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 >>>>
Billie Goat's Bluff, 12 August 2011
Plugging up the Hills’ Face on my bike tonight, I saw a small mob of sheep being chased by black and white. Despite the undergrowth interrupting my view, it was fairly obvious that a Border Collie was out exercising the sheep, which is a serious issue. I began calculating which was the most likely small holding to be the sheep’s owner, so I could alert them to the situation. Too much attention from the Collie could lead to the sheep dying from exhaustion, or even being savaged.
As I cleared a patch of roadside trees, and came closer, I realised I was completely wrong. That black and white flash I had seen through the wattles and weeds was no dog; it was a Billie Goat.
Billie was trotting back across the paddock to his castle, which is a high patch of dirt that seems to have once upon a time been an embankment for a trail bike track. He had been removing the sheep from a second embankment at another end of the old track.
It seems that the sheep are not allowed in the high places in this paddock. They belong to King Billie.
Unfortunately for King Billie, the old trail bike track was triangular. As he returned to his favourite high point, the home castle, at the top end of the paddock, a group of the sheep purposefully climbed up on the third embankment, turned around, and stood looking at him. The challenge was unmistakable. I realised that it is not the sheep who are being harassed, but the goat! Archive
Bishop Pierre Whalon: Propping up my own sense of self-importance as an invisible big kahuna speaker, I'd like to tell why I am not an atheist. I have already addressed some of the features of what I call "atheism lite versus Christianity lite." This concerns many people's claims against Christianity, which are in fact negations of heresies. Too many atheists seem to function with a pubescent version of Christianity.
On the other hand, speaking of "lite," I must admit that some Christians really embarrass me.... Read on >>>>
I remember my shock as a teenager, when the minister’s wife snapped at him. I was horrified. How could she? Worse was to follow; he was unmistakeably cross back at her.
My heroes turned into ordinary people. They were really human. I had been projecting something else onto them.
I love this reading in Matthew, because here, at last, Jesus is fully human.
There is so much making of Jesus into a God who walked on earth, a God who is above anything I could ever be. He becomes a god-man who could never have been real, and an impossible act to follow.... Read on >>>>
The trouble was that while I was going faster I started having clothing problems. I wasn't into spandex or anything, but on my bike I couldn't comfortably ride to work in long pants, dress shoes or a suit coat. So I biked to work in shorts during warm months and windsuits in cold months. Either way, I was coming to school in very casual attire. For the most part I got away with this, but it was an object of discussion on campus. My teaching in shorts and a t-shirt was a bit scandalous to some....Richard Beck, Read on >>>>
Do I dare to believe that I might walk on water?
Matthew Chapter 14 seems to stand as a whole.
In the beginning we see the world of Herod Antipas’ court; the world as it is now. This is the world of political power and obligation, with its own peculiar code of honour. In this place it is right to display your stepdaughter’s dancing to a group of inebriated men, and to flaunt your power by offering “whatever she might ask” as reward. (Even to half your kingdom, in Mark 6.) In this world of Herod, of course the life of a man is not worth half a kingdom. The life of a man is not even enough payment for the public embarrassment caused by a scheming wife. Pride, money, and appearances are everything. Such is the freedom of the rich. And such is the world of today’s power. (14:1-12)
In contrast to this world we see the promise of the kingdom of heaven. Everyone is included. Even in a desert place there is food for all, and food left over. The sick are healed. Jesus, whom this chapter tells us is the Son of God (33) looks upon the people with compassion, not as subjects. Remember that “Son of God” is both a religious and political claim: by positioning the story here, Matthew presents the feeding of 5,000 men as a direct counter claim to the kingdom of Herod. He shows us the feast of Jesus; the world as it should be, and as it will be. (14:13-21 See last week)
Then we come to the reading for this week. (14:22-33)... Read on >>>>
What do you think? You can comment at the bottom...
