Lake Hart, SA, 2016

One Man's Web

"I have not changed anything I believe in 27 years." I think this public statement by a colleague was seeking to be faithful to call, and faithful to the Christ. They are a witness to constancy. But the words contrast with another statement of faith, which C.S. Lewis repeats constantly in the final book of the Narnia Tales: The Last Battle. There the call is "Farther up, and farther in." There is something dynamic about Christian faith. It is an invitation to deep life; life farther in. Life that is here, and perhaps even in the hereafter, but life which is deeper. Life that is here where herebecomes more profound, not only because of our ability to see more clearly the depths of its suffering and depravity, but in our recognition of its glory and beauty.

Another colleague wrote recently that the "theologian and astronomer, Johannes Kepler … argued that in the Book of Scripture (the Bible) God accommodates himself (sic) to all human beings." I think this means that a child who says, "Jesus died so I won't have to die," has understood the gospel. But what happens when that child meets the abrupt discord of death?

My colleague and I officiate at funerals, and so we are what you might call "death professionals." The professional at the funeral is always, and appropriately holding things at a distance; how else can we serve those for whom the death is a tearing apart of their lives? We are all like this; death is always held distant so we can function each day. But there is a closer meeting with death; a moment when our being is threatened, as death crowds past our defences and distancing. It could be that moment when I found what certain physical symptoms indicated: "So that is how I will die." Or it might be something quite unexpected, which may not seem to be about our death at all. ... Read on >>>>

After the last supper, Jesus went out to Gethsemane. It tells us this in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. Gethsemane means "the place of the oil press." The Gospel of Luke says they went out to the Mount of Olives… which is where you might expect to find an oil press.

The Mount of Olives is significant because people believed the Messiah would come from the Mount of Olives when he rescued Jerusalem. That idea came from a prophecy in Zecariah Chapter 14, and the story of Jesus uses the Mount of Olives as a literary symbol to tell us Jesus is the Messiah.

But John's Gospel, which we read today, does not give us a name for the place where Jesus went to be handed over. There is no name. John simply calls it a garden, or in Greek, a κῆπος.

There is another word Greek can use for a garden and it's one we still use in English, although we have forgotten its root-meaning; that is, we have forgotten where the word came from. That word is ... paradise…. in Greek, παράδεισος. We sometimes remember one garden in particular when we talk about paradise, and that garden is the Garden of Eden.

And that's John's point. His Gospel begins with a retelling of the story of creation... Read on >>>>

20180326-inourownvoices-1For Aaleia…

Listen

Why come to Jerusalem? The gospel texts are clear that Jesus knew he would die. Certainly, they contain hindsight, but their central emphasis is that he knew he was coming to die. Why do that? ...

I wondered in my Palm Sunday sermon today, if the victory won by Jesus is neither his cross, nor his resurrection. The victory which allows him to enter Jerusalem in a triumphal parade is that this fully human being has trusted God with his life, and lived compassion. The cross and the resurrection are cost and proof of his trust that true life resides in the mercy; that is, in the compassion,  of an unlimited love for all people which is modelled on the unlimited love for us which comes from God.

And this evening, with Good Friday on my mind, my wife told me of the Waterford Treasures. In this Irish city known for its crystal, are church vestments dating from the 1460's. They are the only set of medieval vestments which survive in northern Europe, embroidered Italian silk buried for over a century to survive the fanaticism of Cromwell. "They were re-discovered 123 years later when the medieval cathedral was being demolished and were then gifted by the Church of Ireland bishop to his Catholic counterpart."

I felt a sudden regret as I remembered that all this beauty could be lost as our world falls apart. And remembered my post of three years ago: Easter in the Anthropocene. What does it mean to live fully and deeply in a world facing collapse, in a world which may be dying?

We face societal collapse to a greater or lesser degree... Read on >>>>

Imagine being in Paris in May in 1944. Paris, the French capital, is occupied by the German army. Imagine if a man came into Paris in a Jeep, dressed in a British army uniform, and started crying out that the battle would soon be won, that God would soon be in charge, a great victory is at hand.

What do you think the Germans running Paris would have done at that point? ….. …. ….

I think they would have thought the man was crazy! Really!? You're going to overthrow the Third Reich— you!!?

But crazy didn't matter. If someone had started crying out about another kingdom instead of The Thousand Year Reich, the Nazis would have rubbed them out, on the spot. Just like the Romans crushed any talk against the Empire of Caesar. 

