What am I up to?

My blog has been quiet, and my social media updates have been sparse, but if extrapolating from limited information is in your wheelhouse, you might have guessed that my personal life has been, ah, somewhat complex since early 2016. I’ll have more to say about that in future posts, maybe.

Work-wise, there has been plenty of upheaval too. I left a toxic job as a school IT manager at the end of 2015, and spent 2016 writing code in a workplace that proved to be equally toxic. I resigned in December without another job lined up, just to prioritise my mental health. It was so liberating to tender my resignation that I decided to return to freelance photography and consulting, rather than pursuing another full-time gig.

At first, I was planning to simply revive my photography brands (“one fine day photography” and “LUKE ARMS photographer”), and do some ad-hoc web development / digital consulting on the side. But as I went through the process of getting this underway, it became clear that life would be much simpler if I established one brand for all of my work (including writing, which I’m now studying at Griffith University by way of an online Bachelor of Communication).

I settled on LINA Creative, and have prioritised commercial headshots as the centrepiece of this new brand. I’ll continue to offer wedding and family photography, but won’t be marketing this actively–my aim is to achieve a steady stream of Newcastle and Sydney headshot bookings. Meanwhile, I’ll be studying and keeping my eye open for suitable casual or part-time work to fill up my weeks. I might even find time to write some of the posts / articles that are sitting in my head.

Onwards!

To my former self: be more sure

Hello, 20-year-old me. You’re probably not going to listen to this, but I’m going to say it anyway. You need to hear it.

In some ways, you’re mature for your age. You’ve craved adulthood, with all of its benefits and obligations, for as long as you can remember. You’re not married yet (lucky break last year, dude), but that sort of commitment doesn’t scare you. (You’re also 100% certain that honourable sex only exists within marriage, but I’m not sure why I’m mentioning this, because it’s definitely not relevant.)

You can’t see it yet, but you’re not just an evangelical Christian who feels confident in his faith and values. You’ll hate me saying this–you think you’re pretty edgy, with that earring and all–but you’re also a willing and able participant in the patriarchal systems of family, church and state you were born into.

Your faith? It might be real, but it’s been almost exclusively shaped by individuals and groups you’ve chosen for reasons of comfort and convenience. God hasn’t had much to do with it. Don’t worry, though–you’ll be thankful for that when most of your Christian friends abandon you. Good thing God isn’t in the abandonment business, amirite?

And your values? They are yet to be properly confronted with the realities of life beyond your comfort and privilege. Soon, as your eyes are opened, you’ll find yourself loving and respecting people who used to offend and disgust you, and it won’t be a distant, self-righteous “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing anymore. Your new values will come between you and the patriarchy, and you’ll eventually realise there’s no point hanging around trying to convince people to behave more like Jesus.

I know you’re not convinced, but here’s the thing: you’re going to change in the ways I’ve described, for reasons you can’t even begin to imagine yet, and it’s awful to change like that when you’re in a marriage that depends on you continuing to be who you were.

Add kids into the equation, and it will be even more difficult. Because even if you marry the wrong person, any children you have together won’t be a mistake. They’ll deserve the best their parents can give them, and doing that separately is a lot messier and more complicated than doing it together.

So, are you sure? Are you sure your values aren’t going to change so much you barely recognise yourself? Are you sure the bond between you and the partner you’re considering could survive that much change? And if you’re not, are you sure you can live with hurting her in ways she doesn’t deserve?

There aren’t many certainties in life, but take it from 33-year-old you: you can be more sure than you are right now. And if you don’t take the time to figure out who you really are–if you start a family now, while your worldview is so narrow and ill-informed (sorry, but it is)–you will burden many others with pain and regret that shouldn’t be forced upon them.

Please, be more sure. I’m begging you.

PS: To the handful of Christian friends who haven’t abandoned me: thank you. To the others, whether you’ve responded with judgemental silence or vicious vitriol: thank you for validating my concerns. The pain is already worth it.

Losing my religion (part 1)

I’ve been reliably informed that “losing my religion” means something else entirely, but it should be taken literally here. And if I lose my mind along the way, consider it a tribute to R.E.M.’s intended meaning.

Also: tribes are great. I don’t have anything against tribes. I’m just looking for a new one is all.

Last month, I came to the realisation that after 3 decades of committed involvement in Christian churches–my entire adult life and most of my childhood–it was time to leave the tribe.

