Archive for September, 2020

The Living Earth!

Posted: September 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

The Living Earth!

Exodus 17: 1-7

Water from the Rock

From the wilderness of Sin, the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So, Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

How often do we take for granted the significance of rivers in our lives? How often do we as New Zealanders stand at the riverbank, be it in the bush or in the city and almost feel the gentle or the awesome power and the wonder of the river. There is something about a river that seems to offer a connection to all the emotions, hope, fear, comfort and alienation. The river is beautiful, even those that seem to go by with the bottom on the top in their colour and density. The debri and the loose land that travels to the ocean and the life-giving fruit of the precipitation cycle. Rivers reflect our very own life cycle as a living event in the time and space world.

Most of us as New Zealanders live within a few kms of a river, on a group of islands in the Southern Ocean. We take for granted the living moving source of dynamic, creativity that we live within and we are slowly awakening to the fact that everything we do for ourselves has an effect on that creativity and on the outcome of that creativity. We are also slowly growing aware that every thing we as individuals do contributes to that change. We are beginning to understand that what is sacred is less about what we have and more about what we do. That to live life with a living planet we need to see the depth of the relationship we have with it rather than how we live on it.

One of the reasons New Zealanders enjoy rivers is that we find there a beauty that seems primal and life-enhancing.

To stand in a bush stream with the sun’s light

dancing through the overhanging leaves.

To feel the gentle cold trickle of life

as it passes by one’s ankle shimmering in sunlit movement

as it welcomes and leaves one’s legs,

the sound of its intent flickering bright

In sound it becomes intimate

in its promise of life

and in its leaving for bigger things.

Our ears moved by its beautiful cadence

at once to hear its beauty and lose it contrite

to the life of its purpose, beyond, downhill and ocean bound,

a promised return in its song.

Suppose it dried up tomorrow?

Why should I care as I cannot swim?

Its here today and gone tomorrow and will come again aright.

Who needs the river they say

Can they be serious?

dry up the rivers

and there wouldn’t be anybody around to miss them

for without the river, there would be no life – alright!

It doesn’t matter where on Earth we live because everyone is utterly dependent on the existence of that lovely, living water be it saltwater or fresh water.
And here’s the important rub. There may be plenty of water in the universe without life,
but nowhere is there life without water…’ ‘No blue, no green.’ So, in line with today’s Season of Creation theme of ‘Rivers’ we might reflect that we are living in a scientific, pluralistic age.

And unless we have been living with heads in the sand, we will also be aware of the current universal debates about how our modern life-style is harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering our global climate patterns. It could be claimed that the very planet is in peril, at least of the extinction of the species that inhabit it. If all of creation is suffering then it would be fair to say that rivers are in danger within their cycle.  The oceans that rivers depend upon are drowning in plastic pollution and that must affect the cycle. The deforestation of the land that is in huge swathes in places taking place, invade the cycle to deposit additional soil into the cycle that changes the constitution of the water and again affects the cycle of renewal and refreshment of the land mass.

While rivers pale into insignificance when faced with the global volume of the aceans and science informs us that approximately 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by ocean. As a continuous body of water, the ocean is a mass that is required through a smaller mass of rivers to feed the land and all the species that depend on their relationship with the land. Rivers are crucial lifeline in the cycle of life.

Rivers are a part of the oceans effect on the biosphere. In that oceanic evaporation is a phase of the water cycle, and thus they are part of the source of most rainfall and along with ocean temperatures they determine both climate and wind patterns that affect life on land. Rivers are primary distributors of life in that they are a crucial part of the life cycle.

Rex Hunt tells an indigenous Australian story from the Yuin Nation from the South Coast of New South Wales, that goes like this:

“Grandmother Moon, she comes up and shines down her light upon us.  She pulls the tides of the sea. She has that much strength she can pull water up into the sky and hold it, until it’s time to water her garden, Mother Earth. Mother Earth, Father Sky, Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun have the major roles to play in all life. “Water is connected to Mother Earth and to Father Sky. Water is also connected to Grandmother Moon, as she can lift the water and drop it down through Father Sky. Mother Earth then takes the water and she distributes it through rivers, streams and lakes. Father Sky holds many stories; through time he has led the way water for us to navigate over water and land. He’s there for us, he helps us find our way.”

