Enough Law and Order


Politicians, particularly conservative politicians, are constantly talking up the need for more police and more prison places, and generally being tougher on crime. They are being dishonest and they know it. These campaigns are based on cultivating fear, and have nothing to do with the real situation.

The Hon. Christine Wheeler QC is a former judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia who is trying to promote constructive public debate about crime. In a recent article, she lists these facts:

former Justice Christine Wheeler

The facts
• Most people think the crime rate is higher than it is, especially for violent offences, and overestimate the likelihood of becoming victims themselves;
• Crime is believed to be increasing, when it is on the whole decreasing;
• Rates of imprisonment in WA are very high, by world and Australian standards, and going up;
• Imprisonment costs the community a lot of money;
• Imprisonment generally does not prevent crime, and may tend to increase it;
• There are effective ways to prevent crime, and to treat many criminals, and people generally would like to see more expenditure in these directions; and
• When ordinary people, including victims of crime, are given all the facts of an offence (as opposed to a brief media report) they generally think the sentence imposed by the court is either about right, or a bit harsh. That is, current sentencing is far from “soft”.

Uniview, The University of Western Australia, Summer 2011-12, page 38

The impression that the media gives is that 50% of crimes involve violence: only about 7% do. This means that people overestimate their risk of being victims of crime. Women and the elderly are the least likely to be victims of crime, but their worry about their vulnerability is affecting their quality of life.

Imprisoning people actually increases the crime rate. When someone goes to prison, they meet other prisoners, they lose their relationships and their jobs. People who have nothing to lose are not deterred by the threat of imprisonment, so they re-offend, causing greater crowding in the prisons. The management of over-crowded prisons creates difficulties that are totally unnecessary. It seems that the more over-crowded the prison, the higher the per prisoner cost to the taxpayer. Currently according to Ms Justice Wheeler the annual cost for each prisoner is about $100,000. “In broad terms,” she writes, “for every extra year an offender is imprisoned, there is one less teacher or nurse or police officer the state is able to employ.”

Mental ill-health and drug and alcohol consumption are major issues in violent crime. There are too few treatment options for offenders coming before the courts. Investment in mental health would reduce crime, as would any measures aimed at reducing alcohol consumption.

Media reporting on crime is designed to heighten our awareness of crime, because the nature of the media is to focus on the drama. In addition, police rounds journalists report stories of three or four crimes in succession and this adds to the false impression of the quantity of crime.

Of course sympathy for victims of crime and outrage at violence are appropriate responses to individual crimes; but the next time you hear a politician claim that Western Australia has a law and order problem, call them and tell them they are lying.

Beyond Brokeback Mountain: the church and rainbow sexuality


Christianity and LGBTStephen Hunt, Contemporary Christianity and LGBT sexualities, Burlington VT: Ashgate Publications 2009

Reviewed by Ted Witham

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Soon after its release, my wife Rae and I went to see the movie Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s brilliant adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story. We saw it as tragic story of bisexuality book-ended by an outraged protest against anti-gay violence. Many of our friends reacted negatively to it, and most preferred not even to see it.

For some, it is so difficult to deal with these issues, to name them clearly and to discuss them. Their attitude, I fear, may be expressed in the cliché: “My mind’s made up: don’t confuse me with facts!”
There are many challenging “facts” in Contemporary Christianity and LGBT sexualities, but this book is too good to be dismissed just because readers find its subject confronting. In effect, the different essayists go through the letters LGBT and Q and explore the interactions between the “non-heterosexual” population and the churches.

Fact 1: Many gay Anglican clergy cope with their homosexuality by putting up a false – or incomplete – picture of themselves to the world. They effectively censor their public face. What they play on “front stage”, is projected by energetic manipulations of the person’s “back stage”. Michael Keenan uses the image of a tapestry with its beautiful face and crazily-stitched back.

Of course it is a fact that clergy hide their homosexuality. Over the years I have been privileged to see some of my colleagues and their beautiful stitching. This essay alerts us to ways we can be more supportive of gay clergy. But it also reminds me that we all have a front and backstage; we all stitch the back so that the viewed side of our personality is what we would like it to be.

In her chapter, Kristin Aune asks what it is about non-heterosexuality that evangelical Christians don’t like. Fact 2: She concludes that their prime concern is not their genital activity. On the contrary, what worries evangelical is that gay men are defective in their masculinity. They are not “real men”.
I found this to be a helpful insight. I used to work for an inter-church agency, and remember meeting many “real men” among the younger Government school chaplains. I was really seduced by their confidence as men, as heads of family and leaders of women and men. I acquiesced to their world-view, and even presented myself as “one of them”. To my shame, I did not challenge this too neat understanding of masculinity. As Kristin Aune describes it, being real men in these ways implied a lesser role for women, as men’s hand-maids, not their help-mates (Genesis 2). This gender polarity needs challenging not encouraging.

