Cakes as artistic expression

If nothing else positive comes of the homophobic baker in Colorado story, at least it helps define cake baking as an art form worthy of First Amendment expression. And long overdue, I say.

My Glorious 7-Point Plan For Fitness In 2014

  1. subscribe to every fitness-related blog, tumblr, Yahoo group and Facebook page I can find.
  2. buy and download every fitness-related app I can find on my phone.
  3. buy at least one fitness equipment item (kettlebell, gorilla grips, resistance bands) per month, prioritise the ones that make me feel bad-ass.
  4. get very involved on the forums and the /r/fitness on Reddit and make sure I voice a lot of opinions that sound informed.
  5. post lots of inspirational fitness pics on my tumblr and facebook and like it when anyone else does too.
  6. get on Fitocracy and make sure I track it whenever I stand up or scratch my ass (hey, it’s activity, right?)
  7. get a FitBit and use it to track my extensive walking between the office and the bathroom (and track that on Fitocracy too).

I don’t see how this can possibly go wrong. I’m pretty sure I’ve covered all the bases.

A Prayer for All Souls Day

Queen of Lights,
upon the Throne
Which all the
Seven circle,
Immortals ringing
Love eternal,
Hear our prayer

Triune Sky’s
renascent Sun,
Swift unmoved
and moving still
All the spinning
spheres, hear,
Hear our prayer

Musician, Master of Silence, O sweet
Symphonist thundering Melody, Maker
And Mover of Heaven’s harmony hear,
Hear our prayer

For those who died far from home,
who died suddenly,
Shivering shocked into silence
Grant them your peace

For those who pined on the shore for the lost
long years before Death brought release
Grant them your peace

For those who denied you and sought you,
Fleeing your face and chasing your shadows;
May they drink of the fountain that drank of the streams
Grant them your peace

For those who fight the tides too quickly come,
Numb with pain, immersed in confusion;
Terrified we might lose them we broken voiced pray,
Through you wounds and for Lazarus’ love let them live
Grant them your peace

For we who remain in the dark wood — Minoan
Throttle of illusion — doubting the Fire
Of your Love which burns all about us, open our eyes,
And grant us your peace

Your peace which passes all understanding:
Keep our hearts and minds in your knowledge and love,
Now and always, Amen.

remxed slightly from a poem by David Ashford

A little diversity in serial television

I’ve recently noticed that most of the serial TV we watch in my household is some combination of zombies, werewolves, vampires, serial killers & crime and TEOTWAWKI drama. All of which is fine, but we’ve both been getting more conscious and conscientious about the effect of environmental things on our mental world and all this stuff stimulates certain mood states and thought patterns – even if you don’t dislike them, a monocultural mental diet can’t be great in the long-term.

So, as I have taken to doing recently, I asked my wise and knowledgeable Facebook friends to recommend good serial TV which isn’t any of the above. Here is what they said:

First… some less mainstream choices I’ve not seen (and some I’d never heard of):

Second, some shows I already watch which I’d also recommend:

  • Utopia – creepy, unsettling British sci-fi based around a mysterious comic book.
  • Da Vinci’s Demons – the mad genius of Leonardo set in the politically complex times of Medici Florence. Caution: may contain traces of Mithraism.
  • Vikings – like “Sons of Anarchy” on boats. Not just hot, beardy dudes and muscular shield maidens, also a fair portrayal of life in the northlands (it’s from the History channel after all)
  • In Treatment – a fictional portrayal of a therapist – four episodes have a different client each episode, fifth has the therapist visiting his therapist, then the cycle repeat. Originally screened five nights a week, which would have been intense.
  • Dollhouse – Joss Whedon (nuff said?). Young, attractive people sign over a year or two of their lives for large sums of money, get their memories wiped and replaced with entirely new personalities to act as high-paid escorts. Hilarity ensues.
  • Better Off Ted – Extremely oddball comedy about a corporate R&D lab run by a charming psychopath (Portia de Rossi).
  • Embarrassing Bodies – Not a fiction, but I love this show for making very troubling, very personal illnesses seem normal – hopefully encouraging more people to go see the doctor when things don’t seem right.

