Sunday, May 11, 2014


Q: What are aboriginal people asking us to do? 

A few years ago I spent five days on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait – an island of wild and rugged beauty. (Certainly wild: 65 known shipwrecks lie around these islands)

We were there on a ‘pilgrimage of listening’ – twelve of us – to worship, pray, listen to aboriginal people, think in silence, and to repent…

I shared in some new experiences, like eating muttonbird, seeing the milky way in all its glory, and writing a poem. We concluded, Taize-style, kneeling around a cross formed with candles in the shape of the Southern Cross…

Were you taught Tasmanian aborigines died out with Truganini in 1876?

The Anglican priest appointed by his bishop to minister to aboriginals on Flinders Island told me there are 7000 Tasmanian people who call themselves ‘aboriginal’…

So what happened? 

  • Worldwide colonialism began in the 1500s.
  • Since then the world’s 300 million indigenous and tribal peoples have suffered terribly from European conquest of their ancestral lands, through diseases and alcoholism and particularly through the loss of dignity, identity and self-respect.When the ‘first fleet’ arrived in 1788 there were an estimated 750,000 Aboriginals in Australia (7000 in Tasmania). In 1920 that number had fallen to 60,000. In 1971 Aboriginals were included in the national census for the first time.
  • For our purposes, here’s what you need to know about what happened to the Tasmanian aboriginal people (I’ve culled some of the following from Henry Reynolds’ new book Fate of a Free People: A Radical Re-examination of the Tasmanian Wars Penguin, 1995).
  • British settlement began in Van Dieman’s Land in 1803-4. Massacres began 3 May 1804 at Risdon when the 102 Regiment of the British Army shot dead 50 Oyster Bay people, including women and children. The Tasmanians had approached without spears and with green boughs in their hands, as a sign of peace. The commanding officer said afterwards he didn’t think the Aborigines would be any use to the British. 
  • ‘The Black War’ lasted seven years – 1824 to 1831. Atrocities were committed by both sides, but although black men were castrated and black women raped, there wasn’t any record of rape committed by Aboriginals against any white woman.
  • Governor George Arthur mobilized all available settlers and convicts to form the infamous ‘black line’, with 2200 men moving across the island over a six-week period, to try in a pincer movement to herd the remaining Aboriginals to the south east. They captured an old man and a child.
  • By 1831, 175 Europeans had been killed, 200 wounded, 347 houses plundered or burnt. At least 700 Aboriginals were killed in the war. Meanwhile the European population grew from 5000 in 1820 to 24,000 in 1830.
  • Many (most?) of the Europeans believed Aboriginals were an inferior race; some that they were the missing link between monkeys and humans; some that they were ‘savages’ who ought to be exterminated…
  • In 1830, a builder and Methodist lay preacher, George Augustus Robinson went on a ‘Friendly Mission’ to negotiate a settlement. The Aboriginal remnant agreed to vacate Tasmania, and moved to Flinders Island (1833-1847). There Robinson tried to make the Aboriginals into Black Englishpeople, built East-London type terrace cottages for them, and taught them a catechism (with graphic questions and answers about heaven and hell). Eg. ‘What will God do to the world by and by?’ Burn it. What sort of place is heaven? A fine place. What sort of place is hell? A place of torment. But the exile was a disaster: over 200 Aboriginals died, and the 47 survivors were relocated back to Oyster Cove, on mainland Tasmania. 
  • Reynolds’ book centres around a petition presented to Queen Victoria signed by eight Aboriginal men who described themselves as a ‘free people’ who voluntarily gave up their country to the Governor (and complained that though they’d kept their side of the deal, the whites hadn’t)
  • In 1870 the last full-blood male Aboriginal Tasmanian (William Lane) died; in 1876 Truganini, the last full-blood female died.
  • But nine Aboriginal women had been abducted by sealers, and two married sealers voluntarily, and their descendents form the present Tasmanian Aboriginal population.
  • Flinders Island Hotel had a separate bar for Aboriginals until the 1950s. They told us of a Chocolate Waltz won by group of Aboriginal young people, and the MC had to be forced to give them the prize!
  • At Wybelenna (which means ‘Black Man’s Houses’) a few years ago, some aboriginal people put markers on the aboriginal graves. They lasted two days: someone dug them all up and destroyed them one night, but the white graves were left undisturbed…
  • The UN proclaimed the years 1990 to 2000 as the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.
  • There has been remarkable progress since 1945 (then since 1989 in Eastern Europe) It’s one of history’s success stories.
  • In the 1980s over 100 Aboriginal people died in the custody of the Australian police and prison systems. Finally, in 1987 the Australian Government formed a ‘Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody’. Four years and $30 million later it released a damning report. One of our retreatants is a prison chaplain. He said, ‘Aboriginal people need each other. When they are isolated in an institution – any institution – they die…’ 
  • In the Mabo case (1992), the High Court of Australia exploded the myth of ‘terra nullius’ (land belonging to no-one).
  • We have been talking recently about a treaty between white and Aboriginal Australians. Mr Galarrwury Yunupingu from Arnhem Land has said: ‘What we want from a treaty is the creation of a just and mature society which black and white Australians can enjoy together. A treaty which recognizes our rights and our status will provide the basis for building a society in which people live in mutual respect. To those people who say they support the concept of ‘One Australia’ I can only say that I agree. There should be one Australia and we should be part of it. But our part should be on our terms.’  
  • Realize, with Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has’
  • And realize, sure, that we can’t turn back the clock. But, whatever our political views (left-wing, right-wing, or wingless) we can agree with Prime Minister Paul Keating when he launched the International Year for the Indigenous 10 December 1992: ‘[We must] recognize that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians. It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. As a nation, we face the challenge of the consequences of dispossession, conquest, brutal treatment and equally inhuman neglect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – the first Australians.’
  • Following two invitations in the 1980s to speak to national Aboriginal Christian conferences, I wrote to 40 Aboriginal Christian leaders, asking them this question: 'If you had the opportunity, what would you like to say to Australian - especially Christian - leaders? Their views on land rights varied across the political spectrum from very radical to quite conservative but they were unanimous about one thing: ‘Please, we would like white Australians to listen to our pain’
  • Then we can agree (and is this too big an ‘ask’?) that aboriginal people ought to be consulted about their present and future. (‘White Australians have done so much to/against/for us but forgot to ask us ‘Is it OK?’) 


