Lent 3C, 2019
Luke 13:1-9

An Affirming Faith in The Face of Evil

Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day, it seems, believed in a God who punished the bad people and rewarded the good. They went so far as to say:

  • if you live in poverty or have a bad accident or disease, you are revealed by God as a sinner;
  • if you are healthy and prosper you are revealed by God as a righteous person.

There is a story that gives us a bit of a modern version of that thinking; it goes like this….

A minister… let’s call her Diana, rushed around to the home of friends where a small child has suddenly died. She was met at the door by the distraught father, a senior lecturer in mathematics at the local university, who usually was most composed. “O Diana, thanks for coming.  It’s a nightmare. You know, I have not been reading my Bible much these days.” At first Diana was confused by her friend’s opening remark. What had reading the Bible to do with a little child’s death? Later, after she had thought the issue through, Diana was able to help untangle the poor father’s anguish.

The father’s first reaction had been to feel guilty. Years before, when he had been confirmed, he had promised to ‘diligently study the scriptures.’ In the anguish of the new grief, the ancient fear that the death was a punishment from God, had broken loose. Some one was at fault. It must be him. His mind came up with a broken vow. Normally, that man would have logically dismissed the idea of a child’s death as divine retribution, as rubbish. But in the grief crisis, the ancient superstition had got the jump on him. In all of us, primitive stuff like that lies semi-hidden. It’s like the ghosts of old gods that refuse to completely go away.

In all of us, hidden away in the murkier parts of our psyche, are irrational fears and superstitions. These are a hangover from the not so ancient, primitive past of homo sapiens. One of these superstitions is that we may be the guilty cause of accidents and disease to ourselves or those whom we love dearly. There are of course some religious people in New Zealand today who are still committed to that concept of God. Their God is one of anger and retribution for the unrighteous, and of the reward of good health and prosperity for the righteous.

Rex Hunt quotes from a sermon delivered by Bruce Prewer, a retired Uniting Church minister and author of many books which help shape an Australian spirituality, and he says that; “One of the most recent statements of this unhappy dogma, was exhibited recently by an evangelist (so called!).  It was offering time at a big gathering and the announcement was made before the offering: ‘We all know bad economic times are coming.  There will be a great collapse of the markets and people will lose everything they own. But those who give well to God this day will be among the few who will do well and prosper in the bad times that must come.’” Bruce Prewer response was: “Yuk!” (Prewer web site 2004)

Others, such as John Shelby Spong and John Dominic Crossan and Sallie McFague,
are also at the forefront of putting old theological superstitions to bed. The challenge is for us to do the same. Happiness or misery cannot be simply equated with goodness and badness. That old superstition is a lie. The old gods of retribution and reward who lurk in the dark corners of our minds, are false gods. Dismiss the superstition.  We have Jesus’ word on it. But… and sometimes there always seems to be a ‘but’, doesn’t there! We also have the claim that Jesus’ word says: ‘Do not pretend that the good or evil that we do does not matter’. Of course, many of us believe that accidents, massacres, disease, are not God’s punishments. But if we don’t watch our step, if we don’t hedge our bets on this, we can all end up with another kind of disaster…we will likewise perish. Not as bodies that die, but as persons who can decay and perish while living. This is the loss of hope issue, the sense that with the liberalization of theology and faith we might lose control and end up with a horrible life. Better the current belief than the more complex one.

This is also part of the current ‘climate change’ debate. Whatever side you might choose to be as to its authenticity you will have to deal with it. Theologian, Sallie McFague, writes:
“Global warming is not just another important issue that human beings need to deal with; rather, it is the demand that we live differently.  While I prefer to understand that global warming is a slightly different approach than climate change, I agree that we cannot solve it, deal with it, given our current anthropology.  It is not simply an issue of management; sure, it does require us to take seriously the amount of plastic in our oceans and the amount of waste that our economic system produces but that is a management issue and it is not enough, rather, it demands a paradigm shift in who we think we are.  The challenge is that without a shift in paradigm we cannot expect ourselves or others to undertake the radical behavioural change that is necessary to address our planetary crisis.” (McFague 2008:44). As individuals, as a world, we are all capable of perishing… not as a species limited by biology but rather disintegrating as persons. And none of us is exempt.

It is also not unlike the impact and response to the shooting in Christchurch last week. The ignorance of or naivety around the fact that we are surprised and shamed by what took place in our lovely country will not be addressed by management of behaviour. New rules and regulations will not change the environment. We have discovered that we have less rules than other countries but their experience is that even more rules does not stop such atrocities. We have also discovered that we have ignored our own history in that atrocities of a greater nature have taken place in our nation’s past. Hundreds of people have been slaughtered in our own internal racial wars. For those of us who are of Jewish and Christian heritage violent atrocities are part of our heritage.

Rex Hunt suggests that this Lent might be a good time for us to do a couple of ‘life-affirming’ things. Maybe we can update the thinking which shapes our faith and beliefs.

Maybe we can change our minds and hearts by looking for the life-affirming clues all around us – the tender care rather than the axe! This requires us to accept that as a species we have instinctive and psychological traits that have generated social, political and religious paradigms that need challenging. The acceptance of an original sin, The obsession with self-depricating repentance as the sole means of change, the rising acceptance of revenge as closure all need to be challenged if we are to rid ourselves of violence as a means of change. Our history as a species is riddled with it and we know it does not solve things. Maybe we can be the special people we are, but it requires more than just a cognitive awareness and a management process by which we prevent ourselves from continuing to act out in a simple fight or flight response to difference and challenge. But before we do this, I want to show a video that I think might help us think before we act. It is a video about the human brain that asks us to think differently about how we come to our decisions and it challenges old assumptions about how we do this. My hope is that if we are better informed about our own processing of life we might ask ourselves the important questions before we respond to the unknown or the challenging.

Video   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kunVEneaGNg

Question time

 Notes:
McFague, S. A New Climate for Theology. God, the world, and global warming. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2008.

rexae74@gmail.com

 

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‘Living Stones’

Posted: March 13, 2019 in Uncategorized

Lent 2C, 2019
Luke 13: 31-35

‘Living Stones’

There was a while back a program run by the Middle East Council of Churches, and there is reported a comment made by a Palestinian Christian who said to participating churches. “Thank you for coming to visit the ‘living stones’, and not just the dead stones, the holy places, the archaeological sites. Most Christian pilgrims bypass us he said; we are invisible. We are at best dirty, dangerous Arabs. “They say ‘how wonderful it is to walk where Jesus walked’. I say it is more wonderful to walk with the people with whom Jesus walked. I have been walking where Jesus walked for the last 50 years. It’s a big deal!  But the purpose is not to walk where he walked, but to walk how he walked. Here is a challenge to those of us who live our comfortable complicated lives in the shadow of an institutional Christianity with all its security blankets of doctrine, belief systems and creeds that produce screeds of liturgies and words of great literary value. It’s a big deal but there is an even bigger deal and it is to be living stones, to walk the Jesus Way or as Perry Gianzer says we are to be citizens of another Kingdom, we are to be living stones or stones that do not conform to what stones are. They our outsiders, different, noticeable and valued for it. They might have been called prophets in the past. But they are valued We are to be stones that live and thus living stones. Gainzer says that if faithful disciples experience life as “aliens and exiles,” then a good Christian education must include helping kids understand as well as practice what it means to be an alien. To be an outsider and different and unique. Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, suggest that Christians are “resident aliens.” Of course, what it means to be a “resident alien” can be subject to some misunderstanding. I want to suggest that the term might better be living stones, Stones that are about solidity sure faith, stability, integrity, honesty and courage, and about vitality, innovation, creative and vibrant.