Marta Trzebiatowski sets out to explore the disapproval Polish women experienced when some announced that they are called either to monastic life or others came out as lesbians: Fact 3: Trzebiatowski finds many similarities between the two groups: both groups of women have refused the social role of motherhood, and they have refused the “heteronormativity “of their culture.

Perhaps the Third Order can be advocates for Religious as well as others who choose not to follow social norms. As a Religious Order which includes both singles and mothers, our members know both the inner logic of celibacy and the validating power of motherhood.

I found myself most challenged by Alex Toft’s essay on “Bisexual Christians”.
Fact 4: There are, it seems, as many definitions of bisexuality as there are bisexual individuals. Should you define bisexuality as sexual attraction to both the opposite sex and the same sex? If the definition is not based on desire, then is bisexuality of variant of gender, not male, not female, not straight, not gay, but all or some of the above?

Does the fact that people who understand themselves as bisexual in fact void all definitions of gender and sexuality so that none is really meaningful? Or to follow another track, are we all in fact bisexuals? Was Jesus, “the ideal template for human existence”, himself bisexual?

Writing for the Church of England in 2004, Thatcher and Stuart concluded that:
… bisexuals undermine the whole sexual system, the neat classification of people into homo and hetero, the pathologizing of homosexuality as a heterosexual disorder, and so on. (p. 77)

This “dangerous” fluidity usually evokes only negative reactions from the church: Toft found that the church considered bisexual individuals to be “in a state of confusion” (p. 85), rejecting a God-given identity.
Unsurprisingly, bisexuals find it difficult to continue to relate to churches. Many bisexuals felt that the only way to continue as Christians was outside the official Christian community.

Those who do stay in the church, feel forced to separate their sexuality from their spirituality “and ‘act’ heterosexually within religious spheres”, creating “great inner conflict” for individuals (p. 85).

According to veteran researchers Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip and Michael Keenan, transgendered Christians throw up an even deeper challenge to the churches: Fact 4: To be transgendered is to experience oneself as in some way opposite in sexuality to what one “should be”. A transgendered person may feel trapped in the body of the wrong gender/sex, or may need to dress in clothes of the opposite sex, or may have physical markers of both sexes.

Again, the permutations defy clear definition. The way transgendered people come to a clear self-understanding is by paying attention to their bodies. Transgendered Christians recall the church to an embodied theology. Mainstream Christians too often devalue not only the body but matter in general. This leads them to wander into a docetic heresy, devaluing the incarnation, the embodiment of God in Jesus of Nazareth. Transgender brings us back to a more classical theology, reminding us that we cannot grow spiritually if we deny the body. “Transgenderism … is about spiritual growth as an embodied experience.” (p. 99)

Stephen Hunt untangles the different threads of the influence of gay Christians on policy in the church and in the community. Not surprisingly, he finds that they have been more effective in changing laws than challenging theology: Fact 5.

Richard O’Leary takes us to the very religious world of Northern Ireland where the difficulties gays experience are magnified by the culture: Fact 6.

Yvonne Aburrow asks “Is It Meaningful to Speak of ‘Queer Spirituality’?” Feminist theology has a “hermeneutic of suspicion”. Readers scour their reading for bias to find out whether the writer has smuggled patriarchal values into this text. Have assumptions of male superiority, distorted the meaning of the text? If so, the reader can then make appropriate adjustments.

Fact 7: Queer theology takes this hermeneutic of suspicion a step further, looking for any normative bias to any gender or sexual identity. For example, when we read Genesis 1:27,
(“God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”)
do we read these words through the eyes of heteronormativity? In particular, does the little word ‘and’ deceive us?

The Hebrew word for ‘and’ ranges in meaning, sometimes joining two terms very closely, and at other times describing a real difference between two things? Do we see the “and” in the phrase “male and female” in the latter sense, as disjunctive, emphasising the separateness of the genders? Could we not legitimately emphasise the conjunctive nature of the “and”? “Male and female” may highlight not a clear separation between the sexes, but that humanity is the totality of gender and sex, and that, astonishingly, this unpredictability reflects the truth about God, as humanity is created in God’s image. This is not a new reading of Genesis: Phyllis Trible reads Genesis 1:27 in this way.

Queer theology intends to be provocative, and, because of its radical assumption that no expression of gender identity is normative, will at some point end up offending every reader. This offence validates the approach.