Over the years, I’ve preached, been on music teams, done beach missions, led youth groups, attended conferences, and done heaps of other Jesus-related stuff, so this is no small thing. Reaching the point where I no longer consider myself a Christian represents a pretty major transition. (An “epic fall from grace,” you might say, if you’re a Christian.)

I’m not writing about my “unconversion” with a particular agenda. Many others have shared similar stories, and I’m not delusional enough to believe I have an Edgy New Angle on quitting the church that definitely deserves to go viral. I’m simply trying to straighten out my thoughts. I’d also like to avoid explaining myself hundreds of times.

So, what does it mean to “leave the tribe”? Some of my Christian friends have tried to comfort themselves with the notion that this is only about taxonomy–that I’ll be calling myself something different but carrying on as I always have. I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m not going to be rebranding myself as a “Jesus-follower” and living up to anyone’s expectations of such a person.

What I believe (or don’t) about spiritual things will be between me and a handful of others. Although I currently consider this to be more “identity crisis” than “crisis of faith,” I won’t be keeping you posted on how I’m tracking in the faith department. This is partly because I expect my spirituality to be a moving target (the more I learn, the less certain I am), and partly because I can’t see a good reason for you to know.

I’ll simply be another person trying to live a compassionate, wholesome, and balanced life. Please don’t assume that I’m an atheist, an off-brand Christian, or something in-between–I have no interest in the expectations or baggage of any religious (or irreligious) monicker.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue many friendships with people of faith, but I realise that some friendships won’t be the same anymore, and others won’t survive this change at all. There will no doubt be moments of grief as the reality of this hits home, but I’m sure the pain will pass.

Becoming progressive

Over the last 10 years, I’ve slowly but surely transitioned from “conservative straight white Christian male” to “progressive pro-diversity anti-patriarchy straight white Christian male.”

At first it was only my politics that changed, but my faith was gradually overhauled too. Although my theology remained conservative (mostly), I became less dogmatic and accepted the legitimacy of alternative views in many areas.

There were several critical moments at which I consciously chose to remain among conservative Christians. I believed it was important to challenge the idea that conservative morality could only be expressed through conservative politics, so I resigned myself to bringing that challenge from within. It was uncomfortable and multiple friendships evaporated, but I pressed on anyway.

Late last year, I become increasingly discouraged with the collective resistance of my fellow Christians to critical thinking, genuine compassion, and real-world action.

I was constantly locking horns with Christians, mostly online but also offline. The battle for Just A Little Bit Of Progress was unrelenting and mostly unrewarded (despite quiet encouragement from a few like-minded friends). My patience was waning, my ability to engage respectfully with bigots was slipping, and my mental health was suffering.

At first I thought it might just be my local church, so I disconnected for a few months and sporadically tried a few others. None of them felt right, all of them would have struggled to have an open conversation about issues that I consider important, and honestly, the weeks I stayed home were more beneficial.

Eventually, I accepted the reality of the situation: I just don’t belong in the Christian tribe anymore. That’s not to say there aren’t Christian individuals with whom I share common views / hopes / dreams. But, ironically perhaps, I’ve lost confidence in institutional Christianity as a vehicle for outcomes that align with the words of Jesus.

You might be wondering if I’m still “following Jesus”. My answer is no, because it’s a phrase that comes with baggage. All I can confirm is that my “Christian worldview” hasn’t been discarded. (But it’s under ongoing review.)

To my Christian friends: I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not sorry to have made this change. I already feel more authentic, more healthy, and more useful.

Welcome to Luke 2.0. The old has gone, the new has come.

Confessions of a sexist feminist

I have zero qualifications to write about feminism.

I’m a privileged white male, comfortably inhabiting a man’s world. I enjoy the benefits of winning the chromosome lottery 32-ish years ago, and I’m often blind to the ease with which opportunity, recognition, and remuneration fall into my lap, just because I’m a man.

I’m not being sarcastic. There are no mind games here.

I accept that simply having a penis makes my life easier in ways I might never understand. I accept that the challenges I face as a man don’t compare with the daily realities of women in pretty much every society on earth.

So why am I writing my first piece on feminism?

It would certainly be easier to remain on the sidelines, cheering feminist women on, rather than adopting their cause as my own. Women feminists, after all, know exactly what they’re fighting for. I’ve never experienced the reality of casual sexism or blatant misogyny. What could I say or do that would actually help? Won’t I somehow be guilty of mansplaining if I try to speak up?

