Monthly Archives: November 2016

Polio and peace

Pakistan is one of the two countries where polio remains endemic. Among multiple reasons of polio prevalence, (false) religious beliefs have been thought to be a major barrier towards polio immunization there. Researchers from USCI University Malaysia, have recently published [1] pleasing findings on this score, observing religious scholars to be engaged in campaigns to dismantle the myths and battle the resurgence of polio in Pakistan. The research assessed the knowledge, attitudes and perceived barriers towards polio immunization possessed by a sample 770 Muslim scholars in the Quetta and Peshawar divisions of Pakistan (where the polio risk is high). The study showed there to be poor knowledge of polio by a majority of the scholars surveyed, but positive attitudes towards immunization. Security was an issue to more than three-quarters of the participants.

In those countries where polio remains a threat, it is invariably civil strife and security problems that for decades have been thwarting efforts to rid the world of the scourge of polio.

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[1] Muhammad Umair Khan, Akram Ahmad, Saad Salman, Maria Ayub, Talieha Aqeel, Noman-ul Haq, Fahad Saleem, Muhammad Ubaid Khan. "Muslim Scholars’ Knowledge, Attitudes and Perceived Barriers Towards Polio Immunization in Pakistan." Journal of Religion and Health (Published online 17 September 2016) DOI 10.1007/s10943-016-0308-6

What to do and what not?

I’ve long valued a list of tests by the late Professor Hedley Beare, published in the Melbourne Anglican years ago, that helps one assess what to take up that’s new, and what to stop doing—tasks to get rid of, to resign from, to give up or just quit. Each Advent I look at it again. This is a summary; a copy of the full article is here. Beare writes of the tests of:

  • Bliss: Is this activity something I really like doing, deep down? Is it something I really want to do?
  • Vocation: Is this something I am suited to doing, which appropriately makes use of my talents, and which is in keeping with my Christian and professional calling?
  • Uniquenes: Why me? Why have I been asked or approached? Is this something only I can do, for which I have unique competence?
  • Coherence: Does this activity harmonize with my current priorities and centres of interest?
  • Networking: Does (or will) this activity keep me in touch with significant people or activities, and will it do the same for my spouse or partner?
  • The Strategic: Is the audience or the target group for this exercise important enough to warrant the investment of my time and energy?
  • The Prophetic: Does this activity or assignment give me the opportunity to be prophetic (in the biblical sense)? Does the undertaking make me bold?
  • Remuneration: Who is meeting the costs of this assignment, literally?
  • Opportunities Foregone: Will this assignment prevent me from doing something else more important, or something which I must do, which I am already committed to do, or which I really want to do?
  • Peace: At the primal level, does this assignment leave me feeling easy in my mind?

Beare wrote: “One need hardly add that this review takes time; if I am not accorded that time, the answer is always ‘no’. Because such a review combines inner work and prayer, you don’t have to justify your decision or make excuses. ‘Simply let your Yes be Yes and your No, No’, Jesus advised (Matt 5:37).”

When to set up Christmas decorations

From the Vatican, an authoritative answer to a Really. Important. Question.

Actually, I rather like the answer, especially when Fr. McNamara urges circumspection when decorating churches and says that, “It is unnecessary … to fall under the spell of commercial enterprises which tend to anticipate the Christmas season.”

From Zenit – Code: ZE05112920; 29 November 2005.

When to Set Up Christmas Decorations, answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: What would you consider an appropriate time during Advent to put up Christmas trees, ornaments, lights and other decorations in churches and Christian homes?

poinsettiaThis question is simple only in appearance because customs surrounding the celebration of Christmas vary widely among different cultures.

From a strictly liturgical standpoint the preparations for receiving the Christ Child intensify from Dec. 17 onward and this is probably a good time to set up the parish crib, except for the image of the child, which is often added just before Midnight Mass in more or less solemn fashion. Other parishes prefer to set up the crib on Christmas Eve. There are no official rites regarding this widespread custom. In those places that use the Advent wreath, it is placed on the first Sunday of Advent. …e

Dec. 17 or the nearest Sunday might also be a good date to set up Christmas trees and other decorations in Christian homes, but it really depends on local custom and tradition. It is unnecessary, however, to fall under the spell of commercial enterprises which tend to anticipate the Christmas season, sometimes even before Advent begins.

Because some Christmas decorations have often lost their original religious meaning, churches should be rather circumspect about employing them and should do so with great discretion. If used at all, these decorations are best set up on Christmas Eve so as to respect the integrity of the Advent season.

