Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Oils at the Bowl

I almost made the calamitous mistake of choosing not to go and see Midnight Oil on their current ‘Great Circle’ tour. I figured I had seen them a couple of times previously, and I could do something else with the $100 that was the ticket price. I won’t make that mistake again. What was I thinking?!

So, when the opportunity came up last week to grab a ticket, my impulsive nature made an uncommonly good decision. I paid the price and got my ticket.

As I stood on the lawn of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl as the band came onto the stage, storm clouds were gathering around Melbourne and the rain was gaining momentum. The cool change had come and I was getting wet. But it didn’t matter. I was glad that stupidity hadn’t gotten the better of me by knocking back the chance at being here. This was the Oils at the Music Bowl. I looked around at the crowd, represented by a few generations as Peter Garrett broke into the famous, maniacal dance moves that only he can do. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. You know when you’re glad you’ve made a wise decision, and this was one of those times.

I first started following the Oils as a 13 year old. They have been part of my life for 35 years, and they are as good and energetic today as they were back in those heady days of the early 1980s when songs like ‘US Forces’, ‘Short Memory’ and ‘Read About It’ became legendary Australian rock anthems almost as soon as they were released.

The aura that Midnight Oil have had about them comes down to a few factors: no-nonsense, intelligent, unflinching political and social commentary which is as prophetic as it is bold, a tall, bald singer whose dance moves are uniquely natural and at the same time almost out of control, a passion and energy that brilliantly complements the lyrics of their songs, and finally, just really, really good, raw, authentic (non-manufactured) rock ’n’ roll.

It is a sad irony that many of their songs which were made so famous in the ’80s and ’90s are suddenly relevant again. ‘Blue Sky Mine’ is now an indictment on the Adani coal mine, and ‘US Forces’ brings up nightmarish images of Donald Trump’s massive spending increases on the military and his fawning of nuclear weapons.

The other thing that grabbed me about this tour was the impact of the legacy of Peter Garrett’s own political career. All now seems forgiven after he was seen by many to have sold out by entering the bureaucracy of the political machine in Canberra as a Minister in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Governments. People just wanted to come along to hear legendary Aussie rock. I think we are all just glad to have the Oils back doing what they do best.

Midnight Oil captured much of my generation in the ‘80s, and 30 years later they have captured some of the younger generations. I just hope that the younger people in the crowd at the Bowl during the week are able to appreciate what the Oils are about, and the impact they had on this country back then. They have always had their own sound, their own presence. It is theirs; they have never tried to be anyone they are not, from when they first started out in the Sydney pub scene in the late 1970s, to when they famously wore their ‘Sorry’ t-shirts in front of a global audience of 2 billion at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, to today, when they are rocking the world again, both musically and with their powerful criticism of injustice and environmental degradation.

When passion is combined with the goodness of a cause, the energy that is exuded can be breathtaking. Midnight Oil are the quintessential example of this. You know a band has legend status when they can play their greatest songs and the lead singer can just stand back, hold the microphone to the crowd and let us sing, and we all know every word. It is a reciprocal gesture of respect and giving. The Oils have given so much to us over the decades, and we want to keep turning up to their shows and give back to them.

Midnight Oil have been a major part of my inspiration to be a part of the solution to the problems of the world since I was a quiet teenager. Who would have thought that a lanky, bald, tall singer with a crazy dance routine, and his band of brilliant musicians, could influence so many? You wouldn’t read about it.

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On being an acrobat (I’m an expert)

I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
‘Cause I need it now
To take the cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can’t let you go
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that

U2, Acrobat

I was talking with some friends tonight, and we got on to opening up about the contradictions we live with inside ourselves, how we can appear all righteous on the outside but have the darkest of thoughts on the inside. And they can happen from one minute to the next.

I am amazed often by my own contradictions. I can be incredibly loving to someone, and then minutes later have thoughts that are so selfish I wonder where they come from. I can relate to the acrobat in the song quoted above, talking like this and acting like that. I know my own hypocrisy, how I appear to so many people, but how I at times feel like a fraud. There’s that voice inside me that tells me that a genuine person would never have thoughts that are that egotistical. It’s the voice that says you’re never really good enough.

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Book review – Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions

Russell Brand is an addict. That doesn’t define him, but it is what he identifies as, and what he has to remind himself of every single day.

Most of us would know Brand as the eccentric comedian and movie star with the slightly annoying Cockney accent. But his new book, Recovery: Freedom from our addictions, tells the story of the real Russell Brand, the man behind the image, and the one whose life was a complete mess until 14 years ago.

Identifying as a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict, and as having various other addictions, this book reveals Brand as humble, brutally honest and a man revelling in the new life that has resulted from him vigorously living out the !2 Steps every day of his life since he came into recovery in 2002.

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A time to be still

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How our culture breeds addiction

I’ve just finished listening to Russell Brand’s new book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, and it’s got me thinking.

Russell is a very astute social commentator as well as a quite eccentric comedian, and his take on the influences on our society is quite profound.

What struck me as I listened to his book was the extent to which our culture is a breeding ground for addiction.

Russell Brand would know. He self-defines as a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict and as having various other addictions that pretty much wrecked his life. Drugs were his main form of addictive behaviour and he is now 14 years clean.

In his book, Brand talks a lot about how we live in a society that bombards us daily with the message that we can be happy filling our lives with externals, whether they be the more obvious addictions like the ones Brand has struggled with, or the more subtle and acceptable ones like consumerism and the obsession of fitting as many experiences into our lives as possible.

