There is nothing I like more than meeting a person who surprises you with a character that is refreshing and far from mundane. This interview with Fr. Rod has created a joyful series of conversations that spark the mind. The most refreshing facet of this man and his beautiful wife Kerry is that even though at times I am sure they fear the backlash that comes with being a messenger, they march on. They march on not because they revel in it. They march on because it is a calling. It is a calling that they cannot ignore. It’s the stuff that your soul emits in unison with your heart so strongly, that to ignore it would be emotionally dishonest. This is why the congregation has grown, this is why many Australians are intrigued and captivated by the message Fr. Rod echoes, its quite simple: compassion and kindness for everyone. Not everybody agrees. Is it easy? No way. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
This boy from the Hunter Valley, the son of conservative country party graziers is now the voice of many. In Part Two we chat about the lighter things in life; cubby houses, Lucifer, climate change, Netflix and so much more…
Kirsten: Ok, so now I am shifting the subject, but if there’s music that’ll get your foot tapping what would it be?
Fr. Rod: Can you believe I am not a huge music fan? (I audibly gasp) But, if there were one it would be Jazz. And improvised, very highly improvised Jazz. I think the biggest-selling Jazz album ever was Miles Davis and Arlo Guthrie, and they came together and basically just cut this thing like nothing in the day in these jams sessions.
I was actually out having drinks last Thursday night, and the guy at the piano was the guy who composed the music for the Compass documentary, and I asked him if he could play this because he’s a very clever musician. So he started playing it.
Kirsten: Okay, so I ask everyone this question as we always get the most interesting responses. As a child did you like tree houses or cubby houses? What would be your preference?
Rod: I’m a cubby house fan because I don’t like heights.
I can remember, we must’ve bought a new refrigerator or something at one stage when I was little kid. So, I created this cubby house out of it, and I spent a good couple of years in this box.
Kirsten: (Laughs) There you go.
Rod: But I did climb trees from time to time. I’m not fond of heights, though.
Kirsten: If you could meet with your 25-year-old self and give him a piece of advice, what would it be?
Fr. Rod: Don’t drink so much. Don’t waste a lot of time, money, and brain cells and use that money to travel. I kind of regret I didn’t, I should have. I had an opportunity to go overseas when I was 20, and I never did, and I still regret that to this day. I wanted to travel in my late twenties and early thirties.
Kirsten: What made you decide, was there a moment, was it a series of events, which lead you to be in service to God?
Fr. Rod: Well, there was no Damascus road. In fact, it was a long journey of resistance to an insistent call and people sort of encouraged me to be a priest and me agreeing at each step along the process to engage in that. At the same time, I was totally expecting that I’d be rejected by the Church and so I found myself, you know, the day of my ordination, not really understanding how I had got there. And there’s a sense in which I’m still in that process. I’m daring the Church to throw me out.
Kirsten: So I take it you’d have to walk a pretty fine line.
Fr. Rod: Sometimes.
Fr. Rod: While I’m accused of being progressive, I am, I think fairly theologically orthodox and especially regarding patristics in the early Church years. I know I’m not seen as orthodox by contemporary Protestant conservatives, but they’re not really orthodox in terms of the Great Theologians.
Kirsten: But I think too, one of the reasons people find you progressive is because you guys have a real social presence. You are literally streaming online. You’re on Facebook for starters and churches don’t usually have a strong following on social media. This is not your usual stiff upper lip, cause no waves Anglican church!
Fr. Rod: 150 followers is the average for many churches.
Kirsten: Exactly! You’re up front and center, you do it very well, but it’s also the way you explain theology. It’s very friendly, it makes sense, it’s logical, and it’s not stale. People want to listen to you.
Could you tell me a little bit about your passion for climate change?
Fr Rod: Yeah I have to say we have been very focused on the last few years on refugees. It’s taken over a bit of the agenda for obvious reasons, and in more recent times focus has been on the marriage equality debate. I am hoping this will be resolved quickly and we can get on with other things. Note: this interview happened before the wonderful marriage equality results
I mean, the climate is the ultimate question for us, for our generation, my children and my grandchildren’s generation. It’s going to be the defining subject over the next 100 years. It’s the defining ethical subject; it’s the defining scientific and economic question. It’s the new paradigm. We are the economic paradigm in which we have been in for the last 70 years. It’s crumbling after the GFC. We’ve propped it back up again, but it’s crumbling, and the emerging paradigm has to be the environmental and ecological paradigm. It’ll be the new economy.
