacillation between thoughts one and
three. As I contemplate asking friends and family to join me in donating to the
Star and as I contemplate how much to donate myself an embarrassing question
occurs to me. Is fundraising for my local cinema just a feathering of my own privileged
nest (or cosy two person couch, as that’s what the Star uses for seating)? Shouldn’t my money and my friends’ money and
attention go towards other more prosaic concerns like clean water in the
To answer these questions I want to illuminate what the Star
really contributes to Bendigo.
To do that we first need to consider what a cinema is. A cinema is a place
where stories are told in moving image and sound, sure, but there are many
places where such stories are told. In fact thanks to cyberspace, “films” to
use their anachronistic title are shared anywhere we have a connection to the
internet. And that’s possibly everywhere you go in a day if you’re reading this
blog. The short film format in particular has never been so popular with
facebook or twitter regularly guiding us to you-tube or vimeo. Perhaps we can
declare that cinema is dead, but long live video.
This would be a loss however. What distinguishes a cinema from anywhere else is
not what it does for us in telling stories but how we listen to those stories
in a cinema. We listen without distraction and with devotion. If the moving
image has become as ubiquitous as God is purported to be by believers – then
the cinema is like a church, a place set apart specifically and reverentially
for the object of its fascination.
Be honest– when was the last time you paid continuous
attention for longer than an hour to any story told in moving image and sound?
For me it was in a cinema. At home my best chance of achieving this is if my
partner and I are both watching a dvd. Even then we’ll probably be stopping the
film to put the chickens away, or make a cuppa or some custard. Heaven help us if the film is boring at any
point. Some movies don’t get finished.
On the internet there is simply no hope of my attention lasting that long. With
a world of other information and entertainment only a click away then anything
longer than ten minutes will almost definitely be interrupted. I
recently made it thirty four minutes into an absolutely fascinating lecture by
Douglas Rushkoff but I was watching it while making both apricot jam and fudge.
Given that a cinema provides a rare space for reverent
attention towards the moving image it’s fair to say that the loss of cinema
from our culture would be a real loss to how video story telling is received. I
believe this is important because there is something uniquely important about
movies. Although this would take numerous essays to do justice I’m going to
attempt to explain this unique value here in just a small part of this post.
I’ll begin by suggesting that wisdom only develops when we
encounter the world rather than studying it from a distance. We need to meet,
with all the unforeseen circumstances such meeting might bring, other “worlds”
(from cliffs to factory farms to outer space) to incorporate them into our
reality. Otherwise we only know about
them. We will have only stayed in our world in which those “things” are
mentioned. If this seems remarkable to you then consider how you learnt
about members of the opposite sex, or your own body, or spaghetti or the flu.
Video stories when completed with editing, sound and
soundtracks and particularly when attended to in a darkened cinema are a way to
simulate the encounter of other worlds. They are our best approximation of
dreaming. I have respect for the lucid dreaming communities but I think movies done right
exceed their efforts.
Before any bibliophile stabs me with their library card I’ll
acknowledge that books provide encounters with other worlds – sometimes better
than movies do. But ask yourself this – would you finish a book you pretty much
disagreed with? If so you’re exceptional. I for one will probably never make it
from the cover to cover of some new age mash up of self-help and quantum
physics. But I watched “What the Bleep do you know?” and I watched it at the cinemas believe it or
not. (Cinema Kino in Melbourne I should add so as not to tar the Star.)
Likewise if I wanted a friend to open themselves to the idea that the
Jesus archetype is relevant to today’s world and not just as a long past
historical event then I could probably find many books for them to read. None
of them would have much chance of being opened. I would be the most dreaded
Chris Kringle . On the other hand I could introduce them to the film, Jesus of
Montreal and they would probably watch it to the end. Even if they loathed the movie
they would get a sense of what appealed in it to me while only losing a couple
of hours of their time.
Neither of these worlds of string-theory inspired positive
thinking or Jesus Christ vs the Catholic Church are going to get an airing at Bendigo’s other cinema,
Bendigo Cinemas. That cinema is committed to carrying the movies that generally
cater to the mass consumer market and which come with the guarantee of
entertainment rather than disturbance. This doesn’t mean “bad” movies at all - I loved both the Avengers and the My Little Pony
movie. They even include the occasional grungy and atypical story. I saw Animal Kingdom there, albeit on their smallest screen. Still the only times Bendigo Cinemas will feature a film with a non-white main
character, it will probably be an animated pony or car.
This is why the STAR in particular matters. We need to go
beyond the mainstream to gain the wisdom to address exactly the sort of issues
that might legitimately call us away from the STARs funding concerns – issues
treatment of refugees for example. The same is true if we just want to see more
nuanced conversations about relationships and growing up than the Disney model
would give us. Those conversations might include unwanted pregnancies or
same-sex attraction. These elements of reality do get a decent showing in
movies at the STAR.