For the people of the Yuin Nation the ocean is called Gadu – “the source of all waters that bring life to Mother Earth.” (Morgan & Garrett 2018:70-71,74)

Rex Hunt quotes a Bill McKibben author and founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and 350.Organd was considered one of the first to warn of the dangers of global warming. He raises some interesting and challenging points that I think are pertinent to our theme today. They are as follows; “The oceans… are distinctly more acid and their level is rising; they are also warmer, which means the greatest storms of our planet, hurricanes and cyclones, have become more powerful” (McKibben 2010:45).

At the same time research is showing the earth’s ice caps and glaciers are melting with “disconcerting and unexpected speed.” (McKibben 2010:45) We have already raised the temperature nearly a degree Celsius. “…the ocean is more acid than anytime in the last eight hundred thousand years, and at current rates by 2050 it will be more corrosive than anytime in the past 20 million years.” (McKibben 2010:10)

And again. Name a major feature of the earth’s surface and you’ll find massive change.” (McKibben 2010:5) And perhaps the most challenging quote “The earth that we knew – the only earth that we ever knew – is gone.”  (McKibben 2010:27)

It is fair to say that what all this means is that we can be numbed by all the figures and percentages. We can say the scientists are probably overstating our woes. And we can accept that the anticipated future can be paralysed by our fears. Indeed, it’s hard to brace ourselves “for the jump to a new world when we still, kind of, live in the old one… We’re so used to living with a philosophy of growth and linear progress that we can’t imagine alternatives; at best we embrace the squishy sustainable, with its implied claim that we can keep on as before.” (McKibben 2010:102)

But is it all doom and gloom? Does the fact that we have permanently lost ground in our relationship with the planet mean that there is no hope, that extinction of the species is immanent and not changeable. McKibben himself is not all negative and alarmist about this He does offer some suggestions – some words or metaphors – for change. And those five words are: Durable, Sturdy, Stable, Hardy, Robust. He suggests that for of us it means reshaping our society:

• from big to smaller,

• from growth to maintenance,

• from expansion to scale down,

• from global to neighbourhood.

But will we do this when it seems we will lose something we think we have gained? Human beings, especially in the so-called ‘West’, have historically been reluctant to consider themselves as part of the web of nature. Even as a web within a web has been difficult to grasp. And when it comes to countries even clean green New Zealand has been found wanting. Look at our waste. Look at our land development.

Governments since the early 1990s have all adopted a strategy of more-or-less do little to nothing at home and work hard to prevent others from taking major action.

So there has been an encouragement of community apathy. Time will tell whether or not as a result of Covid-19 governments will take the opportunity to change direction enough to halt the destructive process.

If our biblical tradition in its historical expression suggests anything, human beings are part of nature. The problems come when Christians – usually fundamentalists – claim that the mythical stories of Genesis 1 and 2, are more ‘true’ or more ‘factual’ than science and evolution. So in many quarters there is a raging attack on ‘progressive’ religion:

• from fundamentalists who don’t believe one can accept evolution and be religious, and

• from the ‘new atheists’ who caricature all people of religion as fundamentalists. (Michael Zimmerman The Clergy Letter Project, 22/5/2010).

But modern science is saying and has been saying, again and again: the universe must be regarded as a whole; It is of intrinsic value, and each part, galaxy, organism, individual atom, participates in that intrinsic value as each part participates in this wonderful web of life. Each part… rather than one species or organism separating itself out as more important than the rest. It is time for radical change.  It is urgent. To recall the words of a long-haired, locust eating desert sage: ‘The axe is at the root of the tree.’

As we face this election the demand needs to be that we live differently. And that demand is for a paradigm shift in who we think we are.  (McFague 2008:44)

And to finish with another quote; Let us see ourselves and rivers as part of the “whole complex, interrelated and interacting unitary universe of matter-energy in space-time, a universe of which humans are an integral part…” (Gillette 2006:1) Amen.

Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for Religious Naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. (An online journal), 2006
Hamilton, C. Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. Melbourne. Black Inc, 2007
Morgan, J.  & G. Garrett.  On The Edge: A-Way with the Ocean. Reservoir. Morning Star Publishing, 2018
McFague, S. A New Climate for Theology. God, the World, and Global Warming. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2008.
McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Melbourne. Black Inc., 2010
Peters, K. E. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity Press International, 2002

Celebrating Earth in Spring.

Posted: September 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

Celebrating Earth in Spring.

In his book, On the Origin of Species…, published in November 1859. Darwin wrote:
“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.” (Darwin 2008:362)

And so it began. The debate it ignited not only led to the denial of the creation stories of the western religious tradition, it gave us the beginnings of an immensely richer, longer, more complex ‘story’, rooted not in “the history of a single tribe or a particular people”, but one “rooted in the sum of our knowledge of the universe itself”.

