One Man's Web
Key Post: A Deeper Healing, 10 October 2022
Perhaps the deepest healing we need is to know that we belong, and that we are loved. What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to be church? How can church and belonging become the image of God which we are created to be; indeed, what does it mean to be human? For me, these questions have coalesced in the controversy about the role of our sexuality in our relationship with God, and each other, a controversy which has occupied the church since before I was ordained. I offer on this page a number of reflections in this area. You will see that I have concluded that our differences over sexuality are symptoms of something far deeper... Read on >>>>
The Written Word, 29 January 2023
Our little dog found a sweet spot on the bed in the flat where we lived a while. She could look out the window and see if Barbara or Jan from next door were in the garden, but with barely a flicker of her eyes, she could also use the big mirror on the dressing table to keep watch on the kitchen (and the fridge) behind her. She knew it was a mirror. If we came to the bedroom door and spoke to her, she would watch us in the mirror, but if it was something important, she would turn around to face us. Annie Rose understood mirrors.
At our new house, there is a Murray Magpie who owns the back yard and picks the bugs off our vegies. This morning it landed on the clothesline by the shed and noticed there was another magpie looking at it. It jerked its head at it, telling it to shove off. But the other magpie, instead of flying away, simply jerked its head back at our magpie. So, our magpie launched itself at the intruder, crashed into the shed window, and fell down into the parsley patch. The Murray Magpie doesn't understand mirrors. It flapped back up to the clothesline and did the same thing, all over again. A couple of times it half flew, half scrabbled, straight up the shed wall, which meant it had the intruder scratching at its stomach all the way up the window. This went on for a while because, as you may have observed, Murray Magpies just don't understand mirrors. There was one at the church which spent futile years attacking the other magpie inside the lounge window.
I'd like you to follow me in a leap of imagination here: We human beings are rather a lot like Murray Magpies. We spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, thinking what we see is real, us, rather than a reflection of something else. And much less do we realise how much the mirror lies to us... Read on >>>>
Why is it so hard to change some things about ourselves?
I think the answer is that some things are surface habits, and are only incidental bits of our lives. Other things we don't like about ourselves go deep into our foundations. They are a significant part of who we are, a part of our skeleton rather than something on the surface of our being.
When I was six years old, three big girls at the school bus stop began teasing me. Two things happened. I was devastated. My world caved in. I suspect they were gratified by my response, and I became a target for others, and spent the remainder of my school years always somewhat on the outer. Fifty and sixty years later, I have been able to recover other memories of school and see that it was not so bad as I remembered. There were good times, friends, and fun.
But my response very quickly deposited layers of being me that became bedrock as impenetrable as the sheet limestone our farmhouse stood upon.... Read on >>>>
First Reactions to Luke 14:1-14
I re-read my post of 2019: https://www.onemansweb.org/swollen-egos-or-bad-legs-luke-141-14.html
My first thought, then and now, is: Don’t leave out the dropsy. (vv2-6) It's part of the story. Dropsy was a disease of the rich. is about greed, self inflation, getting the best place at the table. Read more about it in my 2019 post.
Dropsy was common. Galen described Rome as, "This populous city, where daily ten thousand people can be discovered suffering from jaundice, and ten thousand from dropsy.
"Dropsy is used widely in the ancient Greek world, particularly in the writings of philosphers, and it is frequently a metaphor for greed and wealth." (Chad Hartsock: Biblical Interpretation, Volume 21 (3): 341 – Jan 1, 2013. And see also here.) In other words, dropsy was a well-known and proverbial disease. We are meant to find meaning in this particular form of illness.
The reading from Luke ends up exhorting us away from the dropsy of self-aggrandisement and self-promotion, because these are an idolatry. My idolatry is to pretend that I am a self-made person. If we seek to make ourselves—the name for this is social-climber, even for those of us who remain very realistic about how far we can climb—then we are inevitably based in a quid pro quo mindset.