Gainzer gives the example of when talking about the paperwork for renewing his wife’s resident alien card, their youngest son exclaimed, “Mommy, you can’t be an alien. If you’re an alien you have to be from outer space.” Gainzer chimed in that during his first Christmas in Canada (his wife’s country of citizenship), it actually felt as cold as outer space (minus twenty-five degrees Celsius for five straight days to be exact), but he did not think that his son or wife thought that comment was helpful. His wife then patiently explained that being a resident alien means you are a citizen of another country. The Apostle Paul reminds Christians “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Thus, good Christian education, at the very least, involves helping kids understand as well as practice what it means to be resident aliens. You might like to explore what this means in relation to the Milky Way, what does it mean to be a resident alien for those children? You might also ask some of our Chinese folk. What about me of value as a living stone?

As with most Christian parents, we are not always sure in our culture that we know what it means to raise resident aliens or as I suggest, living stones. We enter the world as strangers not knowing who we are. According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, we should allow children to learn about themselves naturally. In fact, the best kind of education, according to Rousseau’s philosophy, involves protecting children from society’s corruption by taking them out to nature. This seems to resonate with what Darius and Chrysalis is trying to do in their early learning centers.

One of the interesting things I thought when hearing Darius talk about their vision and aspiration was that spending time in nature may do many things, but neither educated human beings nor living stones are cultivated naturally. Children need help and guidance to discover who they are. In this endeavour, living stones realize they cannot depend solely on the majority political community for help. Since Gainzer’s wife remained a Canadian, their children were dual citizens (members of two kingdoms as Augustine would describe it). Gainzer does not believe his son has learned more than a few facts about Canada in the three years he attended an American public school. His Canadian identity has simply not been addressed or nurtured. Of course, this is not surprising given that American public schools seek to create productive Americans and are not designed to produce good Canadians.

The Gainzers recognized that the cultivation of their Canadian identity will take a special effort. Living Stone Christians face a similar challenge. We should also not downplay the challenge or shrug it off. Education can inform children of their identity but it can also warp their self-understanding. Without some educating from members of one’s family, children would know nothing of their previous identity, their history, or their special rituals, practices, heroes, and particular cultural achievements.

Christian living stones face a similar danger. One American study of high school texts books found, unsurprisingly that; “The underlying worldview of modern education divorces humankind from its dependence on God; it replaces religious answers to many of the ultimate questions of human existence with secular answers; and, most striking, public education conveys its secular understanding of reality essentially as a matter of faith.

While I would affirm the need to question and even to move away from some of these traditional assumptions about God and the interpretation that has grown up over the years there is a clear challenge in the change that takes place. We may not view the secular intrusion as negatively anymore but we do lament the loss of the Christian myth upon which our faith has been sustained. It seems we have successfully demythologized Christianity but what have we put in its place? Our lament suggests not enough!

Young living stones may lose their identity unless parents and the Christian community, the Church, carefully cultivate it. One of the primary ways that children develop an understanding of themselves and their world is through narratives or stories and as Alasdair MacIntyre notes, “Deprive children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words.

Gainzer notes that his son will learn what it means to be a Canadian by learning Canadian history and literature. Christians have been graced with a similar kind of orientating narrative through Scripture. Thus, just as Israelite parents were instructed to pass on God’s law, they were also told to tell the stories of God’s saving works to their children in order to orient their lives and provide context for rules. There are two key points here and the first is that the charge is to pass on by way of story, the understanding of how those that came before made sense of life and how to live it and what is perhaps more important is the use these stories are to be put. They are not to indoctrinate or impose belief but rather to enable the children to orient their own lives in their own time and place so as to provide a basis for their own law. And here the sense is not a book of rules for life but rather a way of being that is fulfilling. Not stones, but living stones. There is space for interpretation and in fact it is encouraged, and there is acknowledgement that societies need common sense. There is a purpose for this storytelling and it is to keep alive the quest for common sense. Working it out together and doing it together are what it’s about.

For those who want to rely upon legislation and rule of law I would suggest that rules and regulations can provide a degree of guidance for children, but children will always need to know the reasons for the rules. Its more than about consequences and rather what these consequences say about human life and how to be a living stone. These reasons are rooted in identity stories.

Before giving the Ten Commandments, God reminded Israel of their redemptive story, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). Similarly, Christian parents and educators need to help children to understand the moral life as well as all of knowledge education in light of the overarching story of creation, including humanity. These stories provide a holistic understanding of identity and who we are that our children will never receive through politically controlled forms of education that tend to downplay or avoid competing identities and allegiances and become PC driven. I am not advocating a non-thinking competitive society but rather one of living stones, one where active participating human being are rooted in a confident, hope-filled world and this is a world beyond climate change, beyond political mess and beyond rampant individualism and a world beyond the need for fear as a motivator.

It is easy for schools to help children understand their true national identity, but they struggle to contribute to an understanding of their wider human identity and worth although they may try. For example, educators have often attempted to bolster students’ self-esteem using positive affirmation techniques such as “think happy thoughts” while some traditionalists have argued for grounding a child’s self-worth on academic competence. Be good at doing and the being good at being will take care of itself. Neo liberalism perhaps. The market will provide. Either approach I think, neglects a Christian understanding that all humans have worth and dignity because they are a sacred creation.

The mentally or physically handicapped child and the cognitively or athletically gifted student have worth, value, and dignity apart from what they can either accomplish or not accomplish. It’s about being rather than just about doing. It’s about Theopraxis, an applied theology. The child’s dignity and worth does not depend on whether they “think happy thoughts.” If we fail to impart this identity story to our children, we have neglected to tell them the truth about who they and others really are as human beings. Identity-shaping stories do more than provide a sense of human worth; they also shape our affections and desires. In one’s own school experience as with Gainzer, we know one can be trained to think and desire like a citizen of this world but sadly not always as a living stone.

For example, while pondering the overwhelming array of occupational options during his senior year in high school, Gainzer eliminated the alternatives with a simple question: What career will fit my interests, and provide long-term job security. This suggests that Children need help and guidance to discover what a school is in as a culture. Gainzer decided upon engineering for the simple reason that there were numerous job openings promising plentiful pay. In retrospect, he now cringes at the thought of his earlier reasoning. Why did longings about salary and security guide his decision about a college major? Fundamentally, he forgot who he was and how his Christian identity story might guide his life purpose and desires.

Instead, he let himself be shaped by a different story. Neil Postman in his book, The End of Education, labels it the narrative of Economic Utility: “The story tells us that we are first and foremost economic creatures and that our sense of worth and purpose is to be found in our capacity to secure material benefits. Gainzer longed for financial success and security in this kingdom and not treasures of more we traditionally have known as the kingdom of God. Our New Zealand experience in recent years has been akin to that in that both the commercialization of state and the trickle down, leave it to the market approach has left us asking what about human wellbeing?