A scientific ‘doctrine of incarnation’ as one person has described it, which suggests “that the universe itself is continually incarnating itself in microbes and maples, in humming birds and human beings, constantly inviting us to tease out the revelation contained in stars and atoms and every living thing.”  (Bumbaugh 2003)

It is a religious story because it invites us to awe and wonder; and that in turn demands a vocabulary of reverence. We might note that as religion has declined in the lives of many so to has the destruction of our planet expanded. This is not to say that that which we have named religion needs saving because one might also say that it has failed us in its inability to evolve, Stuck in doctrine and creed and myth that has become concretized.

Prior to the rise of modern science most people followed a literal interpretation of the biblical Genesis stories, believing a flat earth was created about 4,000 years before the Middle Eastern itinerant peasant sage, Yeshu’a. Or, if they followed some it all started at 9.00am on 3 October 4004 BCE.

Today, as most of you know very well, the most widely accepted modern estimate of the Earth’s age is approximately 4.5+ billion years. While the observable universe – that whole “complex, interrelated and interacting… matter-energy in space-time… of which humans are an integral part…”  (Gillette 2006:1) is approximately 14 billion years old, all let loose during an event called the Big Bang.

On that note we might need to catch up with evolution is that Bid Bang might be a misleading term really, in that it is posited that there wasn’t really an explosion, but rather an expansion. Noun to verb maybe? Or as John D Caputo writes God doesn’t exist but rather insists.

While careful not to over-estimate the reach and power of the natural sciences, it is modern science that provides the foundation for this ‘other’ story. It has been called ‘the epic of evolution’, ‘the odyssey of life’, ‘the immense journey’ and most recently,Thomas Berry named it, the ‘Great Story’.

Sure, there was an initial outcry that scientific cold reason was killing wonder, but for the most part those days are long past. Now science has become the source rather than the nemesis of wonder. Modern science is now saying “the history of the Universe is in every one of us. Every particle in our bodies has a multibillion-year past, every cell and every bodily organ has a multimillion-year past, and many of our ways of thinking have multi-thousand-year pasts.”  (Primack & Abrams 2007)

Each of us is a collection of unfinished stories, within other stories. We are fully linked with our surroundings in time, space, matter/energy, and causality. We do not live in straight lines. We truly do exist in a web, a network, a maze… Everything in the universe is genetically cousin to everything else. Which is why a growing number of people around the world are beginning to recognise that our modern life-style and poll-driven politicians are harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering global climate patterns.

Biology 101 teaches us that if amoebas are inserted into a drop of water, their numbers will expand, until they become so densely populated they deplete their essential nutrients, and die en masse. The drop of water again becomes uninhabited and sterile We humans are doing the same thing on planet Earth.

We are yet to learn from basic biology. We are yet to learn that humans must cooperate with nature’s processes, and if we can do that, then we can develop purposes less likely to be frustrated by nature. We are yet to learn that a debate between people who actually know stuff
and people who just don’t like what the experts have to say, is not a ‘balanced’ debate. It’s a waste of time.

One of the biggest challenges that faces us is to come to a place in our thinking where there is no good reason to believe that taking nature to heart leaves a person with any fewer spiritual benefits than taking to heart the teachings of supernaturalist traditions. When we let go of the does God exist debate and the theism vs atheism dualism we might discover that living with ambiguity, uncertainty and the insistence of God might mean a more authentic relationship with nature, the planet and the universe.

W do not need to think the sacred is a separate ‘supernatural’ sphere of life, driven by blinding-light revelations. “Positing an incomprehensible, invisible, ‘Other’ does nothing to explain the incomprehensible ‘other’ that is palpably present, and that we actually encounter every second within and round us”.  (Fleischman 2013:188)

There is a hymn in the Unitarian Universalist hymn book Singing the Living Tradition, called “Seek Not Afar for Beauty”.  It’s first verse claims this ‘other’: Seek not afar for beauty; lo! it glows in dew-wet grasses all about your feet; in birds, in sunshine, childish faces sweet, in stars and mountain summits topped with snows. If we can go to special places, built by humans, which are designated as sacred, surely we can go to special places, shaped naturally, which are recognised as sacred…

It seems that what we need is to realise that to have a sense of sacred place is not tree worship  but worship with the trees. An acknowledgement of the awesome, and the overriding and the overwhelming.  (Jerome Stone)

There is also a need for all religious traditions to appreciate that the primary sacred community is the universe itself, and that every other community becomes sacred by participation in this primary community.

