Flinders Ranges under cloud Nov 2014. North of Merna Mora on the way to Brachina, looking east.

One Man's Web

Brood of vipers has such a force about it. It's like saying, "You bunch of snakes," with extra venom. So we tend to forget what a brood is. A brood is what Mark D Daviscalls "spawn." The Greek word it translates is about being the children or the product of something. (eg TDNT 1, 685) This makes some sense of the harshness with which John greets all the people coming out to him when, although they are coming repentant for baptism, he still calls them a bunch of snakes! The statement is one of those highly condensed texts that we need to unpack: the crowds come assuming they are children of Abraham, but are really the children of poisonous snakes. In this light, repentance means to bear fruit, or we remain the children of what we were always the children: the serpent. (It is true that Genesis 3 contains a serpent, rather than Luke's viper.  But Matthew 23:33 joins them together: "You snakes, you brood of vipers!" (ὄφεις γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν lit. serpents brood-spawn of vipers.))

The serpent is the one who plants the idea of rivalry into the life of adam; the root word of Eve is life, and the serpent is our primal fear about the gods, the fear that perhaps God is not our good creator, but may be winning over us, or living at our expense. It is not people who go out to John, but crowds. The crowd is adam— and us— at our most undifferentiated, at our most primitive. We are inclined to read crowds as a measure of success, pleased with how many go to a test match or to a church service, but the biblical crowd always has the stink of the mob about it. It is so with crowds today; anyone who has felt the moment a crowd becomes one organic being, and felt the flood of flood of fear overwhelm the brain stem, can never forget this. Crowds are an organism into which the brood-poison can flash flood. Crowds do not think; they are driven, infected, and poisonous. To be incautious in a crowd is to be unconscious of the poison, unconscious of our serpentine nature, and the primal urge to survive.... Read on >>>>

The people of Jesus' time understood they had been driven from the land God gave their father Abraham by famine, and they knew the place where they took refuge, which was Egypt, had turned into a place of captivity and exile. (We see that in the stories of Joseph and Moses.)

In the time of Moses God led them out of Egypt, and they were formed as a nation, and they met God, in the wilderness. And then, with Joshua as leader, they entered the Promised Land by crossing the River Jordan.

But eventually, Israel was taken in exile in Babylon for some 70 years about 600 years before the birth of Jesus. The leaders of the country who had survived the destruction of Jerusalem were taken back to Babylon and its surrounding cities.

Even then, God was faithful, and brought them home. The book of the Prophet Isaiah charts this remarkable return from Exile in Chapters 40-55, and the quotation in the gospel reading is from the beginning of that section of Isaiah which begins with "The voice of one crying in the wilderness...

But exile happens all over again!! ... Read on >>>>

Listen

In the third year Trump was President, when Merkel was Chancellor of Germany, during the Prime Ministerships of Morrison and Turnbull, on the First Sunday in Advent, messages came from a border town.

20181209-hate 

The probable, ironic, truth is a minibus of migrant workers taking a break in Tolmer Park, on their way interstate to pick cherries for Christ-mas. The "Christians" posting the Facebook hate above, also posted hatred of LGBTIQ+ folk during the plebiscite. The truth is hate, grown in the fear which is a consequence of sin.

Sin is not some wicked, bad, dirty sexual thing, despite what some folk appeared to think during the last meeting of Synod, and may suggest again in January. Sin is the mundane reality in which all people live. Sin is our unfulfilled humanity. We are allsinners. We all fall short. Sin is our captivity. Sin is the burden which weighs upon the longings and fears of our hearts: When we long for love and fulfilment, and when we cling to our lover, this is our heart crying out under the burden of existence. It is our heart, and our deepest being, knowing we are exiled a long way from home, knowing we are separated by mountains and valleys from our creator, and feeling far distant from God across a wilderness of terror; a wilderness which our heart fears to enter because of what may happen to us there.

Yet it is in the wilderness, the place we most fear, the place of our sin, that we meet God. God is not to be found in heaven; God is here in the wilderness that we fear, and God always has been here. It is only wilderness to us, because we have not yet learned to see God within it.... Read on >>>>

Listen

According to some recent news reports, the worst year to be alive was the year 536.

"Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 ... to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. ... A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night— for 18 months..."

But of course the worst year to be alive is the year everything goes wrong for us... Read on >>>>

Listen

Thuruna Bay

There is always the fear, when swimming off the beach, that a Great White may lurk just beyond the blue line. This is the risk of living. As we swam, waist deep, in the clear water of Thuruna Bay, we saw a disturbance, a purposeful shimmer coming towards us. And we stood with sudden fear, wondering what we were seeing. It was a huge ray, larger than us, slowly flapping, yet faster than we could hope to be if we even had time to turn and flee to the beach. It swam a smooth curve around us and continued up the coast. Dismay is the moment, or the months, when you realise that what you have feared is not going to swim around you but today will gather you up into something unknown.