Educators help students cultivate and prize certain identities through their school’s curriculum and overall ethos. In fact, the integration of what we understand as democracy and learning is effective in our schools. Not surprisingly, resident aliens take different subjects and imbibe a different ethos. This is evidenced by the desire to preserve one’s language and culture. Who is Jesus for me and what words do I use to communicate his value and his example in my life’s decisions? I can’t ask these questions without being a living stone. As Christian living stones, we must recognize the need to teach our children an alternative curriculum and help them live in another ethos. One that is confident and robust to engage in the pluralistic debate, one that is intellectually authentic and understandable at all levels of engagement.

What is difficult for us is to recognize that we do not want to be elitist as a living stone but rather to be clear that our different citizenship should alter our curriculum. For Christians, the importance of this point goes even deeper if we see being in the image of God important and if Jesus’ impact in society is a value then by imitating his understanding of life, love, humility, servanthood, forgiveness of enemies, and acceptance of difference, we will learn how to be more fully human.

Stories of Christian history are important in that when students hear these stories people like Augustine, Polycarp, and John Chrysostom, as well as many others of more recent ilk have an impact, not in terms of passing on a doctrine or a particular thought but as legitimization of thinking and alternative viewpoint and a contemporary understanding takes place. For Christians these characters in the Christian story of the church are just as important as a president might be in the story of the American nation-state. Much of what it means to be a citizen gets transmitted through a school’s ethos and not its formal curriculum. Living stone homes and communities need to embody a distinct ethos with different symbols, icons, and calendars. Living stone homes and communities have a whole different ethos with different symbols, icons, and calendars.

Jon Amos Comenius (1592-1670). Provided an example of many of the qualities we have suggested as those of a living stone and if anyone knew what it meant to be a living stone in both the political and theological sense—Comenius knew. Brought up in present-day Czech Republic during times of political and religious strife, Comenius was forced to flee from his homeland, to which he was never able to return. He lived in seven different countries, and near the end of his life he wrote, “My life was a continuous wandering. I never had a home. Without pause I was constantly tossed about. Nowhere did I ever find a secure place to live. Comenius became one of Europe’s most well-known educational reformers. His educational ideas were deemed revolutionary from the simple fact that he conceived that all education—in its purpose, structure, curriculum, and methods—should be influenced by the Christian story. For instance, with regard to the structure of education, he became one of the first educators to suggest the radical idea of “providing education to the entire human race regardless of age, class, sex, and nationality” including “young and old, rich and poor, noble and ignoble, men and women—in a word, of every human being born on earth. The basis for this amazingly progressive and humanizing vision sprang from Comenius’s view of humanity as made in God’s image. “All men are born for the same main purpose; they are to be human beings, i.e., rational creatures, masters over the other creatures and images of the Creator,” Comenius wrote. “God himself often testifies that before Him all things are equal. Therefore, if we educate only a few and exclude the rest, we act unjustly not only against our fellow men but also against God who wishes to be known, loved and praised by all. In many other ways, Comenius gave himself to developing a whole vision of Christian education from which we can learn today. In his magnum opus, The Great Didactic, it is noteworthy to observe the fundamental basis for this vision. Comenius believed “the ultimate end of man is beyond this life. He understood that Christian education begins with remembering that we are living stones, rocks upon which life can flourish. Amen.

Lent 1C, 2019
Luke 4:1-13

A ‘Self Affirming’ Lent…

Wednesday 6th February 2019. The date Lent began this year. Did you eat pancakes on Tuesday as the last day of plenty? And did you note Ash Wednesday on the 6th? Its perhaps significant given the fires that are ravaging many countries in the world in these high temperature experiences. There is a lot of ash about as a result of destructive and regenerative fires. Destructive in the fact that they have destroyed many homes and taken too many lives and regenerative in that they have cleared debris and opened the earth to the regenerative elements. A clear and sure understanding of Lent is required at this time when we face the despair and loss and grief that has been raised by the Ash and the understanding must address the regenerative nature of the production of ash.

At our Ash Wednesday services, we produce ash from burnt palm leaves and other flammable branches and that ash is a symbolic invitation to come down to earth. And to wonder at the gift of life, our life with the earth, the shared body of our existence. And which reminds us of our humanity. Today is the first Sunday in Lent when we reflect on the wilderness experience of the one, we call Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, this story of Jesus’ testing ordeal in the desert, is legendary. However, scholars – at least the ones who influence me – claim this story comes from one of the early traditions of the Jesus movement, which the storytellers, including Luke, adopts. They are not considered to be an eyewitness, historical account.

Traditionally, Lent has been the season of abstinence or self-denial. A time of doing without. A time of fasting. Or heaven forbid a time of sacrifice. That unfortunately has been the way according to much of our broad, church tradition. And it appears to have been a strong motivation over the centuries. But I and many others are not so sure about that any more. The regenerative aspect of fire and the production of ash needs to be considered in liturgies and understandings of Lent. We need to rekindle our faith and be blessed, acknowledge our abundance and our blessedness during this period of Lent… Otherwise it remains a ritual or a practice without credibility. We no longer see the fire as only destructive because we know its warmth, we know its comfort and we know it regenerative power. How many of us actually believe that ‘abstinence’ or ‘self-denial’ is anything other than a self-inflicted attempt to satisfy or assuage guilt and inadequacy. Surely our hope is that Lent might become a time of doing with, a doing more, rather than a doing without. Surely it is a time of self-discovery and self-affirmation, as well as a time to claim our connectedness with the whole of the cosmos, rather than a time of self-denial.

A colleague’s personal observation asks; If you have ever gone on a walk with a bird watcher, perhaps you will know what is being suggested here. The bird watcher’s sense of sight and of hearing seems so acute that nothing is missed. It is seemingly in sync with the birds themselves, yet this sight and hearing are acute amid the very ordinary… the sticks, shrubs, grass, trees. What appears to be a jumble of sticks and noises and flashes of colour, to a trained bird watcher can be a small bird, a blending in parrot or a darting fantail. Walking with a bird watcher one discovers how much there is to be noticed. And one’s walks in the park or paddock become so much richer. The ordinary is seen in a new light. What was there all along, is noticed for the first time. Just because something is there does not mean we automatically see it and understand it. Sometimes perception takes practice. So, the suggestion is for Lent to become ‘forty days’ when we can uncover and discover once again our own worth-fulness, our own potential our own connectedness to the earth and the universe. The task of Lent is Self-discovery and connectedness rather than self-denial and isolation. Lent, is to seen as a life affirming discovery rather than life denying, and this says we are not judged by our past, but by the way in which we relate to our past.

This is not a let off nor and easy option because even a gentle review of our own lives
will uncover moments when we have been faced with decision making. Decisions which have shown our neglect of an inner life. Decisions which have required us to shed emotional garbage. And sometimes these decisions can be called a ‘crisis’. Other times the word used may be ‘testing’. All of them are about how we respond, or our ‘being’ in the world. And in Jesus’ case it was to break the culture of violence characterized by a ‘tit-for-tat’ mentality. So, this Lent, let us dare to accept the invitation of a self-affirming ‘forty days’.