Lets be sure here that we are not saying that all is rosy and sorted. Nature is a violent and dangerous place, extinction is possible and ‘Almost probable. In moments of wonder we simultaneously contain a search for truth, an openness to reawakening, and a delight in what is. When we lose our sense of awe and wonder, we objectivise the Earth as a thing that can be used and abused at our consumeristic whim. Wonder has within it an acknowledgement that existence is always serendipitous.

When Spring arrives and washes away the clouds of Winter fear, do we also see the Earth and “worms crawling…” and “new living things”, as we begin to start again to ‘grow’ and ‘bloom’.

Spring shows us that nature-kind and humankind are continually in relationship. Spring reminds us and calls us forward to a ‘new’ religious sensitivity. To transcend the isolated self. To reconnect.  

To know ourselves to be at home.

So, it is incumbent upon us to challenge the parochial and limited claims of traditional religions
with the enlarging and enriching and reverent story that is our story and their story: the Universe Story.

From an attitude of reverence, we can then act with a morality that nurtures rather than destroys creation. Religious naturalist and cell biologist Ursula in her evocative book The Sacred Depths of Nature, writes: “Once we have our feelings about Nature in place, then I believe that we can also find important ways to call ourselves Jews, or Muslims, or Taoists, or Hopi, or Hindus, or Christians, or Buddhists. Or some of each…”  (Goodenough 1998:173)

Today a woman is planting flowers in her garden. Her activity is more than a hobby, even more than a pleasure. She is digging, dirtying, straining, mulching and lugging, under the power of plants which do not yet even exist, but whose images have taken up residence in the atoms and cells within her imagination. Weeks or months will elapse before her labour is fulfilled. Patience and faith will sustain her until, under the majesty of Earth’s dominion, the unprepossessing little bulbs and seeds will explode into daffodils, tulips, irises, freesias, geraniums, pansies, daises and sunflowers. A war will have been won by soft and coloured things. The yellow eyes of asters, the purple tongues of irises, and the crayola pansies have raised their banners above the turrets of Earth’s soil to defy the dark cold space that pervades almost all of everything else. It is Spring. If there were a heaven, the gods would abandon it just for the chance to see this woman in her garden.

The gospel of the natural present moment. Amen.

Bumbaugh, D. “Toward a Humanist Vocabulary of Reverence”. Boulder International Humanist Institute, 22 February 2003.
Darwin, C. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. London. Arcturus Publishing, 2008.
Fleischman, P. R. Wonder: When and Why the World Appears Radiant. Amherst. Small Batch Books, 2013.
Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for Religious Naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. 2004.
Goodenough, U. The Sacred Depths of Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 
Primack, J. R. & N. E. Abrams. The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007
Singing the Living Tradition. Boston: The Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993/2000.
Stone, J. A. “On Listening to Indigenous Peoples and Neo-pagans: Obstacles to Appropriating the Old Ways” in (Ed). C. D. Hardwick & D. A. Crosby. Pragmatism, Neo-Pragmatism, and Religion: Conversations with Richard Rorty. New York. Peter Lang, 1997.
Tucker, M. E. & J. Grim (Ed). Thomas Berry: Selected Writings on the Earth Community. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2014.

Living with the Land.

Posted: September 9, 2020 in Uncategorized

Matthew 18: 23-34

Living with the Land.

In recent times we have been repeatedly informed and awakened to the state of the land on a global scale. There have been numerous articles published about the state of the global environment.

In part and in many forms the articles have said: “Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of the earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.  They have gone on to say that the provision of food, fresh water, energy and materials to meet the needs of a growing population has come at considerable cost to the complex system of plants, animals and biological processes that make the planet habitable” 

Such warnings were and are not new. And, they continue to be debated, and challenged by scientist, politician and by nearly every government on earth. They have risked the advent of the tall poppy syndrome, the bury the head response, and the lets get real challenge and they have prevailed. They are now supported by the pandemics ability to travel the globe at an alarming rate despite being challenged by the not as bad as or little worse than brigade. Rationalist and statistician have been empowered. But do we really see and heed the warnings? Or do we dismiss them because we don’t believe the science. Or do they just massage us, washing over us, because we feel too powerless to go beyond simple acts? Do we really have faith in the individual action?

Today we continue our journey into the Season of Creation. The Season of Creation is an addition to the Lectionary. Traditionally the church calendar or Lectionary is shaped around three years. Each year has seven main seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Lent. And the rather long general time, called After Pentecost or Ordinary Time.

