Flinders, looking south to Wilpena Pound November 2014

One Man's Web


According to some recent news reports, the worst year to be alive was the year 536.

"Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 ... to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. ... A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night— for 18 months..."

But of course the worst year to be alive is the year everything goes wrong for us... Read on >>>>


Thuruna Bay

There is always the fear, when swimming off the beach, that a Great White may lurk just beyond the blue line. This is the risk of living. As we swam, waist deep, in the clear water of Thuruna Bay, we saw a disturbance, a purposeful shimmer coming towards us. And we stood with sudden fear, wondering what we were seeing. It was a huge ray, larger than us, slowly flapping, yet faster than we could hope to be if we even had time to turn and flee to the beach. It swam a smooth curve around us and continued up the coast. Dismay is the moment, or the months, when you realise that what you have feared is not going to swim around you but today will gather you up into something unknown.

Gospel: Luke 21:25-38

The Glorious Spaces in Between

There is fear
but there are also the things which dismay us. 
These are the things which remove 
all the distance between far off fear 
and ourselves. 
They bring the fear home. 
They are the trap which closes upon us 
and which brings us to realise 
it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 
All of us... 

Dismay is the fear which has found its mark in our heart.
Dismay is fear taken shape
and rushing at... us.

In his opening prayer on Sunday, my colleague said
     Love is greater even than the things which dismay us. 
This is the gospel in a sentence.... Read on >>>>

I do not seek to convert anyone with this post. What we are dealing with in the current tragedy within the Uniting Church is not about logic. It is about the fear which can only be overcome by love of God irrupting into our lives.

Neither do I pretend to speak for LGBTIQ+ friends. I have little comprehension of their pain. Indeed I owe these friends much for their compassion and uplift of me.  I write of my own journey and the insights that have done much to free me in this, and in similar disputes.

For a long time, I was driven by a fear that God might not love me.  I read the gospel of Matthew as a young man, and concluded, "I'm not sure if I believe this, but if it's right, I'm on the wrong side of the fence." My first joyful faith soon devolved into a hard-line fundamentalism which sought to fence God in close, so that I would be safe. My conversion was undergirded by fear which I soon forgot, because I considered I had "found the answer" to life and its purpose. So for most of that time my fear was largely unconscious, and I had no reason to question if my desire for holiness was anything more than an  appropriate response to God's love for me.

The instinct for holiness is good. It is a recognition that God offers something completely other; something so completely other that it wipes out our universal experience that all our best desires and best efforts as people, inevitably fall apart, and begins to heal us.

I see my life from those early days, until now, as a slow growth, and more importantly, a slow reforming of my understanding of holiness. I now see two choices: holiness shaped around a certain way of being good, or holiness as allowing and striving for the inclusion of all people into the gathered people of God. And both choices, ultimately, are only our limited response to the holiness that is God... Read on >>>>

There is no one righteous, not even one.

This First Impressions (19/11/2018) reads the gospel text for the Sunday of Christ's Reign in the light our recent synod and seeks to place us in the wider story of salvation. I write deeply aware that at many levels I am extraordinarily privileged, and avoid much of the pain experienced by my sisters and brothers. You will note that I refer to verses either side of the set reading.

You can listen here.

My first response to the text
In that kingdom by which God creates and fulfils the world 
we are not permitted to put anyone to death. 
Even when our attempts to establish a kingdom, a way of being human
can find no case against a person
we are unable to prevent their death. 
We kill.

We cry for the powers to release us, 
to release the children of the Father 
   for bar Abbas means "son of the father" 
and yet we kill him. 
We destroy the humanity we are trying to become. 
We kill... Read on >>>>

20181118-samsonflatfireIn my part of the world it is the week of an arduous and important synod. We will decide who we are.


How do we live when wars and the rumour of wars reignite all the fears of our hearts?

How do we live when

The notional two-degree figure widely cited by politicians as the upper limit of what we, and the planet, could possibly accommodate is a line we’re on course to gallop past in just a few years’ time. By 2100, we may well be looking at a five or six-degree temperature rise, and even then there’s a possibility we’re being lowballed. “The scientist who confidently predicts a five-degree warming by the end of the century,” Franzensuggests ...“might tell you in private, over beers, that she really expects it to be nine.” 

I remind myself I am going to die.... Read on >>>>


I guess that widow would need to carefully ration her pantry until the next pension cheque came in.

Except that the words "all she had to live on" are literally "all the life of her." She is "'ptoche' - really poor," and in a time with no pensions, will probably die because of her giving. And it's all for a temple and a system that is falling apart. A couple of verses later, Jesus is saying "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." Mark puts her next to this futility for more than the purpose of showing the hypocrisy of the scribes. In the end, we are all poor widows— impoverished people who will be forgotten— even the scribes. Why do we bother with life?

Why did the scribe who did not parade and posture like his fellows, and who did not devour widow's houses, even bother to love his neighbour as himself? How do you keep going when the system is corrupt and the end seems obvious? Why bother?

