Your Freedom to be Masked; Our Freedom to Encourage Face Liberation

How do you feel about citizens routinely being masked or veiled? If you are as enamored by the human face as David Sretenovic is, you may appreciate his exhortation to encourage the liberation of the face in Australian culture.

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I once posted a Facebook comment which elaborated on the sheer magic and vitality of the human face. It was deliberately positive-subversive in its intent to stave off the creeping influence of those sub-cultures which practice face-veiling (covering the face with a mask or veil of some sort) in general civic life, especially targeting women. The communicative value, the beauty, the identity-symbolism… applying veils to women’s faces publicly has an effect akin to land being starved of water until drought sets in. To me, there are very few things which are more dehumanizing, identity-crushing, esteem-destroying, marginalizing and barrier-raising than the act of covering a face. Of course, the magnitude of these potential ill-effects for the individual will depend on how much personal volition is involved versus imposition. But I think there is a way in which the rest of society suffers for the loss of a face, regardless of the individual’s perception of it which can be relative to their personal experience.

As I see it, the practice goes right to the heart of social foundations. I wonder what the reader might consider to be the absolute foundations for their ideal society. For the average twenty-first century citizen, you could easily pluck a feel-good platitude from the barrel of political correctness: freedom, liberty, democracy, self-determination, law, justice… the list goes on. My pick from this list would be freedom. But I’d say that the human face is no less important than freedom. A healthy society requires freedom, and it needs faces equally — possibly more so! I’m risking overstating the argument here, but to me it makes sense to put it so strongly.

So to the ends of encouraging healthy foundations, I’m going to speak to those who feel that face-veiling is important, and especially to those pushing for religious face-veiling (e.g. the Muslim niqab/burqa). In the case of Islam, I do not see a convincing case that the religion requires it. There are too many Muslims globally who do not wear it for that to be true. According to the Quran, neither Allah nor Mohammed demand or expect Muslim women to wear face-veils. It would be inaccurate — and actually quite an affront to their own religious freedom — to suggest that a woman with an unveiled face is any less holy or devout than a woman with a face-veil (find a further rebuttal to the Islamist interpretation of the Quran via this link). If we were to take a sample of Muslim women from across the globe, there would be a mix of attires: some all in black with face-veils, some not even showing their eyes, some would have more colourful garments, some with just head-scarves, some without any head-covering at all. The popularized understanding of Islam in Australia is this: it is a woman’s choice as to whether they wear a face-veil. It’s a free choice! And when it’s a free choice, there is room for cultural considerations. So naturally we in Australia will encourage women to liberate their faces, as this is our cultural value here.

For my part, this is a message which ought to be put plainly to the Australian public: Islam does not require face-veiling, therefore discouraging it is not religious intolerance. It cannot be religious intolerance driving this message because we understand that Islam allows the freedom to choose; we are not rejecting the religion, we are asserting it. No, rather it is the value of the human face which is driving this message. I simply don’t think we ought to be backward about telling Muslim women what our preference here is! It’s their choice: the Aussie way or not, but we would truly be blessed if they would allow their face to be seen. (Of course, they can still be Aussie with a face-veil, but honestly, they are opting out of a liberty which is as fair-dinkum at the heart of Aussie identity as the Simpson Desert and as true blue as the surf).

The reality is that there are “cultures” (or communities and political groups) which do enforce face-veils, but rejecting these cultural practices is far from attacking Islam or practicing religious intolerance. Here in Australia it has not traditionally been our culture to encourage face-veiling. But we are also a nation which generously opens our borders and welcomes the world, so our culture will have a fluidity to it. As I said above, there is too much at stake at the foundations of our society to encourage face-veiling, so I’m interested in shaping our culture for the better.