Australia is the most multi-cultural country in the world. One in three Australians were born overseas or their parents were born overseas


Friday, May 9, 2014


Every culture contains good and bad elements. Every language has different concepts about what is right and wrong. 


Cruelty and wrong are not the greatest forces in the world. There is nothing eternal in them. Only love is eternal. ~~ Elizabeth Elliot

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes nor between parties either - but right through the human heart. ~~ Alexandr Solzhenitzyn

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. ~~ Martin Luther King Jr

There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it. ~~J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing ~~ Edmund Burke


è       Three of the best, most serene human beings I've ever known were married - until death parted them - to very angry men. How did those women get to be like that?

è       During the last quarter-century Nelson Mandela was the world’s most admired human being.  How did he get to be like that?  (Clue: 'Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies').  

One Monday morning a distressed and battered woman in her 30s came to see me. She'd just been released - again - from hospital. 

'I guess I can cope with being treated like this - even the broken bones,' she said, 'but it's not fair for my two kids. They're becoming more and more frightened...'  

'So what do you want to do?' I asked.

'I'm leaving, but I have nowhere to go.'

'Do you want me to find a safe place?'

One phone call and it was arranged, to begin that night. The following week I heard that her psychotic husband planned to come after me with a gun. Sometimes it's not even safe being a pastor!


Born or made?

Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, pedophile priests… : were they born or made like that? (Stalin: ‘One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic’).

What drives the sniper/s in Syria to shoot women in the pelvic area one day, and the left breast the next and the right breast the day after, according to a British medical volunteer? (Today I read of Egyptian snipers who aim at strangers’ eyes).