The dangers of this mindset are clear from words by Karoline Lewis which I quoted at the end of my post:
The problem with a quid pro quo mentality is quantification. How do you measure or calculate repayment of love, of mercy? And the fact that we think we can is a rather striking theological problem.... Read on >>>>
How do we know anything? We imagine it. When we read a novel we imagine the landscape which is described to us. A part of the power of Jane Harper's novels for Australians is that she describes a landscape which we know. We have experience of this land, so her words and our imaginations combine to bring her books alive. The snow and ice on the moors in a British novel lack this power; I have never been in such a place. But Gary Disher's Tiverton sits in the landscape of my childhood. My imagination builds his world from the bricks of my childhood.
We build the world around us in our imagination, but never from "a blank slate." We always use the experience of the past, the example of our friends—with all their prejudices, and our own, to interpret what we see, to imagine a world, and to decide upon actions.
How is it that a person can set off on the Strzelecki Track in a small car in summer, with no extra water, with only one of those faux spare tyres, and with no sat. phone? It's because they cannot imagine how badly things can go wrong, let alone how fast.... Read on >>>>
I was invited to a formal dinner party in one of our swankiest suburbs; I had to buy some new clothes so I could go! It was a good evening except... part way through the meal, someone asked me where I lived. And when I replied, the several conversations around the table became instantly silent. Folk were embarrassed. My less charitable side wonders if I was the first person from Elizabeth… that some of them had ever met.
Matthew has a problem. Everyone knew Jesus came from a village called Nazareth. When someone tells Nathanial that they have found the Messiah—Jesus from Nazareth—his reply is, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" It was unthinkable that the Messiah would come from Nazareth.
Matthew uses his scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, to show that Jesus is indeed the Messiah! It's a way of reading scripture that is foreign to us—we have to learn this way of reading—but it was clear to his first readers.
First, Matthew tells us Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem, the home of the great King David. He was, in fact, descended from David; we learn that back in chapter 1. He just happened to live in Nazareth because of political problems. He was a refugee.
Given the way we treat refugees in this country, we might wonder whether that information does much to help with Jesus' credentials. How could a refugee possibly turn out to be the Messiah?
However, it fits Matthew's agenda: Do you remember an Old Testament story about someone called Joseph... who repeatedly had dreams from God—just like the Joseph we heard about today? ... Read on >>>>
I wept through the lessons and carols of Christmas Eve service, so moved that I was barely able to sing some of the same words whose tasteless rendition had me snarling at the sound system of our local shopping centre the day before. What changes words and religion from mere pap? What makes an experience spiritual; that is, what engages the heart of us and says, "In this there is depth and meaning for life?" And far more important, using Stan Grant's words, what makes—perhaps the question is what allows—something to become
a religious experience. I mean religious. Not spiritual. Something more, something demanding. A thing of ritual and discipline. A thing of darkness and light.... Read on >>>>
Mr Roberts was our Sunday School teacher, kind and gentle.
One Sunday, us Year 6 and 7 boys from the Gladstone Methodist Church trooped out to the demountable behind the church, and were confronted by the largest huntsman you've ever seen, which was sitting on the blackboard and uncomfortably close for anyone planning to enter the room. We stood in a bunch in the doorway. Eddie McEvoy said, "I'll fix it, Mr. Roberts!" He hurled a blackboard duster at the spider, missing it by exactly .5 of a millimetre. There was a communal squawk as it fell off and skittered across the room. This was followed by a shocked, gesticulating silence on the part of us boys.
Mr Roberts looked back at us. "What?"
A couple of us managed to gasp out, "It went up your trousers!"
He made a disbelieving noise but then concluded from our horrified faces that nobody was kidding. He was a very tall man, and had what seemed to be Ian Thorpe sized feet, but managed to whip off his trousers over his shoes almost instantly.
Let me be clear: This was 1967. We were farmer's sons. If we saw our father in underwear, it was blue Y-fronts. Mr Roberts had the longest snow-white legs any of us had ever seen, and they were covered with dense black hair. But most momentous of all that was revealed, were a pair of mid-calf long-johns.
A ruckus of disbelief mixed with fascination began to erupt in the room, and it exploded in shrieks of laughter and terror as the spider popped out the end of one trouser leg as Mr Roberts was peering into it. He dropped his trousers... again.
