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Rector's Blog

Filtering by Tag: Ross Hathway


Psalm 8.4. "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"

In raising this question, the psalmist participated in one of humanity's oldest pursuits: understanding itself. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists from every age and tradition have pursued this question endlessly, producing myriad perspectives and answers.[i] Yet we might well wonder why this is such a difficult question to answer. Of course we know what a human person is. We are human persons. Indeed, there seems to be nothing with which we are so intimately involved as our knowledge of what it means to be human. We experience "humanity" everyday in ourselves and in our relationships with the people around us. The school yard workplace shopping centre and club tell us that. I might not be able to tell you exactly what an armadillo is, but I know all about what it means to be human.

Despite our intimate familiarity with being human, however, we continue to be plagued with uncertainty about what it means to be human. Modern society is characterized by an ever-growing uncertainty that it is even possible to offer such an answer. The current PC debates about LGBTI gender issues is one such example to my mind.

We are not only uncertain about our ability to answer the question of identity, "Who am I?" but we can also see a growing lack of confidence in our ability even to answer the question of essence, "What am I?" The TV docos are the ‘Everyman’ result of how the modern era has witnessed a remarkable number of new scientific and philosophical disciplines dedicated to understanding the human. Yet none of these offers answers that ultimately satisfying. Should we understand human persons as Homo sapiens, members of the animal kingdom distinguished by certain biological characteristics? Certainly; but, is that adequate? Would not most people affirm that the human person is somehow "more" than the sum of his or her biological characteristics? Even with the advent of the neurosciences and their remarkable ability to analyze the complex factors that comprise a person's cognitive and psychological processes, we still resist the notion that these really capture the essence of what it means to be human. Confidence that we really understand humanity remains elusive. Thus, the more a human person keeps on slipping out of his own grasp and becomes more of a puzzle to himself, the more possible solutions he has available in the form of outlines of what human is. The more possible answers he has, the more he feels he is in a hall of a thousand mirrors and masks, the more unintelligible he is to himself.

Despite our intimate familiarity with being human, it would seem that there are mysterious depths to the human person that constantly evade us. Yet the significant implications that attach to how we answer the anthropological question mean that the query cannot simply be issues such as genetic engineering, human cloning, artificial intelligence, and globalization as well as the challenges of racism, classism, and sexism. Responding to these existential issues adequately, however, is inseparable from who and what we understand ourselves to be. Our answers to the questions "Who am I?" and "What am I?" are intimately connected to the question of "How ought to be in the world?" Any description of human nature always both presumes and entails a prescription for human living. The what/who questions and the how question are inseparable.'

Movies ask these questions. Do we have free will? What is the nature of being? And of course the anthropologists ask these questions too. Indeed any attempt to discuss human "ontology" for example, the body/soul relationship, the nature of "free will," are related to the pressing concerns of living humanly in the world. So abstract discussions have a direct bearing on practical realities.

Our "abstract" understanding of human nature is enfleshed in the everyday decisions that we make as we live out our humanity.

There is nothing abstract about Jesus.


[i] For much of this article I am indebted to Marc Cortez. Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed) (Kindle Locations 35-38). Kindle Edition.


A long way from home

StNicholas Goulburn


Proverbs 13:12

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life’.

Romans 8:26

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.


Are you like me in scrambling for words at times? Words not only describe how we feel, they also distinctly shape how we understand our feelings. As complex emotional beings, we need terminology for fear and self-doubt, longing and desire. In short, we must be taught to explain ourselves to ourselves as well as to others.

Homesickness is one such word that seems inadequate. Whether it is Aborigines who died when taken from their country in the European settlement or the Israelites who were told to sing their songs in the Babylonian exile (see Psalm 137) homesick patients experience symptoms of depression and fatigue. They also suffer physical ailments. In some cases the Aborigines refused to eat, growing so weak as to eventually die. They were said to die of ‘Nostalgia”.

Our Oldest Desire

Nostalgia may have disappeared from our medical dictionaries, but we haven’t cured the ache for home. To be human is to know the grief of some paradise lost. Each of us—however happily settled—suffers a foreboding sense of rupture, as if we’ve been cut off from some hidden source of happiness.

We’re not unlike Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who parts from his uncle upon arriving in Canaan. When given first pick of the land, without any living memory of Eden, Lot scans the horizon and settles in the well-watered Jordan Valley because it bears resemblance to “the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10).

Lot suffered nostalgia­­—sickness of [a lost] country.

Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.

Biblical words related to home can denote physical dwelling, family household, material possessions, and geographical and social connections. But these words only hint at the emotional dimensions of the word ‘home’. ‘Home’means more than bricks and mortar. In part, its walls are safety, its windows, welcome. Provided there’s intimacy and a sense of belonging, a home can be made in almost any place.

Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.


Common to Western literature is the longing for home. It understands that ‘home’ is the place for being recognized, received and remembered.

This morning I took Mrs Alsop’s funeral. Funerals are a wakeup call to our mortality. In the face of death, home, as perceived stability, is one hedge against deaths terror. We read John 14:1-6 which reminds us Christ has prepared a place- a home for us. We also read 1 Corinthians 15:42-58 which speaks of how reveille will sound and the dead shall be raised. Death will not sting or be victorious. 