Documentaries in a category of their own (these are on ABC iView right now, Australians, so hop to it):

  • A History of Celtic Britain
  • Wonder of Life
  • Origins of Us

Finally shows that get recommended a lot, but maybe this will push me over the edge to check them out:

  • Nurse Jackie
  • Community
  • Downton Abbey
  • Deadwood
  • Scrubs
  • Burn Notice
  • Lost
  • Mighty Boosh
  • Mad Men

Thanks to my marvellous friends. There’s a rich seam of 

Why does Malaysia’s federal election matter?


Alert global citizens will notice that Malaysia had a long-overdue federal election last Sunday. Opposition to the incumbent UMNO party has been surging in the last few years and many citizens of the country had hoped that they might see the first change in government since the formation of Malaysia as an independent nation in 1963. Instead the election seems to have returned the ruling party to power amid extensive allegations of electoral fraud.

I am an adopted part of a Malaysian family. My partner Min is a man of Hakka Chinese heritage from the eastern state of Sarawak in Malaysia and I have enjoyed many long, furious conversations with him and his sisters and brothers about entrenched government corruption and racialised policies designed to advantage Malay and indigenous citizens over those (like Indian and Chinese citizens) whose heritage lies elsewhere.

These policies rely on a system which classifies people as either “bumiputera” (son of the land) – basically ethnic Malays or local indigenous people – or not and then gives a range of comprehensive advantages in financial support, property ownership and education to anyone who is bumiputera. The policy has been assembled over several decades to address economic and social disadvantage among Malay and indigenous people to some positive effect. The trigger for some of these policies initially was anti-Chinese violence in the late sixties – the government at the time reasoned that reducing the economic gap between different groups would also reduce violence.

This sounds like the “affirmative action” policies of other countries, but in this case the advantaged class is a little over 60% of the population rather than a minority. Malays in particular dominate the political sphere. Despite this many citizens, whether of Malay, Indigenous, Indian or Chinese heritage feel strongly that, whether or not they were originally helpful, these policies are now out-dated. The neighbours are starting to talk.

From my own experience, I’m aware that many Chinese people in Malaysia now feel effectively oppressed by these policies. They feel shut out of a political system designed to enfranchise and advantage an elite class of primarily Malay people (with the usual token members of other racial categories so it’s not too obvious). Most of Min’s family haven’t bothered voting for years, because it’s seemed futile, hope of change has seemed naïve and stupid.

It seems unfair to me that my nieces and nephews, whose great-grandparents committed their future to Sarawak and whose grandparents and parents have all inhabited that land, contributed to its well-being and see their future there are effectively discriminated against by their own government.

The other side to this is the fairly predictable effects of one political party holding power for fifty years. I lived in Queensland during the more than thirty-year rule of the National party and the entrenched corruption of that state’s political system, police force and business dealings were legendary. From what I’m told (and I’m no investigative reporter), the effects in Malaysia are similar – entrenched corruption of public institutions and shady business deals all advantaging the elite political class.

It’s this emergence of a power elite that starts to make it look like the racial stuff is less about actual racist commitments on the part of the government and more about galvanising the ethnic majority of Malaysia to keep the ruling UMNO party in power so the heavyweights (all puns intended) of the party can keep the cash flowing. This kind of power and corruption, set next to alleged electoral fraud and the type of authoritarian behaviour that jails opponents and uses intimidation to control the press is the type of thing that begs the rest of the world to call you a “regime” rather than a “government” and bluntly, that’s what it is.

The thing is, we know that when a regime resorts to the kind of heavy-handed tactics that it seems that the incumbent party in Malaysia has, while opposition may seem pointless, it’s actually so, so very close to change. When a party like that is actually all-powerful you don’t even see this kind of stuff, this sort of overt tampering only shows up when they’re desperate. This is not the time to give up, this is the time to stand firm and agitate more strongly for change. It’s always darkest just before the dawn.

