A weekly conversation from the Centre for Public Christianity about the beauty and complexity of belief in the 21st century.
A weekly conversation from the Centre for Public Christianity about the beauty and complexity of belief in the 21st century.
Theologian John Swinton was Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland. He spoke to Life & Faith on the day she died.
John Swinton has been many things in his life: Mental Health Nurse, Presbyterian minister, academic and author. He was also Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland, a role his mother was especially proud of! On the morning he was due to come into the CPX studio news came through that Queen Elizabeth II had died.
We talked about the Queen, her faith, and the role of Chaplain, that John briefly played. What made the death of this 96-year-old woman so profound for so many people?
This topic led to a broader discussion about the caring professions, and spiritual care as a crucial part of any wholistic approach to true health.
“... the way you learn how to be a decent person is by looking at decent people. And she always strikes me as a decent person that I have learned a lot from, even though … from a distance until relatively recently.”
Explore some of John Swinton’s books:
Sep 14 2022
What does it look like not only to survive, but to thrive after trauma?
“Banksias, if you can imagine, they’ve got this woody core, with those eyes dotted around the core. So those eyes contain the seeds of the banksia tree, and these seeds – these pods – open up after the ashy heat intensity of a bushfire. So we really loved this metaphor because it represents our hopes for survivors who’ve experienced something incredibly painful and traumatic – like a bushfire can be – without minimising the severity of that incident, but also capturing the possibility for new life and beauty and hope.”
Banksia Women is a domestic violence support service affiliated with St John’s Anglican Church Darlinghurst, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. It was born just as Covid was kicking off – which complicated what they do, but certainly hasn’t held them back.
In this episode of Life & Faith, manager Keely Oste explains what it means for women to heal and even flourish after surviving domestic abuse. She talks about the needs, courage, and triumphs of the women she works with – and Shradha, who joined Banksia Women in January 2021, opens up about how it’s made such a difference to her, and to others.
“The first basic thing was: I’m not alone in this. I think that was the biggest thing that helped me to not feel ashamed about the situation because it was not my fault, and I was not the only one - there were a group of women who were of different ages, of different ethnicities, of diverse backgrounds. And it still gives me goose bumps to see that so many beautiful women, so many educated women, so many middle-aged women and pretty young women are going through such things … and that gave me, like, 50 percent I was out of my pain, to see that I can get help from someone and my story can help someone else.”
If you or someone you know is experience domestic violence, please know that help is available. Here are just a few of the resources out there:
Sep 07 2022
A smorgasbord of delights for both the history nerd and the history sceptic.
“I think people just arbitrarily impoverish their experience by the prejudice against the past.”
Does history get you excited – or make your eyes glaze over? This episode of Life & Faith draws together morsels of insight, warning, and surprise from some superstar historians and thinkers who want to show you a different side to the past.
Simon and Natasha discuss the question: if history were a person, what would your relationship to them be like? Marilynne Robinson urges us not to separate ourselves from the pain and error of those who’ve gone before, Alister McGrath challenges our flattened-out version of the past, Nick Spencer ponders the law of unintended consequences, and much more. Join us for a whirlwind tour of the pitfalls and pleasures of history!
Included in this episode:
Marilynne Robinson, “On our prejudice against the past”
Marilynne Robinson, “On original sin”
Rodney Stark, “On judging the past”
Alister McGrath, “On Christianity vs Darwinism”
Sarah Coakley, “On an early escape hatch for women”
Nick Spencer, “On popes and power”
Robert Woodberry, “On the invisibility of missionaries”
Robert Woodberry, “On what makes missionaries invisible”
Catherine Brekus, “On how women keep churches going”
Nick Spencer, “On historical amnesia”
David Bentley Hart, “On modernity’s creation myth”
David Bentley Hart, “On how Christianity revolutionised our world”
Check out more For the Love of God interviews
Get tickets to CPX's 2022 Richard Johnson Lecture
Aug 31 2022
In honour of a special occasion, CPX distils 111 years’ worth of marriage experience into one episode.
Mawwiage is what bwings us togevver for this episode of Life & Faith! With nuptials rapidly approaching for one member of the team, Simon, Justine, and Natasha talk to the experts – and among themselves – about what it means to not just get married but stay that way.