You could argue encountering these marginilised worlds in a movie is unnecessary.
Those worlds are all around us and even in our own lifes. Very few of us
actually live out Hollywood norms. However until
we see our atypical lives depicted on the big screen and given such respect I
think we can censor even ourselves from ourselves. We tend to view our own difference
as deviance – not a definining aspect of reality but an error in the code. The
Star showed a documentary a while back about Australian roller-derby
contestants - This is Roller Derby. While the film probably gave local roller –derby players very little new
factual information it gave narrative worth to the Australian history of a
sport sometimes just seen as a U.S.
import. It changed what was included in “the real” story of roller-derby.
So there we have it. The train of my logic (or at least rhetoric)
has brought us here. Cinemas are crucial spaces for us to pay attention to
movies and movies are realistic ways (more realistic than books frankly) for
people to encounter worlds beyond their own or even their own previously self-censored
world. Those encounters produce wisdom. Lastly the STAR cinema is going to show
the worlds that are far more rarely shown – worlds that can offer us the wisdom
we need to tackle those competing bread and butter issues.
I’m not sure I’ve entirely convinced myself that supporting
the STAR should hold a similar priority to addressing more mundane needs (giving
money to Refugee Resource Centres for example). I just hope I have articulated
how the two are connected. Losing the STAR will make affecting change in regard
to a whole lot of issues harder. Currently I consider the STAR to have a
profound and positive effect on my local culture. That’s something worth fighting
The last post hopefully spelt out why I respect a punk perspective.
It ended with my doubts about the relevance of punk to parenting but a promise to
tease out what might be possible to salvage when the two collide.
Ultimately I think the best parenting approach is child-led.
I need to be willing to let my child show me if they need structure or
spontaneity, more risk or more safety. Best of all if my child leads me I can
parent beyond the limitations of my pre-conceptions. Who could predict some of
the places their kid’s interests take them – bird watching for example.
“All children are different” may not be especially true,
anymore than “all kids are the same” is, but it’s worth proclaiming anyway. “All
children are different” permits and obliges us to pay attention to our
particular child’s needs, rather than following any philosophy slavishly. “All
children are different” gives us the cognitive and social out we need to escape
what may be imposed on our children regardless of who they are. Feel free to
use the phrase liberally in rejection of punk parenting principles too.
What I do want to address and lessen is something called
“cognitive dissonance” (primarily for myself but maybe for you too). “Cognitive
dissonance” refers to the major cause of burnout in many occupations when people
are required in their jobs to be false to themselves. They might make decisions
in their job roles that don’t reflect their values or pretend expertise they
don’t have. This contradiction produces sick people. In my experience this
sickness of hypocrisy, if unchallenged, leads to more and more faking of
expertise and, well, becoming increasingly like a tosser basically.
Even more insidiously is when the same thing occurs in our
parenting roles. The issue is not when people who don’t believe in punk values
promote other values to their children. The issue is if people like me who do
believe (somewhat at least) in punk values go against them because we lack the
time, skill, language, imagination or effort to pull off a combination. That’s
when we become tossers spouting advice ad naseum that we don’t even believe.
From such a position I think I have lost my legitimate authority to parent. If
I can’t defend my true hopes and concerns in my parenting then its time to put
down the pipe and exit the armchair. Mr. Brady needs to do a drumming workshop
and figure himself out. That might mean recognizing some punk ideas are wrong
and letting go of them. Anything would be better than showing my child a false
self for the sake of propriety.
I don’t think it’s that outrageous an ask to combine punk and parenting either.
Maybe it’s just that at some point in the world of fairy princesses, the
alienation of the peasantry or the boredom of the princess has to feature. My
child can handle that. She is often more instinctively just – and passionate -
than I am. She demands happy endings and hates unfairness. No-one’s told her
she needs to grow up in regard to magic or God – yet. She certainly dances,
paints, and plays with less rules than I carry around. In fact if I let myself
be truly child-led I may become more punk than ever.
So here guided by the music are what I see as some core
elements of punk that can translate to my parenting:
Punk is not valueless
Painters and Dockers – Die Yuppy Die
You know that notion where your kids can do whatever they want with their life
so long as it makes them happy? That’s yuppie philosophy – not punk. Punk is
massively judgmental and every form of happiness or success is not respected
equally. As the contemporary punk song, Sat
in Vicky Park relays “numbers on a payslip are no indication of
worth”. The happiness of a new iPhone is likewise a shat upon joy.
Punk ideals are difficult to describe positively. Partly this is because many punk songs
are negative – they describe what they don’t like. Partly this is because (as I see it) the primary ideal of punk is just
a brutally honest reciprocal respect (for people not things). This includes
honest call outs if you are being an asshole and a commitment to anti-discrimination.
Sensitivities and prejudices are not coddled in Punk.