In order for cultural practices to be meaningfully swayed, one looks to authorities to set the tone and direction. So who are the authorities in Muslim countries and communities where face-veiling is prevalent? It seems to me that it’s largely men. In Muslim communities typically the men appear to have the positions of authority in public civic matters, and if this is true then the burden of responsibility rests more on their shoulders at this time; minimally, men in such contexts have more power to influence attitudes towards wearing face-veils (whether rightly or wrongly, and regardless of Western ideals). To bring this point to a head: men, do you wish for the faces of women to be covered in public? I’m asking that, in Australia, you use your roles and positions (whatever they may be) to encourage and nurture the benefits of veil-free living in Australia — we here value women’s faces in public. Clearly this would not be crossing Allah…so what could possibly be convincing men to do otherwise? Hmmm…

Folks say that in Australia, individuals are free under law to wear what they wish: face-veil or no-face-veil ought not to be anyone’s concern. But this is only one layer in the picture. In reality, folks are bound by the behaviour of those around them, as well as expectations. Let me give a few analogies to illustrate. If someone were to be living in a household which hates witches and practices violence against them, it would be very difficult for that individual to own up to having taken up witchcraft. Of course by law they are “free” to proudly practice witchcraft but they will not have that sense of freedom due to their surroundings. Other examples: peer-pressure in schools; “coming out” sexually; admitting that you are dating or marrying cross-culturally. These are all scenarios where “freedom” according to law is a false reality, or at least they are situations where the law only facilitates a shallow experience of freedom.

There are also laws under laws. An eighteen-year-old is legally permitted to buy and drink alcohol in Australia, but not if he’s at school; the school law binds him in that context. And there are general “laws” of authority in place culturally — social norms if you will. One crucial social norm for the matter at hand is the persistent idea that a man has authority or superiority over a woman in some way. Wherever this is a cultural norm, even in Australia, then the assertion of “male-female equality” is no more than a façade; what the male expects will be the law that holds sway there. Another important social norm is Sharia Law, even if it is not legislated at a federal level. The crucial question is this: does Sharia Law encourage women to wear face-veils? If not, then it’s all the more weight upon the shoulders of Muslim authorities in Australia to discourage face-veiling. But if it does, then clearly women are not as “free” to choose whether they wear face-veils as Australian law suggests.

Appendix: My Assumptions in this article.

Did this article stimulate some thoughts? Are you interested in supporting or alternatively opposing any of my or others’ thoughts on the matter? Go for it! Rigorous, honest and passionate dialogue is what we need. This appendix is designed to be a source of suggestions for where debate may be helpfully and practically directed. In this article, my assumptions include:

  • Islam does not require face-veiling as a religious imposition, or a requirement of Allah or Mohammed.
  • Australian culture does not encourage face-mask wearing as a public norm. (Despite Ned Kelly’s legendary status 😛 ).
  • In Australia, men and women, boys and girls are equally valued.
  • In some countries, men and women are not valued equally.
  • Men do not have authority over women as a natural right; women have equal eligibility for authority as men, including equal social status and value in civic, business and governmental spheres.
  • Those in a position of privilege and authority have more power, and a burden of responsibility, to initiate changes for good in society.

A Good Shepherd; More Than Sheep

Ever looked back at a time when you were a bit of a “sheep”? Ever been mistreated by an authority figure? David Sretenovic shares a meme and a thought on that plight of humanity: to be shepherded.

memekraftsheepcrook(Meme by MemekraftDS, 19/02/17)

I got to thinking this week…

We’re all sheep in a sense, but there is an awakening process. I also think there are different types of shepherds out there. I think of pastoral figures, but also authorities across society, from politicians and doctors to teachers and parents. There’s a fine line to walk. A shepherd has a privilege and responsibility to nurture humanity but not clutch at control.

John 10:11 is also gold.

Peace on your journey!

— David

Free to Reject (spoken word poem)

“The ultimate in unconditional, gospel love… at least that’s my goal.” In this spoken-word poem, David Sretenovic expresses his vision and faith for life and life after death: hope for all, bar NONE. (Video and lyrics only)

Free to Reject (spoken word poem)

By David Sretenovic — November, 2016

You are free to reject this; That’s what makes it the gospel; I won’t use coercion, pure and simple; There can be no threat, if agape is in use; and risk can’t exist if omniscience and love fuse; To me the gospel’s simple: it’s unconditional love; selfless and pure, guaranteed from Above; And here’s the kicker: there’s no catch to it; You can give Christ the finger; And tell God to shove it; You’re free to curse Him; You’re free to hate; go ahead and murder Him; I’ve done worse to date; And you’re free to oppose me; You’re free to prove me wrong; if enemies abuse me, gospel love echoes-on; Attack the church; join a cult; change your gender; what’s the result?; Nothing changes from God’s POV; The gospel embraces every single body; Because God sees it coming; And technically you can’t bother; The king on his throne; Who’s got your back like a brother//