In fact, queer theology might take us back to Saint Paul’s radical idea that “in Christ Jesus, there is no longer … male nor female.” (Galatians 3:28), Christ, Paul says, is gender-blind, just as he is colour-blind. We need transgendered people to remind us of this foundational Christian value.

Derek Jay then sketches “Trends in the Spiritual Direction of LGBT People.” Jay uses the three-stage schema of St John of the Cross and its purgative, illuminative and unitive stages of spiritual growth as a framework to explore the particular needs of LGBT people in direction. For example, the spiritual director needs to note when the church’s attempts to enforce celibacy on non-heterosexuals lead to promiscuity, and then help the person to find integrity in their life choices. LGBT people need to accept and celebrate their differentness. Fact 8: Directors can encourage LGBT people to model an alternative spirituality – a more embodied, more accepting, spirituality, with more integrity about sin – to the rest of the Church.

The book challenges me to action at several points. Firstly it takes me to tapestry; not for the purpose of picking apart the tapestries of others trying to identify the stitching hidden at the back of the face their owners present to the world. Rather it is to pay attention to one’s own front stage and backstage; to examine with honesty how we stitch and how we hide our true selves. The purpose of the self examination is to allow our compassion for others to grow as we see how we manage our own lives.

Secondly, this book challenges me when I acquiesce to the too simple views around me, whether they are a cheerful masculinity that puts women down, and either ignores or destroys the lives of those who do not conform to the heterosexual norm.

It also challenges me to speak up, when people disapprove the life choices of others. I will not always agree with people’s choice of marriage partner or their vows of celibacy or the partner they take up with, but it is not my role in life to judge. Rather I am called as a Christian to affirm the way others see God leading them.

Use your brain


Pain clinics usually have psychologists. That’s not because chronic pain is a mental illness, but because the mind has resources that can help us change the way we look at our pain. Pain psychologists are more like sports psychologists than ordinary psychologists. They are basically interested in getting us to perform better.

There are parallels between elite athletes and people with chronic pain. The most obvious is the necessity for exercise. To manage chronic pain we must be in training always. The type of exercise may vary depending on your level of disability, but I must have significant exercise every day to give the cardio-vascular system a work out.

At the moment, that means I start my walk with the ritual of calling the dog, getting her to sit and attaching her lead. Then we walk for 10-15 minutes. My next goal is to take a slightly different route that will add 5 minutes to my walk and conclude with a significant climb.

Deep water-running
Deep water-running

When summer comes, I take to the swimming pool and do ‘water-running’ and gradually build up my times and my effort. I’m currently on 4 x 50 metre laps, at just over 4 minutes a lap. My pulse and breathing rates get to near my safe limit, so I will continue doing 4 laps until my vital rates are lower. Then I will add a half-lap, and then another.

To do this properly requires a bit of obsession. I have to be disciplined like an athlete preparing for a big meet. To keep on track, I have to use my brain, and not only for exercise. Like an athlete, I use my brain to reframe and refine my attitudes. For example, the attitude that the world owes me is not a helpful attitude for an athlete or a person with long-term pain. My attitude needs to be not that I am owed anything, but that I have something to give, and I have the capacity to achieve.

Along the Bibbulman Track
Along the Bibbulman Track

Near the town where I live is a walking trail called The Bibbulmun Track. Named after the local aboriginal clan, the trail winds its way through most of the traditional Bibbulman lands. Walkers take up to 6 weeks to trek the length of the trail through jarrah and karri forests and coastland heath. From September to November, the wildflowers fill the bush with colour. The cool mornings of winter bring a crisp mist to the karri forests. I think it is the most beautiful country on earth.

For some time, I have not been able to walk on the Bibbulman track. It’s not that I want to walk from one end to the other. I would just like to be able to drive to a place where the trail intersects the highway and walk for three hours or so.

I am not physically able to manage that walk at present, but I use my brain to motivate my body to heal. I hold it up to myself as a goal. I set myself this goal as a participant in the Pain Understanding and Management Program at our local hospital. Now many months later, I am not much closer to my goal. But having the goal has kept me walking every day. Having the goal has increased my appreciation of our own native garden.

Our front garden
Our front garden

My brain can heal my body, and I like getting the most out of it.

No Sex, Please: We Might be Sore


SEX AND PAIN
Definition of sexuality:
“Being so attentive to another that you tend to merge with that other.”
Those words, with capital ‘O’s, could equally be a definition of spirituality.
“Being so attentive to an Other that you tend to merge with that Other.”
For some mystics, sexuality and spirituality are aspects of the same reality: the purpose of human life is to “get out of oneself” and merge with the larger Reality. Saint John of the Cross, for example, lusciously described his prayer life as sexual pursuit and mutual seduction.