The room next door was ruled by Mrs Pierce, known for a strict Methodism which refused even to eat port-wine flavoured jelly, and strong opinions about almost everything. She had the Year Six and Seven girls. Her voice, querulous and terrifying, silenced the lot of us. "What's going on in there?" We could hear footsteps.
Mr Roberts' face turned whiter than his legs. "Don't let her in," he begged. And out of fear of consequence, not any care for him, a couple of us threw themselves against the door to block her entry. Someone managed to convince her that all was under control, and Mr Roberts was able to restore his trousers, if not his dignity.
In all this, the spider made its escape. And after we had escaped Sunday School, each little boy told his parents on the way home.
It was windy this morning; choppy, buffeting, and cold. Both of us have bad memories of wind. I once spent a week on the remote Barkly Tablelands riding into howling wind. On one of those days I was moving for 10 hours and covered only 70 kilometres. A couple of weeks later I wrote of another day's ride, "But today, going past the big gums in the wind raised deep non-rational discomfort in me; I was afraid. This was safe ride, well within my capabilities, with a motel at the end, and lots of farm houses on the way. But in the growing cloud over the range -- at 12:30 it was darker and it is now at 5:30-- and at other times, I had to fight off moments of panic. If a week of headwinds can do that to me, no wonder months or years in a war zone, or refugee camp, or violent marriage can cause triggers that make people meltdown. It was a sobering experience. I knew exactly what was going on... and that knowledge made no difference at all!" ... Read on >>>>
This is a "pre-exegetical" reading of the text of Luke 21:5-19 and the rest of the chapter. It looks at the context of the words for Luke, and for us now.
The temple is the centrality of the culture. It is the earthly symbol of all that makes Israel Israel. It is the house of God. Yet the temple has been destroyed for some ten or twenty years by the time Luke is written. How can Jesus, Son of God, be who he claimed to be, how can he be Messiah and Saviour, when the central symbol of the faith has been destroyed? Luke is addressing such inevitable questions.
The text speaks of this destruction being in the future—the first audience knew this event as history—but even at the time of the text, the terror continued, as it does today. "Wars and insurrections… earthquakes" and climate change, Covid, persecution, betrayal, armies at the gates. I have lived in an artificial bubble of apparent peace for most of my life, while much of the world has endured terror, but now the terror is arriving here; too much rain, the rising threat of nuclear war, a new wave of Covid with rates doubling by the fortnight, the antichrists Trump and Putin. How do we live in the terror? This is what Luke is addressing... Read on >>>>
John's Gospel tells us that if we have seen Jesus, then we have seen God. (John 14:9) In other words, Jesus shows us the nature of God. So today's Gospel reading about Jesus is ultimately a story about the nature of God. And the story shows us that the nature of God is to heal. God heals even feared and hated outcasts like lepers.
The Greek text says the lepers stood far off, which is what was required if you had one of the skin diseases that were called leprosy. You couldn't go near other people, and it was commonly understood that you were also far off from God. But Jesus makes these ten lepers clean because the nature of God is to heal us and bring us back into community.
If you had leprosy and it got better, then you showed yourself to the priests, who would certify that you were clean, and then when the right rituals had been performed, you could re-enter society and come near to people, and come near to God. You were included in society again... Read on >>>>
Imagining meeting the Human One a second time A personal reflection and witness to a church divided over sexuality
My whole life in church has been lived alongside conflict between those who were part of the 'in' or right-thinking group, and those who were not. It has all been complicated by the fact that the not right-thinking group have usually been certain they are the ones who are right, and that it's the others who are the problem. These conflicts drive people from their congregations, they destroy people and congregations, and have the potential to destroy us as a denomination. How do we survive them? Could we even thrive?
I sometimes still have trouble relating to folk whose expression of faith sounds like the fundamentalism of my youth. It took me a while to realise that in my opposition to them, I sounded rather fundamentalist myself. The truth is that when we define ourselves as "not like" somebody, we mirror them. Some folk do terrible damage to others, and their behaviour should not be tolerated. But how do we do this without becoming part of the problem, simply mirroring the violence? How do we support and protect the wounded who have already borne too much? And how do we prepare ourselves so that we may recognise and seize those moments of grace where, for a short time, we feel a common humanity and faith with those who have been our enemy?