It’s worth noting that as an amateur feminist (and a male human), the sexism in me is not yet dead. Patriarchal patterns of thinking and behaviour I’ve inherited or absorbed have not yet been eliminated. My eyes have not yet been opened to every form of sexism as it exists around me, and I will never understand it as well as women do, because I’ll never be able to experience it as they do. So it’s almost inevitable that I’ll be complicit in sexism without realising. Even this post might contain accidental sexism.

But as I acknowledge my imperfect feminism, thanking several women for opening my eyes more and more every day (you know who you are), I’d suggest that I’m not alone.

Are you a quiet male feminist too? Are you hesitant to be “out and proud” because professional feminists might point out the flaws and inconsistencies in your feminism? Are you afraid that your words might be too feeble, or that they might be misunderstood and used against you?

I ask because I’m no longer convinced that these are good enough excuses for merely shaking our heads while SO MANY women around us are underpaid, undervalued, abused, harassed, assaulted and killed–usually by men. Do we really think it’s okay to abandon women in their fight for basic rights and survival, just to minimise our risk of hurt feelings?

Men, it’s our duty to be active feminists. Not because women are dependent on us–far from it–but because our sexism is responsible for making feminism necessary in the first place.

Uncomfortable as it may be, we need to take a back seat. We need to educate ourselves about the ways we’re limiting, demeaning, and damaging women. We need to listen when they tell us how to clean up our act. And we need to actively call out men who fail to grasp the value and importance of women.

Here’s my personal “Male Feminist Charter”. Will you join me in committing to this?

  • I will respect women and fight for them to be seen by other men as equals in every way, especially when no women are watching.
  • I will value the opinions and contributions of women. I will see women as assets in every workplace, community, and family. I will do everything in my power to open doors that are currently closed to women.
  • I will listen and learn and change when women point out sexism in my words and actions.

Safe Schools: I’m a Christian and I love it

Even Donald Trump is calling himself an “evangelical Christian” these days, so it might not mean much to make the same claim, but I’ll do it anyway. I’m a Bible-believing, not-conservative-but-still-evangelical God-bothering type, and I’m here to say: the Safe Schools Coalition has my full support, and I hope it will still be around when my kids are in Year 7 or thereabouts.

The majority of my Christian friends have petitioned the government to review the Safe Schools program (or opposed it in some other way), insisting that it’s more than an anti-bullying program. There’s widespread concern (1) that it’s a vehicle for gay activism and recruitment, (2) that it “normalises” LGBTI desires and behaviours, and (3) that it is coercing children to doubt their own sexuality.

To each of these concerns, I say this:

  1. “It’s gay activism!” First, you can’t “catch the gay”. Second, it’s horrific to treat LGBTI people like they have a contagious disease. Third, please check out the Safe Schools curriculum for yourself rather than letting douchecanoes like Lyle Shelton from the Australian ‘Christian’ Lobby tell you what to think. (Bear in mind that each school, in consultation with its community, adapts the curriculum to suit its own students.)

  2. “It normalises being gay and being trans!” It’s an anti-bullying program. Of course it’s aiming to “normalise” LGBTI people. They are, after all, normal people, with much more to offer the world than the particulars of their sexuality, which is only one part of their identity. Failing to “normalise” the targets of bullying would be a pretty fundamental failure for a program like this, given bullying relies on a sense of “us vs. them”.

  3. “It forces straight kids to reconsider their sexuality!” Again, you can’t “catch the gay,” and coercion is not the same thing as teaching a group of children to genuinely empathise with people who are, say, same-sex attracted, or experiencing transsexual desires, or living with two mums. Obviously some kids who are already wrestling with the possibility of being LGBTI will feel empowered to open up about it in a safe environment, i.e. a “Safe School” that actively puts the issue on the table for respectful discussion. This is a Good Thing, not coercion or recruitment. (And if you’re going to make egregious claims like these, do back them up with evidence.)

To Christian parents who believe gay sex is wrong, and want to encourage their children to believe likewise: no-one is trying to control what you teach at home, nor is Safe Schools content aimed at vulnerable infants. Talk to your kids about this stuff. Start early. But most of all, teach them to follow Jesus in showing radical love, especially to minorities and outcasts, and model that love yourself. (Side note: do you really want to be kept out of the loop if your own child is LGBTI?)

I’m an Australian Christian and I support the Safe Schools Coalition. Also, Cory Bernardi’s homophobic witchhunt review should be dumped (along with Cory himself, preferably).

On failure. And starting.

When you’re as prone to failure as I am, it’s easier to stop trying than to press on.