Kirsten: The new economy?
Fr. Rod: Yes it has to be. It’s farcical to watch the old right clinging to their coal philosophy when even AGL are saying, um no, that’s old, that’s the old we aren’t interested anymore. They know money is in renewables and clean energy! You know we are so close to this renewable technology being introduced, so why on earth would you invest in coal fired?
But there will be ethical and moral questions to ask in this process, and I think this is where theologians need to be.
KM: You are bringing back the cool. Reminding us of why we look to women and men that question everything and bring our ethics and what we stand for to the forefront. Which leads me to this part of my questioning: Why is it seemingly so uncool sometimes to be Christian? I said to someone at a dinner party that it seems to be very zen and modern for people to be Hindi, Buddhist, or even Zoroastrian, Muslim, anything other than Christian. But it seems to be very uncool to be Christian; this seems a bit unfair!
Fr. Rod: Yes they seem to be the flavor don’t they? (Hearty laughter injected from my interviewee)
Fr. Rod: I think the life and teachings of Jesus, has an enormous amount to offer society. The basic doctrines of Christianity are an anchor that we let go of at our peril in that sense because we float off into this sort of nothingness. But I think we can get a bit obsessed with that side of things and not so much on the social ethics.
Kirsten: Outside of all of this theology, as a regular bloke, what do you like to do?
Fr. Rod: I don’t get much time to relax, it’s quite foreign to me! I grew up in an environment where you didn’t take holidays, and so my brain isn’t programmed in that way. Which is not a very healthy. I am not very good at relaxing, I try and take time each day to walk. I am 55 Type 2 Diabetic with high cholesterol, a very typical 55-year-Old Australian male. (more laughter)
I enjoy getting home, after a long hard day and having some cheese and bikkies, a glass of pinot noir; occasionally I get to veg out I will binge watch something on Netflix. I just finished binge-watching Lucifer.
KM: NO WAY! Are you serious? Ok, if you are watching that, I am so watching that! What did you think? (I am shocked, gaping like a goldfish and laughing).
Fr. Rod: Well it was challenging for a while because Lucifer’s Dad- God is portrayed as a very capricious character, very punishing and I was resistant to this! I am like: God’s not like this! He’s not like this! But the more I watched it; I think he is portraying God in a way in which many people see God. And while it made me uncomfortable, and I don’t believe God is like that I had to acknowledge that this is how many view God.
And you know, Lucifer is the devil, and he does kind of challenge in the show this idea of “the devil made me do it” type stuff. He comments that humans make their own choices and actions, his only job is to punish them, he doesn’t make them do anything. Not that I believe in that either, but I have found it challenging, thought-provoking. Its the antithesis of what I believe but it reminded me of how endemic folky religion is in our culture. Because that is what a lot of people believe. I am a Game of Thrones fan.
Kirsten: Now I like you even more. (grinning) This is my all-time favorite series. We actually have a GOT night at our house with friends and eat special dessert. Seriously.
Fr. Rod: I like Tyrion Lannister, he is the archetypical human in that he is carnal, but also has a social ethic, that he actually doesn’t want people to be hurt.
Kirsten: His transformation in the show is pretty entertaining and so complex!
Fr. Rod: Yes, because he is vested in good, even though he is a drunken fornicator and even a user and abuser of women which I hold to be highly immoral and terrible. But his complexity fascinates me. I enjoy the religious metaphors in the show, the use of faith metaphor because I think that’s quite challenging too. You know, we are in the process of electing a new bishop… (and there might be a few GOT’s comments, as well as Dutton…I am leaving the next 10 minutes out, what gets said off the record stays off the record) (grin inserted).
The conversation continues in Part Three… where we discuss some serious business like Homosexuality, Kingdoms and that Heaven thing people get so hung up about.