I grew up during the Second World War, when our world was mostly divided into ‘Allies’ and ‘Others’. We boys played ‘Aussies and Japs’, ‘goodies and baddies’, ‘cops and robbers’… At our primary school there were bullies and ‘sissies’, and once a year Santa Claus sorted out who was naughty and nice. In our little church we were ‘good’ (= ‘saved’); others might be good too but because they were not ‘of us’ their eternal destiny was decidedly suspect. But then, I wondered, why were there sometimes very heated arguments in our little Christian ‘Assembly’ over some issues? Two of our elders had a stand-up row in everyone’s hearing about whether we should play a radio ‘in church’ (one of them argued that as Satan was ‘the prince of the power of the air’ radio-waves were contaminated with evil)…

à Which – if any – of these boxes would you tick? :

All are born good (Confucius)  [   ]  

We are all contaminated with ‘original sin’; so sin corrupts the entire human nature (Augustine) [   ] 
['Augustine taught that Adam's guilt as transmitted to his descendants much enfeebles, though does not destroy, the freedom of their will, Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin affirmed that Original Sin completely destroyed liberty’ (see Wikipedia total depravity). ]

People are able to choose not to sin (Pelagius) [  ]

Whoever is without sin may cast the first stone (Jesus, John 8:7). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Paul, Romans 3:23)   [   ]

‘In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart’ (Anne Frank, German-born diarist and Holocaust victim)  [   ]

‘The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil’ (Hannah Arendt, German-Jewish political philosopher)  [   ]

‘The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces’ (Philip Zimbardo). [   ]

World War II criminal Adolph Eichmann said he was simply following instructions when he ordered the deaths of millions of Jews. Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram asked himself how common that attitude might be? He devised a classic experiment where 40 participants were asked/ordered to progressively increase electric shocks from 15 to 450 volts to an unseen (but vocal) victim. How many went all the way? A sample of students guessed '3%.' The actual number? 26 of the 40! Only 14 stopped earlier. Other research on obedience has corroborated these results. Scary! [ ]

And God…?
à Are you happy with any of these?
’God did not create evil. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God’ (Albert Einstein)  [   ]
The forces of light and darkness are pitted against each other in a permanent stand-off, with humanity as the battlefield (Manicheanism)  [   ]
‘Zoroastrianism is about the opposition of good and evil. For the triumph of good, we have to make a choice. We can enlist on the side of good by prospering, making money and using our wealth to help others’ (Rohinton Mistry)  [   ]
‘When asked why, God being good, there was evil in the world, Sri Ramakrishna said, "To thicken the plot.”’ (Unknown)  [   ]

What is good? What is evil?
Here's a Buddhist contribution: 'Goodness... moves us in the direction of harmonious coexistence, empathy and solidarity with others. The nature of evil, on the other hand, is to divide: people from people, humanity from the rest of nature...
Remaining silent in the face of injustice is the same as supporting it.
[Buddhist Inspiration for daily living ( )]
And a Jewish insight: 'A thimbleful of light will therefore banish a roomful of darkness... Evil is not a thing or force, but merely the absence or concealment of good. One need not "defeat" the evil in the world; one need only bring to light its inherent goodness. []
That may not always be easy. C S Lewis in The Problem of Pain warns us: ’If God is wiser… his judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in his eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil’.
And history teaches us that evil lurks both in humanity’s dark corners and also its high places. (Wasn’t it Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear who said ‘The devil is a quite a gentleman’?).
From theory to practice: what can I do?
Altruism – a selfless concern for the well-being of others - may be both culturally specific and a learned approach to life. Charles Darwin suggested that we're all born with basic needs and instincts to survive, but as social beings, we learn that by aiding others we benefit ourselves. 
Random acts of kindness…
If someone needs your help, why not? If something needs cleaning up, why not you? And re our words, remember the famous Sai Baba quote:  ‘Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary’? And does it improve the silence?' 
A caveat: not every person or situation needs my intervention to fix things. Thoreau warned, ‘If you see someone coming towards you with the obvious intent of doing you good, run for your life!’ (Elsewhere, cheekily: ‘As for Doing-good...I have tried it fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution’). As one of the wisest pastors I knew used to say: ‘The best thing you can do for some people is leave them alone.’ 
Here are four principles I’ve found helpful:
1. You can do something (rather than nothing).
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything. ~~ Albert Einstein
​‘We shall have to repent in this generation not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people but for the appalling silence of the good people…’ ’Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.’ ~~M L King.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good [people] to do nothing.
In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up. ~~ Martin Niemoeller

2. The Power of One:  You, yes you, can make a difference.  (Faith)

History – and legend – is replete with stories about sometimes ordinary individuals who were overwhelmed with a desire to rectify a wrong, and, against all odds, defeated evil. (Sangster – did all England wake up? Wilberforce etc. See articles Power of One).