Having said that I am aware that not all that many people bother with the lectionary or see it as just the tool of preachers who use it to be careful not to get caught up on pone’s own hoppy horse and end up preaching one’s own bias or prejudice. I want to spend a little time justifying a lectionary approach, both as a helpful discipline and as a concern for a collective liturgy or teaching structure to each week. One could say that a lectionary approach to the global dilemma re environment might be helpful as a way of keeping the debate resourced and the collective responsibility for action alive.

This additional season of Creation to the liturgical year claims some of that After Pentecost time by designating the Sundays in September (the southern hemisphere Spring) as the Season of Creation.

I wonder if the following might help. The main seasons are as said above and including Creation, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Creation and Lent. In thinking about the lectionary approach I have explored the possibility of naming the seasons with a less traditional and more contemporary way. Advent being Looking for the possibility of the new, Christmas being establishing the basis for Cocreation, Epiphany being Awareness of the challenges, Easter being taking Responsibility, Pentecost being Inspiration and the call to be inspiring, Creation being the physical dimension and Lent being the human dimension and Economy.

The year would look like a call to reflect on the seasons of Enlightening, Collaborating, Awakening, Responding, Inspiring, Creating and Distributing.

To add to this is the idea that Each season could have a number of designations as subjects for use such as the four Sundays of Creation being given a theme. This year’s themes are: Forest, Land, Outback and River and in St Andrews case Outback has become Rainbow Sunday.

Today is Land Sunday.  A time to reflect on the land on which we walk, live, grow things,
plough and mine, are usually buried in, and unfortunately, often pollute.

For some time now we in New Zealand have been made aware of a different understanding of land. It is an awareness which comes from the Maori people and it and has been deep religious links with the land. In a very deep and real sense land belongs to the people and the people to the land. One can see the very communal and collective understanding of the relationship with the land and its subsequently very difference from individual ownership of the land.

As an explanation of their myths and historical stories tell us: “The great ancestral creative beings, who journeyed across the great oceans, established the land boundaries between different groups and the sacred and tribal sites.  Carrying out ritual obligations at these sites and performing religious ceremonies are the way by which Maori feel bound to their land and protective towards it. Like the Aboriginal people of Australia Maori people do not live on the land. They live with the land. They are bound to it by spiritual as well as practical links. The Whare Nui (The big or main home)is the place of the tribal relationship with the land the tribal womb, the place of the Tangata Whenua (created people) and the Marae is the place when the relationship is cherished, taught, heard and maintained by rituals that reflect the culture of the tribe and its relationship with the land.

And we also know that behind the so-called Maori wars the policy of terra nullius, or ‘empty land belonging to no one’, was in effect and precipitated the Treaties that were an attempt to marry the two essentially different understandings of ownership and collective responsibility that existed.

There is still much we should know and do and work towards. justice, fairness and equality of people in New Zealand as more and more people are disenfranchised by prevailing attitudes and the exercise of power. Value systems that are based on exchange value and the maximization of individual profit need to be debated, Politics caught up in the partisan at all costs dilemma and the equality verses equity discussion is vital in the interests of harmony cooperation and collaboration in a rapidly contracting social era. The fluctuations in the housing debate mirror those of that – governments and people – have over ownership of land’ and our history of state verses private.

On a Sunday when the theme is ‘Land’ thoughts on reconciliation between peoples need to be pondered some more, and continuing dialogue and such things as truth and reconciliation and compensation, encouraged recognizing that the presenting issues are reflections of a deeper understanding.

Perhaps there is an echo of all this in Matthew’s Lectionary story we heard this morning In the difficult story/parable of the ‘Unforgiving slave’. But we will not hear this echo if we spiritualise it, or fail to hear it as a story about power! Rex Hunt’s reflection on this text  suggests that the ‘slave’ or high-ranking bureaucrat has power over other subordinates. He is responsible for collecting tribute from them, as they are from others. And he has done this very well, using calculating and cunning tactics.

Like-wise the bureaucrat’s ‘ruler’ or master, in a pure display of unfettered power, threatens to totally destroy him because he has overreached himself and can’t pay what is immediately due the master. This scenario is then played out a second time. But between the bureaucrat and one of his subordinates.

Having been shamed before the master he must gain some prestige by exerting power over a subordinate. That’s our story. There are several ‘twists’ or surprises in this story. The first ‘twist’ comes when the master, in quite an extraordinary act for any agrarian ruler,
waves a debt of unimaginable proportions.