This essay shares my conviction that the healing of us requires far more than being right. There is a much deeper healing offered to us... Read on >>>>
To allies of LGBTIQ+ people: a theological exposition.
When the formation of a diocese unaffiliated with the Anglican Church in Australia appeared in my news feed in August 2022, I had some sympathy with friends who said, "Generate all over again." Yet the two situations are far different. We in the UCA are seeking to remain in communion with each other despite the terrible pain we cause each other. The existence of Generate Presbytery has the potential to be a great witness to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. This is because it can witness to the Uniting Church striving for a culture which reflects the nature of God; that is, a culture which strives for the inclusion of all people and so reflects that God loves all people just the same... if we will be courageous and continue to seek to work with each other.
To emphasise the point: Generate Presbytery seeks to remain within the Uniting Church, and I suspect many of us underestimate what that may cost its leaders in criticism from some of its members, and from other presbyteries. By contrast, the newly formed Anglican Diocese seems to have walked some distance away from the vision of a God who loves and values all people equally.
This article is not intended as a critique of Generate Presbytery or of individual members. Although I disagree strongly with some of the sentiment I have heard from members of that presbytery, I am also indebted to some of the same people for alerting me to my personal shortcomings and for being channels of healing for me. All this before wondering what lessons I could have learned about mission and discipleship from those same colleagues, had I paid attention.... Read on >>>>
Why do we need bible scholars? Why can't we just read the plain text? You've heard this sort of question. I said it myself as a younger person, deeply suspicious of what these "scholars" might do to my faith. Well, here's some of the reason.
Let's start with kid's TV. Remember Bob the Builder and Postman Pat. That's a cultural thing, where alliteration is used to attract us to the text. It’s the same in Sean Sheep. Except that if English is not our first language, we might miss the joke in the title. Think about it...
And remember Play School: Noni would be on hands and knees acting the part of the motor car while John the mechanic would make comments about it needing some work on the big end, and then he would look under the car and make comments about the undercarriage. It all sounded just like the language the little kids might hear dad use in the garage, but there was another story going on as well! Biblical stories often operate at two levels: the surface narrative and something deeper. Except that second level is not a joke, but about salvation.
At Pilgrim Church, Jenski and I once did an improvised play about Deborah and Barak, and at the end I said, "Well kids, Barak had a particular male problem." Helen Smith yelled from up the back, "Prostate." The place erupted into laughter, kids included. It so happened that there was a four year old in that congregation who, 15 or 16 years later, became a frequent visitor to our house. I told this story at the table one night, and they said, "I've always remembered everyone laughing at you. Now that I know why they were laughing it's even funnier!"
Not only can we miss the context of a conversation or a text from another culture, we can also misinterpret things. We once had wonderful next door neighbours who happened to be from India. And, in the style of their province, when they were talking to their children they would call me "Andrew Uncle." Some other folks from the same part of India joined my congregation. One day... Read on >>>>
The last three years have deepened my understanding of family, its riches and its terrors. In this time, our family has weathered crises which have left me rejoicing in the rich resilience our family has given us. Yet, from another direction, we have been traumatised all over again. If there is any truth in my post of 2019, it is that we cannot be separate from our families, at least, not of ourselves. I said then, and now see even more clearly, that
there never was a lone cowboy rode into town. There was always an invisible legion riding with him; brothers and uncles, even the father he never knew, and his mother, well armed. When I first took a laptop on a long solitary ride across the country, my dear father printed out every blog post for himself, and then reprinted the photos with varying degrees of success and mailed them to my sister already reading the blog in England. Why? Because he was riding with me. The journeying that is me, was him… (Disciple… or not)
I remember a conversation in a mental health ward. An amazing patient described tracking a certain abuse across generations of their family and said, "It stops with me." And we both knew that this courageous determination to be a disruptor of this family cycle was the reason we were having the conversation in a mental health unit. Even such separation from family as we can manage is brutally painful and costly, for family is a key factor in our formation as a person. To separate from them is to embark on undoing and remaking something built, reinforced, and practised for our whole lives until now. In calling us, Jesus offers us a path to that undoing and remaking... Read on >>>>