3. I’m not on my own: ‘I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me’.
All things? Yes, even fail. There are two things you can say about all the biblical leaders: they all seemed to be failures, and they spent a lot of time alone in deserts.  
Jesus struggled with good and evil for forty days in the desert; he confronted the sometimes subtle evils of religious legalism as well as the more overt evils of ‘the powers’.
‘Meditation – morning and evening – is the best antidote known to humanity to keep us awake, clear-minded about the illusions that lure us and the fears that control us. And to keep us attuned to the beauty and freshness of reality as each day invites us to be more awake, more real.’ (Laurence Freeman OSB’s weekly reading which arrived in my email inbox today. )
4. So ‘Do Good’: It’s a Good Choice…

By doing good we become good  ~~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good… We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. ~~ St. Paul
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can. 

~~John Wesley

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. 

~~ Unknown
And Never Forget…
‘In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.’ ~~ Robert Louis Stevenson

​You’ve heard this widely-quoted wisdom by a Native American elder: ‘Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’ When asked which dog wins, he replied, ‘The one I feed the most.’

Finally, a daily prayer to help you conquer evil and be committed to goodness:

John Stott's Morning Trinitarian Prayer

Good morning heavenly Father,
Good morning Lord Jesus,
Good morning Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Saviour and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.
Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.

- John Stott. There are variations of this prayer in books by and about John Stott. This version is from Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott.



QUESTIONS & RESPONSES: the ABC's of a good life. 


Note: this list is provisional. It may vary in terms of numbers of chapters, titles etc. See for another idea about arrangeing these topics - in alphabetical order). 


Here's the first-draft of a list of Contents which formed part of the contract I had with Mosaic Press (which is now defunct). 


1.  GOOD & EVIL: Why be good; why fight evil? And are we born or made to be good or evil (either or both)?

2.  GOD & SATAN: What we are we postmoderns supposed to do with all that medieval stuff?

3.  AUTHORITY & CERTAINTY: The eternal question: ‘What is Truth?’ Four sources of truth: reason, (a sacred book e.g. the Bible), tradition, experience.  

4. JESUS & CHRISTIANITY:  ‘An ancient Near Eastern carpenter claims to be God - do people still believe that?’

5. RELIGIONS, CHURCHES & SECTS: ‘They can’t all/any of them be right can they?’

6. PRAYER & MEDITATION. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: lectio divina, prayer, meditation, solitude, silence, stillness: finding peace in the desert - every day 


7. LOVE & JUSTICE: ‘Why do we mistreat so many people – defenceless children, religious and racial/ethnic minorities, the handicapped, sweat-shop workers… the list goes on..’

8. PRIDE & POWER: ‘Why do too many humans want to be #1?’

9. SEX, ROMANCE & MARRIAGE: ‘It can all be very nice or very horrible… Why?’
ROMANCE/'FALLING IN LOVE': 'A genetic trick to hook us into marriage'? SEXUAL ABUSE

10. WOMEN & MEN: In many countries/subjects women are doing better academically, but earn 5% less than men – where’s the sense/justice in that? Vive la difference? Mars/Venus and other theories... 

11. HOMOSEXUALITY & GENDER ISSUES: If blacks/gays/dwarfs/whoever had no choice… what are they asking of the rest of us?

12. PARENTS & CHILDREN: How to enjoy your life - even if you didn’t choose your parents well.

13. ABORTION & EUTHANASIA etc. : Moral issues where good (and bad) people differ.




16. HAPPINESS & JOY: ‘No, they’re not the same, but why am I mostly bereft of both of them?’

17. BIRDS & FLOWERS: ‘How can I enjoy “all things bright and beautiful” more?



20. WORK & PLAY:




LAWS & POLITICS: Unfortunate necessities; mantras and shibolleths 


APOCALYPSE CHECKLIST: Caring for the planet – for future generations

GROWING OLD:  Towards simplicity the other side of complexity.