Actually, what the Romans would do was kill that sort of person really, really slowly and painfully, to make an example of them, and to act as a deterrent. That's what crucifixion was about. It was a slow inefficient way to kill people… but it made people afraid. In Paris, the Nazis threatened that if you killed a German soldier they would retaliate by killing a hundred civilians; it was the same sort of thing.

But what if that person had come into Paris with a donkey and a little cart, and begun handing out loaves of bread to the hungry citizens, and even to the German soldiers, and had said a great victory had been won. And that the city would soon be returned to what it should be. What kind of victory would that be? And how crazy would that person be?... Read on >>>

This post is not about the specifics of the Palm Sunday gospels. For that, read "Jesus, rain on my parade." This post seeks to find what will inform my reading of the gospels for Palm Sunday and, indeed, the Easter gospels.

What was Jesus trying to do on Palm Sunday?

We are too quick if we answer that he was trying to say something about a different kind of kingship. I have preached that Palm Sunday is an acting out of his good news that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand; that his entry into the city is the entry of peace, a king riding on a donkey rather than a war horse. I have suggested that kingdom is an unhelpful word because of all the masculine privilege bound up within it. I like kindom, which removes gender as an enduring sin within the Community of Divine Love, and which challenges all our notions of race, and other privilege.  

All that is there, but something else is happening: He is daring death. If we hasten past this, we miss...  nearly everything... Read on >>>

20180318-dreaming-light

19The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!’ Even the urbane and sophisticated "Greeks," the Hellenised Jews from the Diaspora, were flocking to see this Jesus whom John subtly reminds springs from among the naïve religious outsiders: "They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’"

And so last night we joined the Festival thousands along the footpaths of North Terrace, marvelling at the light shows projected upon the sacred old buildings of white settlement. We began at the city's "first cultural centre [which] has been a library, art gallery, museum, society meeting place and offices, place of adult education, administration headquarters and information centre." This is the South Australian Institute Building. In a great irony the real first culture projected its own dreaming over the façade of the building of the invaders in a technical and aesthetic masterpiece.  This irony was enriched when I read this morning.... Read on >>>>

I often write in these pages of my experience that something about living compassionately heals us.  It allows God to work in us. Something happens despite our limitations; something outside us. That is; I'm clear that it's not me doing this, it's been done to me. But I've never been able to put words to what is going on in my life.... I am fascinated to discover a mechanism for what seems to be happening in my healing and growth, and what has happened in my past. It immediately filters out the extravagant claims of the court prophets*— perhaps now we should call them the populist prophets— of the church. It warns me to be patient in my living. It focuses me upon the way of Jesus..... Read on >>>>

I still remember the shock that "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world." I was not quite able to see the implication of my response to this verse some forty years ago, which was that I had somehow internalised the idea that God does condemn the world. Informing and colouring everything else was an underlying instinct that God does not really like us; that God barely tolerates us. It was as though this subliminal text ran between the lines on every page of my bible: You don't deserve this. God does not like you.

We speak of God's love, yet the way we see and feel this love is shaped by a fear or instinct that, in truth, at base, God does not love us or, at least, not me. God's love is very conditional.

Does this mean that God is not to be trusted? Do we hate God for this? Is God one of those wowsers (an ineffably pious person who mistakes this world for a penitentiary and himself for a warder) who, no matter what we do, or who we are, will always find something to condemn us with?... Read on >>>>

"Mr. Smith, the problem is that you are overweight. You have to lose weight and then these other problems will disappear, or become manageable." This diagnosis may be appropriate for a particular moment in the doctor's surgery, but it assumes that Mr Smith's weight is the problem, rather than perhaps being a symptom  of other issues in his life.

What about the "problem" we call depression. Is it, in fact, a symptom of wider issues in our lives, as much as it is a problem of itself?

Growing up, there was no such thing as a depression in my world. I knew of a bloke called "Old Melancholy," and there were two blokes whose name was preceded by the title "Happy," which was a clear indication that, characteristically, they were not. But men were never mentally unwell, much less depressed. The use of the word grows noticeably from about 1970, according to the Google Ngram.

We knew about shell-shock, but it was kept safely distant to refer to the wounds of World War I. No one used it of the WWII veteran in our small town, who I now recognise to have been badly traumatised. There was no sense that men lived with mental illness; we were either sane or mad. In the latter case you were removed to Glenside.

However, women were allowed to have breakdowns, or nervous breakdowns. I rather suspect this served to help us men stay secure in our perceived strength and stability, and to reinforce and justify our sexism.

I say all this to make a point: Depression is not polio. It is not a simple disease for which we have a vaccine. Our society-wide hiding and repression of the reality of mental illness warns us that there is something much deeper going on.... Read on >>>>

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