In truth, we all have addictive patterns of thinking and behaviour. We all use externals to fill our lives with things designed to make us feel better. Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr calls these our programs for happiness.

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When the only words are tears

This is probably the most important article I have ever written. Rowland Croucher gave me the huge honour of writing it in the wake of the passing of his dear wife, Jan. This is more his article than mine.

Many readers will be aware that Jan Croucher, wife of counsellor and pastor to many, Rowland, passed away recently after a four-year battle with cancer.

A few months before Jan’s passing, Rowland shared on Facebook the depth of grief he was experiencing as he watched his life partner of 57 and a half years become weaker and sleep for most of the day. His own summary expressed it best:

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The forgotten Christians

Since the time of Jesus, millions of Christians have had a fascination with visiting the Holy Land. It is a pilgrimage for many of us, almost in the same way as visiting Mecca is for Muslims.

For much of my adult life I have wanted to visit the biblical sights in Israel, and last year I finally had the opportunity.

My work in the area of aid and development, as well as my passion for justice to be done for people living on the margins of society, had alerted me to the plight of Palestinians in the Holy Land. I didn’t know a whole lot about the conflict and its history, but I did know that Palestinians were the ones being oppressed and that therefore, as a follower of Jesus, I wanted to know more about the conflict from their point of view.

Our view of the world is determined by where we stand. Too often in Christian circles, we stand with those in power. If we stand with power, we will see the world from that point of view. This has been the case with Christendom ever since the time of Constantine. But if, like Jesus, we stand with the oppressed, we will see the world from their perspective.

This is where we need to understand something that is terribly misunderstood in the church: God plays favourites.

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Does it really matter what we believe?

Why do so many Christians care about alleviating poverty and working for justice in the world? Put simply, what is their theology, and does it really matter?

Theology in itself is the study of God and of God’s relationship to everything else in existence. For some people theology conjures up images of people in ivory towers poring over books and doctrine and other things that don’t seem anywhere near related to the realities of life on the ground. But it is crucial that we have our theology right. It matters what we believe.

Much of the theology we hear in our churches is basically individualistic, Western, and focuses ultimately on saving souls and getting people into heaven. Within this worldview, the alleviation of poverty and working for justice are seen as good things to do, but they are not as important as saving souls, because people’s eternal destiny is what really matters in the end. The other stuff is just temporary.

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All the lonely people

The other night I had dinner with a group of friends after church.

I wasn’t too keen on going at first. The introvert in me wanted to go home and get on my laptop, scroll through Facebook for a bit and generally just be on my own. But after being with my friends for couple of hours, discussing all sorts of things from life to ethics to travel, I went home marvelling at how much I had enjoyed my time with them.

As I drove home thinking to myself about how much I had enjoyed the evening, I started thinking about how our society encourages isolation and individualism, and what that breeds. Australia has some of the worst sets of social statistics in the world. Our rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness are through the roof. One person takes their life every three hours in this country. It’s a staggering and sobering statistic.

At the same time, Australians have never been better off materially. We live in the richest time in history. According to financial institution, Credit Suisse, Australia was the second richest country in the world, per capita, last year. We have been in the top three for the last few years.

In a culture where we are told that happiness is just a lotto win away, where freedom is getting away from your loved ones and being out on the open road in your new car, and where life would be perfect if we just had that next promotion, the promises are not delivering.

I remember some years ago speaking to a work colleague who is from Kenya. She had recently come to Australia to live and she couldn’t believe how many people live alone in this country. In many African cultures, community is just a way of life.

I have long been fascinated by the African concept of Ubuntu. It is the idea that we gain our identity by being part of a group. In most Western cultures, we see our identity as individuals; we are very ‘I’ centred. Ubuntu, on the other hand, says, ‘because we are, I am’. I get my sense of who I am from being part of a group. It is about belonging to something bigger than ourselves.

There is a story of an anthropologist who conducted an experiment with some African children. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got there first won the fruits. When he told them to run they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that, as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: “Ubuntu. How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”

There is something deeply biblical about this. We have been created for relationship, for community. However in our churches we talk about our faith in an individualised sense. We talk about our own personal relationship with God as if that is the only way we relate to God. The early church saw things differently. They saw life as lived in community. In Acts we are told that the believers had no private ownership of their possessions. They shared everything, and as a result, no one was in need. Apparently it was so important that it is mentioned twice, in Acts chapter two and chapter four.

The church needs to rediscover its prophetic counter-cultural stance. We are just as consumeristic as the rest of the culture. Meanwhile, Jesus whispers down through the ages, “’What will it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self?’ and ‘Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’”.

In Mark chapter 10, verse 30, Jesus says that no one who has left everything for him will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields. This verse can often be taken as a justification of some sort of prosperity thinking, but that just shows how our consumer culture has shaped us to think individually. What Jesus is referring to is just what the early church lived out: living together in kingdom reality, where people relate to each other in love. It is a taste of the kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray.

We live in a culture that sows the seeds of its own destruction. And Christians largely go along for the ride. Let’s ask for the courage and love to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus so we can be part of God’s work of renewal and not add to the problem.

This article first appeared on Christian Today on 24 August, 2017

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The weeping prophet

Recently I preached at church on Jeremiah. It was part of a series on the good, bad and ugly of biblical figures. 

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. The bad and the ugly has more to do with what he had to confront the rulers with than his own character flaws.

Listen to the sermon here.

Download my notes here, and download the PowerPoint presentation here.

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