For me the Good News is that heaven is for all; Otherwise, it can’t be heaven at all; That’s the beauty of the Christian game; We all came from love and our destination is the same; If God is truly able to do as He desires; Couldn’t he choose to quench Hell’s fires?; Sure I’m not God, I can’t see beyond the grave; but I’m just not inspired unless all are saved//

Think for a moment what has captured the human mind; the most divine images your heart can find; The purity of a child; The nurture of a mother; a wild west sunset; The climax of a lover; Reading that love letter; tasting a vintage wine; memories from that picture; a symphony sublime; The love of a dog; or a campfire moment; finding a galaxy; oooh that perfume scent; Perfect geometry; sculptures of Rodin; surfing Oahu’s wave; holding her hand; Your head on his shoulder; dancing slow; That desert rose; the orchid in the snow; These are all a taste of a heaven guarantee; our souls are meant for a garden of ecstasy; This is the hope I have to share; the gospel of Christ takes us all there; And you’re free to reject it; That’s what makes it the gospel; who needs coercion? Not Christ in the Bible; The truth is that love is everywhere and nothing is at stake for a perfect God of care

iVenerate – Jerry and the Cult

This blog takes a quizzical look at the concept of worship and veneration of a “god”. David Sretenovic urges the reader to be realistic about faith and miracles … and also empathetic. [Reader note: “M-rated” for language]

So I’ve got this mate, Jerry, who I went to high school with and I have a lot of respect for. He comes up to me and tells me about this dude they’ve been visiting weekly. The dude lives nearby and works locally… apparently he’s a great guy. But Jerry and his family go there and pray to him. They worship him. Like actually, worship him … bow down, give him their money and do what he says. Jerry is an intelligent guy whom I’ve known for years, but he’s completely given up all his life plans and is simply doing as this guy directs.

Seriously concerning stuff. Hearing all this, my mind just goes, “Cult. Weirdos. How could my mate get sucked into this stuff? They seriously need help. This guy’s pulling some scam.”

The fact is though, as a Christian, all of the above is pretty much how I treat Jesus Christ (God). So, what gives? [Oh, and the above scenario: yeah not real.]

I got to thinking recently that if, hypothetically, I had lived in the city of Jerusalem where the Twelve Disciples were recruited, I would really struggle to do what they did. I seriously think that if I was told that my friends had become devotees of a local guy, claiming Him to be God and literally forsaking their past life for his agenda, I would write them off as fools. Take it further: is there any chance I would bow before some guy — just a local tradie (literally a carpenter)? I actually cannot see myself doing that. I simply see humans as humans, and no one deserves to be worshiped; I am equal, and there’s no way anyone can subordinate me in such a way.

Unless.

There is a genuine qualification I must discuss. If this “dude” proved himself to me. Then, and only then, could I possibly be convinced to elevate him in some special way. I wouldn’t lightly be convinced, but there are probably a few things, of the miraculous kind, which could pique my attention and begin to sway me. For example, if he told me things about my past which no one else knew, or read my mind, that would impress me. If he was able to materialize (like magic) certain things on demand, that would get me to think again. Hmmm, let’s say my friend was decapitated in a local skirmish, and I saw the dude bring him back to life by restoring his head — yeah, I’d be impressed with that. And if he healed my sick child, or if the dude himself was killed and then came back to life. There would come a point where I’d feel like I’m denying my own reality to consider this guy equal to me; I’d have to acknowledge he’s not a normal human at some point. So, apparently this happened to the Twelve Disciples — okay.

What also needs to be added to this picture is that the religion of the disciples, Judaism, had established, recorded prophecies which were being fulfilled before their very eyes. That would, for religious folk,  be an incredible confirmation of what they were witnessing. And these miracles continued throughout their lives, even after Christ departed. Therefore, if all of the above were true, I could not blame them for being convinced to the point of worship. Sure, if the Bible is fiction, then it’s fiction. But the logic remains. And I still need to make my point.

Unless I experienced the far-fetched, unearthly proofs I mentioned above, there is NO WAY I would come close to devoting myself to, let alone worshiping, a guy, just a local tradie.  Unless I saw and experienced some bloody impressive and mind-blowing miracles, I’m sure that I would make doubting Thomas look like a hero of faith. There is no way I could be moved to the point of worship without this context.