The Bible regards human beings as in-breathed bodies, that is, spiritual bodies: not spirits AND bodies, nor flesh AND soul, but just one united package. In classical Christian thought, no division can be made between body, mind and spirit. To emphasise one aspect (say, the spiritual) over another aspect (say, the physical) depreciates the essential wholeness of the human person. So for Christians, having sex is never purely physical, because the human beings engaged in sex are spiritual, emotional, thinking (etc!) bodies. Having sex should be making love. If it is not, the act is expressing hate, or showing indifference. The physical act is inextricably linked to the greater human reality.

For those in pain, sex may be painful. Doctors today even recognise this. In the 20 years following my major operation, sexuality didn’t appear to exist for pain sufferers. Doctors paid attention to the effects pain and pills had on every other function of your body/mind, but avoided mentioning the major impacts pain has on your sex life.

Nowadays, there are questions on pain questionnaires which ask you to rate the obstacle your pain causes for your enjoyment of sex, but I have not yet met a doctor willing to actually discuss the questionnaire results, which in my case document the additional pain of having sex and the decrease of enjoyment of sex. A doctor prepared to discuss sex and pain with me would be a bonus.

For those in pain, it can feel as though the physical pain is taking away the emotional and spiritual joy of making love. But that is not all. Not only is the pain a turn-off, but also body image,
disappointment and lack of control contribute to a diminished sex life.
The pain itself lessens the enjoyment of sex. The person in pain then sees their body as being less than it should be, and their body image becomes yet another barrier to full enjoyment of the other.

Faulty body image means not that something is wrong with the body, but with a person’s picture of their body. A faulty body image arises in chronic pain from not looking at the whole body. A person with chronic pain who looks carefully at their body, however, will find more that is right than is wrong. Looking attentively at what is really there is not only a spiritual act, but also a healing one.

Disappointed with their body’s betrayal, they withdraw from sexual activity, fearing more disappointment. Pills, the pain and one’s partner’s reaction to the medicalising of our lives all reduce one’s sexual response. Sometimes I’m aroused, but at other times, not. This loss of control adds to the spiralling decrease in sexual interest.
It’s easy to give up, or to give in to anger and resentment. But there are genuinely positive ways of responding.

1. Talk about these things to your partner.
Researchers have noted how difficult it is for even loving couples to talk about sex. It may be that your pain and the challenges it brings is a gift to your sex life. It can oblige you how to talk together about sex. The aim is to make love. The agenda of your conversation is how do we make love given the physical and emotional obstacles pain causes?
hold-hands-cropped1
2. Fall in love all over again by realising how precious touch is; all touch, and not just sexual touch.
So hold hands. Gently brush your partner’s skin as you pass. Kiss when you wake up and kiss when you get ready for sleep. A sexual relationship is not restricted to 20 minutes in bed. Its joy is its anticipation of the constant presence of your lover.
Touch, too, is the precursor to massage. I am one of those who dislike massage. But a gentle touch relaxes my muscles and can reduce pain.
On the principle that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’, share the touching and be attentive more to your partner than to your pain.

3. Keep your bedroom a bower for intimacy (and sleeping!), and stop it looking like a hospital.
Take pills off the bedside table; put medical equipment in the cupboard; take pain diaries and exercise charts down from the walls and put them out of sight, preferably out of the bedroom. Cover hospital pillows with a quilt or colourful slips.

4. Be tolerant of your mind’s nocturnal fantasies.
Sexual dreams involving others are not necessarily temptations to infidelity. They may just be your mind working out ways of maximising your physical and emotional enjoyment of life under restricted circumstances. Learn to welcome your unconscious mind’s attempts to link physical sexuality with emotional and spiritual love. Your mind knows how important it is for you to love your body and with your body.

In all things, be attentive and open to the love of the Other. As other human beings do, make love as best you can within the limitations of what you are given.

In times of temporary or ongoing celibacy with chronic pain, the two-way definition of loving the other/Other still applies: “Be so attentive to an Other that you tend to merge with that Other.” In the 13th century Franciscan theologian Dun Scotus taught that every creature is a little Word of God: an instance of Incarnation. Every person or being to which one gives one’s loving and respectful attention draws us closer into union with God.

For those of us in continuing pain, this knowledge is a beacon of hope. We do have the ability to look beyond our preoccupation with ourselves and our pain, and look into the face of God. That’s sexy. That’s the ultimate in spirituality.