“You get married and then, sometime right after you get married, you wake up and you go, I have now committed to be with this person for life. And then your next reaction is … AHHHHHHH!! Don't be surprised if you have that reaction, it's a perfectly normal reaction. It’s just hit you, the commitment that you’ve made. And then rejoice in the potential of what you have.”
Bible scholar Darrell Bock has been married to Sally for nearly half a century; psychologist Leisa Aitken has been counselling couples for 25 years. These friends of CPX weigh in on why marriage is so hard, and what can make it worthwhile.
“I always think of the couples that have been married for 50 years and they have stuck it through hard times and easy times and they’ve been faithful and they’ve worked out how to bring the best out in each other. There is something profound and really special about that. And I think it’s profound and special because it does echo, it does resonate with something much bigger that’s going on in the universe.”
Lisa Taddeo, “My Husband and I Don’t Speak the Same Love Language”
Get tickets to CPX's 2022 Richard Johnson Lecture
Aug 24 2022
Astrophysicist Jennifer Wiseman on star-gazing, human significance, and the prospect of extra-terrestrial life.
For Science Week we are rebroadcasting this chat with Jennifer Wiseman who joins us to speak about her journey to becoming an astrophysicist and how she resolved the ‘science and religion’ question.
Born and raised in rural Arkansas, Wiseman grew up gazing at the night sky and had a general love for nature. Eventually, that love for space became a full-time job, where her curiosity about the universe taught her plenty about the God she believed in.
“Science is a wonderful gift and tool to address certain types of questions. How does gravity work? How do stars form? What’s the evolutionary history of the universe?”
But beyond the general mechanisms of science, her curiosity goes further:
“But science is not really good at answering other types of questions like, why are we here, how I should live, can I have a relationship with God. These kinds of things I can’t measure with my microscope or my telescope.”
Jennifer was in Australia speaking at the World Science Festival in Brisbane. Thanks to our friends at ISCAST – Christians in Science and Technology for arranging time with Jennifer.
Get tickets to CPX's 2022 Richard Johnson Lecture
Aug 17 2022
Esther Meek’s childhood questions led her on a decades-long philosophical journey to towards truth and "the really real”.
As a 13 year-old Esther Meek was plagued by her questions about what is real and what is truth. A quest to find answers led here towards the study of philosophy where she has spent decades developing her thinking around how we know what we know. Can we ever have confidence in that?
Her passion is helping make philosophy accessible. We all qualify to be philosophers simply by being born, she likes to say.
She reacts against the idea that knowledge is information and data and facts but much more complicated for embodied, spiritual, emotional and imaginative beings that we are.
“There's one thing you need to be philosophical and that's to be born. And so then I feel that philosophy philosophizing should be done for everybody. And it should not just be, as I say, the rock musicians who do philosophy in the streets.”
Aug 10 2022
Two years on an Antarctic research station taught Alex Gaffikin about iso long before lockdown.
When Alex Gaffikin was 22, she took a nine week voyage from South London, where she grew up, to the Halley Research Station on Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica. She ‘wintered’ there for two years as a meteorologist.
In this interview, she gives us an insight into daily life on the south pole, the pressures and joys of living alongside other winterers, and her dark night of the soul experience during which she experienced a crisis of faith.
Still, there were other consolations: like visiting a colony of emperor penguins, and waking up in the middle of the night to see the southern lights and the Milky Way with no light pollution nearby to obscure her glimpse of the galaxy.
Listen in to what Alex experienced on Antarctica, and gain insight into what she learnt about isolation, long before lockdown, and the concrete difference it made for her to live out her faith by loving her neighbour.
A short article giving us a further glimpse into Alex’s daily life on Antarctica
Aug 03 2022
Darrell Bock talks about the things that pushed him, as a young man, to ask deep questions about life and meaning. And where he found answers.
Darrell Bock is a world-renowned Biblical scholar with a keen eye on the cultural water we swim in. He’s also an incurable sports fan.
In this interview he talks to Simon Smart about the impact of losing his parents at a young age and where that took him in his search for meaning and purpose. Darrell discusses his life and career what what he thinks leads to lasting satisfaction. What is surprising about the Bible? What is its essential message? What does it have to say to a person in the 21st Century?
Some of Darrell’s books
The Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary
Jul 27 2022
We’re languishing (still!) after two years of the pandemic. Can a burnout psychologist help?
Feeling a bit blah mid-way through 2022… still?
In 2021, organisational psychologist Adam Grant named that pandemic feeling. He called it “languishing” and described it as “the absence of well-being”.