It might not look like you’ve given up – with practice one can appear remarkably confident, busy and purposeful while avoiding a meaningful existence – but in truth, the pressure to be creative, decisive and generally winning can be utterly immobilising when your lack of prior success is staring back at you from every direction. Soon, your lack of purpose creates even more failure, which adds its voice to the failure that went before, insisting that your good intentions and well-made plans will amount to nothing.

I don’t share this for sympathy or encouragement. I wouldn’t be writing it at all if remembering my successes were enough to shake the sense that my career trajectory plateaued shortly after high school; that I’m a disappointing husband and father; that I’ve failed to complete more projects than I can count [including some I’ve attempted on this blog].

Are my standards for “success” too high? Yes.

Does it all stem from my weird childhood? A lot of it does, yep.

Are there successes I can be happy about? Sure.

Do I follow enough blogs about productivity and being a winner? Hell yes.

Am I taking enough happy pills? My GP thinks so.

But still, in too many moments, week after week, month after month, I struggle just to start – even on the smallest of jobs and ideas – if my Ghosts of Failures Past lurk nearby.

I’ve put together a few words for the aforementioned ghosts. I’m planning to repeat them all year [language warning for my mum]:

Hello, Failure Ghost. I know why you’re here, but it’s 2016, so now would be a great time for you to kindly FUCK RIGHT OFF.

Here’s to a year of starting.

Thank goodness it’s only February.

Fujifilm X70: still not a Ricoh GR

Last October, I wrote:

The Ricoh GR is my favourite pocket camera so far, but that’s mostly because it actually fits in my pocket. Ricoh’s cleverness with its controls and custom options is a nice bonus, but a similarly compact and inexpensive offering from Fujifilm would be difficult to resist. I certainly won’t be breaking up with my Fujifilm X-T1’s and Fujinon lenses anytime soon, but for now they’ll be paired with a very capable little Ricoh.

Imagine my surprise when a few days ago, Fujifilm announced the upcoming FUJIFILM X70, a new breed of fixed-lens camera that matches the Ricoh GR II spec-for-spec (if you exclude the X70’s flip screen, aesthetic appeal, and Fujifilm processing engine).

It’s great to see Fujifilm work towards a more pocketable big-sensor-fast-lens camera, but I still prefer the Ricoh GR. Here’s why:

  • The X70 is still too big. Side-by-side comparison photos are few and far between, but from what I’ve seen, the X70 is significantly wider and higher than the GR, and MUCH deeper (even before you account for the non-retractable lens). This is understandable given Fujifilm’s commitment to X-series dials and flip screens, but for me, it represents the difference between a “pocket camera” and a “can’t-be-bothered-taking-it-with-me camera”.
  • The Ricoh has snap focus. See my earlier review for details.
  • The GR II is significantly cheaper (USD$560 vs. USD$700). Not that this alone would tip the scales–I’d expect to pay more for a Fujifilm on its brand alone–but it’s a factor.

The GR has other advantages too–e.g. native DNG shooting–but neither this nor the X70’s superior autofocus have any bearing on pocketability (or image quality). Hopefully Fujifilm will eventually release (yet another) X-series camera with a retractable lens, fewer dials and a smaller footprint.

Meanwhile, thank goodness for Ricoh!

Jessica Jones

Krysten Ritter has come a long way since playing Rory’s weird college friend in Gilmore Girls (not that I’m admitting to watching every episode of Gilmore Girls, or even knowing who Rory is).

I’m 3 episodes away from the finale of Jessica Jones (thank you Netflix), and to say its considerable powers have drawn me into the Marvel universe against my will would be an understatement. Or an overstatement, depending on how you look at it (and your proximity to Killgrave).

Superheroes and science fiction have always been a hard sell to me (I’m 32 and have only recently started watching Star Wars), but Jessica Jones has won me over. Jessica herself is a mess (she can’t even think of a decent superhero name for herself, much less stop drinking), but she also totally kicks ass, genuinely cares about the people she helps (or can’t help), and is ruthlessly independent. She’s everything a semi-plausible superhero should be, and the feminist in me loves that her gender is never a limitation.

Of course the backstory to her messy life is, ah, complicated, mostly because of the nefarious Killgrave, apparently. Through him, the writers experiment relentlessly with just how deadly a world inhabited by mind-controlling psychopaths could be. David Tennant’s alternately charming, hilarious, diabolical, and maniacal character is infuriatingly irresistible, even without the mind control (which thankfully doesn’t work through soundproofing or television screens).