To help do this I want to suggest we take a leaf out of the of the ancient Celts. The first is to see God in the ordinary. Every aspect of Celtic life accepted that the mundane is filled with divine presence. The Celts sensed Spirit’s permeating embrace throughout their daily activities, no matter how ordinary. The Book of Kells and other documents are evidence of the vast collection of prayers, hymns, blessings, and folklore infusing Celtic culture with praises of the regular human experience. They sang and prayed while working, fishing, kneading bread, weaving cloth, milking cows, and kindling the hearth. Dawn ‘til dusk, birth ‘til death, they blessed their existence. We can do this too! Just like them we are immersed in mundane daily routines, and our God is in our midst. Our prayers today can revolve around activities like sitting at computers, driving the car, helping the children with homework, preparing dinner, or watching sports.

Our practice might be to do one ordinary thing each day for six weeks be it rising from our bed, brushing our teeth or turning on the computer if we do this with a liturgical intent, a practice of connection will happen. When we do this action our intent will tune us into some questions like what does my body feel right now? How do I let go of that feeling? How do I acknowledge and move on? How do I note the aches and pains and turn to love?

The next practice might be to observe the unfolding of the particular season we are entering next. The Celts were madly in love with the natural world. Love poems were written to the moon, songs to the seals, prayer rituals performed in rivers. They experienced unity with God in green hills, dark caves, deep wells, cheerful birdsong, and countless other parts of creation. Similar to the Hebrew psalms, cosmic images such as stars, the sun, and planets are woven throughout Celtic literature. They celebrate the “musician of bird call”; they wonder at the “awakener of soil,” and they call out to “the hope-bringer in the night.” Most of us today live inside buildings, rarely venturing into nature unless on a special occasion of hiking, beach walk or park. Even people who work outdoors rarely take the time to recognize the sacredness that surrounds us. It takes a deliberate softening of the heart and a desire to notice the wonder intrinsic in creation.

Our practice might be to intentionally spend one moment each day listening to nature. Be attentive to the buds on a branch in Spring, the leaf fall in Autumn the colour change of the leaves. Watch a cloud drifting by or listen to the wind. Nature is always speaking and we might be open to receive the hidden messages. As we note our senses growing in sensitivity, we will know a deeper experience of being safe and at home.

The next practice might be to explore your love of learning. This is rooted in the understanding that life has as its root the desire to know and thus to learn. The practice will seek to express a love of learning based in the idea that Celtic culture was essentially non-cloistered monasticism. Common folk, pagans and Christian alike were absorbed in a regular schedule of spiritual growth. In pre-Christian times the Druids were the first to foster studying by learning about morality through myths and developing wisdom through prayerful daily routines.

What this suggests is that continual learning and open-minded curiosity fuels spiritual growth. It is too easy to neglect feeding our spirits the nourishing soul food it needs to thrive. Many of us abandon poetry, song and storytelling in the face of hectic schedules and deadlines. Many of us don’t understand what music or poetry do for our wellbeing because we get swept up in the temporal, work as the whole of life’s experience. It is easy to starve our souls when life feels full. The Celts’ love of learning reminds us of our inquisitive heart, and welcomes a yearning to grow wiser.

Our practice might be to actively seek to become more tolerant and more loving, it might also be to establish a process whereby we commit to ongoing self-inquiry. In the next six weeks we might read a book about spirituality or find a workshop where we can attend and experience the search for spirituality. If we do this with all the above intent it will not matter what spiritual bent you participate in because you will be critiquing it for yourself. Even your favourite mindfulness practices can contribute when you see lent as an opportunity to make these alternative explorations of yourself.

Many beautiful people gather for hope, inspiration and self-care. When you share your story, other people get great ideas. The message is that we can all thrive together! Share our story and cultivate a supportive community together. We can see lent as a time and place to love.

Rex Hunt tells of a book he read that said “We are human beings with all the strengths and weaknesses of our species.  Occasionally we reach the heights of heroic self-sacrifice and at other times we sink down into villainous self-serving.  Being aware of the extremes to which we can be drawn is, one of the most important pieces of self-knowledge we will ever possess” (Alsford 2006:140).

As Luke’s Jesus of Nazareth gained an important piece of self-knowledge, we too can face the wilderness experiences of life, often not in any special or heroic way, but simply
as we choose to get up in the morning “and go out into the world to encounter what it has to offer” (Alsford 2006:138).

And in the process, notice the present-ness of the divine or God if you like, right here. In the ordinary. In the everyday. Amen.

Notes:

Alsford, M. 2006.  Heroes and Villains. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

rexae74@gmail.com

 

Transfiguration of Jesus

Posted: February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Transfiguration of Jesus

Luke 9:28-36

Thick and Thin Places

William Loader from Western Australia says this. He says; ‘Let’s go up the mountain. Let’s go up to the place where the land meets the sky where the earth touches the heavens, to the place of meeting, to the place of mists, to the place of voices and conversations, to the place of listening’… When we read those words many of us will immediately think of Iona and all things ‘celtic’. And one of the things about Iona is that it is a place where one can each day come face to face with the elements: rain, wind, sunshine, thunderstorms and rainbows and beautiful morning mists. Iona… the Hebridean isle to which Columba and his monks travelled over 1400 years ago. And turning their backs on Ireland, commenced a religious community. Iona… regarded by many as a ‘thin place’ between the material and spiritual dimensions of life. What William Loader is doing is picturing a ‘thin place’ in his prayer poem.

With the memory of the Moses story resonating in his mind, and a similar Jesus story as told by Mark some 20 odd years before, Luke weaves his words into a picture-story ‘where the earth touches the heavens, to the place of meeting, to the place of mists, to the place of voices and conversations, to the place of listening’. Lets remember here that none of these stories are recording an historical fact and yet they are saying something true.

I have been reading Elain Pagels autobiography and she writes about her work on the Nag Hammadi documents, especially the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Truth. She touches on her work on Revelation as well but what fascinated me was her work on the Gospel of Thomas which of course we know to contain a lot of sayings attributed to Jesus.

Video Beyond Belief https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCpXoFPmRFY

Some of the key points she makes are that unlike the Gospel of Mark, Thomas suggests that Jesus was speaking in metaphor when he says “If those who lead you say to you, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds will get there first. If they say, It is in the sea, then the fish will get there first. Rather the kingdom of God is within you, and outside of you. When you come to know yourselves then you will know that you are the chi9ldren of God”. Here we have Jesus revealing that the kingdom of God is not an actual place in the sky, or anywhere else, or an event expected in human time. Instead, it’s a state of being that we may enter when we come to know who we are, and come to know God as the source of our being. The significant change here is that the ‘good news’ is not only about Jesus, its also about every one of us. This is a direct challenge to our current global obsession with difference and identity. While it may be right and proper to specify how we differ in terms of gender, race. Ethnicity, background and family this saying from Thomas suggests that recognizing that we are children of God requires us to recognize how we are the same. Members of the same family so to speak.

Taking this another step Pagels introduces the poem from the Nag Hammmadi documents entitled ‘Thunder that she worked on and here the unifying thing is the divine energy that links us all. The poem explores the complete mind by not seeing it only in the positive attributes like wisdom, holiness and power but also in terms of negative experiences like foolishness, shame and fear. The following is a short excerpt that gives us a picture of life not as one of sinner in need of redemption, not one of suffering as a result of sinfulness in need of absolution but rather as a holistic one where suffering and struggle are the requirement of life because they empower and affirm that a life of joy and peace is equally available. The poem also reintroduces for the patriarchally driven Jews the required feminine balance…..