Christmas trees are preferably located outside the sanctuary and church proper, and are best left in vestibules or church grounds. This has been the practice in St. Peter’s Square from the time of Pope John Paul II.

As far as possible, decorations should be religiously themed, leaving plastic reindeer, sugar canes and Santa Clauses in the local shopping mall or at least within the confines of the parish hall for children’s events.

Within the church proper, apart from the crib, Christmas may be evoked by using, for example, traditional poinsettias, holly and other traditional elements according to the culture. As I mentioned, different cultures celebrate Christmas in various ways.

Advent resolution

A Young Man at Prayer (mid 1470s), by Hans Memling (Oil on oak 39 x 25.4 cm.). National Gallery, London)

I’ll let this picture stand for my Advent resolution this year (the beginning of the church year). This portrait of an unidentified young man at prayer is likely to have formed the left-hand side of a small devotional picture. The open book, probably a Book of Hours or other devotional book, suggests that after a period of prayer and meditation the young man has looked up to see a vision of the object of his devotions.

On not getting along with Donald

Some folks really, really, don’t like Mr Donald Trump; evidence this piece by Mr Charles M. Blow in New York Times of 23 November 2016.


No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along

BlowDonald Trump schlepped across town on Tuesday to meet with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists and reporters at the paper.

As The Times reported Trump actually seemed to soften some of his positions.

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But he should never have said that he was going to do that in the first place. He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t encourage the military to use torture. But he should never have said that he would do that in the first place. He said that he would have an "open mind" on climate change. But that should always have been his position.

You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.

As I read the transcript and then listened to the audio, the slime factor was overwhelming. After a campaign of bashing The Times relentlessly, in the face of the actual journalists, he tempered his whining with flattery. […]

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your "I hope we can all get along" plea: Never. You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.
I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty. […]

You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.

I am not easily duped by dopes. I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather to speak up for truth and honor and inclusion. This isn’t just about you, but also about the moral compass of those who see you for who and what you are, and know the darkness you herald is only held at bay by the lights of truth. It’s not that I don’t believe that people can change and grow. They can. But real growth comes from the accepting of responsibility and repenting of culpability. Expedient reversal isn’t growth; it’s gross.

So let me say this on Thanksgiving: I’m thankful to have this platform because as long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze. I’m thankful that I have the endurance and can assume a posture that will never allow what you represent to ever be seen as everyday and ordinary.

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn. I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful.

When to set up the Christmas decorations?

When to set up the Christmas decorations? I suggest the 17th December, the day the ‘O’ antiphons begin and the liturgy turns to the Saviour’s birth.

A glorious example: Arvo Pärt. Magnificat Antiphonen: No. 1: O Weisheit. Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, dir. Tönu Kaljuste.

Troye’s musicianship

Alongside Troye Sivan’s well-deserved ARIA award this week for his song “Youth”, it’s intriguing that his award in the best video category was not for the elaborately produced video of the song, but for this understated acoustic version. It’s good that Sivan and his accompanist won for true musicianship.

Sea ice is serious!

sea ice

Sea ice is a marker and amplifier of climate change. In recent years the melting season in the Arctic has been ending later in the year. As a result, the total sea-ice extent in September 2016 was over 3m sq km smaller than in September 1980. In the Arctic, it is around 2m sq km below average

sea ice

As Bill McKibben writes in The Boston Globe for 22 November 2016, it’s a pretty simple chart. What it shows is the total area of global sea ice, as measured by satellites dating back to 1979. The red line at the bottom is this year, with some weeks still to go. "And it’s disturbing, of course, because this year’s line is very different. It’s not following the normal pattern—there’s a lot less ice. If you look behind the numbers, you find that the volume of both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice is extremely low for the date—and the fact that it’s happening at both poles is what makes the chart so dramatic. It seems to imply that something very unusual is happening.

The National Snow and Ice Data Centre a crucial world resource in keeping track of the cryosphere. Its research and scientific data management is supported in particular by NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other US government agencies.

NASA is also monitoring sea-ice as part of its work on climate change. And all this vital work is to be shut down by Donald Trump?

Greengrocer cafe gone; Meridian cafe excellent.

James and stopped in Goulburn on our way northwards last weeked, planning on lunch at the much-enjoyed Greengrocer cafe. But there was nothing but a concrete slab. Sadly, I now learn that it was destroyed by a fire last January.


Delegates to the Synod in Goulburn last September would have been bereft!

The Meridian Cafe in Marulan was excellent. I discover it to be so named because the town of Marulan is on the 150 E. meridan, base line for Eastern Australian Standard Time (The café is at about 150° 0 mins 25.2 secs E. longitude.)