The Tale of Two Tanyas 

The Long Strange March For Phillip Hughes


A couple of weeks ago a terrible tragedy occurred.

A 25 year old man from rural NSW died at his place of work after suffering a sudden injury in the course of his duties. His family and friends lost someone they loved very dearly. For them, the grief is unimaginable.

But  unlike the other 169 Australians who died at work this year, Phillip Hughes’s death while preparing for Test Cricket represented a lot more to the nation than even his own teammates realised.

Cricket enthusiasts were distressed, too by someone they knew by name and batting style. I am not one of those people, but I understand the attachment to people you’ve never met but relate to closely. I would hate for anything to happen to Taylor Swift right now.

I said that to demonstrate that you've heard of Taylor Swift. Why is there so much attention to someone who most people outside of cricket followers did not know?

The last week has been a fascinating insight into Australian values. The mainstream media devoted a large percentage of their reports on who was crying. Headlines were about who broke down while entering or exiting the hospital after the accident, who cried alone, and even how telling him the news made Steve Waugh’s son cry.

Was there ever a greater Australian father/son moment? Men were crying freely. All bets were off. Michael Clarke was a mess and that was ok. I hope the same understanding is applied to men everywhere when grief thunders in unexpectedly.

Most people I know had never heard the name Phillip Hughes before last week, which is why I feel sorry for the family that is genuinely suffering while the stars get the headlines for hurting.

Watching more closely I see a lot more than grief. I see fear. It’s all different now..

Every single  player who has ever picked up a bat from the backyard to the MCG knows, “That could have been me.” Every one who has bowled to get him out is thinking, “That could have been my ball.”

So much fear. This is not what cricket is about. Young, talented, committed cricketers are not supposed to die suddenly. Cricket, after all, is a sport where a man can engage in minimal risk and still get a ticket tape parade. He can be a hero for standing around for hours or days in the sun. It is got physically fit males, it is elite,  it is white (the non-white nations were brought cricket with colonisation) and the brotherhood is close. With all of that on your side, what could possibly go wrong?

In some ways, the death of Hughes has ushered fear into sport. No longer is it streakers, or match-fixing that were the worries of old, but of the very real vulnerability of each and every one of us. Even if you have everything in the world going for you, a bright future, and a big team of mates, life is cruel, sudden and seemingly random. There is no escaping its inexplicable and blatant unfairness.

Apart from some Buddhist lamas,  very few of us can get our heads around that. So this young man carries at his funeral and as his legacy the loss of the golden boy that Australia’s dreams are made of. No matter how much you achieve, or how much you think you can control, life can still sneak up behind you and change everything.

The sinking in of that knowledge is a very brutal blow to the Australian psyche. No one could have predicted what happened, and there must have been ten thousand close calls. Worse than this, could it happen again?

Well, yes it could and it did. An Israeli umpire who was a former cricketer died of roughly the same thing a week later, but Australians are not huge fans of Israelis, umpires or has-beens. So there’ll be no marching in the street for him.

He didn’t have all that potential, you see.. It is said that Hughes was good enough to play 100 test matches in his career. He’d already played 26.  Now, they will never know.

There is nothing more crushing to our ideals than the meaningless destruction of potential in youth.

Like a sporting James Dean, he will be heralded much higher than a legend, who holds fixed records. He will be a could-have would-have should-have been. Philip Hughes, the relative unknown will be remembered as an If-Only, almost a martyr, and that is a very privileged place to hold in history, one he probably would have found to be a burden in life.

The Tale of Two Tanyas


This is Tanya Riches, singer, songwriter, academic, researcher, Hillsong member and my friend. I've known her for a long time, and for the past few years we've grown closer, as much due to our differences as our similarities.  While I cannot bear anything Hillsong, Tanya is a vocal supporter of her church community. Personally though, she is kind, generous, and has a knock-out sense of humour. She is consistent and loyal and these are qualities that make her a great person and an amazing friend. 

We talk a lot about Hillsong, it's true, each of us tripping over ourselves to make sure we don't diminish the other, or our beliefs as we do so.  There seems to be a genuine bewilderment from both parties as to how the other has arrived at her conclusions, and this is part of our fascination. 

Something else we've discussed is the idea of having conversations. Its been my observation that the debates of atheist v person of faith have been overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly antagonistic, which doesn't achieve much, apart from well meaning people getting hurt, and rhetoric winning over all. It needed to be done; clever needed to be shown from the logicians' side, but it hasn't lead to much social progress. 

Tanya Riches and I took part in an interview, part one of which was published last weekend at TheBigSmoke. I hope we can demonstrate that being right isn't the most important issue in the world.  I hope it leads to more conversations between the two of us but also that we see more discussion between people of faith, and people without faith wherein resolution and agreement is paramount, not point-scoring and technicalities. 

Ms Riches is questioned by some Christians as to why she would have anything to do with me. It blows me away that she has to justify loving the sinner, but there are very clearly two kinds of Christianity I have seen emerge in my travels:

The kind that is about reaching out to others, and the kind that is about keeping people out.

Tanya Riches would heal the world if she could. I have my exceptions. ;)

But we both feel that we have nothing to fear from the other. She is confident that her god is bigger than anything I could do or say about her church, and I am confident that critical thinking will produce the same conclusions every time. 