I’ve been asked by Church Council to talk about stewardship; about giving our money for the mission of our church. People get uncomfortable with this kind of sermon. In fact, there’s a minister’s joke that says you can preach on sex, and you’ll get less complaints than if you preach about money. So I’m not going to be subtle about it. I’m going to jump in and be blunt.
This is an important topic, not just for the congregation, but for each one of us. If we don’t give our money to the church, the church will not thrive. If we don’t give our money away, we will not thrive. I’m being blunt here; black and white; no subtlety.
First, the dollars. Let’s just be practical. If you have a church with a building, and a full time minister, and electricity bills, and so on, in today’s world there is essentially no change out of $100,000.00 a year. That is just a fact.... Read on >>>>
Who could defend sacrificing animals? Really. Isn't it just barbaric and shouldn't we admit that it is a primitive relic of an ignorant time? As someone who has not eaten chicken or meat for decades, I would nonetheless like to speak up on behalf of sacrifice.
So begins a short piece by Rabbi David Wolpe at Huffington Post. It's worth the read in light of our recent controversies in Australia about the export of live cattle to Indonesia, where they are allegedly sometimes killed in cruel ways.
As someone who has seen cattle loaded onto trucks for the abattoirs, I think even a protracted death on the killing floor is the least of the problem here. Cattle spend many hours crammed into the back of trucks open to the weather. They are often loaded, in my experience, with gratuitous brutality. And then, as Wolpe says, they are butchered in a process that is sterile of respect and of dignity. Our mass slaughter of animals is an aberration against goodness.
Some of these cattle will have been standing weeks and months in a feedlot not dissimilar to chooks in cages.
Our outrage at Indonesian slaughterhouse practice betrays our blindness to an inhumane meat industry in Australia. A bolt through the brain after days or months of ill-treatment is a very small mercy, and excuses little.
The Kalahari bushman is said to kill reluctantly, and apologises to the dying animal. I have seen the same with farmers killing a sheep for meat. This is not some sentimentality. It is recognition of our connectedness to all life. The same recognition is behind the saying of Grace at a meal.
The pr-eminent sin of the meat industry in Australia is not in the sending of live cattle overseas. It lies in our insistence on cheap meat, which drives small butchers and slaughterhouses out of existence, and grows feedlots, and treats animals as a commodity no different to iron ore. It lies in our wilful blindness and hypocrisy about Indonesian meat practices while we make meat an indulgent staple instead of a reluctant necessity.
Wolpe concludes with these words, and he is correct:
We see sacrifice as primitive because most of us are sheltered from the reality of what we eat. One of the reasons I do not eat meat is the realization that buying meat is a sleight of hand: The consumer decides not to watch how cattle are raised or killed so that she can simply whisk away the clean wrapped cut.
The ancient Israelite knew what he was offering; he had raised that animal, fed it and was now participating in a fully conscious decision to bring it to its death at the altar.
At the Temple, the priests presided and Psalms were sung. When we buy at the supermarket, we check the USDA inspection sticker.
I remember our Grade Seven teacher telling us in 1967 that we would all earn more than a hundred dollars a week, when we left school. This was startling news; one of us thought his father was earning about $35.00 each week! I don’t recall any particular dreams, or desire for lots of money. It was enough to know that things were inevitably getting better, and that this was a good thing. Life would be exciting, and be good to us.
I now live a short walk from a major shopping centre. Our incomes are twenty and thirty times those of our fathers, and that’s the lower end. The shops are full of consumer items which, in 1967, did not even exist in people's imaginations. And yet a great deal of the material in there is trivial trash, which masquerades as a way into the meaningful....Read on >>>>
After three weeks sick leave, it appears I will be able to return to my parishes next week. I am ambivalent about this, and feeling very disconnected. We say such fine things about the Kingdom of Heaven; how in the end, all that God desires for Earth and for the Universe will be brought into being. The leopard will lie down with the lamb. And in the meantime, in the now but not yet, we of the church are people of God, the embodiment of Christ. We are where the Kingdom is beginning to take shape; it is among us.
