The Devil's Peak in the dusk, 2014, looking south from the Hawker Road.

One Man's Web

There are times I've had trouble learning stuff. In first year High School, I simply could not understand algebra. I was in despair by the end of the year, but in the second year it clicked, and then I could not understand why I'd had all the trouble! I suspect something about my ability to think abstractly had grown.

But I have a second kind of trouble learning stuff. I'm talking about the trouble I've had learning the theology of the Holy Trinity, for example; it won't 'stick'. I understand, to some extent, what the writers are saying, but I forget it almost as I turn the page.  Worse still, there has been nothing in my forty something years as a Christian that has attracted me to want to turn the page back and read it all again, for the fourth or fifth time. I know I won't remember. Why does this central doctrine fail to engage me?

I received an insight into this from a conversation with a colleague. RoseMarie told me that someone in her congregation commented that "the place is different when you are in the room." There is something about her spirit which enlivens the place, and changes its "feel," or nature... Read on >>>>

In Sunday's service, we were looking at the words about Jesus calling the disciples his friends, and the teaching that if we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father.  In other words, God is our friend. God likes us.

It raises the question of punishment by God. So much in the Bible seems to have God punishing people.  In my sermon, I addressed this with a story about my dad.

I learned something about God from my dad. When I was way too small, I climbed up into the rafters of the barn and pulled down the rifle. I'd been doing this for a while, while dad was away, learning out to aim it, and squeezing the trigger. But this day, I dug out the bolt and the ammunition from the other end of the shed, and put three rounds clear through the grain silo.

I strongly suggest you don't do this, because the evidence can't be hidden. A few days later, when I had almost begun to relax, Dad noticed the new decorations above the hammer mill. When I bounced into the kitchen that afternoon, there was a certain grave chill in the air... Read on >>>>

Jaxie was a Jack Russell terrier who lived with one of my clergy colleagues and her husband. Many of us followed Jaxie's antics and adventures on Facebook, and now we mourn with Angie and Neil at her death.

I'm asked, every so often, if dogs go to heaven. I'm aware that some traditional teaching of the church has been that animals do not have a soul, and that therefore they don't go to heaven. Yet you only have to live with a Jaxie to know that little dogs have personality, and purpose. They love us, they plot outcomes, they delight in tricking us. As do cats. Even the ewe my Dad once slung up in the shed when she was sick, forever stood out from the mob, once we had met her.

I look at our own little dog. Annie Rose is beginning to age, and Jaxie's death sharpens the grief which has been growing in me. Of course dogs go to heaven! What kind of God is it that would make death the way into richer life for me, rather than let it be "a gloomy portal" of the end, and yet let death be the annihilation of all that is Jaxie or Annie Rose? (Christian Gellert Jesus Lives! TIS 372)

The death of dogs relates to Pentecost and the presence of the Spirit of God in this way: The question for me is not whether animals 'go to heaven.' The question is: As human beings who know so well the life, personality, and love of animals, why would we ever think otherwise? What is it that means we make ourselves so much at the centre of the universe, that we discount the person and being of the creatures around us, as though we were all that counted? Why do we see their difference rather than their commonality with us? ... Read on >>>>

I checked my phone when I arrived at Mum's place, and sat down on the hall couch by the lift around from her room, to reply a long text message. I proof read my reply, pressed send, and looked up to find Mum, mightily pleased to have sneaked up on me. She sat down in the next chair, and we shared our ice cream of choice— Double Chocolate Magnum, if you should ever be visiting. It was a freezing day, so we went back to her room.

Her world is closing in around her. Just one room of her own, with a little shrine of photos on an old glass fronted bookcase from Hilltop days. And ice creams. Ice cream is always welcome.

I think the bookcase may have come from Grandpa. She adored her father, and his photo sits in pride of place on his bookcase, among other photos from the family. Some of the photos are of people who were dead before I was born. I am not always certain which generation of the family we are talking about, and I think there are times when she also forgets. On Friday we were talking about Dad, when midsentence, he turned into Grandpa.

In front of Grandpa's photo she has a printed card with the first lines of a prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

As we were talking, my phone displayed a number I did not recognise, and I said I'd check if it was anyone who needed attention. It was, and excusing myself from our conversation for a few minutes, I listened to the person calling.  I made some suggestions about how they might navigate their situation, listened some more, and then was able to come back to Mum, who had patiently listened to my side of the conversation.

I thanked her for her patience. "I think it was a good thing that I answered it," I said. She pushed herself up out of her chair and limped across to the bookcase.

"At times like that," she said, "I've always found this rather helpful." And she handed me the card with the prayer.

She is still my Mum.

(Archived)

I have a friend called Ken. We do stuff together. I have other friends too, but one day, for some reason, it struck me with some force that Ken really likes me. You'd think that would be obvious, wouldn't you? But not to me. A whole lot of my childhood conditioning says to me, "Why would anyone like you— especially a bloke?" But Ken… likes me. I can't tell you just how much that means to me… and how flat out freeing and healing that has been.