“You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work,” he wrote in the New York Times.
In this episode of Life & Faith, we call it something else: pandemic fatigue. Or just “not coping”. Natasha gives us her take on “not coping” being the new “busy” - in other words, the standard reply to the question “how are you?”. And she tells us how potatoes relate to pandemic fatigue.
We also ask clinical psychologist Dr Valerie Ling how exhaustion and burnout relate to all of the above. For even if these conditions go by different names, they all seem to describe similar things.
It’s enough to make you want to throw your hands in the air and go, “Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto, let’s call the whole thing off”.
Natasha’s piece on “not coping”
Adam Grant’s article that named the blah we feel
Dr Ling’s ebook My Burnout Prevention Plan: From a psychologist who knows the cost of burnout
The Centre for Effective Living
Our episode on burnout with Jonathan Malesic
Jul 20 2022
Philosopher and theologian John Milbank on left vs right, Harry Potter, and how none of us behave like we’re just atoms.
If you’re wanting a crash course on “isms” like liberalism, secularism, and populism from anyone, it’s John Milbank.
In this wide-ranging conversation with Simon Smart, the philosopher and theologian has a way of never saying quite what you expect him to. He questions the idea that left and right are really in opposition to each other, calls the final Harry Potter book “a profound theological meditation”, and is enthusiastic about people’s longing for paganism.
What does he think Christianity might give people that’s surprising? “Pleasure,” he replies immediately. “It would make their lives far more interesting, exciting, and pleasurable - and physical, because they’re essentially alienated from their bodies if they think their bodies are just bits of matter.”
Does he think a revival of religion is on the cards? “The reason I do think religion may revive is that it is on the side of common sense … all the time people behave as if they had minds, as if they had souls, as if the good, the true, and the beautiful, the right and wrong, were real - and yet the scientific discourses which we have, or rather their scientistic reductive modes, can’t really allow the reality of any of these things.”
From politics to angels, Milbank turns his formidable intellect on some of the quirks and contradictions of our time.
Jun 29 2022
Simon, Justine, and Natasha debrief on their fave reads/watches of 2022 thus far.
The CPX team - no surprises here - love a good book or film, and also love a good gossip about them afterwards.
Join Simon Smart, Justine Toh, and Natasha Moore as they gush about what they’ve seen and heard of late.
Natasha repents of her snobbery about audiobooks, having been converted to the form by Trevor Noah’s remarkable memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.
Justine makes the case for her claim (less than halfway through the year) that the fantasy/sci-fi film Everything Everywhere All At Once is the best film of 2022.
And Simon is super impressed by Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel Crossroads - especially by his depiction of people of faith, in the context of a pastor’s family in 1970s Illinois.
Race, faith, family, the multiverse, and struggling through hard times: some themes emerge as the team consider their recent cultural consumption, and try to persuade you to watch or listen as well.
Listen to Trevor Noah’s memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
Watch the Everything Everywhere All at Once trailer
Read Jonathan Franzen’s novel Crossroads
Watch Trevor Noah’s monologue about Kim Kardashian and Kanye
Listen to the Radio National interview with Jonathan Franzen
Jun 22 2022
It’s been 50 years since the Watergate scandal. Our trust in institutions has never quite recovered.
On June 17, 1972, police arrested a group of burglars at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Evidence linked the attempted burglary to US President Nixon’s campaign for re-election – leading to a Senate investigation that ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation.
Since then, the suffix ‘gate’ has been attached to any scandal (political or otherwise), story of mismanagement and abuse, or suggestion of a cover-up. The net effect has been to dissolve people’s trust that they’re being told the truth.
Half a century on, we live in societies of chronic distrust, as measured by annual polls like the Edelman Trust Barometer, and research conducted by organisations like More in Common, which studies polarisation and political division across the West.
In this episode of Life & Faith, we revisit the main beats of the Watergate scandal and its reverberations in our culture – and popular culture. We also explore what it means for our societies when distrust has become a way of life, and the role of local communities - including, surprisingly, communities of faith - in nurturing trust between people.
Garrett M. Graff’s Watergate: A New History
More in Common’s 2021 research report Two Stories of Distrust in America
Jun 15 2022
What our favourite companion animals can teach us about ourselves – and about God.
Are you a dog person or cat lover? You’re one or the other, apparently.