SICKNESS & HEALTH: If I reduced it to 10 ‘health commandments’ what would my list look like?’


TIME & ETERNITY: Theories about nothingness, reincarnation, heaven, & hell.

31. YOUR CHECK-LIST FOR A VERY GOOD LIFE: What’s general and universal; and what’s relative and personal. Including HEALTH checklist.



FUNDAMENTALISM(S): source of most of the world's ideological-ethno-religious conflicts... Paradigm-shifts: 'You don't know you're wearing chains until you begin moving...'

WHO AM I? And who gives me my grade/worth? Parents, mentors and heroes...

RELATIONSHIPS - LOVE/JUSTICE (Keys to all relationships). ‘Why do we mistreat so many people – defenceless children, religious and racial/ethnic minorities, the handicapped, sweat-shop workers… the list goes on…?’ 



When someone makes an appointment to see me, a 'generalist' pastoral counselor, what do we talk about?  Short answer: anything at all that's important for them.

Within the first five minutes I invite my parishioner/client to 'give me a headline or two'. And, then, mostly, we jump into the deep end. Some memorable ones:

#  'Rowland, I used to belong to a biker gang. Recently I've started going to church and I heard about the need to 'confess your sins to one another'. Well, I killed seven people during those wild years... And nobody else knows... '

# 'Pastor, I'm in my fifties now, and I've never had a close relationship with a man. I'd love to have been a mother, but it's too late. I have a strong sexual drive and my way of dealing with that is to pleasure myself. My pastor, however, is a fundamentalist who reckons I'll go to hell for doing what I do. I'm scared and often sleepless about it all. What do you think?'

#  To a 15/16-year-old: 'Jane, what do you want to do with your life?' 'Oh, that's easy: kill a couple of people.' 'Uh-huh... Anything else?' 'Yeah... burn down the [social welfare organisation's] building: they should have been protecting me...'

# Undergrad student: 'We're doing philosophy, and recently studied the so-called "proofs" for God's existence. My evangelical friend says he's impressed by the "first cause" idea. I reckon there could have been an infinite regression of causes...'

Where do these conversations go from there? Read on. Here are my 40 -and-counting - 'big ones': one for each day if you want to give yourself some quality-time thinking about these issues and chasing up the footnotes...  (This is the first book I've written post-Google: love it!).

At this point you may need to know just a little about me. General ideological approach? 'Progressive Evangelical Christian'. Not theologically 'fundamentalist' or 'liberal' - I have strong issues with some of their respective presuppositions. My Anglican friends say I'm 'broad church'. Father Richard Rohr and popular Christian writer Brian McLaren are generally OK! Is there truth in other religions? Of course, God's truth can be discovered in the most unlikely places. Is it OK to doubt what authority-figures put into our heads when we were impressionable? Again: of course. How much serious pastoral counseling have I actually done? About 25,000 hours, starting when I was a Teachers' College Christian student leader in 1957, then within eleven full- and part-time pastoral vocations, from 1964 until this week!

Come and enjoy the ride my fellow-strugglers/learners...

Rowland Croucher        (
Melbourne, Australia
May 2014


Have you heard of the ‘Swan-song phenomenon’? Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California studied 1919 musical compositions written by 172 classical composers and compared how highly the works were rated by musicologists with how close the creation of those works came to the composers’ deaths.

Main finding: compositions that were written later in the artists’ lives – when, as Simonton wrote, ‘death was raising a fist to knock on the door’ – tended to be briefer, with cleaner, simpler melody lines, and yet scored high in aesthetic significance according to the experts. (Time, ‘The Art of Living’, September 23, 2013, p. 42).

I’m 77 this year, and it’s about 20 years since my last book was published. This little contribution is my best effort to say in a ‘cleaner, simpler’ fashion what I believe about the most important questions facing humankind. Writers these days can put their words together in a ‘cryptic teasing’ fashion: if the reader wants to know more about something, they can simply check with everyone’s friend Google Search.

As my Gmail auto-signature says…

Shalom! Salaam! Pax! eirene!
Rowland Croucher