Monday 18th January to Tuesday 19th
There is a considerable rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne (think Glasgow and Edinburgh!). So having been to the former it was time for us to head to the State of Victoria and investigate the delights of its capital. Melbourne is a city of some 3.5 million people and continually appears in the top ten cities in the world to live in, so we arrived on Monday with some degree of anticipation. We were not disappointed. The half had not been told.
Australian Open Tennis
We were met by our hosts from the Melbourne City Bible Forum, of which more later. And their first treat was to take us to the Australian tennis open. It was an incredible experience. We did not get there in time to see Andy Murray, but we did manage to see Thomas Berydch against the Columbian Alejandoro Falla. The speed, skill and strength of both players were amazing to watch. The Margaret Court and Rod Laver arenas are impressive, as is the whole complex. One observation wandering round the outer courts is that the women’s game seems very different from the men’s. Andy Murray went on to defeat an Australian called Matosevic, who got in a spot of bother by declaring about the women’s game: “It’s a different sport. I feel like women’s tennis is a different sport to men’s tennis”. It may not be popular but I think he has a point!
Sport is probably the great idol and the most important thing in Melbourne. Unusually for one city there are several major sports that are well supported. As well as the tennis, there is the strange game called Australian Football, and of course the greatest game of all, cricket. As we came out of the tennis we booked up and saw the famous MCG, Melbourne Cricket Ground. It is an amazing stadium, none more so when it is filled with 100,000 people on occasions such as the Boxing Day Test, and the upcoming Australia v. England in the one day international world cup. I hope one day to return and watch a proper game of cricket there.
Melbourne is also famous for its trams. Unlike Edinburgh’s which still seems to be a very expensive and unnecessary vanity project, Melbourne’s trams serve a more than useful function. They are the way to get around, and in the centre they are free and frequent.
Coffee and Culture
If sport is one ideal then it appears as though coffee is the other. Most Melbournians are coffee snobs – even the street vendors had complex coffee machines on their stalls. “Instant’ would seem to be the nearest thing they have to blasphemy!
And Melbourne is certainly a ‘cultural’ city. It is international – apparently the third largest Greek city in the world and has a large and booming Chinatown. It also has a tremendous reputation for food – something that in the short time we were there, we could testify to.
Banned from the Bar!
After the tennis, Robert Martin of CBF, wanted to take us to a very special place, a posh café at the top of the highest building in the city. A place that apparently John Lennox loved when he was a gust of CBF as well. Things did not however quite go to plan. We had just come with an overnight bag and by now thinking we understood something of the casual Aussie culture, I was quite relaxed coming in shorts, t-shirt and sandals. My mistake. I had to borrow a pair of trousers to get into the café (and the restaurant we ate at afterwards). The trouble is that they were clearly designed for a slimline Aussie male model, not a rotund Scotsman! I managed to fit into them, as long as the zip was open, the belt undone, and everything covered by my overhanging shirt – they were so tight there was no danger of them falling down- although walking was not the easiest! But alas it was all to no avail. The doorman would not let me in anyway – because of my sandals. We gave up and just went to the restaurant. It was a little embarrassing to be barred from a posh bar in Melbourne! I’ll just chalk it up to experience.
At the restaurant we were eating and lovely meal and discussing various ‘issues’ of the day from a Christian perspective, one of which was the whole same sex marriage cultural shibboleth. I glanced across to the neighbouring table and was amazed to see Martina Navratilova sitting there with a group. Given that she had just got ‘married’ to her lesbian partner in December 2014, perhaps it would have been interesting to invite her to join in the conversation!
City Bible Forum are a Christian organisation who work in Australia’s cities to help Christians witness through their work. From what I saw of their Melbourne work, led by the very able Robert Martin and his colleague, Andrew Laird, it is doing a great work. They are situated in the centre of Melbourne on a floor with an exotic and pole dancing training class. In one office people are being trained in communicating Christ, in the other they are being taught to pole dance. Even in todays twisted cultural anything goes Christianity, I cannot imagine anyone combining the two and coming up with ‘pole dancing for Jesus!
As Paul wandered round Athens, I too like to wander round cities and try to understand what people worship and the state of Christianity in the city. On one street junction I came across something that I suspect is indicative of the wider state of the Church in this wonderful city. At one corner was a ‘Uniting Church’ (a denomination formed from the Presbyterians and Methodists), called St Michaels on Collins. It had a big rainbow poster advertising The New Faith. Reading the literature it was clear that this was neither New, nor biblical faith at all. It was just simply paganism in a post-modern liberal guise. Christless Christianity. Across the street is the Scots Kirk. We got a lovely welcome there and again reading their literature is seems as though this is a solid and lively Presbyterian Church practicing the good old faith that is ever new.
The Gospel for Atheists
On Tuesday morning I had the privilege of speaking at a breakfast on ‘communicating the gospel to atheists’. This started at 7:15 and ended at 8:30 and was attended by a good crowd of business people and professionals (although sadly no pole dancers). It was good to share and to have so many questions. The only problem was of course that they were all sharply and smartly dressed for work, while yours truly looked like a cross between crocodile Dundee and a Florida tourist! But they were very gracious. One of them told me that Melbournians (if that is the right collective noun) pride themselves on being better dressed than their counterparts in Sydney. “It’s the weather”, he explained, “up there they have more of a beach and Barbie culture, here we are a bit cooler and so dress for the indoors”.
Gullible Atheists get Fleeced
Speaking of religion did you know that the New Atheists had their ‘World Atheist conference” here in 2011, with Harris, Dennett and of course Dawkins. I was somewhat amused to hear that Dawkins and the other main speakers were paid thousands of dollars, travelled first class and generally made a mint of their gullible followers, who paid $400 each for tickets. Apparently they were told it was so expensive because it was a ‘fully catered’ event. I know the food in Melbourne is good, but is it that good?! I find the whole celebrity atheist thing almost as sad and pathetic as the celebrity Christian nonsense. I guess the old saying is true – a fool and his money are easily parted.
Speaking of Dawkins – I was approached by a man who was at the outreach event I did in the Baptist Church in Nowra. He said he really wished his atheist brother-in-law could have been there, but he was otherwise engaged – listening to Richard Dawkins speaking in Sydney. I hope he didn’t pay for it. The bad news of atheism costs a lot; the good news of Christ is already paid for!
As to the $64,000 question, I cannot say which of the two cities I prefer. Sydney is more like London, and Melbourne like Paris. I loved both. One thing is certain though, like Athens, they are cites full of people worshipping idols and unknown gods and like Athens they too need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.