A second ‘twist’ comes when the bureaucrat, in a similar situation, does not act as his master does and therefore brings shame on his master who now must act to save face. For all the strength shown in the master’s earlier decision, the ‘system’ which supports all of them, is unable to show mercy. So, the ‘system’, says the parable, is not the place to look for a hopeful solution. Which I guess, is a different interpretation than that usually offered this parable!

However, another ‘twist’ reflected in the story is the storyteller himself and the story’s openness.  Loyal Rue, professor of philosophy and religion at Luther College, Iowa, in his book Religion is not about God, suggests that religion is not about God but about us.

He argues that successful religions are narrative or myth traditions that influence human nature so we might think, feel, and act in ways that are good for us, both individually and collectively.

Rue writes: “Religious traditions work like the bow of a violin, playing upon the strings of human nature to produce harmonious relations between individuals and their social and physical environments.  Religions have always been about this business of adaptation, and they will always remain so” (Rue 2006:1).or

In this day and age when religion is not considered as a helpful approach one has to ask where this work be done now? But back to our story and we don’t find it much different. The third ‘twist’ is the storyteller doesn’t invite the hearer (then or now) to take sides.  To blame someone. Instead that storyteller seems to have Jesus drawing his hearers (and us?) into wrestling with the larger social and economic inequalities that embrace us all.

We may be willing to ‘bash’ the Banks and business for their aggressive push for profits. But are we also able to recognise how we so often live off the poverty of ‘sweatshops’ and cheap labour?

Here is I think the reminder that we are to act in ways that are good for us both individually and collectively. So, maybe we just need to ponder this story a bit more.

Most oppressed or disadvantaged people feel the ‘system’ does not fill them with hope in the matter of ‘land rights’. Eve after extensive and often divisive legislation change in New Zealand communities and some individuals have had neither the resources nor access to the judicial process, to assert their claims in the courts. I personally found this in a claim for natural justice within the church recently when then church system and its legislation failed and the high court system was caught up in protecting law as opposed to providing justice.

Because, as we heard echoed in Matthew’s story, justice questions come from below, not from above. They are raised by communities and individuals who do not have
social power or a voice within the social system.

If the matter of ‘land’ is to be resolved it seems clear that solutions will not come from a legal decision, but from a political one, initiated by the people and collectively.

I can remember when saying ‘Sorry’ was certainly the hardest word of all to say for many who were reluctant to agree to the moving of their  perceptions of power – both political and economic. I remember the changes in the churches, where one addressed the justice issues by distributing the power over resources on an ethnic basis, another gave power of veto to a minority and another establish a committee with autonomy within the conciliar system. All differing ways of maintaining primary power in the dominant system.

But fortunately for the church these approaches to justice were made so as to reflect as best as was able that grace is the only basis for reconciliation as we saw and experienced a helpful response. It is only dad that due to the significant decline of the church concern for survival dominates issues of justice.

Justice, honesty and genuine reconciliation is the result when we have respect and honour for one another and for the land. Amen.

Gondarra, D. 1988.  Father, You Gave Us The Dreaming. Darwin: Published privately.
Hill, M. 1993. Australian Aboriginal Culture. Canberra: AGPS.
Rue, L. 2005.  Religion Is Not About God. How Spiritual Traditions Nurture our Biological Nature. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Matthew 18:15-20

Theopoetics and the search for a Community of Grace.

Some scholars are suggesting that the time of theology as a primary approach to the search for an understanding of God is over and that a theopoetic approach offers a way forward. But what is theopoetics? Well we can start with a simple one that says theo equals God and Poetics equals the fine arts of poetry, song and metaphorical prose. Or we can grapple with a poem I compiled to help me.

Before you do it might be helpful to say that I am no brilliant English language scholar but I think this approach puts things like rationality, belief, creed and doctrine into a back seat and seeks to find the cadence and the flow and meter of the text in what I think is a different form or structure.

God as Art

A theopoetic definition

An expanded understanding of primary text

it goes beyond what is written

it embraces music, visual art, poetry, once bitten

 sculpture, film, dance as lived experience next

the natural world takes life a-smitten

 its primary goal is both art and written

many ways of knowing its primary text.

be it verbal, mathematical, or musical,

kinesthetic, empathic, bodily, introspective, 

imaginative, contemplative

no privilege it gives to verbal knowing alone as primary analytical.

socially engaged it seeks its own transformation imperative

the creation of creative, compassionate, communities to live

to be participatory, humane to animals, and ecological.