This can look like rudeness or even amorality. Punk
certainly has no reverence for traditional moral absolutes such as property and
sexual purity. Punk has subsequently been judged as a rejection of all
standards - including musical ones. Rather it is that Punk recognizes that
adding false standards takes away from the few that really matter. Punks rage is a focused lens. As George
Bernard Shaw once said “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism
by those who have not got it.”
Other punk principles include a high premium on creativity and absolute control
over that creativity by the artist. This is tempered by a strong
acknowledgement of the shared creative process. Punk artists recognize the lineages
they draw on and this creates an artistic debt to the world.
Punks ideally share any wealth and good fortune from this perspective. The punk
lifestyle of low budget creation and self-made fashion while proudly squatting
is intended to be accessible to all. That’s a return to that reciprocal
respect. Anyone can publish a zine and there are loads of people prepared to
show you how.
How does this relate to my parenting? For my child at her age it’s really a
case of modeling. I try and live economically in a way I’m proud of as much as
I can. I’m as proud of the work I do for no pay as any job I have. I don’t need
to judge people who live differently but I also don’t need to gush with awe at
others’ wealth in front of my kid. I can rather save my highest regard for the
art of making a difference in the world.
I also don’t tolerate bullying. My kid already knows some of
the ways that bullying is acceptable in our society – such as Australia’s
treatment of refugees. She sees me and her mum opposing that. I could be more
careful not to add more standards than this. It’s amazing how many rules I find
myself coming up with some days. I need to consider whether the more standards
and morals I add diminish the importance of the key ones
Punk rejects forced
Rage Against the machine - Testify
When our kid was young my partner and I discovered the
benefit of offering forced choices. Instead of asking if our daughter wanted to
go to bed we asked if she wanted to go to bed now or in ten minutes. Or we
asked which book she wanted us to read instead of whether she wanted stories at
This same forced choice management style is everywhere. Instead of asking if we
want a career it’s choose one. Pepsi or coke, environmental destruction now or
in ten years, they’re all choices that aren’t any choice at all. Punk smells
that rat. I hope my kid does too. So I need to face the contradiction between
that hope and trying to get away with giving forced choices.
When my kid becomes a teenager I definitely don’t want her to accept the forced
choices life offers her. I want her to be prepared to knock all the options off
the table and imagine something different – something that doesn’t compromise her
values. That requires skills and courage that she can practice on me.
Punk demands a
joy-filled, creative life.
The Ramones – I don’t want to grow up
Punk takes a look at the adult world of submission to chaos
and stupidity - with the panacea of a few trinkets and therapies to get us by -
and says “no fucking way.”
As several members of The Clash members express in a very watchable 1981
interview with Tom Snyder “Life is Boring and we want to make it interesting.”
Traditionally parenting seems to include preparing our children
to accept authority because its there, follow rules without reason, endure long
periods of time wasted and so on. That’s what I might have to do as an adult after all.
The line “I don’t always want to go to work but I still go” in response to our
child saying that they don’t want to go to school has actually left my
That attitude might make good sense if I am struggling to
pay for the roof over my head, but not to pay for a sea of luxuries that don’t
actually make me happy. In such a case I should hope to God my kid ignores me. I’m
just peddling my fear and laziness.
I see this becoming especially pertinent when my kids become
teenagers and the issue of their risk–taking appears even larger. My partner
and I need to be honest with ourselves (and with our kids) if there are risks we
are not taking that maybe we ought
to. Have we grown too cautious after falling or have we found a rut to get
stuck in? I should ask myself “What does such a person look like when they try
to discourage risk in others?” Not like someone worth listening to.
To discuss risk with our children we may need to be prepared to be more
adventurous ourselves. We need to be pursuing our joy with full gusto before
our advice is worth listening to. After all there are lots of ways to go down
the gurgler – sudden death by car accident or a slow death by sadness treated
with chocolate and television.
These are just some initial thoughts on the topic. As I
qualified in my last post, hard core punk isn’t my preferred music style. (Hence the use of some not exactly punk bands in these posts). However I find in Punk philosophy a criticism of power and refusal to be
powerless that I try to share. It’s the voice of the angry youth railing
against the establishment. That’s a sentiment that inspired freedom for me when
I was younger. Figuring out how to honour that sentiment I think will make me a
Most of the time authority can’t see itself very well. I remember working on a
ward with a boss who described patients as “attention seeking” – in a perjorative
way. This boss had meanwhile put their name on their office door in gold
letters. Like that boss I will probably struggle to notice the hypocrisies in
my exercise of power as a parent. Coupling
my parenting with a philosophy that holds a blow torch to authority should help
to catch myself.
If nothing else writing this post has taught me about the amazing and ongoing
history of punk music. I regret not sourcing more female led bands. I really liked Bikini Kill and Bratmobile but didn't find a song relevant to the topic. I'm continuing my education aided by the Bad Reputation blog and their authors compilation of some global Riot Grrl songs. Check em out.