Two Australian actors star, too, so that’s a bonus. If you’ve seen Red Dog or All Saints, you might even recognise them. STRAYA.

I’ll spare you any further spoilers, but if you’re in the market for a TV show that’s smart, fast, unpredictable, intense, beautifully filmed, mildly disturbing (don’t worry, there are just enough likeable characters), and generally brilliant, get on it. Fair warning, though: there are a few very gory bits and some heavy sexual themes (but not many visuals).

Next stop: the rest of the Marvel empire universe.

This is the 7th post in my November/December writing challenge series.

My speech at last month’s Rally Against Racism

This is post no. 6 in my “November” writing challenge.

Not all writing is for reading quietly. The words below were spoken at a pro-diversity rally held to stand against a hateful, anti-Muslim “Reclaim Australia” rally in Cessnock. We were one street away from tbe “reclaimers”, with a thin blue line of police keeping us separated. Thankfully there were no incidents.

Here’s what I said. My first ever rally speech.

I’m honoured to be here today … honoured to stand with you, my fellow Australians, confidently asserting the freedom we all share to worship however we please, wherever we please … but also honoured to speak as one citizen on behalf of many other citizens … and my message today is very simple:

Our unity is powerful. OUR UNITY IS POWERFUL.

When so many around us are doing everything in their power to divide us, our unity is powerful. It sends a message to cowards in Syria … and to bigots in Newcastle … and to social media trolls wherever they might live on Internet … it sends a message that love is greater than fear … it sends a message that the differences between us can strengthen us rather than tearing us apart … it sends a message that a brighter future awaits all of us when we start by turning towards our neighbours with open hearts and open arms.

Our unity — right here, right now, in this place — is powerful, but the unity we’re displaying here today, the unity we’re urging all Australians to embrace — this unity doesn’t come easy. Unity between people who think the same, look the same and talk the same is easy, but that’s because it’s not really unity! Real unity is when people who are fundamentally different come together, engage with each other even when it’s uncomfortable, and ultimately find ways to work towards shared goals. Real unity makes room for differences between people. Real unity doesn’t expect people to become the same as each other. Real unity is what we see here today, and as I’ve said already, it is powerful.

Of course part of the reason we’re here today is because some of our neighbours believe in a uniform Australia. They say we should be all white, or all Christian, and they’re standing particularly firm against the growth of Muslim communities in Australia.

I would prefer to ignore these people and the groups they lead, but sometimes we must respond directly to ignorance and fear and bigotry. So, by way of response to Reclaim Australia and its small but ferocious band of supporters, I have a few important things to say to my Muslim friends. I’m standing here as a white Christian who welcomes Muslims to live and worship and thrive in Australia — and not just in Australia, but right here in the Hunter Region — in Newcastle — in Cessnock — wherever freedom and opportunity might lead you.

I know your worldview is not the same as those who do evil in the name of Islam — in much the same way as Christian tyrants do not represent me. I do not see you as my enemies but as my allies. I’m glad your communities in this region are growing and do not feel in any way threatened by you or by the buildings you need in order to accommodate that growth. I know I speak for many, many others when I say that I love you, that I stand with you, and that I honour you for the courage you show every day as you endure words and deeds of vilification that have no rightful place in this country.

Our unity is powerful and I believe it will ultimately undo the work of those who seek to divide and destroy. In fact, it’s pretty much the only thing that can heal our broken nation. Let’s continue to stand together, not just as we rally against racism and bigotry together, but in our words and deeds and every day.

The November that was

November didn’t quite go to my original plan.

First there was a brief but debilitating bout with tonsillitis. Then there was the realisation that I could no longer carry on working at this place, no matter what, which meant resigning without another job to go to. (That was an 80% over-the-moon, 20% shitting-my-pants moment. More on that another day, probably.) Finally, I got busy applying for jobs, and ultimately succeeded in landing a web developer position at this place (more on that later, too).

When it came to writing, my best intentions took a big hit, obviously. But my desire to write more hasn’t changed, and you’ll see it here first when time permits. Hopefully I’ll even make it to 30 posts in my “November” writing challenge before the end of December.

I’m counting this as no. 5.

Update (8-Dec-15): I’ve received complaints about this post from anonymous co-workers at the workplace I’m leaving. I’ve removed the link to that workplace but won’t be removing the post. Offended? Don’t be a coward. Better yet, find something else to read on the Internet.

photographer | developer | writer