But we are here to talk about how we relate to God. Some of the very earliest stories which our civilisation is built upon are pretty sure that God… does not like us. The story of Noah's ark— you know, the one where God kills everyone in the whole world, except for 8 people? — that story is built upon an older story called the  Enuma Elish. And in that story the gods hated people. In fact they only created people to do all the dirty work of the world, and then they decided to destroy them all. (Marduk created human beings to "free the gods from menial labour" ) We were made by the gods to be slaves.

The bible has been trying to undo that feeling that we are the slaves of the gods, or of God, and to undo that feeling that God does not like us, ever since. For example, everyone had heard the story of the Enuma Elish, but in retelling it in Noah's flood, but the bible tries to undo it; God made a world which was good, it tells us; God has promised never to destroy the world in a flood again; remember that when it begins to rain and you see the rainbow in the sky, because that's the sign of God's promise. By contrast, one version of the old flood stories like the Enuma Elish had the gods destroying the earth on a periodic basis!

But we've never quite been able to believe that God loves us... Read on >>>>

Gods are the enemy. The gods created humans to make their food and do the dirty work of the world.1 The sacred is the place of danger; the place where the god might lash out.2 Put a leg rope on the priest, for it is too dangerous to enter near to God; this legend reveals our fears.3 Gods require blood. This week we read news of 140 children apparently sacrificed on the one day.

It is thought the children were sacrificed as floods caused by the El Nino weather pattern ravaged the Peruvian coastline.

"They were possibly offering the gods the most important thing they had as a society, and the most important thing is children because they represent the future," said Gabriel Prieto, an archaeology professor at Peru's National University of Trujillo, who has led the excavation along with John Verano of Tulane University.

"Until now, the largest incident of mass child sacrifice was believed to have occurred in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán - modern-day Mexico City - where 42 children's bodies had been discovered."

We love and serve the gods so that things will go well with us and the gods will favour us or, at least, leave us alone. We give life for the gods. We still do this. As we struggle with the end of economic good times, and the ascent of the frightened rich in this country, we are only too happy to sacrifice the children. 43 children remain in the tabernacles of Nauru, scapegoats for those who hope to buy off the gods of the current day.4  .... Read on >>>>

20180506childreninNauruAmnesty
Photo: Children in Australia's Concentration Camp on Nauru. Amnesty International

During my holidays I have been thinking through the relationship between love and death in the way I see the world. I drafted an essay which began with Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 13:13, "And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; and the greatest of these is love." The word for remain is μένει, and it is the same word which, in John 15, is usually translated as abide. I have found much more than I expected in this word.

In the essay, I wanted to say that the Faith can be distilled down to love; God's love for us, and our love for others. I also wanted to say that when I could believe in nothing else, love still remained. In that sense, μένει involves persistence.  In the sense that it is used in John 15 and translated as abide, there is a strong sense of intimacy; in verse 14, Jesus will say, "You are my friends…" Paul's use of the word in 1 Corinthians 13 implies something underlying, or foundational about life and faithwhen all is said and done, there is love. It remains. It is the foundation, the basis of life... Read on >>>>

20180405priestsnewfireI saw a photo of the Easter Fire in my sister's church, and my memory was drawn to a remote fibro building on crumbling earth foundations, the way we felt our path down between the pews in the darkness, and to a cauldron suddenly flaming up in the cold and dark. (The photo is of Father Andrew and Father Herbert at BrightonStMary's, Kemptown, UK.)

How the holy and sacred bring us into the presence of the profound beyond ourselves! Yet they are also involved in the worst of our humanity. What is the sacred? Why does it wrap so closely around the best and worst of our being? And what might it have to with discerning resurrection?

Why did Thomas have trouble believing Jesus had risen from the dead? It was not that long ago that he had seen Jesus raise Lazarus. Given John's delight in double meanings, it is unlikely that this little puzzle is present by accident. Paul Nuechterlein brought the question to my attention and also alerted me to this:

There is an emphasis in both this story and the “doubting Thomas” story to follow on Jesus showing them his hands and his side. At the time of this Gospel we know of a drift toward gnosticism, or docetism, the tendency to say that Jesus just seemed to be human. This emphasis on the hands and side is a way of saying that the crucifixion was a real death of a real human being. Jesus wasn’t just shadow-playing. The disbelief in the Thomas story is more of a disbelief in the crucifixion than the resurrection, from this standpoint of answering gnosticism. It is the scandal of the crucifixion which makes the resurrection difficult for gnostics to believe. (Notes by Paul from a lecture by Gil Bailie.)

I've always read the story as Jesus showing his hands and sides to say, "See, it really is me, I really have risen" whereas this suggests he is saying, "It really was me on the cross. I really did suffer." In other words, they were in no doubt that it was him; they knew him. The showing of the wounds is for the folk of whom Verses 28 and 29 speak; the ones who were not there in the room to see, but who decide to trust Jesus as Lord and God.  His Lordship is as a crucified Lord as much as it is as a Risen Lord. God makes the despised one, the victim, the Lord... Read on >>>>

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