And so we long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace and it will be our last. We’re hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection. As writer Julian Barnes put it in his novel Nothing to Be Frightened Of, we live with “the vicious awareness that this is a rented world.” The grass withers, and the flowers fade: Ours is an impermanent life. At the very least, home is a steadying consolation when the lights go out.

The great novels are a powerful literary witness to human nostalgia. The world’s greatest writers give voice to our inexorable grief at lostness and our irrepressible joy at being found.

Homelessness—whether physical or spiritual—is the terror of the elements and the threat of an angry sky. Home is the dry place we’re all searching for. Humans need home.

In a very real sense, then, homesickness is health.

The biblical narrative begins and ends at home. From the garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem, we’re hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection. We long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace, and it will be our last. The setting of our first home and our last home testify to the nature of the embodied story God is writing in human history.

Because God’s story begins in a garden and ends in a city, our sense of place isn’t incidental to Christian hope, just as bodies aren’t incidental to salvation. God will resurrect our bodies, and he will—finally—bring us home.

From Genesis to Revelation we learn that God in and through Christ will never leave any of his children to homelessness.

Longing for the Easter long weekend?

StNicholas Goulburn

One of my favourite authors in regard to the observation of Australian society and culture has been the Melbourne writer Ronald Conway. The Sydney Morning Herald obituary for Conway on March 29th 2009 said :

“RONALD CONWAY took it upon himself to diagnose what was wrong with the Australian psyche. He attacked the notion of mateship; he said feminism had gone in for overkill, with children the victims; he blasted materialism, fumed against the "hyperventilation of sexual scandals in Western societies" and said that "rampant promiscuity" was the "real ethical blight of our time".

His books, The Great Australian Stupor and The Land Of The Long Weekend became, at least for a time, part of the Australian vernacular.

Read more:

As much as I enjoyed Conway’s insights I wonder if they go far enough. It is clear that his analysis of the lazy Australian working culture is now dated with the long hours that we pursue damaging family life. His view of materialism clearly is not dated!

I gave away my copies of his works long ago and so I am cautious in my criticism. But it seems to me he fails to see it is impossible to understand a culture without discerning its idols[1]. The Christian contention is that human beings having been made in the image of God; were made for his glory; to be like him and to find their purpose in honouring him as the goal of all that they do. When the things we do become an end in themselves – our meaning for existence, then they have become a substitute God- an idol, and they never fully satisfy. Hence St Augustine of Hippo’s immortal words from his Confessions, now used in many prayer books:

Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you; so lead us by your Spirit that in this life we may live to your glory and in the world to come enjoy you forever. Amen.

There are stern warnings against idols in the Bible both Old and New Testaments. Perhaps the most startling is that at the end of 1 John 5:21 “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols”. Surprising? Yes considering it was probably written to people who had the Jewish understanding of  idolatry drummed into them from what we now call the Old Testament. The immediate context is that of deliberately rejecting Jesus. To reject Jesus is idolatry because we are desiring an object of worship other than that which God supplies: and what God supplies is Jesus is the walking talking “Icon of God’see Colossians 1:15. The reason we do not make statues and bow down to them, the reason we should not worship things made by our own hands whether a Ferrari or a Merchant bank, an industrial complex or a family dynasty is because they are inanimate things that cannot represent the person hood of a self aware omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God. It is also the case with other another human being whether Joseph Stain, Hitler or one of the ‘glamour people who live in Holy Wood and whose lives countless millions pore over each week in the gossip magazines and online chatter.

John is telling his readers not to follow the practise of the people amongst whom they live. There is no way to challenge idols without criticizing culture. We all have rival Gods to the true God. Conway realized that the very idea of a culture where everyone longed for the ‘long weekend’ was itself an unhealthy obsession. The ‘get away from it all’ mentality is not something wrong in itself. But if we are to recognize our idols we need to look at our imagination and why we want to get away from it all. A phrase apparently attributed to Archbishop William Temple says “Your religion is what you do with your solitude”[2]. In other words the true God of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy day dreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Dream Homes, sea change, relationships with a particular person that would make you happier supposedly? Maybe a better church!? One or two daydreams do not make an idol. But the question should be asked “what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort on the privacy of your heart?” The same thing goes for how we spend our money. “Where your heart is there will be your treasure also” Jesus says as recorded in Matthew 6:21. Our longings and our most uncontrollable emotions tell us where our emotional capital lies and hence what we think will give our anxious lives meaning.

In the end idolatry is just a failure to obey God. It is a setting of our hearts on something besides God our maker who gave us life in the first place and made us for a purpose: the purpose of finding our joy in living for him. We need to “Follow the Makers instructions”.

So this Easter long weekend don’t make the weekend sacred by longing for the beach. The beach is good and God made it beautiful for a purpose not as an end in itself. It is a thing of beauty so that we may praise our maker.  Best of all come to church and learn that only by supplanting our idols with God at our centre can we be truly free of siren voiced idols which promise much but do not deliver. Only God satisfies: This Good Friday and Easter come and see why Jesus was sent- because God loves us and wants us to repent and be saved from Hell- eternity without the goodness. Come and see why Jesus is enough. Come and see why he and he alone is the true image of God, crucified and risen for us that we may be people of eternal joy.

Ross Hathway.

[1] Timothy Keller Counterfeit Gods p 166 Hodder and Stoughton 2009

[2] Stated in Keller op cit p168.