Gospel: Luke 21:25-38

The Glorious Spaces in Between

There is fear
but there are also the things which dismay us. 
These are the things which remove 
all the distance between far off fear 
and ourselves. 
They bring the fear home. 
They are the trap which closes upon us 
and which brings us to realise 
it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 
All of us... 
me.

Dismay is the fear which has found its mark in our heart.
Dismay is fear taken shape
and rushing at... us.

In his opening prayer on Sunday, my colleague said
     Love is greater even than the things which dismay us. 
This is the gospel in a sentence.... Read on >>>>

I do not seek to convert anyone with this post. What we are dealing with in the current tragedy within the Uniting Church is not about logic. It is about the fear which can only be overcome by love of God irrupting into our lives.

Neither do I pretend to speak for LGBTIQ+ friends. I have little comprehension of their pain. Indeed I owe these friends much for their compassion and uplift of me.  I write of my own journey and the insights that have done much to free me in this, and in similar disputes.

For a long time, I was driven by a fear that God might not love me.  I read the gospel of Matthew as a young man, and concluded, "I'm not sure if I believe this, but if it's right, I'm on the wrong side of the fence." My first joyful faith soon devolved into a hard-line fundamentalism which sought to fence God in close, so that I would be safe. My conversion was undergirded by fear which I soon forgot, because I considered I had "found the answer" to life and its purpose. So for most of that time my fear was largely unconscious, and I had no reason to question if my desire for holiness was anything more than an  appropriate response to God's love for me.

The instinct for holiness is good. It is a recognition that God offers something completely other; something so completely other that it wipes out our universal experience that all our best desires and best efforts as people, inevitably fall apart, and begins to heal us.

I see my life from those early days, until now, as a slow growth, and more importantly, a slow reforming of my understanding of holiness. I now see two choices: holiness shaped around a certain way of being good, or holiness as allowing and striving for the inclusion of all people into the gathered people of God. And both choices, ultimately, are only our limited response to the holiness that is God... Read on >>>>

There is no one righteous, not even one.

This First Impressions (19/11/2018) reads the gospel text for the Sunday of Christ's Reign in the light our recent synod and seeks to place us in the wider story of salvation. I write deeply aware that at many levels I am extraordinarily privileged, and avoid much of the pain experienced by my sisters and brothers. You will note that I refer to verses either side of the set reading.

You can listen here.

My first response to the text
In that kingdom by which God creates and fulfils the world 
we are not permitted to put anyone to death. 
Even when our attempts to establish a kingdom, a way of being human
can find no case against a person
we are unable to prevent their death. 
We kill.

We cry for the powers to release us, 
to release the children of the Father 
   for bar Abbas means "son of the father" 
and yet we kill him. 
We destroy the humanity we are trying to become. 
We kill... Read on >>>>

20181118-samsonflatfireIn my part of the world it is the week of an arduous and important synod. We will decide who we are.

Listen

How do we live when wars and the rumour of wars reignite all the fears of our hearts?

How do we live when

The notional two-degree figure widely cited by politicians as the upper limit of what we, and the planet, could possibly accommodate is a line we’re on course to gallop past in just a few years’ time. By 2100, we may well be looking at a five or six-degree temperature rise, and even then there’s a possibility we’re being lowballed. “The scientist who confidently predicts a five-degree warming by the end of the century,” Franzensuggests ...“might tell you in private, over beers, that she really expects it to be nine.” 

I remind myself I am going to die.... Read on >>>>

Audio

I guess that widow would need to carefully ration her pantry until the next pension cheque came in.

Except that the words "all she had to live on" are literally "all the life of her." She is "'ptoche' - really poor," and in a time with no pensions, will probably die because of her giving. And it's all for a temple and a system that is falling apart. A couple of verses later, Jesus is saying "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." Mark puts her next to this futility for more than the purpose of showing the hypocrisy of the scribes. In the end, we are all poor widows— impoverished people who will be forgotten— even the scribes. Why do we bother with life?

Why did the scribe who did not parade and posture like his fellows, and who did not devour widow's houses, even bother to love his neighbour as himself? How do you keep going when the system is corrupt and the end seems obvious? Why bother?

For the first time in half a year, I ventured past the supermarket into the depths of our regional shopping centre, seeking the optometrist. Even without new glasses, my long absence helped me to see the place with a new clarity. There is nothing here, I thought, that I would buy. It is all junk. Why do people bother with this place? ... Read on  >>>>

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