Monday, April 20, 2009

Being a Sydney Taxi Driver (Two Things I Discovered)

I spoke at a retreat for Moore College Graduates last week. 'Twas a delight. You can read Kamil's blogging of that event HERE. Tom Harricks interviewed me on Tuesday, as asked me what I had discovered about Sydney as a Cab Driver (many moons ago). Below is the gist of what I said. And that conversation formed part of THIS blog post in the Sydney Anglican News Section. Here you go:

I drove a taxi while at Moore College. All up, I drove for about six years.

Quite frankly, I needed the money.

And yet, I discovered two significant things about the Australian cultural landscape.

1.  The first thing is how secular our individual ethics are. Most of us ‘make it up as we go along’.

For some reason, people think of a cabbie as being invisible (if in the back seat) and as a priest (if in the front seat). So I listened to people as they figured out their sexual ethics between Kirribilli and Killara. I brokered arguments from Wynyard to Strathfield. One boomer shed tears from King’s Cross to Five Dock about ‘killing a man’ (he was referring to Vietnam). I left a semi-famous television presenter drunk on his front yard while insisting to me over and over ‘Do you know who I am?!’ I listened to men boldly lie to their wives about their whereabouts. Most heartbreakingly, one woman hadn’t told her parents over Christmas that she was working in a brothel.

The truth is, of course, that all these people were very normal. Very nice. And very Aussie.

2.  The other thing I learnt: the city is profoundly not-Christian. Many of my customers found out that I was a Christian (I was studying theology), and yet over a period of six years, I would have had only four or five say that they were Christian. The rest looked at me blankly, as though I was a dinosaur of Old Europe.

I think that the old term ‘post-Christian’ describes Australia (if we ever were). A friend thinks that if you want to reach Sydney for Jesus, you’ve got to think of her as being Paris. Christian-no-more.

Mark Driscoll often says that Seattle is one of the least-churched parts of the US (‘More Dogs than Christians’ etc). But I preached in Portland last year, and people were engaging in conversation with me all night about Jesus. I realised then that even in the Pacific North West, Christianity is still part of the American national dialogue. We have no such dialogue.

So, all of us who are interested in winning Sydney for Christ:

1. Is Australia a Christian Nation? And does this matter?
2. Is it worth fostering a ‘national dialogue’?
3. How do you speak into such a secular culture?

I’m here on York St.

Give us a clue.

Or comment over HERE.

Pic on Flikr by rtse.


Cameron and Alex Grey Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Louisa said...

Hey Justin, fascinating post. I see where you are coming from and it's certainly how I often feel about Australia but yesterday I read a post over on Rich's blog - - and I was reminded that we have many advantages and opportunities that aren't present in other countries because of our Christian heritage and I was encouraged.

Cameron and Alex Grey Jones said...

Christian nationalism is quite strong here in the British Isles. Some still sing Jerusalem believing the words and British Israelite thinking forms the basis for some groups' approach to politics, esp in Northern Ireland.

While most Christians over here would shun this there remains a cultural attitude that 'a Christian nation' is an accurate way of speaking about the state in the past and feel that it is worth actively pursuing and establishing some kind of Christian state in the present & future.

I suggest that the UK (or insert any country) is not a Christian nation, it never was, and never will be. I just can't see that it's a category of thinking that the Bible supports in these last days.

The state of which Christians are primary citizens is currently expressed in smallish local gatherings. While we wait we submit to the rule of the states in which we live as foreigners. Our care spills out to others who are not members but meet with us (the alien among us?) and those with whom we have contact in daily life.

What makes this more complex, and I suspect different to the New Testament age, is modern democracy. Part of submission to the state is participation in it. My approach to this tends toward Christians participating as citizens but who are not diverted from judging those 'inside' for holiness' sake rather than judging those 'outside' who we should not be surprised are immoral.

Inviting to change citizenship I think will happen primarily in the context of those individual relationships for which they are prepared and encouraged.

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