I am the first and the last

I am the one who is honoured and the one scorned;

I am the whore and the holy one..

I am the incomprehensible silence and …

the voice of many sounds.

The word in many forms

I am the utterance of my name..

Do not cast anyone out. Or turn anyone away…

I am the one who remains, and the one who dissolves;

I am she who exists in all fear\and strength in trembling

I am she who cries out….

I am cast forth on the face of the earth..

I am the sister of my husband,

And he is my offspring..

But he is the one who gave birth to me

I am the incomprehensible silence

And the thought often remembered

I am the one who has been hated everywhere,

And who has been loved everywhere

I am the one they call Life, and you have called Death

I am the one whose image is great in Egypt

And the one who has no image among the barbarians.

I prepare the bread and my mind within;

I am the knowing of my name..

If our storyteller Luke is one thing, it is that he or she is consistent. Luke has been saying that this Jesus bloke is different, is better, than all the heroes of the past. Luke seems to understand Jesus as a new Moses, who mediates the new ‘law’ to his people and will deliver them out of bondage in a new exodus. It also seems that another of the things being suggested in this ‘thin’ story is, it is saying something important about an experience of God or The Sacred. And that something, is not about any so-called supernatural power or being. The important bit for me, I think, is that when we experience God or The Sacred something like a creative transforming power is released into our lives. We have encountered the thin place in the thick complex environment of life. And this encounter is not brought about by coercion and power over, but rather by lure and suggestion and imagination.

As Jesus was transformed before Peter, James, and John, (as the story goes), God’s so-called ‘will’ is to transform us in the everyday moments of our lives. As another scholar suggests:

  • If your deepest experience is loneliness, it is the will of God to transform you from loneliness to human connectedness.
  • If your deepest feeling is fear and anxiety, then God wishes to move you creatively past that, to love and to trust.

That is, the Source and Creativity of Life we call God, wants to move us beyond the meaninglessness of life to the intensity of living, characterized by joy and by vitality. It is precisely this creative, transforming power of God that moves us from the triviality of our existence to a new level of depth in our existence that will provide joy and zest and empowerment.

Pagels reading of the poem Thunder continues affirming the feminine as the primordial, life-giving energy that brings forth all things and I have taken the liberty of introducing the idea of God as serendipitous creativity. By that I mean that God is the unexpected, uncontainable, ambiguous uncontainable, John D Caputo’s perhaps and my almost. Creativity itself. The involved participatory vitality of possibility, unfolding of the cosmos. The adapted poem continues….

I am

Serendipitous creativity is the thought that lives in the light

It lives in everyone and delves into them all…

Serendipitous creativity moves in every creature..

It is the invisible one in all beings

Serendipitous creativity is a voice speaking softly

A real voice… a voice from the invisible thought It is a mystery….

Serendipitous creativity cries out in everyone

It hides itself in everyone and reveals itself within them,

and every mind seeking it longs for it.

Serendipitous creativity gradually brings forth everything

It is the image of the invisible spirit

The mother, the light, the virgin, the womb, and the voice

Serendipitous creativity puts breath within all things.

The suggestion here I think is that the thin places are to be found in amongst the thick places, in the everyday as well as the time out places. I think this is what the Gospel of Thomas is suggesting as the good news. It is important to take the walks in natural surrounding such as the beach at sunset or the deep lush bush because few of us feel we have ever been in a ‘thin place’ without that because much of our everyday living is done in ‘thick’ places. In the city within concrete and steel landscapes. In the city with its noise and traffic and flashing neon signs. And in ‘thick’ places such as the city we tend not to see paved malls and lawn areas as ‘sacred’ or ‘thin’ space, let alone high-rise buildings or glitzy shopping centers. And amid the mind-blowing achievements “and certainties of technology, it is not difficult to lose our sense of mystery. The challenge of Thomas is that the thin places exist within the everyday life as well. David Tacey, in his book, ‘The spirituality revolution’, cites the 1960s theologian Harvey Cox at a couple of points. “The secular world is the principal arena of God’s work today.  Those who are religious will have to enter more vitally into the secular world if they are to be agents of God’s reconciliation”. And again: “The church… must run to catch up with what God is already doing in the world”. So while it might be a bit hard to hear among all the mythology and storytelling hype, there is more good news in this story of Luke’s.

  • God is not aloof and detached.
  • God’s present-ness is like that of an expert weaver, using the fibers of our lives, weaving them into beautiful, powerful garments of love, empowering us for living and our continuing theological journeys.
  • God is present in both ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ places: in the beauty around us, in the close encounters with death, in a special way during a period of suffering, in cities of concrete and sandstone, in rain forests and church liturgies.

Don’t ignore or throw away these imaginative and mysterious experiences. Don’t let go of those things you don’t understand or cannot explain. Rather, meditate on them. Delight in them. Become a public voice for them. Use them as imaginative power that vitalizes your faith… And as a source of strength for living in both the valley and on the mountain top. In both ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ places. For Serendipitous Creativity God is up to something larger more complex and more refined than we seem able to imagine. Amen.

Radical Social Reversal

Posted: February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Radical Social Reversal

Genesis 45: 3-15       Luke 6: 27-38

Joseph suggests that his brothers who committed the most heinous deed of selling him off to their enemies should not wallow in their guilt but rather reconcile and combine energies for the future. Joseph’s task in life was to forgive his brothers restore the familial relations and combine together for the sake of the people. His task is to redeem the bigger picture and their horrific deed pales into insignificance before the needs of the people.

Luke’s Jesus calls us to look at thigs a different way too. He says “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” “Bless those who curse you” and here we remember the meaning of bless as ‘to kneel’ God blesses, God kneels, to bless is to kneel. Here we have blessing as a forgiveness of the horrific act’. And then it gets into harder territory. Jesus is asking us to be passive toward those who strike you, allow those who steal from you to have what they have stolen. Give it away, allow bad to happen to you and do it without expectation of revenge or recognition. Sounds not only impossible but also wrong to do this. We note here that many preachers avoid this text because if they do try to preach on it they feel as though they are walking on eggshells.

 

Why? Because in every congregation there are people who are fragile at various points in their lives, and this story can come like a vicious stomp. A revisiting of the trauma, a dragging it all up again. There are people who hear this story as “Love your rapist.” Or bless those who screwed up your life so badly that every relationship you have ever had has been a painful struggle. “There are women, some men and children who have fled from their homes to escape the drunken rampages of a perpetually violent person, mostly it seems, who have been told by their churches, for God’s sake, they need to turn the other cheek and go back and love him or her.  And some of those partners and children are now dead because of a callous and gutless misuse of this story”.

The first big misuse of this story is to see it as being addressed to the individual. These words of Luke’s Jesus, such as: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
present the other cheek… are not addressed to individual people who have been
the victims of cruel abuse.  Period. They are addressed to those who have power. The power to take effective action for good or harm over another person. They are meaningless if directed to those who don’t have any power in a situation. They link the acts of the perpetrator to culture, social accepted-ness, systemic corruption. Kneel before those alienated by the power of others, collective others as well as individual others. Those with the real power to change things. What follows is a Yes Minister skit that makes fun out of the power game at the level of international politics. Under the script is the question of where the real power lies.