Wth 69% of Australian households now owning a pet, according to a 2021 survey by Animal Medicines Australia, this week Life & Faith is pleased to get controversial: we reveal that Australia’s “two-pet” system has a clear winner. Dogs.
We speak to Barney Zwartz, long-time dog tragic, about the dogs in his life: the border collie-labrador cross Nessie, whom Barney dubs “Mary Poppins” because she is “practically perfect in every way”, and Lennie, a border collie-whippet who had a special connection with Barney’s late son Sam.
What explains the human-dog bond? Is it dogs’ “hypersociability”? Or “exaggerated gregariousness”? Professor Clive Wynne, the founder of the Canine Science Laboratory at Arizona State University, just calls it dogs’ capacity for “love”.
Barney draws on Professor Wynne’s Dog is Love: Why and how your dog loves you when discussing his own immensely popular columns in The Age reflecting on how heaven-sent dogs seem to be, given their loving, forgiving natures. But don’t worry, cat people: Justine demands Barney account for his outrageous quip in one of those columns that “cats, of course, are despatched from below”.
Meanwhile, we borrow a snippet from Nick Spencer’s interview with philosopher John Gray about his book Feline Philosophy: Cats and the meaning of life. In this extract from the podcast Reading Our Times, John Gray ponders what cats reveal about the problem of human consciousness: we worry endlessly, while they don’t really seem bothered by anything.
So if you, a human animal, are weighed down by many cares, we hope this lighthearted look at what our pets can teach us about God, or what it means to be human, is as fun as a dog with a bone, or a cat toying with a mouse. Enjoy.
Nick Spencer’s interview with John Gray about Feline Philosophy from the podcast Reading Our Times
Clive Wynne’s book Dog is Love: Why and how your dog loves you
John Gray’s book Feline Philosophy: Cats and the meaning of life
Benjamin and Jenna Silber Storey’s book Why We Are Restless: On the modern quest for contentment
Jun 08 2022
For centuries, all kinds of people have testified that Dante and his epic poem changed their life.
Midway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood, for I had wandered off from the straight path.
A 700-year-old epic poem may not be the first place you’d think to turn when life gets messy, painful, or confusing. But across times, cultures, and different walks of life, people say that reading The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri changed - or even saved! - their life. What is it that they find in this strange old book?
In this episode of Life & Faith, Simon and Natasha hear from a scholar and also a few recent - and enthusiastic - readers of Dante about what this story of one man’s imagined journey through the afterlife (hell, purgatory, paradise) has meant to them.
“Dante finds us in hard times,” says Professor Jane Kim from Biola University, who found herself returning to the poem during the peak of the pandemic. “I think for those of us who may be experiencing the proverbial midlife crisis or who may be feeling lost or stranded, Dante is reminding us that the midway point is the beginning of the epic, the middle is always the beginning of a new adventure.”
Explore: One Hundred Days of Dante
Jun 01 2022
Sexuality, consent and pornography might not be the first topic of conversation we’d raise at a dinner party. But perhaps we should!
Issues around consent, pornography and sexuality are a minefield to navigate for young people today and sometimes it’s hard to find helpful places to go to find help.
Daniel Principe, Youth Advocate and Educator at Collective Shout, is one source of information and encouragement for young people and his work is hitting a nerve.
What are ways to help young women and men flourish together when pornography and objectification are such powerfully warping influences and so hard to counteract. Daniel Principe is out in schools offering a different way to think and to be, and young people are lapping this message up.
Listen to Dan tell something of his story, his passion for the subject and why he thinks there are things that can be done to help people find healthy and life-giving relationships that will serve both individuals and the common good.
Despite the darkness of the subject matter, this is an uplifting and optimistic conversation.
1800 Respect or 1800 737 732
Men’s Referral Service or 1300 766 491
Lifeline or 13 11 14
May 25 2022
Steph Judd was a healthy, sporty and musical teenager when, unexpectedly, things that she could, up until then, do naturally and easily, suddenly became physically difficult, and then, eventually, impossible.
Steph has now had about 15 years to process a significant physical change and adjust to living with a disability. But she has learned plenty of things about herself and picked up some wisdom along the way. Her thinking and writing on the topic of our limitations offers a counter-cultural approach to engaging not with our “potential” but the things that limit us.
Steph believes there is something vital about coming to terms with those limitations and hence our humanity. In wrestling with her own limits, and accepting her vulnerability, Steph has found she has been opened up to relationship, community and a connectedness that might otherwise have eluded her.