The punch-line to my blog is this: it would be completely out of my hands as to whether these miraculous proofs were displayed to me (either in historic Jerusalem or today). The booming corollary is this: my present faith in Jesus, and my subsequent worship of him, is completely dependent on the one with the supernatural power. God.

So I am in no position to blame or resent someone for not having faith. How f*!#-ed up that would be. Nowadays I simply enjoy my own faith, and do what I can to allow others to enjoy what I do. But the actual moment of faith, getting others to see what I have seen, and experience a paradigm-shifting miracle. Pfft! That’s His prerogative! Lol.

Blessings in Christ

David

Brian Zahnd — My personal promo and thoughts on “Mars”

David Sretenovic applauds Zahnd’s inspiring, incisive and eloquent book “Farewell to Mars” (2014). He also adds to the conversation with a few thoughts about our inner and outer dialogue in response to Zahnd’s thesis.

I highly recommend the book “A Farewell to Mars” (2014) by Brian Zahnd to everyone, but especially Americans, and especially Christians. Chapter eight is one of the best book chapters I’ve ever read, full stop. Ideally I’d love to give a full book review and include some of the choicest theological quotes I’ve yet seen, but for now I will just point to one segment, as a symbol of this book’s force in current theological and civic dialogue.

Chapter eight has the same title as the book “A Farewell to Mars”, and thrusts home Zahnd’s booming thesis, that the War-god Mars represents a polar opposite to the Peace-God Christ. When Cain killed Abel, he was serving the former God; when Jesus didn’t kill, he inaugurated a new Kingdom of anti-violence and anit-war. That is the context for this quote (emphasis is mine):

“…on August 6, 1945, the world crossed a threshold. Human capacity for killing is now totalized. We can kill the whole world if we want to. Will we continue to believe the lie that we have to kill the world in order to save it? This is the lie Cain told himself. In a mystical sense, Cain killed the world when he killed his brother. Then he built the city of human civilization upon the lie that we can do good by killing.”

Firstly, I zealously commend Zahnd’s inspiring, Christ-led and Christ-honouring heart and message – read the book, it’ll both inspire and confront you (with a fluid, witty and sage-like style)! Secondly, I’ll add these thoughts for pondering. When Zahnd says that “Cain killed the world” he is pointing to a pattern of life which is categorically damnable. But the truth is, it was God who was responsible for Cain being conceived and born in the first place. God was responsible for Adam and Eve being created. God was responsible for it all. So in a real sense, extrapolating on Zahnd’s statement, God killed the world when he started it.

There’s a thin line between those two assertions though, that of free-will. Did Cain have the freedom of will to not kill Abel?

I’ll put it plainly: I don’t care what the answer to the question is right now. But what I am caring about here is this: blame. The beauty and power of Zahnd’s book is his ability to entwine history, literature, theology, modern civic discourse and ancient prophetic texts into a captivating Mona Lisa; he carves a delicate, exquisite sculpture with a chainsaw in a way that really convinces you that this is how it ought to be done! I’m inspired and in awe! But I am exploring where his ideas lead us individually in our own thoughts about blame. Where are we directing the blame as we live out our new paradigms: to God or to Cain … to our neighbour, or to ourselves?

Peace be with you! … “the first word of a new world” 😉

— David Sretenovic

September 2016

I am a Child of Power

David Sretenovic shares insights into his personal odyssey of parenting, and in particular the power he associates with that uniquely human trait: the ability to make self-determining choices.

This past week I lived out a breathtaking moment which I had envisioned as a teenager; it was a moving spiritual encounter which outdid anything I had imagined. I remember dreaming of being married with children, and living out the role of the potter: the clay of my children at my fingertips. Their physical and social experiences indeed, but central to my awe was that most divine, fragile and intimate treasure: their heart, mind and spiritual selves. That proposition, perhaps above any other, gave me such a zealous respect and passion for life and a desire to manifest an excellence as pure as my humanity allowed. I knew that one day I would hold in my charge the most precious entity on the planet, that is, a pristine soul, a sentient canvas: my own child. And I would also be the shaper of the social cocoon into which my child emerges and which immediately imprints itself onto this palpitating extension of myself. I knew that one day I would be guiding my child to understand who she (in the case of a girl) is, and initiating her into the power she possesses as a human being.