Yes Minister Video

‘Love your enemies’ John Donahue, a Catholic New Testament scholar says this of them; “A true meaning of the love command is not acquiescence to evil and violence, but imitation of God’s love by freeing enemies of their hatred and violent destructiveness…”  (Donahue, 2001, America, online weekly Catholic magazine). 

Jesus’ vision of a radical social reversal was both ‘good news’ and a call to people to do that good in actual practice. Robinson says it is a “call to people to do that good in actual practice… “not [be] seen as human virtues, but rather as God acting through those who [trusted God]” (Robinson 2002:16).

Rex Hunt tells the story of Martin Luther King whom he cites as having done this well.

Martin Luther King Jr’s home was burned down one night by a group of white men
who did not like his message about the equality of the races. The situation after the fire was extremely dangerous. African Americans, under the leadership of King were becoming more confident of themselves, and less willing to be oppressed and neglected by society. And they were angry… Angry about how they had been treated for years by white society. Angry in particular that night that their leader’s home had been destroyed.

A crowd of King’s friends and supporters gathered outside the shell of the burnt-out house. Some talked of getting guns. Others talked about getting petrol and setting fire to the homes of all the white people in the area so they could suffer as the black people had suffered. The crowd wanted to hurt those who had hurt them. They wanted to hurt those who had burned Dr King’s home. They wanted to hurt their enemies. Indeed they wanted to destroy them. That night however did not end up that way. Instead the crowd left their enemies in peace and they went home determined to win the victory with votes instead of with guns, with politics instead of with fire, with love instead of hate.

One of the things Martin Luther King Jr told the crowd that night was this: When you live by the rule ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, you end up with a nation of blind and toothless people. Martin Luther King Jr was a person who tried to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, twice Nobel Peace Prize and recipient and chairperson of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when asked why his country chose to set up the Commission and work the way it did, replied: ‘To be human, we have to live in community, we have to restore community and in the end, only forgiveness will achieve that.  A person is a person through other persons.  Your humanity is caught up in my humanity. If you are de-humanized, then inexorably I am de-humanized. For me to be whole, you have to be whole. If you are a perpetrator, a torn and broken human being who has lost your humanity, then I too am less than whole.’ Desmond Tutu is a person who tries to live the gospel of radical social reversal.

We may not be able to match a King or a Tutu, but we can, and must, give it a go. The current environment in South Africa might be indicating that there is a renewal of turning the other cheek needed because maintaining such a love requires an ongoing commitment. Radical Social reversal is always needed. While we are not likely to be held accountable ‘if there was a reckoning ahead of us’, to why we were not a Martin Luther King or a Desmond Tutu it is more likely that we asked why we didn’t take the modest risks in our situation and push ourselves to our limit, to give life to the stranger, to our neighbour? So, what might be Jesus’ word to us today, as we work our way through thr current world social scene?

https://youtu.be/AoR2lWyngFk

At the root of this day’s challenge is the call to live our lives out of an alternative vision of reality that reverses the values of the dominant culture, especially the ‘values’ of the ruling Empire. The invitation is to nourish our entire life with integrity. Be empowered with compassion, so that we might live a new kind of life in this world.

Notes:
Robinson, J. M. 2002. “What Jesus had to say” in R. W. Hoover, (ed) Profiles of Jesus. CA: Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.

rexae74@gmail.com

 

Luke 4:21-30

Fall in Love with the World and You Can Never Go Home

Over the last couple of years, I have become increasingly aware of just what it means to be saying things close to home, especially those things that can be taken and distorted or used against one when the need arises. So, the challenge in our text is to choose your words carefully if you preach to the people back home!

Towards the end of his second year of ministry, according to our storyteller Luke, Jesus found this out when he decided to go home to Nazareth for a while. Luke is a great storyteller. And this liturgical year we will hear plenty of those stories. So, while this may be a ‘plus’, we also need to acknowledge it can also be a ‘minus’. Why is it a minus? Because, the storyteller’s role is not to preserve historical reality, or facts. A storyteller has a different role. And we meet this in the story today.

When we explore some of the territory around this Lukan story, we find a number of questions that set the scene so to speak. The first is what was happening in Luke’s community for this story to be told? Our experience in life is that there is no such thing as an original thought and that without a context or a reason we are less likely to interpret what the story is about. The second is what is happening in our own stories – family, church, nation – for us to hear and connect with this story? We know that we come to all things with a subjective position. We cannot extract ourselves from anything and out response is always out of what and who we are at the time.

When we apply this thinking to the text, we find that a number of biblical scholars suggests there is no reason to doubt that Jesus visited Nazareth from time to time during his public ministry (GJenks. FFF, 2007). It also seems clear that Jesus made Capernaum, a fishing village on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, his “operational base” (GJenks. FFF web site, 2007).

On the other hand, Luke’s knowledge of the area, having never been there himself, was sketchy at best. He says Nazareth was built on a hill. Well, if it was, it has been moved!
Actually it’s on the slope of a hill.

“It was a tiny village clinging to the edge of its one small spring. There was no cliff over which the villagers might throw Jesus. Of course, having never visited the place, Luke was not to know that; just as most of his readers ever since have been unaware of the actual geography of Nazareth” (G Jenks. FFF web site, 2007).

We may conclude, then, this story is the product of Luke’s imagination “rather than a memory of some actual event passed on to him by others…” (G Jenks. FFF web site, 2007). So, let’s remember when we engage with this text that Luke is writing theology rather than geography or history.

Luke’s Jesus decides to return home. When he did, his people, many of them cousins and near relatives – those whom you would normally expect to be welcoming and accepting – listened, and indeed liked what they initially heard. A local boy made good. This could be good for the local tourist trade! But when they read between the lines and listened some more, especially when pushed a bit, they decide they can’t accept what he has to say. So, they react. This ordinary bloke, one of us, has great potential. But he comes making unrealistic demands, disturbing our fragile village comfortableness.

His story, his claim is much more challenging than we thought. He is actually advocating tat we turn our religious understandings upside down, he is even advocating huge changes to out political, social and economic reality. And really! His views do not match our ideas of ‘God’ or ‘religion’. So, who does he think he is! Or more important: who the hell does he think we are!

The religious institution is alarmed and in response it defends itself. Better the domesticated Jesus at our personal disposal than the challenging Jesus let loose, perhaps even out of control! Sounds very post-modern, it needs to be questioned.

You might remember a few years back when Pauline Hanson appeared on the Australian political scene. Apparently, a political analyst of the time suggested the rise of ‘One Nation’ (as a conservative political party) had a lot to do with the global movement of a ‘politics of anger’. He said that “People are feeling so powerless against forces that seemingly cannot be controlled. Confused by the culture of change, no longer able to recognise the world they once knew, people are turning in anger against their politicians, against their leaders” (KSuter, quoted by R Wiig 1998). With all the changes that the world is facing and the influence of social media all suggest that there is a global disquiet or a loss of hope in a settled world that permeates peoples collective thinking today.