Yet church too often reminds me of a suburb where I once stayed. All the houses were timber framed galvanised iron; built in poverty. In many cases, in an attempt to make these houses look like something they were not, people had clad the front with faux brick or stone; pressed steel sheets that supposedly look like brick. You nail it over the front of the house. So often the church feels like that. We put up this theological cladding pretending to be something we are not. We have aspirations to Kingdom, but we look like a fake... Read on >>>>
When I was a young teenager the largest paddock on the farm was overrun with thistles. They grew thick as a crop, about 2 foot 6 tall, after a summer rain. You could not walk through them without being shred round the shins and thighs.
I thought we were very lucky this had happened after the harvest. I was beginning to understand the problem of weeds and, very clearly, we had a problem. I suspect I had pleasant anticipations of burning off the paddock, always good fun, to rid ourselves of the weeds.
Instead, Dad produced an enormous length of railway iron... Read on >>>>
Coming home the other night, a car squeezed off Main North Road into a service station. They had a little trouble getting in, because a woman coming out was taking up more than her share of the drive way. She yelled abuse at the driver coming in. For a moment I saw the whites of her eyes, bared teeth, and a snarling face. With her henna gone wrong hair dye, she looked very like our big orange Norwegian Forest cat, when he is snarling at the other cat, and stealing her food.
I can’t point the finger here. We once had an aggressive client who took a swing at me at the church office. I blocked it. He took another swing. I blocked that. On the third swing I lost it. I took him down. There are ways to do that. I could have grabbed him and spun him round, tripped him over my foot, and been reasonably gentle about it. I took the fast route. I was very close to beating the crap out of him.
We are animals. According to common wisdom, we have 98% of the same genetic material as chimpanzees. The defensive reflexes which meant that man could not successfully punch me, are the requirements for animal survival in the wild. Cats have them. Dogs have them. Chimps have them. We came from the wild, and we have them. But the very adrenalin that lets us destroy the enemy, or flee to safety, is also the thing that dehumanises us when we lose control of it.
What makes us human, and more human, is our ability to cultivate civility. The acme of civility is compassion; the ability to feel with. Our compassion is ultimately what makes us human. What terrifies us about the psychopath, is their inability to form human attachments; that is, be compassionate. The restraints of civility and compassion which normally protect us from each other, do not apply when we meet such a person.... Read on >>>>
A freshly ploughed winter paddock looks immaculate. The lines of the scarifier quilt the paddock in rich red browns which stand out against the green borders. So delicate is this patterning, and so sweet smelling, that long ago my dear Auntie Is stood at the edge of the paddock, and waved frantically to my Dad, far away in the middle. Newly married town girl that she was, Auntie didn’t know that you could drive over the fallow. She thought she might damage the ploughing if she drove across to him!
The romance of the country hides highly refined and calculated agricultural practice. The scarifier, now being superseded by minimum tillage equipment, slices off any roots below the soil surface and buries the weeds as the soil is turned over. Later a combine, or seeder, will precisely place the seed at the recommended depth in the soil, along with fertiliser. And the crop will grow... Read on >>>>
Today I officiate at the funeral of my Uncle Brian Prior. I'm preaching from Matthew 25, so I've included it in the lectionary series for Matthew.
What are we to think about how life goes on after the death of someone we love? What’s ultimately important?
There’s a story in the Gospel of Matthew, which imagines a king, at the end of time, standing out next to the shearing shed, drafting sheep. I reckon Brian probably did this a few times!
Only the king is not drafting the wethers out from the ewes, down at the sheep yards at Hillview, he’s drafting the sheep out from the goats. Someone is pushing the mob down the race, and the king is on the drafting gate sending the sheep to the right and the goats to the left.
And then, as the story goes... the King says to the sheep, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Now there’s a little joke going on here, because these words came as a bit of a surprise to some of the sheep, because they thought they might be heading for the other place.... Read on >>>>