And so it was this week a particular conversation arose, quite spontaneously, and I explained to my daughter a concept which is summarised in a refrain which has echoed through our house all week. You can see Andjelia explain it in the linked 10-second video (here): “sometimes you choose, sometimes I choose.” She has been growing into a bold and clever little girl, and her emotions, desires, needs and wants have, in natural turn, collided with the sometimes-giving-but-mostly-unyielding world. That is – for the time being – mostly us, her parents, hehehe 😉 … who have the prerogative of setting boundaries to help her come to grips with the fact that there is never in fact only two options. So it was time for me to talk her through some parameters of negotiation when her and our wills collide: sometimes I will allow her to choose, but at other times she won’t have that luxury and I will expect her to comply… moreover with increasing amiability. (In truth, “sometimes you choose, sometimes I choose” is mostly helping me control her hopelessly fickle wardrobe flights of fancy, and the tantrums which ensue when all I’m flippin’ trying to do is get her dressed and get on with the day – aargh!)

In my mind, for her to understand the power of her choice is unquestionably one of the most significant gateways she will ever pass through. I want her to realise that this is what makes her human, and what allows her to give another human their dignity – to nurture humanity in the world around her. She is a real, infinitely unique, beautiful, powerful and influential entity in the universe, and her ability to believe that strikes at the very core of identity. Perhaps above all other features of identity is that she is a human being, and she can choose to believe that or not. But also this: she is made from the stuff of perfection, filled with the essence of beauty, directed by the power of resurrection, and surrounded by a never-ending love. And I’m only referring to her family – I haven’t even started to describe what she has the choice to believe about God. I want her to know that she can choose to move, or not move, to give or take, to build or break, to submit or lead, to fulfil the role of sister, or not. I want her to be happy, so I am teaching her that she can choose. Of course, this will allow her to choose and fail, choose to believe lies and choose to abdicate her will. But I sense that I am giving her her humanity – the dignity to choose.

There is another reason I came to have this discussion with Andjelia. It was result of the best single piece of parenting advice which I have been given (“best” in terms of manifested, effective results). Prior to having children, my wife and I stayed at Misty Mountain health retreat where we were cleansed and invigorated in body and soul. Our host and teacher was Barbara O’Neil, and within her health and wellbeing seminars she counselled from her wealth of experience in raising children. And this advice, along with her anecdotes, stuck with me: “always work with the will.” The idea is to steer the child by giving choices and consequences, thereby keeping them onside without squashing that essential human trait of personality, and nurturing the emergence of a liberated, empowered will. My wife and I have applied it to the best of our ability, and on any given day you might see us responding to an intemperate child with a pair of options to choose from: “Andjelia, I know you’re upset that Jet is taking your pens but we don’t shout and scream. Now, do you want to stay here and share with him, or go to your room and draw by yourself?” I can’t thank Barbara enough for the way she implanted that concept – together with a punishment and consequences rationale – because it has given our daughter and indeed us a way out of strife so many times! And I think it is building a habit of reaching deep into herself and her identity as an overcomer in life, a critical thinker, a foresighted problem solver and self-directing soul. It’s giving her the tools to navigate the tensions within herself and conflicts in the world that she will face.

There’s an inevitable struggle which I already know is part of a human’s lot which she is yet to perceive. It’s that journey of self-discovery, and finding peace in a crazy-beautiful world which sometimes seems to be born of darkness. For now, she needs to understand and accept that as a little girl under our care, “sometimes she chooses, sometimes we choose.” But that is just temporary until she takes her own path. I want her to know that in time, she is going to be faced with a government, an ideology, a religion, a peer group, an identity theory, a personal insecurity, a destructive primal instinct – some faux power which is trying coerce and crush her – and she is going to stare that bully* down and say, “I am a child of power. And for me, you NEVER choose. I choose.”



* “bully” is a term which doesn’t do justice to the anger that rages within me at times towards the powers that can push their self-interested, annihilationist evil upon individuals. In fact in the original draft of this blog I used a different word which you could discover by watching the movie Good Will Hunting, the “you don’t want to hear that” scene where Will (Matt Damon) offloads onto Skylar (Minnie Driver) about his true past, and uses that choice slur to describe the person who stabbed him. I ultimately believe that God controls all, and so I’ve chosen this euphemism to reflect my hope at the best of times, rather than my rage at the worst.
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