The Tale of Two Tanyas 

Here we go again... YAY

A few months ago, it was decided there was no time like a Warner Bros produced Hillsong movie to re-release People In Glass Houses. The original idea was to have it ready for the Easter premiere and that would be great timing.

And so I set about writing an update chapter to try to encapsulate the last 8 years since the book first came out in around 4000 words. This proved very difficult. So much has happened in these few short years all around the world.

There are more Hillsong outlets, more offshoot churches, Hillsong-run community services and school programs and youth programs and more Hillsong music than ever before. And of course, more scandals, as the inherently dangerous system spits out more victims of the never-ending promises that don’t quite make it.

So many issues, and so many individuals could be written about for this re-release, but for the sake of time and brevity, one chapter had to do. For now.

And so on 22 April 2015, People In Glass Houses (an Insider’s story of a life in and out of Hillsong) will be in stores near you. And if it’s not, insist that it is. Or buy one online for almost nothing.

This is pretty much all I know right now.  Except that Warner Bros quit and now there's a distributor called Relativity, which I like cos Hillsong is all about nepotism and mediocrity.

8 years is a long time, especially in book years. Especially in e-book years. This project is going to be really interesting.

Who do you blame for Leelah Alcorn's death?

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I've been thinking a lot about the death of Leelah Alcorn. Before we go on, I will refer to the subject here as Leelah and use the feminine pronouns because that is how this person identified. Whatever your views may be on the authenticity of transgender people, or their beliefs about themselves, what is clear from Leelah's final writings and signature is that she identified very strongly as female. Does that make her female? I can't say, but if honouring people's deepest held convictions about themselves means using one word instead of another, then that's not a big request.

But it's apparently the be-all and end-all for some people. Protesters have taken to social media to claim Leelah's suicide and her suicide note as this week's martyrdom; that her mother's initial response to news of her child's death using the masculine pronoun 'he' was akin to murder.

What has struck me again in this case is the screeching. When a tragedy occurs, and all teen suicide is horrific tragedy, complete unknowns appear to dictate to the situation, to judge, to scream and worse, to threaten.

I can't imagine the devastation of finding out your child has been hit by a truck accidentally or by choice. . Leelah's mother, Carol, posted on facebook that her child was dead. She referred to Leelah as Josh, and said that he had had an accident.

Perhaps soon after you get the news, you post something on facebook as a formality to explain to people what has happened. Perhaps you don't see yourself as the representative of all the people in the world affected by gender issues. Perhaps it's not a straightforward time.

So when people made the decision to dox her parents, to reveal their contact details, home address, places of work in order to intimidate them and to incite people to harrass them in whatever form might follow, it was a brutal response for the overwhelming majority who had never heard the name Leelah Alcorn. And it demonstrated the very intolerance and lack of communication and understanding that the screamers so loudly demand.

Because what else can that sort of intimidation hope to achieve? It won't bring Leelah back and it won't help any one else going through such a raw and sensitive time. It won't contribute to Leelah's siblings' trauma. It can only turn a nightmare into trauma that may punish, but won't resolve anything.  Surely the family should be allowed to bury their child without more threats and fear from complete strangers.

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There is no doubt that Leelah was going through hell. But by her own explanation there were a chain of events that led to her despair. And her parents were only one step. 

She went to her mother to ask to transition from male to female and her mother said no. Her mother said God doesn't make mistakes and took her to a Christian counsellor. Now, it's incredibly vital that people understand how terrifying it is for Christian parents to confront the idea that their child is going to hell for being a sexual deviant. For such devout parents, they would have not been able to compute the concept of their son wanting to change sex. It is forbidden in the Old Testament,  and considered punishable by hell in the New Testament.

It is Christianity that has so much to answer for. Guns may not kill, it may be the humans that pull the trigger, but if guns and Christianity weren't ever-present, the death rate would be way lower. In the wrong hands, Christianity can be lethal, even with the best of intentions. John Weaver's recent work on the harms that evangelical approaches to mental health cause is an excellent resource on this.

I have seen Christians posting that there were clearly demons bothering her, that it was just a teenage phase, and most outrageous, the old claim that God will use this devastation to bring something good out. Like how God sends ambulances to crash sites. Maybe he could have prevented the devastation in the first place. Christianity is so mentally abusive intrinisically.

Leelah's mother took her to a Christian counsellor where Leelah says she knew she did not get the help she needed. Christianity and counselling cannot co exist for anyone except the Christian who wishes to pursue that world view. For any one else it's laughable, it's dangerous, it's abusive, and it can be fatal. Things got way worse for Leelah after that counselling and it's the report that is consistently returned by mental health consumers who feel patronised, judged, and dismissed: the precise opposite of what seeking help is meant to achieve.

Sure, her parents are judgemental and probably bigoted. Did they contribute to her isolation and despair? I'm sure they did. But I'm also sure they're not lying when they say that they loved her. Few parents manage the announcement of an alternative gender or sexuality with their kids brilliantly first go, but those in the grip of fundamentalism are not equipped to do anything but react badly.

But when that family went for help, they went to those who are supposed to, above all provide professional responses to a young person with severely distressing mental health problems. They did not, and as so many people who come across bad psychological services will tell you, you don't reach out for help too often when it's failed miserably during the hardest times of your life.

Leelah's withdrawal was not surprising given her contact with Christian counsellors who were not willing or able to assist and her Christian parents' collusion with these 'experts'. These are the people staffing the counselling positions in Australian schools and they have to get out. Or the impact on kids like Leelah, or even kids with much less complex and rare circumstances, will be severe and potentially fatal. It is not a case of gentle pastoring. Christian counselling can be incredibly dangerous, alienating and intimidating to an outsider, especially a young person who is vulnerable and in need.

There are calls for the traumatised driver of the truck that Leelah threw herself in front of to be punished. He is being accused of being transphobic and conspiring in the suicide of a transgendered person. The world really is a stupid place. The Screamers really are making life difficult for those of us who want to see understanding, learning, growth, and support.

And those are the things that the Screamers claim to want. But with the explicit backdrop of violence and intimidation, we lose sight of who the real culprits are: those who knew Leelah's deepest fears the best, and chose to pray about it instead.

 

The Long Strange March For Phillip Hughes

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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

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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.