So. were the actions of those in Luke’s story shaped by a ‘politics of anger’? Perhaps.  Or the more important question: what was happening in Luke’s community for him to decide this imaginative story was important for them to hear? How were they acting when faced with new or different ways of thinking and believing and shaping community? The challenge Jesus was bringing the world they knew was huge and life changing. The Romans of Jesus time knew this, the religious leaders of Jesus time knew this so what where the readers of Luke’s time thinking?

Again, to be honest, we can only speculate. Luke is a storyteller not an historian, and he doesn’t help us much. But it could have been something like… What we can suggests is that the people of Luke’s community, just like the so-called people of Jesus’ hometown, were puzzled and disturbed and anxious by the demands of a new and challenging vision of God’s domain. We think that Luke was probably writing in the latter decades of the first century, probably in a thoroughly Hellenistic environment. Scholars speculate on whether the gospel was written in Antioch, which would have been a significant Hellenistic city, or in Asia Minor, in places like Ephesus or Smyrna. In either case, Luke would have been in touch with, and very heavily in dialogue with, Hellenistic culture broadly conceived.

One of the major concerns that the composite work of Luke and Acts addresses is whether Christians can be good citizens of the Roman Empire. After all, their founder was executed as a political criminal, and they were being associated with the destruction of Jerusalem, and some people would have thought of them as incendiaries, as revolutionaries. And Luke in his portrait wants to show that Jesus himself taught an ethic that was entirely compatible with good citizenship of the empire. And that despite the fact that one of the heroes of the Book of Acts was himself executed, namely Paul, although that was a serious mistake and had nothing to do with the political program, it wasn’t in any way dangerous…. The difficulties for the gentile world were the same as for the Jewish Roman world of Jesus.

It was populated with outsiders, with outcasts, with exiles! And it would have contradicted their normal notion of who belonged and who did not, of who was in and who was out! In other words, it discerned the holy or the sacred in the everyday! But Luke’s Jesus continues to nudge and persuade: God’s love is inclusive and embracing and universal, not exclusive.

And no one, not even the so-called ‘God’s people’ should ever think of themselves as privileged. But were they ready to hear this? Or were their reactions going to be shaped by a “politics of anger”? Likewise, an important question in the even broader expression of this story: how are we to be church and express being an inclusive community, today?

How are we the Presbyterian Church in Auckland going to deal with the fact that we are an aging church, that we are becoming smaller? Will we try to ensure the institution survives by redistributing the assets or shifting the governance power towards the center? Will we plan strategies that ensure the survival of what we are and have? Will we engage in a politics of anger based in our fear of disappearing or will we change the world of the poor, destitute and hungry? Not only in the sense of a goal of equity but a transformation of thinking. How are we to be a community driven by an abundant love? What do we need to do to influence a global transformation in the interests of compassion?

And let’s be honest that right now there are many puzzled and agitated people expressing their viewpoints, and sometimes anger, on that broader issue right now! That is the question that we as a congregation are grappling with. How can our expression of community – church or family – as a congregation help in this global debate? This is our acute up-front mission field.

Returning to our text we find that Luke’s story suggests a universalism underpinning life.

This immediately raises a problem for us in that we very quickly relate universalism to assimilation, sameness, suppression of the individual and a dictatorial socialism. In recent years we have seen societies attempt to find a way through the global refugee issues, the breakdown of nationalisms and dare I say it Trump is an example of an attempt to preserve a nationalism that works. Our own country seems to be experiencing a move away for a neo-liberal experiment by introduction of a well-being approach that uses the best of other ideologies. Is it perhaps an attempt to find a workable universalism? More importantly is what does the gospel have to say into this context? What does the Jesus story have to say to us? What would Luke write today?

Luke’s audience seems to be a much more cultured literary kind of audience. His Greek is the highest quality in style of anything in the new testament. It reads more like a novel in the Greek tradition, rather than Mark’s gospel, which has a kind of crude quality at times to the Greek grammar. So, anyone on the street of a Greek city picking up Luke’s gospel would have felt at home with it if they were able to read good Greek…. He’s often called Luke the physician which means he’s portrayed as a kind of educated person from the Greco-Roman world….

When we get to the environment, he is writing into we see that the concerns of Luke’s gospel are a little different. There are political as well as social concerns that we see in the way the story is told precisely because it’s writing for this much more cultured kind of audience. We perhaps can make a connection with this in our time and situation.

Luke’s audience seems to be predominantly gentile…. when they talk about the story of Jesus there’s more of an emphasis on the political situation of Jesus in their day. Jesus is less of a rabble rouser, and so is Paul, for that matter, in these stories. And this suggests something about the situation of the audience, that they are concerned about the way that they will be perceived, the way that the church will be perceived by the Roman authorities. It’s sometimes suggested that Luke’s gospel should be seen as a kind of an apologetic for the beginnings of the Christian movement, trying to make its place in the Roman world, to say, “we’re okay, don’t worry about us, we are just like the rest of you: we keep the peace, we’re law abiding citizens, we have high moral values, we’re good Romans too.” … This suggests that the story may not be directly applicable to our situation given that we live in a larger more complex and diverse global culture.

But maybe Luke would still write that his idea of universalism or “extravagant welcome – to all persons” whether in the church or in our wider community really is the only way to experience abundant life and be all that we can be “in our pluralistic and polarized age” (BEpperly. P&F web site, 2007).

Indeed, such a universalism could be called, falling in love with the world! So, maybe Luke’s challenge and blessing, to and for us is just that. If we can hear it amid all the other seductive calls and demands in our own New Zealand backyard, at this time and in our day. Maybe when we face the church pressures to comply with institutional survival and with compliance with measurement and standards and control being imposed by an institution in decline, we might hear Luke’s call to find the collective, the collaborative, the including way of being and doing. Amen.

Notes:
Sacks, J. The Home we Build Together. Recreating Cociety. London: Continuum, 2007.

rexae74@gmail.com

Children: The Genesis of Hope

Posted: January 24, 2019 in Uncategorized

Children: The Genesis of Hope

A woman living in the slum area of a large city
was asked by a news reporter what hope she has, living as she must.
She points to her children: “They are my hope,” she says. (Alves 2011)

Last week we explored the love that the Wedding story raised and we argued that the marriage relationship is one that can be applied across all relationships. A love that is wholistic and goes the extra mile. Today our Luke reading introduces us to a young Jesus who punches above his weight. He is wise beyond his years and is given the task not only of handling the precious scrolls but also of interpreting them. This raises ideas of intellectual growth and of education. Given that our nation’s children are soon to return to school for the year its appropriate to spend time on them.

One of the best ways of doing this would have been to have a discussion between teachers, parents and pupils because experience is probably the best indicator of where things are at. We can all agree that education is important: be it for adults or children and that there is also much we could learn from a closer observation of and listening to children. A child explores the world with true wonder long before he or she understands what the adults mean by ‘holy’. It seems that a child does not need to be told in solemn pious tones that ‘only God can make a tree’ before discovering the God-given thrill of climbing it, feeling its rough bark against her hands and face, sensing the joy of a new experience. Out of such experiences in the life of a child comes a quickened sense of self-worth, which has important ramifications for all relationships with other persons.

Perhaps this is why the peasant sage called Jesus/Yeshu’a was also so affirming of children. It is also perhaps the reason why the office of the Children’s Commissioner completed a study in 2015 when they asked a number of primary school children what changes are needed to the Education Act 1989. They asked the children a number of questions about what education should be about and at the core of the answers they got was that it should prepare children for the future and equip them with skills and knowledge they need to thrive as adults. Future preparedness was not only defined in terms of employment, but also in terms of gaining skills, fulfilling potential, and learning to learn.