This is an honest, refreshing and challenging conversation that cuts against the grain of our culture’s obsession with “maximising” our potential and shrugging off human limits.
Read Steph on “The Gifts of Our Limitations”
Steph writes about Dignity in Aged Care
Listen to Steph’s Lecture for ADM on The Dignity of Our Limits
May 18 2022
Tim Dixon illuminates the forces across the Western World that are driving us apart and the challenge this presents for how we live together in pluralistic societies.
Tim Dixon gave CPX’s Richard Johnson Lecture in 2019, and in this extended podcast we revisit the timely insights we gained from Tim that night. This speech turned out to be eerily prescient given all that came to pass in the years after it was delivered.
In a lively and engaging presentation, we are reminded of the perils of public conversation that is overrun with a spirit of contempt. Our democracies are precious and fragile, and Tim believes there really are things we can do to preserve them.
He offers realistic initiatives that help us withstand the forces of division and strengthen the social glue that healthy societies require. Might faith communities have something unique to offer in this regard? Tim Dixon believes so.
May 11 2022
On May 21, Australians won’t simply elect a Prime Minister but the nation’s “comforter-in-chief”.
Bushfires, floods, and pandemic: Australians have weathered plenty of crises over the last few years. Who do they look to in times of trouble – and what do they want from those who lead them?
In this Life & Faith, we explore an unofficial but significant part of any political leader’s job: their responsibility to not only steer people through a crisis but also comfort them with empathy, compassion, and wisdom.
Regardless of whether we have a Prime Minister or a President, we also want our leader to be a pastor to the nation.
Tim Costello, Senior Fellow at CPX, explains the role of the pastor and how former Australian Prime Ministers have inhabited that role over time.
Erin Wilson, Professor of Politics and Religion at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, explains how “civil religion” – the intertwining of religious symbols and language with the political state – accounts for the “priestly role” of national leaders.
Mike Baird, Former NSW Premier, gives an insight to the pastoral role he played during the aftermath of the Lindt Café Siege in Sydney.
We also hear a few American presidents in that “comforter-in-chief” mode and sample the stylings of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in this area as she prepared New Zealanders to bunker down in the fight against Covid-19.
Want more on civil religion? Read Erin Wilson’s article for CPX
Hear more about what Mike Baird has been up to since leaving politics
May 04 2022
To sacrifice for Queen and country is one thing, but would you lay down your life for an enemy?
This week we are repeating an episode that first aired in 2017 when, like this year, Easter and Anzac Day were very close together.
“Australian service men and women serve for their Queen, their country and their comrades. They do that willingly, and they do that well. But Christ laid down his life for his enemies, which is just an incredible thing to do when I think about it.”
As a member of the Australian Defence Force, and a Christian, Colonel Craig Bickell is all too familiar with the reality – and cost – of sacrifice.
In this episode, we asked him about Easter and Anzac Day, what Christian faith has to offer the profession of arms, and how he remains hopeful even in the face of the darker side of humanity. Also, he shares his own journey of faith involving a girl, warrior’s guilt, and a stained-glass window.
Apr 06 2022
The Enneagram helps us ask questions like: who am I, and is who I am good?
I strive for perfection. I am prepared for any disaster. I seek out experiences that I know will make me feel happy or excited.
Have you heard people say “I’m a seven” or “oh, that’s because you’re a five” … if you’re not familiar with the Enneagram, a model which describes people in terms of nine interrelated personality types, that will sound like gibberish. And if you’re into the Enneagram, you’re probably very into it!
In this episode of Life & Faith, the CPX team venture into the world of the Enneagram. Simon Smart invites Justine Toh, Natasha Moore, and producer Allan Dowthwaite to take the test, find out their types, and re-examine what they think they know about themselves and their relationships. And Sandra Van Opstal, author of Forty Days on Being an Eight, explains how understanding herself as a “Challenger” has changed her approach to advocacy, parenting, and her own sense of self.
“The Enneagram’s main focus as I understand it is to help us understand our motivations – what's happening on the inside. And so for me, I'm asking the question: who am I, and why do I do what I do? They're questions of intention, questions of identity. Way beyond any label someone could put on us is the question of who are we, and why were we created this way?”
Check out the Enneagram Daily Reflections series from IVP
Take the Enneagram test from Truity
Mar 30 2022