Flinders, looking south to Wilpena Pound November 2014

One Man's Web

When I lived with Pitjantjatjara folk, we ... worked around each other's cultural differences, and generally made sense of each other, and of what we were saying and doing. But occasionally we would walk into complete misapprehension of each other— I use the word deliberately. It was more than mis-understanding. There is deep anxiety involved when we simply lack the cultural hooks to make any sense of each other. I'm reminded of the general hilarity and community care happening in the airing of a domestic dispute I once witnessed in Aileron; children were playing in its midst, but the city white folk who arrived in the middle of it, were much closer to terrified than they were confused. ...

The story of the storm on the lake is a similar event. Mark D. Davis neatly sums up the preacher's dilemma.

Do we really think the wind and the sea have any sort of agency, whereby a command to them can be obeyed (or not)? Is a responsible preacher compelled to ask these sorts of questions? We can be sure that ... some of our listeners will believe this story in literal language and others will dismiss it because it seems like we are believing it in literal language. What is more beneficial – to address these kinds of issues out loud or to let them fester underneath the surface?

For the folk in any congregation there are two issues. One is how to get on with the bloke in the next seat whose understanding of the world is incomprehensible to their own. The deeper issue is to comprehend that neither he nor I can fully access how the culture of Mark's time works. Mark 4 is  one of those places of complete misapprehension, made worse because we can't talk with Mark.... Read on >>>>

20180617cedarfiginsert

This tree provided me with some seconds of confusion. It's a White Cedar, like all the other trees on that street. But the great profusion of leaves are of a Mediterranean Fig. It stands in the street behind the church and, one day, I hope to pick a fig from a cedar tree. For the Community of Divine Love we often call the Kingdom of God is like a fig which grows in a white cedar.

How does a fig seed get its roots into a cedar and flourish through the long summer of Adelaide? It's a parasite disrupting and feeding off the neat suburban vision of the local council. It is helplessly complicit in the vision— such as it is— of the surrounding culture. And it is so vulnerable. Who knows if the council gardeners will smile at it with indulgence, or slice it out with a chainsaw? But the fruit is large and rich, entirely different to the hard berries of a white cedar. It is a fig, not a cedar. Read on >>>>

This week's lectionary follows on from the controversy over Jesus' breaking of Sabbath customs. An excerpt from my post follows: 

The text this week (3:20-35) follows Jesus' disruption of the normal patterns of life. On top of breaking the sabbath, he has healed multitudes. He has chosen disciples. (3:13-19) And chosen a highly symbolic number of disciples; twelve disciples might symbolise a new Israel.  He is the new celebrity which the 'powers that be' must assess, for the elites are also subject to the consternation everyone else feels. Is he simply another Kardashian, apparently vacuous but really a financially astute clone and imitator of themselves, playing the same game, and whose moments in the sun helpfully shield the elite from scrutiny? Or is he a challenge to them?  The words of Mark 1 are not, first of all, admiration. They are consternation and anxiety:

27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’

By verse six of Chapter three, the Pharisees have decided that Jesus is indeed a challenge, and a challenge which must be eliminated. And in this week's text, the scribes are now set to inflame the disruption and consternation over Jesus into outrage and, hopefully, to direct that outrage against Jesus.... Read on >>>>

20180531moreoncoldOur NZ friend Bruce Stevenson stayed with us on his way down from the Birdsville Track, and in our hours of talking, we inevitably dealt with the issue of wind and cold. Bruce has ridden all over the world, and finds Oz a cold ride!  We have a huge diurnal temperature swing; I've ridden in 7 degrees to 46 degrees Celsius in the one 24 hours!

I also have a really nice jacket made from wind stopper fabric which lets most of the sweat out and is peachy warm down to about ten degrees, despite being tissue thin, but which then fails miserably. Since people like the GCN say such jackets plus a jersey and base layer are now so good that they are all you need in most circumstances, how come it doesn't work here? After all, the UK has snow; us Aussies say it has three miserable months each year, and then nine months of winter. By comparison to the UK, our climate is gentle... Read on >>>>

What does it mean to be holy?... Read on >>>>

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.

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