Some thirty years ago, the first in a series of movies was released. It is entitled “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” It is a clever comedy yet with profound messages. One of the stories in the film is about an African tribe that lives in the Kalahari Desert in the southern part of the continent. This tribe is a community in collaboration and cooperation with one another. The tribe lives well in its work, play, and prosperity. This life is attributed to the favour from the gods from above. Favour from God is both undeserved and unearned and called Grace. From a traditional Christian and Western viewpoint, one may describe this tribe as having attributes of a community of grace.

inclusive of diversity, and spiritually satisfying

it leaves no one behind. 

It partakes of the prophetic imagination as kind

saying “no” to injustice and “yes” to compassion edifying

 an ultimate hope of ecological civilization to find

a beloved community with ecology an added bind.

multiple forms of spirituality and emotional wisdom a-plying. 

It affirms the subjective worlds of emotion and feeling

They being at the heart of lived experience. 

It understands “spirituality” and is the activity of becoming beyond expedience

fully alive and awake, in the immediacy of ordinary life appearing

it recognizes many different spiritual modes of appearance

attention, beauty, and being present adherence

compassion, connection, devotion, enthusiasm, faith and meaning.

However, one day a glass bottle is thrown from an airplane and falls unbroken to the ground. In the movie, the bottle is found among the tribe. Initially, the bottle is seen as a gift from the gods, albeit a strange artifact. However, it quickly becomes a tool in the tribe. The bottle is used in cooking, working, and even play. Nonetheless, this tool becomes a temptation. Since there is only one bottle to go around, there begins competition for use of this tool. This leads to difficult experiences for the tribe. They succumb to moments of envy, jealousy, anger, enmity, and even violence. The tool becomes an evil thing. Their community of grace is threatened with turmoil and trouble.

forgiveness, grace, gratitude, hope, hospitality and imagination,

joy, justice, kindness, listening, love and nurturing,

openness, peace, play, questing, reverence, occurring

welcoming of shadow, silence and transformation,

unity, vision, wonder, mysterious X-factor and yearning,

self-affirmation and zest for life burning

materiality and physicality in affirmation.

Affirming of the material and physical side of life

the bodies of people and animals, hills and rivers, trees and stars 

interfaith theopoetics no distinction between body and spirit as pars

but instead sees body in spirit and spirit in body in unity rife. 

open to the possibility of life in a multi-dimensional universe of avatars

in which “spirits” and “ancestors” are more than pillars

 a continuing journey after death becomes possible as fife.

we understand “body” very widely as respectfully confessional

yet beyond it can be uniquely Christian, or uniquely Jewish,

or uniquely Muslim, or uniquely Buddhist, or uniquely Hindu-ish

or uniquely “Spiritual but not Religious positional

an interfaith theopoetics understands that we live in a world awash

with multiple wisdom traditions no trash

all included in beloved community processional

our wisdom traditions include humanism, secularism,

and spiritual independence as well

as traditional forms of religious affiliation do tell

its reflective side, experimental and exploratory prism

imaginative and sometimes playful, not didactic an argumentative sell

it welcomes and explores different ways of thinking about God and hell

personal and transpersonal it includes all forms of ism.

  open to the horizontal sacred of felt relationships

as well as the vertical sacred of something more

​it is practiced by academics and non-academics who implore

and by many different people from many walks of life and kinships

of various ages, genders, races, religions, and sexualities explore

a definition and a poem to adore

theopoetics as the art of craftsmanship.

The protagonist in the movie, Xi, offers to take the evil thing and throw it off the edge of the earth. Xi sets off on a quest. With bottle in hand, he is exposed to more of Western culture than just a glass container. One sees his experiences and observations from his viewpoint. Xi learns a number of lessons about the outside world, himself and his tribe. 

Jesus offered teachings as lessons to the disciples and the crowds. Jesus teaches that discipleship is to build a community of grace. What does it take to build a community of grace? Matthew 18:15-20 addresses difficult circumstances that confront the life of a community and calls those who follow Jesus to respond when there appears a strange artifact, such as a bottle, which threatens to harm the community.

forgiveness, grace, gratitude, hope, hospitality and imagination,

joy, justice, kindness, listening, love and nurturing,

openness, peace, play, questing, reverence, occurring

welcoming of shadow, silence and transformation,

unity, vision, wonder, mysterious X-factor and yearning,

self-affirmation and zest for life burning

materiality and physicality in affirmation.