For the first time in half a year, I ventured past the supermarket into the depths of our regional shopping centre, seeking the optometrist. Even without new glasses, my long absence helped me to see the place with a new clarity. There is nothing here, I thought, that I would buy. It is all junk. Why do people bother with this place? ... Read on  >>>>

When I left home at the end of school, I lived in a coeducational college. Even then, I could see that some of us men had bad attitudes towards the women residents; I remember conversations about how things might be improved. But I now understand that even we nicer boys still thought we were naturally superior to women. We would have denied this; it was  so much a part of our formation that we could not see it. It's all very well to see a problem, but it can't be fixed until we see the whole problem, especially if we are the problem.

Here is the point: If we do not see that all humanity— us too—  is involved in and formed by sacrificial practice, then what we say about the Gospel, and what we say about the lectionary gospel for this week, is compromised just like my early college efforts. We will fail to see we are the problem. We have assumed that "they" did sacrifices "back then in Jesus' time," but that we don't. That skews everything we say and do. 

Let us look at the text, which will lead us back to this point.

From the end of Mark Chapter 8, the journey to Jerusalem begins. If we look at the teaching of Jesus from Mark 8:27 to 10:52 we could say Jesus is teaching us what it means to be Messiah and what it means to follow the Messiah. We might also characterise this section of the gospel as Jesus teaching us how to love.... Read on >>>>

You can listen here.

Introduction to the readings:

Joshua 6: The Gospel of Mark doesn't tell us Jesus is in Galilee or on the lake just to fill in the narrative. Mark uses geography to say something about the Good News of the Kingdom of God. We might say that in Mark, geography is theology. So why does he tell us that Jesus' last stop before Jerusalem is the city of Jericho?

The first thing we do when we ask a question like that is look to see what the Old Testament says about a place. So the Old Testament reading today is about Jericho, which was the city which blocked Israel's entry into the Promised Land....


The Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Here are some things to note.

This is the last story before Jesus enters Jerusalem. It is the story before Palm Sunday. And although it seems the rich man could not give away all his possessions, just a few verses before, Bartimaeus gives up all that he had. He throws off his cloak. If you remember the Palm Sunday story, the disciples take off their cloaks for Jesus to sit upon on the donkey, and the people throw their cloaks onto the road. The message might be that to have our eyes opened we have to give up all we have... or, like the rich man, we will go away sorrowful. Let's listen to the story...

but one more interesting fact: Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jeshua; that is, Joshua. There were two Joshuas at Jericho!  What is different between them?...

Sermon: Leaving Jericho Behind

The saying goes that nothing is certain, except death and taxes. It's not quite true; there is one more certainty: Things   fall   apart.  I don't mean things like car engines. I mean that no matter how well we plan, no matter how high our ideals, human institutions always seem to strike trouble. Even our best and greatest hopes unravel, despite our constant attention. Things fall apart, and the small discontents and disappointments of a congregation are mirrored in the assassinations in parliaments, and in the wars of the world.

If we try to unpack what it is that defeats us, we find that somewhere in our plans there was an argument over power; it can begin with a minister who must have things his way. The need for power always leads to some kind of violence. And to keep the violence under control... we turn it, or focus it, upon  a scapegoat— when things go wrong, we always find someone else to blame.

And at the bottom of all that, the reason we get into this spiral with everything, is our fear of dying. People will do anything; they will give all they have, to save their lives, Satan tells God in Job 2:4.  

Everything human falls apart, and the fear of death is at the bottom of that. Christopher Hitchens wrote a book called God is not Great; Religion Poisons Everything. He was wrong. Religion is our attempt— good or bad— to stop the poison. It is the fear of death... which poisons everything.

Sometimes people deny this. From my personal experience I can only agree with research psychologist Richard Beck, who says,

you might claim that you don't fear death, but once you start loving others you'll quickly find out that you do...

And that's because love forces us to face death. True love costs us deeply; it gives up our power to stay safe.... Read on >>>>

I've just taken two long days on an unexpected trip to eastern Victoria, which means there is only a short reflection for this week. While driving I kept returning to the question of Jericho. Mark uses geography to make a theological point. Some scholars even suggest he invented the Sea of Galilee for this purpose. (Here for a summary and here for detail.) Why then, is Jesus in Jericho? As someone who frequented gentile territory, it is not likely that he felt the need to take the long route around Samaria to get to Jerusalem, (and that may be a furphy anyway.) Jericho has a theological purpose.

In the last lectionary cycle, I noted Mark D Davis' comment that "The last time someone shouted outside of Jericho, the walls fell down." It's a great line, but what are the walls that fall?

My thinking was interspersed with the constant reporting on the national apology to victims of institutional child sex abuse  in institutional care in Australia. This has indeed been one of the appalling episodes of our history, paralleling and includingthe stealing of aboriginal children from their parents across generations. It has not escaped the notice of many Australians that the politicians who spoke with genuine remorse on the part of the nation during the apology, are the same ones who support the detention of children in Nauru in the most appalling conditions. There, children as young as ten attempt suicide while the government repeatedly forces attempts to gain them proper care into the federal courts... Read on >>>>

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