Both of us care a lot about people living with disadvantage and making social change. Neither of us will change the other's mind, nor do we want to. What we do want to do is find a way to solve some very human problems together, not on opposing sides or at each other's throats, because so far that's produced very little meaningful change at all. 




America Loves Hillsong, but why?



Now that that awful Royal Commission thing is over, and there's to be no redress for Case Study 18/Hillsong/ACC, Pastor Brian can get back to the core business of Hillsong - world domination

And aren't things going swimmingly? 

First Hillsong New York Pastor Carl Lentz had a wonderful interview on HuffPost Live with Ahmed Shihab-Eldin where for 20 minutes in his low key beanie, Carl won the hearts of liberals with his friendly and smooth acceptance. His reputation has not been harmed by Justin Bieber's attendance and loyalty. 

Last month the recording of the DVD sold out Madison Square Garden and filming of the WB movie due out next Easter took place in LA. 

It seems Americans are loving Hillsong. 

CBS morning news did a report on Carl Lentz and it was glowing. At the end, the reporter says that she came away feeling great. 

We learn that openly gay couples are welcome but that Hillsong is not in favour of gay marriage, and that women can hold any role. We see Brian panting with delight watching Carl deliver his new marketing angle : we're not against stuff, we're for the Bible. 

It's clever and effective. In a nation exhausted by evangelicals going to extreme lengths to prevent abortion, same-sex marriage, and all other kinds of bodily morality, it must be a relief for those seeking god to hear they don't have to adhere to those standards to attend a Christian church. 


The exceptional pastor... up close and personal with Brian's boys at the Royal Commission

Photobombing Brian in 2005

Photobombing Brian in 2005

I've often wondered how people can attend the trials of people who committed crimes against their loved ones. The partners and families appear on our TV night after night, month after month and I wonder how they get out of bed, much less put on clothes and sit in court listening to details of horror.

To some extent, with all due respect, I get it now. I got a keyhole look into how you would go, and why. I still have no idea how these brave people do it for so long, but my respect for such families has only tripled since I attended the Royal Commission.

There are things that those of us who do not Instagram from the bathroom won’t speak about. There are things that Hillsong did to the people I love the most that I don’t share because they’re not for me to do so. They didn't kill anyone, but they robbed things from us that live in a place where I do not often go. These things are not scandalous, they’re just personal. And yeah, they still hurt.  When you see people you love hurt, it hurts.

So the whole Royal Commission thing was super confronting, but I needed to sit in a Federal government-controlled courtroom and see the men of God explain their way out of covering up child sexual assault allegations that were levelled against their founder.  And there were also thousands of people hurting too, that didn’t mind a little representing.

But it still meant getting close to the men of the AoG and for whatever reasons, it can still be pretty intimidating. And compelling. And macabre.

It’s been about 9 years since I was anywhere near Pastor Brian. The last time was outside Hillsong in Castle Hill where the local paper wanted to take some photos. By bizarre coincidence Brian was filming for the Australian Story episode that morning. He was dressed in full bike leathers, and from his Harley he gave me a look that I had never seen before. It took me a couple of days to work out what it was. He had looked straight through me as if he wondered why I still existed.

They arrived every day, five or six of them in fine suits, with the same hair and the same suits and the same look on their faces.  The hearings took place on level 17 so we shared the same floor, me and the men of the AoG. I did my best to keep out of their way. There is plenty of seating in and outside the court room and witnesses get to hang out in their own special room.

There were a couple of encounters however.  Only once did Brian Houston stop near me on his way through the area. We had been in proximity before but this time he looked at right at me for a few seconds,  and then turned away, as you would had you seen a stranger who did not register at all.

The Bible says that greater is He that is in the Christians than He that is in the World. I’m no magician. I’m not the pastor of an international church that Warner Bros is making a movie about.  I’m just a single mother with a big mouth.  Yet only one pastor in 4 days approached me.  The others seemed pleased with themselves that having come face to face with the Woman at the Well, they had restrained their contempt well.

But on day 3, during a coffee ordering round from the garden area behind the courtroom downstairs, in full view of others, one pastor approached me. He held out his hand to shake mine, smiled and introduced himself.

His name is Chrishan and I’ve needed to post about this, because credit has to given where credit is due. We literally had nothing to say after that, since it was pretty clear we were on opposite sides of the Colosseum. But he gave me more than Senior Pastor Brian Houston ever has: personal acknowledgement and something approaching the Christianity they seem so fond of claiming.

Not that it would have worked, but if I'd been Hillsong and some single mother with a big mouth wanted to write about me,   I’d have sent me flowers and casseroles every week and love bomb my cat until I was won over by their goodness and spitting image of Christ.   But we’ve had none of that so far. Just a letter saying don't come here anymore. And they took me off their Christmas card list. 

Maybe they know that once you go Reason/Logic/Critical Thinking/Science and Ethics, you never go back.  

I hope Chrishan didn’t get flogged when he got back to base.  It wouldn’t be surprising given the irony that goes along with everything they do. But he should be noted for being one in a million. And that’s a sad, sad tale for the folk of Hillsong.