I’m not a Malaysian citizen. I’m white, I’m Australian and I really have no business choosing sides in a national election of another country. But I care what happens to Malaysia. I care that my adopted nieces and nephews grow up in a place where they stand next to every other Malaysian citizen as equals. I also care that Malay kids stand next to their classmates as equals, without a blanket of legislated privilege. I care that governments protect and help disadvantaged citizens, regardless of where their great-grandparents were born and I care that my fellow planetary citizens in Malaysia get to have a transparent society where things are as fair as they can be, a society where they can feel their government stands for them, not against them, in which voting doesn’t seem useless, a society in which hope doesn’t seem stupid.

So that’s why I want to do what little I can to at least voice support for real democracy in Malaysia. I want my friends in Malaysia to know I’m with them, on the side of justice and a change for the better. I want them to know it’s not stupid to hope and that change is possible. More than that, I want them to know it’s close.

In a world in which injustice seems rife, it’s easy to turn off and avoid noticing. Please notice that this is happening and keep our fellows in Malaysia in your thoughts (and prayers, if that’s your thing) as this situation evolves. Hope along with me, along with them for a transparent, just and equitable society for all Malaysians.

UPDATE: Please consider adding your voice to this petition.


Louder Than Words


“In the tenth century BC, the priests of India devised the Brahmodya competition, which would become a model of authentic theological discourse. The object was to find a verbal formula to define the Brahman, the ultimate and inexpressible reality beyond human understanding. The idea was to push language as far as it would go, until participants became aware of the ineffable. The challenger, drawing on his immense erudition, began the process by asking an enigmatic question and his opponents had to reply in a way that was apt but equally inscrutable. The winner was the contestant who reduced the others to silence. In that moment of silence, the Brahman was present – not in the ingenious verbal declarations but in the stunning realisation of the impotence of speech. Nearly all religious traditions have devised their own versions of this exercise. It was not a frustrating experience; the finale can, perhaps, be compared to the moment at the end of the symphony, when there is a full and pregnant beat of silence in the concert hall before the applause begins. The aim of good theology is to help the audience to live for a while in that silence.”

The Christian versions of this (I guess I’m thinking Saint Dionysius’s “Mystical Theology” and “The Divine Names” as a place to start) are not what we think about when we think about Christian theology, but apophasis is definitely there in the centre of the Patristics and mystical theology. May we all learn to allow for the silence which is the ground of meaning!

Louder Than Words

Did the Council of Nicaea decide which books are in the Bible?

No. No, it didn’t. And neither did Constantine I.

A nice, well-research survey on the matter: what is known about Nicaea and where the idea might have come from.

day one of the Facebook fast

So… I’m not doing one of these every day, don’t worry.

After one day, it’s noticeable how much of my thinking is intertwined with the social feedback mechanism I get from FB. I think something interesting and think about posting it, see something cool and think about posting it, read something profound and think about posting it.

Why? Well, partly to share it, but mostly for the dopamine hit of fast feedback. There’s certainly no easy way for a Regular Joe (/Jo) to get access to an audience of that size engaged with your production without FB, so it’s harder and slower to get the social feedback.

But it’s obvious it biases what I say towards what will get Liked or talked about. So, part of this experiment is to note that and follow my urge to speak down into a deeper motivation – perhaps what I most want to say, what I most deeply feel – and to re-centre my publishing at a deeper level, whether or not I decide to take up Facebook again.


Doing Lent

Maggie Ross gives some great ideas for taking on the discipline of Lent.

Doing Lent

Lent and nakedness

God is most present to us as the naked perfection of this immediate moment. In order to meet God therefore requires only the simplest thing – total surrender of anything which impedes my engagement with that perfect immediacy.

This encounter with the Beloved is like a caught breath, an eternal moment, balanced like a feather on a pin. Endlessly momentary.

Lent invites us to a deeper surrender, a honing. What more can be given away? What over-complications hold me back from that most attentive watchfulness which is all I truly have to give?

Sing this moment with all that you are therefore. Take the invitation and abandon every impediment. Open yourself to the one who is opening to you so deeply.