Before we look at what the responses were I want to suggest that the questions asked have a very strong bearing on what the answers will be and I think this is borne out by this study. While it might be pedantic it is a claim that when asked the question; What should the goals for education be? One already has the assumption that there are such things as goals and they are indicative of a linear and measurable process of change.

When asked what the goals of education should be the students replied

 

  • To help students in the best way to learn and to help them achieve their goals and dreams.”
  • “[Education is] important for your brain so you can learn in the future.”
  • “[Education] helps prepare for the future and for life situations, and you get a better chance of getting a job. And it helps you to be confident and avoid conflict.”
  • “To teach children life skills and knowledge that they can use for life.”
  • “So you can get a job and be able to succeed in life.”
  • “To turn the students into young people who can take over.”

 

The answers are interesting in that the second part of he answers is the most informative. Affirm and value dreams, continue to understand the evolving future, be confident in life and avoid conflict, learning has to be able to be applied to real life, it has to enhance human life and it has to empower people to take responsibility for life.

While the answers suggest that any student-centred purpose statement for the Education Act needs to be sufficiently holistic they reduced their learning to the answers being oriented toward “achievement.” They admitted that achievement was not a theme that emerged strongly from the students’ responses, but it was not inconsistent with their views, as long as achievement is defined widely enough to encapsulate their diverse expectations. To address this they asked the students to define what “achievement” meant to them. It was clear that they all aspire to achieve and succeed, but this is not defined in terms of attaining particular qualifications or standards. Rather, the most common thread in the children’s responses defined achievement in terms of setting and completing of goals. It was generally expressed as an intrinsic value, rather than something externally bestowed, and something which produces a state of happiness or satisfaction.

When asked what achievement meant the students replied as follows:

 

 

  • “[Achievement is] when you’re really happy because you were determined to do something, and you reach it. And then you set another goal and work hard.”
  • “It means knowing you can do whatever you want. You know it inside even if others don’t know it.”
  • “To complete something that makes me happy to the best of my abilities.”
  • “The completion of doing something well.”
  •  

Again it is interesting that there is a desire towards a process of integrity, of application to task, and to dealing with reality constructively. It is also clear that there is a need to value and honour instinct and imagination and experience. It is also clear that there is value the self. The commission concluded that there is a need for a wide definition of achievement that incorporates concepts of wellbeing, goal-setting, and fulfilment of individual potential. And that national education priorities should reflect what children themselves want from the education system.

So in the spirit of this humble journey of seeking the act in responsible ways to the lives and needs of children I want to invite you to come on a journey of re-imagination. It’s a journey I owe much to Rex Hunt an Australian Colleague and to some people of his congregation and with a little modification for our use here it is…..

We have heard from the story of creation in Genesis Chapter 1 and remembering that story, we now re-imagine it not as a mythical story of the creation of the world, but as a mythical story of the creation of children.

In a beginning…

At the start of every life, an environment must be created favourable to life. Otherwise a child’s surroundings would have no form or shape and would be empty and unoccupied.

So we who know the sights, sounds and dangers of inadequacy and excess, must move over the face of such a world to prepare it for a living child. We must seek the wellbeing of the child and the world.

And G-o-d said: ‘Let there be light…’


All through their life, children will be faced with a mixture of light and darkness. The child comes from the darkness of the mother’s body into the world where the light hurts its eyes. But light is good for the baby and all children must have lots of it all their life.

  • We must see to it that the lights are turned on so the child’s life will not be lived in the shadows of a darkened world. We must also ensure the benefits of the darkness in its contribution to light.

And G-o-d said: ‘Let their be a dome…’

A child must have support when born, just as the planets must be supported in the sky. And even though a child’s prenatal experience in the mother is a water event, the actual birth sets the child upon the solid earth.

  • This earth, its water and its atmosphere will be the child’s home as long as the child lives. And it is here, on earth, that the child must learn to live just as other forms of life
    live on the earth and in the sea. Because this earth is the only one we have.

And G-o-d said: ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation…’

It is important a child be provided with a total environment favourable to healthy development. This means green grass, plants, trees, and all kinds of fruit, for healthy nourishment.

A child’s life cannot mature properly where the world of rivers, lakes and bush lands have been overcome by asphalt and brick, let alone polluted streams and poisoned foods.

  • A total environment must be given every child with nature’s surroundings at their finest and best.

And G-o-d said: ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures…

Every child needs to know animals, what their kind is, and put a name on each, as though each were the value of a person. And the child will have a ‘reverence for life’ – life of all kinds for this is a part of the world of nature and part of their own nature.

  • We will need to relearn so we can teach that the reverence for life makes no distinction
    between more precious and less precious lives.

And G-o-d said: ‘Let us make humankind in our image…

A person is not ‘made’ all at once but is ‘grown’ from a baby. Each child is born with a creative potential which can only become known as the child develops talents and abilities. And while this earth and everything in it is the child’s domain, each child must see to it that the balance of nature is maintained; food is provided for all earth’s people,
and life be made better for all living creatures.

  • We must see to it that all children are given this birthright and this heritage – to be able to live life fully, and to develop their capabilities to the fullest, ever mindful of the responsibilities, since we all walk this earth – its future in our hands.

The early stages of life are seldom entirely outgrown. Rather, they become the platforms on which further stages of development are built. They must be supplemented by overlays of new levels of information that will shape the patterns of life. So what this day celebrates is indeed important work!

Let us count it a privilege to walk with our children and grandchildren, our nieces and nephews. et us offer to shape their beliefs. But always allow our beliefs to be reshaped by them.

The wise among us call that wisdom. And let us enable our children to wonder…
“We are collections of long-nurtured solutions that have worked. It took a long time and a lot of editing to make every one of our molecules. As offspring of such a long streak of inspiring successes, let’s allow ourselves [and our children and grand children] just a brief, momentary, ‘Yeaaaay!’ (Fleischman 2013:255)

Rex offers a poem to finish with.

It is called:                               “A Short But True Story of You”.

You are made of star-stuff.
You are related to every other living thing on Earth.

You breathe out a gas that gives life to plants,
and plants breathe out a gas that gives life to you.

You are part of a wonderful web of life on a planet spinning in space.
When you die, someday, the elements of your body
will become a part of clouds and crystals,
seas and new living things.

You can think and wonder, love and learn.
You have the gift of life. (Anderson & Brotman 2004)

Let us remember all children and commit ourselves to
their growth and safety,
their health and education,
their uniqueness and
their unfolding beauty.

Amen.

Notes:
Alves, R. Tomorrow’s Child: Imagination, Creativity, and the Rebirth of Culture. Eugene. Wipf & Stock, 2011.
Anderson, L. & C. Brotman. Kid’s Book of Awesome Stuff. Biddeford. Brotman Marsh-Field Curriculums, 2004.
Fleischman, P. R. Wonder: When and Why the World Appears Radiant. Amherst. Small Batch Books, 2013.
Gibran, K. The Prophet. London. Heinemann, 1926/1969.

rexae74@gmail.com

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