Affirming of the material and physical side of life

the bodies of people and animals, hills and rivers, trees and stars 

interfaith theopoetics no distinction between body and spirit as pars

but instead sees body in spirit and spirit in body in unity rife. 

open to the possibility of life in a multi-dimensional universe of avatars

in which “spirits” and “ancestors” are more than pillars

 a continuing journey after death becomes possible as fife.

we understand “body” very widely as respectfully confessional

yet beyond it can be uniquely Christian, or uniquely Jewish,

or uniquely Muslim, or uniquely Buddhist, or uniquely Hindu-ish

or uniquely “Spiritual but not Religious positional

an interfaith theopoetics understands that we live in a world awash

with multiple wisdom traditions no trash

all included in beloved community processional

There were plenty of bottles in first century Palestine. Jesus the Teacher names the misused bottles in order to break their power over the people.

“If another member of the church (i.e. if someone in your community) sins against you…,” follow these instructions. Jesus refers to a previous source of education known as the Old Testament, the Torah, and specifically the books of Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Jesus confirms and fulfills the teachings of the Hebrew Testament for those who follow his words.

“Sins against you…” The word sin is transliterated in the New Testament Greek that describes sin as that which Judas does when he betrays, A translation of the Greek word for sin in this case is ‘Miss the mark’ and it is a mission of the mark that leads to difficult circumstances in the life of a community. Miss the mark is a translation for that which threatens a community of grace. Here sin may manifest itself as misguided beliefs and misdirected behaviour. A miss in life! Miss the boat. Miss the bus. Miss the Appointment. Miss the ball. Miss the shot. Misunderstand. Miscommunicate. Miss you! Missing! Miss!

Matthew 18:15-20 encourages us to ask the question, “What have I missed?” What is my bottle? What quest do I take? The quest or journey is usually walked one step at a time.

It is said that there are five R’s to address missing the mark in a community of grace. They are Repentance, Resolution, Redemption, Reconciliation and Restoration. These five R’s are a spiritual path to build a community of grace. We might note here that they are not actions to be taken systematically to do away with anything, they are tools to build community, in this case a community of grace and not one of right belief. I might even go as far as to say that they can be tools toward forgiveness which in its nature highlights the simplicity of grace.

Everyone one of us has missed something. The teaching of Matthew 18 is to look inward and examine our conscience in order to build community of grace.

our wisdom traditions include humanism, secularism,

and spiritual independence as well

as traditional forms of religious affiliation do tell

its reflective side, experimental and exploratory prism

imaginative and sometimes playful, not didactic an argumentative sell

it welcomes and explores different ways of thinking about God and hell

personal and transpersonal it includes all forms of ism.

Then take the residue in a bottle and throw it off the edge of the earth and let Heaven reign. Lift up your hands, Lift High the Cross, Lift up the Name of Jesus, Lift up the Community of Grace.

In conclusion I want to go to another story or two and to our African one.

Dietrick Bonhoeffer of whom many of us have heard taught at an underground seminary during the rise of Nazi Germany. In 1939 he wrote a book entitled Life Together. Life Together is a way to describe Community of Grace. Life Together in the early Christian church was named Koinonia in the Greek language. In his book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer wrote: “Nothing could be more-cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to sin. Nothing could be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a sister/brother from the path of sin.” Consigning one to sin as a sinner destroys a community of grace. Being compassionate toward one who misses the mark is through accountability to the community of Grace.

The next story is of a mother in her 80th decade of life and who had had, little formal education was very wise. In her wisdom she always took care of anything that could hurt her family. Whenever one of her eight children had a bottle issue she would employ some of the principles of Matthew 18. When two had a tussle, she would admonish them to deal with it themselves. If needed, the bottle was brought to her for resolution. If necessary, it was to be taken that when their father came home from work then everyone in the family would know about this. The spiritual motivation for the two warring children was to find resolution and restoration before Dad came home! In this way Mom kept bottles of a very large family from missing the mark!

In the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” Xi returns from his quest. He comes back illumined about the Western world. He learns some difficult lessons about dress, trucks, property, law, and what he sees as dependence upon “strange magic.”  Xi returns to his tribe with gratitude and celebration for he knows a Community of Grace.

We who are disciples in Jesus have a labour for our lives. Our life and labour is to build Community of Grace that we have called the church but know as the Kingdom Kindom or Realm. This Community of Grace is not founded on strange magic but on the bountiful mystery of God.

To build a Community of Grace may be trying, yet ultimately rewarding; it may be challenging to understand, yet finally satisfying; it may be difficult, yet in the end joyful.

open to the horizontal sacred of felt relationships

as well as the vertical sacred of something more

​it is practiced by academics and non-academics who implore

and by many different people from many walks of life and kinships

of various ages, genders, races, religions, and sexualities explore

a definition and a poem to adore

theopoetics as the art of craftsmanship.